Priceless Treasure

Chapter 6

by Cassia and Siobhan

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...80 years later...

Aragorn entered camp at a run with Legolas on his heels. He slowed as he approached the tree his men indicated. He was out of breath but ignored his body’s responses. As the runner had said, a crossbow bolt held a parchment tightly to the trunk. Shakily pulling the thick paper off the bolt Aragorn walked a space away from the others, turning his back to them, and held the note up to the firelight.

The scrawled black-inked words caught in his mind and stopped his heart as he read them. With a small cry he dropped the paper and staggered past the fire pit.

"Aragorn!" Legolas followed his friend, snatching the letter from the ground where it lay. The king walked numbly to the edge of camp and stared unseeingly across the plains that fell away below their encampment.

Satisfied that the human had stopped, Legolas stepped near his friend and stood just behind him, his hand carefully touching the man’s broad back. He easily read the letter in the dark, his mouth dropping slightly open at the words written there:

"It’s been fun tracking you again after all these years. You are almost as impossible to find as you once were. However this time there is someone else with you - someone who will be even more fun than you to hold for bounty. I wonder how your son would like a taste of your old favorite drug? I wonder if he’ll scream at the hallucinations like his father did and cry until he cannot speak."

"It cannot be." Legolas spoke the words in disbelief once more. "I saw him die, I saw Dyryn die! He went over the edge of the cliff with the snow fall."

The helpless fear that had gripped Aragorn turned into a heated rage that seared through his mind and set his heart on fire. He shook his head slowly, fighting the anger that built inside of him.

Turning swiftly he grabbed the note out of the elf’s hand, his eyes hard and his voice a barely constrained whisper, "He is not dead." The king held the letter up between them and shook it slightly at the elf as proof, "He is not. And now..." he swallowed hard as he forced himself to say the words, " he has my son." Aragorn dropped his gaze and glanced back out into the night once more.

"Aragorn..." Legolas softly spoke his friend’s name. He did not know what to say, the horrible knowledge that the bounty hunter who had nearly killed them both so many years ago was still alive and hunting them was hard to grasp. In fact it seemed almost impossible, and yet there it was. A normal human of non-Numenorien descent would not even still be alive, but apparently Dyryn’s part-dwarvish ancestry had given him the longer life span of that people.

Aragorn crumpled the note in his hand, throwing the paper to the ground. Fierce, haunted eyes turned on Legolas and the barely controlled rage within them caused the prince to step back momentarily.

"We’ll find him," the elf whispered, holding the king’s gaze.

Aragorn did not answer. His thoughts were tumbling too fast for him to keep up with. "I will kill him." He heard the words as he spoke them and was surprised he had spoken them out loud. "If he does what he did to me to my son I will kill him!"

"Strider." Legolas spoke calmly; the fear in his own heart hammered in his chest but he needed to get through to his friend. He could see the barely controlled rage and knew that look from years ago – irrational determination. And yet who could fault him? His son had been taken from them and they had not been able to stop it. Legolas’ own tortured memories clouded his thoughts.

Aragorn stepped away and walked back to the edge of the cliff, staring out across the valley below them. "Where are you? If you hurt him so help me I will..."

"We’ll go after them at first light."

The man heard the words of his friend but rejected them, shaking his head. How could he wait? How could he just stand here?

"Aragorn, think. If this is Dryrn, you are the one he wants. He won’t hurt Eldarion unless you are there to be hurt by it as well. He needs the boy alive." Legolas gently laid his hand on the king’s shoulder, hoping he was right.

The men behind the elf were watching their King worriedly, ready to follow if need be.

Aragorn turned at the slight touch of his friend, whirling around and angrily brushing Legolas’ hand away from him.

"You have no idea!" He was nearly shouting now. His own fear had turned to anger and he vented it on the elf. "You don’t know what he’s capable of. I do!"

Legolas stared the man down and softly but forcefully answered him so that only Aragorn could hear, "I do know, I remember." His voice choked off with emotion. "I remember finding you in the snow half dead and ready to flee this world. I remember the fear you had of me, your father, your brothers. I remember holding you in my arms and fearing that every breath you took would be your last. Of all the people here, Aragorn, I do know."

Aragorn’s gaze softened slightly and with it came the tears he had been holding back. "If he does that to Eldarion..." he could not finish the sentence, he could not bear the thought.

"Listen to me." Legolas stepped closer to the king and pulled the man towards him. "Now you listen." Aragorn tensed slightly at his touch, he needed to be strong, he wanted to be invulnerable but he knew at the moment he was neither. Legolas pulled him forward until their foreheads touched. Aragorn closed his eyes as tears tracked down his cheeks, his fists balled in the elf’s cloak as he held onto his friend.

Legolas watched the man, allowing the human to draw strength from him. His hands wrapped gently behind Strider’s head, holding the king against him. Aragorn may no longer have been the sometimes-inexperienced young man the elf prince had befriended so many years ago. He may be king now of the two largest realms in Middle-eEarth, with decades and decades of life, experience and wisdom behind him. But he was also a father, and his father’s heart was breaking with fear and worry, weighed down and mixed up with horrible, terrifying memories of the past.

"We will find him, my friend." Legolas softly shook the man, wrapping his hands in the king's cloak, "We will find him and end this once and for all. I promise you that Elessar; I will die before I let any harm befall your son. You will see, it will be all right. But we must not go now."

Aragorn moved a pace back and slowly raised his head, questioning his friend wordlessly. In answer Legolas motioned back behind them. The man glanced over the elf’s shoulder and quickly took in his soldiers, his guard watching them closely. Jonath stepped nearer, having just reached the site with Gimli and his men. Aragorn’s gaze lighted quickly on the dwarf before returning to the others.

For all their loyalty none of them would have ever dared to approach the king in his present state of mind; the elf’s casual acceptance of the human and demeanor around their liege continually caught them off guard.

Realization dawned in Aragorn’s eyes as he took in the rather large contingent of men that had followed them to Orthanc and he knew at once that Legolas was right. It would be easier for he and the elf to go together alone. They could travel quickly and quietly, undetectable in the woods unlike the company of guards that attended the king. These were soldiers, not rangers, and their strength was in fighting, not stealth. All these men crashing through the forest would warn a deaf rabbit that they were coming. Besides, many heavy feet often destroyed vital clues and evidence that the ground had to offer, as they had inadvertently done down by the spring where Gimli and Eldarion had been attacked.

Legolas was right. They needed to wait. The opportune time to leave would come and Strider was sure he knew just when that would be. His eyes met the blue ones locked onto his own. Legolas searched his friend’s face, taking note of the way the tension left the human’s body. Aragorn relaxed his grip on the elf’s cloak.

"You are right, my friend." He spoke the words softly in elvish, "As always."

The old taunt elicited a small laugh from the elf who looked to the ground, shaking his head.

"We will go later," Aragorn finished his thought. Legolas snapped his gaze back up to the king’s and smiled knowingly, nodding his head imperceptibly.

"We will find him, Strider," Legolas answered back, speaking elvish to conceal their conversation.

"Speak common if you’re going to have a conversation that can be overheard," Gimli’s booming voice carried to the two friends near the plateau’s edge. It had by now become a long-standing point of mock-contention between he and Legolas.

Legolas rolled his eyes and turned back towards the men gathered behind them, quietly watching the two friends. He glanced at the dwarf resting on the ground, his leg elevated. The smaller being’s face was scrunched into an irritated frown that caused the elf to smile and tilt his head to the side as he spoke, "My good master dwarf, if you would but learn the higher tongues as I have so often had the occasion to tell you, you would not suffer this problem. However I do believe that your problem stems from a case of acute hearing. My words were for the king alone."

The dwarf blushed a crimson red. Trying to cover his outburst he muttered, "Elves."

"Dwarves," Legolas softly cursed back at him with a brilliant smile.

Aragorn’s hand fell lightly on the elf’s shoulder. "Thank you my friend," he whispered quietly into the prince’s ear as he stepped around Legolas and addressed his men.

"Legolas is correct. Night draws swiftly near and our pursuit would be hampered by the darkness. There are yet things abroad that we would do well not to encounter by night. We will leave at first light." He glanced back at his friend with a slight smile and stepped towards the midst of the grouping as the men began to settle in for the evening.

But Aragorn could find no rest. He forced himself to lie still in one place as the camp quieted down and his guard finally dozed off, allowing sleep to steal away their over alertness. Jonath was a good captain of the guard but he had a penchant for always being on the king’s heels – in times of crisis Aragorn was glad for it, however, when he needed to steal off on his own it could be a nuisance. Jonath had been worried about his liege ever since Eldarion’s kidnapping and he had set his bedroll down close to Aragorn, near his feet so he would be prepared at a moment's notice should the king need him.

Legolas lay at Aragorn’s back. The human was certain that the elf did not sleep either. He repressed a sigh as his mind tore through memories of long ago. He pressed his eyes tightly shut as pictures of Eldarion’s smiling face surfaced only to be replaced by the leer of the bounty hunter that had taken the boy. He remembered the cold, the drug induced hallucinations and the soft words of Legolas’ song that had kept him alive. He remembered the torment of his captor, the terror and the abuse. Tears edged around his eyelids and he swiped at them, shaking his head at the fears and the pain that resurfaced. He thought the memories were long gone, the horror dealt with – he thought his tormentor was dead. He could not believe they were reliving this nightmare.

Glancing quietly skyward, the king sought out Eärendil, the bright star of the elves, its light a comfort in the darkness. The moon was full but storm clouds were converging to the north, threatening to blot out the lights of the night. A cool wind licked the glen where the warriors had bedded down; it would bring the storm in soon, sooner than Aragorn wanted it too. Silently the King beseeched Iluvatar in his heart.

He chanced a glance around the camp. The fire had long ago died out and the men slumbered, dead to the world under their blankets. No one moved, no one stirred. The night watchmen were at their stations on the far perimeters of the camp, their attention turned outward to the night, not inward to the camp itself. Aragorn slowly turned over to alert his friend that it was time to make good on that promise of his and head out to find Eldarion, but Legolas was gone.

Quietly, the king moved out from under his blanket, crouching warily in the minimal light. His eyes were not as keen as an elf’s and he was glad for the light of the moon. Shifting his gaze to the perimeter of the camp, he tried to locate where his elven friend had gone to. Aragorn slowly moved to a standing position, his knees creaked as he stretched them out and he winced as Jonath moved slightly, rolling over in his sleep. Standing perfectly still until the guardsmen’s breathing evened out, a smile stole over the king’s lips. He suddenly felt like that twenty year old again, sneaking out of his father’s house and trying not to waken his brothers to his absence until it was too late. Memories of the late night escapes caused him to start laughing and it was all he could do to keep quiet. The seriousness of the situation was not lost on the man but perhaps it was in fact the weighty graveness that conflicted so heavily with his childhood memories that caused the king to find humor in his present predicament. Trying to still himself, Aragorn did not hear the intruder that crept stealthily up behind him.

A hand clamped over his mouth and he was jerked off his feet and drug backwards. Startled by the swift attack, he struggled to no avail as his assailant effectively pinned his arms to his sides and pulled the human more tightly against him, dragging the king away from the safety of his men.

Fear shivered up his spine at being trapped so easily and he wondered how Dyryn had managed to sneak up on him so quietly. Warm breath touched Aragorn’s cheek as his captor laid his head next to the king’s and the man flinched. Blonde strands of hair swept into the human’s eyes, caught on the winds and the soft voice in his ear spoke words in a language that few other men even knew.

"Strider, you nift. What did you think you were doing?" the elf chided him playfully, dragging him further back under the wooded forests where their conversation could not be heard. "Whatever did you find so funny that you almost blew your own escape? I cannot believe you!" Legolas laughed slightly as he felt the resistance leave his friend.

Releasing the human, the elf stepped back and stared hard at the man. "Well?"

"You scared the life out of me!" Aragorn pushed his friend away from him, breathing in deeply and letting the adrenaline flow out of his system. "Where were you?" He snatched the proffered bow from the elf’s hands and slung it over his back.

"Saving you from discovery!" Legolas answered quietly. Motioning back to the open, he demanded an answer, "What was that?"

Aragorn couldn’t help the smile that broke across his face, "I remembered that time you wintered with us and you and I snuck out in the middle of the night to go hunt the white deer that were coming down out of the eastern mountains." Laughter overwhelmed him momentarily and Legolas stepped forward and pressed his hand across the man’s mouth, silencing him.

The elf led them farther away from the camp and turned a glare on the king, his smile giving him away. Legolas was glad to see his friend smile. "Not so loud! We are still close."

"But it was so funny..." Aragorn glanced mischievously at his friend. For all his years the man in front of the elf looked just like the young human that he used to know. "When you tried to get down the steps and Elladan caught you I will never forget the look on your face!" He laughed at the elf. "That was just the best."

"Really? I am glad I can amuse you still, so many years in the future." Legolas shook his head as he watched the man, unable to control the smile that slipped onto his own face. "Well, you should have seen your face when I lied and told your brother that I was merely saving you from sleep-walking."

Aragorn choked on his laughter, keeping his amusement quiet. "And then my father came out. I swear he knew the truth. I barely made it back to my room without losing it!" The king smiled softly at his old friend, "We had good times did we not?" It helped to remember those times, since the memories of that evil journey through the snow with Dyryn were so heavily plaguing his thoughts. It helped him keep a kind of balance.

"The best, Strider," Legolas agreed, glancing at the dark night sky as shadows of clouds drifted across the moon. He began to lead his friend back down to the base of the cliff where he had backtracked Eldarion’s kidnapper to the edge of the plateau, long before Aragorn had risen. "And there will be many more I do believe. Not to mention the ones your son is going to give you, Iluvatar help us as that one grows up. He has far too much of you in him and not nearly enough of his mother."

Aragorn’s eyes dropped to the rocky ground as he followed the elf, descending the winding path, "Yes." His voice faltered slightly as he thought on his son. He could not believe the hand he had been dealt this afternoon and the grief, always present, rushed back in.

Legolas noted the silence and felt the tension build once again. He turned and glanced back up at his friend, placing his hand on the king’s chest, momentarily stopping the human from continuing. When Aragorn met his gaze, he smiled sadly.

"Do not worry, my friend. This man will not harm Eldarion. He is after you. And we will not allow him even that small victory."

Aragorn smiled softly and nodded his head.

Legolas began his descent again, quietly talking to the man, deftly changing the subject, "Besides I think you best start to worry about keeping that young man of yours a little more preoccupied with his training. I have seen the way the maidens look at him and so has he!" The elf laughed.

"I have not noticed that," Aragorn growled. "He’s too young."

"Hmm..." Legolas glanced quickly over his shoulder, dropping lightly down the last fifteen feet of the path and watching as his friend walked more slowly down the darkened trail. "He has that same look in his eyes that you did whenever Arwen happened by."

"What?!" Aragorn jumped down next to his friend. He glared at the elf in the darkness, "I never..."

"Oh yes you did." Legolas cut him off. "You were so blinded by her beauty that you were worthless until she walked out of sight. Why a horde of orcs could have swarmed through Rivendell and stripped the palace clean by the time your senses returned to you."

"Ah!" Aragorn brushed past the elf and walked to the edge of the shallow they were in. "You exaggerate."

"I think not." Legolas knelt in the wet grass and inspected the perimeter, keeping up the easy banter as his sharp eyes searched for the minute details they needed to tell them where Eldarion had been taken. "It’s the same look that son of yours gets in his eyes every time that blonde-haired maiden you have working in your courts passes by." He chuckled softly.

"What!?" Aragorn stood from the far side of the glen, "Who?!"

"Oh I don’t know." Legolas smiled wickedly to himself. "You know all humans look alike." He passed off the joke lightly.

"Legolas, you find out who she is and tell me, its important that I..." His fatherly ranting was cut off as the elf glanced swiftly over at him.

"Here!" Legolas whispered fiercely, standing from his crouched position. He raised the fingers of his right hand to his nose and smelled the wetness that he had collected on them with a growing fear. "This is where they stood, he was taken through here." The elf prince stepped aside as Aragorn quickly walked over to him. The man grabbed Legolas’ wrist and held the elf’s hand up to the dim moonlight: a dark residue stained the fair being's fingertips.

Aragorn frowned at the prince; worry replacing the easy banter of moments ago. "That’s blood, Legolas."

"I know, Strider." The elf whispered in the grey tongue, "He will be easier to track this way if nothing else. It could be that he was merely wounded as he struggled to escape his captor." The words sounded hollow even in Legolas’ own ears. He knew how this would hit his friend.

Aragorn felt as if the knife that had been thrust in his stomach the instant he learned Eldarion was gone was being twisted slowly. His fingers tightened almost painfully on Legolas’ wrist. "If he..."

"Don’t." The elf warned him harshly. "He will be fine and we will find him," Legolas assured him once more, gently prying Aragorn’s fingers from his wrist and pointing into the woods parallel to the cliff face they stood in front of. They had to keep believing that or Dyryn had already won half the battle. "They went that way. Let's go get him. Dyryn wants you; he won't have gone very far. He wants you to find him, it will make his job easier."

With a slight nod the human followed the elf through the woods, deftly keeping pace with the nimble being that led him farther away from the safety of his guard and closer to finding his son.


Gimli watched in mild amusement as the camp of men was thrown into chaos by the knowledge that the king and the elf had left in the middle of the night sometime. He’d suspected what his friends were up to, but since he knew he would never be able to keep up with them in his current state he said nothing. He didn’t like being left behind, but he understood it, and being here to see the look on Jonath’s face had almost made up for it.

Dawn had barely touched the skies with its first hues of gold when Aragorn and Legolas’ absence had been noticed.

Jonath stood now, in the center of the encampment near the king’s empty bedroll. He covered his face with his hand and shook his head in irritation. It never failed. Aragorn was the hardest person he had ever worked with as a royal guard. With a deep sigh he dropped his hand and glanced around him at the men trying with all their skills to find out in which direction the two friends had gone.

A small platoon of warriors raced back into the clearing.

"Draecyn," Jonath addressed the leader of the group, "tell me you found something. Tell me you found Aragorn, or Legolas or their tracks or anything. Just something Draecyn! Tell me something useful!"

The guardsman looked to the ground and grimaced, unable to meet his captain’s gaze.

"Oh damn it!" Jonath slapped his hand against his leg in frustration and turned to look out over the camp that was in the midst of breaking down. "Can't anyone find that Dùnadan?!"

"You really should be more respectful of your king," Gimli piped up from the rock that the warriors had placed him on. His leg was splinted and rested on a fallen log that had been drug over for his comfort.

"No one asked you dwarf," Jonath muttered in frustration.

"You think after all the other times you’ve lost him, you would learn to keep a better watch," Draecyn whispered fiercely at Jonath. This was not the first time. Lord Elessar had a distinctly independent streak and often did not feel the need to take his royal guard with him when he went off on his own.

Jonath turned on the warrior and glared at the man. "I have never been in the service of any man who could sneak away from my watch as this one does."

"When Aragorn doesn’t want to be found, you can't find him." Gimli commented casually, repeating the words he had heard Legolas say many times. He leaned back slightly and watched the guardsmen, lighting up his pipe and pulling the sweet flavor of the Shire weed deeply into his lungs.

"There has to be some way to know where they have gone!" Jonath stared out across the valley below them as though searching for the answer in the carpeting of the thick forest. "That man is going to be the death of me yet!"

A booming laugh echoed through the camp as Gimli rocked backwards. "If I had a flake of mithril for every time I have heard that uttered in my dealings with your king, I would be a rich dwarf."

"Oh fine then." The humor was lost on the captain of the guard who turned weary eyes on his second in command, "Draecyn, keep looking will you?"

"It’s a mite useless if you ask me." Gimli stared hard at the human.

"Once again, no one was asking you, Master Dwarf." Jonath turned and addressed the smaller being, trying to be diplomatic in the stressful situation he had found himself in. Trying and failing.

He had lost his king again, a fact that was a standing joke among his men anyhow. Often Aragorn would slip away from his royal guard and walk the forests alone. A few times Jonath had even caught him hunting wargs on his own, or with Legolas. Jonath was a royal guard for a reason, not just in theory, something he often told the king. But his explanations fell on deaf ears. And the fact that his liege was adept at confounding him brought him no end of frustration.

"Well if someone were asking me," Gimli tipped the pipe in his hand towards the far thicket of trees. "I’d say they left through there."

"Would you now?" Jonath crossed his arms over his chest and looked between the dwarf and the stand of trees he had indicated. "And why exactly would you think that?"

"Well its simple if you give it a moment." Gimli smiled to himself. He loved to torment the guardsmen. He had gotten to know quite a few of them during their trip to Orthanc and for the most part they enjoyed his company too, displaying their fondness for the dwarf in a rather brusque, teasing fashion which Gimli returned in kind.

Cocking his head to the side and squinting one eye shut, Gimli glanced into the darkened overgrowth of the closely placed trees, "Because if I were an elf and I wanted to make a quick escape without all of you knowing it, I would head for somewhere dark and thick. It would hamper your tracking me. Now Aragorn there, he could follow that elf any where but you – not so." With a nod of his head the dwarf clamped his teeth around his pipe and drew in a deep breath.

Jonath glanced slowly at Draecyn, who shrugged and motioned a couple of warriors to investigate the edges of the strand that Gimli had indicated.

"Not to mention the fact that it’s the quickest way off this ledge. They’ll be tracking that boy of his and you found no trace of him up here. I’d wager whoever took the lad headed down off this plateau long before you found me." The dwarf darkened for a moment at the memory, before he shook it off and smiled at himself, looking out across the camp. The men had nearly packed it up by now and not a few of them were listening intently to the conversation taking place.

"Pray tell, Master Gimli, why it is you think like an elf?" Jonath questioned as Draecyn’s men ran back, to the captain, confirming what the dwarf had said – Aragorn and Legolas had indeed left by that very route: faint impressions of the human’s footprints tracked back into the woods.

The dwarf shrugged his shoulders. "It was logic I tell you. Pure and simple." He emphasized each syllable with a shake of his pipe.

Jonath threw his hands in the air and turned back to the warriors. "Pack it up, men, we need to head out now! Lord Aragorn and Legolas have..." He stopped to think for a moment, shaking his head in resignation, "Well they have quite a head start on us and the situation they are walking into can't be a good one. Let's go find them and find the prince!"

A small laugh escaped Draecyn as he moved well out of Jonath’s reach. "Wait until Lady Arwen hears you lost the king again. You will never live this one down."

Jonath’s eyes darkened and glanced at his friend, "Draecyn, if anything happens to the king this time because I was inattentive..."

Gimli limped up to the two warriors, a crudely fashioned crutch under his right arm, "Here now." He spoke gruffly, pushing his way between the men and glaring up at Jonath as he shoved his pipe into his belt, "If Aragorn is hurt it will be on his head and not on yours. He knows exactly what he is doing. Besides, Legolas would never let anything touch that one. He’d take it himself before he’d let your king die." Gimli frowned partly to cover up the pain his leg was giving him and partly to cover over the ache in his heart for his fair friend that that thought caused. During their time together since the war of the Ring, the dwarf had had an opportunity to witness the elven prince’s sometimes total disregard for his own safety when it came to protecting a friend. Especially a dear friend like Aragorn or Gimli. "It’s Legolas you should be worried about. I rightly am."

Draecyn laid a hand on the small being’s shoulder, redirecting Gimli’s attention, "Don’t worry, we’ll find them. And Iluvatar willing, they will all three of them be fine."