Two Sides of a Coin: Chapter 19- Crossroads

<p> <br /> <br /> [b]author's note:[/b] Sorry about the delay in posting. <br /> <br /> ***<br /> <br /> Water swirled in the mud and the thunder rolled on. The knife flashed against the stinging rain as Shastan strained to keep Ladril's blade from boring into his chest.<br /> &quot;Laaderil, please-&quot; He begged.<br /> &quot;You killed him!&quot; Ladril repeated. &quot;You're a murderer! A murderer and a liar! You befriended me when you knew you slew my brother!&quot;<br /> &quot;I didn't know!&quot; Shastan cried. &quot;I swear I didn't know until-&quot;<br /> &quot;-Until what?&quot; Ladril spat. &quot;Until that silly coin game? Until you made me open old wounds and describe Belegorn's death to you? And then you pretended to feel sorry...sweet Valar, you &lt;i&gt;consoled&lt;/i&gt; me! Why Shastan?&quot; He tried to choke back the sorrow and the rage, but they consumed him. &quot;Why didn't you tell me?&quot;<br /> &quot;Because you would have done then what you are doing now!&quot; Was Shastan's answer.<br /> The fury renewed and Ladril doubled his efforts on the knife. &quot;My brother is &lt;i&gt;dead&lt;/i&gt; because of you!&quot;<br /> They struggled, and now the knife came closer and closer to Shastan's throat. Tears, hate and fear mixed with the water and thunder of the relentless storm. Ladril with clenched teeth sat over the Swerting and pushed his arm against the grip of his brother's murderer; the knife came even closer.<br /> &quot;He...tried to kill me,&quot; Shastan gasped.<br /> &quot;...What?&quot; The tension in the ranger's arm dropped.<br /> &quot;Belegorn...he tried to kill me...and we fought-&quot;<br /> &quot;You lie!&quot; Ladril seethed. &quot;Belegorn was murdered in his sleep!&quot;<br /> &quot;Who told you that?&quot;<br /> In all of his anger Ladril felt slight hesitation. &quot;...Some...messenger....&quot;<br /> &quot;He had it wrong. Belegorn died in combat,&quot; Shastan looked up earnestly at Ladril. &quot;He died fighting, Laaderil. It was an honorable death-&quot;<br /> &quot;Don't use the word &quot;honorable&quot;! And don't you dare try and make it sound better! It's because of you that I lost my brother!&quot;<br /> &quot;And if Belegorn had killed me, my mother would have lost her son.&#8221;<br /> Ladril found himself actually listening as Shastan went on. &#8220;How many men have you and I both killed? How many of them have families that mourn their loss? This is war: people die, people are killed, and people are left hurt and vengeful. That night...I didn't know anything about Belegorn and I didn't know his brother would become my friend. I only knew he was my enemy. I had to kill him just as I had to kill the wildmen: to keep myself alive.&quot; Here Shastan paused. &quot;...Isn't that exactly what you had to do?&quot;<br /> &quot;...It's not the same...&quot; Ladril groaned. &quot;This isn't the same...&quot;<br /> &quot;Please understand, Laaderil,&quot; Shastan said. &quot;I had little choice that night...they had all drawn swords before we could-&quot;<br /> &quot;Don't describe it to me,&quot; Ladril turned his head away, feeling sick to his stomach. &quot;This...doesn't change what you did.&quot; His sickness gave way to the rage that had been screaming in the back of his mind. &quot;...This changes &lt;i&gt;nothing.&lt;/i&gt;&quot;<br /> &quot;Laaderil I'm sorry-&quot;<br /> &quot;Saying you're sorry won't bring him back! He was my brother! He was all I had in the world and you took him from me! All your friendship can't replace the love I had for him! I don't care if it was war, you were not justified in killing Belegorn!&quot;<br /> Shastan looked up sadly at his friend. &quot;If I could take back what I did, if I could give him back to you, you know I would not hesitate to do so. But such as it is, I can only hope for your forgiveness. Perhaps I was not justified in killing Belegorn, but if you feel you would be justified in killing me,&quot; He then released his grip against Ladril's knife and spread out his arms, exposing his chest. <br /> &quot;...Then kill me.&quot;<br /> <br /> The rain continued to pour, blurring Ladril's vision as he stared down at the Swerting. He could do it. He had the knife and Shastan was defenseless. In one swift move his brother would finally be avenged. He could do it...<br /> Ever since Belegorn's death Ladril tried to picture facing his brother's murderer with a chance to even the score. Now, after all this time of wondering and imagining, the real picture was this: rain pouring, thunder rolling, knife clenched tightly in hand, looking down at... <br /> Shastan. <br /> <br /> Ladril raised the knife, but his heart pounded and his hand trembled. He looked down at the Swerting and tried to see a Southron: a bloodthirsty barbarian, a devourer of Gondor, his brother's killer. But as hard as he tried, all Ladril could see was Shastan: a calm, temperate man, an example of how men should be, and his friend. <br /> Ladril's heart was now racked in confusion. He felt dizzy and his fingers throbbed as he squeezed the knife handle. He could kill him...and he could not. <br /> Either way, it would not bring Belegorn back. <br /> Having decided, Ladril sharply raised the knife again. Shastan shut his eyes and braced himself. There was a moment when everything seemed frozen in anticipation. The knife was raised...then Ladril threw it. He threw it as hard as he could and it landed far into the brush. <br /> The tension released, the choice was made, and Shastan was alive.<br /> Ladril got off the Swerting and simply sat dazed in the mud and water. The silence between the two men was filled with the roar of rain and the rumbling of thunder, but the thunder was more distant now, and the storm seemed less menacing. <br /> &quot;Shastan...&quot; Ladril said, once he found his voice again. &quot;...Give me the medallion. It doesn't belong to you.&quot;<br /> &quot;...I can't,&quot; Shastan said weakly. &quot;If I do not keep something of Belegorn's I'll forget him. I'll forget what I did, and it will be held against me in the next life.&quot; Ladril looked up at the Swerting as he continued. &quot;...That is why my people take things from men they have killed in battle, Laaderil. It is not to rob them, it is to remember them so we may not be condemned for murder. Slaying a man and then forgetting him, taking away life without a thought, that is murder.&quot; <br /> Ladril did not reply to Shastan. He couldn't reply. He had been denied everything: his brother, his revenge, and now Belegorn's keepsake. He felt lost, battered with different emotions and consumed with confusion. Shastan was only defending himself the night of Belegorn's death. If he was to be held accountable for slaying enemies, then Ladril would have to be held accountable too. But...<br /> Ladril felt sick to his stomach with sudden guilt. He allied himself with the one enemy he should not have made a friend. He camped, ate, and fought alongside the man that ended his brother's life.<br /> What would Belegorn think?<br /> Shastan watched the ranger all this time with growing worry. Ladril should have shouted or wept; &lt;i&gt;anything&lt;/i&gt; to release his anguish. But the ranger was silent, deathly silent. He looked numb and his eyes seemed dull and glazed. He said nothing, stared at nothing, and felt nothing.<br /> &quot;Laaderil,&quot; Shastan said. &quot;&lt;i&gt;Please&lt;/i&gt; answer me.&quot; <br /> Ladril did not respond. The anger, hurt, confusion, and guilt were all too much. He could only stare blankly at the ground, leaving Shastan with silence as his answer. <br /> The storm lifted and light returned to the forest, but it could have still been raining for all Shastan and Ladril noticed. Shastan waited but the ranger would not move. Finally, being also laden with confusion and guilt, the Swerting had to go off on his own and weep himself. <br /> <br /> A pale dawn rose across a grey and silent valley. Branded in the soft, rustling field were four white roads, converging at one point. In the past month the Crossings of Poros had seen the marching of proud Southron armies and the lurking of wary Ithilien rangers, but now the dark storm of war had come and the valley was abandoned and quiet. All that disturbed its silence was the slow steps of two horses led by the heavy steps of two men. <br /> From the North road Shastan and Ladril came. When they reached the Crossings of Poros they slowed to a halt. The three roads that lay before them were bleak under the pale sky, but the South road ahead ran straight and true: cutting through the plains and hills to become the ancient Harad Road.<br /> The two men looked at that road in silence and did not move. The Swerting occasionally glanced at the ranger with worry; Ladril had not spoken since the day before and Shastan knew he had not slept or eaten either. He looked like a solemn ghost only half awake and oblivious to the world around him.<br /> Shastan turned to the road ahead. Here was what Gondor called the Harad Way, but every Swerting called it the road Home. It seemed to shine despite the sick sky above and one could almost feel the winds of the desert here. He had but to jump on his horse and send it at a gallop and he could quit Gondor and bad memories forever.<br /> ...But that would also mean leaving Ladril.<br /> <br /> Shastan turned and firmly faced the pale ranger. &quot;Laaderil,&quot; He said. &quot;I will not leave unless I know you're all right.&quot;<br /> Once again, his answer was only silence.<br /> &quot;...I will stand right here then, until you say something.&quot; With that Shastan stood by Ladril and both men looked at the general direction of Far Harad. <br /> The two did not stay this way for long, for a strange smell from the West crept across the plains and filled Shastan's nose. <br /> &quot;...Is that smoke?&quot; Shastan craned his head to the West road.<br /> The smoke reached Ladril's senses also; to any ranger scouting in the wild, smoke meant trouble. Some faculties woke in the young man and he turned and looked West. The plains were so flat and the day so clear that one could see all the way to the mouth of the Anduin. And there, where the river emptied into the sea, black smoke billowed into the morning sky. That, as Ladril recalled, was where fair Poros lay. <br /> The city Poros was on fire.<br /> <br /> Ladril's senses stirred to life and it seemed his body jolted awake from a long sleep. Poros was in flames, beseiged by the enemy: good people were fighting against bad people. There was no conflict about who was your friend and who was your enemy here, no internal debate about whether your loyalties lie with a brother or a Southron friend. This was just right versus wrong. Here things made &lt;i&gt;sense.&lt;/i&gt;<br /> Ladril grabbed the reins of his horse and jumped into the saddle in a heartbeat. Seeing this unexpected move caused Shastan to mount his horse as well, in case Ladril chose to suddenly race off. &quot;What are you doing?&quot; The Swerting demanded as he grabbed his own reins. <br /> &quot;Poros...is on fire,&quot; Ladril rasped, having not used his voice in a long time. &quot;The people are under attack. I must help them.&quot;<br /> &quot;You're in no condition to help them,&quot; Shastan stated. &quot;When was the last time you've even slept?&quot;<br /> &quot;It...doesn't matter,&quot; was Ladril's hoarse reply. &quot;I am a soldier of Gondor. This is my duty.&quot;<br /> With that Ladril turned his horse to the West road, but Shastan also turned his horse and quickly barred the way. <br /> &quot;Let me pass,&quot; Ladril ordered. &quot;The enemy is out there!&quot;<br /> &quot;But it is not your duty to simply throw yourself at them.&quot;<br /> &quot;Shastan, &lt;i&gt;move&lt;/i&gt;!&quot;<br /> &quot;Not until you give me reason.&quot;<br /> &quot;My honor. How about that?&quot;<br /> &quot;If you just walk into the enemy needlessly and die, you won't find &lt;i&gt;any&lt;/i&gt; honor!&quot;<br /> At this Ladril became quiet. His fiery mood died into solemness, his face complacent and his gaze far away.<br /> &quot;Shastan....&#8221; He said. &#8220;Will you tell me how my brother died?&quot;<br /> &quot;You know I won't,&quot; Shastan answered. &quot;You are not in the right state of mind.&quot;<br /> &quot;What state of mind do you want me in?&quot;<br /> &quot;I mean you are not well. There is something wrong with you, Laaderil. You know that and I know that. Which is why I won't let you ride to a city in flames; you cannot expect to help if you are ill in both body and mind.&quot;<br /> &quot;...You're right. I cannot help a city,&quot; Ladril admitted at length. &quot;But what about family? Can't I make sure they're all right?&quot;<br /> &quot;Family?&quot;<br /> &quot;I have family in Poros. If they are in danger I cannot stand idly by, whether I am ill or well.&quot;<br /> Shastan paused and considered this. &quot;...All right, if it's for your family. But I am going with you.&quot;<br /> &quot;No, Shastan,&quot; Ladril said. &quot;You have already done more than enough for me. Now I want to see my promise kept.&quot; He looked at the South road. &quot;I promised I would take you here so you could go home. Now you have the chance to return to Kisha'rut and see your mother again.&quot;<br /> &quot;But-&quot;<br /> &quot;We've just spent twelve days getting down here. I won't have it be for nothing. I want to see my promise kept.&quot;<br /> Shastan looked at the South road, then at Ladril. &quot;...I can't leave if you're going to get hurt.&quot;<br /> &quot;I'm not going to get hurt. I'm just going to make sure my family is all right. Go on, Shastan. You've been away from home too long already.&quot;<br /> Shastan looked at the South road again. Wind softly blew from the South. Desert wind...<br /> Shastan slowly coaxed his horse from the direction of the West road to the South. Now the huge expanse of the plains, which would eventually become the desert, lay before him. His steed took a few steps towards the way Home before Shastan looked behind to Ladril. <br /> &quot;Go on,&quot; The ranger coaxed. &quot;Everything is all right.&quot;<br /> Shastan nodded gratefully and faced the road again. He breathed inwards, then sighed with a feeling of great relief from many worries and strife. He kicked his horse into a gallop and tore down the road as fast as he could. Eventually he vanished into the thick dust of the plains; towards the South, towards the Harad Road, towards Home.<br /> <br /> As Ladril watched the Swerting go, his smile faded. He turned again into the solemn ghost that seemed only half awake to the world. ...But at least now this ghost had a purpose.<br /> Ladrin took the reins of his steed, steered it for the West road again, and kicked it into a gallop. Ladril had lied. Everything was not all right. He felt &lt;i&gt;anything&lt;/i&gt; but all right. How can one come to grips with the fact that a friend killed one's brother? If Shastan killed Belegorn but should not recieve blame, then who &lt;i&gt;should?&lt;/i&gt; Should it go to Belegorn for fighting Shastan in the first place? Or perhaps it should go to Ladril for willingly making a friend of Shastan when he knew he was supposed to be the enemy. This was war, after all. Would Belegorn have behaved thus? Through befriending Shastan, Ladril felt that he insulted his brother's memory. If he had kept the appropriate conducts of warfare, he wouldn't be feeling this confusion, this pain, this guilt...<br /> The problem was that he joined the regiments. The problem was that he had family that would eventually be lost... the problem was that he was even living. <br /> As the horse pounded across the plains the black smoke of Poros grew larger on the horizon. <br /> ...Fortunately, that last problem had an easy remedy.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
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