Title: The Ranger Hell Week

Disclaimer: Tolkien's creations are not mine and I will never own them.

Summary: Aragorn and Halbarad have taken two young rangers under their wings. But when Aragorn gets injured in the wilds and Halbarad has to leave him, the two young rangers are the only ones who are there to help Aragorn survive.

Rating: PG-13

A/N: Written for the Teitho Challenge "Unlikely Heroes"

Chapter 1: Falling

"Alright, put your right hand on that rock right above your head. When you have a secure hold, move you left foot up on the next ridge." Aragorn called up to young ranger, who hang on the steep cliff wall. The rope that was bound around the young rangers middle and legs sneaked up the cliff, preventing him from falling down. The end of the rope was wound around the thick trunk of a tree, and Halbarad, who stood at the top of the hill made sure that it did not fray on the sharp rocks.

The young ranger, Marek, did as Aragorn told him and inched slowly up the cliff. He was wearing his leather gloves to protect his hands from the stones, but already his fingers were scratched and bleeding, so tightly did he cling to the wall. Some of the older rangers had told him that this part of the training was the worst, but he had not believed them. What could be so difficult with climbing up a cliff? Well, he believed them now, and only wished for this nightmare climb to end. The bad things was, that the stupid cliff was huge. And he still had a long way to go before he reached the top.

"Now put your right foot on that rock outcropping to your right, and find a hold for your left hand after that. Careful now, Marek." Aragorn called from his position under Marek. He, too, was hanging in the cliff wall, similarly secured as Marek was. But his rope was not under the attention of Halbarad; another young ranger, Romorin, had an eye on his security rope.

Marek put his right foot on the outcropping and pulled his body up another half foot. The rope became lax and then tightened again when Halbarad pulled at it from above. He could hear Aragorn climb up the cliff, and in the corner of his eye he could see Aragorn's rope become lax before it, too, tightened again.

In this manner the two rangers climbed up the cliff, ever so slowly. It irked Marek more than he was ready to admit that his friend, Romorin, had managed the climb in half the time he would need. And it irked him even more that Aragorn, his Chieftain, seemed to have taken it upon himself to climb with him. As if he was afraid that he would make it up in once piece. To have his Chieftain as teacher on this very important trip was scary enough. But to have him think that he was not even capable of climbing this cliff was frustrating.

Aragorn secured his position on the cliff wall and looked up at Marek. So far, the young ranger had done well and proven to be a good climber. But that did not mean that he was not making mistakes. Sighing, Aragorn shook his head slightly and counted silently.

One, two, three, four, aaaand there he goes.

Aragorn did not know how many times he had warned Marek about the dangers of a climb such as this one. And what was the boy doing now? Exactly. The opposite of what Aragorn had told him.

"Do not look up while you climb, Marek." Aragorn called up to Marek, sounding as if he was not in the least tired after this climb. Although, he wanted to reach the top as badly as Marek did, but because of slightly different reasons. "When you look up, you could easily lose your balance, and that could prove fatal. Always one move after the other, Marek."

Watching how the young ranger bit his bottom lip and adverted his eyes from the inviting sight above him, Aragorn sighed deeply. It was not as if the wanted to reprimand Marek all the time. It was just that this young rangers seemed to always do something wrong.

Aragorn concentrated on his climb for the next few minutes, with one eye always on Marek. He knew that Halbarad had a secure hold on the boy. Just as he had had a few hours ago, when Halbarad had climbed this cliff with Romorin.

From his own experience, Aragorn knew that the tiredness and pain in Marek's arms had to grow steadily. Surely the boy would ask himself how far above the ledge was still away. Only a few more feet or still as far as from The Angle to The Havens? Aragorn resisted the urge to wipe away another trickle of sweat on is forehead, and searched for a suitable hold. The rock he was currently standing on did not feel very steady.

His searching eyes found a protruding rock, and he tested it before he hastily put his foot on it. The rock moved a bit, but then it held his weight.

Above him, Marek had barely touched another rock, when Aragorn growled and called up sharply.

"Marek! How many times do I have to tell you that you never, ever, put your weight on a stone without testing its strength before?"

Frustrated and tired, Marek called back. "But it held!"

"Aye, this time. You were lucky. It could have broken away, and then Halbarad's quick reflexes would have been the only thing that would have prevented you from falling down this cliff. And Halbarad is not always there to help you, Marek. What would happen if you climb alone?"

A myriad of emotions flickered through Marek's eyes and Aragorn could have kicked himself for being so stern. In that moment, Marek must feel more like a child than he had in years. Surely he just now asked himself not for the first time why he had insisted on going on the so called "Ranger Hell Week" this year, and had not waited for the next one, upcoming summer. The Ranger Hell Week was done three times a year, after all, seeing that all young rangers had to pass the tests that were held during this two week trip. Yes, had he waited till the next summer, then he could have gone with Hawk and Eagle. Not with the Chieftain and his second in command. Then, things would surely have been easier. And more fun.

But still, they had a reason to do these Hell Weeks, and Aragorn had had a good reason to lead this one. He had been away for too long from The Angle. The chance to spend some time with Halbarad had been too inviting to pass up.

Sighing once more and scolding himself for doing it at the same time, Aragorn tilted his head and peered at the sky. The dark clouds that had been mere shadows in the morning, now loomed threateningly above them. They should not linger. Well, Aragorn thought, lets see if I can make Marek move a bit faster.

"Marek, have you fallen asleep up there? Move!" His sharp voice ripped Marek from his thoughts, and with an obvious grimace he pulled his body up the cliff. Inside his head, Marek repeated his motto over and over. Find a handhold, test it, grab it, pull up. Find a foothold, test it, grab it, pull up. Find a handhold, test it, grab it, pull up. Find a foothold, test it, grab it, pull up…

For some more minutes the two rangers climbed up the steep wall. Marek did as best he could, feeling Aragorn's stern gaze burning into his back. So immersed in his task was he, that he did not notice the storm clouds that marched across the sky, or that the wind picked up steadily, until it hissed along the cliff. Only when fine droplets of rain began to splatter down on him and make the stones slippery, did he notice the storm that was about to brake lose.

Panicked, he looked up the wall.

"Marek! Do not look up! Concentrate on what you are doing, boy!"

Really, how many times did he have to tell Marek this piece of information before it actually registered in the boy's head? It was crucial to hold one's balance while climbing and one of the fundamental rules the rangers had to learn early in their lives.

Marek snapped his head back down. Unseen by Aragorn, hot tears stung his eyes, and he closed them tightly. "Boy". His Chieftain, the man that he adored probably more than even his own father, had called him a mere boy. He was twenty, for Valars' sake. As old as Aragorn had been when he had returned to the rangers. He was no boy any longer!

Anger replaced his momentary shame on his face, and Marek clenched his teeth. He would show his Chieftain that he was no boy any longer, and that he was very well capable of climbing this cursed cliff. Even in a storm! A bolt of lightning, closely followed by a loud roaring thundered across the sky, causing Marek to flinch horribly.

With the wind picking up and the rain falling thickly and strongly by now, Aragorn had increasing problems to find hand and footholds, and he knew that Marek did not fare better. Doing his best, he climbed on. How he wished to just climb up this stupid cliff as fast as he could, but his duty to help Marek prevented him from doing just that.

Suddenly, he heard Halbarad's voice call down to them, blown away a bit by the raging storm. "Aragorn, the storm is getting too strong. We should interrupt this and begin anew tomorrow. Romorin and I can pull up you much quicker than you could climb."

Oh, thank you, Halbarad. You just made my day!

Relief surged through him, but only for a second. Do this again tomorrow? Again? No, he really did not want to do this one more time. One time was entirely enough. He had come on this trip to spend some time with his best friend and teach some young rangers, not spend the days hanging on a cliff wall, in the icy rain, with a pupil who only understood what he wanted to.

And it seemed that Aragorn was not alone in this opinion.

Anger replaced the relief on Marek's face, and he shook his head to clear it from the rain water that ran it down in rivulets. He was almost up, he knew that much, and he would climb the rest of the way. Today. Seeing the refusal on Marek's face, one part of Aragorn was roaring with approval, while the other reminded him that there was a storm raging around them and a young ranger with practically two left feet. And hands. Therefore, Aragorn tilted his head back and called up loudly.

"Aye, you are right, Halbarad. Pull Marek up first, he is nearer to the edge."

But to Aragorn's surprise, Marek dug his fingers deeper into the stone wall and stemmed his feet against the rocks. He would not be pulled up like an invalid. He could climb this cliff.

"No, I can climb!" He shouted against the storm, and began to pull his body up another half foot.

Wonderful. This is the first time in all these days that he speaks up and says what he really means. But does he have to find his courage NOW?

"Marek, do as I say and let Halbarad pull you up!" Aragorn called, but Marek ignored him. He found another rock above his head to the right, tested it and then grabbed it to pull himself up.

"Halbarad, pull him up!" Aragorn shouted, and although he could not hear an answer, he knew without a doubt that Halbarad would do as he had asked.

And surely, only a moment later the rope that wound around Marek's body tightened when Halbarad began to pull him up. Unwilling to be hauled up, Marek clung to the cliff wall and shook his head. "No! I can climb!"

There was no answer but the raging of the wind and the fierce rain, and Marek's face was victorious.

Has no one ever told him that one obeys his elders?

Trying to look as grim as he could, with the rain plastering his hair against his skull and water running down his nose, Aragorn sped his climb up until he was level with Marek. The boy turned his head, and when he saw Aragorn the small victorious smile that had been playing around his lips vanished immediately, causing Aragorn to smirk inwardly.

Perhaps someone has after all.

"Marek, you do as I say and let Halbarad pull you up. Do you understand?" His voice was cutting through Marek like a knife through water, and the only thing that Marek could do was nod. Aragorn studied him a moment longer, before he, too, nodded.

"Halbarad, pull him up."

A moment later, the rope around Marek's body tightened once more, and he let go of his tight hold on the wall and let Halbarad and Romorin pull him up. Inch for inch he snailed up the wall, while the storm around him became stronger. Soon, the wind was howling around the wall, and the rain had become so strong that Marek could not have made out the edge of the wall had he dared to look up.

Beneath him, Aragorn resumed his climbing. Although the storm was already strong, he had seen enough storms to know that this one had not reached its peak yet, and this it would soon turn even more fierce. It would take Halbarad and Romorin some minutes to pull Marek up the wall, and every foot that he could climb by himself, would spare Halbarad and Romorin the time and strength to pull him up.

Another strong pull brought Marek up the cliff, and then a bright bolt of lightning flashed across the sky and illuminated the scene. This time, Marek could not withstand the temptation to look up at the ledge, regardless of what Aragorn had told him so many times.

Aragorn saw him look up at the edge of the cliff and breathe a sigh of relief when he saw that he was almost up. Only a few more feet. A few strong pulls. Shaking his head, Aragorn decided to let it go this time. There was time for reprimands later. What was important now was they made it up this cliff before the storm became too strong.

With wet hands, Marek tried to help with his ascend as best he could. The wind ripped at his clothing and made him sway strongly. He felt as if he was on the deck of a ship on the high seas, and not hanging on a cliff wall.

"And pull!" Halbarad's voice shouted from above and a pull went through his rope. A moment later, Marek's hands reached for the edge of the cliff wall, and soon strong arms grabbed his shoulders and his belt and pulled him onto the muddy ledge.

Marek had barely recovered from his climb, when his eyes saw something had made his blood freeze in his veins. There, next to his sprawled body, was Aragorn's rope. The rope hung over the edge of the cliff and vanished in the depth of the cliff, but that was not what was making Marek's eyes become as wide as saucers.

The rope was swaying from left to right, and every time the rope scraped over the stones, it frayed a bit more. The protective cloth that should have been sitting under the rope was missing, perhaps blown away by the strong wind. Obviously, Halbarad and Romorin had been too occupied with pulling himself up, to keep a close eye on Aragorn's safety line.

Pushing himself to his knees, Marek pointed frantically at the fraying rope. "The rope! Its snapping!"

In an instant, Halbarad had let go of Marek's rope and was on his knees at Aragorn's, struggling out of is coat to provide at least some form of support for the rope before he and Romorin would pull Aragorn up. But, it was already too late.

Out of the corner of his eye, Aragorn saw a tall shadow rush along the edge of the cliff. For he moment he wondered what was going one, and if something had happened to Marek, but then he felt the rope that held him shudder and tremble.

Uh oh…

With a sickening crack the last few strands snapped, and the whole rope swayed for a moment like whip, before it vanished down the cliff wall.

"Aragorn, your rope snapped!" Halbarad yelled frantically and threw himself down on his stomach to peer over the ledge.

Uh, yes. Thank you very much for this very obvious statement.

Aragorn reached out, trying to hold on to the rocks, the stones, anything that would stop him from falling down this cursed cliff. For a moment he could hold on to a rock, but then the stone moved under his hands and with a shout he felt himself fall.

His faint, surprised yell reached up the cliff, and Halbarad shouted frantically "Aragorn! Aragorn!!!!"

Then, the only thing that could be heard was the howling of the storm.


Reviews, anyone?? ;)