The Arrow of Fate
Galadir sighed softly, gazing up at the immense fir tree that spread its branches overhead. At the very top there was a bulge, and the Elf warden shook his head in a disgusted manner and glanced over at his companion. Erinoth fingered his bow and stared out into the night, seemingly lost in his own thoughts.
"'Tis near midnight, my friend," Galadir said, casting another dark look at the bulge. "And I tire of this game! Does he think to stay there the whole night?"
"I know not. What matter if he does? Ere dawn he will descend again, for he cannot bear the sunlight. Have patience!" Erinoth replied.
"Nay, he has tried my patience once too often, and will he or nill he, he shall return now with us," Galadir said, pulling on his gloves in preparation for scaling the rough-barked tree.
"Have a care! He threw Anardil from his perch last time, and Anardil still wears a sling!" Erinoth warned.
Galadir merely grunted in response, already picking his way through the lower branches. The prisoner was a twisted, pitiful thing indeed, and though Galadir agreed that he ought not to be left in his cell to mutter in the darkness, it was too much that this Sméagol-creature should impose thus upon them all.
As he climbed, he looked out over the forest, which showed dark and indistinct on a moonless night. In the distance, vaguely, he could see the malevolent peak of Dol Guldur, and he shuddered, staring at it. For some reason it caught his eye tonight, and perhaps it was merely his imagination or a trick of the eye, but it seemed to waver like smoke, or as if a thousand dark tentacles gripped and writhed all about it. Galadir found he could not take his eyes off of it, strangely absorbed by that eerie display, and so it was that he did not at first notice the other dark trail that wended its way beneath Mirkwood's eaves.
It was only Erinoth's cry that roused him and he tore his eyes from the tower, looking down to see, to his horror, the misshapen Orcs come spilling from the trees. Their harsh voices echoed in a battle cry, and Erinoth was overborne, buried beneath their clawed forms.
A hiss sounded suddenly near at hand, and Galadir jerked his head up to see two pale, luminous eyes a bare foot away.
"Nassty cruel Elfff!" Sméagol hissed. Then more loudly, he called, "It esscapesss! Help usss, preciousss! It escapesessss!"
Below, the Orcs cried out, pointing upwards, and Sméagol, with a horrible, gurgling cackle, leapt past Galadir to drop onto another branch, clearly bent on escaping himself. Galadir glanced down again, and saw that the Orcs were beginning to climb, were already in the lower branches. Then he looked out again at the small, fleeing back, and made his decision.
Using his legs to brace himself against the trunk and a sturdy branch, he reached back and pulled bow and arrow into his hands. With the care of an artisan, he took aim and pressed, ignoring the laughter of his enemies, and his keen eyes narrowed.
There! With a sharp twang! an arrow whistled through the night, and there came a shriek, and then a small, dark form plummeted to the earth and lay utterly still.
Galadir let fall his bow, that task complete, and he pulled a dagger from his belt. The Orcs were still climbing, and would reach him soon.
But I shall not go quietly into the night! he vowed, and smiled as he faced his murderers.
And on a plane far above the physical, something bent, giving almost to the breaking point, and then suddenly it twisted itself, creating a ripple in the pattern of fate, and something new began to grow…
It was evening in Rivendell, and the little wisps of dark clouds made the October sky seem bruised by the night that pressed upon the brilliant horizon. On the porch, an old grey figure stood, wreathed in contemplative smoke, so intent upon his thoughts he did not note when another joined him quietly.
"Will you not tell me, old friend, what it is that weighs so heavily upon your mind?" Gandalf looked up to find Aragorn standing at his side, arms folded across his chest as he, too, gazed out at the valley of Rivendell. The Ranger had clearly planned his approach carefully, which did not surprise the wizard, but given the news from the day's council, Gandalf did wonder how much Aragorn had guessed already of his concerns.
"Naught that I can explain in precise terms, dear boy." Aragorn smiled slightly at that, for it was a standing joke between them.
"I ask not for precision, for I know well that I am no wizard," the Ranger replied.
"Hmmph!" Gandalf snorted, but then sighed and shook his head. "If you would know truly, I like not the news that Legolas brought."
"Grievous news, but I see not why the deaths of two elvish guards should be cause for such concern."
"I meant Gollum's death, Aragorn," Gandalf said, a trifle impatiently, and Aragorn gave him a skeptical look.
"To me, that seemed the only encouraging part of his message. Sméagol was incurable, and a danger to all had he in fact escaped."
"It seems so on the surface, and prudence tells me no differently," the wizard replied. "But when I heard that, my heart misgave me, and I felt my very marrow freeze! There is great evil in that death, my friend," he sighed, laying a hand upon Aragorn's shoulder, "and the consequences are literally unthinkable. I fear we may rue it greatly in the end."
"I see not how," said Aragorn, but he paused and pursed his lips, considering the matter. "Well," he said at last, "if you say your heart misgives you, then I must defer to your judgment. How, after all, shall a Man argue with a wizard?"
"Rigorously and often, if you are any example!" Gandalf replied instantly, with a trace of his usual quick humor. But then it faded, and Aragorn, frowning, asked:
"Think you that we ought to reconsider our plans?"
"That would serve no purpose. To remain here, or flee west is to bring certain doom upon us. There is still hope, however little, that the route to the fire shall remain open long enough for the Ringbearer to unmake It. Nay, we must continue. And since we must, tell me of the morning's messengers: what news from Elladan and Elrohir?"
"They have ridden far, down to Lórien and back, and they brought to me news of Saruman's treachery, so that your tale was not wholly new to me today," Aragorn replied, and then gave a slight smile. "They also bring word that Arwen fares well in that land." Gandalf laughed at that, and gave Aragorn a shake.
"I am glad to hear it. More so than you may suspect," the wizard said, his eyes narrowing as his bushy brows drew together. "Yes… I think that even this news is not without merit, my friend, though I know not why I say so." He paused, then shook his head again and looked up at the tall Man at his side, and said in a low voice, "Hear me, son of Arathorn! Say nothing to the others of my fears, I beg you. We have barely begun, the way will be long, and there are some things that I would keep from them, lest they lose heart utterly. I fear our road will be hard—harder, even than they can possibly imagine."
"As you wish," Aragorn replied simply. "I leave tomorrow to see what may be found of the Riders. Mayhap when I return, we shall speak on this again?"
"Perhaps. Walk in safety, my friend!" Gandalf said, and watched as Aragorn strode away. The old lips tightened, and the wizard stroked his beard in an agitated manner.
"Yes," he murmured when the other had gone, "the way will be hard, and perhaps even you, Aragorn, are not prepared to know the truth. A bitter end, I foresee, and hope unlooked for, though I know not how it shall be born, should we fail." In the distance, he heard light voices lifted in laughter, and recognized the hobbits, Merry and Pippin, as they came strolling out of the forest. "And if you cannot, then how shall their gentle hearts bear such doom as I prophesy?"
The wizard sighed once more, then carefully locked his fears and worries away in the vault of his mind, where they could do no injury to the innocent.
Time will tell, he thought, striving to seem determined. But if the hobbits greeted him without suspicion, Gandalf's dissembling was strictly for others. He could not lie to himself, and when he turned his eyes to the western horizon, he saw darkness falling upon all the land.