Author's Notes: Hey all! New story going here. I'm rather excited about this one, but I should warn you that it will become quite dark before it's through. The rating is a rather heavy PG-13 for future scenes, but those are a while away. Anyway, like the summary states, this is a reunion fic of sorts set in Rivendell five years after the War of the Ring. A host of characters will be making an appearance, but they're all straight from the books so they shouldn't be too hard to keep straight. Anyway, I hope you enjoy and happy reading! Oh yeah, and I don't own any of these spectacular characters, either. Tolkien does, lucky guy. Fear No Darkness Chapter 1: A Remnant of Shadow
Author's Notes: Hey all! New story going here. I'm rather excited about this one, but I should warn you that it will become quite dark before it's through. The rating is a rather heavy PG-13 for future scenes, but those are a while away. Anyway, like the summary states, this is a reunion fic of sorts set in Rivendell five years after the War of the Ring. A host of characters will be making an appearance, but they're all straight from the books so they shouldn't be too hard to keep straight. Anyway, I hope you enjoy and happy reading! Oh yeah, and I don't own any of these spectacular characters, either. Tolkien does, lucky guy.
Fear No Darkness
Chapter 1: A Remnant of Shadow
Among the various peoples of Middle Earth—at least, among those who knew of such things—it was generally agreed that the Misty Mountains were aptly named. No traveler dared their fastness without becoming embroiled in their deep shadows of fog and cloud. Whether such darkness was natural or no had always been a matter of sometimes-violent debate among the Wise, but none could say with certainty if the mountain range as a whole held any actual enmity for living creatures or if their ill reputation was merely the accumulation of years of coincidental misfortune. There were many times when the mountains seemed harmless enough, and the shades of mist were few and far between. But there were other times when darkness and shadow grew, seeming to envelop all in a chilling grasp of deadly malice.
Certainly there were fell creatures in the mountains. The trail from Rivendell to Mirkwood known as Goblin Pass was testament to that through name alone. Wolves, also, patrolled the lower slopes of the range, and after the fall of Sauron and the death of Saruman, many of the orcs in the service of the great Enemy had fled to the Misty Mountains where they sought out dark caves and lived in bitter hatred of those who had caused their downfall. And perhaps it was their spirit that gifted the mountains with evil in the years following the Third Age, for their loathing was great and their anger could only be assuaged by war with those who had banished them. Hidden in the deep places of the mountains, they waited, and their thirst for retribution grew until it became as an evil coil, ensnaring their hearts to the point where they considered nothing else. They hungered for the day when they could feast once more upon man-flesh, and their dreams were filled with visions of a blood-splattered field and a broken white city burning in ruin.
But these remaining Orcs could not fulfil their dreams, for they were missing one crucial ingredient. They were missing a leader. Without one, they dared not march on the armies of men. They feared to venture from the safety of the mountains. As a general rule, Orcs chafed under authority and sought to defy it, but they needed it to turn them in the direction of their next target and to order their battles and sorties. On an instinctive level, most orcs knew this and unconsciously searched for some semblance of leadership to arise from the gloom. But there was no Orc strong enough to thrust all others under his heel, and there was no Orc wise enough to command their armies in the field against the battalions of men. And so the soldiers of Mordor and Isengard pined away the years, waiting for one to come who would lead them again to victory and allow them to taste the sweet fruits of success.
It was four years before an answer to their fading hopes appeared.
He arrived in the dead of night, taking the form of a lonely traveler astride a weary black horse. Riding under cover of darkness, he came seeking a stronghold and an army. Four long years had he wandered, searching vainly for a mere hint of a shadow that he feared had perished from the world. Hunted by all who served the new king and driven from a fortress that none had thought to see fall, he had lived as a nightmare in the twilight, taking what vengeance he could and waiting for a time when evil might rise again.
And so he had come to the Misty Mountains, following rumors that darkness still thrived and evil still lived. His spirits lifted as he drew near, for he could taste of the malice and hatred beneath the towering peaks. He sensed the hearts of the Orcs, and felt of their desire for revenge. Their dreams were nearly as cruel as his own, and he smiled with the realization that his long search had finally come to an end. His heart began to beat again with the coming of hope unlooked for. Not all was lost. There was still time to correct the flow of power and change the tides of time.
Spurring his faltering mount forward, the man who was not quite a man smiled. Any who saw this smile would have described it as the leer of a madman, and they would not have been far from the truth. There remained little sanity in this creature, and what reason still lingered had been corrupted long ago by tangled webs of dark sorcery. His black eyes sparkled with brutal intent, and wholesome things seemed to wilt in his presence.
An Orc scouting party found him just short of the mountains. Taking him for a foolish woodsman who ventured too far from safer lands, the tortured creatures attacked. In the beginning, there were five attackers. After a few minutes, only one remained. This last Orc groveled before the man who now wielded a black sword and seemed to pull the very essence of night within himself. The indignant horse stomped and snorted behind this stranger, but the man gave him no heed, instead advancing on his former attacker. The sniveling Orc backed up hastily and cast frightened glances at his four fallen comrades. Three of them had been Uruk-hai, survivors from the fall of Orthanc and mighty warriors. The other dispatched Orc had been an old comrade from the ruin of Mordor and a capable soldier in his own right.
"You dare to attack me?" the cloaked figure demanded, his voice filled with a sense of hidden power. He advanced with his sword drawn, and the light of stars and moon grew dim. Black shadows swam around the blade as though they were an integral part of the weapon, and darkness itself seemed to pledge its undying and eternal service to this stranger.
The surviving Orc cringed and cowered before the man who was not quite a man. He fully expected a blow to fall and end his miserable life—which might have been considered an act of mercy by many, the Orc included—but when he instead continued to live, curiosity wrestled against fear for control and at length he ventured a quick glance upwards.
For a brief moment, the waning light of the pale moon fell upon the shadows beneath the cloak, and darkness gave way to a face that the servant of Mordor had never thought to see again. With a gasp and a choking cry, the Orc dropped his gaze and abased himself on the ground, groveling and sniveling before supreme authority. "Master, spare me" he whined, hoping to placate this man whose talent for cruelty and torture was legend among the slaves of Barad-dur. "I tell you, master, that we did not know it was you. We were told that you perished with the destruction of the Great Eye and the fall of Lugbúrz!"
"You were misinformed," the man said evenly, evaluating the creature that cowered before him. After a grimace of disgust and a sniff of disdain, he took his coal-black eyes from the Orc for a moment and studied the darkness of the mountains. "There are many of you gathered here?"
The Orc hastily bobbed his head. "Many. And we live only to serve you, great master."
The man grunted, taking the Orc's obeisance as no more than his just due. "I shall spare your miserable life this night, worm," he eventually said, his voice cold and dark. "Gather your kind. Tell them that I have returned. Send what captains you have to meet with me, and spread the word that our time has come again."
"As you wish, master!" the Orc said quickly, smiling in the darkness as an evil laughter echoed in his black heart. The spark of dying hope hidden within the ashes of his foul heart roared to life, and he licked his lips as visions of vengeance and retribution filled his mind. "This way. The entrance to our dungeons is not far."
Summoning his stallion, the man mounted and followed the twisted creature, not once looking back at the beasts he had killed. What was one Orc—or four—to him when far more awaited his command just a few miles away? And with these swine at his bidding, he would be able to exact such revenge as would befit the fallen Dark Lord. Plans would be set in motion, arrangements would be made, and when his enemies gathered in celebration of their victory, he would be ready.
And they would wish for death ere he was done.
One year later…
One year later…
"You are troubled, brother."
Roused abruptly from his thoughts, Elladan started slightly and looked about guiltily, somewhat embarrassed to be caught so unawares. "I did not hear you approach," he said, his voice husky in the evening's cool air.
"You are ever the dreamer," Elrohir said with a light laugh, joining Elladan on one of Rivendell's many balconies. "But your dreams seem shadowed this night. What disturbs your mind? Perhaps I can aid you."
Elladan sighed and stared out into the east, his sharp eyes tracing the edges of the Misty Mountains as they fell under the darkness of the evening. He wondered if he could craft an answer that his brother would understand, but how could he do so when he did not understand the answer himself? Relaxing his perfect posture, he leaned against the balcony's railing and took his eyes away from the eastern mountain range, focusing instead on the cliffs that sheltered Rivendell. The sound of waterfalls and laughing elves as they sang and danced in the twilight reached his ears, and he felt part of his anxiety lift. But it did not wholly dissipate.
"I do not know, brother," Elladan murmured, returning reluctantly to the object of their conversation. "I…as of late, I have felt that the mountains are strangely dark. They seem ominous, as though they warn me of something that I cannot quite understand. Almost I feel I could grasp it," the half-elf whispered, his eyes narrowing and his voice sounding strained. "And then it is gone. Lost. I am left only with the sense that all is not right and that something dark goes forth." He shook his head and then glanced at his twin. "I doubt if any of that made any sense to you."
"I would be lying if I said I understood your feelings," Elrohir admitted. "But that does not mean that I do not heed their warnings. You have too often been right for me to dismiss your intuition as nothing more than fancy. But can you be specific at all? Do you know the direction or the form this danger might take?"
"I know nothing other than what I have told you," Elladan said, feeling a surge of frustration at his inability to interpret the foreboding of his instincts. "But I fear that it is somehow connected with the upcoming celebration. How that is I know not, nor do I know what evil would be powerful enough to cross into the borders of Rivendell, but something…something dark stirs in the mountains, Elrohir."
"King Thranduil and his escort came through Goblin Pass three days ago, and they reported nothing unusual," Elrohir said, brushing back an errant strand of dark hair that had fallen into his face. "Our scouts have heard nothing from the borders of Hollin, and Celeborn and the Galadhrim came through the Redhorn Gate with little mishap, even if they did tempt the wrath of Caradhras! All that remains is the Gap of Rohan, and Estel and our sister come that way. If evil lies in their path, surely they will defeat it."
"I do not fear for their safety," Elladan said, his voice quiet and reflective. "They have with them the hosts of Gondor, and Arwen could not ask for a better protector than Estel. We should know, for we trained him ourselves." He smiled slightly at that, remembering the young, adventure-loving child who had followed the twins through every dell and dale of Imladris before the burden and heartache of his heritage had been made known to him. "No," Elladan whispered, shaking his head and returning his thoughts to the present. "I do not fear for their sakes. But I still feel as though…" He trailed off and closed his eyes, searching his elven heart for something that would explain his misgivings, but he found nothing. "I know not," he said at length, opening his eyes and turning to face Elrohir. "Perhaps if father were still here, he could interpret my dreams and warnings, but I cannot put them into words myself. In truth, I do not know if I wholly understand any of them. But the evil comes from the mountains, Elrohir. I am certain of that much."
"Then we will watch the mountains, my brother," Elrohir promised. "Evil shall not take us unawares, and we will face whatever might come as we have ever faced the shadow. We will face it together."
The two brothers then fell into silence, taking comfort in the presence of one another and watching the valley of Rivendell as the clear voices of elves drifted through the darkening night. "I spoke with King Thranduil after dinner," Elladan said after a short time had passed. "He has received messages from Legolas that coincide with the letters we've received from our sister. Their company should arrive the day after tomorrow, crossing into our territory not long after the sunrise."
"The Wandering Companies in the Shire sent word that the hobbits have left and are on their way. By their reckoning, the hobbits will also arrive the day after tomorrow, but it will probably be late afternoon when they cross the Last Bridge."
"We shall have to send out a party to see to it that the hobbits do not stray from their path," Elladan laughed, some of his frustration vanishing in the face of his mirth.
"I do not think they will stray far as they know that food awaits them here," Elrohir said with a smile.
Elladan laughed harder and nodded his head in agreement. "Ah, I think you have it aright, brother. Yes, I have missed our friends the hobbits. They are filled with great strength and can endure sore trials that would break any mortal man, but deprive them of food in a land of plenty and they whither as a flower in the desert."
"Truly a great people, yet greater still are their stomachs," Elrohir said, joining in with his brother's laughter. "But come. You seem to have recovered from your worries, and I would have us join the others in the Hall of Fire. There will be singing this night, and they tell me that many new songs are being crafted by our brethren from Mirkwood in honor of the celebration."
"Strange to think that the One Ring was cast into the fires of Orodruin only five years ago. In the distant past it seems to me, and yet not so," Elladan said, pushing off the balcony and turning away. "But you are right again, Elrohir. Now is a time for merriment and rejoicing. And since my dark mood has left me, gladly will I join you."
"Then let us go," Elrohir said, clapping a hand on his brother's back and leading him away from the balcony and into the house. "We shall see what talents our kindred have and then aid them if we are able."
So saying, the sons of Elrond walked away from the dark night and into the comforts of the Last Homely House. Elladan thought once to look back but ultimately decided against it, opting instead for the laughter and merriment that echoed through the halls. But had he obeyed his instincts and glanced once more into the dark night, he might have paused. Just beyond the borders of Rivendell, shadows moved beneath the trees. Silent and stealthy, they patrolled the forests, seeming to search for something.
But Elladan did not look back, and thus he missed what might have confirmed his suspicions. And heedless of the darkness that lurked beyond their realm, the elves of Rivendell lifted their voices in song, celebrating the destruction of the Enemy in the distant land of Mordor and ignoring the evil that flitted on the edge of their own country.
The morning sun rose swift and sure, sending shafts of light between the peaks of the Misty Mountains and rousing a large group of travelers who camped alongside a little known trail in the wilderness of southern Eriador. Horses were watered at a stream that babbled cheerfully beside their camp, some of the company began making preparations for breakfast, and others started packing away the sleeping rolls and checking the supplies of food and other provisions.
Feeling the brush of soft lips on her brow, Arwen turned over and sighed, listening to the morning speech of birds and sensing the rising of the sun though she had yet to focus her eyes and watch the progress of its light.
"Are you awake, Evenstar?"
Arwen mumbled something and reorganized her thoughts, turning them away from the landscape of elven dreams. "I am awake now," she whispered, smiling as she greeted her husband. Her smile faltered slightly to see that he was completely dressed and had evidently been up for quite some time. "Am I late in rising?"
"Perhaps a little," Aragorn teased, mischief sparkling in his eyes. "But the ride yesterday was hard, and we have not had a pleasant night since passing through the Gap of Rohan several days ago. I thought you could use the extra rest. Besides, we will not set out for a while. The horses are as much in need of rest as we are, and I would not begrudge them another hour or so."
"Even so, I would you had woken me earlier," Arwen said with a touch of reproach. "I would not have it said that the king of Gondor is burdened with an idle queen."
"He would be a fool who said such a thing," Aragorn whispered, bending over and kissing her cheek. "But I fear my duties must now take me elsewhere, so by your leave, I will depart." He stood and executed a perfect bow, waiting for Arwen's permission to exit the small tent.
Arwen laughed and shook her head. "Be gone then, great king of Gondor. You need not wait here on a wife who is unable to rise with the sun."
"Ah, but what need is there to rise with the sun when the sun itself is captured in your beauty?" Aragorn said, and he left quickly ere Arwen could toss a blanket at him. She listened to his footsteps as he walked away and smiled to hear him laughing softly to himself. Her husband was in high spirits, and she strongly suspected it was because they were on the road and traveling. He served his people well and the crown of Gondor was a responsibility and a duty that he loved and revered, but there were times when Strider the Ranger would grow restless within Elessar the king. It was during those times that Aragorn would sometimes disappear during the night, slipping past the guards at the gate as though they were mere children playing a being soldiers, and vanish into the Pelennor fields. He was usually back before dawn, but of late, his nightly escapes had become longer and more frequent. This journey to Rivendell was probably something he desperately needed, and she was glad he was enjoying it so much.
Folding the blankets she'd wrapped around herself for the night, Arwen stood and dressed herself for the day's ride. Flowing dark hair was caught back in a neat braid, and she donned a soft, creamy shirt and black trousers that fitter her well. Aragorn had once suggested the possibility of bringing her attending ladies with them, but Arwen had laughingly refused. In younger days when the world was not so dark, she had often accompanied her brothers on various trips to Lothlórien and also to the Gray Havens. She was quite capable of caring for herself in harsher circumstances, and though she was now a queen, she did not see the purpose in bringing servants where none were needed. Slipping on a tunic of deep blue, she pulled on her boots and stepped outside the tent, tipping her head back and receiving the fresh air of the mountains.
"Aur maer, Rîs Arwen," a light voice called behind her.
"A aur maer den, Ernil Legolas," she answered, turning and smiling at the lord of southern Ithilien as he bowed deeply before her.
"A beautiful sunrise," Legolas commented, switching to Westron out of respect for Gimli who came forward to join them. "I judge it shall be a pleasant day for travel. Was your sleep restful?"
Arwen laughed and shook her head. "And by that, you mean to inquire as to why I am so late in rising. Do not banter words with me, Legolas, for I know you too well."
"Then I will not," Legolas said with a smile. "Why did you not rise with the sun?"
"Legolas!" Gimli scolded, sending his friend a dark look. "What business is it of yours when the queen of Gondor chooses to rise?"
"Because she asked me if I would lend her my bow and arrows for archery this morning ere we left," Legolas answered. "And though I was more than happy to assist her in this, she did not meet me at the appointed place or the appointed time. I was forced to practice with only King Elessar for company, and he has not near the amount of charm or grace that his fair queen possesses."
"You did not tell me of this weapons practice," Gimli said with a scowl.
"It was not a weapons practice but an exercise in archery," Legolas answered. "Had I known you were interested in the bow, I would have invited you. But I did not think that the elegance of such a weapon was something that could be grasped by the minds of the dwarves."
"Your pardon, please, Legolas," Arwen said, breaking in before the two could start in on their famous and eternal argument concerning the superiority of elves verses the omnipotence of dwarves. "I fear I did not even stir when Aragorn rose, and had he not awakened me a few moments ago, I would still be sleeping."
"If you needed the rest, my queen, then all is forgiven," Legolas said with a quick bow. "Shall we make another attempt tomorrow?"
"No, not tomorrow," Arwen said after a minute of thought. "I will wish to leave and finish the last stage of the journey from the moment I wake. I wish that now, but Aragorn tells me that this company cannot hope to make Rivendell by nightfall."
"If we push the horses, I believe we can reach Rivendell several hours after dark," Gimli said, studying their location relative to the surrounding mountains. "And if you wish to arrive quickly, perhaps that will be the best way."
"Perhaps," Arwen said, moving aside as some guards passed by and began to dismantle her tent. "Were I alone in this journey, I would not hesitate to do as you suggest. But there are others here to think of who do not share my desire to see Rivendell by the end of tonight."
"Ah, but surely they would not refuse a request from their queen," Legolas pointed out. "And I also look forward to this reunion, for many of my kinsfolk from Mirkwood will be there and also the young hobbits. I look forward to seeing their faces again! Come, what say you Arwen? Will you not speak to Aragorn on our behalf?"
"Your behalf, you mean," Gimli said. "I would be quite content to wait an extra day if it means spending less time on a horse, particularly a horse over which you seem to have little control."
"Did you not tell me this morning that the rocks made for an uncomfortable bed?" Legolas asked. "And did you not follow this statement by a wish to reach Rivendell quickly so that you might partake of a softer bed?"
"I thought of your welfare in that, Master Elf," Gimli returned. "For while I am able to endure hardships, the royal blood of an elven prince might not take to conditions where there are no servants, no silk, and no gold."
Legolas arched a sculpted eyebrow at his friend and folded his arms across his chest. "May I remind you as to who has the larger pack on this journey? Come, Gimli, if that is to be the way of things, what do you keep in your bag that is of such necessity? For myself, I have a change of clothes, a whetting stone, and some items with which to repair my bow should the need arise. I cannot imagine what you are carrying, but it is heavy enough to suggest that half of the gems from the Glittering Caves travel with you. And yet you accuse me of having gone soft."
Arwen shook her head and walked away when Gimli began to respond. The two would be at it for quite some time and if she chanced upon them again before the order came to mount, she would undoubtedly be able to pick up on the thread of the conversation with relative ease.
Gondor's queen made her way toward the horses and quickly found her own mount among those waiting to be saddled. Sensing her approach, Hasufel pricked up his ears and whinnied, tossing his proud head. Beside him, Aragorn's old horse Roheryn shook his shaggy mane and snorted, anxious to begin the day's ride. Arwen smiled and stroked Hasufel's sleek gray neck, remembering Eomer's words on the day of her wedding when he had given her this beautiful animal. He had claimed that if the king of Gondor would not take a proper horse, his queen at least must ride in style. In response, Aragorn had pointed out that even if the horses of Rohan could match Roheryn for speed, they would never match him for loyalty or courage, citing the Paths of the Dead as his primary example. This had led into a rather strange conversation comparing the horses of the Rangers to the horses of the Rohirrim that had eventually reminded Arwen very much of the arguments between Legolas and Gimli. By its end, neither Aragorn nor Eomer had convinced the other of anything, and the logic and reasoning used had turned several complete and totally irrelevant circles.
Hasufel butted his head against her, sniffing hopefully for a treat. She laughed lightly and pushed him away. "My apologies, dear heart," she said. "I have yet to seek breakfast myself. I will bring you something when I mount."
Clearly miffed, the horse snorted and stomped, scolding her for her negligence. Arwen laughed, gave his shoulder an affectionate pat, and then walked toward the food lines where a few stragglers were now seeking breakfast. Her approach was greeted with courteous bows and the line moved back so that she could precede the men. With a nod of gratitude, Arwen received her rations, which consisted of cheese, meat, wine, an apple, bread, and butter. Setting the apple aside for Hasufel, she wrapped the rest in a cloth and decided to go in search of her husband. Doubtless he would have already eaten breakfast or decided to skip it entirely, but at least she could partake of her food in his company.
She found him on the edge of camp where he stood watching the mountains with a strange degree of wariness. Moving to his side, she wrapped her arm around his and leaned against him. "You are troubled."
"It is nothing."
"Truly? It is unlike you to be troubled over nothing, my husband."
The king laughed quietly and shook his head. "There are times when I wish I was still a lonely Ranger who could be troubled without several dozen people knowing of it."
"Several dozen people do not know of it," Arwen returned. "By my count, there are only two of us here. And though my elven senses have dimmed somewhat, I think I can still trust them in this. Come; tell me what troubles you. Perhaps I can set it right."
There was moment of silence and then Aragorn sighed. "Legolas said something to me this morning during a brief session of archery," he started, removing his arm from hers so that he could wrap it around her shoulders instead. "He said the mountains were strangely shadowed. At the time, it seemed only an idle comment and he expressed no further concerns for the duration of the practice, but as we were retrieving the arrows, he looked again at the mountains and said the same thing."
"What do you sense from the mountains?" Arwen asked, leaning closer against Aragorn.
"Darkness." The king sighed and shook his head, narrowing his eyes at the looming peaks as though he could penetrate their mists with mortal sight. "But they have always seemed dark to me, and I know not if this is a mere continuation of that darkness or something new. What of you, Arwen? What do you sense?"
"Until a moment ago, I sensed nothing," Arwen answered. "Yet now that you speak of it, they do seem darker, somehow. Long did I dwell in Rivendell, and from its safety, the Misty Mountains were a dim threat. But I traveled abroad enough to know and sense of their malice. It was always present, as it is now, but I think Legolas might be right. There is a strange shadow over the mountains that I do not believe was there before."
"And so the opinion of two respected elves is that there is something brewing within the shadows of the mountains," Aragorn sighed. "How shall I not consider such a thing, and yet how shall I combat a threat that has yet to manifest itself in physical form?"
"I believe the threat is still dim," Arwen answered, watching the mountains carefully. "It does not seem to me that we have need for fear, but there is need for caution." She hesitated for a moment, uncertain if she should use this moment to speak of Legolas's suggestion. But there was now justification for it aside from their simple desires to reach Imladris. It was not a purely selfish request. And perhaps this was the true reason behind Legolas's request. Perhaps he had been reluctant to speak of the shadow but concerned for it all the same. "Aragorn…Gimli said it might be possible to arrive at Rivendell tonight."
"We would have to travel after sunset, but yes, it is possible."
"In light of this new darkness, would that not be a better plan?" Arwen asked, wrapping her arm around her husband's waist. "The elves of Rivendell would protect us should a threat present itself."
"We are quite capable of protecting ourselves," Aragorn reminded her, glancing back at the guards and men who were finishing the morning's preparations for travel. "Or do you think that I have lost some of my ability in combat because of years of rule?"
"Nothing of the sort," Arwen said, hastening to assuage the indignant tone in Aragorn's voice. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught him smiling at her and realized she'd been taken in. With a sigh and a shake of her head, she continued. "Aragorn, I would feel safer within Rivendell's protective cliffs and elven boundaries."
"And this has nothing to do with a desire to see your brothers again?"
"Perhaps that is a part of it," she admitted.
Aragorn chuckled and drew her close against him. "If the horses are able, your request is my command," he whispered. "We will arrive in Rivendell tonight if circumstances permit."
"Thank you, my husband," Arwen said.
"You are more than welcome," Aragorn answered. "If that is all, we should give the orders to mount. I sense that the men are ready. And you may also want to tell Legolas that we will be arriving in Rivendell tonight." He sent her a sidelong look and his smile grew. "He is also interested in that possibility, is he not?"
"You are more elf than man," Arwen sighed.
"I have spent more of my life around elves than I have around men," Aragorn responded. "And you have yet to learn the art of dissembling. To most, you are as composed as any elf, but to knowing eyes, you are as an open book." He squeezed her against his solid form once more and then released her, turning back to the camp. "Come. If we are to make Rivendell in good time, we must leave now."
Arwen nodded and followed, pausing just once to glance at the mountains. Now that she stopped to consider it, there was something off about them. They seemed darker somehow, more sinister. But perhaps this was because she had been away for so long and had enjoyed the blessings of the White City. And yet…Legolas now lived in the shadow of the Ephel Duath, and if he thought the Misty Mountains seemed dark…
"Coming," she answered quickly, turning away from the eastern peaks. Perhaps it was nothing, and even if evil did stir, what harm could possibly come upon Rivendell? Not only did her brothers and other lingering elves still dwell there, but the hosts of Gondor would also be in attendance as well as elves out of both Mirkwood and Lothlórien. They were arguably safer in Rivendell than they were in Gondor. It is nothing, she told herself, pushing her thoughts away from the peaks. Their darkness is but an echo of past evil. With a shake of her head, she hurried after her departing husband and so missed the tendrils of shadow that began to detach themselves from the base of the mountains.
Aur maer, Rîs Arwen—Good morning, Queen Arwen.
A aur maer den, Ernil Legolas—And good morning to you, Prince Legolas.