3. Chapter Two: Impossibility
Aragorn could hear Eldarion screaming down the hallway.
At first it was Legolas who had led them to the source of evil the elf claimed to have invaded the palace but when that guidance brought them into the wing reserved for himself and his queen, it was Aragorn who found himself running ahead of the others. His son’s plaintive cry tore through his ears and though by this time, the palace staff had appeared in the corridor to attend him, Aragorn’s primary concern was why Arwen had not answered their son’s call first. The answer to that questioned for her absence hastened the king’s pace to reach the nursery, particularly in light of this terrible evil that Legolas claimed was now lose within the walls of his castle.
He arrived the doorway just as one of the maids was about to enter and she wisely stepped aside when she saw her king and his companions approaching with some urgency in their faces. Aragorn’s barely registered her presence, his only thought to ensure that his family was safe, starting with his son. He crossed the floor in a number of long strides and arrived at Eldarion’s crib to see the child crying very loudly, his small body quivering while his face was red and wet from the tears that were his only means of expressing his distress.
"Find Arwen!" Aragorn ordered Legolas and the others as he attended his son.
The Prince of Mirkwood nodded briefly and swept into the adjoining rooms in search of the Queen, with Faramir and Pallando following close behind.
Aragorn wasted no time in spiriting Eldarion from his crib, holding his son in the manner that was becoming second nature to him after a week of practice. Aragorn held the little prince close to his body, allowing Eldarion to feel the beat of his heart as he cradled the child in his arms, soothing the infant with warmth and security. After a few seconds, Eldarion’s crying slowed and the child, though still unhappy was nowhere as displeased as he had been. Once his son had settled down, Aragorn hurried after the others, Eldarion still in his arms. At the moment, the situation was still too uncertain for Aragorn to trust letting the infant out of his sight.
"ARAGORN!" Legolas fairly screamed and the panic in the elf’s voice made the king break into a run, not at all an easy feat when he was carrying a week old child in his arms. However, Legolas’ cry told him that the situation was dire for Aragorn knew of nothing that could shatter Legolas' calm so completely. He ran through rooms, past the bedchamber and into the parlor where he and Arwen entertained their friends in less formal occasions. The parlor emptied into a terrace beyond which was the king’s private gardens.
Aragorn stepped out into the paved area and slowed immediately, his eyes taking in the scene that had driven Legolas to such a state of panic. Melia was lying at the foot of the wall, there was blood smeared across her face and some of it had stained her lips. Legolas was at her side trying to rouse her but she was unmoving. Further into the gardens, Faramir had found Eowyn who was in a similar state. The Lady of Ithilien was lying on her side and when Faramir turned her over, the unusual angle of her arm indicated that she had broken it. The side of her face was purple and bruised and she was similarly unconscious.
It was not lost upon him that Arwen was absent, however, Aragorn shunted the thought aside for the moment. There were more immediate concerns he had to tend to first before going in search of his wife, he saw the maid that had been at the door when he had entered the nursery, standing by the parlor doors to see if she could aid in any way.
"Sire," she asked nervously, "what is the matter?"
"Take the Prince," Aragorn crossed the floor to her and handed the infant to her. "See him settled in his bed, then I want you to gather a dozen guards to protect him and summon the royal physician, we have injured."
She nodded quickly and hurried away to the nursery with Eldarion while Aragorn hurried to the terrace again. He went first to Legolas because it appeared that Pallando was helping Faramir with Eowyn who did not seem as injured as Melia.
"Her breath is labored," Legolas stared at the king anxiously when Aragorn kneeled down next to them.
The prince knew a little about healing but his skill was mostly in the hunt, not in the healing. What he did know of the art was more for the treatment of his own kind, not a human though the physiologically they were almost identical in the flesh with subtle differences that had more to do with their spiritual creation then their physical one. Aragorn on the other hand, knew a great deal about healing and while he was no surgeon which was what he suspected Melia needed from the look of her, his skill could lend themselves considerably to her survival.
Aragorn immediately examined the unconscious Ranger. It was no wonder that Legolas was so frightened, something had slammed Melia into the wall with enough strength to dislocate her jaw, break several ribs, one of which he suspected had done damage to the organs it encased and fracture her hip bone where it had met stone. There was blood in her hair and Aragorn’s exploratory probe indicate that her skull had been split open with a nasty gash, explaining why she was still unconscious. However, it was the hoarse breathing that concerned him the most and was good reason for Legolas to fear.
"Is she going to die?" The elf asked, searching Aragorn’s face for any indication of hope against such a terrible outcome. He had resigned himself to the knowledge that marrying a mortal meant that someday he would lose her but he did not know if he could endure it if she died when they had been husband and wife for but a mere splinter of time.
"Not if she is helped immediately," Aragorn replied honestly, glad that he had the maid send for the surgeon when he did because Melia could not afford wait for very long. "I think when she broke her ribs, one of them speared her lung. That is why she bleeds at the mouth, her breathing passages are filling with blood."
"You mean she drowns in her own fluid?" Legolas’ stared at him in horror and then turned to the woman he loved.
"Yes," Aragorn nodded and was glad to see Nicos, the royal physician, hurrying into the parlor, a number of guards with him. Any more detail and it would only heightened Legolas’ panic. He was grateful that the Nicos’ arrival spared him from answering any more of Legolas’ questions.
"She bleeds inside Nicos," Aragorn informed the physician as soon as the Gondorian healer reached them. Nicos had attended Arwen throughout her pregnancy, having studied elvish medicine during his youth in Rivendell. When a patient was under his care, Nicos guarded them with the ferocity of a bear protecting its cubs and that was a sentiment that Aragorn, a healer in his own right, could appreciate. There was no one else in the whole of Gondor that Aragorn would have trusted with his wife’s health and now with the life of his best friend’s wife. "I believe that one of her broken ribs has impaled her lung."
"Then she must be tended immediately. You there," the slightly heavy and bearded healer looked at the guards with him. "Take the Lady Melia immediately to the House of Healing. She must be tended to with haste."
The guards wasted no time in carrying out the physician’s order, brushing past Nicos and Aragorn. Legolas was gently shunted aside as the guards lifted Melia from the ground where she lay. The elf Legolas was reluctant to let anyone take Melia out of his sight when she was in such a state but he knew that his friend would never let any harm befall her. He trusted Aragorn to know what was best for Melia and stepped aside to allow his wife to fall under the ministrations of the royal physician as he sent her to the House of Healing.
"I will go with her," Legolas said when they had carried Melia through the doors of the parlor.
"Stay for the moment," Aragorn placed a gentle hand upon his shoulder. "Let them do their best for her. If you go, you would only hinder their efforts. I know that you wish badly to be with her but you must desist, at least for a little while to let Nicos do his work."
Aragorn could see Legolas was torn between doing what was best for Melia and being at her side. The elf had been alive for three thousand years but it was the first time he had ever been in love with any woman enough to marry one. For once Legolas was faced with a situation that his long life had not prepared him for and though he had faced much in his time, he was not prepared for the possibility of losing her so soon after she had entered his heart. If any experience could ever ready a person for that kind of loss.
However, Legolas was if anything, highly resilient and he swallowed thickly after Aragorn had made his entreaty, realizing that he was probably of more use to everyone, if he remained where he was and helped to piece together what happened here. Legolas also remembered that Arwen was yet to be accounted for and knew that Aragorn himself was in grips of fear he would not reveal to anyone, because as king, he needed to remain strong and focussed. The elf did not envy him in that regard.
In the meantime, Aragorn had already made his way across the terrace to reach Faramir and Pallando. The wizard had enough skill to see Eowyn regaining consciousness a little. The Lord of Ithilien held his lady in his arms gently, carefully minding her broken arm as Pallando crushed some herbs in his mouth before placing the wet mulch against the gash on Eowyn’s forehead. Aragorn knew the procedure himself, having done it during the numerous times in his life when he had been confronted by injury. Athelas had soothing properties and it would lessen Eowyn’s discomfort until they had her moved to the House of Healing.
"How is she?" Aragorn asked as he and Legolas reached them.
"She has a broken arm and a nasty cut," Pallando answered. "However, she will recover."
"Eowyn," Faramir beseeched his wife as her eyes fluttered. "Speak to me lady, what happened here?"
That was a question that preyed heavily upon all their minds. The evil that Legolas had sensed was drawing away from them even if the repercussions of its presence were all around them. Arwen’s fate was the question of the hour and as Eowyn began to surface from her mental limbo, the elf could see Aragorn’s form tense with anticipation of answers regarding what kind of evil had the audacity to breach the king’s castle and steal his queen from right under his nose. The effrontery of it alone was enough to earn Aragorn’s utmost displeasure but stealing away Arwen was a provocation from which there would be no turning back.
Eowyn’s head was spinning but her memories returned soon enough, particularly the one immediately preceding her blackout and the urgency of the situation returned to her with full force and hastened her return to clarity. She suddenly tensed in Faramir’s arms and immediately heard his voice telling her that everything was all right, that she needed to take care for she was hurt. She could not deny him that point since the side of her body seemed to be experiencing intense pains, in particular her arm.
"Arwen," she managed to say. "That thing wanted Arwen."
"What thing?" Aragorn demanded, finding his voice upon hearing that revelation. "What thing wanted Arwen?"
"I do not know," Eowyn replied, "it went through Melia and I as if we were not there, interested only in Arwen."
"Did it harm her?" Aragorn asked softly, not knowing whether or not he wished to hear her answer. Seeing Melia and Eowyn’s injuries had inspired Aragorn’s utmost fear regarding Arwen’s condition. He did not want to think what the enemy would do to his wife if it had managed to sustain this level of hurt to two of the most formidable women he knew.
"I did not remain conscious long enough to see it do so but the creature was not alone," Eowyn replied softly as she fought to clarify the vague voice she had heard seconds before she had lapsed completely into her dark sleep. "Someone else was with the beast, a man perhaps. He said that I had his sword."
"His sword?" Faramir exclaimed puzzled. "We speak of your sword, the one that came from Turin?"
"He did not call it that," she groaned as she shifted position in her arms and found that this was not the best idea for it sent stabs of pain through her. "He called in Angachel. He said he made it for Thingol."
"Thingol of Doriath?" Legolas exclaimed, knowing the legends of the First Age and the elf lord who married Melian. "The sword carried by Thingol was made by Eol, the dark Elf."
"The dark elf?" Aragorn stared at him, never hearing of this tale before but then there were thousands of stories in elvish lore.
"It was said that he preferred the dark woods of Nan Elmoth instead of Doriath," Legolas explained, knowing this story well for Thranduil used to entertain him with the great legends of the past when he was still a child. Still, Legolas did not know whether this tale could be considered a great legend rather than a dark shadow of the past. "He might even have been kinsman to Celeborn. The Lord of East Lorien hails form Doriath. In any case, he was supposed to have been killed after murdering his wife Aredhel whom he had married by ensnaring. After she bore him a son, mother and son fled to the Hidden City of Gondolin where Eol followed. Once finding his way there, he was refused permission to leave so he chose death rather than to remain. He had intended on taking his son with him but unfortunately the poison he used as the instrument of death, killed his wife."
"Turgon existed in the First Age!" Aragorn pointed out, his mind unable to accept that this could be the same elf. "This cannot be him surely."
"The sword of Turin was fashioned by no other," Pallando declared, knowing the history of Eol as well. "He was a great swordsman and something of a sorcerer."
"Aragorn is correct, we cannot be speaking of the same Eol," Legolas added his skepticism to the whole notion. Even if he did fashion the sword of Turn, Eol was cast down from Caragdûr. He was killed."
"Was he?" Pallando stared at them in question. "A sorcerer enough to ensnare Aredhel may have more power at his disposal then we know. I say we do not discount the possibility out of hand, not until we have more evidence."
Aragorn was more interested in facts then he was in conjecture since the former would be imperative if they were to retrieve Arwen. However, Eowyn had spoken of two abductors, not merely this being who may or may not be Eol. "What about the beast? The one that did this to both of you."
"I do not know what he was but Arwen sensed it coming just before we saw it," Eowyn replied, her strength starting to wane. "It was terrible. It was big, almost the size of a troll and yet it did not possess the ungainliness of such a creature. Its movements were stealthy, like it was accustomed to hunting prey. It had dark skin and face with tusks like a boar. It cast Melia aside with one swipe of its arm. If it had been any more forceful, it would have killed her."
Aragorn’s saw Legolas’ face tense with anger because the beast had very well near succeeded to that end but he listened as Eowyn continued her narration.
"When it hurt Melia, I took a blade to it. I swore I gave it a cut to remember but it looked at the wound as if it were nothing and even seemed amused that I drew its blood. I doubt it even saw me as a threat," Eowyn whispered, angered by her ineffectiveness for her defeat left a bitter taste in her mouth.
"What manner of creature is this?" Legolas asked for he had never heard anything of a beast like this.
"Whatever it is can wait," Faramir said slipping his arms under Eowyn’s body. "Do not speak further my love, you have given the king enough for the moment."
"I will live," Eowyn replied bravely as was in her nature to do so. Her courage despite her obvious pain only succeeded in engendering her husband’s affection for her to a greater heights and made him more determined to see her treated.
"You will live lady," Aragorn replied, brushing a hand across her cheek. "But I would see you in the House of Healing nevertheless, to hasten your recovery. Faramir, take your wife there and join us when you can. Legolas, if you wish to do the same for Melia, you may go though I think you should wait a little and allow Nicos to do what he can for your lady."
Legolas considered Aragorn’s offer briefly. He did wish to go to Melia’s side but Aragorn was right, Nicos needed to treat her injuries without his standing watch and he preferred his mind occupied while waiting to hear the outcome of his ministrations upon Melia. Waiting around to hear would only drive him to fret; it was best if he distracted himself by focussing his attention on aiding Aragorn with his search for the Evenstar.
"I will remain here for with you for the moment," Legolas answered. "If this beast took her, we will need to begin our search quickly, before it is allowed to gain too much ground."
"Thank you," Aragorn said gratefully, squeezing the elf’s shoulder to express his feelings.
"I will return soon," Faramir replied before hurrying away with Eowyn in his arms.
After he had gone, Aragorn turned his attention to finding Arwen. All three spread out across the garden, going in separate directions to seek out tracks of any kind. Aragorn was reluctant to call his guard to aid him in this duty for they were not the trackers that he and Legolas were. Wizards had their own power and Aragorn was certain that if there were any sign of Arwen to find, one of them would locate it. Besides, calling out his guard to join the search may result in them unknowingly treading over vital tracks that might give him some idea of which road Arwen’s abductors had taken.
However, almost as soon as he began the hunt, he found that there was very little to find. Other than the immediate vicinity where they had found Melia and Eowyn in their unfortunate state, Aragorn saw no sign of tracks of those who had borne his wife away. The riddle in the grass was perplexing and he had not seen the like since the time when he, Legolas and Gimli had pursued Merry and Pippin across Rohan only to find that all signs of them had disappeared in Fangborn. Aragorn was certain that no Ent named Treebeard was responsible for Arwen’s disappearance but the lack of tracks was troubling because he had no idea where to continue his search.
He did not know how long he had scoured the gardens, trying to find some clue as to what route his wife had been taken when she was stolen from her home and her son. Aragorn tried not to let his fear for her safety cloud his judgement but it was difficult to remain so resolved when the subject was Arwen. When it came to the welfare his beloved Undomiel, he would never be quite so assured. She was the one thing that was able to penetrate the steel he had layered over his heart to be the man that destiny demanded and the notion that she could be lost to him was more than he could endure. Aragorn forced himself to crush the thought mercilessly for if he were to succumb to it; he would be of no use to her.
She would be in no position to fight her attacker, he thought as he finally exhausted all avenues of his search and was given little choice but to return to the terrace, in hopes that Legolas and the Istar had fared better in their efforts. She was still weak from birthing Eldarion and it worried him that this ordeal might tax her strength more than it should and do her serious harm. He was not lost to how much childbirth had effected her. Elves and children were things he had little experience with because elves had so few offspring. Perhaps it was the price of being so long lived that their ability to procreate was curtailed to ensure some balance in nature. Arwen was certainly weakened by the experience, even more so than most Gondorian women were. He hoped that whatever was happening to her would not make her exhaustion worse.
"This is most strange," Legolas declared upon seeing Aragorn returned, wearing a troubled expression on his face. "I could find no tracks, nothing that tells us where the Evenstar was taken."
"I am afraid that I have the same to report," Pallando confessed, "but there is sorcery afoot here, a very old kind."
"You think its Eol," Aragorn stared at the wizard, wishing he could understand what a supposedly dead elf wanted with his wife.
"I can tell you that I sense evil magic entwined in this and that the enemy has taken great care to hide where he is going to avoid any pursuit," Pallando explained. "He seeks to gain time before you pursue him."
"If he has an agent so powerful that he could simply swat the lady Eowyn and Melia aside like insects, why would he fear us finding him?" Legolas asked.
"I do not know," Aragorn shook his head. "He took Arwen but makes no effort to state his terms. If it is a ransom, then why does he not make his intentions known? If it was to harm my rule, why leave Eldarion? A queen is valuable only to her king and in the wake of her loss, she can be replaced. The heir to the kingdom is not. I do not understand the reasoning behind this. Eldarion was unprotected and yet he was not taken."
"Perhaps it was not to harm your rule or for a ransom," Pallando offered. "Perhaps it has little to do with you and everything to do with your wife."
"What do you mean?" Aragorn stared sharply at the Istar, not liking the direction of this discussion.
"I am told she is a great beauty," the wizard offered gently. "Perhaps what the abductor seeks is closer to the heart than it is to the pocket or to ambition. In the First Age, Eol acquired his wife Aredhel by ensnaring her when she dared to wander from the safety of the Hidden City. He took her by force and made her bear him a son. If this is indeed Eol that has taken your lady, then it is a pattern of behavior that is familiar to him for he is in the habit of stealing away women."
The implication of Arwen’s fate in light of Pallando’s revelation caused such a well of black fury inside the King of the Reunified Kingdom that for an instant he did not speak. A storm seemed to pass over his brow and settled into his eyes for the duration. His jaw set and he raised his chin slightly, his breath short and only Legolas, who knew him well, was aware of how much restraint he had placed over his emotions. It was many minutes before Aragorn spoke again and when he did, his voice was slow and smoldering with flame.
"I do not know if it is truly Eol who has taken Arwen but if he lays one hand upon her or dishonors her in any way, there will be no corner of this earth that he can hide where I will not find him."
Aragorn would not allow Arwen to be abused, as was her mother Celebrian. He had lived in the House of Elrond long enough to learn the terrible ordeal that the lady had befallen when she was captured and despoiled by Orcs. Though no one spoke the word rape, it was implied in every narration of the event he had heard and certainly no one dared say it in front of Elrond. Aragorn did not know what force had captured Arwen but he would not let her suffer such horror because she would surely not survive it. Her body was weak and still mending from bringing Eldarion into the world. The injury she would sustain if violated could very well be fatal.
"We will not let that happen," Legolas said knowing what dark thoughts were running through his mind. "We will find her. All of us."
Legolas spoke as if he knew something Aragorn did not and he turned his gaze towards the direction of the castle walls in time to reveal the arrival of a familiar face. Gimli appeared through the parlor doors onto the paved terrace immediately preceding the gardens where they were assembled. The dwarf paused briefly at the sight of blood on the stone floor but his bearded face did not hide his grave expression as he continued towards his friends.
"News reached me at the gates that there was trouble at the palace," Gimli announced. Although the main gates had been constructed leading to the White City, there was still much work needed to be undertaken before the mithrail structure could be truly considered completed and Gimli had remained in Minas Tirith to supervise.
"Arwen was taken," Legolas answered sparing Aragorn the trouble.
"Taken?" Gimli’s eyes widened. "How does that happen? This is the palace of the king, one does not simply walk through the soldiers and the walls surrounding this place and steal the queen."
"It happened here," Pallando muttered under his breath.
"And who is this?" Gimli asked, waiting for an answer from either Legolas or Aragorn as he kept Pallando locked under a merciless gaze of deep scrutiny.
"This is Pallando," Legolas answered tautly, in no mood for Gimli’s natural caustic manner. "He is the Istar I told you about. This, Pallando, is Master Gimli, one of the Fellowship and great practitioner of that mystery known as diplomacy."
"So you are the wizard," Gimli remarked, giving Legolas a look. "It is good to finally meet you. Legolas and Melia has told us much about your adventures in the north, speaking of which where is your better half?"
Legolas’ expression dropped slightly and Gimli realized that the bad tidings had yet to end, even with Arwen’s kidnapping.
"Melia was hurt badly," Pallando explained for Legolas whose expression grew strained for he was now forced to remember that his wife like Aragorn’s was also in danger. "She and the Lady of Ithilien attempted to battle Arwen’s abductors, but they were overcome. Melia and Eowyn now lay in the House of Healing. Melia lives but not before the enemy saw to it that she almost did not. The Lady Eowyn fares a little better and was able to give us some accurate intelligence."
"Your wife is strong Master Elf," Gimli said firmly, forcing Legolas to look him in the eyes. "She is almost as hardy as a dwarf. She will endure just to ensure that your life does not pass without her to vex it."
"I hope you are right," Legolas found himself saying and was filled with a great need to see his wife. Earlier on he had been compelled by friendship and a need to do something else other than wait for news of her welfare in the House of Healing, however, the desire to see her had become overwhelming. Since they were at something of a momentary stalemate in regards to what they ought to do, Legolas decided that he would go seek out Melia.
"Aragorn, I would take leave of you briefly. I must see how Melia fares," Legolas looked to the king.
Aragorn whose heart was growing heavier with fear at Arwen’s absence could not begrudge the elf that desire. "Go," he said gently. "If our situation alters, I will send for you. For now, see Melia and give her our regards if she is in presence of mind to hear it."
Legolas nodded and hurried away, leaving the others behind. Once he was gone, Aragorn let out a heavy sigh. He had not wanted Legolas to see just how fearful he was for Arwen because the elf’s devotion would not have allowed him to leave the man’s side and Aragorn knew that the Lord of Eden Ardhon wanted badly to see his wife. However, now that Legolas was gone, the full torrent of his anguish showed in his face.
"I do not know where to search," Aragorn confessed finally. "She has been taken and I do not know where to begin. The enemy has spirited away leaving no clues as to where she has gone and each moment I linger here, trying to discern where she has been taken, is another moment she draws closer to peril I dare not imagine."
"I know it seems bleak now," Pallando found himself speaking, determined not to see the terrible worry in the king’s eyes become anguish if the worst was to happen to his beloved queen. "But you must not give up hope. We will do what we can and we will find her. The enemy is not so elusive that he can hide forever the jewel that is your Evenstar."
Aragorn wished dearly that he could believe Pallando’s words but he loved Arwen too much to be able to see anything good in a situation that had her separated from him. The king left his two companions without saying a word and stepped into the palace walls once more. They did not stop him because they knew his pain and felt he deserved his solitude in enduring it. Aragorn moved through the rooms he and Arwen occupied, forcing thoughts of their happy life as man and wife away from his mind as he passed through them. His destination came soon enough and he found himself in the nursery, where Eldarion lay in his crib.
For once, the infant was not sleeping. Eldarion lay in his crib, quiet but very much awake. He saw his father’s approach and though he did not know Aragorn as his father, had learnt that this was a presence from which comfort and warmth often came. His small heart quickened at the sensation of being lifted and held against his father’s chest. He did not understand love or any of the emotions that would make him so much his father’s son but he recognized the warm beating of the heart that held him.
Aragorn held his son small body in his large hands, drawing strength from the small life that relied upon him to keep it safe. The king blinked slowly, thinking about the wife who was not here and coming to the firm conclusion that if she was lost, then this child was all he would truly have of her. He was not ready to accept that.
"I promise you I will bring her home Eldarion," Aragorn whispered softly, aware that the words spoken were more for his comfort than the infant who did not understand anything he said, "I will bring her home for both of us."
Minas Tirith should have been silent but by the time the sun set in the horizon, the city was no way descending into slumber. Throughout the White City, the search that Aragorn, Legolas and Pallando inspired in the gardens had now spread through the rest of Minas Tirith, with soldiers and local sheriffs taking part in the effort to find some clue as to where Arwen had been taken. The Queen of Gondor had been stolen right out of their city and for its people, there was no greater slight, for they loved their king and it was well known how much he adored his queen.
It was not to say that Minas Tirith was not similarly disposed towards Queen Arwen for since her arrival in the White City, she had been seen frequently among the people. While her husband’s thoughts were fixed upon the security of the Reunified Kingdom, Arwen’s attention had been placed upon the welfare of those who often did not have a voice in the community, women and children. She was a champion of causes and undertook many programs to ensure that life was improved in the wake of the terrible wars that had been fought. She was well loved by her people and the search that resulted as consequence of her disappearance was a reflection of this.
Aragorn remained in his throne room, listening to the sporadic reports that reached him from time to time, telling him that the search continued but nothing so far had been found of the queen or her abductors. While he had allowed the search to expand beyond the boundaries of the castle, Aragorn had more or less anticipated that nothing would be found. An enemy that would leave no tracks in his departure would not do the same in the city. Without being able to say for certain how he knew with such absolute belief, Aragorn knew that Arwen was no longer in Minas Tirith. She and her abductor were well away form here now.
Legolas had joined him a short while ago, after leaving the House of Healing with good news regarding Melia’s welfare. It would be a good while before she was on her feet again but Nicos had assured the Lord of Eden Ardhon that his wife would recover and that accounted for the light steps that Legolas took when entering Aragorn’s presence again. Faramir had also joined his king though he was unhappy that Eowyn was determined to leave her bed and follow him. Her arm had been placed in a sling and though she appeared slightly less than she normally was, she was nonetheless determined to take some part in the proceedings to find Arwen. Considering that she was the only one present when the abductors had come for the queen, Aragorn could not find it in his heart to deny that desire.
Gimli and Pallando had not left his side and while Gimli’s companionship was always welcomed, since the days of the Fellowship, Aragorn was surprised to find how comforting Pallando could be. He was not unlike Gandalf in some ways and yet very different in others. He did not appear to have all the answers as Gandalf often did and sometimes, conundrums appeared to affect him as much as the others. Aragorn thought that made him more approachable for wizards sometimes intimidated those who came across them. He did not doubt that if properly inspired Pallando could probably remind those who would took him for granted that he was a Maiar spirit. For most part, however, Pallando played the part of the benign old man.
The mood in the room was somber as Eowyn recounted with more clarity what had taken place when Arwen, Melia and her were beset upon by the mysterious beast and its master. Eowyn’s words were devoid of its usual flippancy and its sober tone told those in the room just how much she was shaken by what had happened. She spoke about the beast in hushed tones, calling it a monstrous creature in the mold of trolls but seemed far more sinister. Legolas listened to her clearly disturbed; Aragorn noticed and wondered what suspicion the elf had regarding the identity of the beast that was so terrible, he did not wish to confess it to anyone.
"I am sorry we were unable to stop them," Eowyn concluded her narration somberly as she sat on a chair with Faramir at her side, holding her uninjured hand.
"You fought bravely Eowyn," Aragorn said gently, knowing full well that she did because of the injuries sustained. "You and Melia have my gratitude for what you tried to do but the enemy rallied against you was too much even for women as formidable as you."
"Melia did not even make a move towards it," Eowyn replied, her jaw clenching with anger as she spoke through gritted teeth. "All she did was to get Arwen moving to safety and the beast swatted her aside as if she were nothing."
Legolas said nothing but Aragorn could see the fire burning within the elf lord’s eyes and knew that he was seething with unspoken fury. If Aragorn had found his wife in the state that Legolas had seen Melia when they had first entered the garden, he would be feeling the same fury that the elf did now. However, Aragorn had his own hate to nurture and would continue to do so until Arwen was found again.
Suddenly a herald stepped cautiously through the doorway of the throne room, reluctant to interrupt the king when his heart was so heavy. Aragorn knew his name as Darven and his eyes followed the man as he walked along the red carpet to the foot of the throne before bowing to Aragorn as was expected of one who was before his king.
"What news do you bring Darven?" Aragorn asked refusing to believe it could be good new, not when the man’s expression was devoid of any such hope.
"My lord, I am sorry to trouble you but the Queen’s kinsmen and his companion have arrived from East Lorien, they are determined to see you immediately on a matter of urgency."
Aragorn looked up immediately, his eyes exchanging a quick glance with those present. What fresh trouble was this? He wondered whom it was that had come to see him. Elladan he knew was travelling to Imladris having seen him some weeks ago when he passed through Minas Tirith during the journey westward. Could it be Celeborn? Had the Lord of East Lorien chosen to make a pilgrimage to Minas Tirith? Aragorn groaned inwardly for his timing could not be any worse. The king did not wish to tell her grandfather that Arwen had been stolen away from under the nose of her husband, from her very garden.
"Send them in immediately," he ordered.
"Could they have heard so soon?" Faramir asked once Darven had departed.
"It is not possible," Aragorn dismissed that possibility immediately, since he had considered it himself. "It must be coincidence."
"Too much of a coincidence," Gimli rumbled.
"I must agree with the dwarf," Pallando remarked. "There is something in this that tells me we are only seeing but the first act of larger drama."
"I did not think Celeborn could be convinced to leave East Lorien," Legolas remarked. "He is not one for travelling."
However, it soon appeared that Legolas was correct in his assertion regarding Celeborn for when the visitors entered the room it was not the Lord of East Lorien as they had thought but rather Elladan, Arwen’s older brother. With him was none other than Haldir. Both of them wore grave expressions and swept into the room like an ill wind.
"Elladan!" Aragorn exclaimed, unseating himself from his throne and striding towards the Prince of Imladris. "What are you doing here? I thought you were last on your way west?"
As Aragorn approached Elladan, he noted that healing bruises marked the prince’s fair skin. Elladan’s eyes were as hard and stone and beside him; Haldir appeared to be a carved image of marble, saying nothing. There was purpose emanating from them in powerful waves because there was none of the familiarity between himself and Elladan as the elf prince regarded him. Something had happened to him, Aragorn concluded.
"Is it true?" Elladan demanded in his opening words to the king. "Has my sister been stolen out of her home, a week after she provided your kingdom with an heir?"
"Yes," Aragorn nodded slowly. "This afternoon."
"Do the race of men know anything about guarding royalty?" Haldir asked harshly.
"Mind your words elf," Faramir spoke immediately, "you speak to the King of Gondor. Respect is due."
"I speak to the husband of the Evenstar," Haldir retorted. "Who let his wife be stolen from him like a sack of rice."
"Silence Haldir!" Elladan barked suddenly, "you speak of my kinsmen. How did this happen?"
"There were two of them," Legolas explained as Aragorn turned away, unable to recount the tale once more. "One was a beast of terrible evil, I felt its presence the moment it approached. Its like was nothing I have felt before; my heart was struck cold by the threat of it. It breached the castle walls with no one even seeing it and it took Arwen but not before harming the lady Eowyn and almost killing my wife."
"Melia is harmed?" Haldir spoke up immediately.
The march warden and captain of Celeborn’s guard had met Melia during her journey through East Lorien with Legolas some months before. Although Haldir seldom had much patience with humans, he and Melia had struck up something of a friendship much to Legolas’ chagrin who knew Haldir’s reputation with women and did not like his regard towards someone the prince cared for so deeply.
"Enough to ensure that she will be recovering for a good while," Legolas replied, trying to curb his jealousy at Haldir’s interest and remembering that Melia considered him a friend.
Elladan did not speak for an instant but when Aragorn met his gaze, he saw that there was recognition in the eleven prince’s eyes as if what was said did not surprise him as much as it ought to.
"You know something," Aragorn declared almost accusing him. "You know something about this beast?"
"I may," Elladan nodded. "If it is the same creature. What did it look like?"
"Like darkness itself," Eowyn spoke since she was the only present qualified to answer his question. "Its skin was dark and its body big, bigger than Olog Hai, he was almost a cave troll but he was not ungainly, there was grace in his movements, a fluidity belonging to something that is accustomed to moving about in the shadows unseen. It carried a great sword and his legs were not like that of men but of a beast, a wolf perhaps. He stared at us with yellow eyes, like that belonging to a rabid animal and there were tusks coming out of his mouth, like a boar’s."
"Then it is the Hunter as Celeborn guessed," Haldir nodded.
Legolas turned pale where he stood, "the Hunter?"
"Yes," Elladan nodded. "I thought he was myth but he was not."
"He killed my brother," Haldir said bitterly, barely able to restrain his fury at the loss of his younger sibling, struck down so cruelly before he could reach the refuge that had spared Elladan’s life.
"Orophin is dead?" Legolas exclaimed, feeling his heart grow even heavier from this news. When the colony of elves had passed through Lorien on their way to Minas Tirith, Orophin who was inspired by the notion of seeing new lands asked to join the caravan and Legolas was only too happy to have the experience of a march warden in his new colony. During the course of their travels to South Ithilien, Orophin had become a friend and Legolas grieved his loss acutely.
"Killed by the Hunter before we reached the Golden Wood," Elladan said softly, the image of Orophin’s last moment’s burned into his memory.
"What is this Hunter?" Gimli demanded at last.
"A creature from the Ancient Times," Pallando spoke, best able to answer this question for the elves were so terrified even in the day when the Hunter had done its worst among them that they had shunted almost all memory of him into the deepest, darkest corners of their psyche. What they remembered of him was only the fear and the ability to recognize its approach.
"Like a Balrog?" Faramir asked, having studied the legends somewhat closely in his scholarly pursuits.
"No," Pallando shook his head. "The Hunter precedes the Balrog or the dragons or any of the foul creatures that Melkor created in pits of Angband. He was the first dark thing that Melkor had formed, a being whose only purpose was to serve his master. When Varda, the Lady of the Heavens illuminated the skies of Middle earth with starlight and brought into being the Quendi at the Mere of Cuivienen, the Hunter was there waiting for them. It was he who brought a handful of the newborn elves to the Dark Enemy Melkor, who tortured and mutilated them until they were turned into Orcs."
"Sweet Eru," Legolas whispered. "I had hoped I was wrong, that there was some other explanation but how could this be? We speak of a being who existed twenty thousand years ago, how could he still exist?"
"If a Balrog can survive in Moria then why cannot this dark creature?" Aragorn asked softly, feeling as if there was not enough air in the room. The thought that Arwen was in the hands of such a beast was beyond his ability to comprehend. If he had been frightened before, he was almost reduced to a state of panic because of what he now knew about her captor.
"Aragorn is right," Gimli replied. "But how do you know that this is that Hunter?" He asked Elladan. "None of you has ever seen it before."
"It pursued Orophin and I across Middle earth," Elladan replied. "It knew all our craft, we moved with such stealth that no one would have been able to track and yet it found us, every single instance. I know it is the Hunter for it told me. It spoke of our kind having more spine then he remembered and how we screamed when we were brought to his master."
"Where has he been then?" Eowyn asked. "If this thing is as terrible as you say, where has it been since the First Age?"
"I do not know," Pallando spoke up. "This entire situation is all about impossibility. The Hunter disappeared in the First Age for I knew he did not take part in the War of the Wrath. Melkor had other agents at his side, Glaurung, the drakes and the Balrogs. The Hunter was never again mentioned."
"He was not alone," Aragorn reminded. "The Hunter came here with someone else, an elf."
"He has a master," Elladan spoke. "He told us as much but he did not say who. I find it hard to believe that an elf could be his master."
"His master claimed that he fashioned the sword of Turin," Aragorn replied. "If it was truly this Hunter who pursued you and abducted Arwen then there cannot be any doubt that the one we seek is Eol, this dark elf Legolas and Pallando speak of. For if the Hunter is here in our time, then we must concede that Eol can be as well."
"This is very strange," Gimli stared at them. "We have been through great upheavals in the past years. The foundations of Middle earth itself has been shaken by war, where have these two been hiding that we did not know of their existence and why emerge now? We have been more vulnerable then we are now."
"That is not all Aragorn," Elladan interjected. "The reason that the Hunter pursued us across the land was not due to any violence but a planned design."
"What do you mean?" Aragorn demanded, wondering if the situation could deteriorate any further. What new devilry was Elladan about to reveal? "What design do you speak of?"
"Imladris," Elladan answered. "I cannot find it."
"Excuse me?" The king declared in puzzlement. "What do you mean you cannot find it?"
"That is what I am trying to explain," Elladan said quickly. "As you recall when we last beheld each other, I was bound for Imladris with Orophin. We journeyed across the land without incident but as we near the valley where my father’s city awaits, the paths that I knew to take me home led me away from it instead of near. We spent two days trying to find our way through this strange barrier but we could not, if it were not for the appearance of the Hunter, we would still be attempting to reach it. When he chased us, the Hunter ensured that we could not find refuge in any settlement. He forced us away when we sought shelter. He ran us down as if he were game Aragorn! He ran us down until we were so weary we would have dropped from exhaustion."
"He did not wish anyone to know that he has taken Imladris," Faramir guessed. "He was trying to stop you both from reaching anyone to tell them your tale."
"Protecting his secret hiding place," Aragorn replied. "How did you escape?"
"We made for the Golden Wood," Elladan said softly, not looking at Haldir as he spoke. "I hoped that perhaps the Galadriel’s powers over her realm might have lingered enough to halt the Hunter’s relentless pursuit. We were almost finished, if we did not reach the wood it would not have mattered; we would not have been able to take another step. Orophin was behind me when I stepped into the wood, I turned and saw him. He was about to enter with me when the Hunter came."
"Must we relate the whole incident!" Haldir finally snapped, unable to endure hearing the conclusion of this tale. "The black beast killed my brother and left your kinsmen barely able to fend for himself. The Hunter claimed it had business elsewhere and now we know what that was. It was to come here and steal the Evenstar."
No one reproached Haldir’s discourtesy for they knew he was grieving over the loss of his brother and their hearts ached for his pain instead of hardening against him.
"Haldir and some of the elves of East Lorien were running an errand for Lord Celeborn when they found me," Elladan quietly resumed his tale. "As soon as I was strong enough and recovered from my trials, we made for Minas Tirith."
"So Eol has taken Imladris for himself," Pallando mused.
"It makes some sort of sense," Faramir remarked. "If he is indeed the same Eol that existed in the First Age and has chosen this time to make his appearance, he would most likely want a kingdom of his own. Imladris is the most well known of all the elven cities and since the departure of Elrond, not as populated. It would be easy if he was sufficiently powered by dark magic to take it."
"Then that is where we must go," Aragorn said firmly with a tone of voice that warned all those present that it would be ill advised to argue with him on this point.
"I will join your company if you will have me King," Pallando spoke up. "There is sorcery at work here and you may need my assistance."
"I do not think that we will be able to thwart this elf’s plans without you," Aragorn said grateful that Pallando had spared him asking for the wizard’s help, for he could think of no other way that they would penetrate Eol’s enchantment otherwise.
"I would go with you but I fear in my state, I am of little use to you," Eowyn sighed, wishing that she was able to ride with her husband to face this peril that awaited them in the city of Rivendell. However, she was realistic about her injuries and she would only hinder their progress reaching Arwen.
"You would have been of great value to us, my wife," Faramir gave her a warm look, glad for her understanding of the situation. "However I believe you are needed here to watch over Melia and Eldarion."
"Yes," Aragorn nodded, coming towards the Lady of Ithilien. "I trust my son into your hands lady, do not fail in keeping either of them safe. I place my faith in you."
Eowyn turned away from his gaze, never being able to endure Aragorn’s eyes for too long. Still in her heart was the affection she once held for him and though it was no longer love, she found herself still very susceptible to him. "I swear on my life that I will keep them safe."
Aragorn smiled faintly because he knew that he could not have trusted Eldarion to a more worthy guardian. "The rest of us," he swept his gaze at the faces around him. "We rest tonight. Tomorrow at first light, we ride for Imladris."
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.