Puppet Strings - Chapter 7
They continued their journey to Gondor, and another five days came and went without much eventfulness. Arahad was growing stronger now, walking all day no longer posed as much of a challenge as he had days before. The man's new found strength secretly unnerved Aragorn. He thought that the more strength he gained, the more dangerous he would become, regardless what his companions thought. Aragorn had no trust for this man. What unnerved him more was his son's friendliness to this strange man, and the elven brothers' growing acceptance of him. It all just seemed totally beyond his comprehension.
The horses shared Aragorn's dislike of their new companion; they kept as far away from Arahad as possible. If by chance, he did come too close for comfort, they reared up on their hind legs and whinnied loudly. Obviously, as could be told from the horses' demeanor, Arahad's touch did not only affect humans, it could harm anything living thing.
This day was no different than the five previous ones. They walked at a pace lying somewhere between slow and brisk. Elladan and Elrohir might have been able to run all day without tiring but the other three were not so lucky. They had been walking through forest and meadows most of the morning until they came upon a fork in the path they had been traveling. Elrohir said that they should go right, that it was the quickest route. They all resumed their walk, all except Arahad. His head glanced back and forth from left to right and back again. He then raised his hand and spoke clearly to them.
"I believe we should go the other way." The rest of the group halted and turned when they heard Arahad's statement. Aragorn was the first to answer him, and it was not a pleasant reply.
"And why, pray tell, should we heed your directions instead of Elrohir's? I know not that you even know where you are going much less the way to get there!" When he had listened to Aragorn's curt reply, Arahad casually walked up to him and stopped mere inches away from Aragorn. Aragorn stepped backwards when he saw the man approaching him calmly but swiftly. Arahad looked deeply into Aragorn's eyes, and the king found himself the slightest bit frightened at the cold, unfeeling eyes looking into his.
"My lord Aragorn, I have been alive for a very long time, much longer than you. Your elven friend can attest that with that age comes certain senses. We will go your chosen route if you wish, but I will not be held accountable for what may befall you!" Arahad spoke quietly but there was also anger in his voice. Whenever he spoke like this it frightened his listeners, it was powerful and secretive. The roughness and deepness of his voice only added to its frightening effect.
Without answer to him, Aragorn turned and returned to his walking, once again in the direction he had chosen. After some hesitation Elladan, Elrohir, and Eldarion followed him. Arahad sighed as his eyes closed and his head dropped. A moment later he opened his eyes, regained his posture, and began to follow the rest of the company. He followed them in the direction he had firmly spoken against. He sped up and reclaimed his place walking next to Eldarion. When he had done so, Eldarion leaned over slightly and whispered, "Why did you wish to go the other way, this really is the shorter of the two?"
Arahad thought a moment and then sighed and said, "I don't know, but I do know that shorter is not always better."
They walked for the rest of the day and well into the night. Nothing that slightly resembled danger had reared itself. The sun had set hours before but since the moon was full and particularly bright, they delayed making camp and continued to walk. Suddenly both Elrohir and Elladan stopped mid-step and looked around. They were walking in the back of the pack so no one noticed that they had stopped. Not until Arahad too stopped suddenly and slightly raised his head. When they saw this, both Aragorn and Eldarion slowed to a stop as well. Then there came a loud rustling of the branched surrounding them, and there also came a loud grumbling. Elladan then shouted loudly, "Trolls!!!"
Just as they heard Elladan shouted his warning there came bursting through the trees four large and lumbering trolls. There were two on each side of them, and regardless of their size they came rather quickly towards them. The horse pulled and their reins until they were let go and they quickly ran down the path and soon were out of sight. Aragorn drew his sword, as did Eldarion. Elladan and Elrohir both quickly loosed several arrows from their strong elvish bows. They were to no avail though; the arrows seemed to barely affect the monstrous trolls. One came dangerously close to Eldarion. Though his father had taught him the art of the sword well it did not save him for the troll effortless swatted away the young man's blade and picked him up by the neck. It would take no more than a few moments until Eldarion would no longer be able to breathe and his heart would stop.
There came a deafening, unearthly roar from behind the group of trolls. The four giants as well as their contenders turned to see Arahad standing before them. His head was held high in defiance and in his jet black eyes there seemed to glow a hellish fire. Then, with a remarkable amount of grace, he was poised for attack. With an amazing amount of speed and agility, Arahad rushed at the troll next to Eldarion's captor. He then thrust his arm out in front of him with such force that with the palm of his hand he caused the large creature to collapse and howl in pain. As he fell gracelessly he crashed into the troll holding Eldarion. As a result, and perhaps what Arahad had planned, the troll dropped the young man from his massive hand.
All the rest of them, elves, men and trolls alike, could do nothing but stare at the fury-filled battle in front of them. One could already see the hard, rough skin of the first troll sizzling into ash. As the same began on the second, Arahad's hardened gaze fell on Eldarion's unconscious form. He looked at the body lying on the road and then over to the side of the road some yards away. As if following the eyes of the man, Eldarion's body slid quickly but gently to where Arahad's eyes now rested. Aragorn and his friends had never seen anything like it, and where taken aback. Now they hardly could pay attention to the remaining pair of trolls. There attention soon return to them as Arahad sprinted over to and around them. The black creature's quickness and skill was all to overwhelming for the large beasts. Before they knew what had happened, he had swung a fist and connected to the third troll's back. The troll then fell forward and also howled in agonizing pain. As the troll fell, the man knelt swiftly and caused the fourth and final troll to trip and fall upon his companion.
A smaller, but no less frightening roar came from Arahad's lips as he watched the last of the trolls burn into nothing but ash, and the soft evening breeze blow them away. Aragorn managed to wrestle his attention away from what he had just witnessed to go and attend to his son on the side of the road. He reached for his water pouch slung over his shoulder and as he lifted Eldarion's head he poured some water to the prince's lips. After a few more pours of the cold, clean water, Eldarion coughed and sputtered. Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief as Eldarion's eyes began to open and he gasped for breath.
The elves rushed over to the father and son, and saw that the young man was not harmed. They then looked over and saw that Arahad had walked over too, now somewhat calm and looking with concern upon Eldarion.
"Is he alright?" Arahad asked quietly, leaning forward and being cautious not to touch Aragorn who was still kneeling with his son in his arms. Aragorn looked up at him and was speechless. The four trolls would have surely killed Eldarion and perhaps the rest of them if not for the man that stood before him. The abomination, as Aragorn had once called him, had had the chance to watch the entire group die gruesome deaths. He had done the opposite; the frightful creature had actually saved their lives.
"Yes, he is alright." Aragorn choked out as a few tears sprung from his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. Eldarion attempted to sit up as Aragorn wiped the tears from his face. Aragorn handed his son the rest of the water and then stood up. He turned and faced Arahad, who was still looking at Eldarion with some concern. He took a few deep, soothing breaths and looked Arahad in his eyes.
"You saved him...us. You saved us from those trolls." Aragorn struggled to make such a confession to Arahad, earlier he would not have given him any shred of respect or let Arahad think that he harbored anything but hatred for him. Arahad's gaze shifted from the recovering prince to his father, and much to Aragorn's surprise, his eyes maintained their somewhat gentle look. Arahad nodded his head slightly. Though his voice was still just as rough and intimidating, his words were gentle.
"I am told there is a first time for everything." And it was true, he thought. Never before had he preserved life rather than destroy it. He knew that what they had seen frightened them immensely, and he could understand why. I lost my temper, he laughed to himself. As he listened to their thoughts of fear slowly fade, his own sets of fear set into his mind. He was surprised that he felt so glad that Eldarion was alive. He had never experienced friendship before, and he did not know that what he was feeling was concern for his friend and not wanting his friend to be harmed. It all was strange to him, though one thought he understood perfectly clear. Arahad hoped that that would be the extent of what they would ever see from him, and his fear was that they would see far, far more than that.
To be continued...