The Only Way to Kill the Dragon
Summary: "I would do anything for King Elessar," the elf stated passionately. Legolas did not know that his sacrifice would not only be unable help his friend, but would also lead both of them to mortal danger.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters and places are not mine. I am sure the elf and the ranger are especially happy about that.
Warnings: Some angst, blood and violence, but not more than usual.
Note: This story is taking place after "Friendship is a Family Trait", and, therefore, will have a few references to it in the first chapter. You DO NOT need to have read "Friendship is a Family Trait" to understand this story and all references will be explained in the end of the chapter.
Acknowledgement: Special thanks to oxpecker and Firniswin for helping me choose a name for my dragon. Finally I chose a variation of a name suggested by ox.
Chapter 1: A Fatal Mistake
"He is here!" Bright grey eyes widened in joy and the youthful voice was loud and excited. "Ada, I can see him! He is coming!"
Aragorn slowly walked to the window and leaned next to his almost-ten-year-old son. His eyes narrowed as he tried to focus on the distant dot. True, his eyes had always been keen, but he had to admit that Eldarion's sight was even better. Finally, he was able to make out the approaching shape.
"Stubborn dwarf!" The King muttered under his breath and shook his head in disbelief. "I cannot believe he came all the way from Rohan on foot!"
"And how else was I supposed to come?" Gimli grunted, when he had finally met with his friends. "Surely you do not expect me to climb on one of those beasts!"
"Climb?" Aragorn asked with a raised eyebrow. He had never before compared mounting a horse with climbing.
"It must have taken you such a long time, Gimli," Eldarion said compassionately before the dwarf could respond. "I suppose you could not walk very fast. Your legs are so short!"
King and dwarf stared at the boy in disbelief. Aragorn knew very well how much words such as these could offend his short friend, and was sure that Eldarion was well-aware of that.
Eldarion chuckled guiltily at the bright red the dwarf's bearded face had become. "I'm sorry, Gimli, I didn't mean it that way. It is just that…" He hesitated and scratched his cheek, looking at the floor insecurely. "It is just that I miss Legolas too much and I am trying to make up for his absence."
Aragorn could not help but laugh at this. "And you seem to be good at that, ion nîn. If that is the case, you are forgiven."
"What do you mean he is forgiven?!" Gimli was trying to control his anger, and hopefully change his face color, but it seemed hard. "And Aragorn, if the blasted elf is your son's role model, I am seriously worried about the boy! You need to do something about it!"
"Peace, my friend." The King clasped the shorter being's shoulder in a pacifying gesture. "He meant no harm. But I will take your words seriously and try to do something about it. Now, we don't want Eldarion to become too much like the 'blasted elf', do we?" His words seemed to have the desired effect, and the dwarf smiled.
Eldarion's smile, however, was even wider. "I'll tell Legolas you said that!" He announced happily, and his father shook his head in amusement.
"Speaking about the elf, where is he?" Gimli asked suddenly. "Has he arrived yet?"
"I am afraid he will be delayed. I asked him to do something for me before he arrives," Aragorn said, and his gaze darkened slightly as he remembered all the problems his kingdom was facing. He could only hope that Legolas would be able to help him with one of the most serious ones. "He should be here in a day or two," he added. "Even in the worst case, he will arrive on time."
Eldarion grinned. Yes, on time. On time for his birthday.
The boy was turning ten in two weeks, so the elf had plenty of time to arrive. Eldarion had a hard time hiding his enthusiasm. He had not seen his fair friend in three months, not since all of them had recovered from the capture under Dargmor's Corsairs, and he longed to see him again.
Legolas, however, had a task to fulfill before his arrival. Winter was coming, and this year Gondor's people would be faced with serious problems concerning heating. The coal supplies in the land were meager, and previous years they had always imported coal from Shapkar, a large town in northern Umbar, well known for its coal mines. This year, however, Dolen, the town's ruler, had refused to send them any coal supplies, claiming that he was faced with more serious problems on his own.
Aragorn would have traveled to Shapkar himself to discuss the situation with the men there and hope that an agreement would be reached, but he had a few meetings in Minas Tirith the following week, and this combined with the preparations for his son's tenth birthday did not let him travel.
Faramir was also busy, and since he needed someone he trusted completely for these negotiations, he had asked Legolas to do it before he traveled to Minas Tirith. If Dolen refused to sign an agreement, Gondor would be in serious trouble this winter. They had to do everything possible to prevent that.
He did not know that in that moment, the agreement with Gondor was the last of Dolen's problems.
"Faster!" One of the men cried agitatedly. "Faster or she will come out!"
Men, women, and children, all dirty and exhausted, worked shoulder to shoulder to seal the entrance of a large cave. They brought boulder after boulder, placing one on top of the other with speed that did not correspond to their condition. Bloodied hands handed the next rock, tired eyes blinked away the sweat that was flowing over them. Sighs of exhaustion and nervous cries broke the silence.
Suddenly the ground shook and all workers stared at each other with huge, frightened eyes. Bloodied hands dropped the rocks and wiped the sweat from tired brows.
"Run!" A girl no older than twenty shouted in horror. The wind whipped her raven hair as she turned towards the workers, and she hastily moved it away from her face. "She is coming!"
The words took everyone out of their stupor and they tried to run back, screaming in panic. Everyone was pushing the others, trying to get as far away from the cave as possible, hearts pounding in fear. The weaker ones fell down and the rest rushed mercilessly over the fallen bodies in a desperate attempt to save themselves. Whimpers of pain and despair filled the air.
"Mama!" A seven-year-old boy cried frightened, and rushed towards a tall woman with tired face and dirty clothes. However, he crashed into the body of a large man and fell to the ground, momentarily stunned. He tried to rise, but a heavy foot stepped on his head, crashing it to the stony ground and sending him into oblivion.
A woman screamed in terror and tried to reach her fallen son's side, but it was impossible to move in the chaos of horrified people. She stumbled and fell to her knees, trying to blink away the tears in her eyes.
The girl who had first called the warning crouched next to an old man who was barely standing on his feet. "Grandfather, come, we must hurry," she hissed urgently, making him rise. The man, however, shook his head and sighed tiredly. He could not go on.
And then she appeared. It first seemed that a rainy cloud had sailed to the sea, hiding the sun. But then everyone noticed that the dark shadow had a shape, a terrifying shape. Two huge wings, almost like the shape of a bat's wings, but narrower and longer. A huge head, with a jaw that could crash a cow's spine without the slightest effort. A long and heavy tail, which could with a single move fall a dozen of well-armed men.
True, Sbatha was not as large and frightening as the dragons of old, but she could still send the men of Shapkar into terror with blood-freezing ease. And, just as every other time, the men were indeed terrified. They were all staying like frozen, staring at the horrifying shape in the sky.
And then she descended. The huge mouth opened and the sharp teeth closed around the body of a young man, who screamed for the last time in his unnaturally short life. Then the dark shape rose again and flew back to the cave.
The people of Shapkar watched in awe, their sympathy for the young man mixed with immense relief, relief that it was not them, that once again they had been spared.
The path was covered with yellow, orange, and red fallen leaves, which created a soft, colorful carpet that muffled the white stallion's steps. The rider caressed his horse's mane and sighed contently. The autumn sun warmed his face, and his lips curved into a slight smile.
"We are almost there, mellon nîn," he whispered, and the horse neighed happily. "We just need to do this quick and boring task, and we will travel to Minas Tirith, and we will see Aragorn and Gimli again. You haven't seen them in quite a while, I'm afraid. And you need to meet Aragorn's son. He is a wonderful boy, although he resembles his father in more aspects than what I would consider healthy."
The stallion grunted worriedly and turned back to look at his rider.
Legolas smiled. "Worry not, my friend, I will not get into trouble. Aragorn is a king now, and has learned a lot of responsibility. He is not anymore the ranger who always managed to bump into every possible band of orcs in radius of ten leagues."
The stallion grunted in disbelief and neighed something that made his rider frown.
"Arod!" The elf cried. "I need to teach you some manners! You cannot talk about my friends that way."
Arod neighed grumpily and Legolas shook his head. "Yes, I know that I have also called him a 'reckless human', but that doesn't mean that you can call him that as well."
The horse made an indistinguishable sound, and Legolas sighed. "No, you may not call him as you want. And yes, I think you will have a chance to see Hasufel again. Unless, of course, I decide to tell Aragorn what you said about him, and then he might decide not to let you go into the stables."
Arod blinked and turned huge, pitiful eyes towards his master, neighing softly.
"Oh, yes, I will," Legolas said wickedly.
The horse grunted angrily, but his neighing grew worried again.
"Worse things than orcs?" The elf asked in surprise. "Like what?" He listened to his horse's answer and fair eyebrows were raised in surprise. "What do you mean you have a bad feeling? You are a horse!"
Arod was positively angry by now and looked forward, refusing to meet his rider's gaze.
Legolas sighed and gently stoked the splendid white mane. "I am sorry, mellon nîn. I did not mean to hurt your feelings. I just meant that if something that bad was going to happen, I would have felt it as well."
The horse obviously decided to forgive him, and neighed something in answer.
"No," Legolas said and shook his head. "It is not because I am blinded by my happiness that I will be meeting the 'insane reckless human' and the 'short and clumsy thing', and I told you not to call them that!" Arod refused to answer and trotted forward.
Legolas sighed in desperation. "Ai, Valar, how did it come to this?" He whispered. "I am all alone in the middle of nowhere, talking to a horse!"
"We failed, my Lord."
The soft words burned into his mind like hot coal.
We failed, my Lord.
He had heard it too many times, and he thought he would have been used to it by now. But, alas, every single time it hurt just the same.
Dolen sighed and sat on a bench, burying his face in his hands. His newest attempt to seal the entrance had failed. She had come out again and killed one of the men. His men.
Shapkar was a town of miners. They have exploited the coal mines for a long time, but in their greed they had dug too deep and had awoken something that had better be left asleep.
She would appear once every several nights, fly over the roofs and choose her victims. She would feed on animals if they were fortunate, but sadly, often she had managed to find humans that were unable to hide fast enough.
They had tried sealing the entrance to her cave with stones, but in vain. It would take a very long time, and she always crawled out and killed at least one of them in every attempt.
Dolen had often considered moving everyone far away, and finding a new place where the town of Shapkar would be founded anew. But he was well aware they he would never do that. The people were attached to their land, they had grown up here, their homes and fields were here. But, most of all, this place was unusually rich in coal. They would trade with nearby towns or kingdoms, and be wealthier than most. He was not about to give that up.
So he had to find a way to seal that entrance fast enough, so that the dragon would not be able to react. Yes, Shapkar was a town of miners, and they all knew a lot about caves and tunnels. They would find a way.
And they did.
Many times he had sent men into the tunnel to inspect it, and not long ago two had managed to return alive. The news they had brought had first made Dolen's heart beat faster in hope before it would sink in despair.
When one ventured further into the cave, there was a large boulder that supported the cave entrance. If this boulder was pushed, the cave entrance would collapse in an instant, burying the beast in the depths of the earth. The only problem was that it would bury the one who had pushed the boulder as well. And then this unfortunate being would be all alone in the darkness with a very angry dragon.
Who would go to certain death? This was different than trying to seal the entrance with rocks, it was different than fighting the dragon. In everything else there was hope. If the dragon came out while many people were trying to seal the entrance, it would surely kill one of them, possibly two or even three, but every individual human would have the chance to survive. If one walked into the tunnel, however, and pushed that boulder, it would mean their sure death.
Could Dolen order someone to go? Could he force someone to do it? Could he arrest someone's children and threaten to kill then if the man didn't do what he was asked?
No, he could not. What would his people think of him then? And, most of all, they were his people after all. He was supposed to take care of them. And he meant to do it. No, he would never send one of his own to certain death.
On the other hand, if he could find a stranger, someone not from Shapkar, that would solve all of his problems. But how could he find a stranger willing to throw away his life for some people he did not know?
He could find no answer to that question, and so the attempts to seal the entrance by piling rocks had continued. Unsuccessfully.
Yes, indeed they had failed.
"My Lord?" A servant's voice took him out of his musings. "The Elf is here. The one King Elessar of Gondor is sending to talk about the coal. He is waiting to meet you."
Dolen sighed impatiently. The last thing he cared about right now was the coal and his trading relationships with Gondor. He just needed to finish the meeting with that elf as fast as possible, so that he could return to the problem at hand.
The cool autumn wind played with the dark hair, which flew around the handsome face, now marred with deep lines of worry. The silver eyes were filled with doubt and now had the color of a rainy cloud on a very stormy night. The usually proud shoulders were slightly slumped, and the strong hand was tightly gripping the hilt of his sword in helpless fear.
The now colder wind blew again, and he pulled up his hood. It cast a shadow over his face, but it did not hide the eyes, glistening like two pieces of molten silver. They turned towards the sky, where a cloud traveled slowly. And he felt that something cast a shadow over his soul.
"What is it, meleth?" A fair voice from behind him asked gently. "Something troubles you, Estel, and do not try to deny it." Arwen gently grasped his arm and turned him around, so that she could look into his eyes. What she saw did nothing to alleviate her fears.
Aragorn sighed. "I do not know what it is, but my heart is filled with dread. I can feel the darkness eating my soul, leaving no room for hope."
To his shock, Arwen laughed merrily. "My love, you have spent too much time with Gandalf and learned to speak in riddles. I will need to make you forget his horrible influence."
The King did not smile. "I have the feeling that something terrible is going to happen, and it is not in my power to prevent it," he whispered.
The Queen frowned. "You are merely tired, Estel, you have worked restlessly for the last few days. You need to rest, meleth. Eldarion will never forgive you if you drop down with exhaustion on his birthday."
Aragorn nodded wordlessly. "You are probably right," he finally murmured, but he did not seem to believe in what he said.
Arwen forced herself to smile and gently grasped his hand, leading him inside. No, it is not exhaustion that makes him feel this, she thought worriedly. She knew better than to question her husband's feelings of dread, he had been right too many times in the past. And, besides, now she felt it too.
But he looks so tired and so broken, she added silently. He needs to rest. We can do nothing now. We will thing about this evil when it is upon us.
She closed her eyes and tried to control her worry. She could only hope that when they found out what was threatening them it would not be too late.
"Gondor has a lot to offer," the irritating elf who stubbornly refused to let him alone repeated once again. "If it is the price you do not agree with, then name your own! King Elessar is willing to negotiate. Your services in the past are highly valued and he remembers them. He will make sure you are rewarded as you deserve."
Dolen clenched his fists. This was already getting on his nerves. He had spent more than an hour arguing with this stubborn being while his people were dying out there! Couldn't this elf understand that he couldn't care less about the coal and his agreements with Gondor right now? All he could think about was how to kill the dragon.
"Don't you see that –" The elf started once again, but was rudely interrupted.
"Yes, I see that, Lord Legolas!" Dolen almost shouted. "I see everything perfectly. What you fail to see is that this is pointless. I am not discussing this any further! I am not signing any agreements and this is it. It is about time that this mindless and arrogant king of yours realizes that I have much better things to worry about than the fact that Gondor is going to freeze this winter!"
The elf did not move a muscle, but his blue eyes suddenly turned cold as steel. "I have to warn you," he said, and the icy voice sent shivers down the man's spine, "that it is highly unwise to speak this way of King Elessar in my presence." Arod can confirm that, he thought dryly.
Dolen suppressed a shudder and looked the elf in the eyes. "So you defend him?" He muttered. "Even though he is wrong."
"Yes, I defend him, and he is not wrong," Legolas hissed, and his voice was even colder than before, something Dolen had thought impossible.
The man frowned slightly. He had seen in the elf's gaze something he did not like. Or rather, something he liked. A lot.
"But you would defend him even if he was wrong?" He asked with obvious curiosity.
The elf looked confused by Dolen's behavior, but his voice remained just as cold. "I cannot remember such a case and I doubt that it would ever happen. But I do not deny it – I would. I would do anything for King Elessar."
Dolen resisted the urge to grin. Anything. This was exactly what he was looking for. At last, he had discovered the only way to kill the dragon. "Well, I must admit, Lord Legolas, that your precious king is offending me. Here I am, the Lord of Shapkar, ignoring all my other duties, and I am discussing my trade relationships with Gondor with a mere elf! Not with the King, mind you! Not even with the Steward!"
Legolas did his best not to feel offended by that. "The King has more important work right now," he said as patiently as he could.
"And you think that I don't?" Dolen sounded furious. "I am ignoring all my other work, and, believe me, it is important, to discuss this agreement, and he sends me a mere elf! No, we can never reach an agreement this way."
Legolas raised his eyebrows in surprise as he started to guess where this was headed. "So you want the King to come here?"
"Yes." Dolen looked pleased that the elf had understood. "I want to meet with the King. And his family."
Legolas' eyes widened in shock. "What? His family?" It made no sense. No sense at all.
"I want King Elessar to come to Shapkar with his Queen and his son as a proof of his good will. Only then can we have negotiations." Dolen's voice was firm and left no room for objections.
The elf's eyes narrowed to mere slits. "I am afraid this is impossible," he said, his voice equally firm.
"Then, I am afraid, Gondor's entire population will freeze this winter," Dolen replied. "Tell this to your king. Let him decide what really matters."
While Legolas rode towards Minas Tirith, his heart was troubled. He would tell Aragorn what Dolen had said. No, there was no way he would lie to him, but he would strongly advise his friend not to do it. There was something in Dolen's eyes that had frightened him, and he hoped that Aragorn would see reason and try to find another way to find coal.
But as far as he knew his friend, the man would do exactly what the Lord of Shapkar had asked.
First, I just wanted to clarify that there were dragons during the Fourth Age, Tolkien had said it himself in a letter to one of his editors. Smaug was the last GREAT dragon, and dragons after him were smaller and didn't have so much contact with people, so they don't appear in most tales. You can find a brief discussion on dragons in the Estel Angst Central (link at my profile page).
To those who haven't read "Friendship…" – the reference to Dargmor and his Corsairs is unfamiliar to you; let's just say that he was the 'main baddie' in Friendship… and had some unpleasant interactions with Eldarion, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, which nearly resulted in one or more deaths. I really think you don't need to have read it to understand this story. Future references will be one or two, and will be insignificant, I promise.
Third, at the end of "Faces of Darkness" I said that you probably won't see this story until the end of June because I'm leaving mid-February and I'm not sure that I'll have constant internet access after that. However, I realized that I will be able to finish this story before then, it won't be too long, maybe 5-6 chapters. As always, reviews make me write faster and better :-) Thanks for reading!