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Disclaimer: the setting and characters of Middle-earth are the creations of J.R.R. Tolkien and belong to his estate. I do not have permission to use them. This story is written for entertainment only and no monetary profit is being made.
Author's notes: my apologies for the wait. The usual excuses apply. Many thanks to Lisette for betaing this chapter.
To See A World by Nightwing
Chapter Forty-Two: The Reason
When Legolas woke, he did not at first know why. There had been no sound or disturbance; all was still in the darkness. He was warm under the blankets, curled onto his side with his hands pressed under his chin, and his pain had faded until it seemed little more than a distant throbbing endured by someone other than himself. In this soft comfort he might even have dreamed. Not with his eyes, of course. Nothing visual came to him, but he thought that perhaps he had dreamt of water running, of music and good food and the laughter of those he loved. He had felt drowsy and relaxed, drifting on the gentle pull of memory, but now he was awake and aware, and he started as his heart suddenly leapt and began thundering against his ribs.
Casting off the blankets he stood quickly, and the cold of the room rushed over him. Voices filtered out of the darkness, coming from the corridor, and as the door to his cell was opened he pressed his back against the wall. He listened as three sets of footsteps passed the threshold, and he finally understood what had yanked him from his comforting dreams to uneasy wakefulness.
"He is here, as always, my lords," the guard Koryon said. "And he seems to be feeling stronger."
"Leave us," the old man said, and the young guard retreated hastily and closed the door behind him.
"It's wretchedly dark in here, like a tomb," Ramhar remarked loudly, as if seeking to disperse any spirits that might yet be lingering with the forced bravado of his voice. "If not for the light the elf gives off, I'd not be able to see him at all. He looks like a ghost in the mist."
"It is a gift perhaps," Malcovan whispered, "from Iluvatar to his greatly beloved Firstborn. To shine in the darkness of the world, much as a star glows in the black dome of night. But what happens to them?" the sorcerer murmured as his shuffling steps grew near. "What happens to the stars when shadows cover the sky?"
Though fear and loathing nearly choked the breath from his body, Legolas swung toward his tormentor and faced him squarely. "Do not touch me," he hissed.
Malcovan retreated with a laugh. "As you wish, Prince Legolas. I leave our guest to you, Ramhar. Should you require my assistance, you need only ask."
"I will handle him without difficulty," Ramhar responded confidently. "But I thank you."
Legolas listened intently as the footsteps of the old man faded, and the door was shut behind him. The elf then dropped his head and swallowed to clear the sickness that had risen in his throat.
"Do you prefer him gone?" Ramhar asked in a tone that seemed almost conversational.
"The old man is tainted," Legolas responded, drawing in air that already seemed cleaner with the departure of Malcovan. "I think that you do not know what he is."
"He is my long-time friend, and mentor."
"Can you not see that he is a servant of Mordor?" the elf demanded.
"Rubbish. What he is," Ramhar snarled, "is a great and powerful sorcerer in his own right. And he is the man who saved my life, after your treacherous father and king butchered my family and left me near death, lying across the threshold of my own home."
Legolas jerked his head up. "What?" he cried in astonishment. "That is why you killed my mother? You are mad! My father never – "
"He did!" the captain shouted. "He did, and I have sworn by every oath to destroy him. The first blow I struck four years ago, and now, by the grace of the Valar, his son has fallen into my hands! I knew they were smiling upon me to have granted such a gift after all my toil, all my planning. They have given me their blessing, for the good work I will do."
The elf listened in mounting horror at the wild rush of words that spilled from his captor. "It took me long to assume command of the army, to rise as I did in the favor of the lords of my adopted city and turn their hearts. Were it not for the wisdom of Malcovan, who guided me and urged me to hold back until all was ready, I would have grown impatient and marched too soon. But in that time my power had grown, and I had obtained for myself nearly all that I have desired. And now, with Thranduil's youngest in my hands… yes, it was truly meant to be. Meant to be… all will see what it is I strive to do!"" Ramhar's voice had risen with passion, and he paced before the elf, his boots ringing out sharply on the stone floor, but suddenly he stopped and stood still, his breath grating harshly in his captive's ears. Legolas waited tensely, braced for whatever was to come next.
"And now you have a decision to make, Prince Legolas," Ramhar said at last, and his voice was now carefully controlled. "If you do not speak to me in this moment, you will speak to me in the darkest hours of the coming night. I assure you, should you choose the latter, it will go the worse for you."
"And what would you have me speak of?" Legolas asked quietly.
"Don't play innocent with me. You know what it is I require of you."
Legolas nodded. "Yes, I know. And I tell you now that you will be wasting your energy. I have not guarded my father's realm for centuries simply to reveal his secrets to you, whatever your method of gaining them." The elf's voice was filled with unchecked scorn. "Think you capable of offering a true threat to my people? Even if you were to learn of my father's passages and way posts, your men will never come close to the inner realm. They will die."
Ramhar laughed. "I came close enough the last time I struck a blow against your father. So close that I could see the brilliance of her eyes, and taste the sweetness of her final breath."
Legolas' voice shook with fury. "You murdered my mother as revenge against my father, for an act he never committed! Your crime will not go unpunished, Ramhar. It is only a matter of time; the reckoning will come. She was innocent."
"She was his wife. I merely took from him what he had taken from me!" Ramhar cried out, and for the first time the elf heard sorrow burst past the hatred in the man's voice. "I saw him! I saw him with my very eyes, kneeling over the bodies of my wife and child, and that of my father."
"That is not possible," Legolas stated firmly. "What you saw I do not know, but you did not see that. You were mistaken, or deluded…"
"I know what I saw," Ramhar said. "He was familiar to me. You all were. When Thranduil would parade into Dale in all his finery to meet with our Lord, all eyes would turn toward him – the great Elven-king, with his sons at his side! Your power and beauty were much admired, and your father reveled in the attention. Do not tell me that he did not. I was in training in my King's army, and ranked highly as a young commander. My star was rising, and I would not be taken in by the Elves. I kept my distance. But I knew your father, and it was his eyes, his cold blue eyes, that stared into mine the day he drove his blade into my belly and scattered my family like dry leaves on the ground."
Legolas shook his head in bewilderment. "For what reason would my father do such a thing? This is madness! The old man has deceived you with his sorcery. It is clear what he is. You did not enter Mirkwood alone, you were accompanied by orcs."
"Lord Malcovan had at one time commanded a small band of them, having won them with promises, but he tired of their intractable ways and sent them packing. They were not as useful as he had hoped."
"Can you not see the connection?" Legolas cried out in frustration. "Orcs are the spawn of Mordor, they have no other master save one who commands in Sauron's name! The creatures that were slain in Mirkwood were left behind, and though we knew not whence they had come, we did not doubt that it was the work of the Death-lord himself. Only under a cloak of sorcery – the sort that he alone can wield - could you and those foul creatures have entered our realm undetected. Can you still doubt what your master is? He uses you for his own gain, and that of the Lord of Mordor."
"Malcovan is not my master," Ramhar said, his voice sharp-edged with rage. "He uses many people, but I am not one of them. I rule beside him, in full partnership. And he has made me promises…"
"That he will not honor!" the elf shouted. "You are a fool to follow him! He deceives you!"
A fist suddenly leapt from the darkness and slammed into Legolas' jaw, throwing him hard against the wall. He fell to his knees and remained there, stunned and fighting for breath. Ramhar bent near. "This is your final chance to tell me about your father and your territory," he said in a low voice. "Or I will make arrangements to have you moved to a far less comfortable room tonight."
Legolas wiped the blood from his mouth and sighed. He suddenly felt very weary and tired of it all - tired of hunger and pain, of grief and sorrow, of the chains on his body, and of Ramhar. "Here or there, it will make no difference," he said quietly. "I will tell you nothing. Leave me."
Ramhar was silent. Legolas inhaled and held himself ready, waiting for another blow. He sensed the man's eyes hard upon him, measuring him, and a shiver ran over his skin.
"I admire your courage, Prince Legolas. Truly I do," Ramhar said after a pause. The elf frowned, sensing a subtle, dangerous change in the man's tone. "Though you are my captive, you have stood strong against me. You are a warrior, and a worthy opponent. Of course you do not fear torment and death – for yourself."
Legolas froze at the words and turned slowly toward his captor. "Ah," Ramhar said, a glow of satisfaction in his voice. "I see you understand me. There are other ways to help you find your tongue. I can harm your friend. If I forced you to witness another's torment, and made it clear that it would not stop until you told me what I wanted to know, even such a brave warrior as yourself would find it difficult to hold to silence."
Legolas felt a stab of fear as he tried to puzzle out the man's game. "You have already killed my friend – my only friend. You have no further hold over me."
"The man at the cabin was not your only friend. You have another, if I am not mistaken, and one who appears to be very dear to you indeed. The boy."
In an instant the elf was on his feet. "You would not dare -!" he cried out. The man jumped back, and Legolas was brought up violently by his fetters before he could reach his captor.
"Wouldn't I?" Ramhar laughed. "I will do whatever I must to achieve my goal."
"The people will not permit you to harm him! He is – "
"Already missing," Ramhar said. "It appears the dear child met with abductors when he went for a ride in the woods this morning. Our city has many enemies. Of course young Lord Tarnan is actually in my keeping, and that of Malcovan. He will be brought down here tonight – a reunion of sorts with his elven friend. How dreadful will his experience be? Will you choose a quick death for the boy, or a long suffering?"
The elf gasped in dismay. "You will kill him tonight, whether I speak or not!"
"Yes. You control only the manner of his death."
Legolas cast about desperately for words that might stop the man's terrible plan. "Harm him not! He is innocent! How can you kill a child, when you know what it is to have lost your own?" The elf's nails gouged deep grooves into his palms as he spoke. "You build sin upon sin, murder upon murder, in a misguided attempt to make good a heart that grows blacker with each terrible deed. You poison yourself, Ramhar. Stop, before it kills you entirely. For the love of the Valar, for the love of your destroyed family, do not do this. Please, do not do this! They would not want it. This is not the way to honor their memory."
Ramhar's voice was bleak, empty of any emotion. "Do not try to appeal to my heart. It stopped beating years ago."
"Then bring it to life again, by seeking the truth and pursuing the one responsible for the murder of your family," Legolas urged, fighting to turn the man's thoughts. "It was not my father. Do not continue with this plan to attack my realm. You will only lead your men to their deaths."
"Then they will die, and in doing so they will at least take some of the elves of King Thranduil with them. Somehow I will reach your father, if only to let him know that I hold his youngest son's life in my hands. I could not control the orcs that day, Prince Legolas. I lost her much more quickly than I had intended. It was not my desire to have her die there, in that moment. I planned to carry her to a place where Malcovan waited. And then – ah, if only it had been! But now it will never be more than a dream. Just a dream." The man's voice had dropped to a rasping whisper, and Legolas clutched at the wall, unable to bring himself to shut out the sickening words. He knew he had to hear them, to know just how much she had endured.
"Your mother was fair," Ramhar continued. "She possessed the kind of beauty that could drive a man to madness. There should have been more, much more, and what a blow that would have been to your father! But the orcs, in their bloodlust, could not be held back, and Malcovan was not there to stop them. She fought hard. She was truly magnificent to watch, but her skill could not save her. In the end she fell badly wounded, and I knew then that I would not be able to have her. And so I drove my blade into her heart and left it there. It was a kindness, really. I spared her being forced to undergo much worse."
Legolas turned away in loathing. "Speak no more of her. You are not the only one who has sworn an oath to avenge a murdered loved one, Ramhar. The blade you carry now will somehow come into my hands, and I will use it."
"That hardly seems likely, given your current situation," Ramhar said. He strode away and called loudly for the guard. The door opened. "Koryon, tonight when Maibon comes to relieve you, you will assist him in moving the elf to the chamber at the end of the corridor. I have other matters to attend to, and so I leave the keys with you. This door is to be kept locked, and you are not to go near the elf or speak to him after I leave here. Is that understood?"
"Yes, my lord."
The men exchanged further words outside the cell door, and then one set of quiet footsteps returned and paused on the threshold. Koryon did not come closer, and a tense stillness fell between captive and guard. Legolas suddenly felt sick and he licked his lips, wondering how to speak to the man who now held the keys to his chains.
Koryon was the first to break the silence. "You heard what he said."
Legolas nodded, and waited. He realized he was shaking.
"I cannot free you. My duty is to my city, to see its greatness restored. Ramhar swears he can do this."
"With children locked in its dungeons?" Legolas demanded. "And its people ruled by terror? What 'greatness' can there be in this? He has abducted the boy, Tarnan. He will kill him!"
"No," the young man sounded confused. "He was taken by kidnappers this morning. Lord Ramhar would not – "
"Koryon, you recite their words like a trained puppet! Where is your own voice? Ramhar and the old man bring you under the yoke of Mordor. Obey them, and your city will be destroyed."
"Obey them, and I might live," the young man said quietly.
Legolas sighed. "I know you fear them, but how long will you continue to blindly follow where they lead? In surrendering your own judgment you will keep yourself safe, for now, but you are paying a terrible price. You strive to be a good man, but you no longer think for yourself. You have already taken the first step toward becoming a slave."
"I cannot free you," Koryon repeated. "I dare not. I am sorry." He retreated, and the elf listened as the door was closed and the lock was set.
Legolas cursed. He could not break through the young man's fear, and undoubtedly the same fear was what controlled most of the men of the city. The horrible presence of the sorcerer still crawled over him like beads of sweat on flesh; how much worse must the terror of the townsfolk be? The elf could not combat it. With a groan of despair he turned to the wall and felt for the loose stone. He had taken Brina's medicine several times before falling asleep, and he realized with some lightening of his spirits that it seemed to be helping him. His thoughts were clearer than they had been, his head pained him only a little, and he felt renewed strength in his limbs. Quickly he swallowed a bit more from the bottle and slid it back into its hiding place.
For a time he occupied himself in exploring the chains that fettered him, but he could find no weakness. The locks secured at his throat and on his hands were thick and unbreakable. The links of the neck chain were solid and smooth as he slid his fingers over them, feeling each one, and the end of it appeared to be soldered directly to the ring in the wall. With a sigh the elf ceased his efforts. There would be no freedom without the keys.
He wondered how late it was. Perhaps he had slept through most of the afternoon, and evening was coming now. He thought he detected the scent of roasted meat, and the sounds of Koryon eating just outside the door. The elf's mouth watered, but the bread was gone. The cold rose from the flagstones. Drawing the blanket onto his lap, Legolas settled his back against the wall and wondered how he could get the keys from Koryon without being forced to kill him.
Aragorn sat near the entrance of the cave, chewing carefully on a stringy piece of meat. A steaming bowl of stew was nestled in his lap. Stretched out before him and propped on a log, his bandaged foot hovered in the darkness, a peculiar blob of white standing alone against the flickering orange shadows of the fire. Around the flames cloaked figures huddled, talking quietly as they roasted meat and handed drinks to each other, their faces grim and drawn in the firelight. Taller men mingled with the small ones who dwelled in the hills, and Aragorn realized that they must have come up from the city to join in the talks.
Earlier in the day, as the men had begun gathering and planning their night's work, the ranger had remained inside the cave taking what food he could, and after that he had slept for several hours more, deeply and without discomfort. Waking at dusk, he had assessed his injuries and spent some time tending his wounds. The burn on his left shoulder from the falling debris of the ceiling was an ugly thing; the mark wide and weeping fluid, and he found his ability to move his arm badly compromised. It was not his fighting arm, but he had also discovered, to his dismay, that he was unable to control a sword with his injured hands. Arath had then given him a smaller weapon, a curved blade with a jagged edge honed for killing. Along with a dagger one of the other hill-men had pressed upon him, Aragorn was as effectively armed as he could be.
He knew little of the men's plans. The battle for possession of the city was not his, and he did not attempt to intrude upon the council. His thoughts were fixed on Legolas, and he busied himself running possible scenarios through his mind and developing his own strategies regarding them.
Alun had agreed to lead Aragorn to the cell where Legolas was being held. After that, if time allowed, he would guide them to a place where they could hide. He would have to abandon them then, and Aragorn would attempt to escape with the elf when the way out of the city appeared to be clear. If he found Legolas unable to walk, he would steal a horse. If at all possible he would avoid fighting, for both his own sake and that of his friend, whom he feared had suffered cruel treatment at the hands of his captors.
Two shadows broke away from the group, and Alun and Arath approached to crouch beside Aragorn. "We leave within the hour," the soldier told him. "Have you been able to eat more food?"
Aragorn nodded, clearing his throat with difficulty. "I did not realize how hungry I was," he said in a voice still strained and hoarse. "And the drink - whatever it was - has helped my throat. My thanks to you both."
Arath grinned. "That drink is an old recipe of my great-grandmother's. She swore it would cure any ailment, from boils on the bum to pain in the gut. It'll keep your coughing quiet, that's sure, and we'll need that if we're to get into the city unheard. We can't have you alerting everyone within miles, so I've got a good flask filled right up for you here. Carry it along with you and you'll be all right." He thrust an old leather container into Aragorn's hands and trotted away.
Aragorn glanced up at Alun. "Boils on the bum? Valar help me, I suppose it doubles as a liniment for horses with strained tendons. Tonight only I will drink this concoction as needed. Afterward, this wretched flask is going to find itself at the bottom of the river."
"I have no doubt," Alun laughed. "But you've earned their respect by drinking it without falling down dead on the spot. Here, I've unearthed some boots for you. They're mismatched, but that's what you need. The right one is larger, it will fit over your bad foot."
Mindful of his bandaged hands, the ranger pulled on the smaller left boot, a well-worn leather thing cracked and stained with use. The right one was made of wolf fur, and dyed what appeared in the doubtful firelight to be a bright brilliant green. He stared at Alun, who was struggling to keep a straight face.
"Where did this come from?" Aragorn muttered.
"Couldn't tell you," the soldier responded as he grasped Aragorn's injured foot and began easing the boot over it. "We're not off to a fancy to-do, after all. It'll protect your foot well enough."
"At least Legolas won't be making any comments. Believe me, if he saw these boots, he would."
Aragorn rose to his feet and took a few cautious steps. He had wrapped his foot and ankle carefully, and with the added support of the strange boot, he found that he could walk fairly steadily and with minimal pain. He knew he had to continue to be mindful of his injuries however, and Alun had earlier gone in search of a horse that might carry the ranger down the winding trail until they came to the flat. Once there, all the men who had horses would dismount and continue on foot toward the city.
Moving past the fire, Aragorn scooped Legolas' cat into his arms and made his way to the edge of the hill. Far below, the city glittered with lights, but soon many of them would be extinguished as its residents retired to their beds. In the midst of the shadowed buildings Legolas lay, imprisoned in the lowest level of the Lord's great house. Aragorn fixed his eyes on it as Alun came to stand beside him.
"We will break up and enter through the back of the city, and from the sides," the soldier said. "Our allies within will assist us in getting past the walls. You will accompany my group, and we make for that spot there," he pointed, "where the near edge of the wall runs into that grove of trees. It is the closest point to Lord Cadean's house. We'll have about a half-mile's distance to cover after we are over the wall, mostly under tree cover. I'll get you to it, and down to Legolas."
Aragorn turned to the soldier. "I cannot thank you enough, Alun. You have dangerous plans to implement tonight, and yet you strive also to help me free Legolas. I am in your debt."
"Do not thank me yet," Alun murmured. "Most likely I lead you to your death. I have reservations about taking you down there, injured as you are."
Aragorn shot his companion a grin. "I will do my best to stay out of your hair and not hinder you."
Alun met his eyes and held them. "No, it is not that. I am a fair judge of men, Aragorn. You have the look of a fighter, and one with smarts at that. And there is more that I can use to judge your mettle – you enter into the unknown to save your friend, though you do not even know if he yet lives. No, you'll not hinder me." The soldier sighed then, and turned an anxious gaze back to the city. "But I want no innocent man's blood on my hands this night. I lead in this battle, Aragorn, and I have never done such a thing before. It weighs on me, for I know lives will be lost ere we see tomorrow's sunrise. These men are my friends."
Aragorn nodded. "He who leads carries the lives of all his men with him when he rides into battle. I know how this feels."
"I thought you did. What do you think of our plan?" Alun asked. "I've been involved in a skirmish or two in my day, but nothing like what we will attempt tonight. You said little, but I know you were listening. Is it sound?"
"I do not know the layout of your city but what I can see of it from here and the map you traced in the dirt, but I agree that multiple attacks in different areas sounds like the best way to achieve your goal. Starting the attacks further out to draw most of Ramhar's men away from the Lord's house is a good plan, and then going for those warriors who remain behind to guard their lords. You will have surprise on your side. But can you be certain of the men who say they will side with you? Will they turn against your enemies when the time comes?"
"I am certain of them," Alun said firmly. "Fully half, if not more, of the men in the army bear no love for Ramhar and Malcovan, and many have been waiting for this night. They are ready. The others, save those truly loyal to our enemies, may well turn toward us when they see that a rebellion has begun. We will let them see there is hope to break free of the stranglehold. But it must be done in one night, or we are lost. Ramhar and Malcovan must be captured or killed, and their supporters imprisoned. We must not fail."
"Why do Arath and his men help you in this?" Aragorn asked, glancing at the small forms of the hill-men as they began gathering their weapons and slinging packs over their shoulders. Arath, as if hearing his name, glanced at Aragorn in his quick way and grinned. With a half-salute he leaped onto the back of a sway-backed old horse and vanished into the trees. The men were leaving now, in small bands that could move quickly and quietly down the hill.
"They tire of being persecuted," Alun replied. "Ramhar and Malcovan send troops to harass them and force them to join the army. In earlier days peace existed between my city and the hill-men. We engaged in trade, and both side prospered. With trade forbidden now, Arath and his people are starving. They cannot feed and clothe their children, and they suffer from the winter's cold. It is our hope relations can be mended once Ramhar and the old man are gone. The old man…" Alun paused, frowning, and suddenly turned to grasp the ranger's arm. "I must speak with you of Malcovan. There is more you must know."
Aragorn had started to turn back toward the fire. He paused with a frown, noting the sudden urgency in the man's voice. "What more?" he asked.
"When I spoke with Legolas, he warned me against Malcovan. He told me that the old man is leagued with Sauron."
"What?" Aragorn spun about and stared at Alun. The soldier nodded uneasily.
"I found his words difficult to believe. Malcovan is filled with malice and contempt for all he deems lesser than himself, which is just about all of us. But for all that, he is one of our own citizens. To think that he has gone that far – "
Aragorn looked again at the city, his eyes narrowed. "Did Legolas say that he suspected it, or that he knew it?"
"That he knew it. I thought – I hoped – that perhaps it was just the fever speaking. But he was insistent, and begged me to believe him."
Aragorn bowed his head, feeling a new weight of sadness settle onto his shoulders. "If Legolas said it, then it is the truth. He is not easily deceived."
Alun blew his breath out. "Then Valar help us all. I have spoken to my men of it, and they are frightened. They are still willing to fight for their city, but I could not keep the information from them that we might be facing a greater enemy than was first supposed. I could not remain silent."
"You did what was right. Against such a foe, each man must be informed and make his own choice."
"And they did choose. None will shrink from the fight," Alun said with pride. "Though it has taken some of our courage from us, it also strengthened our resolve. We cannot let our city fall to Sauron. But we do not know how to fight the old man, if indeed he does serve the Death Lord, and if he summons… Valar, I know not what he might summon."
"Does he command orcs?" Aragorn asked, remembering the small band of creatures that had attacked him and Legolas months ago. "Could they assist him in the battle for the city?"
"I think not," Alun responded. "I have heard talk of orcs only infrequently. They are sighted sometimes in the forest, and then they are gone. Their numbers are few; a ragged band of perhaps twenty or thirty."
"Good. And if the old man is truly surprised tonight, he will not be able to summon them before it is over. Has Malcovan any powers, any abilities that you know of?"
"Do you ask if he is truly a sorcerer? I believe it is so," Alun murmured. He chewed on his lip, his broad face lined with worry. "But there is nothing that I have seen myself. Rumours only, stories I have heard…"
"Tell me what they are."
"Well, there was something Gildwas once told me - the old man in whose cabin you lived. He knew Malcovan from years back, and he said there was a time that Malcovan had put a sort of spell on him when they were traveling together. He had waved his hands in some weird pattern, like he was flinging spider webs about Gildwas said, and chanted strange words. Gildwas' eyes were suddenly filled with strange and horrible visions. I could see that he was deeply troubled about it, and I pressed him a time or two to tell me more of what happened, but he would not. The poor fellow was right terrified of Malcovan after that, though he stood up to him when he saw need, as when our Lady died."
Aragorn nodded silently and turned away. One of the hill-men approached through the darkness, leading a horse, and spoke to Alun. "Will this one do?" he asked.
"Aye, she will. Here is another old friend, Aragorn. She's not exactly the sort you'd ride into battle, but she'll get you down the hill well enough."
Aragorn found himself taking the reins of Rhosgernroch, and delightedly embraced the old mare as she nuzzled him. Alun clapped him on the back. "I must see to the men. We leave now."
Aragorn stood alone on the edge of the bluff and stared down at the city. Some of the lights had gone out, but the great house was still brightly lit. Tithlam purred comfortably in his arms, and the horse blew warm breath on his neck. Seeing Legolas' beloved pets filled Aragorn with hope that he would soon be reunited with the elf as well.
"Two lost friends have come back to me this day," he said as he gave the cat a final pat and set her gently on the ground. "Valar willing, I will find the last one tonight."
Tithlam trotted into the cave as Aragorn climbed onto the mare's broad back. At a signal from Alun, he turned her and made his way toward the darkened trail.
To be continued…
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