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

The Core of the Stone

Chapter III – Easier said then Done

The crowd of people thinned as they neared the large wooden gates of the town. Large groups of traders were herded out of the place by burly looking guardsmen.

The wheel of an old wooden cart got stuck in a rut, it perched precariously on that wheel before tipping over completely, spilling its contents of dried fruits and meat onto the ground. The mass of people skirted around the over turned cart, leaving its owner to stare miserably at his wrecked goods. Slowly, he bent down the salvage what he could of them.

The old man was startled by a movement to his left. To his immerse surprise; a young man was helping him pick up his precious goods.

Legolas turned around and gave a soft un- elven like growl of frustration. Aragorn had disappeared again. Scanning the crowd, he finally spotted the man near an over turned cart, picking up objects from the ground and placing them carefully back on it. Swiftly, he turned around and soon made his way to the ranger's side.

"At this rate, we should reach the gates- which are only a few yards away I might add – in a couple of days or two." He whispered into his friend's ear as he bent down to offer his assistance.

"I'm sorry…" Aragorn looked apologetically at the elf; but Legolas' gaze softened. He would have stopped anyway had he been near when the accident happened.

Suddenly, the old man whom the cart belonged to slipped and fell hard onto the ground. Dazed, he groped around for something to grasp onto and pull himself up. His hands met a clothed leg.

The owner of the limb stiffened at the contact and gazed downwards. With a shudder, he bent down and pried the old man's fingers away from his leg.

A firm hand helped the fallen man from the ground and glared angrily at the one whose leg had been touched. Aragorn deliberately shoved past him as he led the older man away. He did not notice the look of disdain and anger etched into the other's face.

"Thank you… thank you m'boy." The old man murmured gratefully

"You must come to my house for a meal.  I live just across the street… I cannot let the help you have given go unpaid."

So adamant and anxious was the old man to thank the ranger and the elf properly for their help that the two could scarcely refuse.

Carlhiater's house was warm and friendly. His wife welcomed the two strangers with open arms once he had informed them of all they had done for him.  Before they knew it, they were hustled into two comfortable chairs and had a plate of steaming hot food before them. The fare was good.

Aragorn wiped his mouth the back of his hand and made a sound of contentment. He politely thanked his hostess' for the meal and began to look about the room as he waited for Legolas to finish. It was clear that Carlhiater was not wealthy. He felt slightly guilty about taking the old couple's food.

The one outstanding furnishing of the otherwise drab room was an old painting of a young boy. He had the look of both Carlhiater and his wife. 

"Who is that boy in the picture?"

The man and his wife, who were sitting across him at the table froze. There was an awkward pause before the woman remarked with forced cheeriness, " He is… was… my son. He is gone now."

Aragorn flinched, he had unknowingly touched on a painful topic. He shot Carlhiater an apologetic look.

The man hurriedly soothed his worries with a small smile.

"It is of no matter. He is gone now, My wife and I are learning to put it past us." At this, he put an arm around his wife's shoulder.

"What happened to him?" The quiet voice of Legolas questioned gently, probing further into the matter.

"He left one day and never returned…" The woman replied, her voice trailing off. She got up to clear the table. The subject was closed. Their hospitable host insisted they stay the night and put them up in what had once been his son's room…

The new day broke, gray and drab. A gloom seemed to have fallen over the town and the bustle of the day before had gone. The air was chilly and the streets looked empty and forsaken. The melancholic clopping of a horse sounded on the cobblestones before fading away into the distance.

A rap on the door was heard and then the sound of someone opening it. A thud followed. Footsteps sounded on the stairs followed by a painful high note and sobs of anguish. The troubles had begun with the coming of the dawn.


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