13. Through a Glass, Darkly
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now
I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
Authorized King James Version
Why is it that the nights which are hardest are also the nights which are longest? Legolas sighed and shook his head, turning his eyes to the twinkling stars and wondering how men survived in a world that did not hold the true beauty and wonder of starlight. To diminished senses, the twinkling points in the heavens were no more than that—points. Dots. Pinpricks of light. They held little joy or dance and merely watched the world as a soldier might watch a dangerous pass. For the elves, however, the stars were beacons of hope and guardians of song. Their eternal dance in the night was one of joy and thanksgiving. Leaping and flashing with an inner fire, they sang of years long past, spoke of loves long gone, and whispered of dreams long faded. They were a gateway to younger days when the world was fresh and unspoiled. They were a reminder to the elves of a place where the past still lived, a land hidden by the sea and forbidden to all but the Eldar. They were a brief glimpse of the Undying Lands, gracing Middle Earth with their sparkling light and consoling those elves who yet lingered. Were it not for starlight, most of the elves could not have endured the hardships of Arda and would have departed long ago.
But such joy was now lost to Legolas, and he felt an overwhelming emptiness consume him as he lowered his head and closed his eyes to the stars. They were only lights now, like so many watch fires on a distant fortress that none could approach. And perhaps that is how my people seem to men who are unlearned, the elf mused, trying to distract his thoughts. Perhaps we are also distant and impossible to touch. Perhaps I better understand why they spread ill rumors of Lothlórien and Rivendell, or why even in Gondor, few men venture into southern Ithilien, though we do not bar the way. Legolas sighed, pondering over this. If this were so, then it was possible to overcome that distance as men like Aragorn and Faramir had clearly demonstrated. And if they could overcome the distance that separated men from elves, why could not Legolas overcome the distance that separated him from starlight? Because men are not hindered by unnatural shadow as I am, he told himself, feeling the bitter grip of despair creep over his heart.
"You are quiet tonight, Master Elf. Is it possible that you have found a song in the silence?"
Somewhat startled by the question, Legolas paused and considered how best to answer the dwarf that rode behind him. "Nay," he said at length. "I fear that for me, this desert is a void. A dark abyss into which I fall."
"Yesterday you filled this void with words," Gimli said, shifting his weight on Faensul’s back as he tried to lean about and look at Legolas’s face. "Why have you not done so tonight?"
"Perhaps I grow used to this," the elf murmured, "though I shudder to think that I have forgotten the song of Ilúvatar so quickly. Perhaps, instead, I have found a reprieve from the silence through inner thoughts and contemplation."
"As if the elves need any more of that," Gimli snorted. "It is no wonder you live still in the trees, for you never took action to improve your situation. But you have been thinking and contemplating for the bulk of the night, Legolas, and that is long even for you. Is there anything you would like to share? Or is there anyway I may be of service?"
"Do you seek to come to yet another understanding?" the prince asked. "Or was our discussion last night too much for you?"
"I had hoped some things were already understood, but it seems you have forgotten much already. An elf’s mind is a flighty thing," Gimli retorted.
"And a dwarf’s mind is unable to handle more than a single idea at once," Legolas returned. "It is entirely possible, my friend, that I am simply in a contemplative mood tonight and that my silence has nothing to do with my condition."
"Of course it is entirely possible," Gimli said. "But that is not the case, is it?"
The elf sighed and shook his head, realizing that the dwarf would not be deterred. "I was thinking of the stars," Legolas said simply, deciding to skip the usual prelude to a meaningful conversation with his friend and arrive quickly at the point. The sooner they addressed this, the sooner they could move past it. Gimli’s dwarven tenacity was beginning to wear on the elf’s nerves and he hoped to placate his friend’s concerns quickly this night.
"The stars?" Gimli echoed. He shook his head and grimaced. "If it is not trees, it is stars, and if it is neither trees nor stars, you cannot think of it."
"At least elves are able to consider two items. Dwarves think only of gems."
"And metals," Gimli said. "Two things. Add into that the fact that we actually do something with gems and metals and you open an entire world of analysis and comprehension that far surpasses the limitations of your feeble elvish mind."
"Elves think also of song, and in that you have far more analytical skills than would ever be required of metal work." Legolas stopped and went back over what he had just said. Song. And now I am without it. It may be that Gimli is right. Perhaps without Ilúvatar’s song, elves truly are nothing. Perhaps we are so dependent on our connection to the song that breathes life into all things that when bereft of it, we become less than even the Orcs. For without the song, do we truly have purpose?
"Legolas, tell me of your dreams."
The elf blinked, unsure of what to make of this abrupt change in the conversation. "My dreams?"
"It seemed to me that you did not rest peacefully last night and that ill dreams disturbed your sleep. Share them with me, Legolas."
Gimli’s voice was soft but insistent, and Legolas recognized a note of extreme stubbornness in the dwarf’s request. And in light of all that Gimli had already done for him on this journey, how could he refuse his friend anything? And yet… "Do you truly wish to know, elvellon? I do not see how the telling of dreams will help."
The dwarf chuckled and Legolas could feel him shaking his head. "A very wise hobbit once told me that a burden borne alone is twice the weight of a burden borne together, even if that burden cannot be wholly shared with another."
A wistful smile crept over the elf’s face and he sighed slightly. "Frodo learned much on his journey. Would that such lessons could have been learned at a lesser cost to him. And would that the destruction of the Ring had not come at such a high price."
"He saved us all," Gimli murmured, caught up in memories of the laughing hobbit that had frequented Rivendell’s paths and the maimed, somber hobbit that had been brought out of Mordor by Gandalf and Gwaihir. "In spite of everything, he became the hero that Middle Earth needed." The dwarf fell silent for a moment and then seemed to shake himself, directing his attention back to Legolas. "But he could not have done all that he did without the help of Samwise. He needed another to help bear his burden, even if that burden could not truly be shared. And I now say the same of you. You cannot save yourself without another’s help. And if you will not allow me, than at least allow Aragorn or Eomer."
"What would you know, Gimli?" the elf asked quietly, glancing over his shoulder at the dwarf. "And what would you have me share?"
"I would know what troubles you in your sleep. I would share the burden of your dreams."
Legolas sighed and wondered if he could convince Gimli to ride with Aragorn tomorrow and so avoid further probing conversations. Of course, then he would also have to convince Aragorn to take Gimli and then both would question why and that would only lead to further complications. No, it seemed better to simply accept fate and acknowledge the fact that he was gifted with a very stubborn, very insistent, very dwarven friend. "The beginning of the dream is always the same," Legolas started, his voice soft and thoughtful. He felt Gimli lean forward to better hear and the elf resigned himself to the fact that he could not get out of this. "I am standing alone in the desert. It is night, and yet there is neither moon nor stars. It is not a cloud that masks the sky but a darkness that flows as ink. And it begins to move toward the earth, taking all that stands in its way and staining it with its foul shadow."
"Does this darkness have a source?" Gimli asked.
"I know not," Legolas whispered, rubbing strands of Faensul’s mane between his fingers. "I have never discovered it before I am taken. It is cold, Gimli. Cold and silent. In a word, it is death, but it is also more than that. It is a trap that ensnares and attacks. It…" Legolas trailed off, for once in his life at a loss for words.
"What happens when it reaches you?" the dwarf asked, his voice quiet as a soothing sigh.
"It…it consumes me. I am engulfed in it, and I can hear laughter. Fell laughter that rejoices in my fall and mocks my weakness. And then the darkness spreads, taking me with it as one by one it seizes everything. Everything and everyone. Aragorn, Eomer, you, Ithilien, Gondor, Rohan. All is swallowed up. And within this darkness…" the elf shuddered, his memories forcing him to relive the terror of his dreams. "Cold and death. It is like a thing of slime that grasps and clutches. And the more it is fought, the more it clings. It is smothering and my thoughts are tainted by its presence. I know not if this makes sense to you, Gimli, but…I can think of no other way to describe it. And I cannot stop this dream! It is unlike any dream I have ever had before. I have no control, and such should not be the case for an elf."
"Is it an affect of ú-glîr or think you this is intentionally sent to you from the one who cast ú-glîr?"
"I do not know enough," Legolas answered, tightening his fist. Faensul snorted in protest as some of his mane was caught up in the elf’s grip and Legolas quickly relaxed his hand and stroked the stallion’s neck, soothing him and speaking gentle words. The horse eventually quieted, though he bucked slightly to express his indignation, and Legolas straightened and sighed. "If I knew more, Gimli, than perhaps I could do something. But in this, you now know as much as I. Have you any suggestions?"
Gimli sighed. "Alas, I do not, Legolas, and I believe you overestimate my knowledge. Elven dreams are a mystery to me, but it seems as though this is some portent of evil that must be confronted. My only suggestion is to take this problem to its source, yet such a solution we have already discussed and discarded. Still, I wish to confront Dashnir. Even if it does us no good, I would have him know the wrath of a dwarf on behalf of an injured friend."
Legolas smiled, cheered slightly by the dwarf’s display of loyalty and temper. "I hope that you will inform me ere you do confront Dashnir, for I wish to see this contest of wills. But perhaps you should seek another to speak for you, Gimli. Dashnir is wise in the ways of words and diplomacy, but you speak more with your axe than with your mouth."
"I see no reason why Dashnir cannot enjoy the diplomacy of my axe. I would be most interested to see how he responds."
The elf laughed. "As would I." He shook his head and smiled, allowing the wind to blow his hair from his face. With Gimli behind him, the desert no longer seemed so dark and even the starlight became stronger. And yet…there was still a veil of shadow over all. A darkness that could not be driven back with mirth. It hovered there, on the edge of diminished senses, and it taunted him from afar, daring him to discover its secrets. The prince shivered and his eyes grew dull, recalling the cruel voice from his dreams and the slow death it promised.
Legolas frowned and focused his eyes, forcing his mind back to the realm of reality. "My apologies," he murmured, aware of the dwarf’s anxious gaze boring into the back of his head. "I did not watch my thoughts."
"The shadow rests heavily upon you, my friend," Gimli whispered. One hand left the elf’s waist and came up to rest on his shoulder, squeezing briefly. "I know not how to help you, Legolas. There is little I can do but this—I make you a promise that you will never be alone in this darkness. In confronting you, Dashnir has confronted me. You do not stand alone, Legolas, nor will you ever. Not even in dreams."
The elf frowned, catching a strange undertone in the dwarf’s voice, and he thought back to his restless sleep during the day. When the darkness seemed to press hardest and hope seemed faintest, he remembered that he had felt an outside presence beside him. At times this presence seemed to fade and the shadow loomed over him as though it would claim him forever, but then the presence would grow strong and the darkness would be driven away. It was never driven very far and it was never banished for very long, but the brief reprieve had enabled Legolas to rest, confident that another would guard his sleep. When he woke in the evening, he’d forgotten this presence, for the fears from the nightmares had overshadowed the help he’d received. But he remembered now, and he knew who was responsible for what little rest he’d managed to obtain.
"Thank you, Gimli," the elf whispered. "I had forgotten. I know not how you did it, but know that I am grateful." Legolas glanced back at his friend with a smile of gratitude, and the smile increased when he saw the dwarf fidget self-consciously. Laughing quietly, the elf turned back around and released Gimli from his piercing eyes. "Thank you."
And softer than a summer’s breeze, the dwarf answered him, his voice gruff with emotion and awkwardness. "It was my pleasure to aid you, Legolas. And you are more than welcome."
* * * *
Eomer reigned Shade to a halt, letting the horse toss his head and dance a bit to shake out tired muscles. Beneath the fading starlight, Lake Nurnein glistened like silver spread as a blanket over the sand. According to Aragorn, this was one of the largest of the hidden lakes and a stronghold for members of the Gartabo tribe. As Eomer cast his eyes round about, he discovered that unlike Lake Supt and Lake Miyarr, there were others already camped about this oasis. White tents dotted the landscape and horses were being watered in troughs filled by the lake’s cool waters. Aragorn had explained that both Supt and Miyarr were too remote for most tribes and only served as stopping points between Nurnein and Anduin. Horse raiders such as the ones who attacked them on their first morning in the desert were known to use the two northern lakes, but they did not camp around them for fear of being caught by another tribe seeking vengeance.
"Where shall we pitch our tents, honored ones?"
Eomer turned and sent a rather cold look in the direction of Dashnir. The man didn’t seem to notice as he was focusing on the king of Gondor rather than the king of Rohan, and once again, Eomer felt the sting of wounded pride.
"Have you any objection to camping near the Gartabo tribe?" Aragorn asked, watching Dashnir closely.
"Of course not," the man replied smoothly, though Eomer though he caught a flicker of unease in Dashnir’s eyes. "I have need to converse with them in any case, for they will wonder why Mohart is not with us and I must explain that he fell ill and remained with Prince Imrahil at Dol Amroth. Shall the eastern side of the lake suit you, honored ones?"
Eomer noticed that though Dashnir used the plural, he still focused his attention exclusively on Aragorn. Indignation shook the horse-lord but he bridled his feelings quickly, taming them as he would a restless mount. Not now, he told himself. Soon.
"The eastern shore will suit our needs," Aragorn was saying, turning Arnor and moving the horse into a slow trot. Eomer hurried Shade after him and fell into position beside Aragorn, noting bitterly that he had not been consulted when they chose a place to rest. Not that he objected to the eastern side of Lake Nurnein, but did not he have an equal say in where they chose to camp? Half of the men in the company were his, after all. At what point in the journey had Aragorn assumed command over the Riders of Rohan?
They were now riding past groups of men who watched them with open curiosity and veiled distrust. Dashnir rode near the front of the group and at his piercing gaze, many turned quickly away as though fearful of meeting his dark eyes. Eomer felt his level of alertness rise, and he watched suspiciously as fingers were pointed at the fine horses of Rohan and whispered words were exchanged. His hand began straying to the hilt of his sword but a soft warning hiss from Aragorn stopped him.
"They but evaluate your strength, Eomer," the king of Gondor whispered, his voice so low it was difficult to hear. "Do not darken their observations with threats of war. Those gathered about us are primarily from the Gartabo tribe. These men are not raiders but farmers, or as close to the occupation as one can come in the desert. They have no interest in your horses other than a measure of your political weight. Take pride in the fact that they think so highly of you that they make mention of it one to another."
Had Eomer been thinking clearly, he might have recognized Aragorn’s words for the compliment that they were. But he was not thinking clearly and he did not see the praise bestowed upon him. All he could think of was the fact that Aragorn understood the ways of the desert and was all too prepared to bestow his counsel and advice on those less informed. The horse lord sighed and shook his head, glancing warily at Aragorn out of the corner of his eye. Perhaps the king of Gondor sought to further his power and control through intimidation. Perhaps it would not be long ere Rohan fell beneath the thumb of Minas Tirith. Was not Rohan already pledged to ride whenever Gondor called? What more would be demanded of them? Would they soon be paying tribute to Minas Tirith? Would the Rohirrim be disbanded as a military unit for fear that they might resist the encroachment of Gondor? Would he become little more than a puppet? A tool for Aragorn to work his will in Rohan?
"What of this area, honored ones?" Dashnir said, breaking the train of Eomer’s disturbing thoughts and gesturing to a sandy region somewhat set apart from much of the Gartabo encampment.
"It is more than adequate," Aragorn answered. He glanced at Eomer as though for confirmation, but the horse-lord had his eyes elsewhere and did not see the look. Instead, he was watching the Haradrim around them and noting that the delegation had already begun to break up, assuming this would be their campsite. Aragorn had made the same assumption and Eomer had no reason to contest it. He doubted Aragorn would listen to him even if he did object.
"This is the last hidden lake before Haradhur, is it not?" an elven voice asked, startling Eomer from the hole of self-pity that he’d been digging. He turned and eyed Legolas suspiciously.
"I wonder that you should ask me, for I know little of the desert."
The elf blinked, surprised by Eomer’s belligerent tone. Behind Legolas, Gimli’s eyes narrowed slightly and he pursed his lips. "Does aught ail you, Eomer?"
Beneath him, Shade moved restlessly as though sensing the tension. Eomer laid a soothing hand on the horse’s neck while he leveled a glare at the dwarf. "And what do you believe ails me? Or am I not allowed to speak my mind should I desire to? Has that also been taken from me?"
Elf and dwarf exchanged baffled looks. "I meant no offense," Gimli said at length, watching Eomer closely. "I wondered if perhaps the heat of the desert might be affecting you."
"And I, being lesser than the rest of you, am expected to have problems with the temperature," Eomer said coldly.
"That is not what was meant," Legolas said, his voice quiet and thoughtful. "The heat has affected all of us and will continue to do so. You are our friend, Eomer, and we only wished to ease your troubles if that is possible. But it seems to me that more than the heat is amiss."
"And if seems so to you, Legolas, than it must be. After all, you are the elf and who am I to dispute your superior senses."
Had Eomer stopped to think about the words he uttered before they left his mouth, he would have never said them. Had Eomer been paying attention to the way Legolas stiffened at his last comment and how the elf’s eyes filled with a look of grief, he would have immediately formulated an apology. And had Eomer noticed Gimli’s scowl of anger and the way the dwarf’s hands strayed to his axe while rage flashed across his face, he would have feared for his life. But Eomer did none of these things, lost as he was in his own world of growing suspicion and rampant paranoia. Sensing that no further comments would be forthcoming from elf and dwarf and completely missing the shock and anger that radiated from both of them, he turned Shade with an abruptness that startled the horse and spurred him away from the group, leaving all manners of organization and setup to Aragorn. After all, that was what the king of Gondor truly wanted.
Confused by Eomer’s actions, Shade tossed his head and snorted, hoping to receive something in the way of a comforting word or a consoling pat. But Eomer was not paying attention to the needs of his horse and instead urged the steed into a fast gallop, directing him further and further away from the cooling waters of Lake Nurnein. It was a mark of how distraught the horse-lord was, for had he been in his right mind, he would have known from the rasp of Shade’s snorts that the stallion was in need of water. But a single thought seemed to pervade Eomer’s mind this night, and a single goal consumed his consciousness. And that goal now lay in sight, kneeling in the sand and attaching a small, rolled parchment to the leg of a hawk.
"Garat!" Eomer cried, galloping Shade hard the last hundred feet and then bringing the distraught horse to an abrupt and screeching halt.
Startled by this sudden intrusion, Garat stood and whirled about, his hand straying to the curved sword that lay hidden beneath his desert robes. When his eyes came to rest upon Eomer, a sickening smile twisted his face. He turned away, knelt, and then stood again, this time with the hawk on his arm. "My greetings, honored one. What brings you to me as the night wanes?"
Eomer was not in the mood to brandy words. Swinging off his horse, he advanced on the man with his hand clutching tightly at the hilt of his sword. "You and Dashnir conspired to attack our camp using Bron’s raiders," he accused, wasting no time in coming straight to the point.
Garat frowned and studied Eomer for a moment. "Your words are blunt, young king. Such is the way of the desert. Perhaps you are not as stupid as you appear to be."
The king of Rohan ground his teeth and wrapped his hand tighter around the smooth hilt of Guthwinë. "You are avoiding the question."
"I did not know that a question had been asked. I remember only a statement that you seemed to think was a fact."
"Then allow me to rephrase," Eomer hissed, clenching his teeth together. "Can you deny that you and Dashnir instigated the raid on our camp while we were stopped at Lake Supt? And can you deny that you used the raid as a distraction to rob Legolas of his elven senses?"
The corners of Garat’s mouth twitched and he suddenly cast his arm into the air, releasing the hawk. The bird cried aloud and then spread its wings wide, quickly catching an updraft and soaring away from the two men. After watching the hawk as it slowly faded from sight, Garat looked back down at Eomer and shrugged. "I did not know that Legolas had not his elven senses. From what I have observed, he does not seem to be inhibited by this."
"Answer the question," Eomer growled. "Or are you afraid?"
Garat’s eyes flashed and it was his turn to advance. "Know this, King Eomer of Rohan. I am of the Warra tribe and I am a warrior on the council. I am never afraid and you would do well to remember that."
"Then show me your courage and tell me what I wish to know."
"I have not the power to cast a shadow over the elf’s mind," Garat said. "As for the raiders, they were clearly uninformed as to your strength and ability as a military power. Would I order an attack without sufficient information? Such an action would be unwise. Surely you know that, honored one."
"You play with words, but they will not hide you forever," Eomer promised. "Answer me now. What of Dashnir? What part did he have in this?"
"I am not accountable for his actions, honored one. I am neither his master nor his slave. What he chooses to do is his affair and if it happens to coincide with my own plans or the plans of my tribe, then so be it."
It was the last straw. Faced with nothing but circular, evasive answers, something deep within the horse-lord snapped. What Eomer did next he did in a fit of rage, and had he been able to remember this incident afterwards, it is doubtful that he could have explained the thought processes that led him to his actions. But regardless of how it came about or what justification his mind invented to rationalize it, he suddenly surprised both himself and Garat but lunging at the delegate from Warra and seizing him by the throat. The two went tumbling into the cold sand and a hard elbow to Eomer’s chest caused him to loosen his grip slightly. A flash of pain ripped down his left forearm and he grunted in surprise. Tightening his hold on Garat’s throat with his right arm and feeling the man gasp for air, he drew his left arm back and seized Garat’s right hand just as it came back in for another strike. Garat then bucked beneath him and they rolled to the side, grappling for control of the short knife that Garat still held in his hand. Shade neighed suddenly, distracting Eomer just enough for Garat to tear his arm free of the horse-lord’s grasp. The knife shot forward, seeking to imbed itself in Eomer’s chest, but it was suddenly and abruptly knocked away. Seeing his chance, Eomer surged forward, looking to collapse Garat’s windpipe when a hard blow from above knocked him backwards.
Coming out of his roll onto his knees, he tried to reorient himself in order to deal with this new threat, but he did not react quickly enough. Lights exploded in his mind as the hilt of a sword connected with the side of his head. Falling forward, he hit the sand hard and groaned in spite of himself. A booted foot turned him over and his dimming eyes made out the black silhouette of Dashnir as he loomed against the starry sky.
"Isn’t this interesting," the man murmured, reaching down and placing a hand on the side of Eomer’s face. Eomer tried to jerk away, but a shadow suddenly fell over him and he found he could not move. It felt as though probing fingers, bitterly cold to the touch, flitted through his mind. His thoughts froze, he struggled to breathe, and then the world faded into darkness.
* * * *
Aragorn could not remember a time when his mind had been in such turmoil. It seemed that the harder he grasped, the more elusive answers became. The facts were all there, waiting only to be pieced together like one of Bilbo’s infuriating wooden puzzles, but for all his training and all his talents as a descendent of Isildur and Elendil, Aragorn could not get the different parts to match. During the night’s ride, he’d examined all that he knew from every possible angle and every possible perspective, and still explanations fled from his mind. Like water through a sieve, Aragorn thought to himself, his brow furrowing in frustration. All that I know falls through, and even those around me can do nothing to prevent the flow. And where is Eomer!?
Raised to be a captain of the Rangers, Aragorn was used to knowing things not commonly known and seeing things not commonly seen. He was used to having enough information that he might paint at least a broad picture of the Enemy’s movements and intents. He was used to knowing where his men scouted, what their objectives were as they patrolled various regions, and what might threaten them should fortune abandon the Dúnedain as she was wont to do from time to time. He had come to trust his intuition as surely as one might trust another sense, yet now it seemed his abilities were in a frenzy of chaos and disarray. He no longer knew what to trust, what to dismiss, what to mark as important, or what to seek. And the lack of concrete information—or even semi-reliable hunches—was driving him to madness.
"Aragorn? Know you where Eomer has gone?"
Aragorn jumped slightly at this sudden intrusion into his thoughts and he turned quickly, his eyes coming to rest on Gimli and Legolas. The elf’s eyes narrowed slightly, apparently catching Aragorn’s lapse, but Gimli seemed oblivious enough and the king of Gondor decided to focus his attention on the dwarf. He was not in the mood to confront Legolas’s questions or concerns right now. "I do not, Gimli. It was my hope that he had gone somewhere with the two of you."
"We had hoped to borrow his shield again, but perhaps we should seek Arhelm instead, since Eomer is not to be found," the dwarf mused.
"Something troubles him," Legolas spoke softly, his eyes still examining Aragorn’s tense form. Even without the gift of elven senses, his probing gaze still had the power to make even a descendent of Isildur become restless and unnerved. "As we stopped to discuss the site of our camp, Gimli and I attempted to have words with Eomer, but he answered us in a fit of anger and rode off. I would have expected him to return by now."
"Eomer is not alone in his troubles, though," Gimli said, drumming his fingers absently on the haft of his axe. "Did you not jump just now when we came upon you? I have very rarely seen you take unawares, and we were making no effort to be silent."
"Gimli is incapable of silence anyway," Legolas added. The dwarf tossed the elf an annoyed look but did not pursue the insult, instead turning to look at Aragorn as they waited for an answer.
"My thoughts were elsewhere and I fear I lost track of my surroundings," the king of Gondor said at length.
Judging from Legolas’s narrowed eyes and Gimli’s derisive snort, the two were not satisfied with his response. But how else could he explain his preoccupation? He didn’t fully understand it himself. Perhaps he could avert their concern by claiming the heat was wearing hard on his mind. Or perhaps he could divert them by instead seeking to uncover the mystery behind Eomer’s anger and subsequent disappearance. And perhaps you will convince them that dragons are really disgruntled hobbits, the more cynical side of Aragorn’s brain informed him.
"The sun will rise soon," Aragorn said when the silence began to become awkward. "Let us retire to the tent and hope Eomer will join us soon. Further discussions we might have can take place there."
This seemed to agree with Legolas and Gimli, who exchanged quick glances and then nodded in acceptance. Following his friends, a slow smile traced its way over Aragorn’s rugged his face. Perhaps this would work out for the best after all. Legolas and Gimli wanted something of him, and he had something he wanted of Legolas. Letting the flap of the tent fall shut behind him, Aragorn moved to his pile of saddlebags and began looking through them, aware of the questioning gazes of his companions. Eventually finding the object of his search he stood, turned, and fixed his eyes on Legolas. "A trade. I answer your questions, but before I do so, you take something to aid your sleep."
The elf blinked. "Something to aid my sleep?"
"You are probably not aware of it, but Gimli sat up with you for much of the day, watching your sleep and stepping in when dark dreams became too much. I checked my supplies and have found a few leaves of ôlgalenas. Will you at least humor me in this? And I shall humor you in your questions."
Legolas frowned and turned his attention to Gimli. "You were awake for much of the day? Why did you not wake me? I thought you were with me only a short time."
"You needed your rest," Gimli answered gruffly, refusing to meet the elf’s inquiring eyes.
"Legolas?" Aragorn prompted, waving the faded leaves slightly.
The elf scowled, wrinkling his nose slightly at the scent that ôlgalenas made. "Their taste is foul. And I have no need to be drugged."
"Speaking on Gimli’s behalf, I think it would be wise if you did take them."
"Elven sleep is not as mortal sleep. I have no wish to alter my rest."
"Your sleep isn’t elven sleep right now," Gimli broke in, his voice firm and commanding. "You told me yourself that you could no longer control the dreams that haunt you. If you cannot control these dreams, at least prevent them from searing your mind and keeping me awake."
"I do not need—"
"Yes, you do."
Elf and dwarf scowled at one another, and Aragorn watched with no small degree of amazement as the two friends faced off in a contest of wills. It was an interesting sight, to say the least. Gimli, his head level with the other’s elbow, stood with bristling beard and flashing eyes, daring his friend to disagree with him. By contrast, Legolas loomed tall and fair, his imperious gaze braving the dwarf’s stern disapproval and testifying of his own pride and stubbornness. For a moment they stood thus, silent and immovable. Then, something happened, the growing tension vanished as swiftly as it had appeared, and Legolas looked away.
"One leaf only," the elf murmured. "No more than that."
"One leaf is hardly sufficient," Aragorn protested. "Three at least."
"One," Legolas said firmly, his eyes hardening in an expression that Aragorn immediately recognized. "One or none at all. One leaf shall be more than adequate to dull my dreams to the point where they lose their vividness and cease to trouble me."
"Two leaves?" Gimli asked hopefully. Legolas narrowed his eyes and glared at the dwarf.
"One it is," Aragorn said with a slight smile, pouring some water into a thin metal cup. Crushing one of the dried leaves, his held his breath as the strong, bitter scent rose into the air and let the pieces fall into the cup. Swirling it about, he watched as the juices stored within the leaf mixed with the water and turned it a rather milky white. Darting a glance over his shoulder, Aragorn found that Legolas was watching him carefully. Plans for crushing another leaf faded away and Aragorn smiled at the elf’s scrutiny. "You know me too well, my friend," he said, handing the cup to the elf.
"I have been the subject of your healing tricks too often to fall for them again," Legolas replied, sniffing distastefully at the mixture and staring at it as though his gaze would somehow make it more palpable.
"It disappears if you drink it," Gimli said helpfully.
"I am of more than half a mind to pour this concoction on your head, dwarf."
"If you do, dreams will be the least of your troubles, elf."
"Drink it, Legolas," Aragorn said with a slight laugh. "The taste will not improve with time and you are better served by getting this trial over with."
The elf sent Aragorn a rather disturbing glare but with a shudder, he put the cup to his lips and tipped his head back. Legolas downed the fell concoction in one, long swallow, and then practically threw the cup back to Aragorn, his face twisting as he tried to rid himself of the foul taste. Gimli handed the elf a skin of water and Legolas gratefully took a long drink. Returning the skin to Gimli, he licked his lips and fastened his eyes on Aragorn.
"Now, my liege, I have kept my end of the bargain. It is your turn, and I would hear your answers before this potion sends me to sleep. What troubles you?"
"A lack of answers," Aragorn sighed, stacking some of the carpets and sitting down. Gimli and Legolas followed his lead and when all were seated, Aragorn continued. "I feel as though all the information is here but I am incapable of making sense of it. Plans and intentions are before us, but I cannot seem to create of them any clear picture."
"I was of the opinion that we had developed a very clear picture earlier," Gimli said, his face taking on a strange expression that the king could not read. "We have established that Garat is Dashnir’s pawn and that Dashnir is a pawn of a greater power. We suspect Dashnir to be of Númenórean descent, and we suspect that he was the one to cast ú-glîr over Legolas. We think the raiders’ attack on our first morning in Harad was a test of our skills. What clearer picture could you desire, Aragorn?"
"One that reveals motives and ultimate intentions."
"Gondor’s fall," Legolas supplied. "And I would add your death to the list of motives and intentions, as well as revenge for the disgrace of the Black Númenóreans."
"Let us not forget domination of other tribes in the desert," Gimli said.
"But it is not enough!" Aragorn exclaimed, abruptly rising and beginning to pace. "We must know more. How shall they go about achieving their goals? When will they act? Where do the other tribes stand?"
"As for how they shall achieve their goals, I suspect it depends upon their perception of our strengths and weaknesses," Legolas said, fighting back a yawn. "They will act at a time when interference will be least but visibility will be greatest. I suspect that would be during a lull in the negotiations once we reach Haradhur. And from what you have told us, the other tribes are suspicious of both Khurintu and Warra."
"What more would you desire to know?" Gimli asked, his concerned eyes following Aragorn as the king continued to pace.
"Specifics," Aragorn murmured, rubbing his temples. "All we know are generalities."
"That is all we usually know," the dwarf said.
Isildur’s heir passed a hand over his eyes and sighed, trying to settle his mind. But it seemed to be in an uproar, clamoring for more and more information but the information was just not to be had. Legolas and Gimli were right. They knew all they could possibly know and it was no less than what they had known in past conflicts. In fact, it was more than they had normally known throughout the War of the Ring and they were lucky to have as much information as they did. But why was he still uneasy? And why did he feel this overwhelming need to keep pressing the obvious when it was clear that he had wrung all intuition possible from what little facts they had?
"My apologies," he whispered, shaking himself and sitting back down. "I do not know what has come over me."
"Possibly the same thing that has come over Eomer," Gimli mused thoughtfully. "You desire information and feel you have been slighted. Eomer desires respect and feels he has been slighted."
"Something is playing on your fears," Legolas said, unable to hold back a yawn this time. "Just as my dreams trouble me, your obsessions and hidden fears trouble you."
"That makes sense," Aragorn reluctantly conceded. "But if so, what is causing this? And how? And in relation to all this, why is Gimli not affected?"
The dwarf blinked and frowned. "I had not considered that," he murmured. "I suppose I should be affected, but I do not feel as though my thoughts and feelings have been altered. What think you Legolas? Legolas?"
The elf jerked his head up and blinked. "Yes?"
"Perhaps you should lie down ere you topple over," Aragorn recommended.
Legolas scowled. "What was the question?"
"Never mind," Gimli said. "This discussion can wait until you are more coherent. Let us retire for the day. Has Eomer still not shown himself?"
"No, he has not," Aragorn said, frowning. Getting up, he walked to one of the tent’s two flaps. By now, the sun had lifted her fierce, burning gaze above the horizon and the temperature was already beginning to soar. Lifting the tent flap slightly, Aragorn shielded his eyes against the blinding light reflecting off the sand and frowned. There was no sign of Eomer anywhere.
A thud behind him and a muttered oath in the dwarven tongue called his attention back to the tent’s interior, and Aragorn laughed quietly when he turned. "Trust an elf to fall asleep in the middle of the tent," Gimli grumbled, looping his arms beneath Legolas’s and dragging the elf to a corner where carpets were already waiting. "I suspect he did this on purpose just to force me to drag his weight about."
"He must have been tired," Aragorn answered. "One leaf is rarely that effective."
"At least he is asleep and at least we know where he is," Gimli said. "Think you that we should look for Eomer?"
"I suppose we must. We are far enough south that even a few minutes in the sun can be dangerous," Aragorn sighed. He didn’t particularly relish the prospect of looking for Eomer, and if Legolas’s theory was right, Eomer would be greatly offended if he knew that the others were concerned for his safety. But what else could be done?
Fortunately, the answer to that question poked his head in through the tent flap. "Sire?"
Aragorn blinked, startled by Imhran’s appearance, but quickly snapped into command mode. "Report."
"By your leave, sire, I think showing would be better than reporting," the captain of Gondor’s guard said, pushing the tent flap open with one arm. It was quickly revealed that his other arm was being used to support the unconscious king of Rohan with Arhelm’s aid.
"We found him by the edge of the lake, sire," Arhelm explained as he and Imhran maneuvered Eomer to the floor of the tent. "None nearby claimed to know anything of how he’d come to be there."
Cursing softly, Aragorn knelt beside Eomer and felt for a pulse. Gimli joined him as Imhran and Arhelm stepped back. "How is he?"
"His pulse is high," Aragorn murmured, running his hands over Eomer’s head to check for injuries. "And he may have been hit here just behind the ear." The king of Gondor then took a look at Eomer’s left forearm where a strip of torn cloth had been used as an impromptu bandage. "Who wrapped this?"
"I did, my liege," Imhran answered. "The bleeding had almost stopped, but I judged it would be safer if I wrapped it anyway."
"Knife wound," Aragorn murmured as he pulled the bandage back. "Shallow. From the jagged tear, it was made during a struggle. He is lucky to have received no worse than this." Bending closer to examine it, the king of Gondor studied it carefully. There was no sign of poison or infection, but that did not mean there was no substance on the blade’s edge. Some drugs left no sign but merely rendered their victim unconscious with but a scratch. Perhaps this had happened to Eomer. And yet…something within Aragorn rejected this idea. He turned to Imhran and Arhelm. "You say none know how this happened?"
"None that the Rohirrim found, sire," Arhelm said. "And we made a thorough search."
Aragorn exchanged a wordless look with Gimli and then shook his head darkly. "Dismissed. Look to your own needs and sleep with your weapons close at hand."
Sketching brief bows, the two captains left, though Arhelm seemed reluctant to do so. Once they were gone, Aragorn sighed and rubbed his eyes. "What is happening to us, Gimli?" he asked, his voice so soft it was difficult to hear.
"I know not, but perhaps we should reconsider our policy of confronting Dashnir. Or not confronting him, as the case may be."
Aragorn thought about the idea, but eventually shook his head. "No, my reasoning is clear enough on that point. Let us wait until Eomer wakes. He may have much to tell us."
Gimli leaned back and folded his arms, studying the man before him carefully. "Perhaps you are only on a search for more information, Aragorn. Are you certain that we do not have enough to act now?"
This was actually a question that Aragorn had been asking himself. Once confronted by the fact that he was becoming increasingly paranoid about missing the slightest details, he could not deny it. Now he wondered if this uncertainty was holding him back when the situation actually demanded action. What exactly was this fear doing to him? How had it come about and how much was it affecting his decisions and thought processes? Somehow, he had to learn more about it! Now I seek for more information concerning the state of my mind, Aragorn silently groaned. He felt as though he traveled in a circle, weaving around endlessly as he attempted to confront a problem only to find that it led him back to his starting position. Taking a deep breath and relaxing his mind as Elladan had taught him to do long ago in Rivendell, he waited for subconscious thoughts to surface. For a moment, there was nothing and it seemed that only a great darkness confronted him. And then, little by little, his original reasoning began to come forth.
"We wait," Aragorn said at length, confident for now that his decision was a sound one. "We cannot confront Dashnir without threatening his honor, and we cannot attack his honor without more proof than what we have. For now, we wait."
The dwarf considered Aragorn for a long moment and then he slowly nodded. "I follow your lead, Aragorn, son of Arathorn. And since Eomer and Legolas seem to be indisposed at the moment, I shall also speak for them. Whither you go, there also shall we go."
"My thanks, Gimli, son of Glóin. I only pray that I do not lead
us where fortune can no longer follow." Aragorn sighed and shook his head.
"Come. Let us join our two companions, for in resting, they are wiser than
we. Tonight we ride to Haradhur. We must be prepared."
Ôlgalenas—I made this word up but a rough Sindarin translation would be "dream leaf."
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.