Early morning light touched through the green
curtain Aragorn had drug
across the front of the cave they occupied, slowly waking the sleeping
travelers. Legolas wearily opened his eyes. He rarely overslept the
dawn, but the athelas and the ointment had combined with the shock of
his wounds to hold him in sleep until the day was well underway.
Aragorn slept near his head. The ranger's shoulder
had been bandaged
sometime during the night. Gwaihir was awake at the back of the cave
watching them quietly, preening his feathers. He nodded slightly when
the elf smiled at him.
With a start Legolas realized that Gandalf was not
in the hollow and
instantly became worried.
"It is well, elf. Gandalf merely stepped out for a
while. He will be
back," Gwaihir spoke up softly when he noted the prince's distress.
The quiet talking stirred Aragorn and with a moan he
turned over on his
mat and fastened a glassy stare on Legolas. "What's wrong?" His voice
was sleep-rough and his words slurred. It was obvious the ranger was
not quite awake.
Legolas smiled softly at the human. "Nothing, lay
back down and rest."
"What time is it?"
"It matters not. Rest."
"I have been, all night long," the human murmured,
trying to stir his sleep-weary mind.
"Aragorn," Legolas leaned down and stared in the
bleary eyes of the
man. "Don't trouble yourself. Sleep while you may."
Somewhere in his foggy consciousness the words made
sense and the
ranger lay back down, tucking his hands under his head, his eyes fixed
on his friend before they heavily closed once more.
"I'll rest, but I'm not sleeping," he murmured
Legolas laughed lightly. "Fine, rest then." He
scooted near the fire,
fanning the dying embers and feeding the small flame until it jumped
and sparked in the ring of rocks it had been constructed in.
Curious, Legolas stood from his seat and knelt down
next to Gandalf's
things searching through them carefully. Finding what he sought, he
reverently spread out the map of Eowioriand on the cavern floor,
inspecting it by the light of the fire.
His small cry of surprise startled Aragorn who shot
into a sitting
position, eyes wide open, "What?! What is it?" He looked around the
cave, his gaze lighting on the elf.
"It's gone." Legolas ran his fingers lightly over
the yellowed map.
"It's all gone."
Aragorn rose stiffly to his feet. Holding his
injured arm tightly to
him, he walked near Legolas and dropped down heavily next to the elf.
"What are you looking at?" the ranger asked, leaning in towards the
prince and blinking several times, trying to focus his eyes as he
stared down at the paper that the elf held.
"Do you not recognize it? It is the map of
"Legolas. There are no words on that map, only a
drawing of the..."
Aragorn stopped talking and leaned in closer until his shoulder touched
that of the elf's. "You're right. The words, all of them, they are
gone." His fingers traced the edges, searching for the moon runes that
had always been faintly visible even in broad daylight. Nothing but the
border and the depiction of the Misty Mountains remained. Eowioriand
itself had been erased from the map as well as the cryptic words. "How
"I know not." Legolas shook his head slowly. "It is
"Maybe that was the intent." Aragorn continued when
his friend glanced
up at him, "Perhaps the seeing stone was the last relic that ancient
building held. Or the last relic that its creators wanted found. When
it was removed, the building destroyed itself and the map was erased by
the same magic. No one will ever find it now and it can rest in peace."
"Perhaps." Legolas glanced back at the paper. "I
should have liked to
look on the words one last time."
Aragorn touched the elf's shoulder sympathetically,
sighing deeply as
he glanced towards the entrance of the cave, his attention momentarily
"Are you all right?" Legolas questioned his friend.
A simple nod was his answer. "Aragorn..." The elf
lowered his voice and
laced the unspoken question with a threat.
"I should be asking you!" the human turned back to
the prince and
glowered at him. "You are the one with the more severe wound."
Legolas smiled and glanced back at the fire. "Well I
am hungry," he
Aragorn glanced once more toward the opening of
their concealed hiding
place, a frown crossing his countenance. There, he had heard it again,
someone was outside the cave.
"Someone comes," Gwaihir spoke his thoughts quietly.
The brush at the entrance rustled and parted near
the floor, allowing
access into the interior. Legolas tensed and Aragorn unsheathed his
boot knife, slowly.
The tip of a blue pointy hat poked through the
greenery and a cheerful
voice called out to the anxious occupants of the cave. "Anyone awake in
here yet? Anyone hungry?"
Aragorn resheathed his blade and Legolas relaxed
beside him, much to the
great eagle's amusement. He chuckled lightly, standing to his full
height and stretching his long neck.
"You were almost prey yourself, Istar," he spoke,
eyeing the wizard as
he stood up and walked toward the fire.
"Oh, was I now?" He eyed the two younger beings
seated on the floor
with great amusement as Aragorn cast his gaze back down into the fire
his face reddening slightly.
Legolas easily changed the subject, noting that the
older man carried
bulging sacks in his hands, "What have you there, Mithrandir?"
"I should ask you the same thing?" Gandalf smiled as
he sat down next
to the elf and touched the map with a finger.
Aragorn snickered lightly as Legolas stammered,
hurriedly trying to
offer an acceptable explanation for why he had rummaged through the
"Never mind you, it is the bane of youth to be
curious." He nodded and
narrowed his eyes. "Yes, youth," he repeated when Legolas frowned at
him. "Now, what so interested you that you dug that map out of my
Legolas pushed the paper towards the other. "The
words, Mithrandir, they
Gandalf leaned over and frowned at the document.
What Legolas had said
was true. "So they are. Their fate must have been linked to Eowioriand
itself. It's a shame, actually. I had wanted to study it further."
"I just wanted to see them again," Legolas explained
softly. "They were
"Yes." Gandalf pursed his lips deep in thought.
"Well I shall show it
to the head of my Order. It may be that he can understand the magic
Neither of the companions even questioned the older
being on the
statement; if the wizard chose to explain himself he would... in time.
Aragorn leaned around Legolas and spied the bags
that Gandalf had set
down on the floor. "What are in the sacks?" he questioned lightly,
hoping the answer would be food.
"See... curiosity and youthfulness, they go hand in
hand." He raised
his eyebrows, smiling as he teased the elf next to him. "They are full
of food and supplies, young ranger, if you must know."
"And where did you acquire them, if I may ask?"
Legolas took the sack
that the older man passed to him, easily prying open the knot that held
it shut. Fruit and nuts spilled out of the top of it and further
investigation revealed a loaf of heavy bread wrapped in a cloth and a
of dried venison.
Gandalf emptied the sack he held; it contained a
flask of water, herbs
and clean cloth for bandages. "I happened upon a nomadic caravan
traveling from the Dunlands to Southern Rohan, they intend to winter
there. They called themselves the Nomayai," he answered quietly,
preoccupied with the items in the bag. "They have offered to give us
transportation to Isengard if we would like. It would be wise I think
to accept their generous suggestion. If we try to make it on our own,
it will take us weeks in our present condition. We can get further aid
in Isengard for our wounds. Saruman, the head of my order, lives there;
we would be welcome." He glanced to the far side of the fire, his eyes
lighting on the great eagle. "If we travel with the Nomayai we will be
there in half that time. They are camped out in the woods a few hours
away, awaiting our answer."
Legolas and Aragorn exchanged glances. The last time
they had trusted
strangers they had been deceived and both highly doubted that the old
wizard had just stumbled on
As though knowing their reservations Gandalf
continued, "They are more
than eager to help. They have been told we travel with a great eagle
and they wish to honor him. It seems their people were aided some years
back by one of your kind, Gwaihir, and they have kindly emptied a cart
carry you and our young friends here." The wizard smiled softly. "I do
believe they can be trusted. They sent these provisions as proof of
"Our other option is not favorable," Legolas
commented quietly. He
passed an apple to Aragorn and tore off a bit of bread for himself
before handing the loaf to the ranger. The human simply nodded as he
took a bite out of the fruit.
Once they had all agreed to travel with the
wanderers Gandalf forced
them to eat and see to each other's wounds before they headed out to
meet up with the caravan. He looked over Aragorn's handiwork of binding
up Gwaihir's broken wing while the human fussed over the elf.
"Stop moving, it will be less painful." Aragorn
pulled his hands away
from Legolas' back as the elf hissed and jerked away from his touch.
"Stop making it hurt so much and I will stop moving
away from you."
Legolas glared at the ranger. He held his long hair in one fist away
from the burned area on his neck as the man gingerly spread the
soothing ointment over the healing wounds.
"Well it looks much better," Aragorn muttered
ignoring his friend's
complaint and spreading a thin layer of cloth over the burn. With the
skin once more covered from exposure to the air, the elf breathed in
deeply and sighed as he shrugged carefully back into his tunic.
"Feel better?" Aragorn questioned, easing Legolas'
outer shirt over the
bandage he had just placed on the elf's back. He was rewarded with a
nod and a soft smile before being forced to sit while the prince
changed the soiled dressing on his arm.
Gandalf resisted the ranger's attempts to have a
look at the cut the
wizard had sustained, simply stating that he was feeling fine and
lightly brushing aside their worries over him.
It took them very little time to break down their
and head out to rendezvous with the Nomayai. True to their word they
had taken one of their supply carts and emptied it of its load, laying
canvas sheets and blankets in the bottom of the wooden vehicle. The
horses that pulled it had been blindfolded to keep them from getting
skitterish in the presence of the great eagle. They neighed and pranced
uneasily as the bird drew near, his musky scent triggering their fear.
Aragorn and Legolas were treated as royalty, being
companions of the
great eagle. It seemed that Gwaihir's ancestors had indeed saved the
Nomayar's relatives from a vicious warg attack and they had considered
themselves indebted to the great eagles ever since.
As soon as their new traveling companions were
bedded down, the nomads
headed out. The caravan that traversed the wildlands stretched out far
behind them. Bright streamers and flags blowing gently in the breeze
decorated the ragtag carts and wagons that served as home to the
The humans wintered in southern Rohan, trading the furs and dried meat
and trinkets they had made and acquired throughout their summers in
west Dunland. Several communities were dependant on the nomad's
existence in their regions during their seasons of occupation. Aragorn
had tried to count the numbers of people they traveled with but he gave
up after totaling a hundred and fifty three. It was hard to tell if he
had over counted or not. The nomads shifted back and forth all day long
from the front of the train to the back, talking and laughing, enjoying
another's company, and always there was a steady stream of people
checking in on their guests. They were a happy carefree bunch and
Aragorn found himself enjoy them immensely. The clothing they wore was
loose and colorful but heavy tunics and overcoats the color of the
woods around them covered most of the individuals.
They kept up a furious pace, checking on their
charges often for
comfort or necessities, rarely stopping to break camp and choosing
instead, for the most part to eat while they traveled. The ride was
easy, if the terrain was a bit rough, and the four made fast friend of
their hosts. In between greetings, Aragorn slept fitfully, his arm
pained him and kept him awake often. Legolas fared no better for his
burns, though healing quickly, allowed him little rest. Gwaihir simply
suffered silently. Of Gandalf they saw little on their travels. The old
wizard melted into his surroundings and visited each and every Nomayar.
Aragorn could hear his booming laughter from time to time over the
sounds of conversation and the creaking of the wooden wheels.
Four nights later they arrived outside the circle of
Isengard. The sun
was barely touching the edges of the southernmost Misty Mountains when
the nomadic company parted, they had a good months journey ahead of
them and would not be dissuaded to stop for the night, as they intended
make southern Rohan by winterfall.
Aragorn stopped on the path that led up to Isengard.
He glanced up at
the tall impervious-looking walls that made up the outer court
"You sure this is the right place?" he questioned.
Legolas grabbed his
coat sleeve and drug him through the gateway. Once inside his questions
subsided as he took in the lush gardens and verdant plant life that
decorated the interior shell. It was beautiful and peaceful inside. He
walked slowly beside Legolas. The small party of travelers had
increasingly slowed their gait as they drew nearer to their
destination. Orthanc towered over the gardens, its spire cresting
hundreds of feet above the top of the tallest tree in the court yard.
The building itself, if it could be called such, had been constructed
of black marble, its patterns and lines heavy and bespeaking of an age
"Its rather..." Aragorn glanced up to the top of the
outlines of birds made tiny by the great distance, slowly circled the
four tall spokes that rose majestically from its crown, "...creepy." He
finished his thought, turning to Legolas and glancing at his friend.
"Aragorn!" the elf hushed the human fiercely.
"Gandalf's superior lives
"Well if the inside looks anything like the outside,
I for one do not
want to spend the night here. It's not very a friendly-looking place."
Aragorn shook his head. Something about the dwelling made him shiver
and he assumed it was the draconian architecture.
"Oh, but you would sleep in a cave!" Legolas raised
"Any day, anytime over this!" The human raised his
hand palm up and
motioned at the building.
The tall doors to the entrance swept open as they
approached the high
staircase that led to them and a thin, elegantly dressed man descended
to meet them.
"Behave," the elf whispered to his companion.
Gandalf simply smiled at the two, removing his hat
and bowing formally
to the leader of the Istari. Legolas and Aragorn followed his example;
Gwaihir merely nodded to the white-haired, bearded man.
"Gandalf, what is it that brings you to Orthanc? And
pray tell what
happened to you and your companions?" Saruman's gaze swept lightly over
them all resting on the crude splint that braced the great eagle's
wing. His words echoed concern and care, but in his heart he was
agitated and displeased to have to deal with such an interruption as
the four before him presented.
Drelent and two of his trackers had returned
yesterday with the seeing
stone, much to Saruman's delight. In fact the hunter and his companions
were still within Isengard itself making use of the servants' quarters
located just below ground level. He had warned them not to allow
themselves to be seen, telling them only that he had guests on the way
for the wizard had seen Gandalf and his friends as they entered
Isengard from his window high up in Orthanc. He had quickly thrown a
square of black velvet over the palantir and locked up the room that
held the seeing stone, hoping it would be unnecessary to be near his
study until after his unwanted company had left.
"Saruman," Gandalf spoke the Maia's name reverently.
"How are you, my
friend? My companions and I were overtaken by thieves, I am afraid, and
were hoping to find shelter with your until we are healed."
"Were you injured yourself?" The Istari's eyes
narrowed as he walked
forward, noting for the first time the bandage that still encircled the
"It is nothing really. Merely a bump on the head;
however, my companions
fared worse, I fear, and Gwaihir has a broken wing that needs further
tending." Gandalf motioned to the three who accompanied him.
Aragorn found himself dropping his gaze as Saruman's
glance fell on
him. Something stirred in him, something inside withdrew from the
wizard before him, but he attributed his hesitancy to his weariness and
the Istar's high position in his order. He glanced quickly at the elf
next to him, but Legolas was watching Saruman openly. His people had
long ago learned to trust the Maiar that had been sent to Middle-earth
and so he was not as uneasy in the older being's presence as his
"I see." Saruman schooled his features, hiding his
displeasure as his
thoughts raced ahead of him. So the small traveling company before him
had met with a band of thieves. He wondered in irritation if those
thieves resembled the men he had in his employ, the ones even now using
his servant's quarters. The arrival of Gandalf was too much to be mere
coincidence. He would have liked nothing better than to turn them all
away, but now was not the time; he must retain his façade of
civility for the present.
"Of course you are all welcome here. Orthanc is at
your disposal. Come,
you be must weary and in need of food." He stepped aside and held his
hand out towards the open doors behind him, encouraging them to enter.
Gwaihir stepped back a pace and glanced around the
gardens, his soft
deep voice interrupting as Gandalf mounted the steps, "I would take my
leave of you here and make my bed in the courtyard if you would not be
offended, Saruman. I wish to sleep underneath the stars tonight."
Aragorn turned back to the great eagle, glancing at
the wizards quickly
to see their reaction.
"Of course, my friend," Gandalf walked back down to
the bird and stared
into the dark bright eyes. "Surely staying inside is not comfortable
for you. You will be safe here, will he not?" The last question was
directed at Saruman. Gandalf's gaze was open and kind, but Aragorn
noticed the slight frown that crossed the head Istar's face briefly
before he smiled slightly and nodded.
"Of course, Gwaihir, make yourself at home. I will
send out a healer to
care for your wounds and to bring you food before you bed down for the
evening." The thin smile barely concealed Saruman's displeasure. It was
his home, not Gandalf's. He turned and preceded the travelers into the
"Legolas?" Aragorn pressed closely to his friend as
they followed their
host into the dark interior, "I do not care for this place or this
wizard. I don't think we are truly welcome."
"Strider, you worry too much. Come, you will see it
is alright." The elf
slid his arm around the ranger's shoulder and pushed the human in
Aragorn stood in the room he had been escorted into.
He turned swiftly
as the attendant scurried out, intending to stop the servant and
request a chamber not quite so...
"Dark." The ranger looked about the room and
commented to himself,
"Everything is dark. Who decorated this place?" He let his eyes follow
the black marble walls of the bedchamber up to the high, vaulted
ceiling. The room itself echoed the architecture of the exterior of the
building, heavy, brooding, ancient. The human shivered slightly, the
chills running up his spine having nothing to do with the slight cool
breeze that filtered in the thin, tall window that stood open on the
other side of the room.
The candles that Saruman's servant had lit cast
eerie deep shadows in
the oddly shaped room. Snatching a pillow off the bed and pulling the
blanket from underneath the top sheet, he walked back into the hallway
and ran smack into Legolas.
"Strider, what you are doing?" the elf whispered. He
tried to stifle the
smile that crept over his face as he saw the pillow and blanket the
Aragorn frowned at the prince, glancing back into
his room suspiciously
before answering, "I am not sleeping in there. It reminds me of Moria.
I was coming..." He stopped speaking realizing how silly it sounded now
that he was actually speaking out loud what he had thought in his heart.
"Yes?" Legolas egged him on.
"Well, I was coming to stay in your room," he
blurted out quickly,
frowning at the amusement on his friend's face. "I didn't want to stay
in there." He motioned with his head back the way he had come.
Legolas laughed slightly and steered his friend back
into the room he
had just left. He quietly closed the door behind them and locked it
before turning back to the man who stood in the middle of the huge
chamber still holding the pillow and blanket, a confused look on his
face. "Strider, put those down." He laughed as the human threw the
blanket and pillow back on the bed and continued speaking to the
ranger, "I was just on my way to your
room. Mine doesn't even have a
window." The elf walked to the tall window and leaned on the open frame
staring up at the stars with a sigh. "Besides," his voice was muted by
the shutters and Aragorn walked up behind him, pressing the elf over
and gazing out on the courtyards below, "Besides, you are right. This
place is dark, my friend, and I had no wish to stay in that room on my
Aragorn chuckled beside the elf, allowing himself to
relax now that he
was in safe company. "Told you it was worse than a cave," he murmured
softly, leaning down on the window frame and letting his head rest in
his hands he turned to look at his friend. "You think we are safe here?"
Legolas raised his eyebrows and turned towards the
building is inhabited by Saruman. He is an Istar, Strider."
Aragorn stared at his friend, his expression
unchanged, and repeated
himself, "And you think we are safe here?"
With a laugh the elf pushed the man away from him.
"Yes, Strider, we'll
be fine. If you do not trust Saruman..."
"Which I don't." The ranger interrupted the elf's
under his breath as he walked back to the bedside and dropped the extra
pillow and blanket on the floor next to the bed.
"...Then you can at least trust Mithrandir. He would
not bring us
somewhere where we were in danger," Legolas reasoned with his friend.
Aragorn's head popped up from the side of the bed
where he had knelt on
the floor spreading the blanket out on the ground, "You think not?"
"You are impossible." The elf rounded the bed to see
that the ranger
had bedded down on the floor for the night. "What are you doing?"
"Making my bed." The human stared up at the elf
incredulously as though
the answer were obvious. "I am not sleeping on that." He pointed to the
"You'd rather sleep on the floor near the wall?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact I would. Then anyone who
comes in has to deal
with you first!"
"Strider!" Legolas burst out laughing at the man's
logic, but a soft
rapping on the door interrupted him.
Aragorn leapt to his feet and watched as Legolas
threw the lock and
cracked the door open.
"I have brought the healers to tend your wounds."
The servant that had
led Aragorn to his room stood just outside leaning inquisitively around
the elf and peering inside.
Legolas glanced back questioningly at his friend who
stepped out of the
servant's line of sight furiously shaking his head. Trying hard to
stifle a laugh the elf turned back to the servant and answered
politely, "I thank you for your hospitality, but we are fine."
With a hesitant nod the servant accepted the refusal
and backed slowly
away. "My name is Teonvan. If either of you should need anything please
simply call, I will hear you." The small human smiled slightly and
"Now see, that
is creepy. Don't tell me you don't think so too."
Aragorn walked up behind Legolas and peered out the door down the
darkened hallway after the servant. The black marble walls glittered in
the dim light of the glowglobes set in niches at intervals down its
length. "Creepy," he repeated himself.
Legolas could contain his laughter no longer and
pushed the human away
from him. "Strider, go rest. I must add 'overly paranoid' to the list
unpleasant attributes that you humans acquire when you are excessively
tired. No harm will come to us, I promise you."
The ranger glanced from the now closed door to his
friend and finally
smiled back. "Fine, but not till I see to those burns you have."
Legolas backed away from the man. "Oh no. You first. I'll have a look
at that arm and then you can have your way. Every time you take the
bandages off it hurts, my friend, and it makes me rather ill-tempered,
don't trust myself to not return the discomfort." He laughed lightly.
"Now sit and off with that tunic, while I fetch a clean bandage for
Aragorn sat on the edge of the bed, unbuttoning his
shirt and shrugging
easily out of the tunic. The room did not seem so dark and foreboding
anymore and he actually began to relax as Legolas knelt in front of him
and unwound the dressing on his cut, chatting at the human softly in
elvish while he did so.