The glorious dawn cast bright shards of sunlight across the kingdom but did little to dispel the dark cloud that hung over the very same kingdom. Deep, dismal shadows and creeping depressions thrived and bred in each corner, unchecked by the inhabitants. Words were but a mere whisper in passing by those whose world had once been so full of life but now cast aside to be devoured by the shadows. The kingdom had suffered a suffocating blow that threatened to send it to its knees. And most knew that once the kingdom fell, just that small bit, it would never regain the ground it lost.
It had been three years since the Prince of Mirkwood had been lost to his beloved kingdom. Three years and no sign of the elf; until the day before; a patrol had come across signs of a fierce struggle in the far South regions of Mirkwood. A region that was not traveled by the elves that called that forest home. They found no carcasses but what they did find horrified them more than any amount of death, blood, and carnage. The prince's famed bow lay fractured on the ground; beside it, his cherished twin blades, shattered into shards. The patrol had brought these items back to the palace reverently and presented them to their king. Word spread quickly across the realm and it was soon believed that the prince had been lost to the shadow. The famed prince of Mirkwood had been lost to the shadow world. The shadow seemed to sense the realm's weakness and slowly advanced; feeding on the fear and sorrow that permeated the kingdom. The only thing left was to retrieve the body of their lost prince and pay him the honor and respect that he had so costly earned; some could only hope that there was a body to retrieve. News had swept to all of the elven realms and grieved all those that heard the saddening news. That news had brought the man that sat silently on his horse atop a hill, looking down at the elven realm of Mirkwood. He had appeared silently during the night and only stayed for a short while. Just long enough to see the broken bow and blades with his very eyes. He had left just as silently as when he arrived.
The silver eyes that had just seen the proof of his friend's demise gazed unseeingly at the realm below him. A deep hood shielded his face from the rising sun and cast deep shadows across his strong features. One hand rested atop the pommel of the deadly sword that hung at his waist. His other hand loosely held the reins to his mount that occasionally shifted underneath him to break the deafening silence. With the smallest of movements, the rider picked up the reins and with just a twitch, turned the horse and started to walk south.
Aragorn, son of Arathorn, allowed the shadows of the forest to embrace him as he rode his horse along slowly. His eyes swept side to side while watching the path ahead of him and his horse. His heart refused to believe what his mind and eyes were telling him. Legolas Thranduilion, Prince of Mirkwood, was dead. His heart told him that his friend would not have given up so easily and leave his family and friends behind. 'But he did so three years ago. Or have you already forgotten how he left while you were still unconscious,' his mind yelled at him as he closed his eyes briefly to the snide voice that echoed in his mind.
For days after Aragorn had first awoken from his near deadly wound, he had faded in and out of fogginess and into delirium. Clear consciousness danced out of his reach for three days until Elrond allowed him to fully awaken. Everyone had been there except the one person he wanted to see. When asked, Elrond easily dodged the question until Aragorn started to become agitated when no one would tell him anything about Legolas. Elladan finally told him everything he wanted to know about the last night he remembered. Sad-heartened, Aragorn listened as Elladan described Legolas' sudden disappearance and the realization that the elf had left. That night, Aragorn decided to work hard to become healthy and go out to find his friend. And once he found Legolas, he would tie up the elf and make him listen to a lecture that would make Elrond and Glorfindel proud. Aragorn could only smile in anticipation as he nudged his mount into a trot.
He rode silently along the path for several hours until he stopped his horse and glanced around the small clusters of trees. Slipping off his horse, he knelt on the ground and trailed his fingertips over the disturbed ground. He knew that he still had an hour or two until reaching the location where the patrol found the weapons; so these tracks he saw were new. The tracks told him that a small pack of horses and men walked past there recently with many packs. Aragorn glanced down the path both ways before mounting his horse and followed the trail of footsteps. His eyes were locked onto the footsteps and followed them out of Mirkwood forest and towards the Misty Mountains. Halting his horse, Aragorn glanced back towards the thick forest and looked forward to where the trail led him. Coming to a decision, he moved forward and followed the trail as he searched for any other evidence of who these travelers were. Something told him that he should follow this trail. Humans did not readily travel through Mirkwood so they must have had a reason and the reason was perhaps not of the good nature.
The path led him in a relatively straight line and he eventually met the Anduin. His eyes easily recognized the signs of a camp and dismounted to look closer. He estimated the number of humans at about fifteen from what he could read in the marks. While looking around, his eyes caught a shimmering object on the ground that seemed out of place. Kneeling, he brushed aside the small tuft of grass and saw a red stain with some kind of strands stuck in the liquid. Picking up the strand and gently touching the liquid, his eyes narrowed as he recognized the substance. It was blood and a strand of Legolas' hair. He was sure of it. Standing, he quickly mounted his horse and guided the animal across the river to pick up the trail again. He had evidence that Legolas may still be alive and he was going to hold on tightly to it.
As the sun slowly set several hours later, he pushed the hood of his cloak back and ran a hand through is hair. Dropping his hand, it rested on his thigh as his other hand subtly guided his horse. His eyes watched the trail until it became too dark for him to continue before stopping for the night. Slipping off the horse's saddle, Aragorn patted the animal's neck and spoke softly to her. The horse stepped away a few yards and started to eat grass as he set up a small camp. With in a few minutes he had a small fire going and was pulling out some dried fruit and meat for dinner. The next night he would make a better meal when he had cut down on distance separating him and his quarry.
The morning dawned brightly to find him already following the trail with narrowed eyes. The nearest town was Gildorcrest, a town full of ruffians and thieves. A town Aragorn would have preferred to avoid if possible. Nothing good ever came out of Gildorcrest, and the few times the ranger had passed through the town it had never been a good experience. But from what he could gather from the faint trail, that was where the group with Legolas was heading. And so that was where Aragorn would go, it was as simple as that. If the positions were reversed, Legolas would do the same for him and they both knew it.
Aragorn sighed; he would reach the town in another couple hours. He wanted to just get Legolas and get out. They would journey back to Mirkwood, during which time Aragorn would beat some sense into his foolish friend to assure this never happened again. He scowled angrily, what was the matter with Legolas? Why did his friend always have to do this? He blamed himself for everything, even things he could not possibly have done anything to prevent.
Though on the outside the ranger appeared angry and frustrated, inside he was pained and depressed. He missed Legolas and wanted to return the elf to his father. But most importantly, he wanted his friend back. The ranger hadn't been sleeping much lately. He would just lie on his back, staring blankly at the stars and thinking over everything that happened. Truth be told, Aragorn was blaming himself for the elf running off. Though he knew that wasn't the case, he still thought it. And besides, he wasn't the one who ran off.
Aragorn's muscles tightened painfully when a soft noise reached his ears. Pin-pointing where the noise came from, he slung his bow from his back and quickly took aim. He was too close to Gildorcrest for comfort and he wasn't going to take any chances.
"I am going to count to three; I would suggest you come out from there," Aragorn said sternly, "One…two…"
A scruffy looking man came out with his hands raised; Aragorn narrowed his eyes and motioned with his bow to move over to the side. Any man from Gildorcrest was not to be trusted; he had learned that the hard way.
"You are from Gildorcrest, are you not?"
The man nodded and shifted his weight.
"Answer my questions and I will let you go," Aragorn said, "Refuse and I will shoot you and continue on my way. Understand?"
"Yes," the man answered, his arms slowly lowering.
"Keep your hands up and where I can see them!" Aragorn snapped, pulling the arrow back even more. The man gulped and dropped his hands to his side.
"Does Gorgias still run Gildorcrest?" Aragorn asked, "And you would be wise to tell me the truth. You would not want to face the wrath of the elves or the Rangers."
The man visibly reacted to the obvious threat. In some areas, the Rangers were not welcomed and rumors flowed freely. The fear was sometime useful whenever there was wanted information.
The man sighed, "Yes."
"Have you seen a blond haired elf, about my height, blue eyes," Aragorn described, wisely choosing to leave out 'a total idiot'.
"No," the man averted his gaze, which caused a thrill of fear and excitement to go down Aragorn's spine.
"You are lying, I will not ask again."
The man looked at him, nervous about how the ranger was glaring at him. He had heard strange tales of rangers, frightening tales. All of them he believed.
"Gorgias does have a slave who looks similar to what you describe."
'A slave, a slave, a slave,' the phrase kept repeating in Aragorn's head. He bit his lip, fear for his friend eating at his heart. Gorgias was not a merciful man; he was as inhumane as they came. Legolas was most likely battered on a daily basis; Aragorn could only imagine what that…that thing was putting his friend though.
'Gorgias, if you have harmed him, I will cut your heart out and feed it to the dogs,' Aragorn thought, a red haze falling over all his senses.
"Go, get out of my sight. If I see you again, I will kill you," Aragorn growled angrily at the man, spurring his horse forward. The horse galloped toward Gildorcrest, a very angry and very hurt ranger on its back.
Several hours past dusk, a horse and rider slipped into town silently. They stayed towards the edge of the road and out of bright lights while searching for the local inn. Rowdy laughter erupted from the nearby tavern just moments before a man was thrown from the doorway, Aragorn raised an eyebrow and urged his horse forward; Gildorcrest was exactly as he remembered it. He slowly became aware of two to three people following him from a distance behind him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as his gaze darted side to side to watch the shops and other people. Finding the inn, he swung off his mare and spoke a few soft words to her before draping the reins over the rail. Entering the inn, he kept the hood over his head as he approached the counter.
"A room for the night."
Aragorn heard the door behind him open and only had to guess who it would be. The innkeeper looked to the three new men, and slowly backed away from the counter. Watching the faint reflection in the innkeeper's glasses, Aragorn waited until the men were close enough before going on the offensive. Spinning to the left, Aragorn back handed one, punching the next one with his right fist, and swung the third to the counter while holding the man's left arm back. With his free hand, Aragorn wrapped it around the back of the man's neck as he pressed his attacker's throat to the edge of the counter.
The other two attackers froze at Aragorn's order and no one moved as they evaluated the other.
"Make one move I do not like and I crush his wind pipe and break his neck," Aragorn warned steadfastly as his fingers dug into the other man's sweaty neck.
"Who are you, stranger?" asked the one with the swelling eye.
"Who I am is of no concern. I just wish for a room. I will be on my way after I conclude some business here tomorrow," Aragorn advised while watching each of the men.
"You have my word."
Aragorn shoved the man towards the other two and watched as they all left quietly. Picking up his pack from where it fell, Aragorn turned back to the innkeeper.
"A room, please."
Securing a room, Aragorn left and moved his horse to the public stables before searching for the room. He finally found it and slowly pushed open the door to view his habitat for the night. The room consisted of the small bed and a small table with a window. Not much, but it would serve its purpose. Setting his pack on the bed, Aragorn settled himself on the window sill and watched the street below him. He could see shadows moving down there between the buildings and knew that they would be Gorgias' men. Right about now, the three men would be informing Gorgias of the new stranger in town. Aragorn knew that Gorgias would remember him when the three men described him. Legolas always said that Aragorn left a lasting impression on people. And sometimes that impression wasn't the best.
Aragorn would wait several more hours before making his move. All the drunkards would be asleep by then and most everyone else would be asleep by that time. Several years ago, Aragorn and Gorgias had clashed head on and neither had come out of it very well. Gorgias and some of his ruffians had been roughing up a nearby town for money when the Rangers had interacted and restructured everything. Angered, Gorgias had come looking for Aragorn and met all the Rangers. All of the Rangers stood before Aragorn when Gorgias challenged him. Not allowing others to fight his fights, Aragorn had met the challenge and fought Gorgias. Both men were talented warriors but it was Aragorn who eventually won out. That had been the last time Aragorn had came up against Gorgias but neither had forgotten it. Aragorn really did not like Gildorcrest or the inhabitants.
His body told him it was time to act about two hours before dawn. Grabbing his pack from the bed, he left the room and started towards the back of the building. Slinging his pack over his shoulder, Aragorn pushed open a window and quickly slipped through the window. Lifting himself up to the roof, Aragorn moved silently across the roofs to the stables. He stayed low and moved silently until reaching the stables and slipping into the hayloft. His mare nickered softly as he climbed down the wooden ladder. Slipping on the saddle and bridle, Aragorn softly spoke to the horse and instructed the mare of what she was to do as he tied his pack to the saddle. She was an elven horse; she would do as she was instructed.
Going back the way he came, Aragorn knelt on the roof and looked up and down the main street. All the activity seemed to center around a large building that looked quiet on the outside. It looked better than the others and Aragorn could see an occasional guard walk around the building. Pulling his dark cloak tighter around him, Aragorn sprinted across the roof and leapt across the gap separating two buildings. He did this several times before slowly climbing down to the street and sprinted across the street. Moving to the side of the building he wanted, he quickly lifted a window and climbed into the building before closing the window behind him. He would have to be very quick and quiet about all of this. He would get Legolas and leave as quickly as possible, killing as few as possible. First of all, he needed to find Legolas. Taking a deep breath, Aragorn opened the door and walked into the hallway. Knowing that Legolas would not be on the main floor, Aragorn found the stairs and quickly descended, keeping his head low. Few paid him any mind as he walked to the lowest floor, which was actually under ground. He stayed near the wall and listened closely to the growing sounds of many people. The hall opened up to a large room as loud shouts and cheering assaulted his ears as he moved through the crowd. Men shifted out of his way as he glared at them from under his hood. His silver eyes glinted dangerously as he wove towards the loud cheers and jeers that were directed towards the center of attention. His hand rested on the pommel of his sword and his other hand was near one of his hidden daggers, ready to withdraw it if anyone looked at him oddly or any way he did not like. Torches were lit in a circle around a deep pit as Aragorn neared the thickening crowd around the pit. Reaching the edge, he slowly looked around and felt his blood burn at what he saw.
Well here it is; the sequel to the much popular 'An Ancient Bond'. I hope it is up to everyone's expectations for the sequel. As with the other new story, updating may be sporadic but I will try to update in a timely manner. Thanks to everyone that has reviewed for 'Before the Dawn of Friendship' and I promise to update soon. So, everyone review for me and it will get me writing faster. Thanks a bunch everyone.