In the house of Radagast, Aragorn and Legolas slept well for days that seemed to blend into weeks. The eagle, Wilyador, spread his wings once more and flew north to rejoin his kin, thanks to the wizard’s skill. Radagast bid the travelers to stay and recover their strength, and await for patrols from Dol Guldur to lessen, so that they may set out on their road in peace. Legolas spent days wandering the wood, while Radagast often disappeared for some time, which left Aragorn to sit with his thoughts, and his pipe, only accompanied by the squirrels, birds, and other curious creatures that filled Radagast’s home.
His thoughts frequently found their way to Lothlorien, and Arwen Undomiel, and he knew that he was quite close to the elven lands. But he contemplated again his search for Gollum. It had been weeks since he lost the trail in the Gladden Fields. Would he ask Legolas to journey with him to continue his search for Gollum?
Aragorn stepped out of Radagast’s home and wandered the woods as the sun fell slowly in the west, bathing the trees in auburn light. His ears picked up Legolas’s soft footsteps and the two conversed, sitting in the grass beside a small stream.
“Something weighs on your mind, Aragorn,” Legolas said.
“Indeed, I must continue my search for Gollum, though it is not the course I wish to take,” he said. “Such time in this fair place has me longing for fairer company than I am to find in that search.”
“I would gladly lend my aid,” said Legolas, “but I must return to the halls of my father. It has been many weeks since I went abroad, and I should not abandon my watch for much longer.”
“Of course, I do not wish to upset the Elven-king,” Aragorn laughed. “Should I find Gollum, we shall meet again, as I will travel north with him to your father’s hall, and keep him there under your close watch.”
“With the forest so wild, and the enemy’s presence in Dol Guldur strengthened, I will set watch and my people will look to your coming,” Legolas said.
After sitting for many hours in the twilight, they returned to Radagast’s home in the night. And though he needed rest, Aragorn sat awake. Legolas and all creatures within the house slept peacefully. As he sat longer, Aragorn stood and quietly stepped outside, walking west and south. He pulled his cloak over his head and tight to his body as the night was chill. The warmth of Radagast’s home and the peaceful wood slowly faded, though it sustained him for many days to come.
A gentle rain fell as Aragorn reached the eaves of Lothlorien, where grassy plain led into the golden wood, untouched by darkness and evil. Aragorn wandered cautiously beneath the boughs, and soon the Silvan rangers found him, and after some questioning, greeted him as a friend. He sought their counsel for news of orcs or Gollum. Though they did not stray far from their borders, the elves knew of orc patrols and hunting parties that came from Dol Guldur. When the orcs dared, they came near to Lothlorien, probing its strength. None returned from such skirmishes, and the elves kept watch even to the western bank of Anduin, fearing a larger force from Dol Guldur was on the horizon.
But news of Gollum they did not have, at least not directly. However, news of orcs heading south encouraged him, for the elves reported they brought hounds with them. After encountering such beasts from Dol Guldur near Radagast’s home, Aragorn knew the hunt continued. He bid the elves farewell and flew south as quickly as he could, passing through the Field of Celebrant and crossing the Limlight within days. He followed the western bank of Anduin until he finally reached the Emyn Muil, where his pursuit slowed.
The land rose gradually in rolling hills, but abruptly became harsh and steep cliffs and ridges, topped with mangled firs. Aragorn found his way over and around steep cliffs, passing to the west to avoid the greater faces, and stumbling through thickets and thorns, he cut his way through, finding at last a fairer footpath that wound downwards, coming into the wood surrounding Nen Hithoel. The great lake stretched before him, calm until its inevitable fall at Rauros. He could see Tol Brandir on the horizon amid the haze of the falls. His passage continued along the lake until he came to rest in the evening near the foot of Amon Hen.
There he made camp and beneath the trees near to the water’s edge he lit a fire and leaned his back against a tree. The moon rose overhead and the lake shimmered like glass. Rauros filled the air with its great roar, and Tol Brandir stood tall, its mass shrouded in mist up to its sharp peak. He ate what food he could and slept but a few hours, awaking again in the depths of night, his fire down to smoldering embers. The lack of light favored him, as he could now see torches on the eastern shore. Careless orcs passing south, their faint brands stumbling along through the trees. Though orcs were within sight, being upon the eastern shore, and so near to Rauros, he knew they could not cross here, and he slept again.
Early in the morning hours, Aragorn awoke and broke camp, being careful to clear signs of his stay, scattering the debris of his small fire, and brushing over the earth so that only a fellow Dunedain could know his signs. To the west he looked to the lawn of Parth Galen, below Amon Hen where the grass was soft, and he made his way there, up slowly, finding the ancient stair and paths that had long since been overtaken and broken by tree roots. He climbed to the flat summit of the hill, holding onto the rowan trees where the stair was broken and the hill steep. There, stood the Seat of Seeing, crumbled and ruined. Built by the great kings of the past, the seat passed into memory in the south, as the borders of Gondor retreated, and the kingdom weakened.
Aragorn climbed the many stone steps toward the seat, but hesitated. His heart grew heavy as did his legs, and he could not make himself climb further, staring up at the high chair, which did not yet call to him. Instead he stood on the steps and looked across the land, seeing far over the trees in all directions. The light of day rose and touched everything below, and he looked south where Anduin flowed into the Entwash and the Nindalf marshes to the east. Though the roaring of the falls still echoed, other sounds came to him on the air, high above the lawn and trees below. He heard foul voices and the growls and barks of hounds, both of which he knew, and remained fresh in his mind from Rhosgobel.
He sat low on the stairs, and slowly climbed downward, hiding among the ruined battlements that surrounded the seat and that which were built upon the hillside, now broken, their stone blocks scattered about the ground. Though no orcs climbed the steep hill, he could hear them moving among the trees and across the lawn below. He crept slowly down the hill as they passed, and remained behind them, hiding behind a thick rowan that had grown through and over the ruined road. He cautiously continued down the hill until he came at last back to Parth Galen and could see the orc patrol clearly, hounds on the ends of chains, clawing through the grass. There were but three orcs, leading two hounds, and Aragorn remained silent, drawing his ancient blade.
The orcs wandered through the wooded lawn, their trail seemingly without clear direction. They passed over the same areas more than once, and the hounds crawled around in circles, growling up trees, and then coming down and continuing to search the ground, with nothing revealing itself clearly. Aragorn silently moved from the cover of one tree to another, thankful that the wind blew from the east, so that they could not yet discover him. As he came closer, he drew a knife into his free hand and with a great leap and shout, emerged from behind a tree to pierce one of the orcs with his blade.
Releasing their corrupted hounds, which foamed at the mouth, their teeth bared, the other two orcs drew their curved blades and followed their beasts, which came at Aragorn with all speed. He braced himself, and switched the blades in his hands, quickly throwing the knife and bringing down one of the hounds. The other knocked him to the ground, but he held it back with his arm and dispatched it with a thrust from his blade.
The two orcs were near him now and he parried a blow so as to climb to his feet. Once upright, the orcs trembled with fear and fell to him quickly. The sound of their skirmish died down, little could be heard at distance over the sound of Rauros, but Aragorn remained low to the ground, poised and looking about, training his ears for the sound of footsteps; yet he heard nothing. He cleaned his blade and retrieved the knife, wiping it on a cloth before sheathing it again.
He knelt over the orcs and searched them, looking for any sign that may lead him forward. Their armor and cloth bore a resemblance to those they saw near Rhosgobel, as these undoubtedly came south from Dol Guldur. Had he been careless in his haste? Were they hunting him, same as he sought Gollum? A patrol being now on the western shore worried him, and he continued south, toward the cliffs. He knew of a passage down, and sought to scout ahead for signs of the orcs. If they watched the North Stair, his route would be cut off, and he would be forced west, to the East Wall of Rohan.
Aragorn moved more cautiously now down the gentle slope of Parth Galen, hiding behind trees and listening to the earth. The sun was high when he reached the steep hills that descended down to the foot of Rauros. To his left and the east, the hill abruptly dropped into sharp cliffs, which no man could descend. But the hills sloped and tumbled down further west, where the North Stair wound beneath trees, but the descent remained steep, and he knew that even walking down on his own would not be easy. He sat against a tree, looking down the stair for some hours, awaiting for signs of movement, but saw none. Though he did not hear or see any orcs, it did not relieve him. He resigned himself to take the stair at night. The darkness and cover of trees would aid him, as would the full might of Rauros’s brawl, until he could reach the foot of the falls below.
Clouds hid the moon overhead and Parth Galen was dark beneath the trees. Aragorn could see rather well, still, but moved hesitantly out from behind a large tree. He softly moved to the North Stair and began his descent. The stones were loose, old, and many barely protruded from the earth that slowly consumed them. Every few moments he stopped and stooped low to listen to the wind in the trees and the sound of Rauros. The falls made it difficult to detect any other sound as he descended and came closer to the bottom of the hills, but he proceeded nonetheless.
Halfway down, the stair curved to the east, then back again to the west, a gentler slope cut into the steep hillside. At the curve, he could look beyond where the hill continued downward and then the shimmering falls seemed to glow in the moonlight, now revealed. Suddenly, he knew he stood in the open and quickly lay down flat to the earth. Clouds drifted once more over the moon and he stood, walking further downward, facing west.
The stair reached a gentler slope and he paused there, looking down to see the slope once more fell sharply, and the stair cut back and forth for many feet below. Rauros was a greater roar now, and his ears were ringing with the powerful crashing of the water.
A vengeful growl and sudden crash behind him caused him to wheel about, turning on his heel only to see a great orc hound leaping. It crashed into him and they fell backward, rolling to the curve in the stair, where the path dropped off below them. The hound brought its teeth down into his arm, which he used to defend himself in desperation. Grabbing the hound by the scruff, he rolled to his left and with one motion hurled the beast off the precipice. The hound fell, bounced, and rolled down the steep hillside, crashing into the stairs below.
Aragorn lay on his back, breathing heavily, his arm burning, and blood soaking his clothes. He leaned on his right arm and attempted to stand just as a large uruk emerged from the stair above and came charging toward him, blade drawn. With a fire in his chest, Aragorn sprung to his feet and drew his blade, the strength of the uruk driving him back to the edge of the stair. Aragorn braced and parried, throwing his shoulder into the beastmaster; it stumbled and Aragorn swiftly stepped around it, avoiding the edge of the stair.
The uruk came at him again and Aragorn stepped aside, cutting the uruk across its back, which only succeeded in strengthening its rage. With his left arm tucked close to his body and bleeding, Aragorn stood ready to parry again, but the uruk instead tackled him to the ground, its blade clattering on the stone. They rolled, and off the stair they fell to the stone path below. With only one arm free, Aragorn could not overcome the weight of the uruk, who clutched at Aragorn’s throat, spitting and growling as he held tight.
Aragorn delivered blows to the Uruk’s head and ribs with his free arm, but to no avail. The breath leaving him, he grasped desperately across his body to his belt and managed to finger the knife from its sheath. A hard, deep thrust and the uruk released him, screaming in pain; it sat up, but its heavy fist struck Aragorn in the face. Aragorn’s head hit against the stone and his vision blurred, but he kneed the uruk, rolled to his feet, and there lay his ancient blade. He grasped it and turned just as the uruk stood and came upon him again. But Aragorn drove the blade into its chest and the uruk’s weight carried it forward, crashing into him and he fell again to his back.
He knew not how long he lay beneath the uruk, but slowly Aragorn pushed the body off him, and stood. He stumbled, and leaned against the hillside behind him. He sheathed his blades and looked at his arm, still fresh and wet with blood. His throat bore the marks of the uruk’s powerful fingers, and ached when he tried to speak. He had to reach the end of the stair as quickly as he could, and possibly seek refuge within Entwash and the eyots and wetlands there.
Aragorn tore cloth from his bag and tied it tightly around his arm with his teeth, stemming the bleeding before he could reach a place to safely tend the wound. He continued downward, his blade in-hand, and his left arm still tucked to his body. His head remained foggy the rest of the way down, and he tripped and stumbled until finally reaching the bottom of the hill, which led into long grasses along the bank of Anduin. He walked for some time there, before reaching the wood and sitting against a tall tree. Hidden by the high grass and reeds, he passed into a dark and dreamless sleep.