4. 4. Help Arrives
°°°°° Chapter 4: Help arrives
The soft earth under his feet felt good in comparison to the hard soil of the road. The trees were so familiar to him; he knew this forest by heart as he had walked under the trees many a time. Imladris was near, only a few more days and they would reach the Last Homely House. But Aragorn knew that he did not have that long anymore.
Even here, away from Frodo, he could hear the ring whisper to him. The voice sneaked inside his head, it soothed his troubled thoughts and made everything so simple, so clear. The light of the stars hurt his eyes, and he preferred darkness over dawn. The shadows held no ugly beasts or monsters, but friends and allies. They were inviting.
But no! He had to stay strong. Only some more hours, and then it would be over. He would chase the Halflings away, turn from Imladris and all he held dear, and vanish into the darkness. And by the Valar, he would make sure that the Nazgul followed him and not Frodo!
Athelas, perhaps it would help him. It was potent, and although it would not safe him, it would perhaps save Frodo and the others.
Silently as a predator Aragorn made his way through the underbrush, letting his grey eyes flitter over the ground. Athelas, athelas, he needed not much…
There! His keen eyes had found what he had been looking for. Kneeling down, he drew his small dagger. His heart beat easier now that he had found it, and he reached out to cut off some leaves.
Suddenly, cold steel pressed itself against his exposed throat. He stopped all movement and dared not to breathe. They had found him, they had come for him. It was over. He had led the Hobbits and Middle-Earth to their very doom.
Aragorn closed his tired eyes, and waited for his life to end. But…the coldness he awaited did not come. Instead, the pressure lifted from his neck and a soft voice taunted, "What is this? A ranger, caught off his guard?"
Oh please no, he thought. By Elbereth, no. Arwen…why you?
Despair washed over him. Why did it have to be Arwen? Why not someone else? He did not want his beloved to be here. Soon, he would vanish and be replaced by one of the nameless shadows, and then he would not hesitate to kill Arwen. No, not kill, torture and turn into a wraith, so that they would be together for all eternity. He would murder her mercilessly and extinguish all that she was. And the light of Undomiel would leave Middle-Earth. By his hand.
Aragorn sighed and let his head hang. A shuddering breath escaped his parched lips, and then he lifted his head and stood to his feet. He turned slowly. And when Arwen beheld his face, he could see fear enter her eyes.
So it had already begun, he thought.
"Oh Estel…what happened?" Arwen made a step forward, but he held out his hand to stop her. Aragorn shook his head, "No, do not come near me, Arwen, for you could not bear it to touch me."
She looked at him with those big blue eyes, eyes so blue as if they were a piece of the sky themselves. She swallowed, "Estel, what happened to you? We are all looking for you, for Mithrandir told us about your errand."
Aragorn took a deep breath. His vision had started to blur again and his breathing was raspy. Shadows lingered everywhere, and he saw Arwen as if through a curtain of white fog. Her voice came as if from far away, and her words did not really register in his mind. All he knew at that very moment was that he had to make her leave him.
Licking his lips, he told her, "I am fine, Arwen, just weary. Do you have a horse?" She nodded, "Aye, Glorfindel gave me Asfaloth."
Aragorn nodded to himself. Asfaloth…the fastest horse in Imladris. Perfect. Without looking at Arwen, he turned and headed in the direction of the other Hobbits. "Then come, Arwen, we have not much time."
Arwen stood there for a moment and stared at Aragorn's retreating back. She did not know what had happened, but she felt that something evil was at work. His face, she thought, it was so white. And his eyes, bereft of all glimmer and sparkle. As if he was fading. But that cannot be, as he was no elf.
And so she followed him with the white horse Asfaloth trough the forest. Soon, they reached the Hobbits' camp, but Arwen was worried. Aragorn behaved so strange. She had been so happy to see him, as they had not seen each other for such a long time. But he had not spoken a word while they walked and even now he avoided her gaze.
What had happened to him, that he felt so different? So…cold and lifeless?
When they reached the Halflings, Sam had already returned, clutching some leaves of Kingsfoil in his hands. He looked up at Aragorn with big eyes, but when he saw Arwen, his eyes turned as big as the full moon.
Sam had always wanted to see elves, and although he had seen the Wood Elves that resided near The Shire, he had yet to behold someone as beautiful as this elleth. Arwen smiled at them all, and her smile widened as she saw Sam's open mouthed face of awe.
Pippin nudged Merry and whispered loud enough for all to hear, "Look Merry. An elf!" Merry shook his head, "I see her, Pip."
The next moment, Arwen's attention was once more directed at Aragorn. The man had taken the reins of Asfaloth and was now motioning for one of the Hobbits to come over to him. "Frodo, come. Asfaloth will bring you to Imladris and the House of Elrond. He is swift and will carry you safely."
Frodo looked sceptical and then to his companions. "And what of the others? I cannot leave them here…"
To his own surprise, Aragorn became angry and nearly shouted at the Hobbit, "You can and you will! Now get here, time wanes."
Frodo stepped back, afraid. His eyes widened and his hand unconsciously reached inside his pocked. He felt the cold ring on his skin. What had happened to the man? Never before had he spoken thus.
As it seemed to Frodo as if the elleth thought the same. "Estel? What is it?" She moved to stand beside the ranger and placed a hand on his shoulder. He drew away as if he had been burned.
Aragorn did not want her to touch him, as he feared she could feel the icy breath of the shadow that lingered on him and enveloped him. Oh, he did not want her pure and graceful spirit be tainted by the evil that had claimed him, and he feared that should she touch him, she would be drawn into the darkness as well. Although he knew that it could not happen, his body reacted strongly to her touch and he drew away.
Sam, misunderstanding his reaction, rushed to his side, held out the Kingsfoil and said, "Here, the Kingsfoil as you asked me to find. I found a lot of it, actually, well…it grows around here." And he stretched his arm even a bit further to show him the small leaves he had collected.
Aragorn flinched, but Arwen seemed not to notice it. With wide eyes, he looked at the leaves, then at Sam and back to Aragorn. "Estel, what do you need Athelas for? Are you injured?" Again she made as if to touch him, but before her fingers could reach him, he turned and stepped back a ways.
Aragorn simply ignored Arwen. It hurt him to do so, but there was no time to explain. Frodo needed to leave, and the sooner the better. His chest hurt and the coldness had reached his other arm as well. The fog inside his head had become denser and he saw all as if through a haze.
And, he could feel them. They were near, they were back, searching, racing, coming,….calling. And oh, he wanted to answer their call…
NO! He had to see Frodo, the Hobbits and Arwen to safety. There was no time to tarry. Gesturing towards the horse, he urged, "Frodo! Come, get up. You need to hurry." But Frodo did not move, instead, he looked at the beautiful elf and said confidently, "Strider is hurt, but will not treat his wound."
Arwen paled, but her voice was steady when she asked, "Injured? By whom and what, Master Hobbit?"
Aragorn felt anger rise in his chest. Why did Frodo not understand that he was trying to help him? To protect him from the Nazgul and himself?
His voice was gruff and he ordered, "Frodo, get on that horse, now!"
But again, Frodo did not heed his words, "We were attacked on Weathertop, nearly a fortnight ago. It were the Black Riders and they stabbed him with a strange knife. The…the black blade vanished in ash and shadow and nothing remained but the hilt."
Arwen blinked and her face lost all colour. As if in slow motion she turned to Aragorn, and her eyes were full of pain and worry. "Estel…"
A deep sigh escaped his lips, and he turned his head away from her. She knew now. She knew about the magic of the morgul blade, what it did and what would happen to him. Oh, he would have spared her this knowledge and his heart ached at the thought.
Silently, Arwen stepped in front of Aragorn, and with gentle hands under his chin turned his head. Forced to look into her big eyes, he saw the sadness in her face…and her hope. She spoke softly in elvish, "Estel, I need not ask you if it is true, for I see it in your eyes. But there is still hope. Glorfindel and my brothers are in these woods searching for you, and Gandalf awaits you in Imladris. Take Asfaloth and ride. Please Estel…"
Aragorn closed his eyes. No, there was no hope for him. He would fall into the shadow and become one of them, he could feel it. And there was no way he would let Frodo and the ring alone in these woods, without a horse or help. Slowly, he shook his head.
"No, Arwen, there is no hope. I give hope to the world by saving Frodo, but I have kept no hope for myself. Take Frodo and the ring to safety. Ride to Imladris, Arwen."
Now it was her turn to shake her head, "No, meleth nin, I will not leave you. I…"
Aragorn released his chin out of her grasp and cut her off, "Can you not see it, can you not feel it? There is no time for me, no hope! Go, Arwen."
Taking a step back, denial shone in her eyes, "I do not believe you. I cannot believe that there is nothing we can do."
Suddenly, a cold hand gripped Aragorn's heart and squeezed it mercilessly. Ice spread through his veins, so cold that he shuddered from the sensation. A ringing filled his ears and a voice, deep and menacing, whispered to him.
Fear, pure and untainted filled his being. The Nazgul, they had come, they were near. Aragorn had no time to lose. In one fluid motion, he unsheathed his long sword and gripped the hilt tightly. The blade shone silver in the weak moonlight and when he lifted it in a salute like gesture before his face, he could see it reflect in Arwen's bright eyes.
"Estel, what are you doing?"
His voice was steady as he answered her, although he trembled inside and his heart shattered into thousand pieces, "I will do something I should have done long before." He advanced on Arwen, but there was no fear in her eyes as she stepped away from him.
"Estel, you do not know what you are doing."
Oh, but he knew exactly what he was doing. He was trying to safe her life, and that of the Hobbits as well. If she would not leave out of her own free will, then he would make her. Letting the sword fall to his side, but still lifted enough to pose a thread, he advanced even further on Arwen.
"No, you do not know what you are doing Arwen. Can you not feel them? Do you not hear their call? They are coming and they are near. They will find us and then they will kill us all and take what they have come for. And I will go with them, as I have become one of them by that time."
"No, no Estel. You can fight it. You have to!" Her voice was pleading now, and she made as if to touch his face.
Aragorn batted her hand away roughly, and in this moment he hated himself so much that he wished he were already dead. His heart was broken.
But he did not let his feelings show on his face, and instead looked grim. His voice was tinged with anger as he spoke, "I have fought it, and I failed. Arwen, go!"
"NO! I will not let you face this evil alone." Defiance shone in her eyes.
But Aragorn had made up his mind and he would not back down now. In an almost evil whisper he spoke in elvish, "Arwen Undomiel, do you know what I will do with you once the Nazgul arrive? And what I will do with the Hobbits, with Frodo? First I will kill the Hobbits, one after the other. And while I listen to their screams of death, I will take the ring. It will be mine, and then Sauron's."
Aragorn slowly walked closer to Arwen, and she backed up until she stood beside Asfaloth. The defiance had left her eyes, and a sparkle of uncertainty could be seen. But Aragorn was not yet finished. It hurt his soul more than anything he had ever done before, but he had to say the words.
"And you, Arwen, oh I will not kill you, but make you one of us. I would take a black blade of morgul and plunge it deep into your tender heart. And then I would wait by your side and watch how the grace of the Valar leaves you. How your bright eyes become dull and lifeless. Feel the coldness of your skin and sense the evil that stirs in your heart. I would turn you into a Ringwraith and we would be together for all eternity. And then," Aragorn was now so near that he could see the stars reflect in her eyes, "then we would go to Imladris and first murder your brothers, then your father. And after that we would go to Lothlorien and pay a visit to you Grandparents."
He nearly recoiled as he saw it. Fear, fear stood in Arwen's beautiful eyes. With a trembling hand she gripped the mane of Asfaloth and her voice hitched as she spoke, "It is not you that speaks thus, Estel."
He smiled coldly, "Oh, but it is me. Or, rather the better part of me." Then he lifted the sword in a demanding gesture and pointed it at Frodo who still stood at the edge of the campsite, and ordered in the common tongue,
"Frodo, get on the horse, NOW!"
This time, Frodo did as he was ordered. Aragorn turned and let his gaze travel over the scared faces of Sam, Merry and Pippin. He knew that they had not understood what he had said, but they had at least understood enough to feel sacred. He had not wanted to frighten them thus, but it had been the only way.
"Merry, Pippin, Sam grab your packs and follow the horse. Asfaloth will show you the way. Once you reach the road, follow it until you reach a wide river. Cross it, and you will be safe in the realm of the elves."
They nodded and hurried to grab their belongings. Satisfied that the Hobbits did as he had ordered, Aragorn turned and looked at Arwen. She stood beside Asfaloth and had not moved an inch. Her bright blue eyes were searching his face, but it seemed she could not find what she had been looking for.
Sadness stole over her features, but she tried again to reason with him, "Estel, you are stronger than this, and you are not alone. Don't let hope abandon you."
Narrowing his eyes, Aragorn took the last of his resolve and answered, "Hope is already lost in these lands."
A silver tears ran down her cheek, but she nodded and mounted behind Frodo on Asfaloth. Letting her gaze linger a moment longer on his face, she asked, "What are you going to do now, Estel?"
And with that, he slapped Asfaloth on the back and the white horse sprinted away in the darkness. Aragorn gave Merry, Pippin and Sam a stern look and gestured with his sword into the dark forest.
"Go. And do not look back."
And they did not look back, not once.
Leaves rustled, branches snapped, but soon stillness settled over the woods. Tiredly, Aragorn let his sword drop to the ground, and followed only a second later as his legs would not support him any longer.
What had he done? Why had he said such cruel things to Arwen? Oh, she had been afraid…of him! Never, never would he forget that look on her face, a face that was more beautiful to him than anything else. He had broken a heart that was more dear to him than his own. Oh, he was not worth her love, and he knew that she would forever hate him for what he had done to her.
But, that forever would at least not be long. Getting to his feet, he took up his sword and looked around. Arwen and the Hobbits had gone East, towards the Bruinen and safety. Therefore, he would head…north. It was as good as any direction, and going back the way they had come was no option.
His plan was to make the Black Riders believe that he had the ring, and they would never believe that he had gone back the way he had come. No, going to the north was a good choice. Taking a deep breath, Aragorn let his gaze rest on the spot were Arwen had been only moments prior, and then he turned and headed north.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.