-Shadows on the Snow-
By: Bill the Pony
Spoilers: Rising Storm (my own fic), perhaps the trilogy.
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters do not belong to me, but to Tolkien or whoever owns them at the moment. I only have my muses and Fasse, Gorban, Ralamir, Falmarin and all other obscure characters.
Summary: Two months after the event in Dunland (told in Rising Storm) Aragorn and Legolas set out to escort Fasse to Rohan. Unfortunately, an early winter is not foreseen until it hits the three full force, bringing with it the danger of the wild.
Shadows on the Snow
Brooding clouds rolled back, unable to dam back the brilliant morning sun's golden glow. The snow glittered as if sprinkled with the dust of diamonds. Anar had triumphed, banishing the shadows to nether regions. At least for the present.
Spirits were high. There was a steady thrum of lively conversation; horses tugged at their leads, feeling the warmth of the sun saturate their skin. It was to these sounds that Aragorn awoke to. They were sounds of life, life as a man of the land - his life.
Pushing aside what meager bedding he had, he rose, shrugged into his jerkin, and returned the smile the sun shone on him. There was nothing like the sight of the sun after the disparaging company of gray skies. He looked 'round for his companions, finding only Fasse in the thick of an elaborate tale. He found it odd the grizzled wizard was conscious at such an early hour, but decided that Fasse was too much a lover of socializing to let even sleep deprive him of that rare pleasure. It did Aragorn's heart well to know how the old traveling companion would thrive with folk of like mind, not to say however that all folk were as eccentric as he.
He was not alarmed that Legolas was not to be seen amidst the men. Upon further attention to detail, he saw that Falmarin was absent as well. Aragorn needn't gray a hair if Falmarin was with the Elf.
"You slept well I trust?"
Aragorn nodded, "Indeed I did, though I am a trifle surprised that I did not sleep longer."
Éomer's lip twitched in a slight, knowing smile. He tipped his face to the sky, basking in the warmth the sun rained down on them. Though the weather had yet to turn as harsh as the lands Aragorn and his companions had traveled through, too many a cold, dark day had they seen without break from the drudgery. "Days like these are not made to linger in dreams. They are a gift meant to be enjoyed to the fullest, to be treasured. They have a way of wakening you so they may boast of their beauty."
"Aye, I know of what you speak." He paused, pondering Éomer's comment. "But perhaps it is not out of vainness that the Day invites our eyes to see. I would rather think that the Day only wishes to share a gift from Ilúvatar."
Éomer cast a glance at the man standing beside him. "Thorongil, I did not know you were such a philosopher! Not all men have such insight, or maybe they do but do not see the reason of using it."
Though he smiled, Aragorn did not laugh at Éomer's slight jest. He did not speak idly of what he did not believe. If all men would learn from their experiences throughout their lives, perhaps there would not be so much corruption. Though he thought it, he did not speak it aloud. Now was not the time, nor the place for that discussion. It was time to leave these parts and set off back the way they had came.
"H'oi! Thorongil, friend!" hailed Fasse with a wild waving of his hands. "What say you of this fine weather? A little nippy, but it is fine indeed! Nothing like a spot of sunshine. Now if only this snow would melt." He excused himself from his audience, floundering toward Aragorn and Éomer. "Deary, I say, you haven't see the Elf, have you?" He queried once he moved out of shouting range. By the look and mannerisms, apparently he hadn't noticed Legolas's absence before now. But Fasse was not known for his observance, nor his awareness of the present. Being the impulsive, self-explanatory character the he was, Fasse answered his own question. "Knowing him, he's probably out for a morning romp with that horse of his. Getting into all manners of trouble no doubt. I'll probably have to save him once again."
Aragorn saw fit to shrug, as contradicting Fasse would only lead to a longer lecture on a certain Elf's flighty nature. However, a certain Elf was not so suave as to leave the matter be.
"You needn't fret, friend Fasse, I managed to keep myself out of harm's way." Legolas' smile was as well hidden as Falmarin's obvious equine sneer – directed plainly at Fasse. "You won't have to trouble yourself with saving me from the hands of evil – for once."
Fasse recovered remarkably well from his fright. If earlier, a grey muzzle had appeared at his shoulder, breathing into this ear, he would have undoubtedly squealed like a stuck Wose then clung to the nearest person/object till the breath was squeezed from the unfortunate safe harbor, or in the case of an object, broken. Instead he dubbed Legolas, "Impudent."
Legolas nodded to Éomer, then to Aragorn, acknowledging their presence. His eyes lingered on the latter, "Some of the Rohirrim – those who were awake to greet the coming of dawn - have already assisted me in packing supplies for our journey home." He motioned to a side of the camp where a sizeable mound of packs were prepared. "I assumed that you would wish to have an early start."
Aragorn wondered then if perhaps Legolas was not suffering from some unexpected relapse. "You assumed correctly, but it will take more than our three horses to bear it all. The Rohirrim have been too generous I'm afraid."
Legolas winced, pulling Aragorn to the side, casting an uncertain glance at Fasse. "Tamper your words, friend. I am not so green that I do not realize that." He lowered his voice. "Those extra packs are for the case in which Gorban joins us."
Realization dawned on him, bringing with it a mental slap inflicted by his own will. He had forgotten Gorban's initial reluctance to leave the green haven of Imladris, not to mention a certain Elven twin. "That, element, had slipped my mind."
"Forget my donkey? The blasphemy!" Fasse proved that his hearing was not so weak after all. There was a communal grimace from both Elf and man. "Perhaps I shouldn't trust him with you two young upstarts after all. We had all this worked out," Fasse leaned an elbow on the ridge of Gorban's neck, indignation shown by the color red on his face. "But now I'm not so inclined to leave him in your care."
If at all possible, Gorban growled, not looking kindly on Fasse's mothering. He was a donkey, and a free one at that! He didn't need the shaggy, two-legged creature to tell him with whom he could associate. His long ears swept back, giving Fasse a clear idea of his disposition. Fasse plugged his ears with the ends of his overgrown bush of a beard, bracing himself against the wrath of Gorban that came delivered in a painful rain of braying and hawing. Heads turned, ears were covered protectively and some even cursed the donkey's vocal chords.
Once Gorban had assured himself that Fasse was fittingly scolded, the wizard – much more demure – urged the grey beast to do as he wished. He nearly slipped by offering his permission – a sure sign of control – but caught himself before Gorban had cause to give him a second lecture.
But no matter how much either one toyed with the façade of indifference, they wished each other the best. It was for that reason that Fasse, when all was argued thin, counseled Gorban to return to the green haven of Imladris and make for himself an easier life with the horses of the Elves.
"They will be a good influence on you no doubt, perhaps you will even start a new line of Elvish bred mules."
Legolas tightened the last strap, securing the last of the packs to the gloomy donkey's back. He straightened, looking to where Aragorn and Fasse were moving towards him. It took little effort to overhear their unconcealed words.
Fasse's expression was considerably longer than it had been earlier. "So this is goodbye I suppose," Fasse shrugged, twisting a matted knot in his beard.
"Aye, it would appear that way. You knew it had to come sometime," Aragorn reminded, gently.
Fasse gnawed nervously on the knot of grizzled hair, his posture hinting of an unasked question. "Will we be hearing anything about you from Gondor anytime in the foreseeable future, friend Thorongil?" Legolas heard Fasse query, drawing out Aragorn's alias suggestively.
Aragorn halted, his eyes growing lost as he looked out over the white plains. Both Legolas and Fasse watched Aragorn's face closely, waiting for a reaction, any reaction.
"I do not know what the future holds, years, months, weeks, or even days from now," Aragorn began, eyes focused on nothing but the invisible, "for Middle-earth, or even myself. Foresight is not my gift. I'd be a fool to say it was." He laughed abstractly, tearing his attention back to the present. "But there is a measure of destiny in life, I believe in that with all my heart. Of course I know what I would like my future to hold," he laughed again before sobering, "but I do not hold the future in my hands to be turned this way or that as it pleases me."
Legolas smiled, releasing a breath he did not know he had held. His suspicions were verified. Aragorn had changed over these few weeks, in a way that only a chosen man of Eru could.
Roheryn bobbed his head in greeting to his rider, whickering his appreciation for the hard scrub on the neck Aragorn offered him in passing. "Is all ready, Legolas?"
Legolas paused, running a mental checklist before nodding affirmative. "Gorban has been more than sufficiently packed, Nienna also, and all have been fed and watered."
Éomer held Roheryn's reins as Aragorn mounted, "You are sure you do not wish to accompany us and your friend back to Edoras, though I cannot promise a warm welcome?"
Taking the reins from Éomer with a nod of thanks, Aragorn declined. "The air is right for traveling, we can waste no time in returning to safer harbor." Leaning from the saddle, Aragorn clasped hands with the man of Rohan. "So here is where I express my gratitude once again and bid you farewell 'til a later day."
Éomer gripped the ranger's hand firmly, eyes twinkling with youthful exuberance. "And I pray that we will meet again, sooner than later preferably."
Leaning closer, Aragorn lowered his voice, "But do keep an eye or two on that wizard of mine, he's a spirited fellow. You never know what he will get you into."
Éomer laughed, then backed away. Legolas, mounted on Falmarin, joined Aragorn with Nienna and Gorban tottering close behind. "I do hope that there is no ill will at our parting, Master Elf."
"Nay, friend, the foolish brashness was on my part and I hope as well that we part comrades," Legolas confessed.
Éomer had no chance to reply for Fasse butted in with his usual grace and poise. "Brashness, you do seem to have a plethora of that certain characteristic Master Elf. And no short supply of foolishness either. Same goes for that beast of yours!" Fasse slapped Falmarin's flank, unwittingly startling the horse. Falmarin's tail whisked out faster than the eye could track, landing a stinging swat to Fasse's rump.
Legolas resisted the urge to roll his eyes to the heavens and beg for deliverance. Instead he leaned from Falmarin's back, gripping Fasse's hand between both of his. "Fair winds on the remainder of your journey, wherever it may lead you. It has been an eye opening adventure, one I will not be prone to forget too soon." He smiled, patting Fasse's shoulder.
Their good-byes said, their task done and with their eyes looking northward, Elf and man rode from the company of the Rohirrim. It was time to be off on the road home.
With the sun as their faithful companion by day and the moon and the stars their guardian by night, the travelers passed through wood and vale without a hindrance save for the one instance where Gorban sunk into a snow drift disguising a hole. It was a blessed time. Their cares lifted from them, breezed away like chaff.
Now here they were, back among familiar trees – familiar still despite the dress of winter – venturing into the last leg of their journey. Roheryn's ears were pricked, picking up the excitement from Falmarin and Nienna.
"Can you not wipe that foolish grin off your face, Strider?"
Aragorn subconsciously attempted to plaster a badly constructed emotionless expression onto his face. "What grin?"
Legolas shook his head with a faint smile, "You truly are an awful liar."
"I'll ignore that." The man thumbed the worn leather of his reins, half in embarrassment, half out of habit. "So will you be returning to Mirkwood immediately or – "
Without warning, a massive shadow passed over them, followed by a burst of wind. Gorban brayed in alarm while Nienna back peddled, tugging on her lead in fright. Legolas's head shot up, searching for whom, or what, threatened them. A cry rent the air, breaking the stillness of the wood. Long and keening, it seemed to make the trees shake.
Roheryn lurched back as a massive bird of incredible wingspan landed with surprising grace in their path. His eyes were golden and his feathers shone like polished copper mixed with earthy brown. Then he spoke, "Friends of Gandalf, I am Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles of the Misty Mountains." Glittering eyes fixed on both Elf and man, "I have been sent on behalf of Gandalf, whom even now waits for me to bring to him the man, Aragorn."
Aragorn's brow furrowed, feeling Legolas's eyes on him he gave a gesture of ignorance. "For what does he call me?" Something in his gut knotted, dreading news of some disaster in Rivendell. "Has something happened?"
Gwaihir, as if reading the man's worry, put to rest his fears. "Imladris is yet a haven, but I am not at liberty to disclose anymore.
Aragorn shifted uneasily in the saddle, not at all appreciating Gandalf's cryptic ways. "Where am I to find him?"
The Eagle settled his wings closer against his body. "I will take you to him, he has called for speed in this matter."
"But what of Legolas? Should I not accompany him back to Imladris?"
Legolas shook his head, "You needn't be concerned, I will accompany the horses back to Imladris, we are only a day away as it is. I am at as much at a loss as you. But when Mithrander beckons, it is best to obey."
Aragorn had already dismounted. He handed the reins to Legolas, "Then this is where we part paths, friend."
The Elf grasped his hand, "Be safe, Estel. In the words of Fasse, I do not wish to rescue your hide anymore. Give me no need too."
Smiling, Aragorn unbuckled his packs from Roheryn's saddle, slinging them over his shoulder, not sure if he would have use for them or not but preferring to take the precaution. "You know me, caution is my middle name."
"Wonderful, Strider, another name for me to remember."
Aragorn gave a roguish wave and climbed onto Gwaihir's broad back. Legolas raised his hand in parting, watching the Eagle spread his wings. Slowly, the bird lifted into the air, gracefully maneuvering between the boughs of the trees.
Then they were gone.
Legolas was left alone with the horses in the stillness of the wood, musing over the event that had just taken place. He would push on to Imladris, report to Elrond of the happenings, and from there return to his home in Mirkwood. His immediate future was decided, but for Aragorn…
Life would be changing for him, it was already changing. Responsibilities and tasks would be placed on him that would try his will and test his maturity. He was a man, Legolas reminded himself. Estel was not a child. He was well traveled and knew the land. It was time for Legolas to step back. To aid where he could, to help when he might.
Aragorn was stepping into the next chapter of his life well prepared.
And so on a different path, Legolas rode on to face what would come.
"…In the year 3009 Gandalf and Aragorn renewed their hunt for Gollum at intervals over the next eight years, searching in the vales of Anduin, Mirkwood, and Rhovanion to the dark confines of Mordor. At some time during these years, Gollum himself ventured into Mordor and was captured by Sauron.
"But in the year 3017 Gollum is released from Mordor then is taken by Aragorn in the Dead Marshes, and brought to the hall of Thranduil in Mirkwood."
The grey head bobbed up and down in a motion of closure. His pen stopped its scratching and was laid to rest at the side of the stack of parchment. Lips moved behind a shower of grizzled hair. "And the rest – as some would say – is history," he murmured, not to anyone unparticular.
Fasse removed his cap, scratching a phantom itch. Weathered hands patted the edges of the parchment, squaring the stack, then laid it carefully back on the oak desk. He stared at it, reminiscing, feeling a great weight removed from his shoulders. The task was finally finished, the story would not be lost now, it would be frozen, remembered forever until the end came on the face of these pages.
Yes, he thought, tomorrow he would have it bound and the original copy placed among Gondor's chronicles. Then a copy would be made and sent to Ithilien. But first…Fasse gathered the pages back up, pressing them tightly to his chest. Standing stiffly, the wizard moved from behind the desk to the door, basking for a moment in the warm sun pouring through his window and over all Gondor. First he would take it to King Elessar.
A/N: Hey Fellows! Well it's done. I'm happy, you're happy, let's have a cake. Hmm, never mind that, it's too expensive.
But let me at the end of all this thank everyone for their help. I can't name everyone, as for one there are too many of you, but especially to 'e' who up to the last was my tick under the skin – heh – bugging me to finish this thing up. It helped, you can't imagine how much. To YunaDax, Larus – who I must say cracks me up – Legilmalith, The Insane One, and everyone else! You guys are the best!
I have one more request though. I have had people asking me to let them know when I update, or post anything. I am more than willing to do that, but if you would like me to, give me your email address, or a place where I can find it. I'll work up a list, and just do a mass email to those interested.
Toodles, until the next fic!