Puppet Strings - Chapter 9

They had traveled south over a great stretch of Eriador, and the group now drew near to Duneland, at the feet of the Misty Mountains. Here is where they would find this seer that they sought. Few folk knew of this mysterious woman and only in shadowy, secret places did they speak of her. Having visited these places, the travelers now had some idea on how to find the seer. Elladan and Elrohir had taken all the directions and instructions they could find and the travelers were now searching the side of the mountain side for specific markings.

"This seems oddly familiar." Aragorn grumbled. Eldarion smirked at this, having been told the tale of when the Fellowship spent hours looking for the doors into Moria. With that comment Elladan and Elrohir burst into laughter.

"Remember Aragorn, speak friend and enter!" Elrohir laughed heartily. Elladan was no longer trying to disguise his laughter as he leaned back against the base of the mountains. As the elven brothers were consumed by their glee, Eldarion attempted to elaborate to Arahad why they were laughing.

Aragorn turned and gave them each a sarcastic smile. "You are so very humorous, tell me why it is my misfortunes you find so delightful?" His query only stirred more laughter from the twins, as Eldarion and Arahad also began to giggle. It was not until Elladan began shouting about a Watcher in the water, even though there was no water in sight, that Aragorn threw his bag to the ground and his hands in the air as a sign of defeat.

"I surrender, I give up! Eru take me, take me now!" At this, Eldarion had now been weeping tears of laughter and Elrohir had collapsed onto the damp ground. Never did either one of the elvish twins display such a lack of elegance or control, this obviously being an exception. Aragorn waited until the laughter at his expense died down and when the four had regained their self-control, they continued their walk. They searched for what only was described as old Mannish characters. They did not walk long until they came up a strange sight. Two rows of boulders lay next to one another, almost making a walk-way up to the mountain side. When they reached the first boulder of the first row, they slowed to a stop. Aragorn walked cautiously up to the rock and placed his hand on it. His hand carefully traced the engraved symbols on it. Almost the entire boulder was covered in the deep marks.

"This must be it." Aragorn said as he turned his head and glanced at his companions. Eldarion handed his reins to Elladan and walked up to where is father stood. He too let his hand gently glide over the symbols written into the stone. His eyes drifted over the ancient characters and his gaze rested on one larger than the others. Eldarion turned and motioned for Arahad to come over. He did hesitantly, making sure not to touch anything.

"Can you read these, Arahad?" Eldarion asked curiously. Without inspecting the runes further he shook his head quickly. He raised his hand and touched the face of the boulder lightly.

"I can't read anything." Arahad said, looking up at the mountains. His voice had the slightest hint of disappointment in it. After a moment he spoke again, having disguised his disappointment. "I do think this is what you are looking for though."

Elrohir had also walked over and carefully poured over all the symbols. After a few moments of silence, he pointed to the largest of all the runes and declared its meaning.

"I believe this one means The All-Seeing One. And if I am not mistaken that is what we are in search of. After you..." As he spoke he motioned to Aragorn to lead them. Hearing this, Aragorn took a deep breath and slowly stepped around the boulder and down the stone-encased path. After the horses had been tied to the branch of a nearby tree, the others followed closely behind.

At the end of the path they tread was an opening in the mountain side, a doorway. They moved along silently, the only sounds that could be heard was the gravel grinding beneath their feet and birds gliding in the air above them. Aragorn went first, followed by Eldarion and then the elves. Arahad walked last, staying alert and careful. They entered into a small, narrow passage. Though it was dark and the small torch Aragorn had lit offered little illumination, they could see the same runes etched on the walls of the cave, from floor to ceiling. The subtle sound of bats stirring could be heard above them, other than that there was nothing but dead silence.

They walked for some time, none of them daring to speak out loud. Soon they saw another opening before them, seemingly leading to a larger chamber of the cave. Aragorn glanced back to Elladan, who then motioned for him to continue. Then a sound came echoing from the chamber before them down through the passage they walked. All five of them froze mid-step, and ceased to breathe. The bats above their heads rustled at the sound as well. It then came again.

"Come in." An old and cracked voice spoke to them though they had not made a sound. Aragorn strained to see into the cave ahead of them without moving, and then began to inch closer and peered inside. The light of the torch was cast into the cavernous chamber and against the far wall was seated a dark, hooded form. It never moved, one who was not paying attention might think it was merely another rock, but it was not so. Aragorn kept inching closer and closer until his full person was inside the cave and the others were huddled closely behind. All except Arahad who kept at a safe distance while straining to see into the cave.

"Come, come gentlemen. My patience is dwindling." The voice was unmistakably female. It was worn from age though it still had a spark of life left in it. At the elderly woman's behest, all the others nervously entered. They all looked around at their surroundings, all they saw was black. Though elvish eyes are sharp and keen, Elladan and Elrohir still could not make out anything. It was as if a spell of darkness lay thick in the cave around them. They were soon distracted from the darkness when the woman spoke again.

"I...see...you." The woman said in a hauntingly teasing manner. Her words sent fear streaking down each of their spines. Eldarion wished to hear no more if this were the words she would speak. Every part of him told him to turn and run from the cave, he did not though. Then she continued.

"So you have come with questions, and you believe I have the answers. It may be, have you means to pay the price?" As she spoke the dark form moved and quite clumsily stood up. She was short, and her bent back only accentuated to the lack of height. With her arm outstretched, she slowly began to hobble closer to them. When she came closer, the light of the torch revealed that she had no eyes. The gruesome sight and the fact that she had claimed to see them caused a small cry to rise from Aragorn's throat. After swallowing his fear down and a few deep breaths, he managed to speak.

"Wh-What price do you speak of my lady?"

"The price is different for all who come looking for the seer, Elessar. Some say they cannot pay the price I name so instead they pay with their lives." She walked slowly as she spoke, and then stopped a little ways in front of Aragorn.

"You know me?" Aragorn asked chokingly.

"Oh yes. King of Men say the stones. Husband of the Evening Star say the spiders. Protector of hobbits and hero of all Arda say the darkness. Yes, I know you Aragorn."

The elven twins shared one thought running through both their minds. "I want out of this cave." Eldarion also found himself terrified of the old woman standing before them. Arahad knew he had nothing to fear, she could not harm him. He still felt a twitch of nervousness regardless. Though all the others' eyes could not penetrate the off-putting darkness, Arahad's could see well enough to see what was scattered all over the floor of the cold, wet cave. Rusted weapons, rags, and bones. He was glad the rest could not see what he did.

"You have brought him. He is the question you come asking." The old woman sneered at them. She pointed a thin, withered finger at Arahad and motioned for him to come closer. He hesitated at first but then strode towards her confidently.

"What can you tell us about him?" Elladan asked cautiously. The old woman drew closer to Arahad, but still kept a healthy distance.

"The water says you are the one. Hands of death he is." She then leaned closer and whispered so that only he could hear. "Feeling that which is foreign, yes?"

"Yes." He whispered in return. She brought her hands up from her sides and clasped them together in front of her. The old woman then went on whispering to Arahad.

"You see the visions, hear the voices and feel the pain coursing through like rivers. He is tightening his grasp on you, waiting until you are ripe. The attacks will continue until they drive you mad. Then nothing on this earth can stop you." Arahad sighed deeply for he knew that what this insane old woman spoke of was not insanity. It was all true. She then leaned back and spoke louder for all to hear.

"It is the one who cannot be seen who stretches these hands, stretches until they are nimble and strong."

"Morgoth." Arahad whispered to them. He knew her meaning even if they did not. Elrohir nodded, it was what he had secretly expected though he had wished it were not true. Aragorn lowered his eyes to the floor and sighed, somehow he knew that what she said was true.

"Can anything be done?" Eldarion asked and broke the heavy silence. He had taken the flickering torch from Aragorn's hand and held it out before him to better see the old woman. During the silence that had followed their realization, she had struggled to bend down and had picked up a spider that she now let it crawl in her hands. Without letting her attention stray from the spider she played with, she answered Eldarion.

"Done? What can be done is what will be, you cannot stop his ascension. You can merely take him to Gondor and wait. We are excited to see what happens, aren't we?" The woman said to the spider as she stroked its back. There once again was silence after she spoke. Arahad had walked back and regained his place in the back of the group. Aragorn retrieved the torch from Eldarion and then struggled to speak.

"I thank you for your wisdom. Now what be the price of your aid my lady?" He was afraid to ask, he had not the slightest idea what she would demand. The old woman set her spider back down upon the cold stone floor and thought a moment. She then gave her answer.

"I am hungry; the price I set on you is food." Aragorn sighed with great relief; this was a price he could easily pay. The instant the words left her lips, Elladan was in his bag searching for his store of lembas. As he rifled through his belongings he spoke to her politely.

Is lembas to your liking my lady? Elvish way-bread, it is sure to satisfy your hunger." Having found it he dropped his pack on the floor and handed her his entire store of lembas.

"And water." She said as she took the way-bread from Elladan. They then looked to see whose water pouch was the fullest. Eldarion handed his heavy supply of water to the old woman. When she felt how heavy the pouch was she smiled and declared.

"Good, you may go." There was no need to tell the five of them twice, they gathered what was theirs, turned and hurried out. When Arahad was about to exit the cave and enter the small passage that they had come in through, the old woman shouted to him.

"Remember that the scourge can be the savior."

Arahad paused for an instant to take in the woman's call; he then quickly followed the rest of his companions through the small passage and out into the open. There he found Eldarion sitting on the ground, Aragorn leaning against a boulder and the twins standing side by side in front of them. The five stood in ominous silence as it once again began to rain. They stood unflinching as the rain fell down upon them, contemplating what the seer had told them. The crushing stillness was then broken when Elladan made a declaration.

"Thank Iluvatar, we're not toads."


To be continued...



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