Tasana: Queen of Wargs - Part XVII: Of Trust and Betrayal, Section 2
Gimli stumbled tiredly after his friends, methodically putting one heavily booted foot in front of the other with prodigious effort. Suddenly, the dwarf stopped, raising an unsteady hand to ward off his companions' questions, his head snapping to attention at a speed the Dunedain had not thought possible, given Gimli's heavy helmet and thick beard that seemed thoroughly tangled in his axe. The application of this instrument of war in the place of a walking stick often appeared to be the only thing that prevented its bearer from falling down with exhaustion where he stood. "What was that?" he asked, straining to listen to some now inaudible phantom.
"What was what?" Strider asked, stooping next to the dwarf in order to rest his long legs and try to survey the plains from Gimli's point of view.
Legolas made a hushing gesture of his own. "Wargs," he said uneasily. "And they sound none too pleased about something."
"Then what are we waiting for?" Gimli tightened his grip upon his axe. "For all we know, Chev'yahna and Boromir may be in trouble there. Just because I heard them first is no reason for you to stall here, Master Elf."
"How was I supposed to hear anything above your snores, Gimli?" Legolas shot back. "I simply say we should be cautious; there is no reason to run headlong into a trap." Pulling his longbow from his back, there was a gleam in the elf's eyes that promised an exacting vengeance upon any who would cause trouble for his companions, despite the archer's downplayed words of discretion. Strider and Gimli felt no differently, save that the redheaded dwarf and the woods woman's brother were less likely to show restraint than their elder companion. Not knowing what to expect, the three hunters ran swiftly, silently, and as low to the ground as they could force their tired bodies in the sea of plains grasses.
The sight that greeted them was not uncommon to even the youngest child of the Rohan; nevertheless it seemed a twisted form of justice to these three warriors who had placed their trust in Mithilira and her pack members. A ragged line of blonde horsemen rode down upon a pack of gigantic wolves, attempting to spear the creatures upon cruelly pointed spears and firing arrow after arrow into their throats from short bows designed for mounted archers. The Wargs, for their part, had evened the score. Horses screamed as their jugular veins were ripped open to fountain blood. Pieces of human corpses intermingled with those of four legged beasts. Strider paled slightly at the sight of the carnage, and even Legolas swallowed roughly, hardened veterans that they were.
"Hold!" Aragorn cried, springing from the long grass to knock a large black and silver Warg from its collision course with a Rohan steed. "By Eru and Elbereth, hold!" Standing ramrod straight and refusing to yield even a hair's breath left or right to either steel-shod warhorse or slavering Warg, the Dunedain held out his hands in the gesture his sister had shown him as a command to stop a pack member in its tracks. The Rohirrim rider struggled to comply, his stallion's hooves skittering for purchase. The wolf, however, showed no sign of even attempting to slow, leaping over the six foot six tall Dunedain without pause to take stock of its situation or apparent sign of distress. Landing with the grace of a cat, the gray-faced Warg with its distinctive black lines about its neck that merged into an ebony cloak along its shoulders and back, a mantle that would be the envy of any finely dressed king, raised its lips in a throaty growl.
"Pup of Nyrasgarm, troch!" Strider admonished, praying that his pronunciation was close enough. "Yahn T'ahn kursh T'sheckna." This was a little easier; Tasana had used those terms fairly often. At least Aragorn's voice did not sound quite as shaky or unreasonably harsh.
"What kind of sorcerer are you, that you can speak their foul tongue?" the rider asked unbelievingly, balancing his javelin in his stirrup. The Warg refused to be pacified, and began to circle the strange ranger with its hackles raised. Aragorn repeated the blessing, slowly lowering his palms, facing the wolf with his head held high.
From his hiding place in the brush, Legolas swore and fitted an arrow to his bowstring, glaring at his nearest companion before taking his gaze back to the debacle before them. "He should have waited. Why didn't you hold him back?" the archer whispered grumpily as he sighted the irate beast. Gimli grunted gruffly in reply, tired and unwilling to take a side in this argument.
"You won't tame that one, no matter how good you are," the horseman continued, moving his steed behind the ranger once more. "He reports straight to the white wizard, and has no other master. No one can find a hole in that wolf's armor." Much of the rest of the fighting had stopped, as enemies paused to consider this dark man who could call upon both of their tongues. The black-caped Warg suddenly flowed from its aggressive, superior stance designed by nature and purpose to be intimidating into a crouch. This time it did not intend to jump over the human.
"Shecking zwiero," it growled. Once more its spring was aborted in midair: this time by an arrow speeding from a longbow. The force of the blow sent the dark creature tumbling. It should have penetrated completely through its jugular. The wolf should not have been able to stand back up again. It should not have shaken off the arrow from Legolas's bow as easily as a briar in its fur. Nevertheless, that point was enough to cause the Warg to howl and call its pack mates away from the battle. The riders of Rohan watched as their foes turned tail and ran south, towards Isengard.
There was no celebration amongst the survivors, for they had lost too many companions in their undeclared war. Some warriors left to gather their dead and those of the enemy, while the rest responded to their captain's whistle and surrounded the Dunedain. "You seem full of surprises, sirrah, but you have not yet told me your name," the horseman whom Aragorn had saved from the eerie Warg spoke.
"To the north, most folk know me as Strider, but my given name is Aragorn, son of Arathorn," the ranger replied. "I travel with a pair of companions, seeking two friends who were lost to us to orcs at Amon Hen." The Dunedain gestured into the brush, signaling Legolas and Gimli to approach him.
"On foot? Or do you ride more of these wild beasts?" The blonde captain gestured towards a remaining Warg corpse with his lance.
"My sister has, well, tamed one of the southern packs, you might say. We rode with them as far as they would take us in two days, and then ran for the next two." Aragorn answered truthfully. He did not know why the Rohan and wolves had been fighting, save an old racial hatred that had been ingrained into their blood, but something told him that this warrior could prove a friend if his suspicion could be eased.
"Come on, you two," the ranger hissed toward his hidden traveling companions. Legolas came out stiffly, his bow stringed and ready to shoot, but currently the archer kept his weapon pointed towards the ground, his only concession to his friend's summons. Gimli looked as if he had just been reawakened from a catnap, and was not happy about it.
"An elf, a dwarf, and a Dunedain, and all dressed in the style of the folk of Lothlorien. Here is an odd trio of hunters, indeed. And you say you traveled all the way here from Amon Hen in four days. Strider does not suit you; you would better be named Wingfoot, Master Aragorn," the Rohan considered them with mild puzzlement. "But that does not settle the question of the names of your friends or your quarry. I have never before seen a man nor dwarf dressed in Lothlorien cloaks. What manner of folk are you, that you consort with wolves and the witch of the wood?"
"I will give you my name, if you give us yours. Mind your tongue though, horseman, when you speak of Lady Galadriel," Gimli growled. "Or I shall be forced to remove it with my axe." Legolas flashed his friend an unreadable look of mixed gratitude and annoyance at the dwarf's tenacious defense of his kinswoman.
"A dwarf who shall defend an elf is very unusual indeed. Even more so, knowing the treacherous nature of the lady's forest and heart." The horse captain narrowed his eyes at Gimli's axe.
"Treacherous?" Gimli spat the word with unbelieving ire. "There is no treachery in Lothlorien, save what you bring into it in your distrustful heart. Lady Galadriel is the fairest and wisest lady of any race to have walked Middle-earth."
"So you say, Master Dwarf, although I would be willing to contest this," The rider raised a hand to hold back an edgy companion, although there was still a hint of stone and battle-fire in his eyes. "I am Eomer, a captain of the Mark and nephew of King Theoden of Rohan. Who are you, admirer of Galadriel, to wander our lands without permission of our lord?"
"Gimli son of Gloin needs no one's permission to seek his friends. I would challenge you to a duel for your slight of the Lady of the Golden Wood, Master Eomer, save I pity you, for you have obviously not laid eyes upon her fair image." At this, he placed his axe firmly in front of him.
"Quite a bold warrior, to challenge me when I am surrounded by my warriors," Eomer laughed, opening his arms wide to take in the warriors, still bloodied from their battle with the Wargs. "But surely you must have a second for a duel?"
"Need you ask?" Legolas said softly, drawing his bow in one fluid motion. "You would fall before your first stroke was made, should you attack the dwarf."
"Gimli, Legolas, peace!" Aragorn put a restraining hand upon the elf's shoulder. "You must forgive my friends, for they are sorely distracted with worry for the fates of our companions," the ranger spoke. "We seek two hobbits; they were taken prisoner by orcs," the Dunedain continued, then added at the rider's confused expression, "halflings, they would appear no more than children to your eyes."
"We may be able to end your worry, friend," Eomer said softly. Although he was naturally suspicious of strangers, and these odd, hostile folk who sprung up from the grass in the middle of a battle and attempted to soothe a rabid enemy were stranger than most, something about the ranger made the Rohirrim instinctively trust him. "Though I fear you will not like the ending. My cousin's command came upon a contingent of orcs, mostly Uruk Hai, last night. All of the orcs were killed, but we found no captives."
"There were no signs of them?" Legolas lowered his bow with a pale blanch coming over his sharp elven features. Gimli muttered incredulously at the slender archer's side.
"You are welcome to poke through the remains if you wish," Eomer gestured to a burnt pyre next to which the Wargish corpses were beginning to mount up. "We lost many men in that battle, including my cousin-" the Rohan captain paused and swallowed, reining in his raw emotions - "But we found no captives."
"I am sorry to hear of your loss, Lord Eomer," Aragorn spoke sincerely, knowing how it pained him to lose a friend in battle. The ranger had just been harshly reminded of this lesson when he was forced to leave his sister and Boromir in order to search for the hobbits, which after Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli had tracked them for days, had apparently disappeared into thin air. Nevertheless, the ranger had tracked his friends this far; there was no reason to give up now.
Approaching the burning grounds with only a bare hint of trepidation he felt at the sight of a scorched Warg skin stretched between two orc skull topped lances that marked the boundary of the grim monument to a Rohan victory, the Dunedain poked through the ashes of the enemies' dead. Charred remains of bone and armor had not burned, clumping forlornly like forgotten dreams of hope, but there was nothing indeed in the ashes that could have possibly once been two young hobbits.
Aragorn knew not whether he should be pleased about this. Perhaps the prisoners had been taken away with a side contingent, after all. If so, he had already wasted too much precious time chasing the main body of goblins. Such a group would have had to split off from the main troop before the Wargs had left, though, for the riders of Rohan were notoriously thorough in battle. If their captain had said they had destroyed all the orcs in the area, there would not be a live orc within three days' ride. Thinking of the Wargs, the Dunedain reflexively examined the wolf corpses that had been piled for burning.
Surely Gaundalan had turned home by now... A rider, giving the dark-haired man an uneasy stare, slung a small brown body atop the pile. Gaundalan was more of a cinnamon color, Strider told himself; he hadn't had that black fleck on his left ear. The ranger touched the spot as if to reassure himself of the yearling's life. His fingers came away with half-dried blood, leaving a decidedly reddish-brown coat beneath the marking. "By Eru, d@mn it," Aragorn whispered, rubbing the drying liquid between his fingers. "He was only a pup. Just an overeager pup that wanted to help us find our friends." Turning towards the horsemen, the ranger flogged his exhausted mind for the little he had heard of Wargish death rites. Something about Nyrasgarm and T'Sheckna, the basic desire to be useful in death as well as in life, and there was something to do with crows or ravens as well. "Lord Eomer, you have been kind to me and my friends, despite our sudden appearance, but I must ask one more boon of you."
"And what would that be, Master Aragorn?" The blonde captain paused from his directives to his men and turned curiously towards the Dunedain who stroked the dead body of a Warg reverently.
"Don't burn this one," Strider replied, his voice too soft and sorrowful for it to be a true mandate, but too full of iron to be merely a pleading statement of grieving. "Leave the bodies; and let the Sekrahc know that we can honor the pack's needs, if they will honor ours."
"Aye, Lord." Eomer recognized that tone, from the days before his uncle had stopped caring about his lands, his people, even his kin. That was the inflection of a king in the dawning stages of personal mourning. Theoden had once shown such emotion when his sister, Eomer's mother, had died. Perhaps someday the old king would wake up enough from this daze to feel the same for the death of his son. Eomer knew not what a young wolf could do to merit such grief, but he recognized signs of a true leader when he saw them.
"You have been a true friend, Lord Eomer," Aragorn saluted him with his blade. "If you ever require the aid of the house of Isildur, you need only but ask."
"I would only request that you would help us to settle our Warg problem, by one method or another," the rider saluted in return. "Our king refuses to recognize the threat of the orcs of Isengard. The wolf packs, which have avoided us until recently, have started foraying into our herds. I lead my men against the invaders, with or without our king's permission, but we cannot be everywhere at once."
"King Theoden will not recognize the threat of orcs?" Legolas spoke up, his natural scorn of humans revealing itself before the hint of offense could register itself with the tired elf.
"He does not recognize friend from foe any longer," the captain answered bitterly. "Or family, for that matter," Eomer added quietly. Letting the dismal clouds of his family life slide away, the horseman suddenly gave a high, piercing whistle. A pair of saddled but unmounted horses approached at this call without any human accompaniment. "They may not have the stamina of Wargs, but the mounts of the Rohirrim Mark come fairly close. May they bear you to better fortune than their last masters, Aragorn son of Arathorn of House Isildur." Eomer patted a whipcord lean horse upon its warm gray muzzle. Like his own stallion, both the gray and the black were tall and skinny, but obviously capable of carrying a great amount of weight.
Strider and Legolas spoke their thanks, but Gimli looked at the horse he was supposed to share with Legolas with frank misgiving. "At least the Wargs are sentient enough to fear Chev'yahna's wrath," the dwarf muttered, keeping his weapon between himself and the gray steed. "These creatures are just barely intelligent enough to plot how to make my life miserable. The dumb beasts are much too tall for me. Wirsankor really is much shorter, and I can barely get atop him. Any sane dwarf would stick to his own two feet, rather than these wild animals," he continued, edging up to the front of the horse as if it were the first sentry of the Black Tower. "Don't touch it!" Gimli shouted fearfully at Legolas as the elf reached to stroke the horse's muzzle. At the archer's sardonic expression, he added apologetically, "Well, don't blame me if that thing takes your arm off. They can give you a nasty bite."
"So says the rider of a Warg," Eomer laughed. "Arod is actually quite gentle."
"I don't see you riding him," Gimli replied insolently, as if daring the man to mock the dwarf's phobia.
"He's fine, Gimli," Legolas reassured his friend. "Here, I'll show you." Bending down, the elf lifted the dapple-gray's white-socked front leg. The steed complied without comment to this touch; simply letting its hoof fall back into position once the elf's thin fingers had been removed. "You try it now," Legolas patted the dwarf's blocky shoulder as Gimli crouched uneasily next to him.
"No horse ever made an ass out of this dwarf," he muttered into his beard, reaching almost against his will for the hoof. Before he had seized its leg, however, Gimli found himself boosted up onto the gelding's neck, Legolas swinging up easily behind his surprised partner.
"You hardly need a horse to accomplish that," the archer gibed him playfully. "But while we've been acclimating you to your new mount, it appears our Strider has sniffed out our trail."
While watching his friends take on the challenge of getting Gimli upon a horse, Aragorn had noticed flattened patches in the nearby grass that were caused neither by the stamping of animals nor a battlefield scuffle. At first the Dunedain had thought the dwarf had fallen off to cause such trampling, but despite his dire predictions of animal treachery, the uneasy rider was kept firmly in the saddle by a two-handed death grip upon his saddle horn and the elf's guiding arms as Legolas reached about his passenger for their mount's reins.
There were two such flattened areas, the ranger observed upon a closer look, both similar in age, formed last night, perhaps, judging from the bent and straightening grass stalks. Both were too small to have been formed by an orc, or even a grown dwarf, for that matter, although it appeared that there had been at least one goblin in the area. There were no hobbit-sized footprints nearby, but by following the orc tracks Strider stumbled upon a second clue: a scrap of a silver Lothlorien belt, thrown as if it had been ripped from its owner by a stray weapon that had come far too close for the wearer's liking. Not far from the belt was something that brought a relieved smile to the ranger's face: hobbit tracks, a small piece of fuzz from one of their furry feet caught in a broken grass stalk. Following the trail into the shade of the nearby forest, Aragorn discovered a golden leaf with the telltale crumbs of Lembas still within it. "It can't be Merry and Pippin," he laughed, emblazoning the leaf. "They would hardly be so kind as to leave us a speck of food."
"Where did you find that?" Eomer asked the ranger nervously.
"On the edge of the forest." The Dunedain pointed to the old, overgrown trees behind him.
"If you must continue to search for your friends, I suppose you must." The captain exchanged uneasy glances with his men. "But be forewarned, the forests surrounding Rohan are not as benign as the North Woods. You have had more luck than anyone else that I have ever met, that you survived and prospered from your journey into Lothlorien, but there is no witch to tame the trees of Fangorn. They are ancient beyond reckoning, and they have memories of men. They know of blade and fire, and hate such things with a vengeance. There are creatures amongst those trees that can lead them in rending and tearing, and it is said that Saruman, the corrupted wizard, walks within Fangorn's edges with his invincible Wargs. I would not dare such a journey."
"But as you say, we must find our friends," Legolas rejoined, sitting proudly in the saddle despite the Rohirrim's knowing, fearful glances. "Farewell, Lord Eomer, and we shall meet you later in order to return the horses." He turned toward the trees as Strider mounted the black Eomer held for him.
"Farewell," Eomer replied softly. "Although I doubt we'll meet again."
* * *
[Chev'yahna- Healer, Tasana's alias
Gaundalan- a yearling who traveled with Aragorn
Nyrasgarm- Wargish heaven
Mithilira- the alpha female of Tasana's pack
Sekrac- alpha male
Sheck- to murder, Wargish curse
Troch - peace
T'Sheckna- Hades, a Wargish goddess
T'Seer- Blessed Ravens, spiritual guides
Wirsankor- a Warg of the South Woods pack
Yahn T'ahn kursh T'Sheckna- "those who put good over evil hunt the goddess of death" traditional blessing
Zwiero- two legged being]