I really am sorry that it's been so long. I just couldn't think of where to go. But I think I'm going to try to get a few more chapters done before I update again, so at least there will then be a steady flow for a while.

Also, the song Erik sings is 'All Through the Night,' an old song from I don't know when. The one Arabelle sings is also traditional, 'Come by the Hills.'

Flight to the Ford


Arabelle clutched Frodo tightly to her chest, watching Strider and Arwen carefully, until, with gentle, understanding eyes, the Ranger came forward, and took him from her.

"He'll be alright," Strider promised quietly, smiling a gentle, reassuring smile. Arabelle nodded, and let him take Frodo.

Movement to her left caught her attention again, and she watched her papa set Samwise on his feet. To her watchful eye, it seemed Erik winced slightly, as he straightened, and she began to move over to him.

She felt his eyes follow her, and she took his hand, her own eyes dark with worry.

"Papa?"

Erik shook his head, and smiled at her.

"Not that, dearest," he assured her, throwing his voice into her ear. "I twisted something coming down. My back."

Relief shimmered in her eyes, replaced with a gentler, less urgent concern.

"Oh, Papa," she sighed, smiling slightly. She took his hand, and reached for Samwise. "Come, Sam."

Together, they approached the others, and sat around the soon-to-be-fire that Strider was working on. Arwen looked up sharply from where she sat with Frodo, her eyes boring into Erik.

"Hûn ihîw."

She crossed the small camp, and took Erik's free hand, either ignoring, or not noticing, how he flinched and his eyes went wide. Even after sixteen and a half years, he was not used to people outside his family touching him.

"W-what?"

The elf looked at him with gentle eyes.

"Heart sickness," she muttered. "I have heard how it affects some humans."

Arwen held his wrist for a moment, head bowed and eyed closed, a leaf of athelas between her hand and Erik's. She began to mutter in a low, strange tongue, that was incredibly flowing and musical.

Erik stared as warmth spread from his hand up through his arm. It swelled in his chest, and he felt suddenly better than he ever had, since the days when he'd worked on the Garnier. A tightness he'd not even noticed until that moment left his chest, and he pulled in a huge, surprisingly easy, breath.

But there was something fragile, and not-quite-permanent about this sudden feeling. He looked at Arwen with question.

"It is not gone," she warned. "I healed what could be healed, but that is all I can do. The damage already done will always remain."

She was suddenly knocked off-balance by a tearful Arabelle throwing her arms around the elf's neck.

"Thank you," Arabelle whimpered. "Anything is better than nothing!"

Arwen returned the embrace gently, muttering again in that beautiful language.

"What?" Arabelle asked tearfully, looking up at Arwen. The elven woman smiled.

"It was an elvish blessing," she explained. "'May your path lead you always under friendly skies.' When we reach Imladris -" Strider looked at Arabelle and mouthed 'Rivendell,' "- I shall teach you, if you wish."

Arabelle's eyes lit up, and she smiled.

"I would love that! Thank you." Then she turned back to her father.

Erik was staring, still, thunderstruck, at Arwen. He was beginning to realize, as he felt better and better, just how ill he really was. Every nerve tingled with sensation, there was no tightness in his chest, and for the first time in many, many years, his hands were warm with blood flowing freely through them. He gasped out a quick, stunned 'thank you,' and stared at the hand Arwen had held.

Her healing had left no mark, not that he'd expected to find one. And yet, for the third time in all sixty-seven years he'd been alive, a woman had willingly reached out to him with something other than hatred, or frightened pity.

"...Papa? Papa?!"

Erik blinked, and looked at her.

"I'm sorry, dear-heart, what?"

"How do you feel?"

The others had gravitated back to Frodo, and now Erik and Arabelle were alone on their side of the small clearing.

Erik smiled broadly, and pulled her into his arms.

"I feel wonderful, Arabelle, dearest," he replied, tucking her up against his chest and pressing her head down onto his shoulder. She went with only the slightest pressure, making a happy sound and snuggling closer. Erik kissed her precious head, and rested his face in her hair.

"I'm glad, Papa," she said softly, and for the first time, Erik saw how exhausted she was. Days of long, hard travel and worry had caught up to her, and now she was on the very edge of sleep, struggling to keep her eyes open.

"Tired, my dear?" he breathed, shifting and wincing when his joints all groaned at him. Healing aside, he was not young by any stretch of the imagination, and now, with the pressure in his chest released, he noticed more the sore stiffness of age. He did not know what he had done, but somehow, getting down from that troll had pulled something, and now it felt like his lower back had been stepped on by an elephant.

Arabelle rallied a little at his words, blinking herself closer to wakefulness and shaking her head.

"No, Papa," she murmured, not leaving the warm hollow of his throat.

Erik's eyes flickered up, searching out their guide's. It had occurred to him that the sudden tiredness Arabelle displayed might be more because of her injured arm, than the journey, and the thought sent a sliver of fear stabbing deep into his stomach. He found Strider's gaze, and asked his silent question.

Is this because of her arm?

The slightest sideways shake of the Ranger's head shattered the icy knife in his soul, and Erik sighed. He smiled fondly when he looked down to find Arabelle blinking owlishly up at him. She needed to rest; she was pale, and her eyes were a little duller than they should have been. So, quietly, he sang for her.

"Sleep, my child, and peace attend thee,
All through the night,
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night.
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and vale in slumber sleeping,
I, my loving vigil keeping,
All through the night.

While the moon her watch is keeping,
All through the night,
While the weary world is sleeping,
All though the night,
O'er thy spirit gently stealing,
Visions of delight revealing.
Breathes a pure and holy feeling,
All through the night."

Petting her hair, and kissing the dear curls, Erik settled her in a little nook of the stooping troll's ankle, and set up a place to sleep beneath the thing. If it rained, they would be sheltered, and if the wind blew, the thick limbs and crouched body would shield them.

He settled her among the blankets, and sat beside her, absently smoothing her hair, and stroking her cheek. Arabelle made a quiet snuffling sound, and leaned into the touch, smiling in her sleep.

Smiling fondly, himself, Erik leaned forward and kissed her forehead. He held her hand, and settled back against the troll's ankle.

...

...

Wind fluttered along the narrow trail. It was little more than a breeze, but for Frodo, it was icy cold, and he shivered. Arabelle rubbed his arm comfortingly. He looked so small on Arwen's great white horse.

"There, Frodo, we'll be there soon, I' sure," she whispered.

"Only a few days more, Arabelle," Arwen said from the other side of her horse. "And you will all be safe in Imladris."

Walking behind the white charger, Erik couldn't help overhearing, and he wondered what had become of Christine and the others? Surely the Rangers had led them safely to Rivendell by now.

But what of the Wraiths? They had come from the east, and there was the possibility that they had encountered the little party in the wilds. If so, his wife, his son... It really did not bear thinking about, but not knowing would only make it worse.

"Tell me, Arwen," he began hesitantly, afraid of the answer to his question, "is... is there a... human woman, Christine, there? Please... th-there would have been a boy, a-and a girl, about Arabelle's age, with her. They were in the company of Rangers..."

A look of interest and understanding came into Arwen's eyes, and all questions of the man's identity, and true loyalties, were answered. Here was the husband of the other-world woman, who had arrived only the day before Arwen and others were sent out to find the Ring-bearer.

"The woman you speak of is safe. She was in Imladris when I left. The boy and girl both were with her."

A wild bark of laughter startled the group, and it dawned on them all that they had stopped walking to listen. Even Asfaloth, the white stallion, was watching Erik, Arwen, and Arabelle intently as the first let out an explosive, hysterical, relieved laugh, and the second smiled. Arabelle yanked her father into a tight embrace.

"You will see your loved ones soon," Arwen smiled.

Slowly, the company started forward again. The sun was bright in the sky, and managed to break through the tree cover in golden streams. The ground looked dappled with the patches of light, and somewhere, a bird sang.

For the first time in almost two weeks, a feeling of hope filled them all, never mind that they still had days ahead of them, and evil close behind.

...

...

The popping and cracking of the fire was cheering, that night, and the feeling of high spirits from that afternoon still held strong, quiet and peaceful. From their hill-top camp, they could see in the distance the Bruinen River, the last leg of their journey. They were close. It would only take them one more full day and night, then most of the next day, to reach the river. The trek up the mountains to the pass into Rivendell would take another day, and Imladris itself would be reached that third night.

"Papa, won't you sing?" Arabelle begged softly, turning away from Frodo to plead with her father. "Please, Papa?"

Erik groaned in fond exasperation.

"Dearest, I'm tired. Why don't you sing something?"

Arabelle deflated for a moment, her eyes starting to darken with concern. But then Erik smiled easily, no trace of pain in his eyes, and she perked up again.

"I know one," she grinned, readying herself and taking in a breath.

"Come by the hills to the land where fancy is free,
and stand where the peaks meet the sky, and the lochs meet the sea,
where rivers run clear, and the bracken is gold in the sun,
and the cares of tomorrow can wait, till this day is done.

"Come by the hills to the land where life is a song,
and stand where the birds fill the air with their joy all day long,
where the trees sway in time, and even the wind sings in tune,
and the cares of tomorrow can wait, till this day is done.

"Come by the hills to the land where legend remains,
where stories of old fill the heart, and may yet come again,
where the past has been lost, and the future is still to be won,
and the cares of tomorrow can wait, till this day is done.

Come by the hills to the land where fancy is free,
and stand where the peaks meet the sky, and the lochs meet the sea,
where rivers run clear, and the bracken is gold in the sun,
and the cares of tomorrow can wait,
till this day is done..."

"You sing with great beauty," Arwen said after a moment. Arabelle smiled, her cheeks red.

"Thank you," she returned. "Papa taught me how." Arabelle took Erik's hand, and squeezed gently. "You should hear him sing."

Erik groaned quietly.

"Tomorrow, ma belle," he promised. Arabelle relented, and cuddled up against his side. Erik kissed her head, and pulled her onto his lap, instead. With a small noise of happiness, Arabelle snuggled into his neck, then shifted just enough so she could see out from that position.

"When we reach Rivendell," Pippin said softly, "I'm going to sleep for a week!"

The others laughed, and there was silence for a moment, then -

"I'm going to find out what plants and seeds as grow there, and maybe bring some back to the Shire," Sam whispered.

"Mm, I'm going to take a bath," Merry added. "In hot water, like back in Bree."

"Only a few days more, my friends," Strider reminded them. Erik smiled, closed his eyes, and tipped his head back just a bit.

"We'll be home soon," he sighed. Erik could already feel Christine's arms a round him, and her lips against his. When they reached Rivendell, that was what he would do; kiss his wife, and hold his son. And then go home, where they were safe.

"I wish we didn't have to leave, Papa," Arabelle said quietly. "Not so soon."

Erik stroked her hair, his other hand pulling her even closer.

"I know, dear-heart. I know."

The sad part was, he did. It was difficult not to develop a protective fondness for the hobbits. They were small, and innocent, but surprisingly resilient. And, for all that the men, themselves, and the circumstances, were completely different, Erik found much of Nadir in Strider. It mattered not that the Ranger was much younger; he was very much like Erik's friend. The same calm steadiness exuded from him, the same patient tolerance shone in his honest gray eyes. They were both unquestionably brave, and protective of their own. Like Nadir, Strider seemed to understand that some questions were better left unasked, and Erik could feel the Ranger's quiet acceptance, so like his Daroga...

He missed Nadir.

And suddenly, Erik was no longer lying in a forest, beneath a stone troll, in another world, holding his teenaged daughter. He was huddled beneath a self-made shelter in the Indian Desert, missing his friend, and wondering what he was doing.

Many times in those years between Pesria and the opera, Erik had missed Nadir, and the closeness that they had. Few times had he admitted it to anyone, but Erik did have a brother - he was Persian, and not for the first time, Erik wished he was there.

...

...

"I see it!"

Pippin's cry brought the others hurrying to the top of the hill. Erik's eyes were wide beneath the mask, and he smiled, partly because he was that much closer to Christine and getting his family home safely, and partly in awe of the view.

A long stretch of rolling green grass spread out below them. Beyond the next set of hills, water glittered in the afternoon sun. Beyond the river rose a great line of mountains, reaching off out of view to the north and south. Their peaks disappeared into the clouds above, and tendrils of mist rolled down along their sides.

"We will reach the river by sunset," Strider said as they started down the hill. "We'll cross it, and camp on the far bank. Take the pass in the daylight."

"Is it dangerous?" Erik asked immediately, subconsciously reaching for Arabelle. Strider shook his head, but it was Arwen who spoke.

"The pass is protected by the magic of Imladris, but it is steep, and the ground can be treacherous for one not used to it."

Erik released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and Arabelle squeezed his hand.

"Papa?"

Erik offered a warm smile.

"I'm alright," he replied. Arabelle searched his eyes for a moment, then returned his smile. They followed after the others, but Arabelle did not let go of his hand.

...

...

They were nearing the two low hills that the road passed between when all hell broke loose. From all directions, the shrieking cries of the Wraiths echoed through the river valley. Frodo cried out in pain, and a fire swept up and down Arabelle's injured arm. She gasped, and Erik spun to face her, eyes wide beneath the mask.

"Run!" he roared, fear making his voice hoarse and shrill. If she were hurt...

A wild ferocity entered Arabelle's eyes, then, and for a moment, Erik saw so much of himself, of his own madness at the time of her conception, in her, that he was afraid.

"I'm not backing down," she said, voice low and almost a snarl. She drew her sword, and stepped up beside Strider. The Ranger looked at her, and she tried to smile, but -

"Noro lim, Asfaloth!" Arwen cried suddenly. The great white charger reared up, screaming as it bolted for the river with its riders.

Arabelle startled as the horse suddenly sprang past. She was not backing down, but that did not mean that she wasn't terrified. She had no choice but to fight. The five Black Riders coming at them were closing the distance so fast that Asfaloth surely could not outrun them without some intervention. And there was her papa and the other hobbits to protect. So, frightened or not, she would meet the Riders, and they would know what it meant to tangle with the daughter of the Phantom.

Erik couldn't breathe. The only chance of getting Arabelle to safety had ridden off, and there was no cover within range for him to take her to - or drag, as the case might be. And these horsemen could not be killed. All their group could hope for was to delay them long enough for Frodo to get away.

Would he see his daughter fall to these things today? She was already injured; would she be fast enough to stand a chance? Or would it be more than she could handle?

No.

With effort, he forced his lungs to breathe evenly, and willed his heart to slow. Aarabelle and the others needed him. He gripped her wrist and when she looked at him, he smiled grimly. He would not let her stand alone.

"We'll give them Hell, itself, my dearest," Erik swore. Arabelle nodded.

"Merry, Pippin, Sam, make torches!" Strider ordered. The Riders were only a few feet out of range. "Go!"

Arabelle planted her feet and threw up her sword, just as Strider taught her, barely in time to block the second Wraith's blow. Strider already had the first on him. Erik joined Arabelle, and they fought back to back, against two Riders.

In a moment of utter, reckless lunacy, Erik reached up, caught ahold of the Rider before him, and yanked it from its saddle. It was up too quick to strike at, and let out an ear-shattering shriek. Disoriented, Erik did not see the sword come in.

Inches from his neck, the clash of steel on steel shocked him back to the moment. Arabelle's sword was nearly resting on his shoulder, and the Wraith's blade pushed against hers. Her eyes were wide with fury and terror, her shoulders heaving as she stared, stunned and desperate still, at the weapons.

Too close...

Every now and then, Arabelle caught a glimpse of the hobbits trying to light a fire and make torches. Sam had some smoke going, but if there was any flame with it, Arabelle couldn't see it. Merry and Pippin were wrapping cloths around the ends of some of the sticks.

A Rider came in close, and she struck down on it from the high guard, as Strider had taught her. The sword passed through the rider's leg, and Arabelle froze. For a moment, she stared at the useless hilt of her sword. The blade had dissolved when it passed through the Wraith.

Without warning, she was tackled to the ground, as a notched, and twisted piece of metal flew over her head. Her papa crushed her against his chest, kissed her forehead hard, and then he was back up and fighting, standing between his daughter and the enemy.

There was a sudden blaze of light to her right, and Arabelle found a torch being shoved into that hand.

"Here! Here!" Pippin screamed, still holding a torch of his own. Arabelle grinned.

"Hold them back!" Strider ordered, swinging another torch. Sam pressed one into Erik's hands, and he shoved it straight into a Rider's hood. It leaped back onto its horse, and rode hard for the river.

Arabelle snarled, and went to give chase, when the other four riders appeared, two following after Arwen and Frodo, and the other two moving to block off their escape. At the last instant, Asfaloth broke past them, and went charging into the river.

Arabelle cheered to see them reach safety, but it was turned to a shriek as she was unexpectedly grabbed again, and stumbled. The movement, caused by Pippin and Merry tugging hard on her cloak, was just enough to get her out of the way as the remaining five Wraiths galloped for the river.

"Drive them into the water!" Strider yelled, quickly taking the lead. The horses were still gaining ground, but now the beasts were running in terror, and they were headed straight for the river.

Erik ground to a halt, gasping. They were chasing the Riders right to Frodo. Did Strider think the river alone would be enough to stop them?

But it was. The black horses of Mordor reared and screamed when they reached the ford, and the Wraiths hissed in rage.

"Give up the halfling, she-elf!" one demanded, shrill, breathy voice echoing across the river. Arabelle shivered to hear it speak.

"If you want him," Arwen challenged, ripping her sword from its sheath, "come and claim him!"

The forward-most Wraith, the one who had spoken, laughed chillingly, and urged his horse forward. The animal reluctantly obeyed, and a chorus of terrified shouts joined guttural shrieks of triumph.

But, the moment the last Wraith was in the river, the water began to rise. A great wall of water came roaring down the riverbed - as if the Bruinen itself were rebelling against the Riders. The Nazgul tried to outrun the torrent, but their horses were not quick enough. Every sign of them was drowned and washed downriver.


Chapter done! I really do apologize for the huge time gap. I'm trying to catch everything up, and keep from losing the ideas.

Erik; 'bout bloody damn time you got back at this.

yeah, i know...

Strider; then i would suggest continuing, and more readily.

i promise, i'll try. i told the readers i'll type out a few chapters, and then post them, so i have some time to think up more ideas without making everyone wait.

Arwen; good. get going.

yes, ma'am...

Strider; wait... 'younger...?' But, I'm

shh! ... Erik doesn't know how old you are... that'll come in later.

Review, please!