Skulls

Paths of the Dead

There is nowhere now to go but forward. The Three Hunters enter the realm of the Army of the Dead. The atmosphere is dark, frightening with a green hue that envelops the path. They walk in synchronicity, keeping together so as to provide the best possible defense strategy they can for themselves in case they were attacked. The fear of the unknown and possible danger ahead is an additional reason for their cautiousness. As they move forward, there appears before them a path laid with skulls. 

The summoned Dead

Aragorn is frightened but determined. He avoids the skull laid path and chooses a different one. 

Gimli: “What is it? What do you see?”

Legolas: “I see shapes of men and of horses.”

Gimli: “Where?”

Legolas: “Pale banners like shreds of cloud. Spears rise like winter-thickets through a shroud of mist. The dead are following. They have been summoned.”

Gimli: “The Dead? Summoned? I knew that. Very good. Very good. Legolas!”

Legolas’ extraordinary eyesight allows him to perceive things others cannot. Because of it, Aragorn and Gimli listen intently to his explanation of his vision. Without ever seeing it, Gimli and Aragorn believe Legolas’ eyes, which provide them with information that they otherwise could not have gathered.

The danger they have both feared and expected has come to be. The Dead are summoned, awaiting their arrival. Legolas and Aragorn move quickly forward, wanting any kind of advantage over the Army of the Dead. They do not want to appear afraid they are on a mission that involves the Dead’s collaboration. Therefore, in order to procure this aid, they must present themselves as confident and stable as possible, without a visible trace of fear. 

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False confidence

The Dead? Summoned? I knew that. Very good. Very good. Legolas!

Gimli

Gimli, however, both shocked by this development and in almost disbelief of it, not being able to see it for himself, does not quicken his step, which leaves him behind. As he looks around himself for the Dead that Legolas has mentioned, with fear in his eyes of actually encountering them, he loses track of the other two, the realization of which makes him hasten.

Although he is obviously afraid of whatever awaits them in this mountain, he tries to appear self-assured and nonchalant about it. It does not work in his favor. 

The curious Dead

They move forward with caution with the purpose of not arousing any more suspicion or malice from the Dead. However, shapes of arms in ghostly green hue surround them. The arms trace their bodies from the legs up, as if trying to feel them, to find out more about them.

There doesn’t seem to be any danger emanating from them. The Dead are simply curious. This does not alleviate the company’s fear. Legolas and Aragorn brush the arms aside, whereas Gimli tries to puff them away.

Mass tomb

As Aragorn takes steps forward, there comes a crackling sound beneath his feet. With a single glance at the ground, he determines the source of that sound.

Do not look down.

Aragorn

There is almost a desecrated terror in Aragorn’s eyes. To walk upon cracking skulls with their feet must bring out a feeling of violating a sacred place. These skulls inevitably belonged to people who have died. Therefore, to walk over them is to damage and dishonor a mass tomb. An eerie feeling of fear and guilt follows the company with every step they take.

Gimli stops as he hears and sees the skulls he walks upon. They run forward stepping lightly to induce as little damage as possible. They arrive in a great underground hall with a carved stoneface of a possible entrance into an underground city. 

Facing the dead king

The King of the Dead: “Who enters my domain?”

Aragorn: “One who will have your allegiance.”

The King of the Dead: “The dead do not suffer the living to pass.”

Aragorn: “You will suffer me!”

The apparition that Aragorn has seen in the crack of the mountain before setting off now appears in front of him. It is much clearer now that it is the King of the Dead, one with whom Aragorn has to negotiate. 

With this being his only option of boosting the number of soldiers for the War of the Ring, Aragorn has no other choice but to face the King. He fears him, his wide eyes cannot hide that feeling. However, his determination does not wither. Without feeling completely confident in himself as the future King of Gondor, he has to present himself as such to this feared apparition. 

If he is to fail, death awaits him and his company. 

Impressions

The King’s first impression of Aragorn is obvious, he finds him laughable. Here before him stands a man who seeks his allegiance. It would seem that he and his companions will be the entertaining distraction for the Dead. After all, after so many years of the curse, a little distraction and engagement never hurt anyone, especially not those who are already dead. 

As the King laughs at Aragorn’s arrogance and unsupported confidence, The City of the Dead appears before their eyes. From out of the darkness, the green hue reveals ornate walls and structures pertaining to a city. Aragorn’s eyes widen in terror as dead soldiers walk out of the city. They seem to glide on air over the chasm that separates the plateau, upon which Aragorn is standing with his companions, and the city itself. 

The warning

The way is shut. It was made by those who are dead. And the dead keep it. The way is shut. Now you must die.

The King of the Dead

As the King repeats the warning on the stone doorframe outside, the soldiers encircle the company. In defense, Legolas shoots an arrow at the King, which passes right through his head. They cannot be harmed.

One king to another

Aragorn: “I summon you to fulfill your oath.”

The King of the Dead: “None but the King of Gondor may command me!”

Aragorn draws the Andúril. The King advances and takes a swing at Aragorn. Andúril parries the blow with ease. 

The King of the Dead: “That line was broken.”

Aragorn: “It has been remade.”

With more confidence than ever before, Aragorn grabs the Dead King’s neck and places his sword right up against it. The King claws for breath, incredulous at what is taking place in front of his eyes. He believed the line of Kings to have been broken, therefore, there could be no one left to command him or his army.

Now, this apparent heir of Isildur stands before him with the blade that was once broken by Sauron himself but remade into a new and improved weapon.

A plea for help

Aragorn releases his hold on the King and shoves him backward. 

Fight for us, and regain your honor. What say you?

Aragorn

He passes through the crowd of dead soldiers, all keeping their distance from him. He surveys their expressions but cannot interpret them as they are in various stages of decay. 

Aragorn: “What say you?”

Gimli: “You waste your time, Aragorn! They had no honor in life, they have none now in death.”

Aragorn: “I am Isildur’s heir. Fight for me and I will hold your oaths fulfilled! What say you!”

The fear of these apparitions has not diminished with his use of the sword or his determination. He faces them in spite of being terrified. No matter the fear and danger for himself and his company, they are his last thread of hope.

Gimli does not hold the same opinion or the hope that they might want to defend their honor. He sees them as all others would, traitors, murderers, an army not to be trusted. Aragorn appears to not even hear Gimli’s thoughts but perseveres with his mission.

Silence

He has presented himself as the true successor to Isildur, the sword is the proof of his words, but no one in the army seems to budge, react or give any kind of sound. Until the King smirks at him and starts to laugh. The army fades with the King’s laughter. 

Aragorn: “You have my word! Fight, and I will release you from this living death! What say you?”

Gimli: “Stand, you traitors!”

As the army vanishes, the ground starts to shake beneath the company’s feet. Aragorn still calls after them and demands their answer as does Gimli, in his own way. There is no answer. 

Run for life

A few skulls reach the company’s feet as if in a warning. The Dead appear to have made their decision and are now proceeding as usual when visitors arrive, bury them alive. 

The shaking loosens the stoneface wall out of which countless skulls come flowing down like a waterfall, overflowing the ground the company is standing on. 

Out! Legolas! Run!

Aragorn

The company is almost swept away by the force of the flow of the skulls but manage to fight their way to an exit in the mountain. As they come to light, Aragorn sees the black ships that Elrond had mentioned. In their wake, they have left the cities burning on either bank of the river.

Corsairs

As Aragorn’s eyes take in the devastation these ships have caused, his eyes fill with tears. He is too late to help those people, he has failed in his mission. The permeating fear of failure he has felt throughout his life has now come to fruition. He accepted his lineage, he accepted his fate, knowing failure would be a possibility, given the actions of his ancestors.

This is what he feared most, to accept himself fully and have it come to naught. And now it has proven true. There appears to be no dawn for Mankind. 

Aragorn falls to his knees in desperation. He closes his eyes, letting tears run down his face. His head bows in defeat. Legolas offers comfort by placing his hand on Aragorn’s shoulder visibly shaken by the devastation he is seeing. 

Suddenly, Aragorn hears a sound behind him and turns around. The King of the Dead makes his appearance through the wall of the mountain. He faces Aragorn with a statement. 

We fight!

King of the Dead

The Orc army of Mordor begins their assault on Minas Tirith while the limp body of Faramir is dragged by his horse towards the gate of the city. Read on in my next post.

Photo by cristian-grecu on Unsplash.

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