A/N: "Call of the Heart" was written for the June/July "What if" - Teitho contest. The task was to take a scene from the movies and re-write it the way it could/should/might have happened. This story won the first place.
The Elvish translations in this story are marked like this: (( ))
I hope you enjoy my story, and I love feedback! (g) English is not my native language, but thanks to my wonderful beta I do not think you will be aware of that. I will answer all reviewers who log in or leave me their e-mail-address by e-mail. :-)
I want to thank my dear beta Imbecamiel who edited this story for me! (hugs)
Title: Call of the Heart (1/3)
Summary: What if… it had not been Aragorn who fell over the cliff during the battle against the warg-riders in Rohan? Friendship, angst. AU.
Rating: T (to be safe)
Disclaimer: All the characters and places in this story belong to Tolkien, Peter Jackson, and New Line Cinema and not to me. (sigh, sniff) I do not make any profit out of it.
Dedication: I want to dedicate this story to my mother, who has been my steadfast one-woman-fanclub for years and years now, and who even read this story though she had never read a story in English before! (fond smile) Hannon le, naneth! This story is for you, as you liked the "Never!" so much!
Call of the Heart
Aragorn pulled his sword out of the body of the last warg he had felled. Around him, the sounds of the battle were slowly fading. The following silence settled on the few survivors like a heavy blanket, only broken by the soft moans of the wounded and the dying. The silence after a battle was never a comfortable one. It was the time to count the losses and to face what no one wanted to see – a task that demanded as much courage as the battle itself and could inflict even more grief.
Aragorn straightened up slowly. It had been hard work to cut through the thick hides and the hard bones of the wargs, and the battle had been fierce. His whole body felt sore and his muscles were aching. Looking around he realized they had been victorious. If it could be called thus. The ground was littered with the bodies of orcs and wargs, men and horses. The men who were still standing were far too few. Victory had been dearly paid for.
His searching gaze found Théoden, and for a moment, their eyes locked. The face of the king was devoid of any expression, but he acknowledged Aragorn with a slight nod. Without Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli the fight would have been lost, and Théoden knew this, whether he liked it or not. The ranger inclined his head and accepted the silent thanks.
Sheathing his sword, he began to look around for his friends and those of the wounded who might still need him, when a soft, wheezing sound of distress nearby demanded the attention of the healer in him. He did not have to search far to locate its source. His eyes softened when he kneeled down at the side of the faithful horse that had carried him so far after it had been given to him by Éomer near the Fangorn forest.
The beast's lungs had been pierced, and it was bleeding its life away while it struggled painfully for each breath. Aragorn found a deep sadness welling up inside of him, as the horse weakly nudged his hand with its nostrils as if trying to console him. He whispered gently to it in Elvish and stroked its neck with one hand while he drew his dagger with the other one.
"Hannon le, mellon-nîn. Navaer." ((Thank you, my friend. Farewell.))
He killed the beast so swiftly that it didn't even know it happened. After that, he wiped his dagger on the grass, got back to his feet, and turned away. He was glad when he heard Gimli's voice calling out to him, creating a welcome diversion from his own gloomy thoughts. He felt a sudden need to be around his friends and to make sure they were unharmed.
"Aragorn!" Gimli's voice sounded alarmed now, as he called his friend's name for the second time.
"I am well," Aragorn hastened to assure him.
Gimli came to a dead stop in front of him and looked him over from head to toe. "Good," he commented finally with a gruff voice, seemingly satisfied by his brief inspection. "Now just tell me where that infuriating elf is, and I'll be content for the moment."
"Legolas?" Now it was Aragorn's turn to sound slightly alarmed, and a bit confused. He raised his head and looked over the battlefield searchingly. "I thought he stayed near you after you were buried under that heap of wargs!"
"He did not," Gimli answered curtly, trying to hide his mounting concern. "I am not able to find him, and I thought you would know his whereabouts."
Aragorn knew that Legolas was more than capable of taking care of himself. He was slightly worried, but refused to be concerned yet. There could be a lot of reasons why Legolas hadn't joined them yet.
"I do not," he answered the dwarf absent-mindedly, trying to remember the last time he had seen the elf. But he soon realized he had been too busy with his own survival to keep track of his friends. He reached out and put one hand on Gimli's shoulder in a reassuring way. "Let us find him."
Gimli nodded. They separated and began their search without further delay.
"Legolas!" The call sounded more and more urgent the longer Aragorn's search lasted. He ignored the inquiring looks from Théoden and his men and kept calling. He had not found a single trace of his friend. More and more often his gaze drifted to the corpses on the ground, looking for any trace of a golden head or a green tunic and dreading to find it. His stomach tightened into a solid knot when he realized how many of them had fallen…
He would have happily endured another onslaught of wargs right now if that had been the price for an answer to his calls. His heart longed to hear a certain musical voice scolding him for his foolishness or to look into those bright blue eyes sparkling with hidden amusement and exasperation. But the only answer he got was silence and the eyes that met his gaze were dead and empty.
Perhaps Legolas had trailed a fleeing warg and was still on his way back, he reasoned with himself as he reached the fringe of the battlefield. His search had been thorough. Legolas was not here. If Gimli didn't find him…
Suddenly his gaze fixed on a small group of horses that were standing some distance away. He spotted the white-grey coat of Legolas' Arod immediately. For one moment Aragorn didn't know whether he should be relieved or not. He had finally found something that belonged to his friend, if not himself. But why should Legolas leave Arod behind? He took a closer look and noticed that Arod was limping slightly. Before he could walk over to the horse however, a voice stopped him in his tracks.
Gimli's voice wasn't only alarmed anymore, it sounded nearly frantic. Aragorn whirled around, his eyes immediately finding the dwarf, who stood near the edge of the cliff. Then he saw what the dwarf held in his hands. It was a bow, and there was only one such bow to be found in the whole of Rohan. A great strongbow of the Galadhrim it was, a gift from the Lady Galadriel herself. Aragorn would have recognized it anywhere. The ranger froze for a moment, then he started to run. It took him only seconds to reach the dwarf. Aragorn noticed that Gimli's fingers clutched the bow as tightly as if he never wanted to let go again.
"It lay on the ground," Gimli said, his voice rough.
Aragorn looked around as if he expected Legolas to miraculously appear in front of his eyes. Both of them knew Legolas would never have parted with his bow of his own free will. But the only thing Aragorn saw were the carcasses of slain orcs and their foul beasts. A repugnant smell poisoned the air around them. Then he heard the chuckle.
His searching gaze fell on an orc laying on the ground next to them. The creature was obviously grievously wounded and would die soon. Nonetheless, the orc kept chuckling, only interrupted by strange, gurgling sounds when dark blood would gush out of his mouth. Aragorn's eyes narrowed when they came to rest on the white hilt of an elven knife which was deeply embedded in the breast of the orc.
In one fluid movement he kneeled at the side of the orc, blade drawn and resting against the neck of the creature. The orc chuckled again and coughed up more blood. In spite of the situation, he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. Both the stench of the creature and the triumphant gleam in its eyes made the ranger's stomach turn.
"Where is he?" he asked quietly, his stormy-grey eyes boring into those of the orc and demanding an answer.
There was a cold determination and a silent threat in the eyes of the man that made the orc flinch and fall silent. For a moment, he nearly seemed to be frightened. Then he started to grin. "I killed him," he said. "You thought the victory was yours, but it is not. I killed the elf. The victory is mine."
Aragorn's look was lethal now. He had to restrain himself from slaying the orc on the spot. A sudden cold fear overcame him while he listened to those words, and his heart ached, but he refused to let it show. Gimli gave a strangled sound behind his back, which seemed to be part fury and part sorrow.
"Where – is – he?" Aragorn repeated slowly, pressing his sword against the neck of the orc for emphasis, ignoring all else around him.
"Fell over… the cliff…" the orc wheezed, nearly choking on his own blood now. He chuckled once more, gasped for a moment and then stilled, his face still distorted into a triumphant grimace, his eyes staring up into the skies unseeingly.
Aragorn sheathed his sword and rose slowly to his feet. Then, as if as an afterthought, he bent down again, pulled the elven knife out of the orc's flesh, and wiped it clean as he had done with his own dagger only… minutes… before. It seemed like a lifetime now. Then he walked to the edge of the cliff, moving as if in a trance, cradling the knife in his hands. He leaned forward slightly and peered into the abyss below. It was a long way down. There was a raging river at the bottom of the cliff, flanked by jagged rocks. He couldn't see any trace of his friend, but it was nearly impossible to recognize anything from this height.
Aragorn closed his eyes. His fingers held onto the knife as if it was a lifeline. He didn't even realize that the sharp edge of the blade cut into the soft flesh of his palm. Disbelief and paralyzing dread warred within him, clamouring for attention. Legolas could not be dead. He must not be dead. Not like this. No chance to say goodbye, to even know what had befallen his friend, how he had died, whether he had suffered… Icy fingers seemed to close around his heart, choking him with grief. He didn't think he could bear this. Fate could not be this cruel. The prince of Mirkwood couldn't be destined to die like this, murdered by a foul orc, shoved over the edge of a cliff… He refused to believe it.
He looked down once more. If Legolas had fallen into the river, there could still be a chance. The mere ghost of a possibility. If he hadn't been dead already, another more realistic voice in him argued. If he hadn't been unconscious. If he had survived the impact. If the water had been deep enough where he had hit the river. If he hadn't hit the rocky shore instead… He pushed both these thoughts and the images they conjured up in his mind aside. He was not willing to listen anymore.
Awaking as if from a daydream, but filled with a renewed determination, he noticed for the first time that Gimli stood by his side, looking down towards the river with an expression of shock and grief frozen on his face. There was no hope in his eyes. Aragorn felt another presence nearby, and he turned to find Théoden standing in front of him. The king hesitated for a moment. Then he placed a comforting hand on Aragorn's shoulder.
"Leave the dead behind," he said quietly, nearly gently, just enough to be heard not only by Aragorn and Gimli, but by the men standing behind the king as well. There was sadness and understanding in the king's eyes, but also determination and resigned acceptance.
Aragorn held his gaze, his jaw set, a stubborn glint in his eyes.
He answered without a moment's thought, his heart speaking rather than his mind. "I will not leave him behind like this. Not ever." With these words he made to turn, but Théoden tightened his grip upon his shoulder and held him back.
"This is a fool's hope," the king said, nearly imploring. "Do not throw your life away like this. Enough has been wasted already." He looked over the edge of the cliff, then back at Aragorn. "You are needed here."
There was a dangerous sparkle in Aragorn's eyes that vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He resisted the impulse to break free of Théoden's grip and walk away without a further word. He knew the king for once only meant well. He was actually trying to help, but whatever his motives were, Aragorn wouldn't let him stand in his way.
"There is one who needs me even more," he said, more calmly than he would have thought possible. "I will return."
Théoden nodded, defeat in his eyes. He released Aragorn's shoulder, turned abruptly away and headed towards the small group of surviving men and horses. Aragorn felt a short pang of regret, but he shoved it aside. He had no intention of breaking his promise to the king, and a promise it was, nor did he wish to disappoint Gandalf, but there was an older pledge and a deeper bond to be honored first.To be continued…
Anyone here who wants to read more…? (innocent smile)