Main Characters: Eomer and Aragorn
Summary: A new Age brings old terrors for the King of Rohan.
Warning: Spoilers for books and movies.
Author's Note: Set months after the books and movies.
I do not own Lord of the Rings nor do I make any money from this story. All rights apply.
Author’s Note: The creatures that the Nazgûl ride are referred to as Winged Beasts in my book (A Tolkein Bestiary by David Day), the movie however, refers to them as Fell Beasts.
Èomer sat atop his horse looking down at the carnage that lay before him. Five horses lay ripped and shredded on the ground, their blood soaking the grassland. What could have done this, he thought. These horses were the swiftest that he had and yet something had slain them. Cut them down as they ran for the ground was trampled and broken.
“The others?” he asked referring to the rest of the herd.
“They ran to the south and are being rounded up as we speak,” answered one of Èomer’s guards.
“Did anyone see anything?” demanded Èomer desperately.
“Nothing was seen or heard, my lord,” answered the man, clearly unset.
“See how the other herds have faired and report to me.”
“Yes, my lord,” was the quiet reply.
Again Èomer nodded as he turned his horse sharply, in the direction of Edoras.
Èomer scanned the lands of his kingdom as he made his way back; his thoughts were dark like the distant mountains that held Helm’s Deep and the Dwarven Kingdom of Aglarond. What could have destroyed his horses so entirely, he knew of many things that could have in the past. But since the destruction of the One Ring, many evils had been destroyed and forced back into the shadow.
But doubt crept into Èomer’s mind as he rode, he was in two minds whether to inform King Elessar about this occurrence. Aragorn had many things to deal with in Gondor already without this and what if it proved to be nothing. Èomer knew Aragorn would help if he asked and he was grateful for that but still he did not wish to call on him for no reason. However, what if this threat moved to Gondor surely an early warning would prove to be in their favour. Èomer frowned, finally deciding to wait on the reports of his scouts before he made up his mind. He could only decide and be satisfied with his decision once he had more information. Èomer suddenly looked up, he thought he heard a distant cry of a beast but could not tell where it came from and saw nothing. He glanced round at his men, they had heard it as well and looked fearful. Maybe he should warn Aragorn for the cry had an evil ring to it. With his made up he spurred his horse into a gallop as Edoras came into sight.
Èomer had just entered the main gates when a guard came running up to him,
“King Èomer, there is a messenger from Lord Gimli of the Glittering Caves.”
Èomer frowned and unwilling give his horse over to the guard to care for. A message from Gimli so soon after his discovery boded ill in Èomer’s mild as he ran up to his Golden Halls. Èomer’s doubts were not unfounded as he read Gimli’s message, the Dwarf had received reports from his scouts of a huge winged beast flying over Rohan and one report indicated that the animal had attacked a herd of horses. There was no doubt in Èomer’s mind that the attacks were all were connected and the winged beast was responsible. The message also stated that he, Gimli, would be going to Gondor to warn Aragorn of the recent events. Èomer did a quick calculation of time and distance, if he left now and rode with some speed, he would reach Minas Tirith at roughly the same time as Gimli. Looking up he called to one of his guard,
“Saddle horses, we make for Gondor.”
The guard nodded and run to carry out Èomer’s order.
“Are you not even the slightest bit curious?” asked Gimli as he and Legolas rode toward Minus Tirith, the early afternoon sun baking the road ahead of them.
“I will find out soon enough,” replied the Elf calmly, “for even though you do not wish to tell me, you will have to inform Aragorn, then I too will know.”
“What of that Elven curiosity I have always heard of?” questioned Gimli.
“It was replaced with Elven patience,” smiled Legolas.
Gimli had arrived in Ithilien two days ago, saying he had important news for Aragorn and would the Elf like to accompany him to Minas Tirith. Gimli had, however, refused to tell Legolas what the news was, saying he did not wish to repeat himself but Legolas knew the Dwarf liked having information that he did not. Legolas had agreed to accompany him and after a brief debate over the mode of transportation, Arod, they had left that very morning. The day had been good so far, the sun was bright and the air clear. On Arod, they had made good time, even if the Dwarf complained about going too fast. Minus Tirith gleamed pearly white in the afternoon sun as Legolas and Gimli rode toward it.
The streets were busy as they made their way up to the King’s Halls. The summer had been fair so far and farmers had much produce to sell at the market. The city was greatly changed since they had been there last and would change more as people started to live again and feel safe now that the Ring was destroyed and their borders quiet. Gimli straighten his stiff legs as Legolas slowly rubbed down Arod in one of the stables. After a short while Gimli said,
“If you continue to spend so much time with that beast, I will go on without you.”
“Patience, Gimli,” soothed Legolas much to Gimli’s annoyance.
As Gimli stood waiting for Legolas, he watched the activities of the stable yard. People were coming and going around in what seemed to be a bit of haste. He began to wonder what was going on and if, mayhap, there was an emergency of some kind. Gimli made his way over to one of the stable hands.
“What is going on here?” he asked.
“Going on?” the boy seemed confused.
“Why is everyone in a hurry?” Gimli tried.
“There was a market this morning, now everyone wants to go home,” answered the boy simply.
“Oh,” said Gimli slightly disappointed and not a little embarrassed.
The boy waited a few seconds before he took off. Gimli stood where he was for a few minute before turning and making his way back to the stables. Looking up he saw Legolas leaning against the outer wall, watching him.
“I have been waiting for you,” said the Elf amused.
Gimli frowned at this.
“Waiting for me,” he said incredulously.
Legolas nodded as Gimli joined him and they started towards the main entrance. Gimli decided to let it drop for he did not want to come across Aragorn in the middle of an argument - again. Besides being in Minas Tirith had brought back the seriousness of their coming in the first place.
Aragorn was sitting in one of his favourite gardens. The palace had many gardens, Arwen had been working in them and her efforts were well rewarded as trees and flowers took root where she lay them. He had a few moments of peace before the day truly started as the morning had been quite because of the market but that meant a busy afternoon. The air had a tranquil feel to it and Aragorn felt as if he could spend the rest of the afternoon there and get lose in his own musings with only the birds to keep him company, he let out a heavy breath as he knew he could not. Many things had changed, his role in life had changed the most and there was many a time when he wished for the free days of his youth. But those days were gone, both the carefree ones and the ones of hardship and fear. As he got up to leave he saw Legolas and Gimli walking towards him; he was surprised but pleased none the less.
“Legolas, Gimli, greetings. What are you doing here?” asked Aragorn hoping nothing was wrong.
“Greetings Aragorn,” said Gimli.
“Aragorn,” greeted Legolas. “As to what we are doing it is best to ask Gimli for he has urgent business with you but he would not say what.”
“Urgent! I had hoped all was well upon seeing you but alas, I was wrong. What is the matter?” asked Aragorn.
“Evil has been seen in the lands of Middle Earth again,” explained Gimli.
“Evil, what evil?” asked Aragorn.
“That I do not know,” said Gimli regretfully.
“If you do not know what it is, how do you know it is there?” asked Legolas. “And if it is as important as you make out, why did you not tell me earlier?”
“Scouts have reported seeing a flying creature swoop down on a herd of horses.” explained Gimli. “And I did not wish to repeat myself besides I had the pleasure of knowing something you did not,” added Gimli.
“Have you informed Èomer?” asked Aragorn before Legolas could answer.
“Yes, I sent a message as I left,” said Gimli.
“How big a creature was it?” asked Legolas.
“If you would be so kind as to stop interrupting me I could tell all I know,” said Gimli testily.
“My apologies Gimli, please continue,” amended Aragorn.
“Well apart from also not knowing the size of the creature, that is all I have to tell,” finished Gimli somewhat embarrassed.
“That is not much,” pointed out Legolas.
“Better than what you have,” resorted Gimli.
“I received no news of any of these events,” said Legolas.
“That is because you hide in the trees,” snorted Gimli.
“Better than caves.” added Legolas.
“Enough,” yelled Aragorn, not quite playfully.
Aragorn watched as they both stopped talking but a look pasted between them. Aragorn sighed, the argument was not over.
“We have more pressing matter to attend at the moment. Gimli, what did your message say?” asked Aragorn.
“Just what was reported to me and that I was heading this way,” answered Gimli.
“So why come to me?” asked Legolas.
“Because the only flying things I know come out of Mordor, which means it would have crossed Ithilien,” explained Gimli.
“If anything came across Ithilien from Mordor I would know about it,” said Legolas.
“You did not know about this,” stated Gimli.
“Then it did not cross Ithilien.” finished Legolas.
“When are you returning to Rohan?” asked Aragorn.
“As soon as possible for I must speak to Èomer but I thought it best to warn you as well.” said Gimli.
“I suppose I shall travel with you,” said Legolas.
“You could go home,” said Gimli.
“You would then take forever to reach Rohan with your short legs,” laughed Legolas.
“Better than the four of your beast,” snorted Gimli.
“Gimli,” interrupted Aragorn before Legolas could answer, “did you walk from the Glittering Caves to Ithilien?”
“Yes,” answered Gimli as if there were no other way to travel.
“Then Èomer would have long ago received your message. And is probably awaiting your arrival. Besides you could have passed Edoras on your way to Ithilien,” said Aragorn.
“The single mindedness of dwarves,” explained Legolas, “Now Èomer must wait.”
But before Gimli could answer.
“Then it is wise that I did not wait but rode with haste here,” said Èomer as he came across the courtyard. Glancing round he said, “Aragorn, you sure sent us on a mission to find you.”
“My apologies and greetings, Èomer,” said Aragorn.
“How did you get here just hours after us?” asked Gimli.
“As soon as I got your message I headed straight to Minus Tirith knowing you would fetch Legolas,” explained Èomer.
“Fetch!” exclaimed Legolas indignantly.
“Put that aside for now.” said Aragorn, ignoring Legolas’frown. “What news can you tell us?” he asked Èomer.
“The only thing I can tell is what I found, what was left of my horses when they were found - dead. Ripped apart by claw and teeth. I found one site of death, my scouts reported three others. A total of nineteen, Aragorn, I am losing my horses,” Èomer felt lost and he knew it come out in his voice but could not stop it.
Legolas reached forward and touched Èomer’s shoulder, offering silent comfort.
“Take me to the site you found, there may be clues still. We can start there,” said Aragorn.
“Tomorrow at first light we leave. How many men did you bring with you?”
Èomer smiled sheepishly.
“In my haste to leave I left with only five.”
“That should be sufficient for our needs at this time,” said Aragorn, seeing the others frown he explained. “I do not wish to alert everyone to the troubles at hand until we are sure we know what it is. By your leave Èomer we will only take your men but they must leave all insignia behind for this ride.”
“I do not understand this reason for such secrecy,” confessed Èomer.
“Only months have passed and to have rumours of creatures returning from Mordor will send the people into panic which is never needed,” said Aragorn.
“I agree with Aragorn but I do not think this creature came from Mordor,” said Legolas solemnly.
Gimli was going to make a joke about the creature giving the Elves the slip but Legolas’ tone stopped him as did Aragorn’s look.
“Where then do you think it came from?” asked Èomer.
“When the Ring was destroyed Mordor collapsed as did a great many evils outsides its borders but what concerns me is what if it was further than the shadow cast,” said Legolas, “and wants to come home, found nothing so turned to what was next - Rohan.”
“It could be nothing from the shadow worlds,” said Aragorn. “They needed the Ring.”
“Sauron used many beings, it could be anything,” said Èomer.
“We know it flies,” said Gimli.
“One answer to many questions, we just have to find it then,” said Aragorn finishing the debate. “I must speak to Faramir, I have a few hours to sort out many things. If you will excuse me, your quarters are, as always, ready.”
Aragorn turned to leave but before he left the garden he stopped and turned,
“It is heart warming to see you all again, if only the news were better,” he said and carried on out the door.
It was late in the dark night when Aragorn finally finished what needed to be done. Faramir was more than willing to stand for Aragorn once he heard about the threat to Rohan. Even though he wished to return to Ithilien, he also wanted to know what was in Rohan for it could easily came over to Ithilien or Gondor. He was, however, not happy that Aragorn was not taking a full guard, even though he knew the reasons why. He relented a bit then Aragorn informed him that Èomer, Gimli and Legolas would be accompanying him. Even though his words agreed with Aragorn, his face told that he still disapproved the idea. Aragorn bid him a good night and made his way to his own bedchamber. A single candle burned in the room and as he entered he saw Arwen reading a book by the candlelight. She looked up and smiled at him.
“You are up so late,” stated Aragorn.
“No later than you,” smiled Arwen.
Aragorn smiled back but the smile soon fell from his face.
“Arwen, I must…” he started.
“I know,” she laughed at his frown. “Legolas told me. I asked him too,” she added.
“Asked?” questioned Aragorn.
“Told,” corrected Arwen.
There was a moment of silence.
“Find what is in Rohan,” said Arwen, knowing that he was seeking her approval but not wanting to ask. “You are a ranger at heart, no title can keep you from it.”
Aragorn crossed the room and kissed his Elven wife.
“What did I do to deserve you staying with me?” he murmured.
“You loved me and I, you in return,” answered Arwen softly, getting up and blowing out the candle.
The early morning sun cast long shadows as the party made ready to leave Minus Tirith. Horses snorted and stamped the ground waiting on their masters command. Legolas sat atop Arod, Gimli behind him and Èomer on his horse beside them. Èomer’s men, clad in plain clothes, wondered around them trying to give off the impression of regular travellers. But even doing that, they were too disciplined. Legolas smiled to himself, looking up he saw Aragorn riding their way. He wore his old clothes and an expression of determination. A look from his Fellowship days, not that far gone. The only difference now was that Andúril hung from his side. As he rode up Aragorn said,
“Shall we away? We have far to travel.”
As one they moved off, going quietly for no one knew their king was leaving. The streets were still awakening as they rode through the city; the few people that were out hardly gave them a moments notice as they hurried to do their tasks for the day. Aragorn glanced up at the battlements as they passed under them. Arwen stood there; she smiled at him and lifted her hand in farewell. Aragorn waved in return and, with much effort, turned back to the road ahead. He resisted the urge to look back for he did not think he would be able to leave if he saw her again.
They were making good time when the sun finally sunk below the horizon leaving the sky purple to fade into the colour of the night. They made a small camp in the lee of one of the many rolling hills that made up Rohan. Èomer had chosen a good area for camp that night, between the hill and a small crop of bushes, they would be well sheltered should the wind pick up during the night.
Gimli slid off Arod,
“Do you think we could perhaps walk for a bit tomorrow?”
“Your pace is too slow,” answered Legolas. “Even if wewere to walk you would have to be put on a horse just to keep up.”
“Nonsense,” huffed Gimli.
“Gimli, the sooner you face up to the fact that the way to travel is by horse, the better you will feel about the whole affair,” sighed Legolas.
“Feel better! Hah, I will feel better walking. You rely too much on that animal to haul you around,” said Gimli dismissively.
Legolas opened his mouth to reply when sudden he looked past Gimli into the night, his eyes searching the darkness.
“What is it?” whispered Gimli.
Legolas did not answer for a second, listening intensely. Gimli became aware that the camp had also become quiet as well, no doubt Aragorn had seen what was happening and told the men to quieten. Suddenly a nightingale flew from one of the bushes and into the night sky. Most of the men jumped in fright but the Elf continued to scan the area.
“What is it?” asked Gimli again.
“I though I heard something in the distance,” answered Legolas loudly enough for the rest of the group to hear.
“What?” asked Aragorn.
“Orcs,” answered Legolas.
“Orcs?” asked Èomer.
“Did you see anything?” asked Aragorn.
“No but then I can not be sure I even heard them so quiet it was, if it were even Orcs,” answered Legolas looking into the night.
An uneasy silence settled over the camp as provisions for the night were made and watches set. Although nothing more was heard that night, camp broke up early and quickly as the sky lightened. No one wanted to encounter a group of Orcs especially when there were so few of them. The rest of the day was tense as nerves ran high and quick speed was made.
“What would Orcs be doing roaming my lands?” asked Èomer when they stopped to water the horses late that afternoon.
It had been plaguing him all day but at the speed they were travelling talk had been impossible.
“There are a few roaming bands of Orcs though most did flee to the mountains,” said Gimli. “It is common enough to see them.”
“I do not believe they attacked your horses, Èomer,” said Legolas answering Èomer’s real question.
“Legolas is right,” said Aragorn. “The horses would run from Orcs and they do not have the skill to hunt these horses. They are horses of Rohan.”
“I know, but I have to find out what has done this,” sighed Èomer.
“As must I,” added Aragorn.
“We will reach Edoras tomorrow afternoon. Plans can be made from there,” said Èomer. Aragorn nodded.
“Riders, mount up,” order Èomer.
Aragorn smiled to himself, Èomer was going to be a great king of Rohan - what they need after the shadow of Saruman.
They rode hard for the rest of the afternoon but soon they started to slow to look for a suitable camp site, trees lined this particular stretch of road. Any place seemed as good as the other, Èomer started to call a halt when Legolas suddenly yelled,
“Where?” returned Aragorn.
“Close. I hear them.”
No sooner had Legolas finished speaking when a horde of Orcs rounded one of the hills right in front of them. They were momentarily surprised but not for long, as soon as the Orcs realised what was in front of them they attacked. There were thirty of them, all rushing forward to attack. Èomer lead his men into the attack followed closely by Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. Gimli slid of Arod’s back and pulled his axe free while Legolas continued to pick them off one by one from horseback with his bow. Aragorn swung his sword in a flat arc, catching an Orc under its raised arm. Using his forward momentum Aragorn pressed on, delivering a sharp wrap across the back of another Orc. Twisting at the last second he avoided a direct attack and drove his sword into a third attacking Orc and twisted the blade free. Èomer did not seem to be fairing as well as an Orc blade caught his across his ribs. The pain almost making him loose his grip on his sword but after years of training he held fast. They had not been fighting long when a cry rent the air. Legolas looked up to see what was making the sound, his eyes widened in shock at what he saw.
“What is it?” yelled Aragorn fighting off an Orc unable to turn round.
“Winged Beast of the Nazgûl,” yelled Legolas in return.
Hearing the word Nazgûl the orcs seemed to renew their efforts. Legolas saw this, he reaching back for an arrow to shoot down the Winged Beast but found his quiver empty. Drawing one of his long knives instead he made to leave Arod’s back and go pull an arrow out of one of the dead Orcs but didn’t get that far. As he was about to jump off, an Orc grabbed his cloak and pulled him off the other side. Legolas heard Gimli call his name as he fell, turning his arm he managed to use his falling weight to drive his knife into the Orc’s chest. They both landed with a thud but Legolas was up almost instantly, he turned to face three Orcs coming up behind him. He drew his other knife and attacked, he needed to shoot down the flying creature and quickly. Ducking under one attack Legolas slashed out with his knife while he kicked another. His main aim at the moment was to shoot the flying creature and in his mind these Orcs were preventing him from doing this.
Aragorn had heard Legolas’ cry and felt the renewed attack of the Orcs. Affirming in his mind that they were not together, if they had been the Orcs would have waited until the flying creature attacked first and then come in while confusion reigned. Risking a glance at the sky, Aragorn saw the creature start a fast dive over the battle.
“Cover,” he yelled as he ducked down, unfortunately this also alerted the Orcs who ducked as well.
Moving with great speed in the air the creature turned round to swoop over the group again.
“Run,” ordered Aragorn wondering where Èomer was. Just then Èomer appeared next to Aragorn clutching his side, breathing heavily.
“Make for thetrees on the left,” he wheezed. “It can not fly in the trees.”
Aragorn took Èomer’s arm and pulled him towards the trees, a few Orcs had the same idea. The beast was hungry for Orc flesh.
“Gimli,” called Legolas as he fought his way over to the Dwarf. He heard Aragorn yell for cover and ducked as the creature swept over them, swirling up dust and leaves. He was up as soon as the creature pasted, he made it to Gimli’s side in time to hear Aragorn yell to run.
He looked up to see the beast swoop down again, this time not many Orcs ducked and the beast managed to tear chunks out of one of the taller Orcs spraying Legolas and Gimli with black Orc blood.
“Gimli, we must get to the trees,” yelled Legolas as he stabbed an attacking Orc.
“Lead the way, Master Elf,” returned Gimli. “It is coming back a third time,” said Gimli as they started to run towards the trees.
“Gimli, come on, move faster,” yelled Legolas as he was forced to duck again.
“I am trying. Orcs keep getting in the way of my axe,” shouted the Dwarf. Legolas looked round.
“Arod, tol enni, enni,” he called but the horse was too frightened and continued to run away.
( Arod, come to me, to me.)
Legolas turned to see where Gimli was; the Dwarf was fighting his way through the panic rush of Orcs. Legolas started to move to help when he saw an arrow laying on the ground, not one of his but it would do. Momentarily distracted Legolas did not see the Orc, the Orc did not see him, they collided and fell to the ground. The Orc in its panicked rush was up and gone in seconds, Legolas not far behind. In that time Gimli reached him.
“Sleeping?” he asked.
“You move too slowly, elvellon. I am sorry,” snapped Legolas and he reached forward.
Gimli unsure of what was happening took a step aback. This caused Legolas to yell in frustration and grab Gimli by his armoured shoulder and throw him over his shoulder and run for the trees to the right.
Aragorn did not see which direction Legolas and Gimli had gone, he just hoped they ran as he ordered. They were too few to handle the Orcs and a flying beast. Èomer stumbled and fell almost bringing Aragorn down. Hauling Èomer to his feet, he swung Èomer’s arm around his shoulder taking some of his weight.
“We are almost there. Hang on, Èomer,” muttered Aragorn as he wiped sweat from his eyes.
One of Èomer’s guard suddenly appeared on the other side of him, he helped Aragorn pull the stumbling Èomer into the relative safety of the trees. Another guard joined them.
“The others, Hanm?” asked the guard supporting Èomer.
Hanm shook his head as he slip to the ground.
“Gone, Yetma,” he sighed asHanm and Aragorn joined him. “How is the King?”
“Winded mostly,” answered Aragorn hoping he was right.
Turning Èomer over Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief, apart from a few cracked ribs and bruises he seemed to be fine. He glanced over Yetma and Hanm, both seemed battered but alright. Aragorn suddenly felt light headed, rising a hand to his forehead he discovered it was blood not sweat that ran down his face. He swore,
“What supplies do we have.”
“None,” answered Yetma.
“The horses?” asked Aragorn.
“Gone,” answered Hanm.
Aragorn lowered his head trying to think of what to do but now that the battle was over his head was pounding and making thinking impossible. He couldn't remember being hit but as he sat his body began to protest about many hurts.
“My Lord, I am barely injured. May we rest a moment, I will guard us. Just a few moments until King Èomer wakes,” suggested Hanm.
Rest, though Aragorn, he knew even were he to say no, his body would give in anyway, he was battle weary and in pain.
“Until Èomer wakes,” said Aragorn as he lay back against a tree, he saw Hanm walk back the way they had come and position himself so he could keep watch. I’ll rest my eyes for a second, was his last though.
“I can not believe you did that,” said Legolas, he was sitting on a branch just out of reach of a man, holding the side of his head.
“It was the only way to get through your thick head,” shrugged Gimli.
“You hit me. On the head. With a gauntleted fist,” stated Legolas.
“You would not put me down any other way,” snapped Gimli.
“Next time I will leave you to theOrcs,” threatened Legolas.
“Hey, I was not the one falling all over the battle field,” pointed out Gimli.
“Being taller I was forced to duck under the attacks of that Winged Beast,” said Legolas airily.
“Ducking off your horse?” questioned Gimli.
“We must find Aragorn and Èomer,” said Legolas suddenly.
Gimli snorted in disbelief,
“Get down from that tree and let us go find them.”
Legolas leapt lightly to the ground but still winced as he landed.
“Are you alright?” asked Gimli concerned.
“Fine. You should know the extent of my injury, you did it,” stated Legolas.
“It’s just that you are trying to hold your head and chest at the same time,” said Gimli.
“Not expecting an attack from you, I was just caught by surprise,” explained Legolas.
“You fell?” asked Gimli slightly amused.
“I remained on my feet unlike you.” It was true, a tree kept him on his feet.
“I was dropped,” pointed out Gimli.
Legolas suddenly frowned,
“Amazing Elven vision,” said Gimli in mock wonder.
“I was more referring to the fact that Aragorn and Èomer would not be able to see that well. But seeing as you attack your own, would you care?” asked Legolas innocently.
“You attempted to carry me,” shrugged Gimli.
“I am leaving you to the Orcs next time,” decided Legolas.
“Good, then maybe my axe could meet them,” agreed Gimli, noticing Legolas gaze up suddenly.
“It can not enter the trees,” he said quietly.
“It has not flown away?” asked Gimli.
“It circles the road,” answered Legolas. “Come we can not look for them in the night, we may pass each other if we are even on the same side. I have no arrows, so we stay in the trees.”
“First horses, now trees,” muttered Gimli.
“It is safer,” said Legolas.
“You are pushing your luck, Master Elf,” warned Gimli as Legolas helped him into a tree with thick branches. Then he too climbed up and settled for the night, luckily it was mid summer so the air was warm. They could hear the creature circling the woods, occasionally it would cry out into the night as if calling to something but there was never a reply. While the trees hid them from view of the creature it also hid the creature from them but Legolas guessed that it flew away around midnight but chose not wake Gimli to tell him.
Aragorn woke with a start, looking round he saw Èomer was up and keeping watch. The sun was also well up. Yetma and Hanm were asleep to his right. Èomer saw he was awake and made his way over.
“What time is it?” asked Aragorn.
“A hour after dawn,” answered Èomer quietly.
“A hour,” yelled Aragorn waking Yetma and Hanm. “Why did you not wake me earlier?”
“You needed sleep but we can go now. Besides I wanted to give Legolas a chance to find us but he has not so I think he is on the other side,” answered Èomer calmly turning to leave the clearing, Yetma and Hanm followed Èomer’s lead.
Aragorn pulled himself to his feet, he hated to admit it but he felt a lot better and Èomer was right about Legolas finding them. He caught up with Èomer.
“I want to thank you for all your help last night,” said Èomer.
“How are you doing?” asked Aragorn.
“Sore,” was the simple answer.
Aragorn was surprised when they cleared the trees so soon, they had not gone as far in as he thought. He was also surprised to see Legolas walking around the battle field, finding and then inspecting his arrows before he put them in his quiver. Gimli was smoking some pipe weed as he watched the Elf work.
“I was wrong,” said Èomer.
“Then so was I,” added Aragorn. “Legolas,” he yelled and winced.
Legolas looked up, saw them and called to Gimli. Aragorn watched as the two of them made their way over. Apart from being dirty, Gimli had a slight limp and Legolas’ hand often drifted to his head. He saw why when they came closer, he had a bruise on the side of his head.
“How is your head?” he asked,
Legolas shot a look at Gimli and said,
Aragorn turned to Gimli,
“And the leg?”
“Landed odd,” he muttered giving Legolas a glare.
“Something I should know about?” asked Aragorn.
“No,” they both answered at the same time.
“Your head?” asked Legolas changing the subject.
“Fine,” answered Aragorn. “We must gather the horses and head on to Edoras quickly.”
“One question,” said Èomer. “If you have been out here for a while, why did you not come look for us?”
“I though it best to wait for you to come out of the forest lest we pass each other while looking and I wanted to retrieve my arrows without wasting any time,” said Legolas.
“Apart from arrows did you find anything else?” asked Aragorn.
“Orc bodies. Quite a few that were killed by the winged beast, the same creature I killed when we were on the river Anduin and that Èowyn killed,” said Legolas.
“At least it drove away the Orcs,” said Èomer.
“I believe it was hunting the Orcs,” said Legolas.
“I agree. It only attacked them,” said Aragorn.
“But they appeared to be pleased and renewed their efforts when they heard it,” said Èomer touching his side.
“They would. The last time they fought, it attacked with them but then it had a rider to control it,” said Aragorn.
“That still does not answer what it is doing here,” said Gimli.
“It is a creature so it would not have disappeared with Sauron,” said Aragorn. “And to still be here, it must have been away from Mordor.”
“Doing what, I wonder,” said Èomer.
“That matters little now. We must get to Edoras. Legolas, where are our horses?” asked Aragorn.
Legolas gazed at the horizons and both sides of the forest.
“I can not see them,” he said at last.
“The creature…” started Èomer.
“No, it was after the Orcs,” said Legolas tugging at his blooded tunic. “They have just run far. We should start our walk to Edoras, mayhap we meet them on the way.”
“Good idea, let us be going,” said Èomer much to Aragorn’s surprise but he said nothing for this was Rohan not Gondor.
“We must find some way of killing that creature,” said Èomer as they started the walk to Edoras.
“We could send out search parties,” suggested Gimli.
“It may take to long and then there is the risk of becoming its next meal,” said Aragorn.
“If it eats Orcs, we could catch some and put them in a pen and wait for it to came and get them,” said Gimli half-heartedly.
“Even if you tried you couldn’t catch an Orc alive, you would not be able, it is against your nature to let them live,” he said.
“It would be just as hard to catch Orcs as it would be to track down the creature,” said Èomer.
“Where does it go during the day, I wonder,” said Aragorn.
“Where does it come from?” asked Èomer.
“Mordor,” answered Gimli.
“I meant originally,” corrected Èomer.
“It is said that they were bred by Melkor many ages ago, they are older than the dragons themselves but unlike their past riders they are living creatures. They are swift in the air and have agility that belies their size. They are Winged Beasts,” said Legolas.
They fell silent as they walked, all contemplated what to do. Hours dragged by, Legolas walked a little way in front of the rest looking out for the horses or whatever else would come their way.
It was a little before dusk when they all heard the cry of the winged beast.
“Can you see it, Legolas?” asked Aragorn.
“Yes, it circles above the Orc bodies,” answered Legolas.
“We should have stayed,” sighed Gimli.
“We did not know it would come back,” said Aragorn.
“It is landing,” said Legolas.
“I have just had an idea,” said Èomer, “if we go back now, it may come back tomorrow night. We could kill it then.”
“If we leave now, we arrive during the day. The creature seems to like the night. We should stay here the night and continue tomorrow,” said Aragorn.
“If we arrive during the day we can use what’s there to set a trap thus ensuring success,” explained Èomer.
“This is all if it comes back. We have no supplies at all, we are taking a big chance.”
“It’s a chance we have to take. Yetma, you carry on to Edoras as fast as you can, get men and horses. Hanm will stay with us,” ordered Èomer.
“Yes, my Lord,” said Yetma and started off at an easy jog.
“Supplies are on the way,” said Èomer. “Shall we be off?”
“More walking,” sighed Gimli.
“I thought you wanted to walk,” said Legolas.
“Not all day and all night,” answered Gimli.
“We can rest tomorrow afternoon once things are prepared,” said Aragorn not wanting to have argument, his attempts failed.
“But Gimli, I thought you said two legs were better than four,” said Legolas in mock confusion.
“They are but even those with four legs must rest,” Gimli pointed out.
“Yes,” said Legolas dismissively, “but a day and a night is nothing for a horse of Rohan, is that not right, Èomer?”
“That is true but it is also true that they must also rest. You are both right on this account,” said Èomer.
There was silence for a moment and Aragorn though Èomer had succeeded where he had failed but he was wrong again.
“If we were not talking about horses of Rohan or for that matter the horses of men…” started Legolas.
“Legolas, do not even start with the mearas,” warned Gimli.
“So you concede that I may be…”
“Concede,” interrupted Gimli for a second time. “Never.”
“May I complete a sentence,” demanded Legolas.
“Your sentences are too long. It takes forever for you to say anything and by then everyone is waiting for you to finish so that they can know what you are talking about,” explained Gimli.
“I think you lost there, Gimli,” added Èomer thoughtfully.
Legolas laughed, even Aragorn smiled,
“Čomer, please do not encourage them by participating,” pleaded Aragorn with a smile.
But even as Èomer was about to answer, Legolas suddenly raised his hand for silence. After a few seconds he said,
“We must head for the trees, the creature comes this way.”
The five of them ran for the shelter of the trees.
“Can you shoot it now?” asked Èomer.
Legolas nodded and fell back as he notched an arrow and waited for the winged beast to come into range. The sun’s last rays had began to fade but luckily there was a full moon that night by which to see. After a few minutes there was still no sign of it even though Legolas could hear it as it flew overhead.
“It is not flying over the road,” he whispered to Aragorn, who stood next to him. Aragorn frowned, not liking the new development.
“Wait here,” whispered Legolas as he moved out of the trees and on to the road. Aragorn’s frown deepened but he stayed where he was, even though he could move quietly he would never move as quietly as an Elf. He watched as Legolas scanned the sky, he stopped and steadily raised his bow as he aimed at the creature. Aragorn hoped that was what he was doing for he could not see or hear the creature at all. After what seemed like hours, Legolas released the arrow. There was a screech of pain from over head, Aragorn saw Legolas loosen another arrow; this was followed by a howl of anger and Legolas running back into the trees.
“Did you hit it?” asked Aragorn.
“Of course,” answered Legolas. “Twice, did you not hear?”
“Why is it still in the air?” asked Èomer, who had run up to them.
“It was on its way down as I ran for the trees,” said Legolas.
Just as he finished there was a crash from the road.
“So much for our careful planning,” said Gimli as he joined them on the forest edge.
“Careful planning?” questioned Legolas.
“Well, planning at least,” corrected Gimli as they made their way over to the downed animal.
The winged beast lay across the road with one wing spread out flat.
“What do we do with it?” asked Èomer.
“I do not know, I had not anticipated getting it so quickly,” answered Aragorn truthfully.
“Is it dead?” asked Èomer.
“Someone should check,” said Gimli. “I vote Legolas.”
“What?” exclaimed Legolas.
“You can see best in the dark. Besides it should be dead,” finished Gimli.
Legolas notched an arrow and from his glare an outsider would have thought he was going to shoot the Dwarf. Instead he turned and walked cautiously toward the creature, arrow trained on it the whole time. The beast was very still and did not appear to be breathing. It was also larger than any other beast of its kind that Legolas had seen. Legolas made his way round to the creature’s head, the others watching him. None saw the tail twitch. Just as Legolas came up to its head, it swung to his direction, Legolas jumped back as it snapped at him, he released his arrow. The arrow hit the creature in the neck, above the wing. It reared in pain letting out a loud screech. Aragorn and the rest rushed forward weapons drawn, Gimli’s axe caught it on one of its hind legs. It twisted round trying to meet the new attack, at the same time it beat its massive wings forcing them all to duck and swirling dirt and leaves making it harder to see.
Aragorn slashed at its wing catching one of its claws. The winged beast suddenly leapt into the air with a cry. Legolas jump up and releases an arrow at it, which ripped through the membrane of its wing, its flight faulted slightly but it continued on out of sight. Legolas made as if to follow it but stopped.
“Which direction did it go?” asked Aragorn coming up to Legolas’side.
“North. It flies in the direction of the Misty Mountains,” answered Legolas.
“Is everyone alright?” asked Aragorn looking at each of them.
“Noworse than before,” said Èomer. “I think we should head back to Edoras, gather supplies and men then start out again.”
“I agree,” said Aragorn, “I will send a messenger to Faramir alerting him about this and to take some precautionary measures should this beast decide to head over to Gondor.”
“I do not think it will,” said Legolas.
“Why not?” asked Èomer.
“I am sorry, Èomer but there is nothing in Gondor for it to eat,” said Legolas sadly.
Èomer lowered his head in understanding.
“I think a search is best at this time for the creature seems to keep no routine.” he said.
“It would seem to be our only option at the moment,” agreed Aragorn.
“Let us make for Edoras,” he said turning to leave, Hanm right behind him. Aragorn followed with Legolas and Gimli close behind.
“I think that this road will forever be imprinted in my mind,” said Gimli.
“Forever is a long time,” said Legolas.
“You would know,” answered Gimli.
“Yes, Master Dwarf, I would,” returned Legolas.
“What do you do with all your time?” asked Gimli.
“It was peaceful, then I met you,” answered Legolas with a smile.
“And your life is better for it,” stated Gimli.
“I would not use the word ‘better’,” said Legolas.
“Oh!” said Gimli.“And what word would you use?”
Legolas thought about it for a while.
“Surely it can not take so long to think of a word,” accused Gimli.
“I am thinking of an appropriate word that you will understand,” answered Legolas.
“Understand!” exclaimed Gimli indignantly.
“To grasp the meaning of something,” explained Legolas.
“I know what it means,” snapped Gimli.
“Oh,” said Legolas surprised.
“Legolas, peace. Please,” murmured Aragorn knowing they could hear him.
“Aragorn wishes us to be quiet,” said Legolas to Gimli.
“Shall we?” asked Gimli.
“I could sing instead of talk,” suggested Legolas.
“Yes but Aragorn asked you to be at peace.” pointed out Gimli.
“Elves can be quiet in everything they do.” said Legolas hauntingly.
“Really?” asked Gimli.
Legolas nodded. Gimli waited for him to say something else but Legolas continued to walk looking ahead. They walked for a few hours before Aragorn called a halt. Legolas walked up to him, pointed at himself then his eyes, held up a finger and pointed at the near by trees.
“First watch?” asked Aragorn
Legolas nodded and made his way over to the tree he had pointed out, glancing at Gimli as he went. Gimli watched as he went up to the tree, pulled himself up and settled down on one of the braches. Gimli rolled himself in his cloak, trying to imagine that he had had a great dinner and was in a warm bed.
It was late afternoon of the following day when Legolas saw riders coming their way, he went back to the others, he held two fingers to his eyes, pointed at Èomer and showed all ten fingers then five.
“Fifteen riders,” said Aragorn.
“That will be the Rohirrim,” said Èomer confidently, again Legolas nodded.
Aragorn gave Gimli a hard look.
“Legolas, you have proved your point. Elves can be quiet,” admitted Gimli somewhat reluctantly. Legolas made a show of considering what Gimli had said.
“Yetma was quick,” said Aragorn ignoring both Elf and Dwarf.
“You’re right,” agreed Èomer thoughtfully, “Yetma must have run the whole way.”
“Not unheard of,” said Gimli adding to the conversation.
“Unless he grew wings and flew,” suggested Legolas.
Aragorn smiled, shaking his head. Èomer looked slightly confused but said,
“Either way an explanation should follow as soon as they arrive.”
The riders arrived shortly after, Yetma with them.
“My lord, I met them on the road,” explained Yetma when Èomer asked. “The horses had arrived without us and so a group of riders were sent to find us.”
Èomer nodded his approval at the swift action taken by his men. He was also pleased when food and water was handed out as they mounted up to head back to Edoras, even though it was late in the afternoon. They stopped for the night well after sundown and were up again before sunrise, they were making good time. The setting sun provided a golden backdrop as they rode towards Edoras.
“It is always good to be home,” said Èomer as the Golden Halls came into view.
Aragorn noticed a great change in the people of Edoras. Last time he had been there it had desponded and sullen but now there was laughter in the streets from children, Edoras had lost its air of hopelessness. There were many people in the streets greeting Èomer as he rode up to his halls. Aragorn immediately sent word to Faramir, explaining what was going on and that he would be away longer than anticipated. Èomer excused himself and left the three of them in the main hall.
“If Gimli said that he received reports about the creature, could it be that it has found someplace to live in Aglarond?” questioned Legolas after the messenger left.
“That is a though, we should perhaps go there and start our search. Let us speak to Èomer when he returns,” said Aragorn.
“If that is true then it flies far and fast,” said Gimli.
“It is said that they are swifter than the wind,” said Legolas.
“Swifter than the wind?” questioned Gimli. “What makes you so sure?”
“You really must listen, it is said that they are swifter than the wind,” said Legolas. “I have not ever been on one of those beasts so I can not say for sure.”
“Do Elves know anything for sure?” asked Gimli.
“We know a great many things, Master Dwarf. Some of which you will never know about,” said Legolas.
“Is that so?”
Conversation stopped as Èomer walked in and headed towards them.
“There have been no more reports of dead horses,” he said sounding pleased.
“It ate Orc flesh,” said Gimli.
“Have you come up with an idea of where to search?” he asked.
“We though about Aglarond as Gimli received reports of a winged beast attacking horses,” said Aragorn.
“That is good for we can use Helm’s Deep as a base. We can start the search from there moving on the lower reaches of the Misty Mountains in need be,” agreed Èomer.
There were nods of agreement all round.
“Agreed then, we shall leave tomorrow at first light. I will bring twenty men, we can get provisions at Helm’s Deep,” said Èomer.
“A sound plan,” concurred Aragorn.
“Rooms have been arranged for the night. I will see you in the morning light, as I must excuse myself again. Rest well,” said Èomer before he turned and hurried off again, shouting orders as he went.
“Busy man,” commented Gimli.
“His land is under attack,” said Aragorn.
“The Glittering Caves are my landas well,” said Gimli.
“Land?” questioned Legolas, “You live under the land, in caves.”
“You, in trees,” returned Gimli.
“Good night, gentlemen,” said Aragorn pointedly as he headed off in the direction of his room.
“Sleep well,” said Legolas as he too made to leave the room leaving Gimli by himself before he went to his room.
“This is the very nature of a Dwarf.”
Gimli opened an eye and saw Legolas’ face.
“You are going to be late if you continue to snore like that,” said Legolas cheerfully.
Gimli had both eyes open now, there was something wrong, he frowned.
“It’s still night,” he grumbled as he realised what was wrong.
“Nonsense,” dismissed Legolas, “it is morning.”
“The sun comes up when it is morning,” said Gimli, who had yet to make any attempt to rise.
“The sun is up,” assured Legolas.
“I don’t see it or its light,” pointed out Gimli.
Legolas glanced at the half closed window.
“It is still behind the mountains,” he confessed. “But I figured that you might want breakfast before we leave.”
Gimli sighed and pulled himself to his feet, Legolas smiled.
“I will see you in the dining hall,” he said and left, thus he missed the glare directed at him.
Gimli hastily pulled his clothes on. He left his room and made his way to the dining hall. As he entered the hall he found Aragorn and Èomer awake and pouring over a map, plates of breakfast forgotten. Legolas was also looking at the map putting in occasional comments. The three looked up as Gimli walked in.
“I would have through you to still be sleeping,” said Aragorn good-naturedly not seeing Legolas’ smile, however Èomer did but said nothing. Gimli too said nothing to Aragorn’s comment but made his way over to the table.
“Has the plan changed much from last night,” he asked as he picked up a plate of food.
“No, it remains the same. We are going over the finer points,” said Aragorn.
“We start the search at Helm’s Deep.”
“The search in the caves starts at Helm’s Deep. The Search, however, continues even as we ride,” corrected Èomer.
“I think your men are ready to leave,” said Legolas, “I hear them outside.”
“Then let us be away for I have been up many hours,” said Èomer.
The four gathered up their possessions and made their way out to where the riders were gathered.
The horses were ready and waiting for them and the riders were mounted. Once they were mounted Èomer gave the order to ride out. Aragorn rode next to him, Legolas and Gimli rode more to the back. They set off at a steady pace as not to tire the horses but still make decent speed to Helm’s Deep. The first night of camp nothing was heard or seen but on the second, they all heard the cry of the beast far in the distance.
“Why did it not come out last night or come to us?” asked Èomer.
“Maybe it is still injured and hunger drives it out now,” said Aragorn.
“The call is from the direction we travel toward,” said Legolas.
“That is good, we are going in the right direction,” said Aragorn.
Double watches had been set both nights but after the cry no one really slept and camp broke early. They reached Helm’s Deep after nightfall, the Keep was alive with activity as Èomer had sent word of their arrival. Èomer immediately pulled out a map of Aglarond and the Misty Mountains.
“Gimli, apart from the Glittering Caves, how many others are there?” asked Èomer.
“A few and fewer still which could hold a beast that size,” answered Gimli.
“Make the ones on the map that can,” said Èomer.
Gimli put down his plate of dinner and after a second of scanning the map he marked four places, they run along the outside of Aglarond.
“These I know for sure are big enough though I do not think it would be there,” he said.
“Nor I,” said Legolas. “It is too close to the Dwarves. I think it would want to stay away from people.”
“Agreed but it won’t hurt to look, we can start there tomorrow,” said Èomer. “The Gap of Rohan is twenty miles across we can cross it the following day, set up a camp at the base of the Misty Mountains and continue to search on foot.”
“There are a many caves within easy reach. How many men are you taking?” he asked.
“Six other groups of four, we can cover more ground that way.” Èomer paused. “I’ll be sending two of those groups Isengard’s way.”
“Isengard?” questioned Gimli.
“It will always be a threat to me,” said Èomer simply. “It is late and we are rising early.”
“I know after all the riding Gimli will need rest,” said Legolas lightly.
“I have more stamina than a willowy Elf,” stated Gimli.
“I was not complaining earlier about all the riding we were doing,” said Legolas.
“It was the beasts that I was complaining about not the lack of rest. It is walking that tires a person,” explained Gimli.
“I seem to remember you complaining about walking as well,” pointed out Legolas.
Gimli gave a huge sigh.
“If you remember we have been through this,” said Gimli.
“And as Èomer said it is late, goodnight,” said Aragorn, not for the first time wonder how these two were friends. Èomer smiled at Aragorn expression rightly guessing what he was thinking about for the thought had often crossed his mind. Servants were called to show them their rooms for the night. Èomer was last to leave the table, he spent a few minutes studying the map in front of him. It was a large area to search for a flying creature, Èomer sighed and feeling a little despondent he made his way to his room.
Gimli had been right in his assumption that the Winged Beast would not be in Aglarond, although the caves had been big enough they had not been long enough to hide in. They continued on to the Misty Mountains the following day, crossing the Gap of Rohan by late morning. As Èomer had said he sent two groups of men to Isengard, one he ordered to stay with the horses at the make shift camp being set up at the base of the Misty Mountains. He, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas would go together up one of the eastern slopes with another group while two others would go up the western slopes, they were all to return the following evening. They all set off with light packs, the second group soon split from Èomer and the others to search the lower reaches. It was early afternoon when they came across the first cave but it was too small for the beast so they passed it but soon found another bigger one.
“This one is large enough,” said Gimli.
“Then let us start with it,” said Aragorn.
Gimli and Èomer lit torches and they all make their way into the cave.
Almost immediately the cave turned to the right and became darker. Aragorn glanced at Legolas, whose expression was blank. They walked for a few minutes before Gimli said,
“This cave has been worked by Dwarves.”
“How do you know?” asked Èomer.
“I can tell by the smoothness of the walls and the level ground,” answered Gimli.
Èomer moved his torch close to the walls; reaching out his hand, he touched them. They were cool and very smooth under his fingertips. Holding his torch up higher he saw that the cave had turned into a tunnel with a rounded top and flat bottom. They had not gone far when the tunnel split into three.
“Which way?” asked Èomer to no one in particular.
“Perhaps we should split,” suggested Gimli. “Explore for twenty minutes then return.”
“Seems like a plausible idea,” said Èomer, not seeing Legolas frown at the idea.
Aragorn thought about it for a second then nodded.
“But be cautious, we know not what is in these tunnels,” he warned as he got a torch out of his pack. “Legolas, you will go with Gimli while Èomer and I take the other two tunnels.”
Legolas glanced at Gimli’s torch, which had many hours of burning left and nodded.
Aragorn lit his torch on Èomer’s and took the middle tunnel, while Èomer took the left and Legolas and Gimli the right. Aragorn wondered at the wisdom of splitting up, if any of them came across something they might not be able to fight it alone. But then they did not have the time to inspect each tunnel as a group.
“Twenty minutes,” reminded Aragorn and started off down the tunnel, the others followed his lead. Aragorn slowly made his way forward, scanning the ground and sides of the tunnel for any sights of the creature or, for that matter, any sights of inhabitants. But there was nothing, he had not gone far when the tunnel came to an end. Lifting his torch high, Aragorn saw that the wall in front of him was shining with water. Leaning close to the wall he could hear the soft sound of running water. An underground river, perhaps. Aragorn stayed for a couple of minutes listening to the water run on the other side of the rock, he wondered if the other tunnels lead to the underground river. It would be a beautiful sight to behold and deciding he wanted to see it, he made his way back to the junction and went down Èomer’s tunnel. It did not take him long to catch up with Èomer as he had not gone that far. Aragorn saw his torchlight and called to him.
“Aragorn?” came Èomer’s answer.
“It is I. I came across a dead end,” answered Aragorn as he made his way over to Èomer, who appeared to be studying the wall.
“What have you found?” asked Aragorn curiously.
“Something on the wall, it looks like old runes,” answered Èomer.
“Runes?” asked Aragorn.
“I think so,” said Èomer.
“Gimli did say that Dwarves had made the tunnel,” said Aragorn coming up behind Èomer.
“That is what makes me think they are runes more than just markings,” said Èomer stepping back so that Aragorn could see. Aragorn looked closely at the markings.
“They are badly faded and worn,” said Aragorn.
“What do they say?” asked Èomer.
Aragorn shrugged and looked around for more but could find none.
“There were no markings in the middle tunnel or any sight of the Winged Beast. Let us go further and see what can be found,” said Aragorn and told Èomer about the underground river.
“That would be something to see,” agreed Èomer. But it soon became apparent that this tunnel headed away from the sound of water and went deeper into the mountain.
“Mayhap the tunnel that Gimli and Legolas took leads to water,” said Èomer.
“True, and there is no sight of the creature along this tunnel. It is also about time to head back,” said Aragorn.
Èomer nodded and the two of them started back.
“Do you think we will find this creature?” asked Èomer after a few minutes.
Aragorn thought about it then said,
“I wish I could say yes with certainty but I also realise the odds of a search such as ours, so I truly cannot say but I do hope that we do.”
Èomer nodded and they continued on in silence.
Gimli walked a little ahead of Legolas as they made their way down the tunnel, Gimli kept his eye on the ground looking for footprints while Legolas kept his gaze on the torch in front of him. He was, however, listening intently, ready for anything that would come out of the darkness. Faintly he could hear the sounds of running water coming from up ahead.
“Gimli,” he said, “there is water further up the tunnel.”
“A river?” asked the Dwarf.
“Running water,” said Legolas glancing at the walls of the tunnel looking for any sigh of the water. Long minutes passed as they walked the sound getting louder but not deafening.
“It is not a fast or deep river,” said Legolas listening. “More a spring, I think.”
As they went along Legolas thought he saw something on the walls, walking over, he saw that there were carvings on the tunnel side.
“Gimli,” he said.
“What?” asked the Dwarf looking back but not stopping.
“There are…” started Legolas but was cut off by a splash and complete, sudden darkness.
The only sound was that of the running water and Legolas’ own breathing.
“Gimli?” he ventured.
There was no response, Legolas looked round but could see nothing at all. He reached out and touched the wall for support, he waited a few for his eyes to adjust but there was no light for them to adjust to. He took a calming breath and tried again,
“What!” came the short reply.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Legolas asked,
“Where are you?”
“Gimli,” hissed Legolas.
“In your spring,” answered the Dwarf darkly.
“Are you injured?” asked Legolas.
“Not physically,” came the answer.
Under normal circumstances Legolas would have laughed at this but at this moment he was in a cave with no light. He could hear Gimli moving around in the water.
“Where is the torch?” he asked.
“It went out,” answered Gimli.
“Is that why it is so dark?” snapped Legolas sarcastically.
Gimli ignored the question.
“I need some help,” he said.
“You said you were not injured,” said Legolas.
“I am fine but require some help getting out of this river. The sides are rather steep,” explained the Dwarf.
Legolas stood still for a moment, trying to calculate how far ahead Gimli was when the torch went out but he had not been looking at the Dwarf so knew not.
“Are you going to help me or not?” asked Gimli impatiently.
“I am coming. Slowly for I can see nothing and do not wish to swim,” answered Legolas as he started towards the sound of Gimli’s voice. After a few steps he stopped.
“Say something,” he said.
“What?” asked Gimli.
“Speak so I can hear where you are,” explained Legolas not adding that the dark was driving him mad.
“How far away are you?” asked Gimli.
“Close, I think,” came the answer.
“Hurry up a bit, I am wet and cold and do not want to be in this river any longer,” said Gimli, which was the truth; he should have thought more about splitting before suggesting it to the others. Thinking of the others he wondered how they were fairing and if they had found anything. Just then some pebble fell into the water next to him.
“You might want to stop now,” he warned.
“I already have, I am leaning over the edge with my arm out. Can you catch hold of it?” asked Legolas.
Gimli reached up and slowly moved his arm from side to side until his fingers brushed against another’s.
“Ha!” he exclaimed as he grabbed hold of Legolas’ fingers but the hold was tentative.
“Can you not get a better grip?” asked Legolas.
After a few attempts Gimli managed to get hold of Legolas’ wrist,
“Ready?” asked Legolas.
“Yes,” replied Gimli.
He heard Legolas hiss though his teeth as he pulled Gimli up, he hung for a few seconds before he was lowered again.
“Wait a moment but do not let go,” said Legolas.
Gimli could hear him shifting his position above him.
“Ready?” asked Legolas again.
“Yes,” repeated Gimli.
As Legolas pulled Gimli pushed off from the ground, resulting in him moving faster than Legolas expected, for a second he was over balanced and thought they were both going to land in the river below. However, he managed to right himself and pull Gimli up at the same time. Scraping the inside of his arm in the process.
“Why did you not tell me you were pushing off?” asked Legolas angrily.
“I did not think I would be a problem.” answered Gimli sitting down next to Legolas.
“You were almost back in that river. In the dark,” said Legolas, who was did not notice that the tunnel was lightening.
“I was trying to help you,” pointed out Gimli, not having noticed either.
“When ever has an Elf needed a Dwarf’s help?” asked Legolas indignantly.
“When you failed the first time…”
“You were heavier than I thought,” interrupted Legolas flatly, looking up suddenly he said,
“Light,” and looking back down the tunnel he was Aragorn and Èomer coming their way.
He frowned had they been longer than twenty minutes, possible since Gimli had fallen into the river. In a mine. A Dwarf falling in a mine. Legolas suddenly laughed.
“Have you gone mad?” asked Gimli suspiciously.
“No, I am quite sane. Though I do worry about you sometime,” added Legolas seriously.
Gimli ignored the Elf and turned his attention to Aragorn and Èomer, who had just arrived.
“What happened?” asked Aragorn taking in the scene.
“The Dwarf fell into a river in a mine,” said Legolas with a smile.
“You distracted me,” accused Gimli.
“Yes,” said Legolas remembering, not realising he was agreeing with the Dwarf. “There were markings on the wall,” he said getting up and walking over to them. The others followed him.
“They look like the ones from the other tunnel,” said Èomer.
“The other tunnel has markings in it?” asked Gimli still looking at the wall.
“I would like to see them,” said Gimli.
“I would like to leave,” said Legolas, his arm was stinging and he wanted to clean it.
“I am afraid we have to leave Gimli, we do not have much time in which to find this Winged Beast, besides the marking are as faded as these,” said Aragorn, who had moved to look over the edge at the river, which was more of a spring.
Legolas nodded his agreement and started to leave, Èomer followed him. He too preferred the free air of the grasslands to the caves. Aragorn followed with a wet Gimli.
As Legolas stepped out of the cave he drew a deep breath, filling his lungs with sun warm air.
“Glawar,” breathed Legolas.
Aragorn and Gimli were still a way behind them, but Èomer had kept up with him.
“What happened to your arm?” asked Èomer, just as happy to be out of the cave.
Legolas looked down and saw blood on the sleeve of his shirt between his tunic and vambrace,
“It was scraped pulling a heavy Dwarf out of a pit,” explained Legolas as he took off the vambrace and rolled up his sleeve. Using his water skin, he rinsed his arm of dirt and blood before drying it. By the time he had pulled his sleeve down and put on his vambrace, Aragorn and Gimli had arrived.
“Are you alright?” asked Aragorn.
“I am,” answered Legolas picking up his pack. “Shall we continue?”
“Yes,” answered Èomer, “there is still plenty of daylight left.”
Aragorn had a suspicion that this search was going to take a while, there were just so many places that the creature could hide and if it flew as Legolas said, it could come from anywhere. The mountainside was rough and uneven as they walked along looking for suitable caves and in some areas, any caves. The further they went the wilder the terrain became with scatterings of brush here and there as well as the occasional cliff or overhang. They walked for two hours before they came across another cave big enough to hold the beast, there were also scuff marks on the ground before the entrance.
“Legolas, I want you to stand outside and keep guard,” said Aragorn. “I don’t want to be trapped inside with my only exit blocked by an angry creature.”
“As you wish,” said Legolas.
“We will be back before nightfall,” said Aragorn as the three of them went into the cave.
Legolas hid a smile, how would they know when the sun had set if they were inside a cave. Turning Legolas scanned the area, all was still. He could see Fangorn in the far distance, knowing on the other side lay Mirkwood. Looking up he could see the snow-capped tops of the mountain shrouded in mist. He knew both reasons, spoken and not, for his guard outside. He did prefer to stand guard than wonder around in the dark of the caves.
Aragorn, Èomer and Gimli make their slow way down into the tunnel. Occasionally Aragorn would stoop and inspect the ground.
“This ground has been disturbed recently. By what I cannot say,” he said after a while.
“Then this may be the cave,” said Èomer, who stood looking over Aragorn’s shoulder.
“Look at this,” called Gimli, who had gone further.
“Looks like blood,” said Èomer as he joined Gimli, Aragorn crouched down and touched the dark stain on the ground.
“I believe you to be right, Èomer,” he said after a moment.
“This cave goes further by quite a way,” said Gimli shining his torch ahead of him. Taking a few more steps, he came across more stains on the ground.
“These are older,” said Aragorn, once Gimli alerted him to them.
“How much older?” asked Èomer.
“Maybe two days,” answered Aragorn. “How much further does this cave go?”
“I am not sure,” mused Gimli, walking further down the tunnel but not leaving Aragorn or Èomer’s sight. After a few minutes, he turned round and came back.
“This cave is very deep. It slopes down not far from here and the angle is steep,” said Gimli.
“If it chose a cave in this region of the Misty Mountains then this is it, I think,” said Èomer.
“I am inclined to agree with you,” nodded Aragorn.
“I think we should head back and find out what sort of trouble that Elf has got himself into,” said Gimli.
Aragorn smiled at the comment but said,
“Let us go,” turning round and making his way back, Gimli following behind him.
Èomer followed more slowly, feeling that this was the right cave and hoping that they would catch the creature soon. He wondered, not for the first time, where the creature had come from and what it was doing here. It vexed him no end that he did not know the answers and the fact that the creature had come to Rohan. Glancing up he saw that Aragorn and Gimli had stopped in the cave mouth. Walking up to them he saw why - Legolas was not there.
Legolas heard an eagle cry, looking up he saw two eagles circling the sky above him. As he turned his attention back to the task at hand, a flash of light caught the corner of his eye. Further down the slope something reflected the sunlight. Curious, Legolas made his way down towards it as he got closer he saw it was a piece of metal. He bent down to pick it up, it was a bit of a horse harness. Legolas studied it for a few seconds but did not recognise the make.
Giving the ground closer inspection he discovered other bits of leather and a few scrapes of cloth of a course weave. Legolas inspected the ground as he walked in circles looking for anything else but found nothing. He looked again at the bits in his hands and on the ground, there had been a rider here but from where. Legolas scanned the sky, the sun was high and a light breeze blew along the side of the mountain. Again he looked at the ground but found nothing new, walking a little way along he found a distinct hoof print in the ground – leading away from the cave. Legolas crouched down and inspected the print. He did not have Aragorn’s skill in tracking over barren land but he was fairly sure that the print could not be more than three days old. Glancing round, he saw no other prints of any sort. After a moment of thought, Legolas started off in the direction of the horse print, constantly scanning the ground.
“What was that you were saying, Gimli?” asked Èomer.
“What? About Elves in general or one in particular?” questioned Gimli gruffly, walking further out the cave.
Aragorn and Èomer followed him, looking round for the Elf. The sun’s rays were bright and made sight difficult, not to mention the fact that the Elf could blend into almost any surrounding. A movement caught Èomer’s eye.
“There he is,” said Èomer pointing down the side of the mountain, as Legolas stood up.
Aragorn turned his attention to the direction Èomer indicated. He was Legolas staring at the ground, he then looked up and seemed to be contemplating something before he started off down the slope. His eyes never left the ground.
“Legolas,” called Gimli.
The Elf stopped and looked up at them, he glanced back in the direction that he had been going, before he started back up the mountainside.
“I think we have success,” said Èomer as Legolas joined them.
“We found some large prints further in the cave along with some dark patches that could be blood,” added Aragorn.
“Čomer, would you be able to recognise tack from any horse of Rohan?” asked Legolas suddenly.
“I would hope so,” answered Èomer confused.
Legolas showed them what he had found.
“This is not from any horse of Rohan, it is too roughly worked,” said Èomer after a second.
“The cloth is also strange,” said Aragorn.
“There is also a hoof print lower down,” added Legolas.
“Is that what you were following?” asked Aragorn.
“Perhaps we should go and take a look at it?” suggested Èomer, wanting to go to see the print.
“Good idea,” nodded Gimli.
Aragorn was still studying the cloth but looked up suddenly and nodded,
“Legolas, lead the way.”
They had gone half way down to the area when, Legolas suddenly yelled,
“I hear battle,” and took off down the slope drawing his bow, the others were quick to follow.
Legolas ran for a few minutes then stopped the battle had ceased, he started again quickly picking up speed. Aragorn saw Legolas stop then take off again moving a lot faster, Aragorn glanced behind him and saw Èomer and Gimli following. He too started to move faster even though he knew he would never catch up to Legolas at the speed he was going but he sensed that something was amiss. Not just with the sounds of battled but with the whole search. He saw Legolas standing still in the distance. ‘Too late,’ he thought.
The sight that greeted Aragorn was not good, a horse lay still on the ground surrounded by four men. Riders of Rohan. Aragorn heard Èomer come up behind him and felt him stiffen at the sight before him. Legolas walked from man to man to see if any lived. Slowly Èomer walked forward and starting checking his men as well. Aragorn knew none did when Legolas moved to the horse. Glancing round Legolas picked up an arrow that lay on the ground.
“Haradrim,” he said aloud recognising the arrow and now the bits of tack. Turning he jogged to where Aragorn was crouched studying the ground.
“There were many horses here,” said Aragorn as Èomer came up next to Legolas.
“Men from Harad,” Legolas said giving Èomer the arrow.
“This is ill news. Harad and a Winged Beast,” said Aragorn.
“A choice lies before me,” said Èomer. “To continue with this search or begin another?”
“I believe them to be the same search,” said Aragorn.
“What are they doing in Rohan?” asked Èomer.
“That is what I wonder as well,” said Aragorn.
“Unless they plan an attack on Gondor from Rohan but I do not see how,” said Gimli.
“To pass Gondor they would have go round Mordor through Hildorien and Rhûn,” said Legolas.
“And pass Mirkwood where King Thranduil will have received news of an army passing,” said Aragorn.
“Unless an army did not pass but a few men,” he said.
“A few men could pass though Gondor,” said Gimli.
“They could also use rivers and the sea,” said Èomer.
Legolas briefly closed his eyes and sighed before opening them again. Èomer winced,
“My apologies, Legolas,” he said.
Legolas waved it aside and said,
“The horse is one of the Haradrim, we all left our horses at the camp. The tack is the same that was found earlier.”
“That is how they got away so quickly,” said Aragorn regretfully. “This ground yields no clues as to where they went only that there are quite a few of them.”
“What do we do now?” asked Gimli.
“We should continue, we can do nothing for them now but try and prevent this from happening again,” said Èomer.
With heavy hearts they moved the dead men out of sight from predators.
“Hiro hyn hîdh ab’wanth,” whispered Legolas as Èomer and Aragorn placed branches over the dead men.
( Let them find peace after death.)
“There are still two hours of light left this day, I want to explore a little further along,” said Èomer.
“We might find more clues.”
They started making their way back to the cave, marking in their minds where the men were hidden. They walked along the side of the slope looking for signs of both the creature and the Haradrim.
“We should be making our way back to the cave,” said Èomer stopping.
“It has been worrying me about the cave, we were searching during the day. Should it have not been in the cave?” asked Legolas as they started back.
“Unless it was further down, the cave did continue,” said Gimli.
“What if we were to block the entrance and prevent it from coming out,” said Aragorn.
“Or going in,” added Èomer.
“Either way I think it would be to our advantage,” said Aragorn.
“What do we block it with?” asked Gimli.
There was silence as they thought about it.
“Rope,” said Aragorn, “It won’t hold the creature long but long enough for us to kill it.”
“Then we continue our search for the Haradrim,” said Èomer.
“I had almost forgot about them. Their being here is not by accident, too long have Gondor and Harad been against each other for this to be a minor thing,” said Aragorn.
“And they sided with Sauron,” said Èomer.
“And Sauron used the Winged Beasts,” added Gimli.
“The Haradrim had a Winged Beast of their own,” mused Legolas. “It was not destroyed with the ring and it managed to free itself.”
“They could have let it lose,” said Èomer.
“True,” said Aragorn. “But if they did they would not have risked coming here.”
“Why would it still be alive and the others destroyed?” asked Gimli.
“The others had Nazgûl on their backs,” said Legolas.
They walked in silence for a few minutes.
“The Haradrim would keep it for an attack on Gondor and Rohan,” said Èomer. “If it got free, they must have been readying an attack.”
“I was thinking about that also,” admitted Aragorn.
“Unless they were trying to train it. Nazgûl would have some power over them but essentially they are wild,” said Legolas.
“Fearing it being found they came to fetch it,” said Gimli.
“I think they came to kill it,” said Aragorn.
“It is too big to capture and drag back, through Gondor, to Harad. Better to kill and not have anyone know about it,” agreed Èomer.
They had made it back to the cave.
“What if they have already killed it?” asked Gimli.
“Then we go and find them,” answered Èomer as they pulled rope from their packs.
“I was referring to making this trap,” said Gimli.
“It is a possibility that it is already dead but it could also not be. It is a chance we take,” said Aragorn.
Securing the entrance was not as easy as it seems for there was very little to attach the rope to. The breeze that had been playing with them the whole day died as the sun started setting. The sun had gone and darkness had set in by the time they finished, the moon was past full but still bright as they found suitable hiding spots and waited for the creature to appear.
It was a quiet, long night as there was no sign of the creature. The sun’s first light was just appearing when Aragorn came out from his hiding place, the others soon joining him.
“Either it died of its wounds or the Haradrim killed it,” said Èomer.
“Unless it found another cave,” said Aragorn. “But I do not think that is true.”
“Another day of searching,” sighed Èomer as he made to take down the ropes.
“Perhaps we should try further up the mountain, the snow is high this summer,” suggested Gimli.
At that moment a cry filled the air. The cry of a beast and it was close.
Legolas scanned the sky.
“It is not in the air,” he said.
“Quick,” yelled Aragorn as he set off in the direction the cry came from followed by the others.
They ran down the side of the mountains as the sun crept over the horizon, casting a golden light over everything it touched. They ran for a while across the scrubby mountainside before they came across a group of six men fighting the Winged Beast. Aragorn recognised the Haradrim as they fought to control the creature. It had a few ropes attached to it as well as a net thrown over its head to confuse it but all the net did was make it angrier as it thrashed about violently. Aragorn paused a moment unsure of what to do, the men had not noticed them yet. He turned to Legolas.
“Can you get it from here?” he asked.
Legolas aimed his bow and waited for an opportunity to fire. Aragorn did not miss the chagrined expression on the Elf’s face, it grated his nerves having to shot the beast so often and it still lived. One of the Haradrim, braver than most, ran forward and attempted to stab the creature with his spear. The spear caught the creature in its soft underbelly, it reared up in pain and Legolas fired an arrow through its eye. The creature screamed in final agony and fell dead on the ground. The men then became aware of them standing a few meters away, weapons drawn. There was an uneasy moment as both groups looked at each other, both anticipating an attack.
“Throw down your weapons,” ordered Aragorn.
The Haradrim spoke among each other, it was plain they felt they had the advantage. They were six against four. They charged, the first three men received arrows at their feet before they had taken five steps. They stopped.
“Your weapons,” said Aragorn, the men dropped them but did not lose their defiant stance.
They glared at Aragorn and Èomer as they made their way down to them, unhurried. Èomer noticed that they had horses tied to a tether behind a boulder; there were seventeen of them. He smiled, they may have killed four of his men but obviously his men had taken many of theirs before they fell.
“What are you doing here?” demanded Èomer.
The men said and did nothing.
“Speak,” ordered Aragorn.
“We will speak only to the king of this land,” snapped the foremost man.
“I stand before you so speak,” demanded Èomer.
The men appeared shocked at this and looked at each other, frowning or shaking their heads. One appeared as if he would talk but he was silence by a look from the one who had spoken. Legolas took a step forward leisurely notching an arrow while he stared intently at the man who wanted to speak. The man shuffled from one foot to another uncomfortable with the Elf’s unblinking stare.
“We chasing the beast,” he said suddenly in bad Westron.
One of his companions growled something at him and he said something back. The first man crossed his arms and glared at Aragorn.
“The beast is yours,” said Aragorn, not asking. The man nodded anyway.
“Where did you get it?” asked Èomer.
“We have it always, since…” he stopped as the first man slapped him across the shoulder with the back of his hand.
“Since the War,” finished Èomer.
“Why is it here? Planning an attack on Rohan. Or Gondor,” said Aragorn.
The man shook his head fiercely,
“No, no,” the man started but got no further as the first man suddenly pulled a dagger from his boot and stabbed the man who had spoken in the chest at the same time Legolas fired and killed the stabber. The remaining Haradrim stood looking at the scene with indifferent expressions.
“Are you planning an attack?” asked Aragorn again.
They did not answer and continued to look around, deliberately ignoring the four of them.
“How many of you are here?” asked Èomer.
Again they did nothing.
“What should we do with them?” asked Gimli.
“Take them to Helm’s Deep,” said Èomer.
“Is that wise?” asked Aragorn in the language of the Horse Lords.
“I wish to find out why they are here and they seem to be unwilling to talk here on the mountain side,” answered Èomer, speaking the same.
Aragorn nodded in agreement. The Haradrim looked slightly concerned as the exchange took place, as none knew what was being said. But then neither did Gimli or Legolas, who stood patiently to one side watching the Haradrim.
“To Helm’s Deep,” said Èomer in Westron.
It occurred to them suddenly, that they did not have any rope – it was all back at the cave. Putting them on their horses was not an option. Aragorn glanced Legolas, who nodded and started running back to the cave as fast as he could which was fast indeed. Aragorn heard Gimli mutter something about Elves and showing off but his mind was preoccupied at the moment. It was not long before Legolas returned with rope, which he gave to Aragorn. Who, along with Èomer, tied the prisoner’s hands behind their backs. A length of rope joined the Haradrim together.
“Legolas, could you bring the horses,” asked Aragorn to which Legolas nodded.
As Legolas got chose to the horse one of the Haradrim suddenly whistled. This caused most of the horses to rear and prance across the ground. Legolas glanced at the man who had whistled and raised his hand, whispered a few Elven words, the horses calmed themselves and much to the annoyance of the man, gathered around the Elf, nickering softly. Legolas turned to Aragorn,
“They will follow with us,” he said, Aragorn nodded and motioned for the Haradrim to start walking. Èomer took the lead while Aragorn and Gimli guarded on the sides and Legolas followed with the horses.
It did not take them long to reach the cave, where their packs were. As it was still early morning, they decided to continue on down the mountainside and walk along the flat ground until they reached the makeshift camp. This would bring them within sight of Fangorn Forest, which brought back memories of running for Aragorn – running and worry. Those had been dark times; a day did not go by without him thinking of the trials they had all been through. And with every thought he thanked the Valar that the shadow had fallen. The journey down the mountain side was uneventful but as soon as they reached the flat land, the Haradrim started to slow down and drag their feet. They bunched together and trailed close to the horses. At first this amused Legolas for he knew that they would not be able to mount the horses tied together like they were, but their slow walking forced him and the others to slow as well and after an hour of the tedious pace he spoke up,
“If we continue at this pace we shall take days to reach the camp.”
Aragorn had to agree but short of putting them on horses there was no way to speed them up and he told Legolas so in Elven, Legolas sighed and scanned the horizon. As Aragorn was about to turn back Legolas suddenly stopped, his gazed fixed in the distance.
“What do you see?” asked Aragorn, again in Elven, but continued to face the front.
He did not want to alert the Haradrim to anything that might be amiss. But this proved to be unnecessary for even as Legolas started to speak the closest prisoner looped the excess rope around the Elf’s neck and pulled tight. Caught unawares, Legolas was pulled off his feet as the rope dug into his throat. As Legolas struggled against the man, he felt one of his Elven knives being pulled from its sheath on his back; he also became acutely aware that he could not breathe. Aragorn and Èomer sprang forward as soon as they realised what was happening but at the same time one of the prisoners started shouting and slapping the horses, causing them to panic and dance about. Gimli growled angrily as he tried to get past the prancing horses. The horses made an effective barrier between the two parties, as the man with the blade began to cut free his friends. Èomer grabbed the reins of the nearest horse and pulled it forward in hope that the other horses would follow it. The man with Legolas’ Elven knife managed to free himself and another in the few moments of panic but he saw that the horses were dispersing so abandoning his efforts and Legolas’ blade he jumped onto the nearest horse, his free friend joining him on another mount. Both mounted men rode for Aragorn and Èomer, forcing them to move away or be ridden down.
Legolas tried to get his fingers between the rope and his throat but desperation made the man’s grip strong. Legolas, whose eyes were beginning to water, kicked the man in the shin as hard as could, which caused the man to hiss in pain and tighten his grip. Gimli ran forward to one of the horsemen and swung his axe at the horse’s forelegs. This caused the horse to do a last minute jump, unseating the man, the Haradrim managed to roll as he landed and was up on his feet instantly. Without looking behind him he ran to another horse and after a few moments of difficulty he mounted and started off into the distance. The remaining horsemen saw what happened and turned to follow. This left the man holding onto Legolas and one other, who dived for the fallen blade thus dragging all three of them to the ground. Legolas was still trying to get a grip on the rope when again he was pulled off his feet. He felt the man’s grip loosen as they hit the ground and twisting as fast as he could, managed to wrench himself free and into a standing position, drawing both breath and bow. He felt dizzy as he took aim at the retreating horsemen, which is why when the prisoner on the ground kicked his legs out from under him, he landed with a solid thump on the ground. His arrow went high into the air before landing far from the distant horsemen. Quickly he moved to his knees and fired again but, even though the arrow went in the right direction, it missed the horsemen. As he started to get up felt a gentle hand on his shoulder,
He turned and saw Gimli standing behind him, realising that things were under control he lowered his head and drew deep breaths that sounded ragged even to his ears. Gimli must have noticed this as well because the Dwarf stepped in front of to him and reaching forward lifted Legolas’ head to look at the rope burn around his neck. Legolas jerked out of Gimli’s grip and stood, he was furious at been caught unawares; he had then fallen and missed his shot - twice. He turned to vent his anger on the reason for it but found that Aragorn stood between him and the Haradrim men. Without a word Aragorn handed his knife back to him, Legolas took it and looked over Aragorn’s shoulder where Èomer stood watching the two remaining men. Aragorn knew that Legolas was angry and would not heed any healing advice so he repeated his earlier question,
“What did you see?”
Legolas stared at the two prisoners for a few more seconds before looking at Aragorn.
“Horsemen,” he said softly, his throat and neck hurt more than he cared to admit. He could also heard the harshness of his voice as he spoke.
“They knew that their friends were coming,” assumed Aragorn purposely passing Legolas his own water skin, which Legolas took but did not drink from.
“And were hoping to delay long enough for them to catch up with us,” said Gimli. “By the way, Legolas- ” the Dwarf stopped short at the sight of the glare turned in his direction, clearing his throat he started again. “As I was saying, I think you should put that knife away.”
As much as Gimli wanted to tease Legolas, he felt that it would not help the Elf’s mood, which was dangerous as it was. He would save it for later. Legolas did, however, put his knife away. Looking round he saw that the horses had all run from the commotion and were now grazing.
“We should move on,” said Èomer pulling the prisoners to their feet.
“What of the horses?” asked Gimli.
“When we return to Helm’s Deep, I will send some men to collect them. Right now we have a deadline.”
It soon became apparent that they were not going to be back before the allotted time as one of the prisoners had a bad limp but refused to let Aragorn look at it.
“Do you think he’s faking it?” asked Èomer studying the man’s leg.
Aragorn thought about it but before he could answer Legolas said,
Èomer looked doubtful but did not what to contradict the Elf at that moment in time.
“I kicked him,” explained Legolas seeing Èomer’s face.
“When?” asked Gimli, running a mental picture of their brief combat though his mind.
“When he attempted to strangle me,” said Legolas. Even though he spoke softly, his anger could still be heard.
“Mayhap he should have and saved us from your temper,” resorted Gimli forgetting his earlier decision not to anger the Elf further. However, before Legolas could answer Aragorn spoke,
“We still have many miles to go.”
He knew that speaking was something Legolas should leave for a few hours and from the glare he received Legolas knew what Aragorn was doing.
Once again they started their journey but slower than before. Èomer herded the prisoners in front of them. They all kept a look out for horsemen both from Rohan and Harad.
After a few minutes of walking, Aragorn swung his pack round; he began rummaging in it for a second then hauled out a little pot made of clay. He dropped back to where Legolas was walking behind them and handed the pot to him,
“For your throat,” he said when Legolas did not take it. He also spoke in Elven.
Legolas looked at the pot that Aragorn held before him. With a sigh, he took it and opened it; common sense won over pride. Taking some of the gelatinous substance with his fingers, he carefully rubbed it across his throat. Even as he worked a cooling effect spread throughout his neck. Nodding his thanks he returned the pot and Aragorn’s water skin.
“How is your throat?” asked Aragorn.
“It will be fine,” answered Legolas quietly.
They walked in silence for a while; Aragorn noticed that Legolas had yet to take his eyes from the men in front of Èomer and Gimli.
“Are you going to stare them to death?” he asked light-heartedly.
A small smile played on Legolas’ lips as he shook his head.
“There were twenty-five horsemen,” he said softly.
“Twenty-five!” exclaimed Aragorn, slipping into Westron. Èomer turned to look at them questioningly. Aragorn lifted his hand to signal that he would tell him later and turned back to Legolas,
“Twenty-five?” he inquired in Elven again.
“At least,” answered Legolas.
Aragorn sighed, what were they up against?
“I have been wondering about the Winged Beast,” added Legolas.
“What of it?” asked Aragorn.
“Six men against a tied and wound creature,” said Legolas.
“Do you think they had trained it?” asked Aragorn.
Legolas did not answer. Aragorn thought about it awhile,
“I can see them lying if they were caught but would they kill over a lie?”
“Some men would,” answered Legolas.
“Do you think he told what he thought to be the truth?” asked Aragorn.
“I believe so and in order to keep appearances he was killed,” answered Legolas.
“Would they know?” wondered Aragorn indicating the men in front.
“That is what I was thinking about. They knew that there were others here and where they would be,” said Legolas.
“This appears to be bigger than first appearance,” sighed Aragorn. “I must speak to Èomer,” he added, picking up his pace so he could catch up with the King of Rohan.
Èomer looked up as Aragorn came up next to him.
“Have you discovered anything new?” asked Èomer.
“Yes,” said Aragorn then switched to Rohirrim. “Legolas believes that the creature may have been trained.”
Èomer thought about it for a minute,
“What makes him think so?”
“The fact that six men could not take down a wounded and tied creature as well as the fact that there are more Haradrim in Rohan,” answered Aragorn.
Again Èomer was thoughtful.
“What are your feelings on the matter?” Èomer asked eventually.
“It has some merit but...” Aragorn did not finish.
“But the Elf may be jumping at shadows to ease a wounded pride,” finished Èomer with a little humour.
Aragorn gave him a sharp look before suddenly laughing, which caused the company to look at him.
“That too,” said Aragorn.
Èomer’s smile faded,
“He may, however, have a point.”
Aragorn had to agree, there were just too many coincidences and Harad and Gondor had been fighting for so long. Aragorn glanced back at the Elf, who was scanning the horizon. He wore a thoughtful frown and appeared to watching one area in particular. Aragorn wondered if the other Haradrim were still out on the rolling plains. Would they attempt to rescue the men Èomer had or leave them to whatever fate they believe would befall them? One had killed the other to keep the secret about the Winged Beast, this much he knew but did it mean that these prisoners knew something or where as ignorant as the first slain man? Aragorn did not know what to think – what were the Haradrim up to? What was their plan? Did they even have one? What if they were telling the truth and it was as Èomer had said, jumping at shadows?
Then again, twenty-five horsemen was a lot of men to ignore. Adding in the fractious relations between Gondor and Harad... Several peace talks had failed in the past but now the threat was not just to Gondor but Rohan as well. They walked in silence for the rest of the afternoon. That night an uneasy camp was set up and watches taken. Even though they broke camp early, their progress was slow with the wounded prisoner. It was late that afternoon when Legolas spotted horsemen making their way over to them, they were Rohirrim. They had brought extra horses but not enough for the prisoners as well so two of the guards doubled up and they made their way back to the base camp, where they spend the night. The following morning, Èomer send men to fetch the bodies of their fallen comrades, while he and the rest of the company started back to Helm’s Deep with the prisoners. They left the dead beast where it had fallen.
Èomer, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas sat at the head of the table, a map spread out in front of them.
“Here is where the beast was first sighted,” said Èomer with a glance at Gimli, who nodded.
“We saw it along here,” added Aragorn, running his finger along the map.
“And the Haradrim were here and here,” said Èomer, then added, “I think we should search to the north.”
“I agree, that many men could only have come around Mordor through Rhûn,” said Aragorn.
“Do not discount the rivers,” added Legolas softly.
Even though his throat no longer hurt nor bore obvious sign of injury, he spoke softly for all rivers lead to the sea.
“True but a lot of the rivers are fast flowing and using them would not only take time but man power as well,” said Aragorn.
They all studied the map in front of them. The mountain range that made up part of Mordor was long and passage from Harad to Rohan without going through Gondor would mean travelling though Harad, Far Harad, Forests of Harad, Hildorien then Rhûn before getting to Rohan. It was months of travel through harsh lands. Not to mention the Elven dominated area of Rhovanion. Looking at the faces studying the map, Aragorn could see they all had came to the same conclusion – small parties had come through Gondor to recapture the Winged Beast. The time frame was too short for any other option.
“North might not have been how they got here but it is where they are now,” said Èomer.
“True,” said Aragorn.
“I don't think they were trying to recapture the beast,” said Legolas suddenly.
All three turned to him questioningly.
“If they had, how were they going to get it back to Harad? Through Gondor? But then why hadn’t they killed it?”
“What were they going to do?” asked Èomer after a moment. “Twenty or so men are not going to take a country no matter how small.”
“One winged beast is not going to tip the scales in their favour either,” added Gimli.
“But there is the possibility that one beast escaped, they may have others under their control,” said Legolas.
There was silence as they pondered what that could mean. If they had five beasts, ten – they would not need many men at all.
“We could have a very serious situation on our hands,” said Èomer, sitting down on a nearby seat.
“Do you think the two men we have down stairs would know anything?” asked Gimli.
“Even if they did, would they talk?” wondered Legolas.
“I doubt it,” said Èomer.
“Sending an envoy to Harad might be an idea,” suggested Aragorn, “but they might deny any knowledge of the Winged Beast.”
“It would also take time and men,” said Èomer. “What if we offer the prisoners freedom in exchange for information?”
“That could work,” said Aragorn, “but I would wait a few days so as not to appear desperate.”
“A week, I think,” said Èomer and Aragorn nodded.
“What are the things we know for sure?” said Aragorn moving on.
“The Winged Beast is dead,” said Legolas.
“The men were from Harad,” added Gimli.
“There is also the possibility that they were a splinter group; acting on their own,” said Aragorn.
“In that case,” said Èomer, “where did they get the Winged Beast?”
Aragorn rubbed the bridge of his nose, so many questions.
“Putting aside the issue of where the Beast came from,” said Legolas, “what were they planning on doing with it?”
“Attack,” said Gimli simply.
“Ah, my battle ready friend,” sighed Legolas, “that much we can assume for sure but I was more referring to another option – breeding.”
“That would mean at least two out there if not more,” said Èomer.
“And if there are only two – one has now died,” said Legolas.
“I think it would be best, not to mention, easier to assume that there is only one beast. They had all been called to the Final Battle,” pointed out Aragorn.
“Yes,” said Legolas, “but we should still keep other options in mind. That way we can’t be surprised.”
Èomer put his hand on the map,
“We question the prisoners and revaluate with what they tell us or don’t tell us,” he said. “Otherwise we will be going round in circles asking the same questions. We wait until the end of the week.”
“I, however, have to return to Gondor. I can come back if you wish.”
“That is up to you,” said Èomer. “It would be helpful as you speak their language.”
Aragorn thought about it for a moment before nodding,
“I shall return within the week. But I shall leave as soon as we are done here.”
“I’ll send an escort with you,” said Èomer.
Aragorn was about to object but accepted the offer with thanks.
“I shall remain for today,” said Legolas. “I’ll go up north and see what’s going on there. Will you join me?” he asked Gimli.
The dwarf nodded.
“Shall we meet in a week from now,” said Èomer.
The others nodded and set about preparations for their various journeys.
Legolas and Gimli left the morning after Aragorn had departed for Gondor. Much to Gimli’s discomfort they travelled quickly to where they had encountered and captured the Haradrim. The Haradrim had made no attempt to hide their tracks thinking they would not be found so quickly. Legolas and Gimli followed the tracks for half a day alternating between horseback and walking.
“It is as we suspected,” said Legolas. He was standing on the crest of a hill. His gaze stretching far. “They came through Gondor. And it appears they left that way as well.”
“What do you want to do now?” asked Gimli after a long pause.
“I want to go further north,” answered Legolas as he mounted Arod. “I want to be sure.”
Legolas reached down and helped Gimli settle on Arod before turning the horse’s head northward. They would skirt Fangorn Forest and cut across The Wolds before returning to Edoras. Gimli knew Legolas wanted to search further but they had a time limit. And unlike their previous journeys, this one was quiet and full of suspicion.
Gimli woke slowly on their last day out in The Wolds. He lay for a moment watching the smoke drift from the dying coals. That afternoon they had to head back to Edoras – they had already lingered too long and were going to be late getting back. He sat up and stretched spotting Legolas a little way off gazing into the distance.
“Still nothing?” he asked as he ambled over.
Legolas shook his head, his brow furrowed.
“All is quiet – no evening light and no morning fires. There is nothing out on the plains,” he said.
“Quiet again,” muttered Gimli.
Legolas spoke to himself but Gimli was close enough to hear.
“Come, we must return,” said Legolas suddenly.
“I thought you would want to ride further out today – maybe have a look on the other side of the river Anduin?” said Gimli.
Legolas shook his head.
“We are heading for Edoras but following the river Anduin for as long as possible,” he said. “Men and horses need water and no one has been this far north for some time.”
But the new path brought nothing new so Legolas and Gimli turned for Edoras.
Legolas and Gimli had not returned when Aragorn arrived at Edoras seven days later. And when they did arrive the following day, the news they brought did not ease the tension of the situation.
“There is no activity out there – me and Gimli were the only travelers for many miles,” said Legolas. “The Harradrim that we saw are no longer there – I think they left the day we saw them.”
“Is that good news…” murmured Èomer to himself as they sat around the dying fire in the main hall.
Even with the promise freedom added to a week of imprisonment did nothing to loosen the captive’s tongues. The following morning saw them in the same situation only a week later; sitting around the same table with the map spread out.
“If they had one beast, our problem is solved,” said Èomer. “However, if they had two, there is still the possibility of attack. If they had three-”
“I don’t think they had more than two,” interrupted Aragorn, “there weren’t that many to begin with. I think it is safe to believe they had two at most.”
“I’m inclined to agree but I do not want to be caught unprepared,” said Èomer.
“If they had three that puts us in another situation, not the one we’re dealing with now,” said Legolas.
“We still don’t know what they were planning to do with it,” said Gimli.
“No need to worry about that now seeing as the beast is dead,” said Aragorn. “Our concern now is if they have any more. Their current behaviour leads me to believe they don’t.”
“How so?” asked Èomer.
“They are trying to make us think they know something by not saying anything,” said Aragorn.
“To what end?” asked Èomer.
“They don’t believe we will let them go or they are pretending to know something so we won’t kill them,” said Aragorn. “Either or maybe neither but I still think there was one beast.”
“It is a valid tactic,” said Gimli referring to the prisoners. “That way we can come to our own, possibly unrealistic, conclusions.”
“Gimli does have a point,” said Legolas, “it’s rare but he does.”
Gimli’s head snapped up and toward the Elf, who continued.
“Fear of the unknown is making the unknown bigger than it is or was.”
“So, if we assume the immediate treat is gone we fall back into our old relations with Harad,” said Aragorn.
“I am not satisfied with this conclusion but there is no other option,” said Èomer.
“It’s a slight improvement to our previous situation where we were just keeping a look out,” said Aragorn. “Now, we know what possibilities they may have.”
“With their men failing to return, the Haradrim will suspect that they were captured and hopefully delay any plans they may have been putting into action,” said Legolas.
“It might actually be a few years before they try anything that big again,” said Aragorn.
“Possibly even canceling them all together if there is no Winged Beast,” finished Legolas.
“So until that time; we wait,” said Èomer.
“We wait,” said Aragorn.
“What are you going to do with the prisoners?” asked Legolas.
“They can stay there until they decide to take the freedom that is on offer,” said Èomer.
“With that said, I shall return to Gondor,” said Aragorn.
“If anything does happen to come up, I’ll let you know,” he said.
“Likewise,” said Aragorn.
“I shall accompany you and head on to Ithilien,” said Legolas.
“I too shall return home,” said Gimli.
“You arrived with men, did you not?” asked Èomer.
“Yes,” said Aragorn, “I did.”
“Well, then,” conclude Èomer, “till our paths meet again.”
Aragorn nodded and said his goodbyes; Legolas bowed his head slightly and departed, followed shortly by Gimli.
That evening while Èomer finished up the last of his paperwork he caught sight of a small rolled map. He picked it up and studied it before muttering to himself,
“So this is how it ends.”