What happens when an army is cursed? All who march with the army are cursed with it. Soldiers, squires, banner carriers, even the drummers who play the march and buglers who sound the charge are all doomed to lurk in the shadow of the mountain until the return of Isildur’s heir. Oh, and cooks. An army travels on its stomach it is said, so when the warriors refuse to fight, those stomachs, and the ones who provide for their welfare, must suffer the same fate as the craven soldiers.
I was standing in the kitchen putting together a ghostly stew of dead bat, dead rat, dead lizard, dead mole. . . well, everything dead. The only things alive in this cursed mountain are the flies, spiders, and maggots that feed on the remnants of our increasingly infrequent visitors. It’s hard to make a stew like this palatable but fortunately I died with a pocketful of basil leaves and garlic. Call me an oathbreaker if you want but don’t call me unprepared.
Just as I had dipped my ladle for a taste, a messenger rushed in all out of breath, which was, of course, nothing out of the ordinary as none of us had breathed for quite some time.
“Isildur’s heir has come!” he shouted. “Come quickly, we are called to the march!”
“Called to the march? Now? Well doesn’t that just figure,” I groused. I was in a foul mood for being interrupted and the thought of packing up my gear for a long march through the wilderness was not improving it any.
“Hurry!” he repeated, and ran out before I could reply.
There was nothing else for it so I gathered my pots and pans, my ladles and spoons, and went to stock up the supply wagon. One would think the foodstuffs would be lighter being none of it was really there, but no such luck. Isildur was a greedy fool but he sure knew how to lay down a curse. The army moved out and I straggled along behind in the wagon. Once out of the mountain I could see the wind ruffling up the grass, though I couldn’t feel it. There were stars overhead but I didn’t look up. I had no stomach for the great outdoors. All I wanted was to get this over with and move on. I hoped my next home would be better than a cursed mountain but I didn’t have a lot of hope. Guys like me didn’t rate very high in the grand plans of the world.
Up ahead I could see a group of the living heading up our march. A few Elves, a Dwarf, a Man that looked like he could use a hot bath and a shave. That had to be him, Isildur’s heir. He took the whole king in beggar’s guise bit to a whole new level this one.
The wagon bumped along until I could see the hill ahead with the Stone of Erech sticking in it. I had heard it was brought from a place called Númenor, which was said to be an island that sank into the sea, though why any right thinking man would put a stone that must weigh a couple of tons on a ship is beyond me. “Oh no, our island is sinking and we only have minutes to escape. Quick, someone get that big round stone aboard the ship!” And no one had gone near the thing for a thousand years. There was an effort well spent.
The Man I had pegged as Isildur’s heir climbed up the hill and stood next to the stone. He blew a silver horn and I rolled my eyes. It’s all about the ceremony with these kingly types so we all waited politely until he spoke.
“Oathbreakers, why have ye come?”
There was an awkward moment when no one spoke. ‘Oathbreakers’, really? You’re going to lead with that? Finally someone, I think it was Sven, yelled out from the back. “To fulfill our oath and have peace.”
“Good answer, good answer,” the rest of us muttered.
“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 for ever. For I am Elessar, Isildur's heir of Gondor.”
King of Gondor? King of the obvious.
I made ready to get the wagon going again, for surely every moment was precious, right? Why else would we have had to hustle ourselves from the mountain at such an ungodly hour. But to my surprise they made camp instead.
With a dusty sigh I started pulling stuff off the wagon. I might have had some help fixing the meal but my assistants kind of gave up after they died. They gave up when they were alive too, of course, but not being able to eat really killed the deal for them. Me, I didn’t have anything better going on so I just kept at it. I looked around for something fresh to add to the stew but there wasn’t much dead out here on the plains. I found a half-eaten rabbit and some trampled wild onions. It wasn’t much but it would have to do.
I had just gotten the fire going and the pots out and had everything cooking up pretty good when Helmhelm stopped by. He was so named because of his helm, which had a smaller helm on top. Someone asked him why he had made it that way and he said if one helm was good protection two would make him invincible. He was an idiot, but we loved him. He died from an arrow wound to the eye while cleaning his bow. No one was quite sure how that happened. In life he was a stalwart fellow and one heck of a traitorous coward. Always willing to go the extra mile to keep from going the extra mile was our Helmhelm.
“Did you ever think this time would come? Isildur’s heir,” he said with a shake of his head, causing the haft of the arrow in his eye socket to wiggle a little. “I would have thought that line broken long ago.”
“So would I. I guess if a person hangs around long enough anything is bound to happen.” I stirred the pot to keep the sauce from burning. “This is almost done, would you like a taste?”
“I would but. . . well, you know.” He gave an embarrassed little shrug.
“Yeah, I know. Are you going to clean your bow tonight?”
“Of course,” he said, as though the idea of not doing so had never occurred to him.
“Good luck with that.” I smiled and waved as he wandered away. “You half-wit you,” I said under my breath.
I got the line set up and waited but no one came by. They never came to the kitchens either, the ingrates. I sat down on a camp stool and wiped my brow, or attempted to. My hand went right through. Funny how habits stay with us long after they’ve lost any use.
After that we all just kind of hung around until daybreak when the party moved out again. I had the wagon packed long before dawn. I always hated being idle, or late, or fighting, or war, or hiding, or pissing on a stalagmite for lack of a proper outhouse.
They rode on for days with very little rest and I was glad I no longer needed it, for it would have been an arduous journey. Finally we reached the Pelargir and the black ships. The soldiers rode right up onto the ships and I followed with my wagon. The sailors jumped overboard at the sight of us, which was very satisfying. I shook my ladle at a couple of those who seemed undecided and off they went too. It was the easiest battle we ever fought. All right, the only battle we ever fought, but the victory felt good all the same.
When the living had taken over the ships we all headed back to shore and waited. I unhitched the horses from the supply wagon and slapped them on the rump to set them free. Silly I suppose in retrospect, but I thought for a moment they might have to spend eternity hitched to the wagon if I didn’t. Of course now I know all horses go to Aman.
And that’s all there was to it. After a thousand years, out of the blue, just like that, we were told to “Depart and go to our rest.” Rest being relative. At the moment I’m working off a couple of debts to Mandos by executing the nightly feasts for dead Dwarven heroes. The little guys aren’t so bad but they sure can put away the ale and, being dead, they never pass out. The only problem is keeping them quiet enough that the noise doesn’t spill over into the Elven wing. The Elves think they’re the only ones here you see.
Written for the Back to Middle-earth challenge 2012
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