Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 4: Invitation to Death

by Cassia and Siobhan

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Legolas’ shout distracted the rider, and he straightened in the saddle reining in the jittery stallion.  The horse snorted defiantly.  Their task was complete; it was time to turn home. 

“Listen carefully,” the rider in black instructed Aragorn.  “My master has summoned you.  If you wish to live, you will make your way to Angmar before the new moon is half spent.  Look for the mountain with the black spire.  If you tarry, you won’t live to see a new moon ever again.  Do not think to look elsewhere for help, for you’ll never survive.  Your time is already running out and your only hope lies in Angmar.  Make all haste for the black mountain.  May the Valar have mercy on you... for no one else can.”  With that warning, the rider spurred his steed and bolted for the safety of the woods to his left.  The horse seemed to melt into the dark patterned shadows and fade from sight with a clatter of hooves. 

The elf sprinted across the natural rock bridge, bringing an arrow to bear on the darkly clad attacker as he disappeared into the trees, but it was already too late.  Legolas raced towards Aragorn’s position, ready for another attack should the evil beast and its rider return.  Even as he neared the place where they had disappeared, he could feel the dark touch of the Nazgûl’s presence receding.  Legolas realized the rider may not have been a Wraith, but he had most certainly operated on behalf of one.  

Dropping down next to the ranger, Legolas pressed the human back, trying to get the man to stop writhing.  Aragorn moaned and shifted restlessly, one hand locked around the arrow’s shaft. He curled in on himself, trying to stop the fiery pain that was consuming him.  He had been wounded by a drugged or poisoned arrow before, but it had spread numbness.  This one spread pure fire.  

“Legolas, it burns,” he groaned softly.  “Get it out.” 

“I will, my friend. I will.  But I need you to lie still for a moment.”  Legolas held the human by his shoulders, trying to get Aragorn to look at him.  He didn’t understand why this had happened, or why their attacker seemed content to just wound the ranger and leave. He didn’t have time for questions right now.  

Locking his gaze on the elf, the ranger quieted under the prince’s touch.  Unable to remain completely still, Aragorn ground the heel of his boot into the forest floor while Legolas gently unlaced his tunic and cut it away from the wound.  A dark substance spread out from the arrow’s shaft, mixing with the human’s blood and running in small rivulets off his shoulder.  The dark, sticky liquid bubbled slightly where it touched the man’s skin.  It truly was burning the ranger. 

Legolas pried Aragorn’s fingers from the haft and once more pushed the man back against the ground.  Reaching across the ranger, he dragged Aragorn’s pack close and emptied the contents out on the ground.  He grasped a small glass vial that contained several pebble sized crystals.  Emptying the container on the man’s chest, Legolas chose a good sized stone and pressed it against Aragorn’s lips.  

The ranger’s body was tense beneath his hands and the man resisted the medication, groaning through gritted teeth. 

“Aragorn, you must help me,” Legolas pleaded with the human, trying again to unsuccessfully get him to take the crystal.  “Take it, mellon-nín, it is just mentasis.  I know you’re in pain but I have to get this arrow out of you.  It will be easier if you are more relaxed.  This foul substance on the arrow is poison, a form of morgul poison if I am correct.  We need to slow down its spread.  You have to cooperate with me or I can’t help you.”  The elf’s voice was collected, but inside he was panicking.  Aragorn’s pain level was increasing and soon he would go into shock.  

The mentasis was a byproduct of the mentalyion plant that grew in the Misty Mountains near Rivendell.  The purple, flowering perennial secreted a substance that, when it came in contact with the air, would crystallize into small crystal formations.  The secretions held a powerful herb that slowed the body’s systems down and dulled pain, making the patient very pliant and calm. It required the wounded party to place the mentasis under their tongue and let it dissolve. That was Legolas‘ aim at the moment.  

Aragorn knew what Legolas was trying to do, but he was having a hard time thinking rationally.  It was all he could do to keep from knocking the elf off of him and trying to pull the arrow from his shoulder himself.  He wanted it gone and wanted it gone now.  He didn’t care about the damage; all he could think of was getting rid of the encompassing pain. 

When the elf pressed the crystal to his lips again, he allowed Legolas to place it under his tongue.  Clamping his mouth tightly shut, Aragorn held his breath and closed his eyes, fighting the waves of fire that swept through his body. 

For a few minutes the pain was intense.  Then, with a sigh, Aragorn began to relax beneath Legolas.  He drew in a deep breath and let it out gradually as the herb started to work.   Slowly the ranger lowered his head all the way back as his legs straightened out until he was lying flat against the forest floor, breathing evenly. 

“Aragorn?” Legolas was half afraid the dose had been too much.  He didn’t have that much experience with the drug and Aragorn wasn’t in a suitable condition to have been able to judge for himself. 

The slightly dilated silver eyes slowly opened and gazed up at the elf. 

“Are you with me?” the prince questioned further as he released his hold on the man. 

“Yes,” Aragorn answered softly.  His words were slurred but he was coherent.  “It wasn’t a Nazgûl, Legolas.  It was a man on a morgul steed.” 

The elf nodded encouragingly as he began to quickly clean the wound, carefully collecting the dark substance so it would not spread and burn the ranger further. 

“Did he say anything to you?”  Legolas was trying to keep the human preoccupied as he worked, also hoping to find out more about what had happened.  

“Yes.”  Aragorn’s voice drifted off and the prince gently tapped the ranger’s face. 

“What did he say, Aragorn?  You were going to tell me.  I need you to stay awake,” Legolas instructed softly.  He spread a drawing tincture around the shaft of the arrow and prepared to pull the weapon out. 

“He said... my presence has been requested and that I am to go... go to him.  I have less than a fortnight to get there,” Aragorn spoke softly.  His eyes watched the elf’s blue ones.  “I don’t think I want to go.” 

Legolas smiled softly.  “I shouldn’t think so.  Don’t worry about that now.  We’ll figure out what to do next in a little while.  Right now I need to get this arrow out of you.” The elf spoke slowly and quietly, hoping Aragorn could understand him even if the ranger was numbed to everything else. The human wasn’t making much sense, but he would worry about that later.  

With a small nod, Aragorn agreed.  He gripped the elf’s shoulder with his right hand and stared up at his friend, waiting. 

There was so much trust in the silver eyes that tracked his every move that Legolas found it hard to proceed.  Mentasis or not, Aragorn was going to feel the arrow when it was removed. 

With a pained grimace, Legolas placed his hand over the man’s face, gently brushing the ranger’s eyelids with his fingertips.  Aragorn obediently closed his eyes and allowed the elf to carefully tip his head to the side so that his face was turned away from the arrow. 

Getting a solid grip on the shaft with his left hand, Legolas held the ranger down with his right and rose up on one knee.  He wanted to do this in one swift motion to lessen the pain, if at all possible. 

“Ready, Aragorn?” he asked quietly, wondering if the man had slipped into unconsciousness.  He halfway hoped the ranger had. 

“Yes,” came the soft reply. 

Steadying himself, Legolas jerked the arrow straight up, pulling the shaft and the head out of Aragorn’s body.  The man arched against the pain, crying out as the barbed head tore out of his shoulder leaving a jagged, gaping gash behind. 

With a small moan Aragorn relaxed and stilled beneath his friend. 

A quick check proved that he had simply lost consciousness.  Part of Legolas was grateful for the small blessing - and part of him was worried sick.  The arrow wound itself was not particularly grievous, but it was the fact that the arrow had so obviously been poisoned that filled the elf’s heart with dread.  They were too far from any inhabited place to get help.  His home was on the easternmost side of the woods.  Rivendell laid hundreds of miles away over the mountain ranges.  The Beornings were woefully inadequate in all but the basic healing arts, often taking their more critically ill either to Rivendell or one of the human habitations farther south.  If what the rider said was true and Aragorn didn’t get help soon... 

Quickly banishing the negative thoughts from his mind, the elf concentrated on cleaning the wound.  The skin around the cut was red and feverish.  It had been peeled back and burned away in some areas.  Most of the thick liquid had congealed around the arrow shaft and was easily cleansed, but Legolas was certain that a fair amount remained inside Aragorn, already in his bloodstream.  

The elf dug quickly through the tumbled contents of the ranger’s bag, looking for any more of the drawing ointment he had originally used.  It was all spent.  Trying to maintain his calm, the elf mixed together the few herbs he could easily recognize as being good for this type of wound.  Gently he placed it in and around the cut, laying leaves of athelas over the mixture before applying the bandage.  He knew the kingsfoil did little good in his hands, but he hoped that it would aid Aragorn’s body anyway.


When Aragorn came to, it took him a moment to realize where he was.  The sun was just beginning its slide down the sky behind them and the meadow valley was bathed in the low light.  Long shadows stretched across the Langflood towards the western edge of Mirkwood.  The day had already been spent. 

His body felt oddly disjointed from his consciousness.  His hands and feet wouldn’t respond to his commands and he had a hard time just opening his eyes.  As the world slowly came back into focus and feeling began to spread through him again, he discovered that he was being held and gently rocked.  A softly singing voice floated on the warm late afternoon air and he knew at once that it was Legolas who held him. 

The elf’s arms were crossed in front of Aragorn, holding him tightly and he sat resting with his back against Legolas’ chest.  Breathing in deeply, he alerted the prince that he was awake and the elf stopped singing. 

“Strider?”  Legolas asked, leaning around and gazing at his friend. 

“Where are we?” Aragorn mumbled, trying to find his voice. 

A flagon of water was pressed to his lips and he drank greedily.  Legolas moved out from behind the ranger, gently leaning the man against the trunk of the large tree they were seated beneath. 

“We are still in the meadow near the Langflood, about fifty yards from where you were struck down.”  Legolas knelt in front of the man and gazed into his eyes, judging his friend’s state of awareness for himself.  “Do you remember anything?” he questioned gently. 

It took a moment for Aragorn’s thoughts to coalesce. 

“I was headed home,” he started to explain.  He frowned as the memories darted away, flitting on the edges of his thoughts.  Shifting against the tree caused his wound to flare and he winced, fingering the bandage curiously. 

When the memories came back they flooded his mind all at one time, shouting for attention. 

Aragorn gasped and turned back towards the elf who was watching him intently.  “It was a man on a horse.  A dark horse.  At first I thought it was a Nazgûl but he was no Wraith, Legolas.” The words hastily tumbled out of the man and he reached out to grab the elf’s arm as he spoke.  “He said that I was to go to Angmar if I wanted to live.  He cautioned me not to return home or go to anyone else.  He said my only hope lay in making it to the black mountain before the new moon was half spent.” 

Aragorn searched his friend’s face for some response.  The elf had gone deathly pale as the ranger recounted the words.  

“Legolas, what did he mean?  Who has summoned me?” Aragorn had a feeling he already knew, but he needed to ask anyway.  He was desperately hoping that Legolas would contradict his fears.  Unfortunately the elf could only confirm them. 

“The kingdom of Angmar was broken a long time ago, by your ancestors in fact; as I am sure you are aware.  Yet dark rumors have long whispered that the Witch-king’s castle remained untouched and that, since the power of your people waned, he returns to inhabit it at times.  A dark terror dwells in those hills.  Some of the Mirkwood exiles, who passed through that land when they returned from beyond Carn Dûm with my Uncle, told us that it is a barren place, full of malice.  Beyond their words, I know little.  But this I do know, Strider, that if we have been summoned thus, we are in danger.” Legolas divulged all he knew and had heard of the dark castle.  “I can think of no one other than the Witch-king who would wish us to go to Angmar.  If that is true, and this wound is his doing, then it is grievous indeed.”  

Legolas’ words echoed the ranger’s own thoughts.  What Legolas did not express was what he truly feared. If all their suppositions were true, it was likely not even Lord Elrond could save Estel, even if they could get him there on time.  The elf’s heart recoiled painfully, refusing to allow that thought to remain. There was no way he was even going to consider losing his friend. 

“We can’t go there,” Aragorn argued, unintentionally sliding into Legolas’ use of ‘them’ as a plural.  Gingerly he moved into a more comfortable position as his body woke from the effects of the mentasis.  “You can’t go there, Legolas.  He’ll recognize you.” 

“My friend, I think he already has or we would not be sitting here like this now,” Legolas answered softly.  It was painfully obvious that for some reason they had been hunted down and intentionally attacked now, when they had no hope for help.  He had the sinking feeling that this might have even been the whole purpose behind the raid on the Beorning village.  Only someone as powerful as a Nazgûl could have brought that about. The Beornings had never been the targets... they were.  Now here they were, hundreds of miles from any possible means of help.  If it had been a trap, then it was a wickedly clever one.  The prince held no illusions that the message had been meant for Aragorn alone.  If this was the Witch-king’s doing, the evil one knew very well that Legolas would never abandon a friend in trouble.  He was right.  

“We’ll go to my father then,” Aragorn pressed on, unwilling to accept the fate that seemed to be chosen for them. “He’ll know what to do.  He can make an antidote for whatever they’ve given me.  He’s the best healer, Legolas. We’ll be safe there.”  The ranger kept talking even though the elf was shaking his head. 

“Strider, it would take us over a month to get back to Rivendell.  You’re a healer, assess your symptoms honestly and tell me you truly think you have that long,” the elf said quietly. 

“We can’t just go to that place and submit to a Nazgûl!”  Aragorn was beginning to panic as their options narrowed.  “That’s as good as walking into the jaws of death!  There has to be another way,” he whispered, staring into the the elf’s blue eyes. 

Legolas didn’t answer right away.  Standing on his feet, he gazed skyward.  Judging from the amount of light they had left he realized that they were staying the night here.  Silently he walked off and began to collect rocks for a fire ring.  He was terrified of the thought of being anywhere near the Úlairë and even more afraid that Aragorn would die no matter what choice they made.  All of this was his fault, in more ways than one.  


Aragorn’s quiet question drifted towards the elf.  He made sure to stay where the ranger could see him as he collected wood for the fire, but his mind and thoughts were too jumbled, fearful and recriminating for him to deal with Aragorn’s cares as well as his own at the moment. 

Realizing Legolas needed a few moments, Aragorn relaxed back against the trunk of the tree.  He wanted to get up and help, but his body ached and his shoulder was throbbing once more.  He watched as the elf silently constructed a fire ring and began stacking the wood.  Unable to stand the pain from his wound any longer, he grabbed his pack and began digging through it for something that might ease his discomfort. 

Legolas had a small fire going by the time Aragorn found that which he sought.  He fumbled with a small pouch, trying to untie the knot.  Slender hands stopped his awkward movements and the ranger glanced up at the elf that knelt next to him. 

“Elladan tied it shut.  He always uses these stupid slip knots,” Aragorn explained quietly.  “They get stuck sometimes.  I guess I won’t have to worry about that anymore.” He tried to lighten the mood but fell very flat. 

Legolas’ gaze snapped up to lock onto the ranger.  He sat down slowly next to the man.  “What do you mean?” The question held a sharp edge stemming from barely concealed distress. 

“Legolas...” Aragorn took a deep breath.  There was no use denying the truth.  He trusted Legolas enough to be completely honest with him.  “Legolas, we’ve been friends for too long to lie to each other, or ourselves.  We both know I’m not going to make it,” the ranger’s voice was soft, but frank.  Aragorn shook his head and continued when the elf tried to interrupt him. 

“No, my friend, listen to me.  I’ve been thinking about it.  We are, as you say, more than a month out from Rivendell.  Your people cannot help me even if we could reach them and neither could the Beornings.  Where then, do we go?  Angmar?  That’s not a real option; it’s only putting a different and likely more horrible face on death.  I won’t go there.  I won’t take you there.” 

The ranger stared hard at the elf.  His thoughts had been running over all the same paths as Legolas’ had been.  The prince had been thinking through every option, trying any way to find a solution that didn’t involve going to Angmar.  The only one he hadn’t thought of was the one that the ranger had chosen. 

“You’re not going to die,” Legolas stated flatly. 

“Not tonight, no,” Aragorn replied lightly, with a small smile. 

“It’s not funny, Estel.”  Legolas was angry and it showed through in his tone.  “You think I would agree to just sit here and wait for you to die?  That’s not an option either.  I won’t let you.” 

“You can’t stop it now, my friend.  If what the Wraith’s messenger said is true, then the only ones who could make a difference now are either too far away, or somewhere we aren’t going.”  Aragorn tried to reassure the elf and convince himself at the same time.  “I have herbs that will help when it gets...”

His words were cut off as the elf wrenched the knapsack away from him and walked to the far side of the fire, throwing the bag to the ground. 

“Stop it!” Legolas shouted at the ranger.  “How can you think like that?  And what of me, or your family?”  The elf touched his heart before pointing over the hills behind them. “What of us?” 

Stalking back around the camp he knelt in front of the ranger and glared at the man.  “You went into Mordor after me and convinced me not to give up this life.  You made me believe I had something to live for.  When I died in the mountains your father valued my life so much he was willing to risk his own to bring me back.  And now you sit there and have the audacity to tell me that you just want to let go as if your life means nothing?  You think I will just let you slip away and not fight for you as you have for me?”  Tears streamed down the elf’s face.  “How dare you,” he whispered. 

“It is the Witch-king, Legolas.  I only thought to protect you,” Aragorn spoke quietly.  His eyes were large in the firelight and tears of his own collected on their edges.  How could Legolas think this wasn’t hard for him?  Of course it was!  But what choice did he have?  They had to be realistic. 

“Do you think I never want to see my family again?  Or Arwen?  Do you think I want to leave you or Middle-earth now, this way?  Do you think I want to die?”  The ranger shook his head.  “I don’t know what else to do.  I know you wouldn’t let me go to Angmar alone, but how can I endanger you by asking you to go there with me?  How can I ever bring you anywhere near that evil creature’s clutches again?  Better one life than two.  You will not think of yourself.  You will risk yourself for my sake. I know you, Legolas.” 

“As if you haven’t done the same for me.”  Legolas’ quiet words stopped the ranger.  “Let me return the favor.  Or at least let me pay the debt of my own folly.”  The elf dropped his head, pressing his palms against his eyes as if to pretend he was tired and hide the tears that were escaping them.  

“Legolas, don’t...” 

“No!” the elf snapped, cutting his friend short.  “Do not dare tell me this is not my fault.  The Nazgûl obviously wanted to catch us alone and I did a good job of making sure he could.  If I had allowed Raniean and Trelan to come with us our circumstances would be different.  We may not have had to chase the Beornings and walk into this trap, or at the very least we would not now be alone.  We could go to Angmar while someone else went to your father and my father and tell them what happened and get help.  But father was right about me.  I’m foolhardy and I can’t be trusted.  My stupid pride has endangered your life and made sure no one will ever know what has happened to us.” 

The prince’s shoulders shook with a repressed sob.  If Aragorn died he would never forgive himself.  

“You are none of those things, my friend.” Aragorn’s soft voice made the elf lift tear-stained eyes to meet the human’s gaze.  “You couldn’t have known this would happen, no one could.  Everyone makes mistakes; that doesn’t make this your fault.  We can’t live in the past now and wonder about what-if’s.  We have to try and face the future.  That is all we can do.” 

Legolas nodded, wiping his eyes hurriedly.  He was by no means ready to let go of his own self-condemnation over the situation, but he did agree that the future was what was important now.  A future in which he was not going to let his friend die.  

“You are right, mellon-nín.  We have walked into worse predicaments than this and escaped.  We can do it again.  Together we will find a way out of this.  We will survive, Estel, both of us.  But we must hold onto hope and do whatever it takes.”  Legolas fixed Aragorn with a firm gaze.  “Whatever it takes,” the elf repeated. 

“Are you saying you think we should go to Angmar?” Aragorn whispered, almost disbelieving.  

“Yes.  I am saying we must go.  If that is the only way for you to live, then that is where our course lies.  There must be an antidote there.  The dark one may have his plans, but we can have our own as well.  We’ll find the cure and we’ll make it out again.  We have before.”  Legolas reached out and gripped the ranger’s right arm, giving him a gentle squeeze.  “Just don’t give up on me yet.  Do you understand, my bull-headed adan?”  The softly spoken taunt worked and Aragorn pulled the elf against him. 

“I promise, no giving up,” he whispered into the elf’s ear. 

Sitting back, the ranger smiled at the fair being before him.  He was not at all sure that going to Angmar was the best idea, but it did seem to be the only one.  If Legolas had hope, then he would try to maintain his own.  He was glad the elf was with him.  He knew deep in his heart that if Legolas were not here now, he would not survive. 

“Now, if you’ll be so kind as to bring me back my bag, my shoulder is killing me and I know I have some white willow in there,” Aragorn chided softly. 

With a start Legolas realized the ranger had been trying to find something before he snatched the knapsack away.  Quickly retrieving it and pulling the pouch out once more, Legolas sat back down in front of the ranger and handed the items to the man.  He retrieved a small jar and gently spread the ointment over the deep cut, slathering it with the numbing gel. 

Aragorn sighed as the pain receded, soothed by the elf’s ministrations.  When Legolas had re-bandaged the wound the ranger handed him the small bag.  It was full of pulverized willow bark and vantium leaves, a pain remedy with which the prince was familiar.  

Legolas laughed easily as he slipped the flap open and poured the herbs into the palm of his hand. 

“Were these the herbs you were talking about that would help?” he asked softly, eyeing the ranger with a sheepish grin. 

“Yes,” Aragorn admitted. “For the pain.  That was all I meant, my friend.”  He returned the wide smile as he handed over the small pot to boil and soften the medicine.  He was aware of what Legolas had thought he meant. 

“Forgive me,” Legolas apologized as he added water to the herbs and set the pot near the flames.  Scooting back he rested against the tree next to Aragorn. 

The ranger gently nudged the elf causing the prince to laugh.  “Fussy elf,” he muttered as Legolas leaned back against him.  “I have some nice herbs for you,” he teased lightly. 

“You aren’t going to let me live it down, are you?” Legolas murmured good-naturedly. 

“Of course not,” Aragorn replied. “It’ll be a great one to tell to my brothers when we get back.” 

Legolas laughed.  He rolled his eyes at the thought of trying to explain that one to the human’s adopted family.  Yet he would gladly do so, if only they had the chance to ever see them again.  The prince’s thoughts drifted to his own family as silence fell between the two friends.  His father was expecting him home.  It wouldn’t be the first time things had not turned out quite the way Thranduil wanted.  The king would be angry, but Legolas had to believe that when he explained the situation, Thranduil would eventually forgive him.  He couldn’t leave the ranger to die anymore than Aragorn would abandon him.  Legolas wished he could somehow send word but knew that was impossible.  He would have to make his explanations and apologies when he returned home.  When, not if, he told himself sternly.  They would return home – both of them.  

He glanced at Aragorn.  The ranger had scooted down and rested his head on the elf’s shoulder.  He watched the fire wearily, the hypnotically weaving dance of the flames lulling him to sleep.  Legolas didn’t move. The man needed to rest, his body had suffered a great deal that day. 

They could head out tomorrow.  Legolas smiled to himself as Aragorn relaxed fully against him.  Tonight they would just rest. 


Packing up their belongings had taken longer than usual the next morning.  Neither the ranger nor the elf spoke much.  They set out in silence and the dread of their path hung heavy upon them.  

They had not gotten far before Legolas stopped Aragorn, turning the man away from their northern path.  Aragorn realized they had reached the same place they had split company the day before.  Was it only yesterday they had dreaded leaving one another?  Well now they were together, but under what circumstances... 

“Estel, we cannot take this where we are going.”  He grasped the man’s hand and fingered the silver and emerald ring on Aragorn’s forefinger. “You can’t even hide it in your things, as it will be discovered and it is sure to be recognized,” the elf pointed out.  

With a sigh the ranger shook his head.  Of course.  Barahir could not make this journey, it would betray him. 

“I hadn’t even thought of that.  But I can’t just leave it.  It’s a family heirloom.”  He winced and rubbed his sore shoulder. It hurt worse today than it had yesterday and the ache was making him edgy.  The ring meant more to him than just lineage; its history made it a meaningful symbol of friendship between the world of elves and men.  The green stones had been cut in Valinor.  It was a relic from the First Age and not the kind of item one simply laid aside. 

“Of course not...” the elf said thoughtfully, considering their options. 

“Then what do you suggest?” Aragorn asked, shielding his eyes against the rising sun. 

Legolas glanced about them quietly for a few minutes, his gaze roving over the sparse forests that bracketed the eastern face of the Misty Mountains.  Turning slowly around, he peered across the Langflood and stared longingly into his own woods, the forests he had loved since he had been a child.  They called to him even now, begging him to return and not leave again so soon. 

That was it, his forests were the answer. 

With a questioning glance he held his hand out towards the man, asking silently for the ring. 

Aragorn slipped it easily from his finger, trusting the Silvan elf implicitly.  As he dropped the ring into Legolas’ palm he was struck by a moment of irony.  A long time ago, another golden-haired elf had given this ring, the symbol of the house of Finarfin, to Aragorn’s forefather Barahir.  Now he was in turn entrusting it back into the keeping of an elf.  Not too remarkable perhaps, given its many different guardians, both human and elven, over the years.  However, the irony came because, for some inexplicable reason, Legolas had always reminded Aragorn of the image his childhood mind had created to fit the stories of Finrod Felagund.  In their current situation, that comparison, however strange, did not sit well with the ranger. 

With agile steps, Legolas ran lightly back across the river using the same stone pathway he had yesterday.  Aragorn followed him much more slowly, watching his steps carefully on the slippery rocks. 

By the time he had caught up with Legolas, the elf was standing near a large, old tree that sat just inside the edge of the forest.  The giant oak had a hollow in its trunk near the base.  Grasses had grown up around the dark opening and leaves blown by the winds had nearly covered the scar.  Legolas crouched down near the hole and pushed the greenery away, exposing the hiding place.  He smiled up at Aragorn who was nodding in agreement. 

“But wait!” the ranger dropped down next to the elf and dug quickly through his pack, pulling out an empty leather pouch that had held some sort of herb at one time.  “Here, we’ll put it in here.  At least it will help to keep it safe from the elements until we can return.” 

He held the tiny bag open, allowing the elf to drop the silver circle inside.  Pulling the strings shut, he tied it off just as Elladan had taught him and passed it back to Legolas. 

“How will we ever find it again?” Aragorn asked as Legolas rose and helped the ranger to his feet as well. 

“It shouldn’t be too hard,” Legolas answered, glancing back at the ford.  “First there is the river and the crossing that we used.  It is straight out from this tree.  Secondly,” the elf paused in his explanation and pulled one of his daggers from its sheath on his back.  Quickly and deftly he carved an intricate pattern into the bark of the tree.  The cuts were superficial and did not harm the tree.  Given a few years they would heal over and no one would ever know they had been there. 

“There,” he spoke softly, stepping back and allowing Aragorn a closer look.  “That is my mark.  If I were with a group of wood elves they would know that I had been here.  Normally I would show the direction I had gone as well, but not this time.  This time it only shows that I was here.  This will help us find the right tree, but mean nothing to anyone unfriendly.  If Raniean, Trelan or one of my company should find this sign, they will know to look about further to see if I have left anything.  Anyone else will simply assume it was for another party and will ignore it.” 

Aragorn nodded slowly.  He glanced back across the river in the direction of Rivendell.  It occurred to him suddenly that he didn’t know what would happen if no one ever found the ring again.  They were heading into darkness and it seemed to envelop his heart for a moment, squeezing tightly and shutting out all hope. 


“I just...I...” The ranger’s words faltered and he stared back at his friend. 

“I know,” Legolas answered softly.  He understood his friend’s hesitancy and fears.  He had been thinking the same thing.  He hoped that if the worst should happen, Raniean or Trelan would someday chance to come this way and find Barahir.  He wasn’t altogether positive that he and Aragorn would pass this way again, but he wasn’t about to let the ranger know his thoughts. 

“We’ll come back for it,” he reassured softly as he led them back across the river and north towards the snow capped peaks of Angmar.  “I promise you, Strider, we’ll retrieve it on our way home.”  He smiled at the ranger and wrapped his arm around the man’s shoulder as they walked. 

He vowed not to let himself think differently, even as he silently said his goodbyes to the forests around them.