Format: short story
Genre: drama, angst, h/c, spirituality
Characters: OMCS, Aragorn, Halbarad
Creator's Notes: I have associated Aragorn with eagles in several stories. Gilavir is recurring OC.
Summary: Everything goes awry when Aragorn and his Rangers hunt for Orcs.
Aragorn gazed out across Lake Nenuial towards Annúminas as he filled his waterskin. The lake was beautiful, but the sight of the ruined city always saddened his heart. The splendour of his forefathers was now in ruins and he alone could restore it. At present, there was little likelihood of that. He had won great renown in the South and the old Steward had favoured him highly. His son, though, was a different matter and Aragorn had deemed it prudent to return North before his presence stirred kin strife. His dreams of the Silver Crown and the Sceptre of Annúminas seemed further away than ever now.
He would not abandon hope, though, as he knew true hope lies beyond the coast with the Higher Powers. He directed a silent prayer towards Valinor.
“Aragorn!” Halbarad's voice jolted him from his musings. He turned away from watching the breeze stirring the water and the waves gently lapping the shore. Twilight was when the lake was at its most fair, but he was not here to contemplate the scenery until sunset.
“We've found no traces of Orc activity in the area we searched,” said Halbarad. “Maybe we should venture deeper into the woods away from the lake?”
Two young Rangers came running towards them. “We've found Orc traces!” cried Barahir, Halbarad's son.
“Over here in the woods!” cried Gilavir, the youngest of the group.
Aragorn and Halbarad followed the two young men into the woods where they were examining some trampled branches. Aragorn knelt down to examine the tracks. “No Orcs have been here,” he pronounced. “It looks as if a deer was caught in the thicket and trampled the branches to free itself. We keep on searching.”
The two young men looked crestfallen but said nothing. They searched the trail for some time but found nothing.
“We should return to camp,” said Aragorn at last. “The others will be waiting for us. Maybe the reports of Orc sightings here were mistaken?”
They made their way back whence they had come until they came to a fork in the path. Aragorn hesitated. He was unfamiliar with these woods.They had changed a lot in the years since he was last here. Both paths looked identical with birch trees growing alongside them both.
“It is the left fork,” Gilavir said confidently. “I recall the shape of this tree.”
“It is the right fork,” said Aragorn. “I noted the trees grew more thickly there.”
“But, sir,” Gilavir protested. “When Barahir and I were here before, we both noticed the branches on the left formed a heart shape.”
“It made me think of my sweetheart,” said Barahir and blushed.
Aragorn regarded them thoughtfully for a moment then studied the branches. “We go left,” he said at last.
The Rangers followed him but soon found they were going deeper into the forest. “We took a wrong turning back there,” said Aragorn glaring at the two lads. “I should never have listened to you two. The forest is full of branches that form heart shapes.”
“Sorry, sir,” the boys muttered.
Aragorn let the way back through the woods. The wind had dropped but it was getting colder. He pulled his cloak more closely around himself. “Move swiftly,” he said. “It is becoming misty.”
They quickened their pace, but had hardly travelled half a league when Gilavir stumbled on a tree root. He collided with Barahir who was next to him and the two young men went sprawling, crying out as they fell.
Aragorn cursed under his breath at commotion as he went to the aid of the two young Rangers. If there were evil creatures abroad, the cries would have alerted them to their presence. Barahir was already on his feet, blood trickling from an injury on his hand. Gilavir was still on the ground. Aragorn offered him a hand to get to his feet. The young man took it, but fell back down again, nearly taking the Chieftain with him.
“I can't walk! My ankle hurts!” Gilavir moaned.
Aragorn groaned inwardly. How much more could go amiss this day? “We will have to stop here while I tend your hurts,” he said.
“Shall I boil water so you can prepare some herbs?” asked Halbarad. He looked anxiously at his son.
“The wound is but slight.” said Aragorn. He was already examining Barahir's injury. It was only a deep graze caused by his hand rubbing against a tree as he fell. The Chieftain took a little water from his water skin and bathed the wound before applying a salve. “Your son only has a scratch,” he told Halbarad.
Gilavir was struggling to take off his boot, grimacing with pain as he did so. Aragorn tried to help him, but the foot was so swollen, the boot refused to budge. Eventually, Aragorn and Halbarad together managed to remove it, followed by Gilavir's stocking. The young Ranger groaned as they tended him. “It is a bad sprain,” Aragorn pronounced as he bound the injured ankle to support it. “It will heal but could take months to do so. You will have to lean on us while we help you back to camp. Or maybe we should stay here for tonight? The mist is growing thicker.”
“Camp should only a league or so away,” said Halbarad. “We should get out of these woods before nightfall. Foul creatures are abroad after dark.”
Aragorn considered his words carefully. They were in a good place to camp and Gilavir could rest his ankle. On the other hand, Halbarad made a good point. The other Rangers would be expecting them too and Gilavir could more easily rest there and he could send him back to his home village to recover on the morrow.
They started off again this time with Gilavir supported between Aragorn and Halbarad. The path twisted and turned and the mist thickened. Eventually, Aragorn was forced to call a halt. “I fear we will not reach camp tonight,” he said. “I can scarce see the path before me.”
The mist was so thick they could not see where they were. At least Orcs would be unable to see either. It was cold and damp, but they dared not split up to gather firewood in case they became separated or wandered off the path. Aragorn had no desire for any more accidents to befall his group. “Huddle close to keep warm,” he said. “I will take the first watch.
The four Rangers slept only fitfully and passed a cold, dam, miserable night in the forest. They lacked even their usual frugal comforts of their bedrolls and a hot meal cooked over a fire. Gilavir's foot pained him and Barahir's hand smarted uncomfortably.
At last day broke and with it, the sun rose dispersing the mist. Aragorn looked around him. They were in a completely unmapped territory in this remote part of the woods with an injured Ranger to care for. He laughed bitterly. Experienced Rangers getting lost, the shame of it! He would have to study the terrain carefully and follow the direction of the sun. It would take time to find the right path through these maze like woods, especially as several paths went in the same direction. If only Lady Varda's stars had not been veiled from sight the night before! He sent a silent prayer to the Valar for aid.
Just then, he espied a great eagle hovering above the treetops. The bird was acting strangely. Instead of flying away it kept coming towards them and hovering overhead. Suddenly, he understood. The eagle was an animal guide sent to help them. “We should follow the eagle,” he told the others.
“The eagle?” Gilavir looked baffled while Barahir looked at him as if he had lost his wits.
“Eagles like fish, it could lead us to the lake,” said Halbarad. He exchanged a look with his kinsman. He had known Aragorn long enough to trust his judgement and not be too surprised if unexplained events happened around him. If the Chieftain did indeed have a high destiny, a little aid from the Higher Powers would certainly be needed for such a wonder to come to pass.
They set off in pursuit of the eagle, following where it led. Once, they took a wrong turning and the bird screeched until they were on the right path again. Even supporting Gilavir, they reached the lake before the sun was very high in the sky. “The Valar be praised!” said Aragorn. “We can find our way easily from here.”
They had almost reached their destination by noon and could see the camp in the distance.
Gilavir who had been very silent that morning suddenly spoke. “I am so sorry, sir,” he said. “It is all my fault this has happened. I should have been more observant and taken more care. I didn't want to let you down sir, but I have done.”
“As should I,” said Barahir. “I was thinking of my sweetheart instead of concentrating.”
“And I advised you ill,” said Halbarad.
Pardon's the word to all,” said Aragorn. “You two lads are to train further before you come on a mission again. Gilavir, you are to study while your ankle heals. Observe everything around you, the shape of every tree. As for you, Halbarad, the mist caught us all by surprise.”
“Thank you for leading us safely home, sir,” said Gilavir.
“I think we had a little help,” said Aragorn looking skywards.
They reached the camp where the other Rangers greeted them joyfully. Soon they were tucking into a hearty meal of freshly caught rabbit stew and looking forward to a restful afternoon after Gilavir had been helped on to his horse and departed. An experienced Ranger who was due leave would see him safely home.
“Farewell, Gilavir,” said Aragorn. “I wish you a safe journey. See that the village healer binds your ankle until it mends. You should be able to walk in two weeks or so, but do not strain it. Remember too what I told you about observing things.”
“I will, sir, I promise you will be proud of me one day, sir.”
Aragorn clasped his hand. “I am certain I shall be. Now be on your way ere sundown.”
The horse cantered away. Gilavir turned to look back and waved. It seemed that the Chieftain was wreathed in light with a flame upon his brow, but surely it was simply the angle of the sun? Gilavir blinked but he could still see the light around him until the horse had cantered out of sight.