The Long Way Home – Prologue
January the 18th, Year 3019 of the Third Age.
Caras Galadhon glittered in the evening sun as Boromir, son of Denethor, Captain and High Warden of the White Tower, returned from his aimless rambles to the camp their hosts had set up for them on the green lawn, a frown firmly in place on his forehead. He didn't like it... didn't like it one bit – that they were staying here, among those Elves, under the ever watchful eye of Lady Galadriel... that Aragorn was listening to her, seeking her counsel... that he wanted to take the Ring to Mordor instead of using it like he should, betraying his weakness of character and lack of determination... that he should have claims to the throne of Gondor... he shook his head, then froze as upon rounding the last bend in the ambling path leading to their tents, he was greeted by a sight he had not expected.
A little bit away from the other companions, Aragorn sat on a bench, talking quietly to a woman next to him, whom Boromir had never seen or met, but who looked like she belonged to his kinsfolk from the North – dark-haired, tall and proud. Who was she? What was she doing here, in Lórien of all places, among the Elves? Suspicion immediately rose inside him like the morning creeping in from the river, and he took a quiet breath and shoved the objections his honour insisted to make aside, then continued in his path, slower and more careful than before. They had not yet noticed him, and maybe he could catch a few words of their conversation, discover the matter they were so earnestly discussing... after all, he had a right to know where they were going and when, be Aragorn their leader a thousand times!
They noticed him when their voices were no more than a mere murmur in his ear, and both stood as he approached them, openly now, quelling his disappointment. "Aragorn."
The frown on Aragorn's face came and went so quickly that he was not sure he really had seen it, but the tension lingering in the air between them was only too real, even though this was neither the time nor the place to act upon it.
He was the first to look away, his eyes flitting to the woman next to the Ranger, whose gaze was much too perceptive for his taste, and Aragorn caught it with ease. "May I present, Arnuilas, daughter of Afrelot, from the North. This is Boromir, son of Denethor, of Minas Tirith."
She curtseyed, without the flourish and elegance of the women at his father's court, and he bowed, but that did not keep him from examining her carefully, nor her from regarding him with equal intensity. She had no claims to Elven beauty, but there was intelligence shining from her eyes, and a knowledge of the world that made him rather uncomfortable only a day after Galadriel's interrogation. Nevertheless, he forced a tight smile to his lips. "Pleased to meet you."
She returned it, more naturally than he. "And I to meet you. You have come a long way from the South."
"As have you from the North." He paused for a moment, considering if he should leave them to their debate, but he was still curious, and sure that Aragorn would not give him the answers that he desired – or at least not ones he could trust. Maybe she would be more forthcoming. "What brings you to Lórien? For you are the first of the race of Men besides my companion whom I have seen here."
She tilted her head, pondering his question for a moment with a suspicion that made him immediately fear Aragorn had warned her of him, before she answered. "I was sent from Rivendell by the Lord Elrond to scout the Pass of Caradhras for the Fellowship. I was wounded in a skirmish with stray Orcs on our way down from the mountains, and left here to recover, while my companion returned to give news of our discoveries."
He hid his surprise at her words, deciding to nod instead – he had not taken her for a warrior. "You know of our mission then."
"She does," Aragorn answered softly, "even though even here, it is unwise to speak of it without need."
"As you were doing before I arrived." It was only a guess, but it made Aragorn frown again, either from the surprising sharpness of his voice or because he was startled that he could draw even the simplest of conclusions. Boromir grit his teeth.
"As we were," Aragorn agreed, "but not without need. Upon our departure, he likeliest course for us to follow will be down the Great River, either on foot or by boat, and we will need to know how far the enemy has advanced on the eastern shore, or maybe even on the western."
"And she is to be our scout?" The doubts in his voice darkened Arnuilas' face as she stepped forward, answering with more intensity in her voice than his words really warranted.
"One of them. The Galadhrim are sending theirs as well, but they will need all of their forces to defend their borders soon, and I am not one to sit idly now that my wounds have healed."
He nodded, unwilling to respond to the obvious challenge in her tone, as it would only serve to heighten the tension between him and Aragorn to doubt her abilities now, but part of him still wondered. Are the Rangers of the North so desperate that they have to send out their women now?
Aragorn stepped forward, and Boromir thought he detected an intent to defuse the rising tension, though on his account or the woman's, he could not say. "I take it that I will hear of you, Arnuilas."
"With luck, yes." Boromir could hear that her reply was only half a jest, but her words, spoken in that soft soprano, reminded him too much of the battle-worn soldiers he had commanded in Gondor that he could even smile at them.
"Stay safe, then."
Arnuilas nodded, clasping Aragorn's arm like a man would, and tapping his shoulder briefly, before she pulled back. "And you."
Aragorn smiled, with a sad tinge that spoke of intimate knowledge of his own mortality, and departed, turning to follow the path that led to their encampment, and Boromir had already started to leave himself when he noticed that she was staring at him intently – maybe waiting for a farewell from him?
"Do you not have to go?" he asked rather harshly, and a deeper shade of hauteur spread over her features as she stepped back from him. Surely he had scared her off – thankfully. But at the moment, he did not think that he was fit for company. There was too much to ponder and brood over, and she would only distract his thoughts. They needed to come to a decision, and soon, and if Aragorn was not the one to make it, then it had to be someone else. Most likely he. He had no faith in the strength of Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits and...
The woman had obviously spoken to him and expected a reply, and he forced his attention back on her. "I was... distracted."
She did not smile, only gazed at him with an expression in his eyes that told him he had given too much of his thoughts away, even though he had not spoken, and he tried to divert her attention. "Farewell, Arnuilas of Arnor."
"Farewell, My Lord." She smiled tightly and then turned, striding away determinedly over the short winter grass, Elven dress rustling quietly, a sound that faded in the ever-present voice of the countless golden leaves.