2. Chapter One : Fear
It was quite possibly the first time in his entire life that he had ever truly felt terror.
Oh, he had known fear in his long existence. After all, Elladan of Imladris had been alive since the one hundred and thirtieth year of the Third Age. In his time, he had fought orcs with the Dunedain of the North, stood with his twin brother, Elrohir, at the side of King Aragorn Elessar at Pelargir and then at the Battle of Pelennor, facing odds that would make shake the resolve of even the bravest man or elf. For three thousand years, he had become very well acquainted with the concept of fear in all its sinister shapes and forms but he had to confess to never knowing terror.
Yet as he ran through the woods, racing through the paths like a frightened child, there was no doubt in his mind that it was terror that propelled him forward. He cursed the emotion that robbed him of common sense, that had him trampling through the wood like a club footed troll or worse yet a lumbering ox but he could not help himself. He dared not stop. Beside him, his friend Orophin was feeling just as much trepidation and doing his level best to keep up with his reckless pace.
Elrohir had remained in Eden Ardhon for there was still a good deal of work to be done in the establishing of the new colony that had been created by Legolas Greenleaf. Elladan had chose to make the journey to Imladris in order to ensure that all was still well with his father’s kingdom. Since settling in South Ithilien, the brothers had taken turns making the trip. On this occasion, Orophin had chose to accompany him and Elladan welcomed the company. Orophin had been one of the elves that had joined the Prince of Mirkwood when he had departed from the Woodland Realm.
Orophin had learnt of the prince’s intention in South Ithilien and left behind his own brothers Haldir and Rumil in East Lorien to join Legolas. Orophin, the youngest of the brothers had never journeyed beyond the Golden Wood of Lothlorien and following the exodus of Lord Celeborn to East Lorien, discovered a desire to see the rest of Middle earth before it was time for the elves to leave for the Undying Lands permanently. When Elladan decided to journey to Imladris, with a pause at Minas Tirith to see his sister, Arwen, Orophin was more than eager to have the opportunity to see the center of the Reunified Kingdom.
Unfortunately, both had received more than the bargained for with this trip for even as they attempted to enter the city, they were quick to discover that some invisible force had barred them entry into its borders. Elladan could sense a shadow in the land of his father but even he could not imagine the scope of it until he attempted to breach boundaries of Imladris and found himself wandering familiar paths, only to be led away from the city instead of towards it. How the Enemy had conjured up this barrier was beyond Elladan’s understanding but the prince was wise enough to know that if they could not enter in Imladris, then it was possible no one could escape it either.
It was a secret the Enemy had no wish to reveal to the outside world for Elladan and Orophin soon found themselves facing his dark agent. Not even Sauron instilled as much fear.
Throughout his entire existence, Elladan had been filled with the self assurance that elves could conceal themselves with perfect anonymity when they so desired, however, the Enemy’s agent begin his pursuit, Elladan discovered how fragile that assurance truly was. They were discovered in every place they attempted to hide, be it in the heights of the Misty Mountains or the great gaps of forest before the Anduin, which they now found themselves. The dark creature hunting them proved time and time again, during the course of the pursuit why he had played such a vivid role in the nightmares of elves.
He was running them into exhaustion. Elladan knew the tactic well for he was a keen hunter and had used the practice on particularly spirited game. The comparison did not sit well with him but he could no longer deny the truth of it. As they were driven harder and more relentlessly by their pursuer, Elladan knew that it would not be long before they succumbed. His only hope now remained in reaching the Golden Wood of Lothlorien. Although she was gone, the woods were still protected by Galadriel’s power and Elladan prayed that it would be enough to escape their hunter.
"I cannot go on much longer," Orophin gasped as he tumbled into the ground, his body shaking from weariness.
"We cannot stay," Elladan looked about him anxiously, certain that the beast would be upon them soon enough.
"How could he still exist?" Orophin exclaimed, asking questions to which Elladan had no answer even though the Prince of Imladris wished he could. He was just as perplexed as Orophin about their pursuer but he did not occupy his thoughts with the how, when it did not matter. Knowing would not aid their situation because it would not alter the fact that he was still behind them.
"I do not know," Elladan said breathing hard, trying to ensure that the trees around them were as benign as they appeared and the terrible creature that was hunting them was not lurking in the shadows. "He is here, that is all that matters and we must reach Minas Tirith and tell the King of what is taking place in Imladris. I cannot believe that the Enemy would be content to remain there alone. If he is powerful enough to take my father’s city, then who is to say he will not move against the rest of Middle earth."
"I have heard my Lord Celeborn speak of him but he was old even when Celeborn was young," Orophin panted, resting on his hands and knees, trying to force himself to stand.
Both elves were covered in dirt, the evidence of their hard journey marked upon their clothes and their bodies. A traveler coming past them might be mistaken for thinking that they were men not elves, certainly they did not look like elves in their current state of dishevelment. Elladan let Orophin speak his peace, aware that the younger elf needed to rest a moment even though a moment was all that the prince dare allow him. Above them the sun was starting to set and they notice their pursuer seemed to have more power in the dark. They had to reach Lothlorien before the sun set or they would never reach anything again.
"I always thought him to be a legend," Elladan said off handedly, his eyes searching the landscape for any sign of trouble. He could see none but the hunter’s presence was an ever-lurking shadow upon his senses. "Stories they used to scare us as children. I never dreamed he could be real. I never wanted to think he could be."
"Now we know," Orophin stood up shakily, his weariness telling on his face.
Suddenly, Elladan felt a cold shiver run over his skin and he took it immediately as a signal to run. Since this relentless chase had begun where they had found themselves prey, he had come to recognize the signs that spoke the hunter’s presence was near. The sensation built quickly until even Orophin in his exhaustion felt it and was spurned into moving.
"RUN!" Elladan ordered and fear infused them with new vigor as they surged forward, moving as fast as their legs would take them, unconcerned that they would leave tracks because it did not matter, they could not hide from him, all they could do is get away.
The stamina of elves were said to be boundless but even they had limits and Elladan felt his breathing become more and more labored as they crested yet another hill. Neither he nor Orophin could continue this pace much longer. His companion was struggling to keep up, his steps hindered by a slight limp that was causing him to lag further and further behind. Elladan wanted to pause but if he did, he feared he would not be ale to start again. Suddenly, from the crest of the hill, they saw Lothlorien’s lush wood and felt the first stirrings of hope in too long.
"Orophin!" Elladan called behind him. "Looks, Lothlorien lies before us!"
"Thank Manwe," he heard the former warden of the Golden Wood exclaim with great joy.
The hunter was closing in on them, Elladan could feel it but their sighting of Lothlorien gave them great incentive to continue their breakneck pace. They crossed the space between hill and the forest swiftly, the scent of the Golden Wood diminish greatly the sinister feeling that had snared them for so many days during their journey. Elladan could see the trees before him, great hulking things with power of their own. The power of its protection was not merely in Galadriel’s power but also in the trees that were rooted here. Feeling a burst of power that came from knowing he was so close to rest, Elladan covered the remaining distance into the Golden Wood with brisk speed.
Only when he was shaded by the tall trees and felt the power of the Lady who had once dwelt here, did he pause to rest. Turning around, he saw Orophin smiling happily because he too had seen the wood of his former home and was glad to be shrouded in its power. Suddenly without warning, a great blade swept out of nowhere and struck the elf with such force, his body did not simply bleed, it exploded. Blood splattered in all direction, covering Elladan with its warmth. Orophin never even had time to scream as his body, cleaved in half at the waist flew across the ground like a doll.
"OROPHIN!" Elladan screamed helplessly, impotent in his fury and feeling anguish rise up his gullet and strangle his throat with its bile.
Orophin did not answer because he was beyond anything. However, landing where he had stood, was the beast that had slaughtered.
The beast’s shape was neither man nor elf but still possessed traits of both. His body was almost the size of an Olog Hai but nowhere as brutish or cumbersome. Large teeth protruded from either side of his lips, appearing more like tusks. His brow was heavy and his hands were big, holding a sword that was befitting his stature. He stared at Elladan with yellowed eyes and his feet were not like men’s feet but rather like that of an animal, a wolf to be precise. His skin was dark, like charred wood and muscles glistened under a fine sheet of sweat as he turned his gaze upon Elladan and proceeded to run his sword between his index finger and his thumb, cleaning the remnants of Orophin’s blood from the steel.
"I will find you little elf," he spoke, his voice a deep, rumbling noise that seemed to resonate through the prince’s bones. "If not today, tomorrow. Shelter while you can in your Golden Wood but I will find you again like I found the first of you so long ago."
Elladan was trembling with fear but there was enough fire in him to dare speak, "And I swear that I will kill you, beast."
"Beast?" The creature seemed to laugh, finding the appellation amusing. "Your kind have developed a good deal more spine than I am accustomed to seeing. You were nowhere as spirited when I brought the first of you to my master, although you did scream so beautifully."
"Come after me if you dare!" Elladan shouted, half-hysterical as he continued to see what remained of Orophin bleeding into the grass, while he himself was soiled with blood. "Before you take me I will show you how spirited I can be!"
"Take care little elf," the beast replied with a harder and more menacing edge to his voice. "I withdraw now because he who has brought me into this time requires my presence elsewhere but I will not be gone long. Rest assured that I will be back for you."
With that, the creature withdrew, his body moving away from the wood like a shadow rising with the shift of sun, leaving nothing behind but the destruction he had created. Elladan wiped the blood from his face before sinking into the ground and praying that he could reach safety before he shared Orophin’s fate.
Aragorn was not getting anything done.
It was hard to keep his thoughts on the affairs of state when his impulse each time his attention wandered caused him to steal furtively out of the throne room where such proceedings were often conducted and straight to the royal nursery where his infant son awaited. He knew it was foolishness to wish to see the boy every other minute or so when the child appeared exactly same way as he last beheld him but Aragorn could not help himself. He simply could not get enough at basking at the sight of little Eldarion within his cradle, sleeping obliviously to his father’s stolen glances.
A week ago the boy had come into his life and Aragorn could not imagined how he had ever survived without this tiny presence in the world, ensnaring his heart as completely as it had been when Arwen first cast her dazzling gaze in his direction. Since then, Aragorn was in a stupor known to every man since the first woman produced a child and he was quite content to never be free of it. His son, who was little more than a small bundle of swaddling deigning occasionally to reward his father with slow lumbering movements when he emerged from sleep long enough, had completely enchanted him. Aragorn knew that he could not care less if the workings of Gondor came to a grinding halt as long as he was allowed to enjoy his son.
To the rest of Gondor, Eldarion’s birth was the final step in the solidification of his reign. With the birth of a son, the future of the Reunified Kingdom was assured, as was his position as king since an heir meant security. However, Aragorn looked into that cherubic pink face, that knew nothing but sleep and warmth, he did not see the future King of Gondor or the fate of the kingdom, he saw only his son, the finest thing he had ever helped to create in his entire life. If he wanted to make his kingdom great, it was only so that this precious life before him would never know the hardship he had seen or the struggles that he, and so many others at his side, had endured to bring peace across the land.
Aragorn crept into the royal nursery and found his son fast sleep in his crib, once again indifferent to the father who was neglecting almost everything lately to be in his presence. The king stepped into the room which adjoined his and Arwen’s bedchamber for the Arwen was reluctant to have her child being placed in the care of others despite her station as queen. Ignoring the protestation of court advisers who thought it inappropriate that the Queen of Gondor should attend her child like a wet nurse when there more than enough staff in the palace to fulfil that role, Arwen was adamant that she be present for every aspect of motherhood. Even the tedium of caring for a newborn.
It was a decision that Aragorn agreed with wholeheartedly. Of course, they had to accept that as King and Queen of the Reunified Kingdom, there were instances where they would have to allow others to do for the child since they were required to attend the business of rule. For most part however, they looked upon the arrival of Eladarion with the enthusiasm of any new parent and were eager to take part in every aspect of the child’s first days in the world. Although, Aragorn had to admit with a wry smile as he basked in the vision of the small infant sleeping peacefully in his cradle, he appeared to be better dealing with the child’s twilight feedings than Arwen.
At the moment, Eldarion was this small, wrapped bundle; prone to sleeping with his arms crooked on either side of his head on his back. He was all soft pink flesh and bore a distinctly pleasant scent about him that was indescribable but common to all newborn babies. His features were difficult to tell because his face was still a little wrinkled with a bow shaped mouth and eyes that did not quite focus when they fluttered open between the intervals of his lengthy slumber. Aragorn noticed when he was awake; he was prone to staring at them as if trying to discern whom Arwen and he were.
Aragorn traced a finger along the infant’s cheek, causing the child to react slightly to his touch but not enough to awake. The king was tempted to pick up the baby but knew that his son was sleeping soundly and had no need to be disturbed just to satisfy his father’s paternal need to bond. The nursery was at present filled with all the gifts and toys that had been sent from well wishers all across the land who were eager to ingratiate themselves to the court of Gondor. Some of the gifts were charming and others were extravagant and wholly inappropriate.
The crib was placed a good distance away from a large window, which looked into the garden for Arwen wanted their son to see beauty from the instant he was born. Aragorn’s arguments that he would not even be able to recognize anything for the first year of his life earned a scathing glare from his wife that only made him move the thing where she wanted and keep such comments to himself.
Suddenly, he felt a hand upon his shoulder and found himself turning around to find himself at a frowning Legolas. Neither man spoke but Aragorn guessed by the expression on the elf’s face that he was not happy. However Legolas had not spoken for fear of awaking the baby and Aragorn sighed, realizing that he was going to have to step out of the room to discern what the prince wanted of him, although he had something of an idea. Casting a parting glance at his sleeping son who had no inkling that he had visitors, Aragorn followed the elf out of the nursery in the hallway.
"What is it Legolas?" Aragorn asked sheepishly, knowing full well why the elf was annoyed once the door to the nursery was shut solidly behind them.
"What is it?" The elf stared at him incredulously. "Forgive me if I am wrong but were we not in a discussion regarding merchant trade routes when you surreptitiously remarked that we should look over the border maps and while our attention was there, you chose that moment to sneak out of the room?"
"They were very large maps," Aragorn said feebly. "I was certain you and Faramir would take some time studying them."
"A likely story," Legolas rolled his eyes in disbelief. "You know there is an old saying, if you continue to watch an infant every second of the day, he will never grow."
"Where was he?" Faramir, Lord of Ithilien appeared down the hallway a moment later. He and Legolas had formed a two-pronged search to find the king although in truth, they should have suspected instantly that there was only one place he would go.
"Venture a guess," Legolas gave Aragorn a look.
Faramir rolled his eyes in resignation and conceded defeat, "we might as well resolve ourselves to the fact that he will be of little use to us for the next week or so. Let us adjourn for the day."
"Does that mean I can return to the nursery?" Aragorn asked with a little smile, aware that he was taxing the patience of his friends but also recognizing that they were more amused by his behavior then truly upset.
"No!" Both Faramir and Legolas declared together.
"Let the poor child sleep in peace," Legolas clamped a hand upon Aragorn’s shoulder and led him away from the room. "You are fussing over him like a hen."
"I am King you know," Aragorn bristled, "you are supposed to speak to me with dignity."
"I apologise," Legolas said not at all repentant. "It is hard to remember that when I have seen you lying drunk underneath the table at a tavern with one hand on an empty pint and the other around Boromir’s foot."
"You would have enjoyed yourself if you simply had a drink like the rest of us," Aragorn retorted smoothly, remembering the stop the Fellowship had made in a small town and a particularly lively tavern during the Quest of the Ring. With the exception of Legolas, everyone had cause to suffer the next morning from the excesses of drink. Besides, he did not wish to say out loud that his hand was around Boromir’s foot to ensure that the Man of Gondor did not in a drunken stupor, attempt to take the One Ring from Frodo.
"Now there is a story I would like to hear, " Faramir grinned, always wishing to hear tales of his brother’s last days. After two years, Faramir was finally at a point where he no longer mourned Boromir’s life but rather celebrated it with the friends he had made in the Fellowship.
"Oh do not worry," Aragorn frowned in Legolas’ direction, "I am certain the elf will provide you with every lurid detail."
"Only because I was the only one sober enough to remember any of it," Legolas replied smugly.
"Actually, we came to find you for a good reason," Faramir answered with a little chuckle, "Legolas’ friend has arrived."
"The Istar?" Aragorn turned to the elf.
"Yes," Legolas nodded. "Just now, he awaits you in your throne room,"
Aragorn knew that the Istar Pallando had spent some time at Thranduil’s court and had asked Legolas to send a message to Mirkwood, summoning the wizard here at his convenience.
"What is your intention towards him Aragorn?" Faramir asked, knowing something of the wizard from Legolas’ tale of how he had happened upon the man in the Grey Mountains but not Aragorn’s reasons for bringing him to Minas Tirith.
"Considering the evil we have seen since Sauron’s fall and Gandalf’s departure, I thought that perhaps it would be a good idea if Isengard was once again governed by a true Istar, if that suits him of course." Aragorn explained.
"That is a wise idea," Legolas agreed, "but I am not entirely certain that Pallando would wish to sit at the head of the order. He strikes me as one who would prefer to wander about as Gandalf did, not sit in occupation of the Orthanc like Saruman."
"All the more reason to think that he can be trusted," Aragorn replied. "Those who do not seek out positions of authority are often the most suitable to have it."
Faramir supposed that was true since Aragorn was living proof of this although he did not say it out loud. Aragorn had always seemed to present the impression of being the reluctant ruler of Gondor, that he was king not because he was heir to the title but because he was the only one who was able to unite his people. It was this devotion to the good of all that had made Faramir and others throughout the land through the weight of their support behind Isildur’s heir and the growing House of Telecontari.
"I suppose," Legolas shrugged; believing he knew Pallando well enough to say for certain that wizard would refuse the offer. However, Aragorn’s idea had merit and Legolas did not want to dash the king’s hopes before he had a chance to present it to Pallando. "He is awaiting for you. Do you think you can tear your thoughts away from the nursery long enough to see him?" Legolas asked with a hint of teasing.
"I think I can manage," Aragorn gave him a look. "You know, when it is both your turns to be in my position, I am going to be just as merciless in my torment of you."
"You are certainly allowed," Faramir grinned. "But that day is not today and it is still your turn."
The White City had not changed much although the mood of it was certainly more palatable than it was during his last visit. When he had first journeyed here, Gondor had been at the height of its power and Minas Tirith certainly reflected its prestige. In those days, there was arrogance about the place, a confidence in its people that could tip the balance between good and evil easily if left unguided. Since his departure from Gondor, the kingdom had been broken up; Isildur had fallen at Gladden Hills and the subsequent rise of the Stewardship. With the culmination of events that was the War of the Ring, Gondor seemed to have reclaimed much of its former glory but laced with this success was also a hint of humility, of understanding that they had survived tumultuous events and being grateful for it.
The city itself had seen some reconstruction and Pallando was told that much of this restoration was due in part to the destruction caused when Saurian had tried to lay siege to the great city. Great walls of mithrail now protected the White City from conquerors, a construct of beauty and strength that was undoubtedly the product of dwarf craftsmanship. Apparently, the King had contracted the services of the dwarf lord that was of the Fellowship to build this formidable structure and Pallando admitted when he entered the city that the gates did look quite impressive. Pallando’s travels throughout the eastern world of Middle earth had not kept him abreast of the exploits of Gondor’s king although Legolas had told him much during the journey to Mirkwood from Ered Mithrin some months before.
Now he waited within the throne room of the palace, wondering why it was that the king had sent for him even though his presence had been requested more than summoned to court. Pallando had come purely out of interest in meeting the man who had some how become the undisputed ruler of the Reunified Kingdom by sheer force of will and by the courage of his deeds. Such men were rare and the opportunity to visit with the former Prince of Mirkwood and the Ranger he had married had also given Pallando added incentive to make the journey to Minas Tirith.
"Wizard," Pallando heard Legolas’ voice call out to him from the corner of the room.
"Prince," he turned to greet Legolas with a happy smile.
The men met each other in a warm embrace before Legolas pulled away. "How is my father?"
"Missing you," Pallando replied, certain that he was telling the prince nothing he did not already know. "He tries to hide it but it shows."
Legolas nodded imperceptibly unsurprised by this revelation. After all, it had been only a few months since he had departed Mirkwood permanently for Ithilien to establish his own realm. The parting had not been any easier for Legolas then it had been for Thranduil although if truth were known, his separation from his father was greatly helped by his marriage to the Ranger Melia. Thranduil had attended the wedding and though he had previously voiced his objections to Legolas’ marriage to a mortal woman, at the celebration, he had been nothing but warm to the young woman. Thranduil had accepted that Legolas had the right to choose his own fate and to abide by his son’s decisions.
"I miss him," Legolas said quietly, not wishing to discuss his feelings about his father in so public a setting and proceeded instead to introduce Pallando to Aragorn and Faramir.
Aragorn regarded the wizard with deep scrutiny; inevitably measuring him against Gandalf who had been his friend for so long. Pallando appeared very different in appearance but it was soon evident that he shared the same gentle humor as the gray wizard who had departed the sea not too long ago. After introductions were made, they retired to the smaller annex adjoining the throne room where Aragorn conducted more face-to-face and personal discussions with his subjects instead of being surrounded by the formality of court.
"You summoned me here, Sire," Pallando said once they were seated. "I would know why."
"I requested your presence, there is a difference," Aragorn reminded.
"Not when made by the King of the Reunified Kingdom, that is not an invitation turned down lightly," the wizard retorted and Aragorn supposed he could not argue with that assessment.
"I wish you to take residence in the Orthanc at Isengard," Aragorn explained deciding that for his troubles journeying form Mirkwood, the least that he could do was to speak plainly regarding his intentions. "Before Gandalf left, I know he had trained a number of acolyte wizards. They now reside in the Orthanc and I thought that it might be wise to have an Istar watch over them. Legolas spoke highly of you and I thought…."
"You thought that I might consent to guide them in Olorin’s stead," Pallando guessed without needing Aragorn to elaborate further."
"Would you do it?" Aragorn asked hopefully even though Legolas seated next to the King seemed skeptical.
"I do not think I am ready to sit in judgement over younger acolytes," Pallando said honestly.
Inwardly, he was still stinging from the loss of Alatar and how he had failed his friend so completely. Pallando and Alatar had been one of five Istar that came from the Undying Lands to fight Sauron’s evil in Middle earth. While Gandalf the Grey had succeeded the most towards this end, Saruman had fallen to shadow, becoming corrupted by evil and almost as dangerous as Sauron. Radagast chose to stay out of the fight altogether by retreating into the forests where only the plight of the wood could stir his interest. Pallando had journeyed for a time with his close friend Alatar whose desire to create a perfect being capable of resisting Sauron’s darkness had evolved into a greater threat to Middle earth than anyone could possibly imagine. If it had not been for Legolas and Melia, Pallando would not have been able to stop Alatar and his creations would have been unleashed upon Middle earth to the ruin of all.
However Pallando also did not want to sit by and withdraw his aid from those who needed it, not as he had done with Alatar. He had learnt the hard way, what consequences such actions could have and as much as he did not wish to take Saruman’s place at the Orthanc, he did not want to refuse the King’s request for help. Even though he knew little of Aragorn, he drew a sense of the man from his presence before the wizard and Pallando know that there was a nobility in him that kept his motives pure and focussed on the well being of his people.
"That is not to say that I will not be far away however," Pallando offered after a moment. "I could keep an eye on the Orthanc if you like, perhaps ensure that those who reside there do not abuse their responsibilities as Saruman once had."
Aragorn broke into a grin, prepared to accept that much, if he could not convince Pallando entirely to take up residence in Isengard.
"That would be much appreciated wizard," Aragorn smiled.
"You surprise me Pallando," Legolas remarked. "I did not think he would convince you."
"Well," Pallando sighed. "I have remained in the wilderness for far too long," he confessed. "I should have aided Olorin in his work, not waste my time wandering through the east when so much took place here."
"Sometimes one must walk their own path, even one who is Istari," Aragorn said softly, his voice full of kindness for he knew well what it was to be unable to save a friend who had become as a brother. He had been spared the ordeal of having to fight Boromir when the man of Gondor had attempted to take the One Ring from Frodo but he could well understand the pain that Pallando felt when he saw Alatar die. Boromir’s death had marked Aragorn in a way he never believed possible and he understood how profound an experience that could be to see someone who was dear to him, wander down a path that would eventually cost them their life.
"What has happened in the past cannot be altered but the future awaits and I will not lie to say that we do not need you," Aragorn resumed speaking. "There are evils left to be fought in the world, not all the dark magic of the past ages has ended with Sauron’s demise. They still linger and your presence will aid us in battling them when they appear again to plague us."
"The king speaks wisely does he not," Legolas smiled faintly, staring at Aragorn like a proud father instead of his best friend at the moment.
"He does," Pallando nodded with a smile when suddenly he noticed Legolas’ expression darken.
The elf stood up abruptly, his eyes widening with such stark fear that all who saw him were immediately alarmed. In a split second of time, his pallor had paled and he almost looked white as a sheet. Aragorn had never seen Legolas terrified in his entire life but the expression on his face at that moment, made the King’s own heart begin to pound with similar anxiety. Legolas was breathing hard as he looked about him as though he was searching desperately for something he could not see. It took a moment for Aragorn to understand that he was so afraid that he was actually panicking.
"What is it?" Aragorn demanded unable to endure any more seeing him in this state.
Legolas did not answer. There were no words to describe this feeling that had suddenly overcome him, that made his heart gallop like a wild stallion running for dear life, his stomach contracted into a fist of flesh inside of him and the air seemed to have become stale and unbreathable. In all his life, he had never experience the sensation that had reached into his chest and ripped apart his soul with ease. There was something familiar about this terror but for the life of him, he could not remember what it was. Its shadows drove deep into his memories, in a place that he barely knew existed before this moment but was fully aware of now.
Pallando was in a similar state though not nearly as frightened as Legolas clearly was. The Istar could feel the darkness that had suddenly infused his being with tendrils of ice, clasping his heart and proceeding to crush the breath from his lungs. He staggered a little and felt Faramir’s hand offering him support as he swallowed thickly, trying to control himself as the malevolent spirit he could feel, resonated throughout his bones.
"Are you alright?" Faramir asked concerned.
"No," Pallando shook his head in answer. "None of us are."
"LEGOLAS!" Aragorn shook the elf after hearing the wizard’s words. "Speak!"
"Something is here," Legolas managed to say as he pushed past Aragorn. "Something has entered the city!"
"Legolas!" Aragorn caught his arm, refusing to let him go, not in the present state he was in.
"Let me go!" Legolas fairly shouted. "It is in the city and its close Aragorn!"
"What do you mean close?" Aragorn demanded.
Legolas turned to him and Aragorn could swear he could feel the elf trembling in his grip. "I mean that it is here, in the palace!"
"Why am I letting you do this to me?" Melia, wife of Legolas asked wearily after falling down on her behind once again.
"Because," Eowyn, Lady of Ithilien and Shield Maiden of Rohan said with smug triumph as she held her sword in one hand, while offering Melia the other in order to help the former Ranger to her feet. "You wanted to know how to handle a sword with some measure of accuracy. You asked me to teach you since you felt that a woman who knew how to brandish such a weapon would be in better stead to teach one who did not, as opposed to being taught by a man."
"Right," Melia frowned taking the hand offered to her and allowing it to aid her rise to her feet once more. "At the time, it had seemed like a good idea."
"It is still a good idea," Arwen declared as she sat in the private garden outside the suite of rooms she shared with Aragorn in the palace. It was the first time in a week that the Queen of Gondor had been allowed to breathe the fresh air of the outside world and a she sat in a chair, basking in the sunlight while son slept in his crib, watching her two closest friends sparring with each other, the elven queen was very much at peace. "You can learn from no better than Eowyn."
"I did not think it was going to cause me this much pain," Melia grumbled as she stood up and took up position to continue the lesson. The former Ranger of Angmar, who had befriended Arwen and Eowyn during their quest to Nargothrond and aided them in the defeat of the ancient enemy Glaurung some months ago, had recently married Legolas and was now Lady of Eden Ardhon, the elven city of South Ithilien. Although Melia was an excellent shot with a crossbow, she had confessed to Eowyn a desire to learn swordplay since her own skills in this regard was mediocre at best.
"You want to know pain," Arwen snorted unsympathetically, "try enduring several hours of childbirth. That is a true test of endurance."
Eowyn and Melia looked at each other unable to find any argument to refute the queen’s statement and decided that it would be best to let it slide.
"Enough stalling for time," Eowyn retorted, snapping Melia’s attention back to the business at hand. "I told you before that you should not over extend your thrust." She punctuated this bit of instruction by showing Melia how the move was performed correctly. "We are not men, we do not have the strength they do when carrying swords. If you are fortunate enough to acquire a weapon made specifically for you or a come into possession of dagger, well and good but if you are not then you must learn how to use the common variety and those swords are heavy. If you extend your thrust you will not have the physical strength to pull back to keep yourself from being left vulnerable. During that margin of time when you attempt to compensate for the error, your opponent is going to kill you."
"Understood," Melia nodded, absorbing the advice and held out her weapon in readiness to fight. "Shall we?"
"Are you certain you would not like to rest?" Eowyn asked with a teasing smile, aware that she was challenging Melia somewhat. "Perhaps retire for the day."
"Eowyn, you are being nasty," Arwen informed her dutifully, even though she enjoyed watching the two sparring. They were very entertaining.
"Do not trouble yourself on my account," Melia declared haughtily glaring at Eowyn with narrowed eyes, "you realize of course, this is war."
"Then let the battle begin," Eowyn answered with one brow arching playfully before she swung her blade against Melia.
Melia blocked the strike but Eowyn was very practiced at the craft and the power behind it was enough to drive the Ranger back a step as she tried to hold her own against Eowyn’s skill. Eowyn was a hard taskmaster when it came to teaching her friend how to brandish her weapon but mostly because she was so honored to be asked to provide such a service. All her life, Eowyn had hidden her skills because it was not seemingly for a woman and until Pelennor Fields had wondered if she was not something of an aberration for refusing to remain in the sidelines while the men went to fight their wars. Melia fit in so well with herself and Arwen because neither of them were women who would ever be content to let themselves be defended, not when they were more than capable of performing the task themselves.
Eowyn swung her blade but this time, Melia surprised her by dropping to her knees and swinging her leg before her in a neat arch that swept Eowyn’s feet from under her. The lady of Rohan uttered an indignant cry as she felt on the grass and saw Melia moving in with her blade about to strike. Never to be taken unawares, Eowyn was soon on her knees, blocking Melia’s strike and pushing back with enough strength to ensure that Melia was once again in retreat, giving Eowyn ample time to stand upright.
"That was innovative Melia," Arwen called out from her chair. If her body were not mending from Eldarion’s birth, Arwen was certain she would have like to have taken part in Eowyn’s lesson for her own skills with the sword could always bear refining.
"Thank you," Melia commented as she blocked again Eowyn’s stroke. "It was borne out of desperation."
"I could tell," Arwen teased.
Melia gave her a look before she turned to see Eowyn’s blade at her throat. With a heavy sigh, the Ranger rolled her eyes in exasperation, wondering if she would ever learn to use the weapon with any sort of skill.
"That is what comes of not paying attention," Eowyn replied as she held her blade firmly against Melia’s throat. "You left yourself vulnerable."
"I noticed," Melia grumbled, giving the steel at her neck a venomous glare. "I do not suppose you would like to learn how to use a crossbow? I would be delighted to teach you."
"I am certain you would," Eowyn laughed as she lowered her sword. "If it makes you feel any better, you are improving."
"Oh good," Melia retorted. "I would hate to think I fight worse than a five year old instead of better."
Melia and Eowyn laughed merrily as they joined Arwen, deciding that they had sparred enough for the day. Both did not voice how good it was to see Arwen so animated because the birth of Eldarion had been exhausting for the queen and the event was only a week behind them. Arwen still bore the mark of her ordeal as evidenced by the dark circles under her eyes and the slightly diminished color of her usually luminescent skin. This was the first time in a week that she had been strong enough to leave her room and both Eowyn and Melia were more than happy to keep her company though they had pretended to spar, in order to make the queen feel less like she was being minded by her two friends.
"So how is life at Eden Ardhon?" Arwen asked Melia. "It must be terribly different after wandering the wilds of Angmar for so long."
"It is different," Melia confessed. "But it is nice to have a home at last. It has been a long time since I could call any place that."
"And how do you fare living amongst elves?" Eowyn asked. Her memories of Haldir still made her bristle and while Legolas was at least tolerable, Eowyn was certain that he was the exception to the rule. After all, if he were not, Gimli would have killed him within the first day of the Fellowship setting out from Rivendell. However, Eowyn knew she was being unfair by judging all elves by Haldir. After all, Arwen was an elf to and Eowyn considered the queen her best friend in the world.
"They are not so bad," Melia replied. "Once you get accustomed to them. I feel like a cumbersome child next to them. Since becoming a Ranger I have prided myself in being able to move silently but surrounded by elves, I feel as if I am the only person there capable of making noise."
"My people are made differently from yours," Arwen replied, "but I am certain that you are able to teach them a few things."
"They know that I am capable of driving their prince to bouts of screaming," Melia said wearing a wicked smile on her face, "and usually from consternation."
"Yes," Eowyn mused, "I believe I am well versed in that art as well though my skill is most effective when used against men of Gondor."
The three of them started to laugh again when suddenly, Arwen fell silent and her expression became grave.
"Something is here," she uttered softly, her eyes widening with fear.
"Here?" Eowyn stared at her in disbelief; unable to imagine any threat could reach them in Minas Tirith.
There was little time to debate the validity of Arwen’s insight because no sooner than Eowyn had spoken, something shattered the serenity of their afternoon. The beast that landed before them drove all coherent thought from their minds. Their reaction was nothing less than terror as they all screamed almost simultaneously as the creature that had almost taken Elladan’s life stood before them.
"Arwen run!" Eowyn shouted, the first to come to her senses.
The thought of staying to fight did not even crossed her mind, not when faced with the demon that towered over all of their heads. When they had faced the dragon at the Blue Mountains, they had been frightened but not to the extent they were now. There was something about this creature that was more than just terrifying because of its size and obvious peril, there was something about its malevolence that reached down into their souls and sparked the kind of fear that was inspired by shadows and darkness. Not since Eowyn had faced the Witch King had she known this kind of panic. Casting a sidelong glance at Arwen and Melia, Eowyn saw that she was not alone in feeling this way.
Suddenly the beast stunned them all by speaking, "Evenstar."
Arwen cringed as she heard its name from its lips. She wanted to run away because this thing, whatever it was, frightened her down to the most basic level. She could hear Eldarion crying out for her in the back of her mind, somehow the elven side of him had reacted to the beast as well and she found herself wanting to run to him, to take her in her arms and comfort him but the thought of this creature following her, going anywhere near her son forced the thought from her mind.
Hearing it speak Arwen’s name provoked Eowyn’s fighting spirit and she stood forward, brandishing her blade. "Stay away from her!"
The beast looked at Eowyn almost fascinated before he started to laugh. It was a deep throaty sound that seemed to penetrate her bones and made her shudder.
"Would you fight me mortal?" The beast asked, raising his mighty sword for her to see.
"Eowyn, let us go!" Melia shouted, starting to drag Arwen away from the sight of this monster.
Seeing Melia prompt Arwen into moving spurned the beast into movement. Without even giving any of them time to react, the creature swept past Eowyn, towards Arwen. Arwen dropped to the ground as he reached her, only to have Melia stand its way, barring him access. He paused but a moment to consider briefly the obstacle before his mighty arm lashed out, striking Melia so hard that she fairly flew over Arwen’s head, slamming into the wall behind them. The sound made by the Ranger’s body against the brick was loud and sharp. Arwen was certain that she heard bones breaking.
"Melia!" Arwen cried out and scrambled to her feet to reach the former Ranger.
Eowyn saw Melia crumple to the ground, blood gushing out of her mouth and felt her own rage properly inspired. She ran forward without thinking and sunk her blade into the beast’s side, not caring about the consequences to herself. The beast hardly flinched at the attack, turning around slowly to regard the black blood pouring from his body. Eowyn felt her own blood run cold when it dipped a finger into the wound and examined the stain upon its tips as if it were a mere curiosity, not a life threatening injury. He turned around slowly, his yellow eyes narrowing at her with clear intention of doing her great harm.
"You drew blood," he rumbled.
"I will draw more if you do not withdraw you foul animal!" Eowyn screamed, hiding how truly frightened she was of this thing before her.
His sword came towards Eowyn and the Shield Maiden of Rohan had barely enough time to avoid the blade as it sank into the ground next to her. She tumbled to the ground to escape it and was soon crawling on all fours to escape when thick fingers sunk into her skull and lifted her body off the ground. Eowyn cried out as her hands struggled to reach the powerful grip that had ensnared her so easily. She grunted in pain as the beast kept her suspended above the ground, her legs dangling. The beast turned her around to face him as if he were holding some strange little animal for examination. After a further second of thought, he flung Eowyn aside as if she were a rag doll. The Lady of Ithilien landed on the ground and did not move.
"Eowyn!" Arwen cried out seeing another friend fall to the creature before.
"She had my sword," a new voice said suddenly appearing out of nowhere.
Arwen, who had been attending a very badly injured Melia, looked up to see the new arrival. She did not recognise him but he was undoubtedly an elf. He looked a little younger than her father and was handsome in a way but his eyes had such granite coldness to it that she felt repulsed by him immediately. He observed the proceedings dispassionately, lowering himself to the place where Eowyn had dropped her sword and retrieved it. For a few seconds, he did not speak as he admired the blade that had once belonged to Turin Turambar. Arwen had made a gift of the weapon to Eowyn for helping her with her troubles with Glaurung and for ensuring that Eldarion was born safe.
"I made this weapon you know," the elf said to Arwen with a smile, the first flicker of emotion appearing in his eyes when he gazed upon her. "It is called Anglachel and I gave it to Thingol who later presented it to Turin. Strange how I find it here, just as I find you here."
"Me?" Arwen stammered. "What is it you wish of me? Who are you?"
He smiled coldly and answered as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world, "your new lord and master."
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.