Seventh Stone


by Cassia and Siobhan

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    Rhyddry threw himself down next to the gap in the earth he was looking into. He squinted through the steam, trying to hold his breath against the noxious fumes that flooded the air about the fissure. The wind blew gently over the granite field, blowing the vapor aside for a moment, and the young hunter caught sight of the dark velvet bag seated on a ledge just below the lip of the chasm. Reaching down he quickly pulled the sack from the rift and shoved it inside his overcoat, rolling out of the way at the last possible moment as a plume of steam released itself into the air.
    "Drelent!" Rhyddry called out across the expanse to his employer. "It's gone, its fallen into the rifts and is lost in the magma!" But even as he said the words, the hunter held up his shortsword and thrust it skyward, their unspoken signal that the palantir had in fact been retrieved.
    Legolas turned and stared at the young hunter, at a loss. He staggered to the edge of the grassy plain and sank down onto the earth, holding his badly burned shoulder tightly with the fingers of his good hand.
    Selvic raced to Rhyddry's side and the two fled back into the woods. In moments they re-entered the plains mounted on horses and leading Drelent's as they headed towards the man.
    "Too bad, I guess we all lose." The hunter glared down at the ranger.
    "Why?" Aragorn asked the man, swallowing carefully around the sword that was still under his chin.
    "Why?" Drelent repeated the question, "Because someone else wanted it badly enough to have it destroyed if he couldn't own it for himself," he lied, and it gave him no small pleasure to see the sorrow that flickered through the dark, silver eyes that watched him. In frustration he smashed his fist into the ranger's face, driving him to the ground. "Don't follow us. You'll only regret it." He spat at Aragorn as the man slumped to the earth with a moan.
    Wiping the blood out of his eyes Drelent looked up and stepped out towards the two trackers that rode towards him.  He grabbed the reins of his mount as Rhyddry threw them at the hunter. He and Selvic kept riding, heading south for the gap of Rohan towards their point of rendezvous, as Drelent turned back towards the plains searching for Gyn.
    He caught sight of the man across the meadow, dismounting from his steed a few paces in front of the downed great eagle. The burly hunter unslung his crossbow and placed a bolt on the string, notching it back and setting the trigger. He walked slowly up to the wounded bird.
    "We don't have time for this," Drelent muttered under his breath. "Gyn! Let's go!" he called to his friend.
    But the old hunter wouldn't be dissuaded. "I'll be right along!" he called back to his employer, his eyes never leaving the steady gaze of the eagle's. "I'll be the first hunter to have a great eagle's head for a trophy, that I will." He smiled wickedly at the Maia.
    Gwaihir lay on his side, his broken wing angled sharply away from his body, unable to rise because of the pain. He hissed at the man that approached him, panting with each breath he took as he tried to collect himself.
    Gyn raised the crossbow and aimed it directly between Gwaihir's huge black eyes. The eagle blinked once, resignation written across his proud face. He jerked slightly as the man before him stopped, sucking in his breath suddenly; his eyes, gone wide with surprise, slowly glazed over and he fell to the ground, an elven arrow between his shoulders.
    "Damn it!!" Drelent cursed as he watched the hunter fall. Without looking back he turned his horse tightly and spurred the beast off in the direction that the others had fled. They had what they had come for; there was nothing else that could be done.

    Legolas dropped the bow to his side, his head falling forward as he closed his eyes, wincing from the pain the exertion had caused to his seared shoulder. Tears threatened to overspill his closed eyes and he swiped them away as he glanced back towards Aragorn.
    The ranger had pressed himself slowly up from the earth where he lay. The meadow was silent once more. Dust still hung in the air but the gentle breezes that swept the plateau were slowly clearing even that away and, if not for the bodies that were strewn upon the grassy shelf, anyone happening by would never know the struggle that had just taken place.
    Aragorn crawled over to where Gandalf lay; he didn't trust himself on his feet just yet as nausea threatened his awareness.
    "Gandalf?" The man reached a shaky hand out towards the wizard, hesitantly touching the older being's throat, feeling for any signs of life. Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief as Gandalf's pulse beat strongly beneath his fingers. He dropped his chin to his chest and let his head rest there, fighting back the tears as the adrenaline wore off and his body began to shake slightly from the shock of his own wounds and the realization both that they had failed and that they were somehow all still alive. For the moment at least the second emotion overwhelmed the first and the relief was almost painful.
    The ranger glanced up slowly at the sound of his name, his eyes locking onto the blue ones of the elf that stood over him.
    Swallowing hard against the emotions that raged inside of him, Aragorn nodded. Finally finding his voice, he whispered, "He lives. He lives."
    Legolas rested his hand against the back of the human's head and smiled down at his friend in relief. "It will be all right," he spoke reassuringly.
    Aragorn noticed the way the elf hugged his right arm tightly against him. An ugly blistering welt ran up the side of the elf's neck and he winced as he drew in a deep breath.
    "Legolas, sit, before you fall!" Aragorn reached up towards his friend with his good arm. "What happened to you?"
    The elf glanced back towards the meadow and shook his head. He grasped the ranger's hand and hauled the man to his feet. "We must see to Gwaihir first, he has been wounded also."
    Nodding numbly Aragorn walked after the elf to the middle of the field where the large bird lay.
    Gwaihir was panting heavily, his eyes glazed over. He moved his head in the direction of the two companions as they made their way slowly towards him.
    Legolas stepped in front of the eagle and took the bird's beak in his hands. He stepped underneath the great head and allowed the eagle to rest on his good shoulder, speaking softly in elvish to the wounded animal as Aragorn walked back towards the broken wing.
    Aragorn gently wrapped his hands around the large bone in Gwaihir's wing and moved his fingers down the edge of the wing, feeling for fractures or breaks anywhere along the way. He brushed against the break and Gwaihir loosed a strangled cry.
    "Easy, Gwaihir, easy. Aragorn is a skilled healer, like his father, let him have his way." Legolas' fingers brushed across the bird's face, causing the eagle to blink rapidly, but he nodded in response.
    The ranger gently pressed the feathers back to reveal the glint of white bone that had broken through the skin. Aragorn sucked his breath in quietly as he examined the compound fracture. He glanced at Legolas, shaking his head.
    "What is it?" The elf watched the human worriedly.
    "Just a moment." Aragorn called as he limped back to Gandalf's prone figure. Carefully turning the older man over, he shrugged out of his overcoat and bunched it up under the wizard's head, trying to make him more comfortable as he quickly rifled through the pack that was still slung over the older man's shoulder. Aragorn dumped the contents of Gandalf's traveling bag on the ground, spreading out the tiny satchels and envelopes of herbs and medicines. He grabbed two vials and lifted them towards the sky, letting the light shine through their liquid contents. The one in his left hand was a slightly duller amber color than the one in his right and he chose that one, as he staggered to his feet and walked back to Legolas.
    Standing near the elf he gazed seriously at the eagle, carefully explaining himself, "Gwaihir, your wing is broken and the bone has cut through your skin. I can set it, but I will need help." The ranger glanced at the elf, who quietly nodded in understanding. "The problem is..." Aragorn glanced down suddenly, not at all sure of himself. He had three wounded friends, two of them he did not know the extent of their wounds yet and he had never worked with anyone other than humans or elves.
    "You are a son of Elrond's and a friend of Gandalf, I trust you, human," Gwaihir spoke softly, watching the ranger closely. It was not the first time, Gwaihir had been injured by an arrow. The first time Gandalf met him he had healed the great eagle from a similar wound, and that was the beginning of their long friendship.
    Aragorn swallowed hard and nodded, trying to pull himself together; he had no time to fall apart now, too many people were depending on him. "I will need to put you out. The pain will be great. I can give you something for the pain now until we can get somewhere safer than here, but then, if you trust me, you must let me do this."
    If the eagle could have smiled it would have. The man's hesitancy and youth touched his heart. "Of course I trust you. Let us get out of the elements and you may do what you need to."
    "All right." Aragorn let his breath go slowly and uncorked the small vial he held. He showed it to the eagle and allowed him to smell it before proceeding. "This will dull the pain so you can walk," he explained as he poured the liquid down the bird's throat. Gwaihir tipped his head back and allowed the medicine to slide down his throat. In moments the ache in his wing dulled to a constant throbbing and, with help from the two friends, he was able to awkwardly gain his feet. The eagle was ill-accustomed to traveling by foot, but he knew he would manage somehow.
    "What of Gandalf?" Gwaihir questioned as they walked towards the prone wizard. The older man had still not woken.
    Aragorn knelt in the grass beside him and carefully looked at the split on the Maia's temple. Gently he pushed the matted grey hair away from the ragged cut.
    "I think he'll be alright." The ranger eased his hand under the man's head and felt the knot on the back of his skull. "I think he's just been hit awfully hard. Let's get him up and head towards the Gap of Rohan. We should be able to find some place along the way to rest for the evening. Anywhere, just so that we are as far away from Eowioriand as possible." He glanced over his shoulder at the rubble and stones that were all that was left of the ruins. Quickly ripping a strip of cloth from his tunic, the ranger bound the wound to his upper arm using his teeth to pull the knot tightly, staunching the flow of blood.
    Retrieving Gandalf's walking stick, he passed it off to Gwaihir who held it gently in his beak, watching carefully as Legolas and Aragorn eased Gandalf up between the two of them and started slowly down the valley, following the base of the mountains.
    They had not walked far when Legolas stumbled, nearly falling.
    "Legolas, you are not well." Aragorn eased Gandalf down to the ground, propping him against the remnants of a fallen log.
    "I will be fine." The elf held his right shoulder tightly with his left hand, closing his eyes as the pain of the burn tightened through his back.
    Aragorn walked behind his friend, trying to glimpse the wound that the prince had been nursing, unwilling to let the ranger see it for himself.
    "Legolas!" Aragorn pressed the elf firmly but gently to the ground as he looked over the deep, ugly burn the elf had sustained. "How did this happen?"
    "The fissures." Legolas moaned softly as the ranger gently moved the tatters of the singed tunic away from the elf's shoulder, exposing his burned flesh. "Romyr pressed me over one of them and held me down when the steam rose." He stifled a small cry as Aragorn flushed the wound with what little water he still had in his flask.
    "That's it." The ranger stood and walked in front of his friend, kneeling down eye level with the elf, "You three stay here. I'm going to go find a place for us to set up camp and rest. I'll search out fresh water - we'll need it. I will be back shortly."
    "You'll need help!" The elf grabbed the human's tunic, pulling him back down as he tried to stand. "You are not well yourself."
    Aragorn wrapped his hand around his friend's and smiled into the elf's upturned face. "I need you all to live." He gently loosened Legolas' fingers and gained his feet. "I won't be long."
    Walking slowly away from the small group, Aragorn glanced at the sun, gauging the time he had left before it fled the sky. Without another word he headed off down the valley, quickly searching the base of the mountain for the perfect spot.
    Not a half mile away from where he had left his friends, the ranger found a large, deep cavern that was hollowed into the side of the granite mountain. The hole in the wall of the hill was large enough to allow Gwaihir inside it and the ground was dry and clean. It was more of a hollow than a cave, although he smiled as he thought about how Legolas would envision it. The back of the cavern rounded off sealed in a dead end with no way out. It was perfect.
    Aragorn quickly made a fire in the grotto to warm the dank hollow and covered the lower part of the entrance with tree branches and shrubbery to conceal it from any who might happen by. He stopped at a small stream on his way back and filled his and Legolas' flasks with the cool water. He would need as much as he could carry.


    If the elf hadn't been in so much pain the glare he gave the ranger would have caused the man to start laughing.
    Instead Aragorn just smiled softly at the prince and shrugged. "It was the best I could do Legolas. I know it's a cave, I'm sorry, my friend," he apologized sincerely.
    Gwaihir watched the elf curiously, tipping his head to the side as he listened to their conversation.
    The prince sighed and glanced into the interior as Aragorn cleared the brush away. A fire sparked warmly in the deep hollowed out cavern and the ground was clean and bare. Legolas shifted Gandalf slightly in his arms, allowing the older man's head to rest against his shoulder as he supported the wizard's weight.
    Gwaihir stepped lightly into the bright interior and lay down near the far wall, resting his head wearily on the cool stone floor.
    Aragorn helped Legolas ease Gandalf down onto a bed of pines that he had collected. It bothered him greatly that the wizard had not woken yet. He pressed his friend down beside the unconscious man and handed him a flask and a roll of clean cloth.
    "See to his wounds, Legolas, while I conceal our hiding place. I don't think Drelent will return now that the palantir is lost, but I do not wish to be found by anyone in the shape we are in," Aragorn whispered softly to his friend as he gazed down at the blue, weary eyes that watched him.
    The elf nodded and began to clean the blood from Gandalf's face, gently brushing away the long grey hair from the cut on his temple. The wizard moaned softly and tried to move away from the prince's careful ministrations. More than even physically, the wizard was mentally worn out from the struggle with the iron power that had been put into Eowioriand. There were still some things in the world older and more powerful than even the Istari. Quietly Legolas began to speak to the older man, shushing him and whispering kind words in the elven tongue.
    Aragorn backtracked their path into the woods, covering their prints with a branch of pine needles that he used to brush the ground with. If anyone had thoughts to follow the small company or harm them they would be hard pressed to find the trail they had taken. When he reached the cavern he replaced all the brush in front of it, blocking it from predators or any who might happen by. When he was content with the way it looked from the outside, he dropped to his knees and crept underneath the foliage in a small space he had made for himself. Turning around once he was inside, he reached back out and pulled the branches down, concealing the hole he had used.
    Legolas smiled up at the ranger as he seated himself beside the elf. "He woke up." The prince glanced down at the wizard who was sleeping soundly on the bed of pine. "He only sleeps now."
    "Concussion?" Aragorn searched his friend's face.
    "None!" Legolas allowed himself to relax. "Mithrandir will be fine."
    Aragorn returned the smile, but quickly sobered when he glanced to the back of the cave. "We need to see to Gwaihir and I will need your help. Let me see to your wounds, before we do so."
    Legolas brushed the man's hands gently away and stood slowly to his feet. "Let us see to our friends first and then you may see to my wounds."
    "You stubborn elf," the ranger growled as he pushed himself off the floor and followed the prince to the bird's side.


    The cavern was silent as Aragorn gently washed Legolas' back. Only the elf's labored breathing echoed through the chamber. Gwaihir was asleep in the back of the cave, his wing having been reset and the breaks in the skin and torn muscles expertly sewn up by the ranger. It would be hours before he awoke from the drug they had given him.
    The ranger carefully cut the tunic off of his friend's body. He had forced the elf down on his stomach, laying his coat underneath the prince, as he inspected the red, weeping burn. He dipped his fingers into a soothing ointment and spread it gently over the burned area. Legolas tensed, sucking his breath in as the cool salve touched his hot, damaged skin.
    Aragorn easily slipped into elvish, trying to distract his friend. "Why do you think they did it?"
    "Did what?" Legolas ground out through gritted teeth. Slowly he relaxed under the ranger's gentle touch as the ointment deadened the pain and blocked the burn from the air.
    Aragorn tipped the elf's head to the side, exposing the burn that marred his neck. He carefully brushed Legolas' long blonde hair out of the way, pushing the tresses over the prince's left shoulder.
    "I wonder why they would risk the palantir even to the point of letting it be destroyed?" The human dipped his fingers in the cooling salve and spread it gently over the elf's neck.
    Legolas closed his eyes, as the pain fled away and he sighed with the cool relief. Aragorn smiled softly. The elf was nearly asleep, the worry and stress of the day having taken its toll and the calming balm doing its job. Softly he answered before sleep claimed him, "I do not know Estel, but there must have been a reason." The elf's eyes slowly opened until they were half-lidded, his pupils huge and dilated in the low light as he fell fast asleep. Aragorn touched his hand gently to the prince's forehead.
    "Sleep, my friend," he whispered in elvish.
    Turning from the prince Aragorn pulled a small pot of water from the edge of the fire; it was finally boiling. He crushed a handful of dried plants and blowing on them gently sprinkled them into the water. The athelas touched the heated liquid, releasing its poignant freshness throughout their shelter, its healthy essence inspiring healing and rest.
    Smiling, he scooted back near Legolas' head and rested against the cool stone wall of the chamber. It was hard trying to stay awake, but he wanted to keep watch, in case he were needed. His hand moved to cover Legolas' left shoulder, touching the elf so he would know should the prince stir during the night. In moments the ranger was fast asleep.

    He did not realize he had fallen asleep until he felt someone moving his wounded arm. With a start Aragorn jerked away from the touch, pressing back farther against the stone wall behind him. His eyes flew open and he stared into the smiling face of Gandalf. The wizard still sported the bandage that encircled his head but otherwise looked just fine. He was kneeling on the floor in front of the ranger.
    "Easy, young one." Gandalf's voice was low and soft and he reached once more for Aragorn's arm, unbinding the makeshift bandage the ranger had quickly applied earlier that day. "It appears you have seen to everyone but yourself." The wizard's smile was warm and open.
    Aragorn glanced blearily at the cut that Gandalf uncovered. Drelent's blade had pierced his upper arm but not gone all the way through. The cut was dirty and deep and the older man gently cleaned it out, causing fresh blood to flow from it. The ranger winced and tensed slightly.
    "What happened to the palantir?" Gandalf questioned the human, partly trying to take his mind off the wound.
    Aragorn sucked his breath in quickly and held it before answering. "I threw it to Legolas. He gave it to Gwaihir, but Gyn shot him down and it rolled into one of the fissures. They could not find it. It was lost in the magma. I am sorry Gandalf."
    The wizard wound a fresh, clean strip of cloth about the cut and held his hand over it tightly for several seconds, stopping the blood from flowing out of it so freely. "I am sorry to hear that. I had hoped we could recover it. There are so few of them left." His bright clear eyes stared straight at the dark, silver ones that watched him.
    "Why go to all the trouble just to have it be destroyed in the end?" Aragorn did not understand.
    "To know that, we would have to know who had requested that it be retrieved," Gandalf's eyes took on a far off look, "which there seems to be little chance of now. And it is very possible, young one, that the seeing stone was not destroyed after all. Perhaps it was only for show that they said it was. Did you see it fall into the fissure?"
    Aragorn shook his head slowly. "But Legolas said he did and Gwaihir confirmed it."
    Gandalf watched the human for several moments before speaking again. When he did, he smiled, laying his hand on the young man's head, "Things are not always what they seem, my friend."
    Aragorn watched the older man sadly. Things had gone so wrong and the stress of the day had finally caught up with him. "I can't believe we lost it after all that," he murmured.
    Gandalf's hand tightened gently on the young ranger's arm. "It was not your fault, Aragorn." In truth Gandalf took the blame for himself. "Rest, young one. I'll keep watch tonight."
    The ranger didn't answer, just glanced to the far wall, too tired for words.
    Gandalf noted the dark circles under the human's eyes and the weariness that had finally caught up with him. He placed one old, weathered hand alongside the man's head, and with his other hand he gently pressed on the ranger's shoulder, lowering him to the floor of the cave. "Sleep." The word carried more than just a suggestion and the human relaxed into the wizard's touch, asleep in moments.