12. Troubled Minds, Troubled Dreams
"Ú-glîr?" Eomer asked, rolling the strange word around on his tongue. "And what does this mean?"
"It is the sundering of Ilúvatar’s song," Legolas sighed, refusing to meet Eomer’s eyes. "There is not time to explain all that this means, for such a discussion might well last several years. However, the situation it creates can be understood readily enough. While I am under ú-glîr, I have not elven senses. I can see only what you can see. I can hear only what you can hear. I can feel only what you can feel. More than that is beyond my reach. I will not be able to warn our company if danger comes from afar."
"I have heard of ú-glîr, Legolas," Aragorn said quietly, watching the elf with concern. When Legolas and Gimli had arrived at the tent, he had been somewhat surprised to note that the elf was covered in sand. Apparently, the sparring had not been to the prince’s liking and Aragorn now wondered just how much these new limitations were affecting Legolas. "Within Rivendell, records are kept of such dark spells. But I fear I remember little, for it was mentioned only in passing, and as it did not seem to threaten the elves today, I saw little reason for further study. There were too many other things that demanded my attention."
"Just how much of it do you remember?" Gimli questioned.
"Not enough," Aragorn answered, furrowing his brow and trying to recall all that he had committed to memory. "I am aware of its effects, I know it was used when Sauron fought a two-front war against Elrond in Imladris and Gil-galad in Lindon, but I fear I can remember no more."
"It matters not," Legolas said, shifting uncomfortably. "Rather, we must concern ourselves with discovering who was able to do this and what their intentions might be. One who has the ability to command powers not used since the Second Age is one to be feared, and we must be cautious."
"Do you have suspicions as to who has done this?" Eomer asked.
"Nay, for there is a blank in my memory," the elf murmured, looking away. "I remember almost nothing between the time the raiders began fleeing toward camp and the time I woke in the tent. I could have fallen beneath ú-glîr during the middle of the skirmish but it is also possible for it to have happened toward the end."
"Still, there were a limited number of men involved, and our list of suspects is small," Gimli broke in, and Aragorn could detect a trace of frustration within the dwarf’s voice. Apparently, the sparing match had been taxing for Gimli as well as Legolas. "The spell would have been cast sometime during the battle," the dwarf continued. "And the only men around Legolas at the time were Dashnir, Garat, and a handful of raiders. It must be one of them."
"Unless this is something that can be done from a distance," Eomer pointed out.
"From what I know of it, the one who sunders an elf from Ilúvatar’s song must be in close proximity with his intended victim," Aragorn murmured. "Know you any differently, Legolas?"
The elf shook his head. "In this we are both impaired by limited knowledge, but, I think you have it aright. From what I can recall, he who casts ú-glîr must be near the one who receives it."
"Which leaves us with Dashnir, Garat, or the raiders," Gimli said, repeating his earlier words. "I trust none of them, but there are some I would trust more than others and some who are more probable suspects than others. The raiders, for instance, would have had little time to act. Am I right in assuming that casting ú-glîr requires at least a moment of peace?"
"Not a very long moment, but it does require intense concentration, or so I remember," Aragorn answered, sensing that Legolas was reluctant to say anymore on the matter. "And I suspect that whoever did this had at least one other to aid him. During the casting, though it requires only a small moment, the author of the spell is vulnerable to attack. And since this happened during a raid, it stands to reason that someone would have to stand guard while the other invoked ú-glîr."
"If that is true, then it seems that Dashnir and Garat are the most likely suspects," Eomer said. "They fought together before the tents, and it is rare to see one without the other. Aragorn, think you that we ought to question Garat on the events of that morning? More so than we already have?"
"Garat is not behind this. He may be involved and he might well have stood guard, but he is not the mover of events," Aragorn said, folding his arms and narrowing his eyes while he considered the facts as they were currently known. "I believe that role belongs to Dashnir, for in all their conversations with others, it is Dashnir who takes the lead. And I would hazard a guess that he was the one who knew the secrets behind ú-glîr. I cannot see Portu’s horse raiders knowing such a thing or taking the time to learn its requirements."
"Then let us act!" Gimli cried, surging to his feet. "If Dashnir can undo what has been done, let us take him and force him to remove ú-glîr."
"Think you that he would be willing to do so?" Legolas broke in softly. "I would be reluctant to place myself at his mercy if you were to somehow convince him to remove ú-glîr. I trust him no more than do you, and he may use an opportunity of vulnerability to act against you, Aragorn, or Eomer."
"Or to do something worse to Legolas," Aragorn sighed. "Understand, Gimli, that we do not face a normal man, here. Eomer and I have counseled together upon this, and though we are sadly lacking in information, one thing above all else has become clear to us. Dashnir is not a man to be underestimated. Until we know more, we cannot afford to act against him openly. Do you remember the hawk Legolas shot for us?"
"What of it?" Gimli asked, and Aragorn winced to hear the frustration and anger in the dwarf. He was having problems enough controlling his own emotions in addition to keeping Eomer in check. An irate dwarf was the last thing he needed.
"Think of the symbol we observed. The symbol of the Black Númenóreans. What does this suggest to you?"
"That remnants of an ancient enemy still linger in the desert," the dwarf answered.
"Indeed. Remnants of an enemy so ancient that their origins date back to the Second Age," Aragorn said, his voice quiet and thoughtful. "Within their history, they have had sorcerers and conjurors capable of casting spells and wielding dark powers. During the Third Age, they were trained by Sauron and made captains over the forces of Harad. And we have evidence that at least some of their descendents have survived in the desert and also that they have taken up the symbols of their ancient lineage."
"And these men might well have the ability to cast ú-glîr," Gimli said, following Aragorn’s logic to its ultimate conclusion.
"And since our primary suspect is now Dashnir, it seems only reasonable to link him to the line of the Black Númenóreans," Eomer said. "Which makes dealing with him difficult. He has senses beyond those of an ordinary man and he is further advantaged by the fact that we are strangers in the desert where he is at home."
"What think you of his intentions?" Legolas asked.
"As for that, we do not know," Aragorn sighed. "We know he watches us closely and we know that he bears little good will for us, but we have not enough information to guess at what might be his ultimate goal. The most we have been able to do is to link both Dashnir and Garat to the raid yesterday morning."
"Such things Legolas and I already suspected," Gimli said. "But we are at a loss as to the goal of their involvement. Unless perhaps the sole purpose of the raid was to provide a distraction so that Dashnir might cast ú-glîr."
"That I doubt," Aragorn answered, watching Legolas shift uncomfortably out of the corner of his eye. "Such an action seems extreme for such a purpose, grievous though it might be now. Rather, I believe we were tested. Our strengths were analyzed, our weaknesses were documented, and I would hazard to say that the results of our skirmish have been relayed to a higher power by means of hawks."
"A higher power?" Gimli wondered. "Then Dashnir is not his own master and works instead at another’s bidding?"
"Much as a king uses another to do his work," Eomer answered. "Whoever is the master behind Dashnir wishes to remain secret and to continue observing from a distance through Dashnir’s eyes and ears. In this, our delegate from Khurintu is only a pawn, albeit a powerful one."
"A powerful pawn only points to more danger," Legolas said quietly. "Ú-glîr is not an easy spell and even the simple versions require years of study and a certain innate talent. If Dashnir is capable of such power as a pawn, the master will be capable of far more."
"Then let us approach the pawn before we meet the master," Gimli said. "I would have him know our wrath at what has been done!"
"Have you listened to nothing, Gimli?" Eomer asked. "This is a man with the same lineage as Aragorn if you were to trace it back far enough. He cannot be contested so simply and with so little concrete evidence."
"Beyond which, the customs of this land are different from what we are used to," Aragorn added. "Were we to accuse him of endangering our lives and the lives of the rest of the escorting Haradrim, we would challenge his honor with no substantial evidence to back our claims. We would do nothing for our own cause, Dashnir could easily deny any involvement, and we would give away our hand. As it currently stands, Dashnir does not know what we may or may not suspect. Let us keep it that way until we have a better understanding of his intentions."
"His intentions are no good, I can tell you that right now," Gimli protested, his voice beginning to rise in anger. "He has attacked one of our company and done him a grievous harm. I refuse to sit idle and let such an act go unpunished! Customs or no, there are certain laws that all must respect, and a guest of another land is not wronged with impunity!"
"Listen to what you say, Gimli," Legolas broke in, his voice strained. "Your words are words of war, yet we have no basis for an attack other than our own reasoning. And while that may be sound, it is not justification to confront Dashnir. Aragorn has told us that such an action would do nothing for us. Would you suggest physically assaulting the man instead?"
"I would," Gimli said, glaring at the elf. "And I am surprised that you are not supporting me in this. Think of what has been done to you!"
"I do! Gimli, by the Valar, how could I not? It is as though I have lost part of myself, but remember that this was done to me, not to you," Legolas said. "In this Aragorn speaks wisely and we should hearken to his counsel. We must be alert and wary, but we must also be cautious and make no sudden moves. Look past your anger, my friend. Grateful as I am for it, I need not your concern. It is clouding your thoughts and I do not wish to worry over your safety as well as my own, though considering you are a dwarf, doubtless I shall have to protect you regardless."
Gimli spluttered indignantly, but Legolas’s calculated words had the desired effect and some of the dwarf’s rage visibly drained from him. Aragorn sighed in relief, grateful that the elf’s mind was still alert despite his new limitations. At the moment, Legolas was probably thinking more clearly than was Gimli.
"So are we agreed in this?" Aragorn asked, looking specifically at the dwarf. "We take no actions until we know more."
Legolas and Eomer nodded, but Gimli did nothing for a moment, appearing to battle between reason and rage. At length, he also nodded but it was with great reluctance. "For now, Aragorn, I will restrain myself. But if more is done to provoke us, this dwarf will not stay his axe."
"Nor will I stay my sword," Aragorn promised with a grim smile, resting his hand upon Anduril’s hilt. "Your enemy is my enemy, son of Glóin, and I swear to you that we will stand together against further attacks upon this company."
"So be it then," Gimli said with a short bow. "I accept your vow and return it, son of Arathorn. We act together. And though the forces that oppose us be great and terrible, our wrath shall eclipse them all."
"And a dwarf’s wrath is great to behold," Legolas added with a small smile. "I discovered this in the deep places of Fangorn."
Gimli wheeled on his friend so suddenly that Aragorn found himself reflexively reaching for his sword. "I thought we agreed never to speak of that!" the dwarf growled.
"I said naught but that I had seen your great and terrible wrath in Fangorn," Legolas answered innocently, yet there was a mischievous twinkle in his gray eyes.
"And what would be your feelings if I were to casually mention that I had seen your fierce and steadfast bravery within the Glittering Caves of Aglarond," Gimli returned.
"What good would that do you? All know of my fierce and steadfast bravery," Legolas answered, but there was now a note of warning in his voice. Aragorn smiled and shook his head, reassured that things were beginning to return to normal. There were still problems, but so long as Gimli and Legolas could argue, such problems seemed to diminish.
With the air of tension and uncertainty partially abated by the jests of elf and dwarf, they turned their talk to other things, specifically lighter matters such as the path they would take next and the creatures who endured the desert. Eventually, weariness conquered them and one by one, they dropped off to sleep. Aragorn was the last to rest, and for a while, he lay on his back with eyes fixed to the thick cloth that hung above them. They were still lacking much information. He was fairly certain that Dashnir was of the blood of Númenor and he was also fairly certain that Dashnir was the man responsible for casting ú-glîr over Legolas. But he was still at a loss as to both motives and intentions. Revenge, certainly, for there had been bad blood between Elendil’s descendents and the Black Númenóreans for years, but what form would this revenge take? That was something he had yet to learn and he could only hope that they would be able to find the answer before the answer found them.
Still, it was too late to turn back now, and even if they could not unravel this mystery in time, they were all experienced warriors. Whatever came their way could be handled. Reassured by these convictions, Aragorn finally turned onto his side and abandoned his thoughts for the world of dreams, quickly falling into a deep and restful sleep.
A few minutes later, Legolas began to toss and turn, moaning slightly at the onset of ill dreams.
* * * *
Mohart was not a stupid man. Stupid men did not survive the harsh land of Harad, nor did they rise to positions of power in wealthy tribes as Mohart had done. His was a shrewd mind, and though he did not possess Dashnir’s cunning nor would he ever have Garat’s talent for manipulation, he had an intelligence worthy of respect in its own right, and he could see a situation for what it was, not for what it appeared to be. As per Imrahil’s instructions, Mohart had rested quietly for the bulk of the day, but during this time, his mind had been hard at work in attempting to unravel and decipher what Imrahil had left unsaid in their conversation. By the time the sun began its descent and evening drew nigh, Mohart had come to several perturbing conclusions.
First, he had been drugged. The effects were unmistakable and the signals from his body indicated it could have been nothing else. He was groggy, he was sluggish, and he felt a certain detachment from the real world. What he didn’t understand was how he had come to be drugged or who had done the drugging. To his knowledge, he had given neither King Eomer nor King Elessar cause for suspicion and consequently no justification for drugging him. Prince Imrahil had played host to Mohart before and had never expressed distrust or ill will before, removing him from the list of suspects. Dashnir? That seemed more likely, but it was still rather improbable. Dashnir had been presented with numerous opportunities to not only drug but completely eliminate Mohart, and he had taken none of them. Why would he drug him during dinner? It was not in keeping with Dashnir’s general practices, though now that Mohart considered it, he could see Dashnir killing him over dinner. But whatever potion he’d been given had not been fatal. None of Imrahil’s healers had expressed any significant worry during Mohart’s illness, and he judged that he had never been in any great danger. This more or less eliminated Dashnir, for the man never did things in moderation. All or nothing was his general policy, and if he intended to remove a potentially troublesome rival, he did so thoroughly.
This led him to his second conclusion: His drugging had been an accident. It was a stretch of logic, but it was the only the answer that made sense as well as fitting all the facts. Dashnir had not drugged him or he would now be dead. Garat had not drugged him because Garat preferred an open confrontation to sleight of hand. The other delegates from Harad were too intimidated by Mohart’s standing in the Gartabo tribe to even consider acting against him. This left Imrahil, Elessar, Eomer, any of their men, the elf, and the dwarf. Mohart seriously doubted that one of the men had done it, for he had witnessed the loyalty they had for their commanders. The elf and dwarf he eliminated as having no motive, and Eomer and Elessar fell into that category as well. This left Imrahil. It was true that Imrahil also had no cause for action against Mohart, but he was not entirely fond of Dashnir and Garat. He might have been acting against one of them. And Imrahil had also been loath to reveal details on Mohart’s condition, further implicating him as the unintentionally guilty party.
Having settled these facts and conclusions in his mind, Mohart was now left with one question. Had the drugging accident been a coincidence or had someone else intervened?
Mohart sighed, rubbed his head, and stretched, watching the sun begin to sink into the horizon from the large window in his room. Such a question Imrahil could answer—or at least have a better guess than Mohart could hazard—but would the prince be forthcoming with his information? Gartabo’s delegate grimaced and sighed. Imrahil could be as close-mouthed as a sand lizard that had latched onto a cobra. If Imrahil did not want to volunteer answers, it would be difficult to extract them from him. But the time for secrecy had passed, and if Asbad and Dashnir were to be stopped, forces must align against them and set aside issues of distrust.
A knock at the door broke his concentration and Mohart strode away from the window and pulled the heavy oak open. Before him, a servant bowed slightly. "My lord prince has requested your presence in the main hall within the hour."
"I shall come shortly," Mohart answered. The servant bowed again, turned, and left. With a shake of his head, Mohart closed the door and returned to the window, watching with some fascination as the sun sank toward the sea. It was no wonder that rumors spoke of Imrahil watching the sea to the exclusion of everything else. Such a powerful force of nature was to be treated with awe and reverence. Almost it was a thing to be worshipped.
After a few moments and with great reluctance, Mohart pulled himself away from the window and ordered his mind. He was a representative from the Gartabo tribe and a member of its ruling council. It would not do for him to appear weak before Imrahil, and that man could read others with a skill Mohart had seen nowhere else until meeting King Elessar. It was a talent that both seemed to share, and it meant that one had to exercise extreme caution in dealing with them. Composing his face and trying to thrust away all feelings of unease, Mohart donned the scarves that protected his head in the desert and left his room.
Dol Amroth was not a particularly intricate fortress, but for one used to the open desert, it was a rather baffling maze. Mohart had to retrace his steps twice before finding a doorway that led to the inner courtyard where the main hall stood separate from the rest of Dol Amroth. His sharp eyes swept the grounds, ever alert for potential threats, and he noted the presence of many armed men. They gathered in small groups around the hall, speaking quietly amongst themselves, yet there was an air of restlessness about them. Mohart did a quick count of their numbers and blinked as he realized that there were more than fifty men milling about. Did Imrahil truly intend to take such a large force into the desert? And if so, how would he see to their needs as far as food and water went? Such a large force would require a number of pack animals and Mohart did not think that Dol Amroth had a particularly large supply of those.
No doubt I will find my answers within the hall, Mohart thought, making for the large structure that Gimli had decided would have better served men as a citadel. For his part, Mohart had no specific qualms with the architecture but only a general unease and a vague feeling of claustrophobia that came over him every time he was forced to enter the hall. It was strange, actually. Within his room in the fortress, he was fine. So long as he had a window that looked out on the sea, the sense of closure did not overcome him. But within the courtyard and especially within the main hall, he felt cut off from the outside world and trapped. There were windows, but they looked upon tall walls and ramparts and Mohart could not help but feel that the world was closing in upon him. Guarding firmly against his trepidation with a mental discipline that would have impressed an elf, he took a steadying breath and entered the dreaded hall.
Imrahil was talking with some men who appeared to be captains or commanders of some kind judging from their armor and their stance. The prince looked up at Mohart’s arrival, nodded slightly by way of acknowledgement, and then went back to his discussion. Mohart could not help but feel miffed. After all, he was no page or serf that came and went at this man’s beck and call. He was an influential leader within his own tribe and as such had become accustomed to respect and notice. Still, this was Imrahil’s realm, and as such, Mohart accorded the prince some latitude. But after entering Harad, this kind of behavior could not be tolerated. Not only was it embarrassing but it could be dangerous. The moment one man lost power, another rose to take his place, and Mohart could not afford to be caught in a moment of weakness.
"My apologies, Mohart," Imrahil said, catching the man slightly off guard. He had not heard him approach.
"Apology accepted, honored one," Mohart said carefully, wondering how to broach the subject of proper decorum within Harad.
"I realize it was a slight to your position, but as we are not yet within the desert, I judged I would be able to finish the preparations for the ride. With that out of the way, we may proceed quickly. Have you had aught to eat today?"
Mohart blinked, somewhat surprised by Imrahil’s perceptiveness. "No, I have not," he found himself answering, caught up by gray eyes that seemed to command respect and obedience.
"Then let us partake of what substance we may find now," Imrahil said, clapping the other on the shoulder and leading the way out of the main hall. "My men are almost ready and we shall leave soon, but there is time to break your fast and I judge that the riding will be easier that way."
"How many men are you taking into the desert, honored one?" Mohart asked, glancing around the courtyard at the gathered soldiers. "It may not be my place to ask, but I feel I should warn you against excess."
"Your warnings do not go unheeded, Mohart, for that is one of the reasons I requested your presence on this journey. Over fifty men I have waiting to ride, but of those, only thirty will actually cross into Harad. Ten shall be sent to Minas Tirith and the rest shall stand guard on the border with men out of Pelargir. If we are unsuccessful at Haradhur, Minas Tirith must be warned ere Asbad and Dashnir make their move against Gondor."
Not really knowing what to say in response to that, Mohart nodded thoughtfully and then decided to turn to a different set of questions. "When I woke this morning, I asked you what had caused my illness. You answered that it was a mistake. Can you tell me more of that?"
"I fear my facts are unclear," Imrahil said after a moment’s hesitation, glancing sharply at Mohart with piercing eyes.
"Ah. But do you deny that I was drugged? And that regardless of the intentions, it was you who did the drugging?"
The prince of Dol Amroth frowned, taken aback by Mohart’s directness, and then a smile slowly formed. "I had forgotten the way of the desert. If you wish to know something, you cannot afford to be subtle. My thanks for reminding me. Doubtless such knowledge will be useful on this journey."
"You are welcome, but you have not answered my question yet," Mohart said, stopping and turning to look at the prince. "Am I to assume by your silence that you did indeed drug me?"
Measuring eyes studied the delegate from Gartabo, and then Imrahil nodded slightly. "You were drugged, and unfortunately, the drug was placed by my hand. But know that you were not the intended recipient and that sometime between the placing of the drug and the drinking of the wine, your goblet was switched."
"Then it was not by mishap," Mohart murmured. "Another stepped in."
Imrahil cocked his head to the side in a gesture that was strangely elven. "I am afraid I do not understand your last words. Will you explain?"
"You are certain you placed the drug correctly?" Mohart asked. At Imrahil’s somewhat indignant nod, the man sighed. "I have, then, another question to ask before I answer. Was Dashnir the intended victim?"
"I thought as much. I have said that Dashnir is not as other men, but perhaps you do not understand the full magnitude of what I meant when I spoke." Mohart shook his head and grimaced, attempting to find words to explain what he knew of Dashnir’s abilities. Unfortunately, his grasp of Westron, though more than adequate for diplomacy and casual conversation, was not up to a detailed talk of the arcane or the darker arts. "He knows things that a man has no right to know," Mohart eventually said. "He sees things and hears things that are beyond us. His senses are more developed and even your elves might learn from his intuition. If you intended to drug him, I suspect he realized it and so switched the goblets. The fact that he gave me the drug says much."
"He then took command of the delegation," Imrahil said, fear growing in his gray eyes. "We have played right into his hands." The prince cursed and turned away, rubbing his brow. "Mohart, know you of any way that we may alert King Elessar and King Eomer? Or even members of your own tribe who might lend us their aid?"
"Not until we are in the desert and closer to Haradhur," Mohart said grimly. "But it is not yet too late, honored one. Dashnir is arrogant, and this weakness may prove to be his undoing."
"Would that we could be certain of that," Imrahil murmured. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and then seemed to shake off his ill mood with elven speed. "Come, Mohart. I promised you a quick meal and I will not fail in this. But then we must be off and we must ride with a speed that will put the Rohirrim to shame. As I do not fail you, I will not fail my king. And no matter the consequences, I will see myself at his side ere the last stroke of this treachery falls."
* * * *
Eomer was tired of waking with the feeling that he had just been thoroughly soaked. It was only their second evening in this cursed desert and already he despaired of ever feeling a cool breeze again. The air hung stale and musty within their tent and the stifling heat took his breath. Running a hand through his sweaty, golden hair, Eomer sighed and sat up slowly. It was a wonder he did not lose all the fluids in his body to perspiration.
Glancing around the tent, he was surprised to notice that Aragorn was still asleep. Could it be that the questions and concerns of this journey had finally wearied the king of Gondor to the point that his legendary stamina no longer supported him? Eomer smiled slightly at the thought. It was something of a comfort to know that Aragorn was not perfect. He knew this already, of course, and their conversation from the previous evening was certainly proof of Aragorn’s human failings, but in small things, particularly things requiring physical endurance, it was an added consolation to know that Aragorn was a man and that he did tire.
Eomer’s eyes continued to sweep the tent and he came to his second surprise of the evening. Gimli had disappeared. This was especially odd given the fact that the dwarf was a notoriously late sleeper and had been somewhat winded from his morning spar with Legolas. Where could the dwarf have gone? Turning to the last section of the tent, Eomer stopped and stared as he found surprise number three.
Gimli sat cross-legged next to Legolas, his head bowed in sleep, with one hand upon the haft of his axe and the other hand upon the elf’s shoulder. Frowning, Eomer studied the pair and wondered how this had come to be.
Muttered words and a muffled groan caught his attention and Eomer turned back to watch as Aragorn stretched slightly and slowly opened his eyes. Eomer’s first instinct was to use this situation as an opportunity to point out that Aragorn was not always the first one awake, but curiosity and concern had gotten the better of the young king this evening. "Aragorn?" he called, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb Gimli or Legolas.
Aragorn sighed, ran a hand through his thick mane of hair, and glanced in the horse lord’s direction. Something flickered through the dark gray eyes and Eomer had the strange impression that it was a feeling akin to shame, possibly for not waking first. But whatever the cause, Eomer had no interest in pursuing it, for his mind was already working on a different problem.
"Aragorn, what cause would Gimli have for guarding Legolas in his sleep?"
The king of Gondor blinked, which was the closest he ever came to looking surprised, and then turned his eyes toward the elf and dwarf. This elicited yet another blink and Aragorn sat up, frowning as he considered the two. "How long have they been thus?"
"I woke only moments ago," Eomer confessed. "I did not hear Gimli move during the day, nor was I aware of any threat that might make him act so."
"Strange," Aragorn murmured, getting to his feet and moving over to elf and dwarf. Cautiously, well aware that Gimli’s hand rested on his axe, the king touched his shoulder and whispered quietly. "Gimli? Gimli, the time has come to wake." Not about to miss the action, Eomer stood and moved behind Aragorn, watching the proceedings from a safe distance. The dwarf shifted minutely and Aragorn tightened his grip on Gimli’s shoulder. "Wake, Gimli."
Growling something rather uncomplimentary in his own tongue, Gimli tried to pull away, but Aragorn was firm, keeping a tight hold on the dwarf. Eventually opening his eyes to see what force restrained him, Gimli frowned and glanced around, apparently somewhat disoriented by the fact that he was sitting up and far away from his usual resting place.
"Gimli?" Aragorn questioned gently, releasing the dwarf’s shoulder.
Gimli yawned, dropping his axe and stretching his arms high above his head. "Is it time to leave?" he asked, noting that Eomer was also awake.
"We will leave soon, yes, but that was not the reason I woke you," Aragorn said. "Do you know how you came to be over here?"
Gimli glanced down at Legolas and grimaced. "The elf was keeping me awake and I knew of no other way to keep him quiet," he eventually answered, his voice becoming gruff.
"He was keeping you awake?" Eomer echoed.
The dwarf shrugged awkwardly and stood, picking up his axe and sliding it into his belt. "Watch for a moment. Perhaps he will show you what I mean." And saying this, Gimli returned to his own collection of supplies and took a long drink from his water skin.
Exchanging confused looks with Aragorn, Eomer started to go after him but stopped at a soft murmuring behind him. Turning back around, he watched as Legolas began to move restlessly from side to side, mumbling incoherently in Sindarin and tensing as though preparing for an attack. Kneeling beside the prince, the king of Rohan watched in fascination as beads of perspiration began to form across the elf’s brow and his hands clenched at his sides. Legolas’s eyes, open in elven sleep, were growing hard with a look of horror and fear.
"This is what you meant?" Aragorn asked, looking sharply at Gimli. "Why did you not wake me?"
"For the same reason that I did not wake him," Gimli answered, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "You needed your rest. Nor was your assistance required, for I found a solution to the problem."
"And that solution was?"
Looking rather self-conscious, Gimli wandered back over, knelt next to Legolas, and put a firm hand on his shoulder. The elf stiffened and then quieted, dropping slowly into a more peaceful sleep. "He seems comforted by an outside touch," Gimli whispered with a sigh. "Sometimes it is a while before he realizes that another is beside him, but when he does get it through his thick elven head that he isn’t alone, his rest becomes easier."
"When did this start?" Eomer wondered.
"Perhaps an hour or so after I fell asleep," Gimli answered, standing again and shaking his head. "In truth, I was not certain of the time, but I can tell you that the heat was nearly unbearable." He seemed about to say more but was interrupted when Legolas began to toss and turn again in uneasy dreams. "It usually takes longer for the nightmares to set in," Gimli said softly as though speaking to himself.
The elf moaned as if in pain and began to whisper quiet words. "Gûr," he murmured. "Gûr an pân. Dúath a naeg.
Beside him, Aragorn shivered and Eomer shot the other king a questioning look. "What does he say?"
Aragorn grimaced and shook his head. "His sleep is troubled, and his speech is dark. He talks of death. Death and pain."
"And shadow," Gimli added, placing a hand upon the elf’s shoulder and giving him a gentle shake. As before, Legolas quieted beneath the dwarf’s touch, but this time, the tension in his face did not recede. "Early this morning he likened ú-glîr to a shadow over his senses, and I wonder if that same shadow pervades his dreams," the dwarf continued, his voice growing solemn. "He suffers, Aragorn. We cannot allow this to continue."
"We have no means of reversing what has been done," Aragorn sighed. "Did he say aught else during the day?"
"His speech then was much the same as his speech now," Gimli answered. "He cried against shadows and death. I could understand most of his talk and it centered around a great darkness as though he feared it would consume him."
"And that may not be far from the truth," Aragorn murmured, standing and considering the elf. "Wake him, Gimli. He has slept long enough and I suspect he will be glad of a reprieve from his dreams."
"Aragorn, a moment please," Eomer broke in, standing and moving away from elf and dwarf. Gimli didn’t seem to notice as he was now attempting to rouse Legolas. Aragorn gave Eomer a curious look and then followed. "You say the Haradrim respect force," Eomer whispered, his voice low.
"They respect strength, if that is what you mean," Aragorn answered.
"Strength or force, it matters not because either way we are seen as weak in their eyes. Our lack of action on the part of Legolas’s suffering is not a show of strength. I agree with Gimli. We must do something."
"And what would you do, son of Eomund?"
"Something that will impress upon the Haradrim our strength and will," Eomer answered. This was something of a reversal for him as before retiring for bed he had been convinced that Aragorn’s policy of waiting was best. But after seeing Gimli beside Legolas this morning, he had decided that regardless of whatever customs the Haradrim might have, this was not something they could set to the side. "Legolas will not be able to hide this problem for long, and we cannot cover for him indefinitely," he continued, trying to structure his reasoning in a way that might persuade Aragorn. "Sooner or later, it shall be discovered that we have been attacked and have done nothing in retaliation."
"We discussed this problem earlier and found no solution. If memory serves, I recall coming to an agreement that we could do nothing until more information presented itself. Have you now changed your mind? Or have you any new thoughts to add?"
Eomer couldn’t forbear bristling at Aragorn’s authoritative tone, and what made it worse was the fact that Aragorn was right. Eomer had no ready answers and he was quite out of his element when it came to elves. Aragorn knew far more and if he didn’t know what to do, how should a horse-lord from Rohan set things right? And when even Legolas admitted there was no immediate solution…
"I understand your frustration," Aragorn said quietly, catching Eomer’s arm and squeezing it slightly. "Think you that I find any joy in this? Legolas has been my friend for many years now and my heart aches at the very thought of what has befallen him. But no matter how hard I yearn to undo what has been done, it is not within my power. It is not within Gimli’s power. And it is not within your power."
"And so we wait?" Eomer demanded bitterly.
"We wait and we watch," Aragorn said, fixing the other king with a sharp gaze. "And in the meantime, we take no rash actions for such things might mar more than they would help. Legolas is the not the only one affected by this darkness. Do you not sense it? By closing Ilúvatar’s song to him, our own perceptions and senses have been harmed. We wonder that we do not think clearly and it is due to this shadow."
"But that is all the more reason to act!" Eomer pressed, though he knew in his heart that there was truly nothing to be done. "If you say we have all been rendered vulnerable by this, then we are fools if we do nothing."
"I said not that we have been rendered vulnerable," Aragorn countered with a steely glint in his eyes. "I said we have been harmed. But a blow to the shield arm will not stop the sword, and neither shall it stop us. Patience, Eomer. Our time will come."
"And here is Master Sluggard now."
Eomer and Aragorn turned around as Gimli helped a disoriented Legolas to his feet. The elf was blinking rapidly and shaking his head as though trying to orient himself. Catching the looks that were directed his way, Legolas waved the others off, ran shaking fingers through his hair, and ducked out of the tent.
"Does he know the sun is still up?" Eomer asked, watching the shadow of the elf fade away from the tent wall.
"I think he hopes the sensory overload of light and heat will pull him from the dream world and give him an anchor to the real world," Aragorn murmured, pursing his lips in thought. He turned and sought one of his saddlebags, rifled through its contents for a moment, and then seemed to nod in satisfaction. Turning back to Gimli and Eomer, he gestured toward their own bags. "Let us pack so that we may be ready to ride soon. Tonight we travel to Lake Nurnein and the distance is great. We must depart early enough that the horses may be spared during the journey."
Eomer nodded absently, still watching the tent flap where Legolas had disappeared. "Should someone go after him?"
"I would advise against it," Gimli answered with a sigh. "He woke in an ill humor this morning and will need a moment before he is able to hold civil discourse with anyone. He should be given several more minutes, and then if he does not return, I shall follow that flighty elf myself."
Eomer grimaced but nodded, accepting Gimli as a reliable source on Legolas’s needs. Yet he could not help but feel like a common soldier on this trip. Aragorn knew much about Harad and was always a step or two ahead of everyone in his reasoning and suspicions. Gimli seemed to know almost all there was to know of elves—or at least Legolas—and certainly knew more of the prince’s current condition than did Eomer. And as for Legolas, he was nearly as bad as Aragorn in logical deductions. Even without his elven senses, it seemed that he heard and saw a great deal more than his mortal comrades did. Perhaps it was his perpetual elven aloofness that gave this impression, but true or untrue, it did not help Eomer. He felt useless, as though he were a young page permitted to ride with the nobles.
"Eomer? Is aught wrong?"
Shoving his anger and frustration to the back of his mind, Eomer shook his head, shot a somewhat apologetic glance at Aragorn, and turned to pack his own supplies. But the spark of indignation that had been kindled within Eomer’s heart could not be so easily doused. It smoldered in a fitful silence just below the king's conscious thoughts, and when Gimli left to search for Legolas and Aragorn went to fill water skins, the feeling of weakness returned to Eomer. He was left with the packing and sorting of baggage while others went to perform more vital tasks.
I will prove myself on this journey, Eomer vowed, a hard glint coming into his eyes. Clenching his hand into a fist, he smote the earth and cursed quietly in the language of the Rohirrim. I will prove myself, and the sons of Eorl shall win great renown in this wasted land. Gondor is not the only kingdom in Middle Earth, and it is long past the time when Rohan should have risen to claim its own glory.
Ú-glîr—Translated, it would mean something like "without song." For a more comprehensive explanation of it, check Chapter 10.
Gûr an pân. Dúath a naeg—Death for all. Shadow and pain.
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.