Title: An Impossible Choice
Rating: T (see warning below)
Disclaimer: LOTR is not my brainchild. It is Tolkien's, and is entirely his creation. The only things that belong to me in this story are the bandits and "assorted villagers". Oh, and Simoliké, of course (yay! Smokey!).
Summary: Sequel to Bad Company. When one of Dormian's confederates manages to capture Legolas, an injured Aragorn must make the impossible choice between his friend's life and a village he barely knows.
WARNING: This story contains some content that might be disturbing for younger or sensitive readers, including violence, torture, climactic battle, and references to human sacrifice. While nothing is graphic and none of our heroes are permanently harmed, this isn't a walk in the park for them either. Also, please beware that this story has more turns than the Smokey Mountains Scenic Parkway...and a few more cliffs as well.
Spoiler Warning: Obviously, you need to read Bad Company before you read this story. This picks up right where Bad Company left off,. This story is also fairly closely connected to the third part of Fear No Darkness, and I know that story is really long but there are a few spoilers in here if you haven't already read it. Nothing for the main plot, though, just for some of the other events of the last part of the story.
On length...it's shaping up to be thirteen chapters including epilogue. Later chapters may be divided, though...my outline's fairly flexible. And the rest of the chapters are going to be longer than this one. Obren also has a fairly large roll to play...don't worry, I'll try not to bore you too much by forcing you to read about my OCs any more than necessary.
Gah! I can't stand it anymore! I was going to wait until I had the next chapter of FND posted...but here! Take it! Chapter two's almost finished, anyway.
Chapter One: Aragorn's Revenge
The gallop of hoofbeats was, thankfully, the only sound that broke the night as Aragorn rode south.
The ranger had been straining his ear for the last several hours, every moment expecting to hear the sounds of pursuit. But thankfully, no one had noticed their escape.
He frowned. Escape was not quite the right word...Obren had released them. Had released them, what was more, after realizing Aragorn's true identity—a feat Aragorn himself still could not believe.
With a whisper he slowed the horse, allowing the poor beast to drop its pace. Aragorn groaned slightly and stretched one arm out, switching his grip on his unconscious friend to stretch the other. His mind traveled back over recent events.
On a journey to Rivendell to winter with Aragorn's foster-father, Lord Elrond, he and Legolas had stopped for the night at a small inn called The Boar's Head. Rangers often stayed there, so Aragorn had assumed he and the elf would have nothing to fear. Then Legolas had caught a man picking his pocket, but had let him go rather than seek justice.
The man had returned later that night, seeking revenge for his humiliation. That confrontation had led to another, and he and Legolas were soon prisoners of a bandit named Lothram.
Lothram. Aragorn frowned. The name seemed vaguely familiar to him, though he could not place it. Granted, he had met many men in his travels, so it was possible that he had simply come across this Lothram before.
Lothram had left them to the questionable mercies of Dormian, then seemed to repent of this and turned them over to Obren's care. Obren had released them (Aragorn could only hope the bandit did not pay too dearly for this...despite his way of life Obren had seemed to be an honorable man), going so far as to return their supplies and let them take a horse.
And so they had escaped, thanks to Obren. They were still within Dormian's reach, but Aragorn hoped to put many miles between them before the bandit could come after them.
Aragorn had drugged Legolas before they left. He knew the elf would not be entirely happy with him over that prospect, but as Legolas had suffered greatly at Dormian's hands he had not wanted his friend to be in agony for the return trip. Aragorn's heart still seethed at the memory of the bandits callously tossing his friend, bruised and bleeding, onto the floor of the cell.
Legolas gave a soft sound in his sleep, and Aragorn quickly pressed one hand to his forehead. He grimaced and shook his head a bit wryly. It was not as if every sound his friend made was some evidence of a terrible injury.
He still could not understand what the bandit could have had against elves. Dormian had not seemed to care if Aragorn remained their prisoner or not...his entire focus was on Legolas.
And yet...there was something familiar in Dormian's countenance. Aragorn could not quite place it, but something about the bandit struck an uneasy chord in his mind. As though he had met him before...and come away with bad memories.
But he knew he could consider these things at his leisure another time. For now, he could only hope to reach the inn before something else happened.
They rounded a corner, and a small village appeared, standing stoutly in the wild plains and hills of the surrounding countryside. Aragorn smiled, and his grin suddenly grew mischievous.
He could only imagine the expression on Legolas' face when he awoke in The Boar's Head.
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The innkeeper was almost tiring of explaining the story of the ranger and his friend to every man who crossed his path. Almost...truth be told, he enjoyed the attention. Of course, the man who had stopped him this morning seemed a bit more than curious. He wanted to know more than how the pickpocket was captured. Not that it was Beoman's business. He thought that was the strangest part of the tale, after all.
"Aye, 'tis a funny thing," Beoman explained to the stranger as they walked slowly back to the inn. "The man and his friend just up and disappeared. Left their horses and weapons behind, according to the stablemaster."
"Left them behind? And you claim this man was a ranger?"
"Oh, he was, he was for sure," the innkeeper nodded. "Leastways he looked like one. Dark-haired and rugged, much like them other rangers who was here a few weeks back."
"Did you catch his name?" the man asked in a casual voice.
Beoman squinted, not sure about this stranger. He'd seen the man in his common room before—many of the locals came to the Boar's Head when the taverns grew too rowdy (or closed down after a nasty brawl). The innkeeper shrugged inwardly. What business was it of his if one stranger asked about another? Besides, this man was probably just a farmer, looking for stories of wild folk to tell his little ones. "I heard his friend call him Strider," he offered.
"And his friend? Is it true his friend was an elf?"
An elf? Beoman chuckled. "Well, if he weren't an elf he's the strangest man I ever saw. Never knew a man who could move that way...the way he gave that pickpocket a turn!" bursting into rough laughter, the innkeeper slapped his knee with one hand.
The stranger managed to smile. "But he left his horse behind as well?"
"Aye, that he did," Beoman sobered. "But I wouldn't recommend trying to ride the beast...the thing's gone pure wild since its master disappeared. Both of 'em have. Won't let any of the stableboys near 'em...stablemaster has to chuck feed at them over the stall lest he get bit."
This time the stranger chuckled and slapped a golden coin onto the counter. "You tell me if those two show up again and there'll be three more of these," he promised. "I have business with them."
Beoman nodded, greedily sweeping up the coin. "And just who might be looking for those two?" he asked, trying to put a shrewd expression on his face but succeeding only in looking mildly ill.
"No one of consequence," the man gestured with his hand at the coin Beoman held. "Keep this a secret and you might earn a few more of those in the future."
The innkeeper beamed, tucking the coin into his belt. "How can I send you a message?"
"Leave it with the barman at the Marsh Hog," the man replied, naming one of the taverns that lined the street. "Tell him that Theorn's guests have arrived and await his attention."
"Ah, is Theorn your name, then?"
The man winked, holding up another coin. "Keep that to yourself and you'll get another of these."
Beoman chuckled, nodding to himself as the man strode down the street, undoubtedly toward the Marsh Hog. He bustled back into his own inn, captivated at the thought of what he could buy with the coins the man promised him.
He was so intent on his daydreams, he almost didn't notice the over-laden horse stumble wearily into town.
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Legolas slowly woke up, wincing as pain again flooded his sense.
Of course...Dormian. He groaned, not risking the pain to sit up. His mind was muddled—the only memory he was sure of was the bandit's furious face as he beat him. Legolas shivered involuntarily, pulling his mind from that memory.
"Are you awake?"
The elf forced his eyes open at that familiar voice, a slight smile tugging at his lips at the concerned face of his best friend bending over him. "Asleep?" he asked, his mouth strangely dry. Aragorn gently lifted his head and held a cup to his lips, giving him a few sips of water. "I was asleep?" Legolas asked again. He could vaguely remember trying to escape, but did not remember where they had found shelter.
"Aye," Aragorn said nonchalantly. "It's to be expected, though..."
The elf's eyes narrowed. "You drugged me," said dangerously, struggling to sit up.
Aragorn was quick to hold the elf's shoulders down, careful to avoid as many injuries as possible. "I had to," he said quietly. "We had a long ride ahead, I didn't want you to be in pain."
Legolas glared up at his friend, frustrated that he didn't have the strength to throw the ranger off. "But you drugged me!" he protested.
"Legolas," Aragorn reprimanded quietly.
The elf sighed. "I don't like it when you do that," he grumbled. He knew his friend was right, but it was still an unsettling experience. Particularly when he wasn't expecting it—it was always disconcerting to fight off the haze of a sleeping drug in an unknown place.
Aragorn laughed, turning away for a moment. Legolas heard a squishing sound—he recognized it as water being squeezed out of a rag—and something cold and wet was placed over his still-tender left eye.
He hissed in pain as the liquid in the cloth stung a cut under his eye. "What is that?"
"It should help the swelling," the ranger replied. "You still look terrible."
Legolas groaned inwardly. Aragorn was tooling with more herbs, and he knew it would only be moments before the man decided to apply another poultice out of sheer boredom. "Where are we?" he asked, hoping to take his friend's mind off of medicine.
Aragorn suddenly smiled, and Legolas did not like that smile. "We're about five hours south of the bandit camp."
Five hours...why did that sound so familiar?
"Strider!" Legolas shot up in bed, ignoring his now-protesting body. "You didn't!"
"Easy," the ranger pushed Legolas back down. "Honestly, you will only hurt yourself if you move like that. You have to rest."
"Strider, please tell me we're not back at the Boar's Head."
"Very well," Aragorn shook his head, finally managing to get Legolas to lie down again.
The silence stretched for a few moments, and Legolas groaned. "Aragorn, you know I hate this place."
"You're only been here once before," the man pointed out.
"That was just over a day ago," Legolas retorted. "And because of that visit I was attacked, kidnapped, beaten, and now drugged and dragged back here."
Aragorn winced. "I had no choice," he said softly. "There was no where else to go."
The elf groaned again. "You could have warned me."
"I could have," Aragorn agreed. "But I would have missed the look on your face when you found out where we were," he added mischievously, raising his hands to placate the elf when his friend fixed him with a glare. "Bear in mind, Legolas, Dormian and his companions are not here, and we are not going down to the common room. What possible trouble could we run into staying up here?"
Legolas closed his eyes in mock exasperation. "Every time you say that, Strider, something horrible happens."
"This time nothing will," the ranger said confidently. "No spiders, no bandits, no orcs. You're just as safe here as you would be back in Mirkwood."
The elf snorted. "Not the most comforting of comparisons."
Aragorn had to agree with a laugh. Mirkwood wasn't exactly the safest of forests. "Rivendell, then," he said.
"Oh? So you've drugged me again?" Legolas asked sarcastically, glancing up at the ranger.
"Legolas," Aragorn shook his head, turning back to his piles of herbs as though to figure out yet another poultice to help his friend. "My father only drugs his patients when it's absolutely necessary."
"I suppose it must always be necessary, then?"
"With some patients. Elf-princes included."
Legolas snorted in reply. "Are you all right?" he asked, suddenly realizing he didn't know if Aragorn had been injured. Any injuries the man had he would have hidden, particularly if he felt Legolas had been hurt more severely.
The ranger sighed deeply, a sad look on his face. "I'm fine. The bandits...they didn't hurt me."
Doing his best to fix his friend with an incredulous look, Legolas frowned. "Are you sure?" he asked again, not liking the pained look on Aragorn's face. It would be just like the ranger to be lying about his own wounds.
Aragorn stood up, turning away from the bed to tend to the fire. He was silent for several minutes, resting one arm against the wall and staring down at the blazing logs. "Legolas, Dor—that man beat you. You could have died, and I was helpless to stop it," he finally said.
The elf struggled to a sitting position, wrapping one arm around his still-tender ribs with a wince. "Aragorn, it's not your fault," he said, not quite believing he was having this conversation with his friend. "You couldn't have stopped him."
"I could have tried!" Aragorn turned back around, his eyes grieved. "Legolas, that man could have killed you and I did nothing. I let them knock me unconscious and drag me out of the room."
"Let them?" Had the situation been different, Legolas might have laughed aloud. Instead he gasped as pain shot through his still-healing ribs and collapsed back against the bed. "I was unaware you had any choice in the matter."
Aragorn shook his head, kneeling beside Legolas to make sure he hadn't inadvertently re-injured himself. "I should have been able to stop them."
"I'm glad you didn't," Legolas shot back. "Aragorn, he would have beat me no matter what you did, I could see it in his eyes," he shuddered inwardly. He did not cherish that memory. "But what would have happened if he had done the same to you? Neither of us would have survived."
The ranger sighed, sitting back on his heels with one hand over his eyes. "I just wish I could have stopped him."
"So do I," Legolas said wryly. "Now, can we please get out of here? The decor aside, I do not wish to finish my convalescence in a place called The Boar's Head."
Aragorn chuckled. Legolas was referring to the large, bristly boar's head that hung in the common room. It was old and ragged-looking from hanging over the fire for too many years, and from a number of drinks that had been "accidentally" thrown over it ("wash the boar", they'd discovered, was a popular game among some of the patrons when they'd had too much ale).
"Perhaps in a day or two. You need to rest."
Legolas groaned. "Very well." Actually, sleeping did sound like a good idea—though he was loathe to admit so to his friend.
The ranger laughed. "You do not need to look so discontent, Legolas," he said lightly. "At least we are not in danger of being waylaid by bandits this time."
Reviews? Flames? Tar and Feathers?
AN: You know, if I didn't know any better I'd say that last sentence was somewhat ominous...