Blood of a Brother: The Cost of Victory by Washow|
Summary: Aragorn has fought hard to see his dreams come true but when his victory costs the life of one of those closest to him he wonders if the sacrifice was worth the prize.
Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings nor am I making any profit from this story. Any similarities to other fan fiction are purely coincidental.
The night was quiet and peaceful allowing the inhabitants of Middle Earth to finally rest without fear after years of living in trepidation of an attack from the wasteland of Mordor. Even the White City, Minas Tirith, was sleeping which was an incredible change from the flurry of excitement in recent days. Despite their excitement the people knew they needed their rest, for tomorrow the king was returning and they wanted to rise with the sun to ensure a good spot to view the event. Unfortunately, the one who would be king was not as at peace as his subjects and was slipping out of the palace just as Eärendil reached the half-way point in its nightly journey. As the man silently navigated the dark streets of his new city he gave thanks for the moonless night because it allowed him to sneak past his loyal guard, who would not want him wondering about by himself but yet that was just what he planned to do. The crowds, festivities, and responsibilities would come on the marrow whether he wanted them to or not but tonight – tonight, he was just a ranger.
As soon as Aragorn was free of the city he stopped and surveyed the land before him, glad to find the vast Pelennor fields empty. He sighed as he recalled the last time he had been on this plain it had been just as dark then but not because of the time of day but because of the shadow that was spreading from Mordor. He swallowed hard as the unpleasant memories came rushing back; the screams of the men as they fell, the caresses littering the plain and the blood, so much blood, he was sure the memory would haunt him the rest of his days. Coming out of his memories his heart screamed at him to flee this place – to run and disappear into the wild where he could forever be a ranger but his mind overruled reminding him that his duty lay here with his people.
He resolutely clinched his jaw and took a deep breath then, when he felt he was able to face this challenge, took one step forward and began a journey of discovery. The dark night made it difficult to navigate the predominately unfamiliar landscape but the man refused to give up- he just had to find it. Finally after wondering for quite some time he sank to the ground and leaned back against a rock, shutting his eyes in frustration. How could it be this difficult to find one mound of dirt? Just as he was about to return to the city, mission fulfilled or not, he turned his head to the left and saw the gleaming hilt of Vorondosta* sticking out of the ground. Never taking his eyes from the weapon the ranger climbed to his feet then reached out his hand to gently stroke the broadside of the sword. Faithful defender – that was what this man had been to Aragorn and that was why he had named the weapon so when presenting it to this ranger. The ranger chieftain stroked the sword and felt tears well in his eyes, ironic that the one thing that had served to protect his friend was now the only token of his passing. Aragorn sighed and grasped the hilt of Vorondosta then gave a solid tug unearthing the mighty blade and accomplishing one part of his self-imposed mission. The sword, the only memento of this ranger’s life, would be sent back to his family while his grave, like those of all rangers, would remain unmarked.
Aragorn knew of this ranger’s deeds as he knew of the deeds of all his rangers but this one – Halbarad – held a special place in his heart. Halbarad was Aragorn’s cousin by birth but by his actions he proved to be so much more and became like a brother to the chieftain. Aragorn gazed at the mound of dirt a moment, “Why?” he croaked, “Why did you do it – why did you push me out of the way of that orc scimitar?” The future king leaned his forehead against the fallen ranger’s sword and began to let his pent up tears tumble down his cheeks. The man had not been giving into his emotional release very long when the wind picked up and carried the shadow of a sound to his ears, “because you are my brother.”
The ranger’s head immediately came up and he looked frantically left and right expecting to see his second-in-command standing there smiling at him but instead all he saw was the mound of dirt which covered his friend. His initial moment of hope was immediately followed by a moment of disbelief and finally anger. He climbed to his feet and shouted at Ilúvatar, “How could you be so cruel as to let me hear his voice after you have taken him away from me? Does it make you happy to make me suffer? You have gotten what you wanted – I will be crowned king of this wretched land – but was it worth the price?” The man fell to his knees and put his head in his hands, “Was it worth the blood of a brother?”
After a long and soul-cleansing cry the man gained control of his emotions and looked at the mound of dirt in front of him, “You always had the annoying habit of putting my well being before your own.” The soon to be king gazed at the northern horizon as if by focusing there he could turn back the hands of time, “I sometimes wonder if you regret allowing yourself to be saddled with a wet-behind the ears ranger. You gave up so much to help me become chieftain and I did nothing but get you in trouble.” The man climbed to his feet and began to pace to and fro as he relived their times together, “Like our first campaign together, I decided to disobey orders by hiding in the trees instead of staying at the back yet when Taldur confronted us you claimed credit for the idea.” The ranger stopped his pacing and snorted at the pile of dirt, “When I asked you about it later you had the audacity to claim that you were expendable and could take the punishment while I had to become chieftain. You willingly took the fall and had stable duty for a month while I sat in a warm room learning about the logistics of running the rangers.” The man cast another glance at the dirt pile, “Did your selflessness end there? Of course not, no you had to prove just how expendable you could be by jumping in front of an arrow meant for me. You nearly died because of me! I’ll never forget what you said once I got you patched up, ‘You are not only my chieftain but my cousin by blood and the brother of my heart – how could I let you die when there was a way to stop it’”
The ranger chieftain took a deep breath to control his emotions then continued his soliloquy, “Before I left to join the rangers ada told me the key to finding a second-in-command is choosing someone smarter then you that you can trust to offer good advice and who is willing to give their all to see the project succeed. The moment you took that arrow I knew I had found my second-in-command and although you sometimes frustrated me I never regretted my decision. Certainly there were times I wanted to throttle you- say for instance when you took four valuable men from their posts and spent weeks searching for me after I was captured by orcs. Although I was angry I have to admit nothing was more beautiful then seeing you and your rangers change into that orc camp.” The ranger stopped a moment and actually chuckled, “Of course I can’t remember anything after that but I know that somehow your love for me allowed you to destroy an orc camp with only five rangers. Then again you always were capable of doing the most amazing things such as somehow learning I had need of you and then mustering thirty rangers to ride to my aid in Rohan – a country you had heard of but never seen. To think that was the same action, which eventually lead you to your death. Would you have left your wife and children to come to my side if you had known nothing but your sword would return to them?” Aragorn paused again and stared hard at the mound of dirt, “Would you have chosen differently if you had known the outcome?”
“He would not have for he loved you and that is what one does when one loves someone, lays down their life so that the other can live.” The ranger stiffened in alarm at the sudden intrusion and reached for his sword but in the same moment a hand came down and stilled his arm, “He had no regrets for what he did nor should you for you didn’t ask nor order him to do those things but he did them of his own free will. Yes, he was well aware of the fact that he might die but he hoped that by his death you would be king.”
Feeling the man’s muscles relax the newcomer released his arm and allowed the ranger to turn around. Aragorn was less than surprised to find himself facing the eldest son of Elrond and to spy the younger twin and Legolas standing just behind him. Looking between the three elves Aragorn asked, “How did you know I was here?”
The younger twin stepped forward and gave his brother a bright smile, “Brother sense – we developed it when you were young and had a habit of running off when something was bothering you.”
Elladan shook his head and gave his twin a light cuff before turning back to the human, “Legolas went to check on you and when he found your room empty came to get us.” The elder twin put a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder, “We knew your heart was heavy and expected you to come here.”
The man reached up and gave his brother’s hand a squeeze, “It was you then?”
The three elves exchanged a confused look. Finally the wood elf voiced their question, “What was us mellon nín?”
The ranger cocked his head to the side and narrowed his eyes, “The voice – the voice which told me that he took that hit because he considered me his brother. That was one of you, was it not?”
The twins exchanged another concerned look and the younger walked forward until he was standing toe to toe with the distraught man, “Estel we have said nothing until just moments ago.” The man started to open his mouth but was cut off by a motion from his brother, “No, there is no one else out here.”
The man abruptly turned away from the elves and shook his head in confusion, “But I could have sworn I heard it” he looked at the mound, “and it couldn’t have been him because he is dead and dead men do not talk.”
It was obvious the man was once again loosing his composure so the younger twin pulled him in for a one-armed hug while whispering in the man’s hair, “Perhaps it was him.”
Aragorn pulled away from his brother and looked at him with such anger that the younger twin was shocked, “He is dead, Elrohir. I saw him fall, do not fill my heart with false hope.”
The younger twin advanced on his brother and gently ran a hand along the man’s cheek, “I don’t mean that he lives for he has moved on beyond the circles of this world but perhaps he has left some part of him behind.” The man looked at him in confusion so the elf elaborated, “I have heard that occasionally when a human dies close relatives can still feel their presence. You and he were like brothers so it is possible that you carry some small part of him with you. How I do not know, but that matters not the only thing that matters is that he is still speaking the truth to you and you should not doubt his wisdom.”
The man leaned into the younger twin who gladly wrapped him in a warm and comforting embrace. Breaking away from his brother the man silently appraised each of the elves, taking in the bandages and healing wounds, before turning to stare at the mound of dirt that covered his other brother.
Silently the prince of Mirkwood made his way to stand next to his friend and joined him in paying homage to the fallen man. Finally the prince addressed the soon to be king, “You are.”
Aragorn started and looked at the elf next to him, “I am what?”
Legolas smiled, “Worth it. You are worth all the pain and blood the four of us have shed to get you to this point. We are a family Estel, a strange one, but a family non-the-less and we are in this together. You owe us no form of gratitude other than to be what we have all known that you can be – the greatest king to ever grace Middle Earth.”
mellon nín – my friend
Vorondosta – Faithful defender