Blood of a Brother – Choice by Abbi|
Disclaimer: *sings* If I ruled the world…I would also own a ranger and an elf…in fact several elves…this doesn’t scan with the tune, but oh well! ‘Till then I can dream.
Summary: When a trick goes horribly wrong Aragorn is forced to make a terrible choice that will tear his family and life apart. But how can you choose between life and death for your brothers?
Rating: PG13, I guess, for safety. There shouldn’t be anything that bad in it, except for a little physical hurt and a bit of language. ‘Surely not!’ I hear you cry, ‘Language in a story?’ Well, you know what I mean. I hope you do, ‘cause I don’t.
Acknowledgements: To whoever ‘betaed’ this, and to the one who came up with this title in the first place :D
Author’s Note: This idea got me thinking; we were forced to choose a title out of three excellent ones. As expected I picked the angsty one. It was written, if you care, whilst listening to the very excellent Bryan Adams song ‘This is where I belong’ as featured in the ‘Remember How to Smile’ trailer, which I am now in love with and am playing at this moment on repeat. ;)
And it’s dedicated to a very dear friend of mine with problems bigger than himself; who is in danger at this point of his life and terrified to go to school in case he’s crippled for life by those thugs. Little Ben, (as opposed to Just Ben) I know you’ll never read this, but I’m sorry I’m not at your school. And I’m sorry I’m such a useless friend. I hope you learn you can count on me mellon nin. =D
Sorry about that, on with the story…
He dropped to the ground, fist clenching around the dust that stirred as he disturbed the pale earth around him.
“You are *not* planning on wearing that, are you?” asked Legolas, the faintest trickle of amusement audible in his voice, nudging his gwador as the human examined the hat in front of a mirror.
“It’s not…that bad…” remarked Elrohir from his place on top of the wardrobe.
“No, it is.” The prince retorted. “*Erestor* would not be seen in that!”
“No, I wouldn’t,” the advisor in question said as he passed the door.
Aragorn shook his head and took it off. “No, he’s right,” the human sighed, “if even Erestor wouldn’t wear it I’m in big trouble.”
“And I heard that too.” said Erestor again, passing the door a second time.
The three exchanged looks. That adviser could be scary sometimes.
“I am going to kill my mother!”
“Well…it’s alright, really…”
His brother shot him a dark look. “Easy for you to say, you don’t have to wear *it*!”
*It* was a hat, but not just any hat. Oh no. This was a special hat, which, (according to Gilraen, gossip extraordinaire) was the hat Arahael himself had worn when he was fostered in Rivendell (for a family portrait) and all the heirs of Isildur had worn it since. Now this would not have been a problem (although, as Elladan had been nice enough to point out, who wants fourteen generations of smelly human lice in your hair? This was probably the reason he was not in the room and was currently stuck halfway up a tree thanks to his foster brother,) but this hat was, as Aragorn put it, ‘spawn of Morgoth himself’. In other words, it was large, frilly, edged with lace and it had a feather stuck in the brim. A large, overly decorative peacock feather. And it looked ridiculous.
“Okay, so it isn’t alright. It’s not as if it’s forever, just one portrait…”
“Which will then be hung on the walls of Imladris forever and should I ever become king, Valar forbid, copied and hung on various walls of rich families ‘til the ending of Arda!”
“Ah. I see your point.”
Legolas uncrossed his legs, giving Elrohir a playful swat to the head, and leapt down from the dresser.
“Perhaps we could customise it?” the prince mused, taking the hat in his own hands and tentatively prodding it as though it might explode at any moment.
Aragorn groaned and put his head in his hands. “Customise it? Customise it? Have you any idea what the hat is worth to the Dunedain? It’s absolutely hopeless!” he finished, sinking back into a chair.
Legolas, however, was paying little or no attention to the human. For on Elrohir’s face was an expression, a rare one that did not often come to view publicly but when it did the results were always either hilarious, dangerous or very cunning. They were always, however, agreed upon afterwards as brilliant ideas.
“I HAVE IT!” cried Elrohir leaping up as Legolas gave an unnoticed triumphant grin. “Estel, you can accidentally lose the hat, then find an excuse to leave Imladris and Dan and I will find the hat a few weeks later, tragically too late for you to be in the portrait, much as you would like to.”
“That’s a terrific idea!” shouted Aragorn. But then his face fell. “But what if I don’t lose the hat?”
“Estel, you won’t really accidentally lose it.”
Legolas patted him gently on the back. “Mellon-nin, leave everything to us.”
Outside the room the cloaked figure smiled. Perfect.
Gilraen sniffed. “It’s just…such a shame.”
“Such a tragic shame, Nana.” Aragorn agreed.
“And you’re quite sure you looked everywhere?”
“Lady Gilraen, I myself have checked countless times for it all through the room.” Legolas chimed in. Gilraen smiled a knowing smile. She had a soft spot for the little elvish prince without a mother.
“And I looked through the gardens!” added Elrohir.
“Nothing in any of the other rooms.” Elladan said, in between pulling twigs out of his very sore back and glaring at Aragorn.
“Oh dear, that is so difficult. And I cannot believe you, Aragorn. How could you lose such a valuable thing?”
“I know Nana, I’m so sorry. It was such a wonderful hat. I was so looking forward to wearing it. But alas, when I went into my room, it was gone! Someone must have loved it so much they took it.”
He wisely decided against mentioning that the only creature who would voluntarily take that thing would be a drunk badger.
“Well…I am still so ashamed of you! You’ll have to sit the portrait without it.”
“What?!” exclaimed Aragorn. That was not what he had been expecting.
Gilraen shot him a look and drew herself up to her very imposing full five foot three, and causing Aragorn to look at the ground. Of course, Gilraen being smaller than him and thus obscuring his view of the ground didn’t help.
“Aragorn son of Arathorn,” she said sternly, and the human winced. He was in trouble if she used his biological father’s name, “you are going to sit that portrait. For generations the heirs of Isildur have been painted with the family of Elrond and you too are going to sit it in that hat. That very important hat which I know you would never *dare* to lose on purpose just to avoid the portrait because you would not dare to face the consequences which would be too terrible to contemplate, would you?”
“No Nana.” he said glumly.
“And you would not want Lord Elrond to hear of this, would you?”
Aragorn visibly winced. Nana in a mood he could deal with, she never got too heavy. Lord Elrond laughing at his misfortune- that was another matter.
“No Nana, absolutely not Nana.”
“No. You would not. So what are you going to do?”
Aragorn backed away slowly, a resigned look on his face.
“Go and find it?”
Gilraen gave a magnanimous smile, winking aside, un-noticed, at one of the twins.
“Good. Then you *may* go and find it. Now.”
Aragorn kicked a rock as he stumped along the path. “So much for Elrohir and his brilliant ideas. I swear that woman knows everything.”
“Oh Estel, sweet Estel, are you entirely stupid?”
“She had quite obviously been talking to Elladan.” commented Legolas, looking up at a tree, scrutinising the climbing potential before grabbing a branch and swinging himself up.
“What?!” Aragorn repeated, gob smacked as he followed his mellon up the beech.
“Well, it seems obvious. Elladan wants revenge, my dear Estel, for he has never accessorised well with leaves or twigs, and he was the one entrusted with hiding the hat. Of course it seems only natural that he is the one who would talk to Gilraen and spill the beans. However many talents your mother may have mind-reading is not one of them.”
Aragorn paused with one hand on the branch. “How did you work that out?”
Legolas smiled. “Elementary, my dear Estel, elementary.”
“Oh dear, you’ve been reading Arwen’s books again. Alright then Chief Shirriff, work this out. Do you not think Elladan would have produced the hat then and there rather than accidentally losing it? I mean, what are the chances of him really forgetting where he hid it? Surely that’s almost a million to one chance…”
He trailed off as he noticed Legolas’s expression. “Exactly.”
The heir of Isildur flushed a deep crimson and glowered in anger.
“I am going to KILL him!”
“He is going to kill you!”
Elrohir wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead and forced himself to quench the laughter. “Oh Dan, you didn’t?”
“I did!” wheezed his brother, who was currently rolling on the leafy floor in utter hysterics.
“So when do you plan to give it back?” Elrohir was curious as he sat down next to the other twin.
“Oh I don’t know…perhaps moments before he plans to escape we might find it?”
“You are wicked, you know that?”
“I do, dear brother, I do.”
Elrohir leapt to his feet, pulling his brother up with him.
“Come on then. Let’s go find our little brother and the prince before they get suspicious.”
They started to move, when Elladan froze, feeling a cold blade press into his back. A few feet ahead his twin raised trembling hands in surrender as an arrow emerged from the bracken, aimed at his heart.
And there was no struggle.
Aragorn tore through the trees as if he were on fire, yelling out his brother’s name in absolute rage.
Then a man dropped from the trees above him and drew a sword, pointing at his chest.
Aragorn stopped dead in front of the stranger only narrowly missing being skewered. Legolas ran up behind him a few seconds later, stopping just behind him.
“What’s going on?” he asked, looking between the man and his friend confusedly.
“Oh yes. The blonde one.” the stranger spat, “Well, do yourself a favour Blondie and keep quiet, yes?” He turned back to Aragorn. “I said hello. Not feeling polite today?”
“I don’t usually make small talk with people aiming weapons at me.” Aragorn snarled back. “What do you want?” he asked, echoing the prince’s query.
“Merely to make your acquaintance further.” The man smiled, “I wonder if you would care to join me at my abode for a while?”
“Not if it was a choice between that and fighting Sauron himself.”
Legolas watched avidly; it was clear these two had met before. And they were obviously not friends. The newcomer was tall, with a dark glint in his eye, light sandy hair, and one arm cut off at the elbow.
The stranger smiled, extending the sword to just under Estel’s neck. “I didn’t say there was a choice. And I have two wonderful friends just desperate to see you.”
Something in his tone made it quite clear this was no time for disagreement.
Aragorn rubbed his wrists and stumbled through the door, followed closely by Legolas.
Their captor walked in behind them, locking and bolting the little shack up securely and standing in front of the pair.
“Well well. Isn’t this lovely?” he sneered.
Legolas made a start towards him but Aragorn stuck an arm out.
“Estel…” the elf muttered angrily, “he has no right-”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say I had no right. Would you, Thorongil?” the human before them asked, staring straight at Aragorn.
“Who is he?” the elf asked nervously. “Gwador-nin, do you know this man?”
Aragorn made no reply.
“Well, Thorongil? Aren’t you going to answer Blondie?”
There was a silence. Then: “I know him. When I was a captain of Gondor he was a officer merely a few ranks beneath me. He would mistreat the soldiers and any prisoners of war or women we encountered would be twisted to his own sick desires. I detained him and then released him on the accord that he was banished from Gondor and the surrounding areas after I caught him beating the men.”
“And justly so, the scum!” the man spat back.
“You were abusing your position.”
He scoffed. “What I was doing is of little consequence, Thorongil. Do not think I am so foolish a man as to hold a grudge all this time and go to such elaborate schemes as this. Oh no. But when opportunity knocks, Captain…and imagine my surprise when it turned out the person knocking was interested in a certain Estel of Rivendell being, shall we say, ‘upset’…the same Estel, as it turned out, who happened to have once been known as Thorongil of Gondor.”
“The person knocking?” Aragorn echoed.
“Of little consequence. Indeed, in my new line of work I find it safer not to ask or even look too closely– you cannot then later pick them out in a crowd or a Warden’s line-up. He was however prepared to pay a large amount – for a job well done. And anyway Thorongil, or would you now prefer Estel? You have not answered my question. Would you say I had no right?”
He looked back fiercely, an unquenchable fire in his eyes. “I would say, Haemin, that you have no right whatsoever to subjugate either me or my companion to any devious plots your mind may have prepared.”
“Pretty words,” mocked Haemin, “but you’ll be pleased to know I have nothing prepared for you or your friend here.”
Aragorn looked sceptical, and moved back, placing one hand on Legolas’ shoulder.
“No,” Haemin continued, “I have some far more exciting guests here for that.”
He motioned to a dark corner of the room with his one hand as the friends peered forward, afraid of what they might see. Legolas put a hand to his lips and uttered a gasp.
Elladan and Elrohir lay, bound and gagged, side by side on the earth floor, their ebony hair mingled so they looked as if they were merely two heads from the same body. Elladan looked in a bad way; his face was black-and-blue and he had a large gash across his cheek letting blood drip across his fair elven skin. His neck was in a very awkward position and his head lolled forward, unconscious. Elrohir, however, was awake but certainly not much better physically. His eye was swollen and bruised, his body looked battered and he had more scars across the visible skin than the two friends liked to contemplate. His eyes widened at the sight of his brother and sworn brother, and he struggled to move, only to find it too physically draining and collapse again.
“You bastard,” Legolas whispered, “You sick bastard!”
“Oh, language, elf.” Haemin smiled, “Or I might lose my temper. Anyway, shouldn’t little Thorongil be more concerned? It’s him I’m here for, not you.”
Aragorn could not move, his eyes fixed on the terrified expression on Elrohir’s face and the blood seeping down Elladan’s. “Release them,” he croaked, “release them now!”
“Hmm…perhaps not.” His captor smiled, moving forward and extending a shorter sword to Elrohir’s neck, crouching beside him. “I have so enjoyed their company.”
“RELEASE THEM NOW!” Aragorn cried, desperate that he could not save his brothers.
“Temper Thorongil, or you might startle me. I might even slip again…we don’t want that now do we?” he asked Elrohir, stroking the blade down the elf’s throat, which already bore several recent scars. Elrohir’s eyes widened and he shook his head as best he could, looking more frightened than either of the two had ever seen him.
“You see? Shouting at me will do you no good…why are these elves so important to you anyway?” he mused, digging the sword in a little to a less vulnerable part of the neck, letting it drip blood. Elrohir winced in pain.
“Leave them alone!” Legolas cried.
“I said silence elf!” Haemin snapped.
“Brothers are important to each other.” Aragorn said, looking at his own siblings still and cursing himself for not being in their place.
Haemin frowned. “These are no brothers to a human.”
“You know nothing of my life so make no presumptions.”
The cripple before them shrugged. “It makes little difference. I have called you here for a purpose.”
Dropping Elrohir for a minute and allowing the elf’s head to hit the floor, waking Elladan in the process, he reached with his hand to his belt and drew out a small vial.
“This is a poison deadlier than arsenic and more painful than an arrow in the stomach.” he growled. “I have a vial in here enough to kill one elf and take about ten minutes in doing it too. I have a sword to kill the other. Which one will be which?” He asked it as calmly as if they had been discussing the weather.
Elladan struggled to shuffle closer to his brother, only to be grabbed by the hair and yanked up in one hand and have his head bang against Elrohir’s. Both twins were awake now. And both of them looked terrified.
Aragorn felt the blood drain from his face and his hands run cold with sweat. This was a dream, it had to be a horrible dream…
“No…” he whispered, his voice hoarse as if he had never used it before, wavering on the deep tone. “No…you can’t…”
“And do not attempt to bargain with me Thorongil, this is not an option. Try anything and the vial goes in this one’s eye. Believe me, that is not a pretty sight.” Haemin pulled Elladan up and held the vial over him for a few seconds, savouring the power in his hands. “An immortal life…” he muttered, “what would that be like to take?”
“A waste!” Legolas blurted out. His fists clenched in anger. How dare this human hold an elf in such way? He did not understand what it was like to feel the pain of every mortal and immortal being around you. The pain he sensed buzzing in the base of his skull now was enough to make it burst and it was not even happening directly to him.
Haemin’s head snapped up again and he moved towards Legolas, dragging Elladan with him. “I will say this only once more, *elf*,” he spat, shaking his stump of an arm at the prince, “keep quiet! Thorongil!”
Aragorn brought watery eyes up to meet the man’s.
“I am waiting.”
“H-how can you ask me to choose a brother? How can you ask me to sentence them to death?” he stammered, a tear trickling down his face and breaking on his skin.
“Easily.” Haemin’s eyes remained cold and emotionless. “Choose.”
“I will not choose my brothers’ execution!” Aragorn shouted.
“Well, that’s too bad…I would have been happy just killing these two, but it looks as though the rest of Rivendell will have to be on your conscience too…I’m sure I can find some more poison from somewhere…”
Haemin looked straight at him. “What did you say?”
“I said no, no. I will choose. No.”
He was trembling, he would have vomited, but he knew what he had to do. For the good of all the elves.
“No! No, Estel, don’t do it! You don’t have to do it, let him have me instead!” Legolas begged, running forward and flinging himself before his sworn brother.
Haemin threw him aside as easily as if he had been a rag doll.
“I have said neither you nor Thorongil himself may be exchanged. It is good he has come to accept there is no question.”
He scrutinised Aragorn’s terrified look of weary acceptance carefully. “Yet I would not have believed any man could be as cold and heartless as to put other elves before his own… ‘brothers’. It sickens me Thorongil.” he smiled.
He picked the vial from where he was holding it over Elladan’s eyes, which were filling with tears, opened it, and handed it to Aragorn, extending the sword to Legolas’ chest. “Make a wrong move and this elf dies too.”
Aragorn, weeping, knelt by his brothers and let the tears fall free, feeling food from earlier rise to his stomach. With a look into both of their deep dark sets of eyes, (the last look, he reminded himself,) he knew what he had to do.
The look in their eyes as the pair looked into Aragorn’s was not fear anymore. Nor hatred. It was disappointment and acceptance. They did not blame him.
“I am sorry gwador-nin,” he whispered anyway, not sure which one he was talking to, and then, before anyone had time to react, Aragorn swallowed the vial.
He dropped to the ground, fist clenching around the dust that stirred as he disturbed the pale earth around him.
“NO!” cried Legolas, leaping forward, past the sword, ignoring it as it cut into his shoulder, pushing Haemin to the floor and overpowering him, racing to Aragorn’s side and lifting him in his arms.
Aragorn’s mouth was foaming and his eyes were dimmed already; his body contorting into pained shapes as the poison took hold. Yet as Haemin climbed up and advanced on them, the ranger managed to push himself up, reach for the abandoned short sword, and throw it straight through his murderer’s eye.
Haemin fell to the ground with a strangled cry, dead.
Elrohir, being freed by Legolas, helped his brother up and they kneeled next to their brother, who was fading fast and who’s face was contorting in pain.
“I-I’m s-sorry…” he coughed, a trickle of blood coming from his frothing mouth.
“Hush, Estel,” Elladan soothed, taking his head in his hands, “you did more today than I ever wished you to.”
“Rest now Estel.” Elrohir whispered, attempting a broken smile.
Legolas said nothing, but his eyes did not waver even as Aragorn raised his eyes, screwed up against the pain, to look at Legolas.
“I’m sorry.” He murmured, and they closed again.
And they opened.
This in itself was surprise enough; Aragorn had felt such pain he had known it was death. He had been fully acceptant of death and ready for it.
He knew this was life however, by the splitting pain in his chest that seemed to burn it up entirely. No death could possibly be this painful.
His eyes flitted upwards and towards the ceiling. Was it speaking to him? How very peculiar.
“Aragorn!” cried an elf, obscuring his vision.
Ah. So it wasn’t the ceiling.
Legolas wrapped his arms round his best friend, almost collapsing from relief.
“Oh gwador nin! You’re alive!”
He pulled out of the embrace, tears shining down his face. “So it appears. Oh god, Estel!” and he hugged the human again.
Aragorn, pulling himself up, looked around him, expecting the twins and his Ada to be there surrounding him as they always were. They were not.
“Where are they?” he asked in bewilderment.
“Downstairs.” Legolas grinned.
“Lord Elrond said you’d recover, that you would be well enough to go downstairs, and they had a surprise to prepare.”
“A surprise?” he echoed.
Legolas placed a cold hand on his mellon’s chest and smiled. “Come on. There’s something special you need to see.”
Aragorn limped down the stairs, leaning on Legolas as he entered the hallway.
There was a collective gasp from those in the room looking at him and a large group of elves headed his way, all shaking hands, smiling, bowing and complimenting him on his bravery. He didn’t think he knew a single one of them.
“What do you want to show me Legolas? My chest hurts and I want the bed again!”
“Patience, mellon nin,” he smirked, “almost there.”
Suddenly Gilraen appeared from nowhere, threw herself at her son embracing him and kissing his face until he flushed red, (“Oh Aragorn!” “Nana…”) and then they proceeded to where a small group of elves, halfway down the hall, were pointing and laughing.
Elladan and Elrohir ran up. “Estel! You’re up! Thank the lord, we were really worried…although Ada did say you’d get better.”
“Estel, about what happened…”
Aragorn suppressed a shudder. “Forget it. It was my fault anyway.”
“I said forget it Ro!” he half shouted, and then his face softened.
“I would not see the blood of my brothers spilt,” he whispered, “Now what is it Legolas wants to show me?”
“Oh, very well, but you’re not going to like it…”
The crowd parted and Aragorn found himself faced with a portrait hanging on the wall.
Gilraen, the twins, Elrond and Legolas (who had been bullied into sitting it) smiled whilst surrounding an unconscious Aragorn, lying in a bed in the Houses of Healing. And on Aragorn’s head, clearly visible and conspicuous, was IT.
There was a long, uncomfortable silence.
“Dan…” Aragorn began, turning round.
The room was deserted.