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Land of Light and Shadows: 19. Desert Politics

"You released the elf from ma’awnwa?"

"It seemed far more dangerous to leave him shrouded than to arrange for a temporary reprieve, honored one," Dashnir answered.


"The role of the dwarf was unanticipated and ultimately detrimental. The elf learned too quickly to compensate for limited senses and abilities. Garat’s death is proof enough of that. Though severely lacking in other areas, Garat was a warrior to be feared in combat, and for the elf to come away from a battle to the death with naught but a knock on the head to show for it…he adapted because of pressure from the dwarf. The adaptations had to stop. Moreover, ma’awnwa was beginning to spread its influence to other members of the party. King Elessar was becoming hesitant, King Eomer was becoming brash, my own mind was filled with uncertainties, and Garat went out of his way to attack the elf."

"You are certain Garat was shadowed and not merely acting on the whims of his heart?"

"Even had he been acting on a whim, he would have chosen a better place and a better time to attack the elf. He was too smart to do what he did, leaving me to believe that he had been affected. And after Garat’s death, there was no way of predicting who might lose control next. I believe it was only a matter of time before King Eomer chose to strike. He had already confronted Garat once, though I suspect it was my own neck that he sought."

"And so you released the elf from ma’awnwa." Asbad, tribal head of Khurintu, sighed and tipped his head back, studying the ceiling of the tent and running through the possible consequences of this chain of events.

"Understand that I would have consulted with you, honored one, but there was little time and the shadow had already caused one death and several complications."

"Nay, think not that I censure you, Dashnir," Asbad said, shaking his head in dismissal of the issue. "Under the circumstances, I suspect I would have done likewise. We are dealing with beings passed down to us from myths and legends. Their ways are not our ways, and it will take time to truly understand them. Your recommendation for a change in plans was timely and prudent. Still, the fact that the elf’s senses have been returned to him does complicate matters."

"But initially, should he not be disregarding feelings of unease or foreboding because of the euphoria that accompanies the lifting of ma’awnwa? Overconfidence is a normal side-effect, and I saw traces of it in the elf as we rode toward Haradhur."

"Initially, yes, he will be overconfident, but that will disappear by the middle of the night, possibly earlier. It will not last long enough for our purposes. And plans cannot be moved forward unless we wish to risk two days in the desert instead of one while we await the rendezvous."

"It would be possible."

"It would also be foolish. Risks must be taken, that is true, but unnecessary risks should be avoided."

"Would that we had learned the other ways of blocking Eru’s song," Dashnir sighed. "Lord Sauron’s fall was unanticipated, and much of our people’s knowledge was lost with the destruction of our greatest captains."

"Yearn not for what cannot be," Asbad said sharply. "We have used what skills were gifted to us, and our training does not suffer for want of Mordor’s guidance. If anything, the fall of Lord Sauron gives us more opportunities than ever before. Where that realm failed, ours shall succeed. But we must maintain our focus. To be drawn away by the impossible shall prove our undoing."

Dashnir’s mouth tightened slightly but he nodded and Asbad turned his attention away from his second-in-command and back to the problem now facing them. Their plan should still work if all the pieces came together, but the loss of Garat cost them the rebellious faction of the Warra tribe. Unless things could be arranged quickly, Khurintu would not be able to rely on Warra for support in the final attack and would be forced to stand alone. And if this happened, then the forces of Gondor and Rohan would have to be sufficiently weakened and divided so that Khurintu’s gamble did not become an ignominious defeat. This was where Dashnir’s idea, inspired by the loyalty he had seen beside Lake Supt, came into play. Yet problems still plagued them, and elven senses were among the most prominent difficulties they faced.

"Tell me again what you learned of the Rohirrim," Asbad said eventually, glancing back at his subordinate.

"They are impetuous and bold, almost to a fault," Dashnir answered, his eyes going vacant for a moment as he thought back over his journey. "Their leader harbors private insecurities that the sundering of Eru’s song brought to the forefront. King Eomer secretly believes himself to be looked down upon, and he loathes assumed authority over his riders. Nevertheless, he does harbor a deep respect for King Elessar and he will follow his guidance up to a point. In times of crisis, the bond between Gondor and Rohan seems to be forged anew, no matter what differences come between the two kings. But once the crisis has passed, conflicts of opinion tend to unravel their alliance. Still, they are not easily divided."

"You also mentioned that the Rohirrim seemed especially anxious when your company was forced to take refuge from the sandstorm in the Sihal," Asbad said, his black eyes fixing themselves upon Dashnir.

"That is true, honored one. The elf, also, seemed uneasy with this turn of events. I do not think they like to be confined, which assumption would be backed by the environment and the lands in which they live. Spies report that Rohan is a land of open plains and rolling hills, with mountains to be found only on the borders of the land."

"Think you that they shall feel uncomfortable confined to Haradhur?" Asbad questioned.

"Perhaps," Dashnir said. "Yet they showed few signs of discomfort in Dol Amroth, and in that place they were sequestered in Prince Imrahil’s fortress."

Asbad nodded, processing this information and integrating it with what was already known. "The Warra contingent guarding the hidden lake from the Portu tribe, do they know yet of Garat’s death? They were part of the secret faction beneath his command."

"I have sent no messages to them. The Warra tribe here in Haradhur might have informed them now that they know of Garat’s fall, but I think that unlikely. I doubt Joranen even knows that a part of his forces are harassing the Portu tribe and threatening to cut off their water. Garat seemed subtle enough in that, at least."

"And I doubt not that he was aided by his superior’s own stupidity. Joranen always was a fool, and his incompetent managing of the Warra tribe will yet be his undoing," Asbad sighed with a shake of his head. "But this now turns to our advantage. The Portu tribe shall again aid us, though they may be reluctant to do so."

"Those here in Haradhur have sworn an oath of vengeance against me for my part in Bron’s death," Dashnir remarked with what might have been a smile.

Asbad chuckled, and something akin to a smile also crept over his weathered face. "The Portu tribe has sworn many oaths of vengeance against both of us. I wonder how many we may collect ere we destroy them completely. An amusing tribe, Portu." Asbad shook his head, turning his thoughts back to the problems that they faced. "Well, let us put Portu to good use. Bring in their leader, Radarad, and I shall have words with him. Also, send a hawk in Garat’s name to the Warra warriors and instruct them to once again cut off access to the hidden lake that the women and children of Portu use. It may be necessary to employ some leverage with Radarad for this next step."

"The sun is now an hour into the sky, honored one," Dashnir cautioned. "Radarad will not wish to meet with you, and the hawk will be hard-pressed to travel the distance necessary for such a message."

"It matters not if the hawk survives so long as we may say that a message has been sent and that the Portu tribe shall perish if Radarad does not follow our instructions," Asbad said. "And as for Radarad himself, inform him of the consequences should he ignore a summons from me. He is well aware of what happened to his predecessor."

Dashnir grinned and sketched a short bow. "It shall be as you wish, honored one. Will you require my presence for this meeting, or shall I retire for the day?"

"Nay, you need not be with me," Asbad said. "That you deliver the summons is enough for Radarad to know that Khurintu is united in this. We are not divided as is Warra, nor shall we ever be so undisciplined. Rest, Dashnir, and store up your strength for the days to come. You shall be my eyes and ears among the subordinates this coming night, and I will expect a full report of your findings come tomorrow morning."

"Then I bid you a pleasant rest after your…discussion with Radarad," Dashnir said, his smile edged by a steely glint in his eyes. "And might I ask for a report of this meeting come evening?"

"Gladly will I give it," Asbad said, clapping the other man on the back. "For Portu’s attempts at political maneuvering are a comedy to be shared by all."

* * * *

It was late in the afternoon when Aragorn woke. For a short moment, he was conscious of nothing but the oppressive heat that bore down upon him, causing rivers of perspiration to trickle down from his thick hair and soak the back of his under tunic. Not that the moisture was doing much in the way of cooling him. The heat was too great for that. With a slight grunt, Aragorn managed to summon enough energy to wipe the back of his hand across his brow. His strength seemed to be sapped by the day’s temperatures and he silently cursed the Haradrim for choosing such an inhospitable land in which to dwell.

After the heat, the next thing to catch Aragorn’s heat-dulled senses was the fact that he was not the only one awake. With a frown, he slowly turned his head to the side and searched the tent. His sharp eyes roamed over the splayed form of Eomer who murmured somewhat at his dreams, the snoring dwarf who might have seemed oblivious to the heat were it not for the fact that his beard was almost dripping with sweat, and the empty pallet of mats where Legolas had gone to sleep earlier that day.

But where is that elf now? Aragorn wondered, searching the rest of the tent and finding no sign of Mirkwood’s prince. Slightly alarmed, he managed to raise himself up on one arm and conduct a more thorough search of the tent. He found Legolas’s bow and quiver, but he could not find Legolas. It was a measure of consolation to see that the elf’s silver-hafted hunting knife also seemed to be missing, but Aragorn’s concern continued to rise.

He has only just recovered from ú-glîr. What is he thinking? Only a fool takes his chances by braving the sun in the middle of the day. Surely even an elf has better sense than that! But even as this thought crossed his mind, Aragorn was forced to remind himself that this particular elf was Legolas, and Legolas had a habit of not only looking for trouble but of also successfully finding it. And in addition to that, he has also occasionally managed to bring said trouble back with him so that all his friends might enjoy it.

With a groan for the effort this would cost him and for the fact that he was doing this during the hottest time of the day, Aragorn rolled to his feet and wiped his face free of sweat. He had been right. That motion had cost him dearly, and the king of Gondor intended to see that Legolas was the one to pay the price. When I find that elf, I’ll—

But Aragorn was not allowed to speculate further on what exactly he was going to do to Legolas, for at that moment, Legolas parted the tent flap and entered. He blinked once at finding Aragorn waiting for him but then nodded pleasantly and started to return to his corner of the tent.

"Where were you?" Aragorn demanded, feeling as though he was speaking to a wayward child.

Apparently, the feeling was shared by Legolas, for the elf arched one elegant eyebrow and turned to study Aragorn with air of an elven lord who has been greatly offended.

Sighing, Aragorn rolled his eyes, shook his head, and decided to try another tactic. "Legolas, it is the middle of the afternoon. May I inquire—solely for the sake of my own curiosity—as to what prompted you to rise and leave the tent?"

Slightly mollified, Legolas’s rigid posture relaxed and his eyes lost some of the burning elven intensity that could turn a man inside out. "I received a warning and chose to investigate."

Aragorn frowned. "A warning? What form did this warning take?"

"The form of a messenger who wished to speak with me. I judged it would be best if such a discussion were done away from the tent so as not to disturb the rest of my companions." Legolas then fell silent, apparently under the impression that he had said all that needed to be said.

"I suppose that you know what Gimli will do to you when he hears of this," Aragorn said after the silence turned uncomfortable.

The elf stiffened and fixed Aragorn with a dangerous glare. "Why should the dwarf hear of this?"

"Because you are not supplying me with the details of your warning and your discussion."

Legolas’s eyes narrowed and he studied the king of Gondor for a minute or two as if evaluating the seriousness of his threat. At length, he nodded reluctantly. "Very well, then. If you say nothing of this to Gimli, I shall tell you what I have learned this day."

"Done," Aragorn said, sitting down and gesturing for the elf to do likewise.

"Arabano," Legolas said after he was seated. "He spoke to me somewhat early in the morning ere departing for his own tribe. His words were vague and he spoke as one who is not entirely sure of his leader’s intents, but the possibility of an alliance with the Lotessa tribe was mentioned. That possibility has now become a tentative offer, but it seems as though Lotessa wishes it not to be known. Thus, they are using Arabano as a quiet diplomat."

Aragorn was silent for a moment, thinking this new development over. "The Lotessa tribe has long held an unspoken disdain for Khurintu," he said at length, choosing his words with care. "And the feeling is more than reciprocated. Yet both tribes have been content to let distance shield them from one another, for Lotessa rarely ventures north and Khurintu does not stray further south than Haradhur. Did Arabano say aught else?"

"Earlier before the gates of Haradhur, he warned me that Gondor and Rohan may need to ally themselves with Lotessa in order to combat the threat of Khurintu. He said much the same thing a moment ago. Unfortunately, he does not seem to know what Khurintu intends. Nor have I been unable to determine whether the Lotessa tribe is looking for power in its own right or whether it seeks to provide a counterbalance for Khurintu."

"And that question is the key," Aragorn murmured. "Lotessa is a tribe of warriors and raiders much like Khurintu, but being so far south, they were somewhat independent of Sauron’s policies. If pressed, I think I would place my trust with them rather than with Khurintu, but that does not mean that they do not have their own agenda." He paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts, and then turned back to the elf. "When had you planned to inform me of this? It was clear you did not wish to when you returned."

"You needed your rest, Aragorn," Legolas explained with a shrug. "Your blood is Númenórean, but you are still mortal and it seems to me that you have a tendency to forget that. I was planning to tell you tonight ere the Gathering began."

Anger rippled through Aragorn for a moment and his gaze turned dark. "If I had need of a healer to watch over me, I would have brought one with us."

"But you did not, and as your friend, I have taken upon myself that duty," Legolas answered, not in the least intimidated by Aragorn’s forbidding glare. The elf smiled then, his expression softening and his voice growing quiet. "Peace, Estel. I only look now for your wellbeing as you looked for mine while I labored beneath ú-glîr. Allow me to return the favor, if I may, and so ease the debt I feel. Or fight me if you will, it matters not. You are not the only one with the tricks of a healer, for I have learned much through observation and I will make you sleep yet if you attempt to defy me."

Aragorn blinked, somewhat surprised by these words, and then a chuckle escaped him. "My apologies, Legolas. I fear you are right. I have not obtained enough sleep, and this heat has made me short of temper. Still, that cannot be helped now. It is late enough in the afternoon that the search for rest would be wasted upon me. Let us speak further upon the matter of Arabano and the Lotessa tribe. Hopefully, between a prince of Mirkwood and a Ranger of the north, we may find some solutions."

"At the very least we shall weary ourselves with thoughts of potential political intrigue and so allow boredom to send us to sleep," Legolas said.

"Politics of the Haradrim are never boring, Legolas" Aragorn said with a wry smile. "I doubt very much that they shall send us to sleep."

"Say on, then, and teach me the ways of politics that never bore," Legolas said. "If what you say is true, perhaps this Gathering will yet be interesting."

"A Gathering is always interesting from a political standpoint, but this one…" Aragorn shook his head. "Foreign powers have never before been invited to a Gathering. Something special is planned."

"It seems that fate has destined us to meet with singularly special circumstances," Legolas sighed. "But come. The minutes drag by, and even as an immortal, I feel the passage of time. Let us take what counsel we may, and I am certain that we will find a way to circumvent whatever plans are laid for us."

"Mayhap," Aragorn said, but a strange feeling had begun to grow in his heart. It was a feeling of foreboding and doom much as he had endured after the decision to brave Moria. It was also the same feeling that had haunted him on the grass of Parth Galen moments before Boromir fell to the arrows of the Orcs. Yet how shall I apply this warning? Aragorn demanded silently. There was little enough that I could do for Gandalf in Moria, and though I should have spoken to Boromir earlier, I know not how his death could have been averted. What is the use of these feelings when I can do naught to prevent mishap and danger?


The king of Gondor shook his head and looked up at Legolas’s questioning gaze, only now realizing that he had lost himself in thought. "My apologies," he said. "It was but an errant thought. We were speaking of Lotessa, correct?"

"Correct. Are you ill?"

Aragorn scowled and sent the elf a rather dark glare. "Must I remind you that there is a healer in our company but that the healer is not you?"

"Nay, I remember well enough. But I think that perhaps the healer should look more to his health than to his pride."

"And who are you to lecture me concerning pride?!"

Legolas laughed, and at the elf’s merriment, Aragorn felt some of his feelings ease. "I am but the youngest son of Thranduil and a prince of little standing in Mirkwood’s realm, particularly since I named Gimli elvellon," Legolas answered at length. "I know my place and I know to take care of my wellbeing."

"I doubt that very much," Aragorn snorted. "But such things may wait for a later time. Let us turn our minds again to the desert tribes. As you said before, time marches on regardless of our pleas to the contrary, and we have much to discuss."

* * * *

Much as he had on almost every morning for several days now, Eomer woke to find himself drenched in sweat. With a tired sigh, he wondered how he was still alive, for he did not think he drank nearly enough water at night to compensate for the day’s perspiration. He also wondered how the horses fared. Eomer had observed that Shade was not performing at his usual level, and he gave the desert full credit for the decline in energy and speed.

Quietly cursing the sand and heat that made up this wretched land, Eomer rolled off his side and onto his back, blinking his eyes open and staring at the white roof of the tent. The exact time was difficult to tell because there were now spacious buildings surrounding their encampment that blocked the sun, but Eomer judged sunset to be roughly an hour or so away. An hour until the desert finally begins to cool, he sighed. And an hour after that until the Gathering begins, or so I remember from Aragorn’s words. There shall be much to do in that latter hour, but activity must needs be kept to a minimum at present. What, then, shall I do for the next hour?

Eomer grimaced and stretched slightly. There was actually quite a bit that could be done during the next hour, but he recognized in himself an anxious twitch that almost always precluded any diplomatic function. Words were not his strong suit, a fact that had been thoroughly driven home after several disastrous arguments with Gríma Wormtongue before Theoden. Eomer was quite perceptive and had an uncanny ability to see the heart of a situation while diplomats danced around the subject, but he had not the talent for persuasion, and when pressed, he quickly lost what little tact he possessed. Consequently, he ruled more by actions than by words, but in this situation, at least for now, words were the weapon of choice.

Aragorn, on the other hand, was quite adept at both actions and words, a consequence of growing up with a Ranger’s training in an elven household. From Elrond he had learned the ways of verbal warfare, from Elrond’s sons he had learned the ways of physical combat, and from Glorfindel he had learned to achieve a balance between his abilities. A pang of jealousy flashed through Eomer, but he quickly shoved the feeling away. He could no more fault Aragorn for the circumstances of his upbringing than he could fault Gimli for having been born a dwarf. Still, it did irk Eomer that he would have to allow Aragorn to take the lead in the upcoming negotiations. Had Legolas still been shadowed beneath ú-glîr, Eomer might have been so upset that his judgement would have given way to anger. Fortunately, this was not the case, but there was still a lingering feeling of competition as far as Eomer was concerned. Gondor was more powerful than Rohan and garnered more respect from other lands, and this was something that did not sit well with the lord of the Mark. Did not Rohan ride to Gondor’s rescue and so drive Sauron’s forces from the very gates of Minas Tirith herself? Did not Eomer’s own sister slay the Witch-King as he cast his fell shadow upon the West? And did not Rohan stand with Gondor before Mordor during that last, terrible battle before the Morannon when it seemed as though all hope had failed?

"I need breakfast," Eomer muttered to himself, recognizing that his current thoughts were more a part of his overall anxiety than a part of his slight grudge against Gondor’s far-reaching power. "And after that, I must find something that will occupy my mind."

Pushing himself into a sitting position, Eomer glanced around the tent and made a rather strange and startling discovery: Aragorn and Legolas were both gone. With a frown, the horse-lord stood and looked about, seeking any sign that might inform him as to where the king and the elf had gone. Andúril was missing as was Legolas’s knife, but the elf’s bow and quiver lay beside his empty bed. Perhaps they are in one of the buildings, Eomer mused. Aragorn had explained that in this section of Haradhur, the buildings were actually elaborate shelters built around wells and were open to travelers for refuge. Shaded and near water, they provided a relatively cool place to wait out the day. Gondor and Rohan, though, had elected to camp outside the buildings. Aragorn had also mentioned that the buildings were favorite hiding places for assassins and thieves, for there was a maze of twisting corridors connecting various wells and countless places that would provide cover for a man possessed of ill intentions. Eomer had understood the need for wariness then, but at the moment, his desire for relief from the heat was overwhelming caution. In addition to that, he was intensely curious as to what had prompted Aragorn and Legolas into leaving the safety of the camp.

Poking his head out of one of the tent’s two doors, Eomer winced at the wave of heat that immediately caught him full in the face. Steeling his will, he stepped outside and looked around for the closest building. Finding it, he quickly made his way over to its shade and stepped inside, breathing a sigh of joy almost immediately. While still quite hot, the building was indeed cooler than the tent, and at the moment, any form of relief, no matter how little that relief might be, was welcomed with open arms.

After basking for a moment in the entryway, Eomer moved further into the building, waiting somewhat impatiently for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. He soon picked out a variety of forms scattered across the clay floor. Most were asleep, but there were a few small groups of individuals who whispered quietly. They looked up at Eomer’s entrance and a hush seemed to fall. The king of Rohan watched warily, his hand near the hilt of his sword should it be needed, and then the Haradrim resumed speaking among themselves. Relaxing slightly, Eomer glanced about and soon spied movement in the form of a waving arm on the far side of the room. I am thankful they did not venture too far into this maze, Eomer sighed as he moved over to join Legolas and Aragorn, else I would not have been able to find them.

"Good evening to you, Eomer," Aragorn said, gesturing for the king of Rohan to seat himself.

"And a good evening to the both of you," Eomer returned, deciding that in this case, the direct approach would probably be best. Not wasting a bit of time, he put this strategy into play. "What are you doing here?"

"Planning," Legolas answered.

Trust an elf to answer as vaguely as possible, Eomer sighed, looking over at Aragorn for an explanation.

"We are planning our strategy for the Gathering," the king of Gondor elaborated.

"Ah. May I then ask why I am not a part of this strategy?"

"Because you are a king, not an underling," Legolas answered.

Aragorn groaned slightly while Eomer blinked, frowned, shook his head, and decided that elves were useless if one wanted information. "Aragorn?" he prompted.

The king of Gondor smiled and laughed quietly. "Our talk did not touch upon your part or mine in the Gathering tonight, and we had no wish to disturb you sleep, for you will have need of what strength rest might grant you."

"What mean you when you say ‘my part’?"

"I think to better answer you I should explain more about the Gathering. I had planned to do so when Gimli was also present, but now will serve just as well. The Gathering is actually a two-part event, one part formal and one part informal. The formal Gathering is the meeting between tribal leaders. That is where we shall be. It is mostly a time for discussion of trade and issues of water rights. It is not entirely without use, but neither does it hold the heart of what happens during a Gathering. That lies more in the informal meetings."

"And the informal meetings are what tribal advisors and second-in-commands attend," Eomer gathered.

"And underlings such as myself," Legolas added with a mischievous grin.

Aragorn sighed and glared at the elf. "Whenever you wish to discontinue using that term, please feel free."

"But how can I discontinue something that my king so graciously began?"

"Legolas, I used the word in jest."

"To my ears it did not sound like jest."

Eomer glanced between the two, debated the matter for a moment, and then decided that he really didn’t want to know. "So you and Legolas have been discussing what he and Gimli must look for as well as what they might seek to accomplish."

"Exactly. Imhran will serve better in the role as an observer, for he has not the instincts for political maneuvering that Legolas inherited from his father."

"Despite the fact that I am an underling," the elf added helpfully.

Aragorn rolled his eyes but decided not to respond to Legolas. "I know not how you wish to use Arhelm, but it seems to me that Legolas and Gimli could speak for both our kingdoms. This way we would appear united and so present a stronger front."

"I will heed your counsel," Eomer said, ignoring the small spark of annoyance that flared at Aragorn’s presumption. After all, the king of Gondor had been in this land before and better understood its customs and perspectives.

"Your own role in this is easy enough," Aragorn continued. "Simply remember a few very important guidelines. Never take an offer at face value, never accept an offer the first time it is given, and never make the assumption that a matter has been settled. Beyond that, I have no words of advice to give you."

"Here comes one, though, who looks as though he has words of advice to give us all," Legolas suddenly spoke up with a quiet laugh, his eyes focused on the building’s entrance. A rather irate dwarf was making his way toward the group, his face fixed in a fierce scowl and his fists clenching around his axe.

"Think you that we might be in trouble?" Eomer asked with a chuckle.

"He does not look happy," Aragorn agreed.

"Imhran and Arhelm came looking for you," Gimli announced as he reached the group, his mouth set in a firm line and his dark eyes fixed on the two kings. "When they could not find you, they woke me instead. There is still half an hour before sunset. I have no desire to be awake at this time, yet for some reason unfathomable to me, I am. Would you kindly see to your two captains so that they might let me rest again?"

Legolas could not quite contain the laugh that escaped him when the dwarf was finished speaking, and he soon became the subject of a glare that would have done an Orc justice. Of course, this only made the elf laugh harder and things might have devolved further had Aragorn not spoken, sensing that Gimli was only moments away from lashing out at the prince.

"Our thanks, my friend," Aragorn said. "Are they at the tents now?"

"They are searching the buildings much as I was," the dwarf growled. "As to which buildings they currently search, I know not. Much like the three of you, they left no itinerary and gave me no word."

Legolas started to laugh again and Gimli’s hands clenched around the haft of his axe as a warning. Watching the two, Eomer shook his head and wondered how they had ever come to be friends. The two were as different as night and day, and this showed through clearly in both their actions and their constant battle of words. Yet for all their differences, never had Eomer seen a stronger friendship.

"Master Legolas, I trust you wish to keep that empty head of yours perched upon your neck. Am I correct?"

Legolas’s laughter died away slowly though his eyes still sparkled with mirth. "Ah, Gimli. Surely you do not think to challenge me. I now know the ways of mortal battle in addition to possessing my own strength and agility again. I fear you shall find me more than a match for you on any field. Of course, that has always been the case before."

Gimli growled something low in his throat while his eyes flashed dangerously, but Eomer could tell the dwarf was not quite awake enough to match Legolas insult for insult. With a shake of his head, the horse lord cleared his throat. "Let us return to the tent, for the sun will set soon and there is much to discuss. Legolas may have been instructed concerning the Gathering, but Gimli and the men have not."

"Your words are wise, Eomer," Aragorn seconded, getting to his feet. "Come. The day ends, but our work is just beginning. This night will reveal much of what goes forth in the desert, and we must be prepared. Already there has been slight of hand and secret meetings."

"And it seems that underlings shall play an important role," Legolas whispered to Gimli, though his voice was pitched to carry.

Aragorn shook his head but refused to be baited, instead turning and moving toward the door. "Underlings?" Eomer asked, curiosity finally getting the better of him.

"Alas, King Eomer, I fear I am poor company for you," Legolas answered with a low bow. "For King Elessar has revealed to me this day my true standing in the world. I am an underling, and my duty is to serve those whose minds and hearts comprehend things that are far beyond my feeble grasp."

"I think I liked him better under ú-glîr," Gimli growled, stomping after Aragorn.

"You are not alone in that thought," Aragorn called, glaring over his shoulder at the grinning elf. Legolas shrugged and then moved to follow them, leaving Eomer to take up the rear.

I shall never understand any of them, he decided. And I think that is probably for the best.



Ma’awnwa—Haradric term for ú-glîr, the shadow that blocks Ilúvatar’s song

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