When Aragorn woke the sun was already up. He rolled
over on his back
with a sigh and glanced up...
...Into the face of Gwaihir. The large bird was
seated near his head,
staring down at the human with one large black eye. Aragorn flung his
arm over one eye, shading his gaze from the sun and squinted at the
"Gwaihir?" he mumbled sleepily.
"Yes, ranger?" The bird bent nearer, ruffling his
feathers as he
Aragorn glanced around them, trying to wake up,
trying to understand
where he was. "Where is everyone?"
The huge eagle looked across the plain to where the
breaking camp. "Mithrandir and Legolas are speaking with the men."
With a moan the human rolled over and pushed himself
into a sitting
position. His head felt funny and, when he reached up to touch his
forehead, his fingers brushed against the soft touch of a bandage.
Sometime during the night someone had seen to his wounds. He
frowned in confusion and drew in a deep breath trying to clear his mind.
When he glanced up once more, Legolas was walking
back towards their
camp. Gandalf stood in the center of the abandoned hunters' campsite,
watching the men amble off towards the woods.
Legolas seated himself on one of the rocks near the
remnants of their fire
pit. He leaned down and smiled at the human who sat crosslegged on the
ground, his ruffled hair sticking at odd angles from under the bandage
that encircled his head.
Long, graceful fingers reached out and gently
snagged the circle of
cloth, giving it a light pull. "Nice addition." He laughed as the man
jerked away from his touch and frowned up at him.
"Where'd they go?" Aragorn motioned back to the
empty plain, tilting
his chin in the direction Drelent had left. "And who did this?" he
touched the bandage that wrapped around his temples, moaning with the
ache in his skull as he rested his head in one hand.
"They went on with their business," Gandalf's voice
startled him and
Aragorn looked up as the wizard seated himself on the rock opposite
Legolas. "Hunting, or so they said, although I do not believe them. And
as for your bandage, young human, I
am the one responsible for that. Show a bit more gratitude, son of
Elrond." The old man smiled down at
the confused ranger.
Aragorn touched the back of his head where Dryxyn
had cruelly re-opened
his wound the day before. "Thank you, Gandalf. I had forgotten about
it." He fingered the bandage over the superficial cut.
Legolas stood and walked behind the human, brushing
his fingers away
and unwinding the strip. Pushing the ranger's head down gently, he
inspected the cut. "I had forgotten all about it too. I'm sorry
The human shrugged, dropping his head down between
his shoulders as
Legolas cleaned the cut again. "You say Drelent said they were going
hunting?" He addressed the question to Gandalf.
"That was what he said." The old wizard gazed off
into the woods; ready
to wait for a bit before they headed into the depths of Eowioriand, a
nagging doubt eating at the back of his mind. It just felt wrong.
"You don't believe them?" Legolas glanced at the
narrowed eyes as he reapplied Aragorn's bandage.
"Did you?" The elder being turned his gaze on the
"No." Legolas stared into the woods, shaking his
head. "I did not. I
don't know what they want here but I fear it is again the same thing as
we seek. It would seem that more than one person or group is interested
in this place and what it holds."
Aragorn sighed. "A secret sleeps for thousands of
years without a peek
and suddenly everyone and their cousin is out to get it. Our luck is
really astounding, you know that?"
"Whoever they are and whatever their purpose, I fear
they'll be back."
Gandalf turned and stared at Gwaihir. The great eagle nodded slightly.
"I will see if I can track them. You go and retrieve
the palantir and I
will keep watch." The bird shook his head, spreading his wings and
stretching to his full height, the early morning sun catching in his
feathers and painting them with all the colors of the rainbow as the
light rays bounced off the dark, iridescent quills.
The eagle leapt skyward, sweeping his great wings
down and heading out
over the forests to the north, his keen eyes searching for any hints of
Drelent's hunting party.
Gandalf watched the huge bird for a few moments
before turning to his
younger companions. "Shall we go retrieve that palantir?" His face
wrinkled in a bright smile.
"The sooner the better I fear." Legolas glanced
towards the ruins that
they were now slowly walking towards. "I do not like being in the
presence of what lives in those tunnels."
down there Gandalf?" Aragorn glanced up as Gwaihir made a
swooping pass over the plains. Last night he had been too tired for
tales, but now he was curious as he remembered their previous
"In Eowioriand?" the wizard asked, as if further
needed. Legolas smiled slightly at the ranger and shook his head; he
had the very distinct feeling that the older man would never tell them
Gandalf stepped down into the main chamber of the
sunken building and
stopped a few paces in. Closing his eyes he concentrated deeply.
Content with what he felt he nodded slightly and glanced over at
Aragorn with a small smile. "You have nothing to worry about from that
one; it sleeps again. As long as we stay to the right passage we will
have no troubles I do believe."
Legolas chuckled lightly and the wizard looked at
the elf from the
corner of his eyes, trying hard to hide his smile. It was as the elf
had thought. Gandalf seemed to prefer answering most questions in
riddles that they would probably never understand. Aragorn shook his
head. "I have should have known," he murmured, following the older
being down the hallway they had tried the previous day.
"Such pleasant memories," Legolas muttered, stepping
lightly onto the
tiled floor that appeared so deceptively stable.
"Want me to try the handle again?" Aragorn teased
the elf, dancing
quickly away from the fair being.
Legolas glared at the ranger as Gandalf turned to
stare at the two
youths, watching the human tease the prince.
Aragorn held up his hands in surrender, laughing,
"Right. I know, I
know it's a cave!"
"I'm not going to argue with you." Legolas leveled
him a dangerous
stare that only caused the young man to laugh harder.
"I will never let you drag me in to another one ever! Do you hear me,
Estel?" Legolas stepped towards the ranger who jumped back nearer to
Gandalf as though the older man would be any sort of protection from
"I'm sorry, I know it's not funny." Aragorn tried
still his laughter. He turned as Gandalf interrupted them, his laughter
joining the ranger's. The older man had approached the door's entry and
was inspecting the writing etched into the stone as he listened to the
youths behind him torment each other.
"I don't know how your fathers put up with you two.
Ah, here it is." The
wizard reached out and took hold of the simple handle recessed inside
the stone niche, pulling his overlarge sleeves out of the way as he
grasped the lever.
"Uhm... I wouldn't do that if I were you." Aragorn
glanced warily at
Gandalf, unconsciously moving closer to the large stone door and making
sure his feet were balanced on the slight edge.
Gandalf smiled with barely contained humor. "Trust
me young human. I
know what I am doing!" The wizard caught Legolas' eye and winked at the
elf, who was watching his human friend with a small smile.
Gripping the handle tightly, Gandalf spoke to door
with a firm, loud
voice. The words he uttered were an entirely different language and his
companions listened with rapt attention to the melodious tone of the
As he spoke, he turned the handle clockwise and
Aragorn found himself
tensing as he watched the older man repeat the exact same move he had
done earlier with such disastrous results.
Gandalf stepped away from the small recessed box and
glanced at the
Nothing happened. Nothing moved and no one made a
sound as they waited.
Aragorn opened his eyes slowly. He had closed them
anticipating the floor to open up, or the walls to crush in, or some
other trap to spring upon them at any moment. Seconds ticked by quietly
and he finally let his breath out when the wall behind his hand moved
to the left. The ranger jumped back from the stone door in surprise as
the entry slid silently open.
Legolas couldn't help laughing at the look on the
human's face as the
wall receded behind him. His outburst earned him a baleful glare from
the ranger before the man turned his attention back to the wizard, who
had already stepped into the darkened room.
"Gandalf, what language was that you spoke? It was
the same one you and
Gwaihir used last night, was it not?"
"That it was," the older man replied absently. He
lifted his hand to
the top of his staff, placing an oddly shaped crystal onto the end of
it. Blowing on the rock slightly, he passed his hand over it and it
flared to life, glowing gently in the gloom of the antechamber. "It is
the language of my people," he continued as he held the staff higher,
letting its light touch the far walls.
Aragorn stepped into the room and glanced about him.
The chamber was
round, its walls smooth and cut from the stone. The ranger continued
questioning the Maiar, "Your people? I thought..." His voice dropped
off in confusion and he did not finish his question.
"It is best not to think." Legolas brushed past him
and walked towards
the only fixture in the circular chamber.
Ahead of them, mounted on a plain stone pedestal,
sat the seeing stone.
Inside the room, unlike the rest of the building, there was no writing
on the walls. No decorations of any sort cluttered the chamber and the
floor seemed shorn of all but a single slab of stone.
Legolas' comment provoked a laugh from Gandalf as he
light in the direction that the elf was walking. "Ah, there it is," he
soft voice echoing off the rounded walls of the vault. He stopped next
to the prince and gazed at the darkened globe that sat in the very
center of the base; the stone itself had been draped with a cloth, only
its outline visible beneath the covering.
Aragorn had walked half away around the room,
looking at the smooth
walls of the chamber and trying to glimpse if it had ever been used as
anything other than a crypt for the artifact his friends were looking
at. He turned as Gandalf spoke and caught a glimpse of the palantir for
the first time as the wizard pulled away the protective black cloth
that covered it where it sat.
Dust from years of abandonment floated into the air
catching the light
of the older man's walking staff. The dark jewel-like marble glittered
dully in the dim glow. As he drew near Aragorn could see that the
palantir was in fact made of a single black stone, cut in the shape of
a perfect globe. Its glassy curves revealed crystal striations that
spiraled within its depths.
Aragorn stepped closer, resting one hand on the
column that the
palantir was seated on, mesmerized by the seeing stone, his eyes
focused on the light that spun within it. Something inside the ranger
sparked and he would swear later that the stone called his name.
Reaching out with his other hand, he tried to touch the glassy exterior
but was stopped.
Gandalf swiftly leaned forward and grasped the man's
wrist, smiling at
the human as he did so. "Not yet, young heir," he cautioned, gently
pushing Aragorn back. The ranger blinked several times before he
stepped back a pace.
Legolas stared incredulously at his friend. "What is
with you? Must you
touch everything? Honestly, Estel, you're as bad as a child!"
"But... but it seemed right." Aragorn stared in
confusion between his
two friends, uncertain what had just happened.
Gandalf simply smiled at the uncertainty in the
ranger and nodded; he
knew the boy was only answering his calling, but now was not yet the
time. In truth, this stone really belonged to Aragorn, being as it was
an ancient heirloom of the line of Kings. But that was a destiny that
Aragorn had yet to fully accept. Seven stones there had been, but most
were now lost to memory. The remaining stones that had gone missing
through the ages had not all been accounted for and it was important
that Aragorn's heritage not be made known to certain forces that were
once again stirring in Middle-earth. It was most certainly not time for
that. Shaking out a black velvet bag that he produced from inside his
cloak, the old wizard acknowledged the human's perfectly legitimate
response, "Perhaps, young one, but not quite yet I think. The time will
He dropped the bag over the stone, its edges easily
slipping around the
curved globe and concealing it from sight. "We know not where the
others now lie nor who may be watching. Hand me your dagger." He
extended his hand to the ranger. When Aragorn placed the blade in the
wizard's upturned palm, Gandalf eased the tip of the weapon under the
stone, flipping it gently off its base and catching it in the soft bag.
He quickly pulled the drawstring closed around the top of it, careful
not to let his hands touch the palantir at all. The more caution the
better as far as he was concerned, both because of the stone itself,
and whatever spells or traps may have been laid to keep it safe.
"Come, let us be gone now and quickly I think."
Gandalf glanced around
them cautiously as he led the two friends back towards the door. The
wizard had just stepped over the threshold when an odd grating sound
assaulted their ears. Aragorn glanced into the hallway only to see that
the floor in front of them had once again begun to split in half.
Legolas, however, turned back towards the interior
of the chamber they
were leaving. The podium in the center was slowly descending into the
Gandalf looked over his shoulder and saw what
"The floor! We must go!" Aragorn grabbed the wizard
by his sleeve and
pushed the man forward, next to the wall as the ground receded below
them into the sides of the tunnel, revealing the gaping maw that they
had discovered the previous day.
Running after Gandalf, the ranger called back over
his shoulder to his
friend, "Legolas come quickly, while we can still cross!"
Legolas tore his eyes away from the room. The beams
of the chamber had
started to fall into the vault; Eowioriand was tearing itself apart,
finishing the work that the earthquake had begun on it years ago. The
elf lightly raced along the opposite side of the moving ground and
jumped to the safety of the passageway that headed up to the main
chamber. Dust fell down from the roof of the tunnel and cracks grew in
the floor beneath his feet.
"Hurry!" the prince called to his friends, holding
one hand out to
steady them as they leapt off of the shifting plates, his other hand
shielding his eyes as the tunnel shook itself down around them.
The elf pushed Gandalf ahead of him down the hallway
and yelled at him
to run as Aragorn lost his footing and teetered on the edge of the
swiftly disappearing stone walk. It too began to crumble, worn and
deteriorating from the years. Aragorn threw his arms out wildly, trying
maintain his balance, but the shifting of the earth tossed him forward
and he fell just short of his friend's outstretched hands. His fingers
barely grasped the ledge of stone that Legolas stood on and the elf
quickly dropped to his knees, ignoring the pain the abrasive rock floor
"Aragorn!" Grabbing the ranger's wrists, he slowly
strained to pull his
friend up. There was no purchase for the human as he kicked his legs,
trying to help push himself up. Twisting his hands in his friend's grip
the ranger held on tightly as the elf levered him back onto solid
There was no time to catch his breath as Legolas
wrapped his long
fingers in the man's overcoat and hauled him to his feet, shoving him
down the collapsing hallway. They had little time left. Dust and rock
choked the air and it was hard to breathe let alone see in the
Running out of the building as fast as he could,
Gandalf glanced back
into the main hall. There was no sign of his young friends and he
staggered backwards as the earth lurched under his feet.
"Not yet!" he called out to the collapsing building.
"You cannot go
yet!" He commanded the rocks to hold their places. The infrastructure
of the main room creaked and groaned as the ground beneath it twisted
and churned, caught in the throes of death. By the power he had been
given over the tangible things in Middle-earth, the wizard held the
shuddering building up, hoping for a sight of the ranger and the
prince, and hoping for it soon, because he knew he could not halt the
unstoppable for very long. There was a strong magic about this place
and it was more than just the ravages of earthquake or age that was
making it come down upon itself now that its chief treasure had been
Gandalf commanded, throwing the force of his will against the
ancient counterspell that wanted to wrench the building away from him.
"Hold!" The struggle was intensely fierce and the crumbling stone
shrieked in protest as Gandalf's will clashed with the unstoppable
powers controlling Eowioriand's demise.
Aragorn stumbled into the main room. He caught
himself as the floor
slipped beneath him, jerked sideways.
Tortured beyond its limits, the marble buckled and
tripped the nimble
elf as well. Legolas fell to the floor with a cry.
The sound of his friend's distress stopped the
ranger and he skidded on
the stones, turning back towards the prince.
Legolas was painfully gaining his feet when he
noticed the human had
stopped. Not wanting his friend crushed in the building he motioned
with his hand shouting at the man, "GO! Strider go!!"
When Aragorn saw that the prince was following him
once more, he turned
and pelted for the opening that was sinking slowly into the ground.
Gandalf caught sight of the ranger running towards
him; in moments they
would be free of the ruins and he could allow the building to settle
back into the earth. The wizard's outflung hands trembled slightly at
the strain of supporting the collapsing structure against its will, but
he stood firm, his concentration completely focused on the task at
hand, his whole being involved in the struggle. Aragorn and Legolas
were almost in the clear...
With his attention so caught up in the struggle to
save the two younger
beings, Gandalf never sensed the person who approached him stealthily
from behind. The rending of the stones blocked out all noise and he
never heard Gwaihir's warning cry as Drelent raised his sword and
brought its pommel down against the base of the old man's skull.
Gandalf stumbled forward. His grip on the failing
building faltered and
the ground shook with a horrendous roar. Eowioriand was attempting to
bury the trespassers with it. Despite the danger, Gandalf dare not
divide his attention. He had a choice to make: turn to face the new
threat and protect himself, or save Aragorn and Legolas... The wizard
did not even have to think before accepting the latter.
The opening shifted lower and Aragorn threw himself
out of the
disintegrating doorway, followed closely by Legolas. He watched in
horror as Drelent loomed above Gandalf and struck the wizard once more,
driving the old man to the ground. He fell and did not rise.
Aragorn screamed Gandalf's name, but the City of
Knowledge was dying
and the ground beneath their feet heaved and bucked as the ruins
imploded upon themselves. An inhuman keening cry rent the air, causing
the hair on Aragorn's neck to stand on end. He stared wide-eyed at the
ruins, scrabbling backwards as dirt and debris was thrown into the air
showering them with tiny bits of rocks. The sky was blocked from sight,
shrouded in the clouds of dust that exploded upwards.
Drelent bent over and grabbed the palantir from
Gandalf's limp fingers.
Aragorn got his hands underneath him, pressing himself up off the
ground. He saw Drelent lean over the wizard and reach for the velvet
bag that had slipped from his hand. The ranger lunged at the hunter and
knocked him away from the wizard, slamming his shoulder into the man's
Drelent fell backwards, his fingers releasing the
Aragorn stumbled forward, closing over his hand
around the top of the
sack that contained the seeing stone. He stood to his feet and turned,
looking behind him for Legolas. A stinging pain sliced through his
upper arm and he jerked away, wrapping his hand over the red mark that
crossed his arm, blood oozing out between his fingers where an arrow
had just grazed him. He looked back and saw Drelent re-nock his bow,
aiming for the ranger again.
The ground heaved beneath their feet as Eowioriand
settled behind them.
In the shaking Aragorn lost his footing and fell to the ground; the
arrow Drelent had shot at him went wild.
Thrown to the earth, Drelent staggered to his feet
once more and lunged
at the ranger; pulling his sword from its scabbard he drove it down
through Aragorn's arm before the ranger could react, pinning him to the
ground. The ranger cried out at the pain, trying to maintain his grip
on the velvet bag he held. As the hunter leaned down to retrieve the
seeing stone, Aragorn kicked out at the man, catching him in the
stomach and forcing him backward.
As Drelent stumbled back, Aragorn turned, catching
"Legolas!" He clumsily tossed the palantir to the
elf, who was just
gaining his feet. "Go!" The cloud of dust and debris from the demise of
Eowioriand was beginning to settle on the plain, making it hard to see.
Legolas could hear Gwaihir's cry from somewhere
above. Running out to
the edge of the plain he scanned the sky for the great eagle.
Gwaihir swooped low over the forests and approached
broken rock plateau that butted up against the plains. Legolas nimbly
ran out onto the fractured shelf, easily avoiding the steaming breaks
in the earth beneath him. The heat that issued from the cracks caused
sweat to roll down his face. Concentrating on the eagle overhead,
Legolas did not notice the human that ran straight for him.
Romyr had caught sight of the elf. Frustrated at not
being able to kill
the prince earlier and seeing the bundle that he held against him, the
young man ran out to intercept the palantir.
Legolas dropped the bag that held the seeing stone
to his side. Holding
it by the drawstring, he began to spin it in ever tightening
loops, raising it over his head and releasing it like a slingshot as
Gwaihir swooped down towards him. The great eagle's claws latched onto
the palantir and he shifted his trajectory, heading straight up.
Not all of Drelent's men had entered the plain. Gyn,
astride a horse hidden on the edge
of the forest, tracked the eagle with his crossbow, a
wicked smile on his rounded face. He closed one eye as he sighted in on
his prey and loosed the bolt. His horse pranced back slightly at the
sound of the sharp ricochet of the bowstring, but the smile on the
little man's face widened as he heard the eagle's piercing cry of pain.
The dark shape folded in on itself and dropped like a stone towards the
The bolt sheared through Gwaihir's left wing bone
and he screamed with
the intensity of the pain, momentarily losing his grip on the bag that
the palantir. The seeing stone fell from the heights. Bouncing once on
the rocky plateau, it rolled to the edge of a deep fissure, teetering
for seconds before it plummeted over the side.
"No!" Legolas watched as the great eagle spiraled
down, trying to keep
his wings open until he landed. He angled towards the grassy plains
attempting to avoid the fissured earth.
Legolas started to run to his aid when Romyr hit him
knocking him down. The whole sequence of events had happened so fast
that the elf was taken completely off guard.
The young human straddled the elf, pulling a long
wicked blade from its
sheath at his waist. "This time no one will come to help you," Romyr
whispered at the elf as he forced the blade under the prince's chin,
holding him down. Legolas had fallen backwards, pushed over the edge of
one of the fissures that broke through the granite. The heat from the
opening into the earth intensified as the ground belched forth a plume
of superheated steam. The hot air seared the elf's shoulder and neck
where he overhung the crevice, burning through his tunic. Legolas cried
out with the pain, turning his head at the last possible moment to save
his face from being burned.
Seeing the pain that the magma-heated air created,
Romyr tried to push
the prince farther over the opening.
"Rhydrry! Selvic!" The young hunter called back to
while he forced the elf back, "see if you can find the palantir!"
The two hunters ran forward, searching through the
cracks in the earth
for any sign of the seeing stone.
Legolas struggled against his captor, pulling his
knees up underneath
the young man. The steam beneath him intensified, the heat building
once more. With a surge of adrenaline brought on by sheer fear, the elf
kicked his feet out, throwing Romyr over his head.
The hunter landed upright on the other side of the
fissure and stood
unsteadily to his feet, the heels of his boots slipping on the edge of
one of the deep tears in the rock. His face was a grimace of hatred and
he raised his knife, ready to throw it into the elf's heart as Legolas
staggered away from him.
Romyr jerked bodily backwards as an arrow punctured
breastbone, embedding itself in his chest. Across the plains, Aragorn
dropped his bow to his side, breathing heavily from exertion. He had
barely been able to stop Drelent from killing him moments before by
knocking the man out with his own crossbow and his arm was screaming at
him. He watched as Romyr's body fell back into the fissure behind him.
Legolas glanced towards the ranger and nodded, letting his friend know
he was okay.
With a sigh Aragorn leaned over, resting his hands
on his knees and
trying to catch his breath. So exhausted was he that he was totally
unprepared for the swift kick to his stomach that doubled him over in
pain, dropping him to his knees. Drelent had recovered from the blow
and attacked the ranger. Tired of being thwarted by the man, he grabbed
a fist full of the human's hair and pulled the man's head back sharply,
placing the edge of his sword under Aragorn's chin.
"Just give me a reason," the hunter growled at him,
holding him there
against his blade. Blood dripped from the gash to his temple where
Aragorn had hit him and breathing heavily he repeated, "Just give me a