3. Pain Past Caring
Why was it so much harder to get out of this forsaken land that into it? Aragorn thought. Walk up to the Black Gate with a squad of stray Haradrim and a side door opens easily. For days now, he had trudged over the Plains of Gorgoroth, staggering from the heat, weak, hungry, sick at heart. Raising his eyes from his dusty boots, he found himself on a northern path, once again parallel to the mountains, and angled his march west toward the river and his inevitable crossing of the grey peaks. He looked down again and felt even more wretched. Fallon's blood had dried dark and stiff on his sleeves. He felt his stomach revolt and retched up nothing, weakly wiping his mouth with the back of a dusty hand, and staggered on west, black loathing for himself filling his soul.
* * *
At first light that last day at the outpost, Fallon had begun drinking heavily and brooding. The soldiers had free access to a thin brown brew of some sort. It seemed only slightly less foul than the greasy mutton carcasses roasting over fire pits and the gray, weevily biscuits. Thorongil hesitantly tasted it, oily and poisonous, and his cup sat full before him. As the day wore on, Fallon looked wild and was drinking heavily, refusing to answer in more than monosyllables. The pair soon lapsed into silence. Just after noon, Fallon began arguing with him in a loud, unfamiliar voice. It was obvious he was drunk or drugged or insane.
"Stop. That swill is poison. It's addling your brain." Thorongil cautioned him, his hand holding back the captain's arm as the cup began to rise to his mouth again. Fallon shrugged off his hand, drained the mug, and continued his diatribe.
"I wanted no part in my brother's share. I was content to be a Citadel guardsman." He turned bloodshot, bleary, venom-filled eyes on Thorongil. "But I had no value to them. My father even thought an outsider more valuable than I." There was a wild look as if he did not recognize his friend. "An outsider who more than likely bedded the woman I love. You plotted against me same as Denethor! To become Ecthelion's favorite! To take Finduilas!"
Thorongil leaned close and grasped Fallon's arm angrily, whispering in Sindarin. "Close your mouth. You'll get us killed." The cup spilled and rolled away. "Come, leave this foul place. Ride with me to Rivendell."
"By the White Tree, what caused you to do that!" Fallon rubbed his arm. "To Rivendell?" He sneered Thorongil's words to him. "I do not belong there. Here I have some worth. Someone will pay me dear for the secrets of Gondor and I'm willing to sell. Gondorians won't have to wait for "the sword that was broken' to return. They can have fame and power with Mordor. It's time to stop the bloodshed. Too many friends have I watched die defending that pile of cold stone and dead dreams."
"Fallon, you don't want that. I promise you, there will be a King in Gondor. A new leader will sit the high thrione in your lifetime."
"You promise me? Who are you to make such a promise?" Fallon stared at Thorongil, and was silent for a long time. Something shifted behind his eyes. He made as if to speak again, then turned his gaze into the mug as if it were a seeing mirror. Thorongil didn't know if the drink had some evil properties or if the drunkenness had simply wiped Fallon's mind of all other things.
"All that is gold does not glitter…" Fallon muttered softly. "Why would Denethor fear you enough to kill you? What is it my brother knows about you that makes you a threat to him?" Fallon grasped at an idea that seemed just out of his reach. Suddenly there was a dawning awareness in his eyes. He slammed the table back and jumped to his feet. The noise drew the attention of the Haradrim who were drinking and grousing about the orcs.
"How could I not see it? That night! The Lady Calarinda's story! You….you…the secrets about your past. The Elves…Mithrandir…" Fallon in his drunken, mad state was about to condemn them both to an unspeakable death. Before he could speak another word, Thorongil's hands wrapped around the collars of his shirt and slammed him out the doorway.
By the weak light of the overcast sky, Thorongil could see Fallon's eyes; the look in them was an unfamiliar one of greed and evilness. This was not his comrade and good friend, but a man insane. Fallon, when he chose to admit it, was a son of Gondor, carrying the high Numenorean blood of the Steward himself and he had been raised on the stories and legend of the king that would come again. He had guessed early on that Thorongil was noble raised and commented many times on his high born ways.
"More noble than the Steward's heir," Fallon said aloud, now remembering his own words. He staggered back from Thorongil's loosened grasp, drew his sword, began slashing and stabbing, evilly laughing, keeping his commander at arm's length.
"No wonder Denethor has been snapping like a caged badger! He must have guessed! The king has come again and landed square in the middle of the White City as the hero of Umbar!" he laughed heartily and then quieted suddenly. "It's unfortunate that you are worth far more to me as gift to Sauron to buy my commission in his army. I would have great pleasure seeing my brother's stricken face when you were crowned." Fallon chortled.
"Come, Fallon, what you speak of is a child's fancy; elven tales of a hidden king. I am only Thorongil, your commander and friend."
"No…no, don't try to trick me," the captain shook his head as if to clear it. "Fallon, the steward's bastard, is about to get his just reward. Perhaps he will make me his captain…I could supplant the Witch King! I will ride proudly into Minas Tirith at the head of the Dark Lord's army. My brother in chains! The beautiful Finduilas on her knees begging me for her life! As the one who would unite all Middle Earth against him, you must be worth that much to the Dark Lord." Fallon rambled on, visibly trembling at the shock of his discovery.
Aragorn paced just out of arm's length of Fallon's blade. His captain's story might be discounted at first, but he was sure that Sauron was a master of methods for extracting information that would have he himself admitting to his identity and any other knowledge he possessed. The danger was unspeakable and Aragorn never dreamed it would come from Fallon. If the Enemy suspected the heir of Isildur lived and was within his grasp, the plans and hope of so many would be ruined. Aragorn glanced toward the door. The Haradrim had not followed them outside; another fight in this place of constant bickering was not worth any effort. Aragorn dropped all pretext and barked at Fallon in Sindarin.
"Captain, put up your sword!" he ordered. The command had no effect on the insane Fallon. "You swore to follow me that day on Pelennor Fields. You know now that oath was real. Come with me. We can save Gondor. This thing can end. Fallon, I ask you one last time, mellon nin," Aragorn pleaded. "Come away." True to his lifelong training, Fallon answered in the same tongue.
"I've cast my lot. I am no friend of yours." His eyes narrowed. "Komitar! " he shouted, not loud enough yet to be heard inside. "Even as king, you can offer me nothing I want. You can do nothing about the image I carry in my mind of Finduilas big with his son. Komitar!" This call was louder, and brought an answering roar from inside. Fallon gleefully watched the pain and panic on Aragorn's face. "Komitar! We must call the watch!"
Aragorn had no doubt of the Haradrim's lack of integrity. Komitar would think nothing of slitting Fallon's throat as soon as his deranged captain identified him. No amount of reasoning would then prevent him from finding himself awake in his nightmare: chained before the Dark Lord. He again saw Arwen's tear-stained face that night in Minas Tirith. She had foreseen this. Aragorn could not let light die in Middle Earth, even for the life of his friend. He hoped the sorrow did not show in his eyes as he held Fallon's gaze and his hand inched toward his boot top.
His friend laughed maniacally and bellowed again, still in Sindarin, the musical lilt of the Elvish sounding brassy and hollow in the evil air.
"Komitar, you and I can become as we never dreamed. I hold the high king of Gondor before me!" His voice stopped abruptly and he stared down at the hilt of a curved Haradrim dagger point protruding from his chest.
"That's one way to shut up that insane blathering!" Komitar guffawed from the doorway and turned back inside, laughing at his joke.
"Thorongil…" Fallon said weakly, dropping forward to his knees. Aragorn was there and caught him as he fell. The wound was mortal and the hot blood ran down over Aragorn's arms. In his dying moments, the old Fallon returned. "We were fine together, my lord, at Umbar." Aragorn nodded through his tears. "Can you see the flags of the White Tower, Thorongil, and Finduilas awaiting us?" Fallon died, his blue eyes looking off into the distance toward the west.
"Hiro hon hidh ab 'wanath.*" Aragorn sent a prayer to the Valar for Fallon, and for his own soul. Gently, he pulled out the knife, tossed it still wet with Fallon's blood away, and carried the body west down the track to the sluggish river. A flock of waterfowl burst screaming into the sky as Aragorn hid it in some streamside reeds. Tears tracked white lines through the black grime on his face. For a time he was rooted there on his knees in the mud of the riverbank. He had been but a moment from killing his best friend himself and now Fallon's death weighed on him as if the dagger had been his own.
Aragorn knew he must be away. At any moment, he expected Komitar to burst back through the guardhouse door, but all remained quiet. "Good bye, my friend." Aragorn stood, saluted Fallon, and then struck a path following the water for a ways, toward the dismal hills and the sun that was westering, towards home.
* * *
Aragorn dragged on across the sunbaked plain, muttering to himself, in some ways deeming himself as mad as his friend had been. He had held him in his arms as the light left Fallon's eyes, and he had left his friend in Mordor. He had no choice. Life gives us no choice in most difficult situations, Gandalf said, so we must have strength to face whatever fate deals out.
"Well, Gandalf, I do not know if I have such strength. I have done fine, brave work," Aragorn said sarcastically to the baking rocks around him. "Blood work worthy of the foulest creature in this land."
Certainly, getting out was harder. There would be no walking up to the Black Gate asking to leave; the mountains were his only option. However, the chance of his traveling through this land secretly was almost without hope. Orcs should smell him for miles; he was stained to the elbows with Fallon's blood.
*Let him find peace after death.
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.