Hi!

I seem to have caught some sort of disease - I just cannot stop writing. Even worse, I do not get to write the story I want to write, others get in the way...This one was supposed to be one chapter only but grew longer - we´ll see how long, but definitely a few chapters.

Please be so kind and leave a review.

Enjoy!

Alinah

Rating: PG 13

Disclaimer: Not mine

Grace of fortune

A light mist was rising off the damp earth, colored golden by autumn´s gentle breath. Creeping into it was a tinge of red that announced the oncoming dusk. Birds soared atop a breeze that still lingered with the odour of a summer not long past and a peaceful content covered the landscape like an invisible veil, touching the souls of all living things within its reach. It was the quiet after the storm, a world rejoicing in the defeat of an evil that had marred its beauty for far too long.

Aragorn´s heart felt light in his chest as he urged his horse to catch up with the elf that rode before him. Over the clattering of hooves a light humming could be heard and when the ranger drew closer, Legolas turned to him, his eyes sparkling merrily in the rays of the evening sun. "I do not know that tune, my friend", Aragorn observed, "are you putting together an ode to the greatest hunter to roam our Middle Earth?" The elf´s mouth curved lightly under the smile he was trying to hide when he answered: "Nay, ranger, it would never do to put one´s own glory into song. That should be left to others, or else one might be accused of overshadowing courage with boasts. " The smile eventually broke free and widened into a grin. "Although the shot that saved your neck is well worth being celebrated in many a hall. I shall try to gently slip the tale to one of the talented minstrels that so often bless Imladris with their presence."

The man´s laughter rang out so loudly that it made a flock of birds burst from a tree next to the riders, angrily twittering their protests from the safety of the heavens. The elf´s horse threw up its head and danced to the side in an attempt to make its own annoyance known, snorting and rolling its eyes for effect. The more gentle pearls of Elven laughter joined the human´s earthy chuckles at this display, and for a while the friends simply allowed the relief to flow from them in wordless happiness.

"And there are people who actually call Elves subtle of word and graceful of intention", Aragorn finally replied, his breath still slightly hitched, "yet here you are, a prince of your people, claiming the praise in the place of the poor mortal who deserves it. That pack of wargs would have brought you down in no time had I not been there to behead two in the first seconds of the fight, while you were still fiddling with that bow of yours."

Legolas drew his face into an expression that was conspicuously close to a pout. "I never fiddle with my bow, human, in sad contrast to you. Had you shot as many as I did before they even reached us, a fight at close quarters would have been avoided altogether, saving you the trouble of hacking off heads and soiling your clothes in the process. " He glanced disapprovingly at the dark stains that covered the front and arms of his friend´s tunic. "I would have been most thankful for that, if only to spare me from the mixed smell of human and warg." He made a point of gaining a few feet distance from his friend, turning his face away and drawing audible breaths.

Aragorn was slightly embarrassed at the giggle this little tirade drew from him, but he let it roll nonetheless. He knew as well as the elf that they had been extremely fortunate to escape stained only with the blood of their foes. The villagers who had sent for help to Lord Elrond had mistakenly reported one lone warg ravaging their herds and picking off lone travellers, leaving three men dead. They had not been able to tell that it had indeed been seven beasts that had fed upon wild animals also. Only good fortune and honed skills had allowed them to survive. That they had done so almost unscathed was a miracle sent by the Valar themselves.

Legolas had obviously guessed his friend´s thoughts. "We will bring disbelief to many faces with our tale, my friend, especially because we will be able to share it at the dinner table, not confined to a bed in the houses of healing." He raised one eyebrow in mock imitation of Lord Elrond and said in a voice darker than his own: "You will allow me to examine you thoroughly, young ones, for I am sure that at least one of you must be swaying at the brink of death, just hiding it well."

Aragorn chuckled again, picturing the scene vividly. "Aye, he will probably consider it a curse lifted off his shoulders once he discovers the truths of our state. We may even be able to escape some lectures before our next departure. " Legolas shook his head, laughing, clearly doubtful of this assessment but too glad to spoil the fun. They rode on in companionable silence, drinking in the gratitude that flowed to them from all around. After a few moments Legolas picked up his tune once more and hummed the gentle melody as they rode along.

The onset of dusk had not been far off, and when the sun began to transfer into a fir ball that quickly descended towards the horizon, the riders looked around for a place to camp. Their fortune seemed to hold when they quickly found a grove of trees that left a small clearing their midst, thus offering protection as well as shelter. Even though the weather did not seem about the betray them, they were grateful for this new display of the grace that had clearly chosen to favor them.

When the light had turned to grey and the first chills of the autumn night threatened to approach, the friends had already taken care of their mounts and build a fire that merrily crackled in front of them. Even though Legolas was not in need of its warmth, he had drawn as close to it as the ranger that sat opposite, cherishing its presence. His senses were still heightened from the close brush with death they had endured earlier, and he intended to get as much joy out of this state as he could, now that he did not need it to warn him of danger.

The elf had eaten little of their provisions. He felt no need for more nourishment than what the joyful night provided for him and he let his eyes travel to the stars while the ranger continued with his meal. The clear light glittering down on him seemed even more comforting than it had been the night before and he allowed himself to be absorbed by the sight and the song that was growing in his mind, pushing everything that went on in their little camp to the very edge of his awareness.

Meanwhile, Aragorn contended himself with the enjoyment of his food and the sight of his friend. It had been a while since he had seen Legolas this relaxed and he once again felt a wave of the intense relief that had almost overwhelmed him after their fight. They had stood among the carcasses of the pack for long moments without moving. It had been difficult to grasp the reality of what had happened. The number of beasts that lay dead had finally driven home the knowledge of just how lethal the danger had been, and Aragorn´s legs had given way beneath him, sending him to the ground and an almost equally shaken Legolas to his side.

It had taken him some effort to convince his friend that he was indeed completely unhurt. He could hardly believe it himself. Enternal thanks to the Valar! He stayed motionless for a little longer, then he got up and silently stowed away the rest of their provisions, careful not to disturb the elf in his joyful reverie. He returned to the fire carrying some cloth and a small amount of healing herbs. Legolas´ eyes were still cast upwards to the stars and the melody he hummed under his breath was weaving itself into the fabric of the peaceful night.

The ranger hesitated for a moment, but he could feel the exhaustion of the fight begin to tug at him, and he meant their glorious return to Rivendell tomorrow to be so unspoilt it would be remembered for years to come. And that meant erasing the only mark the fight had left on them, even if it was so small that he might not have bothered with it otherwise. "Legolas?" he asked gently, "will you let me treat those cuts on your arm? With some help they will be completely gone by the time my father has a look at us."

There was not response. The elf remained exactly how he had sat before, hardly even blinking. The melody flowed on and on. With a slight frown at this unusual display of inattentiveness, Aragorn reached out and placed a hand on Legolas´ shoulder to draw him out of his musings. He was surprised by the almost violent flinch he caused. The elf backed away from him for a few paces, blue eyes far away for a moment, before he regained his bearings and stopped in his tracks.

The two friends looked at each other, the display of concern on the human´s features only confusing the elf even more. "Man gostach chen?"//What frightens you?// Legolas asked a little uncertainly, and Aragorn shook his head in disbelief at the question. "I should ask you", he replied, carefully drawing closer to the elf, "I merely tried to get your attention. I am sorry if I startled you." He fell silent, half expecting an explanation, but Legolas merely shook his head as if to clear it and then tried to ease his friend´s worry with a smile. "Well, you have my full attention now. What is it that you want of me?"

Aragorn briefly considered questioning the incident more, but in the light of the day´s events he let it be. Even Elves needed to come to terms with trying experiences, and he guessed that he had shaken his friend out of the middle of this process. The elf seemed well enough now, and good-naturedly allowed the man to clean and bind the rather shallow traces a warg´s claw had left on his arm.

Legolas watched the ranger as he gently spread some healing herbs onto the minor injury. He tried to discern the reason behind his unexpected reaction, but could not find one. The stars had eased his mind when he had looked at them, their unwavering support filling his soul so completely that his surroundings had eventually faded away. He had been bathed in the gentle song that caressed the edge of his awareness even now, and the sudden touch had felt like an brutal intrusion. Shaking his head yet again to clear away the last strands of confusion that still clung to him, he promised himself to seek some more solace in Imladris where it would be safe for him to become detached from the world for a while.

When Aragorn was satisfied that the injury was taken care of he got up, unable to stifle a yawn as he did so. "You are one tired hero, Estel, you should heed to your own needs instead of mine once in a while", Legolas chided gently, "or else you might fall off your horse tomorrow and force me to rush you to your father with some broken bones. Think how that would ruin the glory of our homecoming." Aragorn snorted but was too drowsy for a real response. He retrieved his sleeping roll and stretched out next to the fire. Watching the elf through half-lidded eyes, he thought he could still detect a certain distractiveness about his friend, as he was constantly listening to a voice Aragorn was deaf to.

With an effort, he pushed himself up to a sitting position again. "Are you sure you can take the first watch?" he asked seriously, "I could stay up a few hours longer..." Legolas waved him to silence with an amused grin. "You are so tired you are confusing this with our usual situation after a battle. You do not seriously believe me weakened by a scratch on my arm, do you?" His defiant look challenged the ranger to contradict him, but after scrutinising the elf once more, Aragorn decided that he was exaggerating things. "As you say, then. But do not forget to wake me." Legolas only rolled his eyes before sitting back comfortably, resuming his humming as he did.

The ranger felt his eyes slid close. Despite the lack of injuries, his muscles ached and his mind demanded some peace to recuperate. Even though still reluctant, he eventually let go of his waking mind and slipped into the gentle darkness.

Legolas heard hid friend´s breathing growing even mere moments after he had lain down again and smiled to himself. Aragorn could be merciless on his body sometimes. Maybe his youth among Elves had prompted him to constantly battle his physical limits. This had earned him a strength and speed rivalled by few humans, but it also made him push himself beyond his considerable endurance time and again.

The elf let his eyes travel over their peaceful campsite, willing himself to tune his senses to possible dangers that might approach them. He was well aware that killing one pack of wargs did not mean protection from others creatures that might hunt in the night, but there was such a strong aura of peace surrounding him that it took him considerable effort to remain as alert as he should be on watch.

In an attempt to occupy his attention, he noiselessly rose to he feet and strode over to the resting horses. They were just as relaxed as he felt he should be, heads drooping and one hind hoof slightly lifted. Even his own steed hardly acknowledged his presence, merely swooshing its tail at him and leaning its head into his hand as he absent-mindedly stroked the soft fur between the animal´s eyes. The sensitive ears flicked forward suddenly, and Legolas wondered at this reaction before he realized that he was once again humming.

Aragorn had asked him about this song earlier, but the jest had not required an honest answer. In truth, the elf himself had no idea where this haunting melody had come from. He thought back, trying to place its origin, and as he did so the strength of the song increased, gently tugging at him. He abruptly stopped humming, causing the horse´s head to rise, and listened. At first there was nothing but the gentle sounds the night brought forth, but when he remained still and tried to push even further, he could hear it. An answer to his song. Its twin but slightly more vivid, as if sung by a choir of soft voiced blending together.

His horse snickered at him, the noise sharply interrupting the sweet song, and Legolas stepped aside, irritated when the horse followed. He went a few more paces, still not free of the big animal´s disturbing presence. "Dinen!"//Silent!// , he commanded sharply, "alaphado nin!" //Don´t follow me!// The horse stopped, gazing at its master intently but obeying his command, and with its silence it seemed to fade away into nothing.

Legolas bent his head and tried pick up the song again, breathing a sigh of relief when he could, though faintly. He strained to mark the direction the sweet tunes were coming from, but they were already beginning to vanish once more. Dismayed at the loss, he took up his humming once more, and immediately the response came, drawing him away from the trees they had camped beneath. The branches above rustled in the almost windless night, but the song drowned their message and the elf slowly walked away, allowing his feet to be lead by what lured his soul.

Legolas was not sure how long he had walked already, completely mesmerised by the experience, when he felt the song grow more restless. He quickened his steps to match the rhythm and found that the world had changed around him. The glow of the stars had dimmed overhead even though he could not detect a single cloud to be blamed, and the still landscape had lost its clear edges and become fuzzy and undefined.

Only ahead of him, following the direction the beckoning voices came from, lay a clear path were the stars continued to shine and the leaves of grass clearly swayed as if gently touched by a breeze. He could even make out some ants crawling up the stem of a mushroom in his path. A moth that crossed his line of vision swung its fragile wings, sending the air beneath it into swirls. Never had the world been so narrow to him. And never had it made this much sense.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

A warg hurled itself at him with such speed that he would not be able avoid it completely. The animal had come out of nowhere, taking him by surprise. Aragorn could feel his horse tense and then violently shy to the side beneath him, and he overbalanced with no chance of catching himself. Twisting in the air to keep from falling on his already drawn sword, the ranger had one heartbeat to prepare for the impact before it came.

The wind was knocked out of him and he lay gasping, taking in numbly that the beast had landed on the croup of his horse. Sharp claws dug into the animals soft flesh and the horse screamed, kicking its hind legs wildly to throw off its attacker. The warg slid off, leaving deep bleeding gashes behind, and crouched for its next jump. The horse skittered in its haste to get away, and Aragorn could tell that it would never escape the assault that was to come.

Where was Legolas? The elf should have long had time to shoot the beast, why was he taking his time? Shakily Aragorn scrambled to his feet with his sword up when he realized there was movement behind him as well. He turned in a haste, hearing the first warg snarl and then his horse scream again, this time more in agony than in fear. The ranger had little time to mourn his steed, for he was faced with three more wargs that approached, salvia dripping off their fangs. He heart raced when he saw the beasts split, preparing to take him on from different directions.

Where was Legolas? Why was he not shooting? He could feel the rising panic cloud his thoughts until nothing was left but fear. He heard the snarls dimly before something caught him in the side....

Aragorn bolted upright, panting. He could feel cold sweat sliding over his face and sticking to the back of his neck, making him shiver. It took him a moment to realize where he was, and the relief he felt was immense. It was not, however, complete. Something was amiss. He was not sure yet what it was, his mind still muddled from what felt like a not only haunted but extremely short sleep. He felt fairly certain, though, that it had something to do with Legolas´ horse that stood next to him, nudging him once again with its head.

"What?" he demanded somewhat gruffly, considering that the animal had shaken him out of his nightmare, "go and annoy your master instead..." He had barely uttered the words when he finally noticed what was wrong. The elf was gone. Aragorn was on his feet in a flash, gazing around wildly, but there was no trace of his friend. His bow rested close to the fire. There was no sign of a fight, no blood. Still, the ranger could feel his heart grow cold with fear.

TBC