27. Arrow of the Haradrim
"What is it?" Arathorn yelled, sprinting down into the main room of the Prancing Pony.
"Demons!" a man wailed, gesturing wildly.
"What are you talking about?"
"There's a demon outside! It's dressed in black! It shot my friend!"
"It's just orcs," the barkeep said. "They've been getting rowdy again. The gates are closed, aren't they?"
"It's a demon!" the man screamed. "It's a demon!"
Arathorn sighed. Everyone was looking at him. He could feel their eyes on him, asking him what to do. That was the problem with being the chief of the Rangers. They all expected him to fix everything.
"Is everything all right?"
Arathorn glanced up at the stairs. Gilraen was there, holding their young son in her arms.
"Yes, everything's fine," he said. "Go back to sleep."
She nodded, but cast the distraught man a wary glance.
"What makes you think it's a demon?" Arathorn asked once his wife was gone.
"There was a horseman in the road. My friend and I, we're farmers. We were coming to town with some grain –"
"This late at night?"
"We're coming all the way from Tharbad!"
"Tharbad's in ruins."
"Outlying lands aren't."
Arathorn nodded, not sure whether or not to trust this man.
"We saw the horseman," the man said. "We stopped and greeted 'im. He didn't say nothing! And then he started coming closer. It was as cold as the grave, but it just kept getting colder. I started feeling really funny."
"What do you mean?"
"Like…like there was no hope in the world. Like there was just death and oblivion. Horrible things."
"And then what?"
"The thing attacked! It cut my friend's head clean off!"
"What did you do?"
"What do you think I did? Jumped off the cart and started running. I only stopped when I got here!"
"Are you sure it wasn't a brigand? There have been an increase in bandits lately."
The man shook his head. "It was a demon! Horrible feeling!"
Arathorn sighed. "I'll go out in the morning and see what it is."
There was a loud commotion outside the inn. Customers hurried to the windows, and then they ran back, shrieking.
"What is it?" Arathorn yelled.
"The demon!" the man screamed. "It's coming!"
Arathorn's hand went to his sword as the inn door swung open. A figure dressed in black entered.
The inn went mad.
A cold, clammy feeling gripped Arathorn. He had to warn Gilraen, but what was the point? They would die. Everyone would die. The dark would win.
"No!" he exclaimed and pushed through the crowd. He reached the stairs and bolted up them.
"What's wrong?" Gilraen gasped.
Arathorn almost smiled. She was dressed in traveling clothes, a long dagger hanging at her waist. Their child was all bundled up and on her back.
"You need to leave," Arathorn said. "There is some…creature here. Go to Rivendell. That has always been a refuge."
"Will I see you again?" Gilraen asked, kissing him on the cheek.
"I doubt it."
She nodded and blinked back tears. The Dunedain women had become accustomed to losing their men. "Go," she said. "Whatever it is, it is after you. Lead it away from here."
Arathorn nodded. "I plan to."
He ran back down the stairs. There were bodies in the room. The demon-thing was fighting off three men and it appeared to be winning.
"Hey!" Arathorn cried.
There was a brief moment of stillness in which everyone stopped fighting, stopped moving. Then the thing struck one man in the chest, kicked another in the knee, and brought its sword pommel onto the last man's head.
Arathorn bolted out of the inn's front door, running for the stables. There was a black horse in the street. He was tempted to seize it, but it was the demon's horse, he knew. It would throw him in an instant.
"I need my horse!" he screamed at the stable boy.
"My horse! Where is it?"
"Right over there."
Arathorn ran to the horse and threw the stable door open. He saw the demon already on its steed. It was waiting for him in the street. But there was nowhere else to go.
He didn't have time to saddle the horse. It knew him well enough that it shouldn't try to throw him.
"Come on, boy," Arathorn whispered to the horse. "One last ride. Come on."
The horse raced out of the stable, galloping so fast Arathorn's deathgrip on its mane was only just barely enough to keep him on its back.
The black horse was after him, chasing him down. It was fast, but Arathorn's horse was faster. For now. If this horse was anything like its master then it may have strange qualities of its own.
The gates of Bree were open and both Arathorn and his pursuer raced through them, one right after another.
Would he be able to lose this demon in the woods? Arathorn wondered. Would he even be able to stay on his horse?
Down the road he went. His horse was beginning to slow, foam flying from its mouth. It had run too fast and was starting to collapse.
"No, no, a little longer," Arathorn whispered. "Please!"
The horse faltered once and slowed considerably. Looking behind him, Arathorn saw the black rider closing. It raised a bow.
"Faster! Faster!" Arathorn yelled at his horse, but the poor thing could go no faster nor further. It stumbled, almost falling.
The rider set an arrow to the bowstring and pulled it back. The first shot went wild, whizzing over Arathorn's head. There was a sharp curse, but then another arrow was drawn back.
Arathorn gasped as the arrow sped toward him. It seemed to him that time slowed down, but he slowed along with it. He could not get out of the way, but could only watch as the arrow came closer and closer.
There was a loud thunk as it struck him through the eye. Arathorn pitched forward off his horse and lay on the ground, unmoving.
The black rider stopped near the body and looked down at it. Then they jumped down and prodded Arathorn in the side.
"Yup, he's dead."
Khamul pried the arrow out of Arathorn's eye and cleaned it off. Did he have a child? She didn't know. If he didn't, she'd just killed the last heir of Isildur. It was strangely unfulfilling though, and she suspected that a last heir still lurked…somewhere. They were damn hard to find when they didn't want to be found.
Replacing the arrow in her quiver, Khamul jumped back on her horse. Where to now? Whatever Dunedain hideouts she knew of. Perhaps the heir would be there. If he even existed.
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.