Book 2: Revenant
Chapter 2 (see previous chapters)
The Dragon’s Maw looked out from his bars into the crisp night air, smoking his clay pipe and listening to the guards whisper in the dark about their infamous prisoner. He smiled at this and thought, ‘And why not, this run-down excuse for a fort had probably never seen the likes of him’. Certainly they would never have dreamed of having their hands on the most notorious criminal Rhovanion had seen in years, maybe, he laughed in his pride, ever. But the hand of fate is cruel, almost as cruel as himself, and he pondered the unbelievable circumstances that had brought him to the current pass. What lay behind him that would make the noose preferable. What indeed.
It had started a week ago, the Dragon’s Maw recalled, puffing with distaste on the ordinary clay pipe he had been forced to use the past couple days. His normal pipe, made of intricately carved ivory, lay lost and abandoned miles from here and he was of no mind to go back and retrieve it. He and his accomplices, two fellow brigands with almost as bad a reputation as himself, had been pillaging and looting up and down the strip of land between the Anduin and southern Mirkwood for months.He reveled in the little towns and hamlets, so delicious and ripe, and fear enough to make a black heart fill with pride. They went to bed at night, locked their doors and had restless dreams of what terrors lay in the dark. And sometimes he would oblige them.
The Dragon’s Maw laughed loudly, more because he knew it rattled the guards outside than out of any sense of glee as he remembered his former mates. They were as fine a pair of malcontents and cutthroats as one could wish for, it was a shame that they could not join him now. He could just see Iagol, sitting in a corner, his small shifty eyes darting nervously around at every sound, bitterly complaining about their morning’s fate. He was known as ‘The Rat’, for his ability to sneak into anywhere, a fine quality for an assassin, and also for his unfortunate resemblance to the nocturnal rodent. And even if he was oily and untrustworthy, The Dragon’s Maw always admired Iagol’s abilities with the various poisons he concocted to coat the bolts of his crossbow, a hidden surprise for anyone who turned their back on ‘The Rat’.
And then there was Vhrunhild, dear sadistic, brutal Vhrunhild. If ever maliciousness and fear had a child, it would have been the large dunlending. Who else, not of orc-kind, would be bold enough to raise and train a warg-pup until the beast was large enough to feast on those foolish enough to cross it’s mercurial master. Vhrunhild’s tattooed bald head, three long deep scars crossing down across one destroyed eye, would be the last thing they would see before the jaws of the warg would close in. Often he would rub the scars, the price paid for keeping such a dangerous pet.
The three of them cut a swath of fear and terror where ever they went. No army or elvish patrol sent out could catch them and the rumour of their approach was enough to make even the staunchest mayor or lord blanch. It had been weeks since a town had even bothered to offer resistance, preferring to give up all of their valuables than risk the wrath of the Dragon’s Maw. That is, until they came upon the last town. That is where the trouble all started.
It started with a man, some captain of the guard, entrusted with the safety of the town that he called home. He it was who rallied the townspeople to put up a fight and the Dragon’s Maw seethed at his effrontery. Threats of burning and death issued from his mouth, a threat that he had levied on towns in the past who dared to resist, but the captain of the guard stood firm and arrows greeted them when they attempted to force the gate. They left, vowing revenge on the town and revenge on the captain, and a few days later they found it.
The torture of one of the foolish farmers living a mile or so from the town yielded up an interesting piece of information. The captain who had caused so much trouble lived with his family in a secluded cottage, hidden in a copse of trees far outside the safety of the towns walls. And as darkness fell the next night, the three of them looked down on the cottage and laughed in their malice. The howl of the warg rent the night and a light could be seen suddenly through the window. The door opened and the silhouette of the captain could be seen, sword in hand, ready to defend his home, but they were waiting for him.
“I will slay you all before I let you touch my family, wretches!”, The captain cried. Brave words, the Dragon’s Maw thought, but they would avail him not and soon the fierce warg had him pinned to the ground helpless while Iagol tied his hands behind his back. His wife and children had re-shut the door and, from the sounds of it, were busy piling whatever they could against door and window to keep them out and this was more than fine by him. He pulled out his dragon-head pipe and began to smoke as Vhrunhild and Iagol threw a noose over one of the nearby trees.
The three brigands laughed menacingly and soon, one of the captain’s own horses were all that sat between him and death. Vhrunhild drew back his curved sword to strike the horse and end the captain’s life when the Dragon’s Maw lifted up his hand.
“Halt”, he had said and Vhrunhild stopped mid-swing and glared. “Not just yet my sadistic friend.”
“This little piggie deserves death for daring to cross us,” Vhrunhild scowled.
“Indeed he does”, the Dragon’s Maw had said calmly, still sucking on his pipe. “But I want to give him something to take with him to what lay beyond. An image to haunt him so that he’ll know for all time what happens when you defy the desires of dangerous men.”
He whispered to Iagol and by his sneer he knew his plan was met with approval. Their eyes turned to the cottage and soon they had loose brush piled all along it’s base. When the captain saw what they were planning he cried out in despair but his pleas fell on deaf ears and taking the pipe from his mouth, the brigand leader touched it to the dry brush. Before long the blaze consumed the house and the smoke of it reached high into the night. Tears of rage and immeasurable sorrow fell from the face of the captain as the three of them passed him. The Dragon’s Maw listened as curses of retribution poured from the captain’s mouth but he cared not and with a nonchalant swipe of his sword, the captain’s horse ran out from under him. The last thing they saw as they rode off was the shadow of the hanging man, back-lit by the fire behind him.
The attack on the town and the brutality of the captain’s family’s death sparked a wildfire throughout the surrounding lands. Hunting parties and patrols were sent out in numbers never seen to catch the brigands and a bounty was put on the Dragon Maw’s head big enough to draw every hero from Rohan to Dale. Despite Iagol’s skill at covering their tracks and getting lost, they were hard-pressed as all of their old hiding spots were rooted out. They needed to find a place where nobody would come looking for them and despite Iagol’s loud protests, he knew just such a place. It had a reputation as evil as his and all sorts of dark rumours and tales surrounded it, which made it perfect ,and two days later they found themselves riding up to the gates of Ravenwood.
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