Disclaimer: All facts and characters related to Tolkien's works are his.

Summary: Aragorn accidentally offends the member of an infamous guild in the town which he and Legolas have stopped at for the night. The two are forced to flee for their lives but when the gates have been barred and there is no way out… how long can the two friends escape the clutches of the guild…


The Core of the Stone

Chapter I – Dark Beginnings

Three sharp knocks on the door followed by two shorter ones and a final hard rap, bade the door warden to slide open the small hole in the door which allowed him to communicate with the person on the other side.

His steely eyes bore into the figure barely visible in the darkness. The person shifted uneasily and murmured a short string of words under his breath. The door warden caught them and lowered his gaze, swinging the door swiftly open with one hand. The stranger stepped into the house and the door shut quietly behind him. Outside, the yellow orb in the sky disappeared from view as a cloud shielded it from sight and the last remaining light disappeared, casting the place into shadow. 

The room had no windows. Save for the door through which he had just entered, there was no other visible way of exiting the room. The man remained clocked as did all in the room. He sat down stiffly in the last available chair and the air seemed to crackle with anticipation. The meeting could now begin. All faces turned slightly to the head of the table expectantly.

"You are all very privileged to be here tonight … the price is small  for you will get much in return. All that will be forfeit should you decide to turn your back on me is your life as well as the life of all in your family."

The speaker paused. Those watching caught a glimpse of a pair of green eyes from under the mask as the light from a solitary lamp flickered. 

"And I assure you their deaths will not be a pretty sight." He stopped again, gauging the effect of his words. The twelve men sitting at the table sat still as statures, though many resisted the urge to flinch at these words.

Under the wooden mask, the man smiled grimly to himself. Let the games begin… The night was still young and there were still many things to be said and done err the morn arrived.

Hours later, the same man who had been the last to arrive left stealthily wincing slightly as the burn on his left ankle throbbed painfully. It was there as a reminder of his pledge to their cause. In the back of his mind, he wondered if he had made the wrong decision. It did not matter; it was too late to turn back.


A decade later…

Aragorn leaned lazily back, balancing the chair precariously on its two back legs. He gave a contented sigh and folded his arms across his chest. Legolas watched him with a smile on his face. It was a rare occasion that the ranger felt safe enough to let his guard down and just relax.

Just then, the chair creaked ominously and the two legs on which Aragorn's weight was now supported started moving forward, tilting the ranger dangerously backward. Legolas' eyes widened and he shot out a hand, catching the chair and placing it firmly back on four legs before it could tip the ranger onto the ground.

Aragorn grinned sheepishly at his friend and gave a soft laugh.

"Honestly, you should be more careful you know." The stubborn man ignored this statement and stood up stretching like a cat.

"I have heard that too many times…"

"Well, you should think about following it.  It is quite a good piece of advice and it would save you a great deal of unnecessary pain and suffering… "

A smug look appearing on his face, the man declared in triumph.

"That proves it!"

"That proves what?" The elf turned  his friend in puzzlement.

"It proves, my dear Legolas, that you are becoming more and more…" Here, he paused for effect.

"… like my mother."

The insulted elf, glared at Aragorn and opened his mouth to retaliate. However, thinking better of it, he promptly shut his mouth again and resumed his observation of the happenings outside the window.

"Whatever you say, it is still a good piece of advice. Good night mellon nin, I suggest you take some rest."

Satisfied that he had gotten the better of the elf, the ranger moved to rest on the bed.

Legolas' gaze traveled upward and he began to sing softly. Soothed by the melodious voice of the elf, Aragorn soon fell into a peaceful sleep.  

Several hours later…

The innkeeper blew out the flame of his candle; it flickered before going out completely, a spiral of smoke rising above it. Soon, all in the inn were silent.

Unbeknownst to everyone, a shadow was climbing nimbly up a pipe which ran just outside one of the windows. With a graceful leap, it clambered through the window and into the room.

It padded softly towards the occupant of the bed who was snoring slightly in a deep sleep. The shadowy figure reached to its belt and drew out a small dagger. The sleeping man did not stir. With a sharp movement, he slit the throat of the slumbering man.

His eyes widened in pain and shock. He gasped and choked on his own blood. A shudder and the body went limp, the head lolling to one side. Gruesome ruby stains had begun to spread on the blanket but by that time, the assassin had already left the scene of the crime.


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