Rhyddry threw himself down next to the gap in the
earth he was looking
into. He squinted through the steam, trying to hold his breath against
the noxious fumes that flooded the air about the fissure. The wind blew
gently over the granite field, blowing the vapor aside for a moment,
the young hunter caught sight of the dark velvet bag seated on a ledge
just below the lip of the chasm. Reaching down he quickly pulled the
sack from the rift and shoved it inside his overcoat, rolling out of
the way at the last possible moment as a plume of steam released itself
into the air.
"Drelent!" Rhyddry called out across the expanse to
his employer. "It's
gone, its fallen into the rifts and is lost in the magma!" But even as
he said the words, the hunter held up his shortsword and thrust it
skyward, their unspoken signal that the palantir had in fact been
Legolas turned and stared at the young hunter, at a
loss. He staggered
to the edge of the grassy plain and sank down onto the earth, holding
his badly burned shoulder tightly with the fingers of his good hand.
Selvic raced to Rhyddry's side and the two fled back
into the woods. In
moments they re-entered the plains mounted on horses and leading
Drelent's as they headed towards the man.
"Too bad, I guess we all lose." The hunter glared
down at the ranger.
"Why?" Aragorn asked the man, swallowing carefully
around the sword
that was still under his chin.
"Why?" Drelent repeated the question, "Because
someone else wanted it
badly enough to have it destroyed if he couldn't own it for himself,"
he lied, and it gave him no small pleasure to see the sorrow that
flickered through the dark, silver eyes that watched him. In
he smashed his fist into the ranger's face, driving him to the ground.
"Don't follow us. You'll only regret it." He spat at Aragorn as the man
slumped to the earth with a moan.
Wiping the blood out of his eyes Drelent looked up
and stepped out
towards the two trackers that rode towards him. He grabbed the
his mount as Rhyddry threw them at the hunter. He and Selvic kept
riding, heading south for the gap of Rohan towards their point of
rendezvous, as Drelent turned back towards the plains searching for Gyn.
He caught sight of the man across the meadow,
dismounting from his
steed a few paces in front of the downed great eagle. The burly hunter
unslung his crossbow and placed a bolt on the string, notching it back
and setting the trigger. He walked slowly up to the wounded bird.
"We don't have time for this," Drelent muttered
under his breath. "Gyn!
Let's go!" he called to his friend.
But the old hunter wouldn't be dissuaded. "I'll be
right along!" he
called back to his employer, his eyes never leaving the steady gaze of
the eagle's. "I'll be the first hunter to have a great eagle's head for
a trophy, that I will." He smiled wickedly at the Maia.
Gwaihir lay on his side, his broken wing angled
sharply away from his
body, unable to rise because of the pain. He hissed at the man that
approached him, panting with each breath he took as he tried to collect
Gyn raised the crossbow and aimed it directly
between Gwaihir's huge
black eyes. The eagle blinked once, resignation written across his
proud face. He jerked slightly as the man before him stopped, sucking
in his breath suddenly; his eyes, gone wide with surprise, slowly
glazed over and he fell to the ground, an elven arrow between his
"Damn it!!" Drelent cursed as he watched the hunter
looking back he turned his horse tightly and spurred the beast off in
the direction that the others had fled. They had what they had come
for; there was nothing else that could be done.
Legolas dropped the bow to his side, his head
falling forward as he
closed his eyes, wincing from the pain the exertion had caused to his
seared shoulder. Tears threatened to overspill his closed eyes and he
swiped them away as he glanced back towards Aragorn.
The ranger had pressed himself slowly up from the
earth where he lay.
The meadow was silent once more. Dust still hung in the air but the
gentle breezes that swept the plateau were slowly clearing even that
away and, if not for the bodies that were strewn upon the grassy shelf,
anyone happening by would never know the struggle that had just taken
Aragorn crawled over to where Gandalf lay; he didn't
trust himself on
his feet just yet as nausea threatened his awareness.
"Gandalf?" The man reached a shaky hand out towards
hesitantly touching the older being's throat, feeling for any signs of
life. Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief as Gandalf's pulse beat
strongly beneath his fingers. He dropped his chin to his chest and let
his head rest there, fighting back the tears as the adrenaline wore off
and his body began to shake slightly from the shock of his own wounds
and the realization both that they had failed and that they were
somehow all still alive. For the moment at least the second emotion
overwhelmed the first and the relief was almost painful.
The ranger glanced up slowly at the sound of his
name, his eyes locking
onto the blue ones of the elf that stood over him.
Swallowing hard against the emotions that raged
inside of him, Aragorn
nodded. Finally finding his voice, he whispered, "He lives. He lives."
Legolas rested his hand against the back of the
human's head and smiled
down at his friend in relief. "It will be all right," he spoke
Aragorn noticed the way the elf hugged his right arm
him. An ugly blistering welt ran up the side of the elf's neck and he
winced as he drew in a deep breath.
"Legolas, sit, before you fall!" Aragorn reached up
towards his friend
with his good arm. "What happened to you?"
The elf glanced back towards the meadow and shook
his head. He grasped
the ranger's hand and hauled the man to his feet. "We must see to
Gwaihir first, he has been wounded also."
Nodding numbly Aragorn walked after the elf to the
middle of the field
where the large bird lay.
Gwaihir was panting heavily, his eyes glazed over.
He moved his head in
the direction of the two companions as they made their way slowly
Legolas stepped in front of the eagle and took the
bird's beak in his
hands. He stepped underneath the great head and allowed the eagle to
rest on his good shoulder, speaking softly in elvish to the wounded
animal as Aragorn walked back towards the broken wing.
Aragorn gently wrapped his hands around the large
bone in Gwaihir's
wing and moved his fingers down the edge of the wing, feeling for
fractures or breaks anywhere along the way. He brushed against the
break and Gwaihir loosed a strangled cry.
"Easy, Gwaihir, easy. Aragorn is a skilled healer,
like his father, let
him have his way." Legolas' fingers brushed across the bird's face,
causing the eagle to blink rapidly, but he nodded in response.
The ranger gently pressed the feathers back to
reveal the glint of
white bone that had broken through the skin. Aragorn sucked his breath
in quietly as he examined the compound fracture. He glanced at Legolas,
shaking his head.
"What is it?" The elf watched the human worriedly.
"Just a moment." Aragorn called as he limped back to
figure. Carefully turning the older man over, he shrugged out of his
overcoat and bunched it up under the wizard's head, trying to make him
more comfortable as he quickly rifled through the pack that was still
slung over the older man's shoulder. Aragorn dumped the contents of
Gandalf's traveling bag on the ground, spreading out the tiny satchels
and envelopes of herbs and medicines. He grabbed two vials and lifted
them towards the sky, letting the light shine through their liquid
contents. The one in his left hand was a slightly duller amber color
than the one in his right and he chose that one, as he staggered to his
feet and walked back to Legolas.
Standing near the elf he gazed seriously at the
explaining himself, "Gwaihir, your wing is broken and the bone has cut
through your skin. I can set it, but I will need help." The ranger
glanced at the elf, who quietly nodded in understanding. "The problem
is..." Aragorn glanced down suddenly, not at all sure of himself. He
three wounded friends, two of them he did not know the extent of their
wounds yet and he had never worked with anyone other than humans or
"You are a son of Elrond's and a friend of Gandalf,
I trust you, human,"
Gwaihir spoke softly, watching the ranger closely. It was not the first
time, Gwaihir had been injured by an arrow. The first time
Gandalf met him he had healed the great eagle from a similar wound, and
that was the beginning of their long friendship.
Aragorn swallowed hard and nodded, trying to pull
himself together; he
had no time to fall apart now, too many people were depending on him.
"I will need to put you out. The pain will be great. I can give you
something for the pain now until we can get somewhere safer than here,
but then, if you trust me, you must let me do this."
If the eagle could have smiled it would have. The
man's hesitancy and
youth touched his heart. "Of course I trust you. Let us get out of the
elements and you may do what you need to."
"All right." Aragorn let his breath go slowly and
uncorked the small vial
he held. He showed it to the eagle and allowed him to smell it before
proceeding. "This will dull the pain so you can walk," he explained as
he poured the liquid down the bird's throat. Gwaihir tipped his head
back and allowed the medicine to slide down his throat. In moments the
ache in his wing dulled to a constant throbbing and, with help from the
two friends, he was able to awkwardly gain his feet. The eagle was
ill-accustomed to traveling by foot, but he knew he would manage
"What of Gandalf?" Gwaihir questioned as they walked
towards the prone
wizard. The older man had still not woken.
Aragorn knelt in the grass beside him and carefully
looked at the split
on the Maia's temple. Gently he pushed the matted grey hair away from
the ragged cut.
"I think he'll be alright." The ranger eased his
hand under the man's
head and felt the knot on the back of his skull. "I think he's just
been hit awfully hard. Let's get him up and head towards the Gap of
Rohan. We should be able to find some place along the way to rest for
the evening. Anywhere, just so that we are as far away from Eowioriand
as possible." He glanced over his shoulder at the rubble and stones
that were all that was left of the ruins. Quickly ripping a strip of
cloth from his tunic, the ranger bound the wound to his upper arm using
his teeth to pull the knot tightly, staunching the flow of blood.
Retrieving Gandalf's walking stick, he passed it off
to Gwaihir who
held it gently in his beak, watching carefully as Legolas and Aragorn
eased Gandalf up between the two of them and started slowly down the
valley, following the base of the mountains.
They had not walked far when Legolas stumbled,
"Legolas, you are not well." Aragorn eased Gandalf
down to the ground,
propping him against the remnants of a fallen log.
"I will be fine." The elf held his right shoulder
tightly with his left
hand, closing his eyes as the pain of the burn tightened through his
Aragorn walked behind his friend, trying to glimpse
the wound that the
prince had been nursing, unwilling to let the ranger see it for himself.
"Legolas!" Aragorn pressed the elf firmly but gently
to the ground as
he looked over the deep, ugly burn the elf had sustained. "How did this
"The fissures." Legolas moaned softly as the ranger
gently moved the
tatters of the singed tunic away from the elf's shoulder, exposing his
burned flesh. "Romyr pressed me over one of them and held me down when
the steam rose." He stifled a small cry as Aragorn flushed the wound
with what little water he still had in his flask.
"That's it." The ranger stood and walked in front of
kneeling down eye level with the elf, "You three stay here. I'm going
to go find a place for us to set up camp and rest. I'll search out
fresh water - we'll need it. I will be back shortly."
"You'll need help!" The elf grabbed the human's
tunic, pulling him back
down as he tried to stand. "You are not well yourself."
Aragorn wrapped his hand around his friend's and
smiled into the elf's
upturned face. "I need you all to live." He gently loosened Legolas'
fingers and gained his feet. "I won't be long."
Walking slowly away from the small group, Aragorn
glanced at the sun,
gauging the time he had left before it fled the sky. Without another
word he headed off down the valley, quickly searching the base of the
mountain for the perfect spot.
Not a half mile away from where he had left his
friends, the ranger
found a large, deep cavern that was hollowed into the side of the
granite mountain. The hole in the wall of the hill was large enough to
allow Gwaihir inside it and the ground was dry and clean. It was more
of a hollow than a cave, although he smiled as he thought about how
Legolas would envision it. The back of the cavern rounded off sealed in
a dead end with no way out. It was perfect.
Aragorn quickly made a fire in the grotto to warm
the dank hollow and
covered the lower part of the entrance with tree branches and shrubbery
to conceal it from any who might happen by. He stopped at a small
stream on his way back and filled his and Legolas' flasks with the cool
water. He would need as much as he could carry.
If the elf hadn't been in so much pain the glare he
gave the ranger
would have caused the man to start laughing.
Instead Aragorn just smiled softly at the prince and
shrugged. "It was
the best I could do Legolas. I know
it's a cave, I'm sorry, my
friend," he apologized sincerely.
Gwaihir watched the elf curiously, tipping his head
to the side as he
listened to their conversation.
The prince sighed and glanced into the interior as
Aragorn cleared the
brush away. A fire sparked warmly in the deep hollowed out cavern and
the ground was clean and bare. Legolas shifted Gandalf slightly in his
arms, allowing the older man's head to rest against his shoulder as he
supported the wizard's weight.
Gwaihir stepped lightly into the bright interior and
lay down near the
far wall, resting his head wearily on the cool stone floor.
Aragorn helped Legolas ease Gandalf down onto a bed
of pines that he
had collected. It bothered him greatly that the wizard had not woken
yet. He pressed his friend down beside the unconscious man and handed
him a flask and a roll of clean cloth.
"See to his wounds, Legolas, while I conceal our
hiding place. I don't
think Drelent will return now that the palantir is lost, but I do not
wish to be found by anyone in the shape we are in," Aragorn whispered
softly to his friend as he gazed down at the blue, weary eyes that
The elf nodded and began to clean the blood from
Gandalf's face, gently
brushing away the long grey hair from the cut on his temple. The wizard
moaned softly and tried to move away from the prince's careful
ministrations. More than even physically, the wizard was mentally worn
out from the struggle with the iron power that had been put into
Eowioriand. There were still some things in the world older and more
powerful than even the Istari. Quietly Legolas began to speak to the
older man, shushing him and whispering kind words in the elven tongue.
Aragorn backtracked their path into the woods,
covering their prints
with a branch of pine needles that he used to brush the ground with. If
anyone had thoughts to follow the small company or harm them they would
be hard pressed to find the trail they had taken. When he reached the
cavern he replaced all the brush in front of it, blocking it from
predators or any who might happen by. When he was content with the way
it looked from the outside, he dropped to his knees and crept
underneath the foliage in a small space he had made for himself.
Turning around once he was inside, he reached back out and pulled the
branches down, concealing the hole he had used.
Legolas smiled up at the ranger as he seated himself
beside the elf. "He woke up." The prince glanced down at the wizard who
soundly on the bed of pine. "He only sleeps now."
"Concussion?" Aragorn searched his friend's face.
"None!" Legolas allowed himself to relax.
"Mithrandir will be fine."
Aragorn returned the smile, but quickly sobered when
he glanced to the
back of the cave. "We need to see to Gwaihir and I will need your help.
Let me see to your wounds, before we do so."
Legolas brushed the man's hands gently away and
stood slowly to his
feet. "Let us see to our friends first and then you may see to my
"You stubborn elf," the ranger growled as he pushed
himself off the
floor and followed the prince to the bird's side.
The cavern was silent as Aragorn gently washed
Legolas' back. Only the
elf's labored breathing echoed through the chamber. Gwaihir was asleep
in the back of the cave, his wing having been reset and the breaks in
the skin and torn muscles expertly sewn up by the ranger. It would be
hours before he awoke from the drug they had given him.
The ranger carefully cut the tunic off of his
friend's body. He had
forced the elf down on his stomach, laying his coat underneath the
prince, as he inspected the red, weeping burn. He dipped his fingers
into a soothing ointment and spread it gently over the burned area.
Legolas tensed, sucking his breath in as the cool salve touched his
hot, damaged skin.
Aragorn easily slipped into elvish, trying to
distract his friend. "Why
do you think they did it?"
"Did what?" Legolas ground out through gritted
teeth. Slowly he relaxed
under the ranger's gentle touch as the ointment deadened the pain and
blocked the burn from the air.
Aragorn tipped the elf's head to the side, exposing
the burn that marred
his neck. He carefully brushed Legolas' long blonde hair out of the
way, pushing the tresses over the prince's left shoulder.
"I wonder why they would risk the palantir even to
the point of letting
it be destroyed?" The human dipped his fingers in the cooling salve and
spread it gently over the elf's neck.
Legolas closed his eyes, as the pain fled away and
he sighed with the
cool relief. Aragorn smiled softly. The elf was nearly asleep, the
worry and stress of the day having taken its toll and the calming balm
doing its job. Softly he answered before sleep claimed him, "I do not
know Estel, but there must have been a reason." The elf's eyes slowly
opened until they were half-lidded, his pupils huge and dilated in the
low light as he fell fast asleep. Aragorn touched his hand gently to
the prince's forehead.
"Sleep, my friend," he whispered in elvish.
Turning from the prince Aragorn pulled a small pot
of water from the
edge of the fire; it was finally boiling. He crushed a handful of dried
plants and blowing on them gently sprinkled them into the water. The
athelas touched the heated liquid, releasing its poignant freshness
throughout their shelter, its healthy essence inspiring healing and
Smiling, he scooted back near Legolas' head and
rested against the cool
stone wall of the chamber. It was hard trying to stay awake, but he
wanted to keep watch, in case he were needed. His hand moved to cover
Legolas' left shoulder, touching the elf so he would know should the
prince stir during the night. In moments the ranger was fast asleep.
He did not realize he had fallen asleep until he
felt someone moving
his wounded arm. With a start Aragorn jerked away from the touch,
pressing back farther against the stone wall behind him. His eyes flew
open and he stared into the smiling face of Gandalf. The wizard still
sported the bandage that encircled his head but otherwise looked
just fine. He was kneeling on the floor in front of the ranger.
"Easy, young one." Gandalf's voice was low and soft
and he reached once
more for Aragorn's arm, unbinding the makeshift bandage the ranger had
quickly applied earlier that day. "It appears you have seen to everyone
but yourself." The wizard's smile was warm and open.
Aragorn glanced blearily at the cut that Gandalf
blade had pierced his upper arm but not gone all the way through. The
cut was dirty and deep and the older man gently cleaned it out, causing
fresh blood to flow from it. The ranger winced and tensed slightly.
"What happened to the palantir?" Gandalf questioned
the human, partly
trying to take his mind off the wound.
Aragorn sucked his breath in quickly and held it
before answering. "I
threw it to Legolas. He gave it to Gwaihir, but Gyn shot him down and
it rolled into one of the fissures. They could not find it. It was lost
in the magma. I am sorry Gandalf."
The wizard wound a fresh, clean strip of cloth about
the cut and held
his hand over it tightly for several seconds, stopping the blood from
flowing out of it so freely. "I am sorry to hear that. I had hoped we
could recover it. There are so few of them left." His bright clear eyes
stared straight at the dark, silver ones that watched him.
"Why go to all the trouble just to have it be
destroyed in the end?"
Aragorn did not understand.
"To know that, we would have to know who had
requested that it be
retrieved," Gandalf's eyes took on a far off look, "which there seems
to be little chance of now. And it is very possible, young one, that
seeing stone was not destroyed after all. Perhaps it was only for show
that they said it was. Did you see it fall into the fissure?"
Aragorn shook his head slowly. "But Legolas said he
did and Gwaihir
Gandalf watched the human for several moments before
When he did, he smiled, laying his hand on the young man's head,
"Things are not always what they seem, my friend."
Aragorn watched the older man sadly. Things had gone
so wrong and the
stress of the day had finally caught up with him. "I can't believe we
lost it after all that," he murmured.
Gandalf's hand tightened gently on the young
ranger's arm. "It was not
your fault, Aragorn." In truth Gandalf took the blame for himself.
young one. I'll keep watch tonight."
The ranger didn't answer, just glanced to the far
wall, too tired for
Gandalf noted the dark circles under the human's
eyes and the weariness
that had finally caught up with him. He placed one old, weathered hand
alongside the man's head, and with his other hand he gently pressed on
the ranger's shoulder, lowering him to the floor of the cave. "Sleep."
The word carried more than just a suggestion and the human relaxed into
the wizard's touch, asleep in moments.