Quest of the Next Generation-Part 4 - An Elven Alliance and an Unmasked Conspiracy
When Merry and Pippin awoke, they were at the outpost of the Rohirrim. Arias made her conversation with the captain brief, and soon they were on their way to Lorien on a magestic chestnut horse. Starting out was unusually bumpy and Merry was sure he wouldn't sleep, but then the horse picked up some unusual amount of speed with a word from Arias. Merry became dizzy, and, hearing Pippin deep breathing, faded into sleep.
"Meriadoc. Peregrin. We're in Lothlorien." Arias' voice came in a matronly, sweet manner, and the hobbits stirred from their sleep. The lush woods around them were silent and solemn with a beauty that could be found nowhere else on earth. Merry had vivid remembrance of them from the first time he had been there, and the woods had seen no change since that time. The trees were enormous and their leaves were a deep green and their branches twisted in artful, cunning ways to create stairways and bowers near the tops of the trees themselves.
Almost instantly, Arias' horse was taken away and cared for, and Arias and the hobbits were shown through the labyrinth of trees. Presently, Arias was shown to a staircase that led up an immense tree. She left, telling the hobbits:
"I will return. Trust these elves."
As curious as ever, Merry and Pippin watched Arias leave.
Flight after flight, the weary Arias climbed to the throne flet of the king of Lorien. When at last she reached the top, she knelt and bowed her head. The king stepped down but stopped in surprise.
"Arias?" he asked, in her tongue, "Arias of Gondor!"
"Aye, Legolas, my old friend," Arias said, lifting her eyes to see the king Legolas, "it is I."
Legolas held out a hand to her.
"Arise, daughter of Aragorn," Legolas said, "we are friends, there is no need for such solemn. I hear words of your coming that say you bear new of Mordor. Tell me first, how fares your father?"
Arias swallowed and lowered her eyes.
"He is dead, Legolas," she mumbled, "I thought you at least would know as such." Legolas was taken aback, and cocked his head, trying to hold back the grief.
"I had not heard," Legolas answered, "but he was not that stricken with age, was he?"
"No, he was not," Arias said, her eyes glinting with tears.
"How, then, did he die?" Legolas wanted to know. Arias turned and beat her fist against the railing of the flet.
"It should not have happened to a king," she said, her voice beginning to tremble with anger, "It was only a foolish, insignifigant battle against a couple of renegade men from Dunlend. My mother urged him not to join the party of soldiers going to drive them out, but my father felt that it was his duty to show their earnesty to the rebels from the East. And like an idiot my mother agreed to let him go. The party returned from the battle victorious and with only one injury, and that was my father's. He took an arrow to the stomach and died the next day." Arias turned to look at Legolas again, "Eldarion and I hunted everywhere for the rabble that took our father's life, but never found them. A year later I left home with questions about myself that needed answers. I met up with the Mithrandir, became his apprentice, and through Mithrandir's wise words, found my feet in this world. Gandalf has warned me that one day my path would lead me once again to the White City, but I dread going there. It had been difficult to accept my father's death."
"I am sorry," Legolas whispered.
"It is not your fault," Arias answered, then paused, "However, I have with me some old friends of yours that I'm sure you want to see. I can take you to them and tell you the new from Mordor on our way. I do wish to sleep tonight, for I have travelled nearly five days with little rest."
"Five days!?" Legolas echoed, in astonishment, "You should not be on your feet. Elhaldaron, take the lady Arias to an appropriate place to rest." A tall elf stepped forth.
"I will find these comrades of whom you speak." Legolas continued, "You need sleep. I will speak with you tomorrow."
Before Arias could protest, the tall elf gently picked her off her feet and turned to carry her down the staircase. Arias instantly felt her weariness set in-- her legs ached and her head spun. Her eyes began to droop even as she was carried.
Merry and Pippin sat at the bottom of the staircase, taking great dignity in their patience. However, when an elf dressed in silver came down the staircase, niether of the hobbits could contain their joy and shouted most irrevelantly:
"Legolas! I don't believe it!" cried Pippin.
"Good Arda, how old does this make you!" Merry exclaimed. Legolas smiled and embraced his old friends.
"I don't believe it myself, either!" Legolas exclaimed, "Let me look at you. Oh, Meriadoc, and you complain about my age."
"Hobbits take great pride in coming of age," Merry said, stubbonly.
"And so do elves, Master Meriadoc," Legolas smiled, and added, "Peregrin, I'd know you anywhere!" Legolas stood and Pippin shot Merry a smug look and smiled contently. Neither one of them enjoyed aging.
"Come, my friends, let me show you to a place of rest where you may sleep and eat," Legolas continued.
"Oh, may Galadriel smile upon your elven bow, Master Elf!" Merry cried.
"It will be nice to have a second breakfast again!" Pippin exclaimed. Legolas just laughed.
In Mordor, laughter was not even something that came in dreams. Aewen lay in her cell, unable to move. She thought of the hobbits and Arias. Did they escape? Were they alive? Where were they now?
The door of her cell opened and Dichamal strode in.
"I would like to think that you had nothing to do with the recent fiasco, my lady," he said, scornfully, "but that would be folly." Aewen said nothing. She would not let him intimidate her again.
"You cannot tell me you are not afraid," he said, his voice echoing in her mind. Think about something else! she thought to herself. Dichamal's voice became soft and soothing:
"I can make it all go away, little Aewen. Tell me what I need to know and it will all go away." A vision flickered in front of her eyes. The dark prison walls melted away to reveal a green forest. A tall male elf with long blonde hair called her name and ran towards her. She knew where she was: in her home of Mirkwood. The elf running to her was her life-long friend, Legolas Greenleaf. They had grown up right along side of each other, but when he was appointed king of Lothlorien, Aewen took up wandering. During her imprisonment in Mordor, she had prayed to see him every day. For a moment, joy rushed through her. But then she remembered what it was.
"Stop it!" she cried, but her voice was weak, "It's not real! Stop it!" Dichamal glided around her like silk.
"It could be real, just tell me..."
"No!" Aewen cried, "It won't! You won't let me go, even if I did tell you! Why would you?"
Dichamal pressed on her mind with his magic. Pain stiffened her body.
"Tell me!" he barked.
"Never!" the broken Elf spat back, "Even if you did let me go, I would have to live as a disgrace outside my people! I would rather die! Leave me, demon!" Pain consumed her and she choked on the breath in her throat. Dichamal stood over her.
"Maybe I will let you die," he said, "but know then that you brought this pain upon yourself. If you hadn't let those others escape, I'd have what I need and you'd die painlessly! But now it will not be so easy..." He swirled out of the cell, slamming the door behind him. Aewen winced into the dark. She didn't know how much longer she could hold out.
"Hurry back, my friends," she whispered, "I'll wait. I'm not going anywhere." The cell dissolved before her eyes and for the first time since she'd come to Mordor, she smiled. He would never get information from her, she knew she could hold out. There was hope out there. Somewhere.
Arias ascended the stairs leading up to the throne flet. Pondering how she was going to explain all this to the king, she breathed deeply. She'd forgotten how much she loved the woods of Lorien. It was so peaceful and quiet. The very trees seemed to emit a good feeling and peace. I wish I wasn't carrying such horrible tidings, Arias thought as she stepped onto the flet. Legolas was reclining far above her on a tree branch, gazing into the leaves. Arias grinned, imagining her great-grandmother, Galadriel doing the same thing. The thought of her reserved great-grandmother astride a tree branch was comical.
"Come down from there, you pathetic excuse for a king! Before you break your royal neck!" Arias called up to him. Legolas looked down and smirked.
"Come, come, Arias, I live here! Stop worrying," he said. Remembering why she was there, Arias' face turned dark again.
"Ah, but my dear Legolas, there is much to worry about." Wondering where to begin, she said, "Legolas, have you...have you heard from Aewen lately?"
"Not recently," Legolas answered, "When she first began wandering, she would check in now and again, but I have heard naught from her in two years." Legolas lept down from his branch and looked, darkly, at Arias, "Does Aewen have something to do with your tidings of Mordor?" Arias raised her eyes, almost painfully, and nodded.
"I did not know either until the Counsil summoned me," Arias said, "I was informed thawords mutilating her."
"Didn't you hear me? They are turning her into an orc!" Legolas stared hard at Arias.
"That's not humorous, Lady Arias," he said.
"Would I joke about something like this?"Arias asked. Legolas studied her some more.
"No!" he said, softly. Then the reality set in. His eyes darkened in horror.
"She's in Mordor? Why in the lady's name is she there? She's an orc?and she's alive?"
"Yes, she's in Mordor, and she's an orc, and she was alive when we left. But I cannot tell if they will let her live after assisting the hobbits in an escape."
"Then she could be..." Legolas' voice trailed off. A numb feeling churned inside his stomach and Arias saw the color drain from his face. She understood his reaction and lowered her head, shamed that she had to deliver such a message. She knew he would not take the news of his best friend's imprisonment in Mordor, and he had not. He stood there, pondering this for a moment. Then he remembered that she might not be there at all and grief washed over him. Tears welled up in his eyes. He shut them and his sadness was replaced by a sudden anger. His eyes flew open and his rage almost frightened Arias. She had never seen him this angry.
"Who," he growled through clenched teeth, "who had done this?"
"His name is Dichamal the Red. He once was the apprentice to the former master wizard Saruman the White." Arias swallowed, "He is the other part of our worries. He has created a great army of orcs, and his evil is likened to that of Sauron." She stopped, wondering if she should tell him the rest. Throwing caution into the wind, she said, "He is searching for the Elven Rings of Power." Legolas' hand drifted to finger a ring with a fiery red stone on his right hand.
"Why?" he asked. Arias shook her head.
"I don't know,"she said, "He is also after the Halflings for reasons unknown as well. Whatever he wants them for, it cannot do Middle-earth any good." She paused for breath and continued.
"I've come to ask your help," she said, "We must stop him, Legolas. But we can't do it alone."
"Of course," Legolas said, softly, "We'll ride with the strongest armies first thing tomorrow." His mouth set in a grim line. "I will rescue Aewen. And if she is dead, I will avenge her."
Arias lay awake at night, attempting to make sense of all the loose ends of the mystery. Hobbits, orcs, elven rings; she couldn't make it add up. She was tired and still sore, but she couldn't make her eyes close. Rolling over, Arias slipped out of her goose-feather mattress and into the grassy heather of Lorien floor. Treading on the thick grass, Arias' feet make no noise. She had no real idea where she was headed, but it was comforting to listen to the water lapping from the river and the trickling of Galadriel's spring.
Without even knowing why, Arias found herself descending a flight of stone stairs to a stone spring. Arias shoved a lock of wavy golden hair behind her ear and looked into the reflection of the water. The mirrow showed her reflection: her blue eyes, golden hair, and the porcelein color of her cheeks. Her pointed ears stuck out from her hair, mocking her lack of immortality and fear of death. She had received almost everything she could ask for from her elven side: the fair looks, pointed ears, and mature knowledge. But the one thing that she didn't inheirate was the immortal life. Arias sighed; the lack of immortality always haunted her.
Footsteps make her turn and look upon the newcomer. Pippin had joined her; he, too, looked worried and tired.
"Ye look like your grandmum," Pippin said, quietly, after some pause. Arias smiled, but said,
"I could never be like her, Pippin, not if I lived for 1,000 years."
"Then you can't weild her mirror," Pippin asked.
"It would take years, Peregrin, years to learn how," Arias said.
"But you have studied, and with Gandalf. And you're also her great-granddaughter. I'd think for your family, it'd be almost impulse. And we need it, a lot! I'm as worried as anyone, please Arias. Can't we just try?" Pippin looked pleadingly at the elven lady, it was quite pitiful. "Even the smallest person can change the course of the world." Galadriel had once said. Arias turned and filled the silver pitcher that stood at the foutain.
"You will look with me, won't you?" she asked, turning to look at Pippin.
"If that's what would please you," Pippin said.
"It would, for I am scared of it. People have seen terrible things in the mirrow, Pippin, terrible things."
Arias moved to the basin and fillled it half way. She leaned over it, holding her breath. Pippin sensed her anxiety and placed his small hand over her's. Arias smiled at him with a look of thanks. She stared hard for a moment, then looked up.
"Nothing's happening," she whispered to Pippin. Pippin said nothing, but lowered his eyes again. Arias did the same, and noticed the surface of the water had not stopped moving. She knelt to get a better look and soon began to see images. The shock almost winded her in itself. But then the images started to make sense. They swept over the plain of Mordor, to the tower of Bara-dur and into the highest tower: Dichamal's private quarters. A thick, blood-red book lay open on his desk and was filled with pages and pages of scrolling runes. But a curious thing happened, for as Arias stared at the runes, she found she could read them. Uncertain whether Pippin could or not, Arias began to read aloud:
"It would be a foolish thing to attempt to make another Ring, with so much at stake. Why not simply take the Three that still exist? They are not as strong as they once were, but combined, they hold the power and wisdom to rule all. Did not Saruman try to take the One? But the One was evil, the Three are not. Less chances of getting burned. But where are they to be found?"
The pages flipped and shuffled around, and Arias continued reading:
"A she-Elf of Mirkwood has been found. She is a wandering Elf and will not be missed if she is lured here. The plan is simple: if she is tortured--"
Arias' voice failed her as she held back tears for her friend. It ws not chance that Aewen was in Mordor, she was lured there by a cruel, heartless wizard. To Arias' surprise, Pippin picked up where Arias stopped.
"If she is tortured enough," his thick accented voice was soft at first, but grew stronger as he read, "perhaps she will bend to our will. Mutilation has been planned, so we will win either way- If she talks, the Three will be mine. If she does not, she will be added to our army."
Pages turned again, and Pippin kept reading.
"Preparing for battles has left us quite uncertain. I will not make the same mistakes that Saruman made. We are at a deadlock, for none now live who remember the Third Age. Aragorn is dead, though I know wish that I hadn't made it as such--"
"What?!" Arias cried, nearly disturbing the water.
"That's what it says, Lady Arias, 'I now wish I hadn't made it as such'." Pippin said. Arias leaned over the water and began reading:
"But how was I to know he may have been a help? He seemed only a hindrance at the time. I suspect now the only helpful things alive are those ridiculous halflings. They may be sent for."
Pippin's face went ashen, but he said nothing. Pages began turning once again.
"Everything is at hand," Arias read, "I will have even the elves when I am through. I will play these armies like pawns on a chess board: easy moved, easy struck down. The Fifth Age will be the age of Dichamal the Red."
Then there were pictures of Aewen, of Gondor, and of the Shire. Then the mirror went black.
Arias sat back, breathing hard.
"It makes sense now," Arias said, "I wondered why my father would take such a risk in joining a simple battle against rebels. But that wasn't it; he was driven to it. Aewen was driven to Mordor, perhaps you and Merry were driven to come with me. Of all the treacherous, murderous fiends, I swear I will kill him!"
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and she looked up from where she sat. Pippin looked her in the eye, seeming to her more like a full-grown man rather than a diminutive hobbit. His eyes shown with wisdom and his voice was soft.
"Gandalf once told Frodo: 'Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the wise cannot see all ends.' We have seen what we needed to see, but perhaps there is more to this Dichamal than meets the eye. Even if there isn't, we have much to do, so do not be so avengeful. The time will come."
"Thank you, Pippin," Arias said, embracing the hobbit, "Dichamal may have gotten rid of my father, but appears he's overlooked his daughter."
"Aye, and I believe he'll find more hindrances for his murderous act against King Aragorn," Pippin said, "I'm not abandoning now, now that I know his intent."
"Aye," Arias echoed, pulling away and looking Pippin in the eye, "we have much work to do."