Disclaimer: I don't own Lord of the Rings.
A/N: This was written for the Teitho contest "Competitions." Enjoy!
From his seat on the bottommost step of the stone dais which led up to his throne, King Elessar of Gondor lifted his gaze to see his Steward standing in the open doorway of the Tower Hall at Minas Tirith, his slender frame throwing a long shadow which soared into the hall's vast depths as the sun dawned outside.
Raising a hand in greeting, Aragorn signalled the other man forward, even as his mind delved for the hundredth time into the matter that had brought him to the Hall seeking refuge before the stars had faded back into the cloud-strewn sky.
In the long years that had passed since he had been coroneted as Gondor's king, the former ranger had discovered that the massive chamber made for an idyllic sanctuary in the otherwise bustling city, provided, of course, that one knew when it would be empty of the many petitioners and city officials who habitually haunted its vast interior. It was a place to think when the stone walls of the city became too confining, a place where he could let his mind either wander back to his days as a Dunedan of the North, or else deliberate on the far less agreeable matters of diplomacy and taxation. Whichever thought occupied his mind, it was a place where he could be alone, where he could exist, for however brief a time, away from those who made it their duty to surround him whenever he resided in the White City.
The light footsteps of the youngest son of Denethor jerked Aragorn abruptly from his thoughts, and he watched keenly as the younger man approached the tiered stone on which he sat. Six years had passed since the War of the Ring, and the wounds Faramir had received on his desperate ride towards Osgiliath had long faded, leaving only pale scars which, Aragorn knew, though typically hidden from sight, always acted to Faramir as a reminder of darker times, urging him to take even further care in his duties than the dedicated man would otherwise have done.
Long nights spent sorting through the affairs of Gondor in the weeks and months following Aragorn's coronation, affairs which had long been neglected under Denethor's troubled reign, had brought King and Steward together in friendship at a far greater pace than either man had ever hoped. The relationship had only cemented over time, each coming to know the other backwards as well as forwards, able to read each other's moods and thoughts with a mere glance, a skill which Faramir often commented was indispensable when dealing with delegates from other lands.
Faramir bent in his customary half-bow as he drew to a halt before Aragorn, the sandy hair that was so similar to his brother's swinging about his shoulders.
"My lord," he said in greeting.
Aragorn nodded at him. "Faramir," he replied grimly.
Immediately, Aragorn felt Faramir's gaze deepen, and a fine crease appeared on the serious face before him. He could almost see the man running through a list in his head of the current affairs of state, searching for anything particularly troubling that had perhaps slipped his notice or memory.
"Is something troubling you, my lord?" he asked.
Aragorn sighed. There was no use in withholding what troubled him. "I have told you, Faramir, of my elven heritage."
The Steward nodded.
"Last night I dreamt of Gondor."
Faramir took a quick breath, though his face did not change. "What did you see?" he asked carefully, hesitantly.
Aragorn looked down, fixing his gaze on the white stone beneath him. "I saw nations at war," he murmured, his voice both harsh and bleak at once. "Men and elves locked in battle, with the dwarves on both sides, changing their allegiance too swiftly to keep up."
"My lord," Faramir interrupted, "surely you must be mistaken. The alliances between the races are stronger than they have been in hundreds of years-"
Yet Aragorn did not hear him, lost in his own mind and dreams. "There was a voice speaking to me," he continued, "though I cannot remember its words. Only that it warned of a great strife and conflict." He looked up and met Faramir's concerned gaze, his own eyes haunted. "This dream bodes ill for our country, for our people. I am sure of it."
"I am certain that it was a dream, my lord, nothing more. Middle-earth is at peace now; it has been so for many years, due in large part to yourself."
Aragorn allowed the barest hint of a smile to slip onto his face. "Do not forget your own part in it, Steward."
Faramir bowed. "You do me great honour, my lord. And I swear to you, no matter what you have seen in your sleep, I will not see the White City fall."
Aragorn nodded, his heart calming. Carefully, he took a deep breath, and began to issue orders. "I must speak to Arwen of this before anything else is done. She may have some knowledge of-"
Aragorn stopped. A cacophony of raised voices had suddenly burst into the hall, sweeping ahead of the thunderous sound of footsteps on the courtyard stones. Unnerved at such a disturbance so early in the morning, Aragorn rose to his feet, his hand on the sword he kept always by his side. Next to him, Faramir did the same.
In the immense doorway that led from the Citadel into the Hall, three figures appeared as dim shadows framed against the dawn.
Each was of a differing height and stature to his companions. The first was tall and lithe, his limbs moving as smoothly as trees swaying in the wind, his pale blonde hair flowing in a breeze created by his own passing. The second figure neared the first in height, yet his build was sturdier, his broad shoulders easily filling out the ornamental metal chestplate he wore even in times of peace. The third figure marched between the other two, his feet echoing loudly on the marble floor as he stomped his way towards the dais where Aragorn and Faramir were waiting. The figure's red beard appeared even brighter than usual in the strange light that lit the Hall, flaming angrily against his broad chest.
The clear, melodious voice of Legolas Thranduillion, prince of Mirkwood and Lord of Ithilien rang, bell-like, through the Tower Hall, lighting every corner as though it carried the sun itself.
"Estel, tell these fools-"
Yet Gimli's voice interrupted, his rough bellow blustering over the sweet elven voice as he turned to the king of Rohan, even as he continued his furious march. "I warned you many a year past, Eomer, elves are not to be trusted! Never trust an elf!"
"You did, Master Dwarf," Eomer, son of Eomund, agreed without pause, his rough voice melding with the very stone of the hall, "yet never did I believe that treachery could run so deep." He glanced sideways at the elf prince beside him, who seemed almost to be vibrating with an unvoiced anger. "Particularly not between friends," he added grimly.
"I did nothing!" Legolas cried, his usually composed manner having vanished, replaced with a fury to which even Aragorn had rarely born witness. The elf turned to the king of Gondor, who was balanced on the balls of his feets, ready to rush to the aid of his friend…friends…whomever looked like he most needed it…at the first sign of violence. "Estel, hear me, these tales of betrayal are lies, all of them!"
"So says one so flighty that he would betray his closest companions without a moment's thought!" Gimli shouted.
"My friends!" Aragorn cried, keeping his grip tight on his sword and descending the last step to the floor with a litheness usually reserved for one of elfkind. "Calm yourselves!"
"I shall do no such thing!" Gimli bellowed, "not until the elf-"
"His name," Aragorn inserted firmly, "is Legolas."
Looking somewhat gratified at this, Legolas took a seat on the stairs by Faramir's feet. The Steward, for his own part, seemed to be having trouble deciding on the appropriate action. At length, he sank down uneasily on the dark Steward's chair, not far from the elf. Legolas sent him a merry smile before making a rude gesture at Gimli.
Unaware of what was going on around him, Gimli was still blustering at Aragorn, his face gradually taking on a brighter and brighter shade of red.
"-and I will not be silent until you banish this elf from Middle-earth!"
Aragorn rolled his eyes. "Even if I wished to do something so foolish, Master Gimli, I have little authority in matters beyond Gondor."
"Then form an alliance! Even what little is left of the Haradhrim would be glad to be rid of this pointy-eared trouble-maker!"
"I am not banishing Legolas," Aragorn stated sternly. He turned to the blonde-haired elf sitting by his feet. "Now, mellon nin. Tell me what happened."
Placated, Legolas opened his mouth. "The twins-" he started.
Swiftly, Aragorn held up a hand, cutting him off. "Wait," he interrupted. "I feel that I will need a seat for any tale involving those two." Backing up, he took a seat on the cool white steps. "Continue."
Eyeing him strangely, Legolas resumed his story. "Two days ago, the twins challenged Eomer to a horse race."
"Aye. They agreed upon a time, date, distance and route. The only matter which the twins neglected to mention was that they would be the ones to select which horse each competitor would ride."
Legolas nodded eagerly, his blonde hair drifting about his face, unusually out of place. "So Elrohir borrowed Asfaloth from Arwen and I lent Elladan Arod, for Arod has always liked him…though I have never been exactly sure if Arod knows that there are two twins, or if he thinks that there is just one elf who pets him a great deal…"
"…and they selected Narafel for Eomer."
Aragorn blanched. "They did what?" he echoed bleakly.
Legolas sent him another strange look, but nevertheless parroted his words back to Aragorn. "They selected Narafel for Eomer," he repeated obediently.
"They chose a devil-horse!" Gimli burst out, seemingly unable to contain himself any longer. "Those cowardly cheats picked a creature who is surely the spawn of Sauron himself for Eomer to ride! And this one," he continued, gesturing violently at the lord of Ithilien, "said nothing!"
Leaping to his feet, Legolas turned on the dwarf angrily. "I thought Eomer to be a skilled horseman! Not to mention that he has often declared himself able to ride even the most headstrong mount! I do not see that I am to blame that his claim has been proven false."
From where he was standing elbow to shoulder with Gimli, his arms crossed across his chest, Eomer took a step forward. "False?" he demanded. "I can ride any animal put in front of me!"
Legolas snorted. "If that is the case, why is it you were picking yourself up out of the mud a mere hour ago?"
Holding his hand out to prevent Eomer from taking another step forward, Aragorn ran a hand over his face. "As true as Eomer's claim might usually be, mellon nin, this is Narafel that we are speaking of. He will barely tolerate an elflord astride him, much less a Man."
"But Eomer is a Rohirrim," Legolas protested.
"Narafel bucked off Glorfindel!"
"He caught him by surprise!"
"Only because no horse has ever managed to unseat him before!"
When the elf prince opened his mouth to respond, Aragorn raised his voice and spoke over him. "Legolas," he said sharply. The elf's eyes darted to him mutinously and Aragorn returned the gaze sternly. "You are the Lord of Ithilien and the Prince of Eryn Lasgalen. I expected more of you."
"I did nothing wrong," Legolas argued, "nor did the twins! The Edain standing before you is simply too stubborn to accept defeat!"
"The very fact that the twins chose to hold this competition in the early hours of the morning suggests that they were fully aware of the fact that I would have stopped it had I known of it."
"You cannot blame that on me," Legolas protested.
"Nay? Then why, when I asked you last night what your plans were for today, you said nothing of any of this?"
"My plans were for this morning, not for the day."
Aragorn stared at him, disbelief turning swiftly to exasperation. "You lied to me," he accused the elf.
"I did no such thing," Legolas protested. "It was simply a matter of interpretation."
Gimli, who had been muttering angrily to Eomer, spoke up. "What was it I told you, Aragorn? Never trust an elf! You should banish the lot of them!"
"You may be correct, Master Gimli," Aragorn replied. He turned to the elf prince. "And if such a thing happens again, mellon nin, I will follow Gimli's advice and banish you from this city."
"You would not dare," Legolas declared. "Arwen would never allow it!"
"May I remind you that I am the king of this land and may do as I wish-" Aragorn started, yet Eomer cut in, his brow furrowed.
"Does he not know?" he asked curiously.
"Know what?" Aragorn asked.
"Surely after all these years-"
Legolas shook his head, a smile beginning to flicker on his face. "Nay, Eomer, he does not."
"Of what do you speak?" Aragorn demanded.
"Do you remember that time in Edoras, lads?" Gimli asked suddenly, his temper dropping as suddenly as it had appeared.
Eomer let out a hearty laugh. "Aye, that was a sight indeed!"
"And he had no clue that it was Arwen all along?" Faramir interjected curiously from the Steward's chair.
Legolas shook his head, his own, much lighter laugh ringing out. "Nay, Faramir, not in the least. Even to this day, he thinks-"
Aragorn cleared his throat loudly, making a mental note to have a serious conversation with his lovely wife sometime in the near future. "My friends!" he exclaimed. "Are we forgetting who is at fault here? We should direct our attention back to him."
"For the last time," Legolas cried, "I am faultless! If you wish to blame anyone, blame the twins!"
Gimli's head snapped up to look at Eomer, his expression keen. "That's quite the idea the wee princeling has."
Eomer looked thoughtful. "Aye. We did not even think to find them at fault."
"Though now that I think on it, the fault was theirs as much as it was the elf's."
Eomer frowned. "Yet we just left them standing on the Pellenor Fields whilst we sought out Aragorn."
Gimli's face darkened, his brow furrowed as he tried to remember the events of that morning. "I could have sworn that I saw them laughing just before we entered the city," he muttered, half to himself.
Unable to believe what he was hearing, Aragorn interrupted them. "You mean to tell me that you left the very elves who had conned you not only into participating in this foolish competition in the first place, but were also responsible for selecting the very mount that was certain to unseat Eomer, and instead sought revenge on Legolas?"
Faramir spoke up, his voice mild. "He did lie to you, my lord."
"Only by omission," Legolas interjected, sending the Steward a dirty look.
Aragorn let out a soft groan and turned round to begin the long climb up the stairs to his throne. "I give you the leaders of the free people of Middle Earth," he murmured to himself as he sunk down upon it.
But the red-bearded dwarf and the king of Rohan ignored him, already caught up in plotting the demise of the twin sons of Elrond as they made their way across the long length of the white hall with its dark pillars to the doorway. Finding himself forgotten, Legolas trailed after them nonetheless, no doubt hoping to bear witness to the coming confrontation between man, dwarf and elves.
Watching his friends disappear into the morning light, Aragorn let out a heavy sigh. Gritting his teeth, he looked to his Steward, who had risen to his feet and was even now awaiting his next orders. "Faramir," he said, "gather my guard and send out a missive to the barracks. It seems as though Rohan and the Dwarves of the Glittering Caves are about to make war on Rivendell."
"I hope that you are only jesting, my lord," Faramir said, a hint of nervousness in his tone born of several years of serving under the new king.
Aragorn shrugged. "Aye, I am. Yet knowing the twins as I do, they will not let any accusation of them having cheated pass without protest. It is best to be prepared for whatever might eventuate."
"I see." Faramir paused, then spoke again. "My lord?"
"The dream that you spoke of. You do not think that this, perhaps, is the great conflict between races of which you dreamt?"
Aragorn cleared his throat, feeling himself redden slightly. "Anything is possible, Master Faramir," he declared. Standing up, he began to descend the stone dais. "Now if you will excuse me, I must go see some elves about a horse."
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