Aragorn, Arwen and the Palantiri - Chapter 4 of 4 - Cruel fate
The man had a certain wiry strength but he reckoned too little of elvish power and the wrath of the elven prince of Mirkwood. He was overcome and fell in a broken heap to the floor. Legolas tore the rod from his grasp and impaled the flaming razor sharp point into the man's heart. A howl of agony tore through the elves, the listeners below, everyone within earshot. Flames licked the corpse as it fell from its knees and moved no more. A whipping wind spiralled around them and revealed itself in a swirling corkscrew that reached from floor to ceiling and blew Arwen and Legolas back onto the floor and knocking all breath from their lungs. The hurricane fell silent and a breath of wind blew towards them and as it passed through the centre column it split clean in half. Legolas realised that Ranklathe was endeavouring to attack them and he had little time defend himself from the danger that was before him. He grabbed the rod and held it up as to ward of the foul creature which manifested itself as an invisible slicing blade, deadly and vicious. The sceptre glowed even brighter and cast a protective shield around him and Arwen as Ranklathe swooped to kill. The spirit was turned and Legolas willed it back into to its imperishable stone from whence it issued. Ranklathe's strength of mind was indomitable but it could not match the power of the sceptre which was wrought in the ancient world and was merely a memory of the primeval majesty of old. Legolas bent to Arwen's side hurriedly, she was distraught and he could not think why; the blow had been hard but not fatal.
"No, please, no," she muttered under her breath, "please..."
"Lady, what is it? What ails you?" he cried, she clutched her stomach with her hands as if willing it to heal. With a unpleasant twinge, Legolas realised what was wrong.
"Arwen, are you with child?" he asked praying for a negative answer. Her tear stained face looked at him and nodded miserably. He was stunned and concerned for he knew there was a chance her unborn child had been killed and he could not bear to see her go through that. She sobbed uncontrollably and all Legolas could do was hold her tightly in solace and wish that Aragorn were here.
"Does Aragorn know?" he asked at last. She shook her head,
"I have not yet told him, I only realised myself when we left Rohan and then we were taken." she said, "What was that?" A voice from below was calling her name faintly it reached them though distinct. They stood and looked out of the window, and saw Aragorn surrounded by a mass of black.
"It is Aragorn," Legolas was overjoyed, "and Gimli!"
"Elessar!" she called, "Legolas, we must get out or suffocate from the smoke."
Aragorn did not hear what was passing in the high place, he was trying to open the elaborate doors but they were opened only from within. A host of evil men came forth from behind them and he was forced to fight. They had little hope, they were outnumbered six times and this disaster was just one of many.
It was going ill with some heavy loss when after a half hour trumpets called from the ice fields and the main body of the army appeared on the ridge behind them. With a cry they marched to battle and slew all the evil creatures that lay before them.
"Aragorn!" Faramir called to him, "we must find a way to get in!" The doors and windows were barred shut and there was no other entrance. He looked up in dismay and called to his wife,
"Arwen!" her face appeared at the window,
"Elessar!" she called, joy unbounded filled his heart as he saw her and Legolas unhurt. He still had no idea how to get them down and they were too far to jump safely. He turned just in time to see a large man with long trailing arms brandish his jagged sword before Anduril rang and swept his torso from his legs. Aragorn had to fight as men swarmed around him but ever his eyes were drawn to the window high above. Snowflakes grown to the size of feathers fluttered from the endless expanse of heavens above the battle, they blinded the men so they did not know whom they were slaying, the mass of bodies became a white blur and all was in confusion. The blizzard was heavy and thundering clouds rolled over the skies yet the men could not see them through the snowstorm.
Legolas and Arwen looked upon the chaotic battle scene that was raging below. Arwen saw her beloved Aragorn fight his way through and try to get through the doors but it seemed they would not budge. The body of the priest was burning with a rank odour and the smoke choked them and clouded their vision. The elves were trapped in the small room and the window was their only chance of escape, Legolas took the rod and spirit stone and threw them downwards into the snowdrift where they landed with a dull thud. Arwen grabbed the palantir from the stone and gathered it in her cloak. Legolas leapt onto the ledge and stood lightly on the frame outside, taking Arwen's hand she did the same and they clung to the ornate carvings on the mountain tower.
"This is our only way down my lady, tread carefully." Legolas supported her. They were very high and several black arrows were aimed in their direction. One passed through Legolas' hand and he broke off the shaft and tore it out with a cry of pain, the sceptre he held thudded to earth, hardly marred.
"Legolas! Your poor hand," she took it gently and examined it,
"It is of little matter, we must get down," he said through gritted teeth.
Their only hope was to climb down the wall. Gargoyle-like heads protruded beneath them and provided a ledge for them to walk gently on. Intricate etchings of snowmen and women danced up the walls and they found them deep enough to hold onto as they descended slowly. The wind whipped past their faces and threatened to blow them off but they went downwards steadily, gripping tightly to the wall. Legolas' was having trouble using his hand, it was bleeding heavily and he found gripping painful. Forced to go one handed he was endangered with every step. They made their way slowly down the wall watched by hundreds of people below. The battle was going well, the evil men were for the most part untrained and their crude weapons were no match for the shining swords and black mail of the army of Minas Tirith. Aragorn turned his attention from fighting, Arwen and Legolas were almost halfway down and the carvings were more scant and the wall smoother. When the last of the men had been slain, Aragorn's men all turned to stare at the two elves who were scaling the wall with remarkable skill.
"They will never make it, it is too far and the ledges stop halfway down," Faramir spoke to himself,
"They will make it, they have to." Aragorn writhed with an overwhelming sensation of anxiety.
Legolas could no longer use his hand and he grimaced with the pain he bore, Arwen saw it with anguish and helped him whenever she could but white snowflakes lay on her eyelashes and she had to keep blinking them away. They paused to rest awhile when the footholds they had began to crumble beneath their feet and shards of marbled stone fell to earth. Legolas managed to grab hold of the scowling face of a glowering beast and Arwen clutched his forearm desperately. They hung like this for a few seconds. Legolas hooked his elbow around the chipped statue and endeavoured to pull Arwen up. The wall had become smooth and slippery, frosted and icy, they were blinded by the snow in their eyes and the pain of their poisoned wounds was unrelenting. Arwen's fingertips brushed the stone engravings and she reached with all her might to get a grip and release Legolas from the hurt she was inflicting on him. It was then that his muscles gave in and his hand was rendered useless, Arwen fell from a great height and Legolas fell with her, plunging with deadly velocity towards the ground. Time stopped.
Aragorn watched them when they slipped, as they fell he darted up the bank underneath them to try and break their fall and many followed. Arwen landed in his arms, she was so light from little food that he bore her easily. Legolas fell into a deep bank of snow, staining it with blood and was quickly rescued by Gimli and several of the troops. Aragorn's heart leapt with joy and drowned in pity when he looked at his wife. Her face was soaked in blood from a deep cut on her brow, her hair was matted with ooze and grime and her clothes were torn, revealing all too generous amounts of her waist and limbs. The people looked at her in shock, their beautiful queen, so dishevelled. Arwen lost consciousness, the last thing she saw was her husband smiling at her and she was safe at last.
The elves missed the long ride out of Fornost, both were insentient from weariness, pain, grief and all manner of undesirable emotions. They saw, however, the men scramble to retrieve the palantir, and they saw the malicious spirit of Ranklathe detonate with fury within the snow bank as it managed to free itself and smite the tower by which it lay. The harmful being was however unhurt and lunged forwards to wreak revenge upon the men who robbed it of it kill. Visible only as a man sized wisp of grey smoke it was as deadly as a knife and killed two stout men who were mischanced enough to be in its way. Legolas dived for the glimmering sceptre and plunged it into the very centre of the mist, forcing it with all his will to submit to the power of the staff. The edges dissipated into nothingness and the rest was amassed with a blood curdling wail into the heart of the pole which shone blindingly for a moment and lay still, its fires quenched. Legolas could take no more, a dead faint claimed him and he was borne in great honour with the queen back from the dread place. The halls quaked and the ground shook as the massive lumps of black marble landed in crumbling heaps. A thousand years of beauty destroyed in one fell moment. They struck the earth with force enough to rend a chasm which split for many yards either side. The men leaped back from this new hazard but Aragorn picked up the sceptre and stone and flung them into the icy depths where they were crystallized into a frozen casket. A second later the accumulation of snow above on the mountain side began to slide and it avalanched down with frightening speed. Deafeningly loud it filled the gorge and closed the rip in the ground, entombing Ranklathe in a prison of snow and ice for eternity. An anti climactic silence followed, The snowfall relented and the wintry sun shone lightly on the snow filled rift which blended benignly into the landscape as if it had always been there. The men, as ones wakened from a trance began to gather their fallen allies and in an hour they had built a large cairn marking the place of battle. Their enemies bodies they left to any carrion birds that would venture this far north but the weapons they tossed into the sea hoping the power of the ocean would take them in its arms and deliver them from ways they might cause future harm. Among those of the foes who were dead lay several dressed in crimson robes. Their hair was all fashioned alike, a slender black plait hung from one side of their heads but the rest was shaved bald and inked into their scalps was the rune for K. This were the priests, evil men bent on power and corrupted from birth. They reigned with terror and few could withstand their piercing gaze. They were however no more and were devoured by strange beasts of the Northern lands, a huge fish was spotted on the edge of the ridge but it had whiskers protruding from its face and called with a strange nasal sound. The men gaped at it and espied others beyond. They were fearful of some new devilry but Aragorn bade them remain calm and the beasts ignored them sliding across the ice with great speed and slipping nimbly into the water. This was cause of much amazement among the remaining troops but they gathered their gear together with some haste and left the mountain hold of Ranklathe. Few of the hounds had lingered during the battle and the snowmen that brought them had been slain for treachery by the goblin men. Aragorn lamented over their fall.
"They paid a high price for their faith and they shall be remembered for it, I bid you add their corpses to the cairn and so they shall be remembered with honour." he said. Then he divided the last few sledges among his captains and they bore five men per sleigh. It took several trips to get all that remained of the host back to Fornost where they found more than a few of those whom had been told to stay with the horses. The snow people hid themselves inside their glittering houses when they saw the company pass. Aragorn halted in the clearing in the middle of the town and surrounded by firs he called out.
"Hear ye O people of Fornost. I, king of Gondor and Arnor speak to thee." The town leader came out tentatively and bowed low before Aragorn, a gesture he returned.
"The evil that troubled this fair city is gone. Deep in the bed of the ocean its spirit is embedded within the stone of Lithnuxe and the sceptre of Lithnuxe is drowned with it, Ranklathe may never rise again. You have nothing more to fear."
At his words a round of cheers erupted from inside the doorways. Small round faces peeped from windows and many rushed out to kneel before Aragorn. This amused the men very much and they clapped along with the rest of them. Letting the town rejoice in their jubilation they left Fornost behind and rode more gently south until they reached the fields north of the Old Forest. There they made a leisurely camp and laid Arwen and Legolas and the injured men upon beds of bracken and heather.
When the elves woke they were bathed in sunshine amid the grip of winter. Warmth coursed through them and they were able to distinguish their surroundings. Two makeshift beds had been made under the canopy of a large tent. Aragorn sat beside Arwen and Gimli sat beside Legolas, wreathing himself in pipe smoke but trying to blow it from the room so as not to further afflict the ailing.
"Where am I?" Arwen asked drowsily,
"In the fields surrounding the shire." answered Aragorn with a smile. "We have ridden far since you fell asleep and you have been here for some hours while we tried to heal you." Legolas was looking at his hand which had been bandaged neatly and his arm which was set in a sling. Arwen felt her head and it was bound with white linen, her tangled hair had been combed and cleaned but her stomach was bruised badly with great purple welts and when she saw it she started shaking. Legolas knew the reason for her distress but did not say anything.
"What? What is it?" Aragorn asked frantically, "You are bruised but it will heal,"
"No, no it will not." her voice was murmur scarce to be heard.
"Legolas what is wrong with her?" he asked,
Legolas looked up doubtfully and then at Arwen who nodded slightly then he said,
"My lord, Lady Evenstar is with child." An intake of breath went up around the area. Many of their friends had come to see how they healed and many heard that remark. Their gasps whispered around the circle.
"With child?" Aragorn asked weakly. Again Arwen nodded. His face went from shock to joy.
"When did you realise? Why did you not tell me?" he asked,
"I knew before we left Rohan and I was going to tell you on the way back but then we were taken." She blinked away the tears, "The priest hit me in the stomach, Elessar, hard. That is where the bruising came from," Aragorn's expression changed to deep concern when he realised what this meant.
"Oh no," he gathered her in his arms and held her long. Arwen wept heartbreakingly over his shoulder and he kissed her soothingly, even though he was filled with a new sensation of grief. The people watching them hung their heads in angst for their king and queen and they stepped back to give them some seclusion. Arwen was inconsolable and Aragorn scarcely less so. He bent to kiss the injured child that slept in her womb and said,
"There may still be hope, the child might be alive."
"I can see no hope," she replied, "What chance did it have?"
"You do not know it is dead, surely you are not more than two months pregnant and with a mother as strong as you it is possible the babe is still alive." said Aragorn desiring with all his might that what he spoke could be true.
"I can try to heal it while it is still fairly new but I will need to make a tonic of herbs and you must swallow it." he said quickly,
"Please try, try anything. I don't want to lose my baby!" Fresh sorrow was in these words and pity was stirred within every man present.
"Gimli, Faramir and Beragron go forth and find me athelas, Allamna and Tumalion come here." Aragorn gave some of his men directions as to which herbs to gather he then bade someone boil water and all the while his wife clung to his hand, a glimmer of hope lying before her.
When his willing men had returned bearing plants of many kinds he steeped them in water and the aroma brought contentment to most troubled soul, cleansing the air with a wholesome fragrance. He left the herbs to steep in the water for some time and when the plants had lost their virtues he poured the aromatic mixture into a cup and gave it to his wife. She drank it quickly and felt heat surge through her, giving her sanguinity and peace. Aragorn waited until she had drained the cup then he drew back the coverlet and looked long at her bruising, it was concentrated in her upper abdomen. He lay his hand on it and muttered words of some long forgotten tongue. Words of hope, words of healing, words of new life. He chanted rhythmically for a long time, long into the afternoon he tired not. When at last he was done the bruises had subsided a little and Arwen felt better.
"It will be some time before we will know." he said softly, "You must leave it overnight, then maybe we shall see in the morning." he kissed her on the lips and she noted how fatigued he appeared. She herself was very tired and desired rest, he left her and went to join Faramir who stood waiting for him.
"Only time will tell, that remedy will heal any ailments the child may have after the blow but if it was fatal then there is nothing I can do." he said, grief threatening to overwhelm him.
"My lord you have suffered so much in the last few days, will you not take rest?" said Faramir.
"I will, Legolas does well I am glad to see; his wound was bad but he will recover." said Aragorn, taking one last look at his wife he walked into his tent and slept deeply as he had not for many a day.
He was woken by commotion outside. Some men still sitting around the dying embers of the campfire had spotted Arwen coming from the healing tent.
"My lady, are you alright?" asked Beragron,
"Yes indeed sir. But I must see lord Aragorn, where might I find him?" said Arwen.
"I will take you to his tent." said Beragron. Arwen flashed him a kindly smile that made most men weak at the knees. They met Aragorn who had come to see what was going on, when he saw Arwen coming towards him he ran to her,
"Undomiel, what is it?" he asked anxiously. She took his hand and laid it upon her belly, he waited patiently and then he felt a movement, a kick, the slightest of stirrings.
Aragorn was overjoyed, he took her in his arms and spun her round laughing. Their baby was safe and they were together again. The few who were awake smiled heartily to see them so happy and in the morning the word was spread and the couple were bombarded with good wishes for the child's well being. Rumour of the king's visit to the boundaries of the Shire was soon made known among the hobbits. Aragorn had decided that they would not ride South until all that could be healed did so, most of the injuries were minor but they required attention and rest. The party was surprised to hear the footsteps of horses one morning and to see, mounted on short, sturdy little ponies four what seemed like children. One of them blew a sharp blast on his horn and it echoed around the surrounding hills. Aragorn cried out with joy and he and Gimli supporting Legolas ran to meet them. Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin dismounted and embraced their friends gladly. The men were bemused and only until some of the more learned among them told them about the king's adventures with the hobbits did they realise what was happening.
The hobbits walked back to the camp chattering to their friends with startling vigour. Legolas found a little of his strength return and they were impatient to ask him about what had happened. When they came back to the cluster of tents they were met by Arwen to whom they bowed low and kissed her hand graciously.
"So my king," said Pippin with his usual light-hearted voice, "tell us all that has come to pass since we last parted."
Aragorn broke to them the news of Lady Arwen's pregnancy and they were overjoyed for him.
"If you had told me when we had met that the ranger we called Strider would now be blessed in so many ways I would never have believed it," said Frodo.
"Blessed I am," replied Aragorn, "I only hope that when you met the ranger you called Strider, Sam, your opinion of me was different to what it is now. Do you still not like the look of me?"
Sam flushed deeply and said in true hobbit fashion,
"You know sir that my opinion is clear the opposite and that I do not, not like the look of you." he faltered having confused himself, Legolas and Gimli laughed and his flush deepened.
"I know what you mean Sam," said Aragorn, "I merely brought it up to reflect upon how much my life has changed."
"What I want to know," asked Merry, "is what happened up by the North Downs, rumours are rife in the Shire and I should dearly like to be the one to set them to rest."
"One would think that was the only reason you asked, Merry," said Gimli.
"That's Master Holdwine if you please," jested Merry stating the name given to him by Eomer at his knighthood, "And no, my dear Gimli it is not the only reason I asked but I wondered what had happened considering our friend Legolas seems rather the worse for wear." He gestured to Legolas' bandaged hand and slung arm. The elf smiled slightly but looked rather wan as he fought the poison of the dart, he fingered his injured hand thoughtfully and said nothing.
"Master Legolas and Lady Evenstar have been through a hard time." said Aragorn, he told them of their adventures on their journey and Legolas filled in the parts they did not know. Even Aragorn and Gimli were surprised to hear how the elves fared in the endless succession of wains. Flickers of pain passed over their faces, Arwen was remembering the lustful shamelessness of their guards. When Aragorn heard about their immoral behaviour he was shocked and clasped her in his arms lovingly and she sat with him on the sun drenched grass with her head against his chest, her eyes closed to the outside world. She felt protected and safe and longed for the day when she would sit like this with her child in her arms. It was a sweet sight after all that had happened since they left Minas Tirith and the men were glad to see the couple so contented at last. The hobbits remained with them until evening had drawn darkness upon them and it was with heavy hearts that they parted. They knelt low and kissed their king's hand promising in earnest to attend the jubilation feast in a few weeks. Legolas and Arwen were weary again but Arwen felt well enough to sleep in Aragorn's tent; Legolas was glad to stay there and gain a few more hours free from Gimli's snoring. Aragorn reached out to her and for the first time in many days was delighted to find her warmth in his arms. The troops slept soundly and each man woke with fresh cheerfulness in his heart.
The injured men were soon well enough to ride and the host packed up and mounted their horses. They rode back slowly, Arwen's horse had fled in the fight so she was set before Aragorn and his steed Fleetfoot bore them both. Legolas was still to weak to ride safely but his horse would not let him fall and he was watched closely by Gimli who trotted along at his side. Their wounds were healing swiftly but they were still painful and tender, every so often Arwen would be reminded of her pregnancy by a slight movement beneath her skin and she never tired of feeling it. Aragorn delighted in taking care of her and attending to her barest whim, Arwen never tired of this devotion either. They retraced the steps they had already trodden on the outbound journey but with much less urgency. They made camps in similar places and the wounded were tended to by the king daily. There were few serious injuries and all had hope of full healing. In time they came by uneventful road again to Edoras. Eomer was very happy to see the king safe and indeed to see the safe return of so many of his horses. Their tales were told yet again and Eomer was astonished to hear of what had happened and elated at the news of the new heir of Gondor. He was invited to attend the feasting to mark the occasion and decided to ride with the party and reside in Minas Tirith until the euphoria had ended. He gave fresh horses to the host and brought with him several members of his household.
"Eager am I to see my sister again," he said to Aragorn as they rode,
"She will be glad to see you," said Arwen, "Often she speaks of the Golden Halls of her home and it has brought me joy to see that of which she loves to talk."
Eomer was pleased, "Does she often speak of her brother who misses her so?"
Arwen smiled, "Without cease, lord," she said, "it is plain that she misses you too and it will be a most welcome surprise to find her dear brother among the company."
Eomer's eagerness grew, he loved his sister very much, "She does not speak of unhappiness?" his voice was low, he did not wish to think his sister was not content and Faramir was nearby.
"She is very happy," Arwen replied, "her husband treats her with only the utmost affection and respect, and it is plain that he loves her more than any other person in the world for he is a good man and a kind man. Her marriage brings her nothing but great joy and she wishes only to see her brother whom she spent so much of her life with."
"Then my heart is lightened and I look forward to the time when we shall meet, lucky she is to have a companion who cares so much for her well being." said Eomer.
"That remains to be seen," she replied smiling, "She was sore affronted that I did not gainsay her husband's wishes and order her presence but I am sure she has forgiven me." And so they made a smooth journey from Rohan and entered Gondor once more, though many days had gone past since they left it.
A few days later the white city came into view as a sparkling diamond in the sunshine. The king had sent scouts to herald the outcome of the battle and the buglers took up the tower call,
"The King has returned victorious!"
This cry was chanted by the citizens who filled the streets and they were glad to say it for the call had not been made for a thousand years since the last king did not return and the crown slept. The king was hailed by his subjects and they rejoiced to see so many of the fair army bearing their proud standard of the white tree and seven stars. Feasts were ordered to celebrate their return and the king used it as a chance to proclaim the news that lady Evenstar was bearing the future sovereign of Gondor. Such cheers had never been heard within the city walls and the parties continued long into the night. Guests were invited from the Shire, Rivendell and Ithilien and the festivity was splendid in its magnitude. The revelry was unbounded and minstrels were called for many times. Wine flowed freely from the caskets and the warnings of headaches the following day were ignored by all. The elves were now well enough to take part, almost fully healed their scars were fading and would soon be invisible to the naked eye. Music in the city rang about the walls and the sound of laughter echoed through the crowded streets.
The next morning was different, those who had indulged too heavily in the alcohol bitterly regretted it as they battled nausea. It was late before any of the elves descended, their ability to withstand wine was non-existent and a lasting joke among the other folk. Entertainments continued for the following days and Gondor was in state of merriment for several weeks. The time came, however, when many of the guests desired to return to their own lands. Eomer came to bid farewell to Aragorn and Arwen,
"My lord and lady," he said, "The time for our parting is nigh and although I would fain remain in your kind hospitality I fear I must return to Edoras."
"I knew what you came to say, Eomer, yet it makes the parting of friends no easier for my heart bodes that we shall not meet again for some time. I would press you to choose a gift if I did not know you would refuse. I implore you to take this though as a token of our lasting friendship." he lifted off his lap a large object covered in a black silken cloth, it was heavy and Eomer took it wondering what it could be. "It is the palantir of Fornost," continued Aragorn, "May you use it for the benefit of Rohan and so we may communicate from afar."
"I cannot accept this," said Eomer,
"You must, it is a gift between friends," said Aragorn.
"My lord I thank you deeply, this gift is beyond anything I could wish for and with it I hope we may see each other without cause of war to bring us together." he bowed very low and withdrew carrying the precious ball reverently.
"It was the right thing to do," said Arwen at the king's side,
"I know," he replied, "but my heart is heavy to see him and the hobbits go, they are some of my dearest friends."
"It is a pity you have no palantir to give to them," said Arwen.
"I do not think I could entrust one to Pippin, after what he did with it last time." Aragorn smiled remembering how Pippin had stolen the palantir from Gandalf and had been held and questioned by Sauron.
Even the most lingering guests departed in the end and Aragorn and Arwen were left to await the coming of their child with expectant delight. It was pleasant to spend some time alone together after so long but the captains did not mind that he was a little inattentive to his duties. Legolas' wounds healed and the poison in his blood was quelled so he returned to full health, he was closely befriended by Arwen who always remembered his bravery and kindness to her during their ordeal. She implored Aragorn to make him a knight of the realm and Legolas was only too pleased to become to first elf in the city's history to be granted such an honour. Thus the days of Gondor passed in bliss and all was well again in Aragorn's realm although he used the palantir more frequently and turned it towards the North. Watch was kept over the snow people so that evil might never again enter their lives. Unaware of the watchful gaze they went about their business as they had for the last thousand years and never more troubled their friends in the south. Aragorn and Arwen were finally reunited and their hearts were whole and enamoured with the love that they shared and would let no being on this earth take from them.