Aragorn glanced back towards the woods once more. Night would soon be
upon them and still Eldarion and Gimli had not returned. His movements
slowed as his worry mounted. Surely they should have returned by now.
He stilled his hands altogether, dropping his sword down lightly into
his lap, the burnishing cloth all but forgotten.
"You think they should have returned by now?" Legolas’ quiet voice
broke through his thoughts.
Jumping slightly and turning back towards the elf, Aragorn glanced
behind his friend, noting the brightly burning fires that dotted the
camp. He nodded slowly. "I do."
Legolas’ soft laughter caught his attention and he glared at the elf.
"You," the woodland prince answered the unspoken question. "You make me
laugh. You are every bit like your father. I have seen that very scowl
on his face when he worried over you."
"Legolas." The word came out as a growl but the man laughed. He looked
once more to the wooded stream.
"That’s it, let's go see what keeps that dwarf from returning your son
in a timely manner. Your worry is driving me to distraction." Legolas
sheathed his own blades and started walking towards the edge of the
"My lord?" Jonath’s voice cut through their escape and Aragorn flinched
visibly before turning back towards camp. The former ranger wondered if
he were ever going to get used to having people follow him around like
this. He would have thought that he should have grown accustomed to it
by now, but the truth was he had not.
"We are going to go see what has become of Gimli and my son. They have
not yet returned from gathering wood along the stream's edge," the king
explained quickly. In truth he welcomed his guard at this point,
although he often found Jonath’s protectiveness suffocating. The sun
had fled the sky and night had thrown her cloak upon the earth robing
it in darkness.
Without a second thought, Jonath stood from the ring of men seated not
far from their king. Grabbing a flaming branch from the fire in front
of him, he passed it to another soldier. In moments he had mustered a
small contingent armed with swords and torches that surrounded the king
and the elf and fanned out on either side of the stream’s bed, walking
its length and looking for the two lost members of their party.
The further they got from camp the more serious they all became and the
more their worry mounted. Gimli should have brought Eldarion back long
ago. It was dark now, there was no justifiable reason for them to be
out this late unless they were lost or... or worse.
Legolas saw him first. A small cry of dismay escaped his lips as he
spied Gimli’s fallen form. He ran quickly, outdistancing his
companions, his eyes easily adjusting to the darkness. He braced his
hand on the beam that swung lightly over the dwarf’s fallen body. He
had heard of traps like this but only when used on prey you wished to
injure or kill. Dropping lightly down beside the dwarf he tried to
rouse his friend. "Gimli? Gimli!"
"Jonath!" Aragorn called to his guard, "Over here quickly!" The
soldiers on the far side of the river plowed through the water, lending
their light to that of the ones who had gathered round the injured
Dropping down next to Legolas, Aragorn grabbed the torch that was
offered to him by the nearest soldier and swept its light across the
small, prone body. Lightly touching the elf’s arm, the king stopped his
friend from his frantic attempts to revive the dwarf.
"He lives." The elf whispered with a sigh of relief, cradling the
dwarf’s head gently in his lap and smoothing the short being’s wiry
hair away from his face.
"Legolas." Aragorn held the torch above Gimli’s broken leg, his boot
toe still wedged at an odd angle beneath the rock that had tripped
him up. "His leg is broken. Do not wake him; it would be best if we set
it before he is conscious."
"Who would do this?" Legolas shook his head, anger welling inside him
at the injuries his dwarven friend had taken.
Aragorn stood swiftly to his feet, frantically looking around them,
"Where is Eldarion?" He scanned the edges of the forest trying to find
tracks that led away from the stream but the soldiers that surrounded
them had walked on top of the fresh prints adding their own to the
jumbled mix of signals and obscuring Eldarion’s tracks.
Aragorn pushed the men away with swift hurried motions, brushing the
light of his torch across the soft sand that formed the river’s edge.
In the darkness it was difficult to see which tracks were new and if
any were old or child-sized.
"I cannot find his tracks!" Aragorn turned swiftly to his captain.
"Jonath, have the men fan out, he must be here somewhere."
With a quick nod the captain of the guard began sending his men into
the surrounding forests to look for any signs. Swallowing his fears,
Aragorn stepped back to Gimli’s side and crouched down opposite Legolas.
The elf’s eyes were wide and dark in the low light. Two soldiers had
stayed with the king and his friends and lent the dim glow of their
torches so they could see.
Gently Aragorn ran his fingers down Gimli’s leg below his knee, probing
the break carefully and finding exactly where it was. After dislodging
rock that had trapped the dwarf, he unlaced the heavy leather boot,
pulled it slowly off, and laid it aside. Indicating where he wanted
Legolas’ hands near the dwarf’s knees, Aragorn took the thick short leg
and gripped it tightly, glad that Gimli was still unconscious.
"On three." He watched Legolas closely as he counted down. At three, he
pulled the dwarf’s leg down and to the right, feeling the edges of the
bones work back into place. He grimaced as Gimli tightened
involuntarily, the pain searing through and bringing him back to
Legolas leaned down on the dwarf and kept him from shifting out of
their grip and unintentionally re-injuring himself. "Easy Gimli, it is
all right. It is Aragorn and I. Your leg is broken, be still."
The dwarf groaned and laid his head back against the elf’s shoulder
with a sigh, trying to keep from moaning.
Aragorn motioned the soldier nearest them and sent him to find some
small, sturdy branches to use as splints. He crept near the dwarf’s
and leaned over the bearded, wrinkled face. With a small smile he spoke
softly gazing down into the dark eyes that watched him steadily, "Well,
Master Dwarf, you’ll live."
The words had the desired effect and Aragorn laughed as Gimli chuckled
ruefully. "Is that your expert opinion?" the dwarf queried.
Legolas easily bound the wood that the soldier returned with, binding
it to the sides of the dwarf’s leg to keep it from moving. He knelt
behind Gimli and smiled down into the rotund face. "No more walks in
the evening alone for you," he taunted the smaller being.
"Hmm..." Gimli glared and him, "And I suppose you would have fared
better than I?" He was still groggy and having a hard time remembering
exactly why he was on the ground and ached so much.
"I would not have been nearly decapitated by a hunter’s trap."
Aragorn interrupted the conversation. Laying his hand gently over the
dwarf’s heart, he asked the question that he had held back until now,
"Gimli, where is Eldarion? He never returned to camp. There is no sign
of him. What happened?"
Frowning deeply, Gimli searched his memory. It was hazy at best,
everything fogged by the ache in his leg and his body. "We were
His voice trailed off as he thought through the evening’s events.
Aragorn waited patiently, hurrying the dwarf would do neither of them
any good, but his heart was anxious and he feared the words he would
"...there was another. No..." Gimli scrunched up his face and glanced
towards the forest, pointing at a spot high on a tree, "it was an
arrow. Someone shot at us! From across the river." His memories tumbled
back as quickly as his words spilled out. "They missed. But just as I
turned a cloaked figure darted out from the trees on this side of the
river and grabbed Eldarion. They covered his mouth so he couldn’t call
for help and threatened to kill him if I pursued them. Then he laughed
at me and the next thing I know something hit me from out of nowhere."
He leaned up slightly looking at his injured leg and the rock just
beyond his foot. "My boot was stuck by a rock and I couldn’t move in
time." The shame accompanying his failure was written across the
dwarf’s downcast eyes. Legolas gave his friend’s shoulder a little
squeeze. No one faulted Gimli. None of them had expected this.
Aragorn was on his feet before Gimli finished describing their ordeal.
Accompanied by a guard, they searched the trees closest to where the
dwarf had been standing. As Gimli had said, Aragorn found the blackened
shaft of a crossbow bolt buried in the trunk of a large tree. Placing
his hand against the rough wood he pulled the arrow out. A sticky black
substance oozed off the tip, stringing between the removed arrow and
The soldier who had accompanied the king reached out to touch the black
gooey strand, his face scrunched up in disgust. Aragorn grabbed the man
by the wrist and moved him slightly away, the fear inside him mounting
by the seconds. He knew this substance, this poison. Its faint but
distinctive odor was forever indelibly scarred into his memory. Even
many years later his body had a distinct, fear reaction to the scent of
the drug. His mind screamed at him to run, get away, but rational
thought countered his panic. It couldn’t be. The one who used this was
dead. He knew he was dead; Legolas saw him die.
Standing perfectly still, lost in fearful memories, he didn’t notice
when Legolas walked quietly up behind him and gently laid his hand on
the human’s shoulder.
Unable to respond, the man simply handed him the bolt and turned away
staring up the darkened river.
Frowning slightly in confusion Legolas took the weapon and inspected
the head, rolling the substance between his fingers and touching them
lightly to his nose. With a jerk of his head the elf pulled away and
knelt wiping his fingers off on the wet grass at the base of the trees.
It couldn’t be. The smell triggered horrible memories. Only once before
had the friends ever encountered the use of this particular
"It can’t be him."
Aragorn turned towards the sound of his friend, his gaze haunted, his
face ashen. "No one else save Mannyn and Dyryn possessed belithral.
They were the only ones who knew what it was made of." He barely
registered that Jonath had returned with the men; he knew that Eldarion
would not be with them.
The sounds of running feet pounded up the stream bed behind them and
the bobbing of an approaching torch could be seen in the dark.
"My lord!" The soldier’s voice cried out as he saw the others standing
in a small group, "My lord, there was an intruder in camp!"
The guard reached their position and rested his hands on his knees
breathlessly. Jonath had relieved the runner of his torch and touched
the man’s back as he gathered his strength. "Syrvin, tell us plainly
With a nod of understanding the man took a deep breath and straightened
up. "There was an intruder in camp. He fired a single arrow." The guard
hesitantly met the eyes of his king. "There was a note impaled on it."
"What did it say?" Aragorn edged forward, "Did you bring it?"
"No my lord, but..." The man glanced worriedly between his captain and
his king. "They said it was for the king and sent me straight away.
That’s all I know."
Aragorn glanced over the heads of his men. Legolas stood from Gimli’s
side. Having heard the entire conversation, he knew his friend well
enough to know that the human would want to leave for the campsite now
and he nodded in understanding as their eyes met. Quickly the elf
dropped back next to the dwarf. "Jonath and his men will take you back
"What is happening?" Gimli demanded.
"I have not the time to tell you now, I must go with Aragorn." The
elf’s eyes apologized wordlessly before he rose to his feet again.
Nodding curtly the dwarf allowed his friend to leave. The elf chased
after the king who had already sped off towards their campsite, knowing
that Legolas would easily catch up to him.
The elf knew what was in the king’s heart, the fear of what had been
done to his friend by the
drug that was on that arrow and the ones who used it. The way that
Gimli had described Eldarion’s capture was eerily
similar to what had happened to Aragorn on that snow-clad day so many
years ago... and this mystery was no less perplexing than that had been.
Legolas could only hope that the results would not be as disastrous
this time as he sped silently through the trees after his friend. The
elf prince could still remember those frozen days on the mountain,
hearing nothing but the lonely sound of the wind hour after hour as he
strained desperately for any sound that might tell him that Aragorn was
near, that he was even alive, that the elf was nearing his goal...
...80 years in the past...
Icy cold wind whipped around Legolas’ face, snatching his breath away
and stinging his eyes as he knelt on the snow by the deep-cut tracks
that he was following. By the time he had finally escaped the gorge the
distance between he and the two he pursued had become discouragingly
large. Yet the deep mountain snows held tracks well, and it had soon
become apparent that Aragorn and his captor were going over the high
pass. It was an area that Legolas was familiar with, and this helped
him. Especially since frequent storms were constantly wiping out the
tracks that he sought to follow and causing him no end of difficulty.
Right now the trail was clear and well defined, even though it was at
least two or three days old and covered with several inches of new
snowfall, but if the wind kept up like this and brought with it another
storm as it was threatening to do, that would not be true for long.
The elf let his breath out slowly and chattered slightly as he drew it
back in. That irritated him. He should not be cold. Cold was a foreign
feeling to him and not one that an elf should have to be dealing with.
It was now almost two weeks since his unfortunate incident with the
wolves, and the prince’s shoulder wound had finally closed, but the
ache remained a constant presence. Just as Raniean had warned, the
weather up here in the heights was unremittingly bitter, and although
elves were not usually affected by the elements, the prince’s weakened
state and the absolute sub-arctic severity of these climes was making
even Legolas feel the bite of the winter chill.
Legolas couldn’t imagine how Aragorn was surviving up here, or his
captor for that matter. That thought made the elf moved faster. He did
not like the picture that the trail he was following painted. One man
was obviously on a horse, and one man on foot, and it wasn’t too hard
to guess who the one on foot was. At points it looked more like Aragorn
had been dragged along the trail and through the sometimes waist-deep
snow instead of walking at all.
Something stained the white snow, catching Legolas’ attention and the
elf stooped to see what it was. A dark look adorned the prince’s
countenance when he realized that it was blood. Aragorn’s blood. And it
wasn’t just in this one place. The trail continued to be dotted with
periodic bloodstains and scuffmarks of someone being dragged for quite
a long while. Legolas felt his ire burning so hot that it ought to have
melted the snow under him and he momentarily forgot he was cold at all.
Something out of place in the landscape ahead caught the elf’s keen eye
and he hurried up the trail towards it. A large, dark shape was
partially hidden under recent snowfall and for a few seconds Legolas'
heart jumped up into his throat when he realized that that was hair
curling limply out of the snow.
Upon reaching the spot, Legolas sighed and closed his eyes, relief
washing over him. It was not a human body in the snow, but rather that
of a horse. Undoubtedly the horse that he had been trailing to this
point if he read the signs correctly. Apparently the poor beast had
simply at last dropped dead from the utter cold.
Legolas touched the still body gently and whispered a few quiet words
in elvish. It was just as he had feared. No horse would survive this
entire journey. The horse’s owner should have known better. Perhaps he
had and he simply hadn’t cared. That kind of attitude made Legolas fear
for his friend’s safety, because if this man treated his horse with
such little care... how would he treat his prisoner?
The elf’s attention was drawn back to the snow once more. He could see
how the horse had fallen... and then... then there was some kind of
scuffle. Legolas squinted hard at the snow, wishing he had the skill of
the rangers to read the slightest smudge and know what it meant, but he
did not. However, he guessed that Aragorn had probably tried to get
free when the horse died and his captor was distracted... The elf
pressed his lips into a tight line. It didn’t look as if he had
The trail led off again ahead, and now it looked like two men
walking... but one of them fell repeatedly.
The elf was about to move on again, when another dark object hidden in
the white snow caught his attention. It was pressed into one of the
scuffle marks and hidden in the drift, probably having been lost during
Pulling it out of the snow, Legolas found that it was small leather
wallet. It was fairly new, but showed slight signs of wear. One side of
the wallet had a small flourish engraved into the dark leather. Sliding
his hand inside and pulling the contents out, Legolas raised his
eyebrows in surprise. The wallet was full of money. The prince studied
the small three-pronged swirl etched in the leather once more before
tucking it into his own pocket. The design was unfamiliar and meant
nothing to him. Obviously, however, this was not something that had
been intended to be left behind. Swiftly picking up the retreating
tracks, he followed the men deeper into the wooded hills. Now that both
captor and prisoner were on foot he had a greater chance of catching up
Roaming through this darkness, I'm
alive but I'm alone
And part of me is fighting this,
But part of me is gone.
--Three Doors Down
Aragorn moaned softly, pulling away from Dyryn’s anger, but he couldn’t
escape, even if his mind had been clear enough to do so.
Dyryn kicked the young man again and again, taking his anger and
frustration out on his helpless prisoner, swearing angrily. "Have you
got any idea how much money was in there?" he raged, giving the ranger
another sharp kick in the ribs.
Aragorn gasped painfully and curled in on himself. He was so cold. So
cold. The abuse hurt worse because every fiber in his being was tensed
and frozen. Yet his icy body was covered in cold sweat, a result of the
drugs in his system.
Over the weeks they had been together, Aragorn’s body had slowly built
up a tolerance to the low-level doses of belithral that the bounty
hunter was keeping him on. Dyryn’s answer to that had been to up the
dosage. And up it again. And again... until Aragorn had nearly lethal
amounts of the drug in his system now. If he had not been brought up
slowly to this point, the large amounts of belithral that Dyryn
regularly fed him would have killed him. As it was, it had plunged
Aragorn into a nearly constant delirium until it was becoming
impossible to tell dream from reality. He rarely slept anymore, unless
he was unconscious, because his dreams had all become nightmares, ones
that continued on when he awoke.
Dyryn was furious. He blamed Aragorn for the loss of his money.
Dragging the young ranger partially up, out of the snow, Dyryn shook
him, hard, swearing at him. "You have given me nothing but trouble!"
Aragorn wriggled weakly in his grasp, his glazed, widely dilated eyes
flashing with un-subdued fire. "L-let me go..."
"Damn you! Any normal person should be too gone to even think by now.
What does it take to break you?!" Yanking the ranger’s sleeve up Dyryn
pulled out his knife.
Aragorn knew the only reason Dyryn did that was to give him more
belithral. He had already had his daily dose this morning... any more
would be a severe overdose. He struggled with the man, trying to pull
his arm away, but his shaky attempts barely even registered to Dyryn
who held him still and angrily administered the drug.
Aragorn moaned sharply as the toxin raced through his system. It no
longer rendered him unconscious, even in large doses, because his body
had adapted to accommodate its presence. The world whirled crazily in
front of Aragorn’s eyes as reality faded away into a drugged haze of
hallucinations and nightmares.
"No, no..." Aragorn trembled violently as Dyryn let him sink back into
the snow, his breathing coming painfully fast and sharp as his heart
sped up even faster. The frozen air made his lungs ache.
Strange images danced before his eyes, demented and twisted forms, more
dark and terrible than the worst nightmare one could ever imagine. And
then... then the real horror started.
"A-ada?" The image of Elrond wavered slightly, but it seemed absolute
and real to Aragorn’s tormented mind. "Ada, help me..."
But the look in the illusion’s eyes was cold and hard.
"Father please..." Aragorn could not separate delusion from reality, as
his deep childhood fears were resurrected from the darkness of his
Dyryn glowered in irritation, still sizably upset with the young
ranger. "Shut up!" he snapped, slapping Aragorn’s bruised face sharply.
Aragorn recoiled, laying still in the snow and staring up with
frightened, hurting eyes, because in his mind, it was not Dyryn’s hand
that had delivered the blow, but one far more dear to him and thusly
far more painful.
A stunned tear rolled down the young man’s cheek, freezing before it
got very far. Elrond had never struck him in anger in all his growing
up years, never. "F-father?" The whisper was soft and broken.
But the phantom turned away from him. "You’re weak Estel." The voices
in his delusion condemned him. "Weak and worthless! Reckless human
child, can’t take care of yourself. Nothing but a burden. Weak, weak,
weak..." The taunting condemnation of his own thoughts twisted through
his nightmare, seeming to come instead from the spectral image of his
Aragorn’s heart twisted in anguish. "I’m sorry..." he whispered. "I’m
sorry... no, please, don’t go, don’t leave me here alone!" he begged,
but the image in his mind was not stirred.
The twisted phantom of the elven lord turned his back on the young man
in the snow and vanished into the darkening night as the drugged
hallucinations took another turn.
Desolate, and unaware that none of what he saw was genuine, Aragorn
reeled from the perceived rejection. Again and again he called out for
his elven father in desperate delirium as the nightmares washed over
him in horrifying waves, crying out for him until the young ranger lost
his voice and his pleas became a soft, anguished whisper, swept away on
But there was no answer, only the ever-increasing cold and the twisted
phantasms of his own mind, leaving Aragorn alone and slowly freezing to
death in the snow.