|I Sigil Dagnir (The Slayer Blade)|
|Topic Started: Jun 3 2009, 01:23 PM (240 Views)|
|Ertia||Jun 3 2009, 01:23 PM Post #1|
Disclaimer - Not my universe, I just play in it. Tolkien was the master and I bow at his feet. My pathetic attempts are merely the scribblings of Halfling children in the sand of the lakeside, and are in no way comparable to the flowers that bloom in the Master’s garden.
Description - This story begins around 2960 of the Third Age. Aragorn, under the name of Thorongil, serves under Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor.
I Sigil Dagnir was originally published at Fanfiction.Net and Highlander-Official.Com in August of 2004.
I Sigil Dagnir
(The Slayer Blade)
Part 1: Warrant
The sands of the plains were turning hot, although it was early in the day yet. The prisoners were mostly young men, boys really. Aragorn sighed as he made his way down the line. He had performed this task several times since coming to serve Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor, and he found it not to his taste at all. Still, there were worse duties to be done. He supposed he should be grateful. This time, he was doubly regretful. Typically, those arrested under warrant of the Steward merited the arrest. But they were starving on the Southern borders. That these boys took to raiding in retaliation for the raids perpetrated upon them by the Haradrim was to be expected.
Still, he mused to himself, the Steward understood the situation in Poros. He would undoubtedly conscript the young men into the military, where they could earn a decent wage and send money south to their families. Eleven men, three women, and a boy, barely ten years of age stood in the line. Some were raiders; others had been unable to pay their tithes to Gondor and were arrested on that basis. Their homes were forfeit and they were displaced. The boy, Aragorn regretted, was arrested in his fathers name. Ecthelion felt that if the boy were known to be in custody of the City of Minas Tirith that his father, a petty highwayman, would give himself up.
Still, there was hope for a displaced orphan in Minas Tirith. On the besieged borders of Harad, there was scarce hope.
Aragorn stood back, and surveyed the line. They were all fit and in good health, and so should make good time.
His second lieutenant, Timpson, stepped to his side. A burly man, he was a no-nonsense campaign soldier. "We must go, Thorongil. The Harad are gathering on the hillsides. If we do not hurry they will be upon us before nightfall."
Aragorn turned to the people before him, lifting his hand for attention. "Hear me, people of Poros! You are hereby prisoners of the Steward of Gondor and we go to Minas Tirith to the Hall of Justice. Unfortunately, the Harad are at our backs and we are in need of haste! Therefore, you shall go unbound. Any attempt to escape..." Aragorn held up his hand to signal the mounted escort and there was a whisper as ten bows were simultaneously drawn..."Do I make myself clear?"
There was a murmur of assent.
Aragorn gestured Timpson to ride ahead and lead the way before yelling to the assembled, "All right then. March!"
And march they did. The young men marched in double rows. Behind him, the two women who been unable to pay the tithes on their land walked side by side, carrying a bag of their belongings between them, and the boy walked directly behind them, his tunic pulled up to protect his head from the relentless sun. The other woman walked behind them, carrying a knapsack on her back. They made surprisingly good time. Aragorn kept his horse to a brisk walk at their side, letting his men ride a periodic circle around them as a guard.
At midday the heat of the sun grew fierce, and the journey had become grueling, but Aragorn dared not stop. He ordered a water skin passed down the lines, and rode through ensuring that each of his charges got a drink. When it reached the end of the line the skin hung sagging. The two older women drank and passed it back. The younger woman sloshed it hopefully but narrowed her green eyes and handed it to the young boy.
"Drink, Amed." She said softly, gazing about at the dry brown plains.
Aragorn watched the boy finish the water and trot the water skin back to the baggage horse. It was the girls business if she didn't feel the need to drink, he thought to himself and he knew that in her place, he would have done the same.
The sun at last began to dip, and a strong breeze started. Aragorn called a halt, and again sent water through the line. Again there were only drops left at the end, and the young woman again held the skin out to the boy without even sampling it. Aragorn gestured to one of his men and was about to request more water for the prisoners when the distant blast of a rallying horn drifted across the plains. The water forgotten, he sprang back into the saddle and spun about. "If you love life, people, march!"
His cry echoed down the line and they began again, nearly at a jog this time. He drove them through the dusk and into the blackness of night, until the women were stumbling and weeping and even the horses sagged with fatigue. Timpson rode to his side and pointed out a slim escarpment of boulders where they might find some shelter as well as a blind from the spies of the Harad. When they reached it, the prisoners collapsed, exhausted. The older women huddled together, and Aragorn drifted past, catching bits of their conversation, trying to assess the mood of his charges. The younger woman sat apart, seemingly ignored by the others, but she'd bunched her knapsack into a pillow for the boy lay his head on.
"You! Girl!" Timpson yelled at her as he strode up, and she dragged herself wearily to her feet.
Aragorn watched silently. Timpson was a good lieutenant, and Aragorn rarely interfered with his decisions. However, he was a hardened man, weary from battle and not tolerant of those weaker than he. The woman stood before him, her head down, the wind whipping her braids back from her face, gaunt and shadowed in the darkness.
Timpson thrust a bag at her. "Take this food and distribute it among your people. And mind everyone gets a fair share!"
The girl took the bag from him, and Aragorn suddenly realized how short she was. Her head barely came to Timpson's chest. He heard her mutter something under her breath, and watched Timpson step closer to her. "What did you say, girl?"
Green eyes flashed in the darkness like those of some wild animal caught in a sudden flare of a fire. " I'm no girl. And these are not 'my people'." she spat, then she whirled away and was gone, moving down the line, passing out the dried fruit and hard biscuit that was the only ration that would survive the summer heat of the plains.
Aragorn found himself watching her as he munched his own dry dinner, wishing heartily for some of the Elven Lembas bread he had known in the North. She passed out the food until it was gone, giving an extra ration to the women and boy and taking only a biscuit for herself. But she took an extra ration of water, drinking deeply before passing it on.
She picked crumbs of the biscuit, chewing slowly as though she couldn't abide the taste. At last, she curled onto her side, like a pup in a basket and slept.
Aragorn rose and went to Timpson. "The girl who back-talked you... what is her crime? Is she a displaced?"
Timpson pulled out the scroll of warrants and leafed through them, tilting them towards the waning moon. "Huh," He leant closer until his crooked nose brushed the parchment. "Don't say. Just says, "Amali, daughter of Amsess, to be summoned for Judgement."
"How unusual." Aragorn mused. "Well, mind her tomorrow and see that she drinks. She stinted herself today for the sake of the boy. We can't afford to have anyone fall ill."
Timpson nodded before turning away to set the watch leaving Aragorn to puzzle to himself. Ecthelion had not stated a crime? Aragorn looked to where she was sleeping. Could it be a terrible crime? Something unnameable? Surely not.
She couldn't be more than twenty five. Aragorn could think of no other time when Ecthelion had failed to name the crime of the accused. Thievery, whoring, murder... all of these charges he had seen clearly stated on warrants. It was unusual, but no doubt there were reasons beyond his knowing. Still puzzling, Aragorn settled down to rest, keeping his ears open to the night sounds of the camp.
|Ertia||Jun 3 2009, 01:24 PM Post #2|
I Sigil Dagnir *The Slayer Blade*
Aragorn woke early and roused them before dawn. "Today, we cross the river and enter South Ithilien. It is a race against the raiders who pursue us. In daylight, we'll be an easy target. Go quickly as you can, and raise as little dust as possible."
The thought of pursuit and the cool of the morning seemed to light a fire under them and they made a steady pace. Before noon, they could see the line of trees that marked the river ahead. They slowed slightly as the heat of the day grew, and Aragorn considered calling a halt for rest and water before making the crossing, but horns sounded suddenly behind them. The Harad would try to catch them out before they reached the river!
"Run!" Aragorn shouted, drawing his sword to find Timpson at his side. "Timpson, get them across the river! The rest of you, with me!"
There was a swish as arrows were released, the Gondoran soldiers firing from horseback before drawing their swords.
Timpson had pushed the prisoners into a dead run, staying behind them until they reached the river, then guiding his horse back and forth along the line as they waded into the ford. The water was not deep, but it was swift, and the rocks were slick with moss. The others were midstream when Timpson turned to watch Amali help the boy down the bank and into the water.
"Go!" He ordered, spurring back to them. He rode in close, using his horse to push her into the current. She fell into the water and slid down-stream, struggling to stand against the current. The boy tried to turn back but Timpson yelled at him, urging him across even as he plunged his horse back into the stream to pull the woman to her feet and shove her towards the opposite shore.
A line of Ithilien Rangers had emerged from the wood on the other side, and were helping the prisoners across, taking stands to repel any attempts by the Haradrim to cross over.
There were no Haradrim left to attempt the crossing. There had been only twenty of them on horseback, and the archers had felled several of them in their saddles before they had come into combat distance. Aragorn crossed the river with his men in tact and had added eighteen new horses to the stables of the Ithilien Rangers.
He made his way to Timpson's side. "Get everyone up and moving. As long as there is daylight we're for Minas Tirith."
They started out again. Aragorn noted that although they were wet, spirits were good, with the exception of Amali, who lagged behind, limping. Her clothing was drenched from her fall into the river and it was obvious that she was in pain. Aragorn watched her straighten herself and push off after the others with a note of approval. She would dry soon enough, he thought, and they were all alive. None had taken harm in the skirmish with the raiders and that was well enough, better, in fact, than he'd hoped.
He took them on the lower road through Ithilien. It was lesser traveled and few dwelt along it. Aragorn had been on these errands enough times to know that a string of prisoners could become a parade day for bored vegetable tossing village children. He meant to see that his charges arrived in Minas Tirith unscathed and unashamed by such cruelty.
They pushed on until night was well set. When he called a halt, Timpson took food and water to Amali again, calling on her to distribute it. Aragorn watched as he ordered her to drink before passing the water skin on and insist that she take bread and fruit for herself first.
She took the biscuit and started to turn away down the line. "And the fruit!" He barked at her. She looked at him, then reached into the bag and took some dried apple, tucking it into the waistband of her still damp skirt. When he nodded to her, she continued. Aragorn observed discretely as she distributed the food and returned to her place in the line. She secretively held out her fruit to the women, who accepted it gravely, but wordlessly.
Aragorn frowned. After days of hard marching, she had barely eaten. She would make herself ill. He was concerned but tried to brush it off. If she refused to eat, it was her own business. And she was only a prisoner, after all, having done something to require judgment. If a common criminal would not eat, how was it his problem? Because, the voice in the back of his mind reminded him, he was responsible for the safety and well being of both his men and his prisoners. If she were to fall ill, or even die before reaching the city, it would be upon his head. Thinking such hard thoughts, Aragorn lay down to sleep.
He roused before dawn again, and started the days march, but at a slower pace than the previous day. They were within the safety of Ithilien, out of the disputed borderlands. There were rarely orcs in the wood, and occasionally a brigand or common thief, but nothing that would dare attack an well-armed party in broad daylight. Beneath the flowering trees of Ithilien, the heat was lessened and Aragorn allowed several stops for food and rest. Several times throughout the day, he found himself checking on Amali. Her limp had worsened, betraying her obvious pain. Her pale brown braids hung limply around a face that was nearly as limp. Her green eyes darted often to the treetops, gazing up in wonder at the sunlight drifting through the broad green leaves. Several of the others did this as well, and Aragorn realized that it must seem a strange and beautiful sight indeed to those who had lived their entire lives on the barren plains.
When he called a halt for the night, Amali sank down instantly, her back to a tree trunk. Timpson approached her with the food and water for the prisoners and she struggled to her feet. Without a word, she took her share of fruit and bread, tucking it into her skirt before starting back down the line. Timpson shot Aragorn a triumphant grin that Aragorn returned with a grim smile before sitting back to observe. As he predicted, Amali returned to the end of the line and handed her fruit to the boy, softly encouraging him to eat before sitting back against her tree and propping her knee upon her bag as she picked at her biscuit.
Aragorn frowned and opened his pack. His healing kit was near the top and he lifted it out. When he was certain the other prisoners slept, he stood and approached Amali. She eyed him warily, her parched lips pouted out in an expression that was unreadable. Her hair had come loose from its braids and frizzed about her face, accenting the starkness of her high cheekbones against pallid cheeks in the low gleam of the waxing moon. Aragorn gestured to the half-eaten biscuit in her hand. His tone was gentle as he asked, "Are you not hungry?"
The eyes narrowed into a glare, but her words were calmly apologetic. "No, Captain Sir, I cannot eat."
"Are you ill?" He asked in concern. "You must eat."
She did not reply, but looked away from his gaze.
He knelt beside her and said in his best firm healer tone, "Let me see your leg."
Amali looked up at him in something near to fear. "It is all right, Captain, Sir."
"I'll be the judge of that." He replied calmly. "Come; let me have a look."
But she pulled her knees to her chest, wincing with the pain of the movement, and tucked her long skirt beneath her feet. "No."
He sighed, frustrated, and ran his hand over his brow. "I'm trying to help you."
"I do not desire your help, Captain of Gondor!" Her voice was a low snarl in the darkness, which Aragorn likened to that of a wounded dog that does not know friend from foe in its pain.
"All the same, you require it." He said in a hard voice that he usually spared for those under his command that disobeyed him. "You are injured and most likely ill from lack of food and drink. We must reach Minas Tirith in three weeks time, and I cannot do it dragging a dying girl behind me!"
Intentionally, he reached for her wounded leg and squeezed it, satisfied with her gasp of pain."Now, let me see your injury."
"I hate you!" She snapped, her teeth flashing white in the darkness.
"I don't require you to like me." And his voice was laden with barely constrained amusement. "I do require you to obey me. You are a prisoner of Gondor. I am your keeper. And keeping you well is my job, whether you like it or not."
She looked away from him, ashamed, a blush darkening her cheeks. Slowly, she pulled up her skirt, exposing her knee. Her voice was barely above a whisper. "It is an old injury. The fall yesterday at the river aggravated it. That is all."
Aragorn looked at the slender leg in the moonlight, marred by ugly scars that tore across the knee. He could see the swelling beneath the ugly knots of scarring, and reached out, running his hand over the scars, finding where the tendons and muscles were swollen and sore. She whimpered in pain, tears starting to her eyes and he drew back.
"I have a salve that will ease the swelling, and I will make you a tea that will cease the pain and allow you to sleep."
She nodded and he stroked the soothing salve over both sides of her knee, expertly seeking out the lines of the scarring. He had never seen a wound quite like it before. He was a man used to weapon wounds and the occasional agricultural accident, but this was no simple accident. "How did this happen?"
"Dog." She said shortly.
He took her abruptness as a sign of her discomfort. and tried to be gentle as he worked the salve against the swollen flesh. The bite scar encompassed her knee, the width of his hands together. Now that he knew the cause, he could imagine where the jaws of the dog must have closed from behind the knee, tearing into the muscle and tendons on the sides. "Must have been a big dog."
She said nothing, looking up at the moon as he finished. He left her and went to the fire to prepare the tea. He brought his own cup to her. "Drink this now, then sleep."
She did, frowning at the taste and nearly choking.
"It's not that bad." He said reasuringly, as he would to a child that didn't want to take their medicine. "Come on. Drink it down."
Somehow she managed it, gagging a bit as she handed him back the empty cup. He had fortified it with rose hips and valerian root to ensure that she both slept and kept her strength up. He could only hope that it was enough as he watched her curl up to sleep.
|Ertia||Jun 3 2009, 01:25 PM Post #3|
I Sigil Dagnir
The next day, she seemed stronger. He watched carefully as she distributed food to the others, eating her biscuit as she did. She was limping less, but as the day went on it became more pronounced. By the time they stopped, she was struggling to keep up. Timpson brought her the food, watched her take her share and turned away, not seeing her hand the bag to the boy, calling on him to distribute it fairly.
Aragorn heard her warning of dire consequences if not everyone received an equal share. Then she slumped against a tree, her forehead against her drawn up knees, her biscuit held loosely in her hand.
When the camp had fallen silent, Aragorn went to her once more. "Let me see your knee."
She extended it without argument.
"Do you still hate me?" He asked, trying to draw a smile from her.
Her green eyes met his steel grey gaze."Worse things people my night terrors than you, Captain, Sir." She said in a low voice.
"Your judgment, perhaps?" He asked casually. After all, it must be on the minds of every single one of his prisoners, so it was an easy enough question to ask without betraying his curiosity.
"My judgment shall be welcome." She heaved a deep sigh, closing her eyes against his gaze. "Still, my heart speaks that I am not ready to die."
Aragorn drew back in surprise. "Death?" he exclaimed, before his tone became reassuring. "Rarely has Ecthelion pronounced doom of death upon anyone, even for the most heinous of crimes."
She looked bitterly at him for a long moment before closing her eyes again. "You speak of what you can not understand, Captain."
He returned to tending her knee, soothing in the salve, trying not to hurt her as he felt the swollen tendons shift beneath his fingers. Tactfully, he changed the subject. "You must eat, you know."
She held out her untouched biscuit to him. "I cannot."
"If you do not eat, you will die." He said calmly, "I cannot force you to eat, but I am ordering you to."
Tears welled in her eyes and she whispered softly, "I cannot eat it."
"Well, what can you eat?" He asked in frustration. "You refuse fruit; you hardly drink enough to keep little Amed here on his feet."
She shook her head, picked up the biscuit and took a bite, gagging as she swallowed it. She suddenly seemed very old to him, a wilting old woman with sixty or seventy years upon her head. "Let me be."
He nodded and left her, listening to her choke down the biscuit in the darkness.
The journey continued, the moon shifting overhead from new to half and towards full.
Amali's limp had faded, but still she slunk behind the others. Her skin was grey, her figure gaunt. Aragorn continued to approach her and tend her knee.
"Amali, you must eat," He had brought biscuit and a fresh apple from his own bag. She pushed it away and he persisted. "Come on. You have to eat. I'm ordering you to."
She snatched the apple from his hand, chewing in distaste for a long moment before swallowing. No sooner had she swallowed than she retched, turning to her side as her stomach emptied itself.
Aragorn watched in growing alarm. "Amali. You cannot go on like this. You can't eat fruit. You barely touch bread. Tell me what is wrong. How can I help you?"
She shook her head, reaching for the water he had brought her to rinse the bile from her mouth.
"You must tell me." Aragorn insisted, truly worried that for the first time he was going to lose a prisoner under his care. "You cannot go on like this."
"She needs meat." A soft, low voice said from the dark.
Aragorn turned in surprise, and Amali spun towards the sound. "Amed! Silence!" But her voice came across as more of plea than command.
"Amed?" Aragorn turned to where the boy was pretending to sleep.
"I'm sorry, Ams." He said sadly, "But he's gotta get you proper food."
She glared at him, but was silenced by Aragorn’s hand upon her arm. The boy sat up, turning to Aragorn.
"She can't eat vegetables. Nor nothin' that grows in the ground. She's gotta have meat, or at least broth, or eggs. Anything else makes her sick."
"Is this true?" Aragorn asked her. She nodded, miserable, an expression close to guilt on her face, as though it was some kind of horrid secret.
He thought on it for a long moment. "We could all do with some meat." He said aloud, but something was niggling at the back of his mind, and when he returned to his blanket he did not sleep but lay awake, considering it.
|Ertia||Jun 3 2009, 01:25 PM Post #4|
I Sigil Dagnir
*The Slayer Blade*
In the morning, Aragorn sent five of the men hunting deer in the glades of Ithilien. When they met up again at dusk there were two deer to be roasted over the fires. The soldiers gave the stringy old doe to the prisoners, and kept the tender young buck for themselves, but Aragorn set aside several thick slabs of haunch from his share. He watched Amali take her small share of the tough meat and eat it quickly, voraciously, like a starved stray dog afraid someone might take it from her.
The men were loud and raucous after the successful hunt and the hot meal. He waited for them to settle down before approaching Amali. She sat with hands wrapped around her knees, staring up at the moon.
He knelt beside her and held out a slice of the meat he'd set aside. "Eat. I've saved out more for you for tomorrow."
She took it eagerly. "Captain, Sir." She said between mouthfuls, "How long before we reach Minas Tirith."
"Seven or eight days. Shortly after the turn of the moon, if we keep our current pace."
A shudder ran through her slight frame, leading him to raise a hand to her forehead lest she'd taken a chill. She brushed him away. "Is there a chance we could come there sooner?"
"Nay." He said softly. "Not unless we go through the night, or else run through the day."
She was silent again, finishing her meat, the unreadable look shadowing her features once again.
"I'd like to check your knee." He was asking permission, but she took it as a command and instantly stretched her leg down.
He ran his fingers over the tendons, noting that the severe swelling was gone. The muscles would never lie right around the knee again, but he was satisfied that she would not be lamed by the injury. Casually, he asked, "How did you say this happened again?"
"Dogbite." She said, and started to draw her leg back. He held it still, holding his hand splayed over the scar.
"No dog did this." He spoke quietly, thoughtfully, his gaze on the knotted scars beneath his hand. Now she did jerk her knee back.
"What does it matter?" She said angrily, but he recognized it as anger driven by fear. One by one the clues fell into place.
"How long, Amali?" Aragorn looked to her with a piercing stare.
She pretended not to know what he meant, gazing at him with wide, frightened eyes.
'How much longer?" His voice must have sounded angry, because she drew back from him, curling her arms around her chest.
"You know?" She whispered in terror.
Aragorn reached out then and grasped the neckline of her tunic, loosening the laces and pulling it aside. There, on her breast, just above her heart, the dark crescent moon showed darkly against her light skin. He drew back hastily, as though afraid she would bite. She slid a few inches further away from him.
"If you had not asked how long before we reached the city, I may not have guessed. But ask any prisoner here, and they are not eager to reach the city and end their freedom." Aragorn eyed her keenly, but her head was bent, and tears glistened in her eyes. "How much longer?"
"I would have had to tell you soon, anyway." She tilted her head back and looked up at the moon, gleaming against the backdrop of stars. "Four days. The moon will fill in four days. And then, Captain, Sir, " and her voice dropped to a low whisper. "You must either help me or destroy me."
Aragorn thought for a long moment. Here, beneath the trees of Ithilien, the small weak woman seemed harmless, desperate. How could he refuse to help her? But he knew how dangerous she was. Indeed of all men walking the earth, Aragorn, son of Arathorn knew the danger that existed within her.
"Does Amed know?" He asked, gesturing to the sleeping boy.
She shook her head. "He's known me his entire life. I looked after him when I could, after his mother took ill. He accepts my .... strange ways... because he knows me no other way." Her eyes turned pleading, "I've always been careful, Captain, Sir. None have ever come to harm by me. Please believe me."
Aragorn nodded. "Then none knew? How is it you are summoned for judgment? Who told your secret?"
She smiled bitterly, gesturing to the bite on her knee. "My maker." When Aragorn started, she continued. "He is in Minas Tirith, an agent of the Steward. They have known all along."
"But how long? Those scars are years old. Why were you not summoned until now?"
“Steward Ecthelion sent a keeper to mind me. I was allowed to live because I was so young when it happened. I have lived like this so long I know no other way. I am older than I appear."
"What changed?" Aragorn asked softly, searching her face, trying to recapture her gaze. He felt as though for the first time in weeks she was being honest with him.
"My keeper died." Seeing his sharp look she shook her head and spoke quickly. "No, no! He died of the sickness this winter. Many died from it."
Aragorn nodded. Even within the walls of Minas Tirith the fever had swept away many lives. He could not hide the concern he felt. "So you have been untended? Did you..."
"No!" She denied hotly. "I have been vigilant in my measures."
With a bare flick of her hand she gestured towards her knapsack. "Look for yourself."
Cautiously he pulled it towards himself, surprised at the weight of it. Unbuckling it, he lifted the flap and reached inside. His hand met metal and leather. Raising it just enough for the light of the moon to shine down, he could see the contents and stilled, contemplating them before laying the bag aside.
"Four days." She nodded solemnly.
"I will give you my answer tomorrow." Aragorn stood and left her alone in the darkness as the weight of the shadows of the forest closed in about her.
|Ertia||Jun 3 2009, 01:26 PM Post #5|
I Sigil Dagnir
The Slayer Blade
Aragorn found himself watching her again through the next day. She moved more easily in the daylight, as though a weight had been lifted from her. Aragorn tried to reconcile what he knew of her kind, the were, the man-wolf. The Werewolves of old, legendary creatures such as Draughin and Carcharoth were pure of blood of wolf and spirit of man. Draughin had been the root and sire of such evil in the world. But their lines had been weakened through the ages. The soul of man was no longer transformed solely to beast, but only walked under the earth under the moonlight in the shadows of darkness, continuing to pass on their line. Once afflicted, the bitten were doomed to death, for they were capable of doing great evil in the guise of the animal.
The words of Glorfindel's teachings came back to him. That werewolves must be destroyed, at all costs, for they knew not what evil they were capable of until the wolf-form took them, and then it would be too late. Aragorn steeled himself against the vision of a sweet-faced woman with bright green eyes and long braids. She was the wolf. She was the monster that Glorfindel warned of. She must not be allowed to live.
Still, Aragorn thought, he had been trusted to bring her to Minas Tirith, to the Steward of Gondor, who knew her nature. Who was he to disobey that order? Soldiers and prisoners under his command were his responsibility. And so his thoughts went on through day, until evening fell into night. At last, when the camp slept, he approached Amali.
"Tell me what I must do." He said calmly.
Her voice was low. "You must get me away from the others, into the woods. Far from anyone. Then, when I am bound, and make...the change." She hesitated as though the word stuck in her mouth. "You must watch and see that the bonds hold."
He nodded. "Understand. I do this because you are my responsibility. It is for my Lord Steward to take your life."
Wearily, she leaned back, pulling her cloak about her. "My life is already taken. It is for the Steward to end it at last."
The days passed too quickly, and Aragorn had little time to ponder how he would get her away from the others. Soon enough, he saw that she had discovered a way. Or else she was already becoming the beast, and could not help herself. That morning, when Timpson got the prisoners in line, she glared insolently at him. When he passed the water skin to her, she bluntly told him that she was not a serving wench and to water the others himself. And so it went through the day, as Timpson's anger grew with her insults.
Aragorn called an early halt to the day, not wanting to risk coming too close to the rising moon. Timpson took the water to the prisoners and gave the bag to Amali. "Pass it out."
She did, stomping down the line and returning to thrust the bag at him.
"Settle down, girl!" He warned and Aragorn had moved close enough to hear her retort.
"Settle down yourself, Ranger-Man!"
Timpson had it. His hand swung back but before he could lower it, Aragorn caught his wrist. "Go on, Timpson. I'll handle this."
Then he barked to Amali. "Grab your bag, girl! It's high time someone taught you some manners!"
She obeyed instantly, not needing to fake the expression of fear that shot across her features. Aragorn could be formidable when the occasion called for it.
Grabbing her arm he dragged her angrily into the bushes. They had gone aways into the woods when he stopped, and they faced each other, smiling.
"You planned that well." He said with a chuckle. "I had not yet sorted out how I was going to get you away."
She laughed lightly, then glanced nervously at the eastern sky. "There is not much time, Captain, Sir."
"Quickly! Find a solid tree." Amali tilted the contents of her bag onto the ground, and began to strip out of her clothing.
Aragorn found a strong oak tree, its width that of three men together. "Here!" He called her, and she came to his side, naked, already buckling the metal collar about her throat.
"The leg cuff, if you please, Captain, Sir?"
He obliged, locking the cuff and looping the chain through it. She slipped the muzzle over her head and tightened the straps as he chained her to the tree, much as he would a prisoner to a standing post. He felt her jerk and glanced up, concerned that they had miss-timed and the transformation had come. She had stooped down to lift something from her bag and was holding it out to him. He took it into his hands and gazed at it in wonder.
It was a long dagger of Elven make. Its sheath was covered with runes of protection and when he slid the blade out a bit it shone in the moonlight.
"That is a Slayer Blade. It has but one purpose." Her voice was low and calm. "That purpose is my death. Captain, if you must use this blade, know that I shall remain the wolf until you take my life. There will be no healing."
He nodded and slid the blade back into the sheath. Once more he checked that the chains were locked and the collar and muzzle secure before he stepped back from her, beneath the dark trees. She hunkered down on her heels and looked up at him through the steel cage that covered her face. Together, silent, they waited.
Aragorn did not know what he had expected. Screaming torment, or a prolonged transformation that tortured body and soul, perhaps. Instead, weary from staring into the deepening dusk, he blinked his eyes. In that blink Amali was gone. A black wolf, it's eyes glowing green and fierce above the muzzle, snarled at him from the darkness. It tried to bark, but the muzzle inhibited it, so it settled for growling and snarling as it paced in a tight circle around the tree.
Suddenly, Aragorn became aware of a heat at his side, and looked to the dagger. Sliding it from its sheath, he was welcomed to a soft yellow glow, as moonlight on the still surface of a lake. It was a comfort, warming in its glow, as it recognized its prey and held itself close to it's handler in anticipation of battle. Thoughtfully, Aragorn stroked the ancient weapon. He was familiar with weapons of Elven make, but few so fine or special had ever been forged. "Patience, friend." He murmured to it softly, "Perhaps we shall come to the end of this night without need of your edge."
Later, Aragorn would recall it as a good night. The wolf snarled and growled its hatred of all things living as it lunged to the end of its short chain time and again. Yet the fragrance of Ithilien was sweet on the summer night and the Elven blade glowed, warm and soft in his hand. The moon shone through the leaves and although the forest creatures of the night did not come near, for they could sense the presence of the beast, it was an ordinary forest night with leaves rustling and weeping in the breeze, and the distant hoots of the owls as they hunted across the wood.
Aragorn drowsed lightly, alert to any change in the sound of Amali's movements. For this was Amali, he had to remind himself firmly. She was the beast and he must remain alert to her.
Yet the moment came near dawn when he blinked, and there was only a girl, naked and wrapped in chains, weeping in misery on the forest floor. Quietly, he stood and went to her side, sheathing the blade and tossing it to where her bag lay. Gently, he unbuckled the muzzle and lifted it from her head. Next, the collar and the leg cuff joined the pile on the forest floor. He wrapped his own cloak about her.
She pushed his hands away, dashing her tears away with the back of her hand. "Do not concern yourself, Captain, Sir. I am well enough."
He stood back from her and turned his back while she dressed quickly. Surprisingly, there was no bruising around her neck where she had thrown herself against the collar. The only signs of her ordeal were the tear tracks on her cheeks and the wildly flying hair that trailed about her face and shoulders.
Silently, they returned to where the others still slept.
When Timpson, standing guard, approached them, the tear stained face and reddened eyes of the prisoner convinced him of the efficiency of whatever punishment his captain had deemed fit. His gaze met Aragorn's over her head, but the Captain merely shrugged wearily.
Confidentially, he said to Timpson, "I do not think she will be so hasty to give insult again."
Indeed, she seemed a changed woman, quiet and docile, yet Timpson did not approach her again for the distribution of the food. Amed took the duty seriously enough despite his age. If Timpson wondered in the following days what had transpired between the girl and his Captain, he never mentioned it, and neither did Aragorn.
In four more days they came to Minas Tirith. Amali had not spoken to Aragorn, nor he to her. However, when the other prisoners were taken by escort to the dungeons and gaol cells to await judgment, Aragorn personally escorted her to her cell. Inside the bare stone cubicle, she stood with her back against the wall and faced him, her features shadowed in the darkness of the cell.
"Farewell, Captain, Sir." She said softly. "Thank you for your kindness."
He nodded and began to turn away before she could see his regret and misconstrue it. However he found he could not leave it at that and returned to her side, laying his hand over his chest. "Go in peace, Amali, daughter of Amsess."
Her green eyes met his steel grey gaze steadily, although her lip quivered. "I shall not forget your kindness, Captain, Sir."
He left then, striding down the hallway and out into the open sunlight. It was not long before he would leave Minas Tirith, his life taking him along unexpected pathways and through other experiences as strange, as mysterious, and as unusual as those he had faced beneath the leaves of Ithilien.
|Ertia||Jun 3 2009, 01:38 PM Post #6|
I Sigil Dagnir
It would be many long years before Aragorn, son of Arathorn, passed again into Minas Tirith, and then it was with the strain of tremendous battle upon him. The Steward Ecthelion II, and his successor, his son, the Steward Denethor would be gone, lost to time and tragedy, before at last Aragorn would pass through the gates of the White City of Minas Tirith, accept the crown that was his birthright, and become Elessar, King of Gondor.
Now, he sat upon his throne, passing judgment on those men who had fallen under the evil influence of Sauron.
Aragorn passed a hand over his eyes in weariness. His throne was all that he could have hoped, and he at last had the power within his grasp to undo much of the wrong that had been done within the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor. He had his friends with him for a little while longer, and he was pleased with that. Still, Fifthdays were days he was coming to hate, for they were the Judgment Days.
Fortunately, fewer and fewer of those who had served Sauron and Sarumen were being brought to the halls. More and more often they were petty criminals, those starving who had stolen a loaf of bread or those merchants who had cheated business partners. He was becoming very weary of it.
Sometimes, he wondered what would happen if he called them all before him without hearing the charges and simply banished them all to the Far Northern wastelands, there to steal and bicker amongst themselves for the rest of their lives. He was amusing himself with that thought even as he passed judgment against two men who had started a fight in an Inn.
"Go repair the damages to the Inn, to be paid for at your own expense." As an afterthought, he added, "In addition you shall each do one fortnight’s work on the new roadway wall. Report to Lord Gimli in the morning for assignment."
Gimli had been complaining about the lack of stout men. That seemed an equitable solution. He caught Gimli's nod of approval as the herald announced the next charge.
"Amali, daughter of Amsess, surrenders herself to the Throne of Gondor for Crimes of Evil and Serving under the Dark Lord."
Aragorn's head shot up, memory harkening back to his days as a Ranger of Gondor under Ecthelion. But Amali was dead by now, surely? He had taken her to her death cell himself a full lifetime of man gone past! He shook his head slightly, and narrowed his eyes, studying the figure that advanced into the hall.
The woman walking across the chamber was old. Her face was wizened and white, and her long white hair frissoned about her head. But her gowns were rich in colour and lovely with fine embroidery, and she held herself erect as she moved slowly but steadily forward. She limped slightly, favoring her right knee as she stepped before the dais and knelt in respect.
A few of the Advisors snickered. How could this old woman have served Sauron? She must be a grandmother! Perhaps she was mad. Amidst the murmurs, only the Elf, Legolas, looked keenly, his Elven eyes delving deep before he glanced in alarm and warning to Aragorn.
Aragorn held up a hand to still the whispers, and said softly, "You may rise."
She did so, lifting her face to the King, and gasped aloud. Her green eyes flared in recognition, for the years had not dimmed their sight as they had dimmed her body. She knew the face of the man who was king. And the King knew her. Aragorn needed not Legolas' warning. Swiftly, he stood and turned to his Advisors. "You are dismissed for the afternoon. Thank you, gentle lords."
As they stood to go amidst murmurs and mutters, Aragorn turned to Legolas. "Please stay."
"I had no intention of leaving." The Elf replied in a hard, quiet voice.
When the room had quite emptied, Aragorn went down to her, standing before her.
"Can it be?" She whispered, her amazement plain, "Thorongil, Captain, sir?"
Aragorn smiled then, a warm smile, and the years fell away from his face. As always, it pleased him when those he had known were surprised by who he had become. But very few men yet walked the earth that had known Thorongil of Gondor, except in vague legend.
He reached both hands to hold her weak and fragile ones. "Yes, you knew me as Thorongil. But how can this be?"
She smiled then, a bright smile that showed the flash of white teeth that had stayed in his memory through the long years.
Legolas stepped closer. "Aragorn. This creature is not what it appears."
"I know." Aragorn said then, "For we are not strangers. We met many full moons ago."
Tears filled her eyes then and she looked away from him in shame. "I have failed you, Captain, Sir. My King."
As she spoke the word 'king' her voice was a lowered tone, reverent and severe. Aragorn found himself suddenly wishing for the years to be reversed, for the voice of the young woman calling him simply 'Captain, Sir' beneath the leaves of the forest. "How have you failed me?" He asked gently, drawing her to a seat at the table against the wall, pushing aside the work of the Royal Scribe carelessly. Legolas came to stand close to him in a protective stance, his hand on his knife.
Amali smiled softly at him, yet her voice roiled with a feral undercurrent as she said, "Your blade may do no more than wound me, Lord Elf, unless your aim be very true, indeed. And I fear you would not live to regret such an action" Then she looked away for a moment. "However, within the walls of this city is the blade that was meant to take my life, and hence here within these hated walls I have returned for the ending of my doom."
"Ecthelion let you live." Aragorn said in wonder, his mind filling with questions, even as he worked out pieces of the puzzle.
Amali sighed. "Go in peace, you said, so long ago. Do you remember?"
"Yes. I had thought then that you were to die."
"As did I." She said softly. "Instead, I was apprenticed to my sire. I learned to control the gift, to change at will. Oh yes." She said, seeing his look of surprise. "It became a gift, a wonderful gift."
"When Ecthelion died, we left the city; Osmilian and I. The young Steward Denethor knew not our secret and did not pursue us. For long we dwelt on the edges of Fangorn Forest, living as wolves when it pleased and men when it suited our purpose. I learned to be the body of the wolf and the mind of the man at once!" She said with a wicked gleam in her eyes that illuminated her face. "I could change here and now should it suit me."
"It does not!" She added quickly and pointedly, as Legolas tightened his fingers on his blade.
"Captain, Sir." Amali's voice grew sad with the weight of long years, and the sorrow of her confession. "We joined the Dark Lord."
Aragorn had guessed it, but the sorrow and regret caught him by surprise. He asked aloud, "How could that be? You were good once."
"Power. Safety. Safety to those who had never been safe." She said, and the sorrow was gone, replaced with an urgent need, a plea to Aragorn to understand her. "Osmilian and I, living on the edges of the forest, were always afraid. Afraid the Steward would learn our nature and come for us. Afraid, My King, that we would be hunted by men or killed as wolves as we defended our territory from wargs. Afraid always. Do you know what it is to live in constant fear?"
Aragorn was silent.
"Can you imagine? Can you understand?" The terrible glint grew in her pale gaze and she leaned forward. "Ecthelion gave me my first hint at freedom and Sauron made it complete. Suddenly I had a life free of shame and free of fear. Oh, my Lord, can you understand the power? Terrible, violent power!" She spread her thin arms suddenly in a rush of embroidered satin, "I had entire armies under my command! I was free to be the wolf I had been all along."
Aragorn was forced to look away from her, as he witnessed in her face all of the joy she had taken in such power, such strength.
"I killed, my Lord." And the confession was bitterly gleeful. "When my enemies faced me I tore their throats open and tasted their blood. I was the darkness that good men fear."
"The day the Dark Lord fell, Osmilian fell with him. As a wolf, I ran all the way to Fangorn and hid there, nursing my wounds. For while the wolf is strong still, the woman is old and weak." She sighed and sat back, suddenly weary, an ancient old woman weathered by the care of time.
"I knew not, My Lord King, who you were when I came here. I heard only that a just and mighty king sat upon the throne in Minas Tirith. I knew that king must know where Ecthelion hid the Slayers Blades."
She nodded at the understanding in Aragorn's eyes. "Yes. The late Steward desired that he alone should wield those blades, that he should have such power over Osmilian and myself. It was how he controlled us, always under the fear of a swift death."
"The five blades wrought of mithral at the hands of Celebrimbor for the Wolf Slayers." Legolas spoke softly. "Spells were laid on them to slay a werewolf before it could change back to man and beguile its way to safety." He smiled slightly and tilted his head. "They are said to glow when a Were is near."
"They do." Aragorn replied, his eyes focused on a distant past. "Like water in moonlight."
"Ecthelion had three of the five and was always hunting for the other three." She said and Legolas nodded. "He thought that in possessing them he could control us."
"He failed?" Aragorn asked, although he could read the answer in her eyes.
"Nay. He succeeded. His failing was too jealously guarding his secret. When Denethor came to the Stewardship, he treasured the blades but as artifacts, not as a guard against the real danger in his own house. Osmilian and I were free to go, and we did."
Her gaze warmed and although her voice was still sad, she spoke thus, "Now that I am here and look upon your face, as the face of one whom I have loved and who showed faith in me, I would beg forgiveness and ask to put right the wrong that I have done, to prove myself worthy of such faith."
Aragorn moved to speak but she silenced him with a movement of her hand. "It is too late, Captain, Sir. I have done great evil in my long life and although I am aged now, the wolf in me is not. I could do great evil yet, with the power I still bear.
"There must be a way." Aragorn said softly, glancing at Legolas, who shrugged.
Legolas had seen the wolf and not the woman from the first moment she entered the chamber. His senses were on guard against her, knowing that the darkness within her was unpredictable and dangerous and weakened her will. He shook his head slightly.
'Nay, it is too late." She said in a bitter voice. "I will not return to collars and chains to bind me. I will not live as a caged beast, and cage me you must, for I am happy now to live as the beast and not the frail woman that I am."
Then her voice changed, and the years fell away as she said, "Still, my heart speaks that I am not ready to die."
Aragorn closed his eyes for a moment, hearing the words as he had first heard them on a clear summer night beneath flowering trees. She raised her hand, palm outward.
"Nay, my lord. It is time at last to face my doom."
"You once thought that it would be welcome." He replied in a gentle voice, heavy with sympathy.
"And still it will be." She replied. "I am at war in my soul. The wolf and the woman no longer are at peace with each other and the woman lives in regret. I have neither the will nor strength to take my own life, and so I have come here to find peace."
Her green eyes raised with ancient power and utter certainty to Aragorn, "Where, my Lord King, are the Slayer Blades?"
Aragorn turned to Legolas. "Call for Faramir. If any within these walls knows where they are hidden, then it will be him."
Legolas nodded curtly, but hesitated, obviously not happy at leaving the two of them alone.
"Go, Lord Elf." She smiled reassuringly, apparently unaware of the glint of her canine teeth in the beams of the westering sun that streamed through the high window. "Of all men upon this earth, I have given care and thought to none save this one."
Something in her voice convinced him, and Legolas turned and left the chamber.
She turned to Aragorn then, and as naturally as if they were sitting at tea, asked, "Please, my lord, do tell me the tale of how a Captain of the Steward's Rangers comes to be a king?"
|Ertia||Jun 3 2009, 01:43 PM Post #7|
I Sigil Dagnir
Aragorn told her some of what had transpired over the past year as she listened, her eyes filling with tears as Aragorn recounted the strong and brave men that he had seen fall and the loss of Boromir, which was still near to his heart.
"Such grief. " She whispered now, "So much blood upon my hands."
Aragorn shook his head sadly, "Not on yours. It is upon Sauron's. His was the true evil. You were unable to resist it's sway."
Just then, the doors swung open. Legolas entered with Faramir, and between them they carried a heavy chest. They laid it upon the table, and Aragorn stood. "Perhaps this is best done elsewhere."
The Steward Faramir nodded in understanding. "Let us go to my father's private courtyard. It has been locked since his death, and none should disturb us there."
Once within the small stone courtyard, they placed the chest upon the pavestones, and Legolas went to the high, thick gates and locked them. Amali lowered herself to a small stone bench, and watched as the men opened the chest.
Faramir was the first to reach out, cautiously. He lifted out first items that Aragorn recognized instantly, although a patina of rust lay over the muzzles and collars, and the leather bindings were stiff and mildewed with age. Amali sunk to her knees and lifted the muzzle in her withered hands, turning it as she eyed it in wonder. Then with sudden violence, she flung it away from her. It hit the stone walls with a clanking noise and fell to the paving.
Legolas whirled toward her, but she had stilled, staring down at the bindings with a look of revulsion on her face. Aragorn reached into the chest and withdrew a sheathed dagger. It was not the one he had held so long ago, though the markings were similar. Slowly, he slid it from its covering, it's pale glow emanating in his hand.
Aragorn stood, the dagger warm in his fingers. Slowly, he turned to Amali. She did not move, her face impassive in the darkness.
"Dago han, Estel." Legolas spoke, his words a deep intonation that reached into Aragorn's soul. When he did not move, Legolas spoke louder, his voice a command. "Dago han si!"
//Kill it.// //Kill it now!//
Aragorn looked to Legolas, determination hardening his features. Faramir backed away, another blade in his hand. He had doubted, when Legolas came to him and asked for the Slayers Blades, but now, the golden glow of the Elven blade convinced him of what they faced. Still, it was a horror to him to watch his king advance on the old woman, bowed on the bench.
"Dago nin, Captain, Sir." Her soft voice rang out the Elvish syllables, and Aragorn hesitated, his hand freezing.
"By the Valar!" Legolas leaped forward, taking the knife from Aragorn's still hand. With a single swift movement he flashed his hand downward, aiming for the center of Amali's back.
The blade flashed golden, and Amali was gone. A snarling black wolf, it's white teeth reflecting the glare of the blade, leaped clear of the menace and landed, snarling, between Legolas and Faramir. Legolas braced himself, his glance towards Faramir assuring him that the Steward had overcome his initial shock and was prepared to fight.
The wolf turned, appraising her opponents, the green eyes narrowed and glaring. With a sharp bark she drew back a pace, trying to circle the bench to put it between herself and the men. Legolas moved faster, leaping the bench and blocking her path.
Aragorn stood still, watching her. Part of him knew that Amali did not live in this beast, that this animal would kill him if it could, and yet he was fascinated. The black fur was perhaps a tinge greyer, but the body was stronger, sturdier than the weary wolf he had met in the woods of Ithilien. Fascinated with the animal, he did not move, his gaze locking with the eyes of the beast.
Grey met green in the pale torchlight and for a moment there was a dance. She knew him and he her. Suddenly Aragorn understood. There was no going back. There would be neither healing nor salvation. The hand of Sauron had taking the girl he had known and loved and the animal was all that remained. The intelligence in the creature's eyes spoke to him of hope, of a new future, and Aragorn tried to reject it, reminding them both that future it offered was not one for them to live.
It seemed to Legolas that the animal nodded, cocking its head at Aragorn. For a moment there was silence, and Legolas almost missed the warning tension as the wolf gathered itself.
She leaped for Aragorn, teeth flashing, a deadly snarl echoing in the stone courtyard. Legolas flung himself forward, the blade flickering with golden light as it fulfilled its purpose. The jaws were inches from Aragorn's throat when Legolas' knife slammed between the beast's ribs. With his left hand he shoved Aragorn away, and yanked the blade free, preparing for the next assault of the beast.
There was a single yelp, and the animal fell to the flagstones. Faramir stood on the other side, his hand, arms and blade dripping with blood. He had thrust his blade upward into the wolf's throat, slicing cleanly through the thick fur. Now he leaned back against the wall as Legolas darted to Aragorn, who had fallen back at his violent shove. Faramir alone watched as the beast heaved a last breath and was still, the green eyes darkening to lifelessness.
"Are you well, mellon?" Legolas' eyes narrowed in concern. The tiniest scratch from the sharp teeth and Legolas knew that Gondor would lose the king it had finally received.
Aragorn met his gaze sadly, but nodded in reassurance. "Yes, Legolas. I am unharmed."
He moved forward to the still wolf, lying beside the bench. He reached down and touched the fur gently then drew back in distaste.
"She would have killed you, Elessar." Faramir spoke now, coming to his king's side.
"No." Aragorn sad softly, for he had seen the intent in her eyes, and the cognizance of what it was she wanted. "She would have transformed me."
"Well, then it is well that we were here. Gondor cannot afford to lose its hope now!" Legolas said lightly. "Come, friends. Lets call someone to clear this away, and return these fine weapons to their storage."
Although his words were light, his hand fell heavily on Aragorn's arm to lead him from the courtyard, but Aragorn paused, looking down at the still form, a shadow against the grey stones. There was no trace of Amali left in this shell of an animal. When he spoke, his words were laden with remorse.
"She was good once." Aragorn raised his weary gaze to Legolas.
"And now she is cleansed." He replied firmly, steering Aragorn through the gateway and waiting as Faramir locked the gate. "May the Valar give her peace."
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