This is my first serious venture into the Lord of the Rings fandom, so I'm a little nervous! This fic has taken many years to form, ever since I first saw The Two Towers in the cinema. A plot bunny reared its head and it took me a long time to figure out a plot to fit it into, but it kept on niggling away until I finally opened up Word and began to write.
Just as a warning, this story is going to get very dark in places, but then again these characters are pretty used to suffering in fanfics by now ^_^ This fic is also AU, meaning that anything that is wrong in regards to canon is meant to be! I absolutely love the books and the movies, and I found it necessary quite early on to mix elements of movieverse and bookverse. I will try my best to note these discrepancies when they appear. These include things like the appearance of Andúril, the Evenstar necklace and Éomer's banishment. Sometimes memorable lines from the book will creep in, and in other cases I have referenced or been inspired by scenes from the movie. All credit where credit is due. I only own a couple of OCs.
"Do you wish to look?"
Aragorn did not answer at once, but stood silently by the steps leading down into the deep green hollow. Stars were beginning to glimmer in the shallow waters of Galadriel's mirror; the Lady herself waited patiently beside the stream, clad wholly in white. A silver ewer was in her hand.
"Since Moria I have led this Fellowship," said Aragorn quietly, "but still I doubt the road ahead." His face was troubled as he approached the Lady Galadriel. Even upon the fragrant lawn of Lothlórien Aragorn had found little rest that night. Sorrow and toil still rested heavily upon his shoulders. "I wish to know which path to take," he said.
The Lady smiled.
"I sensed your burden from the moment you arrived." She turned and began to fill her silver ewer in the stream. The murmur of running water was the only sound for a time. "The mirror shows many things," she said after a moment, "but be warned for you may not find the answer that you seek. You must leave the Mirror free to work its will."
Aragorn watched as she took her ewer and filled the silver basin to the brim. Then she breathed upon it and waited until the water was still. Aragorn came forwards and placed his hands upon the rim of the basin. His eyes glinted keenly with the starlight reflected in the water.
"Delay will prove our downfall," he said with a smile. "I will find no rest until I have chosen our path."
And Aragorn looked down and gazed into the mirror. At first he saw nothing. The water was hard and dark, and a gentle breeze stirred its surface. Then the stars went out. The Mirror became grey and clear. From its depths there rose before his eyes great ramparts of stone and fair towers that shone like pearls. White banners were stirring in the breeze. Aragorn smiled as he looked upon the city of Minas Tirith.
"How I long to see that sight again!" he murmured. "But what hope can there remain within those walls? The Ring may not be used to wage this war… It must be destroyed."
Then as if by some hidden desire the waters stirred once more. Aragorn's sight turned from the White City towards the East. He was now looking upon the rocks of the Emyn Muil. The fires of Mordor could be seen as a distant glow upon the horizon.
"I know it is the way," he said, "and yet my heart still longs for a fairer path."
Then Aragorn looked past this barren landscape, and as he did so a pair of wings suddenly rose and blotted out the sun. The Mirror now showed a long grey road winding out of sight. Along it many fair folk were traveling. Suddenly the winged shape beared down upon them with a hideous cry; Aragorn gave a gasp as he saw that they were elves.
Before he could know their fate, however, the vision changed. He saw raging waters falling down from a sheer height, and a black smoke rising from beyond a thicket of trees in the distance. Then there was a great host of men riding over a vast plain, and the sunlight shining down to glance sharply upon their spears and shields.
Suddenly this vision faded, and Aragorn made to draw away. He stopped when the waters stirred again. A pure light sprang forth like a twinkling star, held aloft by a small figure. It soon dwindled and was swallowed up by the shadows. All was dark within his sight. Tall towers rose now in the gloom; great pinnacles of stone and fire, and some work of devilry kept his eyes upon this sight, for now he saw past the smoking pits and raging furnaces and beheld the dark tower of Barad-dûr. Black whispers in a foul tongue entered his mind. A shadow had fallen upon the fair land of Lórien:
Ash nazg durbatuluk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatuluk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul!
From the waters there began to rise curls of steam. The Mirror grew very hot, and Aragorn felt the Evenstar about his neck grow heavy on its chain. He struggled to remain upright, for he was slipping forward.
"Do not touch the water!" said the Lady softly.
Aragorn tried to pull away, but a great fire now filled the basin. A single Eye appeared in the abyss, and it began to rove here and there in its search for something. Among the many things that it searched for, Aragorn knew that he himself was one of them. He also knew that the Eye could not see him unless he willed it, but there slowly came into his mind the temptation to reveal himself. If only he could make the terrible roaring stop!
Within the slit of the Eye distressing images began to appear. Aragorn saw a great host issuing from the Black Gate. Then he saw the fair valley of Rivendell covered in shadow, and a withered tree standing in a grand courtyard. Then the image in the mirror changed one last time. Aragorn saw the figure of a woman. She lay as if dead amidst the falling leaves of autumn. Her feet were unshod, and her hair was dark; she wore a blue dress with flowing red sleeves. He saw that it was Arwen.
Aragorn let out a cry of grief. A single tear ran down Arwen's cheek, and slowly she drew one last breath before her eyes were closed. He watched in horror and leant in closer to the mirror. The Evenstar about his neck alighted upon the water, sending a ripple across its surface. Behind him Galadriel gave a cry. In that moment Aragorn knew he had been revealed to the Dark Lord, for a sudden darkness fell upon his mind.
"I see you now, Heir of Isildur," said a terrible voice. "You will not hide from me. In Lórien you may lie, but soon those cursed forests will burn. I shall have you soon."
Then there rose a terrible shriek, and it seemed his whole world would be set afire. The Eye of Sauron filled the waters and set its terrible gaze upon him. Aragorn was transfixed in horror as the roaring rose to a crescendo. But then suddenly all was still, and he was leaning upon the basin once more, breathing heavily and gazing into calm waters. He found that he was shaking.
"He sees you, Aragorn." Galadriel was now beside the stream, and the silver ewer she held fell ringing from her hands. "His Eye is roaming. Already I hear fell wings on the air." She raised her hands to her face as if to drown out the terrible sound. Turning aside she leant upon a tree and lo! the light about her was dwindled, and she seemed shrunken; a simple maiden, clad in white.
The spell upon Aragorn suddenly broke. With a cry he rushed to the Lady's side and helped her to a low seat beneath the mellyrn. Once more the only sound in the garden was the murmuring of the silver stream. If not for the Lady's distress and his own pounding heart, Aragorn would have thought it all but a dream.
Galadriel looked up at him with imploring eyes. The light of her gaze seemed to have dimmed.
"Go," she whispered in a low voice. "Your only hope lies now in haste. You must be gone at first light."
In the cool twilight Aragorn walked alone among the trees of Lothlórien. Doubt weighed heavy on his thoughts, and in time he came to the fair hill of Cerin Amroth. There he dwelt long upon the glass-clad slopes amidst the elanor and niphredil. He stood still in silence. It seemed as though he heard from afar the crying of gulls and the crashing waves of the sea.
"Alas! that these dark paths are mine to tread," thought Aragorn.
A few hours had passed since his vision in Galadriel's mirror had faded, but despite the enduring peace of Lórien Aragorn was restless. The Company was asleep upon the fragrant lawn next to the fountain, and the Lord Celeborn had given discreet orders for the forest guard to be doubled. Nevertheless, Aragorn could find no rest in Caras Galadhon. Despite Lady Galadriel's warning he had slipped out of the city gates at the first instant; there he had met Haldir, shortly recalled from the fences of the North, who insisted on accompanying the ranger upon the short road. Aragorn had shook his head, however, and told the elf that he must go alone. There was something that he had to do.
Taking a deep breath, the ranger cast his gaze about him. The South Wind was quietly blowing and murmuring among the branches. Above the silver trees crowning the hillside he spied a silver lantern glowing in the high flet; the elves of Lothlórien remained on guard. In the darkness the sward of grass upon Cerin Amroth was pierced with flowers like pale and gold stars.
Only here in the heart of Elvendom could Aragorn find any rest. He smiled as he strayed in a fair memory; a light was in his eyes as he knelt down upon the grass. Gently he picked a small golden bloom of elanor. He studied the flower for a time as it lay nestled upon his hand, stirring in the breeze.
Arwen vanimelda, namarië! he said softly.
Aragorn drew another breath and stood up again, taking the bloom of elanor with him. And then with a heavy sigh he left the hill of Cerin Amroth and came there never again as living man.
The Company awoke early the next day. They knew not the lurking danger that set out to meet them, for both Aragorn and the Lady Galadriel remained silent about what had happened in the green hollow. It seemed to Sam, however, that a sudden state of readiness had fallen upon the elves, as if they sensed some approaching evil that they could not name. Their faces were grim, and they spoke little as they passed on swift errands that they did not wish to discuss.
After they had packed their replenished supplies the Fellowship gathered for a morning meal upon the lawn by the fountain. For a time they sat together, savouring the fragrant grass beneath their feet and the lingering scent of autumn on the breeze. Their hearts were heavy at this latest parting; Gimli, especially, was grieved to say goodbye to the fair Lady. Aragorn remained quiet as he touched a hand to his breast, where the bloom of elanor lay hidden in a secret pocket of his shirt.
Haldir soon arrived to lead them out of Lórien, and the Company followed him through the green ways, out of the city gates and down to the banks of the Silverlode. There they found a hythe built of white stones and wood, and a number of boats and barges moored beneath the overhanging branches. A few more elves were to be found here, packing the boats intended for the Company with goods and coils of rope. Sam was delighted by its craftsmanship.
After their long hike the Fellowship took the chance to rest their tired feet. Down by the bank of the Silverlode Aragorn sat alone with his long legs stretched out before him. He was gazing quietly upon the glistening waters as the boats were made ready for the Company's departure. With soft footsteps Legolas came to join him. He placed a hand upon the ranger's shoulder.
"You are troubled, Aragorn," said the elf, settling down beside him.
Aragorn turned and gave a smile, but it did not extend to his eyes.
"It is nothing, Legolas. I am merely sad to be leaving these shores. It is many years since I spent time amidst the Galadhrim."
"My heart grieves also," said the elf. "The land of Lórien is fair indeed. Fairer even then the tales I have heard told, but come - I sense something deeper in your thoughts."
Aragorn shook his head; he could not help but laugh.
"Keen is your sight, Legolas, son of Thranduil. But nay! It is nothing but grief and doubt of the road ahead, for I have not yet chosen the path that this Company should take."
Legolas found no answer to this, for he knew that the choice was for the ranger to make alone. And so they sat quietly for a time, whilst nearby the boats were made ready and stowed with goods. After a moment Aragorn spoke once again.
The elf stirred.
"Yes, my friend?"
"In Moria, Gandalf passed on his leadership to me, and I have brought us thus far without harm." Aragorn's voice was firm as he spoke. "But the Company would depend upon you in my absence. Do you know this?"
Legolas smiled a little.
"You speak as a man who knows that he will die."
Aragorn laughed again.
"You make it sound so grim, Legolas."
"Perhaps it is so."
Very soon the boats were filled with supplies and made ready for their departure. A soft breeze stirred the leaves upon the silver branches as the Company took a trial upon the water, and met Celeborn and Galadriel as they came down the river to meet them. They then returned to sit upon the green grass and eat and drink their fill one final time.
Solemnly the Lady spoke with them and passed about the cup of farewell; everybody drank deeply. They then received gifts from her in memory of Lothlórien. All were cloaked in the garb of the elves. To Legolas Galadriel gave a bow of the Galadhrim and a quiver of arrows; Merry and Pippin received fair daggers sheathed in belts set with golden flowers. With delight Sam received a coil of the elven rope he had so admired, made of hithlain, and Boromir a belt of gold. Gimli stammered and bowed low as Galadriel honoured him with three hairs from her golden head.
When Galadriel turned her eyes upon Aragorn he saw that there was much she wanted to say to him. In present company, however, such words would have to wait. She gave to him then a fine sheath which had been especially made to fit his sword, Andúril. Upon it were fair elven-runes, and it was overlaid with leaves and flowers wrought of silver and gold.
"The blade that is drawn from this sheath," she said, "shall not be stained or broken even in defeat."
Aragorn took the sheath and bowed his head, saying nothing for the moment. Then the Lady turned to Frodo and drew something from within her robes. It was a glittering crystal phial, which shone with many rays of white light as she moved it here and there.
"Farewell, Frodo Baggins," she said. "I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out."
And she leant down and kissed the hobbit gently upon the forehead. Aragorn saw, or at least imagined that he saw, a look of foreboding in Galadriel's eyes as she drew back and studied Frodo's face. The hobbit took the phial and bowed low to her, murmuring his thanks.
The gift-giving over, Celeborn led the Company back to the hythe, Aragorn hung back to speak privately with Galadriel. They walked together for a time beneath the trees until they reached a quiet spot down by the shore. The ground here was wreathed in soft mists; sunlight shone down through the forest canopy above, casting dappled shadows upon the water.
"Your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife," said Galadriel, repeating the words she had spoken on the Company's arrival. "Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all."
Aragorn remained silent for a time. He had girt Andúril in its new sheath about his waist.
"I do not wish to burden the others with this news," he said finally. "It will only cause them grief, especially the hobbits." He looked out upon the waters of the Silverlode, and then said in a low voice: "I wish there were another way."
"Do not fear," the Lady told him. "My people are leaving these shores, but there is still power enough to defend our borders. Go now and do not turn back." She looked at him then, and in her eyes was both sadness and joy. "I fear we shall not meet again, Elessar."
Aragorn was returning to the hythe where the Company waited when he heard the sound of heavy footfalls approaching. Turning suddenly he unsheathed his sword in anticipation, fearing the worst. Out of the thicket of trees behind him came suddenly an Elven scout. He bore an expression of utter terror.
"A shadow," he cried. "A shadow has come upon the land!" And it was some time before Aragorn could make any sense of his words.
The commotion soon attracted everyone's attention, and the elf was bade to sit down upon the grass by the water. Haldir came and spoke softly with him in the elven tongue, and after a moment he returned to the waiting Fellowship, who had now gathered near the boats. His face was grave.
"A winged shape was seen in the skies just an hour ago," he told them. "It swept up from the East and blotted out the sun."
Aragorn struggled to disguise the look of fear upon his face. The rest of the Company exchanged anxious glances; Frodo touched a hand to his breast, as though pained by an old wound. Galadriel and Celeborn stood nearby, but they said nothing.
"What was it?" asked Merry. His voice seemed very small.
"I do not know," said Haldir, "but it was driven away by a volley of arrows. We need not fear its return. At least, not for some time."
Aragorn avoided the eyes of the rest of the Company at these words. He had wished to remain silent on the matter for as long as was possible, but now there seemed no choice but to confess his knowledge. He looked towards Galadriel for guidance; she gave a quiet nod.
"It is a messenger of Sauron," Aragorn said with a sigh. "He seeks the Heir of Isildur, and a halfling who rides with him bearing the Ring of Power."
The Company looked at him in horror. Galadriel bowed her head.
"Sauron?" cried Pippin. "Sauron knows we are here?" He looked utterly horrified at the prospect.
"Elbereth Gilthoniel!" sighed Legolas. "How did he discover us?"
Gimli put a hand to his axe.
"The Enemy might have guessed our path would lead us through the Golden Wood. The orcs of Moria pursued us thus far. But how does Sauron know that an heir of Isildur still walks among the living?"
Aragorn looked around at the Company; upon their faces he saw a mixture of shock, fear and confusion. In particular his eyes lingered on Frodo, who had not said a word since the news had broken.
"I looked in the Lady's mirror," murmured Aragorn, "and I was tempted to reveal myself to him, if only for a moment, but it was enough." He passed a hand over his face. "I am sorry. I have failed you all."
There was a long pause, and it seemed as though all of Lórien stood still and silent at his words. Boromir was the first to speak.
"Perhaps we were wrong to make you our leader," he said quietly.
"No," said Frodo, stirring suddenly. "We made a fair choice, as did Gandalf. Aragorn is leader of this Company, and we must trust in him no matter what. I know in my heart he shall not lead us astray."
Boromir gazed upon the hobbit in wonder.
"Lead us astray?" he cried. "The forces of Mordor shall soon be upon our trail! Perhaps you shall reconsider the matter when you are lying, bloodied and broken on the floor of Sauron's dungeons!"
"Enough!" cried Aragorn, coming in between the two. "Let us not war amongst ourselves! It was an error of judgment, and for that I am sorry, but it does not do to dwell on things that cannot be changed." He turned towards the shore, and then his eyes sought Celeborn and Galadriel, who lingered nearby but did not interfere. Boromir stepped back quietly, as though suddenly ashamed at his words. "Nothing must endanger our Quest," Aragorn said firmly. Then he turned back to the trees of Lórien; his hair was stirring in the breeze. "By night and day we must now travel. We can no longer trust in secrecy. I fear the eastern shores are already lost to us." Pausing a moment he seemed to dwell on some hidden thought, but soon turned from the Company and started for the boats. "Come. We must make haste."