Too Much of a Good Thing?

Chapter 2: Search

by Elwing-(V)
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Aragorn, as a ‘high rank officiate’, had briefly given tribute to the funeral ceremonies; his main contribution had then been in the Hall of Healing, as he believed helping the still living was also doing best honor to the ones who had passed in defense of those lives. All was as well as could be at present, so the man went looking for his Fellowship comrades. Gandalf he found in the company of Theoden King, the two immersed in discussion of follow-up measures to be taken against Saruman. The Ranger, briefed and agreeable to their plans, took his leave to continue searching for Gimli and Legolas, whom might have suffered hurts not readily made known. Either one of the stubborn creatures will say he is ‘fine’ if not on the verge of expiration. Aragorn conveniently forgot himself guilty of doing the same thing.

He spied the dwarf coming from the area damaged by Orthanc-fire. At seeing the Ranger, Gimli gave a wave and hurried toward him to give a report. “It is a complete mess, but repairable. I have given the engineers several good ideas how to make it less accessible for the next siege, which of course I hope never comes.”

Having quickly intuited that Gimli was in generally good condition, the man grinned ruefully in agreement as he clapped a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder, raising a small cloud of soot at the contact. Gimli, when he finished coughing, looked about for his other tall friend. “Where is that flighty elf? Probably in the stables, conspiring with those four-footed monsters against me.”

Aragorn laughed. “He is not so devious as you would make him out.” His voice dropped to a whisper as he bent near the dwarf’s ear. “And yet again I caution you of your speech concerning the pride of the horselords.” His warning was tempered with an amused twinkle in his eyes, though Gimli gulped at the reminder. Aragorn straightened with a chuckle. “Come, let us show you meant no insult - we shall go pay a visit to those very ‘monsters’ and mayhap find our wayward Prince there as well.”

They found no elf in the stables, but tarried awhile anyway, mainly for Aragorn’s sake as the Ranger had formed a strong bond with his steed. Outside once more, man and dwarf debated directions to take themselves in their search. Unable to agree on a specific destination, they wandered the grounds inquiring of various folk whether the errant Prince had been recently seen. The two searchers, becoming discouraged at the negative replies, perked when one of the Rohirrim Riders approached and spoke.

“Greetings, my lords; my name is Herubrand. I heard you making inquiry of the Elf Prince’s whereabouts. I saw him some time past, during my service as sentry.”

The relief of the two listeners at hearing those words fled at the Rider’s uneasy manner. Aragorn felt a nervous tingling along the nape of his neck, but kept his tone easy. “Did he appear well when you saw him?”

“Oh, aye, quite well!” Herubrand hastened to assure. “Like a high spirited colt he ran.” Envisioning the sight, the man appeared entranced; however, his unease returned on recalling where the elf went. Dreading the reaction his next part of the tale would garner, he turned to stare at the ominous forest. “He disappeared in there.” The soldier suppressed a shudder as he heard two gasps behind him.

“Blasted…pointy eared…I’ll beat him senseless! Nay, he’s already senseless…I’ll just beat him black and blue!”

Noticing the Rider’s shock at Gimli’s outburst, Aragorn whispered, “He exaggerates; Elves are remarkably resistant to bruising.” This time I might help the dwarf in his endeavor or just do it entirely myself. What has possessed you, Greenleaf? Even as he asked himself the question, the Ranger believed he knew the answer and it increased his worry.

Gimli, becoming more agitated by the moment, abruptly focused on berating the hapless Herubrand. “You call yourself a sentry? You surely had orders to allow no one in there - why didn’t you stop the elf?”

“Enough, Gimli.” Aragorn defended the beleaguered soldier, though at the same time wishing for the luxury of a good rant himself. “You should know best of any that if Legolas makes up his mind to do a thing, it will be done. Also, tis very difficult to catch an elf running at full pace.”

A red faced Herubrand gave a nod of gratitude to the Ranger before addressing the grumbling dwarf. “Quite so, my lord, and had I managed to catch him, I have no authority over the Prince in matters not concerning the direct welfare of our own King or his holdings. I could merely have repeated the warning I was given about…that place.”

Gimli reluctantly conceded the soldier’s point while continuing to grumble, the tirade again switching to ‘that dratted elf’ and punishments to be exacted on the fair being.

Seeing the dwarf distracted, Aragorn turned a stern countenance to Herubrand, and chastised in a tone meant only for the Rider’s ears, “While I hold you to no fault for the Prince’s own actions, I do consider you accountable for failure to immediately notify someone of his…departure.”

“I have no excuse to give, my lord, other than I was very recently enlisted as a Rider; due to the same circumstances as for that, I also have had hasty - if any - training for other related duties I must now fulfill.” The man did not need to elaborate on the reason for the sudden, though not wholly unexpected, duties. At hearing his own words, however, Herubrand flushed redder. “Such excuse is insufficient, I realize; now I may only beg your pardon and offer what service I might at this time to make amends for my previous deficiency.”

“Be at ease; we all have found or may find ourselves thrust with little to no warning into unfamiliar roles during our lives’ time. Thus my pardon is given and your offer accepted. Mayhap you could lead us along the exact route the Prince took to his point of entry.” If luck be with me, I may track some evidence along the way to give me insight of that idiot elf’s plan…and he accuses me of concocting addled-brain ones!  

While following Herubrand to the spot Legolas had been sighted, Aragorn uncovered the elf’s stashed bow and quiver. He kept his knives…good; he retains at least some common sense. After a moment’s hesitation, the Ranger placed his sword beside the other weapon. “Gimli, I would ask you leave your axe as well. We shall need to get as close as possible to the trees; I believe our proximity will be easier tolerated if we present no obvious threat.”  

Gimli huffed but did as requested. As the trio started off again, the dwarf voiced new concerns. “It appears the elf carried weapons, yet was not denied entry; think you those…things…have done some damage to him? And what of our erstwhile guide? I note you did not bid him leave his blade behind.” Gimli smirked at the troubled look that came over Herubrand. Serves him right - he ought to have worried more earlier, when first our elf went running into trouble.

“Who should be better received among trees than a wood elf? I am confident Legolas would remain well within yon forest, if he were well upon entry; his health previous, and beyond the physical, is my concern.” Aragorn’s next words were whispered for the dwarf’s ears only. “Stop badgering Herubrand; the man is sincerely trying to make amends for his mistake.” Louder for the soldier’s benefit, he continued, “I have no authority over a Rider of Rohan. Herubrand volunteered his help and I for one am grateful for it.”

Somewhere in the dwarf’s grumblings, the Ranger heard a reluctant agreement. A glance at their guide’s faintly bemused expression gave indication that Herubrand was acclimating to Gimli’s gruff ways. The trio had neared close enough to the forest to hear rustling noises from within. Aragorn halted and searched the area closely, frowning as he discerned no clear indication of the elf’s intentions. I’d hoped he might have left some note or sign here; finding none indicates he thought he should have returned before we’d notice him gone. I have a bad feeling about this.

As if in response to the Ranger’s thought, the rustling sounds increased. He stared into the dark spaces between the trees, skin prickling as he thought he saw motion within. Both he and Herubrand jumped when Gimli stumbled and let out a yell. “Ho, what? That root wasn’t there before!” The dwarf nearly yelled again when Aragorn grabbed his arm and yanked him backward in retreat.

The three halted a few yards further from the trees, in a spot next to a sizable mound of stone - debris from the previous night’s battle. Gimli, about to demand an explanation from Aragorn, faltered at the strange look the man was directing toward the forest. “Ai, Gimli, you were right - the root hadn’t been there before. The trees were preparing to attack us.” 

Both dwarf and Rider gaped at the Ranger as if his wits were gone. Yet before either could argue, a current of warm air wafted from the forest, a threatening sensation of anger carried within the heat. At the same time, several of the more slender trees bent and flailed their limbs like whips in the direction of the wide eyed watchers. “Valar guard us!” Herubrand whispered in fearful awe.

“Amen to that.” Gimli’s voice was unusually low. His fingers itched to grasp his absent axe; yet for the first time ever, the dwarf was nearly sure that even with it, he would be no match for what awaited in those unnatural woods. “Think you still the elf is…all right?”

Aragorn caught the tiny tremor in his friend’s voice. “Aye, I do believe they would cause him no harm…yet they might believe we would. Elves have ever been friends to the trees, but the races of Man and Dwarf in general have not been particularly kind in such meetings.” The Ranger considered a new idea, musing aloud. “Mayhap this forest is troubled about the care an Elf would find among us ‘cut and burn’ vandals. My hope is that Legolas was welcomed, granted entry freely; my fear is that he may not be allowed departure thusly.”

Gimli mulled over the Ranger’s words. “But we are all friends here. They must let him return to us - we need him.” The dwarf grimaced at the raised eyebrow his declaration brought from Aragorn. “We need his warrior’s skill, that is; I will admit his archery is better than any others’ I’ve seen and it does come in handy…from time to time.”

“Of course.” Aragorn chose not to currently tease the dwarf further, instead formatting a plan of action for their present dilemma. He glanced in the direction of the fortress, mostly hidden from view by the massive stone block shading the trio. If we cannot see the Deep, then neither can most from there view us. That is well…we do not need unwanted interests to exacerbate this situation. Coming to a decision, he turned to Herubrand. “I will ask of you one more favor; that you return to the fortress and search out the wizard Gandalf. Be cautious in your inquiry of his whereabouts and, when you have found him, discreetly update him on our problem.  Gimli and I shall wait here…just in case Legolas does come out on his own.”

“Gandalf…aye, the White Rider. I shall do as you ask at once, my lord.” Giving a smart salute, the Rider set off at a brisk pace.

Aragorn and Gimli settled themselves, passing the time by relating personal episodes of life and adventure prior to the meeting at Elrond’s Council. Several of the Ranger’s stories included the Prince; these usually elicited a guffaw from the dwarf, though his glee was quickly overshadowed by anxiety that his elf friend was absent and possibly likely to remain so. At the end of one particularly amusing tale, the two heard the sounds of approaching footsteps over their mingled laughter.

As Aragorn and Gimli stood, Gandalf rounded the boulder, followed by Herubrand. Attempting to avoid notice on this errand, the wizard had donned a dull gray cloak over his bright white robe, with the hood hiding his white hair; even his beard had been tucked out of sight. Once in the ‘hidden’ area, Gandalf flung the hood back, as well as freeing and fluffing his long beard. “Much better. Now, what is this I hear about you losing our Elf in the woods?”

While Aragorn and Gimli were both sputtering in protest, Eomer and two more Riders made an appearance. Gandalf was not surprised. “I myself informed Eomer, and he in turn thought a modest show of unity should be offered. Otherwise, we all agree that the fewer involved in this, the better.” The wizard moved past the others and set his concentration fully on the forest. The others kept silent beyond a few whispered comments between them.

Finally, Gimli could stand no more. “What say you, Gandalf? I say we should go in and drag the dratted elf out by his braids.” He blanched and took a step back at the hard look the wizard turned on him.

“I know you only jest, but with your harsh tongue and mood, you would not get past the first line of trees in that forest.” Gandalf sighed heavily. “Nor would any of us, myself included. We are safe here only because they have been given clear boundaries to abide by.” The admission had the others viewing the Huorns with new respect and apprehension. “I know not why these beings think we would harm Legolas, but if he could not convince them otherwise, I have no chance of doing so.”

Aragorn was aghast and confused. “Gandalf, you must try! I fear for Legolas’ heart’s harm, though the Huorns intend none; we cannot just leave him to them. When first you returned after your… apparent demise, you convinced the Ents well enough of your identity and integrity; can you not do so now with these entities?”

Gandalf stared at the Ranger, a slow smile spreading over his face. “My dear boy, that’s it! I may not be capable of overcoming the distrust of beings who have suffered so long with forces of darkness, either blatantly dire or - mayhap worse - falsely masquerading as ‘good’, yet you have reminded me of one I know that the Huorns will listen to and heed.” So saying, the wizard let out a great, echoing cry toward the forest, the noise magically amplified by his staff. As the sound faded, Gandalf glanced around; noting the hands clapped over ears, he apologized. “Sorry, I should have warned you. Be of strong spirit now, for you should soon witness another sight that not many men - or dwarves - ever see.”   

Waiting in anticipation, they first noticed a slight tremble in the ground to announce the mysterious ally; that sensation was swiftly followed by a thudding sound coming from the far side of the forest. The Huorns along the edge seemed to pull themselves aside as, to the shock of all but Gandalf, one tall and man-like tree actually stepped away from the forest and proceeded to walk in their direction. “Greetings, Long-Stride, my old friend.” Gandalf welcomed the Ent as the hulking being reached them.

“Well met, White Wizard, or should I call you White Rider now? You have too many names, my friend.” The deep voice was friendly, as was the Ent’s smile as he looked over the faces staring at him. As Gandalf made introductions, the others gradually relaxed, all getting a good chuckle when Aragorn got singled out for his many aliases; hearing the Ranger’s name ‘Strider’ was particularly amusing to the Treeherd. The atmosphere quickly grew solemn as Gandalf relayed the reason for summoning Long-Stride. “So your missing companion is the Elf Prince of the Great Greenwood…I understand why the Huorns would be loath to relinquish him.”

The Ent’s wandering attention was caught by a low growling noise made by the shortest, stockiest person in the group - Gimli was having a difficult time keeping his temper in check. Hoping to avoid a full blown dwarf tantrum, Gandalf hurriedly pressed on. “We would be most appreciative if you could reclaim Legolas for us as soon as possible.”

“You ask much of me…oh, not the reclamation; rather the time in which you require it done. It is not natural for a Treeherd to be hasty in anything - yet this matter I shall give all the speed I am capable of. You will stay here?” At a confirming nod from the wizard, Long-Stride strode back into the forest, almost immediately blending in and disappearing from sight.

Gandalf settled himself on a convenient small chunk of masonry, producing his pipe to stoke. “Now we wait.” Eomer and his men either sat on the ground or lounged upright against the large stone boulder, keeping an eye on the nearby trees. Aragorn and Gimli took up their tale-telling where they had left off earlier, now encouraging the Rohirrim and Gandalf to join in and help the waiting pass easier.

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