Disclaimer: I did not do it!
Written for the 2007 Teitho Fanfiction Contest 'Whodunit'.
Part of the Undying Friendship Series
Dedicated to Cactuskim
by Nieriel Raina
Year 16 F.A.
"You will never find her like this."
The elf sounded very confident, and the tone really annoyed the man who was stooped to look at the ground. "You doubt my tracking abilities?"
"No. But there is nothing to track here."
Aragorn gritted his teeth and tried to ignore the remark. "I will find her."
"Aragorn, the city is made of stone. There are few tracks to be found in this environment, and your prey leaves almost indiscernible tracks in the earth and none on stone. How do you plan to find her?"
"I will find her," he repeated. He had to find her. The thought of not doing so was unbearable and too painful to even consider. "I must find her."
The elf sighed heavily and came to stand next to him. "I understand your frustration." Legolas squatted beside him and ran his fingers over the dust covering the paving stones. "There is nothing here. Perhaps further on."
Aragorn rose to his feet and ran a hand through his hair. He was dressed in simple, worn clothing similar to that he had worn as a ranger for so many years of his life, with two exceptions - he wore no sword, which felt odd, and a dusty leather hat was pulled down over his eyes, the brim hiding his features from those who passed them. Hidden under the leather duster he wore over a belted black tunic, he had strapped a dagger.
The man glanced at Legolas as he also stood. Attired in the green tunic and grey leggings common among the elves of Ithilien, Legolas did not stand out as a lord. And strapped to Legolas' belt was a familiar, white hunting knife. They were prepared for danger and blended in with the people moving about the city streets. Few would have noticed the two men following them as well.
Legolas raised a brow, and they moved on a ways, both their eyes scanning the ground, the street around them, and the faces as they passed unnoticed in the crowd… always aware of the nondescript persons trailing behind.
Suddenly, Legolas stopped and stooped at the entrance to an alleyway. "Aragorn, look!"
The man also bent over after a quick glance behind them. There, in the accumulated dirt of a broken paving stone was a faint footprint. And several feet from it, was another leading into the dark, deserted alley. As they stood, Legolas placed a hand on the hilt of his knife.
Man and elf stared at each other a moment, and then with one last glance behind them, Aragorn led them into the corridor which ran between streets. Here, it was quiet and damp, and in the dim light caused by the tall buildings on either side they could make out more prints as they walked. They were half way through to the next street when the two men following them entered the alley behind them. And right about the time the tracks faded from sight, two more men entered the dark alley, only this time, coming towards them.
Aragorn looked up from the ground, cursed and wondered how he managed to always end up in hopeless situations. The day held such promise when he woke, but the peace did not last much past his waking. He sighed, fingering the knife concealed under his duster. Beside him, Legolas stiffened.
The men crept closer.
- . - . - . - . -
Several hours earlier….
The King of Gondor smiled as he stretched and opened his eyes to the sun shining in through the open window. For the first time in many nights, he had slept very well. He smirked and turned his head to look at his wife, but she had already risen and left the room. So much for a repeat performance of last night's activities. His stomach rumbled, and he stood. Deciding that if he could not love his wife, eating would be a nice alternative, Aragorn slipped his feet into his slippers by the bed and walked to the door, which lead to the main room of the royal apartments.
Entering the large sitting room, he stopped and frowned. There was no tray on the table in one corner. No wife seated there smiling at him as she poured his juice. No food to fill his complaining stomach. A cold feeling of dread settled on him, and he quickly moved to another door, throwing it open.
The guard on the other side jumped, and then saluted. "My liege, is something amiss?"
"I was going to ask you the same. Where is the queen?"
The guard looked baffled. "I am not sure, my lord. I just came on duty a few minutes ago. I have not seen her, and the other guard reported nothing to me. Perhaps she is tending to the young prince?" The man smiled at the king hopefully.
The lack of report and suggestion settled Aragorn somewhat. "I don't suppose you would know where my breakfast is either, then?"
The guard blinked, his lips twitched ever so slightly, but he managed to keep a straight face. "No, I am sorry, my lord, I do not. Shall I summon a servant to find out?"
"Please." And Aragorn shut the door and retreated back into his rooms.
He stood there a moment, feeling a little lost and unsure. It was possible that something might have taken place with Eldarion that could have required Arwen's presence so early. But usually the nursemaid dealt with their young son in the mornings so that king and queen might have that time to themselves before the demands of their offices dragged them in different directions. And there was still his missing breakfast to consider, and the previous guard reporting nothing out of the ordinary to the guard relieving him.
"Bah," he laughed at himself. Too many years in the wilds, too many years dealing with danger had made him paranoid. He would simply go dress first, and then, hopefully, the missing parts of his morning would be there when he returned.
But they were not.
The concern and unusual feeling of dread settled upon his chest once more, and Aragorn strode purposefully to the door in order to find out some answers. When he opened it, silence met him along with an empty corridor. And when he reached Eldarion's room, it also was empty, but there were signs of a struggle.
- . -
Legolas sat on the balcony overlooking Minas Tirith, enjoying the new day and the coolness of the breeze as he ate his breakfast. Normally, he would have already eaten, as he rose from his rest with the sun, but this morning, the gulls circling the Citadel had called to him. Unable to resist, the elf took a walk in the garden, singing softly of the sea as the gulls wailed overhead. But the smell of fresh bread lulled him from his wanderings, and now, having returned to his rooms, he bit into another piece covered in fresh butter and wild berry preserves. "Mmmm…." King Elessar's personal cook baked some of the best bread.
A pounding on his door caused the elf to drop his piece of bread, and he cursed softly as it landed on the stone floor beside his chair buttered side down. It had been his last piece, too. Scooping it up, he eyed it a moment, frowned, and placed it on his tray uneaten. Walking to the door and opening it, he found an agitated guard.
"Lord Legolas! The king requests you attend him at once in the royal chambers."
"Why?' Legolas asked, stepping out into the corridor. "What has happened?"
The elf had come to the city on a friendly visit. There was no state business to discuss, no treaties to sign, no dignitaries to entertain. He visited simply to spend some time with his friend and the man's family. Gimli also was due to arrive any day, and they had planned to go hunting. Yet it would seem some sort of trouble had found them first.
"I-I…" the guard stuttered, suddenly looking a bit confused. "I am not sure. I was told by my superior to find you and give you the king's command."
Legolas inclined his head once, and made his way quickly to the Royal Wing of the Citadel. What he found disturbed him greatly. He took one look into the room and turned to Aragorn with a frown on his fair face. "This does not bode well."
- . -
Aragorn would never cease to be amazed at his friend's ability to state the obvious. He was relieved to see Legolas, yet the elf's question exasperated him. "Of course it does not!" He waved a hand into his son's disheveled room and explained the situation. His friend nodded as he heard the details, concern growing in the elf's face.
"She is missing and nothing will ever be the same unless she is found!" Aragorn concluded with much emotion.
The elf sighed. "I know, my friend. I am sorry." Legolas placed a hand on the man's arm, pulling him from the room and the distressing sight within. They walked down the hall towards Aragorn's rooms, the sound of the man's boot heels clicking on the stone while the elf's feet made only the faintest of sounds. Even that caused Aragorn to become more upset.
Stopping outside the door, Legolas queried, "Eldarion is unhurt?"
The man nodded, worrying at his lower lip with his teeth. "He did not see what took place, but is very upset that she is missing."
"That is to be expected," the elf replied, a sad expression on his fair face.
The man returned the sad look. "I-I don't know what I will do if…" He could not bring himself to complete that thought.
"Are there any clues?" Legolas asked. "Do we know who is responsible? Perhaps things are not as they seem. She could have just slipped out…."
"Legolas, she could not have just slipped out unnoticed by anyone in the Citadel! Not without aid!"
"So, you think someone spirited her away?" Legolas blinked at him, his expression nonplused.
"You do not?" The man asked in exasperation. They were wasting time.
"I think we do not have enough information to come to such conclusions, Aragorn. No, my friend, hear me out! All we know right now is that she is missing."
"She is not in the Citadel anywhere! We must search for her!" Aragorn spit out from between clenched teeth.
His friend took a deep breath, closing his eyes, and Aragorn regretted his sharp retort. . "I am sorry, Legolas." He ran a hand thought his unruly hair. "If you were in my position…"
"I would be just as concerned and upset as you are," the elf finished for him, and they both smiled, though the smiles were strained. "But we still need more information before we rush about blindly, and you know it."
Aragorn leaned back against the wall, lowering his head into his hands. "I know it."
The weight of the elf's hand on his shoulder caused him to look up. "We should prepare for a search," Legolas glanced at the man's kingly attire and then down at his own clothing, "and neither of us is dressed for it."
Aragorn ceded that his friend was correct. Forcing himself to have patience in a matter that touched him very personally did not come easy, but he managed it somehow. The elf returned to his room to change into unobtrusive garb, while the king entered his chamber and dug in the back of his wardrobe. After approving of his attire in the mirror, Aragorn searched out the Captain of the Guard, explaining his plans when he found the man.
"I don't like it," Arnien complained. "You should send men to search, not go yourself, my lord."
Aragorn shook his head, refusing to be gainsaid on the matter. "Men are going to search, and I will be one of them," he insisted, nodding at Legolas who strode towards them dressed in the manner of a common wood-elf.
Arnien nodded and stepped back as the elf approached. "All is in readiness?" Legolas asked as he joined the men, smiling at Aragorn when he took in his ranger-like appearance.
"And we are prepared to search," Aragorn agreed. "As soon as we have some clue…"
"My lord! King Elessar!"
The men and elf looked up to see a young girl running towards them, her eyes wide, hair tumbling about her shoulders in a mess of waves and hair pins. Her dress hung off one shoulder, torn, and there was a trace of blood on her apron. She gasped as she tried to catch her breath.
"What? What news?" Aragorn asked, his heart pounding, while Legolas gently steered the maid to a bench in the hall and pushed her onto it.
The maid took a few more gasping breaths and then blurted out, "T-they…almost caught... S-she's g-gone out s-south wing… t-towards the g-gate."
Aragorn and Legolas were running before the girl finished speaking. The man called over his shoulder as he ran.
"Organize the men, Captain!"
Arnien scrambled to where the guards were waiting for orders.
There was no trace of anything suspicious when they arrived at the gate. No clues to lead them. The seventh gate was swept clean of any dust and there were no tracks to follow. The gate guards pointed down into the sixth level of the city, eyes wide.
Aragorn and Legolas descended the stone steps and came into the sixth level to find a normal busy day in the city. People scurried here and there, a few horses were being led to the stables, a vendor with a cart called out. But of she for whom they searched, there was no sign.
No one noticed as the man and elf slipped into the flow of the city, blending in with their surroundings. They searched the area for any sign, and when Aragorn found a single print leading into the fifth level, they quickly followed.
- . - . - . - . -
In the alley in the fifth level of the city, the four men closed in on them from both ends of the alley. Legolas glanced around at a sound and drew his knife. Aragorn followed suit with his dagger. They stood back to back, their eyes scanning every inch of the alley as they prepared themselves for what was to come. The men drew closer. Aragorn noticed one of the men he was facing had also drawn a knife, and he smirked, his muscles tense. The noise came from behind him again.
"Where is it coming from?" one of the advancing men asked, glancing around.
Legolas pointed to a gap in the stone wall near them. There was a large, overturned cart covering most of the crack. Other debris cluttered up the alley near it, making it near impossible to reach. The elf stepped over to it, stooped and began prying with his knife at a broken piece of the cart, in an attempt to dislodge it.
"Arnien," Aragorn addressed the approaching men, one of whom was the captain of his guard, "You and Morlînon help Legolas and me remove this debris. Calrilion, you block off the east of the alley, and Faelon the west. We do not want her to slip past us. Not after the trouble we went through finding her!"
The men of the Guard, who had followed their king to protect him as unobtrusively as possible, moved to do as instructed. Legolas however, laughed softly. "She will not be leaving, my friend." He had managed to wedge himself into the debris as only an elf could and reach into the dark hole. A low growl came from within, and he removed his hand quickly. "No, she is not going anywhere." He extracted himself and began again using his knife as a tool.
Aragorn, his captain and lieutenant joined in, and soon, they had a clear enough passage to the break in the wall. Again, Legolas approached cautiously, speaking softly in his native tongue. Another warning growl sounded, but ceased when Legolas lowered himself to peer in the dark hole.
Aragorn could not see what was happening, but suddenly, he heard a squeal. Legolas backed out, and cradled against him was a newborn pup. "See, she will not leave her children. We have only to collect them and she will follow us home."
"Puppies? All of this to have puppies?"
Legolas laughed. "It is normal behavior for a dog. Now, off with that," he tugged on Aragorn's duster. "We will use it to carry the whelps in." Aragorn happily gave up his article of clothing and held it as Legolas filled it with pup after pup, until six were bundled in Aragorn's arms. As Legolas removed the seventh, Hûvaran exited from the crevice herself, standing up on her hind legs to see the pup Legolas held, and then dropping down on all fours and moving over to where the others whimpered in Aragorn's arms. As Legolas said, she followed them easily back up the streets to the Citadel.
- . - . - . - . -
Two days later….
Gimli stared at the elf as he told the tale, a look of disbelief on his face. "I find it hard to believe, Elf, that a dog could cause so much trouble!"
Legolas grinned and Aragorn chuckled. "Oh, but she did, my friend. She turned the entire Citadel into a scrambling frenzy of searching."
The dwarf looked puzzled. "But…" Gimli paused and glanced at the man seated across the room and then at Arwen sitting beside the man. "Where was your lady during all this? Did you not say she was missing when you woke, Aragorn? What about that maid who was all mussed? And what happened to your breakfast?"
The man let his head fall back as he laughed accompanied by giggles and snickers from Arwen and Legolas. "And that was the best part," Aragorn said through his chuckles. "Eldarion awoke to find his beloved Hûvaran missing." At Gimli's frown, he explained. "You know that hound Éomer sent to help improve our hunting dog stock?"
"Gimli's brows rose. "The boy took a liking to that scraggly brown dog?"
Legolas looked at him sharply, all traces of humor leaving him in an instant. "Hûvaran is a well bred scent hound. One of the best I have seen. She is so light on her feet that she leaves hardly a trace, and the game never hears her." The elf sulked when the dwarf failed to look impressed.
"So, his dog was missing. How does that explain your missing breakfast?" The Dwarf turned back to look at Aragorn.
Aragorn looked at the offended Elf and indifferent Dwarf with affection. Their bantering never failed to amuse him. "Eldarion, upon finding Hûvaran missing, came running to tell his mother and I, and in the course, ran smack into the servant carrying our breakfast tray. He ended up wearing most of it."
Arwen giggled, wrapping her arms around her middle. "A bowl of porridge overturned on his head and he was soaked in juice!"
"The poor lad," Gimli sympathized, though his grin gave his amusement away.
"He was inconsolable," Arwen's mirth mellowed some as she spoke on it. "And when the nurse realized the door must not have been shut properly the last time she checked on him, we realized Hûvaran must have pushed it open and let herself out. Eldarion was very upset with his nurse, and threw a tantrum, practically destroying his room."
"Over a dog?" The dwarf asked in amazement.
"She is a good dog!" Legolas insisted, bright eyes flashing.
Aragorn interrupted the impending argument. "Arwen finally got him calmed down and stayed with him. They managed to get him clean, but after his bad behaviour, he was confined to his rooms. Still upset about his missing dog, the punishment started the tears all over again."
"Our friend does not cope well with an upset child," Legolas added with a smirk, "so he insisted we find the hound."
"I thought you said she was a good dog?" Gimli asked, his lips twitching.
"It is not surprising Aragorn would not wish such a valuable animal to remain missing."
"I was more concerned for my son's heart than the quality of my kennels, thank you." Aragorn glared at them both.
"What about the maid?"
Legolas shook his head and rolled his eyes. "She had been working in the kitchen. On a trip to the herb garden, she spotted Hûvaran and tried to grab the dog. The poor girl could not hold onto her though. Hûvaran was determined to find a quiet, dark place to have those pups."
"So," Gimli turned back to Aragorn, "you found your wife, your son and your dog," Gimli ticked off each item on calloused fingers. "Did you ever get your breakfast?"
Aragorn groaned, while Arwen and Legolas began to laugh again.
"What?" The Dwarf asked.
Legolas eyed the man who had dropped his head into his hands. "When we returned, Aragorn had his hands full. In his haste to show Eldarion that Hûvaran had been found with seven pups, he failed to note the maid approaching with a tray…"
Gimli, beginning to chuckle, looked at the man, "You did not?"
"Oh, he did," Arwen replied, rubbing her husband's back soothingly. "I suppose it is a good thing the staff has such good sense of humour. They took it all every well - better than their king."
Aragorn groaned. "If I hear that song one more time…"
"Song? What song?" Gimli asked through his laughter.
"Oh," Legolas smiled wickedly, "the servants have made a children's song out of it." And he began to sing.
"Breakfast porridge hot, breakfast porridge cold, breakfast porridge on the king and pups a day old…"
Hûvaran – Sindarin 'brown dog'
A/N - For those of you are still holding out for a chapter of Affinity, good news! I am almost finished with the next chapter! It has proven the most difficult chapter I've ever written! But it is almost complete! A little more tweaking and then off to the betas.
Thank you for reading! Comments are appreciated.