Title: In the shadows

Rating: K+

Warnings: Dark thoughts

Disclaimer: Alas, they, or rather he, is not mine and never will be. I make no money with this story.

Summery: A dark figure sits in an inn, but his thoughts are neither that of a drunk man nor that of a glad man. No, he has different thoughts, thoughts that might very well be his downfall.

A/N: I know it is a rather stale idea, but I have not yet written about it and I was in a mood to do so. Please, bear with me and be kind. If you read it, please, tell me what you think of it. Hannon le.


Part 2 "Darkness"

Every step that I take is another mistake. What am I doing here? Where am I going? And what for? Where does this road take me? I do not know. And I do not mind.

For days I have been travelling. My feet walked over the hard soil of this road, my sword at my side, hidden under my cloak and my bow and quiver securely on my broad back. I walked tall and erect, my strides long and my face turned at the way before me.

Then I felt my feet become weary, my strides smaller, my sword heavier. And then, my face lowered to the ground and I did not lift my head again. It was so heavy. A task for a proud and noble man. Not for me.

Now, as dusk falls, my step falters, my back is hunched and bend and my weapons are so heavy that I wish I could just throw them to the ground. And me with them.

I grow tired of this road I am travelling, of the dusty path that I tread and from which I never stray. Oh, how I wish I could take a step to the side and let my feet touch the fertile grass, the green fauna that grows at the side of the way. But I can't. I have chosen this road and now, now I have to follow the road that lies before me.

I have chosen this road a long time ago and the words of my foster father still echo in my head when he talked about it once. I hear the words and I feel…hurt.

But I have chosen this road that now lies before me, no one else has done this for me and now, now I will have to tread it until I reach its end. My destination. My destiny.

Darkness falls around me and my mind drifts off to better places. I still have my memories; my childhood, my youth, my years as a young soldier and ranger. But they are just thoughts and memories and they will never come back. I have grown out of them, like one would grow out of his clothes.

A strange thought, but, it is fitting. I see that now. Yes, I have grown, but in different ways than other people. I was born as Aragorn, son of Arathorn who was the proud and respected 15th Chieftain of the Dunedain. Then I became Estel Elrondion, loved foster brother and son. I became older and again I became Aragorn, but his cloths would not fit me. So I took a look at them and then discharged them.

They were too big for me at that time.

Instead, I grew to be Strider, Ranger of the North and I felt comfortable with my new attire. It was fitting me and I was content. But then, I once more wanted more and I grew further and became Thorongil, a soldier in Rohan and Gondor.

At first, these clothes would not fit me. They were strange and uncomfortable. They had so many pockets and holes, lacings and restraints. It took me long to see the freedom that these clothes would give me. I was Thorongil, free to do what I wanted and master to my life, despite my duties. It were good clothes, indeed.

But things changed. I changed. And I needed new clothes…again.

Strider again? Yes, but I knew his clothes already and I knew what awaited me. Nevertheless, I wore them and they felt good. Until I took a closer look at them. You know, they are old and worn, patched and stained with the filth of my life. I do not want to wear them anymore.

I have changed again, but this time, there are no new cloths for me to wear. The one that are still available for me are out of my reach. And I fear, they will be for a very long time. You see, how could someone as I, a filthy ranger with nothing to claim his own besides the things he wears on his body, touch something so beautiful, unspoiled and noble?

He cannot.

I stumble. Oh, I am so tired. For days –or has it been years- I have travelled on this road and with every step I take my body hurts more and my mind becomes number. Not from the cold or the rain that assaults me or the snow that hinders my progress, but from the journey itself. It is a long way behind me and an even longer before me.

Absentmindedly I lift my face and gaze at the glimmering stars that appear in the sky. They are so bright and shiny, like droplets of mithril caught in a river of black silk. I gaze at them and I feel my feet stop walking on their own account. I take a deep breath that rushes through my lungs, the frosty air entering my body. Had I been anywhere else, I would have smiled. But I am here and I wont smile.

Once, when I was a child, my foster father told me a story. I was a curious child, you see and I wanted to know everything. Where come the flowers from and the rainbows? Why does it rain and why is snow so cold? Oh, how innocent these questions have been. So different from the ones I ask now.

Elrond had tucked me in bed one night and told me the story of the birth of the stars. I know that it was a fairy tale, nothing more, but the story was nice and I have never forgotten it. I do not know why. Normally, I do not belief I fairy tales anymore. Life is no place for them.

He told me, that there was once a very fair maiden and she fell in love with a noble gentleman. The two loved each other dearly, but before their love could be fulfilled and their lives combined, her beloved died and she was left all alone in the world. Her spirit wailed at the loss and she despaired.

As night settled over her soul, she fell down to her knees and cried bitter tears of loneliness and loss. So shining and beautiful were her tears that the Valar lifted them into the sky and there they stayed, silver tears of liquid mithril. From that day on and for all eternity, the stars watch the fate of arda and shall remind all living beings that nothing that is truly good and pure can last for all eternity. Elrond told me that it was not a sad story, but one of hope.

Hope, because the night does not last forever, as day succeeds it.

Hope, what a fragile word. My burning eyes can see the stars and as I look at them, they water and I want to combine my pain with hers. But I blink and lower my gaze. My hurts are nothing. Only another mistake.

I swallow and move on, one foot in front of the other. Right, left and right again, until my feet know the rhythm and I do not have to command them any longer. They know the way and I will not stop ere…I do not know when I will stop.

The night is cold, so I draw my cloak tighter around my shoulders to shelter me from the harsh wind. My hair is lifted from my head and I know that it is dishevelled. It usually is. But it does not matter, because who will see me? Take a look at me and recognize me? No one. I am only a shadow in the night. It will pass and be no more once the sun awakes. I know that.

Another stone under my foot, and I stumble once more and with the motion, my sword hits my leg and I can feel the weight of the weapon. Breathing deeply, I right myself and put my hand on the hilt to steady the sword. It is a common gesture of someone who knows how to use a sword. I know. I am good at it.

My brothers have taught me how to wield a sword when I was barely old enough to speak the name of it. It was so much fun to practice with them, the sunlight reflecting on the metal blades, the clashing of steel on steel and the feeling of triumph when I bested one of my brothers.

Of course, they let me win. I would never have won against one of the twins. Never. A mere human? I do not think so.

I was an eager child, practicing nearly every day. The older I became, the better I became. I still remember the day I managed the most difficult sword move that I have ever seen. It was such a glorious day. I was happy, smiling and laughing at my brothers' stunned faces. And then, they smiled with me and congratulated me. They encouraged me.

Now, I wish they had not. The weight of my sword is so familiar to me that I sometimes feel lonely without my weapon in hand. The glint of sunlight on the polished steel of the blade, the old and used handle. My sword is my ally, my friend and my family. Were I go, it follows. When I fall, it will not rise again if I do not. It lays perfect in my hand.

And although we are allies and friends and all that, I wish with all my heart and soul that I had never touched it. Had never felt the rush of wind when a blade cuts through the air or felt the sting of cold steel on my skin. It was a fools hope and I know that now.

Alas, youth is wasted on the young and the wisdom of maturity is a heavy burden to carry. Not my only burden, but one of them. The one that maybe is the lightest. Maybe…

The moon shines down from the sky. It is not the full and round moon that illuminates the earth sometimes, but only a half moon, weak and bleary. It looks incomplete and lost, so high in the sky with only the stars for company. The moon has no companion. Sun and Moon will never meet, they are just out of each other's reach. It is a sad thought, but one that feels good with me. It seems I am not the only one who suffers this fate.

Through the darkness I walk, my destination hidden by the lack of light. But deep inside, I doubt that I would see the way had there been light and even when day comes and Arnor lifts the blanket of night, my path would not be revealed to my tired eyes. But I know that. I have known that for a long time.

Oh, how I wish I could rest. My legs hurt from the strain I force them through and my arms are cold and stiff. And my back, oh, he is bent like an old man's. As if a heavy weight would press down on it. I know that if I now turn my head and look, my eyes would not see the weight. But it is there. I feel it every day.

The grass at the side of the dusty road is sprinkled in tiny ice crystals. Winter had reached the lands and the temperature is low. The rivers have frozen and the earth has fallen into a deep sleep. Sleep…that sounds so good.

I eye the dark moss and grass at the road's edge and I know that it would take me only a heartbeat to make my way over to the side, let my weary body sink to the ground until my burning eyes would rest against the chilly earth, closed and unseeing. I would relax then and my mind would fly to warmer places. I would be at peace.

But I will not do that, although I have not slept for days. I fear of not rising again. Not that I would freeze to death in a night like this, no. Only that I think I would not want to rise again. Aye, I fear that side of me. As I fear the side of me that keeps me going one. One body, two minds, it seems.

No, I will walk on through this dark and unholy night, the coldness gripping at me with icy fingers, taking away the warmth and replacing it with numbness. I am caught in this blackness and I do not know when day will come. Does it matter?

For me? I do not think so.

But I have still hope. Sometimes.

Hope, a strange word. My foster father named me hope, but I do not know why. Who's hope am I? Hope…why hope? Why not another name, one with would be a lesser burden, one that I could still use proudly? Why hope? I am no one's hope, and I will never be. No, clinging to hope only prolongs the suffering.

To hope, means to not trust ones own strength and wisdom. Waiting for hope to come and release one from the burdens of the world, is folly. For hope has lost his way, and I fear that he will never find it again. Not in this darkness that has claimed his spirit.

How can he bring hope to the world, when he has lost hope himself?

A fire from darkness may spring, but what is a flicker in the endless void? It will be crushed and extinguished as soon as it first weak light burns. Oh, it would be a candle in a storm, and it would not even have the slightest chance of surviving.

How I know this? Oh, I do not, but I feel it, deep down where one has these kind of feelings. And truly, hope is such a fragile thing, and it was never meant to endure all this. All this hatred, and pain and suffering. Maybe…maybe I have been hope, but that was a long time ago. Now, I am nothing anymore.

It grows colder, and I feel my fingers go numb. But do I care? Or do I mind? No, not really. I have been so numb for such a long time, that this external numbness is not worse than the one inside of me. I feel so…faithless. Yes, faithless…and I know that one day I will not even feel the numbness anymore. And that day, I know, is not that far away.

I sigh, and walk on. Sometimes, I feel caught in this world, that has brought me nothing but pain. Every second I live, everyday I wake up and feel the hurts and confinements of my body, when I know that I have disappointed so many, when I am aware that I have to go on, that the struggle that one might call life is not over yet, then I simply know it. I know that I was not meant for this life.

Why me? It is unfair! Why could I not have been born a normal human? Oh, I know. Everyone who lives through such dark times and has burdens to carry wishes to be someone else. I know that I am pathetic; a coward and an…egoist.

But damn, why can't I be an egoist sometimes? Why can I not simply do what I want? Go where I want? Wear what I want, use my own name without shame and simply…be me? It is so…frustrating. I want to scream and yell and rage, but…ah. No, I do not even have the energy for that. And what would it be good for? Nothing, I know.

I have once heard a phrase, "When you wake up in the morning, grin and bear it". Is that all we can do? Is that all I can do? Grin and bear it? Can I do nothing to stop the hurting of my heart, is there no one there so help me carry my burden, is there not…only one…there for me? Am I all alone out here, hurting and feeling so utterly lost?

Oh, I feel the cold. And I am afraid, that it will swallow me whole one day. And that one day, I will no longer be…me. If I ever was.

Another rock, another stumble. I catch my balance, lift my head, take a deep breath, and…stay where I am. Almost surprised I look at my legs and feet. They…do not move. I do not move. Oh, I feel so tired, and my legs feel so heavy. Weariness descends upon me, and I want nothing more than to simply let myself fall to the ground, and never get up again. Oh, can this pain not stop?

I sigh, and suddenly I feel so old. I have felt it for some time now. I am growing old before my time, my soul is old, and my body, oh, it has been through so much. Broken bones, bleeding wounds, coldness, heat, fever and shivering. How long can a human body survive if the soul is dying?

I close my eyes, and I know that would I be able to, I would cry now. But I cannot, I cannot. Estel was allowed to cry when he was hurt, but Strider is not. No, he is not allowed to cry, as he is not allowed to live. Can they not leave me alone?

It takes a lot of strength to move my legs, but finally, they obey my command, and I move on. For how long, I do not know. How many leagues I will walk tonight, I do not know. Sweet, Eru, I do not even know where I am. Or where I am heading to. But does it matter?

I do not know, but I think it does not matter. For, there is no one waiting for me, and I call no place my home. So, I know that I will never reach my destination…No, it does not matter.

Cold winter air sneaks under my cloak, and I shudder. This night is even colder than the one before this, and I have never become used to the coldness of the lands. Not to mention the coldness of the hearts. The laziness, greediness and dishonesty of men. Ah well, I should not blame men. Has it not been my ancestor who failed them, after all?

I stumble once more, and this time, I cannot catch my fall. I fall and fall and then I crash to the cold ground. Pebbles and stones scratch my face and I feel my numb hands start to bleed. Then, a sob. Why am I sobbing? Am I in pain? No, I am not, this is just a scratch, why…?

Oh, the strength has left my body, and I cannot move, I simply cannot. And not even the thought that I could die out here in the cold can rouse me. I know I have to move, I have to go one; move, breathe, walk,…fight. But, oh, I am so tired. So tired.

Why can I not simply lie here and wait for someone to help me? Why can I not wait for…or beg for…sweet release? Why?

Oh, but I know why. Isildur's heir cannot die on a cold winter's night. Oh no, his death cannot be that simple. No, he has to die a heroic death on the battlefield, or in the clutches of the Dark Lord himself. He has to endure pain and suffering before he is allowed to die. He has to carry the burden and walk the path that was laid before him before he can give in and do what every other man would have done a long time ago. Die. Simply let go and die.

I sigh, and lift my weary head. I do not have the energy to feel angry. I…I want to…go home. I want to go home so badly, I miss them so much. I miss my father and brothers, my family and friends. Oh Valar, I miss them so much. I…miss them. And it hurts so much. It hurts.

But…not yet. Not yet and mayhap not ever. I press my hands against the ground, and climb to my feet. The movement is slow and it pains my back and hands, but then, I stand on my two feet and I look down the path. It is night still, but dawn cannot be far. I will walk until morning, and then, then I will take a break. But I will find no rest, I know that.

My hands bleed from tiny cuts, but that is not new to me; there has hardly been a week without injuries for me. This is my fate, you know. Mine, and that of most humans. Pain and hardship, that is what humans were made for. What they were made to bear.

Oh, sometimes, I felt so angry. But not anymore. Isildur was my ancestor, and yes, he did not destroy the One Ring, and he therewith doomed mankind and all of Middle Earth to eternal darkness. But, it was Isildur!

It was not my fault. I know, I have been taught to take the blame. I have been taught that the same blood flows through my veins, but, why do I have to suffer because of him? I never did anything wrong. It was not my fault. Yes, maybe I have the same blood, and yes, maybe I have the same weakness, but…oh, have I not suffered and paid enough?

Walk easy on my conscious, I will grow through this pain, but not yet. I remember, the last day at home, when it still was my home. My foster father had told me who I truly was, he had looked at me sadly, and then, when I told him that I would go away, he nodded. He simply nodded, and did not even try to argue with me.

I still see it before my eyes. I stood before him the next day, pack on my back, sword at my side. I was afraid, I was terrified to go out into the big world all alone. And the feelings inside of me, all those whispering feelings that I can feel no longer, oh, I was so scared.

But there I stood before him, and all I wanted was for him to hold me close and tell me that I could do nothing wrong, and that I would never fail him. That he would love me no matter what I did, that I was still his Estel. But he did not. He did…not. Never again.

And I, oh, the moment I realized that he was not going to say it, I felt the tears prick at my eyes, and I wanted to cry. But I knew, even back then, that I was no longer allowed to cry. Strider and Aragorn are not allowed to cry.

And so, I stood before him, ready to walk my path, unsure if I would ever return, and do you know what I said to him, what were the last words that I spoke to him before I left? No, how could you…but I remember. And I ever will.

"Lord, I am doing, all I can, to be a better man." (1)

Am I a better man now? No, I do not think so. I feel the cold of my own heart. Feel the numbness of my body and the hole where my hope should be. And that is all I feel.

I have steeled my features and hardened my heart. I am but one man. One man cannot stop the future.

A shimmer on the horizon shows me that dawn is near. Morning will be here soon. That is good, that is good, as my step is unsteady and my body weary beyond words. I will sleep soon. And then, well, then I will wake from my nightmares, and there will be no one there to catch my … tears. I am not allowed to cry, but my unconsciousness does not know that, you see.

I am alone in my pain. But still, I am doing all I can, to be a better man.

And perhaps, one day I can go to a place that I call home. And be only…me.

End of part two.

The End, for now. (Hey do you truly believe I can leave him like that?)

(1) Robbie Williams, Better man