Priceless Treasure

Chapter 1

by Cassia and Siobhan

First > Next   
...One Week Ago...

The ancient circle of Isengard had been broken years ago, although desolation had been replaced by flourishing plant life and trees once more, for the Ents had done much to repair the land. However, the area immediately surrounding the tower of Orthanc and, in fact, the tower itself was still in a state of semi-disrepair, which the dozen or so years that had passed since its last occupancy had hardly improved upon.

Two figures were sitting by the fire in the middle of camp, one older and one younger. The youth was probably no more than twelve or thirteen, but the elder was harder to place, seeming at once to be a man in the prime years of his life, and yet bearing an age greater than was usual for the span granted to mortal men. Both humans had thin silver circlets upon their forehead and bore a striking resemblance to one another, although there was a distinctly fair cast to the younger boy’s face and something somewhat whimsical about him that almost, almost reminded one of an elf. As indeed it should since his mother was an elf and his father one of the last true Númenorians left in Middle-earth.

Aragorn and his son, Eldarion, sat in comfortable silence, watching the flames dance as they waited for the scouting parties to come back and declare whether the area was secure or not, although there was little doubt that it would be.

Aragorn, or King Elessar as he was now more commonly known, had spent the last fifteen years re-ordering the scattered and often crumbling realms that he was now responsible for. Restoring Isengard had been high on his priority list for some time and, although some of the work had already begun, this was the first time he had been able to make the journey here himself, which he had wanted to do for many reasons. But those could wait for the moment.

Arwen remained in Minas Tirith with Eldarion’s little sister, but Aragorn had wanted his son to accompany him this time; indeed, it was the boy’s first real foray away from the White City for any great length of time, and Aragorn felt the young prince was ready for that.

Aragorn seemed to sense something and rose to his feet, causing Eldarion to glance questioningly up at him, for he had heard nothing, and neither had the soldiers nearby or they would have said something. Nevertheless, a few moments later Legolas Greenleaf walked silently into plain sight and smiled at the disconcerted guards before passing them completely by and heading for the fire where his old friend awaited his report.

Eldarion did not understand how his father could hear the elf prince coming, since he certainly hadn’t been able to do so.

"The eastern reaches are clear," Legolas reported, having completed his scouting mission. "Is Gimli back yet?" he asked, taking a seat near the fire.

"Not yet, but-" Aragorn started to answer before he was cut short.

"Yes, he is, and the western reaches are also clear," Gimli reported, appearing with slightly less stealth than his elven friend. "I think I saw those other two scouts approaching from the north and south. I’ll go see what word they have, but I think there is naught to trouble us out here now."

Balancing cross-legged upon the rounded log as the dwarf stumped away, Legolas smiled meaningfully at his human friend. "I see you have ordered camp to be struck around the tower, Telcontar." It would never fail to amuse Legolas that Aragorn had actually chosen to take the high elvish form of his old Strider nickname as the name for his royal house.

Aragorn nodded, not really grasping the reason for the elf’s mischievous smile. "Yes, of course."

Legolas chuckled. "Don’t tell me someone is still afraid to sleep in that tower?" he queried, remembering events many years past.

Aragorn actually colored slightly as his friend reminded him of that long ago time when they had been Saruman’s unintentional guests, long before anyone knew what treachery was stewing in Isengard. Before he could answer his friend, Eldarion shivered dramatically, looking up at the black spire. Even now that there was no evil in residence there, its severe architecture was less than welcoming.

"I don’t see how anyone could! It’s so... creepy!" the boy shook his head.

Legolas laughed so hard he nearly fell off the log he was sitting on. "Oh Strider! He is most assuredly your son!" the elf managed to get out around his merriment.

Aragorn chuckled lightly, wrapping his arm around Eldarion’s shoulders and smiling at the boy’s perplexed face. "He’s not laughing at you, Eldarion," the King assured. "It’s... it’s a long story." Leaning close he whispered in his son’s ear. "And between you and I, I agree with you, I still think it’s creepy!"

Of course Legolas overheard them and his grin only widened, if that were possible.

"And what has set the elf off this time? As if he needed an excuse for excessive mirth..." Gimli dropped down on the log next to Legolas, looking as if he were considering giving the laughing elf a push to see if he really would fall off his perch. Legolas recognized the look in his short friend’s eye and quickly put his feet back down on the ground.

"It doesn’t figure," Gimli shook his head, speaking to Aragorn and glancing at Legolas. "I keep waiting for a little sense to rub off on him, and it never does..."

"Rub off from whom, master Gimli?" Legolas arched his eyebrows sharply. "Certainly not you!"

"At least I don’t find the need to laugh at the drop of a hat or break into song just because the sun is shining..." Gimli grinned.

"Thank heaven for that!" Legolas rolled his eyes, smirking at Aragorn. "If you’ve ever heard dwarves sing or laugh you’ll know why..."

Gimli shoved Legolas. Legolas dodged and smirked tauntingly.

Aragorn and Eldarion laughed as they watched the friends bicker. The talking and joking went on long into the night as songs were sung and tales told. Eldarion’s eyelids became heavy and before long he was sleeping quietly against his father’s leg. Aragorn looked down and smiled. "I think it’s time for bed," he said softly.

Legolas and Gimli smiled.

"I think you’re right," Legolas whispered, touching the child’s hair gently. Eldarion’s dark, wavy locks hung in his eyes, framing the soft-edged face that was only just beginning to lose its boyish roundness. He had Aragorn’s looks, but his mother’s eyes and chin.

"He is very like you Aragorn, you and Arwen both. You have a treasure here, my friend." Legolas watched the child stir slightly, many memories running through his heart. Memories of Eldarion as a wee child, and of Aragorn as a young man, for the two were very alike.

"I know," Aragorn nodded softly, favoring his son with a proud, gentle look. "But come, it is late and tomorrow we have much to do."


"Uncle Legolas and Uncle Gimli are going with you!" Eldarion protested. The lad had quite an odd extended family although he thought nothing about it. His father was human, his mother an elf, he had two ‘real uncles’ who were half-elves, and considered themselves to be the brothers of both his mother and his father, and a score of ‘adopted’ uncles including another elf, a dwarf and several hobbits who, when they were around, often acted more like his playmates than uncles and continually got him into mischief.

Aragorn shook his head. "And you will too, but not this time. It’s for your own safety Eldarion, I explained that already."


"No, no buts." The King shook his head firmly. "You heard me the first time and that’s all there is to it, all right?"

"Yes, Father," Eldarion nodded finally, although he was not at all pleased at being left behind.

"All right then, I promise we’ll take you in there as soon as I know it’s safe." Aragorn tipped his son’s chin up on the crook of his finger and managed to coax a brief smile from the boy.

The king turned and made his way to where Legolas was waiting for him at the base of the long staircase that led up into the tower of Orthanc.

"You mean for the boy to not accompany us into the tower." It wasn’t a question but a statement; Legolas could already tell from the displeased look on Eldarion’s face what had passed between the father and son.

"Not today. Not the first time. This tower has been closed off for some time; no one has been in it since Saruman left. There is no telling what we may encounter in there and it could be that there are things a young boy should not see," Aragorn explained himself to his friend.

"I understand well enough, but I’m not so sure that he does," Legolas nodded his head towards the young human prince.

Aragorn sighed. "I explained it to him, but he thinks he is old enough and ready enough to handle anything..." The king shook his head ruefully.

Legolas stroked his chin in mock-thoughtfulness. "Now why does that seem familiar? Who else have I known like that...?"

Aragorn elbowed Legolas in the ribs. "Enough, I get your point. Well Eldarion will just have to survive somehow, like I did," he grinned slightly. "Where is Gimli?"

"I think he has despaired of our companionship and gone on ahead with several of the guards," Legolas replied with a short laugh.

"Well then we had better catch up," Aragorn said as they made their way up the long stairs towards the door of the tower. "Else he shall claim to be faster than you and then I shall have my ears wearied to no end by the two of you bickering over the unending elves-versus-dwarves debate that you never seem to tire of."

Legolas grinned and sprinted ahead of Aragorn, stopping at the top of the stairs to hold the door open for his friend. "Well I’m faster than you anyway."

Aragorn rolled his eyes and mock-bowed to the elf as he entered. "That is one I will let you claim this time my friend, for the years are not as kind to humans as they are to elves."

Legolas looked away for a moment and did not speak. Aragorn wondered if he had said something wrong. He laid a soft hand on the prince’s arm. "Legolas?"

Legolas lifted his head and smiled quickly at the concerned look on his friend’s face. "You will never be old to me, Estel," he whispered softly, laying his hand on his friend’s chest. "Your body may change, but your heart does not, and that is what I see."

Aragorn smiled and gave the elf’s hand a quick squeeze.

"Which is well...," Legolas continued, the mischievous fire sparking behind his eyes once more, "because you still act like a child sometimes..." The elf danced away before his friend could swat him for that.

"What do you mean,  'child'?!" Aragorn shook his head with disbelief. "I’m already older than most mortals ever get! Will you and my brothers never allow me to grow up?"

"And now you sound like Eldarion again!" Legolas laughed. "Say what you like but I’m not the one who insisted on camping outside the tower..."

"Don’t start that again..." Aragorn warned wryly.

"Are you two going to talk all day and leave me to do all the work?" Gimli leaned over a railing above them and called down.

"Coming, coming." Legolas and Aragorn made their way out of the empty entry hall and into the passages beyond. "Don’t you know it’s not becoming to chide a king?" Aragorn called up to the impatient dwarf.

"You’re a king, he’s a prince, what’s the difference when you both move as fast as hobbits on a holiday?" the dwarf shot back, his heavy footsteps clattering above them. "The stonework here is incredible! Legolas, you must come see this archway!"

Legolas looked at Aragorn and rolled his eyes fondly. "Oh joy. I must go and look."

Aragorn chuckled. "Only a dwarf would find this place enthralling."

"Well you said it, I didn’t," Legolas grinned wickedly before sprinting up the stairs to join his short friend and politely admire whatever feat of stonework had so impressed his dwarven friend. It was only fair, Gimli did put up very well with the prince’s love of trees and, for his part, the elf was willing to accept Gimli’s love of cleverly done stonework. They were friends and one made many concessions for friendship.

It took a long time to go over the tower from top to bottom and there was a great deal that had to be purged and destroyed, as well as a number of truly remarkable discoveries, the most notable of which occurred in what must have been Saruman’s study and main chamber: a large, sprawling set of rooms containing many, many niches, drawers, chambers and cubby-holes.

"Look here," Legolas said as he opened the lid on a rather large casket that had been buried under a stack of yellowed parchments and other rickrack.

Aragorn raised his eyebrows and Gimli gave a low whistle as the lid was raised to reveal a stash of dazzling gems and some exquisite pieces of ancient craftsmanship.

Gimli reverently lifted a magnificently wrought necklace with the emblem of a charging horse frozen in its centerpiece.

"These must be worth a pretty price to someone, else I’m no craftsman!" the dwarf remarked. "I wonder where Saruman got all these things?"

Aragorn shook his head as he looked through the treasure. "If I am not much mistaken many of these are heirlooms of the house of Eorl, no doubt filched from Edoras by Wormtongue and brought hither some years ago. Eomér shall be glad to have them returned I am certain."

"These are not of Rohan make," Legolas shook his head as he raised up another piece, a brooch shaped like two great trees with their branches intertwined. "This is elvish work and very old. And these items here... these are caëbin tokens, such as the men of old used to bury in the treasure houses of the dead."

"I found more like it in the next chamber," Aragorn agreed. "As well as artifacts that could possibly have even been taken from barrow mounds. It seems that Saruman in his degradation became not a dragon, but a jackdaw, a grave robber," the King of Gondor shook his head somberly. It was sad how low someone once so wise had fallen, as well as being a somber reminder to all what an unquenchable desire for power could do to anyone.

"There is something odd over here..." Gimli’s voice brought the two friends’ attention to the back of the chamber; they had not realized he had moved away.

"What is it?" Legolas asked, walking over and kneeling beside his friend, trying to see what the dwarf was peering at so intently. To him it looked like nothing but a blank, stone wall.

Gimli tapped the stones with his axe handle, slowly moving to the right and downward. Suddenly they all heard the difference in the echo when the sturdy axe handle thumped against what seemed to be the same stones, but could not have been from the sound they made. "Hello, there’s some kind of hidden panel here unless I’m much mistaken..." the dwarf murmured, probing the stones carefully with his calloused but experienced fingers.

Even Legolas’ elven eyes could detect no flaw in the stonework. This was one area where the elf had to truly admire his friend’s skill, although he would never let the dwarf know it. "Well, what is it?"

"A little patience, master elf, if that’s not asking too much..." Gimli murmured the friendly barb distractedly, his attention on the puzzle in front of him.

Aragorn knelt on the other side as they watched the dwarf work.

"There... now it’s coming!" Gimli said with satisfaction after several long minutes of work. Aragorn could not determine what exactly the dwarf had done, but whatever it was had worked because a large section of the wall under his hands slid soundlessly away, revealing a tall steel cabinet behind it, about as high as a man stood and obviously intended to be very secret.

"Gimli, can you open it?" Aragorn asked as they rose to their feet and looked the new door over.

"Can I open it?" Gimli grinned, cracking his thick knuckles loudly and obviously enjoying the attention. "Of course I can."

"Yes, but this year or next?" Legolas jibed with playful glibness.

Gimli scowled at him. "I’ll make you eat those words, elf."

Legolas’ eyebrows shot up. "Oh? And how-"

"ENOUGH!" Aragorn stopped them, having to keep himself from laughing. "I realize that both of you have naturally longer life spans than mine but, if it wouldn’t inconvenience you too much, I, for one, would like to see what’s in there sometime BEFORE I have grandchildren."

"All right, all right, no need to fuss..." Gimli mumbled, going to work on the small door with surprising quickness. "Has he always been this impatient?" he asked Legolas with an infuriatingly impish sidelong look as he worked. He knew that Legolas and Aragorn had known each other for a long time.

"Oh he used to be even worse. You should see him when he’s tired, positively unlivable. It’s a human thing," the elf assured, earning him a baleful glare from the King of Gondor.

It took Gimli a few minutes longer than he would have boasted about to get the cabinet open, but in the end he did. For a moment the friends were surprised because it was almost empty.

"More than likely this cupboard was waiting and ready to receive the Ring as soon as Saruman could get his hands on it," Aragorn said quietly and all three friends shivered inadvertently as a momentary hush fell over them... thinking of what might have been... of what very nearly had been.

"Well, it’s not completely empty," Legolas pointed out as he reached up upon a high shelf and withdrew the hiding place’s only occupant: a small chest. It was not locked and clicked open easily enough. There were only two objects inside, but both of them were shocking.

Aragorn’s eyes widened as he looked upon them.

"What are they?" Legolas asked, not even sure if he should touch them, but certain from his friend’s look that the King recognized them both, if only from legend.

One of the two items was a small case of gold on a fine chain. It bore no letter or mark, but there was no doubt in Aragorn’s mind that it was the necklace in which Isildur had carried the One Ring when he rode out upon that ill-fated journey so many ages ago, and he told his friends so. The second item in the chest, and the one that drew the most attention, both confirmed this supposition and dazzled the small assembly with its beauty.

"The Elendilmir... The Star of Elendil," Aragorn said softly, unable to resist lifting the priceless treasure from its place. A glowing piece of elvish crystal, cut with a precision that could no longer be matched and set in a gleaming mithril circlet, the ancient heirloom of the Kings shimmered luminously in the torch-lit room. "This is a treasure beyond all value, and long mourned as lost forever. Passed down from Silmarien of old, it was taken by Elendil as a symbol of the North Kingdom and has forever been the only crown worn by the King of Arnor."

"I thought it familiar somehow..." Legolas mused, fascinated by the beautiful piece of ancient elven workmanship. "Have I not seen you wear such a thing quite often since coming to the throne of Gondor and Arnor, Aragorn?"

Aragorn nodded slightly. "The Elendilmir was worn by Isildur on that last journey from Gondor to Rivendell... the one from which he never retuned. It is said that when he was forced to put the Ring on and flee he had to cover his head, for the Elendilmir flashed brightly in the night, defying even the invisibility of the One. When the Ring forsook him and left him to his doom in the Anduin, the Elendilmir was lost with him. The one that has been passed down to me was a copy made at Lord Elrond’s bidding by the smiths in Imladris for Isildur’s only remaining heir, Valandil, but it could never have the power and potency of the original one that had been lost."

"And now has been found again," Legolas murmured. "I wonder how came Saruman by it?"

"From what Gandalf told us long ago, Saruman had long been searching the Anduin for any trace of the Ring. It must be that these were what he found instead," Aragorn Elessar laid the circlet reverently back in its case. "I must show this to Eldarion," his smile softened when he thought of his son. "Mayhap it will lessen his disappointment in not being able to be in here today."

"Well we have found a rare prize indeed to carry back to Gondor with us," Gimli shook his head as the case was reluctantly closed. "That was a marvelous fair piece of work, even if it was made by elves, I will grant you that."

Legolas and Aragorn both laughed.

"You are generous beyond words, good dwarf," Legolas teased.

They were three days working over the whole tower and there would be much more restoration needed before it could be returned to its former state of repair, but that was what Aragorn had brought along the teams of masons, gardeners and other craftsmen for. Because rebuilding and restoring had been a good part of what he had been doing since assuming the throne, King Elessar had become quite proficient in knowing what sort of people would be needed for tasks like this. Indeed, many of them had already begun their work.

Legolas and Gimli watched their progress with approval, both of them having had more than their share of experience in restoration over the past several years as well.

"So tell me, Aragorn, did you tell them to try to do anything with the decorating to make it less... how did you put it... creepy?" Legolas teased his friend.

Aragorn shook his head wryly. "I fear the only way to do that would be to tear the whole place down and rebuild it. Besides, Gimli would find these people a kindred spirit. I think if I so much as suggested touching a stone of this place that was part of its original craftsmanship, they would give me looks befitting an orc."

"I heard that," Gimli piped up from nearby, wiping his hands on his pants as he approached. "But tell me, Aragorn, our work here is finished is it not? Now it is up to the restoration crews, although the gardeners have little enough to do since the Ents seem to have taken care of most of that already."

"Almost finished," Aragorn agreed. "We have one last piece of business to attend to. We need to return something that has had a long road." The former ranger glanced significantly at Legolas and the elf nodded. "Do you want me to fetch it?"

"No," Aragorn shook his head. "Have Eldarion bring it. I would wish him part of this."

Eldarion did as his father wished and the four of them climbed the stairs to the upper-chambers of the tower one more time. The very air inside of Orthanc seemed cleaner now, and in truth it was not nearly so dark nor frightening as it had once seemed at all.

When they finally reached the top, Eldarion handed the velvet bag he bore to his father. Aragorn reached inside and gently pulled a smooth, dark sphere from it. A palantir. The last one left that could still see anything as it had been intended. The palantir residing in Gondor had been put away from view since Denethor’s death as it no longer revealed ought but the end of the last man who held it; the one that Sauron had possessed was assumed to have been destroyed with him, and the one at the havens had ever only looked out to sea. And so at long last the Orthanc stone was returned to its rightful place, and this time by its rightful owner. For the stone of old had belonged to this tower before it had been hidden away, only later to be recovered and brought here for more evil purposes.

As Aragorn set the last of the ancient seeing stones into the special pedestal waiting to receive it, he could not help glancing at Legolas and smiling. By now he had of course realized that this was the same palantir that he and the prince had gone through so much grief over many, many years before. It seemed like a kind of completion to at long last be able to do what they had wanted to do all along and finally place the stone in the setting it belonged, knowing that the ancient heirloom from over the sea was safe at last and no longer tainted by the designs of evil.

"Why do I feel there’s a tale in this that I don’t quite know the half of?" Gimli queried as they made their way back to the base of the tower.

"That, my friend, is very ancient history," Aragorn shook his head.

"It wasn’t that long ago," Legolas shook his head, amused by Aragorn’s perception of time.

"Did it involve you and Uncle Legolas?" Eldarion asked hopefully. "I like those stories, they’re usually funny. Uncle Elladan and Uncle Elrohir tell me a lot of them."

"I bet they do. Well, I could tell you quite a few about them as well..." Aragorn muttered.

Eldarion nodded with a grin. "As you have. Like the one you told me about Uncle Legolas and the-"

Aragorn coughed loudly and shook his head at the boy, shooting a quick glance at Legolas.

Eldarion took the point and shut up quickly.

Legolas raised his eyebrows with a wry smile. "Wait, wait, I want to hear this. Pray tell what stories has your illustrious father been telling about us and his misspent youth? Did he mention nearly getting himself eaten by a carnivorous plant? Or the time he decided against his father’s advice, to cross an orc-infested plain all by himself with nightfall approaching? No? How about his irrepressible habit of touching everything and nearly dropping us into a bottomless pit because of it? Or-"

"We get the point, Legolas," Aragorn cut the elf off with a warning glare. "And wait a moment, I seem to remember having to cut you out of that plant..."

"Only because I was trying to help you," Legolas retorted with an ingratiating grin.

"Well if it’s stories you want to tell I can think of a few..." Aragorn threatened with an evil glint in his eyes. "I’m sure Gimli would love hearing about our exit from Moria the last time we had dealings with that seeing stone up there..."

"Strider, you wouldn’t dare! You promised!" the elf accidentally reverted to his old nickname for his friend, although in truth he would probably never quite give that one up.

Aragorn laughed at the prince’s indignation.

"What? What?" Eldarion wanted to know. He was enjoying this whole situation quite a bit.

"Yes, I’d like to hear this as well, I knew not that our friend elf here had any previous experience with Moria!" Gimli was highly intrigued. Besides, anything that obviously embarrassed Legolas was of great interest to him.

Legolas glared daggers at Aragorn who was laughing heartily. "Oh yes, he certainly did, we both did... and let’s just say that at least one of our exits was not... in the normal fashion."

Legolas looked like he was about ready to clobber the human if he said another word, but Aragorn just shook his head, holding his hands up helplessly towards the inquiring gazes of his son and the dwarf. "No, no, I did promise... but of course as soon as other people start telling stories my mind wanders and I forget what I should and shouldn’t say..." he grinned at Legolas, eyes dancing.

"Blackmail," Legolas muttered. "Pure and simple. I thought a King should be above that."

"And a Prince should be above telling tales to a boy about his own father," Aragorn retorted blithely.

Legolas brightened. "Then I shall simply let your brothers take over. I am sure they know enough stories about you to keep the lad entertained for years."

Aragorn moaned slightly and shook his head. "Don’t encourage them, Legolas, they’re bad enough as it is."

"Now wait, I want to hear more about you and Moria, Legolas, you never told me of this..." Gimli pressed the elf, not willing to let it go so easily.

Aragorn grabbed Eldarion’s shoulder and started walking the boy quickly away with him, making a hasty exit. "Come, Eldarion, I think we need to start getting the men ready to leave, wouldn’t you agree?"

Eldarion was trying hard not to laugh. "Yes, definitely, Father," he nodded as they hurried away from the relentlessly curious dwarf and the increasingly peeved elf.

"STRIDER!" Aragorn had to cover his mouth to keep from laughing as Legolas called after him in frustration.

"Well, I’m in trouble now," Aragorn murmured to his son with a smile, his hand resting on the lad’s shoulder as they walked. "You better help me watch my back, all right?"

"All right!" Eldarion agreed lightly. The boy hesitated a moment. "Ada?"


"I... I like this," the young man gestured around them as if he could not quite find the words he was looking for.

Aragorn smiled. "I know you haven’t gotten out of the city much other than our hunts. That’s part of why I wanted you to come with us for this. I had a feeling it would agree with you."

"It does, and I do like being out here, but that wasn’t all I meant..." the young man looked down at his hands, suddenly shy. "Never mind."

Aragorn stopped and turned to completely face his son. "What? What is it, Eldarion?"

"Nothing..." the boy evaded, somewhat embarrassed.

"No it’s not, now tell me. You know you can tell me anything, Eldarion, or at least I hope you do," Aragorn assured.

"I... I like you father. I like the way you are when we’re out here, you’re so... open," the boy said for lack of a better word. Eldarion flushed, he wasn’t saying this well at all and he felt he probably shouldn’t have tried.

"You mean I’m not when we’re at home?" Aragorn asked softly, the question very serious to him. His family always came first in his heart. If that did not show in his actions, he wanted to know.

"No! That’s not what I meant," Eldarion shook his head quickly. Aragorn always made time for him and he knew he was well loved by both his parents, that wasn’t what he had intended. "You just seem so happy out here... I like it, that’s all I meant."

Aragorn smiled and squeezed his son’s shoulder, understanding what the youth was trying to say. "I fear you recognize the blood of a ranger in me, my son," he smiled. "I love the White City, but some part of my heart shall always belong to the wilds and feel at home on the road."

"I wish I felt more at home out here," Eldarion admitted. "I fear sometimes that I shall never be anything but a soft princeling. You and Legolas and Gimli are so experienced and I feel so stupid sometimes, like I don’t know how to do anything right."

Aragorn chuckled slightly, remembering that feeling all too well. "You’re young, Eldarion, don’t expect to be able to do everything that your uncles and I can do all at once. It takes years to learn. Give yourself time." He laughed. "You know I can’t believe I’m saying that to someone else..." he murmured, making Eldarion smile even if he didn’t know exactly what his father meant.

"Well, my son," Aragorn clapped the lad on the shoulder once. "You can be glad of one thing at least... that you’re not growing up completely surrounded by elves. If you want to feel clumsy and inadequate, that is a great way to start. Now let’s go inform the men that we break camp tomorrow morning."

Eldarion smiled as he trailed his father. "So what do you think Uncle Legolas is going to do to you when he finally gets free of Uncle Gimli?"

"I shudder to think of it, Eldarion, I shudder to think of it...," the king chuckled.

The sun was shining brightly and laughter flowed easily. There was no shadow over any of them that day. No notion of what would come to pass barely a week later. No concept of how things could go so utterly and terribly wrong.