8. Chapter Seven: Imlardis
The five days following the siege of Edoras was the longest that Aragorn had ever known.
Each morning he awoke fighting the compulsion to ride immediately from the Golden Hall for Imladris and each morning he knew he was not ready by the pain in his body. His sense as a healer and as a warrior told him that he could not make the journey yet. The healer in him knew that it was unwise to leave when his wounds were still so fresh while the warrior reminded Aragorn that with broken ribs, riding a horse would be almost impossible and making the journey on foot would be equally untenable because of his injured leg. In the end, the husband was forced to relent to the wishes of the former despite causing him no small amount of ire.
The time spent waiting for himself and his company to recover was more than Aragorn could stand for his thoughts were plagued constantly by Arwen and what she was enduring in the hands of Eol. He tried to console himself with the fact that Eol would not be ready to partake of his prize until after she was sufficiently recovered from the rigors of childbirth. Faramir explained that Aredhel had borne Eol a son, surely then he would know that elven women recovered slowly from childbirth, especially when the babe being delivered in this instance was a hybrid of man and elf.
He knew it was a flimsy hope to cling to because a creature that would steal a mother from its child was lacking already in any kind of scruples to be that considered over his prize. However, it was all he could do to keep his rage from spilling over and forcing him into doing something rash and foolish. The more time stretched between the present and the last time he had seen Arwen, the greater Aragorn’s fears became for her honor. Deep in his heart, he knew that nothing that Eol did to Arwen would ever make Aragorn stop loving her but he would not see her suffer her mother’s fate.
A week after the siege of Edoras, the company was ready to travel again. In truth, none of them were completely healed. Haldir, least of all but the march warden would allow nothing to keep him from journeying to Imladris. Aragorn had promised him the chance to avenge Orophin and to that the king would hold, no matter how much his instincts as a healer told him otherwise. Faramir no longer wore a sling under his arm but it was obvious that the shoulder that had been pierced with an arrow was still tender by the care in which he moved.
Though Legolas seemed well enough, his tunic hid the injury he had suffered at the hands of a Uruk Hai’s mace. However, Legolas did not seem hindered by this as his spirit had lifted considerably by the report from Elrohir’s passage through Minas Tirith that Melia was recovering well from the Hunter’s attack. Elladan’s spirit had also lifted with the arrival of his twin and Aragorn hoped that before arriving at Imladris, whatever was troubling the prince would be settled to some degree. He knew that there was no way he could temper Haldir’s desire for vengeance but Haldir seemed more at ease with strong emotions then Elladan, who by nature gentle until provoked into being otherwise.
Fortunately, the elves recovered their injuries far more swiftly then all others in the company and Aragorn was relieved of this when they finally set out from Edoras, seven days after the siege. Aragorn held Eomer to his promise of sending the contingent of Rohirrim to Imladris two days after they had departed and while the King of the Mark was unhappy at the condition, understood that it was the only way Aragorn would accept the assistance. They rode from Edoras and made quickly for the Gap of Rohan, meeting Gimli at the Glittering Caves on the way. Once their company was complete, their pace quickened intensely for there was a good deal of ground to cover and even less time in which to get it done.
Avoiding the Misty Mountains had been good judgement on his part for as they rode through the Gap of Rohan, the weather seemed to take a turn for the worst. Attempting to travel across the mountains would have been an arduous journey and Aragorn wondered how was Eol faring in his own journey to Imladris. Aragorn was certain that Eol would take the easiest route to the elven city by attempting to sail down the Anduin and then attempting to cross the mountain at one of its passes. With the company unable to maintain pursuit for almost a week, Aragorn was certain that by now Eol and Arwen would have crossed the Misty Mountains already and were nearing Imladris.
As they rode towards Imladris with the Misty Mountains on their flanks, he was glad they had avoided any attempt to cross the range. The hostility of such a crossing would have cost him valuable time because they could see the effect of the winter upon the mountains. Winds were sweeping against its craggy hills were fierce indeed as if some terrible god above had taken refuge there in the winter months. Inwardly, he tried not to think of what Arwen must have endured when Eol forced her to cross that treacherous terrain. However, he knew without doubt that she still lived. She was a part of him and if was no longer in this world, he would know.
It would destroy him but he would know.
Their pace was relentless and their determination even more so. Ignoring injury and exhaustion, they were a curious routine of devastating pace broken intermittently by a few hours rest and mostly for the benefit of the horses who had the greater burden of carrying them towards Imladris. None seemed to complain as the distance between themselves and their destination began to shorten. They moved in this way for many days and nights, keeping their wits about them in case their enemy attempted to waylay them as Eol had tried to do to Aragorn before their arrival at Edoras.
At Isengard, they paused less than a day, taking rest at the Orthanc and allowing Pallando to consult with the acolytes that now commanded the former stronghold of Saruman the Traitor. The new wizards were more than delighted to have a true Istar in their presence and welcomed the king and his companions as honored guests. The land surrounding the Orthanc no longer appeared so ravaged and following the war, the Ents had seen to it that new growth sprouted in place of the great trees that had been torn down by Saruman and his foul minions.
Legolas was somewhat disappointed that time constraints did not allow him to visit the great forest of Fangborn though Gimli, who would almost certainly be expected to accompany the elf, did not appear as troubled by this. If anything, the dwarf seemed rather relieved that they had to be on their way as soon as possible Aragorn suspected that Gimli would never quite grow comfortable at being in Fangborn, no matter how friendly Treebeard and his kind might be with the dwarf who carried an axe.
Aragorn was further convinced that Pallando had much to offer the new wizards of the Orthanc for his gentle counsel during their stay had been much valued. Pallando had spent much of the night, consulting the books that Saruman had kept in the tower that was not destroyed during the Ent siege of Isengard. Aragorn suspected that he was searching some way to explain how Eol had managed to cloak Imladris from the rest of the world and perhaps how the dark elf from the First Age had somehow appeared in the beginnings of the Fourth when he should have died at Caragadhur. Whether or not he found his answers, Pallando did not say when they resumed their journey the next day.
Leaving Isengard, they were forced to travel in Dunland and ensured that they stayed well away from the hills where the Dunlendings were known to inhabit. According to Eomer, there was now peace between the Rohirrim and the hill men of Dunland but it was a peace forced upon them by the defeat of war. During the War of the Ring, the barbaric Dunlendings had cast their lot with Saruman and Isengard, making war upon their old enemies, the Rohirrim. With the aid of the Huorns at the Battle of Hornburg, the Dunlending forces along with Saruman’s Uruk Hai hordes were destroyed. The Dunlendings had little choice but to accept peace.
Aragorn was not so deluded to think that the Dunlendings, barbaric herdsman most of them, would not think twice about killing a group of travelers who wandered into their territory. In the midst of such encounters, titles and rank meant little to a people who were known to be fierce warriors and whose pride had taken a lashing from the Rohirrim one time too many in the past. During their journey through the Dunlands, the company kept a close vigil for the aggressive denizens of the hills and cut short their rest periods so that they might cross it quickly.
It was almost nine days since they had set out from Edoras, riding hard through the lands between to reach Imladris. In far time than Aragorn thought it possible, they had soon left Moria behind and were less than a day from arriving at River Bruinen who waters protected Imladris from the rest of the world. The anticipation of finally reaching Arwen after long last was more than Aragorn could stand because the closer they came to their destination, the more he feared something terrible would happen to her now that she was within reach of her.
Aragorn’s anxiety was clear to those in his presence as they sat around the campfire, taking the final rest they would see before arriving at Imladris. The King of Gondor found it difficult to rest, not when his queen was someone else’s prisoner. He found himself leaving the heat of the fire, his stomach finding no place for the food that was being prepared by Faramir, whose turn it was to cook and was surprisingly quite good at it. Certainly not in the caliber of the hobbit Samwise Gamgee but then hobbit folk took their food as seriously as Sauron took his ring.
Finding himself a quiet place framed by trees where he could be alone with his thoughts, Aragorn thought to spare his companions increasingly fell mood. Before he was king, listening to the sound of the woods when he was alone in the wilds often soothed his mind when thoughts of destiny became too much for him. In those days, his life had been simpler and his brow did not feel so heavy with the weight of a crown. Aragorn wondered if anyone except Arwen knew how much he truly missed being the Ranger Strider.
"You should not wander alone Aragorn," Aragorn heard a familiar voice behind him. The intruder upon his privacy could be only one person because no one knew him as well.
"Legolas," Aragorn looked over his shoulder with a frown. "I wanted a moment alone to myself."
"So you can work yourself into a proper fit of anxiety no doubt," Legolas retorted unrepentant by the intrusion.
"She is my wife," Aragorn declared, feeling a little anger at Legolas’ words. "I have the right to be worried."
"I do not doubt that," Legolas looked at him. "If I were in your position, I would feel the same and I am closer to it than you think. Do you know what it was to find Melia as I did when we discovered Arwen was missing?"
Aragorn did not answer but nodded slightly because he did know. In almost eighty years of friendship, Aragorn had never seen Legolas so stricken with panic. He had not believed it possible of an elf to feel such fear. The First Born could be somewhat aloof at times; calling into questions amongst men at least, whether or not they felt things as passionately as the younger races. If Elrond had not raised him, he might have believed the same but it was not true. The family of Elrond had educated him that elves could feel things most deeply. It was simply the fact that they had lived so long that very little surprised them.
"The thought of losing her so soon, before we even had the benefit of her short life span was more than I could stand. I fear all the time of some calamity befalling her, of taking her away sooner than I know she will be taken away from me someday. I know you fear Arwen’s safety but you must have faith in the lady. She has done great deeds in her time and she is strong enough to endure anything that Eol may do to her as long as you always hold her in grace."
"I fear that he will kill her if he cannot force her to obey him," Aragorn met Legolas gaze and dropped the mask of the strong fearless king he had to wear for everyone’s benefit and reveal the man beneath. "That is what I fear more than anything. If he touches her or dishonors her in anyway, I will kill him for certain but she could never be tainted in my eyes. I love her too much for that but I fear that her resistance to him might make him angry and that he might take her life if he cannot have her the way he desires. Losing her Legolas, that is what I cannot fathom. This kingship means nothing without her. If she dies, then it has all been for nothing."
"Do not speak that way," Legolas said sharply. "What you have done to become King of Gondor has ensured that the hundred next generations who are born will know peace free of Sauron and darkness. Do you think the Evenstar would be happy to hear you speak that way? Now you are afraid and understandably so but you must calm yourself or we will never breach Imladris to retrieve her. As we needed you to lead on the field of Edoras, we need you do the same when we face Eol."
Aragorn met Legolas’ eyes and spoke from the heart, drawing his words from a place he seldom showed anyone. It was a place buried deep inside him, beneath the veneer of the husband, the Ranger and even the King, in a heavily shrouded realm where the man that he was dwelt in deference to all the other roles he was required to play. For the benefit of Arwen, his people and his destiny, the man was seldom seen or heard and he lived in a remote place inside Aragorn’s mind in loneliness and secrecy.
"He frightens me this elf," Aragorn confessed at last.
The admission did not surprise Legolas because he knew his friend. One could not know a person for almost than eighty years and not come away with something of the man, no matter how much Aragorn tried to hide it from everyone.
"Why?" Legolas asked quietly, allowing Aragorn to confide in him.
"It is not merely his power but his sorcery that worries me, that and his malice. He could hurt us in ways we cannot imagine. How has he managed to escape the destruction of Beleriand and remain hidden from Sauron for two ages? This much power does not remain in secret for long. You know as well as I that Sauron drew darkness to him and his reach was far and wide, there was very little that escaped his notice. The only reason that Frodo succeeded in besting him was because he believed that hobbits were so insignificant, they could never be a threat to him. If Eol can take Imladris, something that Sauron was never able to do, then we are dealing with someone who may be more powerful than any of us can imagine."
"The enemy is strong," Legolas could not deny it but there was more to Aragorn’s fear, then just power.
"He killed her because he could not have her," Aragorn pointed out. "He killed Aredhel out of spite when there was nothing to gain. He was willing to destroy all of Edoras, just to kill the company. This elf may be willing to destroy Imladris to keep Arwen and I have to decide whether or not the woman I love is worth risking all those under his power."
"It will not come to that," Legolas assured him but now that Aragorn had mentioned it, he was not so certain. Was a king’s love for his queen worth the death of all those who were in Imladris? Could they be asked to choose which they valued more, the queen or the people of Elrond’s city?
"I fear that it might," Aragorn replied softly, "I fear that he may not give me a choice."
"Then you will think of a way," Legolas met his gaze. "Just as you always seem to do when things are at their darkest. Your worry for your wife has made you doubt yourself, understandably so but you should not. We have faith in you Aragorn and rest assured wherever she is, the Evenstar believes the same."
Aragorn drew in a deep breath, feeling the weight of the elven lord’s words sinking into his skin. He had faced so many things in his life but he could not deny that he was unimaginably afraid of losing Arwen. However, Legolas was correct. He would think of a way because he had to. There was no other alternative. It was true that their journey across Middle earth had eroded his confidence in his worth somewhat but he could not allow such worries to hinder him when he had a promise to fulfil to Eldarion.
He had promised to bring Arwen home for the both of them.
"You a good friend Legolas," Aragorn said reaching for the elf’s shoulder and showing his gratitude with a gentle squeeze.
"I know," the elf returned with a little smirk.
"And modest," Aragorn added giving him a wry smile as he stood up, deciding a return to the campsite was in order.
"That passes without saying," Legolas retorted as if it were the most natural thing in the world as he fell into stride with Aragorn and walked towards the warm light of the fire in the near distance.
The days following the onset of her illness had been strange ones for Arwen. Her mind had been clouded with disjointed images that were hard to discern now that she was forced to remember. She knew that the weakness that had dogged her since her unwilling removal from Minas Tirith had finally taken its toll upon her shortly after they had passed the woods of Lothlorien. Arwen recalled wanting badly to feel the beauty of the Golden Wood around her as their boat sailed the along the Anduin but once again, her captor denied her even this small comfort, allowing her to only see it in passing as they drifted by.
Following their departure from Lothlorien, their journey blurred into a vague series of images as she became beset with fever. She recalled vaguely their arrival at a small village and a dwelling that reminded her a little of Frodo Baggins’ beloved Bag End even though she knew they were far from the Shire. Arwen could not recall exactly how long she had lingered in that strange place only that after a time, they were travelling again and while her senses had not returned to her completely, she knew that she was not as ill as she was. At the time, Arwen had not understood how this was possible for the days that followed seemed almost like a dream.
Now as they entered the valley that surrounded her father’s city, Arwen’s mind was clearer than it had been. She realized than when Eol had treated her for her illness, he had also ensured that she would be in something of a stupor that would make her less troublesome during her journey to Imladris. Although her strength was returning, she was disappointed that she was nowhere strong enough to call upon the River to protect her from him especially when it appeared that he was in command of magic more formidable then she could fathom.
"Soon we will be home," Eol said as he rode alongside of her.
Her horse was carefully tethered to his so that eye and Arwen hid her frustration at how helpless she was to his will. She could not even break free of him to escape, let alone flee the Hunter’s watchful eyes. She had no news of Aragorn because Eol refused to speak about her beloved Estel in her company. She was certain that he was determined that she be rid of any hope that Aragorn would come to her rescue even though Arwen knew that wherever he was, her king was coming for her. It was something she knew with her heart and soul, even without discernible proof to satisfy her skeptical mind.
"My home is in the White City," Arwen said sourly, determined not to encourage this fool in his delusions that she was anything but his prisoner.
"The home of men is not the home of the Evenstar," Eol replied as if he were speaking to an unlearned child. "You belong in the city of your father."
"My father is in Valinor," Arwen glared at him, her loathing clearly reflected in his eyes. "If Imladris belongs to anyone, it belongs to my brothers. They are the true lords of this land."
Eol smiled faintly at her stubbornness. "If I am not mistaken," he met her eyes smugly; "did they not abandon this realm to establish a new colony at South Ithilien?"
Arwen stiffened in annoyance at his awareness of Elladan and Elrohir’s decision to leave Imladris to join Legolas in Eden Ardhon. "It is a temporary situation," she answered coldly.
"When we are bound together, I will have legitimate claim over Imladris," he said firmly.
"Legitimate claim?" She glared at him in unhidden fury. "You have no right to claim Imladris or me for that matter! Are you without any sense of reality? I am already bound to the King of Gondor. He is my sovereign lord and the father of my child! All you are to me is some criminal who dared to steal me out of my home!"
Eol suddenly reached across the space between her and caught hold a handful of Arwen’s hair, forcing her face towards him as he leaned closer towards her and ensured that she had no choice but to meet his eyes as he explained to her the reality of her situation. "My patience with you Evenstar is not finite. I will caution you to hold your tongue. Make no mistake on your situation dear lady, you are mine to do with and you will obey me. Your time as queen of a lower race is done. Your half-breed whelp and your husband is a thing of the past. Your future lies with me and the children you bear me, do you understand?"
"I will never bear you anything!" she pulled herself free of him and raised her hand to strike him for his venomous words but he caught her wrist in one hand.
"You will learn to appreciate me in time,"’ he replied, seemingly unaffected by her obvious disdain. "I promise you that."
Arwen drew away from him, disgusted by his touch and the notion of ever being his in any shape or form. She looked ahead, cursing her situation and praying that Estel was not far away. Never in her life had she needed him so desperately to deliver her. If Eol were allowed to have his way, she would be faced with a nightmare that would follow her for all eternity. The thought that she would never again see Estel or Eldarion filled Arwen with despair and yet she knew of no way to extricate herself from the predicament she now found herself trapped within. This elf’s obsession with her bordered almost on madness though he seemed as sane as any one of her race. Yet there was madness in his eyes, of this she had no doubt, even if it was capable of hiding well beneath the mask of cold calculation.
As they reached the ford of River Bruinien that was the boundary of her people’s land, she felt no comfort in its protection. For centuries, invaders who attempted to breach Imladris would find the power of the river rising up against them and making them pay dearly for the incursion. If she were not so weakened from her illness and if not for the instinctive certainty she felt that using the river against Eol would have been a mistake because it was clear that his powers were far greater than her own and straining his patience might force him to take more drastic action with her.
When her horse broke the surface of the water within the Ford of Bruinen, which would lead to the entrance of Imladris, Arwen was suddenly struck with a strange sensation that immediately struck fear into her heart. She could not feel the river. The people of Imladris were closely bound to the Ford that protected them from harm for as long as the city had stood. It was as much a part of them as it was a part of her father and through the ages, a curious sort of symbiosis between the elves of Rivendell and the Ford had been established. Those who were of Imladris could call upon the Ford in the time of need to protect them from danger. Arwen herself had once called upon it to protect her and Frodo Baggins from the Nazgul.
To feel this loss of connection to the river unnerved her because it should not be possible. While the river lived and while she was a child of Imladris, she should be able to feel the Ford of Bruinen. However, in place of that familiarity was this cold emptiness and suddenly, Arwen began to understand why Eol was so confident that he could keep her captive once they reached Imladris.
"What have you done?" She finally found the voice to spoke, trying to hide how shaken she was by her discovery.
"Done?" He looked at her innocently.
"You have done something to the ford, you have disrupted its power somehow," Arwen accused him.
"I have done nothing to the ford," Eol answered with a hint of triumph in his voice. "I have merely channeled the power in it to serve my purposes."
Arwen was shaking with fury, "the Ford has protected my people for as long as we have lived here! How dare you interfere with it!"
"You need not trouble yourself my dear Evenstar," Eol replied smoothly, pleased that she was starting understand the futility of her predicament by recognizing his power. "Your father used the ford to protect Imladris from its enemies. I seek to do the same, I simply differ in my method of protection. Instead of simply protecting Imladris, the ford know ensures that no one will find their way to my city unless I desire it first."
"It is not your city!" Arwen hissed, feeling her heart sinking at the thought of Estel trying to penetrate the cloak that Eol had cast over Imladris. How was he to reach her if he could not even find his way to the city? She tried to hide her despair at the dwindling possibilities for escape because she would not give him the satisfaction.
"I do not know why you are so resistant to the idea of my claim to Imladris. I do not see your father remaining within its precious confines. Your brothers’ actions of late seem to indicate the same, that they have no wish to remain in the city while you consider Gondor more your home these days. Why should I not take charge of it since it is apparent that none of Elrond’s heirs could care less?"
Arwen wanted to deny his claim but she could not because on some level he was not lying. Since their father’s departure, Imladris did not feel the same to them or those who dwelt within its borders. Elrond had built Imladris from the remnant of Eregion following its destruction and into its construction he had poured heart and soul, which now seemed gutted from the city now that he had returned to the Western Lands. Arwen could not deny that Imladris was not the same for her without her father and for her brothers she could not speak but she knew that Elladan and Elrohir sought challenge and with the end of Sauron, Imladris no longer offered it to them. Still, this usurper had no right to claim the city or her.
"You assume too much Eol," Arwen stared at him sharply. "You may have power over me momentarily but not even the possession of great power can one master of everything. Sauron learnt that lesson and so will you."
Eol stared at her, feeling her words pierce his skin like a sharp points before he responded coolly, showing no signs that he had been affected. "I am not Sauron," he said.
And with just as much venom, she turned his words back upon and him and answered, "and I am not Aredhel."
When she had ridden away from Minas Tirith, determined to face the enemy that threatened Eldarion in her womb some months before, she and Eowyn had arrived at a small village that had been beset by the great spiders of Mirkwood. The foul beasts had been driven there after the elves of Eryn Lasgalen had driven Ungoliant’s spawn out of the forest for good. The creatures had taken refuge in the small village by the river, feasting on its innocent residents until they withdrew into the lurking darkness, waiting for new prey. When she and Eowyn had moved through the village, Arwen had remembered the cold sensation of danger pressing up against her spine, warning her with each step that something terrible had transpired in that place.
It was the same feeling that ensnared her as she entered Imladris.
The city of her childhood was strangely silent. She knew that many of her people had departed for the Undying Lands and that Imladris was nowhere as burgeoning with life as it had once been. She had expected things to be different upon her return, she did not expect it to be so, so empty. Once again, her heart was gripped with alarm at what Eol and his beast had done to her people. She could not feel anyone else about and that frightened her. A feeling of dread had risen up within her, like the foul stench of bad water at the bottom a drying well.
In her youth, she had always likened Imladris by night to a cluster of stars close enough to touch. Hundreds of myriad lights peeked at her through a canvas of darkness, each a window to someone private world. Riding through the streets with Eol and the Hunter, Arwen was struck by how diminished Imladris appeared. It was more than just the lack of lights scattered throughout the city, it was the sinister feel of the air which should have been sweet and enticing, not weighted blanket heaviness that burdened the spirit instead of raising it. There were no sweet songs sung, no happy voices of any kind. It was like Imladris was slowly disappearing into the shadow in a slow, torturous process. It could simply be with the departure of her father and most of the population that had allowed this atmosphere of neglect to fester but somehow, Arwen did not believe it so.
It was to her utter disgust when Eol led her to her father’s house having apparently claimed it for his own. She did not voice her fury at his audacity because she wanted to speak to him as little as possible. Arwen was coming to the firm conclusion that when he looked at her, he did not see the Evenstar, he only saw Aredhel, the wife he had murdered. Upon reaching her father’s house, Arwen saw the first signs of life since entering Imladris. Morfiniel, one of the elven ladies who took care of the day to day needs of Elrond’s house emerged at the foot of the sweeping stairs that led into the building to greet them. Arwen was glad to see a familiar face but judging by Morfiniel’s expression, the lady was not as happy to see her.
"My lady," Morfiniel bowed her head gently, her eyes stealing furtive glances at Eol and the Hunter who clearly terrified her. "I am glad to see you but I wish the circumstances were different."
Morfiniel had been a member of Elrond’s household staff for as long as Arwen could remember and was a Maid of Honor to her mother Celebrian. When Celebrian had returned from her ordeal with the orcs bearing the wound that could not be healed in Middle earth, she had had made Morfiniel promise to look after her family in her absence. It was an oath the Maid of Honor took with great pride and one she had not abandoned even after Elrond had departed for the Undying Lands. Morfiniel had claimed she would not leave while the last of Elrond’s children still remained in Middle earth and that she would always keep their father’s house in readiness for all of them when they chose to visit.
"Where is everyone?" Arwen demanded.
Morfiniel did not answer, her eyes showed her anxiety as she darted past Arwen to stare fearfully at the arrival of Eol and the Hunter behind her. Arwen realized that she would get nothing from Morfiniel although the absence of life in Imladris frightened her greatly. Where was everyone? What had Eol done to them?
"What have you done to my people?" Arwen whirled around and faced Eol.
Eol did not answer her at first, directing his words at Morfiniel instead, "have you prepared the Evenstar’s room as I requested?"
"Yes my lord," she nodded in response, "everything is in readiness as you requested."
"Good," Eol turned to the Hunter and replied, "we will soon be having guests. I want to know the moment they attempt to breach the city."
"I thought your enchantment prevents that," the Hunter looked at him.
"With a Maiar present, I would not rely too heavily upon my enchantment keeping them out," Eol replied.
Arwen’s heart flared with hope at hearing the news that Aragorn was coming. Even though Eol did not speak him by name, Arwen knew the dark elf could mean no one else. Only Aragorn would have such an effect upon Eol and Arwen felt insides warm with the hope of seeing Aragorn again and delivering her from the hands of this poor, deluded fool. Her faith in her king was such that she did not even believe the Hunter was capable of stopping him if Aragorn was determined to reach her.
"He will find a way through you and your spell," Arwen declared proudly, her heart swelling with courage, knowing that Estel was not far away, "it will take more than your pet to stop him from reaching me."
Eol shot her a venomous glare before returning his attention to the Hunter, "when he find his way through the cloak, inform me immediately," Eol ordered. He shifted his gaze to Arwen briefly, his eyes full of menace when he spoke again, "I have a surprise awaiting the King of Gondor."
Arwen felt herself shudder inwardly at the ominous threat behind those words but she forced herself to remain hopeful. Estel had made it this far despite Eol’s efforts to prevent him from doing so; she had to believe he was capable of surmounting anything else that the elf could devise to hinder his progress to reach her.
"What about the others?" The Hunter asked, ignoring the woman for she was his master’s concern.
"They are yours," Eol said nonchalantly, "do with them as you would."
The beast’s lips stretched in a parody of a smile and the sinister gleam in his eyes, indicating that he was most happy with the gift. However there was still another matter to consider, one that the Hunter could not forget after his humiliating defeat at Edoras. "The Maiar will attempt to stop me."
"Do not worry," Eol replied. "Once I have Aragorn, the Maiar will have far greater things to concern himself than what you are doing to his companions."
There was a time when seeing the Ford of Bruinen would have brought comfort to the weary travelers who came in search of the elven city of Imladris because the ford was a much apart of the city as its people. For centuries through the ages of its existence, Imladris was a place of refuge. It had been built by Elrond following Sauron’s assaults upon Eriador throughout the ages since, had become a symbol and hope for all the free peoples of Middle earth. In the dark times, those who fled the powers of darkness would find themselves at the Ford and be embraced by the power that Elrond had imbued it. The ford protected Imladris from evil and ensured no harm came to the venerated elven city. Since That power had not diminished following Elrond’s departure and would remain for as long Imladris continue to exist.
Now as the company approached the waters of the ford, they sensed that this was no longer so. There was something not right as they approached the waters of the river. Even with the sun shining above their heads, they could not feel its heat for there was something cold and dark about that rested against their skins like an icy breath. It was Elladan who was affected most by this as they approached the river for here it was when their seemingly benign trip to Imladris had taken a decidedly sinister turn. Elrohir kept close to his brother, noticing the anxiety that was starting to build inside his twin for his anger and bluster at gaining revenge against the Hunter.
Elladan remembered how it had been for him when he and Orophin had first approached the ford, thinking that this sensation that suddenly crept upon them was nothing to worry about. After all, this was Imladris, the sacred city of the elves, the bastion that had stood against Sauron for so long. How could there be anything evil about it? They had crossed the river, uncomfortable yes, but oblivious to what lurked in waiting for them because of foolish complacency. It was only when they found themselves taking paths that led them not to the city but away from it that the understanding of their predicament truly dawned upon them.
"Elladan, are you all right?" The prince asked his brother, having stayed by his side for most of their journey.
"I am fine," Elladan answered Elrohir, grateful for his brother’s presence even if his uneasiness was apparent. Ahead of them, the ford awaited their crossing and Elladan felt his heart pounding loudly in anticipation of the Hunter’s arrival.
"This time it will be different," Elrohir commented, aware of what fears Elladan held in his heart. "The Hunter will have to face all of us."
"I do not fear facing him," Elladan declared more sharply then intended. "I fear what we will find when we reach our home. Eol could not have done what he has without ensuring first that the people of Imladris were not a threat to him. Has he killed them all Elrohir? Has he taken Imladris by destroying its people?’
"Of course not," Elrohir answered plainly, refusing to believe that for one instant. He could not allow such terrible suspicion to gain foothold in his heart. It would crush the soul inside him and he could ill afford that when Arwen needed him so. "I do not know what he has done but I will not linger on the worst possible outcome until I know for certain."
"We should not have left Elrohir," Elladan looked at him. "Father relied upon us to protect Imladris and we failed him by leaving it."
"We did not fail father in anything," Elrohir quickly countered, not wishing to think that he had neglected any undertaking asked of him by Elrond Peredhil. "He wanted us to go with him. He did not charge us to stay behind and protect Imladris. You heard him yourself, he believed that our time here was done - that our people days in this land were finished."
"Imladris is his city Elrohir," Elladan met his brother’s eyes. "In his place, we are its lords and we are responsible for those who still remain. We did wrong to leave. By our departure, we allowed someone like Eol to take control of it. He not only took control of our father’s city but he also stole our sister like those filthy orcs stole our mother. If she is dishonored in the same way, I swear that I…."
"Elladan, enough," Elrohir caught his arm and kept him from finishing his sentence. "You need to be clear of mind. I know you have suffered and perhaps when this is all over, we must think about the choices we have made but right now, you cannot let your heart be burdened so by such dark thoughts. We must have hope for our sister and for our people in Imladris."
Elladan met his brother’s eyes and realized that Elrohir was correct, that he had to be strong, now more than ever but he was plagued with so many regrets. Not merely at his helplessness in the face of Orophin’s death but also by the burden of surviving and for leaving Imladris in the first place. However, thoughts of answering his brother were silent as he held his breath in anticipation of what would happen as the company began to cross the Ford. Whether or not Elrohir shared his fear, Elladan did not know for certain because suddenly they had all fallen silent as graveyard.
If the horses sensed any sorcery at work, they did not show any reaction to it. Instead, they moved at a robust pace across the shallow water, creating splashes as they trotted against the pebbled riverbed. Aragorn as always took the lead but this time it was not Legolas or Faramir at his side but Pallando. The wizard’s expression was unfathomable while the others about him were filled with trepidation. There was caution in his eyes as his steed overtook Aragorn’s and he began to lead them across the water. No one spoke because they were all too aware of what Elladan had told them about not being able to find his way to the city. Hands drifted unconsciously to the weapons each man carried, awaiting the reappearance of the beast that had led the Uruk Hai upon Edoras and who had stolen the Queen of Gondor out of her home.
Tense with anticipation, the company crossed the ford without calamity, all the while waiting for danger to spring forth unexpectedly and became uncertain when it did not. Aragorn’s brow knotted with confusion while next to him Legolas seemed openly troubled but not by the lack of incident but something else he did not speak. Haldir appeared merely bewildered, confused by something more than just the Hunter’s absence. Gimli and Faramir had no special senses to warn them of danger but they were capable of reading their elven companions just as well as Aragorn and they knew something was troubling them. Elladan and Elrohir lingered furthest behind. Elladan seemed to wear Legolas’ expression while Elrohir’s thoughts were mostly filled with concerns of his brother’s welfare.
"Can you feel it?" Pallando broke the silence when he reached the shore.
"Feel what?" Aragorn asked, wishing sometimes that he was blessed with elven senses.
"Nothing," Legolas voice spoke first, a soft whisper that felt alien against the quiet wood.
"Nothing?" Aragorn looked at him.
"I should be able to feel Elrond’s power but I cannot," Legolas confessed and as Aragorn looked to the other elves, he saw that none of them could feel it either, which explained to him why they were suddenly so uneasy.
"Is that how he’s keeping everyone out?" Gimli demanded. "By draining Elrond’s power from the river?"
"He does not seem to be hindering our progress now," Faramir retorted, wondering where this barrier was that Elladan had spoken about so fearfully.
"It is there I tell you," Elladan declared.
"Easy brother," Aragorn said gently, "no one doubts your word. The Lord of Ithilien merely asked a question and one I would like answered myself because the path ahead looks as it always does during my past visits."
"It will be until you try to reach the city," Pallando replied shortly and captured everyone’s attention by that one statement.
Unfortunately, he did not follow it up with a further explanation and as all eyes stared at him, the wizard seemed far more interested in scanning the woods before them like there was some secret within it that only he could see. The rest of the company shifted uncomfortably in their saddles, waiting for Pallando to speak further because he was frozen in place along the shore of the Ford.
"Make yourself clear wizard," Gimli finally declared, patience never being a strong point with him even though his demand was mirrored in the thoughts of all his companions.
Pallando did not answer the dwarf, choosing instead to turn around on his horse so that he was facing them again. He raised the wooden staff in his hands and whispered a few words that sounded like ancient Quendi although none could hear it clearly enough to say for certain. However, when he had done with this recital a burst of white light flared from the point of his staff and dazzled them with its brilliance. The horses upon which they were astride seemed not to notice the sudden illumination but the company flinched and cried out in varying degrees of surprise and annoyance.
"Much better," the wizard said with approval once they had ceased their complaining and were rubbing their eyes in response to the overload of light.
"What was much better?" Aragorn complained as he blinked furiously to force away the spots that were still forming in his eyes. "What was the purpose of that?"
"To clear your minds," Pallando said simply.
"Clear our minds?" Gimli sputtered. "You almost blinded us with that foolishness!"
"I was un-blinding you," Pallando pointed out.
"Un-blinding us?" Aragorn was starting to share Gimli’s annoyance. "Pallando do you think you be a little less cryptic and more forthcoming with your answers?"
"The enchantment that keeps us from reaching Imladris is not cast upon the ford, though it does draw its power from it. It is actually a rather clever spell that Eol has used," Pallando commented.
"I am glad you believe so," the king said sarcastically. "Please continue."
"The enchantment affects those who attempt to enter the city so that it is not the paths that change, it’s the ability of the traveler to see it." Pallando explained.
"It clouds the mind," Faramir declared in understanding. "It does not hide the city. It simply makes us believe that it does by distorting our perception of how to reach it."
"And it is an enchantment that requires little power to work, no more than a wizard might use to conjure a little glamour to hide his appearance," Pallando concluded.
"So we can reach Imladris?" Elladan demanded quickly, feeling his spirit soar at the prospect of being able to reach the city at long last.
"Yes," Pallando answered, "you have only to take the path home."
Aragorn could see Elladan wanted to ride furiously to Imladris to reach the city and his sister. While he himself was fighting the urge to do just that, Aragorn also knew that unless he underestimated Eol considerably, the elf would not make it so easy for them to reach their goal. Now more than ever, the company needed to proceed cautiously. With Arwen almost within reach, he was not about to risk the chances of retrieving her by behaving hastily or with little thought. He had been out manouvred too much already by Eol during this entire affair and he was not going to let the elf best him again, not when it was Arwen’s life that hung in the balance.
"Elladan," Aragorn spoke up before the prince’s desire to act overtook his sense. "We will proceed carefully. We know not what other surprises Eol has awaiting us but I am certain that he will not give Arwen up easily. We will continue towards Imladris but we will do so with caution."
If it were anyone else who had made this request of him, Elladan might have balked at the notion of waiting any longer than necessary when it was his sister was in danger. However, he had watch the love between Arwen and Aragorn grow through the years since their first meeting and knew that there was nothing the king would not do to ensure her safety. If Aragorn could lay down his life for Arwen, Elladan knew that he would do so without question or hesitation.
"That is sound," Elladan conceded, showing his support for Aragorn’s decision.
"It would be better if we approached by dark," Gimli suggested as they move further across the shore to the woods beyond it. There was not a great distance to travel before they reached Imladris and they would certainly make that journey in daylight. If concealment was their intention, they would have none of it if they followed their present course.
"I do not think it matters greatly Master Dwarf," Haldir remarked honestly, his eyes searching the wood and sensing that there was danger lurking in every thing about them, even its form was not entirely known yet. "If Eol does not already know that we are here, I am certain it will only be a matter of time before he learns it. When one is dealing with magic, there are no certainties that can be relied upon."
"Silence!" Pallando barked sharply, his brow knotting in deep concentration.
"What is it?" Aragorn started to say when he saw the expression on the faces of the elves in his company shift swiftly from concern to anticipation. Without even hearing them say it, he knew that there was something approaching them, something that had the power to frighten then for it was evidenced by the darkening shade of their eyes.
Aragorn saw Legolas remove his bow from behind his back before the elf met his gaze and uttered softly, "It is coming."
It appeared before Legolas had even finish speaking or before the others could take up their own weapons. Pallando’s expression was as stone as the leaves upon the ground suddenly lifted into the air in a whirlwind before the path they were attempting to take. The air seemed to shimmer next to this maelstrom and suddenly; appearing before them was the beast they had all come to know as the Hunter. Before Aragorn could give any order to those with him, an arrow flew through the air and struck the creature in the chest. Looking over his shoulder, he knew it was Haldir who had shot the arrow. The Hunter barely flinched at the sting of the point in its flesh. He merely tore the arrowhead from the wound and tossed it aside as he rushed towards Aragorn.
Pallando was better prepared this time and before the Hunter could reach the king of Gondor, the wizard aimed his staff at the beast and sent it flying through the air, crashing into trees and snapping their trunks as his massive body ploughed through the wood like a juggernaut. Pallando leapt off his horse and was preparing to pursue the creature when Aragorn shouted at him to halt.
"Stay together Pallando!" Aragorn ordered. "Only united can we bring it down!"
"No!" Pallando shouted. "Proceed to Imladris, I will deal with this creature!"
However as he spoke, the Hunter burst through the trees, creating a cloud of leaves and dirt as he landed upon the ground before them. The creature swung the sword in its hand with a wide, broad stroke that tore open the flesh of Aragorn’s horse at the lower neck and caused the animal to buck in agony, throwing the king from his saddle to the ground. Aragorn landed hard, his shoulder meeting the earth with jarring intensity that forced a groan of pain from his lips at the impact. However, he scrambled quickly to his feet as he saw the Hunter crossing the space between them rapidly.
"Aragorn drop!" He heard Legolas shout behind and he obeyed immediately, dropping to the ground and raising his head just enough to see a number of arrows flying over his head before striking the beast in the chest.
The Hunter did not shirk off the multiple arrows delivered by Haldir and Legolas respectively as easily as it had done earlier. Instead, the beast registered pain and roared at the attack, however, his eyes were still fixed upon Aragorn and the Hunter determined to reach him. Once again, the king found himself suitably protected by the wizard who placed himself between the Hunter and Aragorn.
"Withdraw!" Pallando shouted, brandishing his staff like a blade. "Withdraw from this realm or die here where you stand!"
"Withdraw?" the Hunter started to laugh as he swung his sword at Pallando who blocked the blow amazingly enough with his staff. The blades bounced off the wizard’s own weapon but the Hunter did not seem bothered about this at all. Its inability to defeat Pallando should have enraged it but instead, the Hunter continued to bellow with laughter as if there were some great joke that only it was privy to. It laughter frightened Aragorn more than anything else that had occurred since leaving Minas Tirith.
"Foolish wizard," the Hunter said with a smile. "This was never about you."
"What?" Pallando felt his heart grow cold and realized in that split second that he had been played for a fool.
Pallando turned around in time to see Legolas who had been hurrying to Aragorn side, suddenly swept up in the air like a leaf caught in a strong gust of wind. The elf barely had time to react before he was slammed hard into a tree, his body crumpling like paper against the assault.
"Legolas!" Aragorn called out, skidding to the elf’s side as Legolas slid to the ground.
The horses ridden by the company were suddenly gripped with a terrible fear that immediately sent them into panic. Though none of the riders could see what it was that frightened the animals so, their terror was real and intense for they soon reared upon their hind legs, attempting to rid themselves of their riders so that they could flee. Gimli was first to be thrown because of all of the company, he was the one who could ride with the least amount of skill. The dwarf cursed as he was ejected from the saddle and landed on the ground beneath the hooves of his steed. He was forced to scramble away because the animal was in such a state of fear that it almost trampled the Lord of the Glittering Caves.
Faramir managed to dismount before he was thrown as unceremoniously as Gimli and he hurried to Haldir’s steed, hoping to calm the horse enough so that the march warden could dismount without coming to harm. Behind them, Elladan’s horse had bolted into the wood, with Elrohir still struggling to remain seated and bring his steed under control at the same time. The air was filled with the sound of the creature’s terrified neighing. Unfortunately, Pallando unable to do anything to aid them because the Hunter was ensuring that he remained preoccupied. Aragorn was trying to administer what aid he could to Legolas who had yet to stir from his unconscious state. A nasty gash was causing a flow of blood on the side of his forehead.
It was into this chaos that Eol emerged.
Aragorn knew it was him without ever laying eyes upon the dark elf. Eol’s eyes fixed upon him instantly and remained there as he made his way towards Aragorn, unflinching at the commotion he had undoubtedly created in order to achieve this face to face meeting with the King of Gondor, his rival for the Evenstar’s affections. In a scabbard hanging at his hip was the sword of Turin or Anglachel as it was named by the one who forged it, in this case Eol himself. Aragorn kept a tighter grip upon Anduril, preparing to battle this thief who had stolen his wife away from her home and her child without conscience or thought.
"Where is she?" Aragorn strode forward to meet Eol on the patch of earth that would become their battleground. There was no need for introductions for they both would know each other by that one demand.
"Beyond your reach," Eol answered smoothly.
"If you have harmed her or dishonored, I will kill you," Aragorn glowered, his hand was itching to spear this villain with his blade for what he had done.
"She is unharmed," Eol retorted, "but she is mine and I will take her accordingly when the time comes."
The manner in which he said those words shattered what restraint Aragorn had admirably managed to show until now. The king rushed forward prepared to separate Eol’s head from his body when suddenly, Eol took a step back and raised his hand and spoke unfamiliar words that Aragorn could not hear. Eol’s eyes seemed to turn black at that moment and suddenly Aragorn felt his body convulse with agony so excruciating that he could do nothing but scream. It was possibly the first time in his life that Aragorn had ever screamed but the pain was beyond anything he had ever known.
"Goodbye King of Gondor," Aragorn heard Eol’s words before oblivion took him into the unknown.
Darkness swept over him and the light of the sky suddenly disappeared abruptly as if a blanket of night had been cast over his head. For a moment, he could not breathe, could not think, all that could be felt was this terrible aogny that would not release him. He did not even notice when Anduril fell from his slackened grip as his throat became hoarse from the screaming. The sound of a great wind rushed through his ears and for an instant, there was this terrible sensation of not being able to discern any sound or be able to see what was before him. He could not even feel the ground beneath his feet.
The first thing he felt when the pain released him and the whirlwind of disorientation in his mind had started to dissipate was the sharp, edges of rock biting into his knees. His hands were digging into the dirt but it was not earth that was beneath his fingers, it was gravel. There was heat against his face that was not like sunshine but fire. He saw Anduril within reach of his hand and quickly wrapped his fingers around the hilt before rising to his feet. As he stood up, attempting to comprehend what it was that Eol had done to him, Aragorn raised his eyes forward and froze. Anduril fell from his grip once again with Aragorn hardly noticing it.
Before him was a vision he had seen only in books and the description though colorful at the time, paled in comparison to the reality. His eyes swept across the cruel landscape of jagged rocks, covered in black ash, where there were fissures, hissing with dark smoke. He could see the rivers of lava meandering through the land from this hilltop he was perched upon while above in the sky, were stars but there was no sun. At last he understood how Eol had survived the First Age to plague Middle Earth in the Fourth, just as he understood where Eol had left him.
For a moment, he was unable to breathe, not because of the foul air that burned his lungs but because he knew that what he was seeing was real and in knowing this, understood how damned he was.
Eol had sent him to Angband.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.