Having lost Gollum’s trail in the Gladden Fields, Aragorn returned north. After moving south at a quick pace, upon reaching the Old Forest Road, he wandered aimlessly, taking leisure in the bee pastures and soft meadows around the Old Ford. The once great stone bridge stood desolate now, and Aragorn could easily walk across Aduin there, contemplating returning to Mirkwood, to see if Echador remained there.
But his mind turned westward as the road led to Imladris where he could find rest, peace and thought, before continuing on to the borders of the Shire. With his usual caution he passed alongside the road, but still out of sight of it. An eagle cried overhead and he shielded his eyes to catch a glimpse. But a high, singing whistle in the distance rolled over the hills, and he turned back toward the east. Lying ear to the grass, he could hear soft footsteps approaching, running swiftly.
They were not steps of the enemy, so he sat up and waited for the stranger’s arrival. When two figures came into view, he could tell they were not strangers at all. One, tall and slender with dark hair, an elf, carried a bow on his back, dressed in blue with a green cloak flying behind him. The other, a man, ran alongside the elf, and it was moments before Aragorn recognized them as Legolas, and Echador.
Aragorn stood and the two slowed their pace as they came up the small hill toward him. Despite the many miles, Legolas showed no signs of fatigue or shortness of breath as he spoke, “Aragorn, it is well that we have cross paths.”
“Indeed it is, my friend,” Aragorn said, putting a hand on Legolas’s shoulder. “Echador, good to see you under the sun, this time.”
The Dunedan lightly bowed his head, “Word has reached us that trolls have come down from the mountains. We heard you’d stopped near the Ford but headed west. I am glad to have caught up with you.”
“My father’s scouts have seen the trolls near the Carrock,” Legolas said.
“The Beornings surely know of their presence,” Aragorn said.
“Indeed, it is thus why we were dispatched. Grimbeorn has apparently gone there from his home,” said Legolas.
“Alone?” Aragorn dismayed. “No doubt the old Beorning’s fury can be a match for any creature, but four trolls, I fear he walks into deep water, so to speak.”
“Let us go to the Carrock together,” Echador said, an eagerness in his voice.
“I do not hide that I very much looked forward to time in Imladris,” Aragorn said wistfully, “for a long march from here to Gladden, and a fruitless one at that, have I taken in the past month.” He sighed, “But I cannot idle while harm approaches the Beorning, nor do I wish to see this beautiful land spoiled by trolls and their harsh deeds.”
Aragorn put a hand on both their shoulders, “Come my friends, let us be quick, there are nearly 40 miles to the Carrock, and Grimbeorn has a head start. Catch him, and persuade him to take caution we must. It is good to pursue a friend after such a long and dismal chase.”
With those words the three ran north, back along Anduin, their feet light and their hearts warmed by the company. They covered the distance like birds under the sun; a renewed vigor in Aragorn’s heart washed away his weariness after the failed pursuit of Gollum. If they were lucky, they could counsel Grimbeorn the Old before he faced the trolls alone.
The Carrock rose high above Anduin as the sun began to set. Aragorn, Legolas, and Echador crouched among trees along the western bank. The land was drenched in the last light of day, and a small flickering light appeared on the flat summit of the eyot ahead. Legolas peered into the dimming light, but seeing clearly, reported to the Dunedain at his sides.
“It appears they’ve set a fire. I count four,” he said.
“I regret we did not encounter Grimbeorn, four against three, and four trolls at that, does not favor us,” Echador said.
“We may yet find Grimbeorn, if he indeed kept his course to confront them,” Aragorn said. “We must test our strength against them. Even one troll with eyes over the ford at the Carrock spells trouble for the safety of these lands.”
“Do we wait til near dawn? The rising sun can even our odds,” Legolas said.
“I fear if we wait, Grimbeorn will face them alone. No, the hour is at hand. Although, a difficult battle this will be. We are at a disadvantage in number, and are on unfavorable ground. Let me think a moment,” Aragorn said.
He sat on the ground, crossed his legs and descended into thought. Many times he visited the Carrock; climbed the steps that Beorn carved into the stone. He knew it intimately, as he did many lands in Middle-earth, which is why their present endeavor concerned him. One could climb the cliff face, if they were sure of foot; but a dangerous climb it would be. Ascending the stairs would place them right into the trolls’ hands. He sighed; it appeared they had little advantage to gain. Perhaps Legolas was right and they should wait until the sunlight would be at their backs.
The night deepened and Aragorn finally rose to his feet again. Echador, who had been sitting against an oak, put his pipe away and stood next to his chieftain. Legolas, nearly silent, returned from wandering among the trees. Aragorn looked to the Carrock and the flickering firelight that danced against the stone, and the shadows of the trolls he could just barely observe.
“There is no good way to approach this fight, but I believe we can catch them off-guard,” Aragorn began. “Legolas, could you climb the cliff from a lower point, where the stair winds along the outside?”
“I believe it will be no trouble,” Legolas said.
“Then Echador and I will face them from the stair. You will be able to surprise them as they undoubtedly would not detect your movements,” Aragorn turned to Echador. “This puts us in grave danger, but another way I cannot see.”
Echador did not waver. His pale eyes shone like steel, “I am with you, and we three are valiant warriors. I do not fear servants of the enemy.”
Aragorn smiled at Echador’s strength. He never knew him to hesitate in the face of his duty, but putting him at such risk pained Aragorn, still. Their number was few, but their will surely could not be outmatched.
The three strode forward under the moon, Legolas disappearing along a separate path as Aragorn and Echador walked toward the cave at the foot of the Carrock, where Beorn’s stairs began. Aragorn listened for any signs of others, be it Grimbeorn, or more forces of the enemy. Nothing reached his ears but the flowing Anduin and the birds that still called in the night.
They drew their swords and began ascending the stairs quietly. As they approached the summit, the voices of the trolls began echoing and their trivial arguments at least heartened Aragorn that they may yet also take them by surprise. Before the stairs reached the flattened earth atop the eyot, the pair had to round a sharp corner. Aragorn paused there, and Echador waited behind.
The rangers stood concealed in shadow, backs against stone. Aragorn slowly leaned just enough to see around the corner and get the lay of the land. The trolls sat around the fire, no conventional weapons could he see. A large carcass lay beside them, which looked to be a pony, the kind that Grimbeorn and his folk often sheltered. The trolls must have stolen from a Beorning’s pasture, undoubtedly what alerted Grimbeorn to their presence in his ancestral lands. But where is the Beorning, Aragorn wondered.
Across the way, where the rock rose again in a sheer cliff face, with only a steep stair reaching the smaller outcropping, Aragorn saw the fire in Legolas’s eyes. The elf crouched, almost lying flat to the stone. Aragorn turned back to Echador and nodded. Their trap was set.
Drawing strength and a deep breath, Aragorn leaped from behind the stone corner, shouting and brandishing his sword in both hands. He sprinted toward trolls who turned quickly toward him, surprise indeed reflected in their faces. Aragorn at least was on them before they could rise fully to their feet and he cut deep into the forearm of one who raised his arm instinctively in defense.
Echador, who took but a moment to follow his chieftain, also came forward, striking his own blow on another, driving his blade into the troll’s soft belly. The troll let out a high scream, and Echador withdrew his blade and ducked beneath the huge hands that swiped for him. Light on his feet, Echador moved behind the troll and struck another blow to its hind quarters. The troll stumbled and fell to its knees, struggling to stand quickly.
Their surprise diminished as the two remaining trolls now stood, looming large, almost taller than if Echador and Aragorn stood atop one another. In their hands they held huge branches, stripped from trees, splintered at the ends, and as thick as a man’s chest. They roared and jumped toward Aragorn as their wounded companions wailed. Aragorn stepped back, alarmed at the sight of them, but gave no further ground as he held firm, ready to adapt to their charge.
An opening he saw when one of the trolls flinched as if stung by a bee. Aragorn saw an arrow protruding from the troll’s shoulder, and heard the bow of Legolas sing as he loosed another arrow, directly into the raised hand of the troll, who guarded his face with his free hand. At this moment, Aragorn cried, “Elendil!” and ran at the troll who gave little notice of his companion’s wounds.
The troll swung its mighty branch, but Aragorn ducked and swung his sword true, cutting the troll beneath the arm. It dropped its branch and wailed, but Aragorn took no notice and continued his move. Toward another he ran, one who he cut in the first dash, and with great might, the troll brought its branch down on him. Aragorn parried and the ancient blade held true. But the mighty blow sent Aragorn to his knees and he struggled under the creature’s weight.
Echador proved his earlier words true as he leaped at the troll, hoping to drive his blade into the creature’s exposed ribs, but his leap merely brought the troll’s wrath upon him. The troll swung his branch toward Echador, which found its mark. The blow sent Echador to the ground, his sword clattering from his hands. Aragorn, freed from the troll’s weight, rushed with renewed fury and drove his blade deep into the chest of the creature. It roared, then gasped and dropped its branch, clutching its hands around Aragorn and lifting him high off the ground. Its fingers closed tightly and Aragorn choked for air.
As the troll’s mighty hands forced the breath from his lungs, Aragorn’s vision began to fade and his head became light. Suddenly, the creature’s grasp fell slack and Aragorn’s eyes widened as he fell to the ground. The troll also fell, crashing into the fire, sending sparks and flaming brands across the stone. There, Echador stood, his head and face red with blood, a daze in his eyes, but a fatal blow he struck. Aragorn pulled in deep breaths to regain his wits and accepted Echador’s outstretched hand, pulling himself to his feet.
They had not a moment to speak as another troll roared. They looked up to see one wielding two branches, rushing toward them. Aragorn quickly pulled his blade from the felled troll and stood side-by-side with Echador, who labored from his wounds, but stood stern, nonetheless.
Behind the furious rush of the troll that bore down on Aragorn and Echador, Legolas neared the end of his quiver, reaching back to find only two arrows remaining. While his shots found their marks, the trolls proved tough, the hides of their shoulder and backs strong as stone. A few of his arrows weakened them, but merely increased their fury. One had charged up the steps to the summit outcropping, robbing Legolas of the high ground. He held his aim, and drew his bowstring tight, letting the arrow fly as the troll was nearly within arm’s length. As soon as he let the arrow loose, Legolas jumped to the side, seeing the arrow strike squarely in the troll’s eye.
A hand covered the troll’s face as it cried out, not the deep roar, but a cowering shriek. It stumbled and turned wildly, suddenly losing its footing and falling from the precipice. They heard not its screams as it fell, nor it hitting the ford below, over the sounds of the battle that still raged among them.
Legolas had cleared one troll, but the other now swiped at him with a strong branch. He barely jumped over the blow, and instead of drawing another arrow, Legolas dropped his bow and swung two long-bladed knives from his belt. He leaped atop the troll, balancing as if on a log in a river, and deftly stepped along the creature’s shoulders, avoiding its wildly grasping hands. Legolas drove a blade into the back of the creature’s neck and as it reached for him with both hands, he jumped from the troll’s shoulders, turned in air and swung the other blade at the creature’s throat. The blow proved decisive as the troll fell back, crashing to the stone.
Aragorn and Echador moved together, ducking the troll’s wild swings with both branches. But they could not get close enough to strike a blow. They simply moved and staggered out of its way as it swung in all directions and turned to chase them. Emboldened, Echador sprung forward as the troll missed Aragorn, who rolled to the stone. Before the troll could bring his second branch down on Aragorn, Echador struck below the left arm. It stopped and cried out, but swung its left arm at Echador who had just withdrawn his blade and had little time to react. The troll’s elbow crashed into Echador who again fell to the ground.
On his feet again, Aragorn rushed at the troll, who now focused on the fallen Echador. Aragorn cut deep into the creature’s leg, dropping it to one knee. As the creature bent over, Legolas leaped onto its back and drove his knife into its skull. Echador’s eyes wide, rolled away as the troll’s massive body fell forward. Legolas deftly landed and breathed heavily, his long hair stuck to the sweat on his face.
Aragorn ran to Echador’s side and held him as the wounded Dunedan attempted to stand. He put a hand to Echador’s chest and felt his labored breathing. Echador coughed and could barely prop himself up on his own, falling into Aragorn’s arms. His eyes that mere hours ago were as bright as his sword, began to fade.
“Though our number was few, victory is ours this night,” Echador said.
“Nay, victory it is not, if you do not stand beside me tomorrow,” Aragorn replied.
“Indeed, I feel this night is my last,” Echador said, looking to the stars overhead.
“The last night for us all, had your valor been less than that which you possess,” Aragorn said.
Echador reached up and touched Aragorn’s face and his breathing became quiet. Aragorn held Echador as the light passed from his eyes and a final smile came across Echador’s face.
“I accept the gift of Men. Farewell, Aragorn,” his last words trailed from his lips.
Legolas stood with his head bowed, and quietly mouthed a soft lament in Echador’s honor. Aragorn held the Dunedan’s body for a moment, his hand on Echador’s chest, which moved no more.
Aragorn and Legolas laid Echador in the ground near the base of the Carrock as the morning greeted them. The rest of the night they labored to lay him to rest, and Aragorn knelt by the fresh earth for a few moments before climbing to his feet. His face was grim and they spoke no words between them as Aragorn carried not only his own pack, but Echador’s as well. They crossed the ford where the Anduin flowed shallow over the stones at the foot of the Carrock and traveled east and south.