THE OLD FOREST BY ASHA DREAMWEAVER
Summary:How did Aragorn catch Gollum? Why was Mirkwood attacked? How did Gollum escape from the Elves? What have the Nazgûl got to do with it? Chaos in Mirkwood as Aragorn and Legolas team up with trouble following in their wake! But will the two survive it?
Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognise.
A/N: So sorry about the delay! I make no excuses!
Colagreenleaf- Nothing is impossible in fanfiction. Nothing.
Cosmic Castaway- Hitting the author is not fair! Though I have to admit being pressed up against the computer screen must be uncomfortable…
Deana- Thanks! Here's the update…
Joana- Thanks! Yeah, Aragorn needed a good bath.
Lurker823- Thanks! Here's the next instalment.
Orli_luver- So sorry for keeping you up so long… I hope you're still alive…
Sennay- Thank you! I've never actually had to do a dissertation though….
Star-Stallion- A big fight? Okay…
Tychen- You want damage to Aragorn, huh? Well, let's just say there's plenty of that coming…
CHAPTER SIX: CAUGHT
"My Lord!" Rasadan exclaimed as he entered the King's chambers, "My Lord! The Prince and his group have not yet returned with Gollum! They are still in the woods!"
Thranduil's heart leaped into his mouth, "What?! They should have returned hours ago!"
"What do you wish me to do my Lord? Lord Captain Erundul has already sent a party after them."
"There is nothing more we can do Rasadan," Thranduil said heavily, "What's your current report on things?"
"My lord, many lives were saved due to the evacuations of the outlying enclaves at your bidding when the shadow started to spread. They are fully destroyed now and the trees have sustained damage but the Elves who lived there have already been settled in the palace for a while. The majority of your warriors are assembled and preparing for a siege as ordered, only three groups now remain in the woods beyond the boundary."
"And besides my son, who are they?" Thranduil inquired.
"The party Lord Captain Erundul sent out to retrieve the Prince and Captain Berion of the Southern patrol and his warriors have yet to return. It is unknown whether they received the message in time, or indeed at all, my Lord."
That boded ill for that patrol. They would have been first in line to encounter the army from Dol Guldur. If they had not returned by now, or at least sent word, then the chance of them still being alive was very slim indeed. Thranduil leaned back in his seat wearily, "Go and see to your warriors Rasadan and I shall lock the boundary in place. We cannot wait for three patrols. If they come, they will gain entry but we must err on the side of caution."
"Of course, My Lord. I shall see to it immediately." Rasadan said, bowing as he left.
King Thranduil resisted the urge to bang his head on the wall behind him. Legolas and Aragorn... together... in the midst of an attack on his realm.... it was the thought of nightmares. And if the thought of what trouble his son was in wasn't bad enough, he shuddered to think of Elrond's reaction to his youngest son in trouble. Again.
They never saw it coming. Oh they had heard the tales of the Barrow-wights who walked in these hills with the heavy clinking of rings on cold, dead fingers and the sinister clanking of fine chains in the wind. They had thought to fear them, they had never thought to guard against them.
And so it was that Frodo found himself bereft of his companions, ignorant to their whereabouts but sensing their danger and the danger he himself was in. But he was hopelessly lost in the mist, and staggered through it like a blind man, trying to find his friends.
Later he would debate whether he had found trouble or the trouble had found him.
Thinking he heard someone nearby, Frodo called out, "Where are you?!"
"Here!" said a voice, deeply rumbling like it came from the ground but as cold as frozen hate, "I am waiting for you!"
"No!" said Frodo, backing up in fear but his resolve held firm and he did not run away like common sense bade him to. But resolve could only do so much and as a chill cold swept through him, he sank to his knees. Shaking, he tried to see who came, who had spoken to him so sinisterly before and he gave a choked cry as he saw a shadow separate from its fellows, seeming to block the stars themselves as the tall dark figure walked forward and leaned over the trembling Hobbit. Frodo hoped to Elbereth that this wasn't a servant of Sauron. At least he was fairly sure it wasn't one of the Ringwraiths as he had yet to feel a desire to put on the ring. Somehow, he didn't think the living could ever become invisible to the dead.
Trying to see the shadow's face, he thought he discerned two cold eyes, that seemed to be lit with an eerie pale light that only the walking dead possessed. It grabbed him and contained his weak struggles effortlessly in an iron grip whose searing coldness seeped into him and seemed to freeze his very bones to the marrow. He felt his icy world going hazy and then he succumbed to the blissful numbness of unconsciousness.
He woke to find himself in what could only be a barrow, devoid of light and with a musty odour. He was placed in the manner of the dead, lying on his back atop of cold hard stone with his hands folded on his chest.
He lay there, trying to find a way out of this mess and trying to contain his fear, when he noticed that the total darkness his eyes had become accustomed to was beginning to brighten with a pale, otherworldly greenish light that spread across him, across the floor and crept up to the roof and walls. Turning slowly, not knowing what may have caused the phenomenon, he found himself lying next to Merry, Pippin and Sam.
Suppressing a sigh of relief, he studied them anxiously without moving from his position, lest he draw something on them. They were laid out on their backs like him, clad in fine clothes of white but they looked like the dead, with their ghostly pale faces and shallow breathing. That breathing was the only thing keeping Frodo where he was. They were alive. They were swathed in treasures, made of bright cold but which seemed to seep the pale otherworldly light; just like everything else in this barrow it was tainted with the touch of death.
He had never seen such treasure before, being from the Shire, which was not the most financially wealthy place he would imagine. This much gold and jewels must rival the Dragon Smaug's treasure at the Lonely Mountain, which his uncle Bilbo had helped liberate. Even while encased in a sleep like death, they looked so different to his eye, he had never ever even dreamed of seeing them like this before. Gold circlets fit for royalty lay on their heads, with finely tooled golden chains draped around their waist, their fingers were loaded with valuable rings and finely crafted swords from the men of Westerness were placed by their sides, with matching shields by their feet. What concerned Frodo the most was the one long unsheathed sword that lay across all three of their necks. If there was something else in the barrow, and he was sure there was, could he get to the sword in time to stop it slicing his friends' throats.
He nearly jumped when a song started up from nowhere, sounding chillingly dreary and distant, as if it was not from this world. It probably wasn't, Frodo thought fearfully. At times it reached a shrieking pitch and at others it more resembled a drawn-out moan. The lyrics were mostly gibberish, or if they were words, Frodo could not understand them. They seemed to drain all the good cheer from a person with their cold, miserable tones. It caused him to shiver violently, no matter how hard he tried to stop. But he did not truly get terrified until he realised it wasn't a song the Barrow-wight was singing but more an incantation, probably thought by its master, who was revealed as the Dark Lord by its words. And now Frodo and the One Ring had unwittingly fallen into its clutches. He had failed Gandalf, and had failed the Shire and his friends by not delivering it into the safe hands of Lord Elrond in Rivendell.
Cold be hand and heart and bone,
And cold be sleep under stone:
Never more to wake on stony bed,
Never, till the Sun fails and the Moon is dead.
In the black wind the stars shall die,
And still on gold here let them lie,
Till the dark lord lifts his hand,
Over dead seas and withered land.
Those words chilled him to his very core. 'Dead seas and withered land'… was that what the ring was capable of?
He flinched as he heard a creaking and grating sound behind his head. Slowly raising himself onto one arm, he looked and had to hurriedly conceal a renewed gasp of fright. There was a passage behind him and round the bend, a long arm was scuttling, groping and walking on its fingers towards the nearest Hobbit, which was Sam, or more specifically towards the hilt of the blade that lay across the bare necks of Frodo's three friends.
That thing was not going to have his friends! Frodo cried inwardly and with a sudden surge of determination, he hefted the nearest short sword and crouching over the prone bodies of his friends, he started hacking at the scuttling arm, hewing it near the wrist and breaking it off. As he watched in shock, the steel blade of his sword broke into splinters all the way up to the hilt. There was a loud ear piercing shriek from whatever owned the hand and the eerie green light vanished. Frodo, wishing to check if his friends were alright, placed his hands on Merry's face, trying to see would he wake. Beneath his fingers, Merry's face felt like pure ice.
And then he heard something that made him freeze in fear once more.
In the dark behind them there came a low, menacing, snarling noise.
He moved with a calculating recklessness, designed to fool his opponents but Aragorn was no fool and he knew that Legolas was in over his head. There were too many and even if Legolas could escape to the trees and avoid the orcs' arrows, Aragorn would slow them down too much.
Not to mention that the Ringwraith looked rather mean. He was not exactly someone that Aragorn would like to have to engage in battle. He had heard two many horror stories from the Elves on their evil and he knew that while Elves were more resistant to the Nazgûl's evil, only a few Elves had the power to really fight one.
Even his much sharper than average, but still mortal hearing could pick up on the shouts from behind them. Not that they would be hard to miss. Orcs didn't care much about strategy or stealth when it came to chasing an opponent. They just liked to overwhelm them with their numbers.
"Find them!" yelled the orc in charge, "Spread out and find them! The Captain's promised us some toys for tonight so if you don't catch him, you don't get to play with them! After them!"
There was a hearty eager cheer and then they heard the mass stomping of feet. "Toys!" Aragorn gasped out as he ran. "I think I would rather like to avoid that."
Legolas didn't turn around, "So would every sane person Aragorn. But I would take the orcs over Khamûl any day."
"The Witch King's second-in-command is after us?" Aragorn exclaimed, "By Eru! Why do we always have to attract the worst foes possible!"
"It's a trait you were born with Estel," Legolas retorted, as he ducked under a low-lying branch, "I'm surprised Lord Elrond didn't brand the word 'danger' on your forehead to warn others of your abysmal luck."
"How about instead of blaming me, you blame that little wretch that got away?" Aragorn said, growling in anger as he thought of Gollum.
Legolas was quiet for a moment, "True, my friend. Very true. Now run! They are gaining on us!"
"I do love it when they run." Khamûl said, caught up in the lust for the chase. He listened to the orc captain's babbles for a moment before he made sense of it and deigned to make a response.
"A blonde archer?" Khamûl repeated, "There are only two blondes in Thranduil's realm and that's himself and his little brat! Get after them!" he ordered, "I want that Elf. Let's see if we can't get daddy to co-operate after we have his precious son!"
"Quickly! Quickly! Already we are behind schedule. Someone's bound for a beheading; let's make sure it's not me." Lugburz growled at the orcs following him. "The Captain wants them two and we're gonna give 'em to him. Hurry now! Pick up the pace! These Elves are fast little blighters!"
"Why can't the Captain catch 'em?" one of the others complained, "Then we wouldn't have to waste our time catchin' 'em!" He earned a wallop over the head for his efforts.
"With luck m'boys, the Captain and the rest of 'em will have gotten some load tonight. If we're lucky, we won't be travelling light! We might be able to have some sport with some of 'em!"
"There's the Captain now lads! Swing around this way! He's got the squirrel and the ranger in his sights now! It won't be long now m'boys!"
"Dear Elbereth!" Faloth cried as his wide brown eyes took in the scene. "What happened here?!"
Brethil surveyed the scene in a few long looks, his experience telling him what had happened here. "The Prince's party was here when they were attacked by orcs. There was a brutal battle. Who won I cannot tell. Go scout the area and report back here in ten minutes!" he ordered.
Following one of the trails himself, he whirled around at an agonised cry from one of his warriors. Athon, who had insisted on accompanying them on this mission. Rushing over to him, along with most of the other Elves, they came across the grisly sight. Isfin and Ismagil lay dead on the ground, their immortal lives lost and their light taken. They had been hewed down from behind and then mutilated by the orcs who bore an everlasting hatred for the Eldar.
"Wrap them up and take their weapons. They shall be given a proper burial at the city." Brethil ordered hoarsely, seeing that Athon was already being consoled for the loss of his friends. He asked the question none wanted to dare ask, "What of the others? Are there any signs of them?"
Faloth spoke up, "There are tracks going off that way, to the north," he said, pointing at the general area, "They left a swath of dead orcs as a path to follow. But they were two Elves only." He didn't voice his opinion on who they were. Speaking again, he continued, "They were chased after by only a few orcs and they were found dead about three hundred yards from here. There's another set of tracks going south-east, one Elven, one of the race of Men, heavily pursued by orcs,"
Brethil cursed under his breath, that would be the Prince and Lord Estel. Curse those two! Couldn't they ever avoid trouble for once?! Not only did they manage to get caught up in everything, but they managed to get the bulk of the orcs to chase them as well! "What of Gollum?" he growled.
Faloth scowled, "He appears to have joined the orc horde, Captain."
Brethil considered his options for a moment, "Half of the party shall stay here and try and track them down. The rest of you will take Athon and our fallen warriors to the palace. Use the route Laston and Caladar probably took. On horseback, you should catch up with them. We shall report to the palace when we have either news or the two younglings in our possession. May Elbereth watch over you."
"Captain?" Faloth asked hesitantly.
"Yes?" Brethil answered wearily.
"What if the orcs catch up to them before we do?"
"Then they are in terrible danger," Brethil answered, "And a quick death is the best they can hope for. He sincerely hoped that it would never ever come to that.
As they dashed through the woods of his home, Legolas felt a growing sense of apprehension. "Estel! I think danger lies this way! We must find another path!"
Aragorn gaped at him, even as he gasped for breath due to his extended sprint, "Are you mad?! There's how many orcs and a wraith chasing us from behind?! To the south is Dol Guldur and if we try and turn now we'll be sandwiched! We have no choice!"
Legolas shook his head, his blonde hair flying, "No Estel, I cannot agree with you! I think th - yrch!" he cried, drawing his bow as he and Aragorn came to a skidding halt.
"It's the Orcs." Aragorn said, trying in vain to figure out how they'd gotten the jump on them.
"And the wraith." Legolas added as he fired a constant stream of arrows at the approaching orcs.
"It's everybody." Aragorn said in dismay as he saw the few wargs and spiders readying to jump at them.
"Get them." Khamûl ordered. And the assembled monsters leaped forward. Aragorn and Legolas tried to run but were quickly surrounded. Drawing their blades, they set about taking down as many of them as they could but the numbers were too much and they were overwhelmed, going down under crowds of orcs. The last thing they remembered was Khamûl approaching them as they tried to wrestle out of the harsh grips of their captors. Khamûl tilted Legolas's head upwards in a swift movement, studying him in satisfaction, "I wouldn't struggle so much, little Prince," he said smugly, the use of his title causing Legolas's eyes to snap wide open. They knew who he was. Did they know of Aragorn too? "You'll have plenty of pain where you're going. I think the accommodations may be a little different from what you're used to, but you needn't worry, your father will be joining you soon enough." Placing a cold hand on either side of Legolas's head, he used some magic that caused the Prince to fall unconscious in seconds, and was a foreshadowing of Aragorn's own fate.
"And what have we here?" Khamûl asked, as he approached Aragorn, "A ranger. I swear you breed like rabbits. How many of you must my Lord kill before you finally cease to be pests?" Aragorn didn't get a chance to answer, as a cold hand clamped over his mouth. "Still, you may have something of use so you shall live. For now." Clamping his hand on either side of Aragorn's head, the ranger felt a rush of power that left him feeling numb from the core as darkness stole across his vision.
As his hope of continued life dwindled, Frodo felt like he was drifting into a dream world. Except this was one he wouldn't return to if he succumbed. Something happened and a flash of light stole across his fading vision. He watched from somewhere distant as a figure shrouded in the light from the door leaned over him. Raven locks was all he could see of them, he thought he might have seen a blurred face.
For some reason, something told them he could trust this person, whoever they were. And so, he let himself slip into sleep, somehow sure the stranger would watch over him and his friends.
Thranduil's head snapped up wildly as he heard the news, "Legolas and Estel? Together?"
Erundul nodded nervously, "Yes my Lord. They were guarding Gollum at the time of the attack. It appears that their group was split in three when the attack came; Legolas and Aragorn went one direction, Caladar and Laston another and Isfin and Ismagil were cut down by the orcs. Both duo are being tracked as we speak."
Thranduil rubbed a hand across his forehead, his lunch feeling like a cold lump in his stomach as his ample imagination kicked into gear. "And where are they now?"
The other elf hesitated, "That is the problem my Lord. No one has been able to find the Prince, Lord Estel or the creature Gollum. They have picked up Caladar and Laston's trail but the Prince and Lord Estel were heavily pursued and their tracks are much worn and covered. It is believed that Gollum joined with the orcs when the attack came but we aren't sure."
"Elbereth!" cried Tuluion, who had the King's study in time to hear this announcement.
Thranduil had a look of bone weary resignation on his face, "Then it would be safe to presume that my son and that ranger have got themselves into trouble. Again."
"Tell me the truth Erundul, what are the scout's chances of finding my son's trail." he ordered with all the authority of a furious royal.
Erundul hesitated but answered, "It would help if we had a little bit more to go on. Or... anything to go on."
"Have you had no luck?" Thranduil asked in dismay and alarm.
"If you define 'luck' as 'the absence of success', plenty." Erundul answered while wincing. "My Lord," he said solemnly, "There is more. I am sorry Your Majesty, but we found the tracks of a Nazgûl's horse at the scene, and it also joined in on the pursuit of the Prince and Lord Estel. My Lord, we think they are herding them towards Dol Guldur."
Sauron had his son….
A/N:So? What ya think? Please review! Comments welcome!
Athon - leader of a scouting party that found Aragorn.
Berion - Erundul's second in command.
Brethil - one of Mirkwood's captains.
Caladar - Legolas's First Guard.
Erundul - Captain of Mirkwood's guards.
Faloth - member of Mirkwood's guards.
Isfin - member of Athon's scouting party.
Ismagil - member of Athon's scouting party.
Khamûl - Ringwraith. Second only to the Witch-King. Also known as the 'Black Easterling'. Was perhaps the wraith with the strongest capability of thinking for himself but had the weakest powers during the day. In charge of Dol Guldur.
Laston - Captain in Mirkwood's army. Served King Oropher.
Rasadan - one of Mirkwood's captains.
Tuluion - Advisor to King Thranduil. Was previously an advisor to King Oropher.