A New Evil Arises - Part 3 - The Council of Elessar
Merry awoke early, with the rising of the sun and stretched lazily before getting out of bed. He walked over to the window, and looked out at the quiet courtyard. Just as he was washing, he heard a knock at the door and Pippin came in, already washed and dressed in the silver and sable of Minas Tirith
"Hurry up, Cousin Brandybuck! The council is about to begin!"
"But I haven't even had breakfast!" cried Merry, ignoring the surprise he felt that Pippin had risen before him. He quickly dressed, putting on the green and white of Rohan, while Pippin stood by the window. "It was awfully nice of Strider to have these ground floor rooms prepared for us! I don't think I would have cared much for sleeping in one of those towers." He pointed out the window at the looming buildings of the Citadel.
"Come on, Pip! I'm ready to go! We can't have the nobility of Middle Earth waiting on two small hobbits for the second time in less than a day," Merry said as he moved towards the door. They walked down the brightly lit corridor together.
"Good morning, Periannath! Come, we must hasten to the council of the King." Beregond stood before them once more.
"Good morning, Beregond!" said Pippin cheerfully. "It is a beautiful day in Minas Tirith, isn't it?"
"It certainly is, Master Perian, but you have not walked in Ithilien in the spring. It is truly a glorious place now that it is no longer under the Black Shadow."
"How is Bergil?" asked Pippin, referring the Beregond's son, who provided welcome company to the hobbit in the dark days before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
"He is well but does not apply himself to his studies as he should. He wishes to enter Prince Faramir's Guard as soon as he may," said Beregond, proud that his son wanted to follow in his footsteps. "indeed I would dearly like to see him become a Guard but his mother is less keen on the idea, especially at this time."
Merry and Pippin exchanged puzzled glances but knew that they would shortly find out exactly why they had been summoned to Minas Tirith. Beregond led them through the Citadel to a covered terrace. Slender pillars, wound with green trailing leaves supported the stone ceiling, on which was depicted the journey of Gandalf the White from Rohan to Gondor. Pippin realised that he too was portrayed in the picture as a small hooded shape seated in front of Gandalf on Shadowfax, the wizard's great steed. He blushed as he was lead to his seat, barely registering that King Éomer had arrived, with five Riders of the Mark. Merry was seated alongside Éomer, who greeted the halfling with distracted joy.
"It is good to see you again, Master Holdwine. I trust all is well in the Shire?"
Pippin took his own seat alongside Aragorn. He felt awkward sitting in such an elevated position. Looking furtively around, he studied those who had also been summoned. Legolas and Vanyo sat either side of their father. Legolas looked thoughtful and Pippin noticed that the Elf's gaze was frequently drawn towards Náriel. She sat at Celeborn's right hand side and behind her stood the fourth Elf who had arrived the previous evening. She was not as tall as the Lady, and had long straight black hair. Pippin took her to be a handmaiden and saw that she too observed all that took place. On Celeborn's left sat a number of noble Elves of his household, as well as the sons of Elrond. Gimli sat with a group of his own kind, including one most venerable-looking Dwarf, with a long silver beard. Next to Pippin sat Faramir and the hobbit was surprised to see Éowyn seated at her husband's far side. Beyond her, was Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth and a number of his knights. There were many men Pippin did not recognise; although they were undeniably Men of Gondor. He supposed they represented people from the furthest reaches of the kingdom. Merry was deep in conversation with Éomer, and Pippin wondered why Aragorn did not start the council. He soon understood the delay when Arwen arrived among them. She took her seat at Aragorn's left hand side and whispered in his ear. Then, King Elessar stood up and addressed the council.
"Welcome to Minas Tirith, my honoured guests. Most are known here, save Thorin Stonehelm, King Under The Mountain." At this the Dwarf stood up and bowed low. "Also unknown are Vanyo, younger son of Thranduil, the Lady Náriel of Lothlorien and her handmaiden, Morcotulce." Vanyo looked around, delight evident on his fair Elven face. The Lady inclined her head slightly, and Morcotulce stood motionless, though her dark eyes were bright and inquisitive. Pippin was struck by Náriel's composure and wondered at Legolas' words the night before. She did not appear to be in pain; indeed her face seemed utterly passive to all around her. The King continued.
"I have called you all here in order to reach a decision on how to deal with the new threat that faces Middle Earth. I shall begin by explaining in full what has come to pass within the last year, since the passing of the Ringbearers and the Great Company of Eldar into the West.
"On last Midsummer's Eve, two Guards of Ithilien vanished. Prince Faramir sent out search parties and though they hunted for many miles around, they could find no sign of the missing men. Since then, between two and five of the best warriors in Gondor have disappeared every month, on the night of the full moon. We have attempted to trail them but have met with little success. I believe that they have been taken captive for nothing has been found of them, dead or alive. Until winter passed to spring, we thought that this was Gondor's tragedy alone but then I learned from King Éomer that Rohan has also suffered." With that he turned to Éomer and invited him to speak.
"My thanks to you, King Elessar," said Éomer gravely. "I willingly answered the call of Gondor, for we in Rohan have also lost many of our people in similar circumstances. Many young shieldmaidens and riders of the Mark have vanished and we know not why nor how. We reckon the total number of the disappeared to be seventy-three. All of the disappeared were young and valiant and I find it hard to believe that they were taken without a fight. Like the King Elessar, I too believe that they were kidnapped. On a number of occasions we found the traces of blood and torn fabric, and more than once an injured horse has returned to the Golden Hall riderless. We know we must act but we do not know in which direction to strike. We look to Gondor for our lead in this."
Aragorn once more stood up. "It seems that these disappearances are not confined to the world of Men. King Thranduil of Mirkwood and King Thorin Stonehelm have confirmed that a small number of their people have also vanished. This threat is widespread, it seems, yet we do not know where it comes from or who may be behind it. The most distressing news of all, however, reached Minas Tirith last night from Lothlorien. Lord Celeborn , please relate to us the sad tidings from the land of Lothlorien." The Elven lord arose, his face sorrowful.
"I will ask the Lady Náriel, who is called Lalaith in Lothlorien, to deliver the grievous news for she witnessed all that passed." He held out his hand, and placing her hand on his, he Lady arose. She wore a long silver-grey robe, and she had a long sword girt at her side. The red stone at her throat glowed dully in the morning sun. Celeborn clasped her hand gently and looked searchingly into her eyes. All he saw was stern resilience. He sat down and everyone looked at Náriel expectantly. After a brief pause during which she seemed to be gazing into the distance above Aragorn's head, she started to speak, her voice laden with sorrows, both ancient and new.
"I am the Lady Náriel, last of the line of Fëanor but I am Lalaith no more. I have seen many terrible deeds in my long life yet none so horrifying as the events that took place in Lothlorien at the last full moon; my laughter shall no longer be heard in the Golden Wood.
"On the eve of the full moon, the Lord Celeborn and some of his household departed Calas Galadhon for Minas Tirith, to answer the summons of the King of Gondor. That very night, the woods of Lorien were attacked. Hundreds of men swarmed through the trees and we were overpowered. The strength of the Elves is fading and we were unable to defend our City. Five of our number were brutally slain in Calas Galadhon, where few mortals have stood. Many more Elves were injured, some so grievously that I fear they shall have to pass West if they are to have any chance of recovery. The cruellest act of this unknown enemy, however, was to carry off one hundred Elves. They took many of our bravest warriors including Lorindol of the House of Galathil and Haldir, Warden of the March, and kinsman to Lord Celeborn."
At this, Náriel glanced at Celeborn and saw the drawn look on his face. She could sense that Middle Earth no longer held any joy for him. The parting of Galadriel had torn at his soul and this latest information was clearly taking its toll on the proud Elf. The Lady continued with her heartbreaking tale.
"We recognised the men to be of Easterling extraction therefore we know that they passed into the East, but we know not where. Even our guards with their Elvish vision could not long keep them in view." Suddenly her voice grew stronger. "Yet I still have hope for I know that Haldir lives and by that reckoning I believe that other captives must also have survived."
"How do you know that Haldir still lives?" asked Aragorn. "Have you looked in the Mirror of Galadriel?"
"I will not deny that I have that ability," said Náriel. To Pippin's surprise, a tear slid down her cheek. "But that is not how I know." She paused and gulped for air. Pippin thought his heart would break, seeing such a noble Elf in such pain. Now he understood Legolas' distress, for one did not need Elvish senses to feel Náriel's grief. When she continued, however, her voice was still strong.
"Haldir is my beloved, and daily his spirit cries out to mine. He is great pain and grows weaker with every passing hour. I feel my own life slipping away, for our spirits are joined as one and should he die, my spirit will not tarry long in Middle Earth. Nay, I will follow him even to the Halls of Mandos."
A stunned silence fell over the Council. At last the hobbits understand what Legolas had been referring to the previous night. Legolas himself sat still with his eyes closed; a fuller comprehension of the Elven Lady's pain dawned on him. Faramir and Aragorn looked at Náriel with looks of compassion. She drew herself up straight.
"I do not stand here to receive your pity," she said with pride. "I need not the sympathy of Men for I have lived many thousands of years, and many lifetimes of Men. I am of the House of Fëanor and my will is strong and my spirit fiery." She suddenly unsheathed her sword and its blade glowed golden, bathing her face in a yellow light as she gazed upon it. "On the sword of my father, I swear that I will not rest until I find my beloved."
A shadow crossed Celeborn's face as Náriel raised the weapon, and a number of the other Elves looked similarly pained. Náriel spoke in a low fierce voice.
"This is Elencrist, the sword of Maedhros. Its blade shed the blood of many Elves at the first kinslaying in Alquelondë. It ever sings with the blood of the slain, and serves to remind me of the horrific deeds of my forefathers. Yet the blood of Fëanor runs in my veins, potent and terrible; I will have my revenge. I cannot simply remain cosseted in Lothlorien while Haldir suffers. " At those last words, Náriel's voice finally wavered and, resheathing Elencrist, she once more took her seat beside Celeborn. Éowyn watched her closely, and when she caught the Elf's eye, a look of understanding passed between the two, though they were strangers to each other. At length, Aragorn stood up and once more addressed the council.
"Now that we have heard the testimony of the Lady Náriel, we need to decide how to act. We know very little about the perpetrator of theses crimes, save that the captives have been carried into the East."
"We need to act soon," cried King Éomer, rising to his feet. "The longer we delay, the more hurt will be caused to our people. We must coordinate an attack on the Easterlings!"
"Yet we cannot strike without thorough knowledge of who or what our target is," said Faramir thoughtfully. "We need more information. To merely state that the Easterlings are responsible is not reason enough to declare war on their nation. It is composed of many tribes who are in constant strife with one another but if we target one tribe as being responsible, they will all rally around in support. Although the combined might of Gondor and Rohan would easily defeat them, it is not sound leadership to strike out in anger and discover the truth later."
"That is sensible reasoning, Prince Faramir," said Aragorn thoughtfully. "We cannot simply march openly into the East and demand the return of the captives. We must investigate the circumstances more thoroughly."
"Indeed," said King Thranduil. "In all my long years I have not known an Easterling army to attack a settlement of Men or Elves, for no reason. They are a mercenary people, selling their skills to whomever can reward them most highly. I would not be surprised to learn that there is a greater power behind this than a nation of squabbling and fragmented tribes."
Aragorn bowed his head in acknowledgement of the Elven King's contribution. "I fear that we cannot act until we have more solid information. We shall have to send out scouts."
"But that could take a month at least!" cried Éomer. "The next full moon will be upon us and what is to say that Rohan or Gondor won't bear the brunt of an attack?"
Pippin was overawed by all that was taking place. He felt awkward sitting among such powerful Men and began to get a little restless. He stretched out his toes and put his head back, staring at the ornate ceiling. Suddenly a thought struck him as he gazed upon the picture of Gandalf. Why had Pippin accompanied the Istar? Because he had looked into the Palantír. Nervously, he stood up and cleared his throat. Silence fell on the room and all eyes were on the unfortunate hobbit. Merry looked at him curiously for his mind too had been wandering. Aragorn looked at the hobbit.
"Perhaps it is not my place to say such things in such exalted company but I could not help wondering... that is to say... why not use the Palantír, King Elessar? Then you wouldn't have to waste time and men on searching for clues."
Aragorn looked at the hobbit with wonder in his eyes. Arwen took hold of her husband's hand and said, "You do have the power to use the Seeing Stone. As the King of Gondor, you can bend it to your will."
"But it is such a dangerous tool," said Faramir, he memory of his father filling his mind. He was for ever grateful that he had been unconscious while his father had burned on his funeral pyre with a Palantír clutched in his hand.
"It is indeed dangerous," said Aragorn. "But Pippin is right, it would save time. We do not want what happened in Lorien to be repeated."
"You do have the strength to use it, King Elessar," said Celeborn. "Do as your heart guides you but be wary of what you see in the depths of the Palantír. It can be treacherous."
"If the Council agrees, then I will look into the stone this very evening. Perhaps then we will have a clearer idea of how to proceed," said the King. Éomer stood up.
"Whatever knowledge is imparted to you, I only ask that you accept my offer of Rohan's support in the action the Council agrees on."
The Dwarf King made a similar oath, as did the sons of Thranduil and the sons of Elrond. Náriel also stood up.
"I know that in the eyes of many here, I cannot offer much for I am a woman, not a renowned soldier or warrior. However, I pledge myself to aiding in this deed. Indeed if you will not accept my sword, I shall have to make my own way to the East for I shall not return to Lothlorien while there is still hope in my heart."
Hearing the Lady's words stirred something inside Merry. Perhaps it was the memory of the Council of Elrond in Rivendell and Pippin's insistence that he be allowed join the fellowship or be sent home in a sack, but Merry found himself standing in front of the mighty of Middle Earth to pledge his support.
"I fear that there is little that a hobbit can do, but I wish to be part of this great feat though I do not know what lies ahead. I swore an oath to King Éomer's uncle, and I swear it again here: My sword is at the disposal of the King of the Mark, and if he pledges support to Gondor, then so do I."
"And me!" Pippin jumped up awkwardly and Aragorn allowed himself a small smile. "I am ever in the service of the King of Gondor!"
"My thanks to you all," said the King. "I suggest that we all meet here again tomorrow at this time. I will have looked into the Palantír and we shall make our plans."