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The Ranger and the Eagles  by Cairistiona

Chapter†Seven - The Dwarf Didnít Like It Either

Unfortunately, none of it had been a bad dream, though his fevered night had been filled with any number of other nightmares, all of which were completely unrelated to flying clutched in an Eagleís talons like an unfortunate coney. He had dreamt of orcs stabbing him, of Wraiths surrounding him, of Morgul blades cutting him and dragons roasting him and at some point he had wakened everyone, including himself, with a blood-curdling scream. But as wretched as they were, they had, as nightmares should, crumbled into fragments nearly impossible to remember once he awakened. The details of waking reality, however, remained dismally clear cut:

The storm had ceased, and he would have to fly.

The very words felt wrong to him. Birds fly. Occasionally wizards, dwarves and hobbits flew. Bright Ešrendil flew, and still did, every night across the sky in Vingilot. He recalled a bit of long forgotten lore, some wild tale about Nķmenůreans trying to build a ship to fly to Valinor. If that rumor were true, was it any wonder that isle sank, he thought sourly, though of course he knew the real reason behind the isleís fate. He wondered briefly if such insanity was brought on by their unfaithfulness, or if it had been some sort of offshoot of whatever it was that drove so many of them to sail the seas in the first place. Which came first, the sailing or the unfaithfulness, or was it all inseparably bound together? It would make for some fine fireside discussion with Elrond, he supposed. Whatever the faulty reasoning of those long-dead Nķmenůreans, he knew that this Nķmenůrean certainly had not inherited any yen to fly, whether it be to Beornís Hall or to the forbidden realm of Valinor. No, his Dķnedain blood called him not to the skies but firmly to the ground. And safely solid ground that didnít abruptly gallop out from beneath oneís feet in avalanches, at that.

The clang of a dropped cook pot brought him out of his reverie with a skull-pounding jerk. He grabbed his head and glared at Gandalf, who was puttering around the cave, stowing spare clothing and gathering up oddments and kicking out the fire. He had bullied Aragorn into letting him help him dress, even though he felt more than capable of doing it himself. But Gandalf had insisted and so Aragorn had endured his shoving his limbs into every last stitch of clothing he owned, including all three pairs of hose, and now he lay aching and exhausted, wondering how in the world he would be able to hold on while flying astride an eagle when merely getting dressed left him weak as water and dizzy to the point where his hold on his temper was tenuous at best.

His scowl deepened. He simply must be allowed atop Durvain, because otherwise it meant dangling beneath the Eagleís belly, fathoms above the earth where the least little bobble could cause Durvain to drop him. He had seen eagles lose their prey in just such a manner, often enough.

He shivered. Such a thing simply could not be borne. Far better to risk tumbling off Durvainís back due to his own failing than to trust to talons...

.... grab him and eat him....

He growled under his breath. Would those infernal words never stop sliding through his mind! His current reluctance to fly had nothing whatsoever to do with silly childish fears and everything to do with the fact that those talons could too easily crush him or let him slip free.

At least thatís what he told himself.

He flexed his hands, testing their strength. He simply must find the wherewithal to hold on, that was all there was to it.

Gandalf hurried over, holding a blanket. "All right, Strider," he said. While Aragorn was grateful that Gandalf had been careful not to reveal his true name to Durvain, he was not sure it made up for his failure to arrange travel that did not include hurtling through the air with reckless abandon. "Let us wrap you up good and snug."

Aragorn tried to sit up but, frustratingly, he only managed to gain propping himself upon an elbow, and then even that failed him. As he fell back, trying to hide the fact that he was fairly riddled through with pain, his goal of riding atop inched that much more beyond reach. Still, nothing was ever gained without trying, so he put on a brave face and hoped his eyes werenít actually twirling in their sockets the way they felt. "Wrap me up? I can barely move as it is, youíve got me in so many layers of clothes."

"Your attempt to fool me is both pitiful to behold and entirely unsuccessful. I can plainly see that your inability to move is in no way related to how many layers youíre wearing."

Aragorn pulled a face but said nothing.

"And even if it were so, you would wear them regardless. We cannot risk your catching a chill."

Aragornís temper got the better of him. He was on the cusp of dying from a thousand-fathom fall, yet Gandalf was worried about his catching a sniffle! He pushed away Gandalfís blanket-filled hands and said in a hissing whisper, "Then pray do not make me go flying through the air dangling like bait from that eagleís hooks!"

"If I may be so bold, theyíre talons. Not hooks," Durvain interjected mildly from where he sat in the cave entrance, watching the skies as he patiently endured Gandalfís piling goods upon his back as if he were no more than a pack pony.

Aragorn blushed. "My apologies," he called, then glared at Gandalf and whispered almost silently, "Surely there is some other way!"

"I assure you, you will be quite safe."

"Then pray let us tarry one more day. I am sure I will be strongerĖ"

"No, Aragorn. Waiting in this cave will only weaken you further. You need the warmth, good food and care of Beornís Hall. It will be difficult, and no doubt painful, flying in the state youíre in, but the sooner we get you there, the better off you will be."

"Then... if it must be today, let me ride atop him."

"Aragorn, that is not sensible. You cannot possibly be strong enough to hold on."

"I think I can. At least let me try. I-I simply do not want him carrying me in his claws."

Durvain looked over, his expression still mild. "My good friend, theyíre not claws, nor hooks. Talons."

"Talons, yes, Iím sorry, forgive me," he said, cringing inwardly at his impatience, but keeping his eyes on Gandalf. "Please." In desperation, he actually dared to offer a piteous look. It had worked when he was seven...

But Gandalf was unmoved; indeed, he favored Aragornís ploy with the withering stare it no doubt deserved. "Of course you will let Durvain carry you in his talons. Itís quite the only way. Youíre far too weak to ride atop his back; youíd fall off before he left the ground. I could tie you there, but thereís really no room for a rider, not with all your things packed there. Besides, youíre far larger and heavier than your pack and mine put together, and to ride him, you would have to be able to shift your weight with his and actually help him along now and then. You could not simply sit like a lumpy sack of potatoes and expect him to fly straight."

"A lumpy sackĖ" Aragorn spluttered, but Gandalf went on without the least acknowledgment of Aragornís outrage.

"And it goes without saying that he cannot be made to carry both of us on his back, which is what he would have to do if you were atop him, for I would have to hold you in place. He is small, as Eagles go. Strong nonetheless, but nothing as strong as all that."

Aragorn scowled, but then he stared at Gandalf, beset with growing alarm as the question he had not asked yesterday again loomed large. "Wait... you said there is no room on his back. So you wonít be atop him, and Iíll be in his talons...." He paused and swallowed before carefully going on, "So that of course means that he will hold both of us in his talons?"

"Both of us? Why ever would he need to?"

"But... if youíre not carried by his other foot, and not on his back... does that mean you arenít coming with me?" Even as he said it, he cringed inwardly. By the Valar, Aragorn, he chided himself, from whence comes this craven terror? Are you not Chieftain? The future King of Gondor who has already fought in Rohan and led soldiers of Gondor into battle? Must you still need your hand held to cross a lane? Yet he could not deny that the thought of going alone to Beornís... and flying there, at that...filled him with, if not panic, then a pronounced dismay not easily subdued. He tried to sound reasonable. "Gandalf, I do not know Beorn, nor is he acquainted with me, and it is well known that he holds little love for Eagles.† I really do think it would go far easier if you would accompany..."†

"Good heavens, will you stop all this whinging and complaining; itís beneath you," Gandalf snapped, his patience gone. "Of course I am coming with you. I will be riding Menelris, who should be along any time, now that the storm is well past."

Aragorn felt like a man who, having been thrown by his horse, could only watch helplessly as it thundered off into the distance, beyond any hope of recovery or mastery. Or, he thought wryly, like a man who kicks up an avalanche and can only ride it helplessly to the bottom. However one cared to look at it, he had lost control both of the conversation and the situation. Still, he had to try to regain the upper hand, despite wishing he could simply roll over and go back to sleep and reawaken only when his head ceased pounding, Gollum was found, Sauron defeated and the world set to rights at last. He rubbed his face tiredly, trying to remember who Menelris was and utterly failing. "Who is Menelris?"

"My mate," Durvain chirped happily.

Gandalf frowned. "Do you not remember her, or my telling you of her?"

"I..." Aragorn started, then stopped. He chewed his lip, thinking. "Did she touch me, with her beak? I thought that was Durvain."

"That was Menelris. And after she left, I told you about her."

Aragorn said faintly, "I have no memory of that."

Compassion lightened the frown on Gandalfís face. "I suppose something of an apology is in order," he admitted. "You seemed aware enough at the time but I suppose the blow to your head has affected your thinking. Menelris is, as Durvain said, his mate, and she it was who first found us. She had seen you fall, actually, and she was quite concerned when she did not locate you once the snows had settled. She was very pleased to find out that youíd made it to my cave."

"I wish I could remember."

Gandalf knelt down beside him and lightly brushed back Aragorn's hair from his forehead.†"Fret not. As a healer, you know how blows to the head play with oneís memories and cloud oneís thoughts. Getting upset only makes it worse." Gandalf then shook out the blanket and draped it across Aragorn. "Weíll tuck that more firmly around you before Durvain lifts you." He gave Aragornís shoulder another of his reassuring pats, then returned to his packing.

Gandalf was right, of course. Trying to remember details of the last two days was like trying to get a glimpse of the moon on a cloudy, windy night. Memories emerged clearly one moment, only to vanish behind scudding shadows the next. Twice this very morning, in fact, he had found himself unable to recall Gandalfís name; it simply would not come to his tongue. Such unpredictable fits of memory loss were disconcerting, to say the very least, but Gandalf was also correct in warning him that getting upset would only waste strength best marshalled for healing.

And for flying.

Flying....† Aragornís mouth felt suddenly clogged with sand. He coughed. "Gandalf, have you already packed the water?"

"No, here it is." He plucked up the water skin and handed it to him.

He drank thirstily, then replaced the bung, pounding it in with his fist. He tucked it by his side, suddenly reluctant to return it, for he knew that it would be at that moment that he would have to submit to... flying. He cleared his throat again. "I will just keep it here, until youíre ready to pack it."

"Very well. I should be done in a few moments, and then Durvain will be ready to lift you up and off weíll go, away from this wretched cave at last."

Aragorn remained silent. He watched Gandalf come and go, stowing things on Durvainís back. Soon there would be no room for Aragorn even if he could manage to hang on. He quietly handed Gandalf the waterskin when he came for it, and then made his decision. He waited until Gandalfís back was turned, then he pushed himself to a seated position. His head immediately started throbbing, and his back... He grimly shut his mind to the unpleasantries commencing there.

Gandalf might think him quietly acquiescing, but he was going to ride atop, and there would be no gainsaying him. He had been injured worse and nonetheless ridden miles on horses; this would be no different. He took a deep breath and in one movement gathered his legs beneath him and lunged to his feet before the pain could stop him.

"Strider!" Gandalf immediately cried, turning just in time to see Aragorn sway dizzily as he flailed blindly for the cave wall, which suddenly seemed impossibly far away.... "What do you think youíre... oh, by ManwŽís own Eagles, why must you be so stubborn!"

This last Aragorn barely heard. Though his legs had seemed willing, his knees were not. They buckled and he crumpled back to the ground. He hovered shakily on hands and knees as the world spun and danced around, and then he lost a very brief battle with his stomach. He narrowly missed Gandalfís boots with the water he had only just drunk and with what little else he had eaten in the last day.

"Oh dear!" Durvain cried. "What is wrong with him?"

"Nothing," he mumbled. He blinked rapidly, trying to clear the spots dancing before his eyes.

Then he heard Gandalfís irritated reply. "Yes, of course nothingís wrong! It is tradition, after all, for Men to stand up only to immediately collapse and then vomit onto their companionís shoes."

"What a strange custom," Durvain said, then added in all seriousness, "You missed his shoes, Master Strider. Perhaps you should try again."

Aragorn laughed weakly, then groaned as he sagged to the floor. The spots before his eyes coalesced into bigger and bigger shadows. Consciousness dribbled away...

... and when it returned he felt something soft brushing his cheek. He opened an eye and saw it was Durvain, brushing him with the tip of his wing, over and over.

"Heís back!" Durvain cried. "How are you, Master Strider? Better now?"

Only if better meant a roiling stomach, buzzing ears, and a mouth that tasted like something had crawled in it and died, he thought. His back was afire and his head... someone apparently had given it to Celebrimbor to use as an anvil. He garbled some noises that were meant to be reassuring words, and Durvain clucked and continued to brush his cheek. Aragorn had never felt anything more soothing. He quit trying to regain his wits and drifted, half aware.

Voices floated somewhere above him, in snatches....

"...not bleeding, but heís too weak... really must get him ... Beornís.... cannot delay."

"... leave with him now? ....what of you? .... Menelris is coming but what if..."

"...can come back to check on me...."

Then gentle hands were on him, turning him over and wrapping him snugly in a blanket. There were murmuring encouragements and more soft touches of feathers, then warm but rough bands circled his body.††Durvainís talons, he realized... and then he was lifted and pressed against soft warmth and there was motion, like a boat bobbing on gentle seas, and a sudden cold breeze against his face but he was warm and floating... floating... floating away and for a moment he thought he had lost his hold on consciousness again but then another thought wormed in and his eyes flew open and he saw...

Clouds. And below them... below them?... far, far below them, the ground.

He was flying.

And he was terrified. He couldnít think, couldnít move, couldnít cry out. He could only watch as the ground moved slowly away from him, dropping, dropping, dropping...

He finally found his voice and though he meant it to be a shouted order for Durvain to put him down, immediately! it came out a strangled squeak of unintelligible panic. And that filled him with disgust; he had heard braver cries from baby rabbits.

"Oh, good, youíre waking up!" Durvain cried happily. Aragorn seemed to feel Durvainís voice vibrating through the feathered body pressing against him as much as he actually heard it. If he hadnít been so distracted by utter terror he might have found the phenomenon extraordinary. "I would hate for you to have missed this view. Isnít it splendid?"

No, it wasnít splendid. It wasnít splendid at all. It was nauseating, and terrifying, and unnatural. He shut his eyes and opened them again and ordered, with every shred of stern authority he could muster, that the wild beating of his heart and the frantic bellows of his lungs calm themselves. You are the Chieftain! Son of chieftains and kings, destined to be a king yourself! For shame! Whither then has all your bravery gone?

Left on the ground far below, a snivelling voice in his head replied.

Very well, let my heart hammer and my bowels shrivel, he thought. It would not change the situation one bit and he would simply have to accept that he was... Elbereth help him... flying, and there was nothing he could do about it. He shut his mind to the ground falling away underneath him and craned his neck around to look instead at Durvain. It seemed Durvain was holding him face down, with his back securely against the warmth of the bird's belly. Apparently, as before, Durvain needed only his left foot to hold him, talons wrapped snugly round him while the other hung relaxed and empty. Aragorn struggled to move his arms, but they were trapped inside the blanket. He continued to struggle and finally pulled them free and flung both around the massive talon across his chest.

"Easy there. Donít wiggle so!" Durvain cried, and Aragorn froze. But he kept his grip on the talon. "You donít need to squeeze so tightly. I wonít drop you."

Aragorn eased his grip a fraction and tried to ignore the queer sensations in his belly and the odd pressure on his ears that muffled his hearing. He opened his mouth wide and swallowed and with a crackling, popping noise, the pressure eased. But his stomach still felt uneasy.

Durvain chuckled. "If it makes you feel more secure, of course you may hold on, but donít dig in with your fingernails like that; it tickles. And fear not, I have yet to ever drop anyone."

Aragorn finally found his voice, though it was pitched higher than he would have liked. "Have you..." He cleared his throat and continued in something better approaching his normal deep pitch. "Have you carried a lot of people?"

"No. Once I carried a dwarf, but that was many years ago. I didnít drop him, although he wiggled and squirmed like a fish. Youíre doing much better, or at least you are now that youíve stopped all that wriggling around."

That was something, he supposed. He wondered briefly which dwarf it had been, then he was distracted by a shadow on the ground far below them. Glad to have something to focus on besides the increasingly alarming sensations in his stomach, he asked, "Is that our shadow?"

Durvain looked down. "No, that is Menelris; she is some ways ahead of us, but the morning sun casts her shadow quite far behind her."

"I thought we left before her."

"We did. She arrived just as we were leaving, in fact, but sheís since caught us and passed us; she can fly faster than I, because Gandalf is atop her and not below. Mind you, I mean nothing by that, because of course you could not possibly have ridden atop, but it does slow me down considerably to have you in my talon. Throws my balance off a bit, you see."

"Iím sorry."

"No, no. Donít apologize. I do this all the time, with prey. And once with that dwarf, although I admit Iíve never had to cart along anyoneís belongings on my back like this. It makes for some interesting challenges. Nothing I canít handle, mind you, but it has taken me a bit to find the air, if take my meaning. Iím fine now, though, fear not. Everything going smoothly. Hey, Iíve a capital idea! Let me show you our shadow... you might find it amusing to see your own shadow flying across the ground so fast!" Before Aragorn could protest that he had no need to see such a sight, Durvain dipped a wing and Aragorn could only frantically tighten his grip as they turned and swooped in a quick circle. His stomach no longer felt queer; it was clawing its way into his throat. "See? There we are!" Durvain cried. He waggled his wings so that they... and their shadow... rocked back and forth.

Aragorn dared not try to answer, for fear of his stomach unloading what little was left in it.

"And look, there you are!" Durvain moved his talon and pulled Aragorn away from his body.

Aragorn let out a very embarrassing scream. "NO!"

"Oh, very sorry!" Durvain said and tucked Aragorn quickly back up underneath him. "The dwarf didnít like it when I did that, either, now that I think on it."

Aragorn spared a sympathetic thought toward the dwarf, but the rest of his concentration was taken up with regaining what little dignity he had left. "That is... quite all right," he croaked. "It was fascinating." He winced at the outright lie, but it pleased Durvain, who gave a mighty flap of his wings that sent them soaring ever higher, and again, Aragorn had to swallow and work his jaw against the cotton-wool feeling in his ears. Then they seemed to drop suddenly, a quick downward jerk and then just as quick back up again. Aragorn couldnít hold back a squawk of alarm as he tightened his grip.

"Oooh, itís a bit rough today," Durvain said, unconcerned. His wings moved slightly and once again they were sailing smoothly through the air. "Did you know that there are bumps in the air just as there are ruts in your roads?"

"No, I canít say that I ever really thought about it."

"Itís true. The sun heats up the air in some places and not in others and when I fly from a cool spot to a warm spot, the air can swirl in funny ways. And of course, thereís the winds coming off the mountains meeting the winds that blow along the river. Makes for all sorts of swirls and eddies. Thatís what you just felt. Oh, there we go again!"

Aragorn clenched his teeth. The bumps, as Durvain called them, were doing terrible things to his stomach. Then his eye caught something, and he again momentarily forgot the state of his innards. "Whose shadow is that?" He risked releasing his grip to point, then realized it was a useless gesture as Durvain couldnít see him,†hidden under his belly as Aragorn was. "See that shadow? Coming from the south? Did Menelris turn around?"

"No, I donít think she Ė oh for the love of ManwŽ!" Durvain muttered as he immediately pulled Aragorn tighter to him and dove toward the ground. "Hang on!"

Aragorn was so frightened he didnít have the breath to answer, but he certainly needed no admonishment to hang on. He shut his eyes tightly against the sight of land rushing headlong to slam into them, but that made his stomach feel horrid, so he had to open them, just in time to see the ground race toward him and then flash by at a speed that had his head spinning. Then the ground swooped away and the horizon danced and spun crazily and for a moment dark spots broke out in Aragornís vision, but they cleared away as Durvain levelled out. But then something hit Durvain with a great banging thud. Durvain grunted and floundered a bit in the air, and Aragorn feared he would forget he was holding him and down he would drop, but Durvainís grip tightened and he pressed Aragorn even closer to his body. So close, in fact, that he had a spot of trouble breathing.

"Durvain," he gasped, "Too tight!"

Durvain said nothing but his grip eased a bit and Aragorn could breath again. Durvainís great wings beat at the air Ė Aragorn could feel Durvainís stomach muscles flexing and moving as his wings strained Ė and he gained more altitude.

Aragorn craned his neck, trying to see what was attacking them, but the bulk of Durvainís body and wings blocked his view of all but what was directly beneath him. There was another spinning, looping dive and again Aragornís vision tunnelled and darkened but he coughed and ground his teeth and somehow through sheer will kept his wits. But there came another great thud, and Durvain let out a loud screeching cry that nearly shattered Aragornís eardrums. They again started to lose height, and Durvainís steady wingbeats grew erratic, and Aragorn saw with alarm a great slash cut into his left wing. Several feathers were missing, and a line of bright red blood started to well out of a cut that was nearly as long as Aragorn was tall.

Durvain was hurt, but he was still flying.

Aragorn looked at the blood and felt the battle fury rise within him. He longed for his sword, for a bow... but both were far beyond reach, atop Durvain. Where I should be, where I could help, where I could fight...

But such thoughts were useless. Aragorn could only hang on, impotent and no doubt a hindrance, and Durvainís next words keenly drove that bitter fact home.

"Strider, I must put you down. Brace yourself!" he cried and sped toward the ground at such high speed that Aragorn was sure they would both be killed, smashed against the unforgiving earth and shattered to pieces, but at the last possible moment, Durvain flared his wings and stopped just short of landing. The talons released Aragorn and he fell the final few feet. It hurt, and the hard ground pushed all the air from his lungs, but he was alive, if a bit stunned.

"Crawl beneath the bushes!" Durvain cried, and then he was flying upward again, the injured wing apparently no hindrance.

Aragorn then saw their adversary. It was another eagle, larger than Durvain and darker, nearly black with no golden aura about him like the Northern Eagles. For a moment, Aragorn watched, transfixed, as Durvain flew up to meet the bigger bird. Durvain twisted his body in mid-air to slash at the black eagle with his talons. The other bird screeched with pain. Durvain had struck a good blow.

Then the black eagle wheeled and his cold eye fixed on Aragorn, and Aragorn realized that he had been the cause for the attack. The black eagle saw him as Durvainís prey, and wanted to take him for himself and indeed was now diving straight for him. Fear clawing at his throat, Aragorn scrambled toward the bushes, his wounded back and aching head forgotten in his panic. He felt thorns catch on his clothes and skin, and the blanket ripped utterly away. There was a buffeting push of air and a great shadow covered him, but then it passed and a frustrated cry hammered the air. The eagle could not reach him, tucked safely away as he was within the prickly embrace of an obliging thornbush.

He wiggled until he found a clearer view of the sky. Durvain went streaking after the black eagle, who had lost interest now that the prize was out of reach. But Durvain apparently wanted to be sure, for he chased him and harassed him until both had disappeared from sight. Quiet reigned then, not unlike the hush that falls after the last cry of battle fades into the distance. Aragorn wondered where Menelris and Gandalf were. He cautiously eased out from under the bush, wincing as he lost more bits of skin.

He froze as a shadow approached, then relaxed. It was Menelris, with Gandalf riding atop her. She landed with barely a thump, and Gandalf immediately slid down and ran over. "Aragorn! Are you all right?"

"I think so," he said, rather weakly. He had, to his dismay, started to shake uncontrollably.

"I must find Durvain," Menelris said, and was in the air speeding south even as the words came from her beak.

Gandalf fell to his knees beside Aragorn and immediately embraced him. "There now, old friend. Itís over, and weíve all survived. We would have come to your aid sooner but we had no idea until we heard Durvainís cry that anything was amiss. But it appears youíve survived and likely so has Durvain. So there you go... breathe deeply and calm yourself. There, there."

Aragorn could not speak. He simply clutched Gandalfís robe and held tightly to it until the spasms passed. Then he slumped, exhausted, in Gandalfís arms, and in silence they watched the southern sky. After many tense minutes, two small dark specks appeared. They grew larger with each passing moment and finally Menelris and Durvain circled overhead and then came to soft landings beside them.

"Are you all right, Durvain?" Aragorn called.

"A little bit tattered as to the feathers on my left wing, but nothing serious, despite the blood. I can still fly. But what of you? I did not drop you too hard, did I?"

"No, Iím perfectly well."

Gandalf let out a derisive huffing noise, but Aragorn ignored him. "Who was that eagle?"

Menelris let out her own derisive snort. "He was from the south. They sometimes venture this way, when food becomes scarce. They are cowards, cruel and lazy besides, preferring to steal our prey instead of hunting their own. This is not the first time one has thought, mistakenly, that Durvain would be easy pickings. My mate is small, but he is the most nimble of all the Eagles in the air. None surpass him for diving and spinning. And he is great of heart Ė he would have died before letting that Eagle snatch you from him." She again nudged him, this time with the top of her head against his good wing. He responded with a low whistle.

"Great indeed," Aragorn said as fervently as he had ever spoken any words in his life. "You saved my life nearly at the cost of your own, and I thank you, Durvain. If thereís ever a way I can repay you by some service or reward, rest assured, I will."

Durvain ducked his head and plucked at some loose feathers on his chest, pleased but obviously embarrassed. Menelris rubbed his head affectionately with her beak, then looked at Aragorn. "Are you ready to continue on?"

Aragorn glanced at Gandalf, then nodded. Gandalf checked his bandages. "Youíre bleeding a bit, but weíre so close to Beornís, I think it best to wait until we arrive there to do anything about it. It is not very much blood, after all. And you realize, I hope," he added in a whisper, "that had Durvain not been carrying you in his talons, that black eagle would have plucked you easily from his back and that would have been the end of you. That is why Menelris could not come to your aid; she could not swoop and dive with me on her back."

Aragorn nodded, speechless before Gandalfís gentle rebuke.

"There now, donít take it so to heart. I myself prefer being atop, after all," he said with a wink. He then wrapped the blanket around him again, leaving his arms free this time. Then Durvain in turn wrapped his talons carefully around Aragorn just as before and spread his wings, and this time Aragorn kept his eyes wide open, and watched the ground fall away and then looked toward the sun and the clouds and saw the horizonís great curve and the mountains looking like nothing more than a rumpled pile of kicked-up carpet. And even though his stomach shivered and his back burned and his head throbbed, his heart soared, for he was alive, and he was flying.

He wrapped his arms around Durvainís talon and let out a great whoop of sheer joy.


A/N: The rumours of flying Numenoreans is actually based on canon, or at least early drafts of canon. In HoME, vol. 5, The Lost Road, you can find the original outline for the drafts of the Fall of Nķmenor:

"The old line of the lands remained as a plain of air upon which only the Gods could walk, and the Eldar who faded as Men usurped the sun. But many of the NķmenůriŽ could see it or faintly see it: and tried to devise ships to sail on it. But they achieved only ships that could sail in Wilwa or lower air. Whereas the Plain of the Gods cut through and transversed Ilmen [in] which even birds cannot fly, save the eagles and hawks of ManwŽ."

Because it is, of course, only a draft of Tolkienís, I couched it in terms of a wild rumour, the sort of story that might be told to small children as an entertaining tale but given no credence.

Thanks to my beta Inzilbeth for finding this!

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