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Author name: Wheelrider
Recipient's name: Rhymer23
Title: The King of the Dead
Rating: PG-13
Request: I would like a story about a main character (or characters) from the Lord of the Rings, but seen through the eyes of a stranger on the fringes, ideally one who doesn't fully understand what they're seeing. I'm happy with any setting, from pre-LoTR to Fourth Age.
Author's notes: This is my first time writing OCs, and though I got a little too obsessed with choosing names for them, I still fear I made some embarrassing error (to the characters at least) . Please forgive me if so, and let me know so that I can correct it!
Also, I tend to have a particular song or two in mind when writing a story; not necessarily a soundtrack, but kind of... In case you're curious, this story's song was "Carol of the Birds" as sung by Joan Baez on her Noël album.
Beta: (none)
Summary: The Dead are restless, but it is the living who lead them.

The King of the Dead

The door shut behind Aglondir and silence settled in his wake. Raniel and her sister looked at their mother; her eyes remained on the door for a long moment, then she bowed her head and sighed. "Well, we must make do as best we can. Up now, the household will not run itself. How cross your father would be if he should come home to dirt and disorder! Duiniel, help me fetch wood to bar the door, should we need it. Raniel, go tend to the milking." And with that, their fear was dispelled, for a time.

Aglondir had been called away to war, marching East with the bowmen of Morthond Vale. Raniel did not doubt that her father, tall and strong, would be valiant. He would be at the right hand of the Lord Duinhir, felling all foes in their path with his long bow and swift arrows, and would smite the Enemy himself if need be. She wondered what he would see, travelling all the way to Minas Tirith. None in her family had been there before; at least, not since she had been born, thirteen summers ago.

The grey shape of the byre became sharper in the morning mist as she approached. The cows were lowing and stamping. The hour is perhaps late for their milking, she thought. She took down the pail and approached the nearest stall with soft step and gentle words. The heifer calmed and she began the rhythmic pulling.

When he came back, her father could tell her if it was true that the Tower atop the city rose as high as the mountains behind and shone like a silver spindle in the sun, as she had heard tell. Perhaps he would bring gifts for her and her sister.

A commotion outside made her turn toward the door. The heifer bellowed as if to say, I knew trouble was about.

Carefully, she set down the pail and then ran to look.

A stout woman was pounding on the door of the house. "Himiel! Ill news I have from down the valley." Mistress Eithril, the old busybody. She never came except to gossip, or when she wanted to trade inferior goods for their cheeses.

Her mother opened the door to shrill exclamation. "They say the Dead walk! Last night a host gathered at the Stone, larger than any other time since last summer. And also on the night before last, they say. Beware! Keep your daughters close after sundown."

Raniel came closer as Eithril chattered on, then lingered by the door as the woman bustled off.

"Why does she come to trouble us now, when my husband is not an hour gone..." her mother muttered. To her daughters she said: "Never you mind! We care not for the rumors of night while the sun shines and work calls. And my daughters have more sense than to go wandering at night. Raniel, get back to milking. Dujniel, stop gaping and fetch me the kettle."

Raniel did as her mother bade. She tried to think on the splendor of Minas Tirith as she worked, but now thoughts of the Dead Men intruded. What did they want?


Himiel held the family fast together, keeping them busy with never-ending tasks, maintaining their little plot and collection of animals. Raniel liked to be depended upon, more than she had yet been, in the running of the household. They would do well enough on their own without any menfolk, despite what Mistress Eithril said.

She was charged with going to the market once a week, driving the rickety cart down the valley in the morning and back in the afternoon. She had no trouble; the old mare plodded steadily along the way with hardly any guidance. A young girl travelling alone was not such a strange sight in these days, as many of the men had gone off to the war, and those left kept watch on each other, be they lasses and lads taking over tasks of their elders or old ones living alone. The folk of the Vale stood together and took care of their own.

On her first trip to the market with a load of cheeses in the cart, Raniel passed down the road that skirted the fields round the Hill of Erech; on the way back she slowed to look over the grasses at the dim hill rising up, and its Stone like a smooth black cap, small but distinct, unlike any other shape in her ken. It was as if a half-circle hole had been torn into the landscape, showing the blackness that lay behind all.

Two years past, she had been sent down the valley to meet her older cousins, who were coming up to stay with her family for a time, and the boys had dared one another to approach the Stone. Raniel warned them against it -- she suspected they were showing off for her benefit -- but her words seemed only to goad them on. "We fear no old dead Stone. There is no Shadow Host here now to hinder us!" She hesitated fearfully at the edge of the field, watching after them; then when it seemed safe that they were not swallowed up by a ghostly swarm, she started across to join them. The Stone loomed larger and blacker as she approached, and she almost turned back, except that her cousins were now watching her and shouting encouragement.

She expected it to look less smooth the closer she came, but instead it gleamed all the more like glass. The thrill of fear was gradually replaced with awe as she gazed upon it, and into it. Tiny flecks of hard, silvery light revealed themselves just beneath its surface. Her cousins' din had died down once their initial burst of bravery had passed, and they stood still; she herself began to listen, as though the Stone would speak, or perhaps sing. But silence remained.

Now, not for the first time, her thoughts turned to how old the Stone must be, and whence it had come. Her father prided himself on being a lettered man and on knowing somewhat of old lore. The family had a scroll, passed down from his fathers before, that told of the founding of the realm of Gondor and of the part that her forefathers had played. This he used to teach his daughters of the Tengwar; laborious lessons, Raniel thought, and small chance she would ever have to use such hard-won knowledge. But still she loved to hear of the flight of Elendil and his sons out of the wreck of Númenor, and of the treasures they brought with them to remind them of their old home and enrich the new. The Stone was one such treasure. It could not, therefore, be evil in nature, and no harm could come of looking upon it. She could remind herself of her family's heritage and draw strength in her father's absence.

Or so she told herself as she pulled up on the reins to stop.

The old swaybacked mare stamped and neighed as she climbed down; she turned back a moment to shush her, then faced the Stone. Low, dark clouds covered the sky, and all seemed dull and lifeless; any color of Spring that had yet shown itself in the high vale was dimmed in the wintery light. She stepped off the road and into the rough remnants of wildflowers and high grass, then made a few faltering steps toward the blackness of the Stone; but she found that she could not go on. It drew her sight, but did not invite a closer look, seeming instead to send out waves of warning, a looming threat on the Hill. She stared at it for long moments until a creeping fear took her over and she ran back to the cart and leapt up into the seat, looking over her shoulder all the while.


It had been a fortnight since her father left. Raniel arose early to ready the cart and horse for her outing to the market. "Duiniel, you slug-a-bed! Get up, you are in charge of the milking this morning."

From under the blankets, her sister mumbled something.

Raniel tried to mimic her mother's cheerful, strident tone. "Up now! Today is market day."

Her sister popped her head out from the blankets, but instead of retorting, she looked at Raniel plaintively.

"Must you go?"

"Whatever do you mean? Of course I must go. You are too young to go, and Mother does not like to drive that old rickety cart."

"But..." Duiniel rolled the edge of the blanket and clutched it as she hesitated, looking toward the window. "Is it dangerous?"

Suddenly understanding, Raniel sat on the bed. "No, silly girl, 'tis not dangerous at all. Folk will watch out for me, and I shall be back before you know it."

"But..." Her sister clutched the blanket tighter, twisting it around her fist. "You will pass by the Stone...?"

Raniel was surprised that her sister had the Stone in her mind at all. "Well, that I will, but not too close. Besides -- what can the Dead do to us, the living? They cannot move solid things, being but wraiths, so they cannot harm us." This was a bit of wisdom she had heard her mother give to other wives who fretted about the Stone; she hoped she sounded half as convincing.

"Now, Mother is almost done preparing food. Do not let her find you still abed!" She ruffled her sister's hair, then went out to the kitchen to collect a small bag of travelling food and a kiss on the forehead from her mother.

She got more than that. "Be wary, Raniel. I put no stock in most gossip that comes to me, but when the smoke flies thick, a fire must surely follow. Strange things are afoot."

"I will, Mother," she said, though the warning made her heart sink. For what should she be wary? She did not ask, so as not to belie her mother's trust in her.

She could hear the old mare shuffle in her stall and nicker as she approached the barn door. "Sirdal, hush now. What has gotten you upset, as well?" The mare made no reply, but swiveled her ears to and fro as Raniel led her out and hitched her to the cart.

The journey to the market passed by without incident, and the marketing itself went fairly well, although fewer bought her wares than she could have hoped for, given the uncertainty of the war. With some rough cloth for which she had bartered and a few coins jangling in her purse, she turned the cart toward the slanting sun and home.

Almost immediately the old mare began to stumble. Raniel pulled up on the reins to halt and climbed down. To her dismay, she saw an iron shoe dangling from the left forefoot.

"Oh, Sirdal. Why did you have to do that now? We shall have to have the market farrier fix your shoe, and he costs more than our neighbor. Come now, back we go." She led the mare by the reins, walking slowly in front to spare the hoof any further trouble.

The farrier took a good while in the shoeing, and the old mare did nothing to help, stamping and shying. "She is not often so troublesome..." said Raniel by way of apology.

"Eh... all the horses have been troublesome today. Trouble I need not, but then again, none of us need the trouble we are sure to get. 'Tis that Stone -- the Dead are restless," said the farrier.

Raniel made no answer, but looked up at the sun, now dipping below the western hills.

At last he was done. She paid him for his work, leaving her modest store of coins nearly depleted, then hitched up the old mare and turned for home once again.

Climbing up the vale in the deepening dusk, Raniel felt a chill wind rising, hissing in the grass. She drew her cloak about her and kept her eyes on the road ahead. It was empty, and shone pale as the light failed.

The old mare was still swiveling her ears, and at times tossing her head, on the way. Raniel muttered encouraging words. All at once, the mare laid her ears back flat and stopped, stamping one hoof as if in protest.

"Now what? Up girl, come on, 'tis not far now. Mother will be worried about us." She tried to keep any trace of fear from her voice, but the horse refused to move. They had come nigh the edge of the fields round the Hill of the Stone.

Raniel climbed down from the cart, looking about for any sign of... what? She was not sure. No wolves had she heard howling, and no enemies had crept upon them, at least as far as she could tell. She heard nothing but the wind, saw nothing but the road and the dusky fields rolling away to the mountains.

The old mare stood trembling. The whites of her eyes shone in the growing dark as Raniel approached. She murmured soft words as her father had taught her, and made to examine the mare's newly shod hoof as a distraction. "Nothing is wrong with you. Let us move along now -- the sooner we are gone from here, the better."

She climbed back up in the cart and took the reins with what she hoped was a firm hand. "Hi! Up! Up!" Slowly the cart began to move, but then stopped again.

Raniel began to feel desperate. "Please, Sirdal! We need to get home. Come on, girl." She made to climb down again, but as she rose, suddenly the cart jerked and swung. She tumbled from the seat as Sirdal bolted. The ground came fast up to meet her. After the shock she raised her head in time to see the cart bumping over the edge of the road and away.

"Sirdal! Come back!" There was no answer but the sound of the wind in the grass, hissing.

Raniel stood and took stock. Now she was truly afraid, but instinct told her she should not allow her fear to overwhelm her lest she become frozen and helpless with it. Her shoulder stung where she had hit the ground, but she seemed able to move it fairly well. Her palms were scraped, but not too badly.

Next she looked around her. In the last of the light she spotted the old ruined guardhouse, or so her cousins had called it, away to the left of the road. They imagined that long ago, men had built it to keep watch on the Hill and its Stone, to warn the folk if the Shadow Men should rouse themselves to attack. Raniel doubted that was its purpose, but still, it was the only building in this part of the Vale.

She considered simply walking home, and bringing her mother next morning to help her fetch the horse and cart in the daylight. The thought of home drove her feet a few steps; but then she stopped, just as the old mare had done. She looked away toward the Stone; although she could not see it in the falling dark, she felt the waves of warning and fear, and could not go further.

Now she spun around, fighting panic. None lived so near -- so near the Stone -- that she could easily reach a house before night closed down completely. She felt tiny and defenseless. Shelter -- the thought rang out in her mind -- I must reach shelter. She stepped toward the crumbling shape of the guardhouse, darker against the dim grey hills, then began to run toward it.

It was not a large structure, but had a storey above the ground, or at least most of one. She hesitated at the gaping blackness of the door-hole. A fleeting thought of Shadow Men guarding the guardhouse came to her, but she quelled it and stepped inside.

The darkness within was damp and musty. A square of light shone faintly in the far corner, and carefully she made her way across, tripping on loose stones and other unknown objects. She came to a stair that was thankfully made of stone as well, not rotten wood, and climbed up, putting both feet on each step as though she were a toddler. She reached out one hand to feel along the wall, but drew it back when she touched cobwebs.

At the top of the stair she could see that one wall was completely gone. Parts of two walls straggled up and joined to the far wall, which still had a window-hole, more or less complete. She walked over to it and looked out.

Instantly she jumped back. The window-hole faced the Hill and the Stone, and she caught a glimpse of it, black and sharp against the dim hills. So near! She could not bear to look that way.

Raniel sank down against the wall to one side and quietly began to cry. She knew she would have to spend the night here. She tried to think of rising with the dawn to find Sirdal standing in a field, still hitched to the cart, calmly munching grass as though nothing had happened; then flying home to her mother and sister. What a tale she would tell them! But what came to her mind instead were their dear faces, worried sick, thinking her dead.

If only her father were home. He would fear no darkness nor any Shadow Men, and would come to find her, whistling a tune. He would not even be angry with her for letting Sirdal get away with such foolish behavior.

She tucked her head down on her knees and drew her cloak around her. At least it wasn't raining, and the ruined walls offered some protection from the thin, chill wind. For a time she quieted her mind and closed her eyes. Perhaps she slept.

Suddenly she snapped awake. She listened intently, but could hear nothing but the wind. That, and her heart thudding. She could see nothing toward the open side of the house beyond the vague end of the floor. A growing fear had hold of her, and she fought panic once again, rising like chill waters to drown her. What if someone comes? She dared to creep to the window and raise her head just enough to peer over the cracked stone sill.

The night was black; no stars shone. She thought she could make out the road stretching away, but she was not certain. Then, almost against her will, she followed the half-guessed line of the road up, slowly up, and over toward the Hill. She gasped. There was a silvery mist about the Stone. She stared, transfixed, horror growing as she perceived that the mist moved. It writhed slowly, and spectral shapes gathered form within it.

She almost cried out and pressed her hand over her mouth. Do not let them find you! She cowered down under her cloak, making herself as small as possible, and tried to sit still, but she was shaking violently.

Once again she tried with all her might to get control of herself. They will not come here, they seek only the Stone, to meet for whatever dark purpose they may have. But now she stared at the black hole in the floor where the stairs ended, expecting at any moment to see a ghostly form rise up from it. Perhaps -- she fought this thought even as it formed in her mind -- they will rise up over the broken wall and descend upon me. Or simply go through it. She whimpered and again clamped a hand over her mouth, biting into her fingers.

Then she heard a startling sound, yet one that strangely brought no more fear. A horn! A horn ringing in the night, clear tones calling as if from some champion of the sun, come to vanquish the darkness and these fell wraiths.

Could it be... could someone be coming to rescue her? But who would dare the road when the Shadow Host was gathered, and who would be brash enough to blow a horn when daring it?

Her trembling stilled as she listened. The wind died as if the very air were listening, too.

But no more did she hear, no more clear horn blowing in the night. She was alone.

The night passed, although Raniel could scarce tell. She huddled against the wall, at times letting silent tears fall under the cover of her cloak, at times gripped in fear, eyes straining in the dark toward the hole of the stair and the edge of the floor. But pass it did. And finally, she thought she could discern a faint lightening in the sky. And then there was no doubt -- dawn was coming. She wanted to weep with relief but dared not, not yet.

Now she heard another sound. Galloping horses! It must be her rescuers, a gathering of the folk of the Vale come to find her. Once again she crept toward the window and peered out.

In the dim grey light she could see the shape of the Hill rising and, just barely, the Stone. A gathering thunder of hoofbeats came from that direction. There were horsemen flying down the fields from the Hill, toward the road, and toward her shelter. She started to shrink back once again, yet hesitated. Fear had so exhausted her that perhaps she could not be afraid any longer. She continued to watch.

The horsemen came on, relentless, heedless of any danger. That they were real indeed and no Shadow Host, she no longer had any doubt; yet the fear of the Dead still came at her like a dark wave. She could see now ghostly forms, some also on horse, some on foot, following behind. But her fear of the Dead was held back. Somehow a different feeling was kindled within her, looking upon the horsemen, galloping ever closer. They seemed to her as a great and valiant host out of the glory of Westernesse, charging with the might of old to save the folk of the Vale from whatever evil might imperil them. One lord -- she was sure he was a lord -- led the charge, as tall and stern as Elendil himself.

She was standing full in the window now, not caring if any saw, live or dead, yet none glanced upward to her hiding place. As the charge sped down the road, her eye fixed on the banner carried at the fore: deep black it was, black as the Stone, but with flecks of silvery light shining within it. She thought she could just recognize the emblem of the Tree and Stars that she knew so well from her father's scroll. Then the host swept past in a noise of pounding hoofs, echoed by an unearthly wind, and was gone.

Raniel stood at the window, stunned for a moment, too tired and frightened and relieved to think clearly. She sat down again, thumping down onto the floor before her legs gave out.

The next hours passed by in a dreamlike wash. Eventually, when the sun shone fully in the vale, she climbed stiffly down from her hiding place and went in search of the old mare and the cart. Just as she had tried to imagine the night before, they were not far away, Sirdal munching contentedly on the grass. The mare looked up and whinnied at her as though nothing had happened. She drove the cart back up the road, almost as though she were returning from the market as usual, except that the sun was in the wrong place in the sky.

As she approached her house at last, she wondered if her mother would be cross at all the trouble she'd caused. But still she clambered down from the cart, running before she hit the ground, and flung open the door to barrel right into her mother's arms, tears coming freely now.


Some months later, the bowmen of the Morthond Vale began to return to their homes. As rumor of their coming filtered up the road, families stood in doorways to see the approach of their menfolk. Some were met not with their returning husbands and fathers, but with kinsman and fellow soldiers bearing messages on parchment, sealed with the emblem of the new King. Raniel and her mother and sister received one such message.


The next year, the new King made a proclamation: all those who had lost family in the War could come to Minas Tirith to take part in a great ceremony and feast to commemorate their deeds. Raniel begged leave of her mother to represent their household. "I suppose one of us should go, and you certainly have no fear of traveling. Still, I would not have you go alone. Your cousin down the Vale will be going to mark his brother -- you can go with him."

So it was that Raniel found herself making the long journey to Minas Tirith. On the way she thought of her father traveling the same road, and wondered if they stopped at any of the same places by the wayside where he and his company had rested. She imagined that she could see places where the grass was trampled still in the echo of a great encampment.

One day at sunrise they came around a sweeping turn and there before them stood Minas Tirith: its topmost tower shone like a silver spindle in the sun.

They came closer and Raniel saw the outer wall of the City. To her it did not look as though a war had been fought there, save perhaps for some signs of new stonework patching rent places. She imagined her father standing proud on the wall, shooting arrow after arrow at a black swarm of orcs, as one by one the archers of the Vale were felled under the dark and fire-lit sky. So she and her mother and sister had been told.

As the folk gathered for the ceremony, she clutched her cousin's hand and pulled him closer to the edge of the crowd. She wanted to see this King for whom her father had given his life.

Out he stepped onto the high platform. Raniel recognized him at once. She heard none of the words he spoke as she gazed upon his proud figure, yet she knew he mourned with his people. With tears in her eyes, she looked up to the banner floating high above the city, black and glinting with flecks of light.


Jan. 5th, 2014 05:16 pm (UTC)
Sorry - I got distracted by some rather obsessive writing, and failed to reply. My X-Files fanfic (written as Pellinor) is still online (www.rhymer.org.uk - I must update that site one day), but I wrote them over 16 years ago, and I'm scared to reread them in case they're truly terrible. Plus, it's all formatted in plain text, and hard to read. I've just reread the story in question, and it's not really how I remembered it. (I think I was merging my memories of it with similar stories I wrote in later fandoms.) It's much shorter than I'd remembered, and the viewpoint characters have no real characterisation. It's also really quite dark - major character deaths, and general despair. But if you really want it, it's here: http://www.rhymer.org.uk/xfiles/short/sailing.txt I'm not sure I'd recommend it, though!
Jan. 6th, 2014 12:40 am (UTC)
Heh, know the feeling of not wanting to revisit old and possibly BAD fic...

I will just stick to eagerly awaiting your next story post!


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