Deeper than Breathing: 15. Chapter 15:The Sons of Elrond

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15. Chapter 15:The Sons of Elrond

Humble apologies for NOT updating the chapter numbers so you may not have been able to read chapter 14 when I updated. I forgot you have to do this so as an apology, an extra quick update.

 Penultimate chapter; mainly Aragorn's pov.

Warning: slightly AU but mainly book verse/ gap fillers although some extra bits added for Elf-worship.

Chapter 15: The Sons of Elrond

Legolas stood silent and still, peering up into the clouds and listening for something that he could not name. He was restless in the way he had been when they were in Moria… every nerve stretched. He felt the same metallic taste and thunder in his ears that he had when near Dol Guldur- and it was getting more intense. He had thought that it was Pippin looking in the palantir, but even now with the dark globe swathed once more, the pressure grew. He could hardly breathe.

He glanced across to Gandalf who was preparing to leave. He was shoving his pipe and blanket into the small bag that was all he carried as luggage and hurrying Merry to gather together his and Pippin's things. Aragorn was steadily handing things to Gandalf and they spoke of the journey. Gandalf was leaving now, taking Pippin with him to Minas Tirith, while Théoden was to return to Helm's Deep and from there on to the muster he had called.

The Elf turned back to the East... he could see a faint glow in the sky, far away over the mountains and that was Mordor. He knew Helm's Deep had been a mere precursor to the terrible assault planned by the Enemy. He thought of his woodland home and his heart twisted. Closing his eyes briefly, he pushed away thoughts of home. It would do no good now. If they were dead, they were already dead- he could do no more. If they yet lived, he sent a prayer to Elbereth to light a way for them in the darkness of the shadow.

Suddenly the metal taste flooded his mouth like blood. He heard the sound of huge wings far off but drawing closer, and his first thought was Smaug. But it couldn't be. Similar but unformed, without the cunning of a dragon, huge, reptilian but this mind was almost absent... instead, another…

Legolas gasped in recognition.

He whirled about, stringing his bow and plucking an arrow from his quiver.

'Gandalf!' he hissed, 'Nazgul!'

'Wha…?' began Merry but the Elf's hand was already clamped over his mouth and stifled the rest.

'Silence. Be still!' commanded the Wizard and though his voice was hushed all the men fell silent.

Legolas looked up, Merry frozen against him. The stars suddenly faded and then sailed out again. He heard the soughing of great leathery wings and the wind rushed past. For a moment he was reminded of Smaug but he knew this was the same as the winged creature of Sauron he had brought down on the eastern shore. An unearthly screech ripped the night apart and he buried his head against Merry's. Nazgul. They had been found.

Several of the riders cried out, and crouched, holding their arms above their heads as if to ward off a blow from above. A blind fear and a deadly cold fell on them.* The horses stamped and whinnied in fear.

Legolas could feel it searching for them… it was aware of him and he felt the sharp edge of its malice and lust shear against his mind.

He stood upright against the stars and bent his long bow. The Nazgul circled and swooped back. Legolas fixed upon the huge shadow that blotted out the stars, and sighted along the arrow. He pulled back the string as far as he could, muscles smooth and gliding. He felt time coalesce into this one moment and he breathed out, flicking his fingers open and let it fly. The arrow screamed past, a silver bolt into the sky. A wailing shriek pierced the night and then trailed off. The company stood frozen, blood chilled and eyes wide, staring into the darkness after the creature.

Then there was a mighty crash somewhere over the Isen and distantly, wailing came again but further away. It was the wounded beast that wailed but who knew whether the Nazgul stayed with its fallen mount or hunted alone.

'What in all of Arda was that?' Eomer came to stand beside Legolas, who was still staring, leaning forward, searching for sound or sign that evil was yet abroad

'That was the Nazgul,' said Gandalf urgently. 'They have been mounted once more I see, and this time, not mortal horses but winged creatures. That was a mighty shot in the dark, my friend, and not the first one you have brought down. So says Aragorn.' He clapped Legolas on the shoulder and smiled.

'I think you have bought us a little time but we must use it wisely.' He continued, 'That Nazgul was, I suspect, for Saruman not for Pippin. Not yet anyway. Even Sauron has not had time to respond to what he has now seen in the palantir. No, I think Sauron wants to know what Saruman has been up to- and that Nazgul was sent to find out - he does not trust Saruman. Now he has seen a Hobbit in the palantir...' The Wizard put his hand on Pippin's shoulder and steered him towards Shadowfax. 'And he knows the name Baggins.'

The horrible wailing came again, far across the Isen. It trailed like a long leash of sound up into the night. The men stopped and looked as one across the river, frozen in horror, their hair slightly on end.

Only Gandalf seemed oblivious. Instead the Wizard leaped effortlessly up over Shadowfax's back. The great horse snorted and tossed his head restlessly, feeling his rider's urgency. 'Sauron will expect the Nazgul to return with that Hobbit… when he does not, he will suspect Saruman of even more treachery. He will want revenge. It will not be long before he sends others. And this time, he may spare more than one of them.' He looked down at his companions with a strange look in his eyes, and then held out his arms for Pippin. 'I almost pity Saruman. He was once very great and did many noble deeds over the Sea. Alas, his curiosity and scholarliness led him where he should not have gone.'

Aragorn helped Pippin up onto Shadowfax.

'Aragorn.' Gandalf said, 'You have no time to lose. Make haste. I will meet you again in Minas Tirith. Farewell.'

He held the gaze of each of the, Aragorn, Gimli, Merry and then Legolas, to whom he gave a gentle smile. 'Oft it looks darkest just before dawn,' he said. And then the horse surged forwards and was away, galloping over the slight rise and disappearing into the night.

*

Eomer threw his saddle across Firefoot's glossy back and reached under the horse to pull the girth tight. He pulled at the straps to check that they were secure and put his hand of the hilt of his sword instinctively checking all was in place. Then finally he placed his helm upon his head and turned to lead Firefoot to the head of the column; that was when he saw Legolas.

In the darkness, the Elf was still, a tall silent shadow against the huge night. He leaned forwards slightly, listening. Every now and again another bloodcurdling wail from the other side of the Isen pierced the absolute silence. Every time it sounded, every man froze and looked up.

One long howl went up into the night, from across the Isen, a long thin wail trailing across the silence and suddenly cut short. The men stopped where they were, looked up. No one moved or spoke. For many minutes they waited but there was no further sound.

Eomer looked towards Legolas again. He stood, every sense alert and strained. Like an arrow held but not released. He led Firefoot towards him but the Elf did not stir, nor cast a backward look over his shoulder.

'We are leaving.' Eomer said quietly, resisting the urge to put a hand on the Elf's shoulder- he felt somehow that was neither his place nor wise. He looked out into the night, but could see nothing except the thin line of the river gleaming silver in the moonlight, and a dark blur of trees at the water's edge. 'What do you hear?' he asked curiously.

'I hear the sound of Shadowfax far over the plains now, galloping faster than the wind. Gandalf urges him on.' The Elf spoke as if in a trance. 'There is a cloud gathering above Minas Tirith. I hear far away, the sound of many horses, steady hearts. And a banner flutters. I can no longer hear the creature. It is dead.' He paused and then turned to look at Eomer. 'I hear the sound of the Isen rushing on to the Sea.' Eomer was caught by the deep, intent, green eyes. The Elf placed his hand fleetingly over Eomer's heart. 'I hear your heartbeat.' He smiled an eldritch smile that held the man utterly.

Eomer went to put his hand over Legolas' but the Elf smiled again and shook his head, darting his eyes towards where the men gathered. 'Gandalf knowing is another matter entirely but you will be their king one day,' he said. 'I have given them enough to talk about. Let them guess who else they heard.'

Eomer started speak, he wanted to say he did not care, but Legolas looked beyond him and a gruff voice came from the dark. 'I think I will ride with you, horselord, the better to acquaint you with the virtues of the Lady of the Golden Wood.' Eomer turned. Gimli strode towards them, thumbs jammed into his belt. He regarded them with bright eyes gleaming in the darkness. 'Yon beastie has stopped its yowling then? Good. Made my hair stand on end.'

Eomer leaped away from Legolas as if he had been stung, and put on a stern face. 'I was just saying – a good shot,' he muttered.

Gimli squinted at him. 'Were you now?' He turned to the Elf who grinned at him mischievously. 'It still only counts as one,' muttered the Dwarf. 'Well, two I suppose since you did shoot down the other on the eastern shore.'

Legolas bowed graciously and Gimli returned the bow with equal graciousness, but Eomer did not miss the gleam in Gimli's eyes as he straightened. Nor did Legolas and he gave a feral grin that made Eomer take a step towards the Elf and want to run his hands over the hard sleek body. Instead he took a breath and turned back towards the waiting men.

*

Aragorn looped the reins over Hasufel's head. Gandalf had gone with Pippin and he remained here with the remaining members of the company. He felt the burden of choice and sighed.

Merry looked up at him. 'Pippin always lands on his feet that one,' he said hopefully. 'I just hope he can look after himself without me there to watch over him.'

Aragorn looked down. 'We are a Fellowship still,' he said solemnly, 'even though two of our company are far from us, and two more ride into war. We four remain. And we must keep faith with each other,' he said.

Merry looked up at him quizzically. 'You're beginning to sound like Gandalf or Legolas, Strider. Now we can't have that. I'll look out for you and you look out for me, and we'll both look out for those two.' He nodded towards Legolas and Gimli. Gimli was looking up at where Eomer sat astride his horse. He reached up his hand and to Aragorn's surprise the Dwarf swung up behind Eomer.

'Indeed we will.' Aragorn laughed softly.

'So, four of the company still remain,' said Aragorn. 'We will ride on together but we shall not go alone as I thought. The king is now determined to set out at once. Since the coming of winged shadow, he desires to return to the hills under cover of night.'*

'And then whither?' asked Legolas, coming to stand beside him. He stroked Hasufel's long muzzle and the horse whickered softly.

'I do not know,' answered Aragorn slowly, full of doubt and weighing his words carefully, hoping he could still avoid the road to the sea that Galadriel spoke of, hoping to keep them all safe. He felt overwhelmed by the weight of expectation... to be the King? To claim Arwen? To claim Gondor? Could he challenge the might of the Dark Lord? He felt faint with it… and then he felt a steady hand on his shoulder.

'We are with you, Aragorn.' He looked up into the green eyes of Legolas. In the moonlight, he saw his own face reflected strangely. As if the Elf held up a glass to him, he saw a man crowned with stars and noble as in the ancient kings of Numenor. Aragorn gasped when he realised he saw himself. Legolas smiled gently. 'We are with you, Aragorn. I have given you my word, I will follow you wherever you may lead us.'

Aragorn looked at his friend in wonder. He felt the warmth of their friendship and the Elf's tender regard for him dissolve his fear and doubt. He clasped Legolas' arm firmly and tears sprang into his eyes.

*

They rode swiftly through the night, crossing the fords of the Isen. Gimli rode behind Eomer and Legolas rode alongside. Often their knees bumped as the two horses pushed against each other. Gimli raised an indulgent eyebrow – every time, Legolas grazed Eomer's knee, the man jumped. Did he think Legolas was going to grab him? Honestly, these men were a jumpy lot.

Gimli grasped the muscled torso and squeezed curiously. Made like Dwarves these Rohirrim… he stared at the strong back and the muscled thighs in front of him. He was no fool and a seasoned veteran of many a mountain skirmish, and of long months prospecting with only a few other Dwarves for company. He was not inclined to take comfort himself, but he was no stranger to the muffled sounds of passion… he looked speculatively at the man in front of him, and although he did not think anyone else had guessed the truth, he remembered the panting laugh that had overlaid the horror of Mirkwood burning.

Then he caught a flash of teeth in the moonlight and a grin. He realised Legolas had been observing him and seen him squeeze the man. Surely he did not think…? That he himself felt…? Alarmed, he threw his most scorching look at Legolas warning him, hoping that the Elf's farsight could see or even better, feel the searing heat from his gaze.

Legolas laughed and it jolted through Gimli. He had forgotten how glad a sound that was. Legolas still turned away when any looked upon him with pity so Gimli ignored the loss in the Elf's eyes and took every moment of joy that he could. And if that meant Eomer, or even Aragorn giving him comfort… for that matter Théoden still looked at the Elf with something akin to adoration…Whoever it was, as long as it eased his friend's heart, then the Dwarf wished him well.

*

The night wore on and they rode hard. Legolas felt Eomer's eyes upon him and his fingers remembered the man's skin and the soft down of his body. His lips tasted the salt and sweat. He lifted his hand to his face and breathed in the scent of the man and smiled. He turned back to look over his shoulder and sought Eomer's eyes and Gimli tight behind him. But his gaze slid off the man's rapt gaze to beyond, the way they had come, and he put his hand on Arod's neck, stopping him. There was a tremor in the air... He had heard it before but it was nearer, much nearer. Soon.

'Something comes…' He closed his eyes, trying to sift through the sounds of the Rohirrim, the sounds of bits jangling and hoof beats mixed with others… He leaned towards it slightly, listening. There was the sound of the wind in a banner fluttering. Steady heartbeat, horses as steady in their hearts as their riders…

Just then more substantial, he heard a horse galloping. An outrider, one of their own, Legolas caught the notes of the song they all shared but he did not pause to savour it as he might have. He searched for Aragorn and found him at the front of the column. Others had heard the hoof beats now and the whole column paused, wheeling round to gather about their king.

From the darkness a rider approached. Swords ripped from their sheaths and bows were strung.

A rider suddenly emerged from the dark.

'My lord' he said to Théoden, wheeling his horse, which was blowing hard and snorting. It shook its head and foam scattered from its mouth. 'There are horsemen behind us. I thought I heard them as we crossed the Isen but now I am sure.'

At once, the company halted and gathered about the king. Eomer leapt from his horse and stood at the head of the company, sword raised.

The sinking moon was obscured by a great sailing cloud but suddenly it rode clear again. Legolas heard the approaching horsemen, the steady hoof beats measured against the steady heartbeat of both horses and men. He caught a whisper of a different song amongst them, it puzzled him. But before he could think on it, dark shapes came swiftly on the path from the fords. The moonlight glinted here and there on the points of spears. The number of pursuers could not be told but they seemed no fewer than the king's escort.

Legolas did not dismount, nor did he draw his bow or knives. These were no orcs, nor servants of the Enemy... He could not guess at their purpose but there was a familiarity about them.

When they were some fifty paces off, Eomer cried in loud voice, 'Halt! Halt! Who rides in Rohan?'

The pursuers brought their horses to a sudden standstill. A silence followed and then in the moonlight, a horseman could be seen to dismount. He was tall, a dark standing shadow. He held his hand up, palm outwards in gesture of peace.*

He squinted in the darkness, trying to discern the company. He addressed Eomer since he was the one who had greeted him.

'Rohan? That is a glad word. We seek Aragorn, son of Arathorn.'

Legolas opened his eyes wide. And then shook his head - of course, that was what had been familiar about the men. They had notes of Aragorn's song twined about their hearts. They were kin. That was why he had felt no apprehension. It was familiar and well worn, like a path homewards…

Aragorn had dismounted and clasped the man, exchanging words, but Legolas edged Arod forwards. His gaze moved over the grim faced men, their cloaks identical and pinned only with a star, their expressions grim. He could see their kinship to Aragorn, these lost men of Numenor.

There was someone else, not Dúnedain … he saw two others on great black horses with silver bits and harness. These two riders were taller than the Dúnedain, their faces were familiar although Legolas had never seen them before. Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond and they favoured him greatly. Legolas stared unabashed, as is the way of Mirkwood Elves, for they had great renown as warriors. Black hair and grey eyes, they were so similar that Legolas did not think he could tell them apart, clad alike in bright mail beneath cloaks of silver-grey. Long swords hung at their sides and they had shields with corresponding devices strapped to their saddles.

They barely registered Legolas.

Their eyes fixed on the two men who embraced. When Aragorn raised his head and met their gaze his face lit first and then dimmed. When Aragorn released Halbarad he next approached the two warriors. He reached up a hand to each of them and they leaned down and clasped him. They did not smile but one leaned down and exchanged words too quiet that even Legolas could not hear, nor did he seek to. The other surveyed the troop of Rohirrim. His eyes alighted briefly on Legolas and were then drawn back to his brother who had straightened and now spoke quietly.

'Who are these riders?' asked Gimli, he had dismounted from Eomer's horse when the strangers approached. Now he swung his axe and stretched. He looked up at Legolas.

'I think these are the sons of Elrond. They are known as great warriors amongst my people. They are mighty slayers of orcs and goblins in the mountains.' He could not hide the slight note of admiration in his voice. Gimli smiled.

'These men that are kin to Aragorn, they too seem mighty fighters. I am glad they are with us. Look at them, stern and grim. I like that. Makes me feel better.' He grunted as Legolas pulled him up to sit behind him. Gimli wriggled to get comfortable. 'I hate to say this but it is much easier without a saddle. The edge of it was digging into my crotch the whole time.' Legolas laughed easily.

Gimli looked across at the troop of grim silent men from the North and the two Elf lords. 'Can Elrond spare them then? Perhaps war does not march upon Rivendell as it marches on our own lands, Legolas?'

'No,' a wry smile played on his lips, 'It does not march upon Imladris as it marches upon ours. Elrond has powers that my lord does not… did not'

Gimli tightened his hold on Legolas, almost as if to stop him from falling. Indeed, thought Legolas, that has been the theme of our discourse of late, mine and Gimli's and Aragorn's. We seek to stop each other from falling and yet, perhaps we cannot.

Instead he said, 'The Dúnedain and the Sons of Elrond! They will be known to the Enemy. It will dismay him to know they ride with the Heir of Isildur.'

'It will dismay him more to know that the Son of Gloin rides with them too!' replied the Dwarf. Legolas laughed aloud and Gimli smiled.

Eomer turned at the sound and watched the two chatting easily.

'I wonder why they have come. Do you think Gandalf sent for them?' Gimli pushed the handle of his axe into his belt and grasped the Elf's waist.

'No. Galadriel.' Legolas let Gimli settle behind him before clucking his tongue to Arod. The horse's ears flickered and he moved off. 'Do you not remember the message from Galadriel to Aragorn?' Legolas half turned towards Gimli, looking down.

'Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?

Why do thy kinfolk wander afar?

Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,

And the Grey Company ride from the North.

But dark is the path appointed to thee,

The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.'

Gimli was silent then, giving them both time to think. The Dúnedain had come, the Grey Company- there was no avoiding it now. He felt Gimli sigh heavily and he said nothing.

He heard Gimli say quietly, 'Just give me an axe and few orcs to swing at,' he muttered, 'and I'll be happy. All this thinking just makes me tired.'

'You sound like Pippin.'

'I feel like Pippin.' But Legolas also noted that Gimli sounded unbearably weary.

Legolas felt Gimli let his head drop against the Elf's back, sleep finally overtaking him. Legolas did not stir and Gimli sighed deeply. 'Forgive me this intrusion, Legolas, but I am weary and must sleep. Dwarves are made for sprinting as you know.'

'As I know.' Legolas said quietly. Arod flicked his ears towards the Elf's voice.

'What do the kin of Aragorn say?' asked Gimli sleepily.

'I do not know. I am not listening.'

'You aren't listening?' Legolas felt the Dwarf come awake, 'Why not?'

He shifted to turn and look at the Dwarf wrapped around his back. He gave Gimli a steady look. 'That would be eavesdropping.' He turned back to look ahead once more. 'And it is rare that the eavesdropper hears anything good. Especially of himself,' he added.

'What is the point of riding with an Elf if he won't eavesdrop?' Gimli prodded Legolas in the ribs. 'Eavesdrop. Now.'

Legolas smiled at the imperious tone, glad that Gimli was more like himself. 'I do not think they have anymore news from our homes than we do,' the Elf replied, and he too felt suddenly weary. 'If they did, Aragorn would have told us by now.'

Gimli paused to think for a moment and then he said, 'Have I told you yet about the caves of Helm's Deep yet? They call them caves but…'

'Yes, you have.' Legolas interrupted, remembering the several occasions that Gimli had regaled him about the wonders of the caverns of Aglarond.

Gimli ignored him, as he had ignored him before. '…these are not caves, they are treasures beyond anything you can imagine…'

'You have told me several times in fact…'

Gimli's voice grew stronger and he felt more real against the Elf's back, more solid. 'The towers of men are as nothing beside the glories I have seen…'

'You have also told Gandalf…'

'Underground lakes that have not been seen by any other living thing, Dwarf, Elf or Man…'

'And Aragorn. And Eomer… in fact I think that is why Gandalf left so suddenly'

'Water unmoved for millennia…'

Gimli's voice rumbled against his back, and it felt comforting. He talked of the caverns deep beneath the earth and made them sound beautiful, spoke of the earth's sculptures, of water that had not been disturbed for time uncounted… Legolas felt himself soothed and let himself fall into the rhythm of Arod. He would not think more on the words of Galadriel, either to him or to Aragorn. Let his feet take him where they would. He remembered a song Bilbo had composed on the return from the Lonely Mountain after the Battle of the Five Armies. He half listened to Gimli and tried to think of the words… and I will follow if I can… pursuing it with eager feet..? No…The road goes ever on and on…

*

They rode through the night. Stars wheeled above. Legolas tasted the frost of early spring. He lifted his head to catch the faraway scent of pine and snow that came on the drifts of air from the mountains. He tilted his head slightly, closing his eyes and listening to the thin silver song of stars fading into dawn. The jingle of harness and armour mingled with steady hoof beats and heartbeat of the Dúnedain and Rohirrim. He listened to the deep earth notes of the Dwarf snuggled into his back and felt the stirring of another's attention.

He opened his eyes to see one of the sons of Elrond riding close by and regarding him thoughtfully.

'You hear the Song?' the warrior asked. His dark brows and darker eyes held Legolas. There was incipient power in that gaze, even as Elrond. Black hair held in the same braids as the father's, looser than any Wood Elf would deem practical. The great black stallion tossed his head and played with the bit in his mouth.

'Yes.' Legolas answered. 'Do you?' he wondered aloud before he thought. But the warrior did not seem offended, rather he withdrew his gaze from Legolas and looked upwards instead.

'I hear the song of my forebears,' he said and then quite suddenly, he surged forwards and cantered along the line towards the front.

Legolas watched him go. Curiosity prickled him and he wondered what it must be like to have the weight of such history. It was so different from what he knew, what he was. Legolas looked up at the Mariner curiously. Surely the Sons of Elrond did not truly believe their ancestor sailed the sea of night? It seemed so superstitious to practical Elves from the wood…they who had turned aside from the Valar to live in Middle Earth, to tend the forests and to keep the earth's song alive in their hearts and who had deemed it a betrayal to sail across the Sundering Seas.

*

Helm's Deep was suddenly before them. Long shadows ran ahead cast by the sun rising behind them. The mountains were painted pink and gold and the last stars disappeared.

Long notes of many horns rang out to welcome the king and then there was no more time to think because they approached the Deep. Riding three or four abreast over the narrow bridge, Aragorn was aware of Arod just before him. Legolas had gripped Gimli's arms to steady him. Suddenly the two great black horses of his brothers shoved up on either side of him. Like a tide they swept Aragorn onwards and into the stone fortress. There was shouting, and horns echoed off the stone walls to announce the arrival of the king. All was colour and movement. The banner of the King of Rohan was hoisted above the battlements and the sun caught glints of silver off the many spears and shields.

Théoden ordered that food and drink be provided in the keep and he asked that Merry, when he was rested, wait upon him and tell him of the Shire. Aragorn left Legolas and Gimli fussing round the Hobbit whilst he led the Dúnedain into a part of the keep that was away from the other living quarters, saying he wished to take counsel with his kin and gather news from the North.

There was a small courtyard flanked by three towers on the North, West and South and to the East, the thin high wall looked out over the steppe and away to the East. Aragorn led the Dúnedain to this courtyard and they settled in one of the tower rooms there.

Aragorn took another small chamber to himself. He wanted some time to think and to speak with his kin and to hear news of Arwen. He needed it like a thirsty man. It had been so long that he had seen her, held her, breathed her scent… but the message from Arwen had come from Halbarad; it was he who had brought Arwen's gift and he who held it still until such time as Aragorn could unfurl the banner and declare himself.

As he busied himself about unpacking the few things he had brought, he thought again on Elrond's words years earlier… he had been called to Elrond's chamber and there the Lord of Imladris had spoke to him long into the night, telling him again of his ancestry, of tales of Numenor, and of the fall of Isildur. Aragorn had wondered at the time whether Elrond spoke for his, Aragorn's benefit, or for his own. And then he had spoken Aragorn's doom…

'.. A great doom awaits you, either to rise above the height of all your fathers since the days of Elendil, or to fall into darkness with all that is left of your kin…"

He set a small fire burning in the grate. He missed Gandalf now the most and wished for his counsel. Then he leaned his cheek against his hand and stared at the flames as they caught.

The door behind him opened and a long shadow fell across the room. He did not turn. Then another shadow and the door closed.

Elrohir unpinned his silver-grey cloak and cast it carelessly over the wooden table that stood in the centre of the room. He threw himself into one of the three low chairs clustered near the hearth and stretched out his long legs. He steepled his fingers and looked at the man before him.

'Well, you are deep in your thoughts.' Elrohir said looking intently at the man still crouched at the edge of the firelight. 'Is it cold enough for that?' he looked questioningly at the flames that caught and flickered.

Aragorn did not stir. 'You came quickly and with speed,' he observed. 'Was it Galadriel who summoned you?'

'We had word in Imladris that you needed your kin so we set out to take word to the Dúnedain, then we followed you here.' Elrohir shrugged. 'We came upon your tracks on the Plains of Orthanc. We guessed you were close.' he said. 'There was one moment that we thought we were too late. Nazgul flew over us and swooped low. It disappeared into the night and we heard it howling. We thought it had found you… or some unlucky traveller.'

'We tracked it when it fell,' continued Elladan, pulling his gloves off each hand and throwing them to join his brother's silver-grey cloak. He looked around the small room. It was like many other rooms in the Hornburg- sparsely furnished and only a couple of tin candlesticks for ornament. There was no sense of comfort or richness but none of the three occupants cared for that now. All their intent was on war.

'We could not leave it unchallenged but there was no Nazgul to whet my appetite for battle, though I cannot in truth say I was unhappy it had gone.' Elladan went on. He stood near the narrow window and threw open the thick casement window. Cool air rushed in.

'We put the creature out of its misery,' added Elrohir. It had shuffled away from them when they approached, holding one huge leathery wing up, flapping desperately with the other trailing. It had swung its blunt head snarling and gnashing its venomous teeth. But it was too wounded and blind with pain to realise that two elven warriors approached and Elrohir had easily ended its miserable, deformed life.

'Legolas shot it down.' Aragorn eased himself into the chair opposite Elrohir with reluctance, for he knew that Elrond would have sent counsel and he was not sure he wanted to hear it.

Elladan regarded his twin thoughtfully and their eyes met in accord.

Elrohir turned back to Aragorn. 'We have to speak of the road ahead now Aragorn.' Aragorn began to shake his head, he had refused to speak of it with Elrohir on the open road and he had not changed his mind. But Elrohir persisted. 'Even if you do not wish it, my father bid me remind you; the days are short. If thou art in haste, remember the Paths of the Dead.'*

Aragorn leaned back in the chair, hands gripping the arm rests. 'No. It will be a black day indeed before I tread that path.'*

Elladan leaned on the cill of a narrow window cut into the rock. He watched something outside, chin resting in his hand. 'It is already a dark day, brother. Sauron masses his armies and war is upon us.'

Aragorn turned to face them and sighed heavily. How could he make them understand?

'You have need of haste, Aragorn. You must listen to the counsel of my father. He bids you: Remember the Paths of the Dead.' Elrohir leaned forwards and said emphatically, 'What choice do you have?'

Aragorn glanced at the satchel Gandalf had given him before he left. He remembered the feel of warmth when he had touched it and the power that had pulsed in his fingertips. Perhaps there was a way to find out…

Elrohir followed his glance and cocked his head to one side.

'What do you have in there, brother?' Elrohir narrowed his grey eyes. 'Something draws me to it and I think it does you also.'

Aragorn looked away. 'A palantir. Saruman had it and gave it up.'

'Ah. Not willingly I think.' Elrohir stood and walked towards the table on which it lay.

Aragorn felt an unreasonable surge of resentment overpower him when he saw Elrohir scoop up the satchel and pause, looking down at the bag. He had already half risen before he realised that Elladan too had moved and was standing carefully between them.

Elrohir stared at them both. He held the leather satchel carefully. 'It calls to me. Does it you?' he scrutinised the Ranger, his brother whom he had taught.

Aragorn became aware of the small movements in his hands, the clenching of his fist. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax.

Softly, Elrohir continued, 'Power that sings to my Noldo blood, that sings of craft and subtle secret craft at that...

'Tall ships and tall kings

Three times three

What brought they from the foundered land

Over the flowing sea?

Seven stars and seven stones

And one white tree'

Elrohir moved back to where Aragorn was now standing. He stood so close his breath was warm on Aragorn's cheek and their breath mingled. He looked into Aragorn's eyes.

'It is yours by birthright. I will not take that from you, you need not fear.' And he lifted his hand and gently stroked a hair from Aragorn's brow. 'You are coming into your own, Estel.' He smiled tenderly, and Aragorn remembered how the warrior before him had taught him, had helped the child who had swung a sword too heavy for him. Elrohir smiled gently and said, 'You will wrest this stone from the enemy. You must do that now. See where his armies mass and where we should now go.' He held out the heavy bag to Aragorn.

Aragorn put his hand on the leather skin of the satchel. He felt a pulse. It warmed to him. It knew him. It called to him as the Ring had, but subtly different. It was made by the Men of Numenor, perhaps even Fëanor himself, but it was not made by Sauron, it was not his.

Elladan moved to stand with his twin. 'And then I tell you, you will remember the Paths of the Dead…'

Aragorn paused, his hand already lifting the satchel from Elrohir. He looked away.

'I... I cannot.'

Aragorn felt the heat from their bodies, their breath on his face.

With tenderness Elladan asked as he had when Aragorn was a child, 'What do you fear?'

Aragorn turned away. He glanced out of the window where Elladan had been gazing only moments before. It was mid morning and all was quiet, most of the King's troop were resting and the garrison were busy preparing for the muster. The walls were empty apart from one lone sentry. Legolas. He stood on the thin ledge high above the Deeping Combe, gazing out over the empty plains as the sun rose higher in the morning sky and touched the cold stone to gold. Wind blew through his winter grass hair and flattened the grey Lorien cloak around his body.

Aragorn faltered. 'Because it is the road to the Sea,' he said softly.

Elrohir followed his gaze to the sunlit morning. He too saw the elf standing on an impossibly narrow ledge with the breeze lifting his hair. 'I cannot ask.' Aragorn whispered, as much to himself as to his brothers. He could not ask Legolas to sacrifice himself, and he had sworn to follow Aragorn to the ends of the earth if need be.

Aragorn pushed Elladan away, stumbling from the room, and out into the morning. He knew Elrohir watched from the open window and that Elladan had now joined him. The air was cool and he breathed in great gulps when he realised he still clutched the leather satchel with the palantir.

He heard someone call his name and looked up. Legolas was walking swiftly towards him, concern on his fair face. Aragorn held up a hand to stop him and shook his head. Wearily he rubbed his fingers through his dishevelled hair knowing how he must look, begrimed from the ride and lines of exhaustion under his eyes. He caught the look of puzzled hurt on Legolas' face but he could not deal with that now. He did not want to speak to Legolas, feeling only the remnant of his anger at Elrohir.

He knew Legolas was speaking to him, anxiety laced his voice but Aragorn could not speak of it now and merely shook his head.

'Please Legolas, I must go to some quiet chamber alone and take some thought.' He made his way quickly away from Legolas towards the quarters where the Dúnedain were lodged. He burst through the door of the opposite tower and closed it quickly, leaning against the solid oak for a moment. He let his head fall back, he needed solitude, and he needed a quiet place so he could think.

A warmth pulsed beneath his fingers and spread up his arms. He felt an inexorable pull at his consciousness. The Palantir. He needed to look into it. He knew it would answer his questions.

*

Elrohir had not moved from the window. He watched the door to the Dúnedain garrison where Aragorn had disappeared moments before, acutely aware that he was not the only one who watched. Legolas had drifted back into the shadows and had Elrohir not known he was there, he would never have distinguished the Elf in his grey cloak from the shifting grey shadows.

Later, Aragorn had emerged, he had crossed the small empty courtyard to the third tower in the square, that was empty, closely followed by Halbarad.

Elrohir was oddly pleased that Halbarad too had gone. He was sure the man would have insisted when he knew of Aragorn's plan. The brown weathered satchel had still been clutched to his chest as he climbed the narrow stairs to a high chamber. Elladan had turned away with a heavy sigh and thrown himself into the low chair he had vacated only a little while ago while Elrohir had remained by the window looking out.

Legolas too had stood watching but made no move himself to approach Aragorn. Once Aragorn had closed the door, he turned away and stood facing the East wind coming off the steppe. It had drawn its cold fingers through his long hair, pale as wheat, and Elrohir watched for a moment. He remained still, thinking. It was clear that this friendship, this Fellowship had sustained Aragorn throughout the quest, and his doubt lessened because of the strength of his friendship with both Elf and Dwarf. But now it hampered him. The road he needed to take was clear but he sought to avoid it. Because of Legolas. Because Aragorn feared that to take the Paths of the Dead would mean Legolas' death.

Legolas walked away, along the narrow, crumbling edge of the wall which even for Elrohir seemed thin and insubstantial in the morning light.

Elrohir left the small stone room, pulled his cloak about him in the chill spring morning air and followed him.

*

Aragorn ascended the narrow stone steps that wound through the mountain to a high chamber. A narrow slit in the rock let in a long cool sliver of north light and he looked about. There was a simple wooden table and one stool. Other than that, the room was bare.

'This will do,' he said briefly. Halbarad nodded, throwing down a grey cloak and some blankets. 'I am glad you came with me, old friend,' said Aragorn softly, and he reached out to clasp the forearm of the man who had accompanied him near all his journeys. Halbarad had stood with him in many a skirmish, and who had always been his friend. He could not bear the scrutiny of his brothers now, they pushed at him too hard and still he resisted them who had been his mentors for all of his long life. He could not face the thought of that dark road that led to the sea and watched by the Dead.

'No longer doubt who you are, Aragorn.' Halbarad interrupted his thoughts. 'You are the King and you have the right to this. '

Aragorn settled on the low stool and placed the swathed globe on the table before him. He clenched his fists and set his jaw.

'I am for you, Sauron Lord of the Darkness, Lord of the Rings.' And so saying, he swept the cloak from the obsidian globe and pierced it with his deep stare. Instantly, flame and darkness swirled and filled the globe with fire. He grasped the surface between his hands and called out 'I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur. I come to reclaim what is mine!'

In the depths of the palantir, Aragorn saw it then, an Eye, rimmed with fire, searching, always searching, not for him, for the one precious he had lost… Then a voice in his mind spoke and it was like being burned, a searing terrible voice that sliced open his thoughts and laid them bare

so, you have returned…What news? Has the grey one departed and left you alone…Has he drawn your teeth and destroyed your armies that you promised me… I have sent a messenger… This is not for you… You will give him over…

Aragorn fought himself, fought to hold onto the idea that this was not real- it was not real but only in his head; his hands were not burning, his hair was not on fire and his skin not shrivelled and blackened in the suffocating heat. Aragorn wrestled his mind clear for a brief moment and in that pause, he said

'This is mine. And I will have it back from you.'

Flames ignited all around him and he felt the skin on his hands sear and burn…

*

It was many hours later that Halbarad prised his hands off the dull surface of the palantir again. He wrapped the cloak around his friend with tenderness and raised a cup to his lips. 'Drink this. Miruvor. It is all I have left but you must drink it.' Aragorn did not protest. His skin was tinged with grey and his shoulder slumped heavily. His head bowed. He had seen the terrible armies massing on the borders of Gondor, but more, he had seen the black Corsair ships sailing along the coast. Alone and unwarned, Pelargir would fall under their cruel desire and that he had no other choice now; the days were short indeed and he had need of haste and allies, as Elrond had foreseen. Aragorn would take the Paths of the Dead, the road to the sea.

The daylight was filtering in through the narrow slit, it lay in a single high thin ray across the grey stone. He watched the dust float in the sunlight and he felt the warmth on his skin. He closed his eyes and dropped his head into the fold of his arms while Halbarad cast his own cloak over him and pulled the stool close. Distantly he felt a hand smooth over his pensive brow and as he began to drift asleep, he heard the hum of an old melody.

* TTT and RoTK

Next chapter: Farewells.

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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.

Story Information

Author: ziggy

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: General

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 10/20/10

Original Post: 12/20/08

Go to Deeper than Breathing overview

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