Two figures moved beneath the mottled shadows of the large mallorn trees, quietly talking together. One of the sojourners supported the weight of the other who limped slowly forward, his useless right arm clutched tightly to his chest in a rough sling.
In the woods about them swift, light beings ran alongside the pair of intruders, carefully watching them from their hiding places amongst the tall trees. Their sharp hearing picked up the quiet conversation as the elder man turned to the youth he was supporting; one arm wrapped protectively about the young man’s waist, his free hand tightly gripping the gnarled wood of his walking staff.
“No, my dear boy it was not at all funny at the time, but now looking back surely you can see the humor of it.” Gandalf could not hide the smile that tugged at his lips as he tried to lighten his companion’s mood. “The look on your face when I reached you...”
“The look on my face was pain and irritation. I still fail to see the humor there Mithrandir.” The young dark haired man tried to blow the wayward strands of hair out of his eyes. He was sweating and breathing hard and the wavy curls stuck fast to his skin. He tried to concentrate on walking and not on the shape he was in; the Maiar’s attempts to humor him were lost in the ache that throbbed dully through his body every time he took a step.
“Now perhaps if the roles were reversed and it was you who tumbled down that incline and ended up pinned beneath the bulk of a dead six-foot goblin then perhaps I would be laughing now as well.” He stumbled slightly and their pace slowed a fraction as the wizard compensated for the human’s awkward, limping gate.
One of the hidden warriors that tracked their progress made to move forward but was held back by his superior. The tall grey headed being was known to them, but the other was not.
“Now that cut on your thigh is no laughing matter.” Gandalf’s tone turned serious and he glanced at the makeshift bandage that wrapped around the young human’s leg, the red stain was spreading again.
With a deep sigh Aragorn leaned more heavily on his companion and glanced at the elder being, “Are you quite sure you couldn’t have handled this yourself? I really don’t want to have to go to Lothlórien, it’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad.” Gandalf rolled his eyes. “My dear boy one does not get in a fight with a mounted wraith and his ground patrol and come out in the shape that you are in now and say he has a scratch.”
“I didn’t say I had a scratch.”
“Yet.” the wizard murmured. “Besides we are already in Lothlórien and have been for sometime now.”
“Can't we just go to Rivendell? My father can take care of this.” Aragorn drew his breath in with a sharp hiss as he stepped forward, placing too much pressure on his left leg. A long cut traced the human’s thigh where the goblin’s blade had cut him. He hadn’t even incurred the injury in the fight, which only added it his irritation.
“We are closer to Lothlórien and they can help you here. Rivendell is too far in the shape you are in.” Gandalf spoke softly worry touching the edges of his age-old eyes.
“What do you think they were doing there?” Aragorn tried to change the subject, attempting to keep his mind off the ache that had crept back into his body. He hadn’t wanted to tell Gandalf but he had known for a few days before their unfortunate encounter that he had been getting sick. He could feel the pain deep in his throat when he swallowed and the tiredness that stole over him was from more than their all night trek back to the elven territory. It should have been much cooler in the shade of the leafy trees than it was and he knew the heat was not from the injuries he had sustained last night.
“I think they were looking for something.” Gandalf replied cryptically. He had his suspicions what the wraith had been doing near the Anduin river and he felt partly responsible for the injuries that the young man in his company had incurred. He simply had not realized that the one who searched had begun to concentrate his efforts in that region of the river once more. He had been wrong. He didn’t care *what* Saruman said about how anything that fell into the river must surely have washed to the sea by now; the wraith was there for a reason and it was making Gandalf re-think many things.
The companions had been taken unawares early in the evening the day prior as they had set up their camp near the shores of the river Anduin on their way south. Gandalf’s presence had been requested by the steward of Rohan to aid in talks with the Easterlings. The wizard did not believe the truce would hold but he had been willing to accompany Rohan’s leader and assist him in anyway possible. This setback bode ill for the tentative peace that had settled in the southern lands.
The Maiar had sensed their attacker first but even he was not prepared for the sight of the wraith lord mounted on a huge flying beast that swept low in over their campsite. The wings of the large creature brushed the tops of the trees that bracketed the edges of the waterway, beating the air in a slow rhythmic thrum as it swept up the middle of the river. The beast’s howls echoed across the waterway, competing with the hair-raising wails of its rider. Seconds later the orcs had converged on them without warning and with Gandalf concentrating on their winged master, Aragorn was left to take care of the ground patrol that accompanied the wraith.
The orcs seemed as shocked to find the human and the wizard as the two companions had been to see them and Aragorn had the element of surprise on his side. The fight had been short, swift and brutal. The last of the orcs had put up the greatest amount of resistance. The wraith lord seeing his servants decimated and unable to withstand the power of the Maiar alone and without the bidding of his master, had hastily retreated, blending into the darkening sky before Gandalf could stop him.
When Gandalf had turned his attention back to Aragorn, there was one orc left, and that one had nearly gotten the upper hand by the time the wizard was able lend a hand. The two warriors struggled together on the edge of small knoll that dipped back into the woodlands. The foul creature pressed Aragorn’s blade against him, his overpowering strength giving him the advantage. The ranger widened his stance and shoved his opponent back with all his might giving him a split second reprieve. Ducking under the orcs sweeping blade Aragorn narrowly missed being decapitated at the same instant that Gandalf sent a pulse of power straight at the creature, snapping its neck as it arced against the unseen hand that shoved it forward...into Aragorn, toppling them both down the grassy knoll.
When Gandalf reached the young human he lay pinned underneath the body of the dead orc, his right shoulder dislocated and his collarbone broken beneath the weight of the black creature. The orc’s blade had torn a jagged cut in the ranger’s leg as they tumbled down into the sloping valley.
Unwilling to wait out the youth’s injuries and worried about poisons in his system, Gandalf had bandaged Aragorn’s wounds as best he could and headed them out that night towards the elves woodland fortress deep in Lothlórien. He needed to leave the ranger somewhere safe until he was healed and proceed to Rohan as quickly as possible, without his young traveling companion – a thought with which he was not at all comfortable for some reason.
That was how they had ended up limping through the woods towards Caras Galadon so early in the morning.
“If we are in Lothlórien, where are the elves?” Aragorn glanced around them. He had grown more uneasy the deeper they had walked into the woods.
With a small laugh Gandalf swept his staff in a lazy circle, “Why all around us, and they have been for some time.” He glanced at the human who limped stiffly beside him, holding on to the Maiar for support, “Remember Aragorn you are not in Mirkwood or Rivendell.” He whispered quietly.
The ranger sighed deeply, “What I wouldn’t give to be standing in front of Thranduil, listening to one of his lectures on the carelessness of youth right now. Or better yet *home*,” dark silver eyes returned the searching glance, “listening to my father lecture me.”
A burst of laughter broke from the wizard’s lips, “My dear boy if we were at your home your father would more than likely be lecturing me and not you.”
For the first time since their encounter with the wraith, Aragorn smiled, “And that is truly why you don’t want to take me home right now am I not correct?”
“In part yes. But I really must make with all haste to Rohan. And as much as I hate to leave you behind, this is the safest place for you now.” The Maiar stopped their forward motion, his hand clutching his staff crossed protectively in front of Aragorn as much to hold the wounded human up as to stop him from proceeding.
Wearily the ranger glanced up into the piercing blue gaze of a dozen armed elves.
“Good morning and well met.” Gandalf addressed the warrior that stepped out from among those arranged in front of the travelers.
“You are known to us Mithrandir,” The elf’s blue eyes apprised the man that stood beside the Maiar, “But the human is not.” The warrior spoke in the grey tongue out of habit. It wasn’t that the Lothlórien elves were rude, but they were not accustomed to allowing strangers into their sanctuary unchallenged.
“I am Aragorn of the Dunédain, a friend to Gandalf the Grey.” The man introduced himself, speaking elvish perfectly. He touched the fingers of his left hand to his forehead and bowed slightly, as much as his wounds would allow.
The warrior hid his surprise well, his stoic gaze drifting wordlessly to the wizard for further explanation.
“I need you to care for this one for me. The Lady Galadriel will know him even though you do not and I am sure she will welcome him here. I have business that cannot be delayed or I would stay myself. Will you escort us to your Lady?” The wizard spoke common not needing to impress either of the young beings he stood with and feeling a sense of urgency as Aragorn leaned more heavily against him.
Thinking through the situation for the fraction of a second, the elf nodded curtly and pushed back through the warriors behind him, “You will follow me.” He instructed as he led them on.
“You mean to leave me with these elves that do not especially want me here?” Aragorn whispered through gritted teeth as he forced his body to move once more, “Please I beg you take me with you. The last time this happened I was accused of murder and exiled.” He smiled slightly as Gandalf glanced at him a huge smile tugging at the corners of the old wizard’s lips.
“My boy, I think you will find the welcome warmer than you did in Mirkwood at first, these elves are your relatives. Galadriel is in a very distant way your Great Grandmother, your father is her Son-in-law.” He meant to put the youth’s mind at ease with his words and was surprised when a soft bark of laughter escaped the ranger’s lips.
“My relatives. Oh joy. And I have made such a stunning first impression already.” The sarcastic comment caused the wizard to laugh out loud, his mirth contagious.
“Don’t make me laugh Gandalf, it hurts.”
“Arwen might be here.” The wizard whispered conspiratorially.
“WHAT!?!?” Aragorn stopped moving and pulled back staring at the older man. “Who told you?”
With a small shake of his head the wizard wrapped his arm back around the young man’s waist and started them moving again. Their guide was watching the outburst one fair eyebrow quirked upward in silent question as he waited for them to catch up.
“I know all sorts of things.” Gandalf replied with a quiet laugh, “Not to mention the look on your face when reference is made of her. It’s only obvious.”
“It’s not that obvious.” Aragorn grumbled darkly.
“More than you know.” Gandalf glanced back to see why their guides had stopped. “Ah, here we are.” The wizard deftly changed the subject redirecting his companion’s gaze. “That, Aragorn is where your relatives live.”
“Caras Galadon.” The elf next to him spoke quietly as they looked on the huge forest palace of the Lothlórien elves.
“I can’t walk any farther.” Aragorn gently pushed himself away from Gandalf and eased down onto the ground at the base of a tall tree. A huge spiraling staircase wrapped the massive trunk and he was half afraid that the wizard intended to force him to climb it.
Closing his eyes the ranger rested his head against the rough bark and tried to relax. The bright light of the midday sun hurt his eyes but here under the interwoven canopies the lights were soft and comforting. The darkness behind his closed eyelids beckoned and before he realized it, Aragorn had fallen asleep.
When he woke it was to the gentle brush of fingertips on his cheek, moving the wayward strands of hair away from his face. Feverish silver eyes opened and he was surprised by the beauty of the elf that knelt before him. Her gaze was piercing as though her eyes held all the wisdom of the universe beneath their transparent depths but the look she gave the young man was full of compassion unlike the warriors they had met earlier. Her proximity startled him and the ranger jumped slightly, banging his head back against the tree behind him. He winced and reached up to touch his head but the elf crouched in front of him gently took his hand in her own, turning his palm over and letting her fingers lightly play over the ring that Aragorn wore.
Galadriel turned to glance up at Gandalf and the wizard stiffly knelt next to her. “It is as you say Mithrandir.” She spoke softly and Aragorn found himself enraptured by the sound of her voice.
A small smile broke across her lips as she glanced at the young human who was watching her so intently. “But I fear there is more damage in his body than you realize.” She pressed the palm of her free hand against Aragorn’s forehead, the fingers of her right hand seeking out the pulse that beat in his left wrist that she still held. Aragorn found himself flinching slightly as she moved closer to him. “Do not be afraid, you are safe here.” She spoke quietly to the man.
Standing gracefully she turned and glanced behind them, addressing someone that Aragorn had not realized stood just beyond her. “He is ill.” The regal looking elf she spoke to nodded and at his command two warriors raced off heading deep into the woods.
Gandalf frowned into the tired eyes that gazed dully at him, “You thought to hide it from me.”
“I get sick Gandalf, I am human. It would have been nothing more than a cold if we had not run into that wraith. I would have been fine.” He spoke quietly, a little disoriented by all the sudden attention. How he simply wished for his own bed and family.
“You are missing your own?” Galadriel asked the ranger as though she could read his mind, which was not far from the truth. Aragorn simply nodded as a lordly elf with long flowing blonde hair stepped next to Gandalf and drew him aside.
“You say you met up with a wraith? Near our borders?” The elf questioned the Maiar worriedly, his conversation hidden in elvish.
“We did.” Aragorn whispered as the female elf knelt once more by his side.
She smiled softly as she realized that the human could understand their language, “Of course I should have know he would have taught you to speak the high tongues first did he not?” she asked cryptically.
Aragorn wasn’t sure if he was just too sick to understand her questioning or if the question had even been meant for him. Seeing his confusion the lady continued, explaining herself softly. “I am Galadriel, Lady of these woods and the one who speaks with Mithrandir is my husband Celeborn.”
“Arwen’s grandparents.” Aragorn was surprised that he had spoken out loud, his thoughts were fuzzy and it hurt to think. Of course he had heard of them before, chiefly from Arwen when they had been together, since she spent far more time here than her brothers or father did. He closed his eyes. Just perfect. This was *not* the kind of first impression he would have liked to make.
“Yes. My daughter is Arwen’s mother.” She let the meaning sink in slowly as she undid the sling that held Aragorn’s arm to his chest. He winced and drew his breath in holding it against the pain that movement brought on.
Galadriel continued speaking, “We have the knowledge to reset your shoulder and your collar bone. The wound you incurred in battle will heal well, but your illness...” She stopped and gazed into the fever bright eyes, “I have not dealt with the likes before. That is something that we have little knowledge of here for few are the outsiders who pass beneath these trees and elves do not get sick young human.”
“I know.” Aragorn muttered darkly, “My brothers constantly remind me of the fact.” Had he been more himself and felt less like he was on the verge of passing out once more he probably wouldn’t not have interrupted the elven Lady.
“I imagine they do. And that brings me to my point.” She smiled as Aragorn blushed realizing his mistake, “There is one that I know of that has knowledge of healing for both men and elves and that one is Elrond. He has just taken leave of our borders; Celeborn has sent sentries to call him back. He will be here shortly and he will know what to do.”
“My father was here?” He spoke the words in elvish, it was easier to concentrate on his native language. He didn’t think to ask how they had known to send runners even before he and Gandalf arrived in Caras Galadon, but in time he would learn that there was nothing which passed the borders of this land of which Galadriel was unaware.
Galadriel tipped her head slightly at the words, she had known that her son-in-law had taken the human in and given him refuge, but then Elrond had fostered all the heirs of Isildur; she had not realized that this young man had also won the elf lord’s heart and taken on the role of a son.
“Yes,” her answer echoed oddly in Aragorn’s ear, as though he were a long way away from the one who spoke it, “he is on his way. Hold on until he gets here young one, it will not be long.” The Lady of the Woods’ words circled in his mind and the ranger was not sure he had even heard them with his ears or they had simply been spoke into the darkness of his thoughts.
“Rest...just rest...” His tired body could not resist and he slipped away into unconsciousness.
Consciousness returned slowly and it seemed to take great effort for Aragorn to turn his head to the side. He could sense someone sitting next to him. Dully he recognized his father, a smile creeping onto his lips. The elf lord was sitting crosslegged on the ground near Aragorn’s bower, his head resting in his hand, sound asleep.
“Ada.” Aragorn whispered, his smile widening when Elrond started and stared down at his human son. “I told Gandalf it would be better at home.”
Elrond leaned forward, touching the palm of his hand against the cool skin of the ranger’s face, “We are not home my son, we are in Lothlórien. Do you not remember?”
Aragorn frowned up at the familiar face, sorting through the fuzzy recollections of his immediate past. “I remember Gandalf...”
“He has had to travel on with out you. He leaves his apologies and his blessings for a speedy recovery. There was trouble in Rohan, he could not linger although he wished it greatly.” The sound of Elrond’s soft voice was comforting.
“I remember a lady also, she said you were related to her?” The ranger sighed deeply letting the flitting memories go, “She was pretty.” He murmured softly. His tired mind would not cooperate with him.
Elrond laughed quietly at his son’s comment, “Yes, I dare say she is. She is my wife’s mother, sister of the departed Finrod Felegund and daughter of Fingulfin all of whom you ought to remember if you did not spend all your history lessons looking out the window...” the elf lord’s smile was gentle.”
The human watched him tiredly, nodding; he remembered something to that effect and would have recalled a lot more if he had been feeling better. The oddness of Elrond being away from Rivendell dawned slowly in his mind and he questioned his father on it, “Why are you here?” It wasn’t what he meant but the elf lord understood.
“I am here because you are ill and because we were just leaving Lothlórien ourselves. Your brothers and I had stopped through to pick up Arwen and escort her home for a short stay.”
Aragorn glanced around them searching for signs of elves that he might know, “Where are they now?”
“Your brothers?” Elrond questioned for clarification continuing when Estel nodded, “They have gone back with Arwen. Although she claimed not to need the company I would not have her travel alone in these days. Celeborn’s messengers reached us midday two days ago and I returned with them then. Doubtless they all would have come back if they had known the nature of the summons. But the messengers said only that Galadriel requested my presence, and we all assumed it was council business until I actually arrived. We did not know you were in this area Estel.”
“Two days ago?” Aragorn was still stuck several sentences back. “It has been that long?”
“Yes.” The elf lord threw a handful of athelas into a tiny boiling pot that sat near Aragorn’s head. The human smiled softly, that was the familiar scent that had so reminded him of home. “You were more ill than you admitted to being. For a little while they feared for your life. Why didn’t you tell Gandalf that you were not well?”
“It would not have mattered had we not been overtaken by those orcs. It would have been no more than a cold, I know for a fact. But we walked all night and I pushed too hard.” He finally admitted to his father, casting his gaze down to the sling that held his right arm against his chest. He fiddled with a frayed edge of the cloth before meeting Elrond’s eyes once more.
“Without letting anyone know.” The elf lord watched the human.
“Yes.” The simple admission was spoken quietly. “Please don’t lecture me. I hate being here as much as you.”
Aragorn was startled as his father laughed, “I do not hate being here Estel, nor being called to return. This is one of the most beautiful places on all Arda. What I hate is when I see you endanger yourself needlessly.”
“This is bordering on a lecture.” Aragorn warned, playfully slipping into elvish.
Their conversation was interrupted by a quiet voice whose power was not belied by the softness of the spoken words, “So it is, and you deserve one young human.”
Galadriel stooped slightly and entered the open aired room. She favored Elrond with a smile before turning her gaze upon Aragorn.
“How is he?”
“He is doing much better now.” Elrond answered for his son, idly checking the bandage that covered the gash on the man’s leg. “His wounds are healing and his fever is gone. I’d say he was on the mend.”
Dark silver eyes were watching him closely as Aragorn followed his father’s movements. His leg was stiff but the fiery pain that he remembered was gone. His right arm however was bound tightly to his shoulder and a sling prevented it from moving. He ached when he moved but he could tell that his dislocated shoulder had been reset while he had been unconscious.
“Estel, this is Galadriel, she is the Lady of these woods.” Elrond said by way of introduction.
“We have met but I doubt that you remember.” Galadriel inclined her head, “I have heard much about you, since your father returned.” She smiled at the two of them. As she watched them she was struck by how very much they did resemble one another. It was no small matter for her to accept the human as Elrond’s son, since that placed a bond of kinship between them as well, yet her heart told her that it was not for naught that he had been named Estel. “When you are better, you are welcome to dine with us. But tonight we will have refreshments brought to you.”
“Elrond, if I may have a word?” Galadriel motioned towards the exterior of the canopied room walking out ahead of the elf lord when he nodded his acceptance of her request.
He gently reached out and touched Estel’s chest, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, “Rest, I’ll be back shortly.” Quickly rising to his feet he joined Galadriel and walked with her out of earshot of the human.
The elves rounded the base of one of the huge towering trees that comprised the interior of Caras Galadon and Aragorn smiled contentedly to himself. Secretly he was very glad they had sent for his father. He closed his eyes and listened to the lilting voices of the elves high up in the trees hidden from his view. Their soft singing and conversations creating a soothing sound in his ears. He was relieved, this did not promise to be anything like his first visit to Mirkwood had been. With a smile he laid his head back down on the soft pillow and rested. He hated being sick, he needed to get better and soon. It may not be his home that he rested in, but having Elrond close by, it was starting to feel like it.
The soft sounds of night muted together, but they were lost on the young man who lay restless and gently tossing in his sleep.
No, no, no... it was all wrong, all wrong... and he couldn’t stop it. There was nothing he could do. Nothing. Emptiness, crushing emptiness. He was gone. He was gone and he couldn’t hold onto him...
Aragorn jerked awake his eyes wide, his body tense as he sat up quickly in bed, throwing the light covers off of himself.
“Legolas?!” He glanced about trying to get his bearings, the soft lights of the night helping to ground him back to reality. Even in the black of night Caras Galadon was never completely dark. A soft blue-white light continually lit the stairwells and sparkled in the tree tops. The elf’s themselves seemed to radiate even more of a glow here than he had noticed in Mirkwood or Rivendell. Aragorn had finally begun to be used to this place and in fact to love its beauty and timelessness. It was like, and yet unlike Rivendell.
As the fear of the dream that had woken him wore off so too did the stranglehold of the images that had terrified him. He brushed the hair out of his face with his free hand, holding his head gingerly and allowing his forehead to rest against his knees, drawn tightly to his chest; still being careful of his injured shoulder.
His arm was healing quickly and the break in his collarbone was knitting itself well in the time he and Elrond had spent beneath the elven canopy of Lothlórien. Although Aragorn was nearly healed his body had still not caught up to his will and as he stiffly tried to move his right arm the bone-deep ache and discomfort from being unable to move it out of the sling just yet grated on him a little. His mind was distracted from the pain, snagged on the whirling afterimages of his latest nightmare.
His latest one...
The dreams had started over a week ago. They plagued his sleep and robbed him of rest. Every night they returned, insistent, demanding. Sometimes it was the same images over and over again, sometimes just the horrible pressing feeling that something was terribly wrong and all the dreams and feelings seemed to center on Legolas. The impressions the night terrors left where that his friend was in trouble, grave danger and that he, Aragorn could not help. Always they ended the same - the ranger came too late and was continually left with an utterly helpless feeling of loss and sorrow.
Breathing in deeply and slowly, Aragorn stilled the fears chasing through his heart. He had it in mind to seek out his friend as soon as he was well. In fact he attributed the dreams to his illness and tried to just ignore them. His elven father had foresight but surely he did not. Perhaps if he worked up the courage he would ask Elrond about it. Thus far he had kept his troubling dreams to himself.
Laying carefully back down so as not to disturb the elderly elf he shared his open aired room with, he turned his thoughts to his brothers, to happier times. He wondered how Gandalf was doing and where he was, for he had most likely left Rohan already. Then he wondered what his brothers were doing and realized idly that he was doing everything possible to not fall asleep again.
Turning gingerly onto his side he watched his father sleeping. The elf lord’s eyes were half lidded, deep in rest. A smile touched his lips as he recalled the first time he had found his father asleep not long after he had been brought to Rivendell. Thoughts of his family soothed the anxieties that he couldn’t quite banish and he had nearly allowed sleep to steal over him once more when both ranger and elf lord were awoken as the peace of the night was shattered by a contingent of elves racing past their open chambers, heading towards Galadriel and Celeborn’s resting place.
The echoes of an argument rose audibly as a second party approached them.
“I recognize that voice.” Elrond spoke sleepily, glancing quickly at his son.
But the ranger was on his feet and running towards the lower glen. He recognized the voice as well, and on the heels of his latest nightmare it filled his heart with urgency. “It’s Trelan!” He called back, not waiting for his father to join him.
The ranger’s bare feet made his approach nearly impossible to detect and Aragorn slowed as he came up upon the contingent of warriors who had woken them. The elves were gathered around a single person, who was not coming with them willingly.
“You don’t understand! I was not alone. You must let me go, I have to find my friends they can help, I cannot stay here!” The elf warrior’s voice was slurred with delirium, but rose to near panic before his argument was cut off by a groan of pain.
“Do not speak folly. You cannot go out in this condition, you cannot even walk.” A soft elven voice tried to persuade the one they kept in their midst. “It is not safe outside our borders at night and you can go no further or you will kill yourself!”
“But Legolas is out there!” the strained voice protested, pain, concern and guilt mingling freely.
“Trelan!” Aragorn gained the edge of the party and pushed through the warriors, heedless of the glares and frowns his presence caused. When he reached the center of the tight circle his mouth dropped in surprise and a small cry of anguish broke from his lips.
He knelt down next to a stretcher that had been crudely and swiftly fashioned to carry his friend; it rested on the carpet of grass beneath their feet and a Lórien elf crouched beside it, trying vainly to keep the smaller wood elf from further hurting himself. Blood caked Trelan’s face and matted in the tangled locks of his blonde hair. Swelling bruises outlined his cheekbones and his arm was obviously broken. The fingers of his right hand that clutched his shoulder, trying to damp the pain, were scraped and cut as though he had been dragged or fallen on sharp rocks. The small elf took short painful gasps of air as he spoke, trying to breathe around the ache of broken ribs. Huge, red rimmed eyes turned on Aragorn, and the ranger could see where tears had streaked through the dirt on friend’s cheeks.
“Trelan,” Strider leaned forward and pulled the elf against him gingerly, his heart breaking at the sight. “What happened to you?” he whispered softly.
“Legolas...” The small elf just repeated the prince’s name, “We have to find him, I lost him Aragorn. I lost him.”
“Shh... we will Trelan, we will. But first let us take care of you.” Fear spiked through the ranger’s heart at the elf’s words but he silenced it quickly. Gently pushing Trelan back, the human took the warrior’s bruised face in his hands and forced him to focus. “Trelan, who did this to you and why?”
“I do not know what they wanted. A group of men...they chased us and split us up. I was unhorsed and fell. I was caught beneath their horses.” He touched his arm gently as though noticing it was broken for the first time. “They did not care or even wait to see if I had lived, they took Kynter with them.” Trelan’s eyes were huge and he jerked slightly as Elrond pushed through the circle of elves and knelt next to his son. If Aragorn did not know Kynter was Trelan’s horse, he would have thought the injured warrior spoke of another elf, but he was not surprised, he knew how elves felt about their horses.
“Trelan.” The elf lord’s voice was soft but held an authority that could not be denied, “You are wounded, let us see to your injuries you can tell us what happened later.”
Not to be dissuaded the younger elf shook his head and gazed back at Aragorn locking eyes with the ranger, “Strider, I lost the prince. I do not know where he is or if he...” His voice faltered and he winced holding his breath as a wave pain swept through his body.
Elrond stood swiftly to his feet and pushed two of the elves forward that were standing beside him, they could waste no more time. Trelan’s life was in danger. “Enough. Quickly, pick up his stretcher and follow me to my rooms, he needs attention, immediately.”
The Galadrim warriors were used to taking orders and did not question the elf lord but obeyed him, walking the wood elf away from the glen and towards the bed chambers that Lord Elrond had been using while he remained with them.
Galadriel met them half way, falling in step next to Elrond. Gently she laid her hand upon the wounded elf’s forehead, bidding him strength.
Celeborn walked past them, synching the belt on the over robe he wore. He nodded quickly in acknowledgement and acceptance of his son-in-law’s demands on the Lothlórien warriors and called the captain of the guard to himself, requesting a full report.
Aragorn grabbed the sleeve of the elf nearest him, gaining the warriors attention, “Tell me, how did you find him and where?”
The elf hesitated, but seeing no need to keep anything hidden from the ranger who was obviously high in the favor of the Lord and Lady, he explained that they had found the other Silvan elf wandering their northernmost border, heading for the hills. He was wounded and delirious but intent upon reaching Rivendell. They had not the supplies to care for his injuries and had instead brought him here for help against his wishes.
“It is a day’s journey from the southern border to Caras Galadon.” Aragorn noted softly.
“It is. We did not stop and made it in less than that.” The elf’s piercing eyes held the ranger’s as he continued, “I think willpower alone must have been the only thing keeping him going. I do not know how long he traveled but he had not food or water. Once we were able to give him both he became more coherent. He said he was looking for Strider and that their friend, Legolas had been lost.”
Aragorn nodded numbly, his gaze dropping to the forest floor as the words sunk in. Trelan had been searching for him. He had known that the ranger was traveling with Gandalf through this region, for they had stopped by the palace not a full month ago. A sudden thought struck him and he glanced quickly up at the warrior before him.
“Was there any...”
As though knowing the human’s thoughts the elf answered the yet unspoken question, shaking his head, “There was none other besides the one we returned with. I know; I was sent back on our trail by my captain. There were neither tracks nor signs of anyone else. From the state we found him in, I would say that your friend had been wondering for some time before we came across him; the direction from which he came is impossible to guess for he was delirious and crossed his own trail many times.”
Aragorn closed his eyes and sighed deeply.
“I am sorry.” The elven warrior touched the ranger lightly before walking off with his contingent.
“Thank you.” Aragorn whispered softly to the retreating forms. He knew they had heard him.
He was too late. Again he was too late! Legolas’ eyes drifted shut and he softly exhaled one last time. He could hear Trelan’s cries “I lost him, I cannot find him.”
Aragorn beat against the invisible bonds that held him back helplessly as he struggled against his own powerlessness.
“No...” The word was a mere whisper as it left the ranger’s lips but he had not even realized he had spoken so wrapped in the nightmare was he.
The man tried to touch Legolas, tried to call him back, but all his attempts failed and the image of his friend swirled away, replaced by the painful emptiness of his passing. Tears streamed down Aragorn’s face as he called out to his friend, Trelan’s sorrowful voice echoing his cries, taunting his helplessness.
“I lost him Aragorn...
“I lost him!” Aragorn repeated the words in his sleep his distress in the nightmare hedging into reality as he fought to stop the vicious cycle of the dream. “NO!”
The heart wrenching cries woke Lord Elrond from a deep, exhausted sleep. For the better part of the day he had cared for the Silvan elf that had been brought into their midst. Trelan’s injuries had been severe and Galadriel had seen to it that Elrond was given access to all the supplies he needed to ensure the small warrior was given the very best care. They had set him up in his own room with someone to watch him at all times should the elf lord be needed. He was unconscious now, and that was not expected to change any time soon. Elrond doubted he would awaken for several days. His body had taken too much damage; it needed rest to heal. As much as they all wanted to find out more details about what had happened, any further news from Trelan was going to have to wait. Perhaps for quite a while.
Elrond sat up quickly, throwing the light covers off of as he turned towards the source of the cries, Aragorn.
His human son was caught in the throes of a nightmare, fighting within himself. Tears streaked the ranger’s face and his breathing was quick and fast.
Aragorn tried to press forward and fight back the darkness, tried to cover his ears from the sounds of his friend’s voice calling to him. He moved his right arm swiftly in his sleep, nearly hitting his father in his attempts to shut everything out. The motion sent a wave of pain shooting up his arm and he cried out, his eyes flying open and locking on the blue ones that stared down at him.
Elrond held the sides of his son’s face, speaking quietly to him, trying to get the boy to wake up. He ducked the wild swing of Aragorn’s hand and gently grabbed the ranger’s wrist, laying his wounded arm back against his chest and sliding his hands once more to the young man’s face.
Aragorn’s eyes were wide as he looked around them, frantically trying to force reality back into perspective. He glanced quickly to the draped doorway as an elven warrior brushed the fabric entry back and stepped cautiously inside.
“Is everything all right Lord Elrond?”
“Yes. Yes, thank you, everything is under control.” The elf lord never took his gaze from his son’s face. The silver eyes locked onto his as Aragorn slowly reached his left hand up and grasped his father’s forearm.
With a curt nod the elf warrior stepped back out, giving the small family the privacy they needed.
Elrond gently traced his thumbs under Aragorn’s eyes, wiping away the stray tears as the ranger’s breathing evened out and he began to calm down.
For several moments the elf lord simply knelt beside the young man quietly, waiting while Aragorn composed himself. With a slight, somewhat embarrassed nod the ranger acknowledged he was fine and Elrond sat back, giving him more space and helping him to sit up.
Closing his eyes, Aragorn took a deep, shaky breath releasing the tension that had bound him up in his nightmare. When he opened his eyes again, Elrond was watching him closely. The ranger smiled nervously, running his hand back through his hair, he dropped his gaze to the floor. Surely he was too old to be waking up with nightmares and having to have his father comfort him. All the same, he was not a bit sorry that Elrond was there. The elf’s mere presence radiated calm, as it always had.
“I just had a bad dream that’s all.” Aragorn explained quietly. “I’m sorry I woke you.”
“That is all?” Elrond echoed the casual dismissal questioningly. The silence grew heavy between them before he continued, pressing for more, “It’s not the first one you’ve had.”
“You know about them?” Aragorn was surprised, he thought that he had been quiet enough and not woken the elderly elf.
With a small smile Elrond shook his head, “Not until just now.”
Aragorn grimaced; he’d been caught. He shook his head and smiled softly. “Yes, I have been having night terrors for the past two weeks...”
He stopped talking, his gaze dropping to the fingers of his left hand, twining a loose thread from his sling as he fidgeted nervously.
Elrond’s large hand covered his own stilling his movements, “Estel?”
“They...they’ve been about Legolas.” Aragorn glanced up through the strands of hair that had fallen about his face answering the question his father had not asked. It didn’t matter how old he became... something about Elrond would always make him feel like a little boy. Surprisingly enough that wasn’t a bad thing.
Elrond nodded encouraging his son to continue. He brushed the hair gently away from his son’s eyes. “And?”
The words tumbled out fast and furious, the relief at being forced to speak of them easing his fears. “And every time I am too late. He is gone. There is a terrible sense of loss as though Legolas is in danger and I cannot help him. It replays over and over whenever I fall asleep; I can get no rest. Tonight was the worst though. After Trelan was found in the shape he was and his report of losing Legolas to someone, somewhere... I am sure that some ill has befallen him. I know they are just dreams but surely there must be something wrong. You know father, that I have not had nightmares for years. Why now? Why Legolas? Can you see anything? Can you tell me anything? I need to know.”
Elrond gazed quietly into the silver eyes beseeching him. There was so much the young man did not know even about himself. When he finally spoke his voice was soft and low and he switched without thought to elven, “They may just be dreams. Or they may not. My son, you must understand that there is much strength and power in you that you have yet to fully discover. You are descended from the line of the ancient kings, Númenorean kings. Within you is the power of insight, of far-seeing. It would not surprise me if you have the gift of foresight in your own way, although you may not yet understand aright that which you see.”
Aragorn watched him wordlessly, wondering on the further revealing of his heritage and the innate strengths and weaknesses that went with it.
“One day this gift will serve you well, but now it is still only waking within you, untried and untrained. It may be that Legolas is not in the trouble that you think him to be. Visions are not always what they seem. Sometimes we see only that what we fear, instead of that which is.”
“But father I...”
Elrond raised his hand and stopped his son from interrupting. “Of Legolas’ future I am unsure. Whatever troubles you for him is not readily apparent to me or I would tell you Estel.” He paused, as if considering something. “There are ways to look closer, tools to bring such visions into clearer focus if you will, but they are not to be used lightly or on a whim. Nor are they easy for the untrained to master.”
“This is no whim Ada, I know it.” Aragorn touched his chest lightly; “The dread does not leave me now even in waking. If there is a way to find out more, I would hear it.”
Nodding slowly, Elrond conceded. He held up his left hand and splayed his fingers; Vilya glinted brightly in the soft elven light. “You know of the power of Vilya and I have told you there are other rings of power in Middle Earth. So I will tell you a secret Estel that must never go beyond this conversation. Galadriel is the keeper of Nenya, ring of Adamant, with power over the element of water among many other things. She is powerful among the Noldor, more so than even myself for she alone on Middle Earth is left of those elves who originally came over from Valinor.” Elrond smiled slightly despite himself. The twins thought he had never heard their light-hearted jests, but it was true, what they had laughed about as children; they could actually say that their grandmother was older than the sun. Bringing himself back to the moment the elf lord continued his original train of thought.
“She has a mirror that those who are allowed to look upon may use to see what the possible future holds and many other things if they are able. Few are the firstborn who have been privileged to gaze upon it and of mortals even less. Yet it may be that she will allow you to look into the mirror if you ask it of her.”
Aragorn glanced to the ring fitted about his own finger, his thoughts swirling wildly through what he knew and what he had been told.
“Tomorrow, if you like, we will go to Galadriel and you may ask her.” Elrond offered.
“I would like to if it will help to know what has happened. It may be that I am wrong, but it would put my heart at ease to know if that is the case.” Aragorn answered quietly.
His father’s hand on his shoulder redirected his attention and the ranger gazed back up into the blue ageless eyes. “Very well. Understand though Estel, that people do not always see what they wish to see. But tonight you need to rest. Will you be able to sleep my son?”
Aragorn smiled and stifled a small laugh, “You mean will I be able to sleep on my own or would I like you to fix me some of that awful tea you make when you wish to put me to sleep?”
A gentle laugh escaped Elrond’s lips and he shook his head, “You and your brothers will be the death of me yet, not to mention those Silvan elf friends of yours.”
Stiffly Aragorn lay back down and rolled onto his side, watching as the elderly elf leaned against the pillows propped behind his head. “I will be all right now father. I will sleep.”
“If you should wake...”
Elrond stopped speaking as Aragorn closed his eyes a broad smile stretching across his face. He quietly interrupted the elf lord, “Yes I know. I promise I will wake you and if I cannot sleep I will tell you.” He sighed slowly and deeply as sleep overtook him once more, his body had not yet caught up with his spirit and was worn out.
Elrond watched his adopted son long into the night. The young man was growing up before his eyes, assuming the power and the rights that were his and yet he had such a long ways to go. As fast as Aragorn seemed to be growing up to him, Elrond knew that he was blessed in a way because if the ranger did not have the timeless life span of an immortal, at least Aragorn did not age quite so quickly as other humans. His Númenorean blood kept him young and age came more slowly than was normal, but maturity... maturity had been there for some time and lately Elrond could see it blossoming before his eyes. The awakening of the human’s potential foresight and his increasing strength of will were signs of that.
The elf lord cast his thoughts out into the tumult of the future. There were ripples there that were not right, dark touches that bespoke a nameless fear, and uncertainty entwined the destinies of his human son and Aragorn’s most frequent elven companion. He shook off the coldness that had crept into his own heart at the whispers the future held. Elrond of all people, knew that the future was an ever changing, unrelenting flow of possibilities and nothing was certain until it had passed. Easing down onto the soft bedding beneath him he turned on his side, facing Aragorn, and closed his eyes. Worry would do him no good, nor would it bring the future on any more quickly. They would find out what they needed to know tomorrow. It would be interesting to see how the boy handled the fledgling power that was waking in him.
The breeze was cool, rustling across the emerald grass and making the heads of the blooming elanor and niphredil wave and bob peacefully beneath the trees.
The Lady Galadriel was dressed in white as she almost always was, and looked very at home among the slender pale flowers.
True to his word, Elrond had taken the ranger to speak with the Lady of the Golden Wood.
It was late afternoon now, and Aragorn had chaffed all day for this opportunity, and yet now he hesitated. Now that he was faced with actually asking the question he wasn’t sure how to do so and felt as if his tongue had grown limp and uncooperative. Elrond may have been perfectly comfortable with Galadriel, but she was still a stranger to Estel, one that he was more or less in awe of, and it was a slightly awkward situation.
The young ranger resisted the urge to fidget with the edges of the sling that held his immobilized right arm and shoulder bound tightly to his chest. His mending injury had been hurting him this morning after his un-cautious moves last night, and Elrond had insisted he wear the immobilizing sling again today.
“There is something you desire Estel?” there was a hint of mirth in Galadriel’s wise eyes as if she knew exactly what he wanted and how he was feeling. However if she did she said nothing. Aragorn sighed inside. Just like his father. They could know perfectly well what was on your mind but would insist on waiting to hear it from you in person.
“For some time now I... have been having disturbing dreams,” the young ranger started slowly.
“So I have heard,” Galadriel glanced at Elrond who stood quietly behind Aragorn, watching his human son. “You think they are something other than dreams.” It was not a question.
Aragorn nodded, also glancing back at his elven father. “Lord Elrond told me that in some small way, I also have the gift of foresight because of my heritage. I fear this is true and I feel certain that my friend Legolas is in terrible danger. After the word Trelan brought and the condition he is in...” he hesitated before plunging onward. “I came to ask if... if you would permit me to look in your mirror. If this has been so strong in my dreams, I had hoped...” he left the statement open, waiting for her response.
Galadriel smiled softly. She understood why her son-in-law had such affection for this one; he had an honest, open quality that made even his uncertainty more sincere than some people’s boastful show of confidence. “You hope that you may see something to help you,” she finished for him with a graceful nod. “Come with me.”
The Lady led them across the green grass of Caras Galadon and down a curving set of stairs set into the earth which led to the simple basin that all of them knew was much more than it seemed.
Aragorn stopped in front of it and watched, transfixed despite the worry eating at his heart, as Galadriel filled the basin with water from her fountain. The Lady of the Galadrim breathed upon the water, which almost immediately took on a different hue, and then stepped back.
Replacing her pitcher she fixed Aragorn firmly in her gaze. “I will allow you to do this Aragorn, son of Arathorn, although few are the mortals who can say they have gazed into the Mirror of Galadriel. Lord Elrond has told you truly, you have both the foresight and the strength of will to use the far-seeing tools of both elves and men... but be careful Estel. Your skills are yet young and untrained, if you are unwary you can injure yourself. Take a care where you look and for what purpose. The mirror shows not only the past and the possible future, but many things that will never come to be... it is a dangerous guide.”
With these words of warning, Galadriel backed away from the pedestal, allowing Aragorn access.
Slowly, Aragorn stepped up to the graceful basin, gripping one edge of the cool stone lip with his good hand and looking down to peer into water that was strangely dark and reflective for such a shallow bowl. Both Elrond and Galadriel had their eyes silently fixed on him, but he tried not to think about that. Instead his thoughts went to his dreams, and to Legolas as he gazed down at his own wavering reflection in the dark water. For a moment that was all he could see, his own reflection, but presently the water seemed to get darker, and deeper as if opening out into a vast, swirling vortex before his eyes. Yet the water itself was not moving. Beyond sight and consciousness, Aragorn seemed aware of a thousand different things in the seemingly endless depths of the mirror.
He saw many images swirl by as if caught in a gale. Some the ranger recognized as scenes from his own childhood, but others he could not even begin to guess at unless they be from tales or things that happened either very long ago, or possibly had not yet happened at all. As Galadriel had warned, some things that the mirror showed never came to pass at all... it was difficult to know what to trust.
The pictures flickered by almost faster than the young man could comprehend.
A man with a blazing gem in his hand standing before a great, hideous wolf.
The bright stars of the heavens in elder days before the shape of the world was changed.
Tall Númenorean ships... a white tree, young and graceful with stars caught in its branches like jewels woven into the hair of a beautiful lady.
Elrond dressed in armor and locked in desperate battle in the middle of a body-strewn plain.
Rivendell, filled with many, many more elves than currently called it home and surrounded by enemies, a lone refuge in a dark sea. Elrond stood on a balcony looking out from a distance at the dark, hopeless sea, his face grim and a bloody cloth bound round his arm.
Elladan smiling at a small human boy, Estel when he was young. The older twin was teaching him how to hold a bow.
A fiery mountain. Small beings toiled up the side on some great and perilous errand.
Arwen... Arwen’s face... he was almost tempted to try to look closer, to see what the future held if he could... but he pulled back. That was not his purpose here.
Focusing his mind more closely and attempting to weed out distractions, Aragorn found the images becoming clearer and slower, coalescing under the guidance of his unspoken thoughts. Legolas. He forced that to be the one overriding thought in his head. Legolas.
As if at his bidding, Legolas face swirled into view, but the prince looked younger somehow, if that were possible for an elf. There were men and they were hurting him... Aragorn nearly jerked physically back as his mind recoiled from the images that he knew to be coming from Legolas’ past.
Elrond, standing a ways back, could not see what Aragorn was seeing, but he saw the young man tense and recoil and only just kept himself from stepping forward. Not everything the mirror showed one was pleasant.
Galadriel met his eyes. This was Aragorn’s test of strength and will; he had to pass it alone if he would accomplish that which he sought.
Aragorn’s emotions caused the pictures to wobble and spin out of focus again and for a few moments he was left groping to pull them back into focus again, but slowly he did.
Legolas’ face appeared once more, but he was laughing this time, talking with... with Raniean and Trelan it looked like, while riding next to Elrond. Other scenes, ones that Aragorn remembered from their own not so distant past together surfaced: Mirkwood, fighting the spiders, Lord Thranduil’s halls, Rivendell, the Witch King, the cold snow of the mountains and the burning heat of Harad... all of them swirled past in the blink of an eye, before Aragorn once again found himself faced with unfamiliar images, but it was hard for him to know whether he had just moved forward or backward in time since the mirror was not showing him things in any kind of order, chronological or otherwise.
A river. Two riders crossed it... they were elves, one was Legolas, he couldn’t see the other, it might have been Trelan.
They were attacked, separated... he saw Trelan caught beneath the horses’ hooves and flinched hard, everything seemed so real. Aragorn struggled to see what happened and where Legolas was, but he could not and the scene slid away from him. He did not seem to have the skill to look more than surface deep into anything he saw. That frustrated the young man and he tried harder. Of course, being able to bend the mirror to his will at all was no small feat, however Aragorn had no way of knowing that.
A scene snapped clearly into focus. Legolas, lying pale and still on slanting bed of grey shale. Behind him in the distance a faint, foggy mountain range formed a striking resemblance to the image of an old, hook-nosed man. Something moved in the rocks. Aragorn could not see what, but he knew it was danger for Legolas.
Mentally he screamed for his friend to wake up, attempting to force the image to stay, but it slipped away like sand between his fingers and he had no way of even knowing if it were the past, the present or the future that he was seeing. Aragorn’s left hand tightened vise-like on the edge of the mirror basin, causing the stone to dig roughly into his fingers.
The image wavered. He was closer to Legolas now, he could see his friend’s face and the elf was awake.
“Don’t be angry with me Estel...” Legolas’ voice was weak and soft. “I’m sorry...” the elf seemed to reach out for his hand, but was not strong enough to do so and the prince’s arm fell back to his side. Legolas’ eyes closed and his spirit fled as death reached up and swallowed him.
“No!” Aragorn didn’t realize that he had shouted it aloud. With all his will he fought to hold the picture he was seeing, to know what was wrong and why his friend was dying... but he could see nothing. The elf seemed uninjured. The scene replayed itself again, exactly the same way and it was like being stuck in a nightmare all over again. Legolas’ hand fell limply back to his side and Aragorn reached out, trying to take hold of it, his whole concentration and will bent on the horrible scene in front of him.
“Do not touch the water,” Galadriel’s quiet warning went unheard and unheeded.
Aragorn’s good hand slid over the lip of the bowl, reaching for his friend out of reflex and anguish, even though he knew he wasn’t really there. The instant his fingers touched the water the pictures went into a nauseating spin as the seemingly cool liquid bubbled tumultuously, searing the hand that had violated it. The young man cried out in surprise and pain as he was mentally ripped free of the scene he was concentrating on and jerked back to the present.
One of Galadriel’s slim, strong hands was on his shoulder and the other firmly grasped his left wrist, lifting his hand out of the water and anchoring him back to reality. “Estel? Estel...” she spoke his name like a call but for a moment he did not respond.
Her eyes fell quickly upon Elrond but he needed no summons, he was already beside them, touching his son’s face and bringing Aragorn’s head around towards him. “Estel, Estel answer me.”
Aragorn blinked twice and took a deep, shaky breath, looking around as if not sure what had happened.
“I’m sorry...” he apologized for the concerned looks on their faces, a deep humiliation flooding him. “I’m sorry. I-I think I must have done something stupid, didn’t I?” He dropped his head and his gaze as everything came back to him.
Elrond touched his shoulder gently as Galadriel released the young ranger. “You are brave Estel, but you have to be more careful. Your time will come, but you are not yet skilled enough young one to understand nor wield the full power inside of you. Now look at me, look at me Estel,” he insisted and Aragorn slowly met his searching gaze.
Elrond sighed softly. Aragorn was all right. Weary beyond measure from exerting himself and his untried abilities far too much while in an already weakened condition, but ultimately unharmed by his experience. His foster son was, however, deeply troubled and he could see that. “What did you see?”
“I saw Legolas,” Aragorn was slightly breathless but quickly got control of himself. “He was in danger. Grave danger... I saw him die.”
The raw pain behind Aragorn’s eyes made Elrond’s heart ache. He knew what the prince meant to his son. “It is not the certain future Aragorn, it may not even be the future at all.”
Aragorn was already shaking his head. “No! He is in danger. I know it. I can feel it. Ada, I know where he is!”
Elrond glanced at Galadriel but returned his gaze to his youngest son. “What do you mean Estel?”
“I saw him,” Aragorn wavered slightly and had to grip the mirror pedestal with his burned fingers again to keep steady. “I saw him, and in the background I could clearly see the old man in the mountain. It was distant and faint, but there.”
Elrond’s brow creased. The only vantage point from which the mountains lined up right to create that unique picture was Northern Rohan, above Fangorn. But what would Legolas be doing that far south of here?
“But can you be sure? The mirror can show us that which we wish, or that which we fear, as well as that which is true,” Galadriel questioned quietly.
“No,” Aragorn’s mind was made up and he battled the dizziness working on him. His shoulder and arm were hurting again; a lot. He was very tired but fought off the sluggishness. “No, he’s *there*. I don’t know how I know it, I-I just do! You have to believe me. I know what I saw and if something is not done he is going to die. I have to go, I have to...” the young Dùnadan’s knees buckled.
Elrond caught his foster son and supported his weight gently. “You are not going anywhere in this condition Estel. Your own body will not allow it,” he remonstrated as he gently eased the ranger down onto a nearby bench.
Aragorn’s breathing was quick and fast. His whole being was exhausted from his efforts and frustrated with its own frailty. He winced slightly as Elrond checked the burns on his hand but they were light ones only and not serious.
Worn as he was, the human was still protesting and attempting to rise. “I have to go, I have to...”
Galadriel touched his forehead lightly with her fingertips, brushing them across his clammy brow and the young man’s hurting, agitated body relaxed almost instantly, slumping into Elrond’s arms.
“Īdh si, rest now,” the elf lady murmured as Estel’s eyes closed.
“That’s not fair...” Aragorn murmured before sweet, dreamless slumber pulled him under.
Elrond gathered the young man easily in his arms; careful of the Dùnadan’s mending bones. “I suppose it’s not,” the elf lord whispered to his unconscious son with a soft smile. “But it is best for you.” Aragorn would only hurt himself at this point by trying to do too much in such a critically weakened condition.
“That works slightly better on him than it ever did on the twins,” Elrond remarked quietly, directing his amused gaze towards Galadriel as he carried Aragorn back to bed in one of the ground-level bowers.
The elf woman laughed softly at the memory they were both recalling. It was a wonderfully musical sound. “They were young and overactive. This one does not have that much energy now.”
Elrond chuckled as he laid his human son down on the soft, silky cushions of their resting-place. Like most of Lórien it was both indoors and outdoors at the same time and the sweet fragrance of niphredil hung like a healing balm in the cool air.
“You haven’t seen him when he is well. At full strength I would say he could challenge them both when it comes to energy and exuberance,” the elf lord remarked with a soft smile.
Galadriel settled the ranger’s mending arm comfortably on his chest and pulled a light covering over him. It had been a long time since she had helped tuck anyone into to bed and it amused her. “I do not doubt it. Your and your brother’s descendants have always been a handful. I’ll have you know that you were no different when you were young.” Her smile was soft.
Elrond just shook his head as they moved quietly away, leaving Aragorn sleeping. “That was before I married Celebrían. Being a father changes many things.”
Galadriel cast her gaze back towards Estel’s still form, her eyes distant as she thought of her daughter. “She would have liked him. Many would not have taken him in or taken him to heart as you have done, yet the fate of the world may someday hang on such quiet beginnings. My daughter chose well.” She rested her hand lightly above her son-in-law’s heart.
They did not often speak of Celebrían now that she was gone and Elrond touched Galadriel’s hand in a gesture of thanks. It did not hurt now to think of his wife. He would always miss her until the day they were together again, but he knew she was happy.
“The boy has a good heart and a fierce loyalty. He will go after Legolas if we are not careful. Yet... I am also troubled for the young prince,” Elrond said as they walked amid the trees together. “Estel’s visions are correct if what my heart speaks is true. He is in danger.”
Galadriel nodded, she felt the same. “I fear you are right, but I will admit I do not know him as you do, we have never met and his fate is hidden from me. For Estel to feel the danger so acutely his connection with Legolas must be a strong one.”
“It is,” Elrond nodded, clasping his hands behind his back. “It is.”
Thunder rolled lazily across the cloudy sky. The air was thick and oppressive and the gentle drizzle that was beginning to fall did nothing to lighten it.
Jagged, craggy grey rocks and loose shale formed the face of the landscape, absorbing the rain drops with little effect, save that the shale slowly darkened in color, as if trying to disappear into the overcast sky.
Water beaded on a grey cloak, nearly the same shade as the shale, before slowly seeping into the light fabric and running in small rivulets off of unmoving fingers. A pale face with closed lids, stared up unseeing at the grey sky while moist air and misty rain made long black eyelashes glisten and soft golden hair cling to the unresponsive form. Thin streaks of crimson mingled in the rainwater, as blood seeped slowly from a deep abrasion across the still being’s right temple.
A tall, slippery knoll rose high above the unconscious figure on the left, barren and above the tree-line. In the distance the Misty Mountains rose faint, yet distinct, forming the shape of an old man’s face.
The shale on the knoll above was hard and yielded up no secrets. Not even an elf would have been able to read the struggle that had taken place up there. Not even their keen eyes would have been able to see where the larger group of horseman had backed the lone rider up against the edge of the slippery cliff, whooping and yelling, shooting arrows and snapping whips, attempting to unsettle the agitated elven horse.
“Thala... thala, lasto beth nín Avornwen,” the blonde-haired rider tried to calm his horse as the dapple grey backed skittishly towards the cliff-edge, her hooves slipping and sliding. His bow was gone, he was too far away for his hand-to-hand weapons to be any use, he had no idea where his friend was now and that last worried him to no end.
Not even the strangely melted shale or burnt tree stump would have offered a clue as to how the elven horse, extremely unsettled by the harassing presence of the others despite the calming reassurances of its rider, had reared suddenly when lightening struck the earth not fifty feet away, melting stone like butter and sending the tree bursting into flames.
No skid marks. No trail. Nothing but the still body at the base of the cliff to mark the elf’s passing when he was thrown clear of his horse, glancing off the ragged cliff face three times before slipping and sliding into this narrow rift where he had lain since, unmoving.
The grey horse bolted and the riders took off after it, no one thought of what had happened to the elf. No one cared.
Water pooled in the folds of the elf’s clothing and beaded off his skin but the sensation did not wake him. Neither did the soft sounds of scrabbling, and the scraping of scales across stone.
A long, strong-bodied lizard, larger than a cat, but not quite so big as a dog dragged its scaly underbelly along the ground as it inched cautiously forward on four short but powerful legs. Mottled grey, brown and green patterns enabled the reptile to blend in with its surroundings while keen senses drew it towards the only thing in these dead, craggy paths that was radiating heat.
The lhyguan flicked its long, thin tongue out, testing the air in an almost snake-like manner. It smelled blood. And the blood smelled sweet.
Seemingly from nowhere, two more of the creatures appeared, called by the scent of blood and the silent summons of the first lhyguan. Warily, the beasts half waddled, half slithered forward towards the still body of the elf prince. Unresisting prey was too tempting to pass up and the lhygians looked at one another. The first one opened his mouth in a soft hiss that was almost a growl, revealing two small but razor sharp rows of teeth. He had found this one first, the others could share in the spoils, but the kill was his.
Slithering forward until he was standing on the unconscious elf’s chest, the lhyguan dipped its head towards Legolas’ neck; its bite loaded with enough venom to kill a small Oliphaunt given enough time. The other two creatures edged closer, waiting for their opportunity. But Legolas remained unaware of the danger. The prince did not stir.
The soft, blue hues of night had settled once more upon Lothlórien. Beneath the quiet trees a lone figure slid silently across the grass near the southern borders of the wood.
Aragorn was very nearly holding his breath in an attempt to remain perfectly quiet. Thus far he seemed to have escaped notice, but he would not relax until he had left the forest behind him.
Elrond and Galadriel meant well, and he knew they were concerned for him, but his heart was telling him that he had already waited too long. Aragorn slid silently behind a thick tree trunk as he saw several elf sentries pass noiselessly by in the distance. Holding his stiff right arm against him, he tried to keep the white sling hidden in the shadows. The bones were more or less mended now, but the arm was still weak from forced non-use and the new bones were thin.
Aragorn wished he had his cloak because that would blend better, but he had been unable to get together many supplies before leaving, since he had wished to avoid detection.
Once the coast was clear the young ranger moved on again. After several hours he was finally free of the woods and in the open plains below Lórien. Breathing a sigh of relief, Aragorn let some of the tension leave his aching body. He was still more worn from his experience with the mirror than he wanted to admit, but at the same time a dreadful urgency had filled him. Legolas was in danger. And the fear that he was already too late gnawed at him incessantly.
Aragorn shivered slightly. The night was cold, and it seemed to have gotten even more so as soon as he left the protective borders of the Golden Wood. He wished he had his cloak even more now, but there was no use thinking about that. He pressed on, working his way slowly and carefully down a steep incline. The grass and loose earth was slick with nighttime dew and his boots slid treacherously in the dark as he cautiously edged down the slope.
There was no warning. He heard no footfalls, no rustle of movement. Nothing to indicate that he was not alone. However, some inner sense made the young man turn sharply to the right and look around. Unfortunately the abrupt movement on the steep incline was not a good idea.
Aragorn’s boots slid on the slick grass and he lost his balance. His arms cut through the dark air as they waved in a useless attempt to regain his lost footing. He felt himself starting to tumble as his feet slid out from under him... suddenly a strong hand caught his flailing left arm, pulling the young ranger up short and spinning him part way around.
The young ranger jerked in surprise and alarm. He couldn’t see his attacker from this position and trying to turn was only going to make him slip again. He didn’t know who or what else was out here but it had him at a disadvantage. Automatically, he pulled free of his sling, trying to go for his sword with his right hand since his left was caught firm. His tenuous footing slipped and slid further as he tried to pull free of whoever had grabbed him, or at least turn towards the being, but the strong hands that held him grappled against his forward momentum, pulling him back and catching his good arm in a position that effectively rendered him unable to struggle further.
“Estel, what are you doing? Be still or you’ll fall!”
At the sound of the voice Aragorn instantly stopped struggling and allowed the grip on his arms to pull him fully upright and set him on his feet again on a more stable patch of grass and rocks.
The hands released him then and Aragorn pulled away, turning around to face the being behind him.
Elrond was smiling wryly at his foster son, one eyebrow cocked.
Aragorn’s breath was still coming quick and fast and his heart was pounding in his ears from the adrenaline surge a few moments ago. “Are you trying to kill me?” he panted out, shocked at seeing the elf lord.
“Actually that’s what I was hoping to avoid,” the elder elf said calmly, his smile growing as he saw how flustered the human was. Elrond shimmered faintly in the moonlight, but only faintly. To an extent he could control or hide his inner radiance depending on what the situation called for.
Aragorn shook his head and put one hand over his slowly calming heart as he glared accusingly at his father’s amused look. “And I thought my brothers were bad about sneaking up on me!” The truth was they held nothing on their father. Elladan and Elrohir Aragorn had learned to detect, but Elrond was another matter all together.
“Perhaps if you didn’t always feel the need to take off in the middle of the night, you wouldn’t have to worry about it,” the elf lord fixed his son with a somewhat stern look. Yes, Aragorn was plenty old enough and capable enough to look after himself, but still...
Aragorn closed his eyes for a moment and passed his hand over his face. He didn’t bother asking what Elrond was doing here, he figured he knew.
“I’m not going back,” the ranger said quietly, meeting the elf lord’s eyes and hoping he understood, but prepared if he didn’t. He gestured to his right arm and the sling that was right now hanging uselessly around his neck. “I am nearly well again. I will be all right. But Legolas is in danger, I know he is and I must go try to find him. It is no more than he has done for me. Please understand, this is something I have to do.”
“Are you through?” Elrond waited until the human had finished speaking. “Good,” he nodded when Aragorn did not respond. “As so often is the case you are not nearly so well as you think Estel, if tonight’s little altercation is any indication. What would you have done if I *had* been an enemy? I cannot allow you do this alone.”
Aragorn’s eyes turned hard with determination. “I’m sorry father, but you cannot stop me.”
“Who said anything about stopping you? If I had wanted to do that all I would have had to do is say a word to Galadriel and the Galadrim would have halted you long before you got anywhere near the borders of the woods. Yes, Estel, don’t look so shocked, the Lord and Lady of the Wood know everything that happens in their realm and I know *you* at any rate,” Elrond added with a twinkle in his eye at Aragorn’s surprised look. “I knew you’d never stay put. Of course you are going to find Legolas, and since I cannot with good conscience let you go alone in your condition, I am going with you.”
Aragorn blinked, utterly taken aback by this new revelation. “You are?”
“I’m glad my companionship is so highly rated,” Elrond remarked dryly at his adopted son’s nonplused expression.
Aragorn flushed. “That’s not what I meant, I mean, there’s no one I would rather have with me, but it’s just-”
“Just that you’ve never seen me leave Rivendell? I’m not a fixture there Aragorn,” he laughed. “I dare say I will not be a burden to your travels,” he cut the young man off with a wave of his hand before the ranger could again protest that that was not what he had meant. “Besides, I think you forgot a few things...”
Un-shouldering the pack that up until now Aragorn did not even realize the elf lord was carrying; Elrond dropped the weighty knapsack on the ground with a thud. “How far did you think you were going to get supplied like you are now?” the elf shook his head with an amused smile. “I *know* I taught you better than that Estel. Look at that, you didn’t even bring your cloak... well I don’t have yours, but I have a spare.” Elrond pulled the cloak off his own shoulders and wrapped the warm fabric around the young human’s, his look brooking no protest.
Aragorn pulled the dark cloak closer around him with his good hand. With minimal difficulty he pulled the small brooch off the shoulder of his tunic and used it to hold the cloak closed about his neck. After it was fastened the ranger let his fingers linger on the small star-shaped clasp that Elladan had given him many years ago as he broke into a large grin. Touching Elrond’s arm, he caught the elf lord’s gaze again.
“Thank you,” Aragorn meant far more than the cloak and his eyes said that clearly. Just how far Elrond was willing to go to support him touched his heart deeply.
Elrond brushed his son’s unruly locks with the back of his fingers, his smile both fond and proud. “You are becoming a man Estel. Indeed, you have been one for some time. Our paths will lead us apart very soon I think, and it may be that we see less of one another than in former years... but at least this journey we will make together.”
Aragorn smiled softly in the darkness. “Then I will treasure this time, as I have every moment I have lived in your house. Thank you, you ease my mind in more ways than one. If Legolas *is* injured in some way, he could ask for no better care than yours.”
“Indeed,” the elf lord’s smile turned wry again. “So instead of dragging him back to me you are dragging me out to him are you? This should prove interesting. Perhaps I will finally see just *how* it is that you two manage to get yourselves into so much trouble!”
“I’m sure we’ll have no trouble with you around Ada,” Aragorn said innocently.
“Why do I doubt that?” Elrond shook his head with a soft laugh, stooping to grab one strap of the pack that was still sitting on the ground. “Well? Are you going to take your things out of here or not? If you think I’m going to carry everything you are gravely mistaken...”
Aragorn chuckled as he helped his father sort his share of the supplies out of the pack. He was glad for the elf lord’s company. He had traveled many times with his brothers but rarely ever with his father. The visit to Lothlórien had woken many questions in his mind that he had never stopped to consider before about Elrond and his past. He supposed it was part of truly growing up when you began to see someone as more than just your father, but as a person, a person he would like to get to know better, especially since Aragorn too felt that their lives would soon begin to undergo many changes.
This was going to be a very interesting trip indeed.
Aragorn shouldered his own pack once more and turned back in the direction he had been going. He took a deep breath of the night air and an unexplainable chill ran through him.
Elrond noticed the troubled look on his foster son’s face and touched his shoulder gently as they started descending the steep slope once more. “You fear for Legolas.”
“Yes,” Aragorn was not ashamed to admit it. “I have the awful feeling that somehow I have already waited too long... I fear I will be too late.”
Elrond was silent for a time, but when they had reached the bottom of the hill he spoke, his voice quiet, but firm. “We cannot do more than we are doing now Estel. There is nothing more ultimately destructive than focusing on what might have been but can no longer be changed. Have faith, Estel.”
Elrond could not promise that all would be well, for that was more than he knew, but Aragorn took comfort in his father’s wisdom and nodded, silently praying that his dreams would not come true. That they would not be too late.
A tall human with sandy blonde hair pulled back in several rough braids was swearing prodigiously, an empty halter clamped in his hand. The falling rain made the leather slick and was steadily worsening his disposition. “Any sign of them up there Léod?” he called up to his companion on the dark, shale covered ridge above.
“No, you know Freca’s gonna have our hides if we don’t bring them back,” the second fellow responded helpfully.
“Thanks, I never would have guessed,” the first man grumped, swearing a little louder, his voice echoing off the walls of the curving canyon he was descending into. “I hope they haven’t tangled it up with any of those stinking lhygians. You did bring the anti-venom kit with just in case, right?”
A grunt from above answered to the affirmative. “Yes Fastred, I’m not stupid you know. After all, it wasn’t *I* who let them get away...”
These men were in fact horse-breakers by trade, in search of some of their stock that had run off and made for the hills. This light rain was not making their search any easier, or any more pleasant.
Fastred kicked a loose piece of shale angrily as he rounded a corner, holding on to the cliff face next to him to keep from slipping on the sharp incline and shifting stones as he rounded the bend. Any horse that came down here stood a good chance of breaking a leg or worse and that would be a tragedy, not only because of the loss of a good animal, but because these horses did not belong to the breakers, but were entrusted into their care by individual clients to be tamed and made saddle-ready. To violate such a trust was a serious thing and not one that their employer would take lightly.
“Well I certainly hope that none of them were foolish enough to come down through... here.” Fastred pulled up short at the sight he found himself confronted with. A still body lay sprawled on the ground at the base of the cliff and on its chest...
The lhyguan leaned down close, ready to taste the elf’s blood when a heavy stone hit it full in the back of the head, making it reel before turning around and hissing loudly, its flat broad head swiveling to find the source of the new threat.
“Hey, get away! Get away!” Fastred threw another stone, narrowly missing the second lhyguan. “Léod! Léod! Get down here quick!” he shouted, snapping a long thin branch off one of the spindly trees nearby. Edging forward, while trying to keep out of the reach of the deadly lhygians, Fastred swatted at the creatures with the leafy end of the branch, continuing to shout loudly, since he knew the reptiles were sensitive to loud sounds.
The lhygians hissed and retreated a few paces in fear and anger, but they were reluctant to leave the prone body of their intended prey.
Léod quickly slithered down the steep incline behind his friend and immediately seeing what was going on, he drew a knife from his belt.
Two of the great lizards were still perched atop the unmoving body of the stranger on the ground and one, closer at hand, was staring at the newcomers with small deadly eyes.
Just at that moment, the one closest to the two humans lunged forward, straight at them. Quick as he could, Léod hurled the knife in his hand, catching the creature in the back. The lhyguan made no audible outcry, but it thrashed madly, turning and writhing on the shale in its death throes. There was a flurry of movement from the lhygians standing on the unconscious being, but when the two breakers moved towards them they fled with a scuttle and a hiss, disappearing into the shadows of the rocks.
“Who in the world is this?” Léod knelt next to Legolas, turning the prince’s head towards them and checking his pulse.
Wet golden hair pulled away from the elf’s pointed ears and Fastred blinked in surprise. “*What* in the world is this?”
Léod kicked his friend’s boot. “Don’t be an idiot, it’s an elf! Haven’t you ever seen an elf before?”
“Oh, and you have?” Fastred shot back as he checked the prince over for injuries. His friend ignored him. “I wonder how he got out here?” he muttered quietly, thinking out loud.
“Oh damn,” Fastred murmured as he turned the elf’s right hand over and lifted it up. A small, but deep wound marred the pale, flawless skin of the prince’s palm, just below the base of his thumb. The bite had an odd, irregular shape and the deepest part of it were two nearly identical punctures about an inch or more apart. The flesh around the wound was already red and beginning to swell.
“Lhyguan poison,” Fastred muttered with revulsion. “One of them got him before they ran off.” Under normal circumstances, the elf would die in a matter of minutes as the deadly venom spread through his body, swelling internal organs and wreaking havoc with the nervous system.
Léod dropped the pack off his back and rummaged through it quickly. Pulling out a jar and a small flask he passed the vial to his friend while he opened the jar. Ladling out a generous amount of the gooey yellow substance inside with two cupped fingers, Léod spread the mixture onto a strip of cloth and pressed it tightly against the bleeding wound on the elf’s hand, working it into the puncture and binding it off. That would slow the poison and neutralize it at its point of entry.
Meanwhile, Fastred had mixed the contents of the vial with the water in the drinking horn he carried. Tipping the unconscious elf up into a sitting position, they put the end of the horn in Legolas’ mouth and slowly poured the water in, waiting for the natural swallowing instinct to take effect before administering some more, a little at a time.
Léod glanced at his friend as they slowly administered the anti-venom to the unresponsive elf. “Whoever he is, he’s lucky we had some of the AntiVen with us. But... this batch was mixed up for horses... do you think it’ll work on a human or an... an elf?”
Fastred shrugged. “I have no idea. It ought to still work on a man, although it might be a mite stronger than necessary... we’ll know soon if the same holds true for his kind.”
The rain was intensifying and they tipped the drinking horn one last time, administering the last of the anti-venom serum.
“Come on,” Fastred dragged the limp elf upright as he stood, throwing Legolas over one shoulder and finding that the prince was remarkably light. “Let’s get him back to Émuseld. If he makes it he’s gonna need a fire and dry clothes to see him through the shakes. We’ll keep looking for the horses after the storm breaks.”
Léod nodded. “At least this way Freca can’t complain about us coming back without the horses.” Both men were glad for a reason to not prolong their search in the midst of such inclement weather.
Fastred rolled his eyes. “You wish.”