°°°°Chapter 3: Inner Fight and no peace in sight°°°°
Aragorn had not the strength and will power to reach the tower of Elendil. Therefore, he walked as far as his tired legs carried him, and then sank down to the wet grass. The thoughts that had tumbled through his mind shortly after the fight had ceased racing, and all he felt was a numbness, that seemed to come from deep inside.
He knew that he would have to confront the thoughts, the questions, but he was thankful that his mind had decided that it was too early yet. Sighing as he sank down, he felt tiredness claim his limbs.
Fatigued, he closed his eyes. He was so tired. But no, not yet, he could not sleep yet; his wounds needed cleaning, and he would have to light a fire to keep him warm. Opening his eyes to nearly complete darkness, Aragorn started to search his pack for the things he would need.
Cleaning the shoulder wound would be much more complicated than the wound at his side. Therefore, he began with the latter, cleaning the wound with some water from his flask, and then binding it tightly. The light from the moon was too weak to attempt stitching it.
When he pulled his cloak from the shoulder wound, he could not suppress a moan of pain. The dried blood made the clothing stick to the flesh, and pulling made the injury bleed more fiercely. Setting his jaw, Aragorn continued nevertheless.
To his relief, the injury was not as deep as he had feared, and so he cleaned it and bound it as well as he was able to with only one hand. Shivering, he searched his pack for firewood, but what he had left had become wet during the fight.
Sighing, he tightened his bloodied cloak around his shoulders, leaned back against a boulder and closed his tired eyes. Instantly, his hurting body claimed its rest, and within moments, Aragorn fell into a deep and exhausted sleep.
It had not been easy to dig the shallow grave, despite the softness of the ground. But without any tools, and with only one good hand, it had taken Aragorn nearly the whole morning to do so.
Covering the dead ranger with his cloak, Aragorn had lain him to rest in the grave, and sealed it off with earth and stones. Now he stood over it, the sword of Rogondil in his hand. The blade was still shining red with his blood, but Aragorn did not care.
A gust of wind caught his hair and for a moment, Aragorn thought to hear the growling of thunder in the distance. It seemed the storm had not vanished yet, Rain was not far away, the air heavy with moisture. Mist had gathered on the plains, and a bodiless coldness seemed to have covered the lands.
For long moments Aragorn just stood there, the sword in hand, staring down at the nameless grave. His face was pale, and his eyes held a shimmer that had never been there before. Frustration, anger, disappointment…and hurt.
Suddenly, he sighed deeply, shaking his head. Slowly, he lifted the sword, and then rammed it into the ground at the head of the grave, where it quivered a moment, and then stood still.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Aragorn let his head hang. Then, his sad voice filled the air, void of any hate or anger, but full of regret.
"It should not have ended this way, my friend. I do not know what drove you, but it must not have ended this way."
He shook his head once more. A sigh left his lips, but then he took a deep breath, and a change seemed to go through him. Aragorn lifted his head, his eyes looking at the grave and the sword, and with a voice that belonged to the Chieftain that he was, he recited the well known words of farewell.
"Where there is life, there is death,
but from shadow a light can be born.
Your journey ends here, in earth and dust.
But after you have rested,
You shall hear his call, and wake in Mandos's Halls.
The road goes on behind the circles of this world,
And that is where we shall meet again,
When I have reached my journey's end.
Until then, namarie."
The words sounded hollow in his own ears, and he knew that right now, he did not truly mean them. But, he felt that, even so Rogondil had betrayed him, the man deserved to hear the ritual words of the rangers. For long moments he stood in silence, and then he added in a whisper,
"I will look after your brother. I will protect him with my life and death, as I promised to do when I took up the place of my father as Chieftain.
As I would have done for you.
Giving the nameless grave in the wilds of nowhere a last glance, he turned away, and left the place of death and pain. He knew that he would never come back to the Tower Hills, and the famous towers of Elendil.
For days he had travelled, not rushing his pace, but neither slowing it purposefully. The rain had started to fall the moment he had left the grave, and it had not stopped for the rest of the day. But to Aragorn, it had not mattered. He had not felt the cold water on his skin, or the wind that had assaulted him.
He had walked and walked, never looking back, but not looking forwards either. When night came, he had slept, with morning he had set out, and when he had felt his legs tremble under him, he had given in and rested.
Now, only a few leagues away from the ranger camp, the blissful numbness that had until now covered his mind, had fallen away. With the realization that he would reach the camp in only a few hours, all emotion that he had buried with Rogondil in the wilderness, came crashing down. It made him stumble and gasp for breath. He had to stop, he could not go on.
Sitting down on a boulder, Aragorn stared at the lands before him. All looked so peaceful, so quiet and still. There seemed to be no trouble, no doubt, no pain. But Aragorn knew better. His heart ached with his wound in unison, and he realized that he did not know what to do. For the first time in his life, he truly did not know what to do.
What should he tell the rangers?
And what should he tell Amandil, Rogondil's little brother?
It was hard enough to lose a dear friend, but to lose a brother, the only family member that was left…
What would it do to Amandil when he heard of his brother's death? And a death by the hand of his Chieftain no less?
What would Amandil say when he found out that Aragorn had killed his brother? That he man he looked up to had murdered the only person in the world that loved him unconditionally?
Aragorn felt a shiver go through his body, and he had to close his eyes. He could no longer gaze upon the peaceful scene before him, as his heart broke in his chest.
What should he do?
When Aragorn had taken up his father's place and had become Chieftain of the Dunedain, he had sworn an oath. He had sworn to do all in his might to protect his men, whether by his life or death.
The rangers looked up to him, they followed him without question, and he knew that they would give their lives for him; that some even saw in him the King that they wished to one day claim the crown of Gondor.
Sweet Eru, he had sworn to protect his men, not kill them! By the Valar, what had he done?
Deep down, Aragorn knew that he had acted in self defence; that Rogondil would have killed him mercilessly, and then left him in the wilderness to rot. But still, had he not killed one of his men? One of the rangers that he had sworn to die for?
Shuddering, he let his head fall into his hands. Why had this happened? How had it been possible to come so far?
What had he done wrong? Where had he lost Rogondil? When had the man ventured off from the path, and onto an unknown road? Why?
Shaking his tired head, Aragorn took a deep breath. He would find no answers to this questions, as the only person that could give them, was laying dead in a nameless grave near the Tower Hills.
And it would not help Aragorn to dwell on things that he could not change anymore. He knew that he would have to confront the reasons behind Rogondil's betrayal, one day. But not this day.
This day, he had to answer another question. What to tell Amandil?
Should he tell him the truth? That his older brother had tried to kill him? That he had betrayed all Amandil believed in; the rangers, their duty, their loyalty…their Chieftain?
Could he tell him all that, and then tell him that he –Aragorn- had killed his brother? That it was his fault that Amandil was left alone in this world, without family to lean on?
Should he tell him that he had not only killed his brother, but dug his grave as well? That he had left him in the middle of nowhere to become cold and stiff, to slowly rot and fall away? Should he tell him that it had been him who had taken the most precious that he possessed away?
Could he tell him?
Aragorn closed his eyes tightly, pressing the balms of his hands into them, as if that would stop the onslaught of emotions.
Could he? Was he able to do that, and live with it, day after day? For the rest of his life? Would he be able to bear Amandil's accusing eyes? And furthermore, would Amandil be able to stand the truth?
He did not want to acknowledge the answer, but he already knew it.
No, no he could not. It would not only shatter Amandil's young heart to hear that, but his own as well. Amandil loved his brother dearly, he would not be able to fight through this. It would be hard enough as it was.
No, he would not tell him, could not.
So he stood, lifted his head, and determinedly set out again. And although he had decided what to do, and was convinced that what he was about to do was for the good of all, he could not shake the feeling that whispered in the back of his mind: Coward.
Halbarad's voice echoed off from the trees around him, and Aragorn looked up from the path. There before him, a small group of rangers had emerged from the trees and bushes that lined the path, bows ready, arrows notched.
Stopping in his tracks, Aragorn met Halbarad's gaze, and then looked away for the shortest of moments. But it was long enough for his second in command to sense that something was not right. And to come to the realization that Rogondil was not merely a few steps behind Aragorn, but that he would not come.
Walking the few steps to his Chieftain's side, Halbarad scanned Aragorn from head to toe, taking in the bloodied cloak, torn tunic, muddy boots and pale face.
Gently, he took the pack from Aragorn's shoulder, "Let us get you to camp, and into something clean."
Aragorn only nodded, and together they made their way to the campsite, leaving sad looking and whispering rangers behind.
"I need to talk to Amandil, Halbarad."
"Sure, but let me take a look at your wounds first."
Anticipating that his Chieftain and friend would reject the request, Halbarad was surprised to see Aragorn nodding. Frowning, he led his friend to his tent, opened the flap, and ushered Aragorn in.
Sitting down, and taking a deep breath, Aragorn could not bring himself to look at Halbarad. There was still so much that raced through his head, and now that he was back in the camp, the decision that he had made not so long ago seemed…doubtful.
Distantly, he heard Halbarad leave the tent, then a hushed conversation. A moment later, Halbarad re-entered.
"Let me see to your wounds." And without waiting for approval, he began to help Aragorn out of the worn cloak and tunic. Upon seeing the injuries, he glanced questioningly at his Chieftain, but Aragorn only shook his head tiredly.
"I should speak with Amandil first."
Nodding, Halbarad did not ask any more questions, spoken or silent, and began to swiftly but gently clean the cuts, spread some healing salve over them, and then bind them with clean linen.
But Aragorn knew what Halbarad was thinking. There wounds had not been caused by crude blades of orcs, or rusty swords of thieves, but by a sharp and well cared for blade.
When the last bandage was in place, Halbarad handed a clean tunic to Aragorn and stood to his feet.
"I have send for Amandil. He was on a hunt for the evening meal. He should be here any minute. Shall I send him in, when he arrives?"
Aragorn thought about that, while he pulled the tunic over his head. Then,
Halbarad nodded, and left the tent without another word. Had Aragorn looked up in that very moment, he would have seen the pity and understanding in his friend's eyes. Emotions that were not only directed at Amandil.
The young ranger had heard rumours when he arrived back in the camp, but the man that had come to fetch him had not been able to tell him what was going on.
Amandil entered the clearing where the camp was set up, and immediately he noticed the tension and sadness that hung heavily in the air. While walking to one of the fires, where he saw Halbarad standing, he felt eyes staring at him. Watching him. What was going on?
Upon reaching Halbarad, Amandil greeting him, but when he saw the eyes of the other ranger, he instantly felt his heart jump into his throat. What had happened?
Taking a step towards the younger ranger and putting a comforting hand onto his shoulder, Halbarad told him, "Amandil, Aragorn wants to talk to you. He is in my tent."
Amandils's eyes lit. The Chieftain was back? Then where was his brother? Suddenly, a hollow feeling settled in his stomach, and he had to take a deep breath.
He felt Halbarad squeeze his shoulder gently, but firmly, "Go, Amandil. He will answer your questions."
And with that, Amandil turned and walked stiffly to the tent that he knew to be Halbarad's, but before he entered, he closed his eyes briefly. Then, he resolutely shoved back the tent flap, and stepped in. The flap fell back behind him, and he vanished form sight.
They had talked long. For some hours they had talked, before Amandil's tears had dried, and the voiced had become quiet. Rubbing his eyes with his sleeve, Amandil sighed deeply.
"So, he did not die alone?"
Aragorn shook his head, and answered gently, "No, he did not die alone. I was with him when he drew his last breath."
Amandil nodded, "Then it is well. I am sure he was proud, dying with his Chieftain by his side. And with his sword in hand."
Aragorn could not reply. A big lump had formed in his throat, and he was not able to say more. And truly, what should he have said? More lies, however well meant they might be? No.
So, he only nodded his head, sighed, and closed his eyes. The last hours had been draining, and he felt exhausted. The weight that seemed to press down on his shoulders had not lifted with telling the tale, and deep inside Aragorn still doubted his decision.
Suddenly, Amandil stood to his feet. Glancing up at the young ranger, Aragorn stood as well. Smiling sadly, Amandil gesture behind him to the tent flap.
"I think I…need some time to myself. To remember…and mourn."
"I understand. Please, Amandil, if there is anything that I can do to help you, let me know. I am here for you, should you need me."
And Aragorn meant what he was saying.
"Thank you, Chief." And with that, the young ranger left the tent to mourn for his lost brother.
Suddenly, his legs seemed unable to carry his weight any longer, the world spun before his eyes and he trembled all over. What had he done? Why had he lied to the boy?
Breathing heavily, he let himself sink down onto the field bed again. He placed his elbows on his knees, and let his weary head fall into his hands. Oh, he was so tired. So very tired. Slowly, his breathing clamed, and the trembling reduced itself to a shiver.
Coldness befell him, and he wanted nothing more than to lie down, close his eyes and sleep. Sleep and sleep until he forgot what had happened, until he forgot what he had done. But he knew that he could not sleep yet.
Aragorn was dimly aware that another person entered the tent, and pulled the flap closed completely, so that no light could enter. He heard the person rummage for a moment, and then felt a blanket being wrapped around his shivering form.
The bed shifted as Halbarad sat down beside him. The ranger did not say a single word, but Aragorn knew why he had come. Minutes passed in stillness, but when another shiver raced through Aragorn's body, Halbarad spoke.
His voice was gentle and understanding, "Tell me the truth, Aragorn."
Aragorn knew that what he told his friend would reach no other ears, and, oh, by Elbereth, he needed to tell someone, to be assured that he had done nothing wrong, that his decision had been the right one. And even if Halbarad would condemn him for what he had done, he…he needed to tell someone. So, he took a deep breath, and began to lift the weight that was pressing down on his shoulders. And perhaps, perhaps he could find some sleep after that.
But he knew that he would find no rest. Not yet.
The End. (Second part of the White Lie triologycoming in the next few days; Title:Broken Trust)
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