The Three Hunters — One Last Time

One moment more, I beg thee, friend
Until we ride, ride to the word's end.

"You're mighty cheerful this morning, Master Elf."

But the archer spoke not.
In the black morn, to which no sun would come
He stood and watched.
Not to the east were his keen eyes slanted
Where Orodruin glowed like a beacon-fire
Lighting their path with its own hate
When all other lights were devoured.

Not to the north did he glance
Where the mountain-fences marched
And beyond, somewhere, their people fought
Under the trees, under the mountain
Against fire and foes; too late now
For them to bring aid to their people,
Had they any to send.

Not to the west did he seek
Where the Eagles of Manwe flew
And far beyond the Sea
Some folk still lived in blessedness
Unmarred by the world's breaking
Wars, grief, woes, the Black Hand.
Somewhere swan ships plied black waters
Where black waters were still clean.

Not to the south did he look
Where waves unnumbered spilled
From the brim of the world
To the hither shore, calling
Ever calling, with the voice of Ulmo's horns
Come away, come away;
Leave these mortal affairs behind.

His sight was turned inwards
Towards a hunt, a stag
Royal-crowned, its antlers gray shadow
That flashed in its headlong course
As it raced through the forest
His home, its dominion.
How fair it had been to run fleet-footed
Trying to overtake the king of deer
And how fair his fall, great heart
Life spent, blood given to the earth
Bones given to the forest floor.
They sang many songs for him.

"Let him sleep a moment longer," pleaded the elf. "The battle will come soon enough, and I do not think we will see him rest again, before he's home."

Home. Such a word had never suited the Ranger well.

The dwarf leaned on his axe in the shadows, looking down. The pair stood side by side at camp's edge, their back to the Dead for Gimli's sake, but he seemed to have forgotten them, chafing to be on their way. They had hunted the Men of Umbar, the Men of Harad, scattering them like birds; but this was not the dwarf's way, mounted battle, nor had he hewn enough yet to blunt his axe. At Pelargir, the elf had promised, there would be an end to careening, and he'd step down so they could fight together with their feet planted on good earth. They must find Gimli orc-necks soon, or he'd begin to grumble.

At their feet the King of Men snored in an all too mortal fashion, wrapped in one old blanket that smelled of pipe-weed; sweat and horse, leather and blood. He was a hurricane force at rest. Soon his sword would flame in the darkness. Soon his arm would sweep the darkness away. Soon the stag would race before them--

"You're not worried?" the dwarf asked gruffly, astonished. "After all we've been through? This is Aragorn."

"Not for much longer," the elf replied.

The dwarf's bushy brows drew together beneath his helm. "You've been acting strangely, friend, ever since you started hearing the Sea. I hope your arrows fly true today, or I'm going to have to stuff your pretty ears with dirt."

"I pray you mercy," laughed the elf. "Not that, nor clippings from your beard." He sobered again. "The Three Hunters," he explained. "We will not be so for much longer, Gimli. Aragorn will outstrip us today. Soon all Men will know what we know about him."

Elessar, Elessar. The first gull he had heard sang it. Even the wild things knew. But the words disturbed him, jumbled together, for human time was such a fleeting thing. Your king has passed through, and he is victorious. Elessar, Elessar. The king is dead. Long live the king.

Legolas would miss Elessar. But already he was missing Aragorn, and that travel-stained vagabond the Hobbits called Strider. Lord of the White Tree, perhaps, encompassed them all: and there was the Stag again, lord beneath the trees.

Gimli grunted. Such musings were not the dwarf's way. "About time."

Yes it is, isn't it? And that has always been the problem.

Aragorn stirred in his sleep, rolled over-- his hand was reaching for his sword-hilt, not groping for the green stone on his breast as it did sometimes-- and suddenly he leapt to his feet, all sleep gone from him, poised and taut as a bowstring. "Minas Tirith is besieged," he said grimly. "If we cannot bring aid soon, our riding will have been vain. We ride!"

His voice boomed out across the bivouac, and grey-cloaked living men sat up and began to move towards the horses.

"Aragorn?" the elf said quietly in the creak of harness and the champ of beasts' teeth catching bits.

The Ranger paused with his hand on Roheryn's shoulder, looking back at his friends. Arod was at hand, obedient, and the archer was discreetly loading Gimli onto the tall horse's back, a practice the dwarf's pride suffered out of necessity. Aragorn's eyes gleamed.

"Mae faro," the elf said: Good hunting. A simple Silvan blessing. They had hunted together sometimes in Greenwood, in what seemed an Age ago, searching for the skulking thing it had been the Man's task to find. So they had become friends.

"Mae faro, mellon," the Man returned curtly, and leapt astride his steed with less grace than Elf, but more than Men. Still, from his tone and his wording, the Elf knew he had understood.

"Get on, Master Sluggard," Gimli said impatiently, using one of the Elf's fond nicknames for the mortals with whom he travelled.

Legolas laughed and leapt aboard, sliding between Gimli's and the proud horse's neck.

There was a ring of metal, a flash of fire, and one thing that glowed with its own light, touched not by the hateful beacon-fire of Mount Doom too close for all that it was yet far away. Aragorn had drawn Andúril. The flame of the West flickered eagerly, tasting the battle to come.

"Ride on!" Elessar's voice set the company in motion.

His people sang many songs for the crownéd king of the wood, the mortal one whose dominion was as fleeting as his speed. Legolas would sing one more.