Seventh Stone


by Cassia and Siobhan

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    Early morning light touched through the green curtain Aragorn had drug across the front of the cave they occupied, slowly waking the sleeping travelers. Legolas wearily opened his eyes. He rarely overslept the dawn, but the athelas and the ointment had combined with the shock of his wounds to hold him in sleep until the day was well underway.
    Aragorn slept near his head. The ranger's shoulder had been bandaged sometime during the night. Gwaihir was awake at the back of the cave watching them quietly, preening his feathers. He nodded slightly when the elf smiled at him.
    With a start Legolas realized that Gandalf was not in the hollow and instantly became worried.
    "It is well, elf. Gandalf merely stepped out for a while. He will be back," Gwaihir spoke up softly when he noted the prince's distress.
    The quiet talking stirred Aragorn and with a moan he turned over on his mat and fastened a glassy stare on Legolas. "What's wrong?" His voice was sleep-rough and his words slurred. It was obvious the ranger was not quite awake.
    Legolas smiled softly at the human. "Nothing, lay back down and rest."
    "What time is it?"
    "It matters not. Rest."
    "I have been, all night long," the human murmured, trying to stir his sleep-weary mind.
    "Aragorn," Legolas leaned down and stared in the bleary eyes of the man. "Don't trouble yourself. Sleep while you may."
    Somewhere in his foggy consciousness the words made sense and the ranger lay back down, tucking his hands under his head, his eyes fixed on his friend before they heavily closed once more.
    "I'll rest, but I'm not sleeping," he murmured softly.
    Legolas laughed lightly. "Fine, rest then." He scooted near the fire, fanning the dying embers and feeding the small flame until it jumped and sparked in the ring of rocks it had been constructed in.
    Curious, Legolas stood from his seat and knelt down next to Gandalf's things searching through them carefully. Finding what he sought, he reverently spread out the map of Eowioriand on the cavern floor, inspecting it by the light of the fire.
    His small cry of surprise startled Aragorn who shot into a sitting position, eyes wide open, "What?! What is it?" He looked around the cave, his gaze lighting on the elf.
    "It's gone." Legolas ran his fingers lightly over the yellowed map. "It's all gone."
    Aragorn rose stiffly to his feet. Holding his injured arm tightly to him, he walked near Legolas and dropped down heavily next to the elf. "What are you looking at?" the ranger asked, leaning in towards the prince and blinking several times, trying to focus his eyes as he stared down at the paper that the elf held.
    "Do you not recognize it? It is the map of Eowioriand."
    "Legolas. There are no words on that map, only a drawing of the..." Aragorn stopped talking and leaned in closer until his shoulder touched that of the elf's. "You're right. The words, all of them, they are gone." His fingers traced the edges, searching for the moon runes that had always been faintly visible even in broad daylight. Nothing but the border and the depiction of the Misty Mountains remained. Eowioriand itself had been erased from the map as well as the cryptic words. "How is this?"
    "I know not." Legolas shook his head slowly. "It is useless now."
    "Maybe that was the intent." Aragorn continued when his friend glanced up at him, "Perhaps the seeing stone was the last relic that ancient building held. Or the last relic that its creators wanted found. When it was removed, the building destroyed itself and the map was erased by the same magic. No one will ever find it now and it can rest in peace."
    "Perhaps." Legolas glanced back at the paper. "I should have liked to look on the words one last time."
    Aragorn touched the elf's shoulder sympathetically, sighing deeply as he glanced towards the entrance of the cave, his attention momentarily distracted.
    "Are you all right?" Legolas questioned his friend.
    A simple nod was his answer. "Aragorn..." The elf lowered his voice and laced the unspoken question with a threat.
    "I should be asking you!" the human turned back to the prince and glowered at him. "You are the one with the more severe wound."
    Legolas smiled and glanced back at the fire. "Well I am hungry," he finally admitted.
    Aragorn glanced once more toward the opening of their concealed hiding place, a frown crossing his countenance. There, he had heard it again, someone was outside the cave.
    "Someone comes," Gwaihir spoke his thoughts quietly.
    The brush at the entrance rustled and parted near the floor, allowing access into the interior. Legolas tensed and Aragorn unsheathed his boot knife, slowly.
    The tip of a blue pointy hat poked through the greenery and a cheerful voice called out to the anxious occupants of the cave. "Anyone awake in here yet? Anyone hungry?"
    Aragorn resheathed his blade and Legolas relaxed beside him, much to the great eagle's amusement. He chuckled lightly, standing to his full height and stretching his long neck.
    "You were almost prey yourself, Istar," he spoke, eyeing the wizard as he stood up and walked toward the fire.
    "Oh, was I now?" He eyed the two younger beings seated on the floor with great amusement as Aragorn cast his gaze back down into the fire his face reddening slightly.
    Legolas easily changed the subject, noting that the older man carried bulging sacks in his hands, "What have you there, Mithrandir?"
    "I should ask you the same thing?" Gandalf smiled as he sat down next to the elf and touched the map with a finger.
    Aragorn snickered lightly as Legolas stammered, hurriedly trying to offer an acceptable explanation for why he had rummaged through the wizard's things.
    "Never mind you, it is the bane of youth to be curious." He nodded and narrowed his eyes. "Yes, youth," he repeated when Legolas frowned at him. "Now, what so interested you that you dug that map out of my things?"
    Legolas pushed the paper towards the other. "The words, Mithrandir, they are gone."
    Gandalf leaned over and frowned at the document. What Legolas had said was true. "So they are. Their fate must have been linked to Eowioriand itself. It's a shame, actually. I had wanted to study it further."
    "I just wanted to see them again," Legolas explained softly. "They were beautiful."
    "Yes." Gandalf pursed his lips deep in thought. "Well I shall show it to the head of my Order. It may be that he can understand the magic behind it."
    Neither of the companions even questioned the older being on the statement; if the wizard chose to explain himself he would... in time.
    Aragorn leaned around Legolas and spied the bags that Gandalf had set down on the floor. "What are in the sacks?" he questioned lightly, hoping the answer would be food.
    "See... curiosity and youthfulness, they go hand in hand." He raised his eyebrows, smiling as he teased the elf next to him. "They are full of food and supplies, young ranger, if you must know."
    "And where did you acquire them, if I may ask?" Legolas took the sack that the older man passed to him, easily prying open the knot that held it shut. Fruit and nuts spilled out of the top of it and further investigation revealed a loaf of heavy bread wrapped in a cloth and a bag of dried venison.
    Gandalf emptied the sack he held; it contained a flask of water, herbs and clean cloth for bandages. "I happened upon a nomadic caravan traveling from the Dunlands to Southern Rohan, they intend to winter there. They called themselves the Nomayai," he answered quietly, preoccupied with the items in the bag. "They have offered to give us transportation to Isengard if we would like. It would be wise I think to accept their generous suggestion. If we try to make it on our own, it will take us weeks in our present condition. We can get further aid in Isengard for our wounds. Saruman, the head of my order, lives there; we would be welcome." He glanced to the far side of the fire, his eyes lighting on the great eagle. "If we travel with the Nomayai we will be there in half that time. They are camped out in the woods a few hours away, awaiting our answer."
    Legolas and Aragorn exchanged glances. The last time they had trusted strangers they had been deceived and both highly doubted that the old wizard had just stumbled on the travelers.
    As though knowing their reservations Gandalf continued, "They are more than eager to help. They have been told we travel with a great eagle and they wish to honor him. It seems their people were aided some years back by one of your kind, Gwaihir, and they have kindly emptied a cart to carry you and our young friends here." The wizard smiled softly. "I do believe they can be trusted. They sent these provisions as proof of their intentions."
    "Our other option is not favorable," Legolas commented quietly. He passed an apple to Aragorn and tore off a bit of bread for himself before handing the loaf to the ranger. The human simply nodded as he took a bite out of the fruit.
    Once they had all agreed to travel with the wanderers Gandalf forced them to eat and see to each other's wounds before they headed out to meet up with the caravan. He looked over Aragorn's handiwork of binding up Gwaihir's broken wing while the human fussed over the elf.
    "Stop moving, it will be less painful." Aragorn pulled his hands away from Legolas' back as the elf hissed and jerked away from his touch.
    "Stop making it hurt so much and I will stop moving away from you." Legolas glared at the ranger. He held his long hair in one fist away from the burned area on his neck as the man gingerly spread the soothing ointment over the healing wounds.
    "Well it looks much better," Aragorn muttered ignoring his friend's complaint and spreading a thin layer of cloth over the burn. With the skin once more covered from exposure to the air, the elf breathed in deeply and sighed as he shrugged carefully back into his tunic.
    "Feel better?" Aragorn questioned, easing Legolas' outer shirt over the bandage he had just placed on the elf's back. He was rewarded with a nod and a soft smile before being forced to sit while the prince changed the soiled dressing on his arm.
    Gandalf resisted the ranger's attempts to have a look at the cut the wizard had sustained, simply stating that he was feeling fine and lightly brushing aside their worries over him.

    It took them very little time to break down their impromptu campsite and head out to rendezvous with the Nomayai. True to their word they had taken one of their supply carts and emptied it of its load, laying canvas sheets and blankets in the bottom of the wooden vehicle. The horses that pulled it had been blindfolded to keep them from getting skitterish in the presence of the great eagle. They neighed and pranced uneasily as the bird drew near, his musky scent triggering their fear.
    Aragorn and Legolas were treated as royalty, being companions of the great eagle. It seemed that Gwaihir's ancestors had indeed saved the Nomayar's relatives from a vicious warg attack and they had considered themselves indebted to the great eagles ever since.
    As soon as their new traveling companions were bedded down, the nomads headed out. The caravan that traversed the wildlands stretched out far behind them. Bright streamers and flags blowing gently in the breeze decorated the ragtag carts and wagons that served as home to the migrants. The humans wintered in southern Rohan, trading the furs and dried meat and trinkets they had made and acquired throughout their summers in west Dunland. Several communities were dependant on the nomad's existence in their regions during their seasons of occupation. Aragorn had tried to count the numbers of people they traveled with but he gave up after totaling a hundred and fifty three. It was hard to tell if he had over counted or not. The nomads shifted back and forth all day long from the front of the train to the back, talking and laughing, enjoying one another's company, and always there was a steady stream of people checking in on their guests. They were a happy carefree bunch and Aragorn found himself enjoy them immensely. The clothing they wore was loose and colorful but heavy tunics and overcoats the color of the woods around them covered most of the individuals.
    They kept up a furious pace, checking on their charges often for comfort or necessities, rarely stopping to break camp and choosing instead, for the most part to eat while they traveled. The ride was easy, if the terrain was a bit rough, and the four made fast friend of their hosts. In between greetings, Aragorn slept fitfully, his arm pained him and kept him awake often. Legolas fared no better for his burns, though healing quickly, allowed him little rest. Gwaihir simply suffered silently. Of Gandalf they saw little on their travels. The old wizard melted into his surroundings and visited each and every Nomayar. Aragorn could hear his booming laughter from time to time over the sounds of conversation and the creaking of the wooden wheels.

    Four nights later they arrived outside the circle of Isengard. The sun was barely touching the edges of the southernmost Misty Mountains when the nomadic company parted, they had a good months journey ahead of them and would not be dissuaded to stop for the night, as they intended to make southern Rohan by winterfall.
    Aragorn stopped on the path that led up to Isengard. He glanced up at the tall impervious-looking walls that made up the outer court surrounding Orthanc.
    "You sure this is the right place?" he questioned. Legolas grabbed his coat sleeve and drug him through the gateway. Once inside his questions subsided as he took in the lush gardens and verdant plant life that decorated the interior shell. It was beautiful and peaceful inside. He walked slowly beside Legolas. The small party of travelers had increasingly slowed their gait as they drew nearer to their destination. Orthanc towered over the gardens, its spire cresting hundreds of feet above the top of the tallest tree in the court yard. The building itself, if it could be called such, had been constructed of black marble, its patterns and lines heavy and bespeaking of an age long lost.
    "Its rather..." Aragorn glanced up to the top of the spire, the outlines of birds made tiny by the great distance, slowly circled the four tall spokes that rose majestically from its crown, "...creepy." He finished his thought, turning to Legolas and glancing at his friend.
    "Aragorn!" the elf hushed the human fiercely. "Gandalf's superior lives here."
    "Well if the inside looks anything like the outside, I for one do not want to spend the night here. It's not very a friendly-looking place." Aragorn shook his head. Something about the dwelling made him shiver and he assumed it was the draconian architecture.
    "Oh, but you would sleep in a cave!" Legolas raised an eyebrow.
    "Any day, anytime over this!" The human raised his hand palm up and motioned at the building.
    The tall doors to the entrance swept open as they approached the high staircase that led to them and a thin, elegantly dressed man descended to meet them.
    "Behave," the elf whispered to his companion.
    Gandalf simply smiled at the two, removing his hat and bowing formally to the leader of the Istari. Legolas and Aragorn followed his example; Gwaihir merely nodded to the white-haired, bearded man.

    "Gandalf, what is it that brings you to Orthanc? And pray tell what happened to you and your companions?" Saruman's gaze swept lightly over them all resting on the crude splint that braced the great eagle's wing. His words echoed concern and care, but in his heart he was agitated and displeased to have to deal with such an interruption as the four before him presented.
    Drelent and two of his trackers had returned yesterday with the seeing stone, much to Saruman's delight. In fact the hunter and his companions were still within Isengard itself making use of the servants' quarters located just below ground level. He had warned them not to allow themselves to be seen, telling them only that he had guests on the way for the wizard had seen Gandalf and his friends as they entered Isengard from his window high up in Orthanc. He had quickly thrown a square of black velvet over the palantir and locked up the room that held the seeing stone, hoping it would be unnecessary to be near his study until after his unwanted company had left.
    "Saruman," Gandalf spoke the Maia's name reverently. "How are you, my friend? My companions and I were overtaken by thieves, I am afraid, and were hoping to find shelter with your until we are healed."
    "Were you injured yourself?" The Istari's eyes narrowed as he walked forward, noting for the first time the bandage that still encircled the wizard's head.
    "It is nothing really. Merely a bump on the head; however, my companions fared worse, I fear, and Gwaihir has a broken wing that needs further tending." Gandalf motioned to the three who accompanied him.

    Aragorn found himself dropping his gaze as Saruman's glance fell on him. Something stirred in him, something inside withdrew from the wizard before him, but he attributed his hesitancy to his weariness and the Istar's high position in his order. He glanced quickly at the elf next to him, but Legolas was watching Saruman openly. His people had long ago learned to trust the Maiar that had been sent to Middle-earth and so he was not as uneasy in the older being's presence as his younger friend.

    "I see." Saruman schooled his features, hiding his displeasure as his thoughts raced ahead of him. So the small traveling company before him had met with a band of thieves. He wondered in irritation if those thieves resembled the men he had in his employ, the ones even now using his servant's quarters. The arrival of Gandalf was too much to be mere coincidence. He would have liked nothing better than to turn them all away, but now was not the time; he must retain his façade of civility for the present.
    "Of course you are all welcome here. Orthanc is at your disposal. Come, you be must weary and in need of food." He stepped aside and held his hand out towards the open doors behind him, encouraging them to enter.

    Gwaihir stepped back a pace and glanced around the gardens, his soft deep voice interrupting as Gandalf mounted the steps, "I would take my leave of you here and make my bed in the courtyard if you would not be offended, Saruman. I wish to sleep underneath the stars tonight."
    Aragorn turned back to the great eagle, glancing at the wizards quickly to see their reaction.
    "Of course, my friend," Gandalf walked back down to the bird and stared into the dark bright eyes. "Surely staying inside is not comfortable for you. You will be safe here, will he not?" The last question was directed at Saruman. Gandalf's gaze was open and kind, but Aragorn noticed the slight frown that crossed the head Istar's face briefly before he smiled slightly and nodded.
    "Of course, Gwaihir, make yourself at home. I will send out a healer to care for your wounds and to bring you food before you bed down for the evening." The thin smile barely concealed Saruman's displeasure. It was his home, not Gandalf's. He turned and preceded the travelers into the tall building.
    "Legolas?" Aragorn pressed closely to his friend as they followed their host into the dark interior, "I do not care for this place or this wizard. I don't think we are truly welcome."
    "Strider, you worry too much. Come, you will see it is alright." The elf slid his arm around the ranger's shoulder and pushed the human in before him.


    Aragorn stood in the room he had been escorted into. He turned swiftly as the attendant scurried out, intending to stop the servant and request a chamber not quite so...
    "Dark." The ranger looked about the room and commented to himself, "Everything is dark. Who decorated this place?" He let his eyes follow the black marble walls of the bedchamber up to the high, vaulted ceiling. The room itself echoed the architecture of the exterior of the building, heavy, brooding, ancient. The human shivered slightly, the chills running up his spine having nothing to do with the slight cool breeze that filtered in the thin, tall window that stood open on the other side of the room.
    The candles that Saruman's servant had lit cast eerie deep shadows in the oddly shaped room. Snatching a pillow off the bed and pulling the blanket from underneath the top sheet, he walked back into the hallway and ran smack into Legolas.
    "Strider, what you are doing?" the elf whispered. He tried to stifle the smile that crept over his face as he saw the pillow and blanket the human clutched.
    Aragorn frowned at the prince, glancing back into his room suspiciously before answering, "I am not sleeping in there. It reminds me of Moria. I was coming..." He stopped speaking realizing how silly it sounded now that he was actually speaking out loud what he had thought in his heart.
    "Yes?" Legolas egged him on.
    "Well, I was coming to stay in your room," he blurted out quickly, frowning at the amusement on his friend's face. "I didn't want to stay in there." He motioned with his head back the way he had come.
    Legolas laughed slightly and steered his friend back into the room he had just left. He quietly closed the door behind them and locked it before turning back to the man who stood in the middle of the huge chamber still holding the pillow and blanket, a confused look on his face. "Strider, put those down." He laughed as the human threw the blanket and pillow back on the bed and continued speaking to the ranger, "I was just on my way to your room. Mine doesn't even have a window." The elf walked to the tall window and leaned on the open frame staring up at the stars with a sigh. "Besides," his voice was muted by the shutters and Aragorn walked up behind him, pressing the elf over and gazing out on the courtyards below, "Besides, you are right. This place is dark, my friend, and I had no wish to stay in that room on my own either."
    Aragorn chuckled beside the elf, allowing himself to relax now that he was in safe company. "Told you it was worse than a cave," he murmured softly, leaning down on the window frame and letting his head rest in his hands he turned to look at his friend. "You think we are safe here?"
    Legolas raised his eyebrows and turned towards the human. "This building is inhabited by Saruman. He is an Istar, Strider."
    Aragorn stared at his friend, his expression unchanged, and repeated himself, "And you think we are safe here?"
    With a laugh the elf pushed the man away from him. "Yes, Strider, we'll be fine. If you do not trust Saruman..."
    "Which I don't." The ranger interrupted the elf's statement, muttering under his breath as he walked back to the bedside and dropped the extra pillow and blanket on the floor next to the bed.
    "...Then you can at least trust Mithrandir. He would not bring us somewhere where we were in danger," Legolas reasoned with his friend.
    Aragorn's head popped up from the side of the bed where he had knelt on the floor spreading the blanket out on the ground, "You think not?"
    "You are impossible." The elf rounded the bed to see that the ranger had bedded down on the floor for the night. "What are you doing?"
    "Making my bed." The human stared up at the elf incredulously as though the answer were obvious. "I am not sleeping on that." He pointed to the mattresses.
    "You'd rather sleep on the floor near the wall?"
    "Yes, as a matter of fact I would. Then anyone who comes in has to deal with you first!"
    "Strider!" Legolas burst out laughing at the man's logic, but a soft rapping on the door interrupted him.
    Aragorn leapt to his feet and watched as Legolas threw the lock and cracked the door open.
    "I have brought the healers to tend your wounds." The servant that had led Aragorn to his room stood just outside leaning inquisitively around the elf and peering inside.
    Legolas glanced back questioningly at his friend who stepped out of the servant's line of sight furiously shaking his head. Trying hard to stifle a laugh the elf turned back to the servant and answered politely, "I thank you for your hospitality, but we are fine."
    With a hesitant nod the servant accepted the refusal and backed slowly away. "My name is Teonvan. If either of you should need anything please simply call, I will hear you." The small human smiled slightly and walked away.
    "Now see, that is creepy. Don't tell me you don't think so too." Aragorn walked up behind Legolas and peered out the door down the darkened hallway after the servant. The black marble walls glittered in the dim light of the glowglobes set in niches at intervals down its length. "Creepy," he repeated himself.
    Legolas could contain his laughter no longer and pushed the human away from him. "Strider, go rest. I must add 'overly paranoid' to the list of unpleasant attributes that you humans acquire when you are excessively tired. No harm will come to us, I promise you."
    The ranger glanced from the now closed door to his friend and finally smiled back. "Fine, but not till I see to those burns you have."
    Legolas backed away from the man. "Oh no. You first. I'll have a look at that arm and then you can have your way. Every time you take the bandages off it hurts, my friend, and it makes me rather ill-tempered, I don't trust myself to not return the discomfort." He laughed lightly. "Now sit and off with that tunic, while I fetch a clean bandage for you."
    Aragorn sat on the edge of the bed, unbuttoning his shirt and shrugging easily out of the tunic. The room did not seem so dark and foreboding anymore and he actually began to relax as Legolas knelt in front of him and unwound the dressing on his cut, chatting at the human softly in elvish while he did so.