Well, here we are! A bit off schedule, but then again, when you take into account a broken laptop, several severe bouts of writer's block, and the distracting arrival of a new brother, Christmas, and TTT (not to mention Priceless Treasure and Erfier), it's really a wonder that we got it out THIS SOON! : ) Thank you for your patience, mellyn, it is much appreciated!!

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Thorongil

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Authors:

Two of the 'Write' Sisters:

Sarah (the bookish, plausibility-mad realist)

and Hannah (Siri) (the crazy, starry-eyed visionary)

E-mail: thewritesisters3@hotmail.com

Rating: PG-13 for angst, character death (two of them, but we won't tell you who), some character-torture, 'epic battle scenes' (hardy har har), and tense situations

Note: THIS IS UTTERLY NON-SLASH!!! *ahem*

Spoilers: Bitty ones for Cassia and Siobhan's Mellon Chronicles and for The Two Towers, but otherwise, none.

Background: Much of our background for this story is based on Cassia and Siobhan's Mellon Chronicles. You can read their stories under Cassia's name here on ff.net, or else on their site: www.aragorn-legolas.5u.com Also, though you don't have to, you may want to read our last story: Death or Despair, since we will be mentioning several situations and characters from it in this. : )

Background (Tolkien): Two of the premises in our story are 1. That Aragorn was the adopted son of Elrond, and therefore brother to Elrond's sons, Elladan and Elrohir, and 2. That Aragorn and Legolas were good friends prior to the Fellowship of the Ring.

The first of these is true, according to Tolkien. Aragorn *was* taken to Elrond's house after the death of his father and raised there, as the elven lord's foster son, under the name of Estel, and the idea that he, Elladan, and Elrohir were close is implied by that arrangement.

The second of these is conjecture, based mostly upon parts of the movie (particularly Legolas' defense of Aragorn during the Council of Elrond), but almost not at all on anything in the books. However, it is not denied either, so I hope you will enjoy the possibility, even if it cannot be considered fact!

Important Disclaimers: Most of this story was written before Two Towers came out, and so our descriptions of certain places (particularly Edoras) do not match what you saw in the films. Also: very little information (that we could find in the resources available to us) is given about Aragorn's errantries in Gondor and Rohan, so we have taken the liberty of making most of it up ourselves. We hope you will enjoy our interpretation, even if it doesn't match yours! : )

Boring Disclaimer: All recognizable characters (but two), and places in this fic do not belong to us, but are rather the creation of one of the most incredible authors of all time: J.R.R. Tolkien. Raniaen and Trelan are the creations of Cassia and Sio, and used with permission. All other characters and places are ours. We have no permission to use Tolkien's characters and places, but are not being paid for our work either. : )

Extra Disclaimer For Our Old Readers: This fic is a little slower than our last one to start out, and a little more complicated as you go. While Death or Despair was like FOTR in a way (*very* linear), this one bounces around a lot more (sorta like TTT), and has probably five or six times the number of characters. We hope you enjoy it as much as the last, for we have tried to put the same amount of work/adventure/angst/detail/etc. (not to mention a number of other things we didn't have in D or D), but we felt we should alert you from square one: it is most certainly different. : )

Feedback: We welcome your opinions, one and all, and the more the better! A couple of notes though: please no swearing (for any reason), and no flaming. Also, literary critiquing is welcome (grammar, etc.) and we will be sure to take note of it for the future, but just so you know: it is unlikely we will be re-editing this story as we post. Thanks! : )

Summary: Another joint fic By Sarah and Hannah (Siri) (Siri): Aragorn, incognito as Thorongil, is called to give aid at the borders of Rohan. While there he will discover old friends, face new enemies, and once again find himself fighting at the side of his best friend, Legolas. //non-slash//

In Honor Of: All the reviewers who made posting Death or Despair so much fun for us, and encouraged us to write another! Thanks guys! : )

and

Chloe, as ever, for urging us on, writing Erfier (oh my goodness, YES), joining us in our goofy reveries, and of course: for that parodied Harry Potter song about Legolas you left on Sarah's laptop. You will never cease to shock, amaze and amuse us. : )

Text: //thoughts//, *italics*

This just keeps getting longer and longer, doesn't it…?

Well, don't worry: we'll shut up now. ; )

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Chapter 1

Harnwe and Mavranor

A filthy breeze took the edge of the litter's curtain and played with it, leaking beneath to the woman inside, who didn't seem to notice. Mavranor shifted, her scarlet dress moving like fiery water as she raised a tanned finger to pull the coverings aside and look out. The air was brittle and caught at the lungs in a chill way, but the backs of the litter bearers were coated with a gray slick of sweat mixed with ash, and their faces were tired.

On all sides of the brilliantly gilded couch there came the noise of feet tramping steadily northwards, and the ever-present ground shaking booms of the mû makil as their trunk-like limbs crushed the ground beneath them, leaving outlines even in stone. There was a clatter of weaponry, and the lower rumble of the carts belonging to her husband's subjects, overlaid by a faint screeching far above from the carrion birds who still resided over the mountains to their right. Mavranor suppressed a shiver that was lingering by her chilled feet; once the Haradrim had been the allies of the Dark Lord, but now he had been defeated, had fled — his magnificent fortress had crumbled, and there was no longer any welcome in his mountains for the Southron queen's people. Exhaling her discomfort, Mavranor's black eyes refocused solidly on the traveling mass around her. It made no difference what did or did not lurk beyond the Ephel Dú ath in these days, for the mighty Haradrim were not tarrying before them, nor passing within. A smile of anticipation and triumph crossed Mavranor's reddened lips as her mind dwelt lovingly on the days that had led to their small kingdom's mass exodus.

"Muindor." Harnwe spat his brother's name like a curse and brought his fist down like a hammer on the oak table, shivering the floor upon which it stood. Yet his anger was not abated with the physical contact, and with a cry of bitterest rage, he caught up his spear and flung it towards the doorway where it struck the doorframe and stayed, the shaft quivering, it's iron head buried half it's length in the hard beams.

"An inch closer, and you would have done me in, my lord," came the soft tones of a woman from just outside the room.

Harnwe straightened, a look of concern flitting briefly across his face as his wife entered, her raven hair flowing about her waist in straight waves, her gown rustling softly about her ankles. "I did not know you were there," he growled unnecessarily, his dark brows connecting again. "You would do well to announce your presence in the future, woman—"

He was cut off by her laughter, "Ah yes," she nodded, her black eyes glittering with mirth, "for it is frequently the custom of kings to greet their queens in such a manner, and it would be ill indeed were the husband to slay the better half of himself."

She had the satisfaction of seeing his brow smooth slightly, but he was obviously still upset. "'Queen'," he muttered, "'King' — temporary titles for those with strength. But once the scimitar is rusted, and the shield bent, where is the monarch to spend his dying years? In the mud with the common people, tending livestock?"

"My lord refers to the encroachment of his brother." It wasn't a question.

"Every day he seizes a little more of what I have taken with such labor. Was it he who slew Gurthuwe in combat before his own halls and took command of all his property? Was it he who fooled Meidh into surrendering her father's lands without a spear thrust? Nay, it was not, yet he presumes to lay claim to it, as if it were his own."

"You have much strength yet," Mavranor reminded him firmly, but he brushed her off.

"Strength is always a comparison. He has many hundreds of men more than I, and his mûmakil could cover a thousand hills —"

"You exaggerate, my—"

"I EXAGERATE NOTHING!" Harnwe barked, his words hitting his wife like a slap in the face. She stared at him, her dark eyes patient, waiting, and slowly his shoulders slumped in frustration. "My own," he murmured the endearment, "we are diminishing, and I see no way to halt it. Aye, we will fight to the death, but be assured: it will be *our* death, and not Muindor's. Even if by such a fight were we to gain back what we have lost, it would be small comfort if we were not alive to enjoy it."

For a while there was silence in the stone room; the burning sun, so much nearer Middle Earth in the south, was setting out the window, and it's blood red rays coated the room in a sudden splendor, covering the walls with flames and setting alight a sudden spark in the queen's eyes.

"Will you now," she asked, her voice hard and slow, "hear my advice?"

He looked at her dully, "Advice?"

"Aye, advice, or is it your opinion that a woman who could bear you no children is also incapable of intelligence! We will neither stay, nor fight. We will leave!"

Harnwe turned, leaning against the table, his arms folded as he watched his wife glare at him; he had always loved her best when she was angry. "And where do we propose we go, oh lady of the Haradrim?" There was a blatant sarcasm in his tone as he egged her on.

In answer she crossed the room to a small chest and flung it open, pulling from the bottom an ancient roll of parchment and spreading it carefully on the table. Harnwe gazed upon it with interest, noting that it was even older than he had first thought — almost beyond count of years — and wondering where his spouse had come by it, since the Haradrim were not a people of writing, and seldom drew maps, or penned even their own histories.

"A stunning answer, but you have lost your king in the rush to prove yourself." He prodded her, smiling inwardly as she flushed.

"There." She snapped, bringing her finger down upon a wide open space in roughly the center. The script that labeled it was foreign to him, and even the usual landmarks that he thought he recognized somehow seemed different, but to his nearest estimation, it appeared to be north of them by some distance, further even than Mordor. Mavranor began to explain almost eagerly now, "The language is that of the elves," she ignored his frown, "but I finally secured a translation, and the map describes this land as a beautiful garden of flowering trees, and fruit-bearing plants. It is large and naught guards it but trees."

Harnwe stared at her, "Trees?"

She nodded, "They walk the land like men, and are strong indeed, but merely farmers. And surely *you* are capable of defeating *farmers*, my lord." She finished, with just the hint of a challenge in her voice.

The king stood, ready to argue, and yet the arguments deteriorated. He had long desired to leave the scorching lands of his birth, and had wasted many men attempting to wrest from Gondor a little of that green land which they had in such abundance. But here? Gondor was too far south to control this place, no matter how old the map, and a piece of land that size could be easily taken by the troops he still had. They could all make their way north, close to the mountains of Mordor, where the cowards of Gondor seldom trod. Thus they could avoid attack from that quarter, allowing them to spring upon whomever now lived in this marvelous place unawares. And if the inhabitants did not surrender willingly…

The silence in the room had grown long as he pondered his strategy, wondering too if there was gold to be found anywhere in this new land, and suddenly he realized that his wife was waiting for his verdict upon her plan. Knowing a king must decide his own course, he said distantly, "I shall consider it."

But in her smile, he could see that he was not the only one who knew his decision.

"My own," a voice called down from above the litter, pulling Mavranor from her thoughts.

"Yes my lord?" She responded, craning her neck back to catch a glimpse of her husband on his towering mûmak, only her long experience with the mammoth creatures preventing her from flinching at each footfall.

"You should not expose yourself to this wind." He smiled, his white teeth brilliant against his browned skin, his bearing assured and even amused, "I would not have you loose your complexion for all the gold I possess."

Though she knew it was a lie, she sent a kiss towards him and obediently closed the curtain once again. Leaning back against her cushions, she closed her eyes to rest, but behind the lids, the mind was still working, even in sleep.

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"So my brother has taken his shrew and fled," Muindor remarked, tipping his goblet for a drink, and laughing at the ease of his most recent conquest. He was standing in his brother's main hall — deserted except for himself and his captain of war — and gazing about at the largely bare rooms, chuckling to himself as his men searched the area for any remaining residents. Truth be told, it was merely a half victory, for but few of the inhabitants of the lands remained for him to rule. But the feud with his younger brother had been long and bitter, and the old resentment, now ended, added fresh sweetness to his mead.

"My lord," Captain Penna announced at his side, "though empty of inhabitants, you have gained a great many abandoned possessions, and, of course, the land and houses. They will bring you countless riches."

"Aye," the king nodded idly, admiring the scarlet hangings with his brother's emblem on them and wondering if it could be altered to show his own crest instead, "it should do well to fund my next attack, which is all I really desired from it."

Penna knew this to be an utter lie: revenge was what the king had wanted — but he had not gained his position merely by fighting well. "And will you now tell me where you next plan to show your military prowess?" His question was flattering out of habit.

Muindor drank the last of his mead and smiled afresh, his dark eyes glittering with the battle love of the Southrons. "Gondor."

TBC…