Puppet Strings - Chapter 11
Another thing that none of them had any knowledge of was that in the late hours of the night, Arahad would leave the confines of the stable and quietly make his way to Rhiann's window and they would talk. He did not know why he went out into the night to speak to the little girl. Arahad would mostly listen while Rhiann spoke. They talked of simple things; the girl's family, her toys, her favorite things. Occasionally she would ask him a question and he would think of a suitable answer to give her. At night, when the moon and stars would show themselves, he would sit on the ground by her window and listen to the little girl's sweet voice.
Arahad could not put his finger on why he liked to talk with Rhiann; it had a strange and calming effect on him. Of all the years he was alive and all the places he had been, he slowly came to the realization that underneath that little girl's window was the place he preferred the most. Only one thing disturbed him, each night Rhiann kept showing signs of her illness. Arahad didn't know why but he felt an uncomfortable twist in his chest whenever he heard the girl's strained and painful coughs. He did not like that someone so young was so sick.
On the sixth day of their stay, Eldarion came into the stable to see Arahad sitting in the hay, inspecting the coat he always wore. As Eldarion walked over he casually munched on an apple Habor's wife had given him.
"Good morning." Eldarion greeted as he settled in hay pile opposite of Arahad. He looked up and displayed the garment to the prince.
"I think I tore the sleeve of your coat." As he spoke he flashed an expression of apology over his face. Eldarion leaned over and nodded for he had indeed ripped the sleeve at the hem. He set his half-eaten apple aside and held out his hand for his coat.
"I believe I can repair it, and if I cannot I am sure someone else can." Arahad held the coat in his own blackened hand and his eyes rested on Eldarion's out-stretched one. He hesitated to actually hand the coat to him instead of setting it down for him to pick up. He kept staring at Eldarion's hand as he slowly leaned forward, bringing the collar of the coat within the prince's grasp. After thinking a moment, Eldarion reached forward and took a hold of the rough leather.
To anyone else, this action would not seem to have any importance whatsoever. To Arahad it had its own significance. Both his and Eldarion's hands were linked together by the leather of that coat; it was the closest they would ever come to a handshake or any kind of contact. Then Arahad let go and the moment was gone. He did not wish to hold it for the sake of safety. Eldarion took it, laid it in his lap and resumed eating his apple.
"Do you know the little girl Rhiann?" Arahad asked, not meaning to sound abrupt but his curiosity was poking at him.
"Yes, she is the youngest of Habor's children." Eldarion answered calmly, not looking up from inspecting the sleeve. Arahad hesitated before he spoke again, wondering if he should even ask his next question, wondering if he even wanted to know the answer.
"What is the matter with her?" Arahad inquired in a hushed voice. After hearing this, Eldarion looked up and looked solemnly at him. After a moment of awkward silence he answered.
"She is very sick. Even worse today, I think she is dying." When he had finished, he once again dropped his head and his gaze once again rested in his lap. Arahad sadly nodded, deep down he knew something was very wrong with her. He felt that familiar twist in his chest once again when he thought that Rhiann would not live to see six years old.
That afternoon it began to storm heavily. Even though the thunder echoed loudly over the grassland of Rohan, Arahad could still hear Rhiann's violent coughing from the stable. He sat in the leaky stable thinking, until mid-evening, and then he was moved to leave it. He grabbed the long blue cloak, put it on quickly and threw the hood over his bowed head. He left his shelter from the rain and strode confidently to the house. The other four were inside, finishing the dinner that had been prepared for them. Aragorn was scrapping the last bit of food from his plate when he heard the door open and felt the wind bringing the rain in. He recognized the figure in the doorway as Arahad, and began to feel awkward and nervous when Habor looked up as well.
Arahad walked in and quietly closed the door behind him, shutting out the violent storm. He then turned and stood against the door, peering at the other inhabitants of the room from beneath his hood and the dark fringe of his hair. Habor rose from his sit at the table and looked at the stranger alarmed. He glanced back at his guests and then at the stranger by the door.
"Would this be your friend who is ill?" Habor asked them nervously. The man's off-putting presence was definitely having its effects on Habor.
"Yes, he is the one traveling with us. Do not be afraid, he will not harm you." Elladan declared after a moment. Their secrecy was gone, so there was no point in deceiving the man any further. With that Elladan raised his hand and gracefully motioned for Arahad to come closer. He moved to do so but stopped when he heard a familiar coughing. Arahad walked cautiously around the table to the rear of the room, where a thread-bare curtain hung. He gently pulled back the curtain to find a pale and sickly looking girl being attended to by her mother. Habor's wife looked up while she wiped Rhiann's face with a rag soaked with cool water. Arahad saw that the woman had been crying. Her eyes were red and puffy and her cheeks were stained with tears.
He stepped forward and looked down at Rhiann. She now was coughing constantly; her nightgown and sheet had traces of blood on them. Her skin looked pale and clammy. She also had been crying, no doubt from the pain. Without breaking his gaze from Rhiann, he spoke softly.
"She is dying." Arahad whispered. It had not been a question; he was stating a fact which Habor's wife knew to be painfully true. In that instant Habor rushed over to his wife's side, placing his hands on her shoulders. He had heard Arahad's comment and it had caused a well of protectiveness to spring up inside him.
"How do you know?" Habor sneered at the now unwelcome guest. His daughter's extreme illness added to the disturbing nature of the man before him was too much for the poor man to handle. In response to Habor's unfriendly question, Arahad slowly drew back his hood, revealing his formidable appearance.
"Because I am death." The words he uttered might have been taken as a threat any other time but the aching sadness in his voice and on his face showed them it was not a threat, merely a confession. After the initial shock of his words and of his appearance, Rhiann's parents looked at Arahad with confusion. Then Aragorn came to Habor's side, gently placed his hand on his shoulder and ushered the father away from the young girl's bed. He went with little resistance.
"She is suffering." He whispered, this time mostly to himself.
Arahad took another step towards Habor's wife and looked into her fear-filled eyes. He heard her thoughts as plainly as if she had spoken them aloud. She was afraid for herself, but most of all for her child. She knew her baby was dying and it was causing her pain like she had never felt. Arahad spoke to her, so that only her mind would hear. He told her of the late nights he spent with Rhiann. Of the two of them discussing which flowers were prettiest and why apples were her favorite food. Then suddenly everything was made clear for the woman, and she gave Arahad a small nod as silent tears began rolling down her cheeks.
Everyone in the room watched as Arahad walked over to Rhiann's bedside and shed his long cloak. The cancerous black was now in full view, but no one made a move to restrain him. He sat down on the side of the bed as Rhiann opened her eyes and coughed.
"Hello Arahad." Rhiann whispered hoarsely as she attempted to give him a smile.
"Hello Rhiann." He whispered to her, giving the same attempt for a smile. The small smile he could offer her was gone when she began coughing so violently he thought it would rip her in two. When it had passed she looked up and met Arahad's dark but soft gaze with tears in her eyes.
"I wish it would go away, it hurts so much." Rhiann spoke in a small, painful voice as tiny tears streamed down her cheeks. Arahad swallowed uncomfortably at the sight of this.
"Shhh...It will, I promise...Now close your eyes." Arahad managed to whisper. That twist he kept filling had now begun to clench at his heart.
Still holding her precious doll, Rhiann did what she was told. The intense clenching became stronger when Arahad hesitantly raised his right fist, unclenched it and slowly brought his hand to hover over the young girl's chest. He squeezed his eyes tightly*** as he summoned up all the strength he had. He would not touch her, he refused to do that to her. He desperately sought for the power and control within himself to do this. He was searching for something that he hoped was in him, that he could use to help the poor girl lying beside him...Mercy and release.
"It burns." Rhiann whispered, eyes still closed as Arahad's hand shook and hovered mere inches above her. Her voice was unstrained though. She remained calm and in no way resisted what she was feeling. The trust in child showed to Arahad made him shake all the more violently with emotion.
"I know...it will stop soon Rhiann." Arahad's rough voice quivered with emotion as a single black tear welled up and slowly rolled down his cheek. His whole body now shook with the overwhelming emotion he felt.
He remained there for a moment until he heard the little girl's shallow and struggling breathing fade and stop. Then he clenched his hand to a fist once again and drew it away from her. He sighed deeply, his dark and moist eyes wandering over the peaceful child that lay before him. If he was aware of the people staring in awe at him, he did not pay any heed to them. Rhiann's pale, little body was the only thing that held his attention.
Arahad's deadly touch could no longer pose a threat to Rhiann, as there was no life that remained in her. His strong, black hand dwarfed her pale form as he gently ran his hand over her cheek. Then with a quickness that startled all of them, he stood and quickly made his way to the door. He swung it open with much force and walked out. A few moments later Elrohir jumped up and walked out the door as well, into the raging storm. I went around the house to the rear and then stopped in his tracks. He saw Arahad sitting with his back leaning against the outside wall of the stable, with his face in his hands. Though the thunder cracked loudly above him, Elrohir's keen elvish ears could hear the unrestrained sobbing of Arahad.
Inside, it took a while for everyone to gather their wits enough to speak. Habor looked over to his other guests with a look of shock and sadness.
"What did that man just do?" He asked chokingly. No one uttered a sound until Eldarion cleared his throat and answered him softly.
"He took what mercy he could find within himself and ended your daughter's suffering."
To be continued...