A Shadow on Golden Feathers

Aragorn and Legolas leisurely traveled toward the hall of Grimbeorn, which he inherited from his father, Beorn. Their path was calm and bright, though Aragorn carried the weight of Echador’s passing with him. Legolas roamed freely, knowing the Dunedan remained lost in thought as they strode south and east. They spoke little, but searched for signs of Grimbeorn along the way. Aragorn sought to learn why the Beorning did not finally come to the Carrock. However, the search proved fruitless, so they at last turned directly to Beorn’s Hall.

A peaceful grove of oaks surrounded the Hall of Beorn. Approaching from the north, Aragorn and Legolas came to the large wooden gate in the thick, thorny hedge that stood like the great walls of Minas Tirith, through which no enemy had yet passed. They heard the buzzing of bees and the neighing of ponies, one of which trotted to the gate and looked upon them as friends. It nodded its head, a white mane flowing on its neck, and they understood the greeting and call to enter.

Taufiq and Julia Laud

Though the day was peaceful and the sun was warm, once inside the hedge, they heard commotion and the pained cries of a wounded creature. Aragorn and Legolas shared a concerned look and the pony trotted toward the noise; they followed closely behind and passed by the great hall in the center of the grounds, coming to a stable around the side, where they saw Grimbeorn, looming large over a wagon, which he loaded with bundles and other Beornings assisted in lashing horses together. As they approached, they could see upon the wagon lay a great eagle, one of Gwaihir’s kin, of the great eagles of the north.

Grimbeorn saw Aragorn and Legolas approach and stopped his task to greet them. The Beorning towered over the Dunedan and elf, but greeted them gently, his voice deep like thunder rolling in distant clouds.

“Aragorn, Legolas, I am heartened to see you,” he said. “I am in your debt for your victory at the Carrock.”

Aragorn bowed his head, “We came with all speed as we expected to find you there, alone.”

Grimbeorn looked back to the wagon, “Unfortunately, I was delayed, as I came across this wounded creature, Wilyador is his name.”

“What happened to him?” Legolas asked, a pained look in his face.

“Orcs,” the word disgusted Grimbeorn and the fury was evident in his voice. “Perhaps the trolls are but a sign of things to come, but orcs have been about in our lands, and in the forest of Mirkwood. They pierced Wilyador with arrows. An ill fate, or fortune, that it happened between here and the Carrock as it altered my course.”

Legolas walked around the wagon, looking at Wilyador, whose golden feathers were darkened by blood and it seemed a growing shadow spread over him. The Beornings had gently laid a bed of hay and cloth upon the wagon and the eagle favored its left wing, from which the Beornings had already removed the orcs’ arrows and bandaged to stem the bleeding.

“Where will you take him?” Aragorn asked.

“The brown wizard, Radagast. He can heal the creature, as I do not have the skill here,” Grimbeorn answered.

Aragorn joined Legolas and spoke to Wilyador as a friend, his voice calm and soothing. Wilyador’s dark and brown eyes blinked and closed slowly as he bowed his head at Aragorn’s light touch. Aragorn smoothly ran his hand over the eagle’s feathered head and shoulder, to its wounded wing, and spoke nearly silent words that seemed to lessen the shadow falling upon the wound.

Wilyador cooed and opened his eyes to look upon Aragorn and the two shared a gaze for a moment. Aragorn’s mind came back to Echador, who he held at the Carrock as the breath left him. Aragorn seemed to tremble and his shoulders fell, but the eagle’s soft sounds filled his spirit with a burning determination. He turned to the others.

“In my haste I failed Echador at the Carrock. I will not fail Wilyador, now. Legolas and I will aid you, and bring him to Radagast the Brown. I have some skill in healing and on the road may find herbs that will stay the spread of the orcs’ vile poison.”

Grimbeorn puffed out his chest and nodded, “I trust this task to you, Dunedan. My skill here has run its course. My people will go before you, and keep watch in our lands for those that attempted to slay Wilyador. But there are more servants of the enemy on the borders of Mirkwood than orcs. Be on the lookout,” he said. “I must go to the Carrock at last, and remove the creatures you slayed so that they no longer defile the lands of my father.”

Aragorn and Legolas set out at once with Wilyador laid upon the wagon with a large cloth over him. Aragorn led the horse that drew the wagon and Legolas kept his keen eyes upon the surround as they walked south and east, for Radagast’s home lay near the southern borders of Mirkwood. The journey would be slow as they sought to not injure the eagle any further. Legolas walked on edge and a raven in the surrounding oaks called out, then fled from the trees as the pair left the Beorning’s gate and traveled south.

Fantasy Flight Games

Aragorn led them south, turning east toward Mirkwood, he sought a path that neither exposed them atop hill or ridge, but did not disturb the passage of the wagon. Wilyador slept but his condition slowly worsened with the passing day. Legolas frequently ran ahead, scouting the hills and fields to safeguard their passage. The day passed and night hung over them, the darkness deepening. A raven called in the gathering night, and the trees shook with a cold wind.

Aragorn stopped the pony and rubbed its neck. “We have not traveled as far as I would like in such time,” he said.

“Our way is clear ahead, and I sense nothing on the surround, we may be able to rest without worry,” Legolas said.

“If you keep watch over Wilyador, I shall sleep for a short while,” Aragorn said, heaving a sigh.

“Rest, Aragorn. Wilyador is safe with me,” Legolas smiled.

Aragorn walked to the back of the wagon and leaned against the wheel. He slept within moments, able to rest his mind and fall fast asleep in any place. Legolas soothed the pony and checked Wilyador’s wounds. Even amid the darkness, he could tell a shadow crept forward over the eagle as the wound festered. He remained alert, though a song ever played through his mind, beating back the darkness and dread.

Aragorn awoke as Wilyador shook the dew off his feathers, shaking the wagon; the eagle let out a soft whimper and Aragorn stood quickly but did not see Legolas nearby. He checked Wilyador’s wounded wing, which shivered in the early morning cold. He could tell the bandages needed to be changed, and so he set about unwrapping the wound and replacing the bandages with linens provided by the Beornings. As he tied them to the bird, Legolas returned, a grave look on his face.

“What news of our road, Legolas?” Aragorn asked.

“I have seen signs orcs and their beasts. Word must have reached Dol Guldur of Wilyador’s wounding. I fear they have set their forces about, looking for us,” Legolas said.

“This is indeed troubling, we do not have the speed to outrun them, and it will not be difficult to find our trail,” Aragorn said.

“I believe our passage through the hills, avoiding the forest will leave us exposed. If you will allow, I believe I can lead us through the forest. I can find our way and it may provide us cover from any who seek our trail,” Legolas said.

Aragorn thought a moment. Mirkwood was thick with spiders and other creatures, and their pace would be slow. But Legolas was right, the thick forests would make their passage more difficult to detect, save for the most skilled trackers. Their original path south along the outskirts of the forest left them too vulnerable with watchers on every hill and spies in the air. After all, he thought, his judgment had not served them well at the Carrock.

“You are right, Legolas. I trust your knowledge of these lands, so familiar are they to you. Besides, my own judgment have I questioned of late, since the Carrock,” Aragorn said. “So, lead the way my friend! We will go with all the speed we can manage.”

Legolas could see the hurt in Aragorn’s eyes, but said nothing. He drew his bow and Aragorn spurred the pony forward. They followed Legolas east, into the forest, then south again. The passage was difficult with the trees and air thick all around them. The pony stumbled over tree root and spooked at the sight of spider webs in the trees. Wilyador became unsettled, as if the forest itself and the air beneath its canopy pained him.

But Legolas held true the course, and Aragorn trusted his friend. Where the forest allowed, Legolas led them safely through spaces and along passages that ran smooth as could be, so that the wagon rolled softly over the verdant forest floor. They traveled for another day, with the forest growing darker still as they moved south, where twilight and morning seemed indistinguishable. But Legolas could sense the coming of night, an ill omen in Mirkwood, and he knew that danger lay close when the sun dipped in the west.

As night fell, Aragorn halted their progress, and Legolas set out to check their surroundings. Aragorn sensed the pain in the eagle’s spirit, and climbed into the wagon to kneel beside Wilyador. He held his hands over the bandaged wound, which seemed to give off an unnatural chill. He peeled back the bandage and from his belt took a small leather pouch and withdrew a handful of herbs. He crushed and ground the leaves and roots in hand and worked them into a paste in his mouth. He lightly set the paste across Wilyador’s wound, and the eagle trembled at the touch, his body tense, but as Aragorn spoke softly under his breath, Wilyador calmed and closed his eyes.

Legolas at last returned at a quick pace. “We must remain silent and still, the enemy is abroad,” he reported.

Aragorn nodded and quietly stepped off the wagon and draw his blade. His eyes adjusted to the thick darkness of Mirkwood, peering through leaf and web. His ears detected movement about them, and confirmed what Legolas reported, for they indeed were near to the enemy. But after a few moments, the danger passed and both of them spent the rest of the night on alert.

A third day of travel brought them to the southern edge of the forest and Legolas turned them westward, the land sloping downward as they left the hills of southern Mirkwood and returned to the fairer woods and groves near to Rhosgobel. The trees grew fairer and light again peered through their boughs. The smell of burning wood and the chirping of kind birds greeted them in the sunlit groves. Legolas ran ahead with great speed, as Aragorn plodded along with the pony.

Soon the elf returned and his spirit was high, “I have seen the house of the wizard, just over the next hill, in a peaceful grove. Smoke rises from its chimney, I believe we will find him there,” Legolas said.

Indeed, the wizard Radagast occupied the strange house, build of wood, but not that it had been cut and fashioned as a house of men or elves, but merely boughs and thick trunks intertwined together, as if the forest grew up from the earth and created a home. Its eaves and roof were made of grass, and windows were crooked and made odd shapes, with stained glass within them. Aragorn stopped the wagon outside the door and instantly he noticed the wealth of innocent life all around him.

Squirrels scurried about on the ground and on the house, while birds seemed to land and sing on every surface. As if he sensed their presence, the door of Rhosgobel opened, and an old man stepped out, leaning on a staff, which looked to be little more than a branch freshly removed from an oak. His robes were brown and stained, his beard grey and his face appeared thin, his eyes large and beneath brows that were long and reached out to either side of his head.

Aragorn and Legolas bowed their heads and spoke softly, “Radagast, we come to you urgently, with a wounded creature. The great eagle, Wilyador, kin of Gwaihir, has been wounded by orcs,” Aragorn said.

The wizard’s eyes flashed and his mouth opened, a frightened look in his eyes, but he said no words still. He quickly rushed to the wagon and Aragorn motioned for him to climb aboard and look at the great eagle. Wilyador greeted the wizard, brushing his head against Radagast’s body, nearly pushing the old man down from the wagon. Radagast closed his eyes and spoke inaudibly while hovering his hand over the eagle’s wing and head. Legolas could see the shadow move across the bird, and how Radagast also suddenly became overcome by shadow.

“Grateful I am that you bring this friend to me,” Radagast finally spoke, his voice trembling. “I can treat him, surely, but more will I need from you.”

“We shall help however we can,” Aragorn said, stepping forward.

“Athelas will strip him of the grief the orcs have caused him,” Radagast said. “But with such a great creature, more is needed than is in my stores at present.”

“I know it well. We shall find all we can,” Aragorn said.

“Be quick. We need to heal young Wilyador before the night draws near,” Radagast said, softly petting the bird’s head.

Aragorn and Legolas set about searching the oak and ash groves for Athelas. A common remedy of the Dunedain, but not as familiar to the elves, Aragorn described its leaves to Legolas. They split up and paced low to the ground amid the trees. The day grew late, and Aragorn felt a greater sense of urgency and panic overtook his heart. He could not fail Wilyador, so close to seeing him restored.

John Howe

He passed among trees and shrubs, finally stopping as the pointed leaves low to the earth caught his eye. Aragorn knelt and with a knife, dug around stems of the plant and gently pulled it from the dark soil. He smiled and carefully stuffed the fragile plant into a pouch on his waist. But a call from Legolas set him on alert, and the elf returned to him.

“A strangeness has fallen on these woods, and I hear a wind approaching,” Legolas said.

“Orcs?” Aragorn asked, standing and looking around.

“No, but spies of the enemy, I am sure,” Legolas said.

They stood together under a tree, and indeed a strange wind came through the trees and as the light of day fell, a dark shadow came from the east. The sharp calls of the ravens from Mirkwood Legolas knew well, and he looked at Aragorn knowingly. Each drew their weapons, though what Aragorn could do with a blade, he did not yet know. Legolas knocked an arrow as a great flock surrounded them like a rush of wind. Loud and fierce they were, and Aragorn tried to beat them off, Legolas’s keen aim piercing a number of them with arrows. Bats there were, too, who beat their wings upon them, until they caused enough panic to disperse. The flock quickly spread again, wheeled around and vanished again into the trees to the east. But the danger did not end.

There came a ferocious growl and the rattle of chains, accompanied by a deep voice of an orc. Legolas, as nimbly as a squirrel, ran up into the oaks overhead, and stood softly on a branch. Aragorn quickly raced to a thicket, crawling among its barbs and twisted boughs, hiding low to the ground. They saw the large orc leading a hound, twisted and corrupted by power in Dol Guldur. The calls and beating of the flock alerted them and brought them near.

The hound drooled and gnashed its teeth close to the ground, smelling for man or elf, pacing to and fro. It approached Aragorn, unaware of his physical presence, but smelling his trail. As the hound neared, Aragorn held his knife in hand, ready to leap from the thicket, or draw the hound in, if he was discovered.

Suddenly, near to them, a great crash filled the forest, and the hound spooked, growling and howling as it leaped back away from the sound, toward its master. The orc looked up suddenly, and the crash filled him with terror. A great oak had fallen, though its health and strength remained evident, an unnatural force bent it to the ground. A voice filled the air and a rush of warm air passed through with great force. The leaves and boughs shook violently, and the wind nearly knocked the orc back. The voice howled and called in words older than the forest itself. The hound broke and ran away to the south, the chain trailing behind. Its orc master did the same, chasing after his charge, cursing in black speech.

Aragorn emerged from the thicket as the rush of wind fell away as suddenly as it had risen. Legolas silently landed on the forest floor and they looked at one another strangely. Undoubtedly, the power of Radagast had come to their aid, but displays of his wizardry remained foreign to them.

“Come, the hour is late. I have found what I believe enough to be of use,” Aragorn said. “We should return to the wizard’s house.”

They arrived back at Rhosgobel as the day waned and light shone from the stained glass windows of Radagast’s home. They found the wagon empty, and when they entered the door, the home seemed much larger than it appeared from without. Wilyador bent his great body under the roof and odd branches and dried plants and herbs hanging from the ceiling. The house was filled with creatures and scattered belongings. Aragorn delivered the Athelas to the wizard, who quickly worked to repair the wound.

Aragorn and Legolas sat calmly together, taking in the sweet smell of tea and the steam of the wizard’s potions at work. Their hearts were full and their minds wandered as if some presence made their thoughts loose and scattered. Sitting in the home of Radagast was like listening to soft, pleasant music, and they took heart in knowing the eagle would soon be restored.