Okay, I am going to put these author notes in this chapter and in the last chapter, just so everyone catches what happened here. First off, let me offer my humble apologies for the very lengthy amount of time that has passed since I last posted anything. For those of you who saw the note I made on my profile page let me off a few more details. I was the victim of someone who I know using my trust and breaking into my e-mail account, deleting all of my personal letters and the reviews that I have received from all of you, then using my e-mail account to break into my account at FF-Net and delete all my stories. Fortunately I keep all my stories backed up, but I did lose all my wonderful reviews which makes me very sad because I really appreciated everything everyone ever sent me. After that, our computer crashed, so I could not access the internet for over a month in my home. But I am back now and I hope you all like the conclusion of my tale.:)
It was hot.
Sunshine poured into the crowded town square with blazing intensity, creating a furnace-like atmosphere. Dogs lay, panting, in whatever shade they could find. The people who had gathered drew hands across brows, wiping away sweat.
Therefore, the tall figure wearing a heavy cloak with a hood pulled low over his face drew a fair amount of attention.
He hated that. A wry grin pulled at the corners of his shadowed mouth. However, he realized that he would most likely garner more attention without the hood.
The figure stood at the very edge of the crowd, nonchalantly leaning against a building. Only a very sharp observer would have noticed how tense his body was. Within the woolen confines of his hood, his eyes darted back and forth over the seething mass of people almost frantically. Searching…
Many were the curious glances thrown his way, but since he did not seem to be doing anything more exciting than leaning against a wall, those who looked on him quickly decided that there were more interesting things to commit their attention to.
Like the hanging that was about to take place.
The gallows stood in the very center of town, and that was the reason for the crowd's presence. They sweltered in the blazing heat for the chance to watch a felon hang. Already a grumble was filling the air. What was taking so long? Why didn't they just bring the fellow out and be done with it? It was too hot to stay outside in such a crowd for long.
A low hissing roar rose from those nearest the gallows, and was soon taken up by those in back. The accused was being brought forth.
The cloaked figure straightened, desperately craning his head to see the one they were leading to be hung. Tall as he was, he could catch no more than a glimpse of dark hair over the crowd. "Move," he hissed through clenched teeth. "Move."
The people started to jeer nastily. Now everyone could see why it was taking so long to bring the accused to his fate. There were two men pulling him forward, and they had their hands quite full. He was fighting them every inch of the way.
They started up the stairs, and the hooded figure drew in a sharp breath. At last he could get a clear view of the prisoner.
Dark hair hung to the man's shoulders and flew across his face as he kicked and struggled. The unshaven stubble on his cheeks made him appear older than his years, but in truth he could be no more than twenty-five. His clothes were battered and torn. Obviously, his life was one of hard labor for little reward. Silver eyes glared at his captors even as they stuggled to put the noose over his head. He was in no way making it easy for them to accomplish their task.
With a vicious curse, the tall figure leapt forward, ruthlessly pushing his way through the packed masses of people. Outraged cries rose in his wake, but he paid them no heed. He had only one thought in mind; to get to that platform and stop the hanging.
A pompous town official stood in front of the condemned and unrolling a scroll, began to read off the accusations against the dark haired man. "For breaking and entering…"
"Get back, we were here first!"
"Watch who you're pushing!"
As the crowd became aware of him, the hooded figure found himself at the end of some pushing himself. He struggled on almost desperately, but the people were pressed in too thick. Someone caught hold of his cloak as he passed and yanked, apparently hoping to pull him back.
His hand flew to the brooch that held the garment at his throat and swiftly released it before he was strangled. As the cloak fell away, a gasp arose from those nearest him.
"Failure to comply with the law…"
Long blond hair shone brilliantly in the sunlight. Blue eyes blazed in a fair face. Intricate braids were tucked behind delicately pointed ears… "An elf!"
Legolas Thranduilion swore violently as the crowd's interest swirled toward him. He thrust himself forward, but could make even less headway than before. They were closing in on him…staring…pointing…blocking his way…he could not get through! "Get out of my way!" The fair being frantically shouldered through the humans that swarmed around him, but there were too many of them… "MOVE!"
"And general intent of malice, it is the decree of this town that the man known as 'Strider' shall be…" the town official's voice trailed off as he slowly began to realize what was happening below him was more than just the ordinary shoving for a better position. His eyes went wide as he saw the tall elf's struggle.
Legolas' face was twisted into a ferocious expression, fear making him angry. "Strider!" His hands were already reaching for his bow. If he could not reach the man he would have to hit the rope…icy fear struck him as he remembered that he did not have the weapon with him.
The dark haired captive heard his friend. His struggles increased tenfold.
Knowing only that there had to be a hanging, the town official came to the conclusion that if the elf reached the platform before it had taken place, the man known as Strider would not face his judgment after all. Swiftly he turned and signalled to the hangman.
The men holding Strider jumped back.
The platform beneath the man's feet dropped away.
Legolas stared in horror as his friend fell…
Three weeks earlier.
"Estel, if you attempt an act of such foolishness, I will be forced to revise my opinion of your intelligence." Elladan's dark brows drew together in a ferocious frown. "Not, you understand, that it was ever very high in the first place…"
The dark haired elf's twin was also scowling, his fair features clouded. "He is right, Estel. You need to find another way down." Elrohir's eyes were fixed on a point far above the ground. There, nestled within the braches of a rather monstrous oak sat their brother.
The human leaned forward, his own face rumpled into a scowl equal to that of his elder brothers. Dark hair swung about his face, but it could not entirely hide the fierce glare of his silver eyes. "Both you and Elladan were able to accomplish the task with relative ease. I do not see why I should have such great difficulty."
Elladan cursed softly. He should have known not to attempt such a stunt in front of the young human. Aragorn followed him and Elrohir through everything. Usually, they could talk him out of doing things that only elves could accomplish ( and still keep their lives) but recently… Elrond's first born shook his head, lost in dark thoughts. Within the past few months, he had glimpsed a startling change sweep over his little brother. It was almost as if he was trying to prove something.
"Estel," Elrohir called up again. "Do not even think of it. Look, one of us can come and get you down if needs be…"
Elladan knew immediately that his twin had just said the worst thing possible. Elrohir seemed to realize it as well. His mouth snapped shut, but it was too late. The traitorous words flew up through the air, and not even human hearing could have failed to catch them.
If anything, the scowl on Aragorn's face increased ten fold. With great care, the young ranger slowly stood to his feet on the branch. His right hand clutched at the trunk for support.
"You can not do this!" Elladan ground out. "Be reasonable!"
"I have done it once before," Aragorn shot down at the furious elf.
"Yes! And do you recall what happened!" Elrohir very nearly snarled, incensed at himself for his slip of tongue.
"That was different," The young man started to release the trunk and swiftly grabbed it again as he very nearly over balanced. "This time there are no wargs or orcs." A brief smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he looked down at his brothers. "Or at least no wargs."
"You were thirteen," Elladan bellowed, his face turning a shade of red very unbefitting an elven warrior. "And I do not know if you remember very well, but you fell because the branch broke under your weight then! You may not have noticed, but you are significantly heavier now!"
Ignoring the outraged expression on the elven faces, Estel turned his head and looked down the branch. There, at the very end, where it was thin and whippy, hung a long, slender rope.
Elladan had been the first to descend from the tree. Running along the very limb Aragorn stood on, he had flung the rope up into the higher branches and gracefully swung out of the tree, sliding to the ground. Elrohir had been quick to take up the challenge and had followed close behind his twin, leaving Aragorn.
They assumed he would not try.
The dark haired man focused on the rope. Drawing in a deep breath, he released the trunk and sprinted towards it. For a human, his balance was superb.
But unfortunately, even very good balance could not make up for the fact that he was heavier than his elven brothers.
There was a crack that seemed to echo in the suddenly still air. Aragorn felt the branch beneath his feet give, and leapt towards the rope. His hand closed around it as the limb dropped from beneath his feet. He fell towards the ground with a yelp.
The slender, elven rope wizzed through his fingers and he tightened his grip on it desperately. Searing pain almost instantly enveloped his hand. It felt like his palm was on fire…but he did not dare let go.
Despite all his efforts, he could not bring himself to a halt. Fortunately, he had slowed his plunge enough so that when he made contact with the ground, it merely bruised him badly and knocked all the wind from his lungs. Lying flat on his back, he gasped painfully.
"Estel!" Two dark heads appeared in front of his face, their expressions twisted in anxiety. His brothers were bending over him; helping him into a sitting position. Smiling weakly, he shot them a triumphant look.
"I made it."
"And just how do you expect to explain that to Ada?" Elladan jabbed a finger at his little brother's bleeding palm.
Aragorn ignored the irate elf, keeping his dark head bent over the wound, intent on bandaging his hand. The young man winced, not only at the sharp pain, but at the thought of admitting to his father what he had done.
Friction from the rope had ripped away patches of his skin. Though reluctant to aknowledge it, he knew his brother had a valid point. This was not something he would be able to hide from the sharp eyed Lord of Rivendell. Sooner or later, the dark haired elf would notice there was a bandage wound around his youngest's palm, and he would want to know the reason why.
Aragorn's mind whirled with possible excuses as he tied off the end of the bandage.
He had tripped and fallen on a rock.
He had accidently cut himself on his own sword.
Elladan had tried to carry out his long standing threat to skin him alive.
The young ranger quickly suppressed a snort of laughter as he imagined Elladan's expression if he told their father that. Though he would enjoy it, he doubted his elder brother would find it equally humorous.
"Well?" Elrond's first born glared at the human. Both he and his twin were eyeing their younger brother with expresssions that suggested he had just rolled in something smelly.
Aragorn sighed. "I do not know," he snapped peevishly. "But that is my business, not yours!" Shocked at his own temper, the ranger clamped his lips together tightly. Developing a sudden and keen interest in boot leather, he turned his silver eyes downwards and glared at his toes, as if they were responsible for his current prediciment. When the said appendages refused to apologize, he sighed again. He didn't want to look up. He knew by the silence that his brothers were hurt by his words, and in truth, he felt slightly ashamed. The raven haired elves had always been unfailingly kind to him. They could not have loved him more if he had been born into their family.
Unfortunately, his current resentment kept him from admitting as much to himself. He was tired. Tired of being treated like a child who was trying to act like an adult! Worse yet, an amusing child. Oh how he hated the affectionate, indulgent smiles that passed between the elves of his home. When would they realize that he was a grown man amongst his own people?
Never, he answered himself bitterly. Elladan and Elrohir did their best, but at times even they had the tendency to see him as an infant.
Finally, he turned his face upwards. A wince crossed his features as he saw his brothers' hurt expressions. He did not want to cause them pain. It was the last thing he would willingly do! "I am grown," he said softly. "I can handle things myself now." Without another word, he rose from his sitting position and started towards home. He could not hear the elves walking behind them, but he knew they were there.
Deeply immeresed in his own thoughts, Aragorn was shocked to feel a hand descend on his shoulder. Elrohir halted the ranger, the elf's face tense. A question started to form on the young man's lips, but he bit it back as his brother shushed him.
Aragorn looked from one twin to the other, a growing feeling of uneasiness pulling at the corners of his mind. Both elves were completely still, a look of intense concentration on their fair features. They were listening for something, though what he could not hazard a guess.
Elladan's mouth tightened into a grim line. "Come on," he hissed. With eerie grace, the elf all but flitted away, his light feet never making a sound. Even as Aragorn watched, the young lord seemed to blend in with his surroundings as he moved toward the sound only elven ears could catch.
The ranger sighed, wishing more than ever he had been gifted with more elvish talents than he had. True, his eyesight and hearing were much sharper than an ordinary man. Likewise, he healed faster and could move more softly.
Unfortunately, even his level of hearing and sight would pass for nearly deaf and blind amidst the elves of Rivendell, and what he called moving softly, they termed 'crashing about like an overweight oliphaunt.'
The human groaned softly and followed after his brother.
As they made their way throught the woods, even Aragorn began to hear what had alarmed his brothers.
The clash of steel on steel.
The young ranger exchanged a dark look with Elrohir. This was not good. None of them had foreseen being involved in a battle so close to their home. They were armed, but lightly. Aragorn carried a dagger, Elrohir had his bow. Only Elladan had brought a sword.
There was movement through the trees ahead. Elladan halted and held up a hand, motioning for his brothers to stop. The dark haired elf slipped forward himself, disappearing within the undergrowth of the forest.
Aragorn's fingers tapped impatiently against his dagger's handle, eager to move forward once more. The sounds of fighting were louder now, and he could hear voices as well. Men's voices.
With a wry smile, Elrohir caught the ranger's hand, trapping the nervous fingers. "If your wish was to drive me insane," he muttered out of the corner of his mouth. "You have succeded. You may stop now."
"Twas not I who drove you," Aragorn mouthed back. "And besides, it was not such a long trip as to require a drive. You had only to inch to the left."
The dark haired elf looked as though he would very much liked to have smacked his younger brother, but remembered just in time that they were not supposed to be making any noise.
Elladan rejoined them, seeming to appear almost out of thin air. A bright flush of anger stained his fair face, and his hand was clenched tightly around the hilt of his sword. "There is a group of four men," he said in a low voice. "They are being attacked by a band of ruffians. They seem to have fought well, but one has become injured. If we do not assist them, they will soon be overrun."
Elrohir swiftly slid his bow from his shoulder and drew an arrow. His grey eyes were grim as he met his twin's gaze. "How many?"
"Twenty, I believe. Perhaps a little less."
Aragorn looked from Elladan to Elrohir and winced. They were furious. He almost felt sorry for the ruffians. "Maybe we should give them a chance to surrender."
"Maybe," Elladan conceded.
"But not likely," Elrohir smiled tightly. He was already setting his arrow so as to be prepared.
Elladan swiftly drew his sword and jerked his head at Aragorn, motioning for the ranger to follow him. Without looking to make sure his younger brother had obeyed, the dark haired elf started to make his way back towards the fray.
This was, perhaps, very fortunate for the young ranger. The moment his right hand closed firmly about the handle of his dagger, he nearly cursed aloud. A bright flash of pain seared across his wounded palm. Had the elf seen the human's face, he would have demanded to know what was wrong, and very likely forbidden Aragorn to take part in the fight once he recalled his brother's injury.
Without a second thought, Aragorn switched the weapon to his left hand. He knew he would never be able to keep a firm grip on the thing with his wounded palm. True, he was not as adept as Legolas when it came to fighting with either hand, but he was not hopeless either.
In front of him, Elladan broke into a trot, then a run. His sword raised high, Elrond's firstborn leapt from the cover of the trees and threw himself into the fight. Aragorn swiftly raced in behind him, catching up just in time to block a blow aimed at his elder brother's neck. With a snarl, the human raider focused his attention on the young man.
The ranger ground his teeth together hard as he clenched his fingers more tightly around his dagger. The blow had shaken his arm badly. He had not fought left handed for a very long time. Ignoring the rules of fair combat, Aragorn kicked out viciously, smashing his opponent's knee before the man could strike again. The raider howled and fell to the forest floor.
A murmur swept through the bandits as they realized they were being attacked. Almost immediately, they swung away from their original targets, clumping around Aragorn and Elladan.
Aragorn gasped as an arrow flew by his face. It struck a raider in the chest and the man fell with a gurgle of surprise.
More arrows whistled through the air. Unarmed, save for his bow, Elrohir stood at the edge of the clearing, firing with deadly accuracy. By now, the raiders were beginning to show fear. Ordinarily, they would not have been bothered by the arrival of only three others, but they did not account for the warrior skill of the elves.
Aragorn grimly struck out at a large, blond brute. The man laughed crudely and turned the clumsy blow aside easily. With a savage smile, the raider swung towards the dark haired ranger, making Aragorn jump back. The dagger suddenly felt woefully inadequate in his hands as he gazed at the small giant coming toward him. Steeling himself, the young man lunged forward.
Elrohir frowned as he released another arrow. Elladan was fighting well, though he was surrounded. But Estel…he could not understand what he was seeing before him. Though the young human had fared well so far, it was more by luck than any skill.
One of Elrohir's arrows picked off a man sneaking up behind his younger brother.
Confusion wrinkled the dark haired elf's brow. He could not make any sense of it. Aragorn fought well. Not like an elf of course, but he had his own style that conveyed a sense of grace and excellent training. At least, usually he did. Right now, his movements were clumsy. When he swung with his dagger he looked off balance.
And since when was Estel left handed…?
With a cry of shock, Elrohir threw his bow to the ground and plunged into the thick press of men. The elf cursed himself soundly as he roughly thrust his way through to his younger brother's side. Why had he not remembered! Of course Estel was not using his right hand! He was wounded for the love of the Valar!
The young ranger yelped in astonishment as he felt a strong hand close around his collar, jerking him back out of the blond brute's swing in the nick of time. Silver eyes grew wide as a fist flashed over his shoulder, planting itself in the raider's ugly face.
Kicking and punching, Elrohir all but dragged his little brother back to the outskirts of the fray.
"Here," the elf plucked his bow from the ground and thrust it into Estel's hands. "Give me that dagger. You stay out here where it's safe…"
Aragorn was torn between feeling grateful and extremely annoyed. He knew he had not been fighting well. But to be dragged away like an infant…! A bright flush of embarrasment flooded his face as he stumbled after Elrohir. Upon reaching the edge of the trees, Elrohir bent and retrieved his bow. The dark haired elf pushed the weapon towards Aragorn. "Here." Without thinking, the young ranger's fingers closed over the smooth wood. He opened his mouth to protest, but Elrohir cut him off.
"Give me that dagger. You stay out here where it's safe…" The twin was already reaching out to take Aragorn's knife as he spoke.
Hot frustration exploded somewhere within the young human's skull. He was being treated like a small child! Stay out where it's safe, Estel, we wouldn't want you to get hurt. Leave the dangerous stuff to the big elves…With a sound that was somewhere between a snarl and a half choked sob, he jerked his blade away from Elrohir.
Unfortunately, the elf had already closed his long fingers around the handle, and his grip was not easily broken. Gray eyes grew wide at Aragorn's attempt to keep his weapon. "Estel! What are you doing!" He yanked the steel blade back towards himself.
"It's mine!" Aragorn snarled back, sounding like the petulant child he did not want to be treated as. "Get off!"
Elrohir's eyes were almost bulging out of his skull by now. What had gotten into the human…? "Estel, be reasonable. If I am to go fight I need a weapon…"
"You have one! Take up your bow and let me fight on my own!"
Elrohir's composure frayed slightly at the edges, but he fought to maintain his calm. "Estel…"
"WOULD SOMEONE," Elladan bellowed from the middle of the battle. "GET OUT HERE AND HELP ME!"
"Give me the knife, Estel," Elrohir gritted through his teeth, feeling the thin threads of his patience fracture one by one… "You are wounded. You cannot wield the dagger as easily as normal. You will only succeed in getting yourself hurt if you go out there!"
It was true. Aragorn knew it. Resentment refused to allow him to admit it. "The blade is mine," he snapped once more, trying to pull it from Elrohir's fingers.
That did it. Elrohir's patience shattered so sharply he was surprised his brother could not hear it.
"GIVE ME THE KNIFE!" he roared, veins swelling dangerously in his neck.
Aragorn was so shocked he immediately released his hold. With one final dirty look at his little brother, the dark haired elf bounded back into the battle and fought his way to his twin's side.
"It's about time!" Elladan hissed nastily, blocking a blow meant for his head.
Elrohir only growled in response and clubbed one of the raiders with the dagger hilt.
An arrow flew by the younger twin's ear and struck a bandit squarely in the chest.
Another whistled by Elrohir's shoulder to find its' mark in a man's midriff.
"Them!" Elrohir howled at his little brother. "Shoot at THEM! Not us! THEM!"
This time an arrow came so close to the dark haired elf's head he felt it stir his hair as it passed by. Spinning, he saw it embed itself in the throat of a raider that had been sneaking up on him. Unfortunately, Elrohir was not entirely sure whether Estel had been aiming for the man, or had been trying to hit him and missed. Judging by the young human's expression, it could have been either. He quickly decided that he would rather not know which it was.
The raiders were falling back before the elves' prowess, their brutish faces starting to pale with fear. How could only three beings be so deadly? Not to mention their original targets, the four men.
One of the raiders bellowed harshly and broke for the woods. As if on cue, the others swiftly followed. Elrohir could see his twin's hesitation. Elladan longed to follow them and finish what had been started on their father's land. However, the humans they had rescued were wounded.
The younger twin placed a gentle hand on his brother's shoulder. Gentle, yet restraining. Elladan started at the touch. He had become so immersed in the battle he had ceased to become aware of anything else around him. Elrohir frowned slightly. It had been long since Elladan had given into the blood lust so completely…
Gray eyes turned on him, and they were sharp and clear in the fair face. A regretful grin tugged at the corners of the young elf lord's lips as he gazed at his brother's worried expression. "Another time," he said softly.
"Aye," Elrohir agreed, a grin of his own spreading in his relief. "There will be time to hunt another day."
The snapping of a twig behind them caused both elves to whirl….
…Only to see their younger brother scowling at the pair of them, Elrohir's bow held at arm length as though it would contaminate him should he hold it closer to his body. "Here," he thrust the weapon at the younger twin, seizing his dagger at the same time. "I'll take that, thank you." His voice was brittle. Harsh. Without waiting for either of the elves to respond, he turned on his heel and strode toward the group of men they had rescued.
Elrohir grimaced. Why, oh why could he not have been blessed with one sibling, just one, that would listen to sense? Had the Valar thought his life would be too dull and uneventful if he were not thwarted by a young, petulant ranger when he was only looking out for the human's best interest! The dark haired elf cast a very annoyed look at the sky above his head. I realize that my kind started the kinslaying, but to be fair I was not even born at the time…
Elladan exchanged a wry smile with his twin. "Ah, the rewards of seeing how our care is so appreciated." His face wrinkled in a most un-elf lord-like manner. "He will not forgive you for months, you realize."
"Better to be unforgiven than to drag a wounded Estel back to Ada."
"True." Elrond's eldest watched their younger brother as he knelt by one of the wounded men. "And had I noticed, I would have dragged him from the battle myself…" his voice trailed off as a stricken expression passed over his face. "He could have been seriously hurt…"
"Do not," Elrohir said flatly, "blame yourself. You were occupied with other things at the moment. And how could you have expected him to do something so foolish?"
Though he made no outward sign he had heard his brother's words, Estel felt his resentment boil within him. His hands trembled slightly as they cut away the injured man's tunic, but he quickly stilled them. A healer could not have unstable fingers.
The man grinned in a strained way at the young ranger, sweat beading his forehead. Dark hair was pulled back from his face, held out of the way with a leather thong. His features were craggy, looking as though they had been hewn rather roughly from a rock. Stubble coated his cheeks with a faint shadow. Though his skin looked as though it was usually tanned from a life spent mostly outdoors, at the moment it was rather pale with pain. Yet he still fought to keep from showing his discomfort. "It's not serious," He managed to force between his lips as Aragorn peeled the tunic away from his shoulder.
"No…" the ranger murmured distractedly. "Not very serious. Just painful I imagine." He offered a quick grin and was pleased to see the man grimace and nod. "I don't suppose you happen to have any tools for healing among you..?" Aragorn glanced at the man's companions that were grouped around him anxiously. They were shaking their heads.
"Fraid not," the dark haired man grunted. "We're not healers ourselves."
Aragorn narrowed his silver eyes in thought. His eyebrows drew together as he contemplated what should be done. Normally, it would not be a problem for him to attend to the man's wounds where they were. Unfortunately, he did not have any of his tools with him. Just as he and his brothers had not foreseen being involved in a battle, he had not realized that he would have wounded to deal with. "What is your name?"
"Halith," the dark haired man ground through clenched teeth.
"Well, Halith," Aragorn said as he applied pressure to the wound. "You're very fortunate. An inch or so to the left, and a little deeper you would have been peirced through the heart. What are you doing out here? Tis a far way to come for hunting…"
It was a delicate probe. Aragorn wished to know more of the men before he flippantly invited them to the elven refuge of Imladris. He knew already that his elder brothers would not relish taking the humans back to their home, but if they suspected that there was something amiss with the men…
"The game we hunt is far roaming," one of Halith's companions interjected. "And we underestimated it. When we caught up, it was we who became the hunted."
A light of understanding flickered in the young ranger's silver eyes. "You came after the men we rescued you from just now."
"Yes," Halith nodded. "They are part of a large band that had been harrassing our village, and we hoped to put a stop to them. As my friend said though, we did not realize just how many were among them."
Aragorn turned his attention away from his patient long enough to call over his shoulder. "We will have to take them with us. I do not have what I require here."
As the young man's face swung back towards Halith, he missed the look that passed between his brothers. Open skeptiscism glittered in their grey eyes.
Halith's dark eyes took in the elves' expressions. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Nay, sir," he addressed himself to Aragorn, keeping his voice soft. "We need not take your time, nor inconvenience you further."
One of his companions cast him a surprised glance. "But Halith…"
"I said," he raised his voice sharply, "we do not need to inconvenience these fine men further."
Aragorn shook his head obstinately. " Do not be ridiculous. You have already said you have no healers among you, and your wound needs to be dressed before you try to travel back to your town. It is no burden to us," the ranger turned to the elf twins. "Is that not right, gwenyr nin?"
Elladan cursed inwardly as the humans turned hopeful eyes towards him and Elrohir. What was he to say after a statement like that? It would be unthinkable to turn injured men away…and yet…
The look on Elrohir's face told him he was not alone in his reservations. There was something about these humans that he just did not trust. Unfortunately, until he had proof that there was malicious will in the small band, he could not find it in him to refuse sanctuary to a wounded man. "Of course," he finally answered, his voice cool, without a hint of the suspiscion that bubbled within him. "We would be honored to attend you."
"There," Aragorn said cheerfully. "That's settled. Here, you two," he beckoned to Halith's friends. "help me get him up on his feet."
The two men did as they were bidden, and soon, the whole party was on their way. Aragorn strode in front with the small band, leading, and keeping an eye on his patient at the same time. Elladan and Elrohir kept to the back, their faces grim.
Aragorn noticed his brothers' dour expressions, and they gave him a pang of uneasiness, but the ranger pushed it aside.
"You fought well, young man," Halith grinned tightly, his breathing coming harshly. He could not walk very well on his own, and his two friends took most of his weight on their own broad shoulders. Unfortunately, this also put a good deal of strain on his injury. Despite his obvious pain, the man kept up a steady stream of conversation. "I've seen much older warriors fare worse against so many…and they fighting with their proper hand!"
Aragorn flushed at the praise, but could not help feeling a small glow of satisfaction. Finally, someone who did not view him as a bumbling child…
Elrohir watched the man, Halith, conversing with Estel. The more the man talked, the more the elf's dark eyebrows crawled forward into a frown. He could not help it. There was…something…about this human he did not like.
Halith made a comment and Estel blushed, but Elrohir could see the pleased grin creaping over his little brother's features. The younger twin narrowed his grey eyes slightly.
Focused on the injured man, the young elf lord was not prepared for the wave of dark foreboding that rolled over him. He gasped, his footsteps faltering, eyes wide with horror. A strong hand caught his elbow as he nearly tripped and fell.
As quickly as it had come, it was gone, leaving Elrohir deeply shaken. Estel and the humans walked on. They had not noticed any change. Only Elladan had seen his twin stumble. It was his hand that caught his brother. The elder twin's face was twisted with worry.
Elrohir shuddered. He could not even tell what it was that he dreaded. Though a small portion of his father's gift of foresight had been endowed to him, and his siblings, he had never been able to see what the future held. Most of the time, he was quite happy to escape the knowledge of what was to come. He saw what a burden it was to his father, and he did not wish to take such a load on himself.
At this moment, however, he would have given anything to know what dark peril walked in the guise of this human coming towards their home. His grey eyes met the identical gaze of his twin, and he shook his head in answer to the questioning look he saw there. He could not say what it was that worried him so deeply.
He didn't know himself.
Gwenyr nin-My brothers