When Arwen awoke again, the sun was already up. Stretching and gladdened to see that whatever discomfort there was left was now gone, she arose and headed again for the door. After listening intently till she made certain that she didn't hear anything that betrayed a human presence, she walked into the kitchen once again.
Just as Arwen had thought, no one was in the kitchen, though the fire was still burning ever strongly, a large pot with boiling water over it. The only thing that breathed in the room was a short, yet stocky grey dog, sleeping soundly on a rug until the Elven-woman came in. The dog merely opened its eyes, yet without seeming alarmed to see a stranger in the house it was guarding. It even half-closed its eyes dreamily when Arwen petted its head, appreciating the affection.
"Istach ú-im coth,"* murmured Arwen with a smile, fully aware that all kind animals had a natural trust in the Elven race. That also explained why the dog didn't even make a sound when Daurir had brought her here, to Aglarâd's care.
Letting the dog fall into its relaxed slumber again, Arwen then saw on the table a plate filled with fruit and a note beside it. Upon reading the note in her curiosity, she read the following words:
"The breakfast is for you, my lady. Eat and then please return to the room. I will find you soon after the darkness falls to give you answers to all your questions."
Arwen ate gladly, for as her health returned, so did her appetite. As she was still eating, she let her eyes run over the note again, looking at the letters more carefully this time.
Aglarâd – after all, only she could have written that note – apparently knew how to write clearly and correctly; nevertheless the writing was still shaken and uncertain. It was quite evident that it was very late in life that she learned to use the quill. Could it be that Daurir had taught her? That possibility didn't seem all that far-fetched, for the two certainly seemed quite close – at least, Aglarâd seemed attached to Daurir.
It was then that Arwen remembered the other name the girl had mentioned: Torion. What was this person's connection with the two and how had he come to his end? For dead he must be if Aglarâd's words about mourning his passing had to make any sense.
The light sound of the knife as it hit the bottom of the now empty plate cut her off her musings and, without realizing it, her eyes locked on the ring that was circling one of her fingers: a small, yet elegant silver ring with a beautifully carved diamond on it.
Sighing sadly and with her heart filled with longing, she took off the ring and looked at it for many long moments: Aragorn had given her that ring on the day of their marriage. Then her eyes drifted to the window and the woods that could be seen beyond and, though she knew she would get no answer, her heart called out with all its strength to her beloved.
"Where are you?"
Yet she knew that she had to do something as well. The question that still remained however was how and what; and the only answer she could come up with was never lose hope. That, however, only frustrated her the more until, realizing that she could only wait to hear Aglarâd's story, she walked back into her room.
"Sire, smoke rises straight ahead of us!" cried out one of Aragorn's scouts who were riding in front of the team.
"How far from here?" asked the king, unable to hide his gladness at the news.
"About an hour's ride," came the answer. "And it comes from a large camp."
"It could be woodsmen," ventured Gimli, who was sitting with Legolas on Arod.
"No, my friend," replied the Firstborn as he looked toward the smoke as well, his sight still sharp despite the brightness of the sun; "the men I see carry armour and weapons, while they bear the military colours of Gondor."
"That means it can only be Captain Iorlas and his men," said then Aragorn, who had by now ridden with the rest of the men to the scout's side. "Do you see Undómiel with them, Legolas?"
Legolas's only answer, however, was silence and a full of regret shake of the head.
Aragorn's hands turned into fists in his attempt to control the emotions that raged within him. Speed was of utmost importance in finding anyone missing; for the sooner they were found, the more chances there were that they would be found alive. But now it seemed time was flying too quickly and in defiance to the Man's agony.
"Let us go and meet them," he finally said, spurring Brego onwards. And though he tried to hide the effort with which he said those words because of his emotional turmoil, he was certain that Legolas and Gimli saw through him.
Just like Legolas had said, by the time Arien journeyed for one hour on the sky-dome, the party had reached the camp that Captain Iorlas's team had set up. Being the first to see them, the Second Captain of the Citadel rushed to meet his lord and the reinforcements. And though he bowed his head in greeting, he didn't lift his had again, feeling ashamed for failing his lord.
"I do not hold you responsible for what happened," Aragorn assured Iorlas. After dismounting and once everyone else followed his example, the king led the captain aside to find out as much information as possible. Legolas and Gimli were at his side as well, eager to learn of any news.
"I am afraid we have not been able to discover much, for all our efforts, Sire," said Iorlas. "We did not come across any sign of the Queen nor any other sign that could give us a clue as to her whereabouts."
"This does not make any sense," remarked Gimli, voicing the thoughts of both Legolas and Aragorn as well. "Why not stay nearby the horse? That would seem a more logical course of action to me, were I to be stranded in the forest with no knowledge of which direction to take."
"That can only mean ill," seconded Legolas. "Either she was forced to leave…"
"Or she was taken," completed Aragorn.
Everyone immediately grew silent, that possibility proving shocking. It was finally Iorlas who broke the spell, his voice seeming determined, but clearly uncertain.
"If there was any foul play, the culprits would not be able to go far. There are no caves or all that many houses where they could hide. The only house that we found was inhabited by an elderly couple who could not help us; they did not see anything unusual and they assured me that, if there was anything out of the ordinary, the guard dog would have barked…"
The captain's voice trailed off at that moment, for he noticed that both the king and his Dwarven companion were watching the Elf intently. The Mirkwood prince had walked a bit further away and now was quite tense, looking at the surroundings with eyes wide open.
"What is it, Legolas?" asked Aragorn in a whisper, treading slowly toward the Firstborn. "Did you hear something?"
"No," answered Legolas, his own voice only a soft murmur. "But something has its gaze locked on us, watching our every move. Studying us… and waiting."
All but Legolas stirred uncomfortably and reached for their weapons, their eyes darting to every direction.
"Where?" whispered Iorlas.
"I am not certain," was the only answer Legolas gave as his hand gripped his bow tightly.
What was to come next happened in the blink of an eye. All four of them jumped aside to avoid the sword that was thrown against them. Even before its blade got jabbed into the trunk of a tree behind them, Legolas had already shot an arrow at the direction he had seen the weapon flying from. It was to the sound of a number of twigs breaking under weight that snapped everyone into action. Legolas rushed ahead, one of his blades already in his hand, followed closely behind by Aragorn and Gimli. There was nothing to be seen though.
"Looks like your aim was good," noted the Dwarf. Indeed a few droplets of blood had stained the ground red.
"And yet there is no sign of our quarry," said Legolas, always alert. "I must have wounded him lightly, for he managed to run off quickly."
"Then again, I do not think we are dealing with any usual foe," said then Aragorn, who was now looking at the ground meticulously.
"What do you mean?" asked Gimli, puzzled.
"Do you see any footmarks?" the Man asked. "And yet someone was here. If the blood stains were not enough proof, this," and at that Aragorn picked up a piece of black cloth that was tangled amid some freshly broken branches of a bush, "is enough solid evidence."
"We are not talking about a ghost then," remarked the Dwarf. "But how can one leave no tracks? He must be as light as a feather!"
"As light as an Elf, more likely," said Legolas, stepping slightly aside and pointing at the grass. There was hardly any sign that the Mirkwood prince was standing on the particular place a few moments ago.
"Sire!" Iorlas cried out at that very moment and hurried to the others. After having put quite the effort to pull it out from the tree trunk, he held in his hands the sword that was thrown at them and presented it now to Aragorn.
The king had only to take one look to recognise the weapon for what it was.
"This is Arwen's."
"The riddle darkens," noted Legolas thoughtfully.
"I could not agree more to that," said Gimli. "I only know of two Elves in these parts of the world: one is standing right beside me and the other would never use her sword against us."
"There is something else which is troubling me as well," said Aragorn, his eyes locked on the shadows of the woods; then turned to the Mirkwood prince. "If there is indeed an Elf in the forest and we came across him, why would he attack even one of his own kindred?"
Legolas nodded his own puzzlement at this good question as well. After all, kinslaying was considered a most appalling crime among Elves, a crime loathsome enough to rouse even the wrath of the Valar. Now, however, it seemed that one Elf was ready to disregard it. Unless…
"Attack was not his intent."
Aragorn nodded, catching up with his friend's train of thought. "This was a distraction so he would find the chance to run off, realising that he was discovered."
"And he did a good job at it too," seconded Gimli. "He got wounded, true, but it was commendable of him to risk that if it could help him escape."
Though Aragorn didn't answer, a part of him marvelled at their adversary's quick thinking as well - not to mention that his curiosity was quite piqued by now. What would an Elf be doing in these parts of the world, since there were no Elven colonies that would justify his presence here? Why would he resort to hiding when the very presence of Legolas amongst them should be enough proof that he had nothing to fear? And, above all else, what did he know about Arwen's fate?
"Sire?" said then Iorlas, concerned that his lord had grown so silent.
"The hope is faint, but there might be more bloodstains on the ground," Aragorn answered, making up his mind. "Have the men look in every direction for any sign of that Elf. If anyone knows anything about what happened to the Queen, it is certainly he. Meanwhile Master Gimli, Prince Legolas and I will head north in search for our mysterious adversary and, if anyone of us finds out anything, one call with the horn should suffice to summon the rest. Otherwise, we will meet back at the camp at sunset."
Iorlas bowed instantly in obedience and rushed to find the other soldiers to carry out his king's command. As for the Hunters, they started their search at once, dearly hoping that it would not prove in vain.
Night had already settled when Aglarâd came into the room Arwen was in. The Elven-woman couldn't help but notice how thoughtful and worried the girl was, nevertheless she didn't speak of it.
"You know why I came," said Aglarâd simply.
All that the queen did was nod in answer. And the Easterling sat down and started telling her tale.
Footnotes:*Istach ú-im coth: You know I'm not an enemy (Sindarin)
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.