Disclaimer: The usual applies.

Author's Notes: Ashort story that was a pleasant diversion while musie and I continue to mull over our WIP "Into The Dark Again". Frankly, I am surprised it has not grown (too much)... given musie's propensity to long-windedness. Maybe it's a trend for the better.

Summary: After Aragorn refuses Eowyn's request to join the Grey Company's ride, a brief conversation between him and his foster brothers follows. (Canon-friendly short story)


by Wayfarer

(closetwayfarer at yahoo dot com )

'Nor would I,' he said. 'Therefore I say to you, lady: Stay! For you have no errand to the South.'

'Neither have those others who go with thee. They go only because they would not be parted from thee -- because they love thee.' Then she turned and vanished into the night.1

Aragorn sighed. A day may yet be where they would sit together, laughing off what happened this night as the follies of a young woman heady from the excitement of the quick turn of events. 'Alas,' he muttered, and turned in the other direction. 'I have not the time to counsel misguided hearts,' he said.

'Yet she spoke truth.' It was from a fair voice with a quick laugh that briefly lightened the void.

A tall man walked out of the night gloom. Aragorn smiled and inclined his head. Solemnly, he returned Aragorn's greeting.

'We are none of us bound by errands to the South,' the voice continued. A second man now stood beside the first, so like to him that it seemed he was the image in a mirror, save for the goblet he held.

'Then it would please my lord Elrohir,' Aragorn asked with grave concern, 'to have the company of the White Lady on this adventure?'

Arms folded, Elrohir made a measured study of the Dúnadan. Then he cocked his head, and caressing his chin with a long-fingered hand, said: 'Does it matter ----'

'---- what pleases a mere Peredhil?' Elladan finished. Would it please my lord Aragorn?

You too? Elladan shrugged and in return, a quick smile curved Aragorn's lips. And then, too soon, the grim line of his cares set in again. Frowning, he said: ''Tis a dangerous question.' Then as if he had given much thought to it, he shook his head. 'No, I can ill-afford to displease my lords with an answer you do not want.'

Elrohir laughed. 'Ah,' he said with a sly gleam in his eyes, 'then perhaps the Dúnadan needs ask himself: is the favour of this daughter of Horse-lords what he seeks?'

For a moment, mirth again lit Aragorn's face. 'A fine shieldmaiden of Rohan is she,' he said, with a nod in the direction of the Rohirric household. Then he frowned, 'Yet, this is not a journey for an unwed lady to take.' He turned back to face his kin. 'Here in the Golden Halls is where she belongs, though I fear she sees it not.'

'Is it? May be you worry too that you may be setting her further down a path she should not take.'

'What is wrong with that?' Elladan countered. 'The lady seeks merely to be free, to do as her heart wills. She is not the first, and I do not think she will be the last.' He threw a quick glance at Aragorn. 'Though it seems to me, she knows not what it is herself,' he said with a knowing smile of his own. 'And yet she strives for what she thinks her heart bids her to.'

'As do us all,' Aragorn searched the bright eyes of Elladan. 'She knows not her own. And I fear it may lead her to foolish deeds. Yet, she has the courage. I hope she finds a purpose to match it.' Head bowed, he asked, 'And for the ones who do know what the heart drives them to?' Sensing a change in his mood, Elrohir stood by him, though his words came clearly to his keen ears. 'What end would come?' Aragorn whispered.

A knowing look passed between the brethren. Gravely, Elladan said: 'None knows.' Even for the ones who know where their hearts lead them, all that can be done is to set their minds to toil, that their will be done.

And after? Aragorn pressed.

Do you need to hear it so?

Aragorn waited.

Elrohir shook his head. Always it came to this between these two, his blood brother and his foster kin. Like a game of chess, the first moves have been made, and they would try to outwit each other, with snares made of words to make the other yield. I have not the patience for games now. He turned to Aragorn and broke the contest. 'You know it as well as I. There is no surety that the end will be shaped by your design.'

Still Elladan was silent, musing upon the anxiety of the Man. Then their eyes met. Trust to Hope, brother.

Elrohir looked long at his brother for it was not like him to concede so easily. Elladan shrugged, his mood fey.

Not one to hesitate over an easy advantage all unlooked for, Aragorn seized the opening. 'Hope?' He straightened himself and his eyes were suddenly ablaze, bright as quicksilver. Almost there was a challenge and a command in his manner. 'Tell me then, of my hope,' he said. 'Naught have you said of her.'

Grim was the look Elladan returned, for once again, speech with his young kin turned to the one he knew he would lose, whether the end was victory or defeat.

Elrohir too, was suddenly quiet.

Very still the air turned, and Aragorn stood tall, straight and stiff, and in his heart he feared that his brethren had, once again, chosen silence, as they were wont to, when he asked after Arwen.

With a hand on his hip, Elrohir asked: 'Well, brother? He has you there.' He took a deep sighing breath and turned to Aragorn. 'What would you?' he asked in a soft voice.

You know what I wish. He turned back to Elladan. 'Tell me how fares she?'

'As well as she may,' came the curt answer.

With a wry glance at his brother, Elrohir nodded. 'She waits, as ever.' He tossed his head toward the booths of the Dúnedain. 'Halbarad maybe can tell you more,' he said. He laughed then, the irony in his voice unmistakeable. 'For her speech with him was long – indeed we knew of her gift only when we left the vale.'

So heavy was the mood that it seem to press down on the night air. Thoughts of her gift to Aragorn reminded them again of what must come to pass ere Aragorn could claim his heart's desire. No word was spoken for all three pondered, not for the first time, on what they purpose to adventure at dawn.

On Aragorn's shoulder, a pale hand rested as Elrohir drew him suddenly near, and the moment passed.

'Come now, brother! Why the worry, why now? On the morrow, the Grey Company rides, a mission that will pass into legend or ----' he turned to Aragorn, his eyes filled with a graveness not often seen. Slowly a smile spread across his face and he winked. To whatever comes! He raised his tankard and pulled a long draught.

He studied the now empty cup. 'Much praise has been sung of the great herds of Rohan, yet I fear justice has not been done to their breweries!'

A smile lighted Aragorn's face as he shook his head.

'Come,' said Elladan then, 'Your worry is needless. You see it as well as I.' His pale slender hand raised, and a fine long finger pointed in the direction in which Éowyn had ran, 'she is meant for some worthy lord ----'

Elrohir turned Aragorn around, and said with a great air of sadness, '-- who is not any one of the three in this company.'

Elladan laughed. 'There lies the rub! She too will see it, someday.'

'And you should be abed now,' Elrohir. 'It is a long ride ahead.' His face turned grave. 'And the company numbers thirty. Too big a number for this adventure, to my mind,' he said. 'I would it was a smaller group ----'

'And is three the number still favoured by my lord?' said Aragorn with a smile, clasping his foster brother on the shoulder.

Elrohir bowed. 'Indeed! Yet, we are resilient, my brother and I,' he said, leaning on Elladan, who nodded and folded his arms. 'Years of ranging over the mountains and the fallow plains of the Vales have taught us that, if naught else.' Five hundred years of skirmishes, at last War is come. 'The wait is overlong.' He straightened himself. 'Still I grant that more may yet prove better than less.' Then in an aggrieved tone, he said, 'Fear not, we shall make do with what we have.' So saying, he strode back the way they had come.

'Thank you,' Aragorn said. Without turning back, Elrohir held up a hand and vanished into the dark.

Next came Elladan, who set his hands on Aragorn's shoulders. Three or thirty, it matters not. 'Brothers in spirit,' he said, 'brothers in arms.' He smiled and turned, following Elrohir back into the night gloom.

1 All italicized dialogue before this mark quoted verbatim from The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King – The War Of The Rings; Chapter 11 'The Passing of The Grey Company'