Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Thirty-two - The Palantir

The victory feast of Rohan was being celebrated with all the joy and relief Novarwen had expected, but she had stomach for neither the well-cooked food nor the palpable exhilaration felt by the Rohirrim. Even seeing Theryn again had not eased the pain in her heart. She sighed deeply and stared up at the dark sky. The high platform of Edoras was an excellent place to stargaze, if there were any stars out.

So many...so many had died at Helm's Deep, and Gandalf had said himself that there was still the greatest battle to be fought. It had been sheer luck that they had won the first battle, and there were no more outlawed Riders of Rohan roaming its plains to come again to their aid. How, with our numbers diminished and our alliances still crumbling, can we possibly win the battle that matters the most?

Someone had joined her; she felt his presence at her back. Novarwen turned and saw Legolas, wrapped in a hooded cloak, looking at the starless sky. She shivered at the look on his face and reached out for his hand. He looked at her, his face impossible to read, and turned his eyes back to the sky.

"Man cenich?"* she asked Legolas quietly. He did not answer. Perhaps he did not know. Neither did she, for that matter.

How long she stood there, looking at the sky, her hand in her brother's and fear sending shivers one by one down her spine, she did not know. She said nothing, and Legolas kept his silence until Aragorn joined them outside. He too felt something strange - Novarwen could tell it from the way he moved. He was like a cat, tensed and ready to spring.

Legolas looked at neither of them when he finally spoke. "The stars are veiled," he said softly. "Something stirs in the east...a sleepless malice." Then he looked at Aragorn. The expression in his eyes made Novarwen wrap her free arm around herself to hold back the chills. "The Eye of the Enemy is moving," Legolas whispered.

The shivering came faster and faster. A strangely detached part of her mind told her that the feast was probably long over, that the inhabitants of Edoras had retired to bed. All but one, came a voice. All but one.

Who might that one be? If there was someone out of bed, that is. She did not trust that voice. It was ancient, and angry, and very impatient. It was also jittery, as though it looked forward to finding something out. Who are you? she demanded, forming the words in her head and flinging them at the voice. What are you? She hurled this thought out with more strength than she had the first, and her mind found the feather-thin path that the voice had spoken inside her head on...

And she realized, with a horrified jolt in her stomach, who it was.

"He is here!" she cried, her voice thin with fear. Legolas whirled on her, his eyes sharp with surprise. She felt her mind probe the Enemy's path into her mind, and felt it fall down, spiraling into oblivion...and linking itself to the mind of him who created the path. She flung out a hand and Legolas caught it, but his face was fading before her eyes.

This was not a vision as she was accustomed to having. This was not even a proper vision. This was a plan, an idea, a cherished dream, and it seized her heart with cold terror. A city - a city she had seen before in Galadriel's Mirror, the White City of Minas Tirith. Not white, though - swallowed in flames. She cried out in horror.

The plan moved on with dizzying speed. Now a dark tower, with stone statues guarding the stone walkway...and inside, she could see a tall figure in hooded black robes. She recognized it as a Ringwraith - but not just any Nazgul. This one was important, but she couldn't tell why, or who he was. He flexed his gauntleted fingers. A sword, sheathed and wide, was belted securely at his side. She cried out something she didn't hear. But even as her mind traversed the images that whirled before them, she had the feeling that she was not the only one to be seeing them. And then someone was shaking her, slapping her face -

She came back to herself with a gasp and a shudder. She had collapsed on the stones at her feet, and Legolas had fallen to his knees beside her. It was he who had shaken her and called her mind back to her body. Novarwen sat up and found she was still clutching his hand. Aragorn's breath hissed in as he caught sight of her face. She supposed she must look terrified, but that didn't matter. The Enemy had said someone was out of bed... "Go downstairs!" she gasped. "Quick! Go!" She wrenched her hand free of Legolas' and gave him a shove toward the stairs. He needed no more urging - he did as she said and made for the stairs, Aragorn at his heels. Novarwen lay back on the stones, taking fast, heavy breaths, her eyes closed so she couldn't see the black sky. She wasn't sure what she had seen, and she didn't want to know. All she wanted was to sleep and forget...forget...forget...

***

When she came to herself, she was still lying down, but a soft blanket was under her in place of stones, and pale faces were clustered around her. Legolas...she recognized him, and there was Theryn. She reached out toward him, and he took her hand gently. And there was - that was surely not Pippin? - and Gandalf as well. Novarwen closed her eyes, her head swimming dizzily, but someone took her face between his hands. Gandalf's voice, close to her, said, "Look at me." She obeyed reluctantly, opening her eyes and staring at the wizard. "You must tell me what you saw, Novarwen," he said. His voice was no less firm for being quiet.

He could not be asking her this. He could not be asking her to go back into the memories of what she had seen. She couldn't, she would go mad - "Do not make me force it from you!" Gandalf said. Pippin, she saw, looked as tired and heartsick as she felt. "Tell me."

Novarwen marshaled her thoughts. She was a warrior of Mirkwood - the information she carried might well be important. She drew a deep breath and spoke. "There was a city. The White City. It - was burning." Pippin gasped softly at her words; she heard it, but her attention remained focused on Gandalf. "The city was burning," she repeated.

Gandalf looked worn, but not surprised. "Is that all you saw?" he asked.

"No," Novarwen whispered. "No. There was a black tower, too - a fortress, with statues of beasts to guard it. And someone was inside...he was inside the tower..." She closed her eyes against the memory. Theryn's hand tightened on hers protectively. She could sense Gandalf waiting for the rest of it, and she forced herself to go back into the memory. "He - Mithrandir, I think he was a Nazgul...an important one, but I didn't find out who he was. He looked like he was ready for...for something, I don't know what." She felt the fear rising in her again, as though telling it had made it sharper. She closed her eyes. Over her head she heard Theryn saying angrily, "Let her rest, Gandalf!"

The wizard released her face, and she sank back into the blanket. At any other time, she would have been disgusted at her weakness, but she didn't think of that now. She pulled in a breath and let it out in an explosive sigh. Theryn loosened his tight grip on her hand.

"Is that all, Novarwen?" Gandalf asked wearily. She nodded, her eyes still closed. "Did you speak to him at all?" he asked. "Anything, anything you might have said."

"No," she whispered into the blanket. "No, I - wait! Gandalf!" He turned instantly and knelt beside her bed. "I - before I saw it, I asked him who he was. And then, when I saw the Nazgul, I said something...I don't remember what it was." She opened her eyes. "Can you - is there a way to find out?"

"Yes." The wizard looked wearier than ever. He placed his hands back on either side of her face. "Relax. Put your mind at ease. Close your eyes." She did as he told her, going half-limp as she felt the wizard's mind carefully probe hers. "Relax," came the intonation, and she did. He had gotten hold of something, and was extracting it. Then his mind withdrew, and he let her go. Theryn caught her as she fell onto the blanket and into oblivion again.

* Man cenich? - What do you see?

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