The Weight of Power
Summary: Years have passed since Aragorn came to Rohan, serving under the name of Thorongil. Now, an unknown adversary threatens Rohan, and Aragorn--as usual--is caught up in the middle of it.
Disclaimer: Middle Earth along with its incredible characters all belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. This is completely non-profit.
Loads of Gratitude go to: Firstly to my betas! Imbecamiel is the best sister/beta ever. I would never have finished this without you, muinthel-nin. –hugs- And more hugs and thanks to Niroveka—thank you so very much, mellon-nin, for all the polishing and beta-ing you've done to this tome of mine! I have the best and most patient of editors in the two of you. (Dictionary def. for Niro & Cami: long-suffering above and beyond the call of duty :-)
I'd like to thank viggomaniac, as well, for all she's done to encourage me on past stories, and for editing the first couple of chapters of this.
A/N: I know I'm going to end up getting long-winded here… -glances above- Okay, make that more long-winded. But please humor me, this thing took me a while to finish. It's long (the story, that is, although this "brief" intro took some time and effort too…).
Firstly: I tried to make this as factual, and accurate to the books as possible. It's been quite difficult, seeing how Thorongil's service in Rohan is hardly more than mentioned in the appendices of RotK. To quote: "He Aragorn rode in the host of the Rohirrim…". Yup. That's all. So, not withstanding the heaps of information I had to go on (-sigh-), I had to "make up" a great deal. I tried to be thorough in thinking things through (with much, much, much help from Imbecamiel), and doing research, so I hope most of my elaborations are accurate. Feel free to point any errors out to me (although, for the sake of the plot, many things—AU or not—will just have to stay as they are, now that it is finished).
Secondly, several small AUs: In this story, I have Théoden's age somewhere between seven and eight. I do realize that he might very well have been closer to his twenties (though ages are vague, since I don't have an exact timeline for how long Thorongil stayed in Rohan), and possibly served beside Thorongil while he was in Rohan. However, for the sake of the story, I decided it would be less complicated to have him be a child, rather than an adult. Also, I have Morwen pregnant with Théodwyn. Since Théodwyn was actually born in Gondor, that too is off by a number of years. I have decided as well not to give Thengel any sisters, or at least not to have them present in this fic. So, if he does have sisters they are either conveniently dead or…elsewhere.
ThirdlyJust to make things absolutely clear, for those of you who don't know: Aragorn equals Estel equals Strider equals Thorongil. Also, you might notice I start out at the beginning calling him Aragorn, that being the name that comes most naturally to my mind for him. Later on in the story, I ease into actually calling him Thorongil.
And lastly (-ignores loud cheering coming from remnant of remaining AN-readers-): In case you missed it in my bio, all my stories are slash-free.
I think that's all… Hope you enjoy it.
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
Chapter 1: Past and Present
Unbidden, they had come to him, evocative, haunting…and comforting. The inescapable pang of longing had faded, to be replaced by a deep-seated sense of nostalgia. This time, he hadn't even bothered with any pretences of resistance, merely surrendering and allowing his thoughts to be whisked away to another life and time.
He had pushed the same thoughts away many times, but for now, he felt he needed the memories. No matter how painful it might be, at times, to dredge the past back up, he couldn't let himself forget. For now, he might be forced to abandon one of the most cherished chapters in his life, but he could revisit that chapter wherever his present life led him, if only in memory.
The fire crackling peacefully on the hearth could be any fire on any hearth. The room around him, obliterated by shadow as it was, could have been a room anywhere. In his wistful, reflective state of mind, he was all too susceptible to accepting such a suggestion, vague and fanciful as it might be. But his imagination did not lead him to just any room, sitting before just any fire. It brought him back many years to a younger, carefree, and unburdened time, when he had yet to learn of all the responsibility that rested, and would rest more heavily on him. It brought him back to a hall, echoing with the musical sound of elven laughter and song. He could almost hear his brothers' voices now as they teased him…
A gust of wind whistled down the chimney, causing the fire to hiss and flicker. One of the larger logs broke in half. The sound seemed deafening in the early-morning silence, and it effectively startled Aragorn out of his reverie. Ingrained soldier's reflexes made him sit up straight at the sudden noise, hands clenching the paper that rested in his lap. In another second, he was able to refocus on the present reality around him. He relaxed back into his chair, feeling more than a little ridiculous at his paranoid reaction to one of the simplest noises of everyday life.
Rubbing the lingering sleep out of his eyes with one hand, he laid the letter out on the desk beside him with the other. Reverently, he smoothed out the creases where his hands had crumpled the paper, and lightly ran a finger over the first line on the page.
How could two simple words evoke such longing? At the moment, Aragorn felt he would have given nearly anything if he could only hear the sender of the letter say those words. To hear Elrond say it. To hear his Adar say it. He wanted to see that particular look of tenderness in the wise elven lord's eyes, the one that never failed to erase any seed of doubt concerning his love for his human son. He didn't doubt his father's love for him, but it had been so many years since he'd seen him. Reading this letter from Elrond, so full of his warmth and concern, reopened an aching desire to be with his elven family again.
And then there was Arwen. The years could do nothing to dim his love for her. Even with images of her beauty burnt into his mind, he had prayed for the Valar to remove his desire for her. His love, reciprocated, would kill her. It was the cruelest irony he could think of: the very object of his affection would fade before his eyes if he were bold enough to reach for it.
Purposefully, he began to file these thoughts away, forcing the melancholy to recede. Why was it that he always seemed to succumb to this depressing mood around this time of year? For weeks, morose feelings of homesickness would bombard him, and sooner or later he had to relent, or they would continue to bombard him until he felt he would go half-mad from the repressed emotions.
Well, hopefully, all this brooding would do him some good. Perhaps he could even focus today, without his mind wandering off in the middle of council meetings. Even on a normal day, those were hard to survive. Lately, they'd only just fallen short of torture.
A number of years had gone by since he had come to Rohan, and he was learning much. He felt a kinship and loyalty to his men, as well as to Thengel, King of Rohan. He had spent years fighting and bleeding with these men. He was prepared to die along side, or for these men, and he knew they would do the same for him without hesitation. Strong bonds had grown between them, and he knew that a part of his heart would always be tied to this land of the horse-lords.
But he had known from the very start that, one day, he would have to move on. He still didn't have a clear idea of what he was to move on to, but wanderlust was stirring within him again, if only faintly. This was not his final destination, he reminded himself resolutely. Something told him he would see many more places, and wander much further before he would find either rest, or a true home. His journey was not over yet, of that much he was certain.
However, the desire to wander was only beginning to tug at him. The time to pull up his roots had not arrived yet, he realized with some relief. There was no telling, perhaps he would remain for another year, or perhaps five, but he would know when the time was right. Right now, there were too many things that needed doing, and too many ties he couldn't bear to break. Thengel needed him. The King couldn't afford to lose a captain so abruptly. He wanted to see Théoden grow up. And, truth be told, he couldn't even begin to think of how he'd ever come up with the right words to explain a sudden departure to Araedhelm. However close they were, he doubted his trusted lieutenant suspected the full extent of his captain's inner turmoil.
Sliding open the drawer of the desk next to him, Aragorn folded the paper, and set it on top of another neat stack of letters inside. He picked up a small, silver key from off the desk, slid the drawer back and locked it. A light knock sounded on the door just as he was looping the chain, upon which the key was strung, around his neck.
"Come in," he said quietly.
An older woman with light brown hair—mostly overrun by gray—bustled in, tray in hand. "Good morning, my lord," she offered cheerfully, her pleasant face beaming.
"Good morning,Feorh," he returned the greeting, rising from his seat.
"Oh, sit down, my lord, I've only brought you a bit of breakfast."
"Feorh… "He smiled gently. "You really don't need to get up this early, just because of me. I was planning on grabbing something from the kitchens on my way out. Please don't, on my account—"
The woman interrupted, harrumphing good-naturedly. "Nonsense! And risk you getting in any more trouble with the cook than you already are? I wouldn't be so cruel." In a decisive gesture that meant she would clearly brook no further argument, she set the tray down on a nearby table.
Aragorn just barely succeeded in suppressing a chuckle. "Thank you, Feorh."
"I also packed you something for your lunch. It's none of my affair if you choose to rise at such an ungodly hour, to go off gallivanting with Lieutenant Araedhelm. But I will see that you're at least well fed. My Lord the King would never forgive me if I allowed one of his best captains to starve to death." Her triumphant smile turned into a scowl. "Now where is that boy? He was right behind me…" She turned to the door. "Stolan! Stolan, where are you boy?"
At her call, a lanky young man stumbled through the doorway, his blond hair still tousled from sleep. Seemingly unaware of his surroundings, the boy's eyes were drooped so far shut that only a sliver of his glazed blue eyes showed. He was swaying so violently, Aragorn thought that he would fall over for sure.
Feorh shook her head in a mixture of exasperation and fondness. "Stolan, wake up, boy. The Captain will die of old age waiting for you to give him that pack. Come on, give it here."
Stolan's head shot up at the word "captain", his startled eyes focusing on Aragorn. "Captain Thorongil." He quickly slung the satchel from off his shoulder. "I-I didn't realize…"
Aragorn stepped forward to intercept the pack. "Don't worry Stolan." He winked at the boy. "Not all of us are natural early-risers."
Stolan smiled gratefully, ducking his head in lingering embarrassment. Mentally kicking himself, he tried to save face by not looking too mortified. Of course, that only served to make his face turn redder.
Aragorn dropped the pack onto his bed, and reached for his over-coat. He should have known better; Feorh blocked his way, hands on hips.
"You'll not be running off on me before you've had your breakfast—with all due respect, my lord."
Aragorn sat down and allowed her to pour him a hot drink. "No…of course not. The thought had never even occurred to me."
Feorh narrowed her eyes at him in an all-seeing manner. "Just see that it doesn't."
Stolan stood silently next to the door, watching Feorh with something between admiration and horror as she continued to manipulate and order Captain Thorongil around. In many ways, he was more intimidated by his aunt than the Captain.
Good naturedly, Aragorn allowed Feorh to fuss and hover over him until the last crumb was gone. "Now Feorh, I really must go, or poor Araedhelm with think something happened to me."
"Very well, my Lord." Satisfied at last, Feorh picked up the tray and headed back out the door, Stolan in tow.
As soon as she was gone, Aragorn shrugged on his coat, fastened his cape, and slung the satchel over his shoulder. He opened the door, and shut it again behind himself with a soft click.
The halls of Meduseld were quiet and deserted, shadowed in the dark of early morning. Utilizing his elven training, he softened his footfalls until their noise was nearly non-existent, and so continued silently towards the stables.
As he approached, the familiar, and oddly soothing, smell of horses and fresh straw met him. He made his way past the rows of other horses to the stall where his own stallion was waiting impatiently for him, prancing in anticipation of his customary morning run. Stepping into the stall, the ranger expertly began to ready his horse.
As he went about the routine preparations, his mind continued to wander over the different problems that would, doubtless, be presented today in council. With all his personal problems already taking up so much of his mental energy, he'd been less than helpful in his advice to Thengel lately. Today, he would keep his mind focused on the difficulties at hand.
With that decisive conclusion, he lifted the saddle to place it on the stallion's back. The horse had ideas of its own. It did a very dainty little side-step—right onto his foot. Even through the tough leather of his boots, the pain was intense. Aragorn cursed under his breath.
"Yrchaes, you stubborn horse!"
Of course, as soon as he'd said it, he felt his own anger dissolve, even while he continued to clench his teeth in pain. Yrcheas—"orc-bait" in Sindarin—was the name Elladan and Elrohir had given the horse when they'd first presented him to their brother as a farewell gift. He could still see the impish grin on Elladan's face as he'd handed him the reigns. "Well, tithen-muindor, as much as we hate to condemn this poor beast to be a meal for some pack of orcs… Yrchaes is all yours. May he serve you well...as long he lives." Obviously, Aragorn had hesitated to use the name publicly.
"Seron, Seron…" He shook his head, and returned to using the horse's real name, a far more dignified Quenya translation of "friend". "I had hoped you'd grown out of that by now. But I see that assumption was a little premature," Aragorn flinched as he tried to move his swollen toes within the boot. Seron whinnied, butting his master's chest with his nose. "Yes, yes, I know I wasn't paying attention to you…I have a lot on my mind at the moment." The horse butted him harder. Aragorn laughed and stroked his velvety muzzle. "I know, it's no excuse. Just try a gentler way of getting my attention next time? I have a feeling, I have a long day ahead of me."
Buckling the saddle on―this time with Seron's cooperation― he secured the satchel of food Feorh had given him behind it. Tentatively favoring his right foot, he swung up onto Seron's back, urging the horse out of the stable.
It was still fairly dark out, as the sun had only just begun to rise, and this morning it was mostly covered by clouds. Aragorn pulled his cape further around him as a cool, damp breath of wind pulled at his clothes. February was nearly at an end, and despite the fact that Spring was closing in, of late the weather had been cold.
He scanned the menacingly dark horizon, and nudged his horse on to a faster pace. Rain was threatening, but if he hurried he could reach Araedhelm's house, and the two of them just might reach their destination before the storm broke. If not… Well, then he could possibly be looking forward to a very wet and extremely uncomfortable afternoon.
Araedhelm's skill as a lieutenant was unbounded, but his gift-finding abilities left something to be desired. After several days of trying to decide what would be the perfectthirteenth-birthday present for his son, Rynan, he'd settled on a horse. Rynan had long outgrown the family pony, and it was time for him to have man's mount. Of course, once he'd finally settled on this course of action, the time to present this gift was getting dangerously close. That was when he'd enlisted his captain's aid. After all, one only needed to look at Captain Thorongil's own fine stallion to see he had an eye for horses.
Aragorn sighed, his breath frosting in the crisp air. He was glad to help, and he did know a good mount when he saw it, but elvish steeds were nearly all beautiful creatures. He'd never really had to pick and choose before. Besides, traditionally, Elladan and Elrohir had often chosen for him. But Araedhelm would, without a doubt, be taking him to see a herd comprised of some of Rohan's best stock―which was considerable―and he had no doubt they'd be able to find a horse that would have done any elf proud. However, Rohan's stock was considerable, and between his friend's recent indecision, and the amount of horses they'd have to choose from, he could see many hours already dwindling away before his eyes. But it was worth it for his friend, he admitted grudgingly.
Reining in his horse, Aragorn dismounted and approached the door. Before he could knock, the door was opened by a pretty, middle aged woman, with blond hair pulled back loosely into a knot at the base of her neck.
"Come in, come in, Captain," she welcomed him cheerfully enough, although, in the end, a hint of weariness betrayed her.
Aragorn frowned, but stepped through the door at her invitation. "Cwén, is something wrong?" With a sudden twinge of alarm, he asked cautiously, "Nothing's… wrong with Araedhelm, is there?"
Some of the concern fell from Cwén's expression at this, and she even managed a small laugh. "Oh no, nothing's wrong with my husband. It's Wynn, she came down with something in the middle of the night… I don't think it's serious, but she did have a bit of a bad fever."
"Is she all right now? Would you like me to look at her?"
At that moment, a deep voice interrupted him from one of the adjoining doorways. "There'll be no need for that, my friend, though I thank you for offering. One of the healers is in with her now, but she seems to be doing better already. Her fever broke this morning."
Aragorn looked over his friend's shoulder at the small form lying on the bed, bathed in the warm glow of the fire. "I am glad to hear that."
Araedhelm's broad, weather-beaten face contorted into relieved smile. "Yes, so are we... She's doing well enough now, but all the same, I think I'll wait and talk to the healer before I go."
Aragorn nodded. "Of course. I'll wait for you."
"No, that's all right Captain, you go ahead." He winked at Aragorn. "Get an early start looking at those horses."
Aragorn raised an eyebrow and sighed in good-natured resignation. "Yes, I suppose so…"
Araedhelm laughed. "I'll catch up with you, or else meet you at the pens."
"Very well. But you'd better hurry, there's rain threatening."
He inclined his head to Cwén, and strode back out into the cold morning, shivering slightly as his skin made contact with the air. As he remounted Seron, he shot another concerned glance at the grey sky. It was definitely foreboding. He felt another shiver race down his spine, one that had nothing to do with the chill in the air. Fear crept over him for something far more ominous than mere rain. As a warrior, he'd learned to pay attention to such warnings, and even though he felt slightly ridiculous holding such irrational suspicions, he would have to keep a sharp eye out for any trouble.
Seron knew his way through Edoras well, and Aragorn hardly had need to use the reins at all, as they wound down the path past straw-roofed houses and stirring villagers. He paused long enough to nod to the watchmen at the gate, who knew him by sight, and were accustomed to his rather unusual early-morning wanderings. They smiled, nodding back as they opened the gates and allowed him to pass through.
Aragorn gazed out across the waving sea of grass that surrounded him. As always, its endless beauty was breath-taking, and as the final backdrop, the peaks of Ered Nimrais loomed, ever-present in the distance. With the wind gently blowing at his face, a fine mount beneath him, and the road stretching on invitingly before him, Aragorn had a sudden mad urge to kick his horse in the flanks and go galloping towards those mountains at full speed. His more rational side quickly ended that futile train of thought―if, indeed, thought could be accused of having anything to do with the direction his mind was leading him.
Apparently, he wasn't quite as in control of himself yet as he might have thought. It would never do if word got around that Captain Thorongil was running wildly around the countryside. Well, perhaps he couldn't just go dashing wildly away to anywhere, or nowhere,but there was nothing keeping him from riding as hard as he liked. He did have a destination, after all. Besides, he rationalized, Seron needed the exercise.
Seron was only too pleased to oblige his master. A light tap of his heels was all the horse needed, and Aragorn let him have his head. With a whinny of pleasure, Seron shot forward down the beaten trail, hooves thundering. Aragorn closed his eyes, feeling the wind rush around him, blowing against his face. He could almost taste the fresh, wet scent of the approaching rain.
He continued in this state for some time, feeling wonderfully weightless, as if a great many burdens had been lifted from his shoulders. The only sounds were those of steadily pounding hooves, and the whistling wind. Nothing but him, the horse beneath him, and rugged nature around him, existed. Seron effortlessly maneuvered the trail, reveling in the exhilarating feeling of freedom just as much as his rider. The two of them rode as if they'd never ridden so before, and would never have the chance to do so freely again. Of course, it had only been a couple of days ago that they'd ridden like this, without restraint, and it would probably only be another day before they'd do it again; but the experience, for both horse and rider, was an ever-present source of pure joy, simple as it was.
Aragorn relaxed against his horse, leaning forward and until he lay parallel with Seron's neck, the horse's dark mane brushing his cheek. He could feel the rhythmical movement of the creature's powerful legs beneath him, carrying him past the seas of grass in a blur of gold.
Lulled by the flowing pace of his horse, he hardly noticed when soft patters of rain began to fall. The size of the raindrops increased subtly, but increase they did, until he could hardly ignore them. Sitting straight in the saddle once more, he gave a small amount of pressure to the reins, slowing Seron a fraction. He pulled his hood forward, peering into the intensifying rain.
Suddenly, he felt a flicker of danger. It was elusive, almost too vague a feeling to recognize, but Seron reacted as well, almost immediately, slowing his pace until they were nearly at a standstill. The horse's reaction was too much to ignore. Not quite sure what he was looking for, Aragorn scanned their surroundings with new attention, taking in every detail, searching for anything out of the ordinary.
Up ahead, he spotted two larger boulders that marked their next turn to the left. They were almost upon the intersection, and Aragorn gently urged Seron to take the turn. The horse responded nervously, side stepping, and shying away from the command. Aragorn frowned, leaning forward to stroke his neck soothingly. His frown deepened when the horse didn't calm, but whinnied uneasily.
"Shh, easy… Sedho, mellon-nín…" (Be still, my friend)
A steady flow of Sindarin did make a difference, but the creature was still tense and alert with fear. However, he obeyed the next time the command came, turning with obvious dislike toward the gently sloping path.
The path before them grew less distinct, as they swerved off the main road and began winding upwards. As the ground became more sloping, it also grew rockier. More boulders were strewn along the path, varying in size from hardly more than a pebble, to nearly as tall as a man.
Aragorn took Seron's warning, keeping one hand covertly on the hilt of his sword as he kept an eye on the unfolding path. He had to admit, the area presented a perfect layout for highwaymen or thieves―at least, in comparison to most of the terrain Rohan had to offer. Well, if any of these boulders were hiding common thieves, they would be disappointed in their prey. Even if they did catch him off guard―which they wouldn't―and somehow managed to disarm him, they wouldn't find anything of great worth. Seron and his sword were the only valuables he had with him right now.
At any rate, it was no use thinking about it. Either there was trouble brewing, or there wasn't. But it was his sole responsibility to spot the trouble before it bashed him over the head. It had happened to Estel dozens, if not hundreds, of times, and it could happen just as easily to Captain Thorongil as it had to that impetuous young man, what seemed like so many years ago. Only now, the consequences had the potential to be far more dire. As a Captain of Rohan, he had that much more to hide, many more secrets of importance on a larger scale, and not a little value in and of himself. However much he might like to deny it, he couldn't afford to court danger. If not for his own sake, then he owed it to the king he'd vowed his allegiance to, and to those he'd promised to protect.
The same feeling of danger flickered through him again, stronger, more intense this time. In a flood, he realized that, if there was an ambush, the last thing he wanted to be was a slow target for the attacking party. The appointed meeting place wasn't far away, if he judged correctly, and there would be a man waiting there to show him the herd. If he could only get there… Seron was only holding back out of loyalty to his master, and as soon as the command came he shot straight forward.
But the movement came a second too late.
Searing pain lanced through his side, and he heard his own surprised cry of pain. He fought the encroaching darkness that threatened to take his vision, but felt control of his body slipping away. Distantly, he felt his body sliding forward, down… Then fresh pain flared through him as Seron pulled forward in fright, forcefully pulling the blade from his rider's side. Aragorn was vaguely alerted to the presence of other men by the sound of shouting.
"Quickly! Grab him―don't let him get away!" came a gruff voice somewhere behind him.
There was the running of heavy, booted feet, and then hands grasping at his clothes and cloak, pulling him from the saddle. One of the probing hands, in its quest for a handhold, clutched roughly at his bleeding side, and consciousness came rushing back in a pain-induced surge of adrenalin. His eyes flew open, his hand reaching automatically for his sword.
But several of the men that surrounded him already had his cape firmly in their hold. As soon as they felt him stir, they were quick to pull him off of Seron's back. His back hit the ground hard, and his head cracked against the side of a boulder. Something wet trickled down the back of his neck. Through the hazy buzzing in his head he heard the tread of several men closing around him. Merely holding onto consciousness seemed quite an achievement, but attempting to actually comprehend his surroundings felt just a little too ambitious. However, his training as a soldier told him to listen, prepare himself, reach for his sword again, to make the most of his situation, however bleak.
He fought for consciousness, forcing the buzzing to recede enough for him to hear what the voices that surrounded him were saying. He was rewarded, more or less, as his mind finally began to follow one guttural voice to his left.
"I don't know. His head hit the rock pretty hard…He looks dead."
Another voice, the first one he'd heard, spoke from a little further away. "No. Somehow I doubt that. If tales are true, Captain Thorongil is not so easily gotten rid of. He's probably just unconscious."
The man's voice was more sophisticated than Aragorn would have expected for that of a mere highwayman.
The voice continued with expert promptness, "Take his sword first, then finish him off. This is one job we don't want coming back to haunt us, of that much I'm certain."
As hands reached down to disarm him, Aragorn's fingers shot swiftly to his sword hilt. Sliding out his sword in one quick movement, he swung it in an arch towards his unprepared adversaries, who jumped back only just in time to avoid being sliced in half. Aragorn had scarce time to gain his feet, before the men had drawn their own swords, springing upon him with determined movements. Aragorn, however, was just as determined, and his obvious experience made him an imposing opponent.
Not wasting precious seconds in wishing for his lieutenant, he pressed his back against the boulder and prepared himself for the onslaught. The men formed a half-circle around him, pausing as if to measure him, then the boldest of the three swung his sword at shoulder height. Wincing at the strain it put on his side, Aragorn ducked without hesitation, keeping his left hand pressed close to his side in an attempt to allay the pain. He came back up just in time to block two more swords.
He hardly saw the men who held the weapons anymore, focusing solely on the flashing blades that darted back and forth, slashing mercilessly at him. His opponents were skilled, far more skilled than he had expected, and their intent was not to wound, or to disable, but to kill. These were no mere thieves, they were trained well. They weren't out to rob him, they were here for his blood. The cold professionalism in the eyes of his opponents defeated his last hope. Mercy would not be appreciated by these men, and Aragorn couldn't afford to give them any. He had to firmly rid himself of compassion for these men, and aim to kill, or be killed.
He swept aside another barrage of blades. Steeling himself, he lunged and heard the sickening sound of metal entering flesh. He didn't have time to regret the waste of life. The exposed position he'd been forced to take for the lunge turned even more awkward as his foot slipped in the mud, stretching his leg muscles painfully. Recovering as quickly as he could, he brought up his sword in time to block a sword stroke coming directly for his face. However, before he could recover his footing and pull himself into a fully upright position, one of the men took the opportunity to slam his sword hilt into the small of his back. Aragorn groaned and stumbled slightly, but refused to fall.
He spun just as the man prepared to follow up the stunning blow with the edge of his sword. He blocked, and spun to parry again. The momentum of his arch continued, catching a third man off guard. Slashed deeply across the chest, the man toppled forward into the mud, surprise written in his glassy eyes. Again, Aragorn pushed himself past the initial regret he always felt at taking human life, and forced himself to concentrate on his remaining enemies.
He'd finally managed to regain his position, the reassuring solidness of the boulder pressing at his back. Four men now remained―four dirty, enraged, waterlogged men. They glared at him, but seemed content to remain at a safe distance for the moment being, panting heavily. That suited Aragorn just fine. Each of his own ragged breaths tore at his flaming side.
Amazing. You really have outdone yourself this time Thorongil, a sarcastic inner voice remarked wryly.
Facing four angry, well-trained swordsmen, he had to agree with that sentiment. What had gone wrong? Nothing. He'd merely left the safety of his room. Always a mistake, as he was successfully proving again. How in Arda was he going to explain to Thengel how he'd already managed to get into trouble, this early in the day? If he somehow, miraculously, escaped in the first place, that was.
Well, this is really exciting for me, getting back to posting. I'd love to hear what you all think of it:-)