by Cassia and Siobhan

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    The walls of the prison shook, loosing a cloud of dust down upon Aragorn and Legolas.  For a few heart-stopping moments the two captives thought the prison was about to become their tomb, but fortunately for them, the sturdy little building held.  
    Unfortunately so did the bars of their prison, although they were quick to check them.
    When it became clear that the building was not in danger of collapse, the guards finally made their way cautiously back down.  They glowered darkly at the ranger and the elf inside as if they were personally responsible for all this trouble.  
    “Rest up while you can,” the guards threatened ominously.  “Tomorrow will be a different story.” 


    It was cold.  That was all he could think.  Something evil rose from the darkness and brushed past him, beckoning him to follow it.  He was loath to obey it but his mind unquestioningly relented and he found himself turning to follow its path with his eyes.  Aragorn shivered uncontrollably in his sleep, he hadn’t been here in a long time.  This demon hadn’t haunted his sleep for years.  He thought the memories were past, but his mind flashed the image for him without his consent, tormenting his unconscious thoughts.
    He watched as his father, his human father, was speared by that creature – again.  
    But this time the dream didn’t stop there, this time it continued. Normally he would have been able to wake himself, to stop it. but he couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, he wasn’t sure he was breathing and panic swept through him as the nightmare continued on.  The evil monster turned and smiled cruelly at him and then glanced beyond him.  Aragorn twisted in his dream, fighting the invisible bonds that held him still until he could see who the demon was glaring at.
    His elven father stood under the archway near the courtyard at Rivendell.  Aragorn tried to call to him, to warn him, to stop the monster as it approached the elf.  But Elrond simply smiled at the ranger unaware. 
    In his dreams he saw the evil creature grow, expand, until it stood over the archway, over Rivendell and with one sweep of its hand, it flattened the arch and crushed Elrond beneath it.  This time Aragorn did find his voice and he couldn’t stop himself from screaming. 

    “NO!”  The heart wrenching cry woke Legolas from a dead sleep.  He jumped to a crouched position and looked wildly around them.  There was no one near.  Again the single word broke the stillness, quieter this time and begging.
    “No…”  Aragorn was moving slightly, fighting himself, fighting the dreams and the images his mind was forcing him to live through. “Father.”  Tears rolled down his cheeks and beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead as he gasped for air between sobs.
    Legolas swiftly moved next to the ranger and touched the man gently,  “Estel.”  Aragorn did not respond, “Estel, wake up.”  The elf switched to the grey tongue and repeated himself.
    “Estel, you are dreaming. Wake up.”  Legolas shook the man lightly, this time trying to break the hold the nightmare had on his friend.
    Aragorn gasped and sat up quickly, knocking the elf’s hands away from him.   He looked about him in the darkness, frantically trying to remember where he was, why the broken arch wasn’t nearby, where his father’s body was.  “Where?”
    “You are safe.” Legolas moved back near the man and spoke softly, “We are still here, in Strayton, in the prison.”
    The ranger jumped slightly and looked at the elf curiously as though seeing him for the first time.  He breathed in deeply and let the air out slowly as he worked at calming himself.  Legolas sat down next to him and waited the human out before questioning him again.
    When Aragorn’s breathing had settled enough the elf quietly spoke, “Are you all right?”
    “Yes.” The answer was soft and curt. Legolas could tell whatever had happened to his friend had been painful and the fact that he had allowed the elf to know was a bit of an embarrassment.  
    “I used to have nightmares for a very long time.  But it’s been centuries now since the last one.  I still remember how they felt, and how helpless I was in the midst of them.” Legolas looked at the stone floor as he spoke, allowing the confession to open the human to talking.
    “I haven’t had them for years.” Aragorn wouldn’t look his friend in the eyes but glanced out at the window set high in the brick wall.  “I thought that one was gone.”
    The silence grew between them.
    “Care to talk about it?”
    “No.” Aragorn glanced at his hands, his fingers twisting the edges of his cloak repeatedly as he thought through the images in his mind, “And yes.”
    Legolas leaned back against the wall and waited.  When his friend spoke again his voice was low but the elf picked up every word.  What the human was telling the prince, he hadn’t told even his own family.
    “When I was dropped off at Rivendell, I was very young; too young to remember much of my life.  Rivendell has always been my home and Elrond…” Aragorn’s voice dropped off as he collected himself, shutting his eyes against the memories so fresh from the dream, “Elrond has always been the only father I have ever known.  But there was this dream, nightmare really.  A monster, a hideous evil thing, I always thought it was a demon.  Every night for a long time it came and I watched as it killed my human father.  Every night...”  He stopped and glanced at Legolas, searching out the elf’s eyes in the darkness.
    The elf prince nodded in understanding, urging the man to continue.
    “And always I would wake up and Elladan or Elrohir or my father would be there, my father Elrond.” He corrected himself, swallowing hard as he continued, “I never told them what was in my dreams, I guess they always somehow knew.  And I haven’t had that dream in years.”  Aragorn glanced away from the elf seated next to him, “But tonight it was different. Tonight I couldn’t wake up, I couldn’t stop it.  And tonight after it had killed my human father I watched it kill Elrond.  I couldn’t make it stop. It crushed him under the archway just like...”
    His voice trailed off, unable to continue.
    Legolas moved closer and wrapped his arm around the shaking shoulders, “Estel, he’s not dead.”
    The ranger’s head jerked up and he pierced the elf with angry, haunted eyes, “Legolas, don’t give me that false hope.  You know as well as I do what condition Elrond is in. If he wakes up, if, then there still is almost no hope that he will ever truly return to us.  And the reason he is in that shape is because he saved me.  He should have let me die and saved himself.”
    “Don’t speak such things.  You know he would not have allowed that to happen.”
    “But I am going to die anyway and he wouldn’t have.  I am mortal, he is not!”  Aragorn tried to pull away from his friend but the elf would have nothing of it.  He kneeled in front of the man and pressed him back against the wall, pinning him there with his hands on the human’s shoulders.
    “Now you listen to me.” His eyes locked on the silver ones huge and glistening, the tracks of the tears he had shed were bright in the starlight, “Elrond did what any father would do and for you to punish yourself for his sacrifice is selfish and ungrateful.”  Legolas softened his words and his gaze as he continued, “But I don’t fault you for it, for I have felt that same condemnation sweep through me. Your father is not dead yet, Estel.  Do not give up on him so easily, young human. We have not exhausted all our resources.”  
    The elf smiled down at the serious face watching him.
    “I’m sorry.” Aragorn whispered brokenly, “You’re right.”
    Legolas pulled the man forward and wrapped his arms around him. “It will work out, Estel. You will see.” He quietly replied, whispering the words into the man’s ear.  
    The ranger nodded against him and slowly pulled away quietly agreeing,  “Thanks.”   He wiped his eyes on his overcoat and watched as the elf sat back down next to him. “Thanks for waking me up too.”
    Legolas smiled softly and started to reply as a keening howl pierced the night echoed by a dozen voices in the darkness.  The elf leapt to his feet. Jumping easily to the high window, he grasped the bars and pulled himself up so that he could see out.
    The town was still but the forest was even more quiet, quieter than it should have been and, as he watched the darkness on the edge of the city, he could see the grey shadows slip in and out of the trees.
    Letting go the bars, he dropped lightly back down next to Aragorn. “Wargs.”
    The ranger looked at the elf in confusion. “Why would the wargs be here?  Certainly they wouldn’t attack the town?  They never come this close to the outposts. They have always stayed to the forests and run farther north.”
    Legolas eyed the open window as sounds of the beasts' advance drifted down to them.  The wargs had begun attacking the domesticated animals and the ensuing chaos was rousing the sleeping town.
    “The wargs hunt the riverbeds.  They follow the game that gathers there in the early mornings and evenings.  But with the Bruinen stopped at the riverhead, the game will move farther south now searching out new places with fresh water.  The deer are leaving Rivendell, Aragorn, and moving off.  It is worse than what we feared. Without their source of food the wargs have grown more bold and their packs have merged. They will follow the herds eventually, but the animals in the town will provide the meat that they need now and so will the townspeople if we do not stop them.”
    The tumult outside had grown and odd shadows and light flickered through the basement prison window as the people tried to drive the beasts back into the night.  Huge bonfires had been lit in the center of the town and torches were passed among the townsfolk as they battled to save their livestock and themselves from the hungry wargs.
    Overhead the two prisoners could hear the jailer and their guards as the men were woken from their sleep.
    Aragorn ran to the heavily barred door and pounded on it calling up to them, “Let us out! Let us help you!”
    But if the men heard their prisoner they paid him no attention.  Legolas leapt back up to the small window and peered out.  He saw the three men run into town, weapons ready.  They hadn’t even looked back.  The upstairs door to the prison slowly banged shut, the prisoners forgotten.
    Legolas pushed away from the bars and landed lightly in the room, walking up behind the ranger and stopping the man’s frenzied attempt to get their captors attention.
    He touched the ranger lightly on the shoulder, “Estel, they are gone.  They did not hear you.”
    The man turned angry eyes on the elf. “Or they did not want to.”
    Legolas nodded slightly agreeing. “Either way, they have left to help the villagers.”
    Aragorn paced back into the middle of the room, anger and helplessness warring inside of him.  The sounds of the warg attack filtered down to them, seeming to intensify the emotions in his heart.
    “Help me up, I want to see,” Aragorn motioned to the high window.  Legolas locked his fingers together and allowed the ranger to press his foot down onto the elf’s hands as he helped boost his friend up to the prison bars.  The human grabbed the cold steel grating and stared out at the fighting.
    “What do you see?”  Legolas questioned.
    “The wargs are after the people just as you said.”  He watched as a farmer was run down by one of the beasts before any help could be given. The man didn’t stand a chance and Aragorn shut his eyes at the sight, wishing he could block the dying man’s screams from his ears as well.  “Let me down, they are slaughtering them. I wish to see no more.  We are stuck in here and cannot even help!”  Legolas started to comply when the ranger gripped the bars tightly and pressed his face against the restraints. “Wait! Wait,” he called down to the elf who lent his support once more.
    “What is it?”
    “It’s Taradin and Garith.”  Aragorn focused on the hunter who was directing his men, shouting orders at them, sending them into the frenzy with torches and weapons.  “Taradin!” He called the man’s name repeatedly.

    Taradin was weary.  It had just been one thing after another lately.  A man couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep anymore.  And now to top it off the wargs had grown bold and were attacking the townfolk, a perfect way to end a hard day.  He kept encouraging his men, sending them out, arming them with the small cache of weapons he kept handy. 
    Garith stepped next to him and tugged on his tunic. His attention thrown out into the night, he didn’t see when the tall hunter turned in frustration towards him.
    “What is it Garith? I haven’t got time right now.”
    The boy was unperturbed at the man’s slight annoyance. “Do you hear that?”  He stared towards the prison a few hundred yards away on the edge of the town, “Someone is calling your name.”  He turned and looked up at the man for the first time but Taradin had just caught the slight sound of Aragorn’s voice.  He passed the torch in his hand to Garith and pushed the boy into the space he had just occupied, close to the fire, near the weapons and out of harm's way.  
    “You stay here, Garith,” he warned the boy as he drew his sword and walked cautiously towards the dark building. “If the men need any weapons or torches you give them to them. But you stay here, you got it?”  He glanced back over his shoulder at the youth.
    Garith’s eyes were huge as he nodded his understanding.  “Be safe,” he whispered back. Taradin gave him a huge smile and headed back out towards the outskirts, “Aren’t I always, boy?” he teased the young man. “Safety is my middle name.”
    “Yeah right.”  But Garith had no time to protest as another hunter came running back towards the bonfire, his vest in shreds and blood freely flowing from a wound to his arm.  
    Taradin advanced on the prison, leery of the darkness here on the edge of town.
    “Taradin, over here!”  Aragorn called to the man. 
    The hunter crept near the building and crouched down near the small window that sat inches above the ground.  He peered into the darkness, barely able to make out the face by the flickering light of the bonfire. “Strider, is that you?”
    “Yes!  They put us in prison yesterday. Let us out so we can help you.”
    “Is Legolas with you also?”
    Aragorn started to answer but a dark shadow to the hunter's right caught his attention, “Taradin, behind you!”
    The hunter whirled on his boot heels as the warg threw itself at the man, pinning him against the side of the building.  His sword had been knocked away from him and he grabbed the huge beast’s head with his hands, burying his fists in the creature’s thick coat and holding the snapping jaw inches from his face.  He felt his boots sliding on the slick wet grass. He couldn’t let the warg get on top of him or he would not be able to hold the creature off.
    Garith had watched the whole scene horrified. He couldn’t lose the older man and his fear overrode the command to stay near the fire.  Screaming Taradin’s name he ran to the hunter’s aid. 

    Aragorn pressed himself hard against the window and reached his arm out between the metal bars, straining to touch the tip of Taradin’s sword. “No!”
    “Strider what is it!? What’s happening!” Legolas demanded with concern.
    Aragorn glanced down at the elf, his face a mask of horror. “A warg has Taradin.”
    “What!?”  The feelings of helplessness were beginning to make the elf angry.
    But the ranger didn’t respond.  Looking back up he saw a young boy running towards the prison and recognized the redhead.  “Garith!! Garith get inside and let us out!! QUICK! We can help!”
    “Do as they say boy!”  Taradin yelled at the young man.  Pulling his knees up to his chest he kicked the creature hard on its underbelly giving him a moment to collect himself but as he reached for his sword the warg pounced between him and the weapon backing the man slowly towards the forest.
    Garith skidded to a stop as the warg cut him off from the man.  “Taradin!”
    “Do it Garith, do it now! Free the ranger and the elf. Hurry!”
    Loathe to the leave the man, the boy hesitated for the fraction of a second his eyes helplessly searching out those of the ranger’s.  “Quickly, Garith, so we can save Taradin.”
    The calm sureness in the man’s voice spurred the youth on and he let himself into the prison, tearing down the flight of stairs to the basement cells.
    Aragorn pushed himself off from the wall and Legolas let him fall easily to the floor. “Legolas, the warg is pressing Taradin back into the forest and he has no weapons.”
    The elf’s eyes were narrowed and hard and he nodded once in understanding. They heard the sounds of the locking bar being lifted and as soon as Garith moved it out of position Legolas pushed the door open and bounded up the steps.  His bow and quiver were hung on the wall near the door just as their captors had left them the day before and he grabbed his daggers from the table below, running out of the building and around the corner.
    Taradin stood in the middle of a circle of three wargs. The creatures lunged at him, snarling and growling.  He fought them back with a tree branch he had secured, placing a well-earned kick to the face of the one that had just jumped towards him.  But the lunge was a decoy and as the man had turned to face the advancing warg another behind him jumped on the hunter’s back and bore him to the ground.
    Legolas fired two arrows in rapid succession at the dark creatures, neatly killing the one on the man’s back and spearing through another.  The last warg turned towards the elf, its teeth bared, muzzle dripping with saliva, hungering for the meal it could smell in the prone man and angry at the interruption.  The creature lowered itself bunching its’ legs under it and ready to spring as the elf released a second volley at the dark monster, the arrows driving straight into the thick skull and dropping the warg to the ground. 
    Taradin slowly got his hands under him and pressed himself up.  Aragorn gained the edge of the building with Garith on his heels.  The ranger picked up the hunter's sword and walked over to Legolas who was kicking the dead wargs away from the man and retrieving his arrows.  
    Garith dropped next to Taradin and helped the older man to his knees.
    “I told you to stay by the fire,” the hunter rasped breathlessly at the youth.
    “Yeah well you told me you’d be safe.”  The young man’s eyes were huge and Aragorn could tell the boy was on the verge of tears.
    “You did good, Garith.”  He and Legolas helped Taradin stand.  The elf quickly looked over the worst of the hunter’s wounds and nodded to the ranger.
    “You’ll be alright.  Can you walk?”  Aragorn glanced back into town. “We have to get these people to the center of town with the livestock in the middle.”
    Taradin nodded, “We can do that. They’ll listen to me.  What about the wargs? How do we stop them?”
    “We can use fire,” Aragorn spoke quietly. “If we set the brush on fire, it will drive them out.”
    “If we do that we risk setting the forests on fire as well.”  Legolas looked at him and shook his head.
    “We are out of options.”
    “It would seem that you are.”  A deep, melodious voice caught them unaware and they turned as one to stare behind them into the dark.  A horse slowly appeared out of the night, its rider unrecognizable but for the hat on his old grey head and the slump of his eternity-old shoulders.
    “Mithrandir!”  the elf’s face brightened as the elderly man came into view.  He had thought that was the face he had seen in town earlier.
    “Gandalf?”  Aragorn stepped forward, “what brings you here?”
    “Oh this and that.  An errand if you must know.”  The old eyes crinkled in merriment as he gazed on the young human.
    Legolas stepped up behind Aragorn and whispered in his ear, “This was the other resource that I was thinking of.”  The ranger turned and gazed at his friend open-mouthed. Of course! Why hadn’t he thought of that?
    “What?” Gandalf glanced between the two friends, his eyes sparkling as he listened to them talk about him.
    “Nothing, Mithrandir,” Legolas spoke respectfully. “We can discuss it later, but we have another problem more pressing at the moment.”
    The old wizard glanced beyond them back into the town, “So I see,” he stated simply. Dismounting his steed, he began to lead the horse towards the chaos-filled streets.  “You have wargs.”  It was an extreme understatement.
    “Can you help us?”  Aragorn had gathered Garith and Taradin and hurried them after the elf and the wizard.
    The tall, pointed hat bobbed on the older man’s head as he nodded. “I believe I can.” He glanced back, smiling at the humans that trailed them.
    “Does he always talk like that?”  Garith glanced at Aragorn.
    “Garith!”  Taradin hissed at the boy in reprimand.
    “No, it’s all right,” Aragorn laughed at the man’s response. Leaning back around to look at the young human he answered, “And yes he does. You get used to it after awhile.”
    “I heard that, Dùnadan.” Gandalf grumbled, “Now why don’t you go make yourself useful and collect all the townspeople and their livestock in the city square while I set up a few things here.”  He glanced at Legolas. “Run along now, and keep an eye on them. I am sure they will need your help.”  He barely repressed a smile as he glanced at the elf that walked with him.
    Legolas simply nodded and ran off after the ranger while the wizard went unhurriedly about his business.

    When Aragorn made his way back to Gandalf, the older man was seated on a small stack of crates, idly smoking a long pipe.  The ranger recognized the smell as the curious weed they smoked in the tavern here in Strayton, but the thought was fleeting as he gazed at the dark shapes drifting through the trees just beyond the perimeter of the town.  The wargs' eyes turned red as they caught and reflected the firelight, making them appear even more malevolent.  Gandalf seemed undisturbed by their nearness, but the ranger was more than wary.
    “We are ready, Gandalf.  The remaining townfolk and their livestock are just up the street, gathered in the square.”
    Gandalf turned slowly towards the human, a slight frown on his weathered face. “How many did not make it?”
    “Six in all.  There are several wounded and they have lost four horses. We don’t know how many cattle are missing yet.”
    The wizard nodded slowly and motioned back up the road, “Back with you then.  Keep the people there and they will be safe.”
    Aragorn turned and looked back towards the city, noticing that Legolas had followed him partway out.  The sharp elven ears had picked up the warning and he nodded in understanding as he turned and ran back to pass on the information.
    When Aragorn jogged up next to Legolas, he found the townspeople huddled around a huge bonfire, their animals restrained in a corral close by.  The armed men stood on the perimeter of the circle, surrounding the rest of the people.  Taradin broke away from a small knot of hunters and approached the ranger and the elf.
    “What’s going on?”
    “Gandalf will take care of the wargs.  Our job is to keep the people and animals calm,” Aragorn commented quickly to the man before turning his attention back to Legolas.
    “That’s it?” the hunter interrupted.
    “That is it,” Legolas nodded in agreement.
    Further conversation was thwarted as a half dozen firebrands streaked straight up into the night sky.  The trails of brilliant particles lit up the surrounding forests clothed in the dark of night.  All around the village were scores of eyes and grey shapes, pacing back and forth waiting for some unseen sign to attack.
    Several of the people ducked and there were whispers and soft cries of alarm from the center of the group. The horses and livestock shied towards the inner fence, threatening to break it down with their pressing weight.
    “Calm the animals!” Legolas cried out to those nearest the corral.  “Keep them settled down.  Have no fear. Mithrandir knows what he is doing.”
    The men eyed the sky nervously and Aragorn knowingly covered his ears, Legolas following suit.  The firebrands exploded high above the town, blossoming into huge umbrellas of arrow-tipped streaks of light that plummeted back towards the earth at breakneck speed heading straight for the center of the village.  The arrows of light raced through the air, superheating it and creating a shrieking sound as they veered off feet above the townspeople’s heads and shot into the woods driving the wargs away from the city and past the outlying areas.  The cries of the driven animals could be heard as they receded into the predawn dark.
    The light display left auras of brilliance dancing in Aragorn’s eyes as he turned a lopsided grin on the elf.  The villagers cheered, helping others to stand to their feet who were cowering from the overwhelming display of light.  Taradin looked accusingly at the two friends. “And did you know what this wizard had in mind?”
    “One never does.”  Legolas answered, smiling at the image of the older man making his way into town, his pipe tucked in his mouth and a smile on his weathered lips.
    “Well,” the wizard remarked, mostly to himself.  “It would seem that my little fireworks serve more purpose than simply amusing the Hobbits every now and again.”
    Gandalf walked up on the grouping of the townsfolk and addressed them. "There now, is everyone all right?"  his voice cheerful and deep.
    But the smile on the wizard’s face was quickly replaced by a scowl as he watched the Warden push to the front of the crowd, ordering his men to take the elf and the ranger back into custody.
    Before Legolas could react he was grabbed from behind, his arms roughly pulled behind his back and painfully pinned there.  Legolas resisted slightly and was cuffed roughly across the back of the head for it, making him stumble forward a little, still held by the grip of the jailers.  Legolas submitted as much as he did because he knew these people were operating under false impressions and he was doing his best to avoid an incident, but they were pushing it.  Pushing it hard.  The look on the elf prince’s face was nothing short of sheer frustration and Aragorn knew there was little time before the whole situation got out of hand again.