Laughter filled the quiet valley, the sound carried on the light spring breeze that stirred the leaves on the trees. The sun was shining brightly on the small group playing by the river; two of them trying to dunk the other in the shallow water while the other laughed at them from the river bank.
"Get him Elladan… come on Estel!" Elrohir called, egging on first one brother then the other.
Aragorn paused at the sound of his elvish name and Elladan used that to throw the human into the water with a splash. The laughing only got louder as Aragorn came up spluttering. He glared at his elder brother and brushed the brown locks from his face before pulling Elladan in as well.
Aragorn laughed at his elven brother as Elladan glared at him and crawled over to the bank to sit next to his twin, Elrohir.
"He got you good, Elladan!" Elrohir said, giving his brother a playful shove. Elladan scowled at his twin before getting up and going back over to Aragorn who had just got out of the water.
Aragorn saw his brother coming back over to him and held up his hands in forgiveness.
"Goheno nin, Elladan." Aragorn said when his brother got closer to him. "Forgive me, Elladan."
"You still haven't grown up have you, Estel?" Elladan said as he helped his brother to his feet with a laugh. Aragorn was in his thirties already, and still he felt it necessary to taunt his older brothers, a fact that the twins found highly amusing and pleasing. They didn't really want their younger brother to grow up but they weren't about to tell him that.
Aragorn just laughed with Elladan. He knew his brother wasn't actually going to hurt him, but having elves for brothers had taught him that it was always good to tell them you were sorry or they would sneak up on you when were least expecting it. Of course, Elladan probably would anyway but Aragorn didn't think about that at the moment.
"What are you waiting for, Estel?" Elrohir called as he noticed the young man still standing by the river.
Aragorn turned around and smiled at his brother before joining the twins under the tree in the shade. One of the servants had packed them a lunch of dried venison and each of them had their own water skins.
"One of these days, brother, I'm going to figure out how you always manage to get the best of Elladan." Elrohir said as they began eating.
Elladan gave his twin a playful shove. "I seem to remember Estel pushing you in the river just last week, El."
Elrohir feigned surprise and looked at his Elladan. "Me? I have no idea what you're talking about!" Elladan snorted but didn't say anything as he grabbed another piece of venison.
Aragorn laughed at them, but didn't say anything for fear of ending up in the river again. His clothes were only now just drying and he didn't feel like getting them wet again.
The sun was still high in the sky when the trio finished eating and the sun beat heavily on them.
Aragorn got up and began unfastening his tunic and slipping off his boots until he was standing in only his breaches, much to the elves' amusement.
"What are you doing, Estel?" Elrohir asked as Aragorn walked towards the water.
"I'm going in the water." Aragorn said, as if this was the most obvious thing in the world. "I'm hot and unlike you prissy elves I feel like cooling off." The twins just laughed and followed their brother's example, jumping into the shallow pool with a laugh.
The trio splashed around in the water for over an hour. At one point Elladan and Elrohir ganged up on Aragorn to dunk to him under the water only to be dunked themselves when Aragorn pulled their feet out from underneath them.
"Someday I am going to figure out how you do that." Elrohir muttered with a scowl. Aragorn laughed as the twins shook water out of their hair and headed back to the shore.
"Hey!" Aragorn called following them over to the bank. "Where are you going?"
"We've had enough of you getting the best of us for today, muindor- nìn." Elladan said with a laugh.
"We're going to come up with a plan to get you back, just you wait!" Elrohir called back with a laugh.
Aragorn didn't doubt that so he quickly climbed out of the water and joined his brothers under the tree before they could make any plans about him.
The sun was slowly sinking behind the mountains on their right, casting long shadows through the forest around them.
Elladan looked up as he finished getting on his tunic and boots and watched the sun setting behind the mountains. "We should start heading back or Ada will begin to worry."
Elrohir nodded and began packing up the remains of their lunch as Aragorn finished getting dressed. The young man grabbed his weapons from the base of the tree and hurried to catch up to the two elves who were already heading into the forest back to Rivendell.
The sound of the twins laughter floated back to the ranger as he finally caught up to them. He was sure they were talking about a way to get him back for his earlier antics, but it didn't bother him at the moment as the elves' laughter was infectious.
The twins turned around at the sound of their brother's laughter and stopped so the human could catch up.
"May I ask what is so funny?" Aragorn asked as the elves laughter didn't subside. He tried to act serious, but that only managed to make the elves laugh even harder until they were practically rolling on the ground in mirth.
Aragorn had no idea what was so funny and just stood there glaring at his brothers until their laughter subsided and they were able to stand up again.
Unfortunately they took one look at Aragorn's face and began laughing again. Aragorn still didn't see what was so funny so he pulled out his sword to try and look at his reflection in it.
Aragorn had to do a double take as he saw what looked like a very dead fish sitting on top of his head. He gingerly reached up and felt the top of his head only to recoil and brush the thing off.
His brothers of course continued laughing at him as he looked down at the dead fish lying on the forest floor. Aragorn just glared at them.
"You knew that was on top of my head all this time, didn't you!" Aragorn accused as the elves stopped laughing and wiped their eyes.
Elladan and Elrohir just looked at each other in mock surprise. "Us? We knew no such thing!" They pretended to look indignant at the very idea but Aragorn was not fooled.
"I'm going to get you back for that!" he said jestingly giving his brothers a playful shove.
"You can try muindor- nìn." Elladan said with a mischievous smile.
"But first you have to catch us!" Elrohir finished for his twin as the duo bounded away into the dark of the forest.
Aragorn laughed and ran after his brothers, making sure to keep their faint elven glow visible at all times.
Suddenly the twins stopped and went into a defensive crouch. Aragorn followed suit and crouched down next to them.
"What is it?" he asked quietly in elvish, drawing his sword and scanning the forest.
"The woods are too quiet." Elladan said in a whisper, notching an arrow in his bow.
"Someone or something approaches." Elrohir added, barely loud enough for the human to hear. But Aragorn figured that out for himself as he heard the faint rustling of something moving across the forest floor. Actually it sounded like more than one something but he didn't argue the point.
Elladan quickly took charge and motioned for Elrohir to circle to the left and Aragorn to circle to the right as he took to the trees. The others nodded and moved off in their separate directions, keeping their weapons out and ready in case of an attack.
Aragorn crept around to where the rustling was coming from, making sure not to make any noise that would alert anyone to his position. He peaked through the weeds close to where the rustling was coming from and scowled as he saw what appeared to be a group of hunters slinking through the underbrush.
He didn't step out of the weeds yet though, still not sure what the group wanted or if they even were hunters. So he contented himself with simply watching and listening to the group, but they weren't giving anything away.
Finally Aragorn decided that he wasn't going to gain anything by crouching there and began to slink around to meet his brothers when he heard a twig snap behind him. He spun around silently with his sword drawn only to come face to face with Elrohir who motioned for the young man to follow him. Elladan soon joined them, jumping lightly out of a nearby tree.
"What did you two find out?" he asked quietly in elvish. They were less likely to be overheard, and most people assumed there were elves around when they heard someone speaking elvish and avoided them altogether.
Aragorn shrugged. "Not much. It looks like a group of hunters, but I couldn't hear what they were saying and I'm wondering why they haven't made camp yet."
Elrohir looked at Elladan. "I noticed the same. And even with my hearing I couldn't catch anything they were saying. But my senses are telling me that they are up to no good."
Elladan nodded in agreement. "Then let's avoid them and any conflict and make haste for Rivendell before Ada sends a scouting party after us."
The others agreed and the trio began making their way around the hunting party and back towards Rivendell, making sure to keep their weapons drawn and their senses alert. The forest was still too quiet and it worried the elves and Aragorn.
Suddenly, from out of the darkness, flaming arrows fell all around them, making the trio scatter to avoid being hit by the flaming barrage.
"Head for Imladris!" Elladan called out in elvish. Aragorn nodded at his brother and followed the twins away from the arrows towards Rivendell where the trio knew they would be safe from pursuers.
They had no idea what they were up against, and with night already well upon them they didn't want to risk getting separated by their attackers. But Rivendell was still a ways away, and trying to stay quiet while listening to see if they were being followed was hard to do.
But the trio knew they were being followed. They could hear the sounds of their pursuers behind them stumbling through the undergrowth and they quickly picked up their pace, still staying as quiet as possible.
Movement to Aragorn's right was all the warning he had before someone jumped out of the undergrowth and tackled him to the ground. The twins turned around at the sound of a scuffle but were soon engaged in their own battles as more and more attackers appeared from the shadows.
Aragorn rolled over and got his knees under his attacker and kicked him off over his head before scrambling for his sword that had been knocked from his hand at the initial assault.
He quickly got into a defensive position as his attacker rounded on him with his own sword. Aragorn blocked the incoming blow and glanced over at his brothers, who had dropped their bows for their knives, and was glad to see that they were holding their own against their attackers. But the trio were greatly out numbered.
Aragorn turned back to the man he was fighting just in time to block another blow. The man's sword glanced off his, but the man wasn't daunted. He quickly tried a new attack and feigned a blow to the right only to come back to the left. Aragorn noticed the move a little too late and moved so the sword only cut his upper arm, but the cut was still deep.
Aragorn hissed in pain and stumbled away from his attacker, holding his arm where blood was seeping through his fingers. That was all his attacker needed to gain the upper hand. He quickly got around behind Aragorn and hit him with the pommel of his sword at the base of the skull.
Aragorn reeled from the hit, stunned and dazed so he didn't notice when another man appeared and out of the shadows and hit him in the face at the same time that his original attacker hit the back of his knees, forcing him to kneel while his nose and mouth were bleeding from the hit to his face.
Quickly, another man tried to place a drug soaked cloth over his face, but Aragorn still had some fight left in him and he quickly kicked out at the man behind him. He was dazed from the hits he had taken but he quickly swung out with his sword, cutting the man nearest to him.
A blow to the temple brought Aragorn back down to his knees, yellow spots wavering in front of his vision. This time the men had no trouble getting the cloth over his face. He struggled for only a moment before consciousness fled him and he slumped to the forest floor.
Elladan saw the ranger fall and waited for him to get up, but the ranger didn't move. "Estel!"
Elrohir also noticed his brother and the two elves attacked with a new ferociousness to try and get to him. But they were outnumbered and the attack just kept coming without end. They saw one of the men grab Aragorn and drag him away from the fight, but there was nothing they could do from where they were.
The elves were beginning to tire from fighting three foes at once, and they were taking repeated blows to the head from behind. Finally, Elrohir took one hit too many and collapsed just behind Elladan.
"Elrohir!" Elladan tried to get to his twin but his path was blocked by even more attackers and all he could do was watch as the men put one of those cloths over his brother's face and dragged him away too.
Then, as suddenly as it began, the attackers fled the clearing. Elladan slumped to the ground in exhaustion, letting his knives fall from his hands. He had taken one too many hits but the adrenaline in his system had kept him going. Of course, now that the adrenaline was wearing off the hits were taking their toll on the elf's body.
"Estel… Elrohir…" Elladan managed to gasp out before he slipped slowly into unconsciousness and fell to the forest floor.