This is the disclaimer. I do not own anything from Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, they are the property of JRR Tolkien and J K Rowling, this writing is purely for pleasure and I get no money out of this whatsoever, now that is out of the way on with the story!
It was nearly dark when they finally stopped riding. Aragorn had pushed them hard and there was an unspoken knowledge between them that is was necessary, and the presence of the messenger had only heightened their suspicions that something was wrong in Edoras and the idea that they might be too late to help did not sit well with anyone. However, though they knew they could not delay it was very obvious that the horses could do with a rest and that both the hobbits and Elion had been drooping as twilight had grown closer.
Therefore Aragorn had given the command to halt, they could have navigated by the stars if necessary but he knew that they would lose more time if they pushed the horses to exhaustion and the punishing pace was not good for either the hobbits or Elion, particularly when Elion was wounded. Aragorn could see the relief in their eyes when he called the halt, while he knew that Gimli, Legolas and Boromir would have been capable of continuing to ride it was obvious Elion and the hobbits were not and their horses were weary. A rest would do them all good, and as dusk had approached Aragorn had become increasingly concerned about Elion.
While the fever had not returned Aragorn had become aware in the latter hours of the ride that Elion had taken an almost vice-like grip on his tunics and at points he thought he had heard a muted noise of discomfort, however whenever he had questioned the child Elion had always replied that he was fine. He had thought that the cordial of yarrow and white willow bark he had given the child before they had started to ride might have worn off, usually it didn't last more than four hours, though it was more unpredictable with children but Elion had repeatedly insisted that he was fine so Aragorn had held himself back, deciding though that he would carefully check the child once they stopped.
He moved to dismount but his progress was halted by the hands that had twisted into his tunic and the strength with which Elion was clinging to him. His concern thoroughly roused now he gently took the child's hands in his own, loosening the tight grip Elion had on him. Looking at the child's face now he could see that Elion was pale and his lips were clamped shut, as if the boy was biting back a sob and inwardly he berated himself. Evidently his earlier suspicions had been justified and he realised he should not have allowed himself to be reassured by the child's words and he should have insisted on checking, particularly when he remembered the hints had he had of the child's previous life. It would be in character for Elion to downplay or hide any injury, especially if he had picked up on the seriousness of the situation in Rohan.
A new understanding in his eyes he murmured to the child, "You need to let go of me for a bit little one, I need to dismount but then I promise I'll look at your back and do something for the pain." A shaft of guilt pierced his heart when he saw the sheer gratitude in Elion's eyes and it prompted him to press a kiss to the child's forehead and whisper an apology before he dismounted, immediately turning to carefully lift the child down from the saddle.
He didn't miss the boy's wince when the movement stretched his back, nor the grimace that flashed across his face. His suspicions confirmed he settled the child on his lap, being as gentle as possible though he was unable to make the movement pain free and more than once he saw pain cast a shadow in Elion's eyes, though the boy never made a sound.
With deft fingers he removed the bandages, examining the wounds with a critical eye and he was relieved that the day of riding had seemed to have little effect on the cuts. They were scabbing over and though the skin was red and inflamed, Aragorn had been expecting it, and it indicated that the wounds were healing as they ought and he would continue to help them heal but he knew that the inflammation would have made riding painful, and he could feel Elion tensing at even the softest touch to his back.
Carefully Aragorn spread the salve he had made the previous day over the child's back and he felt Elion relax slightly as he did so, but while the salve would aid healing and take the edge off the pain it would hardly reduce it. Once the bandages had been replaced Aragorn handed the child the cordial, and the guilt struck again when he saw that Elion didn't even hesitate, and he knew from experience that the cordial was particularly foul-tasting.
It took a few minutes but eventually Elion went limp, the tension draining out of him as the pain-killer took effect and his fatigue rose up. A sad smile touched the ranger's lips as he felt the child snuggle against him, fingers twined trustingly in his tunic as he realised that he had failed the child this past day. He knew they needed to ride but that did not mean that he couldn't have given Elion some more cordial when the original dose had worn off as it would not have delayed them and it would have reduced the child's discomfort. Elion had been suffering needlessly and Aragorn intended to make sure it didn't happen again.
With that thought in his mind he looked down at the child who was resting in his lap, an expression of contentment on his face and he smiled at the sight. "Little one," Aragorn murmured, brushing a hand through the boy's messy black hair. Emerald eyes peeked up and Aragorn felt his smile widen at the innocence and curiosity in the motion. Elion would never be truly innocent, Aragorn knew enough about the child's history and knew that the child had both killed and survived terrible ordeals, to know that the child's innocence had been lost but it gladdened his heart to see that the spirit in Elion still burned strong and that he had not yet lost his wonder and curiosity with the world.
"Tomorrow Elion," he said gently though there was a stern undercurrent in his voice, "I want, and need you to tell me when your back starts hurting." Catching the beginning of mutiny in the child's eyes he added, "Even if you don't think that it is that bad I need you to tell me. I do not want you hiding it if you are hurting, understood?"
He felt the child nod against his chest then he asked softly, "Why didn't you tell me that the medicine had worn off?"
"Didn't want to cause a delay," the reply came back mumbled, "We can't delay, there's trouble and people are suffering and they need help and I'm not important."
For a moment Aragorn was silent, shocked by the reply but when he spoke again his voice was fierce and he hugged Elion as tightly as he dared, "No little one," he said, "You are important." As Elion started to shake his head Aragorn continued to speak, "Yes Rohan is in danger and in trouble and of course we're going to help them but you are also important and it hurts me to know that you were suffering when I could have prevented it. It would not have delayed us to have given you a little medicine."
Green eyes stared at him and a small finger jabbed at him, "But you're a king," Elion protested, "I'm just a boy."
"There are several things wrong with that statement," Aragorn told him, his voice still quiet but to Elion the words seemed to burn into his mind, "You are not just a child, you are my child, so you can never be a bother and you will always be important to me. And I may be Isildur's heir, with a duty Middle Earth, but it is a duty based on love and therefore that duty burns brightest on behalf of those closest to my heart." His voice softened on the last words, "And while I am not your birth father, I think of you as my own Elion, and I love you."
Elion's eyes were wide as they stared up at him, hope, wonder and joy battling in the emerald irises and when he spoke his voice was barely a breath but Aragorn could still hear the quiet words and he couldn't help but gather the child closer, and unable to speak, press a kiss to the boy's forehead.
"Love you too..."
Aragorn felt his child slump in his arms, a weary body giving way to the demands for sleep and the very last word was scarcely a breath and left Aragorn wondering whether he had indeed heard the soft sound, though the smile that wreathed across his face and the joy that bubbled up in his heart gave testimony to the word his child had murmured right on the threshold of sleep,
Saruman was pleased.
Gandalf had been proving troublesome to break, being strangely resilient to threats to his own wellbeing and tolerant of pain. Oh he screamed, screamed until his throat was hoarse and Saruman had taken great pleasure in inflicting pain, but despite the torture Gandalf had remained unbowed. It was a strength he might once have admired but he knew that even the strongest had their limits and he would enjoy finding out where Gandalf's were.
His feet were once again taking him down to the cell, his lip curling at the communication he had just had with Sauron. He was the only one in Isenguard who knew that Gandalf was here and where he was being kept for though the Uruk-hai were the most efficient fighting force on Middle Earth he did not trust them, and they were vulnerable to Sauron. Unlike his mindless servants, he was able to keep the Eye from seeing into all his mind, and keep the fact he had the major threat to their war locked up in Orthanc to himself. He knew that if Sauron discovered that he had Gandalf imprisoned here the Nazgul would soon be flying out here with order to take Gandalf to Mordor and Saruman was loathe to give up his prize.
Gandalf had been under his command and therefore Saruman wanted to break him personally. Sauron, while he was powerful had no business meddling with the affairs of the Maia and Saruman would see that his brother was suitably punished and the breaking would be all the sweeter for him, the person that had constantly contradicted and flouted his authority, only seeking him out under duress and then rejecting his advice and betraying him. Yes, he had plenty of unfinished business with Gandalf the Grey and he would enjoy it.
He approached the section of walling that hid the cell, it was one of his more ingenious creations within Isenguard. He had learnt from the previous time he had tried to keep Gandalf a prisoner here, Maia were notoriously difficult to keep prisoner. He supposed he should have expected it, after all it was difficult to keep him bound to any place he did not wish to stay, but he was forced to concede that he had allowed himself to grow complacent and his oversight had allowed Gandalf to escape, but this cell would bypass that rather neatly.
It was sunk deep into the very bowels of the fortress itself, with no contact to the outside world or chance for anything to bring a message or carry one out, and the cell itself could only be reached by a single tunnel that wound from his chambers through the rock to this level, and even if Gandalf managed to get out of the cell he would still have to break through the door at the entrance to the tunnel, one that was sealed by his magic, and it was magic that would only break on his death. For Gandalf to escape he would need to be dead and Saruman knew that Gandalf was too weak now to try to kill him, though he didn't doubt that the man wanted too, and he had killed enough of his Uruk-hai to convince them that it would be a bad idea to attempt assassination.
No, Gandalf would not be found, and in the event that he did die, it was likely the Maia would starve to death before he was found for Saruman was the only one who knew of this cell, and the only one with a key. With a simple gesture of his staff the illusion covering the door vanished and a cruel smirk crossed Saruman's face as he saw what the days of torture and starvation had reduced the once proud man to.
Gandalf had been a tower of strength, walking Middle Earth with a purpose and hope that had remained undiminished by the years spent in his wanderings. He had been hope, and wisdom and strength and a rallying point for the forces resisting evil, his vitality bright despite the outward appearance of age and wear but now he looked the millennia he had walked Middle Earth.
The torture had broken his body, as under the influence of magic it was ripped apart and pieced together again and as the pain had been driven through his consciousness. Gandalf had screamed until his throat was raw and while Saruman had always pieced Gandalf back together after any of his sessions, the last thing he wanted was for Gandalf' body to give out before his mind was completely broken, he had never been too concerned with healing any minor damage. It was far too much effort and the pain and aches from the mottled bruises and cuts covering every inch of the Maia's body would serve as a reminder of the torture Saruman could force him to endure at a whim.
The smirk on his face widened as he opened the cell door, and Gandalf raised his head to glare at him, in a look of pure, poisonous defiance. It was a futile gesture, Gandalf had no power here, without his sword and staff and they both knew it but it heightened Saruman's anticipation. The defiance showed the spirit that he had yet to break, and Saruman relished the challenge and he would enjoy it.
Mocking laughter escaped from his throat as he raised his staff, "Well then, friend," his voice curled maliciously around each syllable, "Do enjoy yourself."
The laughter increased in volume as screams wove a haunting counterpart to the twisted melody.
Several hours later Saruman regretfully let the body of the Istar sink down onto the cold stone floor and set about the tedious task of repairing the most life threatening of the lacerations and the broken bones. Gandalf still had yet to break though he could see that the Maia was slipping closer to the edge with each session, it was slight and it would take far more than this incidental pain to break him, especially with the gaps between sessions, an unfortunate consequence of the need for secrecy, but soon, soon the Ring of Power would be in his hands and he was have the Halflings and the child to play with. Perhaps their involvement would push Gandalf to the brink mere pain could not.
But to his chagrin they were not yet in his keeping and he had other duties to attend to. Leaving the bleeding Maia lying spread-eagled on the cold floor, his breath coming in rasps through bloodless lips Saruman started on the long walk back to his chambers, his mind turning away from his captive to the matter of Rohan. The news or rather lack of news was disturbing.
He knew of the death of Theoden, Wormtongue had reported it to him promptly and he was beginning to reconsider his decision to let Wormtongue die. The man was subservient and cowered almost pitifully before his power but it was only the respect and fear he deserved and Saruman was forced to concede that the man was efficient and might yet be useful. He would allow some of the Rohirrim to survive, after all he needed slaves and Uruk-hai made poor slaves, and he would need someone to manage them. And he would enjoy the challenge of breaking them, to have the proud race of horsemen who had spurned him grovelling at his feet. Yes he would enjoy that, and perhaps he would let Wormtongue live.
But the man had not been diligent in his reports over the last several days, and he had heard nothing since Wormtongue had reported that he was poised to take over the kingdom after Theoden's funeral and he knew that when his servants failed to report news it normally meant that the news would not be to his liking, and Wormtongue had not yet tasted his displeasure to know that it never paid to be anything but honest.
Yes, Saruman mused, when Wormtongue finally sent news he would enjoy making his displeasure clear, though he would leave the man alive. For now. But thoughts of the punishment he would inflict did nothing to solve the problem of the lack of information. While he knew his forces could wipe Rohan out in sheer numbers he had not yet perfected his weapon that would bring down the Deeping Wall, and if Rohan retreated there, or countered his actions in other ways, they could cause great casualties to his force and he could not risk that lightly.
Armies took time to equip and assemble and he needed as large a force as possible if he was to challenge Sauron. The Eye would exhaust his forces against Gondor and the elves and when they were at their lowest ebb, after a costly victory he would have a force waiting, poised to strike and he would wrest control of Middle Earth from Sauron's exhausted armies. His Uruk-hai were far superior to the orc.
But his actions against Rohan were therefore key, and he could not afford a costly mistake for his window of opportunity would be small, so that meant he could not act until he had concrete information. His eyes narrowed as he came to a conclusion. He would send a contingent of men to Edoras, with orders to support Wormtongue, or if the man proved incompetent, kill him and seize control of the kingdom, but their primary function would be to relay information.
It would cost time, but he had time. Sauron was a month away from his major assault on Gondor, he could afford a few days while his forces swelled further and while he waited for information he would send out a few groups to harass Rohan and spread the seeds of terror deep. Soon, soon Rohan would fall and that would only be the first step before Middle Earth was his, and his alone.
He did not share power.
Eowyn was uneasy. She had originally thought that if she removed Wormtongue from the position of power and influence he had acquired in Rohan she would be able to neutralise the threat he posed to the kingdom, but she knew now that she had been naive and had acted rashly. She had forgotten one key fact, that traitors did not work alone and just because a leader had been removed did not remove the conspiracy or miraculously confer safety.
Now, she had acted too quickly, tipping her hand early. By arresting Wormtongue she had sent a message to the supporters and thugs that the traitor had lured into his employ with promises of power and money, that there would be no leniency and that she was going to destroy them. She had succeeded in making her position more precarious, those people now had a reason to come after her, to attempt to seize the throne they had not had when it had appeared that Wormtongue retained his influence.
With the biting clarity of hindsight she realised that keeping Wormtongue in his position but monitoring him, and letting him have little say in the decisions she took would have been the wiser, and safer course but she had taken the impulsive action and she now knew she was embroiled in a tense waiting game. She was a fierce fighter, but there were only about a dozen loyal men in Edoras and she knew the numbers of traitors was closer to a hundred, or maybe more, she did not know the full loyalties of all those in the lower town. If a coup was staged they had no more than a slim chance of weathering it.
And so it became a matter of timing. She had sent a message to her brother, and it would be whether that message reached him and he returned before a coup had happened, or returned after, when the traitors were firmly ensconced in government, or in the fractious stage as they fought for control. The next few days were key. If they attacked in that period, they would have close to a week, maybe more to seize control and consolidate their power, and while Eomer would be able to take Edoras back in that situation it would be costly. The Riders were best on the open plains, and their form of warfare was badly suited to a siege, not to mention a siege on Edoras would have drastic repercussions.
She shook those thoughts away. She could not afford to think of loss and failure when she was still needed, when the kingdom had yet to fall. She knew an attempt was likely to be made on the throne and her life and she could prepare. Turning she issued a sharp command to a nearby servant, sending them scurrying to fetch Gamling. She needed to have a long talk with her chief advisor, a long way from prying ears.
A scant twenty minutes later she nudged her horse into a canter, Gamling following her actions as they rode around the city's outer wall. Eowyn kept a critical eye on the walls as they rode, her sharp eyes probing them for any flaws, in keeping with the charade of an inspection of the current repairs, but the majority of her attention was focused on the conversation.
"How many can we count on Gamling?" she asked tersely,
"I can call up around twenty men milady," he answered calmly, "Though at least half a dozen are approaching three score years or over."
"And the traitors?"
"Recent estimates put the number in the Golden Hall at just above fifty," Gamling seemed unbothered by her increasingly waspish questions, "And we believe they have at least equal to that number in the city itself, though we cannot confirm it."
"Swords, ax's, daggers, cudgels, a whole variety really, and those in the Hall have access to the armory." Eowyn's eyes narrowed as she contemplated that last sentence,
"Can access be restricted? I will not have my family's weaponry used to destroy my kingdom."
A frown knit across Gamling's features as he considered it, "It would be difficult," he said finally, "Gearworst is loyal to you, but he is only one man and whilst you can order the doors barred, we do not have the strength to hold the army against any attacking force of any strength."
There was silence for several moments before Eowyn spoke once more, "I will order the doors barred and keep the key on my person. It may not prevent them from accessing the weapons but it will delay them, and force them to attack with what they have at present." Her eyes narrowed as she considered the situation, "It may not be much but it will buy us time and I will take every scrap I can take." She paused again, nudging her horse down into a trot, her mind racing with possibilities.
"Get your twenty men into the Hall Gamling," she commanded crisply, her mind made up, "Get them equipped and ready to fight at a moment's notice but do it as quietly as possible. When they come I want us to be prepared. It will not be easy and we may fail but I do not fear death, and if I die for Rohan I will die content." Her eyes blazed with fire and Gamling could see in that moment precisely why it was dangerous to cross a shield maiden.
"They seek my death and the destruction of my kingdom, thinking me but a foolish woman but I am a Daughter of Kings and they will learn that the price of a shield maiden's death is dear."
And seeing the determination and fire in her voice Gamling believed her completely.
They had been riding hard to reach Edoras for during the last two days a terrible sense of foreboding had begun to grow on Aragorn, and an urgency, as if time was slipping away no matter how hard they rode. It both unsettled and worried him, for while he did not have a gift that even begun to rival that of Lord Elrond's, he still had a gift of foresight, and he had learnt quickly to trust the instincts and feelings that were the manifestation of his gift.
However he had been careful to avoid pushing the group too hard, no matter his own personal uneasiness. Elion was still recovering and they could not afford to tire the horses or push themselves to exhaustion, for Aragorn was beginning to suspect they would have to fight once they reached the capital and he was not willing to risk anyone because they were fatigued.
But despite the worry that had them riding from dawn to dusk, there had still been moments of happiness and levity on the ride. Elion was healing well, and while the bandages could not be removed yet, the cuts had scabbed and infection had been avoided, and as they healed, the pain had receded. Elion was still stiff and sore, and would flinch if pressure was applied to his back, but was no longer reliant on the cordial to manage the pain while they rode. It would not be healed fully for nearly a week yet, but Aragorn was glad to see that his child was recovering and would soon be back to full health.
They were nearly at Edoras and the whole company was alert. They had spoken at length the previous night about what they would do once they had arrived, but with the lack of information about situation in the capital they were all ready for anything. Merry, Pippin and Elion had orders to hide if the situation appeared to be violent, and Aragorn had given them each a dagger, along with a warning to Elion not to use magic unless absolutely necessary. He hoped the precautions would be enough but just in case they had discussed a strategy for escaping the capital if the situation was that dire, though Aragorn hoped it had not yet come to that.
However his unease racketed up a notch as they approached the gates of the city. There was no guard mounting either the gate or the wall, and that more than anything told him something was seriously wrong. The years he had spent fighting alongside the Rohirrim had taught him how carefully they guarded their gates, and for that watch to be absent meant that the situation was dire indeed.
Nudging his horse up into a canter he led the company through the gates, his hand loosening his sword in its sheath and his eyes automatically surveying the surroundings for any sign of the danger, and out of the corner of his eye he could see the others doing the same. The hootbeats were loud on the cobbles, but no other noises broke the morning air. The city was quiet, too quiet, and Aragorn could see that doors and windows were barred.
The unease rolled strongly in his gut and with a quick gesture he raised the pace until they were galloping up the hill. As they nearer the hall they could hear shouts and the distinctive clang of metal on metal. Quickly Aragorn dismounted, exchanging a grim look with the other warriors before he turned to the hobbits and Elion. "Hide," he told them urgently, "Do not come out until we come back for you."
He received nods and he could see the determination in their eyes and he knew they would do as he had said, though there was fear there. Aragorn mustered a smile and briefly squeezed his child's shoulder before he hissed, "Go!" Instantly the three turned and hurried away, and Aragron noted, with a touch of surprise that Elion was leading them. But reassured that they were safe as he could make them Aragorn's blade whistled as it left the scabbard and he started to run up to the hall, Boromir, Legolas and Gimli flanking him, their weapons drawn and ready.
They burst into the hall, and took in the situation at a glance, a large group of men were converging on the throne where a small group of defenders battled desperately, vastly outnumbered and in amongst the defenders Aragorn could see a woman clad in the liveries of the House of Eorl, her blade singing and defiance in her eyes. Even from here the resemblance to her brother was obvious, and so was the situation.
Aragorn nodded once and the four immediately stepped forwards, weapons swinging in deadly arcs as they battled their way forward towards the dais. They were badly outnumbered, but they had fought worse odds, and while there were many, most of the men were badly trained and though a few of them battled with the strength and skill of trained warriors, they were little match for the four of them.
As the first of their comrades began to fall, those at the head of the hall realised the threat they faced from their rear and the group began to bunch under the attack from two sides. As more of the men at the front turned to meet the new assault, those defending on the dais began to fight more effectively, relieved from the pressure of defending against far larger numbers.
The battle was bloody, and Aragorn was aware that the original defenders were beginning to flag, that more and more often one would fall and not rise once again, the superior numbers taking their toll. Grimly he gritted his teeth and fought on, his sword whirring in deadly arcs as he pushed slowly forward, the attackers falling to his blade, and the worn flagstones becoming slick with blood.
But slowly they were gaining the advantage, and for everyone defender that fell, several of the attackers fell, to lie unmoving on the merciless ground. His hands and clothing were stained in blood, when he finally cut his way through to the dais, his friends at his side, and the marks of battle present in the minor wounds and the grim light in their eyes. By now only four of the original defenders remained, though the woman still stood among them, the battle-lust in her eyes, but the attackers numbered little more than a dozen.
For a brief moment there was a lull in the fighting as the two sides regarded one another. "You have failed." Her voice rang out strongly over the sound of harsh breathing, "Yield."
"Never." The word was a snarl and her eyes went flat.
"The penalty of treachery is death. Forth Eorlingas!"
With the war cry she charged into the gathered men and no more than a heartbeat later they joined her. The second battle was over quickly, the numbers were far more closely matched and they had the advantage of superior skill. Soon the last enemy fell and the only sound in the hall was the heavy breathing of the eight remaining warriors and the moans of the dying.
AN: And here it is, a week late I know, but fanfic has been misbehaving so I couldn't upload. Anyway I hope you all enjoyed it, and thanks for all the support you have given me!