Puppet Strings - Chapter 4

No one slept that night; instead they remained awake and alert, ready for anything and everything. As the night when on the four travelers gained more courage and inched a little closer to the man laying a few feet away from them. As he had promised, he did not move from his resting place the entire night, only shifting from side to side and occasionally sitting up. They all kept questioning the man but none more so than Eldarion, who was by far the most curious.

The man said when he awoke he could barely move and with a strength that was not his own, he dug himself out of the ruins of Angband. He then began crawling through the forest, his destination unknown.

As the late night inquisition progressed the companions learned the history of the stranger. He said he had once been a mortal, a young man no older than Eldarion, though he never remembered a childhood. Through corruption and black sorcery Morgoth shaped this stolen mortal into a monster. He plagued all of Middle-earth and occasionally the Undying Lands. No being was safe from him and no opposition went unconquered. Elladan explained to Eldarion that he was called the Black Hand because by the merest touch of his hand you would be consumed in a black fire and would pass into a gruesome and painful death.

"That is why you said not to touch you." Eldarion said softly. The man managed a small nod and once again closed his eyes. "Yes, it would have burned and destroyed your soul from within you." Hearing the conversation between his son and the one known as the Black Hand, Aragorn felt his senses numbing. What if he had touched him, if the man had said nothing? He would have seen his son writhe in agony and his ashes scattered by the wind. As he thought about what could have happened, he could feel his eyes well up with tears. He had almost lost his son, his precious, precious child.

As if hearing what Eldarion's father was thinking, the man then said softly, "But I did not touch you and nor would I have you touch me." Aragorn coughed as he whipped the tears from his eyes. "Why? Why did you warn my son?" When he heard the concerned father's question, the man rolled onto his side facing away from the fire and the people in front of him.

"Answer me!" shouted Aragorn. Without moving, the man spoke loud enough for Aragorn to hear him. "I am interested in neither yours nor your son's death." After a tense moment of hesitation he continued by saying, "Just my own."

He would not speak anymore that night; he just lay silent and still. Eventually the others began to relax and become less tense. Both Aragorn and Eldarion fell asleep, in spite of their ever present fear. Elrohir and his brother sat near the fire watching over their sleeping friends, keeping sentinel over their other fireside "companion." In the morning, a little while after sunrise, Eldarion was gently awakened by Elladan. "Wake up my friend, you have slept long enough." He rubbed his sleep-filled eyes and sat up tiredly. When he looked around he noticed that Elrohir and his father were gone. The stranger was sitting, his position unmoved from last night.

"Where are they? Where did they go?" Eldarion asked Elladan could hear just the smallest hint of panic in the young man's voice. Elladan was sitting not far away from him, stringing his bow. Without looking up from his task, he answered calmly, "They went to survey the road we will be traveling today, were are going back, your father decided this morning that Arnor can wait until...this is resolved." As he spoke he gracefully waved his arm towards the man sitting a few feet away from him.

Eldarion nodded and then looked over to the ashen creature before him. He leaned closer to his elvish friend and murmured, "Does he have a name, I mean other than the Black Hand?" Elladan glanced up from his bow with a somewhat confused look on his fair face. Seeing that his friend had no answer to his query, he turned and crept closer to the man, he moved no further than the space of a footstep. "What are you called? What is your name?"

He did not have a chance to answer when he heard Aragorn and Elrohir talking loudly when they returned. "Eldarion, have you packed all your things?" Aragorn asked sternly. He nodded to his father as quickly finished doing so. Aragorn then walked forward to the man seated on the ground and spoke in a loud, firm voice, "Stand up, you are going to come with us." Aragorn looked down into a pair of midnight eyes and a blank, expressionless face. As he struggled to stand, the man choked out wearily, "I see that it is much too great a request to ask the king of Gondor for a little bit of civility." Aragorn back up slowly as he walked forward.

"I would know how exactly you know who I am." In hearing this, the man let out a small tired laugh and replied, "You know who you are, do you not?" Seeing that that was not enough of an answer to satisfy the king he continued, "I can hear what is in your mind just as clearly as if you were screaming it in my ear." As he spoke, Aragorn felt the man's dark gaze pass through him and it left him feeling quite unnerved.

The five walked down the forest road at a slow and steady pace. No one spoke. They all were walking and those with horses led them behind them. They all stayed at least an arm's length away from the strange man, with their weapon easily within reach. Not that their weapons would save them if anything should happen. Nothing happened though, they just walked. The man walked with a tired limp, as if he had been walking all day long. His blackened feet occasionally stumbling out from beneath him. The one who dared to venture closest to him was Eldarion. He knew that he should be afraid and weary of this man beside him but mostly he felt only curiosity.

Finally, after walking some great distance, the stranger spoke soft enough for only Eldarion to hear. "I do not have a name." After a few moments of silence the young prince gave him a sidelong glance and replied, "I suppose you should be called something." The man turned and looked at Eldarion. The cold cruel look of his black eyes should have frightened Eldarion, and it did but he curiously felt it fade away. The man's eyes reverted back to the ground and he remained silent. After almost another half mile of walking, Eldarion cleared his throat and said clearly, "Arahad. I'll call you Arahad." The man's brow furrowed as he looked over at Eldarion. The young man's face remained calm and natural. As the awkward moments past, the man's expression softened slightly and thought about what the boy had said. He then nodded his head and, in a voice that only Eldarion could hear, replied, "Very well...Arahad."

To be continued...

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