Where the Shadow Lies: 6. Fidelity

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6. Fidelity

Aragorn was positive he was dead and dreaming of his youth, orc hunting in the Misty Mountains with his brothers. He smelled wood smoke and something herby and medicinal steaming, and heard the musical voice of Elladan nearby. He opened his eyes. It was starry night. Three elf forms were sitting in the fire's glow: two were dark as midnight; the third was a fair bowman of Mirkwood. He lay there and watched them, not wanting to speak, to start the world moving again, just content in the moment. Sensing his eyes open, Legolas rose and came to crouch near Aragorn, his hand rested on his hunting dagger.

"Mellon nin," Aragorn whispered and smiled at his friend, though the gesture hurt his cracked lips.

"We heard you had sold yourself to the Dark Lord so we came to buy you back. He must have thought you not worth having since we had you for free." Legolas smiled down at him. Elrohir brought over a water flask.

"You lay, brother, like a dried fish on the banks of the Anduin. The carrion birds were circling."

"Le hannon." Aragorn's throat rasped. "Thank you for that vision." Elrohir held a cup of cool water to his lips; it was sweet and trickled down his throat like honeyed wine. Aragorn weakly grasped his brother's wrist in thanks and drifted back to sleep. Elrohir watched him silently and wondered again at the sleeves of Aragorn's shirt he had removed, both stained to the elbows with blood.

When Aragorn was strong enough to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time, he realized somehow the three had gotten him across the Anduin. They were camped in a sheltering grove of trees on a high, western bluff. All three elves spend much of their time watching both the river and the plains behind them. Aragorn spent much of these feverish days in sleep or silence. Awake, he looked up through the opening buds and watched the sunlight play in the new green. Asleep, he again staggered through Mordor or watched Fallon die, usually by his hand.

His companions also watched him wrestle with demons in his dreams, and grew more concerned as each day passed and he seemed to regain none of his vitality, showing little emotion or little warmness to his brothers or his friend. They feared that the troubling news Gandalf had shared in Minas Tirith could be true: that he had been taken by the darkness. It was tacitly agreed at least one of the elves would be constantly in camp with him, and more than one Elvish eye watched him covertly, wondering what evils had infected him in the dark of Mordor.

One cool morning as breakfast was cooking, Elladan brought a warm drink to Aragorn and hunkered down nearby. Aragorn watched detached as Elrohir and Legolas obviously argued just out of ear shot. At one point, the prince of Mirkwood had his hand upon his hunting knife and it looked to Aragorn as if he was defying Elrohir's direct order. Aragorn almost felt enough concern to call out to his friend and warn him of Elrohir's temper, but before he could, Elrohir's imperious command of 'Go!' reached them at the campfire and Legolas whirled in fury and, it seemed, almost ran blindly into the forest. Elrohir strode over to them, standing ominously above the sitting pair.

"So, Morgul-lord, have you sold all hope to Sauron? Do we hear the story soon or am I to assume you really are the Dark Lord's minion and end your suffering now?" In that way, Elrohir commenced his interrogation with little introduction. Aragorn heard an undernote of pain in his gruffness. He saw mistrust in his brother's dark eyes and was shocked and confused by his accusations.

"A lot of effort to nurse me back to cut my throat now," he answered sharply.

"As you well know, I like my enemies to see my vengeance," Elrohir said. "We were sent by Gandalf to bring you back, and, as he did not specify astride a horse or as carcass thrown across it, I'll not set out to Lothlorien anticipating your dagger in my back, nor let you ride into Rivendell like a fleece-clothed warg to slaughter my family." The words cut him to the quick and when he could finally reply, Aragorn answered:

"Harsh, insane words from one I thought rational and my brother." Aragorn looked for sympathy to Elladan who sat silent but obviously in concert with Elrohir. "Are the stories that bad in Minas Tirith?" Aragorn asked quietly. He thought of the ailing Ecthelion and did not want the man to despair for misplaced trust.

"Actually, the common story there is you died a valiant death, the victim of a pirate assassin. Only a few have seen the writ from Denethor for your arrest and execution. Other stories swirl about though. The ones we are privy to says you sold your soul to Sauron and return to us disguised nicely as our brother, but in truth are now leader of the Nine." Elrohir drew his wickedly curved hunting knife. Aragorn had once seen him decapitate a charging orc with it. "Though ill, you certainly seem unlike yourself even accounting for your struggle across the Black Land. We'll have the story now and quickly, or not at all: the choice is yours." Aragorn took Elrohir's meaning and saw that his brother, his mentor, the sworn protector of Rivendell, would end his life if he did not hear the truth.

Slowly at first, then rushing to end the horror, Aragorn told his brothers, noble and loyal to a fault, who he held in such esteem, the tale of Denethor's betrayal, of Fallon, and of Mordor. Aragorn finished and waited for their condemnation, these two high Elven lords whose integrity he believed would have demanded they perish instead of leaving a friend behind. Elladan spoke first and his train of thought surprised Aragorn.

"The Palantir," Elladan nodded. "Gandalf guessed from his own dealings with the Steward's son there may have been one recovered from Osgiliath."

"Its influence would account for Denethor's obsession to rid himself of any he felt a threat to him," agreed Elrohir, scratching some matter from his blade with a fingernail.

Aragorn was astounded at their sudden casualness. "Did you listen?" he asked angrily. "Did you hear me say I allowed Fallon's murder and left his body to the orcs? My actions were evil and loathsome!"

Elrohir looked at him curiously. "Nay, brother. You did as I trained you. You did what had to be done."

"What could not be saved was mercifully ended," Elladan said philosophically, rising to his feet. In his right hand, under the skirt of his coat, he had held one of his favorite hunting knives. "Don't you realize that if we found you so just now, maddened and changed to evil, Elrohir would have killed you? And if he could not, I would have?" Aragorn stared speechless at his brothers

"Welcome back, brother." Elrohir gripped his shoulder. "Neither healed nor whole yet, but certainly not soulless. Of that I'm glad." For a moment, Elrohir's eyes were closed, his lips moved as if in prayer. He sheathed his blade. "To bring myself to kill you would have cost my own life." The gruff Elrohir stalked away to check the horses' tethers.

Aragorn improved more rapidly after that morning. As March arrived, they broke camp. Elrohir and Legolas turned south towards Minas Tirith to rendezvous with Gandalf. Elladan and Aragorn would ride in easy stages to Lothlorien. They all agreed to meet in Rivendell after Midsummer.Sometime during the last night before they parted company, Legolas had found another horse. When Aragorn questioned where he had come across so fine an animal as the chestnut mare, fully tacked as befitted a soldier, a fine cloak strapped to the saddle, he admitted he had ridden downriver to the Osgiliath garrison and took the first animal he came upon.

Aragorn felt somehow not a part of the world as they set out to Lorien. Elladan was excellent company as always. But they often rode in silence and Elladan worried watching his quiet brother, usually so full of elf-song when riding; worried that the suffering Aragorn had faced had ruined his great spirit; worried that although his physical wounds were knitting nicely, his soul would never heal; worried that Aragorn had condemned himself for his actions and only await the execution to be carried out.

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.

Story Information

Author: sindarinelvish

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 08/01/06

Original Post: 08/01/06

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