°°°°° Chapter 5: Flight to the North
Aragorn was running. His breath came in ragged gasps and sweat stood on his brow and trickled down his back to drench his tunic. Wet hair clung to his pale face, and with every breath he took he could feel his lungs tearing apart. Blood was on his lips, but his lips were not split.
His sides burned like fire and his feet had long lost every feeling and were numb. They chased him, they hunted him, they saw him.
For nearly a day Aragorn had been able to lead the Nazgul on a chase through the forest, running steadily northwards. He did not really know why, but the Black Riders were following him and not Arwen and the Hobbits. All he had hoped for had come true. By now, Arwen, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin had crossed the Bruinen and were safe in the realm of the elves. And the fact that Gandalf had reached Imladris, as Arwen had told him, relieved him greatly.
But his own time had run out. Half an hour ago, one of the riders had actually seen him, and now he was fleeing. But his strength was gone, his body numb and aching at the same time, and his heart broken.
The coldness that spread from the morgul wound like flames from a fire was consuming him, and he could do nothing to stop it. His vision was reduced to white and black, shadows danced before his eyes and all sounds but the heavy beating of his heart were dulled.
He stumbled. He could not go on. He…could…not. One of the riders came alongside him and the horse snorted loudly. Aragorn could smell the foul stench of the beast, and as he lifted his head, he saw the red gleaming eyes that stared down on him.
He stumbled once more, and this time he crashed to the ground heavily. He lay there panting, his whole body trembling and shivering. But strangely, he felt no fear, for fear had long left him. His task was fulfilled, his charges safe in Imladris. From the moment the blade had entered his shoulder, he had known that his life was forfeit.
Weakly, he rolled onto his back, looking up at the Black Riders that surrounded him. His breaths came in ragged gasps, and cold sweat rolled down his body. One of the riders, the tallest of them, dismounted and slowly approached his motionless form. The Nazgul unsheathed his long sword.
It was time.
Coldness gripped him even tighter, and suddenly, Aragorn saw the Nazgul as a tall, white being. Light shone all around him. Aragorn could see the crown on his head, the ring on his finger and the clothing on his body. And he knew that he had passed into their world. The world of the Ringwraiths. He was one of them now. He had fought and lost.
The Nazgul, the Witchking, smiled down on him and extended his hand towards him in a gesture of a 'hand up'. All Aragorn had to do now was to reach up and let himself be pulled to his feet.
The ice inside his body melted and the aching in his chest and sides vanished. His vision cleared and he could now see the other Nazguls. Tall and proud the Kings of Old sat on their horses, pictures of the splendour of old. White Light surrounded them all, and the world outside looked dark and evil.
Oh, Aragorn was so tired. Tired of fighting against the Nazgul, tired of running and hiding. Staring up into the smiling face of the Witchking, he stretched out his hand.
Suddenly, a memory flickered through his foggy mind. His brothers, Elladan and Elrohir playing with him when he had been a little boy. Another memory flashed past: His foster father, Lord Elrond, teaching him about various herbs and roots. Another picture, Legolas, his brother by heart, laughing about a joke he had made. Another memory…Arwen, smiling at him.
He could not stop it, and more and more pictures flashed past his eyes. Memories of his childhood, his teens, the time with the rangers, his time in Rohan and Gondor. Faces, voices, places, smells, colours. Faster and faster they became, and soon they rushed past so quickly that he could no longer distinguish between them. These were his memories, his thoughts. And they were…leaving him.
Aragorn wanted to hold onto them. Desperately he tried to hold them back, to clear his mind and remember something from his childhood, but…they were gone. All his memories were…gone. The smiles, the laughter, the colours of the flowers, the pranks, the good natured taunts of his brothers, all was gone. Lost. Forever.
A cold ache pierced his heart. No, not my memories, he thought. Take me, but do not take that which I died for. And in a halting motion, he withdrew his outstretched hand.
The smile of the Witchking turned into a grimace of fury, and a piercing screech filled the air. Suddenly, all the colours returned to Aragorn, as well as his normal sight and hearing. The aches in his body burned hot, but the fog that had clouded his mind was gone. The coldness of the wound was still inside his body, killing him slowly.
Above him, the Nazgul screeched once more, and then he lifted his long sword in a menacing gesture. Aragorn stared wide eyed how the Witchking thrust his sword down to kill him.
The sharp blade rushed towards him and Aragorn could see the black hole under the hood. This was it.
But suddenly, a swishing filled the air, and something red buried itself deep into the Witchking's chest. An arrow!
The Nazgul screamed and let his sword clatter to the ground, where it instantly turned to nothingness. Fire licked at the black robe and the creature screamed in rage. More and more fire arrows came down on the Nazgul, and they all screeched and spurred their horses. Burning, the Nazgul were fleeing!
Aragorn, still lying on the ground, heard voices, calling his name and they became louder and louder. Someone was running towards him, he could feel the vibration in the ground. He heard horses and when he weakly turned his head, he saw three elves rushing towards him. Two dark haired and one golden haired. His brothers and Glorfindel.
But alas, he felt so tired, and the ice inside his body that had come back as soon as he had withdrawn his hand from the Nazgul, was numbing him. Breathing became difficult, and again his sight and hearing failed him.
He felt the earth shake under him as his brothers kneeled by his side, and then he felt their hands on him, but his mind was too cold and too tired to react any longer. Peace filled him. He had not become one of the Nazgul, he had fought and won. It was over, and he knew that he could die in peace now.
His shoulder send icy tendrils through his body, and he closed his eyes. The voices around him became softer and then he could not hear them anymore. All he heard was the 'thump', 'thump', 'thump' of his heart.
'Thump', 'thump'…'thump', 'thum-p'……'thump, -ump'…'thum- -p'….
Stillness settled over his senses and he exhaled deeply.
This was it now. Almost there…
But it was not over. A light, brighter than the sun and whiter than the moon shone through his closed eyelids. Warmth seemed to engulf him and it chased away a part of the evil cold inside his body. A new sensation fill his shoulder, warm and soothing.
Then, a voice floated to his ears through the stillness. A soft voice, but strong and clear and lifted in song, Glorfindel's voice:
"A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
silivren penna miriel
o menel aglar elenath!
o galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, si nef aearon!"
The lay seemed to fill his heart with warmth and hope and his body felt light. And then, he knew no more.
When Aragorn awoke he lay in bed. It was wonderfully soft under him, and white blankets were draped around him. It was warm and sunny, fresh air entered through the open window, and he could hear the gurgling of the streams and the singing of the birds. Sweet voices sung elvish songs, and the air was filled with the scent of forgotten flowers and ancient blossoms.
He was in Imladris…he was home.
A small smile crossed his face, and Aragorn opened his eyes. He was not alone, no! Gandalf was sitting by his bed, smiling warmly down on him.
"Mae govannen, Aragorn. Mae govannen."
"Mithrandir! It is good to see you, old friend." Surprisingly, Aragorn felt no weakness, or the lasting effects of a fever as he was used to after waking up in his bed in Imladris. Slightly confused, he gazed up at Gandalf, and in that moment the door to his room opened, and Elrond entered.
The ancient elf's face lit as he saw Aragorn awake and alert. Elrond came to sit on the edge of the bed, and smiled at his foster son. "It is good you have awakened. We have been waiting for you, Estel."
Elrond reached out and stroked his cheek gently with his long fingers. "You scarred us, ion nin."
And suddenly, all the cold and dreadful memories came flooding back to Aragorn, and he flinched under the touch of his foster father. A shudder went down his spine and goose bumbs appeared on his arms. He closed his eyes as he remembered everything that had happened and all he had done and said.
"Sh, Estel. It is over now, do not let your thoughts return to darkness and despair. Let the light enter your heart and sooth your soul, ion nin."
Aragorn nodded against his father's gentle touch. Elrond was right. He had faced the evil and he lived still. His heart had not broken and his soul had survived. His eyes were still closed when he felt his foster father lift his tunic to expose his shoulder wound.
Aragorn did not want to see it, he did not want to face it yet again. But, he had to know. Softly, he asked, "Ada, why am I still alive?"
His father let the fabric fall down, and sighed softly. "It is by your own strength that you live, Estel. From what I heard from your brothers and Glorfindel, they found you surrounded by the Nazgul. They wanted to kill you, but the burning arrows of the twins and Glorfindel chased them away. To their surprise you were near death, but not near the Shadow of their world. They bathed the wound in athelas and sang to you until they were sure you would live. A piece of the morgul blade was embedded in your shoulder, but we were able to remove it and the wound heals nicely. Estel, it is a miracle you could survive the call of the enemy for so long. I am proud of you, ion nin."
Elrond placed a hand on Aragorn' brow, and the man nodded weakly. They do not know, he thought. They do not know that I nearly gave in, and that I wanted nothing more than for the pain and coldness to stop. They do not know that I nearly gave up my life. Oh, I am glad they do not know.
"And the Hobbits...and Arwen?"
Elrond smiled wistfully, "They arrived here safe and sound. Do not worry."
And Aragorn relaxed and drifted off to sleep once more.
Elrond stroked his son's dark hair affectionately, while he gazed at the sleeping human. Suddenly, the low voice of Gandalf reached his ears, "He will never heal completely, you know that. And he will never forget."
"Aye, I know that. But the memories will fade, and be replaced by others, brighter ones. And with time, he will begin to forgive himself."
Gandalf nodded, and let his gaze travel from the sleeping form of his friend to the beauty of Imladris outside the window. He sighed deeply, for indeed, they knew. Elrond and Gandalf knew or at least suspected of what had transpired during Aragorn's flight from the Nazgul.
But both were very proud of the man, and they felt that without him, Middle-Earth would have already been lost.
Aragorn slept through the day and the following night, but when the next day dawned, he left his bed and walked through the Last Homely House. It was still quiet and serene, the servants had not yet risen and most elves were still sleeping peacefully.
When he had awoken, he had found two chairs beside his bed, together with crumpled blankets, and he knew that his brothers had sat with him through the night. A smile graced his lips at the thought; he was well over eighty now, but still the twins acted as if he was still a boy. It was a comforting thought to be loved.
The gardens lay quiet in front of him. The sun peeked over the cliff walls, and reflected on the dew covered grass and tiny blossoms. A waterfall could be heard in the distance, and a small fountain gurgled nearby. It was so beautiful, that Aragorn stepped onto the soft grass and strolled through the gardens for some time.
When he neared a bed of wonderful orchids, he stopped and sat down on a marble stone bench. He was not tired, but he wanted to simply sit there and think. He knew that too soon, he would have to answer many questions, and explain many things, and he felt the need to delay them. If just, for a tiny bit longer.
So, he stretched out his long legs, rested his hands on the bench beside him, closed his eyes, and let his mind wander. For many minutes he sat so, but then his keen ears picked up the soft step of an elf.
Opening his eyes he looked around...and froze. Arwen was standing near the orchids. Her dress was of a pale green and embroidered with little leaves and her hair was falling over her perfect shoulders. But that was not what caught Aragorn's gaze. It was her eyes.
She looked at him with bright eyes that looked deeper than the sea and as blue as the sky, wiser as the Valar themselves and clear as silver glass. His throat constricted, and he was unable to speak.
And truly, what should he say? He had said and done terrible things to her. He had threatened her and scared her. He had, sweet Eru…he had hurt her so deeply. Aragorn's body began to tremble. Softly first than fiercer. His breathing quickened and he could not help but turn his gaze away.
Soft footsteps neared, and then he sensed Arwen sit down beside him. But he could not look at her, he could not look into those big blue eyes and see the hurt he had caused. But, to his surprise, Arwen took his hand in hers, and said softly, "Estel, look at me."
No, he could not. Please Arwen, go, he thought.
"Estel, please look at me." And with that she placed her other hand under his chin and gently forced his face around and up. His grey eyes met her blue ones, and a smile graced Arwen's face.
Her smile seemed to pierce his heart, and warmth filled his chest. There was no hate or fear in her eyes. All he could see was understanding and love.
Aragorn whispered, „Arwen, I..."
„Sh, no, Aragorn." She placed one of her slender fingers on his lips and effectively silenced him. There was no need for him to tell her. She knew that he had done what he had done to protect her and the Hobbits, and that he had not meant what he had said.
She knew his heart, as he knew hers.
And with that, she took his hand and placed it over her heart, reassuring him that it still belonged to him, and him alone. Aragorn closed his eyes and listened to his own heartbeat, feeling Arwen's under his fingers.
So they sat for a long time, and both felt at peace. And Aragorn knew, that whatever happened in the future, he had Arwen's love, his brothers' loyalty, his father's pride for him, and his friends' strength.
Aye, he was home.
So, this is the end. Let me know what you think, please! I love your reviews!