Title: Borderline

Rating: K+

Disclaimer: I do not own them, although sometimes I wish I would. I make no money with this story.

Summary: While Aragorn and one of his rangers are on a scouting mission to locate the position of some wild men, the Chieftain of the Dunedain has to make a decision that will change his life forever. There are some lines that need crossing, but others should be left in peace.

A/N: I wrote this for the Teitho Contest "White Lie"(Made second place). Please notice that English is not my native tongue. Any mistakes are mine.


The wind was howling over the deserted plains and rain was pouring down almost horizontally, drenching the two rangers in seconds. Tiny ice fragments bit into their exposed skin; the mud soaked into their clothing and made their leather boots slip on the wet ground.

Heavy grey clouds veiled the sun, and the temperatures were low enough to make the two men shiver from time to time. Neither birds nor other animals dared to venture out in this unholy weather, and the hills that towered in the distance seemed desolate and forsaken.

Tightening his wet cloak around his shoulders and wiping some rain dripping strands of hair out of his face, Aragorn turned to look at his companion. They had travelled for nearly four days, leaving the ranger camp and their friends behind them. Their path had led them steadily north, and now the Tower Hills were only a stone throw away. Aragorn and his companion had planned to reach the Hills the day before this one, but the bad weather had forced them to seek shelter, therewith delaying their journey.

Shaking his head slightly and wiping the water out of his eyes, Aragorn nodded at his companion; they would have to make haste if they wanted to reach the shelter of the Tower Hills before nightfall. Ignoring the sludge that seemed to swallow his steps, he strode out wider, and so they marched on.

The other ranger, Rogondil, a tall and broad shouldered man who had served the rangers long before Aragorn had become Chieftain, was stomping through the mud with determination. The hood of his green cloak was drawn deep into his face to shield him form the icy rain, but his figure looked hunched and weak.

But everybody who knew the ranger, knew better. Rogondil was a strong fighter and his stamina was legendary, even among the rangers. It was said that he had once killed a warg with his bare hands to safe his little brother Amandil, who was also a ranger under Aragorn's command.

But where Amandil was outspoken and open to all, Rogondil was quiet and still. Most of the time he kept his thoughts to himself, but when he was asked, he always came up with valuable ideas.

That was mainly the reason why the two rangers were now trudging through this storm, eager to reach the Tower Hills. Rumour had spread over the lands, telling of nameless things, of cruel murders, of people that vanished without a trace. The villagers on the borders of The Shire lived in fear as well, as their animals had been stolen, and some of the villagers had vanished, too, only to turn up days later, dead.

Nobody truly knew what was going on, but one day, Rogondil had overheard some strangers in a settlement near the northern border of The Shire, while he had been on his way to the ranger camp. The strangers had been travelling merchants, who had passed by the Tower Hills on their way east. They had told of wild men, of thieves who had tried to murder them and steal their goods. According to the tale of the merchants, they had escaped only with their lives because they had been able to hide from the wild men.

Once back in the ranger camp, Rogondil had told of what he had heard, and so, he and Aragorn had set out to find out more about the wild men and their hiding place. They had chosen to go to the Tower Hills, because it was their only hint as to where these thieves and murderers could hide.

Against the wishes of Halbarad, Aragorn's second in command, they had set out alone. Aragorn did not want to take more men with him in case it was only the tale of two drunk merchants, and on the other hand he felt that his men were needed to protect The Shire. If the tale was true and they actually found the wild men in the Hills, they would turn back and later return with the other rangers.

So far, they had only met rain and cold wind on their journey. Their packs were soaked, the faggot they carried as wet as it could get, and overall, they had been forced to set out without any horses. Horses would have quickened their journey, but Aragorn had feared that the animals could attract unwanted attention.

Now, days from nowhere, with mud that slipped into his boots, rain that made his hair cling to his face, and an icy wind that sneaked under his cloak and made his body shiver, Aragorn wished he had taken the horses with him.

But things could not be changed now, and so the two rangers trudged through thick sludge, nearing the Tower Hills with every step they took.

When the hidden sun was nearing the distant horizon, the wracks shunning the world of its light, they finally reached the slopes of the hills. Green and full of bushes of different kinds, they rose into the grey sky, dwarfing the two tall rangers. Sighing and flipping back his hood, Aragorn lifted his gaze and scanned the slopes.

The rain drummed on his unprotected face, running in rivulets down his cheeks and then under his cloak and tunic to soak his shirt. But he did not care any longer. He was wet and cold since days, the little more water did not even register with him.

When his gaze reached the top of the rise, it lingered there for a moment. A black shadow, hidden by rain and wind, seemed to stand there, looming over the lands like a watcher. But beside of that, the hills seemed deserted; there was no sign of a fire or a camp.

Turning towards his companion, Aragorn gestured to the top of the highest hill, "We should seek shelter there. It will hold off the rain and the wind."

Frowning, Rogondil took a look at the sky, "A thunderstorm is coming. We should make haste."

So, they hugged their cloaks around their shoulders, and without another word started up the hills. The downpour had made the grass slippery, and more than once they lost their footing on the murk and had to grab the bushes to keep them from tumbling down the hillside.

Small rivers of mud and dirt flowed freely down the slopes, which made it nearly impossible to not stumble and fall into the sludge and further begrime their clothing. After what seemed like hours, the two rangers had made their way up the hillside and stood in the rainstorm, panting.

Now, with nothing as shelter and high on top of the Tower Hills, the cold wind assaulted them mercilessly, wiping their cloaks around their shoulders, and tearing the hoods from their faces. The storm had increased in intensity, and it howled and raged as if in anger.

Aragorn had to shout to make himself heard against the storm, "Come, the shelter is not far."

Rogondil only nodded and followed his Chieftain, who had already begun walking towards the black shadow that they had seen from the ground.

Aragorn sighed inwardly as he made his way to the old ruins that he knew lay before him. These were the ruins of the three old towers that the High King Gil-Galad had build to honour Elendil, so many centuries ago. This tallest tower, the Elostirion, had even held one of the three Palantiri of the North, before the downfall of the Kingdom and the war against the dark shadow in the East. Now, only cold stones were left; the remnants of the former splendour and glory of the Kingdom.

But that was not the reason for Aragorn's irritated mood. He had been here more than once, and although the sight of the old tower had affected him during his first visit, it now only made him wish for better times, but did not sadden him any longer.

No, his strange mood was caused by his companion. At first, Aragorn had debated with himself whether it had been a good idea to take Rogondil with him on this mission. But the man was the only one who had heard the merchants' tale, and therefore he was the only one who truly knew where to look for the wild men.

Nevertheless, Aragorn could not fight the feeling that Rogondil was hiding something from him. During the last few weeks, the ranger had become more and more distant. He had not talked as much as before, had wanted to be left alone and had gone on missions that had taken him far from the rangers, their shelter and protection.

Not even the merry mood of his younger brother had been able to open Rogondil up; to make him talk about his problems and to return to his former self. The other rangers had left the man alone, unwilling to intrude into his privacy, but one day Amandil had asked Aragorn for help.

He was worried about his brother and clueless as to what to do. Therefore, Aragorn had decided to take only Rogondil with him on this mission. Perhaps there would come a situation in which Aragorn could talk to the man, and find out the reason for his change in behaviour.

And truly, the older ranger had seen to be glad to accompany his Chieftain on this mission. But with the days passing, Rogondil had become still and quiet once more, which made Aragorn a little uneasy. Not that the man talked much under normal circumstances, but the nearly complete stillness during this rainy day, and the frown that seemed to permanently have settled on Rogondil's face, had begun to worry Aragorn.

As he stepped into a puddle of ice cold water and felt it slide into his boot, Aragorn thought that maybe the man was only feeling as bad as he did. Once they were sheltered from wind and rain, with a warm fire and something to eat, maybe Rogondil's mood would improve.

Stumbling against the onslaught of the storm, the two rangers soon reached the ivy covered ruins of the old tower. The formerly white stones were green with moss and shrubbery; debris littered the ground and puddles of mud and rainwater had gathered on the ground.

Reaching the crumpled wall of the building and bracing himself against the wind, Aragorn made sure that Rogondil was still behind him before he entered the structure. As soon as he stepped through a crack in the walls, the wind ceased to torment him, and most of the rain was halted by the still thick walls of stone.

Lifting his hood off his water beaten face, Aragorn took a good look around. The tower did not look any different from when he had been last here; the thick walls were covered in moss and ivy that wound around the cracks, patches of lichen covered most of the stones. Little fissures here and there let the light enter, and although the roof was nearly gone, it still held off most of the water.

Three of the four walls were nearly broken down, but the forth was still strong and almost undamaged. It was this wall that Aragorn now walked to. Behind him, he heard Rogondil enter the tower.

The other ranger was as drenched as he was, and therefore Aragorn decided to light a fire, or at least try to. Whoever was hiding on or near these hills, the storm and the oncoming darkness would effectively veil the firelight. It was safer to light a fire, than sleep in wet clothing, exposed to wind and cold.

Unfastening his pack from his back and taking out the branches and leaves that he carried, Aragorn did his best to start a fire, and after long minutes, a spark ignited some of the drier leaves. Soon, a merry fire was burning, casting flickering shadows over the walls.

Turning and shrugging out of his tattered and weatherworn cloak to let it dry, Aragorn saw that his companion was standing near the entrance to the tower, looking outside into the gloaming. Stepping up to the man, Aragorn asked, "Do you see anything?"

Aragorn wanted to know if the man saw any movement; an animal or the wild men who they had been searching for. But the gruff answer he got surprised him.

"No. Nothing that should disturb you."

Without looking at his Chieftain, Rogondil turned away from the entrance and made his way over to the fire. Sitting down heavily, he shrugged out of his cloak as well, then reached inside his pack, took out some food, and without waiting for his Chieftain to join him, he began to eat.

Aragorn frowned. Something was definitely not right with the man. Aragorn, although Chieftain, he had never made a fuss about it. He had not ordered his men to call him by his title, or behave differently in any way when he was around. But nevertheless, he thought that he deserved some sort of respect. Not because he was Chieftain, but because the rangers were his friends.

And although he did not want his men to act differently towards him, they did. They trusted him and honoured him; they paid him the respect they thought he deserved. The rangers looked up to him and knew that he would do everything in his power to protect them. That was why they behaved as they did, and that was why they followed his lead without question.

But Rogondil's open disrespect towards his Chieftain was new to Aragorn. He did not understand what he had done to deserve it, and he asked himself if he had wronged Rogondil in any way. Taking a deep breath and making his way over to the fire, Aragorn thought that it was time to find out what was wrong with his friend.

Upon reaching the flickering fire, he sat down on his bedroll and placed another branch on the fire. Rogondil did not even look up from his meal, and neither did he acknowledge Aragorn's presence. He just continued eating, now and then taking up his water flask to drink some cool water.

Aragorn sat, and waited. He watched the rain pour down onto the plains around them, saw the thick grey clouds sail over the darkening sky. Soon, the sun set behind the horizon, and complete darkness settled over the hills. The only source of light came from the flickering flames, which cast an eerie glow over the walls and stones.

Rogondil finished his meal, but he said nothing, and so the stillness stretched until it became quite uncomfortable. From now and then the older ranger would shift his position, so as if he was uneasy; his face stayed downcast, his eyes never leaving the flickering flames before him

When Aragorn had the feeling that he could not take the quietness and the squirming of his companion any longer, he spoke into the stillness, "What troubles you, my friend?"

Rogondil seemed to be paralysed for a moment. He stopped all movement, and the only sound that could be heard, was the howling of the wind and the drumming of the rain on the stones.

Then, when Aragorn thought that the man would not answer his question, Rogondil spoke, his voice calm, "Nothing troubles me."

"Do not lie to me, my friend. I have eyes to see, and I can see that something lies heavily on your soul."

"Then your eyes deceive you." Rogondil's head lifted, and for the first time since days he looked his Chieftain in the eyes. His voice was no longer calm, but sounded annoyed and slightly angered.

Seeing the sparkle in his companion's eyes, Aragorn took a deep breath and held out his hands in a placating gesture, "I did not intend to anger you, Rogondil. I was merely concerned. If there is anything you want to talk about, I am here for you."

He had meant to came his friend with his words, but he was mistaken. Instead of the accepting answer he had expected, the other ranger stood agitatedly to his feet.

"You always think words can solve all problems. I do not need your concern. There is nothing wrong, and soon, soon there will be nothing anymore to worry about anyway. I…I need some fresh air."

And with that, the ranger left the shelter and rushed out into the black night. Staring after the man, Aragorn was flabbergasted. What had he said to make his friend react that way? And even more pressing, what had happened to make Rogondil act like a stranger?

After long moments, Aragorn let his gaze fall to the flickering flames, as if he could find the answers to his questions in their red glimmer. But all he found were memories; memories of Rogondil and his little brother Amandil, their time with the rangers, and the shift in Rogondil's behaviour.

Placing another thick branch on the fire to keep it burning, Aragorn wondered when he had first noticed that something was wrong with Rogondil. Had it been one year ago, or only some months? He did not know it, but he remembered the first time he had truly been astounded by the ranger's behaviour.

It had been in the early spring, when the streams had just lost their ice cover and the trees had started to crane their branches towards the sun. He had send out a small group of to hunt a pack of wolves that had threatened a village near the Brandywine, while he himself had been to Rivendell to discuss the latest orc activities with Lord Elrond.

After a few days the rangers had found the pack and swiftly killed the beasts, and although the battle had not lasted long, Amandil had been bitten by a wolf. The wound had been cleaned and bandaged, but it had not healed as it should have, and so the wound had become infected.

When they had reached the rangers' camp, Amandil had been burning up with fever, and he had been near death. Aragorn had not been present, as he had still been on his way back from Rivendell. He had reached the camp the night Amandil had fallen into a sleep, from which no one thought him to wake up again.

It had only been to Aragorn's healing skills that the young ranger had survived the night, and after some days of fever, he had recovered completely. But where Aragorn had thought that Rogondil would thank him for saving his brother's life, the man had accused him. Blamed him of abandoning his duties, and forsaking the rangers when they needed him.

Aragorn had been hurt by the words, but he had stored them in a corner of his mind, thinking them to be the words of a man, who was upset with the world, because he had nearly lost his little brother, the only family that was left to him.

Rogondil had not spoken about his outburst again, and so Aragorn had not pressed the matter. Indeed, he had nearly forgotten the incident. But now, in this dark night, with the wind howling around the ruins and the storm that raged outside, the words of Rogondil resurfaced in his mind.

Something was truly wrong with his friend, and sooner or later Rogondil would have to talk about it. But Aragorn knew that this day was not now, and that Rogondil would talk to him when he was ready. If he was ever ready.

So, Aragorn settled tiredly down on his bedroll and pulled his blankets around his body, but he could not shake off an uneasy feeling. He had a hollow feeling in his stomach, and every now and then his eyes darted to the open entry of the tower.

Rogondil had not returned yet, and Aragorn was not sure whether to be worried, or glad about the fact. Something was distressing the older ranger, and the more time he spend with him, the more his senses seemed to warn him.

Sighing deeply, Aragorn closed his tired eyes. There was nothing he could do in this Valar forsaken night. Perhaps the coming morning would bring some answers.

When Rogondil returned to the tower, he found that his Chieftain had fallen asleep, the blankets pulled around his form, and his face turned towards the fire to catch the warmth it emanated. For long moments he just stood there, gazing at the sleeping ranger. Then, a shudder seemed to race through his body, and he shook his head so as if to chase away an annoying fly. Placing another log on the fire, he settled down on his sleeping roll, and pulled his own blanket around him.

Within minutes, Rogondil was deep asleep. Had he watched his Chieftain a bit more closely, or not fallen asleep so fast, he would have noticed that Aragorn was indeed still awake. And that his hand rested on the worn hilt of his trusted sword, that was placed near his body.

TBC...


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