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Old January 17th, 2008, 10:56 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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I thought that the battle scene was wonderful. Great how you wove what you knew in with your own images of Balian. Childminder of Rohan does make me laugh by the way...

I know that you need him. That doesn't mean that I have to like it though!!
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  #52  
Old January 17th, 2008, 10:06 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Chance Encounter


Disclaimer: I wish I owned Balian and the rest of them, but I don’t. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them.

Chapter 26: A Score to Settle

Balian watched as Legolas and Gimli debated about the number of orcs that they had killed. They couldn’t seem to decide whether it was a draw or whether Legolas had lost. The man glanced down at the children who seemed to have attached themselves to him. Éothain’s face was grave (‘Probably thinking about the battle and his dead companions,’ thought Balian) but he brightened up when he saw the mischievous grin on the blacksmith’s face.

“What is it, Sir Balian?” he asked eagerly. Surely the man had come up with something brilliant.

“My friends seem to be having some trouble over there,” replied Balian, indicating the elf and dwarf who were arguing whether Legolas’ shooting of a twitching orc constituted as a kill. “Shall we help them out?”

“Umm…” said Éothain. The argument was slightly too heated for his liking and he was afraid of the elf and the dwarf. “Are you sure that it’s a good idea?”

“Absolutely,” said Balian. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

The boy glanced up at him worriedly. Clearly the blacksmith was too tired. He was not thinking clearly. Before Éothain could answer though, a shout caught Balian’s attention. Éowyn was running towards them, jumping over orc corpses with her skirts in her hand. Aragorn and Éomer were following behind. She flung himself at Balian and hugged him hard. “Thank goodness you’re alive!” she cried. Her embrace aggravated his ribs. He gasped and immediately she released him.

“You’re hurt,” she said, looking him up and down and seeing his thigh where an arrow had grazed him.

“It’s nothing,” he said.

“That’s what all men say,” she said “even when it is something.” She took his arm. “Come. You’re going to the infirmary.”

“What are you doing with the poor man, ‘Wyn?” said Éomer, coming up to them.

“He’s hurt,” said Éowyn. She glared at him murderously as if it was entirely his fault that she had to convince the stubborn blacksmith to go to the infirmary.

Éomer put up his hands in defence and took a step backwards as his sister advanced on him menacingly. “I didn’t know he was on our side, I swear,” said Éomer. “I’ve already apologized and he’s accepted my apology. Why don’t you ask him before you kill me?”

“That’s right,” said Balian hurriedly. If looks could kill then Éomer would have been reduced to ashes long ago. “We’re friends, Éowyn.”

“Couldn’t you have questioned him before you started torturing him?” she said testily to her brother, pointedly ignoring the man who was the subject of their conversation. Aragorn decided to intervene before Éowyn lost her temper completely.

“It was all a terrible misunderstanding, milady,” he said “and it has been forgiven.” He turned to Balian. “Now you are going to go to the infirmary without a word.”

“But Aragorn, I’m…”

“Balian. Infirmary. Now.”

“Tend to the others first,” insisted Balian. “I can wait. It’s nothing; truly it is…” His friend glared at him. “Fine; I’ll go to the infirmary but you look worse so you’ll have to come too.”

“Balian,” said Aragorn impatiently. “I am a healer and I think I know whether or not I need tending to.”

“Actually,” said Gandalf, coming up from behind them. “I think you should both go to the infirmary. Éomer and Éowyn will take you there, won’t they?” He looked at the siblings meaningfully.

“Of course,” said Éomer, bodily steering Balian towards the infirmary before he could protest. Aragorn followed sulkily, led by Éowyn. Balian’s young charges trailed them.

The blacksmith turned back to glance at Gandalf who was chuckling and shaking his head. “Gandalf,” he said. “You might want to keep an eye on Legolas and Gimli. They’re having an argument and I think they need help to reach a conclusion.”

“Fine,” said Gandalf. “I’ll take them to the infirmary and you can be the judge.”

Moments later, Balian found himself seated on a pallet and struggling to take off his chainmail. His sides had gone stiff and he found it extremely difficult to lift his arms. Guy sauntered in, looking smug.

“Having trouble, blacksmith?” he gloated.

“Go to hell, Lusignan,” growled Balian. He was too tired to think of a clever comeback.

“You wound me,” declared Guy in a dramatic mocking manner. “But I see you are wounded worse.”

“At least he has something to prove that he fought bravely and did not cower in the background like a beaten dog,” said Éowyn coldly, coming over with a pile of bandages.

“Now listen here, wench…” Guy began. His voice failed him as he caught sight of Éomer’s blazing eyes.

“Leave us,” said Éowyn. Guy hesitated.

“You heard my sister,” said Éomer. “Scram.”

Guy fled, and Balian gave a relieved smile.

“How can you put up with him?” said Éomer. “I’ve met him twice, briefly, and I already want to strangle him.

“Guy has that affect on people,” said Balian as Éowyn divested him of his armour. “I think his sole purpose in life is to test my patience.” His undershirt’s front was dotted with blood. She removed that too. A large purple bruise bloomed on his chest and his skin was scored by the rings of his mail shirt, even through cloth. He winced as Aragorn came over to probe at his ribs.

“You call that nothing?” said Éowyn flatly.

“I’m still alive, milady,” said Balian. “That has to count for something.”

“Men!” said Éowyn in exasperation, shaking her head.

Balian’s charges peered at him from behind the adults. No one had noticed them, until now.

“Does it hurt very much?” asked Freda as Aragorn started to bind Balian’s ribcage. The blacksmith was saved from lying when the ranger pulled on the bandage to tighten it, making him grunt in pain.

“Of course it hurts, silly,” said Éothain.

“Why don’t you go outside for a while?” suggested Balian, changing the subject. “Children shouldn’t really be here.”

Éothain nodded and herded the others outside, just a certain elf and a certain dwarf came in, still arguing.

“I tell you, Gimli,” Legolas was saying. “It was a kill. That orc was twitching.”

“How many times do I have to say it before it gets through your thick skull elf?” said Gimli. “It was twitching because it had my axe embedded in its nervous system! Anyway, it was still twitching after you shot it.”

“It was still moving, even after you brought it down,” said Legolas. “Therefore you did not manage to kill it. Your count is now lowered to forty-two. It’s a draw.”

“A draw? Clearly, I won!”

“My dear dwarf, I am being courteous when I say it is a draw. In actual fact, I won.”

“Do explain,” said Balian, interrupting their conversation despite the fact that Aragorn was mouthing the word ‘no’ at him. “How can you have won when you two cannot even decide how many orcs you both killed?”

Legolas sighed. “I shouldn’t have to explain it to you of all people, Balian,” said the elf. “Do you remember that ladder? At least twenty orcs would have been crushed because of that one shot and I haven’t included them. If Gimli won’t play nicely then I will have to add them to my score. That makes sixty three, or sixty two at the very least, outscoring the dwarf by far.”

Gimli gaped at the elf, not sure of what to say. Legolas grinned smugly. “Therefore, according to these numbers,” he continued “I declare myself the winner.” The elf turned to the dwarf. “My friend, I believe you owe me something?”

Gimli son of Gloín dearly wanted to say that the elf believed wrongly, but that would be a dent in his honour. He couldn’t compromise his reputation, although his reputation as a fearsome dwarf warrior was about to be ruined anyway.

“Fine,” he growled. “I’ll pretend to be a donkey for two hours. Satisfied?”

“You’ll what, Master Dwarf?” said Éomer with his eyes wide. He looked from Gimli to Legolas then back to Gimli again.

“The deal was three hours,” said Legolas cheerfully “but I am a merciful elf and I accept your offer.”

“When do the two hours begin?” asked Éowyn. She wanted to be as far away as possible when they began. Watching an elf being killed by an angry dwarf who was pretending to be a donkey was not a pleasant thing.

“They start now,” said Legolas.

“Come on, Sister,” said Éomer. “I am sure the King will want to see us.” He turned to the others. “We take our leave.”

“I need to look after the little ones,” said Balian, snatching up his clothing and hastening for the door. He would have to wait until Legolas stopped being so evil before he could get back at the elf for calling him the ‘childminder of Rohan’.

“I think I’ll stay and make sure nothing happens,” said Aragorn. He wanted to try and dissuade Legolas from humiliating the proud dwarf.

‘Brave man to try to get between the elf and his wishes,’ thought Balian as he sped through the door, bumping into Gandalf.

“Ho, young man,” said the wizard. “What’s the hurry? You look as if you have a balrog on your tail. Tell me, have you helped them to reach a conclusion yet?”

“Err, it seemed that Legolas did not need my help after all,” said Balian. “Please try and stop what’s about to happen.”

Gandalf frowned in confusion, just as what sounded like an angry ‘hee-haw’ reached their ears. The wizard rushed in, no doubt to stop the madness. Balian lingered just outside the door, wanting to see what was going on yet afraid to go in. Gimli no doubt would be incensed, especially since all of his friends, save one, had deserted him in his time of need. (At the moment, the dwarf probably did not number Legolas among his friends.) Curiosity got the better of him and Balian peered in around the door.

“…don’t be absurd, Legolas,” Gandalf was saying. “It is totally inappropriate that Gimli has to pretend to be a beast of burden at all, let alone for such a long time. I am sure that Gimli would not do this to you if it was you who lost.”

“Oh yes I would,” muttered the dwarf under his breath. Gandalf glared at him and he shut his mouth.

“A promise is a promise,” said Legolas firmly.

“You are being immature. How old are you, Master Greenleaf?”

“Two thousand nine hundred and thirty one years old; a mere adolescent by my people’s standards. I can afford to be immature.”

“Not with this sort of thing you can’t,” said Aragorn. “Even Pippin wouldn’t do this.”

Legolas crossed his arms. He was not giving up. Gandalf knew the expression on the young elf’s face. He had often seen King Thranduil wearing it. The wizard decided to change tactics. “Well, since you are merely an adolescent and still prone to childish pranks, I must leave you behind when we go to Isengard,” he said. “We cannot afford to have a child hold us back.”

Legolas glared. “Fine,” he said. “The deal is off.” Then he grinned. “The dwarf didn’t make a very good donkey anyway.”

“Why you…!” shouted Gimli, lunging at the elf. Laughing, Legolas leapt out of the way and ran out of the room, chased by a furious dwarf.

***

They left for Isengard after they had returned to Edoras to rest and dine. Gandalf rode at the front with Théoden. Aragorn rode beside Legolas and Gimli. Balian brought up the rear with Éomer. The ride was long and much destruction met their eyes as they passed through Rohan. Houses and farms had been razed to the ground, with nothing but burnt rubble and stubble to indicate that there had been anything in the first place. Rotting, half-eaten livestock littered the ground and gave off the foul odour of death. Rohan had truly been brought to its knees by this Saruman’s hordes. Why any conqueror wanted to cause so much destruction was beyond Balian’s understanding. Did Saruman want to be the lord of nothing?

Éomer’s face was dark with anger as he surveyed the ruins of the villages. He desperately wanted to have his hands around Saruman’s neck, and Grima Wormtongue’s as well. They would pay for what they had done. He would see to it.

In the distance, a tall tower rose from the horizon like a proud spear jutting up at the heavens in defiance. It looked the way Balian expected the Tower of Babel to look like. The city of Jerusalem was a mere village compared to this. Seeing it made him feel small and insignificant in this world of colossal feats of construction and great men. Here he was, riding with kings, wizards and immortal beings as if he was an equal. He suddenly realized how out of place he was in this world and he longed for the comfortable familiarity of his forge back in France. That was where he truly belonged. He was a blacksmith, a craftsman. He was born to build, not to destroy.

They travelled to the tower through Fangorn forest to avoid the boggy ground south of Isengard. It seemed as if there had been a flood recently. With Gandalf, the forest appeared to lose some of its malevolence. The blacksmith regarded the trees warily, remembering what had happened to the orcs outside Helms Deep. He had no desire to be crushed by a tree. Guy was not part of their company and Balian was very glad to be free of him. The man had been complaining throughout the journey back to Edoras. If his arms weren’t cramped from shooting so many arrows, then he would have some other ailment to whine about. He was now ‘resting’ in Edoras under the watchful eye of Éowyn. Everyone doubted that the Shieldmaiden would let him lie around and do nothing.

As they near the tower, land gave way to water and the horses had to trudge through it to reach the tower. On the wall around the tower were two small figures making enough noise for a contingent of men. When they saw the King and his company, they stood up and raised their mugs of God-knew-what in a toast.

“Welcome, milords, to Isengard!” cried Merry with a flourish, brandishing a piece of meat. Pippin’s mouth was too full to say anything.

“You young rascals!” shouted Gimli in joy. “A merry hunt you’ve led us on and now we find you here feasting and… and smoking!”

Pippin had swallowed sufficiently to retort. “We are sitting on a field of victory enjoying a few well-earned comforts,” he said, blowing out a smoke ring. The dwarf looked appalled. “The salted pork is particularly good.”

“Salted pork?” said Gimli hopefully, forgetting all his grievances against the hobbits.

Gandalf shook his head. “Hobbits,” he said.

“Is there any left for us?” said Balian.

“We hobbits are always hospitable towards our friends,” said Merry.

“Come down here,” said Aragorn. “I’m getting a crick in my neck from looking up at you.”

The hobbits scrambled down and waded their way towards the riders. Merry and Pippin climbed up into the saddle before Aragorn and Balian respectively. The youngest hobbit was still holding a tankard.

“You seem taller,” said Balian. Pippin grinned. In front of Aragorn, Merry looked smug.

“You haven’t changed,” said Pippin.

Balian laughed. “I hope not. It hasn’t been that long since I last saw you.”

“Oh, enough has changed alright,” chuckled Legolas. “Did you know that Balian has taken up a new profession?”

“What new profession?” said Balian.

“Nanny,” said Legolas solemnly.

‘He is really going to regret this,’ thought Balian darkly as he rode up to the tower with a laughing hobbit in front of him. Before he could think of how he would get his revenge, movement caught his eye. It was a walking, talking tree. The blacksmith blinked a couple of times to make sure that he was not dreaming.

“Pinch me,” he whispered to Pippin.

“Why?” asked the hobbit.

“There is a walking, talking tree in front of me. I want to know whether I’m dreaming or not.”

“You’re not dreaming, Balian. That’s Treebeard. He’s an ent; a tree-herder. He takes care of the forest, like the way a shepherd takes care of sheep. He’s not actually a tree himself.”

‘God,’ thought Balian. ‘What next? Walking, talking rocks?’ Before he could ask any more questions, a silence fell upon the group and Balian followed their gazes towards the top of the tower. A lone sinister silhouette stood there, looking down on them.

“You have fought many wars and slain many men, Théoden King,” said a beguiling voice. “Can we not take counsel together, as we once did, my old friend? Can we not have peace, you and I?”

Balian did not even have to guess who it was who had spoken.

All eyes turned to the King.

“We shall have peace,” said Théoden. Everyone looked at him as if he had gone mad. Balian suspected that he had. Why would he want peace with the person who had wanted to raze his country to the ground.

“We shall have peace,” said Théoden more vehemently “when you answer for the burning of the Westfold, and the children that lie dead there! We shall have peace when the lives of the soldiers whose bodies were hewn even as they lay dead are avenged! When you hang from a gibbet, for the sport of your own crows, we shall have peace.”

They collectively released a sigh of relief. For a moment, they thought the King had fallen under Saruman’s spell yet again.

“Gibbets and crows?” spat Saruman. “Dotard!” He schooled his voice and made it calm again, but this time, it carried an underlying haughty tone which surpassed even Guy’s arrogance.

“What do you want, Gandalf the Grey?” he sneered. “Let me guess; the key to Orthanc and the key to Barad-dûr itself, along with the crowns of the seven kings and the rods of the five wizards!”

“Your treachery has already cost many lives,” said Gandalf civilly. “Thousands more are now at risk. But you could save them Saruman. You were deep in the enemy’s counsel.”

“So you have come here for information,” said Saruman. His face was too far away to see but Balian could hear the cold smile in his voice. “I have some for you.” From within his sleeve he pulled out a globular object and held it out before his face. “Something festers in the heart of Middle Earth. Something that you have failed to see. But the Great Eye has seen it! Even now he presses his advantage. His attack will come soon. You are all going to die!”

***

A/N: I know I have taken some liberties with the characters’ personalities in this chapter, especially with Legolas and Gimli. It’s all for the sake of comedy. They always struck me as the most immature members of the Fellowship after Merry and Pippin.

Thanks, Kiwi. Balian still has to find a way to get back at Legolas for calling him Childminder of Rohan. He thinks it undermines his masculinity. Boys
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  #53  
Old January 18th, 2008, 09:05 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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I do enjoy the words exchanged between Legolas and Balian, I can just imagine the expression on Legolas' face when he teases him like that.

Eomer and Eowyn were great as well and it was really good to see Gimli and Legolas have more intereaction there.
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Old January 19th, 2008, 10:58 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Disclaimer: I don’t Balian, the Fellowship, or anything that you recognize. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 27: Voices and Headaches

Saruman’s voice was so intoxicating and his words were so convincing that Balian almost found himself believing the fallen wizard. He shook his head to clear his thoughts. ‘He has the voice of Satan,’ he told himself. ‘He knows how to manipulate the truth.’

“…Save your pity and your mercy!” the wizard was saying. “I have no use for it!” A ball of fire shot down from his staff to envelope Gandalf. They all shielded their faces from the blaze but as the flames died down, they could see that Gandalf was unharmed.

“Saruman,” said Gandalf. “Your staff is broken.” The other wizard’s staff began to vibrate then it shattered with a blast of light. Saruman looked at the splinters of wood that he grasped, seemingly too shocked to speak. A stooped figure crept up behind him and Balian recognized him as Théoden’s former adviser, Grima Wormtongue.

“Grima,” called Théoden. “You need not follow him. You were once a man of Rohan.” It seemed that the King had forgiven Wormtongue for what he had done. Balian looked at the King with new respect. Only a great man could forgive so easily.

“A man of Rohan?” sneered Saruman, who had recovered from his initial shock. “What is the House of Rohan but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek and their brats roll on the floor with the dogs? The victory at Helms Deep does not belong to you, Théoden King! You are a lesser son of greater sires.”

Balian could see Éomer bristling in anger but Théoden ignored the insult and focused on Grima. “Come down, Grima,” he said. “Be free of him.”

“Free?” said Saruman. “He will never be free!
“No,” said Grima.

“Get. Down. Cur!” snarled the wizard, striking the man across the face.

“Saruman,” said Gandalf. He had no interest in wayward advisers at the moment. He needed Saruman to stay on topic. “You were deep in the Enemy’s counsel. Tell us what you know.”

“You withdraw you guard and I shall tell you where your doom is to be decided,” said Saruman, laying down his conditions. “I will not be held prisoner here!” He got his wish, for at that moment, just as he finished the last word, Grima Wormtongue stabbed him in the back multiple times. The wizard gasped in shock as the blade entered his flesh. Legolas put an arrow to the string and released it, piercing Wormtongue’s heart. The man fell back with a cry and died.

Saruman’s lifeless body tumbled down from the top of the tower and was impaled by a spike on one of his own water wheels. The wheel turned, pulling the wizard’s corpse beneath the water’s surface. A round object fell from the corpse’s sleeve, unnoticed by all except Pippin.

“Send word to all our allies,” said Gandalf. “Sauron will attack soon. We need to know where he will strike.” Théoden nodded, looking worried.

“The filth of Saruman is washing away,” said the tree...

‘Ent,’ Balian corrected himself. ‘And its…his name is Treebeard.’

“Trees will come back to live here,” continued Treebeard. “Young trees. Wild trees.”

Pippin slid off from in front of Balian and waded through the water. “Pippin?” said Balian. What was the hobbit doing? Pippin ignored him and bent down to retrieve something from the water. It was a crystal sphere, the size of a small melon. Something flickered within its centre and it beckoned to the hobbit, tempting him to look into it.

Pippin turned it over in his hands, seemingly intoxicated by it. He was so absorbed that he did not notice Gandalf riding up behind him until the wizard spoke. “I’ll take that, Peregrin my lad,” said Gandalf, holding out a cloth-covered hand. Pippin looked up at the wizard and hesitated.

“Quickly now,” said Gandalf. Reluctantly, Pippin handed it over to the wizard who immediately wrapped it up in the cloth and stowed it away in the folds of his robes.

Balian wondered what was so significant about that crystal ball. It disturbed him somehow, although it was an inanimate object. They rode back to Edoras in silence, each preoccupied with deciphering the meaning of Saruman’s words.

Éowyn was waiting for them on the steps of Meduseld, looking as she did when the Fellowship first saw her. The green and gold banners of Rohan waved proudly in the breeze, telling all who saw them of the victory at Helms Deep. Inside, people scurried about like bees in a hive, preparing for a banquet. Tables were being set up and tapestries put back on the walls. Guy had been given a broom and was sweeping the floor with a scowl on his face. In actual fact he was pushing the dust around and sending it flying everywhere until Balian could bear it no longer, snatched the broom from his grasp and began to do the chore himself, with much more efficiency.

Happy, laughing children got underfoot and more than once, their leather ball tripped someone up and sent them falling flat onto their faces. No one minded much, although Balian did pretend to sweep them all outside with his broom, making them giggle even more. “Away with you,” he said in mock anger. “You are a danger to people who are trying to do honest work!” They danced out of the reach of his broom and pulled faces.

Inside the kitchens, Merry and Pippin were giving instructions on how best to cook the meat and other foodstuffs. “Mushrooms should be stewed in wine then smothered in cheese,” said Merry.

“No they shouldn’t,” said Pippin.

“Well how would you do it then, oh great chef of the Shire?” said Merry. “Give us your expert opinion.”

“Mushrooms,” said Pippin with the air of a professional “should be stuffed, battered and fried in butter until the batter is crisp and the mushrooms and stuffing are cooked.”

“How about mushroom salad?” suggested Legolas who had come in to fetch a drink. The hobbits eyed him as if he had suggested that they jump over the moon.

“That would just be a waste of perfectly good mushrooms,” they both said vehemently.

***

That night, all the Rohirrim warriors and Éowyn gathered in the Great Hall. The atmosphere was solemn as they thought of the ones who should have been here with them, celebrating the victory. “Tonight,” said Théoden, rising to his feet as Éowyn handed him a golden goblet of wine. Everyone rose as the King did. “We gather to remember those who gave their lives to defend this country,” continued the King. “All hail the victorious dead.”

“Hail!” they all echoed and drank from their frothy tankards of ale. It tasted bitter to Balian, like the sentiments that they were all surely feeling. So many lives, lost. Of his group of men, only ten survived. Many of the boys were hewn down by the orcs’ merciless swords. He remembered their young faces, so full of hope when he knighted them. They had trusted him to lead them through it safely, and he had failed.

“It’s hard, isn’t it?” said Éomer, coming up behind him with a tankard of his own in his hand. “I’ve lost many men, and I’m still not used to it.”

“I suppose it means we’re still human,” said Balian softly. “The day we get used to it is the day we cease to be men and become monsters.”

“Let’s hope that day never comes,” said Éomer, raising his tankard in a toast.

“God willing, it won’t,” said Balian. He too raised his tankard to his lips but stopped when his companion gave him a strange look.

“Who is this ‘God’ you’re talking about?” the Rohirrim man asked.

Balian felt totally perplexed. How could he explain it? He was no priest. Indeed, he was not even a particularly religious man. “Err…” he said. “God…is the entity that created everything…He is almighty and compassionate and well, he takes care of everything and judges men’s souls when they die.”

“So he’s like the One,” said Éomer.

“I guess,” said Balian who knew nothing about religions in Middle Earth. He made a note to ask someone about it later.

“Ah, what are we doing, talking about such serious things tonight?” said Éomer. “Come, you should join in the fun.” He dragged the blacksmith in the direction where Legolas and Gimli seemed to be intent on embarrassing one another.

“Well, they certainly look as if they need some help,” said Éomer. “What say we engage them in a drinking contest?”

“A drinking contest?” said Balian.

“I’ll explain later.”

***

Balian, Gimli and Legolas each held a tankard. A crowd had gathered around them, cheering them on. Gimli had a look of glee on his face while both Balian and Legolas looked dubiously into their tankards.

“No pauses, no spills,” said Éomer.

“And no regurgitation,” added the dwarf.

“So…it’s a drinking game?” said Legolas

“What exactly is the point of it?” said Balian.

“Last one standing wins!” cried Gimli, raising his drink to his lips and gulping it down.

Balian followed suit, although he did it with a grimace. Ale was definitely not to his taste. Legolas gave his ale a few uncertain sniffs then took a sip. With one swift movement, he poured it down his throat. As soon as they finished one, they were handed another. Soon, Balian lost count on how many he had drunk and focused on just getting it down. Why he even agreed, he had no idea. His world started spinning and his tongue became too fat and cumbersome to use properly. From across the hall, Éowyn glared at her brother who just shrugged as he handed another tankard to the less-than-sober blacksmith. She stormed over. “Is this how you treat your friends?” she said.

“He agreed,” said Éomer. “I didn’t threaten him.”

‘Men can be so frustratingly stupid,’ thought Éowyn, relieving Balian of his tankard. The blacksmith would have crumpled into a drunken heap by now if he was not sitting in a chair and leaning against the table. The Shieldmaiden of Rohan sighed and went away to find someone to brew willowbark tea for when the drunks woke up. Somehow, the tea that she brewed always augmented their headaches, or so they claimed.

***

Pippin couldn’t sleep. Something lurked at the back of his mind, causing him to feel restless. He gave up and got up. Everyone was asleep and immersed in drink-induced dreams. He headed towards the bed where Gandalf was lying. He wanted to see what was inside that crystal ball. Slowly, he crept amongst the bedrolls upon which lay sleepers of varying sizes. Gimli’s snores shook the foundations of the building while Balian was curled up on his side, clutching a blanket to his chin, blissfully unaware of what was going on. Aragorn and Legolas were nowhere to be seen. Pippin assumed that they were housed elsewhere.

Gandalf’s open eyes nearly made Pippin jump back but the wizard did not seem to have seen him. He waved his hand before the wizard’s face. Said wizard mumbled something inaudible. Yes, Gandalf was asleep. It was uncanny how some things such as elves and wizards could sleep with their eyes open. One could never tell whether they were sleeping or not.

The hobbit grabbed the wrapped up crystal ball from Gandalf’s arms and replaced it with a jug of around the same size. The wizard did not notice the difference.

“What you doin’” said Merry sleepily. Pippin almost dropped his prize. He ran back to his bedroll, jumping over sleeping bodies. His bare feet made no noise on the cold flagstones.

“I just want to have a look at it,” he said, unwrapping the cloth from crystal ball.

“Put it back!” hissed Merry. The young Took did not listen to his cousin. The crystal ball lay exposed before him. Breathing quickly with apprehension, he placed his hand on its hard smooth surface.

Merry watched Pippin’s expression change from one of awe to horror to pain. His cousin seemed to be burning from within. Pippin fell to the floor, writhing in pain. His mouth was open in a silent scream of agony.

“Help!” cried Merry, waking everyone. “Gandalf!” Before the wizard could do anything however, Aragorn and Legolas burst into the room. The ranger did not think before he seized the thing from Pippin’s hands. Immediately, he fell to his knees and dropped it. It rolled across the floor, and men avoided it. The crystal ball stopped by the wall and Gandalf immediately threw the cloth over it.

“Fool of a Took!” he shouted for a second time. Pippin lay on his bedroll as if his life force had been sucked out of him. His face was the colour of curdled milk and he was sweating and shivering at the same time. The wizard rushed over to him, put a hand over his head and murmured a few words which Balian suspected were a healing charm of some sort.

“What did you see?” asked Gandalf.

“Gandalf,” wheezed Pippin. “Forgive me.”

“What did you see?” repeated the wizard, more strongly this time.

“A tree,” said the hobbit. “A white tree in a courtyard of stone. It was dead…”

“And?” Gandalf said encouragingly.

“The city was burning. I saw…I saw him! I heard his voice inside my head. He asked me my name. I didn’t answer. He hurt me…”

That was all Balian could bear to hear. He went out of the room and into the open, taking deep gulps of crisp cold air. His head felt as if there was a battle raging inside, complete with catapults, ballistae, siege towers and a battering ram. Pippin’s words made him feel ill. If this Sauron could hurt people from such a distance, what would happen if he succeeded and took over Middle Earth?

On the horizon, the fires of Mordor tinged the sky red, as if it was stained with blood. The blacksmith felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Éowyn. “I heard the commotion,” she said. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” said Balian. “It’s just a headache.”

“Your face looks like mellowing cheese in this light,” she said. “It must be some headache you’re having. Come, there’s a tea waiting for you in the kitchens. I knew this would happen.” Balian doubted she was talking about Pippin and the crystal ball.

“See to Pippin first,” he said. “I can wait.”

“Gandalf is looking after him,” she said. “I wouldn’t know what to do anyway.”

“What is that crystal ball?” he asked. “How can Sauron use it at such a distance?”

“I don’t know,” said Éowyn.

“It’s a palantir,” said Legolas, coming out. “It’s a seeing stone. There were seven of them originally but they were all thought to be lost. It seems that Sauron has found one of them and was using it to communicate with Saruman. I’d hate to think what could have happened if Pippin had maintained the link for just a moment longer.”

“Thanks to Aragorn’s quick reactions, we won’t have to find out,” said Balian. “How is he?”

“Pippin?”

“No, Aragorn.”

“Drained, but otherwise unharmed. He didn’t hold it for long enough.” The elf looked Balian up and down. “You look ill, Balian. Why don’t you go in with Éowyn to get some tea? Gandalf will tell us what we are to do in the morning. At the moment, all we can do is wait.”

***

Morning came soon enough. Pippin looked much better but still very pale. Balian’s headache had receded somewhat thanks to the willowbark tea which did not taste much worse than the ale and now there was only a dull throb behind his eyes.

“We were extremely fortunate,” Gandalf was saying. “Pippin saw in the palantir a glimpse of Sauron’s plans. He will strike at Minas Tirith.” He turned to his assembled audience which consisted of the King, Éomer and the other members of the Fellowship, not including Guy who was still sleeping off the effects of last night’s liquor.

“His defeat at Helm’s Deep showed our enemy one thing,” continued the wizard. “He knows the Heir of Elendil has come forth. Men are not as weak as he supposed. There is courage still. Strength enough, perhaps, to challenge him.” He turned to Aragorn and looked at him meaningfully. “Sauron fears this. He will not risk the peoples of Middle Earth uniting under one banner. He will raze Minas Tirith to the ground before he sees a King return to the throne of men. If the beacons of Gondor are lit Rohan must be ready for war.”

The King crossed his arms. “Tell me,” he said with ill-disguised impatience. “Why should we ride to the aid of those who did not come to ours? What do we owe Gondor?” Balian wondered at this. Just yesterday, he had been so ready to forgive Grima Wormtongue. Why was Théoden not ready to forgive Gondor? What grievances did he have against Boromir’s countrymen?

“I will go,” said Aragorn.

“No,” said Gandalf.

“They must be warned!” insisted the ranger.

“They will be,” Gandalf assured him. He leant towards Aragorn and spoke in a low voice into the man’s ear. “You must come to Minas Tirith by another road. Follow the river. Look to the black ships.” He turned back to all of them. “Understand this; things are now in motion that cannot be undone. I ride for Minas Tirith.” The wizard turned to Pippin and gave the hobbit a stern glare. “And I won’t be going alone.”

***

A/N: It just occurred to me that I’ve never seen Balian drunk or acting in a less than sensible way before so here goes: Intoxicated Knight. Hope you guys didn’t mind too much. Heh heh. Now we’re going onto the serious stuff again.

Balian's a great guy to tease, Kiwi, especially since he's not armed with witty retorts. He just goes
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Old January 20th, 2008, 10:25 AM
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I like how you wove him into that scene. Was enjoyable reading some lightness again amongst the struggle
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Old January 21st, 2008, 08:08 PM
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Disclaimer: I don’t own Balian, Legolas, Aragorn etc. etc. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 28: The White City

Gandalf’s white robes billowed out behind him as he made his way to the stables with Merry and Pippin in tow. The wizard was still berating the youngest hobbit for his dangerous curiosity. Pippin’s cousin was doing exactly the same thing. They found Balian in the stables, waiting for them.

“Gandalf,” began the blacksmith hesitantly. He felt a little uncomfortable saying this. “Are you sure it’s safe for you to travel alone to…to Gondor?”

“It will never be ‘safe’ as long as Barad-dûr still stands, young man,” said the wizard. “Whether I ride alone or with an escort will make no difference…” He trailed off, glancing at Balian, who looked embarrassed. He had heard that the man was a talented commander. Both Théoden and Aragorn had commended him. Gondor needed men like him. Théoden had Éomer and the King of Rohan himself was a competent leader both in war and during times of peace, not to mention Aragorn was going to be with them up until they reached Dunharrow. With Boromir dead and Faramir constantly in disfavour with the Steward, maybe it would be wise to take Balian along. The man might just prove to be useful.

“If you’re volunteering to come with me,” continued Gandalf “I shall certainly not object.”

Moments later, two horses raced through the gates of Edoras. Aragorn and Merry watched them go from the watchtower. “Who’s with them?” asked Gimli, coming up to join the two.

“Balian’s going to Minas Tirith with them,” said Aragorn. “Gandalf thought he’d be more useful there.”

“Hmph,” snorted the dwarf. “The lad told you, told Merry, but he forgot about Legolas and me.”

“Actually, that’s not true,” said Legolas. “He told me but he couldn’t find you in time, so he told me to tell you.”

“I’m glad he’s going,” said Aragorn. “Gondor will have need of his services before long. I just wish I could see his face when he finds out they have trebuchets.”

“That’s all very well,” said Gimli “but he left us alone with his friend.”

“What friend?” said Merry. Legolas and Aragorn just groaned as they heard an irritating and familiar drawl.

“Oh, Guy,” said Merry.

***

Balian had never seen forests quite like the forests in Middle Earth. They were all so different from each other. The one that they were riding through was decidedly better than Fangorn. At least the trees stayed still. The path was littered with dead leaves and at the base of trees, strange plants with leaves that resembled feathers grew. Gandalf had called them ‘ferns’. Balian glanced in Gandalf’s direction. Pippin was dozing in front of the wizard, looking very much like a small child with his grandfather. The small company stopped during nights for Balian’s benefit. Gandalf could go for days without sleep. The man was grateful for their consideration. No one else, save maybe Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, would have done it for him. Godfrey certainly would not.

Soon, the forest gave way to open plains and smooth round hills covered in yellowing grass. The horses’ hooves sent water flying up as they rode through a small stream flowing down from the gleaming snow-capped mountains. “We’ve just passed into the realm of Gondor!” said Gandalf. In front of them lay a white city. Mordor loomed in the horizon. The skies above it were dark with clouds and poisonous fumes, lit by occasional flashes of red light. They urged the horses on, knowing that the sooner they got to the city, the better.

***

Éomer inwardly cursed Balian for leaving Guy in Rohan. He had abandoned them, so the least he could do was take the arrogant bastard with him. Guy was all too keen in advising the Rohirrim in the arts of war during the war councils. He was patiently —or impatiently, in Éomer’s case— ignored. The Third Marshal could not stand the man who thought he was better than everyone else. Sometimes, the temptation to strangle him was almost too great. He found it impressive that his uncle could be so patient. ‘That’s why Théoden is a good king,’ he told himself with a wry smile. It was fortunate that Guy was wont to avoid Éomer after their first run in with each other.

Tension permeated the atmosphere in Edoras. Worried glances were cast in the direction of Mordor every few moments. The days were growing darker. The sun was often hidden behind dark clouds. The storm was brewing. Legolas looked towards the east and frowned. Gandalf and his little company had left for Gondor three days ago. They should be there by now. He didn’t know what was worse; facing the oncoming enemy hordes or waiting for news of them. Even after centuries of doing both, he still could not decide.

Aragorn spent every waking moment watching the beacon on the mountain top. The future king was worried about the welfare of his country. The elf could not blame him for being so anxious. He thought about his home often, wondering how his father and his brothers were coping. Greenwood was no longer safe. Sauron’s forces occupied much of it now and it was a daily struggle to prevent darkness from taking over the entire forest. With Aragorn so occupied, Legolas spent much time in the Hall of Meduseld, listening to the King discussing battle strategies with Éomer and other Rohirrim advisers. Guy was constantly present, trying to give his expert opinion. He was often silenced by the story of the one great battle that he fought and lost, made infamous through many renditions. Somehow, it didn’t deter him for long.

***

Up close, Minas Tirith was a wonder that Balian could hardly find words to describe. It seemed like a citadel which angels in Heaven would occupy. Before seeing it for himself, he had always envisioned it as a glorified Kerak Castle of white stone with a few towers like Orthanc. The first level alone was higher than the walls of Jerusalem. Like Helms Deep, Minas Tirith was built against steep cliffs and was semi-circular in shape. Balian did not understand why the people in Middle Earth did not understand the dangers of this style of fortress. It was too late now. The gargantuan gates with spectacular reliefs of things which Balian thought to be historical events opened with a creak. They rode through, and up the city, making people jump out of their way.

At the very top, in the courtyard where a dead tree with white bark stood, Gandalf dismounted and Balian followed the wizard’s example. He was too awed by the city’s immensity to speak. Everything seemed to be white, like the way Balian imagined Heaven to be, if not for the spectacular view of Mordor which the city offered.

“It’s the tree,” said Pippin in awe. “Gandalf! It’s the tree!”

“Yes,” said the wizard not bothering to turn around as he strode towards the entrance of the Citadel. Balian and Pippin followed him, the hobbit almost needing to run to catch up with the other two’s long strides. “The White Tree of Gondor, the Tree of the King. Lord Denethor, however, is not King. He is a Steward only, a caretaker of the throne.” Gandalf stopped just before the door and turned to Balian and Pippin.

“You must be very careful with what you say,” he told them. “Lord Denethor is Boromir’s father. To tell him of his beloved son’s death would be most unwise, and mention nothing of Frodo and the Ring either… and say nothing of Aragorn.” The wizard paused just as he was about to go in. “In fact, it would be better if you didn’t speak at all Peregrin Took. Balian, you know what to do.”

‘Do I?’ thought Balian, but he had no time to say anything before the doors —which were black, in contrast to the overwhelming white of the city— opened and they had to go in. The interior was made entirely of marble. Huge white columns supported the domed ceiling and translucent marble statues of the Kings of old lined the colonnade. At the far end was the throne of smooth black marble. It was empty. A man with a sceptre of white wood sat in a chair beside the throne. In his lap was a horn, cleaved into two.

Balian’s heart clenched as he recognized it. It had been Boromir’s.

“Hail, Denethor, Son of Ecthelion, Lord and Steward of Gondor,” said Gandalf. “I bring tidings at this dark hour, and counsel.”

“Perhaps you come to explain this?” said Denethor slowly in a rasping voice, holding up the two halves of the horn. “Perhaps you come to tell me why my son is dead?”

Balian’s mouth opened, but he was robbed of words. Grief welled up inside him as he recalled how Boromir had taken the arrow that had been meant for him. It was Pippin who spoke first, despite Gandalf’s advice.

“Boromir died to save us, my kinsmen and me,” he said, stepping forward and kneeling down on one knee. “He died defending us from many foes. I offer you my service, such as it is, in payment of this dept.”

The blacksmith finally found his voice. He also knelt. “Boromir’s death is not Pippin’s responsibility alone,” he said. “If not for me, he would have lived. I, too, offer you my service in payment of the dept that I owe him.”

Gandalf groaned silently as his two young companions went against all his advice. Clearly, he had overrated Balian’s common sense. He watched Denethor’s response closely, ready to act if the Steward showed any inclination to harm either one of them.

“Explain!” commanded the Steward. “How is it that you lived and my son died, as great a man as he was?”

Pippin and Balian glanced at each other. Then Pippin spoke. “The greatest man may be slain by one arrow,” he said quietly “and Boromir was pierced by many.”

Denethor seemed shocked to learn that his son had not died immediately. He turned cold hard eyes to Balian. “And you? What part did you play in his death?” he demanded.

“Boromir took an arrow that was meant for me,” said Balian. “It should’ve been me who died that day, not him.”

“Yes, indeed you are right about that much,” said the Steward. “It should’ve been you. But tell me, did he really take that arrow for you or did you push him into its path to save yourself?”

The wizard started at this question. He had expected Pippin to cause trouble, not Balian, and yet it seemed as if it would be the blacksmith who would need rescuing. “Lord Steward,” said Gandalf, stepping in front of Balian protectively “I assure you that Balian’s honour is not under question. He has proved himself to be loyal to our cause. There will be time to grieve for Boromir but it is not now. The enemy is on your doorstep! Where are Gondor’s armies? You are not alone. Gondor still has friends. Send word to Théoden of Rohan. Light the beacons.”

“Our cause?” said Denethor mockingly “or, rather, your cause? Do you really think the eyes of the White Tower are blind? I have seen more than you know. With your left hand you would use me as a shield against Mordor and with you right you would seek to supplant me. Oh yes, I know who rides with Théoden of Rohan. I have heard of this Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and I tell you now that no ranger from the north will ever rule this kingdom, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship.”

Balian knew he should not have been surprised at Aragorn’s identity —there had been some not-so-subtle hints— but it still did not stop him from feeling shocked to hear it being said outright.

“Authority is not given to you to deny the return of the King, Steward,” said Gandalf.

Denethor stood up, almost frothing at the mouth in his anger. “The rule of Gondor is mine, and no other’s!” he snarled.

Balian looked up in alarm. What was going to happen? Denethor was certainly not going to cooperate, and he controlled Gondor. Gandalf turned to him and Pippin. They were still kneeling on the floor. “Come,” he told them as he turned to walk out of the throne room, seething with unspent rage. They had no choice but to obey, leaving the Steward to his anguish. “All has turned to vain ambition,” said Gandalf as they went out. “He would even use his grief as a cloak.”

Outside, the sky seemed darker than when they went in. Gandalf glanced back at the citadel and sighed. “A thousand years this city has stood, and now at the whim of a madman, it will fall and the White Tree, the Tree of the King, will never flower again.”

“Why are they still guarding it then?” said Pippin.

“They guard it because they still have hope,” said Gandalf. “A faint and fading hope that one day the king will return.”

They walked to the end of the parapet which faced the east and looked across the plain to Mordor.

“Mordor…” breathed Pippin.

“Yes, there it lies,” said Gandalf wearily. “Ever has this city dwelt in its shadow.”

“Well…” said the hobbit, putting on a cheerful face. “Minas Tirith. Very impressive. So where are we off to next?”

Balian smiled at Pippin’s tactic. He doubted that it would work. As he had predicted, Gandalf looked at the hobbit incredulously. “Oh, it’s too late for that now, Peregrin Took. Help must come to us.”

The blacksmith prayed that it would come in time. Théoden had not seemed very enthusiastic about aiding Gondor. Now that he was here and could not leave, Balian decided to explore the legendary city. He told Gandalf so. “Care to come with me, Pippin?” he said. The hobbit should not dwell on such morbid things such as Mordor. They might as well make the best of their stay in Minas Tirith. It could very well be the last moments of their lives.

***

All around the city, people were preparing for war. Balian noted with delight the well-made trebuchets placed on the walls, although he would have preferred to have them behind the walls instead to give the war engines more protection. However, given the design of Minas Tirith, it was impossible to do so. Pippin was much more interested in the various food stalls on the streets, selling sweets, fruits and all sorts of little morsels. He spent much time examining them while Balian inspected the defences. It wasn’t until it was dusk that they realized they should be heading back to the citadel. They found uniforms laid out for them in the one chamber that they shared. They included chainmail and a black surcoat with a white tree for Pippin and a suit of rather cumbersome armour for Balian.

“How am I supposed to fight in this?” said Balian as he clanked around the room. He could hardly move. It was much heavier than the armour that he was used to.

“You’ll just have to get used to it,” said Gandalf unsympathetically in between inhaling smoke and coughing at their ridiculousness. After all, the young blacksmith had foolishly offered his services to the Steward.

“You look very handsome in it, Balian,” said Pippin sincerely. He was trying on his own armour and examining the miniature sword which came with it.

“Yes, too bad I can’t woo the orcs instead of fight them,” said Balian. It seemed that being with Legolas and Gimli had influenced him. Whether it was in a bad way or a good way, Gandalf could not decide.

“I suppose this is a ceremonial position,” said Pippin, looking at his reflection in the mirror. “I mean, they don’t expect me to do any fighting, do they?”

“You’re in the service of the Steward,” said Gandalf. “You’ll have to do as you’re told.” The wizard coughed some more, muttering to himself. “Ridiculous hobbit,” said the wizard to himself around the stem of his pipe. “Guard of the Citadel…”

Pippin poured the wizard a cup of water which Gandalf gratefully took.

“So what am I supposed to be?” said Balian. “I don’t think they want me to replace a statue, even though I feel like one at the moment.”

“You’re to join the garrison in Osgiliath,” said Gandalf. “Denethor himself commanded it. You’ll be serving under Captain Faramir.”

“Faramir? Isn’t that…?”

“Yes. You’ll be serving under Boromir’s brother in one of the most dangerous places in Middle Earth. Consider this the payment for your debt.”

***

A/N: Love it? Hate it? Hehe, Balian at Osgiliath…I know, it’s evil but Denethor isn’t feeling particularly benevolent towards him at the moment. I mean, he just admitted that he was the cause of Boromir’s death.

I'm glad you're enjoying the Balian-ness, Kiwi. It's one of the main things that drove me to write this story.
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Old January 22nd, 2008, 09:33 AM
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Very interesting that you are sending Balian to almost certain death....good that you left Guy behind too, Balian needed a break.
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Old January 24th, 2008, 10:18 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Disclaimer: No, I don’t own Balian, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, etc. (unfortunately) I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 29: The Board is Set

Aragorn paced restlessly on the steps of Meduseld. His pipe was in his mouth but it was unlit. He kept glancing at the beacon on the mountain, wishing he knew what was going on in the east. Gandalf had been gone for days. He should’ve arrived in Minas Tirith by now. Why was there still no news? He willed himself to calm down and to sit instead of pace. Gandalf was wise and powerful, and he had Balian with him. This combination should ensure that Gondor would be defended and that the Rohirrim were informed if there was any need. The ranger sighed. No matter how much he reassured himself, he still felt uneasy. The sky was clear and blue now, but who knew when the storm would come? For all he knew, it had already arrived at Gondor’s doorstep and was making its way west until all the lands from Mordor to the Grey Havens were under its shadow.

***

Balian was sworn into service the day after their arrival and sent to Osgiliath. He had seen the city from the balcony once, and had privately renamed it the Broken City. Even from the distance, it resembled an ancient Roman amphitheatre. The young man had more or less gotten his cumbersome armour under control, although it still worried him. He doubted he could survive an actual skirmish with it on. However, he had to admit that a whole army arrayed like this would look impressive. He had been sent to Osgiliath with nineteen other men. They were supposed to be reinforcements. The blacksmith wondered what actual difference twenty men could make. He didn’t like the prospect of defending Osgiliath and doubted that they could be successful in doing so.

According to rumours in Minas Tirith, the city’s gates had been demolished and the walls were nothing but ruins. No one lived there anymore. The fighting was too fierce. As they drew near the city, Balian felt dismay creeping up on him. The entire city had been all but destroyed by Mordor’s siege engines. There were gaping holes in the walls and rubble littered the ground. A sentry halted them, asking them what their business was. “We are reinforcements,” said Balian. “Lord Denethor sent us.” He produced a letter written by the Steward and addressed to Captain Faramir.

“Wait here,” said the sentry. He left, no doubt to find the captain. Moments later, he returned with a younger and slighter version of Boromir in tow.

“You are the reinforcements?” said the man who had to be Faramir. “There are only twenty of you.”

“This is as much as the lord Steward can spare at the moment,” said Balian. He dismounted, for it seemed impolite to speak to a man of higher rank from horseback.

Faramir nodded. His grey eyes were grave. “I understand,” he said, and then he observed Balian with barely hidden curiosity. “You are not from Gondor,” said Boromir’s brother.

“No, sir,” said Balian.

“And yet, despite your dark colouring, you cannot be haradrim, for your accent does not carry the harsh quality of their tongue.”

“I am not haradrim, sir.” Faramir did not possess the fire and hardness of his brother, although he was just as strong, if not stronger. Boromir was the great tree that towered above all other trees in the forest. That tree would be able to withstand the buffeting of the wind, but the strongest storm would be able to topple it. Faramir was like a blade of grass, indistinguishable from all the other blades of grass unless he was observed very carefully. He would bend at the slightest of breezes, but when the breeze was gone, he would straighten again. No gale would be able to break him.

“Tell me,” said Faramir, pulling him from his reverie. “What is your name?”

“Balian,” he replied.

Faramir’s brow creased. “Balian?” he said. “I have heard great stories about you.” It was Balian’s turn to be surprised.

“How do you know me, sir?” asked the blacksmith.

“Only from the words of certain travellers,” said the captain meaningfully.

“I don’t understand,” said Balian. “Who?”

“It is a matter of secrecy,” said Faramir. “I will speak with you later —in private.”

The other men looked at Balian strangely, some even with jealousy. Why would the captain take so much notice of a newcomer, even one who was a friend of the Grey Pilgrim? Their stares made Balian feel slightly nervous. He did not like having too many enemies. One Guy had already caused him enough trouble.

Faramir distributed duties among the men. Balian was posted on the eastern side and was supposed to be keeping watch for orcs coming from Mordor. The water in the river was murky and grey, as if something had befouled it further upstream. Balian was surprised to learn that this was the very same river that had borne the Fellowship south after they had left Lothlorien. ‘It looks so different,’ he thought to himself, then it occurred to him that the elven boat bearing Boromir’s body might have passed this way on its long and lonely journey to the sea. At the thought of his fallen friend, Balian’s resolve to protect Gondor hardened. He had failed Boromir once. He would not do so again. So deeply was he mired in his thoughts that he did not notice he was not alone until Faramir tapped him on the shoulder.

“Sir,” he said, startled. The man was as silent as an elf. As Balian turned, he armour clamoured. Faramir smiled.

“You don’t have to wear that if you don’t want to,” he said. “I believe that men fight best if they are not weighted down.”

“Then we are of the same opinion,” said Balian, gratefully removing the heavy outer-wear. His fingers fumbled with the leather straps which held the pieces of metal to his body. After what seemed like some embarrassingly long moments, he was finally free.

“You know, without that armour, you look almost like one of my rangers,” said Faramir.

“Your rangers, sir?” said Balian, reminding himself not to mention Aragorn until he was absolutely certain that the captain felt no hostility towards Gondor’s future king. Faramir’s father had not reacted too well to the name and although this did not seem to be a case of like-father-like-son, the blacksmith felt that it would be better to be careful, just in case.

“We’re not real rangers,” said Faramir. “Those men patrol the areas outside Gondor, although a few have served under my father and his ancestors. No, we just imitate a group to which the great Captain Thorongil belonged. He led many successful skirmishes against the forces of darkness. I only wish that I could have met him.”

“What was this Thorongil like?” said Balian, overcome by curiosity. He might be able to learn a thing or two about successful skirmishes.

“They say he was tall and noble, with eyes as grey as flint and as sharp. There are also stories which say he was strongly opposed to bathing while out in the wilds, saying that the smell of grime masked the scent of man, a most useful thing when hunting agents of the enemy. Even if he hadn’t disappeared, he would most probably be retired by now. It is a pity. Gondor has need of men like him at this dark hour.”

“He sounds like a great man. I wonder why no one’s ever mentioned him to me before.”

“You came with Mithrandir, didn’t you?”

“Mith— who?”

“Gandalf. Thorongil was a good friend of Gandalf’s I’m surprised he hasn’t been sharing stories. Usually, the Grey Pilgrim is fond of telling tales.”

“I don’t actually know him well enough for him to tell me stories.”

“No one knows him well enough.” Faramir turned his hazel gaze on the blacksmith. “Frodo knows you well, though,” said the captain. “And from what he told me, you knew my brother.”

Balian nodded. “We were friends,” he said. His voice was laced with sorrow as he remembered that fateful day. “And no man could’ve had a better friend than Boromir. But please, tell me of Frodo and Sam. Are they well?”

“I saw him off from this city, just yesterday,” said Faramir. “He seemed quite well, considering the distance he has travelled and the burden that he carries —yes, I know about it. Stop looking at me as if I just grew horns, Balian. I am worried though, for he and Sam travel in the company of a foul creature named Gollum.”

“Gollum?”

“Do you know anything about him?”

“Only that Legolas —an elven friend of mine— tried to kill him.”

“That’s strange. How could an elf fail to kill such a gangly thing? I have heard that Legolas of Mirkwood is the best archer in all of Middle Earth.”

“I stopped him from killing Gollum. We were in Moria and I was afraid that Gollum would scream as he died and wake some unknown terror in the deep.”

“That’s understandable. Was Boromir with you in Moria?”

“He was. He helped to stop Legolas from… hurting me.”

“I thought you said Legolas was your friend.”

“He is. It’s just that I stopped him from avenging his friends whose deaths had something to do with Gollum. He wasn’t feeling particularly friendly at that moment.

Faramir smiled. “Tell me the rest of the story,” he said. “I suspect it is highly entertaining.”

Balian obliged willingly, until he reached the breaking of the Fellowship. He hesitated.

“Go on,” urged Faramir.

“I’m not sure you’ll want to hear this, sir,” said Balian uncomfortably. Faramir looked at him closely, his keen eyes searching and searching.

“It’s to do with Boromir, isn’t it? Frodo hinted at that.” Balian nodded. “Please,” continued Faramir. There was a plaintive tone in his voice. “I need to know this. I hate not knowing what happened to Boromir.”

“You need to understand that the Ring is a powerful and malignant thing that infiltrates the minds of men, offering them that which they want most and driving them mad by tempting them to take it. Its voice is seductive like a lover’s. Although a great man, Boromir was still a man. The Ring was able to put thoughts into his head and control him. It made him try to take the Ring from Frodo. I intervened and we fought. I was wounded, just on the arm. I think the sight of blood brought him back to his senses, for he ceased the attack and begged for my forgiveness, which I gladly gave. And then, during a skirmish with Saruman’s Uruk Hai, he took an arrow that was meant for me…” Balian paused, finding it difficult to go on. Faramir gripped his shoulder comfortingly.

“It’s alright,” said the dead man’s brother. “That is exactly like Boromir. He would have done it for anyone. You are not to be faulted for his death.”

“Sir, I…”

“Please, call me Faramir. You were my brother’s friend. I’m yours.”

Balian was touched by Faramir’s generosity and kindness. He was definitely nothing like his father. “Thank you…Faramir.”

Boromir’s brother clapped him on the back. “I shall leave you to your duty, Balian, defender of the helpless.”

Balian blushed. Sometimes, he wished hobbits were not so talkative.

***

When darkness fell, fog crept over the river like a ghostly army, infiltrating every corner of the ruined city. It veiled everything, hiding it from men’s sight. Balian doubted that even the keen vision of the elves would be able to pierce this shield of water vapour. The lack of visibility made him nervous. He liked to be able to see where his enemy was coming from, if they were coming at all. Taking deep breaths of the moisture laden air did little to calm him. The shroud-like fog almost seemed to suffocate him in its eerie whiteness. It blinded him and blocked his ears. He didn’t like this weather. It reminded him too much of the day his wife had hanged herself; of death.

About thirty paces of his right, he could make out the silhouette of another man, pacing as he kept a look out for the enemy. Only the occasional flashes of red from Mordor pierced this gloom, and it was not a welcome sight. The man suddenly gave a gurgling cry then fell back with an arrow in his throat. “The enemy!” shouted Balian, rushing towards the main group. All the men were armed and ready for battle.

With gestures and whispers, Faramir instructed them to set up an ambush inside the broken gate where the orcs were landing. Balian pressed himself up against the cold stone, sword in hand. He knew what Faramir was trying to do. The captain wanted to cut off groups of orcs from the main force and vanquish them cohort by cohort. The blacksmith was not so certain about the plan. Usually, it only worked if there were enough men and a gate that could be closed. They had neither.

The hardest part, however, was probably watching the orcs splash through the water and into the city. Every man felt the urge to pounce on them and give them a bloody massacre. Common sense prevailed for they knew if they leapt out too soon, it would be the orcs who would do the massacring. They waited for Faramir to give his signal, although when he did finally did indicate to them to strike, they were not fully prepared.

Balian threw himself into the melée, slicing orc heads and limbs. The hot blood was an unwelcome contrast to the bone-chilling water. He was wetter than he had been in Helms Deep and stuck in a much more difficult situation. For the first time since his arrival in Middle Earth, Balian was fighting a battle without the presence of members of the Fellowship. There was no Legolas to aid him with well-placed shots, no Gimli to take on the hordes, no Gandalf to cast spells, and no Aragorn to guard his back and Give him hope. At least there was no Guy. There was only Faramir, and the captain seemed to be losing hope, as well as the fight. To the blacksmith, this was the last stand at Jerusalem all over again; a wet and cold Jerusalem with no Salah al Din to treat with. He supposed they were lucky in a strange way. These orcs were not half as competent as Saruman’s. Evidently, Sauron favoured quantity over quality. He conveniently forgot that a large army of ants could vanquish an elephant. This was not the time for such thoughts. Continuous fighting took a lot of energy and by the time dawn came, the men were exhausted.

The worst was yet to come. A loud ear-piercing screech in the sky rent the cold grey morning. Balian fought the urge to protect his ears and continued to fight. One small mistake could mean his life. He saw, rather than heard, Faramir telling them to take cover. Not really understanding, he finished off the orc he was dealing with and did as he was instructed.

Great black winged beasts, which resembled dragons from Hell, dived down and grabbed men in their swooping talons to fling them into the air. Men dropped to the ground, bleeding and broken. The spectral riders, cloaked in black, shrieked in triumph atop their fell steeds. The sound hurt Balian more than any weapon. Faramir was shouting something and signalling for the men to retreat to Minas Tirith. They did not need to be told twice. All the men, rangers and soldiers alike, mounted their horses and urged them at the quickest pace possible towards the relative safety of the White City. The terrible black riders continued to pursue them, killing more men. Just as they thought there was no hope, a white rider came out of the city to meet them.

Gandalf brandished his glowing staff like a beacon of hope, warding off the dragons and their riders with the pure white light. Balian’s heart soared at the sight. Angels truly did exist, and he was certain that Gandalf was one of them. The wizard escorted them inside the city, protecting them with his mere presence. Now that the uproar of battle was over, Balian noticed that everything was strangely quiet. In fact, it was utterly silent. He frowned in confusion. Men were speaking, horses pawed at the ground, chomping at their bits. Yet, he could not hear them. Someone tugged at his sleeve. He looked down to see Pippin. The hobbit’s lips were moving, but he could register no sound. Then it struck him, like a sword between the shoulder blades.

Pippin was worried when Balian did not answer his question. The man looked as if his insides had been turned into ice. The frightened hobbit ran to find Gandalf, the one who had all the answers. “Gandalf!” he said. “You’ve got to come. Something’s wrong with Balian!” Concerned, both Gandalf and Faramir followed the hobbit to where the blacksmith stood like a statue, looking down at the flagstones.

“Balian?” said Gandalf. There was no response. The wizard touched the man’s arm. He looked up. The empty expression shocked Gandalf.

“I can’t hear,” said Balian flatly.

***

A/N: Mwahahahahaha!!! What’s going on??? Balian’s lost his hearing! Love it? Hate it? Don’t kill me.

Well, knowing me, Kiwi, I won't be killing Balian...yet. And Guy, there is another reason I left him behind...
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Old January 25th, 2008, 08:09 AM
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Lost his hearing....now that is a twist and liable to make it very difficult to fight.

I liked the conversation with Faramir...
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Old January 27th, 2008, 04:50 AM
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Disclaimer: I don’t own Balian, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas etc…not even Guy. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 30: The Pieces are Moving

Pippin listened to Balian’s declaration with some distress. Hobbits had keen hearing and he could not imagine how it would feel to spend the rest of his life without sound. He didn’t think he would be able to bear it, not being able to hear the chatter and singing of his friends. Gandalf was speaking very slowly and clearly to the blacksmith so that Balian could read his lips. He accompanied his speech with gestures to make himself more understandable.
Balian focused on the movements intently with his brow creased in a frown. Not being used to this, it took a while for him to comprehend what the wizard wanted to tell him.

“I want you to come with me to the infirmary,” Gandalf was saying. He expected the usual barrage of protestations but Balian just nodded and followed him.

Like the rest of Minas Tirith, the Houses of Healing were predominantly white. Many men were already there, their hurts being tended to by bustling healers in stiff white caps and aprons.

Gandalf indicated for Balian to sit on an empty bed then asked for paper and a quill. The wizard figured it would be much faster to write down what he wanted to know than to teach the man to lip-read.

‘When did you first notice that you could not hear?’ wrote the wizard. Balian thought for a moment.

“After coming into Minas Tirith,” he said “but I think I lost my hearing before that.”

‘What happened before?’ wrote Gandalf. Balian frowned as he tried to remember.

“The dragons, and their riders,” he said. “The riders were screaming. It was so loud. That is the last thing that I can remember hearing.”

Gandalf sighed inwardly in relief. This was a common affliction among soldiers who knew nothing about Nazgul. He wondered why the Gondorians had not given Balian the tonic that would have prevented it. Probably Denethor had withheld it on purpose. The Steward was not very generous towards the young man who had been Boromir’s friend. ‘The deafness is temporary,’ he wrote. ‘The screams of the Nazgul have robbed you of your hearing but only for a few days. It happens when the ears are exposed for too long to the sound.’

“Thank God,” breathed the blacksmith. Gandalf patted him on the shoulder. No doubt Balian had been too occupied with the fighting to protect his ears. The man got up and they walked out of the Houses of Healing to make room for more of the wounded men.

Faramir and Pippin were waiting outside. “Is he alright?” asked Pippin as soon as he glimpsed them.

“He is fine,” said Gandalf “or will be in a few days.”

“Nazgul,” said Faramir understandingly, wondering why the man had not been given the prevention tonic.

Balian was not concentrating on the exchange about his health and wellbeing. A flicker of light had caught his attention. From the top of the tallest tower in all of Minas Tirith, a fierce fire blazed as if hope had been kindled, driving away the gloom. “The beacons…” he said to no one in particular. His mouth was turned up in a soft smile. Aragorn would come, along with Legolas and Gimli. They would not be fighting the war alone. There was a tap on his shoulder. He turned around to see Gandalf who was also smiling. “Yes,” he said, moving his lips slowly and deliberately. “The beacons are lit. Hope is coming.”

***

Sitting on the steps of Meduseld, Aragorn chewed on the stem of his pipe. He glanced up at the beacon on the mountain top and then leapt to his feet. The fire was blazing. Dropping his pipe, he ran up the stone steps, pushing pas anyone in his way. There was no time for courtesy. He would apologize later. The ranger shoved the doors open and burst into the middle of a discussion. There was silence as he tumbled in. He noticed his friends sitting in a corner and having a conversation with Guy. His mind was too occupied to question the absurdness of it. All eyes were fixed upon him.

“The beacons are lit!” shouted Aragorn. “Gondor calls for aid!”

Everyone turned their gazes to Théoden, waiting for his response. Not so long ago, the King had been rather reluctant to help Gondor. They needn’t have worried. Théoden’s sense of duty and honour prevailed. “And Rohan will answer!” he said. “Muster the Rohirrim! We ride for Gondor, and war!”

Upon hearing this, Guy visibly blanched and Legolas and Gimli grinned at each other, sharing a private joke. Aragorn raised an eyebrow at them. He had no doubt as to who the victim of their prank was. Balian’s archenemy rushed out of the Hall. The ranger watched him go. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“We have been conversing with Master Guy, that’s all,” said Legolas.

“He wanted to know more about Middle Earth,” said Gimli. “So, being the kind and generous people that we are, we instructed him, free of charge.”

“That still does not explain his strange behaviour,” said Aragorn. He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “What did you tell him?”

“Nothing much,” said Legolas. “We told him about Mordor, and Sauron’s army, although the facts and numbers might have been slightly off… and, oh, before I forget, it turns out that Gimli is an expert on the process of making and breeding orcs. He is rather creative, I might add.”

“I made it all up on the spot,” said the dwarf smugly. “I replaced ‘elves’ with ‘men’. I hope you don’t mind, lad.”

“No offence taken,” said Legolas quickly.

“I wasn’t talking to you, elf.”

“Will you two ever grow up?” demanded Aragorn. “It’s not a good idea to frighten a comrade out of his wits right before battle.”

“But we were bored!” protested Legolas. “Did you see the look on Guy’s face when the King declared war on Mordor? It was priceless! Anyway, since when did Guy become our comrade?”

“Since the day we found him,” said Aragorn.

“I’m sure Balian will have something to say about that if he heard you,” said Gimli. “Even he baits Guy.”

“Balian is not half as potent as you two,” said Aragorn. “And his actions are justified. Guy baits him more than he baits Guy.”

“We were just giving the boy a hand,” said Gimli defensively.

“That hapless man has no idea how to bait anyone,” added Legolas fondly.

“Look,” said Aragorn. “I am not going to argue with you. That would just be a futile action on my part. I need to prepare for the ride to Minas Tirith and so do you. Please, just do me a favour and don’t bait Guy until after the war.”

***

Guy’s hands almost trembled as he tightened the girth on Cynebald. The horse laid his ears back and snorted. Were the Rohirrim mad? How could they possibly fight an enemy as powerful and ruthless as Sauron? Well, they could, but they would all die in the process. He was not ready to die, or worse, be tortured and mutilated until he became one of those foul monsters. Try as he might, Guy could not purge the images that the elf and dwarf had put into his head with their terrible stories of the Dark Lord’s might and cruelty. It never occurred to him that they might not have told him the exact truth. He was so frightened that he was almost ready to flee and risk the reputation of a coward. All around him, men were getting ready for war. Armour was being strapped on, swords were being sharpened. The clanging and scraping of metal set him on the edge and made him sick in the stomach. These idiots were riding to their deaths and taking him along with them. Even the little midget, or hobbit, or whatever they called him, was preparing for war. ‘His name is Mary,’ Guy reminded himself. The others became incensed when he called him ‘midget’, even though in Guy’s opinion, Mary was not any better. For God’s sake, the hobbit was male.

“Stop standing there!” barked the man called Éomer. “Hurry up! We ride for war on the third day and it is two days’ ride to Dunharrow.” Guy found him uncouth and threatening. What sort of civilized man would have hair that long? He bit back a retort. He had a feeling that, unlike Balian’s other friends, this one would not hesitate to kill him. The man’s sister wasn’t bad though, if only she could not wield a sword. Guy wouldn’t have minded taking her to bed, except she’d probably try to castrate him if he so much as tried to touch her. Unlike Sibylla, this one would probably succeed in doing some irreversible damage.

Éomer shook his head and walked away. There was no way to know what was going on inside that man’s head. He was dangerous, the Third Marshal knew that much. It would be so much easier to throttle him but the King had insisted that he be taken along. “We need every man able to ride and bear arms,” Théoden had said. Éomer had replied that they would be doing the man a favour if they left him behind. The man looked as if he wanted to run instead of fight. Now Éowyn was an entirely different matter, although she was no less trouble. His sister had begged him to let her fight alongside the men. He had refused, of course, and now she was not speaking to him. It was all Théodred’s fault really.

When both of them had been children, their cousin had trained Éowyn in the skills of battle, and had told her that she could probably hold her own against any of the boys. Théodred might have passed on but his legacy was very much alive. Éomer hoped that by the time the men were to ride for Gondor, Éowyn would come to her senses and resign herself to the task of guarding Edoras. Somehow, he just couldn’t see it happening.

***

Balian spent his convalescence wandering around the city. Even here, the stories of his ventures had spread. People nodded to him in greeting as he walked through the streets. Although complete silence was alien to him, it was not unpleasant in any way, now that he knew it was temporary.

Through his explorations, he had found the other side of life in Minas Tirith. There was much poverty in the lower levels, especially around the back of the city, where it could not be easily seen. There were establishments of debatable morality and more than once he had been invited into them, only he had declined as politely as possible. There, in the dark corners, beggars lurked, reaching out filthy skeletal hands for alms. Some of the emaciated vagabonds had tried to surround him to force him to give them the money, but they had retreated when he reached for his sword.

Here, the stones were so stained with filth that they were no longer white but slimy and dark. Piles of refuse littered the sides of the streets. No light reached these places. As he walked past them, it seemed as if tendrils of darkness and despair reached out to grab him. The people who lived there watched as he passed. The whites of their eyes were the only things that gleamed as they took in his garb and especially the ruby in the hilt of his sword.

‘I shall tell Aragorn of this when he comes,’ thought Balian. ‘As King, he will do something to dispel this darkness, or else he is Aragorn.’

Even in the more prosperous parts of the city, anxiety weighed down on everyone, casting a shadow on their lives. With the fall of Osgiliath, there was nothing between Minas Tirith and Mordor save for a vast expanse of flat land in the form of the Fields of Pelennor. They could be easily conquered. Already, the dark cloud of Mordor was spreading its shadow westward. The blacksmith regarded it, deep in thought. The war, the real war, was about to begin and it seemed that Gondor’s last stand would be at Minas Tirith. Even now, Denethor could not seem to accept this. The deranged steward had proposed, and ordered, a suicidal move. Earlier that day, Balian had been among the crowds on the streets as they bade farewell to the troops. Faramir, now in armour, had led a contingent of two hundred men out of the city in a futile attempt to reclaim Osgiliath.

Due to his temporary deafness, Balian had been exempted by Denethor —courtesy of Gandalf— and both the wizard and Faramir had explicitly ordered him to stay in the city. The crowds had thrown flowers into the path of the soldiers, knowing in their hearts that most of those men would never come home again. It had been a sombre, almost funereal, procession. So many sons and brothers and fathers to be sacrificed to a lost cause. It made Balian feel sick at heart. This was just like the march to Hattin, a move that he had spoken up against. It seemed as if there would be another massacre, just like Hattin.

The whiteness of the city reflected the emptiness of its citizens’ hearts. They had lost hope. High above in the sky, crows and other carrion eating birds reeled, cawing harshly. It seemed as if even the beasts knew. Balian started. He could hear again. His hearing had returned as suddenly as it had gone. He knew he should be rejoicing, but all he could feel was anxiety for Faramir and his troops. Pushing his way through the throng of human bodies, he made his way to the wall of the fifth level and peered out across the fields. There, alone as a few boats lost on a sea of dark grass, were Faramir and his men riding to their doom. The small silver shapes looked so small, so helpless. The captain had arranged his men into two lines. The ominous shape of the broken Osgiliath lay before them, tainted by darkness. Soon, the Gondorians were within range of the orcs’ bows.

The blacksmith’s heart hammered against his ribs as if demanding to be let out. He gripped the wall so hard that his knuckles were as white as the stone and the hard edges dug into his hands, making imprints. Try as he might, Balian could not tear his eyes away from the scene unfolding before him. Everything happened as if time had slowed until it was as thick and sluggish as syrup, allowing the young man to take in every tormenting detail. The silver figures fell from their steeds to lie still on the plain. No one was spared. One of them, his foot still in the stirrup, was dragged away by his terrified steed into the distance. Then, once the men were down, orcs swarmed out of Osgiliath like a dark wave of pestilence and overwhelmed the silver bodies. When the wave retreated, the bodies were gone, as if they had been washed away by the foul tide.

Balian’s hands went slack. Faramir was lost. Made numb by grief, he charged through the crowds to prepare for battle. With Gondor’s captain gone, Mordor would be ready to strike.

***

Many Rohirrim riders had already gathered at Dunharrow when the King’s company arrived. Guy was unimpressed. The entire force was small and disorganized, unlike his own army which had been lost at Hattin. Men and horses were everywhere. The King’s company made camp higher up on a plateau which was backed by stiff stone cliffs. A path led into the mountains behind them. It made Guy’s skin crawl. There was something out there, something which he did not know and could not see, and that frightened him more than anything. Even the horses and the other men shied from it, so the former king could assure himself that there was really something wrong and that he was not a coward.

Guy had been left to erect the tent which he was to share with the other members of the Fellowship while Legolas and Gimli tended to their mounts. Aragorn was with the King, discussing tactics and strategies. “I wish I had an army of dwarves, fully armed and filthy,” said Gimli as he smoked and watched Legolas check the hooves of the horses for rocks and other irritants.

“Your kinsmen may have no need to ride to war,” said the elf sadly. “I fear that war already marches on their own lands.” He was not talking about the dwarves only. For years, his people had fought off the darkness that threatened to engulf their home. His mind often wandered back to his beloved forest, wondering how his people were faring.

Gimli blew out a cloud of smoke. His eyes were worried. “I’m going to find Aragorn,” he said, getting up. “That lad has been away for long enough.”

***

That night, Guy slept fitfully, assailed by dreams. In his nightmares, the path that led into the mountains became the path that led into Hell. When he woke for the tenth time, panting and sweating, he gave up on rest, dressed and went outside, only to see Legolas and Gimli saddling their horse.

“Where are you going?” he demanded.

“With Aragorn,” said the elf curtly, not looking up.

“Why?”

“Because he’s going to find an army and he’s not going without us,” said Gimli. “It’s none of your business anyway.”

“Oh yes it is,” said Guy, quickly readying Cynebald. “You’re not fleeing from the battle without me, that’s for sure. Do you really take me for a simpleton?”
Legolas and Gimli looked at each other in exasperation. They had hoped to escape Guy as well as help Aragorn. Then Legolas’ eyes took on an all too familiar gleam. An idea had formed in the elf’s sharp mind.

“Fine, come with us if you want,” he said. “Why should I care?”

It would be most interesting to see how the arrogant bastard would react to the Paths of the Dead.

***

A/N: For those of you who were a bit confused last time, Balian’s deafness was caused by the Nazguls’ screaming.

Kiwi, did you think that I would leave him deaf forever? I love him too much to do that to him.
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  #61  
Old January 27th, 2008, 05:41 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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I am very glad that it was not permanent. I am wondering how Guy is going to handle an army of the undead.
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Old January 29th, 2008, 09:47 PM
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This is a strange premiss but now that I have caught up I can see that it works because you keep to the code as it were. The battle scenes are hard to read and awful as they should be, I was pulling a face at Balian's deafness and hoping that wasn't to be permanent.
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Old January 29th, 2008, 10:44 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Disclaimer: I don’t own Balian, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, etc. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of putting them back, savvy?

Chapter 31: The Second Wave

As the army of Mordor approached the White City, the people flew into frenzy. They needed someone to lead them, to tell them what to do. Gondor had lost two of its most prestigious commanders. One was in the Halls of Mandos and the other was missing. In the midst of this chaos, one man, not in the military garb of Gondor, was giving orders without the Steward’s consent, instructing the men to set up the trebuchets and to gather rocks and blocks of wood to use as projectiles.

Balian positioned archers above the gates and told the Gondorians to fill jars of flammable liquids, as he had done in Jerusalem. Being in need of a commander, the men did as he instructed. As they prepared for a long and hard siege, there was a shout and before Balian could say anything, the gates were opened. One rider-less horse came in, dragging the seemingly lifeless body of Faramir behind it. Like Boromir, the Steward’s younger son had been pierced by an orc arrow.

“He still lives,” said Balian, putting a hand beneath the man’s nose and feeling his breath on his fingers. “Take him to the Houses of Healing, and close they gates!” A stretcher was brought out and Faramir was gently transferred onto it. The men carried him up to the Houses of Healing, which was located on the same level as the Citadel. No doubt Denethor would find out about his son’s predicament soon enough. Balian did not want to know how the man who had sent Faramir to his doom would react. Moments later, Denethor’s voice rang out across the battlements.

“Abandon your posts!” shouted the deranged Steward. “Flee! Flee for your lives!”

“No!” cried Balian as some men started to run. “Stay at your stations! We defend the city, or there will be no hope!” Some of them hesitated and remained where they were. Others fled, flinging down weapons as they did so. Balian, once more the defender of a city in peril, looked at his men. They were frightened and desperate, in need of encouragement. He took a breath.
“It has fallen to us to defend this city,” he began “and we have made our preparations as well as they can be made. We fight, not to protect these stones, but the people living within these walls! When that gate comes down, and the walls are breached, there will be no quarter. If you throw down your arms, you families will die.” He looked each of the men in the eye. They all met his gaze. “We can break this army here!” he said slowly and clearly, articulating every word. “So I say: Let them come! Let them come! Come on! We’ll show them what the men of Gondor are truly made out of!”
The men cheered, raising their voices and weapons in an act of defiance against those who would destroy them. In the distance, orc horns and drums answered the challenge. The battle had begun.

________________________________________


The hollow sound of horses’ hooves on rock echoed through the valley. The vastness magnified the sound. The wind whistled eerily through the gaps in the rocks. Guy shivered, and it wasn’t because of the chilly draughts. Everything was grey. Grey rock, grey sky, grey cloaks on his companions. Even the horse in front of him was grey. The man was getting quite sick of the colour.

“What sort of army would linger in here?” demanded Gimli in a loud whisper as if he did not want to disturb whatever it was that lurked in this valley.

“One that is cursed,” answered Legolas, sending a shudder down Guy’s spine and making his imagination run rampant. “Long ago, the Men of the Mountains swore an oath to the last King of Gondor to come to his aid; to fight. But when the time came, when Gondor’s need was dire, they fled vanishing into the darkness of the mountain. And so Isildur cursed them, never to rest until they had fulfilled their pledge.” With that the elf began to recite:

“Who shall call them from the grey twilight,
the forgotten people?
The heir of him to whom the oath they swore.
From the North shall he come.
Need shall drive him.
He shall pass the door to the Paths of the Dead.”

He finished and fell silent.

“The what?” said a horror-stricken Guy. “The paths of what?”

No one answered him. The horses had stopped and refused to go any further. Aragorn and Legolas dismounted and the elf helped Gimli out of the saddle. The two men and the elf looped the reins over the horses’ heads and dragged them in the right direction. Legolas whispered soothing words to calm their fears. Guy made the sign against the evil eye. This had to be pagan magic. The animals came reluctantly, ears laid back and nickering nervously. The elf’s voice did nothing to help calm Guy down. The man had heard that some voice not so long ago speaking of the horrors of Mordor.

The little company stopped in front of a stone archway which led into the dark cavernous womb of the mountains where unspeakable horrors waited to burst forth. Guy made the sign of the cross. “Lord, save us,” he whispered. The archway was decorated with real skulls of men and heathen symbols carved into the rock or painted on. He did not know what they meant and he was not interested in finding out.

“The way is shut,” said Legolas, looking at the symbols. “It was made by those who are dead and the dead keep it. The way is shut.” An eerie ominous wind that was almost like a voice issued forth from the archway as if to prove that the elf was right. The horses reared and bolted. No persuasive elven voice would be able to coax them into that place. Guy’s face drained of blood and beside him, Gimli lifted his axe a little and gripped the shaft tighter.

“Do we have to go in there?” whispered Guy. His question went ignored. He took it as a yes. The man looked longingly back in the direction that the horses had gone. He would’ve liked to go with them but he did not know his way out. The ranger had led them through so many twists and turns.

“I do not fear death,” said Aragorn, stepping forward and disappearing into the overwhelming darkness. Legolas glanced back at the other two then followed him. His form was soon claimed by shadow.

“Well, here is a thing unheard of!” said Gimli almost despairingly. “An elf would go underground where a dwarf dare not. Oh, I’ll never hear the end of this.” With that, he dashed through the archway, driven on by his pride. Guy was alone. The eerie silence enveloped him, crushing him in its embrace. The man decided that it would be better to confront horrors with someone watching his back than to starve to death alone. Muttering the Lord’s Prayer, he followed these mad people that he had come to rely on.

________________________________________


The armies of Mordor flung great missiles of rock and fire at the walls of Minas Tirith. The Gondorians retaliated by throwing missiles of their own but nothing seemed to lessen the waves or orcs surging at the city and wearing down the defence bit by bit. Although the enemy relied more on numbers than anything, Balian had to admit that throwing the severed heads of the prisoners taken from that disastrous charge on Osgiliath had been a stroke of twisted genius. The men’s morale had been at least halved.

“Fire!” he shouted at the men at the trebuchets. Lit jars of flammable liquid were launched. They shattered as they landed, sending the burning substances splattering everywhere. Balian leapt out of the way just as a chunk of rock flew past him, almost crushing him. Gandalf was in charge of defences at another section of the wall where the orcs were parking their siege towers. The blacksmith had no time to think about it as siege towers targeting his own section were being pushed into place by trolls. One Gondorian missile hit a siege tower, sending it toppling onto its side. The orcs snarled and responded with a volley of arrows. ‘Aragorn, where are you?’ wondered Balian as he signalled to the archers to fire back.

High-pitched screams rent the air. Balian winced but he had taken the prevention tonic so there was no chance of him becoming deaf again. “Fire!” he shouted. “Shoot the dragons’ bellies!” He had no idea whether this was the way to do it or not, but when he had been a small boy, his mother had told him stories about knights and princes slaying dragons and the like. The heroes always killed the monsters by striking at their soft underbellies.

The archers aimed and fired but the dragons and their riders were out of range. They swooped down on the trebuchets, dismantling them and flinging the splintered bits of wood everywhere. The riders seemed to recognize who the commander was. Balian ducked and flattened himself against the flagstones just as one of the dragons tried to grab him with outstretched talons. The blacksmith cried out and cursed in agony as a black claw ripped open his chainmail and tore the flesh on his back. The men flung spears and shot arrows at the beast, driving it away.

Balian scrambled to his feet and ran back to the wall where orcs were spewing out from a siege tower and onto the battlements. The man wished he had the small jars of oil which could be lit and thrown by hand. However, they had not had the time to make them. He blocked a blow with his sword and then gutted his opponent. His wound burned with hot fire and he bit back a groan as movement aggravated it. Another three orcs engaged him in combat. He wondered whether they would be able to last until Rohan came to their aid.

________________________________________


Thick grey fog swirled about their bodies, striving to drown them. Guy fancied that he could feel insubstantial fingers groping at him and clawing at his clothes. He shuddered at the cold clammy touch and focused on the light of Aragorn’s torch. The prayers he was murmuring under his breath did nothing to reassure him. Legolas’ claim that he could see the shapes of men and horses in the fog chilled his bones. Guy gripped the hilt of his sword tightly as if the blade could defend him against metaphysical foes. If there was a hell then this must surely be it.

There was a crunching noise ahead of him. “Do not look down,” hissed Aragorn. Morbid curiosity proved to be too much for Gimli and Guy. They glanced down at their feet. Skulls carpeted the floor of the tunnel. Guy cursed. He wished he had listened to the ranger.

“Can we get out of here?” whispered the former king. Gimli, who had been thinking more or less the same thing, quickly banished the thought from his head. The four of them entered a large empty underground gallery. A sinister figure that was glowing with unnatural green light stood at the centre. His clothes and hair were being blown by a phantom wind. There was a rich helmet on his head. A closer inspection revealed that he was transparent. Scraps of half-rotted flesh dangled from his ghostly bones and his eyes were corrupted by decay. Guy’s scream died in his throat. He was seeing the dead. He began to mutter the rosary rapidly.

“Who dares to enter my domain?” asked the spectre slowly. His voice was strong and malicious for someone who did not possess a physical body.

“One who would have your allegiance,” said Aragorn.

“The dead do not suffer the living to pass,” said the ghost lord.

“You will suffer me,” said the ranger. The spectre laughed at that statement. A glowing green city with legions of ghostly men materialized before their eyes and surrounded the four living beings. Guy’s hands were slick with sweat. His eyes flicked everywhere nervously, seeking an escape. There was none. They were trapped inside this great stone tomb of thousands.

“The way is shut,” said the ghost lord, repeating Legolas’ words that the elf had uttered not so long before. “It was made by those who are dead and the dead keep it.” The apparitions closed in on them. “Now you must die.” Guy did everything he could think of to ward them off. He muttered prayers, invoked saints and even brandished a small wooden cross made from the wood of the Holy Rood. Nothing worked.

Legolas released an arrow from his bow. It passed through the ghost lord’s head with no effect and clattered on the rock somewhere far away. Guy’s knees felt weak.

“I summon you to fulfil your oath,” said Aragorn, drawing his sword. Through his haze of fear, Balian’s rival noticed something different about the weapon.

“None but the King of Gondor may command me!” growled the spectre, hefting his unearthly weapon to strike at the insolent man who had dared to order him to do something. Aragorn blocked the blow with his blade, reached out the grip the wraith’s throat then put the sword to his neck. If it had not been for his blind terror, Guy would have seen the significance of this action. Instead of passing through the ghost as it should have done, Aragorn’s hand encircled the insubstantial throat and held it, slowly throttling the phantom even though it was impossible to kill the ghost lord again. “That blade was broken!” gasped the spectre.

“It has been remade,” said Aragorn. A new sort of power rang in his voice. Legolas smiled in pride. Estel of Rivendell had grown up. He had come into his inheritance. “Fight for me,” continued the future King “and I will hold your oaths fulfilled. What say you?”

‘Wait,’ thought Guy as the pieces of the puzzle arranged themselves in his mind. ‘These cursed things swore an oath to the last King of Gondor and they need to fulfil it before they can rest in peace. Here is this man saying he will hold their oaths fulfilled if they fight for him, so this makes the filthy ranger…’ Guy’s eyebrows flew to his hairline.

Aragorn was the King. Aragorn was the King. Aragorn was the King.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” he whispered. “This can’t be possible…” No one heard him. The ghost lord had started laughing again. He and his army were fading into nothingness.

“What say you?” Aragorn was shouting. “Fight for me, and I will release you from this living death! You have my word!”

“Stand, you traitors!” roared Gimli even as the last of them disappeared. “Gah!” spat the dwarf in disgust. “You’re wasting your time with them, Aragorn. They had no honour in life; they have none now in death.”
A cracking noise caught their attention. The four of them turned. The walls of the gallery were rupturing and a torrent of skulls came cascading down. For a while, shock robbed them of movement and speech. “Out!” Aragorn finally said. The four of them ran for their lives as the torrent of bones threatened to crush and drown them.

Being the lightest, Legolas was swept off his feet by the force of the flood. For a moment, he felt as if he was drowning in a sea of bones. The musty smell of old decay and death was almost overwhelming. He tried to fight his way to the top. The elf feared being trapped in small dark places and being buried alive was his worst nightmare. Above the din, he heard someone calling his name. ‘Estel,’ he thought. The stubborn human would never leave without him. Legolas concentrated all his energy into digging himself out of this improvised grave. A gauntleted hand was reaching down. He grabbed it and Gimli hoisted him out of the pile of human remains.

“Stupid elf,” said the dwarf without conviction. “This isn’t the time to go swimming.”

“Afraid to get wet, master dwarf?” said Legolas as they ran for the opening. Guy was already outside. His face was as white as the foam which crowned the waves as they crashed into the shore. As they scrambled clear of the cavern, dust issued from the opening. Aragorn looked down at the estuary where the Anduin flowed into the sea. Black ships were sailing upriver towards Gondor like a pack of predatory beasts closing in for a kill. The king-to-be sank to his knees in despair. How was he to save his kingdom without the aid of the phantom army?

Legolas put his hand on the man’s shoulder to offer what comfort he could. The elf could see the end approaching with those ships. It was like the game he had played as an elfling where tall blocks were lined up in a row and one was pushed over to start a chain reaction. Gondor would fall first, then Rohan, then all the elven realms and finally the Shire and even the Grey Havens would topple to Sauron’s might. All the deaths of the men, elves and dwarves who had fallen while fighting for freedom would have been in vain.
Just as they were about to go on to Gondor alone and on foot, the ghost lord materialized behind them. “We fight,” he said.

________________________________________


A wave of dizziness seized him, almost making him stumble. Balian shook his head to clear it. He could not afford to falter. Gondor was relying on him and Gandalf. He had failed Boromir once and he had promised that it would not happen again. Even if it cost him his life, Minas Tirith would remain standing. The orcs had fallen back for a moment, giving the men some reprieve. It was almost nightfall. Maybe the enemy had decided to rest, but the blacksmith doubted it.

Moments later, the enemy returned, more numerous than ever. Trolls were pushing the largest and strangest-looking war machine he had ever seen. The main component was shaped like a wolf’s head with fire burning in its mouth. The trolls pulled back the wolf’s head and then released it. The wolf’s burning snout smashed into the gates. The impact shook the entire city. “God, help us,” whispered Balian. “It’s a battering ram.” It was unlike any battering ram that he had ever seen.

He shivered; it was cold and yet, he was sweating profusely. It was as if icy tendrils had wrapped themselves around his bones. The man forced his discomfort to the back of his mind then went to rally the defenders above the gate. They shot arrows and threw spears at the trolls who manned the battering ram. Each time they felled one beast, another replaced it. Mordor seemed to have an endless supply of them. Night had fallen. The gate had withstood an afternoon of heavy assault. It was slowly coming off its hinges. They knew it wouldn’t last much longer. At the lowest level, Gandalf was delivering a speech to the troops, encouraging them to stand firm no matter what came through the gates once they came down.

The trolls swung the battering ram one last time. There was creaking and splintering. Balian knew that the gates hand given away. Soon the men from the first level would need to retreat to the second and then, who knew what would happen?

________________________________________


Guy stood at the prow of the ship as it glided along with fifty others towards Gondor. The sails were full and phantom oarsmen rowed methodically and silently. He felt as if he was King again. He certainly looked the part, unlike that scruffy man who was to be to King of Gondor.

The others were on another ship adjacent to his. None of them had wanted to share with Guy. The elf stood in the crow’s nest, staring at the wailing gulls. His lips were moving and although the wind drowned out his voice, Guy knew he was singing. The elf was always singing one song or another. ‘Maybe he’s the King’s minstrel,’ thought the man.

________________________________________


Balian leaned against a wall as he waited for yet another bout of dizziness to pass. They were coming more frequently now, these attacks of light-headedness and nausea. He didn’t know what had caused them. The man cursed his untimely affliction. Gandalf had gone somewhere with Pippin, leaving him in charge of all the defences. Something was happening and it was to do with the Steward and his son.

The blacksmith beckoned to Beregond, one of the few lieutenants left in Gondor. Balian had knighted him and many others, but Beregond actually had some experience in battle. “Sir Balian?” said Beregond. The Gondorian could see that there was something wrong with the foreigner who was paler than usual. Sweat shone on his brow. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” said Balian quickly. “Supervise the men on the wall. Use our remaining trebuchets to hit their catapults if possible. I’m going down to the gate.” Without waiting for Beregond to respond, he left. The Gondorian fancied that he was a deep long wound on the other man’s back but duty called and he promptly forgot about the commander’s predicament as the enemy flung balls of flaming material at them.

________________________________________


Dawn. Balian was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to collapse where he was and close his eyes. He knew that he couldn’t. The survival of Gondor depended on this battle. Most of their trebuchets had been destroyed, either by the black dragons or the enemy’s catapults. The two lowest regions were aflame. All the civilians had fled to the upper levels. Casualties were high. The orcs could afford it. They could not. Gondor’s supply of able-bodied men was almost depleted. He estimated that they had lost at least half.

The new day brought with it no new hope as far as he could see. Just when he was ready to fall into despair, a clear horn call sounded above the din of battle. He recognized that horn. Rohan had come. “Come on!” he shouted hoarsely to the men. “Our comrades from Rohan have come! We will crush these foul beasts of Mordor into the dust!”

________________________________________


Stay tuned…


WHAT IF…

ALL PROBLEMS THAT AROSE, ENSUED, WERE NOT OVERCOME?

Jack Sparrow: (eyes wide) Bugger.

WHAT IF…

THINGS DIDN’T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN?

The Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman are stuck high up on a barren island of rock beyond the reach of the tide.

AND PEOPLE WHO WERE NOT MEANT TO MEET…

Balian, Hector, Legolas and Will raise their cups in a salute to each other.

MET.

DANGER AND INTRIGUE LURKS IN EVERY CORNER…

Calchas, the High Priest of Troy, turns to show his face.
The light from torches cast shadows on the wall of two men stabbing someone.


HISTORY WILL BE CHANGED…

Balian leads the Trojan cavalry in a charge.
Achilles and Balian’s blades meet.


CONFUSION WILL REIGN…

Will: Huh?
Hector: What?
Balian: Excuse me?
Legolas raises an eyebrow.
Jack: What?
Menelaus: (snappy tone) What?
Achilles: What?

From the author of CHANCE ENCOUNTER comes

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: PIRATE KINGDOM OF TROY

COMING SOON

A/N: I’m not going to say anything about that little ad up there. You’ll find out more soon enough. Can anyone guess what’s wrong with Balian?

Kiwi, how would Guy handle the undead? Simple. He can't.

Thanks Nuit, for the comment. I try to stick to canon as much as possible and adding bits which are not shown instead of changing events. I don't exactly feel up to rewriting the history of Middle Earth.
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Last edited by Telcontar Rulz; January 29th, 2008 at 10:48 PM.
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  #64  
Old February 1st, 2008, 08:09 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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Location: New Zealand
Posts: 4,923
I love the interaction between Gimli and Legolas, never fails to make me smile.

Guy is just yuck. He has no soul is about the best way that I can put it.

Your advertisement was somewhat intriguing there...of course anything with Jack made me sit up straight.
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  #65  
Old February 1st, 2008, 09:20 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: New Zealand
Posts: 882
Chance Encounter


Disclaimer: I don't own Balian, Legolas, Aragorn, Gimli, etc. I don't even own Guy, not that I want to own him. I'm just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 32: Convalescence

Legolas gazed towards Minas Tirith. The battle was well underway; with the Rohirrim's arrival, Gondor seemed to have a chance of winning. The ships slowed down as they drew near the western shore. Orcs came forward to greet them, thinking they were corsairs from Umbar. From his vantage point, the elf was hidden from the orcs' line of sight. He gazed down at the foul creatures with disgust. One of them had a human skull melded to his head and was wearing it like a hat.

"Late as usual, pirate scum!" he snarled. Legolas recognized him as the leader of this scraggly group. "There's knife work here that needs doing!"

'He probably wears the skull to increase his diminutive height,' thought the elf.

"Come on, you sea-rats!" continued the orc. "Get off your ships!"

Legolas waited for Aragorn's signal. Upon hearing the man's infuriated roar followed by the dwarf's, he realized that the king-to-be had forgotten to give it. He took a flying leap from the crow's nest and landed neatly on his feet. His keen elven hearing picked up the sound of Guy scrambling down a hastily set up gangplank.

The orcs were too shocked to move. Legolas wondered jokingly if they could even register that nothing was going according to plan. Of course they would, but the elf couldn't help but snicker at his private joke. Aragorn charged at them and the orcs sneered at the ridiculous human until something coming from the ship wiped the gleeful expression from their faces and sent them fleeing.

***

Balian hacked his way through the hordes. He noticed that there were fewer orcs attempting to breach the walls. Most of them were too occupied with fighting off the Rohirrim. He shook his head and blinked several times to clear his vision. The light of the day hurt his eyes and he wondered if he was becoming a vampire. He had heard stories which said that vampires feared the light. His bones ached and his entire body felt weak. He was shivering so much that it was becoming difficult to grip his sword. He felt cold, and the searing heat of his back wound was a painful contrast. Only determination kept him upright and fighting. The last thing the men of Gondor needed was to see their commander fall.

An orc slammed into him, knocking him into the stonework. Stars exploded in his vision and he very nearly didn't manage to block a blow that would have cleaved his head from his shoulders. He ducked and rolled. Keeping this up was becoming very taxing indeed. Minas Tirith would survive. He just hoped that he would too.

***

A green flood swept across the Fields of Pelennor, climbing over the bodies of the fallen fighters and overwhelming the ragged remnants of the enemy. It surged into the city, quenching the fires in the lower levels. Aragorn, King of Gondor, stood victorious in the middle of the battlefield with his friends beside him. Guy was striking a convincing pose on top of a dead mumak, pretending that he killed it.

Aragorn faced his army of phantoms. "Release us," demanded the ghost lord.

"Bad idea," whispered Gimli rather audibly. "Very handy in a tight spot, these lads, despite the fact they're dead."

The ghost lord glared at the dwarf who paled a bit but remained staunch, then he looked back to Aragorn. "You gave us your word!" he said, outraged.

"I hold your oath fulfilled," said Aragorn. "Go; be at peace." There was an otherworldly wind. The ghosts sighed blissfully as they were taken up to the Halls of Mandos. Gimli snorted in defeat.

Gandalf came out of the city, a smile on his face. He bowed in deference to Aragorn who seemed a little uncomfortable about the whole business of being King. He surveyed to the carnage. Many lives had been lost. Legolas and Gimli were once again calculating their scores. He could hear them squabbling about how much Legolas' mumak was worth.

Balian stumbled out to greet his friends. His vision was growing blurry and unfocused. Partly through the gate, he fell onto one knee. The man tried to rise again by using his sword for support. He was shaking so badly that the weapon clattered to the ground. His body felt as if it was encased in ice, except for his wound which burned him with its heat. The world reeled, then faded...

Legolas saw the man fall. "Aragorn!" he shouted, catching the King's attention. Guy took this all in from his vantage point on the fallen mumak. Hope surged in his heart. Maybe there was a chance that Balian would die after all, and he didn't even have to do anything to instigate it.

Aragorn was beside the fallen man in a moment. Balian's skin was cold and clammy to the touch, although his brow burned with fever. He looked pale, almost translucent, like wax. Aragorn felt for the man's pulse on his neck. It was weak and irregular.

"What's wrong with him?" said Legolas.

"Morgul poison," said Aragorn. "Legolas, help me get him inside. He needs to go to the Houses of Healing immediately.

The elf wondered what protestations Balian would have come up with if he had been awake. Then he wondered whether the man would wake. He looked so close to death, as if he was already crossing over the threshold to greet his dead wife and child.

They carried him on a makeshift stretcher hastily put together with spears and the fallen standards of the enemy. They quickly melded into a flood of people carrying the wounded up to the Houses of Healing. Some of the injured men were beyond saving.

The Houses of Healing were filled to the brim. It was with some difficulty that Aragorn and Legolas found a bed for their sick friend. Aragorn, ever the healer, divested Balian of his outer layers of clothing and inspected his body for wounds. The source of his illness was a long ugly wound down the man's back. The flesh around the wound was festering and burning, but the rest of the man's body was as cold as a corpse.

"I need athelas," said Aragorn. Before Legolas could go off in search of the herb, Éomer burst in, looking absolutely distraught.

“Aragorn! Éowyn, she’s...” began the Rohirrim warrior. The last word stuck in his throat.

“I’ll come and look at her,” said Aragorn gently, rising to his feet. He turned to Legolas. “Keep him warm. If he takes a turn for the worse, get me immediately.”

“I will,” said Legolas. “And the athelas?”

“I will ask the herbmaster for it myself.”

The two men left, leaving Legolas alone with Balian. The man moaned softly in his troubled dreams. He seemed to be mumbling ‘help me’ over and over again desperately. It pained Legolas to see him thus. In all the time that he had known the young blacksmith, he had never heard the man beg for help in such a manner.

“It’s alright, mellon-nin,” said Legolas. The elf’s voice seemed to calm the man and he became quiet again. “You’re safe. Everything’s fine. You don’t need to be afraid; I’m here, my young friend. Nothing can hurt you.”

His wife, his dear Jocelyn, hung from the rafters of their house. The body had long gone stiff with cold. He was shouting, screaming. Help me! Help me! Someone! Someone! Please help! He cut her down and cradled the icy body against him. Wake up. Wake up, my love. Don’t do this. Please don’t do this to me. I need you...He didn’t know how long he sat there, holding her close in his embrace, as if his love and his own warmth could somehow bring back her life. Her beautiful eyes were wide open and empty. He couldn’t bear to look at them. He could remember how they had laughed and shone when he had courted her. He knew that it was somehow his fault. It had to be. Jocelyn was sinless, an angel. It was his fault. God was punishing him for his sins, for being a bastard. They said that bastards couldn’t have children. They were right. He had never deserved Jocelyn, never deserved their son. And now, both of them had been taken away, and it was his fault that they would never see heaven.

Despair engulfed him until everything around him was swallowed by darkness. He was lost, afraid. He had never been so afraid. Then a voice came through to him, like a sign from heaven. A sign that God still cared. “...You don’t need to be afraid; I’m here, my young friend. Nothing can hurt you...”

‘But what about my son?’ he wanted to say. ‘And my wife?’

There was no answer, but the voice had given him hope. Somewhere, out there, someone cared. And for a man who had known the face of rejection for most of his life, it was enough.

Legolas watched as Balian stilled, except for the constant shivering. “Come on,” he said. “You have to wake up soon. Your charges are waiting for you back in Rohan, and they’ll hate you if you die, Nanny Balian.”

‘...Nanny Balian...’ He hated that name. “I’m going to get you for this, Legolas,” he thought.

Legolas saw the man tense, even though he was unconscious. The elf chuckled fondly. “I know you hate that name,” he said “but if you want to get even with me, you have to wake up first.”

That was the problem, waking up. He wanted to wake up, but he couldn’t. The darkness had snagged him in its tight grasp and it was not letting him go. It was like cupping water in his hands. No matter how hard he held onto life, he could feel himself slipping way bit by bit.

***

Aragorn returned, feeling troubled. He had seen more than just Éowyn. The Shieldmaiden, Faramir and Merry seemed to be suffering from more or less the same affliction as the blacksmith. He could cure it if he had athelas but after having listened to a long speech from the herbmaster concerning the properties of the plant, he found that there was none in stock.

“How is he?” he asked Legolas.

“No better, no worse,” said the elf. “He’s fighting it. I think he’s been having nightmares. He was moaning not so long ago, but he quietened down when I spoke to him.” Legolas smiled. “He tensed when I called him Nanny Balian.”

“He won’t thank you for it,” said Aragorn.

“But it suits!”

***

Night fell. They were about to expect the worst when a boy rushed in. In his hand he carried six dried leaves of athelas lying on a cloth. “My lord,” he gasped. His young face was drawn with worry. “Is this enough? This is all we can find.”

Aragorn smiled and took the herbs almost reverently. “It will do,” he said. “Thank you.”

The boy bowed hurriedly and left the room. Legolas swore he could see a blush blooming

Aragorn worked quickly, crushing one of the precious leaves and casting it into a basin of hot water. The fresh pure scent of athelas filled the room, and Balian seemed to breathe more easily. Aragorn cut away the most corrupted flesh from the edges of the wound, glad that the younger man was unconscious. He bathed the wound with the athelas-steeped water and bound it with clean linen bandages. Already, the blacksmith’s colour was returning and he had stopped shivering. His breathing was shallow, but regular. The King of Gondor left Legolas watching over Balian and went to tend to the others.

Gimli came in to join his elven friend in keeping vigil. “How’s the wee laddie?” he asked.

“Getting better,” said the elf. “This one’s a fighter.”

“With friends like us, how can he not be? I hope he wakes up soon. I need him to be the judge and decide who won this round.”

The man in question shifted, then slowly opened tired eyes. “I shall definitely not involve myself in your mad debates,” he croaked.

Gimli and Legolas grinned. “Oh, but you must guide us young ones, Nanny Balian,” said Gimli.

“I’m going to get you both for this,” murmured Balian as his eyes slowly closed again. He fell into a deep healing sleep. Legolas placed the back of his hand against the man’s forehead to test the temperature. It was almost back to normal. He sighed in relief.

“Yes, my friend,” whispered Legolas. “I’ll hold you to it.”

The next few days passed in a blur for Balian. He was asleep for most of the time and his few waking moments merged with his dreams. His dreams were filled with impossible pranks that could be played on the elf and dwarf. Somehow, Gimli and Legolas always emerged victorious.

On the fourth day, Balian finally shook off his dreams. He felt weakened, yet refreshed. Faint, dying sunlight filtered into the room. The days were growing darker. The other patients were either sleeping or out walking in the gardens. The young man glanced about him. Seeing no healers in the vicinity, he pushed himself up with much difficulty and waited for his vision to focus before swinging his bare feet over the edge of the bed. His boots were nowhere to be found. He was wearing a long white tunic which reached below his knees and loose trousers like those of the Saracens. His face flushed a little at the thought of someone else dressing him.

He padded through the long white corridors, holding onto the walls for support. What he would have done without thinking twice while he was hale was proving to be a great effort for a man in ill health. After what seemed like a lifetime of wandering through the maze of the Houses of Healing, he found the entrance to the gardens. With one last burst of energy, he made his way to a stone bench. He could not help but congratulate himself for having performed such a feat as getting outdoors all by himself without being caught by a healer. What he did not know was that someone had been watching him.

The blacksmith was startled when he heard soft laughter behind him. “I see that you possess the same tendency as Aragorn to elude healers and their instructions.”

“No one told me anything about staying abed and boring myself to death,” said Balian. “Have you been aware for all this time?”

“I’ve been following you since you left your room, just in case you fell or something,” said Legolas. “I was about to pay you a visit and there you were, sneaking outside with as much finesse as a lame mumak. I’m surprised no one caught you.”

“I was rather proud of myself for that.”

Legolas smiled. “Now that you’re out, do you plan to just sit here and do nothing? The hobbits want me to tell a tale about our little side trip with Aragorn and you’re more than welcome to join us.”

“What little side trip?”

“You haven’t heard? I thought the story would’ve spread through the entire city by now.”

“Don’t forget, I wasn’t conscious for most of the past few days.”

“That’s all too true, but come, the hobbits are getting impatient. Wise people know better than to keep hobbits waiting.”

***

Legolas had an audience which paid him undivided attention as he told them of their journey through the paths of the dead, with occasional prompters from Gimli.

“You mean you let Guy come with you?” said Balian incredulously. “I daresay he wasn’t much help.”

“He wasn’t,” said Legolas “but his reaction was certainly amusing. It was well worth the trouble.”

“I didn’t think so,” grumbled Gimli. “Nothing in there was amusing. And whilst we were getting out, this stubborn, thick-headed elf decided to swim in a pool of skulls. I had to bodily drag him out.”

“And this dwarf here was afraid to get wet,” said Legolas. “Did I tell you about how he lingered at the entrance...”

“Legolas! I made you promise not to tell!”

“I never agreed.”

“You...!”

“If you agree that the mumak is worth forty, then I will not tell.”

“Fine, it’s worth forty! Satisfied?”

“Very. Well, Masters Peregrin, Meriadoc and Balian, we have told you our story. It’s time for yours.”

“I didn’t see much of the battle,” said Pippin. “You see, Denethor was trying to burn Faramir alive...”

“What?!” said Balian. “Where’s Faramir? Is he alright?”

“He’s fine,” Merry assured him. “He’s over there talking with Lady Éowyn.” The hobbit added a knowing smile which Balian overlooked. The blacksmith heaved a sigh of relief.

“Can I continue on with my story?” said Pippin. He didn’t like it when others interrupted his narrative.

“Sorry, Pip,” said Merry. “Carry on. You haven’t told me much yet, and I’ve told you everything.”

“That’s because you were talking too much.”

“Was not.”

“Was too.”

“Was not!”

“Was too!”

Gimli cleared his throat. “And what else happened?” he said pointedly.

“Anyway,” said Pippin as if he had not digressed entirely from the tale “I alerted Gandalf and we rescued Faramir from the pyre. He was already on fire but I put it out and only his clothes were scorched. Denethor was not so lucky. He had covered himself with oil...” Balian winced as he thought of the pain. “...and he burst into flame then jumped off the parapet. Oh, I saved Gandalf’s life once, when I killed an orc that was about to stab him from behind.”

“Oh,” chortled Gimli. “The old fella would have enjoyed that.”

“So what about you, Balian?” said Merry. “What did you do? We’ve heard so many stories about you and each gets madder and more fantastical than the last. Did you really head-butt an orc who was wearing a helmet?”

“I was desperate,” said the man as a way of explanation. Gimli snorted and Legolas broke into an elegant coughing fit.

“So what else happened?” asked Pippin. “I didn’t see you very much. In fact, I didn’t see you at all.”

“I fought,” said Balian. Legolas rolled his eyes. Balian’s storytelling skills had not improved at all. If anything, they had gotten worse.

“And he got hurt,” added Pippin “but I suppose everyone knows that.” He turned to Balian with sulky eyes. “I know you have a great story to tell. You just don’t want to tell it to us.”

“I can’t tell stories,” mumbled Balian, beginning to blush with embarrassment. It was at these moments when he absolutely hated being at the centre of attention.

“Nonsense,” said Gimli. “Everyone can tell stories. You told us your life’s story back in Lothlorien.”

“No,” said Balian. “You dug it out of me, by force.”

“We’ll do that again if you don’t tell us exactly what happened,” said Merry with a wicked gleam in his eye.

‘Why do they all enjoy torturing me?’ thought the young man.

***

Stay tuned...


FROM ONE WORLD TO ANOTHER...

Minas Tirith fades into Troy.

Hector pulls Barbossa into a boat.

Balian and Paris stare at each other.



BELIEFS CLASH...

Balian and Calchas, High Priest of Troy, eye each other with hostility, circling.


OLD FRIENDSHIPS PREVAIL...

Balian and Legolas grip arms.

Jack , Barbossa and Will glare at each other.

Hector claps Aeneas on the back.



NEW FRIENDSHIPS FORM...

Hector: (to Balian, Jack, Legolas, Will) This is the hour when we draw swords together, my brothers.


FATES WILL ENTWINE...

Cassandra: (turning to someone of whom only the back of the head can be seen) You were sent to save Troy.



DEBTS WILL BE SETTLED...

Barbossa and Jack stand next to each other. Barbossa looks angrily at a calm Jack. He is holding the chart with a circular hole in the middle. Jack holds a circular section of chart.


DISASTER WILL STRIKE...

Jack: (stepping in between two confronting parties; Paris and Menelaus) If I may have a word, gentlemen.

Balian grimaces.

Jack: Let us examine why your wife left you...


SUSPICIONS WILL ARISE...

Jack: Something smells fishy.

A sword is placed against a defiant Balian’s throat.



From the author of CHANCE ENCOUNTER comes

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: PIRATE KINGDOM OF TROY

COMING SOON

A/N: Not much action in this one. Balian needs to recuperate. I suppose the battle at the Black Gates will have to be covered later. Not much Guy in this chapter either. He’s busy pampering himself. Hope you guys liked it anyway.

Kiwi, I've always liked the Gimli and Legolas bits in the films, but thought there were too few of them. Guy is there for the purpose of being an antagonist. I love Jack too--he's just too lovable.
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Old February 3rd, 2008, 10:24 AM
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Wonderful chapter - lots of action and lots of detail and I liked the small pieces that rounded things out so much more.

Looking forward to the next one!!
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Old February 4th, 2008, 07:28 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Chance Encounter

Disclaimer:
I don’t own Balian, Legolas, Aragorn, Gimli, you get the idea. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them, savvy?

Chapter 23: Mushrooms and Battles

Balian had recovered enough to join long walks in the gardens and he spent much time studying the strange plants. He had never seen such things before, neither in France nor in the Holy Land, where it was too dry to grow much. It was during one of these walks that Faramir found him on his hands and knees, examining a low growing plant that had leaves like petals.

“That comes from Harad,” said Boromir’s brother. “I can’t remember its name.”

“It’s a very strange plant,” said Balian, straightening himself and dusting off his hands. “I’d thought it was a green rose at a first glance. But enough about plants. How are you feeling?”

“Better than before,” said Faramir. “I still get bouts of shivering but not as often. How about you? I heard that you took a bad wound, my young friend, not to mention that whole story about you head-butting an orc who was wearing a helmet.”

“I think I’m well on my way to becoming perfectly fine again,” said Balian. “I’m bored though. I don’t know why they still won’t let me out.”

“Healers are like that,” said Faramir. He looked around to see that they were alone. “I need to talk to you.” Before Balian could ask what Faramir wanted to talk about, Faramir resumed speaking. “It’s about Lady Éowyn,” he said. “I...she...”

Balian smiled as understanding dawned on him. “Are you in love, Faramir?” he asked. The other man nodded. A faint blush tinged his tanned face. “She is a wonderful girl.”

“I love her,” said Faramir “but she loves Aragorn.” Balian admired Faramir’s courage. He would never tell someone else about something so private. “Since you’ve wooed two women, one of which was a princess, I was hoping maybe you could give me some advice.”

Balian’s face turned an interesting shade of red. He didn’t know how to talk about something so intimate and close to his heart. All his life, he had been a man of very few words, preferring actions to speech. “I...I guess...I was honest with them,” he said awkwardly.

“How?” asked Faramir.

“I told Jocelyn outright that I loved her and then dashed away before she could say anything...”

Faramir began to laugh. Balian glowered at him, which only served to make him laugh harder. “I was only seventeen,” he said defensively.

“And she married you?” gasped Faramir between bouts of laughter.

“Not until I proposed to her in a fitting manner five years later,” said Balian.

“What about Sibylla?”

“With Sibylla...I don’t know how to explain it...it was love at first sight. She rode into my courtyard the day after I arrived at Jerusalem and demanded a drink of water. Then she stayed at Ibelin and one night she came to me...”

“Yet she still chose power over you,” concluded Faramir. “That’s what I’m worried about. I think Éowyn isn’t really in love with Aragorn. She’s in love with the power that he will have as King. For someone as beautiful and noble as the Shieldmaiden to feel that way is just tragic.”

“Talk to her, Faramir,” suggested Balian. “Tell her how you feel. How will she know that she has someone more suited to her waiting for her if you won’t tell her?”

Faramir nodded, nervous at the prospect of speaking to Éowyn in such a blunt manner on such an intimate subject.

***

Guy had to admit, he liked Minas Tirith. He loved its magnificence and splendour, not to mention all the entertainment that the darker parts of the city had to offer. There had been such establishments in Jerusalem but none had been as exotic and sophisticated as the Gondorian ones.

In fact, Guy was enjoying life so much that he was almost willing to give Balian a few days of reprieve before hatching up new plans to get rid of that Perfect Knight. There was no way he could’ve gained access to the man, at least, not at the moment. The new King of Gondor had specifically banned Guy from the Houses of Healing. Aragorn had not named his reasons but Guy suspected that the former ranger knew of his intent to kill the blacksmith.

The night was dark and the streets were empty as he hurried back to his quarters on the seventh level. Somewhere, a dog barked and was quickly hushed. Very few lights still shone on the topmost level. Guy crept through dark corridors and opened the door to his room. No light came in through the windows except for the unnatural red light from Mordor. Guy shuddered. It reminded him of the stories of eternal damnation and the unquenchable fires of Hell.

***

Balian’s recovery was nothing short of miraculous. He was ready to be discharged within ten days of receiving his injury. Rumours started spreading about how the man must be protected by the Valar or some divinity. Balian was very pleased when he was told of his ‘release’. He was well beyond bored. The Houses of Healing were beautiful but he was not used to such luxury and with the shadow of Mordor encroaching upon Middle Earth, he was eager to give his friends whatever help he could. Aragorn had given him a new tunic of chainmail. It was nowhere near as fine as the other one which had been a gift from the Elves but it was ruined and there was no smith in Gondor skilled enough to repair it.

“Out and about so soon, Laddie?” said Gimli as he came into Balian’s chamber, puffing on his borrowed pipe and quickly filling the room with fumes.

“The healers let me go,” said Balian, not looking up from polishing his sword. He coughed. “Must you do that in here?” The man indicated the smoky haze. “I have to say, I agree with Legolas. I don’t understand why you like to poison yourself.”

“One day, Nanny Balian, you will realize that one of the great joys in life is smoking,” said Gimli.

At the sound of the much detested nickname, Balian put down his sword and his whetstone and charged at the dwarf. Gimli dashed out of the room with a furious blacksmith on his heels, laughing as he did so.

“Nanny indeed!” shouted Balian as he rounded a corner. He was catching up to Gimli whose short legs were no match for the man’s longer limbs. Balian pounced on Gimli and the two of them collided with Pippin who was cradling a bowl of battered, stuffed and fried mushrooms. The hobbit, dwarf and man tumbled to the ground in a heap of tangled arms and legs. The empty bowl clattered on the floor and rolled away down the corridor on its own. Mushrooms rained down upon them; it was the shower which preceded the storm. Pippin clambered out and was sputtering with anger. It had not been easy to coax the cooks into letting him make this rare treat and it had been ruined before he could even savour it.

Éomer’s arrival saved Balian and Gimli from being torn apart by the furious little hobbit. “What’s going on?” he asked when he saw the man and the dwarf attempting to untangle themselves. Somehow, Gimli had ended up on top of the blacksmith, which was not something that Balian had been hoping to achieve.

“They ruined my mushrooms!” cried Pippin, pointing an accusing finger at the two guilty members of the Fellowship. Balian pushed Gimli off him and stood up, looking apologetic. All the while, he was picking up mushrooms from the folds of his clothes and was handing them back to Pippin.

“I’m sure they’ll give you some more in the kitchens,” said Éomer quickly before Pippin could spout off more rhetoric about his lost mushrooms. “Balian, Gimli, everyone’s looking for you. There’s a conference in the throne room about our next plan of action.”

***

Everyone else was waiting in the throne room. Legolas raised his eyebrow at Gimli and Balian as they hurried in late. “Frodo has passed beyond my sight,” said Gandalf. “The darkness is deepening.”

“If Sauron had the Ring we would know it,” said Aragorn.

“It’s only a matter of time,” said Gandalf in despair. “He has suffered a defeat, yes, but behind the walls of Mordor, our enemy is regrouping.”

“Then we must be prepared for another attack,” said Balian.

“Let him stay there,” said Gimli in annoyance around the pipe in his mouth. “Let him rot! Why should we care?”

“Because ten thousand orcs now stand between Frodo and Mount Doom,” said Gandalf. “I’ve sent him to his death.”

“I refuse to believe that,” said Balian. “Saruman’s words were venomous. You should not take them to heart.”

Gandalf looked at Balian and gave the man a grateful smile.

“Balian’s right,” said Aragorn. “There is still hope. He needs time and safe passage across the Plains of Gorgoroth. We can give him that.”

“How?” asked Gimli with a dark expression.

“Draw out Sauron’s army,” said Aragorn. “Empty his lands. Then we gather our full strength and march on the Black Gate.”

Gimli choked at the thought of their meagre force fighting against the might of Mordor. Aragorn really shouldn’t have released the Dead. They would have been useful in such a situation.

“We cannot achieve victory through strength of arms,” said Éomer, voicing everyone’s opinion.

“Not for ourselves,” said Aragorn. “We can give Frodo a chance if we keep Sauron’s eye fixed upon us. Keep him blind to all else that moves.”

“A diversion,” said Legolas with shining eyes.

Gimli took his pipe from his mouth. “Certainty of death,” he said enthusiastically “small chance of success, what are we waiting for?”

Gandalf was not so convinced by Aragorn’s plan which was workable, if flawed. “Sauron will suspect a trap,” said the wizard. “He will not take the bait.”

“Oh, I think he will,” said Aragorn with a smile.

‘Valar,’ thought Legolas. ‘What is that foolish human planning?’

***

Balian was giving his sword a final polish that night when Merry and Pippin burst into his room, looking incensed and desperate. Before the hobbits could say anything, Balian mistook the cause of their anger and raised his hands as if surrendering. “Merry, Pippin, I’m sorry about the mushrooms...” he began.

“It’s not about the mushrooms,” said Pippin

“You’re going to fight without us tomorrow?” demanded Merry

“What did Gandalf and Aragorn say?” said Balian.

“They said we can’t come because it will be too dangerous,” said Pippin.

“Maybe they’re right,” said Balian.

“What do you think?” said Merry.

“I think you should follow your heart and do what you think is right,” said Balian.

“I think we should fight,” said Pippin. “Frodo and Sam are our friends. We want to help them.”

“Will you help us convince Aragorn and Gandalf?” said Merry.

“If you’re sure that’s what you want, then I shall,” said Balian. He set down his sword and followed the hobbits out of the room. They hurried down dark corridors, asking passing servants for the location of the King. Aragorn was proving to be a particularly elusive sovereign. No one knew where he was and all their friends were nowhere to be seen.

Balian was about to give out when he heard anxious cry from Legolas. He left Merry and Pippin behind as he raced towards the sound. “I knew you would try something stupid!” Legolas was shouting. “Look at you! You’re paler than me!”

The blacksmith skidded to a stop when he saw his friends. Legolas was supporting a traumatized Aragorn while Gandalf looked on with worry. “Arwen,” whispered Aragorn.

“Feel with your heart, Estel,” said Legolas. “She’s waiting for you to become King so you can marry her. There is still hope.”

“Maybe you should rest, Aragorn,” said Gandalf. “You need to be fully alert tomorrow.”

Legolas helped Aragorn to the King’s chambers. Balian approached Gandalf. “What happened?” he asked.

“Aragorn looked into the palantir,” said the wizard. “He saw someone who is very dear to him dying.”

“The palantir, isn’t that the stone that we found in...?”

“Yes, that is the one. It’s a very dangerous tool. You should never play with one, young man.”

Balian decided to do what he had come to do. All this talk about the palantir was spooking him. “Gandalf, Merry and Pippin have approached me...” he began.

“Yes?” said Gandalf.

“They want me to ask you on their behalf to let them accompany the army tomorrow.”

“It’s too dangerous. You should know that, Balian. Swords and spears are remorseless.”

“It’s not fair to leave them behind if they want to help Frodo. They have both proven their skill in battle. Merry helped to kill the Witch King and Pippin saved your life.”

Gandalf snorted. “I should’ve known they would use this to support their arguments, but I never would have thought that you would agree with them and that they would go to you of all people.”

“It’s their choice. It’s not within my rights to judge it. If they believe that it is right, then I think they should be allowed to come.”

Gandalf smiled. “Trust a Took and a Brandybuck to find someone who can persuade me. They can go, but only if you look after them.”

***

Long lines and columns of men in shining silver armour marched or rode out of Minas Tirith like a river of flowing metal, led by their new King. Alongside them were the Rohirrim with their round shields and proud standards with images of horses. Balian rode up at the front with Aragorn. He had been exempted from wearing the Gondorian armour, for which he was most grateful. Legolas and Gimli once again shared a horse, while Pippin rode before Gandalf. Balian shared his saddle with Merry, who looked every bit the esquire of Rohan, dressed in the livery of the Horse lords.

Guy also rode with them, although he had been assigned to the rearguard. Every step they took towards Mordor sent a jolt of fear down his spine. God, he really wasn’t ready to die. This felt worse than the march to Hattin. At least he and Saladin had had armies of a similar size. The armies of Mordor would just engulf their feeble force without so much as a pause.

Balian wasn’t feeling particularly enthusiastic about this either. He could sense the men’s anxiety but he could do nothing to assuage their fears. That was Aragorn’s responsibility now. The blacksmith had used up every strategy that he had ever thought of. He had never attacked another nation before. All the battles that he had ever fought had been fought for the sake of defence.

The army stopped before the Black Gate. Balian had never seen such a fortress as the one which was Mordor. The gates were so tall that it took four trolls to work the mechanisms which controlled them. They were wrought of a strange black metal and at the top were cruel spikes, which enemy heads were probably stuck on after battles. Sauron’s lands were surrounded by natural walls of glossy black rock which could not be breached by any siege engines. Aragorn and the rest of the commanders rode up to the gates. Balian followed them.

“Let the lord of the Black Land come forth!” shouted the King of Gondor. “Let justice be done upon him!”

The gates creaked open a little and a dark figure on a armoured black horse rode out. Balian caught a small glimpse of the barren wasteland which Sauron ruled. It was Hell made flesh. As the rider neared them, he could see that the sharp metal helmet which he wore concealed all his facial features except for a wide mouth with long rotten teeth. He felt repulsed by the creature, but he refused to let his discomfort show.

“My master Sauron the Great bids you welcome,” said the creature in a low rumbling voice which grated on Balian’s ears. It flashed its teeth in what the blacksmith took to be a grin. “Is there any in this rout with the authority to treat with me?”

‘Is it true that all villains are arrogant?’ wondered Balian.

“We do not come to treat with Sauron, faithless and accursed,” said Gandalf coldly, barely concealing his anger. “Tell you master this. The armies of Mordor must disband. He is to depart these lands, never to return.”

“Aha,” said the Mouth of Sauron. He sneered. “Old Greybeard, I have a token I was bidden to show you.”

From within the folds of his dark cloak, he produced a shining garment which contrasted greatly with the rest of the darkness. He tossed it at Gandalf, and Pippin caught the familiar shirt.

“Frodo!” cried Pippin.

“Be silent,” said Gandalf.

“No!” cried Merry

“Silence!” said the wizard, throwing Balian a dark look. He knew something like this would happen.

“The Halfling was dear to you, I see,” said Sauron’s foul ambassador. “Know that he suffered greatly at the hands of his host. Who would’ve thought that one so small could endure so much pain? And he did, Gandalf, he did.”

‘He’s lying,’ Balian realized. ‘Frodo cannot be captured, or else Sauron would have the Ring and he would not have to send this thing out to speak for him.’

“Don’t listen to him,” he said. “He’s lying. They’re trying to break our morale.”

All eyes turned to him as if they had just registered his presence.

“What is this?” said the Mouth of Sauron in contempt. He bared his teeth. “Ah, a Chosen One, I see. One blessed by the Valar and Iluvatar himself. You are born of the lesser race. Who are you to dismiss my words as lies?”

‘A chosen one?’ thought Balian as he watched Sauron’s ambassador warily. ‘Who is Iluvatar?’

The Mouth of Sauron quickly lost interest in Balian as Aragorn rode forward with his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“Who is this?” said the ambassador of Mordor. “Isildur’s heir? It takes more to make a King than a broken elvish blade.”

Aragorn did not answer with a retort. Instead, he unsheathed his blade and with a movement almost too quick for their eyes to follow, he sliced the foul head from the ambassador’s shoulder. It was not a diplomatic solution but Balian felt a great deal of satisfaction.

“I guess that concludes negotiations,” said Gimli, not sounding sorry at all.

“I do not believe it,” said Aragorn, turning to his companions. He had no time to say anymore. The Black Gate was opening. They rode back to where the army was just as a flood of orcs oozed out carrying their grisly standards. The men were backing away in fear as the might of Mordor advanced on them.

“Hold your ground!” shouted Aragorn, raising his sword and rallying the troops. “Hold your ground! Stand firm!”

The men stayed their retreat.

“Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers!” began Aragorn “I see it in your eyes, the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day! An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight!” He looked the men in their eyes and he could see hope being rekindled in them even as he spoke. “By all that you hold dear, on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!”

Balian felt hope rekindled in his heart like the rest of the men. He drew his sword, knowing that he would follow this man, even to his death. Aragorn the ranger had become King Aragorn of Gondor.

The King stood before Mordor. Sauron’s burning gaze was fixed on him. For a moment, Aragorn’s resolution seemed to falter as he stared at the Eye of his enemy, then he turned to his anxious friends. “For Frodo,” he said with a smile, then he ran at the ranks of orcs with his naked sword ready to bite into the orcs’ foul flesh. The rest of them watched him in surprise.

They charged.

***

Stay Tuned...


(Legolas voice over) YOU HAVE SEEN A GLIMPSE OF WHAT IS WANTED OF YOU...

The wooden horse is burning

(Legolas voice over) YOU WERE CHOSEN FROM THE HOUR OF YOUR BIRTH...

Balian turns. His face is solemn, shining with sweat and streaked with blood and dust.

(Legolas voice over) TO BRING JUSTICE...

Balian draws his sword and takes a high guard.

(Legolas voice over) AND TO KEEP IT.

Balian clasps hands with someone.

TRIALS AND TORMENTS...

Balian is forced onto his knees. Someone strikes him hard across the face.

JOYS AND SORROWS...

Balian, Will and Legolas laugh at a private joke.

Balian and Hector speak in urgent whispers.


A TEST OF STRENGTH...

Achilles and Balian’s blades meet and clash.

A DESTINY TO FULFIL...

Paris raises the sword of Troy then turns to look at Balian.

From the author of CHANCE ENCOUNTER comes

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: PIRATE KINGDOM OF TROY


COMING SOON


***

A/N: Well, I didn’t manage to get onto the battle itself. That will be covered in the next chapter. This is one of those fill-in chapters which just have to be written. I hope you guys enjoyed it.

Thanks, Kiwi, for sticking with the story. It can get a bit long-winded at times.
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Old February 5th, 2008, 09:16 AM
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Loved the conversation with Farimir and the mushrooms, that was great. Is good to have these touches of normality amongst all the big things...

I have been known to be a bit longwinded myself....
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Old February 7th, 2008, 07:49 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Disclaimer: Balian, Aragorn, Legolas etc. are MINE...in my wildest dreams.

Chapter 34: The Last Stand

The battle surged around him like the wildest storm in which he was only a drop of rain. Balian decapitated one orc and moved onto the next. Merry and Pippin were fighting back to back behind him and they were managing rather well, considering their size. Legolas had once again exhausted his arrows and was reduced to fighting with his knives. This time, he was not counting.

Black blood spurted everywhere, staining Balian’s face and hands as he ended the miserable lives of the orcs. He could not help but pity them even as he slashed out at them. Were they even able to choose whether they wanted to kill or not? He pushed his blade into an orc’s body. There was a sickening squelch as it went through flesh. If the orcs had no choice but to be what they were, where did they go when they died? The question was too profound for the blacksmith. He pushed it out of his head and continued to fight. His blade was stained with the blood of his enemies.

A screech sounded overhead. The Nazgûl had arrived, swooping down on the valiant group of fighters. Balian doubted that there would be a high chance of survival for the men. He was proud to go down fighting alongside such courageous comrades. Truly, if he was to die, he would at least die a knight. Before the Nazgûl could attack the men however, a long clear call answered their screams. There was a flurry of feathers as the largest eagles that Balian had ever seen engaged the winged beasts in battle. He felt his hope renewed.

Guy was fighting nearby and somehow, Balian found himself right beside his archrival. ‘I never thought I would die fighting side by side with Guy,’ he thought. It was ironic. Not so long ago, they had been trying to kill each other.

It took almost all of Guy’s concentration just to prevent himself from being skewered. All the while, he was looking for an opportunity to achieve his ultimate goal without getting killed. An orc charged at the antagonistic pair, intent on spearing at least one of them. It would have missed entirely if Guy had not seen his chance and given Balian a violent shove.

The orc’s spear met the blacksmith’s torso, just below his ribcage. The tip pierced through the chainmail and Balian’s flesh, emerging from his back. Balian was too shocked to scream. Blood spilled from his mouth and into his beard. Recovering his senses just in time, he ignored the pain and beheaded the orc.

Merry watched in horror as the scene unfolded before his eyes. Time slowed to a trickle as Guy pushed Balian into the orc’s path. He wanted to shout something, but his voice stuck in his throat. How could Guy do such a thing after Balian had spared his life?

Balian wrapped his fingers about the shaft of the spear and attempted to break it off, screaming through clenched teeth as he did so. The action sent waves of pain shooting through the core of his being. He saw and felt something black and sticky on the shaft. It had been poisoned. The brittle wood snapped and he discarded it. Balian let loose a groan as he clutched the wound in a futile attempt to stop the bleeding. Red rivulets ran from between his fingers. Everything seemed to fade. His knees refused to obey him and they buckled. He leaned on his sword for support. Someone was calling his name from faraway. The voice was laced with despair. He tried to say something to reassure whoever it was but found that he couldn’t. His body gave away and he crumpled to the ground as his life was slowly drained from him.

Guy glanced back to see Balian lying on the ground. He smiled in satisfaction even as he cleaved an orc’s head from its shoulders. In life, Balian had been called an angel of justice. In death, he looked like a fallen angel with broken wings. Never in his entire life had Guy felt so successful. Emboldened, he applied himself to the fighting with more vigour than ever before. Balian was dead, and Guy wanted to live to enjoy it.

Merry and Pippin scrambled to Balian’s side. The man looked dead but the hobbits refused to give up hope. They wadded up their cloaks and pressed them to either side of the wound in an attempt to staunch the blood flow. The other men saw what had happened and they formed a protective circle around the threesome.

All seemed lost when the Nazgûl suddenly left. The ground was shaking and no one could remain upright. The tower of Barad-dûr crumbled as the Eye of Sauron exploded, sending waves of power outwards and forcing man and orc alike onto the ground. All of them looked on in wonder as Mordor caved in. The orcs fled as they realized that their master had been defeated. Balian’s eyes opened slightly. His vision was blurry and he was consumed by pain, but he could see that the fighting had stopped and the dark clouds of foul fumes had dispersed. A small sigh of satisfaction escaped his lips, unnoticed by all. Middle Earth was saved. His eyes slowly closed and he retreated into the darkness where pain could not find him.

In the distance, Mound Doom erupted, spewing rivers of red liquid rock down its sides. Gandalf’s joy turned to worry as he thought of Frodo and Sam, all alone in Mordor. He called to Gwaihir, the Lord of the Eagles, and asked the great bird to take him to Mount Doom to find the hobbits. Merry and Pippin wanted to go too, but they knew that Gandalf would never permit it. Instead, they turned their attention back to their wounded friend.

Legolas noticed a group of men clustered around something. He pushed his way through to the centre, then stopped in his tracks. On the ground lay Balian’s broken body, seemingly lifeless. He knelt down beside the man. “No, my friend,” he whispered. “Not again. You can’t die now that the enemy is gone and the war is over.” He searched for a pulse and to his relief, he found it, even though it was very weak.

Éomer had managed to make his way to the centre with Aragorn right behind him. “What happened?” he demanded as soon as he saw the blacksmith.

“It’s Guy,” said Merry. “He pushed Balian into the orc’s path so the orc could stab him.”

‘Damn the midget,’ thought Guy as all eyes turned to him. He could not escape. He was surrounded by more than a thousand angry warriors, all thirsting for his blood.

“Arrest him,” said Éomer. Gondorians and Rohirrim alike rushed to do his bidding. Guy was quickly subdued and bound.

Balian’s still form was transferred onto a makeshift stretcher. Legolas, despite his fear for his friend, thought that it was ironic that Balian should enter the White City twice in exactly the same way. ‘What would you say if you knew, Balian?’ he thought. ‘Once again we must deliver you into the hands of the healers that you seek to elude.’ The procession back to Minas Tirith was sombre. Many of the brave men who had ridden out were not riding back, while others were going back home on stretchers, only to die in the land where they had once roamed.

Legolas glanced back at the blood-soaked battlefield. The carrion birds were already feasting. What would become of it in ten years’ time? A hundred years’ time? When the dust was gone from the bones of the fallen and lush green grass grew where the carnage had been. When all the elves had sailed and Aragorn’s name was but one of the many in the legends, would they still remember the sacrifice that had been made before the maw of Mordor that day? The elf had no answers. Only time would be able to tell. He looked back down at his friend, who had not moved. Maybe the future generations would not remember, but Legolas promised that he would remember for all of them.

***

Guy fought and struggled as he was dragged underground and thrown into the deepest, darkest and dampest cell in the dungeons. The heavy door slammed shut and he was left alone with his thoughts. What becomes of him now? ‘The world will decide,’ said Balian’s voice inside his head. ‘The world always decides.’

‘Damn you, blacksmith,’ thought Guy as he tried to get rid of that voice from his mind. He didn’t want the world to decide. No, he, Guy de Lusignan, wanted to decide for himself. He sat down and leaned against the wall. It was cold and it smelled bad, like mildew tainted with rotting flesh. What would he give to be out of here?

‘If you rise, rise a knight,’ said Balian’s voice.

“Goddamnit blacksmith! Leave me alone!” screamed Guy into the nothingness. He had enough troubles without Balian invading his mind. His words echoed in the empty stone cell.

‘Alone, alone, alone...’ said the echoes. They were right. He was alone, only it didn’t seem like it. In the dark emptiness, more voices seemed to invade his head. Some were his friends. Some were not. He heard Reynald saying “Kill him”, but Reynald was long dead.

“A king does not kill a king,” said Saladin’s voice. Guy hoped that it was true. He was a king and Aragorn was a king, but did Aragorn live by this principle?

“God help me!” he whispered. “I’m going mad. This is Balian’s revenge!”

***

Balian looked so weak and helpless, lying on the white pallet in the Houses of Healing. His face was pale and his breathing was so shallow that it could hardly be registered. Aragorn had dressed the wound to the best of his ability but it seemed that his best was not good enough. Poison was running rampant through the young man’s body and he had lost too much blood. The only fortunate thing was that the spear had missed most of his vital organs but that hardly mattered. Even an amateur could tell that Balian was beyond saving.

The blacksmith’s eyes slowly opened. They were unfocused. His friends leaned in closer. This movement, no matter how small, gave them a spark of hope. “Legolas?” he said in a barely audible whisper.

“I’m here,” said Legolas, taking the man’s hand in his own.

“I’m dying, aren’t I?”

“No you’re not, my friend.” Legolas was finding it difficult to speak through the lump in his throat.

“I know I am,” said Balian. There was no fear, only acceptance. “Will you promise me something?”

“Anything,” said Legolas.

“Don’t put ‘Nanny Balian’ on my tombstone.”

“You’re getting back at me, aren’t you?” Legolas managed a watery chuckle.

Balian gave a faint smile and closed his eyes again. Legolas quickly checked to see if the man was still breathing and sighed in relief when he found out that he was. The elf turned to Aragorn. “How much longer does he have?” he asked. “Is there any chance of saving him at all?”

“This is beyond my skill to heal,” said Aragorn. “I’ve never seen this type of poison before and even without the poison, the wound alone is very serious. I’m surprised he’s still alive. He is very strong. I guess he has about three days, maybe more, maybe less. I don’t know for sure.”

“He’s too young to die,” said Legolas.

“Poor lad,” said Gimli. “He’s never known a day of true peace. He doesn’t even know the joy of smoking.”

“And he’s never tasted fried mushrooms,” said Pippin.

“Or stewed mushrooms,” added Merry.

“And ale from the Green Dragon,” said the Took. “He’s never tasted that either.”

The door opened, and Faramir came in. “My lords,” said Gondor’s future Steward. “You should rest.”

“I can’t leave him all alone,” said Legolas.

“I’ll keep vigil tonight,” said Faramir. “He won’t be alone.”

Aragorn nodded and the members of the Fellowship filed out reluctantly. They were just coming out of the Houses of Healing when two giant eagles landed, each carrying an unconscious hobbit in a talon.

“Frodo!” cried Merry and Pippin, breaking into a run. Frodo’s eyes moved beneath his eyelids as he heard his name. His left hand had a bloody stump where his index finger had been.

Sam woke. “Mister Frodo,” he croaked.

“Hush, Samwise,” chided Gandalf gently, climbing down from Gwaihir’s back. “He’s safe. You both are, and you need to recover your strength.”

“Are they going to be alright, Gandalf?” said Pippin anxiously.

“They will be,” replied the wizard.

“At least someone will be fine,” said Merry.

“What happened?” asked the Istar.

“Balian is badly injured,” said Aragorn. “He might not survive.”

“That lecherous traitor tried to kill him,” spat Gimli.

“What lecherous traitor?” asked Gandalf.

“Guy,” said Merry. “He pushed Balian into the path of an orc spear.”

“Can you do something about it, Gandalf?” asked Legolas.

“Let me settle Frodo and Sam first, and then I will see what I can do for our young blacksmith.”

***

There was only grey. Mist surrounded him like a shroud, muffling all sounds. He couldn’t see anything. He wandered aimlessly, looking for a path, or anything that might guide him. Something caught his eye. There, in the far distance, was a glimmer of light. He headed towards it...

Faramir watched the unmoving man, all the while holding his hand, hoping that he would wake. “You know,” he said softly. “I took your advice and I talked to Éowyn. You probably wouldn’t believe this but I proposed to her afterwards and she accepted. Being honest and blunt worked better than I had expected.” The man on the bed did not respond. Faramir continued to speak, even though Balian could not hear him. “You have to wake up son. Éowyn and I have already picked a date for our wedding. It’s in six months’ time but we need help planning it. It’s going to be a huge affair and we need some expert advice.”

The door opened and Éowyn came in. “What are you doing, Faramir?” she asked. “I thought I heard voices.”

“I was just talking to Balian, trying to entice him to come back,” said Faramir.

“What were you talking about?” asked Éowyn, bringing another chair over so she could sit beside the bed.

“I was telling him about our wedding plans,” said Faramir. He turned back to the unconscious blacksmith. “I want to hold it in Gondor, but she wants to hold it in Rohan.”

“It’ll be summer in Rohan,” cut in Éowyn. “The grass will be lush and green and the air will be filled with the scent of wildflowers. The bees will be busy in the meadows, collecting sweet nectar to make honey.” She took a deep breath. Seeing Balian like this reminded her of Théodred on his deathbed. “You have to come, Balian,” she continued, trying to control the quivering in her voice. “You’ve only ever seen Rohan in its darkest winter. It wouldn’t be fair if you didn’t stay long enough to see its most glorious summer as well.”

“And you need to help rebuild Middle Earth,” said Faramir, putting his arm around Éowyn to offer her what comfort he could. “Much of the infrastructure in both nations has been damaged. We need someone with your skills. Think about it, my friend. There are orphans waiting for you back in Rohan, or so I’m told. They’ll miss their nanny. If you die, Aragorn will build a statue of you, and I know for sure that the plaque will say ‘Nanny Balian’. You don’t want that, do you? I know how much you hate being at the centre of attention.”

Thus, Éowyn and Faramir held a one-sided conversation with Balian until the new day dawned and Legolas came to relieve them. The second day had begun.

***

No matter how fast he walked or ran, the light did not seem to draw any closer. Just as he was about to give up, he was in its full glare. The mist cleared away and there seemed to be nothing beneath his feet except air. Not so far away was a wall of pure white, and t here were many gates. All of them had long queues. He lined up at the end of the closest one. Men and women dressed in robes the colour of the wall guarded the gates and ticked off names from an ever growing list as people went inside. Soon, it was his turn.

“Name,” said the guard.

“Balian of Ibelin,” he said. The guard peered at his list and frowned.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” said the guard. “Your name is not on my list.”

“Then where am I supposed to be?”

“Heavens, don’t ask me. I only make sure the right people get in. Next.”

Balian was pushed aside by the person behind him. He watched as the other people went in, wondering why he wasn’t allowed. Occasionally, tall fair beings with white feathery wings wandered past. One of them saw Balian and went to speak with the guard. They conversed in hushed whispers. The guard pointed first at Balian then at his list. The fair being nodded then approached Balian.

“Balian d’Ibelin, son of Godfrey, you will come with me,” he said.


***

When Frodo woke, he was no longer in Mordor. The air smelled fresher with the scent of spring blossoms. Golden sunlight poured in through the window. A familiar figure was sitting at the end of his bed, hunched over a smoking pipe. The bushy eyebrows were drawn together in thought and resembled two fat grey hairy caterpillars.

‘Am I dead?’ thought the hobbit. His hand throbbed where Gollum had bit off his finger and he decided that he was very much alive. Aloud, he voiced one word. “Gandalf?”

The figure on his bed turned. The kind lined face that he knew so well was lit up by a smile.

“Oh, Gandalf!” cried Frodo.

On hearing the noise, Merry and Pippin rushed in to investigate. They saw that Frodo was awake and they leapt onto his bed to hug him. Gimli came in next. The dwarf clapped his hands in jubilation and seemed to want to join the hobbits on the bed but he managed to restrain himself. Legolas came in, followed by Aragorn and last of all, Sam. The Ringbearer glanced at his friends. Someone was missing. He knew about Boromir but... “Where’s Balian?” he asked. His friends’ faces fell. Sam was the first to speak. “He’s next door, Mister Frodo,” said the loyal gardener. “He’s not very well.”

Frodo pushed himself into a sitting position. “Can I see him?” he asked. Gandalf and Aragorn shared a glance. The hobbit didn’t give them time to refuse. “I feel fine. I really do,” he insisted. “I just want to see him.”

Gandalf sighed. “Very well then, Master Baggins,” he said. Frodo, leaning on Merry and Pippin, made his way to Balian’s room. They settled Frodo in the armchair beside the bed, wrapped a blanket around him and put a footrest beneath his feet.

“If you need anything, just ring the bell,” said Pippin, putting a large silver bell in Frodo’s lap. “One of us will be outside.” With that, they left Frodo and Balian alone in the room for what could be the last time.

Frodo reached out to touch Balian’s still hand. It was hard and calloused from years of labour and toil. “I realized that I’ve never thanked you for protecting me that time on Caradhras,” said the hobbit. “Thank you. You saved my life. You can hear me, can’t you? I hope you can. I wish you would wake up. You probably have a grand story to tell. I don’t know but one day, I might write a book about all our adventures, and I want to put you in it. Fight, Balian, fight. Fight like that time on the mountain. Wake up soon, please? You have to visit the Shire, now that Middle Earth is saved. It is the most beautiful place...”

***

The sun set in the west, marking the end of the second day. They were running out of time. Legolas paced restlessly. There had to be a way. Balian’s immortality was meaningless if he died like this. Didn’t Gandalf say that the Valar had a use for the man? Surely the Valar wouldn’t let his life just end because of Guy’s actions. The elf pondered this well into the night, when everyone was asleep. Driven to the end of his wits, the elf sneaked through the corridors and into the throne room where the palantir was kept.

Aragorn trailed the elf at a distance. He couldn’t sleep either. The man waited outside the throne room to see what Legolas would do.

Legolas approached the cloth-covered palantir, aware of the harm that it could do if it was not properly wielded. He pulled off the cloth. There it was, a perfect sphere of clear black crystal. Light festered at its centre, drawing him to it. It called to him, inviting him to look deeply. The elf placed his hands on the cold smooth stone.

***

Stay Tuned...


EVERY ACT HAS A MOTIVE...

Extreme close up of a large frightened eye.

Silhouette of someone plunging a knife downwards.

Blood splatters on the wall.


EVERY COINCIDENCE HAS A PURPOSE...

Cassandra: You will make things right.

Balian brandishes his sword at someone

EVERY MAN HAS SOMETHING WHICH HE DESIRES...

HONOUR
Hector turns.

LOVE
Paris kisses Helen.

JUSTICE
Balian draws his sword.

Achilles: (shouting) Do you know what’s waiting upon that beach?

GLORY

Achilles: (shouting) Immortality! Take it! It’s yours!

POWER
Agamemnon: Troy must submit to my command!

Balls of fire fly into the night sky.

Balian fights a Greek adversary.

Paris shoots an arrow.

Legolas unsheathes his knives.

Pintel and Ragetti run with sacks of gold taken from the temple.


From the author of CHANCE ENCOUNTER comes

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: PIRATE KINGDOM OF TROY

COMING SOON


Jack: (raising an eyebrow) That’s...interesting.


***

A/N: The Ring’s destroyed! The story’s almost over! *sob* . I think there’s about one more chapter to go then Balian has to leave.

Kiwi, I'm glad you liked the bits of silly behaviour that I put in. It's always trial and error with those things.
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  #70  
Old February 8th, 2008, 08:10 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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I hope that is no leaving of the dying sort of leaving....

Loved the exchange between Eowyn and Faramir, that was lovely. I do hope that Guy is going to be suitably punished, death is too easy to be honest...

You have done a great job. Thanks for sharing this with us.
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  #71  
Old February 9th, 2008, 07:12 PM
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Telcontar Rulz Telcontar Rulz is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: New Zealand
Posts: 882
Chance Encounter


Disclaimer: I wish I owned Balian, Aragorn, Legolas and the rest of them but I don’t. I’m just borrowing them without permission but with every intention of returning them when I’m done.

Video trailer: http://youtube.com/watch?v=ykkPZPiO92s. A special thank you to Laurelindorenae for making this.


Chapter 35: The Return of the King

Balian followed the angel —for his guide could only be an angel— past the place where the souls were being judged. “Your time has not come yet, Balian,” said the angel. “That is why you are not permitted to go in. The Lord God has purpose for you in all the different worlds. That is why He has made you immortal.”

“I thought the One and the Valar made me immortal,” said Balian.

“Do you know what they are?” asked the angel. Balian shook his head.

“The One refers to the Lord God, and the Valar are the angels who administer to Middle Earth and the Undying Lands.”

“Which world do you administer to?” asked Balian. It seemed like an insolent question but he was curious. The angel smiled.

“Yours,” he said. “I have been watching you since the day you were conceived. It should have been my brother Gabriel’s task but as usual, he had been sent down in human form to deal with evil that had escaped from Hell.”

“If Gabriel is your brother then that makes you...”

“I am Michael, often called the Right Hand of God by you and your kind.”

Balian gaped. He was talking to the Archangel. Michael looked at him in amusement. “Come,” he said. “We are nearing Purgatory and there are people who want to see you.” As Michael spoke, figures appeared in the distance and began running towards them. They were dressed in white, like everyone else that he had met since coming here. As they neared, Balian recognized his father Godfrey, his mother, and a few of his friends. He was speechless with joy and he could not move. Was this all a dream? His mother reached him first. She was in the bloom of youth again and he could hardly recognize her.

“Balian,” she said, throwing her arms about her son. “What happened to you? I wasn’t expecting you so soon.”

“I hope it’s got nothing to do with that bastard Guy,” growled Godfrey. His hair was thick and dark again and all the lines had gone from his face as if they had been smoothed away by a divine hand. “Brother John told me how he tried to send Templars to kill you, and very nearly succeeded. But you have some strength in you, and some dumb luck.”

“He told us about what happened at Jerusalem too,” said his mother. “I am so proud of you.”

Balian grinned bashfully, then the grin faded. “Mother,” he said. “I’m sorry about what happened to Guillaume. I didn’t mean to kill him but I just couldn’t control myself...”

“It’s alright,” said his mother. “We all make mistakes. The important thing is that you saw fit to redeem yourself. That’s all that matters, mon petit bonhomme.”

Balian glanced around. “Where’s Brother John?” he said when he couldn’t see the permanently cheerful Hospitaller. Godfrey chuckled.

“Can you believe that Hospitaller?” he said. “He went straight to Heaven!”

Balian and his parents spent many more moments in conversation. They told him about life in Purgatory and he told them about his latest adventures. Godfrey could not stop himself from laughing when Balian mentioned how Gimli and Legolas called him ‘Nanny Balian’.

“It’s not that amusing,” said Balian with a scowl.

“Trust me,” said Godfrey “If you’ve been in Purgatory for as long as I have, anything remotely amusing is worthy of a laugh.”

“You haven’t been here for that long, Godfrey,” said Balian’s mother.

“It’s time to move on,” said Michael. Balian left his parents and friends reluctantly and followed the Archangel. He glanced backwards. His father had his arm around his mother and they were all waving at him. Then they faded into nothingness.

“They have gone back into Purgatory,” said Michael.

“I miss them already,” said the man.

“They will always be with you if you remember them,” said Michael. “Hurry, Heaven is just ahead and we are running out of time.”


***

Images flashed through Legolas’ mind as soon as his skin made contact with the palantir’s surface. The seeing stone showed him the White Tree of Gondor and its buds. ‘What’s that got to do with anything?’ he wondered. The palantir was getting out of control. The elf gasped in horror as he found himself staring into the eye of Sauron. Sweat beaded on his skin as he struggled to control the stone. Pain shot through his body as Sauron’s voice sounded in his head. Just as it threatened to overwhelm him, the palantir was knocked from his grasp. His eyes flew open.

“Idiotic elf!” cried Aragorn. The palantir was on the floor, with its cloth covering hastily thrown over it. “You should never have tried that! I tell you, you are going to be the death of me, Legolas Greenleaf! Are you alright? What did you see?”

“I saw the White Tree,” gasped Legolas, trying to regain his breath. “And I saw its buds. Aragorn, does the White Tree have healing properties?”

“I don’t know,” said Aragorn “but there ought to be something about it in the library.”

***

Balian glimpsed Heaven through its gates of lustrous pearl. From what he had seen of it, it was a spectacular place. It was full of light and birdsong. Children in the bloom of health plucked plump fruits from the trees while animals romped about their feet. Even the rats were well-fed and glossy. They lazed about in the sun and had no fear of being caught and killed. Brother John was waiting for them at the gates with another young man whom Balian could not recognize. The Hospitaller was wearing his usual amused smile. The young man beside him had dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard. His features looked as if they had been carved by the finest heavenly sculptor and his skin, although pale, glowed with health. They were both dressed in robes of pure white and their heads were wreathed with golden halos.

“Hello, Balian,” said the young man beside Brother John. Balian might not have recognized his face but he would know that voice anywhere although it sounded somewhat strange now that it was not muffled by a mask. The blacksmith tried to kneel but Baldwin stopped him. “We are all equal in God’s eyes,” he said.

“So, have you found your purpose yet, my young friend?” asked Brother John. His smile was benevolent, as was Baldwin’s.

“I believe I have,” said Balian.

“I see that you took my words to heart,” said Baldwin. “I spoke to God about you. All your trials and ordeals were tests, much like Job’s. You didn’t pass the tests very well though. You lost your faith, but the Lord God forgives you.”

“He told you that?” said Balian. “When all of that happened, I thought He had forgotten me, or perhaps he didn’t know me.”

“He knows you,” Baldwin assured him. “And He told us to tell you that you have a long and difficult road before you.”

“Tread it well, young Balian,” said Brother John. He put a hand on Balian’s shoulder. “God bless you, Balian son of Godfrey.”


***

A few hours later, after having looked through hundreds of volumes and consumed several glasses of wine, Aragorn and Legolas found what they were looking for. “It says here that unopened flowers from the White Tree can act as an antidote to any poison,” said Legolas.

“But it’s sacrilege to harm the White Tree,” said Aragorn.

“At the moment, I’m ready to commit sacrilege if it’s going to save Balian’s life,” said Legolas.

Aragorn stifled a yawn. The sun was already high in the sky. The third day had begun. “So how do you suggest we get the buds?” asked the man. “There are elite guards guarding the Tree and I don’t think they’ll let us just walk in and pick the buds off, even though I am the uncrowned King.

“We need to create a diversion,” said Legolas. “I think we should talk to the rest of the Fellowship, and Faramir, Éowyn and Éomer as well. We need some of their ideas.”

***

Balian and Michael continued on their journey back to the world of the living. Through an archway of black stone, Balian could see Hell and the souls that were in there, seething with pain as the eternal fire burned their flesh but never consumed them. Something made him stop in his tracks. In amongst the souls of the damned, he could see his Jocelyn, trying to reach out to him. There were purple ligature marks on her neck where the rope had been. Her entire body was on fire and some of her skin had charred but it was not killing her. She called out to him although the fiery winds drowned out her voice. Tears ran down her face, leaving glistening trails. He could see her lips forming his name. She tried to run to him, but demons grabbed her by the arms to pull her back. Balian gave a cry and tried to rush into Hell to save her and he would have done so if Michael had not caught him in time. “You can’t go in there,” said the angel. “If you go in there now, you’ll never get out again.”

“I’m not leaving her alone in Hell!” cried Balian as he struggled against Michael’s grasp. “Damn it! She’s my wife! I have to save her! She doesn’t deserve this...” His voice cracked as tears spilled from his eyes. “She really doesn’t deserve to be damned.”

“She will have a chance to escape once you have completed your next task,” said Michael. “The Lord God is merciful and he has made an exception for the two of you. If she is to leave Satan’s stronghold, then you must go to Hell, body and soul, to save her. For now, you must return to tread the path that has been set before you.”


***

The hobbits were very keen to help although Gandalf did limit the amount of involvement that Frodo could have. “You’re not well enough yet, Frodo Baggins,” said the wizard.

“I’m fine,” insisted Frodo. “I look worse than I feel.”

“Then you can’t be feeling that great, Frodo,” said Pippin. “Have you looked in the mirror in the last ten years?”

“Pip,” said Merry in exasperation. “This isn’t the time to joke.”

“I can pretend to faint,” offered Éowyn.

“Faramir and I can pretend to fight,” said Éomer. “They will help if they see the future King of Rohan trying to kill the future Steward of Gondor.”

“Can it be the other way around?” said Faramir.

“If you really want. Then while they’re trying to separate us, oh, and help Éowyn who’s fainted from fear for her dear brother’s life, Legolas can sneak up to the Tree and pick off a couple of buds.”

“Aragorn and Gandalf should involve themselves in the fight too,” said Merry “then the guards will really need to help.”

“What about us?” asked Frodo.

“We can call the guards over to help,” said Pippin.

“What about me?” asked Gimli.

“You can, err, look after Balian?” suggested Aragorn.

“What?!” said the dwarf. “I’m not his nurse!”

“I have to tell him this when he wakes up,” said Legolas. The elf had a gleam in his eye. “Nanny Balian and Nurse Gimli, the invincible pair.”

“You are going to be in so much trouble when the lad wakes up,” growled Gimli. “Wait and see, elf.”

***

It was duty as usual for the four Guards of the White Tree, or so they had thought. They could see and hear quite clearly the bickering between Lord Faramir and Éomer of Rohan and the two were coming to blows while Lady Éowyn and their friends tried to pull them apart, to no avail. The men went down in a heap. “Somebody help!” shouted Peregrin Took, the Halfling guard of the Citadel. There was no one else around so the guards of the White Tree left their posts.

“Quickly!” said another Halfling, an esquire of Rohan. “The Ringbearer’s underneath them!”

“Mr. Frodo!” cried the Ringbearer’s companion.

While the guards were busy with the ‘fight’, Legolas sneaked out from his hiding place and ran to the tree. He quickly plucked a handful of unopened buds and ran off with them towards the Houses of Healing.

The guards had managed to pull the quarrelling lords apart, wondering how they could’ve cooperated to destroy the enemy if they could come to blows so quickly over a grievance which none of them could remember. They went back to their posts, none the wiser as to what had happened to the Tree and its buds.

***

In the Houses of Healing, Éomer pressed a cold wet cloth to a bruise on his face where someone had accidentally kicked him. Aragorn was grinding the buds to a pulp while the others watched on. He added water to the paste then spooned it into Balian’s mouth. There was no response. Some of the precious liquid trickled from the sides of the young man’s mouth. Most of it just stayed inside. Frowning, Aragorn massaged Balian’s neck to induce a response. Balian’s throat moved as he swallowed. The King repeated the procedure until the blacksmith had downed most of the mixture.

“Now what do we do?” said Gimli.

“We wait,” said Aragorn.

***

Balian could see his own body below him. His friends were crowded around his bedside. He could hardly recognize himself. He looked as if he was wasting away.

“Go on,” said Michael. “It’s time for you to go back.”

Balian nodded, and he stepped down.


***

They waited. One hour passed, then two, then three. Just as they were losing hope, Balian’s eyes opened. The first things that he saw were his friends’ worried faces. He smiled weakly at them. “I’m back,” he whispered.

Merry and Pippin gave a whoop of joy and started clapping each other on the back. Everyone else’s faces were split by grins. Éowyn bent down to kiss his forehead. “Welcome back,” she said.

“How do you feel, Balian?” asked Aragorn.

“Great, as usual,” muttered Gimli.

“I feel fine,” said Balian.

“No, really,” said Aragorn.

“My belly hurts,” admitted Balian.

“So it should,” said Legolas.

“You had this great big nasty spear in you,” said Merry. “I wanted to warn you but I wasn’t quick enough.”

“You’re never quick enough, Merry,” said Pippin.

“Oh, be quiet, Pip.”

“And Guy?” said Balian.

“In prison” said Gimli with a satisfied smile. “We didn’t want to judge him until you woke up or...well, you know.”

“What do you want to do with him?” said Faramir.

“Kill him,” said Éowyn.

“Have him hung, drawn and quartered,” suggested Éomer.

“I am only a man,” said Balian. “Who am I to judge?”

“He can’t go unpunished,” said Aragorn.

“Maybe we should discuss this later,” said Legolas, noting the fact that Balian’s eyes were about to close again. “He’s tired.”

“So he is,” said Gandalf. “Get some rest, my boy. You deserve it.”

Balian’s friends filed out one by one. Legolas was the last to go. He glanced back and smiled. Te man had fallen into a deep healing sleep.

***

For the first twenty days, Balian spent most of his time sleeping. His friends fed him broth and other easy to digest foods. He could not remember much about those first twenty days but the pain in his abdomen was predominant, although it diminished as time passed. On the twenty-first day, the man stayed awake long enough to hold a decent conversation with Aragorn. The topic was Guy. They finally decided to exile him to the lands east of Mordor. The King of Gondor felt pity for the nomadic peoples who lived there. It was Legolas and Gimli along with the hobbits who spent the most time with Balian. Aragorn was busy preparing for his coronation which was to take place two months after the fall of Mordor. The elf and dwarf regaled the bored young man with amusing tales of how the former ranger complained about ceremonial robes and keeping clean. Frodo told the story of his journey to Mordor. The blacksmith shuddered when the Ringbearer described the Dark Land. He wouldn’t go there even if someone offered him a kingdom.

The day of Aragorn’s coronation arrived. Balian demanded to be allowed to see it. The healers relented after much cajoling and he was carried out on a litter. Legolas had disappeared, probably to greet the elven delegations from Lothlorien and Rivendell. He himself represented his nation of Greenwood. Gimli was in charge of bearing the crown and Gandalf was to do the crowning.

Petals rained down from the White Tree as Aragorn walked up the steps and knelt before where the White Wizard stood, in front of the doors of the Citadel. The sky was clear. All the darkness of Mordor had been chased away. It was strange to see Aragorn with neatly combed hair and arrayed in such fine garments. The man looked uncomfortable in his new station. The gathered witnesses watched in awe as Gandalf placed the crown on Aragorn’s dark head. “Now come the days of the King,” he declared. King Aragorn stood and turned to face his people.

“This day does not belong only to one man,” he said “but to all. Let us together rebuild this world which we will share in the days of peace.” The King took a breath, and then began to sing in elvish. The crowds listened in rapture, Balian included, although he did not understand a single word. There weren’t many kings who would sing for their people.

The song finished, and the King’s subjects cleared a path to allow him through to greet the elven delegations, led by Legolas as a prince of Greenwood arrayed in silver. A simple silver circlet rested on the elf’s golden head and Balian thought he looked very similar to the angels that he had seen. Legolas stopped before Aragorn. The two of them placed their hands on each other’s shoulders. The King of Men spoke to the elven prince in a voice so soft that only Legolas could hear what was being said. The elf smiled secretively and glanced behind. Another delegation, led by an older elf with dark hair was coming through. Aragorn let his hand fall away from Legolas’ shoulder and Legolas stepped aside to let the man pass.

Balian’s eyes widened as the loveliest woman he had ever seen came up to greet Aragorn. She bore a standard with the White Tree and seven stars. She dipped her head in submission to the King. The blacksmith could see that her ears were pointed and realized that she was an elf. Aragorn took the standard away from her and lifted her face with his other hand so that he could look into her eyes. He handed the standard to someone nearby then brought his lips to the woman’s in a passionate kiss. Cheers and wolf-whistles erupted. The joyous noise was deafening. ‘So this is the new Queen of Gondor,’ thought Balian. ‘Aragorn is a lucky man.’

The King and his new Queen broke apart, breathless. Hand in hand, they walked through the crowd, greeting their subjects and their friends. Aragorn stopped before where Balian was and smiled warmly down at the younger man. “I knew you would be able to persuade the healers to let you come, my friend,” said the newly crowned King of Gondor.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Balian with a grin.

“If you hadn’t defended this city in its hour of greatest peril, I might not be crowned here today,” said the King. He bowed his head to Balian. “Thank you.”

Balian blushed as the crowd around him followed Aragorn’s example and honoured him as the defender of Minas Tirith. He caught Legolas’ eye. The elf gave him a wink, as if to tell him to relax. The blacksmith looked across the sea of heads. The gratitude of the crowds and the King overwhelmed him. He opened his mouth to speak.

“I could not have done what I have done without the help and trust of the people of Minas Tirith,” he said. “This credit belongs not only to me but to all who fought the evil. We should thank every man, woman and child who shed blood and sweat so that we can live in days of peace.”

“Hear! Hear!” shouted a man from within the crowd. Soon, unanimous cheering filled the city of Minas Tirith.

***

Epilogue


With the King crowned and married, life returned to normal in the White City. Balian grew bored very quickly now that his health was improving and his friends no longer spent so much time with him as they were occupied with their own business. Legolas often stared towards the sea with a wistfulness that bordered on pain. Balian did not understand what was wrong with the elf until Gandalf tried to explain it to him. Afterwards, he was as confused as ever but at least he now knew that Legolas’ affliction was called Sea-longing.

Five months after Balian took his wound, he was discharged from the Houses of Healing, much to his delight and that of the healers. Immediately, Legolas invited him to go sailing with him along the shores of Dol Amroth. Prince Imrahil had extended an invitation to all the Fellowship, but only Legolas and Balian took up his offer. The hobbits longed for home and buried under his workload, Aragorn could not leave Minas Tirith. Gimli had no desire to sail on the ocean and was busy planning a new gate for the White City.

The sea had seemed calm but the weather changed with unnatural speed. Soon, Legolas and Balian were struggling to keep their vessel afloat. The boat capsized just as a whirlpool formed. The elf and the man clung on grimly to a piece of flotsam as they were sucked downwards into the depths. Water closed in over their heads and flooded their nostrils. Then they found themselves on the surface again with no land in sight. The sun was just rising and in the distance, they could see a ship...

Fin

Stay Tuned...


(Balian Voice-over)WHAT MAN IS A MAN WHO DOES NOT MAKE THE WORLD BETTER?

Balian: Fire!

Balls of fire fall among the Greek army

(Cassandra Voice-over)YOU WERE SENT TO SAVE TROY...

Barbossa fights a Greek.

Balian: That will be the death of you!

Ragetti and Pintel peer at something.

Calchas: A sacrifice must be made!

Balian is bound and on his knees.

Silhouette of someone stabbing downwards with a knife.

Calchas: They must pay!

Hector fights Achilles.

Legolas struggles against someone holding him back.

Jack shrugs and grins.

Will fights a Greek.

Paris shoots an arrow.


From the author of CHANCE ENCOUNTER comes

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: PIRATE KINGDOM OF TROY

COMING TO A COMPUTER SCREEN NEAR YOU

A/N: It’s over. Thanks to all my readers. You guys were the driving force behind all the chapters after the first one. Well, you guys and the characters in the story. Now I can work on the sequel, which will be fun (read: insane).

Thanks, Kiwi, for sticking with this story all the way through And congrats on becoming a mod
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Old February 11th, 2008, 08:26 AM
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KiwiGirl KiwiGirl is offline
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*sigh* so it is done. I loved Balian's journey to the spirit world/heaven and his glimpse into hell. I do hope that he manages to save his wife. Am sure that you will not leave that hanging, that you have plans.

Loved the plan for the diversion so that Legolas could pluck the buds from the tree. Was a wonderful story and thank you so much for sharing it.

Am looking forward to your next work, I presume from your trailers that you will be posting that soon.

And you are most welcome
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Old April 7th, 2008, 05:43 AM
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Stormdancer Stormdancer is offline
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Right - I've managed to get to the end of Chapter 13 - told you I'd be back. There is so much to read, this is going to take some time, but I'm determined to make it through to the end so I can hit Troy.

I'm enjoying it so far, I like seeing it from Balian's angle (any angle of Balian's is alright with me!) and he seems to fit in quite seemlessly with the Fellowship.

It's very fast paced, which is good because it follows the movies so closely we don't really need to go over those parts in too much detail, we've all seen them HEAPS of times, so we can easily keep up with you.

You're keeping the characters true to their essence too (oh, except Leggy - he never came across as quite so filled with rage or so fearful at times in the movies, and certainly isn't how I picture him when writing about him, but that's okay, because that's part of your story and adds depth to the differences between the characters), which isn't easy when juggling so many.

Anyway, I shall continue when next I get a chance. Thanks Fran, doing well.

cheers
Luna
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Old April 8th, 2008, 06:35 AM
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Stormdancer Stormdancer is offline
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Right - Chapter 17. This is taking awhile but I'm enjoying it. Love Balian, you've got him down really well and he seems to slip into the story quite well, following along FOTR lines.

So Guy is here...wonder how he managed to slip across worlds. Can't bear that man, hope he comes to a nasty end...oh, that's right, he did! hee hee

Thanks Fran. I'll keep going, when next I have a moment.

Luna
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Old April 8th, 2008, 10:42 PM
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I did review this on fanfiction.net but i just wanted to come here and say how amazing i thought this story was! It kept me enthralled right to the end and i'm halfway through the sequel! Which so far is brilliant! Keep writing because you're brilliant!

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