Puppet Strings - Chapter 12

The following morning, before any of Habor's family awoke; the five travelers took their leave with the two boats. None of them spoke of the previous night's events, not knowing what to say at all. They simply hauled the boats on their shoulders and walked to the Entwash. They had been gone a few hours when Habor rose from his bed. When he woke he found that they had left him all four horses and more gold than he and his family would ever need.

It was at least half a day's walk to the shores of the Entwash, perhaps more carrying such a burden as the heavy boats on their backs. Gradually as the hours passed, they once again resumed to speaking to each other. Nothing about Rhiann or her family, just whatever topic came upon them. Mostly though, they remained silent through their march. After almost a day's worth of walking, their reached the edges of the river and could finally lay the pair of boats down from their weary shoulders.

It was nearing sunset, but Aragorn decided that they should put to water and paddle a ways through the night. All of their packs went into the boat with Elrohir and Elladan, while the other three took the other boat. Arahad was very nervous to get in the small boat, he had never been in one and water had never appealed to him at all. His body became stiff and rigid when he went to climb into the boat after Aragorn.

"You look like a hobbit getting into a boat." Aragorn snorted, noticing his extreme discomfort. The twins laughed a little as well, having heard the comment. Their soft laughter only confused Arahad more so.

"What exactly is a hobbit?" Arahad asked as he tried to settle himself in the center of the boat.

"They are about half the size of a man, even when they are full grown. They have large, hairy feet and usually curly hair." Eldarion explained, his voice strained while he pushed the boat into the water and jumped in.

"That does not sound like me at all." Arahad said with a confused voice. He turned and gave Eldarion a questioningly look.

"Hobbits don't like boats." Eldarion explained as he picked up his paddle and began to row in sync with his father. Arahad gave him an understanding nod and then turned back around forward.

"Where do hobbits live?" Arahad asked casually while still facing forward, he arm resting on the side of the boat.

"They live to the north, in the Shire. There are others in different places though. My mother has a hobbit attending her at home. Elanor Gamgee."

Arahad listened thoughtfully while he looked at the water, the moon's light glimmering across it. The two boats went along down stream at a fairly quick pace. The moon was full and the light was so bright that it allowed the five companions to travel peacefully all night. They had drifted down the Entwash for a few hours, talking casually but sparingly, when Aragorn, Eldarion, and Arahad's boat began to rock.

Arahad began shaking and thrashing from side to side. The more violent he became the farther Aragorn and Eldarion inched away from him. A little ways off, Elladan and Elrohir paused their paddling and looked on with concern.

"This is not the time for this." Elladan whispered up to his brother who nodded silently in agreement. Suddenly Arahad's wordless screaming was brought to an end when his body jerked and fell to his side. When he fell he tumbled out of the boat and threw Aragorn and Eldarion into the water as well.

When the two recovered from the initial shock, they struggled to swim to shore. Elladan and his brother quickly paddled over to them, making ready to scoop them up into the boat, regardless if the boat could hold them or not. When Eldarion reached water shallow enough for him to stand he looked back to see Arahad. He was no where to be seen. Beneath the water, Arahad had sunk to the bottom like a stone. There, lying on his back, he continued to shake and jerk. Water rushing in his nose and mouth was not the only pain he was feeling. Ever present was the same pain pounding in his head and in his chest. Though it was crippling, Arahad struggled to bring himself up from the bottom of the river, despite the fact he had no idea on how to swim. Regardless, he began kicking his legs weakly, trying to surface himself.

Aragorn and Eldarion had pulled themselves up on the riverbank and the twins had joined them. They all looked out over the water, searching for Arahad, he wasn't there though. Then suddenly his head burst out of the water, his sputtering and gasping for air could be heard all the way over on the bank. He struggled over to the shallow water. When he reached the riverbank, everyone stared as he threw himself down on the ground and continued to cough up water.

"Are you alright?" Elladan asked him quietly, kneeling down beside him. Arahad rolled over and looked up at him as he continued you cough up the contents of his lungs.

"May we camp for tonight?" Arahad croaked as he spit up the murky river water. His shaking arms strained to lift his body up, and after a few attempts he sat up and rested his forearms on his knees, waiting for an answer.

"Yes, we'll camp." Aragorn answered finally, looking down at Arahad who was slowly but surely recovering from this new twist on his familiar episodes. Elladan built a fire while Elrohir unpacked their boat. Then they all went and sat around the warm flames. Elrohir came over and dropped something on Arahad's lap.

"Here, it has been repaired and it's dry." He said as he walked past and then settled lightly on the grass next to his brother. Arahad opened his eyes and looked down to find Eldarion black coat that he had been wearing. It was dry and sewn and he nodded his thanks as he shrugged it over his damp shoulders. He sat silently hunched over the fire drying himself, as did Eldarion and his father. Elrohir and Elladan sat nibbling some lembas and sipping their water.

"Water Eldarion?" Elladan offered the young prince after he handed him a blanket.

"No, thank you. I have had enough for today." Eldarion replied, rubbing his tired eyes. Elladan smirked and nodded.

"Perhaps you should lie down and rest, I believe it would do you good." Elrohir said quietly as he handed another blanket to Aragorn. He then turned to Arahad and offered him a blanket as well, he refused though. Then the three lay down while the other two sat up chatting quietly and keeping watch. Aragorn and Eldarion immediately closed their eyes and quickly fell asleep. Arahad's eyes remained open and he started up into the night sky. He was tired, but at no time during the night could he find peace enough for sleep. His eyes poured over the night sky above him and when he closed his eyes they poured over the darkness there.

Shortly after dawn they gathered their things and left. Arahad was nervous to get back in the boat, though he did not let on so. He gradually relaxed as the boats drifted southwards on the river. They slowly passed hour by hour on the water, until they saw the distant city of Osgiliath at sunset. Elladan and Elrohir paddled their boat up alongside that of Aragorn's and they mutually decided to forgo stopping for the night and to keep rowing for Osgiliath. If they kept going they would reach the city by morning. Arahad did not mind, once they reached Osgiliath he would not have to get back in the boat again.

As Aragorn had said, they came up on the city just before daybreak. As they neared Osgiliath, Arahad had not been able to wrestle his eyes away from it. The more he saw of it, the more impressive he thought it was. When they docked their boats, Arahad put on his gloves, threw the cloak over his coat and got out. Once all of them and their belongings were unloaded, they stood looking around the city.

"I will go inquire about the horses, you should remain unseen." Elladan said to Aragorn. He nodded, knowing as king of Gondor he should stay out of the eyes of the public to make their journey easier. The elf left to see to the horses, the other four walked over to a nearby fountain. The streets were bustling with people; they took very little notice of the four strangers. Eldarion and Arahad sat down on the edge of the fountain while Aragorn and Elrohir stood in front of them.

"Are you anxious to get home Eldarion?" Elrohir asked the prince, with a smile on his face. He replied to the elf's question with a heavy sigh.

"Yes I'll be happy to be home again." Eldarion said, as he pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut. All night he had claimed to have a horrible headache, and it had not seemed to have let up.

In that instant, a group of children playing came running up to the fountain. Laughing and giggling, chasing one another. One child's feet seemed to be getting ahead of him because he began to stumble. He fell forward, colliding with Aragorn. The boy was not hurt, but Eldarion and Elrohir gasped as Aragorn began to fall forward...onto Arahad. Arahad looked up and a surge of panic shot through him. He began frantically backing up, trying desperately to get out of Aragorn's path. Arahad fell into the fountain as Eldarion raised his arms, bracing his father so he would not fall upon Arahad.

It had worked, and Aragorn quickly regained himself. Then he looked down and saw that Arahad, still in cloak and gloves, sat in waist deep water. He looked and brushed the hair out of his face.

"Are you alright?" Arahad inquired to Aragorn. There was definitely exasperation in his voice, though he was genuinely concerned if Aragorn was alright.

"I suppose it would have been obvious by now if I was not." Aragorn answered, still trying to calm himself after that close encounter. Arahad nodded as he picked himself out of the water and climbed out of the fountain. Just then Elladan returned with two horses. He looked over to Arahad with a puzzled look but did not bother to ask why he was soaking wet. He then turned to face the rest of them.

"Since not all of us are able to ride, I just took two to carry our things." Elladan explained. They loaded the steeds with their packs and began walking towards the outskirts of the city. Less than two days walk would bring them to Gondor's capital city and home of the king; Minas Tirith.

To be continued...

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