Tolkien owns everything and I'm making no money off of it. I'm just a poor college student anyway so you wouldn't get anything if you sue me.

Thanks to my beta, Becky! Without you, my words would make people more confused then they already do!

Just a few notes here at the beginning and I'll do the rest at the end of the post!

Thanks to: Raquel, Carrie, Katie, Syvia, HaloGatomo, Abigail da Jedi, sabercrazy, Belothien, Lina Skye, Taci, Cool, Nili, Lievre, Lady Wind, and Mariana Nimeneth!

I'm sorry that this chapter took so long to get out. . . You see, there was this nasty writers block that just wouldn't move out of my way. I told Aragorn and the twins to help me beat it up with swords, but it didn't work! Then one day, I snuck up behind it, and we had a battle to the death! It was long and difficult, but let's just say that I won! *g* There's my little story for the day.

Well, this is it; the very last chapter. . . But I will say that it is by far, my longest chapter yet! I was actually thinking about splitting this up, but no.

Nili, I hope your dog is okay... But you fainted, huh? Wow, I don't think I've ever done that before!

Chapter 17

            Aragorn tilted his head to one side and closed his eyes, allowing the wind to blow through his long hair.  After watching his brothers and the other Rangers disappear into the shadows of the trees, he had decided that the only thing he could do was wait.  Aragorn knew that three Rangers, two Elves, and a young man could more than handle five Orcs and if their luck held, one man.  There was no need to sit around and worry.
            The wind was steadily growing stronger, and the forest around him rustled and creaked against it.  Looking up through the trees, Aragorn could just see large, lazy white clouds racing across the sky.  Unfortunately, the wind was likely to stay strong into the night, which would make for a very chilly evening and little sleep because of the noise.

            He got up and slowly stretched his sore leg muscles.  His, now very old, wound was healing nicely, but it still wanted to cause him trouble.  He was glad to find, however, that his strength was slowly returning and hopefully, when the group returned, he would be able to help them set up camp for the evening.  He really didn't like feeling so useless and burdensome and was anxious to begin pulling his own weight.

            Aragorn shifted impatiently.  He held his small sword loosely in his right hand, ready should he need it.  I am only fooling myself, Aragorn thought.  I won't be needed.  He stared down at the blade, and then with a heavy sigh he placed it back in its holder around his waist.   He would force himself to wait patiently for them to return.

            He was about to look back up at the clouds when he suddenly stopped, tensing.  Something didn't feel right.  It was the kind of feeling someone got when they were being watched, and he quickly focused his attention toward the Orc camp.  He strained his eyes to catch any movement in the dense undergrowth, but the strong wind caused everything to sway and bend.

            A sound.  Aragorn froze, holding his breath and listening intently for any other sign of the where his unseen enemy was hiding.  Then he heard it; the whistling sound an object made as it flew through the air.

            Relying on instinct, Aragorn quickly spun to his right, and had he been an Elf, he would have completely cleared it.  However, his human blood betrayed him.  As he whirled around, he felt the sting of a large object as it grazed his left temple and ricocheted off into the brush.

            Even though it was not a direct hit, the contact caused Aragorn's vision to blur, and he staggered, falling on one knee.  His hands flew to his sword as he struggled to regain his footing.

            Before he could draw his blade, however, his arms were captured and pulled behind him.  Aragorn groaned softy as calloused hands pulled him to his feet; without even seeing his attackers, he knew they were Orcs. Somehow, a few must have escaped his brothers' watch.

            They were dragging him somewhere, and Aragorn knew he should be struggling.  The Orcs hadn't taken the time to bind his hands, and his mind screamed at him to pull out his daggers and fight before it was too late.  But his body would not obey.  The world was spinning violently, and Aragorn had to shut his eyes to keep from being sick.

            He tried to keep his head still as he waited for the world to return to normal.  His hands, however, were slowly attempting to make their way to his belt where his daggers still hung.

            As the seconds ticked by, Aragorn opened his eyes, and his vision cleared.  Knowing this may be his only opportunity, Aragorn suddenly sprang to life, pulling his blade from his waistline.  This, of course, caught the Orcs completely by surprise.  Their cry of alarm was cut off as the Ranger's weapon buried itself deep in one of the creature's chest.

            As it fell lifelessly to the forest floor, Aragorn pulled his dagger free and drew his sword, ready to dispose of his other adversary.  But he was surprised to see the second Orc taking a step back and focus his attention just over Aragorn's shoulder.  The man's lips formed a narrow line in barely concealed frustration as he realized they were surrounding him again.

            Not taking his eyes off the Orc and keeping his weapon level, Aragorn took several steps to his side.  It was better to have both his attackers in sight then have one lurking behind.  Slowly, he turned his head to see his new opponent.

            Aragorn kept his face expressionless as his mind cried out in surprise.  Felnorvard was not supposed to be there.  The other Rangers were supposed to be engaging him, and that was the very reason Aragorn had been forced to stay behind in the first place. 

            He blinked hard, clearing away the last few dark spots that danced in front of his vision.  He half hoped that Felnorvard would disappear as well, but unfortunately, the other man was still there.

            "Come now, Aragorn," he said as he pulled his sword from its holder.  "You didn't think I would give you up so easily!"

            "I tire of your games, Felnorvard," Aragorn warned.  Deciding the Orc was no longer a serious threat, he slowly rotated his stance, allowing him to completely face the other man.

            "Lately, I've observed many things tire you," he said as he began to advance.  "This fight is folly.  Surrender to me quietly, and you have my word that no harm shall come to you for the remainder of the journey."         

            Despite the growing severity of the situation, Aragorn laughed.  "Your word means nothing to me!  I would rather die here then suffer the torments of Barad-dûr and the see the ruin of Middle-Earth."

            "Very well," Felnorvard sneered.

            Aragorn knew the formalities were over.  Felnorvard no longer cared if he took the Ranger alive.  A dead body would be the next best thing, and this suddenly made the man much more dangerous.

            As Felnorvard slowly stalked forward, Aragorn noticed the forgotten Orc shifting uncomfortably near a large tree, its weapon hanging loosely at its side.  At least I won't have to concern myself with him.  He won't join the fight unless called by his master, Aragorn concluded.  However, he could not lie to himself; he couldn't fight Felnorvard alone.  If he was at full strength, it wouldn't be a problem, but now…

            The wind whipped through the trees, causing the Ranger's hair to blow in his face.  He knew he should call for his brothers' aid, but would they be able to hear it?  Pushing aside his pride, Aragorn let out a shrill whistle, the kind many Elves used when calling for assistance.

            "They are busy with their own troubles," Felnorvard said, recognizing Aragorn's call.  "No one will be returning for you any time soon."


            Elrohir raised his sword, blocking an Orc's blade, and easily twisting to his right, the elf drove his weapon into the back of the creature.  Taking a deep breath, he surveyed the scene before him.  The Orcs had begun their attack only minutes ago, but already, the Rangers were gaining the upper hand. 

The men were holding their own as they were forced to block strike after strike.  With so many attackers, a killing blow was difficult; the men were too busy defending themselves.  A few Orc corpses however, did lie around the Rangers, showing some progress.

            Elrohir grinned as he spied his brother a few paces away, severing the head of another attacker.  This battle would be short lived if they kept at their pace.  They too had to defend themselves against far more enemies, but superior strength and reflexes gave them the advantage.  There were still more than enough opponents to keep everyone busy.

            His attention was quickly drawn back to the battle as he was forced to block the low swing of an Orc blade.  Easily deflecting it, the elf danced a few steps back.  He was about to swing to his right when something caught his eye.  A quick glance told him that one of the Orcs had climbed back up the small cliff.

            Knowing that he couldn't allow himself to become distracted, Elrohir blocked another blow and countered with his own swing at the creature's upper thigh.  It fell to the ground injured, but Elrohir was already blocking another attacker's blade.  There were just too many of them for a proper offense.

            It was Elladan's cry of warning a moment later that caused Elrohir to look up again.  He groaned as he saw a lone Orc standing atop the cliff.  It was holding a crude bow and aiming into the crowd.

            A bow was a clumsy weapon to use in close combat.  That was why the elves had specifically left theirs behind.  Perhaps it would have been a good idea to bring at least one of them, Elrohir thought, slightly sarcastic.

            The other Orcs were pulling back in a surprising display of strategy and discipline, forming two separate circles around the Rangers, and Elladan and Elrohir found themselves cut off from the other three men.  They could hear them still fighting, trying to force their way back into the group, but there were too many Orcs between them.

            The Orcs that surrounded the elves continued to block any strike that was tried against them but strangely enough, did not go on the offensive.  They seemed content to merely wait.

            Above the growls and taunts from the Orcs, Elrohir caught the faint whistle of an arrow flying through the air.  Relying on instincts, he sank to his knees and rolled to the side.  The arrow shaft flew through the ends of his dark hair, narrowly missing him. It landed in the dirt a few paces behind him. 

            The two elves exchanged glances.  This was a new threat that neither of them had anticipated, and now they were being targeted. 

            Another arrow shot out, this time flying straight toward Elladan.  He brought his sword around swiftly, deflecting it as he dodged to the left.  Elladan growled something inaudible as he turned back to his brother.

            "Any suggestions, Elrohir?" Elladan asked as he struck an Orc that came a little too close.

            "Well," he began.  "Perhaps..." But Elrohir was cut off as he was forced to dodge yet another arrow. 

            It was then the Orcs got tired of waiting, and the circle began to close in.  The elves could only hope that the men were still holding against their own adversaries, as they engaged the enemy once again.  Elrohir heard an arrow sail by somewhere near him, but he could not waste any of his attention.  The Orcs were fighting with a renewed passion, and Elrohir was constantly finding himself blocking first in front then behind.  He was hard pressed to get a hit in, himself.

            Elrohir was able to land two more killing blows while weaving in and out of Orc blades and whistling arrows.  There were fewer and fewer enemies to deal with, and Elrohir knew it would be over soon.

            That was when Elrohir heard the unmistakable thud of an arrow hitting bare flesh accompanied by a soft cry.  Sending another Orc to the ground, the elf turned and gasped as he saw Elladan stagger, a black arrow shaft protruding from his upper arm.  Elrohir struggled to reach his brother, ready to defend him while he gathered his senses. 

            Elrohir quickly went over their options.  The archer would have to be dealt with or else they would be shot down one by one.  He remembered his emergence dagger was still sheathed in his boot and knew Elladan had one as well.  It would be a long throw, and he would only have two chances.

            Knowing that he had no other choice, he kicked the Orc closest to him to the ground and pulled the blade from his boot.  "Brother, watch my back."

            Elladan knew what his brother had in mind and nodded, replying through gritted teeth.  "I will try." He brought his sword around and connected with the side of an Orc.  Kicking the creature aside, he added, "Be swift.  I don't think you'll get a second throw."

            Elrohir danced aside as another arrow flew toward his head.  Thankfully the Orc was a poor shot.  The elf eyed the creature, mentally determining the distance and speed needed.  Just as he released his weapon, a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye forced him to spring to the side to avoid being hit.  With only one good arm, Elladan had not been able to keep an Orc from slipping by.  Swinging his sword, he quickly relieved the creature of its head.

            Looking back atop the cliff, Elrohir swore under his breath as he saw the archer.  It was still alive, though now on his knees with the elf's dagger stuck in its left thigh.  He would have to try again.

            "Your dagger, Elladan," he said as he dropped to the ground next to his twin.  Without disturbing Elladan's swing, he pulled the blade from his brother's boot and in one fluent motion, threw it, hitting his mark.  The Orc archer fell with an elven blade buried in its throat.  Smiling, Elrohir turned back to help his injured brother.

            The Orc ranks were quickly thinning out, allowing the Rangers to cause greater damage.  Now the advantage was shifted from the Orcs' numbers to their skill.  Finally after another ten minutes, the Orcs began to panic.  Orcs were confident and cocky in larger numbers, but generally tended to fall apart when the tables turned.  This was no different, and seeing their comrades dead, they began to scatter.  Amaleg and Rayford followed two Orcs that fled into the trees while Elrohir dispatched the last creature in the clearing.

            After seeing that the remaining Orcs were being taken care of, Elladan sank to his knees and gripped his arm tightly.  Adrenaline had done an excellent job of covering the pain, but it was also quick to wear off.  However, he was more concerned with what he'd heard during the fight.  "We must get back to Estel," he said as his twin approached.  "Did you hear his whistle?"

            "No, I heard nothing!  Estel is fine; it's you I worry about," Elrohir said as he knelt down to take a better look at Elladan's injured arm.

            "I swear I heard him call for aid!"

            Elrohir sighed as he looked around the clearing.  "At least let me tend to you while we wait for Amaleg and Rayford to return.  We can do nothing until then.  Lourin, do you have any spare bandages with you?"

            "Yes, a few, though most of my supplies were left with Aragorn," Lourin said as he knelt beside the wounded elf.  He dug through the small pack on his belt and pulled out several pieces of white cloth, setting them at his companion's feet.

            Elrohir took his knife and carefully cut away the fabric surrounding his brother's wound.  Thankfully, the arrow had completely missed the bone, and its tip was just piercing through the opposite side of the arm.  Treatment would be much easier since he didn't have to worry about the shaft breaking and loosing the arrowhead in the arm.

            "Hold still," Elrohir said.  He firmly gripped the wood just above the skin and quickly snapping it, causing Elladan to groan softly.  Placing the broken piece aside, he pressed one of the bandages over he aggravated wound which was beginning to bleed and instructed his brother to hold it in place.  Then, he moved to his back, ready to pull the arrow the rest of the way out.

            "No, let it be," Elladan said, pulling his brother's hand away.  They didn't have time for the rest of the procedure.  The wound would require cleaning and heavy bandaging if the arrow was removed, but with the other two Rangers returning, it would be safe enough to leave it until they found Aragorn.  "We must leave.  Now."

            Elrohir helped him to his feet and did not argue.  He trusted his brother's instincts, which had saved them on more then one occasion, so he followed closely behind Elladan as he made his way to the base of the cliff.


            Aragorn took a step backward and adjusted his grip on his sword.  Felnorvard was toying with him, pacing back and forth and never coming close enough for their blades to connect, but he didn't care.  The longer the man waited, the more likely help would arrive.

            Normally, Aragorn would have had no problem in a sword fight, even if he was outnumbered.  He'd been trained by elves who had several thousand years of practice perfecting their techniques, and he personally had seventy years of practical experience behind him.  Of course, he hadn't always been in good physical condition during previous encounters, but he'd never faced something like this.  Now, he would have to come up with a way to conserve his depleting strength and still come out the victor.

            Thankfully, Aragorn's attention never wavered, and he was ready when Felnorvard finally lunged forward, his sword aiming at Aragorn's chest.  It was an easy block that didn't require too much energy, though he doubted it would last.  The man had already stated his knowledge of Aragorn's weakness, and it wouldn't take him long to exploit it.

            Aragorn had to make a choice.  Defense or offense?  He could let Felnorvard do all of the work on offense, but he had little chance of the fight being short.  If he decided to go on the offensive himself, then with luck, he would win.  But at what cost?  It would be very risky to expend his energy, because if it wasn't enough to defeat Felnorvard, there would be nothing left, and it would be over.  But what choice did he have?  Perhaps a combination of the two would be the best.

            All of this flashed through Aragorn's mind in the split second it took him to raise his sword to block Felnorvard's second strike.  He needed to find the man's weakness; everyone had one.  Aragorn knew his was that he favored high swings, leaving his thighs and abdomen less protected.  Luckily, it was a very rare case when it was exploited.  It would take a few more swings and blocks before Aragorn would be able to find the weakness of his opponent.

            My strength holds better than expected, Aragorn thought as their swords connected for the fifth time.  I must remain strong for just a while longer.

            A block by Aragorn was quickly followed by a swing at Felnorvard's upper left arm.  He nearly scored a hit, but the man was quick to deflect the blow while jumping to the side.  It was then that Aragorn saw what he'd been looking for. 

            Felnorvard wore a very dark green tunic, but he could just barely make out an even darker section near his left shoulder.  Blood.  It was then that Aragorn remembered what happened during his rescue.  He had heard the whistle of an arrow and felt Felnorvard fall against him.  Aragorn mentally smiled to himself; this would be the weakness he'd exploit.

            It was time to go on the attack.  Aragorn did his best to make his opponent use his left arm for every block.  He forced a high strike over his head, followed quickly by one low and to the right.  Each man had powerful swings so they needed to keep both hands on the sword hilt.  Therefore, by alternating where Aragorn tried to strike, Felnorvard was forced to stretch his wounded muscles, but Aragorn could also feel his own strength failing. 

            Aragorn's breath was coming in short gasps, unfortunately showing Felnorvard his current weakness, and the adrenaline that flowed through his blood did not provide enough strength.  After exchanging another few strikes, Felnorvard made a bold move.  He feigned a lunge to the right but as Aragorn moved to block, managed to twist his sword in front of him.  Aragorn gasped as he felt the cold steel slice through his forearm.  Blood quickly soaked through the torn fabric and began to slide down his hand, coating his fingers.  The slick blood did nothing to help his already faltering grip, and he risked taking a moment to wipe it away. 

            However, Felnorvard saw his opportunity and was quick to take advantage of it.  He swung his sword in a very high arc, bringing it toward the Ranger's shoulder.  Aragorn had plenty of time to knock the blade away, but he hadn't thought far enough ahead to prepare for the following blow.  His right side was left completely unprotected, and Felnorvard's fist shot out, catching him in the cheekbone just under his eye.

            Aragorn reeled backwards from the force of the blow.  He could feel the blood already starting to creep from his nose.  That hit should never have happened, and it only served to further deplete his strength reserves. 

            But Aragorn knew it was too late to back down.  It would quickly come down to who could better cope with injury and weakness.  Aragorn felt like he was back in training, always one step and thought behind, never enough of a break to think through a series of moves, and never gaining the upper hand against an opponent with superior strength.  However, he'd been able to beat the Elves often enough, and he could do it now to this man. 

            Felnorvard's shoulder was indeed giving him more trouble, and Aragorn noticed the man's swings were clumsier and a bit less powerful but still incredibly dangerous.

            But then that Aragorn got his lucky shot.  Felnorvard stood on slightly uneven ground, and Aragorn aimed his next swing to knock him off balance.  It was not enough to send him to the ground, but it did open an important window.  In that split second, Aragorn charged forward and slammed his shoulder directly into Felnorvard's arrow wound, causing him to stagger back with a sharp cry.

            They continued for several more minutes dodging each other's swings and thrusts, making little progress.  It was clear that Aragorn was loosing.  He simply could not get a chance to take an offensive position, and Felnorvard knew it.  He couldn't rely on lucky shots to pull him through this.

            His breath was coming in short gasps now, and it seemed that he would block Felnorvard's blows with no time to spare.  He simply could not force his arms to move any faster.  The man was able to land two more quick punches to Aragorn's head, causing his vision to blur and yellow spots dance.  This was not going well.

            "You can't beat me, Ranger.  This ends," Felnorvard said.  From somewhere, the man produced a sudden burst of energy and unleashed it on Aragorn. 

            They were coming more quickly now, blocking a high arc, dodging a low swing to the right followed quickly by a thrust.  Aragorn could not keep up with the pace, and he was forced to take step after step backwards.

            Then it happened.  Felnorvard's next strike sent Aragorn's sword flying from his hands and landed in the brush several feet away.  Aragorn sank to his knees, his legs refusing to support him any longer.  He was disarmed, he couldn't breathe or move, and the darkness was closing in from all sides.

            Aragorn could see Felnorvard approach him, his sword lowered seeing the defeat of his opponent.  Aragorn's mind raced; he had nothing to defend himself, having lost his dagger he used to kill the Orc. 

            No wait, he'd been given another small blade that he'd put in his boot.  But he could barely lift his arm to fight. But perhaps...  Not being too far from the truth, Aragorn let his eyes close as his hand snaked down to his small dagger. 

            Felnorvard stood proudly over Aragorn's prone form.  "I told you I would win," he said as he leaned down and grabbed the front of the Ranger's shirt, attempting to pull him up.  What he did not expect was for Aragorn to suddenly come back to life brandishing a sharp blade. 

            Just before Aragorn's world completely fell in, he felt his dagger pierce flesh and warm blood flow down his hands.  Then everything went dark.


            Elladan was far from pleased as the group climbed the rock wall.  The crumbling surface was barely holding their weight, and several of the men had lost their hold, swiftly finding themselves at the base once more.  Thankfully, the fall was only a few feet, making the situation more annoying than dangerous.  It would have even been amusing had someone's life not depended on their speed.

But Elladan knew there was nothing to be done.  His arm burned with every inch gained, and he could spare nothing.  His mind was focused on finding the next hold, praying the rock would not dissolve under his touch.

Elrohir helped as much as he could, but he also needed both his hands for climbing and even uninjured, seemed to have just as much trouble.  Thankfully, none of the other Rangers had sustained any serious wounds that would keep them from continuing.  They consisted of cuts and bruises that would heal over time but unfortunately still caused their muscles to protest under stress.

            After several painfully slow minutes and a few more scrapes and cuts, the Rangers finally made it to the top, and Elladan led the group at a sprint into the trees.  Unfortunately, Elladan's suspicions were confirmed when they reached the clearing where Aragorn was supposed to be waiting and found it empty.  The two elves quickly fanned out, checking for trails while Amaleg and Lourin went through their packs to grab their bows and extra arrows.

            "Here," Elladan called, taking his bow from Lourin.  "He has been taken this way."  He placed his hand on a set of prints, studying it intently.  "Here and here.  Two... Orcs…dragging something heavy.  See?  You can see where Estel tried to dig in his heels to stop them."  He then looked up along the tail.  "Come, we must hurry!  I fear the worst."

            Spreading out, the Rangers made their way down the trail at a fairly quick pace.  They needed to find Aragorn but not at the risk of failure; stealth was still a necessity.  They hadn't gone far when a brief flash of gray in the distance caught their attention.  An Orc.  It had been spooked and was swiftly heading the other direction.

            Still remaining silent, Lourin placed his hand on Elladan's good shoulder.  He nodded once and turned off the path after the Orc.  The elf knew the creature would not escape to warn possible companions so he returned his attention forward.  It was very possible there was still more of them in the area, and Elladan was constantly searching, concerned that perhaps he would miss Aragorn if he somehow managed to escape and backtrack.

            After a few more cautious paces, the Rangers halted.  There was a pile of dark bodies just ahead of them, and Aragorn was barely visible as one of them.  As much as Elladan wanted to rush to his brother's side, he had learned his lesson and quickly scanned the surrounding trees for signs of an ambush.  It would do none of them any good to walk blindly into another trap.  Elladan could see one Orc lying dead a few feet from the other bodies.  That would be the other of the two prints, then, he thought.  But we have been fooled before.  Rayford and Amaleg strung their bows, ready to provide cover fire if needed as the elves took a tentative step forward.

            As they approached the two bodies, they could see a lot of blood, too much in fact, and they feared the worst.  The dark liquid soaked the ground and stained flesh and cloth, bringing them to the awful conclusion that one, if not both men, were dead.

Elrohir, with his blade in hand, quickly pulled Felnorvard off Aragorn's body.  Flipping the man onto his back, the elf's fingers searched for a pulse and found one.  The man's heart still beat faintly, though he would never rise again.  There was nothing Elrohir could do with their current supplies.  He would bleed to death in minutes.  Satisfied that Felnorvard would cause no more trouble, he turned to his human brother.

            Aragorn was covered in blood, and the only thing that comforted Elrohir was that Elladan worked very swift but not frantic.  Aragorn still lived.  Elrohir sat down next to the man's head, checking his pulse.  His heart was racing, matching his breathing.  "He spent all his energy," Elrohir concluded.

            "I believe so," Elladan responded.  He pulled some bandages and herbs from his pack and began his examination.  "He is lucky that he didn't simply fall over dead.  We should not have left him alone."

            Elrohir chose not to comment.  He knew there was no arguing when he was in that mood.  So instead, Elrohir decided to help determine the extent of Aragorn's injuries.  He was surprised to find relatively few wounds.  "This must be Felnorvard's blood," he concluded as he smeared more of it off Aragorn's face.

            "Yes, I don't think he suffered any serious injuries, though his forearm must be cleaned and wrapped.  But he's exhausted, and we should let him sleep as long as possible."

            "Come on then," Elrohir said, helping his brother to his feet.  "Let's see what we can do for Felnorvard if he still lives.  I'd hate to see everything he knows slip away."

             The elves knelt beside the dying man and looked him over carefully.  They cut his shirt away, revealing numerous gashes and old scars.  The arrow wound had been poorly tended and blood still trickled from its edges.  The most serious however, was what appeared to be a stab wound to his lower abdomen. After making sure the man was indeed still alive, the two elves split up their efforts.

            Ripping part of a cloth in two and handing it to his brother, Elrohir pressed his hands firmly against the man's abdomen.  The wound was not wide but extremely deep, and there was no way to control the bleeding.  It was a fatal wound.  Looking up, he saw Elladan holding the man's shoulder, which had finally stopped bleeding. The twins met each other's eye.

            In silent understanding, Elladan sighed and placed his hand at Felnorvard's throat.  Then he brought his head down so his ear hovered just over the man's mouth.  "His heart still weakly beats, but he no longer draws breath."

            "I can not stop the bleeding," Elrohir said quietly.

            The other two men had already returned, having finished their inspection of the area and finding no sign of any other attackers.  Amaleg was at the elves' side, ready to assist any way he could, and Rayford had taken up a post beside Aragorn.

            "Then it's over.  He can't survive, and there's nothing to gain if we try to breathe for him," Elladan said.  However, all three remained next to the fallen man for a few more moments until finally, Elladan took his hand from Felnorvard's throat and said, "Come, he's dead.  Let's begin our work on Estel.  He still needs to be cleaned up."

            Elrohir placed a hand on his good shoulder, stopping him.  "I will let you bind his arm, and that is all.  Your own injuries require attention," he said, his voice full of concern.  "You're lucky I've let you come this far."

            "I know, and I thank you.  The danger has passed so I will do as you say."

            Elrohir laughed as they took a place on either side of Aragorn.  "Very rarely have you taken my advice so quickly, brother!  I can only hope this change is permanent."

            Smiling, Elladan quickly responded, gently rotating his shoulder.  "Yes, but rarely have my hurts protested so.  However, I shall endeavor to return to my old stubbornness as quickly as possible," he said, bowing low.  Elrohir shook his head and laughed again.  He could not help but notice the playful twinkle in his brother's eyes. 

            Rayford had already done a good job of wiping the excess blood off Aragorn's face, which helped show the elves exactly where he was injured.  Thankfully, Aragorn remained unconscious while his arm was cleaned and wrapped.  It was an easy enough task without him resisting their efforts.

            During that time, the other men had already seen to their own minor injuries and appointed themselves the task of cleaning Aragorn up the rest of the way.  His shirt was ruined and Felnorvard's blood had soaked all the way through to his skin.  Aragorn was going to need a thorough bath, but for now, a good wipe-down would do.  They would also be able to apply cream to the small cuts and scrapes that would keep away infection.

            Seeing that Aragorn would be well cared for, Elrohir led his twin a few paces away so he could remove the arrowhead.  After sitting down and having Elladan remove his shirt, he carefully examined the area around the tip of the arrow.

            "Why can't all of them be like this?" Elrohir asked himself. 

            "What is it?" Elladan asked.

            "Arrows usually do not go straight through the body." Elladan nodded.  He had hunted and fought enough to know it.  "However, yours exits right here," Elrohir said as he carefully tapped the arrowhead that slightly protruded from the elf's upper back.  Ignoring his brother's hiss of pain at his touch, Elrohir continued.  "It would be easier and less painful if it was pushed the rest of the way through."

            Elladan nodded.  It was going to hurt either way, but he knew Elrohir was looking for his permission.  They'd been alive for nearly three thousand years and entirely too often found themselves patching each other up.  It was only through the Valar's graces they'd survived this long without receiving a fatal wound even though there had been a few close calls, and in situations like this, each of them knew what needed to be done.  "Do what you think is best, brother."

            Elrohir positioned himself so that he faced his brother's side and each hand had access to the wooden shaft.  A little more than an inch had been left exposed in the front of his chest while only the tip of the metal head could be seen at his back.  Elrohir placed his palm over the broken end and waited.  Elladan knew the drill and seeing his brother ready, put his good arm on the ground behind him to keep himself from falling back when Elrohir pushed.  He kept his eyes focused on the ground and with his jaw firmly set, took a deep breath and nodded once.

In one swift motion, Elrohir's left hand pushed the arrow the inch it needed to completely break through which allowed his right to quickly pull it out the rest of the way, barely leaving a moment between the two actions.  And for his part, Elladan managed to stifle a cry deep in his throat and keep himself from falling back.

            "I have good news for you, brother. I think you'll live!" Elrohir said with entirely too much enthusiasm.  The only response he got was a grunt of annoyance, which caused Elrohir to smile broadly and press a few more bandages on either side of the wound.

            "Live from what?"

            Both elves turned to see Aragorn staring at them from the ground.  The Rangers were still trying to clean him up, but having decided he'd had enough, Aragorn pushed them away.  He was more interested in what his elven brothers were talking about anyway.

            "The Orcs gave us a little more trouble then we expected, and I was shot," Elladan stated flatly, through clenched teeth.  It was going to take a few more moments for his body to control the pain that was shooting down his left side, and he quickly looked to his brother to continue.

            Knowing exactly what Elladan wanted, Elrohir added, "And you should be asleep or at the very least, resting.  You nearly scared us to death when we found you!"

            "I am resting," Aragorn said testily, the strain of recent events showing through in his voice.  The Rangers were being a little more forceful now, trying to keep him on the ground, but Aragorn still tried to shake them off.  "What happened at the Orc camp?"

            After making Aragorn promise to try and sleep, they told him about the ambush.  By the time they finished retelling the events, he simply could not argue any longer.  His head was beginning to spin again, and his eyelids grew too heavy to keep open.  They were still talking to him when the darkness won, and he drifted to sleep.


            The first thing Aragorn noticed was the heat of the sun shining on his face.  Even with his eyes still closed, he could feel it.  It'd been a long time since he felt safe enough to just lie still and not worry about anything.  It was incredibly refreshing. 

            Aragorn could hear people talking quietly close by.  How long has the sun been shining today?  Aragorn wondered, although he truly didn't care.  His brothers would let him sleep for days if they thought he needed it, however his mind currently told him that he'd slept long enough.

            Slowly he opened his eyes and squinted at the trees above him for a while.  The other Rangers weren't paying attention to him at the moment, but Aragorn was content to just lie there and stare.  But nothing can last forever and finally the talking stopped and the sound of someone's footsteps could be heard crossing the clearing. 

            "How are you feeling?  We've been worried," Elladan said as he helped Aragorn up to a sitting position.  He also handed him a mug that was filled with cool water.

            Aragorn gratefully accepted it and after draining the cup, answered, "I am well.  I believe my strength has returned, thought I'd like to test it, and I feel like I just spent a month under Lórien's trees.   I can not remember the last time I felt this relaxed, both in body and mind."

            Elladan smiled, obviously pleased with his response.  "What about your wounds?"

            Aragorn slowly rotated his shoulders and stretched his legs.  "They are as sore as expected but not like it was after your healing.  Now, it's only because of the fight."

            "Good.  That's as it should be.  You have been asleep for almost an entire day now, and it's given the side effects plenty of time to wear off," Elladan said.

            Aragorn nodded.  "We really shouldn't stay here too long then.  There may be other Orc groups sent from Mordor to meet Felnorvard.  I'd like to put myself far away from this place so there's no chance of me being followed."

            "Of course," Elladan said as he handed Aragorn something to eat.  "We will be heading north-west, following the Entwash, and of course you are welcome with us.  Lourin and Amaleg need to meet back up with the Dúnedain at Bree.  Apparently the wolves are starting to cause more trouble in the Shire.  Elrohir and I are going farther north to see if we can track down Halbarad.  It's been a long time since we saw him."

            "Wolves, you say?  How much of a problem?"

            "Some are comparing it to the Fell Winter, which I pray isn't the case.  We were traveling with the Rangers that year, and it took us a long time with many lives lost to restore peace again," Elladan said quietly.

            "That was twenty years before my time," Aragorn said.  Elladan had rarely spoken about his involvement during the Fell Winter, but nearly everyone knew what happened.  It was a terrifying time for the people of Eriador and a bloody struggle for the Rangers.  Aragorn knew many people who lost parents or grandparents during that winter.  "If they strike hard now, hopefully they can be controlled."  Aragorn paused.  This was just one more thing that required his attention.  "I don't think I can head west with you," he finally said.  "I also need to speak with Halbarad, but I must find Gandalf first.  We may not have Felnorvard's testimony, but my knowledge about Saruman's betrayal should be more than enough."

            "Do you have any idea where he is?  The last time we saw Mithrandir, he was just outside of the Shire.  However, that was over a year ago."

            Aragorn shook his head.  "No.  We searched Eriador extensively for several years, and we agreed to turn east.  When we parted company, he was going south, then circling northeast.  He could be anywhere between the Grey Havens and Rhûn."

            "You know," Elladan said, moving closer, "I'd recommend speaking with ada.  He has a wonderful talent for finding Mithrandir."

            "Yes.  He will definitely be someone I'll speak with.  However, I must beg that you two say nothing about Saruman to *anyone*, not even father.  Gandalf should be the first to know, and it's very possible he wants this kept quiet."

            "I completely understand, and I'll make sure everyone else does too.  What would you like me to say if we meet Mithrandir on the road?"

            Aragorn thought for a moment as he poured himself more water.  "Tell him that I have extremely urgent information for him.  Make him understand the severity of the situation without giving him specific details.  I truly don't think you'll find him, but send him to Rivendell."

            "Well?  Where will you go? Rivendell?"

            Aragorn sat quietly for a moment before he finally said, "I can not pass up the opportunity to search briefly for Gollum in Emyn Muil.  It would be a protected place since nothing crosses the Dead Marshes.  Gandalf and I spoke often about the possibility of finding him there.  After that I will head north to the border of Mirkwood.  The Elves may have some information to offer if Gandalf has passed their border.  If I still can't find him, I'll speak with father."

            "We will travel with you for a few days at least," Elladan said with a smile.  "It will give us a chance to just talk.  It's been too long since we've been able to do that."  Now it was Elladan's turn to pause as he looked around the campsite where the Rangers had made a small fire and started cooking.  "The day is half spent so we can leave at sunrise tomorrow if you feel well enough."

            Aragorn laughed.  "That should be fine.  What is the current watch schedule?"

            "Don't worry about it," Elladan said.  "There's more than enough of us to handle it without you.  I insist on this, Estel," he said as the man began to protest.  "Complain all you want, but no one will wake you tonight."

            "Don't you think I've slept enough?" Aragorn asked with a smile.

            Elladan was silent for a moment, and Aragorn got the distinct impression that he was hiding something.  He quickly looked down at the cup he was holding.  "What have you done? Please tell me you didn't put drugs in my drink!"

            Light elvish laughter echoed through the trees though Aragorn's expression remained serious.  "Relax! No," Elladan said.  "I considered it, but I thought I'd give you a chance to rest on your own."

            Aragorn still eyed his glass of water, but decided that it was already too late, having drank two full cups.  "Actually," he said as he drained the last few drops, "I think good company would help me more than sleep."

            "We can help with that, I think," Elladan said with a soft smile.  "I swear you will know if I decide to give you anything.  Just promise me you'll try and relax this evening."  Aragorn just smiled.

            And so the small group of Rangers spent the evening talking, enjoying each other's company.  Aragorn didn't have to worry about anything during those hours; his future seemed ages away and the past didn't matter.  He would deal with whatever was to come but not until then.


            Aragorn stood, embracing his brothers.  It was time for them to part company.  He wished that he could continue on with them, but it was not possible.  They needed to meet up with another group of Rangers, and Aragorn had to speak with Gandalf.

            "Let's not wait so long to meet again," Elrohir said, finally pulling away.  "And under better circumstances, if at all possible."

            Aragorn could only laugh.  "I can promise you nothing, brother!"

            "It's a new year; who knows what it will bring?  I have no doubt that we'll see you again before its end," Elladan said.  "Good luck in your search of the Dead Marshes."

            Aragorn sighed, looking toward the east.  "Yes, it will take entirely too much time, but I fear I have no choice but to be thorough.  The marshes are wide, with many places for a small being to hide.  Emyn Muil will be the easiest."

            Amaleg and Lourin had already wished him good luck, but Rayford waited until last.  After the elves had backed away, the young man approached Aragorn, saying, "I never got a chance to truly thank you for what you did for me in Isengard.  I would not have survived on my own."

            Aragorn placed his hand on Rayford's shoulder.  "You are the one who brought my brothers to me, and without you, I would already be in Mordor.  We are both in each other's debt."  After standing in silence for a moment, Aragorn asked, "What are your plans?"

            "I've lost everyone from my past, so I'm starting over.  I've decided to travel with the Rangers for a while, and I'm sure I'll join them at some point.  It seems like the best thing to do," he said.

            "It is a good choice, and I wish you safety and success."  Rayford nodded his thanks again and stepped away.

            Aragorn repositioned his pack and looked to the north.  He would need to continue on if he wanted to make any distance before nightfall.  His brothers knew this as well and stepped forward to see him off.  They had one last thing to say to him.

            "Whether you believe it or not, you will come into your inheritance," Elladan began.

            "And trust that we will be there, by your side, when that time comes.  You will not face it alone," Elrohir finished.  "Know this and be comforted, Estel."

            Aragorn smiled.  Elves could make the simplest statement seem golden.  It was one of the reasons he loved them so much.

            Knowing that he could not stay any longer, Aragorn began slowly walking north.  Maybe he would find Gandalf before Saruman could hurt anyone else.  Maybe his luck would change, and he'd find Gollum hiding in the Dead Marshes.  Maybe the One Ring really was lost forever and nothing would come of their concern.  Maybe he would become king, heralding a new Age of peace.  Maybe...  But he could not dwell on those thoughts.  It was a new year, and it held so many possibilities that only the future would tell.


Well, there we have it everyone! It's over! Thanks to everyone who's been with me for these past five months or so! And thanks to everyone who has shown up sometime along the way! It's meant a lot to me!

Well, guys, he's finally dead, so you all can put away your guns, sticks, swords, Elves, and everything else you've used to kill him! *g* You should have seen it though, while I was first writing that scene, I had to stop and redo it. Apparently I had beaten Aragorn up to the point where I could not see any conceivable way that he could make it out alive. . . So I rewrote it. Death to sword fights! I don't like them. Hopefully it wasn't that bad.

Lady Wind, actually, looking back, I completely agree with you. I should have explored Saruman's 'golden tongue' more. Oh well, though, not much I can do about it now. . . I will say, however, that over the next month or so, I will be going back through and reloading all of the chapters. No major changes, just rewording sentences, fixing typos that I missed the first time through, and adding in a little more detail.

**NOTE: As of February 12, 2004 I have completely reloaded this story!  I added about 5,000 words throughout the entire thing, so hopefully some of you will be able to notice a difference. **


Actually, I'm still playing around with the idea of a short sequel where Aragorn finds Gollum and takes him to Mirkwood. In the actual books, that's where Aragorn and Gandalf meet up, however, that will not be the case if I decide to write it. Can't have him finding out about Saruman, can we! I'd work it so they just miss each other, or something close to that. Keep an eye out for it, but it may be *several* months before I start posting.

Okay, I'll end it here! Thanks again for sticking with me and giving me such nice reviews! Without you I wouldn't have ever finished.

WAIT! You were going to leave weren't you... Leave a review first. *G*