Aragorn drank from his water skin. It was cool in the shade at the mountain's foot, blessedly so after the journey he had made beneath the sun; here he would wait a while for the worst of the day's heat to pass. He took rations from his meagre pack, letting his fingers linger for a moment on the leafwrapped parcel of lembas. Young in his years of wandering as he was, already he knew how well it would sustain him when the need came; yet he wished to defer that moment longer if he could, for this was another gift of the Elves to him, too poorly deserved.

When he had eaten he settled himself against the rock, listening for the stories that the mountain could tell. This was a new skill for him, for he had recently travelled the Road with Dwarves making their way to the newly-settled Kingdom Under the Mountain. At first mistrustful of the young Man, they had unbent towards Strider the Ranger from the North, speaking to him of their history though not their hopes, and offering him some small secrets of their lore. Of little worth to them, perhaps, were the things that they shared with him as they smoked their pipes around the fire in the late-falling summer darkness, yet of great price to him.

Now as Aragorn bent his mind upon the mountain, listening, strange were the words that came to him, hard words with unfamiliar shapes; he thought that they must be not unlike the secret language of the Dwarves themselves. He was patient; with his eyes closed he let the mountain mutter in its long sleep beneath the sun, and caressed a small patch of stone beside him, letting the rough understanding of it come in its own time. And understanding did come; rumours but half-remembered even by these ancient stones, legends of fires buried deep within the earth. Not the fires of Morgoth or of his Servant, but older, far older; fires so great and fierce that they rendered rock to liquid, and could not be harnessed to any purpose but their own: the hidden dragon's heart of Middle Earth.

Then Aragorn's knife was in his hand almost before he knew what made him draw it, and he saw it, the craban. It stood but a few feet away, so black in hue it seemed as if a bird-shaped hole had been cut from the very fabric of the air, and it watched him, dark eyes unblinking.

The creature itself could do him little harm, he knew; the chief danger lay in the question of where the bird came from, and to whom it might report on its return. As the crebain flew, few leagues lay between this place and the closed gates of Moria from which orcs might yet issue when the sun went down, but surely the tale of a lonely unknown traveller in the Wild would hold little interest to draw them out. Aragorn had no love for the crebain, but nor did he slay living things to no purpose; rabbits and game he killed for food as he must, orcs and servants of the Enemy he hunted, for that was his destiny and his choice. Swiftly he weighed his chances; the bird was alone, and it was near, but still it had wings and would probably make good its escape no matter how quickly Aragorn was able to throw his knife.

As if guessing his thought, as well it might, for they were crafty birds, the craban hopped a little and then took flight as suddenly as it had come, the winged form spiralling into the brilliant blue of the sky and soon vanishing beyond the power of even Aragorn's sight. He sheathed the knife, and set his back once more against the bones of the mountain, but he would not linger in this place overlong.