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Chapter Two: The Hunt
Now that Aragorn thought about it, perhaps it was not such a clever idea to go hunting. Well, not that hunting itself was a bad proposal, but the fact that he woke up to a stormy dawn should have been all that was needed to postpone this small hunting trip for another time. Of course, he had never let a few clouds stop him before.
“It looks as if it will rain later today,” commented Faramir as he looked out of the window. “Are you quite sure that you want to go today?”
“Yes,” Aragorn said without hesitation. “A little rain has never stopped me before.”
“I’m not sure if our wives would appreciate it.”
“That is why we leave now.”
Faramir glanced at him. “Are you thinking that they will keep us in?”
Faramir slowly nodded. “And you are afraid of what they will say when you plan on going hunting in this weather?”
“You are as well,” Aragorn pointed out.
“Any man in his right mind would. I married the shield-maiden of Rohan.”
“And I married the granddaughter of Lady Galadriel.”
“So let us leave before they awake.”
And with that final note, they left the home of Lord Faramir and headed north, towards a small tributary of the Anduin. Aragorn, Faramir, and their men were all dressed in the clothing of the Ithilien Rangers, for the metal plates of their normal garb would cause too much noise and frighten away all living creatures within the area. Aragorn and Faramir blended well with their men; indeed, any strangers that saw them would mistake the whole band for a troop of patrolling Rangers, not the king, his steward, and their guard. As it was, they did not expect to come upon any travelers, considering the fact that the sky looked as if it would soon drench the earth with rain. However, neither Aragorn nor Faramir could say that he actually minded; it had been quite a while since either of them was last out, and both planned to enjoy their small trip.
Of course, fate always has other plans.
After a short period of riding, the group stopped in a small clearing a couple miles east of the tributary and about ten miles southwest of the Crossroads. While the men set up camp, Aragorn, Faramir, Beregond, and Galdir were all huddled around a map, discussing their options.
“We should not approach Minas Morgul,” said Aragorn. “There is still not much life in that area, and the place itself is still not completely safe. When the odd band of orcs does attack, it is usually in that area.”
“I agree with Lord Elessar,” said Beregond. “That place is much too dangerous. You may want to try to head south.”
“No, deer do not usually wander there,” argued Galdir. “I would think that they would be near the river, perhaps northeast of our current position.”
“I agree,” said Faramir. “I would imagine that there would be many around the river for a good, constant supply of water and food. That is where we will find the largest deer.”
“But in this current weather, it is not safe to wander there, my lord,” argued Beregond. “The river tends to swell and the steep banks can be treacherous.”
“We shall be careful,” said Aragorn. “We know of the risks.” When Faramir nodded his head in agreement, Beregond bowed his head in submission.
Galdir looked as if he wanted to protest further, but took one look at his liege lord and decided against it. “Very well,” he said grudgingly. “But you should take ten men at the least, my lords.”
“Nay, that is too many!” Faramir exclaimed. “We shall find nothing with that number.”
“One or two, at the most,” said Aragorn. “We can handle ourselves.”
“Safety in numbers, my lords,” said Beregond, and Galdir nodded in approvingly.
“Eight,” he added to Beregond’s comment.
“Five.” Beregond cut in. Galdir frowned but said nothing.
“Very well, then,” said Aragorn, glancing at Faramir with slight exasperation. “Five men. But no more, and have them be your most silent!” The two captains nodded, bowed, and went to select men for the venture.
“The burdens of leadership,” muttered the steward once they were alone. "I do not grudge their company, but truly 'twas easier being the younger son of the steward." Aragorn nodded, and chuckled.
“If only others knew how much we would give for a bit of privacy.”
Soon seven men left the camp: the king, the steward, three men of the king’s guard, and two from the steward’s guard. Beregond and Galdir were part of this guard, for both were loath to leave their lords. The men moved silently, on foot, garbed in the colors of the forest and blending with the shadows of the trees. Unfortunately the sky had not cleared up; instead, it had gotten darker, and it looked as if it were to rain anytime soon.
“Let us hope you find this deer soon, my lords,” muttered Beregond to them, “for if it begins to rain too hard, all creatures will flee to their hidden shelters.”
“We shall,” said Aragorn. “Come, we will be near the river soon.”
And so the men trudged on forward through the forest, coming upon no wildlife. The birds had stopped singing long ago, and nothing had come their way, despite their silence. But nevertheless they continued forward on their venture, hoping that they would come upon at least one deer.
As it was, luck finally came to them when they spotted a large stag grazing upon some wild grass, looking as if it had not a care in the world. All men there held in a gasp, for he was truly the largest deer any of them had seen. His might and arrogance could be seen in his stance; he knew that no one could conquer him. The hunters here today were here to prove him wrong.
Faramir took out his bow; earlier he and Aragorn had drawn sticks to see who would shoot first, and he had the luck of pulling the longer stick. Slowly, he drew the bow until it was taut, exhaled, and released. But as it was, the stag looked up at the exact moment before Faramir had released, and gracefully he sprang out of its way. Instead of immediately running away, he paused for a moment and stared at the hunters. He looked at the king and steward in the face, as if he were daring them on. Before Aragorn could take his first shot, the deer suddenly jumped out of sight.
Both had caught the gaze of the deer, and, as if under a spell, went straight after it. They did not hear Beregond’s surprised objection, nor Galdir's call to wait. The large, majestic stag, instead of seeking for shelter, made sure that he was in sight of the two hunters, if only just out of reach. He easily avoided their arrows, but was sure to keep just in sight. He often turned back to look at them, as if he were taunting the two on. Caught by his powerful gaze, the men took the bait.
The deer led the two further and further away, and they lost all sense of rationality and focus, both eager to conquer the haughty stag. As they ran, the dark clouds finally broke, and the skies released torrents of rain upon the earth. Neither man nor beast let this stop them, though. They ran and ran, tireless, both men eager to take down their prey and the beast eager to outsmart the hunters, as he had done so to many before them.
Soon they had come to the river, and now it was raining with full force; the ground was slippery and muddy, and even Aragorn and Faramir were hard-pressed to keep their balance and speed. The stag led them, following at the edge of a cliff which dropped many feet to meet the gushing waters below. If they were their normal selves, both would have immediately ceased and tried another day. However, the animal had them both entranced, and even as they wavered he would stare back at them, his taunting eyes grabbing them again. And so Aragorn and Faramir were both determined to catch this beast, even if it meant the death of them.
Unfortunately, their luck ended there. As they ran along the steep banks, Faramir suddenly slipped. In his haste to keep himself steady, he grabbed onto Aragorn and brought the king down with him. Stumbling, they both tumbled over the edge of the tall banks and fell into the rushing rapids below.
The stag slowed down, stopped, and glanced below at the river. Satisfied that the hunters would bother him no longer, he left the banks and fled into the forest to find shelter from the storm, not once looking back.
I would like to dedicate this chapter to the talking thrush, Roac, Beorn's animals, the great eagles, Mirkwood spiders, crebain, and other intelligent animals who made this chapter possible. Without your existence, I'd have to label this 'AU'. Now it's merely a slight stretch of canon ;)
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