Evening of February 27, 3020

When Vardamir had been told by Frodo that his friend and old army captain, Aldir, along with his wife Lilandra, were being held captive by His Majesty, King Varyon I, King of Forogondor, the Northern Province of West Mordor, and Lord High Governor of Minas Artano, and his brother Maugoth Vartang, Steward of Forogondor, it had seemed as though the blackest darkness of night had descended upon Vardamir's soul. Dazed and rendered virtually speechless by the news, he had spent most of the meal in silence, filled with his own thoughts of grief and mourning. Even when Ceolwulf had been attacked by the robber known as The Captain, Vardamir had sat dazed and trance-like during the scuffle. Nothing lifted him out of his mood, until a poor minstrel girl, Sidhiel came into the inn, saying that she would play a lute and sing for patrons if they gave her coins.

Sidhiel began to play a song about the sea, and the strains of the melody roused Vardamir's mind out of his sorrowful trance. He awoke to discover a strange man sitting beside him who was arguing with Frodo and Ceolwulf. He had no knowledge of what had transpired between Frodo, Ceolwulf and the outlaw, but he knew instantly that this man was not a savory character. Sidhiel came by their table and the outlaw began to speak in a disrespectful manner to her, causing Vardamir and Ceolwulf to become angry. Determined to defend the lady's honor, Ceolwulf challenged The Captain to go outside and fight it out like men.

Vardamir, still addled by the shock of hearing the news of his friends, sat at the table with Frodo. Finally shaking his confusion, he had arisen and went to join Ceolwulf in the fight. He had reached the back door of the tavern when Sidhiel ran up to him, imploring him to try to stop the fight and not join it. He assured her that all would be well and told her to stay with Frodo, who was pretending to be Ceolwulf's ten-year-old son, and then went out the door and into the night.


When Ceolwulf went to the back door of the tavern and into the courtyard behind, he had found Algund in no haste for a fight. Making a show of turning his back to Ceolwulf, Algund walked over to an oak tree in the courtyard and leaned nonchalantly up against it. "What if I say that your feathers have been ruffled needlessly by your puffed up arrogance and pride? Methinks that the only reason for your challenge was to impress a maiden whom you probably do not even know."

"Let the disputing be done!" Ceolwulf shouted. "And let us settle this at the point of a sword!"

The voice of The Captain came back calm and unperturbed, "I do not wish to fight you, strawhead, no matter how eager is your wish to die."

"The lady's honor has been insulted and unless you beg her for her forgiveness or, as is more likely, you flee in fear of me, showing your true colors, there will be a fight between us," Ceolwulf stormed.

"If you insist," The Captain said in a bored tone. "Draw your sword, strawhead!"

As The Captain's right hand went to the hilt of his sword, his left hand suddenly reached to the back of his neck, unsheathing a hidden dagger strapped to his back. Drawing the dagger from the sheath under his tunic, he deftly hurled it at Ceolwulf, striking exactly in the center of his heart. Hitting the mail beneath Ceolwulf's tunic, the dagger made a muffled clanging noise.

Slightly shaken by the impact, Ceolwulf screamed "Treachery!" as he drew his now glowing red sword and was at the man in an instant. As The Captain tried to parry Ceolwulf's sword thrust, his eyes widened in fear when he saw the glowing red Mordorian sword.

"What is that accursed sword you have?" His frightened voice quavered as he asked, and the clash of steel meeting steel echoed in the night air.

Some said in later years that The Captain's skill and experience with the sword was greater than Ceolwulf's but none ever argued which blade was greater. As the two swords were braced against each other, The Captain jumped back, then rushed forward again, trying to deliver a blow to Ceolwulf's neck. Then Ceolwulf's blade crashed down upon the brigand's sword, cutting through the steel as a knife cuts through warm butter.

Standing there in dismay holding the hilt of his broken sword, The Captain had cried out, "Mercy! I yield! Keep that demon's piece of workmanship away from me!"

"Mercy is asked, and therefore mercy will be shown, but that does not dismiss you from making your apologies to the lady," Ceolwulf had said triumphantly.

"Then if that is what I am forced to do, then I must of needs do it! However, still though I do resent it, and consider this all an unnecessary deed, when all I had wished to do in meeting with you was to discuss a business partnership. If this the way I must do business with you, I believe that the partnership will end before it ever has begun," he says wryly.

"What is this business that you have mentioned with words so cunningly veiled, this great work that you have alluded to while saying nothing?" Caution written on his face, Ceolwulf asked as he sheathed his sword and looks at The Captain.

"It is pointless to go back in the tavern, even if I am required to beg mercy by entreating the lady to forgive me," The Captain replied with irritation in his voice.

Both men turned when they heard the opening and closing of the back door of the tavern. Vardamir, now recovered from his strange trance of grief, stepped through the door. He was soon followed by five or six of the tavern patrons, who, seeing that the fight was over, muttered under their breath, "Urk! No sport tonight!" and then returned into the tavern.

Sidhiel and Frodo portrayed by Hobbitness
Vardamir portrayed by Eowyn
Narrator, Ceolwulf and The Captain portrayed by Wraith

Vardamir: Ceolwulf *Vardamir says with a twinkle in his eye* do you mean I have missed the fight?
Ceolwulf: It appears that you have and *he looks to the Captain* This rogue has an apology to make. Now I suggest that you go ahead of us and we shall follow to keep you from losing your courage and taking flight
Narrator: *Grumbling, The Captain goes through the door with Ceolwulf and Vardamir following behind*
Sidhiel: *Sidhiel is inside the tavern, sitting at the table with Frodo, whom she thinks is a little boy. She is singing a song about lovers strolling in a garden to calm him*
Ceolwulf: *All three of the men go back to Frodo's table. Then Ceolwulf says to Sidhiel* Lass, this lout has an apology to make to you
Sidhiel: *She leaves off her song and turns to the men. She smiles at Ceolwulf and Vardamir but raises her eyebrows to the Captain*
The Captain: *The Captain stands glowering, looking down at Sidhiel. Then he shrugs his shoulders with resignation and makes a great, sweeping flourish of a bow to her*
Sidhiel: *She can see clearly that the apology will not be sincere, and this disappoints her*
The Captain: *Then he goes down on bended knee beside her at the table*
The Captain: Fair maid, I have acted towards you most grievously and improper. I do most humbly beg your forgiveness and ask your pardon
Narrator: *He looks towards Ceolwulf with a look that seems to say, "Is this what you want?" and Ceolwulf nods*
Sidhiel: *She tries to conceal her annoyance* I forgive you *she says without much expression*
The Captain: Lass, may I stand? *he says humbly*
Sidhiel: *chuckles slightly* yes, you may
The Captain: Then my thanks to you, for my knees are getting sore *he says mischievously*
The Captain: *He rises to his feet* Gentlemen, can we sit down and talk peacefully?
Ceolwulf: Later. Go take a place at another table and leave us in peace
Sidhiel: *She nods to him, then turns back to Frodo and places a hand on his shoulder and smiles to him* See, I told you your father would come back safely
The Captain: *Shrugging his shoulders, he moves away from their table and goes to the table where he formerly sat, and seeing a serving girl, he waves to her and says* Another tankard
Frodo: *Frodo is so relieved to see them back unharmed that he is close to tears, his smile wide* Aye, and you were right! *he smiles back to Sidhiel* Thank you for your song
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf looks to Sidhiel* Was my son, Cynefrid, well behaved? *he says with a grin*
Sidhiel: Oh, yes, very well behaved. A charming boy
Ceolwulf: Aye, he is a bright lad!
Sidhiel: With an ear for music! *she grins to them*
Ceolwulf: *He reaches down towards Frodo and pulls his hood down farther over his eyes* Son, I don't want you to catch cold
Frodo: Thank you, father. I am glad you were not harmed. What happened out there?
Ceolwulf: Son, really nothing happened. The man had this misfortune to have his sword broken *he says casually*
Frodo: *His eyes widen. He looks to the cursed sword, then meaningfully back to Ceolwulf* Broken! It takes much to break a sword!
Ceolwulf: This is not an ordinary sword *he says in a low whisper* this sword has great powers. Though I came by it from a strange place and a strange source, I am indeed glad to have it, for it has aided me now twice and twice I have been glad for it. I trust that it will always be of assistance. Someday son, I shall tell you the tale of the first time
Frodo: *Frodo answers him in thought* *I remember that sword. It has aided you, yes, but it also seemed to put a madness upon you. I am wary of it.*
Frodo: *out loud he says* Oh, yes, father, I would love to hear that tale! I'll bet it was exciting!
Ceolwulf: *He hears Frodo's words in thought. Sometimes madness is necessary to fight madness!*
Ceolwulf: A wolf, driven to a blind fury by madness, attacked me in the forest and as he leapt for me, I drew my sword and the wolf lay dead at my feet with one stroke
Frodo: *Frodo pretends to enjoy the story with a child's enthusiasm, but he really wishes Ceolwulf would tell him the true story of the rescue*
Ceolwulf: *He hears Frodo's words in his mind. Frodo, my rescue? All I did was stand there, tied to a column while Aldir and Vardamir fought*
Sidhiel: *Sidhiel listens to the conversation with curiosity and some trepidation. She senses that there is perhaps something strange about the strawhead's sword, and about the man himself.*
Sidhiel: *Perhaps he is a little mad? He makes her nervous.*
Ceolwulf: *He looks to Vardamir* Let us sit down
Vardamir: I thought perhaps you had planned for us to stand here all night *he says with a twinkle in his eye*
Narrator: *Both Ceolwulf and Vardamir take their former seats and both look down at their half-drunk tankards of ale, then deciding that their thirst is too great to refuse, they both resume drinking*
Frodo: *Frodo drained his tankard earlier, during the fight, to calm his nerves*
Sidhiel: *Sidhiel sees that the men are settling comfortably back into her places. Perhaps she should leave now?*
Vardamir: *He looks shyly over at Sidhiel* Maid, I apologize. Though I had no part in this, I was present, but I was.... *he tries to find the words for his former trance*.... indisposed
Sidhiel: *She smiles lightly to the elvish-looking young man. She finds his shyness endearing.* It is all right, sir. I could see there was a great weight upon your mind.
Vardamir: *Fumbling nervously with the handle of his tankard, he stammers* Maid, may I be so presumptuous as to ask you your name?
Sidhiel: I am called Sidhiel. I grew up here in Minas this city. And may I ask your name?
Vardamir: *Thinking quickly, for he knows that saying his name could bring quick retribution on Frodo, Ceolwulf and him, he says* My name is Castamir *Then realizing his mistake, he draws in a sharp breath and a low gasp escapes his lips*
Sidhiel: *she frowns, baffled that he is named after Castamir the Usurper who started a civil war in Gondor* Pleased to meet you, ah...Castamir *His own agitation confuses her further*
Vardamir: I.... mean... *he tries to say, but failing to find any excuse, he blushes*
Sidhiel: *She concludes that he is either very shy, ashamed of his name, or both*
Vardamir: You see it was this way, Sidhiel, if I may call you by that name, my mother and father could not decide upon my name. And my father in jest, I assure you, said to my mother, "Then let us call him Castamir." They named me a reasonable name of course but they had called me this name so long before deciding on a proper name that I grew up being called Castamir
Sidhiel: *she laughs* Ah! I see! Then, you prefer being called....Castamir?
Vardamir: *He thinks quickly* Just my friends *he smiles weakly*
Sidhiel: What should I call you, then? Castamir, or your proper name?
Vardamir: Just call me Castamir. But quietly. Don't say it too loud or it might attract attention among the patrons *he looks around*
Sidhiel: Don't be ashamed. I can see you are nothing like the Castamir of old. *she says this quietly*
Vardamir: *He smiles at her* Nay, I am nothing like that one!
Vardamir: *Vardamir gathers his courage again and, after taking a swallow of ale, says in what he thinks is his best casual tone* Sidhiel, we might perchance be by this way again. Do you sing here often? We are men from the country and we do not come here often, but next time we do, I would like to hear you sing
Sidhiel: Yes, I sing here most nights.. Sometimes at other taverns, but this one has the best audiences when there isn't a brawl *she smiles wryly*
Vardamir: *he smiles back at her* I suppose brawls would be common... now *he looks at her meaningfully*
Sidhiel: *she understands his meaning and nods sadly* That is part of why I like to sing in these places, though. It brings some of the old gaiety back. I would be glad to sing for you anytime, Castamir *she smiles warmly*
Vardamir: *He looks over his shoulder at the table where the Captain sits alone, drinking his ale* Yes, the patrons here are of a..... mixed sort
Vardamir: Sidhiel, *he blurts out* I play a harp!
Sidhiel: *Her smile widens* You do? Do you have it with you?
Vardamir: Nay. It has been gone.... a long time now
Sidhiel: *She is charmed by his bashfulness, for it means that though he has taken a fancy to her, he respects her and will not resort to false bravado*
Narrator: *The Captain, sitting at an adjacent table, looks over at them* I still would like to speak with you
Sidhiel: Oh, that is a shame. I should like to hear you play
Vardamir: *He whispers* Crushed by the heels of war, shattered to bits, the harp is silent and will play no more until... *his voice breaks off*
Vardamir: Until the harpist strums another in a free land
Sidhiel: *She leans toward him across the table* Oh! *she says sympathetically at first, then whispers* May that time come soon, for us all.
Vardamir: *He whispers* Only the Valar know!
Sidhiel: *She realizes she has leaned in close to him as the conversation grew more intense. She sits back in her chair and blushes*
Vardamir: *He looks back at her and smiles*
Vardamir: *On a sudden whim, he rises to his feet, lifts his tankard into the air and proposes a toast*
Frodo: *Frodo has watched Vardamir and Sidhiel in growing amusement. Hopefully the evening will improve now!*
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf rises to his feet and joins him. He looks down to Frodo* Son? Let us join with our friend in a toast. There, that's a good fellow!
Frodo: Of course, Father *he stands on his chair and raises his tankard*
Ceolwulf: Son, you grow every day! Shhhh... Frodo, remember you are supposed to be my son *he laughs*
Frodo: *tries desperately to suppress his laughter*
Frodo: *he whispers back* I'll hardly reach the table if I don't stand on the chair!
Vardamir: I want to borrow part of a toast made by my good friend here *looks at Ceolwulf* Here is to good days, good friends, good ale, a bright star in the sky, *he looks to Sidhiel* and the music of the lute and harp
Ceolwulf: Son, soon you won't need a stool any longer. Just keep eating plenty of roots *he says sardonically*
Frodo: *cannot suppress a laugh at that*
Sidhiel: *Sidhiel's eyes shine as Vardamir gives the toast. She rises to cheer with them, but she has no tankard*
Vardamir: *He looks to her shining eyes and it is as though he can read her thoughts.* Drink, Sidhiel, join the toast *he passes his tankard to her*
Sidhiel: *Her fingers brush against his as she takes the tankard. She smiles to them all* To friendship, stars, and the music of the sea *she drinks from Vardamir's tankard, then holds it out to him*
Vardamir: *It seems as though a stroke of lightning has hit his fingers as her brush against his, and then he stammers* Aye.... to all these!
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf looks to his friend, an expression of amusement on his face, but says nothing*
Frodo: *Frodo remembers the toast he once drank with Ceolwulf, Rian, Elfhild, and Elffled. If only the twins were here, this evening would reclaim the camaraderie he thought was lost forever.*
Frodo: To all these! *he chimes in happily*
Narrator: *The Captain finishes his ale and sets his tankard down on the table, then rises from his chair and goes and stands at the inn of the table where Frodo, Vardamir and Ceolwulf are*
Narrator: *He leans over the table and whispers* If you do not agree to talk to me tonight in the next second, I will sound the alarm and say that you are escaped slaves
Sidhiel: *Sidhiel overhears the Captain. She gasps* Oh! *whispers* then you....but you.....*quickly quiets herself and wrings her hands in her lap*
Narrator: *Ceolwulf and Vardamir stand and glare at the man.* It seems that we are at your mercy *says Ceolwulf* Take us where you will, but remember, both of us have the red swords
Narrator: *Sidhiel's lute was beside her chair, for she put it there when she went to sit with Frodo. They all hear the sound of the lute as it is knocked over on its side*
Vardamir: Sidhiel, is the lute harmed!
The Captain: I do not care if it is harmed or not. I have coin enough to pay for such a trivial instrument
Sidhiel: *Sidhiel springs to her feet* Oh! My lute! *scarlet with anger, she struggles to keep from striking the Captain*
The Captain: What price will you take for it, lass? *he growls at her*
Sidhiel: Trivial! Trivial! Do you know how much this adds to my mother's salary, how much more food it buys? Do you even understand what music is or what is does or why it's important? I don't think you do! And I'm not surprised!
The Captain: Lass, I do not have the time to hear of its importance!
Sidhiel: I will take no price for my lute! *clutches it to her protectively*
The Captain: Is it harmed, lass?
Sidhiel: *She turns it over in her hands* No, maybe a little scratched, but not seriously harmed. *sighs with relief*
Sidhiel: It will be out of tune though *glares at the Captain* I will have to go tune it
The Captain: *He takes out his coin pouch and removes a coin* Here, take a gold one. That should pay for any scratches and more
Sidhiel: *The coin placates her considerably* Oh....thank you. *she sits and begins wiping off the precious lute with a napkin from the table*
The Captain: Now maid, hasten away to whence you came unless you wish to go with us, for we have business of importance to discuss far above your maidenly trivialities *he growls*
Ceolwulf: Man, can you not keep a civil tongue in your mouth? *he says with growing irritation*
Vardamir: You knave and lout to speak to a lady in such a fashion!
Sidhiel: *Sidhiel rises slowly and stares the ruffian down again. With utter disdain, she says icily* Súlon gwanna nîf gín. Gen fuion! ("Much wind pours from your mouth. You disgust me!")
The Captain: Here, take another gold coin *he says as he draws one from the money pouch* This will pay for my unruly mouth!
Sidhiel: *The ice melts a bit at the second coin* Thank you kindly sir, now I shall be out of your way. *sweeps away from them across the room*
The Captain: *He shrugs his shoulders in resignation* Never argue with a female for you will always lose


After The Captain has apologized to Sidhiel enough to satisfy Frodo, Ceolwulf and Vardamir, Ceolwulf, the keeper of the purse, pays Tobir for their meal. Vardamir leaves his companions and goes up to Sidhiel, saying, "Sidhiel, ignore the ruffian's words, for he is of ill repute, and remember this, he is a very dangerous man. You would do well to stay clear of him. I must go now, but when we return, I should like to hear you play again."

Then, after leaving the inn, The Captain leads the three through side streets, back alleys and byways to a darkened alley. They see a shadowy doorway illuminated by a single dully-burning candle in a lantern. "Make haste!" whispers The Captain and he goes to the door and knocks.

The sound of a female voice, deep and husky, answers his knock, and says, "Who wishes entry?"

"A friend," replies The Captain.

"And what does the friend want?" asks the low voice.


"And what if I give it?" the voice asks, now seductive in its huskiness.

"Guren min gaim lín," he replies.

"You are most generous," the woman's voice says hinting at some promised favor.

"Guren linna a chened le."

"Ah," the woman breathes, "ahhh..." in a long exhaling sigh. "You must be a regular patron. Come in," her throaty voice beckons, as they hear the sound of a key being turned in the lock and the door is pushed open.

The woman backs away as the four come in and then in the soft candlelight that illuminates the rich furnishings inside, she exclaims and rushes into his arms, "Algund! Algund! You scoundrel! You are still alive! I had feared you were dead!"

"And perhaps ere dawn arrives, I will show you just how alive I am," The Captain says as he kisses her fair white throat and down her ample chest.

Disconcerted, Ceolwulf, the last to enter, closes the door behind them and trying not to view the embarrassing scene, he motions for Frodo and Vardamir to follow him past the pair. There before them, they see a large room with a bar at one end, and a stout, red-faced tender smiling at them. At the sides of the room are tables and chairs with a few patrons, all with hoods discretely pulled over their faces, who sit talking quietly. Above them burns a wrought iron chandelier.

"Sit down," Ceolwulf says as he motions to a table at a good distance from the door. Algund and the woman still stand near the door and Frodo, Ceolwulf and Vardamir can see that she is a comely buxom redhead with long curled tresses of russet cascading down her back. She wears a deep blue velvet gown with a low square neckline and a pearl necklace about her neck; around her waist is a girdle, its ends hanging down in a tassel just below her knee.

They stand back from the door clasping each other by the arms. "Cuillwen, we must of needs have a room that is not so public," The Captain looks towards the table with Frodo, Ceolwulf and Vardamir, "for we have urgent matters to discuss of a trading partnership that we are organizing."

"Ah, yes, I understand," Cuillwen says in her throaty, seductive voice. "Tis no problem; one has just been readied, but," she says, her voice becoming lower, "could not my wandering stranger tarry with me a while?"

"My pet, 'twould indeed be a delight to tarry with you for all the night. After my dealings with these good gentlemen are finished, I have a necessary need of lodgings, and if my memory do serve me well, the beds of your meritious establishment are renowned for their soft feather mattresses," he says and then busses her soundly on the lips and then down her soft ivory neck.

"Mmm," she says as she wraps her arms around him.

"My pet, there will be time for that later," he says and then backing away from her, his hand goes over and drops a golden coin down the bodice of her dress.

"Algund," she says breathlessly. " have been away too long. Come now, and I will show you to the private chamber."

"How could I keep from loving a wench like you?" he says as he slaps her across the hips as she walks in front of him.

"I will remember that," she says with a laugh.

The Captain follows behind her and as he comes to the table of Frodo, Ceolwulf and Vardamir, he says, "Come with us," and then chuckling evilly, he says, "Shakh, you look quite red-faced; perhaps it is the chill night air. I trust you will feel warmer soon."

Cuillwen leads them down a hallway and then through another spacious room. As they look around, they see several lovely maidens sitting on couches who smile at them as they pass. "Algund!" they exclaim excitedly. "It has been so long and we have missed you."

"I am back from my dealings across the river," he says, "and do not be overwrought," he says mischievously. "There is plenty of me to go around." His words are greeted with approving giggles.

Cuillwen leads them to a door and opens it for them and after they enter and take seats at a table, she says, "One of the serving wenches will fetch you soon tankards of ale, and now I must leave you... but Algund... I hope we will have our own business to discuss after your dealings with these gentlemen are over."

"Aye, my dove," he says, smiling, "you have naught to fear there... for now that I am back, there are things of great import which I wish to take up with you. Now, gentlemen," says Algund, "let us be amenable, and perhaps we might all benefit each other."

Frodo: *Frodo sits huddled in his chair. He is not sure exactly what this place is, but it makes him very, very uncomfortable, and he does not like the way the women and the men look at each other*
Ceolwulf: First of all, who are you, and what do you want?
Frodo: *He has never seen women dress or act like this either. He keeps his eyes and his concentration on the conversation at hand*
Vardamir: *Vardamir looks around himself, feeling quite awkward and embarrassed. His mother and father would frown in displeasure and be quite disappointed in him if they knew he was in a place like this.*
The Captain: What my name is is of no importance. I am a wizard in the art of highway robbery. All I want is your time. I know who you all are. I know the price of the reward upon the Tark and Strawhead..... and I know who the Shakh is
Narrator: *Soon the serving wenches bring in four tankards of ale and set them at their places, then smile and leave*
The Captain: Shakh, what do you think I am?
Frodo: *taken aback* A...a Ranger, of course.
Vardamir: *He takes a drink of his ale, and wishes he were back in Dol Amroth. He has heard stories of places like this, in the slums of every large city.*
The Captain: Once, Shakh, but no more
Frodo: *frowns, confused*
The Captain: I grew disgruntled with my life, a life of nothing but low payment and little thanks, There were agents even then in the army who watched for men such as me, and learning of our unhappiness and discontent, they came to us, one by one, and made offers. I and some others accepted the offers, for it was better to be assured payment in gold than it was, to have little and no thanks
Vardamir: *He looks to the captain* So in other words, you are a traitor.
The Captain: Aye, in many words indeed, I am a traitor, but so are many others
Vardamir: You would betray our forefathers for gold?
Frodo: But then what about your mission from the King Elessar? Was that all a farce? *furious*
The Captain: Long ago, I denied any allegiance to Gondor. It was all a farce that I had a mission from the uncrowned king
Frodo: *His eyes flash and his hands grip the edge of the table. He feels utterly humiliated. His anger is so intense it paralyzes him*
Vardamir: *Vardamir does not know the specifics of the dispute between Frodo, Ceolwulf and the Captain, for that incident happened in the summer, and at that time, Vardamir was being orc-hauled through Gondor and Mordor*
Frodo: *He says nothing, only glowers at the man with scorn. After a pause* Why do you tell us this now?
The Captain: Because I want to help you *he says with a smile*
Frodo: *scoffs* And why would I believe that you would want to help me, after what you've done?!
Vardamir: How could we even trust a man like yourself, who would more likely slit our throats and take our money than talk to us?
The Captain: All valid objections, gentlemen, but hear me out. Shakh, for a price, I could take you across the mountains and into Arnor and into the Shire. I know you have plenty of gold by which to pay my men and me. You were most generous last time when you made the kind and generous gift to my men and me. Unfortunately, not all of them lived to spend the gold, but that is the price that some of us have to pay, for life of free men.
Vardamir: *scoffs* You are not free, for you are still probably a thrall of Mordor.
The Captain: Nay, not true. The price upon my head is highest in Mordor, with only Arnor coming anywhere matching it
Vardamir: So... you are hated by both sides, and you wish to help us?
Frodo: *Frodo weighs the man's words as carefully as he can, torn between longing for home and distrust of the man. He tries to divine the man's motives*
The Captain: Aye, hated by both sides and willing to help anyone for a price
Frodo: *exchanges glances with Vardamir and Ceolwulf*
Vardamir: And what is that price? And how do we know that you would not rather kill us when we had done your bidding and keep the proposed payment for yourself?
Ceolwulf: *Ceolwulf looks to Frodo and shakes his head and glares at the man*
The Captain: You will just have to believe me, won't you? *he says slyly*
Frodo: *clears his throat* You speak of a very long journey. Why would you do this when you could much more easily rob rich men here?
The Captain: To be honest, which I am on occasion, it is more profitable to help you and safer than it is to rob the fat Easterlings, for their caravans are heavily guarded and that is another matter of my business with you *He looks to Ceolwulf and Vardamir*
The Captain: And the journey is not all that long and we know the way, for we travel it from time to time but not in this weather. Shakh, what do you say? But I can only take one
Frodo: *leans back in his chair, shakes his head, lets out a long breath. He waits long moments before speaking* You must tell me more. I cannot make a decision based only on this!
Frodo: Why are you really doing this? How do I know this is not all another farce? How do I know Vartang did not put you up to this?
The Captain: Because he wants my head
Vardamir: And why does he want your head?
Frodo: And why would you want to help me? You say, the profit, but you could kidnap any noble's child and hold them for ransom like you did my girls! *clenches his fists*
The Captain: It is a long story *he looks around with a scowling look*
Frodo: Why would you want to help one for whom you have shown nothing but scorn, and who has repaid you in kind?
The Captain: Because I want revenge against Vartang! And you are my opportunity to gain it! To steal you right from under his nose and take you back to the Shire would be most appealing to me. I might even take you for nothing!
Frodo: Suppose you had what you want--the money, Vartang's designs foiled, me back in the Shire. What then? What would you do with me then?
The Captain: I would leave you in the Shire. I care not what you do. I would return to robbery, a trade at which I have become most adept. And you two *he looks at Vardamir and Ceolwulf* Do you not have much for which to be avenged?
Frodo: *runs his hands through his hair, torn in two*
Vardamir: *he looks at the captain* But you are a brigand, and they are fickle; you wish revenge upon Vartang now, but maybe at a later time you would rejoin his men, or someone else, and then betray us.
Ceolwulf: We will take our revenge in our own way and do not need the help of one such as you!
The Captain: Vartang killed my brother! And he would have killed me, if not by a stroke of fate that I was saved
Frodo: *looks up* Why not simply try to kill Vartang? If you are so skilled at secrecy, you should be able to kill him and not be found out. Why this plot to steal me?
The Captain: That cannot be done. He is guarded. There is no opportunity to strike him, and besides, think of the irony. Think of the troubles he would have if you escaped from his clutches. Let him suffer the same fate he gave my brother and my men, but worse by far. They died quickly
Frodo: *Desire for revenge is not a natural part of Frodo's nature, but some of his experiences in Mordor have planted it there. It flares up on occasion. Now it hums in Frodo's ears. But louder is the voice of Frodo's homesickness. He is afraid it will prevent him from making the right decision*
The Captain: Think of it, Shakh. Think of going home after so long, the Shire. I have been there myself often
Frodo: *And even if this man is telling the truth, which he doubts, what of Finduilas and her boys, and of Rian? What would happen to them? What would happen to Elfhild and Elffled if they returned and Frodo was gone?*
The Captain: *He pulls out his pipe and a pouch of weed, a tinderbox, but the pouch is not the same one which he smoked before.* Smell this, Shakh *he says as he opens the pouch and pushes it under Frodo's nostrils* Do you not recognize it? Longbottom Leaf?
Frodo: *nods slowly* *This is torturous, he thinks...then he realizes, this is progressing too much like an interrogation!*
Vardamir: *Vardamir listens to every word shared between Frodo and the Captain, studying the face of the traitorous Dunedain intently*
The Captain: Here, Shakh *he says as he places it on the table in front of him* the pouch is yours. *Then he takes out another pouch, opens it and lets Frodo smell that, another pouch of Longbottom leaf*
Frodo: *A vague memory from his return to Barad-dur surfaces. It is the only thing he ever remembered from that time: he was to give the servants the nine rings, or else they would suffer a terrible death. But perhaps there was more to it than that. Perhaps they will also be killed if Sauron's designs, which he enacts through Vartang, go awry.*


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