Rated PG13 (for mild horror)
The familiar characters belong to Tolkien and his heirs. I make no money from this story.
Aragorn and Faramir are lost in the fog.
With grateful thanks to Deandra.
The fog came down suddenly. One moment, Aragorn and Faramir were riding between the trees in search of game for the royal party, the next they were enveloped in a swirling white blanket of mist.
The path they had been following disappeared while the orange – and gold – clad trees were no more than sinister, looming shapes.
"We should turn back and re-join the others," said Faramir. His voice sounded muffled by the fog. "It is impossible to see the trail."
Aragorn sighed. "I should never have promised Arwen that we would dine well tonight on the spoils of our hunt."
"It was her suggestion that we track down our supper since we won't reach Calembel until sometime tomorrow or the next day," said Faramir.
"Roheryn was straining at the bit," said Aragorn. "As indeed was I. It is hard to bear the slower pace that the women and children need for so long a journey."
"At least we are far from hungry," said Faramir. "Not after almost a month of Éomer's hospitality, followed by that of the Rohirrim at Harrowdale, not to mention the good townsfolk of Lamedon."
Aragorn chuckled. "True, but our people in the remote towns need to see us sometimes, so it was necessary for us to come this way. I was able to listen to them and see what their needs were."
"Remember those village maidens where we stopped to water the horses?" Faramir said with a chuckle. "They would have discussed the current fashions in Gondor all day with our ladies if they could. Éowyn is not even very interested in such matters." Suddenly, his horse neighed uneasily. "What is it, Fain? I like this fog no better than you do. Never have I known it so dense."
"Nor have I," said Aragorn. "Very well, we will go back and-" He stopped suddenly and peered into the mist. "Ho there, are you lost?"
There was only silence in response to his call. Not a leaf stirred and no birds sang.
"What was that?" asked Faramir.
"I thought I saw someone, a woman amongst the trees."
Faramir chuckled. "You must be missing your lady. This fog deceives the eyes. There is no-one there."
"I am certain I saw someone. The road must be in the direction she went."
They turned their horses around and rode onwards in silence broken only by the muffled hoof beats of their horses. The fog closed in around them ever more thickly. The two men pulled their cloaks more closely around themselves. They started to sing to keep up their spirits and not lose one another in the fog.
"I think we have missed the road. It feels as if we are climbing. That would suggest we are travelling north," Aragorn observed.
"I cannot even see Fain's head," said Faramir. "Never have I known fog like this before."
"Neither have I," said Aragorn. "I know that the valleys are often shrouded in mist, but never as densely as this!"
"It makes me uneasy, though I know not why," said Faramir.
Aragorn reined in Roheryn and vainly tried to view the surrounding landscape. "I think we are lost," he said. He laughed bitterly. "A fine pair of Rangers we are!"
"At least none of our men can see us wandering as if we were blindfold," said Faramir. "I think you are correct, though – we seem to be climbing, not going down into the valley as we should."
"It is difficult to find south when we cannot see any markers. Not only are the heavens hidden from us, but even what we might see on the ground," Aragorn said. "Since we are climbing, perhaps we should continue upward. Maybe we will get above the fog and be able to determine where we are."
They rode on farther. Roheryn suddenly neighed wildly and reared up. Aragorn struggled to keep his seat and cried out.
"Are you hurt?" called Faramir.
"I am well," said Aragorn. "Roheryn almost collided with something. I need to see what it is." He spoke soothing words to the stallion and dismounted. A great black object loomed out of the mist in front of him. "I know where we are now," the King exclaimed. "This is the Stone of Erech!"
"Valar! We have wandered leagues from our path!" said Faramir. "I had not thought we were that far off."
Aragorn stood thinking for a moment. "We have little hope of finding our way back to our wives and children tonight. It is growing dark."
"Our ladies will be worried," said Faramir.
"I am certain they will realise we missed our way in the fog," said Aragorn. "They have plenty of good men to guard them and we will re-join them on the morrow. I suggest that we make camp here beside the stone for the night. At least we know the way back to the main road from here."
"It seems we have no other choice," said Faramir. He dismounted from his horse. "I like this place not at all, though."
"There is naught now to fear here," said Aragorn. "I told the spirits of the Oathbreakers to be at rest and trouble the valleys no more. I agree it is an eerie place, though. I can feel it too."
"It puzzles me why Isildur should have brought this great stone with him from Númenor," said Faramir. "Then why erect it in this desolate place after he brought it?"
"None of the scrolls of lore at Rivendell threw any light on the matter," said Aragorn as he lifted his pack from Roheryn. "Master Elrond believed the stone to be a meteorite. Maybe it has some special significance to Isildur if it indeed fell from the sky. Maybe he saw it as a portent, but, alas, we shall never know. The Stone of Erech will remain a mystery."
"As will this fog," said Faramir as they ate a meagre supper from their packs. "It should have lessened now we are on the summit of the hill. We are not high enough to be lost in the clouds!"
"I know not," said Aragorn, taking a swig from his water bottle. "Let us hope the morning sun will disperse the mist." He sat down with his back against the stone."
"Ah the sun, how I yearn to see her again," said Faramir. "This mist has cold, damp tendrils that have reached my skin." He coughed.
"Huddle close," said Aragorn. "We should be warm enough. If we sleep now, hopefully the mist will lift at sunrise."
Despite the uncomfortable conditions, the two men quickly fell asleep, exhausted after their hours of fruitless wandering.
Aragorn awoke with a start. To his surprise, the moon was shining while the fog had cleared around the summit of the hill, but was still dense elsewhere. He looked around him and became aware of a woman. She was dressed in filmy grey raiment, which shimmered in the moonlight. She glared at the King with cold, dark eyes. The horses, who were tethered nearby, neighed in terror.
"Who are, mistress?" asked Aragorn." Why are you in this desolate spot?"
The woman's eyes glittered dangerously. "Do you not know, Heir of Isildur?"
Aragorn shook his head. "I have not laid eyes upon you until this day, mistress."
"You do not remember me though, I followed my lord when he fulfilled his oath that he swore to your ancestor?"
"You are a woman. The Oathbreakers were the Men of the Mountains. You cannot be one of their shades as I released them to find eternal peace."
The woman laughed bitterly. "You gave me no rest, Heir of Isildur, instead, you condemned me to wander alone for all time when you sent my husband beyond the circles of the world."
Aragorn regarded her in bewilderment. "I never condemned you, mistress, neither did Isildur when he cursed your husband."
"Fools! You know nothing of the sacred vow that is forged with powerful magic between a chieftain and his lady. Beneath the full moon's light we swore it, our hands tied with tendrils of ivy, our palms rubbed with the juice of the Rowan berry. Together we spake the holy vow, Together we live, together we die, nothing shall part us, once together we lie. Once thus united, in hand and in heart, not even death shall tear us apart. I was no Oathbreaker, but you have made me one by parting me from my lord!" She began to weep bitterly.
Aragorn instinctively put out a hand to comfort her, but his warm flesh met with naught but cold, damp mist. He shuddered.
"Well you might tremble, Heir of Isildur, for now I curse you to wander forever. As you parted me from my husband, so do I part you from your wife. You will wander until the day you die, lost in this mist that my magic has formed!"
Aragorn gestured towards the sleeping form of Faramir. "What of my friend? At least let him go free. He has done you no wrong."
The woman laughed again. It was not a pleasant sound. "Then you are more fortunate than I, as you will not bear your torment alone. I leave you now to your fate." She started to shimmer and fade from view.
"Wait, my lady!" Aragorn cried. "At least let me know your name."
The woman hesitated then shimmered again and appeared as she was before. "I am Kajuína, daughter of Kajuínak, high priestess of the sacred mysteries, bearer of the holy chalice and Queen of the Mountains."
Aragorn inclined his head slightly. "I am called Estel, my lady, and also Envinyatar. Maybe I can help you."
"None can renew my hope, Heir of Isildur, neither can you now renew your own. You will wander in the mist until death claims you and the crows pick your bones clean. Your wife will weep at her window as she waits vainly for your return. She will remember you as an oathbreaker who abandoned her."
Something inside Aragorn snapped. He reached for his sword.
Kajuína laughed wildly. "Weapons are useless against me, Heir of Isildur. I have been dead for years without counting, dead, but without rest! Now share my fate!"
Aragorn lifted Andúril high in his right hand, his left, he placed on the Elessar stone, which he wore on his breast. He cried out in a loud voice. "Be at rest, Kajuína, daughter of Kajuínak. Receive the Gift that Eru Ilúvatar gave to all his younger children. I, Aragorn son of Arathorn,, bearer of the Star of the North, wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing, the Elfstone, Elessar , the Heir of Isildur of the line of Elendil, by the Grace of the Valar and the One, King of the Reunited Kingdom, bid you be gone, and never trouble the realm of the living again! Depart and be at rest!"
Kajuína raised her hands as if to defend herself as her form began to shimmer and fade. Then Aragorn saw another form emerge from the mist, come towards her, and take her hand. Before she vanished into nothingness, he saw that she was smiling.
The mist swirled around him and everything went black.
"Aragorn, wake up!"
The King opened his eyes and met Faramir's gaze. The Steward was bending over him, looking worried.
"Has she gone?" Aragorn asked.
"Has who gone? There is naught here save our horses and ourselves."
Aragorn accepted Faramir's hand and sat up, his back leaning against the Stone of Erech. He looked around him. No trace of the fog remained. It was a beautiful sunny morning and from his vantage point on top of the hill, he could see the valleys below filled with trees clad in their autumn finery. Birds sang to greet the perfect morning.
"Are you well?" asked Faramir. "You are shaking!" he placed a comforting arm around the King and took one of Aragorn's cold hands in one of his warm ones."
Aragorn took several deep breaths, drinking in the peaceful scene. "I am well now," he said. "The mist has vanished. I shall see my lady and my son again."
Faramir looked increasingly perplexed. "I awoke a short time ago and found you in what seemed like a deep swoon."
"I battled throughout the night with the spirit of the wife of the chieftain of the Oathbreakers. She cursed us to wander forever in the mist."
Faramir shook his head. "I woke once during the night when I heard the horses neighing. You were asleep beside me and no one else was there." His eyes scanned the surroundings. "Why is Andúril lying there unsheathed? The dew will rust the blade."
Aragorn scrambled to his feet and picked up his sword. He wiped it on his cloak then returned it to its sheath. "I drew my sword to command the shade to depart," he said. "You heard nothing? I cried out in a loud voice. Yet now in the morning sunlight it all seems like an ill dream, were it not for the sword lying on the grass."
"I saw and heard nothing save the horses whinnying," said Faramir. "Maybe you had a dark dream and drew your sword, half sleeping and half waking? This place is enough to disturb any man's slumber. Even in broad daylight, I like it not at all. Who knows what unquiet forces linger here?"
"Let us be on our way then. We can breakfast later," said Aragorn. "I shall know no rest until I embrace my lady and my son again."
The two men made their way to where their horses were tethered. No shadows fell across the stone as they rode away, but the wind whispered through the trees.
A/n. Written for the Teitho "Stone" challenge where it was unplaced. Happy Halloween to my readers.