A/N: This story is not necessarily a sequel to my story, "The Wrong Path", so no one has to go back and read that one---unless you just want to, which would be very nice. I didn’t set out to write a sequel, but since this story takes place two years after that one and makes references to events that happened then, it could be considered as one. For those who don’t want to go back and read “The Wrong Path”, I have tried to make brief explanations of those past events. I’ll do my best in explaining, so no one has to sit around scratching their heads and wondering what in Arda I‘m talking about.
Black Mountain, known as Orod Moru to the elves, stood silent and forbidding, snow-capped and shrouded where mist met cloud. No one knew what lay on this particular mountain. There had been much speculation through time and more than a few humans, elves, even dwarves, alone and in groups had gone to investigate. Not a single person had ever retuned to tell what they had found. Thus it was that the mountain continued to keep its secrets.
It had been over three hundred years since the last brave---or foolish---souls had ventured to its black granite slopes. But now, in 2962 TA, eerie shrieks and rumbling noises had begun emanating from the dark, brooding mountain. Orod Moru appeared to be waking up.
It seemed the time had come for someone new to try to solve the mystery of Black Mountain.
"Why?" the blond elf, standing with his hands on his hips and his head cocked slightly to the left, asked his human companion.
"Because it's there?" the man answered with a teasing question.
The flickering firelight danced in both pairs of eyes.
"That is a ridiculous answer, Estel." There was a mixed tone of exasperation and bewilderment in the elf's voice. "Why must you humans feel you have to investigate something just because it exists? Why cannot some things just be left alone?" the elf asked. When the man stared at him without answering, the elf asked again, "Why?"
The man shook his head. His friend was not going to give up until his question was answered, yet he couldn't resist saying, "Legolas, has anyone ever told you that you are a decidedly single-minded elf, when you want to be?"
"I believe that you have---many times. As well as my father, and my brothers, and....” He paused and shook his head. “Do not attempt to change the subject, Estel. I ask for the third time, why?"
Legolas sat down next to the ranger. His eyes sought and were held by the flames of the campfire, as they twisted in the light breeze. Sparks detached themselves and floated upward before winking out, only to be replaced with others. It was mesmerizing, yet the elf's keep hearing and focused mind did not miss a single thing the human said.
"The rangers that have come back from the far north say the mountain has come alive. It should be investigated."
"And the mountain is there," the elf added with a terse mocking sarcasm.
Aragorn made a face at his friend, who was now looking straight at him. "In truth, Legolas, someone does need to find out what dangers lie on that mountain."
The seriousness of Aragorn’s words were not missed by the elf. "And it matters not that for millennia not a single person, who has gone to Orod Moru, has ever returned." Legolas was doing his best to be logical, though he feared that logic, at this point, was lost on the stubborn human.
"I'm a ranger, Legolas. I'm supposed to investigate and if possible, eliminate anything that may be a danger to anyone, be that one person or all of the free peoples of Middle-earth."
The elf laughed heartily. "You are unbelievable. Your goals are noble, Estel, but you act as if you are proposing a simple stroll in the garden. We will go to the mountain, find what is going on there, and either eliminate the problem ourselves or come back with all the answers to save everyone.” He flung his arms wide to emphasize the word ‘everyone‘. “Right?"
Aragorn grinned and then shrugged. "Well, yes. Why not?" The man held his hands up in front of him, palms facing outward. "I’m not crazy, so before you say it, I do know it will be difficult, but it can be done."
"Oh? When no one else has ever managed to do it?" Legolas wasn’t ashamed to keep returning to that one point. After all, it was true.
"None of those people were you and me." The smile that graced the young man's face just made the elf grimace. He had been on the receiving end of such an assertion more times than he cared to count.
"Come on, Legolas. Think of the adventure. We would be solving a mystery that has baffled most of the races since the arrival of those races on Arda."
Not taken in by the plea, Legolas said, "Estel, I will not fall for that "think of the adventure” lure. You have used it too many times in our history together. Besides, we do not know there is anything there that is a danger to anyone who leaves the mountain alone. Never has anything come down to threaten any of us."
"That we know of.” the ranger said, grinning at the logic he had just displayed. “You know yourself that there have been many mysterious happenings all over the north of Middle-earth that have never been solved. We don't know how many of those things had to do with the Black Mountain.”
“We also do not know if any of them did.”
Aragorn sighed. Convincing Legolas this time was proving to be harder than he had anticipated. Undaunted, he resolutely continued with his argument. “Think about it, Legolas. There has to be something there. As you‘ve pointed out, there are those who have never returned. In all these years, hundreds must have gone to Black Mountain. They can't all have had simple accidents like falling off cliffs or into holes or freezing to death in snow storms to account for their disappearances.”
"And the barest suspicion that they may have died unnatural deaths means we should go there rather than simply avoiding the place." It was a flat statement tinged with exasperation.
Aragorn didn't answer. He merely picked up a stick and begun drawing circles in the dirt between his feet. He knew his friend hated it when he didn’t answer a question, and he had failed to answer several so far.
A few moments of silence ensued. Aragorn’s hopes began to rise.
"There is one other thing that needs to be discussed." Legolas pointed out.
"And that would be?" Aragorn asked, not looking up from his drawing.
"I may be an adult, Estel, but my father will never allow me to go anywhere near Orod Moru. You should realize that. Look at all the pleading you had to do just to get him to let me come camping with you. And that was only if we stayed within Mirkwood’s borders."
"We won't tell him, of course."
"That would be lying, Estel. You know how I feel about that."
It was Aragorn's turn to grimace. His idea of lying was to come right out and say something that wasn't true. It was different with elves, at least this particular elf. To him saying something that was essentially true but that led someone to believe the exact opposite of what the words implied was as much a lie as speaking an untruth was.
The man tried another tact. “Do you realize that this is only the third time I’ve seen you these past two years? I miss being on adventures with you, because you've been hanging around Mirkwood much too much all this time. "
That was true enough, though the elf frowned at the words ‘hanging around‘. Ever since Legolas’s encounter with Mordraug, the evil elf, who insidiously used him in an attempt to destroy his father and take over Mirkwood, Thranduil had kept his youngest child close to home. He had given him one assignment after another to stem any arguments his son might have had about being confined to the realm for his own safety. He was after all, not only a subject of the king but also a warrior of the kingdom. His presence was both welcome and useful but not absolutely essential. His father had argued the point that the Shadow was growing in the realm and every warrior was needed.
That reason had been only a part of the truth. The king had been terrified that he had forever lost his youngest child to Mordraug’s madness, and he was not willing to risk doing so again. Neither father nor son had been fooled. They both understood, but never spoke of the king's fears.
Legolas had finally acquiesced and carried out whatever duties Thranduil gave him without complaint. He certainly enjoyed being with all of his family and friends. However, it was getting harder and harder to stay confined to the realm. As much as he loved his home, Legolas was getting restless.
During the majority of his upbringing, the wide world outside of Mirkwood had only existed for the young elf in books and tales he heard from other elves, who had traveled throughout Arda. Learning about other people and other places had given Legolas a burning desire to meet those people and see those places. Thanks mostly to the urging of Legolas’s oldest brother, Crown Prince Balardorn, the youngest child of the king had finally been given assignments outside of Mirkwood. For the most part he accompanied Thranduil or Balardoron on various missions, both diplomatic and occasionally military.
The world had proven as fascinating as Legolas had imagined it to be. It also awoke in him a restlessness that did not please his father, though Thranduil had allowed his son his freedom, once he had come of age. However, it wasn’t until the incident with Mordraug that the king felt the need to keep his youngest at home.
In the intervening two years, Legolas had seen Estel only twice before this. They had spent time together in Mirkwood, but even its vast borders were becoming too small to contain Legolas’s yearning. The two friends longed to go adventuring much farther afield. It was for that reason that the ranger had come to Mirkwood once again to try and break Legolas free.
"My father would want to know, demand in fact, where we were going. The mere mention of Orod Moru would send him into a frenzy. Have you ever seen my father in a frenzy?” He didn’t wait to see if Aragorn was going to answer. “I think not. Whatever lies on the mountain would be nothing compared to that. So, how do you propose we get his permission to go there?"
Aragorn had no immediate answer for that. It was now he, who stared into the fire. Leaning forward, he picked up several pieces of wood and put them on the fire, which hissed and crackled. A shower of sparks flew upward, as the burned wood underneath collapsed into the ashes below them. The flames increased, as the new wood began to be consumed.
The long silence from the elf told the man that he had won the argument. When Legolas was serious about arguing, he rarely needed to stop and think about it. He either kept up the verbal barrage until the other person changed his mind, or he changed his own mind, a rarer occurrence but not an unheard of one.
To Legolas's chagrin, he also knew he was going to give in. He wasn't convinced that going on such an investigation was the wisest thing to do, but he had to admit that it did sound intriguing. And Aragorn was right about one thing: There was no way to know that danger did exist and was not now gathering for some sort of assault on any or all of the peoples of Middle-earth. Even Sauron had had to begin somewhere. The idea that another Dark Lord, even a lesser one than Sauron, may be in the making made the elf shudder.
The ranger lifted his head and grinned at the elf. "You're going to go with me, aren't you?"
"Well, someone has to keep you out of trouble."
Aragorn laughed. "That hasn't happened yet, but I welcome you to try." Of course, the opposite was true, as well. Legolas had certainly had his share of troubles, despite having a ranger of the North at his side. Or maybe that was because of it. To his friend, he said, "Tell me I will not regret this."
"Would you believe me, if I did?"
"I’m glad you realize that we need to go." Aragorn had adopted a serious tone. "There doesn’t seem to be anyone else to do it. We need to find out what's happening on that mountain, Legolas."
"That will be hard, since no one has ever survived Orod Moru," Legolas pointed out yet again. He once more went back to the more immediate problem. "You never answered me about my father. He will not let me go into that kind of danger. If he cannot stop me as my father, he certainly can as my king. I am a subject of the realm, and I owe him my allegiance."
Aragorn could not continue to avoid the subject. He knew Legolas was not speaking out of fear for himself. Very little frightened the elf. Concern for family and friends could bring fear to the elf's heart quicker than anything. He believed that Thranduil’s concern for his youngest was overriding his desire to grant his son’s wish to go anywhere outside of Mirkwood‘s borders.
“We will work something out,” the ranger said reassuringly.
The two friends stood up, and Aragorn clapped Legolas on the shoulder. "We may well end up doing something more important for Middle-earth than we could ever imagine."
"Or be added to the long list of people who have disappeared forever on Orod Moru," the elf muttered with a resigned sigh.