This chapter is a little late, but that's mostly because my sleeping schedule has been totally shot to pieces recently. And I have absolutely no idea why. It's annoying as hell, but there was an occasion just yesterday were I was not able to get to sleep until 6:30 in the morning. Yesterday was almost entirely a battle to stay awake in an effort to go to sleep at a normal, early time and try and sorted out. Needless to say, I was not particularly in the mood for writing. Or even speaking. But it's here now, and here in this chapter features a classic scene from movies but this time it's been very much altered thanks to the presence of the Digimon. Things are definitely changing in middle Earth. Slowly but surely, they are.
To Be a King
Chapter 36:- The Riders of Rohan
Even Mervamon had to admit to herself that she was starting to feel slightly fatigued. It was only ever so slightly, and she had full confidence that she could still run like this for a few days more, but the sheer fact that they'd been running for almost three days non-stop now meant that even her incredible endurance was starting to show signs of wear.
Quite frankly, everyone that she was now surrounded by was amazing her with the fact that they too were continuing their run. Legolas appeared to be like her, and did not look particularly tired even at this point. And Mervamon was pretty sure that Aragorn was tired but if he was then he most definitely was not showing it. He pushed on doggedly.
But to be honest, it was the other two that were impressing her at the moment. Boromir and Gimli had been huffing and puffing almost constantly for two days now, and yet despite the fact that they would clearly like nothing better than to stop and rest for about a year they were still going. They still pushed themselves forward, their feet slamming the ground so hard that Mervamon suspected they also had a serious ache in their soles. But apart from some muttering on Gimli's part on how he was very clearly not built for something like this, they just ran forward without verbal complaint.
To Mervamon's eyes, this was a testament to the trust and friendship that had been built up between their little group as they continued on whatever quest they had been on. She still did not know the subject of said quest but it was clear that the group had been through many trials together. This relentless pursuit of two of their own comrades, captured by the enemy and taken away, was clear proof of that.
It definitely reminded Mervamon of Xros Heart in general. She briefly snickered to herself, as she imagined what kind of creature would emerge if all of these four were to DigiXros with one another. Aragorn X4 perhaps. Not that that was possible, even if they did have a Xros Loader handy, but it was still fairly amusing.
She noticed Boromir in particular had a very set face. He must have been taking this the most personally of all. According to what she knew, the Hobbits that they were following had been under his protection when they had been taken. He must have considered this a failure on his part. Mervamon knew that were she in his position, she would probably feel the same way. Even if it was completely unjustified.
Small wonder that Boromir was managing to keep up with the group. Even though he'd been shot in the front three times with arrows and looked to be on the verge of simply falling over with the slightest push.
Conversing was kept to a minimum. Most everyone's focus seemed to be simply on placing one foot in front of the other. And Mervamon joined them in this; Cutemon still perched on top of Aragorn's shoulder as though Dúnedain Ranger led them on. The small pink bunny had been helping to illuminate the trail with his glowing hands throughout the night. But as the Sun poked itself above the horizon in the distance behind them, indicating that they were still going north-west, which was good because that was the direction they had been intending to take, he lowered his hands again.
It seemed he would no longer be needed. But he had helped to keep them on course and that was good enough.
While the Sun began to clamber higher, Legolas briefly paused to look back at it. His mouth set into a thin line as he stared at the Sun as if it was some kind of bad omen. Mervamon paused briefly to look at him and then back at the Sun.
"Problem?" she asked, as Boromir ran past them.
"The rising Sun is red," Legolas said gravely. "It tells us that during its absence last night, blood was spilled."
Mervamon looked momentarily alarmed, turning her head to look back at the giant orb that was rising into the sky and was indeed tinted red.
"You are certain?" she asked. "That sounds quite morbid," she muttered.
"The fruit of the Great Trees does not lie," Legolas informed as he turned around and started to run again, the large Digimon following close behind. "It simply states what it observes."
"If that is the case," Mervamon frowned. "Then should it not rise with a red colour most every morning? After all, you did say there was some kind of war on with this Dark Lord Sauron guy. I'd imagine that somewhere in this world blood is spilt almost every night with something like that going on."
"The light that the Sun casts differs depending on what happens in the vicinity of its chosen rays," the Elf stated, hurrying to catch up on the ground that he had missed with just that brief stop. "It gives messages to those who know how to interpret them. Not only does this mean that blood was spilled last night, it is telling us that blood was spilt in close proximity to us."
"Do you think…?" Mervamon began.
"Let us hope that it is not the case," Legolas said firmly. "But there is little that could be worse than what I fear it means. And what you most likely suspect it means."
"The Sun certainly is useful then," Mervamon muttered. "The Sun in our world never does anything like that."
"Perhaps that is because you do not know what to look for," Legolas shrugged his shoulders. "Elvenkind are particularly versed in the ways of the world and everything above or below it. Our skills lie more in the ways of nature than do Dwarves and Men."
"Quit showing off to the lady, Elf," Gimli huffed from behind them in a loud voice. "You do not hear me bragging about the incredible skill with stonework that we Dwarves possess."
"But you cannot truthfully admit that you would not have done by this point if the opportunity had presented itself to you," Legolas said with a smirk, pleased to get his mind off the prospect of the red Sun behind him.
"Nonsense!" Gimli cried, hefting his axe along. "If there is one other thing that we Dwarves are well renowned for it is our modesty."
Legolas let out a snort that was quite unbecoming for an Elven Prince. "Now you are just deliberately trying to sound silly."
"Save your breath for the running," Aragorn instructed from up in the front. "We are gaining fast. Perhaps we shall even be able to catch up with them by the end of the day. Though we must reach them before they themselves reach the gates of Isengard."
This was a point that both the Elf and the Dwarf could agree on quite readily. So they quickly closed their mouths and pushed forward. Mervamon smirked. It was quite clear that both of them, despite any disagreements that they did have, listened to Aragorn's authority.
"Wait a minute, kyu!" Cutemon suddenly cried with his high-pitched voice, hopping up onto Aragorn's head and his ear-like sense organs waving wildly in the air. "Stop for a moment. I'm picking something up, kyu," he placed his miniature hands on either side of his head and shut his eyes to concentrate.
Not entirely sure about the extent of Cutemon's abilities and what he could and could not detect, Aragorn pulled to a reluctant but rather curious stop. Everyone else behind them followed suit, a couple of them gasping for breath as usual, but all of them with their eyes fixed on Cutemon with the exception of Aragorn himself who could not do such a thing since the little bunny was on his head.
The bunny continued waving the ear thingies for a couple of moments before he opened his eyes and said, "Yes, kyu. There's something coming towards us from up ahead. I've been detecting what sounded like a lot more footprints for a while but I thought that I was mistaken. Now I can hear them better, kyu, and it doesn't sound like footprints at all anymore. It sounds like hoofbeats now. There's lots and lots of things with hooves heading towards us, kyu."
"Hooves?" Aragorn asked, bending down and forcing Cutemon to jump off his head as he placed his ear to the ground. "You are certain?"
"Absolutely, kyu," Cutemon nodded his head vigourously. "I know what hooves sound like: I once helped to fight against a big army of Centarumon and Sagittarimon. It's definitely hooves. And it sounds like there are good many of whatever it is coming towards us, kyu."
"Well," Boromir murmured, continuing to gasp but managing to get his breathing under control, which was more than could be said for Gimli at this point. "We are in the land of Rohan. It should not surprise any of us to hear hoofbeats. This is the land of the Horse Lords, so I would assume that we have a group of Rohirrim incoming."
"I shall go and see for myself," Legolas said, bounding nimbly up the side of the steep rocky wall so that he could see over the rise of the hills that stretched out before them, blocking off their view of the surrounding land.
He crested the top nimbly, crouching on top of the rocks like he was preparing to spring right off them, and stared out at the surroundings.
"What is the verdict, Legolas?" Aragorn called up to him.
"Cutemon is right!" Legolas yelled back down. "There are a number of riders inbound, and I would estimate that they are still a couple of miles away. They appear to be over one hundred in number – I can see one hundred and twenty-seven horses, eight of which do not have riders. Each of those riders bears a long spear, and many of them hold shields before their leather and metal plated armour."
"That certainly sounds like the Rohirrim," Boromir said with a faint smirk. "Can you see any sign of who might be leading the group? I may personally know them. I have visited Rohan on many occasions and know the people of Edoras well."
"Yes, I can see one Man out at the front of the line," the Elf replied. "He has a tall helmet with a horse tail plume, rust red coloured leather armour and a noble stature."
"Ah," Boromir nodded. "Then I believe I know the identity of their leader already. It can be none other than Éomer, First Captain of Rohan himself. He and I are on excellent terms as of the last time that we spoke. Admittedly that was some time ago now – it has been quite a few years since I last gave Rohan a visit. I have been more concerned with affairs down in Gondor for that. But if Éomer's leading the group then perhaps he can lend us a hand. He always was one given to doing anything in his power to protect the innocent."
"I guess that he would fit in quite well with us then," Mervamon muttered with a chuckle. Cutemon grinned.
Legolas practically bolted off the rocks and was down on the ground level with them again in two quick bounds. "Then perhaps we shall stop and speak with them?" he asked. "If that is our intention then we must decide soon for they will soon be upon us at the speed with which they are riding. The horses of the Men of Rohan truly are fleet of hoof."
"That is right, kyu. I can hear the hoof beats growing louder all the time," Cutemon agreed.
"Well, while I appreciate the rest that this is affording me," Gimli voiced his own opinion. "Are we sure that these people are trustworthy? I had heard rumours that the Men of Rohan had begun supplying horses to Mordor."
"A scandalous rumour if there ever was one," Boromir huffed. "The Men of Rohan are honourable and just people. If any Rohan horses ever found their way to Mordor it was through theft and deception. This I can assure you. The day that a Man of Rohan gives up his horse to evil like that is the day that Sauron descends from on high in Barad-dûr and starts handing out flagons of ale to the Men of Gondor. Flagons of ale that have not been poisoned at that. Horses mean everything to the Rohirrim. They base their lives around them. And to send a horse off to a fate like it would no doubt receive in their hands of Sauron's Nazgûl… the Rohirrim would consider it sending off one of their own brethren."
"Passionate Men then," Mervamon muttered.
"About that particular subject yes," Boromir nodded. "Rohan barely even has any infantry at all. You'd be hard-pressed to find a warrior of Rohan that was not in possession of a horse."
"Then do we stop and greet them or do we go on?" Mervamon asked with brow raised. "I don't have anything to contribute to the decision. After all I have absolutely no idea where I even am, let alone anything about these people."
"Then it is your decision, Aragorn," Gimli turned to look at the Ranger. "Can we afford to spare the time?"
"I know the Men of Rohan as well," Aragorn agreed. "I once rode to war with them in years past. They are indeed good Men. And if they have spare horses as Legolas claims they do, and I have no reason whatsoever to doubt the eyes of an Elf, then perhaps Éomer would consider lending us a few for our journey. With the aid of a horse, we could catch up to those Uruk-Hai within a couple of hours, if that."
"Then it is decided," Boromir nodded. "We shall wait here until they meet with us."
"It is not entirely decided," Aragorn shook his head, before his gaze came to rest on Mervamon and Cutemon. "While the Men of Rohan are good people, I do know that they are not ones that are prone to immediate trust. And I suspect that they will call into question the allegiance of our two Digimon friends just as we did at first. I highly doubt that they would have seen anything like the pair of you. If they were to set eyes on you, they might possibly assume the worst."
"Are we going to have to expect to see that response to our faces everywhere we go?" Mervamon asked with a fairly irritated frown.
"Most likely," Gimli stated, leaning on his axe. "These are times when practically nobody trusts anyone anymore. Blindly trusting someone is a good way to get yourself killed."
"Indeed," Aragorn nodded. "And perhaps it would be better if the riders of Rohan left without ever knowing that you were here, Mervamon. Cutemon they might accept, for he is small and does not look particularly threatening in any way. But your giant sword and the fact that you have a snake for an arm… well, that is an entirely different story."
"For the record, I still find that fact about your arm enormously strange," Gimli volunteered.
"It is a simple fact of my existence," Mervamon pouted at him. "There is nothing that I can do about it. Though I must admit it can sometimes be a little inconvenient to have only one proper hand. But when it comes to combat, having an extra set of eyes can sometimes make all the difference."
The Medullia lifted up, almost of its own accord, and flicked its forked tongue in Gimli's general direction. Gimli, still feeling slightly uncomfortable around the snake that was also an arm, flinched slightly but did his best to ignore it.
"What are you suggesting I do?" Mervamon asked with slight suspicion.
"I am wondering if it would perhaps be better if you and Cutemon were to conceal yourselves from the eyes of the Rohirrim," Aragorn gave them an apologetic look. "We would not want them to see you and assume the worst. Not when it is likely that our presence out here could cause suspicion anyway. Lone travellers such as ourselves are rare in these times. And unfortunately being in the presence of something the Rohirrim do not understand could unfortunately have consequences. Particularly if Saruman has started making his move against the Men of Rohan, which I highly suspect he has."
Mervamon glowered slightly. "I do not like the idea of hiding like a yellowbellied coward peeking their head around the corner. Or out from under a rock. It is not the natural way for a warrior to behave. And if I am to remain in this world, as it seems I must for the foreseeable future since I know no way of returning to mine, then I cannot skulk around for ever. Sooner or later I will have to face the music."
"What music?" Boromir asked in slight confusion.
"Never mind about that," Mervamon shook it off with a wave of her hand. "My point is that if I am to be of any use, and helping to fight this war or in finding my own friends, hiding is not the answer."
"That may be the case but unfortunately I believe delicacy could prove more useful in this situation," Aragorn replied. "And it is vital that we make this meeting as short as possible so that we can get back on the trail. You have my apologies, Mervamon. As well as you, Cutemon. But please try to understand that the people of this world might struggle with the concept of your story. Many of us think we know of all the creatures that can be found in our world. Coming across you might be a bit of a shock."
"Particularly if you are holding that massive sword of yours," Gimli agreed. "And if they moved to attack you while you draw it out of thin air, they would be convinced of dark sorcery. And considering one of their closest neighbours is a Wizard that has gone bad and now seeks to help the Dark Lord in conquering everything, you could probably get why that would make them feel uneasy… come to think of it, that would be a particularly handy skill to have with my axes. I don't suppose you could teach me how to do it."
"No, I cannot. It is just something that I have always been able to do in this form," Mervamon muttered, before she sighed and nodded. "Very well then," she reluctantly agreed. "Come Cutemon, let us conceal ourselves somewhere while our new companions have their little chat with the incoming horseriders."
"They said I would be alright, kyu," Cutemon objected.
"That may be but I would prefer it if we not risk it, thank you very much," Mervamon shook her head. "I'd rather not have to explain to Dorulumon when I next see him again that you were skewered on the end of spear. Not for any reason."
"Okiedokie, kyu," Cutemon replied, and quickly leapt on top of the head of Mervamon's snake arm. The tall Digimon gave the rest of the party a brief nod before she hurried away, ducking behind several large boulders and tucking herself into a gap, where she felt she would not be seen on the other side.
"Keep an ear out for me, would you Cutemon?" Mervamon asked of the small bunny. "I probably won't be able to hear them from here, but you should be able to. Keep me posted on exactly what they are saying."
"Why?" Cutemon asked, looking at Mervamon curiously. "You want to spy on the conversation, kyu?"
"Not spy exactly," Mervamon shook her head. "But anything that we can glean from the conversation could potentially be useful. After all, we know next to nothing about this world. And I do get the feeling that there is something that our companions are not telling us."
Cutemon nodded – he had got that selfsame feeling. But of course he was not generally one to pry. Still, he supposed that it couldn't hurt to listen in. So he quickly clambered to the top of the rockpile when he could hear and listen in closely without his sense organs poking over the top.
It seemed that the Digimon had gone into hiding just in time. It was only about twenty seconds after Mervamon had ducked behind the rocks that the first sound of hooves became audible to the rest of the group. Except, of course, the Legolas since he had been able to hear them for a while now too. It was accompanied by the loud nickering of some horses, and almost sounded like it was still in the distance.
Aragorn had pulled the rest of the group to one side – while he had faith in the skill of the horsemen he did not particularly want to be right in their way. The group made it look as if they were just coming in for the first time, and had had no inkling that the riders were inbound at all.
When the riders finally did crest the hill, it seemed as if there were so many hooves pounding against the ground that the ground itself was shaking, just a little. It produced a constant backdrop of hammering noise. But, as always, Aragorn was most impressed with the way that the Men steered their horses. Riding on a horse could sometimes be quite tough, as the animal did have a mind of its own and did not always listen to the commands of its rider. And yet, the front line of the riders was in perfect synchrony. Each horse's head was perfectly level with the heads of all the other horses in the row.
Aragorn wondered if he should call out, but it turned out that there was no need. They were spotted almost immediately by the front-runners of the line. The Man at the front that Legolas had spotted snapped his head around to look at them. He quickly raised his spear and pointed it in their direction, signalling the rest of the horsemen to move with him as he steered his own mount around.
"Not entirely sure I like where this is heading," Gimli muttered.
But it appeared that the Dwarf needn't have worried. Though once again the horsemen displayed their stunning skills by effortlessly wheeling around while keeping formation with their steeds and the front rows then breaking forwards at either side to form a circle and begin to surround the group. From her hiding place, peering out behind a rock, Mervamon tensed – unsure if things were just about to go down or not. But she needn't have worried either.
This was because Boromir had stepped forward with a wide smile on his face. And the Man with the horse plumed helmet that was doing the leading immediately pulled to a halt as he locked eyes with the Gondorian Man.
"Keep your spears raised!" He ordered to the rest of the group. "Looks like we are in the presence of allies."
"Well, look what the horse dragged in," Boromir gave a hearty chuckle as he and the others were still surrounded by the horsemen but any sense of hostility that may have been there before was now gone. "Éomer, my good Man, how are you faring?"
"Lord Boromir," the Man – Éomer – quickly swung himself off his horse to land with a heavy thud. "Of all the people that I was expecting to find within this region, you were probably one of the last. What's the son of the Steward of Gondor doing all the way up here? Should you not be down South doing your best to rid Gondor of the forces of Mordor?"
"I could ask you a similar question," Boromir laughed. "We are a very long way from Edoras, after all."
Both Men laughed and pulled each other into a comradely embrace, smacking each other on the back in the process, perhaps slightly harder than necessary, but that was common practice among many that recognise the other to be a warrior, like themselves.
"Rohan has fallen on hard times," Éomer said with an air of distaste as he pulled out of the hug. "I am not out here of my own choosing. But still, it is nice to see a familiar face. No matter how unexpected that face's appearance may be. And who do you travel with? Unusual company in these lands to be sure. An Elf and the Dwarf? I cannot even remember the last time that any of those two races were down in the Plains of Rohan."
"These are my travelling companions," Boromir gestured with his arm. "This is Gimli, son of Glóin of the mountain of Erebor. This is Legolas Greenleaf, son of Thranduil and Prince of Mirkwood. And this…" he clapped Aragorn on the shoulder. "Is Aragorn, son of Arathorn and heir of Isildur."
Aragorn looked slightly shifty the moment that his lineage had been brought up but there was some instant murmuring among the other Men, and Éomer's eyes widened. "Heir of Isildur? How can that be? I thought that the line had broken many years ago. Is that not why your Father currently sits on the throne of Gondor?"
Boromir winced visibly for a split second, knowing that he was about to say something against his own Father, but then he said, "My Father is merely caretaking the throne until the King returns. That is the way that it has always been. And if all goes well then in the near future the King will return. Gondor will have… the rule that it requires."
Aragorn was rather surprised to hear Boromir say that. But he was grateful nonetheless. Boromir was an extremely proud Man, and had at first been rather indignant at the fact that the Dúnedain Ranger of the North could suddenly appear and claim to be heir to the throne of Gondor. It was hardly surprising considering his Father had been Steward for many, many years now. But it seemed that Aragorn's strength to give up the One Ring had definitely made an impact on the Gondorian Man.
Éomer seemed mildly surprised to hear Boromir say those words as well, probably for the same reasons as Aragorn. But he made no comment on it, choosing only to give Aragorn a curt nod and scan the other two before saying, "Well, if you are travelling companions of Boromir that is good enough for me. For a moment there, I thought that we had come across some spies out in the open. But it appears that I was wrong. It is an honour to make the acquaintance of all of you."
"You are most welcome," Aragorn nodded back. "And if my guess is correct then you would be Éomer, son of Éomund, First Captain of Rohan."
"You guess correctly," Éomer said before his face suddenly twisted into a grimace. "Or rather you would have done, if I was still First Captain."
"Still First Captain?" Boromir gave him a frown. "How can you not be still First Captain?"
"I did say that Rohan had fallen on some hard times, did I not?" Éomer muttered. "Well, that is part of what I meant. I am almost grateful now to be in the presence of a King who actually has his head about him. Even if he is not currently in his own kingdom or ruling his own land. For the same cannot be said of Rohan's King, my uncle."
"King Théoden?" Boromir asked with concern. "What has become of him?"
"I'm surprised that you have not heard of the King's condition already," Éomer said ruefully. "He does nothing now but sit despondently on his throne, and the only person that he will now listen to is his advisor. Any time I or my sister try to get a word in edgeways, getting him to listen to anything about the condition of the kingdom, all we would get his near silence and a blank stare. It is the work of sorcery; that much I do know. And it probably has something to do with that slimy advisor, Gríma Wormtongue."
"But he is alive then?" Boromir asked.
"You could barely call it alive," Éomer growled with a visibly clenching fist. "He barely responds to anything now. I cannot even remember the last time I saw him eat anything. But yes, he is alive."
"What makes you suspect it was sorcery?" Legolas asked, speaking for the first time. "Could there potentially be another explanation?"
"I highly doubt it," Éomer shook his head. "It is not just the King's mental state that has deteriorated. It seems to be his physical state too. I have not seen him stand up for weeks now. And his hair seems to have grown out at an alarming rate. Much faster than any natural growth. The same goes for his skin. My uncle is an ageing Man – that I will admit – but skin does not get as gnarled as that in such a short time naturally. He's not even ruling the throne anymore. He simply does whatever Gríma whispers in his ear."
"That does indeed sound like sorcery," Legolas murmured.
"The sorcery of Saruman," Éomer nodded. "I have little doubt that Saruman is speaking through the little worm that hovers by the King's side. He has poisoned my uncle's mind and is practically in control of everything that happens in Rohan already because of it. Rohan's doom is all but certain in this condition. Because despite his grip, Saruman is still sending troops in murdering and pillaging amongst the outer villages. It will not be long before he reaches Edoras. Then he will no longer need a puppet. Because that is effectively what my uncle now is."
"Can you not do something?" Gimli asked gruffly. "If you are so sure that this Wormtongue person is the one corrupting the King then why not just stick a sword in his stomach? It would save a lot of trouble and bother if you ask me."
"I was sorely tempted," Éomer said ruefully. "But to kill the King's advisor could potentially be seen as an act of treason. That was the only thing that held me back. And now rectifying the situation is no longer an option for me. For thanks to that toad's influence, every able-bodied Man of the Rohirrim that is under my command as the First Captain of the Mark, as well as myself, have been banished from Rohan."
"Banished!?" Boromir suddenly yelled. "What outrage is this? You are the nephew of the King! You cannot be simply banished from its borders like a common criminal!"
"Nevertheless, that is the case," Éomer sighed. "I am still gathering my Men together, but as soon as we are all together than we must all leave. Many of the people surrounding you have been forced to leave their families behind as well as everything they know besides the horses they now ride. The Mark is destined for destruction. And there is nothing that can prevent it now. Saruman is clever and he has systematically weakened all of Rohan's strengths right before he strikes. It will not be long before the main army follows on the raiding parties that are already sweeping across the Westfold."
"Something must be done!" Boromir cried. "You cannot simply allow this to happen, Éomer! What about Théodred? Surely he did not sanction this!"
"I fear…" Éomer grimaced, "That my cousin is not going to live much longer. I found him at the Fords of Isen a few days ago, barely alive, and returned him to Edoras, only to be banished."
Boromir looked shocked, and Éomer just nodded sombrely.
"There is nothing more that can be done on my part," he added. "It is not just the King that is being influenced by Wormtongue, it is his personal guard. They were the only fighting Men left in Rohan that have been allowed to remain. And if I or my Men return, it is on pain of death."
"I will do something if I can!" Boromir pressed. "If you cannot slay this treacherous advisor that you speak of then I will in your place. As soon as I can head to Edoras I will ensure that he cannot poison the King's mind anymore."
"It might be too late for that," Legolas reported. "If it is Saruman that is speaking through this Wormtongue then it is Saruman who must be eliminated to stop the spell. The only other way to counter it would be through magic. And none of us possess magic enough to help in that regard."
"But we must find a way!" Boromir protested.
"And once we have finished our current objective," Aragorn tried to placate the enraged Gondorian. "Then there will be nothing stopping us from heading over to Edoras immediately to see what help we are capable of being. Even if we cannot free the King then at least we should be able to rally some defences."
"You extend the hand of friendship to Rohan even though you are a total stranger to us," Éomer frowned. "If you truly are the future King of Gondor, should you not be seeing to your own borders first?"
"I am not the King yet," Aragorn replied, not mentioning the fact that he actually was not eager to take up the position. "It is the lands of all the Free People of Middle Earth that concern me. Wherever the darkness strikes, I wish to be there to stop it. And for the moment it sounds like Rohan is in more dire straits than Gondor."
"Then you are perhaps the most considerate King I've ever come across," Éomer replied. "But while I appreciate everything that you say you are willing to do, I fear that I will not be part of it. Neither will my Men. All we can do now is leave Rohan. Perhaps we will be able to make ourselves useful in other lands threatened by the darkness but our homeland cannot be helped by us. Not unless our banishment is revoked. And at the moment I see no sign of that happening. Rohan is lost to us."
"But Rohan is not lost altogether," Aragorn assured him. "Have hope, Éomer."
"I have very little of that left. Few people in the land do. The Westfold burns. Innocents flee for their lives and fall under the sword of Wild Men and Uruks. The King sits on his throne and does nothing, poison leaking into his ear with every word of his little leech. My sister, Éowyn, remains helpless in Edoras. And even she is under the watchful eye of that puddle of slime. Though I suspect for entirely different reasons." Éomer looked positively livid the thought.
"Nevertheless, Rohan still stands," Aragorn said. "And it shall continue to stand for as long as I have a say in it."
"You may find yourself up against more than you anticipate if you intend to follow through with that," Éomer replied bitterly. "Apparently the White Wizard has been tinkering with more experiments than merely this new breed of Uruk-Hai that have been appearing on our land. Just a few days ago, I believe, a magically altered warg managed to find its way into Edoras."
"Warg within the walls of Edoras?" Boromir blinked, alarmed.
"Apparently," Éomer replied. "I did not see it myself, but the King's Royal guard – including Háma and Gamling – both saw it."
"What makes you say it was magically altered?" Legolas asked.
"It had a similar stature and shape to a regular warg. But that's about as far as it went. Its fur was a bright orange instead of the usual brown, and it had what were apparently metal blades sticking out of its shoulders and chest. As well as more spiral blades that stuck out of its forehead, its back legs, and the end of its tail. It looked absolutely nothing like one of the regular Wolves of Isengard."
"We are not going to have to worry about them as well are we?" Gimli muttered.
"I very much hope not," Éomer sniffed. "But I would not hold out the hope. According to Gamling, the thing was extremely combat capable."
But as the group were talking, they were completely unaware that the conversation had taken a turn that totally startled a certain pink bunny. Cutemon's sense organs were practically standing on end, his eyes wide with shock. And some slight hope.
Did he just hear that right?
Orange fur? Spiral blades, which sounded a lot like drills to him. A Wolf? All in one go?
There was only one thing that Cutemon could possibly think of that match that description.
Mervamon gently tapped Cutemon's side, as the rabbit Digimon had been obediently repeating everything that the others were saying in a quiet, hushed tone. But suddenly he had gone very silent. "Cutemon, what is it?"
"Orange…" Cutemon muttered almost unintelligibly.
"Excuse me?" Mervamon blinked. "Orange? What about oran... NO CUTEMON!" She cried as the pink bunny suddenly sprang over the rocks and out of hiding. She attempted to grab him with her normal hand but Cutemon proved to be extremely nimble on his tiny feet when motivated and hopped out of her grasp without realising that she had even tried to grab him. Mervamon stood up and watched him bouncing his way towards the horses.
And to make things worse, a couple of the riders had heard her shout and were now looking over their shoulders at him before spotting her.
"Oh good," Mervamon rolled her eyes. "So much for hiding away then."
"My Lord Éomer!" One of the horsemen cried. "There's someone watching us!"
"What?" Éomer suddenly wheeled around with narrowed eyes. "Another spy? I have not yet left Rohan's borders. I can still take one spy to the grave before I go!"
"So much for hiding away then," Gimli muttered, unaware that he'd just echoed Mervamon, and so quietly that only Legolas heard him. But the Elf agreed.
Mervamon dashed out from her hiding place behind the rocks, wondering what the heck she was supposed to do now. But before either she or the horsemen could really react to one another, Cutemon had dashed through the legs of the horses helter-skelter. Some of them noticed him and whinnied, rearing back on their hind legs in surprise, causing a certain amount of chaos within the ranks. Several others didn't seem at all and the little bunny slipped through unnoticed.
But needless to say, Éomer certainly noticed Cutemon when he bounded up from the ground in front of him to land right in front of his face and cry "What was that about an orange Wolf, kyu?"
Éomer cried out and almost fell backwards in surprise at the sudden intrusion to his personal space. He probably would have fallen over completely if Boromir had not been there to stop him. Cutemon had to rebound off Éomer's face to stop himself from being thrown off, and landed on the saddle of Éomer's own horse.
"What in the name of the Riddermark?" Éomer yelled, staring at the little creature that had supposedly assaulted him. "What is this? More black sorcery?"
"Somebody get it!" cried a random member of the Rohirrim. "It just tried to attack our Captain!"
"What? No I didn't!" Cutemon suddenly yelled, waving his hands madly. "I just wanted to know about the strange orange Wolf! I think it might be…" but before he could say anything more, one of the Rohirrim had leaned over to try and stick him with his spear. It was quite awkward considering the weapon was so long, but Cutemon still had to jump out of the way to avoid being skewered. He landed on the shaft of the weapon itself, clinging on for dear life, and the horseman wielding the spear heaved it upwards in response.
Cutemon was immediately sent flying into the air, falling head over heels and squealing the whole way.
"How dare you!" Mervamon cried as she ran forward, raising the Medullia. Many of the Rohirrim had not taken the time to notice her unusual arm and once they got a load of it there were cries of shock coming from everywhere. Then even further cries when Mervamon lashed it forwards, the large snake extending outwards like it was made of elastic to seize Cutemon in its jaws, teeth closing over Cutemon's form to completely seal him in darkness and yank him backwards towards Mervamon.
Mervamon flipped the Medullia's head upwards, jaws opening to toss Cutemon into the air again, before he landed safely in her regular arm.
"You do realise that that is the second time I have had to do that since we arrived in this place," Mervamon said sternly. "Let's try not to make it a habit that I need to do shall we?"
"No offence, kyu, but I agree with you on that point," Cutemon shuddered. "It's absolutely disgusting in there, kyu. I thought for sure I was going to be swallowed – I've seen you swallow an entire Minotarumon with that thing, kyu!"
"Well, fortunately for you the Medullia does have some self-control," Mervamon muttered, the snake head in question hissing as if to acknowledge her statement. Or confirm it. Sometimes it was difficult to tell whether the Medullia had a mind of its own or not. And for some reason nobody particularly wanted to ask it. Or Mervamon. "But right now we have a larger concern. Namely, the horsemen all staring at us."
Éomer, having recovered himself, quickly pushed himself to the front of the line, standing out in front of the ranks of others with his sword drawn. "It would seem I was right!" he cried. "It seems that the orange Wolf that I have heard of is not the only thing that Saruman has created to plague my land. You chose a bad time to reveal yourself, spy! I don't even know what kind of twisted magic Saruman had to use to create you. A snake for an arm… quite fitting really. Snakes have tongues like a worm. If I can do nothing about Gríma Wormtongue than I can surely do something about you."
"Don't test me," Mervamon glowered at him. "I have no desire to fight those who seek to protect others from the hand of evil but if you threaten myself or Cutemon here then I will have little alternative. I will not allow you to bring harm to the kid. Not while he is under my care."
"Rohirrim!" Éomer lifted his sword. "Reform the line! Prepare to trample this witch into the dirt!"
"Witch!" Mervamon bristled. "I assure you I am no witch. I am as much a warrior as you." And before Mervamon realised what she was doing – she was well-known for her short temper after all – her enormous sword had appeared out of nowhere, flashing into her hand out of thin air as she dropped Cutemon to the ground and stood in front of him protectively.
"What is this magic?" Another horseman cried, stunned in disbelief at the sight.
"Hold! Hold!" Boromir was crying as he pushed his way through the crowd and back towards Éomer. "Stand down, Éomer! You have no enemies here! Those two are no spies of Saruman, nor Sauron."
"My Lord Boromir, how can you say that?" Éomer demanded indignantly. "It is true that it is most unusual for someone like Saruman to recruit a woman to use his experiments on, but I am willing to believe that there is nothing the White Wizard would not stoop to. She will not be allowed to report back to him."
"You have it wrong!" Boromir insisted, placing a steadying hand on Éomer's sword hand. "They are our travelling companions. They have been with us for nigh on three days now, and have run with us all the way here from the Falls of Rauros. In fact, without the small pink one, I can safely say that I would not be standing before you today. Because I would have passed into the halls of my Fathers and away from this world."
Éomer glanced across at Boromir, looking alarmed. "What do you mean?" he demanded.
Boromir grimaced, as if recalling a bad memory, before he said, "Sometimes it seems almost surreal. As if the whole thing was a dream. Even while I was running it sometimes felt like that. Yet it is true that the pink one saved my life. Cutemon has incredible healing powers. Three days ago, my company and I were attacked by a large party of Uruk-Hai and would you believe me if I told you that I was shot with arrows three times in the chest and stomach?"
"What?" Éomer blinked, momentarily startled out of his thoughts. "Shot? But you have not a mark on you…"
"Yes. Thanks to Cutemon."
Éomer paused for a moment, and seemed to take in the name which had been used to describe the pink creature for the first time because he suddenly snickered and said, "Cutemon?"
"He came with the name," Boromir muttered. "It was not my decision to call him that."
"Hey! What's wrong with my name, kyu?" Cutemon demanded, pouting so much he looked more like a chipmunk than a rabbit as he leaned around Mervamon's leg.
"Nothing," Boromir called across to him. "Absolutely nothing. But the point is, Éomer… I was almost killed. But Cutemon has amazing healing abilities – far beyond anything that I've ever seen before. I have not even seen Gandalf or any other Wizard be able to do what he did that day. Perhaps they could if they tried, but nevertheless I have never seen it. After the arrows were removed, he was able to heal the wounds within half a minute flat. That is why I have no mark on me and why I still remain alive. But you can still see the holes where the arrows pierced my attire."
Boromir placed his hand on his chest and his finger through one of those holes, clearly demonstrating it to Éomer. Éomer stared in disbelief before looking back across at the two Digimon that were standing with their backs to the rocks.
"I must admit," Éomer muttered, "the pink one does indeed not look like something that Saruman could cook up. It's too…" and he seemed to struggle to come up with the appropriate word.
"Cute?" Suggested Mervamon with a wry smile.
"That was not what I was going to say," Éomer muttered.
As they had been talking though, the Rohirrim had been fanning outwards to encircle Mervamon, cutting off any escape for her other than straight up the rock ledge that she could been hiding behind in the first place.
"But if she is your travelling companion then what was she doing hiding away behind those rocks?" Éomer asked. "Are you certain that she does not have you in some kind of spell?"
"I am fairly certain," Boromir murmured. "Her snake arm ate the head of the Uruk-Hai that did the shooting. She was the one that helped to pull the arrows out of my body. And from what I hear, though I missed that part of the fight mostly, she is an amazing battler. A full frontal warrior. Definitely not spy material."
"Got that right!" Mervamon huffed. "I do not do snooping around. I wasn't that comfortable with just hiding behind these rocks while the others met with you."
"You needn't worry about them," Aragorn stepped up on Éomer's other side of the pushing his way through the horsemen ranks, followed by the Elf and Dwarf. "They proved to be most valuable when we were ambushed at Rauros. They fought bravely alongside us against the forces of Saruman. Mervamon slew many of them that day. At first we wondered, like you, if they were spies of the enemy. But I no longer believe that. They have proven themselves to be good companions."
"If that is the case," Éomer turned to him. "Why did you instruct them to remain hidden from us? If they were not spies then surely there was nothing to fear."
"We were hoping to avoid of this confrontation," Aragorn replied. "As you say, these are dangerous times. There is treachery everywhere. And while I am certain that these two are not among those who do it, the same could not be said for you. We were hoping to bring their presence into light n a gentle manner – introduce them when we had finished our discussion. Unfortunately, they revealed their presence before we had the opportunity to bring it up. We must apologise for this, Éomer."
Éomer still looked uncertain, and considering the immense betrayal that he had undergone at the hands of his controlled uncle, you could probably excuse him for that. The other members of the Rohirrim were all looking to him, waiting on his instruction as to whether to attack or retreat but all of them had their spears levelled in Mervamon's direction, just in case. After all, they did not answer to either Aragorn or Boromir. They would take orders only from Éomer.
Éomer seemed to have trouble taking all of this in. So Cutemon decided to help in the equation by bouncing past Mervamon once again and cocking his head to one side, giving Éomer his best 'would you hurt me' look. It was the same look that he had given to Dorulumon in an attempt to get on the big Wolf's good side when they had first met.
Legolas chuckled when he saw his attempt. "Now, does that look like a minion of evil to you?"
"I like rainbows," Cutemon did a little twirl on one foot. Mervamon probably would have hit herself in the face with her palm if it had not been holding a sword. Cutemon would never ordinarily say that unless he was deliberately trying to be cute. Like now.
Slowly, but surely, Éomer lowered his sword. "Well if they are not spies of the White Wizard then who exactly, what exactly, are they?"
"It's confusing," Gimli said gruffly. "We're not entirely sure what they are ourselves, beyond the fact that they are both seemingly known as Digimon. The tall one is Mervamon, and you already know the little one is Cutemon. All the other information we have on them pretty much passed straight over my head."
"That probably wasn't very difficult," Éomer said with a slight hint of amusement. "After all, your head is not particularly high off the ground."
Gimli blustered and was about to come up with some retorts that would sound clever in his ears but probably not in most of the others' before Cutemon interrupted him by throwing in, "He's taller than me, kyu."
"I have never heard tell of a Digimon before," Éomer struggled to recall a memory, any memory, in which they might have featured.
"Nor had we until we met these two," Legolas confirmed. "And considering they claim to come from an entirely different universe, that probably isn't surprising."
Éomer merely stared at the Elf Prince blankly for several moments. Aragorn quickly did his best to explain what he understood of the Digimon. He left out a lot of the complicated things about data and computers that had been fed to him and he still could not understand – to be honest he was quite surprised he could remember the words 'data' and 'computer.' He told the basic version, of how the Digimon had been supposedly thrown into Middle Earth for unknown reasons out of a totally different universe and that there were apparently many of them, possibly scattered around the area.
Éomer looked totally flummoxed by the time that he had finished, as did most of the rest of the Rohirrim.
"I know," Boromir clapped him on the shoulder understandingly. "Seems implausible to me too. But I haven't seen anything that says that they're not telling the truth. At least not yet."
"They claim that there are no Dwarves in their universe," Gimli snorted. "Nor Men, or even Elves. Sounds utterly ridiculous doesn't it?"
"Calling their claims into plausibility does not particularly help," Legolas murmured to him.
"Well…" Éomer mused to himself. "I don't think that even a minion of Sauron would come up with a story as… strange as that one in order to find their way undercover. And if you trust them Boromir… then I suppose I can trust them to. Especially if one of them did save your life. That does add a lot of leverage in your favour."
"Yay! I'm helpful! Kyu!" Cutemon bounced up and down on the spot.
Mervamon dispelled her sword and snickered. "Well of course you are. You've been healing as all for years back in the Digital World. Which brings me to the question that I have to ask you, Cutemon. What the heck were you thinking? Charging out into the open like that? What did you overhear?"
"Dorulumon!" Cutemon turned to face her urgently. "They mentioned Dorulumon!"
Mervamon blinked, not having expected that. "What?!" She suddenly stiffened, her head whipping around to face Éomer. "You saw Dorulumon? When? Where is he now?"
"Dorulu…" Éomer faltered, with a frown. "I'm afraid I do not have a clue what you are referring to. I have never heard this name before in my life."
"It was the orange Wolf, kyu!" Cutemon was bouncing up and down with endless enthusiasm. "The orange Wolf that you said others saw. The one with the blades and those spiral blades on its head and tail, the ones that are actually called drills. You mentioned that he had been seen."
"That certainly sounds like Dorulumon," Mervamon agreed, hope filling up inside her that they might finally come across one of their own brethren soon. "Quickly, tell us everything."
"You are referring to the warg that was found in Edoras?" Éomer said in disbelief. "You know that creature?"
"He is not a warg, kyu," Cutemon insisted. "He is a Digimon, like us. He just happens to be one that takes the shape of a large Wolf with orange fur," he added. "Digimon have lots of shapes and sizes. And Dorulumon's one of my best friends. He is my guardian. He looked after me for a long time before I met with my other friends and after I got separated from my parents. You have to tell me where he is if you've seen him, kyu."
"So now one of the Digimon looks like a warg does it?" Gimli murmured. "You'll be telling that there is one that looks like a Dragon next."
"Actually, there are a lot of them that look like Dragons," Mervamon shrugged, making them stare at her in disbelief. "We have several Dragon Digimon amongst the members of Xros Heart. But they are not important right now. Dorulumon is. Tell us all that you know about the orange Wolf."
"All I know is that the warg…" Éomer halted for a second as he used the word that was apparently incorrect yet again, before ploughing on regardless, "… was mysteriously discovered in a pantry in the house of the civilian within the walls of Edoras. We don't know how it managed to get there, for there was no chance that something that large could have got so far into the city without being noticed. Even in the dead of night. The walls would have kept out a lone warg."
"I saw it myself," one of the Rohirrim volunteered. "We don't even know how it managed to get into the house without being seen. We suspected it was some kind of sorcery that led to its presence there."
"He must have landed in the middle of the city when he got transported to this world from our own," Mervamon guessed. "When we made our first appearance into this universe we landed in the middle of the river. I had to save Cutemon from drowning."
"You have to mention that again, kyu?" Cutemon shuddered at the memory. "That was the first time your hand almost swallowed me."
"Sorry," Mervamon mumbled. "But what happened after that? What has become of our friend…"
"… But…" the Rohirrim Rider protested. "He looked like a warg. How can a warg be friends with anyone that is not also friends with Saruman?"
"Because he is not a warg, whatever they are," Mervamon replied, though she did not particularly like the way that this conversation was going. "He's a spirited warrior, and one of the toughest members of Xros Heart there is. As well as one of the members that joined closer to the beginning of our travels. I was an extreme late-comer to the group by comparison. Dorulumon has fought countless battles in the name of good. There is no chance he would serve darkness. Not anymore."
"Anymore?" Legolas questioned.
"Yes, anymore," Mervamon nodded. "We might all be good Digimon now, but we don't all have a perfect track record. There was indeed a time in the past were Dorulumon worked for the side of evil. But he was never evil himself."
"That's right, kyu," Cutemon piped up in his Guardian's defence. "Dorulumon said that the way the evil guys treated their comrades just didn't sit well with him, kyu. Because they would always sacrifice their own troops if it meant achieving a victory, kyu. That's why he ran away from the bad side."
"But he is most certainly a good guy now," Mervamon agreed. "He and I have fought alongside one another many times. He'd put his life on the line for those he cares about. What happened after he was found in this city?"
"Well we assumed he was a warg," the Rohirrim rider stated. "And since wargs are always aligned with the dark powers we tried to kill him…" he was cut off by a wail from Cutemon and seething hiss from Mervamon as she bared her teeth at him. This caused him to add, very quickly, "But we didn't succeed… he was too fast for us. He managed to evade some of our best horsemen. He managed to slip through the gates moments before they closed and fled across the plains. We sent out search parties to try and find him but none were successful. He must have given them the slip somehow."
Mervamon still looked peeved, but gave Cutemon a reassuring look. "There. You see, Cutemon. We don't need to worry so much about Dorulumon. He's a survivor. After he fled the Bagra Army he was on the run for three years before he was finally tracked down. And he had the wrath of Tactimon after him and you to look after for one of those years. I'm sure he'll still be in good health when we finally meet up with him again."
Cutemon cheered and beamed at Mervamon. "I hope so, kyu. I hope so."
"I think my perceptions of everything that I know are being challenged," Éomer shook his head wearily. "A creature that looks like a warg and yet is good. This war against Sauron is truly turning Middle Earth upside down."
"Something tells me that it's going to get a lot stranger before the end," Legolas stated. And most of them knew better than to try and correct the Elf. Largely because they were all thinking the same thing.
"Unfortunately," Aragorn stepped forward into the ring of riders. "I think that we have tarried here long enough. This has already taken longer than I would have liked. We must return to a pursuit of the Uruk-Hai. We have been following the survivors of those who attacked as a Rauros across your plains, Éomer. They have taken two members of our Fellowship captive. A pair of Halflings by the name of Merry and Pippin."
Éomer sent him a sidelong look before saying, "You need not concern yourselves with those Uruks anymore. We ambushed them last night and slaughtered them."
This instantly got the attention of the four members of the Fellowship, and they converged around Éomer.
"What about the captives?" Gimli pressed him. "What has become of them? Are they safe?"
"A pair of Hobbits from the Shire," Legolas agreed. "The size of children, beardless with curly hair, hairy feet. Did you see them?"
Now Éomer was beginning to look distinctly uncomfortable. It took a full ten seconds before he said the next part of his tale. "There were no survivors," he said gravely. "We killed every last one of them. You can see the smoke on the horizon of their burning bodies from here." He turned and nodded in the direction that the horsemen had come from and, sure enough, everyone could indeed see a plume of smoke rising up into the sky.
"We made a funeral pile with the dead. If you could call it a funeral. Scum like those Uruk-Hai do not deserve a funeral of any kind," Éomer continued. "We saw nothing that resembled children during the fight… but that does not mean that we missed one or two."
There was a pall of silence that fell over the group. Every single member of the Rohirrim was suddenly looking very guilty. As far as they knew, none of them had actually slain a Halfling last night. But it had been pretty confusing, and dark when they had piled bodies up. Was it possible that they had actually killed an innocent during the fight and not realised they were an innocent, even after tossing them on the pyre?
Such a thing did not bear thinking about, and yet none of them knew if they were guilty or not.
But worst hit were the members of the Fellowship. All four of them were now looking at the ground, with white faces, Legolas resting a hand on Gimli's shoulder. Boromir's fist was tightening so much that his nails were beginning to cut into his palms. And Aragorn… just looked despondent. He was supposed to be the leader of the Fellowship in Gandalf's stead. And now it had come to… this?
Two of its members heading off towards Mordor and very probably their doom.
Two members captured by enemy forces and probably already dead.
One member who would have been dead were not for the intervention of a pink bunny from another universe.
Some leader he was. A very fine King indeed, he didn't think.
Éomer was still looking very uncomfortable, but he was doing a quick headcount as well, before he quickly whistled four riderless horses over towards them. "Hasufel, Arod, Rochallor, Felaróf," he called out their names. Obediently, but horses stepped forward. Hasufel and Rochallor were both brown in colour, Arod was a bright white and Felaróf was a deep black.
"I do not know how much use these will be to your journey," Éomer said as he grasped their bridles. "But take these horses in good faith and we shall depart as friends. May they be fleet of foot and take you to where you wish to go. And may you not suffer the same fate as their former riders, who perished in the attack the night before."
Wordlessly, Aragorn took the bridles from the First Captain of Rohan, or former First Captain of Rohan. Éomer gave him one final apologetic look before he left to clamber back on his own horse. Mervamon approached the group, and several of the nearby riders tensed, still not fully comfortable with her presence. And not particularly helped by the fact that her arm lifted up and seemed to regard them.
"Farewell then," Éomer said once he was back in the saddle. "I hope that you, all of you," he added with a look to Mervamon and Cutemon, "Reunite with your friends. Whether they be Halfling or strange orange Wolf that resembles a warg but isn't. In terms of the Wolf we can do nothing to aid you. If you find him then you must convince the others that he is friendly. We must now leave."
"Thank you," Mervamon gave him a fanged smile, which was slightly unnerving for the Man of Rohan. "I hope that we meet again, Éomer. You seem like a dependable fellow."
"We'll see," Éomer sent her a brief smile of his own. "I wish you well. In any endeavour that you attempt to fulfil while you stay in Middle Earth. Who knows? We might need all the capable fighters we can get in the future. And every one of us here will no longer be able." He then called out to the rest of the group, "We ride North!"
Reforming the perfect synchrony quite quickly, the members of the Rohirrim peeled away from the circle that had been surrounding the group, the horses falling into step with one another with practised ease as they swept away in the same direction they had come in, heading East but beginning to turn towards the North. The small group that had spent the last three days running in pursuit of the Hobbits stood there and watched them leave for a while. None of them were particularly eager to reach the plume of smoke in the distance. Not anymore. They were afraid of what they would find.
Eventually though, they got underway. Getting Mervamon on a horse was slightly amusing, or would have been had not there been a morbid, worried atmosphere hanging over them. Still, the horse that she had chosen – Rochallor, because he was the biggest and the sturdiest and would probably be best suited to supporting her abnormally large size – eventually let her on, despite being absolutely terrified by her arm. Mervamon had to fold the Medullia behind her back to keep it well out of the way of the horse's view.
Then, with Aragorn in the lead and taking them in a straight line towards the pyre, they rode off. Cutemon was sitting on Mervamon's head, while Gimli was sitting behind Legolas.
Needless to say, the horses made much faster progress than any of them could on foot themselves and it was only about half an hour or so before they reached the distant pyre. It was an unpleasant scene, and Mervamon felt the need to close Cutemon's eyes or at least try and avert them. This wasn't anything like the remnants of a battlefield in the Digital World. Because in the Digital World, there were no dead bodies.
The ground was never covered in blood.
And there were definitely no severed heads stuck upon spears.
But that was definitely the case here. There was an enormous pile of bodies, burnt and blackened with the fire that had gone out a while ago but was still copiously smoking. The grass was stained in various patchwork patterns that made the yellowing grass look like a grisly mosaic. And the head on the spear belonged to Mauhúr, the Uruk-Hai who had, just last night, been the one to complain about eating the maggoty bread for three days. His last expression had been one of furious defiance and now it was permanently on his severed head.
Even Mervamon felt slightly sick. She was not used to this either. In their world, every enemy that they defeated disintegrated into data. She wondered how willing to fight enemies she would have been if the Bagra Army left bodies behind like this.
Nobody was able to say anything as they stepped up to the pyre, dismounting the horses as they did so. Mervamon had Cutemon nestled in the crook of her Medullia arm, deliberately turning him so that his face was against her stomach rather than looking around. Each of them regarded the pile of bodies as if it were a bomb that my go off at any moment. None of them particularly wanted to look at it, but each of them knew that the bodies of the Hobbit friends might just be in there somewhere.
Eventually it was Gimli that took up the horrible task, stepping forward wordlessly and beginning to sift through the pile of charred limbs, torsos and heads in search of any clue or any sign of the fate of Merry and Pippin. There was a grim silence as he did so, and after a few moments of Gimli using his axe to lever bodies aside, Mervamon passed Cutemon off to Boromir before stepping in herself, plunging her massive sword into the heap and giving it a large heave. The charred Orcs and Uruk-Hai cascaded over in a jumble, making the search significantly easier.
But no more pleasant.
And then, eventually, Gimli stumbled upon something that they were hoping they would not find. The Dwarf pulled what appeared to be a thin piece of leather from the pile. It meant nothing to Mervamon but apparently it did to him. He turned around, face slack, and held it up for the others to see.
"It's one of the belts that were given to them in Lothlórien," he mumbled, almost as if he wasn't really believing his own words. "By the Lady Galadriel."
Each of them stared at the small belt, wondering which of the two Hobbits it belonged to. But to them it seemed to be all the proof that they needed. The proof of the truth they did not want to hear.
The reaction was different amongst each of them. Legolas placed a hand over his heart and muttered something in Elvish, presumably some kind of farewell that neither of the Digimon could understand. Boromir sagged down, sitting squarely on the floor and burying his head in his hands, his head reeling at the fact that despite all his efforts to protect them, the Hobbits had still not survived. The fact that he had probably been the main force that drove the other two Hobbits away did not help him.
And Aragorn kicked a fallen helmet so hard that it smacked the severed head of Mauhúr and knocked the spear out of the ground, before roaring to the sky like a wild animal and dropping to his knees.
"I don't believe it," Gimli muttered. "All that running… and it wasn't enough."
"Do you see a body part?"
All four of the people from Middle Earth turned to look at Mervamon, who was glaring at them slightly.
"Can you identify any of the body parts in that pile as belonging to your two friends?" She asked, more forcefully.
"It's impossible to tell anything apart…" Gimli muttered. "It's all charred and blackened and…"
"Then what are you giving up on them for?" Mervamon demanded. "All I see is a belt. That belt could have been thrown on the pile at any point. Until you have solid proof that those Hobbits are dead, you should never give up on them. That is what we do in Xros Heart. We always have faith in our friends and that they will return to us until we see their data floating off into the sky."
This wasn't entirely true on Mervamon's part. Sometimes it was difficult to find evidence of the death of a Digimon considering their bodies vanished. But they were usually safe in the knowledge that the Digimon soul would be preserved and that their bodies could be reconstructed with the Code Crown. But as the Generals had told her, that didn't apply to creatures of flesh and blood like all of these were. If those Hobbits really were dead, then they were not going to come back. Ever.
And she already felt somewhat close to this group, even though they'd been doing almost nothing but running for three days. She did not want to see them like this unless it was absolutely necessary. Hence why she had told them not to give up.
Aragorn gave her a look, and Mervamon was pretty sure that it was an appraising one but she couldn't be totally sure. He then looked at the ground at her feet, frowned, and stood up to walk over to her. "Could you move aside please?" He asked gently. At first Mervamon was a little miffed when she noticed that he was staring at the large bare patch on the ground with great interest, which he had a foot planted in, she dutifully stepped aside.
Aragorn's hand brushed over the bare patch. "This is a Hobbit imprint," he murmured, loud enough for everyone to hear him but still just on the edge of their hearing. "I think Merry's. He is slightly taller than Pippin." He then placed his fingertips and another, similar imprint on the ground next to it. "And this is Pippin's own imprint. They were lying on the ground, last night."
"Alive or dead?" Boromir had got up quickly to step up behind his fellow Man.
"Alive," Aragorn murmured. "I can see signs of their movement. And I can see that they attempted to crawl away." He got up and began to step forward slowly, examining the ground with each and every step and occasionally kneeling down again, staring intently at it. To Mervamon and Cutemon alike, it looked like the ground was a total mess of footprints and hoofprints that made absolutely no sense to them.
But somehow Aragorn seemed to be able to track two small individuals through that mess.
"Looks like their hands were bound," Aragorn muttered as he followed the trail. "They were not using their hands properly, and were using their elbows a lot. They got separated here…" he indicated the ground, there are only Legolas could make anything out and even then only when Aragorn pointed out.
Aragorn then noticed a large axe seated on the ground nearby and something heavily trodden into the grass next to it. He hurried over and lifted it up, pulling a twisted piece of rope from the ground.
"One of them managed to get free on this axe blade," he informed the others. "Pippin, I think. And it looks like he hurried over to Merry quickly to do the same." He flipped another piece of rope a short distance away with the toe of his boot. "Then they clambered to their feet and ran."
Mervamon was seriously impressed. She didn't think that she had seen anybody work something like this out from imprint on the ground alone – he was practically giving out a blow by blow of the battle that had taken place last night from the perspective of the Hobbits.
"It's a very zigzag run," Aragorn murmured. "It must have been all they could do to dodge the fighting. And…" he knelt down to the ground once again, where he could see a heavy bootprint, and the signs of some kind of struggle. "Something chased after them and attempted to grab them. An Orc… but it wasn't able to keep hold of them and they ran off in this direction…"
Everyone could hear some mounting excitement and Aragorn's voice now, and a renewal of hope. Aragorn increased his speed, following the zigzag run of the Hobbits exactly as they weaved their way through what had been a darkened battle zone.
"The tracks run this way… away from the battle… and…" Aragorn pulled to a halt right on the edge of the treeline. "And they go all the way in there. Into Fangorn Forest."
"That place looks scary, kyu," Cutemon muttered as he drew himself into a slight ball. And Mervamon actually agreed with him. It did not look like a particularly friendly place. It looked as if every single tree was silently telling them that walking past them and into the forest would be a very, very bad idea.
"They went in there?" Gimli shuddered. "What were they thinking?"
"They were thinking that they needed to survive," Legolas murmured. "This is good news, Gimli. We have not failed the Hobbits yet. They are still alive."
"Are we sure about that?" The Dwarf replied. "I'm not feeling particularly hopeful looking at this forest that they gone into."
"Nevertheless, it is something," Aragorn turned to smile at Mervamon. "You are right, Mervamon. We should not have been so quick to give up on them. There is always hope. Until it is over and you have solid proof that it is over, there is always, always hope."
"Got that right," Mervamon smirked. "Now, who's up for a delightful forest walk?"
Well, there you have it. No full-blown action, Éomer on the war path, style thing that we had with Faramir and Greymon. But nevertheless it was quite interesting. Hope you enjoyed it, and the deviations it made. The fact that Boromir remains alive is definitely going to change a few things. It is being one of them. No need for Legolas to attempt to pull an arrow on Éomer this time.
Well, I think that it would be bedtime for me. I won a decent night's sleep tonight, and if my housemates come in at 5 o'clock in the morning again… I may be forced to do something drastic… Geehee, just kidding, but I will certainly be very angry.
Merry and Pippin flee further into Fangorn forest, determined to put as much distance between them and all the action that went on behind them last night as they can. Did they are still being relentlessly followed and they are unaware they're running towards something that will most definitely shock them.
Coming up:- Chapter 37 : Little Orcs