A Wandering Star by Imaginigma|
Summary: Aragorn and a group of rangers are on their way to The Angle. Arwen and a group of elves are on their way to Lothlorien. When both groups meet, a well kept secret may be revealed, that could change things forever.
Disclaimer: I do not own the recognizable characters or anything that has to do with Tolkien’s works.
Rating: K+ (violence, romance)
Timeline: After Aragorn returns from Gondor, meets Arwen in Lothlorien en pledge to her.
* * * * * *
Mae govannen, elen síla lumenn' omentielvo: Well met, a star shines upon the hour of our meeting.
* * * * * *
The branches of the mighty firs were swaying gently in the wind, needles rained down to the earthy ground, and high in the crown of a tree sang a lark his beautiful, if sad song. The summer was almost spent, autumn was fast approaching, and with the early set of the sun, the world seemed to grow dim and silent. Expectant.
For weeks the small group of rangers, with Aragorn and Halbarad in the lead, had travelled along the outcroppings of the Misty Mountains. During this summer the rangers had taken care of bands of orcs, wolves and other fell creatures, had helped in the villages to build houses and sheds, had repaired bridges and fences and had protected the common people from thieves and ruffians. At the same time, the rangers had scanned the plains and woods for hunting grounds, had located springs in the mountains, and generally done all the things that they would need to sustain the Dunedain villages through the coming winter, if it came to the worst and food would be sparse in The Angle. And furthermore, they had built up bonds with the leaders of a few settlements, which could benefit them in the future.
Now, after weeks on the road, the eight rangers were on their way home. Home. The rangers were happy to finally go home, to their houses, wives and children. To a place were everybody knew their names, were they could freely talk and laugh. Where there was no danger, no fear of being stabbed in the back or attacked at night. Yes, even Aragorn, who had neither true home nor family in the village they were heading to, was happy to return.
Further and further the group travelled West, and with each day that they left the mighty mountains behind them, the lighter the heart of the men became. They were not talking much, rangers never did, and always were their senses alert and their eyes watchful, but there was an air of relief around them, for all with hearts to see.
The group entered the forest at noon, and for many days they travelled through the deep, lush woods without anything out of the ordinary happening. The nights became colder, the days clearer, and when the clouds gave way to black sky, the stars could be seen shining down on Arda. Yes indeed, autumn was fast approaching, but the world was in balance. Everything was just as it should be.
His horse snorted softly under him, hooves sinking into the ground that was still slightly muddy from the last rain, but it carried its rider faithfully through the woods, like it had done so many times before. Aragorn relaxed the reins a bit, giving his horse more freedom. He was in no particular hurry, and he knew that his horse would enjoy the ride more this way. And he would, too.
It was only an hour from sunset, and Aragorn looked around to determine how far they had come today. He knew these woods almost as good as he knew the plains in The Angle; he had hunted in them for years, after all. Scanning the area, Aragorn saw a few trees and rocks that he recognized. There was a clearing to the West, with fresh water from a small brook and adequate shelter should it rain again. His brothers and he had stayed there numerous times during hunts and trips, and without even saying so much as a word, Aragorn steered his horse gently in the right direction. The rangers followed him silently, trusting him implicitly.
A few minutes later, Halbarad guided his grey mare alongside Aragorn, giving him an appraising look. "How is your back doing, Captain?" He asked, a small smile playing around his lips. A few days back, Aragorn had (rather embarrassingly for him) slipped on some stones in the river while crossing and landed painfully on his back.
Turning towards Halbarad, Aragorn shrugged, "Has been worse."
"Ah." Halbarad commented. He knew very well that Aragorn’s back was covered with purple bruises and some abrasions, and that riding the whole day would make the muscles stiff and movement painful. With a sweep of his arm to indicate the woods around them, Halbarad sighed deeply, deciding to let the matter rest for the moment. "Isn’t it beautiful here? I will never understand why you traded Imladris and the adjoining woods for The Angle."
Taking a deep breath of the fresh air, Aragorn inclined his head, "Aye, it is nice here. But The Angle isn’t bad, either. It is my home now."
Lifting an eyebrow at Aragorn’s choice of words, it was now Halbarad’s time to shrug, "Is it? I don’t know. You know, you always seem so eager to leave the village again, even after being there for barely a week."
"Ah, Halbarad, that is simply the lust for adventure that flows through my veins." Aragorn said good naturedly, although deep inside he knew that this was only halfway the truth. He indeed, enjoyed the days and weeks on the road, being only a ranger, not the Chieftain. But he also enjoyed being in the villages, working on the fields and caring for the needs of his people. It was simply that somehow, he wanted to be away when he was there, and be there when he was on the road. He never seemed to get that which he wanted at the given moment.
And the fact that his heart yearned for someone special, some beautiful elleth with hair as dark as the night sky and eyes as clear as ice, did not make the situation any better. Never had Aragorn told Halbarad of his love for Arwen. No one knew it. It was a secret that he had not yet been willing to reveal to anyone but Arwen and her family. And Aragorn wondered not for the first time, if things would be easier for him if he could but tell Halbarad.
They rode on in silence, watching the woods get darker and the birds louder, until the birds settled for the night and the shadows between the trees grew large. In the last light of the day the group of rangers reached the clearing, with the brook gurgling nearby and the scent of wildflowers in the air.
With a sigh of relief Aragorn dismounted his horse, stretching his back to relax the stiff muscles. His back hurt, but it was not as bad as in the previous days, for which he was thankful. The other rangers dismounted, too, and for a moment they all simply enjoyed standing on their own feet again. Being a ranger or no, riding on a horse all day made even hardy rangers a bit stiff.
Suddenly, the horses began to flick their ears and toss their heads. Hooves stamped on the ground and the excited neighing of the horses filled the clearing. In the next second, the rangers moved into action, without anyone of them uttering so much as a word. The youngest of the group took care of the animals and led them away, deeper into the woods the way they had come, while the rest of the rangers vanished into the trees and underbrush, already readying their bows.
Aragorn and Halbarad took up positions behind some huge firs, unsheathing their swords. If someone was coming, the rangers would be ready to meet him. The woods rustled and whispered, but after only a few moments silence settled once more over the clearing, with nothing but the brook gurgling merrily. It was as if the rangers had never been there only a few seconds before.
For a few minutes nothing happened, and Aragorn began to wonder what it had been that the horses had smelled. It was too early yet for wolves to hunt, and had it been orcs or wargs, the horses would have reacted more violently. So, what had it been? They waited for a few more minutes, and then, suddenly, they heard it.
It was like silver bells ringing from high mountains in the clear winter morning air. High and beautiful, wondrous and in harmony with the world. The most magical signing in all of Arda. A moment later, Aragorn could make out the sound of horses, then voices. Rider were coming their way, and from what Aragorn could tell, it were elves.
Breathing a relieved sigh that he would not have to fight tonight, Aragorn sheathed his sword. He stepped out from behind the fir the same moment that the riders broke into the clearing. The first rider, a tall elf with silver hair stopped his horse in surprise when he saw Aragorn, and lifted his hand to signal the other riders to stop as well. Numerous elves filed in behind the rider, all of them looking at Aragorn curiously, and the singing stopped. They were not looking very happy to see Aragorn, and some of them had drawn their bows and nocked arrows, although they were not aimed at Aragorn. Yet.
Taking a step forwards, Aragorn bowed in the elvish fashion (ignoring the pain in his back), extending his right hand to his heart and forehead. "Mae govannen, elen síla lumenn' omentielvo." He said in Sindarin, greeting the elvish party.
One look at the riders and horses told Aragorn that these elves were neither from Imladris, nor from Mirkwood, and he wondered what a party of elves from Lothlorien was doing in these woods. It was not common that the elves from Lothlorien visited the Last Homely House, and surely not such a big party, for there were at least twenty riders.
The rider in the lead looked down at Aragorn for a moment, taking in the worn leather coat, the patched trousers and muddy boots, as well as the unkempt hair and scruffy beard. He lifted an eyebrow in mild disapproval, but his voice was friendly when he spoke, "Mae govannen, feredir."
Giving a small smile, Aragorn shook his head, "I am no hunter, at least not tonight, Master elf."
"And may I ask what you are, then?" The elf asked, his hand staying on the hilt of his magnificent sword. He was taxing the situation, and Aragorn knew that these elves, all of them, were experienced fighters and warriors.
With another brief bow of his head, Aragorn answered, "A wanderer, Master elf. A ranger of the North."
There was some whispering in the group of elves, but Aragorn could not tell whether that was good or bad. He knew that elves would not fight rangers, but he was not so sure whether these elves from Lothlorien knew that as well.
"A ranger, you say?" The lead elf asked, looking down at Aragorn in the settling gloom of the night. "It is dangerous for a lone man to wander in the wilds at night, ranger. We could have mistaken you for a bandit and shot you." The elf’s voice had taken on a mocking tone.
Smiling sweetly, Aragorn shrugged, "Aye, you could have." He gave a secret signal with his hand, and the rest of the rangers materialised out of the woods, bows at the ready. "But then my men would have been forced to shoot you."
For a moment, the elf said nothing, but then something akin to a smile curled his lips. "I see." He took a long look at the rangers, before he continued, "I have heard of the cunningness of the rangers of the North. And now I see that the rumours are true."
"Less than the half of them are true and half of those are exaggerated." Aragorn said, tilting his head to the side. When the lead elf simply raised another eyebrow, Aragorn decided that it was time to make some start here (not to mention that his back was starting to bother him rather annoyingly).
"We were planning to rest in this clearing for this night, but there is enough space for all of us. If you are willing to share this clearing, of course."
The party of elves spoke quietly for a moment, and then the lead elf nodded, "We have travelled far today and do not wish to seek further for an appropriate place to settle for tonight. This clearing will do."
In mere moments the clearing was bustling with activity. While the rangers built up a fire, simply rolled out their bedrolls and then cared for their returned horses and their gear, the elves seemed to…built a palace of some sorts. Or at least, that was how it looked to the rangers.
A few elves cared for the horses, others had taken up position in the trees as guards, but the rest of the elves moved stones away from the clearing, built fires, rolled out blankets, positioned pillows on them, hung cloth between the trees and set up torches in the ground. Then they separated one part of the clearing by using cloths and banners; in the end, it looked like a tent between the trees. During all these activities, the elves sang softly.
Aragorn discussed the route for the next day with Halbarad, and did not pay much attention to the elves as they built up their camp and prepared for the night. It was only when he had set the watches and returned to the fire, that he took a look at the elvish camp. The elves were definitely warriors from Lothlorien, supplies with the famous longbows of the Galadhrim and magnificent swords. And then, then Aragorn saw something that spiked his curiosity.
One of the elves stood a bit off to the side, next to a tree. The elf had his hood drawn up and Aragorn could not see his face, but he could tell that this elf was slightly smaller than the other warriors, and he was wearing…a dress? It was a red riding dress, that much Aragorn could see, under a deep blue coat. Who was that?
The elf moved a bit, placing a hand on the bark of the tree, and as if the elf (or rather elleth) had felt Aragorn’s look, the elleth turned her head and looked into his direction. It was as if his heart had stopped beating, only to resume it pace double as fast. In the light of the fire and the stars, Aragorn could not see the face of the elleth, but something….something caught his heart and made it flutter in his chest.
He took a tentative step into the direction of the elleth, totally forgetting the clearing around him, focused on the elleth. But he had not yet taken a second step when someone stepped up in front of him, blocking his path. Aragorn lost sight of the elleth, and instead looked into the clear blue eyes of the lead elf.
"I think we have not yet introduced ourselves." The elf said. "My name is Mistrad, from Lorien."
Still a bit baffled at the recent experience, Aragorn said nothing for a moment, before he could answer, "Strider is my name, and these are my men."
"Strider? An …uncommon name." Mistrad said, clearly confused about Aragorn’s attempt to catch a look over Mistrad’s shoulder at the elleth. "And what are the rangers of the North doing so far to the East?"
With an inward sigh, Aragorn concentrated on the situation at hand. "We explored the lands during the summer, in preparation of the coming winter. Just now we are returning to our homes and families. And what are elves of Lorien doing this far West?"
"We have stayed here during the summer and are now returning home." Mistrad said, clearly unsure whether he should reveal that they had been in Imladris, the secret valley of Lord Elrond.
Nodding, Aragorn answered, "Aye, Imladris is wonderful during the summer." He revelled for a second in the surprised look of Mistrad, before he continued, "May I ask what brought elves from Lorien to Lord Elrond’s home?"
"We are escorting someone." Mistrad said, lifting his chin but a fraction.
"And who may that be?" Aragorn asked, again feeling his heart beat faster, so as if he already knew the answer.
And, it was not Mistrad who answered, but another voice spoke from behind Mistrad, who quickly moved to the side.
"They are escorting me."
For Aragorn, it was as if time had stopped. His heart beat so fast in his chest that he thought it would shatter his ribs, his breathing hitched and all sensitive thought left him. The elleth in the shadows, that had been no one else but Arwen. His Arwen…Oh, he had not seen her in such a long time, years actually. How he had missed her, craved to see her smile and hear her laugh. And now she was here, totally unexpected.
Before he could say something or do something stupid, Halbarad came up to him. His voice, although he spoke normal, was loud in Aragorn’s ears, snapping him back to reality.
"Captain, the watches are on their posts, the horses are cared for and the camp is set up. Everything is ready for the night."
Clearing his throat and forcefully tearing his eyes away from Arwen, Aragorn blinked a few times before he answered, "Aye, good. Hrm, Halbarad, may I introduce to you, Mistrad from Lothlorien and …" Here Aragorn suddenly paused, knowing that if he would introduce Arwen now, his kinsman would wonder how he knew her.
But, it was Arwen who rescued him. With a broad smile and a twinkle in her eyes that only Aragorn could see, she inclined her head to Halbarad, "I am Arwen, daughter of Elrond Peredhil."
Halbarad’s eyes went wide, as if he had only now recognized that Arwen was there (which he probably had). After a moment of staring, he hurriedly bowed, "A pleasure to meet you, Lady Arwen."
"No, it is a pleasure to meet you." Arwen said, smiling at Aragorn.
Darkness had fully settled, and the owls had began to hunt for mice and other prey. The fires that burned in the clearing send showers of orange sparks high into the night, to die on their way to the black sky, from which silver stars were twinkling like caught diamonds.
So far, Aragorn and Arwen had not had any time to speak, for the elves had sat down around their fires, while the rangers sat around their own, and although there was talk between rangers and elves, Arwen and Aragorn had not spoken with each other. Obviously, Mistrad knew not who Aragorn was, and neither did he know that Arwen and Aragorn had met before, were actually betrothed.
While the rangers ate a meal consisting of dried meat, berries and salted fish, the elves cooked soups and stews, made fresh bread in the ashes of a fire, roasted some quails with plums and even had sweet wine with them, undoubtedly out of Lord Elrond’s cellars.
Unused to such splendour on the road (and even at home), the rangers watched in stunned silence. But when the elves offered to share their meal with them, Halbarad was the first to accept the offer, and it took the other rangers only a moment to follow his example. Aragorn, on the other hand, did not take any of the food from the elves. His thoughts were far away from food or wine, and he had problems remembering if he had actually eaten anything that night (besides the storm of butterflies that he must have swallowed sometime during the night).
His eyes were glued to the fire in front of him, for he was afraid that would he look up and meet Arwen’s gaze once more, that he would do something foolish, like taking her in his arms and kissing her and never letting go. Oh, how he had missed her.
Suddenly, there was a tap on his shoulder, making him look up, and all sensitive thought fled him, once more, when he looked into Arwen’s bright eyes. She smiled down on him, a plate filled with food in one hand and a cup of wine in the other.
"Are you not hungry, Dunadan?" She asked sweetly, presenting the plate and cup, which Aragorn took out of reflex from her. When had his hands become so sweaty?
"Hannon le." He managed to say, and she smiled lovingly at him, her hands vanishing inside the sleeves of her long evening dress. Had she actually changed her dress, Aragorn wondered for a moment, but the thought fled him when Arwen smiled once more, his eyes seeing right through him. She opened her mouth to say more, but just in that moment Mistrad showed up. Aragorn cursed him silently in all the languages he knew.
Mistrad stepped up behind Arwen, placing a broad scarf around her shoulders. "It is getting chilly tonight, my Lady. You should sit closer to the fire."
Had someone just punched Aragorn in the stomach, he could not have felt worse. Jealously roared its ugly head, and Aragorn felt his hand clench around the cup of wine. It should have been him who draped a scarf around Arwen’s shoulders, not that guard! But as quickly as his jealousy had come, it vanished, leaving Aragorn with such a pang in his heart that he had to look away from Arwen. Was it not his fault that they could not be together?
Mistrad led Arwen to a log in front of the fire, next to the log on which Aragorn sat; instead of returning to the other elves, who sat a bit further away, Mistrad sat down right next to Arwen. A few of the other elves came over, too, and the rangers and elves began to talk about their respective homes and families, their journey and plans. Aragorn said not much, keeping his eyes on the food Arwen had brought him, which tasted better than anything he had eaten in a long time.
More than once Aragorn felt a pair of eyes on him, but when he looked up, Arwen was not looking at him. And when Arwen felt someone watching her and turned to look, Aragorn had already turned away.
The fires had already burned low, when Halbarad came up to Aragorn and placed a hand on his shoulder. "How is your back doing? Do you need my assistance in treating it?"
"Your back?" Arwen asked from where she sat on the log, totally ignoring the fact that Mistrad was still speaking to her. She had obviously listened to every word that had been directed at Aragorn that night, and that he had spoken.
A bit startled, Halbarad gave Aragorn an unsure look. Before Halbarad could say anything, thou, Aragorn waved his hand through the air dismissively, "It is nothing, my Lady. Just a minor inconvenience."
This brought a snort from Halbarad and some rolled eyes from the rangers. "Captain, I would call a paper cut an inconvenience, but a bruised and scraped back is more than that."
"How did that happen?" Mistrad asked, eying Aragorn up and down, who unconsciously straightened his back and lifted his chin a fraction. But again, before Aragorn had said so much as a word, one of the younger rangers (who had obviously tasted a bit too much of the strong elvish wine) answered, "It was a huuuuge troll."
Mistrad lifted an elegant eyebrow, "A troll?"
"Aye." Another ranger said, enjoying the look on Aragorn’s face. "A huge troll, with a great hammer."
"And sharp teeth." Another threw in, followed by a "And massive fists" from another. To Aragorn’s disbelief, his men, his kinsmen, spun a tale of a huge troll, with a great hammer, massive fists, sharp teeth, fetid breath that could kill a cow, wicked eyes and stomping feet. And to put the sesame seeds on the lembas, so to say, they told the elves that Aragorn had single handedly charged the troll, beaten it in battle and therewith saved all their lives. Alas, during the battle he had been knocked to the ground by the troll’s hammer and injured his back. When his men had finished, Aragorn wished to vanish into the ground.
But, to his surprise, Arwen laughed happily, smiling at him. "One day I want to hear what really happened, Captain." And again there was that twinkle in her eyes that made Aragorn’s knees wobbly and his brain blank. He barely heard her next words. "But for now, let me see what I can do to help your back."
With that, she got to her feet and walked behind Aragorn. "Sit down on the ground, please."
"My Lady." Mistrad said, also getting to his feet, "That is not fitting…"
Arwen turned cold eyes on the elf, "My father is one of the best healers in Middel-earth and I have learned from him all that I know. If my skill can ease this man’s pain, then let me help him."
The beast named jealously in Aragorn’s stomach roared in approval, and when Arwen gave him a nudge in the back with her hand, Aragorn slid down from the log he sat on. Only when he moved, he felt the stiffness in his back and the pain the movement caused made him flinch slightly. He was glad that Arwen, standing behind him, had not seen it.
"Now, let me see. Take of your coat." Arwen instructed, and after a moment of hesitation, Aragorn shrugged out of his worn leather coat. Now, with Arwen suddenly so near, he became aware of his filthy clothing, his unkempt hair and scruffy beard, and the fact that he had not bathed since his unfortunate fall into the river. A half-hearted, "You don’t have to do this, my Lady." Left his lips, but Arwen had already began to massage his neck gently.
"Try to relax, Strider. I will not hurt you." She said softly, and Aragorn could do nothing else but try to do as she had said. For a few moments Arwen let her hands trail down his back, pressing down here and there to examine the extend of his injuries. When she pressed down on a sensitive spot, where Aragorn had landed on a sharp rock, Aragorn could not suppress the urge to twitch to the side to escape the pain.
"I am sorry, Strider." Arwen said, massaging the spot carefully. "I think I can ease your pain, but it will be painful in the beginning. The massage technique will increase the blood flow and relax the muscles. All you have to do is sit still and relax. Let me do the rest."
Doing as she had said, Aragorn drew up his knees, placed his arms on then and then bedded his head on his arms. He tried to ignore the looks Halbarad was giving him, as well as the fact that he was not alone with Arwen. Still, he could not suppress the one or other shudder that raced down his spine at her touch, and after a while he simply enjoyed the feeling of her hands on his back, massaging away the stiffness and pain. And when her fingers brushed his chin or played with his hair for barely a second, he smiled happily.
Too soon the hour grew late and it was time for them all to settle down for sleep. The rangers and the elves had travelled far that day, and at least the rangers felt the miles they had travelled in their bones. With a last parting smile and a secret wink, Arwen went to the ‘tent’ that had been arranged for her while Aragorn settled down on his bedroll, snuggling into his blanket.
Silence settled over the clearing, the fires burned low, and after an hour the only thing that could be heard were the soft snores of the rangers and the almost imperceptible rustling of the leaves and needles when the elves shifted positions in the tress.
Try as he might, Aragorn could not sleep. Again and again his thoughts drifted to Arwen; her presence here was a gift of the Valar, and Aragorn wondered what he had done to deserve this gift. To see her, to hear her laugh, to talk to her, feel her touch…a blessing. More then once his eyes wandered to the cloth that hid her from his view. Time passed so slowly…for he knew he would see her again on the morrow, be able to speak with her, see her smile.
Finally, after having lain awake for hours, Aragorn felt himself drift off to sleep. His breathing evened out, his senses wandered off and he began to drowse…when he was suddenly shaken awake by a hand on his shoulder. Snapping his eyes open, his hand automatically going to the sword at his side, he blinked the sleep out of his eyes.
Above him, Halbarad yawned wildly and whispered, "Your watch, Captain. All has been silent. Good night." And with that, Halbarad flopped down on his own bedroll, placed his sword in reach and was asleep in seconds. Aragorn shook his head and had to grin at his own thoughtlessness. Of course he had watch duty tonight, and as it was now, he would not get any sleep tonight at all.
Flipping his blanket off his body and tightening his leather coat around his shoulders, Aragorn took up his sword and bow and made his way silently through the camp. He could hear the horses snort softly near the riverbank, but other than that it was silent. Aragorn took up position at the edge of the camp, a few feet into the trees, then leaned against a fir.
It took not long for his gaze to travel to the sky. Tiny, silver stars sparkled down on him, bathing the clearing and the woods into a silver light. His breath misted in front of his face, and in that moment, Aragorn felt so small and insignificant that it almost hurt him. For long minutes he stood there, unmoving, staring at the sky, outwardly oblivious to the world. But, he was not.
Although he was looking at the stars overhead and his thoughts were chasing each other in his mind, his senses were as alert as on every watch, and so it was no wonder that he heard the soft rustle of fabric, the pitch-patch of bare feet on the wet grass, and then the unmistakable sound of someone stepping up behind him. Without turning, Aragorn knew who it was. And when her soft, sweet voice reached his ear, he felt his heartbeat quicken.
"Aren’t they beautiful tonight, Estel?"
"Aye, but not as beautiful as you, Arwen." And then he turned and he took her hand in his. "I have missed you."
Smiling, Arwen leaned forwards, "And I have missed you." She lifted her other hand and brought it up to his stubbly chin, a smirk on her face, "Now I know why my brothers call you ‘the filthy ranger’."
A deep red crept up Aragorn’s chin, but Arwen laughed softly. "I think I like it." And to Aragorn’s surprise, she leaned even closer, their lips almost touching.
Suddenly, a commotion rose in the camp, and a clear, elvish voice called, "Get up! All of you, we are under attack!"
Surprised, Arwen and Aragorn looked back to the camp, seeing the rangers get to their feet and the elves jump out of the tress. Immediately, Aragorn loosened his sword in its sheath, but so far he had neither seen nor heard anything out of the ordinary. He automatically grasped Arwen’s hand in his, and with a few long strides he was in the middle of the camp, demanding what was going on. Halbarad, seeing his friend and Chieftain arrive hand in hand with Arwen, lifted a curious eyebrow, but said nothing. Arwen freed her hand out of Aragorn’s protective hold, and stood beside him, scanning the area. She had been trained by her brothers, father and Lord Glorfindel, after all.
It was Mistrad who answered Aragorn’s question, "One of my warriors saw movement in the forest. He thinks it are wargs."
"I have heard nothing and seen nothing." Aragorn said, looking at Halbarad for support, seeing that Halbarad had been on duty right before him.
Giving Aragorn a long look, Mistrad pursued his lips, "Maybe you had heard them had you paid more attention to your duty instead of…" But he never finished that sentence, for in that second one of the elvish warriors yelled loudly, "They come!"
And then, all Mordor broke loose. The horses began to neigh frightened and to stomp their hooves. Quickly, Aragorn ordered the youngest of his men to take care of the animals, while he gave out orders; his men obeyed him without second thought, taking up positions around the quickly rekindles fires, swords and burning branches in hand.
The elves, being better archer, sprinted for the tress, Mistrad pulling Arwen into the direction of a high fir. "Up there, my Lady. The wargs will not reach you there." He handed Arwen a dagger and a knife, which she took gladly, waited until she had reached some higher branches, then jumped into the tree himself to guard her. Never would he let harm come to the daughter of Lord Elrond.
On the ground, Aragorn had barely enough time to give Arwen a small nod and make sure that she was out of harm’s way, before the first arrows whistled through the air. The underbrush shook and quivered as the beasts stormed towards them, and the growls of the wargs mixed with the painful yelps when elvish arrow met flesh. And then, they were there.
With slobber dripping from their fangs and lust to kill in their eyes, the wargs charged at the waiting rangers. Burning branches were thrown into fur, steel cut through flesh, and in a matter of moments the clearing was a bedlam.
Killing an attacking warg with a sword stroke through the neck, Aragorn whirled around, catching another warg right in the face. Hot blood splattered over his hands and face, but he had no time to wipe it away, for the next beast was already attacking. With a growl that came deep out of its throat it jumped at Aragorn, and in the last possible moment Aragorn managed to twist to the side. The murderous sharp claws of the beast missed him by inches, and so close came the warg that Aragorn could smell its fetid breath.
The warg landed cat like, turned and charged again, all in the blink of an eye. Aragorn lifted his sword and widened his stance to meet the onslaught of the warg, and in the next second the beast slammed into him, knocking the breath from his lungs. Its own forward momentum had pushed the warg onto Aragorn’s sword, and already red blood was dripping down its breast. But, that seemed not to impress the warg much.
With a blood curling howl it jumped forwards, ramming the sword deeper into its own body, but at the same time throwing Aragorn off balance. With the warg impaled on his sword and the ground slick with blood and dew, Aragorn felt his feet slipping. He tried to wrench his sword free, but it was stuck between the beasts ribs. This seemed to enrage the warg even more, and throwing its head forwards it snapped its mighty jaws, trying to reach its prey.
In an attempt to avoid the jaws, Aragorn twisted to the side. A sudden, sharp pain flashed up his back from his old injuries, stealing his breath. He gasped, lessening his hold in the hilt of his sword for barely a second, but it was all the time the warg needed. With an evil growl, the warg threw itself forwards, knocking Aragorn to the ground.
All breath left his lungs in a rush, and when the warg atop him opened its jaws wide to give Aragorn the final killing bite, Aragorn let go of his sword, punching the warg right atop its sensitive nose with all he was worth. The beast roared in pain, throwing its ugly head from left to right, but it was enough time for Aragorn to reach for his dagger, ram it into the warg’s head, and kill the creature.
Panting, but with only a few new bruises and scratches, Aragorn crawled from under the warg, kicked his sword free, and took a few seconds to get an overview of the fight. Some of the elves had joined the fight on the ground, wielding their swords with deadly strength and accuracy, but most of them were still sitting in the trees, firing arrows when the fight allowed it. Numerous wargs already lay dead, but more were still standing.
Aragorn could see no dead rangers or elves, for which he was thankful. With a deep intake of breath, he lifted his bloody sword, wiped his sleeve across his blood splattered face, and joined the battle once more.
It was slow going. With every warg they killed, a new one seemed to come at them, but slowly the fighters seemed to drive the beasts back. More and more of the fell things sank to the ground, either killed by sword and bow, and with every dead warg, the fighters became more victorious.
Swinging his sword, Aragorn killed another warg with but a few strokes. Panting from the exertion of the fight and the pain in his bruised back, Aragorn suddenly heard something that made his heart turn to ice. Arwen’s shocked scream from across the clearing made him turn, and what he saw there made his stomach churn wildly.
Aragorn turned just in time to see Arwen fall out of the tree, which was burning brightly; a dead, burning warg lay at the tree’s base. It must have run into one of the fires or been stuck by a torch, and then run at the tree and died there, setting the tree on fire. The branches at the bottom were burning brightly, as was the trunk, and thick black smoke was rising up the tree, hiding the upper branches from view.
But, Arwen’s fall was not the only thing that made Aragorn abandon all reason and charge across the clearing. Arwen was an elf, such a fall would not kill her, barely injure her, actually. No, what made Aragorn duck swings and claws, arrows and burning branches in his attempt to reach her side, was the enormous warg that had seen her fall, too. And it was already charging her.
"Arwen!" Aragorn yelled, increasing his speed.
Lifting her head, Arwen locked her eyes with him, frightened and a bit shocked, but Aragorn could also see determination and fight in them. She clutched a dagger in her hand, her back pressed against a tree; she had been taught by the best, she would fight that warg. But still, Aragorn knew that Arwen had never fought a warg before, and surely not such an enormous beast, and the dagger she had would only serve to enrage the warg further, but never kill it.
The warg growled, baring its fangs, and slobber dripped to the ground. Aragorn saw the fear in Arwen’s eyes, so close was he, but he knew not if he was close enough, if he could reach her in time. The warg howled dangerously, and with a mighty leap it attacked.
Eyes going wide in disbelief, Aragorn gripped his sword tightly, stemmed his feet into the ground, and jumped right in front of Arwen at the same moment that the warg did. Aragorn’s sword sliced deeply into the warg’s side, but the stroke did not kill the beast. The moment Aragorn and the warg collided, the warg’s great paw hit Aragorn’s head, opening a long gash. With Arwen’s scared scream ringing in his ears, Aragorn felt his body slam into the tree behind him, his head hitting the trunk hard. The warg’s hot breath made him sick to the stomach, and he had the strange sensation of falling before all went black and Aragorn knew no more.
Voices reached his ears, distant still and sounding as if he heard them through water, but they were definitely there and they were persistent. Groaning inwardly, Aragorn decided that he really did not want to wake. His head was pounding in the rhythm of his own heart, and it was a rather painful experience. And he knew that whatever he had done to make his head hurt that much, it had not been a pleasant experience.
But there was that voice again, and he knew that voice. But, from where? Sluggishly his thoughts seemed to reconnect to his brain, and after a few moments of confusion, the bodiless voice suddenly turned into a face, that face into a name, Arwen, and that name brought all his memories of the last few hours back to him.
Fear gripped Aragorn’s heart. Was Arwen alright? What about the fight? The warg? His men? Gasping, Aragorn snapped his eyes open, but in almost the same second he closed them again, as bright light assaulted his eyes and seemed to pierce his brain like bolts of molten steel. He groaned softly, grimacing in pain.
"Estel? Can you hear me? Are you awake?" Arwen asked worriedly, stroking his dark strands of hair out of his face, and only then did Aragorn notice that his head was resting in her lap. He tried again to open his eyes, more slowly this time. The world spun sickenly for a moment, before it came slowly into focus. Aragorn saw the treetops above him, swaying gently in the wind (which did not help his upset stomach), with the silver stars above them. The dead warg lay right next to him, pierced by an elvish arrow. According to the position of the stars, only a short span of time had passed since Aragorn had lost consciousness.
Blinking sluggishly a few times, Aragorn focused on the face that was swimming somewhere above him. Slowly, Arwen’s face became focused, and Aragorn breathed in relief. She seemed to be fine.
A huge grin spread over Arwen’s face when she heard Aragorn’s voice, and before he could say more, she flung her arms around him. "Oh, Estel, I am so glad you are awake." And in his ear she whispered, "I was so worried, my love."
For a moment, Aragorn and Arwen stayed that way, glad that nothing more serious had happened, but then someone cleared his throat loudly and Halbarad’s distinctly amused voice reached their ears, "Captain?"
Letting go of Arwen (which wasn’t that easy, seeing that his pounding head was still resting in her lap), Aragorn peered up at…not only Halbarad, but all his men and the elvish warriors. Being the responsible Chieftain that he was, Aragorn quickly scanned his men for injuries, but besides a few scrapes and scratches, he saw nothing serious.
Halbarad lifted a questioning eyebrow, crossing his arms across his chest and tilting his head to the side. Then, slowly, his eyes travelled down Arwen’s arm, hand…finger. Following his kinsman’s gaze, Aragorn finally saw what his friend had been hinting at.
There, in all its ancient glory, the Ring of Barahir sat on Arwen’s finger. The silver of the ring was sparkling in the starlight, and the emerald eyes of the two snakes seemed to become alive in the light of the fires and burning branches that still littered the clearing.
Swallowing, Aragorn averted his gaze from the ring he had given to Arwen as a sign of his eternal love and devotion to her, and met Arwen’s gaze. She, too had noticed Halbarad’s look. Shrugging gently, she smiled at Aragorn. "I think that secret of yours is no longer a secret, my love." And then she bent down and kissed him, causing the rangers first to stare, and then to turn around, grinning.
The group of rangers and elves had worked most of the day to tend to the few small wounds the fight had cost, and to burn the carcasses of the wargs. They had cleaned the clearing of the blood of the foul beasts, buried the burned bones and scattered the ashes, so that the forest stayed unmarred of the evil that had trespassed. They had all decided to stay for another night, before the elves would head East and the rangers West. Tired from the battle the pervious night and the hard work of the day, the rangers had lain down to rest rather early, as had most of the elves.
Midnight came and went, and it was in the darkest hour of the night, when the light seems to leave the world and all becomes quiet and still, that Aragorn and Arwen stood at the gurgling river, bathed in only silver moonlight.
Reaching up, Arwen let her fingertips travel across the fresh wound at Aragorn’s temple, where the warg had injured him. She frowned, looking concerned. Smiling, Aragorn took her hand in his own.
"It is nothing, Arwen. Only a scratch." He said softly, wanting to reassure her.
"I know, but still. It could have been so much worse."
Shrugging slightly, Aragorn let his free hand brush through her long hair. "I am only happy that you are not hurt."
For a moment they simply stood there, but then Arwen started to smile, "What did Halbarad say to the revelation that his bachelor Chieftain is indeed betrothed?"
A grimace flittered across Aragorn’s face, and Arwen laughed musically. "Was it so bad?"
Aragorn took a deep, mock-suffering breath, "The words ‘sneaky liar’, ‘Lord Elrond’s daughter!’ and ‘about time’ fell a few times. But I think they are all happy for us."
Giving Aragorn a little push, Arwen winked at him, "So, does that mean no more coupling festivities for you?"
Eyes growing wide, Aragorn opened his mouth to respond, but then he saw the smirk on Arwen’s face. "Halbarad talks too much."
"Indeed, he does." Arwen laughed, shaking her head.
And Aragorn bent down, lifted her chin with his hand and kissed her, not for the first time thanking all the Valar for the gift of love they had bestowed upon him.
Placing her head on Aragorn’s shoulder and wrapping her arms around him, Arwen said softly, "I do not want to leave on the morrow. We had so little time."
Stroking her hair, Aragorn felt his own heart breaking at the tearful tone of her voice. "I wish we could stay here for longer, but you have to return to Lorien before the snow falls, and I have to return to The Angle."
"When will we see each other again, Aragorn?" What she did not say was that she feared that she would not see him again at all. The battle with the wargs had shown her once more hoe dangerous life was, especially for the rangers that travelled the wild.
Sighing and bestowing a kiss on her hair, Aragorn shook his head, "I do not know, my love. But I hope soon."
"Why don’t you come to Lorien in spring?" Arwen asked. "You travel Arda from East to West and North to South, but never do you set foot near my home."
Closing his eyes in pain, Aragorn did not know how to answer. Oh, how many times had he looked to the East, wishing to go to Lorien, to meet Arwen, hold her close. But, he knew that should he ever again enter the Golden Wood and meet Arwen there, he would not leave again, at least not on his own free will. Lothlorien was a haven of peace and security, a place where he had been really, universally happy since many, many years. No, would he meet her there, he would not be able to leave her again. But he had to, he knew, and it nearly broke his heart.
Caressing her long hair, Aragorn said gently, "I wish I could, Arwen, but I cannot."
Arwen, too, sighed, but then she lifted her head from his shoulder and gazed deep into his grey eyes. A small smile played around her lips, "Sometimes Aragorn, I think that you are like a wandering star, nowhere at home and nowhere for a long period of time. But one day, my love, you will find your place next to another star in a lovely constellation, and will have to wander no more."
Speechless for a moment, Aragorn simply looked at her, her slightly quivering lips and the wetness that had gathered in her eyes. With a voice thick of emotions, he finally answered, "I hope so, Arwen. Oh, how I do."
And they kissed again, bathed in silver moonlight, hoping for a better, brighter future. Together.