Fairer Sex, The: 9. Chapter Eight: The Darkness before the Dawn

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9. Chapter Eight: The Darkness before the Dawn


Legolas Greenleaf listened solemnly.



The Lord of Eden Ardhon and the Prince of Mirkwood listened in
silence as Arwen related to him all that had transpired in Minas Tirith since he
had participated in the toast following the signing of the treaty with the
Easterlings. He said little as he heard how, he and the other members of Middle
earth’s ruling Council had fallen under the spell of the Easterling queen
Akallabeth, now unmasked as a skin changer and a former servant Glaurung and
prior to that, the dark enemy Morgoth. There was little expression on his
handsome features but those who knew him were accustomed to his aloof manner.
His façade may have displayed indifference but his eyes; his eyes were burning
with the cold fire of outrage.



After Arwen was done telling her tale, Legolas did not speak
for a brief time. He appeared as if he were absorbing her words into memory and
attempting to formulate a response to the extraordinary events he had played
such a role in, but had no memory of. Yet he could feel it inside, that feeling
he had done something terrible even though he knew not what exactly. Legolas
turned his high powered gaze to his wife and raised a brow at what she wore but
his attention to that detail was fleeting. He noticed the bruise on her face and
felt his stomach hollow with realization knowing that the one person she would
have allowed close enough to inflict that injury, was him.



"Am I responsible for this?" He asked softly, brushing his
fingertips against the bruise to her upper lip.



Melia touched his cheek said with sincerity, "it was not your
fault. You were not yourself."



Legolas sucked in his breath, having that question answered
with her response. "I am sorry my love," he replied after a moment, "I would
never consciously hurt you and it wounds me greatly to know that I am
responsible for this."



Melia caught his hand against her skin and held it within hers
for a moment, her eyes conveying to him that she loved him too much to bear in
malice in actions he had no power to prevent.



"Prince," Melia said warmly, "I love you and I am thankful that
you have been returned to me. However, our situation has not changed despite the
freeing of your mind."



"I know," Legolas nodded, "You are right, there is ample time
to discuss my conduct at a later time. For now, we have to free the others."



"The question is how," Eowyn declared from the stable, still
keeping watch that they were not caught unaware by guards. "We now have a matter
of hours in which to act and our quarry is well guarded."



"Even more so now," Lothiriel added glancing at Legolas.
"Akallabeth may know that her spell over Legolas has been broken."



"We have to try," Arwen said firmly. "If we do not, then the
entire body of Middle earth’s rulers with the exception of the Prince here is
going to replaced by skin changers. I do not think that even Ulfrain has any
idea what kind of bargain he has made with the enemy. They have no more
preference for the Easterlings then they do us, the skin changers will
annihilate them in just the same way, only later."



"We have no choice then," Legolas met her gaze. "We have to
infiltrate the banquet and the young lady of Dol Amroth will have to perform her
spell upon all of them."



Lothiriel did not appear as certain she would be able to
accomplish this. Her face clearly showed her apprehension at so much being
expected of her. However, she could not deny that having been able to
successfully carry out the spell of unmaking that saw Legolas free of his
enchantment had filled her with more confidence than she had ever felt before.
She thought of her father and Eomer still trapped in the that awful spell and
knew that she had to free them, no matter what the cost to herself.



"That is easier said then done Prince," Melia replied. "I was
not so anonymous as I believed when I infiltrated the banquet hall. Even though
Castigliari professes to be an ally, I could have just as easily been discovered
by someone who has not. If I am alone could not manage this, I have little doubt
whether all of us can."



"That is true," Arwen had to concede Melia’s point but she
could not bring herself to admit defeat, not when they had discovered that it
was in their power to free the others as they had done Legolas.



"It will even be more difficult since copies of ourselves now
sit at our husband’s side," Eowyn added unhappily. The idea that a facsimile of
herself was playing Faramir’s doting wife was enough to twist her insides with
fury.



"So at this moment, everyone in the banquet hall believes that
there is no discourse between Aragorn and his queen?" Legolas mused.



"Yes," Melia nodded, her expression wrinkling with disgust as
the memory of the imposters at the banquet. "Both Arwen and Eowyn were
represented. Fortunately, because of the injury to you Prince and your absence
at the feast, I was spared that indignity."



"Then all we need to do is reach the banquet hall while it is
still peopled with guests and show ourselves," Arwen declared, an idea forming
in her head.



"Why yes!" Eowyn exclaimed. "As Melia said, neither the
Easterlings or the Gondorian guards are aware of what is transpiring, they only
know what the king tells them."



"And if the king is in the company of shape shifters," Legolas
said with a smile, impressed by Arwen’s strategy. "Then he will have to explain
why. Not even the people’s love for Aragorn as their king will allow such a
thing to go unexplained."



"What about the Prince?" Melia asked concerned for Legolas. If
Lothiriel was right and Akallabeth had some suspicion that Legolas’ was freed of
her control, there was no reason to think she would not attempt to harm him.



"Even a skin changer would not be foolish enough to use Aragorn
to strike at Legolas," Arwen spoke before he could. "Any attack upon him would
bring down the wrath of Thranduil and the outrage of every elf still remaining
in Middle earth. While our numbers are no longer what they were, the elves are
still a force to be reckoned with."



"That is good to know," Melia remarked, offering her husband a
relieved smile.



"I would not be so certain of that," Legolas answered however,
"they intended to replace all of us with others of their kind. Such a deception
would require my death as much as the other leaders of Middle earth. I think
Arwen’s plan is the only way left to us. We must expose the imposters before
everyone at the banquet and we must do it quickly. The hour grows late and even
as we speak the festivities are drawing to a close. If we are to succeed, we
must move now."



It was all happening so quickly. It felt like this nightmare
had been unfolding for an eternity, not a matter of mere hours. Now it appeared
as if there was an end in sight but it had come so quickly upon them that Arwen
scarcely had time to breathe or to accustom herself to the fact that before the
dawn came, this crisis would see its end one way or another. Still, no matter
how much risk was involved, any plan that would see the freedom of her beloved
Estel was one she was willing to attempt. Unfortunately, entering the banquet
hall and exposing the shape shifters for what they were was not the only
difficulty that lay before them. No doubt in such a confrontation, Akallabeth
still had the power to use Aragorn and against them.



"I do not wish to fight my husband," Eowyn spoke, voicing her
own thoughts on the matter. "If we do this, that is precisely what will happen.
I do not wish to fight Faramir."



"Any more then I would like to face my friend Lady Eowyn,"
Legolas responded in understanding of her feelings. "I do not see that we have
any choice."



"We have to perform the spell of unmaking upon them," Lothiriel
suggested, "however, you saw what effect the spell had upon the Lord of Eden
Ardhon to see this done. It will be the same with all of them."



"If we expose Akallabeth for what she is, we will have help,"
Arwen reminded. "Lothiriel, you must bring with you the ingredients for this
spell. If we have to, we will barricade them inside the hall to see them free of
this pestilence."



Still despite Arwen’s efforts to be optimistic about what they
were intending to do, no words could lessen the danger of what they were about
to attempt. Even with Legolas restored to them, the Prince who was a member of
the Fellowship, there were no guarantees that they would succeed. Unfortunately,
Legolas was right. They had run out of time.



It was this way or none at all.



**************



 


 



Akallabeth was not happy.



The skin changer sensed something was wrong and yet Akallabeth
could not leave in the presence of all the assembled guests without drawing
suspicions. The plan was mere hours away from fruition and yet something
unsettling had stirred within the creature. One of their pawns was somehow freed
of the shackles upon on his mind and since everyone else was assembled,
Akallabeth deduced rather quickly which one of them it was.



Elves, the skin changer snorted with derision.



That accursed race was capable of nothing but complicating
relatively simple matters, just as the Evenstar had done on this occasion. If
only they had managed to lay their hands upon her half-breed whelp, it would
have ensured her cooperation. Unfortunately, even the best efforts of the king
had been unable to retrieve the child. Whomever the Evenstar had entrusted her
son was very capable of ensuring no harm befell the young prince, much to
Akallabeth’s severe displeasure.



No doubt Legolas Greenleaf was now aware that he had been under
a spell though how he had freed himself was a matter of concern to Akallabeth.
As far as the skin changer was aware, there was no one in all of Gondor that was
capable of undoing the magic that had bound its king and the rest of Middle
earth’s ruling council. The wizard Pallando according to all accounts was in
Mirkwood, Akallabeth had been certain of this prior to their arrival in Minas
Tirith. He was the only one who was versed enough in magic to be able to
circumvent the spell cast over the king and his companions. It disturbed the
Easterling queen greatly that Legolas was free because if it was Pallando who
was responsible, then the skin changers would be facing an Istar with uncharted
powers.



"We have a problem," Akallabeth whispered in Ulfrain’s ear as
Castigliari returned to his seat next to them.



"What sort of problem?" The Easterling king asked looking up in
surprise. The banquet hall was crowded with revelers and everyone seemed to
accept the facsimiles of the queen and the Lady of Ithilien without question. As
far as Ulfrain was concerned, everything was transpiring exactly as it
should.



"The Lord of Eden Ardhon is no longer under our control,"
Akallabeth replied.



"What?" Ulfrain hissed loudly and then quickly silenced himself
when he noticed the gaze of a passerby looking up at him in question.



"Calm yourself," Akallabeth ordered sharply "He is only one but
he has been freed."



"I thought you said that was impossible," Castigliari retorted.



"Impossible for the queen but not a wizard if one is present,"
Akallabeth answered, glaring at the general who clearly disliked the whole
notion of the alliance his king had struck with her.



"What do we do?" Ulfrain demanded, clearly afraid at this turn
of events.



Castigliari could not believe that the son had come from a
father he had served so faithfully and fought so bravely for in the past.
Ulfrain was weak and he was malicious, unlike his father who understood his
place in the scheme of things and did the best for his people, despite their
foolish devotion to Sauron. Part of Castigliari’s decision to help the Lady
Melia and the queen was due to the deficiencies he was noticing in the king he
had pledged to serve, the king who would bring them to disaster far worse than
even the War of the Ring.



"He will not doubt attempt to reach the king and expose our
scheme," Castigliari offered quietly. "We must stop him."



Akallabeth stared at him with a small measure of surprise,
impressed by his backbone and his quick thinking, "you are right general."



"I suggest that you keep your people confined to this room and
allow the king’s guards to take up position around the banquet hall. We cannot
allow the prince to speak to the palace guards and poison their minds with the
possibility that their king might be a skin changer’s creature. From the wife
who was implicated in crimes that is one thing, however, Legolas is the Prince
of Mirkwood and a member of the Fellowship of the Nine, his word is almost
beyond reproach," Castigliari continued, hoping that he was capable of playing
games of deception as well as Akallabeth.



"That is sound General," Akallabeth nodded. "Go to it
immediately. If that elf comes within a foot of this room, kill him. Damn the
consequences. My people should be able to mask his demise and by morning it will
no longer matter."



"It will be done," Castigliari smiled and rose to his feet,
bowing slightly in the presence of his king and queen before he departed from
their company.



For the first time since this entire affair had begun, the
general was starting to see a light at the end of this dark night.



*********



"That is an interesting costume you wear wife," Legolas
commented as his eyes moved appreciatively over Melia in her Easterling
garments, as they moved through the sewers once more.



"If you even think of asking me to wear it again, I will shoot
you in your other leg," Melia replied sweetly while still managing to give him a
look of warning.



"It was a mere thought," the prince smiled. This situation, for
some odd reason, reminded him of the journey to Ered Mithrin during the early
days of their relationship. "I must confess that it is most becoming."



"I think I liked him better when he was under Akallabeth’s
spell," Eowyn added.



"Oh you get used to him," Arwen could not help but add, "it
takes a long time though."



"How long?" Eowyn looked over her shoulder at the queen.



"About three thousand years," she laughed softly.



"I think I am outnumbered," Legolas replied good naturedly,
glad to see that their spirits were still high despite the emotional stresses
they must have endured since the signing of the treaty.



"With weapons far sharper than swords," Melia smiled, pausing
long enough to give her husband a glance that expressed her affection towards
him in no uncertain terms.



"Are you certain that these disguises will allow you to reach
the banquet hall?" Legolas asked with concern as he regarded Arwen and Eowyn who
were clad in the garments of soldiers while Lothiriel was still wearing the
disguise she had used to leave the palace unnoticed.



"They were good enough for us to retrieve you from your
quarters," Arwen replied. "I hope our fortune will last long enough for us to
enter the banquet hall."



"We must beware," Lothiriel added for the first time. Despite
the fact that the young woman had counted herself more than worthy to be in
their company, she was still a little reserved about making herself heard. "The
skin changers I saw must surely be in the palace by now," she reminded.



"I would say that they are most likely within the banquet hall
itself," Arwen replied in agreement. "If they intend to murder the king and his
company, then it is likely they would wait until the celebration is done and
then move in for the kill. Legolas, you still command the respect of Gondor’s
troops, I believe that you can convince enough of them that the king is in
danger and hasten our arrival at the banquet hall. Melia, you will go with
him."



"Why?" Melia asked immediately. She had begun this adventure at
Arwen and Eowyn’s side and though she loved her husband, she felt similar duty
to her friends.



"Because to them, you appear as a member of the Easterling
entourage," Arwen answered swiftly. "Do not fear, Eowyn and I will not be far
behind. We will follow the soldiers but discreetly, as will Lothiriel who can
enter the banquet hall as a serving boy."



"It is a sensible course my love," Legolas added. "Evenstar,
you do your father proud on this day. I do not think he could manage such wise
counsel."



"If word were all that were needed to win the day, I would
accept your praise with pride," Arwen gave him a warm look, grateful for the
praise but aware of the odds they still faced. "However, it is deeds that will
decide how this will end."



And by night’s end, it appeared they would have to accomplish a
bit of it.



 


*************



General Castigliari wondered if he had suddenly gone mad.



Considering his present course, there was every reason to
believe he had taken leave of his sense. The risks to himself were considerable
and he had no idea if what he had embarked upon could ultimately lead to the
freeing of his people from this dark alliance that Ulfrain had made with the
skin changers. He only knew that at the time, the opportunity presented itself
and he had grasped it with both hands. In the field of battle, he knew when to
make use of an advantage. In this instance, the anxiety he had seen in
Akallabeth’s eyes was the first sign of weakness he had witness in the skin
changer since this nightmare began.



Ulfrain’s personal guard numbered only a handful of men and
that concerned Castigliari since he was unaware of just how many skin changers
were in the palace. He was certain however, that aside from the skin changers
wearing the faces of the Queen and the lady of Ithilien, there were others
within the banquet hall, appearing harmless until the moment came for them to do
away with the rulers of Middle earth. In truth, Castigliari had no great love
for his former enemies but even he was astute enough to recognize who was the
greater threat in this instance. This alliance of the skin changers would be
little different from their alliance with Sauron, which was to say no alliance
at all.



For as long as he could remember, the people of the Haradirim
and all the nations that constituted the Easterlings, were bound in service to
Sauron and the dark lord Morgoth before him. Sauron’s agents called it an
alliance but since the Haradirim had no but to serve, the nature of their
relationship with Mordor was more akin to slavery than anything else. They
fought when Sauron ordered them to do so and they were expected to die with
similar obedience. Their entire culture had been sacrificed to the ideal of
becoming a vital cog in Sauron’s war machine. There was little infrastructure
within their society that was not geared towards warfare and even Castigliari
recognized that unless this changed, they would become extinct.



"What are your orders Sir?" Ramariz, the captain of the king’s
guard asked of the general after he had summoned them all outside the banquet
hall. Behind the close doors where the feasting was taking place, the noise of
partygoers had contracted to a mild din and Castigliari could now be assured
that he had escaped the watchful eye of Akallabeth.



"There is something a foot here tonight," Castigliari answered
as his eyes scan the faces before him and he wondered if Akallabeth had replaced
any of his men with her skin changers. "I cannot say what for the moment but if
you catch sight of the Prince of Mirkwood, you are to detain him. Do not allow
him into the banquet hall until I have been consulted, is that clear?"



The soldiers looked at each other in puzzlement, aware that
such action against an ally in the palace of its king was a dangerous action
indeed. However, many of the men present had fought alongside the general in the
wars preceding this alliance and they had learnt not to question his orders.
They trusted him far more than they would trust their king Ulfrain, though not
of them would make such an admission out loud.



"We will do as you ordered General," Ramariz answered firmly,
mirroring the words of his general. "We will detain the prince if he enters our
presence."



"Good," Castigliari patted Ramariz on the shoulder in
gratitude. "We may yet save our people from the darkness had threatens us
all."



They did not understand to what he referred to but they trusted
him and that was good enough for now. Castigliari was almost as uncertain as
they of what would transpire as the evening drew to a close but at least when it
came upon them, they would be prepared.



*************



 


"Are you ready?" Legolas asked the women before him as their
plan moved into its final stages.



"Go to it Legolas," Arwen ordered, answering his question at
the same time, "time grows short."



Taking refuge behind the turn of a corner, they could hear the
chatter of palace guards from the corridor beyond. This plan would not work
without the aid of Gondor’s warriors and soliciting their aid would be a
precarious venture at best. Thanks to Akallabeth’s control of Aragorn, so much
distrust had been sown in the soldiers against their queen, that it had been
impossible for Arwen to convince them of what had befallen the kingdom. However,
Legolas Greenleaf was another thing entirely. He, like the king himself, was
member of the legendary Fellowship and possessed the weight needed to convince
them that a shadow had fallen over the Citadel. Perhaps even enough for them to
consider their queen’s words of truth.



Legolas nodded and gazed at the Evenstar who was like her
sister to him. By the grace of her convictions and the courage of the friends
who stood by her side, she had staved off the disaster that was threatening the
entire realm of Middle earth and might still do so if they failed in their
mission tonight. He leaned forward and planted a kiss on Arwen’s forehead, then
moved to Eowyn where he squeezed her shoulder as he would a comrade in arms
before finally offering the young Lothiriel a smile of encouragement.



No further words needed to be spoken because those slight
gestures were enough to convey the depth of his feeling. He turned to his wife,
who would stand shoulder to shoulder with him as they undertook their most
dangerous gamble of the night. Although his leg still ached in pain, as an elf
he recovered quickly and was still a formidable opponent as he intended to prove
it by the bow and the swords he carried on his back. They had retrieved his
weapons prior to their arrival here and now that he was armed with the necessary
assemblage for battle, he was read for whatever lay ahead.



Stepping out of the corridor with Melia at his side, Legolas
strode forward boldly, hiding the slight limp in his walk and made his way
directly for the guards. They caught sight of him immediately as they took up
sentry positions along the wall of the corridor leading to the banquet hall.
With so many guests of important standing present on this occasion, Legolas
could not deny that additional security measures were warranted.



"Guards," Legolas called them forward and Melia tensed at his
side. She gazed quickly over her shoulder and saw that Arwen and Eowyn were
keeping watch closely. This made her feel a little more secure, though she could
not say why.



"I wish you all to come with me," Legolas’ words brought her
attention back to her prince. "I have uncovered an assassination plot against
the king. At this moment, the feast has been infiltrated by assassins posing as
the Easterling entourage, preparing to murder the king and all the members of
the ruling council at the close of the evening."



A tremor of outrage moved through the guards who were present
but the word of Legolas Greenleaf was difficult to discount.



"This plot has deeper ramifications than mere assassination I
am afraid," Melia added her voice to the mix. "We believe that the Easterling
king has made an alliance with agents of darkness, skin changers who are able to
assume the guise of any one of us. If you accompany us to the banquet hall, we
will prove this irrefutably."



For the soldiers of Gondor, the memory of the Black Sleep and
the Nazgul were still fresh in their minds, following the War of the Ring. They
knew such dark creatures existed in this world and the fact that it might have
taken their king was nothing to be ignored. The Lady Melia had claimed that they
would be provided with proof and until that was proved a falsehood, the guards
were duty bound to investigate the possibility that some harm may have befallen
their king.



"We follow your lead Prince Legolas," the leader, a man
Melia recognized as Darond, the captain of the palace guards, declared firmly.



Relief flooded Melia as Legolas took charge and made their way
towards the banquet hall. She looked past her and noted that Eowyn and Arwen had
made their emergence from the corridor, falling in behind the soldiers that were
currently on the move. The thoughts of the soldiers in their party were now
firmly fixed upon the safety of the king and did not notice that their number
had suddenly increased by two. It was just as well, Melia thought, for it was
imperative that Arwen and Eowyn came face to the face with the imposters before
the entire court of Gondor.



Only then, would everyone know the truth.



 


*********



 


Arwen and Eowyn continued to follow the company of soldiers in
their advance towards the banquet hall, remaining discreetly behind until the
doors to the room appeared at the end of the corridor. However, it appeared that
Akallabeth had already foreseen their possible attempt to interrupt the
proceedings since there were Easterling guards taking up sentry positions. The
reaction of the Gondorian guards to this was almost instantaneous and Arwen
heard the unsheathing of swords as both factions prepared to meet each other in
battle. She could feel the tension rippling through the men of Gondor and the
sparks that were being added to a situation that could become enflamed in a
matter of seconds. If either side began fighting, whatever advantage they had
would be lost for the skin changers would know that their plans were in peril.
Even Arwen could not be certain how they would react.



"Stand aside," Legolas declared firmly as the Easterling guards
barred them from progressing forward. "You have no authority to bear arms
against the guards of the king whose palace you are a guest."



"We have our orders," the Easterling called Ramariz declared
firmly, aware of how tenuous his position was but unwilling to disobey
Castigliari’s instructions to them. "We are to detain you here, Prince of
Mirkwood."



"You have the right to detain no one," Darond, retorted
sharply. "You will let us through or suffer the consequences."



"We have been told that there is treachery afoot," Ramariz held
his ground for his uncertainty not quite enough to yield his position.



"We know the treachery that is a foot," Legolas persisted,
gesturing to the men behind him to hold their position. "Your queen is a shape
shifter and she had used this treaty to gain entry into the Citadel so that
their kind can assassinate the King of Gondor."



"A shape shifter?" Ramariz stared at Legolas in disbelief.



"Enough of this," Arwen’s patience finally snapped and she
pushed her way through the guards to the front. Pulling the helmet off her head,
her dark hair flowed around her shoulders and drew astonished cries from
everyone present.



"Queen Arwen!" Darond exclaimed as he found himself at his
queen. For most of the day, he and his men had been pursuing the queen across
the palace, with orders to apprehend her and all her companions at any cost.
Darond like the rest of the guard could not understanding the reasoning behind
the king and the steward’s vehement demand but dared not question either. An
hour before the banquet was to begin the king suddenly rescinded the order
against the queen and she had miraculously appeared at his side, with all sins
forgiven leaving the guards confused by the whole incident. However, Darond had
seen the queen within the banquet hall with the king; he had seen it with his
own eyes and as far as he knew, she was still inside the room.



"How is this possible?" He mused and his confusion was mirrored
on the face of his Easterling counterpart as well. "I saw you in the banquet
hall but a short time ago."



"As did I," Ramariz declared with similar amazement.



"There is not much time," Arwen took the lead, deciding that it
was time she stopped hiding and made her presence felt as queen of Gondor,
instead of a fugitive. "Both of our peoples have been deceived by the skin
changers who are now in the presence of the king. What you saw sitting at King
Elessar’s right hand was not his wife but a skin changer who has every intention
of killing him before the night is done. I cannot deny that this has been a
strange day with the king issuing some equally strange orders in relation to my
capture and incarceration but I need you to believe me, that the king is in
danger and if we do not act now, it will be too late."



"She speaks the truth Darond," Legolas added his support behind
Arwen’s impassioned statement. "I have seen with my own eyes the darkness that
has overcome the palace."



Darond wrestled briefly with his decision for his world was one
of rather black and white simplicity. The rest of what the queen said could be
discerned at a later date but for him, only one thing mattered and that was the
safety of his liege. Whatever else that transpired this day could be explained
at a later time, however for the moment, Darond’s duty was to protect the king.



"We are at your service, your highness," Darond bowed slightly
before her.



"Thank you," Arwen smiled, grateful for his faith in her words.
However, she was far from done. Turning around she faced Ramariz with eyes of
cold steel, speaking in a voice not quite her own and rather unnerving when
coming from one so beautiful, "You will allow us to pass immediately. If you do
not and any harm befalls my husband, I will swear to you that Gondor will
perceive your inference as an act of war! Now stand aside!"



Ramariz was clearly shaken by the threat and unwilling to
jeopardize the safety of his people especially when delivered by the queen with
such ferocity. Glancing behind him briefly, he nodded at his men and took a step
back in a gesture of compliance.



"You have made a wise decision," Arwen said coolly and gestured
for Darond and his men to follow her.



"Now my lady, you can make another by allowing us help you,"
Castigliari announced himself as he appeared, having been summoned by one of his
men when Legolas was first sighted.



"General," Arwen greeted, "thank you for the information you
have provided."



"Perhaps you would care to explain why you have ordered your
men to detain Legolas?" Eowyn asked suspiciously.



"I took the opportunity to be of assistance," Castigliari
explained himself not only to Gondorians and their queen but also his own men.
"Akallabeth knew that Lord Legolas had been freed of the enchantment."



"Enchantment?" Darond blinked in question.



"All will be explained in due course," Arwen remarked
offhandedly before returning her attention to the general again. "Go on."



"She anticipated that you and Lord Legolas might attempt to
enter the banquet hall so I volunteered my men to prevent her from assigning
that task to her skin changers. I assumed that if you were going to attempt
storming the banquet hall, you would have some kind of plan to do so, unless of
course I have underestimated you greatly. I am still new to this idea of women
possessing a military mind," he added with a little smile.



"I will not disappoint you and I would have you join us for
your people are as much in jeopardy as ours," Arwen said graciously. "What plan
I have, I will reveal once we are inside. The skin changers are wise and they
may have planted an imposter amongst us. Unfortunately, there is no way to
discern the truth for now. all you need to know is I intend to expose the skin
changers in our midst. The rest will unfold later."



"Your reasoning is sound my lady," Castigliari bowed slightly
in respect. "I follow your lead."



"Good," Arwen declared and resumed her journey towards the
banquet room; "I think its time we join the festivities."



***********



 


Akallabeth could sense something amiss.



It was more than just the breaking of the spell that had
bound the elf Legolas Greenleaf; it was an instinct that there were forces at
play of which Akallabeth was unaware. That made the skin changer nervous and
watchful for danger. The celebration was starting to thin with some guests
departing for the night, however there were still enough people present to
ensure that the plan to deal with the ruling council of Middle earth could yet
to proceed. Still, Akallabeth could not shed this feeling of uneasiness that had
clawed its way into the skin changer the nearer their plan came to fruition.



If the Prince had been freed, where was he? Surely by now, he
would have attempted to raise the alarm that the king’s will was no longer his
own. Undoubtedly, his first move would be to reach the king and by doing so
leave himself to interception by Castigliari and his men. The general had yet to
return following his departure from the table to check on the progress of his
men and Akallabeth could not deny being surprised that he was being of such
assistance. What other choice did he have but to comply with Ulfrain’s plans? It
was not as if he could usurp the authority of his king, not unless he was
willing to expose the Easterling complicity in this affair.



The realization struck Akallabeth so sharply that the skin
changer almost cursed out loud in fury. However, any exclamation made would have
been lost by the sound of the banquet doors being flung open, the heavy wood
slamming against the brick wall as Akallabeth’s worst fears were realized.



The crowd fell dead silent as the Evenstar stepped into the
room. She was wearing the garb of a Gondorian warrior but hers was a face that
could not be mistaken and as she stood before them real as life, with the lady
of Ithilien in similar stead, there was no denying it. Within seconds, eyes
darted between Arwen and the woman occupying the seat next to the king and there
was no hiding that in appearance they were identical. Similar observations were
made of the facsimile beside Lord Faramir and very soon the mood of celebration
was replaced by confusion as everything descended into chaos.



************


"What is the meaning of this?" Aragorn demanded, anticipating the order of
his master.


"Barricade the doors," Arwen ignored his demand and instructed Darond behind
her. "He is not himself, he has been placed under enchantment by the Easterling
queen."


"I give the orders here," Aragorn boomed, stopping the captain of his guard
in his tracks. "Do nothing that she says."


"This is not the time to doubt me Darond," Arwen returned
sharply. "You know that I would never harm the king but you must believe me. He
is under a spell and if you do not heed my words, we will never free him of
it."



Darond stared at Aragorn and Arwen, wishing this choice could
be made simpler but he knew his queen almost as well as his king and she was
right, Darond would never believe that Arwen would do anything to harm the king.
If Prince Legolas admitted that he was slave to a skin changer’s spell then
there was no reason to believe that king was any less exempt. Protecting the
king did not simply charge Darond to guard his person but also his mind.



"Follow the queen’s instructions!" He ordered his men.
"Barricade the doors. No one leaves this room until we discern what is happening
here."



"Castigliari, you traitor!" Ulfrain hissed in fury. "How dare
you!"



"How dare you?" Castigliari barked back. "I serve your father
and your grandfather. Have our people not bled enough serving darkness! You
would plunge us back into the same slavery we had escaped when Sauron was
destroyed! I will not serve a skin changer and neither will our people! You did
this without our consent and that forfeit your right to lead us! Arrest him!"



"Do nothing that he says!" Ulfrain cried out impotently but
unlike Aragorn, he did not have the unswerving dedication of his men that
Castigliari did.


As the doors and were slammed shut behind them, Akallabeth let
out a harsh scream and it sounded like the screech of animal. Next to Aragorn,
the creature that wore Arwen’s shape changed shape and suddenly, the skin
changers around them were revealed in all their dark reality. With skin like the
scales of a lizard and yellow eyes filled with malevolence, they glared at those
assembled with vengeance.



"Kill them all!" Akallabeth screamed and leapt over the table,
heading straight for Arwen.



"Lothiriel," Arwen cried out, "stay close to me!"



The girl nodded wildly at the outbreak of violence as the
Easterling entourage showed their true colours and began attacking the combined
forces of Gondor and the Haradirim. Despite her fear and her helplessness at
being unable to join the fight, her eyes were searching for her father. However,
in all the pandemonium, he was difficult to see. She clutched her satchel close
and prayed that he was not hurt in this melee though it was difficult to
maintain such a hope when all she could see was the clanging of swords and cries
of the injured as wounds were inflicted.



Lothiriel felt useless as she saw her companions engaging the
enemy, while there was little she could do to help them. Across the floor, she
saw Legolas was shooting arrows with a speed that almost seemed magical. Never
once did he miss his target and the wound to his leg did little to hinder just
how deadly his aim could be. Skin changers were screeching in agony as the
shafts of his arrows were driven deep into their bodies. Melia showed similar
proficiency with her crossbow although her skill was not as honed as her
husband’s. She remained close to Legolas, ensuring no one could harm him while
he was releasing his deadly barrage of arrows.



Eowyn on the other hand, was in the thick of the battle, her
earlier wounds proving little hindrance as she faced the skin changers with a
blade in her hand. Lothiriel had never seen a woman fight with the sword and she
had marveled at just how skilled the Lady of Ithilien was with it. Eowyn simply
did not swing wildly but rather used her whole body to fight, as if the business
of swordplay was but a small part of the combat process. Suddenly, out of
nowhere, Lothiriel felt a hand around her shoulder dragging her away from Arwen.
She let out a small cry but by now, Arwen was too busy dealing with Akallabeth’s
impending attack to be able to assist her in any way.



"Daughter," she found herself staring at Imrahil. Her father
stared at her with eyes not unlike an animal, glowing with hatred. "This is your
doing isn’t it?"



"Father, please let me go!" She cried as he began dragging her
away from her friends.



"You are the one who is responsible for tainting the elf’s
mind!" Imrahil accused. "Only you would know the dark arts well enough!"



"Father please," she begged at a loss of what to do. She wanted
to fight him but he was her father and she dared not hurt him.



"Silence!" He roared and struck her hard.



When Lothiriel felt the knuckles and the explosion of pain that
followed, something inside her snapped and she knew that this man was not her
father and would not be again, until she freed him. Her fingers enclosed
around the wooden frame of the chair she had staggered against when he delivered
his blow and steeling herself for what had to be done, Lothiriel picked it and
shattered it against her father’s body. Imrahil had no time to cry as the sturdy
frame crumpled around him, wooden fragments and splinters raining around his
ears as he was knocked unconscious.



Lothiriel hurried to his side after she had inflicted this harm
upon him, examining him quickly to ensure that he was still alive and that she
had not done irreparable injury to his person. A flood of relief moved through
her body knowing that he still lived and what damage she had done would heal in
time. This could not go on, she decided, her gaze moving across the room to see
both Aragorn and Faramir approaching Eowyn at the same time. The dwarf Gimli was
hacking his way through the guards of Gondor and Harad to reach Legolas and
somewhere in this chaos, Eomer was no doubt contemplating how he would serve his
masters.



She had to stop this before someone was killed. She was the
only one who could.



Taking a deep breath, Lothiriel reached for her satchel,
knowing what she had to do.



***********



Since this entire affair had unfolded incredibly before her
eyes, the one thing she had been spared unlike Melia and Arwen, was the ordeal
of facing the man she loved wearing the shackles of a skin changer’s control.
Battling the skin changers was no easy matter and they changed their shape at
will. One instance she was battling an Easterling dancer and at another she
found herself staring at the Witch King of Angmar. Unfortunately for the skin
changer, Eowyn had not been afraid of Sauron’s creature when she had faced him
at Pelennor and it was no different when she was confronted with this facsimile.



However, now she faced an enemy she did not wish to confront.



Faramir stared at his wife and if it were not for the fact that
his actions revealed his loyalties, Eowyn might have never have guessed that he
was anything but the kind, gentle man that she had fallen in love with, the
warrior with the heart of a scholar. He stared at her, sword in hand, not
lifting it to fight but then he was always very different from Aragorn. Aragorn
was a man who took charge of a situation immediately where else Faramir was one
who took a step back and weighed alternatives before attacking. As he was doing
so now.



"Are we really going to do this, my lady?" He asked her.



"I have no taste for it," Eowyn replied but her grip had not
slackened around the hilt of her weapon. Over his shoulder she saw Aragorn
coming towards them both and knew that she was lost if she had to fight both of
them. "But I have no choice, I must defeat you to help you."



"I think you are mistaken on who needs aid here," Faramir
stared at her with a merciless gaze that bore no trace of the man she loved.



"Please do not force me into this," Eowyn almost whispered, her
heart anguished by the thought of raising a blade to him. "I do not wish to hurt
you."



"You have hurt me," he retorted. "You hurt me when you chose to
stand against me. I have endured your presumption in thinking yourself equal to
a man, I have endured your ignorance of what place a wife is to occupy in her
husband’s house and most of all I have endured you, Eowyn, who came to me after
being rejected by another. Did you not think I did not know?"



"That is not true," Eowyn struggled to defend herself because
she could not deny that she had once loved Aragorn.



"I am no fool," he glared at her. "I know it is the truth."



Eowyn was trying not to let his words affect her but there as
always a small part of her that questioned her reason for turning to Faramir in
the days following Pelennor. Had she chosen to bestow her love upon him because
she loved him or because Aragorn had rejected her? Though she now loved her
husband with all her heart, that tiny fragment of guilt had remained in her
heart, relentless in its determination to plague her innermost thoughts.



"I love you Faramir," Eowyn gave the only answer she could
under the circumstances. "Perhaps it was once true that I loved the king but it
has not been that way since you entered my life. If you were in possession of
your thoughts, you would know that this is true. I have adored you since the day
my heart discovered you and that will not change, no matter what the poison in
your mind may lead you to believe."



For an instant, it seemed as if her words affected him for his
face showed his uncertainty, however the power of the enchantment was too strong
for him to resist for very long.



"Yield your sword to me and I will forgive you," he said, his
expression hardening once more.



Eowyn closed her eyes and drew a deep breath before she
answered, "you will have to come take it from me husband."



"As you wish," Faramir replied and raised his sword to
strike.



Eowyn met his blade with her own and while she found herself in
the impossible situation of having to fight her husband, her instincts for self
preservations came to bear and she knew that it was not in her, to endure
defeat. She parried hard, watching his side step her sharp thrust before
riposting in return. They matched each other blow for blow, although she was
fighting not to kill him. Faramir however, had no such reservations because the
shape shifter’s spell upon him had turned his wife into a mortal enemy.



"Faramir, please!" Eowyn beseeched him, aware that they were
reaching a point of no return. "I do not wish to hurt you!"



"Oh Eowyn you are a delight," he sneered, smashing his blade
against hers with such force that the sound of steel filled her ears before she
felt his fist enclose around the hand holding her sword. Before she could wrench
herself free, she was being pulled forward and suddenly, a balled fist connected
with the side of her face. Stunned, she tried to recover but his grip upon her
was strong and she did the only think she could, she kicked out. Her foot
slammed into his knee, bringing him down in one swift movement. He had both
their weapons now and Eowyn snatched the first thing she saw from a nearby
table. Her own rage inspired because of the situation, Eowyn swung the pitcher
across Faramir’s face. The ceramic shattered when it impacted against his skull,
spraying fluid and fragments in all directions.



Faramir cursed loudly as he was temporarily blinded by the
spirits in his eyes when Eowyn dropped and swung out her leg in an arch,
sweeping his feet from under him and bringing him down against the floor with a
loud thud. The sound of his skull against the stone made her flinch but he did
not rise again. Breathing hard and fearful that she might have hurt him
seriously, she rushed to his side. Fortunately, he was merely unconscious.
Reaching for her weapon in his grip, she was about to pick it up when suddenly a
boot came down hard against the blade, crushing against to the floor. Eowyn
looked up and found herself staring at Aragorn.



"Well met my lady," he said with a little smile. "Shall we
dance?"



**********



Melia counted the number of bolts she had remaining for her
crossbow and knew that eventually, she would have to find an alternate means of
defending herself. Legolas who was the only person she knew capable of using the
long bow in such confined surrounding had no difficulty. He never missed and
thus every arrow he released met its mark. She had been covering his back while
he made short work of the enemy but now Melia saw that there was someone else
who had greater need of assistance than her able husband.



"Prince!" She cried out, "Eowyn needs help."



Legolas followed her gaze and saw the shield maiden of Rohan
about to do battle with Aragorn. Having stood in battle with the king for longer
than any human here had been alive, Legolas knew that Eowyn was outmatched and
in the condition that he was in, Aragorn was perfectly capable of killing her.
The prince had seen the outcome of her recent encounter with Aragorn and Legolas
would not see Eowyn suffer in that manner again.



"I will deal with this," Legolas replied brushing past his
wife. He was possibly the only one present capable of dealing with Aragorn in
his present state.



"Are you certain?" She asked, fearful for him because she had
seen Aragorn in combat and knew how ruthless he could be.



Legolas did not answer her because he was already rushing to
Eowyn’s aid. Melia stared after him a moment before she heard a familiar battle
cry and found herself facing a new peril.



Gimli was making short work of the Easterling guards who were
uncertain how to deal with his fury of his attacks. During their quest to
Nargothrond, Melia had opportunity to see the dwarf in battle and knew that his
size had very little to do with ability. The axe was covered in the blood of
enemies and as he swung it with expert precision, using his size to his
advantage, Melia knew that without something more substantial then crossbow she
was carrying, there was no way to defeat him. She did not wish to harm Gimli
because Melia’s shared her husband’s affection for the dwarf but she had to stop
him.



"Where is he?" Gimli glowered as he caught sight of her. "Where
is that treacherous elf!"



"Master Gimli you are not yourself," Melia tried to reason with
him, "unfortunately, I am not going to fight you."



"Stand aside lady," Gimli retorted. "My business is with your
husband."



"I was afraid you might say that," Melia sighed and raised her
crossbow. Without saying another word, she unleashed a bolt that struck the
dwarf in the right shoulder, above the juncture where his arm met his body.



Gimli let out an enraged cry as his hand released his axe,
allowing the heavy blade to clattered noisily to the ground. His arm hung limply
at his side as he rushed towards her and Melia armed herself again, unhappy that
it would require one more shot to incapacitate him. This time the steel bolt
tore into the dwarf’s knee, cutting short his charge and dropping him
immediately to the floor.



"Easterling witch!" He cursed as he hugged his injured leg.



"I am sorry," Melia sighed staring at the dwarf, "but you will
thank me for this later."



She hoped.


*************



Customarily, Lothiriel would have preferred to conduct her
spell of unmaking under better circumstances however at this moment, it appeared
her choices were limited. Crawling under a table, she hoped she could remain
hidden while she attempted to carry out the spell. Despite her anxiety at
attempting to perform complex invocations in such surroundings, Lothiriel was
determined to free the minds of those enchanted by the shape shifter spell
before more blood was spilled. Acting against her father in the manner she had
done, was an experience Lothiriel would not wish upon any one. Her rage was
properly provoked for being forced into such a position and her success with
Legolas made her determined to free the others as well.



Laying out the ingredients she needed to carry out the spell,
Lothiriel hoped she could remain unnoticed long enough to complete it.
Certainly, the minute she began chanting the invocation, the skin changers could
become aware of what she was up to. At this moment however, they considered her
little more than a frightened child and it was this perception that kept her
safe so far. The fact that they had no suspicion that she was the one carrying
out the spell ensured that Lothiriel would be able to perform this latest feat
of conjuring without interference.



Now that everything was in place, she closed her eyes and began
to recite the words, determined to end this nightmare once and for all. However,
her chant was cut short as the table above her was flung aside and Lothiriel
realized that nightmare was just beginning when standing before her was Eomer.



**********



Upon seeing Aragorn before her, Eowyn gave up any thought of
retrieving her weapon and scrambled away from the king, determined to gain a
precious few seconds so that she could think of a way to best defend herself.
Her last encounter with Aragorn had taught Eowyn one thing; he was the superior
warrior. It did not mean that she was any less a person but Aragorn had become
who he was in legend and in history because of his skills. She admired him for
what he was and knew that he was a strong force of nobility and courage in a
world that needed such qualities desperately. The spell had turned all that
purity into a thing of darkness and she hated the skin changers for that most of
all.



"Lady Eowyn," Legolas Greenleaf appeared from behind her,
"stand aside."



As much as Eowyn wanted to fight her own battles, in this
instance she had no choice but to withdraw. It would be trial enough facing
Aragorn on her own without the added burden of trying not to hurt him seriously
when he was not bound by such considerations. If anyone could match the king and
possibly defeat him without permanent harm, then it was Legolas. Eowyn was
grateful for his interference though she did not envy him having to face his
best friend in battle. She turned her back upon both of them and caught sight of
something that sent her running.



 


************



"You would fight me Legolas?" Aragorn stared hard at the prince
after Eowyn had left them.



"I would fight you to save you from yourself Aragorn," Legolas
said fearlessly. He had picked up Faramir’s sword and held it up in readiness to
fend off any attack from Aragorn.



"I am completely myself old friend," Aragorn returned, "it is
you who are not yourself. The Legolas I knew would never stand against me in a
fight."



"The Aragorn I know would never willingly draw his sword
against a lady," Legolas returned coolly, "or strike one as you have. It is not
your way to be a brutalizer of women Aragorn. Deep inside of you, you must know
that."



"I know nothing except my friend is betraying me!" Aragorn
hissed but his anger seemed provoked by Legolas’ words, as if what the prince
had said had struck too close to home. Legolas blocked the strike easily and
kicked out, landing the ball of his foot squarely against Aragorn’s sternum. The
king reeled backwards and Legolas took the offensive, using his elven reflexes
to gain the advantage. Even injured, he was still a match for Aragorn.



"I would never betray you Aragorn," Legolas swung his blade at
the king who barely had time to block the blade. "You and I have faced things
together these past sixty years than most could never even dream in a life time.
We owe each other our lives, a dozen times over! Do you honestly think that I
would betray you? I stood by you when you were a Ranger and I stand by you
still, while you are king. We have battled the forces of darkness together
Aragorn! If I have a brother in this world, it would surely be you."



"Be quiet!" Aragorn hissed and there was a hint of desperation
in his voice as he made that demand, as if he were pleading for Legolas to stop.
Anduril was swinging wildly before him "You are trying to confuse me! Just like
Arwen!"



"She loves you!" Legolas returned. "How can you even question
that? Do you have any idea what she sacrificed to love you? Think Aragorn! Fight
the blackness in your heart that makes you think that she could ever raise a
finger against you!"



"I will not listen to you!" Aragorn cried out again but the
cracks in his voice were beginning to reveal themselves.



Legolas’ words had far more effect upon the king than his
blade. Legolas could see Aragorn struggling against the spell’s hold upon him.
However, whether or not the king was strong enough to break the enchantment was
another thing entirely.



*********



"Melia!" Eowyn shouted across the room, capturing the attention
of the former Ranger who was tending to Gimli’s wound and ensuring that he posed
no danger to himself or anyone else, following their confrontation.



The battle was slowly tipping in the favor of the guards
fighting valiantly to purge both their respective kingdoms of the skin changer
menace. However casualties were mounting and the floor of the banquet hall,
which only hours ago had been a place of celebration was now littered with
bodies of both enemy and ally. Still, none of the blood spilled by Gondor or
Harad would mean anything if the minds of their leaders were still enslaved by
Akallabeth’s spell. Until now, the skin changers had no idea who it was had
thwarted their hold over Legolas Greenleaf and in their unknowing, could not act
against the spell caster who had the power to destroy their plans.
Unfortunately, as Eowyn hurried towards her brother, standing over Lothiriel, it
appeared that it was a secret no more.



"Eomer!" Eowyn shouted, taking his attention away from her
brother as she flung herself at him.



Both siblings tumbled to the floor, with Lothiriel clearly
shaken by her discovery. As Eomer reeled from his hard landing, Eowyn looked
over her shoulder and discerned quickly what Lothiriel had been planning to do.



"Keep going!" She ordered as her body covered Eomer’s, both
hands pinning his shoulders to the floor. "Melia, protect her!"



"No one will get past me!" Melia declared as she reached
Lothiriel and took up position to guard the girl or die trying. Her crossbow was
armed and ready while her eyes watchful of the danger. "Do as she says!" Melia
retorted, "continue the spell!"



Lothiriel nodded and shook her head to clear herself of all
thoughts that might distract her from her purpose. She used the image of Eomer
and the menace she had seen in his eyes to strengthen her resolve and focus
herself. Lothiriel was determined to free him. She wanted him back the way he
was. She wanted back the man who had sworn never to force her into anything, who
made her laugh and accepted her as more than just a beauty or a prize but as a
person with dreams of her own. Since that moment, Lothiriel had felt her heart
slowly succumbing to him and though she would not claim to love him just yet,
she was not far away from it either.



Hardening herself against the distractions around her,
Lothiriel resumed her invocation of the spell. She knew the words by memory
alone and as she poured heart and soul into its recital, she felt the stirrings
of power. It coursed through her veins like an elixir warming her body as her
words became more fevered. Burst of energy cackled throughout the room, leaving
a stench in its wake that was not unlike the embers from a spirited fireplace.
She could see the threads before her, faint, filament looking things, not unlike
the webs spun by spiders. In her mind’s eye, they began to tighten, as if an
unseen hand was pulling at it.



Across the banquet hall, Lothiriel was not the only one who
could feel it.



**********




"Let me up!" Eomer demanded, struggling hard as Eowyn did
everything that she could to keep her brother pinned to the ground. However, he
was not only bigger than her but also far stronger and her attempts to keep him
restrained were faltering with each effort he made to break free.



"No!" Eowyn shouted, struggling hard to keep him down but the
exercise was exhausting and he was almost frenzied in his desperation to be rid
of her. "You are a danger to everyone around you!"



"The only danger is that witch!" Eomer barked. "She will kill
us all with her dark magic!"



"Better dead than leave you in this condition," Eowyn retorted,
feeling as if she were astride a rather uncooperative stallion.



Unfortunately, Eomer did not seem to agree and threw his head
back sharply, connecting with Eowyn’s lower jaw. The blow stunned Eowyn
momentarily, allowing her brother to throw her off his body. Eowyn tumbled to
the floor and saw Eomer quickly getting to his feet. By now, every shape shifter
in the room was aware of what Lothiriel was doing and like Eomer, were
attempting to reach the young lady of Dol Amroth. Melia was unleashing her bolts
at every one of the creatures who attempted to interrupt the young woman while
she conducted the spell.



"EOMER!" Eowyn shouted as she ran after him.



"Stay out of this sister!" Eomer warned, shooting her a
scathing glare as he did so.



"I am afraid I cannot!" Eowyn wrapped her arms around his chest
and pulled back. Eomer swore in outrage before propelling himself against the
wall. Eowyn saw the wall rushing towards her and could do nothing but release
her hold of him. Her sharp drop interfered his ungainly retreat and they both
toppled over in an unruly tangle of limbs.



Eowyn braced herself to resume their fight when suddenly, Eomer
rolled onto his back and began screaming.



************



Throughout the banquet hall, the room began to fill with the
sound of screaming. Agonized cries of pain exceeded the sounds of battle and
while some still battled, others looked about them in confusion. Even Imrahil
and Faramir who had been unconscious were driven to wakefulness by the pain that
coursed through them. Gimli who was bound, struggled against his ropes as he was
visited by agony far greater than the injuries sustained during his
confrontation with Melia.



Legolas stared at Aragorn who was on his knees, resisting the
need to scream because even when he was under the power of a shape shifter,
there was a part of him that would always remain Aragorn and that part loathed
to admit weakness. Legolas could see his face contorting with excruciating pain,
biting down while it coursed through his body as the spell of unmaking exerted
itself upon him. Anduril had fallen out of his grip and eventually the white-hot
agony tore the scream from him that Aragorn had fought so hard not to utter.



Legolas was torn between rushing to his friend’s aid and
letting the spell carry out its purpose. He remembered little of how the spell
had released him since the memory of his enslavement was an uncertain fog in his
mind. His eyes swept across the room and saw the rest of his friends enduring
similar torment. Eowyn was standing over her brother, her lovely face showing
her anguish at seeing him in such a state. Gimli was lying on his back, writhing
in agony as the spell did its worst and Legolas shared Eowyn’s feeling of
helplessness.



Suddenly, Aragorn convulsed and with a tremendous heave,
expelled something dark and fetid from the pit of his stomach. It spilled out of
him like blood, escaping his mouth and creating a foul puddle on the floor
beneath his lips. This grisly scene was repeated across the room as Faramir,
Imrahil, Gimli and Eomer were similarly freed. Lothiriel fell forward on her
hands and knees, barely able to keep from being rendered unconscious after the
tremendous strain she had just endured to complete the spell. Legolas could see
rivulets of blood running down her nose and was glad to see Melia tending to the
young woman.



"Aragorn," Legolas went to his friend’s side after long last.



Aragorn, amazingly enough, was still lucid. He was on all
fours, breathing hard like an animal that had been chased across the world.



"Aragorn," the prince dropped to one knee beside the king. "Are
you alright?"



Aragorn’s body was trembling in the wake of being released from
that terrible spell but slowly, he raised his head and peered at Legolas through
the tendrils of sweat drenched hair….



 


*************



"Evenstar!" Akallabeth said the word like the snarl from a
crazed animal.



Arwen and the former Easterling queen battled each other in a
duel that seemed to go on forever. Akallabeth was determined to kill her,
blaming Arwen for all the misfortunes that had befallen the race of skin
changers since the destruction of Glaurung at Nargothrond. The skin changer’s
tactic was to change shape often and Arwen found herself facing a multitude of
villains, from orcs to Nazgul. It had even taken on the form of Elrond at one
point of the battle, trying to confuse her.



However, Arwen kept her wits about her and despite her focus on
the enemy, she could see the other skin changers around them falling to the
sword of Easterling and Gondorian soldiers, not to mention her own companions.
The skin changers were slowly being defeated and now with the completion of
Lothiriel’s spell of unmaking, their plans to take over Middle earth lay in
ruins. Unfortunately, Akallabeth was not about to concede defeat, without first
exacting a bloody display of spite.



"Twice you have brought ruin to my people!" Akallabeth hissed
while breathing hard like a panting animal.



"Your people deserve nothing less!" Arwen retaliated with just
as much venom. "You serve the darkness and you seek to turn that which is not
bathed in evil to stink as vilely as you do. You think I was going to let
Glaurung destroy my child before he was even born? Do you think that I would
allow you to ruin the peace so many had shed in blood to build!"



"It is a peace you will never enjoy!" Akallabeth screamed. "My
people may be defeated after this day but I intend to see that you die with
us!"



Arwen wasted no time and swung her blade at the creature who
leapt backwards to avoid the swing with surprising agility. The shape of the
beast altered again and instead of facing another face from the past, Arwen now
found herself standing in front of a snarling warg, with fangs bared and ready
to tear her apart. The beast glared at her with yellow eyes and retreated one
step in order to make a running leap before pouncing on her. There was barely
enough time for Arwen to raise her sword before it sprang like a coiled
serpent.



The weight of its landing against her body sent Arwen
reeling backwards. She barely managed to maintain her grip upon her sword.
Hitting her head hard against the stone floor as she fell, Arwen felt a wave of
disorientation as she reeled from the impact. However, there was no time for her
to recover because she could smell its fetid breath against her neck. She
blinked in time to see its teeth coming for her throat and smashed the hilt of
her sword against its flank. The beast howled loudly and Arwen took advantage of
its pain to throw the skin changer from her body. She got to her knees in time
to see creature scrambling to its feet, preparing to launch itself at her in a
renewed assault.



"Prepare to meet your doom she elf!" The unholy voice of
Akallabeth escaped the warg’s mouth before it pounced again.



Arwen prepared to meet the creature with her sword when
suddenly, another blade sliced through the air and pierced the flank of the
creature. The blade forged in the elvish way continued its forceful drive,
burying itself to the hilt within the coarse pelt and emerging through the
opposite flank of the beast. A final, agonized shriek tore through the air
before the creature fell against the stone in a sickening crunch of sound. Blood
splattered in all directions upon impact and in death, the shape of the warg
melted away to that of the skin changer’s true form.



"Undomiel," Arwen recovered enough to hear her name being
called.



She looked up and saw Aragorn standing before her, his
expression one of exhaustion and weariness. It was an effort for him to even
remain standing. Upon meeting her eyes, Aragorn outstretched his hand towards
her.



"I do not deserve you wife," he said in short, exhausted
breaths.



Arwen thought her heart might break from relief as she took his
hand and allowed herself to be pulled into his embrace. Only when Aragorn’s
wrapped his arms around her and held her close, did Arwen find the strength
enough to speak.



"I am glad you are aware of this," she whispered, relishing the
feel of being in his arm once again. "You have no idea what I have endured this
day for you."



"How could I forget?" he swallowed and Arwen could feel his
tears against her skin. "You are all that is precious in my life, I would rather
die than hurt you. I wished I could have, to spare you my sins this day."



"You remember?" She looked at him, not expecting that.



"No," he shook his head. "But I can feel it. I can still what
their poison made me do." There was anger in his eyes but there also intense
sorrow.



Arwen looked at her husband and knew though he was responsible
for nothing that transpired this day and could barely remember what he had done,
he would not be free of it for a long time.



This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Scribe

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 04/07/03

Original Post: 04/03/03

Go to Fairer Sex, The overview

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