4. Chapter Four: Illusions in the Dark
Illusions in the Dark
The first thought to form shape within Arwen’s mind when consciousness finally returned to her was the realisation that she was on a horse.
In her shock, she straightened immediately only to discover the warm arm draped around her waist previously beyond her notice had suddenly tightened its hold around her. The manner and intimacy in which she was held almost tricked her for an instant into believing that it was Estel holding her this way and that she had been found and they were returning home. However, when she looked over her shoulder at who held her, she knew that hope was nothing more than a flight of fancy for it was not Estel who had her in his grip but the stranger who had invaded her gardens and hurt her friends.
"Unhand me!" She demanded, attempting to squirm out of his grip to escape.
"Be still lady," he ordered smoothly, "I do not want you to fall."
"Let me go!" She struck him hard across the face and his shock at the attack allowed her enough leeway to break free of his grip and jump off the horse. Arwen landed in the soft dirt and found that she was on a rather unused path through a wood she did not recognize. Her feet were bare but she cared little of this as she began to run, determined to put enough distance between herself and her abductors before they recovered their senses to follow her. She ignored the pain in her abdomen as she left the trail into the flanking trees, hoping the forest would give her some protection against the criminals who had torn her from her home.
As adrenaline flooded her veins, more recollections return to her rapidly clearing mind. She was panting and not from the exertion when she remembered the blood she had seen coming from Melia’s lips when Arwen had reached her side during the attack. She looked almost dead. And Eowyn, that terrible beast had swept Eowyn aside like a brute would swipe at a small child. Please Eru, she prayed silently to herself, please let them be all right. However, her pleas did not reach Eru nor were they able to help her friends or herself when the creature that had waylaid them all, suddenly appeared before her.
Arwen froze in her tracks as she saw it standing before her, a look of amusement across its face at her terror upon seeing him. While her eyes were fixed upon him and the barrier of flesh he was before her, she heard the hooves of a horse approaching from behind and knew that her brief flight of freedom had ended. She let out an angry cry of frustration, feeling the fatigue in the body that was not yet fully healed from birthing Eldarion. Thoughts of her baby made her anguish deepen for she had remembered him crying before the darkness had claimed and she knew nothing until her awakening a short time ago.
"I like the spirited ones," the beast before said, his dark lips stretching across his face in a menacing smile. "They break so much better than the ones with no spine. When the first of you came out of the starlight, not many had spirit or spine. Your innocence was very tasty, I enjoyed feeding upon your kind them."
"What do you want from me?" Arwen cried out, unable to endure listening to his frightful words. There was something about how he spoke that removed any doubt from her mind that he was deceiving her. If he was that old, if he had seen the children of Iluvutar emerge from the first rays of Varda’s starlight across the heavens, then she knew who this beast was, though that knowledge only serve to deepen her fear of him
"I do not wish anything of you but my master does," he glanced over her shoulder and Arwen let out a heavy sigh as she followed his eyes and saw the rider dismount from the steed behind her.
He was the same elf that she had seen stride boldly into the garden, telling her that he was to be her knew lord and master just before he chanted some words that made her fall into a black sleep. There had been little time to observe him earlier but now there was nothing to do but study the enemy she had to escape if she ever wished to return to Estel and Eldarion again. As noted earlier, he was not much older than her father in physical appearance was but for elves, that was no gauge to discern one’s true age. His face was handsome but glacial and his eyes were terribly cold until he looked at her and then it seemed to warm like sunlight’s first emergence at dawn.
This disturbed Arwen more than anything else that had so far transpired.
"You are his master?" Arwen demanded, feeling her fury properly provoked now that it had focus. "What right do you have to take the Queen of Gondor from her husband and child."
"No right I suppose," he said quietly, "except that I love you and I believe you too good to be wasted on a mortal existence with a man who is beneath you."
"You are the only one is beneath me," Arwen hissed. "I demand that you return me home immediately!"
"I am taking you home," he replied, watching her fury as if it were the most magnificent sight in the world. "I am taking you to Imladris."
"Imladris?" Arwen stared at him in shock. The idea that this elf and that dark beast unleashed upon her father’s city sent shivers of fear through Arwen’s heart. "What have you to do with Imladris?"
"It is our home," he said in that maddeningly calm voice. "The place where we will establish our new kingdom."
"We will establish nothing together!" Arwen snapped. "I am already married and I have no wish for another! My husband will tear Middle earth apart in search of me, how dare you presume to take what is his!"
"How dare he presume to chain the loveliest flower in the world to the mundane existence of mortality. You should not be a star burned out in a short life span, you should live for all ages, a thing of beauty for one who can appreciate it until the end of time. You are an Eldar, Firstborn. You should not cover your skin with a man’s filth or be forced to carry his seed."
Arwen strode up to him and struck him across the face, her fury such that she did not care what the consequences were to her for that. The beast behind her sniggered and the elf before her stared at her audacity to strike him. His eyes flashed in anger as Arwen glared at him, unrepentant at her actions because no one spoke that way about her child.
"That seed is my son," she said in a voice full of white flame. "You will not speak of him in that manner. I do not know what delusion has caught your mind that makes you believe that simply tearing me away from my family will allow me to be yours but it is just that, a delusion. I will never be yours. I have bound myself in heart and soul to my king, he is the only man that I have ever loved and I will have him or I will have no other."
"You will not have him," the elf said dispassionately, as if none of the words she had spoken so vehemently registered with him. "Your life with him and your son are things of the past. You will be mine and I will love and cherish you for all time and if it required that I must kill the king to gain the love and understanding of his queen, then that I am more than willing to accomplish it."
"Better than you have tried and failed," Arwen replied bravely but inwardly, she was a little shaken by the threat to Estel’s life though she did not show her abductor that.
"It was likely that they never had so great a prize to win until now," he reached for her hair and she shrunk back instinctively, refusing to allow him such an intimate gesture.
"You will come to enjoy my attentions after a time," he smiled at her, not all discouraged by the revulsion he saw in her eyes. Aredhel had been the same when he had first snared her beyond safety of her city, in time the Evenstar would accept her situation and forget the husband and child left behind. After all, they had all the time in the world and the King and prince that she longed for so much would be spent in a century or so.
If anything Eol knew the virtue of patience.
Legolas knew he should be sleeping but he could not allow himself to rest when in a matter of hours, he would be leaving Minas Tirith for Imladris while his wife, lay injured in one of the many rooms within the House of Healing. It had been countless hours since she had fallen prey to a healer’s ministrations and though he had been assured by the royal physician that she would live, he could not be so certain when he looked upon her so battered and bruised. She slept still and he could hear her soft breathing, almost like that of a bird’s for her weakened state. It was the only sign that he could see that she was still alive.
The side of her face was swollen and thankfully, Nicos had explained that her jaw had not been broken as Aragorn thought but badly bruised where she had landed so forcefully against stone. Much of her was covered under the sheet but he knew what pains lay beneath it and wished he was heart was not so torn at having to leave her. Yet he knew his lady well and were she awake enough to speak, she would be rebuking him for even contemplating remaining with her when Aragorn and Arwen needed him so. It was with this knowledge that he knew his mind when the sun rose over the new day.
However, in the quiet hours of the present, that decision did not seem so simple.
The choice he had made to wed a mortal plagued him most during instances such as this, when his thoughts were laid bared and he could not hide from them. He loved her without thought or care as to what would happen when she was gone but there were moments, when the fear of her ending too soon like now, would reach up and shake the foundations of that self assuredness like a cave troll swinging a hammer against rock. He knew he was not prepared to lose her, no matter what he told himself. Seeing injured and bleeding had driven home how fragile she was in comparison to him, how easy it was for her life to be cut short before they even had a mortal life span together. He wondered how Arwen could stand it, knowing that she would most likely see Aragorn buried first before the choice she had made ended her mortality as well.
He brushed a strand of hair from her face and felt her stir a little at his touch. He retrieved his hand, not wishing to wake her for she had been through an ordeal and had no wish to deprive her of her rest even though her reaction to his touch had done a great deal for his fears regarding her recovery. His heart almost skipped a beat when her eyes fluttered open and she turned a dazed eye upon him.
"Prince," she whispered, her voice escaping her as little more than a croak.
"You should not speak," he said gently. "You are not well."
"You are the one who is unwell if you think you can silence me," she replied weakly after a pause, reminding him all over again, why he adored her so much. "Where am I?’
"You are in the House of Healing," he explained. "You were hurt."
"Well that accounts for why I feel as I do," she offered him a wry smile though it was not managed well with her swollen cheek. "It took Arwen, did it not?"
Legolas could not lie to her and so he nodded in response. "At first light, we ride to retrieve her."
Melia absorbed this and replied softly, "find her Prince. This beast that has hers is terrible indeed. I could not protect her but you and the others can."
"You fought well Mia," Legolas pressed a finger to her lips so she would not excite herself. He saw the wince of pain that crossed her lovely face when she did and would not see her cause herself any further discomfort. "We will not stop until we find her."
"Take care Prince," she reached for his cheek with her hand, possibly the only limb that did not ache and caressed his cheek. "I love you to much to endure knowing you have come to harm."
"I will ensure that no trouble befalls him lady," Haldir’s voice suddenly filled the room.
Legolas looked over his shoulder and saw the march warden of East Lorien standing at the door, watching the proceedings with an unfathomable expression on his face. Legolas stared at the elf wondering why he was here at this hour when Haldir, pre-empting his questions, spoke first.
"I did not mean to intrude, I could not sleep and thought I would pay a call upon your lady, to see how she fares," he explained. Much of the arrogance that was usually his trademark had faded away and though the smoldering anger at Orophin’s loss remained in Haldir’s eyes, it appeared clearly restrained for the time being.
"Haldir," Melia looked past her husband’s shoulder. "What are you doing here?"
"The Evenstar is kin to Lord Celeborn and he would see her returned safely I come on his behalf." The elf answered giving Legolas a firm look to support his story for he did not wish to explain to Melia the loss of Orophin because the pain was too new and it was difficult to speak of it.
"It is good to see you again," Melia smiled weakly, "though I am in not much condition to receive you."
"You are alive and well, that is enough," Haldir replied sincerely, enjoying the company of the woman immensely for it they were anything but the people they were, they might shared something more in another reality. However, since that was not to be, they remained friends, much to the annoyance of Mirkwood’s prince, Haldir was certain.
"She needs her rest," Legolas said after a moment, disliking the obvious affection between Melia and Haldir, even if that emotion was mere friendship. There was too much history between himself and Haldir, none of which he wished to delve too deeply into for fear of opening old wounds which had no place in their present situation.
"I understand," Haldir smiled, and took the hand that had only moments ago touched Legolas’ cheek. "Rest well lady, I look forward to seeing you again when this is all done."
"As do I," Melia replied softly, what strength she had amassed during her sleep was now waning swiftly and she felt once again drowsy and exhausted. "Take care of yourself and my prince."
Haldir met Legolas’ gaze and noted the elven prince bristling in annoyance at the request but Legolas said nothing and Haldir allowed himself a little feeling of amusement, knowing that once again he had managed to burrow under Legolas’ self righteous skin a little.
"I shall do both," he answered her. "Now you should rest," he said gently before withdrawing from the room to give husband and wife some privacy before the dawn came.
Legolas watched Haldir go and then saw Melia looking at him with a little smile. Her eyes fluttered lazily and he could tell that it would not be long before she would lapse into her sleep again. He lowered his lips to her forehead and planted a soft kiss upon her skin.
"You would vex me even from your sick bed," Legolas remarked as he gazed lovingly into her eyes.
"He is arrogant but only because he is so certain in his ability," Melia whispered, closing her eyes as she felt the exhaustion beginning to claim her. "I know that if I asked it of him he would keep you safe."
"Thank you for concern," he said softly. "Now you must rest and I promise I shall return to you safe and sound, even with Haldir as my protector."
She did not protest for when he looked at her again, she had drifted into sleep once more and Legolas took her hand in his and brushed his lips against the soft skin. For a long moment, he held it within his own, offering a silent pray of thanks to the Valar and Iluvatar for allowing him the comfort of knowing she would be waiting when he returned from their quest to find Arwen. When that moment of silence had passed, Legolas Greenleaf released his wife’s hand and left the room. His heart’s affairs had been attended to, now it was to see to the needs of the only other woman in the world for whom he cared as much.
It was time to rescue the Evenstar.
The company of travelers rose early the next morning to begin their journey to Imladris.
They gathered astride their horses, preparing to ride immediately from Minas Tirith. Without knowing how the enemy was returning to Imladris since Eol and his agent had left no discernible way for Aragorn to guess how they had departed the palace, the king was determined to make haste in reaching the elven city of Elrond. While journeying down the Anduin to Lothlorien would have been the simpler course, Aragorn had no wish to be delayed whilst crossing the Misty Mountain or Hithaeglir, as it was known to the elves. They were deep into the season of autumn and crossing the range of mountains so close to winter would be a long and arduous journey, which would delay them greatly. It was far simpler for to travel by land across Anorien to the Gap of Rohan, avoiding the mountain route altogether.
At Edoras they could shelter with Eomer briefly before resuming their journey through Dunland and travelling the relatively flats plains that ran parallel along the Misty Mountains. Though it would meant their route was longer, ultimately it was the better course since the terrain was easy to cross and they could manage it without possibility of hindrance by weather or any of the threats that were known to inhabit the mountains. Aragorn hoped that the space of day did not mean the difference between life and ruin for his beloved Undomiel. Secretly what he feared most though he revealed this to no one was the possibility that perhaps Eol had some magic at his disposal that would allow him to make the crossing to Imladris far swifter than the company were capable of maintaining their pursuit.
Aragorn had reasoned that while Eol was in transit with Arwen, her honor and her life were safe. She had just birthed a child and would be in hardly any state to accept him should he attempt to force himself upon her. If it were just a warm body that Eol wanted, then he could have satisfied himself with any woman but it was specifically Arwen that he sought and Aragorn believed this preference would induce the dark elf to take some care with his newly acquired prize. However, once they arrived at Imladris, Aragorn had no illusions that Eol would squander any time ensuring that Arwen became bound to him and the king was certain the enemy would violate her to do it.
The Company was silent following their immediate departure from the White City.
Aragorn had not slept well the night before even though he had tried to sleep. He knew that the lack of slumber would take his toll upon him the next day when his journey began but he did not care. How could he sleep when his Undomiel was who knew what indignity at the hands of her captor? Even though he had forced himself to crush such dark thoughts, Aragorn could not help their emergence from time to time, especially when they were faced with an enemy whose pattern of abducting women was so well known.
A few short hours before dawn he had finally given up hope of sleeping and went instead to the nursery where his son lay sleeping. How fortunate Eldarion was in his slumber, his father had thought when he took the child from his cradle and nestled himself into the chair that Arwen used when she nursed the babe. The emptiness left behind by Arwen in their chambers was never more acute than at the moment and the only thing Aragorn could do to console himself was to be with the son they had made together. Eldarion paid little attention to his father’s musing and Aragorn had remembered how soothing it was to hold his son for very soon he found his eyelids grew heavy and the sleep he tried so hard to achieve finally overcame him. Now as they journeyed toward Imladris, leaving Eldarion behind, Aragorn could only hope that he would sleep as well without his son.
Legolas’ thoughts were not fixed upon Melia even though his heart was filled with concern about her welfare. His thoughts were centered on the beast that had harmed her and Eowyn. Though none of the elves had spoken of it to each other, there was a feeling of common dread between them as they rode to face a most ancient enemy. As children they had all been told the tales of the Hunter, the dark shadowy thing that had come out of the darkness to steal members of their newborn race for his master, the Dark Enemy Melkor. The Hunter inspired their most basic fear and was it was a shadow so mired in their primitive instincts that it was difficult to ignore. Yet Legolas knew they had to face those ancient terrors or else they would never be able to defeat him.
For Elladan, his mind had not shifted beyond the moment he had seen Orophin die. In all his life he had never felt that useless or impotent as when he had stood by and saw his friend cleaved in two before him. Orophin’s astonished expression a split second before his body was torn apart had been branded into Elladan’s psyche and the rage coursing through the heart of the elven prince was indescribable. It tormented him that he should be as angry that the Hunter was Eol’s agent and that he had aid in the capture of his sister, Arwen but Orophin’s death had superseded even that.
He wished Elrohir were here so that he could confide to his twin this anguish he felt. Unfortunately, it would be many days before Elrohir was able to join them, if at all. When he and Haldir had left the Golden Wood together, a messenger had been dispatched to Eden Ardhon, to tell his twin brother that some sorcery had befallen Imladris and to instruct Elrohir to join him in Minas Tirith. With what they had since learnt about Arwen in the White City, Elrohir would arrive to find that his brother had already left for Imladris. Hopefully, he would not be too far behind to catch up with them for Elladan longed to see his brother again.
Of course, Haldir could not look to the comfort of a brother’s late arrival because for him, it was too late. Nothing had been able to drive Haldir from the sight of his lord, not even the departure of Galadriel into the Undying Lands. For more years than he could remember, he had always stood at Celeborn’s side with his two brothers Rumli and Orophin who was the youngest. Rumli had wanted to accompany him to Minas Tirith but Haldir had told him to return to East Lorien to tell their Lord why Haldir had taken leave of him. In truth, Haldir had sworn to kill the beast that had taken his youngest brother but he was unprepared to risk his surviving sibling by having Rumli accompany him on this quest.
And Haldir intended to kill the beast known as the Hunter or die trying.
Since his youth when Denethor had allowed Gandalf the Grey access to the old records of Gondor, Faramir had learnt to place a good deal of faith in the knowledge of books. Gandalf had been reluctant to help Faramir with this exploration, out of fear perhaps that the young man might stumble upon the knowledge of Isildur’s Bane that Gandalf himself was so obsessed with studying. However, while Faramir did learn about Isildur’s Bane or the One Ring as most called it, he was never taken in by its spell but the love of books was another matter entirely. While his brother Boromir often went off to carry out great deeds, Faramir remained with Gondor’s collection of forgotten books, filling his mind with wisdom enough to prevail against the lure of the One Ring. Of course, he never really knew this until encountering the Ringbearer during his journey to Mordor.
As he rode now to face evils he had read of only in books, Faramir wondered what Boromir would say to all this. Boromir had often told him that knowledge was so much more useful than all the great deeds and while his father thought little of Faramir’s interest, Boromir did everything to encourage it. Though Faramir was no less courageous and had distinguished himself as a Ranger of Ithilien, he was not blind to the fact that his father’s favor rested clearly with his older brother but it did not matter when that brother loved him as much as Boromir did.
Now, more than anyone, save perhaps the Pallando who probably knew more about the histories of the past then any book alive, Faramir knew what it was they were going to face and he perceived the trouble that plagued Legolas at present. How would the elves be when they faced so primeval a threat? Was the stag supposed to draw strength from wisdom and fight the wolf? Faramir wondered if men, who did not fear this beast, could be strong enough to kill it and what of Eol, himself? How had he pierced through two ages to find himself in the present? What sorcery was this and could Pallando be strong enough to combat it? If it were Gandalf, Faramir would not be so worried but Pallando was an unknown, despite Legolas’ endorsement.
Pallando was too busy thinking about spells to consider that he might be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism by the company he now found himself a part. For so long, he had walked the path alone, even before leaving Alatar behind. The two of them had been such close companions that there was no need of any other and though there was emptiness when they had finally taken divergent paths in their destiny, Pallando had become accustomed to being alone. This business of travelling with so many was a little disconcerting because they expected him to be like Olorin and he was not. When they arrived at Imladris, they expected him to combat Eol and if the truth were known, Pallando was still trying to understand how Eol could still be alive after all this time.
Eol had managed to survive the War of the Wrath and the destruction of Beleriand when he should not have even survived the fall from Caragadur? How had he managed it? Pallando knew he had some form of dark magic under his control for he had snared Aredhel in such a manner but was that merely the barest use of his powers? Had he delved into magic so dark that it had made him survive all the calamities of the past to besiege them here in the future? How does one cloak an entire city? Only Melian and her girdle were capable of that feat? Had Eol tapped into that power? Somehow, Pallando did not think he was that powerful but then he was here and with him was a creature that had no place being in this time. As they journeyed away from Minas Tirith, Pallando was gripped with an urgency to find out or else they would never reach Arwen or worse yet, leave Imladris alive.
Gimli was rather wondering how he came to be surrounded by so many elves for he still remembered the times when he had difficult tolerating Legolas on any level. Now he seemed surrounded by them, particularly the elf called Haldir whom Gimli still bore ill from his time in Lothlorien when he had first beheld the Lady of the Wood. This business of dark elves was something the dwarf had no wish to be party to but the Queen of Gondor was dear to Aragorn’s heart and so he was compelled to journey with him on this quest. Still Gimli could not deny that the company felt odd without the little hobbits and the grey wizard Gandalf or Tharkun, as he was known the dwarves.
Still it reminded Gimli that thought the quest of the Ring was done and some of their number had scattered, it appeared that there would always be need of the Fellowship.
Even if it was peopled with too many elves.
When the sun had set that night, the company had come far in a day’s journey. The night was chilled the frozen air sweeping down from the lofty White Mountains and though will alone could drive them further, Aragorn had decided that it was best not to push themselves when they had no idea what awaited them when they arrived at Imladris. Finding themselves a suitable place to camp, Legolas volunteered the duty of scouting the immediate vicinity to ensure that there was no danger surrounding the place they had chosen for themselves this evening. The forest seemed harmless enough and Legolas had no sense of danger but the greater threats were often the ones that knew how to remain hidden until it was time to strike.
When Haldir offered to join him in his reconnaissance, Legolas had almost refused the offer until he remembered what Haldir had promised Melia and found that he had no choice but to accept. However, when they departed the campsite, it was obvious that Haldir’s intention was an excuse to leave the rest of the party so that he could indulge his own private thoughts. With a hint of shame, Legolas was reminded that the elf had just lost a brother and was probably still in some measure of shock and grief that he had yet to fully address.
It was not easy to know Haldir, even after three millennia of existence. The Prince of Mirkwood had spent enough time in Lothlorien to acquaint himself with the elf who was march warden and the captain of the guard in the Golden Wood. Legolas found Haldir to be arrogant and superior, even for an elf and his manners towards those who were not of the Eldar was positively shocking, not to mention his tendency to bed every elven female he came across and was his sickening pride in it. Legolas had more than a few confrontations with the elf in the past about such encounters, when the object of his fleeting passion had come to the prince in tears, usually after being discarded or when Legolas had to prevent a jilted suitor from taking it out of Haldir’s hide. He would have been inclined to let them have their way if he did not know for a fact that Haldir was more than capable of defending himself against such incidents.
Once they had scoured the area and ensured nothing was amiss, the two elves turned towards the direction of their camp. They could see it in the distance, a small flicker of amber fire to which they were drawn like moths to the flame. They had said little to each other since setting out on this scouting expedition and the silence between them was like a great chasm that could not be bridged. Haldir had remained unusually quiet, a far cry from his usual arid persona. Legolas supposed he was deep in thought about the brother he had lost and felt a good deal of empathy though not in the same degree to the loss of Orophin who had been his friend.
"I am sorry about Orophin," Legolas finally found himself saying.
Haldir gave him a sidelong glance. "He knew what he risked when he left the Golden Wood and his brothers."
Legolas sighed, wishing for once Haldir would make things simple by not being so caustic. "No one deserved what fate befell him."
"No," Haldir added after awhile. "Probably not."
"He did enjoy being in South Ithilien," Legolas replied, attempting to offer Haldir some insight into his brother’s last months in this world. "Cleaning the wood of Orcs was almost a passion. I think they feared him more than any other elf in Eden Ardhon."
"He was never satisfied with what he had," Haldir found himself answering, though initially he had no desire to speak of anyone his feelings regarding Orophin’s passing. "He always wanted to see more of the world, for all the good it did him."
"Haldir, he was happy," Legolas declared. "He made a choice that brought him great joy. Do not berate him for the sins of others. He did nothing to incur the events that led to the loss of his life."
Haldir felt silent again as the light from their encampment loomed brighter in the distance. For a few minutes after, he did not speak and Legolas respected his need for quiet.
"I am surprised you married her," Haldir replied after a moment.
There was no need to clarify the intent behind that statement because Legolas knew perfectly well what he was referring to. "I love her, there was no choice to make under such circumstances."
"You always appeared so proper and beholding the conventions of our race," the march warden declared. "I thought marriage to a mortal would be beneath you."
The Prince of Mirkwood stared at Haldir and asked slowly, "do you think she is beneath me?"
"She is not but that is hardly the question I am putting forward, she is mortal." Haldir stared at him.
"I am aware of that," Legolas said stiffly because this was one subject he had no wish to discuss with anyone, least of Haldir.
"Then you know that she will…"
"Yes," Legolas stopped and stared at him. "I know. Its has been made known to me by everyone who realizes that we are husband and wife. I am painfully aware that our time together is short."
"You surprise me Prince," Haldir looked at him. "After living so long and seeing the things we have, I did not think it was entirely possible to be surprised."
Legolas did not know how to respond to that but thankfully he was not required to as they were within reach of the camp and the moment was lost which suited both well enough.
At forest leagues away from where the company were presently taking both repast and repose, Eol watched his new prize sleep. Once they were under way following her ill-fated attempt at escape, she proved to be less subdued as the day progressed. They made good time in their journey to Imladris and he suspected that the business of childbirth had taxed her strength considerably despite her earlier defiance. The Hunter claimed it could sense her weakness, the way it could sense prey that was wounded or lamed in the chase. Elven women did not recover quickly after childbirth and Arwen, who had produced a human child, was far more susceptible to this condition than she should.
Once again, Eol wondered what had been in her father’s mind to allow such a marriage. How could one allow such a flower, as this to breed near a marshland that would kill the beauty from it by proximity alone? Eol had never met Elrond and he cared even less for the king who had claimed the Evenstar for his own however, Eol was determined that she would be freed of the spell that kept her bound to her mortal husband.
"They are coming," the Hunter spoke as he emerged from the shadows. The creature disappeared into the darkness when Eol had no need of it, slipping into a realm the elf was certain was a shadow world that the Maiar Sauron had used to such good effect when creating his Nazgul. While those creations were a living embodiment of the shadow world, the Hunter was able to slip in and out of one, to appear invisible at times. It made for a very effective weapon against its prey.
"I supposed they would," Eol gazed upon his prize. "I would not be so quick to surrender such a beauty if it were my bride."
"We should leave now," the beast warned. Its tremor of a voice sounded troubled.
"She is not fit to travel so soon," Eol answered as if this was no matter for debate and that his decision stood.
"Her mate determined. I can sense his power. He is coming for her." The Hunter stated just as plainly.
Eol wanted to question how the Hunter knew this so clearly but supposed it hardly mattered for the beast would not make such a warming frivolously. Since bringing it forth through time, the Hunter had revealed many aspects of itself that was useful but Eol could not deny that the fear of it ingrained in all elves forced him to keep the beast at arm’s length. It was enough that he knew he had the Hunter’s loyalty, there was no need for their relationship to become any more personal then that.
"She cannot travel. Bearing his offspring has weakened her. I should have waited until she was stronger to take her," Eol reflected but it was a deed done and there was no changing it.
"Do you wish her to see me kill him when he catches up to us?" The Hunter hissed softly, his malevolent gazed fixed upon Eol. "If you wish her to see me rend her husband from limb to limb, I can accommodate you easily enough, it matters little to me but if you wish to have her as yours, then heed my warning. You should leave now and take care to avoid this eventuality or one day, you will find her knife at your throat."
"I may find it as such any way," Eol shrugged, aware that his courtship of Arwen would be anything but smooth but it had been the same way with Aredhel, once she understood the nature of her choices which were not many in the final analysis. "However, your words have wisdom and I do not wish to incite her animosity any more than necessary for the time being. I do not wish anything to interfere with our arrival to Imladris. "
"Shall I fall behind and deal with him?" The Hunter asked, preferring to hunt fresh game instead of acting as bodyguard to this elf and his lady.
"No," Eol shook his head, denying his servant that pleasure for the time being. "I wish you to remain with us. This land is new to me and I prefer you to remain in case we encounter anything unexpected."
"As you wish," the Hunter replied unhappily but loyalty to its master conditioned it to obey nonetheless.
It was created first from the pits of Angband long before Melkor had thought to create the other denizens of his dark kingdom, such as the great spiders and the dragons. The Hunter was darkness and fear given form but Melkor had seen to it that it would never be greater than its master by instilling within its nature, an insatiable need to serve. He had learnt his lesson from Ungoliant. Thus, when Eol had pulled the Hunter from the past and explained that Melkor and all that he knew was gone, it had found serving the dark elf to suit his thirst for the hunt and his need to serve. While the thought of playing servant to an elf might seemed odious to a creature who once used to hunt the Eldar for sport, the elf had shown the Hunter that he had power of his own and it was to be feared.
"How will you deal with the company that follows us?"
Eol did not answer but the flicker of the fire illuminated his face with a sinister smile.
For the second night since Arwen had been taken from him, Aragorn did not sleep.
He sat up watching the fire, occasionally shifting his gaze from the dance of flame to the scan the landscape for any sign of trouble. All around him was still. There was no trace of wind, not even the wisp of breeze. The wood was silent with the occasional hoot of an owl and the chirp of a cricket to remind them that the dark around them was the forest. The fire illuminated the faces of his friends and he saw his friends asleep in their sleeping place, even the elves and their curious version of it. The light snoring sound rumbling through the campsite did not bother anyone though if Aragorn were truly in need of sleep, he would be smothering Gimli with his cloak by now. It was a wonder that Faramir and Pallando had not resorted to such violence already.
Nonetheless, despite the snoring, Aragorn knew that he would have to sleep himself for he would be no good to the company if he were exhausted when they resumed their journey to Imladris. He lowered himself to the ground and was about to lie upon his bedroll when he saw something shimmering through the darkness of the trees. At first he thought that it might have been caused by his weariness, for in moments of fatigue, the eyes were known to play tricks on the mind. However, as he caught sight of it again, he knew it was no phantom. Yet, something in him was still unsure and he did not rouse the others in the event that he was wrong. Taking his sword, Aragorn left the campsite, following the shimmer of light as it moved through the woods.
He had traveled only a short distance away from the company when the gleam of moonlight illuminated the path the phantom was taking and he was treated to the sight of a woman. For a moment, he swore it was Arwen though his mind told him that it was merely a deluded hope on his part. Wondering why she was alone, he hastened his pace to catch up with her. It was never wise for a lady to travel alone in the wild and at such a late hour when there were strangers about who intentions might well be hostile for all she knew of them.
She slipped into a clearing surrounded by tall trees and paused in the center of a dirt mound, her white dress brushing the soil and becoming covered in earth. As Aragorn approached her, he realized why she had appeared so much like Arwen because her hair was long and dark, her skin shimmering with light and her eyes were the color of the sea. She gazed at him with a smile and for an instant, Aragorn forgot that he was on a quest to find his wife because of the enchanting creature before him and the intoxicating smell she exuded when he took a breath of her.
"How do you come to be here lady?" he asked.
"A friend beseech me to find you," she whispered softly and hearing her voice was like being present when the Ainur had sung the songs that shaped the world.
"A friend?" He inquired further, a little dazed by the surreal nature of the unfolding events before him.
"Yes," she smiled. "An old friend. I thought he had forgotten me. I have been hiding here for so long and he told me that I should find you."
"Does this friend have a name?" Aragorn tried to break her gaze but he could not. His eyes seemed trapped in the sparkle of hers.
"None that would interest you," she smiled and held her ground as he took another step closer.
"I beg to differ," he answered, aware that something was amiss but he could not imagine what because the power of her eyes was entrancing. He had been caught like this when he first looked upon Undomiel and realized that he wanted more from his existence then to rule as Isildur’s heir. Standing so close to this enchanting woman in the middle of the wood, he felt as if he were standing in Imladris again for the first time, thinking he had wandered into a dream when all he had done was discovered the woman he would share his life with.
"I would tell you my name but I do not remember," she mused, her brow knotting in confusion. "No one has spoken to me in so long."
"Who are you lady?" He asked again, his suspicion surfacing once more and this time it was not so easy to disregard. She was standing very near to him now but the scent that was so intoxicating a brief moment ago had changed its flavor to something less pleasing. His mind had difficulty focusing but he thought the stench beneath her perfume was that of rotten leaves and drying mud. It was a scent that reeked decidedly of death.
Aragorn took a step back and suddenly those beautiful sea blue eyes flashed red like a blood moon and she lowered her head, spreading her arms. A cloud drifting across the moon created a shadow over her form and when it disappeared, her body burst into a swarm of insects, spreading out around him before they surged into the sky, creating a cloud above his head. Aragorn raised his sword to fight, useless gesture that it was against an enemy so small when he realized that it was not the swarm he had to worry about. A low snarl moved through the night and rippled across his skin in a shudder.
The king’s eyes left the demon swarm whose task was to lead him from the safety provided by his companions to the middle of the forest where he would be alone and ripe for attack. He saw their red eyes flashing in the night, their jaws gleaming from the moon’s bright gaze and knew that wolves surrounded him. He did not know how many of them there were but he was certain they were a full pack as they closed in on him. Raising Anduril, he prepared to fight while at the same time cursing himself a fool for falling to an enchantress’ trick. He wondered how much of what he had seen had been truth and not the product of his own mind, induced by his need for Arwen.
He had little time to ponder when the first wolf lunged at him. Aragorn swung his blade in a controlled arc, slashing through fur and bone and causing the animal to yelp in pain. However, its agony was a signal to the others to attack and Aragorn heard another growl, seconds before he felt claws tearing through his back as another member of the pack landed upon him. The creature’s weight forced Aragorn down to his hands and knees and there was a moment of clarity when he tried to throw the wolf off that he knew he would not do so in time. Jaws snapped shut and Aragorn let out a cry of pain as teeth sank into his shoulder, through his clothes, through his flesh.
The pain surged adrenaline through his veins and King of Gondor rolled forward hard, throwing the creature on his back over the top of his head but not before its teeth ripped the flesh it had bitten. The pain was beyond belief as warm blood ran down his skin and the scent of it sent the rest of the pack into a frenzy as the salt of his blood enflamed their senses. Groaning in pain Aragorn struck wildly at another attacking wolf, cutting it down before it could clamped its formidable teeth around his throat. He was outnumbered and he knew it but sheer will alone refused to let Aragorn let the beasts take him.
This was one meal they would have to earn.
A blur of fur and muscle moved through the air from his rear vision and Aragorn swung around, meeting the creature with his blade. A spray of red followed Anduril’s arc and he was washed with it when the sword tore open its flesh. The fluid stung his eyes and robbed him of sight briefly but enough to ensure that no more than a second had passed before he was toppled onto his back, a landing which brought with it fresh agony to his bloody wound. He held his sword between himself and his neck as the wolf that had downed him, intended to end the battle by tearing out his throat. As he fought to keep its jaws from him, Aragorn saw more flashes of red eyes and knew that the others were closing in for the kill.
After what seemed an eternity, he threw the wolf off him. It landed on the grass not far from him but was unhurt. Scrambling to its feet, it began running again, a ball of fur and fury led by gnashing teeth. Aragorn waited until it jumped before he used Anduril as a spear and impaled the beast upon the long blade. The animal howled loudly in its final moments, blood running down the length of the weapon and soaking Aragorn’s hands. His chest was covered with striations from claw marks and Aragorn knew he was bleeding himself.
Two beasts converged upon him, preparing to attack simultaneously and Aragorn forced himself to his feet, preparing to act in order to keep himself from being torn to pieces by either. There were still many of them and he was wounded. The blood of their slain members and his own was creating a potent mix that reached them on an instinctive level and inspired their most frenzied blood lust. Unfortunately, he had not long to wait when they lunged at him, both at once. Aragorn dropped to his knees and scrambled along the dirt as the beasts collided in mid air. He crawled away from them on his hands and knees until he looked ahead and found himself staring into the face of a large black wolf, with silver in its pelt, inches away from him with fangs ready to snap close.
He would never use his sword in time, not before the beast tore the flesh from his skull. However Aragorn was not about to surrender and prepared to defend himself, however futile the effort was. The beast lunged forward and Aragorn retreated, struggling in his awkward position to raise his sword into a defensive position when suddenly, the creature let out a agonized cry and dropped heavily into the dirt, the shaft of an elven arrow protruding from his back. It was little more than a second later that he saw Legolas running out of the trees, halting long enough to pull another arrow from behind him to shoot again.
Another sharp howl drew his attention from the elven archer and Aragorn looked over his shoulder to see Haldir and Elladan, showing their mastery with a bow while Faramir and Gimli resorted to more direct methods of sword and hammer to dispatch or wound the rest of the pack. As the wolves saw their brethren falling prey to the newly arrived collection of men and elf, the pack chose to make a strategic withdrawal. Within minutes, those who had not died by the hand of the company were disappearing into the night.
Aragorn sat down heavily in the ground; his body gripped with pain from lacerations and the bite one of the beasts had taken out of him. He felt Pallando’s hand upon his shoulder a second later and saw the wizard staring down at him with concern. It was not long before Legolas and the others approached him once the danger was over.
"What were thinking straying away from the camp alone?" Legolas demanded first, the elven prince appeared both worried and angered at the same time.
"I saw a woman," Aragorn retorted fuming because he did feel stupid for wandering off as he if he were a child unknowing in the ways of the forest. He was Ranger of the North and should have known better. In Legolas’ position, he would have been similarly furious if someone under his care had acted so foolishly.
"A woman?" Faramir exclaimed, looking about for any sign of the lady in question.
"She was not really a lady, she appeared as one. It was a spirit of some kind, no doubt one of Eol’s demon agents sent to lure me away from the camp in order to ambush me," Aragorn frowned, realizing how obvious it sounded now that he was describing it to someone else. How had he been so blind as to not see something so clear before he found himself in a situation that could have cost him his life?
"And it worked splendidly," Haldir retorted without sympathy. "Perhaps we should assign you a guardian to protect you from yourself."
"There will come a point Haldir," Aragorn stared at him with clear warning in his eyes. "Where even your ability to be useful to me and my sympathy towards you for the loss of your brother will wear my patience thin and I will make you account for your arrogance."
"Enough of this," Pallando interrupted before the situation deteriorated any further. "The king requires attention. We should return to camp. For future reference, I suggest that none of us wander alone. We see now how formidable our enemy is and what powers he has at his disposal that allow him to beguile one as sharp as Aragorn."
Haldir said nothing and soon turned away from the others to proceed back to camp with Elladan following close by.
"I suppose," Aragorn sighed as Pallando and Legolas helped him to his feet. "After all this, I will be able to sleep."
"Your ability to see the good in any situation is without peer," Legolas retorted, rolling his eyes, still annoyed at Aragorn’s foolish behavior in wandering off alone.
"You think so?" Faramir looked at them skeptically, attempting to diffuse the tension by some levity. "He still has to sleep through Gimli’s snoring."
"I do not snore," Gimli returned almost instantly, glowering at the Lord of Ithilien.
"Oh yes you do," Legolas added with a faint smile. "And I have elven hearing."
Gimli bristled before storming away muttering under his breath, "damn elves."
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.