My Aragon Stories
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Land of Light and Shadows: 17. Smoke and Mirrors
The setting sun bathed the scorching desert in colors of pink, orange, and red. The black surface of the Sihal became as a mirror, reflecting the sun’s blinding light back into the desert and adding to it a hint of darkness. It was a beautiful sight in a wild and untamed land, and it was all the more breathtaking for the simple fact that this land would never bow to a master. It would be forever defiant before men, able to kill and maim at whim and fancy, but at times the land deigned to grace men with a beauty that might move one to tears. It was a sea of sand, and its tide was composed of light and shadows, good and evil, changing from one to another with the passage of days and the endless march of years.
But not all were entranced by the display of light and color on the desert’s horizon. Having seen it before and knowing it for merely an act that covered the desert’s true nature, Dashnir stood pressed against a rock wall just inside the tunnels, purposefully keeping his eyes away from the horizon’s light show. Unobserved and shrouded by darkness, he watched quietly as the Rohirrim alternated between watching the sunset and loading their horses. They spoke quietly among one another, laughing and offering subdued songs in honor of the desert’s harsh beauty. By contrast, the Gondorrim were more circumspect, talking occasionally but for the most part carrying out their duties in silence with only one or two awed glances spared for the sunset. As for their leaders, Aragorn and Eomer stood off to one side, conversing in the dimming light and seemingly oblivious to the outside world. Finally, the Haradrim delegates were seeing to their own mounts, keeping a safe distance away from the foreigners and completely ignoring the sunset, for to become fascinated by it was to allow the desert that much more control over oneself.
But perhaps awe in the face of beauty is preferable to the thoughts that plague me now. For of a surety, I am close to failure. Dashnir shook his head and sighed. He should have known better, and he blamed himself for Garat’s fall. He should have seen the signs and moved to stop the other man. It wasn’t that he grieved for Garat’s loss, but there had been uses for him in Haradhur and those uses would now have to be filled by others less skilled. Yet Dashnir himself was also affected by this shadow, and he had not read the warning signs until it was too late and Garat’s blood had already stained the ground. This was an unforeseen development and one that Dashnir would have to face without consulting Asbad. He needed his wits clear and he needed Gondor and Rohan to appear at their best when they entered Haradhur. The shadow upon this company had to be lifted. How this was to be accomplished, he did not know, but it had to be done soon. With each passing moment, the shadow over the elf spread and enveloped more in its grasp.
We should have anticipated this, Dashnir thought bitterly. Or rather, I should have anticipated this. He had broken the connection with Eru’s song before, but he had only done it in men. For them, the blocking spell did not need to be as strong, as a man’s connection to the song was so weak as to be laughable. But for an elf, Dashnir had been forced to set up a wall the likes of which he had never created before, and he should have recognized then that this wall would spread to others. And yet I did not. Possibly I was affected from the very beginning, and I know that I am still affected.
Rubbing his brow, Dashnir tried to concentrate and achieve a mindset of strategy and calculation. The shadow had to be removed, and he could see three ways that this might be accomplished. First, there was Garat’s suggestion that Legolas be killed. This was the easiest option as far as actual implementation, but the consequences were great and Dashnir veered away from it. It was still an option and he still considered it, but he decided it would be a last resort. Another option would be to somehow separate Legolas from the company and strand him in the desert, which would essentially kill him as well but this option might be done in such a way as to alleviate suspicion. Of course, it was possible that Aragorn and Eomer would refuse to lead the company on to Haradhur without the elf, and Dashnir relegated this idea to the realm of last resorts along with his first plan. Finally, the spell could be taken from Legolas. This would return the elven senses to the elf, it would be impossibly difficult to carry out, but it held the least long-term consequences and could be remedied when the company reached Haradhur if it was needed. It was by far the best option, but it was also next to impossible. After Garat’s attack on the elf, the men of Gondor and Rohan were on their guard and the dwarf was refusing to let Legolas stray out of his sight. Even now, as the elf assisted in packing the baggage horses, Gimli was close by and watching.
Somehow, the dwarf would have to be diverted, for the wall had to be removed from Legolas tonight. Dashnir had regained most of the strength he’d lost when misting Eomer’s memory, and he felt confident that he could now take the shadow from the elf’s mind. But he had to catch him alone. He had secretly followed Legolas and Gimli up from the main cavern, hoping that in some dark passage he might accomplish his appointed task, but such was not to be the case. The dwarf was always within arm’s reach of the elf, the elf appeared to have recovered from the blow to his head and would be quite capable of using his weapons if attacked, and the elf’s horse had been skittish and alert, possibly sensing Dashnir’s presence behind them.
Perhaps murder is the only choice open to me, Dashnir reflected. And yet even that would be difficult to arrange. Surely, though, the elf and dwarf will grow tired of one another’s presence. Surely one will wish for a break from the other.
Dashnir stretched his mind back over the course of the journey starting with Dol Amroth and tracking every step of the way until he reached the Sihal where they had taken shelter from the sandstorm. He remembered a few instances in which one had left the other, but not many. They were a nearly inseparable pair, and since the casting of ú-glîr, rarely had they been apart at all for it seemed as though the elf relied upon the dwarf for almost everything. But surely there was something that would drive them apart, even for only a small moment…
And then, like the first spark of a fire appearing in the darkness of night, and idea came to him. It was a simple idea and one that left much to chance, but it was the only thing that Dashnir had to work with. And in light of his press for time, the risk of failure was a risk that he would have to take. In any event, he was not going to sit idle while plans that had been laid down and developed for years were thrown away because of a careless miscalculation on his part. The shadow over Legolas was of his making, and he intended to see that the problems it caused were remedied. Gondor and Rohan would make a strong entrance in Haradhur, the other tribes would feel of their might and strength, and then those same tribes would worship the ones who overthrew the foreign kingdoms.
Or, I shall fail and such a future will be lost to us until the time comes again and the stars align favorably for us, Dashnir thought, reminding himself that he could not afford to lose his mind to dreams of the glories that were to come. His people had not heeded their foresight in past days, but that had changed since Asbad had become the tribal head and appointed Dashnir as his second. Things were different now. They would not repeat the mistakes of the past, nor would they suffer the tragedies that had befallen them to darken the horizons of the future.
His confidence rebuilt, Dashnir disentangled himself from the shadows he had woven as a guard against detection and moved away from the towering rocks of the Sihal. With a sharp eye for all that went forth around him, the man took the reins of his horse and mounted, spurring the animal toward the others as they began mounting. His plan would have to wait until a halt was called for the horses, and he would need all his strength in order to influence those that had to be distracted as well as remove Legolas’s shadow. But Dashnir had not spent sleepless days in conference with Asbad over the minute details of their plan only to let it die here. Fixing a blank expression on his face, Dashnir nudged his horse in the direction of Fastahn. There was much to be done.
* * * *
"How is it that a land so hot during the day can be so cold at night?" Gimli demanded, his hands on Legolas’s waist shaking slightly with chill as Faensul carried them effortlessly over the desert sand.
"There are no clouds to trap the sun’s warmth, Master Dwarf," Legolas answered. "Nor is there aught here that can store the heat much as the Long Lake does for the men of Lake-town. This land is without the blanket of plants, and the chill of night’s touch is unrestrained."
"Thank you for the lesson," Gimli growled as he rolled his eyes. "My question was rhetorical, but since you seem up to answering it, perhaps you could also do something about it."
The dwarf sighed, wondering how elves could be so enlightened and yet at the same time so dense. "About the temperature. Could we not find a happy medium in this climate?"
"Sunrise and sunset seems to be such times."
"Then why cannot the entire day be like those times?"
The elf glanced over his shoulder and raised one fair brow at Gimli. "Do you truly know nothing concerning the seasons and the role of the sun? If this is indeed the case, I shudder to think of what might become when all the Eldar have departed from Middle Earth. We shall leave it in the hands of dwarves and men, and if all dwarves are as ignorant as you seem to be—"
"Is there no elf in all of Arda who can recognize a rhetorical question?!"
Gimli thought he heard a faint chuckle on the part of Legolas and the dwarf inwardly smiled, glad that he was able to maintain the elf’s good humor. Unfortunately, it also meant he was losing this particular verbal sparring match, and that did not sit right with the dwarf. He would have to tip the scales in the near future, but for now, he was content to let Legolas enjoy the upper hand.
"What is the objective in rhetorical questions?" Legolas asked. "For questions are intended to illicit knowledge and information. Rhetorical questions do none of this."
"They are meant more for silent answers and contemplation," Gimli said. "I would think that elves of all beings would appreciate their value in that respect."
"And we do, but what I cannot fathom is their use to a dwarf, for it is well known that dwarves would see no worth in contemplation. Indeed, for most dwarves, their self-identity would not bear up under contemplation, and their stubborn pride would be brutally destroyed by such an event."
"I am surprised that elven arrogance can withstand heavy contemplation," Gimli snorted.
"Is that truly surprising for you? Surely you must realize that elven arrogance is only furthered by contemplation," Legolas said, glancing over his shoulder with a mischievous grin. "When thinking of ourselves and realizing how superior we are, we cannot help but be strengthened, and at times, this adds to our arrogance."
The dwarf rolled his eyes, but his search for a suitable response to this was interrupted by a call for a halt from Aragorn and Eomer. Faensul snorted at this, but he obediently slowed his pace to a walk at Legolas’s urging. For his part, Gimli was glad of the break. He felt the need to stretch his legs, and though Haradhur was close enough that the horses probably did not need to stop, the riders certainly did. Or this rider at least, the dwarf thought to himself, dropping off the back of the horse and thanking the Valar for the feel of solid ground beneath his feet again. He looked up as Legolas joined him on the ground, giving Faensul a pat and a quiet word that Gimli thought meant something about staying close. The horse shook his head and pawed at the sand, seemingly restless.
"He is filled with energy tonight," Legolas murmured, stroking the stallion’s neck. "The rest and the water have done him good."
"Good?" Gimli grimaced. "Good for him, perhaps, but harm for me. Cannot this creature of yours travel the land without seeking out every bump and dip?"
"One cannot ride, Master Dwarf, without expecting the occasional jostle," a new voice spoke up. "I would think you had learned that by now. And as for Legolas’s horse, you would be hard-pressed to find a steadier gait."
"Your opinion does not count, Eomer," Gimli growled. "You have been upon the back of a horse so long that you do not know what it means to walk with a steady gait."
Eomer laughed and shook his head, absently rubbing Shade’s nose as his own stallion decided he wanted part of the attention. "And I suppose you consider your own manner of walk to be a steady one?"
"Being so close to the ground, it can be nothing but steady," Legolas interjected. "He is so short as to be able to see all things that crawl meekly upon the earth and so adjust his stride."
At this point, Gimli decided the sparring had become unfair, for now Eomer had joined with Legolas against the dwarf. Beyond that, Eomer was fairly good at verbal warfare in his own right and Gimli had enough to deal with in battling Legolas alone. He did not need the horse-lord stepping in. This called for a serious upgrade in arsenal, and the dwarf began scouring his memory and his faculties for ammunition.
Unfortunately, Gimli was not allowed to pursue his latest plans for he was interrupted again. This time, though, the new participants were far less welcome. Fastahn and Dashnir stepped forward, lowering their protective scarves as they approached the group. Gimli instinctively glided closer to Legolas as a means of protection, and Legolas edged away from the dwarf with quiet indignation. Gimli shot his friend a sharp glare and jerked his head, indicating for the elf to step back. In response, Legolas narrowed his eyes and stepped even further away, one hand straying to the haft of his knife and the other tightening into a fist.
Fool, Gimli thought as his frustration began to mount. Until you are fully adjusted, you cannot stand alone as once you did. Let me help you, stubborn elf!
But Legolas would not be coddled and looked away from the dwarf, turning his attention to the Haradrim who stopped and bowed slightly before them. "Honored ones," Fastahn said by way of greeting, and Eomer nodded back, stepping forward and taking the lead as was his right.
"May we assist you in some way?" he asked politely, though Gimli judged from the way his hand kept straying to the hilt of his sword that Eomer wished to be anything but polite.
"A small matter, actually, but one that has intrigued us," Fastahn answered. "Upon occasion, we have seen smoke from Gimli’s mouth as well as from the mouth of the King Elessar. Pardon our curiosity, but we are puzzled as to this."
Suspicion was quick to rise in Gimli. Smoking? What need have the Haradrim to inquire as to smoking? The dwarf glanced at Legolas for answers, but the elf seemed equally baffled, his brows knit together and his lips pursed in thoughtful contemplation. Gimli turned his attention then to Eomer, but the king of Rohan appeared to have no more answers than did the other two. But Fastahn and Dashnir were waiting expectantly for a response of some kind to their query, and Eomer shot a quick look at Gimli, inviting the dwarf to step forward.
"Smoking, Fastahn," Gimli eventually said, and though his suspicion continued to rise, he was hard-pressed not to laugh when Legolas grimaced in disgust. "Inhalation from burning pipe-weed. It is quite relaxing and quite pleasurable."
"You would go out of your way to inhale smoke?" Dashnir asked, his voice laced with confusion.
"Not only to inhale smoke but also to affect others around them with its noxious fumes," Eomer said and Legolas nodded in fervent agreement, though the mirth on both their parts was tempered with caution.
"Some here will never understand," Gimli sighed, watching Dashnir and Fastahn out of the corner of his eye.
"And I pray that I will always be among their company," Legolas said.
"What goes forth here?"
Gimli turned as Aragorn strode toward them, silently grateful that the king of Gondor was here to listen to this. Perhaps he would find something in their conversation that the others missed and so unravel somewhat of the Haradrim’s motives.
In contrast, Eomer did not seem so pleased with Aragorn’s arrival. "By your leave, we are discussing smoking," the horse-lord said, and Gimli shivered to hear a hard edge creep into the man’s voice.
"Smoking?" Aragorn echoed, glancing at Dashnir and Fastahn. "A harmless enough topic, I suppose. What has been the conclusion of your discussion?"
"We have not spoken long enough to have reached any sort of conclusion," Fastahn said. "The honored dwarf has been explaining the concept to us, but I fear we are still at something of a loss as to the appeal of burning pipe-weed, as he calls it."
Aragorn frowned and glanced at Eomer, but the king of Rohan was doing a remarkable job of not meeting Aragorn’s eyes. Gimli sighed and looked at Legolas, who was also watching the two with a mixture of frustration and anxiety. With lips pressed tightly together in concern, the elf eventually moved close to Gimli and placed a hand upon his shoulder, squeezing slightly.
"I think Faensul and I shall take our leave of you," he whispered, his voice so low that even Gimli could barely hear it. "My presence seems to be a disturbance to this conversation."
"Then I shall accompany you," Gimli murmured.
In response, the elf tightened his grip on the dwarf’s shoulder and bent over slightly. "You are involved in this conversation, my friend. You cannot so easily take your leave. Besides, I shall have Faensul to warn me if danger approaches, and I promise that I shall take no hasty actions."
Gimli looked as though he was about to argue, but Aragorn chose that moment to speak and he was unable to protest. "Well, Fastahn, let us see if Gimli and I can enlighten you and Dashnir. What information have you given them so far, Master Dwarf?"
Legolas was edging away and Gimli was helpless to stop him. Caught between the king of Gondor’s question and the prince of Mirkwood’s foolishness, Gimli nearly tore out his beard in frustration. But sensing some of this, Legolas gave the dwarf’s shoulder a final squeeze and spoke quietly once more. "Smoking seems an innocent enough subject, and he who we fear is with you. Only keep your eyes upon him and I shall be safe enough with Faensul. And I give you my word, Gimli, that I shall not let the darkness overtake me."
The elf was right, a fact that Gimli hated to admit. His presence was creating a rift between Eomer and Aragorn, and Dashnir was here as well. Legolas should be fine if he left, and with that stallion of his along to keep his mind occupied… With a sigh, Gimli nodded and turned his concentration back to the men, who were looking at him expectantly. Legolas let go of his shoulder and backed away. Gimli heard Faensul snort and knew the horse had been summoned to leave with the elf. It was out of his hands now, and the dwarf could only hope that Legolas knew what he was doing. And while I am hoping for that, I think I shall hope for the evil of Sauron to be completely undone and for the lands of Númenor to be raised from the sea again. Am I daft? Of course Legolas knows not what he is doing! Still, there was nothing to be done about it and Gimli reluctantly let the elf go.
"I have only introduced our delegates to the topic of smoking," the dwarf said in answer to Aragorn’s question. "I am at a loss as to what they wish to know of the art."
"Is it an art?" Fastahn questioned.
"It may be construed as such," Aragorn answered with a slight smile. "Certainly the blowing of smoke rings might be taken for art." The king reached for a pouch hanging on his belt and drew out his own pipe, turning it over in his hands. "Perhaps a demonstration?"
"A demonstration would be much appreciated," Dashnir said, his voice relaxed and conversational. Some of Gimli’s fears began to abate and he studied the man closely. Was it possible that this was only a manifestation of idle curiosity? Did he simply seek conversation to pass the time while the horses recovered their strength?
"Gimli, have you flint and steel?"
Gimli scowled, feeling that Aragorn should know a dwarf would never be caught without flint and steel, but he said naught and quickly searched his own pack for the requested items. "Have you need of aught else?"
"Nay, the pipe-weed is dry and should light easily enough," Aragorn answered, quickly setting to work. It was not long before a small stream of smoke began to drift upward from the pipe, and Aragorn inhaled deeply, seeming to relax a bit as he did so. Opening his mouth, he blew a large smoke ring and then smiled. "If you so desire it, I have an extra pipe you may use if you wish to learn this art."
"I think I shall be content to watch," Fastahn said with a small smile of his own. "We have little fire in the desert and are somewhat wary of it. I should not like it to be so close to my own face."
"Most would agree with you," Eomer said, flicking a glance at Aragorn as he did so, but there was humor now instead of censure in his gaze.
Legolas was right to leave insofar as Eomer and Aragorn are concerned, Gimli thought. I only hope he does not find trouble for himself. "Eomer is among those not enlightened enough to enjoy this," Gimli said aloud. "And may I have my steel and flint back?" Now that Aragorn had started, he felt the need for a good smoke himself. He usually didn’t smoke around Legolas because he knew how much the elf loathed it, but now that the elf was elsewhere, Gimli saw no reason as to why he should not indulge in a bit of relaxation himself. After all, Legolas had given him great cause for stress and grief during the past few days.
"How did this inhalation of smoke come about?" Fastahn asked, waving at a smoke ring that drifted too close to him.
"Ah, that is a long story and one that has been debated by some. However, most will agree that smoking began with hobbits. A valiant hobbit by the name of Meriadoc Brandybuck is compiling a history on the subject, and it seems clear by the records he has found that hobbits were the first to smoke and the first to successfully grow pipe-weed." Aragorn shook his head and smiled slightly. "It is interesting to note that they call it an art among themselves."
"Hobbits…" Fastahn trailed off and shook his head. "I am afraid I am unfamiliar with these people. Are they of a separate northern kingdom?"
Gimli snorted as he drew slowly upon his own pipe. "The day that hobbits form a kingdom will be the day that elves begin mining. They live together as a community, but theirs is a primitive society. They are a simple people who live by simple rules."
"Perhaps you would know them better by the term halflings," Aragorn said.
Fastahn was silent for a moment as he searched his mind for that word. "Perhaps…" he eventually said. "We have some legends that were passed down to us, and in them there is mention of a halfling race. I recall them as a little people who appear and disappear at will, yet these are but by myths and fables from an older time. Or so we have thought."
"So many have thought," Aragorn said.
"What did Harad hear concerning the fall of Sauron?" Eomer asked curiously.
Fastahn’s face darkened for a moment and he shook his head. "We knew very little for quite some time, save that the servants of Mordor who watched many of the tribes were suddenly called away. It was as though a summons came to them, and they left to answer it but never returned. There was great upheaval in the desert because of this, for many of the warrior tribes were left leaderless. The Khurintu and Warra tribes were among these, and it was only after great turmoil and strife that Asbad and Joranen came to lead. After that, tales drifted down from the northern tribes, particular Portu, and we gradually learned much of what happened. We learned more from the emissaries sent by Gondor and Dol Amroth."
"Did you know aught of Isildur’s bane or the part played by the halflings?" Eomer pressed, his curiosity now getting the better of him.
"Of Isildur’s bane we heard a rumor," Fastahn answered. "But we know not what the word meant nor how it contributed to Sauron’s fall. But know that many of us were grateful that his influence had been taken from the desert. Too often it had drawn our young men away to war."
Gimli grunted and wondered what Dashnir’s response to that would be, but when he turned to look for the man, he was met with a shock. His body grew cold and his heart began to pound wildly. He had been charged with one task by his elven friend, and he had failed miserably.
"I know as well as any the costs of war," Aragorn was saying behind him. "But this is an ill time to speak of such things, and we have lingered long enough. Come. We must be on our way again. Where is Legolas, Gimli?"
Gimli turned to face the king, his hands clutching the haft of his axe so tightly he felt he might break it. "A good question, that. But I have a better one. Where is Dashnir?"
* * * *
There is beauty here, though one must search for it, Legolas decided, watching as the waning moon rose into the sky and cast its silver glow over the silent sand. If there was a bit more life, this desert might even be considered somewhat pleasant. He tipped his head into the face of a breeze that rippled up from the south and sighed, wishing to listen to the melody of the wind and the tidings it might bring. He longed for even a single tree that could hear his voice and respond in kind, whispering of green grass and mountains. Never had he felt so constrained or so limited. The world was a silent wasteland bathed in silver and senses were limited to the objective and the concrete. If this was what it meant to be mortal, he wondered how Arwen could have accepted such a life. Love was a powerful emotion, yes, but to willingly part with an elf’s unique connection to the song of life…that was indeed a great sacrifice and Legolas wondered if Aragorn understood just how much Arwen had given up.
With a shake of his head, Legolas hearkened back to the promise he’d made to Gimli earlier. He could not let the shadow overtake him so easily, but without the dwarf’s presence, it seemed impossible to keep his focus. Something about Gimli anchored the elf, and though he would never openly admit it, Legolas was of the guarded opinion that without the dwarf he might have crossed the border into insanity shortly after falling beneath ú-glîr. As it was, he was barely holding his own, and it seemed he fought a losing battle. How does Arwen manage? he demanded. How is it that she endures? Legolas attempted to find something to explain the fact that Elrond’s daughter was coping remarkably well with a mortal existence, but the answers he found gave him no clues for his own fight. Arwen was not a full elf and as such her connection to Ilúvatar’s song had been slightly weaker. She was also not completely blocked as Legolas was, and she had her love for Aragorn to strengthen her. Of her advantages, Legolas could only claim an unbreakable friendship with Gimli, and it seemed that this would no longer be enough.
Nor is it now even enough to hold me to a promise, the elf sighed. His mind was wandering again, dwelling on darkness rather than light, and he was once more falling into shadow. Looking about for something else on which to focus, his eyes finally came to rest on Faensul, who was now frolicking about with all the enthusiasm and playfulness of a colt. Their halt had initially been called for the sake of the horses, but the elven stallion apparently considered this a poor reason to stop. He was taking no care to preserve his energy and was racing across the desert, stopping abruptly to see the sand fly up around him. He would then dig about in it, snort, and eventually race off again, occasionally spinning fast circles and racing through the cloud of dust that churned up in his wake. Legolas wondered if he should call the horse back but decided instead to trust in the steed’s wisdom. Faensul knew his limits and would not overexert himself. In any case, Haradhur was not far away now and the pace they set was an easy one. Even the horses of Gondor were having no difficulty with this night’s journey.
"Does he ever tire, honored one?"
The elf froze, certain he had been quite alone, and swiftly began running through the list of beings capable of approaching him from behind without his knowledge. Several talented scouts in the service of his father came to mind as well as a few warriors from Lothlórien and Rivendell, but other than elves, Legolas could think of no one with the ability to take him by surprise in this barren stretch of Arda. His senses might now be limited, but he was growing more alert to compensate for this handicap. It should not have been possible for anyone in the company to catch him so unaware.
Turning slowly with narrowed, suspicious eyes, Legolas found himself confronting Dashnir. To the eyes of even a diminished elf, the man appeared a little too innocent and a little too curious. The prince might have discerned more had he the full use of his elven senses, but he did not and so had to rely on reasoning and intuition rather than known facts. "Faensul was bred by the Eldar and born of a proud lineage," Legolas answered quietly, continuing to study the delegate from the Khurintu tribe and wondering if Aragorn could teach him how to analyze another individual as a man might. "As such, he is among the greatest horses known to Middle Earth."
Dashnir nodded as though this satisfied his curiosity and continued to watch Faensul. "He is a beautiful animal. I have never seen his like unless it be in Eomer’s stallion, Shade. Our own mounts pale in comparison to such spirit and pride."
The elf said nothing, for no answer or response had been specifically requested of him. It was a trick he’d watched his father employ with some success when dealing with the Beorings and the men of Lake-town. Until directly questioned by another, the superior in a dialogue was under no obligation to make any comment. A lesser mind might prattle on for minutes before realizing that the conversation’s other participant had said nothing. Once that realization came about, it created a sense of embarrassment and chagrin that a talented mind could easily exploit and manipulate. Legolas did not hold with many of his father’s political views and theories, but as a dutiful son occasionally constrained to sit through long hours of court, he had watched and learned. Distasteful as this was, upon reflection, the prince had come to realize that he could employ most of his father’s tactics for reasons other than those of coercion. He did so now.
"Would that all our horses had such speed and stamina," Dashnir continued when Legolas remained silent. "We could race from one hidden lake to another without conserving our strength or our water." He glanced at the elf, inviting him to comment, but Legolas still said nothing, opting instead to favor the man with a scrutinizing look laced with suspicion. Dashnir studied him for a brief moment much as the prince was currently studying him and then smiled. Legolas suddenly had a rather disconcerting feeling that the man knew exactly what the elf was doing, and this feeling was strengthened by the fact that Dashnir included a question in his next comment. "Rumors and myths among my people claim that elves have exceptional sight. Can you see our next destination?"
Legolas had never felt more like attacking someone than he did just then. Even the spiders of Mirkwood and the Orcs of Sauron had failed to rouse such anger in the elf. But he could never justify an outright attack for what might possibly be construed as an innocent question—though if that was an innocent question then I am a dwarf!—and so he struggled to control and contain his growing rage while keeping his face innocently blank. "I am uncertain as to the direction," the elf eventually answered, turning his gaze away from Dashnir and back into the desert. "I know not if what I see is Haradhur."
"Then allow me to aid you." The man stepped forward and pointed almost due south, his expression bland and his voice conversational. "Our path lies that way. Can you see the structures of the city now?"
Once again, Legolas was overcome by an overwhelming desire to strike Dashnir. Analyzing this feeling, he decided it probably came from long association with Gimli, for the dwarf would sooner resort to physical violence than to a war of words. However, the elf was still rather surprised with himself. He hadn’t felt this upset in quite a while and he was not entirely convinced that the fault lay solely with Gimli. Even the dwarf might pause at an outright attack on the delegate from Khurintu. No, not might. He did pause before attacking, for he woke me to discuss his anger and his feelings two days ago. In this, Gimli has proven himself more capable of dealing with rage than I! Legolas shook his head slightly, attempting to get his thoughts back on track, and adopted a cool, uncaring expression. "I see many things," he said with as much control as he could muster. "Which of these might be Haradhur, though, is not within my knowledge."
"Ah." Dashnir did not appear to be fooled. He turned his head to the desert and then stepped back toward the elf, placing a casual hand on Legolas’s shoulder. "Then perhaps you should look harder."
Suddenly uneasy with the man’s touch, Legolas moved as though to shrug it off, but Dashnir’s grip tightened suddenly and painfully. The elf felt a jolt of something race through his frame, and then it was as though the world dropped from a veil of shadow into a realm of light. His mind reeled with sensory overload as a burst of song echoed in his ears and the desert suddenly focused into vibrant, acute detail. At the same time, he felt something pulled violently from his mind as though the bandages of a scabbing wound had been ripped away. He felt himself falling and the world that had suddenly become so bright and vivid fell back into a deep shadow. And into that shadow fell also the elf, scrambling for a hold that would slow his descent but unable to find any purchase on the cloud of darkness that overwhelmed him.
By the time he hit the ground, Legolas was unconscious.
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