Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search
swiss replica watches replica watches uk Replica Rolex DateJust Watches

At Hope's Edge  by Cairistiona

Chapter 12 - Repercussions

"Eledh, the wind is too strong!" Aragorn called. "Get down from there before it blows you to Rohan!"

Eledh sat back on his haunches, glaring at the sky, then waved a hand to show he had heard. The wind had been steadily rising as the afternoon wore on, and now it was tearing the bundles of thatching out of Eledhís hands before he could fasten them down. With the deepening chill and the smell of fast approaching snow, Aragorn had called him in, fearing Eledhís sense of responsibility would keep him on the roof until he froze in place. Eledh left the roof in the same method as he had when Denladís spider startled him, sliding down to land on the haystack. He followed Aragorn into the cabin, warming his hands over the fire while Aragorn stirred it to life and added another log. "Well, that roof job isnít pretty, but it should be waterproof, for a while, anyway. She needs real thatchers, not a bunch of men more skilled at hacking at orcs with swords than fixing roofs."

"I doubt any thatchers will be by until spring, so whatever work you have done Iím sure will be appreciated." Aragorn dug into his pack and found his small bag of coins. He tossed it lightly, wishing it had more weight. "Iíll leave her some money to pay for the real thatchers to redo what we cobble together."

"We can all pitch in a bit," he offered, eyeing the nearly empty bag. "Iím not sure you have enough."

Aragorn shook his head. "No, you men need your money for your own homes and families. I have enough, fear not."

Eledh shrugged and turned around to warm his backside. "Itís definitely blowing in a storm. I saw snow approaching from the northwest, and approaching fast. As soon as I get something to eat, I will head out with Denlad and send Halbarad and Galadh back in. I doubt orcsíll be about in this weather, but sure as I say that, theyíll come swarming in like devouring insects."

"Then do not say it," Aragorn retorted.

Eledh laughed and then settled himself in a chair. Aragorn tucked some coins in a crack between the mantel and the wall, where hopefully they would go unnoticed until long after they were gone, then limped to the set of shelves Neala used as a larder and found a loaf of bread and a ham. He handed the bread to Eledh and cut off a thick slice of ham. "Nealaís generosity seems to have no bounds. She told us to help ourselves, but I worry that she doesnít really understand how much food five hungry men can eat."

Eledh plied his knife and soon had a large slice of bread in his hand. "Perhaps after the storm is passed, Galadh and I can do a little hunting, although game is likely to be scarce if this turns into a right blizzard," he mumbled around a large bite.

Aragorn nodded. He felt the weight of delay pressing on his patience. His own health, the repairs to the farm, replenishing Nealaís food... each seemed to add more and more days to the time when they could depart and resume their hunt of the NazgŻl. He felt an urgency to leave now, before the storm hit, but he knew that was only his impatience speaking. It would be reckless and deadly to venture out with a blizzard nearly on their doorstep. Without meaning to, he sighed.

"Aragorn? Is all well with you?"

Aragorn shrugged. "Merely chafing at delay. I would like to have been heading out tomorrow, but there seems little chance of that, with the weather turning ill. But perhaps the storm will not be as bad as it looks. I would like to leave no later than the day after tomorrow."

"And do you think Halbarad will agree to that?"

Aragorn smiled grimly. "Halbarad better, if he knows his place."

"Oh, he knows his placeĖhovering over you like a very stubborn and ugly mother hen. Denlad nearly had to put him in a headlock to get him to take some rest those two days when you were lost to this world. I can foresee a very loud argument ensuing when you tell him we are leaving so soon."

"It hardly takes the gift of foresight to predict that," Aragorn muttered. Eledh was right. There was a good probability that Halbarad would dig in his very large heels and refuse to let Aragorn leave, unless perhaps it was to Rivendell.

And perhaps that was the wisest course. But his last departure from his childhood home had been.... He frowned as he searched for the right word. It had not been contentious, exactly, but he had felt keenly an unspoken anger coursing through his father. Elrond had not spoken openly about anything, but always there lay between them Aragornís love for Arwen, and their betrothal, and it did not seem to Aragorn to be a leap in logic to assume that somehow the betrothal had been the cause of Elrondís silent fury. Truth was, Elrond had looked so dark and forbidding that Aragorn feared he might not be welcomed back with open arms ever again.

He shook himself. Any reluctance to face his father mattered little compared to the fact that the wraith was no doubt still lurking along the river somewhere. Even had his last visit home been ended on a cheerful note, Aragorn was loathe to simply leave the settlements to whatever doom awaited them. No, they would leave, and leave soon, and it would be to the south and west, not the south and east. And Halbarad would simply have to accept the order of his chieftain.

Eledh eyed Aragorn, seeming to read his thoughts. "If you need me to, Iíll do the beating. I doubt youíre strong enough to take on Halbarad just yet."

"Hopefully it will not come to that."

"You donít know how worried Halbarad is about you."

The door flew open and Denlad entered with a rush of cold air. He slammed the door shut and shivered. "The snow is starting to fall already. Come on, Elf Maid. Our turn to watch. Think of itĖwe can hurl snowballs at the wraith!"

"Iíd like to hurl something at you," Eledh muttered but he shoved the last bites of his ham into his mouth, strapped on his sword and gathered his coat. He slung his quiver and his bow over his shoulder and then tossed a salute toward Aragorn as he headed out the door. Denlad shot Aragorn a grin and followed. Aragorn shook his head as their bickering voices receded into the eveningís gloom. Much as he hated to see any of his men upset, he couldnít help but think that it was much more peaceful when Denlad was quiet and morose.

A few minutes later the door blew open again and Aragorn gave up trying to stay warm by the fire and instead snatched a blanket off the cot and wrapped it around his shoulders. Galadh and Halbarad trooped in, stamping snow from their boots and brushing white flakes from their hair.

"The snow is already around my ankles," Halbarad said. "Weíre in for it, Iím thinking. I told Eledh and Denlad to stick close. If it continues to worsen, they might as well come back into the house. They wonít be able to see their hands in front of their faces, let alone see or hear approaching orcs, not over the howl of that wind, if even there are any orcs foolish enough to be about in such weather."

"Where did you post them?"

"Eledhís by the stables. Denladís on the north side of the small house. Theyíve both got ropes to guide them back here." He shot a questioning look at Aragorn. "What went on between those two today? You should have heard Eledhís laugh when I sent Denlad to the north side of the house. Denlad will be staring straight into the teeth of the wind, and itís not like Eledh to laugh at anotherís misery."

"Do you really want to know?"

Halbarad considered for a moment. "No. No, youíre right. Itís best not to know."

"How about Neala and Randir? Will they be warm enough?"

"I piled enough wood inside their door to last through a week of foul weather. She assured me they had plenty of food, and that the house was snug. They should be fine."

"And the horses?"

"In the stable, and Iíve strung a rope between here and there, to keep any of us wandering off blind to be lost on the plains," Galadh said, glancing at the snow scouring the windows white. "Even that wild grey had the sense to come in out of this storm."

"Denlad will be glad to hear that. I think he has his heart set on taming it."

"If anyone can, itís Denlad," Halbarad said. He shook off his coat and draped it over a chair, setting it close to the fire beside Aragorn. "He has an uncanny way with animals, that boy."

Aragorn smiled. "ĎThat boyí has passed thirty-eight summers, Halbarad."

"A puppy," Halbarad snorted. "He still has much to learn. As do you, upstart," he added with a pointed look at Galadh, who was smiling.

"Better an upstart than ancient. Weíll be kitting you out with a cane and a blanket for your knees before too long." Galadh reddened as he glanced at Aragorn, who was now seated with a blanket across his knees that he hastily pulled off. "I am sorry, sir."

"Upstart," Aragorn growled, cuffing Galadh on the back of the head. He limped to the fireplace and tossed in yet another log. He hid his smile as Galadh found a sudden pressing need to sweep up fallen snow from the floor near the door.

Halbarad stood up and put his coat back on. "I think, since it looks as though weíll be holed up for at least a day, that Iíll bring some things from the stable in that we can work on repairing. Keep us from lunging at each othersí throats from all this enforced togetherness."

He left in a swirling gust of snowy wind and Galadh continued to avoid Aragorn by furiously sweeping up the additional snow. Aragorn chuckled softly and sat back in his chair. He did not, however, drape the blanket across his knees. He stared into the fire, feeling the heat on his face and hands. He was grateful for the sensation, but how he wished the warmth could touch the cold that still lurked in the center of his being. He frowned and switched his gaze to his hands.

"Aragorn," Galadh said tentatively. "I apologize. Truly, I never meant for that crack to be aimed at you."

"Your jest did not trouble me." Aragorn forced a rueful smile. "But I do feel a bit old, of late."

Galadh pulled the chair around and straddled it backwards, folding his arms across the back of it and resting his chin on his forearm. He regarded Aragorn, his dark eyes grave. "I do not think age has anything to do with how you feel. A man of younger years than even Mallor would be feeling sore and a bit old, had he gone through such a thing."

"I suppose."

Galadh nodded, his burst of loquaciousness apparently over. They fell silent, each man lost in his thoughts. Aragorn listened to the wind howling across the roof. The house occasionally shuddered as a blast hit the north side. He thought of Denlad and Eledh, out in the midst of it, and stirred. "We need to get Denlad and Eledh inside. Theyíll freeze to death if we donít, and unless orcs have changed their habits completely, they wonít be traveling in such weather."

Galadh leaped to his feet, as though eager for something to do other than sit glumly staring into the fire. He said nothing, but grabbed his cloak, and with a gust of wind and a slamming door, Aragorn was alone with thoughts that too easily turned down dark pathways. He chided himself for brooding and went back to the table. He pulled his knife out and started cutting slices of ham for the rest of the men. By the time he started on the bread, the door swung open. He expected it to be Galadh with Eledh and Denlad, but when he heard a soft clinking noise, he glanced up and saw it was Halbarad. He looked at what Halbarad held in his hands and froze.

Chains.

His chest suddenly felt tight as the room seemed to darken. No. This is not my nightmare. He merely has brought in some broken chains to fix. This is not my nightmare.

"Aragorn?" Halbarad asked. "Are you well?"

Aragorn blinked and tried to still his pounding heart. "I," he started, but his mouth had gone bone dry. He coughed, tried to banish this illogical fear that shook his limbs and stole his breath. "Iím fine. You just startled me."

Halbarad came closer, the chains still in his hands. Aragorn could not stop himself from taking a step backwards. His hand closed tighter around the knife. He could not take his eyes off the chains.

"Aragorn? Are you sure? You look ill..."

Halbaradís voice seemed to come from a long way off, muffled by the sound of Aragornís own pulse raging in his ears. "Halbarad, I..." He took another deep breath and sternly told himself to get hold of himself. But those chains... he could almost feel their cold embrace pinning him. Trapping him like an animal.

Like a sacrifice.

Halbarad grasped his arm with his free hand and something inside Aragorn snapped. "No!" He jerked his arm free from Halbaradís grip and some small voice of sanity screamed at him to not use the knife do not use the knife so he dropped it but at the same time shoved Halbarad away from him, hard. Halbarad let out a startled cry and dropped the chains as he scrambled to keep his balance. He staggered into a chair, knocking it over, then went down on top of it with a loud grunt when his feet tangled in the rungs.

At the sound of the chains hitting the floor, reason suddenly returned to Aragornís mind. He stood blinking, unsure what had just happened. "Halbarad, I... Iím sorry."

Halbarad disentangled himself from the chair and accepted Aragornís hand as he hauled him upright. "Iím sure I have no idea what that was all about," he said, eyeing Aragorn warily. "But I expect youíll tell me. What did you think I was going to do?"

Aragorn shakily sank onto the chair Halbarad just righted. His foot inadvertently kicked the chains piled on the floor and he couldnít help flinching.

"Itís these chains, isnít it?" Halbarad said. He started to pick them up, thought better of it, and shoved them away with his foot. He squatted down in front of Aragorn and looked up into his face. "Tell me what terror struck you when you saw me carrying those chains. For it was terror I saw in your eyes, no doubt about it, and terror lingers yet."

Aragorn rubbed his face. Several long minutes passed before he finally spoke. "It is a nightmare. One that I keep having over and over, ever since fighting the NazgŻl. It started during those two days I was under the spell of the shadow, of the Black Breath. Before you found the athelas. I was floating in a black sea, and then when I crawled ashore, I saw you coming. I-I thought you were there to help." He scrubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands, then stared bleakly at the fire. How he hated putting the horrible memories into words, admitting his weakness, his inability to overcome such a stupid trifle as nightmares. But he owed Halbarad an explanation. He finished with a rush. "But you had chains, and you bound me and carried me into Mordor and handed me over to Sauron."

Halbaradís eyes widened. For a moment he seemed unable to speak, but he finally found his voice. "Aragorn, surely you know I would never do such a thing."

"Of course I do," he snapped, then moaned. "I am sorry. But something has... there is a dark..." He ground to a halt, digging his hands into his hair as if he could force clarity and calm into his scattered wits by pressing against his scalp. He let out a frustrated, inarticulate growl. "I canít explain it, but itís as though something black... some malevolent and fearful thing... still lingers in my mind. I think I have it bested but when I least expect it, it suddenly rises up and consumes me." He turned stricken eyes to Halbaradís, his voice dropping to a strident whisper. "I do not know how to fight it."

Halbarad chewed his lip. "Aragorn, now more than ever you must realize that we have to get you to Rivendell, to your father. He will know how to help you."

Aragorn immediately shook his head. "He will not wantĖ"

"No, Aragorn. He will welcome you back, as he always does."

"But he was so angryĖ"

Halbarad stilled him with an upraised hand. "Aragorn, you are his son. In every way but by blood. He has never turned you away, nor will he now. Not when you need help, no matter how angry he may be with you on other matters. I know that you must realize that." Halbarad paused and then placed a hand on Aragornís shoulder. "I fear that the NazgŻlís evil has somehow blinded you to the fact that he loves you."

Aragorn squeezed his eyes shut when they suddenly burned with unexpected tears. "I am not blinded. I know that he loves me," he whispered. He took a shaky breath and swiped a hand across his eyes. "But our path cannot turn to Rivendell yet. I cannot leave our people undefended."

"But we are not strong enough to face them again ourselves, and you especially are not. It would do our people no good if our chieftain were killed, and Middle-earth cannot lose the Heir. We can get help from Rivendell. Elladan and Elrohir will come, and surely other warriorsĖ"

Aragorn cut him off. "I have no doubt they will come and glad I would be for their swords, but I will not run back to my father like some child who cannot handle his own troubles." He stood and limped to the fireplace, cursing the pain in his ankle and the pain in his chest and every ache in every muscle and most of all the evil that plagued the river even as it plagued his own sanity. He glared back at Halbarad. "I cannot run away, and I will not run away. I will not let this thing defeat me! We will leave as soon as the weather breaks."

Galadh, Eledh and Denlad chose that moment to pile through the doorway. As they shook off coats and laughed at the snow dusting their beards and eyebrows and lashes, they only gradually noticed the tension that seemed to vibrate the very air between Aragorn and Halbarad. Denlad nudged other two. "Quiet, fools, " he hissed. The three of them fell silent.

Aragorn barely glanced at them before glaring back at Halbarad, who wisely said nothing more. Aragorn knew Halbaradís silence was only temporary. But at least at the moment, Halbarad was showing the good sense to hold his tongue. Aragorn walked over to him and said quietly, "We will discuss this later."

Halbarad raised an eyebrow. "Of that I have no doubt. But for now, I suggest you sit down before you fall down. Iíll get the food."

A ghost of a smile flitted across Aragornís face, then he bowed his head in acceptance of the temporary truce and retreated to the table.

Eledh, having watched the quiet exchange, sat down across from Aragorn and gave him a wry look. "So," he said, "how loudly did the ugly mother hen squawk?"

Aragorn suddenly laughed. He looked at Halbarad, who looked back at him with no little amount of confusion on his face. "Loudly, Eledh. I am surprised you did not hear it over the noise of the wind."

Denlad scooped up the chains. "Where did these come from?"

Aragorn tensed, but Halbarad immediately moved between the table and Denlad so Aragornís view was blocked. "Toss them back out on the porch. I was going to fix them, but," he added with a quick but pointed glance over his shoulder at Aragorn, "theyíre not worth saving."

As Denlad walked out of the house, Aragorn met Halbaradís gaze and nodded his thanks. But from the grim look he received in return, Aragorn knew the fight was far from over.





<< Back

Next >>

Leave Review
Home     Search     Chapter List