7. Chapter Six: Aftermath
They were battered and bruised but they could not stop.
The Hunter’s withdrawal had done nothing to abate the Uruk Hai lust for destruction and if Aragorn had hoped that in the wake of their master’s retreat, they too might abandon the desire to take Edoras, then he was sadly mistaken. When Sauron had been destroyed, the Uruk Hai had scattered quickly, stunned perhaps by the defeat of the dark lord and rudderless because they were creatures of obedience to the master that held their leash. No such confusion was present now as Aragorn and his companions faced the murderous horde of Uruk Hai doing their best to breach the walls of Edoras.
Against the dark gray sky, spears pierced the air as their tips rose past the walls, an erratic display of sharp and bloody points because some had already known the taste of flesh. Beneath them, their Uruk Hai masters scaled the walls on their ladders and rope, the decreasing rain allowing them to make the journey fast swifter than before. Amidst the sound of clanging steel and the cries of the pain when blade met flesh was the low rumbling drone of Uruk Hai blood lust, which had more power to strike fear into the hearts of the army assembled against it, then the beasts themselves.
For a moment he could only stare as he saw the men of Rohan fighting valiantly to defend the wall, their swords swinging at the enemy, cutting down many before they could cross over the edge into the walkway. They did this whilst battling arrows that came flying through the air from the ground, propelled by the malice of the enemy archers. They did nothing to avoid the arrows for it was not possible to protect oneself against this evil and still maintain a suitable defense. And so some of them fell, knowing defeat only when the arrow had pierced a place that could not be ignored. He saw men fighting on even though they were bloodied and wounded, their faces etched in grim determination at refusal to cede, no matter what. Aragorn thought of Boromir and how his friend had fallen and knew that these soldiers would do the same.
He was never prouder to be leading them then at that moment.
The pain in his side was nagging at him and the sharp jaggedness he felt scrapping the inside of his flesh was no doubt a broken bone but he could not seek shelter in the House of Healing, not yet. Not when he was needed so desperately. Gripping Anduril in his hand, he limped forward, his face becoming hard and set, his eyes draining of all thought except winning the day. The Uruk Hai would not take Edoras, not while there was breath in his body, not until someone took Anduril from his cold, dead hand. The pain was shunted aside, buried in some place so deep in his mind, that it would not affect him.
"Come," Aragorn, said firmly to those following him. "Let us finish this."
Legolas knew better than to argue with the king when he was in this state of mind. Legolas had seen him like this when he had entered the Paths of the Dead. If the souls of dead warriors could not ignore Aragorn, then Legolas did not think anything he said would have made any difference to the king at this moment. In truth, he had no words to say himself because he wanted this night to end. Removing his daggers from behind him, he matched Aragorn’s determined stride and noted from the corners of his eye that Gimli had snatched an axe to replace the one that was destroyed by the Hunter when Elladan wielded it.
The others followed the king in similar stead. They were all in one way or another injured from the battle but like Aragorn, had shunted the pain aside to deal with the greater threat. The company moved together like a small army of their own and those who saw them advanced upon the wall were suddenly renewed with hope at victory over the enemy. Striding purposefully onto the front line of the battle, his arrival was noticed by the soldiers struggling against the enemy and seeing Aragorn appear, with the sword of Elendill in his hand filled their hearts with hope and new purpose. Aragorn held the weapon high above his head, carrying it as he would a banner, using the weapon that took Sauron’s ring from his hand as rallying cry for the battle.
"Hold the wall!" Aragorn shouted loudly, "let them breach it at their own peril! We will allow none of their kind to sully the realm of Edoras!"
Those who were not fighting shouted their approval and as Aragorn saw the fire burning in their eyes as they turned to face the enemy again. The despair of defeat had drained from them and there was blood hatred in their attacks, inspired by the arrival of their leader. Aragorn took a deep breath and hurried to the wall, where Uruk Hai spears were impaling some of the soldiers, allowing the beasts to slip through the newly created opening. The king saw the hooked sword of an Uruk Hai warrior take the life of one of his men and felt his rage inspired into a proper fury as he ran forward swinging the blade hard.
He came upon the enemy so swiftly that the Uruk Hai had only time to look up before Anduril sliced through his stomach. The enemy roared, doubling over as a boot crunched his jaw and sent him reeling backwards, over the edge. Aragorn watch the body toppled into the darkness below and dodged and arrow coming towards him. In the distance he could see the Uruk Hai archers firing their barrage at the wall and he wondered briefly how many they were before he saw Legolas hurrying to the edge, his daggers forgotten as the elf saw where best he could serve. Aragorn saw that the bow he carried now was not provided by the armory of Edoras but the weapon given to Legolas by Galadriel during the quest to destroy the ring.
Legolas fired into the thickest part of the bodies, stripping the Uruk Hai from the wall with each arrow shot. The Uruk Hai attempting to reach him bellowed in fury as Gimli hacked away at them, keeping them from impeding the archer as he did his worst. Further along, Aragorn saw Haldir slicing through the enemy with his sword, one of his arms bound tightly to his side as he fought. Elladan was aiming his arrows towards the archers in the distance, with skill possessed only by those of the First Born. Pallando was putting out the fires spreading across the city by bringing down the rain again.
The battle continued into the night as the defenders of the city held fast and determinedly against the intruders. Aragorn did not know how long they fought, knowing only that many were dead from their efforts. Bodies began to pile on either side of the wall, some were Uruk Hai and some were of Rohan. There came a time when they were so numerous that it was no longer possible to tell which was which. The men of Rohan fought, as they had not since the battle of Hornburg and Pelennor Fields, with such fierce determination that it was impossible to not be moved by their courage.
They were forcing themselves to keep fighting, some by sheer will and with the swing of their blades and by the flight of their arrows, Aragorn could see they were fighting two battles; one against the enemy and the other against exhaustion. During the course of the night, the Uruk Hai had slipped past them and entered the city but the valiant defense ensured that these were too few too cause defeat and they were quickly beset upon by those charged with protecting the civilian population of Edoras. Aragorn himself did not know how many faces he had put to the sword but he knew that Anduril was never free of fresh Uruk Hai blood. He stood on the wall for most of the night, refusing to retreat because he did not know where Eomer was and that worried him a great deal. Aragorn had no wish to tell Eowyn that her brother had fallen.
Pallando had now joined them on the wall for the arrows had stopped coming with the rain and the archers that had assailed them appeared to have disappeared for the moment. Legolas had put away his bow and was now fighting the Uruk Hai with daggers. As always, Gimli fought at his side, playing their macabre game of rising body counts. Like all of them, the elven prince was showing his exhaustion and Aragorn knew for a fact that he was injured far worse then he had revealed. Haldir on the other hand could not hide his injury but it was sheer will that was forcing the march warden to continue the battle. Elladan was being driven by hate, that much was clear to Aragorn as he watched Elrond’s son cut his way through the Uruk Hai who had manage to climb over the walls.
With the coming of dawn, they were no closer to victory even though they had mounted what Aragorn was unashamed to say was a valiant defense. However, the prolonged battle was taking its toll upon the men of Rohan whose numbers were savagely dwindling. It was becoming very clear that there would be not enough of them to defend the city any further as the ring of Uruk Hai steel closed in on them. Aragorn felt his own reserves draining and knew that they could not hold out much longer. He saw Haldir struggling to raise his sword as two Uruk Hai set him upon, determine to finish the elven warrior once and for all. Aragorn rushed forward, shoving his body against one of the Uruk Hai and sending the beast sprawling. He slashed his sword in a neat arch and killed immediately the one who was about to deliver a death blow to Haldir who was on his knees know, his tunic was soaked with blood and his pallor was like a sheet of white.
Aragorn was about to approach Haldir when an axe flew between them, forcing both men to recoil as the weapon hurled through the air met its mark in the skull of the Uruk Hai whom Aragorn had pushed away from Haldir. For a minute Aragorn thought it was Gimli who had saved his life but then looked up to see Faramir approaching, one of his arms were in a sling but the other was fit enough to aid his king. Aragorn did not wait for Faramir to approach because Haldir needed help and immediately. He dropped to his knees to help the elven warrior to the house of healing.
"Leave me here," Haldir argued. "I would rather die fighting."
"You are no more use to me here," Aragorn retorted, having no time for this argument. "I do not intend to have the blood of your long life on my hands – besides I will need you when I go to retrieve the Evenstar."
Haldir did not speak because he was worse then he cared to show and the loss of blood was hindering his ability to think clearly. Thoughts crowded in on his head as disorientation beset him with only flashes of images in his mind registering at all.
"Should I die," he muttered, "tell the Lady Melia that my last thoughts were of her."
Aragorn stared for a moment at Haldir in gentle surprise, instinctively looking up to see where Legolas was at the mention of Melia’s name. He wondered if the prince knew and suspected that Legolas probably did not if Haldir was telling him this because the elf thought he was about to die.
"You will tell the lady yourself," Aragorn responded as he pulled Haldir away to safety, although there were not many places left in Edoras that could truly be called that. The best that he could manage was one of the sheltered sentry positions.
"Tell her Legolas was braver than I," Haldir continued to speak incoherently. "I could not bring myself to do what he did."
Aragorn did not understand but he did not wish too. This was Haldir’s private affair, spoken only because the loss of so much blood was starting to addle his mind, coupled with the exhaustion of forcing himself to fight when there was no strength left in him. Aragorn was rather surprised he had lasted this long and could not help feeling admiration for the elf as he started to slip into unconsciousness. Aragorn left him there alone, deciding that he would keep Haldir’s words to himself because no doubt if the elf survived this, he was not going to be pleased that Aragorn knew of the feelings he harbored for Legolas’ wife.
"Does he still live?" Faramir asked Aragorn upon reaching the king.
"For now," Aragorn said grimly before turning a concerned eye toward the Prince of Ithilien. "Should you not be at the House of Healing?"
"Why?" Faramir asked as he turned his gaze upon the battle they were losing. "I would rather face my death here at your side then in the House of Healing if Edoras is taken by these vile beasts."
"That may come sooner than you think," Aragorn replied as they returned to the fighting. "We cannot hold them back for much longer."
"We will give them a good fight before they take us," Faramir said boldly, meeting his king’s gaze and telling him in that one look that he would stand by his king no matter what Aragorn chose to do.
As he stepped to the edge, the rest of the company gathered about him, anticipating his orders as they continued to fight this desperate battle. Aragorn swept his gaze at the faces assembled and saw that they knew defeat was eminent; Edoras was lost despite their valiant struggle to save it. Aragorn did not know what he despised the worst, the fact that his friends would die with him or that Arwen would to be Eol’s whore because of this failure. He thought of Eldarion who would lose not only one parent this night but both and prayed that the child would understand that was took place was unavoidable.
"We will hold the line for as long as we can," Aragorn spoke to those before him. "And take as many of them with us. Whatever happens when we fall, I do not know but we will go to the end with honor."
"And with as many of their heads at our feet as possible!" Gimli rumbled fearlessly, not about to let talk of death dampen his proud spirit. "What say you elf?" He turned to Legolas, "shall we play our game one final time?"
Legolas gave the dwarf a little smile and nodded. "I think I can accommodate you, Master Dwarf."
"We may yet survive this," Pallando remarked, not at all liking this defeatist mood that had fallen the company.
"We may," Elladan agreed, "and if we may not. However, if my last act in this world is to kill an orc, I can think of worse ways in which to pass."
And with that, Aragorn stepped forward, grateful that his friends were at his side as he raised Anduril above his head, its blade catching the faint glimmer of light that came from the rising sun and prepared for his final battle. He was about to utter a final battle cry when suddenly, another sound filled the air before he could speak. It was loud and blaring, moving through the air like the wail of a sea creature. It captured their attention singularly, not merely those who were defending the city but also those who were attempting to breach it. The horn sang its song and as Aragorn stared across the plain, he saw that there was something moving swiftly across the horizon towards them.
Seconds past as they watched in anticipation of what was approaching and then suddenly, the rumble of hooves could be heard against the ground, the relentless pounding of horses at full gallop filling their ears with its sweet sound. If the sight of the Uruk Hai army had been terrible indeed when first sighted, then this new vision was the most magnificent that they had ever seen.
"It is the Riders of the Mark!" A voice shouted in excitement.
The Rohirrim thundered across the field, their battle cry so fierce and loud that even the Uruk Hai were forced to look at them in fear as hundred of riders raised their swords, preparing to deliver grim death upon those who would attack their capital city. Aragorn watched them closely and saw Eomer leading them. The King of Mark appeared to be well though the evidence of the battle he had fought had marked him well. Eomer’s face was covered with streaks of blood, some of which Aragorn wagered was not his own. When he raised his sword, leading the famed Riders of the Mark towards the Uruk Hai forces, there was not one person who saw him that was not moved to victory as they rushed forward and faced the enemy.
The timely arrival of the Riders of the Mark renewed the defenders on the wall with a surge of hope so strong that nothing could stand in their way as they fell upon the Uruk Hai without mercy. The fighting continued as the dawn broke across the land and though some still fell in the onslaught of destruction, the tide had well and truly turned in their favor. The Rohirrim fell upon the rear of the enemy, cutting their numbers as they quickly enclosed the walls of Edoras. Very soon, the Uruk Hai found themselves fighting a battle on two fronts and while the earlier was not as formidable as it had been at the onset of the conflict, the new arrivals proved to be devastating in their advance.
The battle continued a little while longer but soon the enemy that had not died in the field or at the foot of Edoras’ walls or within it had fled for their lives. The deserters however, never made good their escape for the Rohirrim who were outraged by the attack upon the city of their king, cut them down mercilessly. As the new day dawned upon all of them, there was joy at surviving the long night but their victory was short lived for in the wake of any battle, there was work to be done even when the fighting was over. The celebration could wait.
It was time to bury the dead.
Aragorn would only report to the House of Healing when Eomer had returned to his city.
Earlier that night, the King of Rohan following the signal to withdraw, had left some of his men to deal with the Uruk Hai archers while he rode to West Emnet, knowing that reinforcements was the only hope of saving his city and his friends. The journey would have taken days if it were not for the foresight of the Marshall of the Mark who upon realizing that the threat to West Emnet was false, had immediately commanded the Rohirrim to return home fearing the ruse served some darker purpose he was not aware. In the end, his decision to return to Edoras proved well for all concerned for the Rohirrim encountered their king several hours before they would have arrived at the city themselves and learnt of the Uruk Hai siege.
Aragorn had no idea he could be so weary when he finally allowed healers to tend to him, even though he claimed he was more than capable of treating himself. The Elfstone was known for his ability as a healer of elvish medicine as well as King of Gondor but for the moment, he was exhausted enough to allow someone else to do for him. Fortunately, he was not injured badly. A broken rib, a speared thigh and a multitude of bruises were a small price compared to those who had lost their lives. However, as he gazed about the room where most of his company was being treated, he knew that it would be many days before they could leave Edoras again.
He wished he could ride straight away for Imladris but he was in no condition to battle Eol or the Hunter in his present state. He was also not so foolish as to think that he could breach the enchantment that surrounded Imladris without help and he was not so callous to demand it of the friends who had fought so bravely today when they suffered the same ills as he. Around the large room where the lords of Middle earth were placed to be treated by the royal physicians, Aragorn saw Gimli wincing in pain as the gash created by his helmet and by his close encounter with a Uruk Hai was being treated. For a dwarf who could face a thousand orcs without flinching, Aragorn was rather surprised by how disgruntled Gimli became when faced with a nurse’s care.
Legolas was seated next to Haldir’s cot, keeping a vigil next to the march warden and Aragorn wondered if the Lord of Eden Ardhon knew how the elf felt about Melia. He wondered what it was that Haldir did not have the courage to do but dispelled the thought because it was none of his business. Haldir remained asleep, his pallor still white from the loss of blood. Aragorn was certain that if a way could be found to give Haldir some of his own, Legolas would have gladly volunteered. As it was the elf did not look so healthy himself and seemed deep in thought. No doubt, Legolas’ thought was of Melia and whether or not she was recovering from her injuries.
"It was an honor to fight at your side King of Gondor," Pallando interrupted his thoughts by taking a seat on the empty cot next to his own.
"Call me Aragorn," Aragorn replied offering Pallando a warm smile. "It is what I prefer my friends to call me."
The gesture touched the Istar who expression mirrored his surprise. "I did not do so well for you today, I should have destroyed the Hunter."
"You brought the rain down and you kept the beast from killing us all," Aragorn reminded. "That is more than enough for me."
"It has been so long," Pallando shook his head. "Do you know what it is to live your life as one thing, even though you know you have another destiny, that there is power inside you that begs usage but routine and complacency have made you forget how."
Aragorn met his eyes and replied, "it may surprise you wizard but I do know how that feels. There was a time when who I was worried me. I knew there was a destiny waiting for me but being Isildur’s heir is not merely about being king, it is falling to his weaknesses as well and that frightened me greatly."
"You speak of Isildur’s Bane," Pallando guessed. "The One Ring?"
"I feared that I would steal it from Frodo as others have tried. I thought Isildur’s blood in my veins would surely curse me to share his fate but when the moment came, I had feared it happening so much that it was inconceivable to take the ring from its bearer. When I was able to refuse it, I understood it was not because of Isildur but me. I refused the Ring; Isildur had no part in it or in me. I come from his line and his blood does flow within me, but what lies here," he touched his heart, "is mine and always will be. You are who you are wizard, you may forgotten but you know your worth and when the times comes you will remember it."
"You are too wise for someone so young," Pallando smiled. "How is that possible?"
"Those who shaped my life were wise, I merely follow what they taught me," Aragorn replied. "I do not know if you can stop this beast that awaits us in Imladris but I would have you at my side nonetheless because I know you will do all you can to help us."
"Thank you," Pallando answered genuinely grateful. Even an Istar could lose faith in himself and the events of late with the loss of Alatar, reminded Pallando most profoundly how even the a powerful immortal could err with tragic consequences, as he had done when he turned his back upon his brother.
Their discussion drew to a close somewhat abruptly with the arrival of Eomer into the room. The King of the Mark appeared to have suffered no real injury other than lacerations and bruises to the parts of his body that was not protected by mail. Eomer searched the faces before him and was clearly relieved to see Aragorn alive and well. He brushed aside the physician’s effort to aid him for the moment for he wanted to speak with Aragorn first. They had not had the chance to speak since the end of the battle since Aragorn had been busy ensuring the wounded were brought to the House of Healing while Eomer took charge of finishing what remained of the Uruk Hai threat.
"It is good to see you well my king," Eomer said as he clenched his fist around Aragorn’s in greeting as he sat down next to Pallando. "I feared that we might be too late."
"Your arrival saved us," Aragorn replied sincerely. "If you had not come when you had, it would have ended badly for us all."
"Thank you for protecting my city Aragorn," Eomer spoke softly, meeting his eyes so Aragorn could see how much emotion was behind his gratitude. "Once again, you presence in Rohan has brought us good fortune."
"I do not know how much fortune I bought you Eomer," Aragorn replied bitterly. "The dark elf instigated this attack upon Edoras because of Arwen. He sought to destroy us all to keep her. If I had not come here perhaps this would not have happened."
"I do not believe so," Pallando declared, refusing to allow Aragorn to blame himself for this. "You could not have foreseen this."
"I would agree with the wizard," Eomer added firmly. "The elf had planned this well before your arrival in Edoras. The Rohirrim had been called away to West Emnet before your arrival here. If it were not the Marshall of Riddmark’s sense in realizing there was danger, we would all be dead by now. None of us are to blame for this destruction except the author of it."
Aragorn was not so certain but he knew his inability to rest easy would remain while Arwen was in Eol’s power. "We cannot linger here for too long. If he reaches Imladris before we can retrieve her, I do not relish how long it will take us to break the enchantment he has surrounded Elrond’s city."
"I cannot conceive from what source he draw his power," Pallando declared, bewildered by how Eol was managing to accomplish all the things he had since his sudden emergence in the present day. "He was something of a sorcerer in his time but he could not even escape Turgon’s city. Where has he suddenly acquired so much power enough to command a beast like the Hunter to do his bidding?"
"I do not know wizard but what he has done to my city is considered by me and my people an act of war," Eomer spoke with unrestrained venom. "I wish you to take some of Rohirrim with you if you go Imladris. If he can summon an army to lay siege to the Golden Hall I would not underestimate what he might have waiting for you once you arrive at the elven city."
"Eomer your offer is generous but I do not know if it will be needed," Aragorn quickly replied, grateful for the King of the Mark’s kindness but reluctant to risk any more lives in this quest then had already been lost in their dealings with Eol.
"Aragorn," Eomer spoke firmly and in his tone was the Kings of the Mark, from Theoden to Eorl, proud and determined. "I will not be deterred in this course. Your life has already fallen into peril because this being you hunt has no honor in anything. He would destroy an entire city to rid himself of you and your company, such a threat to the High King makes me honor bound to do everything in my power to ensure your protection.
"I think he means it," Aragorn replied with some measure of astonishment.
"You think?" Pallando looked at him.
"You give me no choice in this," Aragorn stared at Eomer.
"I do not," Eomer said resolutely and once again Aragorn was reminded of the Third Marshall of Riddmark that he had met so long ago when he, Legolas and Gimli had been pursuing Merry and Pippin through Rohan. Eomer was always noble and proud, determined to do the right thing even if it went against duty. He had incurred Theoden’s wrath too many times in standing up for what was just and showed that a crown meant little to him if the nobler ideals were to be trampled.
"Then I accept your offer but conditionally," Aragorn answered after considering how he could accept Eomer’s assistance without compromising his own search.
"Conditionally?" Eomer stared at him through narrowed eyes.
"When I leave with the company, those you assign to me will leave two days after my departure."
"But…." Eomer started to protest before Aragorn cut him off.
"Listen to me," Aragorn said firmly with just as much authority in his voice as Eomer had used to make him accept the Rohirrim guard. "I have no idea what awaits us at Imladris but a stealthy approach would serve me best until the full threat of Eol is revealed. I cannot do that if the Rohirrim rides with me. If you do as I ask, it will allow me valuable time to assess what exactly is taking place in Imladris and how I can use the Rohirrim to retrieve my queen. I will risk no danger to her life Eomer nor will I tip my hand by approaching her prison with a small army whose presence I cannot conceal if caution and stealth is needed."
"That will ease my mind somewhat about your safety," Eomer relented, seeing the sense in the king’s words. "I wish I could go with you," he confessed.
"No," Aragorn shook his head, discounting the possibility for more reasons than Eomer knew. "You need to remain with your people. They fought bravely today and they need you. Also, if anything befalls us in Imladris, we may need your aid in escaping it."
What Aragorn did not say nor did he need to, was someone needed survive if they did not.
If Aragorn feared that his delay in Edoras would cost him dearly, the King of Gondor need not have worried for the dark elf Eol found himself similarly hindered in his journey to Imladris by the prize he had stolen from Minas Tirith. Ironically, it was not by design that Arwen had brought about this delay although in hindsight and at a time much later then the present, she would consider it fortuitous that events had played out as it had. Since the departure of the Hunter from their company, Eol had been especially eager to hasten their pace to Imladris. Although he was never brutal or harsh with her, as she feared a captor might be likely to do, he had driven them relentlessly to travel as far as they could.
With little choice but to obey since she was in his power and her own physical state weakened considerably after Eldarion’s birth, Arwen attempted to keep pace with his need for distance. However it was a taxing journey for a woman who had just delivered a child and had yet to recover from it to journey across Middle earth and attempt a crossing over the Misty Mountain and it was not long before the strain began to take its toll upon her. By the time they had sailed past the woods of Lorien, Arwen’s state had made a steady decline and it was not before long before Eol had little choice but to break his journey to find shelter for the High Queen of Gondor.
They found it on the banks of the Gladden River at what remained of a ruined fishing village whose inhabitants had been destroyed by the white wolves during the Fell Winter little more than a century before the arrival of Eol and its captive. What remained of it was a curious collection of dwellings half buried in the earth like small burrows. If Arwen had been well enough to see where Eol had brought her, she might have shed some light on the nature of the folk that dwelt here but as it was, she was barely conscious upon reaching the forgotten village.
Small bones littered the ground of the ruined community as well as many graves in not far from the village itself. Eol had remembered reading something of the history of the region when assessing the best route to return to Imladris following his abduction of Arwen. He knew that more than a century ago, white wolves had plagued the area during one of Middle earth’s harshest winters. The creatures had crossed rivers that would have normally been barred to them if not for the fact that winter had turned the water to ice and allowed them passage to new territories.
From the look of the village, the wolves must have found this a ripe ground for feeding for it appeared that most of the inhabitants suffered a grisly fate if the bones and the graves he found were any indicaiton of what transpired here. In the scheme of things however, it mattered little. It served Eol well enough that the rest of Middle earth no longer remembered its existences and while he tended to Arwen, he could be assured that no one would stumble upon them, though they would do so to their utmost peril. Although Eol suspected Arwen was not mortally ill, she was nonetheless stricken with fever, having developed an infection of the blood her body was not strong enough to combat because of their arduous journey in returning to Imladris.
Eol sat at the side of his newly acquired bride to be, his hand resting upon her brow to feel the damp texture of her skin and knotted his brow, clearly unhappy at her present state of health. He had seen her become weaker each day as they traveled along the length of the Anduin and was disappointed that the woods of Lorien that was her home for so long lifted her spirits little. He supposed that she would be resistant to him for quite some time, as long as hope lingered that her king would come for her. Eol had little fear of Aragorn, the Elfstone or any of the plethora of names the man had seemed to have acquired in his lifetime.
She muttered deliriously in the height of fever, her king and her son’s name spilling from her lips like a chant to which she needed to repeat in order to remain alive. It disturbed Eol more than he cared to admit this attachment to her mortal life but he brushed it aside, remembering that it had been the same with Aredhel. She had demanded her return to Gondolin when he had ensnared her and it amused him to hear her persistence even when he was in the midst of taking her, though by then the demands had turned into sobs and finally acceptance.
When the Hunter returned to him, Eol knew that the beast had failed in the task set out for it.
Melkor had ensured that whilst in the shadow world, his creature could move through Middle earth far swifter than any beast alive so it did not surprise Eol when the Hunter found him shortly after his arrival in the village. For the first time since its tenure of service as Eol’s creature, the dark elf saw his servant flustered and unsettled. The defeat that it had suffered need not be spoken for Eol could see it in its manner and surmised that the Hunter may have encountered more than it was able to cope with at Edoras.
"They are not dead," Eol stated as he stared at the Hunter beyond the burrow home where he had left Arwen. He stood by the fire, allowing it to warm him as he stared at the beast across the flame from him in the open space in front of the dwelling.
"The Istar," the Hunter hissed. "He kept me from succeeding."
"You mean he bested you," Eol retorted without mercy or kindness. "You let a Maiar best you."
"A Maiar is nothing to take lightly. My master’s lieutenant who held this land in the thrall of darkness for two ages was also a Maiar. They have great power."
"You were not sent to defeat a Maiar," Eol returned, unwilling to accept excuses of his failure. "You were sent to kill a man and level a city. You could not even do that."
The Hunter bellowed in rage, crossing the space between itself and Eol, its huge body trampling the fire before it with little care of pain or injury as it paused before the elf, its eyes gleaming in hatred and menace.
"I use to pull the arms and legs of your kind like I would an insect," it hissed threateningly, "do not test me."
"And do not threaten me," Eol stared him down with no fear whatsoever.
Although the rest of his race were easily paralyzed with terror by this creature, Eol had no difficulty with facing the Hunter. He had brought the dark beast here from the ages past and he knew that despite the Hunter’s posturing, it was bound to serve a master. Melkor had done well by ensuring this when he was creating the demon. Still, it would not stray to remind the Hunter who commanded here as his hands began to glow slightly, a faint flicker of power to instill some well needed discipline into his servant.
"Remember that I can return you to where I found you easily enough," Eol replied. "With little more than word and thought, I can send you back to face destruction at Angband. You and the rest of your foul kind, dragons, demons, whatever other abomination Melkor chose to create in the pit can sink into the sea with the rest of Beleriand. Do not fail me again."
The Hunter snorted in outrage, rebelling against the sting of those words but having little choice but to concede that it did not wish to return to the past only to face certain doom when the Valar brought down their wrath upon his master. Here, there was little that could harm him and once Eol had his queen secured in his kingdom, he had promised the Hunter the sport of Middle earth and it was a reward the beast was most eager to partake.
The only thing that rivalled the song of the elves was the sound of their screaming.
The Hunter retreated across the fire again and lowered himself onto his haunches, like an animal sulking from its master’s lash. "Shall I return to Edoras then?" The Hunter asked after a while. "Shall I try to finish this king and his company?"
"No," Eol shook his head. "Whatever their course, they are still far behind us and should they reach Imladris before us, which I seriously doubt is possible thanks to our Uruk Hai puppets, they will not be able to breach the city either way. You will remain here at my side. The lady is ill, it will take a few days until she is recovered. When I am certain that she is well enough, we will return to her father’s city and I will see to it that the King of Gondor receives a proper welcome when he attempts to steal back his queen."
"What about the Maiar?" The Hunter rumbled.
Eol looked at the beast coldly and replied with a voice dripping with venom, "leave him to me. I will deal with the Istar."
For Aragorn, the days following the siege of Edoras moved too slowly for his liking. Despite his inclination to ride immediately after Arwen, he knew that he could not retrieve her alone and he needed his companions with him when he confronted Eol. If it were simply a matter of his safety, he would not have cared one wit if his life was lost battling the elf but his failure would mean dooming Arwen to the consequence of remaining Eol’s slave. He would risk nothing to allow that to happen, not even if it cost him some of his pride. Thus if it was required that he wait while he and his company recovered, then that was what he would do.
In truth, they had all sustained injuries during the siege and needed some time to rest. As a healer, he understood that it was important that they regain their strength before setting out again. Haldir and Faramir was the worst of the injured and it had required his personal intervention to aid the recovery of the march warden since there were few as well versed in elvish medicine as the King of Gondor and certainly none in Edoras itself.
Haldir arm had been slashed open by the Hunter’s blade, which seemed to have vanished as mysteriously as the beast itself during their battle. A few inches more and the blade would have torn his arm away from his body and the loss of blood he had sustained was considerable. Had he been anything but Eldar, he would have died already but elves healed faster than men and with proper healing, would be well to be on his feet soon enough, though Aragorn suspected not too soon for Haldir’s liking. Faramir fared a little better for the arrow that struck him though lodged in bone had caused a minor fracture as his flesh had taken the brunt of the impact. Fortunately the wound was not unlike Aragorn’s own injury with an arrow, painful with most of the damage limited to musculature.
The wizard Pallando seemed to have escaped without severe injury of any kind and as the rest of his company rested, he lent his assistance to the folk of Edoras, aiding where he could in the convalescence of the injured and the burial of the dead. Gimli who was well enough to ride had left Edoras for the Glittering Caves with the intention of meeting the company when they resumed their journey again. Gimli had established his colony at the caverns of Helm’s Deep after the War of the Ring, having discovered it during the battle they had fought there. Since it appeared that they would not be travelling for some days, the dwarf had taken his leave of them to visit the wife who awaited him there.
Aragorn worried however about Elladan whose deep resentment of the beast called the Hunter seemed like a poison in his blood. His brother in law and dear friend, with whom he had shared many adventures in the north seemed intensely preoccupied with avenging himself against the beast for Orophin’s death. While Aragorn could understand his fury at seeing his friend die, there was something about his hatred then ran deeper than mere anger. It surprised Aragorn to realise that Elladan was angrier about the Hunter killing Orophin then he was about Arwen being taken. Although this should have upset the King of Gondor, he knew Elladan loved his sister dearly and there was good reason for it. Unfortunately, the king could not guess what that reason might be.
Two days after the siege of Edoras, a rider appeared at the gates of the city and was immediately given entry into the city. His face was well known to the people of Edoras for they had seen him once before during the end days of the War of Ring, when Aragorn had led the Rangers of the North to Dunharrow.
Upon seeing his new arrival, Eomer rejoiced at the meeting for it had been years since they had laid eyes upon each other and with the age of elves coming to a close in Middle earth, may not do so again after this day. Eomer escorted his new guest immediately to Aragorn, aware that the king felt some measure of trepidation towards one member of his company and knew that this new arrival would be the best remedy for it.
Aragorn was in the House of Healing, helping the healers there with the wounded recovering still from the battle. Though he was not entirely healthy himself, tending to others soothed slightly the need to leave Edoras immediately after Arwen in a fit of rash impulsiveness. He also wanted to see to Haldir’s condition since the elf was being extremely disagreeable, much more than was his normal character, during his convalescence.
"Haldir of Lorien," Aragorn sat himself on the cot next to the march warden’s unhappy and put aside the cane that the healer’s had insisted he use to take the weight of his injured leg as he regarded the disgruntled elf. "Must you persist in being so difficult? There are healers in this place who are more than happy to let you tend to yourself in order to keep from being in your company."
"I do not require their assistance," Haldir said sourly as he kept his gaze fixed upon the open window that gave him a view of the sky instead of the walls surrounding him.
"I am certain you think that but it is untrue," Aragorn, replied gently, aware of what burdens this elf carried within him. "You are unwell and you should rest. The chance to face the Hunter and get your vengeance upon him for your brother will come soon enough, I promise you that."
Haldir’s eyes flashed a white heat at the mention of his hated enemy’s name but he said nothing in response to Aragorn’s statement.
Aragorn drew a deep breath, wondering if he ought to bring up one other subject with Haldir. What was said in the midst of battle remained on the field unless the circumstances warranted speaking of it. What Haldir had said to him, though unintentional, must no doubt be causing the elf some measure of anxiety. "Haldir, what said about the Lady Melia shall not leave my lips. You can be assured of that."
Haldir stared sharply at him and his shoulders sagged visibly at the realisation of what he might have unwillingly imparted to Aragorn. "I had hoped that those words to you were a dream. It upsets me to know that it was quite real. I suppose I should be grateful that I did not die, then you would have been compelled to tell her my last words."
"She does not know?" Aragorn found himself exclaiming with surprise.
"No," Haldir replied shaking his head, wondering how the King of Gondor had come to be his confidante in this matter. "I do not love her, not in the way that you think. We elves are not made that way, Elfstone. We are able to choose."
"I know," Aragorn nodded, all too aware of the choice that Arwen had made for him.
"I could have loved her but I had not the courage for it. I fear too much giving my heart completely away to a woman who would be spent in a mere flicker of time. The prince surprised me. I had not thought he had the stomach to endure that kind of anguish."
"Sometimes, one has not choice but to follow the desires of their hearts Haldir, no matter how tragic the consequences," Aragorn replied softly.
"You think they are bound for tragedy?" Haldir asked.
"I think in the end it will be inevitable," Aragorn refused to lie on that subject as much as he wished for Legolas sake that it was otherwise.
"I know that in my heart I made the right decision," Haldir offered. "She loves him more than she could ever love me, if such a feeling even existed in her heart to begin which I doubt it ever did. Still I wonder what could have been and it is that unknown that plagues my thoughts more than it ought, that and the fact that I was too much a coward to make the choice that Legolas did."
Aragorn did not know what to say to Haldir to make the pain he felt any less and reluctantly faced the unhappy reality that there were some things that were beyond his ability to heal. Haldir did not expect an answer of him and the only thing that Aragorn could think to do was to leave him to his own thoughts. The king stepped out of the room and wandered back to his own resting place, feeling the limits of his strength dwindle in the face of his exertions. Upon entering the room provided solely for him, he heard the sound of footsteps behind him and turned around to see Eomer, accompanied by a familiar face that lifted Aragon’s spirit just by his presence alone.
"Elrohir!" Aragorn exclaimed happily as he saw his brother in law burst into a wide smile at the greeting. He hobbled forward on his crutch and was given a warm brace by Elrohir upon reaching the brother of Elladan and Arwen.
"Have you forgotten how to dodge an arrow since I last saw you?" Elrohir asked, bearing an often more rambunctious wit than Elladan who was the more thoughtful of the twin brothers.
"You are one to talk," Aragorn snorted. "Arriving too late as always for a battle."
"Yes," Elrohir nodded, his gaze shifting enough to the door to indicate the injured he had seen coming here. "I hear that even Haldir is here?" He stated.
"He is," Eomer replied, "he was injured gravely during our battle."
"As had many others it appears," Elrohir remarked, recalling the state of the Meduseld when he had ridden past the city walls. "I received the message at Eden Ardhon from Elladan, telling me of what he had encountered when he attempted to reach Imladris. He said he was journeying to you in Minas Tirith."
Aragorn nodded as he retreated to his bed and lowered himself into it as Eomer and Elrohir sat down on the chairs within the room while Elrohir began to relate his activities since receiving his twin’s message in South Ithilien.
"As soon as I could I rode for the White City to meet him there but upon my arrival, the Lady Eowyn told me of what befell my sister. Is it true, has she been taken by the dark elf Eol?"
"It should be impossible but it is true," Aragorn nodded sombrely. "It is Eol."
"It was this elf that placed Edoras under siege," Eomer added.
"I have heard of his legend," Elrohir’s expression became grave. "Of how he had lured the maiden Aredhel into the wood around Gondolin and stole her away to become his wife. We must prevent this fate from befalling my sister."
"As soon as we are well enough to ride, we will do just that," Aragorn said firmly. "However, he has placed Imladris under some form of enchantment. Your brother attempted to breach it but to no avail. I fear that when we arrive there, we will encounter the same difficulty."
"We must try," Elrohir replied firmly. "I will not allow my sister to be dishonoured."
"Believe me Elrohir, I do not wish that either," Aragorn answered softly, with more than a little worry in his voice to tell the prince of Imladris how much it tormented him that he might arrive to late to save his beloved Undomiel from such a fate.
"I am sorry Estel," Elrohir returned immediately, regretful that he had been so thoughtless with his words and forgetful at how this entire situation must be for Aragorn. "I cannot imagine how you are able to keep your wits about you in such circumstances but I know you will return her to us."
"Thank you but I am glad to see you here not only because your company will be welcomed in our quest to retrieve Arwen but also for another reason," Aragorn declared honestly and then gazed at Eomer. "My lord, I ask your leave that I may have a moment alone with my brother in law. There is a personal matter which I need to discuss with him."
"I have matters of my own to attend," Eomer said graciously, aware that Aragorn’s need for privacy was not because he did mistrusted the King of Rohan in any way but because the matter to be discussed required some delicate handling. "I will expect to see you all at my table when it is time to dine this evening. Until then," he said graciously before departing.
Aragorn waited until after Eomer had left before he turned to Elrohir again. By now, the prince of Imladris was waiting with growing concern for Aragorn to speak. His need for privacy raising alarm within the heart of the elf.
"What is it?" Elrohir asked. "Has something happened to Elladan?"
"Elladan is well," Aragorn said quickly, allaying that fear quickly. Elrohir and Elladan were twins who had been virtually inseparable since their birth. While adulthood sometimes took them away from each other’s company, it was never for long and their connection was not merely one of blood but also of spirit. "However, I fear this business with the Hunter has affected him far more than he tells."
"What do you mean?" Elrohir demanded always somewhat protective of his twin who to him always seemed more delicate of heart than he. "I was told by the messenger that he was unhurt merely driven to exhaustion, that it was Orophin that was killed."
"That is what happened," Aragorn confirmed with a nod. "But the messenger might not have told you that Orophin died in front of him, while Elladan was forced to watch. They had reached the Golden Wood and I believe Orophin was seconds behind him when the Hunter struck."
Elrohir’s breath caught in his throat, as he understood how such a terrible event would effect his brother. Of all his children, Elrond had often said that it was Elladan that reminded him most of his wife Celebrian, for he possessed her gentle nature and her tendency to take things too much to heart. It was part of the reason she never truly recovered from what was done to her during her captivity by the Orcs and why Elladan hated them with such passion, even more than Elrohir in some instances. Unlike Elrohir whose temper sometimes flared too often and easily, Elladan was calmer yet when his passion was provoked, his wrath was like a white-hot flame burning brighter than the sun and without any mercy.
"And he has been brooding," Elrohir guessed without needing to hear more. "Blaming himself no doubt for having survived when Orophin died," he mused shaking his head.
"You know your brother well," Aragorn responded.
"He takes too much upon himself and if this beast that has my sister is as terrible as you say, then it is a state of mind that can only endanger others with him if left unimpeded. His hatred for this creature will consume him far worse then any threat the Hunter might be to us all." Elrohir answered worriedly, hoping it was just a case of self-persecution and not something deeper.
"I have great fears of what we will find once we reach Imladris, Elrohir," Aragorn confessed. "This elf has managed to hide Imladris from the rest of Middle earth. The magic alone is something I cannot comprehend but fortunately, the Istar Pallando rides with us so we are not completely out of our depth. However, it is the people who still remain in the city whom my fears are for also. I cannot imagine that they would allow Eol to bar they away from the outside world, not when so many of the First Born are leaving these shores for the Western Lands. How has he managed to subdue them? Your people are not without their own powers, he cannot have overpowered them all."
"He might be able to manage quite a good deal if he has the Hunter at his side. We have been ingrained with the fear of this beast. It comes down to us from the earliest days of our existence. Those who came from Beleriand brought tales of it and how Melkor sent the Hunter to capture some of us following our emergence into the world. In those times, we were like children, innocent and unknowing of anything so terrible as the dark purpose Melkor intended for us." Elrohir explained. "I worry that when confronted by the Hunter, all those old terrors returned."
"Enough to ensnare them so completely?" Aragorn stared at Elrohir shaking his head. "I do not believe so."
The elves of Imladris had faced a great deal since they settled in the valley following Sauron’s invasion of Eriador and his subsequent defeats by Tar-Minastir, the War of the Last Alliance and finally the War of the Ring. For two ages, they had faced evils and such dark times that it was difficult for Aragorn to perceive, let alone live in it and yet Imladris still endured as the ‘Last Homely House East of the Sea’. Imladris was more than just a refuge to elves and men but to him, it had been the undisputed realm of an elf Aragorn almost considered a father. To think that Eol had somehow used dark magic to seize it instilled Aragorn with a great sense of personal outrage almost as fierce as the abduction of Arwen.
"Enchantments can be twisted to serve evil Estel," Elrohir pointed out, despite Aragorn’s reluctance to believe it. "This elf has dark magic in his service and so we cannot know what he might have done to our people."
"Whatever it is," Aragorn said firmly, making a silence oath as powerful as the one he had made to Eldarion to bring Arwen home. "We will stop it and free Imladris, of that you have my word and my bond."
Elrohir gazed at him for when Aragorn spoke with such determination, it was impossible to believe anything was beyond the King of Gondor.
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.