Seventh Stone


by Cassia and Siobhan

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    When Aragorn woke the sun was already up. He rolled over on his back with a sigh and glanced up...
    ...Into the face of Gwaihir. The large bird was seated near his head, staring down at the human with one large black eye. Aragorn flung his arm over one eye, shading his gaze from the sun and squinted at the eagle.
    "Gwaihir?" he mumbled sleepily.
    "Yes, ranger?" The bird bent nearer, ruffling his feathers as he shifted position.
    Aragorn glanced around them, trying to wake up, trying to understand where he was. "Where is everyone?"
    The huge eagle looked across the plain to where the hunters were breaking camp. "Mithrandir and Legolas are speaking with the men."
    With a moan the human rolled over and pushed himself into a sitting position. His head felt funny and, when he reached up to touch his forehead, his fingers brushed against the soft touch of a bandage. Sometime during the night someone had seen to his wounds. He frowned in confusion and drew in a deep breath trying to clear his mind.
    When he glanced up once more, Legolas was walking back towards their camp. Gandalf stood in the center of the abandoned hunters' campsite, watching the men amble off towards the woods.
    Legolas seated himself on one of the rocks near the remnants of their fire pit. He leaned down and smiled at the human who sat crosslegged on the ground, his ruffled hair sticking at odd angles from under the bandage that encircled his head.
    Long, graceful fingers reached out and gently snagged the circle of cloth, giving it a light pull. "Nice addition." He laughed as the man jerked away from his touch and frowned up at him.
    "Where'd they go?" Aragorn motioned back to the empty plain, tilting his chin in the direction Drelent had left. "And who did this?" he touched the bandage that wrapped around his temples, moaning with the ache in his skull as he rested his head in one hand.
    "They went on with their business," Gandalf's voice startled him and Aragorn looked up as the wizard seated himself on the rock opposite Legolas. "Hunting, or so they said, although I do not believe them. And as for your bandage, young human, I am the one responsible for that. Show a bit more gratitude, son of Elrond." The old man smiled down at the confused ranger.
    Aragorn touched the back of his head where Dryxyn had cruelly re-opened his wound the day before. "Thank you, Gandalf. I had forgotten about it." He fingered the bandage over the superficial cut.
    Legolas stood and walked behind the human, brushing his fingers away and unwinding the strip. Pushing the ranger's head down gently, he inspected the cut. "I had forgotten all about it too. I'm sorry Aragorn."
    The human shrugged, dropping his head down between his shoulders as Legolas cleaned the cut again. "You say Drelent said they were going hunting?" He addressed the question to Gandalf.
    "That was what he said." The old wizard gazed off into the woods; ready to wait for a bit before they headed into the depths of Eowioriand, a nagging doubt eating at the back of his mind. It just felt wrong.
    "You don't believe them?" Legolas glanced at the wizard through narrowed eyes as he reapplied Aragorn's bandage.
    "Did you?" The elder being turned his gaze on the elf.
    "No." Legolas stared into the woods, shaking his head. "I did not. I don't know what they want here but I fear it is again the same thing as we seek. It would seem that more than one person or group is interested in this place and what it holds."
    Aragorn sighed. "A secret sleeps for thousands of years without a peek and suddenly everyone and their cousin is out to get it. Our luck is really astounding, you know that?"
    "Whoever they are and whatever their purpose, I fear they'll be back." Gandalf turned and stared at Gwaihir. The great eagle nodded slightly.
    "I will see if I can track them. You go and retrieve the palantir and I will keep watch." The bird shook his head, spreading his wings and stretching to his full height, the early morning sun catching in his feathers and painting them with all the colors of the rainbow as the light rays bounced off the dark, iridescent quills.
    The eagle leapt skyward, sweeping his great wings down and heading out over the forests to the north, his keen eyes searching for any hints of Drelent's hunting party.


    Gandalf watched the huge bird for a few moments before turning to his younger companions. "Shall we go retrieve that palantir?" His face wrinkled in a bright smile.
    "The sooner the better I fear." Legolas glanced towards the ruins that they were now slowly walking towards. "I do not like being in the presence of what lives in those tunnels."
    "What is down there Gandalf?" Aragorn glanced up as Gwaihir made a swooping pass over the plains. Last night he had been too tired for tales, but now he was curious as he remembered their previous conversation.
    "In Eowioriand?" the wizard asked, as if further explanation were needed. Legolas smiled slightly at the ranger and shook his head; he had the very distinct feeling that the older man would never tell them plainly.
    Gandalf stepped down into the main chamber of the sunken building and stopped a few paces in. Closing his eyes he concentrated deeply. Content with what he felt he nodded slightly and glanced over at Aragorn with a small smile. "You have nothing to worry about from that one; it sleeps again. As long as we stay to the right passage we will have no troubles I do believe."
    Legolas chuckled lightly and the wizard looked at the elf from the corner of his eyes, trying hard to hide his smile. It was as the elf had thought. Gandalf seemed to prefer answering most questions in riddles that they would probably never understand. Aragorn shook his head. "I have should have known," he murmured, following the older being down the hallway they had tried the previous day.
    "Such pleasant memories," Legolas muttered, stepping lightly onto the tiled floor that appeared so deceptively stable.
    "Want me to try the handle again?" Aragorn teased the elf, dancing quickly away from the fair being.
    Legolas glared at the ranger as Gandalf turned to stare at the two youths, watching the human tease the prince.
    Aragorn held up his hands in surrender, laughing, "Right. I know, I know it's a cave!"
    "I'm not going to argue with you." Legolas leveled him a dangerous stare that only caused the young man to laugh harder.    "I will never let you drag me in to another one ever! Do you hear me, Estel?" Legolas stepped towards the ranger who jumped back nearer to Gandalf as though the older man would be any sort of protection from the elf.
    "I'm sorry, I know it's not funny." Aragorn tried unsuccessfully to still his laughter. He turned as Gandalf interrupted them, his laughter joining the ranger's. The older man had approached the door's entry and was inspecting the writing etched into the stone as he listened to the youths behind him torment each other.
    "I don't know how your fathers put up with you two. Ah, here it is." The wizard reached out and took hold of the simple handle recessed inside the stone niche, pulling his overlarge sleeves out of the way as he grasped the lever.
    "Uhm... I wouldn't do that if I were you." Aragorn glanced warily at Gandalf, unconsciously moving closer to the large stone door and making sure his feet were balanced on the slight edge.
    Gandalf smiled with barely contained humor. "Trust me young human. I know what I am doing!" The wizard caught Legolas' eye and winked at the elf, who was watching his human friend with a small smile.
    Gripping the handle tightly, Gandalf spoke to door with a firm, loud voice. The words he uttered were an entirely different language and his companions listened with rapt attention to the melodious tone of the words.
    As he spoke, he turned the handle clockwise and Aragorn found himself tensing as he watched the older man repeat the exact same move he had done earlier with such disastrous results.
    Gandalf stepped away from the small recessed box and glanced at the large door.
    Nothing happened. Nothing moved and no one made a sound as they waited.
    Aragorn opened his eyes slowly. He had closed them tightly shut, anticipating the floor to open up, or the walls to crush in, or some other trap to spring upon them at any moment. Seconds ticked by quietly and he finally let his breath out when the wall behind his hand moved to the left. The ranger jumped back from the stone door in surprise as the entry slid silently open.
    Legolas couldn't help laughing at the look on the human's face as the wall receded behind him. His outburst earned him a baleful glare from the ranger before the man turned his attention back to the wizard, who had already stepped into the darkened room.
    "Gandalf, what language was that you spoke? It was the same one you and Gwaihir used last night, was it not?"
    "That it was," the older man replied absently. He lifted his hand to the top of his staff, placing an oddly shaped crystal onto the end of it. Blowing on the rock slightly, he passed his hand over it and it flared to life, glowing gently in the gloom of the antechamber. "It is the language of my people," he continued as he held the staff higher, letting its light touch the far walls.
    Aragorn stepped into the room and glanced about him. The chamber was round, its walls smooth and cut from the stone. The ranger continued questioning the Maiar, "Your people? I thought..." His voice dropped off in confusion and he did not finish his question.
    "It is best not to think." Legolas brushed past him and walked towards the only fixture in the circular chamber.
    Ahead of them, mounted on a plain stone pedestal, sat the seeing stone. Inside the room, unlike the rest of the building, there was no writing on the walls. No decorations of any sort cluttered the chamber and the floor seemed shorn of all but a single slab of stone.
    Legolas' comment provoked a laugh from Gandalf as he redirected his light in the direction that the elf was walking. "Ah, there it is," he said, his soft voice echoing off the rounded walls of the vault. He stopped next to the prince and gazed at the darkened globe that sat in the very center of the base; the stone itself had been draped with a cloth, only its outline visible beneath the covering.
    Aragorn had walked half away around the room, looking at the smooth walls of the chamber and trying to glimpse if it had ever been used as anything other than a crypt for the artifact his friends were looking at. He turned as Gandalf spoke and caught a glimpse of the palantir for the first time as the wizard pulled away the protective black cloth that covered it where it sat.
    Dust from years of abandonment floated into the air catching the light of the older man's walking staff. The dark jewel-like marble glittered dully in the dim glow. As he drew near Aragorn could see that the palantir was in fact made of a single black stone, cut in the shape of a perfect globe. Its glassy curves revealed crystal striations that spiraled within its depths.
    Its depths...
    Aragorn stepped closer, resting one hand on the column that the palantir was seated on, mesmerized by the seeing stone, his eyes focused on the light that spun within it. Something inside the ranger sparked and he would swear later that the stone called his name. Reaching out with his other hand, he tried to touch the glassy exterior but was stopped.
    Gandalf swiftly leaned forward and grasped the man's wrist, smiling at the human as he did so. "Not yet, young heir," he cautioned, gently pushing Aragorn back. The ranger blinked several times before he stepped back a pace.
    Legolas stared incredulously at his friend. "What is with you? Must you touch everything? Honestly, Estel, you're as bad as a child!"
    "But... but it seemed right." Aragorn stared in confusion between his two friends, uncertain what had just happened.
    Gandalf simply smiled at the uncertainty in the ranger and nodded; he knew the boy was only answering his calling, but now was not yet the time. In truth, this stone really belonged to Aragorn, being as it was an ancient heirloom of the line of Kings. But that was a destiny that Aragorn had yet to fully accept. Seven stones there had been, but most were now lost to memory. The remaining stones that had gone missing through the ages had not all been accounted for and it was important that Aragorn's heritage not be made known to certain forces that were once again stirring in Middle-earth. It was most certainly not time for that. Shaking out a black velvet bag that he produced from inside his cloak, the old wizard acknowledged the human's perfectly legitimate response, "Perhaps, young one, but not quite yet I think. The time will come."
    He dropped the bag over the stone, its edges easily slipping around the curved globe and concealing it from sight. "We know not where the others now lie nor who may be watching. Hand me your dagger." He extended his hand to the ranger. When Aragorn placed the blade in the wizard's upturned palm, Gandalf eased the tip of the weapon under the stone, flipping it gently off its base and catching it in the soft bag. He quickly pulled the drawstring closed around the top of it, careful not to let his hands touch the palantir at all. The more caution the better as far as he was concerned, both because of the stone itself, and whatever spells or traps may have been laid to keep it safe.
    "Come, let us be gone now and quickly I think." Gandalf glanced around them cautiously as he led the two friends back towards the door. The wizard had just stepped over the threshold when an odd grating sound assaulted their ears. Aragorn glanced into the hallway only to see that the floor in front of them had once again begun to split in half.
    Legolas, however, turned back towards the interior of the chamber they were leaving. The podium in the center was slowly descending into the floor. "Mithrandir!"
    Gandalf looked over his shoulder and saw what Legolas was watching.
    "The floor! We must go!" Aragorn grabbed the wizard by his sleeve and pushed the man forward, next to the wall as the ground receded below them into the sides of the tunnel, revealing the gaping maw that they had discovered the previous day.
    Running after Gandalf, the ranger called back over his shoulder to his friend, "Legolas come quickly, while we can still cross!"
    Legolas tore his eyes away from the room. The beams of the chamber had started to fall into the vault; Eowioriand was tearing itself apart, finishing the work that the earthquake had begun on it years ago. The elf lightly raced along the opposite side of the moving ground and jumped to the safety of the passageway that headed up to the main chamber. Dust fell down from the roof of the tunnel and cracks grew in the floor beneath his feet.
    "Hurry!" the prince called to his friends, holding one hand out to steady them as they leapt off of the shifting plates, his other hand shielding his eyes as the tunnel shook itself down around them.
    The elf pushed Gandalf ahead of him down the hallway and yelled at him to run as Aragorn lost his footing and teetered on the edge of the swiftly disappearing stone walk. It too began to crumble, worn and deteriorating from the years. Aragorn threw his arms out wildly, trying to maintain his balance, but the shifting of the earth tossed him forward and he fell just short of his friend's outstretched hands. His fingers barely grasped the ledge of stone that Legolas stood on and the elf quickly dropped to his knees, ignoring the pain the abrasive rock floor caused.
    "Aragorn!" Grabbing the ranger's wrists, he slowly strained to pull his friend up. There was no purchase for the human as he kicked his legs, trying to help push himself up. Twisting his hands in his friend's grip the ranger held on tightly as the elf levered him back onto solid ground.
    There was no time to catch his breath as Legolas wrapped his long fingers in the man's overcoat and hauled him to his feet, shoving him down the collapsing hallway. They had little time left. Dust and rock choked the air and it was hard to breathe let alone see in the crumbling darkness.

    Running out of the building as fast as he could, Gandalf glanced back into the main hall. There was no sign of his young friends and he staggered backwards as the earth lurched under his feet.
    "Not yet!" he called out to the collapsing building. "You cannot go yet!" He commanded the rocks to hold their places. The infrastructure of the main room creaked and groaned as the ground beneath it twisted and churned, caught in the throes of death. By the power he had been given over the tangible things in Middle-earth, the wizard held the shuddering building up, hoping for a sight of the ranger and the prince, and hoping for it soon, because he knew he could not halt the unstoppable for very long. There was a strong magic about this place and it was more than just the ravages of earthquake or age that was making it come down upon itself now that its chief treasure had been removed.
    "Kwara!" Gandalf commanded, throwing the force of his will against the ancient counterspell that wanted to wrench the building away from him. "Hold!" The struggle was intensely fierce and the crumbling stone shrieked in protest as Gandalf's will clashed with the unstoppable powers controlling Eowioriand's demise.

    Aragorn stumbled into the main room. He caught himself as the floor slipped beneath him, jerked sideways.
    Tortured beyond its limits, the marble buckled and tripped the nimble elf as well. Legolas fell to the floor with a cry.
    The sound of his friend's distress stopped the ranger and he skidded on the stones, turning back towards the prince.
    Legolas was painfully gaining his feet when he noticed the human had stopped. Not wanting his friend crushed in the building he motioned with his hand shouting at the man, "GO! Strider go!!"
    When Aragorn saw that the prince was following him once more, he turned and pelted for the opening that was sinking slowly into the ground.

    Gandalf caught sight of the ranger running towards him; in moments they would be free of the ruins and he could allow the building to settle back into the earth. The wizard's outflung hands trembled slightly at the strain of supporting the collapsing structure against its will, but he stood firm, his concentration completely focused on the task at hand, his whole being involved in the struggle. Aragorn and Legolas were almost in the clear...
    With his attention so caught up in the struggle to save the two younger beings, Gandalf never sensed the person who approached him stealthily from behind. The rending of the stones blocked out all noise and he never heard Gwaihir's warning cry as Drelent raised his sword and brought its pommel down against the base of the old man's skull.
    Gandalf stumbled forward. His grip on the failing building faltered and the ground shook with a horrendous roar. Eowioriand was attempting to bury the trespassers with it. Despite the danger, Gandalf dare not divide his attention. He had a choice to make: turn to face the new threat and protect himself, or save Aragorn and Legolas... The wizard did not even have to think before accepting the latter.
    The opening shifted lower and Aragorn threw himself out of the disintegrating doorway, followed closely by Legolas. He watched in horror as Drelent loomed above Gandalf and struck the wizard once more, driving the old man to the ground. He fell and did not rise.
    Aragorn screamed Gandalf's name, but the City of Knowledge was dying and the ground beneath their feet heaved and bucked as the ruins imploded upon themselves. An inhuman keening cry rent the air, causing the hair on Aragorn's neck to stand on end. He stared wide-eyed at the ruins, scrabbling backwards as dirt and debris was thrown into the air showering them with tiny bits of rocks. The sky was blocked from sight, shrouded in the clouds of dust that exploded upwards.
    Drelent bent over and grabbed the palantir from Gandalf's limp fingers. Aragorn got his hands underneath him, pressing himself up off the ground. He saw Drelent lean over the wizard and reach for the velvet bag that had slipped from his hand. The ranger lunged at the hunter and knocked him away from the wizard, slamming his shoulder into the man's chest.
    Drelent fell backwards, his fingers releasing the palantir.
    Aragorn stumbled forward, closing over his hand around the top of the sack that contained the seeing stone. He stood to his feet and turned, looking behind him for Legolas. A stinging pain sliced through his upper arm and he jerked away, wrapping his hand over the red mark that crossed his arm, blood oozing out between his fingers where an arrow had just grazed him. He looked back and saw Drelent re-nock his bow, aiming for the ranger again.
    The ground heaved beneath their feet as Eowioriand settled behind them. In the shaking Aragorn lost his footing and fell to the ground; the arrow Drelent had shot at him went wild.
    Thrown to the earth, Drelent staggered to his feet once more and lunged at the ranger; pulling his sword from its scabbard he drove it down through Aragorn's arm before the ranger could react, pinning him to the ground. The ranger cried out at the pain, trying to maintain his grip on the velvet bag he held. As the hunter leaned down to retrieve the seeing stone, Aragorn kicked out at the man, catching him in the stomach and forcing him backward.
    As Drelent stumbled back, Aragorn turned, catching Legolas' eye.
    "Legolas!" He clumsily tossed the palantir to the elf, who was just gaining his feet. "Go!" The cloud of dust and debris from the demise of Eowioriand was beginning to settle on the plain, making it hard to see.
    Legolas could hear Gwaihir's cry from somewhere above. Running out to the edge of the plain he scanned the sky for the great eagle.
    Gwaihir swooped low over the forests and approached the fissured, broken rock plateau that butted up against the plains. Legolas nimbly ran out onto the fractured shelf, easily avoiding the steaming breaks in the earth beneath him. The heat that issued from the cracks caused sweat to roll down his face. Concentrating on the eagle overhead, Legolas did not notice the human that ran straight for him.
    Romyr had caught sight of the elf. Frustrated at not being able to kill the prince earlier and seeing the bundle that he held against him, the young man ran out to intercept the palantir.
    Legolas dropped the bag that held the seeing stone to his side. Holding it by the drawstring, he began to spin it in ever tightening loops, raising it over his head and releasing it like a slingshot as Gwaihir swooped down towards him. The great eagle's claws latched onto the palantir and he shifted his trajectory, heading straight up.
    Not all of Drelent's men had entered the plain. Gyn, astride a horse hidden on the edge of the forest, tracked the eagle with his crossbow, a wicked smile on his rounded face. He closed one eye as he sighted in on his prey and loosed the bolt. His horse pranced back slightly at the sound of the sharp ricochet of the bowstring, but the smile on the little man's face widened as he heard the eagle's piercing cry of pain. The dark shape folded in on itself and dropped like a stone towards the earth.
    The bolt sheared through Gwaihir's left wing bone and he screamed with the intensity of the pain, momentarily losing his grip on the bag that held the palantir. The seeing stone fell from the heights. Bouncing once on the rocky plateau, it rolled to the edge of a deep fissure, teetering for seconds before it plummeted over the side.
    "No!" Legolas watched as the great eagle spiraled down, trying to keep his wings open until he landed. He angled towards the grassy plains attempting to avoid the fissured earth.
    Legolas started to run to his aid when Romyr hit him full force, knocking him down. The whole sequence of events had happened so fast that the elf was taken completely off guard.
    The young human straddled the elf, pulling a long wicked blade from its sheath at his waist. "This time no one will come to help you," Romyr whispered at the elf as he forced the blade under the prince's chin, holding him down. Legolas had fallen backwards, pushed over the edge of one of the fissures that broke through the granite. The heat from the opening into the earth intensified as the ground belched forth a plume of superheated steam. The hot air seared the elf's shoulder and neck where he overhung the crevice, burning through his tunic. Legolas cried out with the pain, turning his head at the last possible moment to save his face from being burned.
    Seeing the pain that the magma-heated air created, Romyr tried to push the prince farther over the opening.
    "Rhydrry! Selvic!" The young hunter called back to his companions, while he forced the elf back, "see if you can find the palantir!"
    The two hunters ran forward, searching through the cracks in the earth for any sign of the seeing stone.
    Legolas struggled against his captor, pulling his knees up underneath the young man. The steam beneath him intensified, the heat building once more. With a surge of adrenaline brought on by sheer fear, the elf kicked his feet out, throwing Romyr over his head.
    The hunter landed upright on the other side of the fissure and stood unsteadily to his feet, the heels of his boots slipping on the edge of one of the deep tears in the rock. His face was a grimace of hatred and he raised his knife, ready to throw it into the elf's heart as Legolas staggered away from him.
    Romyr jerked bodily backwards as an arrow punctured his breastbone, embedding itself in his chest. Across the plains, Aragorn dropped his bow to his side, breathing heavily from exertion. He had barely been able to stop Drelent from killing him moments before by knocking the man out with his own crossbow and his arm was screaming at him. He watched as Romyr's body fell back into the fissure behind him. Legolas glanced towards the ranger and nodded, letting his friend know he was okay.

    With a sigh Aragorn leaned over, resting his hands on his knees and trying to catch his breath. So exhausted was he that he was totally unprepared for the swift kick to his stomach that doubled him over in pain, dropping him to his knees. Drelent had recovered from the blow and attacked the ranger. Tired of being thwarted by the man, he grabbed a fist full of the human's hair and pulled the man's head back sharply, placing the edge of his sword under Aragorn's chin.
    "Just give me a reason," the hunter growled at him, holding him there against his blade. Blood dripped from the gash to his temple where Aragorn had hit him and breathing heavily he repeated, "Just give me a reason."