Puppet Strings - Chapter 10

After the disturbing and off-putting encounter with the seer, the five composed themselves and continued to head south. Their pace had increased considerably and in little more than a day they had reached the River Isen. After fording the river they continued their passage through the Gap of Rohan.

Though the Rohirrim had flourished in the previous years, the travelers did not encounter anything, save grazing horses, for some time. In the mid-day sun, on the third day from the seer, they came upon a small Rohan village. It was little more than a few rows of wood and stone huts with roughly thatched roofs. Aragorn knew that they were far enough away from Edoras so that he would not be recognized as the king of Gondor. Knowing that, he and Eldarion did not feel the need to hide their faces from the village people. Few mortals knew who Elladan and Elrohir were in Gondor, let alone out in the wilderness of Rohan. They also had no reason to hide. However Arahad's situation was a little different. Before they had entered the village, Arahad inquired nervously to his companions.

"Could any of you spare a cloak with a hood, and perhaps some gloves?" After a moment Aragorn understood his meaning, so they paused and rustled through their belongings until something suitable was found, then they were on their way. He put Elladan's dark blue cloak on over the coat he already wore. The hood sufficiently covered his face, shrouding the blackness that crawled over his skin. He still walked bare-foot, though the cloak reach down to the ground and also covered his feet as he moved. The gloves he had received from Aragorn, and they were given with much hesitation. Aragorn knew though that his hands would surely be seen when they entered the village. The gloves were a little tight but knowing they came from Aragorn reluctantly, Arahad made a point to thank him anyway.

They walked down what seemed to be the main and only street of the small village. Some people stopped to regard the strangers and others simply took no notice of them as they bustled through the tiny marketplace. The more observant of the villagers that saw them did notice that two of them happened to be elves, but more noticeably was the man walking completely covered. Still, there seemed to be nothing terribly strange about them, therefore no one questioned them.

Aragorn had formed a plan on how to return to Minas Tirith as quickly as possible. He thought that if he could find some boat they could go down the Entwash to Osgiliath and then make their way to the capital city of Gondor. He also knew that the Rohirrim had very little use for boats, so it would prove difficult to find any. A few yards further down the road, past the marketplace, Aragorn noticed a blacksmith.

"As good a place to start as any I suppose." Aragorn muttered to himself. They secured the reins of their horses to the post outside, and then Elrohir and Aragorn went inside. They found an old man hammering relentlessly upon his anvil. When the man noticed the two come in he casually tossed his hammer onto a bench and walked over.

"Hello sir." Aragorn said warmly. The blacksmith replied with a smile.

"Mae govannen." Elrohir greeted the man with an air of confidence and nobility. Both he and Aragorn knew that the blacksmith most likely did not know a word of elvish. They also knew that elves were usually received by men with respect and hospitality. Knowing that Aragorn kept company with elves would most likely prompt him to be more accommodating.

"May I be of any help to you gentlemen?" The blacksmith asked kindly as he mopped his brow of sweat. The smithy was overwhelmingly hot and it had taken its toll on the elderly man.

"Yes, my companions and I are in need of some boats. Do you know where we might find some?" Aragorn asked and silently prayed for him to at least know where there would be some. Hearing his question, the blacksmith's brow furrowed a bit.

"Not many of us have need of a boat sir, but I may be able to help you. My father had a fondness of fishing, over in the Entwash, he had two small boats. They are quite old my lord, but they could be repaired. Are you going far?"

"To Osgiliath." Aragorn's mood had lightened considerably when learned of the boats the man had.

"I believe I can help you." The man smiled at them both.

"How long will it take to repair the boats sir?" Aragorn asked, for he was anxious to be on his way. The cost was not an issue; he had gold enough with him to buy a fleet of his own. He unfortunately had no fleet at his disposal, only this old man and his pair of rowboats. Once again the man's brow furrowed when asked how long the repairs would take.

"A few days sir, I am sure no more than three." Aragorn's light mood got a little darker. He realized that is that was the quickest the man could produce the boats, it would have to do. Where he and the others would stay was an entire other matter to consider.

"I can only offer you a leaky stable, but you and your friends are welcome to stay there while you wait." The man offered with a hopeful smile, praying that his business would not walk off. Before Aragorn could answer the man's kind offer, Elrohir spoke, startling them both.

"Yes, we thank you. That will more than serve our needs." Elrohir answered kindly, never losing his confident tone of voice and manner.

The two left the smithy and return to their three companions. Told them what had been arranged and then followed the blacksmith to their new home for the coming nights.

The man was right; it was a small, leaky stable. The five were thankful for it regardless though. Arahad had immediately shut himself up in the furthest corner of the stable, to avoid be seen by the blacksmith or his family. He did not know how they would react to his appearance, and he had no desire to risk finding out. The man, they had learned his name was Habor, and his family was very hospitable to their guests. They had nothing else to see or do so the travelers spent their day with their hosts. All except for Arahad, who silently resided in the stable. Habor's three children delighted in following and chattering away to the twins. Having never seen elves before, much less elvish twins, the children were engrossed in them. Elladan and Elrohir were good-hearted abut it and they found it humorous. When Eldarion wasn't watching the children pester the elves or eating whatever delicious meal Habor's wife had prepared for them, he tried to spend some time in the stable with Arahad.

The second night of their stay, when he was sure that Habor and his family were sound asleep, Arahad went outside to breathe in the night air and look at the moon. The evening wind swept over the distant grassland, cooling the earth that had sat and baked in the afternoon's scalding sun. Though men were known to be the people of the sun, Arahad thought that on a whole he had come to prefer the night. He felt like the night made everyone around him blind to his unsightly appearance. He envied the others' smooth, unmarred skin. He envied their blue and brown eyes and silently cursed his midnight black ones.

His thoughts were quickly disrupted when Arahad heard a noise behind him. He spun around, his eyes darting everywhere and then he heard the same noise again a little louder. It was a giggle. He saw that behind him, peering out the window of Habor's house was a small child. His first instinct urged him to run back into the stable but something stayed him. The young girl giggled again as her tiny little fingers and hand waved a timid hello.

Ever after he would never be able to tell what made him walk over to the window rather than run into hiding. Arahad walked slowly over to the small window in the back of their hut and saw the little girl smiling at him. Though he still had the black coat Eldarion had given him, Arahad had taken off the gloves and the cloak. The little girl could plainly see his face and hands, though she kept on smiling and giggling. When Arahad had reached the child's window, he looked at her in amazement. She hadn't flinched or cried for her mother when she saw him.

He now could see the little girl plainly as well. She was no more than 5 or 6 years old. She had long red hair and wore a nightgown that was far too big for her small, little frame. Arahad also noticed that the girl was quite pale and she coughed frequently. Regardless of the coughing, she kept smiling and twiddling her chubby fingers.

"Hello." The little girl whispered to Arahad when he had come closer to the window. A little smile spread over his face when he heard her soft and small voice.

"Hello." Arahad whispered in reply. He watched the little girl hold her rag doll to her chest as she brushed a strand of her fiery red hair from her pale but pretty face.

"What is your name?" The young girl asked in a hushed voice. Though he did not know why, it seemed that every time the girl whispered to him his smile grew a little bit more.

"Arahad." He answered in an equally hushed voice. He hoped that the quietness of his voice would detract from its roughness, so not to scare the child. She did not seem to mind.

"My name is Rhiann, I am 5 years old." As she spoke she raised her left hand and displayed five small fingers. Arahad could not help but let a small laugh slip from his lips. All of this was very new and strange to him. This was the first child he had ever spoken to before; he found it strange but oddly delightful. Suddenly his mind snapped to a vision of all the screaming children he had killed. He shuddered at the thought of it, and as quickly as the vision had overcome him, he managed to bring himself again in time to hear her speak again.

"How old are you?" Arahad smiled at her question, knowing that it would never do to tell her old he really was. She would never understand. He smiled at her as he quietly replied to her question.

"Oh I am very old, almost 11." From her innocent giggle and broadening smile, it seemed that was answer enough for Rhiann. He smiled back at her, but his smile quickly vanished when she began coughing once again. He could tell she was ill and her coughing was getting louder. When her coughing had quieted, he spoke again.

"Why aren't you asleep?" Arahad asked Rhiann with concern in his voice and on his face.

"Can't sleep...Why do you look like that?" There had hardly been time enough to give her a reply before she asked him her second, more somber question. Arahad had a few moments of hesitation and sighed. Once again it was something she would never understand, nor did he want her to. His head dropped slightly and he looked down at his feet. Arahad sighed deeply once more, raised his head and answered her.

"My father made me this way." It was the truth and it was simple enough for his new little friend to understand. Rhiann paused a moment just as he had and thought. It seemed as if that answer that satisfied her curiosity, she didn't ask anymore about it. She simply looked up at him with her luminous blue eyes and smiled her sweet smile once more. Happy that his reply was enough for her, Arahad returned the smile.

They talked for a little while longer. He learned that she was the youngest of Habor's children, and learned the rest of her family's names. He told her the names of the people he as with and that he had no brothers or sisters. At random points in their conversation Rhiann would have sudden fits of coughing, which concerned Arahad more and more. She coughed and coughed and coughed. There seemed to be no comfort for her. When she was able to stop, Arahad looked down and saw that there were a few drops of blood on Rhiann's small rag doll. It took a moment for him to realize that she was coughing up blood.

"Are you alright?" Arahad asked her urgently. She merely nodded and attempted to clear her throat. Then there came a rustling from with the house. Obviously someone had heard the girl coughing and had woken up.

"I have to go now." She said quickly, and then she turned and scurried off to her bed. Though he was sure she could not hear him, Arahad whispered after her.

"Goodbye." Then he also turned and quickly made his way back to the leaky stable he had grown accustom to. He silently moved past Aragorn and Eldarion, who were sleeping and snoring soundly. Arahad did not see Elladan but Elrohir regarded him with curiosity and then returned to fastening arrowheads to his newly cut shafts. Arahad made his way to his corner, laid down in one of the many piles of hay and proceeded to stare up at the thatched roof and wonder about Rhiann.

To be continued...

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