Drip. drip. drip. A trickle of water meandered down a dank rock wall. The droplets fell off a jagged edge above a prone form, splashing the human's forehead incessantly. From his forehead, streams of water meandered down his face into his ear and down his neck, causing great irritation. Darkness enveloped everything, swallowing any source of light. It was the kind of blackness that could make even the stoutest of hearts despair. The air was cold. The type of cold that seeps into a person's bones and refuses to leave; the cold that makes any creature pine for the warm caress of the sun. It made the rocky ground icy to the touch. The whole environment bred discomfort.
He wanted to move. He wanted to move away from the slimy water that dashed his face, to find a warmer spot on the ground than the place where he lay. But he could not. It hurt to much, took too much effort. Despite the numbness invading his body, Aragorn felt as if he were on fire. Pain engulfed him. Every breath of air he inhaled scratched his parched throat and caused his cracked ribs to burn. The numerous bruises on the man's body throbbed. His lacerations oozed blood. Muscles in his body ached as they quaked from the cold, for the tattered remains of his tunic provided little protection. I have to...hang on, Aragorn told himself repeatedly. I ca...can't give...in. Help will...must come. He had to fight the pain. Yet, it was so hard. Time was slowly running out. He was weak, so so weak.
Legolas shaded his eyes as he watched the sun's flaming orange rays creep over the horizon. He scrutinized them the best he could without burning his eyes. "The sunrise is not red. It means no blood has been spilt this night. Aragorn may yet be alive," sighed the elf as he rubbed his mare affectionately. Sticky lather coated his hand. Gently, he tugged on the reins to slow the horse from a gallop to a trot. Sharp eyes spotted a bubbling brook up ahead. "Hannon le, Mithelen. You deserve a rest, for you have traveled hard and born us a great distance this night. Come, we will stop at the brook."
Mithelen's whinny of gratitude brought a smile to her master's face. Normally, Legolas would not have pushed her so hard, unless they were in danger. However, the prince wanted to put as much distance between him and his guard as possible. Something tells me that they are having a fit right about now. Eriphael is probably ranting about the ways he will kill me when they find me. The elves in his company possessed every bit of the renowned stubbornness the Woodland elves were known for, and they would chase after him relentlessly until they caught up to him. If Aragorn had indeed fallen into the hands of people who wished him harm, then Legolas' greatest chances of finding his friend laid in him searching alone.
A feeling in his gut told him that stealth would prove to be his greatest aid. Aragorn once told him that the best way to gather intelligence or to observe people was by not drawing attention to oneself. If people do not view me as a threat they are more likely to be open and disclose the information that I seek. An armed group of hardened elven warriors, while convenient in battle, would hinder his efforts to remain inconspicuous. The prince valued the elves under his command and was honored by their loyalty, but circumstances required that he locate his friend by himself. One elf comes across far less dangerous than an entire guard does. I am prepared to handle dangerous situations if they should arise for I am no stranger to protecting myself and others.
The giggling of the water as it streamed over the smooth rocks attracted Legolas' attention. Pushing aside his thoughts, he directed the mare to an area of lush, dew drenched grass. Gracefully, the elf slid off the saddle and began methodically removing the parts of the riding gear that made it difficult for Mithelen to graze. "Enjoy yourself, mellon. We will rest here for a while. I think we have put a sufficient amount of distance between my escort and ourselves." A mischievous sparkle twinkled in the archer's eye. "Besides, I took the pains to insure that they would be temporarily delayed." Mithelen's head, which was hovering over a patch of grass, shot up with a disapproving snort.
"What?! I did not do anything terrible," he drawled. "I merely left them a note of my plans. I just wrote it in ancient language that they could not understand."
The mare huffed with alarm and displeasure. She glared at her master in a horse-like way. Legolas held up his arms, "Hold your horses! Valar, you are acting just like my adar. I used one of Lord Elrond's books on ancient languages to write the note. Don't worry, Eriphael and the others can decipher the message using the same book or Lord Elrond can translate it for them." He ran his hands through her silky, gray mane, loosing any tangles. "You have to understand, Mithelen, I needed to delay them. It is nothing personal. This is one of those times that I have to do things alone, and they would not understand that, or they would ignore it."
After a few seconds, Mithelen's dark eyes softened, and she nuzzled him. Scratching her behind her ears, Legolas replied, "Hannon le."
Leaving his trusty mare to eat in peace, the elf ambled over to a willow a few yards away. He shrugged off his weapons. Plopping down against the tree trunk, the prince began fumbling absentmindedly with the strands of grass beneath his fingers while he planned his next move. If I were that crazy human ranger where would I be? He is not in Imladris or they would have found him by now.
From the details that he knew of Estel's last actions it seemed that his errand involved something ranger related. That suggests that he is in the Shire, a town, or the wilderness. Valar, I hope he is not in the wilderness. That would mean he could be anywhere in Arda practically! I guess I will have to retrace his likely steps and eliminate each option. The rangers' last reported sighting of Aragorn implied that his destination was not in the Shire. Well, at least I will not have to turn the entire Shire upside down looking for him. I believe that I would have very hard time blending in there anyway. With the Shire excluded from the possibilities of Estel's whereabouts it called for Legolas to check the towns. The elves of Imladris were already checking the townships near the Hidden Valley. My best course of action lies in starting with the town closest to the place where Aragorn left the rangers. That would be...Bree.
Bree seemed a viable option the more the prince thought about it. I remember Aragorn telling me that he liked to frequent a particular inn there. There is a high chance that I may discover some news about him there. The archer's gaze shifted to his mare who was contentedly sipping water from the brook. Bree was around a four day ride on horseback to Imladris. He had already traveled half a day's worth of the distance. Three and a half days...with a horse of Mithelen's strength I can cut it closer to a two day journey, though that is two days that Estel may or may not have, Legolas sighed inwardly. Frustrated, he allowed his golden head to sink back against the soft bark of the willow, "Oh, mellon nin, if I only I could find you now!"
Clenching his fists, he inhaled and exhaled slowly. He needed to be patient. I must trust the Valar to keep him alive until I find him. It was so hard though. The chilling fear for Aragorn's well-being grew in his heart with every heartbeat. I have already lost Huledin to forces of darkness, I Cannot bear to lose Estel too! Ai! Legolas shook his head to expel the grim thoughts swirling through it.
The archer leaned heavily against the tree. Aragorn is strong, and I must be too. He and Mithelen would rest awhile longer to regain their strength, then they would ride toward Bree.
A strong gust of wind whipped around the elf and his mare as he brought her to a halt. "Steady, now." The weather had been kind to them over the past two days, but now rolling, gray clouds hid the sun from view. He sensed that Mithelen grew weary. A slight tremble ran through her body. I should rest her for a time. It will also give me a chance to change. Dismounting, he led her toward a group of trees that would shelter the two from the biting wind.
"Take some rest, Mithelen. You deserve it, for you have served me well these last few days," Legolas murmured as he patted her neck affectionately. While the mare ate, he untied one of the leather packs from her back. The pack landed on the ground with a quiet "thud." Sitting on the weed covered ground, the prince began to rummage through it. First, he pulled out a dingy, worn, dark brown cloak. Second, the archer brought out a pair of black pants. A coarse tunic of smoky gray and a faded brown vest followed. Finally, a leather belt completed the outfit. All of the clothing was Aragorn's. Legolas had taken the time to raid through Estel's spare clothing before he left Imladris in case the clothing came in handy. One can never be too prepared when it comes to Aragorn, the elf smirked inwardly.
A nicker of curiosity caught the archer's attention. Guessing at her question, he responded while undoing the laces of his tunic, "I wish to blend in with the men of Bree. I cannot do that very well if I am dressed as an elf. I sense that something suspicious is afoot. It will be harder to investigate suspicious activity if I also look suspicious. That, mellon nin, is why I want to dress like a hu...a man. Now, if you will pardon me, I must dress."
After a couple of minutes, Legolas was pulling the cloak tight around his shoulders. He spun around to face Mithelen. Striking a relaxed, human-like pose, the elf asked, "How do I look? Do I look like a human?"
The mare shook her head. Drawing close to her master, she nipped at his warrior braids.
"What?" he touched his braids as he swung them away from Mithelen's mouth. "Oh, I forgot. Humans are far more unkempt and dirtier than elves." The prince moved to undo the braids before he stopped. He glared at the horse. "I am only going to do this for Aragorn's sake. Not a word, whinny, or anything, to another living soul about this. If Adar, Eriphael, or any elf for that matter, found out about what I am about to do, I will never live it down."
The wind swept his hair around his face as he unwound each braid carefully. While the strands of hair tickling his face was slightly annoying, as long as the hair hid his elven ears from view he could put up with it being down. Now for the filthy part. Shaking his head, Legolas muttered, "the things I do for Estel." His hand lingered over the ground momentarily. Scooping up a handful of dry dirt, the elf rubbed it over his face, arms, and hands. No longer can Aragorn call me prissy!
A light drizzle of rain began to fall as he finished the grubby disguise. Not wishing for his appearance to become that of a muddy, wet rat, he pulled the hood of his cloak over his head. Since most men did not wear their blades on their backs, the archer re-located his twin knives to his sides. His quiver and bow could remain on his back. "My transformation is complete, Mithelen. When you are ready we will continue on."
Suddenly, the sound of snapping of branches reached his perceptive ears over the howling of the wind. Legolas stood absolutely still, listening. "That is no animal!" Faster than the eye could follow, the elf whipped out his bow with an arrow poised to fire. Steely blue orbs hungrily sought his target. "Someone is coming!"
Author's Note: Hmm...it would seem that the clock is ticking, and that something is amiss. Any thoughts so far? Please let me know by leaving a review :) A special thanks to C.M. Singer for helping me brainstorm this chapter! I decided to do something new and respond to reviews. Responses to last chapter's reviews are below the translation. Hannon le!
Mithelen (name) - Graystar
Estel (name) - Aragorn's elven name
Valar - The deities of Middle Earth
Arda - Another name for Middle Earth
Response to Reviews:
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