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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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16
Many Meetings

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters; I am only borrowing them for fun for a little while. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many thanks to my Beta Readers – J and Marsha.

Author Note: Words in italics are elvish and are translated at the end of the chapter.


~~~

They ran through the night. Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Thomas kept a steady pace as they worked their way through the rocks and ridges of the Emyn Muil chasing after their quarry. Near dawn they took a short break to catch their breath before descending the trail that led down to the plains of Rohan. An endless sea of grass spread before them in the early morning light.

The trail of the Uruk-hai was plainly visible. The orcs had made no attempt to hide their passage. Scraps of food, broken pieces of leather, even discarded weapons were littering the path the four hunters followed. Plainly, the orcs were relying on speed to bring them to safety.

Thomas was exhausted. The short rest at dawn had helped, but that was many hours ago now. Aragorn had changed the bandage on his arm, reapplying the athelas herb which was so refreshing. He ran doggedly in front of Gimli, following Aragorn and Legolas who never seemed to tire. He wondered how Aragorn was able to keep up with Legolas, forgetting for the moment that he, too, was keeping up with the elf. Thomas gritted his teeth and ran on.

Late in the afternoon, they discovered Pippin’s footprints and his Lothlórien pin and they continued running with renewed energy and a sense of hope. Thomas focused his eyes on Aragorn’s back and set his mind to thinking about other things besides running… or Boromir. He tried thinking about Merry and Pippin, but that just made him worry too much, so mostly he thought about Rebecca. He stumbled.

“Are you all right, lad?” Gimli called.

Aragorn slowed and looked back. Thomas waved him on and glanced over his shoulder at Gimli.

“I’m fine,” he said shortly, “I just wasn’t paying attention.”

“You need to,” Gimli grunted, “We can’t have you hurt.”

Thomas nodded.

They ran on.

--

Loud knocking pulled Rebecca from sleep in the early pre-dawn hours. Stumbling to the door she opened it, blinking sleepily to find Haldir standing there with a grave expression on his face.

“You must hurry, Lady Rebecca, Gandalf’s scouts have returned and he is ready to depart.”

Rebecca stared at him for a moment until the words sank in. Turning abruptly she hurried into her bedroom, quickly slipping into the traveling clothes she had selected days earlier. She smiled slightly as she ran the intricate comb Galadriel had given her through her hair before stuffing it into a pocket of her tunic. At least this time my hair will be neat she thought with amusement.

Back in the sitting room, Rebecca belted on her sword, threw on her new elven cloak and slung her bow and quiver on her back. She grabbed the pack that contained all her healing supplies, a change of clothing, and food for the journey. Taking one last look around the rooms that had been her home for so long she turned to Haldir with an eager smile, “I’m ready.”

Nodding, he led the way down the stairs. Halfway down Rebecca stopped, “Haldir, wait, I forgot to tell Brethil good-bye.” She was turning around when she felt his hand on her arm.

“There is no time. Gandalf was most insistent.” He frowned slightly when Rebecca opened her mouth to protest before she nodded and they continued down the stairs.

“I will tell her for you,” Haldir offered quietly.

Hannon le. Please tell her I’ll miss her and that I hope to see her again.” Rebecca glanced up at Haldir, smiling uncertainly, suddenly nervous. “Haldir, I-I’m not sure how to say this.” He glanced at her with a faint smile as they hurried across the lawn. “You’ve taught me so much and I thank you for that.” Rebecca took a deep breath. “But, I also think of you as a friend and I thank you for that friendship.” She smiled sadly, “I’ll miss you and I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again.”

Haldir gently took her hand and pulled her to a stop. “I am honored to be your friend, Lady Rebecca. It has given me joy to train an ‘elfling’ like you,” his eyes sparkled merrily before turning serious once again. “I do not know if we will meet again. I hope that we will, it would give me great pleasure,” he bowed slightly before they rushed on.

Passing through the gates of the city they found Gandalf, clad in a grey cloak, waiting by a large silver-white horse. He looked Rebecca up and down, “Are you ready?” he inquired with a raised eyebrow.

Looking at the tall horse a little nervously, Rebecca nodded. “Haldir, will you please tell Lord Thalion, Lord Celeborn, and Lady Galadriel good-bye for me, too?”

Haldir nodded as Rebecca heard Galadriel’s voice in her head, saying, ‘May the Valar guide and protect you on your journey, child’, she shook her slightly and sighed.

Navaer, Lady Rebecca.”

Navaer, Lord Haldir, March Warden of Lothlórien,” Rebecca bowed with a grin before Gandalf pulled her onto Shadowfax.

Navaer!” Gandalf called as they galloped off.

“Where are we going?” Rebecca asked as they left the woods some hours later, turning slightly to see Gandalf.

“Fangorn Forest,” he said grimly, not looking at her, focusing instead on the plains ahead.

Rebecca gripped his arm tightly knowing something was wrong by the tone of his voice. “What’s the matter, Gandalf?”

The wizard hesitated for several minutes and the only sound was the thunder of Shadowfax’s hoofs beating upon the ground. “The Fellowship has split up,” Gandalf sighed. “I know that two hobbits are captives of the Uruk-hai or orcs.” Rebecca gasped in shock. “My scouts saw one hobbit on the other side of the river heading towards Mordor, I assume that is Frodo.” Gandalf paused again, “There is a party of four, chasing the Uruk-hai,” he finished quietly.

Rebecca closed her eyes in pain, “Two are… dead then,” she whispered, a tear leaking from the corner of her eye.

“Have hope, young lady, perhaps my scouts missed seeing them,” Gandalf said gently as he patted her shoulder.

Rebecca nodded, though she wasn’t really listening. All she could think about was who was dead. Please not Thomas, she prayed, Or…or. She stopped herself, appalled at her thoughts; she couldn’t pray or hope that this or that friend was alive when that would mean another friend was dead. But…Thomas, she needed Thomas. Rebecca groaned inwardly. “Gandalf, who are we meeting at Fangorn? When will we get there?”

“We should arrive tomorrow afternoon. I hope to meet up with the four who are pursuing the Uruk-hai… and the hobbits, of course.”

Shifting uncomfortably on the horse, Rebecca glanced back at the wizard. “Will we stop once in awhile?” a note of pleading had entered her voice.

“Yes, of course. I will not even make you travel at night.”

Rebecca nodded before turning troubled eyes back to the horizon.

--

Rebecca groaned as she slipped off Shadowfax, almost falling as her feet hit the ground. Taking two brief rest stops during the day had not stopped her from becoming stiff and sore. Gandalf caught her arm, “Careful, young lady. Walk around to stretch your legs, it will help,” he said encouragingly.

Nodding at him with a grimace, Rebecca gingerly walked away, taking her bow, but not stringing it. She didn’t wander far, several minutes of stretching her legs gave her enough relief that she returned to camp.

“Feeling better?” Gandalf inquired, his eyes flicking from Rebecca’s to the bow she carried loosely in her left hand.

“Some,” she replied as she carefully sat down near him, pulling her pack close and began to rummage through it as she looked for food. “Gandalf, did you bring food?” she glanced up to find him gazing at her with a thoughtful expression. “What’s wrong?”

“Why are you carrying your bow? Did you sense something?” he asked quietly.

“No,” she shook her head, “I just thought I should carry it out here when it’s just us.” Rebecca shrugged. “You never know what might happen,” she finished sadly, thinking about the captured hobbits and the missing members of the Fellowship.

“You have been well trained,” he commented. “You are correct, anything can happen in these dark days.” He turned his piercing eyes to the southeast as if to see through the distance that separated them from the rest of the Fellowship. Gandalf sighed, “We must find them,” he murmured so softly that Rebecca almost missed it.

“We will, Gandalf,” she said reassuringly, reaching out hesitantly and patting him on the shoulder.

He turned back to Rebecca with a faint smile, “Yes, we will. Now, you need to eat and get some rest.”

“Aren’t you going to eat? I have enough for both of us.”

“I will eat later, I want to think for a bit,” he replied, pulling out his pipe.

“I can keep watch later, just wake me up.”

He nodded absently, already appearing deep in thought.
Rebecca watched him as she ate, wondering what he was thinking about or if he ‘talked’ with other wizards or elves in his head at times like this. Her thoughts drifted to her friends, whom she had pushed from her mind for most of the afternoon. As she wondered how they had gotten split up, and which hobbits were captured and why, Rebecca sighed deeply. The biggest question running through her mind was who was dead. She struggled to blink back tears, but a few fell anyway. Wiping them away she reached for her bedroll, struggling to keep her composure.

“Lady Rebecca.”

Startled, she looked up to find Gandalf’s kind blue eyes looking at her with compassion.

“There are no words of comfort I can give you, for I do not know the fate of the others. You must remain strong and not give in to despair.”

“I know you’re right, Gandalf, but it’s hard to do.” She paused briefly. “That reminds me of something Lord Celeborn told me when the Fellowship first left Lothlórien,” she said thoughtfully.

“He is one of the wisest elves on Middle-earth; you would do well to heed his words. Now, get some sleep.”

Wrapping herself in her bedroll, Rebecca soon drifted off, thoughts of Thomas filling her dreams.

--

Thomas could hear the labored breathing of Gimli behind him. He felt sorry for the dwarf with his short legs and wearing all that heavy armor and axes – not that Gimli ever complained. Thomas ran with his head down, focused on the ground in front of him. He glanced at the sun, judging that it was a couple of hours until the sun set. His arm hurt, but it was a deep, dull ache that was nothing compared to the pain of his legs… or his heart.

Aragorn dropped back to check on Thomas. “How do you fare?” he asked, looking him over with experienced eyes, noting the way he held his injured arm close to his body.

“I can make it,” Thomas answered shortly, glancing up at Aragorn briefly before focusing back on the ground in front of him.

Aragorn hesitated before replying, “Good.” He increased his pace slightly to catch back up with Legolas. He was worried. The orcs had at least a six hour head start and they had only seen a brief glimpse of them when Legolas had spotted them miles ahead earlier in the day. Aragorn sighed softly and ran on into the late afternoon sun.

Deep dusk arrived and Aragorn could no longer be sure of following the trail. In spite of their concerns for Merry and Pippin they were forced to stop for the night.

Thomas threw himself on the ground, hissing in pain when he hit his arm. He lay there panting heavily for a few minutes before he forced himself to sit up. He took a small sip of water, rinsing out his mouth before spitting it out. It splattered Aragorn’s boots as he came to check on him.

“Thank you, Thomas. I needed my boots cleaned,” he said wryly, crouching down next to him.

“You shouldn’t sneak up on me,” Thomas pointed out, taking a long drink of water.

“You should pay attention to your surroundings. I believe we have had this conversation before.” Aragorn sounded faintly amused.

“Yes, once or twice,” Thomas said. “Someday I may actually see you coming,” he laughed shortly.

“I hope so. I need to check your wound as best I can in the dark. Are you in much pain?” he asked in concern as he carefully removed the bandage.

“It hurts,” Thomas admitted quietly, flinching as Aragorn probed the wound gently.

“It does not feel warm, so there does not appear to be any sign of infection,” he commented, relief evident in his voice. “We cannot light a fire so I will not be able to make you anything for the pain.”

“A bottle of aspirin would really come in handy right now,” Thomas said ruefully.

“Aspirin?”

“It’s a little pill you swallow and it takes the pain away for a few hours. I think it has the herbs like you use all chopped up inside or something,” Thomas tried to explain it so that Aragorn would get the general idea. “Anyway, you don’t need a fire or anything, you just carry the pills with you and take them when you need them.”

“It would be a wonderful thing to have. Unfortunately, we do not and for now you will just have to live with your pain. Eat something and then get some rest, you have last watch.”

--

“Aragorn,” Legolas’s voice instantly woke the Ranger from a dead sleep. He sat up, quickly looking at the moon.

“Why did you not wake me earlier? It is only a couple of hours until dawn,” he whispered.

“You needed the rest, as do Thomas and Gimli,” Legolas replied mildly. “I do not. You may take the last watch instead.”

“Gimli will not be pleased,” Aragorn commented as he stood and stretched.

Legolas laughed lightly, “Probably not. I will let you wake him while I scout ahead.”

“You always leave when the truly dangerous things come along,” he complained.

“Elves sense these things, mellon nín, and are wise enough to move out of harms way.”

Aragorn laughed quietly, but did not reply as he slowly walked in the direction their path led, staring into the darkness ahead. “Will we rescue them, Legolas?” he asked, troubled as he thought of what Merry and Pippin were enduring.

“I know not. I fear they are far ahead now for they did not stop this night,” sorrow filled the elf’s voice.

“That is my fear as well. Still, we must have hope. We cannot give up while we have strength in our bodies.” Aragorn paused, “Will Gimli and Thomas be able to keep this pace?”

“They will,” Legolas said firmly. “They would do anything to save the hobbits, just as we would.”

“I thought as much,” Aragorn agreed, pulling out his pipe. He filled it, lit it, and started puffing on it all while staring up at the stars. Finally, he shook himself. “You should get some rest, mellon nín,” he said, turning to Legolas, but the elf had already slipped away.

--

Aragorn nudged Thomas awake with his foot, “We need to go, Thomas.”

Thomas looked up at him blearily, “You didn’t wake me for my watch,” he said accusingly. He could hear Gimli grumbling about it as well.

“Legolas decided we needed the rest,” Aragorn said, shrugging.

Slowly and carefully, Thomas eased himself to his feet. He stretched his sore legs and was pleased to discover that the muscles did not feel as bad as he had feared. Aragorn handed him some lembas as he checked his arm.

“How does it feel?”

“It itches mostly.”

“That means it is healing,” Aragorn said. “Are you in pain this morning?”

“Yes, but not much… at least not from that,” he said quietly.

Aragorn nodded, “I fear it will be another long day.”

“We have to get them back, Aragorn.” Thomas eyes turned almost black with anger. “They’re our friends, we can’t let them die, too.” He turned his gaze into the distance, “Too many of my friends and family have died,” he murmured.

Aragorn clasped his shoulder briefly, “We will find them if it is in our power to do so,” he said quietly as he walked away.

Within minutes the four of them were again running across the plains of Rohan.

The four hunters ran steadily all day catching no sight of the orcs. The trail they followed was over twelve hours old now, yet still they pressed on, each lost in his own thoughts.

They ran until darkness again prevented them from seeing the trail. Two whole days and a night they had been pursuing the orcs with only a distant glimpse of their quarry, but still they were not willing to quit. Not while they had breath in their bodies.

Another night passed uneventfully.

--

Rebecca awoke Gandalf just as the sky turned pink in the east. She had been surprised, but pleased when he had awoken her in the night to keep watch. The long quiet night had given her many hours to brood about her friends, though she had tried desperately not to sink into despair and to cling to hope.

Shadowfax ambled up with an inquiring whinny just as they finished breakfast. “Yes, friend, we are coming. We have many miles to travel this day.” Gandalf stood and stroked the horse gently. Rebecca gathered her things quickly as she moved to join him on the horse. Soon they were galloping south across the plains heading to Fangorn Forest.

Mid-afternoon found them approaching the northern edge of the forest. Gandalf spoke quietly to Shadowfax and the horse pulled up a few yards away from the trees. Dismounting, Rebecca looked around uneasily. She grabbed her bow, stringing it and had an arrow nocked within seconds and without thinking.

“What is this place, Gandalf?” she whispered.

“Fangorn is one of the oldest forests in Middle-earth. Ents live here, beings that look like trees, they walk, they speak and they take care of the trees. They have lived on Middle-earth longer than any other being, even longer than elves.”

“Trees that move and talk?” she muttered. “Is that all I feel? Something is not right, Gandalf.”

Gandalf shook his head, “I feel it, too. The trees are angry and upset. Still, our path lies within. Tread carefully and keep your bow at hand.”

Rebecca nodded grimly, following him into the gloomy forest. Her unease doubled as the sunlight dimmed to something like twilight as they entered beneath the boughs of the trees. She gazed up at the giant ancient trees torn between fear and awe. The trees were gnarled and twisted, covered with hanging moss. This forest contained none of the beauty of the woods of Lothlórien. The forest floor was covered with downed, decaying trees, broken tree limbs, and dried leaves.

Rebecca stayed close to Gandalf as they cautiously made their way through the forest. The dried leaves rustled loudly as they moved in the otherwise quiet forest. Not a bird or squirrel was heard or seen in the gloom.
Pulling on Gandalf’s sleeve, Rebecca whispered, “How do you know where to go? How far is it?” She looked around nervously, seeing the endless forest of trees.

“It is a two day walk at least. It was no longer safe for us on the open plain with a band of Uruk-hai approaching. They will not enter the forest. We will be safer here,” Gandalf said reassuringly.

Rebecca looked at him skeptically for a moment before shrugging. “I guess I’ll just have to trust you,” she said after a moment.

Gandalf smiled before walking on.

Keeping a close watch on their surroundings, the two of them walked until it was almost too dark to see. Gandalf would not allow a fire, even with the deadfall that littered the ground. He did use his staff so they had a small light for a short time, when it went out it was utterly dark.

This is worse than Moria, at least there we had walls, but here there is nothing to keep evil things away, Rebecca thought, shuddering and she inched over closer to Gandalf. He laid a comforting hand on her shoulder, “Sleep, young lady, I will guard you this night.”

Rebecca’s sleep was troubled… images of Moria, of orcs, and Gandalf falling from the bridge again and again filled her dreams and she started awake several times. Each time, Gandalf spoke soothingly to her and she slipped back into sleep.

The morning had barely lightened the forest again when Gandalf shook Rebecca awake. She groaned in irritation before rising. She brushed off her clothes, noting that elvish cloth seemed to keep a lot cleaner than her old clothes. Rebecca already needed a bath though, she grimaced as she quickly combed her hair. She had gotten spoiled in Lothlórien and had forgotten the realities of traveling in Middle-earth.

They walked steadily for several hours before the quiet, oppressive atmosphere got to Rebecca. “Gandalf,” she whispered, “is it all right if we talk or is it better to be quiet in here?”

Gandalf stopped, turning to her with a hint of amusement in his eyes as he leaned on his staff. “I think it is quite safe to speak as long as we remain alert.”

“I’m alert,” Rebecca held up her bow grimly.

“Did you have something in particular you wanted to talk about?” he inquired as they walked on.

“No… just anything to break the silence and to take my mind off of things.” She furrowed her brow in thought. “Maybe…maybe you could tell me some more about Middle-earth. The history of it. Or about you!” she exclaimed. “I don’t know much about your past or anything.”

Gandalf laughed, “Hmmm, yes, it would be good for you to know more of the history of Middle-earth. However, for every story I tell, you must tell me about your world.”

Rebecca nodded reluctantly. “That seems fair, only you have to promise you’ll believe me when I tell you something. Even if it seems impossible.”

Gandalf peered at her closely, “I take it the others did not always believe you,” he said quietly.

Scanning the forest, Rebecca did not look at him as she replied. “They did eventually come to realize that Thomas and I were telling the truth.” She smiled at Gandalf. “But it was hard at first to hear their laughter and see their disbelieving faces. I just want you to believe me right away.”

“I will believe you, but it does not mean I will not be surprised by what you tell me,” Gandalf said gently.

“I know, I know. It was just hard for awhile, I guess because everything was so new.” Rebecca shook her head, “I didn’t even know how to use a flint to light a candle!” she laughed.

“As I said earlier, you have changed much during your time here. Now, I will start with a story from the first age. A tale from the hidden city of Gondolin…”

The two spent the rest of the day walking and sharing about their respective worlds. Gandalf was amazed by the incredible things that Rebecca told him about life in her world. While Rebecca was horrified by the evil that a being named Morgoth had loosed on Middle-earth during the first age. The loss of the great elven cities and the number of elves he killed during those years filled her with sorrow. Now, over six thousand years later they were facing his greatest servant, Sauron.

As the forest darkened, they found shelter near a large rock by a swiftly flowing stream. Gandalf gave Rebecca his staff with the small glowing light to help her through the first watch. She sat staring into the darkness around her, tightly holding onto her bow, listening for any sounds. But the night was still. Mostly she thought about the stories that Gandalf had told her during the day, her mind occasionally straying to Thomas and the rest of the Fellowship before she forced herself to think of other things. Finally, she rose to wake Gandalf.

“Gandalf, wake up. I think it’s time for your watch,” Rebecca shook the wizard gently.

“You think?”

“Well, I can’t tell! I can’t see the stars here and I’ve tried counting slowly in my head, but I keep losing track,” Rebecca said in frustration. “I need a watch,” she mumbled.

“Peace, young lady, I believe it is indeed my time. What is a watch? Obviously you meant something different than staying awake at night,” Gandalf gave her a questioning look.

“It’s a … device for telling time. It’s usually small, you wear it on your wrist and it has numbers on it. It keeps track of time by hours and minutes. We all use them at home,” she smiled at Gandalf’s look of wonderment.

“It would be useful in a place like this, but I do not think it would be necessary anywhere else,” he said thoughtfully. “Still, I am sure it has its uses. Go to sleep now, the night is swiftly passing.”

Rebecca wrapped up in her bedroll, drifting quickly off to sleep, her dreams untroubled this night.

--

A third day had come and gone and it was early morning on the fourth when Legolas saw the riders. They were miles to the north, but were rapidly heading in their direction. With nowhere to hide in the miles of open grassland, the four of them simply pulled their elven cloaks about themselves and sat down, waiting for the riders to approach.

Thomas was glad for the break and he laid his head down wearily on his pulled up knees. His arm was still aching, but his legs were in so much pain that he was starting to wonder how much longer he could keep running.
“Do you know anything about these men, Aragorn?” Gimli asked.

“They are good people. Strong and stern… this harsh land breeds proud men. They will be suspicious in these dark days,” Aragorn answered thoughtfully.

Soon the riders came thundering past, not seeing the four beings sitting in the grass. They were tall, strong men clad in armor, carrying spears, their hands resting near the swords they bore. Long blonde hair flowed out beneath the helmets each man wore. They rode as one with their horse, each man completely in tune with his animal. Most of the company had passed when Aragorn finally rose and hailed them.

Thomas watched in awe as the men turned their horses as one and started circling them. He’d never seen such incredible horsemanship. To be able to turn without words and as a unit… and the horses were beautiful. He turned his attention back to Aragorn as the noose slowly tightened around them.

Aragorn stood calmly, waiting for the Rohirrim to make the next move. As one they suddenly stopped, one riding forward and dismounting before striding forward to face Aragorn. “Who are you and what brings you without leave into the Riddermark?” he challenged Aragorn boldly as he drew his sword.

“I am Strider, a Ranger from the north. We are pursuing orcs who have taken two of our friends captive.”

“The four of you are chasing a party of orcs? A man, an elf, a dwarf, and a boy?” he asked in disbelief.

Thomas bristled at the tone and dismissive look the man gave him, but Legolas laid a hand on his arm in warning.

The man looked them over keenly, “You are dressed strangely,” he remarked.

“We passed through the woods of Lothlórien. The favor of Lady Galadriel goes with us, she clothed us in elvish cloaks,” Aragorn replied.

“The old stories are true, then! There is an elvish sorceress in those woods,” he cried, bringing up his sword and pointing it at Aragorn’s chest.

“You speak ill of that which you do not know, horse-master,” Gimli growled. “Do not speak evil of the fair lady Galadriel.”

“And who might you be, dwarf?” the man sneered angrily.
Thomas sucked in his breath and watched wide-eyed as the tension mounted between Gimli and this man… Éomer, he thought his name was… he hadn’t quite heard it with all that was going on. He was shocked when Legolas pointed an arrow at Éomer, but Thomas drew his sword immediately and stared unflinchingly at the horseman, ignoring the spears and arrows pointed at him from all sides.

“Éomer, will you not hear us before you strike?” Aragorn asked as he pushed Legolas’s bow to the side.

“I will,” he said with obvious reluctance, “but your companions would be wise to remember that they are strangers in my land and in these dark days we are wary of all such people.” Éomer’s eyes never left Thomas as he spoke.

Aragorn glanced behind him to see that Thomas still had his sword drawn and was staring at Éomer. He looked back at Éomer, “This is Thomas son of Morgan.”

Thomas started slightly at the introduction and he glanced at Aragorn before realizing he still had his sword drawn while Legolas had returned his arrow to his quiver. He slid the blade into the sheath, but kept his hand on the hilt.

Éomer turned his attention back to Aragorn. “I know the names of those who travel with you, but give me your true name, it cannot be Strider.”

“First tell me if you are in league with Sauron.”

“I serve no one but my King, Théoden and he is in league with no one,” Éomer responded proudly. “We are yet a free people, though Saruman wages war on our western border and we must make haste to return to Edoras. Your name?” he prodded impatiently.

In response, Aragorn threw back his cloak and drew his sword, Andúril, “I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur. This is the blade that cut the ring from Sauron’s hand, it has been re-forged,” he said in a regal, commanding voice. Aragorn seemed suddenly to grow in stature and strength and to glow with an inner fire.

The riders shifted uneasily on their horses and low murmuring broke out amongst them. Éomer stared at Aragorn in wonder, while Thomas looked at him in amazement, before glancing at Gimli and Legolas to find the same slightly stunned looks on their faces.

Thomas watched with hidden amusement as Éomer’s attitude shifted subtly and became slightly less belligerent after Aragorn revealed his true identity. He sighed quietly in relief as the horseman finally sheathed his sword and sent his riders a short distance away. Thomas eyed the horses longingly as they moved off, wishing he could have one to ride. Aragorn’s urgent tone broke through his musings.

“Did you see a party of orcs on your way south?”

“We slaughtered them last night,” Éomer said with satisfaction. “But we lost fifteen good men and twelve horses.”

“Did you see two hobbits?” Gimli cried.

“A hobbit? What’s a hobbit?” Éomer looked at the dwarf in confusion.

“You would better know them as halflings,” Aragorn explained.

“But they’re only legends, tales for children!”

“They are quite real, I assure you,” Aragorn looked at Éomer closely. “They are the size of children,” holding out his hand to demonstrate.

“We killed none but orcs, all were destroyed,” Éomer shook his head. “We piled the bodies and burned them.”

Thomas stared at him in disbelief before turning his gaze to the ground as the conversation continued. Dead? Merry and Pippin dead? He rubbed his hand across his forehead angrily as he looked back up, clenching his jaw in frustration.

“Come to Edoras with me, Aragorn,” Éomer implored. “We could use your sword. The bow of Legolas and the axe of Gimli we could also use. I’m sure we could also find some use for the boy,” he said, dismissing Thomas with a glance.

“Oh, I think you would find Thomas an adequate swordsman, Éomer,” Aragorn said mildly with a faint smile. “He was trained by me and Boromir son of Denethor. He has killed his share of orcs.” Thomas threw Aragorn a grateful glance while wondering what was causing Éomer to treat him so rudely when he didn’t treat the others that way.

“You know Boromir? He’s a good man and a brave soldier!” Éomer exclaimed.

Thomas stared sorrowfully into the distance as Aragorn responded quietly. “He died four days ago at Amon Hen by these same orcs you slew.”

“Boromir, dead? That is evil news,” Éomer shook his head as he stared at the ground. Suddenly, his head snapped up and he fixed his sharp brown eyes on Aragorn. “You have run from Amon Hen in less than four days?” he asked incredulously. “That is over one hundred thirty miles!” He glanced at the other three, his eyes lingering on Thomas.

“Our need drove us,” Aragorn shrugged slightly, “and now we must continue our hunt.”

“They must be dead, I told you we killed them all,” Éomer said in surprise. “Come with us,” he urged again.

“You said that everything you burned were orcs,” Aragorn pointed out. “I will check the trail and see if they escaped or if some turned off at some point before you killed them. My heart still has hope,” his eyes burned brightly.

“Hope? There is no hope left in these lands,” Éomer said bitterly. “I would not speak ill of the king in front of my men and even now if goes hard with me to do so. The king listens now to evil counsel and doesn’t stand against Saruman as he should. I left Edoras without his leave to pursue and destroy these orcs.” Éomer ran his fingers through his long blonde hair and his brown eyes flashed angrily. “Our people are beset on all sides and he does nothing to protect them,” he spat out.

Aragorn looked at him in growing concern. If this was the state that King Théoden was in, things looked grim for Rohan, for Gondor, and indeed for all of Middle-earth. He glanced at his companions to find Legolas and Gimli regarding Éomer thoughtfully, while Thomas was studying the ground. Not that that surprised him after the way Éomer had treated him..

“Will you not come to Edoras?” Éomer asked again.

“I will come, if chance allows, after I have seen for myself that my friends are… dead.” Aragorn swallowed hard as images of Merry and Pippin flashed through his mind.

“It’s against the king’s law for strangers to cross our lands unless he gives them leave.” Éomer looked hard at Aragorn. “However, I’m going to trust you, Aragorn son of Arathorn and place my life in your hands. I will lend you horses. When you’ve finished your search, you must return them to Edoras, so that my uncle, Théoden King, can see that I was not deceived by you.”

“Thank you for your trust, Éomer. I will come to Edoras as soon as I may, horses will speed my journey,” Aragorn nodded firmly.

Éomer gave a piercing whistle to his men and three horses were led forward. Aragorn was given a tall, dark grey horse named Hasufel. Legolas stripped all the tack off of his white horse, Arod, and nimbly leapt astride.
Thomas watched in amazement as the horse responded to Legolas’s gently whispered instructions.

“Can you ride, boy?” Éomer’s brash voice intruded on his thoughts.

“My name is Thomas, and, yes, I can ride,” he said with a slight edge to his voice looking Éomer right in the eye.

Éomer raised an eyebrow without comment and handed him the reins to a skittish light brown horse. “His name is Baldor,” he called over his shoulder as he swaggered away.

Thomas looked the horse over appraisingly as it danced around nervously. He spoke soothingly to it as he watched it intently, pleased with what he saw. The horse responded to his calm voice and soon stopped moving, standing still and shaking his head and blowing at Thomas.

Moving slowly forward, Thomas patted Baldor’s neck gently before moving to the saddle and tightening the girth. He adjusted the stirrup and then slowly slid under the horse’s neck to adjust the other one, keeping up a steady stream of soothing words the whole time. Finally, he mounted Baldor, prepared for the quick, dancing steps it took sideways. More quiet words and a firm hand on the reins settled the horse down and Thomas patted his neck encouragingly. He looked up to see Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli watching him.

“I see you can ride,” Aragorn said with a half smile.

“I told you I used to work on a horse ranch, I have a lot of experience with horses,” Thomas shrugged with an answering grin. He glanced at Éomer, but he was talking with some of his men. “Legolas, how do you ride a horse with no saddle and no reins?” Thomas still could not believe what he was seeing.

“Wood-elves are very close to nature, Thomas. We do not control animals, we speak with them and they agree to bear us or not,” Legolas shrugged gracefully.

“Aragorn!” Éomer trotted up suddenly, “I hold you to your word to come to Edoras.”

“I will come,” Aragorn said simply.

Nodding, Éomer took one last look at them and led his men thundering across the plains towards Edoras.
Thomas had to fight Baldor to keep him from following them.

“I think Éomer gave you that particular horse on purpose, Thomas,” Aragorn said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Thomas replied as Baldor tried to rear again. He patted his neck and spoke softly until the horse calmed. “He probably thought I was too much of a ‘boy’ to handle him,” he said with a slight frown.

“Bah, he just doesn’t know you, lad,” Gimli growled from where he sat clinging tightly to Legolas.

“I’m not sure who he likes less, Gimli, me or you,” Thomas said shaking his head.

“We need to go,” Aragorn said as he turned his horse to the north.

“Aragorn, wait.”

Aragorn drew up and looked at Thomas expectantly as he brought his horse alongside. “I wanted to tell you that my father’s name is not Morgan.”

“It is not?” Aragorn looked at him in surprise.

Thomas shook his head, “Morgan is my last name. It’s how we do it where I’m from. I have three names actually, first, middle, and last.” Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas were all staring at him. “My full name is Thomas William Morgan. My father’s name is William James Morgan. My last name, Morgan, would become the last name of my wife,” Thomas blushed slightly, “and the last name of any children I might have.”

“I thought it was just how you said it in your land,” Aragorn admitted with a rueful smile. “But you are like the Men of Bree and the hobbits with a first and last name.”

“They don’t have that extra name, do they?” Gimli asked. “That one in the middle?”

“No, they do not,” Aragorn shook his head. “Well, Thomas son of William, forgive me, but here in the land of Rohan, you are Thomas son of Morgan. I did not mean to dishonor your father,” he said apologetically.

“You didn’t Aragorn, you didn’t even know. It just never came up. Besides, that’s not how we honor fathers in my land anyway,” Thomas said with a thoughtful look in his eye. He looked at Aragorn sadly for a moment before kicking his horse into a gallop.

--

“Something’s wrong, Gandalf,” Rebecca hissed suddenly, bringing her nocked bow up as she quickly scanned the forest around them. Nothing was visible, yet all the hairs on the back of her neck were standing up and all of her senses told her someone was watching them.

“It is an ent, Lady Rebecca,” Gandalf looked at her with amusement in his eyes. “In fact, it is Treebeard. Lower your bow, it would have no effect on an ent even if we wanted to harm him.”

“An ent? Where?” Rebecca looked around, seeing nothing but trees.

“Standing directly in front of us leaning on that large rock.”

Rebecca stared hard at the rock, suddenly noticing the face like features of the ‘tree’ next to it. There’s a nose, a mouth… and eyes, she realized as the eyes blinked. She looked closer, seeing what appeared to be arms and legs. She gasped as it spoke.

“Well met, Master Gandalf,” he boomed.

“Well met, indeed Treebeard,” Gandalf bowed slightly.
Rebecca took a step back as Treebeard turned his deep brown unfathomable eyes on her. “Who is this?” he asked. “Hoom hmm.”

“This is Lady Rebecca.”

“Hello, Treebeard, well met,” she said nervously with a slight bow.

“Master Gandalf, I heard that you had fallen into shadow.”

“Did you now? The bearer of that tale was correct, yet I have returned.” Gandalf stood leaning on his staff gazing at the ent with narrowed eyes. “Who told you of my passing?”

“Two young hobbits, Master Merry and Master Pippin, I met them in my forest yesterday.”

“Merry and Pippin!” Rebecca cried. “Where are they? Are they all right? Can I see them?” She looked around eagerly.

“Now, now, don’t be hasty, Lady Rebecca,” Treebeard rumbled. “Hoom.”

“Peace, young lady,” Gandalf laid a hand on her arm and she looked down in embarrassment.

“The hobbits are in my home at the base of the mountains. I am gathering ents for an entmoot.”

Rebecca was disappointed to learn that Merry and Pippin were not close by, though it seemed Gandalf was pleased.

“Are-are they all right, Treebeard?” she asked cautiously, peering up at him hopefully.

“Hmmm… it depends on what you mean by all right. Hoom.” Rebecca’s eyes widened in fear. “They are very hasty folk for ones so small and very hungry. Hoom hoom.”
Rebecca smiled, knowing that if they were eating, they were probably doing all right. They were sleeping when I left this morning.” Rebecca breathed a sigh of relief. It sounded like they were well enough.

Turning to Gandalf, she asked, “Are we going to go and get them now?”

“No,” he said thoughtfully, “I believe we will leave them in Treebeard’s capable hands for now.” He held up his hand to stop Rebecca’s protests. “It is miles from here, and we have others to meet. I believe there is a reason Merry and Pippin met Treebeard, just like there is a purpose that you are here.”

That stopped any further protests Rebecca could make and she bowed her head slightly before biting her lip and staring into the woods. She so missed Merry and Pippin and their cheerful hearts and she couldn’t wait to see them again. She suddenly paused, if they were here, and Gandalf thought Frodo had crossed the river to go to Mordor, did that mean Sam was dead? Rebecca blinked back the sudden tears that filled her eyes. She remembered his sweet gentle spirit and how he cared so for Frodo. She shook her head to clear her mind of those images.
“Lady Rebecca,” Gandalf called softly, breaking into her thoughts.

“What? Oh, I’m sorry, Gandalf, I wasn’t listening.”

“I know,” he said with a smile, “Treebeard is leaving now.”

Rebecca looked up sheepishly. “Good-bye, Treebeard,” she bowed deeply. “Please tell Merry and Pippin hello for me.”

“Hoom, I will,” he boomed and with a very slight bending of his body towards them, he strode off, his long legs taking him out of sight very quickly, the ground shaking slightly with each step.

“You have the most amazing creatures here, Gandalf,” Rebecca said with a sigh, turning to look at him. He just smiled. “Where do we go now?”

“We are waiting here.”

“Here?” Rebecca glanced around looking to see if there was anything different about this particular spot in the forest. Other than the large rocky hill, she couldn’t see anything, but she was tired of walking anyway. She shrugged, laying her pack on the ground near a large tree. “I could use a long rest,” she said, smiling as she sank down beside the pack.

“Enjoy your rest, it may be the last one you have for quite some time,” Gandalf said slowly, his brow furrowing as he pulled out his pipe.

Rebecca watched him in silence for a few minutes as she leaned back against the tree. It was times like this that she really needed a book or a deck of cards or something to do, she mused. Maybe I should take up carving, she laughed inwardly, as she fiddled with the dagger on her belt. If she had the right materials she could make a deck of cards. She sorted through her pack for a while, but she had nothing that would work for the cards. Rebecca finally decided it would have to wait until they reached a city. Yawning sleepily she soon drifted off to sleep.

--

“Pull, up, Thomas,” Aragorn ordered sharply as soon as he caught up with him.

Thomas slowed immediately, fighting Baldor until he stopped. “What’s the matter?” he asked in confusion as Legolas and Gimli halted behind them.

Aragorn sighed in frustration since it was obvious Thomas did not realize what he has just done. “Thomas,” he said tightly, trying to control his anger, “you just galloped over the trail I need to read. Follow behind Legolas.”

His face suddenly pale, Thomas stammered out an apology, “I’m-I’m sorry, Aragorn,” he said before reining his horse around.

Nodding curtly, Aragorn moved slowly forward, just to the side of the trail left by the passage of the Uruk-hai. He carefully followed it, watching for places where orcs might have left the main group. Occasionally Aragorn would dismount to check something or they sped up, trotting for several miles.

Thomas rode in the back, horrified by what he had done. He hadn’t meant to, he was just excited and having fun being on a horse again. He could only hope it didn’t end up hurting Merry and Pippin. Thomas shook his head, staring forward into the distance where he could see a faint column of smoke rising. That must be where Éomer burned the orcs, he thought with despair. He didn’t really want to go any closer, to see for himself the burned bodies of his friends. They could still be alive, he reminded himself without much hope.

They smelled the burning orc bodies long before they saw them. The smoldering pile of bodies was lying a short distance in front of Fangorn Forest. As they rode into view the full force of the stench hit them and Thomas started gagging. He pulled Baldor up immediately, leaping off the horse before it even stopped moving, keeping a tight grasp on the reins as he did so. He retched repeatedly until nothing was left in his stomach. He stood panting and trembling for several minutes before walking shakily back to the horse. After taking several sips of water, Thomas leaned tiredly against his saddle, whispering soothing words when the horse tried to move away. He heard the sounds of a horse approaching behind him.

“Thomas?” Legolas’s voice called in concern, “How do you fare?”

Thomas nodded, not looking up for a moment. He took a deep breath, trying to figure out a way to block the horrific smell, but it was not possible. He took another drink before looking up at Legolas in embarrassment.
“I’m all right, Legolas. I just got sick… the smell…” his voice faltered.

Legolas looked down at him with compassion in his kind blue eyes. “It is truly horrible,” he agreed. “I am used to the smell as I have been burning the bodies of orcs for over fifteen hundred years now,” he said with something like satisfaction in his voice. “Are you ready to ride on now? Aragorn and Gimli are already searching and we need your help.”

In answer, Thomas mounted Baldor, gritting his teeth as he rode on.

Reaching the spot where Hasufel was tethered, Thomas watched Legolas leap gracefully off his horse while he dismounted slowly, keeping a tight grip on Baldor. He stood looking anywhere but at the large pile of blackened bodies. He started to gag again, but he swallowed hard and forced it to stay down.

“Thomas, tie that horse and come here,” Aragorn called from the far side of the pile.

Quickly tying his horse next to Aragorn’s, Thomas hastened around the pile to where he was waiting.

“How do you feel?” Aragorn asked.

“Sick,” Thomas held his stomach and again fought the rising nausea.

“I remember the first time I saw and smelt burning orcs. I, too, became ill, it was not a pleasant experience,” Aragorn said. “It does get easier. Now, I want you to check that section,” he pointed to an area between the orcs and a fallen log near the edge of the forest. “Look for any signs of Merry and Pippin. I know Legolas has been teaching you tracking skills, do the best you can,” Aragorn patted him on the back encouragingly. “Try not to breathe too much,” he said with a faint smile.

Nodding, Thomas looked at Aragorn apologetically, “I’m sorry for riding on the trail.”

“I know you are, Thomas. It is one of the things you need to be aware of in the future, do not do it again,” he said sternly. “Now, go to work,” Aragorn gave him a gentle shove towards his assigned area.

Legolas found the first signs. Aragorn hurried over while Gimli and Thomas hung back to give him room to work. Aragorn was quickly able to determine that the hobbits had, in fact, been there and had somehow managed to escape. He followed their tracks right to the edge of the forest and discovered they had gone inside. Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas stopped, glancing at each other in concern while Thomas just looked at them in confusion.

“What’s the matter? Why did we stop?”

“Fangorn Forest is an evil place, lad,” Gimli replied with a scowl.

Thomas looked at the forest, noticing the gloom, the bent and gnarled trees and he shuddered.

“This forest is not evil,” Legolas protested, “it is just very old. Even I feel young in its presence.”

“Clearly our path lies within,” Aragorn stated, “whether it is evil or not. We cannot abandon the hobbits now.” He glanced at the horses, wondering what to do with them while they searched. At that moment something frightened the horses badly and all three of them broke loose from their tethers, galloping north out of sight, heedless of the yells of their new masters.

“Éomer will not be pleased,” Aragorn commented, shaking his head in disbelief.

“I’m not anxious to see him anyway,” Thomas mumbled.

“It’s a long walk to Edoras,” Gimli growled.

Aragorn bit back a grin at Thomas’s comment and headed into the forest. There was nothing they could do about the horses now and finding the hobbits was their chief concern. It was often hard to follow the signs left by the hobbits on the leaf-covered ground and the trail disappeared for long stretches, but Aragorn was always able to find some small clue to lead them on.

They walked for hours, finding the going easier once the hobbits had decided to follow a small stream. The four hunters took a brief break, eating quickly and re-filling their waterskins before moving on.

Legolas suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. “Aragorn,” he whispered urgently, “Someone is out there.”

“Where?” he asked, drawing his sword.

Thomas drew his as well, looking around wide-eyed, as Gimli stood with his axe raised. The trees started creaking and groaning.

“Gimli, lower your axe!” Aragorn called. Gimli reluctantly complied.

The four stared in wonder and shock as Gandalf slowly walked out between the trees in front of them, a swirl of white shining under his dirty grey cloak.

“Well met, my friends,” he said quietly with a smile.

Legolas recovered first. “Mithrandir!” he cried with joy in his voice, “well met indeed!” A brilliant smile covered his face.

Gimli bowed reverently, still staring at the wizard.

Finally, Aragorn found his voice, “How is this possible?” he asked in a strained voice. “I saw you die.” He looked at his friend in disbelief, wanting to touch him to make sure he was indeed real and not some phantom caused by Fangorn.

“I am quite real, Aragorn, old friend.” Aragorn started at his comment and Gandalf laid his hand on his arm. “I did indeed fall to my doom, but I was sent back to complete my task.” Gandalf turned his gaze to Thomas who was still staring at him in shock. “Your reaction reminds me of a certain young lady I saw in Lothlórien when I first returned there,” he said with a small laugh.

“Rebecca? You have seen Rebecca?” Thomas asked eagerly.

“Yes, quite recently in fact,” Gandalf replied with a hint of amusement in his eyes. “Come, sit and tell me what has passed since you left Lothlórien.”

They told him all that had happened in the day’s just past. Gandalf was encouraged to learn that Sam had gone with Frodo and deeply saddened to hear of Boromir’s death. He told them of all that had happened with him and the Balrog and what he knew of Merry, Pippin and Treebeard.

--

Rebecca awoke with a start. She couldn’t believe she had fallen asleep, but realized she had not slept very well the last few nights. She sat up, looking for Gandalf, but he was not in sight and she was immediately anxious. Fangorn was not someplace she wanted to be alone and she wondered where he had gone.

Standing and stretching, Rebecca heard a distant noise that sounded like voices. Snatching up her bow, she nocked an arrow before sliding around behind the tree. Biting her lip nervously, she considered the possibilities, it could be Gandalf talking to an Ent, or better yet he could be talking to the Fellowship, her face lighting up at that idea. Still, she needed to be careful, so she slipped through the forest as quietly as possible towards the sound of the voices.

As she neared, she relaxed as she picked out Aragorn’s deep voice, Legolas’s slightly musical tones and Gandalf’s voice. She then heard Gimli grunt, but did not hear either Thomas or Boromir and realized that one of them was probably the missing member of the Fellowship.

Rebecca stopped when she heard Legolas exclaim, “Someone is coming!”

“Put down your bow, Legolas, it is a dear friend of yours,” she heard Gandalf say. “Come along, young lady, do not keep us waiting.”

Rebecca stepped into the clearing to be met by the stunned expressions on the faces of her friends. She glanced around to see anger on Aragorn’s and absolute joy on Thomas’s. Thomas, Thomas is alive, her heart sang. But that means Boromir is dead, her eyes clouded in pain. Aragorn, Thomas, and Rebecca all spoke at once.

“Rebecca, what are you doing here?” Aragorn asked in fury, looking from her to Gandalf.
“Rebecca!” Thomas said joyfully, running to greet her.
“Boromir!” Rebecca cried in anguish, dropping to her knees in grief.

~~~

Elvish Translations:

Hannon le - I thank you
Navaer - Farewell
Mellon nín - my friend


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