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Danger in Ithilien
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain
With grateful thanks to Raksha, Deandra and Ellynn. Most of this chapter was written by Raksha.
A/n This story was written several years ago and I have only just decided to edit and post it. It is a multi- chaptered story in much the same style as "Shadow and Thought".
Dreams that do come true can be as unsettling as those that don't.- Brett Butler, 'Knee Deep in Paradise'
It was a worried King and a tense, weary group of searchers who returned to Éowyn that night. They had combed the hills, the fields and many riding trails of the forest, but had found no trace of the missing prince.
"He is out there, Éowyn," Aragorn assured the lady over a bowl of soup he could hardly bear to touch. "He is still alive; but we have not yet found his trail yet. Fox-tracks, deer-tracks, and signs of other forest creatures we saw in abundance, but none of Iavas, nor of Faramir. The forest is vast and we have, as yet, only covered a small part of it."
Éowyn, who had personally welcomed and encouraged all the returned searchers and overseen their refreshment, nodded briskly at her King and friend. "You will find him, Aragorn; I am sure of it. But you must eat and drink now, to keep up your strength."
Only Aragorn saw the anguish in her eyes.
Legolas arrived soon afterwards, bringing twenty Elves skilled in forestry and tracking. They had searched the woods north of Emyn Arnen in vain, but their presence heartened the other searchers.
"We saw nothing new," Legolas added; "Save for a young buck of a silver-white colour, that crossed our path more than once. Such deer are rare; a sign of hope and luck, so we never slay them. I pray that the silver deer will bring us good fortune in finding Faramir."
Éowyn found sleep long in coming. Deer or no deer, she feared some terrible fate had taken her beloved husband. She forced herself not to weep; for Elestelle and Elbeth had come to sleep beside her, one child on either side, seeking solace for their own fears. Elboron was the only one in perhaps all of Emyn Arnen to sleep soundly, curled up in his cradle, beside the bed. The footfalls of guards patrolling the hallways outside her family's chambers both soothed and unsettled Éowyn.
Suddenly, Elestelle cried out softly in her sleep: "Ada, Ada!" She twisted, hurling her fists against the pillow and then against Éowyn, and suddenly awakened.
"Hush, hush, now," Éowyn said as gently as her raw nerves would allow. She gathered her daughter in her arms. The little girl began to cry.
"I saw Ada and he was hurt," sobbed Elestelle.
"You were dreaming, dear one," Éowyn soothed.
"I saw Ada, I did!" Elestelle insisted. "He was hanging, like Maedhros in Ada's big book, only by both hands. He called for help, but no one could hear him."
Faramir had recently read the story of Maedhros' rescue from Thangodorim to Elbeth and Elestelle after they had seen a picture in his book and asked about it. Strange, at the time that Faramir had read the girls the story, Elestelle had not been frightened at all, clapping her hands at the arrival of Fingon and the great eagle. Faramir had deliberately omitted any facts from the story that might upset his little daughter, especially the unpleasant fact of Fingon's having to cut off his kinsman's hand to free him. He liked to answer any questions the children put to him in a manner appropriate for their ages. Elbeth was old enough to hear the full story, but was not as interested in it as her cousin was.
"If Uncle Faramir is hanging off some cliff side, then an Eagle will come and save him," Elbeth sleepily the younger girl.
"It was just a bad dream," Éowyn said, stroking Elestelle's hair. "Go back to sleep now." Both children huddled against her. She felt their young bodies relax, and, eventually revert to the steady, quiet rhythm of slumber. Éowyn lay still the rest of the night, unable to find peace or rest.
Alone in the well-appointed guest chamber, Aragorn stretched his long legs out on the comfortable bed and seemed to wander far while sleeping beneath the coverlets. He found himself roaming the new road that led out from Faramir's holding, down towards the woods, then taking to the air like some great bird. He flew over the trees and wove between them. Images and scents came up to meet his senses - the cool green fragrance of the autumn forest, a pale deer dipping his head into a stand of moonflowers and then raising it to look mournfully at Aragorn, the screaming neigh of a frightened horse, a horse he knew! Beware! Beware! And Faramir, somewhere near, calling for help.
Aragorn awoke, his brow streaked with sweat, his heart pounding. He sat up, only to see the dawn breaking outside the window. The answer is out there, he thought; what am I missing? By all the searchers' accounts and his own observations, Faramir had not ridden through or by the fields nor had travelled towards the river. Legolas had told of seeing the white deer Northwest of Emyn Arnen, below Osgiliath, some fifteen miles away. And as he knew well, deer had a fondness for the leaves of fair white blossoms that were called moonflowers, or sometimes Isildur's Tears, that bloomed in the thickets of Ithilien.
Suddenly Aragorn remembered Faramir's mentioning, during one of their conversations in Minas Tirith only last week, the news that the white deer had been sighted in the wood just north of Emyn Arnen. They had spoken of it as a good omen; since the deer had not been seen in abundance since Ithilien had been abandoned after the Shadow's rising. Aragorn himself had seen one, fleeing towards the White Mountains, when he had patrolled with Faramir's father in western Ithilien so many years ago. Faramir had been eager to see the deer for himself.
What if Faramir had followed the same deer that Legolas had come upon last night? The white deer were very rare, and only a few of the beasts had been reported.
Aragorn leapt to his feet, and then sought hastily for his boots and the rest of his clothing. If they rode fresh horses, they could reach the place where Legolas had seen the deer in an hour or two; and then they could follow the tracks it had made to get there. If the deer had come from the south, there was at least a chance of finding Faramir's trail. Aragorn was certain that his friend would have followed the deer.
It took longer than he would have liked to ready a new search party then get started on their way with the fresh horses Éowyn provided. They would have to circle, take a wider route than Aragorn would have liked, to reach the hillock where Legolas had seen the deer, so as to avoid the risk of erasing the very tracks they sought.
Just as Aragorn and the searchers were about to leave, Éowyn called out, "My lord, wait!"
Aragorn turned back to her.
"You may think me foolish to mention this, but Elestelle had a strange dream last night that her father was hanging, like Maedhros in the story, only by both hands. She said he called for help, but no one could hear him. It is probably nothing, I scolded Faramir last week for telling her such a tale so young and yet-"
"The blood of Númenor runs true in Elestelle as it does in Faramir," Aragorn said thoughtfully. "This dream might have some portent. You did well to tell me. Farewell, I hope to return soon with news."
And then Aragorn rode out from Emyn Arnen, leaving Éowyn standing outside the house with the children. He had mounted one of Éowyn's best horses, Silma, a lively chestnut mare who was strong and well-schooled and cantered along the main road as lightly as a bird skimming the treetops. Roheryn needed to rest after the hard riding of the previous day. They descended the hills and cantered into the great forest as the morning sun burned away the mist. This time they rode straight north, instead of west and south in the direction of Faramir's usual morning rides. After several miles, Legolas brought them to the hillock, near the outfall of the Morgulduin into the Anduin, where he had sighted the white stag.
"The stag turned to the west, to drink from the Anduin", the Elf explained, dismounting to find the tracks. "We saw him come up from the deeper wood. Here, Aragorn," he called, beckoning the King. Legolas' fair face relaxed and he smiled for the first time that day. "I believe you are right, mellon-nîn; the deer came from the south."
Aragorn dismounted and surveyed the tracks. They were cloven, pointed at one end, possessing a familiar inverse-heart shape, a few inches in length, and unencumbered by tracks of other deer or smaller creatures. A male yearling deer had walked there within the past two days.
The next two hours passed far too slowly for Aragorn's liking. They could not ride fast; for fear of the horses' hooves obscuring the tracks that were their only hope of finding Faramir's trail. They had to slow the horses to a trot or even a walking pace, as Aragorn and Legolas kept their mounts parallel to the deer's tracks, often dismounting to make sure they followed the deer's frequent twists and turns. Fortunately, the deer had kept to fairly even terrain, favouring glades where the moonflowers grew amidst good grass and shrubs dispersed among the trees.
Aragorn prayed that their hope was not in vain.
Suddenly, the track changed. The deer had run for about a mile, swerving through heavy cover, as if affrighted. And lo!, behind it, for a short way, lay the tracks of a much larger animal, one that Aragorn knew well from head to hoof. It was Iavas! Aragorn dismounted again and examined the tracks in detail. Faramir's mare's tracks converged only briefly upon those of the deer, as if she had followed the yearling for only a short way, then had turned east. What prevented Aragorn from instantly ordering the party to follow Iavas was the strange set of her hooves. She was not riding easily; her tracks were confused rather than even, and set unusually deep into the earth. She seemed to have been at odds with her rider, stopping short and forcing more weight onto the front feet. Could they have been attacked by Orcs or wild creatures, which would have also frightened the deer? But, what was this?
One, then two sets of tracks made not by horse or deer, but men! They had come up behind the horse, at some distance, running. And neither belonged to Faramir; the footfalls were made by lighter shod men with shorter legs than his friend. Aragorn ran on, stepping lightly around the tracks left by deer, mare, and men. If he found no further trace of Faramir soon, he would turn back to see if and when the men re-joined the horse and then follow Iavas' eastward tracks.
"There is some evil afoot," Legolas, coming up behind him. "Hold a moment."
"What is it?"
"The horses are uneasy. And the wind is high from the south. Aragorn, there are crows circling above the clearing ahead."
Aragorn shouted for the horses. He mounted the chestnut mare and took a moment to soothe her, then urged her into a canter. His heart in his mouth, he rode toward the small clearing that Legolas had seen. Five crows screamed and took to the air with the others. Rounding the final bend, Aragorn slowed Silma and reined her to a halt. For a moment, he gazed aghast at a large ash tree. For there, suspended from a branch, was Faramir.
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