The armies of the Last Alliance set out from Imladris after three long years, and know that many may never return from this long march upon the Black Lands and upon the Black stone an oath most proud is broken, while across the sea a rose of Highgarden and her companions find hints to a realm long forgotten.
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Imladris Year 3434 of the Second Age of the Sun
The weight of years loomed heavily upon Galadriel; though there was joy thereto was sorrow, for much had happened in her long years in these lands, yet no happiness or sadness lasts forever.
At last, the eve of their leaving came, and a great and fair company made ready all that was needed to depart from Imladris. Alas, for it was a bitter parting as Isildur embraced his tearful wife and the Lady Andreth clinging to Robar, her eyes sparkling with tears, but none more so than her wolf and Arianne, whom she spied among the soldiery.
"I shall pray for your safe return each day, my love,' said Arianne tearfully. 'Though it is grim fate that we should be parted so long. I know you shall be victorious and watch our son grow.'
Jon took her hands in his own and kissed her sweetly. 'Aye, my love, tis cruel indeed that our happy days are at an end, but I shall return to you, and our years shall be of peace and plenty. This I vow before the throne of Manwe and the Lords of the West!" They embraced once more, yet Jon's face wrung with pain as if he had been stabbed in the heart; tears welled from his eyes.
Though Galadriel felt bitterness at their words, it was cruel, she knew, yet she felt robbed of the joy of bearing her beloved's firstborn, yet she felt sorrow for Arianne as well; it was a cruel fate for a warrior to be left behind while others marched to war, seeing her husband in such despair broke her heart knowing there was nought she could do to ease his suffering.
There was little time to dwell on such sadness, for she must say her own farewells; her heart was heavy as Celebrian appeared from among those gathered, her grey eyes absent lustre and her voice filled with dread.
"Why must you go, Mamil? You've fought enough… lay aside your spear and remain here," cried Celebrian embracing her mother fiercely.
"I must go, my sweet yelya, the reign of the Dark Lord, must end, or this land shall never know peace, many have come forth to defend their peoples, and it would be shameful that the daughter of kings should cower behind high walls," said Galadriel, wiping away her daughter's tears.
"Oh Mamil, our time together was too short, and once Elrond departs, I shall be alone," said Celebrian holding her mother tighter.
"You will not be alone, my sweet star," said Galadriel gently. "Many of Jon's kin shall remain behind, and they must have someone to aid them while we are away."
"Then I shall aid them in whatever they wish; let it never be said that the house of Elrond were poor host nor layabouts," said Celebrian with a teary laugh.
"No, it wouldn't be, my daughter... Although I would like to stay with you until I leave... go be with your husband," said Galadriel taking her hand and kissing his brow; thus, Celebrian departed to spend what time she could with Elrond before he marched to war.
The following morning
It was the cold chill hour before the first stir of dawn, the moon was low, and the stars still gleamed overhead. All was made ready as the men scrambled about mounting horses and guiding the baggage ponies while the soldiery bid their final farewells to their loved ones; it was a bitter poison to see them as Galadriel knew many would never return to the North nor their families.
"But I will make certain that my beloved Jon returns! I shall not let him die as I did Celeborn; my wolf shall not stray from me again," thought Galadriel, fearful she may lose her beloved war ere the Age ended.
As intended, the host was divided into two, the first led by Gil-galad, Isildur and Elendil, who would take the pass of Imladris, though they would not go alone, for above them were Daenerys, and Rhaenys mounted atop Meraxes and Meleys.
While the second part of the army was led by Jon and herself, with Ser Loras, Ser Robar and her beloved's cousin, Arya, among the vanguard, they would cross over the Redhorn Gate further south, hoping that the snow had not yet settled upon the high road. Thus began the journey of many leagues for the salvation of Middle earth.
They had been marching near a fortnight when the weather began to change. The frigid wind suddenly fell and then veered round to the south. The dark thunderheads that loomed melted away, and the sun came out, pale and bright. Their company came at last to the place where she and Jon had camped neigh a century ago; the great trees still stood as if welcoming them back, and about their roots were bushels whose berries glowed red in the light of the rising sun.
Jon rode beside her and looked out from under his hand, 'We have done well, my Star,' he said. "Many leagues we have come in so short a time, yet, many more await us. Let us hope this good weather holds."
'Dangerous or not, we must cross the pass,' said Galadriel, throwing back her hood and letting the morning light fall on her face.
"Indeed, my Lady", he answered. "We have some ways to go, but I hope we shall reach the slopes in three days' time. Let us make haste."
The march continued without trouble; the lands were peaceful; there was no sound save the tramping of soldiers and the baying of wolves as Ghost accompanied the army on foot while Deathclaw soared above, scouting the land for any dangers that might waylay them.
They rode through the night. The next morning dawned brighter than before. But the air grew chill again; already the foul winds had turned back eastward as they marched on, ever more slowly as their road wound up into the hills, and the mountains towered up, nearer and nearer. On the third morning, just as the stars grew dim, Caradhras rose before them, a mighty peak, tipped with snow like silver, but with sheer naked sides, dull red as if stained with blood.
"By the Valar," said Loras gazing up at the mountains in wonder.
"Yes, an imposing sight it is for the Dimrill Dale that we are making,' said Galadriel. 'If we climb the pass that is under the far side of Caradhras, we shall come down by the Dimrill Stair into the deep vale of the Dwarves."
"And should we go through it? Would it not be better to go further down at travel through Khazad-dum itself" Loras said apprehensively while Robar kept silent.
"Nay, we must reach the Vale of the Anduin as swiftly as able; the last missive spoke of the Silvan gathering in great numbers on the shores of the Great River, and it would do us little good to displease the Silvan with our tardiness, do not trouble your thoughts brother. Vhagar is near now we must hope she will aid us," said Jon grimly as he bent his will towards the dragon.
They did not wait long Vhagar swept down from above, her wings beating like the roar of a great wind. As she swooped low, the Bronze Queen let loose a torrent of bitter flame, frightening the horses and pack animals so greatly some bucked their riders and sped off.
"I think she's furious", growled Loras struggling to master his frightened horse.
"Aye, not many would enjoy having their meal interrupted", Robar muttered in agreement.
The great dragon circled for a few moments before landing with an almighty thud not far from the army, yet Vhagar looked less than pleased, her green eyes glinting with malice and great plumes of smoke billowing from her vast jaws.
Arya and Galadriel exchanged glances of amusement. It seemed after all these years, the old dragon hadn't changed Vhagar was a Queen of her kind in every sense, prideful, stubborn and wrathful.
Jon approached Vhagar warily as he did not wish to anger her further until, at last, he stood before her vast head.
"Welcome and well met, Vhagar!" said Jon and bowed. "We have need of your might."
Vhagar eyed him for a few moments before blowing soot into his face. Jon coughed and sputtered, much to the amusement of his brothers, who did their best to conceal their laughter.
"Come, Vhagar!' said Jon. "We are all friends here. Or should be; for the laughter of Mordor will be our only reward, if we quarrel. Our need is great Vhagar, and your reward shall be worth the trouble."
She regarded him, and then Jon placed his hand upon her snout, and to the astonishment of all, he began to sing yet did not understand the words: fair was the music. Yet in a way, the words remained graven in their memories long after, for it was the magics of the dragonlords of the East.
Yn lantyz bartossa
Hen ñuhā elēnī:
Se gēlȳn irūdaks
Hae mērot gierūli:
Se hāros bartossi
Galadriel had always loved her beloved's singing, and it seemed the dragon enjoyed it as well, for the great Queen grumbled happily; Jon then turned to the gryphon, who glowered at him, seemingly knowing what his companion intended.
"My Star, you and Arya shall accompany me on Vhagar and guard my body while Loras and Robar shall travel on Deathclaw," said Jon suddenly.
"That was not the plan we agreed upon? So why change our course now, Jon?" asked Galadriel wearily.
"I know, my Star, yet if I may spare you of any troubles that await us, I will take that opportunity Vhagar and Deathclaw have agreed to ferry us over the mountains and guard our men from above," Jon said with shame and Galadriel felt sorry for the poor balances that will have to walk the road.
"Well, my Wolf though I am glad to know you care for us so keenly, I feel pity for those who must vie with cruel Caradhras!" said Galadriel with a slip of a smile, and Jon nodded sadly.
"You speak truly, my star, though there is little time to argue the longer we stand idle, the sooner the weather may turn against us," said Jon, glancing pityingly at his host.
She was about to agree when Arya ran to her husband and embraced him.
"Arya…" said Jon reproachfully.
"Hush, you fool, I'm cold!" said Arya, burying her face in his chest. All the while his brothers-in-arms chortled and sneered.
"In that case, let's get moving…stop laughing, you fools," said Jon angrily.
"By the Valar, they act like children." Galadriel thought. "Though it could be practice for when Jon and I have our own."
The chill had come swiftly, and they knew they must cross the Redhorn quickly. So Loras and Robar dismounted their steeds, who were led off by the squires and shambled onto Deathclaw's broad back; at once, the mighty Gryphon lanced skyward, and they were off.
She and Arya meanwhile clambered onto Vhagar's sinewy frame fastening themselves into the saddle of leather. Indeed, it was amusing to Galadriel as the men and elves looked on bewildered; no doubt this was the first time they had seen an elf ride a dragon.
Jon was last to climb up, seating himself in front, reins clutched firmly in hand, then suddenly with a great cry of Sōvēs Vhagar unfurled her mighty wings and soared towards the pale sky.
Soon they were high above the pass, though not so high as they lost sight of the army winding up the steep paths like a long line of ants. They flew for many hours, and the frigid winds whirled about them. Fortunately, her wolf was quite warm in spite of his warging; she and Arya clung to him, hoping to stave off the cruel might of the mountain.
They went on. But before long the snow was falling fast, filling all the air, and swirling into Galadriel's eyes. The dark shapes of the army below could barely be seen. The wind whistled angrily, and the snow became a blinding blizzard, and her mind was drawn back to those unhappy days when she and her kin crossed the Helkaraxë, but she would not falter.
"Eärendil, give me strength!" said Galadriel solemnly, drawing the phial from within her satchel, its light growing steadily.
"What's that?" asked Arya curiously, eyeing the phial in wonder.
"Tis why we have come young wolf; now cover your eyes", Galadriel ordered solemnly, holding the phial aloft; it blazed forth like a bolt of lightning, its brilliance likened to the sun when it first rose, the shadows fled, and at once they heard a cheer from the armies below.
"By the Valar!" Arya shouted, shielding her eyes from the radiance of the light.
"It seems you have little sense, Arya Stark," said Galadriel, and Vhagar grumbled angrily, no doubt Jon's doing.
"Focus on your task, Jon..." said Galadriel annoyedly, pinching his cheek, though her love was not pleased.
"This is far better," said Galadriel embracing Jon from behind, revelling in his warmth.
The journey through the pass continued for the better part of the day until the first eves of twilight the paths of the mountain grew low until they flew over flatter country; they were welcomed by a great sea of green, gold and brown, and the air was filled with the sweet scent of wildflowers for it was nearly spring.
Far ahead, Galadriel could see a great host of soldiers striding along the banks of the river Anduin wider than any they had seen in the West of Middle-earth, and beyond were mountains whose sharp horns seemed to pierce the realm of the stars.
"We have arrived..." said Galadriel wearily though happy to see again the Vales of the Anduin, which she had not trod since the Battle of Gwathló more than an age past.
"Finally…I can get off this great lizard…." said Arya vexedly, no doubt sore from their long ride. Vhagar grumbled angrily at the slight and descended into the vale, landing with a great boom sending up dirt and trees.
"At last," Jon grumbled wearily.
"Are you well, my Wolf?" asked Galadriel worriedly.
"Aye, though mastering a dragon's mind for so long is wearying, the feeling of power. On more than one occasion, I almost lost myself several times, and it grew worse the longer our minds were joined," said Jon recalling the dangers of such magic.
"But you still did it," said Arya, embracing him and kissing him sweetly.
"Aye, we have made good time," Jon grumbled, "Though we shall have to wait a while before we can move."
"Jon?" asked Arya worriedly.
"It's nothing, just that my back is knotted, perhaps from staying unmoving for so long," said Jon grimacing in pain.
Galadriel smiled; it was an opportunity to remind Arya that she was dearest to Jon, so she snaked her hands under his tunic, endeavouring to undo as many knots as she could.
"Aaahh…My beloved Galadriel," Jon groaned appreciatively while Arya looked at her enviously.
"What are you doing?" said Arya angrily.
"Easing my husbands' burden, Arya!" said Galadriel calmly, relishing the young Stark's resentment.
Jon groaned in pleasure as she eased his weariness, though Arya no longer looked resentful, instead eyeing her with curiosity.
"If you wish to learn, my girl, come closer..." said Galadriel, unravelling the strain in her beloved's neck; Arya said nothing, content to watch her ply her skills, no doubt hoping to do the same for Jon in the future.
The three of them sat atop Vhagar for near an hour while she did her best to ease Jon's pain while his cousin watched them... this continued until they heard a piercing screech and the flapping of wings as a large shadow descended upon them.
Deathclaw had come at last with Loras and Robar in tow. Galadriel waved to them in greeting before undoing yet another knot, and Jon groaned happily.
"Welcome, my brothers. I trust your journey went well?" said Jon, struggling to stay awake as Robar greeted them.
"Yes, fortunate favoured us this day, and the soldiers are in high spirits," replied Robar merrily. "We must thank you, Lady Galadriel your phial shone as the stars and guided us through that horrid blizzard,"
Unfortunately, Deathclaw had grown weary of his passengers and bucked riotously, throwing off Loras and Robar, who fell to the ground in the midst of the mud and leaves.
"Stupid animal," grumbled Loras scrambling to his feet.
"Damned bird," Robar seconded, to which the resentful griffon screeched in anger.
"Deathclaw wishes you to mind your manners!" laughed Jon. "Also, he demands compensation from both of you for ferrying you across the mountains."
"Tell the bird to forget it; he dares to demand food after throwing us off?" Loras asked indignantly, wiping mud from his cloak and the leaves from his hair.
"I'm afraid the gryphon has always been like this... A noble beast of great pride," Galadriel said with a melodious voice, perceiving how the soldiers were slowly approaching, so she had to finish her massage with great regret since she wanted to continue enjoying the softness and warmth of her husband's skin.
The Lady of Light smiled ruefully and turned Jon to meet her gaze before kissing him passionately as she might.
"Oh, by the Valar," grumbled Arya, her countenance reddening in shame.
Galadriel laughed. "He is my husband, naive girl! Learn this well and feel happy that I let you warm his bed," The girl's eyes widened in fear, and Galadriel chortled gaily before slipping out of her mind.
"Now we must wait for our soldiers." Galadriel thought as Jon helped her and Arya down from Vhagar's wing; all the while, Loras and Robar could be heard arguing with Deathclaw, who seemed wholly displeased he wouldn't be compensated for carrying the two knights.
They did not wait long, however, as a loud horn echoed in the night and in the gloaming, they could see the banners of the men and elves growing steadily closer until, at last, the captain of the host stood before them cold but in good spirits.
"Welcome..." said Jon bowing in greeting
"It's a pleasure to finally leave behind that dreadful mountain," said Narwion, returning the bow with equal courtesy.
"Aye, tis good fortune we made it over swiftly as we did. But, by the Valar, I never thought I would hate snow so strongly," said a Dúnedain batting snow from his cloak and mail.
"I'm sorry to say that our journey is not over. The armies of the Greenwood and Lorien are moving about the valley… So we may take a short respite and wait for the rest of our troops, but it must be brief," said Galadriel.
The soldiers nodded, but did not answer, busying themselves with dusting off snow and making certain armour was in good order.
"But my Lady, if I may ask…The light we saw above us…." said Narwion wistfully.
"A gift from the Elder Days…you know well the origin of the light," said Galadriel moving to stand next to Jon, who seemed to be getting his bearings after so long in the air.
"Let us recover our strength," said Jon glancing at Vhagar and pointing at a gnarled old pine that seemed suitable for kindling.
The dragon lazily raised her head and shot a small stream of emerald flames at the trees, quickly setting them ablaze.
"Gather a bundle of faggots and build a fire; eat something if you must, but we'll depart in two hours…." said Jon proudly.
The soldiers nodded and carefully tore off parts of the burning tree, mindfully of the embers and soon the air was filled with the smell of sweet smoke and meat as the men ate and drank before beginning their march again.
As expected of her wolf, he kept his word, and after a short rest, they resumed their march, hoping to arrive before the Silvan kings. She loathed to be late, so did her best to keep pace with Jon while the army trudged on behind them. In this way, they followed the path down the Anduin until, at last, she saw something in the distance.
Straight ahead, across a wide lake of darkness, watch fires sprang up, many lights in the gloaming filling the air with billowing smoke; earthen works had been raised, and several siege engines were laid out in neat rows.
"What do your elf eyes see, my Star?" Jon asked.
"We don't have to worry about the others, my wolf. It seems Elendil and Gil-galad wished to be prepared for our arrival," said Galadriel merrily, eager to have some wine and sit down.
"I am glad this journey was wearying, and our men deserve a long rest before we set out again," grumbled Jon sadly.
"You were too harsh with them, my wolf, though not without good reason. It is better to arrive late rather than not at all," said Galadriel, hoping to raise his spirits.
"We'll be late though…." Jon groaned, knowing how she loathed being last in anything.
"Yes, I'm afraid so, though I enjoy spending time with you much more than speaking of war..." said Galadriel, her eyes alight with mischief.
"Thank you, my Star…." Jon grumbled, wishing he could kiss his wife, yet too many eyes watched them.
Galadriel chortled. "Worry not, my wolf, we shall share a bed tonight that I promise you."
They rode on a ways until at last coming to the gathering of tents and halted; it was then Jon realised that these were Elves, but wholly unlike the Elves of Imladris, they went about clad in leathers and cloaks of shadowy greys, and each carried a great bow almost as tall as themselves.
Upon seeing her, they bowed in greeting but eyed Jon and his horse mistrustfully for a moment she feared a fight may break out as the Silvan were mistrustful of any save their kin. Then one of the Silvan stepped forward and spoke in the Common Speech.
"Greetings...Lady Galadriel," he said. "It does my heart good to gaze upon the beauty of the Lady of Edhellond."
"Well met; it is a delight to see my kin who make this blessed Vale their home," Galadriel said, merrily as Jon helped her down off her horse.
"The pleasure is ours, Lady Galadriel...I assume your companion is Prince Baelon Targaryen, mighty among Men and Elves," the elf said, bowing low.
"Aye, that is my name, yet I would have yours as well," replied Jon watching the elf in amusement.
"Tawarher, they call me in my land in which the tales and stories of your deeds have been told, and I would much like to hear first-hand, but oh, I'm afraid that will have to wait because we have orders to bring you and your companions before our Kings, yet I find it odd that you are alone," replied the Tawarher surprised.
"Aye, there is good cause, for our horses are swift as summer's wind, and few may vie with them, so our companions have trailed behind, but they shall be with us shortly", answered Jon, patting Lòmerocco in thanks.
"That pardons it... When our King Amdír gave this gift to the mighty Elf Lord who dwells in the hidden valley, we never imagined he would grant the steed to one of the Atani," said Tawarher, astonished to see the heirs of Nahar bearing a mortal man.
"Aye, Lord Elrond gave me this horse only after Lòmerocco chose me as his rider... I don't understand much of my horse's motives for choosing me rather than one of the Firstborn," said Jon, his countenance redding slightly.
"Our companions are drawing nearer, but now tell me, where is King Amdír? Has he not come yet?" Galadriel asked with authority, holding back her laughter at the embarrassment of her husband.
"At the moment, he is speaking Kings Elendil, Gil-galad and Oropher; with them are also the son of Elendil and his heir as well as the heirs of the Silvan Kingdoms, Lord Elrond and two mortal women with the power to tame dragons; all are in the pavilion in the centre of the camp," said Tawarher the latter in amazement.
At that moment, the call of many horns announced the coming of the soldiery of Elendil.
"Ah, our companions have finally arrived..." said Jon good naturedly, pleased that one part of their journey was over.
"It seems they have seen much misfortune," said Tawarher glancing at the soldiers in wonder.
"Yes, and they must rest, but we've more pressing matters to attend to, so escort us to the pavilion", ordered Galadriel, and the elves bowed.
"As you wish, my Lady… please follow us," said Tawarher trying to escort her himself, but she gave him a cold look and offered her arm, which Jon took gladly to the astonishment of those gathered.
"See to it our men are well taken care of. The journey over Caradhras was wearying," ordered Jon, and Tawarher nodded.
"So, it shall be done", sworn another elf who had overheard the conversation.
And they all set off through the camp, welcomed by the Dúnedain and the Noldor; the Silvan, however, looked upon her husband with hatred and contempt, no doubt his closeness to her and knowing that a horse of Nahar's lineage chose him as its rider did not endear him to the Wild Elves.
But to the joy of Galadriel, her beloved Jon tolerated all that with dignity and in silence.
"For you, my beloved Star, I would challenge the Great Enemy, the Father of Dragons and the Lord of the Balrogs to single combat. I can bear the contempt of these wild fools…." said Jon, swiftly caressing her hand, and she reddened.
"Thank you, my Wolf, you've won a prize tonight…" She said mischievously, enjoying Jon's reddening countenance.
The King's tent was large, and the cloth so lavishly adorned that it seemed to flash and glitter with a silvery light. Jon knew at once who had woven the tent.
"When did Sansa knit this tent?" Jon wondered aloud, and his star laughed.
"I don't know, Jon, but it seems your cousin's talent has improved greatly over the centuries," said Galadriel cheerfully.
They were led to the entrance of the great tent and received by the doorwardens, who greeted them in the common tongue.
"It is the will of Amdír that none should pass here save those whose need is urgent or have news of the war," said one of the guards. "Have you business with our Lord? Speak swiftly, for our time is short, and I will not have our Lord troubled by vagabonds."
Jon glowered at the Silvan. "Never in my long life did I think that the Lady of Light and the Prince of Osgiliath would be greeted as if we were common rabble. Shall you bare our way or let us pass?"
A troubled look came into the guard's eyes. "Of these names I know little, and they mean little still to those who dwell in the Golden Wood,' he answered. 'If what you tell me is truth, then doubtless Lord Amdír will have heard of it. Maybe your coming was not wholly unlooked-for. Or maybe you are servants of the shadow masked in fair form!"
"Servants of shadow?' said Galadriel, looking sharply at the guard. 'Hold your tongue, foolish Silvan! My errand is not to you, but to the Lord of your wood. We are in haste. Will you not go or send to say that we are come?' Her eyes glinted dangerously as she bent her gaze upon the foolish elf.
'Yes, I will go,' he answered slowly. 'Wait here a little while, and I will bring you such answer as seems good to him. He went swiftly away, leaving the strangers in the watchful keeping of his comrades. After some time, he returned.
Jon turned to Galadriel and smiled. "Thank you, my Star, any longer, and I fear I would've slain him."
"Think little of it, my wolf. It seems the wariness of the Silvan peoples is great, and not all have heard of your deeds nor mine," Galadriel replied.
They were brought from their thoughts by the voice of the elf. "You may enter though you shall mind yourself around our Lord should any misfortune befall him; our armies shall depart."
As they entered the pavilion, Jon was struck by its comfortableness. It was spacious as a dining room and had all the comforts of home: feather cushions and fur blankets, braziers to ward off the chill of the night, leather armchairs, a large writing table with feathered quills, and inkwells, bowls of peaches, pears, and plums, a jug of Arnorian wine with a set of silver goblets, books, maps, a tall harp, a longbow and quiver of arrows, and several many weapons that lay strewn about.
"There is no doubt this is worthy of a king," said Jon amazed that such luxury could be erected with such haste. It was then he heard the melodious laughter of Galadriel.
"Oh, my Wolf, you still think as a common soldier and not a Great Lord though I must concede that your cousin wove this tent splendidly… yet there is much that could be done to better it," said Galadriel humorously, though their conversation would have to wait for a council was being held.
Around a large oaken table stood Kings Elendil and Gil-galad, Isildur and his three sons, Lord Elrond, Lord Círdan, even Lord Glorfindel had decided to attend, Rhaenys and Daenerys were there as well, but also the Royal House of Greenwood though most remarkable of all were two elves Jon had never seen before.
The elder of the two had hair like glimmering silver, his face fearless and full of joy; his eyes were green as the eves of spring, but unlike Lord Círdan, whose eyes held compassion, this Elf King had nothing but coldness in his eyes. He was here out of need but held no love for the Noldor nor the Dúnedain.
The second elf was doubtless kin to the first since he looked remarkably like him, save his hair was of deep gold and his countenance cheerful, although his eyes revealed great wisdom.
Clad alike in armour of leather and iron, and on their backs were wooden shields and other light weapons... There was no doubt this was King Amdír of Lorien and his heir Prince Amroth.
As soon as they entered the pavilion, all the elven Lords immediately felt them entering, while their King and the others soon discovered their sudden silence.
"JON!" Daenerys and Rhaenys cried with happiness, rushing to greet him, caring little for the presence of Galadriel, who hid her feelings well. Still, Jon was glad to see his aunt, who kissed him happily.
"You took a long time..." said Daenerys holding him close.
"Yes, we thought something had happened to you...I was about to go look for you on Meleys," said Rhaenys worriedly.
"I know, I know... I apologise; we were waylaid by a dreadful blizzard and nearly defeated by the mountains. Still, thanks to the efforts of Lady Galadriel, we passed over the mountains without trouble," said Jon returning their embrace and glancing at Galadriel in gratefulness.
"Your humbleness in me warms my heart, Prince Baelon, but the praise does not belong to me alone. I give honour to Vhagar as well though it seems we must begin our council before the Lords grow impatient," said Galadriel haughtily, hoping to separate the princesses from her husband.
Something that both Targaryen's realised as they saw the glint in Galadriel's eye indeed, they had come to know the Lady of Light held great cunning and greater envy.
"My Lady is right, now please let me pay my respects," said Jon, separating from his loved ones who vexed, freed him from their embrace while Galadriel again offered her arm, and Jon took it gladly; together, they strode forward and bowed in greeting.
"My King...I have come," said Jon with reverence.
"Indeed, you have, though I looked for your coming long before. I am glad that you and Lady Galadriel have arrived safely," said Elendil bowing low to Galadriel.
"Son of Amandil... It does my heart good to see you well and that you have set up this camp without delay; though our task be long and wearying, it is good to see friendly faces again," said Galadriel happily.
"Greetings, Galadriel of the Noldor; long have been the centuries since you and your daughter left my halls, and many still mourn your departure. I likewise give condolences for the departure of Celeborn though there was little love between us his demise was a tragedy for our peoples," said the King of Lorien without turning to greet Jon, and it was clear he held little regard for men.
"Has King Amdír had conflicts with Men?" Jon wondered, vexed by the King's disdain. Still, he did not wish to unsettle his King though they were seemingly displeased by the Woodland King's haughtiness, even Prince Amroth was embarrassed.
"Your words of comfort are welcomed; his loss left a wound that shall take many ages to heal, and I hope your words may prove wise in the days to come," said Galadriel, sadly remembering Celeborn but there too was a coldness in her voice for she was displeased with the way he spoke to Jon.
"My Lady keeps strange company." Said King Amdír's heir, struggling to be respectful.
"My guard, who is the Prince of Osgiliath, Baelon of the Targaryen House, herald of Elendil, Jon Herenlounga... slayer of the Emerald Wyrm, friend of elves and dwarves, bearer of Ringil, slayer of Khamul the Black Easterling," said Galadriel proudly, her eyes blazing in contempt.
King Amdír's turned to look upon him, his green eyes menacing, powerful, harsh as stone, as if piercing his flesh to see into his soul; many would cast down their eyes, but it was not so.
Jon held his gaze, for he was mighty among men and elves. He would not cower before this faithless woodland sprite.
Understanding that the King of Lorien's antipathy towards Jon would not disappear shortly, they all resolved to disregard it although they were not pleased by the Silvan King's pride.
"I see that you and the Lady Galadriel have arrived safely…But where are your brothers in arms? Or your cousin? And your troops?" Isildur asked.
"After coming out of the mountains, we rested a short while before coming here though Galadriel and I rode on ahead so as to not be late for the council. They are a little ways behind us with Loras and Robar leading them; as for my dragon Vhagar had returned to her lair, no doubt expecting recompense next time she is summoned," said Jon merrily, and the lords grumbled about the greediness of dragons and the pride of Gryphons.
"It's strange that they call you Dragon Tamer if you must come to terms with it...Baelon Targaryen," said Amdír, speaking to Jon for the first time, but he just shrugged without giving importance or caring about the title of this King.
"They are dragons, not mere hounds I can summon on a whim", said Jon these were fair words and true, if proudly and grimly spoken.
Suddenly Amdir laughed. "So this is the man who tamed the foal I had sent to Imladris…I apologise for my rudeness, but even in my far country, news of your exploits prowess has reached me, and I wished to see if the legends spoke truly."
"So you wished to cause grievance for mere amusement?" snarled Rhaenys stepping up from behind Jon.
"I apologise, though since I learned that the emissary of the Valar had tamed a steed of the line of Nahar, that proud and indomitable colt, I have been interested to see what kind of mortal man could tame such a steed," said Amdir.
"Though the horse loved his freedom, he bore greater love for Jon and chose him as his rider," Lord Elrond said, surprising both Royal Families of the Forests.
"You have accomplished another feat…Baelon Targaryen, befriending a horse fit for a King," said Oropher speaking for the first time. His voice filled with wonder.
"It's been many years, King Oropher, and yes, I have a certain gift with animals…such a Ghost, even now his pack guards our camp," said Jon with a smile.
"Yes, my scouts spoke of packs of huge wolves encircling us, wolves as large as horses, and we knew that they were the offspring of your Whiwolf…Perhaps their presence deterred any dark creatures the Enemy had left to hinder our path," said King Gil-galad.
"I have no doubt Ghost has a habit of hunting orcs and wargs, so it comes as no surprise that his heirs should take delight in such things," said Jon, yet his thoughts turned to Arianne and his firstborn, whom he would not see for many years.
Galadriel felt this without a doubt as she began to fill his mind with beautiful images hoping to ease his grief, and it worked as Jon's countenance reddened, and he glanced at her.
"Hush, my Wolf, tonight I have prepared a surprise for you. When you see it, I'm sure you'll never want to leave my bed again…" said Galadriel lustfully, her eyes alight with happiness.
"Your Wolves are a great blessing, Jon. Their packs have kept our lands free of evils for many years…Although now we must turn our attention to other matters…You and Lady Galadriel may join the council. I am certain your wisdom will prove invaluable," said Elendil, motioning to the maps on the table.
"Though it may be rude, I think it best we begin the council without Loras and Robar," said Jon with carefulness, taking a seat at the table beside Galadriel and Rhaenys.
"A pity, Robar is one of my best advisors, but we cannot delay," said King Elendil looking at the maps.
"Now that we have our full alliance, we can march towards the Black Gate..." said Oropher eagerly.
"We have the numbers, yes, though too few siege engines save what could be hastily constructed," said Gil-galad smartly, his eyes glancing over the many ranges and rivers before them.
"But we have the dragons…" said Oropher, unwisely interrupting.
"Our dragons will not enter Mordor, though we know nought why. Perhaps Sauron holds some power over them, for it was his master who spawned their race," said Jon.
"The Enemy will not be defeated so swiftly, it seems," said Thranduil grimly.
"Sauron has become greater during this Age than his master at the end of the First, nor has he fallen so low that he might be taken unawares, and we must not forget that... none of what do now shall be without toil or strife," said Galadriel wisely.
"We must find a way through those accursed gates, but how?" asked King Elendil.
Mordor was not a land to be taken easily, something Jon knew well. Upon the west of Mordor marched the gloomy range of Ephel Dúath, the Mountains of Shadow, and upon the north the broken peaks and barren ridges of Ered Lithui, dreary as ash. But as these ranges approached one another, being indeed but parts of one great wall about the mournful plains of Lithlad and of Gorgoroth, in the northwestern corner of Mordor, the deep valley of Udûn is the only entrance for large armies, and it is there that Sauron built the Black Gate.
There was no doubt that Mordor possessed very effective natural defences; it was not unforeseen that Sauron chose it as his residence.
"We won't achieve anything like this…" thought Jon knowing that any plan would carry great risk.
"Any news from King Anárion?" asked Jon worried for his old friend.
"Yes, my brother has departed Gondor, taking with him whatever troops might be spared...He will be here in a day or two..." said Isildur grimly, and Jon knew something was wrong as he felt a shadow of despair come over him.
"What happened?" Jon asked wistfully.
"Lord Azrubên, he is dead, Jon, passed not two days ago in his sleep," said Elendil solemnly, and Jon cast down his eyes in grief.
"Praise the Valar for this small pity that he lived as long and fruitfully as he did. Few may boast the same..." said Jon sadly, lamenting that he did not pass as peacefully as he deserved.
"There will be a time to mourn the departure of Lord Azrubên…" replied Galadriel bitterly, and Jon knew that she was loathed to be so harsh, yet she was right. The time to mourn would come later.
"Lady Galadriel is right... let us continue," said Jon, wiping away his tears.
"Very good, Jon…" said Glorfindel, his voice filled with pity and sympathy, yet too did Jon hear a hint of pride from his old master.
"We have other news that might cheer you up, Jon," said Cirdan with a soft smile.
"Lord Magni, Son of Thurimar…He has sent us a message that things in the White Mountains have become…complicated," said Isildur apprehensively as Jon and Galadriel eyed him with keen interest.
Magni and his colony of Dwarves had accomplished great works in their new home while he and Jon kept in touch regularly though due to the sacking of Minas Ithil and his move to Annúminas and then Imladris, their exchanges had been brief, yet they tried to keep the other abreast of the happenings in their respective realms.
Although being a proud and levelheaded Dwarf, Magni was resentful that he had not been summoned to the Councils of war; Jon was convinced that when they saw each other again, Magni might try to chop him down with his axe.
"What do you mean, my King?" asked Jon, the shadow of his heart growing greater.
"At the beginning of Gondor, after my brother and I founded our Kingdom, the King of Men of Dunharrow swore allegiance to me at the Stone of Erech on Erech Hill, and though we have called him to his oath…He has not answered, nor has he sent any men to join our army, we thought he was in peril, and we asked Lord Magni to learn the fate of our allies... when he arrived, the dwarves found nought but empty homes and silence I fear the worst has befallen us," said Isildur apprehensively.
"You fear treason, Son of Elendil," said Galadriel gravelly.
"Yes, my Lady, Father, I ask your leave to go south and see these oaths fulfilled; though it grieves to think we are betrayed, I would know the truth of the matter lest the Men of the Mountain turn upon and attack our cities while we are away," said Isildur grimly, his eyes alight in woe and malice.
"I'll go with you..." Jon said, not knowing what he had said until all eyes turned to him.
"Jon..." said Galadriel, eyeing him in concern.
"Foolish brother, I thought your days of galavanting off into the great unknown were over", snarled Rhaenys, her face reddening in anger.
"Silly Jon, but you just got here..." Daenerys growled, equally as furious as her niece.
"You have just returned from a wearying journey, yet you wish to strike out once more? There is no doubt that you belong to the line of Eärendil, Baelon Targaryen," said Gil-galad, looking at him, half puzzled and half amused.
"No... my Lords. I do not wish to join Isildur in his quest for mere pleasure... for a century, a shadow has lain upon those men, and I feel that this journey of Isildur's is one that will shape not only the events of this Age but also the Ages to come, So I ask you, my King, give me leave to accompany him," Jon said charged with seriousness looking at his King with a deep and penetrating way.
And his King sighed after meditating for a few moments...
"Very well, do it... But come back soon..." Elendil said.
"We shall go on Vhagar, and if the Valar will it, we will return in less than a day," said Jon glancing at Isildur, who had turned white as a ghost.
"I have never ridden a dragon, nor did I expect or wish to," said Isildur, his voice full of apprehension.
"Do not trouble yourself, Son of Elendil...it is quite safe, and Jon is an able rider; I'm sure you shall enjoy the adventure," said Galadriel with a merry laugh.
"You have been given a great opportunity, son..." King Elendil said, chuckling at the expression of his eldest son.
"Father..." said Isildur glaring at Jon, who smiled.
"Well, this is an unforeseen concern, but I see that it will be dealt with, so mayhaps we should attend to the most pressing matter, The Black Gate," said Oropher, wisely changing the matter.
"I can't think of how to get through those doors that will undoubtedly be extremely resistant and strengthened by the power of Sauron." groaned Elrond, his eyes alight with worry and fear.
"Maybe we can open them from the inside..." said Jon, and as soon as he said it, silence filled the pavilion.
"Jon, are my ears deceiving me or did you just say that you plan to open the black door from the inside?…." asked Elendil in surprise.
"You do not hear falsely, my King," said Jon boldly. "We must throw open the Gates if we wish to cast down the Dark Lord, and that cannot be availed by any save the mightiest siege engines, which we lack, so I propose we open the gate from within."
Whispers of praise began to be heard upon understanding the idea, although no one was convinced of the plan.
"Your idea has merit Jon although I find it very foolhardy…" said Glorfindel, impressed by his pupil's valour.
"I know, my Lord, though it is a mere thought, and to take the gatehouses will cost many lives as will holding them against the enemy," said Jon grimly.
"And how did we get the doors to open?" asked King Amdír.
"We can defeat whatever sortie Sauron sends against and the scale the side of the mountain", Prince Amroth suggested.
"Or push our luck and venture into Shelob's lair," Jon said, earning horrified glances from all gathered.
"You don't mean it…" said Elendil in terror.
"Seldom would Jon jest of such things," said Galadriel gravely, and though she seemed calm, Jon could sense his wife was trembling with fear and anger.
… She's afraid I'll volunteer… Jon realised instantly.
"You know me well, my husband, and it seems fair to warn you that if you propose to do something so foolish, I am willing to employ all my powers to stop you, even if I must confess our marriage before these Lords. Do you hear me, Jon? By Eru, you will not enter that abominations lair!" said Galadriel, and the flash of her anger was plain to see.
"Galadriel," thought Jon, fearful and full of love for his Star, knowing the lengths she was willing to go to keep him safe.
"I think this meeting has lasted too long, but in my opinion, the frontal attack is our best chance; even if we manage to outrun Shelob, there is still a considerable distance to be travelled to the black gate, evading sentinels and their guards," said Elrond patiently.
"Then the idea of entering that hideous creature's lair is out of the question", said Galadriel struggling to conceal her happiness.
"It seems so," said Daenerys, who seemed about to jump for joy like a child.
"So, we must now gather suitable siege weapons," thought Jon uneasily.
"Then we only have one frontal attack left against the entrance of Mordor..." King Gil-galad said with a sigh.
"My King… I think it is prudent to rest. The road has been long and difficult; besides, we have barely rested since we came here and setting up this camp so quickly and in such conditions has been tortuous…." said Cirdan, and murmurs of assent went through the pavilion.
"So…We decide our final course of action tomorrow," King Elendil said.
"Jon and I will leave tomorrow at sunrise Father" Isildur replied that he had not forgotten his mission.
"Well…In that case, I wish you luck. As for the rest of us, it would be good to get some sleep," said Elendil leaning heavily upon the table.
Gil-galad smiled. "Then can we stay and chat like old friends telling each other stories of our lives instead?"
"That will always be preferable to strategising a war," King Elendil said sadly.
"In that case, my Lords, with your leave, I will retire for the night... there is much to do," Jon replied, being hit on his shoulder by his aunt since Daenerys did not want to end up like her niece.
"You may go, Jon... you should rest as much as you can; tomorrow, there is much to do..." said Elendil, his eyes heavy with weariness.
"I will do so, My Lords," said Jon bowing low
"Oh Jon, my foolish Wolf, you will not escape me so easily…." Galadriel said seductively in her mind.
"My star?" asked Jon warily, unsure what she had planned.
"When those bold maidens fall asleep, you will come to my tent, and that is not a plea, Jon; I've a surprise for you," said Galadriel, her words honeyed and sweet.
"What are you planning, my star?..." asked Jon wondering what his wife had in store for him.
"Hush, my wolf, you shall find out later," Galadriel said in a honeyed tone.
the eve before his departure
After the Council, he had gone to his tent accompanied by Arya, Daenerys and Rhaenys. No words were exchanged between them, whether for weariness or understanding, Jon didn't know, but soon as they entered his tent, the night became one of love. Dany undid his back knots with her loving touch while Rhaenys and Arya showered him lovebites; he sang for them and even wrote a poem for each letting them know he loved them just as keenly as when their story began those many long years ago.
Jon still had other business that night, and though he knew that Rhaenys and Daenerys would be displeased with them, he didn't like to think what Galadriel might do to him if he ignored her.
Jon slipped from their embrace and hastily dawned his jerkin and cloak, he went to the entrance, and there he turned. "Sleep well, my loves," he thought. "Tomorrow may bring peril and death, but I shall face it knowing I have such beauty to return to."
He hastily made his way to Galadriel's tent, mist and shadow concealed him from prying eyes and there was no light save for the moon overhead; good fortune for him, It was not difficult to find his Star's tent for it was easiest the largest among the elvish retinue and embellished with the emblem of Finarfin, there were no guards at the entrance... Galadriel had undoubtedly planned down to the smallest detail.
Thus, he entered her tent, welcomed by the warmth of a blazing fire.
"Welcome…My Wolf" purred Galadriel. She was sitting in a comfortable chair, clad in furs, with a glass of wine in hand.
"You called me my love..." growled Jon, his eyes alight with lush, and Galadriel blushed seeing how he loved her.
"Soon, my love, soon... I wish to enjoy this; it's my turn to share your bed though those upstarts wished to keep you from me," said Galadriel, rising from her chair; she offered him a glass of wine though Jon did not take it, eyeing her warily as he discerned the anger in Galadriel's words.
"Galadriel…" said Jon in alarm, yet taking the wine in thanks.
"Yes, my Wolf, I know, I won't hurt them…." said Galadriel vexedly.
But suddenly blinded by his desire, Jon took her by the waist and kissed her greedily, only parting for want of breath.
"What was that for?" asked Galadriel, smiling, her face red as rubies.
"Do I need a reason to kiss you, my Star?... You are mine," asked Jon, caressing her face and Galadriel hummed in contentment, leaning into his touch.
"Flattery...my bold wolf... but we've all night," said Galadriel merrily.
"Why don't you take off those furs?" asked Jon eagerly, trying to undo the sash, but his wife thwarted him.
"Not yet, Jon, not yet... I have two gifts for you, my Wolf, both of my own creation," said Galadriel bringing out a parcel which seemed to be rather heavy for its size. When Jon opened it, he thought to find another elvish robe, but this was not so; beneath the folds was a cloak though it was far more beautiful than any he had seen before. It shone like moonlit silver and bore the dragon of his house, yet it was far nobler than could have imagined.
The thrice-headed dragon shimmered fair gold in the light of the flames; gone was the field of sable replaced by glittering ivory, and about the dragon were woven many suns… The cloak was beautiful beyond all reckoning, fashioned in the manner of the house of Finarfin.
"My Star... I don't know what to say... It's... It's... Beautiful," said Jon enthralled by its beauty while Galadriel smiled lovingly, her eyes glittering pale and bright.
"I wove it over many weeks during our final days in Imladris. I thought to surprise you with it before you left tomorrow... and it seems my efforts are well rewarded," said Galadriel leaning low to kiss him once more.
"A cloak fit for a King..." Jon said, still entranced.
"Yes, I took the liberty of readying your outfit for tomorrow as you depart at first light, my foolish wolf, and I made certain that your armour and matching clothing be brought; you shall be the fairest of the Edain," said Galadriel proudly, eyes alight with love.
"You planned it all, my Star", said Jon kissing her again, and she laughed merrily.
"Ssshh, my husband, I intend to see you off to battle as only a wife might, and it would be improper that I should let you go without proper attire... But let's leave that aside for now. I've another gift for you, one that may remind you of home," said Galadriel lustily, and she stepped back, undoing the sash of her robe until it fell forgotten at her feet, revealing the beauty beneath.
Jon nearly choked on his wine. Indeed he dropped the glass with a light thud but did not care for the beauty that lay before him.
Galadriel was clad in raiments Jon was certain no Noldorin woman had ever worn before, certainly not his star, who had been rather reserved when he had met her, but it seemed that she had grown bold indeed.
She stood before him, clad in a brassiere of white silk set with many pearls and diamonds, and about her waist was a belt of golden leaves from which flowed a skirt of whitish silk concealing her most intimate places, and when the light of the moon shone coldly upon her Galadriel, seemed the fairest of stars burning radiant and bright.
"By the Valar, I've never seen so fair a maiden dress like this." thought Jon, his eyes alight with love and passion.
"You're right, my Wolf... This raiment is not from these lands but from those lands far to the East from a City called Lys, I think," Galadriel said, moving gracefully almost as if she were beginning to dance.
"Wh..how?" Jon asked, battling his desire.
"Your lovers' minds are easier to read than yours; Shiera's, Ashara's, and Arianne's minds were most intriguing… They've seen much, and it was unavoidable that I would glimpse some of their memories. I must admit I would never even have thought using this outfit, much less fashioning it myself, but now it seems worth such toil," said Galadriel, her voice sufficed with passion.
"I…No, I…I can control myself," Jon said barely, much to Galadriel's amusement.
"Well, we'll see… The dances of those foreign women are beneath me… So I will dance and sing for you as only a Calaquendi would," said Galadriel, and then she began to dance, such was her glory and loveliness; and in her face was a shining light, that all worries fell away as his heart swelled with love.
Soon Galadriel sat on his lap and began to kiss him gently, and he returned it with passion, his mind clouded by the sweet scent of lilies and wildflowers as well as her warmth as she laid his head upon her bosom.
"How are you, my Wolf?" asked Galadriel sweetly.
"I am more blessed than any man deserves," said Jon happily, and Galadriel smiled, pleased that they might share this moment.
"Aaauuhh...My Wolf, perhaps you might return the favour," said Galadriel, and Jon smiled, caressing her softly from the small of her back to her neck, working to undo any aches she might have had, much to her delight.
"Aaahh, my Wolf... Your touch is blessed, and the night is long," cried Galadriel, her eyes alight with passion.
The next day while Jon still slept, she rose quietly and ordered the servants to bring food and fresh buckets of water to the flap of the tent. By the time Jon awoke, he was far happier than he had been the previous night.
He stretched. 'Good morning, my star!' he said. "It's a beautiful day."
"It is my wolf. The sun has nearly risen," said Galadriel, peering over the edge of their blanket with one eye spying the buckets of water and several trays of food in the corner of the room.
Jon rose up, looking around blearily. "I will have to leave soon, my Star," he said, kissing her brow.
Galadriel smiled before rising and stripped the blanket from the bed, taking a moment to admire her beloved's form before strolling to where the buckets full of simmering water sat; the servants had also left towels, mats and soap.
She took the buckets and poured each into the large silvered tib that lay beside her vanity until, at last, the water was at a reasonable level. Then she slid into the warm bath and moaned in satisfaction as the waters soothed her aching loins.
Jon said nothing and slipped in beside her as the bath was spacious enough for two people. She smiled and slipped her hands to grasp his manhood, and Jon grunted in pleasure.
"Truly, my Star, again?" Jon growled lustily.
"Seldom do we enjoy times like this, my wolf, so let us revel in it," said Galadriel wistfully.
Soon, they were retaken by their passions as they made love for the better part of the morning until, at last, the sun was beginning to creep over the eastern lands and the camp began to stir.
After their bath and a small breakfast of bread, cream and wine, they shared one last kiss before she helped him dawn his armour and cloak and departed the tent together, hoping to stroll along the Anduin before anyone discovered them. But to Jon's surprise and Galadriel's vexation, Arya, Rhaenys, and Daenerys were waiting for them outside the tent, all looking mightily displeased. Rhaenys brandished Dramborleg while Arya carried needle; fortunately, Daenerys had not brought her sword, yet she was no less angry, her countenance stony, her violet eyes glittering like flame… and Jon turned white as Galadriel held him close and gazed at the three in defiance.
Rhaenys, Daenerys and Arya knew it was Galadriel's time with him, and they tried to steal it; now she had taken her revenge.
At that time, Jon, Isildur, Loras and Robar were soaring with Vhagar towards the Blackroot Vale; it was there they would meet the men of Dunharrow though he did not know if this gathering was for good or ill.
Alas, his thoughts were interrupted as Vhagar swooped low again before soaring skyward, doing great somersaults in the air. It seemed the old dragon had grown bored of the journey and thought it amusing to do all matter of acrobatics, hoping to frighten the other three on her back. Unfortunately, her efforts proved fruitful as Loras and Robar clung to him for dear life while Isildur gripped her spikes so tightly his hands turned near white.
Of course, Jon had tried to stop Vhagar's tricks, but the old dragon was having none of it and even spat out rings of flames only to dive through them in some show of pride.
At last, they passed over the White Mountains and came to the Vale. It made a great bay that beat up against the sheer southern faces of the mountains. Its steep slopes were grass grown, and far below they spotted the shapes of many homes. The vale was rich and many folk dwelt there.
Vhagar came to rest upon the vast fields with a great thud kicking up earth and trees. When at last came to a halt, the dragon bent her neck, allowing them to amble off.
"Finally..." said Robar sliding off Vhagar and landing hard on the grass, while Loras ambled off and then vomited his morning breakfast, eyeing the bronze dragon evilly.
"Damn lizard…I wish we came on Deathclaw," said Loras wiping bile from his lips.
Vhagar heard the insult and growled angrily, shooting a cloud of soot into Loras's face.
"Damn, Jon, can't you do something?" grumbled Isildur wiping soot and ash from his clothes.
"Enough, Vhagar…Leave them alone," growled Jon meeting his dragon's emerald eyes. She regarded him for a few moments before spitting out a jet of flame that he narrowly evaded, much to Vhagar's amusement, as she let out a grumbling laugh.
It seemed Vhagar had had her fun and curled up like some great cat, her emerald eyes shining in mischief.
"foolish lizard…" Jon grumbled, wiping the soot from his cloak and face.
"You must control this monstrosity, brother," said Loras, glancing at Vhagar resentfully.
"Perhaps we should have travelled on horse instead," said Isildur angrily. "Damned dragon is more concerned with its amusement than our lives."
"Why did we come all the way here?" lamented Robar angrily.
"You know well why we are here though I thought we would be doing something valourous rather than speaking with some Hillmen. I may sound a child again, but this lethargy bores me," said Loras, and Robar nodded in agreement.
"That's a frivolous excuse…" said Jon, spying the black stone in the distance.
"Silence Jon; although I don't favour acts of hubris, I know your friend's motives well. Do you recall when I retrieved the last sapling of Nimloth?" Isildur asked with a satisfied smile.
"Yes..." said Jon cheekily. "We know all the tales of triumph, my lord."
"As well you should, though now it seems you have a new one to tell wearing such a splendid cloak," said Isildur boldly; he smiled when he saw Jon's face redden.
"A cloak worthy of a Lord of the Noldor", said Robar enviously, knowing it to be a gift from Galadriel.
"Oh, if we all had beautiful women who could weave us fine clothes fit for Kings," said Loras cheekily, enjoying Jon's discomfiture.
"Let us just make it to the Hill, damned fools," grumbled Jon, and he set off towards the high hill where the stone lay his companions trailing behind.
After some time walking, they stood atop the hill, and there stood a black stone, round as a great globe, the height of a man, though its half was buried in the ground. Unearthly it looked, as though it had fallen from the sky, yet the truth was less remarkable it had been brought out of the ruin of Númenor and there set by his Lord to mark the treaty between Gondor and the men of the mountain.
They awaited the arrival of the Men of Dunharrow, yet the fools seemed keen to make them wait, and they all grew peckish. Fortunately, Galadriel had given one last gift before he left, cakes made of a meal that kept well for long journies.
"Lembas…" said Isildur, regarding the cakes eagerly.
"A gift from the Lady Galadriel..." said Jon as he broke off a crisp corner and nibbled at it, and soon he ate all the rest of the cake with relish.
"My Lady thought of me, but she didn't tell me not to share them…" said Jon before taking another small bite of his Lembas and then handing one each to his companions, who ate them swiftly, finding it more pleasant than any food made by Men.
"The legends are true…I am satisfied," Isildur said after taking a bite.
"Yes, this is the best bread I've ever tasted," Robar said, keeping his Lemba in its sheets.
"Mmm…I don't know, Lady Írimë's cakes are a fair bit of competition," said Loras, and Jon smiled.
"I hope they never ask me for an answer to Which one is tastier!" thought Jon in worry.
Jon, Loras, Robar and Isildur waited in silence for near half a day. Then just as the sun had crested the sky, he felt a shadow of fear drawing closer.
"Do you feel it?" Jon asked as they rose to their feet.
"Yes, they are coming…" Loras said with a frown.
They glanced towards the hills as little by little, a great host of men came on foot, and as they drew nearer, Jon got a better look at them.
The Men of the Mountains were short and swarthy folk men whose sires came more from the forgotten men who housed in the shadow of the hills in the Dark Years ere the coming of the Numenoreans; they were clad in dark leathers and animal fur; many carried great axes and swords near a two full ranga in length some bore spears and bows while others carried banners.
At the head was a man of great height who could only be their King. He was of fairer complexion than his people and wore a great black beard, although some silver strands were already visible; He was clad in a coat of gold-plated rings, with a silver hafted axe in a belt crusted with scarlet stones.
He was lesser in Lordliness than his overlord, though far more greedy it seemed, wearing a king's ransom in jewels. As they drew nearer to the stone, Jon turned to Isildur, who nodded. Then he raised his horn and blew, and its call smote the hills and echoed deeply in the mountains.
When these men heard the sound of the horn, many cowered or tried to hide, Jon was certain he saw one take aim at him, but the man swiftly dropped his arrow upon catching a glimpse of Vhagar not a dozen feet away.
"They're furious, but even they are not so foolish to try something with Vhagar near," thought Jon warily; as they came face to face with the men of Dunharrow.
"Greetings… King Rioc," said Isildur kindly; the king gave a slight bow though it was clear to all he did not wish to be here, eyes darting back and forth like a beast of the wilds cornered.
"Greetings, King Isildur, as you called us, we have come... What do you want from my people and me?" said Rioc while Isildur gazed at him in mistrust.
"The Lord of Mordor has begun his war against the Free Peoples... Therefore, I come to demand that you fulfil your oaths," answered Isildur proudly and the poor fool, despite his pride and dignity, seemed to want to hide not only for Vhagar but also from Isildur.
"No," said Rioc after a moment, taking a few steps back, glancing from Vhagar to Isildur fearfully.
"Repeat it..." said Isildur, his eyes alight with rage, his voice cold as a winter storm, and soon he was upon the man towering over him like a great hill.
"It is as I said. I know that we are breaking our oath, and had asked of me anything else, do not doubt that we would aid, but not with this," said Rioc with what little pride he could muster
"Is this your last word?... Are you going to break your oath?" asked Isildur.
"Yes, forgive me, but I may no defy my lord and master so brazenly," King Rioc said with some pity in his eyes while Loras approached furiously.
"TRAITORS!" The Knight of Flowers roared furiously, but Isildur raised his hand, bidding silence.
Isildur stepped forward, spat upon the ground, and spoke his voice bitter and terrible. "Thou shalt be the last king. And if the West prove mightier than thy Black Master, this curse I lay upon thee and thy folk: to rest never until your oath is fulfilled. For this war will last through years uncounted, and you shall be summoned once again ere the end."
Both the King of the Mountains and his people looked up in terror at the sky and then at Isildur and looked as if they were about to kneel and beg for forgiveness when a terrible bolt of lightning lit up the sky, revealing a great cloud shaped as an eagle, after which Vhagar who had heard all that was said rose up and let loose and thunderous roar and the Men of the Mountain fled in terror.
Jon felt two familiar presences that he had not felt in many: Lord Manwë, for none might have shaped the clouds nor called forth lightning save him, and the second was a presence that he did not expect for many years hence Lord Námo.
"It seems now more shall be punished for their misdeeds," thought Jon sadly, hoping perhaps foolishly that the men might have been spared.
It was then all about him changed still, he stood near the black stone, and all about him were the soldiery of Gondor led by three elves, a dwarf and a man who was likened to Elendil in splendour.
To that Stone, the Company came and halted in the dead of night. Then an elf stepped forward and gave the man a silver horn, and he blew upon it and it seemed to those that stood near that they heard a sound of answering horns, as if it was an echo in deep caves far away. No other sound they heard, and yet they were aware of a great host gathered all about the hill on which they stood; and a chill wind like the breath of ghosts came down from the mountains. But the man dismounted, and standing by the Stone, he cried in a great voice:
'Oathbreakers, why have ye come?'
It was then King Rioc came forth from the mist a mournful shadow whose eyes held sorrow of years uncounted 'To fulfil our oath and have peace.'
Then the man drew himself up and spoke with authority great as any lord of the west: 'The hour is come at last. Now I go to Pelargir upon Anduin, and ye shall come after me. And when all this land is clean of the servants of Sauron, I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart forever. For I am Elessar, Isildur's heir of Gondor.'
And the vision ended suddenly, and he stood once more before the stone, watching as the men retreated into the hills, never to be seen for many Ages hence.
Westeros (Oldtown, The Citadel)
Margaery, along with her mother and her cousins Alla, Elinor and Megga, as well as her friend Mía Forrester, were coming through the vast libraries of the Citadel, waiting for the return of several of the Acolytes and Maesters who were assigned to help them in their studying.
She and her mother had decided to go to the Citadel to ask for advice on the map they had found in Summerhall, and although her grandmother was not happy, she did not put up much resistance as there were far more pressing matters to attend to.
Upon arriving in Oldtown, they were received by Ser Moryn, one of their father's distant cousins, and taken to Hightower, where they had a cold reception from their uncle Baelor who limited himself to the proper courtesy, their grandfather and aunt Malora did not receive them which her mother had taken as an insult. However, it was not surprising as the last time her mother had come here, she had a terrible fight with her father concerning Jon.
Though the stony reunion was worth it when their grandfather allowed them entry to the Citadel, where they had sheltered now for several days, ever since they learned of the possible fate of her brother Loras and Jon, House Tyrell had been doing everything imaginable to find out about the island of Númenor.
But they hadn't found anything... The only thing they knew about that island was that it was curiously shaped like a star and the map spoke of a land called Middle earth.
They had first come to Oldtown hoping her grandfather knew something about Middle-earth or could even decipher the strange letters on the paper, but neither he nor her aunt Malora knew anything.
Even worse, her grandfather had fallen in love with the map, wanting to keep it to decipher its secrets, but her mother flatly refused, something that worried Margaery and her cousins as her mother had a somewhat stormy relationship with her Hightower kin... foolishly this storminess had started because of the care her mother and father had shown Jon.
Many years ago, her grandfather had held a great tournament in Oldtown attended by many knights of the Reach, Stormlands; even a few Dornish came. At this tourney, Jon had unhorsed her idiot cousins Hobber and Horas, as well as her uncles Baelor, Humfrey and Garth, after there at Jon's hands... they had taken to taunting him though no subtly asking him barbed questions and making jest about northern life.
Jon had endured it for their sake, but her mother was not pleased, so much that the latter part of their stay had devolved into a shouting match as her aunt, uncles, and grandfather had accused her mother of forsaking the faith so some wild bastard of the North.
As far as Margaery could remember since that visit, her mother has barely visited Oldtown, and Jon has never returned there, instead accompanying her Father to Arbor, Goldengrove or Horn Hill when necessary.
Fortunately, her mother had enough goodwill to be allowed in the Citadel though it seemed their search was in vain as they poured over yet another tome but once more, coming up short. Indeed, they were all starting to lose hope.
"Oh, by the Gods, I'm tired..." Mia complained, finishing reading a book and resting her head on it; of all the young women, she was the most unwilling to go to the Citadel, but the opportunity to bring home the man she loved had been promise enough for her to come.
"Yes, I am too... And the worst thing is that we haven't found anything," Megga complained.
"Keep looking; we can't give up..." said Alerie proudly, although the dark circles under her eyes betrayed her exhaustion.
"Right now, I wish I was like Lady Leonette touring the City accompanied by a handsome swordsman..." Megga groaned, and Margaery eyed Elinor, who had turned terribly red in anger; she had never cared for Leonette and often thought she should be the one to marry Garlan, Megga knew this and often teased her, but this wasn't needed now.
"I have no doubt that there is something here...But we don't know where to look..." Margaery said, looking at the vast towers of books.
"Perhaps because we have not searched correctly, my Ladies..." said a soft voice, and they all looked back and saw that a young man had arrived. He was slender, attractive and had a faint smile and spoke with a soft Dornish accent.
Alleras, The Sphinx as her foolish cousin called, was one of the Acolytes that the Archmaesters had assigned them to help them with the promise that he would be efficient and diligent, and he was just as they said, helping them with whatever they needed and so he had come again this time carrying a very large tome.
"Did you find something!" said Margaery happily, glancing at the large book the young man carried.
"You could say, my Lady, although it would be more appropriate to say that something found me," said Alleras, laughing, and they all glanced at him, perplexed.
"Explain, Sphinx", Alerie ordered, her eyes pleading.
"Here in the library, we have many more books than you think; some are kept for years or decades until they are finally assigned a place in the library, and we acolytes have this unpleasant task… I was taking some books to assign them a place when a strong wind from the West made this book fall on my head, and I almost lost consciousness," The acolyte growled, caressing her head, and they began to laugh.
"And what book is that?" asked Margaery.
"Well, to begin with... It's not a book, rather it's a diary," said Alleras hefting the largest journal any of them had ever seen.
"A diary?" Her mother asked, surprised, and the Sphinx smiled, placing the diary upon the table and opened it, they could see the strange letters of the map of Númenor on its leaves.
"Do you know what they say?" Margaery asked, and the acolyte shook his head.
"I'm afraid not; I only know that they are called Tengwar but whoever wrote this diary didn't explain how to read them..." said the man, unsatisfied.
"Do you know who wrote it?" Margaery asked curiously.
"Yes, Shiera Seastar's grandfather," said the Alleras to the confusion of all they hadn't thought to hear the name of a woman who had disappeared nearly a century ago.
"Shiera Seastar?" asked Alerie intrigued.
"We all forget that Shiera Seastar's mother, Serene, came from a family of noble but impoverished lineage of Valyrian origin and apparently Serenei's grandfather came from a distant land... An island far to the West..." Alleras said excitedly.
"Númenor..." Margaery said, pleased that her efforts had finally paid off.
"The westernmost of all the Mortal Realms… That's what that man called it. He was a noble sailor and captain who came to these shores by way of a mighty storm, ending up in Lys with the few men he had left and lived there for the rest of his days." Alleras said, clearly fascinated with the story.
"The Westernmost of all the mortal Realms?" said Alerie glancing at the diary.
"Yes, he also called it by other curious names, Westernesse, the Land of the Gift, The Land of the Star," said the sphinx.
"And how did he get to Lys?"..." Mira asked.
"According to his diary…He and his crew were fleeing from the King of their island…A tyrant named Ar-Sakalthôr… Marach's purpose was to live in a land called Middle-earth, in a city called Pelargir where others had also taken refuge..." said Alleras, turning the pages of the ancient journal.
"Do you know how to get to Numeror?" Margaery asked excitedly, but she was saddened when Alleras shook her head.
"I'm afraid it doesn't say anything about how to get there, which is a great shame because from the way that island is described… even the Freehold seem, but an assemblage of thatched huts," Alleras said confidently to the astonishment of the others.
"That sounds incredible," Elinor said excitedly.
"It's just a madman's raving..." responded Alla.
"It may be yet I do not think so about his native island or his life, but also it seems that in order not to forget anything about his life before Lys... He documented all the stories he knew, stories and stories of their people…They call them Numenoreans or the Mighty of the West," said Alleras frowning.
"…How presumptuous…" thought Margaery scornfully, wondering how these men would treat Jon.
After which Alleras told them many strange stories... About the God called Erú Ilúvatar and how the world was created thanks to a song.
Of beings created by Ilúvatar from his thoughts called the Ainur, named Valar and Maiar, it spoke of the great enemy whom they called Morgoth, who made war upon the Firstborn and Atani.
At the mention of that name, it felt as if the whole library were darkened and filled with cold at the name of Morgoth being spoken like a wound upon the world.
Upon hearing those terms, none knew what they meant, and the women looked at each other, baffled.
"What are the Firstborn?" asked Margaery, bewildered.
"And the Atani?" Megga asked, somewhat mocking.
"The diary only says that the Firstborn are the wisest, most beautiful and skilful of all the races and that they are immortal, but nothing more about the Atani; I'm sure it refers to us, mortal men," said Alleras thoughtfully.
Even though the diary was another disappointment, Margaery couldn't help but listen in fascination to the whole story, and one glance at her mother and cousins told her they were of the same mind.
"The last great story is that the island of Númenor was a gift to the men who fought against Morgoth and that they were given a longer life than the rest of the mortals... easily living three or four centuries," said Allaras closing the book and immediately Elinor started laughing.
"Acolyte, you don't believe a word of this, do you?" Elinor asked with tears in her eyes.
"And if it were, how would those men treat my dear wolf?… By the gods, if they are so great, they would use them as servants…" thought Margaery in horror.
"I don't know, my Lady, only that that man told many tales about his life and the island as well as other tales tis why the book is so large he was determined to remember his people despite their apparent misdeeds it's rather sad in a way," said Alleras.
"How did this diary get here?" asked Alerie, looking at the book in amazement.
"The people of Lys donated it after Shiera Seastar disappeared, they gave it as a gift to the Citadel, but the Maesters of that time didn't bother to organise it," said Alleras reproachfully.
"I would like to take it to Hightower and read it in peace," said Alerie, and the Acolyte merely shrugged.
"Nobody in the Citadel knows that this book exists, Lady Tyrell, so just make certain the Archmaester doesn't find out," said Alleras handing the book to Alerie, who took it in thanks.
"Thank you..." Her mother was going to say when suddenly the sounds of various war horns were heard, startling everyone.
"What's going on?" asked Alerie when suddenly Garlan burst in, plate clad, sword in hand.
"MOTHER!" yelled Garlan, running towards them.
"Garlan! Son, what's going on?" asked Alerie, terrified.
"An army is approaching the City... Uncle Baelor ordered me to take you and Margaery back to Hightower... But hurry, we don't have time," Garlan said, struggling to remain calm.
"An attack?... But who?... The Ironborn were defeated!" Margaery yelled in alarm, and Garlan seemed fearful.
"It's King Aegon," said Garlan, his face pale, eyes sufficed with fear.
"The king?" Alleras asked hastily, and Garlan nodded, apparently not caring who she was.
"Yes, my uncles are going to speak with the King now...Come with me, if you wish, young man, you can accompany us...Quickly" Garlan ordered, and Margaery nodded, and after making sure no one was looking, they hid the book and ran off, followed closely by Alleras, who wondered what was going on.
They waited in Hightower for the last two days, but to Margaery, it felt as if centuries had passed. The sounds outside grew nearer; she heard laughter, shouted orders from men, women, and children, swords and shields shattering, and the neighing of horses.
They had sent ravens to Highgarden, informing her grandmother of what had happened, but no replies came, so there they sat in the Hightower, guarded by a handful of knights while the King took revenge for some slight against him and the journal that could have brought them closer to Jon and Loras lay forgotten amidst the carnage as none had the heart for reading now.
"I'm sorry, brother, and you too, Jon, forgive me, but it seems our reunion will have to wait a little longer…" thought Margaery in sadness.
The battle lasted a day more, and when all was done, they were told to leave the Tower; about the city now hung many banners Baratheon, Targaryen, Martell even some Reachmen had clearly aided in the attack.
As they were led through the streets, Margaery saw hundreds of corpses of men and women of all ages; few were armed save for a crude club or farming implement, and most horrid of all were those with the seven-pointed star carved into their flesh, it seemed a massacre.
"But why? what was it all for had the king lost his senses." She thought," "Surely the Lords of the realm would not stand for this."
They, at last, came to a grand courtyard of the city where the nobles had gathered her family, being closest in kinship to the Hightowwrs, were given a spot of honour beside her grandfather and uncles. At the centre f the courtyard stood King Aegon, clad in black plate with sword in hand, glowering evilly at the Maesters chained at his feet. At his side stood his Kingsguard with Ser Barristan Selmy at their head; next to him was a Dornish who could be none other than Lord Yronwood, and next to him was Varys!
Margaery held her breath when she saw the Spider and Master of Whispers again next to the new King, who stepped forward, gazing at the Maesters in disgust; he cleaned the blood from his sword and cried aloud where all might hear him.
"People of Oldtown!... I am your King Aegon, the sixth of my name, and I come today to free you from the evil influence of these heretics...For many centuries the Order of the Masters has changed the history of the Seven Kingdoms. They have abused their knowledge and, believing themselves to be gods, have caused untold suffering," The King shouted to the crowd, who began to boo and spit upon the Maesters while Margaery and her family listened in astonishment.
"You have ruined everything! Centuries of planning and conspiring to make the world as we see it has been destroyed by your actions and your foul presence," spat Theobold, blood flying from his lips.
"And I should care about how you feel; why? Who are you to determine if a dragon lives or dies? Or if babies should be born from their mother's womb or be extinguished before they have a chance to breathe?" Who are you to determine the way things are run in the Seven Kingdoms? Who are you to decide anything beyond your own responsibilities in life?" Aegon roared at Theobold, who was now snarling like some angry, rabid old animal.
"Our Order has existed for this purpose! We gain and use the knowledge accumulated over the centuries to better protect the kingdoms of men. Kings come and go. Whether they make war or rule in peacetime, it doesn't matter. We are the cleverest minds in the world and know what it takes to keep the kingdoms stable regardless of who sits on the Iron Throne. We are the true power of the Seven Kingdoms. We decide which child lives and who dies because it is our right as men of knowledge", said Ebrose, clearly delirious as his compatriots looked at him as if he had just slain their mothers while the people recoiled in shock.
"No. You are not wise men. You are all blind fools and greedy rats toying with the lives of those whom you deem lesser for your foolish games, but no more I shall see your order stripped of all its possessions and all those who followed you brought to ruin," Aegon snarled cutting the head of one Maester before throwing the corpse before his fellows who shrieked and wailed in terror.
"In truth, most of their plans and schemes were trial and error. They were blind and could only manipulate certain things or events. Some events. Not all. The vast majority were all opportunities and experiments to test how things would develop if a child died at birth and the next child conceived by a Lord or King was a better candidate," spoke Varys in a honeyed tone, although something in his voice indicated that he was not glad.
"They have manipulated countless affairs, whispering in the ear of the Lords, poisoning and killing them, if not their wives. If the Lord in question was too loved and needed to be toppled from his position of power, they would target his heir or his wife. Then, when they were grieving, they whispered honeyed words of conquest or taking a new wife; new heirs are made while the firstborns die or are discarded by the new half-brothers or sisters. And in the meantime, the Masters would have positions of power within these Houses. They were even so bold as to funnel the wealth of those they served straight to the Citadel; most of the time, it was used in brothels and high-end establishments. Even those who serve more... discreet customers with less than... honourable tastes, even children, it seems." said Tyrion Lannister waddling out of the Citadel, a large ledger in hand.
The appearance of the Lord of Casterly Rock shocked many, yet more startling was the evidence he carried. There could be no denying their crimes now it was plain as day. It was then the guards had to hold back nearly a hundred peasants as they rushed to grab whatever weapons they could, hoping to slaughter the Maesters.
Apparently, these robed rats were crueller than she had imagined; they were mere playthings to these monstrous men; she then noticed that grandfather was holding back both Garlan and Baelor, who appeared ready to gut the fools like pigs; fortunately, it seemed there would be some justice today.
"It doesn't matter what you say, Targaryen! Your house shall be but another page in the history; we shall not be cast down by you inbred mongrels!" Archmaester Theobold declared as the crowd gasped at the foolishness of the man.
"You act as if you have the power to stop me. Your hired help here is dead. Your religious pawns and fellow rats you command to carry out the acts you desire are no more. All that remains and the greed that lies within their hearts," King Aegon replied.
"We may die here, dragon, but our efforts will continue one way or another when the final days come we shall be seen as heroes, and you, for the villain you are, oh, servant of the great enemy, our ranks shall be sufficed with new blood, and they shall cast you down in time!" Walgrave proclaimed as if it were some kind of prophecy, but the King began to laugh.
"Look around, you fool. Do you think the Maesters shall be loved by any house once they hear word of your misdeeds" said the King, his smile cold and cruel.
"People will never trust your brothers again like they did before. That trust was abused and spat upon, so the thought others may take up your hopeless cause is foolish indeed," Lord Tyrion and Walgrave lunged at him, madness in his eyes, but quick as lightning Barristan cut him in two, his guts spilling on the cobblestones.
"Enough; I think the crowd is getting impatient… Cut off their heads!" said Aegon as the Archmaesters began to wail and curse, and Margaery looked away, not having the heart for more death.