Puppet Strings - Chapter 19

The next day's sun came ever closer to the horizon and Arahad had yet to retire to his room, still he walked through the lonely halls by himself. It was close and he knew it, knew and was powerless to stop it. As the sunrise drew nearer he could also feel the day's promise of danger close in as well. He spoke to no one about it though; he continued to wander without a destination. His arms were folded across him and his head was dropped, dropped so that his chin was nestled against his chest. The thought had crossed his mind several times to just leave, not to wait for an answer from Aragorn and his counsel. Arahad never acted on this impulse though.

There had been silence for hours until he heard sound of footsteps in the next room. Whoever it was they moved along stealthily, hoping not to draw any attention to themselves. Unfortunately for them Arahad's hearing had become more and more keen with each passing day, as had his eye sight. Arahad did not raise his head when he heard the door creek open and the footsteps moved across the floor. He did not look up but something told him that whoever was in the room with him did not belong there. Obviously they had not noticed Arahad lurking in the shadows; they hastily passed across the floor and exited through the door on the opposite side of the room.

Purely on impulse and suspicion, Arahad followed them quietly. It was a group, five men clad in brown. They were moving speedily in the direction of the throne room. Arahad remembered Eldarion mentioning something about early that morning everyone would be in the throne room, Arahad did not remember why. He didn't care; all he cared was that the strangers were going to the very same room.

The five reached the doors to the throne room with Arahad closely behind them. They were still totally oblivious to his presence. They pushed the doors open and Arahad saw that there were quite a few people milling around. There was the royal family, some servants and members of the court. The five men slipped in quietly and were unnoticed, as was Arahad. He looked around the room and saw there were a great deal more men in brown, wandering discreetly through the mass of people. A moment before they were to spread out, Arahad strode forward.

"Southrons, am I right?" Arahad said in a strong, loud voice. It echoed through the room as all of its occupants turned. Everyone's attention was on him, including the intruders'. He moved forward slowly but with confidence, all the while the brown-clad strangers backed away. As they did so, Arahad continued.

"For days I have heard whispering of a group of Southrons lurking about in Minas Tirith, what would be the motive for something like that?" Arahad's manner was calm but his eyes were piercing. Though he looked casual, he was aware of every Southron presence in the room. He stood waiting for someone to say something to him, and finally Arahad heard a voice from the other side of the throne room.

"The motive is to slaughter this Dunedain piece of scum and his lowly offspring. Whatever you are, it does not concern you. But you have courage; therefore if you leave you will not share in their fate." Arahad's head turned to the source of the voice. One man among the rest stood in the center, hood thrown back and a dagger in his hand. The Southron's demeanor was fearless, but when he had first set eyes on Arahad he was filled with dread, and it was so thick that Arahad could almost smell it.

"I assure you, it does concern me greatly. Leave and all of you may not die."

The Southron leader did not hear him though, his eyes had found Aragorn's daughters and he had moved over to them. He had reached Gilraen, and while the others held Aragorn and the guards at bay, the Southron let the blade of his dagger gently glide across her cheek.

"I am sure we can find other uses for you before you die." The man whispered nastily to the girls. Silent tears began to roll down Gilraen's cheeks as she shuddered.

The sight of the exchange sent wave after wave of anger breaking over him. Arahad just stood there, fists clenched and his breath ragged. Suddenly he felt pain throb in his chest, and then spread to his limbs and his head.

"It is too soon..." Arahad whispered to himself. Perhaps it was too soon, but stating so would do no good now. Arahad looked down and saw his hands trembling and then his entire arm. It was becoming so hard to breathe, Arahad was now gasping violently for air. His eyes frantically looked around him, at the many faces staring at him. Arahad didn't know what he was looking for; no one could help him now. Suddenly, like someone had pushed him, Arahad collapsed face down onto the floor. He was thrashing against some unseen force that held him to the floor.

Everyone, even the Southron assassins, was stunned by the display. What they were witnessing was unreal; it truly did seem as if some invisible force was holding him down on the floor. Arahad felt like he was being crushed, crushed by what seemed to be absolutely nothing at all. When the pain had become more than unbearable, Arahad's grunts slowly rose to a scream. The scream was piercing, it sent shivers down everyone's back. Then the blood-curdling scream morphed into a deafening roar. Eldarion had been standing quietly in the corner, afraid to move. What he heard could only be compared to that night in the forest, the night with the trolls. The prince had been watching the scene unfold him, and he was filled with fear at what he saw. This was different than any other instance, it was worse. Arahad was fighting with every fiber of his being but it was painfully obvious it was doing no good.

The roar that vibrated in Arahad's chest came to an abrupt halt. Now there was only silence that was juts as deafening. The echo of Arahad's screams still moved through the room. After a moment of stillness, Arahad pushed himself up off the cold floor with a remarkable amount of ease. Eldarion knew the moment he moved that something was different, he had recovered so quickly. Before anyone could speak, Arahad moved with such speed and agility, to the nearest Southron intruder. Eldarion gasped as Arahad latched onto the man's throat and lifted him off the ground.

It took only seconds for the Southron to be consumed, and then there was nothing. Arahad then dusted his hands off and turned to face the Southron leader, who watched the entire thing stunned. Eldarion peered through the crowd and was terrified of what he saw. Arahad slowly, confidently walked towards the man beside Gilraen. He stopped a few feet short of the man, took a deep breath and gave a satisfied sigh.

"It has been many years since I participated in a slaughter; I once was quite good at it." Arahad smiled sadistically. The man before him was frozen in fear, as well were most everyone else in the room. Arahad spoke cheerfully with an expression his face that was with any pity or remorse. Then he leaned in closer to the man and whispered in his ear, who was still too frightened to move.

"Do you think I will remember how?" Arahad whispered to the Southron condescendingly. The man's breath caught in his throat before he could utter a word. A look of pure terror glazed in his eyes as he looked down and saw Arahad's palm placed firmly to the center of his now burning chest. As the leader of the Southrons slumped to the floor and continued to burn, the smell of burnt flesh filtered through the air as Arahad looked indifferently to each man, woman and child around the room.

"All of you are going to die, so please do not run. It is useless and will only make it more painfully. Of course if you insist I would not object." He declared cruelly to the many inhabitants of the large room. Many had begun to cry and some had begun to move towards to the doors. None of them were prepared for the inhuman speed at which he began moving through the crowd.

The screaming and panic filled the ears of all who were present. People were running desperately in every direction they could manage. In some instances Arahad would merely touch them on the face or the shoulder and it would bring about the same result as when he threw them against the hard, stone wall or when they met fiercely with the back of Arahad hand. There was no stopping him. In the very beginning many of the Southrons and some of the king's guards were foolish enough to attack him. They could not be blamed though, it was instinct and it seemed a better alternative to merely standing and waiting for their death.

What few royal guards that remained were loyally standing guard around Aragorn and his family. It took great restraint for Aragorn to stay with his family not go and attempt to protect them and the members of his court. Arwen had her daughter huddled behind her while Eldarion stood beside his father. Both he and his father were as frightened as any of the others, they refused to let it be known though. They simply stood protectively between their family and the massacre before them. Both Eldarion and Aragorn knew in the recesses of their mind that once Arahad came this way there was nothing they could do to stop them.

Aragorn looked over to his son that stood beside him, he stood tall and strong in the face of the atrocities that were before him. He watched his son and felt a small swell of pride wash over him. Eldarion remained brave when inside he knew that this, if ever there was such a time, was time to panic. Eldarion did not notice Aragorn looking at him; he could only look at the horror around him. This horror was caused by a man that he considered to be his friend. All that changed now, this friend was now going to murder him and his family when the time came. And that time would no doubt be coming swiftly.

Half the poor people in the room were gone by now, and all the while Laurelin was deep in thought as she witnessed all their deaths. The commotion was so great that no one noticed that she had risen from behind her mother and had slowly begun to walk forward. She had walked passed Aragorn and Eldarion when the prince saw his sister. He reached out quickly and grasped her arm tightly. He could not fathom what she thought she was doing. With very little effort she slipped her slender arm out of Eldarion's hold without as much as a backward glance in his direction.

Arahad, with very little effort, had just thrown a man to the ground when he noticed Laurelin's form from the corner of his eye. When the man had died he turned to see Laurelin a few feet away from him, standing proudly with a strangely calm expression on her face. He turned to look at her and casually walked towards her, knocking down and killing anyone who was in his path. Laurelin saw his approach and did not move. No one moved to pull her back because the shock and fear held them where they were.

Arahad stopped a few steps in front of Laurelin, no more than an arm's length away. Still she stayed still, though her eyes were focused on her feet. She was brave, but not so brave as to look Arahad in his dreadfully cruel eyes. Her bravery was all external though, inside she was just as afraid any of the others. Arahad watched her, all the while with an interested smile on his face. One eyebrow rose curiously as he cocked his head to the side. Some unknown force, perhaps from Arahad, drew Laurelin's eyes up from the floor and she was forced to look into his. With an amused look and an equally amused tone of voice he spoke softly to the princess of Gondor that stood before him.

"Aren't we brave?"

To be continued...

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