1. End Games
He sighed with relief as his knife clicked open under his hands, and he began harvesting the athelas, fear for the Ringbearer's life driving the speed of his fingers. That was when he felt more than heard a slight motion to his left. He reacted a second too late, to find something cold and hard at his throat. His training took over and his eyes glanced right, center, left, seeking the number, weaponry, and position of his assailants. How had such a threat come so close, yet he unable to feel the chill that emanated from servants of the shadow?
His muscles loosened a moment later as his reason told him there was no danger, and his tension subsided instantly. It was the dull side of the blade that kissed his skin, and still he felt no deadly fear, no sense of evil. He turned his head to the blade's wielder.
They had played this game many times. Elladan and Elrohir had begun it as part of his training in his youth, and the sign of their success was a weapon in position to threaten his life. It became a point of honor for him that mortal or no, he had honed his senses to be nearly equal to the Firstborn. By the time he was 30, even an Elf could not creep up on him unawares; he would speak or turn to face them within the final few feet. The twins had mostly given up trying by then, though they still found occasional sport in testing his skill.
In Lórien, Arwen had laughed about his stories of the contest, and taken it up herself. He owned that he enjoyed her version much more, as catching the twins merely meant he could laugh, and even - though he would not name it so - gloat a bit. Catching their sister at it won him a smile and a kiss. For this reason, it was a game he did not tire of. Often he would hear her stealthy approach, and wait until the last moment so that she would think ah, this time she had won. Only for him to speak at the last moment, turn to her, smile, and slide his arms around her waist to collect his prize. She would bestow his reward with good will, and laugh, "Never can I catch this Ranger off his guard! Are all Rangers so?" He would laugh in turn and assure her that only Rangers trained by her brothers were so crafty.
Now he grimaced as she spoke her surprise at this victory and drew the blade away from him. She had shown him clearly that his worry over Frodo had made him careless, bringing danger closer to them all. He realized he had counted on the terror that streamed from the wraiths like frozen breath, counted on it to alert him to their nearness; a failing he could not afford in the contest for Frodo's life. When he turned fully Arwen's eyes searched his face and the game and all mirth fell away. Now there was only her intent gaze as he explained his task, and her willingness to share this as she had shared so much else with him.
"What I have learned of my father's skills may serve him," she said, and whistled for her horse. Rapidly he indicated where their camp lay and she mounted Asfaloth and was off even as Aragorn bent to harvest the rest of the athelas.
He returned to the camp as she knelt by the moaning hobbit and spoke soft words, calling his name. Her gentle fingers wiped his brow and eased cloak and shirt from the wound at his shoulder. As they tended to Frodo and sought to ease him, Aragorn saw her face grow anxious, confirming how grave his companion's wound was.
His decision could no longer be delayed. It will be safer for me to take the Ringbearer on Asfaloth - the wraiths will follow us and leave the others. "Stay with the halflings. I will send horses for you." His words were to the point, but his eyes said more.
She spoke gently, but stood straight and tall as she gainsaid him for the first time. "I will take him. I am the swifter rider." He knew she was right, for her lighter weight would make for more speed, even on a horse such as Asfaloth, trained by Glorfindel himself.
His pride at her bravery warred with his fear for her, and that fear made him curt. "The road is very dangerous." She had learned the sword, as all did in Imladris, but she did this because Elrond thought it needful; she was no warrior, Aragorn knew.
"Frodo is dying. If I can get across the river, the power of my people will protect him." Reading his face or his thought, he knew not which, she dropped her voice, "I do not fear them."
Ah, but you should, he thought as his hand found hers. "My dear one." The words were on his lips before the intent was formed, even as he helped her into the saddle. She might not have experienced the depth of evil she faced, and he could not ward her against it with his knowledge. He could only hope that in her ignorance lay their salvation, that she would not be paralyzed by the fear that the Black Riders spread about them. "Arwen, ride hard," he said, giving her the only help he could, "don't look back."
He watched as she rode into danger without his blade, his strength or his cunning - she took only his heart on this perilous ride. His eyes betrayed his fear as somewhere behind he heard Sam's anguish echo his own.
Brave, loyal Sam. That which each of us loves best rides with the fate of Middle-earth and we are powerless to protect them. "Valar guard them both," he whispered, as he turned and set about finding what safety he could for Merry, Pippin and Sam.
* * *
1. I believe that Arwen is being cagey about what protects Rivendell. She knows quite well it is the power of the Elven Ring Vilya that is actually at work, but will not reveal it until Elrond deems it safe to do so.
2. The translations at http://www.elvish.org/gwaith/movie.htm indicate the dialogue as 'Be iest lîn' or 'as you wish.' Others maintain that what Viggo Mortensen actually says is 'min älskling' which is Danish for 'my darling.' I find that more likely since 'as you wish' seems very cold.
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