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  #26  
Old June 22nd, 2008, 08:59 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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A villian with an addiction to apples....that is funny...

Glad that they are all in the same place now. Don't worry that you are taking time, there is a huge amount going on in there and I am really enjoying reading it.
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  #27  
Old July 7th, 2008, 12:06 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth


Disclaimer: I don’t own Balian, Imad, Legolas, Aragorn, Paris, Achilles, Will, Jack, Merry, Pippin ...you get the idea. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Kiwi: Thanks for the lovely comments, as always

Chapter 12: Darkness Looms

Imad had never seen so much green grass in his life. It stretched on endlessly, like a carpet laid down by God’s own divine hand. How many tribes could this place support? Certainly, he doubted there would be any more disputes over water and grazing land.

The only bad thing about this place was the cold and the perpetual rain. Balian had said it was probably because it was winter. Whatever the reason for the rain was, they were soaked. Imad sneezed. His Frankish friend might be accustomed to such climates, but he definitely wasn’t. “Where’s the nearest...village?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Balian. He held a shivering Barisian very closely, trying to warm the child with his own body heat. “I’ve never been to a Rohirrim village before, but Edoras, the capital city, is in this direction.”

“Are you sure?” said Imad. “You did say you were semi-conscious when riding to Edoras.”

“I was wounded. That does not necessarily mean that my mind was not functioning.”

“Does it ever function?”

“More than yours does, I guess.”

The man’s adventures in those other worlds certainly had given an edge to his humour. He’d never been that sarcastic or so quick with his tongue. “How far is it?” Imad asked, to change the subject. He was in no mood for witty banter.

“Without horses?” Balian grimaced as he did some quick calculations in his head. “It’s going to take days.” He glanced up at the sky. More rain seemed to be on its way. “I guess we need to find shelter for the night now.”

They’d stripped the oilcloth covering from their broken wagon. Now, Balian and Imad both stabbed their swords into the wet ground and draped the cloth over it to make a rudimentary tent, with rocks holding the edges down. It was not particularly spacious, but it was shelter, although no one could find a way to avoid lying on the cold wet ground. Miserable, cold, and muddy, they huddled together —something which Imad found most inappropriate, due to his Muslim sensibilities, but necessary for warmth. The children complained about their discomfort, but their tiredness quickly sent them to sleep.

Balian kept watch as the sun sank beneath the horizon. It was more out of habit than necessity, but he couldn’t help but feel that there was something wrong, even though Sauron was gone and most of the orcs were scattered. After all, there was always a chance of a stray orc party happening upon them, and they would be defenceless.

Imad glanced at his friend, a dark silhouette against the blackening sky. ‘I hope your inexplicable and illogical luck holds, my friend,’ he thought. ‘I have a feeling we’re going to need it.’

————

Will watched his men go through their drill, and he was proud of them. Soon, they would be ready to fight the corsairs. Upon his appointment, he’d taken on two new captains; Captain Elizabeth Swann and Anna-Maria. This surprising and somewhat controversial move had been the talk of the city. How could women be naval officers?

Even Aragorn had had his doubts at first, but Legolas had assured him that these two would be very good at their jobs. As usual, the elf had been right.

Under Elizabeth and Anna-Maria’s watchful eyes, the men had honed their raiding skills. Willie acted as the errand boy, fetching things for his parents, his Uncle Jack-Jack, Miss Anna-Maria and Captain Barbossa.

Gibbs took back his place as Jack’s First Mate. Barbossa, due to a lack of choice, appointed Ragetti to be his second in command. That left Anna-Maria with Pintel.

Unfortunately, Jack’s men soon acquired a taste for rum, like their captain. Other than that, they fought well, when they were sober.

Elizabeth’s men learnt of other uses for rum besides the obvious one. There was much dispute between Captains Swann and Sparrow about the purpose of certain alcoholic beverages. Xerxes, to his surprise, had been assigned to Elizabeth’s crew. He’d never taken orders from a woman before, with the exception of his lady mother when she’d been alive. Come to think of it, he’d hardly ever taken orders before he’d come to Gondor.

With the sailors otherwise occupied, Paris spent much of his time with Helen or in the library, trying to learn elvish. He was fascinated by the maps. Mordor had the most unusual geography. How could any one land be surrounded by so many mountains? It was a natural stronghold. It was a pity that it was tainted land.

The prince of Troy learnt most of the History of Middle Earth from his elvish friend and his dwarven companion. Those two were a veritable source of stories, even though their stories sometimes contradicted each other, especially when it concerned what had happened on the quest of the Ring.

Achilles had no interest in such academic pursuits. Having nothing better to do, he started learning the Gondorian style of fighting. Their swords were heavier, longer and more unwieldy than his own bronze one. He found it difficult to perform the quick tricky manoeuvres which were his specialty. No wonder Balian had been a less-than-graceful fighter. Grace was not a word one would associate with these long swords.

Helen was bored. Paris was often at his studies and she and Briseis had very little to talk about. She wished she was more like Elizabeth or Arwen or Anna-Maria. They were strong women not made for a life of servitude. Helen was tired of being known as a pretty face and Paris’ wife.
During the day, she stalked the corridors. That was how she bumped into another lady, with fair hair, much like herself, but the similarity ended there.

“I am so sorry,” said Helen. The lady had been carrying a pile of papers, and the impact had sent them flying everywhere.

“Don’t worry about it,” said the other woman, bending over to start gathering up the papers. Helen stooped to help her.

“I guess I was deep in thought,” said Helen.

“I do that sometimes myself. You’re not Gondorian, are you?”

“No, I’m Greek, but my husband is Trojan.”

“I did hear about Merry and Pippin bringing a group of foreigners all the way from the Shire. Had I not been so busy with setting up our household, I would’ve come sooner to meet everyone. That man—swallow, sparrow? It was some sort of bird’s name...

“Sparrow,” said Helen. “Captain Jack Sparrow.”

“Well, he sounded interesting, and he’s gained more renown in a month than I have in a year.” The woman laughed. “’Tis unfair, is it not, that so many doors are closed to those of the weaker sex?”

“The King of Gondor is a much fairer man than most,” said Helen.

“That he is. Aragorn is a good man.” She smiled. “How rude of me. We have been talking for so long and yet I don’t even know your name, and you don’t know mine.”

“I am Helen, of Troy.”

“I am Éowyn, formerly of Rohan, daughter of Éomund, sister to Éomer, and wife of Faramir.”

“You are the famed Shieldmaiden? Balian has told us about you.”

Éowyn stopped picking up papers. “You know Balian?” she said.

“Yes,” said Helen. “He and my husband are close friends.”

“How is he?”

“We were separated when we got pulled into Middle Earth. He jumped from the ship to save my sister by marriage and her baby son.”

“Oh, that is just like him,” said Éowyn. “I pray to the Valar that he and your sister and her baby are all right.”

————

Two boys whooped as he raced their horses up the hillock. Éothain and his cousin Bréolas both knew very well that they should be back at the homestead helping Bréolas’ father Ulfwine, but it was such a beautiful day. What normal boy could resist the call of the sun, especially after so much rain?

“I win, Bréo!” cried Éothain.

“No fair!” said the other boy. “Garulf has much longer legs than Frolga.”

“Admit it! You’re just not such a good rider!”

“Liar! I can ride loads better than you! You just have the better horse! What say we race again, hmm? And you can ride Frolga.”

Éothain, however, was not listening. In the distance he could see four bedraggled figures, stumbling along on foot across the plain. “Uh, Bréo?” he said. “I think we have visitors.”

“Are they a threat?” asked Bréolas.

“I don’t think so,” said Éothain “but you’d better ride back to the village and warn them, just in case.”

“What about you?”

“I’ll go and see who they are.” He dug his heels into his horse’s flanks.

————

Balian saw the rider. There was something odd. The proportion of the size of the rider compared to the size of his horse was not quite right. Then a young voice rang out, and he understood. “Hail, strangers!” said the boy, cantering towards them. “What is your business in the Mark...” The boy trailed off when he saw Balian. “Helms’ horn!” said Éothain. “Sir Balian!”

“Éothain?” said Balian. “Good God, lad, I didn’t recognize you!”

“I almost didn’t recognize you either, sir,” said Éothain, grinning. “You look like a regular peasant, covered in mud the way you are.”

“Thank you,” said Balian. “At least the mud shows me for what I really am.”

“What are you doing here, sir? We all thought you were dead.”

“Coincidence,” said Balian. “Éothain, can I ask a favour of you?”

“Of course, sir,” said Éothain.

“Could you perhaps let these two ladies ride? They are tired from a long journey.”

“What about you sir? And your other friend? Aren’t you tired?”

“We can manage,” said Imad.

“Thank goodness my village isn’t far,” said Éothain, “because you look like you’re going to keel over any moment like an overworked horse, sir, if I may say so.”

Andromache handed Astyanax to Cassandra, knowing that the girl would never agree to holding Barisian, and Balian was too tired to hold the child for much longer. At least on horseback, all she would need to do was balance Barisian in front of her.

“Horsie!” said Barisian, pointing at the Garulf.

“Yes,” said Balian. “That’s a horse, Barisian.”

“Papa wide horsie?” asked Barisian. He wanted to ride on the horse with his father.

“No, my darling,” said Balian. “Papa is walking. Auntie rides.”

Éothain watched this exchange with some interest. He didn’t know that Balian had a son, well, not a live one. Everyone knew the man’s tragedy. It had been retold before hearths over and over again in Rohan and Gondor. The Rohirrim boy did not ask about it. Balian would tell whatever he was willing to tell, and it was not right for children to delve into the lives of adults.

The village really wasn’t far, and Balian was glad when he caught sight of little thatched cottages with smoke coming out of their chimneys. It wasn’t so different from his village back in France. Chickens ran about underfoot, and so did skinny dogs and little children. Horses were tethered. The villagers, however, seemed to be ready for war, armed with scythes and hoes and other farming implements.

“No no!” said Éothain. “It’s all right! These are friends!”

“Friends, Éothain?” said an old farmer.

“Yes, Uncle. This is Sir Balian, you know, the Knight of Helms Deep — the Defender of the Weak!”

“You have a lot of epithets, my friend,” said Imad. “How do you remember them all?”

“I don’t,” said Balian.

“Balian?” said the old farmer. “Balian the Defender?”

“Sir Balian!” cried a little girl, running out from behind the old farmer and flinging herself at Balian. She wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Freda, let the man breathe,” said Éothain.

“Hello, Freda,” said Balian, grinning as he remembered the children of Rohan. They’d almost been like a family during that long march from Edoras to Helms Deep. “I almost didn’t recognize you. You’re turning into a fine young lady, I can tell.”

Imad shook his head and sighed. Few men were gifted with the ability to charm female creatures of every denomination. Balian was one of those privileged few. At least his luck had held out, and they would be sleeping under a proper roof tonight, even though the Saracen nobleman doubted that they would be getting hot baths with rose scented water.

Barisian was getting annoyed. Balian was his papa, not someone else’s, and he shouldn’t be paying so much attention to that other person. The little boy began to squirm in Andromache’s arms. “Papa!” he said. “Me me me me me !” He reached out for Balian.

“All right, all right, mon petit bonhomme,” said Balian, relieving Andromache of the fussing Barisian. “How can I ever forget you?”

“The way you’re going, that boy is going to end up spoilt,” said Imad.

“Have some sympathy, my friend,” said Balian. Imad was startled by the sorrow which lingered in Balian’s tired brown eyes. He’d obviously been hiding his grief very well. “He’s just lost his mother. He needs a lot of love at the moment, and who will give it to him if not me?”

The villagers were silent as they listened to this clue which hinted at the latest tragedy in this man’s life. What had happened? They all thought that his wife had died years ago, and they’d also thought that he had no family left. And yet, here was a little boy, calling him ‘Papa’. People were curious by nature, and they were all anxious to find out what had happened.

Ulfwine cleared his throat. “Sir,” he said. “You and your companions must be tired. Éothain, take them back to the house. Your mother is there, and she can look after them.”

“Thank you, good sir,” said Imad with a bow.

“You are most kind,” added Balian.

Éothain’s mother, Aethel, fussed over them as if they were all children. She made the men take off their wet garments and gave them clean ones of her brother’s. “Ulfwine is a big man, so the clothes might be a bit baggy, but you’re tall enough, I think, sir.”

“Thank you, madam,” said Balian. “I am glad to be dry.”

Andromache and Cassandra were given Aethel’s dresses to change into. They were much better suited to the climate of Rohan, and Andromache was grateful for the boots which protected her feet from the cold. Both Barisian and Astyanax wore one of Éothain’s shirts like dresses. Thank goodness they were too young to be embarrassed.

After they’d been fed—hot rabbit stew for the adults; warm goat’s milk for the children— Aethel insisted that they rest for the rest of the day. Too tired to argue, Balian did as he was told and promptly fell asleep on one of the straw-stuffed mattresses. “Papa sleepy,” commented Barisian to Imad, pointing at the sleeping man.

“Yes, amir,” said Imad. “Your father is very tired, and you should be too, because I am also sleepy.”

“We should all be sleeping,” said Andromache, settling down beside Astyanax.

Cassandra curled up against the wall, as far as possible from the others. Gods, he was so close, and so vulnerable and lovable, and yet, she could not have him. Was she doomed to torture herself forever with this love which she bore for a man who did not have it in him to love her back?

————

Jack had given his men the rest of the day off, and he was exploring Minas Tirith, with Legolas and Gimli as guides. They came to a stop before the monument of Balian, Boromir and Legolas. The elf pondered his friend’s statue, and the inscription beneath him. It simply said ‘Balian the Defender’.

“You know, my friends,” said Legolas, “Balian is a very humble man, and I do think that such a grand title might embarrass him when he sees it.”

“What are you suggesting, laddy?” asked Gimli with a mischievous glint in his eye.

“I was thinking perhaps we could make it say something else which won’t embarrass him so much,” said Legolas innocently. “What say you?”

“I think it’s a good idea, my pointy-eared elvish princeling,” said Gimli. “Let’s go buy some paint.”

Moments later, Legolas surveyed his handiwork. He’d written ‘Nanny Balian’ over the inscription in meticulous handwriting. He sniggered. This looked much better.

“I can’t wait until he sees it,” chuckled Gimli. “You’d better prepare your will, lad.”

“As if he can best me,” said Legolas with a grin. They strolled away, still laughing, leaving Jack standing before the monument with the pot of paint and the paintbrush. The pirate looked at the monument. It didn’t seem fair to make fun of Balian alone. With that thought in his mind, he began to paint ‘Nurse Legless’ on Legolas’ inscription.

————

“Tell you what, ‘Arry,” said Jack to Aragorn as Aragorn surveyed the latest addition to his armed forces. “I think we’re ready to commandeer some ships. What do you say to that?”

“I’m just going to ask you if you’re absolutely certain,” said Aragorn.

“Your Majesty,” said Barbossa. “I am ashamed to say that this time, I agree with Jack Sparrow—”

Captain! Captain Jack Sparrow!”

“—that we be ready to raid.”

“I second that,” said Elizabeth. “The men have worked hard for this day. I can’t teach them any more than what they already know.”

“And what does the Admiral say?” said Legolas, turning to Will.

“Barbossa and Jack and Elizabeth are right,” said Will. “We are ready.”

————

They waited for the cover of darkness. Will kept his spyglass fixed on the boat that was bobbing just offshore. The sailors were sleeping, drunk with victory and alcohol after a day of successful raiding. There were slaves tied on the deck, weeping with fear. Will couldn’t wait until he could give those pirates a taste of their own medicine. He might have turned into a scallywag, but one thing he would not do is torment innocent people.

The sun slipped beneath the horizon. It was time. They all climbed under the little rowing boats and waded into the water. “This is madness,” said Xerxes. As Elizabeth’s First Mate, he was sharing a boat with his captain.

“Well it works,” whispered Elizabeth. “Stop talking. You’re wasting the air.”

Legolas had decided to come along, and he shared a boat with Will. “You know, I’d never thought of Jack as genius,” said the elf. “I guess I’ll have to look at him differently from now on.” He’d also come along because he had seen what Jack had done to his inscription and the elf dearly wanted revenge.

The water was warm and it would’ve been pleasant if it did not inspire his Sea-longing. He concentrated on putting one foot after the other. Soon, the anchor’s chain was in sight. They dropped their boats, releasing large silvery pockets of air into the water. Clambering up the chain, they found the sailors totally unprepared for a surprise attack.

Elizabeth promptly engaged the captain in battle. He was large, with tattoos all over him, but she was faster. Still, she was slowly being pushed backwards. She tripped on a coil of rope and fell. The large corsair sneered in satisfaction and was about to finish her when a blur came between them and a gash appeared on the man’s tattooed neck. Dark blood sprayed everywhere. The man toppled onto the deck, dead.

Xerxes turned around to help Elizabeth. “Are you all right, Captain Swann?” he asked, helping her to her feet.

“I’m fine,” said Elizabeth. “Thanks to you—” She was cut off as she grabbed her rescuer and flung him out of the way of someone coming from behind him. She ducked the thrown axe and plunged her sword into the corsair’s belly.

“That’s for trying to backstab someone!” she snarled.

Will, trying to free the Gondorian slaves, was engaged in battle with two men. He dodged a wild swipe and then hamstrung one of the men, sending him falling onto his knees with a cry. Ragetti flung Jack the Monkey at one of the pirates, and then shot another with his pistol.

Legolas’ knives were a shining blur in the moonlight. He had no mercy for these men. They’d killed innocent people, raped, pillaged, plundered and burned. They deserved death.

Anna-Maria found herself being crushed by a particularly fat pirate whose lust had gotten the better of him. “I’m going to make you a little mistress of mine,” he said with a leer. Try as she might, she did not have the strength to push the greasy pig off her.

“Let me go!” she screamed, clawing at him.

“Y’know mate, I’d listen to her if I were you,” said the familiar nonchalant and dangerous voice of Jack Sparrow. He yanked the man’s head up by the hair and slashed his throat.

Anna-Maria flung the bleeding corpse away, and Jack pulled her to her feet. “You all right, luv?” said Jack.

“Thank you, Jack,” said Anna-Maria, gazing at him. What to make of him? She didn’t know. Sometimes he was such a gentleman, and at other times, he was an absolute rogue. She loved and hated him. He confused her, and she didn’t like being confused. It ruined her rational thoughts.

“I knew you’d warm up to me,” said Jack, grinning and revealing a few golden teeth in the moonlight. Anna-Maria threw rational thought into the wind. She flung her arms around Jack and kissed him on the lips. They tasted of rum and salt.

There were appreciative wolf-whistles, particularly from Barbossa, Ragetti and Pintel. “What can be more fortuitous than to have a wedding on this newly commandeered ship?” said Barbossa.

“I’m a captain, Hector, and I can perform the mar-i-arge meself if I wanted to, savvy?”

“And are you going to?” said Will.

“Well, Whelp, that all depends on what Miss Anna-Maria here says,” said Jack. “What do you say, Anna-Maria? Do you want to be Mrs. Sparrow?”

“I need to think about this,” said Anna-Maria. Her face was burning. Why on earth had she kissed Jack, and in front of all these people? Had she been mad?

Legolas cleared his throat. “Well, the lady needs time to think about it,” he said. “In the meantime, what are we going to call this beauty?” He patted the ship’s rail.

“The Black Opal,” said Jack

“The Lady Swan,” said Will.

“The Salty Wench,” said Barbossa.

“Oooh, I like that,” said Jack, thinking about the salty wenches in Tortuga.

Legolas wish he’d simply gone ahead and named the ship himself. “Can’t we call it something decent and Gondorian, like the White Tree or something like that?” he said.

“No!” said a lot of voices in unison.

“This is a ship,” said Will. “It can’t be called a tree.”

“What sort of name is the White Tree?” said Jack. “I might not like Barbossa, but I vote for the Salty Wench.”

And therefore, with two votes, the name won, and the ship was christened the Salty Wench. Legolas was anticipating, with apprehension, how Aragorn would react to this.

However, the worst was yet to come.

————

Balian woke to the smell of burning thatch. Instinctively, he grabbed his sword with one hand and Barisian with the other. “What’s happening?” asked Andromache as she fearfully clutched the still-sleeping Astyanax. This reminded her of the fall of Troy and she sincerely hoped that she was not in the middle of another war.

“Darkness,” said Cassandra softly. She began to intone ominously:

Darkness rises from the East.
One who was sent to save will now destroy
Evil rises from its slumber
For the Chosen One it will now employ.

Oh weep, oh weep, ye sons of men,
For light has turned to dark.
No more joy shall you feel
No more singing of the lark.

They shall trap him by unnatural spells
The dark shall keep him in his hell
Can he fight them?
Only time can tell.

From friend to foe and foe to friend
Where is goodness now?
But friends must fight off deep despair
And hold onto his vow

He will see the world through a veil
Of pain and helplessness and anger.
And yet in this darkness there is hope
For a father’s love shall prevail.

To free him how, save by the sword
And the pouring out of blood?
Only one can save him, only Hades
Can put his soul at ease.

Shall love transcend the wall of death?
That is a mystery still.
But hold onto the fading hope
That he will his task fulfil.


With that, Cassandra’s eyes rolled backwards and she fell into deep unconsciousness. “What did she mean?” asked Andromache.

“I don’t know, and I’m not that interested in finding out at the moment!” said Balian. “Get out of the house, all of you, and whatever you do, stay close!”

“Sir Balian!” cried Freda. “We’re under attack! I can’t find Éothain and Uncle Ulfwine, or Bréolas, or Mama!” Balian quickly handed Barisian to the girl. He couldn’t fight well while holding a baby, and he was afraid that Barisian might get hurt in the skirmish.

“Keep him safe,” he told the little girl “and stay close to me.”

She nodded, fixing her wide frightened eyes on him. They rushed outside, with Imad carrying the unconscious Cassandra and bringing up the rear. “Allah,” he muttered. “This is worse than the war back home.”

Through the haze of smoke from the burning thatch houses, Balian could see the glint of polished armour. Their attackers were definitely not orcs, but men, and there was something familiar about their livery. One of them rushed at him, with his sword raised. Balian parried the blow with a circular manoeuvre and disarmed the man. His blade bounced off the man’s armour harmlessly, so Balian went for another approach. He bodily pulled the man to the ground and crushed his windpipe with a hard stomp.

Andromache winced as she heard the crunch of cartilage. She’d known that Balian was a fierce warrior, but she’d never seen him in action, and his ferociousness frightened her. Thank the gods he had a pure soul. A man like that with a corrupted spirit could do a lot more evil than Agamemnon had ever dreamed of.

Villagers were screaming. In their panic, they ran in all directions, sometimes straight into the swords of the enemy. The smoke made Andromache’s eyes water and it was difficult to see what exactly was going on. She kept close to Balian and Imad, just as they’d instructed. Holding Cassandra over his shoulder made fighting awkward, but the Saracen lord’s blade was still deadly as he slashed tendons and arteries, spraying blood everywhere.

Balian was fighting yet another man. His side was bleeding from a shallow cut. His downward blow cleaved straight through the man’s helmet and the blade became embedded in his skull. Before he could free his weapon, someone else was attacking him. The two men collided, and the force of the impact knocked them both to the ground, with Balian underneath the big armoured man. He grunted in pain as the man drove an armoured knee into his stomach, attempting to force it into his ribcage. They wrestled in the bloody mud. The man had his gauntleted hands around Balian’s throat and Balian was attempting to push him off. The blacksmith clawed at the man’s face with his fingers and pushed them deep into the man’s eyes. The man screamed and fell back with his hands over his face. Balian scrambled to his feet, wheezing, and wiped the semisolid matter which covered his fingers onto his trousers. He yanked out his sword from the corpse’s skull. His throat hurt too much to talk at the moment. He simply nodded at Andromache, Freda and Imad to show them that he was fine. The villagers were being overwhelmed. There seemed to be no hope when the ground suddenly shook with the sound of a thousand iron-shod hooves.

The Riders of Rohan had come. The attackers, who were now outnumbered, attempted to flee, but they were quickly cut down.

“Wulf!” cried Freda, recognizing Ulfwine’s oldest son and her cousin as the captain of the contingent of riders.

“Freda?” said Wulf, leaping out of the saddle and going to his little cousin. “Oh by the manes of the Maeras, you’re safe! Where are the others? Where’s Father and Bréolas and Aunt Aethel and Éothain?”

“I don’t know,” said Freda. Her lower lip trembled.

“Now, now,” said Wulf hurriedly. “Be a brave girl like the Lady Éowyn and don’t cry. We’ll find them.” For the first time, he noticed the little boy that Freda was holding. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced,” he said, indicating the child.

Freda sniffed. “This is Barisian. He’s Sir Balian’s son.”

“Sir Balian’s son?” said Wulf. “How can this be? He is dead, and I thought he had no family left.”

“He’s alive, and over there,” said Freda, pointing.

Balian was staring at one of the bodies of their attackers lying beside their trampled standard. He now knew why their uniform and armour seemed so familiar. Embroidered on the standard was a white tree with seven stars above it.

Something was definitely wrong in Middle Earth.

————

A/N: Okay, this is a complete whopper. I’m very bad at maths lately. Hope you enjoyed it, and that no one got sore eyes while reading. I’m also no good at poetry.
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  #28  
Old July 7th, 2008, 05:24 PM
Casakit
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I for one think you are very good at poetry, and I very much so enjoyed the chapter, keep up the great work!*hugs*
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  #29  
Old July 15th, 2008, 09:32 AM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth



Disclaimer: I do not own anything that you recognize. I’m just borrowing them without permission.

Note: I have made a companion music video for a part of this story which has yet to be written. You can see it here at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v57TIYaWBl8

Chapter 13: The Gondorian Pirate Fleet

Wulf turned his gaze to what Balian was staring at. The sight of the white tree and the seven stars above it drew a string of curses from his lips. “We’ll make them pay!” he declared. His anger robbed him of reason. Balian turned to fix intense brown eyes on the young rider.

“Those responsible will pay,” he assured the other man “but I do not believe that it is Gondor.”

“But sir,” said Wulf, waving his hand at the trampled flag and the bodies of Gondorians “the evidence is clear! It cannot be any more obvious!”

Balian took Barisian from Freda. The little boy was crying from fear. He gripped his father’s shirt tightly in two tiny fists and pressed his ear against his heart to listen to the steady soothing heartbeat. Balian winced as his son accidentally brushed against his wound. It burned, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to know where that blade had been before it had bitten his flesh. He was hurting all over, but his mind was clear. “I refuse to believe it,” he said simply. “Wulf, get me a fresh horse. I ride for Minas Tirith.”

“Wait, wait,” said Imad incredulously. “You seriously do not intend to ride in this bedraggled state and leave us behind in the middle of nowhere, do you?”

“Imad, this is Rohan, the home of the horselords,” said Balian. “It’s hardly the middle of nowhere.”

“Well, my Frankish friend, I for one am not letting you out of my sight. You simply do not understand the meaning of ‘self preservation’.”

Wherever you go, I’m going,” said Andromache stubbornly. “You need someone to help you look after Barisian, and you can’t leave him behind, can you?”

Balian glanced down at the little boy who was clinging to him as if he would never let go. Why was it that his friends were always right? He truly could not bear the thought of being parted from his son.

“Admit it, Balian,” said Imad, lowering the unconscious Cassandra to the ground. You need rest, or you’ll never make it to Gondor.”

Balian finally consented. It was probably true. He was in no shape to travel for long. “Fine,” he said. “I will put this off until tomorrow.”

“In the mean time,” said Andromache, having settled Astyanax comfortably in a makeshift crib “let me tend to your injury.”


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The next morning, true to his word, Balian set off for Minas Tirith without even considering stopping in Edoras. Wulf had told them that Éomer had gone to Gondor for some reason of which he was not certain, and Balian had no intention of revealing this information —which he deemed to be of utmost importance— to anyone except the monarchs of Rohan and Gondor. The trampled standard was tucked safely inside his tunic. He was accompanied by his friends, who were most reluctant to be left behind. Wulf’s riders escorted them. The wind was cold when they set out, and the sky was dark with gathering clouds. Imad glanced up worriedly. Would the storm hit them before they reached their destination?

Barisian seemed totally unaware of the serious nature of their journey. He babbled in delight, strapped to his father’s front. He liked the speed and the feel of a moving animal beneath him. The little boy was not afraid of falling. His papa was all powerful, and would never let him come to danger.

As he rode, one question kept on repeating itself in Balian’s mind. Why would Gondor attack Rohan? Aragorn and Éomer were firm friends, that he knew, and as far as he was concerned, there was no bad blood between the two nations. It made no sense whatsoever. This only made him feel even more uneasy. Ever since his return, he’d felt that something was waiting just beyond the horizon for the right chance to strike. The west was still weak from the War of the Ring. Could they withstand this potential of a new threat?

“Tell me of the situation in Middle Earth,” he demanded of Wulf.

“There isn’t much to say,” said the rider. “There have been frequent sightings of stray orc parties, but they haven’t attacked anyone yet, as far as we know. Oh yes, recently, I have heard tell that Masters Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took brought a group of strangers to Edoras. I don’t know much about them, except that one of their company had the name of a bird. It was Swift, or Swallow...”

“Sparrow?” said Balian, hazarding a guess and not even daring to hope.

“Yes, that’s it. Sparrow. A Captain something Sparrow.”

“Jack Sparrow,” said Balian. A grin was beginning to form on his face. He was hoping that his other friends were with Jack as well. Ever since they had been separated, he’d worried about them.

“Captain Sparrow is in Middle Earth?” said Andromache, who’d overheard the men. If the pirate was here, then there was a chance that the rest of her husband’s family was here as well.

“It seems like it,” said Balian. “Personally, I cannot imagine him in this place.”

“Reports say that they went to Gondor with King Éomer,” said Wulf. “Why they went, I do not know.”

“All the more incentive to go to Gondor then,” said Balian, nudging his gelding with his heels and urging it into a faster gait.


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The captured corsairs were chained together on the deck. Will hugged Elizabeth tightly and kissed her on the mouth, not caring who saw. “We did well, Mrs. Turner,” he said as he released her.

“It’s Captain Swann, Admiral Turner,” said Elizabeth jokingly.

“Oh please,” muttered Jack and Anna-Maria, conveniently forgetting that they had been doing exactly the same thing not so long ago. “Get a cabin.”

“Jack, we’re married,” Will pointed out.

“This ship needs colours,” said Barbossa. He gave Elizabeth a conspiratorial wink.

“Xerxes!” called Elizabeth. “Where is it?”

“Where’s what?” said Will suspiciously. What plan did his wife and Barbossa have?

“You’ll see, Admiral,” said Anna-Maria, grinning. It seemed she was privy to the plan as well. The sailors under the three captains smiled. They were looking forward to this, for they certainly had worked hard on it.

Xerxes produced a folded piece of black fabric. He unfurled it with a flourish. “Behold, the colours of the Gondorian navy,” he said, managing to keep a straight face. On the black flag was a skull, with a branch of the White Tree and a cutlass crossing beneath it. Above the skull were the seven stars of Gondor.

Will snorted with laughter, and Jack spat out a mouthful of rum in surprise. Legolas’ eyes were wide with disbelief. “No!” he shouted. “No no no no no! You cannot have that as the Gondorian navy’s insignia!”

“Well, I be thinkin’ it be perfect,” said Barbossa defensively. “We be pirates after all, Master Greenleaf, and you can’t take that from us.”

“It will definitely put fear into the hearts of our enemies,” Elizabeth pointed out. She turned to her husband. “What do you think, Will?”

Will thought it was a most inappropriate standard for any royal navy, but he did not want to offend his wife. She was not one whom he would like to cross. For one, her temper was every bit as fiery as Barbossa’s. “Well,” he began carefully. “It’s very creative, and inclusive, you know, incorporating the symbols of pirates and Gondor.”

“See, Leggy?” said Jack. “Even the uptight Whelp likes it. I says we vote. Who’s for the flag?”

Almost all of the sailors raised their hands. They had been less-than-honourable men once, and this roguish symbol appealed to their rebellious spirits. Only Legolas seemed to be against it.

“Democracy, mate,” said Jack, patting the elf on the back. Legolas scowled at him, but he could not do anything. He knew when he’d lost.

“Turn her ‘round!” shouted Barbossa, Jack and Will at the same time. “Back to Gondor!”

“I’m captain!” Barbossa and Jack shouted at each other.

“Excuse me,” said Will “but I believe that the king made me Admiral.” He was duly ignored by the two other pirates, who were glaring at each other.

“You took me Pearl, so this is my ship,” said Jack.

“Well, I ain’t got the Pearl right now, have I?” said Barbossa. Will sighed and went to the helm. By the time Jack and Barbossa finished their latest discussion about who was what, they would probably be back in Gondor.


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Aragorn was reading through some documents when Faramir rushed in, grinning. “Good news, your majesty,” he said. “Admiral Turner and his sailors have returned, victorious.”

“Truly?” said Aragorn, leaping to his feet. “That is good news indeed. Where are they now?”

“Still on the ship, at the docks,” said Faramir. “The messenger wasn’t able to say much. Undoubtedly he was shocked by the success. He urges you to go and see for yourself.”

“Of course I will go and see,” said Aragorn, running out of the door. He’d been looking for some excuse to escape the confines of the study.

The grooms hurriedly prepared the horses for their Steward and King. They were surprised when Aragorn, impatient to be gone, saddled his horse himself. “Just because I’m king doesn’t mean I cannot handle tack,” he said, swinging into the saddle. It felt good to be riding outside the city. Their horses’ hooves ate up the grassy ground, while the King’s Guard followed behind them.

The docks came into view and with them, a magnificent vessel of Haradrim make. The men were busy painting words onto the side in Westron. Faramir saw the name ‘salty we...’, but what truly caught his attention, and Aragorn’s, was the flag flying from the mast. It was hideous.

The King let out a string of most un-kingly curses in Westron, Quenya, Sindarin, and even dwarvish. “For the love of the Valar!” he said. “What is this?!”

“The ship’s colours,” said Legolas, rolling his eyes. “Truly, Estel, I tried to stop them. Needless to say, it didn’t work.”

“Admiral Turner!” shouted Aragorn. “Can you please explain?”

“It was chosen by voting,” said Will apologetically. “I thought it best not to cause a mutiny over the issue of a flag.”

“This is the Gondorian Navy, not the Gondorian Pirate Fleet!”

“Why not?” said Jack. “Pirates to fight pirates. I thought we’d agreed on that.”

“Aye,” said Barbossa. “The pirate is in our blood, so there’s no takin’ that from us.”

“Aye!” cried the sailors in agreement.

“I knew this was a mistake,” muttered Faramir.

“Besides,” said Elizabeth “it can put fear into the hearts of our enemies.”

“It’s putting fear into my heart, Captain Swann,” interjected Legolas. “We won’t even have to fight. The enemy can laugh themselves to death. The perfect solution, right?”

“Really, Legolas,” said Elizabeth. “It’s not that bad. Don’t exaggerate.”

“Oh, it’s bad,” said Aragorn. “There’s a skull on it.”

“What’s wrong with skulls?” demanded Jack. “You’ve got one, ain’t you?”

“His doesn’t exactly have the seven stars of Gondor above it, Jack Sparrow,” said Legolas.

“And yours is full of air,” retorted the pirate. “You never remember that it’s Captain Jack Sparrow.”

Ragetti finished painting the ‘n’ and moved onto the ‘c’. Aragorn glanced at the ship’s name. “What...what are you calling my ship?” he said.

Xerxes deliberately started on the ‘h’, just to see what would happen.

“Oh no, you don’t,” said Faramir, horrified. “You wouldn’t dare...”

“The Salty Wench?!” said Aragorn.

“’Tis a good name,” protested Jack. “The ship is a she and therefore Wench. She goes a-sailin’ on the ocean, and so she’s salty, savvy?”

“Not savvy,” said Legolas. “This is a naval ship, not a pirate vessel!”

“She be crewed by pirates!” said Barbossa.

Things were beginning to get ugly when Will stepped in. “When we raid, you don’t want the enemy to know that we work for Gondor, do you, your majesty?”

“No,” said Aragorn slowly.

“They’ll never recognize this flag as being one of a Gondorian ship,” reasoned Will “but at the same time, you will be able to identify us. Isn’t that for the best?”

“Good one, Admiral Whelp,” muttered Jack.

“You owe me a drink then, I guess?” whispered Will.

“You wish. You burnt me rum.”

“It was my rum.”

“No it wasn’t. I was talkin’ ‘bout that time you blew up Jones’ terrible beastie.”

“What else was I supposed to do? Row away?”

“A Elbereth Gilthoniel,” said Legolas, lifting his eyes to the sky in despair. “Of all the things you can argue about, you argue about rum.”

“Rum?” said Aragorn in confusion. “That’s vile stuff. I wouldn’t touch it on the pain of death.” The King of Gondor might have seen almost everything there was to see in Middle Earth, but he decided that he still had a lot to learn about pirates, especially ones who went by the name of Captain Jack Sparrow.


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Minas Tirith loomed before them, a city of white. Its gates were open and welcoming. Imad was not aware of his mouth going slack. He was too amazed at this magnificent sight. There was nothing that could compare to this back home. The city itself seemed to touch the heavens. He could not even properly see the citadel. Everything was made from white stone. Where did they find so much white stone, at any rate?

“By Zeus’ thunderbolts,” breathed Cassandra. “This is...impossible. It’s what the palace at the top Olympus what to be, but this was built by the hands of mortal men...Balian, your words do not do it justice at all.” For a moment, she could forget her anger against him.

“I have not been gifted with the gift of words, Cassandra,” said Balian. “Besides, no words can describe the magnificence of Middle Earth. You have not seen Lothlorien. Now that is truly a sight to behold.” He urged his horse through the gates. Leaving them no time to adequately appreciate the view, he rode up, and up, and up, through stone archways and up stone steps. The hooves of their horses clattered and echoed. Imad was beginning to wonder when they would reach their destination when Balian finally came to a halt in the middle of a white courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard was a white tree, or what remained of one.

“How in God’s name did anyone manage to get a ship up here?” said Balian, forgetting about everything else for the moment.


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Faramir heard someone shouting in the White Tree’s courtyard. The voice was familiar. Where had he heard it before? He went outside to investigate. There, in staring up at the tree and the boat, was his long lost friend, holding a dark-haired child, and he had an entire entourage of Rohirrim with him.

“Balian?” he said. “I am not dreaming, am I?”

Balian turned. “Faramir!” he exclaimed. “It’s good to see you, my friend.”

Imad eyed the man who’d just run into the courtyard and was now embracing the Frank. So this was the Faramir who’d almost been immolated alive by his own father. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. Being a spymaster, Imad was naturally suspicious. And Balian was quite right about that destroyed tree. How did a boat end up in the tree, and weren’t trees supposed to be green?

Cassandra made the mistake of looking over the edge of the parapet. The height made her dizzy and weak at the knees. She hastily took a few steps backwards, just in case she stumbled. The princess had no desire to fall that distance.

“And who’s this?” said Faramir, turning to Barisian. The little boy buried his face in Balian’s shoulder. Strangers scared him, especially strange big men.

“This is Barisian,” said Balian proudly, although his voice seemed to be tinged with sorrow. “He’s my son.”

“Your son?” said Faramir, looking at his friend questioningly.

“Mine, and Sibylla’s,” said Balian.

“And where is she?” asked Faramir, looking around. His eyes fell on Andromache, and he wondered if she was Balian’s queen. However, she was carrying another baby who looked too old to be Barisian’s brother.

“She’s...” Balian bit his lip and shook his head. “She’s at peace.”

“Oh, I am sorry,” said Faramir, touching Balian gently on the shoulder. The Steward decided that it would be a bad idea to further pursue the subject of Balian’s dead lover. Instead, he tried to befriend Barisian, with little success.

“He’s a little shy,” explained Balian, ever the affectionate father. “He was scared of me at first, weren’t you, mon petit?”

“We’ll have plenty of time to get to know each other, now that you’re back,” said Faramir. “Who are your friends? Is that a Haradrim?” The Steward of Gondor scrutinized the swarthy man. He was tall, and wiry, like a Haradrim warrior, and there was nothing to say that he was not Haradrim.

“No, Faramir,” said Balian hurriedly. Being mistaken for a Haradrim was probably not a good thing, as he’d learnt from experience. “This is Imad, Imad ibn Baybar. He’s the man who spared my life at Kerak.”

“And also the man who tried to rob him of his horse in the desert,” said Imad, offering a hand to Faramir.

“So you are the best spymaster in the known world,” said Faramir, shaking the man’s hand firmly. “Balian has sung your praises.”

“Oh dear,” joked Imad. “You must have enjoyed that. My Frankish friend is a great bard, as everyone knows.”

“I’m not sure I do,” said Faramir, smiling. He was warming to Imad already. The man had a good sense of humour. Faramir was someone who enjoyed witty debates.

“I’ve heard that you have Jack Sparrow here,” said Balian.

“Unfortunately, yes,” said Faramir. “However, he is not here as such. He’s busy with his royal commission.”

“Did I just hear wrongly, or did you just say that Aragorn hired Jack?” said Balian.

“You heard me correctly. He’s a naval officer, under the command of Admiral William Turner, and accompanied by Captains Barbossa, Swann, and, uh, Anna-Maria.”

Balian wasn’t sure who the last two were, but this certainly sounded interesting. He was about to ask about it, but Faramir ushered him and his companions deep into the citadel and into a cosy room with plush velvet armchairs and shelves of old musty books. “The King will be wanting to see you,” he said, “and I’m sure Paris would like to see his sisters and his nephew.”

“Paris is here?” said Andromache, her spirits rising.

“Yes, Andromache, I am,” said Paris, appearing in the doorway with a grin on his face.

“Paris!” shouted Cassandra, running to her brother and hugging him tightly. Paris kissed her on both cheeks.

“Dear sister,” he said. “I am glad to see that you are unharmed.”

“We owe that to Balian,” said Andromache. She and Paris embraced each other. They’d never been that close while Hector had been alive. Andromache had always viewed Paris as a somewhat naive and selfish boy, but with the fall of Troy, she’d begun to see him with new eyes. He’d proven himself to be a man when he’d challenged Calchas.

“Why am I not surprised?” said Paris. He relieved Andromache of Astyanax. “Sit down, Andromache. You look exhausted.”

“You try riding from Rohan to Gondor without stopping,” said Andromache, gratefully lowering sinking into a soft chair. Her bones and muscles ached. She rotated her head to relieve the tension in her neck.

“I did,” said Paris. “And you’re right. You should be exhausted.” He turned to Balian. “Once again, my brother, I am in your debt.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Balian. He lowered himself onto a couch, relishing in the softness. “It’s good to see you, Paris. I was worried. Where are the others?”

“Jack and Will and all the sailors are planning their next course of action,” said Paris, “and that arrogant Greek is in the practise yards, again.”

“Actually, that arrogant Greek is standing in the doorway right behind you,” said Achilles, pushing past the Trojan prince. “I came as soon as I heard that Balian the Defender had ridden into the city. News spreads quickly.”

Andromache stiffened as soon as she saw Achilles. Yes, she knew she ought to forgive him, since Hector was technically not dead, and he had redeemed himself, but she did not have it in her to forgive him, just yet. Whenever she looked at him, all she could see was the cruel monster who’d towed the bloodied body of her beloved husband in the sand behind his chariot.

“Achilles,” said Balian, as a way of greeting the Greek. “I’m glad that you survived that storm.”

“You must be part of the minority then,” said Achilles. “Some people seem to regret the fact that I survived.” He looked pointedly at Paris, who scowled. It took no expert to see the animosity between these two. Reconciliation would take a lot of work. Balian rubbed his face. He had no energy for mediating between them just yet. Then he remembered his purpose in Gondor.

“Where is the King?” he asked. “I need to see Aragorn, and Éomer as well. It’s urgent.”

“Well, Éomer is here,” said Éomer, coming in with Éowyn behind him “but I don’t know about Aragorn. He’s proving rather elusive.”

There were curses and crashing outside, followed by the screech of a monkey. It seemed that the sailors were no longer planning anything.

“Hullo, Nanny!” said Jack brightly. He sauntered into the room, bottle of rum in hand. In an unusual act of generosity, he offered the bottle to Balian, who declined.

“Jack, you call me ‘nanny’ one more time and you will regret...” he never got to finish his sentence, for the pirate simply ploughed on in his monologue.

“I knew you wouldn’t drown. You’re like me; bloody hard to kill.”

“Ouch! Elizabeth! That was my hand that you just stood on!” came Will’s muffled protest.

“Sorry, Will. It’s a bit hard to not step on someone’s body parts at the moment,” said a woman, presumably Elizabeth.

“Gibbs, get orf me ya big fat oaf!” shouted another woman. “Ye got yer behind in me face!”

“I didn’t need to know that,” said Jack.

“Perhaps not,” said an amused Achilles, who went out to help. He managed to pull Gibbs off Anna-Maria, and free Will from a tangle of arms, legs, swords, ropes and a wooden eye. Jack the monkey scampered off chattering to himself, having been squashed beneath the pile of men (and women).

“Did I just miss something interesting?” said Legolas as he surveyed the mess which prevented him from advancing any further along the corridor.

“Probably did,” said Aragorn, grinning as he pushed his way through his naval officers and into the study. “Balian, welcome back, my friend.”

“I wish I’d come in more auspicious circumstances, Aragorn,” said Balian with a sigh. He pulled out the trampled Gondorian standard and spread it on the table.

“What’s this?” asked Aragorn.

“I was in Rohan,” said Balian “and I was staying in a little village with the family of one of the boys who fought at Helms Deep.” He took a deep breath. “We were attacked, and the attackers flew this standard.”

“You attacked my people?” said Éomer, turning angrily to Aragorn.

Aragorn shook his head in confusion. “I would never,” he said. “Gondor and Rohan are allies.”

Were allies, it would seem,” snarled Éomer. “I never took you to be a two-headed snake, but it seems that power corrupts the best of men.”

Éowyn stared at the torn flag. “How is this possible?” she whispered to herself, edging closer to Faramir and seeking comfort. Her husband put an arm around her.

“Did you interrogate any prisoners?” Legolas asked Balian.

“There were no prisoners,” said Balian. “The riders killed them all, or they fell on their own swords.”

Jack frowned. “It all seems a bit too convenient, if you ask me,” he said.

“What do you mean?” asked Legolas.

“Let us, my friends, not forget our friend, Cutler Beckett,” said Jack.

What?” said Will. Cutler Beckett had been no friend of his, and he was pretty sure he hadn’t been Jack’s friend either.

Elizabeth thought about it. Cutler Beckett had tried to trap the Brethren Court in Shipwreck Cove and then let them turn on each other...

“Jack, you’re a genius,” she said.

“As if I hadn’t known that meself,” said Jack, looking rather pleased.

“Excuse me,” said Barbossa. “When did Jack Sparrow suddenly turn from idiot into genius?”

“Hey! You got no right to talk, Scraggly Beard! And it’s Captain Jack Sparrow!” said Jack.

“Whoever’s against us,” explained Elizabeth, “they want to turn us against ourselves. You remember how you said that at all the skirmishes at the borders, there were no traces of your men, save for a few bodies?”

“Yes,” said Aragorn. “How could I forget?”

“Well, our enemy, whoever he might be, caught them alive and got the standard too, and somehow made your men fight for him.”

“And by doing that, he hoped that Éomer would declare war on Gondor, and when Gondor and Rohan are both weak from fighting each other, he would sweep down and destroy both, and reap the rewards,” concluded Paris.

“The question is, how did this enemy make Gondorians obey him?” said Legolas.

“You drug ‘em,” said Barbossa. “The Chinese have got this drug which turns men into zombies. They do whatever they’re told.”

“They weren’t drugged,” said Balian. “I could see the hate in their eyes, and they knew exactly what they were doing.”

“Then what else can it be?” said Faramir.

Will got up and headed for the door. “Where are you goin’, Whelp?” asked Jack.

“I am going to interrogate one of our prisoners,” said Will. “Perhaps we’ll be able to find out something from them.”

“I’m coming with you,” said Elizabeth.

“I’m coming too!” said Jack.

“As am I,” said Faramir. “I’m curious as to what they’ll say.” He turned to the furious king of Rohan. “Éomer, what about you?”

“Of course I’m coming if it’s going to reveal the truth,” said the king of the Rohirrim.


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The dungeons of Minas Tirith, like most dungeons in other places, were dark and damp. The smell of mildew was cloying. Elizabeth covered her nose, but Will was used to it. The Flying Dutchman hadn’t been the cleanest of vessels. None of his crew members had been very fussy when it came to hygiene. He came to a stop in front of one of the cells. “Open the door,” he said to the prison guard.

“I cannot release prisoners without...”

“Do as he says,” said Faramir. “I am the Steward. I have the authority.”

The man bowed. “As you wish, milord.” He pulled a bunch of keys from his belt and selected one. The door opened with a groan like an old man with arthritis. Will strode in and pulled one of the prisoners out.

“Who do you work for?” he demanded. “Speak, or I swear to God, I will...Jack, you can do whatever you want, to make him talk.”

“Hmm,” said Jack. He knew the look in Will’s eye. They were putting on a show for the prisoner. “Let’s start with the snip snip, shall we?”

“What snip snip?” asked Elizabeth, wishing that Jack wouldn’t talk in his own private language all the time. They needed the prisoner to understand what was being said.

“Oh, you know Lizzie, snip snip eunuchy.”

The man’s eyes widened. “No, please, I will...I will—” His sentence was cut off as he started screaming in agony. His lips, and then his tongue seemed to disintegrate before their very eyes as if he was being consumed by an invisible fire. The rest of his body followed Will yelped and released the man as his hand was burnt by whatever had consumed the man. The unfortunate wretch writhed and his screams died out as he was reduced to a pile of ash on the floor.

“Will!” cried Elizabeth, rushing to his side and grabbing his injured hand. Will winced. His palm was red and blistering, as if someone had doused it with boiling oil.

“That’s dark sorcery if I ever saw any,” said Jack “not that I’ve seen dark sorcery before.”

“Should we get another man?” asked Faramir nervously. When that invisible fire had consumed the man, he’d felt extremely uneasy, as if someone had been aiming at the spot between his shoulder blades.

“Shucks, no,” said Jack. “You get another one and he’ll go to pieces like this one did. They can’t talk, mate, even if they wanted to.”

Aragorn paced across the carpet while his friends watched him. “Estel, sit down,” said Legolas. “You’re making us all dizzy.”

The King sighed with frustration. “We’ve got prisoners, but they can’t talk,” he said. “How are we ever going to find out who’s responsible for all of this?”

“One thing we do know,” said Legolas. “Whoever this is, he’s powerful.”

“And very dangerous,” added Jack. He poured a cup of wine and pushed it over to Aragorn. “Here, drink up, ‘Arry. You’ll feel better for it.”

Aragorn downed the contents of the cup in one go. “How do we fight if we don’t know who to fight?” he demanded.

“When the tide goes down, the rock will emerge,” said Imad. “Surely there will be clues, yes?”

“Not that we can find,” said Faramir.

Just then, there was a knock on the door. Faramir got up and opened it. Before him was Beregond, and he was escorting Elizabeth’s First Mate. “My lords,” said the Captain of the Elite Guard. “This man says he has information that he wishes to divulge.”


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A/N: Once again, this is a dialogue-ridden chapter. Hopefully it didn’t bore anyone. I needed to explain some stuff, as well, as get Balian to Gondor. Now that he’s there, and we’ve finished dealing with the ‘pirates fighting pirates’ issue, we can get onto the real plot of the story...

This is Elizabeth and Barbossa's flag:

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Last edited by Telcontar Rulz; August 24th, 2008 at 11:11 AM.
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Old August 13th, 2008, 02:46 AM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth


Disclaimer: I don’t own any of the characters that you recognize (that means everyone except Wulf and the people with Persian names). I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 14: Princes of Harad

All of them stared at Xerxes strangely. What could the man possibly know? “Interrogating prisoners didn’t work, did it, milords?” said the tattooed Haradrim.

“How did you know?” asked Legolas suspiciously.

“Were you spying on us?” demanded Elizabeth, narrowing her eyes at her first mate. Normally, even Barbossa would lose confidence at the sight of that expression, but Xerxes seemed to be unaffected.

“I was,” he said casually, amused that his captain was so annoyed. “It has always been in my best interests to know everybody’s business. I overheard a bit of what you were talking about. You face a dangerous enemy, King Elessar.”

“And who is this dangerous enemy?” asked Aragorn. He gazed at the man closely, trying to see whether he was lying or telling the truth.

“A Magelord,” said Xerxes. Gone was the nonchalant air which had surrounded him. He seemed absolutely serious. Beneath the tattoos, his face was hard and tense. Hate burned in his dark eyes. “His name is Narbazanes.”

“Two questions,” said Jack. “What the hell is a magelord and who the hell is Narbazanes?”

“A magelord, Jack, is obviously someone who does magic,” said Will. “You know, like a sorcerer, or a wizard, only...different.”

“A magelord is a sorcerer,” said Xerxes. “Only, instead of being a maia, as wizards are, Narbazanes is a man.”

“Oh,” said Jack and Will together, not really understanding the differences between maiar and men.

“So why do you hate this Narbazanes?” asked Faramir. “He is of your kindred—”

“He is not my kin, nor is he my king, and that usurper never will be!” declared Xerxes.

Aragorn glanced at his steward. The two men were thinking the same thing. Xerxes had a vendetta against the King of Harad, supposedly. Either he really meant it, or he was a very good actor.

“The last we heard, the King of Harad was called Kourosh,” said Faramir.

“When was the last time you heard from your spies in Harad?” said Xerxes. It was a valid point. They had not heard from their spies in many months. Anything could’ve happened by now.

“How do we know we can trust you?” said Legolas.

“You don’t, but you have to,” said Xerxes. “I’m the only one who knows anything.”

“So tell us something,” challenged Paris.

“Kourosh was the king, but he was murdered, presumably by Narbazanes, who then took the throne.”

“Where did you get this information?” said Aragorn. Xerxes seemed to be amused by this question, as if the answer was more than simply obvious. His arrogant manner irked Legolas. This tattooed man acted as if he, and not Aragorn, was King.

“Remember, King Elessar, that I am Haradrim, and it is much easier for a Haradrim to find information in Harad than, say, pale-skinned Gondorians who cannot for the love of the gods learn the right accent.” The sarcasm was back.

“We sent our best spies,” said Faramir acidly. “They were highly trained.”

“Your standards must be rather lax then, my lord Steward,” said the Haradrim. “Your spies did not fool me, and they certainly did not fool Narbazanes. By the way, your spies’ heads are now on pikes instead of their necks, if you’re wondering why you haven’t heard from them.”

This revelation almost made Aragorn’s heart stop for a moment. He clenched his hands into fists and his nails were digging into his palms. The Haradrim’s manner was wearing his patience very thin indeed.

“If there is such a powerful sorcerer in Harad, why haven’t we heard of him until now?” asked Legolas.

“Narbazanes may be many things, but a fool is not one of them,” said Xerxes. “When the Dark Lord was still in power, he stayed subordinate, and in return, the Dark One gave him gifts. We Haradrim bend when we know we cannot win the fight, and lie in wait for the right time to strike.”

“Do you know how to defeat Narbazanes?” asked Paris.

“If I did, Prince Paris, I would not be here,” said Xerxes dryly.

“Do you know how he controls the minds of men?” asked Balian. The thought of good men’s minds being corrupted by a dark overlord filled him with fear. He glanced around at his friends. It could easily have been one of them .The last thing he wanted to do was to fight a friend. He didn’t think he would have it in him to take up arms against a former comrade.

“Narbazanes keeps his secrets,” said Xerxes. “Just because I’m Haradrim doesn’t mean I know the inner workings of his dark and twisted mind.”

Aragorn stood. He needed time to think about all of this. At least their enemy was no longer a nameless menace. The truth however, neither helped their situation nor comforted him. If this Narbazanes could control the minds of men, what use were his armies? “Thank you for your help, Xerxes of Harad,” he said, signalling that the Haradrim’s part in this conversation was over, at least for the time-being.

Xerxes bowed and Beregond escorted him out of the room. The High King turned back to his friends. “What do you think?” he asked.

“We have naught but his word that it’s the truth that he’s been tellin’,” said Barbossa, selecting a waxy green apple from the wooden fruit bowl which sat on a low table. He sank uneven yellow teeth through the shiny green skin. Juice ran down his beard.

“I cannot believe that I’m saying this,” said Jack. He wore a pained expression “But Barbossa’s right.”

“We have no choice but to trust him,” said Balian. Even after all that he’d been through, he was mostly an optimist. “Why would he lie to us?”

“Balian, my Frankish friend,” said Imad, “I know you are an honourable man and that what brains you had were fried by the desert sun, but for once, think about the world from the perspective of a dishonourable man. That man could have been trying to make us hostile against Narbazanes. With war between Gondor, Rohan and...this other place, he and his real master would reap the rewards.

They all turned to stare at the Arab. It was the first time that they’d noticed this swarthy stranger. Balian cleared his throat. He should’ve introduced his old friend to his new ones. “This is Imad ibn Baybar,” he said. “He’s my friend from my world...”

“Oh yes,” said Legolas. “I remember now. You’re Saladin’s spymaster, are you not?”

“I am flattered that you know of me,” said Imad, dipping his head.

“It’s hard not to,” said Aragorn, offering his hand to the other man. “Balian has spoken highly of you.”

“I thought he sang my praises,” said Imad with a grin.

“Believe me, if he had, I wouldn’t have listened,” said Legolas, winking at the Arab. Imad chuckled while Balian pretended to scowl.

“Who was that man anyway?” he asked.

Everyone turned to Paris, who’d been the one who’d recommended letting Xerxes take part in the new navy. “He’s a Haradrim whom we found in the dungeons,” explained Paris.

“The dungeons?” said Balian, raising an eyebrow. The expression, which on Legolas’ face made people feel inadequate, only made Balian look confused, which he was. Why was a convict now giving advice and being sarcastic with the King of Gondor?

“We recruited convicts for our new navy,” said Faramir, glowering at those responsible for naming the navy’s flagship the Salty Wench.

“We needed men who would be happy to commandeer ships, savvy?” said Jack.

“He might seem obnoxious when he opens his mouth,” said Elizabeth, “but Xerxes has never given me any reason to doubt him, when he keeps his mouth shut that is.”

Barisian chose that moment to stir from his nap. His father’s lap had not been the most comfortable bed. Unlike Sibylla, Balian was not soft at all. At the sight of all these strange faces, he immediately began to wail.

“Oh no no no,” said Balian, turning his attention back to his frightened little son and cuddling him. “Shh, it’s all right. Papa is here. You’re safe, mon petit bonhomme.”

Legolas raised an eyebrow in amusement and opened his mouth to say something. Faramir beat him to it. “Before you make any more nanny jokes, you might want to know that this is, in fact, Balian’s son and heir,” said the Steward.

“You have a son?” said Legolas in surprise. “When did this happen? I thought you said you had no family left.”

“I didn’t know until after our latest storm at sea, and I arrived in the Holy Land,” said Balian, all the while patting Barisian on the back. He made some cooing noises which made the others, namely Jack and the other unmarried males, snigger.

“Where be the mother?” asked Barbossa. Balian closed his eyes and exhaled, as if in anguish.

“Forget I said anythin’,” said the old pirate, knowing immediately that he’d trespassed into dangerous territory. The man would speak when he was ready, and they could guess what had happened anyway.

“Poor darling,” said Éowyn. The sight of the tiny child who’d lost his mother awakened the maternal instincts in the Shieldmaiden. Barisian seemed to be aware of that too. His sobs subsided into sniffles and he kept his blue eyes fixed on Éowyn. Astyanax, ever the calm baby, slept on peacefully.
“I think he’s tired,” said Balian, “that’s why he’s so grumpy. Isn’t that right, mon petit?”

“What’s his name?” said Legolas.

“His mother named him Barisian, after me,” said Balian.

“Barisian,” said Jack, trying out the word. “That’s an awfully long name for such a little mite. He’s gonna have trouble learnin’ ta say it.”

“Me hungwy,” said the little boy shyly, turning back to his father.

Elizabeth, seeing that the man was exhausted and also unused to raising a child, relieved him of the little boy. “I’ll take care of him,” she told Balian. “You go and get some rest. He’ll be fine with me.”

“Thank you, Madame Turner,” said Balian, smiling gratefully at her.

“Just Elizabeth will do,” said Will’s wife. “Madame makes me feel so old and proper.” Barisian, sensing that this lady meant him no harm, let her carry him away from Balian. She reminded him of his mother, although his mother had been much better.

Éowyn took Andromache, Astyanax and Cassandra under her wing. The women led them to the guest quarters where they had been staying. Helen met them on the way. The Spartan woman threw her arms around her sisters by marriage. “I’ve been so worried about you,” she said. “Thank the gods you’re safe.”

“I don’t see how we wouldn’t be safe,” said Andromache with a smile. “Balian has been a most vigilant protector. Mainly we stayed in his old house, and didn’t do anything.”

“You must be exhausted,” said Helen, taking Astyanax from his mother. Hector’s angelic little son remained fast asleep. Andromache smiled.

“He’s just like his father,” she said. “Nothing short of a war would wake him.”

“Where’s his father?” asked Elizabeth as they stepped into the spacious rooms. Briseis was sitting on one of the couches beside Arwen, who was teaching her how to sew shirts for Achilles. The guest quarters were warm and welcoming. Sunlight shone through a window which reached the floor, and the colours were in synchrony with each other. The walls were painted in a warm creamy colour, and there were reliefs which went all the way around, depicting legends. On the polished tile floor were thick woven rugs. A boy of six lay on one of these, concentrating hard on his drawing of a ship. He looked up when he heard Elizabeth.

“Mama,” he said as his gaze fell on Barisian, “did you and Papa make a baby just then?”

“No, Willie,” said Elizabeth a little too quickly. She and Will had been trying to have more children, but that was beside the point. She was not ready to have the Talk with Willie just yet. Anyway, that was Will’s job, seeing as Willie was a boy.

“Ah, so you haven’t been doing all those naughty things that Uncle Jack-Jack’s told me about,” said Willie. “That’s all right then. Those were so yucky.” He stuck out his tongue and made a face.

Elizabeth clenched her teeth and vowed to kill Jack...again.

***

Aragorn had ordered a feast to be prepared. Initially, it had been to celebrate the success of the...navy, but now there was the added pleasure of a grand reunion. There was much laughter, despite the grim situation. Food was piled like mountains, and drink flowed freely. Much to Jack’s delight, there was even rum. He filled his cup, blissfully unaware that Elizabeth was plotting to punish him for talking too much.

Paris was retelling the woeful tale of Troy. Faramir shook his head and raised his cup. “Here’s to all the fair maidens who are worth fighting for,” he said.

“Why do I have the feeling that in general, we’re not having much luck with love?” said Éomer after they’d finished toasting. “Balian has been widowed twice, Jack gets slapped, Will got killed and had his heart cut out, Paris lost his nation and his brother, Achilles was shot, Legolas and Gimli...don’t count, and I haven’t even glimpsed my lady.”

“It’s fate,” said Paris.

Wulf was also listening to the story of Troy, but he was listening to Cassandra’s rendition instead of Paris’. He felt sorry for her, even though he wasn’t sure if it was right for a soldier to pity a princess. The girl was obviously in love with Balian. Her narrative focused mainly on him and his heroics of debatable sanity. Unfortunately, the noble Lord Balian did not seem to reciprocate her feelings for him. That made her rather bitter. If only she would smile more, then she would actually be very pretty, in a delicate sort of way which made Wulf want to protect her.

In another part of the Great Hall, Merry, Pippin and Gimli were explaining the rules of their drinking game to Ragetti and Pintel. Legolas stood to the side with his arms crossed and a grin on his face, waiting for the show to begin. Jack and Barbossa were having a little drinking game of their own. Jack, having had a bit of a head start, was losing.

“So you see, it’s quite simple,” said Pippin. “You just try and stay on your feet!”

“You can’t stop either,” said Merry.

“And no regurgitation,” added Gimli. Regurgitation seemed to be too big a word for Ragetti and Pintel, who looked at the dwarf blankly. Gimli, the great dwarven warrior of the War of the Ring, felt uncomfortable under the gaze of Ragetti’s wooden eye. “That means...uh...no spitting or vomiting,” he translated.

“Ah, you could’ve jes told us that,” said Pintel.

“We’s pirates,” said Ragetti. “We dunno many big words, do we, Pin?”

“I can’t believe Gimli managed to trick someone else into playing a drinking game,” said Balian. The children were asleep under the watchful eye of Ioreth, the old woman who worked in the Houses of Healing. That left their parents some free time.

“Pintel and Ragetti aren’t exactly the most intelligent people that I’ve met,” said Legolas. “I guess you won’t be partaking in any more drinking games, now that you have to be a good role model for little Barisian.” The elf gave a mock sigh. “Such a pity really. We could’ve trained you to become a good drinker...well that might be a bit too much to hope for, but we definitely could’ve taught you to hold a bit more than three mugs of rum.”

“Even if I wasn’t a father, I would never take part in a drinking game ever again,” said Balian, shuddering at the memory of the pounding headaches.

“Admit it, Balian,” said Will, coming over to join them. “You just can’t hold your drink.”

“That’s not a fault...is it?”

“Depends on who you’re talking to,” said Aragorn. He’d overheard the conversation. “Of course, if you’re a diplomat, it helps if you can hold your drink, especially since drinking seems to be an obligatory diplomatic activity.”

Ragetti and Pintel set to drowning themselves in ale. Merry was sipping his ale slowly, more interested in watching the pirates’ antics. Pippin was draining his tankard enthusiastically, but Tooks had always been better drinkers than Brandybucks (in Pippin’s opinion) and he could afford to do that. Gimli, having remembered last time’s experience, paced himself carefully.

In another corner, Éowyn was relating the tale of how she disguised herself as a man to fight in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Elizabeth never tired of hearing how Éowyn had taken off her helmet and declared to the Witch King that she was ‘no man’. That was exactly what she would’ve done as well, except she would’ve done it probably while running away from the Witch King. Safety first.

“I’ll bet you showed the men,” said Anna-Maria in satisfaction. “They’re always lookin’ down on us women, sayin’ that we’re not as strong or smart. Pah!” She glanced at Jack, who was now singing tunelessly at the top of his voice while staggering around, drunk to the boot. “If that’s smart, then I don’t know what’s stupid.”

“If I’d known how to fight, I would’ve strangled Agamemnon,” said Briseis fiercely. “It’s a pity that women don’t fight.”

“Who told you that?” demanded Anna-Maria, Elizabeth and Éowyn indignantly.

“Women can, and should fight, if they need to,” said Elizabeth.

“Whaddya think I did when I got into trouble?” said Anna-Maria. “Wait fer Jack Sparrow ta come an’ rescue me?”

“Those without swords can still die upon them,” declared Éowyn.

“Well, in that case,” said Briseis. Her eyes gleamed. She would never be the helpless maiden ever again.

“I would like to try,” said Helen cautiously, “but would our husbands...”

“I don’t know, but they don’t need to know about it,” said Briseis. At any rate, Achilles was not likely to mind. He’d thought her brave when she’d tried to fight off Greek soldiers.

“It seems wrong,” said Andromache, shaking her head. “I don’t want to know the art of killing. It’s so...” She trailed off as her eyes grew distant. She’d seen enough of war to last a lifetime. The last thing she wanted was to actually partake in a war or a battle. “I’m a mother,” she said. “I give life; I don’t take it.”

“It’s perfectly reasonable not to want to learn,” said Elizabeth, remembering all the girls that she’d consorted with when she’d been growing up as a little lady. All they’d cared about were ribbons and dresses. Swords were things for rude noisy dirty little boys. Of course, Elizabeth had always secretly wanted to play with one.

“When do we start our lessons?” asked Briseis enthusiastically. Sword-fighting sounded much more interesting than sewing shirts for Achilles, no matter how much she loved him.

Éowyn glanced around. No one was paying them much attention. “How about now?” she said. The feast wasn’t that interesting, to be honest. There was only so much that one could eat.

In the midst of all the merrymaking, no one noticed Xerxes sneaking past the crowds and heading for the exit. No one, that is, except Achilles and the ever watchful Imad. The Greek met the Arab’s gaze. Imad nodded and started towards the exit, on Xerxes’ trail. The Spymaster was careful to keep a constant distance between him and his quarry. Achilles, not being an experienced spy, but having been in ambushes before, followed Imad’s example.

The sun was setting in the west, staining the sky with hues of red and orange. Soon, the gates of Minas Tirith would close for the night. Xerxes passed through the gates. His stride seemed casual, but an observant spy would see the hidden urgency in his step. He had a wrapped bundle under his arm. No one questioned him. He was one of the victorious sailors.

The Greek and the Arab followed him, keeping to the shadows and staying as quiet as they could. Xerxes entered a small labyrinth of rocks close to the city, and then gave a shrill whistle which sounded like the night song of some bird. Another identical whistle answered it. He moved on, oblivious to his two extra companions. Achilles was glad that the rocks hid them. What secret did this Xerxes have?

The Haradrim came to a stop before something which resembled a shelter. “Bahram,” he said.

Someone said something in a foreign tongue, and Xerxes answered in exactly the same language. Neither Imad nor Achilles could understand it, and that only served to make them more suspicious. A boy, no more than seventeen years of age, climbed out of the makeshift shelter. His once fine clothes of dark-coloured silks were now torn and dirty. He did not sport as many tattoos as Xerxes did, although his tattoos seemed to be finer. Xerxes handed him the wrapped bundle. The boy quickly unwrapped it and began to fill his mouth with food which Xerxes had taken from the feast. All the while, the two kept up a steady conversation. Imad heard the word for Gondor, and the names of some of his acquaintances. ‘Elessar’ seemed to appear a lot in this conversation. The Spymaster began to wonder whether Xerxes was an undercover agent as the two pirate captains Sparrow and Barbossa seemed to believe.

The boy —presumably his name was Bahram— finished the food and burped in satisfaction, like all adolescent boys seemed to do regularly, if only to annoy the adults. He and Xerxes exchanged a few more words, and then the older man turned to leave. Imad and Achilles quickly ducked behind their rock. Thankfully, it was beginning to get dark, and Xerxes did not notice them.

“What was that all about?” whispered Achilles.

“I don’t know,” Imad whispered back.

“So what do we do now?”

“We get that boy, and make him talk. We make them both talk.”

Bahram retreated back into his stony shelter, first glancing around him to make sure that there was no danger. Achilles shivered. Nights in Middle Earth were chilly. By now, the gates of Minas Tirith would’ve closed. They would have to wait until morning before they could escort their would-be prisoner before Aragorn.

***

Xerxes hurried back, just in time to pass through the gates and get back into the city. No one seemed to have noticed his absence. They were all either too drunk or too busy looking after their intoxicated friends. Ragetti and Pintel were snoring in chairs, having both drunken too much for their own good. Jack had been escorted away by Will for being too rowdy and making a fool of himself and of his friends, especially a certain former captain of the Flying Dutchman. Pippin had retired to his room after having been bested by his Brandybuck cousin. Gimli was the victorious winner of this particular drinking game, but he too was slurring his words and could not walk in a straight line.

Briseis’ cheeks were rosy from the exertion of her first ever sword-fighting lesson. “Where’s Achilles?” she asked. When she could not find him, she began to grow suspicious. He’d better have a good explanation, or else he would be in big trouble, and Briseis had just learnt how to use a sword.

***

Imad waited until dawn before storming into the stone shelter and dragging out the panicking sleepy boy. “Don’t struggle,” he hissed, “and no harm will come to you.”

“Who...who are you?” demanded Bahram.

“No one that you need to know about,” said Imad. He quickly bound the boy’s hands with his turban and then blindfolded him with another strip of cloth. With Achilles helping him, they escorted the Haradrim boy back to Minas Tirith. They had no doubt that Aragorn would like to speak with him, and Xerxes too.

***

Balian was beginning to worry. Where was Imad? The Arab was new to Middle Earth. Where could he possibly have gone? He paced on the carpet, while Barisian watched him with fascination from his vantage point on the couch. The little boy thought it looked rather silly. However, his father’s repetitive movements soon bored him and he turned back to his game with Astyanax, which involved wooden horses attacking wooden lions.

Aragorn sat in a chair rubbing his temples. Those who had partaken in drinking games the night before were absent, due to unbearable headaches. He wished he could’ve claimed the same excuse. The King had been up since early morning, going through administrative documents.

“Had anyone seen Imad or Achilles anywhere last night?” Balian asked.

“I think we were all too distracted,” reasoned Paris.

“Still, they can’t have simply disappeared,” said Briseis, biting her lip.

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” said Helen reassuringly. “I know Achilles can look after himself, and Lord Imad does not seem to be the helpless type.”

“Yes,” muttered Balian. “That’s what worries me.” Being the rather self-sufficient sort of man, Imad was more prone to getting into trouble than, say, Barisian.

“Your Majesty!” came Beregond’s shout. “Milords Achilles and Imad have returned, escorting a prisoner!”

Aragorn immediately leapt to his feet, sending the chair toppling backwards. “A prisoner, you say?” he said.

“A Haradrim prisoner,” said Beregond. He didn’t need to say anymore. Aragorn was already out the door and running down the corridor, with his friends hot on his heels. Legolas overtook the men and hurtled through the streets. Passersby stopped to marvel at the spectacle of the King and the lords on foot, running as if their lives depended on it.

“You know...” puffed Paris. “Sometimes...I...really...hate...Legolas...he makes me...feel...so...inadequate...and slow...”

“You weren’t the one trying to keep up with him in Rohan,” said Aragorn rather breathlessly. “He wouldn’t even let us sleep.”

The others didn’t bother to complain about the elf and his speed and simply concentrated on breathing.

A crowd had gathered around Imad, Achilles and their prisoner. Somehow, Elizabeth and the other ‘ladies’ were already there. They’d been doing one thing which women loved and men hated; shopping.

“Let me through!” someone was shouting. It was Xerxes. He cursed himself when he saw Bahram in the hands of Imad and Achilles. They must’ve followed him the night before, and he’d been too stupid to notice.

“Just the man I wanted to see,” said Imad genially to Xerxes.

“What do you want?” growled the Haradrim. He clenched his hands into fists, as if getting ready to fight.

“I’m a curious man by nature,” said Imad. “It’s how Allah made me. I just want some honest answers from you. Ah, the King is here. I am thinking perhaps he would like to be a part of this conversation as well?”

“What conversation?” asked Aragorn.

“We found this man sneaking out of Gondor to bring food to this boy here,” said Achilles, jerking his head in the direction of the terrified adolescent. He actually had no intention of hurting the boy, but a little intimidation never did anyone any harm.

“Pardon me,” said Legolas, “but perhaps this conversation would be better if it was conducted somewhere private? It’s not a show, or am I mistaken?”

The boy and Xerxes were escorted back to the Citadel under heavy guard. The older Haradrim looked murderous but to his credit, he did not make any foolish moves, something which impressed Balian. If he’d been in the same situation, no doubt he would’ve tried to fight his way out of it.

Inside the Citadel, the boy’s gag and bonds were removed. All of them looked at Imad expectantly. The Arab cleared his throat. “First, tell me who exactly you are,” he said to Bahram. The boy was panic stricken. Xerxes nodded at him. Even the truth couldn’t possibly make matters any worse.

“I...I am Bahram, son of Kourosh,” he stammered.

“Kourosh?” said Faramir. “Kourosh of Harad? You’re a prince of Harad?”

“Yes,” said the boy.

“And who is this man to you?” said Aragorn, indicating Xerxes.

“Xerxes is my half-brother,” said Bahram.

Elizabeth turned to her First Mate sharply. “You’re a prince?” she demanded. “All this time, you’ve worked under me, and you’re royalty?!”

Faramir now saw Xerxes in a completely new perspective. No wonder he’d been so arrogant and educated. “You’re Atarxerxes of Harad,” he said, “the infamous warrior prince who unfortunately has no head for politics.”

“The infamous illegitimate warrior prince of Harad,” corrected Xerxes. “And now, simply a fugitive with a price on his head.”

“No wonder you’re so willing to help us,” said Legolas. “It was your throne that this Narbazanes usurped.”

“No, it was Bahram’s throne,” said Xerxes. “In case you haven’t realized, my mother was a dancer from Khand. That does put me off the line of succession.” He glowered at his interrogators. “Now that you know our secret, what are you going to do with us?”

“I’m willing to assume that the enemy of our enemy is our friend,” said Aragorn. He held out a hand to Xerxes. “Are you willing to help us to defeat Narbazanes?”

Xerxes took Aragorn’s hand in a firm grip. The two men shook hands. “I would give anything to drag Narbazanes off his stolen throne,” said Xerxes with a grim smile.

“Then we’re on the same path, my friend,” said Aragorn.

***

The fires in the centre of the dark crystal sphere burned. The flames parted as images manifested. Guy licked his dry lips and watched the dark silhouette of his master nervously. The Magelord stood still, like a menacing statue of black stone. Only his roves moved in the unnatural air currents which seemed to follow in his wake. It was warm in the chamber of stone, and yet Guy shivered.

Narbazanes turned malicious glittering eyes to the former king of Jerusalem. “At last, he is near at hand,” said the Magelord. His voice resonated through the stones and inside Guy’s skull. “The time is ripe.”

***

Smoke rose from Osgiliath. The city on the Anduin was under attack. The messenger ran through the corridors, making his way to the King’s study. He didn’t even knock, but simply pushed open the door, making Aragorn look up in surprise.

“What is it?” asked the King.

“Osgiliath is under attack,” gasped the messenger. “The Haradrim have revealed themselves.”

***

This was Guy’s favourite part of the plan. “Consider this revenge for my exile, Aragorn,” he said softly as he watched his men sack the city. Property, women, and even young children were being taken back to their base in Harad as loot. Slave prices were high. Besides, the point of attacking Osgiliath was not to subdue it, but to lure the Gondorians and the Master’s prey out. Once Aragorn realized that war was inevitable, he would no doubt send out all the men he could to secure his borders. If Balian was not among those men who were sent out, then Guy swore that he would eat his sword.

***

“Send out all our mounted forces,” said Aragorn. “I want swift retaliation. Ready my horse. Send word to Lord Faramir and tell him that he is to guard the city.” He was walking and talking so quickly that Beregond, for all his efficiency, found it difficult to keep up with him.

“Sire, are you certain that this is wise?” he asked. “What if there’s an ambush?”

“I can’t worry about that right now,” said Aragorn, attempting to pull on his armour. “Our people are under attack. What king would I be if I did not protect them?” Two menservants came to his aid and strapped the metal plates onto him, tying the leather straps tightly to prevent the armour from falling off.

Within moments, all the mounted soldiers of Minas Tirith were ready. Once again, Legolas rode beside Aragorn, with Gimli clinging on grimly behind him. Imad was surprised that the horse could take so much weight and still keep up. Yes, the elf was supposedly very light, but the dwarf more than made up for it, with all his armour and weapons.

Éomer had also insisted on joining this venture, and no one with the smallest drop of wisdom would leave Achilles out of battle. Balian was also there. He was not about to be left behind either. Nothing short of divine intervention could’ve stopped him.

They rode out like a wall of shining silver, determined to crush the enemy who had dared to threaten Gondor’s sovereignty.

Guy saw the Gondorians coming from a distance. His master had given orders that if Gondor retaliated, Guy and his men were to retreat immediately. As much as Guy wanted revenge, he dared not disobey Narbazanes. “Pull back!” he called to his men. “Return to camp!”

The Haradrim retreated as suddenly as they had attacked. Their swift horses bore them back in the direction from whence they came. Out of Gondor, Aragorn could not do anything to them. Indeed, Aragorn would not be foolish enough to go out of his country and into enemy territory.

Aragorn slammed his fist into his thigh in frustration when all he saw of the Haradrim was the cloud of dust raised by the hooves of their horses. “How am I supposed to fight them if they won’t stand and fight?” he demanded of no one in particular.

“We fought like that,” commented Imad. “What you need, Sai’idi, are militias in every town and village. That way, all of Gondor would be prepared to defend themselves from attacks.”

“Who is going to train and lead these militias?” asked Aragorn. “Gondor does not have enough army officers.”

“I don’t know what I can do,” said Balian, “but I’m willing to help.”

“As am I,” said Will. There was a chorus of agreement, and Achilles’ voice was the loudest. He dismounted, and went to kneel on one knee before Aragorn.

“King Aragorn of Gondor,” he said. “I, Achilles of Epirus, offer you my service and my sword, to do with what you will.”

“Gladly, Achilles, I accept your offer,” said Aragorn, getting out of the saddle to raise Achilles to his feet. “Gondor has need of men like you.”

Understanding passed between the two men. It was at that moment that Achilles realized he was willing to follow this warrior king to whatever end; even to death.

***
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Old August 24th, 2008, 11:05 AM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
Inspired by him
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: New Zealand
Posts: 885
Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth


Disclaimer: I don’t own Balian, Imad, Legolas, Aragorn, Will, Jack, Paris, Achilles, Merry, Pippin... you get the idea. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 15: Something Rotten in Gondor

Jack Sparrow was not enjoying himself. Even after having drowned himself in that horrid tasting willowbark tea which Anna-Maria had poured down his throat, there was still a pounding headache behind his eyes. The curtains of his room were drawn. He couldn’t stand light at the moment. There was a knock on the door. He groaned in response and staggered out of bed to open it.

Elizabeth stood there. Jack’s headache was distracting him too much, because if he’d been in the right state of mind, he would’ve noticed the dangerous expression which the lovely Mrs. Turner was now wearing. “What is it, Lizzie?” he groaned. “I ain’t feelin’ too good, so make it quick, please.”

“You and I need to talk,” said Elizabeth.

“’Bout what?”

“What exactly did you tell my son?”

“Aw, come on, Lizzie! I told him loads of things. You don’t expect me to remember everything, do you?”

“You told him about the amorous activities between a man and a woman! With morals like yours, who knows what ideas you’ve put into his head?! For all I know, you’ve corrupted him! Scarred his mind for eternity!”

Jack winced. Elizabeth’s screeching sounded abnormally loud and it did nothing for his headache.

Will heard his wife’s screaming some distance down the corridor and hurried to investigate. He stopped in the doorway of Jack’s room. What was going on? “Is something wrong?” he asked. “Why are you shouting at Jack, Elizabeth?”

“This bloody rum-soaked pirate told Willie about...about...the birds and the bees!” screamed Elizabeth. Her face was red with anger.

Will narrowed his eyes. “What exactly did you tell my son, Jack?” he asked in a low voice.

“Nuthin’ that wasn’t true,” said Jack. “I promise you I was totally honest with him, honest.”

Will threw himself at Jack, more than ready to give him a black eye or two. Jack took a step backwards and tripped over an empty rum bottle. The two pirates fell in a heap.

“What in Zeus’ name is going on?” said Paris, who’d come to see what the commotion was all about. “Will, stop trying to kill Jack, unless there is a very good reason for it of course.”

“He told Willie about the activities between men and women,” said Will through gritted teeth.

Paris looked blank. “And is there anything wrong with that?” he asked. “Willie has to find out some time, unless you want him to be as hapless as our friend Balian in matters of love.”

“At least someone is reasonable,” muttered Jack as he tried to stop Will from pummelling him.

“Have you no sense of morality?” demanded Elizabeth, throwing her hands in the air. Paris’ wariness doubled.

“Perhaps Trojan sensibilities are not quite the same as English sensibilities,” he reasoned. The last thing he wanted was to get into a fight with Will’s fearsome wife. She would beat him. There was no doubt about that. Not only would he end up rather sore, but it would also be very humiliating to be beaten by a woman.

“I suppose not,” said Elizabeth, still scowling at the Trojan.

“But Will, you do have to take into account that Jack took good care of you while you were ill,” said Paris reasonably. “And I’m sure he didn’t do too much damage. Willie would’ve found out sooner or later, when you and Elizabeth have more children.”

“I just didn’t want him to find out so crudely,” said Elizabeth. There was no denying Paris’ logic. She and Will would’ve had to tell Willie all about these things pretty soon.

“Well, at least he won’t be confused,” said the Trojan prince. “And I think having Jack tell him would be better than having Ragetti and Pintel tell him.”

“Tell me what?” said Willie’s voice. He’d come to find Jack, to tell him that perhaps he should hide, since Anna-Maria was preparing more willowbark tea, only to find his father wrestling with Jack on the ground. “Papa, are you fighting with Uncle Jack-Jack?” Will only grunted in reply. Willie glanced up at Elizabeth. “Mama, you should tell them off. Fighting is bad. You said so.”

“Uh, yes,” said Elizabeth. “Will, get off Jack. I think he’s learnt his lesson.”

“He’d better have,” growled Will, getting back to his feet. Jack groaned and sat up.

“If I find any bruises, you’ll be sorry, William Turner,” threatened the pirate half-heartedly.


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Guy rode into Mordor, past the throngs of slaves working under their orc overseers. All the creatures of darkness were gathering once more, hoping to rebuild the leviathan that had been Sauron’s war machine. Each day, more orcs and former minions of Sauron found their way back to their old abode to fight under the flag of the Magelord Narbazanes, High King of Harad, who had been one of Sauron’s most trusted servants, save for the Mouth himself.

Stone by stone, they reconstructed the dark land by the labour of captives taken in raids. The sound of singing always lay under the noise of work as they moved stones and built scaffolds. As Guy rode through Mordor, he heard snatches of the song of the slaves.

Fly away, on gentle breezes.
Fly swiftly, songs of love
to greet our homeland
where once we lived in hope
and knew no sorrow...
(1)

As he listened, he mused on how far he’d fallen. Once, he’d been the king of God’s warriors. He’d been free to do as he wished. Now he didn’t even have a place to call home. It was all Balian’s fault. That ‘Perfect Knight’ would pay.

Elsewhere, orcs were training for battle under the watchful eye of disdainful Haradrim commanders. Their animosity was only oppressed by their common hate for Gondor and all the peoples west of it. The fires of the forges burned night and day as they strived to arm their ever growing forces.

Guy dismounted before a tower of smooth dark stone; one of the few things which had survived the destruction of Sauron. “His majesty is waiting,” said the eunuch who stood at the door. Guy gave the...creature a curt nod. He made no secret of his contempt for Safar, the head eunuch who served Narbazanes.

Safar, in return, had always wisely disregarded this contempt outwardly. The Master’s pet foreigner would get his due, once he’d outlived his use. He was simply a means of getting what the Master truly desired.

“I shall go and inform him of your return, my lord,” the eunuch said in his high falsely feminine voice. His hairless jowls quivered as he spoke. Guy suppressed a shudder of disgust. How the thing could let itself live on after it had been neutered like livestock was beyond his comprehension.

“Go,” he said. As he waited on the steps to be admitted before the king, he brushed dust off his dark robes and straightened them to make himself presentable. He might simply be a lackey right now, but it did not mean he had abandoned his dignity entirely. It was some time before the heavy metal doors opened with a groan. This time, it was not a eunuch who stepped out, but a woman. Safar made Guy shudder, and this woman made his insides quiver and his breathing quicken.

Sarvenaz, the king’s current favourite wife, gave Guy a coy smile. “My lord of Lusignan,” she said in her low and slightly husky voice. She always did know how to appease men. “His majesty bids you to enter at once.” Her smile widened just a little, revealing straight white teeth. Not even the exotic Sibylla had been quite this seductive. Too bad she was entirely out of his reach, and she seemed quite happy with Narbazanes, at least for the time being.

The king of Harad sat confidently on his cushioned stone throne. His presence seemed to fill the entire room. “How did they respond?” he demanded of Guy, fixing the man with his dark glittering gaze. Narbazanes held his hand out to Sarvenaz, who went to him immediately and knelt by his feet.

“Ara... I mean, Elessar himself led the mounted forces out of Minas Tirith. We retreated, and they did not give chase,” said Guy.

“Did you see him?” said Narbazanes abruptly.

“Who, Sire?” asked Guy. He knew exactly who, and he resented the fact that this common bastard would soon usurp his place as the Magelord’s second in command.

“Do not play the fool with me,” hissed Narbazanes. Guy shrank back instinctively. Every fibre of his being was screaming at him to run, but he made himself stand his ground. Running would only prove that he was unworthy of a position of power in the court. “You are not as good an actor as you believe yourself to be. I know you resent him. It shows in your eyes. Remember that he is the only one with the power I need.”

“He’s a common lowly bastard blacksmith,” muttered Guy.

“He is one of Iluvatar’s chosen ones,” said Narbazanes. “There is raw power to be mined from him, and his skill in war greatly surpasses your own. If we are to win, we need a commander like him. Now, tell me. Was he there?”

“He was there, Sire,” said Guy sullenly.

“Good,” said the Magelord in satisfaction. “From what you have said of his character. I believe he will soon fall into my trap.” Sarvenaz laid her head on his thigh and he stroked her dark hair, as if she was a pet cat and not a woman. “Now, on a more interesting note, my spies report that Gondor has newly acquired a one ship navy.”

“What are they going to do with one ship?” said Sarvenaz, sniggering.

“Now, now, do not take it so lightly, my dear,” said Narbazanes. “If they can get one ship, they can get another. However, that is not the only thing. It seems that my wayward nephews have joined forces with Elessar.”

“Atarxerxes has always been weak,” said Sarvenaz with a sniff. “He is not a rival to be taken seriously.”

“I seem to recall that you had been about to marry him, my sweet,” said the Magelord. Sarvenaz lifted her head to glance at him with eyes that were almost amber in colour.

“I did not say that I would marry him,” she protested. “I merely said that the only man I could ever give myself to would be the king of Harad, and I urged him to take the throne, which he didn’t. I was a fool for trying. He has not the heart of a true man. I am glad, for even if he had accepted the throne, we would’ve been a vassal to Gondor. Now Gondor shall be your vassal, my lord, along with Rohan and the elves and all those self righteous westerners.”

They were so enraptured with themselves and their ambitions that they did not notice Guy leaving. He had other things in his mind. ‘Let’s see how strong you are when you finally fall into my grasp, Perfect Knight,’ he thought.


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Cassandra watched Briseis and Helen practise swordplay. Her cousin was more than enthusiastic, but she lacked finesse and attention to detail, unlike Helen, who, despite having seemed a little too delicate for such things, was learning the moves well.

“Never drop your guard, Briseis,” said Éowyn. “You attack too much. Try to defend yourself as well.”

“Achilles makes it look so easy,” puffed Briseis.

“Your husband probably practises even more than mine,” said Elizabeth. “He isn’t exactly what you’d call normal.”

“Well, Helen probably fights better than her husband,” said Briseis, giggling.

“Briseis, you are too hard on Paris,” protested Helen.

“He’s my cousin. I’m supposed to make fun of him.”

Cassandra got up. She was in no mood to listen to banter about husbands, especially since the one she wanted had rejected her. The princess went wherever her feet led her, paying no attention to where she was going. She simply needed something to take her mind off the beautiful and exasperating Balian. Deep in her thoughts, she did not notice someone in her path until she bumped into him.

“I’m sorry!” both of them squeaked. Cassandra looked up to see the brown face of a boy that she had not seen before. She stepped to her right just as he stepped to his left. There were some nervous chuckles. Cassandra stepped to her left, and the boy stepped to his right. After a few moments of such awkward dancing, they both stopped, completely at a loss as to how they should behave in such a situation.

“I’m Bahram,” said the boy, attempting to seem casual. His tattooed face was pleasant and open, even if he was not handsome like Balian.

“Cassandra,” offered the princess. “I haven’t seen you before, Bahram.”

“I only came a few days ago,” said Bahram. “Well, I was kidnapped and brought here, actually.”

“Kidnapped?” said Cassandra, immediately interested. “By whom?”

“By a man called Imad and his golden-haired friend, Achilles, I think. They wanted to make my brother talk.”

“Imad kidnapped you?” said Cassandra incredulously. “Achilles, yes, I can imagine. He’s a brute, but Imad?” she couldn’t imagine that kind generous witty man kidnapping anyone, although she did know that he was a spymaster and had often interrogated men.

“Achilles isn’t that bad,” said Bahram. “He only threatened to hurt me. He didn’t really do it, although that might be because Xerxes told them everything.”

“Xerxes? You’re the brother of the Haradrim sailor?”

“Actually, we’re princes. He’s only a sailor in disguise, but we’re still in disguise, supposedly.”

“Then perhaps you shouldn’t have told me so much.”

“Why not? I don’t think you’ll betray me, will you?”

Cassandra smiled. “My lips are sealed,” she said. “Your secret is safe with me.”

“What about yourself? What are you doing in Gondor?” said Bahram. “I told you my story. It’s only fair that you should tell me yours.”

“It’s very long,” warned Cassandra.

“Just as well I have a lot of time on my hands and not much to do with it.”

Cassandra started from the very beginning, when Hector and Paris had been sent to Sparta to negotiate a peace treaty with Menelaus. Perhaps it was the closeness of their ages, but Cassandra found herself telling the young Haradrim prince everything, even her feelings about Balian.

“You know,” said Bahram. “I’ve never met Balian the Defender, but I’m already jealous of him, and I think he’s an absolute fool.”

“Balian’s very intelligent,” said Cassandra defensively.

“With some things, perhaps, but he’s a fool because he can’t see what a wonderful girl you are.”

Cassandra’s face turned bright red, and it had nothing to do with the outside temperature. “You’re talking nonsense, Bahram of Harad,” she said. “I shall not speak with you until you are sensible again.” Secretly, she was very pleased that at least someone admired her, and Bahram really was a very sweet boy.

“Oh, don’t do that, Cassandra, please?” Bahram deliberately made what Xerxes called the ‘puppy face’. “I’ll be good, I promise.”

Cassandra giggled. “You are so silly, Bahram of Harad, but I like it,” she said.


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Balian was in the guest room on all fours, grinning from ear to ear. Barisian sat on his back, screeching with delight as he played ‘horsie’. Astyanax was also giggling. “Baba,” he said. He wanted a turn too.

“Balian, you get them too excited and they won’t sleep tonight,” said Andromache with a smile. Her needle flew in and out of the fabric rapidly, completing a row of neat even stitches. She tied off the thread and snapped it with her teeth. “If that happens, you’re coaxing them to sleep. I’m definitely not doing it.”

Balian stopped swinging Astyanax around for a moment. “It’s not as if I do this every day, Andromache,” he said. “Be reasonable. I’m going away tomorrow, and I won’t be back for a while. I’ll miss them.”

“More, more!” said Barisian, tugging at his father’s trouser leg.

“Careful, mon petit bonhomme,” said Balian. “I don’t want you to pull my trousers down.”

“You will be coming back often, won’t you?” said Andromache. “It’s going to be so hard on the children. They adore you, you know.”

“It’s not hard to see why,” said an amused voice from the doorway. Legolas stood there, grinning. Behind him were all the others.

“I think it’s sweet,” said Elizabeth, elbowing a sniggering Will. The admiral quickly turned his sniggering into unconvincing coughs.

“Captain Barbossa used to play horsie with me,” commented Willie. “Didn’t you, Cap’n?”

Barbossa cleared his throat and said nothing.

“Did you all come to find me?” said Balian.

“Well, I did,” said Legolas. “Aragorn’s called a meeting, and you have to attend. It’s about the militias.”

Balian set down Astyanax on the rug. Barisian looked up at him with doleful eyes, as if he understood that his father’s attention was about to be diverted. Balian crouched down so that he was at eye level with his son. “Sorry, mon petit,” he said. “Papa’s got to go.”

“Papa no go,” said Barisian, throwing his arms around his father’s neck and clinging to him. He was too small and did not have the vocabulary to express it, but he was worried about something, something which he did not understand. All he knew was that his Papa should stay, or else bad things would happen.

“But I have to, mon petit,” said Balian. “I promise I will come back.”

“Papa come back?”

“Yes, Bari, I will come back.”

Barisian let go reluctantly. Legolas looked very impressed. “You’re natural parent, Balian,” whispered the elf. “I doubt I would have that much patience.”

Balian grinned. “When you have your own child, young elf, you will find out just how patient you really are,” he said.

“I beg your pardon?” said Legolas. “Did you, the baby of the Fellowship, just call me young?”

“Yes, I did,” said Balian, and then he ran as he tried to escape an insulted elf.


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A grey day dawned. Andromache glanced outside and could not help but feel that today was particularly ominous. ‘What’s happening to me?’ she wondered. ‘Am I becoming like Cassandra?’ She put it down to the weather; that, and the fact that Balian was leaving today and she knew she would miss him. She woke a groggy Barisian and dressed him. No doubt Balian would want to say goodbye to his son.

The man in question had been up since dawn, preparing for his trip to one of Gondor’s poorer southern outlying towns, called Haranbar. He’d looked at the maps which Paris had found for him and almost memorized the geography. It was an isolated outpost, on flat desert, and very easy to attack. Why it hadn’t already fallen was a total mystery, since the nearest garrison was ten miles away. Aragorn had been reluctant to send Balian there, due to the fact that he was not a native of Middle Earth and therefore might not be used to dealing with Gondorian administration, but there was no question that the Frank’s skills as an engineer of war would come in useful.

“Be very careful, my friend,” said Aragorn as Balian checked his saddle bags in the stable. “There will be things which you have not encountered before. Haranbar is close to the Road to Harad. You must always be on your guard.”

“I will,” said Balian. He was dressed in the garb of a Gondorian captain, with a shirt of mail rings gifted to him by Gimli. The long surcoat was black, with the White Tree and the seven stars of Gondor embroidered on it in pale grey silk which almost seemed silver. There was a sturdy leather belt about his waist, from which his sword hung.

“I expect reports from you at least weekly, Balian of Ibelin, captain of Gondor,” said Aragorn, putting on his ‘king’ tone.

“I’ll not fail you, Sire,” said Balian. The two men looked at each other and then burst out laughing.

“We sound ridiculous,” said Aragorn.

“No, I sound ridiculous, like a commoner pretending to be a nobleman.”

“But you are a nobleman.”

“Raised as a blacksmith’s son.”

“A blacksmith’s son is good.” Aragorn clapped Balian on the shoulder. “At least you can build siege engines, which is more than I can say for a lot of sons of aristocratic houses.”

Balian joined the other captains —Achilles and a few other newly promoted men— in the courtyard just inside the gates of Minas Tirith. Legolas was also there. Even though he was technically not a subject of Aragorn’s, he was leading Faramir’s rangers in the defence of Ithilien.

Achilles stood rather stiffly. He was almost unrecognizable in his new armour. It was the first time he’d served any king out of his own volition, and also his first mission in Middle Earth. Who knew what might happen?

Aragorn gave his speech, outlining his hopes for the captains. “May you remember your oaths and serve Gondor well,” he concluded. The men cheered and saluted him. Then it was time for the farewells.

Balian cuddled Barisian and the boy put a slobbery kiss on Balian’s cheek. The man suddenly found his throat clogged up with emotion. “I’ll be back soon,” he said softly to his son. “I promise I will come back." Andromache was there too, with Astyanax.

“Show Balian your new word, darling,” she said to her boy.

“Booboo,” said Astyanax, waving a fat little hand at Balian.

“He means ‘goodbye’,” translated Andromache.

Balian grinned. The boys were growing up so quickly. Soon they wouldn’t be babies anymore. “I hope I won’t miss anything significant,” he said. “I’ll be thinking about all of you.”

“The future baron of Ibelin has learned a new word too,” said Imad. “I taught him. Come on, amir, show your papa.”

“Sa-lahm,” said Barisian.

“He just wished you peace, my friend,” said Imad with a grin.

“Oh Barisian, you clever boy,” said Balian, kissing his son on the cheek. Barisian giggled as his father’s beard tickled him. “You’re learning Arabic! Papa’s little one is going to become a right scholar, yes he is.”

Achilles kissed Briseis fully on the mouth, not caring who saw. Paris pretended that he didn’t see them. “You look after yourself, my beautiful priestess,” said Achilles. “Try not to get captured.”

“And you, Achilles,” said Briseis. “Don’t get shot.”

“I won’t, if your cousin promises not to shoot me,” said the Greek. He kissed her again. "And I just want you to know that I find you absolutely stunning when you're sweating with a sword in your hand. I'll be testing you on your skills when I come back."


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Haranbar. It really wasn’t much to look at. Barefooted children trailed Balian as he rode through dusty streets, searching for the governor’s house. The dwellings of Haranbar were made of dried mud bricks, with thatched roofs. Hardly any visitors came, and the locals wondered what this strange man, no doubt an emissary of the king, was doing here with his armoured entourage of two men.

Balian dismounted and approached an old woman who was sweeping her doorstep. “Good dame,” he said to the little old lady whose back had been bent by years of labour and toil. “Can you tell me where the governor dwells?”

The old woman glanced up at him, fearfully at first. And then, once he’d managed to convince her that he meant her absolutely no harm, she gave him a toothless smile and pointed him in the right direction. As he thanked her, she gripped his hand in her spotted wrinkled ones. “You tell the king everything that you see here, milord,” she said in her thin trembling voice. “You tell him that we suffer. Please, do not raise the taxes anymore.”

Balian was confused, but all the same, he gave her his word. She was so desperate that it would’ve been cruel not to. Aragorn had said that Haranbar was so poor that instead of levying taxes on the residents, he sent them financial aid, so why was this old woman talking about taxes?

Inwardly, he promised himself that he would demand the truth from the governor, Amancair Sirithion, and solve the mystery of non-existent taxation.

He mounted his horse again and led his men towards the governor’s house. As soon as the blacksmith caught sight of it, he grew suspicious, and he began to understand what the old woman had been talking about. The people of Haranbar were poor, but the governor certainly was not. Two giant marble statues of snarling dragons guarded the entrance to the house. Even though there were hardly any trees to be seen, the doors were made of polished mahagony. How did Amancair get such expensive wood in a poor and dusty place such as this?

Balian dismounted and went up to the doors with his men. He hammered the door with his fist three times. It opened, just slightly, and a little man with a face like a rat peeked out.

“What do you want?” he demanded.

“I request to see the governor,” said Balian as calmly as he could. From what he’d seen and heard, he’d already formed an opinion that Amancair was as corrupt as the worst of the lords back in France. No wonder the old woman had asked him to relay information back to the King. Aragorn would definitely hear of this.

“The governor is a busy man,” said the rat-faced butler, getting ready to close the door, but Balian jammed his foot in the gap and then yanked the door open.

“He will see me,” he said coldly, barging into the house with his two guards behind him. Balian was famous for many things, but not for his subtlety. At once, he was struck by Amancair’s wealth. Rich tapestries hung everywhere, and there were enough treasures to run Gondor for at least a year. Amancair’s rugs rivalled the luxury of those of Persian make, and everywhere, there were exquisite sculptures made of the finest marble. The hangings were edged with real gold thread. A very uncharitable thought came to his mind. ‘If Jack and Barbossa wanted to do some pirating, I would recommend this house to them,’ he thought. He marched further inside, with the butler following on his heels.

“How dare you!” said the little man in his reedy voice. “You...you will regret this...” He trailed off as Balian produced a document tied with a red ribbon. On the outside was a wax seal the colour of blood, depicting the White Tree with the seven stars of Gondor above it.

“The King has given me supreme authority in Haranbar,” said Balian, recalling how his old friend Raymond of Tiberias had spoken when he had wanted to remind men of their place. “I am answerable to him alone.” Those words sounded so odd coming from him that Balian could almost believe that it was Tiberias or Godfrey saying them, but not him. The butler took a step backwards and gaped at him.

Notes of music drifted in the air. Balian and his men followed the sound. They came to a closed hand-carved door. With a blow which would make Pintel seem courtly, Balian kicked the door open, not caring what damage he did.

A man, bedecked in silks and jewels was staring at him in shock, as were the scantily clad serving girls who’d been kneading his muscles and feeding him slices of fruit.

“The governor is busy indeed,” said Balian. Cold righteous fury, as hard as his blade, filled his voice.

“Who are you?” demanded Amancair Sirithion, governor of Haranbar. “How dare you enter without my express permission?”

Instead of speaking, because he desperately wanted to curse the man, Balian untied the King’s decree and held it up for Amancair to read.

“Oh, forgive me, Lord Balian,” said Amancair, immediately apologetic. He bowed to Balian. “I wasn’t expecting you so soon.”

“Apparently not,” said Balian darkly. “You know why I have come, so I will not waste time on the pleasantries.” Quickly, curtly, he explained to Amancair what he wanted the governor to do. “Issue notices, conscripting at least one able-bodied male from every family into the militia.”

“But my lord, such mass conscription will cost a lot,” said the governor. “Where will you get the money?”

“Money does not seem to be a problem,” said Balian. “The king has given you much financial aid, and the Steward before him, am I not correct?”

“Yes, but, that is not enough...”

Balian smiled coldly. “Well, if you put it that way, perhaps I can borrow from your wealth? All that gold which I have seen here, that will be quite sufficient. Consider it your sacrifice for the good of the people.”

“What if I refuse?” said Amancair, drawing himself up to his full height, and even then, he barely reached Balian’s chin. He tilted his head backward just so he could look down his nose at this new captain sent by the King.

“Then I shall inform His Majesty the King of where his financial aid went,” said Balian. “Think carefully, Governor. Good day.” With that, he marched out of the governor’s house and went off in search of the barracks. He would issue his own conscription notices immediately, and inspect the supply levels. No military force could succeed without food.


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Amancair sat in his study, brooding. He was not about to give up his wealth. The show that he’d put on first for Denethor and then Aragorn would be shattered once this young foreign upstart sent his first report back to Minas Tirith. He’d not longer be able to bleed wealth from Gondor, and without his wealth, how was he to maintain a good relationship with Harad and buy protection?

“Send out men to intercept Ibelin’s messengers,” he said to his butler. “We must not allow my lord Balian to contact the King. And then send messengers to Harad.” He hadn’t grovelled before Narbazanes for nothing. Now was the time to use this relationship between him and the Magelord.


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“What fortuitous circumstances!” said Narbazanes after he’d dismissed Amancair’s messenger. “The gods must favour us.”

“What is it, Sire?” said Guy.

“Balian of Ibelin is in Haranbar. The governor, Sirithion, has invited us to raze it to the ground.”

Guy’s eyes gleamed. Destruction and looting; he liked the sound of that. He went before Narbazanes and knelt. “With your permission, Sire,” he said, “I will lead a force to Haranbar and capture Balian of Ibelin.”

“Yes, you would love that, wouldn’t you, Guy de Lusignan?” said Narbazanes. “However, Ibelin is too important. I cannot let him escape. I will personally lead a force to Haranbar.”


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A/N: Hmm, Balian is a very tactful diplomat isn’t he?

(1) From the Polovtsian Dances by Alexander Borodin (from the opera Prince Igor) Transl. David Lloyd-Jones
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  #32  
Old August 25th, 2008, 12:57 AM
Guin Sparrow Guin Sparrow is offline
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I've been reading this since before I joined here and it gets better and better every time! Guy doesn't give up trying to kill poor Balian does he? It was also nice to see Balian playing with Barisian!
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  #33  
Old November 3rd, 2008, 06:44 AM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Guin: Thanks for letting me know what you think. I love exploring the fatherly side of Balian. It just seems so natural, even though we don't see it in the film. Nope, Guy will never give up trying to kill Balian. It's part of his nature, and it makes things fun for us. :)

Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth


Disclaimer: I don’t own any of the characters except Xerxes, Wulf, Bahram, Narbazanes and Sarvenaz. Oh, I also own Amancair Sirithion and Minalcar. The rest belong to various geniuses. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 16: The Game Begins

The stars and moon were veiled by heavy dark clouds, giving no light. Everything seemed to be shrouded in darkness. In his tent in the barracks, Balian sat writing a report by candlelight. The scratching of his quill was the only sound which he was making. Somewhere, a dog barked, but apart from that, all was silent. It was as if the people of Haranbar had been scared into silence.

He signed off the document and sealed it with wax. Tomorrow, he would get one of his men to deliver it to Minas Tirith.

From a distance, Narbazanes observed the barracks. The Gondorians were on their guard, yes, but they did not seem to be expecting an attack. The wrapped hooves of their horses made no noise on the dry sandy ground. Only the faint glittering of cold steel blades indicated that there was an army there. The Magelord raised his hand and then pointed at the sleeping town. The Haradrim force closed in on Haranbar.

“My lord!” one of the men cried to Balian. “We’re under attack!”

“Of all the strokes of ill-fortune!” said the Frank. He grabbed his sword. There was no time even to don his armour. It was chaotic outside. The thatched roofs of the houses were burning. Fires lit up the night sky. Armoured men swarmed into the ill-fortified town like fire-ants over a corpse. They shouted to each other in their harsh tongue. Balian understood none of what was being said, but it was not hard to guess the context. Pillaging armies all had one thing on their minds.

With duty being his only thought, he rushed into the melee, even though his men were trying to convince him to retreat to safety. The jostling bodies of men surrounded him as he cut and slashed. His blade became darkened. The salty metallic tang of blood filled his nostrils and lingered at the back of his throat. Hot liquid sprayed onto his face. A shield slammed into him, knocking him to the ground. His sword was wrenched from his hand, and it disappeared into the darkness. He reached for anything, anything that might be used as a weapon. His hand closed on a broken spearhead, and he plunged that into the face of a man who was trying to stab him.

In the turmoil of battle, Balian heard someone call out to him. “My lord Balian!” said Amancair from his relatively safe vantage point, surrounded by a ring of protective Haradrim soldiers. “Did you really think I would let you leak my secret to that ranger on the throne?”

“You treacherous leech!” roared Balian, trying to force his way through. Red filled his mind. He wanted to kill the man and really make him pay for his betrayal. Someone grabbed him by the hair. The hilt of a sword came down on his skull. There was a crack. Pain lanced through his head, and then everything faded.


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Amancair turned to Narbazanes, certain that he would be rewarded for his aid in capturing the man whom the King of Harad needed the most. The Magelord’s face was emotionless. He nodded at his guards, who at once seized the former governor of Haranbar.

“What is the meaning of this, my lord?” cried Amancair. “I have helped you! I have only ever been loyal to you!”

“So you say,” said Narbazanes nonchalantly, examining one of the beautiful jewelled swords which his men had looted from Sirithion’s mansion. “But I have little faith in a man who willingly betrays his own king and kin. Who knows when you might decide to betray me? However, I will take into account that you have served me well in the past, and you will be rewarded.” Without warning, the Magelord thrust the blade through Amancair’s ribs and drove it in until the hilt met flesh. Blood dribbled from the Gondorian’s open mouth in dark rivulets. “I will give you a quick death,” whispered Narbazanes.

He pulled the bloodied blade from Amancair’s body. The man fell. Narbazanes wiped his sword clean on the dead man’s clothes and then tossed it to a soldier. “Burn this hovel to the ground,” he said. “Let Gondor know how cruel I can be.”


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A crisp morning dawned in Southern Ithilien. Legolas, high in the treetops, took a deep breath. Being an elf, he was able to perch on the topmost branches and not break them. This gave him an advantage, since his view there was unobstructed and he could see for miles in every direction. Minas Tirith gleamed like a white jewel in the morning sun. Aragorn would be up and already holding meetings with his counsellors. The elf turned his gaze to the south east, and then he frowned. A plume of smoke was rising roughly where Haranbar should be. In his heart, Legolas knew that something was very wrong. He clambered out of the tree, leaping nimbly from branch to branch as if he had wings on his feet.

The men were just preparing to break their fast, and they looked up as Legolas landed lightly on the ground. The elf’s second in command, a ranger by the name of Alcarin, noticed his expression of unease. “Is there something wrong, my lord?” he asked.

“There has been a slight change of plan,” said Legolas as calmly as possible. The last thing he needed to do was to instil fear in his men. “Alcarin, you stay and guard Ithilien. Minastir, Tarannon, Aldamir and Minardil, you come with me. Send word back to Minas Tirith and tell the king that I have gone to Haranbar.”

“May I ask why?” said Alcarin. “It is all very sudden, and I thought Lord Balian was in charge of Haranbar.”

“It’s just a feeling,” said Legolas. “I need to go, and there is no time for questions.”

“Heed the instincts of the elves,” said one of the other men. “My Da always said that it would be foolish not to.”

Alcarin nodded. “I shall do as you say, my lord,” he said. “If you are not back by nightfall...”

“Do not send out men to look for me,” said Legolas. “If I am not back by sun-up tomorrow, send for reinforcements. Now more than ever, I am certain that we are at war.”

The men moved to follow their orders. Among those remaining in Ithilien was a man called Minalcar, who was son of Mardil. He had been the man who’d first told Aragorn that the mysterious raiders had come from Harad. He quietly crept away. Once he was certain that he was alone, he gave a high whistle which sounded like the call of a bird. He did this three times in succession.

A small man, completely hidden by brown and green fabric, save for his eyes, seemingly appeared from nowhere.

“Quickly,” said Minalcar to the Haradrim. “Return to the Master at once and tell him that Southern Ithilien is ready to fall.”


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The first thing he was aware of was a terrible headache. The second thing he was aware of was that he couldn’t move his limbs at all when he tried to put his hand to his head. Balian groaned and opened his eyes. His vision swam at first and it was some time before everything came into focus. He saw he was lying somewhere dark, and he was chained to what seemed like a stone altar. He was also naked. The ridges of the carvings dug into his back.

“I see you are awake at last,” said an oily and painfully familiar voice.

“Guy de Lusignan,” said Balian hoarsely. Even that could not detract from the disdain in his voice. “I should’ve known.”

“Now, now, don’t blame yourself,” said Guy, bending over the chained man and resembling a cat who was looking down at a caged mouse. “How can you, a lowly bastard blacksmith, understand the plans of great lords and kings?” He fingered the leather whip in his hand.

“What I truly don’t understand is the cowardice which lurks inside you, Guy,” said Balian. He knew he was in trouble. Could he possibly be in a worst situation than he was in now, naked, chained, and at the mercy of his enemy? Since he could do nothing to harm Guy, at least physically, he had to resort to using words. “A eunuch would have more courage than you,” he spat, remembering Jack’s terrible jokes.

Guy’s whip whistled as it cut into the smooth skin of Balian’s belly. A line of red appeared. Balian tensed with the pain and gritted his teeth just in time to stop a cry from escaping. He would not let Guy have the satisfaction of hearing him scream. He’d been beaten before, and he’d survived. He could survive again.

“Not so strong now, are you, Perfect Knight?” taunted Guy. “Go on, insult me, curse me. Where is your strength now?” he spread his arms. “You are no more than a prisoner, a slave, and you are at my mercy.”

“I shall never beg you for mercy,” said Balian.

“Won’t you?” said Guy, bringing the whip down again, this time tearing through the flesh on Balian’s chest. Balian turned his face away and shut his eyes tightly as the blows rained down on his body. With each blow, a new line of red appeared and he jerked in pain. His flesh was being mercilessly torn to shreds by Guy’s violent hate-fuelled lashes. He was helpless, like an animal that had been prepared for sacrifice.

“Enough,” said a deep voice. The blows stopped. Balian opened his eyes again and lifted his head so he could better see what was going on. A man in billowing black robes had stepped into the room. His eyes glittered in the dim light. Guy bowed deeply to him.

“My lord, I was merely teaching him a lesson,” began Guy.

“Not one more word from you, Lusignan, until I have spoken to him,” said the man in black robes. “Is this how you treat guests in your nation? It is barbaric.”

Balian’s brow furrowed in confusion. This man was obviously Guy’s master. Why didn’t Guy’s master want to hurt him...yet?

“You must be Balian of Ibelin,” said the man. “I have heard of your name.”

“Who are you?” said Balian.

“Ah, perhaps you have not realized. You are in Mordor. Now, there is no need to fear me, although you will have heard stories about me. I am Narbazanes, King of Harad—”

“You’re the Magelord who usurped the throne,” said Balian, cutting Narbazanes off in the middle of his introduction. Anger flashed in the Magelord’s eyes, but it was gone almost before Balian could notice it.

“If you insist on showing me in a bad light, then yes, I usurped the throne which was rightfully mine,” said the Magelord. “Then again, I suppose you have met my nephews, and they are biased against me.”

“What do you want with me?” demanded Balian. “I am not important.”

“Not important? My dear Balian, you are very important. In fact, you are so important that I have a favour to ask of you.”

“Ask, but I won’t agree.”

Narbazanes clenched his hands into fists. The man obviously wanted to die. He was being so insolent that even the Magelord found it difficult to maintain a mask of friendliness. “You are an 

honest man, so I shall be entirely honest with you. I need you to be the commander of my armies, answerable to me alone.”

“You want me to serve you?” said Balian. He managed a mirthless laugh. “No. I will never serve you and betray my friends.”

“Balian, we can do this in a civilized manner, or we can do this by force,” said Narbazanes.

“You can try.”

The Magelord sighed dramatically. “I expected you to say that,” he said, holding his hand out for something. A servant handed him a glass orb, filled with swirling vapours. He held it up, examining its perfect smoothness and the eerie grey of the vapours inside it. Narbazanes put it beneath Balian’s nose and then crushed the glass in his gloved hand. Unprepared for this, Balian inhaled some of the vapours. Immediately, memories which he had tried to bury rose to the surface. Once more, he held his wife’s dead body in his arms, and he felt pain and despair. Voices echoed in his head. Bastard, bastard, said the voices. They surrounded him. There was no escape. Scum of the earth, unworthy...

“You’re wrong,” he croaked. He felt as if he was a child again, weak, defenceless. He couldn’t even distinguish the truth from the lies now.

Are we? said the voices. He saw himself surrounded by flames. He could feel the tongues of fire licking at his flesh, burning him. Godfrey only claimed you because he had no other heirs. They seemed to close in on him, like a net of scorn. Your own mother wanted to kill you in the womb. Sibylla used you. She wanted you to be king so she could hold onto power. You are a pawn, Balian; a tool, nothing more.

Narbazanes smiled as he dug up Balian’s darkest memories and added them to what he had seen in the palantir. He closed his eyes and reached deeper into the man’s mind, twisting memories until the man could feel nothing but despair and pain. All he knew was the pain that these ‘memories’ were causing him, and he wanted to escape. In amidst the lies, one voice spoke out to him. He didn’t recognize it at first, but then he realized that it was his voice.

‘Hold onto hope,’ he heard his other self say. ‘Remember your oath.’

“Be without fear in the face of your enemies,” Balian mumbled. He repeated the words again, gaining strength with each repetition. The effects of the vapours were fading. Narbazanes watched the progress and sighed. Breaking the Defender was a much more difficult process than it had originally seemed.

“Do with him what you will,” he said to Guy. “I want his spirit broken, but don’t damage him too much. I want him alive and whole after you are finished with him.”

“I understand, Sire,” said Guy. All of a sudden, his mood improved.


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Destruction greeted him as Legolas rode into Haranbar. Everything had been razed to the ground. Some parts of the ruins were still smouldering. Bodies lay strewn on the ground like a gruesome carpet of flesh. From what he could see, there were no survivors. However, he refused to believe it. Balian could not be dead. That foolhardy man always survived, no matter what. Valar, they’d even traipsed through Hell and lived to tell the tale.

“Search this place,” he said to his men. “Leave no stone unturned. There may well be survivors. We just can’t see them.” He leapt off his horse’s back to join in the search, flipping over bodies in the hopes of finding someone who’d managed to escape this cruel bloody act of barbarism.

Aldamir gritted his teeth in anger and disgust as he lifted a partially burnt corpse. A glint of metal caught his eye. Obviously something had escaped the pillaging army. He scrabbled through the rubble, revealing a sword hilt. The ranger pulled out the fine weapon. There was a ruby in the hilt. Obviously its owner had not been just any soldier. A ruby. Something seemed strangely familiar, but he couldn’t place it. “Lord Legolas!” he called. “I’ve found something!”

Legolas turned and hurried over. “Did you find a survivor?” he asked.

“No, but I found this,” said Aldamir, showing the elf the weapon.

The world seemed to fade away for Legolas. The only thing he was aware of was the finely crafted blade and the sparkling ruby. The last time he’d seen it, it had been hanging from the belt of one of his dearest friends. “It’s Balian’s sword,” he whispered. “He has been taken.”


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Mist crept in from the Anduin, veiling the forest of Ithilien in a ghostly shroud. Alcarin peered out into the night. He could see nothing, but that did nothing to ease his suspicions that there was something out there, lying in wait.

A fleet of ships cut silently through the waters of the Anduin, getting closer and closer to the forest. They had not lit any torches, but the dark did not hinder them. They’d sailed this way often. The captains signalled to their men to lower the gangplanks. They crept out of the ships and onto dry land. A group of rangers should not be too difficult to deal with. Narbazanes had thought that one hundred men would be enough.

Their feet made no sound on the forest floor. The ranger camp was in sight. They could see the shapes of men. One of the Haradrim gave a signal. Arrows whistled through the moisture laden night air to lodge themselves in the Gondorians’ bodies. One of them gave a shout.

Alcarin whipped around when he heard the alarm. Dark forms were emerging from the mist. It seemed that once again, the Magelord had gotten one step ahead. “Retreat!” he shouted to his men, but it was too late. The trees surrounding them burst into flames. The Haradrim surrounded them, trapping them in a thicket of spears and blades which glistened in the firelight. There was no way out except to cut a passage through the ranks of the enemy. In red glow of the flames, Alcarin recognized the face of one of the enemy.

“Minalcar?” he said. “You...”

“You did not think that the Master would’ve allowed anyone to escape if he had not willed it, did you?” said Minalcar. “Gondor will fall, and the West along with it. Those who have served the Master will be rewarded.”

The Haradrim charged. Their conversation was over.


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It was Xerxes turn to be the lookout in the crow’s nest. He had Captain Swann’s spyglass. Their beautiful standard had been lowered for now. The Haradrim turned his gaze towards the forest of Ithilien. It was aflame.

“What?!” he said, taking the spyglass away from his eye. Even without it he could see the fire clearly.

“Wot?” said Jack’s voice from below.

“Ithilien is burning! It’s under attack!”

“How far is it?” demanded Will.

“It’s about...two miles downstream,” said Xerxes, trying to determine how long it would take them to get there. “Narbazanes is a wily old fox.”

“Well, he didn’t plan on having us get in the way,” said Anna-Maria. “Orders, Admiral?”

“Hoist sails!” hollered Will. He rapidly shouted out orders and the men scrambled about on the deck to obey him. The Salty Wench glided on the river. Her oars splashed as the men put all their strength into rowing. Aragorn had trusted them enough to allow them to form his navy. They were not about to fail him just yet.


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Alcarin could hear the waters of the Anduin splashing behind him. The rangers had managed to cut their way out of what seemed like the hordes of enemies, but to what avail? They were now trapped between the Haradrim and the river, with no place to run. The men were tiring quickly. Half of their number had been cut down by the wicked curved blades of their enemies. He’d failed the king, failed Legolas.

Minalcar smiled. How valiant of the rangers, and how foolish. Didn’t they see that no one who opposed the most powerful man in Harad, and possibly Middle Earth, would succeed? “Alcarin,” he called. “Do you yield?”

“Do I look like I’m yielding?” Alcarin managed to shout back as he parried a curved blade and pushed his sword into the body of a man who’d been about to decapitate him. Blood splashed onto his face, adding to the dark mask that he was already wearing.

“A pity,” said Minalcar. “You would’ve served the Master well.”

“I serve only one master, and his name is Elessar, King of Gondor!”

“Unlike some, Minalcar of Gondor, son of Mardil, some men have a sense of honour,” drawled a voice with the unmistakeable accent of a Haradrim. In his elation, Minalcar had failed to notice that another ship had joined the Haradrim fleet. He peered into the mist. All he could see was the ship’s body, and a black standard with a skull in the centre. All the rest became unimportant. He’d never seen such a standard before, but that voice. He knew it well enough.

“Atarxerxes?” he said softly, not really believing that his flawless plan did have flaws after all. He’d underestimated that rabble of pirates.

“Stand by, me hearties!” called Jack to the rest of the crew. “Prepare to send them all to greasy black guts’ hell!”

“Valar bless you, Admiral Turner,” whispered Alcarin as the Gondorian ‘navy’ rushed ashore and joined in the melee. Will quickly engaged Minalcar in battle. The Gondorian was strong, but Will was quicker. He jumped out of the way as Minalcar attempted a downward slash which would’ve cleaved him from head to sternum and then scored a light gash on the man’s arm, cutting through a tendon and rendering the limb useless.

Anna-Maria and Elizabeth fought back to back, proving themselves to be capable and fierce warriors, if not entirely honourable. Elizabeth pulled out her pistol and shot a man in the face just as he was about to attack Will from behind. “That’ll teach you,” she said through gritted teeth.

Barbossa seemed to be managing well. The Haradrim were all hesitating before engaging him in battle. “Come to me, ye mangy dogs!” snarled the pirate. “I’m gonna have yer guts for riggin’!”

Jack was dancing just out of reach of a huge Haradrim who was wielding a flail. “You can’t catch me, matey,” said the grinning Sparrow. “Who am I?”

The Haradrim growled and lunged for Jack. Jack tried to jump and tripped on a tree’s root. He fell flat on his back and the flail missed him completely. The force of the swing overbalanced the big man. As he fought to regain his balance, Ragetti and Pintel attacked him from behind, and retreated immediately when he retaliated. Jack picked himself up off the ground and dusted himself off. “You stupid blighters never seem to know the answer to that vital question,” he grumbled. “I’m the Captain Jack Sparrow.”

Xerxes lost count of how many men he’d cut down. He felt no remorse, even though they were his kinsmen. Some of them had fought alongside him during his father’s numerous battles of expansion. They’d betrayed him when they’d given their allegiances to Narbazanes. In Xerxes simple world of good and evil, they deserved to die. One man could not have two masters.

With the unexpected reinforcements, the Haradrim raiders were slowly forced back. Minalcar had no choice but to retreat, or to lose his entire contingent to the merciless blades of the Gondorian navy. Some of them managed to get back to their ships and sail away. The rest of the ships had been taken over by the Gondorian sailors. By the time morning dawned, the Gondorians had somehow managed to emerge victorious.

“Well, victory in defeat,” said Will, splashing his blood and soot covered face with water and then taking a few thirsty gulps.

“Thank goodness you came, Admiral,” said Alcarin as one of his men bandaged his shoulder. “If not, I think we would be greeting Mandos right now.”

“I shudder to think what could’ve happened,” said Elizabeth. “A traitor in our ranks...” Will bit his lip and said nothing. Once, a long time ago, he hadn’t been any better than Minalcar. Elizabeth noticed the expression on his face and squeezed his arm comfortingly.

“You did it for a noble cause,” she said so softly that only he could hear her. “You did it to save your father.”

“But I put you in danger,” said Will. Elizabeth smiled and kissed him on the lips. He tasted of smoke and sweat, but she didn’t care. He was her Will.

“We’re all right now,” she said when she finally released him. Jack sniggered and made faces at the couple, while Ragetti and Pintel whistled. Barbossa pretended that he didn’t see anything wrong with passionate kisses during the aftermath of a violent battle and calmly stroked Jack the monkey.

“With all that heat between you two, I think that the Whelplet might just be getting a sibling soon,” said Jack. “Hey, Whelp, how would I do as a godparent?”

“Horribly, Jack,” said Will. “You’ve already influenced Willie too much for my liking.”

“Aw, you mean you’re jealous because your son is a thousand times more charming than you could ever hope to be?” said Jack.

“Willie is charming, but not because of your influence.”

“Wot, he’s charming because of Scraggly Beard’s influence?” Jack scratched his chin. “I is finding that rather hard to believe. Are you sure you haven’t been having too much absinthe?”

“Absinthe?” said Elizabeth. She turned to her husband sternly and placed her hands on her hips. “Will, what is Jack talking about?”

Will grimaced. He’d known that Elizabeth would not approve. Why did Jack always have to tell people what they didn’t need to know?

“Where is Legolas, by the way,” he said, trying to change the subject.

“He went to Haranbar, Admiral,” said Alcarin.

“Haranbar? That’s where Balian is stationed. Why is Legolas there?”

Alcarin shook his head. He didn’t understand elves much. “He said it was a feeling.”

“What feeling?” said Jack. “Ah well, I always knew there was something not right in his head.”

“Maybe you could ask him, Sparra,” said Barbossa, peering through his spyglass. “He be comin’ this way, an’ he ain’t lookin’ happy ‘bout somethin’.”

True enough, Legolas didn’t even complain about the navy’s ‘hideous’ standard the way he usually did. He took in the charred trees and the bodies of Haradrim and Gondorians on the ground. “What happened?” he demanded.

“The Hardy Men attacked,” said Jack.

“Jack, it’s Haradrim,” corrected Anna-Maria. “Get ya words right!”

“We managed to beat them back,” said Will.

“Aye, and got a few new ships too,” said Barbossa, waving at said ships. Legolas simply nodded. His mind seemed to be on other, more sombre things. Will noticed it.

“Is there something wrong, Legolas?” he asked.

“Balian has been taken,” said the elf, showing them the blacksmith’s sword. There was silence as they took in the sight of the soot and blood covered weapon. It was odd to see it without its owner.

“That poor little boy,” murmured Elizabeth, unconsciously drawing closer to Will. “To be an orphan at such a young age is unthinkable, and all he’ll have left of his father is this...”

“No,” said Will. “I refuse to believe that Balian is dead. He’ll come back. You’ll see.”

“Aye,” said Jack. “That fella’s as tough as a pirate.”

“But what if he doesn’t come back?” said Anna-Maria.

“Barisian won’t be an orphan, I promise you that,” said Will adamantly. “We’ll all be his fathers.”

“And mothers and uncles and grandfathers,” added Jack.

“Trust me when I say that little mite won’t be abandoned,” said Barbossa. “The more pressin’ matter be that the enemy is closin’ in on us."


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Agony consumed him. He gritted his teeth to keep himself from screaming, but no matter how hard Balian tried, he could not hold back his cries of pain. Sweat coursed down his body, mingling with blood. His wounds burned. Guy had been merciless. His chest heaved as he gasped for breath.

“Had enough yet, Perfect Knight?” said Guy with a smirk. “You know you only have to beg. I am a merciful man and if you begged hard enough, I think I might just call it a day.”

“You’ve been smoking hashish if you think I’ll beg you,” said Balian. His voice sounded so tired that he almost didn’t recognize it. ‘Brave words, Balian,’ he thought. ‘You know you’re in big trouble this time.’ Unlike orcs, Narbazanes and Guy were not torturing him for the sake of causing him pain. He knew that they had a greater purpose for him, whatever that was, and he was not too keen on finding out what it was. His thoughts turned to his son; his innocent precious vulnerable baby son. If he died, what would become of the boy? He would be an orphan, and he wasn’t even old enough to understand death.

“Do you know what your biggest mistake was, Balian?” said Guy as he examined a small but sharp knife, turning it over in his hands and holding it up to a torch. “You failed to kill me even when you had the chance.”

“I was a fool for hoping that you could ever learn chivalry,” croaked the chained man.

“Yes,” agreed Guy. “Hope makes us do foolish things.” He pressed the edge of the blade into the flesh just above Balian’s sternum. Fresh blood welled up. Guy traced a line down Balian’s body and stopped just as he reached his victim’s navel. “I’d love to cut you deeper, but the Master wants you alive.”

“You’re a coward, Guy,” spat Balian in his agony. “You have me here, tied down like a sacrificial sheep and yet you still do not have the courage to kill me.”

Guy stiffened, knowing that it was true. He’d love to kill Balian, slowly and painfully, but he was frightened of what Narbazanes would do if he disobeyed him. Instead of answering, he signalled to the orcs to untie Balian. “You’ll pay for that, my dear baron,” said Guy.

Balian wanted to hit out at the man, but the orcs’ hold on him was too tight, and his strength had been drained. Still, he struggled. The orcs hit him with their fists and whips to subdue him. They forced him onto his knees before a cauldron of water, and then before he even had the time to fill his lungs with air, his head was pushed into the liquid. He strained against the iron grip of his tormentors, but to no avail. His lungs burned as his small air supply was quickly used up. He began to feel light headed. Blood roared in his ears, and then his head was released, and he was allowed a few meagre gulps of air before his head was submerged again.

He didn’t know how many times the process was repeated, but with each repetition, he grew weaker. His limbs had no more strength in them. He stopped trying to fight and concentrated on breathing as much as possible when he was given those moments of short respite. At last, when the orcs allowed him up for air, he sagged in their grip, spluttering and coughing up water, only half-aware of his surroundings.

“My lord,” said the orcs to Guy. “Anymore an’ the scum will drown.”

“Chain him up again,” said Guy. “This will do for now. We’ll leave the Perfect Knight some time to think about his situation.”


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A/N: Yes, Balian's in big trouble. The Gondorian navy has more ships now, so that's a good thing.
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  #34  
Old November 3rd, 2008, 08:57 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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I see I have missed quite a bit while I was away. Will have to catch up, looking forward to that...I will be back
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  #35  
Old November 3rd, 2008, 09:47 PM
Guin Sparrow Guin Sparrow is offline
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Join Date: Jun 2008
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Poor, poor Balian! He's definately a strong man! He better escape!

Guy needs to die! Someone needs to kill Guy for hurting poor Lord Balian!


Although, the image of a naked Balian was lovely.

Can't wait for more!
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  #36  
Old November 4th, 2008, 08:39 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: New Zealand
Posts: 885
Ki: I hope you enjoyed your weekend away.

Guin: I love putting Balian through Hell. He will escape, but not that soon. I'm not done with him yet.

Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth


Disclaimer: I don’t own anything that you recognize. If the character has a Persian name, then they probably are of my own imagination.

Chapter 17: The Clutches of Hell

Aragorn stared at the sword which lay on his desk. He fingered the ruby, brushing his thumb gently over its many facets. His friends were all gathered in the room. No one said anything. They were too embroiled in their own sombre thoughts. An atmosphere of doom and despair hung over them like a heavy dark curtain which threatened to smother their courage and hope.

The King of Gondor had recalled all his captains from the settlements near the Eastern border. After what had happened to Balian, he couldn’t risk any more of them meeting the same fate. The towns and villages near the border had been evacuated. It was better to give up that territory and conserve manpower than to lose both. The Fields of Pelennor now sported a refugee camp of thousands.

Éomer had left for Rohan. With tensions rising, and war inevitable, he was needed back in his country. There, the King of the Horselords would be preparing his people and rallying his troops, getting them ready to ride to Gondor’s aid if the need arose.

In the corner of the study, Éowyn cuddled Balian’s son. The little boy kept pointing at the sword and asking about his father. “Papa back?” said the child, looking up at her with large enquiring eyes.

“Hush, little one,” said Éowyn, kissing the boy on the top of his head. The soft down-like hair would grow to be like his father’s mop of curls in time. Simply the thought of this sweet child growing up without the two most important people in his life made her want to weep. She’d grown up like that and she wouldn’t wish this life on anyone, maybe with the exception of those vagabonds who’d taken Balian, oh, and Grima Wormtongue. At least she’d had Éomer, her cousin Théodred, and before his mind had been completely overthrown, Théoden. “He’s going to be back very soon. You’ll see.”

Barisian looked at her suspiciously with the innocent wisdom which all children seemed to have. He seemed a bit dubious, as if he could tell that something was wrong, although Éowyn was almost certain that he did not understand what was going on.

“There’s something very odd about all of this,” said Legolas, shaking his head. He rubbed his temples. A frown marred his smooth forehead. “I can almost see it. Why did they destroy Haranbar, but only Haranbar? None of the other settlements were attacked. And they only destroyed the town. They didn’t occupy it. That shows the town wasn’t what they were after, but what were they after?”

“They could’ve taken Haranbar long ago,” said Paris, peering closely at a map of Gondor and tapping the spot marked ‘Haranbar’ with a finger. “Why wait until after Balian’s arrival?”

“Do you think they could’ve been after him?” ventured Helen timidly. It felt awkward to take part in any sort of council. That was the business of men. Women played no part in politics except as wares to bargain with. However, she’d felt the need to say it.

The men looked at each other. “Why would they want Balian?” asked Achilles.

“He’s chosen by God,” said Imad grimly. “He told me everything, about his immortality, his journey through Hell. He was sent to do God’s work. I should’ve done something. I—”

“You what, Imad?” said Will. “What could you have done? It’s not your fault.”

Imad knew that Will was right, but that didn’t make him feel any better. Deep in his heart, the Arab kept on asking himself questions. Could he have saved Balian?

Up until now, Xerxes had remained silent, listening to all the theories and absorbing the information. “You say the Defender is chosen by the gods,” he said suddenly from his position by the wall.

“Yes,” said Paris, turning to the Haradrim.

“Then by logical extension, he is divinely blessed, no?”

“Well, it makes sense that he’s blessed,” said Jack. “He passed through Hell an’ got nuthin’ more than a couple o’ bruises to show fer it. If that ain’t lucky, then I dunno what is.”

“And he has a strong spirit?” said the Haradrim prince.

Legolas snorted, remembering his friend’s stubborn nature. “If only you knew,” he said.

“Then you have an answer,” said Xerxes. He unfolded his arms. “Narbazanes wants the Defender not only for his skill in battle but also for the power which lies in him. He wants to harness that man’s blessings and use the strength of his spirit for his own means.”

“I don’t understand,” said Faramir. “How can Narbazanes use Balian’s blessings and spirit?”

“Narbazanes has long been a servant and student of the dark powers,” explained Xerxes. “I do not know how, but he can use the life of others to fuel his own powers.”

“Wot, like the way fleas live and feed on a man?” asked Jack, scratching his shoulder. He reminded himself to take a bath sometime in the near future. Said fleas were getting very annoying. He’d probably gotten them from either Ragetti or Pintel.

“Very much so,” said Xerxes with a sigh.

“Valar,” breathed Aragorn. “I pray that is not what has happened to our friend.”

“So do I,” said the Haradrim.


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In his dark confines, Balian lost track of space and time. There seemed to be voices in the emptiness, whispering words of despair. Pain-filled hours mingled and merged, and the voices grew louder and louder until they drowned out all traces of hope and he was not aware of anything but them.

He relived his most terrible memories; they were as fresh and vivid as the bloodstains on the cold stone altar. The grief and pain and despair were slowly driving him mad. Neither his mind nor his body could take anymore of the torments which Narbazanes was throwing at him. Balian just wanted to escape; he didn’t care how.

Guy could see his enemy growing weaker with each passing day, and he relished in his enemy’s helplessness. This was but a shadow of the man who’d stood proudly on the battlements of the Holy City, glaring with defiance at the Sultan of the infidels after he’d thrown the standard of the Crescent off those sacred walls.

And yet, as broken as he was, there was still something left in the man. Each time Narbazanes commanded Balian to serve him, the man weakly but resolutely uttered “no”. The Magelord tried everything, but nothing seemed to be able to convince Balian to change his allegiances. Narbazanes was reaching the end of his patience. He needed a man to lead his armies, and he needed him now. Everything was in motion, but how was one to play a game of chess without players?

Sarvenaz watched her master pace in his cold throne room. He’d been in a foul mood lately, lashing out at everyone and anyone when the slightest thing went wrong. “Why do you not use the remaining glass orbs which the Dark Lord had left behind?” asked the woman.

Narbazanes stopped his pacing and sighed. Oh yes, he’d thought of that, but Sarvenaz did not know of the dangers of using those. With the aid of his servants, Sauron had managed to harness the negative energy given off by suffering and despair, and he’d trapped it in those little glass orbs. Just a small amount was enough to overrun the mind of a normal man. Balian was no ordinary man, but he was not invincible. Narbazanes feared that using too much of the negative energy on him would render him useless. The Magelord wanted a servant who would obey him, advise him, and lead his armies to victory, not the broken shell of a man.

Seeing that the Magelord had not responded, Sarvenaz went to him and laid her hand on his arm. He turned to gaze at her face. The cunning and ambition in his eyes made her heart quicken. Yes, he could give her what she wanted. Too long had she been under the command of others. For years, she’d planned and schemed, and finally here she was, only one step away from being Queen of Harad and possibly all of Middle Earth.

“He has not yet broken, and the hour grows late, my lord,” she said. “Will you not try?”

“And what if it fails?” said Narbazanes. “I have not worked so long for all my dreams to come to nothing. I need him, Sarvenaz.”

“And you will not have him if you do not do this,” she said gently but firmly. The woman sighed. “Will you not let me try, my lord?”

“You?” said Narbazanes, raising an eyebrow. The beginnings of a smile formed on his lips. “What can you possibly do that I cannot, my sweet?”

“Balian the Defender, despite everything, is still a man,” said Sarvenaz, walking in slow lazy circles around her master. She gave a wily smile. “Perhaps all he needs is a woman’s touch.”

The Magelord chuckled. He caught her and began tracing a finger from her jaw down her neck and finally settling his hand on the curve of her breast. “Perhaps,” he said. “But I wonder, what do you mean by a woman’s touch?”


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Guy remained outside the closed door of the chamber. Narbazanes and Sarvenaz had gone in. His ear was pressed against the worn wood. It was very odd that the Magelord would allow his favourite consort to attempt something like this. She was a woman, and no matter how beautiful she was, a woman would surely be weaker than a man? He was certainly anxious, should Sarvenaz prove herself more capable of breaking a man than he was, but he was also curious.

At first, everything was silent. Guy heard Sarvenaz murmuring to the barely lucid Balian. Her voice was muffled and he could not make out the words. Suddenly, a tremor shook the building. There was screaming and whimpering. Guy’s face was pale with fear, but he was riveted. What in Satan’s name was going on?

As abruptly as the commotion had started, silence descended. Then he heard Balian’s voice. It was strangely cold and devoid of emotion, as if it was another man speaking. “My lord,” he said. Narbazanes' laugh resounded and echoed through the corridor. Guy cursed. Once again, the Perfect Knight had gotten the better of him.

Far away in the city of Minas Tirith, Barisian woke up wailing.


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Legolas hated waiting. In all of his two thousand nine hundred and thirty three years, he’d never managed to hone his patience. He turned away from the eastward facing window and began pacing again. His feet made no sound on the floorboards.

“Stop it, mate, will ya?” said Jack irritably, pouring himself more rum from a crystal decanter. Will wasn’t sure he wanted to know where the pirate had obtained it. “It’s makin’ me dizzy, and you wearin’ down the floor won’t help our nanny in distress.”

“So you’re saying I should sit back and watch everything unfold?” demanded the elf.

“Pretty much,” said Jack, downing his rum and reaching for more, only to find that someone else had consumed the rest of it. He muttered a string of curses. Willie listened intently to see if he could add any more to his growing list.

“I’d hate to say this, Legolas, but Jack’s right,” said Paris. “We don’t even know where Balian is.”

At that, Will had a thought. “What is it that you want most?” he asked. His eyes gleamed and he looked at Jack pointedly.

“Wot?” said Jack, holding up his hands.

“Jack, hand over the compass,” said Elizabeth.

“No!” said the pirate. Barbossa’s hand went to his pistol.

“Ye had better do as the lass tells ye, Sparra,” said the old pirate. He was loving this.

“When Mama says something, you don’t say no, Uncle Jack-Jack,” said Willie innocently.

“From the mouth of babes,” said Achilles with a grin.

“Hey, I’m not a baby!” protested the youngest Turner. “I’m six!”

Jack gave up and handed Will his compass. “I expect compensation, Whelp,” he grumbled.

“I’m borrowing this with permission,” said Will.

“That makes him a right sight better than you, Jack Sparrow,” said Anna-Maria.

Captain!” protested Jack. “How many times do I have to remind you that I have a ship?”

Will opened the compass and the needle was pointing at Elizabeth. They looked at each other. “We need someone else to hold it,” he said. “Who wants Balian most in the world?”

“William, if you need to ask that question then you really are a stupid blighter,” said Jack.

“Oh, give it to me,” said Imad. He took the compass in his hands. The needle spun lazily and then stopped. Paris bit back a groan. It was pointing directly at Mordor.


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Guy watched Balian survey his surroundings. The man had healed amazingly quickly. The former king was certain that there was some supernatural devilry involved. Now the only reminders of those injuries were pale lines on the tanned skin. His clothes hid all of that anyway. He now resembled a lord of the noblest blood, more so than Guy did.

He stood on the balcony of his new quarters, staring out across the gathered contingents of orcs, men and other creatures of darkness. There was no emotion in his eyes. He seemed almost like a stone statue. Guy wasn’t sure he liked this new situation. With Balian as the commander of Narbazanes’ armies and second only to the Magelord, his own position became perilous. And this new Balian was dangerous. He’d forgotten none of his past, but he had retained none of his so called ‘weaknesses’. Guy was at his mercy.

The former king swept a low bow as Balian turned to him. “Guy,” he said in a cold flat voice.

“My lord Balian,” said Guy, not daring to look up. He liked the old Balian better. At least he could be certain that the old Balian would not have him drawn and quartered.

Balian smiled. It was not a comforting expression. “Good,” he said. “I see you have recognized the new hierarchy of this place.” With that, he strode out of the room. Guy caught a glimpse of two curved sabres on the other man’s belt. Would this new Balian be a better fighter than the old one? He didn’t know, and he had no desire to find out. Guy hurried to follow Balian. Narbazanes’ orders had been clear. He was now Balian’s servant, and unless his master dismissed him, he had to stay by Balian’s side. The other man’s pace was quick. Soldiers dipped their heads in reverence and fear when they saw him. He gave them no acknowledgement.

The men were practising their moves, with one of the generals calling out numbers. Balian watched them closely. His brown eyes were narrowed as he scrutinized their moves and made note of every inadequacy. Finally, he raised a hand to halt the general. “This is a poor performance,” he said. The general was rather taken aback by this. His face paled and he stiffened. Balian took no notice of him, and he dared not protest. “If you think this rabble can defeat the Gondorians and the rest of Middle Earth, then you can think again. You are going to be fodder for their siege engines.”

“My lord commander,” said the general. “These are the best men in all of Harad.” The look that Balian gave him was so derogatory that he remained silent for the rest of the afternoon.

All day, he drilled them, making them repeat move after move until it was perfect. Nothing seemed to satisfy him. Any transgression was swiftly repaid with punishment. He seemingly had no mercy or conscience. The means did not matter; only the ends were important. At the end of the day, he handpicked one hundred soldiers to form a separate force, answerable only to him and Narbazanes.

The Magelord was impressed. The man wasn’t simply training an army. He was creating a contingent of men who were professional killers.


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Aragorn looked at his friends as if they had gone mad. They probably had. “You want to go into Mordor, based on the fact that a spinning needle said that Balian is in Mordor?” said the King of Gondor incredulously.

“No, Aragorn, that compass is special,” said Legolas, trying to get the others to help him explain. They all remained silent, even Jack. “It points to the thing that you want most, and Imad wants to rescue Balian the most, so I’m certain that Balian is in Mordor.”

“Even if he is in Mordor, how would you get him out?” said Faramir. “The Dark Land is vast, and dangerous, even with Sauron gone.”

“It’s worth a try,” said Xerxes, “but we need more of a plan than simply charge in with swords bared and trumpets blaring.”


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Narbazanes surveyed his assembled forces. They were in straight lines, and their formations were meticulous. In the space of one week, Balian had turned even the most unruly fighters into decent soldiers. When the army saw the Magelord, they raised their weapons or hit their shields to salute him.

“You have done well, Lord Commander,” said Narbazanes to Balian. “I did not expect to be ready so soon.”

“It is my duty to serve you, my lord,” said Balian, dipping his head. Narbazanes smiled.

“I have something I must show you, Balian,” he said. “Come.”

The two men rode deep into Mordor. It was a barren wasteland. The hooves of their horses kicked up clouds of red dust. Rocks littered the landscape, sticking up like jagged teeth. They came to a valley from which strange noises issued. It sounded like roaring and snorting. Balian’s wariness piqued. He gently pulled on the reins. His horse stopped. The whites of its eyes were showing and it snorted. The animal knew that there was something bad in the valley.

“No, it is not bad, not for you,” said Narbazanes, as if he could read Balian’s thoughts. He urged his terrified steed onwards. Balian followed. The walls of the valley rose steeply on either side of them. The track was narrow and winding. However, the deeper they went, the more it widened. 

Before them was a large basin, and inside were winged beasts with wicked teeth, chained to stakes which had been driven into the ground. They snorted and strained against their bonds.

“Dragons,” said Balian softly.

“No, not dragons,” said Narbazanes. “Winged beasts. The steeds of the Nazgul.”

“The Nazgul were destroyed,” said Balian.

“Indeed. The Nine are no more, but they had more than one beast each. I had one picked out especially for you, Lord Commander.” The Magelord dismounted and led Balian over to a particularly feisty animal. It bared its teeth and snarled until Narbazanes put a gloved hand on its scaly neck and murmured a few soothing foreign words. The beast calmed under his touch. Balian slowly approached it. The animal tensed when the other man touched it. Perhaps it was Narbazanes spells, or maybe it was fate, but after its initial reaction, the beast gradually accepted Balian.

“The best commander needs the best steed,” said the Magelord. As if in reply, the beast flexed its long sinewy neck and lifted its head to scream out a challenge.


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In the library, Legolas and Paris pored over old maps, studying the geography of Mordor. There were so many places where Balian could be hidden, and many of the old entrances into the Dark Land were now blocked. The elf looked up to where Xerxes was staring out of the window. “Do you know of ways into Mordor?”

“Yes, if Narbazanes has not stationed guards there,” said the Haradrim.

“So the plan is for us to create a diversion, somehow, without using the army,” said Will. “And while we are distracting them, you sneak in, rescue Balian, somehow rally your father’s supporters and overthrow Narbazanes?”

“That might be a little too optimistic,” said Xerxes dryly. “I plan to get your friend out, and I’ll stay and see how I can weaken the Usurper. Defeating Narbazanes is going to take more than just a few days’ work.”

“Still, creating a diversion without the help of the army is rather difficult,” said Will. They understood the King’s reluctance to involve his troops. Balian was important, but he was still only one man. Gondor needed her armies to protect her and all her people.

“We have Jack Sparra,” said Barbossa with a shrug. “He be more distractin’ than any army of thousands.” The old pirate did not mean for that to be a compliment.

“It’s Captain Jack Sparrow, you scraggly-bearded git,” muttered Jack.

“Don’t forget,” said Elizabeth, “while we’re distracting the enemy, we somehow still have to patrol the river and the coast.”

“How many men have we got in the navy?” asked Imad.

“Five hundred,” said Anna Maria. “That’s if ya count those who don’t sail and probably won’t ever sail if I had me way.”

“That’s fine,” said Paris. “We’ll take those who can’t sail, and Jack, and create a diversion while the sailors patrol the waters.” He looked darkly over at where Achilles was standing. “I suppose you will be leading the land operation.”

“Yes, I thought so,” said the Greek. “Unless you want to do it, Prince?”

“Gentlemen, enough,” said Elizabeth sharply. She’d had quite enough of the conflict between Paris and Achilles. They weren’t even amusing the way Jack and Barbossa were. If they could at least come up with something witty from time to time, she might’ve forgiven them. “For goodness’ sake, this ridiculous bickering is not helping. The enemy is uniting at our doorstep and you sit here arguing over things long past. Even pirates are better than this.”

“Hey!” protested Jack. “Pirates are very decent, thank you very much.”

“Decent?” said Legolas. He had a lot of words with which to describe pirates, but ‘decent’ was not one of them.

“So it’s decided then,” said Imad. “And if it suits you, Prince Paris and Lord Achilles, I will lead the land operation. If I shave my head and make false tattoos, they will mistake me for their errant prince, from a distance. That is very distracting.”


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Narbazanes was in his throne room discussing matters with his new commander. Balian was of the opinion that they were not ready to attack yet. “Our soldiers, while they can fight in pitched battle, are still outnumbered,” he said. “Gondorians are heavily armoured. We need to devise tactics and strategies to overcome that, and we need a proper cavalry. Mounted raiding parties no longer suffice.”

The Magelord rubbed his chin. “A proper cavalry, you say?” he said. “What do you consider a ‘proper’ cavalry?”

“We need two types; light cavalry and armoured cavalry—”

A scout entered and interrupted their conversation. The man prostrated himself before the Magelord. “Sire,” he said breathlessly. “The Gondorian navy has gained new ships. They really are making a stand.”

“How many?” asked Narbazanes.

“Five, at the moment. They took ours, mostly.”

The Magelord laughed. “I have an entire fleet of corsairs at my beck and call, and they think they can resist me with five ships crewed by that rabble of prisoners? I think not.”


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Elizabeth drummed her fingers on the rail of her new vessel, the Lady Swan. Will had insisted on calling it that, and she’d thought it sweet. Jack’s ship, the Sea Turtle, had remained at port, since the captain was part of the planned diversion. She hoped it would work, and that her First Mate would be able to get behind enemy lines and cause some damage. They needed all the help they could get.

The mist made it hard for her to see anything more than a few yards away, and that made her a bit nervous. It was the first time she’d sailed along the Gondorian coast on her own, and without a proper First Mate. Something was making the hairs on the back of her neck rise, and she suppressed a shiver. If she’d been able to see properly, she would’ve known why she was feeling so anxious.

A fleet of corsairs was sailing up the coast, aiming directly for her ship. Their oars made minimal splashing in the cold briny water. Like a pack of wolves they closed in on their prey. The man in the crow’s nest did not see their dark forms until it was too late.

“Oh God,” said Elizabeth. She was completely surrounded. Grappling hooks were thrown, biting into the wood of the Swan. She pulled out her sword and settled into fighting stance. The corsairs were swarming on board. Blades clashed. Vibrations travelled up the length of her arm as she parried a blow from a particularly bald and tattooed man. She thought she was going to die. Not even the famed Pirate King could withstand such an ambush.

And then, one fine sailing ship burst through the surface of the ocean, followed by another. She recognized the latter immediately. Jack’s beloved Pearl. But what was it doing here? Jack and Barbossa had both agreed that it had been trapped in a pond on the other side of Middle Earth, and when Jack and Barbossa agreed on something, it was probably true. The corsairs were too shocked by the appearance of these two much larger and finer vessels. They simply gaped. At the helm of the Pearlwas the unmistakeable figure of Calypso, in her human form. She grinned, revealing blackened teeth.

“I think we have arrived just at the right moment, Captain Assaracus,” she said.


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  #37  
Old November 4th, 2008, 08:54 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
Inspired by him
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: New Zealand
Posts: 885
Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth


Disclaimer: I don’t own anyone that you recognize (that list is getting too long -sheepish grin-). I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 18: Friends and Foes

Hector had never seen anything quite like Middle Land or whatever this place was called, but he had no time to admire the scenery just yet. There was a battle to be fought. He felt no mercy for those vagabonds who hadn’t dared to take on a woman and her crew honourably. These were worse than pirates. Having been brought up as a prince of a great civilized city, the new captain of the Flying Dutchman couldn’t really find any words to describe them, at least, not ones which he would care to utter out loud.

The corsairs knew they’d been outmanoeuvred by these two unearthly ships. Besides, they were not about to put up a stand against vessels which were much larger and could burst out from beneath the surface of the waves. They tried to flee, but most of them were cut off in their escape. Only then did they attempt to fight. The Dutchman’s crew, with the help of Elizabeth and her sailors, vanquished them easily enough. For the undead sailors, boarding a ship was simply a matter of materializing on the deck.

It was soon over. The corsairs were now prisoners in a number of brigs. Their ships were tied to the three victorious vessels. They were to be towed back to Minas Tirith. Hector materialized on Elizabeth’s ship, with Bootstrap and another sailor behind him. Elizabeth’s hands flew to her mouth when she saw the latter. “James?” she whispered. “James Norrington?” She wanted to add “You’re dead”, but that did not seem like the most appropriate thing to say, seeing as he was standing here before her in his naval uniform, complete with his wig. Instead, she gaped at him.

James smiled. “Yes, Elizabeth, I’m back. I’ve been granted a boon by Hades and Calypso, thanks to Captain Assaracus, and Mr. Turner, the elder one,” he said. “I trust you have been well?”

“If you count narrowly escaping from a hanging ‘well’ then yes, I have been well,” said Elizabeth, who’d regained her voice. She turned to Hector. “Captain Assaracus, once again, I am in your debt. I don’t know how I can repay...”

“Please, Lady Turner, do not speak of repayment. Will is my friend, and friends help each other,” said Hector. He looked different from the last time Elizabeth had seen him. Instead of the fancy Hellenistic armour, he now wore the baggy clothes of the Barbary corsairs. In an odd way, it suited him better than his princely armour. It made him seem freer.

“I hope you have not forgotten me, Elizabeth Turner,” said Calypso, pushing in front of Hector. “‘twas I who brought Captain Assaracus here, and freed the Pearl from that tiny little pond. What a waste of a perfectly good ship, to leave it there to rot.”

“How could I forget you, Calypso?” said Elizabeth. “I thank you for your benevolence.”

“Now, I can’t have them saying that I don’t look after my followers,” said the goddess, giving Elizabeth a grin. “William Turner served me well.”

Bootstrap cleared his throat. “Not to interrupt, but what are we to do with all these ships?”

“Take them upriver,” said Elizabeth. “No doubt Will will be pleased.”

“William?” said Bootstrap, cheering up at once. “He is here too?”

“Yes,” said Elizabeth. “And so is Jack. Will is the Admiral of the Royal Navy.”

At that, Bootstrap’s eyes widened and James arched an eyebrow. Even Calypso was surprised, although, being a goddess, she could hardly show it before mere mortals.

“I know it’s odd, but this is not like England,” explained Elizabeth. “King Elessar doesn’t care that we’re pirates. He knows we’re loyal to him, and that’s enough.”

“So, what royal navy is this?” asked James.

“The Gondorian Royal Navy,” said Elizabeth proudly. Then she looked thoughtful. “Mind you, the flagship is called the Salty Wench.”

At that, Bootstrap threw back his head laughed uproariously. “Hah! My boy really does have a lot of pirate in him!”

“Actually, Barbossa thought of it, and Jack agreed that it was a good name,” said Elizabeth. There was utter silence.

Jack and Barbossa agreed on something?” said Hector incredulously. He remembered how they argued about everything that they could think of, from the quality of different alcoholic beverages to the aesthetic aspects of different types of limestone.

“Are you sure we’re thinking about the same two men?” said Bootstrap. “It sounds to me as if there’s something odd going on.”

“Probably,” said Elizabeth with a shrug. “They’re both naval officers.” James snorted. She gave him a look. “We didn’t exactly have much of a choice.”

“Your choices must really be limited then.”


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The last thing Will had expected to see was a whole fleet of ships sailing up the Anduin with the Lady Swan in the lead. Behind her was the very familiar view of the Flying Dutchman alongside Jack’s beloved Pearl. About a dozen ships of Haradrim make were being towed.

“What’s going on?” Will shouted.

“Long story!” Elizabeth shouted back. “To be quick, I’ll just say we have otherworldly company!”

As if on cue, Hector appeared on the deck of the Salty Wench with a grin on his face. Will’s jaw dropped. He hadn’t expected to see his friend for at least ten years. Why was he here? Wasn’t he supposed to be doing a job on the other side?

James Norrington followed his captain, and so did Bootstrap. Will blinked a couple of times, trying to determine whether he was hallucinating or whether this was real. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder, Calypso’s, to be exact, and he knew he wasn’t dreaming.

“What on earth is happening?” he whispered.

Calypso released him and began pacing on the deck of his ship. “Perhaps you have not noticed, but there have been many things happening lately. Terrible things. The balance of the world is at stake. Evil is gathering. Soon, the war will be here, and we must all be ready to fight.”

All of them looked at the goddess blankly. Why did she have to speak in riddles? Calypso sighed. “You will understand when the time comes,” she said. “As a goddess, I am forbidden to reveal the secrets of the deities to mortals.”


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Paris could hear the shouts coming from outside. The people of Minas Tirith were very excited about something. He ignored the noise and concentrated on his book; a rare account of the mortal sorcerers, written by a Gondorian who’d travelled to Harad many centuries before. The language was archaic, and difficult to decipher. Some of the words had been blurred with age and the maps were vague.

He gave up when he heard Jack’s hollering. The word ‘Pearl’ could easily be heard. ‘The Black Pearl is here?’ thought Paris. Had it not been left in a pond in the Shire?

Helen burst through into the library. Her face was flushed with excitement. “Paris, come quickly!” she said. “Hector’s here!”

Paris forgot about his book and raced through the corridors down to the wharf, where many ships had docked. There was the Dutchman, in all her glory. Hector stood at the helm of his ship, holding Astyanax and pointing out the different parts of the ship to him, while Andromache leaned against her husband in contentment. Astyanax did not seem too interested in the ship. Instead, he was chewing on another animal figure which his father had carved for him. Drool ran down his chin. The little boy was teething.

Aragorn was there also, looking utterly perplexed. He was stunned by this turn of events. All these ships...

“Well, gentlemen,” he said to Faramir and his other awed advisors. “We have a real navy, and I think we should name the ships before the officers do.”

“I agree with you completely, Sire,” said Faramir.


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Xerxes had a lot on his mind. This venture into Harad through Mordor was not going to be an easy one. He was sure he had a lot of reasons for wanting to go behind enemy lines, but there was only one he could think of at the moment.

Sarvenaz. He could still remember the lingering scent of her perfume and the soft touch of her delicate silky hands. Her absence was a thorn in his heart. She was waiting for him; she’d said she would. When he’d left, there had been tears in her eyes, glittering like diamonds in the desert moonlight. He’d promised her that he would return, but it had been six months now, and he hadn’t been able to fulfil his oath. What would she think of him? How was she? Was she still alive and safe, or had she fallen into the clutches of the usurper?

He stared out of his window, towards the east. “I’m coming for you, Sarvenaz,” the Haradrim prince said softly. “I’ll free you.”


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He scanned his troops. They stood as straight as their spears; attentive, alert, ready for battle. Even the rabbles of orcs had been drilled into some sort of order. “They are ready to fight,” said Balian. Narbazanes had been waiting for these words for a long time.

Despite his utter disdain for the commander, Guy had to be impressed. How could a mere blacksmith possibly know how to tame an army such as this? It was beyond comprehension. Balian had been born into peasantry. Christ, he was half-peasant! And yet, here was proof that he was born to lead.

“Very good,” said Narbazanes. “You will lead them into battle against the men of Gondor. Do not fail me, Lord Commander. Osgiliath must be taken. We have already left things for too long. We cannot let the Anduin lie between us and Minas Tirith, do you understand?”

“I will not fail you, my lord,” said Balian. His voice was flat and devoid of emotion. Narbazanes looked him in the eye. Most men would’ve looked down immediately, but Balian did not even flinch.

“And what of your son?” said the Magelord softly. It was a test. He needed to know if he owned Balian completely. Up until now, he’d been willing to put faith in the man because it hadn’t really mattered. But now, Balian was to lead the army out of Mordor, and if he wasn't loyal to Narbazanes, he would be able to escape. With all the information that he knew, that would be very dangerous.

At the mention of his beloved child, something flickered across the man’s face. For a moment, those brown eyes were filled with anguish and compassion, but his expression quickly became neutral again. “A man must be able to sacrifice all for the sake of his master,” he said. “I serve you, my lord.”


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Balian’s mind was in turmoil He could see what he was doing, but he was powerless to resist. It was as if he’d become a spectator trapped in his own body. Oh, he fought it. He struggled to overcome the spells which Narbazanes and his little witch of a consort had cast over him. When Narbazanes had mentioned Barisian, that surge of love had almost let him succeed, but the Magelord’s devilry had been too strong. Balian’s own dark side had been too strong.

He hated being used like this, as a weapon against his friends. Death would’ve been better. ‘Will I ever be free?’ he wondered as his body mounted his dark steed, even though his mind was reluctant. The dark presence —his new self— was overwhelming his mind. He didn’t know how to expel that demon controlling him, save through death. If he could’ve done it, he would have somehow ended his own life so that Narbazanes would no longer be able to use him as a tool for spreading darkness over Middle Earth. He would rather suffer an eternity in Hell for suicide than betray those whom he held dear. As it was, he didn’t even have that choice.


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Paris hadn’t felt so happy ever since Hector’s death. In fact, he was in such a good mood that he was almost ready to forgive Achilles. Calypso had said that Hector would be allowed to stay in the world of the Living, provided that he was in a ship, or a bucket of seawater.

Squabbling could be heard coming from the captain’s quarters of the Black Pearl. The words were muffled, but everyone could guess who was arguing and about what.

With the exception of Jack and Barbossa, everyone had gathered in Hector’s cabin, which made it a bit cramped, but no one minded, because they were so happy about this victory. Aragorn, being King, had been given the honour of sitting in one of the chairs. Hector was in the other. The rest of them perched on the desk or the bed, or leaned against the wooden walls. Achilles was inspecting Hector’s spyglass and peering through the end with the larger lens.

The captain of the Dutchman sighed as his brother and Aragorn related the recent happenings in Middle Earth to him. “Why can’t the gods grant Balian some relief?” he said. “He has suffered enough, and that poor child...”

“That’s why we’re going to get him back,” said Imad.

“We’re not going to let Barisian become an orphan,” said Legolas. “Not while we have breath left in our bodies.”

“Is there anything I can do?” asked Hector.

Aragorn smiled tiredly. The lines around his eyes and his mouth seemed to have deepened over the past few weeks. “I was wondering when you would ask, Prince Hector,” he said. “I was thinking that perhaps you could patrol the coast, if that is not too much to ask.”

“I will do anything for my friends,” said Hector, “and the friend of my friends is my friend too.”

“If I may, your majesty,” said James. “You have acquired a number of new ships, but you do not seem to have the men required to captain them.”

“You can say that again, James Norrington,” said Faramir. He looked the other man up and down. “Are you volunteering? I’ve heard many things about you. Most of them were good.”

“Faramir,” said Will. “Commo—I mean, James would make a much better Admiral than me.”

“You’ve done a good job, Will,” said Aragorn. “I’m not about to dismiss you. However, I would like you to join our navy, if that is what you want...may I call you James?”

“Of course, Sire,” said James, bowing to Aragorn. This was no minor feat in such a cramped space. “I will be very glad to serve you. It is good to be honourable again.”

At that moment, Ragetti and Pintel rushed in, looking rather excited. “Turner...I mean, Will...I mean, Admiral!” said Pintel. He looked very pleased about something. “We named two of the new ships!”

“Oh dear Valar,” muttered Faramir under his breath.

“You’ll like it, Lord Faraway,” said Ragetti, grinning. His wooden eye was looking in a different direction to his real eye, making him look very odd. “It’s po-e-tic.”

“Pirates have their own version of Shakespeare?” Norrington muttered to Will as they traipsed out to examine Ragetti and Pintel’s handiwork.

“It’s ‘poetry’, which really doesn’t imply Shakespeare at all,” said Will.

In the torchlight, they could make out some crudely painted words. The paint was still wet. On the side of one ship was ‘Booty Looter’ and on another, ‘Kween’s Rum’. Will groaned out loud. They hadn’t even managed to get the spelling right. He clapped his hand to his eyes, not wanting to see anymore ships’ names.

“Zeus’ thunderbolts!” said Achilles. “A ship is a ship, not rum!”

“Couldn’t you at least have spelled ‘queen’ correctly?” said Elizabeth, grimacing.

“We’re pirates, Cap’n Swann,” said Ragetti defensively. “That means we don’t know no spellin’. I think we’s done a pretty good job.”

“An’ the Booty Looter has a rhymin’ name, sorta,” said Pintel.

Legolas rolled his eyes, at the same time, wishing Balian was here to enjoy the ridiculous situation. The blacksmith would’ve been horrified. “So our navy has ships called the Salty Wench, the Sea Turtle, the Cursed Monkey, the Drunken Sparrow, the Looty Boot— I mean, the Booty Looter, and the Kween’s Rum.” As the elf listed the names, he counted them off on his fingers to emphasize his point. “We are really going to be the laughing stock of Middle Earth.”

“You forgot the Lady Swan,” Paris pointed out. Will scowled at him.

“That one’s fine,” said Legolas. “Swans are beautiful.”

“All right,” said Aragorn. “Here’s the deal. You’ve named these two, and I’m not changing the names, but we get to name the other ships.”

“And what are you going to name them, Sire?” said Faramir.

“One of them will be called the Evenstar, of course,” said Aragorn. “Your turn, Faramir.”

“The Shieldmaiden,” said the Steward promptly. They were so engrossed in naming ships that they didn’t notice the silence which now dominated the gathered 'counsellors'. Then a peal of laughter broke out, followed by a lot of mock gagging.

“Why are you all naming your ships after your wives?” asked Jack. “That’s just boring. Just as well Nanny isn’t here, or we’ll have ships called the Queen of Jerusalem or the Sibylla or something just as sickening.”

“Can I suggest one?” said Achilles.

“If it’s not ridiculous, then yes,” said Legolas.

“The Wooden Horse,” said Achilles, crossing his arms and grinning.

“No!” said twelve voices in unison.


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Imad tried his best to stop from fidgeting as Andromache painted imitations of Xerxes’ tattoos on his face. ‘The things I do for my friends,’ he thought. Well, one of his friends. His shaven head looked unfamiliar and odd. He could hardly recognize himself when he looked into the mirror. In fact, it was quite easy to mistake him for the Haradrim prince. They both had the same skin tone, similar flared nostrils and deeply set eyes.

In a corner of the room, Jack, Legolas, Paris, Achilles and Xerxes were gathered in a group, discussing their plan of action. “I don’t like this,” said Jack, scratching his head. “You want us to shout challenges to those people in Horror Land. What if they do come out?”

“Then you run,” said Xerxes simply. “I know this is risky, but it’s the only way I can sneak past Narbazanes’ defences. Then I can gather my father’s old followers and rescue your friend. If all goes well, we might even be able to overthrow the usurper.”

“I don’t fancy gambling with such great odds,” grumbled Jack.

“It’s the only way,” said Paris. “Unless you have a better idea, Captain Sparrow?”

Jack flashed the younger Trojan prince a grin. “Of course! We can always demand parlay, savvy?”

“What’s ‘parlay’?” asked Xerxes.

“Negotiations,” explained Legolas. “And no, Jack, not ‘savvy’.”

“So we go along with my plan,” said Xerxes. He looked at each and every one of them, his gaze lingering on Jack. “Savvy?” he added.


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Pippin was going out into the gardens to smoke when he saw a strange sight. Jack was pacing on the grass, clutching his hat and muttering to himself. The pirate seemed rather concerned about something, and his dark expression was so uncharacteristic of him that the hobbit was immediately concerned.

“What’s wrong, Jack?” he asked.

“Nuthin’,” said the pirate. “I’m gonna be used as bait to lure that Nasty-zanes out of Horror Land, so I’m feelin’ very good ‘bout meself, savvy?”

“You’re Captain Jack Sparrow, nothing can go wrong, eh?” said Pippin. That did not seem to comfort Jack.

“You don’t know how close I came to becoming dinner, or rather, luncheon,” he said. Pippin could sympathize. He’d almost become an orc’s late-night snack on one occasion. There was one thing, however, that he knew would make Jack feel better. The hobbit pulled out his spare pipe from his coat pocket and then handed it to the pirate.

“What’s this?” said Jack, turning it over in his hands. The wood was smooth, and the pipe itself was beautifully carved. The pirate had always chewed his tobacco instead of smoking it.

“It’s my spare pipe, in case I lose my other one,” explained Pippin. He handed Jack his pouch of pipeweed. “This is Old Toby, the finest pipeweed in the South Farthing. Hobbits might be small, but we grow the best pipeweed in the world.”

Jack took out a pinch of the dried plant material and sniffed it. It smelled good; better than his chewing tobacco at any rate. Copying Pippin’s actions, he began filling the bowl of his pipe with the pipeweed, pressing it in with his thumb. Pippin got out his tinderbox and lit both their pipes. Jack sucked in a mouthful of smoke then blew it out, feeling rather like a rich aristocrat. Soon, they were joined by Merry, bringing lunch. Gimli sat down soon after with his pipe. There was so much smoke around them that an unwary observer might have thought that they were lighting a signal fire. The hobbits laughed as Jack told them about all his misadventures, and re-enacted them with hugely exaggerated movements.

As Jack took in another draught of that fragrant smoke, he heard children’s voices. Barbossa then came into his line of sight. The old pirate was making a braying noise, like a donkey, and on his shoulders was little Barisian. Willie was laughing and running ahead while Jack the monkey perched on his head. Jack was so shocked that he swallowed the smoke in his mouth. That did not feel so good. Gimli thumped him heartily on the back as he retched and choked.

Maybe he should’ve stuck to chewing tobacco.


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In the middle of the night, Legolas’ keen ears caught the sound of a raised alarm. Someone was racing through the corridors of the Citadel, shouting for Aragorn. The elf opened the door of his chamber. “What is the matter?” he called.

“Osgiliath...attack...” gasped the man. “Find...King...”

That was enough for Legolas. He overtook the exhausted messenger and burst into Aragorn’s chamber without even bothering to knock. Aragorn bolted up and leapt out of bed, dagger in hand, ready to defend himself and his queen against anyone who might have wanted to harm them.

“Estel, it’s me,” said Legolas in elvish.

“Legolas?” said Aragorn, lowering his dagger. “What’s going on?”

“Osgiliath is under attack,” said the elf. He raced to the window and opened the curtains. His elven vision could make out soldiers surrounding the city, like vultures surrounding a dying beast. How many there were, he didn’t know. It was too far away.

“Send out reinforcements!” said Aragorn. “I want the navy and the army there by sun up tomorrow. I will lead them myself.”

“No, Aragorn,” said Legolas. “It is too dangerous. It could be a trap. I will lead them.”

“Are you certain, mellon-nin?” said the king of Gondor.

“There is not enough time to ponder it,” said the elf. “I must prepare.” With that, he left the King’s chambers.


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The missiles from the catapults pounded the walls of Osgiliath without mercy. The Gondorians were retaliating, but the Lord Commander had prepared well. Many of the defenders’ war machines had been destroyed by his Greek Fire. Sections of the wall collapsed, crushing the attackers below. Casualties were high, but he didn’t let anyone retreat. What was death compared to victory and conquest?

Trapped in his own body, and unable to control what he was doing, Balian despaired. With Osgiliath under attack, Aragorn would surely send an army out to defend the city, and possibly even lead it himself. Were his hands destined to be stained with the blood of friends whom he saw as brothers?

Another stone hit one of Osgiliath’s towers, causing it to crumble. Rocks and debris showered down on the soldiers besieging the city. They raised their shields to protect themselves. One man who tried to turn back found himself impaled by one of Balian’s long curved sabres. The others, too frightened to disobey this cold cruel commander, surged forward again. At least they knew those who survived the siege would live to fight other battles.

A horn sounded in the distance. The alarm swept through Balian’s troops.

Gondor had come, bearing steel.


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A/N: Everything comes out into the light the next chapter, well, almost everything. I hoped everyone enjoyed this. It was interesting to write because it’s nothing like my first draft.
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  #38  
Old November 4th, 2008, 09:34 PM
Guin Sparrow Guin Sparrow is offline
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Balian had better get out of the Hell he's in! Guy needs to be punished for his torture!

Barisian is the cutest little boy! More please!
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  #39  
Old November 5th, 2008, 08:04 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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Good grief....I have so much to read in here and I was planning to sit down and do it at the weekend. There is stuff from while I was in the UK that I missed so is chapter upon chapter. Am trying not to glance at it as I don't want to spoil the story....
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Old December 4th, 2008, 02:23 AM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Guin: I'm glad you like it. Guy will get what he deserves, but not quite yet.

Ki: It wouldn't matter if you did see some of it. None of it would make sense without the previous parts.

Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth


Disclaimer: I don’t own anything that you recognize. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 19: God, Why Me?

The screams of men and the dull thuds of stone hitting stone made Legolas’ heart quicken. He dug his heels into his horse’s flanks, urging it forward. Behind him, Gimli was clinging on for dear life. Usually, the elf would’ve teased the dwarf endlessly about his fear of large, potentially volatile herbivores, but today, he’d been robbed of his sense of humour. Osgiliath was being bombarded on all sides. The Haradrim surrounded the city, scurrying up siege ladders like ants intent on swarming their prey and overwhelming them with sheer numbers.

When the Haradrim saw the Gondorian reinforcements, some of them quickly turned to form ranks, getting ready to do battle on two fronts. This they did without the use of words. Every man knew his place in the formation. Behind the elf, Gimli gave a whistle. “These are very well-trained soldiers,” said the dwarf. “I wish our commanders were just as effective.”

Legolas was about to order his archers to fire a volley of arrows when the Haradrim parted ranks to let a rider on a black horse through. The elf’s eyes widened. “Mahal’s beard!” cried Gimli from behind. “‘tis the laddie!”

“Balian?” said Legolas. “What are you doing here? I thought—” He didn’t get to finish his sentence, for Balian raised a gauntleted hand and signalled to his men to charge. They did so, and without any hesitation at all. The Gondorian archers let go of their arrows. Some of them hit fleshy targets. Most of them ended up piercing the ground or bouncing harmlessly off the raised shields of the Haradrim. They charged on.

Sword clashed against shield as the two armies met. Blades cleaved valleys in flesh, creating rivers of blood. A red metallic mist filled the air. Men cried out, both in fury and in pain. Horses screamed as they crashed into each other and flipped onto their backs, or were cut down mercilessly along with their riders. In the midst of it all was Balian. His face and hands were stained with blood; Gondorian blood. His flashing blades cut down any who dared to come up against him. For those who knew him, it was incomprehensible. Legolas could hardly believe that this was the same man who’d looked after the orphans in Rohan.

The elf urged his horse into a gallop, charging in to stop the man on his rampage of death. Gimli, not being the best of horsemen, lost his grip and fell. The stout dwarf picked himself up off the ground. “Don’t worry about me!” he shouted to Legolas as he swung his axe at one fool who thought that small prey would be easy prey. “You go get the laddie!”

Seeing that his dwarven friend was managing fine, and had started counting, Legolas turned his attention back to his other friend. “Balian!” he called. “Stop this madness!”

The man saw him, and the elf was greeted by the man’s two curved sabres. He was unnaturally quick. Legolas hadn’t remembered Balian fighting like this before. It was a style more suited to the fiery Achilles. He felt his bones ring as he parried a blow. The horses were stepping rapidly, trying to avoid entangling themselves in one another’s legs. It would do them no good if they fell. Legolas horse snorted, clearly wanting to run. The whites of his eyes were showing.

Legolas caught sight of Balian’s face. The man’s brown eyes were cold and hard, devoid of the mercy and compassion which had been characteristic of the blacksmith he’d befriended. The emotionless expression almost sent an involuntary shiver up his spine. What in Middle Earth was going on?

“Balian, what’s happened to you?” he demanded as he defended himself from the crazed man. “I’m your friend. Don’t you remember?”

That seemed to trigger something in Balian. For a moment, his eyes softened, and he was recognizable again. “Legolas...” he said. “No, get away from here!” As he spoke, the hardness came back, and he resumed his attack with more furious fervour than before.

Balian could feel the frightful strength in his limbs, and he had no way to control it. He could only watch on as he attacked Legolas. The man fought to regain control of his body, trying to summon up better memories to drive out the dark presence. He was filled with desperation. This internal struggle seemed to slow down his movements as the dark presence’s attention was diverted. After what seemed like a very long time, his struggle was rewarded. All of a sudden, he was in control again, even though he knew he didn’t have much time. His hold was slippery at the very best. The dark presence was furious that it had been displaced. “Free me!” he pleaded. “The blade...”

“What?” said Legolas, hoping he’d misunderstood. Was Balian asking for death? Eru, he couldn’t deliver it to him. He would rather die than see the blood of a friend staining his hands.

Balian had no time to elaborate. The dark presence overwhelmed him again. He felt himself being pushed backwards. He could see that Osgiliath was lost. The Haradrim force which he was leading was too strong. ‘Is this a test, God?’ he demanded. If it was, then he had no doubt that he was failing miserably. He wanted to weep, to cry out in despair. Instead, all he could do was be an observer as his other self began attacking Legolas again.

“Legolas!” came Gimli’s unmistakeable shout. “They’re flanking us! What orders?”

The elf broke off from his sparring with Balian. “Retreat!” he shouted. “Get back to Minas Tirith!”

“I’ll bring up the rear!” shouted Beregond. “Elites! To the rear with me!”

The Gondorian Elite Guard followed their captain, ready to battle to the death so that their comrades might have a chance to live. They formed a wall of silver armour, a buffer against the dark forces from the east. Beregond was at the very centre, directly opposite Balian. They two men fixed their gazes on each other. Neither of them was going to back down.

Beregond gripped the hilt of his sword tightly in his gloved hands. They’d sworn an oath to protect Gondor to the very end. “My brothers!” he shouted to his men. “Now is the hour to fulfil our oaths! Let it not be said in the years to come that our courage broke in Gondor’s hour of need!”

The cry was raised. “For Gondor!” The voices of the men seemed the shake the earth, and indeed, if the deities of Middle Earth could hear them, they would be moved by the selfless courage which was displayed that day in the face of overwhelming adversity and death. Each man was ready to spill his blood, and by those rivers of red, protect the nation which had nurtured him.

The hooves of the Haradrim horses thundered towards them. Hard remorseless metal blades were brandished. The Gondorians dug their spurs into their horses’ sides. They moved as one. Horses tumbled and fell over one another as the two forces clashed, one considerably smaller than the other. Beregond and his men were totally encircled. The captain did not even harbour the foolish dream of returning alive to Minas Tirith. Without a moment’s hesitation, he rode out to meet the enraged commander of the Haradrim. Sparks flew as their blades clashed. Beregond was shocked by the strength behind his enemy’s blow. He knew he could not win, but it was all he could do to draw this out for as long as possible so that his comrades might escape.

Legolas spared a glance backwards. Amidst the clouds of dust raised up by the trampling hooves of the horses, he saw Balian and Beregond fighting. With one circular motion, Balian disarmed the Gondorian. Blood spurted out as the captain’s throat was slashed. Everything seemed to move slowly. Beregond fell from his horse’s back. His body was lost in the mess of hooves and men. The elf closed his eyes, as he sent a swift prayer up to the Valar. “Be at peace, son of Gondor,” he whispered, inadvertently repeating the words which Aragorn had spoken to Boromir all those years ago. The captain of Gondor’s sacrifice was worthy to be put in the greatest of annals. Legolas vowed that he would never forget it. ‘Balian, my friend,’ he thought. ‘What have they done to you? What have you done?’

The madness of battle and the lust of blood were gone from him now. His dark presence anger finally relented, and all of a sudden, Balian found that he was back in control. He dropped his weapons and stared down at his bloodstained hands, and the bodies littered at his feet. Shock was evident in his face. He looked at his hands as if they were alien objects which did not belong to him. He didn’t want this to be real. ‘This has to be just a bad dream,’ he told himself. ‘I will wake up, and everything will be fine...’ But he knew that it wasn’t to be. Beregond was dead by his 

hand. He’d killed comrades, and good men. Deep down inside, he knew that there was no undoing what he had done. Could he possibly go back now? He was a traitor, a murderer.

Balian clenched his bloody hands into fists by his sides. Throwing back his head, he cried out to the sky. All his frustration and sorrow was put into that one cry, demanding God to give a reason for all the unfairness in life. He fell onto his knees. One tear ran down his cheek, creating a pale track in his mask of blood and dust. “There will be retribution,” he said in a soft hoarse voice. He could only hope that it came soon. The words were meant for himself, but all his men could hear it. They could feel his remorse, and even those who feared and hated him were moved to pity.

Except Guy. He could see that the old Balian was returning, and gaining strength. Narbazanes had given Guy strict orders to make sure that Balian remained his Lord Commander. The Magelord and his lovely consort would have to work on him a bit more. The Perfect Knight really was a very stubborn man. Guy came up behind the unsuspecting man, and then hit his head hard with the hilt of his sword.

Sharp pain lanced through Balian’s head, and then he fell into dark oblivion.

He embraced it.


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Aragorn could see his forces returning, and he knew that Osgiliath was lost. He could only hold onto the hope that his friends were not. He was very relieved when he saw the familiar sight of Legolas riding with Gimli behind him. The king embraced his friends. “Thank the Valar,” he said.

“I’ve failed you,” said the elf softly.

“Don’t say that, Legolas,” said Aragorn. “You could not have stopped it. They are too strong.”

“Beregond stayed behind to shield our escape.”

The King closed his eyes, and then he nodded. “I wouldn’t have expected any less of him. He is a true soldier.”

“He fell,” said Legolas. “By Balian’s hand.”

Aragorn stiffened and whipped around to gaze at his elven friend. “Balian?” he demanded incredulously. “That’s impossible! It doesn’t make any sense...”

“It’s true, laddie,” said Gimli gruffly, but it was not hard to tell that the dwarf was trying to mask his sorrow. “He’s changed.”

“I’d rather believe that the Mountain of Caradhras has moved itself to the east of Mordor than the idea that Balian has changed,” insisted the king. “He would never betray us.”

“Not willingly,” said Xerxes quietly behind the king. “As I’ve said, Narbazanes has his ways.”

“Then he is truly lost?” said Imad. “Is there no hope left?”

The Haradrim shook his head. “Not that I know of. Once Narbazanes takes hold of something, he never lets go.”

Aragorn set his jaw. “I refuse to believe that,” he said quietly. “There must be a way. We just don’t know it.”

Legolas cleared his throat. “When I was fighting with him, he did say something...” he began.

“Come on, laddie, speak up!” said Gimli. “What did he say?”

“He...he asked me to free him. And then he mentioned something about a blade.”

As soon as the words left Legolas’ lips, Imad paled. “The prophecy...” he whispered.

“What prophecy?” said Faramir.

“While we were travelling in Rohan, just before that village was attacked by those Gondorians, Cassandra prophesized something,” said Imad.

“What did she say?” said Xerxes.

“I don’t remember entirely, but she mentioned freeing someone by the sword and the outpouring of blood,” said the Arab. “No one knew what she was talking about at that time, but now I think I know. She was talking about Balian. He was there too.” Imad closed his eyes and bowed his head. “Ah, Balian, my rash young Frankish friend, what have you gotten yourself into this time?”


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When Balian felt his eyes open, he saw that he was once again chained up in a dark decrepit chamber in Mordor. The rusted metal manacles chafed his wrists. His head throbbed. Damn Guy and his hard sword hilt. As his eyes adjusted, he could see a dark figure in the room with him. There was a fire burning.

The figure turned, and he recognized Sarvenaz. He wished he could do something, but once again, the dark presence had resumed dominance, and this time it was not going to let go of control so easily. Sarvenaz smiled at him. In her hands were two glass orbs full of swirling vapours. ‘Oh God,’ thought Balian. Could he take any more?

Apparently, the Magelord’s consort was not too interested in that question. She threw the glass orbs into the fire, and then quickly left the room, locking the door behind her.

Balian retched and choked as the room filled with smoke and those unnatural vapours. The dark presence could not stop his natural bodily instincts. His eyes watered. Colours swirled before his eyes. As the dark presence gained strength through those vapours, he felt himself growing weaker.

‘God,’ he thought. ‘Why me?’

There was no answer, at least, none that he could detect.


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Minalcar could not stop himself from shaking as he prostrated himself before Narbazanes. After his failed attempt to take Ithilien, he’d lived in fear of retribution from the Magelord.

“I have decided to give you another chance, Minalcar of Gondor,” said Narbazanes. In his hand was a vial. He played with it incessantly. “I want you to go into Minas Tirith.”

“Minas Tirith, milord?” said Minalcar. “For what?”

“Make sure Elessar consumes this,” said the Magelord, handing the vial to Minalcar. “With him gone, Gondor will be disunited, leaderless. Do not fail me again, Minalcar. I do not suffer fools gladly.”


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To say that Andromache was surprised when she found Legolas watching Barisian play would’ve been an understatement. The elf did love the child, but he tended to view babies with more distance. And that grim expression on his face sent a shiver down her spine.

“Legolas?” she said. “What are you doing here? Is something wrong?”

The elf pressed his lips together and nodded. “His mind has been overthrown,” he said softly.

“Whose mind?” said Andromache. “Legolas, please, I do not understand you.”

“Balian,” said the elf simply. “I saw him at Osgiliath.”

“Papa?” said Barisian suddenly when he recognized his father’s name. “Where?” His questions went ignored as Legolas relayed his news.

“Oh no,” said the woman softly, gathering Barisian into her arms and hugging the boy. Barisian squirmed and struggled to be free. He didn’t understand what the adults were talking about. He wanted his father; that was all.

“Want Papa!” he insisted. The little boy began to cry. Why wasn’t Balian back? He’d said he would come back. Didn’t he how much he missed him? Didn’t his papa want him anymore?

Andromache’s cuddles could do nothing to stop Barisian’s wailing. She didn’t blame him. He needed his father. In the short time that they’d known each other, Balian had forged a bond with his son which was stronger than the walls of Minas Tirith. He had always been there for his little boy, and now, all of a sudden, it seemed that he was never going to return. Would the love which Balian had for his son transcend death? The situation which he was in would surely be worse than death.

For Barisian, it hardly mattered. What the boy needed was his father’s physical presence. Legolas knew it. As an elfling, he’d been very dependent on his parents and his brothers. He’d missed them terribly when they’d gone off for only a day. The elf felt guilt, as if there had been something which he could’ve done to save the boy’s father. He knew he was being too hard on himself, but it was part of his nature. He got up and left. There must be something which they could do — something which did not involve spilling blood.

Barisian’s cries gradually quietened down. Exhausted, he fell asleep in Andromache’s arms. She gently wiped the tears from his soft cheek and smoothed his curls. ‘Balian, see your son now,’ she thought. ‘He needs you.’


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The corridors were dark. Almost all the servants had retired for the night. The flame of Faramir’s candle cast flickering shadows on the walls. The Steward had a pile of documents under one arm. During times of war, there was so much to deal with.

Something rather too solid to be a shadow flitted past the corner of his eye. Faramir whipped around. “Who’s there?” he said. There was no answer. Now fully suspicious, he set down his pile of paper by the wall and went to investigate. His ranger’s instincts told him that something was wrong; he was not just hallucinating due to fatigue. Years spent in the wild had honed his senses. He heard a scuffle. It came in the direction of the royal couple’s private quarters.

During usual circumstances, no one except the king’s private staff were allowed inside —unless it happened to be Legolas or Gimli; then it didn’t matter. Faramir was sure that whoever it was, it was not Legolas or Gimli, and he had the distinct uneasy feeling that the king was in danger.

He was right. Faramir arrived before the king’s door to find someone opening it and slipping out. Whoever it was, it was neither Aragorn nor Arwen. “Intruder!” shouted the Steward. “To arms!” At the sound of his voice, the intruder gave a start, and then he darted back inside the king’s chamber, with Faramir directly behind him. In his haste, the Steward dropped his candle, and they were plunged into darkness.

Unfortunately for the intruder, the king was never far from a weapon, and the queen was not the helpless female which she resembled. The only light came from the faint sliver of moon which hung in the black night sky.

Cold metal blades flashed in the dim light. No one could see what was going on. There was a lot of cursing. Aragorn threw in a few choice words which he’d picked up from his new navy. Considering that in the dark, Faramir and Aragorn looked rather similar, the intruder mistook the Steward for the king and attacked him with the ferocity of a cornered warg.

Faramir cried out when he felt his attacker’s blade slash his side. Outside, they could hear the thundering steps of the royal guards. Not for the first time, the Steward wished that Beregond was 

still with them. The new captain was not half as efficient. Maybe he should have appointed someone else. ‘Like Achilles,’ came an unbidden thought to his mind.

As if on cue, the door burst open. Achilles stood there, basked in the golden light of the torches held by the guards. The others were behind him. Legolas was meticulous as always. Gimli was a bit dishevelled from sleep. Jack clutched an empty rum bottle, and Will was in a state of undress. Of Paris there was no sign.

The intruder then realized that he’d been attacking the wrong man, but it was too late. Aragorn struck him on the back of the head with the hilt of his sword. The man crumpled to the ground.

“It’s Minalcar,” said Legolas. The elf’s eyes glittered coldly like the jewels that they resembled.

“Your majesty,” said Achilles. “Are you hurt?”

“I am unharmed,” said Aragorn. “Faramir, on the other hand...”

“I am fine, Sire,” insisted the Steward, although he looked anything but fine. He was clutching his side, but blood trickled from between his fingers. His face was pale.

“You are most definitely not fine, my lord Steward,” said the king, ripping up bed linen to use as temporary bandages. The unconscious would’ve-been murderer was dragged off to be thrown into the dungeons. Once he woke, he would be questioned. Legolas wanted to be there to witness it. That traitor had offended him one time too many.

“There are more important things to tend to, Sire,” said Faramir through gritted teeth. “I found him sneaking out of your room, and yet he has not harmed you. I think he had another purpose in here.”

“If he wanted to kill ‘Arry, then why didn’t he just do it, wiv a knife?” said Jack.

“Some people are more subtle than you are, Captain Sparrow,” said Faramir as Aragorn finished binding his wound with the shredded bedding.

“Do you think searching him would reveal some answers?” asked Will.

“Can I keep anything that I want?” asked Jack. “I mean, after you’ve finished searchin’ of course.”

“Do you want to do the searching, Jack?” said Aragorn, knowing that the pirate would be more than thorough.

“’Twould be my pleasure, your nibs,” said the pirate with a fancy bow.


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Jack hummed tunelessly to himself as he searched through the unfortunate prisoner’s effects. He’d had the man stripped of everything, even his small clothes. After all his experiences, Jack had found out that unlike Barbossa, he wasn’t too partial to searching dead people (because sometimes they weren’t that dead at all, and had the nasty tendency to come back to life when you least expected it), but he did like to plunder and salvage when the original owners were not there. It saved a lot of trouble, and one didn’t have to worry about being interrupted.

On the stone floor of the prison corridor, there already two piles. One was the pile which Jack wanted to keep—there was a small pretty dagger there which would make a nice late birthday present for the Whelplet— and the other was the pile which Barbossa could have for all he cared.

The pirate’s hand reached into one of the man’s pockets, and closed around something hard and small. It was a pale green glass bottle, with a cork. Inside was a transparent liquid which looked like water. Jack uncorked it and sniffed it. It smelled like water too, as in it had no scent. ‘Stupid blighter,’ he thought. ‘Those few drops would save nobody.’ Carelessly, he threw the bottle over his shoulder onto the second pile. However, since he wasn’t looking, he missed the little hill of junk. The bottle shattered on the floor, and the stones began to sizzle.

The pirate whipped around at the sound, just in time to see the floor smoking and the stones being dissolved by that mysterious liquid, which he could now safely say was not water. “By all the stinkin’ filth of the Locker!” he said, jumping to his feet and racing off. He needed to tell somebody.

Preferably not Barbossa.


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Anna-Maria was outside the Steward’s sickroom, trying to assure his distraught wife that he was going to be fine, when Jack crashed into her. They both tumbled to the ground, with Anna-Maria at the bottom. “Ow!” she cried. “Geroff me, Jack, you moron!”

“It’s Captain Jack Sparrow,” Jack panted indignantly. “I assure you, I have never been a moron. Now, to matters of lesser importance, I need to find ‘Arry. I found poison in the captive’s pocket. It melted the stones.”

Anna-Maria swore and pushed Jack off her. Already, Éowyn had barged into Faramir’s sickroom to fetch the king. It was a good excuse to go in and be with her husband. With Aragorn preoccupied, there would be no one to chase her out.


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A/N: Things starting to get tense, as they have been for the past couple of chapters . I haven’t forgotten Xerxes’ idea of infiltrating the enemy; just got a bit sidetracked, that’s all. Anyway, hope you all enjoyed the action/angst in this chapter.
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  #41  
Old December 4th, 2008, 03:31 AM
Guin Sparrow Guin Sparrow is offline
Orlando's Shadow King
 
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Posts: 1,066
Darn that Guy! Balian, snap out of it! Poor Legolas! More please
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  #42  
Old December 4th, 2008, 03:59 AM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Location: New Zealand
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Guin: Here you go .

Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth


Disclaimer: I don’t own anything that you recognize, no, not even the names of my OC’s (I do own the OC’s themselves, even though I would just love to strangle some of them). I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 20: Treachery of Love

It was an odd sight. The king and his advisers stood in the corridor of the dungeons, staring at a patch of floor. At first glance, there was nothing interesting to be seen, but upon closer inspection, one could see the depression where something had eaten away at the stone. Legolas almost shivered. It had been too close. If not for Faramir wandering around in the palace later than he ought to have been, then Aragorn could very well be dead. What would happen to Gondor then?

“Bring out the prisoner and take him to the interrogation room,” said the king. “There are questions for him to answer.”


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Narbazanes frowned as he stared into his seeing stone. There was something wrong. Yes, he was seeing the ships of that ragtag bunch of sailors labelled the Gondorian navy, but he instinctively knew that he wasn’t seeing everything that he ought to be seeing. Something, or someone, was blocking the power of the palantir. Whatever it was, it was powerful, and he didn’t like that. He passed his hands over the smooth crystal sphere again, concentrating his power for that single purpose. For a moment, the mists parted, and he caught a glimpse of a magnificent vessel, and Middle Earth had not seen anything like it in all the years of its history. Before he could make out any detail, the mists of the palantir veiled the ship again. When the mists parted, it was gone.

This only served to heighten his suspicions. He summoned Safar. “Send word out to the corsairs. Go up the coast, and up the Anduin. I don’t want to hear of the Gondorian navy again,” he said.

The eunuch bowed to the Magelord, not daring to ask why he was ordering such a sudden offensive. His master’s moods were unpredictable, and Safar, being a wise being, had no desire to be on the receiving ends of them.


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Minalcar stared stonily at his interrogators. He knew what happened to those who tried to reveal Narbazanes’ secrets. That was a fate he would not risk. What could the Gondorian king do to him that was worse than that?

Aragorn sighed and went outside, motioning for Legolas, his co-interrogator, to follow him. “It’s useless,” he said. “The man is never going to tell us anything.”

“You’re too kind, Aragorn,” said Legolas. “Try to think like the enemy. What would Narbazanes do to get what he wants?”

“I don’t want to think like him,” said the king bluntly. “Perhaps it is time to revert to our original plan.”

“Dear Valar, are we so desperate as to rely on Jack Sparrow and Xerxes?” said Legolas. “Well, and Imad. I don’t mind the other two, but Captain Sparrow as the saviour of Middle Earth is making me feel uncomfortable.”

“You have to admit he would be very distracting though,” said Aragorn, “and he is only the diversion. I can only hope that Xerxes’ plan works.”


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Sarvenaz watched the unconscious Lord Commander, sagging against the chains which held him up. Her husband was occupied with one of his other wives, and probably would not emerge until the next morning. She couldn’t sleep, and there was nothing to occupy her attention, not really. 

Her eyes roamed over Balian’s naked form, taking in the sight of scarred skin and hard muscle. How beautiful he was.

With silent steps, she approached him, until she could hear his shallow breathing. Driven by impulse, she ran her hand over his chest, enjoying the feel of firm warm flesh beneath her fingers. He mumbled something and moved at her touch. She stroked his skin, and then reached up to touch his face, tracing the red puckered scar running down the side with one long fingernail.

His eyes opened, and the first thing he saw was her. His dark eyes were cold, emotionless. Balian of Ibelin was no more. Instead, Lord Balian, Commander of Harad’s armies, was looking at her. “Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?” she asked him, her voice husky with desire.

“No,” he said. His voice was as cold as the metal which chained him. Sarvenaz pulled out the keys from the folds of her robes and released Balian from his chains. He rubbed his wrists once they were free. There were red marks on them from the chafing of the manacles. The king’s wife regarded him with sultry eyes, and then she cupped his face and turned him towards her.

“Your blood is hot, but your soul is like ice,” she said. “Fire and ice; I like extremities.” She stretched up and caressed his neck with her lips, delighting in the salty masculine taste of his sweat. “And I believe I shall like you very much, Lord Commander.”

Balian pushed past her, all the while remaining silent. “You reject me?” said Sarvenaz angrily. “How dare you! I am offering you a gift, and you dare to reject me?”

“I will not betray the master,” said Balian. “Nor should you.”


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From his vantage point in the crow’s nest, Marty could see everything very clearly. This usually wasn’t the case, due to his diminutive stature, so he really quite enjoyed being in the crow’s nest. He put the spyglass to his eye, looking in every direction. Not far behind them was the Black Pearl, with her crew trying to keep her as slow as possible so that she would not crash into the much slower and aptly named Sea Turtle.

At the helm was Gibbs, since Jack was preparing for the diversion, and had drunken too much rum in order to try and calm his nerves. Drunken manoeuvres were very well when one was trying to escape from the East India Trading Company, but they didn’t work for patrolling the coast.

Somewhere further down was Anna-Maria and her ship, the Drunken Sparrow. Occasionally, they would hear snatches of her shouts on the breeze. She was in a bad mood. The fiery little woman would rather die than admit it, but she was worried about Jack. The diversion sounded dangerous. What if they shot him? With arrows? What if his luck ran out and he was not able to dodge them? Or worse, what if they decided to take the bait and attack?

“Pop— I mean, Cap’n!” said Pintel. Anna-Maria had threatened to do terrible things to him the last time he’d called her ‘poppet’. He wasn’t about to risk anything. “There’s ships up ahead! Lots of ‘em!”

“What colours?” said Anna-Maria, snapping back into focus. ‘Stop bein’ a fool,’ she told herself sternly. ‘He’s Captain Jack Sparrow. He can take care of himself.’

Pintel shrugged. “I dunno,” he said. “I ain’t got no spyglass.” Anna-Maria rolled her eyes. Of all people, why did she have to be saddled with the worst First Mate? At the moment, she would’ve preferred having Willie Turner as her First Mate. That boy was sharp, like his parents...well, maybe more like Elizabeth than Will, with a good dash of Barbossa added.

It didn’t take much to tell that the fleet of ships approaching them were not friendly. For one, they were clearly the enemy’s ships, for they flew no colours. “Signal to the Pearl!” said Anna-Maria, “and then get out of the way! She needs to fire on ‘em before they reach us!” The enemy ships had catapults secured to their prows. If they got within firing range, even the Pearl might not be able to deal with them. There were so many.

There was the boom of cannons as Barbossa ordered his crew to fire on the enemy vessels. Cannon balls landed on both the ships and the water, sending up sprays of surf. Wood splinters flew. The enemy retaliated. One of their catapult missiles hit the stern of the Sparrow. There was a loud crack. The ship lurched, sending some of Anna-Maria’s men over board. “Damnit all!” she yelled over the din of battle. “Fire back, ya bilge rats! That catapult isn’t there fer decoratin’ the ship!”

And then, without warning, clouds gathered in the sky, covering that patch of sea in shadow. The water became choppy. Over the howling of the wind and the crashing of the waves, an unearthly voice could be heard.

“Maelstrom,” said Anna-Maria quietly to herself, remembering the infamous maelstrom battle in which her closest acquaintances had been the main players. She wasn’t sure she could sail well enough to get out of this alive. Where was Jack when you needed him?


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Imad was feeling rather self-conscious as he rode out at the head of a small Gondorian force of untrained men, dressed as war-hardened soldiers. He was sure that he looked ridiculous, wearing Haradrim armour and covered in fake tattoos. The worst thing was the lack of hair, which made him feel awfully naked. ‘For Balian,’ he thought, just to reinforce his determination. His friend was lost, but that did not mean they had to let Narbazanes win.

Jack clutched a strange bundle in his arms and grumbled all the way from Minas Tirith to Mordor. Quite a feat, really, if one considered the distance. The pirate complained that it was dry, he couldn’t hear the sound of the sea, the saddle was uncomfortable, the horse smelled funny. Imad supposed it was his way of hiding his nervousness. Most people just tended to stay quiet.

The Black Gates loomed before them. As soon as the sentries caught sight of Imad in his Haradrim armour, the shout was raised. They were falling for it. ‘Inshallah, Xerxes’ side of things is going just as well,’ thought the Arab. He had no time to dwell on his prayers. Jack, despite all his reluctance, launched into his role.

“Oi, you! Nasty Face!” he hollered. “Wot? You too scared to fight yer own battles, eh? Come out! This is Captain Jack Sparrow, savvy, and you does what I tells you to do!” All right, maybe he was throwing himself into his role a bit too much, especially with the deliberate grammatical mistakes.

The guards on the top of the Black Gates sniggered. “You think you can challenge the might of our king?” they called down. “Atarxerxes, you are a fool, if you dare to show your face before the gates of the Dark Land.”

“Tell the usurper that his death is nigh,” said Imad. Would Xerxes speak like this? He doubted that even the Haradrim prince would keep his characteristic sarcasm in such a situation.

“You think I’m stupid, eh?” said Jack, grinning widely. With that, he opened his strange bundle. Imad caught a glimpse of a glass jar, filled with...what was that? “Look what I got here!” The pirate lifted his prize high above his head and waved it, as if he was afraid that the guards on the top of the wall would not see the very odd object.

“I got a jar of dirt!” he sang, rather tunelessly. “I got a jar of dirt! And guess what’s inside it?” Imad’s horse snorted, while his rider wished that he could just melt into thin air like the desert djinn. He’d agreed to be bait, but not be humiliated by being associated with Jack Sparrow and his...jar of dirt...earth. Now that sounded better, but not that much better.

The Haradrim soldiers looked at each other, and then burst out laughing. Jack Sparrow had their undivided attention. Never before had they encountered such entertainment.


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With the help of a spyglass —Will’s—, Legolas could see the events happening before the Black Gates very clearly from his vantage point on the top of the Tower of Ecthelion. And it was the oddest thing he’d ever seen in his long life. Jack Sparrow was dancing in front of the enemy, waving a jar of dirt above his head. What was that mad pirate trying to achieve? Well, it was a diversion, he supposed, and this ‘dirt dance’ of Jack’s was very distracting, to say the least.

With that thought on his mind, the elf turned his focus south, to where Xerxes was trying to sneak past enemy lines. He could see no sign of Xerxes, and no sign of a skirmish either. Legolas took that to be a good sign. It was very likely that the Haradrim prince was already making his way towards the core of Narbazanes’ power.


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Xerxes crouched behind a black rock, pressing himself against its rough surface as he waited for yet another patrol group to pass. With his face smudged with soot, he doubted that they would think he was anything but a rank and file soldier, but it was better not to take the risk. Mordor had been transformed back into the fortress it had been during the days of the Dark Lord. And no wonder, for there was a new Dark Lord on the throne. Towers had sprung up like weeds after the rains— jagged teeth of dark rock marring the landscape, not that there was much to mar.

Would Sarvenaz be in one of those towers? Or would she be safe, in Harad? His throat moved up and down as he remembered her, with her veil blowing in the desert wind. They’d been young and happy then, not weighed down by burdens of revenge and their duties to their people. The corners of his lips turned up in a wistful smile as he remembered the way she would look at him, enticing him. He’d felt invincible then. How wrong he’d been, and how naive.

The prince forced his thoughts back to the present. Now was not the time to dwell on what could’ve been. He had to focus on defeating Narbazanes, and then he could think about rebuilding his life with the woman he loved.

A gust of wind raised clouds of dust, hiding him from the patrols. He peered around him through narrowed eyes. There, in the distance, he could just make out the faint silhouette of a dark tower. Its style was different to that of the others, from what he could see. Perhaps this was not built by Narbazanes, but by Sauron himself. Something was drawing him towards it. Xerxes, being a man of impulse rather than reason, slowly made his way towards that dark tower.


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Jack was getting tired of prancing around with a jar of dirt. With all those people laughing and jeering at him, he knew he was making an idiot of himself. ‘Well, nanny, we sure all did pull out our fingers to help you. Well, we tried to help you.’ The pirate decided that the next time he was going to deliberately act as the diversion, he was going to keep a very big supply of rum with him. If he had to humiliate himself, then he would do it while he was too intoxicated to care. Everything worked better that way.


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Narbazanes heard murmured rumours about some sort of entertainment at the Black Gate. He quickly summoned Safar. The eunuch might be incomplete as a man, but he did not lack ears. “What is going on?” he demanded.

“Atarxerxes is at the Black Gate, Sire,” said the eunuch, “and with him is an odd man waving a jar of dirt around. The men are all watching him.”

“And laughing, no doubt,” said the Magelord, who did not seem to find this amusing at all. If they were all busy laughing at some madman who was prancing around with a jar of dirt, then who was to say there wasn’t some other secret force creeping behind their ranks in the hope of sabotaging their infrastructure and weakening them? “Come Safar, we are going to the Gates.”

A saddled horse, with a gleaming black coat, was waiting outside Narbazanes’ Mordor residence. With practised ease, the Magelord swung himself into the saddle. Other kings might ride sedan chairs, but not him. He came from a long line of proud warriors who’d written their names in blood in the History of Eastern Middle Earth, and he would make sure that the Haradrim never forgot they were a proud people—men born to conquer and rule. And now was the time. Those usurpers from the West would submit to him, and he would be their overlord.

He yanked on the reins to turn his steed. The animal snorted and foamed at the mouth. The froth was pink with blood from the broken corners of his mouth. His nostrils flared, and the whites of his eyes showed. Narbazanes ignored the horse’s obvious distress and dug sharp spurs into his gleaming sweaty flanks, drawing blood. The animal surged forward, muscles bunching up beneath him as his hooves ate up the ground.

From far away, Narbazanes could already hear the laughing and jeering. They were definitely not attending to their duties. Fury darkened the Magelord’s face. The laughter fell silent as his men saw him. The King of Harad made his way to the very top of the battlements, and found himself looking down at a very odd man who had long tangled hair from which shiny ornamentation dangled. The man seemed to brighten up when he saw the Magelord.

“Oi! Nasty Face!” shouted the eccentric man. “Look what I’ve got! I’ve got a jar of dirt! Yeah! A jar of dirt. And guess what’s inside it?”

“Enough!” snarled Narbazanes. He motioned for the archers on the battlements to fire down on enemy. Let that man try and protect himself with his jar of dirt.

Jack Sparrow kept on making faces up at Narbazanes, who, in his opinion, looked like Aman the Corsair from the Barbary Coast. Well, they had the same skin colour. The pirate’s smile quickly froze and faded when he saw the men on the battlements raising their bows and aiming.

“Time to go!” he said, tossing away the jar of dirt and quickly turning to run back to Minas Tirith. He’d forgotten that he had a horse waiting for him. Imad cursed under his breath. At least part of the plan succeeded. Now they would just have to hope that Haradrim bows didn’t have a very long range.

Narbazanes caught a glimpse of ‘Atarxerxes’, and he knew at once that he’d never seen the man before. So if this was a false Atarxerxes, where had the real illegitimate prince of Harad gone?

Arrows flew down, most of them landing in the sand just behind the quickly retreating Gondorian force. Some of them did fell the men who were at the back, but most of the Gondorian force managed to escape, including that very strange man, since the false Atarxerxes had pulled him onto his horse and ridden away with him.


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The gates of Minas Tirith opened for the diversion force, and they swept in. “I am never ever going to prance around and sing ‘jar of dirt’ again,” declared Jack breathlessly. Hanging over Imad’s pommel hadn’t been the most comfortable way to ride, and he was in a very bad mood. “It’s very bad for me health. Now, where’s me rum?”

“No one asked you to prance around with your dirt,” said the Arab.

“Well, how was I supposed to get their attention then?” demanded Jack.

“By just being there,” said Imad. Before he could say more, Legolas rushed down to greet them.

“Xerxes is in,” said the elf. “I am certain. And Jack, what was that whole thing with the jar of earth?”

“It’s a jar of dirt,” corrected the pirate. “I was tryin’ ta create a diversion, see?”

For the first time in many days, Legolas smiled. It had been very distracting indeed. For the moment at least, he understood why Jack Sparrow and his ragtag group of acquaintances were in Middle Earth. Sometimes, a bit of dishonour and eccentricity was very welcome.


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The tower loomed before Xerxes. No one took any notice of him. To them, he was just another Haradrim guard. He stared at the steps, which led up to an ominous set of metal doors. Something was drawing him towards that tower, beckoning to him. He pushed open the doors. They creaked as they gave way. It was dark inside, and cool. His soft footsteps echoed. A flight of stairs extended all the way up to the top. He followed them, turning around every now and then to make sure that he was not being followed. That was when he heard voices, or rather, one voice. It was coming from one of the rooms off to the side.

Cautiously, like a cat stalking its prey, he crept up to the door, and peered in. There, in the room, staring at her mirror, was a woman whose face almost made his heart stop. Xerxes’ jaw dropped. “Sar...Sarvenaz?” he said. The woman looked up. Time and hardship had not diminished her beauty. She looked up, and her hands flew to her mouth.

“Xerxes?” she gasped. “My prince...is that you?”

“Yes,” whispered the Haradrim prince. He forgot why he was in Harad, or the burdens which bore down on his shoulders. His mind was filled with the intoxicating sweetness of her manner. He swept her into his arms, and she rested her head against his shoulder. “I’ve come for you. I’ll get you out of here. We’ll leave this place. No more palaces, no more kingdoms. We’ll just live as a man and a woman ought to. I will never let anything happen to you again, Sarvenaz.”

Sarvenaz listened to his voice. All the while, her hand moved discreetly, slipping a dagger from her sleeve. “That sounds very nice,” she murmured. The smooth hilt of the dagger was in her hand now. It was warm and alive, thirsting for blood. She plunged the sharp blade between the ribs of the man who held her. He was unprepared for the pain which lanced through him, and he staggered backwards, staring down at the blood pouring from his body in shock. The pain of betrayal hurt more than the wound itself.

“You...” he whispered. He was growing light-headed. The edges of his vision were darkening. Everything was becoming a blur.

“Perhaps you have not considered that I want things to happen to me?” she said. The blood on her hands and her clothes did not bother her one bit. “I’ve waited for too many years. I’m not waiting any longer. I will be Queen of the Harad, and Lady of all Middle Earth.”

“I trusted you...”

“Yes, Xerxes, you have always been a trusting fool. But that was not why I did what I did?”

“Why...?”

“Your greatest crime, my prince, was your lack of ambition. I urged you to take the throne. You didn’t agree. I despise weakness, especially in a man.”

By now, the Haradrim prince had fallen to his knees, brought down by the treachery of his lover. He could only stare at her through a veil of disbelief. How could she? Her cold glittering eyes were foreign to him. Not that anything mattered anymore. He knew he was a dead man. The world was fading away; the pain, the sorrow. Before him, he could see a path of light leading up to a golden citadel...

Xerxes’ eyes closed, and his prone body fell to the floor. His blood pooled beneath him, creating a dark spreading puddle. “Summon the Lord Commander!” said Sarvenaz. “I want him to take the head to my lord Narbazanes.” Let the man see what happened to those who displeased her. Perhaps that would make him more respectful.


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A/N: So that’s the end of one OC. Our guys will find out about it soon enough, and once again, their plans have failed. Hope you enjoyed this chapter. Nothing much has happened. It’s more of a filler. I’ll try to remedy that in the next update.
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  #43  
Old August 20th, 2009, 06:52 AM
Guin Sparrow Guin Sparrow is offline
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Lovely update! I hope Balian's torment ends soon.

When are you updating this? I want more!
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  #44  
Old August 21st, 2009, 04:27 AM
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*Blush* I've almost forgotten about it, Guin. Will put another one up soon.

I'm glad you're still enjoying the story.
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Old August 29th, 2009, 06:11 AM
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Chance Encounter: Return to Middle Earth


Disclaimer: I don’t own anything that you recognize (a very long list). I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 21: Evil Unleashed

Wind lashed the bodies of the ships. Rain bombarded them, making it very difficult to see. Over the roaring of the waves and wind, Anna-Maria could hear Barbossa laughing as he fired upon the panicking enemy. He had a rather morbid and twisted sense of humour. As far as she was concerned, there was nothing to laugh about. Calypso was in her element, raising her hands to the sky. The waves obeyed her —well, Anna-Maria knew for a fact that they did. That, more than anything, frightened the enemy out of their senses.

The Drunken Sparrow came up alongside one of the Haradrim ships. “Prepare to board!” shouted Anna-Maria to her crew. They were ready, with grappling hooks in their hands. The metal hooks bit into the wood of the ship. Others swung over, swords at the ready. The Haradrim captain, seeing that all was lost, quickly surrendered. Despite being wet, cold and tired, Anna-Maria could not help but feel satisfied. One victory under the belt, and she didn’t have to share it with Jack.


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Jack Sparrow pacing was a rather funny sight to behold. For one, he didn’t do it in a straight line. Secondly, he kept walking into the furniture and cursing. “Relax, Jack,” said Will. “Anna-Maria will be fine. She can look after herself, and Barbossa and Gibbs are with her.”

“That’s exactly the point!” said Jack, flinging his hands dramatically into the air and kicking at a footstool. “I don’t trust that mutinous git, said git being Barbossa, and it’s a bleedin’ storm!”

“If I may interrupt, Jack,” said Elizabeth. “The storm is probably Calypso’s doing, so...”

“Wot? You think I trusts that murderous otherworldly...female? She’s probably made a maelstrom, knowing her.”

Seeing that all the reassurances were just making Jack more nervous, Will opted for the fail safe way and pressed a bottle of liquor into his friend’s hand. Jack put it to his lips, threw back his head and downed most of it in one go. That seemed to have the desired effect because he collapsed into the nearest armchair and was soon dead to the world. Legolas, who’d been watching the drama from behind a book on elvish history, looked up and raised an eyebrow.

“You finally got him to calm down?” he said.

As if in response, Jack grunted in his drunken sleep and then began to snore. “I don’t see how he would still be conscious,” said Will. “It was most of a bottle of Dorwinian.”

“It shows,” said Legolas. “I wonder what would’ve happened if we tried to coax Balian to...” He trailed off, his eyes becoming distant and haunted as he remembered what the man had become. The blacksmith was gone, or so Xerxes had said. And they had no way to free him except do what that cursed prophecy said. Legolas had no intention of ever doing that. He closed the book. His attention had been broken. The elf stood up. “I’m going outside to have a look,” he said. Will dutifully handed over his spyglass.

Legolas climbed to the top of the Tower of Ecthelion and looked out across the Pelennor fields to Mordor. He moved his gaze slowly until it fell on the Black Gates. There, amongst the heads on spikes, he saw a familiar face.


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They all heard Legolas’ shout of alarm from afar, and rushed to see what had happened. Aragorn was the first to reach him. “What’s wrong, Legolas?” he asked. The elf almost leapt down from his vantage point. “Xerxes,” said the elf. “Everything’s gone wrong. He’s failed. They found him.”

“How do you know?” said the king.

“His head is on a spike on the Black Gates,” said Legolas, closing his eyes as he remembered the Haradrim’s ravaged face.

“Gods,” said Paris. “This is impossible. We win one small victory, and they win a few big ones! We’re never going to beat them!”

“Oh, stop having such a cheerful outlook,” snapped Achilles, the new captain of the Elite Guard.

“It’s better than being delusional like you,” retorted the Trojan.

“Shut it, you two!” said Elizabeth. Will wisely kept to the background. If his wife was going to fight with Paris and Achilles, he wanted no part in it. “We will fight, and they will die, savvy?” The two men looked at each other, not sure of how to react. They had never been lectured by a woman who was not their mother.

“You said savvy,” Paris finally managed to say.


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Paris paced in the library. He’d been charged with the task of relaying the bad news to Bahram. No one else had been willing to do it. Their excuse was that Paris was a diplomat, and they were warriors. The Trojan prince ran through his prepared speech in his head. How did you tell someone that the brother who’d loved and protected him was dead, and that the head was on a spike? He’d lived through the pain and regret and all the questions. He didn’t want to inflict the same agonies on this kind naive boy. “You just have to do it, Paris,” he told himself. Out of all the king’s men, he’d been closest to the Haradrim prince, since it had been him who’d first recommended the man as a sailor.

He strode out of the library and went out in search of Bahram. These days, he was usually where Cassandra was, and Cassandra rather liked the gardens. He found them sitting on a white stone bench, snuggling up to each other and laughing over a private joke. He hated himself for being the one who would crush this happy moment. His sister hadn’t been this happy since...since before the fall of Troy.

The prince cleared his throat to alert the two young people to his presence. They sprang apart as if some invisible force had come between them. “Paris!” said Cassandra. “What a surprise!”

“Cassandra, I need to talk to Bahram in private,” said Paris. Cassandra looked at her brother, and then at Bahram. An expression of worry flitted across her face. Her brother was unusually tense. Gods, the last thing she needed was for him to give Bahram a ‘talk’ for getting too close to her. Just as well it was Paris, who still did not know how to use a sword properly. If it had been Hector, speaking in that tone and with that expression, she would’ve been very worried for the young Haradrim prince.

“Um, all right,” she said. “I’ll be with...uh...” She looked around, and saw Éowyn taking Barisian for a walk. “Uh...Lady Éowyn.” She glanced at Paris again. “You won’t do anything...drastic, will you?”

Paris sucked in his cheeks. Would telling the poor boy that his brother was dead be termed drastic? “We’re just going to talk,” he finally resorted to saying.

Cassandra nodded, and then left the men to their business. Éowyn was holding Barisian’s hand and supporting him as he toddled along. He looked so much like Balian that the princess felt a lump coming to her throat. No matter how angry she'd been at the man, he still did not deserve his fate. “Come on, little one,” Éowyn was saying. “Look at that! That’s a butterfly.” She pointed out the colourful insect to the little boy.

“Buh-fwy,” said Barisian, reaching out to try and catch the creature. “Pwetty.” Ever since his father’s capture, the boy had withdrawn into himself. They’d tried everything to make him talk, to stimulate him, but he never uttered more than two words at a time. When he did talk, he mostly asked about the absent Balian.

“Yes, it’s very pretty,” said Éowyn encouragingly. “See, it’s blue, and black.” The boy nodded.

“He misses Balian,” said Cassandra softly.

Éowyn looked up in surprise. Usually, Cassandra didn’t go anywhere near Barisian. What had caused this change of attitude? “We all do,” she said. “What brings you here?”

“Paris wants to talk to Bahram in private,” said Cassandra awkwardly.

The Shieldmaiden smiled. “Oh, he’s feeling protective,” she said as she remembered how her own brother had given her husband a ‘talk’. “At least Paris is not likely to go rough with Bahram. Your brother does not seem to be the physical sort. When Éomer and Faramir had their ‘talk’, I almost panicked. That was until I heard them laughing about me, and then I ignored them for an entire day. Faramir apologized very sincerely and presented me with flowers and pastries. Éomer was most unrepentant.”

Cassandra giggled. It wasn’t hard to imagine that the gentle Steward would be intimidated by his wife. “Paris’ tongue is sharp though,” she mused. “And Bahram and I are just close friends. We’re not even courting.”

“Of course you’re just friends,” said Éowyn with a twinkle in her eye. She knew how quickly friendship could change. Hadn’t she viewed Faramir as simply a friend less than a month before they’d become betrothed?

While they’d been talking, Barisian had wandered off. He’d seen a red rose. His mother had liked roses. He wondered where she was, and where was his Papa? They’d both said they loved him, but why weren’t they there with him? He tried to reach up for the rose. Perhaps that would bring his parents back, if he gave them presents. Well, at least this might bring his Mama back. However, he was not tall enough. The little boy gripped the stem to try to pull the flower down, and immediately pricked his hand on one of the sharp thorns. As the blood welled up and the sting hit him, he did what all children did when they were in pain. He let out a loud wail. That caught the women’s attention. Éowyn rushed over to pick him up.

“You poor thing,” she said, cuddling him as he hiccupped and sobbed.

“Want Mama!” he insisted. “Want Papa!” Éowyn started singing to him to calm him down, but it was no use. He would not settle for anything less than one of his parents. Just then, Cassandra heard an anguished cry. It didn’t sound like Paris.


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Anna-Maria rushed into the Citadel, wet and ecstatic. “Jack!” she shouted as she strode determinedly through the corridors of stone, leaving a trail of water behind her. “Jack Sparra!” Where had that rum-soaked pirate gone? “Sparra, show yer face!” By the delights of Tortuga, he was all right, wasn’t he? Or had the diversion gone wrong?

“Anna-Maria?” said Will’s voice. She whipped around to see the young Admiral. “Jack’s ...um...intoxicated at the moment, so he can’t, well, hear you.”

“Bloody pirate’s gone and drowned hisself in rum again, hasn’t he?” growled Anna-Maria. Why didn’t Jack understand that too much drink was not good for the health? Was it really such a hard concept to grasp?

“Actually...” Will coughed, feeling uncomfortable. “It was Dorwinian.”

“How did Jack manage to get ‘nuff of that to drown himself in?” asked the small woman suspiciously. She narrowed her eyes at Will. His discomfort was evident, and she wanted to know why.

“He was worried about you, and panicking, so I...uh...had to resort to desperate measures,” said the Admiral.

“He was worried about me?” said Anna-Maria, softening immediately. That was so un-Jack-like that it robbed her of coherent thought. “Well, I suppose it’s all right then, Admiral Turner, as long as he’s fine.”

“Why wouldn’t he be?” said Will, now smiling. There was going to be a Mrs. Sparrow sooner than he’d thought, he was willing to bet. “He’s Captain Jack Sparrow.”


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Aragorn hadn’t felt so glad in many days. With all the bad news recently, it felt good to be able to hear of at least one victory. The sky outside was dark, and the candles lit up his chamber with their warm glow. Arwen looked up from the heavy tome she was reading and greeted him with a smile. “I haven’t seen you so happy in a long time, Estel,” she said softly. “With everything that’s been happening...” Unnoticed by her husband, her hand strayed to her belly.

“Captains Barbossa and Anna-Maria have returned victorious from their little venture,” he said, grinning. “I’ve sent out Norrington and Hector to patrol the southern coast. I don’t think we’ll be having much more trouble from the sea.” Aragorn sat down on the bed beside his wife and took her hands in his. “Everything will be fine,” he said. “Trust me.”

“Of course I do,” said Arwen softly, resting her head on his chest and relishing in the feel of his arms around her. “I know you will look after us.”

Aragorn was not so tired that he missed the meaning behind her words. “Us?” he said. Arwen beamed up at him.

“Yes, Estel; us,” she said, taking his hand and resting it on her belly. Aragorn was speechless with shock, and he could only stare at his wife in wonder. “I’m carrying a little Dùnadan.”


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In the dark bowels of his fortress, Narbazanes was holding a war council. All the petty chieftains of Harad were present, except for those few fools who’d challenged him. They were outside, accompanying his dear nephew. With Balian standing behind him, the Magelord felt powerful and ready.

“Guy de Lusignan,” said the Magelord. “I want you to lead a force to Rohan.”

“My lord...Rohan?” said Guy with a start. Why that godforsaken land? It was so far and so barren. There was nothing there; no treasures, no big cities, no caravans to raid. What could he possibly do there?

“Yes, Guy, Rohan,” said Narbazanes. “You do know what that is, do you not?”

“Well, of course,” said Guy hurriedly. “But why do you want me there?”

“Do not question my reasoning,” said the Magelord. “If I order you to do something, then there is of course a reason. I want you to raid. That should be simple enough.”

“My lord,” began Balian. “Perhaps...”

“No, Lord Commander,” said Narbazanes, raising a hand to stop the man in the middle of his sentence. “I have another task for you.”


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In Rohan, all was quiet, or so it seemed. Tension was rife in the air. They’d all heard of the recent happenings in Gondor, and what they’d heard disturbed them. With Gondor under siege, Rohan could very well be next, and the Valar knew they weren’t very strong. Éomer could only hope that he would have enough time to prepare. He spent his days discussing these matters with the war leaders of Rohan. As they pored over maps, and discussed their defences, there was a shout from outside. The doors of Meduseld were flung open, and a bloodied rider staggered in. “Haradrim!” he gasped. “They’ve been sighted on the border!”

At the back of Éomer’s mind, he registered a sarcastic voice saying that ‘sighted’ was a rather weak verb to describe what had happened. He pushed that sarcastic voice to the back of his mind. He was the king of a nation at war. He could not be sarcastic, at least, not right now. “My helmet!” he barked, holding out his hand. A servant handed him the requested piece of headgear. The king and his advisers strode out into the cold sunlight of Edoras. His people turned to him, seeking protection, reassurance, everything that a king ought to offer.

Éomer stood proud and tall. The wind whipped his flaxen hair around his face. His eyes, piercing like an eagle’s, surveyed them. It was his duty to protect them. “How many?” he said in a low voice to the man at his shoulder, who happened to be Gamling.

“About ten thousand, mostly cavalry,” said Gamling. “The man didn’t count.”

“How many men do we have?" asked Éomer.

“In Edoras? Seven hundred at the most,” said Gamling. “It would take at least two days for reinforcements to arrive. From what the man said, the enemy will be here by tomorrow morning. They ride quickly. What will you do, Sire?”

“I will not run,” said Éomer firmly. “There is no time to go to Helms Deep. Help must come to us.” He turned to the captain of his Royal Guard. “Do you trust me?”

“Of course, my lord,” said the man, rather taken aback by that question. “I would go with you to the very end.”

“Then do as you say and trust me, Gamling,” said the king. He looked up. Just outside Edoras was a high peak. At the very top, was hope.

“Light the beacons!” said Éomer.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Faramir was getting very bored, and rather impatient too. Usually, he wasn’t like that, but they were at war, and as Steward, he felt he ought to be doing something useful instead of lying on a couch and submitting himself to Éowyn’s pampering. Not that it wasn’t nice, but he simply wasn’t in the mood.

“Honestly, Éowyn, I can do paperwork. That is definitely not going to affect my recovery,” he protested.

“Well, I don’t want you to overwork yourself,” said his wife sternly, moving aside a pile of paper and setting down a bowl of soup on his low table. “As far as I know, there are no immediate concerns. Anna-Maria and Hector Barbossa have just won another battle, with help from a sea-goddess. I should think everything is fine.”

“Still, the king needs me,” argued Faramir. Éowyn took the opportunity to spoon pumpkin soup into his mouth. He tried to protest as elegantly as he could without spilling soup all over himself, and that made him rather incomprehensible. He swallowed the soup. “You didn’t make that, did you?” He said, trying to suppress a grin.

The Shieldmaiden of Rohan set down the bowl and spoon and crossed her arms, pretending to look annoyed, but she couldn’t find it in her. Faramir was so endearing when he grinned like this. “Seriously, Faramir, what makes you think that I, your beautiful and talented wife, did not make this soup?”

“It’s just a guess,” Faramir, said, extending a hand to draw her closer to him. “But I am right, aren’t I?”

Éowyn bent down and kissed him on the lips. “For once,” she said playfully.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Guy caught sight of Edoras, the first ‘civilized’ place he’d visited in Middle Earth. It hadn’t changed much. The barricades were still wooden, and the hall of Meduseld still looked like a glorified barn to him. The only difference was that unlike last time, the entire city was armed and ready to fight the invaders. ‘Pathetic,’ he thought. Who could withstand the might of the Haradrim cavalry? Sneering, he led his forces closer, until they were almost within firing range.

However, the Rohirrim, being on high ground, had a larger firing range, and they took advantage of it. Arrows rained down on the Haradrim. They raised their shields to shelter themselves, but some of the arrows found their marks, embedding themselves in the flesh of men and horses.

“Do not panic!” shouted Guy, even though he was panicking himself. What was he to do? Edoras was out of their firing range, and he had no desire to brave the arrows and get shot in order to get the city within range of their archers. “Pull back! We make camp around the city. Let’s see how long it takes for them to starve!”

In his panicking state, Guy failed to notice that the beacons were burning merrily; a trail of lights in the dark night.


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In Minas Tirith, a call was raised. Soon, the message spread everywhere. “The beacons have been lit,” Achilles reported to Aragorn, not really understanding the significance of it.

“Rohan calls for aid,” said the king. “Narbazanes must have somehow sent a force around us to attack them. If Rohan falls, then Gondor will be surrounded by the Haradrim. Send word down to the commanders, Achilles. I will ride for Rohan in two days’ time. Faramir, Imad and Paris will remain behind to guard the White City. The rest of us will go to aid our allies.”

“As you wish, milord,” said Achilles with a bow. Inside, he was filled with excitement. He would be fighting, actually fighting, the enemy, at last. For the past few months, he’d been feeling misplaced. There had been no task for him in Middle Earth, until now. Briseis probably wouldn’t be too happy about him leaving her, but she was strong, and he was certain that she would be fine. Who would be able to breach these high strong walls of white stone?

Aragorn, although he had been named Hope, was not as optimistic. In truth, he was reluctant to leave Arwen, especially now that she was carrying his child. His thoughts conflicted with each other. The king in him knew that it was his duty to lead his armies against the enemy, but the husband wanted to remain with his pregnant wife. But his sense of duty was greater than any familial ties. He had to ride to Rohan. King Théoden had died to save Minas Tirith from destruction. What kind of ally would he be if he didn’t repay that debt in full?

He turned to the window and looked eastwards, across the fields of Pelennor and to Mordor. Who would’ve thought that after the destruction of the One Ring, trouble would still come from the East? Would it ever stop? The king smiled wryly. No, it probably never would. There was always some evil lingering in the world, just as there was darkness inside every man. No one could’ve predicted that Balian, Defender of the Weak, would have become a weapon of the enemy. And yet he had.

The king glanced back to his desk, where the sword of Ibelin still lay, its brilliance unblemished by the fall of its owner. He would give the sword to Barisian. The boy needed something to remember his father by. Aragorn was sure that Balian would’ve wanted his only child to have it.

Sighing, he went to find Arwen. She needed to be told of his impending campaign.


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Safar let the messenger into the throne room without questioning him. Narbazanes had said that he wanted his news as soon as possible. It would not do to delay the Master’s business. The death of Atarxerxes had boosted the morale of the troops, and frightened any internal opposition into silence.

“Sire,” panted the messenger. Narbazanes looked up lazily. He held a goblet of wine loosely in his hand, while Sarvenaz kneaded the muscles in his neck and shoulders. The Lord Commander was standing impassively to one side, as he tended to do. “Elessar has moved out towards Rohan. Most of the army has gone with him. Minas Tirith is half-empty.”

Narbazanes quickly lost his bored expression. He pushed Sarvenaz away. Finally, he could attack the core of Gondor, and do what Sauron had not been able to do. He would end the line of Isildur. “Lord Commander,” he said, without looking at Balian. The man stepped in front of him and bowed.

“My lord,” said Balian. His eyes betrayed no emotion. Inside, he was desperate not to obey the Magelord, but what could he do? His body didn’t even belong to him anymore.

“You will lead your elite force inside Minas Tirith. I trust you know where there are side doors and secret passageways,” said the king of Harad. “We will distract them by bombarding their main gates and pretending as though we intend to breach their walls by force. I want you to kill the queen. Nothing else matters. Kill the elf-witch.” In the meantime, he would send another force into Rohan. Elessar would die. He, Narbazanes of Harad, would make sure of it.

“As you command, milord,” said Balian.


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  #46  
Old August 29th, 2009, 10:03 PM
Guin Sparrow Guin Sparrow is offline
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YAY! A new chapter!

When are you going to quite tormenting Lord Balian?

I thought the cutest thing was little Barisian wanting his parents!

Well done!
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Old September 1st, 2009, 03:06 AM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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I'm probably never going to quit tormenting Balian.

And the poor little tyke needs someone to cling to. I should probably give him back his father...

Thanks, Guin.
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