Cadenza by Rose Sared

Set in the same universe as 'Unbinding the Box' and 'Mayflies'. One hundred years into the fourth age.

Drama/Adventure/Angst   A/L/G OC Friendship fic. No slash. R for violence.

Road trip to Aglarond and eventually Rivendell from Minas Tirith. A missing Queen, bandits, and mayhem.

Chapter One

In the royal apartments, of the Citadel in Minas Tirith, wind rattled the open window shutters and Aragorn jerked awake, feeling the same blunt kick of anxiety that had kept him sitting in his chair waiting instead of lying down on his bed, alone.

Despite the inky darkness outside the window, the breeze blowing through the open window smelled of morning. The fire in his room had died down to sombre embers and Arwen had not returned

The King of Gondor and Arnor rubbed his hands over his face and head, wincing at the scratch of old stubble and the new pain of his stiff neck. He shook his head. He was certainly doing no good here, despite taking the well-meant advice of his steward Cirion and Guard Captain Throndar that he should retire to rest and resume searching at first light.

He added hours in his head and came to a total of, too many. No one had seen the Queen since yesterday afternoon, which was so wrong it was almost impossible. With her constant retinue of handmaids and ladies in waiting the Queen was never alone. Aragorn had sometimes wondered if it bothered her, but on earnest enquiry she had only laughed lightly at him, and evaded the question.

Aragorn paced to the window, the slight milky stain in the eastern sky convinced him he had been exiled from the search long enough. He grabbed his sword belt and strapped it on, immediately feeling dressed, and more in control.

His leather coat was over the end of the bed where he had tossed it in frustration last night. Snagging it, he made for the door.

He met Eldarion in the main corridor leading to the citadel entrance.

"Couldn't sleep either?" Aragon asked his son.

Eldarion jerked his head in negation and fell in step with his father as they made their way down the internal tunnel that led to the stables.

"There were no more reports last night?" Aragorn knew Eldarion was in better touch with the various civil authorities than he was, he was more familiar with the military ones.

Eldarion tilted his beautiful elven face towards his father, he could not look haggard if he tried, but Aragorn could not recall a time he had looked grimmer.

"She may have never re-entered the city after we all farewelled Tolman, yesterday." Nodding at the door guards the two men began heading for the horse-scented yard in front of the stables. Both paused, glad to be under the rapidly paling sky at last.

"After tracking down all of the people that thought she was with someone else, Cirion really believes that no-one saw her come in again."

Eldarion looked up as heavy, hurrying, footsteps could be heard coming towards them from a side alley. Gimli came into view, burdened with a pile of gear that looked as if it belonged to both him and the Elf. He stopped and looked at the two men on the bottom step, then sketched as much of a bow as he could manage given his encumbrances.

" Aragorn? Eldarion?" The dwarf glared up at them from under bristling brows. "Thought you were sleeping?"

"And you?" Aragorn eyed the fierce little figure. "And my Lord Legolas?"

Gimli made a snorting noise and started back on his journey to the stables. "Dwarves and Elves need little sleep, unlike you humans," he slanted a quick glance up at the two men who were pacing him. "Legolas has gone to the outer wall to spy what he can in the first light. Flighty Elf leaves me to do all the work as usual."

The grumbling Dwarf shouldered the stable door open and then hurried off to the loose box at the end where Legolas' mare, Ascallon had her dappled nose over the stall door.

Aragorn was amused to see the competent and obviously practised way the horse and the dwarf organised themselves. Before more than a few moments had passed, Gimli had the load distributed in saddlebags, secured them on the horse's back, and then had mounted with the assistance of the side wall of the loose box, and Ascallon herself, who moved and stood in ways that helped rather than hindered the dwarf in his efforts. Aragorn spared a fleeting thought wishing he could breed such qualities into most horses.

"She will allow you?" Eldarion was obviously as surprised as his father. The mare usually let no hand but Legolas' touch her, as a few silly stable boys had discovered to their rue.

The Dwarf looked a little discomforted as he realised that he had just lost any credibility when he complained of horses. He shifted slightly on Ascallon's back. "She knows I am taking her to her master." He leaned forward and stroked her silky neck, "She tolerates me." He glared back at his bemused audience, "and she is better behaved than her owner. Now get on yourselves, we'll meet you at the gates." The horse snorted, and started forward out of the stable block. The King held the door for her. "Tell Legolas, we will meet outside the city walls to the south, Gimli."

Father and son exchanged a look, and then went to their own animals which were held for them by grooms, who had started tacking them up as soon as the royal pair entered the stable.

Eldarion met his father's eye over the back of his own horse and remarked, "they are an odd couple, those two. Its not just me, is it?"

"The oddest, son. But the most true."

Eldarion nodded, and followed as his father rode out of the stable.

Arwen woke to the bitter wind, looked around fearfully and found herself by the snowline of Mount Mindolluin. She was frightened, because this was neither the first nor the fifth time she had found herself waking in some isolated place with no memory of how she came to be there.

Just yesterday, Tolman Gardener, Samwise's thirteenth child and a scholar of renown, had left Minas Tirith after guesting with the royal family for more than a year. Presently he was returning to her old home in Rivendell to continue the great plant catalogue he was assembling with the aid of her grandfather, Celeborn, and her brothers Elladan and Elrohir. He had finally completed the research he had desired in the city's great library. The thought of not enjoying his cheerful hobbit company had brought down a muffling depression she had no defence against. Her 'grey beast' she had come to call it, privately. It had first insinuated its bitter claws when her youngest daughter, Seregon, had finally left home to live with her husband at Pellargir. Its miserable tendrils now seemed poised to entwine her any time she had to say farewell to a friend who would be missed. These blank spells were mercifully something new, afflicting her for less than two months. But now it was early morning and here she was alone, as the Queen was never alone, in this high place of the King, gazing at the silver sliver of sea on the horizon, as if it held any hope or help for her.

She dropped her head miserably. Was it so hard to accept her fate that her very brain was rebelling against her? She sighed, at least her elven constitution maintained its indifference to the elements; if she had been born mortal she would be dead.

The sun that lit the distant water pulled her eye back along the shining snake of the river and finally glinted off some movement further down the mountain. She turned her far-seeing eyes to it and spied her husband, using his old ranger skills to track her up the ancient path. She looked further and made out the squad of guards he had left at the base of the mountain. She guessed Aragorn had forbidden them to follow him up the sacred way. It would still be some time before he would be able to see her, so she clambered off the weathered rock she was sitting on and started down to meet him, braced for both his worry and his anger, and quite unable to come up with any rational explanation for the affliction that was cursing her.

Three weeks later

Tolman Gardener was singing, loudly and tunelessly as Bess plodded along the great West Road, the saw-topped mountains of Ered Nimrais snug on his left shoulder and, in the distance, the first white teeth of the Misty Mountains climbing over the horizon. The Fords of Isen were still a couple of days away at Bess' sedate pace. The donkey had one grey, flea-bitten, ear trained on her master and the other pointing the way. The early afternoon sun was warm and the grasslands of the westfold billowed away into the hazy distance. Delicate bells strung from the wagon top jingled merrily as the wheel jolted over a stone, and Tolman was reminded of the trees of Ithilien where he had guested for a season with Legolas. The branches decorated with melodious wind chimes had delighted him and Legolas had gifted him several strings to relieve the loneliness of the road.

Tolman expected to be joined in Aglarond by the Lord of Ithilien. Gimli had told Tolman that Legolas would be joining him for a visit, as soon as the Elf had made sure he could be of no further assistance to Aragorn or Arwen.

Gimli's sad news of Arwen's sudden illness had disturbed Tolman greatly, following so hard on the heels of his departure from Minas Tirith. Gimli had overtaken him between Firien Wood and Edoras, after Tolman had spent a couple of days with his Woses friends in their new village in Firien forest, but Gimli's own feet and Dwarven endurance would have caught him anyway before he got to Edoras. Gimli had been called back to Aglarond on some urgent matter concerning marauding bandits. He had kept Tolman company until their paths diverged at Edoras, filling his ears with his plans for improving the basic structures that made up the botanical gardens that Legolas and Arwen were planning for the extensive grounds to the south of the Citadel. He waxed lyrical about water gardens, terraces and the placement and paving of paths, and Tolman got his own back by detailing a number of the plants and specialised garden habitats that the two elves and the hobbit had planned to install and mature over the next several years.

Tolman was looking forward to visiting the Glittering Caves; even Legolas had spoken in awed tones of their beauty, and Gimli repeated his invitation more than once as the dwarf and the hobbit parted for a while at the turn to Edoras.

"Remember me to Gleowyn, Tolman. Tell her I am expecting her to send for that cradle I promised them. That should make her blush." Gimli chuckled with some relish; not much put Gleowyn out of countenance.

"I will do no such thing, Lord Gimli. My Pa would come back from Valinor just to box my ears, if I was so rude to a Lady."

 Nonetheless he grinned at the Dwarf.  "Anyway, for all we know, she may have sent for it already. It is over a year since she wed Telfaren."

"And three months since I left Aglarond in Gliver's care. Time and more that I went home then, master Hobbit. Farewell." He waved and strode off, and Tolman clucked at Bess and headed for the gilded city.

Now a couple of weeks later Tolman was heading for Aglarond to take Gimli up on his offer of hospitality. And deliver an order for a cradle.

Gliver, heir of Aglarond, stomped around the campsite, rousing the other bundled dwarfs, one of the few compensations for taking last watch was the joy of ending other's well-earned rest.

Gliver inserted the toe of his boot under his final victim, who had been sawing wood enough to fell a forest through the small hours of the night, and rolled him out of his warm cocoon of blanket and cloak.

"Up, Frerin. Breakfast is cooking and we make Edoras today."

Frerin opened his eyes with an affronted snort and a glare for his tormentor. Gliver, satisfied, moved back to the merrily crackling fire that Nain was cooking breakfast over, casting a final eye over the two tarpaulin covered wagons and the roused dwarfs. The sooner he got this load delivered the happier he would be. He felt that the mithril and gold plate were shouting their presence to the world despite the two cart's mundane appearance. Travelling with such a valuable cargo made him nervous.

Gliver accepted the tin cup full of hot tea from Nain and walked round the campsite with it, nodding to the three sentries. Then he left the copse of trees that hid the site from the casual eye and walked the hundred yards or so to the Great West Road.

Gliver squinted into the dawn to try to scry the weather, not expecting traffic at this hour but as he looked into the waxing light he could make out the wavering shape of a horseman coming towards him at a ground-eating canter.

Gliver was about to start back to the campsite with the idea of not drawing any attention to himself or his party, when the east wind brought the sound of merry bells, tinkling on the animal's neck strap amid the beat of its hooves. Gliver smiled to himself, this was not unexpected, Gimli had been back in Aglarond for nearly three weeks, and the other half was bound to arrive soon. Since his return Gimli had been tied up in negotiations with King Elfwine's representatives, haggling genteelly over the price to be paid for this shipment, and trying to formulate a plan for dealing with the band of human bandits that were preying on small merchant caravans carrying goods between the kingdoms. Just last week a party of dwarves had successfully defended themselves from an attack not far from Aglarond's borders, they had sung of their victory in the halls that night, but Gimli had sent sixteen warriors to guard this caravan. Enough to discourage any but the most organised of bandit bands.

The rider was nearly upon Gliver now, and the dwarf raised a hand in recognition and greeting. The Lord of Ithilien, Legolas Greenleaf, reined in beside the dwarf on his tall horse, Ascallon.

"Hail, Gliver, and well met." Legolas bowed slightly to the dwarf. Ascallon snuffed at him, recognising his scent from when she had carried him last year.

"Well met, Lord Legolas. Do you ride to Aglarond?"

Legolas smiled at the dwarf. "Where else, Gliver? My good friend Gimli needs some assistance with some bandits, I believe." The Elf's expression had nothing gentle in it. "He would not deny me the chance of a battle. Life has become soft recently."

Gliver looked up at the beautiful, alien creature and was very glad that the Elf was no enemy. He looked as dangerous as one of the great mountain cats.

"Would you break your fast with us, my Lord?" Gliver waved his mug at the well-concealed campsite in the trees. "We will be away shortly."

Legolas looked over Gliver's head towards the sounds of the camp being picked up. The smell of breakfast cooking wafted in savoury temptation towards them.

Suddenly the Elf's head jerked to the side, listening. Then he dismounted, and strung his bow, all in what looked to Gliver's eye, one flowing movement.

"The camp is attacked," snapped Legolas to Gliver, and then he sprinted in the direction of the trees. Gliver could hear challenges and dwarven yells coming from the direction of the wagons. Dropping his cup he unsheathed his sword and grasped his belt axe before charging after the rapidly moving Elf.

The battle unfolded, like all battles, in a series of jerky incidents with no form or reason. Tall figures were swarming over the campsite, dwarves were standing back to back, and Nain appeared to be defending himself with a frying pan and a burning brand against a man armed with an axe.  Arrows appeared in two men's backs as Gliver reached with his sword to hamstring and then run one ruffian through. Yells to his left swerved Gliver off to engage two men who were struggling with the shafts of a wagon. He was aware that the Elf was beside him and drawing his wicked white-shafted knives. Then Legolas stopped and looked back at the middle of the camp, Gliver heard a strange thud on the ground behind him and then Elf grabbed him and hurled him to the front, leaping forward himself.

"Orthanc fire! Ware!" The Elf yelled.

Then the world exploded into pain and sound and light. Before it went entirely.

Pain came back first. Then hearing returned and with it Gliver's other senses. The smell of burning meat was overpowering, but instinct kept the dwarf still. He could hear voices, and they were not dwarven.

"Kill any that survived." The man's voice was chilling in it coldness. Footsteps approached Gliver's position and the dwarf steeled himself for his end, he could not get his eyes to open. Gliver became aware of the weight lying on top of him only when a boot obviously kicked it.

"The Elf's had it."

"Good, that will hurt the Runt."

The footsteps moved away and a persistent groaning that had been going on was cut off with a wet gurgle, then silence.

"Leave them for the crows. This haul will arm us for years. The Runt won't know what has hit him."

Laughing the voice moved away. Soon the sound of men unloading the wagons and placing the heavy contents into some other wheeled vehicle finished and then the sound of creaking wheels and the occasional curse from the driver faded into the distance and silence.

A caw from above announced the arrival of the carrion birds.

And Gliver struggled and struggled until he was finally able to open his eyes.

He found himself looking through cloth of grey weave into a scene that would haunt his nightmares for years. Nineteen dwarves lay dead in various abandoned poses across the old campsite. The wagons were scorched and smouldering from the blast, and on the fire there lay a severed arm, twisting in the heat.

Gliver feeling the need to vomit managed to suppress it.

He turned his own body and gasped. His leg. The pain that had been lying in wait for his attention grabbed all of it then.

Gliver struggled with himself and managed to detach himself a little from it. With a cautious hand he pushed the fabric of Legolas' elven cloak off his face and body, then he looked at his saviour. Legolas was face down on top of him, his head turned away. Everywhere Gliver looked he could see blood, the Elf's back looked flayed and a jagged piece of metal was wedged in the back of one thigh. The arm that was not under him had grown a sickening looking extra elbow.

Gliver managed to sit himself up on his own elbows and look at the leg that was paining him so greatly. A nearly matching piece of shrapnel was stuck in the front of his own thigh. Without giving himself time to think he reached down and yanked the twisted metal out.

That hurt. The world went away for a little bit longer.

The raucous caw of a crow woke him again. The bird hopped back when its dinner waved a furious arm at it.

Gliver sat himself up again, and pulled his good leg out from under the warm bulk of the Elf's torso. Then he thought. Warm bulk?

Gliver rested a hand on the Elf's side. Trying to avoid the lacerated skin of his back. The rib cage was moving, just slightly.

Gliver had to lie back down then. The two of them alive, that would please Gimli, he thought somewhat light-headedly.

Then he heard a wagon approaching on the road and picked up the twisted bit of shrapnel he had pulled out of his leg. Anything to defend them, Gimli would not be pleased if they died now.


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