Title: Where Will You Go?
Rating: Strong PG-13 ('T' on this site). This first chapter's about as violent as it's going to get (which is more than enough don't you think?).
Timeline: Post-ROTK, set in the fifth year of the Fourth Age. Legolas has not yet brought elves to Ithilien, and Eldarion has not yet been born. Gimli, in addition, has not yet moved into the Glittering Caves.
Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings or anything created and copyrighted by Tolkien and New Line Cinema, I simply got bored and my muse decided to have a little fun with the characters. I'm making no profit from this, not now or ever. So don't sue, please.
Feedback: Yes, please, but no flames. If you don't like the story go read something else, don't waste your time and mine yelling at me because this isn't your cup of tea, so to speak. Constructive criticism is welcome, though.
Summary: Banished from Gondor and hunted by those he once called his dearest friends, Legolas must fight for survival if he is to see his name cleared of the terrible crimes for which he has been framed. He finds refuge in Forodwaith, the icy land of the far north, while some friends who have not given up on his innocence struggle to bring the real culprit to justice. But even if they succeed, can they find Legolas? And will they be able to convince him to come home; or has their friendship been ruined forever?
Warnings: Death, torture, angst, all that good stuff you've probably come to expect from a fic like this by now. In addition this story is non-slash, and any non-hetero love mentioned is brotherly/sisterly love, savvy?
Chapter 3: Of Tides and Races
Waves crashed in their never-ending pattern against the sand. The roar of the water and the sizzle of foam were as a balm to Imrahil's soul as he gazed out at the horizon. Many he had seen balk and stare in fearful awe at the sheer magnitude of the ocean the first time they saw it, claiming it to be a terrible and tumulus creature.
Imrahil smiled and shook his head. True, the sea did have her moments of temper, no doubt of that. But he had always felt calm and at peace around her. So long as he respected the simple rule that the sea loved and hated none and his continued existence was determined by his own prudence, he found that there was no place in the world he'd rather be.
The call of the gulls overhead turned his smile from one of fondness, to one of wry and somewhat irritated tolerance. Though the elves found the call of the gulls to be an invitation to leave this world behind and go home, he found them to be quite annoying after a time. And the bird's themselves were even worse than their voices.
Irritating, viciously territorial, and mean spirited, anyone who spent any significant amount of time around the seashore learned that seagulls were a pain and were simply to be nothing more than tolerated to the best of one's ability, not to mention made good target practice for bored guards trying to protect their lunches when they thought their superiors weren't looking.
Imrahil had made it perfectly clear to his men that he did not condone seagull hunting, and that if they were going to shoot at the birds that it had better be on their own time and well away from the notice of their superiors, or there would be consequences that they assuredly wouldn't like.
The sound of a throat being cleared behind him alerted him to the presence of another, and he briefly berated himself for being so caught up in his own thoughts that he had not taken notice of the man sooner.
"My lord, Lord Faramir of Ithilien has arrived."
Imrahil nodded, not turning to look at the servant. "Escort him here."
"Yes, my liege." The servant left, and Imrahil found himself once more alone with naught but the sound of the sea to sooth his thoughts as his mind began to tread down darker paths. Not four days ago a messenger bird had arrived with a letter from the Steward of Gondor, expressing an urgency to meet with him as soon as possible to discuss something that was troubling the king as of late. Any more than that Faramir would not say, however Imrahil, looking out over the countless fields of waves, had the distinct feeling that the turmoil of the waters would look as but a tranquil pond when compared to their own lives in the near future.
As he stood lost in thought once more, the servant returned, this time with Faramir in tow.
"Lord Imrahil?" he ventured, not wanting to startle the man.
The Prince of Dol Amroth's head turned swiftly, as he once again cursed himself for letting the sea set his thoughts adrift.
"Ah, Faramir. Welcome," he said, recovering swiftly.
"I appreciate you taking the time to see me on such short notice," Faramir replied, bowing his head in greeting.
"Yes, of course. Come. We shall go to my personal chambers, and I shall see to it that no one disturbs us."
"Thank you. I would prefer it if no one overhears us."
"That much I gathered, from the tone of your letter," Imrahil nodded as they made their way through the corridors. When they reached his own suite he closed the door, locking it behind him. From a chilled container it the corner he produced a wine bottle, and poured both himself and his guest a glass before sitting on the couch opposite the one Faramir occupied.
The Steward accepted the glass gratefully, and with a toast to Gondor he took a sip. Imrahil did likewise, then watched as the son of Denethor toyed with the glass, twirling it between his fingers, seemingly as lost in the swirl of the liquid inside as he had been looking out over the waves only minutes prior.
"What seems to be the trouble, my friend?" the Prince of Dol Amroth asked gently, trying to pry Faramir's thoughts away from their fascination with the wine and to someone who could hopefully better aid him with his troubles. Namely, Imrahil.
The steward jerked, almost looking surprised to see Imrahil quietly watching him, waiting for him to gather himself and respond.
"I am sorry, my mind has been troubled as of late," he ran a hand through his hair. His thoughts were quite scattered, and he was having difficulty trying to bring them back into some semblance of order. There was so much to tell! And yet, he knew not where to start.
"So I see. Why don't you start at the beginning?" Imrahil suggested.
"Aye, but where to start?" Faramir asked.
"You said it had something to do with Aragorn. Is he well?"
"That depends on your definition of 'well'," Faramir answered wryly. "If you are inquiring about his physical well-being, then yes, he is. But I cannot speak for the soundness of his mind."
"What do you mean? Has aught befallen him?" Imrahil was beginning to become concerned. 'As if I wasn't from the beginning, but from Faramir's state this is far worse than I thought…'
"Tell me everything, Prince of Ithilien," he said. "I have as much time to devote to hearing your tale as is needed."
Faramir nodded and began his story. He told Imrahil everything, from the earliest detail he could recall as significant, to his liege's actions after the banishment of Legolas.
Imrahil's concern had grown to monumental proportions by the time the dark-haired ranger was finished, and his subsequent questioning of certain parts had been exhausted.
The prince sat back in his seat. Downing the last of his now-warm wine in a swift swig so it would hopefully bring some semblance of calm to his nerves, he shook his head. "Not to state the obvious, but this is serious, and action must be taken immediately ere the situation can become more out of hand than it is already. You were right in coming to me."
"So you will come to the White City?" Faramir asked, though by the look in the blonde man's eye he knew already what the answer would be.
"Of course," Imrahil looked offended at the thought of not coming to his king's aid when it was so obviously needed. "We shall leave first thing in the morning."
Faramir wasn't altogether pleased about the idea of waiting, eager to get back to his wife and the Queen and for him and Eowyn to be on their way to get help from the rest of their friends. However, Imrahil saw his reluctance, and put to rest any protest he had.
"One night of rest will do little harm, Faramir. You know I cannot simply leave without warning and you I am certain will face enough sleepless nights in the near future as to make this one chance to rest seem a blessing," he said, smiling sympathetically. He knew how badly the Steward wanted to see everything set to right again, but rushing off unprepared in the middle of the night was hardly the answer.
Faramir nodded. The prince had a valid point, and all the stress of the last few days had his body clamoring for a decent night's rest before he set to toiling all over the width and breath of Middle Earth.
"Besides, there's a few things I need to look into before we go," Imrahil added.
"May I ask what that would be?" the Steward asked.
Imrahil nodded. "I know the library in Minas Tirith contains a vast amount of knowledge and lore, but our own here isn't altogether shabby either. I'd like to look through it tonight, before we leave, and see if there's anything there that may help us to help the King."
"That is exactly the sort of thing Gandalf would have done were he still here," Faramir said wistfully, wishing the White Wizard if only for a moment still walked these shores. His help would have been of great benefit to them, he mused.
"Aye, but since he isn't we'll simply have to make do. Between the remaining members of the Fellowship, King Eomer, Lord Celeborn, and the Son's of Elrond, your wife, the Queen, and ourselves, surely we can come up with some sort of solution that will see all of this as just a bad memory to be put behind us."
Imrahil spoke the truth. And yet Faramir still felt his heart clenching. They may be able to find a solution, but would things ever really go back the way they were? He was no fanciful dreamer. Decisions and actions of the past could not be undone. Even if they managed to restore Aragorn's state of mind, could they save him and themselves from the consequences of his actions?
To that, there was no answer. Nor would there be for some time yet.
He pardoned himself from Imrahil's company, and retired. The swirling thoughts in his head, dominated by the thoughts of what the worst they faced would be, exhausted him, and made him poor company. Imrahil saw this, and escorted him personally to the room set aside for him, asking that dinner be sent up to the stressed Steward so that he need not concern himself with trying to make an appearance for dinner.
After taking his own meal, the prince gave instructions to several of his advisors and made preparations for the care of his realm during which what was sure to be a long absence on his part. Afterwards he walked silently down the halls of his home, until he reached a set of carved white doors. Slipping past them he made certain they were closed behind him as he began to wander amongst the many shelves and cases, looking for anything that might give even so much as a hint as to what they might be dealing with.
He stayed there for much of the night.
Never once throughout the Ring War nor all of the years she and Aragorn had fought to be together had Arwen ever once thought she'd have to face something like this.
The sundering of the immortality that was her birthright, her ultimate separation from family and kin, all but a very few of those she loved, her eventual death… Those things she had counted on. She was no fool. She'd known what she was getting herself into should Aragorn ever take the throne. But never did she think that she'd give up everything only to have her beloved go mad.
And that was exactly what she feared was happening.
Everything in her was screaming that this wasn't something that would simply go away once the king recovered from his grief. No, it would fester and grow worse, unless they could stop it.
Otherwise all of their struggles and sacrifices would have been in vain.
There was no doubt in her mind. She knew Aragorn almost better than anyone else. No matter where they were, or what they did, she could see it.
It was in his eyes.
It was dark, it was festering, and unless drawn it would take him.
It was only a matter of time.
The Queen of Gondor sat at the window, overlooking the gardens below. Ever since that day, almost a week ago, that Legolas had been banished; she'd watched her husband ever so slowly begin the slide down into madness. So slow that there were moments when she could almost convince herself that she was just being silly. That she was overreacting and that it wasn't so dire as she was making it out to be.
Yes her Aragorn most certainly needed help, but she was blowing it out of proportion, making it more of a mountain than it already was.
No, she wasn't. She shook her head, trying to rid it of thoughts she knew were no more than wishful thinking. She knew her husband better than that, and what was happening here was no minor thing.
The day she'd woken up to find her baby dead and Legolas being blamed she'd thought she detected the faintest shadow it Aragorn's eyes. Then she'd chalked it all up to grief, and stress.
Until he'd… until he'd tortured the elf and sent him to what would most likely be his death.
Then his normally Mithril-bright eyes had been darkened, and though it had lifted that night when he'd held her in his arms, whispering comfortingly as she grieved, it had returned.
Now any annoyance or wrong-doing had it coming back, steadily growing in its teasing, minute way. Sometimes it was simply in a glance he gave something. Sometimes something in the air around him just felt wrong.
She wished Faramir would get back soon. As promised Estel had sent out riders this morning to comb the hills and towns for their elven friend, as his period of escape was as of today expired. The more she thought about the situation, he more her thoughts ran wild, spiraling towards utter despair and panic.
A hand on her shoulder caused her to jump as she whirled to face her assailant.
"Eowyn! Do you want me to die of a heart attack!"
The Lady of Ithilien smiled mischievously. "Hmm, perhaps… If it'll get you to stop brooding. Honestly my dear, one would think you were Mithrandir for all that thinking you've been doing."
"I highly doubt I have as many gray hairs or as bushy a pair of eyebrows as he did. And you most certainly won't be seeing me ever wear that ridiculous pointy hat of his," Arwen scoffed.
Eowyn laughed. "Well then, you won't mind coming with me and helping me with a little idea I have."
Arwen raised an eyebrow. "What'd you have in mind, and for what is it for?"
"It's to make keeping in touch a little easier for the both of us after Faramir and I leave," Eowyn replied.
"And how do you plan to manage that?" Arwen's curiosity was piqued.
"You'll see." Was all she was able to get out of the Nazgul slayer as she led the two of them out of the palace.
"Here, put this on," she shoved a cloak into the queen's hands, and then disappeared into the stables. When the blonde lady came back, she was leading two inconspicuous-looking bays and wearing her own plain cloak and a pack.
Arwen got the idea and took hold of one of the horses, fastening the fabric about her shoulders and climbing on, as Eowyn already had. With a nod to the guards, who had been told in advance that the two ladies were going out unescorted, they were riding through the gates and down into the lower levels of the city. Arwen could hardly see why they needed the horses, but decided to simply stay her questions and trust that Eowyn would offer up an explanation soon enough.
With the overcast weather it was easy to ride through the city levels without anyone taking notice of them. People were either trying to get their business done and get home before the rain came, or they were simply not of any mind to care when two cloaked and hooded riders went passed.
As they came upon the Great Gates, Eowyn smiled in appreciation of this. She didn't want any of the delays that inquiring guards or random people would bring, she simply wanted to get herself and Arwen out of the city for a bit so they could get away from their current problems for a few blessed hours before her husband came back and they would be locked down into dealing with them for who knew how long.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, such plans often do not go quite as one would wish them to.
"What need, does the Lady of Ithilien and the Queen of Gondor have to try to sneak out of the City that is their home as though they were fugitives?"
If it wouldn't have gotten her thrown in prison Eowyn would have thrown quite a heavy rock at Elessar's head at that moment. "We seek the peace and solitude of two friends going for a ride together, and have no wish to burden ourselves with an escort or people coming to gawk at us because of our station. Inconspicuousness is the best way to achieve that, wouldn't you agree?"
Aragorn, standing with the leader of the guards stationed at the outer wall, stared down at them, his gaze impassive, yet searching. 'It's almost as though he's suspicious of us,' Arwen mused to herself. It saddened her, that her husband wouldn't simply take their word as he used to, and now felt he had to analyze it.
"I assure you, Estel, we only wish to ride for a while. We'll be back in a few hours," she consoled, trying to get him to simply let them go instead of questioning them until the rains let loose and they would be unable to leave.
Aragorn didn't grace them with a verbal response, only stared; looking back and forth between them for what seemed like an hour, before he turned away with an absent-minded wave of his hand. "Do as you wish."
Arwen smiled. "I'll see you tonight Estel," she called as the two of them rode through the Gates.
"See that you don't get back too late," he shouted after her.
The Queen turned in the saddle and smiled at him, waving as they turned north and picked up a trot.
"So, Eowyn," she said, "what plans had you for us once we got out here?"
The Lady graced her with a mischievous smirk. "I'll race you."
Arwen's easy smile became one of competitive challenge. "You're on."
They spent the next half hour allowing their mounts the chance to stretch their limbs and get their heart-rates up, before they selected a starting point at a patch of moss in the ground.
"Ready?" Eowyn asked.
"Been ready," Arwen replied.
"HA!" they cried, spurring their horses into a gallop. Within moments the animals had gotten the idea that they were racing, and took off with a passion, eager and excited to be doing something different than their normal routine.
The cold wind whipped at their faces, their heartbeats trying to match the drumming sound of hooves beneath them.
Eowyn tossed her head as her hood was torn off to flap against her back, freeing her hair in a wild stream of sun-tinted locks. Laughter escaped as she reveled in the feeling of twelve hundred pounds of unbridled power moving at breakneck speed beneath her. It was not quite the same as her own Rohirrim-bred stallion, who was by far a superior racer to the creature she was currently on, but nevertheless it was an exhilarating and empowering feeling. The fear of knowing how disastrous a fall could be fueling her delight and egging her on to dance with death and danger as she and her companion raced each other and the winds.
Arwen was no less affected. Long had it been since she and her brothers had gone to some wide-open space and simply let their horses go for the sheer fun of it. Whispering to her horse in her native tongue, she trusted him to keep a steady and responsible course as she tied the reins to keep them from falling and tripping him up. As Eowyn watched bemusedly out of the corner of her eye, the Queen of Gondor let go of the reins, and threw her hands up and out behind her, throwing her head back with them and giving a shout of joy.
"See to it you don't fall, my friend," Eowyn called. "I have no desire to stop to pick you up if you do."
"Speak for yourself, Rohirrim," Arwen shouted back. "We of elven blood are of a superior skill when atop these beasts. It is you who should fear a fall, not me!"
"Ha! I doubt that. Notice how it is my folk who are renowned as 'The Horse-Masters', not yours!"
"Well, then. I suppose we should get down to business and settle this little debate!"
Arwen once again took up the reins and bent low over her horse's neck, standing in the stirrups so that the equine's back was freed and he would have an easier time moving without her weight shifting on it with every stride. Eowyn had done similar, and the two now set about to defending their people's honor as horsemen.
Eowyn had the taller mount, with a subsequently longer-reaching stride. But Arwen's gelding was gamer, with a will and a penchant for proving who was the faster. Across the Pelennor they flew, neck and neck, until even the riders had to admit they were beginning to tire.
In the end, no one won, and they pulled up, laughing and taunting one another.
"'Twas a good try, Eowyn, but you have to admit that had we an actual finish-line, you would have been surely lost in my horse's dust," Arwen gave a haughty elven smirk.
"I think otherwise, my Lady," Eowyn grinned. "Next time we shall have to have more appropriate mounts and an actual racecourse, and then we shall see that it will be you choking on my horse's dust."
"Then we shall do so, when you have returned and all is back to how it should be," Arwen laughed.
Eowyn nodded. "So be it, my friend."
She turned to look at their surroundings, and noticed they had gone quite a ways north, and were now in a marsh-like area of fields known as the Wet Wang. But it was what she saw straight ahead that had her eyebrows furrowed and eyes straining to see that which was just to the right of their path straight ahead.
"What is that?"
A/N: Ohhhhh, I wonder what that could be… Anyways I decided to spare you the author's note at the beginning so that you could get right down to the chapter as I know you were all so anxious to do. My computer, as anyone who has read my Livejournal lately can tell you, was on the fritz, but is now back in working order. I was further delayed by the onset of finals, and then the tediousness of packing up my dorm (which is kind of stupid as I'll be going back to the same room at the start of the fall semester) and moving three hundred miles back home, after which it has been nothing but running around and everyone wanting me for one thing or another, and not having even a moment to sit down and drag my muse back from wherever she'd gone off to so I could work on any of my stories. Actually I'm now at my friend's house finishing this, and then I have to go take an extremely quick shower and head off to lunch with her and her mother at a Chinese buffet.
But enough blabbering, and excuses that I'm sure you're by now not very interested in after that long speech. I will be making more time to write, for my sanity's sake if not to keep angry lynch-mobs of readers from coming after me. So though I'm not entirely sure how often I'll be updating, I'm going to do my best to keep it within the two-week time-span that I had before.
And thank you all soo much for the incredible feedback I've gotten on this. It's been amazing to see so many comments from you all. Not to say you should stop though! My muse is absolutely loving it and for those of you who have read any of my other stories you'll notice I've gotten far more done on this story in a far shorter time-span than any of my others. /sheepish grin/
So don't forget to feed the muse, or to go to my Livejournal page (link's on my bio) for your review responses, which will be up sometime tonight. Oh, and for the convenience of you people who are new to fanfiction I'm going to put up some commonly-used abbreviations that you'll see authors use.
See you again soon!