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Disclaimer: This story is non-profit and written for purely entertainment purposes. All recognized characters and places are property of J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line Cinema.
A/N: Éowyn has always been one of my top three favorite LOTR characters. I worry I didn’t do her justice, but I tried my best. :)
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~ Chapter 16: The Messenger ~
Bergil cast a sidelong glance at Aragorn, wondering what thoughts ran through his liege’s head. The King had said little since their departure of Rohan five days ago. Whatever his thoughts were, he kept them to himself, and Bergil could discern very little. Even Bitaliel had fallen to contemplative silence, broken on occasion by her bouts of odd song. Finding her words far too eerie and unsettling, Bergil preferred to ignore the madwoman.
He fidgeted half-heartedly with Rhosharrow’s reins, narrowing his eyes against the setting sun and suppressing a sigh. The hills were bathed in crimson and to the east, the stately Ered Nimrais mountains took on dusky violet hues. Scanning the rolling hills, Bergil could not help but wonder how the sea would appear. He had never before seen the open waters with his own eyes. ‘Will it resemble these hills, I wonder? Or mayhap it is akin to an endless plain—smooth and flat as glass.’
A small spark of adventure and wanderlust flared within the depths of his heart. He was but two days from the sea. Two days from a world he had heard only in tales, where even the air tasted of salt and the water stretched beyond both mortal and immortal eyes.
“Let us make camp in the boulder ring ahead.” Aragorn’s voice broke over the evening lull, just as Bergil had convinced himself the rolling gait of his steed was actually that of the sea’s waters.
Following the other’s outstretched arm, Bergil squinted and offered curt nod of affirmation. “As my lord wills it.”
Bitaliel’s brow constricted, eyebrows drawing together and mouth becoming pinched and taut. Bergil grimaced and prepared himself for the oncoming fit. He did not notice Aragorn do the same.
“No,” Bitaliel said loudly, beginning to knead the front of her skirts. “No, no, no, NO! Let it lie with the stone, let the moss and dirt cover it, that none may ever see!”
“Oh come off it,” Bergil muttered with a scowl. Though Aragorn did not catch the words, he nonetheless caught their tone and sent Bergil a sharp look. The young guard swiftly lowered his head.
Aragorn studied the madwoman intently. “Speak plainly, my lady, for I shall not waste time deciphering your riddles.”
Bitaliel only grew more agitated. “Already taken. Claimed by the Sea! Taken by the Sea’s spawn! Taken! Taken!” Bitaliel’s shrieks rent the air. Her mount sidestepped nervously.
Bergil’s scowl deepened. The woman was perfectly sane until she wanted to get her own way. Why were the words of the mad always treated more cautiously than those of the sane? ‘I do not suppose Captain Haier would be near as understanding were I to throw tantrums over shifts not to my liking.’
Aragorn’s cool grey eyes flickered in warning as Bitaliel took to screaming unintelligible oaths. “That is enough, my lady.” His command was soft but stern. “Your outburst does naught to avail us. Rather, you draw unwanted attention.”
Bitaliel merely spat at him.
Kicking her mount with her heels, she forced the gelding to sit back on his haunches and bolt across the hillside. Aragorn and Bergil watched her retreating form with similar expressions of aggravation. “Mayhap she will gallop over a cliff,” Bergil said, voice pitching a little too hopefully.
Expecting sharp reprimand, he was somewhat surprised by Aragorn’s dry response. “Nay—the horse is too smart.”
Bergil blinked, feeling he had just caught a glimpse of Aragorn rather than King Elessar. The moment was fleeting though, and the king returned in the next instant. “I will set up camp within the boulders,” said Gondor’s liege. “Fetch her before she has ridden too far.”
Bergil brought a hand to his chest in crisp salute, then wheeled his steed and charged after the blind madwoman. Maybe a good sound gallop would pound some sanity back into the old bat.
With a wry shake of the head, Aragorn turned and made his way towards the boulders. He reined in his mount as he drew near and frowned. Something was not right. He could feel it intuitively, in the slight tightening between his shoulder blades and the prickle along his spine and arms.
He dismounted and drew his sword. The blade shivered in anticipation as it was withdrawn from the sheath. The boulders waited in shadowed grey silence, the final rays of evening glinting orange off various divots in the rock. Wispy tufts of grass growing within the boulders’ shadow rustled hesitantly. Aragorn approached cautiously, his steps light and quick. Sword aloft, he swiftly eased between the boulders.
The ring was empty, save the ashy white remnants of an abandoned campfire. Aragorn’s eyes narrowed. The ground was raked and torn—there had undoubtedly been a scuffle of some sort. Running his hand over a darkly stained rock, Aragorn’s jaw tightened in distaste. Yes, blood had been spilled. Perhaps Bitaliel was right; they would most likely have to seek out another site to rest this night.
He stilled suddenly, blood running cold as his eyes fell upon an object carelessly discarded amidst a strewn pile of wood. The weapon was as familiar to him as the one who oft wielded it.
Aragorn stared at the soiled axe, fingers tightening reflexively over sword pommel. If Gimli’s axe was here…
‘Then where is Gimli?’
* * *
Hadeem, renowned leader of the Bh’dul and messenger to Galathe of Umbar, stared at the woman in front of him in open curiosity.
She boldly stared back.
He blinked solemnly, yet did not lower his gaze. The corners of his lips threatened to tug upwards in smile, so struck was he by the absolute absurdity of the situation.
The border guards of Ithilien had detained him the moment he crossed into the realm. He went willingly, carrying himself with such poise even the cankerous veteran soldiers had been won over in the end. They escorted him to Lord Faramir, where Hadeem was granted audience and delivered Galathe’s message to the Ithilien king as he had promised to do. He was then ushered to a lavish guest room (though the armed guards at his door and window were not lost on the Bh’ dul leader), while his purpose and Galathe’s words were debated amongst Lord Faramir and his advisors.
“The Lady Éowyn,” Hadeem’s translator stumbled along in his thick accent, “wishes to know if arrangements are suitable.”
“The Lady Éowyn?” Hadeem studied the woman. Her name was not unfamiliar to him—he had heard the stories and songs, as had everyone else. She stood tall and straight, golden hair wound atop her head and face as pale and expressionless as stone. Her blue eyes burned with a fire Hadeem found cold, fierce, defiant, and merry all at once. He was nearly taken back by its intensity.
‘Ice Maiden, indeed,’ he thought, thin lips lifting into smile and brown eyes sparkling with gentle amusement. “Tell the lady I am satisfied beyond measure, though I wish to know of the whereabouts my stallion Ma’di.” Glancing respectfully to Éowyn, he pressed his hands together and bowed as was customary amongst his people.
The translator, a bent and aging man whose bleary eyes betrayed his habit of reading by candlelight, turned and spoke quickly to Éowyn. The lady tilted her proud head while she listened, fiery blue eyes traveling over Hadeem’s face in calculation. Something flickered across her face at mention of the stallion; she pressed her lips together and offered a sharp nod before replying to the translator.
Hadeem studied her carefully. He was an astute observer by nature, yet the lady seemed well practiced in the art of concealing emotions. ‘Fragile as the Dove, yet possessing claws of the Lion. She is truly a fascinating creature. It is a wonder the Lord Faramir still remains in one piece after all these years.’
“The Lady Éowyn,” spoke the translator in his unwieldy accent, forcing Hadeem to bend much of his concentration on deciphering the other’s words, “says your cow is well.”
Hadeem straightened indignantly. “Cow?”
Éowyn watched as something akin to insult flashed across the Haradrim’s face. “Deesha?” he cried, fine-boned features darkening in outrage.
The translator blinked owlishly, then flushed and blurted forth several more words unfamiliar to Éowyn’s ear. Whatever it was the flustered old man said seemed to mollify the Bh’ dul leader, though Éowyn caught the slightly exasperated glances Hadeem continued to cast him. She made a mental note to find a new translator.
The Lady of Ithilien was not a woman easily impressed, yet she found herself intrigued by the Bh’dul leader. There was kindness and wisdom in the man’s soft brown eyes, and a gentleness and grace in his movements. Éowyn wished language did not pose such a barrier between them, for she doubted not that Hadeem would be a fascinating mind to engage.
It was rumored upon his arrival that the border guards had captured a strange, dark-skinned Elf of sorts. Now that she had seen him with her own eyes, Éowyn knew Hadeem to be not of the Elf-kind. Still, his tall lithe frame and fine-boned features were quite striking, and he did have a certain lightness in his step not found in many Men.
‘He is older than he appears,’ the Shieldmaiden decided. ‘His eyes bespeak years untold upon his face, much like the Prince Imrahil. Mayhap he does have some Elvish blood in him, though I have never heard of Elves inhabiting the desert lands.’
As Hadeem wished to visit his steed, Éowyn led him and the bumbling translator down to the stables. The great black horse nickered fondly at his master’s arrival, and Hadeem smiled and spoke softly to the animal in turn. Éowyn’s breath caught in her throat; the horse was a magnificent creature. The stallion’s dished face and long legs were perfectly sculpted; his coat so sleek and dark it fairly shone blue.
It was then the Shieldmaiden recalled there were no black horses in Rohan. She mentally distanced herself and suppressed a frown. Sauron’s minions had stolen every black horse and bent the animals to the Dark Lord’s service. Even the very steeds of the Nazgûl had once belonged to the Rohirrim, bred to thunder freely across the emerald Plains. Dark-colored offspring were no longer produced by Rohan’s horses. Only the Enemy rode such beasts.
Éowyn’s jaw tightened as she watched the Haradrim converse with his ebony horse. ‘The Enemy.’
The man from Harad had spoken to Faramir of fleets sailing up the River Anduin, manned by a fell pirate under guidance of Morgoth himself. A combined Haradrim and Easterling force was to launch simultaneous land assault against Minas Tirith. However, as leaders of these realms did not wish to engage their men, the army would only march if all other options were exhausted. “The Lord Galathe,” Hadeem said, “sends you these tidings as show of good will. Yet know this: We fear the leader of the Corsairs of Umbar.” His smooth features had been marred by displeasure as he spoke. “We are bound to him by our own superstitions and follies; our own darkness. If given no other choice, we will follow him. We must.”
‘Does he speak truth?’ Éowyn wondered. ‘Is Gondor truly threatened by the Corsairs of Umbar—by this soulless Captain Mortsdil?’ She, better than most, knew what it was to be bound unwillingly. Had not Gríma Wormtongue done the same to her uncle’s court? ‘And yet, there is too much we do not know of him. He spoke openly of his association with Umbar… How can one live beneath the enemy’s shadow and not be tainted?’
The Lady of Ithilien bit the inside of her lip, maintaining an outward expression of neutrality. They would reveal Hadeem for what he truly was within good time—be it friend or foe. Faramir would play the diplomat; she would prowl the Bh’dul leader during his time outside the courts. It was a double-teaming effort husband and wife played well.
Lost in her thoughts as she was, Éowyn did not notice Hadeem watching her beneath lowered lashes. The lithe man of Harad missed nothing. It would take much to win her trust, but too much lie at stake should he fail. He gave the stallion’s ear an affectionate tug. ‘I do not think even she could withstand the burn of Melkor.’
* * *
Back and forth.
Back and forth.
Gimli released an involuntary moan. His eyes fluttered momentarily, as though debating on whether or not to return to consciousness. Wooden floorboards creaked beneath his feet; the air was so hot and stuffy he could barely draw breath.
The Dwarf again moaned. His head pounded so mercilessly his eyes throbbed. His chest and back were on fire, and the incessant rocking nearly set his stomach in his throat.
“Wakey, wakey, Dwarf.”
Eyes snapping open, Gimli lunged forth with a bellow as a bucket of foul-smelling seawater was dumped over him. It was then he discovered himself manacled. Spitting out stagnant water, the Dwarf twisted furiously in his bonds. Salt stung numerous wounds he did not remember receiving. “Where am I? What manner of foul play is this? I demand you release me at once!”
His captor—‘A corsair,’ Gimli realized with sinking gut—chuckled.
“Welcome to the Umbria, Dwarf. Umbar’s finest sailing vessel.” The ragged pirate grinned, revealing a mouth of green-grey teeth. Gimli was reminded distinctly of a weasel. “Captain’ll be glad to see you up and about.”
The tiny cabin pitched forward. Gimli’s stomach pitched with it. He fairly felt himself turn green.
“’Course, he’ll not be back fer a few days.” The corsair leered, oblivious to the Dwarf’s discomfort. “Which means we get to have a bit o’ fun with ya in the meantime.”
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