And In the Darkness Bind Them
"They gave absolutely no warning, Lord Uncle." Èowyn stated, straightening from her place where she'd been kneeling beside Freda's chair as the young girl ate. "The villagers were unarmed. The Wildmen move through westfold now, razing every field, tree and stone they come upon."
The king ran a hand over his face, blinking tiredly. They were in a room closed off from the grand hall of the rest of the feast. Laughing and merriment could be heard through the walls. He sat in a regal chair at the head of a narrow table that was laden with a meal of it's own. Seated along the sides were what remained of the Fellowship; Legolas and Gimli were having a debate about the differences between dwarfish and elvish cuisine, Aragorn was in a chair near the king, holding a conversation with the man's nephew; Gandalf sat with stiff shoulders and joined Boromir in taking turns at stealing curious glances over at Viper, who was leaning against the opposite end of the table with his arms crossed, watching Freda and Èothan avidly while the two children consumed their meals.
"Mama said she'd meet us here," Freda mumbled. Èothan shook his head and told her to eat the the rest of her vegetables, before shooting a quick glance over at Viper, who watched them. The teen blinked at him, before cracking a smile and giving a nod of approval. The boy sat straighter, scooping another fork-full of greens into his mouth. Boromir, from where he leaned against the table beside Aragorn, tilted his head inquisitively.
"We cannot risk open war, at the time," The king said, deep in thought. He gave a minute shake of his head as he stared down into his chalice. "It would bring further death to my people."
"This isn't war against one nation, your majesty," Boromir sighed, shifting in place. "The darkness is closing in on all of those in Arda. They aim to bring suffering to not only Gondor, but also Rohan, and any other place they can reach their claws out to grasp."
"This Dark Lord will not stop until he has you all," Viper warned, and Théoden turned to give him an assessing gaze. The teen straightened, waving a dismissive hand. "You can ignore it all you want, sir. Feel free to stay closed up in your own land as the rest of the world falls to the shadows. But once the other nations are torn down to brittle dust and graves, what will be left? Who do you think they will go after next?"
The rest of them were silent, and Freda and Èothan stared up at them all with disturbed, wide-eyed stares.
Viper crossed his arms and continued, "A war is two groups pitted against one another in a battle for rights—be it rights for land, for people, for wealth. It's a competition, with a victor and a loser." The teen's eyes narrowed. "This isn't war. This is a massacre. This is evil marching up to your very door and initiating an attack, with every intention to annihilate you and all that pertains to you. Your cities will crumble, your men, women, and children will be shredded to pieces. They will leave nothing behind. This isn't a war; there is no loser here, only a victor—because the victor will erase the defeated from the very place that they stand."
Théoden frowned, setting his drink down. The chalice hit the table with a thud. "My people are still recovering—"
"The enemy will not wait for you to recover." Viper insisted, growing irritated. He walked over and slapped his hands on the table, palms planted against the wood. He leaned forward and sent the king a narrowed gaze. Everyone stilled, and even Gimli had stopped eating to stare at him. Èothan and Freda glanced between Viper and their king and bit their lips nervously.
"Your world is in danger, king of Rohan. Instead of the nations fighting amongst one another, however, it should be all of them, united against this malevolent force. Sauron's." The teen tilted his head thoughtfully. "Of course, you could just sit here, and recover, and wait until you have an army of orcs and uruk-hai on your front steps. There will be no help, then, because the rest of Arda will be dead. And you will be all alone."
Viper stood, twisted around, and leaned back against the tabled, arms crossed once again and a very indifferent expression upon his face. "So, it seems to me you have two choices, king. Either you allow your men to recover, and wait for death—or, you get on your feet and mobilize your forces, because you have a invasion to stop."
Aragorn stepped forward and placed a hesitant hand on Viper's shoulder. he looked at Théoden with determined grey eyes. "Èomer's men are still on alert. That's two thousand good warriors at the ready, your majesty. Send them out to hunt down the Wildmen, and that's one less faction of the enemy we'll all have to fight later on."
Said nephew of the king then stepped forward, face grim. "We are practically still packed, uncle. I and my men could leave within the hour, if you so pleased."
When Gandalf, Èomer, and Aragorn moved in to discuss plans, Viper spun around and walked away. As he passed Boromir he clamped a gloved hand on the other's shoulder, and glanced up with a serious look.
"Can I speak with you for a moment?" He murmured, silvery eyes glancing to the side to check on the kids, who were almost finished eating.
Boromir blinked at him, then bit his lip perhaps a bit nervously. "Oh, ah—of course."
"Splendid," the teen hummed, releasing him and striding over to crouch in between Freda and Èothan's chairs. The two little ones turned to look at him quizzically.
"Boromir and I are gonna have a little chat, kids. We'll just be right down the hall, but if you need anything don't be afraid to ask Èowyn here, alright?"
The royal niece smiled kindly at them from where she'd relocated herself into the chair beside Freda, and they glanced at her before looking back at him and nodding.
"Yes, isoveli," Èothan replied after swallowing the bite he'd been chewing down, and Freda yawned hugely from her own seat.
"'Kay," she agreed.
The foreign word made Viper grin delightedly and ruffle their hair, and they pushed his hands away with sleepy, put-upon looks. He chuckled, then turned to leave.
Meeting Boromir in the corridor outside the room, they walked beside one another silently until they reached the Son of Denethor's guest suite in the Southwest wing of the Keep. He held the door open for Viper to walk through, then shut it firmly behind them.
Viper clenched his teeth, and took a deep, slow breath. He collapsed onto the bed and turned a serious gaze onto Boromir, who still stood before the closed door.
"You read my journal," Viper said, cutting straight to the point. Boromir shifted guiltily, biting his lip.
"I did," he admitted. His face then gained a puzzled overcast. "But, I cannot recall anything from it. I remember that I knew what I was reading, when I was reading it, but after I closed the book…"
"—Everything turned fuzzy, and you couldn't remember what you'd read." Viper finished, voice dull. He rolled over onto his back and stared up at the ceiling.
Boromir sighed. "All I know is that whatever I read caused me to be incredibly sorrowful, and somewhat horrified. There were pages over which I wept, and others that made me laugh, but what I know for certain is that… You didn't deserve what had happened to you."
The man gave a frustrated sound when Viper turned an incredulous gaze onto him, eyes wide.
"Even though I don't remember what exactly happened to you. I remember my thoughts on it, more clearly than I remember the subject on which I was thinking. Whatever it was that I read, I wished desperately that it wasn't so."
Viper gritted his teeth together. "How can you say that? You don't know if I did something to deserve it or not, do you? Maybe I did do something, something horrible. Maybe what I did was so horrible that I did deserve it."
"I can't say that I know," Boromir answered truthfully. "I do not know. I barely know who you are, Viper; you have so many secrets. You are a complete stranger to me, but for some reason when I see you I feel the same as if I were seeing my younger brother."
"Why?" Viper pressed, brows furrowed.
Boromir only shook his head, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm not entirely certain, really. But it is there. And I can't just ignore it, can I? Your character is ever-changing, Viper, and we can hardly tell how you're going to react to anything at all. But something bad has happened to you before now, and whatever it was, you didn't deserve it."
The teen stared at him skeptically, before giving a loud huff and flopping back against the pillow, throwing his arms up over his face to cover his eyes.
"Not that it matters," the boy—and that word just didn't seem right, now, even though he'd used it to describe Viper before, and Boromir was uncertain as to why—muttered darkly to himself. "It's already happened. Can't do anything to change it."
Boromir hesitantly crossed the room and took a seat at the foot of the bed. He took in his friend's relaxed posture and suddenly realized that he wasn't as relaxed as he looked to be. His shoulders were rigid, in fact, his back straight even as he tried to sink into the blankets. His hands had formed fists without his knowing and the sides of his arms were pressed too tightly against his face to be honestly comfortable. Boromir sighed silently and wrapped his own arms around the bedpost, resting his chin against the backs of his hands.
"You… are not angry that I read it?"
Viper peeked up at him curiously from beneath his forearms. "Well, you can't even remember what it said, can you?"
"Well, no," the man agreed, before frowning. "Whenever I try to think of it, all I can remember are words that are certainly not written in a tongue I can read. But I know I understood it when I was reading it…"
Viper grinned tiredly. "Magic, Bor. Sometimes I can't remember what language I wrote in, exactly, since it's been so long since I wrote it. I mean, I don't have a perfect memory, after all. Far from it! So I have some magic that makes all the words make sense. Not that I do go back and read it, anymore," the teen said, looking uncomfortable at the very thought. Suddenly, he pinned his friend with an unreadable look.
"If I…" he began softly, then cleared his throat and continued in a stronger voice, "If I allowed you to remember what you read… would you hate me?"
Boromir stared at him, affronted. "I could never hate you, Viper." He said vehemently.
Viper glared at him, annoyance flashing across his face. "Well then, if I killed that brother of yours?"
"You wouldn't kill Faramir," he denied immediately, eyes widening just barely. Viper pursed his lips and breathed in a deep, calming breath.
"But if I did?" He asked, gaze intent.
Boromir paused, eyes on the floor as he thought the scenario over. "I suppose…" he began slowly, "that right after the incident, I would be furious, yes. But, once I had the time to calm and pay respects… I suppose it would depend on why you did it."
Viper sat up, moving onto his knees. He crawled forward across the mattress and reached out a hand to lift Boromir's chin so they were face to face. With absolutely nothing to show in his eyes, he asked a question that sent shivers racing down the Son of Denethor's spine.
"What if... I did it just for fun?"
"Where did Viper go?" Aragorn mused, gaze rising from the rim of his goblet to survey the rest of the smaller hall. This room was much quieter, thankfully, and though he could still hear the echoes of the festivities in the greater feast hall, the ranger and soon-to-be king savored this rare moment of peace.
Oh, he knew it wouldn't last very long, not with a war on the horizon. Théoden had already made plans for his nephew and his warriors to ride out as soon as the sun rose that next morning. Just the barest idea of the coming tragedies, however, made his stomach churn unpleasantly, and so he turned his thoughts to simpler things.
The king had left the halls to join the celebration feast, Gandalf on his heels. The two children were before the fire in the hearth, listening to a soft story from Èowyn's lips, while Gimli sat not far away from them and tried not to look interested in her song. Legolas, ever the silent elf, was curled up on one of the more comfortable looking benches pushed against the far wall, head buried in his forearms as he dozed quietly. Aragorn sat back in his own seat with a slow, drawn out sigh that stirred up the oxygen at the very bottom of his lungs, and closed his eyes. The knowledge that Gandalf was off with Théoden in just the other room—and he could practically feel as Viper and Boromir approached the door that lead into the outer halls (there he is, his mind told him)—caused the tense line of muscles in his shoulders to relax ever so slightly. Just enough that Aragorn felt like he was almost melting into the oaken wood underneath him.
He was relieved. There may be a long battle ahead of them all, one that promised death and horrors unspoken of, but in this very moment Aragorn couldn't help but unwind. Gandalf and Viper were alive, he told himself, almost unable to believe the thought even though he himself had embraced them both not two hours before. It felt like only the day before that he had watched the both of them tumble off that cliff-edge and into the deep pit that the balrog had been forced into. The ranger was quite certain that he hadn't even allowed himself time to properly grieve the two magical men before they were back, each of them with that infuriating, knowing glimmer in their eyes.
Viper, he thought, and mentally shook himself. He'd been absolutely convinced the teen would have chosen to stay in Valinor. Who wouldn't? What warrior, with the temptation of eternal rest and peace would knowingly turn that chance down? One, young such as Viper was- -even young as Aragorn himself- -who had experienced things that Aragorn was sure he wouldn't be able to even comprehend properly (a rather morbid thought crossed his mind, that Viper seemed to experience all of the most exciting things that life could throw at him, and Aragorn aggressively smacked it away with mental agitation). Viper, under all pretenses, should have decided to stay in Valinor. Where it was safe, and well, and warm, and… content. All things that the ranger had a deep, quiet but nonetheless disturbing idea that Viper had never actually fully experienced before.
He felt like he'd gotten whiplash, almost, at the reality that those two were alive and well and back within his reach. Aragorn rubbed tiredly at his eyes, feeling just so utterly exhausted from it all. It wasn't every day, after all, that friends you'd thought dead suddenly came back into your life, bright and smiling and still spouting off their annoyingly cryptic sayings.
It wasn't only Gandalf and Viper, either. Boromir, whom Aragorn had seen felled by an orc's arrow dipped in that dark and disgusting poison, with his own eyes. The very same Boromir that Aragorn had performed a hastily-done rite of burial over, and had left bleeding on on the grassy, wooded floor. Boromir who, if Aragorn had what little of the story he'd heard right, had been saved by Tharbadir and a rock, of all things.
Yet another irritating person that Aragorn had wished the departure of multiple times, and had ended up extremely dissatisfied with the method in which they'd actually departed. Yes, they were some of the most irritating beings he'd ever come across; all snarky and wit and heavy presence and infuriatingly soothing voice, all haughtiness and smarts and reluctantly observed skill and thinly veiled insults that bordered on fond teasing, all hidden smiles and silent, unwanted companionship and horrible, horrible timing. Everything that he'd ever found undesirable in any of them had suddenly seemed incomprehensibly small in the face of their abrupt and unwelcome demises.
He hadn't wanted to lose a single member of the Fellowship more. So it seemed, neither had Legolas nor Gimli; he'd seen it, in the way they mirrored his absolute determination in following the Uruk-hais' trail all the way to Isengard in order to rescue the only two small, barefooted friends they had left, after losing the other two to a different path.
He still hadn't found them. Pippin and Merry were still out there, apparently safe if what Gandalf the White said was to be true. Which, Aragorn had absolutely no reason not to trust him other than the fact that, since the wizard had been promoted, he'd become just a level more unbearable- -something Aragorn hadn't thought was possible. So Pippin and Merry were safe, yes, but that still didn't mean that Aragorn knew where they were or how they were doing for certain.
The Fellowship, while still whole and assumably none the worse for, was still unmistakably broken and not together. A fact that made the ranger tense and unable to relax completely.
Releasing a pent-up sigh at last, Aragorn took another swig of the goblet in his hand, draining it of the last of it's drink, before carefully tossing it the three feet it took to reach the long, room-length table. It clattered onto it's side in a muffled sort of way, but he ignored it in favor of tilting his head back, rubbing his crown a bit into the grainy wood, and settling back for a short nap.
Of course, he wasn't to get very far in that endeavor, which only made Aragorn curse Legolas' ability to purposefully ignore his surroundings at will.
"Pssst," A familiar and, though not entirely unwelcome, still immediately not wished for, voice whispered at his shoulder. "Strider, don't fall asleep on dead trees."
Heaving yet another deep sigh, Aragorn relented and opened one eye, taking in the room once more. Gimli had given up all pretenses of 'manly dwarfishness' and was curled up with the two Rohan children before the fire, listening to Eowyn's story, which sounded as if it was coming to an end. Legolas, to Aragorn's quiet ire, had been allowed to sleep and was left alone, though Boromir still sat next to him on the same bench the elf was stretched out on. At the sight of the sandy-haired son of the Gondorian Steward, Aragorn opened both his dark eyes and narrowed them in contemplation.
Something was just a tad bit off about Boromir. He'd seen it before when they'd all met in the greater hall, where Viper had chosen to surprise them all by being alive and accompanied by two small human children (that in all honesty he wouldn't have been Aragorn's first choice to be given the responsibility of, in any other circumstance, but was doing a surprisingly fantastic job of it.)
Boromir had taken on an edge of some sort, that hadn't been there any other time he'd been in Aragorn's presence. It had had a sharpened point of sorrow, and perhaps a small line of pity buried down deep. There had been a sadness in his eyes, and Aragorn had caught the barest hint of guilt when Boromir had come to draw Viper into that long-lasting embrace.
The look was still there, gleaming at the very corner of Boromir's eyes, but this time that guilt, while still going strong and unblemished, was joined by a firmer veil of quiet unease.
"Striderrr," the teen hovering over him whined, sotto voce. Puffing his cheeks out in a gentle sort of frustration, Aragorn turned to pin the raven-haired teen with a flat look.
"The frames of beds are most usually crafted from wood," he shot at the silver-eyed irritation, sealing his eyes shut once more and trying to get more comfortable in his perch.
Viper pulled up short. The magical young man tilted his head for a moment, a quiet frown pulling between his brows, before his silver eyes showed realization.
"Funny, Strider." Aragorn received a shove to the shoulder, to which he responded with discontent grumbling as he uncurled himself and sat up straight, giving into defeat and mourning the loss of his earlier nap.
Viper nudged him over some more and nearly collapsed on the bench next to him, leaning over to nuzzle his face into Aragorn's shoulder. The ranger rolled his eyes with a sigh and lifted an arm to give the teen more access- -once Viper had used them each as a heating furnace in the snow, he'd quite plainly gotten over his aversion to physical contact. They'd all discovered that Viper was quite starved for touch, in fact, and it was a discovery they were not sure they really had wanted to discover in the first place. At least, not the cause of.
Aragorn allowed Viper to cling neatly to his side, legs tucked underneath his slender and compact form. The ranger frowned vaguely as Viper cozied up to him, snuggling himself in between him and the fire- -which was throwing off Aragorn's perception, surely, because Viper felt a tad warmer than Aragorn thought he rightly should. Viper's skin was usually quite cold to the touch, a fact that Legolas often bemoaned (especially when it had been his turn to be Viper's mobile heat source). Now, however, Viper felt almost warmer than Aragorn himself would be on a normal day.
He reached out a hand and gently prodded the huddled teen's forearm. "Viper, are you well?"
Cue more lethargic nuzzling of the arm that Viper held captive.
"...I'm sleepy, s'all," the teen responded in a delayed fashion, which made Aragorn's eyes narrow. The ranger pushed out another sigh and leaned back, deciding to drill the boy later- -Viper wasn't kidding around, he definitely sounded just as exhausted as Aragorn felt.
In fact, Aragorn observed as he took in the sight of Gimli and the children lazily curled up before the fire with Eowyn, and Boromir slowly but surely sliding down to lean against Legolas with half-lidded eyes, it seemed they all were due for a good long rest.
Oh god. it's so short and I know it's tiny and worthless but this is LITERALLY all I've been able to write since the end of last chapter. That's what, 3 years?! I'm so sorry you guys
tbh I wasn't gonna post it until I'd finished it to my usual goal of 10,000 minimum words a chapter, but you've all been waiting so long for this already and it's Thanksgiving and I just I'm so thankful for all of you who have stuck but this?
Im not gonna make any excuses for why I haven't been updating nearly at all. I have a few I could name, really. I could say I've been writing madly a thousand stories in Google Doc and haven't posted any of them out of crippling fear of rejection? My writing style has changed drastically, I think. Especially since I was 11, which was when I began planning this story (holy shit). I am now a month shy of my eighteenth birthday and all I want out of life is to get this freaking story over with so that I have a complete base to work off of when I completely overhaul rewrite it so that it is actually GOOD... I would have just rewrites it and left this one, but there are some of you out there who like this story for what is is now and I didn't wanna leave you forever hanging, never with an ending to THIS.
I could say that I've recently realized I stopped updating things during the year where I was hit with heavy depression, a depressions that really just stopped my will to live completely for a few months there. Looking back I now realize that I should have been very terrified of what I could have done to myself in that time period. I wasn't in a very good place. Thankfully I feel that I've come past that now, though depression isn't a thing that just goes away.
I want to finish this story. I want to finish all 20 gift ficlets and do a second giveaway! I want that. I want to give you all what you want. I am currently on my phone, copy and pasting this to the Doc Manager on my little iPhone screen and hoping it'll work when I publish it. None of my italicizes words that I like so much transfered over to this doc...
What I'm trying to say is, uh, happy thanksgiving?! I'm thankful for all of your and your amazing support even though it's been AGES you're still here yelling at me to keep the words coming. I know this is short but maybe if I post it my muse will kick its ass into gear and let me start writing for this thing again?! I can't say for sure, that's just what I'm hoping. Hope with me ok?
and thanks so much, again, all of you. You're really great, you know that? ;3