Aragorn swung quickly out of Arnor’s saddle and sighed at the feeling of solid ground beneath his feet, ignoring the stiffness in his legs and the aching complaints of his muscles. He’d been on long rides before—the Paths of the Dead came to mind as one particularly difficult journey by horseback—but since he’d taken up Gondor’s throne, his riding had been somewhat restricted. Even now after the sixth day of their journey, he was still adjusting to the continuous rigors of travel by horse.
Has it really been six days? Aragorn thought about that for a moment. It was a four-day journey from Dol Amroth to Anduin. After that it was one day from Anduin to Lake Supt, and then another day to get here to Lake Miyarr. Yes, it had been six days with their current company and several days in addition to that if one were to count the journey between Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth. Over a week, Gondor’s king reflected. And yet we know so little of our escort’s motives and desires. How is it that we are still so blind? What shadow has been cast over this land that so affects our perception?
"We must speak with Legolas and Gimli," a soft voice said.
Aragorn sighed and nodded, turning to face Eomer. It didn’t help his mood to note that the king of Rohan seemed completely unaffected by the long hours spent in the saddle, but then, that was only to be expected of the horse-lord. "We will speak with them," Aragorn said, keeping his voice quiet. "But I would wait for the rising of the sun. There is then less chance of being overheard."
"So long as you are given enough time to tell them what you told me," Eomer answered. "Your reasoning is sound and together I think we now have strong cases against both Dashnir and Garat though we may not be able to openly accuse them. Not yet, anyway."
"Patience," Aragorn counseled softly, his eyes watching Dashnir as the man dismounted and began seeing to the needs of his horse. "These men are not as Bron was. It shall be far more difficult to prove they have done anything, and until then, we cannot act. Baseless accusations in Harad are indications that you seek only to sully another’s honor. We cannot be so brash so early in the game."
"Eomer? Legolas is in need of your shield."
Aragorn blinked and turned around, letting thoughts of Dashnir and Garat move to the back of his mind. "My shield?" Eomer questioned, raising his brows and studying the dwarf.
"For only a short while," Gimli explained. "He will return it to you after sunrise.
Aragorn cast his eyes about and quickly found Legolas standing a short distance away. The elf was staring at the ground—an odd sight as he was usually to be found staring at the horizon—and appeared completely oblivious to his surroundings, but Aragorn sensed this was not the case. To the king of Gondor, it felt as though Legolas was painfully aware of things around him but that such things were somehow not enough for his comfort. It was as though he were waiting for something else to manifest itself. And at the same time, there was a hopeless air about him that suggested he did not expect his wait to be rewarded.
"Legolas?" Aragorn whispered, hoping against hope that the prince would allow himself to be comforted.
"Abonnen," the elf murmured. "Gimli thêl sen erui."
Aragorn nodded slowly, realizing that was probably all he was going to get for now. Still, it was more than could usually be expected of Legolas and that was something. Normally, the elf would have brushed off all concern and informed any who would listen that he was perfectly fine. In fact, the more Aragorn thought about it, the more surprising it became that Legolas had not done this, and the king’s shrewd mind quickly pinned down the cause. "Gimli ista?"
"E ista," Legolas confirmed with a small but genuine smile, his eyes sparkling with gratitude in the darkness. The prince laughed quietly and shook his head, raising his head to watch the dwarf. "E ista. A edh istatha abthelg."
"Legolas?" Gimli walked past Aragorn and tossed Eomer’s shield to the elf. "Shall we?"
"If you insist," Legolas answered, his smile growing slightly.
"I do. Aragorn, Eomer, we shall see you in an hour or so."
"I hope they do not exert themselves overmuch," Aragorn said quietly as elf and dwarf strode away. "Water is lost in exercise and they are not allotted much."
"They know the dangers," Eomer said, shrugging his shoulders and appearing to find the absence of a shield to be a rather curious thing.
"They know the dangers, you say, but when has such knowledge ever deterred them?" Aragorn wondered with a trace of amusement and a shake of his head.
"Where do they go?" a new voice asked, succeeding in startling both Aragorn and Eomer though they were adept enough to hide it well. Aragorn’s humor vanished abruptly and was swiftly replaced by a fraying temper.
"Why do you concern yourself with them, Dashnir?" the king of Gondor asked, his voice cold and threatening.
"Curiosity is a powerful master," Dashnir replied, seemingly oblivious of Aragorn’s foul mood. "And I would know more of elves and dwarves. I have seen and heard much as we have traveled together on this journey, but one feels a need to learn more. Also, I wonder at the elf’s speedy recovery. He was unconscious yesterday morning, yet he sat his horse well and conversed much with the dwarf during the ride this night."
"If you would truly know more of elves, then perhaps you should speak with Legolas," Eomer said, drifting to Aragorn’s side and stepping back as though to cover him in the event of an attack. The movement did not go unnoticed by either Aragorn or Dashnir, but neither deigned to comment on it, though the king of Gondor thought he caught a fleeting smile on Dashnir’s face.
"Your words are wise, and perhaps I shall speak with him," Dashnir said at length, studying both Aragorn and Eomer with quiet scrutiny. "But he is currently occupied, and I thought to ask you, honored ones, rather than disrupt his concentration. Is he always so…focused? So somber?"
"It is the way of the elves to be ever alert, particularly in situations where they are uncertain or suspicious," Aragorn answered, wondering what motive Dashnir had for inquiring after Legolas’s manner. "And his fall yesterday has given us all much to think about."
"Yes, that was rather unexpected," Dashnir agreed, his tone casual and conversational.
"We still wonder about it, and we talked of little else last night," Aragorn continued, moving slightly closer to Dashnir. "Know you anymore about the event? You caught him as he fell. Has aught of importance occurred to you since then?"
"I told you all that I am able to tell you," Dashnir said, turning to face Aragorn fully. His black eyes glinted in the predawn light and his face twisted in cruel mockery of a smile. "I know little of elves, as I have already said, and would think that his care lies with you rather than with me. What more would you have me say, King Elessar?"
"You could tell us that which you are unable to speak of," Aragorn said, his voice becoming quiet and cold.
"And how would I do that, seeing as I am unable?" Dashnir asked.
"By becoming able," Aragorn recommended, moving even closer.
"You know the desert well, honored one," Dashnir hissed, his eyes narrowing as he attempted to withstand Aragorn’s piercing gaze. "But even one such as you does not have all knowledge. You play at dangerous games in a perilous land. Pray that you will able to finish what you begin."
"I could say the same of you, Dashnir," Aragorn returned, watching his opponent closely for anything that might betray his true intentions. "You know not whom you oppose, and such a weakness may prove your undoing. You have acted too quickly and without sufficient thought. Mashir issahrn ma hragel, wal hatisundri aqriib an ilmiaya."
"Lathak yiqulu kith," Dashnir said with a strange expression that could almost be called a smile. He watched the two kings a moment longer and then executed a quick bow. "I shall remember your words, honored one. See that you remember mine. And now if you will excuse me, I shall take my leave. I have need of rest." So saying, he turned away, seizing hold of his horse’s reins in the process. Aragorn’s eyes followed him closely as he moved toward the shores of Lake Miyarr until he joined with the other Haradrim and began to engage them in conversation.
"Did you gather anything from that?" Eomer asked, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword as he stepped forward to converse with Aragorn.
"Naught that we do not already know," Aragorn answered wearily, unable to keep a trace of frustration from his voice. "Dashnir is hiding something and knows far more than he tells, but that is our only certainty. More than that is speculation. We can guess at his past actions and we can guess at the extent of his involvement, but we do not know enough to hazard a theory as to either his motives or his future intentions."
"But we will never be certain of anything no matter how long we wait out the enemy," Eomer said. "If we are to make any headway of our current situation, we must proceed without all the facts and rely on the whim of fate and the logic of our speculations."
"You speak the truth, yet I wish it were not so," the king of Gondor sighed. "The greater the uncertainty, the greater the risk. And in this land, Eomer, you are not given much room for error. Nor is there such a thing as a second chance." Aragorn fell silent and then seemed to shake himself, dismissing whatever mood had fallen upon him. "Come. We will aid the men in the establishment of camp and then take what counsel we are able. There is much to discuss."
* * * *
Dol Amroth’s healer found Prince Imrahil almost exactly where he had left him the night before—perched upon the battlements with eyes toward the sea. Though the prince had sought rest during the night after the two parted, he’d found sleep to be elusive and had eventually given up. Returning to the parapets, he’d sought out a comfortable seat and had then fixed his gaze upon the crashing waves, drawing strength from the ever-flowing waters and using that strength in an attempt to unravel the mysteries of his dark dreams. So caught up was Imrahil in his own musings that he did not stir at the approach of his healer, causing the other to pause before speaking.
"Sire?" the healer said hesitantly, uncertain as to whether or not the prince wished to be disturbed. But Imrahil had explicitly ordered that he was to be informed the moment Mohart began to regain consciousness, and it looked as though the man was beginning to do so. "Sire?" the healer tried again when there was no response to first query.
"Do you know why the elves cross the sea, Lortere?"
Lortere frowned slightly, surprised by the question. "No, sire, I do not. I know little of elves and their ways."
"That is your loss, then," Imrahil murmured, his eyes still fixed on the swelling tide that beat relentlessly upon the shore. "For myself, I would know more. They say the sea sings to the elves and that they must hearken to its voice when they are called or live in anguish with its song forever in their hearts. They say the sea takes elves to an ancient home and to lands that never die. They say, too, that Númenor looked upon these lands and that the men who dwelt upon that blessed isle were gifted with great knowledge. I wonder if such knowledge was imparted in the way of dreams and if these dreams were not somewhat inspired by the sea. Can you hear it? Can you hear its true voice? Almost it is a melody that brushes at the edge of awareness."
Lortere blinked. According to the guards and the soldiers, Prince Imrahil did this sometimes. It was rumored that upon occasion, the prince seemed to depart to another world and ponder things far beyond the comprehension of ordinary men. His distant elven blood was said to be the cause, and some of the guard would even go so far as to say that the prince conversed with the Valar during these times. The healer had been highly skeptical of all these reports, but then, he’d never actually seen the prince enter one of these thoughtful moods. Now that he had, he was no longer quite so skeptical of the guards and their claims.
"My prince, you wished to be informed if Mohart began to wake," Lortere said, wondering if Imrahil was actually listening. "I believe he does now, sire, and that he will become fully conscious soon."
"Thank you," Imrahil murmured, stirring slightly. With a shake of his head and a deep sigh that bespoke great weariness, the prince turned from the ocean and faced his healer. "Let us see to him, then, for there is much that I would ask. And if what I suspect is true, there is much that he can tell me."
"As you command, sire," the healer said with a quick bow. Following in the prince’s wake, he couldn’t help but notice the slight tremble in the other’s frame. It seemed that Imrahil had spent too much on the parapets and too little time in his own bed. But such was Imrahil’s wont, and the healer knew that no words of his could change his prince’s routine. He would simply have to keep a close eye on the prince and make certain he did not stumble. With this simple resolve firmly in his mind, Lortere hastened after Prince Imrahil as they quickly made their way toward the healing section of the castle.
* * * *
"A novice could have blocked that strike," Gimli sighed with a weary shake of his head.
From the rather ignominious position of flat-on-his-back, Legolas grimaced and estimated the numbers of bruises he had incurred, was incurring, and would continue to incur before the sun rose. "Perhaps a novice who knows no other way of defense," the elf said quietly. "But I am still falling upon old habits to aid me, and I fear my diminished senses are now an impediment rather than a help."
"I have had to live with mortal senses for my entire life, and I will take no complaints from you on the matter," Gimli said firmly. "Now stand and guard! Or shall I attack you where you lie?"
At the moment, I think the latter position would be no worse than the former, Legolas thought bitterly. But he doubted that his friend would openly share his view—though Gimli might very well agree in secret—and Legolas shoved such thoughts to the back of his mind. With a groan of frustration, the only sign of discouragement the elf would allow, he labored to his feet and hoisted the heavy shield into position. "I am now ready. Let us proceed, Gimli."
"Check your position," the dwarf said, folding his arms across his broad chest and giving the elf a disapproving frown. "And then tell me whether or not you are truly ready."
Puzzled, Legolas looked down at himself and then sighed. They had discovered early in the sparring session that Legolas’s sense of balance was no longer as sharp or as accurate as it had been, and to correct that problem, the elf had been forced to adopt a man’s stance with a shield rather than his usual position. An elf might have more movement with a shield but a man had more stability, and at the moment, Legolas needed the latter rather than the former. Unfortunately, such an adjustment did not come naturally to the elf and he found his mounting frustration was becoming nearly unbearable. "Gimli, I—"
"I have heard one too many words from you this morning, Master Elf," Gimli interrupted, his deep-set eyes darkening. "Now properly position yourself and prepare to guard."
I suppose I should know by now that arguing with him is pointless once his mind is set, Legolas thought to himself, taking the time to shift his feet and orient himself with an unfamiliar battle stance. He did feel more stable, but the inability to lithely dance away from blows was rather disconcerting. He was uncomfortable with the idea of limited movement during a battle, for his strategy of old had always been to stay in motion and make use of the confusion that this generated around him. But there was naught he could do about that now, and the dwarf was waiting. Hefting the shield into place, he looked up to announce his readiness only to find that Gimli was already on the attack.
Bracing securely against his back right leg—he had at least learned how to make use of this position once it had been attained—he caught the dwarf’s first strike full on, shoving the axe off and then moving to the left as Gimli followed up with an overhand blow. The elf then swung his shield around as Gimli’s subsequent hit came in from the side, but something went wrong and Legolas suddenly found that his center of weight was no longer where it should be. What happened next was inevitable. Flipping the axe around, Gimli slammed its haft into the elf’s unprotected side before he could right himself and Legolas found himself back on the ground. He was beginning to wonder if that wasn’t the safest place for him to be.
"At least you managed to keep your weight over your feet until that last hit," Gimli sighed, sounding rather frustrated himself with the elf’s slow progress. "I suppose that is something."
"That is better than my first attempt."
"Legolas, anything would be better than your first attempt."
The elf sighed, having nothing to say in response because Gimli spoke the bitter truth. With a slight grunt, he rolled off his side and onto his feet, seizing Eomer’s large shield as he did so. "Again?" he wondered, ignoring a small voice in the back of his head that screamed enough was enough.
"In a moment," Gimli answered. "Position for a block against your side. That seems to disrupt your balance more than do other blocks."
"Gimli, I do not see how this is going to help me," Legolas said, swinging his shield around to the side as the dwarf had instructed. "I do not normally take a shield into battle with me, and my first weapon in close combat is my knife."
"We have already been over this, Master Elf. You are becoming more aware of your own limitations and you are learning to adjust to them," Gimli pointed out, walking around the elf and studying his position with a critical eye. "At least, you should be learning to adjust, but it seems that you have failed yet again. Look at the placement of your shield. It is too far away from your body and a nudge from my axe would knock you over."
Legolas frowned. "If I keep it any closer, I have not room strike around it."
"Yes, you do. Your strike is more limited, I will grant you that, but you still have room to strike." Seeing the elf’s rebellious look, the dwarf shook his head and sighed. "Legolas, you no longer have the reflexes to adjust if you shift your center of gravity too abruptly. You must keep your shield closer to your body. Flinging it wide is causing you to overbalance."
"Are you sure your mere presence is not the cause of that?" the elf asked, forcing his face to become an innocent blank.
"Elves," Gimli grumbled. "They can keep their minds focused on nothing if it involves not trees or stars. Let us spar once more for the day," he said before Legolas could respond to his jibe. "And try to remember that you must keep your center of balance consistent. We will see how long you can last this time."
Legolas sighed and wearily took up the starting guard position. He knew Gimli well enough to recognize that those last words had been calculated to sting elven pride and elicit a stronger defense, but despair was slowly creeping over the prince, and in truth he no longer cared what was said of him or to him. What honor did he have left, sundered as he was from Ilúvatar’s song? He was no help to Aragorn in his current condition, nor did he know how to alter said condition. And to adjust as Gimli demanded he do would take years of training simply to relearn the very basics. He could not change centuries of habits in a matter of hours.
"Pity is most unbecoming an elf," Gimli said sharply, watching Legolas with shrewd eyes. "And while I may grant you a measure of pity, you cannot afford to indulge in it. You have not the time for such a luxury."
"Think you that I desire to dwell in it?" Legolas asked wearily.
"Perhaps not. But that does not prevent it from happening." Gimli studied the elf for a minute longer with a gaze that Legolas found strangely disconcerting. After a moment, the dwarf sighed and lifted his axe. "Shall we?"
Legolas gave a short nod and settled himself firmly against his back leg, gaining confidence from increased stability but despairing over the loss of agility. It was a trade he did not like, but Gimli had been insistent that such an adjustment had to be made. The dwarf was right, of course. What use would greater movement be if he could not even maintain his balance? Still…
The elf was not given time to ponder his thoughts, for Gimli chose that moment to launch his attack. Legolas staggered slightly as the force of the axe blow caught him slightly unawares, but he recovered quickly and parried the next blow successfully, making a conscious effort to keep the shield closer to his body than was his wont.
The dwarf’s next blow came in from the side—a test of sorts to see if Legolas had made the proper adjustments to his stance and his guard. The elf smiled grimly, noting that despite his warnings during the night’s ride, Gimli was pulling his blows and giving Legolas a chance to prove himself. And there are elves who claim that dwarves are ungracious, the prince thought, successfully bringing his shield to the side and managing to retain his balance.
Gimli abruptly spun and brought the axe in from the opposite side, and Legolas once again made a conscious effort not to swing the shield out and around. Had his former sense of balance still graced him, he would have used such a move to act as a counterweight against a spinning leap, but he felt could no longer execute that maneuver without something going horribly and disastrously wrong. So he kept on the defensive, seeking only to parry blows and not to return them.
As he continued to keep his shield in, Gimli began to increase the speed of his attack, though his blows were still far short of their full power. It was a courtesy for which Legolas was intensely grateful, but at the same time, it was beginning to rankle his pride. Gimli did not trust him enough to place more power behind his strikes, and while there was certainly good reason for that distrust, Legolas still felt slighted. As such, he began to step forward into more of the strikes, surprising and pleasing Gimli with his boldness, and the speed of the attacks continued to increase.
A swing came in from the side and Legolas parried, keeping the shield close, but this time he tipped it and the axe glanced off at an odd angle. His balance partially disrupted, Gimli staggered backwards and Legolas jumped forward, pressing the advantage. But he did not have the advantage for long as Gimli suddenly caught the bottom of the shield with the axe’s haft. The shield flew up but Legolas had experienced such a move before and he jumped with the shield, keeping its metal face between him and the dwarf. The sturdy haft swept the air beneath his feet and Legolas was rewarded with a short oath indicating Gimli’s surprise at the move.
Unfortunately for Legolas, however, he had not taken into account his landing. He came down as an elf would normally come down, the positioning of his feet such so that he would be able to leap away quickly while he trusted in a keen sense of balance and a natural agility to help him land successfully. Because of this, he hit the ground hard and suddenly cried out as an ankle rolled beneath him. It required no blow of Gimli’s to fell the elf as gravity stepped in to on the side of the dwarf. Eomer’s shield rolled harmlessly to the side and Legolas groaned to find himself yet again on the sand.
"Better," Gimli pronounced gruffly. "So long as you keep your mind focused, I believe we may make a warrior of you yet."
"Valar have mercy," Legolas murmured. "I have a dwarf’s vote of confidence. It seems I am truly condemned."
"You say that only because you are jealous of my greater skills," Gimli retorted. He pursed his lips and thought back over the last encounter. "As a whole, my friend, you are improving. However, that last move…it was creative, but Legolas, you cannot try things like that until you know better the new limitations that have been placed upon you. Had my intent been to kill you, then I—"
"Then you would not have been holding back," Legolas interrupted, pushing himself to a sitting position. He glanced at the horizon in the east and shaded his eyes as the rim of the sun began to emerge. "We should retire for the day," the elf said quietly, watching as the desert was suddenly flooded with light. "Already I can feel the heat begin to rise."
"And no doubt you feel that the shield has become too heavy for you to lift," Gimli chuckled. Legolas glared at the dwarf but said nothing, for the jest was actually dangerously close to the truth. Seeming to sense this, Gimli shrugged and picked up the fallen shield, easily slinging it onto his back. "Come then, my vanquished foe. If it is rest you seek, then let us find it. I, too, would rest. It is no easy work to train so incompetent a student."
Elven pride finally flared to life in Legolas, a rather disturbing smile flitted across his face, and he suddenly kicked out at the dwarf from his sitting position, sending Gimli flying across the sand. "So incompetent a student you say?" Legolas laughed when Gimli turned an outraged expression on him. "And what of the teacher? Is it not a warrior’s way to be ever prepared?"
The look of indignation gradually gave way to a sheepish grin and Gimli laughed quietly. "I suppose that if I look to raise a response in you, I should not be surprised when I receive one. My apologies, Legolas. I did not mean to offend."
"You did not," Legolas answered, pushing himself to his feet. "But you were coming close." Walking over to the dwarf, he offered him a helping hand up which Gimli accepted it as a token of peace. "Come, elvellon. Since it seems that we are both vanquished, let us find those who are not so fallen yet," the elf said. "Aragorn is anxious for answers, and I would not keep him waiting."
"Very well, but you shall precede me," Gimli said, picking the shield up again and checking to see that his axe was secure in his belt. "A dwarf is not caught unawares twice in the same morning."
* * * *
"Mohart? Mohart, it is time to wake."
Imrahil watched closely with a level of scrutiny that mimicked the Eldar as his healer attempted to rouse Mohart from his dreams. The man certainly looked better than he had on previous days, and he stirred slightly in his sleep, seemingly reluctant to trade the world of dreams for the world of reality. A hint of impatience crept into Imrahil’s mood, but he quickly shoved it back down. Now was the time for many words and many questions. Impatience could not be tolerated or things of vital importance might be missed for things of haste.
"Mohart?" Lortere tried again, gently shaking the man’s arm. "Mohart, dawn comes and you have slumbered long."
A low groan emerged from the slumbering representative and his eyes fluttered. Imrahil decided that it was now time to assume a more direct role in the situation, and he stepped forward, waving the healer back. Taking a seat in the chair next to the bedside, he placed a hand on Mohart’s shoulder and squeezed, willing the man’s eyes to open completely.
"Mohart," Imrahil whispered, fixing his gaze on Mohart’s face with all the intensity of an elf. "Mohart, you would speak of Dashnir. What can you tell me of him? Come, for the hour grows late. Already we have wasted far too much time."
"Dashnir," Mohart mumbled, turning restlessly. "Darkness. Númenor."
Imrahil frowned, unconsciously tightening his grip on the man’s shoulder, and something within his mind clicked. Númenor! Why did I not see it before? The image from his dream…the dead tree cloaked in a black shadow…he’d read about such things, but until now, he had not recalled the reference. Somewhere in the hidden scrolls of Dol Amroth, he’d read a tale of the elf for which this fortress had been named. After leaving Lothlórien in the hands of Celeborn and Galadriel, Amroth had dwelt for a short time in southern Lebennin and left a record of his experiences while waiting vainly for the coming of Nimrodel. It was in these records—a secret stash of Second and early Third Age history that not even the stewards of Gondor were privy to—that Imrahil had come upon the tale of the Black Númenóreans. And upon one of the many scrolls locked in the main tower’s vault, he had seen the symbol of the dead black tree.
"Leave us!" Imrahil ordered sharply to his healer, but his eyes stayed on the face of Mohart, attempting to reach through the man’s waking dreams and pull him to full consciousness. Some distant part of him heard Lortere leave, but he kept his complete attention on Mohart for he suddenly realized how little time was left to him for action. "I need more information, delegate," he whispered, and in his voice could be heard a ring of command that Legolas and Aragorn might have likened to the commands of Glorfindel and Elrond. "Wake, Mohart, and tell me what you can of the Black Númenóreans!"
His words seemed to strike a chord within Mohart, and Imrahil sighed in relief as the man slowly opened his eyes, blinking in dazed confusion. "Prince Imrahil?" Mohart questioned, his brow furrowing as he tried to establish his surroundings. To the prince’s relief, his eyes were clear of the slafe weed that had dimmed his mind, and he seemed to have escaped his partial delirium. "Prince Imrahil, what happened?"
"A mistake," Imrahil said grimly, unwilling to divulge further details lest he lose Mohart to thoughts of retaliation. "I shall tell you of that later, but now I need you to answer my questions. During your ailment, you sought me out and warned me of Dashnir. He currently leads King Elessar and King Eomer into Harad. Are they in danger?"
Mohart’s eyes clouded with something akin to fear, though Imrahil had never before seen fear in the delegate of the Gartabo tribe. "They are in the greatest of dangers," Mohart hissed. "I have only recently learned this, but the Dark Lord’s influence in my land was not limited to demanding tribute and arms. There were those whom he sought, descendents of an ancient kingdom that some say was consumed by the sea, and these descendents he trained for they had powers and perception beyond those of ordinary men."
"Númenóreans," Imrahil murmured, watching Mohart closely for his reaction. "These men you speak of, they were descendents of those who fled the kingdom of Númenor."
"You know of this tale?" Mohart demanded.
"I know enough for my own needs," Imrahil answered evasively. Not even Aragorn knew of Dol Amroth’s scroll collection. Why should Mohart? "Tell me more of Sauron’s interest and how it relates to Dashnir."
"The Khurintu tribe, of course," Mohart spat, seeming to find the words distasteful. "Sauron was of course extremely interested in the tribes of warriors and raiders, but it seemed the Dark Lord paid more attention to Khurintu than he did to tribes like Warra or Portu. Captains for the forces of Harad were chosen primarily from Khurintu, and it was rumored that some members of that tribe were appointed to special positions within Mordor itself."
"And you suspect now that within Khurintu are descendents of the Númenóreans," Imrahil guessed. "And that explains Sauron’s interest in the tribe."
"We do not suspect, Prince Imrahil," Mohart said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "We know. Rumors abound in the desert and as the time for the Gathering draws near, they increase in number. Most are harmless enough and lack substance, but of late, the head of my tribe has been troubled by stories concerning members of the Khurintu tribe, specifically Dashnir and the tribal head, Asbad. Messengers and spies reported that they had more contact with the servants of Sauron than was normal for tribal leaders. We sent men to look into these things. Most never returned. Those who did came with stories of shadows and fear, of things that men have no place in learning. Dark arts, Prince Imrahil," Mohart murmured, his voice dropping even lower. "Dark arts and elven sorcery."
"And Dashnir is a student of these arts?" Imrahil pressed, ignoring the part about elven sorcery for now. Mohart’s ignorance could be corrected at a later date.
"His knowledge is deep. He has discovered forgotten keys to unlocking the powers of the forces that surround and bind us to Arda. And the tribal head, Asbad, is far worse than Dashnir. Together, they are becoming a powerful influence in the desert. We were all suspicious when it was the Khurintu tribe that first broached the idea of inviting Gondor and Rohan to the Gathering. We agreed, but my own tribe gave consent with reservations. Something is planned. I know not what, but my instinct tells me that Asbad and Dashnir have a great evil in store for King Elessar and King Eomer."
Imrahil sat back, silent and pondering. His dream was beginning to coalesce in his mind, and he was now linking it to the information provided by Dashnir. The burning white tree was the downfall of Gondor and the end of Isildur’s line. The broken black tree represented the Black Númenóreans who populated Harad. The voices he’d heard…they were also from within Harad. He’d heard Aragorn, Eomer, Legolas, and Gimli. The threat would not come to Pelargir or Lebennin. It would be in Harad itself. It only made sense. The Haradrim would be suspicious and distrustful if it were widely known that Asbad and Dashnir were students of ancient arts rooted in darkness, so to counter such superstitions, the Khurintu tribe would have to make a display of power. What better time to do it than at a Gathering? And what better way to do it than by destroying the kings of Gondor and Rohan? A picture that had been vague and unfocused for so long suddenly became acutely clear, and Imrahil knew he had to act now.
"I will need a guide," he said, fixing Mohart with a gaze that would cause an ordinary man to squirm. "Rest today and we will set out tonight. My forces and I shall ride into Harad after King Elessar and King Eomer. You will direct us among the hidden lakes. Know you of any way we can send word ahead of our arrival to alert the other tribes and ask for their assistance?"
Mohart blinked, surprised at the suddenness of the decision, but with Imrahil’s eyes boring into his soul, he quickly accepted what had been said—or rather, ordered—and searched his mind for an answer to Imrahil’s question. "Several years ago, sending word would have been possible," he eventually said. "But now, hawks of Khurintu and Warra control the desert. They will not allow other messenger birds. A rider could race ahead of us, not sparing his horse, and hope to trade for other horses at the hidden lakes. But the success of such a policy is subject to the whim of fate, and the message might arrive no sooner than we would. I fear there is very little we can do in spreading word in the desert. Information is slow in traveling, and it is for this reason that the Gathering is so important. We may all talk at once without dealing with delay."
"I suspected as much," Imrahil sighed, briefly releasing Mohart from his penetrating gaze. "Then our ride must be all the more swift. I will leave you now to rest. We shall depart tonight, and I will expect your presence in the main hall one hour before sunset. Until then, Mohart." And with that, the prince of Dol Amroth turned and left the room, not allowing the other to respond or protest in any way. In truth, he had been contemplating following Aragorn into the desert. Mohart’s information had added to Imrahil’s sense of foreboding, and he now felt it was absolutely necessary that he take his guard and ride to his king’s aid.
Yet so much time had already passed! It had been nearly a week since they’d left and they were undoubtedly nigh unto reaching Haradhur itself. Once there, the Khurintu tribe would not wait long to make its move and if additional troops were to be of any use, they must arrive as soon as possible. It was quite possible that they were already too late and that the only prudent course of action would be to prepare Gondor, Lebennin, and Belfalas for war with the desert.
But Imrahil refused to believe that Aragorn would allow himself to be beaten in Harad. The king hadn’t marched through the gates of the Morannon just to fall in the burning sand. It couldn’t be too late. There was always a chance and there was always hope, no matter how desperate or how frail that hope might be. Was not that true during the War of the Ring? The Rohirrim had believed themselves to be too late in riding to Gondor’s aid and had almost turned away upon reaching the Pelennor Fields. Fortunately, they did not and they joined the battle just as the City-gate fell, turning the tide against Sauron’s forces. And then there was the fate of Isildur’s Bane! In that instance, hope was of such a frail substance that the softest breath might have blown it away. Yet it had endured, and so had the West.
Thus, with these memories to back him, Imrahil hastened to summon his soldiers and begin preparations for a hard ride. There was still a chance to set things right, and the prince of Dol Amroth intended to see this chance through.
Abonnen. Gimli thêl sen erui—Later. Gimli intends this first.
Gimli ista—Gimli knows?
E ista. A edh istatha abthelg—He knows. And you will know shortly.
Mashir issahrn ma hragel, wal hatisundri aqriib an ilmiaya—Tread the sand with care, or you will wander too far from the water. (Haradric) This is a proverb used most often as a veiled threat, though it does have other meanings.
Lathak yiqulu kith—So/thus say many. (Haradric)
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.