Dies iræ! (Day of wrath)
The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.
With grateful thanks to Raksha and Deandra
Dies iræ! dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla
Teste David cum Sibylla!
(Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the prophets' warning,
Heaven and earth in ashes burning!) - Thomas of Celano 13th Century Latin hymn used in the Requiem Mass
Trailed discretely by two Guards, Aragorn walked briskly through the market place. He paused to acknowledge with a nod or a smile the many greetings called out to him. He stopped only when he reached a stall which sold jewellery made from rough-cut semi precious stones. Since he had delighted his Queen with a simple amethyst necklace some time ago, he often bought her similar trinkets when he visited the market.
"Do you have any necklaces of lapis lazuli?" Aragorn asked the trader.
"Indeed, my lord, I do! I have bracelets and necklaces and rings of the very finest quality, imported from Khand. They arrived only yesterday. Or would my lord perhaps like to see my new rose quartz collection, which I just unpacked this morning? Rose quartz would surely suit the Queen's colouring, like the pink clouds of sunset around the evening star."
The two Guards, Meneldil and Cirion, exchanged bored glances as the trader prattled on about the perfection of his baubles. Cirion, new to his post, yawned. Both were unwed and deemed their lord's habit of personally searching out gifts for his lady to be a task beneath the dignity of a king.
As they watched their King talk with the merchant, they noticed a cloaked woman who walked with odd, stumbling steps, shuffle up to the stall. Bent beneath a burden of years, grey tresses straggling from out the hood of her cloak, the woman seemed fragile as she stood near the tall, strong form of King Elessar. Her wrinkled hands carefully fingered a pearl necklace. Meneldil wondered idly if the old lady had a granddaughter, for she was surely too old to want to wear one herself. He focussed his attention on a young lad who was weaving swiftly and purposefully through the stalls, and would soon pass close to the King. Was the boy a messenger, a cutpurse, or simply a lad on an errand for his mother?
As Aragorn handed over some coins to the merchant, the cloaked woman staggered, and gasped as if in distress. With the instinct of a trained healer, Aragorn reached out to help her. The woman grasped his arm with one hand, reached inside her cloak with the other, and with sudden, terrible speed, drove a dagger into Aragorn's shoulder.
The King stumbled and cried out while the youth and other passers-by screamed in horror. More Guards rushed to the scene. Cursing, Cirion and Meneldil pulled the assassin off of their lord and hastily subdued her.
Aragorn was the first to collect himself. "Stay calm!" he cried. He slowly pulled the dagger from his shoulder. A merchant selling cloth at the next stall thrust a piece of linen into Aragorn's hands. The King briskly staunched the wound with it. "The wound is but slight," he reassured the bystanders.
The woman gave him an evil laugh . The Guards tore the hood away from her face revealing the swarthy skin and tattooed cheeks of a native of Far Harad. "You are doomed to die, Elessar!" she spat in heavily accented Westron. "As you killed my husband, so I have killed you. My blade is coated with a deadly poison, which will slay you before twenty-four hours have passed!"
"You will pay dearly for this!" cried Meneldil, his young face fierce with rage.
The woman laughed maliciously. "There is nothing you can do to me, Elessar, for I have even less time left than you!" She raised her arm, so that her sleeve fell back to reveal a small cut on her arm. "A few hours ago, I cut myself with this poisoned blade that I might go to join my husband in the underworld. Then I thought, why not take you with me on my long journey as an offering to the spirits of the dead?"
"Take her to the Houses of Healing!" Aragorn commanded. "See if the Healers can learn what venom she has used. Her dagger should yield traces of it."
The Guards tried to march the woman off, but she seemed hardly able to place one foot in front of the other. "See!" she cried in hideous joy, "Already the poison consumes me. Soon it will be your turn, Elessar!"
"Shall we escort you to the Houses as well, my lord?" Cirion enquired of Aragorn.
The King shook his head. "If I am to die, I prefer to do so in my own bed!" he said grimly. "Send a messenger to Lord Faramir in Ithilien on the swiftest horse that can be found and bid him come to me at once," he ordered. "And summon the Warden of the Houses of Healing to my quarters once he has examined the woman."
Refusing all offers of help from the Guards and concerned passers by, Aragorn made his way back to his apartments. His mind raced in turmoil. Was the woman telling the truth or was she simply mad? There had been a Southron incursion on the marches of Ithilien a few weeks past. Aragorn and Faramir had fought and killed those who had refused to surrender. He had slain their aging leader with his own hand. Those they had taken prisoner claimed their fallen leader was a venerable warlord. Could the slain Southron captain have been the woman's husband?
Aragorn subdued a tremble. Could he truly be doomed to die within twenty-four hours? He had so much to live for! What of Arwen and his son? He did not want to leave them. And what of Faramir, his best friend and Steward? How could he leave those he loved so soon? Then what of Gondor and Arnor? Eldarion was scarcely more than a baby. What would happen to his kingdoms if he died now? Apart from the pain in his shoulder, Aragorn felt perfectly well. Surely his doom was not come so soon!
Aragorn paused briefly before the White Tree, wondering if he looked upon its beauty for the last time. The Tree of the Kings was still a slender sapling. He had hoped to watch it grow through the years, to see the Tree rise high and strong, its still fragile branches thicken and stretch out with new leaves over the Citadel where Isildur had once walked. He had hoped by the time he passed the Silver Crown to Eldarion that the roots would have grown deep and the trunk thick and sturdy.
Arwen hastened out to meet him at the entrance to his private apartments. Her beautiful face was pale and drawn. "Estel, I have heard grave tidings!" she cried. "Tell me it is not true that you have received a deadly wound?"
Aragorn clasped her tightly in his arms. "I do not know, my love," he said sadly. "I need to examine the injury." He made his way to his private chambers, closely followed by Arwen. Gathering his healing supplies, he spread them on the bed, then removed his makeshift bandage and pulled off his cloak, tunic and shirt.
The wound was small, less than an inch in length and scarcely bleeding. Hardly alarming to look upon, but already the wound felt hot, almost tingling, to Aragorn's careful touch. The edges of the cut were a curious greenish shade. "Alas!" cried Aragorn. "It is indeed poisoned, and not the usual venom favoured by the Haradrim, which is easy enough to treat with the right knowledge. I have never before come across this poison!"
"It is such a tiny cut to be so deadly, Estel!" Arwen exclaimed softly, carefully studying the horror in her eyes chilled Aragorn. "Could my father's books hold the answers you seek?" she asked with sudden hope. "If only my brothers were here!"
"Your father would have shared the knowledge with me, had he possessed it," Aragorn said sadly. "He taught me all that he knew of the poisons used by the Dark Lord and his minions. I must proceed with the knowledge I already have, and the implements and medicines available here. Now I have need of hot water."
While Arwen sought a servant, Aragorn plunged a knife into the fire that burned in the grate and waited for the blade to grow white hot. Retrieving the knife, he allowed it to cool then he gritted his teeth and sliced into his shoulder, opening the existing wound wider and forcing it to bleed.
"Whatever are you doing?" Arwen asked in horror, returning with the water and hearing his stifled groans.
"Trying to flush out some of the poison," he told her. "'Tis but a slim chance it will help, but any chance is better than none!" He took two athelas leaves from a pouch in his healing supplies, breathed on them and cast them into the hot water. "Will you bandage my shoulder, please?" he asked Arwen, pressing the leaves into the wound. "Athelas is the most potent weapon I know of against deadly venoms. Even as he spoke, Aragorn feared it was already too late. The tips of his fingers were beginning to feel numb, which he recalled Elrond once warning him to be aware of as an early symptom of poisoning. He stifled his rising feelings of panic and tried to calmly recall his healer's training. How else might he slow the deadly venom? Fluids might help flush some of it from his body. He found he craved tea, such as the Hobbits drank. He asked Arwen to send a servant to bring it. While they waited, Aragorn donned a loose robe, struggling to tie the sash around his waist.
Arwen noticed how he was fumbling, and knew why. The anguish in her eyes almost caused his heart to break there and then.
Aragorn could do nothing but await Master Tarostar, Warden of the Houses of Healing and what tidings he might bring. He could only hope that Faramir would arrive while he was still conscious. There was so much he needed to tell his friend and Steward in the little time he had left. He could only wait and conserve his strength as best he could. Arwen sat beside him on the vast bed frantically searching through her father's books for any clue how she could save her husband. There was none.
An hour or so later, Tarostar arrived. "The woman refused to speak, not even to give her name," he informed the King grimly. "She is very near death now. We have dosed her with the antidote to every known poison, but alas, nothing is having any effect."
Arwen buried her face in her hands.
"Keep on observing her," Aragorn said, somehow maintaining a calm composure as his last hopes faded. "Perhaps you will yet learn something of use."
"Yes, my lord," said the Warden, trying to mask his own emotions. "Is there any other assistance I may offer?"
"Not yet," said Aragorn. "I would be alone with my wife now until Lord Faramir arrives."
As soon as the man left, Aragorn slumped back against the pillows. His hands now tingled up to the wrists and his fingers felt stiff and clumsy. "To think that I should die like this!" he cried in fury. "I fought many battles, knowing I might easily fall in combat, or that I might be killed by agents of the Dark Lord while I was in hiding. Now, just when I felt I could finally enjoy the fruits of my labours, I am doomed to fall at the hands of a madwoman! Why, why?"
Arwen could only shake her head, having no answer or comfort to offer him.
This is a more polished version of a story which came first in the Teitho contest "24" Challenge. I thought it would be fun to write some heavy angst again, a genre which I've neglected somewhat of late.