Disclaimer: I am not Tolkien
AN: Trying to make up for my long absence with two quick updates. Thanks again to all of you who have stuck with me and this story. Keep the feedback coming! You guys are the best!
Chapter 17: Seers and Seeing Stones
Aragorn noted the departure of Gandalf idly as he sat among his new friends among the Rohirim. He spied Legolas and Gimli across the room engaging with another cluster of Rohirim including Eomer. This feeling of contentment could not last and Aragorn was reminded once again that moments like these where he was at ease were what he was fighting for. By now Arwen would have sailed for the Undying Lands and all others whom he cared for were a part of the Fellowships quest and likely bound to the fate of the ring as much as he was. He was certain now that should he manage to survive the journey and should events turn out the way they hoped he would never again be the anonymous Ranger. Even now, he had mostly left behind the mantle of that personal behind.
He and his companions were too well known and his lineage was not much of a secret any longer. The memory of sitting in the Inn of the Prancing Pony ensconced in a dark corner and being referred to by all as Strider felt like a dream of another life. Much to his chagrin the responsibility and power which fell upon his shoulders had been a largely comfortable burden. Had Gandalf heard his feeling he no doubt would have told Aragorn he was born for this role and mention his destiny. Not that Aragorn disbelieved the wizard but he preferred to maintain the belief that he still had the choice and that 'destiny' was not the only force driving his future.
Motion at the doorway caught his attention as Gandalf escorted a lady into the room. It took him a moment to reconcile the woman dressed in an elven gown as Nina but smiled as she moved towards Legolas. He excused himself from his companions and made to join the elves and dwarf but was waylaid by Eowyn. "Westu aragorn hal." She said as she practically shoved the cup she was carrying into his face. He knew of the victory cup tradition and decided it would be best to humor the woman before him. He took a sip of the wine and nodded to her distractedly. He did not notice the frown and flash of jealousy which crossed the maidens face as he went to join his companions.
Nina had reached the drinking duo while he'd dealt with Eowyn and he smiled at their easy comfort with each other repressing a pang or jealousy. They both visibly relaxed once they made contact and he smiled at the happiness of his old friend and the girl he was quickly coming to count among his closest friends as well. He was less than pleased by the disapproving looks the two drew from the less welcoming members of Rohan's court but shook it off as the two elves either did not notice the negative attention or were unbothered by it.
In ales than half an hour the men and Gimli who were apparently competing in yet another drinking contest were either too intoxicated to function or had bowed out in hopes of not becoming ill. Aragorn repressed laughter as he and Nina watched Legolas drink pint upon pint grimacing at the taste. "I know it is not so fine as elvish wine but surely you've become accustomed to the taste of ale by now, my friend" Aragorn taunted lightly as Legolas placed yet another empty tankard on the table. Shaking his head at the man Legolas reached for the full mug before him and proceeded to drink. Finally, Gimli began spouting nonsense and spilling all over himself signaling that the end was near. Truly did the dwarf not know of the elves tolerance for alcohol?
Nina moved to stand behind Gimli a moment before he passed out and began falling backwards. She caught his shoulder deftly and pushed him to lean gracelessly on the table before him. "I did warn you." She commented lightly to the unconscious dwarf before returning to Legolas' side.
The ellon shook his head at the dwarf deep in a drunken stupor. "Game over." He declared lightly and continued examining his fingers which had apparently begun to tingle several pints earlier much to the crowds amusement.
Aragorn shook his head and turned to join Gandalf who was observing the hobbits dancing and singing. The wizard looked troubled despite the lighthearted scene in front of him and Aragorn suspected the Hobbits on his mind were not those before him. "No news of Frodo?"
Gandalf turned to look at him and Aragorn noted how wearied the wizard looked. "No word. Nothing." He confirmed much to Aragorn disappointment.
"We have time. Every day, Frodo moves closer to Mordor." In his heart Aragorn knew the task before the hobbits was nearly impossible but the seed of hope he held could not help but grow as surely all was not lost yet or they would all be dead.
"Do we know that?" Gandalf asked though Aragorn suspected the question was more to the world at large than directed anywhere in particular.
Surprised by the wizards lack of faith Aragorn decided to answer him, "what does your heart tell you?" Surely Gandalf knew as well as he did that the world was not quite so dark yet.
Sighing Gandalf turned back to Merry and pippin who had moved onto a song about pipe weed "that Frodo is alive. Yes. Yes, he's alive." The wizard smiled wanly and Aragorn settled more firmly against the pillar he'd been leaning against determined to soak in the revelry before the fragile peace they were currently wrapped in was shattered by the real world.
Much later when the inhabitants of Edoras had either left the festivities or fallen asleep where they dropped Aragorn walked through the quiet hall in search of the two elves he'd lost track of some hours ago. Neither of them were in their rooms and she was not among the pallets Mithrandir, the hobbits, and Gimli had found in the corner of the room. As he was unable to sleep he'd decided to seek out his companions and find out Nina's plans a she remembered she was slated to leave them that very day.
To his surprise he saw Eowen sleeping on a settee in the center of the room haphazardly covered by a cloak. He absently staked the fire as he noticed her shiver and readjusted her cloak so it actually covered her. It took effort not to jump when her hand grabbed his own when he turned to continue his search. "What time is it?" Her voice was marked with sleep and Aragorn found he disapproved of her sleeping in the hall quite a bit. He knew she wanted to be seen as an equal but she was a princess and he knew she hadn't been drinking heavily like most of the inhabitants of the room. Would it not have been easier for her to just sleep in her own room?
"Not yet dawn." He muttered in response to her question. He was again forestalled from leaving as she tugged on his hand.
"I dreamed I saw a great wave, climbing over green lands above the hills. I stood upon the brink. It was utterly dark in the abyss before my feet. A light shone behind me, but I could not turn. I could only stand there, waiting." Fear touching the dreams of Middle Earth was hardly uncommon and yet the woman acted as if this was a revelation of some new doom. He knew he was being uncharitable in his thoughts but the woman struck him as a bit trite in her attempts to seem important.
"Night changes many thoughts. Sleep, Eowyn. Sleep… while you can." He was stalled form walking away yet again by the sound of her voice.
"You do not discount the words of your female Elvin companion. Why are my concerns less than hers?" The petulance in her tone was a surprise though Aragorn had known there was no love lost between the two females.
"Nina is gifted with foresight. Her advice has saved the lives of many people and she has been a friend of myself and my companions for a matter of months. I do not discount your fears, my lady. I simply advise you not to worry over that which you cannot change. Nina would be the first to tell you that doing so is not healthy." Finally, Aragorn made his escape trying not to notice the skeptical look on the Lady's face.
Soon after Legolas' victory in the drinking competition he and Nina had taken their leave of the assembled men and claimed a corner of the wide stone balcony. For what was likely hours Legolas held Nina pressed in front of him with his arms wrapped tightly around her as they watched the sky turn dark and spoke of inconsequential things occasionally lapsing into comfortable silence as they avoided thinking about their upcoming separation.
"I wrote a letter I'll need you to deliver for me." Nina commented lightly remembering the letter she'd penned for Elrond. She felt Legolas nod behind her and leaned her had back to see his face. You can't tell anyone but you'll be seeing Elrond quite soon. The surprise which flitted across his face made her smile. "On the second night after Rohan rides for war you will need to be on watch at the entrance to the camp you will be in. You may want to wake Gimli and prepare to leave once you've delivered the letter. Aragorn will be trying to be Noble and self-sacrificing again." That won a chuckle from the ellon and Nina joined him.
"I will be sure to pass along your message. Perhaps I could accidentally forget to bring Gimli though…" Legolas mused teasingly. She knew there hadn't been any ill will between the two since almost the outset of the Fellowship's journey but it was amusing to watch them posture with their false irritations. "I also have a letter for you to carry." He commented and Nina frowned in confusion for a moment before remembering he was supposed to write to his father. She turned in his embrace to look at him properly this time.
"And what did you tell your father about me?" She asked half curious and half teasing.
Legolas grinned down at her and stole a swift kiss before responding "I told him of the strange elleth who has stolen my heart and enchanted me." He laughed at the skeptical eyebrow she raised at his declaration. "I haven't spoken to my father of personal matters since I was a much younger ellon. I simply informed him I had met my match and intended to be bonded after the closing of this war. I mentioned you were a ward of Galadriel and that I am certain he will approve. Naturally his approval does not matter but I neglected to add that to the letter." He grinned down at her and she tried to smile back but if the concerned look taking over his features was any indication she was not fooling him. "What is wrong?"
"What if he does not approve?" He made to speak but Nina pressed a finger over his lips so she could get the rest out, "I know you say it does not matter but he is your father and your King. I want him to like me but I am well aware that I am likely not what he pictured as the match of his only heir." This had been lingering at the back of her mind for some time and it felt good to finally voice the question.
"He will love you." Legolas assured her then continued. "I have never shown real interest in the elleth of our court and indeed have spent so little time in my father's halls for the last many years that I believe he will be silently pleased to have some reason to force me to come home at the end of this. Our wedding will be good for the kingdom and once he gets to know you it will be impossible for him to do anything but approve. Even if he did not it would not change anything except we may need to marry in Caras Galadhon or Gondor. Perhaps, if we are truly desperate Treebeard will marry us." Legolas smiled reassuringly down at her and she laughed at his last suggestion. Treebeard indeed. "Besides, even my father would not wish to upset Lady Galadriel by scorning her adoptive daughter." Nina shook her head at his teasing and pressed against him in an embrace which spoke of her gratitude for reassuring her.
"I tried to speak with Eowyn regarding her infatuation with Aragorn. It did not go well." Nina said after a few minutes of comfortable silence. The understatement of 'not gone well' made her roll her eyes internally.
"Oh?" Legolas questioned, clearly asking for her to expand upon her statement.
"I tried to explain that Aragorn had already pledged himself to another and that it would be best for her to move on. Essentially she refused to believe me and has decided I am sleeping with all of the members of the Fellowship. Somehow I can't feel sorry for her anymore. It would probably be funny if I wasn't so angry with her. Making her opinion of me known is one thing but the rest of you do not deserve to have your reputations tarnished by a jealous woman with a crush."
Legolas tilted her head to make her meet his concerned gaze. She hadn't even realized she was looking down and blushing, ashamed at Eowyn's words. "The simple minded woman has no place speaking to you like that. Would you like to me speak with her?" His offer was sincere and Nina reveled in the caring gesture.
"I got angry and I believe I may have spoken forcefully enough to actually frighten her. I do not believe she will be bothering me again though I definitely have not won any friends among the women here." She chuckled lightly. Sometimes like during that confutation Nina felt her two natures were a truly dangerous combination. Her capacity for negative emotions was boundless and the Human vindictive streak she hadn't every really noticed in herself prior to coming to Middle Earth could take over if she allowed her temper too much free reign. Sometimes she was frightened at what she might do if she lost control of herself completely. Human violence and Elvin power all focused in one vessel would likely be a destructive force indeed.
"You will let me know if you need anything from me?" Legolas asked though it was clear it was more of an order. She smiled and nodded. While her father and Mary had raised her to be an independent woman Nina found she appreciated the unspoken and unwavering support from her partner immensely. He was aware she was not incapable of taking care of herself he simply made sure she knew she did not have to bear everything alone which was a comforting thought especially given the weight of her task.
'Yet another reason to keep him from the sea longing' she thought to herself. If she could do anything the support him as he supported her she would gladly do it. She and Legolas went back to watching the night sky in a comfortable embrace, not bothering to move apart when they heard Aragorn join them outside.
"The stars are veiled. Something stirs in the East. A sleepless malice." Legolas commented as Aragorn stared across the horizon in the direction of Mordor. Nina stiffened as she followed the Ranger's gaze and felt a warning prickle on her back. Pippin would be looking for the seeing stone then. She repressed a desire to stop him before he did such a foolish thing. Pippin and Gandalf were needed in Gondor. The curious sensation of feeling a turning point washed over her as Legolas added, "the Eye of the Enemy is moving."
Nina closed her eyes in resignation and waited for events to unfold.
"He is here!" Legolas exclaimed as the malevolent power of the Eyes gaze washed over them quickly followed by Merry's cry for help. The trio burst into motion running to help. Aragorn snatched the firey Palantir from the tortured hobbit before succumbing to the pain himself and dropping the cursed object. Legolas and Nina caught him as he stumbled as Gandalf blinded the possessed stone with his cloak.
Nina tried to force down the pity she felt for the clearly distressed Pippin who was being mercilessly interrogated by Gandalf. The hobbit described his vision and interaction with the seeing stone alerting Gandalf for the first time to the danger posed to Minas Tirith. A council was immediately summoned.
The disgruntled King of Rohan was clearly less of an honorable man than he would like other to think. He was dead set against aiding Gondor complaining that they did not come to their aid. Nina decided she'd had enough of his sanctimonious behavior and spoke out of turn. "How could Gondor have come to your aid when you refused to ask them for help? Do you imagine Gondor to have snubbed you and offended your pride when you were the one who refused to offer them a chance to prove their friendship?" Out of the corner of her eye she saw the others of the Fellowship trying not to laugh or smile as she said what they were all doubtlessly thinking.
"And what would a she-elf know of the alliances of men" he asked derisively. Nina could feel the proverbial hackles go up amongst her friends at his disrespect.
"My lord, you are neither my King nor the King of any of my kind who came to your aid. Perhaps you should refocus your ire on the real enemy. If Gondor falls so to does Rohan." Théoden looked as if he was about to yell in response to her less than courteous answer when Aragorn thankfully interceded.
"I will go," he offered.
Gandalf's immediate reaction was a divisive "No!"
Such a plain denial obviously frustrated the ranger as he began to argue, "They must be warned!"
Nina reached out and placed a calming hand on his arm as Gandalf spoke, "They will be." The wizard then pulled the less than mollified man aside and continued out of earshot of all but the elves, "You must come to Minas Tirith by another road. Follow the river. Look to the lack ships. Understand this; things are now in motion that cannot be undone. I ride for Minas Tirith and I won't be going alone." His gaze slid to Pippin and Merry's face drained of color as he caught on to what Gandalf implied with the gesture.
Gandalf instructed Pippin to pack his belongings and meet him in the stables in an hour. The shell-shocked hobbit was tugged away by Merry who was several steps ahead of him mentally. As Gandalf swept out of the room Nina turned to the three remaining members of the Fellowship with a sad smile. "This is where I leave you also." She was appalled to feel the burn of tears behind her eyes and blinked determined to hold them back.
"Ah lass, you look after yourself, you hear?" Gimli said gruffly, not meeting her gaze.
She smiled wanly at him and gave him an unwelcome hug which caused the dwarf to blush furiously. "Watch over them for me?" She requested in a whisper despite knowing Legolas could hear her quiet voice. The dwarf nodded and pushed her off towards the ranger.
She folded Aragorn into a similar embrace though he willingly returned it unlike the gruff dwarf. "There is always hope Aragorn. Please stay safe." He smiled sadly at her and he once again blinked back tears as she released him from the tight hug. She didn't meet Legolas' eyes as she grasped his hand and tugged him with her as she left the room without looking back at the man and dwarf who wouldn't see her again until the end of the battle.
Nina did not release Legolas' hand until she had pulled him into her room and closed the door behind them. Even then she only released him to seal her mouth against his and press as close to him as possible. Legolas was not complaining. He had been longing for such contact since the night they spent in the forest before retrieving Merry and Pippin. He could hardly believe this was their goodbye. Something inside him panicked at the thought of being parted from her despite knowing it had to be done. To quell such foreboding thoughts he turned her and backed her into the wall by her door and pressed closer, deepening the kiss. Once again he wished he was already tied to the elleth before him. His heart had claimed her and the lingering distance between them was almost painful. He could only imagine how they would deal with the reality of their coming separation.
Legolas broke away from her when he felt the fringes of his self-control desert him and pressed his forehead to hers as they panted, recovering their breath. She looked positively disheveled with her hair tangled by his hands and her gown pulled off one shoulder that he had worshiped with his mouth just minutes before. Taking a deep breath of her scent he took a step back and smiled at the disgruntled pout she shot him.
"I have the letter for you." She finally said after regulating her breath. She braced herself against the wall for a moment before moving to cross the room and rooting through the travel pack on her bed. Legolas tried not to let the smug satisfaction at how effected by him she was show on her face. He was fairly certain the last traces of self-satisfaction were clear of his countenance before she turned back to him holding a scroll not unlike the one he'd delivered to Eomer. "Remember, two nights from the lighting of the Beacons watch the entrance to camp and be ready to leave with Aragorn." Legolas simply nodded and took the letter from her along with the hand holding it out to him. He laid a soft kiss on her palm before releasing her.
"Promise me you will be careful on your own." He implored refusing to break eye contact. He needed to know she would be safe.
Nina smiled at him and nodded. "I will be fine on my way to Lothlorien and my next task should be relatively safe. I won't even make it to Gondor before the war really breaks out." Her attempt at reassuring him was mostly unsuccessful but he felt some tension leave him.
"I have my letter for my father in my room. I will be right back. Do not leave without me." He smiled sadly at her and left the room all but sprinting down the stairs at the end of the hall and through several halls to his own quarters. He pulled out the folded and sealed letter for the Elvenking and with a deep breath retraced his steps back to Nina's room. He knocked softly and entered at her acknowledgment, surprised to see she had changed into riding clothes and packed away the rather fetching dress already.
He handed her the letter and watched as she placed it within her pouch of medicinal herbs for safekeeping. "Galadriel should know what to do with it. There isn't much contact between Lothlorien and Mirkwood but it shouldn't be an issue" he said needlessly trying to fill the melancholy silence as they simply stared at each other.
Nina finally turned and gathered her pack, bow, quiver, and short sword before turning back to him. He took her hand and walked silently down to the stables with her. They shared a conspiratorial smile as they rounded the back of the bustling stable spotting the place where they shared their first passionate kiss at the same time. "No time for a repeat." Nina commented sounding unhappy. Legolas paused and pulled her into his arms kissing her full on the mouth and keeping hold of her for several moments before releasing the stunned but smiling elleth. They continued their route to the stables once Nina's mind had caught up with her body and Legolas greeted Tala with a soft pat of his hand on her nose. The horse pushed into the contact, greeting the ellon in return.
As Nina lashed her pack to the saddle a stable hand had already placed on her horse Gandalf and the hobbits entered the stable making a straight course towards Shadowfax. Gandalf was once again berating Pippin's over inquisitive nature and was unsurprisingly joined by Merry. Legolas spared a moment to feel sorry for the amount of criticism Pippin had been receiving lately. Merry finally explained why Pippin had to leave and refused to meet his eyes when asked if the older hobbit was going with them. When Merry handed over the last of his Longbottom Leaf stash Legolas couldn't help but be silently pleased that he wouldn't have to smell the smoke anymore as Pippin took it.
The ellon turned his attention back to his betrothed. "I will miss you my love" he whispered to her as he drew her into one final embrace.
"I love you. We will get through this." Nina replied laying a final soft kiss on his lips for a moment before she stepped away. He gave her a hand onto Tala though she didn't need the assistance. He took the excuse to expend their last moment of contact. Shadowfax went barreling out of the stable followed by Merry and Aragorn who ran to the tower to see them off. Legolas opened the stall door and walked next to Nina and Tala as they exited the building.
As Tala's hooves found the cobbled road Nina and Legolas shared one last glance of longing before she spurred Tala off in the direction of Lothlorien. Neither looked back for fear of further damaging their already breaking hearts.
AN: So yeah, this was a sadder end than I anticipated for this chapter but I couldn't find anywhere else to end it. Next up we have Nina in Lothlorien, Elrond's first appearance in the story, and Nina taking a stab at getting in the way of the sea longing.
Let me know what you thought!