July 2010: This story has gone untouched for six years. At the present, I have every intention of continuing this story. For now, I have redone the layout, which suffered from the changes to the site settings over the years.
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Amon Hen, the sheltered spot
Back at the sheltered spot, Aragorn and Gimli were measuring each other with their eyes. Gimli's stare was fixed on the Ring, which hung from the chain around Aragorn's neck, but he held on to his axe firmly. Aragorn stood at his full height and looked down at Gimli with his head slightly tilted. The tension prolonged, as their minds were racing. Aragorn finally reached a decision and straightened up. He gave a laugh.
"Unless you wish to kill me, I suggest you lower your axe." He stared at Gimli almost benevolently. He then picked up the Ring by the chain and lifted it back under his clothes.
"Explain," repeated Gimli. He could not take his eyes off the Ring until it was safely hidden, and only then did he turn to watch Aragorn's face.
"Whatever makes you raise your axe against me must be a just cause in your mind, Gimli. I will not hold it against you," Aragorn said pleasantly. He was content to see Gimli's eyes widen in reaction, but the dwarf collected himself quickly and clenched the axe more tightly.
"I do not know what jest you are making, Aragorn," Gimli said tightly, "but I just saw the Ring with my very eyes, as I live and breathe. Do not deny it."
"I have no intention of doing so, Master Dwarf. I have every respect for your perception." It took a second for the scorn behind the pleasant voice to sink in, but when it did, Gimli narrowed his eyes in anger. Aragorn continued quickly enough, "However, I deem you wish to know why I have it in my possession."
"I do." Gimli had discovered that two could play the game, and while barely holding back his anger, he maintained a mannerly countenance. The slight shaking of his hand holding the axe spoke another language.
"I shall explain it to you, and perhaps then you will not feel it necessary to threaten me with your blade."
"We shall see."
Aragorn was fixated on Gimli, who gave him an equally firm gaze back. Suddenly, Aragorn gave a little gasp and held his hand to his chest. He sank down a bit and took an uncertain step backward to seek support from the stone wall behind him. Gimli released his axe and leapt forward, but as Aragorn managed on his own, Gimli realized with horror that he had abandoned his weapon in the most precarious situation possible. If the pain was fake, as he suspected, he had just given Aragorn a chance to overpower him.
Gimli leapt back, expecting to be too late to save himself, but Aragorn remained standing against the wall. Gimli was able to seize his own weapon and place himself before Andúril without Aragorn interfering. Strange though Aragorn had become and as much as Gimli had concluded his true character upon seeing the Ring, he had not attacked. Doubt came to Gimli's mind. He still had not acted further, when Aragorn spoke between clenched teeth:
"I will explain, but I will... be seated." The rest came when Aragorn had already dropped to the ground and leaned heavily against stone.
Gimli was truly at wonder now. Had he made too hasty conclusions and doubted Aragorn in vain? None of this was making sense to him and, with some hesitation, he sat down on a tree trunk himself. With a glance at the abandoned Andúril and with the reassuring feeling of his own axe in his hand, he ventured to ask:
"Are you... well?" It was an absurd question, but so was the situation.
Aragorn gave a dry smile. "Better than I look—this will pass." His statement was somewhat contradicted by an accompanying wince. Then, with effort, Aragorn faced Gimli. "I suppose I must explain myself, Master Dwarf."
"Well said, Ranger," replied Gimli dryly. Maybe there was reason to this after all.
"Ask me. What do you want to know?" Aragorn averted his eyes from Gimli's once again and stared at the ground instead.
"Why do you carry the Ring? Where is the Bearer of it? What happened? Wh—" Gimli stopped himself short, as Aragorn gave a slight startle. He felt an unwilling twinge of compassion. He started again, but with a slightly kinder tone, "Answer one question at a time, but beware of your moves. I have no reason to believe that Ring is in your possession by any lawful means."
"Perhaps you shall be convinced otherwise."
Aragorn lingered with the reply. His mind was racing, and so was his heart. Things had taken an unexpected turn. At last, he started, "To answer you, Gimli: I carry the Ring, for Frodo cannot. Where he is, I do not know. What happened—"
"What do you mean, Aragorn? What do you mean by saying that he cannot?"
"Frodo gave the task to me when it became too much for him bear."
"But he was oath-sworn to it, he would not have abandoned the task," Gimli maintained.
"He had to. There was no choi—"
"But he was sworn to it. Why—"
"He did not do it willingly! Can't you understand, you fool?" Aragorn snapped.
Once again, hostility settled between them. As a proud representative of the Dwarves, Gimli did not take insults lightly, not even when they came from men like Aragorn and not even when the speaker was not in his right mind. Gimli gave a growl and spring up. Although his height did not increase considerably, the meaning of gesture was unmistakable.
"You would do well, Ranger," he said angrily, "if you watched your tongue. It is not I whose actions leave much to explain."
Aragorn ground his teeth, but he gave in. He should have known the dwarf was easy to rile. "I apologize; I should not have spoken so. I lost my temper."
Gimli watched him suspiciously, looking for any signs of hidden sarcasm. He had not expected the answer to be that conciliatory. When he did not find any scorn, he backed away, but remained standing. "Very well. Now continue. Why did Frodo leave the Ring to you?"
"He entrusted it with me. He could not bear it anymore, neither in mind nor in body. The Ring was destroying him."
Gimli considered this. The Ring was the epitome of power and corruption, but Frodo had seemed unaffected. Was it possible for the Ring to have burdened his mind so? That still left the other half of things unexplained. "What do you mean, Ranger; why in body?"
Aragorn exhaled loudly and hung his head. "He was already burdened by the Ring itself. The injury he sustained made the task unbearable for him. He was just a hobbit, after all, although a brave one." Before Gimli even had a chance to ask, he continued in a defeated tone, "I mean the injury Boromir gave him."
Gimli could but stare.
Gimli was bewildered. If Aragorn was speaking the truth, things had taken an entirely new direction. "Are you saying that Boromir injured Frodo? When?"
"Before the orcs came."
"Why did you say naught of this before?"
Gimli's tone was incredulous, and Aragorn could not blame him for his astonishment. He would have been astonished in his place, too. The situation almost made him raise a brow. Then Aragorn remembered his position and resumed his distressed looking down.
"Try to understand. I have not thought this through yet myself, and I am not myself." That was true enough. "Even if Boromir erred, what does it help now? He is dead. Let the dead rest in peace."
"I can hardly believe my ears," Gimli replied, and took hasty paces before settling down on the tree trunk. Aragorn watched his movements intently and noted how Gimli even seemed to forget about threatening him with his axe for a moment. "No, I cannot believe it. If Boromir attacked Frodo, why is he dead? Where is Frodo and why, by Balin's grave, do you have the Ring? Explain this all, and make haste. We dwarves do not appreciate riddles."
"I will explain. Be patient, Gimli." With that, Aragorn sank into thought, and it was only when Gimli seemed on the verge of bursting that he continued talking. "It was after we all separated at the camp; when we found Frodo and Boromir gone."
Gimli nodded. He remembered the confusion and the alarm upon finding the Ring-bearer missing.
"I went to search them; I think we all did. I was the one who found them. Boromir had lost his mind and... and he was holding a sword to Frodo's neck when they came to my view. It was all the Ring's doing. Boromir of Gondor was a man of dignity, and that was below him."
"Why the cowardly act?"
Gimli was in haste to judge, and Aragorn tensed. He continued, nonetheless, "Boromir bid Frodo to come to Minas Tirith with him, but Frodo refused. I found out about all of this later, of course, but it does not change the facts of the matter. Boromir had given into the Ring's call and he wanted it for himself. I intervened at the last moment. In his bloodlust, Boromir still had drawn too deep wounds to the side of Frodo's neck."
Gimli gave a displeased growl, but Aragorn continued his monologue, ignoring him, "I do not think he recognized me anymore: or maybe he did, saw the uncrowned king, and that is why we ended up measuring our swords. He did catch me off guard once, when I hit my head against something hard." Aragorn gave an appropriate grimace and finished off, "There is no telling what might have happened if it wasn't for the interruption of orcs."
"Orcs?" Gimli sounded surprised that there was so much unrevealed to the story, while Aragorn snorted. The man seemed to be reflecting intently, and Gimli was barely able to refrain from reaching out and shaking him. He deemed, very correctly, that Aragorn needed the time to think.
"The orcs were there, and I did not even realize it. They moved more silently than creatures of their kind should. They were not interested in us, however. They would have been, had they seen Frodo, but he hid from sight and they saw but Boromir and I. They wasted no time with us..." Aragorn lifted his hand to his temple and rubbed it briefly. He gave a sidelong glance at Gimli, and continued, "But they were not alone. They had captured the little hobbits."
"Merry and Pippin."
"They saw us and cried for help. The orcs did not even bother to stop them from screaming. I— it almost broke me to hear them, but something else happened. The cries got through to Boromir and freed him from his madness." Aragorn looked sad. "He always did have a soft spot for the hobbits; he was kinder to them than to most men."
"What happened then?"
"He went after them, and I stayed. Elbereth, I should have followed him! I should have..." Aragorn raised his hand to his temple again and rubbed it violently. "But I did not. I was torn in two, and it was Frodo I chose. I went to him."
"Frodo begged me to take the Ring. He had refused it of Boromir, but he offered it to me. He was not thinking well and he was wounded. And then, out of nowhere, Sam came there. I don't know how he found us. Together they had me take the Ring and do with it as I pleased."
Gimli opened his mouth to speak, but Aragorn cut him short with an angry outcry, "What would you have me do? I take no pride in it, but I could not refuse his request. He should not have carried the Ring in the first place; it was too much. It would have destroyed him. Didn't you see him; see how haunted he became after Moria?"
"Calm down, Aragorn," said Gimli. Aragorn's voice had risen, and Gimli was becoming alarmed once more. Was the odd Aragorn returning yet again? He had to keep the man calm until Legolas returned, which should be any time now. He had been gone for too long already. "Calm down and finish your tale. Frodo gave the Ring to you willingly; what then?"
"We spoke a few hasty words, and I left him in Sam's care and went after Boromir. They went away on their own, in the opposite direction. I won't... I can't say more now," Aragorn said weakly. He leaned his head forward and rested it on his fingertips.
Gimli sat quietly, his axe and threats all cast aside. This was too much—too much had happened that day for him to handle this quickly. He still lacked to match the pieces of new information together, when Aragorn's shoulders starting shaking ominously. On instinct, Gimli got up and went over to him.
After that, many things happened at once. Just as Gimli was about to place a hand on Aragorn's shoulder, he stopped in mid-motion. The shaking had stopped and the man had focused on one particular spot right next to the tree trunk. As if in slow motion, Gimli traced the object of Aragorn's interest. Time seemed to stand still, when he turned to see Aragorn again and their eyes met. Mutual realization sank in.
At the very same moment a third figure, holding an upheld elven knife, arrived at the scene.
Thanks to Gypsie (Gypsie Rose) and Sarah (Sarya) for the proofreading. I am grateful to the both of you.
Published March 6, 2004. Revised 2010.
To the reviewers:
Thank for your for patience with the updates or, rather, with the lack of them. I hope you enjoyed this chapter as well.
Sarya: Thank you for your kind and long review. You once again beat all the others at being the first to review. I hope this chapter was somewhat interesting... Thanks for your great help with it, too.
HaloGatomon: Ha! Got you off guard with the Ring, didn't I? I deserve all of your poking. This update took an obscenely long time, but was it at least an interesting one..?
Wilvarin: Good to see you. Good to know the last chapter wasn't too predictable. How was this one?
Oddwen - The Lone PFR Fan: Thanks for reading; I am glad you like. I do hope I still hold your interest after all this time, cough cough.
TrinityTheSheDevil: All this for one little golden trinket... And yes, Evil!Aragorn is on the rampart, as is the evil wench, too. Winks.
GypsieRose: Thank you for all your kind support and great help. The story got somewhat "cliffhanger-y" at The End of This Chapter, wouldn't you say?
grumpy: Oh, you are good. Glad to know it is possible to deduce the story correctly and that the clues are not visible only to me. You are very close, but I am going to go for even a more sinister solution than that.
Piratelf: Nice to have you join the reviewers! How does my version of Evil!Aragorn fare with you? I hope you are in for more.
majorkami: Hi! Great to see you back. Do keep reading and seeing just how evil Aragorn can turn out to be. I sit here wondering how strangely appropriate your comment of my "dooming them all" was...
Regina Nex: Bad Aragorn, Evil!Aragorn is the key. Keep reading, and thanks for reviewing.
boromir: Hi, great to hear you like the story. You got it right, too, about what has happened. Stay tuned for the hows and whys.
Strider's Girl: Thanks for reviewing. I do hope you continue reading and liking the story.
Blue Iris: Thank you kindly for your review; it made my day. I am ashamed of how long this update took. The next one will come quicker, I promise. I hope you keep reading and liking.
Tarawyn: Thank you for the very interesting review. I read it countless times over and took time thinking of a good response, too. I would be undermining my own work by saying that you are right; the Ring cannot work this way. Nonetheless, while I basically agree with you, I have taken a fan fiction turn to this all. At least reality kicks in a bit with Legolas and Gimli. I also hope the completed story will answer for Aragorn's behavior as a man, regardless of it not fitting his person. I do hope this all makes an interesting and entertaining story, as a whole. What was the other story you mentioned? I haven't seen it myself.
Delas: Thanks for reading and reviewing. I hope I'm not yet becoming all too predictable..?
wellduh: No, not going to leave it. Keep reading and poking me to continue.
fliewatuet: Not much more to go until we find out what the truth is. Thank you kindly for your compliments on the story. I hope you keep reading.
PrincessEilonwy: Oh yes, reading the reviewers' comments is a surefire way to spoil the surprises. I have way too clever a readership over here. But, do continue reviewing. There is more to come...