Triumvirate: 4. Chapter Three: Collision

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4. Chapter Three: Collision

The Anemone’s first port of call upon its official return to the
modern world was the coastal port of Lochinver in Scotland. A quaint fishing town
on the western edge of the Britain, Lochinver’s greatest call to fame was the
magnificent Suilven Mountain that was visible from any corner of the small
community. The mountain was an impressive protrusion of rock that soared
majestically out of the earth like a blunt cone, crowned by snow and clouds.
Although the largest port in western Scotland, Lochinver seemed small and
isolated to newcomers. Houses scattered the shoreline behind stone embankments
and though they stretched over a large area; one had the feeling that it still
considered itself a fishing village. Surrounded by either the Suilven or the
more distant Canisp Mountains, Lochinver seemed as trapped in time as Valinor.



The sun was moving vaguely through the morning fog when the Anemone
eased gently towards the dock for mooring. Damp air filtered through their
lungs, as they emerged from the innards of the vessel, eager to feel ground
beneath their feet for the first time in many weeks. Despite the alien
environment that the elves would be entering, Aaron got the impression that
they too were glad for land. Aaron had always wanted to sail the waters of
Northern Scotland, to visit the Orkney Islands and such but the opportunity had
never presented itself. Thus it had been a special treat when the return to the
world demanded they travel that particular route since Lochinver was remote
enough to allow their arrival to go relatively unnoticed. After all, the people
were accustomed to strangers stepping through the mist from the sea.



Gandalf hid himself beneath a long, grey cloak and did not look very
different from the old mariners that were watching the wharf and the boats
sailing into the harbor. He even paused to converse with them a little as Aaron
went about securing the Anemone a permanent berth while it was in
Lochinver. Travelling by sea to more populated areas was going to raise
suspicion, particularly if the coast guard stopped them. By land, they could
travel southward, remaining out of sight of the authorities for awhile longer.
Legolas and Haldir were wearing some of his clothes and Aaron made a mental
note to do some shopping because they did not fit them well and if any in their
party needed to look inconspicuous, it was the elven warriors.



Fortunately, it was early in the morning and the only folk who were up and
about on a day like this were fishermen preparing their catches for the
markets. Those who had already come back from the early haul, were more
interested in the business at hand rather than the arrival of strangers into
their midst. The air was heavy with the salt of the sea and it was a comfort to
the elves in particular who were wary of their new surroundings. Although
Legolas had journeyed from Valinor previously, the modern world was still an
alien place to him and he was just as unaccustomed to his surroundings as
Haldir.



As the port began to come alive with the morning, they wandered into a local
eatery catering to the needs of the working port. Most of the patrons within
the place were fishermen, concluding the day with a hearty breakfast after
their labors at sea. Despite Aaron’s best efforts to make Legolas and Haldir
blend in, they were raising a few curious stares as they sat in the booth of
the restaurant waiting to be served. Once again, Aaron told himself that they
would have to get proper fitting garments as soon as possible since the elegant
grace of elves did not lend well to his clothes. For the life of him he could
not imagine what would make either of them blend in.



Perhaps long coats, he thought to himself.



"Now what I bring you all to start?" A rather round, red-cheeked
woman with a curly dark hair and a bright smile asked after distributing menus
across the table. Haldir and Legolas looked at the laminated piece of paper
quizzically while Gandalf took a moment to study his own.



"Coffee," Eve answered smoothly, marveling at how easy it was to
switch from speaking elvish to English once more. "Strong, black coffee, a
stack of pancakes with honey, bacon and eggs with toast, I prefer my eggs
scrambled but if I can’t have it that way sunny side up will do. Do you have
cake?"



She said this in one breath.



"We have chocolate," the woman nodded, somewhat impressed by Eve’s
appetite. "You’ve been starving yourself lass?"



"I’ve been dieting for awhile," Eve deadpanned. "One slice of
chocolate cake please."



The woman scribbled down the order and looked at the others at the table.
While most of what Eve had said was lost on Haldir and Legolas, Aaron and
Gandalf were still staring at her.



"And what will you have?" The waitress turned her attention to
Aaron.



"Hopefully not a coronary," Aaron retorted, disapproving at Eve’s
choice of menu from a medical point of view.



"Very funny," Eve replied, not at all repentant at her indulgence.



Aaron proceeded to order for Haldir and Legolas, deciding the pancakes were
good for Legolas since he had enjoyed them the last time he was in the world of
men. Naturally the meal would be accompanied by a bottle of coke since the elf
had missed the drink terribly when the supply Aaron brought to Valinor was
finally exhausted. Haldir did not have much of a sweet tooth and so Aaron
ordered him something that would not upset his palette too much since the food
here was something he would have to get accustomed to. When the waitress
finally went away and left them alone, the group finally found the leave to
speak freely.



"I think they know we are strangers," Haldir remarked in elvish,
noting how everyone was sneaking glances their way.



"We’ll just say you’re from California," Eve replied in the same,
looking forward to her first cup of real coffee in six months.



"We should not linger here too long," Legolas warned as he tugged
uncomfortably at the collar of the sweater he was wearing. "We bring undue
attention to you by our presence."



"The authorities will come after me soon enough," Aaron shrugged,
"I don’t think how different you look will make that happen any faster.
Besides, I’m not sure where we’re even supposed to go from here. Gandalf?"
Aaron stared at the Istar in answer to that question.



"My instincts say we go south," Gandalf replied, frowning at the
sign that told him smoking was not allowed in the restaurant.



"It will be easier by car," Eve suggested. "We try to make it
that by boat and we’re going to run into the coast guard sooner or later.
Besides, my credit card is still valid; we can get a car and head down to
London. Is that far enough south?" She looked at Gandalf.





"It will do," the Maia answered with a slight nod.



"London it is I guess," Aaron declared before adding further,
"well need a place to lay low while we’re there, I can look up an old
friend. I’m sure she won’t mind letting us stay."



"She?" Eve’s brows shot up in question. "Who’s she?’



"Stuart’s ex wife," Aaron shrugged, realising he had just walked
into a minefield and explained quickly before he found himself on the receiving
end of a full vent of female suspicion. Gandalf was already smirking and
Legolas, who knew him well enough, was trying to suppress a smile at Eve’s
pointed inquiry.



"Stuart was married?" Eve declared in surprise, ignoring the
juvenile sniggering between the males at the table. Eve was not all threatened
by the fact that Aaron had other women in his life before her and her question
had been one of curiosity more than anything else. Still, she could not deny
that she was glad that the lady in question had turned out to be Stuart’s
ex-wife. At the moment the situation was too complicated to tolerate the
presence of an old girlfriend and not because she was jealous.



Well, not completely.



"Yeah for a while," he answered wondering how his best friend’s ex
wife would take his sudden arrival at her doorstep with an entourage.
"Stuart met her when we were backpacking across Europe after college. They
got married in England but she came with him to New York after the wedding.
They were together for five years before it finally ended. It was an amicable
divorce so we all stayed pretty close, even after she went home to
London."



"What is a divorce?" Legolas asked.



"It’s when two people who are married decided to dissolve the
union," Gandalf explained helpfully. "It is an unpleasant affair
resulting in a division of property and assets. They sometimes even fight over
the children and pets."



"For someone who spent the last four hundred years as an insane
derelict, you sure know a lot about it," Eve noted sarcastically.



"Well, when one was forced to rifle through rubbish for food, one
sometimes had to pay attention to the tabloids and newspapers people throw
away. Aside from making good bedding, it was something to read at night,"
Gandalf returned with a smile.



"How terrible," the former prince of Mirkwood frowned at the whole
notion. "And you say it was done amicably?"



"Yeah sure," Aaron shrugged supposing to the elves, who chose
their partners for all eternity, the concept of divorce was an alien one.
Certainly, he could not even begin to imagine the longevity of Elrond and
Celebrian’s marriage, not to mention Galadriel and Celeborn’s union.
"Look. Tory and Stuart were very much in love but it takes more then that
to make a marriage work sometimes. She was the feisty type and Stuart just
didn’t like confrontations. In truth, they got along better when they weren’t
married."



"Your race is strange," Legolas shrugged not understanding.



"No more stranger than they were a hundred thousand years ago,"
Haldir replied. "I can see the expediency of it however. Your lives are
too short to waste on unhappy unions."



"Thank you, I think." Aaron returned, uncertain if that
observation was astute or insulting. "Anyway, I trust Tory. If we need a
place to stay, I don’t think she’ll turn us away."



"Aaron that’s a big ask," Eve said seriously. "There’s five
of us and you could possibly be a fugitive."



"I’m not forgetting that," Aaron said seriously. "But I know
Tory and she’ll help us if I ask."



"I have a feeling that before this is done," Gandalf replied
staring at the television screen mounted on the wall and taking in his first
sight of David Saeran on the news, "we will need all the help we can
get."



***********



Bryan did not stop driving until he was well away from Cardiff and certain
that no one was following them. It appeared their escape from Riverside had
gone smoothly for the moment but under no circumstances did the MI6 agent feel
the danger was over. He almost to the outskirts of Newport before he had dared
to draw a breath, his mind racing at a million miles an hour as he tried to
come to terms with what he had seen little more than a hour ago. He was a
rational man who believed in things he could see. His mind was thrived on the
comforting fact that very little surprised him. At this stage in his life, he
had seen almost everything life could throw at him and was not only jaded but
also rather comfortable with the whole idea of being in absolute control of his
environment.



What he saw in that house shattered that safe illusion into a thousand
fragments.



It was no trick of the dark or any kind of technology that he knew. When
that creature, whatever it was, took off that mask, there had been nothing
behind it. Yet the clothes molded to a body, the crimson eyes radiating malice
were attached to a form, even if it was one he could not see. Yet he had put an
entire magazine into it and the others with him and other than being
momentarily surprised by the gunfire, it had left no permanent effect upon
them. They should have been killed by that much ammunition but they were not.
They had stood up and given chase. Yet, his mind would not allow him to think
that they were invulnerable. The man and woman who laid dead on the floor of
that house, were not killed by apparitions.



What took their life was real. It was no phantom even if it was capable of
appearing as one.



And if they were real, they could be killed. They had to be because to
believe otherwise was to be defeated before he even understood what he was
facing. He thought of telling Caldwell what he had seen but understood quickly
the reality of his situation. If he were to bring such a tale to his superior,
they would have him in a straightjacket in a matter of hours. Agents as highly
placed, as he did not go on off the deep end without very permanent
consequences. He would be dealt with and quickly. Besides if he was to appeal
to his superior for assistance in this situation, it would probably be best if
Caldwell did not think he was insane.



Pulling up to a petrol station, Bryan sat in his car for a moment, trying to
understand what had happened. Saeran had sent those things after someone but
the kidnapping had gone badly. Obviously, they were forced to kill the target
and his wife. However, he could not understand why they had hesitated with the
child. He had witnessed what happened when he arrived on the scene. The killer
had the child in his hands, he could have killed her there and then. There was
no other alternative. The child had obviously seen everything. She could not be
left alive to tell the authorities her tale. Yet he knew that the creatures had
not intended to kill the girl. With every fiber of his being Bryan was certain
of it.



So why was she still alive?



For the first time since they had started driving, Bryan turned his
attention to the young girl who was still huddled in a fetal position on his
passenger seat. She was shuddering with tears, her little pink nightgown
smeared in blood. He looked at her and felt a surge of pity for the poor mite,
having been witnessed to such a terrible scene as the murder of her parents.
Bryan estimated she could not be any more than six years old and realized for
the first time that he had not bothered to see if she was hurt or not. There
had been a lot of gunfire when he went in to the house guns blazing and when
they had ran for their lives.



"Are you alright?" He finally found voice enough to speak.
Outside, it was still dark and the petrol station was mercifully deserted.
Bryan had no desire of drawing undue attention if someone noticed a grown man
in a car with a girl, all alone at this hour.



She did not answer but continued to shake with tears. He could hear her
sniffles and felt each sob pierce his heart more than it should. For God’s
sake, he had seen things that would leave some people with nightmares forever,
this should not be affecting him. Bryan reached for her and his touch made her
sit up but only out of fear. Within seconds, she was pressed up against the
side of the door, staring at him with wide eyes brimming with moisture, strands
of hair clinging to her tear stained cheeks.



"Are you alright?" Bryan asked again, starting to become gripped
with the very real fear that she might have been injured in some way. "Are
you hurt?"



She did not speak but continued to stare and sniffle in tandem. The fear in
her expression so palpable, that Bryan realised that he was right, she had seen
everything that had happened to her parents.



"I need to know if you’re hurt," Bryan tried again, this time using
a gentler voice and a more trusting one he hoped. "I know that you’re
frightened but I won’t hurt you, I promise. I just need to know if you are
alright because if you’re not, I’ll have to get you to a doctor."



She stared at him for a few more seconds, trying to decide whether or not he
could be trusted. The instincts for strangers which she had relied upon for so
many years, that knew today would be a black day in her life, was somewhat
vague on the subject of this man. For once, Fred had to use her mind instead of
her heart to decide what she ought to do. He had saved her life. He had come
into the house and saved her when the men with the red eyes would have surely
harmed her. Even if she did not completely trust him, she could not ignore
that.



"I’m not hurt," she said after a lengthy pause.



Bryan let out a sigh of relief and a smile in quick succession. "That’s
good to know. My name is Bryan," he introduced himself. "What’s
yours?"



Fred swallowed thickly, her heart still heavy with the realization that
mummy and daddy were gone and that this man was now her protector for a time.
She did not know whether she could really trust him but he was able to hide
from the bad men and right now, he was all she had.



"Fred."



"Fred?" He cocked his brow in mild surprise. "That’s an
unusual name for a little girl. Is it short for something?"



Fred nodded and answered after a moment’s pause, "Frederica."



"I think I like Fred better," he replied trying not to frighten
her. He could only imagine what fresh demons were infusing themselves into her
psyche after what she had witnessed tonight. He did not have much contact with
children and wished that were otherwise at this moment because he had no idea
how to relate to a six-year-old child suffering the traumas that she had.
However, he did know that to send her on her way just so he could absolve
himself of the responsibility was a mistake. Until he learnt why her parents
were killed and why David Saeran had ordered it, she was not safe anywhere,
even with him.



"Fred," he let out a heavy sigh deciding that the best way to
proceed at this moment was to simply tell her the truth. "I don’t know who
those men were in your house but I’m sure that they won’t stop looking for you.
They know you saw what they did to your mum and dad so they’ll be after you for
certain. I think it is best that you stay with me until we figure things out.
Is that alright with you?"



"They didn’t want mummy and daddy," Fred said bitterly, fresh
tears breaking through her efforts not to cry," they wanted me. They only
wanted me!"



"You?" Bryan said in disbelief, "no I’m sure that’s not
right. They were after your dad."dsd



"You don’t know anything!" She spat angrily. "They didn’t
want daddy! They wanted me! They’ve always wanted me!"



It was impossible, Bryan told himself as she made that claim. Bryan knew
what he had heard. Saeran had demanded the kidnapping of a man. Bring him to me
alive, he had said. Bring him. No doubt this child was developing the
inevitable feelings of guilt that came with being left alive that was making
her believe she was the intended victim of those creatures. Bryan saw no reason
to aggravate her by contradicting her statement; at least until a little more
time had passed. It had been a traumatic night for her and he did not want to
exacerbate her mental state any further until he knew what was to be done.



"Maybe they did," he said in a conciliatory tone. "But right
now, I think we need to get you somewhere safe for the night."



"I want to go home," Fred whimpered.





"I’m sorry Fred," Bryan shook his head. "Its not safe for you to
go home."



"I know," she said meeting his gaze with surprising understanding.
"They’ll be watching, the men with the red eyes."



"You saw them?" He exclaimed. Until now, he had not been sure that
she had seen what he had. However, if she had witnessed the same then it was
proof that he had not completely lost his mind.





"Yes," she nodded fearfully. "They had red eyes and no
faces."



Bryan’s stomach hollowed at the memory of seeing those terrible eyes and
wished he knew what they were and more importantly, what they wanted with this
girl and her family. "So did I," he confessed. "Fred, until we
know what they are, you can’t go home.""He sent them," Fred
muttered looking away at the night sky beyond the glass of the window.That
caught Bryan’s interest."He?" Bryan stared at her. "Who’s
he?"

"I don’t know," Fred shook her head, her lips curling in a pout as
she felt herself ready for a fresh bout of tears. She thought of mummy in the
garden today and daddy watching cartoons and knew that she would never know
that happiness again. Her world had shrunk into this car and to this stranger,
whom she was forced to rely upon. She didn’t know him and yet she had no choice
but to trust him. "He watches. He always watches.""Have you seen
him watching?" Bryan looked at her, feeling a cold shudder running up his
spine as sharp as when he heard Saeran’s henchman speak for the first
time."Yes," she nodded, turning her blue eyes at him. "I see him
in my dreams."



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



In the heart of the Henan Province in China, Xiang Li awoke from an odd
dream.He rose from his bed, shaking a little at the uneasiness that had
followed him from his slumber into the waking world, crowding his thoughts with
anxieties he could not name. Stepping into the small cubicle that acted as his
bathroom, the forty year old man proceeded to wash his face with water, hoping
that the cold would shake him out of this malaise that plagued his mornings for
so many weeks. The icy cold water served the purpose of bringing clarity to his
mind but it did not ease the burden his mind to any extent. He let out a heavy
sigh as he remained hunched over the white porcelain basin, droplets of water
running down his skin before splattering against the ceramic as he lingered for
a moment, hoping that this morning would be different from all the others. That
this time, the strange sensation of not being quite in control of himself would
fade.



It was not.



And when that  brief period had ended
with no significant change, he would straighten up and look at himself in the
mirror before concluding that he was fine and whatever he had been feeling a
moment ago, was pure foolishness. In a shorter time then that, he would forget
completely that anything had ever disturbed him, attributing the mood to a
slight case of the early morning blues. A man in his position could not afford
to waste time and as he embarked upon the morning rituals in readiness for the
day ahead, the discomfort he had felt when he awoke was so far away that he
gave it no further thought. His uniform was pressed and waiting for him inside
the cupboard of his quarters in the military facility of Luoning.



A Colonel of the 401st Brigade could not afford to be late for duty.



Being stationed at the Luoning facility was one of the most prestigious
honors for a military officer in the People’s Army. Luoning was the one of two
nuclear silos established in Central China in the early 1980s containing four
DF-5 ICBMs that were maintained in ready to fire status at all times. Although
the threat of these weapons being deployed in a military strike was remote
these days, it was still an important assignment that would embellish the
record of any career military officer. Xiang took pride in being one of the
many guardians of the Republic’s greatest weapons. He had been stationed at
Luoning for almost ten years and had earned a position of trust and a
reputation that would enhance his standing when he chose to move his ambitions
to a political arena.



Once he was dressed, Xiang studied himself in the mirror and was pleased to
note that he was the impeccable model of a colonel in the People’s Army. He was
almost ready to leave his quarters to begin the day when he felt a burning
sensation on his hand. Frowning in annoyance, he raised his right hand and
stared at the gold band around his finger. His mistress had presented it to him
during his last visit to Shanghai and though it appeared exquisitely made with
ornate designs he did not recognize as being a language, it seemed to burn at
times, as if he was allergic to the metal. However, the occasions were rare and
he liked the look of it on his finger and was reluctant to remove it. Lately,
he had even begun to dream about the accursed thing.



He dreamed he could hear it speak.



***********



Although Gandalf did not say so, Aaron sensed that time was against them by
the Istar’s desire to begin the next leg of their journey as quickly as
possible. As discussed, Eve bought an affordable yet reliable car from a local
dealership so that they could leave Lochinver that day itself. The Anemone
was berthed discreetly at the wharf and would be safe until they were ready to
return to claim her. Since there was no record of his attachment to the vessel,
Aaron was certain that it would remain safe during their time in the modern
world. The people of Lochinver appeared to be trustworthy and their maritime
history ensured that when it came to a man’s boat, it was almost sovereign
territory.



Which was just as well because Haldir and Legolas were drawing attention
wherever they appeared in public, even it was for a matter of a few hours.
Despite concealing their ears beneath their long blond hair, it was apparent to
just about everyone that they did not fit in. Whether or not it was their
strange behavior or their natural luminescence, it was clear that they were
strangers and strangers in small towns tended to draw attention, which was
something the company did not need at this time. Fortunately, the city was
better able to blanket them in anonymity because urbanites were too focused on
themselves to be concerned with the rest of the world. Living all his life in
New York had taught Aaron that much about people, without his needing to drawn
on his considerable experience as a psychiatrist.



"I thought you said your clothes would help us blend in," Legolas
declared as they stepped out of a local department store prior to their
departure from Lochinver. Aaron had decided that it was impossible for either
of the elves to look natural in any of his clothes so the best thing he could
think of was to buy two long coats instead. It would mask how strange they
appeared in modern clothing and look completely acceptable since the weather
was somewhat cold.



"For some strange reason, it just looks like you’re not a sweater and
jeans kind of guy," Aaron remarked as they stepped onto the sidewalk and
began walking back to the car that Eve was presently servicing at the near by
petrol station. "Trust me, this is better for you Legolas," Aaron
said as he saw Legolas buttoned himself into the long, wool coat. Of course he
punctuated this statement by placing a bright orange tourist cap upon the brow
of the former prince of Mirkwood.



Haldir sniggered immediately at how unbecoming Legolas looked before Aaron
silenced him with an equally satisfied smirk, "don’t laugh, I’ve got one
for you too."



"I am not wearing this," Haldir looked at the orange cap with
undisguised dislike as Legolas started to laugh. "I do not see the reason
for having to appear so unseemly or having to wear your clothes. Surely
these people must be familiar with strangers who dressed unlike themselves?
After all, they must have many visitors to these shores."



"They do," Aaron returned distracted as he tried not to laugh at
the sight of Legolas fitting his cap over his ears. Keeping a straight
face when the elf was trying to look dignified in the eyesore of a cap was
difficult enough without having to deal with Haldir’s version of an elven snit.
"However, in your own clothes, they’ll either think you’re crazy or from
the twelfth century and since we’re trying to stay inconspicuous, I prefer they
do neither."



"If I can put this ludicrous thing on, so can you," Legolas barked
at him in annoyance. "Or are you not brave enough to rise to the
occasion?"



"My courage will match yours any day in any age," Haldir returned,
not willing to be outdone.



"Well its nice to know that despite being a hundred thousand years old
each, you two can still get into a pissing contest."



Both looked at him in question despite Aaron’s decision not to elaborate on
that comment. Thankfully, they arrived at the petrol station where a diligent
petrol station attendant was presently treating the old Ford Galaxy that Eve
had purchased to a full tank of gas and a change of oil. Gandalf was already
waiting in the backseat of the car while Eve was at the convenience store
buying supplies for their trip. The sun was climbing well past noon and the
station was filled with a dozen other cars, to which the elves looked on in
interest. Haldir for most part tried not to look impressed and Aaron had a
sense that this was an elf that liked above all else to be perceived as the
height on elven calm, even among his own people.



Still despite his efforts, as so astutely concluded by Aaron, Haldir was
nevertheless overwhelmed by the world of men for even Legolas’ stories about
the realm in Valinor did not do it justice. It seemed to him that men had
become lost in their technology and seeing the world that had given Eve and
Aaron life, explained a great deal about their manner. He also understood why
they had taken so well to Valinor. The serenity and peace of the Undying Lands
had to be a welcome change from the chaos of this world.



"Does the air always smell so fell?" Haldir asked as he and
Legolas joined Gandalf in the car. Neither elf was happy to be confined to the
metal carriage. Haldir, because it seemed like such a foreign way to travel and
Legolas because he remembered what an ordeal it was the last time he had been
in such a vehicle. Fortunately, on this occasion, Eve was driving.



"Unfortunately yes," Gandalf remarked. "Men have little
difficulty in contaminating the air with every imaginable pollutant. If they do
not notice it then it concerns them little. It is one of the occasions when
they would do well with an elf’s sense of smell. Perhaps if they knew what they
were pouring into the sky, they would not be so quick to foul it."



"You know I am in the car," Aaron said sarcastically.





"Forgive me Aaron," Gandalf said apologetically, "I did not mean
to offend but you must admit that I have not spoken out of turn."



"No you haven’t," Aaron shrugged unable to deny that his race
created an environmental hazard wherever they settled. "People are
starting to grow up about the environment, but I think it’s too little, too late."



"There is always hope," Legolas remarked, not one to see the worst
in any situation, even it appeared that way.



Haldir gazed out the window of the car and saw people going about their
business, with cars racing down the motorway at speeds that put horses to
shame. As they drove past, they spewed out clouds of noxious folk and it
appeared the construction of roads and homes were made at convenience, with
little consideration about the land that was being ravaged. It distressed him
to think that if matters were such in community as small as this, what would it
be like in a large urban centre.



Discussions about the environment were shunted aside when Eve returned to
the car after thanking the petrol attendant whom had finished his ministrations
on the engine.



"Here you go," Eve handed a plastic bag to Aaron who immediately
went rifling through its contents.



"If we ever get back to Valinor, I want to be there when you explain to
Elrond how you come you gained twenty pounds," he retorted in disapproval
as he saw the snacks she had purchased. As a medical doctor, he could not help
but balk at the sugar content before him.



"Hey," she looked at him sharply, "I’ve been living on lembas
for the last year. Excuse me if I need a serious chocolate fix."



"And I thought Legolas was bad with Coke," Aaron shook his head in
resignation. "I don’t know why you need this much chocolate, its not as if
you’ve been celibate," he muttered under his breath





"Oh really?" Gandalf, whose hearing was on par with any elf’s, asked
with a mischievous glint in his eye.



"Mind your own business," Eve looked over her shoulder. "You
may be an immortal, but you’re still a nosey old man."



"That goes without saying," Legolas grinned. "In the days of
old, Gandalf was said to be more reliable than a palantir."



"One cannot battle the forces of evil without being in the know of
things," the Maia replied without a hint of repentance.



"I’m sure," Eve retorted with scepticism before returning to the
business at hand. "Okay, everybody buckle up, we’re going. Our next rest
break is in an hour so if you haven’t gone, you’re going to have to hold
it."



"Just drive the car Eve," Aaron threw her a look because he had no
intention of explaining to either Legolas and Haldir what a rest break was
until it was absolutely necessary.



Legolas’s first instinct when the engine roared to life was to grab onto
something. In this case, the headrest of Aaron’s seat. Although Haldir appeared
composed, it became quite clear that his first experience with in an automobile
was cause for some apprehension. While he seemed outwardly calm, the evidence
of his anxiety was noticeable to all since he appeared decidedly paler than
usual, quite a feat considering elves did not tan and by the fact that the
knuckle’s digging into the leather of the backseat were white with tension.
Gandalf on the other hand, had pulled the brim of his tweed driving cap over
his face with the intention of spending the journey southward, taking a nap.



"You guys going to be okay?" Aaron asked with concern as he noted
the anxious expressions on Legolas and Haldir’s faces respectively.



"We have survived far worse than this," Haldir remarked coolly,
even though his pallor indicate anything but the calm he was attempting to
project.



"Yeah but that was just Middle Earth, this is the English
motorway," Aaron declared.



"I feel safe as long as Eve is driving," Legolas responded with
false bravado and received a scathing glare from Aaron at the slight to his
driving skills.



"Will you quit fussing over them," Eve retorted impatient to get
underway. "They’re fine."



With that she pulled the car onto the road and immediately caused a
commotion of blaring horns and screeching wheels before slamming her foot on
the brakes and bringing them to an abrupt halt that tossed them back and forth
in the car violently. Other cars had screeched to a sudden halt in front of the
Ford and even Gandalf had been jarred out of his repose by the sudden braking.
The elves appeared green instead of white and Aaron rubbed the bridge of his
nose wearily before looking remarking at Eve.



"Drive on the other side of the road, Eve."



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



It was almost dawn when Bryan returned home to his flat in Hammersmith. So
far, he had resisted the urge to turn on the radio while he had been driving
because the report of two people being murdered in cold blood being breezily
reported by overly an perky newsreader was probably more than Fred could
tolerate at this time. The young girl had been a silent passenger for most of
the journey, having cried herself to sleep after they had left Newport. Bryan
had thought he was put to the test when he was trained to resist torture but
all that seemed inconsequential when faced with a child's pitiful tears, even
if they were shed silently in an effort to keep him from hearing.



She was a brave little thing, Bryan thought as she faced away from him and
tried to hide the intense sorrow she must have surely felt for the loss of both
parents in a single night. He wished he had known what to say to her, to ease
the burden of her terrible loss but the truth was, Bryan's experience with
children was next to nothing. The only reason he had managed to coax her into
speaking at all because he believed the best way to deal with her for the lack
of any real experience was to be as honest as possible. Dealing with children
was something his brother, the archaeologist, was better at, probably because
Frank actually had children. If Frank lived in England, Bryan would have
considered taking Fred to him but since his brother and his family was roaming
about Africa on one dig or another, it was more or less a moot point.



She was still asleep when they arrived at his apartment and he was grateful
that it was still relatively early because no one saw him enter the premises
with the young girl. Considering that she was still wearing her blood
splattered nightgown, it would have raised all sorts of questions if he had
been noticed by his neighbours and at the moment, this child's life depended on
no one having the least bit suspicion that she was in his company. Bryan
carried her into the confines of his flat and went immediately to the guest
room that had until now been the storage space for anything he did not want to
trip over in the other parts of the flat. A moment of reflection as to whether
or not it was entirely the safest place to put a six year old soon had him
heading for his own bedroom. She hardly stirred when he put her on the soft
mattress and pulled the covers over her small frame.



Closing the door behind him, Bryan made his way to the kitchen, removing his
gun from his holster and placing it on the table before reaching into a combat
and extracting a half filled bottle of scotch. Pouring himself a glass, Bryan
took his drink to the armchair and lowered himself into it, nursing it in his
palm as he tried to decide what he would do next. Even the sip of the smooth
spirit in his throat did not assuage the worried thoughts running through his
head or make what he had seen any less believable.



He knew what he had seen and Fred's words to him in the car had proved he
was not insane, unless it was the kind of insanity that was contagious. She had
seen it too and what was more, she seemed to have a better idea of what they
were facing then he did, although she was in no position to explain it to him
with any clarity. He kept thinking of David Saeran, of the chase that had taken
up the better part of two years of his life, the chase that had now taken this
very unexpected turn. For the first time in his life, Bryan was not in control
of his situation and had no idea what to do.



He could not say he liked it very much.



Making certain that the door to his bedroom was closed; Bryan turned on the
television set and searched the channels until he found an early morning news
report. Turning the volume down low, the MI6 agent waited patiently as Susan
Bookbinder began reading the morning news. The initial reports were of world
events and the political brush fires around the globe that seemed to be
escalating these days, to which Bryan paid little attention because the media
seldom had any real idea of what was actually going on. It was only when the
report of a double homicide in Cardiff was made that he sat up and pay
attention.



The street that only a few hours ago had been the scene of so much bloodshed
and gunfire was now overrun with police and ambulances. Obviously the footage
was taken immediately after the discovery of the bodies and long after Bryan
and Fred had made good their escape. Bodies were being wheeled out of the home
that Fred had lived all her life, covered in blood soak sheets with forensics
people trying to flee the prying eyes of the media. Neighbors were out in
force; some still in their robes, watching the unfolding drama without the
slightest inkling of what had caused this terrible tragedy.



Susan Bookbinder was now announcing the authorities deepening concerns
regarding the fate of the youngest member of the Bailey household, little
Frederica Bailey whose body was not counted among the dead. The execution style
murder of her parents indicated underworld links but the disappearance of the
child led to a more sinister conclusion that she had been the victim of child
molester turned murderer. Bryan listened to the possible theories and flinched
when he was treated to a picture of the little girl from happier times. She was
wearing what appeared to be a fairy costume; complete with wings, tiara and a
bright, cheery smile that made her appear almost a completely different person
from the sleeping waif in the blood stained clothes.



Bryan watched the entire telecast even though after the story about the
Bailey’s murder, he had ceased to pay attention to anything else and was merely
reflecting amidst the background noise of Susan Bookbinder’s voice. He knew he
was in way over his head but had no idea how to let this cup pass now that it
had rested solely before him. He was an MI6 agent accustomed to dealing with
threats he could see, enemies that threatened queen and country, foreign powers
or a right wing fanatics who could not express their opinion with any other
means but violence. He did not know what he was up against and seeing a preview
of it in the crimson eyes of the formless things he had fought tonight, told
him that he was outmatched and completely out of his league. Still, he had told
Fred that he would protect her and that much Bryan was determined to honor. He
did not know why but every fiber of his being would not allow anything to harm
the child.



So that left him with the only one recourse and it was an alternative he
would have preferred not to take. Unfortunately, he had no choice. It was this
way or not at all.



Reaching into the folds of his dark coat, Bryan produced his cell phone and
pressed the speed dial code for the one person he had no wish to contact. The
connection was made almost immediately, the ringing lasting no more than a few
seconds. Outside, the sun had started to appear over the skyline of the city
and morning would soon be upon him. He sucked in his breath and hope he would
have a career by the time he hung up the call. Hopefully, the issue of David
Saeran and the murder he had ordered would take precedence over his illegal
activities.



"Caldwell," the familiar taut voice of his supervisor said firmly.
There was no sound of grogginess in his voice or any indication that he had
been rudely awakened. Knowing the old boy, Bryan suspected he was already up
with the crows getting ready for the day.



"Sir, its Bryan," he announced himself rather contritely.



"Bryan, do you know what time it is?" Caldwell asked
automatically.



"I know Sir," Bryan nodded.



"Aren’t you supposed to be on leave?" the man inquired inevitably.



"I was but something has come up," Bryan offered reluctantly.



There was a pause on the other end of the line before Caldwell responded,
"that something had better not be David Saeran."



"I’m afraid it is," Bryan replied and then quickly added more
before Caldwell could embark upon a tirade at his insubordination and how much
trouble he was in. "But Sir, I have proof that Saeran ordered a killing
tonight."



"What?" Caldwell’ inevitable exclamation followed. "What do
you mean?"



"I overheard him ordering his men to kidnap someone in Cardiff, with
further orders to kill all witnesses," Bryan explained, guessing before
hand what Caldwell’s next question would be.



"How did you overhear this?"



Bryan explained and winced when he heard Caldwell’s enraged response over
the cell phone. The MI6 agent held the cell phone away from his ear as Caldwell
vented the full measure of his outrage at Bryan’s insubordination, not to
mention, his disregard of orders.



"You placed an illegal wire tap on one of the most powerful men in this
country?" Caldwell declared. "What were you thinking? Aside from it
being a complete invasion of privacy, you’ve misappropriated Firm equipment and
illegally operated on British soil! Have you lost your mind?"



"But I was right!" Bryan insisted and continued to explain how he
had driven to Cardiff and intercepted the killers before they could hurt Fred.
Of course he omitted the fact that Saeran’s agents were wraithlike creatures
with crimson points for eyes that could not be killed. Bryan did not think
Caldwell was ready for that much disclosure.



"Where is the girl now?" Caldwell asked once Bryan had concluded
his tale.



"She’s with me," Bryan volunteered. "Poor thing has a bad
time of it Sir. She saw everything."



"Well if the police are treating it as a kidnapping, we’ll let them
continue to do so until we can produce more proof that an illegal surveillance
tap of Saeran’s complicity," Caldwell said tersely, clearly unhappy at the
situation, Bryan’s insubordination not withstanding.



"What about the girl, Sir?" Bryan asked. "She saw everything.
They will be after her."



Caldwell did not speak for a moment as he considered the matter. Bryan
sincerely hoped that Caldwell would not tell him to release her into the
authority of some stranger or worse yet, Scotland Yard. Bryan did not know when
his responsibility for this child had become such priority but he knew that he
was unwilling to relinquish it after making the promise he would protect her.
For reasons, he could not even begin to explain, the oath he made to her had
value and he would not break it for anything.



"Stay put for the moment," Caldwell broke his silence after long
last. "Until we figure this out, don’t do anything else. I will call when
I have an answer for you."



"Alright," Bryan answered, feeling a swell of relief coursing
through his being at the knowledge that he was given official sanction to
remain Fred’s protector for the time being. "I’ll wait for your call and
Sir, thank you."



"Don’t thank me yet," the old man returned sharply. "If the
Tower of London was still doing business, I’d have you under the block in a
second. Don’t ever pull this rubbish again. When I give you an order, I expect
it to be obeyed. You work for her majesty’s government, not your own personal
agendas."



"Yes Sir," Bryan frowned, properly admonished.



With that Caldwell terminated the call and Bryan looked at the phone in his
hand before deciding he needed another drink.



Damn, he hated waiting.



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



Caldwell drew in a deep breath, wondering why he was at all surprised by
Bryan Miller’s call.



A better man in the service could not be found in Caldwell’s opinion but
Bryan had a streak of recklessness in him that could cause a great deal of
grief if left unchecked, like now. He had honestly believed his warnings to the
younger man would be heeded. After all, Bryan was ex Royal Marines and knew how
to obey orders even if it went against the grain of every instinct in him.
However, not even Caldwell had suspected the extent of his tenaciousness when
it came to the business of Malcolm Industries and in particular, the Black
Serpent organization. From the moment Bryan had been led down that dark path,
he had been trapped by the mystery of it and bound to follow the investigation
no matter where it led. Even the destruction of the Malcolm Building had not
changed his belief that somehow the conglomerate was linked to Black Serpent.



Caldwell had tried to deter him in every way possible but Bryan was obdurate
about discovering the truth and his stubbornness had led both himself and
Caldwell on a collision course that neither could escape. Whatever happened
now, was out of Caldwell’s hands. He had done everything to avoid coming to
this situation that he now found him as firmly entrenched as Bryan Miller.
Reaching for the phone on the desk in his private study, Caldwell dialed a
number that was committed to memory. He dared not risk having it on his speed
dial or written amongst any of his personal numbers.



Three rings echoed through the room in electronic tones before the call was
answered and Caldwell stiffened involuntarily when he heard the voice speak.



"Isn’t this rather early for you Richard?" David Saeran’s voice
asked smoothly through the intercom on Caldwell’s desk.



"I have news," Caldwell said abruptly, having no wish for this
call to continue any longer than necessary.



There was a slight pause before Saeran spoke, "tell me."



"I am afraid I was wrong about Bryan," the MI6 supervisor
responded, swallowing thickly. "He didn’t drop the investigation as I
ordered. In fact he has had you under surveillance for the past week."



Another notable pause was heard and Caldwell felt a cold chill running down
his spine as he awaited Saeran’s reply.



"I gather it was he who interfered with my business in Cardiff?"
Saeran asked coldly.



"Yes, it was," Caldwell answered, hating to be the bearer of that
particular bit of news. "He saw everything and he has the girl."



"John Malcolm had a great deal of confidence in you Caldwell,"
Saeran replied automatically, almost as if he had not heard Caldwell’s last
statement. "He bought and paid for your services for almost twenty years
and it has been a lucrative arrangement until now. You kept British
intelligence away from Malcolm Industries and Black Serpent and he gave you all
the political and financial support you needed. Bryan Miller comes under that
arrangement and while Malcolm isn’t here to stress his disappointment, I won’t
stand on ceremony. Frankly, I find your kind difficult to control and to
unreliable when the situation warrants it. My people were handling this matter
quite efficiently until you failed to keep up your end of our arrangement. Just
because Malcolm is dead does not mean I am any less forgiving when you fail me,
so unless you give me a very compelling reason I will be forced to terminate
your services. You may take that as literally as you wish because I certainly
will."



Caldwell knew the threat was not an idle one and if he wanted to see the
next sunrise he had better give Saeran exactly what he demanded; Bryan Miller.



With no other way out of the cage he had placed himself twenty years ago,
Richard Caldwell exhaled deeply and gave Saeran the answer he needed to save
himself, though he was certain he was already damned.



"I know where Bryan is."





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

Story Information

Author: Scribe

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: Other

Genre: Action

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 04/07/03

Original Post: 04/03/03

Go to Triumvirate overview

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