Puppet Strings - Chapter 2

It was a more than a half-day's ride to the decaying fortress. It would have not taken such a long time to reach their destination had they ridden faster, but the truth was that none of the travelers wanted to get there any quicker then they were already going. It had mostly been open grasslands all day, though now they were entering a dense forest. If there had been a forest path years before, there were no signs of such a path now and it forced them to dismount and led their horses through. It had become overgrown and the four companions had now resorted to unsheathing their hunting knives and hacking away and the branches and thorns before them.

They were no more than a few miles away from Angband and with each footstep forward the two men and two elves became more and more cautious. The four were led by Elrohir and his brother Elladan brought up the rear. Eldarion was second and directly behind him was Aragorn. The only sound among them was the sound of branches being cut and brushed out of the way.

From the corner of his eye, Elladan caught sight of something moving from tree to tree to his right. "Stop!" The men in front of him froze in an instant and their eyes searched the forest around them frantically. Swiftly and silently, Elladan handed the reins of his horse to Aragorn and carefully moved between the trees. He moved only as an elf could move, his feet only lightly touching the ground beneath him. His grace did not diminish as he crouched low and moved stealthily.

He had not left the sight of the other three when he froze mid-step. He was staring at something, and Elrohir could quickly see that something was staring back at his brother. Elladan began to back away, slowly at first but then he began to move more quickly. When he had reached the group Aragorn could see a look of fear and bewilderment on the face of his friend. Elladan feared nothing, but the expression of the elf suggested otherwise.

As the elf had backed away from the dense trees and thorns, a dark creature emerged from them. It was nothing none of them had seen before in their lives. The elven twins, who had lived thousands of years and seen many things, looked just as confused as the young son of the king, who had seen far less in his 20 years. As the creature drew closer, Eldarion gasped as he realized that what had crept from the dark forest before him was no animal or orc. It was a man.

The man had a black, ragged, shroud-like cloth tied about his waist and reached down to his ankles. There were similar strips of thread bare cloth tied to his arms and wrapped around his right palm. The man's hair had been burnt, it was jagged and black. Although if one looked closely it could be seen that originally his hair had been blonde. The hair near his scalp still held some of the fairness. By far the most ghastly thing was the man's skin; it looked as if pieces of it had been ripped off and underneath was only black. This black skin covered most of the right side of his face and more patches of it covered his back, shoulders, arms, chest and stomach. And his eyes, his eyes were completely black, like that of an animal or a doll. What skin that was not covered in the black obscenity was pale as a corpse.

The man struggled forward until he collapsed to the ground. Eldarion knew not what thought entered his head when he rushed over to the man on the ground. Perhaps it was out of pity or out of the realization that what was before him was a mortal man like himself. Aragorn dropped the reins of the horse and shouted, "Eldarion, no!!!" It was too late, his son already stood next to the crumpled form among the broken branches. As he went to kneel, the man on the ground struggled to speak. Finally, before Eldarion reached out to touch him, the man wearily cried out with all the strength he possessed, "Don't touch me!"

After the man had fainted the others rushed over to Eldarion and Aragorn grasped his son and pulled him away. Eldarion then turned quickly to face Aragorn and then glanced at Elladan and Elrohir. "What...Who is he?" Aragorn began to walk away, grasping his son's arm and pulling him along with him. Aragorn could not draw his eyes away from the man lying before them. Elrohir began cutting away the brush that surrounded the man while Elladan followed Aragorn and Eldarion back to where their horses stood. Aragorn glanced up at Elrohir and called to him, "What are you doing Elrohir?" As if to answer for his brother, who was still busily cutting, Elladan replied, "We cannot leave this...this man here."

Aragorn looked questioningly at Elladan as he firmly placed his hand on the elf's arm. "I am not certain we should stay." He then glanced back at his son with worry in his eyes. It all seemed too strange; he did not trust that this situation would not place Eldarion's life in jeopardy. Had he not been with him, Aragorn would be more willing to stay and discover all there was to know about this stranger. Knowing what plagued Aragorn's thoughts, Elladan spoke softly to him. "Your son is no longer a boy my friend, he is a man. And what safer hands could he be in than mine and Elrohir's?" He then smirked as Aragorn loosened his grip on Elladan's arm.

"We allowed you to accompany us on journey after dangerous journey, and it made you who you are today. Your son will prove himself just as you did years ago."
Aragorn removed his hand from Elladan and sighed a breath of relief, "I suppose you are right my friend." As Elladan unloaded his saddle bag and began to retrieve his brother's, he laughed and replied, "I always am."

Eldarion had wandered back to Elrohir and began helping him clear away the wood from the unconscious stranger. After tying up the four horses, the other two soon joined them. Aragorn then dropped the bag he had taken from his horse and knelt to touch the man. Eldarion quickly grabbed his father's hand and jerked it back. "He said not to touch him." Aragorn looked up at his son and then back to the man. Elrohir then sat down lightly next the man and sighed, "I suppose we shall wait until he..." He did not have the opportunity to finish for he was interrupted by a loud gasp. The man's eye lids flew open to reveal only the glassy onyx eyes beneath.

"Don't touch me," he muttered again. He then struggled up sit up and he began to look around at the faces staring at him. Neither man nor elf knew what to say, so they simply continued to stare at the man before them. After a few moments he began to laugh, a quiet, low laugh but a laugh none the less. A look of confusion appeared on the four faces surrounding him.

Aragorn was the first to speak, after a moment he managed to choke out, "Where did you come from?" As answer to Aragorn's query, the man weakly raised his left arm. He was pointing in the direction the four had been traveling, he was pointing north...to Angband. Then in a low, gravel-filled voice he said, "My home."


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