2. Wooden Heads and Wooden Poles
Let us hope the Company will be gathered again some day. And for the next stage yours will be the better road, I think. As you jog on your pony think of me clinging here while Legolas vies at horse-racing with those fell Rangers yonder.
Gimli—The War of the Ring (Many Roads Lead Eastward)
By the time Gimli finished dressing, he had calmed considerably. Clothing helped. The lack of an audience also helped. An intense surge of relief had swept over him when Legolas pushed his under-tunic and trousers through the gaps in the broken door, and this relief had magnified itself tenfold when he realized that Legolas was the only one in the hallway.
And it was quite fortunate that Gimli was now in a much more amenable frame of mind, because he was still trapped in his room and Legolas still had his axe. Nor had the elf done anything to free the dwarf, though he certainly possessed the necessary equipment for the task. At least Elrohir had made a show of pulling at the boards, though Gimli had been able to tell that the younger of the twins had not given it his best effort. Still, any effort was appreciated at this point in time, and confronted by Legolas’s complete lack of action, Gimli felt his anger rekindle itself.
Apparently sensing the impending explosion of wrath, Legolas stepped up to the barricaded doorway, axe in hand, and began to speak. "I know you wish to be loosed from your room, Gimli, but before I destroy these boards, I must explain something to you."
Gimli shot his friend a look of pure incredulity. "What must you explain that requires I be caged in my room?!"
"I promise that it shall not take long, but you must listen," the elf said. "First of all, I had nothing to do with any of this. I realize that this may seem improbable, especially given that your clothing and your weapons were in my room. But I assure you that I did not stir last night until I heard your yell this morning, and even then, it took me a great deal of time to wake sufficiently so that I might respond. I was drugged as were you."
"Legolas—" Gimli began.
"Please, allow me to finish," the elf interrupted. "I can only explain myself by saying that Elladan and Elrohir wish for it to appear as though I had done this. That is why my things were untouched this morning."
"It is obvious to me that Elladan and Elrohir wish for us to be at odds, for divided we are unable to effectively retaliate against them and they are free to enjoy the day and take what actions they will at their leisure. So you see, Gimli, I—"
"Legolas!" Gimli shouted, finally getting the prince’s attention. "Valar, will you cease your prattle and listen?! I know you were not responsible for this."
The elf blinked, seeming both flustered and surprised. "You do?"
Gimli rolled his eyes. "One would have to be blind not to know! By Mahal, how stupid do you think I am?!"
A mischievous look flickered over Legolas’s face. "Do you wish for me to answer that?"
"No," Gimli growled, wondering if Aragorn would justify murder given the fact that it would rid Minas Tirith of at least one New Year’s Eve nuisance. "Now, if you are finished explaining the obvious, would you please be so kind as to chop away these boards? Or better yet, slide the axe in to me and I shall do the honors."
"By your leave, Gimli, I believe I would like to wield a weapon at the moment," Legolas said, shifting one leg back and evenly distributing his weight. "I am rather frustrated with my inability to anticipate the moves of Elrond’s sons."
"And think you that I am any less frustrated?!" Gimli shouted.
In response, Legolas shrugged and then swung the axe over his shoulder. The sharp blade crashed into the boards, causing a shower of wood to explode into Gimli’s room. Backing up slightly and realizing that he would have to find another way to vent his anger, Gimli looked about his room for something large and expensive that he could break.
"So tell me, Master Dwarf. How did you come to the conclusion that I was not to blame for this?" Legolas called in between swings of the axe.
Caught in the middle of a debate as to what would be most satisfying to destroy—he was leaning toward the oak wardrobe in the corner, but the sturdy balcony railing was also promising—Gimli looked back at the elf and blinked. "Pardon?"
"How did you know that I was not to blame for what happened in your room?" Legolas repeated, knocking a large hole in the middle of the barricaded doorway.
"Had it been you, then you would not have left me the sheets."
Legolas laughed. "True enough," the elf conceded. "But what of Elladan and Elrohir? How did you come to know that they were responsible?"
Gimli grunted and shook his head. "Do you truly believe that I am so ignorant? Elrohir and Elladan came walking toward my room. The rest of you came running. Moreover, they had apparently stopped first in your room, for they knew the location of my weapons and my clothes. Beyond that, Elrohir looked too smug for his own good."
"Those could be but a string of coincidences," Legolas pointed out, batting aside the remainder of the boards and creating an opening whereby Gimli could leave the room. "Your weapon, Master Dwarf," the elf said with an exaggerated bow, extending to Gimli the haft of the axe.
"Thank you," the dwarf said gruffly as he stepped through the newly created hole. Taking his axe, he shoved it beneath his belt and loosed a quick sigh of relief before turning back to their conversation. "As for your string of coincidences, to have them all happen at once is unlikely. More than that, something about the situation felt…wrong. I seem to be getting better at catching an elf in a lie. Elladan and Elrohir were less than truthful with us this morning."
Legolas nodded slowly and offered a slight smile. "My apologies for doubting you, then. I believe I have underestimated you."
"You usually do," Gimli reprimanded. "Know this, Legolas. I may be a dwarf and dwarves may be blunt and direct where diplomacy is concerned, but do not think that we have no appreciation and talent for the art of subtle deception. Or that we cannot recognize it at work."
"Indeed?" Legolas looked to be highly amused, which did nothing for Gimli’s current mood.
"I am surprised by your ignorance," the dwarf answered, his voice colored with annoyance and a hint of warning. "Were you not present when Thorin Oakenshield was brought before your father? That was an example of subtle deception on the part of dwarves."
"Thorin allowing himself to be captured was an example of subtle deception?"
"No, you flighty elf! Thorin’s response to the ensuing interrogation. That is the example of subtle deception."
Legolas frowned. "I do not think it was an interrogation so much as our desire to know why thirteen dwarves had decided to interrupt our festival."
Gimli rolled his eyes. There was a reason that they didn’t talk about this particular history subject very much, but at the moment, the dwarf had a point to prove. "Whatever you wish to call it, it still remains that Thorin used subtle deception to mislead you and the other elves."
A fine elven eyebrow arched at this statement. "Master Dwarf, I believe that your beard has twisted itself around your neck and deprived you of air. There was no subtle deception involved when Thorin came before my father. There was nothing subtle about the entire thing! Thorin was asked a few completely reasonable questions and he refused to answer most of them."
"Reasonable? That is not how I have heard the story," Gimli harrumphed.
"And how have you heard the story?"
"It was told to me of how the great Thorin Oakenshield answered only those questions as could be accounted safe, and he did so with great care and caution. When the questions became dangerous and insulting, he fell quiet and with his stoic silence proved to all that the questions had become offensive. Out of chagrin and indignation, your people imprisoned him."
Legolas was now looking at Gimli as though the dwarf had suddenly sprouted a second head. "I know not where you find your sources of information, Master Dwarf, for Thorin was questioned without any of his companions present. Whatever account you are working from must needs be suspect. If you like, though, I will remedy your ignorance and tell you exactly what happened when Thorin was brought before my father."
"This should prove interesting," Gimli said, folding his arms across his chest.
Legolas rolled his eyes but refused to be baited. "Thorin Oakenshield had just interrupted a celebration and had been apprehended by our royal guards. Naturally we wished to know why he, twelve other dwarves, and a hobbit had been intruding, but all he would say to us was that he was hungry. When we asked what had brought him onto our lands in the first place, he refused to answer."
"Exactly," Gimli said. "You were forced to go through other sources before learning the true mission of Thorin and his companions. You were successfully foiled by the art of subtle deception."
"Gimli, the word subtle usually implies a degree of discretion. Thorin had none. Everyone within earshot of the court knew that he was hiding something! When the only answer you give in your defense is that you were hungry and looking for food and you then cease to speak if the subject turns to anything else, it is rather obvious that something important is not being said."
"You are, of course, working from the benefit of hindsight," Gimli pointed out, searching for flaws in the elf’s argument.
"Which is better than you, for you are working without any sight whatsoever, be it foresight or hindsight. Gimli, you were not there. Your father wasn’t even there when Thorin was brought before the king. I, on the other hand, was at court that day. I remember very well what happened and what words were spoken. But enough of this," Legolas said as Gimli was about to jump in with more arguments to the contrary. "Such things are in the past and I would rather focus upon the present. We must retaliate for the morning’s activities. Have you any suggestions?"
"You assured me yesterday that your talents were not lacking in this area," Gimli pointed out, marking the topic change as a victory of sorts for himself. "I thought that you would have suggestions."
"And I do, but I would hear a dwarf’s ideas first. New insight and a new perspective might well turn the tides against our friends from Imladris."
"Ah. You should have warned me last night that you would be seeking my counsel. I have not had sufficient time to plan. Dwarves have our days of mischief, but not quite to the extent that young elves seem to have them."
"Young?" Legolas challenged, his eyes glinting.
Gimli sighed, sensing that this could be a very long day. He cast about his mind for a suitable response, but he was saved when the sound of footsteps coming down the hallway arrested his attention. Curiously, he turned and watched as Aragorn, Arwen, Elrohir, and Eldarion came into view. The faces of Aragorn and Arwen were unreadable, but Elrohir looked rather upset. This could be attributed to the fact that he was holding a very energetic Eldarion, but there seemed to be something more to his expression than just concern that the crown-prince would escape his hold.
"I see you have been liberated from your room," Aragorn observed, and Gimli watched suspiciously as hint of a smile curved one side of the king’s mouth. "My congratulations."
"My thanks," Gimli answered, wondering what new game was afoot. Legolas had shifted behind the dwarf almost as thought he was preparing to cover him in the event of an attack. And an attack was exactly what Gimli sensed coming.
"Arwen and I have a request to make," Aragorn continued, watching both elf and dwarf carefully. His scrutiny was less than comforting, and Gimli fought the urge to back away. "We wish to give Eldarion’s nurses leave to enjoy themselves this day, but while they are gone, someone must needs look after our son. We wondered if the two of you might be willing to shoulder this responsibility."
Gimli blinked and he felt Legolas stiffen behind him. While both had been expecting an assault of some kind, they had not expected this. "You wish us to…" Gimli shook his head and turned his eyes toward Eldarion, who seemed to sense that someone was speaking about him and had taken an interest in the conversation.
"If you would be so kind," Arwen said, her soft yet firm voice making the request a command. "For the morning, at least. You are welcome to bring him down to the Pelennor Fields around noon so that he may eat with us and enjoy the day."
"I recommend that you take him to the Queen’s Gardens in the meantime," Aragorn suggested. "He enjoys the trees and the plants. The flowers are beginning to bloom, and there should be much to keep him entertained."
"Aragorn," Legolas started, "I think that—"
"Come, Eldarion," Aragorn interrupted, taking his squirming son from Elrohir. "Do you remember Gimli? The dwarf who brought you those beautiful toys last year?"
Eldarion turned bright, gray eyes upon Gimli, studied him for a moment, and then nodded excitedly. "Gimli!" he shouted, wiggling free of his father and hurrying toward the dwarf. Throwing himself up into the arms of a very startled Gimli, he seized the dwarf’s beard and tugged firmly on it.
"He apparently remembers you well," Aragorn said. "That is good. Perhaps he will also listen to you, then. Take good care of him, Gimli. And you as well, Legolas. I charge his safety to your capable hands. I pray I do not err in this."
"But Aragorn, I—"
"We shall be under one of the larger pavilions around noon," Arwen said. "Come, Elrohir. Let us find your brother and go down. There is much to be done this day." And with this, not waiting for another word of protest, the three swept out of the hallway. Elrohir gave them a sour look ere he turned a corner, and then they were gone.
"I would guess that this new task puts an end to some of your plans," Gimli said at length, wincing slightly as Eldarion gave his beard another sharp tug.
"It certainly makes them more difficult," Legolas murmured. There was a moment of despairing silence and then the elf shook his head. "But then, I suppose that this is merely a working example of a dwarf’s talents in the art of subtle deception, and you have planned something else. Watching Eldarion for the morning is but a small part of the strategy. Yes, Gimli, I see now. And I can hardly restrain my joy. The excitement and anticipation of witnessing the outcome of this dwarven display of subtle deception is breathtaking. Lead on, elvellon. My heart can only guess at what you have in store for us next."
Were it not for Eldarion’s stranglehold on the dwarf’s beard, Mirkwood would have found itself short one prince that day. As it was, Gimli had to settle for a glare that would freeze Orodruin—though it seemed to do nothing to Legolas—and instead turn his anger toward thoughts of a belated revenge for the morning’s activities.
* * * *
Relishing the feel of new grass beneath his feet, Pippin stretched his arms above his head, yawned, and tipped his face upwards so that it might catch the sunlight. The scent of spring was strong upon the Pelennor fields and reminded him very much of the forests and hills around the Great Smials. As a very young hobbit, Pippin had explored them until he knew every tree and every stone, and his favorite time of year had been spring. Life seemed to reach its peak the moment winter relinquished its grip, and Pippin had always managed to escape whatever chore he was given so that he might enjoy nature in its fullest.
Hearing a grateful sigh next to him, Pippin glanced over and grinned as he watched Merry mimic his movements. "A beautiful day," he offered.
The Brandybuck nodded and smiled. "I’m glad Strider told us to come down here. It’s a wonderful way to start the morning."
"Especially since the morning already began with a big breakfast," Pippin added, giving his bulging stomach a satisfied pat.
"And did you have enough to eat before the interruption?" Faramir asked, coming up behind the hobbits with Eowyn on his arm. "I would hate to think that the unexpected commotion spoiled your meal."
"I wasn’t finished, my lord, but I was full," Pippin answered. "That doesn’t mean I couldn’t do with another meal, though," he added with a grin.
"Now I begin to understand what Elladan and Elrohir spoke of when they rode through the gates of Edoras and promptly began complaining," Eomer said as he joined the group. "Is it possible for hobbits to eat their fill of something? Or is a meal only finished when all the food is gone?"
"It is possible for hobbits to become full," Merry answered lazily, watching a group of horses gallop over the fields near the southern end. "But it is something of a rare event."
"Are those your steeds?" Faramir asked, glancing toward Eomer.
"Indeed they are," the king of Rohan said with unabashed pride. "And at their head rides my son, if you look closely. Where is Imrahil? He should be present to see this."
"He is here," Imrahil called, walking over with Lothíriel at his side. "And he is not suitably impressed. Your stallions seem to have lost some of their speed, Eomer. And your mares sag as though they are heavy with foal. Surely these are not the animals that you intend to race against the mounts of the Swan Knights!"
Pippin rolled his eyes and walked a few steps away so as not to be caught in the crossfire. This contest of words between Eomer and Imrahil had begun the previous afternoon and had occupied the bulk of their conversation ever since. It was becoming rather wearisome, and there were no indications that it would cease until the prince of Dol Amroth and the king of Rohan had raced one another. Judging from comments made by Eowyn, this rivalry had now existed for quite some time. It also seemed to be Faramir’s new role in life to encourage the endless banter, for whenever there was a lull in the conversation, he would subtly find a way to bring up the subject of horses. It only took a few additional words of encouragement, and Imrahil and Eomer would be off on their tangent again.
"Reminds me of Legolas and Gimli," Merry commented, joining Pippin in moving away from the others. "They don’t know when to stop."
"Why can’t they have a race now and get this silly business decided?" Pippin wondered. "There’s not a lot of activity out here yet, and it seems to me that a race could be arranged easily enough."
"I don’t see why not," Merry answered. "But you have to remember the people we’re talking about. They’re not hobbits, Pippin, and sometimes they don’t think the way sensible people ought to think. There’s proper decorum and the like to consider. It would be unseemly for the king of Rohan and the prince of Dol Amroth to take off around the fields in a race."
"Why? Beregond told me that Strider races around the Pelennor often enough."
"Yes, but Strider does it before the sun rises," Merry said. "No one is up to watch, and those that are awake are too sleepy to care."
"Shall we be forced to listen to this for the remainder of the day?" a new voice suddenly asked, and Pippin turned as Arwen wandered out into the field in the company of Aragorn and her two brothers.
"Your pardon, my queen," Imrahil said with a slight bow. "Yet I feel that the courtesy of Rohan is greatly lessened these days while imaginings about its own glory and grandeur have become greatly exaggerated."
This prompted an outraged cry from Eomer—who was not quite up to matching the elegant wordplay of his father-in-law despite Gimli’s helpful tutelage—and the rivalry might have turned ugly had not Aragorn stepped forward. "Peace, both of you," he said, his voice rather stern. "If this is to be the way of it, then race now. There are few enough people upon the Pelennor, and a race shall spare the rest of us the burden of listening to your ceaseless boasts and arguments."
"It seems that there are sensible people about," Merry whispered.
"And a good thing, too," Pippin added quietly. "I was trying to find an excuse that would get me away from this bunch for the rest of the day."
"Oh, well if you were looking for that, you had only to ask me. Arwen told me this morning that the kitchens shall be open all day. There won’t always be cooks in them, but she said that we’re welcome to help ourselves if we wish it."
Pippin blinked and stared at the Brandybuck. "Is that a jest?"
Merry shook his head. "Not at all. But if you like, we can ask again to make certain."
"No, let’s take Arwen at her word," Pippin said, deciding not to look this particular gift horse in the mouth. "I have no desire to be here for the end of the race when Eomer and Imrahil start to argue about who was cheating and why."
Merry laughed. "Very well, Cousin Took. Let us leave the fields and find the kitchens."
Putting their intent into actions, the hobbits quietly slipped past their larger companions, who were now watching as Imrahil and Eomer debated about how long the race should be and what the boundaries constituted. Pippin hoped Faramir would keep his mouth shut for this argument. It was not one that needed to be encouraged. In fact, once Eomer and Imrahil solved the specifics of their impromptu race, they might actually compete and then let the matter rest for the remainder of the holiday. It was something of a wishful thought on Pippin’s part, but then, Sauron’s destruction had been something of a wishful thought on the part of the Wise. As a result, Pippin decided he could also harbor some optimism.
But then, the Wise were working with sensible hobbits when they sent the Ring to Mount Doom, Pippin reflected. They weren’t forced to deal with Eomer, Faramir, and Imrahil …
Glancing at the gathered group and shaking his head in mock despair, Pippin suddenly stopped and froze. There were fewer people than there had been a moment ago. Somebody was missing. No, not just somebody. A pair. Two were missing.
"Merry, where are Elladan and Elrohir?"
Hearing a note of fear in Pippin’s voice, Merry stopped and turned. His face paled and he looked about the Pelennor Fields. "Did you see them leave?"
Pippin shook his head. "Do you suppose Strider knows where they went?"
"If he doesn’t, then we should probably tell him that they’re missing," Merry said. "And we should ask where Legolas and Gimli are, too. Because they’re also missing."
"Right," Pippin murmured, wondering if he and Merry were too late already to make a run for it. He’d heard that Belfalas was particularly nice this time of year. With a weary sigh, he wandered over to catch the last bits of a conversation that seemed to suggest a racecourse had actually been decided upon. In fact, Imrahil and Eomer were leaving to find their mounts while the others waited to watch the match. "Strider?" Pippin called, trying to keep his voice quiet. "Strider, did you know that Elladan and Elrohir are missing?"
Aragorn had turned in Pippin’s direction when Pippin called his name. Consequently, the hobbit was party to a wealth of fearful expressions that suddenly flashed across the king’s face. It seemed he had not known that Elladan and Elrohir were missing. The thought was not reassuring, and Pippin again wondered if it was too late to flee.
"Did you see them leave?" Aragorn demanded.
Merry shook his head as he joined Pippin. "We just noticed they were gone. And what happened to Legolas and Gimli? Where did they go?"
"Legolas and Gimli are currently tending Eldarion," Aragorn muttered. "It had been my hope that my son might act as a buffer between our guests."
"And he will," Arwen whispered at Aragorn’s side. "Our brothers are too fond of Eldarion to put him at risk."
"But what they consider a risk and what I consider a risk are two entirely different things."
"All will be well," Arwen counseled. "Have faith that things shall work out for the best." The queen then turned her attention upon the hobbits and fixed them both with a rather disconcerting elven stare. "And where might the two of you be going?"
"We…we were going to head back to the Citadel," Pippin said, still slightly suspicious of Merry’s claim that Arwen had given them access to the kitchens.
"I see," Arwen said quietly, a knowing gleam in her eyes. "Then I will look for you come lunch."
"You will not be staying for the race?" Aragorn asked.
Pippin shook his head. "You’ll excuse us, but we had enough of Eomer and Imrahil yesterday. I don’t want to be around when one of them wins. I can only imagine the argument that will result."
"A wise decision," Aragorn said with a chuckle. "Then I will also look for you at lunch."
"Come on, Pippin," Merry hissed, giving Pippin’s shirt a tug. "Imrahil and Eomer have their horses down at the other side of the field. If we’re going to leave, we have to leave now."
"Right then, let’s go," Pippin agreed, turning away and following Merry as he hurried toward the City-gate. By the time the race began, the two were well out of sight and sheltered by the walls of Minas Tirith.
* * * *
"When did Estel become so devious?" Elrohir demanded, neatly weaving his way through the streets of Minas Tirith and ignoring the open stares that his presence garnered. Even with Legolas and his colony of elves firmly established in Southern Ithilien, elves within the city itself were rare. Twins were even rarer—virtually unheard of, in fact—and the sons of Elrond were creating quite a stir.
"I believe he learned it from us," Elladan said, dropping behind and allowing Elrohir to take the lead. Elrohir seemed to be better at steering through crowds and the elder of the twins was quite content to let his brother do the work while he followed in his wake.
"Yes, but since we are the teachers, should not we be able to best him?"
Elrohir shook his head and cursed quietly. "Do you suppose that Legolas said anything to Aragorn that prompted this arrangement?"
"Nay, Legolas and Gimli both wished for retribution. You told me yourself that Legolas looked horrified at the prospect of watching the crown-prince, and I doubt that Gimli wished for the task. Their duties to Eldarion now hamper their own efforts."
"And ours," Elrohir muttered. "We cannot act in a way that will endanger Eldarion or reveal our hand. Which means that for the moment, Legolas and Gimli are beyond our reach."
"While Aragorn is sheltered by Arwen upon the Pelennor Fields," Elladan added. "She will not leave his side so long as we are about. We are indeed presented with an interesting dilemma, brother. What does your strategic mind suggest?"
"Is that why we are wandering aimlessly through Minas Tirith? If it is, may I point out that it is becoming rather tedious?"
Elrohir threw up his hands, stopped, and turned to face Elladan, who performed a rather impressive sideways skid in order to avoid running into his brother. "And what do you suggest? As the oldest, should it not fall upon your shoulders to plan the next move? Our schemes have gone awry thanks to our kingly brother, and we have devised no counter-strategies."
"How could we?" Elladan asked with a shrug and a slight smile. "We knew not what we faced. How were we to guess that Estel would take his role as king and protector so seriously this day?"
Elrohir’s eyes narrowed and he frowned. "You have something in mind."
"I always have something in mind."
"No, you have something specific in mind right now. Why have you said naught?"
"You did not allow me to speak. You were too busy ranting about Estel’s deviousness."
"So you do have an alternate plan."
"Of course," Elladan answered. "It is unwise to have only one option available. And since you have been so set on our carefully laid plans, I took it upon myself to create others in case the originals were foiled."
"Then by the Valar, tell me your alternative plan!"
There were times—and this was one of them—when Elrohir did not exactly see eye-to-eye with Elladan. It did not happen often, but upon occasion, their two personalities would meet in a head-on collision of perspective. As twins, they shared many of the same viewpoints and many of the same ideas. But there were a few differences, and sometimes these differences became problems. Elladan was more patient, more perceptive, and gifted in the invention of grand strategies. By contrast, Elrohir was bolder, more talented in the arts of war, and had a gift for thinking quickly on his feet. But by sheer virtue of his vast patience, Elladan had a knack for taking Elrohir’s last talent and turning it upside down by so thoroughly confounding his brother that no immediate response could be formulated. This was one such occasion.
"Adapt?" Elrohir questioned, pushing down a rising surge of impatience. "You wish to adapt? That is your plan? Your entire alternative plan? Adapt?!"
"With your scheming mind, I am certain that this alternative plan will blossom into a fruitful feast that we might enjoy," Elladan said with infuriating serenity.
"And now you decide to wax poetic!" Elrohir exclaimed. "Elladan, have you anything useful to add to this discussion beyond the suggestion that we adapt?"
"Nay, except to remind you of something that father often said," Elladan answered, not the least bit daunted by the warning tone in Elrohir’s voice. "Immediate resources often make for the best weapons. Sometimes an enemy’s strategy can be turned on him simply by using the tools at hand. Sometimes they are the same tools that the enemy has deployed to thwart you."
"Indecipherable suggestions, poetic turns of phrase, and now you play at riddles!" Elrohir gave a most unelven cry of frustration and only with effort refrained from throttling his twin. "If your mind does not decide to take a more logical turn within the next few minutes, I strongly urge you to hold your tongue unless you wish me to remove it!"
"Then I shall speak plainly, brother, for it seems you are incapable of understanding anything else," Elladan said with a slight grin. "Use Eldarion."
Elrohir frowned. "Eldarion? But he…" The younger of the two brothers trailed off and blinked. "You mean as in the story that father told us when Oropher used mother against Galadriel?" A slow smile found its way onto his face, and his eyes glinted with a mischievous light. "You are clever, Elladan. You would give Thranduil cause for fear."
"At the moment I will settle for giving Thranduil’s youngest son cause for fear," Elladan said, his own smile spreading itself wide. "Shall we see what arrangements must be made?"
"Yes, and immediately," Elrohir answered. "How is it that you saw this alternative and I did not?"
"Age and experience, young one," Elladan said sagely, neatly dodging a swipe from his twin and setting off toward the Citadel. "Now come. We have been challenged by the House of Oropher, and I intend to see that the House of Elrond proves itself superior in every way."
* * * *
Beneath him, Eomer could feel Shade practically dancing with excitement. The horse sensed something was happening, and he was eager to be out and running. Stroking the dark gray neck, Eomer murmured quiet words and watched as Imrahil mounted his own horse, a tall, brown mare with coloring so dark it was almost black.
"You insult Shade with this nag," Eomer said casually, backing the chief of the Mearas up a space. The stallion was becoming slightly skittish, sensing his rider’s enthusiasm. "Surely Dol Amroth is not so depleted in its stud herds that you must rely on the old mares!"
"Say on, young one," Imrahil answered. "The paces of your own aging horse suggest that he would be better off slumbering in a pasture. It is a marvel that he can even bear his own weight, much less the added weight of his rider’s ego and pretension."
Eomer scowled but could think of no suitable rejoinder to the prince’s jest. He needed to pay better attention to Legolas and Gimli when they argued. Those two had become almost evenly matched, and it was Eomer’s current goal, foolish thought it might seem to some, to equal the prince of Dol Amroth in the art of verbal warfare. His wife had warned him against playing word games with her father, but Eomer had never been one to shy away from a challenge.
"Feel yourself ready?" Eomer asked, laying a soothing hand on Shade’s neck as the horse tossed his head restlessly.
"Once around the pole where the main pavilion will be raised and then back," Imrahil said. "And no sabotaging this race to save your pride."
"I should be saying that to you and your aging bones," Eomer retorted. "They say that the older generation becomes upset when those who are younger show them their mettle."
"Only because the young ones can never seem to lose with good graces," Imrahil answered, taking a firm hold of his mare’s reigns and moving forward slightly in the saddle. "Ready?"
"Go!" Eomer yelled, driving his heels into Shade’s sides and feeling a rush of adrenaline as the powerful warhorse leaped forward. The thunder of hooves echoed beneath him, and Shade shot into the lead, moving quickly in front of the brown mare and neighing a mocking challenge to the horse that thought to best the chief of the Mearas.
A whinny from behind told Eomer that the challenge was fielded and answered by Imrahil’s mount, and he felt Shade lengthen his stride, drawing even further away from the pair that hurried to catch up. Risking a glance over his shoulder, he frowned when he saw Imrahil tugging at the reins and slowing the mare’s hard gallop. What is he planning? Eomer wondered. Imrahil knew very well that he could not outrun Eomer’s horse, but surely he was not giving up!
With a shake of his head, Eomer turned his eyes forward and watched as the pole to which they were racing began to draw near. He swung Shade slightly away from it so as to achieve a better angle for rounding the halfway marker. Slowing his stallion only slightly, he waited until he was almost abreast of the pole and then swung Shade inward. Snorting at this sudden change in direction, Shade skidded into a turn, his back legs pounding away relentlessly as his forelegs struggled to achieve the desired direction.
Watching the ground closely as Shade began to complete the turn, Eomer suddenly swore and turned the stallion away from the pole yet again. Just behind the post, there was a small depression in the ground, and this depression had collected much of the winter’s rainwater. It was a muddy bog without any traction whatsoever. And as Eomer pulled Shade away from this danger, he suddenly saw Imrahil’s intention.
Moving at a slower pace, Imrahil was making a much sharper turn and going in the opposite direction, ensuring that Eomer would be forced into a wider and subsequently longer path. Imrahil was probably counting on the fact that Rohirrim battle tactics demanded that a horse be in almost constant motion at breakneck speed, making him a harder target to hit. It was a good plan, and if Imrahil had been able to gain the lead through use of a slower but shorter route, he would have moved his mare in front of Shade and sought to keep Eomer behind him. However, Imrahil did not take into account the state of the ground around the poll, and he was not aware of the muddy trap until it was too late.
Eomer reined Shade to a jarring stop and watched in horror as Imrahil’s mare slid and lost her footing when she attempted to gallop over the muddy terrain. Acting on instinct, Imrahil threw himself from the saddle so as not to be caught beneath the weight of the tall horse and hit the ground as though preparing to go into a roll. But the angle was and the mud prevented it, and his upper body absorbed the force of impact. At the same time, Imrahil’s mare collided with the wooden post at dangerous speeds, brayed loudly, and then crashed to the ground.
Immediately dismounting and commanding Shade to wait, Eomer quickly hurried over to Dol Amroth’s prince, who showed no signs of rising. "Imrahil!" he cried, brushing mud away from the man’s face. Bleary eyes blinked open and studied the king of Rohan with a mixture of pain and confusion. He must have struck his head when he fell, Eomer realized, immediately looking for injuries. "Imrahil, are you—"
A loud cracking sound arrested Eomer’s attention, and startled, he looked up just in time to see the pole, weakened by the hit from the mare, start to fall. Wrapping his arms around Imrahil, Eomer lunged out of the way, but the muddy ground betrayed him. His feet slipping out from under him, he managed to push the prince out of harm’s way but fell flat on his own stomach directly beneath the crashing pole. Hearing Shade’s startled whinny and knowing that he was only seconds away from death, Eomer tried to roll away, hoping he had enough traction for that. And with fortune’s help, the king of Rohan was just fast enough to remove the bulk of his body from the path of the falling post.
But he was not fast enough to escape a glancing blow across the top of his head.
Author’s Notes: To those who keep asking about sequels to "While the Ring went south…" you’ll be pleased to know that most of the outlining is completed. And I tend to write the first chapters without finishing the outline. Gives me more freedom to move once I’m in the fic. However, I’m trying to finish my other fics first before it shows up, so you’ll have to be patient. This fic shouldn’t be that long (length being a very relative thing for me) and we’re nearing the finish line in my other two fics. So hang in there.
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.