Seventh Stone


by Cassia and Siobhan

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    Aragorn was wakened by the soft sounds of movement in the turret where they slept. He rolled over on his cot and stared at the elf who was again busy unrolling the map and pouring over its contents.
    The morning light streamed in through the window and the air held the slightest chill, threatening the onset of autumn.
    "Still at that?" Strider sat up, pulling the blanket around his shoulders as he did so to stave off the cool morning breeze.
    "I slept." Legolas shot him a quick glance.
    "Right." Aragorn stood and walked over to the wooden table the elf was seated at and leaned over his friend's shoulder. He pointed to a word above a strange insignia that marked their destination, the blanket slipping from his shoulder. "That word is 'Maiar'." He moved around the table and sat on the stool opposite his friend, his eyes drifting out to the lake that fronted Moria's doorstep, pulling the blanket back around his shoulders once more.
    Legolas was staring at him in surprise. "Are you sure?"
    "Sure of what?" the human asked a trifle absently, his mind not on the conversation at all.
    "Sure of the meaning of that word." Legolas leaned forward. "Aragorn, this language isn't even elven. How do you know that word?"
    "Oh that." Strider rubbed his eyes with his fists clearing the sleep out of them and yawned before answering, "I've seen that word in my father's library. He has a book with that same inscription on it. I asked him one time what it meant and he said it meant Maiar." The man was staring thoughtfully out the window again as he recalled the memories; he redirected his gaze slowly back to the elf. "Is that right? Did I get it right?"
    Legolas shook his head, confused. "Strider, I don't know. Most of this is in a language I have never seen before." The elf glanced back down at the map.
    "Well that's definitely the Gap of Rohan." Aragorn pressed his finger down on the page where the mountain range subsided into an easy pass.
    "Yes, and this inscription here is elvish." Legolas tipped the map back towards him, "It claims this is the seventh stone and that is was hidden for safe keeping." The elf ran his fingers lightly around the edges of the map, reading the words that decorated the margins of the page. "This, here, is gone and I cannot read it," he touched a tear in the old weathered paper. "However it seems that it was a warning, of what I know not. Although it claims that the stone is well guarded."
    "I wish Gandalf were here or at least my father. I bet he would know." Aragorn rested his head in his hands and stared at Legolas.
    The elf glanced up from the paper and smiled. "So do I. Perhaps Trelan and Raniean will reach Rivendell soon."
    The ranger reached his fingers up and fiddled with the bandage that encircled his head, pulling at a piece of it that hung down near his eye.
    Legolas leaned forward and brushed his hand away unwrapping the cloth and pulling the man towards him, inspecting the cuts he had sustained. They looked better in the morning light and were already well on the way to healing. The elf dropped the bandage into a pile on the table and sat back.
    "How do you feel?" He quirked an eyebrow up at the human.
    "Fine. You?" Aragorn answered offhandedly, picking an apple out of a small bowl that decorated the table and taking a bite out of it.
    "Strider." Legolas stared hard at the human.
    Aragorn dropped his hand down to the table and returned the hard glare repeating himself, "Fine. Why are we always having this conversation?"
    Legolas was about to retort when a slight knock at their door interrupted him. Neither of them had time to answer before the door swept open and Ori stepped in followed quickly by Rill.
    "We wanted to see how you were doing this morning." Ori answered the question on the faces of their guests before it could be asked.
    "And if you needed anything," Rill put in quickly smiling at the two friends. "What have you there?" The inquisitive dwarf tried to get a look at the map that Legolas was carefully folding back up.
    Aragorn smiled at the small dwarf. "It's just a map, to help us get back to Legolas' home."
    Not quite satisfied with the answer, the smaller being nodded slightly. "Will you be leaving today or will you be staying on?"
    "Well that is part of our problem," Legolas answered standing from his seat and moving to the side of the guard tower window. He glanced down at the glade that edged the far side of the lake below, his eyes easily spying out Paxcyn's camp. "Those men who were chasing us yesterday are still out there."
    Ori walked to the window and looked out, nodding slowly. "I suppose you'll need to sneak out then when they aren't watching."
    "Exactly." Aragorn smiled up at Legolas. "You wouldn't have a secret way out of this place now would you?"
    Rill and Ori exchanged glances. "Wouldn't know about one that you could use," Rill answered thinking through their options, "We'll put it to Balin. He'll come up with something right good."
    "Need any more food?" Ori asked as the two headed back out.
    "No, but thank you." Aragorn smiled as the dwarves left. When the door had shut he turned back to Legolas. "Curious, aren't they?"
    "Insufferably." Legolas stuffed the map back into his quiver. "Unfortunately the fewer that know of our quest the better."
    "Balin's no fool. He'll know we are up to something, especially with a pack of hunters on our heels."
    "Perhaps, but I don't know how we'll get out of here without being seen." Legolas stepped away from the open window as Paxcyn stalked out into the glade followed by his men. They filled their flasks and slated their thirst as their leader scanned the front of Moria for any sign of the elf and his companion.
    The sun was almost over the tops of the trees by now and the gates of Moria had been opened for the day. They were kept closed at night unless there were a special reason for them to be open. When sealed, one could not even tell where the huge arched doorway was.
    Aragorn took another bite of his apple and offered one to Legolas that he had retrieved from their small supply. "There has to be a way. Balin will know."


    "No. Absolutely no. I refuse to be bagged up and thrown out with the garbage!" Legolas was indignant and stepped lightly away from the dwarf that held out a large canvas bag towards him, encouraging the elf to step in. "Strider!" The prince brushed the smaller being away from him in agitation. Rullyra looked between the elf and the human, confused by the prince's unwillingness.
    They stood inside the doorway of Moria before a small train of flat, square carts that were loaded with large canvas bags full of dirt and debris that had been mined from the depths of Moria. The excess rock was carted a good ways away and dumped in a natural quarry that the dwarves had found. In this way they were able to rid themselves of the overflow of dirt and debris and not harm the woods when they dumped the unwanted supply.
    Balin had suggested that they be smuggled out with the convoy that was leaving that morning. He had already packed one of the bags full of supplies for their journey and it had been tossed onto the heap of sacks waiting to leave. Now the dwarves had brought out two of the huge bags and offered them to the friends as a means of escape, clearing a small space on one of the wagons where they could easily set the sacks down, concealing them among the others headed for the land fill.
    "No one will ever think that you are among the refuse. It is the safest way out of here for you, with men on your heels." Balin frowned at the reluctant elf. "Trust me, I know what I'm doing. Something like this has worked well enough for me before." He glanced at Legolas with an amused smile that neither the elf nor the ranger quite understood. "It's fooled even the elves, and that's saying something I think."

    "And how is that?" Legolas raised an eyebrow in question, folding his arms.

    "It's somewhat ironic I suppose..." Balin stroked his beard, obviously getting a certain amount of pleasure out of the idea of putting an elf through what he himself had had to endure because of them so many years ago. "You see, some time ago my friends and I were... detained by the Wood-Elves, when passing through Mirkwood," Balin explained, his gaze on Legolas sharpening somewhat, but only for a moment. Past was past and Balin was willing to leave it there. "We escaped by packing ourselves up in barrels..."
    "And being rolled into the river to go to Lake Town!" Legolas finished for him, finally understanding a palace mystery that had puzzled the Wood-Elves for years. "That's how it was done."
    Aragorn shivered slightly, remembering his and Legolas' own escape through the water-gate in the palace cellars not long before their last trip to Moria.
    Balin grinned wryly. "It's nice to know we have been remembered."
    Legolas was neither amused nor comforted by this information and it showed.
    Balin quirked an eyebrow at him with a small grin. "But we waste time. Come now, master elf, I assure you this will seem like luxury compared to my ride out of your esteemed halls."
    "Absolutely not. I said stay away," Legolas glowered at Rullyra, who was once again trying to offer him the sack.
    Aragorn stepped out of the circle of the bag that Rill held out for him. Speaking elvish the ranger walked over to the elf and gently pressed Rullyra away from the upset prince.
    "We can't walk out the front doors, my friend - you pointed that out yourself, and we can't go through the back, it would take us too far out of the way." Unspoken was the knowledge that they would both rather have taken their chances with Paxcyn than attempt the long, dark road under the mountain. "I know you don't like this but I know of no other way, do you?"
    "I will not go bound up in a bag, Estel." The elf's eyes were huge. "I do not trust them that much." He shot a dark look at the dwarves who were all watching them.
    "You trust Paxcyn more?" Strider was becoming impatient and he fell back to speaking common; he was unsure how to reach his friend. He understood the elf's fears and hesitation, but he saw no other way out of their predicament. Balin's plan seemed to him the best one they were going to be able to come up with and he did not wish to linger here any longer than necessary.
    Legolas turned away and stared at the far wall. "I will go out alone then. I will chance them finding me, but I will not go like this." He whispered softly, "I will not."
    Strider sighed deeply and glanced at Balin.
    "We could knock him out and then bag him," Rorin offered helpfully.
    Strider grimaced at the retort, knowing the response it would engender. He quickly turned back to Legolas and stopped the elf short, placing his hand on the prince's chest. "Peace, Legolas. Give me a minute to think." The elf backed down but if he could have pierced the dwarf through with his gaze alone, Rorin would be dead.
    "Rorin, I have had enough of that mouth of yours. Out with you now while Strider and I figure this out. We need no more of your help in this matter I think." Balin turned a glowering stare on the smaller dwarf before glancing back sympathetically at the upset elf.
    "I am truly sorry, Legolas, that we can offer you no better. There is no other way to leave Moria undetected on this side of the mountain. I can promise you that my men will take very good care of you." The lord of Moria shook his head in regret and approached the two. Rullyra nodded earnestly glancing up at the tall elf.
    "What if we go together?" Aragorn glanced up at Legolas. The elf still would not meet his gaze.
    The ranger turned a questioning glance on Balin.
    Stroking his long beard in thought the dwarf king's eyes lit up. "We might have a crate we could box you both up in, if that would work better."
    "Legolas?" Strider tried to get the elf to look at him.
    "I promise you, no harm will come to you. Why, Rill and I used to do this all the time for fun, when we were younger that is." Rullyra spoke softly, staring up at the elf trying to reassure the tense being.
    Legolas sighed and glanced down at the dwarf staring openly up at him. His gaze softened and he raised his hand toward Strider when the ranger started to speak.
    "For fun?" Legolas reiterated the statement, a small smile tugged at the corners of the elf's mouth. "Tied up in bags?"
    A huge smile split the younger dwarf's face as he watched the prince intently, his eyes sparkling merrily. "Yes." He nodded and extended the edge of the bag to the elf once more. "It's only a two hour walk."
    Aragorn grimaced again as he saw the elf's eyes grow huge again. "Only?" Legolas repeated the word.
    Rullyra realized he might have said the wrong thing and squinted his eyes shut, cringing slightly and trying to cover over what he had just said, "Well it doesn't seem that long though." He opened one eye and fixed it on the elf. "I promise to walk right beside the cart you're on and well make sure Strider is there right next to you too."
    "Oh come on, Legolas," the ranger taunted, a smile pulling at his lips. "It could be fun. A nice walk in the woods..."
    "...tied in a sack like dwarven garbage," the elf finished the sentence, shaking his head in resignation. "Iluvatar save me. Why not? I have suffered more indignities while in your companionship, young human, than I have in all my life in Middle-earth!"
    "Exactly, so what's one more?" Aragorn flashed a brilliant smile at the elf as he crouched down in the bag that Rill pulled up around him. The little dwarf handed him a flask of water and some dried meat.
    "For your comfort." Rill smiled down at the ranger as he pulled the drawstring tightly around the neck of the sack.
    Legolas watched uncomfortably. He stepped into the canvas ring that Rullyra held out for him and crouched down in the small confinement, breathing deeply to calm his heart. He held his bow in front of him and closed his eyes as the dwarf slipped the throat of the sack closed after handing him a small bag of provisions for the trip out to the waste site.
    "Good luck on your journey, Strider." They heard Balin's voice booming in the small room as a dozen hands deftly loaded them onto a cart that was nearly full of sacks of dirt and rock. "May you find whatever it is you are searching for. Hopefully your foes will not catch up to you until well after you are away."
    "Thank you for your kindnesses, Lord Balin. They are much appreciated!" Strider called back to him as the train of carts rolled out of the gates and headed for the forests.

    Paxcyn watched the convoy ramble slowly from the entrance of the mines. His keen eyes narrowed as he scrutinized every being that left the gateway.
    "Vaeric, go scout out that party that's leaving the mine." Paxcyn turned back to his men and ordered the nearest one out. "Make sure them's all dwarves heading out. You understand me?"
    Vaeric smiled wickedly at Paxcyn. "Very well." He grabbed the nearest horse, vaulting into the saddle and motioned with his head to the men closest to him. "Let's go talk to them dwarves, shall we?"
    Three of Paxcyn's men mounted up and wheeled their horses around following Vaeric out and heading across the stream to cut off the procession of dwarves and carts.

    Balin stood in the gateway of Moria, watching carefully, his eyes narrowed as he kept tabs on the proceedings from the darkness of the doorway. There was no need to go out and stop the humans from questioning his men, it would only look suspicious, but he had no intentions of allowing them to harm his people either.
    Rorin had re-entered the main room and stepped up next to his liege. "Shall we go out and help them?"
    "No." Balin shook his head and watched as Gonas, the dwarf in charge of the convoy, spoke with the humans that blocked their path. "Not just yet. We don't want to arouse suspicion. Let Gonas handle it. He's got a cool head about him." The dwarf lord crossed his arms over his chest and sighed deeply.

    "What have you there, dwarf?" Vaeric questioned the small being who stood unmoving in front of his horse. He danced the creature closer to the dwarf in an attempt to intimidate him.
    But Gonas didn't move. Staring straight back at the human he answered casually, "Stone debris. Rocks, dirt and the like. Have you a need for some?"
    Vaeric snorted in derision. "I have need of nothing from a dwarf." He nodded back to the men who accompanied him and ordered, "Check the sacks." Turning they spurred their horses back down the line of wagons, randomly piercing the sacks through with their swords. Each time the metal rang off of the stone or slipped through the dirt. Rill and Rullyra exchanged worried glances as Rullyra carefully laid his hand on the top of the sack that contained the hidden elf. Knowing the elf could hear very well he barely whispered, "Be still, master elf. They will not find you."

    Legolas closed his eyes and calmed his breathing. He could hear Paxcyn's men searching the bags, moving closer to the cart that he and Aragorn were hidden in. Aragorn barely moved, lowering his hand to cover the hilt of the dagger that was fixed in his boot. He held his breath and waited.

    "There's nothing here, Vaeric." One of the men called back to the tracker as he reached the cart the escapees were located on.
    "I said check them. Now do it!" The order brokered no argument and the man turned back to the cart, a dark scowl on his face. He shoved his blade deep into a sack on Aragorn's right. The jagged cut allowed the dirt to spill from the broken bag. His sword slipped through the canvas easily and barely pierced the next bag, the one that the ranger was in.

    Aragorn tried not to flinch from the tip of the blade as it came dangerously close to his ribs, closing his eyes tightly when the sword was withdrawn, barely breathing lest he give himself away.

    "Its just dirt and rocks. The love of dwarves," he muttered as he idly jabbed the pointed tip of his sword into another bag, the rocks clanging dully against the metal. In disgust he moved on.

    Rill closed his eyes and let his breath out slowly, glancing at Rullyra who looked as shaken as he felt.

    Rorin tensed next to Balin. "My lord?"
    "Easy. They haven't discovered our friends just yet."
    "And if they do, they'll be dead!" The small dwarf bounced in agitation on the balls of his feet.
    Balin ignored the warrior, his eyes fixed on the procession of wagons as the men turned and rode off, satisfied the human and the elf were not in the convoy and headed back for the cover of the trees. "There, you see?" The dwarf lord turned away from the door and walked back into the recesses of Moria, trailing Rorin. "They will be fine. Rill and Rullyra will look after them."

    Rullyra patted the sack that Legolas was concealed in, his hand gently tapping the top of the elf's head as he tried to reassure the prince. Leaning down he whispered to the bag, "There you see!? I told you, you'd be safe with me."

    Inside his canvas bag the elf cringed at the pats the dwarf gave him and scowled darkly. "Just wait till we are out of this, Strider," he growled in the grey tongue. "I will never let you forget this. Ever. Do you hear me?"
    The ranger tried to stifle a laugh unsuccessfully.
    "What was that?" Rill stepped close, thinking the two needed something.
    "Nothing Rill." Aragorn called softly from his hiding place, "Legolas just said he was glad that you were here to protect us, that's all."
    The elf kicked out at the human, eliciting another giggle from the ranger.

    "Oh good! Any time." The dwarf grinned and elbowed Rullyra who returned the smile, unaware that their charge was anything but pleased at the moment. "If you need anything just say so, we're right here."

    "Thanks Rill!" Strider answered, unable to stop smiling and very glad that he couldn't see Legolas' face at the moment. He was sure the elf was incredibly irritated. He reached out in the direction that the kick had originated from and patted the elf's boot only to earn himself another kick.
    "Telcontar..." Legolas used an elvish form of his friend's moniker, showing just how annoyed he was. The growled tone of voice caused even the dwarves to laugh as they made their way deeper into the woods, heading for the place where the dwarves deposited the unwanted refuse their digging drudged up.


    "Legolas!" Aragorn quickly thanked their hosts again before dashing off after the elf who had all but abandoned him after they had assisted the dwarves with unloading their heavy burden of stone and earth, adding the new rock to the pile that filled the hollowed out bowl they stood on the edge of.
    "I have to go." Strider flashed Gonas a mischievous smile, slinging their provisions onto his back, and ran into the forest looking for Legolas.
    "Legolas!" Aragorn slowed his headlong rush and glanced about, trying to locate his friend. There was no sign of the elf anywhere. "Legolas?" He turned about in a circle glancing through the trees around him. Rolling his eyes he stared at the canopy over his head and slapped his hands down against his overcoat in frustration.
    "All right, I'm sorry." The human stopped and listened for a second before continuing with his apology. "I never should have made you go like that when you didn't want to." He turned to his left, no sign of the elf. "Look, the dirt all brushes off..." He sighed deeply and muttered, "or washes off."
    A soft thump behind the human startled him and he turned swiftly, stumbling backwards as Legolas stood slowly from the crouched position he had landed in. His eyes bored through the man and Aragorn for his part did not say a word.
    Finally the prince dropped his stare, shaking his head.
    "Legolas, I..." the ranger's apology was stopped short as the elf lunged at the man, grabbing the human by his worn coat and jerking him closer.
    Aragorn swallowed hard and tried to lean back away from his friend, his eyes wide.
    "If you ever breathe a word of this to anyone, especially anyone I know, I swear by the Valar, Aragorn, that you will live to regret it."
    "I promise," the man whispered fiercely, his eyes darting to the top of the elf's head. His lips quirked in a barely restrained smile as he slowly reached up and carefully brushed rock dust from the prince's hair.
    With a growl the elf pushed the human back. Aragorn stumbled and fell into the dense undergrowth laughing helplessly, "I am so sorry. I really am, my friend. It's just that, well...?" He raised his hands palm up and shrugged.
    Legolas sighed deeply, his scowl slowly fading into the beginnings of a smile. Extending his hand to the human he started to laugh. "Oh please get up from there. You look like a-"  He never finished his sentence as the forest fell into silence and an odd rushing roar flooded the woods around them. The canopy of trees overhead exploded with a flock of black birds. Dropping to the forest floor, he pushed the ranger under the short scrub brush that littered the ground and crouched under the minimal covering next to the manm cautioning him to silence.
    The birds screamed and wheeled on the air diving through the forest's upper reaches to circle over the glade the two beings had occupied only moments before. Their coarse cries and whistles assaulted Aragorn's ears and he cringed under the scant covering they had hid under.
    In moments the birds had retreated, their path out of the forests easily tracked by their screeching calls. They headed south, banking into the wind, and were swiftly carried out of sight.
    "What was that?" Aragorn whispered from his position behind Legolas.
    The elf glanced back at the man as he edged out from the shrub, "I know not the origin of such a flock of birds, but it was evil, Estel. No good can come of that. Even the forest shrank back when they flooded the air. Someone now knows of our whereabouts." He reached down and helped the human to his feet. "It is the question of who that worries me."
    Aragorn gazed back the way they had come, wondering if the dwarves were already away. "We best leave this place then, soon."
    "Yes." Legolas was overly alert, listening to the sounds of the forest around them as the tiny whisperings of the woods began to edge back in again. "This way, Stride," the elf whispered, tugging the ranger after him, as he lightly ran deeper into the woods.
    They ran for the better part of the day, sticking to the forests that ran parallel to the Misty Mountain Range. Twice they had heard the sounds of the black winged spies circling overhead, but the canopy of the trees had been too thick and they escaped discovery.