4. First Impressions
Gimli, son of Gloin, awoke with a start and a jerk.
He had overslept.
Cursing furiously beneath his breath, he tumbled off the soft bed and threw on the clothes he had shed before retiring. He noted his wrist ached and attributed it to the Legolas’s shield tilt earlier that day when he had lost his hold on his axe. It would be sore for a few days, but it would not interfere with anything he did. That was a relief.
Tossing on his short corselet of chain mail, the dwarf grabbed his axe
and hurried out of the room. He raced down the hall and skidded to a halt
before Legolas’s room, pounding furiously on the door. The elf had fallen
asleep almost immediately after going to bed, and Gimli doubted he could
have awakened on his own had his life depended on it. When there was no
answer, the dwarf cracked the door open and peaked into the room. What
he saw loose his tongue again and a torrent of foul curses came forth.
The elf had not only left but had also packed up all his belongings, neatly
folded the covers on the bed, and thoughtfully left a note for Gimli.
If you receive this message in time, I believe we are meeting in the main hall with Imrahil before meeting with the delegation from Harad. You would be wise to join us soon as we would not want to reveal your sluggish nature so soon in the introductions. I intended to wake you, but your snores through the wall stopped me. I did not wish to interrupt so good a sleep or so lovely a symphony. Make haste, Master Dwarf.
"Snores?" Gimli grunted angrily. "He has obviously never listened to himself." What that had to do with anything was beyond the dwarf for Legolas didn’t make a sound when he slept, but it felt better to say it anyway. Tossing the note onto the immaculate floor and hoping that this would somehow make the elf appear less perfect, he took off through the door and headed for the main hall.
Tripping down a flight of stairs and rolling to an unceremonious halt at their base, Gimli directed a stern glower at the guards looking on, daring them to laugh, and hurried forward, finally catching sight of the tall doors that marked the entrance to Imrahil’s main hall and dining center. It was a tall building and based on its situation and the fact that it was not connected with the rest of the castle, one might have guessed it to be a citadel. But it was not a building that could be easily defended, nor was it ever intended to be used as a citadel. It was, instead, a place to greet and entertain guests or to hold great feasts. Dol Amroth itself was a place of such fortification that the ancient architects who’d designed it had seen little use for a citadel and so had created a dining room instead. Warriors and princes during the Third Age had often heaped curses upon these aesthetic architects for a citadel would have been a great comfort against the Corsairs of Umbar or the raiding Haradrim in the service of Sauron. But Dol Amroth had withstood the test of time and war, and its main hall continued to be used as such—a hall.
Gimli paused to catch his breath before he pushed open the doors. He stashed his axe securely in his belt, ran his fingers through his beard in a futile attempt to brush it out, and straightened his tunic. Feeling that all was in readiness, he gave the great doors a shove and walked imperiously forward, looking for all the world like he had intended to make his entrance at this very time.
"You are late, Gimli," Eomer observed.
The dwarf sighed and sent the horse lord a dark glare. Beside Rohan’s king, Legolas cleared his throat and then tugged at his tunic. Gimli blinked and the elf repeated the motion, at the end nodding in Gimli’s direction. Afraid of what he might find, the dwarf glanced down and groaned. He had put his chain mail on backwards.
"This night is not starting well," Gimli grumbled as he fumbled with the heavy metal and eventually managed to right it.
Prince Imrahil looked away, hiding a smile, and Aragorn shook his head before turning back to Eomer. "Are all your guard assembled?"
"All save three who are guarding the horses and the baggage," Eomer answered.
"My guards could easily do that," Imrahil offered.
"Your pardon, prince, but both my men and I would feel better knowing that our horses are looked after by our own kin. They are as family to us, and I mean no disrespect or offense to you, but—"
"No offense is taken," Imrahil replied. "I understand the need to look after that which is your own. I only thought to give you the option should you be interested. Are we ready then? My men send word that the delegation approaches."
Aragorn folded his arms and thought for a moment, glancing at Eomer, the Rohirrim lined up against the wall, and then at his own men who stood in readiness behind him. "Let them come to us," he finally said. "Show them into the courtyard, but we will not go forth until they have waited for a time. They have sought to slight us with their nine delegates. Let us show that we are ready to reciprocate."
"Are the preparations made for dinner?" Eomer asked, and Gimli judged from his tone that he was not lightly inquiring about the readiness of the food.
"They are," Prince Imrahil answered, his tone also indicating that more lay behind his words than might be guessed. "It was easy enough to arrange, and I think all shall be pleased by the results."
Gimli now stood by Legolas and shot a questioning glance at the elf. The prince of Mirkwood bore a rather thoughtful expression and was studying Imrahil with piercing gray eyes. Sensing Gimli’s gaze, he glanced at the dwarf and quirked a questioning eyebrow. Gimli shrugged in response and the elf grimaced slightly.
"It would seem that plans are already underway," he said quietly.
"Doubtless they will be made known to us in time," Gimli returned.
The elf nodded, though it did not look as though his elven curiosity had abated in the slightest. Eventually, he gave himself a shake and turned mischievous eyes towards the dwarf. "So you were able to rise from your repose?"
"Yes, I was, no thanks to you," Gimli growled.
"How could I interrupt so sweet a song or so deep a sleep?" the elf asked.
"Better to interrupt than to have me arrive late," Gimli said, self-consciously glancing down at his chain mail that now hung correctly. He frowned and then gave his friend a piercing stare.
"What?" the elf asked.
"How are you this evening?"
Legolas sighed, knowing exactly to what his friend referred, but the elf felt reluctant to speak on the subject. He seemed to have his longing for the sea under control for now, but it was really an elaborate charade and there was no guarantee that his outer control would last long. He wished to appear controlled and disciplined as befitted an elf, but if he sought to answer the dwarf in that way, Gimli would see through the lie as easily as one might see through a window.
"I have been better," he finally answered, opting for the truth rather than an attempt at deception. "But I have also been worse."
"I see." Gimli drummed his fingers along the haft of his axe thoughtfully. "Will you be requiring a shield tonight?"
Legolas laughed quietly. "I do not think so. The rest has done me good, and I am in better possession of my faculties now than I was earlier today. But it would be well if you stayed nearby," the elf confessed, sobering slightly. "If we ride along the coast, my mind may wander and I may need your assistance."
This uncharacteristic admission caught Gimli off-guard, but he made no jest about it, sensing that it also caught Legolas by surprise. "I will be with you, my friend," the dwarf promised, keeping his voice hushed. "And if your mind strays too far, I will be there to aid you. Have no fear, for together we may keep this longing at bay."
"I fear it is too late for that, Gimli, but your presence shall be a comfort," Legolas said, unknowingly repeating Aragorn’s words from the previous evening. "There is still much to see and much to do in Middle Earth, and I would share it with you yet a while a longer."
The last part of that statement was not particularly comforting, but Gimli decided to ignore it for the moment. Instead, he began a critical study of the main hall’s arching pillars and wondered why the architects of man hadn’t made this a citadel. He was coming to the conclusion that man constructed things with no care for rhyme or reason when Imrahil interrupted his thoughts.
"Gimli, there are reports from my guards that you have stolen a shield. Is there anything you wish to say about this?"
"What need have I for a shield?" Gimli responded, still studying the crossbeams overhead. "I would ask the elf."
Imrahil cocked his head and sent Legolas a questioning look. Legolas sighed and shook his head. "Would you deny a fellow prince a shield if his life was in danger?" the elf asked.
Prince Imrahil laughed. "Since we are both princes, then, you are welcome to any shield you wish to take. Royalty must look out for royalty, especially if common folk wish harm upon our kind."
"Common?" Gimli snorted. "Prince Imrahil, if you think me common then allow me to teach you otherwise."
The prince of Dol Amroth laughed again. "Perhaps another time," he answered, glancing toward a guard who had just entered the main hall. "I believe our guests have arrived." Imrahil then walked toward his guard and had a quick conversation. Dimly, the others could hear the orders he gave, instructing that the Haradrim delegation was to be let into the courtyard but not into the main hall. Imrahil would come forth in time to introduce them to Aragorn and Eomer.
For their parts, Aragorn looked alert but relaxed and Eomer looked impatient. The guards of Gondor stood silently at attention, solemn figures of regal bearing and stern upbringing. By contrast, the riders of Rohan mirrored their own king—restless and anxious to about and doing rather than waiting. But with all, there was also a sense of anticipation and wariness. It would not be long before they set out on an adventure from which some might never return.
"And so begins the real journey," Legolas murmured, resting a hand on the reassuring haft of his long, white knife that hung from his belt.
"So long as you are prepared, I am prepared," Gimli said. "Together, we will journey into this hostile land and together we will emerge victorious."
For some reason, Legolas shivered at those words, and Gimli felt a touch of cold dread clutch at his heart. Something waited for them in the desert. He couldn’t say what, and he couldn’t explain where his feelings came from, but he knew that danger lurked ahead. Still, with Legolas, Aragorn, and Eomer for company, what could possibly go wrong?
Famous last words, Gimli thought bitterly.
* * * *
Silentl as a shadow, Dashnir waited patiently with the other delegates of the Haradrim. They stood together in the courtyard of Prince Imrahil, ready to meet the King Elessar of Gondor and his entourage. There were rumors among the other tribal leaders that another king, King Eomer of Rohan, was accompanying King Elessar, and Dashnir was curious to meet with him as well. He had been in the north several times before and knew Rohan to be a place of vast fields and the swiftest horses known to man, but he had never met any of the Rohirrim. He had seen their horses outside, though, and was impressed with their pride and strength, attributes that could easily be discerned from afar.
"Why do they tarry?" someone whispered behind him in the common language of Harad. Dashnir recognized the voice as belonging to Fastahn, a member of the Soltari tribe’s advisory council. For the life of him, Dashnir couldn’t understand how Soltari could justify sending someone who was not a member of the governing council. They were not here to negotiate trade settlements with local farmers but to escort two powerful kings into the Harad desert to the Gathering, something that had never been done before and would probably never be done again. Dashnir himself was second only to the tribal head in the Khurintu tribe, and as such he held great renown among the Haradrim and was an appropriate selection for this delegation.
"Perhaps they wish to observe us," someone else answered Fastahn. That voice belonged to Meret, the tribal head of Baki. The Baki was a rather obscure tribe, but they possessed lands with great mineral wealth and so they were also asked by the chiefs of the Gathering to send a delegate on this mission. Dashnir wondered at the wisdom of sending the tribal head, though. The Haradrim did not want to give the impression that they were bowing to the kings of Gondor and Rohan. They merely wanted to give the impression that they honored their presence. Thankfully, Meret was the only tribal head in the delegation, and as a member of a weaker tribe, he had relatively little power within Harad. It should not prove to be much of a concern.
A murmur now rose from those closest to the main hall, and Dashnir looked to see that doors to that hall had opened. Forth came Prince Imrahil, who was familiar to many of Harad’s northern tribes, the Khurintu tribe being one of these. Dashnir had met with the prince before and knew him to be a fair man as well as a very perceptive one. He was not an easy leader to fool, and if any of the Harad delegation had secret agendas, they would have to work hard at hiding them from this man.
Then Dashnir turned his eyes from the prince of Dol Amroth and received a mild shock. Behind Imrahil walked two men, one slightly ahead of the other, and even from afar he could see that they were hardy warriors and strong leaders, men that any soldier would gladly follow into battle and willingly die for. The one further back carried a silver helm and upon his breast was the emblem of a running horse. His golden hair was caught up in a short braid that went down his back and he walked proudly with all the grace and bearing of one used to being obeyed. He was relatively young, but his glance was keen and shrewd as he surveyed the delegates that waited for them. Surely this was King Eomer of the Rohirrim. His stance and his manner suggested one used to riding, and the position of his right arm at his side gave evidence to the fact that he often wielded sword or lance. Indeed, a long sword was strapped to his side and even now, his hand strayed to it as though he anticipated some sort of threat. He would have to be watched. Dashnir perceived that he had a quick temper to go with his youth.
But it was the other man, the man who walked slightly before King Eomer, who quickly captured Dashnir’s undivided attention. His hair was dark as were his eyes, and when they flickered over the Harad delegation, Dashnir felt a wave sweep over him and leave him weakened in its wake. It was as though everything he had ever planned and everything he had ever desired were made known to this man, and he had to fight back the urge to turn away. Here was one who possessed great power and was schooled in its use. His black raiment bore the emblem of a white tree, and at his side hung an elegant scabbard. His hand rested on the hilt of a much-used sword, and it seemed that energy and force resonated from this blade. There was no doubt in Dashnir’s mind that this was Aragorn, King Elessar of Gondor. The strength and majesty of his ancestors walked with him, his glance had the power to crumple his enemies, and the spark of wisdom flared brightly in his eyes. Indeed, this was a man to be worshipped.
"Delegates of Harad!"
Dashnir tore his eyes away from Aragorn and focused his attention on Prince Imrahil. The prince was addressing them and was about to make introductions. Dashnir rapidly tried to collect what was left of his composure. It would not do for him to appear weak before such renowned men.
"I present to you the king of the western lands, the heir of Elendil and Isildur, and the bearer of Anduril, Narsil reforged. Behold the King Elessar of Gondor. And with him I give you the king of the Rohirrim, horse lords of great renown. Behold King Eomer of Rohan. My lieges, may I present to you the delegation sent from Harad who are to escort you to Haradhur. This is Mohart of the Gartabo tribe, and he is their appointed leader."
Dashnir bristled slightly at this. It was true enough, but Dashnir couldn’t help but think that Khurintu and not Gartabo should have led this escort. Was not Khurintu the greatest warrior tribe and the most skilled in the arts of combat? Gartabo was merely fortunate enough to control an area with three hidden lakes and seven good wells, making them an economic and agricultural power. They were not the true representatives of Harad. They were settlers and farmers, not raiders or warriors.
"My greetings to you, Mohart." Aragorn was speaking now and Dashnir trembled at the sound of his voice. There was hidden power there and great strength. If that man asked for the moon, Dashnir could easily envision half of Middle Earth rising up to fetch it for him.
"And my greetings to you, King Elessar," Mohart replied slowly, using the Westron speech with some difficulty. "Allow me to introduce those who accompany me and who will accompany you for the next week." As Mohart proceeded with the introductions, a rather bland formality, Dashnir began examining the men who traveled with Aragorn and Eomer. It was easy enough to identify who belonged to which kingdom. The men of Gondor were dark haired and grim of face, solemn and watchful as they endured the tedious introductions. The men of Rohan were different in manner, and though they were no less disciplined than the soldiers of Gondor, there was an impatience d of restlessness on their part that did not extend to Aragorn’s guard. Light of face and hair they were, and all bore either a spear or a sword.
Dashnir continued to scan those whom he would be escorting, making a note of some in particular who seemed to be of interest, and eventually came to two figures standing directly behind Aragorn and Eomer. He had not seen them before as the stance of the kings had concealed them from view, but when Aragorn moved forward to speak with Mohart and by so doing revealed their presence, Dashnir was barely able to keep back a gasp. The strange creatures—there seemed no better word for them—looked over the Harad delegation with the wary scrutiny of tried warriors. One was fair beyond the measure of man, his golden tresses falling upon his shoulders and his bright gray eyes boring holes into all he surveyed. A bow and quiver were strapped to his back and a long, white knife hung from his belt. A light seemed to radiate from him, and Dashnir had the overwhelming feeling that this being was not of Middle Earth.
Then there was his companion. Gruff and short, his head barely reaching the other’s elbow, he sported a heavy shirt of mail and a powerful battleaxe. His face was partially obscured by a thick beard that hung down to the middle of his broad chest. He was a stocky mass of hardened muscle, hinting at great strength and endurance. His deep-set eyes roamed the Harad delegation and seemed to capture every detail in exactness.
Dashnir started when he heard his name being spoken and belatedly realized that Mohart was introducing him. He smiled grimly upon noting that he had been the last delegate Mohart named and quietly vowed that this slight to the Khurintu tribe would be remedied in the near future. He bowed his head slightly toward Aragorn and Eomer, making certain that he showed no disrespect but also that they knew he was not their subject and he owed them no allegiance. Once more he felt a wash of energy as Aragorn examined him, and he caught his breath when the king turned away, for he felt weary as though he had just fought a great battle.
"I fear that full introductions of our escort would weary your patient ears," Aragorn said. "But there are some here I would have you know. This is Imhran, captain of my guard, and Arhelm, the captain of Rohan’s guard. Also, two representatives of Races who live within our kingdoms have elected to join us. This is Legolas the elf, son of King Thraunduil who rules in Greenwood the Great. And here is Gimli the dwarf, son of Gloin from the Lonely Mountain where can be found many precious metals and gems."
An elf and a dwarf!? Dashnir had heard tales of such beings, but he had never before met one. He wondered just how many of the legends were true and vowed to keep an especially close watch on these two creatures. Of old, his ancestors had dealings with the elves, but that was thousands of years ago before the fall of the great city when their dark arts were revealed. Such tales were myths of a younger day, and little heed was given to them now. In fact, were it not for the rumors that claimed Prince Imrahil possessed elven blood, it is doubtful that many of the Haradrim would give any credence to the tales of elves and dwarves. Of course, Dashnir and those like him knew better, but the truth of their ancestry was not common knowledge in Harad. And though the time was coming when they would once more be able to openly proclaim their great heritage, now was still a time of secrecy.
"Are you and those with you ready to travel?" Aragorn was asking Mohart. "For I would wish to reach Lake Supt ere sunrise."
Dashnir felt his surprise and grudging respect for this man rise again. Not only did Aragorn know of at least one of the hidden lakes they would pass on their way to Haradhur but he also knew its name. It occurred to him that this king had probably journeyed in Harad before. He recalled seeing baggage stowed on many of the horses, and at the time he had nodded at the wisdom shown. There had been no more than was needed and no less than was required. He had thought that perhaps Prince Imrahil had aided in the packing, but he now reconsidered that earlier assumption.
"We are of Harad’s finest tribes," Mohart said proudly. Dashnir held back a derisive sneer at this, thinking of the Gartabo and Baki tribes. "We are forever prepared to ride. We wait only for you and such preparations as still need completion."
"Then let us feast and then be on our way," Aragorn said. "For we have no need to tarry here. Lead on into the main hall and we shall follow."
With the uncomfortable feeling that he had just been dismissed, Dashnir started forward with the other tribal representatives and wondered at the fact that Aragorn had just commanded them and they had just unquestioningly and instantly obeyed. If nothing else, the next two weeks should prove enlightening for everyone. Glancing back, he saw that the guards of Rohan and Gondor were following them. No, not following. It seemed as though they were driving the delegates of Harad. The Haradrim were not leading these men. They were, instead, being watched and it was easier to watch a foe before you than a foe behind you.
Shaking his head at this shrewd subtlety obviously put into play by Aragorn, Dashnir searched for the king of Gondor and found him consulting with Prince Imrahil and King Eomer. His eyes strayed across the Harad delegates and Dashnir read Aragorn’s suspicion in his furrowed brow and dark glance. Had I been born in his country, I would follow this king, Dashnir decided. He trusts nothing at face value, knows the customs of his neighbors, and has an ingrained ability to command.
Almost as though sensing his thoughts, Aragorn suddenly looked directly at Dashnir. His unblinking eyes paused for only a moment, but a moment was enough. Dashnir drew his desert scarves up around his face and turned away, knowing it was a defeat of sorts but respecting this northern king enough to grant him the victory. Besides, there would be many opportunities in Harad to repay Aragorn in kind. It was only a matter of time.
* * * *
"What think you, Aragorn?" Eomer asked, his voice low and hushed.
"I think that Prince Imrahil is right. There are some in this delegation that bear great secrets and great evil. But like the prince, I cannot uncover the source," Aragorn answered, watching the delegates closely as they disappeared into the main hall.
"Do you think my choice of victim is a good one?" Imrahil wondered. "There is still time to change our plans if you wish it."
Aragorn shook his head thoughtfully. "No, I believe you have chosen rightly. Something dark is in his heart. It may be nothing to do with us, but it is an evil darkness that might turn against any perceived foe. But you must take care in tending to him here. He may realize what has been done and seek retribution."
"It will be as you counsel," the prince promised. "Come. Let us follow them inside."
Gimli, who had been watching this exchange from his position near the door of the main hall, nudged Legolas. "They spoke of it again. Could you hear what they said?" He waited for the elf to explain that even though his ears were far superior to a dwarf’s, the discussion had not been quiet and it was unthinkable that Gimli had heard nothing. But instead, Legolas remained silent. Casting a curious glance up at his friend, the dwarf groaned. "Legolas!"
Shaken somewhat and almost surprised into jumping, Legolas tore his eyes from the gulls that circled overhead and looked at his companion. "What?"
"You were doing it again," Gimli said.
"What do you mean by…oh." The elf grimaced and shook his head. "My apologies. I had hoped to last until the meal at least."
"You were close," the dwarf allowed. "But you need practice."
"Practice," Legolas murmured. "I fear I shall endure much practice ere I am ever satisfied."
Deciding a shift in topics and scenery would be a wise idea, Gimli took Legolas by the arm and turned him toward the main hall. "You did not eat much this morning," he said, pulling the unresisting elf forward. "And you have need of nourishment before our journey begins. Once we leave Dol Amroth, we are on soldier’s rations."
"I have heard only you, Pippin, and Sam complain of soldier’s rations," Legolas reminded him, extracting his arm from Gimli’s grasp but continuing to follow the dwarf.
"That is because we three seem to be the only sane companions you travel with," Gimli returned. "All else are too mad to worry about important things such as food."
"Is it madness to take thought for the day’s journey, the direction of the march, or possible enemies one might encounter on the road?" Legolas questioned.
"It is if those thoughts do not include food," the dwarf stated firmly.
"I think you have been too exposed to hobbits."
By now, the two had entered the main hall and were making their way down long rows of tables past the guards of Gondor and Rohan toward the head where they would be seated at Aragorn’s side. Aragorn himself was just now walking in with Eomer and Prince Imrahil in tow. Candles cast dancing light about the hall and the sweet aroma of various dishes drifted in from the kitchen attached to the back of the main hall.
All save the Haradrim rose as Aragorn, Imrahil, and Eomer moved to their appointed chairs at the head of the center table. When the kings of Gondor and Rohan sat, the remainder of the room did likewise, and servants began pouring in, bearing plates stacked high with food. Drinks were served as appetizers were dished out, and Imrahil raised his glass to Aragorn. "A good journey to you, King Elessar," he said, his musical tenor filling the hall. "And a good journey to those who travel with you in good faith."
The toast was echoed up and down the tables as glasses were raised. Aragorn nodded and raised his glass in return. Then all drank, but Gimli, who was keeping a sharp eye on Imrahil, Eomer, and Aragorn, noted that their eyes were now straying to the middle of the main table where the delegation from Harad was seated. He elbowed Legolas and almost made the elf choke on his wine.
"Can you see anything down there?" he hissed when Legolas turned an irritated look on the dwarf.
"Can I see anything down where?" the elf asked, dabbing at the corner of his mouth with a napkin.
"Among the Haradrim. Aragorn is keeping an especially close watch on them and I feel as though he is waiting for something to happen."
Legolas frowned but obediently cast his keen eyes down the table. "I see nothing unusual," he reported after a cursory inspection.
"Nothing whatsoever?" the dwarf pressed. "Is the color of their food off, or their mannerisms? Are you certain there is nothing to be seen?"
With a sigh, Legolas once again looked down the table, this time taking more time and going over what he saw in greater detail. "They appear to be enjoying their wine, which is quite good, I might add."
"Anything else?" Gimli asked, not about to be deterred.
"They are enjoying the meat, too."
"Gimli, I assure you that there is nothing to be seen," Legolas said, wishing to turn back to his own meal. "All appears normal and…" he suddenly trailed off and slid his chair back slightly. "No, all is not normal," he whispered, his eyes narrowing. Before Gimli could question him, he had turned to Aragorn. "My liege, I think one of the Haradrim is ill."
Aragorn glanced down the table. "Which one?"
But before Legolas could utter his name, Mohart surged to his feet, clutching at his throat with one hand while the other hand pressed into his gut. He moaned, his eyes rolled back, and he toppled to the floor.
Pandemonium broke loose, Aragorn shot Imrahil an incriminating look to which Imrahil shrugged in complete confusion, and then all rushed to Mohart’s side. Dashnir, the representative from the Khurintu tribe, was kneeling at his side and checking his vital signs. "He has passed out," Dashnir reported when Aragorn pushed his way through the crowd of onlookers. "His temperature is high but I know not what could have caused this sudden illness."
"Guards!" Imrahil summoned. "Call members of my personal staff and have them prepare a sick room. And find the head healer. Instruct him to prepare for a patient."
The prince’s guard scattered to do his bidding. The soldiers of Rohan and Gondor backed up at Aragorn’s command, giving the Haradrim more room. Aragorn himself was now inspecting the falling delegate leader and concluding that the potion concocted by Imrahil had missed its intended target. "His pulse is strong," Aragorn said at length with yet another meaningful glance at the prince of Dol Amroth behind him. "He may regain consciousness soon, but judging from the way he clutches his stomach, I do not think he will wish to travel tonight."
Dashnir was quiet for a moment at this pronouncement and then looked at the other seven men from Harad. "We will go on without him," he said. Aragorn had the distinct impression that Dashnir felt something was amiss, but he could not be certain. "Prince Imrahil," Khurintu’s delegate continued, "would it be possible for you to see to Mohart while we travel? He knows the way well and could easily follow when he recovers, but I do not wish to delay our travel. We will be hard pressed to reach Haradhur on time as it is."
"We will see that he regains his health," Imrahil promised. "Have no fear of that."
Dashnir nodded. "My thanks. He may be upset with you, but I think this will be best for him."
"And I also," Aragorn said, moving aside so that others could come forward and lift Mohart onto a hastily constructed cot. "Now let us return to our meals. We should leave within the hour, and I would not have us ride on empty stomachs."
"What happened?" Eomer hissed to Imrahil as they moved away from the Haradrim. "Mohart was supposed to be our ally, or did you find out otherwise?"
"I know no more than you do," Imrahil whispered back. "I myself placed the potion in the drink and I watched as the cup was placed before the correct man. But if you look at the places now, the cup is before Mohart. Sometime between serving it and drinking it, it was moved."
"You are certain it was placed correctly?" Aragorn asked.
"I would stake my life on it," Imrahil vowed.
"You may have staked our lives on it," Eomer warned.
"Eomer!" Aragorn hissed. "Enough. If Imrahil claims the potion was put before the intended victim, I believe him. Someone must have moved it, and I do not believe it is coincidence that it made its way before our surest ally."
"You think someone moved it on purpose?" Imrahil asked. "But how can that be? The potion was odorless, tasteless, and colorless. It would have been impossible to sense."
"Unless the victim had senses other than sight, taste, and smell," Aragorn mused, glancing toward the Haradrim who were now resuming their meal. For some reason, the hall seemed darker and the shadows cast by candlelight were deeper. "We must be doubly on guard now, Eomer," the king of Gondor said after a moment’s pause. I think evil intentions are not all there is to fear."
A little way behind the three rulers, Legolas shuddered. His sharp ears had heard the entire conversation, though it was not in his nature to intentionally eavesdrop, and he sensed a chill he had always before associated with the dark sorcery of Dol Goldur. It was more remote and nowhere near as powerful, but it was there. He had thought he felt it before but had attributed it to his befuddled senses that were dazed by the call of the sea. Now, he knew he had been right. And he did not like to think of what this meant for their journey. Legolas unconsciously shuddered again. For all the promises of a blazing, scorching sun, Harad was looking darker and darker with each passing moment.
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.