3. Chapter Two: Journeys in the Dark
When he had first arrived in Valinor, Aaron had never believed he would become so attached to the place. However, there was real sorrow in him when he left the enchanted domain of the elves and the Valar, bound for home and an uncertain destiny. While there was a part of him that was eager to return to civilisation, even under such grim circumstances, there was another part that had become accustomed to his peaceful life in Valinor.
Nevertheless, Aaron was not about to sit idly by when it appeared that the continued existence of the world that him gave life was under threat by some unknown peril. Even if he had intended to quit the modern world permanently for his existence in Valinor, Aaron could not turn away from his former home in its time of need. If saving one world was the price for returning to the other, then so be it. Aaron was not going to sacrifice one for the other.
For Eve McCaughley, once Arwen Evenstar, it was not the place that was so difficult to leave behind but rather the people. In the last year, she had found a family in Valinor. Even though she still mourned the parents and the brother she had lost before coming to these fair shores, Eve had to concede that in a pervious life, she was daughter to Elrond and Celebrian of Imlardis, sister to Elladan and Elrohir. She could no more deny this any more than she could deny that she was once wife to Aragorn Elessar, now a New York psychiatrist she had willingly joined in exile.
Elrond had not wanted her to leave. The elven lord was afraid that he and his wife would lose their precious daughter again, even if she were wearing the skin of a mortal. If anything had the power to move the usually tough as nails policewoman, it was their concern for her. However, she was too much their daughter in spirit to stay behind when the man she loved was embarking upon a dangerous quest. Her life before Valinor had been dedicated to protecting the weak so she incapable of turning away when she was so needed. Thus when it came time to depart the Undying Lands, Eve found herself just as torn as Aaron, even more so because she was leaving behind family.
For Eve who had seen the absolute worst in human ugliness during her career as a detective with the New York Police Department, investigating homicides no less, Valinor had refreshed her spirit in a way she never dreamed possible. The cynic she had been was eroded away by being here among people who did not take life for granted and cherished every moment of it as something precious and worthy of cultivation.
Even Aaron had noticed that she was less suspicious and her natural aggression seemed to give ay under the affection of the people around her. While Aaron admired Eve’s ability to take care of herself, he sensed that it was partly due to the competition of being in a man’s world. There was an old saying that for a woman to be considered as half as good as a man it was necessary for her to do twice as well. Aaron could only imagine how that would have applied to Eve as a member of the NYPD and was grateful that in Valinor she had no need to prove herself.
In Valinor she had been greatly loved, not merely by her family but by Ariel, Legolas’ wife. As the first woman other than her immediate family that Eve had gotten to know upon her arrival, the two had become fast friends and remained close throughout the year. Despite being a very proper elven wife, Ariel had a streak of mischief that fitted very well with Eve’s own dry humour. Aaron could not even begin to say how disconcerting it was to walk in on the two women on board the Anemone and find them in front of the television set watching videos.
Aaron was certain that there was something deeply sacrilegious about watching ‘Thelma and Louise’ in Valinor.
As anticipated, when it was time to leave, Legolas insisted on accompanying them. Aaron’s best efforts to convince the elf that perhaps it was safer for him to remain behind was met with annoyance as well as complete ignorance. Legolas stated firmly that Aaron would only get himself killed if he was not there to prevent it and after what had happened with John Malcolm, the human could not dispute the elf’s words. Legolas was not only very adept at keeping himself alive during a battle, but equally capable of ensuring his comrades in arms remained the same way. In truth, Aaron was rather glad that Legolas was coming with him. He was so accustomed to having the elf by his side that it was impossible to imagine that he had ever known a time when Legolas was not apart of his life and was pleased to know that great friendships, like great loves, transcended time.
Elladan and Elrohir had wanted to accompany them on their return journey but Gandalf had insisted that they remain, declaring that their place was at their parent’s side during the time that their sister was away. Aaron suspected that this was merely an excuse to lessen the burden on Elrond and Celebrian if they should fail in what they intend to do. To lose one child was terrible enough, but to lose all three was more than anyone should have to bear, mortal or elf. While Gandalf was not at all fatalistic about their chances, Aaron was grateful for his compassion regarding the feelings of Elrond and Celebrian whom Aaron had come to care for as much as Eve.
Ariel had wanted to accompany her husband across the sea but even Eve discouraged the idea because the nature of the threat they faced and were required to stop was too great to risk any more lives than necessary. Legolas was grateful for Eve’s support when he attempted to convince Ariel of this. His wife was far younger than he and the hurt of losing her once, when she had been Melia was burned into his memory, so much so that he could never bear to have her in a position where her existence might be in jeopardy.
Ariel was bitter about being left behind again but understood this secret fear her husband harboured for as long as they been together. It had been revealed to her by the elf friend Gimli, the only dwarf to ever set foot on Valinor. Before he died, Gimli had told Ariel about Melia, the woman Legolas believed her to be. They had not been wed yet although it was clear to all that they loved each other by then. However, this news had almost halted their betrothal because Ariel had no wish to be a replacement for someone else, even if Legolas was convinced that she was in possession of Melia’s soul. It had taken Legolas a long time to win her hand and while she believed he saw her as a person in her own right, she indulged him his need to protect her from harm.
Galadriel and Celeborn seeing the worry of their daughter Celebrian regarding Eve’s departure, sent Haldir to accompany the travellers on their quest. Haldir was more than eager to see the new lands and he was a capable warrior in any situation. Although Gandalf had wanted to keep the company small, he understood the lady’s desire and agreed to the elf’s presence when it came time to leave.
Cirdan and his shipwrights had set to work on the Anemone before their departure, making the craft a fitting vassal to take them across the sea. Although they altered little in the structure of the ship, there were certain additions that were unmistakably elven and enough had been added to the original to ensure that when the Anemone returned to Valinor, it would do so without requiring the Valar to lift the veil between worlds.
Finally the Anemone departed Valinor, bound for the new world and the darkness that threatened to consume Arda completely if it was not stopped. Fortunately, the Valar had some sense of where the evil was strongest and so the vessel’s course was set not towards the Americas but to what Gandalf called the Old World. At first Aaron thought he was referring to Europe but during their voyage, learnt that the Old World was what the Istar called the lands that were once Middle earth.
They would arrive in what used to be by Gandalf’s reckoning, the lands of Eriador and by Aaron’s reckoning, Great Britain.
Thus at the same time that Bryan Miller was gambling his future in MI6 on a desperate bid to learn the truth about Malcolm Industries, the Anemone had pierced the curtain between dimensions and was making good time across the North Atlantic.
Despite the circumstances of their return to civilisation, neither Aaron nor Eve could deny that they were in some small way, excited by the prospect of returning to the world of their birth, if only for awhile. Both understood that if they were to succeed in ending the threat of the darkness that had been the source of that terrible vision in Galadriel’s mirror, their return to Valinor would be permanent. This would be their last excursion to the modern world.
The situation had demanded their presence in this quest but the Valar had shut their doors to the world a long time ago and according to Gandalf, Iluvutar’s plan for the race of men was unknown, even to them. The Valar could give neither Aaron nor Eve immortality because the fate of men was not in their hands and the design of an even greater power. What could be given was a long and happy life in Valinor but to accept it in its entirety meant Eve and Aaron had to turn their backs on everything they had known before.
It was both an easy and yet painful choice to make.
As the Anemone sailed through the dark waters of the North Atlantic, drawing closer towards the northern coast of Scotland, Aaron found Eve alone on the deck, watching the familiar stars overhead while being lashed by the strong winds. The air was heavy with salt and cold enough for him to be very grateful that he had opted to join her wearing a warm coat. She on the other hand was wearing one of the heavy cloaks provided by Celebrian and as she stood with the sea behind her, the wind blowing her dark hair across the rosy bloom of her cheeks, Aaron thought she never seemed more elvish than at that moment.
"Hey," he said sliding his arms around her waist as they drew to each other’s warmth in the cold night air. "Are you alright? You seem pretty far away."
"I’m fine," she smiled, savouring the touch of him but unable to shake the uneasiness from her posture. Unfortunately, Aaron knew her well enough now to see through her masks, a trait she sometimes wished he did not have. Eve, who was by nature a very private person found his ability to see straight through her rather disconcerting, although there were moments when it felt very good to have someone know her so well and love her for all the things that she was, without fear or recrimination.
"You don’t look fine," he pointed out, illustrating this point perfectly. "You forget what I used to do for a living. Come on," he said lowering his eyes to hers, "tell the doctor what is on your mind." He asked again in his best German accent.
"Oh please, not the Sigmund Freud impersonation," she winced before laughing a little. "I knew there was a reason I hate shrinks."
"Actually I was doing Schwarzeneggar," he threw her mischievous wink, "but Freud does fit. So tell me what’s wrong or I’ll be forced to use do some other lousy impersonation."
"How about impersonating a same person," she deadpanned.
"Oh that’s cold," he returned in mock hurt. ‘The maiden doth wound me mortally."
"Now you sound like Leggy," Eve replied wondering how a man with such a zany sense of humour had ever been a psychiatrist and such a good one at that. She supposed that was why she loved Aaron so much, other than the fact that fate had decreed they were destined to be together through several life times. In this life anyway, it was because he always managed to surprise her and bring a smile to her face no matter what the situation. His ability to take things in stride, no matter how strange they were, was one of the reasons why he had taken to Valinor as well as he did and also had aided her own transition by way of his support.
"Don’t let him hear you call him that," Aaron advised. "The guy can pin a gnat with an arrow from half a mile away. I’m pretty sure he’ll get you if he hears you calling him that nickname."
"Who knew elves could be so touchy?" Eve shrugged remembering the expression on Legolas’ face the first time she had use that abbreviation of his name. It was also the first time Eve was made aware of the fact that elves could curse and quite colourfully when the mood took them.
"Not me," Aaron replied, "I haven’t seen him that ticked off since that goon in New York called him pretty."
Eve laughed, recalling Legolas’ sensitivity on that subject before her tone became sombre as she returned to what was weighing heavily on her thoughts since they had left Valinor behind. "I’m a little worried about what’s going to happen when we get back to civilisation, Doc."
"You mean because of this quest?" Aaron asked with likeminded seriousness, now that she was getting to the heart of what was bothering her.
"No, I mean with you and what we left behind in New York," she answered grimly. "You were the only suspect they had for the destruction of the Malcolm Building and you disappeared. That’s a red flag to every law enforcement agency in the world. Even if they don’t have any proof you were responsible for what happened, they’ll want to question you at the very least. Aaron, it might have been better if you had stayed behind."
"And let you come out of here on your own?" Aaron balked at the suggestion even though he was well aware of how vulnerable he was. "No way in hell was I letting you face what I saw in Galadriel’s mirror alone. The whole world is in danger and I won’t sit by and do nothing because I’m afraid of what might happen to me. Besides, Gandalf needs us both; he wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t. Hell, the Valar weren’t happy about having either of us leave, but they allowed it because of what’s going on. If what I saw in that mirror is a nuclear threat then you and I are the only ones who know our way around enough to help him stop it. I know how much trouble I am in Eve, but I was not going to sit this one out when so much is at stake. Whatever’s waiting for me out there, I’ll face it when the time comes."
Eve was smiling at him, her eyes radiant with admiration and love for him as he made his courageous speech. "We’ll face it together," she declared, taking his hand in hers and squeezing it tighter.
"Yeah," Aaron replied happily, delighting in how good it felt to have her love him. It gave him courage enough to bring up a subject he had been idling with for the past few months. "You know Eve, we should think about getting engaged when this is all over."
Her eyes widened, "this is a proposal?"
"You want me to get on my knees?" He looked at her with a smile, "the deck’s wet but I’ll do it."
"After a year in Valinor, have you learnt nothing about romance?" Eve gave him a look of sarcasm.
"Well I didn’t think you went in for that kind of thing…..," Aaron returned and realised immediately that despite being a psychiatrist, he had picked the absolute worst thing to say to her.
"What you don’t think I’d appreciate romance?" She asked apparently hurt and took on the expression of a wounded bird but her posture and the hands on her hips were declaration of war.
"No that’s not what I mean…" Aaron started to stammer, deciding he would have to do some serious back pedalling if he wanted to escape her wrath. In desperation, he blurted out the first thing to come into his mind since he had made a mess of his proposal of marriage. "Jesus, Eve, do you want to get married or not?" .
"Yes!" Eve barked back, highly amused by his efforts to salvage the situation. She really did enjoy toying with him. He may be a brilliant psychiatrist but like all men, suffered the affliction of not having the slightest inkling on how a woman’s mind worked.
"Well that was about as easy as having a tooth pulled…" he rolled his eyes in resignation realising that she was behaving this way in order to amuse herself at his expense.
"And the charm just keeps coming," Eve laughed, kissing him lightly on the lips to indicate that all was forgiven.
"I love you know," Aaron grinned at her, "despite the fact that you’re a pain in the ass."
"You’re lucky I don’t throw you overboard for a lousy proposal like that," she replied. "Still, if we survive this and we get back to Valinor, I think Elrond will be thrilled. I don’t think modern relationships really sit well with him. Every time we’re alone together I was sure he was going to pop a vein. He keeps saying that it’s not proper for young maiden to be cavorting with a man who is not her husband."
Aaron was still trying to get accustomed to the whole notion of Eve being a proper maiden. "Its difficult to see you as a proper maiden when you can wipe the floor with me."
"Don’t you forget it either," she replied and fell into silence as they watched the stars above them in the wake of their infant pledge to share their lives together
While Aaron and Eve were enjoying their sojourn on the deck of the Anemone, Gandalf was wondering whether it had been entirely wise to allow Haldir to accompany them on their quest to the new world. It was not that the elf was not capable of facing the alien environment they would soon find themselves, far from it as a matter of fact. Haldir had proved his worth repeatedly through the ages as a formidable warrior and an elf that could be relied upon to accomplish any task set before him. It was just that whenever they were in close proximity, Haldir and Legolas simply brought out the worst in each other.
It was not that they disliked one another but were rather two different personalities that always seemed to react to each other like the tide colliding against the rocks. They were polar opposites in almost everything and while they could forget these differences when the situation demanded it, for the rest of the time being in their company bordered on tiresome and down right exasperating. It did not aid matters much that they were trapped on a ship with many days left to their voyage and the patience of a soul as wizened as Gandalf’s was starting to think the only way to cease their endless bickering was to throw them both overboard.
"You will damage it," Legolas grumbled as he saw Haldir with the small, squarish box used to operate the device Aaron called the television set.
"I will not," Haldir returned with annoyance as he proceeded to press every button on the device in quick succession, sending a flurry of images flashing across the television screen.
Since they had emerged from the barrier that concealed Valinor from the rest of the modern world, the set was once again able to receive television signals. The closer they came to civilisation, the greater the intensity of the signals and soon they were receiving normal television programming from whatever station they were close enough to receive. For Aaron, this had been particularly useful in finding out the current state of world events. For Gandalf, it had given Haldir and Legolas reason to argue about who watched what, which translated into a constant battle as to who would get control of the remote.
At the moment, it appeared Haldir was winning.
"You are not meant to do that," Legolas insisted. "You are supposed to choose one."
"I find that if you push the button fast enough, you can see many things at once," Haldir returned with a smirk, mostly because what he knew what he was doing was irritating Legolas to no end. The former Prince of Mirkwood kept such tight rein of his emotions that Haldir enjoyed the opportunity to beset that remarkable composure with some well needed strife. Despite their bickering, Haldir enjoyed Legolas’ company for that very reason. Annoying Legolas kept Haldir’s wits sharp and by the same token, kept the elven prince from taking himself too seriously, which he often did.
"I do not want to see many things at once," Legolas replied, unaware that in the corner of the room, there was an Istar whose patience was dwindling as rapidly as the weed he was puffing away in his pipe. "I wish to see if we can find the adventure of Xena, the warrior princess."
Haldir looked at him, "what is she the princess of?"
"It does not really say," Legolas answered seriously, "but she battles remarkable beasts with weapons that are most interesting. When I was in this world before, Elladan, Elrohir and I were privy to many of her legends."
"I see," Haldir mused to himself, thinking it highly improper for a princess of any realm to be running about battling dangerous creatures. He certainly could not imagine the Evenstar conducting herself in such a fashion during her day. Nevertheless, he pondered the notion briefly before resuming his operation of seeing as much as he could on the set all at once.
Legolas could stand it no more, seeing the images flashing before him and finally reached over to Haldir so that he could retrieve the device. "I think it is about time that I had a turn."
"I am not finished with it," Haldir returned, keeping it beyond his reach and forcing Legolas to make a more strenuous effort to take it from it.
Gandalf watched in growing disgust as the elves, a hundred thousand years each, began squabbling over the device like a two small boys arguing over a toy.
"All right that will quite enough from the both of you," Gandalf stormed over from his chair and liberated the remote from Haldir. "You are the Eldar. You are meant to comport yourself with dignity, not behave in this childish manner! Since it is clear that neither of you can be expected to act responsibly, I shall take the device."
With that, he liberated the remote from Haldir and continued to berate them, while waving the device in their faces to extenuate his point.
It was at this moment that Eve and Aaron returned to the room. Both were silent as they surveyed the scene, however, it was Eve who finally deigned to speak.
"Oh look, our babies have finally become men," she replied sarcastically to no one in particular, with an expression on her face that was not at all surprised by what she was seeing, "they’re fighting over the remote."
Following the destruction of the Malcolm Building in New York, Malcolm Industries had understandingly decided to remove the base of its operations from the United States to a new location across the Atlantic. Although the company had branches scattered throughout the globe, until destruction of its central hub, they had been peopled with underlings, not the corporate hierarchy. When the announcement had been made that John Malcolm’s heir, the then unknown David Saeran was also the new president of the company, it had been followed by Saeran’s declaration that the new corporate head quarters of his benefactor’s company would be in London.
It had taken time for Bryan to find any information on David Saeran other than what the company propaganda machine was churning out so readily to any of the Fleet Street rags and tabloid papers. According to those populist sources, Saeran was a blood relation of the Malcolm aristocracy, albeit it a rather obscure line. There had been some elaborate details of ancestry in relation to whose brother and whose sister was married to whom but it in the end, it came to the same conclusion; Saeron was the legitimate heir to Malcolm Industries and the Malcolm fortune in the event John Malcolm had no progeny of his own. If the blood ties were not enough then Malcolm’s will solidified Saeran’s position irrefutably.
Bryan’s own investigation had produced some information beyond what was made public, but he knew it was not enough to give him any real understanding of what Saeran was about. Until his promotion to CEO of the company, Saeran had been listed on the company’s annual reports as vice president although he did not occupy the role in any conventional sense. Irish by birth, Saeran had spent his youth in England and was educated at Oxford. It was only after Malcolm brought him into the company in his twenties, did his globetrotting career begin. By the looks of it, he was Malcolm’s chief trouble-shooter, travelling across the planet and ensuring that Malcolm Industries’ interests were being met. The PR people had him likened to a Richard Branson type. Saeran was young, accessible and unlike his predecessor, highly visible. His dynamism according to some business magazines was the fresh blood the conglomerate needed to expand its interests into the 21st century.
Just looking at him made Byran nervous.
Every cover that Saeran seemed to grace lately had the image of a man approaching his forties with a winning smile, rakish good looks and sunburnt blond hair. He was not much younger than Bryan and appeared to have the world at his feet. Byran wondered if his dislike stemmed a little from jealousy at all this man had accomplished in his life while Bryan’s own existence resembled an approaching train wreck he could not at all avoid. There were even moments when Bryan considered that perhaps it was jealousy that motivated him to the belief that Saeran was behind Black Serpent.
He shook the thought out of his head. If jealousy were the case, then Viggo Mortenson would be a marked man by now.
After being told rather firmly by Caldwell to take a holiday, Bryan had left MI6 and returned to his flat in London, where he considered how he would use his month to bring closure to his investigation. Some how he had to get a break in the case or he was going to lose control of it completely. It said something about how convinced he was about the company’s complicity when he measured the consequences of his failure by the lives that would be lost rather than his own career. As jaded as he was, Bryan was still a patriot who believed that he what he did for a living served a greater purpose. It was dirty job he was doing, but it ensured that decent people were able to go about their everyday lives without fear and with their liberties intact.
Thus when he learnt that David Saeran had returned to London, Bryan knew that his best hope would be to place the president of Malcolm Industries under tight surveillance until Saeran led him to the evidence he need. Bryan was utterly sure that Saeran was responsible for Black Serpent and if not, knew something about it. He was certain because he had no other lead left to follow. His career was riding on what he would do in the next four weeks. If he were going to jeopardize it, at least he would do so for more than just circumstantial evidence and a hunch.
Packing everything he would need so that he could begin the round the clock surveillance on the sprawling estate in Windsor that David Saeran now called home, Bryan had a specific plan of attack. Helping himself to quite a bit in the MI6 surveillance department before he had left for his supposed ‘vacation’, Bryan had every intention of infiltrating David Saeran’s life and learning his secrets. How he would explain it to Caldwell would come after he had found what he needed in evidence to prove Saeran’s complicity in the Black Serpent organization.
Driving down to the verdant estates sprawled across Windsor where only the very wealthy and the royals could afford to call home, Bryan knew how to blend in even in such lofty surroundings. The best way was to go about unnoticed by the rich was impersonate someone who was not. The upper classes tended to notice their equals and what they considered the serving classes were relegated to a kind of oblivion beneath their notice. For Bryan, this class division served him well because it allowed him to keep watch on Saeran’s home whilst he was in England.
In fact when Saeran had left the estate for London a few days after Bryan began his surveillance, the MI6 agent took the opportunity to enter the mansion so that he could install a few listening devices to aid in his investigation. He had entered the premises in the dead of night, navigating through the maze of security measures Saeran had in place with great care. For a man who deemed himself accessible to all, Saeran’s home was more fortified than Downing Street, with high security cameras, alarms that were triggers by micro density changes in the atmosphere, laser grids and even motion detectors. All of it served to convince Bryan that Saeran was a man with something to hide.
Bryan installed a number of bugs, ensuring that their hiding place would not be suspect until a regular surveillance sweep was conducted, a procedure he was certain Saeran undertook frequently. No man fortified his home with such care without taking that extra precaution. However, Bryan had timed his incursion a day or so after Saeran’s security people had conducted the procedure, to ensure that he would have a good number of days gleaning useful information before the bugs were finally discovered. Hopefully that would give him enough for further leads and he could abandon the surveillance for something more tangible.
If Caldwell learn what he was doing, Bryan could have found more than his job in danger. MI6 was not allowed to operate within the country. MI6’s sister agency, MI5 and its affiliate, the Special Branch of Scotland Yard, dealt with affairs effecting the internal security of the nation. What Bryan was doing broke all the rules and was very much against the law. All these factors laid a heavy burden upon the agent when he conducted his surveillance, listening to inconsequential gossip for most part. Saeran’s return to his estate did not alter this very much and most of what Bryan was overhearing, was incidental chatter that had to do with the running of Malcolm Industries, little else.
After almost a week of listening, Bryan was starting to consider that perhaps Saeran was too crafty to discuss anything relating to Black Serpent or his illegal activities, when his estate was staffed with so many that could unwittingly overhear him. Bryan began to consider what he would do next when a chance telephone call changed his mind dramatically.
It came through Saeran’s private cell phone whose frequency Bryan had been monitoring as soon as he discovered what it was. Bryan had been driven to this further invasion of privacy when he had been unable to glean any information from Saeran’s regular phone lines and this had been a measure borne out of desperation as well as expediency.
The caller on the other end of the phone spoke in a bare hiss. His voice, if it could be called that was almost a whisper and within the confines of the van that Bryan had been conducting his illegal surveillance, the agent shuddered a little at the sound of it. Hearing it made Bryan’s heart pound a little and his chest contracted with uneasiness. The voice chilled him to the bone.
"Is it him?" Saeran’s cool, measured voice had asked.
"YESSSSS...." came the answer.
"Good," Saeran seemed pleased, "wait until it is dark and then bring him here. I want him alive."
"YESSSSS," the unnamed voice on the end of the line answered in that same unearthly voice.
"Kill everyone else. Fail me in this and you will know my wrath."
Wit that the call ended with no more being said. Bryan straightened within the confines of the darkened van, excited by the words Saeran had spoken because now he finally had proof that the man was dealing in something more than corporate finance. By his own words, Saeran had ordered someone’s death and Bryan had the proof of it on tape. However, even as success was finally within his reach, Bryan’s thoughts sobered to the kidnapping that Saeran had ordered, not to mention the death warrant for those who might be in proximity to witness it.
He followed the trace on the call and found that it had originated from Cardiff, in the Riverside district to be exact. Unfortunately, he was unable to be more exact then that which concerned him greatly. If he turned this over to MI5 where it ought to rightly go, they would ask how he had come by this information and his revelation might give them doubts as to whether or not they should proceed. While the inevitable bureaucratic squabbling took place as to whether or not they should act on the information, since it was acquired by an agent conducting an illegal surveillance, Saeran’s men would reach their targets and innocent people would die.
He had to do this himself.
Bryan had enough to burden his conscience in regards to what he had done for queen and country during his career but under those circumstances, he was under orders as any soldier might have been. However, if he did nothing in this instance, it would be on no one’s head but his own. While he had shed blood in the service of England, he could not simply stand by when innocent civilians were about to be murdered, not under any circumstances. There was still enough of him that belonged to the human race that would not permit him to let it happen.
Driving the van immediately to the garage he had rented during his time in the area, Bryan exchanged the dark van for his own vehicle, a 1973 jaguar sedan in tasteful British racing green. As an agent in the field, the car had come equipped with company plates as well as a boot full of optional extras which was not included in the original sale or listed in the owner’s manual. Bryan knew he had little time. Saeran’s agents was instructed to wait until dark, so Bryan had possibly a matter of hours to reach Cardiff and find the proposed victims in this whole affair before it was too late.
It was still daylight when he left Windsor and headed towards Cardiff, taking the west road to Cleveden where he would cross Mouth of the Servern on the ferry. He wished he had a better idea of time but could not expect Saeran to make it too easy for him since the man was unaware that he was listening. Still, he had enough information to save him some valuable time when he arrived at Riverside and the sensibility of waiting until dark to attempt the kidnapping gave him valuable time.
It was still a few hours to dusk and Bryan intended to make every second count.
Fred did not want to go to school today.
She told mummy she was sick and though she showed no signs of running a fever or impending cold, fortunately mummy had believed her because she was not a child prone to lying about such things. Daddy had gone off to work, despite Fred’s entreaties for him to stay at home and watch cartoons with her. He had almost relented, she thought because the request was not one she made often, but eventually the annoying sense of adult responsibility told him to refuse her and go to work as planned. Fred was disappointed and spent the rest of the morning pouting inside, even though she was pleased that mummy at least had decided not to go to the markets today.
Instead she spent a wonderful day, following her mother around the house, keeping her in close sights as mummy did the washing and the housekeeping. Delighting in all the little mundane tasks that personified her mother in Fred’s young mind, from the making of the beds to preparing her lunch. All this little girl committed to memory like something that needed treasuring. She watched the day go by in sadness, knowing that it was all coming to and end because the feeling of doom that had plagued her all her life had taken on a life of its own in the past few days.
The black cars with their black windows had become more frequent outside her street in the dead of night. They did not think they were seen and to everyone else, they continued to remain anonymous to all. Except to Fred. She saw them and she knew that the net around her safe existence was tightening. This morning, she was struck by the feeling that it would be the last time she awoke in her bed. She looked at the sky blue walls covered in pictures of Thomas the Tank Engine, the Powerpuff Girls and even the odd Harry Potter. She looked at her creme desk covered with crayons and coloring pens scattered about and at the shelves where her favorite toys and books were kept with this knowledge that her time in this room was almost done.
When her father came that evening, he had put her on his lap and turned on the television so that they could watch cartoons together. He explained to her why he could not stay with her earlier in the day and Fred accepted it because she was grateful that he was here with her now. They watched television together and then had a lovely dinner, where there were smiles and laughter around the table. Fred watched her mother and father who were good parents considering that she had been a most perplexing child. She had given them reason to worry and yet they had never been unkind or cross. No matter how strangely she behaved, to them she was their daughter and nothing else mattered.
She branded her memory with everything about her mother, from her long golden hair to her bright smile and the faint hint of lilac that remained after she had left the room. For the rest of her life, Fred would always associate the flower with her mother and the memory would bring tears to her eyes. Just as she would associate rough corduroy and Saturday morning cartoons with her father. When it was time to go to bed, Fred had returned to her bedroom, emerging from beneath the covers once the light had been turned off. Stealing furtively across the floor towards the window, she peered through the curtains swaying back and forth in the breeze to the street and saw them waiting in the shadows.
There were more of them now. Before there had been only one dark, black car with the tinted windows parked in the dead of night watching her house, but now she spied another. They were parked on either side of the street, like dark heralds awaiting the arrival of their terrible master. Fred could not sense that he was there but she felt the darkness of his minions and knew that the sinister feeling of dread growing in her heart was because they were no longer contented to watch. Tonight, she would see them in the flesh for the first time.
She had dreamed of them but until this morning, had not remembered.
Yet as she saw them across the street, she knew that they had always been chasing her in one form or another. They preceded the coming of her nemesis, the one that had used her dreams to see into her life, the one who made it so hard to close her eyes or trust sleep. She thought that perhaps she should warn her parents, to reveal the presence of the dark men who had been stalking them for many days now. However, she feared that she would not be believed or worse yet, her parents might believe her and do something foolish like confronting them.
Fred watched them until the moon hung high in the night sky and the rest of the neighborhood was drowned in slumber. Lights diminished across the street as people went to bed and forgot the world outside for a time. The noises emanating from the downstairs of her own house fell into this stasis and Fred knew that when it was quiet, they would come. She watched by the window as the cars continued their vigil, the smooth finish of their paint looking as black as infinity as the hour of their awakening approached.
When the lights of her parent’s room dimmed beneath the crack of her door, she knew that they would at last come. Her blue eyes shifted immediately to the cars and saw the doors opening on both vehicles. Fred held her breath, grabbing her Eeyore doll tighter in her grip as she decided what she would do. Her eyes widened as she saw them move towards the front gate, tall, men wearing black suits, their faces hidden beneath wide brimmed hats. They were very pale all of them and it was difficult to see their faces because the hats partially covered their features and when it did not, Fred saw that they were all wearing sunglasses.
She counted three emerging from one car and they moved like a rolling fog, silently progressing up the pavement towards the front gate. From the other car, she saw two more men appear in the darkness but they seemed to linger outside of the house. Fred knew that her time had run out when she saw them pushing open the gate and was finally spurred into moving. Quickly, she ran out of her room, her small feet making loud noises against the hardwood floor. Bursting into her parent’s room, the noise of her running feet had already begun to stir them out of their slumber.
"Mummy, daddy wake up!" She cried out frantically.
Already alerted somewhat by the sound of pounding footsteps, her parents sat up almost immediately in their beds, having grown accustomed to being awakened suddenly since the onset of her nightmares. It was her mother Geraldine who managed a coherent response first.
"Fred darling what is it?" She asked wiping the sleep out of her eyes and staring at her panic stricken child.
"We have to go mummy, they’re coming!" Fred declared staring out the window even though she could not see them from her present position next to her parent’s bed.
"Who’s coming?" Her father muttered through a yawn.
"The bad men!" She returned sharply. "They’re outside!"
Both parents exchanged a weary expression of disbelief, certain that the root of this declaration was from another one of their child’s terrifying nightmares. Her mother sat upright in her bed and drew Fred to her in a warm embrace, in an effort to allay her daughter’s fears.
"Its just a dream darling," Geraldine said comfortingly.
"No it’s not!" Fred insisted, vindicated in her opinion that had she told them the truth earlier she would not have been believed. "They’re there mummy! They’ve been watching us from their cars at night. They’re coming up the path now!"
Perhaps it was the combination of the fear in her eyes or the claim that what terrified her was not a dream but something real that caused her father to climb out of bed and hurry to the window. Whatever the reason, when he arrived at the glass and looked through, what he was saw was enough to cast all further doubt from his mind.
"Gerry, take Fred and get out of the house," he ordered firmly. His gaze moving swiftly towards the cordless telephone on the bedside table.
"What is it Edward?" His wife asked automatically sweeping her young daughter in her arms.
"Do it now!" He shouted as he picked up the receiver and began dialing furiously.
Fred’s mother nodded blindly and picked up her young daughter. She cast a brief glance at her husband who was waving with his hand for her to keep going while he waited anxiously for the telephone to connect him to the police station. Turning back towards the darkened hallway, she took a few more steps when she heard glass breaking.
"They’re coming mummy," Fred said frightened as her mother continued down the stairs, intending to flee through the backdoor since the glass breaking was from the front.
"Hush darling," Geraldine Bailey spoke softly, not wanting to know what agency had allowed their daughter the foresight to warn them of the danger, not until they were safely away from here. She cast an anxious glance at the upstairs bedroom, hoping her husband would join them soon. She could hear him talking and felt her heart soar with relief when it appeared that he had managed to contact the police. Help would arrive soon enough.
Mother and daughter reached the bottom of the steps and were about to take the parlor route to the backdoor when suddenly, five shapes appeared before them. Fred screamed as she saw the five men in front of them, their pasty colored faced with eyes hidden behind sunglasses in the dark close in on them.
"What do you want?" Gerry demanded as she made a frantic dash towards the kitchen.
They did not speak but one of them produced the gun that had been hiding in the shadows of their gloved palms. Fred saw him aim and pull the trigger. The sound was not booming as she expected a gun to be but soft and muffled. It was the last moment of sanity before she started screaming. Her mother’s head flew backwards, blood exploding from the back of her skull as the single bullet tore away in that moment everything that Geraldine Bailey would ever be.
"MUMMY!" Fred screamed as the life bled out of her mother’s body and they both tumbled to the floor.
Fred scrambled to her mother and saw her face covered in blood, the beautiful gold hair that danced in the sunlight was now matted in red. Her mother’s eyes were wide opened and staring into nothingness as Fred shook her hard, trying to wake her even though she knew in her heart that it was too late.
As she had always known.
"Mummy, please wake up!" She squealed and shook the woman desperately, Eeyore still in her grip and similarly covered in red.
Her cries had brought her father running down the staircase and Fred looked up to warn him of what was waiting for them but it was too late.
"Oh my god Gerry!" He shouted in a mixture of horror and a sob as he saw his wife lying in an expanding pool of her own blood.
The bullets pummeled him in mid torso, a quick succession of shots that riddled his yellow pajamas top with holes oozing blood. He was half way down the steps when the shots were fired, stealing his life and the ability to control his movement one after the other. He nevertheless continued his descent in a nasty tumble that ended with the terrible crunch of bone when he finally reached the foot of the stairs, metres away from his dead wife and within reach of his weeping daughter.
"Daddy!" Fred screamed, tearing herself away from her mother’s dead form and crawling towards her father, whom she did not know was beyond hope. His head rolled back as he came to a stop at the foot of the steps, blood trickling down the corner of his lips as he remained frozen and unmoving. She tried to rouse him but was no more successful than she had been with the attempt to wake her mother. Her tears grew more frantic because in her mind she had seen this scene so many times before. She had seen them die in this very fashion but until this moment when it became more than just a nightmare, when it transcended the dreamscape into a reality, did she remember it.
Fred raised her eyes to her parent’s murderers and saw them converging on her. If they had seemed frightening when she had spied them from her window earlier, they now appeared absolutely terrifying. The leader of them stepped forward, walking past the body of her mother as if he did not even see it because he had only eyes for Fred. Fred wanted to run but she was too afraid and after seeing her parents killed before her, no longer knew whether or not she wanted to flee. She wanted to die with them.
He looked at her through the darkened sunglasses and reached down with a gloved hand. Fred tried to shrink away but his hands were around her throat before she even think about putting any distance between them. He lifted her off the floor, causing her to drop Eeyore as her tiny hands clawed at her neck in desperation because she could not breath. As her feet began to dangle over the floor, kicking hard in desperation as the fingers around her neck held her in a vise like grip, she found it becoming harder to draw breath.
Her captor pulled her forward, until her small face was inches from him. In desperation, Fred lashed out with one tiny fist, unwittingly knocking the sunglasses from his face. Fred stopped struggling when she looked into the man’s face and saw that his pasty white skin was not skin at all but rather a mask, a clever rubber mask like she saw in the windows of costume stores. Where there should have been eyes, there was only the glow of red. He seemed to note her discovery and lowered his face so that it was inches away from hers and spoke through the slits that made up the mouth of the mask, uttering one word only in a slow, prolonged whisper.
It was well after dark when Bryan finally arrived in Cardiff and made his way to Riverside. Upon arriving in the coastal town in Wales, Bryan began his searched for David Saeran’s agents in the community of Riverside, a collection of nice, middle classed homes not far from a popular co-op market. It was a pretty place, the kind one would imagine as the height of simple, domestic bliss. Why David Saeran had ordered a kidnapping and a murder in such surroundings was more than confusing. Who was this man that had earned Saeran’s displeasure enough to warrant a kidnapping and the death of anyone around him? Was it someone who could connect the tycoon to Black Serpent? Bryan really hoped so because there would be hell to pay when he finally told Caldwell what he had been up to the past week.
He had driven around Riverside, searching for something he knew not what, aware only that he was close to it. Up and down the suburbs he had driven, seeing nothing but ordinary folk going about their business. Lights dimmed early in the neighborhood and after that the only other source of life seemed to be the local pub. Yes, it was a nice area to live and under different circumstances, a place Bryan would not have minded putting down roots himself.
He had almost started to wonder whether or not he had been mistaken when he saw two, nondescript cars parked on opposite sides of a quiet street. Both were black, with tinted windows and obscured license plates. Bryan had been in the game enough to know what an unmarked car looked like. Slowing down as he proceeded down the street, he tried to locate the occupants of the car and discovered that they were not in the vehicle when he heard a scream. Pulling the car immediately to the pavement, Bryan emerged into the night air and listened carefully for the sound once more. What he was rewarded with after a brief pause was a man’s frantic voice before it was abruptly silenced.
Bryan acted quickly, going to his boot and removing the weapons he had stocked there. The optional extras, which he so misleadingly called them, were an automatic rifle with self-loading magazines. Once he was armed, Bryan made his way to the source of the cries. He could see movement through the open front door of the house as he made his way silently into the grounds, avoiding the obvious front steps. Peering through a window, he could see two people on the floor. The light was dim but the manner in which they were lying indicated to Bryan that it was already too late for them.
There were five of them, Bryan counted, spread out through the room. All wearing the same dark clothes, hats and all. The leader was holding a child in his grip, a tiny waif of thing who was obviously terrified and was clutching the hand around her throat, trying desperately to break free. Bryan was outnumbered and he knew it but could not bring himself to do nothing when that child was in so much need. Where was this man that they had been ordered to kidnap? Had it all gone wrong and resulted in his death instead of his abduction? If that were the case, then the child was beyond his ability to save even if he did go in there with guns blazing.
However, instead of snapping her neck easily, the killer relinquished his grip of her neck and lowered her down. The child crumpled to the floor, gasping for breath as her parent’s killer regarded her like a specimen in her.
"Take her..." he ordered in that terrible hiss of a voice, and caused the others to move towards her.
Bryan knew that he would never have a chance and immediately opened fired through the window. The child crouched low, giving him the opportunity to act and with careful precision emptied a dozen bullets through the window. Windows shattered and objects were torn apart as the bullets flew through the room and at Saeran’s men. They turned their attention to the Bryan, trying to discern the source of the bullets but the MI6 agent was already barreling through the front door and opened fire once more. Some managed to return fire but he dove beneath their range towards the young girl who was now screaming loudly in terror.
The man closest to Bryan had been the one holding the child in his grip and as he approached her once more, Bryan threw a hard kick into his sternum. The man doubled over but Bryan’s attention was soon drawn to his comrades. Spinning around, he opened fired on those who had regained their equilibrium after his unexpected arrival on the scene. He released another hail of bullets, sending them sprawling as the bullets tore through their bodies and turned his attention to the man he had just driven away from the child. When he turned to Bryan, the MI6 agents stopped short because he was staring at two crimson point of light where there should have been eyes. For a moment, Bryan thought he was dreaming until he heard movement behind him and saw that the men he had shot, were far from dead but were rising to their feet as if he had never fired a single bullet at them.
"What the hell...." Bryan stared to say but cut short his exclamations of shock because he was nowhere out of danger yet.
The creature with the crimson eyes started towards him while peeling off his mask. Bryan stared mesmerized as the rubberized mask fell to the ground and in place of a face was empty air. This was not possible, he wanted to say but the words would not come because he was still too stunned by what he was seeing. They were converging upon him and he knew without any doubt that to stay was to die. A split second was all he needed before he was running towards the child, sweeping her into his arms as he covered his retreat in another hail of bullets. The bullets may not have been able to stop the creatures falling into swift pursuit but it was capable of slowing them down.
"Hold on to me!" he ordered Fred as he held her tight and was grateful when the child obeyed without question, her hands and legs wrapping tightly around his neck and waist respectively. He emptied almost an entire magazine into the enemy when he reached the backdoor and pulled it open. The cold air of the night swept past him as he escaped into the backyard. In the distance, he could hear the siren of police cars answering the calls of neighbors who had no doubt reported the disturbance and the gunfire.
Bryan looked behind him and saw that they were giving chase, although his efforts to widen the gap with gunfire had succeeded. He leapt across the fence into the neighbors yard and use the building and the darkness to return to the street where his car was parked. Some of the five had guessed his intent and had doubled back to intercept him on the street, fortunately Bryan was closer to his car then they were to him. He jumped into the Jaguar with the child still clinging to him with seconds to spare. The enemy was shooting at him and too many times did the bullets come very close to meeting flesh. Bryan tore Fred off him and placed her in the passenger’s seat when he saw the creatures approaching him through the rear view mirror.
Unwilling to allow them any closer, at least until he knew what the hell he was up against, Bryan started the engines and threw the car into gear. The Jaguar roared to life beneath him and surged forward when the MI6 agent jammed his foot on the accelerator and sent it off to a speeding start. In the rear view mirror, he could see the men in the dark suits making for their car, intending to give pursuit. However, the sound of sirens was drawing nearer and as Bryan sped away from the Riverside district, he turned quickly into a small alley, to avoid letting the police see him, he knew that their pursuers would not be able to evade the authorities so easily.
Just as well he decided, he needed to think about what he had seen. His mind was still wrestling with the notion that any of what he had witnessed was real. The man, no it was not man, it something invisible, given shape by the clothes it wore, with crimson red eyes, that could not be killed, at least not by bullets. Bryan kept driving, putting as much distance between himself and those things, whatever they were because he did not know what to do. It was not until after Cardiff was behind him did he remember that he had a passenger.
Bryan glanced at the young girl, curled up into a little ball on the passenger seat, her face streaked with tears and her clothes splattered in blood. Suddenly, without knowing how, Bryan was certain that whatever this was nightmare was he had stumbled into, she was also apart of it.
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.