4. A Black Arrow
News of his arrival raced before him, and when Legolas at last reached the castle gates, Faramir was waiting there to greet him. "Welcome friend elf. The king has been awaiting your arrival for quite some time."
Legolas returned the greeting, and then smiled at the Steward's words. "Has Aragorn become so impatient? The wedding is still a month off, and I have actually come sooner than I expected."
"Even so, you are the last to arrive, save Mithrandir, and you know how the wizard is. We will not know that he is here until he appears before us!" As Faramir spoke, he led Legolas across the courtyard and through the massive doors into the castle.
Legolas's head came up at the man's words, and his voice was full of excitement. "The others are here already? I expected to be the first to arrive."
Faramir nodded, grinning widely. "The hobbits appeared on our doorstep over a week ago, and have since commenced to emptying our larders. And yet I am glad, for I have not seen my king in such high spirits for quite some time, and indeed, the merry folk seem to bring joy wherever they go."
Legolas laughed despite his weariness, as he pictured the four hobbits, feet propped up on a stool, smoking their weed and eating everything in sight. "And my dear friend Gimli? When did he arrive? We only parted company three weeks ago, and I assumed he would wish to return to the Lonely Mountain for a time before traveling again."
"Master Gimli arrived only three days ago. He did return home, but only briefly, and only to let his people know he still lived." Faramir led Legolas up a wide flight of stairs and then through a vast maze of hallways, all brightly lit and with colorful tapestry lining the walls.
Legolas sighed and let the light flow over him, allowing tense muscles to relax. "I am glad to hear that they are here, and arrived safely, for the message I bring involves all of us." Legolas reached back to push his quiver and bow back into position on his back, his movements shifting his cloak about him. He had taken several more steps before he realized that Faramir had stopped. Turning, he saw the man staring with dismay at the blood soaked bandage wrapped about his arm.
"You are hurt! And quite badly from the look of it, and yet I failed to notice until now." Faramir reached forward and touched the blood soaked bandage wrapped around the elf's arm.
"The cut is deep, but will heal. But more important than the wound is how it was attained. Of this, I must speak to Aragorn immediately."
At these words, Faramir looked even more distressed. "Alas, my lord is away, or surely he would have greeted you at the gate himself.
"This is foul news indeed," Legolas cried out, weariness pressing down on him once more. "I had much need to talk to him of a very important matter. Tell me, where has the king gone, and when do you expect his return?"
Before Faramir could respond, another voice spoke from behind them. "The king has gone south, to Linhir, and he is not expected to return for several days."
Legolas and Faramir turned as Arwen joined them in the hall. Faramir bowed low, for he had not gotten over his awe of the beautiful elf princess. Legolas smiled and greeted her quietly in the language of the elves. Arwen returned the smile, but it quickly faded as she took in his travel stained clothes and bandaged arm. She reached out and gently touched the soiled bandage, much in the way Faramir had just done, her eyes lifting to meet Legolas's gaze. "I sense there is more to your presence here than a mere visit." Her voice was soft, yet full of question.
"Indeed there is, my lady, and I have traveled long and hard to come here, only to find that Aragorn has left the city. My heart is very heavy, for I had much need to speak with him."
"Aragorn wished to remain here and wait for your arrival, but two days ago he received rumor that orcs had been sighted outside Linhir. He could have sent others to investigate, but chose to go himself, taking Gimli and the hobbits with him.
Faramir, who had been standing silent, suddenly broke in. "Aragorn and the others left yesterday morning, along with ten guards. They were in no hurry, for Aragorn believed little truth to be in the rumors, and I must agree. The orcs are dead or scattered. It will be quite some time before the vile creatures dare poke their noses out of their holes, and even longer until they dare pass the borders into Gondor!"
"If only this were true, Faramir," Legolas replied, "but I fear that you are wrong. The creatures have dared to leave their holes, and have even dared to wander within the borders of Gondor. I was attacked by a group of the foul creatures less than a day's ride from this city. The battle was great, and I barely escaped with my life."
Faramir stared at him in disbelief. "How can this be?" he asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
Legolas shrugged, and then cast a glance towards Arwen. "I do not know the answer to your question, Faramir, though I guess that I may hold at least a piece to this puzzle, the very reason that I have traveled here."
"Then I ask that you share this piece with me, if only that I may understand a little better!" Faramir's face was firm, and he looked as if he was ready to ride into battle immediately.
"I am interested in hearing your story as well, Legolas," Arwen added, "But not here. There is a room nearby where we can sit. I will tend to your wound and you can eat and drink to regain your strength."
Legolas nodded, and Arwen led them to a room a short way off, stopping a young servant girl along the way to ask for food and wine, as well as a bowl of water and fresh bandages to be brought to them.
Legolas spent the next hour retelling his tale, starting from the moment he entered his father's house. Faramir and Arwen listened without interruption. As Legolas spoke, Arwen cleaned out the wound on his arm and re-bandaged it. When Legolas finally came to the end of his tale, Arwen sat back and let out a small sigh.
Faramir shook his head, not able to fully digest all that he had just learned. "I hope that Aragorn returns soon, for I do not like the sound of this letter of blood. Perhaps this trip to Linhir is nothing but a trap!"
"I have thought of this possibility myself, and that is why I have decided to ride out after them this very night." Legolas stood and turned to Faramir. "You said that Aragorn was in no hurry when he left. I will ride with great haste, and if luck and speed remain with me I will overtake his company before he reaches Linhir."
"But you have just arrived, and I can see that you are weary. Let me send another messenger to him and you can stay and rest." Faramir had risen also, and now faced the elf, his voice earnest. "I would go myself, but in the king's absence I am the leader of this city, and duty binds me here."
Legolas shook his head. "I would find little rest this night, even if I were to stay. Darkness has settled on me, and it will only be lifted when I am again reunited with my friends. I am indeed weary, but not too weary to finish the journey I set out on."
"Then I will not try to dissuade you, for I can see that your mind is made up. But at least let me choose a company of men to ride with you," Faramir asked.
"I will go swifter on my own," Legolas replied. "I intend to ride without stopping, however long it may take. I will need a mount, your swiftest and strongest, if he can be spared."
Faramir nodded thoughtfully. "Our best horses left the city with the king's company, but I am sure that we can find you a worthy mount from the ones that remain."
Arwen spoke up for the first time. "The men of the Mark brought a herd of horses here several weeks ago, a gift to Aragorn from Eomer. They are all young and strong, the finest Rohan has to offer."
Faramir nodded. "What the lady speaks is true, yet I cannot see how they can be of use to you. The horses have yet to be trained to saddle or bridle."
Legolas thought for a moment, then turned to Faramir. "Are the horses of the Mark kept far from here?"
"No, not far at all. They are in a field right outside the city, but as I said, they are yet untrained."
Legolas looked at Arwen, then smiled. "Take me to them."
Aragorn sat tall and proud on Roheryn's back, letting the cool evening breeze ruffle through his hair and whip his cloak out behind him. The sun was setting in a great orange ball before him, its last rays lighting up the land and turning his face a golden hue.
It had been three days since he had ridden from the gates of Minas Tirith, heading toward the town of Linhir. Aragorn had enjoyed every second, reminded of his time as a simple ranger. There were moments when he felt a pang of yearning to return to that time. Yet that life was behind him now, and he did not allow himself to dwell upon it for long. He was the king of Gondor, and his life was no longer his own. Instead, it belonged to his people. Perhaps not the life he would have chosen for himself, yet fate had put him here, and he was not one to back away from his responsibilities.
Now, as the sun sunk below the horizon, Aragorn scanned his surroundings in search of a good place to set camp. Ten riders surrounded him, all dressed in the colors of Gondor, with swords strapped to their backs. He wondered ruefully if they were supposed to be an honor guard or his protectors. A voice to his left distracted him from his thought, and he turned and smiled at Gimli.
The dwarf really did look comical, perched in the saddle in front of one of the guards, in full armor, axe across his knees. Gimli was glaring down at the saddle and grumbling loudly.
"Comfortable Gimli?" Aragorn asked innocently, and was rewarded by a sharp glare from the dwarf.
"I am not sure which I hate worse," Gimli declared in a loud voice. "Riding in one of these dreadful saddles, or riding without the saddle, as that dratted elf insists upon doing."
"Technically you are not riding at all, but are only being carried," Aragorn pointed out. "You would be much more comfortable on your own mount, especially if you would take off all that armor."
"I would be much more comfortable if I were on foot," the dwarf shot back. "I do not like, or trust, horses. It may take longer to reach your destination on foot, but at least you are sure to get there in one piece. I fear that I am beginning to split in two from all this riding."
"Hardly likely with all that metal surrounding you." Aragorn held up his hand in surrender as it looked as if the dwarf were going to start an argument. "Come now, Gimli, help me look for a place to camp. It will help keep your mind off your backside."
"My lord," one of the guards broke in. "I am from around these parts, and I happen to know of a very nice place, sheltered from the wind, where we can camp for the night. It is but a couple more miles ahead."
"A couple more miles," Gimli moaned. "I do not think I shall be able to survive one more mile."
"You have said that every night, and yet you are still with us. The wind is a bit cool tonight, and I would not mind sleeping in some shelter. One more night camping beneath the stars, and then we will reach Linhir with a real bed upon which to sleep. Cheer up my friend."
"And what exactly do you intend to do when we reach this town? Knock on every door and say, `excuse me, but we are looking for orcs. Big, ugly creatures, with long black hair, that are supposedly lurking somewhere around here.' Not an innkeeper in his right mind would allow us to sleep under his roof, king or no!" The dwarf's voice was sarcastic, and he shifted uncomfortably on the horse as he spoke.
Aragorn laughed. "We will just have to wait and see when we arrive. Knocking on doors doesn't sound like a bad idea."
Gimli glared at him, then threw up his hands, almost loosing his axe in the process. "Tell me again why I came with you?" he demanded.
"I do not know, for I offered for you to stay behind. It was you who insisted upon coming, remember? I have been wondering why, myself."
Gimli fidgeted in his saddle, and then grumbled, "Someone had to come along and take care of the hobbits, in case you really did run into orcs or something."
Aragorn looked at him in surprise. "You do not think that I could take care of the little people if trouble did arise?"
"Not in your present condition," Gimli replied.
"My present condition?" Aragorn was confused.
Gimli nodded. "Yes, condition. For that is all that I can think of to name it. Do not think that you can hide it from me, for I know you too well."
"I do not know of what you speak." Aragorn replied honestly.
"Let us just say that if you were attacked by a band of orcs, you would most likely stop in the middle of the battle and begin to sing of a certain elf princess who awaits your return at Minas Tirith. Then you would be slain and the halflings would have no one to protect them."
Aragorn looked at Gimli in amazement, and then began to laugh. His mirth came just as much from the look of askance upon his guards' faces, as the dwarf's words.
"I have seen you riding along, perfectly normal," the dwarf continued, "Then suddenly you will be grinning like a polecat. It does not take an Ent to figure out what you are thinking about. If this is what love does to a great warrior, then you can be sure that Gimli the dwarf is never getting married!"
"I look forward to the day when I shall see your heart fall captive to a beautiful dwarf maiden," Argorn laughed.
"That will never happen," Gimli said quite seriously. "If Legolas can last over a thousand years without getting married, I think this dwarf can do the same!"
"In any case," Aragorn said seriously, "I am sure the hobbits would be most grateful for your sacrifice on their behalf."
Aragorn glanced behind him to where the hobbits rode on short, shaggy ponies. The four had fallen some way behind the company, and yet seemed totally unaware of it. Merry and Pippin seemed to be having a serious discussion. Pippin was waving his arms and Merry kept shaking his head emphatically. Next to them, Frodo rode, propped awkwardly in his saddle. One leg was drawn up and actually draped down the opposite side of the horse, giving Frodo a twisted look. He held a parchment and pen in his hand, and an inkbottle tottered dangerously upon his thigh. He was paying absolutely no attention to where his pony was going, instead allowing the creature to pick its own path. His head was bent toward his parchment, and he was scribbling furiously in the dying light. Sam rode beside him, and kept reaching out a hand, as if expecting to have to catch his master.
Aragorn pulled Roheryn to a halt, the others stopping with him, and waited for the hobbits to catch up. As they drew closer, he could make out what they were saying. Merry and Pippin's argument seemed to be about the best place to grow the hobbit's weed, while Sam seemed to be begging Frodo to put up his parchment.
"Now Mr. Frodo, if you`re not careful, you're going to fall off your pony's back and break your head open. Then Aragorn will have to leave us behind. Do you want that Mr. Frodo? Why don't you wait until we stop for the night? You can do all the writin' you want then, while I'm sleeping."
"But I am almost finished Sam...Oh alright, the light is getting too dim anyway." Frodo reached to put his parchment and pen in his saddlebag, but his movements caused the ink jar to waver, then start to slide off his lap. Frodo made a wild grab for it, but the movement threw him off balance, and he would have toppled face forward off his pony if Sam hadn't reached out and held him, allowing him to regain his seat.
Merry and Pippin had temporarily put off their discussion as they approached the others. Pippin rode up to Aragorn and looked at him questioningly. "Why the big grin?" he asked curiously.
"And why the big scowl," Merry added, as he looked towards the dwarf.
"I have just learned," growled Gimli, "that we must travel several more miles this evening until we reach a camping sight that suites the king." He shot a glance towards Aragorn, who was still smiling widely. "It will be well past midnight before we stop, if certain hobbits cannot manage to keep up!"
"He is afraid he is going to split in two if he keeps riding for much longer," Aragorn put in.
"Hardly likely with all that armor to hold you together," Pippin assured Gimli.
"Precisely what I told him, Mr. Took, but I do not think he believed me." Aragorn's face was completely serious, hiding his mirth. "Yet he is right, we have quite a ways to go, and it is almost dark."
"We can't help it if we fall behind." Sam had finished helping Frodo adjust himself in his saddle, and now he joined the conversation. "Our ponies have to take three steps to Roheryn's one. If we were to keep to your pace, we would be trotting the entire way to Linhir, and then we would have a real reason to complain, if you catch my meaning." At this last sentence, Sam shot a look at Gimli. The dwarf only snorted and did not reply, lowering his head to hide his smile.
"I don't know, Sam," Pippin said doubtfully. "Right now I'd be willing to trot as far as Aragorn says, just so long as there is a good meal waiting at the end. I'm starved!"
"Then let us hurry on," Aragorn replied. "Put your ponies in front of us, and perhaps Roheryn and the other horses can push them on to a bit faster pace."
The hobbits did as Aragorn suggested, and as Frodo passed him, Aragorn called out to him. "You have been very quiet my friend. Is something bothering you?"
Frodo jumped at Aragorn's voice, then smiled self-consciously. "No, nothing is bothering me. I am just thinking about my book. Bilbo has been pressuring me to finish it quickly, and I am afraid that I have had little else on my mind. It is hard enough to relive the memories from the safety and calm of the Shire, and here, so close to where it all happened...." Frodo trailed off, then let out a big sigh.
Watching him, Aragorn felt a pang of sadness for his friend. He could see a weariness in Frodo that no amount of sleep could do away with - a weariness of the spirit. "If I could give you a suggestion?" Aragorn asked quietly.
"Of course," Frodo replied, surprised.
"Put away your book, at least while you are here. Relax and enjoy yourself during this visit, for you deserve it. Allow yourself to see the light and new life of this land, instead of dwelling on the darkness that once covered it."
"You are right," Frodo sighed. "And I shall do as you say." He looked around him, taking a deep breath of the cool night air. "It is easy for me to forget my troubles when I am surrounded by such great friends."
"Indeed!" cried Aragorn. "The joys of friendship make all burdens light, even those of a king!"
Legolas rode like the wind, the land a mere blur that sped past him. He had ridden hard all night and all day, and night approached once again. The pace he had set would have killed an ordinary horse. But the blood red bay beneath him was no ordinary horse, as Legolas had known from the moment he saw him, standing separate from the other horses of the Mark.
Even in the dimness of evening, his coat had seemed to glow, as if on fire. Long, muscled legs ran up to a perfectly shaped body, and his eyes had glowed with intelligence and youth. Legolas had entered the enclosure and called out to him, and without hesitation, the horse had gracefully trotted up to him. Legolas had named him Shandarell,* meaning wildfire in the common tongue. After only a few minutes of talking softly to him, Legolas had sprung onto his bare back, the horse handler's faces showing their awe.
Now Legolas was glad of his choice, for Shandarell ran without tiring, his pace never slackening. His nose thrust out into the wind, perhaps remembering running free through the vast fields of Rohan.
Night was fast approaching, yet Legolas finally felt as if he was nearing his target. He had come across a camp sight only a couple miles back. He believed that it was quite recent, perhaps the very place his companions had stopped earlier that day for lunch. A few more hours and he would catch up to them.
As if sensing his rider's urgency, Shandarell put on a fresh burst of speed, his shrill cry tearing through the stillness of the evening. Legolas laughed and threw back his head, closing his eyes and letting the fresh, clean air sweep over him and whip his long golden hair out behind him.
Another hour passed before Legolas finally slowed to a trot, then to a walk, allowing Shandarell a brief rest. It was dark now, high clouds obscuring any light offered by the sky. Using his keen elf's eyes, he scanned the ground around him for any sign that his friends had passed before him. He had gone for several minutes, when he spotted a pile of fresh horse manure lying in the path before him. He was close, very close.
Squeezing his legs lightly against Shandarell's side, Legolas asked for speed once more, and the great horse responded immediately.
He had gone for several minutes, when the ground began sloping steeply upward. Once again, he brought Shandarell to a walk in order to spare the horses strength. When he reached the peak of the climb, Legolas realized that he was actually on the round rim of a series of hills that looked down into a bowl shaped valley - a very familiar valley.
Legolas felt his heart race as he looked down into the valley, into a scene straight from his nightmare!
It was already several hours into the night, when Aragorn and the others reached the intended camping sight. They found themselves in a narrow valley, surrounded by high hills, which effectively blocked the wind. A clump of trees clustered at one end of the valley - a large, dark shadow in the night. Aragorn was pleased with the camping sight, and also relieved to have finally arrived. He was tired and hungry, and had been forced to listen to the hobbits and Gimli's complaining for the last hour.
The company rode to the center of the valley, and then dismounted. The hobbits immediately set to building a fire and cooking up something for supper. His guards began tending the horses, one of them coming and taking Roheryn's reins from him. Aragorn could have tended his own horse, and actually preferred to, but he allowed Roheryn to be led away, and then made his way over to Gimli.
The dwarf looked truly miserable. He was walking gingerly about, a look of pain on his rough face. Aragorn felt a momentary flash of guilt.
"Why not take the armor off now. You would feel much better."
Gimli nodded, his discomfort finally winning out. He began to strip out of his armor, Aragorn lending him a hand.
A sudden gust of wind swept over the hills, and Aragorn felt a shiver run down his spine. Something caused him to look up, and he quickly straightened as he caught sight of a figure standing just on the edge of the firelight, silhouetted against the trees. The figure was swathed in a black cloak, the hood pulled up, and Aragorn unexplainably felt another shiver run down his spine.
Gimli, noticing his friend's sudden alertness, followed Aragorn's gaze. He too immediately straightened, and his hand went to his axe. Aragorn touched his shoulder. He did not know who this stranger was, but he didn't want Gimli to attack a helpless traveler who had stumbled upon their fire.
"Welcome, stranger," he called out. "Please, come join us by our fire, for it is a cold evening."
The others jerked upright at Aragorn's call, looking in the direction he was staring. The guards shifted uneasily, hands on sword hilts, and the hobbits froze in whatever task they had been doing. All eyes were upon the stranger.
Aragorn tensed, as the cloaked figure moved, but all it did was reach up and throw back the hood, revealing his face.
Aragorn gasped, for standing before him was an elf!
He looked a lot in appearance like their own friend Legolas. Long blond hair flowed down around a bronze face. Yet this elf was taller than Legolas, his face more rough. He held a bow before him, which had before been hidden beneath his cloak. A quiver of arrows hung from his back. There was something about this elf that sent a feeling of intense cold throughout Aragorn's body. Something was wrong, though he could not say what it was. The shadows seemed to cling to this elf, almost giving the appearance of a second cloak draped about his entire frame.
Composing his feelings, Aragorn called out his greetings once again, this time in the language of the elves.
The elf turned towards him, staring directly at him, and Aragorn felt a wave of evil so strong that he stumbled back, a cry of alarm frozen in his throat.
The elf laughed, but the sound was all wrong, not fair and beautiful like the laughter of other elves. This laugh was low and dry, like dead leaves rubbing together.
A stillness seemed to fill the air. All stood frozen, barely daring to breath as they waited for what would happen next.
Then the others cried out in fear, as the elf reached back and lifted a black arrow from his quiver. Aragorn was unable to move or call out, even as the elf lifted his bow, aiming the arrow directly at his chest.
Time stood still, the only sound was of his heart, thundering in his ears, and Aragorn knew that he was about to die.
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.