My Aragon Stories
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Land of Light and Shadows: 8. The Shadows Lengthen
Gimli’s breath was coming hard in the dry desert air, but he ignored it, forcing his legs to pump faster as he raced after Aragorn. The sun burned against his back and he could feel his corselet of metal rings begin to gather heat from the intense rays. It would be a hot day, but at the moment, it could turn into an oven for all that the dwarf cared. One thing only loomed in his mind and that was the image of Legolas lying motionless in the sand, surrounded by gathering Rohirrim.
Aided by longer legs, Aragorn had drawn quite far ahead and even now was pushing through the men and horses that blocked his passage. Gimli heard him call out commands and the men immediately parted, knowing of the deep friendship that ran between Gondor’s king and Ithilien’s elven prince. The dwarf hoped the men would stay parted long enough for him to join Aragorn at Legolas’s side, but this was rather wishful thinking on his part. As soon as the king of Gondor rushed through, the men closed back in again, curious and anxious. There were some minor wounds among them, but the camp’s defense had been so effective that neither Gondor nor Rohan had lost any men in the battle. Legolas was the only one who had fallen, and the men wondered what could maim an elf and somehow bypass all else.
Reaching the outer layer of encircling men, Gimli skidded to a halt and evaluated the situation. There were times, and this was one of them, when he wished that Aulë had gifted the dwarves with greater height. Short stature had its uses, particularly in unexplored caverns and low mining tunnel ceilings, but when it came to dealing with other Races, hobbits alone consistently granted dwarves their full attention and respect. Men seemed to measure greatness by stature and too often dismissed dwarves as being weak because they were short. This opinion was usually changed quickly when the indignant dwarf attacked, but for some reason, the idea continued to prevail among men of lesser knowledge. As for the elves, they didn’t usually dismiss dwarves solely on the basis of height, but it was a focal point for the barbs and jibes that always seemed to fly whenever the two Races met. None of this is to say that Gimli wished to be taller. He was actually quite content with his height. It had served him well, and he saw no reason to desire a change, especially since said change was unattainable and the status quo worked anyway. But he did occasionally ponder the advantages of additional inches, and at times like these, he felt that perhaps an extra foot might not be such a bad idea.
However, he was not likely to grow an extra foot in the next few minutes, so Gimli fell back on a tactic he had honed and developed over many years of dealing with the men of Dale. To those around him, it was probably not the most pleasing of alternatives, but it never failed to garner results. Taking a deep breath, Gimli gathered the air near the top of his lungs, opened his mouth, and bellowed as only a dwarf can bellow.
Even before the conclusion of the shout, Gimli was reminded as to why he was usually hesitant to do this around warriors. Hands shot to sword hilts and all swung to stare at him, their eyes glittering with the fury and fervor of battle. Gimli hastily backed up, fearful of being spitted before the men of Gondor and Rohan learned their mistake. He had little ground for concern, though, as these men were chosen because they were the best in their country, and it didn’t take the capable soldiers long to pinpoint the author of the shout. Realizing who it was they were confronting, a few offered sheepish smiles, some looked offended, and still others were just confused.
But at least now, Gimli had their complete attention. He folded his arms across his chest, fixed them with a baleful stare, and tapped his foot impatiently. The smiles grew larger, the looks of annoyance became slightly more annoyed, and the confused men persisted in their confusion. But a way did open up, and Gimli was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially when this gift horse would take him to Legolas. Hurrying forward, he shoved aside the few men who had not moved and raced toward the elf.
"How is he?" he demanded, stopping just before slamming into Aragorn’s kneeling form.
"He appears unscathed, but there are two growing lumps on the side of his head," Aragorn said quietly. He had raised the unconscious elf into a sitting position and Legolas was now propped against the king’s side, completely oblivious to the outside world.
Eomer was on the elf’s other side, but he quickly stood and moved aside so that Gimli could have access. The dwarf shot him a grateful grin, thanking him for both the gesture and the fact that he had not vocally offered to stand back. It was common knowledge that Gimli and Legolas were nearly inseparable friends, but any public displays of that friendship had always made the dwarf rather self-conscious. It was not that he was ashamed of his friendship, but within dwarven culture, sentimental actions were seen as something of a weakness unless they took place on the battlefield where one friend might give his life for another. But when the friend yet lived, grave concern was generally frowned upon, especially since it served as a distraction from other duties.
Kneeling beside Legolas, Gimli pressed two fingers against the elf’s pale neck and sighed as he confirmed for himself that his friend’s heart continued to beat. But the pulse seemed fast to the dwarf, and he looked questioningly at Aragorn, hoping to receive a comforting explanation.
"He has suffered a mild head injury," Aragorn replied, correctly interpreting the dwarf’s gaze. "A faster pulse is to be expected. Here, support him for me. He should not lie on sand made cold by the desert’s night." Aragorn shifted Legolas toward Gimli, and the dwarf, feeling rather awkward with whole arrangement, nevertheless maneuvered so that his broad shoulder supported the elf’s lolling head and the prince’s back rested against his chest. With a nod of approval, Aragorn then stood and turned, searching the crowd for the man he’d seen catch Legolas as the elf fell. It did not take long to find him, and he fixed this man with a narrow-eyed stare that plainly bespoke his suspicion. "How did this happen, Dashnir?"
Dashnir glanced toward the elf as though startled that he had been implicated. Watching the proceedings from the sand, Gimli bristled silently. Something about that man rang false.
"It was unexpected, to be certain," Dashnir said, his voice taking on an incredulous tone. "The raiders had all but fled, and the Rohirrim were driving them. It was then that Legolas turned and…I cannot truly describe to you what happened. He fell. I caught him before he could hit the sand, but then he lost consciousness."
"And what had you to do with his fall?" Eomer asked. In truth, he was feeling slightly guilty. He had seen Legolas, Garat, and Dashnir standing together as the last of the raiders fled the camp, and believing that all was well, he had looked away and watched the light of the sun spread out over the desert and paint the sand a golden color. Then he had looked back to see Legolas slump and Dashnir catch him. Garat had moved before both of them, then, blocking Eomer’s view, but the king of the Rohirrim had seen enough. His close friend and companion was down, and he had spurred Shade forward with a suddenness that took the Mearas chief by surprise.
"I?" A sound of outrage could now be heard in Dashnir’s voice. "If you think that I struck him down, you are gravely mistaken. He fell and I caught him. In no way have I physically assaulted your companion."
"An elf does not crumple without cause," Aragorn said, his voice low and dangerous. "Do you know what happened? If I remember correctly, you were standing right next to him." Like Eomer, Aragorn had been watching something else just ere Legolas fell. His attention had been on the departing raiders and something about them had caught his eye, but then Eomer’s sudden departure had drawn his attention back to the camp.
"He may have been struck during the course of battle," Dashnir said thoughtfully. "And I have seen men suffer blows to the head and shake them off because of more pressing concerns, but when such concerns are past, the injury takes its toll and they fall."
Gimli cursed quietly and muttered angrily beneath his breath. He had actually seen this same thing occasionally in dwarves where the effects of a blow to the head might be temporarily delayed, but it was a very rare occurrence and not so much a product of the actual head wound as it was a product of stress and fatigue. Legolas would have no cause to be either stressed or fatigued. Dashnir was hiding something. There was something that he was not telling them. But what?
The dwarf was relieved to see a rather dubious expression on Aragorn’s face, but the king of Gondor seemed to decide that this conversation was not worth pursuing. With a shake of his head, he turned away and moved back toward Legolas. And then he stopped, his dark eyes sweeping over the encampment. "Where is the rest of the delegation?" he asked after a moment of uneasy silence.
"Fastahn is just outside this group," Garat answered, nodding at the Soltari tribe representative who had just emerged from the horse tent. "Dashnir and I are here. As for the rest, I cannot say."
"Bron spoke of leading them on a scouting expedition, honored one," Dashnir said, his face taking on a contemplative appearance. "But his words to me ere departing were terse and clipped. He did not offer much in the way of information."
Aragorn’s steady gaze locked onto Dashnir’s eyes and held them, searching the man for a sign of falsehood or deception. Eventually, Aragorn broke off the contact, but to Gimli’s eyes, he looked as though he had learned nothing of value. "We will speak of this later," Aragorn promised as he moved to Legolas’s side. "For now, let us all retire to our tents," he continued, raising his voice so that he addressed his men as well. "Night will come sooner than you may think, and we must be well-rested."
Heeding his words, the men surrounding them began to disperse, and Aragorn beckoned Eomer over. Looking just as skeptical as the king of Gondor, Eomer moved forward and lowered his voice to a whisper. "He does not lie, I can sense that much, but neither does he tell the full truth."
"I feel the same," Aragorn said, kneeling once more next to the unconscious elf. "But we cannot pursue our misgivings now. The day grows hotter and we must tend to Legolas." Easing the elf away from Gimli while the dwarf reluctantly moved back, Aragorn slipped one arm behind Legolas’s back and another beneath his legs. Lifting the elf off the ground, Aragorn rose to his feet and sighed, shaking his head slightly. "Come. He will be better off in the tent."
"Shall I see if I can procure more water for him?" Gimli asked.
"Not now," Aragorn cautioned. "Perhaps at midday we shall venture out for water. It will depend upon how hot the sun grows, but we cannot go now. Acquiring additional water is a blatant violation of Harad custom and law, and if we must do so, we shall have to do it when nothing else in this desert stirs."
Aragorn and Gimli both turned to Eomer who was watching the desert intently. Across the sand galloped five horses, bearing five riders back to the small encampment. Gimli hissed and his hands unconsciously strayed to the haft of his axe. Aragorn cut him a swift look of warning and Eomer rested one hand on the dwarf’s shoulder, trying to impart to him the need for caution.
"Eomer, take him," Aragorn said quietly, turning and shifting Legolas away from his body. Eomer held out his arms and received the elf, but he kept his eyes on the king of Gondor, obviously curious. "Get him inside and make him comfortable," Aragorn instructed. "Remove his outer vest, loosen the collar of his tunic, and put one of the water skins on his brow. I will join you shortly."
"And what is your purpose until then?" Eomer asked, his glance straying to the five Haradrim riders.
"I intend to search for answers." Aragorn then looked at Gimli and his jaw tightened imperceptibly. "If you would, my friend, I think you should accompany Legolas. Your presence may give him much needed comfort and rouse him from his dreams."
"By that, you mean to say that you fear I would do something foolish while confronting the wayward members of the delegation," Gimli said, his eyes glinting with a strange combination of irritation and amusement. He held up his hand when Aragorn started to interrupt and shook his head. "You are right, Aragorn. I think my temper might rule my actions if I were to stay out here. But there was no need for you to speak around this."
"Forgive me, Gimli," Aragorn said, a small smile appearing on his face. "I have commanded men for so long that I forget how to speak to a dwarf. Allow me to rephrase my request. Would you accompany Legolas and Eomer into the tent? Now is the time for the diplomacy of man. The diplomacy of a dwarf might not be well received. And I do think that your presence might aid the elf."
"Then I bid you farewell for now," Gimli said, looking once into the desert and frowning. "Come, Eomer. This sun grows too hot for me."
Eomer hesitated a bit, obviously wanting to conduct his own interrogation, but the king of Gondor shook his head firmly. "You will hear a full retelling of all that transpires," Aragorn promised. "See to Gimli and Legolas. They need you more than I do."
"As you command," Eomer said reluctantly. He shifted the elf in his arms so that he was better supported and turned away, following the dwarf who was waiting for him expectantly. After watching the two until they reached the main tent and ducked inside, Aragorn gathered his mental faculties and strode away from the camp toward the riders who had now almost reached Lake Supt. It was time for answers.
* * * *
Prince Imrahil leaned over his table and contemplated the report on the granaries in the western province of Dol Amroth. Thieves seemed to be making daily raids into his storehouses, but as of yet, no armed guard had managed to catch them. The prince was beginning to wonder if this might not be the result of a conspiracy among his men. He was reluctant to consider the idea, but it seemed to be the only logical explanation. It was either that or someone else was far too knowledgeable on the inner workings of his kingdom.
"It is too early in the morning for this," the prince mumbled, glancing out the window at the ocean waves that broke constantly against the shoreline. The newly risen sun reflected off the swirling blue water and further out, Imrahil’s keen eyes spotted a spray of water shoot upwards from a surfacing whale. There were times when he wished he could be as the dolphins and whales that frolicked in those great waters. Theirs was a world that needed no management. They were born, they learned what was needful, and they took their life in whatever direction they desired to, free from the constraints and bindings that a man might encounter. They knew what it was to simply live. Sometimes, man seemed to forget this.
With a sigh, the prince shook his head. His wandering thoughts were not saving his people’s grain, and the sea held no answers for him this day. Standing, he pushed his high-backed chair away and stretched, easing the kinks out of his spine. Moving toward the wall where a large flask of wine rested, he found a cup and poured himself a drink. Perhaps he should have taken more nourishment at breakfast, but at the time, he’d had no stomach for food. His night’s rest had been troubled by ominous dreams, and even now his mind turned to ponder them. Much of the nightmares’ substance had been lost and he could not now remember them in their entirety, but he did clearly recall certain elements. A black cloud rose from the east, very similar in nature to the blackness of Mordor that overshadowed the western lands ere the Battle of the Pelennor fields. From this darkness came fell voices, crying out in a tongue Imrahil had recognized as the language of Harad. It seemed his mind had flashed with the image of dying tree, cloaked in black, and then the white tree of Gondor sprang to mind, but it was burning and the smoke of its ashes rose to greet the gathering clouds.
"Ill portents, certainly," Imrahil whispered to himself. "Yet their meaning is not clear to me." The dreams had begun four days ago, starting on the night that Aragorn and his company had departed for Harad. He wondered now if he should have sent men after the king or perhaps gone himself to warn them, but without a clear interpretation of his nightmares, he dared not. The nightmares might signal a sudden attack on Gondor in Aragorn’s absence, and in that event, the armies of Dol Amroth would be needed in the north, not the south. But what if the dreams signified a danger to Aragorn himself? Could he ride into Harad and somehow prevent it?
Imrahil whirled in surprise, for he had not heard the door to his private study open. His flashing gray eyes lit upon the captain of his guard, and the man seemed to falter in the wake of the prince’s anger. Realizing this reaction was uncalled for, Imrahil quickly schooled his feelings and his eyes softened. "What is it?"
"Sire, the healer desires your presence in Mohart’s chambers. Mohart has become coherent and is insisting that he must speak with you. He will not be restrained and…" The guard suddenly trailed off and turned around, obviously startled by something. Confused, Imrahil stepped forward so that the outer hall shifted into his view.
"Mohart?" he questioned.
The representative from the Gartabo tribe staggered down the hallway, clad only in a sheet, and slumped against a wall. "Where…where is he?" the man panted, clearly out of breath.
Imrahil stepped forward, his confusion mounting, and then stopped as the running figure of the healer hurried into the scene.
"Forgive me, sire, for I did not think he would try to leave his room," the healer said quickly, taking hold of Mohart’s arm and supporting the man. "We will not bother you further."
"Hold," Imrahil commanded, his mind working quickly. Piercing gray eyes that at times took on seemingly elven qualities studied the sagging form of Mohart. Recalling the images from his dream and wondering if perhaps Mohart might aid him in his search for explanations, Imrahil left the study and walked into the hall, moving to Mohart’s side. "You said you wished to speak with me," he said, his voice low and soothing.
Mohart nodded, but his strength failed him and he slid to the floor despite the efforts of the healer to keep him upright. Imrahil stepped forward and waved the healer back. He knelt beside sickened man and grasped his shoulder, hoping to impart some of his strength.
"Mohart." Imrahil’s stern tone drew the man’s eyes to his own. "Mohart, you must concentrate. What is it you wished to tell me?"
"Where is Dashnir?" Mohart gasped, the pallor of his face taking on a greenish tone as a wave of nausea swept through him.
"He departed four nights ago, leading your delegation," Imrahil explained, watching the man closely for his reaction to this news. "King Elessar of Gondor and King Eomer of Rohan accompanied him."
"No!" Mohart surged forward and seized Imrahil by the front of his jerkin. Guards along the hallway rushed forward, but the prince’s raised hand stopped them from interfering. "No," Mohart hissed again. "You must…stop him. If Khurintu gains control…darkness. Darkness over all."
"What is this darkness you speak of?" Imrahil demanded, holding Mohart’s dark eyes with his own. "How can it be stopped?"
But Mohart had exhausted his strength in coming this far and speaking this much. He tried to answer the prince, but his eyes rolled back before he could do so and he slumped into the realm of the unconscious. Imrahil shook him, calling urgently, but the man made no response. Realizing there was nothing more he could do at the moment, Imrahil rose and stepped back, his mind going over all that he had heard.
"Tend to him," he said quietly, turning to the healer. "The moment he regains consciousness, send for me. I wish to speak with him again."
"As you command, sire," the healer said with a quick bow. He glanced at the surrounding guards and motioned two of them forward. "Help me, if you would," the healer instructed. "We must return him to his room."
Leaving his men to their duties, Imrahil walked back into his study and closed the door. With a frustrated sigh, he leaned back against the comforting strength of the dark oak and rubbed his temples. It seemed the mystery deepened, and instead of answers, he was now left with more questions. Why was Mohart so concerned about Dashnir? Was it a simple question of power balancing between two tribes or something much darker than political maneuvering? And how could he act until he knew what he acted against?
"May the Valar protect you, King Elessar," Imrahil whispered as a feeling of utter helplessness washed over him much as the sea washed over the rocks in the harbor. "I shall continue the search for answers here, but I fear that for now, I cannot aid you. You are on your own, my king."
* * * *
Hidden within the sanctuary of a small tent, Dashnir reclined on his pallet of stacked carpets and groaned slightly, allowing his discomfort to surface now that only two others were near. He had been taxed almost beyond endurance that morning, and it would take the remainder of the day for his strength return. Never before had he forced the shadow over an elven mind, and he had not anticipated how much it would cost him. He was still uncertain as to whether or not this would work. For all he knew, Legolas might wake in the afternoon and shrug it off as though it was but a passing dream. A field of possibilities over which I have no control, Dashnir reflected bitterly. And still I agonize over them when I should be resting.
"I lost many men today," a voice said, and Dashnir thought he could detect a plaintive tone. "You did not warn me of their fighting prowess, and my riders were not equipped to deal with it. Nor did you warn me that Aragorn would interrogate us when we returned from scouting the desert. I have no wish to be suspect in his mind. He is a dangerous man!"
"Your men are but children, Bron," another voice shot back. "The Portu tribe knows nothing of war. If a caravan fights back, your raiders scatter as dust in a sandstorm. And as for Aragorn, I did not know with certainty what his reaction would be. But you certainly share in the guilt, and so you should share in some of the punishment. And if you cannot stand up to his questions, that is no fault of mine. It is merely a reflection on the pathetic abilities of the Portu tribe as a whole. I still wonder how it is that you and your men have survived so long in Harad when you have such inadequate skills."
"You did not think so little of my tribe when you and Dashnir forced me into this arrangement," Bron said indignantly. "As I recall your words, you stated that my tribe was the only tribe capable of carrying out this attack with any hope of success. Or did the honorable Garat lie?"
"I did not lie," Garat said, his voice chilling to the temperature of ice. "Your horse raiders were the only ones with any hope of success. That is still true to some extent, though their numbers are now greatly diminished. But you did not ask me how great the hope of success was, and since you did not ask, I did not answer."
"And what if I had asked?"
"If you had asked, I would have honestly informed you that there was very little chance in successfully stealing the horses of Gondor and Rohan. But you showed your shortsightedness in failing to ask and so exposed the same weakness that brought you under my power."
"That is another matter about which I wish to speak," Bron said, his voice rising in anger. "When shall my tribe be allowed access to the hidden lakes again? How shall you call your men off when they are leagues away and you rest here next to a source of water? For I have fulfilled my part of the bargain, and my tribe must be allowed access to the lakes and the wells. My people are dying!"
"Is that my concern? Your people are weak and the desert would be better off without them."
"You swore an oath to me that my tribe would be allowed to drink if they attacked this company!"
"Silence, both of you," Dashnir broke in, realizing he would get no rest until he settled the dispute between Bron and Garat. Raising himself up on an elbow, he studied the two men beneath his sway and frowned. "You would accuse us of failing in our oath?" he asked, directing his words toward Bron. "And if so, are you prepared to back that accusation with the sword?"
"I…" Bron trailed off and glanced uncertainly at Garat.
"No matter," Dashnir said with a heavy sigh that bespoke great weariness. "I have already dispatched the hawks. They will find the Warra tribe and Garat’s message to withdraw will be received by tonight. Your people can drink then. But I warn you, Bron," he continued, his eyes flashing dangerously, "do not challenge our honor again. There are worse things that could be done to your tribe, and I do not think you would want that. Remember that the hawks are still at hand and convey many messages. With a single bird, the Warra tribe can descend upon your horse raiders and wipe them from the desert."
"And know that my tribe never fails in its duty," Garat hissed.
"As for you," Dashnir said, turning his eyes to Garat, "those are bold words for a man who nearly failed this morning. The elf sensed your blow before it fell, and he almost turned in time to meet it. Nor did you strike hard enough, for it required a second blow to darken his eyes."
"My strikes do not go awry," Garat responded, stung by Dashnir’s criticism. "The first hit fell on his temple, and he should have fallen then. Why he did not is a question I cannot answer, but it was certainly no fault of mine. If you think you could have done better, then you should have been the one to down the elf."
"And I would have preferred to strike him myself had that been possible," Dashnir answered. "Your tribe is fierce in wars, Garat, but I fear that when stealth and discretion are required, you are sadly lacking in ability. But I could not have attacked the elf, for I was the one they questioned, and I needed the ability to answer truthfully so as to keep my honor."
"But you have already lost your honor," Bron sneered, seeing an opportunity to attack his hated blackmailers. "While still in Dol Amroth, you took the goblet meant for you and traded it for Mohart’s glass. When he fell and Aragorn demanded to know what had happened, you said you did not know what could have caused his illness. But you did know, else you would not have switched the cups."
"You gravely err, Bron, and you challenge my honor yet again," Dashnir hissed. "I sensed foul play, yes, and I sensed also that they had altered my drink, but I did not know the manner of poison and I still do not know. I spoke truthfully. His sudden illness is a mystery to me. My knowledge of potions does not include one that would attack so quickly and cause such symptoms but not kill its victim after a few minutes. And if you do not take care, Bron, I will see what I can do about getting such a potion and using it against the delegate from a certain tribe of horse raiders."
Bron fell silent at that, but he still simmered with anger and righteous indignation. Garat studied the man and then shook his head, disgusted by what he saw. "Pitiful," he spat, moving toward his own pallet and lying down.
"Hush," Dashnir commanded, closing his eyes and attempting to find sleep. He would need his strength for the night’s journey, and he would need the full use of his mental faculties if Legolas remembered what had happened to him. He already had several arguments ready, but to employ them effectively, he would need to rest. Dashnir listened carefully as Bron moved to his own pallet and lay down with a quiet huff, still upset. The man was a danger now that he’d fulfilled his obligation. He knew too much and would have to be eliminated, but not here and not now. It would look too suspicious. Later, Dashnir promised himself. Later will be soon enough.
Listening a moment longer to ensure that Bron took no foolish actions, he finally relaxed and his mind began to drift into the darkness of his dreams. So far, his plan was moving quietly and successfully. He had learned how capable the soldiers of Gondor and Rohan were, he had forced a shadow into the elf’s mind and so eliminated a potential problem, he had temporarily diverted suspicion from himself, and he still controlled Bron and Garat. Even more than all this, Dashnir had learned of a fundamental weakness in his four main opponents. They possessed a loyalty for one another so great that it could be easily used against them should even one of their number be endangered. Perhaps the key to their ultimate undoing could be accomplished through the simplest of actions. The beginnings of a new direction for the great plan of reclamation started to take shape, and Dashnir licked his lips in excitement. He could already taste the beginnings of vengeance, and his master would be very pleased with his work. Letting visions of the fall of Gondor and the death of the heir of Isildur entertain his thoughts, Dashnir took his mind from the confines of the mortal world and gave himself up to sleep.
* * * *
"Tell me again what the delegation said," Eomer requested, watching as Aragorn checked Legolas’s pulse and wiped a wet cloth over the elf’s overhead. The temperature in their tent was rising to the point of becoming unbearable, but it was even hotter outside where Gimli had just returned from filling a spare water skin despite the strict laws governing water use in Harad.
"I think there is nothing new to be gained in the information, Eomer, but if you wish it, I will relate it," Aragorn sighed. "According to the delegation, they left almost as soon as they had pitched their tents and followed Bron on a scouting mission. Bron said he knew of some raiding camps that frequented the area, and he wished to find out if they were still about and whether or not they posed a threat."
"And you feel they spoke the truth?"
"I feel that most of them spoke the truth as they knew it," Aragorn said, standing and walking away from Legolas. He moved to Eomer and studied the king of Rohan carefully. "To my mind, Bron was aware of more than he revealed, but since the day was growing warm, I did not think it wise to continue questioning him."
"Perhaps we should seek him out now," Gimli suggested from his position next to Legolas. Apart from going to fetch more water, the dwarf had not left his friend’s side since entering the tent, and if the situation had not been so serious or danger so near, Aragorn and Eomer might have found the dwarf’s actions to be highly amusing. "Bron might have much to contribute in the way of unraveling this riddle," he continued, "and if that is the case, I wish to confront him myself."
"If Bron is at all wise, he will be resting now and would be justifiably offended if we woke him," Aragorn explained. "And we would be wise to follow his example. The day will only grow hotter and ‘tis better if we are unaware of the scorching sun. Of the four of us, Legolas shows the most sense at the moment."
"But is it safe to sleep when we have such doubts?" Eomer pressed. "Who knows but what we may be attacked when we are unawares."
"If such a thing happens, then there will be little we can do about it anyway," Aragorn said. "Any who attack during the heat of the day will be hardy beyond the measure of any we have ever encountered save perhaps the Balrog in Moria. We, on the other hand, will wither beneath the sun’s rays and lie helpless before our attackers."
"If you both wish to rest, I will watch the elf," Gimli spoke up. Sweat was beginning to collect in his beard and it was clear that the day was telling on his strength, but he could not sleep until he knew that with certainty that Legolas was recovering. He didn’t say this, of course, but it was not hard to discern from the worry he tried vainly to keep from his face.
"I will sit with you, son of Gloin," Aragorn said. "I have need of thought, in any case, for something I saw during the attack has caught my attention and I do not think I shall be able to sleep until its mystery has been solved. Eomer, though, would be wise to heed your words."
"How shall I sleep when you are both awake?" Eomer asked. "I would not have it said that I sought rest while my comrades kept watch."
"Honor is one thing, Eomer, but foolishness is another," Aragorn said, his tone gentle but his words firm. "To stay up when there is no need is unwise. I counsel you to take what rest you can."
Eomer’s eyes narrowed. "And what of you? Gimli has offered to watch the elf, and we could even arrange a watch of sorts, yet you are waiting up with him. What of your own need for sleep, Aragorn? Is that not also foolishness?"
A flash of anger appeared briefly in Aragorn’s eyes and things might have gone ill had not a soft moan beside Gimli suddenly broken into the conversation. Two men and a dwarf turned as another groan, barely audible, emerged from Legolas. His fair head rolled to the side and he shifted slightly. Aragorn pushed past Gimli and seized the damp cloth he’d been using earlier. Wiping the elf’s brow clear of the sweat that beaded in response to the day’s heat, he spoke softly, urging the prince to wake completely.
"Legolas!" Gimli whispered, lending his voice to Aragorn’s efforts. "Legolas, open your eyes. Elves do not sleep with their eyes closed. Do you seek to copy the dwarves?"
"I think you did it, Gimli," Eomer observed with a hint of a smile. Legolas was now moving restlessly and Aragorn had left off wiping his brow and now held his arms down should the elf begin to flail or convulse. He did not think this would happen as the head injury did not seem that severe, but one could never truly tell and the effects of the desert’s heat was something about which Aragorn was rather unsure.
But his concerns proved unfounded. Legolas’s movements ceased, the elf relaxed, and his eyes fluttered open. Gimli let out an audible sigh of relief and Aragorn felt some of his anxiety lift. "You gave us cause for concern, my friend," Aragorn said softly. "How do you feel?"
The elf closed his eyes briefly and then opened them again, frowning as he did so. His glance flickered briefly over Gimli and Eomer before coming to rest on Aragorn. There was something off about Legolas’s gaze, but the king of Gondor could not say exactly what it was. Yet chills crept back into his spine, at odds with the scorching heat of the day.
"What happened?" the elf whispered, shaking his head slightly and wincing immediately after doing so.
"Easy," Gimli cautioned, laying a callused hand on the elf’s shoulder. "You took two nasty blows to the side of the head."
"What do you remember, Legolas?" Eomer asked. "Do you know how you came to be injured?"
The elf closed his eyes and his brow furrowed with concentration. It was a while before he spoke, and his words brought no answers. "I remember that we were beset by horse thieves," he said quietly. "Your riders were driving them toward us, Eomer, and we were hard pressed on all sides. After that…" The elf trailed off and was silent a moment more before finally giving up and opening his eyes again. "I’m sorry. I don’t remember anything after that."
"Do you remember if you were hit in the head?" Gimli asked. "You didn’t fall until after the battle."
"I’ve told you all I can remember," Legolas answered, clearly frustrated by his faulty memory. "I do not know how I came to be injured because all details currently escape me. It’s as if…" He trailed off and frowned.
"It is no matter," Aragorn broke in quickly. "And since we are now assured of Legolas’s welfare, I suggest we all retire. The day will pass easier that way, and Legolas especially could do with the extra rest."
"A moment, if you would," Legolas said, trying to rise. "I…I need fresh air."
"There is little fresh air in this heat," Gimli protested, pushing the elf back down. "And Aragorn is right. You need rest."
"No, I…I wish to look outside. Just for a moment. After that I will rest."
Aragorn frowned and studied the elf, once more receiving the distinct impression that something about him was wrong. But as before, he could find nothing to either confirm or deny his suspicions, and without evidence, it was foolish to confront Legolas about it. "For just a moment, then," Aragorn said, relenting as it was obvious that the elf would not rest until he looked upon the outside world. He took the elf’s arm and pulled it over his shoulder, aiding Legolas in rising.
Much to his surprise, the elf did not resist his help and even leaned slightly against him, allowing Aragorn to take the bulk of his weight. With mounting concern, Aragorn studied the elf once more as they began walking toward one of the two tent flaps. Gimli and Eomer trailed behind, also confused by Legolas’s lack of protest. The prince was loathe to receive assistance, and yet here he made no mention of it.
Reaching out with his free hand, Aragorn pulled the ten flap aside and winced as a blast of searing heat rushed over his face. He heard Gimli grunt in annoyance behind him, and Eomer backed up slightly, but Legolas seemed drawn forward. His bright gray eyes stared into the glaring desert, heedless of the sunlight that blasted off the sand and made sight next to impossible. After a few more moments, Legolas began to stiffen as though terrified and Aragorn quickly let the tent flap fall, more concerned than ever. "What did you see?"
For a long time, Legolas did nothing and Aragorn feared the blow to his head was more serious than he’d first thought, but eventually, the elf turned to him. His eyes were wide and within their depths was an element of fear that Aragorn had never thought to see in one of the Eldar.
"Legolas?" he whispered, lowering his voice so that Gimli and Eomer could not hear their conversation. "Legolas, man prestidh den?"
It took quite a while for Legolas to answer, and Aragorn feared he would not, but the horror within the elf could not be contained and at last he confided in the man who had been raised in Rivendell and knew more of elves than any other mortal in Middle Earth save Arwen. "San cenedn," Legolas murmured, his voice stricken as though he suffered from a fatal wound. "Ú-cenidh athan a cened o firiath. Edhellen gûlmaeth nîn danna nin!"
Aragorn drew back in surprise at these words, but he said nothing, not knowing what to make of this revelation. Cleared throats behind elf and man reminded the king that they were not alone and that Eomer and Gimli knew something was happening. "Perhaps rest will heal all," Aragorn said, switching into Westron for the benefit of the other two. "The night may bring new tidings, and all things can be discussed ere we depart."
Legolas swallowed hard and the muscles in his jaw tightened, but he had no choice other than to accede to Aragorn’s advice. Allowing himself to be led back to the stacked carpets that served as his bed, he sank down and barely registered the fact that Aragorn was maneuvering him into a more comfortable position.
"Hodo, Legolas," Aragorn said gently, ignoring the questioning looks of Gimli and Eomer. "Peditham abonnen."
The elf sighed and dipped his head in lieu of a nod. Knowing there was nothing to be done at the present time, he quickly lost himself in the strange paths of elvish dreams, wishing to leave the real world and the shadow that seemed to have drawn a veil over his superior sight.
"Let us follow his example," Aragorn said wearily, rising and turning to Eomer and Gimli.
"But what did he—"
"It is not my place to tell you, Gimli," Aragorn interrupted. "But it is my hope that Legolas will speak more tonight. Until then, we must rest."
There was a note of finality in Aragorn’s voice that could not be questioned, and Eomer and Gimli reluctantly nodded and turned away, seeking their own rest. Aragorn did likewise, but his mind was now more troubled than ever. If Legolas spoke truly, then something had been done to the elf that had not been done since the Second Age. Aragorn had not thought such sorcery still existed in Middle Earth, but it seemed he was wrong. And with these dark thoughts shadowing his mind, the king of Gondor drifted into uneasy dreams, vaguely aware that on the other side of the tent, Legolas was beginning to moan and toss in his sleep.
Man prestidh den?—What troubles you?
San cenedn—It is my sight
Ú-cenidh athan a cened o firiath. Edhellen gûlmaeth nîn danna nin!—I cannot see beyond the sight of mortals. My elven senses are failing me! (I had to kind of combine a few Sindarin words to get that meaning, but most of it is authentic elvish. Sorry about that.)
Peditham abonnen—We will speak later
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