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Disclaimer: The following is non-profit and was written for purely entertainment purposes. All recognized characters and places are property of Tolkien Estates and New Line Cinema.
A/N: This story will contain portions of rated R content (due to violence).
That being said, this is an AU, Post-RotK fic. It centers primarily on Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, with a few other old favorites thrown in for good measure. I warn you ahead of time: my updates are slow! Angst is a genre somewhat out of my league, and I find it very challenging (and draining) to write. Honestly, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing—I’m just learning as I go along. *grin* (And now let’s all hope I don’t hurt myself in the process.) Please bear with me! ;)
* * *
~ Chapter One: A Gift From the Sea ~
The Sea does not return what she takes.
She cradles and rocks the dead in her never-ending embrace. She swallows treasures with delight. Untold secrets are safely blanketed by her rolling, velvet waves.
Yet sometimes, when the treasure is too powerful or the secret too great, even the mighty Sea cannot conceal all.
She tried to—and had succeeded—for countless years on end. She had taken the Elf who so willingly gave himself to her. It had been harder to coax the treasure clutched in his frozen hands, but in the end she had succeeded in doing that as well. Though the Elf’s cold body had left her waters long ago, his treasure still remained. It was a jewel that shone of starlight, more beautiful than all the wonders of the sea combined. And it was hers.
Yet starlight was not made to dwell within the ocean’s watery tomb. The two other stones were kept content by the light around them: the stars in the sky and the burning, molten lava deep within the earth. However, the third stone found no such happiness in the darkened currents of the Sea. Its unhappiness grew, and the Sea found it harder and harder to contain her beloved treasure. The stone became a constant ache, which grew more painful as the years crawled by. Then one day, the Sea realized she could conceal her most prized possession no more.
She would return what she had taken.
* * *
For six days and nights the storm raged, the likes of which have never been seen on Middle-earth. Even those who had been at the collapse of Mt. Doom ten years earlier were unnerved by its ferocity. The land shook and rattled as thunder cracked and boomed across a steel-grey sky. Lightening danced haphazardly between earth and cloud, and the seas rose to heights unheard of. Rain drove down in sheets, and the wind howled and screamed in agony.
On the dawn of the seventh day, the exhausted Sea finally ended her tirade. And there, nestled innocently in the sands along her beach, lay the stone. Her lapping waves caressed it as a loving mother gently brushes her fingers along the skin of a newborn. Proud and tired, the waters sighed in contentment while the gulls wheeled and cried above.
* * *
The girl-child straightened at the sound of her name. “I’m over here, Mama!” She turned with a laugh and continued running down the beach. Now that the storm was over, she could run and play along the sands as she pleased. Papa would be able to fish again, which meant more trips to the market. And that, she reasoned, meant more chances to buy things. For her.
Muriel lifted her face to the sun and smiled. The wind whipped the hair around her tiny little head, tangling it into hopeless knots. If Papa caught a lot of fish, he might even buy her the beautiful red ribbon she coveted!
“What do you think, Éowyn Doll?” The girl held up a faded rag doll she carried at her side. The tattered doll merely moved a foot as the sea wind blustered by, and remained silent.
“Why thank you! I think the red ribbon would make me look just like a princess, too. Maybe even as beautiful as the real Éowyn.” The girl paused and glanced at the well-loved toy. “Of course, not that you aren’t real. If Papa buys two ribbons, I’ll give one to you. Fair enough? Good.”
Satisfied at her compromise, Muriel skipped down the beach. She stopped abruptly when she noticed an object glinting in the sunlight.
“What’s this?” Immediately squatting down, the child peered into the wet sand at her feet. She did not notice the Sea’s angry foaming and frothing around her ankles as she bent to pick the object up. Muriel gasped, and with trembling fingers, the girl carefully brushed the wet sand from it.
“Éowyn Doll,” she whispered in awe, “look what we found.”
Muriel was a young child, and had no knowledge of money or wealth. She understood that there were many things she desired and could not have, and that her mother and father worked very hard so that they could eat, but that was all. Therefore, visions of either did not cross her mind as she watched the stone twinkling in the midday sun. Instead, the girl was captured by the gem’s divine radiance.
“Pretty,” she murmured, unable to tear her eyes away. “So pretty.”
“Muriel!” Her mother’s voice called again. Dazed, the child walked back up the beach to the small shack, her eyes never leaving the stone.
* * *
Tegiron had spent the better part of the week searching Belfalas for a new fishing boat. Unfortunately, boats were in short supply as almost all had been lost in the storm. To make matters worse, Tegiron had not the money to purchase a new one. It had been out of pure luck that he had managed to find one he could afford. The old man he bought it from claimed it floated well enough, and as far as Tegiron was concerned, that was all it needed to do.
He whistled happily as he drove the rickety cart down the cobbled lane. It was a miracle the family’s old horse, Hirlon, had survived the storm, Tegiron mused. Maybe there really was some Rohan stock in his blood, after all. The man laughed out loud. Standing a slight 12 hands, grey from head to tail, and with a back as swayed as a bow, Hirlon looked anything but a proud steed of Rohan.
“Bitaliel! Muriel!” The man gave a jubilant shout as his house came into view. “Come see our new boat!”
He smiled as his wife came tumbling out of the house to meet him. The smile quickly vanished when he noticed her tear-streaked face. “What is wrong?” he asked, voice tinged with alarm. “Bitaliel, where is Muriel?”
Bitaliel flung herself into her husband’s arms and began sobbing. “She will not move!” the woman sobbed. “She stares! Wasting away… I cannot…I have tried…”
“Bitaliel, look at me,” her husband commanded.
Bitaliel allowed him to tilt her chin upward with his hand. “Inside,” the woman choked, tears pouring down her cheeks, and wretched her face away from his grasp.
Tegiron entered the house with a pounding heart. He knew something terrible had happened to his daughter. Yet he was still unprepared for the sight that greeted his eyes.
He found the child sitting in a corner with her back to him, staring at something in her hands. “Muriel?” He cautiously approached the girl. She did not respond.
He placed a hand on her shoulder, and still the girl did not move. He was surprised he could feel the sharpness of her shoulder blade so keenly. It was then he noticed what she held in her hands. He breathed in sharply and reached down to pick it up, everything else completely forgotten.
His hands jerked away involuntarily when small, sharp teeth punctured his skin. Tegiron cried out in astonishment. Had his daughter just bitten him?
“She will not move, she will not eat.” Bitaliel stood behind him and wrung her hands in despair. “If you try and take the stone away, she begins screaming like a wounded animal. Look at her, she is wasting away!”
Tegiron carefully looked over his daughter. Bitaliel’s words rang true. The child’s skin had an ugly grey pallor, and her hair hung in limp tangles. Sickly blue circles surrounded her sunken eyes. Her small form, once wiry and energetic, was now spindly and shrunken. “Valar,” he swore, “she looks like Death.”
* * *
Two weeks passed, and the couple fought to keep their daughter alive by forcing water down the girl’s throat. It was a losing battle. The moment Muriel’s eyes were averted from her precious stone, she would begin screaming and kicking. Occasionally, the fits would become full-blown seizures.
Tegiron could put off his trip to the market no longer, and was finally forced to leave his wife and daughter. Standing by the child’s bedside (she had collapsed several days ago, and lay screaming on the floor until they positioned her in the bed so that she could hold the stone on her chest and stare at it), he watched Muriel’s labored breathing. The child—his once-beautiful daughter—was nothing more than a tiny skeleton still encased in a paper-thin sheet of flesh. It tore at him and disgusted him. Unable to bear the sight any longer, he turned on his heel and left.
Bitaliel stroked her daughter’s forehead as the child gasped for air. “Muriel,” she begged, “please eat something.” Muriel did not respond, and continued to stare glassy-eyed at the jewel. Heartbroken, Bitaliel climbed into the bed wrapped her arms around the dying child. “Foolish girl,” she whispered softly, the lump in her throat growing more painful.
To her surprise, the child opened her pale, cracked lips and murmured something. Bitaliel released a frantic cry. “Muriel? What did you say? Speak to me, child!”
The child’s eyes slowly moved away from the stone and rested upon her mother’s face. Bitaliel’s heart soared. The spell had been broken. Muriel had done it.
Tears of happiness leaked down her face as Bitaliel leaned her ear towards the child’s mouth.
Muriel smiled. “So…pretty.”
And breathed no more.
* * *
Tegiron returned home to discover his wife weeping and rocking their daughter back and forth. He had to pry the dead child from Bitaliel’s arms.
“No Tegiron, no!” Bitaliel screamed and attempted to beat him off with her fists. “She is not dead! She looked at me! She spoke to me! We must feed her!”
Tegiron watched in horror as his wife swept the dead girl into her lap. “Come, my little dove,” she crooned, “it is time for your dinner. Open your mouth like a good girl.”
“Stop it, Bitaliel!” He roughly grabbed the woman by her shoulders, his voice growing more hysterical by the moment. “For love of the Valar, stop it! She is dead! She is dead! She is DEAD!”
Slumping forward, Bitaliel let the stiff form of what was once Muriel drop back onto the bed. Husband and wife collapsed in each other’s arms, clinging to one other in the hopes that they could somehow stave off the all-consuming grief ripping at their insides.
* * *
The child was buried in the morning, on a hill overlooking the sea she so loved.
Bitaliel placed the cursed stone within an exquisite wooden box her father had carved for Muriel when the child was born.
Tegiron stood atop the barren hill, clenching several wilted flowers. Whether the salt on his lips came from tears or sea spray, he could not tell. Looking up, he called out to his wife as she pulled on a tattered cloak and bridled Hirlon. “Where are you going?”
“This stone is evil,” came the bitter reply. “I will not have it stay here or fall into the wrong hands. I shall ride to Gondor. If King Elessar is truly as great as the people claim, then he will know what to do with this wicked thing.”
Tegiron dully watched Bitaliel’s retreating form until she was completely lost to his eyes. Clenching the lifeless flowers even tighter, he turned his gaze back upon the crashing sea.
The salt-laden tears flowed unchecked.
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