Hide and Seek 2 by White Wolf|
Not mine. Never has been mine. Never will be mine. Wont make any money from it. Sad, isnt it?
Summery: Aragorn had been trying for almost his whole life to beat his brothers and best friend at hiding while they tracked him. After losing every single time, the now experienced ranger has a new plan to win this latest game of Hide and Seek.
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Legolas leaned down and pulled the knife out of the ground beside a boot print. A quick glance told him two things: the knife was Estel’s, and the boot print was the first of many that led off into the forest.
“A challenge.”The blond elf looked at his dark-haired friends. “Estel has challenged us yet again to track him down. He must believe that this time he can win. He will never give up.”Legolas sighed, knowing his friend very well.
“Then he will be playing this game until the day he gives up his mortal soul,”Elladan said, also knowing the man very well, “since he will never win.”
Elrohir laughed. “Our little brother is a stubborn one.”
“It does not matter,”Legolas remarked. “He has been challenging us in one form or another for as long as I have known him. And I am sure he tried it on you two before I met him.”
“More than you can possibly imagine,”Elladan admitted. “Inside, outside; it didn’t matter. He kept trying but never could quite pull it off.”
The silvan archer shook his head, a grin on his face. “That only makes him try harder.”
“How well we know,” the younger twin commented, “But as you said, brother, he will not win this time either.”
The three elves nodded and smiled at each other. This was going to be too good to pass up. They began to follow the humans’ trail, sure this game would be more challenging due to Aragorn’s ranger training but just as sure that they would once again come out on top.
There were few rules to the game. One was that, whenever a challenge was issued, the game would end at sunset. It was now a little after noon. Being high summer, that added a couple of hours to the time limit. Traveling in trees was forbidden. That was one rule Aragorn had insisted on long ago. He was not willing to give the elves any more advantages than they already had.
Aragorn knew his brothers and his best friend were too anxious to bring him down to pass up the challenge he had left for them. He had hesitated at first, not sure he should commit to trying to best three elves at once. Whenever that had happened in the past, he had always been found very quickly. The doubt left him immediately. He believed that now he would be able to hide from a whole troop of elves. Self-reliance was not one of his shortcomings.
Too many times in the past he had not only been beaten, but on occasion, actually humiliated when losing to these three over-confident elves.
Once, during one of the games, he had found a hiding place in a hollow tree in a hard to get to ravine. To his great shame, when he had turned around to sit inside the tree and wait out the sunset, he had come face to face with Legolas, who had suddenly appeared and was casually leaning casually the tree, grinning at him infuriatingly. The young man’s face had turned red with both embarrassment and anger at himself. He had been forced to suffer the elf’s laughs and insults all the way home.
Aragorn knew there was no real reason for feeling so bad about losing. They were elves, after all, and he was but a mere mortal. It was sort of built in that he would lose games of skill against the fair creatures with their heightened senses. Still, he couldn’t help but vow to himself that this time would be decidedly different.
“Here is his trail,”Legolas said, as he stood up, after examining the ground at his feet.
“You seem very sure, Legolas,”Elladan said, as he examined the tracks that had reappeared after being lost for almost half a mile. “They do not look like a man’s tracks.”
“That is the point,”the younger elf replied on the verge of laughter. “He does not want us to think the tracks are his.”
“What does he hope to gain by that?”Elrohir wanted to know.
The Mirkwood prince grinned. “The human wants to leave a false trail, so we will disregard this real one and waste time searching around for what we think is the correct one. He can then gain time and simply head straight to wherever he plans to hide.”
Elrohir snorted. “He thinks we will fall for that?”
“Perhaps he wants us to believe the tracks are his in disguise, and he has something else entirely in mind.”Elladan was trying to cover all the possibilities. His human brother had always been sneaky, and now he had the training of a ranger to make the situation even more difficult.
“Whatever his plan, we will thwart it,”Legolas assured firmly, as he turned and headed back the way he and the twins had just come.
Shrugging, the twin sons of Elrond followed their friend.
Standing on a hill not far away, Aragorn uttered a word Lord Elrond would not have been happy to learn he even knew. The man wasn’t sure which one of the elves he was observing had seen through his ruse, but they clearly were not falling for the trick.
This little game was going to be harder than he thought. “I will not lose to those three again,”he declared out loud. So saying, he turned and started to move back down the hill toward them angling off to the right.
The man was not intending to just find a place he considered safe and hide there. All the times before, he had done that and, depending on who he was playing the game with at the time, one or all of the three elves had shown up and found him.
This time he planned to hide right behind the three trackers. Wherever they went, he would go. He didn’t believe they would think to look behind them for someone who was trying to hide from them. He was proud of that plan, and he was not at all ready to abandon it.
The ranger approached a small, bubbling stream and made his way out into it. He was ankle deep, as he walked down the middle of it, using the rocks to mask his passing as well as he could. He did not want any disturbed soil to drift downstream and alert anyone looking that someone had at the least crossed the stream.
Many people knew to travel down the middle of a stream to throw off pursuers but paid no attention to the fact they left tell-tale signs for any experienced tracker to interpret.
Unfortunately for him, Aragorn had mentioned that particular ploy to Legolas on one of their hunting trips together. At the time, Aragorn had been very happy to demonstrate to his friend the lesson he had been taught by an older and more experienced ranger. That lesson, explained to the elf prince long ago, would hopefully be overlooked now by that same elf.
Looking back down the stream at the lack of discernable floating soil made Aragorn grin. He moved away as quickly as he dared, keeping his feet firmly on the pebbles.
Ten minutes later, Legolas was standing at the edge of the stream right where the tracks led into the water. He immediately remembered the lesson learned years before on how to keep your presence in a shallow body of water from being detected by another.
The elf’s keen vision was directed both upstream and down, but he could not see any kind of floating debris other than what was normally picked up and carried downstream, mostly leaves and tiny twigs. The ranger had either passed this way early enough to allow whatever soil he had disturbed to resettle to the bottom, or he had used his ‘water trick’.
Elrohir crossed the stream and examined the ground. He stood up and shook his head. “Estel did not come this way.”He came back across to rejoin his brother and the blond prince.
“He is in the stream then.” Legolas surmised, as he squatted down and stared through the clear water to observe the myriad of colored rocks that made up the stream bed. He clearly saw the impression of a boot---Aragorn’s boot, he was sure---where it had crushed the small pebbles down into the soil and formed an indistinct but discernable print.
Noticing the direction the boot toe pointed, Legolas stood and turned upstream. “He has gone this way.”He spoke a little more loudly than was warranted, considering he was speaking to two keen-eared elves only a few feet from him.
Elrohir, a fairly good tracker himself, frowned slightly. “How do you know?”
The fact the younger twin was asking told Legolas that Estel had evidently never shared his lesson with his brothers. That was logical, since he needed all the cunning he could muster to beat them at their games of Hide and Seek.
Legolas stepped into the cool, clear water.
After moving against the swift current for several dozen yards, Legolas moved out of the stream onto the dry bank. It was obvious that there were no tracks to indicate Aragorn had left the stream here.
The twins had no idea what Legolas was up to. “Legolas,...”Elrohir began.
The archer held his hand up for silence. Motioning the twins to move closer to him, he whispered in their ears. “Estel has gone downstream.”
Legolas clapped his hand over Elrohir’s mouth, effectively stopping whatever the elf was going to say. The archer couldn’t be absolutely sure of Estel’s exact location. He could be long gone, but Legolas wasn’t willing to risk being overheard. Then, too, there was the added thought that if Estel was close by, seeing the elves in a huddle whispering, would drive him crazy.
The grin that spread across the youngest elf’s face was evil, if there was such a thing. “The boot prints face this way, but,”he paused for dramatic effect, “the one who made those tracks was walking backwards.”
Two pairs of elven eyes went wide with surprise. “So,”Elladan began and then realized he was speaking too loud and continued more quietly, “he made us think he went one way when he actually went the opposite way.”
“Exactly.”Legolas’s grin widened. To himself he said, ‘Good, Estel. You remembered the trick I taught you.’ To his companions, he said, “Let us take up positions on either side of the stream and make out way back to where he entered the stream and then follow it downstream.”He had led the twins this way only to throw Aragorn off should he be nearby, hoping he would think himself safe enough to go wherever he was intending to hide.
It took only a few moments before the three elves had reached the spot where they had first seen the tracks by the stream.
The twins continued moving along the bank on the right bank, looking for the tracks that would tell them if their brother had gained the dry land on their side.
Legolas easily leapt across the stream. Once on the opposite side, he moved forward, keeping his eyes on the ground to see if tracks led out of the stream on his side.
Aragorn meanwhile had lost the elves’ trail he had been following. ‘Where did they go?’ he wondered. Elves hardly ever left any sign of their passing, but over the years he had learned to detect the tiniest disturbance they left. Even an elf could not avoid leaving some sign he had been there. The man was capable of tracking them anywhere except over bare rock. ‘So why have I lost them?’
A bird’s shrill cry made him look upward into the branches above his head. His first thought was that the bird call was one that Legolas and his warriors used to communicate with each other while in the trees. Legolas had taught him most of them. The meanings depended on which bird was being imitated.
The man shook his head. No, he knew it could not be Legolas. The rules strictly forbid climbing trees during the game, and he knew Legolas would never cheat.
Aragorn looked up at the trees once again. He felt like shouting at them that they better not be telling Legolas where he was. He knew the wood elf talked to them, and they in turn talked to him. He shook his head again. Legolas had told them not to give the game away, and he was sure the forest would not disobey. They never had before.
The ranger thought back over all the little tricks he had ever taught Legolas and all the ones Legolas had taught him. It was plain now that the elf had remembered how to check a stream for the passage of someone traveling in the water itself. So...
So even if Legolas had believed it a ruse, he surely would have followed the boot impressions in the tiny pebbles that littered the stream bed any way just to make absolutely sure it wasn’t a trick. Yet Legolas and the twins were not where they should have been. This was all getting very frustrating.
“No!”he yelled in his mind. ‘I will not give up my plan and have to listen to those insufferable elves laugh at me.’
With a heavy sigh, Aragorn started off to find the almost non-existent elven trail. He wondered briefly who was hiding from whom.
Aragorn finally found the elves almost half an hour later, simply by being lucky enough to see them through the trees before they saw him. He waited until they passed him and then began to tail them.
So far, hiss plan was working. The elves were having no trouble following the trail he had set about making earlier. He kept it going around and around, crossing over itself time and again. Aragorn was pleased to see the confused faces of the elves, when he dared to get close enough to observe them.
Just when they thought they had found the perfect hiding place, Estel was not there. Several times his trail had actually veered away before reaching the spot Legolas thought he had gone to ground in.
Finally Legolas called a halt to the search. The sun was getting low, with only a little over an hour left before time ran out on the game. “Estel is playing with us,”he declared none too pleased with that prospect. “The human’s trail is too full of twists and turns to be anything more than an effort to confuse us.”
Elrohir, though quite competitive and wanting more than anything to win, was nonetheless showing signs of pride that his little brother had fooled them for so long. He had to duck a swat from Elladan, when he said, “You have to admire Estel. He has given us a good game this time.”
Legolas, displaying the same expression of mock betrayal Elladan had just shown, frowned. “I will not let that human defeat us. Can you imagine what would happen? He would tell all of Rivendell and Mirkwood, too no doubt, about how he had beaten three elves, who were not able to track down one lone human.”Legolas grimaced at his own words. It just could not happen. He understood Elrohir’s feelings but glared at him just the same.
In his own defense, the youngest twin held his hands up. “I do not want Estel to win. I just said...”
“We know what you said,”came Elladan’s harsh interruption. In truth, he had to speak that way to keep from laughing at Elrohir’s discomfort. Also, deep down, he was proud, as well.
The twins were soon pulled back into the present predicament. “He is doing something different this time, besides eluding us this long,”he added quickly. “He is following a different plan. We need to figure it out and turn it against him.”
Elladan looked up at the descending sun. “We had better do it soon then. We do not have much time.”
“Enough to once again defeat Estel,”Legolas said, refusing to admit that any other possibility existed.
‘So you think so, do you?’ Aragorn muttered to himself as he crouched not fifteen feet from the elves. He hadn’t planned on getting quite so close, but he had been forced to cover more open ground than he wanted to, so he wouldn’t be spotted, if any of them turned around to look behind them. Then they had stopped so suddenly, he could do nothing but drop down where he was. Luckily there had been a large pile of rocks to hide behind.
It would have been so easy for the elves to split up and cover much more ground, but that was the final rule to the game. If there was more than one elf in the hunt, they had to stay together as one. Thus another elven advantage was neutralized.
“Let us go back,”Legolas said and started to retrace their steps.
Aragorn almost panicked. The back end of the rocks he hid behind were up against a solid rock wall of over ten feet in height. There was no way to move around them to keep the rocks between himself and the elves, as they move past them. He pressed himself flat against the inner most angle between rock and wall and held his breath, hoping none of them would look into the little alcove where he was. At least it was in shadow and not full sunlight.
Legolas turned his head slightly to glance into the ranger’s hiding spot but kept moving past it, apparently not noticing the man inside.
Aragorn sighed with relief. Following the elves again was no longer an option. They had passed this hiding spot and not seen him, so it was logical to assume that they wouldn’t come back, especially with time running out on the game. Therefore, this was the perfect place to wait out the setting sun.
Even hearing the elves’ voices receding into the distance, Aragorn still waited for almost five minutes before moving out cautiously to make sure they had left the ravine.
The ranger’s heart almost jumped out of his chest, when he ran smack into Legolas, standing just around the corner of the rock wall. Aragorn let out a yell of surprise.
“Fancy meeting you way out here,”was all the elf said.
The naughty word Aragorn had said earlier came to his lips again, even more vehement this time. Once his heart slowed down, he said, “You saw me in those rocks, didn’t you?”
“Yes, he did,”came the answer from Elladan, as he and Elrohir returned to stand and grin at their brother.
“That should not count,” the man protested. “You found me by accident, not by any honest tracking skills.”
The three elves almost fell over laughing. In fact, Elrohir had to reach out and put his hand on the rock wall to hold himself up.
When Legolas finally gained control of himself, he stared at the human ranger. “In the first place, there is nothing in the rules about how you are to be found, Estel, only that you are found before sunset.”He looked toward the west. “We still had plenty of time.”
“My plan almost worked,”the man mumbled, recognizing defeat when he saw it.
“You mean the one where you follow us, staying just out of earshot and hoping we would not turn to go back the way we just come from?”
Aragorn stared wide-eyed at Legolas. His shock was too all-consuming to react to the elf’s smug expression. “You knew? I’ve been trailing the three of you all over the place for hours while you followed a false trail, and you knew all along I was right behind you?”
“Of course. The warriors of Mirkwood had been doing that long before I was born.”
Legolas just couldn’t bring himself to admit that the Hiding By Following method had not really occurred to him until he had managed to get a glimpse of the man, moving toward them, through the trees fairly early in the game.
Legolas had pretended to be serious about following the false trail he knew the ranger had laid.
Then finally, when the sunset was getting close, the archer brought them all here, eager to trap Aragorn right in this exact spot.
The elf’s honesty would compel him to tell the ranger the truth---eventually. For now, he would happily let his friend stew for daring to think he could gain a victory over elves.
When Aragorn narrowed his eyes at his brothers, they both held their hands up. Elladan said, “We did not know for most of the hunt. Truly. We kept backtracking and finally asked Legolas why he was doing it.”
“To unsettle me,”came the ranger’s terse reply. “You,”he pointed his finger at Legolas’s chest, “just wanted to make me scramble when you suddenly turned back toward me, not to mention letting me think I was outsmarting you.”
The grin that graced the young prince’s face was all the answer that was needed. To the ranger, it was almost unbearable.
“I knew I never should have taught you any of my tracking tricks. You’ve learned them too well and turned them against me.”
“Well, it is a lesson well-learned by you I hope.”
“Oh yes,”the man replied. “I will never make that mistake again.”
Legolas just grinned and then, putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder and gripping it tightly, said, “Just remember, Estel, that in learning you will teach and in teaching you will learn.”
“My father has said that to me many times. It has to do with becoming a healer.”
“It is a life-lesson that has to do with many things, Estel.”Legolas remarked. “In this case, it has to do with us winning---and you losing---a game of Hide and Seek.”
The four friends turned and headed back toward Rivendell. Three of them were laughing, and one was shaking his head in dismay.
Before long, the ranger’s mind was busy working on his next plan to defeat these infuriatingly arrogant elves, who he couldn’t began to imagine spending his life without.