The Devil's Cover
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It was the year 1484 according to Middle-earth times. It was a long year for some, the year that Meriadoc, 102, took counsel with the Thain and traveled over Sarn Ford to Edoras. It was the year that King Eomer had died and Meriadoc and Thain Peregrin passed into Gondor and later they rested themselves there among the great of Gondor. Many thought it as a good year, with full bloom in all the flowers and everlasting beauty that stretched from the Shire to the fields of Pelennor. But for most, it was a year of a long dread that settled in the hearts of all people of Gondor…
“Are you all right, your Majesty?” Aragorn took three long strides, his black boots making loud thumps against the marble floor that echoed across the bare walls of the large room. He folded his arms behind his back and kept his head down, caught in deep thought. It was a hard year, a long year, and one that he found very difficult to bear. He did not want to admit that he was not all right and, actually, very far from it. His heart had been aching the previous month and his bones were deathly weak. Those were two of the various signs he felt that informed him his kingship was ending. The fate of Gondor would be placed in one of his heir’s hands, but which one? Would he live long enough to decide, or would his age be the source of his death? Yes, he was feeling great age that was so heavy it was as if he had carried the Ring all his life. His once brown hair was an ashen grey and a pale white touched its tips. His face was thin and wrinkled and his eyes were a sharp greenish-grey, the color of the Sea. His crimson chest plate was worn and his boots were stained with dirt and blood. Yes, age had finally pierced the depths of his heart.
“I am troubled,” he said warily, turning toward his old friend. Seeing Meriadoc again brought a sad smile across his face. The old hobbit still lived to bear his sensible wits and cheery spirit that allowed him to survive the long, tiresome journey to Gondor with Thain Peregrin. He returned the same distressing smile.
“You have a lot on your mind,” he answered as he sided with Aragorn. Both began pacing slowly towards the great brown doors ahead.
“Gondor is still strong though my time is ending. A new ruler must take my place, but much responsibility will be needed.”
“How do you know they are ready?” inquired Merry curiously.
“I have sent all of them into Fangorn to gather news from Treebeard and the other Ents. Those who were the wisest I will choose from. Only a few do not have their swords and those I will hand over tomorrow. They have my pride and my reliability.”
“In other words,” chuckled Merry, “those who come back in one piece will be chosen?”
A wider smile spread across Aragorn’s face momentarily until it suddenly failed. Although…” his voice faded into the back of his throat and he lowered his head, again thinking.
“…One did not go.” He stopped and raised his chin, nodding in the direction of the two honorable guards. Both proceeded in opening the sturdy doors and then kneeling, shining swords placed before them. When they exited the throne room they entered an elaborately decorated hall. Statues dotted the sides, standing on great platforms with proud faces and shimmering glass eyes. Some sat upon marble horses and some were in fighting stances, but they were all alike in a strange way.
“Who were you talking about, your Majesty?” Merry queried again.
“One of my distant heirs,” he responded. The glow once again entered his eyes. “She refused my orders and expected her brothers to finish her tasks. Her arm was slightly broken hitherto and it is still in the process of mending, but the procedure is intimately over. But still I have trouble with her further arguments. I suggested a different task but she stubbornly resisted. I do not think her sword shall be given so soon.”
They had reached the entrance of the Great Hall and they planted their feet on the edge of the uppermost step by the door. The air brushed by in soft movements and carried the scent of sweet flowers and pollen.
“Doesn’t it remind you of something?” smiled Merry, looking with wide eyes at Aragorn.
The King hesitated and sadness passed through his eyes. He knew what it truly reminded him of. It reminded him of the woods of Imladris, Rivendell, where he first set eyes upon Arwen. But Arwen had passed from this world long after her vast illness and her soul had settled upon the land. Soon after her sorrowful death many new flowers began to appear by her grave nearby, lavender flowers with dark blue spreading up the points of the soft pedals and forming a star. They were named evenstars in memory of the Queen.
Merry looked long at Aragorn and his sorrow-filled face. He then turned his gaze to the landscape.
“I can almost see the Shire,” he said, half to himself.
Spring had surely fallen into Gondor early that year. Yellow and white blossomed clustered the countryside along the dales and the over the green hills. The air was cool and humid with the sun’s saffron beams touching all life. Forests sprouted and new shrubs and thickets grew in splendor where children loved to play. The lakes sparkled like emeralds from afar and rivers flowed like silver lines through the valleys. Children wandered about its sides and looked for duck or goose eggs, either for dinner or for sheer fun.
“Have you found one yet?” asked a red haired boy. He dug his hands in the straw than bedded the nest of a mother goose. He searched it eagerly for a few moments until his hand met a smooth object and he pulled it out with no hesitation. “I found one! I found one!” he cried and danced joyfully around his companion. But when the other boy didn’t respond he stopped and looked in the direction in which his friend was gazing. He shaded his eyes from the rising sun and saw people in the distance.
“They’re back!” exclaimed his sandy haired friend, before he could reply. Within moments both were running wildly towards the city.
Word spread in quick time and the coming of the heirs of Gondor was declared. Golden trumpets and horns sounded and bright red and yellow flags were raised in honor. Aerindril groaned as she peeked out her dusty window. She rested her chin on her hand, almost wishing she had gone on the useless journey with her arrogant brothers and cousins. Almost. She descended the winding stairs that led to the main entrance of the Great Hall. Her relatives began pouring into the hall and walking proudly toward the Throne Room. Aerindril, seeing that the opportunity was perfect, fell into the long line and headed towards the doors. When she entered with the rest of the line of people she straightened her posture and held her head high. Aragorn stepped slowly down from his throne and met the gaze of all. He motioned them and all knelt on one leg, swords glowing brightly on their belts.
“My heirs,” he began, his voice loud with pride, “I welcome all of you back. I am glad to hear that everyone returned safely.” He glanced abruptly at Aerindril and continued his speech. Aerindril sighed aloud and rolled her eyes. She was hearing the same speech that had droned in her head for the last week or so. One more time was precisely enough. She moved uncomfortably as he carried on for a long period.
“Those who wish to receive their sword, step forward,” said Aragorn. Seven people, four men and three women, knelt before him with bowed heads. Aerindril stayed in her spot. One by one, each was given beautiful swords with green gems, blue jewels, and red rubies embedded in each. Gold and copper lined the hilt and the blade was as sharp as a newly forged sword could be.
“You are all dismissed,” said Aragorn after congratulating and thanking them. In a straight line they exited the room. All except Aerindril. Aragorn noticed the pale and bleak figure that created a shadow on the barren walls. “Guards, you are also dismissed,” he called, and they immediately obeyed. “What do you wish for?” he asked, as if he didn’t know.
“Where is my sword?” she demanded rudely. “I deserve one ten times more than everyone else. I need one!”
“Need one? Or want one?” Aragorn said, a sly grin creeping across his lips. Aerindril smirked, ignoring his empty taunt.
“If I had a my own sword I would be out there fighting all the goblins and Wargs you could imagine! I would be the best of all!” Her face became red with anger.
“The point,” the King said sharply, “is not being the best. It is earning your dignity and respect which you are far from.”
“How dare you disrespect me, heir of your bloodline!”
“It is not disrespect that I give you, but banishment from my city!”
Aerindril clenched her fists and closed her eyes. When she opened them they were bloodshot with wrath. Her voice grew powerful and loud as she spoke.
“I swear upon my ancestors grave that no longer am I mortal heir of Elendil but the keeper of a new race, dominant and powerful, dreadful yet desirable!!”
She automatically released her anger and it swept across the room and across all corners of Gondor.
Then…she stopped. In her hand was Narsil and lying on the marble steps of his throne was Aragorn, son of Arathorn, slain.