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Land of Light and Shadows: 4. First Impressions

Gimli, son of Gloin, awoke with a start and a jerk.

He had overslept.

Cursing furiously beneath his breath, he tumbled off the soft bed and
threw on the clothes he had shed before retiring. He noted his wrist ached
and attributed it to the Legolas’s shield tilt earlier that day when he
had lost his hold on his axe. It would be sore for a few days, but it would
not interfere with anything he did. That was a relief.

Tossing on his short corselet of chain mail, the dwarf grabbed his axe
and hurried out of the room. He raced down the hall and skidded to a halt
before Legolas’s room, pounding furiously on the door. The elf had fallen
asleep almost immediately after going to bed, and Gimli doubted he could
have awakened on his own had his life depended on it. When there was no
answer, the dwarf cracked the door open and peaked into the room. What
he saw loose his tongue again and a torrent of foul curses came forth.
The elf had not only left but had also packed up all his belongings, neatly
folded the covers on the bed, and thoughtfully left a note for Gimli.

 

If you receive this message in time, I believe we are meeting in
the main hall with Imrahil before meeting with the delegation from Harad.
You would be wise to join us soon as we would not want to reveal your sluggish
nature so soon in the introductions. I intended to wake you, but your snores
through the wall stopped me. I did not wish to interrupt so good a sleep
or so lovely a symphony. Make haste, Master Dwarf.

Legolas

 

"Snores?" Gimli grunted angrily. "He has obviously never listened to
himself." What that had to do with anything was beyond the dwarf for Legolas
didn’t make a sound when he slept, but it felt better to say it anyway.
Tossing the note onto the immaculate floor and hoping that this would somehow
make the elf appear less perfect, he took off through the door and headed
for the main hall.

Tripping down a flight of stairs and rolling to an unceremonious halt
at their base, Gimli directed a stern glower at the guards looking on,
daring them to laugh, and hurried forward, finally catching sight of the
tall doors that marked the entrance to Imrahil’s main hall and dining center.
It was a tall building and based on its situation and the fact that it
was not connected with the rest of the castle, one might have guessed it
to be a citadel. But it was not a building that could be easily defended,
nor was it ever intended to be used as a citadel. It was, instead, a place
to greet and entertain guests or to hold great feasts. Dol Amroth itself
was a place of such fortification that the ancient architects who’d designed
it had seen little use for a citadel and so had created a dining room instead.
Warriors and princes during the Third Age had often heaped curses upon
these aesthetic architects for a citadel would have been a great comfort
against the Corsairs of Umbar or the raiding Haradrim in the service of
Sauron. But Dol Amroth had withstood the test of time and war, and its
main hall continued to be used as such—a hall.

Gimli paused to catch his breath before he pushed open the doors. He
stashed his axe securely in his belt, ran his fingers through his beard
in a futile attempt to brush it out, and straightened his tunic. Feeling
that all was in readiness, he gave the great doors a shove and walked imperiously
forward, looking for all the world like he had intended to make his entrance
at this very time.

"You are late, Gimli," Eomer observed.

The dwarf sighed and sent the horse lord a dark glare. Beside Rohan’s
king, Legolas cleared his throat and then tugged at his tunic. Gimli blinked
and the elf repeated the motion, at the end nodding in Gimli’s direction.
Afraid of what he might find, the dwarf glanced down and groaned. He had
put his chain mail on backwards.

"This night is not starting well," Gimli grumbled as he fumbled with
the heavy metal and eventually managed to right it.

Prince Imrahil looked away, hiding a smile, and Aragorn shook his head
before turning back to Eomer. "Are all your guard assembled?"

"All save three who are guarding the horses and the baggage," Eomer
answered.

"My guards could easily do that," Imrahil offered.

"Your pardon, prince, but both my men and I would feel better knowing
that our horses are looked after by our own kin. They are as family to
us, and I mean no disrespect or offense to you, but—"

"No offense is taken," Imrahil replied. "I understand the need to look
after that which is your own. I only thought to give you the option should
you be interested. Are we ready then? My men send word that the delegation
approaches."

Aragorn folded his arms and thought for a moment, glancing at Eomer,
the Rohirrim lined up against the wall, and then at his own men who stood
in readiness behind him. "Let them come to us," he finally said. "Show
them into the courtyard, but we will not go forth until they have waited
for a time. They have sought to slight us with their nine delegates. Let
us show that we are ready to reciprocate."

"Are the preparations made for dinner?" Eomer asked, and Gimli judged
from his tone that he was not lightly inquiring about the readiness of
the food.

"They are," Prince Imrahil answered, his tone also indicating that more
lay behind his words than might be guessed. "It was easy enough to arrange,
and I think all shall be pleased by the results."

Gimli now stood by Legolas and shot a questioning glance at the elf.
The prince of Mirkwood bore a rather thoughtful expression and was studying
Imrahil with piercing gray eyes. Sensing Gimli’s gaze, he glanced at the
dwarf and quirked a questioning eyebrow. Gimli shrugged in response and
the elf grimaced slightly.

"It would seem that plans are already underway," he said quietly.

"Doubtless they will be made known to us in time," Gimli returned.

The elf nodded, though it did not look as though his elven curiosity
had abated in the slightest. Eventually, he gave himself a shake and turned
mischievous eyes towards the dwarf. "So you were able to rise from your
repose?"

"Yes, I was, no thanks to you," Gimli growled.

"How could I interrupt so sweet a song or so deep a sleep?" the elf
asked.

"Better to interrupt than to have me arrive late," Gimli said, self-consciously
glancing down at his chain mail that now hung correctly. He frowned and
then gave his friend a piercing stare.

"What?" the elf asked.

"How are you this evening?"

Legolas sighed, knowing exactly to what his friend referred, but the
elf felt reluctant to speak on the subject. He seemed to have his longing
for the sea under control for now, but it was really an elaborate charade
and there was no guarantee that his outer control would last long. He wished
to appear controlled and disciplined as befitted an elf, but if he sought
to answer the dwarf in that way, Gimli would see through the lie as easily
as one might see through a window.

"I have been better," he finally answered, opting for the truth rather
than an attempt at deception. "But I have also been worse."

"I see." Gimli drummed his fingers along the haft of his axe thoughtfully.
"Will you be requiring a shield tonight?"

Legolas laughed quietly. "I do not think so. The rest has done me good,
and I am in better possession of my faculties now than I was earlier today.
But it would be well if you stayed nearby," the elf confessed, sobering
slightly. "If we ride along the coast, my mind may wander and I may need
your assistance."

This uncharacteristic admission caught Gimli off-guard, but he made
no jest about it, sensing that it also caught Legolas by surprise. "I will
be with you, my friend," the dwarf promised, keeping his voice hushed.
"And if your mind strays too far, I will be there to aid you. Have no fear,
for together we may keep this longing at bay."

"I fear it is too late for that, Gimli, but your presence shall be a
comfort," Legolas said, unknowingly repeating Aragorn’s words from the
previous evening. "There is still much to see and much to do in Middle
Earth, and I would share it with you yet a while a longer."

The last part of that statement was not particularly comforting, but
Gimli decided to ignore it for the moment. Instead, he began a critical
study of the main hall’s arching pillars and wondered why the architects
of man hadn’t made this a citadel. He was coming to the conclusion that
man constructed things with no care for rhyme or reason when Imrahil interrupted
his thoughts.

"Gimli, there are reports from my guards that you have stolen a shield.
Is there anything you wish to say about this?"

"What need have I for a shield?" Gimli responded, still studying the
crossbeams overhead. "I would ask the elf."

Imrahil cocked his head and sent Legolas a questioning look. Legolas
sighed and shook his head. "Would you deny a fellow prince a shield if
his life was in danger?" the elf asked.

Prince Imrahil laughed. "Since we are both princes, then, you are welcome
to any shield you wish to take. Royalty must look out for royalty, especially
if common folk wish harm upon our kind."

"Common?" Gimli snorted. "Prince Imrahil, if you think me common then
allow me to teach you otherwise."

The prince of Dol Amroth laughed again. "Perhaps another time," he answered,
glancing toward a guard who had just entered the main hall. "I believe
our guests have arrived." Imrahil then walked toward his guard and had
a quick conversation. Dimly, the others could hear the orders he gave,
instructing that the Haradrim delegation was to be let into the courtyard
but not into the main hall. Imrahil would come forth in time to introduce
them to Aragorn and Eomer.

For their parts, Aragorn looked alert but relaxed and Eomer looked impatient.
The guards of Gondor stood silently at attention, solemn figures of regal
bearing and stern upbringing. By contrast, the riders of Rohan mirrored
their own king—restless and anxious to about and doing rather than waiting.
But with all, there was also a sense of anticipation and wariness. It would
not be long before they set out on an adventure from which some might never
return.

"And so begins the real journey," Legolas murmured, resting a hand on
the reassuring haft of his long, white knife that hung from his belt.

"So long as you are prepared, I am prepared," Gimli said. "Together,
we will journey into this hostile land and together we will emerge victorious."

For some reason, Legolas shivered at those words, and Gimli felt a touch
of cold dread clutch at his heart. Something waited for them in the desert.
He couldn’t say what, and he couldn’t explain where his feelings came from,
but he knew that danger lurked ahead. Still, with Legolas, Aragorn, and
Eomer for company, what could possibly go wrong?

Famous last words, Gimli thought bitterly.


* * * *



Silentl as a shadow, Dashnir waited patiently with the other delegates
of the Haradrim. They stood together in the courtyard of Prince Imrahil,
ready to meet the King Elessar of Gondor and his entourage. There were
rumors among the other tribal leaders that another king, King Eomer of
Rohan, was accompanying King Elessar, and Dashnir was curious to meet with
him as well. He had been in the north several times before and knew Rohan
to be a place of vast fields and the swiftest horses known to man, but
he had never met any of the Rohirrim. He had seen their horses outside,
though, and was impressed with their pride and strength, attributes that
could easily be discerned from afar.

"Why do they tarry?" someone whispered behind him in the common language
of Harad. Dashnir recognized the voice as belonging to Fastahn, a member
of the Soltari tribe’s advisory council. For the life of him, Dashnir couldn’t
understand how Soltari could justify sending someone who was not a member
of the governing council. They were not here to negotiate trade settlements
with local farmers but to escort two powerful kings into the Harad desert
to the Gathering, something that had never been done before and would probably
never be done again. Dashnir himself was second only to the tribal head
in the Khurintu tribe, and as such he held great renown among the Haradrim
and was an appropriate selection for this delegation.

"Perhaps they wish to observe us," someone else answered Fastahn. That
voice belonged to Meret, the tribal head of Baki. The Baki was a rather
obscure tribe, but they possessed lands with great mineral wealth and so
they were also asked by the chiefs of the Gathering to send a delegate
on this mission. Dashnir wondered at the wisdom of sending the tribal head,
though. The Haradrim did not want to give the impression that they were
bowing to the kings of Gondor and Rohan. They merely wanted to give the
impression that they honored their presence. Thankfully, Meret was the
only tribal head in the delegation, and as a member of a weaker tribe,
he had relatively little power within Harad. It should not prove to be
much of a concern.

A murmur now rose from those closest to the main hall, and Dashnir looked
to see that doors to that hall had opened. Forth came Prince Imrahil, who
was familiar to many of Harad’s northern tribes, the Khurintu tribe being
one of these. Dashnir had met with the prince before and knew him to be
a fair man as well as a very perceptive one. He was not an easy leader
to fool, and if any of the Harad delegation had secret agendas, they would
have to work hard at hiding them from this man.

Then Dashnir turned his eyes from the prince of Dol Amroth and received
a mild shock. Behind Imrahil walked two men, one slightly ahead of the
other, and even from afar he could see that they were hardy warriors and
strong leaders, men that any soldier would gladly follow into battle and
willingly die for. The one further back carried a silver helm and upon
his breast was the emblem of a running horse. His golden hair was caught
up in a short braid that went down his back and he walked proudly with
all the grace and bearing of one used to being obeyed. He was relatively
young, but his glance was keen and shrewd as he surveyed the delegates
that waited for them. Surely this was King Eomer of the Rohirrim. His stance
and his manner suggested one used to riding, and the position of his right
arm at his side gave evidence to the fact that he often wielded sword or
lance. Indeed, a long sword was strapped to his side and even now, his
hand strayed to it as though he anticipated some sort of threat. He would
have to be watched. Dashnir perceived that he had a quick temper to go
with his youth.

But it was the other man, the man who walked slightly before King Eomer,
who quickly captured Dashnir’s undivided attention. His hair was dark as
were his eyes, and when they flickered over the Harad delegation, Dashnir
felt a wave sweep over him and leave him weakened in its wake. It was as
though everything he had ever planned and everything he had ever desired
were made known to this man, and he had to fight back the urge to turn
away. Here was one who possessed great power and was schooled in its use.
His black raiment bore the emblem of a white tree, and at his side hung
an elegant scabbard. His hand rested on the hilt of a much-used sword,
and it seemed that energy and force resonated from this blade. There was
no doubt in Dashnir’s mind that this was Aragorn, King Elessar of Gondor.
The strength and majesty of his ancestors walked with him, his glance had
the power to crumple his enemies, and the spark of wisdom flared brightly
in his eyes. Indeed, this was a man to be worshipped.

"Delegates of Harad!"

Dashnir tore his eyes away from Aragorn and focused his attention on
Prince Imrahil. The prince was addressing them and was about to make introductions.
Dashnir rapidly tried to collect what was left of his composure. It would
not do for him to appear weak before such renowned men.

"I present to you the king of the western lands, the heir of Elendil
and Isildur, and the bearer of Anduril, Narsil reforged. Behold the King
Elessar of Gondor. And with him I give you the king of the Rohirrim, horse
lords of great renown. Behold King Eomer of Rohan. My lieges, may I present
to you the delegation sent from Harad who are to escort you to Haradhur.
This is Mohart of the Gartabo tribe, and he is their appointed leader."

Dashnir bristled slightly at this. It was true enough, but Dashnir couldn’t
help but think that Khurintu and not Gartabo should have led this escort.
Was not Khurintu the greatest warrior tribe and the most skilled in the
arts of combat? Gartabo was merely fortunate enough to control an area
with three hidden lakes and seven good wells, making them an economic and
agricultural power. They were not the true representatives of Harad. They
were settlers and farmers, not raiders or warriors.

"My greetings to you, Mohart." Aragorn was speaking now and Dashnir
trembled at the sound of his voice. There was hidden power there and great
strength. If that man asked for the moon, Dashnir could easily envision
half of Middle Earth rising up to fetch it for him.

"And my greetings to you, King Elessar," Mohart replied slowly, using
the Westron speech with some difficulty. "Allow me to introduce those who
accompany me and who will accompany you for the next week." As Mohart proceeded
with the introductions, a rather bland formality, Dashnir began examining
the men who traveled with Aragorn and Eomer. It was easy enough to identify
who belonged to which kingdom. The men of Gondor were dark haired and grim
of face, solemn and watchful as they endured the tedious introductions.
The men of Rohan were different in manner, and though they were no less
disciplined than the soldiers of Gondor, there was an impatience d of restlessness
on their part that did not extend to Aragorn’s guard. Light of face and
hair they were, and all bore either a spear or a sword.

Dashnir continued to scan those whom he would be escorting, making a
note of some in particular who seemed to be of interest, and eventually
came to two figures standing directly behind Aragorn and Eomer. He had
not seen them before as the stance of the kings had concealed them from
view, but when Aragorn moved forward to speak with Mohart and by so doing
revealed their presence, Dashnir was barely able to keep back a gasp. The
strange creatures—there seemed no better word for them—looked over the
Harad delegation with the wary scrutiny of tried warriors. One was fair
beyond the measure of man, his golden tresses falling upon his shoulders
and his bright gray eyes boring holes into all he surveyed. A bow and quiver
were strapped to his back and a long, white knife hung from his belt. A
light seemed to radiate from him, and Dashnir had the overwhelming feeling
that this being was not of Middle Earth.

Then there was his companion. Gruff and short, his head barely reaching
the other’s elbow, he sported a heavy shirt of mail and a powerful battleaxe.
His face was partially obscured by a thick beard that hung down to the
middle of his broad chest. He was a stocky mass of hardened muscle, hinting
at great strength and endurance. His deep-set eyes roamed the Harad delegation
and seemed to capture every detail in exactness.

Dashnir started when he heard his name being spoken and belatedly realized
that Mohart was introducing him. He smiled grimly upon noting that he had
been the last delegate Mohart named and quietly vowed that this slight
to the Khurintu tribe would be remedied in the near future. He bowed his
head slightly toward Aragorn and Eomer, making certain that he showed no
disrespect but also that they knew he was not their subject and he owed
them no allegiance. Once more he felt a wash of energy as Aragorn examined
him, and he caught his breath when the king turned away, for he felt weary
as though he had just fought a great battle.

"I fear that full introductions of our escort would weary your patient
ears," Aragorn said. "But there are some here I would have you know. This
is Imhran, captain of my guard, and Arhelm, the captain of Rohan’s guard.
Also, two representatives of Races who live within our kingdoms have elected
to join us. This is Legolas the elf, son of King Thraunduil who rules in
Greenwood the Great. And here is Gimli the dwarf, son of Gloin from the
Lonely Mountain where can be found many precious metals and gems."

An elf and a dwarf!? Dashnir had heard tales of such beings,
but he had never before met one. He wondered just how many of the legends
were true and vowed to keep an especially close watch on these two creatures.
Of old, his ancestors had dealings with the elves, but that was thousands
of years ago before the fall of the great city when their dark arts were
revealed. Such tales were myths of a younger day, and little heed was given
to them now. In fact, were it not for the rumors that claimed Prince Imrahil
possessed elven blood, it is doubtful that many of the Haradrim would give
any credence to the tales of elves and dwarves. Of course, Dashnir and
those like him knew better, but the truth of their ancestry was not common
knowledge in Harad. And though the time was coming when they would once
more be able to openly proclaim their great heritage, now was still a time
of secrecy.

"Are you and those with you ready to travel?" Aragorn was asking Mohart.
"For I would wish to reach Lake Supt ere sunrise."

Dashnir felt his surprise and grudging respect for this man rise again.
Not only did Aragorn know of at least one of the hidden lakes they would
pass on their way to Haradhur but he also knew its name. It occurred to
him that this king had probably journeyed in Harad before. He recalled
seeing baggage stowed on many of the horses, and at the time he had nodded
at the wisdom shown. There had been no more than was needed and no less
than was required. He had thought that perhaps Prince Imrahil had aided
in the packing, but he now reconsidered that earlier assumption.

"We are of Harad’s finest tribes," Mohart said proudly. Dashnir held
back a derisive sneer at this, thinking of the Gartabo and Baki tribes.
"We are forever prepared to ride. We wait only for you and such preparations
as still need completion."

"Then let us feast and then be on our way," Aragorn said. "For we have
no need to tarry here. Lead on into the main hall and we shall follow."

With the uncomfortable feeling that he had just been dismissed, Dashnir
started forward with the other tribal representatives and wondered at the
fact that Aragorn had just commanded them and they had just unquestioningly
and instantly obeyed. If nothing else, the next two weeks should prove
enlightening for everyone. Glancing back, he saw that the guards of Rohan
and Gondor were following them. No, not following. It seemed as though
they were driving the delegates of Harad. The Haradrim were not leading
these men. They were, instead, being watched and it was easier to watch
a foe before you than a foe behind you.

Shaking his head at this shrewd subtlety obviously put into play by
Aragorn, Dashnir searched for the king of Gondor and found him consulting
with Prince Imrahil and King Eomer. His eyes strayed across the Harad delegates
and Dashnir read Aragorn’s suspicion in his furrowed brow and dark glance.
Had I been born in his country, I would follow this king, Dashnir
decided. He trusts nothing at face value, knows the customs of his neighbors,
and has an ingrained ability to command.

Almost as though sensing his thoughts, Aragorn suddenly looked directly
at Dashnir. His unblinking eyes paused for only a moment, but a moment
was enough. Dashnir drew his desert scarves up around his face and turned
away, knowing it was a defeat of sorts but respecting this northern king
enough to grant him the victory. Besides, there would be many opportunities
in Harad to repay Aragorn in kind. It was only a matter of time.


* * * *



"What think you, Aragorn?" Eomer asked, his voice low and hushed.

"I think that Prince Imrahil is right. There are some in this delegation
that bear great secrets and great evil. But like the prince, I cannot uncover
the source," Aragorn answered, watching the delegates closely as they disappeared
into the main hall.

"Do you think my choice of victim is a good one?" Imrahil wondered.
"There is still time to change our plans if you wish it."

Aragorn shook his head thoughtfully. "No, I believe you have chosen
rightly. Something dark is in his heart. It may be nothing to do with us,
but it is an evil darkness that might turn against any perceived foe. But
you must take care in tending to him here. He may realize what has been
done and seek retribution."

"It will be as you counsel," the prince promised. "Come. Let us follow
them inside."

Gimli, who had been watching this exchange from his position near the
door of the main hall, nudged Legolas. "They spoke of it again. Could you
hear what they said?" He waited for the elf to explain that even though
his ears were far superior to a dwarf’s, the discussion had not been quiet
and it was unthinkable that Gimli had heard nothing. But instead, Legolas
remained silent. Casting a curious glance up at his friend, the dwarf groaned.
"Legolas!"

Shaken somewhat and almost surprised into jumping, Legolas tore his
eyes from the gulls that circled overhead and looked at his companion.
"What?"

"You were doing it again," Gimli said.

"What do you mean by…oh." The elf grimaced and shook his head. "My apologies.
I had hoped to last until the meal at least."

"You were close," the dwarf allowed. "But you need practice."

"Practice," Legolas murmured. "I fear I shall endure much practice ere
I am ever satisfied."

Deciding a shift in topics and scenery would be a wise idea, Gimli took
Legolas by the arm and turned him toward the main hall. "You did not eat
much this morning," he said, pulling the unresisting elf forward. "And
you have need of nourishment before our journey begins. Once we leave Dol
Amroth, we are on soldier’s rations."

"I have heard only you, Pippin, and Sam complain of soldier’s rations,"
Legolas reminded him, extracting his arm from Gimli’s grasp but continuing
to follow the dwarf.

"That is because we three seem to be the only sane companions you travel
with," Gimli returned. "All else are too mad to worry about important things
such as food."

"Is it madness to take thought for the day’s journey, the direction
of the march, or possible enemies one might encounter on the road?" Legolas
questioned.

"It is if those thoughts do not include food," the dwarf stated firmly.

"I think you have been too exposed to hobbits."

By now, the two had entered the main hall and were making their way
down long rows of tables past the guards of Gondor and Rohan toward the
head where they would be seated at Aragorn’s side. Aragorn himself was
just now walking in with Eomer and Prince Imrahil in tow. Candles cast
dancing light about the hall and the sweet aroma of various dishes drifted
in from the kitchen attached to the back of the main hall.

All save the Haradrim rose as Aragorn, Imrahil, and Eomer moved to their
appointed chairs at the head of the center table. When the kings of Gondor
and Rohan sat, the remainder of the room did likewise, and servants began
pouring in, bearing plates stacked high with food. Drinks were served as
appetizers were dished out, and Imrahil raised his glass to Aragorn. "A
good journey to you, King Elessar," he said, his musical tenor filling
the hall. "And a good journey to those who travel with you in good faith."

The toast was echoed up and down the tables as glasses were raised.
Aragorn nodded and raised his glass in return. Then all drank, but Gimli,
who was keeping a sharp eye on Imrahil, Eomer, and Aragorn, noted that
their eyes were now straying to the middle of the main table where the
delegation from Harad was seated. He elbowed Legolas and almost made the
elf choke on his wine.

"Can you see anything down there?" he hissed when Legolas turned an
irritated look on the dwarf.

"Can I see anything down where?" the elf asked, dabbing at the corner
of his mouth with a napkin.

"Among the Haradrim. Aragorn is keeping an especially close watch on
them and I feel as though he is waiting for something to happen."

Legolas frowned but obediently cast his keen eyes down the table. "I
see nothing unusual," he reported after a cursory inspection.

"Nothing whatsoever?" the dwarf pressed. "Is the color of their food
off, or their mannerisms? Are you certain there is nothing to be seen?"

With a sigh, Legolas once again looked down the table, this time taking
more time and going over what he saw in greater detail. "They appear to
be enjoying their wine, which is quite good, I might add."

"Anything else?" Gimli asked, not about to be deterred.

"They are enjoying the meat, too."

"Legolas!"

"Gimli, I assure you that there is nothing to be seen," Legolas said,
wishing to turn back to his own meal. "All appears normal and…" he suddenly
trailed off and slid his chair back slightly. "No, all is not normal,"
he whispered, his eyes narrowing. Before Gimli could question him, he had
turned to Aragorn. "My liege, I think one of the Haradrim is ill."

Aragorn glanced down the table. "Which one?"

"It is—"

But before Legolas could utter his name, Mohart surged to his feet,
clutching at his throat with one hand while the other hand pressed into
his gut. He moaned, his eyes rolled back, and he toppled to the floor.

Pandemonium broke loose, Aragorn shot Imrahil an incriminating look
to which Imrahil shrugged in complete confusion, and then all rushed to
Mohart’s side. Dashnir, the representative from the Khurintu tribe, was
kneeling at his side and checking his vital signs. "He has passed out,"
Dashnir reported when Aragorn pushed his way through the crowd of onlookers.
"His temperature is high but I know not what could have caused this sudden
illness."

"Guards!" Imrahil summoned. "Call members of my personal staff and have
them prepare a sick room. And find the head healer. Instruct him to prepare
for a patient."

The prince’s guard scattered to do his bidding. The soldiers of Rohan
and Gondor backed up at Aragorn’s command, giving the Haradrim more room.
Aragorn himself was now inspecting the falling delegate leader and concluding
that the potion concocted by Imrahil had missed its intended target. "His
pulse is strong," Aragorn said at length with yet another meaningful glance
at the prince of Dol Amroth behind him. "He may regain consciousness soon,
but judging from the way he clutches his stomach, I do not think he will
wish to travel tonight."

Dashnir was quiet for a moment at this pronouncement and then looked
at the other seven men from Harad. "We will go on without him," he said.
Aragorn had the distinct impression that Dashnir felt something was amiss,
but he could not be certain. "Prince Imrahil," Khurintu’s delegate continued,
"would it be possible for you to see to Mohart while we travel? He knows
the way well and could easily follow when he recovers, but I do not wish
to delay our travel. We will be hard pressed to reach Haradhur on time
as it is."

"We will see that he regains his health," Imrahil promised. "Have no
fear of that."

Dashnir nodded. "My thanks. He may be upset with you, but I think this
will be best for him."

"And I also," Aragorn said, moving aside so that others could come forward
and lift Mohart onto a hastily constructed cot. "Now let us return to our
meals. We should leave within the hour, and I would not have us ride on
empty stomachs."

"What happened?" Eomer hissed to Imrahil as they moved away from the
Haradrim. "Mohart was supposed to be our ally, or did you find out otherwise?"

"I know no more than you do," Imrahil whispered back. "I myself placed
the potion in the drink and I watched as the cup was placed before the
correct man. But if you look at the places now, the cup is before Mohart.
Sometime between serving it and drinking it, it was moved."

"You are certain it was placed correctly?" Aragorn asked.

"I would stake my life on it," Imrahil vowed.

"You may have staked our lives on it," Eomer warned.

"Eomer!" Aragorn hissed. "Enough. If Imrahil claims the potion was put
before the intended victim, I believe him. Someone must have moved it,
and I do not believe it is coincidence that it made its way before our
surest ally."

"You think someone moved it on purpose?" Imrahil asked. "But how can
that be? The potion was odorless, tasteless, and colorless. It would have
been impossible to sense."

"Unless the victim had senses other than sight, taste, and smell," Aragorn
mused, glancing toward the Haradrim who were now resuming their meal. For
some reason, the hall seemed darker and the shadows cast by candlelight
were deeper. "We must be doubly on guard now, Eomer," the king of Gondor
said after a moment’s pause. I think evil intentions are not all there
is to fear."

A little way behind the three rulers, Legolas shuddered. His sharp ears
had heard the entire conversation, though it was not in his nature to intentionally
eavesdrop, and he sensed a chill he had always before associated with the
dark sorcery of Dol Goldur. It was more remote and nowhere near as powerful,
but it was there. He had thought he felt it before but had attributed it
to his befuddled senses that were dazed by the call of the sea. Now, he
knew he had been right. And he did not like to think of what this meant
for their journey. Legolas unconsciously shuddered again. For all the promises
of a blazing, scorching sun, Harad was looking darker and darker with each
passing moment.


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Last Update: 17 Oct 13
Stories: 6
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Created By: Dragonwing2


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Author: Thundera Tiger

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 04/04/05

Original Post: 06/22/02

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non-slash general: maybe torture... but no slash