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ArWen the Eternally Surprised
Author: Ria Time: 2007/11/22
Arwen encounters a strange monk and gains a little extra time.
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Firelight
Submitter: Date: 2005/12/24 Views: 127 Rate: 0.00/1
Summary: Author: Alilacia
Rating: G
Pairing: None.
Summary: A first meeting by firelight.
Feedback: Would be nice as I'm rather nervous about this one :)
Disclaimer: Aragorn and Legolas belong to J.R.R Tolkien. Joe Byrne belongs to himself. Not a poor female from the UK.
Story checked over by laeglass. Thank you :)

Firelight




Aragorn trudged wearily through the woods. The sun had long since set and the air was cold. He had no idea where his horse was - Galad had disappeared into the trees after the skirmish - but trusted that she would eventually return for him. Personally, he hoped it was soon.

Shivers ran occasionally through his frame and they carried on unimpeded even as he wrapped his arms around his body. Aragorn sighed. He had to find shelter and he had to find it now.

Dim firelight beckoned him through the trees and after a moments hesitation he crept towards it. Kneeling down in the undergrowth and observing the small camp showed a figure huddled in a blanket before a dying fire. At the edge of the firelight a pile of wood was strewn haphazardly. Aragorn watched until he was certain whoever it was was either asleep or dead.

He moved closer to the warmth of the small fire, his hand drifting to his sword as he walked. The covered figure did not stir but this close Aragorn could see the steady rise and fall of shoulders. There was a flash of white visible under torn trousers, only just visible in the fading light, and the part of Aragorn that had trained as a healer stirred. This person was injured, recently so judging by the staining on the crude bandage.

Aragorn thought to wake the young man - his face now visible in the light - but decided to collect the firewood first. As he turned with his arms full he saw the man stir. Aragorn approached slowly, making sure the waking man could see his hands were full of firewood and not a weapon.

"My apologies, it is rude of me to invite myself into your firelight without permission but you were asleep and I was cold."

The man looked him over after rubbing his eyes. "I can hardly turn a man away from a little warmth." His voice was lyrical, Aragorn noted, not unlike most of the elves he knew. "'Specially since you crept in when I was sleeping and didn't try ta kill me."

"There's still time for that, if you're so inclined." Aragorn tipped his head as he sat down. His comment drew a wry half smile but the man didn't say anything. The man sat up straighter, still seeming to assess Aragorn. It was slightly uncomfortable but Aragorn let the man have his way and placed the firewood by his side. Two branches were added to the dying flames and the ranger welcomed the heat.

His companion seemed to as well for he shifted closer to the fire. Aragorn caught a hint of a grimace before the face settled back into a blank mask.

"I have herbs, if you would wish to use them." Aragorn said into the quiet of the night. The young man turned to look at him for several moments.

"Herbs?"

"Aye, I noticed that bandage on your leg, and you seemed to be in some pain."

The man chuckled, somewhat darkly. "That bandage has been on me leg for a while now. Don't bother me as much as it used ta. And as for pain, well we all live with it, don't we, as me Da would've said."

"I am sure your father was an honourable man but I am a healer. I'd like to help, if you'll permit me."

"I'm sure you would." The young man said after a while, "but I'll have ta turn down your fine offer."

Aragorn nodded, getting the strong impression that this man - whoever he may be - had survived long enough on his own that he didn't need much help. Still, his instinctual desire to help people rebelled against letting an injury lie. He'd just have to trust that this man had tended to it himself. Not everyone needs your help or your healing hands. Aragorn reminded himself.

"My name is Strider; I am a ranger here in these parts." Aragorn said softly, hoping to draw the younger man into some kind of conversation. He didn't mind sitting in companiable silence with his friends, or on occasion - with strangers, but this man intrigued him.

"I'm not anyone you want to get to know." He shot back, a small sign of amusement playing at the edges of his lips, along with another; darker, emotion.

Aragorn smiled slightly and sought out the brown eyes in the firelight. "I have wandered the lands for many a year and seen many undesirable people. You don't look anything like them, friend." The man didn't answer, choosing to unwrap the blanket from around his shoulders and exchange it for a worn and faded brown cloak. The hood was quickly pulled up around dark hair, masking all but what parts of his face were visible in the fire and moonlight. Slender hands made short work of folding up the blanket.

"Don't be so quick to hand out ya friendships." A soft voice warned, "even those you've known for years could turn on ya, so there's no real reason to trust a stranger."

"There's no real reason not to either." Aragorn frowned, peering into those dark eyes that seemed to suddenly be swimming with emotion. Then just as quickly he blinked and it was gone. "So, how are trust and friendships started where you come from?"

"Egads, are you always this insufferably curious?" The young man dropped suddenly to lie on his back. The cloak fell back slightly, revealing his nose and chin. His eyes were just visible and they were looking up at the sky.

Aragorn watched the young man for a moment before he decided not to press his luck any more. He pulled his bed roll out, laying it on the ground, and settled down for the night. But as always, Aragorn found sleep unwilling to welcome him into its misty embrace. His eyes sought out Earendil in the sky and Aragorn was thankful the night was a clear one.

"Joe."

Aragorn blinked and turned his head to his left. "What?" The young man was staring at him. His face wasn't entirely visible with the light of the fire fanning out behind him, but Aragorn knew their eyes had met. The slightly crooked edge to his nose was silhouetted again before the young man turned his face away from the sky to look back to Aragorn.

"Joe," he repeated, softly, as if perhaps he wasn't sure he wanted to give this information out. "Me name is Joe Byrne."

*~*~*~*

A noise brought Aragorn out of his light slumber and his fingers wrapped themselves automatically around the hilt of his sword. He had finally fallen asleep a few hours before dawn - the sight of the lightning sky was the last thing he remembered seeing.

The noise revealed itself to be the young man - Joe - slowly rising from where he lay. The injury seen only in dim firelight was revealed now to be a limp but it didn't seem to be holding Joe back. Aragorn kept still, even when he heard the sounds of his horse returning from the woods.

From here he couldn't hear what Joe was saying, but he could see how Galad's ear pricked up and she shied back a little. Joe didn't back away, just stopped, holding out his hand and speaking in that lyrical fashion. To Aragorn it seemed like some of the words blurred into one, not making much sense, but Galad's ears dropped eventually. Slowly, the mare walked towards the younger man and butted her head cautiously against his hand.

A smile tugged at Joe's lips. He turned his hand and pressed it against her head. It was only then he moved closer, rubbing his fingers into her mane and separating some of the tangled strands.

Aragorn relaxed. He knew then that there was some part, even if Joe deigned to keep it hidden behind his masks and layers of secrecy, of goodness within him.

The ranger rose to his feet and the noise made Joe turn. The smile vanished on the younger man's face and there was almost something wild in his eyes.

Once again, Aragorn held up his hands a little before gesturing to his pack.

"I don't know where you're headed, but there's food to be shared if you stay a little longer."

The cautious look returned, the brown eyes tracking Aragorn's every movement. The pack was opened and the contents shown. Aragorn reached in and pulled out two apples he had picked the day before.

Joe's eyes flicked down to the apples and back up to Aragorn's face. Hesitation spread over his features before he shook his head. Next to him, Galad shifted slightly in the littered foliage.

"Not hungry."

Aragorn suspected the opposite was true - especially considering the gaunt frame - but nodded and placed the apples back into the pack. If Joe wasn't going to eat, neither would he.

As Aragorn poked at the cold, used firewood he watched Joe out of the corner of his eyes. He fully expected the younger man to walk away, but instead Joe lingered, glancing one way then the next.

"Where are you headed, Joe?"

Joe started at the sound of his name and span back around, his fingers shooting down to his waist. They seemed to reach for something, clenched, and then were forced to rest at Joe's side.

"Truth be told, I don't know. This area's not familiar to me." Joe admitted eventually, "up until now I've just been picking a direction and walking in it."

Aragorn frowned slightly. With all the orc patrols around this area, that sort of action could get the young man killed.

"The nearest human settlement is just north of here," Aragorn turned and pointed through the trees, "it's not very big but they'll shelter any men who arrive." He looked into Joe's eyes, searchingly. "Maybe there you'll find someone you know."

Joe's jaw tightened, but he didn't say anything. A myriad of emotions swept through his eyes and face. Instead he just nodded, tipping his head to Aragorn, and went to walk northwards.

"I know these roads better than most. Are you sure that I cannot travel with you? At least part of the way." He added when Joe glanced back at him. The younger man's gaze was hooded.

"This road I'm walking..." he paused, shaking his head, "Fate has played her hand and cast away all the players from my side." Joe turned to straight ahead as his feet once again started leading him northwards. "I'll have to turn down your fine offer once again. But thank you."

"Wait," Aragorn called out, stopping his progress. "It's a fair walk, at least take some supplies with you." He walked halfway towards the man and placed his pack on the ground. "Take it if you want, if not, leave it. I'm sure the animals will benefit if you do not." Aragorn settled some of the herbs and his pipe into his pocket as he walked away. He missed the shocked look that spread over Joe's features.

Aragorn didn't turn back as he took Galad's reigns and gently lead her back into the thick of the trees. When he reached high enough ground and was able to look back to where he had least seen Joe, the pack was gone.

A smile spread over his face when a whistled pierced through the air seconds before the leaves parted. An elf passed through the tightly woven trees. Despite the delay, he knew that his friend would still have been waiting here for him. He inclined his head in greeting and they began to walk along the line where the trees had started to grow closer together a millennia ago.

"Who was that?" Legolas asked quietly after a few minutes of walking. He turned his head back briefly and could still see the hunched figure of the cloaked man weaving through the trees. "Was he a ranger I have not yet encountered nor been introduced to?"

"He was lonely. A lost soul searching for something. Perhaps something that will never be reclaimed under this sky." Aragorn answered after moments of silence. "In truth, I do not know, dear friend." He said in response to Legolas' frown and glance, "he was a strange one. And there was something about him. He was rather reticent about discussing anything about himself. Much like you during our first few meetings, mellon nin." A teasing smile was sent Legolas' way.

"So he mentioned nothing then? How could you be sure he was trustworthy?"

"I looked into his eyes. There was a moment where his emotions were so raw, so brimming at the surface that I could not help but believe him. There was no lie in his eyes." Aragorn looked into his friends' eyes. "I knew it just as surely then as I did when I met you."

They shared a look for a few minutes, allowing the love they held for each other to show in their eyes as they both remembered that day. "There was nothing but pain and regret in his eyes when I spoke of someone he knew possibly residing in the village. He didn't say anything but it was clear he was thinking thoughts which fuelled a deep sadness within him." Aragorn finally spoke, squeezing Legolas' shoulder once - a gesture the elf returned. "I know not what caused it, but it was clear the memory was a painful one. His soul is touched by loss; by a single moment so great in intensity it has imprinted itself there like a brand." Aragorn shook his head. "I only hope that he shall find peace, or what he is searching for, where he is headed."

"And where is he headed?"

"He would not say. Just that he had a long road to travel and he was destined to travel it alone."

"And his friends?" Legolas had a suspicion he knew the answer, as did Aragorn, but something compelled him to ask regardless.

"I fear they have passed. That they have gone somewhere where even he cannot follow. It was all written in his eyes when he let his mask slip. Whatever buffer of friendship, of comfort, it was now gone and he was alone."

"It is sad," said Legolas, softly. "But if that is truly the case... I know how he feels."

And Legolas let his own guard slip; letting Aragorn see just for a single brief moment the fear Legolas kept under tight control. How he held the knowledge of what awaited them both in years to come in a dark corner of his mind. The elf knew all too well how little time he, they, had; but was determined to forget it for now. The time would arrive as surely as the sun rose and set - he could not prevent that day no sooner than he control Isil's path across the heavens - all he could do was cherish the time he had; as friend to Estel of Imladris.

"You have me, now, mellon nin. And even in distant years when the seasons have turned and my name is held only in peoples memories and hearts... we will be reunited again. Be it in this life under Illuvatars light or in the next, nothing shall keep us apart my friend."

Legolas merely inclined his head and smiled. He knew that Aragorn's words were true. Even in the dark days in the decades to come, he would always hold the moments that Estel brightened and lived in his heart. It was the one thing he was certain would stand the test of time and hopefully - of loss as well.

"I know, mellon nin. I know." He murmured. Legolas tipped his head up, seeking out the line where the sun was just rising over the tips of the trees. And wherever you are, whoever you are, I hope you find peace just as I have. It took an errant dunadan to do it for me... wherever your friends are; I hope they can do it for you.
*~*~*~*

A few weeks later Aragorn awoke in the inn to a knocking on the door. No-one answered when he called and he exchanged a look with Legolas as they walked towards the door. One of his knives was held loosely in the elf's hand.

Legolas opened up the door. He glanced down the hallway when there was no-one there. His foot brushed up against something and he looked downwards.

"Aragorn..."

When Legolas stepped backwards Aragorn could see that lying at the elf's feet was his pack. The one he had left for Joe to take all those weeks ago.

He took the bag over to the bed while Legolas closed the door and opened the ties. A smile spread when he pulled out two apples, as well as a number of herbs. It wasn't the same herbs as he has previously held in the bag, but they would suffice.

Legolas knelt down next to Aragorn as he placed the apples and herbs on the bed. A glinting caught his eye and right at the bottom laid a dagger. Wrapped around the hilt was a piece of parchment.

He handed the dagger to Legolas who examined it while he looked at the parchment.

It was empty save for two words.

Thank you.

Fin.
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