Dark Horizons: 13. Kings and Fools

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13. Kings and Fools

Merton Fallow Candywell the III was not happy. Nor was he particularly dry, a fact that related directly to his sour disposition. He stood in the middle of the main street leading to the southern gate of the city, completely ignoring the traffic that was forced to swerve around him on the narrow pathway. Luckily, the rain had driven most people indoors and the streets were fairly empty.

Four servants stood shivering and soaked on each side of him, holding a long piece of canvas over his head in a vain attempt to keep the rain off him. Two men in rich, flowing robes stood to his right, also huddled beneath the small protection of the canvas.

Merton ground his teeth as a gust of wind drove a blast of rain beneath the canvas, dampening his silk cloak and tunic further. He cursed and turned to glare at one of the servants, as if his wet condition was the man’s fault. The unlucky man jumped slightly and almost lost his wet grip on the edge of the canvas. Merton turned his disgusted gaze back toward the city gate, his foot tapping impatiently upon the stone of the road.

After another several seconds of wet misery had passed, he turned to the two men standing beside him beneath the long canvas. “I thought you said they were coming,” he snapped impatiently to the first man.

The man’s only response to Merton’s obvious anger was a slight bow of the head. “The lookouts upon the wall spotted their approach. They will be here shortly.”

“They had better be!” he muttered quietly, his voice a veiled threat that the other man merely ignored.

“Patience, my lord,” the second man joined in, eyeing Merton critically. “It would not do to have the king see you so obviously upset. You must at least act as if you are glad to see him.”

“I could ACT a lot better if I were warm and dry and in my own home!” Merton bellowed. He was speaking to perhaps the only two people in the city who did not fear and avoid him whenever possible. They were his top business advisors and the only reason that Merton’s merchant business continued to prosper and bring in great wealth. Merton was well aware of this fact, as were the two men.

They were both greedy and devious, much like the man they worked for. They would do anything to make a profit, knowing that any trouble they managed to get into, Merton would be there to bail them out of it. A smart person, upon seeing them walking down the street, would do well to keep a tight grip upon their money pouch.

“It would be considered an insult if you did not bother to greet such an important guest at the gate,” the first man spoke quietly, in a soothing voice. “You must be very careful, my lord. I have heard much about this new king, and I have come to the conclusion that he is either very lucky or very powerful. Until we know which, I would advise that we proceed with caution concerning him. If we play our parts right, this visit may be very profitable for us!” The two men exchanged greedy looks, and Merton grunted.

"We must stick to the plan, my lord," the second man broke in once more. “It would be best to greet the king warmly, make him feel welcome, serve him that grand feast you are preparing, assure him that all is well within the city and that we have everything under control, and then send him on his way! With any luck, he will be gone from the city by this time tomorrow.”

“And if he is not?” Merton shot back at them.

“Then we simply find other ways to profit from his visit.” The greedy look was passed between the two men once more.

Merton turned away from the two, and then stiffened as he caught sight of the object of his present misery riding through the gates. He immediately straightened, pulling his great girth up as tall as he could and smoothing a hand down the front of his tunic. Next to him, he sensed his two advisors shifting restlessly.

Merton watched as the main army stopped within the high shelter of the walls, and a small group broke off from the rest and began riding up the street toward him. There were about a dozen of them, but Merton only had eyes for the man who rode at their head upon a tall white horse. He knew without a doubt that this was the king. How he knew, he could not exactly say, for the man wore no distinguishing clothes nor did he wear a crown or any other insignia of his rank. His clothes were that of a man used to hard travel and battle, made of fine material but still plain and unadorned. A black cloak hung limply down his back, cast far enough back to reveal the sword hanging from his hip. In all, Merton had seen some of the lesser merchants of his city dress in a more distinguished fashion.

Yet despite all this, there was something about the way the man held himself that left no doubt in Merton's mind who he was. He sat tall and proud upon his horse, and an almost tangible sense of nobility and grace surrounded him. His posture did not look forced or put on like Merton's own upright frame. Instead, it looked natural, as if this was the way the man was used to carrying himself.

As the small group of horsemen drew closer, Merton found himself gripping his hands together in front of him, rubbing his right thumb over his left in a gesture he always used when nervous. He forced his hands down at his side and waited as the company closed the remaining distance to him, his eyes never leaving the king.

When the party of riders at last reached them, the king swung gracefully from his mount and closed the last few steps on foot. Merton was aware of the others dismounting as well, but he could not tear his eyes from the man who came and stood before him. His own eyes met hazel ones and he shivered at the power and strength he saw radiated there. He bowed low to the king; his advisor's mirroring him.

"My lord," he said quietly, trying to make his voice light and unconcerned. "Welcome to Calembel. I am Merton Fallow Candywell the III, the Mayor of this city and your humble servant."

His advisors were the ones who had suggested he use this greeting, and though the words stung in his throat, they sounded oddly fitting when presented to the tall man standing before him. His advisors had also suggested that he use his full title when introducing himself. They seemed to think this would impress the king, but Merton suddenly realized it would take something much greater than a simple name to impress this man.

He straightened from his bow, reluctantly meeting the king's piercing gaze once more. Aragorn merely nodded at him, his eyes flickering towards the two men at Merton's side. Merton hastened to make the introductions while forcing his voice to remain steady.

"These are my advisors," Merton motioned to the two men. "Fanchon, son of Domorin and Telfor, son of Mandul."

Both men bowed once more as they were named, and as Fanchon straightened he addressed the king in an oily tone. "Calembel is greatly honored by your presence, my lord. I hope your stay will be a long and comfortable one."

Merton inwardly groaned and shot the man a glare from the corner of his eye. Now that he had met King Aragorn, he desired all the more for the man to leave. A strange unsettled feeling seemed to have come over him and he did not like it at all.

"I thank you for your warm welcome," Aragorn spoke for the first time, and though his words were soft and kind, Merton flinched. The man held power even in his voice! "And now, I will introduce you to my companions."

For the first time, Merton looked past the king to his entourage, receiving yet another shock. It was all he could do not to let his mouth fall open in surprise. The king's company was made up of the oddest assortment of people that Merton had ever seen.

As Aragorn introduced each member, Merton smiled and bowed respectfully, hiding his surprise and confusion. He remembered hearing rumors that the king kept strange company, yet he had either ignored everything he had heard or dismissed it as nonsense. Now, however, he discovered that at least some of the rumors were true.

He swept his gaze over the company for a second time, trying to recall exactly what it was that he had heard about each of them.

Standing directly to the right of the king was the man introduced as Gandalf the White. Even without the introduction, Merton recognized the man to be a wizard, and a flash of fear raced through him. Little was known about wizards, and Merton was of the opinion that they were creatures to be feared and mistrusted. The fact that the king traveled in the company of one only added to Merton’s feelings of growing unease.

Gathered around the wizard were the four small forms that Merton had at first taken to be merely children, but who Aragorn had introduced as hobbits from a land called the Shire. Merton had never heard of hobbits before and he was vastly curious about the small creatures.

On the other side of Aragorn were two more strange beings, though not so strange that Merton had not heard of their kind before. The dwarf and elf stood side by side, and a more vastly different pair Merton had never seen before. In the manner of his race, the dwarf was short and stocky, rising little higher than the hobbits. A thick beard flowed down his chest, and a metal helm rested upon his head. Merton was not completely ignorant of the race of dwarves, having dealt with them often in the course of his trading; yet he had had little personal contact with any of them.

Beside the dwarf, the elf stood tall and fair, golden hair falling about slim shoulders, his body lean and fit. A bow and quiver of arrows hung from his back, and the hilt of two knives were visible at his waist. Even as Merton studied him, the elf raised his head and met his gaze. Light gray eyes returned his perusal, and Merton suddenly felt as if the elf could see right through him, into his mind. He shuddered and quickly looked away. Though he had always known of the existence of elves, he knew little more about that race than he did about hobbits.

Despite the great differences between the two, there was something about elf and dwarf that spoke of a close camaraderie, of long travels and bloody battles fought side by side. Merton could not completely understand what it was that gave him this impression. It seemed as if there was much about this group that served to confuse him, and he didn't like this one bit.

Perhaps the greatest shock of all was the dark-haired elven princess introduced as the king's betrothed. Merton had heard many rumors concerning the king's choice for a wife, but he had paid little attention to any of them. Now, he found himself totally infatuated with her. To say the elf princess was beautiful would be a vast understatement. Even with her hair soaked and lying flat against her face, there was no hiding her graceful features and delicate elegance.

The last member of the company seemed almost boring when compared to his vastly different companions. Yet Merton knew this to be false. Faramir, son of Denethor, was one of the most powerful men in all of Gondor, and one of the most respected when it came to prowess in battle.

Merton suddenly became aware of the silence, and he turned from his private musing to find that the king had finished with his introductions, and was now looking at him expectantly. For a moment Merton panicked, wondering what he should say next, but Telfor stepped forward and saved him from further embarrassment.

"My lord," the man addressed Aragorn. "I am sure that you and your men are weary from your travels. Quarters have been prepared for your soldiers, along with stables for your mounts. As for yourself and your companions, a grand feast has been prepared for you at the Mayor's home, as well as rooms were you may rest and refresh yourselves."

Aragorn nodded, shifting his feet and glancing about him. A small, but growing, crowd had gathered on the streets, watching the strange arrivals with confusion and curiosity. "I thank you for your offer, and I accept graciously to both the meal and the rooms, though I fear it will be some time ere we can rest." Aragorn turned to Faramir. "See that the army is prepared for tonight and then join us as soon as possible."

Faramir nodded, turned and mounted his horse and rode back towards the army.

Aragorn turned to Merton once more. "If you will lead the way, sir," he said, sweeping his arm out in the direction up the street. "I fear there is much we must discuss while we dine."

Merton nodded wordlessly and turned to lead the way to his house. He impatiently waved away the four servants holding the tarp over him. He knew this would leave him bare to the weather, but he decided that this would perhaps be best while the king himself was left unprotected. Aragorn fell in beside him, and the rest of the company followed closely after. Merton found himself struggling to keep up with Aragorn's long strides, and he was soon puffing and gasping in air, unaccustomed to the exercise. Aragorn noticed his struggles and slowed his pace slightly.

"I trust you received my message warning of the danger of an orc attack on the city."

Merton jumped slightly at the question, and shot the king a quick glance before clearing his throat uncomfortably. "Yes, my lord, we received your message," he said nervously, his hands clasping together once more.

"I had expected to see work being done upon your walls in preparation for an attack," Aragorn said, his voice holding a note of disapproval. "They are sadly in disrepair and will not hold against any lasting siege."

"I wish no disrespect, lord, nor do I wish to question your word, but my men have seen nothing of these orcs you claim are massing for an attack. Perhaps small bands of renegade orcs have chosen to hide out in the mountains of Ered Nimrais, but they hardly offer a threat to the great city of Calambel. I fear you have wasted both your time and energy coming here." Merton waved a hand in dismissal at the end of his last comment, already looking before him towards the warmth and comfort of his home.

Aragorn slowed his pace further, eyeing the Mayor closely, and Merton soon found himself shifting uncomfortably under the man's intense stare. At last, Aragorn spoke. "I am afraid you are mistaken, Mayor. I believe that a force much bigger than a mere renegade band has gathered within the mountains. I am not even sure of the number of our enemies, but I do not doubt that they are many, and they are led by one whose evil knows no bounds."

Merton shrugged. "Even so, they would not dare attack Calembel. And if they should, I am sure that the guards of this city would be sufficient enough to take care of the problem. There is no need for you to trouble yourself with the affairs of Calembel."

"Calembel is a city within my realm and I have every right to trouble myself with its affairs." Aragorn's voice had grown soft, and there was an unmistakable firmness in his tone.

Merton winced slightly, wondering if he had perhaps gone a little too far. He had no wish to make the king angry with him.

"What would you say if I were to tell you that I expect an attack on this city this very night," Aragorn continued, his voice still soft and quiet.

Merton looked at him doubtfully, wondering if the king was playing some sort of joke at his expense. Aragorn looked back at him, his face completely serious.

Merton shrugged once more, his face showing his lack of concern. "I would say let them come and we will destroy them and leave their bodies as a warning to the others of their kind."

Aragorn merely looked at him, and then shook his head slowly. "If only it were that easy," he said sadly, his voice quiet and strangely distant. "If only..." he repeated, trailing off and saying no more as they continued their assent to the rich merchant's home.

*******

The Ered Nimrais loomed like a dark giant, its face thrust upward into the gray clouds. Nothing moved upon its rocky slopes, and all seemed completely silent and still. It seemed, almost, as if the Mountain was sleeping.

This, however, was nothing more than a sculpted mask set to hide the evil building and expanding deep within. Though the outside of the mountain looked completely calm and still, the inside was roiling with movement. Low grunts and exclamations in an evil tongue filled the caverns, as evil preparations were made and a malicious purpose was set.

*******

"That low down, overstuffed, pompous, bag of orc guts..." Gimli's voice trailed off in a string of very colorful dwarven curses. He was staring at the door through which Merton had just exited, and it looked as if he wanted to hurl his axe after the man. His face was bright red underneath his beard, and Legolas worried his friend was going to burst something.

Beside him, Faramir looked little better. His jaw was clenched and he gripped the hilt of his sword so tight that his knuckles had turned white.

Legolas himself was far from relaxed. Anger simmered hot and heavy and he was struggling valiantly to control it. The company had just finished holding council with Merton and his two advisors, and the meeting had not gone well. He felt his rage boiling hotter as he pictured the fat merchant and his two weasel advisors. He had to force his mind from replaying the events of the last hour, knowing it would only serve to infuriate him further.

Tenseness filled the room, and Legolas glanced from face to face, reading each member's reaction to what had just transpired.

The four hobbits looked troubled and uncomfortable, despite the grand feast they had just devoured. They kept glancing about them as if hoping someone would break the thick, uncomfortable silence that had settled after Gimli’s outburst.

Gandalf stood at the far end of the room, a distant and thoughtful expression on his face. He did not look overly distressed at what had happened, but every now and then he would turn to glance at the door, and Legolas’s sharp ears picked up the muttered word ‘fool.’

Arwen wore a slight frown, and she kept glancing at Aragorn, who was seated at her left.

Aragorn himself, surprisingly, was the only one in the room who appeared completely calm and unconcerned. He leaned back in his chair, his pipe clenched between his teeth, his eyes slightly closed; a picture of contented relaxation.

Both Gimli and Faramir were staring at Aragorn as if he had gone mad, but Legolas merely shook his head. He had known Aragorn for a long time, and he was not surprised at the man’s calm reaction to the situation. In fact, he would have been surprised at anything less. Aragorn had an unerring habit of taking bad situations and making them work for the best, and he rarely got excited over things he could not change.

“I do not understand how you can merely sit there after…after…” Faramir seemed at a complete loss as to how to finish his sentence, and he continued to stare at Aragorn in confusion.

Aragorn merely smiled slightly at him.

“I am not quite sure,” Merry spoke up quietly, “but I think that man insulted you, Aragorn.”

“Several times,” Faramir replied dryly, his voice laced with anger.

Aragorn shook his head slightly. “Nay,” he replied calmly. “In the face of a wise and cunning mayor, I would have taken Merton’s actions as an insult. But when dealing with a fool, it merely becomes a nuisance.”

“A simple nuisance it may seem to you, but the man had no call to speak to you with such disrespect. You are his king, and I would gladly take it upon myself to remind him of this fact, if you will but allow me.”

“Aye,” Gimli all but shouted. “And I will aid him in this task!”

"I must agree with them, Aragorn," Legolas spoke up for the first time. “The man practically called you a liar to your face! He must learn to speak with respect when addressing his king."

Aragorn continued to shake his head. “I may be a king, but you must remember, my friends, who I was before I became king. I am no stranger to others treating me with doubtful mistrust, for such was my life when I was a Ranger.”

“That may be, my lord,” Faramir interjected. “Yet a simple ranger you are no longer. You are king, and thus deserving of much more respect than you received this day."

“I agree,” Gimli spoke out once more. “You should allow us to hang this so called 'Mayor' by his ankles from the nearest tree until he gains a civil and respectful tongue.”

The hobbits looked at Gimli in horror, for the dwarf sounded completely serious in his threat.

Aragorn barked out a laugh. “And what would that accomplish, Gimli?” he asked the dwarf.

"I guarantee he would serve you without hesitation in the future,” the dwarf answered with a gleeful grin.

“Yes,” Aragorn answered. “And what type of service would it be?” At Gimli and Faramir’s confused look he continued. “Service born of fear and hatred is hardly trustworthy. I would prefer the grudging and doubtful service that is being offered now. Peace, my friends, for it is already late in the afternoon, and we have much to accomplish in preparation for the battle tonight."

Faramir and Gimli looked far from convinced, but they thankfully let the subject drop. Faramir rose gracefully and bowed to Aragorn, as if determined to show him the respect that Merton had lacked. "By your leave, lord. Kenson Brantz and his men volunteered to help repair parts of the North wall and I set them to the task with the help of a few of our own soldiers. I would go now, and see to their progress."

Aragorn nodded and also rose. "There is much for all of us to do. We will accomplish what we can before nightfall, and then stand ready for Malek’s attack.”

"Um, I have a question," Merry spoke up reluctantly, and all eyes turned to him.

“Speak, friend,” Aragorn urged gently when the hobbit hesitated. He sat back down in his chair, giving Merry his full attention.

“I was just wondering how we are supposed to fight Malek tonight,” the hobbit said quietly, then rushed on to explain himself. “I mean, we’re expecting him to attack with his orcs, right? What do we do when we have to face him? I thought he was impossible to kill at night?”

"Ahh," Gandalf spoke up for the first time. "Impossible to kill, my dear hobbit, but not impossible to defeat. You merely have to stay alive long enough to injure him so severely that he must retreat to heal himself.” The wizard's voice was calm, even cheerful.

"Oh. Is that all," Merry replied in a dazed voice. “And he is still after us, right? That means he will probably be hunting for at least one of us?”

"Do not worry, Merry," Aragorn said softly. "You will have no need to face Malek on your own. All of us will split into two groups. That way, if Malek wishes to attack one of us, he will have to face the entire group. I think that puts the odds decidedly in our favor. We simply must be careful not to get separated from our groups during the battle."

"Who will be in what group?" Frodo asked.

"Gandalf and I have already discussed this," Aragorn answered. "Frodo, Merry, and Sam will be in a group with Gandalf and Faramir, while myself, Legolas, Arwen and Gimli form the other group."

Pippin frowned. "What about me?" he asked. "What group shall I be in?"

Aragorn and Gandalf exchanged glances, and the wizard rose and walked over to Pippin. He placed his hand on the young hobbit's back and began directing him towards the door. “I have another task for you, Master Took,” the wizard said seriously. “And if you will follow me, I will reveal it to you.”

Pippin looked extremely doubtful, and he shot a questioning glance back at his friends, receiving only shrugs in answer to his unspoken question. He let Gandalf lead him out the door, shutting it firmly behind them.

“I wonder what that was all about?” Gimli muttered, glancing at Aragorn who merely shook his head slightly.

Legolas was wondering the same thing, but he didn’t have time to voice his own questions, for just at that moment, a slight knock came at the door.

“Come,” Aragorn called out, sitting forward in his chair.

The door cracked open slightly, and a small head poked through, perusing the room uncertainly.

“Dar,” Legolas called out, recognizing the boy immediately. He motioned the child over to him, and Dar hesitantly entered the room completely.

“S..s..sorry to interrupt,” the boy stammered, walking over to stand next to Legolas, his wide eyes fixed upon Aragorn. Aragorn smiled at the boy, which seemed to put him more at ease, so he continued. “My father has finished doing what he can to the Northern wall, but he is concerned over the gate. He does not think it will stand against a rushed attack.”

Aragorn nodded, eyeing the boy curiously. “Do you know much about battle, son,” he asked the child gently.

Dar nodded emphatically. “I’ve been guarding merchant supplies with my dad since I was six!” he explained excitedly. “I know all about battle.”

“Do you now?” Aragorn asked, then glanced at Faramir and nodded. Faramir walked over to the boy and put his arm around the slim shoulders.

“Take me to the gate, Dar, and we will see what can be done,” Faramir instructed with a look of mock seriousness. “Do YOU have any ideas of what we can do to strengthen it?”

Dar seemed thrilled that Faramir had bothered asking him, and as the Steward led him from the room he began to pour out ideas on how to fix the gate.

Arwen smiled delightedly after the retreating form of the child, then she also rose and turned to the hobbits. “I saw an armory shop on our way here. If we are to fight tonight, then we must be prepared. Perhaps they will have something to fit you three.”

The three hobbits stood up and followed the elven princess from the room, leaving Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli alone. Legolas glanced at Aragorn, waiting for the man to give orders on what else should be accomplished for the battle tonight. He was slightly surprised that Aragorn had not gone with Faramir, and he was sure that he had some task that needed seeing to. However, Aragorn remained seated, his hands folded across his chest and his eyes completely closed! Legolas glanced at Gimli and found the dwarf staring back at him with narrowed eyes. Legolas glanced back at Aragorn. “I think I shall go and help Faramir,” he said quickly, turning swiftly to leave the room.

He had just managed to reach the door when something hurled into the back of his legs, flinging them out from beneath him. Legolas let out a shout as he toppled ungracefully to the floor, his hands going behind him to soften his fall. Before he even had a chance to see what had hit him, a heavy weight settled onto his chest, driving all the air from his lungs.

Legolas attempted to gasp in air as he stared in consternation at the dwarf now seated smugly upon his chest.

“I thought we were going to try and talk to him first, Gimli,” Aragorn said calmly as he rose and walked to stand over the two on the floor.

Legolas glared up at his two friends while still desperately trying to pull air into his squashed lungs.

“I owed him one,” Gimli replied dryly, looking down at Legolas in triumph. “Besides, he wouldn’t have listened.”

"You're probably right," Aragorn answered with a shrug. He glanced down at Legolas and cocked his head slightly. "I don't think he can breathe, Gimli," he continued in a conversational tone. "His face is turning a rather bright shade of red."

Legolas really couldn't breathe, and he felt all the blood rush to his head. He was sure he was about to pass out, and Gimli's face began to blur and dance in his vision. Just when black shadows were beginning to creep into his vision, he felt the weight lift from his chest, and he took a deep gasp of air.

It took several seconds for him to recover enough to push himself into a sitting position, still feeling slightly dazed. He glared at Gimli and Aragorn, who now stood before him, but their only response was a slightly raised eyebrow from Aragorn, and a fierce scowl from Gimli. The dwarf crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at Legolas with an expression the elf had never seen on his friend’s face before.

With one last gasping cough, Legolas forced himself to his feet. He had no doubt what his friends were up to, and he figured he had only two options. He could try to struggle past them to the door and make an escape once more, or he could tell them what they wanted to know. At the moment, Legolas was too exhausted to even seriously consider the first option.

He let out a loud sigh and turned his back to his friends, walking over to a chair and sinking down into it. Behind him, he thought he heard Gimli muttering something about a rope. The dwarf sounded disappointed.

"I guess this means you are ready to talk to us now," Aragorn asked quietly, moving to stand in front of Legolas. Gimli followed him, still looking at Legolas intently.

Legolas let out another sigh, and shook his head slightly. "I don't know where to begin,” he answered tiredly, lifting a hand to sweep away a stray lock of hair that had fallen around his face.

Aragorn and Gimli exchanged glances before turning back to Legolas. “Then let us help you,” Aragorn replied gently, grabbing a chair and placing it in front of Legolas, facing the elf. Gimli followed suit, and when they were both seated, Aragorn continued. “Before we ever left Minas Tirith, you began to act strangely. I could tell that you were not sleeping properly, and I also knew that you and Gandalf were hiding something from the rest of us. At first, I decided to leave you alone in the hopes that you would choose to talk to me of your own accord. However, it soon became apparent to me that you had no intention of doing this.”

Aragorn paused, and Legolas glanced at him somewhat guiltily. He glanced toward Gimli, but the dwarf’s eyes were on Aragorn. The man continued. “I decided then to find a time to confront you on my own, but circumstances interfered and I am afraid I never got around to it.” Aragorn shook his head regretfully. “I must confess that I placed the matter in the back of my mind. That is, until this morning.” Aragorn stopped once more and looked directly at Legolas. “Gimli told me what happened,” he stated plainly, watching Legolas for his reaction.

Legolas glanced once more at Gimli, and this time the dwarf was looking at him. The anger that had been in his friend’s eyes earlier was gone now, replaced by something else. Once again, Legolas had a rough time reading Gimli’s expression. The dwarf looked frustrated, concerned, expectant, and tense, all wrapped in one. There was something else there as well. Fear.

Legolas quickly looked away, forcing his eyes back to Aragorn. “We have come to the conclusion,” Aragorn continued softly, “that whatever is troubling you has to do with dreams. Am I correct in this?”

Legolas hesitated for the barest of seconds before he nodded slowly. He let out the breath he seemed to have been holding since Aragorn first began speaking. “You are correct,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. Aragorn and Gimli merely continued to look at him, and so with yet another sigh, Legolas settled back further into the chair and closed his eyes.

He began to speak, refusing to allow his brain to think on the words, but instead allowing them to flow from him as they would. He talked of the first night they had returned to Minas Tirith, and of the dream that had plagued him since.

At first, he planned to limit what he told them, only outlining and giving them the barest of facts in the hope that that would satisfy them. Yet as he began to talk, the pent up emotions inside of him began to build and push at him, demanding release. Without even fully realizing it, Legolas began telling them everything, keeping nothing back.

Part of him remained horrified that he was speaking so directly, that he was leaving himself completely bare and open in front of others. Yet he could have more easily stopped a flood from breaking through a dam than stop talking once he had begun.

He explained his dream in each gruesome detail along with its direct effect upon him and his efforts to ignore or forget the images presented him. He shared the fear and horror, and above all the complete helplessness that he had felt. He shared how he dreaded even sleeping for fear that the dream would come again. He did not look at them while he spoke, but instead studied his hands lying limply in his lap.

When he had finally finished, a silence hung heavy in the air. Legolas felt drained and exhausted, while at the same time strangely relieved. It felt as if a great weight had been lifted from him, and for the first time in many days it seemed as if all the tension had eased from his shoulders. He felt oddly light and weightless, and thought he could probably sleep for days without worry over his dream.

For the first time, he glanced up at the faces of his friends, only to find them looking back at him with shocked and stunned expressions. He winced at their obvious distress, and wished once more that he had been less explicit in his explanation.

Aragorn was the first to recover from his shock. He cleared his throat loudly, breaking the wall of silence that had been growing more and more intense. He faced Legolas squarely, struggling to keep his face emotionless. “You said you have had this dream several times?” he asked Legolas, keeping his voice calm and business like.

Legolas merely nodded, not meeting his eyes.

“And this dream is of the same nature as the one you had before?”

Once again, Legolas only nodded.

“Well, that’s good!” Gimli broke in, his cheerful voice an odd contrast to the tense look on his face. “We changed the outcome of your first dream, and we shall change the outcome of this one as well!”

Legolas gave Gimli a weak smile and the dwarf rose and moved to his side, laying a hand on his shoulder in silent support. Aragorn moved forward and also placed his hand on the elf’s knee.

“We may not have any specific answers for you, my friend, but I am still glad you have shared this with us. That is what friends are all about; sharing in each other's burdens. I hope in the future that you will not feel the need to hide anything like this from us again.” Aragorn’s voice was gentle, yet firm and he gave Legolas’s knee a firm squeeze.

“So what do we do now?” Gimli asked quietly, still standing at Legolas’s shoulder.

“We will merely have to be careful and extra watchful,” Aragorn answered, rising from his chair.

Gimli nodded emphatically, and Legolas turned to him, a firm expression on his face. “Do not think to set guards on me,” he said sternly. “And do not try following me everywhere I go in the hopes of keeping an eye on me, either!”

Gimli attempted to look innocent, as if he had not been considering those very ideas, but Legolas was not fooled. “I know you too well, my friend, and if you should attempt to do this, then I will be forced to tie you up and leave you somewhere!” Legolas’s tone was lighter than it had been for days, yet he allowed his face to show how completely serious his threat was.

“You can borrow a rope from Gandalf,” Aragorn suggested innocently, ignoring the dwarf’s glare.

Outside, a bell began to toll mournfully, and Aragorn glanced toward the only window in the room. It faced west, and he could see the orange glow of the sun setting just above the horizon. He sighed, and rubbed a tired hand across his eyes. Behind him, Legolas spoke up.

“Whatever may happen, I hope this whole mess is over soon.”

Aragorn nodded, the same thought running through his head as the three companions turned and left the room.

*****

“It’s not fair!” Pippin exclaimed, stalking up the street from the small armory shop where he had found his friends trying on armor for the expected battle. “I have to sit around and do nothing, while you three fight a battle!”

“You’re not just sitting around doing nothing,” Merry argued, trying vainly to keep pace with the younger hobbit. “I think the job Gandalf gave you is very important.” Merry had to pause briefly and adjust the bundle of armor he held in his hands.

“Besides,” added Sam breathlessly, “you can’t possibly prefer to fight orcs. I myself think it is a nasty business and I am not looking forward to it at all.”

“Do you wish to trade places with me then?” Pippin offered grumpily.

Sam glanced toward Frodo, then shook his head.

“It is not fair!” Pippin repeated, looking totally dejected.

“Come on, Pippin,” Frodo spoke up for the first time. “Merry is right. The job Gandalf gave you is very important.”

Pippin cast a dark glance in his direction. “You think babysitting a bunch of baggage is important,” he muttered angrily.

“Gandalf already explained this to you,” Frodo replied with a sigh. “He does not trust Merton, and he needs someone to keep an eye on all our stuff. He doesn’t want them attempting to riffle through our belongings while we’re busy guarding the city.”

“But why me?” Pippin exclaimed. “I am a warrior of Gondor and should be defending the wall tonight! Why can’t he have chosen someone else? One of the soldiers, maybe.”

“If Gandalf used a soldier, it would be obvious to Merton that he suspects something. We don’t want to outright insult the man!” Frodo was beginning to sound a little exasperated.

“I don’t see why not,” Sam muttered. “The man was more than willing to insult Aragorn this afternoon.”

“That is not the point,” Frodo said, elbowing Sam roughly, and pointedly looking toward Pippin.

“I’m a warrior of Gondor,” Pippin repeated, his tone still injured. "If Aragorn did not want me at his side tonight, he could have just told me."

“Don’t worry, Pip, I am sure there will be lots of opportunities for you to fight in the future," Merry said in an attempt to cheer up the younger hobbit.

Pippin did not respond to this but continued to plod up the road toward the house.

The other three hobbits looked at their friend, realizing that nothing they could say would be able to cheer the distressed hobbit.

“Come on, Pippin,” Frodo said gently. “Let's go see if we can grab a bite to eat!”

*****

The night was completely black, the heavy blanket of clouds blocking out any light the heavens could offer. An unnatural silence hung heavy in the air, all sounds muted by the wet earth. The rain had lessened to a drizzle around dusk, and now it had completely stopped, adding to the unnatural silence. The normal nighttime sounds were strangely missing, as if all of nature lay in tense anticipation of what was to come. A sense of evil lay heavily over the land, almost tangible in its intensity.

The city of Calembel lay quietly at the base of the Ered Nimrais, looking very small and pitiful against the oppressive blackness. Large fires burned within fire pits spaced evenly along the city's wall, the light barely penetrating the darkness that encased the city. Movement could be seen here and there along the wall as soldiers passed before the flames.

Gimli sighed loudly and peered out into the darkness, flexing his shoulders in an attempt to relieve tired muscles. Nothing moved over the rocky ground leading up to the city, and the only sounds were that of the soldiers moving about on the wall. Midnight had come and gone, and Gimli found himself getting anxious. He wanted something to happen, anything, that would break the silent tenseness that lay over the city.

Legolas sat beside the dwarf on the ground, busying himself with sharpening one of his knives. His bow lay on the ground next to him within easy reach. The slight hiss of the knife over the whet stone seemed unnaturally loud in the otherwise still night.

Aragorn stood a few paces off, Arwen at his side, both peering into the darkness. Neither looked tense or worried, merely watchful.

Gimli sighed once more and went to stand next to Aragorn. He peered into the darkness, wishing it was not quite so black. Several more long minutes passed, and Gimli became restless once more. Legolas had finished with his first knife, and was starting on his second.

Gimli glanced at Aragorn, who seemed nothing more than a statue for how still he was standing. "Perhaps they will not venture an attack tonight after all."

The words had barely left Gimli's mouth when the abrupt sound of horns pierced the still night, coming from the direction of the mountains. All upon the wall, save Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Arwen, jumped at the sound.

"I could be wrong," Gimli added, drawing his axe from his belt. Aragorn drew out Anduril with a ring, just as Arwen unsheathed her own slim blade. Legolas calmly put away his knife, grabbed his bow, and jumped to his feet, moving to join his three companions. The horns were growing louder, echoing and reverberating off the high mountain peaks. The sound was completely ominous and dark, speaking of the evil creatures that now approached the city.

"I can hear them coming," Arwen said softly, and Legolas nodded.

"Remember to stay together," Aragorn reminded them all. "We must not offer ourselves as an easy target for Malek. If you fear you are becoming separated, shout out." They all nodded their understanding, waiting tensely for what would come next.

They did not have to wait long. With a final burst of horns, the first wave of orcs broke from the shadows and charged toward the city.

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: littlefish

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 10/11/02

Original Post: 06/26/02

Go to Dark Horizons overview

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