Disclaimer: I own nothing. Not pretending I do. No malicious, money grubbing intent. Purely for the sake of free entertainment.
I'm trying to stick to cannon for both Highlander and the Lord of the Rings Books. I'm sure I'll make mistakes anyway, because I haven't seen Highlander since it went off the air and although I've read LOTR recently there are so many details I'm bound to forget some. If it's a small, easily fixable, mistake email me. I'll change it, eventually. If it's something big, requiring major rewrites, just consider the story slightly AU.
I'm fond of all feedback except the pointlessly abusive. If you have constructive criticism that's fine with me, but name calling isn't nice.
If you want email notification of updates, email me. I'd be happy to put your name on the list.
Finally, I hope you enjoy my little story.
The ringing of a phone echoed through the nearly empty dojo. With a slightly irritated expression on his face, the dojo's single inhabitant interrupted the kata he was in the midst of to go back to his office and answer it. A telephone call just before midnight had to be from someone he knew and might just be important.
"MacLeod, how are you this fine evening? I hope I'm not interrupting anything," said the voice over the phone.
"Methos," Duncan answered, "as a matter of fact you are interrupting. I was just in the middle of my work out. What do you want?"
"What makes you think I want something?"
"So you're not planning to ask for a favor?" Duncan said in a highly skeptical manner.
"Well now that you mention it, there is one tiny little thing you could do for me. There are going to be a few ancient manuscripts available at the Thackery estate auction and I was wondering if you could acquire them for me?" Methos asked.
"Why can't you do it yourself?"
"How would it look if Adam Pierson, a man of modest means, suddenly had the money to pay for ancient texts, extremely expensive ancient texts? I can't draw attention to myself like that. Besides, I plan to be in the Swiss Alps when the auction takes place and they're not accepting electronic bidding," Methos replied.
"What's so important in Switzerland that it can't be postponed a couple weeks? Are you sure this isn't a ski trip conveniently planned to stick me with the bill? I know Adam Pierson has acted as 'an anonymous buyer's agent' more than once." Duncan still had his reservations, but Methos could tell he was starting to break.
"Mac, I promise I'll pay you back. As to why Switzerland... there's an odd formation of rock covered in carvings which are older than I am and I want to investigate. There are old references to the place as 'World Gates' and tales of strange disappearances which I've always dismissed as fairy tales, but in light of my new appreciation for the supernatural I thought I'd take a look," Methos answered.
"I'm sure it will be fascinating, but why now? If they've been there for all these millennia, I doubt another week or two will matter," Duncan said, still a little leery of doing Methos any favors.
"Well there's a young head hunter that's been following me, looking for an easy kill. I'd like to avoid him if I can."
"Ah," Duncan said the light dawning a little, "Why didn't you say so before? Of course I'll go to the auction for you. There were a few items in the catalogue I'm interested in myself. Do you need any help with your new 'friend'?" Any threat to a friend immediately changing the over protective Highlander's attitude.
"No, I'll be fine. I do have several millennia of experience. I can take care of myself." Methos said, the eye-rolling nearly audible in his voice. "I seriously doubt this headhunter is any match for me with a sword. I'd be surprised if he reaches the second century mark. But, there's no sense taking chances. Even the most skilled swordsman can have a bad day, trip over a rock or something, and lose a fight he should have won. Just buy the manuscripts for me. I'll be fine."
"Okay, I believe you. You can take care of yourself. But, be careful."
"When have I ever not been careful?" the elder immortal said with a laugh. "Just get the texts. I pick them up in a month or two."
"I'm going to Paris in a couple weeks."
"I'll see you there then," Methos said.
The two immortals hung up their phones. Duncan returned to his workout. Methos finished up his packing.
* * * * * * * * * *
Methos, aka Adam Pierson, drove his jeep up a road winding around the mountain on a warm, sunny, summer day. The road wouldn't take him directly to his destination, but he could get within a pleasant afternoon's hike of the spot. As he drove he fiddled with his car radio searching for a weather report. Unfortunately, the only station he could receive clearly was one playing pop music. "Am I the only one who thinks `Hit me baby one more time' smacks of domestic violence? If taste isn't dead, it must be in a coma," the ancient immortal muttered to himself as he gave up on his search and switched the radio off.
Arriving at his destination, or as near to it as the jeep could go, Methos parked beside the road, grabbed a knapsack containing his note taking supplies and lunch, and set off. He enjoyed a pleasant little hike and arrived at the stones precisely as planned.
The stones were an odd sort of outcropping. They looked a bit like Stonehenge in that they were laid out in a circular pattern with a central stone. They were unlike Stonehenge in that the stones were all short, perfectly round half circles, and seemingly part of the ground rather than merely placed upon it. Saving the carvings on the stones, they looked as if they'd be perfectly smooth like pebbles from a river. All in all, a not very striking arrangement. If a person didn't know what to look for they might even overlook the stones at first glance. Stones the same color as the surrounding land and not above two feet in height aren't particularly eye catching.
Methos started his examination with the middle stone. The carvings were in lines which joined at the middle and spiraled down to the bottom of the stone, sort of like a peppermint candy. Each of the lines was composed of tiny little figure which appeared to be some sort of writing, many of which had worn away and become illegible over time. Methos began by making a rubbing of the design. Then he took photographs from every angle. Lastly he took careful measurements of every angle and meticulously noted everything down in his notebook. After the middle stone he started on the surrounding stones which had similar but less complex markings and methodically worked his way around the circle.
When he was halfway finished he took a break for lunch. The sandwiches made by the staff at the inn were quite good, but the only beverage available was water and the meal suffered greatly for lack of beer, at least in Methos's opinion. As he polished off the last of his lunch Methos began to consider leaving the rest of the work for another day. He had planned to do it all at once, but it was boring work and he wasn't in any particular hurry. Besides, he had already collected plenty of material in a language he didn't recognize to keep him busy for months if not years translating. So the decision was made, pack up and come back another day.
Just as Methos was folding up his rubbings and putting away his notes, he sensed the presence of another immortal. 'Damn! How'd that irritating pup find me up here? I suppose it would be too much to hope that it is some other friendly immortal,' Methos thought while drawing his sword and preparing for battle.
Methos was right, it was too much to hope. The younger immortal came out of the trees weapon in hand. He was shortish, stoutish, and baldish although he only looked to be in his late twenties. "I'm Nathaniel Grey and there's no use trying to run from me Pierson. Wherever you go I'll find you," he boldly declared.
"But, why would you want to? Why have you been hunting me? As far as I know I've never done anything against you. I don't even know who you are. Are you positive you want to fight me? You can still leave without bloodshed," Methos answered in a pleading and slightly confused tone.
"I will certainly leave without any of MY blood being shed, after I take your head. Now prepare to die!" Nathaniel shouted as he took the offensive.
Methos easily countered the clumsy blow and muttered, "Suit yourself, but don't say I didn't warn you."
The two immortals exchanged blows for awhile. Nathaniel swung about in a frenzy quickly tiring himself out. Methos managed to sidestep most of the blows and parried the rest without so much as breaking a sweat.
'He can't actually be this bad can he? Most first year students know better than this. If this isn't an act to catch me off guard, I'm almost embarrassed for him,' Methos thought. Just then a wild swing very nearly caught Methos's arm. 'Almost but not quite,' Methos corrected his earlier thought. 'Time to end it.'
Then Methos took up the battle in earnest. He maneuvered Nathaniel backwards towards the center stone step by step. 'One more step, just one more,' Methos thought. Nathaniel backed up that last step and fell over the stone.
Standing over the stone with his sword to Nathaniel's neck Methos asked, "Now do you want to tell me what this is all about? Or should I just kill you?"
"Try to kill me, I dare you! A pansy scholar like you isn't man enough to kill me," Nathaniel proclaimed.
"Pansy scholar is it?" Methos said, arching one eyebrow. "You're one to talk seeing as you're currently lying here with my sword to your throat."
"You just got lucky. Next time it'll be you on the ground and then I'll kill you," Nathaniel replied.
"You really are too stupid to live." Then with a sigh, Methos took Nathaniel's head. 'Well, that was pointless. If only the idiot knew when to give up,' Methos thought with a little melancholy as he watched the quickening gather, rising in a mist from the corpse. Then Methos noticed something different about the quickening. It, unlike every other quickening he had ever experienced in his long life, didn't go directly toward him. Instead the energy was being absorbed by the stones. There is always damage to the surrounding area, with more damage the stronger the quickening, but nothing like this. The carvings were glowing and appeared to be moving around the stones. Then the center stone started to pulse and expand. Seconds had passed and still Methos was untouched by the quickening although he was keenly observing what was happening around him. Then the center stone exploded and for awhile the oldest man observed no more.
* * * * * * * * * *
Legolas and Gimli son of Gloin were riding together to Minas Tirith, Gondor's capital. There they planned to assist in the restoration of the city. Gimli was organizing dwarven help with stone work and Legolas was seeing to the gardens. Although the city only sustained major damage in the outer sections during the war, there was still much to be done throughout. The kingdom of Gondor had suffered much decline in the long years without a king and there was much that needed putting right. Seeing as King Elessar, also known as Aragorn or Strider, was a close personal friend of Legolas and Gimli the two were happy to help.
The two friends rode at a leisurely pace, enjoying the countryside, fine weather, and friendly banter with each other. Then there was a bright flash off in the distance. "Friend-Legolas," Gimli said, "Can you see what has happened to cause such a strange light?"
Legolas looked toward the spot as the light flickered a few more times, "No. It is still too distant for even elven sight. Perhaps we should move closer."
"It does seem to be the sort of occurrence Aragorn would be interested in knowing of," Gimli agreed.
"Hold tightly to me. There is not a smooth road ahead," Legolas warned as he urged their horse to a run.
Moments later they reached the source of the light and a strange sight it was indeed. There were lights, much like lightning, flying up from the ground and into a mass of light too bright to look upon which hovered a few feet above the ground and the whole mass was spinning.
"What is it?" Gimli asked shielding his eyes from the light.
"I've never seen anything like it," Legolas replied, "but I sense no evil involved."
"So whatever it is, it's good?" Gimli said with some skepticism.
"I did not say that. Though we can hope that is the case," Legolas said with equal skepticism. The former Fellowship of the Ring members, although gladdened and made optimistic of the future by their victory over the great Enemy, were not naive innocents always believing the best of their fellow man, or dwarf, or hobbit, or whatever the case may be.
As Gimli and Legolas were speculating on the nature of the event, the lights dimmed, the spinning slowed, and eventually the lightning stopped, leaving behind an unconscious man lying upon the ground. The two approached the unconscious figure cautiously. To their surprise they found him to be a mortal man and a seemingly ordinary one at that despite his strange clothing. He appeared to be of about middle height, or at least he would be if he were standing, thinnish, fair skin and dark hair, with a prominent nose and otherwise unremarkable features. Clothed in more typical clothing with longer hair, as was the fashion, he could blend into almost any human city.
"Is he dangerous?" Legolas wondered aloud.
"Well he does have that sword," Gimli pointed out. "It doesn't look to be anything special, but solid workmanship it appears. And look," pointing to the blood on the sword's edge, "I'd say he's used it lately."
"Even more reason to take care. But, we know not if he had good cause for violence. Perhaps he bloodied his sword defending against evil." Legolas said.
"You did say, you didn't think the light was evil. I suppose we should give him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, what true threat could a single human be to an elf and a dwarf so experienced at orc killing? Between the two of us there is no need to fear, even if he is evil."
"Well said, friend-Gimli," Legolas said with a smile. Just then the man began to stir. He started to rise then stopped and clutched his head with a groan. "He does not seem capable of any threatening action at the moment at least. Let us see if we can render assistance."
"Sir, are you hurt?" Legolas asked the man, but his only answer was a slightly confused look.
"I don't suppose floating above the ground in a ball of light is good for a man's wits," Gimli interjected, "Only witnessing it hasn't been good for mine."
Legolas tried again this time more slowly, "Sir, are you injured? I am Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood and this is Gimli son of Gloin. Is there some aid we can give you?"
The man looked back and forth between Gimli and Legolas for a few second and said haltingly, "I am Adam Pierson and I would like it if you could tell me where I am and why we are speaking ancient Pictish."
"This is Gondor and we are about an hour's ride west of Minas Tirith. I've never heard of this pic-something you mentioned. Have you Legolas?" Gimli asked.
"Pictish is an unfamiliar term to me also. What I would truly like to know is where you are from Adam son of Pier and what has just happened here?" Legolas added.
Adam 'son of Pier' slowly got to his feet and looked about. From a pocket he drew out a cloth and wiped the blood from his blade. Putting the sword away, inside a garment shaped like a robe but seemingly worn as a cloak, Adam spoke in a language unlike any Gimli or Legolas had ever heard before. They did not know what he said, but they could discern the tone of disbelief and amazement. "I just now came from Switzerland. As to what happened and how I got here, where ever this is... That is what I'd like to know," Adam answered Legolas. This time his speech was less halting and uncertain, but he still spoke with a thick and very peculiar accent.
"Are you claiming to have no idea of how you suddenly appeared here?" Gimli said incredulously.
"No, I said I didn't know what happened. I happen to have plenty of ideas, but none of them quite qualify as knowledge," Adam replied in a slightly condescending manner.
Seeing that Gimli was becoming somewhat irritated with Adam, Legolas thought he should do something to head off the hostilities before they resulted in violence. Before Gimli could answer Adam's observation Legolas interjected, "Perhaps you should share your speculations with us, for we haven't so much as an idea of what happened."
Adam stared at the elf for a moment and said, "It must have been those bloody stones."
"Stones?" Legolas said.
"There was a ring of ancient carved stones high in the Swiss Alps. There were all sorts of myths and rumors about the stones having magical powers 'World Gates' some said. I was attempting to translate the carvings when this happened."
"To what purpose?" Legolas said.
And at nearly the same time, "With a bloody sword?" Gimli said.
"A bandit attack interrupted my studies. I used my sword only to defend myself. And the reason for making the translation is simple curiosity. I'm a scholar. Uncovering secrets of the past is what I do," Adam answered sounding a bit put upon.
"Did any of this bandit's blood land upon the stones?" Legolas asked.
"Well yes, as a matter of fact it did. Right on the center stone... Ah yes I see what you're getting at. Blood as a key," Adam said. "Why didn't I think of that before?"
"You were studying a magical structure without knowing the power contained in life's blood?" Legolas replied incredulously. "That is one of the most primitive and uncontrollable of all magics. Even the wild men know of such things."
"Well there are stories, but where I come from very few even believe magic exists," Adam said a bit sheepishly. "Until recently, I thought magic to be a product of overactive imaginations myself."
"No magic," Legolas said to himself. 'I should hate to live in a land without magic.' he thought, truly appalled at the concept. Legolas could see where that might come in handy, without magic there could be no evil magic. Sauron and the Ring would not have been a threat. But, without magic there would be no elves, at least not as he knew them.
"I hate to interrupt your philosophical discussion, but what is the point of all this talk of magic?" Gimli asked, impatient and uninterested in mystical discussion.
"The point is that apparently what happened here is simply a foolish mistake. If what he says is true he managed to accidentally move between worlds," Legolas answered.
"So what do we do with him now?" Gimli asked Legolas. Adam was observing this interchange between the two friends and clearly wanted to make some comment.
Legolas, ignoring Adam, said, "I suppose we should take him to Aragorn. It is his country after all and he will most likely be very curious about Adam's origins."
"Right. We'll take him to Aragorn," Gimli agreed.
"If you two are through discussing me as if I weren't present, I'd like to inquire as to whether or not I get any say in this. I am the person whose fate is under discussion after all," Adam said dryly.
"Not," Gimli answered simply, hand on ax as if daring Adam to disagree.
"That's what I thought," Adam said, "Lead on. The sooner we start walking; the sooner we'll reach our destination."
The three returned to the road and started walking toward Minas Tirith, leading the horse.
When Methos awoke to find himself in a place that was, one, certainly not Switzerland and, two, not any place he had ever seen before, he was understandably shocked and more than a little nonplused. The fact that his head was throbbing and he found himself looking up at a hairy midget and a pretty boy both dressed like Ren-faire rejects didn't help matters either. It's safe to say he would have panicked, if it weren't for the 5,000 years or so of experience acting as a hedge against such behavior. Needless to say, Methos was off his game.
His first impulse upon waking was to make acidic comments and be generally obnoxious. The one thing Methos hated above all else was to be in a situation he didn't understand and had no hope of controlling. And childish as the habit is, there is a certain comfort in taking one's own bad mood out on others.
But, after taking a second look at his new acquaintances, Methos decided a more cooperative approach would be safer. Despite the oddity of their appearance, they were clearly dangerous. Methos answered their questions and agreed to go along with them to see their friend. The time for asking questions about the million and one things he wanted to know about the other world, for other world it seemed to be, had not arrived.
The three 'men' set off toward Minas Tirith. Methos was avidly taking in the scenery. 'Those trees over there look similar to elms, but the color isn't right,' Methos thought. And more startling were the mountains he could see in the distance both ahead and behind him. 'I don't believe there are mountains anywhere on earth which would fit that particular formation!' Methos exclaimed to himself. 'This really is another world. I had my doubts when I first arrived, but this couldn't be faked.'
Then examining his companions a little more thoroughly, Methos began to note subtle differences, like pointed ears, which made him think that perhaps these two were not human. "Ah.. Please excuse me if this is a rude question, but you two aren't human, are you?" Methos asked hesitantly.
"I'm a Dwarf!" Gimli said with pride, "What kind of fool doesn't know the difference between a dwarf and a man?"
"There aren't any dwarves where I'm from. I didn't mean to offend," Methos replied. Then he looked towards Legolas questioningly.
"An elf," Legolas said, "I suppose there are no elves in your world either."
"No," Methos said.
Then the group fell silent. 'Talkative bunch.' Methos thought with sarcasm. 'Hopefully, when we get where ever it is we are going I can get a few more answers.' Although the unplanned trip was a bit disconcerting at first, the idea of a new world to explore was growing on him. If the world's, make that earth's, oldest man had a weakness it was curiosity. Here was a place he knew next to nothing about with people who were only myth on earth.
Even more intriguing was figuring out the connection between his world and this one. Why is it that they speak a language nearly the same as one which died out millennia before at home? How did the stones work? And perhaps more importantly, how would he get back assuming it was even possible? Methos didn't have any pressing engagements to get back to, although he didn't like worrying his friends. And, this world seemed safe enough at present. Methos wasn't itching to leave immediately, but there was too much he still didn't know. He might need to escape some danger in the future and hopping to a new world would be a good way to do that.
Methos was cautiously optimistic about his little adventure. The natives, although understandably suspicious of him, didn't seem hostile. 'Not too hostile,' Methos mentally corrected as Gimli leveled an antagonistic look at him. 'I seem to have rubbed the short one the wrong way. I'll have to make amends later, after I know more about the way of things. Making enemies is not a good start.'
Methos resigned himself to his new situation and decided to make the best of it as the trio continued to plod towards Minas Tirith.
* * * * * * * * * *
Methos/Adam Pierson, Legolas the Elf, and Gimli the Dwarf walked for the rest of the afternoon, mostly in silence. As the sun was setting they approached Minas Tirith, capital city of Gondor. Any lingering doubts Methos had as to the reality of his situation were immediately cleared up upon entering the city.
It was like nothing he had ever seen. Breathtaking stonework with the elegance of ancient Greek marbles but designed with decidedly Anglo-Saxon sensibilities just did not exist in any time or place Methos had experienced. Signs of decay did not escape him though. 'Perhaps I am arriving at the end of a great empire,' Methos speculated remembering the fall of Rome. 'If it is the end they seem to be putting up a good fight,' he added, noting construction in progress.
Then they passed a section of burned buildings which hadn't yet been torn down. 'Fire damage. An accident... considering the amount of stone scorched, not likely. Fighting then,' Methos accurately diagnosed. The immortal had seen and set enough fires in his checkered past to recognize the signs of violence. 'It must have happened recently but not too recently,' he also noted, considering that prime, near a cistern, real estate doesn't stay vacant very long and balancing that with the fact that he wasn't treated with excessive suspicion, people at war aren't usually friendly to strangers.
'I'll have to keep their recent turmoil in mind when dealing with the powers that be. War puts people on guard. Non-threatening is probably the way to go. On the bright side, it looks like they won. Post war euphoria will probably work in my favor. Happy people don't look for entertainment in a rousing game of burn the stranger at the stake,' Methos thought, assessing his situation and deciding on a strategy.
They proceeded through the city, Legolas and Gimli exchanging greetings periodically with those whom they knew and they were shown respect by all. The passage through the city made it quite clear to Methos that in addition to being people of importance as friends of the king the two were also quite popular with the people. He found that thought reassuring because, although there are a few prominent exceptions, the complete bastards aren't very popular with the people. The slightly shady or corrupt might manage to be loved, but rarely did the truly evil deceive people so completely.
When they reached the citadel Methos was ushered into a small side room which was clearly designed as a waiting area with benches lining the walls. There he waited for what seemed like hours, but was probably only forty-five minutes or so. Waiting to meet with a man who may have the power to decide your fate for the foreseeable future when you know very little about the situation and most of that is speculation is nervous work even when you are immortal.
Eventually a man who appeared to be some sort of guard, judging from the livery and weaponry, summoned Methos to see King Elessar. 'I thought the king was Aragorn. Some odd naming custom perhaps,' Methos pondered to keep from over thinking the coming interview.
Methos followed the guard down several corridors and was led into a chamber. Inside were Legolas, Gimli, and a third man, with the unmistakable aura of royalty, who was reading something. The three were seated around a table and appeared to have been in conference. 'About what to do with me no doubt,' Methos thought.
The third man signed the parchment then looked Methos over with a penetrating stare. The king appeared to be no older than middle years, and could have been younger. Age was hard to determine because of his weather roughened countenance. 'So this king isn't the type to pamper himself and lead from the back. Those were usually the better sort of kings,' Methos thought.
The man handed the guard the parchment, never stopping his examination of Methos, and said, "Deliver this to my chamberlain."
"Yes, Your Majesty" the guard answered before leaving on his errand.
Legolas then said, "Aragorn, I present to you Adam son of Pier who comes to us from a different world."
"Your Majesty," Methos replied executing his best courtly bow.
"I see you are no stranger to courtly manners," the King observed dryly.
"I have spent some time at court Your Majesty. I've found that kings tend to have the best libraries," Methos replied carefully with the intent to imply that he is a person of importance in his homeland who associates with kings and to also imply that he has little interest in politics, only books.
The King paused for a moment assessing Methos's answer. He was most definitely shrewd enough to pick up the implications. The question was whether or not to believe them. "I'm going to speak plainly," the King said after a moment's reflection, "This land has recently been freed from great peril of long standing. What I want to know of you is this: Will you to seek to disrupt our new found peace, attempting to make yourself powerful at the expense of my people? Or can I trust you to act in an honorable fashion, not injurious to my kingdom?"
'I believe I could take a liking to this man. I get the feeling that he is like MacLeod in that do anything for the sake of 'good' so honorable it makes your teeth hurt kind of way, but with more sophistication than the Highlander,' Methos thought. Then he said, "I give you my word that I have no intention of doing anything to harm your kingdom. My only intent is to learn what I may, especially anything pertaining to a way to return home. You have nothing to worry about on my account."
The King nodded, accepting Methos's declaration, and said, "Then I welcome you to Gondor as my guest. I wish you luck finding what you seek. There are many ancient records in Minas Tirith, perhaps one contains the key to moving between worlds."
"Thank you, Your Majesty," Methos replied.
"You are welcome. Perhaps you could tell us something of your world, later, to satisfy our curiosity," the King said as a dismissal.
"Of course, Your Majesty, I'd be honored," Methos replied with another bow and exited the room. Legolas followed him out and said something to a guard waiting in the hall; then the elf returned to the king.
"This way, sir," the guard said, then set off down the corridor.
'Well that went rather well,' Methos thought. 'The King seems a decent sort. I'll be happier when I know a bit more about the lay of the land, but so far things seem to be turning out remarkably well. Considering that any traveler from another world would be thrown in the loony bin at home, being a royal guest with run of the library isn't bad at all even if I'm only a 'guest' so that they can keep an eye on me.'
They stopped at a door at the end the hall and the guard said, "These are your quarters, sir. A page will be by to take you to dinner in an hour or so." Then the man left with a nod.
Methos went in. The room was airy, spacious, and well appointed. There was also a steaming bath waiting and a change of clothes on the bed. "Nice," Methos said fingering the material. He quickly disrobed and got into the tub, sword placed within easy reach. 'Not bad, not bad at all. I think I could grow to like it here,' Methos thought as he sank further into the warm water.
* * * * * * * * * *
Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli were still in Aragorn's study discussing Middle-earth's new addition.
"He seems harmless enough, but I'm not sure if he is entirely what he seems," Aragorn said.
"I agree," Legolas replied, "I sense that he is hiding something. I have no idea what that something is though. What he did tell us appears to be true. His arrival honestly appears to be an accident and I believed him when he stated his intentions but..."
"There is something he is not saying," Aragorn finished for the elf. "You have been quiet on the subject," Aragorn continued, turning toward Gimli, "What say you?"
"I don't trust him," the dwarf said, "He is too smooth. Too polished. And did you notice his hands? I'd be surprised if he has ever done an honest day's work."
"You are not one for passing the hours sifting through dusty tomes, Gimli," Legolas said with affection. "That description does support his claims of being a scholar, however."
"Hmm... Whatever Adam is hiding, he isn't a danger at the moment. We shall just have to wait and see. Perhaps, once we know more of where he is from and how he got here his secret will be revealed as something harmless. Although I have my doubts about him, I will not throw a man, who may only be guilty of being the victim of an unfortunate accident, in the dungeon. Nor can I allow someone we know so little about to wander free about the countryside. We will keep a close eye upon him, until he has proven himself one way or the other," Aragorn said, temporarily closing the matter.
Legolas and Gimli consented to the plan. Since it was nearly dinner time the three went off to change.
Aragorn, having to search for one of the dress boots he'd kicked under the bed the night before, came down to the hall late. 'It is times like this where I'm tempted to rethink my decision to not have a valet,' Aragorn thought as he entered the hall. His eyes immediately went to Arwen who was talking to their new guest. Arwen seemed to have taken an immediate liking to Adam; they were deep in conversation and she seemed to find whatever he was saying to be quite amusing. Aragorn found this reassuring. Arwen was an excellent judge of character; if she liked Adam he couldn't be too bad a person.
Aragorn started across the room to find out what his wife and the stranger found so interesting to talk about, but was stopped before he could take two steps by a lord with "urgent business" to discuss. Then there was another person and another one with something to put before the king. Aragorn became too wrapped up in state business to so much as give Adam another thought.
Aragorn finally sat down in his place next to Arwen at the center of the head table in a `u' shaped arrangement where all the most important personages were seated. There were lower tables set in rows in the middle of the `u' for the minor nobles.
Noticing Aragorn's slightly harassed expression. "Korvan corner you again?" Arwen asked placing a sympathetic hand on his sleeve.
Aragorn nodded and said, "And Tirmen, and Barklin. When will they get it through their thick skulls that I am not going to give them exclusive trading rights with Rohan?"
"Foolish men ask foolish things," Arwen replied.
"I noticed you talking to our new guest. You seemed to be having a pleasant conversation," Aragorn changed the subject.
"Yes, Adam is quite charming. The men of Gondor could learn a thing or two from him," Arwen teased.
"And I had thought you were growing fond of my poor kingdom," Aragorn replied in a mock injured tone.
"I do love Gondor, but a little polish wouldn't come amiss," Arwen replied glancing over at a minor noble busily picking his teeth with a knife.
"Point taken," Aragorn said with a smile. Then the royal couple turned their attention to performing their hostly duties and engaged in polite dinner conversation with the rest of the table.
The meal went on as normal. Aragorn glanced at Adam from time to time and noted his success with his table mates. The traveler was adjusting quite well to his surroundings, engaging in light banter with a few minor noblemen and flattering a couple of elderly ladies outrageously. He completely ignored Lady Dia, a pretty girl who shamelessly flirted with all the young men, however. 'Very strange,' Aragorn thought, 'Why would he make it a point to ignore the girl?'
Eventually, the meal came to an end and the stories and songs began. Adam appeared to take a keen interest in them and would occasionally ask a question of the elderly ladies who had attached themselves to him. Every once in a while he would nod to himself as if noting information for future reference.
After Legolas finished singing he turned to Adam and said, "Perhaps you would be good enough to tell us a story of your land."
Adam stood and said without hesitation, "I would be happy to offer a tale for your entertainment. In exchange for your kind hospitality it is the least I can do and I know just the story. I will tell you the tale of King Arthur, the once and future king, who is one of my world's greatest heroes. It all began with a sword..."
The story that followed kept the company in the hall captivated. The story of betrayal and failure was both unlike anything they had ever heard before and yet there were striking similarities. The powerful wizard, a brotherhood of knights sworn to a cause, a special sword bound up in prophesy, all these things were very familiar.
'So his world is not so different from our own,' Aragorn observed to himself at the end of the recitation.
When Adam was finished no one wanted to follow his performance and the party broke up. "I still don't trust him, but I must admit the man can tell a tale," Gimli observed to Legolas.
"Yes, that he can. I'm interested to see what other stories he has to tell," Legolas said happily, for elves are ever fond of a good tale.
With that, they all retired for the night.
The next morning Methos decided to inspect the library the king had mentioned. 'I don't know if there will be anything pertaining to my situation there, but it can't hurt to look,' Methos thought as he dressed in another set of clothes provided for him. 'Even if there's nothing about traveling to other worlds, there's no telling what interesting things might be found there. Perhaps there'll be some records concerning elves.'
Methos, after learning of the immortality of the elves was intensely curious about the subject. He wanted to know exactly what was meant by 'immortal' as the word applied to them. Did they truly live forever? Or were they just extremely long lived? Judging from the stories they could be killed, but how exactly? Did it have to be done in some special way? Or were they as vulnerable to violence as men? If they truly were immortal, how could they have children? It just didn't make sense biologically. If no one grows old and dies there isn't any need for children to replace them. Or were children few enough in number and casualty rates high enough for the two to equal out? And if they do live forever how is Legolas a prince? Do they have a prince just on the off chance the king is killed? Does the king eventually just decide to retire? Or is prince just an honorary title describing his relationship to the king and he is never meant to be king? All this he wanted to know and more, but he didn't know enough yet to ask. Methos had enough experience entering foreign cultures to realize that what seems to one group a simple question may seem to another terribly intrusive and rude. Asking people would have to wait, but books were fair game.
Once Methos had dressed and adjusted his sword belt to his liking, he set off to find someone who could direct him to the library. 'I'd prefer a comfortable pair of jeans to this lot,' Methos observed to himself about his medieval-esque garb, 'but there is something to be said for being able to wear a sword openly. Hiding it under a coat is not an ideal arrangement. Sweltering in summer and freezing in winter because buttons take too long to undo is not my idea of fun.'
At the end of the hall he found a page who was happy to provide him with directions to the place they kept the books and records. It seems it wasn't so much a library as a place where they dumped all the miscellaneous bits of writing and left them there to gather dust. The people of Gondor had been too busy fighting the forces of evil to spend much time with books and papers, or at least that is what the chatty page said. Methos dismissed the mention of evil as simply a child's interpretation of things, but he could accept that a nation at war doesn't flourish academically. The page also mentioned that there was a crippled old man called Tarn who looked after the place and that the great wizard Gandalf had spent "forever" looking at things before the war. Methos thanked the page and went on his way.
When he arrived at his destination, Methos could easily understand what took Gandalf so long. There were scrolls and books stacked everywhere, on shelves, on tables, under tables, all in various states of decay and there didn't appear to be any sort of order to it. It looked like things were randomly placed wherever a space could be found. 'Even if there is something useful here, it will be years before I find it,' the Immortal whined to himself. 'The sooner I start the sooner I'll finish,' Methos added, resigning himself to the task. 'I just hope some of this stuff is interesting, if I'm going to be sifting through it.'
"Hello? Anybody here?" Methos called, looking for Tarn.
A few seconds later an old man leaning heavily on a cane limped in. He was short, hunched over, shriveled like a prune, mostly bald with a few strands of white hair left, had a squint, probably from too much reading, and his clothing was spotted, wrinkled, and worn, but looked to be of good quality. "Who are you? And what do you want? I have a lot of work to do and don't need anyone coming 'round and making a nuisance of themselves," the old man said querulously.
"Master Tarn I presume, allow me to introduce myself. I am Adam Pierson and I was wondering if there was any information concerning inter-dimensional travel in this... collection," Methos said in his best grad student dealing with a difficult professor voice.
"Aye, I'm Tarn. So you are the man that came from some other world. I've been hearing a lot about you. Not much to look at are you? As for this 'inter-dimensional travel' I can't say as I've ever seen anything on it, but there's plenty more I haven't read."
"That's too bad, but about what I expected," said Methos. "The particular reference one needs is never easily available. The only way to ever find the answer to a question seems to be through months if not years of study. The search is usually what makes it interesting, but there are times I wish the process were a bit faster and easier."
Hearing the sentiments of a scholar, rather than the impatient demands of the noble half-wits who would come to pester Tarn from time to time, the old man became a little more disposed to helping Methos with his inquiry. "I don't know of any particular records of what you are looking for, but if you told me more I could maybe narrow the search down some."
"I do have something with me which might, with luck, significantly narrow the search," Methos said drawing out the rubbing of the center stone which he had in his coat pocket when the 'incident' happened. "This is a copy of the markings on one of the stones which sent me here. Although the runes look a bit like ones from my world, they aren't the same. I was wondering if you recognize the language?"
"I'd be happy to take a look. Spread that out over here," Tarn said clearing a spot on one of the tables. "Hmm... they do look a bit like Elven runes. Wait just a second, let me fetch something," Tarn said scurrying off between the stacks.
"Here it is." Tarn returned a few minutes later with a scroll. "These are the runes. They are not quite the same, although I can see a resemblance," he said comparing the scroll with Methos's rubbing. "These two here could almost be the same if you just changed that bit there," he added, pointing to two specific characters.
"And if you changed the other side of it, it would be a Germanic rune. Could they be a combination of the two? Half Elven and half German?" Methos wondered aloud.
"It could be at that. It would make sense for a thing that was a sort of.. bridge between the two worlds, using a language that was partly of each," Tarn agreed.
"So if I were to learn the Elven runes, I should be able to translate."
"I should think so, but I'm afraid I can't help you there lad. Not many elves still use the runes. I can recognize them when I see them and pick out a bit here and there, but I can't claim to be able to read them."
"Who can read them and might be willing to help?" Methos asked.
Tarn thought for a bit and replied, "There's one in that lot Prince Legolas brought to Ithilien, Sandir. He came by here once to look the collection over. Bookish sort, might lend a hand out of curiosity. I'll write to him for you, but don't expect him to reply right away. Elves don't look at time like normal folk. A year or two might go by before you hear back from him."
"That would be much appreciated. If he does take a few years getting back to you, it still looks like I have plenty to keep me busy," Methos said looking about the room. "For one, I don't see any writing in an alphabet I recognize. Although the spoken language is close enough to one I know, I suspect I still need to learn to read it."
"And you should see to learning Elvish as well. That alone could take years."
"I had better get started then. Would you happen to have some simple grammar books I could use to start with?"
"I think there are some texts that belonged to the old steward's sons when they were boys around here somewhere." Tarn rummaged through a pile of books on a corner table until he located a small dusty blue book. "Here you are," he said handing it to Methos then pointing to the other side of the room, "A desk with writing things is on the other side of those shelves. Now I have work I need to get back to."
Methos thanked Tarn for all his help and adjourned to the desk. He passed the morning deep in study and had managed to make some headway by lunch time. Although the characters were different from what he was used to, they weren't too difficult to figure out phonetically since he already understood the spoken language. He figured he should be reading well enough to do a little research in just a few months although writing in a comprehensible manner would likely take a bit longer. On the academic front, things were proceeding quite nicely.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Months passed and Methos quickly settled in. After the first month or so the routine was set and he was no longer anything new. Blending in was a particular talent of his and he did it very well in Minas Tirith. Mornings were spent in study, he had quickly picked up the common tongue and now was starting in on the mass of records. Afternoons were usually passed at, The Red Hat, a friendly tavern at which the proprietor was willing to give Methos's wealth of beer making pointers a try. And evenings were usually reserved for court dinners where Methos entertained the company with earth tales; Shakespeare was a big hit, at least in the cliff notes version.
He was fairly happy with his situation all in all. He had a plentiful supply of good beer. His studies were progressing. Most people liked him, but dismissed him as unimportant and harmless which was exactly the response he was looking for. The chance to show off in the evenings was kind of nice as well. Methos had always had an exhibitionist streak, but usually avoided bragging out of prudence.
And the best part, there didn't seem to be any other Immortals. Elves were immortal, but there weren't any of his sort of, decapitate your opponent, immortals. He realized there might be some, elsewhere, but he didn't think so. His type of immortal just didn't seem to fit anywhere into the histories of the various intelligent races. The belief that Immortals didn't exist in Middle-earth wasn't something he could prove, but the assumption just seemed right. He took a wait and see approach just to be on the safe side, but did relax his guard a little.
* * * * * * * * *
About three months after Adam's arrival, Legolas was talking to Gimli late one night over a glass of wine.
"But, was Hamlet mad or only pretending to be?" Legolas asked the dwarf.
"It hardly matters whether he was in his right mind or not. They all died in the end in any case," Gimli replied.
"They all die at the end of most of Adam's stories. Hamlet's state of mind would assist in explaining the why in this one."
"Most of the tales do end in death, now that you mention it. A grim sort of place he must come from if all they speak of is betrayal and murder," Gimli observed somewhat sympathetically.
"I thought you did not like him, that he was rude and useless?" Legolas inquired.
"He's not so bad as all that. The other day he told me of some methods used in his land by Romans, a people famous for their architecture, for building aqueducts. Using the Roman methods the work should be done in another six months."
"Human craftsmanship which is better than that of dwarves. My ears must be deceiving me or else the world is coming to an end and the sun shall not rise tomorrow," Legolas teased his friend.
"I didn't say better. I said faster. The end results will not be up to dwarven standards of elegance and beauty, although they will be serviceable enough. I am only willing to use such inferior construction methods because the city is in such desperate need of new water works and because the whole of it will be buried out of view," Gimli corrected not finding the elf at all funny.
"I stand corrected. Perhaps you could show me these inferior works and point out the deficiencies," Legolas offered in apology knowing that, after exploring caves, showing off his latest project was one of Gimli's favorite things to do. Taking great interest in anything man-made--or dwarf-made as the case may be--was a dwarvish character trait.
"I'd be happy to give you the tour," Gimli replied, "It is a very interesting process despite being inferior to actual stonework. Meet me at The Red Hat tomorrow afternoon."
"The Red Hat?" Legolas asked.
"A tavern just inside the north gates," Gimli answered. "Best tavern in Minas Tirith, since Adam took over the beer making anyway."
"A brewer too? Adam is a man of many talents," Legolas observed.
"He's a sharp one," Gimli agreed unimpressed. "Don't ask him anything about the beer making," Gimli warned, "If you do he'll wax eloquent for an hour or so about the wonders of the beverage."
"Sounds rather like certain hobbits we know," Legolas said.
"A bit," Gimli agreed, "but a great deal more pretentious."
"I'll keep that in mind. I appreciate the warning," Legolas said. "Now back to this Hamlet fellow. You never said if you thought him truly mad or not."
"If he wasn't mad to begin with he must have been by the end."
"Why do you say that?"
"If he were only pretending madness he would not have..."
Legolas and Gimli talked far into the night of Hamlet and many other things as friends tend to do.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Legolas arrived at The Red Hat the next day at the appointed time along with Aragorn who thought inspecting the progress of the water works would be a nice change from trade agreements and tax revisions. Sampling the beer seemed like a good idea too.
The tavern was well kept with sturdy tables and benched and fresh rushes on the floor to soak up the spills. It was also well lighted, as such places go, with several windows along each wall letting in the sunlight and fresh air. There wasn't much of a crowd, men having already returned to work from their noon break. The only inhabitants other than the tavern keeper were a group of men in one corner playing at some game of chance, Adam at his favorite table under one of the windows, papers spread about, taking notes, Legolas and Aragorn. Gimli had not arrived, so Aragorn and Legolas went to see what the scholar was working on.
"Good afternoon," Aragorn said to Adam who was too involved in what he was doing to notice their approach.
"Good afternoon, Prince Legolas, Your Majesty," Adam said starting to rise from his seat.
"No need for the formalities here," Aragorn said waving Adam back to his seat, "And simply Aragorn will suffice. I happen to be evading my kingly duties at the moment."
"Well then, would you like to join me for a drink?" Adam asked, "The beer is excellent."
"So I've heard." Aragorn said taking a seat and motioning to the tavern keeper to bring beer.
Legolas, having glanced over the Adam's notes, said, "I see you've taken an interest in Elvish. Very few men bother."
"The inscription on the stones which brought me here was partly Elvish. The possibility of a way to return home is a strong motivation," Adam said with some self deprecation. "Nothing against Gondor, mind you. Minas Tirith is a beautiful city and everyone has been more than kind, but..." he quickly added, remembering to whom he was speaking.
"It is a foreign country and you are among people strange to you," Aragorn finished for him.
"Being separated from your family and friends without knowing if you shall ever see them again must be extremely difficult for you," Legolas said with some sympathy thinking of his own turmoil. On one hand the elf had a desire for the sea, but on the other hand he did not want to be separated from his friends and family quite yet.
"Since my wife died, I haven't much in the way of family, but there are some good friends who probably think me dead by now. Mac has probably even managed to figure out a way to take on personal responsibility for my death by now," Adam said musingly, giving some thought to the probable events taking place back on earth.
"Why would this `Mac' think he was at fault?" Aragorn asked.
"Because Mac is Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, noble warrior and fussy, hardheaded, old woman who is incapable of minding his own business. He is firmly convinced that correction of every mishap or minor evil since the creation of the world is somehow his responsibility," Adam explained.
"Someone has to take responsibility, or evil will run rampant," Aragorn pointed out in contradiction of Adam's mocking description.
"I suppose you're right about that, but sometimes it can be bloody irritating. I'd much rather spend a quiet evening at home than rush about, risking my neck, righting wrongs which never did me any harm," Adam said plaintively.
"If you would rather not help, why do you?" Legolas asked, somewhat amused by Adam's unique point of view.
"Mac's a friend. I could hardly refuse him help when he needs it," Adam said with some indignation.
Aragorn and Legolas exchanged a meaningful glance and had to smile at that declaration. They could both see right through Adam's pseudo cynical pose to the honorable man lurking beneath.
"My apologies for being late," Gimli, who had arrived during that last exchange, said. "Laying the last batch of concrete took longer than expected."
"We weren't in any particular hurry," Aragorn replied, putting Gimli at easy.
"Shall we go then?" Gimli asked.
"Anxious to get back before any of your workers make a mistake I see," Legolas observed, knowing what a perfectionist Gimli was and how demanding he could be of his subordinates.
"That's right. No telling what kind of foolishness they'll get up to without me there keeping eye on them."
"Let us go then," Aragorn said finishing his beer, "before disaster strikes. Adam would you care to join us?" He added remembering the scholar.
"Why not? I doubt I'll get much more work done today," Adam said, shoving his papers into a sack.
The four strolled over to Gimli's work site, located just outside the gates. There they saw large sections of concrete in wooden frames and stacks of unused building materials everywhere. A half dozen workers were still at work on the last section on the other side of the yard, but most of the crew had been sent off to start digging, a task Gimli thought simple enough for them to manage alone. They stopped by the largest single piece which was roughly circular in shape and about 30 feet in diameter; Gimli explained it was to be the roof of the central hub.
"As soon as the sections in the frames are finished and deemed sound the first stage of the project will be finished," Gimli explained as he showed them around the site. "The first stage is to make the upper sections of the tunnels which can't be constructed in place. Next we will dig the trenches for the completed works and make them water tight with more concrete. Then these sections will be put into place and cemented together. And once we have made sure that all the joints are sealed properly and the water flows smoothly the whole thing will be covered over again."
"And how long should this take?" Aragorn asked.
"If all goes according to plan, six months give or take," Gimli said.
"Large open trenches in the streets of Gondor for six months," Aragorn said sounding unhappy with the idea.
"It really can't be done any faster than that. Originally, I was planning on nearly a year. It's not as bad as it seems on the surface. This is only in the outer city. Hardly anyone lives there, the drainage is so bad," Gimli said in defense of his project.
"That is true. I couldn't imagine such a project in the inner sections."
"You won't need it there. The original work was much better done and should last another millennia at least."
"What was that?" Legolas, who had been inspecting one of the giant concrete slabs, asked.
"What was what?" Adam asked, surprised at the usually polite elf's interruption of his concrete making explanation.
"I didn't hear anything," Gimli added.
"Quiet," Legolas ordered holding up a hand for silence. "It's a creaking noise a bit like... wood cracking."
The four of them looked at one another for a split second then they all ran out of the shadow of the slab. And not a moment too soon did they run, for within seconds a loud groaning sound issued from the wooden frame and the slab began to fall. All four had managed to clear the area before the slab hit the ground, but only just barely. Gimli would almost definitely have been squished if Legolas hadn't practically thrown him the last few feet. Dwarves, although having the endurance for distance running, were not sprinters.
After assuring themselves that no one was hurt, the four just stood there staring at the concrete slab, the wooden wreckage, and the rising dust in shock. All of them had had plenty of experience facing death, even the two immortals, but danger coming so unexpectedly on a normal day was surprising to say the least.
Gimli was the first to snap out of it. "I don't know what could have happened, but I plan to find out. That has been standing there for a month and men were crawling all over it. It makes no sense," he said stomping over to the remains of the foundation.
"I'd be interest to know the reason for this as well," Legolas agreed following Gimli.
Aragorn and Adam nodded in agreement and joined the elf and the dwarf in their inspection.
Gimli was circling around the remnants of the foundation looking for the weak spot. When he got to the front side he found what he was looking for. "Over here," he shouted to the others. When they had gathered around the spot he indicated he said, "Notice anything strange about these supports?"
"They're smooth, like they were cut through," Aragorn said. "But how? And why? There hasn't been anyone besides the four of us near here since we arrived and if they were cut earlier why would they not collapse till now?"
"Magic," Legolas said. "There's a lingering hint of it on the wood. I'm afraid I can't tell you anything about the spell other than the fact that there was one there. Magic is not one of my talents."
"I doubt the details of how it was done matter. What difference does it make if the culprit sawed the planks and used magic to stick them together or if he used magic to cut them at a distance? What matters is the motive," Gimli said.
Adam, quiet up till now, finding himself a bit out of his depth dealing with magical matters, asked, "Who knew the king was coming here today?"
"Half of Minas Tirith probably," Aragorn said contemplating the possibility of an assassination attempt, "This morning, I told Legolas I'd come in front of Lady Dain. She likely told the entire court before breakfast."
"But who would want you dead?" Legolas asked.
"Any number of people I'm sure." Adam replied. "Assassination attempts come with the crown, or at least they do where I come from."
"Whoever did this took great pains to make it appear an accident," Aragorn said. "If they think we believed it so, they won't know I'm looking for them. What truly happened here today will go no further than the four of us."
Legolas, Gimli, and Adam swore to keep the secret and to help track down the would be assassin.
After swearing to keep the incident that afternoon just between the four of them, they formed a tentative plan of investigation. Gimli and Legolas would study the manner in which the attempt on Aragorn's life was accomplished. Aragorn and Adam would look for those with a motive. Then they would meet later that night to discuss what they found out.
Methos, having quickly made friends among the gentry, working on the theory that one can't have too many friends in high places, spent most of the evening fruitlessly looking for unrest. Much to the cynical Immortal's amazement, King Elessar was almost universally loved. There were a few grumbles about taxes and trade regulations which no longer favored noble interests over those of commoners, but even the loudest complainers had to admit improvement to their lives. The gold lost in tax revenue was insignificant compared to the fortunes which no longer went to supporting a war effort or defending against common criminals. It was unanimous, the return of the king was a great blessing for the land of Gondor. As the evening came to a close and the appointed time of their meeting approached, Methos was becoming increasingly sure that the assassin had to be a foreign power or an enemy with a personal grudge against the king.
"Adam, I would speak with you," a beautiful voice called.
Methos was about to leave the hall and adjourn to Aragorn's study to make his report, when Arwen cornered him for the second time that night just before he reached the hall door. Arwen knew there was something bothering Aragorn which Methos was involved in and figured Methos to be an easier source of information than her husband. Methos had a hard enough time keeping the secret the first time and was sorely tempted to spill, 'She's going to find out anyway. There has not been a man yet who can keep a secret from his wife for long, if she's determined to find out,' he rationalized to himself. Then Methos spotted one of Arwen's greatest admirers approaching and thought better of revealing the truth. 'That fool, Landon, will distract her long enough for me to slip away. He'll struggle to stutter out some ridiculous ode to her beauty. She'll feel obliged to devote her attention to him out of pity. I'll make my excuses and be gone before Arwen can follow without hurting Landon's feelings.'
"My lady, I am at your disposal. What do you care to discuss?" Methos said agreeably.
"That, I find rather doubtful. You have been avoiding me all evening," Arwen replied, not buying Methos's innocent act.
"My sincerest apologies if I have given that impression. I would have gladly spent the entire evening in your charming company, if other social responsibilities had not stood in the way. I'm afraid one such approaches even now," Methos said. "Landon, my dear fellow, how are you this evening? I hear that the first shipment of your eastern trading scheme arrived only yesterday. I'm sure the queen would be most interested in all the details. I'm afraid I must take my leave. The king is expecting me." With that smoothly run together speech, Methos made his exit.
Arwen sent an irritated glance toward the retreating Immortal. Then taking up her social duties, Arwen gave Landon a bright smile and said, "Yes, Lord Landon, do tell me of the shipment. Are the embroidered silks as fine as the samples my ladies found so enchanting?"
"Th-they are f-finer. The most b-beautif-ful cloth I've seen. Although n-not a m-match for your beauty. N-nothing could b-be," Landon said.
* * * * * * * * * *
Methos entered Aragorn's study moments later, feeling slightly guilty about Arwen. Landon was nice enough, but he would be fawning over Arwen for the next half hour at least. Methos was the last to arrive. Gimli appeared to be assuring Aragorn that the water works were still proceeding on schedule with no major damage to the concrete section. Legolas was pouring himself a glass of wine.
"I'm not late am I? Arwen knows something is going on and was trying to pry it out of me," Methos excused himself.
"You didn't tell her, did you?" Aragorn asked sounding slightly concerned.
"No, I didn't," Methos said.
"Why keep this secret from her?" Legolas asked. "Arwen is unquestionably trustworthy."
"It isn't a question of trust. I have complete faith in my wife. I just don't want to trouble her needlessly," Aragorn explained.
Legolas and Methos exchanged a skeptical look, both knowing the futility of the king's plan. "As you think best," Methos said dismissing the subject of the queen. "What have we found out?"
"For one thing those poles were cut by a person," Gimli started off. "There were the marks of a saw blade on the stumps. Whoever did this had to have been at the site earlier today."
"And the spell which held the two ends together was a fairly simple one which can only be released by the spellcaster himself. Whoever put the trap there in the first place had to be within sight of it to spring it," Legolas added.
"So our culprit had to be present during our visit and was there earlier that morning. Did any of your crew notice anyone suspicious?" Aragorn said, turning toward Gimli.
"Aye, they noticed a big bald man with a limp leaving the yard when they came back from their mid-day meal, but he was on the opposite side of the yard from them. No one could give a better description."
"What of the spellcaster?" Methos asked, "Does that provide us with any clues?"
"There aren't very many humans who use magic, but most of them keep their practices a closely guarded secret. Witchcraft is greatly feared by the common people. Even if we knew the names of those who used magic, there's no way to know which one did this. The spell is simple enough for even the simplest hedge witch," Legolas answered.
"A tall, bald, man with a limp and elementary magic use isn't much in the way of evidence," Aragorn observed. "And, I've had even less luck searching for a motive. There are no foreign threats to speak of. The lords of the west are my allies and the lords of the east are still too disorganized from the fall of Mordor to turn their eyes to Gondor. Within Gondor, I can find no reason either. I have reviewed my past decisions in which there was an unhappy party, but can find nothing I'd credit as a motive for murder."
"I have found much the same thing. You are apparently universally loved, Your Majesty," Methos said. "Although, some personal animosity kept well hidden is still entirely possible, I begin to think that we might be barking up the wrong tree."
Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn, not understanding Methos's figure of speech, looked at him questioningly.
"We assumed that the target was the king, but Legolas, Gimli and myself were all within range of that block as well. I'm not ready to abandon our original assumption quite yet. The most obvious answer is usually the correct one. But, we should keep in mind that it is only an assumption," Methos clarified.
"I don't have any enemies, that I know of," Legolas said. "I don't think I was the one he wanted dead."
"That goes for me as well," said Gimli.
"And since I only joined the tour as an afterthought, I'm not likely to be the target either." Methos conceded. "As I said, the most obvious answer is likely the correct one, but it doesn't hurt to explore all the possibilities."
"Back to the matter at hand," the King said, "where do we go from here?"
"We track down the bald man. And stay alert for another attempt. What else can we do?" Legolas asked somewhat rhetorically.
"I'll ask the regulars at the taverns near there if they've seen him," Methos offered.
"Perhaps my crew will remember something else," Gimli added.
"And I'll find what I can about magic users in the area," Legolas said.
None of them sounded very optimistic about the possibility of finding anything. 'In all likelihood, we'll have to wait till the next attempt on Aragorn's life before we find anything new,' Methos thought. 'These people just aren't devious enough for this type of thing. There isn't even an intelligence agency in Gondor. In any normal country, there would be professionals with connections to find the culprit. Although I don't doubt their skills on a battlefield, I'd be greatly surprised if this investigation goes well.'
Responding to the pessimistic turn the group had taken, Aragorn said, "My friends, I know you are worried for my welfare, but I assure you I am well able to defend myself. This assassin won't catch me off guard, now that he has revealed himself. He may live to make a second attempt, but I swear that attempt will not be successful."
Somewhat reassured by the king's supreme confidence, Gimli said, "We will wait and keep a careful watch. This cowardly worm will be caught eventually."
The rest of the group nodded their agreement and they all retired for the night.
* * * * * * * * * *
Aragorn entered the chamber he shared with his wife and found Arwen sitting at the window brushing her hair. He paused just inside the door, momentarily stunned by his wife's beauty. Most of the time he didn't give much thought to his wife's appearance. He knew she was beautiful, but she was simply Arwen, the woman he loved. Even if she wasn't beautiful, he would love her just the same. But, every once in a while, the truth would occur to him. Arwen would smile or say something to him, and it would hit him. Arwen Evenstar was the most beautiful woman in Middle-earth and she loved him.
Aragorn strolled across the room and joined Arwen on the window seat. One of the rare smiles which made him appear years younger on his face, he absentmindedly took the brush from his wife's hand and started running it through her hair.
"Hmm... that's nice," Arwen said.
"Is something wrong?" Aragorn asked, knowing Arwen usually gazed at the stars from their bedroom window when troubled.
Arwen stiffened, remembering her husband's peculiar manner this afternoon. She decided to give Aragorn a chance to tell her what was going on before taking the offensive. Whatever it was, it only began that day. Perhaps, he was simply waiting for a good time to talk to her. "Adam was avoiding me all evening," she said to give him an opening.
Aragorn saw what she was doing, but wasn't quite ready to tell her what she wanted to know. "That must have been terrible, having to make do with an inferior quality of compliments," Aragorn stalled with a feeble joke. The king's ability for deception suffered remarkably in the presence of his wife.
"Actually, in the few minutes he did speak to me, Adam paid me a great compliment." Arwen answered, giving Aragorn a little more time before giving her what she expected to be unpleasant news. "He said I reminded him of his late wife, Alexa."
"His Alexa must have been a remarkable woman," Aragorn said.
"Adam described her as one of those rare people who make the world seem a better place just by being near," Arwen said glancing over her shoulder at her husband.
Aragorn put the brush down and circled around Arwen to face her. Looking into her eyes he said, "He was right, Alexa had much in common with you. You make the world better by your very presence. Without you all would seem dark."
"All the more reason to lean on me when trouble comes. I love you and I want to help. Despite, my fragile appearance, I will not break under the burden."
Aragorn sighed and said, "Adam and Legolas didn't think I could keep it from you, but I didn't want you to worry."
"Then I shall worry about what I don't know. It seems your plan is flawed," Arwen pointed out.
"This afternoon's accident was no accident. Someone wants me dead," Aragorn stated baldly.
Arwen paled a bit then said, in a steady voice, "I had hoped that after the defeat of Sauron we could enjoy a peaceful life. Do you have any idea who could be behind this?"
"Not yet, although we, Gimli, Legolas, Adam, and I, are looking into it. Whoever he is, he's clever. If Legolas hadn't been there to warn us of the collapse, King Elessar would have died in an unfortunate accident this afternoon," Aragorn told Arwen. If he was going to share the truth with her he was going to share all of it, without trying to distort the danger into something less than what it was. Seeing Arwen's fear for him he added, "He only came so close because he caught me off guard. I am wary of him now, and he will not come so close again. I swear to you that this assassin will not be my death."
"Make sure you keep that promise," Arwen ordered. "I could not live without you. If you die, I'll never forgive you."
Aragorn smiled at Arwen's declaration and said, "I love you too. And not to worry, I always keep my promises."
* * * * * * * * * *
Much to Methos's surprise, he did manage to track down the bald man or, to be more precise, he tracked down the tavern at which the man was a regular. It was actually pretty easy, because in Gondor baldness wasn't too common. Male pattern baldness wasn't a common trait among the Dunedain or their mixed blood descendants. Add to that a limp and their culprit was a rather distinctive fellow.
The owner of the tavern, a dark, smoky, pit of a place that served cheap ale and cheaper women, was happy to give Methos all the pertinent details about the man in exchange for a little monetary encouragement. The bald man's name was Dirk. Dirk was a nasty customer who was drummed out of the town watch for disobedience and excessive brutality. During the war he was injured in one of the buildings that collapsed and the resulting limp turned him into an even more unpleasant drunkard than he already was. He was the type that would gladly participate in unsavory business if the pay was good enough. And last the tavern keeper heard, he was squatting in one of the partially damaged buildings on the outskirts of the city which hadn't been torn down yet.
Methos briefly considered questioning Dirk on his own, but quickly dismissed the idea. `I might be able to make quicker work of getting the information from him,' Methos thought, reflecting back on his experience as a legendary evil, `but the others will definitely want to be in on it.' So Methos went back to the citadel and informed Aragorn of his discovery. Aragorn and Legolas decided to go with Methos to see Dirk, while Gimli decided to skip it in favor of continuing his construction project since the others were more than capable of handling a single ruffian on their own.
Late in the afternoon, Methos, Legolas, and Aragorn, clad in the utilitarian and non descript apparel of a Ranger, set out for the bad part of town. "Velvet and ermine would be more than a little out of place where we are going and I'd prefer to avoid drawing attention to myself," Aragorn explained in response to Methos's inquiring glance as they set off on their errand.
When they reached the section of damaged buildings which the city's poor had claimed for their own, Legolas looked around at the squalor and people in ragged clothing, many of them old or crippled and was appalled, "How can these people live in such conditions?" he asked, somewhat rhetorically.
Methos shrugged having seen much worse and said, "It isn't all that bad. No one looks to be starving at any rate."
"Of course no one is starving," Legolas replied, "Minas Tirith is the wealthiest city in Middle-earth and this year's harvest was excellent. Why aren't these people who can't care for themselves being seen to?"
"I am doing what I can, but there are so many injured in the war and so few willing to take on the responsibility. Even those still capable of work have a hard time finding it. There are more able bodied men who were soldiers than work for them to do. The crippled have even a harder lot," said Aragorn, frustrated with himself for not having found a solution to the problem.
"If this is the extent of the problem, you shouldn't be too hard on yourself. Most cities I've visited have a significantly larger poor section than this and as slums go this is probably one of the nicer ones. Besides, no matter what you do there are always going to be those who are going to live like this because they'd rather drink themselves into a stupor than do an honest day's work," Methos said pragmatically.
"Where exactly did you say this man was to be found?" Legolas asked, changing the subject.
"Actually, I didn't say, but we're almost there. He lives on the second floor of that building up ahead on the left, the one with peeling green trim and missing a door," Methos replied, nodding toward the building in question.
The three arrived at their destination and cautiously entered the building. The bottom floor was empty, gutted by fire some time in the past, with a rickety staircase along the back wall. The elf stopped and sniffed the air clearly smelling something unpleasant. "The smell of death," Legolas explained.
Aragorn drew his sword and lead the way up the stairs. Halfway up, Methos and Aragorn picked up the sickly sweet scent of decay Legolas had detected earlier. Aragorn slowly pushed open the door at the top, letting out the eye stinging fumes which had been trapped inside the room, unsure of what they would find. Inside the room there was a filthy pallet against one wall, a pile of dirty rags next to it, and a body dead several days. Luckily, it was the middle of winter, so it wasn't too ripe, but the noxious odors trapped by the windows shuddered against the cold were still pretty bad. Aragorn sheathed his sword and Methos, handkerchief to his face, opened a window to let in some fresh air. Legolas, with a pinched look on his face, examined the body.
Dirk was pinned to the floor spread eagle with a knife through each hand and each ankle. His tongue was cut out, and his throat was slit. There was a stack of gold coins on his chest.
"He must have been killed just after he cut the poles," Aragorn observed. "to keep him from talking, no doubt, but why leave the coins?"
"Who can understand the reasoning of a mad man?" Legolas replied.
"The knives pinning him down, they show real malice. I don't think this is just a case of destroying witnesses. The tongue and the coins... perhaps Dirk here attempted to blackmail his employer," Methos mused.
"I'm afraid there is nothing to provide us with a clue to the assassin's identity here. Those knives are common kitchen knives, as can be found in any market place. There is nothing to be tracked here," Legolas said.
"Agreed," Aragorn said, "we shall have to wait for our enemy's next move."
The three returned to the citadel, stopping a guardsman on the way to inform him of the body. They were disappointed by their lack of progress, but resigned themselves to wary patience. The assassin was a danger, but not a great power. They had all faced worse before and were confident, at least for themselves, of eventual success if they went carefully at present. Aragorn had his reservations about the competence of his new friend `Adam,' but reassure himself that Adam had already been helpful and the scholar wasn't in any particular danger. Methos had his doubts about Aragorn too, thought he was perhaps a little too self assured, but had learned long ago the futility of arguing with a king.
* * * * * * * * * *
Months passed, winter turned to spring, and there were no further attempts on Aragorn's life. Everyone settled back into their routines and began to think the assassin had lost his nerve. Methos had returned to his translation project and was making progress in learning to read Sindarin with occasional assistance from Arwen and Legolas. Legolas was considering finally making his long postponed return to Ithilien. Gimli was nearing the end of his project.
One sunny afternoon, Methos was passing the time observing weapons practice which was held in the forecourt daily. `Very interesting,' he thought, `A mixture of eastern and western European techniques, but not a hint of Asian marital arts.'
The Lord-Captain in charge of the exercise noticed Methos watching and swaggered over to speak with him. `Damn, there's no way I can get out of speaking to him,' the Immortal thought, `That jackass won't leave me alone till I fight him, all because that nitwit Dia keeps throwing herself at me. Maybe I should just give him what he's asking for. Knocking him on his ass a few times might teach him a valuable lesson and I shouldn't shirk my duty to help build the character of the younger generation.' When the Lord-Captain approached him, Methos greeted the young man with an ever so slightly evil smile.
"Care to test that blade you carry about against my own, or is it just a fashion accessory?" the younger man said, getting right to the point.
"I could do with some practice, now that you mention it," Methos said honestly enough, he had continued with his normal morning workout in his quarters, but hadn't engaged in any actual sparing since his arrival in Middle-earth. "I'd be happy to take you up on your offer," he said fishing in his pocket for a thong with which to tie back his hair which had grown to nearly shoulder length in the past months.
"Yes.. whenever you're ready," the Lord-Captain answered a bit startled at Methos's easy acceptance of his challenge. He was expecting the scholar to be intimidated.
Methos secured his hair and drew his sword. "Right then, shall we proceed?" he asked motioning to the open area in front of them.
The two swordsmen faced off, saluted each other and the fight began. The Lord-Captain started off strong, not expecting much of a fight out of his opponent. He thought Methos's confident pose was simply that, a pose, and his bluff would be swiftly revealed. Unfortunately for him, he was wrong. Methos's abilities with a sword far out shone those of the Lord-Captain and he was familiar with techniques totally foreign to the younger man as well. The Lord-Captain didn't stand a chance. Methos had him disarmed with a sword to his throat in seconds.
"That was... unexpected," said a man from the side of the yard cast in shadow. "I don't believe I've ever seen anything quite like that. Although I must admit, it appears useful. An elbow to the head must be fairly distracting. Is that the normal practice in your homeland?" he continued as he came closer revealing himself to be none other than the king.
"Your Majesty," the Lord-Captain saluted Aragorn, embarrassed that the king had witness his humiliating defeat.
"Your Majesty," Adam said bowing to the king, the formalities had to be observed in public, "Normal enough, I'd say. A common sentiment is that the only ones who observe rules in a fight are the stupid and the dead," he said a bit sheepishly.
"A very sensible approach even if it doesn't evoke grand notions of honor and glory," Aragorn said with approval, having long out grown youthful enthusiasm and lust for glory. "Would you care for another match, or have you had enough practice for one afternoon?" Aragorn asked, hand on the hilt of his sword
"It would be an honor," Methos agreed thinking to go easy on Aragorn since it wouldn't do to publicly humiliate a monarch, especially not if he's a friend.
Combat began and Methos quickly adjusted his assessment of the king. Aragorn was good, even better than himself perhaps. The two danced about the courtyard for some time alternately gaining and losing ground. The guards stopped their practice to watch the interplay between two such highly skilled and equally matched swordsmen. Methos had thousands of years of experience and an ungodly number of sneaky tricks at his disposal, but Aragorn had a much greater natural talent with a sword and had plenty of practical experience equipping him to deal with the unexpected. Back and forth they fought until the Immortal began to tire. Aragorn had spent most of his life fighting the forces of evil where Methos had spent the past few centuries running from fights. Methos was unable to raise his sword fast enough to properly parry a blow. Aragorn's sword slid along the length of his sending him off balance. Aragorn swiftly took advantage of Methos's loss of control and slipped under the Immortal's guard.
Methos, glancing down at the sword pointed at his heart, conceded Aragorn's victory. As soon as Aragorn acknowledged his surrender and the fight was officially over, total exhaustion hit the immortal. "I could murder a cold beer about now," he said trying to catch his breath.
"As could I," Aragorn agreed sheathing his sword, tired, but not nearly as worn as Methos. "Good fight."
"That it was. Good thing my friend Mac wasn't here to witness it, he'd be nagging me about getting more practice." said Methos.
"Mac, he'd be the busybody old woman?" Aragorn asked.
"That'd be the one."
The two of them wandered off together in search of that cold beer discussing fighting techniques and Aragorn doing his best to pry the secret of how a scholar got to be so good with a blade out of Methos. The best explanation he got however was, "Legacy of a misspent youth." Methos may be good with a sword, but he is a master at avoiding questions he doesn't want to answer.