Deep within a mountain cavern, a groveling Orc abased himself upon the floor. The badges of his high rank, seemingly at odds with his current humble position, reflected the dim light of torches that flickered haphazardly, struggling to burn in the dank hallways. Before him, a cloaked figure shrouded in darkness waited impatiently, his hard eyes glinting with ill-concealed malice and hatred.
"What have you to report?"
"Three of those you desire are in the group that passed through the Gap of Rohan, but they travel in a company of armed soldiers," the Orc captain said, his voice low and gravely with forced submission. "It would be difficult to take them alive, and we would lose of many of our own forces in the process. The other three are still on the Road by the last messages, and they travel without guard."
"And the three without guard are those most in need of it," the man mused with a slight trace of humor, though the news did not please him. He fell silent, his thoughts churning away through a mind as dark as night. It would not be difficult to dispatch his troops against the forces of Gondor. Most would be more than eager to test their skills against the men who had caused their exile. The two armies would meet, a great and glorious battle would ensue, there would be death on both sides, the stench of blood would rise from the fair forests south of Imladris…and none of his primary goals would be accomplished. Perhaps the Orcs could take the prisoners he desired, but the three he wished for most would not allow themselves to be taken alive if they could help it. They would sooner die upon the battlefield, and in sending his armies to fight them, he would grant them an honorable death at the hands of hated foes. No, that could not be. Something far worse had to be contrived for those who had overthrown the Dark Lord.
And yet, to loose such venom as he had prepared upon the three who traveled the Road…they were hardly worthy of its potent evil. But perhaps…perhaps this was in actuality better. Their eventual betrayal would be a great surprise, and their hands would be responsible for great dishonor because of the simple fact that none of them were warriors. Yes, therein lay the answers. The weak would destroy the strong, and the strong would be weakened by such an occurrence.
"Amass your troops," the cloaked man instructed at length, running this new idea through his head once more time and liking the possibilities it presented. "You leave tonight. Give Imladris a wide berth to the south and take the three who travel the East-West Road. And take care. No word of this is to spread to Rivendell!"
"It shall be as you command," the Orc promised.
"See that it is," the man said coldly, an unspoken threat sending shivers down the Orc’s spine. "Remember also that I want them alive. All of them. You may use them for sport as you see fit, but there can be no permanent damage or every member of your patrol shall answer to me. Now go. There is much that needs preparation, and the hour of our revenge draws nigh."
The captain nodded quickly, bowed, and left the room. Left alone in the shadows, the man who was not quite a man settled into a high-backed chair and drew within himself, summoning dark powers and darker evils. Soon, he promised himself, reining in his sharp impatience. But waiting was a very difficult task. He remembered well his humiliation before the heir of Isildur that fateful day when the Ring had been cast into Orodruin. Not a word had been spoken to him by the weathered Ranger, but dark eyes had caught his own gaze and pierced his soul to the very center. He’d felt weakened, humbled, broken…such things did not happen save in the presence of the Dark Lord, and there it was expected. To be bested by a mere whelp whose only claim to fame and glory rested in an aged sword and a renowned lineage…
No, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, was much more than that. He was a warrior in his own right, and he had earned his renown. The man who was not quite a man had been present the day Sauron cried out and withdrew in horror from the palantír—an event few had lived to tell about as the Dark Lord’s ensuing wrath had been fierce—and it was later learned that Aragorn had been the cause of that disgrace. Within this shrouded man’s living memory, Aragorn was the only living thing to stand against Sauron directly and survive. Such will and courage were things to marvel at. Even the bearers of the Three might learn from such daring. Sauron certainly had, but unfortunately for Sauron, the lessons had come too late. His protégé and avenger vowed that he would not make the same mistakes.
Of course, all this was merely further fuel for the fires of vengeance. Heroes of the great tales were never victorious without a price, and though Aragorn had paid much of that cost in his long years as a Ranger, the man who was not quite a man was intent upon seeing that Aragorn was forced to pay again. For that matter, none who had aided in the overthrow of the Dark Lord could be allowed to live out the rest of their lives in peace. They were marked for destruction, all of them, and the remaining forces of Mordor and Orthanc would not rest until their revenge was complete.
The cloaked figure smiled as he gave himself over to the comforting embrace of darkness, and in that smile was a dreadful promise. Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Meriadoc, Peregrin, Samwise…you are all that remain of the fabled "Fellowship." You will be the first to taste of the latent wrath of Mordor. You shall be the first to fall. And you shall fall by your own hands!
* * * *
Gimli dropped off Arod, pointedly ignoring Legolas’s offer to assist him, and sighed with relief as he felt solid ground beneath his feet. They had ridden hard for the entire day with but two stops, one for an early lunch and another to rest the horses in the middle of the afternoon. The rest of the time had been spent in a mindless gallop through forests, around streams, and over every conceivable bump that the lands south of Imladris had to offer. The poor dwarf was sore in places he could not even begin to describe, and it didn’t help that his elven friend seemed to be vastly amused by his discomfort. Loosening his belt slightly and letting his axe slip to the ground, Gimli stretched and attempted to walk without splaying his legs.
"Do you think Aragorn will press on?" he asked, hissing as he discovered yet another sore area.
Legolas laughed quietly and then shook his head, turning to watch the sun as it sank into the west. "I know not. During lunch, Arwen told me that it would depend upon the weather, the trail, and the horses. Arod is certainly able to race another few hours, as are Roheryn and Hasufel. But the horses of Gondor have not their stamina or speed, and we must be mindful of them."
"Can we be mindful of a dwarf while we are being mindful of horses?" Gimli asked, wondering if his spine had actually split into two pieces or if it only felt like that. He was partially convinced that a piece of his back had somehow detached itself and had been left somewhere along the trail.
"And of what should we be mindful, Master Dwarf?" Legolas asked, eyes sparkling with mirth and a hint of mischief.
"You may continue in complete ignorance as far as I am concerned," Gimli said warily, keeping a close watch on the elf. "But I would have King Elessar know of my pains and see that I am not pushed beyond my ability to tolerate my riding companion."
"And what of me?" Legolas demanded, his eyes still dancing with a dangerous amount of elven humor. "Have I not been forced to endure your company for days on end?"
"Nay, you have been privileged to enjoy my company for days on end, and if you cannot appreciate the greatness of that gift, it is no fault of mind," the dwarf returned, warming quickly to the game. "I have heard no complaints on my account from the guards of Gondor."
"Then it would seem that your ears are worse than I thought," Legolas said, a hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "It is beyond me how you could have missed the disparaging remarks made concerning the bundle of baggage that rides behind me. There have been complaints about its horrid smell, its foul temper, its uncouth manners, and its unseemly appearance."
"If your quiver is that bad then perhaps you should invest in a new one. I will gladly add my complaints to those of the men."
"If we are to speak of complaints, then let us—"
"Legolas? Gimli?" Aragorn moved into view, wearing an expression of exasperation while hiding his own smile at their argument. "When I gave you permission to ride with the company of Gondor, I did not think I would be forced to watch the two of you as one might watch young children."
"Children?" Legolas cocked a fair brow at this and folded his arms. "My liege, I was scouting Mirkwood centuries before your grandfathers were born. If anyone here is a child, I think it would be the youngest among us rather than the eldest. Perhaps Gimli might also fall into the category of children, but even according to elven standards, I have passed that stage long ago."
"I am 52 years older* than Aragorn, Master Elf, so let us not speak of me in terms of a child. And if we compare dwarven standards to elven standards and translate years relatively, then I am also older than you."
"Your actions do not say so."
"If by that you mean that I am still hale and need not a four-legged animal to assist me in traveling from one place to another, then you would be right."
Aragorn shook his head and cleared his throat. "If I could have but a minute of your time, Legolas, I would seek your counsel on something."
"Of course," the prince said, turning away from the dwarf and focusing his attention on Aragorn. Gimli smiled and decided to score himself the victor of that particular verbal sparring match. After all, the last words had been his.
"The horses are tired as are the men," Aragorn said, nodding in the direction of the main body of soldiers. "Reason would suggest we stop now for the night and arrive at Rivendell tomorrow morning. But you and Arwen have both spoken of a shadow in the mountains, and both of you seem anxious to move on. Can you tell me anything further?"
Gimli looked questioningly at Legolas, having heard nothing of this supposed shadow. Legolas shrugged apologetically at the dwarf and then turned back to Aragorn. "In truth, I do not know. I am not familiar with the ways of the mountains this far south, but in the north, it was only on rare occasions when the Misty Mountains were this dark. During such times, we took them to be ominous warnings of fell things to come, and rarely were we proven wrong. But now after the fall of the Enemy…" Legolas trailed off and shook his head, eyeing the mountains distrustfully. "My apologies, Aragorn, but I do not know what to tell you. You are the leader of the company, and the decision ultimately rests with you."
"What was it Frodo used to say?" Gimli mused. "Go not to the elves for advice, for they will say both yes and no. I think it went something like that. I would also add that one should not expect news or tidings from the elves, for they will only tell you what they think you ought to know. If you would know more, you must go elsewhere."
"And what do you think you ought to know?" Legolas asked. "Shall I tell you all that goes on in my mind concerning my people and myself? I have some suspicions concerning a small group of men who have moved from Belfalas into the most southern part of Ithilien, there are growing numbers of Orcs daring the pass of Cirith Ungol, your latest shipments from the Glittering Caves were a day late due to heavy rains that flooded Anduin, Faramir’s birthday was celebrated by all of Ithilien a few weeks ago, Eowyn has found a strain of athelas that is able to grow on the slopes of the Ephel Duath, the first trading party from the settlers along Lake Nurnen arrived one week ago and we negotiated a profitable arrangement for both sides, there continues to be a steady stream of immigrating elves who tire of Mirkwood and wish to live near the sea, I sent a delegation to—"
"I believe we understand," Aragorn interrupted. "Returning to the original question, is it your opinion that a threat stirs in the mountains? And how shall such a threat affect our company?"
The elf shifted slightly—something Gimli recognized as a sign that his friend was uncertain—and glanced again toward the Misty Mountains. "I know not, Aragorn," he finally answered. "If this area is similar to the area that runs along the western edge of Mirkwood, then my answer would be yes. Something evil does stir and we would be well advised to press on with all possible speed. But we are not along the western edge of Mirkwood and I do not know if this is but a remnant of darkness left over from the rule of Saruman or something else. Something darker."
"So says Arwen," Aragorn murmured. "And I fear my own senses cannot help me in this, for they feel nothing out of the ordinary. What of you, Gimli? What insight can you give?"
The dwarf blinked, somewhat surprised to be included in the conversation, and then turned to consider the mountains in question. "How far away is Rivendell exactly?" he asked at length.
"Two hours with fresh horses, three in our current condition."
Gimli nodded slowly, considering the information they had as he formulated his own opinion. "I fear I shall regret saying this," he started with a sidelong look at Legolas, "but I would not lightly dismiss elven instincts. Even if we err and there is truly naught to concern us, it would be wise to hearken to the voice of prudence. And if we arrive in Rivendell tonight, I will not have to listen to the snores of this elf or his muttered complaints when all sane creatures are sleeping."
"Snores?" Aragorn glanced curiously at Legolas. "I have not heard of an elf who snores."
"Nor has anyone else, because elves do not snore," Legolas said with a hard look at Gimli. "You woke yourself last night, Master Dwarf. I had nothing to do with it and was on the verge of crossing the mountains in search of a place where the sounds of your sleep were not rocking the foundations of Arda."
"I will have you know, oh great prince, that I have never snored before in my long life and…" Gimli trailed off and looked at Aragorn when the man started to splutter. "Is aught wrong?"
"Gimli, I remember very well a certain night along Anduin in which we were attempting to hide from Orcs and your snores kept rattling the boats," Aragorn said between laughs. "Frodo and Merry were paranoid that you would bring the Enemy down upon us, Boromir suggested drowning you, Sam was ready to beat you over the head with one of his pots, Pippin wondered if shaving off your beard might aid your breathing, and the only reason you met with no misfortune that night was because Legolas would walk over and kick you every time one of us rose to strangle you."
"As I recall, my foot was sore by morning," the prince said with a grimace.
"I should have known that you would side with an elf," Gimli growled. "After all, you married one."
Aragorn laughed and turned, his eyes searching for Arwen. "So I did. Well, enough of this. It is then your opinion that we ought to continue tonight and reach Rivendell ere we retire?"
"It is, and this opinion does not merely stem from a desire to reach Imladris quickly," Legolas said, his mood changing abruptly from mirth to concern. "It is as though something stirs in the shadows, and we are contemplated with malice. This feeling has been present for some time, but now it seems to be growing. And while I am uncertain as to its origin or its potency, I do feel that there is a slight danger."
"If such are your feelings, then I accept your counsel on this. Prepare to mount, both of you," Aragorn said, smiling at Gimli’s audible groan. "Under the darkness of evening we will cover the rest of the distance to Rivendell."
* * * *
Lindir drew his knife back against the whetting stone one more time, tested the blade, and smiled in satisfaction. Putting the stone in a pouch that hung from his belt and returning the knife to a sheath hidden by his boot, the elf stretched like a cat and rested his back against the broad trunk of a tree. Even though he was charged with guard duty this night, the evening was pleasant enough and he was actually enjoying the task. The moon was full and bright, the breeze out of the south carried a hint of warmth, and the forest was peaceful and still.
Relishing the feel of the slight wind and the teasing whispers of the forest, Lindir pulled one knee up to his chest and clasped his hands over it, allowing the other leg to dangle below the branch upon which he perched. A casual observer might have made the erroneous assumption that the elf was completely relaxed and somewhat negligent of his guard duty. Nothing could be further from the truth. Lindir was allowing his mind and senses to spread out along the path of starlight, extending his ability to sense an intruder. And while his posture might appear casual and lax, the elf was quite capable of responding to any type of threat with a speed that defied mortal sight.
For a long time he sat motionless, allowing his mind to merge with the speech of plants and the murmur of trees. Starlight glittered above, casting a silver glow upon the woods and speaking of a younger time when the elves had first awakened and had sung only songs of joy, heedless of darkness or death. A brief gust of wind rustled through the limbs above Lindir, and the branches creaked as they rubbed against one another. The elf frowned and tensed, sensing that there was change in this wind, and he began directing his senses rather than letting them drift at will. Getting to his feet and springing higher into the tree, he climbed to a vantagepoint and looked south, willing his far-seeing eyes to seek out anything that might trouble the borders of Rivendell.
As if by instinct, he looked first to the Misty Mountains. Long had they loomed as a source of trouble and doubt, and Lindir was of the opinion that their shadow seemed darker than usual this night. He could not say this with certainty, but a voice in the back of his mind had been whispering warnings for much of the day, and he’d learned to never ignore this voice. Evil still dwelt in those mountains, and if Lindir was any judge, it had actually intensified since the fall of Sauron. Perhaps it was not as widespread as it used to be, but what shadows remained were more concentrated. Darker, somehow.
Yet Lindir could see nothing specific within the hidden vales of the mountains, and so he turned his gaze southward to the dense forests that protected and hid the valley of Rivendell. His elven eyes swept wide, absorbing details and subtle nuances with an ease that a man might envy. It took only a few seconds for him to focus his attention on one particular section of the forest that lay southeast of his position. The boughs of the trees were thick and not even his eyes could pierce their shadows, but something beneath them moved. Many somethings, he amended as he continued to watch. And they move toward Rivendell.
Dropping lower into the tree, he quickly began maneuvering through limbs and branches and was soon leaping from tree to tree with the inherent grace of the Eldar. He passed as silently as the wind, and the only hint of his presence was his nearly inaudible breathing. Only another elf would have been able to pick out that sound, and for him to do even that, the other elf would have had to be standing quite near.
Landing smoothly in one large tree, Lindir stopped and took a moment to judge distances. He was not far from the disturbance now, and he could pick out the stamp of horses’ hooves and the clink of armor. It was a force of respectable size, and Lindir paused to consider the best way of approaching this situation. After thinking through and discarding several options, Lindir stepped back a bit and whistled sharply. A near-perfect imitation of a songbird soared through the night, and this call was answered in the distance by several others. Comforted by the knowledge that Rivendell would soon be alerted to its danger and that others were on their way to aid him, Lindir moved on to the next step in his plan: Delay.
Hurrying forward, he noticed with some surprise that this strange company had stopped. Had they heard his whistles? And if so, how could they have seen through the mimicry in the signals? He stopped his forward journey and listened intently. He was so near them now that he could hear voices. Men’s voices, he realized, feeling his confusion grow. Nor did he feel a shadow associated with them. But…the only company of men Rivendell expected out of the south was—
"Thia men, maethor o adarn!" a voice suddenly rang out.
Lindir felt a broad smile sweep over his face. They had not been expected to arrive this night, but their welcome would not be lacking due to the lateness of the hour. He quickly dropped from the trees and hurried toward them.
"Aiya, Arwen ar Estel!" he cried as soon as he caught sight of the company. One rider dismounted quickly from his horse and came forward, laughing joyfully as he embraced him.
"It is good to see you again, Lindir," Aragorn said, nearly lifting the elf off his feet with his enthusiastic greeting. "It has been too long, my friend. Far too long."
"Even for the Eldar, years drag while dear friends are away," Lindir said, stepping back and running critical eyes over the man. "It would seem that kingship fits you well," he finally said.
Aragorn laughed at this and clapped the other on the shoulder. "Perhaps. I trust we did not cause undue alarm? We heard the warning whistles and thought that perhaps our presence was not anticipated."
"Arwen’s letters indicated you would arrive tomorrow," Lindir answered, bowing before Elrond’s daughter who had also dismounted. "And when I first sensed your approach, I feared that Orcs had set out from the mountains, and so I alerted the other scouts along the border. But have no fear! Both of you are welcome at any hour in Imladris." And having said this, he turned away and whistled again. Most ears would not have discerned a difference between his first whistle and the one he gave now, but to elven ears there were words in such a call and he now announced the coming of expected friends. Once again, more whistles answered, acknowledging his message, passing it to other scouts, and sending their own greetings.
"My thanks for such a welcome," Arwen said, moving forward and slipping her arm around Aragorn. "It has been long since I returned home, and your consideration means much."
Lindir bowed again, gratified by her praise. "For the daughter of Elrond and the queen of Gondor, I could do no less," he informed her. "But come. I will be your escort, if you will have me. Though you both know the way, I would provide you with company for the journey and so further the welcome and courtesy that Rivendell extends to you."
"We would be glad of your company," Aragorn said, turning and signaling to one of his guard. "We also have spare horses and you may ride with us so that the last bit of our journey shall pass quickly."
"That is well," Lindir said, lowering his voice slightly. "I have no direct knowledge, but rumors within Rivendell say that Lord Elladan is troubled by the mountains. Extra watches have been called by Lord Elrohir, and in light of this, I would not have us linger in the darkness."
"I have also felt this shadow," Arwen murmured. "As has Legolas." She seemed to shiver and then her piercing eyes focused on Lindir. "And what of you, dear friend? What do the mountains say to you?"
"They say many things," Lindir answered with a suspicious glance at the dark peaks. "It seems to me that they are darker than is their wont, but I know not how that shall play out for Rivendell. And their evil seems more…more concentrated of late."
"Then let us press on," Aragorn said as a horse was brought forward for Lindir. "We are weary from our journey and look for a restful night, and I doubt we will find such rest if we linger here and speak of shadows."
Lindir nodded and sprang onto the back of his horse, noting that saddle and bridle had already been removed for him as a courtesy. Aragorn and Arwen were also quick to mount and the company soon started forward. Sensing that they were nearing their destination, the horses seemed to pick up their spirits and they moved quickly beneath the leafy trees. Lindir settled himself into the movements of his horse, pondering on Arwen’s words. Others had apparently felt this strange shadow, yet it seemed that no one had any definitive answers.
"So you greet Aragorn and Arwen, but you fail to notice an old friend from Mirkwood," a voice said, startling him from his thoughts.
Lindir grinned and looked over to find that Legolas has brought Arod alongside Lindir’s horse. "My apologies, young prince," he answered. "However, since your coming was not expected until tomorrow, I had not time for sufficient practice and I could only remember how to extend a welcome to important individuals."
Behind Legolas, Gimli snorted loudly and started laughing. "And how shall we evaluate our debate now?" the dwarf asked. "It seems to me that I have won."
"He said not which of us was unworthy of consideration," Legolas retorted, throwing the dwarf stern glance before turning back to Lindir. "So was it myself or the dwarf who did not deserve a welcome befitting an important individual?"
Lindir blinked and wondered exactly what the two had been talking about before they decided to drag him into the conversation. Lindir had been present at the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen and he remembered the rather unusual degree of camaraderie and friendship that was to be had between Legolas and Gimli. It had taken a day or so to accept it, but once he adjusted, he found that listening to the two of them argue about the virtues of elves and dwarves was actually quite entertaining. Unfortunately, when either one of them began searching for third party opinions, it was usually best to be elsewhere.
"I am afraid that I do not understand the question," Lindir eventually said, hoping this was sufficiently vague enough that neither Legolas nor Gimli could use his words against the other.
"You see?!" Gimli exclaimed, sounding as though a vital point had been made.
"That proves nothing!" Legolas shot back.
Lindir decided he had given exactly the wrong answer, but there was naught he could do about that now. Gently nudging his own horse away from Arod, he hoped that proximity to Aragorn and Arwen might somehow save him from becoming further embroiled in whatever it was that Legolas and Gimli were arguing about.
"So tell me of your journey," Lindir said, directing his words toward Aragorn. "What news do you carry from the lands in the south?"
"To begin with, all send their greetings," Aragorn said, glancing past Lindir at Legolas and Gimli and shaking his head with amusement. The two were locked in a heated discussion and appeared to have forgotten the existence of the rest of the world. "Reconstruction on Osgiliath and within Ithilien proceeds, but it is slower than we might like," the king continued. "Alas, the stain of evil will not leave the land without great toil on our part. Sauron’s influence is still felt in many parts of the south."
"Yet we still progress," Arwen said firmly, throwing her husband a look that Lindir could not interpret. "And that is something, for five years ago, many doubted that Sauron could be even overthrown."
"But the taint of evil remains," Aragorn murmured, comforted only slightly by Arwen’s words. "Even the Misty Mountains bear the marks of darker days, and the elves that come to Ithilien from Mirkwood tell us that even though Dol Guldur has been cast down, its area is still an abode of evil. Alas, I fear that some things may never be fully cured."
"Your fears are shared by the elves," Lindir said quietly and with a trace of that ageless sadness that seemed to belong exclusively to the Eldar. "We feel the waning of the world, and though our time here draws to a close, we sorrow for the evil that Arda has seen. Things will never be as they once were. What has been touched by sadness shall bear that sadness always, and no act of ours can alter that."
"But there is still great joy, and not all is forsaken," Arwen reminded them. "Take heart, son of Arathorn, and you as well, Lindir of Imladris. So long as songs are sung of victories, and so long as the innocent are allowed to live peacefully in their innocence, we have succeeded. Perhaps our lifetime will not see the Ephel Duath bloom with flowers, but future generations will someday achieve such a victory and our works will have made that possible."
To Lindir’s sharp ears, it sounded as though Aragorn and Arwen had endured this conversation before, a fact that did not surprise him greatly, for he had known Aragorn as a young child. His goals had ever been among the stars, visible but unattainable, and even in his tender years, he seemed willing to bear the weight of the world upon slender shoulders. And when things went ill as things were wont to do, Aragorn’s first reaction was to blame himself.
"Lindir, when you spoke of important individuals, did you use that term collectively or specifically?"
The somber mood that had fallen upon them was abruptly shattered. Arwen lifted a hand to cover her mouth, Aragorn rolled his eyes, and Lindir sighed. "I believe I used the term collectively, Gimli."
"And there you have it, Legolas," the dwarf said with a voice of triumph. "He was not specifically referring to Aragorn and Arwen."
"Meaning what?!" Legolas demanded.
"Meaning that you were excluded from such a group and I very well could have been included. His subsequent words concerning those unworthy of important greetings were directed to you for you were the one to address him. You have been singled out as an unimportant individual."
"Very well, Gimli, if you wish to persist in this belief, let us see where it leads," Legolas said. "I, a fellow elf, a prince of royalty in my father’s kingdom, and a lord in my own realm, have been considered an unimportant individual. How, then, shall you be considered, Master Dwarf? You are the son of Gloin, and while your father has renown among his people and is a direct descendent of Durin, he is not royalty. You are not royalty. You are not an elf. If I am unworthy, what are you?"
"It is unfair to bring your lineage into this," Gimli declared.
"And by that, you mean to say that it is unfair to bring facts into this," Legolas retorted.
"Facts?! If you wish to speak of facts, let us also consider factors other than birth."
"As you wish. Was it not you who nearly refused to follow me into a cave on the Paths of the Dead?"
Gimli grumbled something that sounded far from complimentary, but it was in the dwarf tongue and Lindir did not recognize the words. Legolas apparently did, though, for he began laughing hard. On the other side of Lindir, Aragorn snorted, also understanding what had been said.
"Estel?" Lindir questioned, hoping to receive a translation.
"A common curse among the dwarves," Aragorn answered, his lips twisting with a rather embarrassed smile. "It’s meaning, though, is rather lewd. Rest assured that you would not want to have it said of you by polite company. Or impolite company, for that matter!"
"I see," Lindir said slowly, his curiosity only growing greater by Aragorn’s refusal to explain what had been said.
"Thank you for not elaborating," Arwen commented. "Elrohir once used that curse against Elladan in jest and my father overheard him. The end result was…unpleasant."
Lindir’s curiosity was now growing rapidly, but he was not given the chance to pursue the subject for the sound of galloping horses reached his ears. Arwen straightened on her mount, also hearing the approaching riders, and a look of joy infused her face when she recognized the patterns and stride of the horses.
"Melethin?" Aragorn prompted curiously.
"My brothers approach," she answered with a smile that would put the sun to shame. "Noro, Hasufel," she cried, urging her horse ahead of the company.
"What is happening?" Gimli wondered, interrupting Legolas who’d been saying something about dwarven beards and Orcs.
"The lords of Rivendell approach," Aragorn answered, spurring Roheryn after Arwen, also eager to greet his foster brothers. "Forward," he cried, and though weary, the rest of the company obediently raced after their king, sensing that the long journey was drawing to a close.
"This means that we are close to a decent bed and a hot bath, yes?" Gimli asked, sharing the thoughts of the tired men.
Lindir smiled and nodded. "Great preparation has gone into making your resting place as comfortable as possible, Master Dwarf. We would not have you find our hospitality lacking."
"Good," the dwarf said. "You see, Legolas? They consider me and take pains to ensure my comfort."
"Yes, I see now. I’m sure the stable hands spent at least several minutes piling straw into a corner so that your sleep would be restful."
They are both hopeless, Lindir decided, turning his attention to the path before them. Hasufel and Roheryn were stopping and two elven horses had come into view. The riders of all four horses hit the ground running and the queen of Gondor was caught up in a hard embrace while the king was tackled to the ground. It seems I spoke too soon, Lindir amended. They are ALL hopeless. How is it that I retain a measure of sanity?
"Welcome to you, Arwen and Estel!" Elladan’s clear voice cried as he deposited Arwen back on the ground and helped Elrohir and Aragorn back to their feet. "And welcome to those who journey with you. You make good time while traveling, my friends. We did not expect you until tomorrow morning!"
"I fear I am to blame for pressing this company onward," Arwen laughed, trading places with Aragorn and wrapping Elrohir in a warm embrace. "My excitement was such that I could not wait another night before crossing Rivendell’s borders."
"What did we warn you about, Estel?" Elladan said with a smile. "She is one to have her own way and you must watch her closely or she will govern everything for you."
"I have already taken your warning to heart, but I feel it has done me little good," Aragorn responded, grinning at Arwen’s indignant expression. "But in truth," he continued, his tone growing quiet, "another factor pressed us on. Both Arwen and Legolas experienced feelings of foreboding and distrust concerning the mountains and we were anxious to reach safe borders. Tell me, have your spies reported aught on the subject?"
Aragorn’s words to his foster brothers were low but not too low for immortal ears, and a shiver stole down Lindir’s back. The king of Gondor had more or less already confided such fears and misgivings to the elf, but they seemed to take on new meaning when they were reported to the lords of Imladris.
Lindir watched with a degree of anxiety as a strange look passed between Elladan and Elrohir, and at length it was Elladan who answered. "The mountains have troubled me," he murmured, and now Lindir had to strain to hear his words. "We have increased the guard along the eastern border, but until we know more of what threatens us, I fear we can do naught."
"But such things are ill to hear when the world lies in shadow," Elrohir said, changing the subject with elven swiftness though he could not quite change the mood of the group. "Come. Welcome back to Imladris, Arwen and Estel. You have been absent too long."
"I thank you, my brothers," Aragorn said. Lindir could see the gratitude and excitement behind the king’s smile, but he could also hear the concern and wariness that had the mountains had caused. "Though I rule in Gondor, my heart will forever lie in Rivendell."
"Then let us hasten on so that your body may lie with it, for you and your company have need of rest," Elrohir said. "Even as we speak here, beds and rooms are being prepared."
Beside Lindir, Legolas stirred slightly and Arod tossed his head, betraying a restless energy to be off and doing. "Lord Elrond’s hospitality has certainly not waned in his absence," the prince of Mirkwood said quietly.
"Of what are they speaking?" Gimli demanded irritably, for the main body of men had stopped a respectable distance away and could not hear what was being said. "You who have elven ears should be mindful of the rest of us."
"You would accuse us of eavesdropping?" Legolas said, glancing back at the dwarf with innocent eyes.
"Elladan and Elrohir know very well that you can hear them and they are doing nothing to prevent that," the dwarf returned. "Therefore, it is not eavesdropping and you are at liberty to tell me what goes forth."
"They exchange pleasantries," Lindir answered before the prince of Mirkwood could with a verbal dart. "Your rooms are being prepared for you, and Lord Elladan has confirmed that he senses a darkness in the mountains. Beyond that, they say nothing that you do not already know."
About this time, the sons of Elrond and the king and queen of Gondor began walking back toward the mounted company. Elladan and Elrohir both called their horses over and Lindir sensed that his service as an escort was no longer needed. Dismounting and giving his borrowed steed a quick pat, he bowed low before Aragorn and Arwen as they approached.
"King Elessar and Queen Evenstar, I leave you now in the hands of my lords. With your permission, I shall return to my post."
"Thank you for your company, Lindir," Arwen said, mounting Hasufel and nodding her head in the elf’s direction. "Your welcome did much to cheer me and I am comforted by the knowledge that Rivendell is still protected by the sure senses of the elves."
"We shall have to find time for quiet talk in the Hall of Fire," Aragorn added. "There are many stories I would share and many questions I would also ask of you."
"It shall be as you wish," Lindir promised with another bow. "Until then, my lords. And Legolas, have an eye on that dwarf. He shall be besting you at words yet." And without waiting for a response, Lindir turned and vanished into the trees. As he made his way back to his original vantagepoint, he heard Legolas crying out in protest and Gimli laughing loudly. Lindir smiled and shook his head. Perhaps all elves should befriend dwarves. If nothing else, it would make for interesting conversations.
So thinking, he eventually reached his post, leaped into his chosen tree, and settled back down to keep watch upon Rivendell’s southern border. He was more alert this time in part to the warnings he’d heard from Aragorn, Elladan, and Elrohir, but aside from a general sense of unease stemming from the Misty Mountains, he sensed nothing unusual.
And just beyond the range of Lindir’s senses, hidden beneath the trees by an unnatural shadow, a large company of ill intent passed by. They journeyed not to Rivendell but to something else. And for all their vigilance, the elven guards of Imladris remained ignorant of this newest threat.
*According to RotK, Gimli was born in 2879 and Aragorn was born in 2931.
Thia men, maethor o adarn!—Appear to us, warrior of my father!
Aiya, Arwen ar Estel!—Welcome, Arwen and Estel! (This is one of my few attempts at Quenya, so I hope I didn’t mess it up too badly.)
Author’s Notes: Huge thanks go out to all the sharp-eyed readers who caught the nasty errors in the first chapter. I think they’re all taken care of now.
Oh, and someone asked about the Ephel Duath. The Silmarillion and Book of Unfinished Tales say the name means "Fence of Shadow" while Return of the King says it means "Mountains of Shadow." Whatever. It’s shadowy. Anyway, it’s the mountain range guarding Mordor. To get past these mountains, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum took the path through Cirith Ungol, if you want a book reference.
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.