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Del Rion [userpic]

The Last Journey; Chapter 26: Receiving Company

Story Info

Title: The Last Journey
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings
Era: Fourth Age of the Sun
Genre: AU, Action/Adventure
Rating: M / FRM
Main characters: Aragorn, Celeborn, Elladan, Elrohir, Elrond, Éomer, Erestor, Faramir, Gandalf, Gimli, Glorfindel, Haldir, Legolas, Meriadoc, Nazgûl, Pippin, Thranduil (, OCs).
Pairings: Legolas/OMC (brief Aragorn/Arwen, Éowyn/Faramir)
Summary: After many peaceful years that have followed the war against Sauron, everything changes. Evil returns, striking without warning, and it is stronger than ever before. It is time for the final fight, but who shall achieve victory?
Work in Process.
Warnings: Characters’ death (major, OC), violence, torture, slash, mild sexual content (het and slash), plenty of evil, etc.

~ ~ ~

)...( = Sindarin

Chapter 26: Receiving Company

Gap of Rohan

Fire licked the bark of the trees, the screams of the forest filling his mind. The heat was unbearable, burning his skin. He tried to run away, to find a shelter, but the burning figures of the trees reached out for him, blocking his path. They spoke of betrayal, asking why he had betrayed them. “I did not!” he wailed, tears in his eyes. The trees cried out, their words disappearing to the cracking of fire. They were all silent now. All dead. Burning corpses. He had betrayed them, or so they believed in their death.

He ran trough the gates that led to the caves beyond, desperate to flee from the flames. The stone-corridors were quiet, their coldness almost as painful as the raging fire outside. He walked forward, his steps uncertain. He was afraid. There was no light here, only cold and darkness.

He came to the celebration hall, looking around to find someone. He stumbled, something grabbing his leg. Looking down, he saw a mutilated body hanging onto him, empty black eyes staring up at him. He knew him, but couldn’t bring himself to remember the name. The body jerked back, falling to the ground limply. Dead.

He looked around, a gasp dying to his lips. The floor was covered with blood, corpses lying everywhere. He recognised all the faces, even as twisted and broken they were. All dead. All gone. The flames crawled across the floor, following him from the outside. They crept up the walls, circling the bodies of his kin, burning them to aches. He bowed his head, not wishing to see. He couldn’t look.

“You betrayed them,” the flames whispered, a dark laughter filling the darkness.

The place changed, suddenly, but the flames remained. There was grass here, the sky visible from the trees. But the sky was not blue: the clouds covering it were deep grey, smoke rising from everywhere to join to the gathering wall of darkness. And from above the clouds shone a red light, lining them with a bloody glow.

He looked around, seeing everything burn around him. The shouts around him seemed distant, and he couldn’t tell where they came from. He looked down to the ground, seeing a small child lying there. Dead. So innocent even in her never-ending sleep. He kneeled down, his fingers moving away a strand of sand-coloured, curly hair. A small hand came up, the dead eyes opening. Small fingers curled around his wrist, the eyes gazing at him desperately. “Help me,” the faint, small voice pleaded. Blood stained her lips and she fell back, eyes open and empty.

He scrambled back, standing up. The flames surged to the small body, covering it in an instant. He shouted, trying to drive the fire away. But the flames turned, circling around him. But he did not feel the heat. He was freezing, the coldness spreading from within him, pushing the flames away.

Suddenly the fire absorbed everything around him, and a huge, lidless, burning eye appeared, staring at him with such malice that no earthly being could bear. He screamed, falling to the ground, his mind falling apart before the other…

Legolas blinked, wondering for a moment where he was. Then he felt eyes upon him, both Aragorn and Gimli staring at him from a distance. Legolas gave his friends a quick, tentative smile – which ended up convincing no one. Sighing, Legolas lowered his gaze, staring at the tree-roots which mingled into the ground where he sat.

“)You know, that most likely doesn’t help the situation any way,(” a voice said from above, and Legolas glanced up, noticing Rafél sitting up among the branched of his tree. “)They are far too smart to fall into something as simple as that,(” the other continued, keeping his voice low.

“)Perhaps I should practice more, then,(” Legolas replied, irritated. He stood up, striding away to find Morchaint. Rafél looked after him, his face revealing nothing of his thoughts. But in his eyes, a worry bloomed brighter than before.

“Has he spoken of his dreams?” Aragorn asked, stopping on the root of the tree, his grey eyes shifting momentarily into Legolas’ distancing direction.

“Nay, he refused. But my patience is getting short, and his condition getting worse,” Rafél confessed.

“But he is not willing to speak of this?” Aragorn guessed.

“He is not,” Rafél sighed, jumping down from his place. He landed beside Aragorn without a sound, his brown eyes following Legolas as the Prince walked through the clearing where they had camped for the hottest hours of the day.

“Not that it would be surprising...” Aragorn smiled. “Knowing you Elves, and his family especially.”

Rafél didn’t bother to smile, knowing only too well what the Man was speaking about. Thranduil’s family wasn’t the easiest one to negotiate with. He had realised that often enough while he had served Oropher and his line.

On the other side of the clearing, Legolas finally reached his steed. “Such a trouble they are making of all this …” Legolas whispered, his fingers caressing the dark, long hair. Morchaint snorted silently, turning his great head to push it against Legolas. “Why cannot they simply leave me alone?” Legolas asked, his eyes distant.

“Perhaps because friends do not tend to do so,” a gruff voice answered, making Legolas glance around.

“Gimli,” he muttered, turning away again. He had no desire at all to speak with the Dwarf at the moment.

“Don’t try, Elf,” Gimli told his friend firmly. “I will not stop bothering you before you have told me exactly what is going on. It is not that I could help you to drive your nightmares away, but yet I think it is not normal for an Elf to see dreams like this. Continually so, if I might add.”

“And how do you know that?” Legolas spat.

“Because Rafél is worried. It is a fairly good sign that something is wrong with you.”

“Rafél is always worried when it concerns to me. It his duty to protect me, so he is supposed to worry even before there actually is something worth worrying about.”

“You are doing that again,” Gimli murmured, glaring at the Elf. “Can’t you understand! You stupid, witless Elf... We only wish to help you, not to taunt you. Is it so hard for you to just once forsake your pride and let someone in?”

Legolas didn’t reply to that, his hands smoothing the side of Morchaint’s neck. Do you think it is my pride that is causing this, Gimli? But for once, it is not my pride that is keeping me from seeking aid. I wish I could tell you that, but it is not the time yet. Not just yet... “If that was all you had to say, master Dwarf, you may leave me alone.”

Gimli let out a low growl, and was just about to go and shake some sense into the Elf, but Fundal interrupted him, springing in between them. “Master Gimli, Lord Legolas!” the youth gasped. “Adír sent me to inform you that there is a party closing up with us. They are riding from the north.” The youth turned to Legolas, his eyes shining. “He said that they are no Men, and told me to come and tell you.”

Legolas looked at the direction where the young Dwarf had come. Then he nodded, mounting Morchaint. “Let’s see what this is about, then. Come, Morchaint,” he spurred the animal forward. Morchaint neighed, turning around and galloping away.

“Not Men?” Gimli asked.

“Yes,” Fundal said absently, starting to the direction which the Elf had taken.

“Then what are they if not Men? How can Adír know?” Gimli pressed, running after the youth.

“He said he has seen Legolas and his folk often enough to know the difference between Men and the only other race riding with horses,” Fundal laughed.

“Elves,” Gimli sighed, finally understanding. “Was it so hard to say straight?”

“I am sure that Lord Legolas understood,” Fundal pointed, racing forward. Gimli merely shrugged, following the youth little less enthusiastically.

Ahead of the Dwarves, Legolas rode forward, reaching Adír soon enough. It never stopped amazing him how poorly the Dwarves were able to disguise themselves and their presence out in the natural world. But Gimli had said exactly the same thing about Legolas when they had once visited Aglarond. It seemed that they all had their specialities.

Legolas pulled Morchaint into a halt when he spotted Adír, standing with two Men of Gondor. Dismounting, Legolas walked to the others. He gazed at the same direction with the Men and the Dwarf, frowning. “What are you looking at?” he asked, making the trio jump in surprise.

The Men looked at the Elf sheepishly, Adír glaring at the other being with an anger much similar to Gimli’s when Legolas scared the other Dwarf out of his wits with such a sudden appearance. “We look at nothing,” Adír said finally, glancing at the scene before them. “We were looking at a group of advancing riders, but they disappeared from our sight some time ago.”

“How many?” Legolas asked absently, his senses scanning the forest in the meanwhile.

“Around ten, Lord,” one of the Men said. “They were still quite far away when we lost them from our sight.”

“I see…” Legolas uttered, his eyes sliding shut. His mind took a path through the trees, seeking these strangers. Suddenly a familiar mind met his, and Legolas drew in a sharp breath, his eyes flying wide open. He shot around, staring accusingly at the trees behind him. “You...”

A choir of fair voices broke the silence, a laughter carrying out from among the branches. Then, out of nowhere, a silver-haired Elf stepped into the mortals’ sight, smiling down at them. “Forgive us, Legolas. We did not realise you were this near until you appeared.”

“And you should have noticed us a long while ago!” a new voice added, and another Elf appeared. He pushed a strand of hair out of his face, smiling widely at Legolas. “You are getting careless, young Prince.”

“Watch it, Asthaldo. Do not make him lose his temper,” the silver-haired said, dropping from the tree. He crossed the distance, embracing Legolas warmly. “It is good to see you are well.”

Legolas was tempted to tell the other that things weren’t as well as they seemed, but he restrained himself, pulling back slightly. “You are far from Rivendell. But yet I am glad to see you as well, Thalión.”

A soft rustle of leaves indicated that something else moved in the trees, and right after that nine more Elves dropped down to the ground, Asthaldo still remaining on his place.

The Men and one Dwarf looked ready to bolt, both awe and fear upon their faces. Legolas glanced at the Elves, mere surprise upon his face. “Well, I could have expected you Cousins and even the Twins of Rivendell, but this...”

“We cut through Lórien Elves on our way,” Dínnor explained, striding forward to draw Legolas into a tight embrace.

“We had nothing better to do than to join them,” Ithika laughed, pointing at himself and his sister Khai.

“And Glorfindel couldn’t have looked after all the five that came with him,” Haldir reasoned. “So I and my brothers lent him our aid.”

Elrohir gave Haldir a sceptical look. “I am sure that I and my brother are quite capable of taking care of ourselves. And you should not question the Cousins’ ability to do so, either.”

“But you all together? It is a dangerous mix,” Orophin laughed.

Khai shook her head, walking to Legolas. “It has been a very long time, Aiwë,” she greeted, earning a hug from Legolas.

“Indeed,” Legolas replied.

“So, you are well? Any of us couldn’t be sure, for you left quite suddenly - of which we shall talk later,” Dínnor promised darkly, his voice low enough for only nearest Elves to hear. “And there had been some very alarming news from the east,” he finished.

“I am fine,” Legolas said smoothly.

“Are we supposed to actually believe that?” Dínnor pressed, sounding slightly taken aback. “You have never been a great liar, so do not start now. What is wrong?”

“Something of which we shall speak later,” Legolas murmured unhappily.

Dínnor was about to argue, but Thalión’s hand upon his arm stopped him. The cousins exchanged glances, something passing between them, and finally Dínnor shrugged, looking back at Legolas. “You owe him one,” he stated, sounding somewhat angry.

A snap of wood and a sound of heavy foots reached the group. A moment later, Fundal crushed through the underbrush, Gimli just behind him. The Dwarves stopped on their tracks, staring at the group of Elves.

“Is there a some kind of gathering I am not aware of?” Gimli muttered. “I thought two Elves would have been enough…”

“Master Gimli, it is well to see you as well,” Asthaldo greeted, dropping beside Gimli. The Dwarf indeed favoured him with a startled shout, spinning around faster than no-one could have expected from a sturdy Dwarf.

“You little…” the Dwarf fumed, his fists clenching at his sides.

Asthaldo glanced away from the Dwarf, his expression changing, and then he looked back at Gimli, bowing elegantly. “My apologies, master Dwarf. This will not happen again,” the Elf uttered, and then strode to stand beside his cousins.

Gimli looked after the Elf, astonished. Then he caught Legolas’ eyes, and understood. It seemed that Legolas still protected his Dwarven companions from his own kin. It was a habit that the other had grown far too used to.

“So many Elves,” a small voice gasped beside Gimli, and all eyes turned to Fundal who stood staring at the miraculous beings before him. “And they do not all look the same, even if Múran said so!”

The Elves smiled, turning at the youth. To most of them, it was the first time they saw a young Dwarf.

“I suppose we haven’t met him, have we?” Dínnor said rather kindly.

“Nay, you have not,” Legolas answered. “This is Fundal, from the Kingdom Under Mountain.”

“From Erebor? He is truly far from home,” Elladan mused.

“And where are you from?” Fundal asked, examining the Elves just as much as they did him.

“I, my brother, and Glorfindel are from Rivendell, from beyond the Misty Mountains,” Elrohir told. “These three cousins here are from Eryn Lasgalen.”

“And the rest of us are from Lórien,” Ithika finished.

“Oh,” Fundal uttered, glancing at the Cousins. “So Legolas is your Prince?”

“Yes, he is,” Thalión said before Legolas could interfere. The Prince gave him a hard look, but Thalión stood his ground. Finally Legolas pulled back, submitting to his fate. “So, shall we move forward? I would not like to face Rafél’s anger if we keep you hidden too long,” the Sinda continued, his eyes shining at Legolas.

Legolas nodded, whistling to Morchaint. “Our camp is a mile away from here.”

“So, what is the meaning of your current trip? And who are with you? Forest speaks of a great group of Men,” Elladan questioned as the Elves called for their own mounts that had been left behind.

“I am sure that you will get all your questions answered by Aragorn when we reach him,” Legolas answered, mounting Morchaint.

“Estel is here?” Elrohir exclaimed. “Ah, that is good. It will do him good to get some fresh air at times.”

“Elrohir, please,” the other twin moaned. “I am sure that the reason why they are on the move is not a light one. Let us be on our way: I at least wish to hear what this all commotion is about.”

The group mounted their horses, and with a swift pace they rode back to the camp. The Men looked up at the Elves, their eyes wide with amazement. Fear was also visible, hanging in the air like an invisible blanket, but for the Elves it was rather easy to be sensed.

“I never thought that the Men were afraid of us,” Glorfindel spoke, his voice low. “I knew that there was respect, but this is a thing entirely different.”

“They are afraid for your wrath, I suppose. They can see for miles that you are all warriors,” Legolas noted.

“Aye, but why such a fear, then?” Asthaldo asked impatiently.

“Because it was the Men of Gondor that tried to burn your Prince alive,” Gimli barked from his place behind Legolas.

“Gimli!” Legolas hissed warningly.

“Burn you alive?!” Dínnor asked, horrified. Even ever-calm Haldir was staring at Legolas and Gimli, alarm upon his handsome face.

“A minor misunderstanding,” Legolas explained, troubled.

“Do not lie, ‘Lass,” Asthaldo warned.

“Men are still blaming Elves for Queen Arwen’s death. But we have come to believe that there may be a greater power provoking their actions and fuelling their hatred,” Gimli explained.

“Burn you alive?” Dínnor repeated again. “But where was Rafél?”

Legolas’ face turned into a slight shade of red, his eyes full of warning. “I went to ride without him. He was not with me when I was caught. But he saved me in time.”

“How does it seem to me that he doesn’t wish to speak of the matter?” Elrohir snickered.

“We are here,” Legolas said quickly, stopping his horse. The others also halted, looking around the camp. “You may find Aragorn from his tent, I suppose. He is planning with Faramir and Éomer for what may be the swiftest road.”

“Swiftest road to where?” Asthaldo questioned.

“To the Shire,” a new voice added, a tall Elf walked towards them.

“Rafél,” Dínnor saluted. “We have heard that you have been careless with our dear Legolas here.”

Legolas muttered something beneath his breath, dismounted, and disappeared to the crowd without another word.

“What is wrong with him?” Elrohir wondered. “He is acting in a most bizarre way.”

Rafél and Gimli exchanged glances, the Dwarf shaking his head. Rafél looked back at the Elves, his face not revealing a single thought. “King Elessar is indeed in his tent, if some of you wish to go and meet him. The others may come with me, and I will tell you what I know about our situation.”

“Which would be practically everything,” Asthaldo grinned. “You were always able to gather such information that the rest of were only dreaming about.”

The Elves laughed, all knowing that Rafél’s tactics of getting information seldom failed.

“Well, let’s go, you two,” Glorfindel said, glancing at Elladan and Elrohir. Leading the twins towards the King’s tent, they left the rest of the Elves behind. To them, their first priority was to meet with Aragorn. They could catch up with the Elven-information later. They passed the guards outside the tent without a word, entering the shelter quickly.

The men around a table looked up, Aragorn’s face lightning up in joy. “My brothers, Glorfindel. What brings you here?”

“Utter boredom?” Elrohir offered, clasping Aragorn’s hand. “We are very curious, for we were prepared to ride all the way to Gondor: what are you doing here?”

“Rafél mentioned something of the Shire,” Elladan added.

Aragorn’s face darkened immediately. “It is a long story, though with little to tell.”

“From the beginning, then. What happened after you left Rivendell?” Glorfindel asked, and Aragorn began his account.

– – –

“So, what is the matter with Legolas?” Asthaldo asked as the remaining Elves sat down to a shadowy place under long trees.

“He hasn’t been himself for a while, and a lot has happened after we left Rivendell,” Rafél sighed, knowing that he was treading a dangerous path. Legolas would never forgive him if he would reveal too much. Not that Rafél knew enough even for his own liking.

“We have barely had any news,” Ithika announced, leaning forward. “Last time I saw Legolas, it was when we saved him from Fangorn. I got a small account from the Cousins after we joined them some weeks ago, but beside that, I and Khai are pretty much out of everything.”

“Like we all in East Lórien,” Rúmil added.

“You said you are heading for the Shire. Is there something wrong, for you have a great number of soldiers here,” Haldir noted, looking at the resting people around them.

“One thing at a time,” Dínnor said, his eyes glued at Rafél. “So, speak. All the way from the night when you ran away from Rivendell.”

“Actually it was Legolas who left. I merely went with him,” Rafél explained.

“Like that would make any differences,” Asthaldo muttered, but fell silent after a hard look he gained from the others.

“Our journey went without trouble until we reached the Gap. We lost Arod there, but Legolas soon befriended Morchaint.”

“A horse with a mighty spirit he seems to be,” Thalión praised.

“Indeed,” Rafél agreed. “We reached Ithilien, and soon realised that the Men were indeed as hostile as we had heard. We met Aragorn and Gimli briefly, and the night after that, Legolas went riding alone – and was caught.”

“How terribly careless of you,” Asthaldo threw in.

“We rescued him,” Rafél continued sternly. “After Aragorn gave a speech to his people that day, they have calmed visibly,” he finished, falling silent.

“And?” Asthaldo pressed, but Dínnor silenced his cousin, frowning.

“Something happened,” Dínnor stated softly.

Rafél nodded. “He claims it was a dream: a vision. It keeps repeating itself, in form or another, for he has not been able to sleep since that night.”

“But you suspect something else happened?” Haldir guessed.

“What kind of a ‘dream’ was it?” Khai added, her face serious.

“The true nature of his dream is hidden from us, for Legolas refuses to speak of it. But it has something to do with a destruction of the Shire, and so we are going to see if something is indeed wrong. It may be waste of time, but none of us risks to do otherwise. And what I think that happened to him that night...” Rafél shook his head. “I do not dare to guess. But it is more than a dream, for he would have told me in any other case.”

Dínnor nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe we should talk to him,” he said to his cousins.

“Or leave him alone,” Thalión countered. “He is seemingly depressed, and I do not think that our interfering would improve the situation much.”

“But, then again, how can we know?” Asthaldo pointed out.

“We cannot,” Thalión sighed.

They sat in silence again, all deep in thought. Things didn’t seem to be getting any better in a near future.

– – –

Legolas sat alone on a far edge of their camp. They had decided to stay in the same location over the night, gathering their strength. Tomorrow, they would race long and hard, and extra rest would be much appreciated. But Legolas had no desire to sleep. He felt tired, yes, but he feared for his dreams. And when the nightmares took over, they exhausted him even more. Maybe walking among the woods, under a sky full of stars, would help, he thought. It had helped him before, when he was younger. But he did not have the same innocence anymore.

An owl let out its lonely cry somewhere in the darkness, the steady beat of its wings taking it further away from the Elf. The forest fell silent, and in the darkness it seemed to Legolas that even the trees were quiet. Or is it me who cannot hear them? Has it something to do with my dreams? But it can also be the lingering effect of the Balrog. Legolas cursed softly, leaning his chin against his knees. So much has happened to me that I cannot tell one influence from another at the moment. But what is the meaning of all this? What is this evil that I feel? Or is it again only my own shadow that I fear...

Shifting, Legolas closed his eyes, his mind drifting deeper to search from within. But it seemed that he could not see inside, anymore. He tried again, pushing the shadows away like hindering cobwebs. There were no shadows like this in my mind before, Legolas thought bitterly. And as the time passes, it seems that the shadows grow, instead of fading. His mental eyes searched the shadows, trying to identify them. As soon as his mind touched them, a light flared before his eyes, a hot pain surging through his head. An image of a burning eye lingering long after as Legolas lay on the ground, panting and covered with cold sweat.

It took a long time before he truly saw the dark forest, his eyes blinking desperately to draw away the horrible picture. Pain was ebbing away inside his head, but the feeling lingered long after. “Curse him…” Legolas muttered, letting himself fall to the ground. After he had looked into the palantír, he had tried to explore the growing shadows of his mind. Every time, the result was the same: something dark in him kept him away. More he tried, more brutal the darkness got. And he was slowly beginning to believe that his worst fear was indeed coming true… “Curse the Dark Lord and all his creations…” he muttered, blinking back the sudden tears.

“It is not kind to speak so of dead ones, though with Sauron we might do an exception,” a fair voice cut through the night air, making Legolas sit up. Dínnor stepped forward, his dun eyes hard. “So, is it Sauron?”

“I have no idea –”

“Do not lie to me!” Dínnor said with such power that Legolas flinched away. “I am well aware that something is wrong,” the Elf hissed, his eyes narrowing. “Is it Him?”

“How could it be? He is dead,” Legolas answered.

“Ah, so he is,” Dínnor said, circling around Legolas. “But yet what is this darkness that I sense in you? Thalión also feels it, but he is too afraid to say it aloud. And Rafél… He hasn’t probably even noticed, being so close to you all the time. Or then he merely ignores it.”

“Whatever you are speaking about, it is not serious,” Legolas muttered, standing up.

“Oh? There should be no darkness in you, and yet there is. And it is not the same darkness that I felt after your meeting with the Balrog. This is greater, more plain.”

“There is nothing!” Legolas shouted almost desperately.

“Is that what you tell to yourself, every time that the sun comes down and everything around you turns just as dark as you yourself?”

Legolas froze, his eyes trying and failing to hide his true feelings. Fear. Such absolute fear that it made Dínnor halt.

The older Sinda stepped forward, drawing Legolas to his chest, his strong arms holding the younger Elf close. “I am so sorry, Legolas. I didn’t mean to shout at you. I just...”

“Lost your temper,” Legolas finished, closing his eyes for a moment. “But you are right. I lie to myself. Or I did. I cannot do that anymore.”

Dínnor let out a groan, pulling Legolas an arm’s distance away from him. “Is it Him?”

“I do not know,” Legolas whispered, his voice shivering. “And I cannot speak of it before I have the answers for myself.”

Dínnor nodded, his eyes sad. “As bad as it is, I understand. But remember: if you wish to speak, I am always there, like are my cousins. And it would do you both good if you would speak with Rafél. He will worry himself to death like this.”

“I will do that,” Legolas sighed.

“Good,” Dínnor smiled. “Let’s go back to the others now.”

Together they dove back into the dark forest, the trees closing up to hide their path as they passed.

– – –

After a one day’s proper rest, the group rode forward, now reinforced with a group of Elven warriors. They rode through the Gap of Rohan, heading towards the north. Crossing Enedwaith, they reached the Sireenway. Following that road, they travelled with a greater speed than before.

At sunset, many weeks after they had left Minas Tirith behind, Elladan halted his horse on a top of a small hill, gazing north-westward. A soft snort from another horse informed the twin that his brother and Aragorn had reached him, and a moment later a pair of horses halted to his side.

“We are getting near,” Elrohir said. “I know the land before us.”

“So do I,” Aragorn uttered softly, gazing at the setting sun. “Faramir suggested that we camp for the night, and continue at dawn.”

“Sounds good, and I am sure that our horses will appreciate a small rest,” Elrohir replied, patting his steed’s neck affectionately.

Elladan was oblivious to the discussion, his eyes narrowing as he looked along the path before them. There was something on the horizon… “Is that smoke raising to the sky?” he asked, pointing with his hand.

The other two looked at the same direction, Elrohir frowning. “I suppose it is. Where does it come from?”

Aragorn failed in the attempt to see, even the Half-elves’ eyes rivalling his. “Let us go to others and ask them. I cannot be sure but that could be…”

“The Shire,” Elladan finished for him as he encouraged his hose forward. They galloped down the hill, pulling to a swift halt as they noticed Legolas standing on the edge of the road.

“What is it? He just stopped here, and has been like that since then,” Gimli motioned towards the Elf. “Or is it just some Elven custom…”

Aragorn looked at Legolas, his fears rising immediately: the other stared at the direction of the smoke, his sharp eyes no doubt seeing the alarming sign. His face was pale, his fair eyes filled with fear. He did nothing nor said anything, but the very air around him told of something evil that was taking place.

The entire group had halted by then, the Men talking nervously, throwing quick glances at their King. The Elves were much calmer, many of the sharp eyes turned to the direction of raising smoke.

“If I count the distance and the direction of the wind…” Ithika began.

“It could be,” Khai added.

“Definitely the Shire,” Elrohir muttered. “Let’s get some speed into this group, shall we?”

“Agreed,” his elder twin replied, dread filling them both. Aragorn nodded his affirmation, and without further instructions, Faramir commanded the men forward, Éomer taking care of his own riders. Not for the first time, Aragorn wished that they would not be late, and that the Valar would favour them at last.

to be continued…

)Sindarin(: - English:

Aiwë - Little bird (Legolas’ nickname, used by Khai)

Story Info