This is the disclaimer. I do not own anything from Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, they are the property of JRR Tolkien and J K Rowling, this writing is purely for pleasure and I get no money out of this whatsoever, now that is out of the way on with the story!

Chapter 21

Aragorn was frowning slightly as he ate his meal, his eyes continually flicking down to the slight form of the child seated beside him. He had spent the majority of the day discussing strategy and defence with Eowyn and Boromir but the others had all left the discussions at various points that morning, for Aragorn and Boromir were the only ones who had experience of fighting with cavalry and siege warfare, for Legolas and Gimli, whilst skilled and seasoned warriors, were far more accustomed to leading raids, and destroying individual bands of foes, than all out war, which both Aragorn and Boromir had faced in Gondor.

He had been surprised at how long Elion had stayed, listening intently to their conversation, for, from what he remembered of when he was Elion's age, he had never been able to sit still for an extended period, let alone if he had to listen to a discussion he was not taking part in, but Elion had stayed until after noon, and when he finally left the hall he had appeared to be cheerful.

Now, his child was almost drooping with weariness and it was enough to worry Aragorn. What had Elion been doing in the few short hours between noon and sunset to become this exhausted, particularly when he had strict instructions not to leave the city? Concerned eyes scanned the boy, searching for any hint of what had caused this tiredness and Aragorn felt his worry racket up as he noticed the beginnings of bruises on Elion's arms.

The ranger's frown intensified as the new information settled in his mind. Elion had been hurt, he did not know why or how as yet, though the placement of the bruises themselves was reminiscent of defensive injuries, and it hurt to know he had been unable to protect his child, and save him pain. Elion should never have had to know the pain and fear he had, and the knowledge that some of that pain had been caused by his own failures wounded him deeply, and yet, under his own watch his child had been hurt once again.

He was broken out of his dark thoughts by a sudden pressure against his side. Glancing down, a fond smile, though one tinged with worry, rose on his face as he saw that Elion's tiredness had got the better of him and the child had slumped to one side, leaning on him as he had done so many times around campfires, barely keeping his eyes open as he snuggled up against him.

Careful not to disturb the drowsy child Aragorn placed his utensils back onto the table before gently gathering Elion up in his arms, directing a fond smile down at the boy as green eyes peered up at him. Satisfied Elion was secure, Aragorn turned to the lady seated at the head of the table. "With your permission my lady?"

Eowyn just smiled and nodded, "Of course Lord Aragorn, I would not think of keeping you from your son."

Aragorn nodded his acknowledgement, already turning to leave the main hall as he headed for the chambers Eowyn had allocated them on their first night in Edoras. He didn't bother to correct her assumption about Elion's parentage, he was quite aware most of those in the court here assumed Elion was his blood son, and he knew Elion was also aware of this. As Elion had seemed unbothered by it, even timidly pleased by the idea, Aragorn had seen no need to correct the assumption, for regardless of blood, in his heart Elion was his own child.

The transition from the heat of the main hall to the far cooler corridors pulled Elion back into wakefulness and Aragorn looked down at the precious bundle in his arms as he felt Elion shift.

"Ada?" The question was a confused, quiet mumble and Aragorn smiled softly down at him.

"You were falling asleep little one, and I'm sure your bed is far more comfortable than wooden benches." Elion made a quiet noise of understanding and snuggled closer, one hand reaching out to clutch at Aragorn's tunic. Watching the child's eyes begin to drift shut again, Aragorn took the opportunity to check Elion's temperature with the back of his hand, for it was entirely possible the boy was coming down with an illness.

Elion's temperature seemed normal, and that only caused Aragorn to frown once again. It was still early in the evening, far earlier than Elion usually started to fall asleep, and yet the child wasn't showing any of the signs of illness that would explain this sudden fatigue. The fresh bruises seemed to scream out at him, and dark possibilities began to drift around his mind.

Forcibly he shook them off. It was no use imagining the worst when all he needed to do was ask his son how he had acquired them. Reaching their chambers, he gently set Elion down on the bed, before coaxing him to sit up. Even since Elion had been injured, Aragorn had checked the wounds before Elion went to bed, they were healing nicely but it would be a few more days before they would be completely healed, but for tonight the examination would serve two purposes, to assess how Elion was healing, and to discover how badly Elion had been hurt in those few short hours.

Firstly Aragorn checked the stripes on Elion's back, they were healing nicely though he could tell a few of the deeper lacerations would leave scars, but to his surprise the skin appeared slightly reddened. It would not harm Elion overmuch, but it did indicate that he had overexerted himself, stretching his back a little more than it was ready for.

He filed that piece of information away before he turned to inspect the bruises. His brow furrowed as he saw that the bruises were concentrated on Elion's arms and chest, consistent with defensive wounds and he felt anger begin to boil in his gut at the thought that someone had deliberately hurt his child. Aragorn pushed the thought away, wary of jumping to conclusions, though the evidence was all but screaming at him.

He enfolded his son in his arms, and he felt Elion curl up against him. That more than anything quieted his anger and allowed him to speak calmly and gently, for he would do nothing to hurt his child. "How did you get hurt little one?" he asked softly. When Elion merely blinked up at him in confusion he elaborated, "The bruises."

To his surprise Elion looked down at his arms, eyes widening as if he had only just noticed that he had been injured before the boy shifted guiltily, his cheeks glowing red with embarrassment. "It's nothing Ada," he murmured, green eyes studiously focused on the floor.

Aragorn felt relief at the unspoken admission. Nobody had hurt his child, from Elion's reaction he would guess that the boy had got himself embroiled in one scrape or another, and the bruises were the result of some mishap Elion hadn't wanted him to find out about. He had to smother a smile at that, a smile that was equal parts amusement, relief and worry, for from what he remembered from his own childhood, whilst most of his adventures had been harmless, only ever resulting in scrapes and bruises, several had had the potential to be really quite dangerous. At that thought his worry began to rise once more.

"Elion," he reprimanded lightly, "I asked you how you got hurt."

He felt rather than saw the child shift guiltily, and he saw Elion's fingers were twisting nervously in a corner of his tunic. "I was practicing," Elion replied eventually, the slight quickening of his voice giving away that he was not telling the entire truth.

"Practicing what?" Aragorn countered, a stern undertone coating his words even as his mind raced through all the possibilities of what the boy might have been practicing. He knew Legolas had just started to give Elion archery lessons, for his friend had approached him shortly after Elion had made the request. Aragorn had been less unsettled than the elf with the idea, for he had started weapons training when he was twenty, only two years older than Elion and considering they were in the middle of a war, though Elion was a little young, the idea that his son would be able to wield conventional weaponry as a last line of defence, was a comfort, bare as it was.

He briefly considered that the bruises were from the archery lessons, but he discarded that thought almost immediately. Elves adored children and Legolas would have sooner cut off his own arm than hurt Elion, or let the lesson do so. Perhaps then Elion had been practicing by himself? That could certainly account for the bruises, though the fact they were on both arms was unusual if that were the case.

But before he could begin to think of other possibilities, Elion spoke once again, his voice only just above a whisper. "Sword fighting, with Merry, Pippin and Gimli." There was a pause as Aragorn considered it, but before he could speak Elion continued, evidently interpreting his silence as displeasure rather than thought, the words tumbling over each other in his haste and worry.

"But I wasn't trying to get hurt Ada! I promise I wasn't and I'll be careful, more careful and don't be mad at them, they didn't know I'd get hurt and they weren't trying to hurt me and I'll make sure I'm really careful but please don't stop me from learning please. It's easier than the bow and I'm good, I managed to beat Gimli, I caught him by surprise and I need to learn how 'cause I'm not good enough yet and I need to be good so I can make sure nobody else has to get hurt because of me and nobody else will die..."

"Sus tithen pen," Aragorn murmured, gently carding his fingers through the child's hair in an attempt to calm him. Elion had gradually been working himself into a panic and at some point during his speech he had slipped into Sindarin. That worried Aragorn, for he was well aware that his child only slipped back into elvish when he was either very tired or distressed, but it was the words and the sentiments behind them that worried him more.

"I'm not going to stop you learning the sword little one," he said once Elion had calmed sufficiently, "Though I am going to restrict the time you spend practicing. You overexerted yourself today and I do not want you doing so again understood?"

Green eyes stared up at him as Elion nodded once, before nuzzling up against him once more, his outburst having drained a large portion of his remaining energy. Automatically Aragorn tightened his arms even as he considered what to do next. He knew little of Elion's past, the child had said very little but there were a few things he knew for certain. Elion was an orphan, from a very young age and knew war well, having killed and fought, and was the only survivor of the conflict that had claimed his home. He knew all this, and he knew that Elion felt guilty about the deaths, a feeling he knew well, and he also knew that there was little on Middle Earth that could soothe its bite but Elion's panicked ramble had revealed deeper issues and Aragorn knew, that though Elion was tired, they should not be left to fester any longer. They would have done more than enough damage already.

"Little one," he said softly, coaxing the child's face up until emerald eyes met his own. Once he was sure he had Elion's attention he continued, "I cannot promise you that everything will be alright, and that nobody will get hurt or die and I will not try to. But Elion, I swear to you that should one of us be injured or fall, it will not be your fault. Never your fault."

"But it is Ada! It is!" The wail was anguished, and worse for its near silence. "It was my fault. I wasn't good enough. They died because of me. I couldn't save them and they died. They all died!" The sobs came then and Aragorn could do nothing but hold the child close and murmur reassurances and comfort as he waited for the storm to pass. Something in Elion had broken, the walls that had been created as a defence coming crashing down.

Aragorn had known there were a lot of demons in Elion's past, and he also knew the child had kept a lot bottled up and he'd seen similar things in men that had witnessed and lived through atrocities, for whilst Elion had been healing and had got so much better, he would never be fully healed until those walls broke. And now they had come crashing down, and Aragorn could see the terrified child they had hidden. The child that had lost everything, watched as everything he knew and loved was cut down, bore the guilt of having survived and was now terrified that the family he gained was going to be torn away.

And there was nothing he could say to allay that fear. For he knew that there was a very real possibility that none of them would survive the coming darkness, and he knew that Elion had seen too much to accept the lie that everything was alright and that it was all going to be fine, and if he did fall, he would not have his last act be the breaking of a promise. But that didn't mean he wouldn't do everything in his power to ensure he survived, for he would not see his son lose a second father.

Tenderly he cradled his child, waiting out the storm of weeping, his simple presence providing more comfort than words ever could and gradually Elion's sobs quietened until only hiccups remained. "Tell me about it little one," Aragorn requested softly. He knew from bitter experience than some things were too much for anyone to handle alone, let alone a child and he knew that Elion needed to talk about the horrors he'd seen, for it would be the only way to ease the burden of guilt and fear.

There was a long silence and Aragorn had begun to think that Elion had closed off again when his child started to speak.

"There was a war."

Aragorn froze. Automatically his arms tightened round his child and he listened, his heart aching as Elion spoke in a quiet, dead voice that conveyed the horror behind the simple words.

"There was a man, Voldemort, with magic like mine and he had a group of followers. He was evil and they tortured and killed anyone who stood against him. My parents fought him and he killed them and tried to kill me but it backfired. I lived and it was thought he had died."

"But he didn't. He'd got Rings."

"He came back when I was fourteen, and he started killing again. We fought. Everyone did and we bled and died and they just kept coming. I was the only one who could kill him and only if I destroyed the Rings too. So I hunted the Rings, destroying them as they hunted us but my brother was killed doing so. But even though we'd destroyed them, he attacked our home and I fought and killed him but it took too long and by then everyone else was dead and I was the only one left. The war was over."

Elion's voice was merely a breath as he whispered the last sentences. "But we didn't win. Nobody won. And it's my fault because I took too long, because I wasn't good enough to save them."

Aragorn let out a slow breath, letting the single movement calm his raging emotions enough to let him speak, though sorrow and anger still raged inside him at the new knowledge of his child's past, and at the people and the situation that would force a child to do an adult's job, and force a child to know the burden of death, and war and the burden of guilt that weighed heavily on the survivor.

And as that knowledge settled in his mind, he looked down into tear bright emerald eyes, and he knew the words he needed to say. "It hurts, and I won't say that it will stop, because that kind of hurt never goes away, but little one, their deaths are not on your hands." As his child made to speak, Aragorn shushed him, blue eyes boring into green ones, "You did not make them fight, and you did not deal the blows that killed them. Their deaths are the fault of Voldemort, for if he never started the war, they would not have died."

He hesitated for a moment before he continued, "And Elion, do you think that madman would have stopped at one village?" At the child's hesitant disagreement Aragorn knew that Elion was beginning to see what he was talking about, "In killing him you saved so many others." He brushed gentle fingers through his child's hair, feeling Elion relax slightly. "It is a heavy price, and heavier on the survivors, and it is not right that innocents die, but sometimes there is no other option. But that does not mean it was your fault. No one can prevent every death in war, no leader is perfect."

Gently he coaxed Elion's chin up, so the child met his eyes, "Answer one question for me little one. Did you fight with everything you had?"

"Yes." The answer was barely a whisper but Aragorn still heard it. He smiled sadly, as he felt Elion slowly relax in his arms, his body sinking deeper into Aragorn's protective embrace but he knew there was still something he had to say.

"Then you carry no fault. You did everything and more than anyone could ask."

"But it wasn't enough."

Elion's voice was small and sad, and Aragorn's heart ached at the plaintive tone, the simple pleading to take it all away. Elion was far too young to have to face this, the awful crushing revelation that every solider had to face. The knowledge that no matter what you did, it would never be enough, you can never save everyone.

"No," he agreed, his voice equally as soft, "It wasn't. And nothing will be enough. But that doesn't mean you don't try. You learn, you practice and you get better, so that next time the cost is lower. You don't forget what happened and you remember those you lost, and honour them. But you must never forget to live."

He stopped, blue eyes scanning the child on his lap, "Do you understand little one?" He asked tenderly. The question hung in the air for a moment before Elion nodded tentatively before promptly burrowing into the ranger's embrace and a yawn escaping. A small smile rose on Aragorn's face as he brushed a kiss onto Elion's forehead. He wasn't a fool, and he knew that the guilt his child carried would take a long time to fade, but he'd won a battle tonight, and while it would take a long time for Elion to fully accept what he had said, he'd seen the first, tentative, glimmers of understanding in his eyes.

It would not be easy, but his son would heal. In the months since he had found the child wounded and scared in the wilds Elion had gone from a quiet, terrified child who trusted no one to a reasonably happy boy, with a fiery spirit who laughed and played and had learnt to trust again. The healing had already begun, and Aragorn knew that there had been a breakthrough tonight.

Carefully he rose and tucked his sleeping child into bed before leaning down and pressing a kiss to Elion's forehead. Yes there were a lot of demons in Elion's past, but Aragorn swore to himself that he would be there for his son and help him to heal, to calm his fears and soothe away the nightmares. He loved him too much to do anything else.

Eomer breathed out a scarcely audible sigh of relief when the hilltop of Edoras came into view. The city was still nearly seventy miles away but even from this distance he could see that the city still seemed whole and did not appear to have been damaged during the time he had been absent. Of course, he thought sourly, that did not mean that the situation within the city was pleasant or desirable, or indeed that the city would not be hostile to their approach.

His sister's message had shocked him to the core. He had known Wormtongue was a despicable creature, a traitor that suited his name, but even when he had been banished he had not thought that the man would stoop to killing his Uncle. Wormtongue had all the power in Rohan, and an aura of legitimacy for the people when he was hiding behind Theoden. Killing the King would have only been a setback, for surely he must have known that Eowyn would not be easy to control.

Despite his worries Eomer could not prevent the chuckle that escaped his lips. His sister was perhaps the most stubborn person he had ever met, with a fiery temper to match. It had been that stubbornness that had found her sneaking to the practice yards every night to master the sword, and that same stubbornness that had eventually prompted him to join her, teaching her everything he knew of the sword.

He felt a surge of vindictive pleasure well up inside him as he thought of his fiery sister. She had immediately claimed the position of regent and he had no doubt that she had thrown a dagger into the traitor's schemes. But that didn't stop him from fearing for her, for although he knew Eowyn was a capable warrior, he also knew that the banishment the traitor had imposed on him had neatly robbed Edoras of nearly every loyal, trained warrior and no single warrior, however skilled could hold off a large assault for long.

The sound of screams, intermixed with a ferocious snapping and snarling rent the air and instantly Eomer turned towards the sound, urging his horse into a gallop as he did so. They were a distance from any village but he could recognise the sounds of a warg attack. A battle cry was torn from his throat and echoed by his men as they charged over the crest of the rise and down into the valley below.

The fight was short but ugly. It was a small party of wargs, no more than a dozen but they had been devastating enough on the group they had attacked. Eomer's eyes flashed with rage as he took stock of the dead. The group had contained women and children, and though he could see that the men had put up a good fight, several women and children lay amongst the corpses of men and wargs.

Turning sharply to the leader of his scouts he barked out a short command, and the man nodded, quickly gathering a group of riders to check the area. Wargs hunted in packs, and if there was one pack here, there were likely to be others, and the more he and his men could dispatch, the safer the villagers would be. Though the wargs became more daring every day, and he felt his lips twist into a grim line. He had never seen wargs this deep in Rohan before, and their boldness troubled him, almost as much as the threat they posed to his people did.

Satisfied the men he had sent out would rout any nearby packs, Eomer dismounted and headed to the cluster of villagers. As he approached, they bowed and one man stepped forward, evidently the leader of this group. "Thank you Sire, if it were not for your timely arrival the battle would have gone poorly." Even as he spoke, Eomer saw him cast a sorrowful eye over the bodies, his face tightening in grief.

"I am sorry for your losses." Eomer inclined his head, still a little unused to the honorific. He had never expected to take the throne, for Theodred was a good fighter and the news of both his cousin's and uncle's death within days of each other had shocked him to the core, but he was King of Rohan now, and he would do his duty to his people, and cleanse the land of this vermin of orcs.

And with that thought, "Why do you travel so far from your village, with your women and children? This land is not safe."

"The order came to evacuate my Lord," the villager replied, "Several nearby villages have been razed and if was only a matter of time before ours too was attacked. We were better to take our chances on the plain as we travel to Helm's Deep. When we reach there we will be safe."

Eomer nodded at the words, they made sense. A village was a target, this group out on the plains were far harder to hit, it seemed they had fallen victim to misfortune, but he knew once he reached Edoras, and ensured it was secure, he could patrol this border area thoroughly, and ensure that this column at least, provided a safe zone for the people to move through as they headed for Helm's Deep.

He talked to the man for a few more minutes, extracting as much information as he could get. So much had changed in the short span of time since he had been banished, that he knew all his information was sorely out of date, and he knew that in the current crisis he could not afford to be misinformed. What he learnt reassured him somewhat, it appeared that Eowyn had taken control of Edoras and had managed to retain her power and she was doing her best to hold the country together. It gave him hope that the situation in Edoras would not be as dire as he had thought.

But that didn't mean that he could afford to delay. With a single practiced movement he swung back up into the saddle and he barked out the command to ride. They were seventy miles still from Edoras, but if they rode through the night and pushed the horses they could make it at dawn tomorrow. They did not have time to waste.

Very few Uruk-hai had made the journey up to the higher tiers of Orthanc in the last few days for Saruman was still in a foul mood, and any of his creatures or servants that had attempted to disturb him, unless the news was of vital importance, had found themselves taking a very short route down. For Saruman the deaths accomplished two things, firstly they ensured that he was still feared, despite his conspicuous lack of presence in the lower levels of late, and secondly they allowed him to vent some of his considerable anger.

The wounds Gandalf had inflicted were slow to heal and pain still clawed at his chest, increasing with ever breath he took, despite the fact that he could only gasp in shallow breaths. Breathing had become progressively more difficult over the past several hours and that was part of the reason no Uruk would be allowed out of this room alive. He may have made them, but he knew they were little more than brutes that would follow him as long as they still feared him. At the moment, he knew he would not inspire fear.

Gandalf. He cursed foully. That wizard had wounded him, and was the direct cause of this agony and he couldn't even go down there to finish the job, for even the mere attempt at walking sent pain lancing through him, followed by coughs, and each cough was its own wracking shaft of agony. But it would not be long before the man was dead, his injuries and already weakened body, combined with no food and water would soon carry him off, and when he had recovered Saruman would take great pleasure in displaying the rotting corpse as a warning to all who dared to oppose him.

A pounding at the door caused a growl to slip from his lips and he painfully pulled himself into a more upright position and he ground out his permission to enter. His lip curled in disgust as he beheld the creature that entered. Not all of his creations came out perfect, and while the majority of the runts and misshapen beasts were killed and consumed, a few of his cannier Uruk-hai had discovered the advantage of having the runts at their beck and call. They made for marvellous, dispensable messengers for tasks the Uruk had no desire to perform, such as inviting their Master's wrath by taking a message to his chambers.

"Well?" He snapped. His patience had already been worn to a thread by the pain and he was in no mood to deal with these fools.

"The reports came back from the Warg Riders Lord," the creature reported, his voice grating against Saruman's ears.

He raised a single eyebrow, letting the wordless and painless moment emphasis his contempt as his anger rose.

The creature could obviously sense the danger brewing in the white-robed man sitting nearby for he quickly continued, being a runt that survived in a pack of ravenous Uruk-hai was no mean feat and had given the small creature a remarkable aptitude for self-preservation.

"They report that seven villages have been torched, and any occupants killed. Four packs have returned."

"And the fifth?" Saruman's voice was silky, despite the fire in his lungs, and promised danger.

The creature paused, obviously debating whether to share the news he carried or not. It was a ploy that might have worked on the Uruk-hai, but the guile of the Uruk-hai was completely transparent to the Istar. "Speak." He ground out, even as a quick jab of magic sent the creature careening to the floor.

"They did not return my lord," the unfortunate creature gabbled out, "They were found by the horsemen near the hill-camp and were slaughtered." The final syllable barely had time to leave the creatures lips before his body fell lifeless to the floor with a single sweep of Saruman's hand. A curse dropped from his lips, bringing with it a measure of satisfaction with the pain.

Saruman knew what this news meant. Riders near Edoras, particularly a company large enough to engage and win against his warg-riders, meant that Eomer had returned. Somehow his whore of a sister had managed to get a message through to him and he had ridden immediately. It meant that his raids into Rohan would no longer be tolerated, for he was well aware that Eomer knew that he was behind the orc incursions into Rohan, and unlike his uncle, Eomer was swift to ride and decisive in his tactics. He would bring open war to his doorstep.

But he also knew that there were some things Eomer would have to do if he were to wage war, firstly to get his people out the way, for some reason the horsemen despised the idea of their women and children being caught up in war, so he knew the first actions would be to evacuate the people from Edoras. He knew the order had already gone out to the villages and for that was why wargs had been sent to ravage the people, though he knew such actions were tokens at best for far more would escape than he could slay. To strike at Rohan he needed to bring down Helm's Deep.

He cast a baleful glare towards an antechamber where his creation sat. He knew it had the destructive power to bring down the Deeping Wall, but he had left it unfinished, wary of mixing the components before it was needed, for the mixture was volatile and he had no intention of bringing his tower down. But with his current injuries it would be weeks before he could trust his hands to measure out the chemicals without shaking and that was time he did not have.

A smirk suddenly grew on his face as an idea came to him. Helm's Deep at the moment would cost too much to take, but if he sent a contingent of his Uruk-hai to massacre the people as they fled...

The cruel twist of his lips increased. Such an act would completely demoralise the horsemen, and the horsemen did not have the men to oppose him on the open hills. Yes, he mused, he would send a contingent, some thousand or so and then, when news of their victory reached him, he would send the thousands more required to assail the Hornburg. Soon Rohan would be his. It would merely be the first step.

Deep in the bowels of Orthanc, Gandalf the Grey struggled for breath. Gasping wheezes passed through his lips, the gap between each inhale increasing with every breath. There was a single, groaning gasp then abruptly all sounds ceased.

The tiny, hidden cell was silent, the dust motes twirling in the air on the last vestiges of a laboured breath but even their dance soon stopped and they drifted down, settling gently on the prone Istar.

They would be his shroud.

AN: Yes, I know its late but I'm sort of crazily busy at the moment - A Level practicals and the play I'm in opens this weeks. Anyway I hope you all enjoyed the chapter (the ending was rather morbid wasn't it?), thanks for all the support and please review!