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The Sword of Elendil: 25. The Power of Elven Healing
Forgive me, my friend, for I will never forgive myself.
He picked up Saelind's red-and-black dagger where it lay beside the body, and washed it clean with the little water remaining in his skin. “Give me that, I know where there is water,” Daeron said.
“Do it,” Aragorn said as he handed him the skin.
Specks of blood spattered his leather jerkin, which hung on his chest in pieces where Drauchir had used Narsil to slit it open, but the hidden sheath where he kept Saelind's blade was intact. Wondering how soon he would again need it, he returned it to the sheath and reached inside his shirt for the Ring of Barahir that Drauchir had so hated as the symbol of the friendship of Men and Elves. The serpent's green eyes winked in the afternoon light. It appeared to be unhurt.
Some warm water remained in the tin bowl Aragorn had used to clean Rodnor's wound. He used it to wash the blood from his beard where Drauchir had cut him. Would the fever and dreams that had plagued him after the death of Brelach return now that he, too, was marked by the silver blade?
Halbarad had lifted the bloody cloak from Hawk's dead face, stern and noble in the sacrifice of his last battle. Halbarad’s face crumbled as he knelt before the old Ranger and bowed his head to whisper, “Farewell, my captain.”
Aragorn could not speak, but he helped Halbarad straighten the cloak over the body and face. “We will mourn later,” he finally said. “For Beleg, too.”
“This sorcerer,” Halbarad shuddered, “can he make the dead walk? Like the wights in the Barrow Downs? They came from Rhudaur, didn't they?”
“After the last defeat of Cardolan, yes,” Aragorn said. “I don't know what powers this sorcerer has. But I do remember from the tales that he was possessed of unnatural long life. Now we know why—he is the immortal spirit of an Elf. But his fëa can only possess a body still living, if I remember what Elrond taught me about the Houseless. He cannot possess the dead. And even Sauron must have a body to work his evil.”
“I did a tour of duty at the Barrow Downs four years ago,” Halbarad said. “It is a terrible place.” He turned his stricken eyes to Aragorn's face. “Angmar has returned.”
“Not yet,” Aragorn answered. “But it will if we do not defeat these advance forces.”
Just then Daeron came running into the clearing, the waterskins slung on his back. “The wolf,” he panted, “the dead wolf—the carcass is gone.”
“Talk later,” Aragorn snapped. “Now we must run for our lives.”
They fled at a cruel pace, Halbarad bearing Rodnor over his broad back. He moaned in pain until, mercifully, he passed out. They followed the stream where Daeron had filled the skins through the wooded slopes. Not far away it joined a broader stream swiftly running in a stony bed between steep banks. They waded ankle-deep down the course of the chill water that buried all trace of their passing, leaving no scent for the enemy to follow.
“This runs into the Hoardale, and not far to the east is a ford where we can cross,” said Daeron. “My hideout is a few hours from there.” He turned his grizzled head to face Aragorn. “We make for Rivendell?”
“Yes, with all speed,” Aragorn answered. “If fortune smiles on us, maybe we'll find Rangers on the way.”
“So far,” Daeron growled, “fortune seems to favor the other side.”
The water at the wide, rocky ford in the river was low this late in the year, the spring torrents long past. In the mountains to the east the snow packs now grew as the air chilled into deep autumn. A few feet shy of the further bank, the Rangers turned northeast, toward the river’s source, and waded against the current for several miles. Always they dreaded to hear the harsh cries of Orcs or the howls of wolves.
A cold but nonetheless welcome rain began to fall. They left the river at a shelf of bare rock where their tracks would soon be washed away.
Daeron’s hideout was built under an overhanging rock, the empty space within disguised by a fall of thick, tangled thorns. A shallow pit lined with fire-darkened rocks lay within, a stack of firewood against the far wall. They crawled into the dry, sheltered space and Daeron pulled a shield of woven branches into the gap in the thorn curtain.
Halbarad lay the unconscious Rodnor on the bare earth. The boy shivered and muttered in his fever. While his face and body burned, his arms and legs were chill with icy water, his hair and torn clothing soaked. Pulling his healer’s kit from his pack, which he had taken great care to protect from the chill water that had doused them all, Aragorn ordered, “Build a fire, as smokeless and flameless as you can.”
Daeron was already sorting through the stack of wood. “These are dry and seasoned.”
Aragorn stripped the wet clothes from the boy’s trembling body. The prolonged dousing in cold water had cleaned Rodnor’s wound and stopped the bleeding. Aragorn washed his side with warm water and healing herbs. There was no sign of festering or rot in the wound; indeed, any healer would have judged the boy fortunate and bound for a quick and full recovery. Yet he thrashed and moaned as if all the wights of Angmar chased him.
Halbarad knelt at his side, ready to give any assistance. Just his presence lent Aragorn more confidence. He took Rodnor’s hand in his and laid his other hand across the boy’s forehead, murmuring words of strength and comfort as Elrond had taught him. He reached deep for the powers that he feared he did not have, to combat an enemy he feared wholly beyond his strength. Taking a deep breath, he sank his mind into the inner darkness, groping for the channels. He felt none.
But slowly, slowly, whether by the power of the Elvish words, or the comfort of the warm, dry shelter, the thrashing eased and Rodnor seemed to fall into a true sleep.
Drained of every vestige of his strength, Aragorn sighed and sat back cross-legged, dragging his hands through his tangled hair. In silence Halbarad waited by his side. Daeron crouched, grim-faced, near the fire, a small kettle bubbling on the glowing coals. The small fire had already warmed the air of the hideout.
“Will he be all right?” Halbarad asked.
“I don’t know,” Aragorn said.
“You are tired to the bone. You must rest.”
Aragorn grimaced. “You lecture me like a mother, Halbarad.”
“Someone has to do it.” Halbarad thrust into his hands a crude wooden bowl steaming with soup. “Eat. We have little enough. Tomorrow we will hunt.”
Gratefully Aragorn lifted the bowl to his lips and sipped the hot broth. Bits of dried meat floated in it, giving it a flavor as welcome as a roasted haunch of venison in Elrond’s Hall of Feasts. He had not realized how hungry he was. He drank in silence, watching the sick boy, quiet now but still flushed with fever. He knew that they could not stay in Daeron’s shelter beyond a day. They could not depend upon its secrecy remaining undiscovered from the power of the foe pursuing them. The only safety lay in flight to Rivendell by the quickest possible way. They must climb into the lower slopes of the mountains and come to the Valley from the North.
Halbarad was now sorting the contents of their soaked packs and putting out things to dry; Daeron, his face dark and pained, was sharpening and cleaning his dagger.
Setting down the empty bowl, Aragorn gestured to them. “What do we know of the other Rangers? Is there any chance we can reach them?”
Halbarad shrugged. “All we know is that Beleg expected Ingold to lead a company on horse from the Weather Hills. But when? He did not say, if he knew.”
Daeron said gruffly, “I know only that Túrin and the northern squad remain on guard near Gundabad.”
Aragorn drew his hand across his weary eyes. “If any Rangers come to the Refuge, they’ll be in danger. We have every reason to believe its secret is discovered.”
“What can we do?” Halbarad muttered. “We can get them no word. Even if we dared travel west through Troll country, it’s too far. Even the journey to Rivendell will be slowed down by a sick boy.”
“I know a way through the low hills here, leading south to a little-used cut through the mountains. It will take us into some rough country at first, but if we are all on our feet we will then travel quickly and in secret.”
“Good. We are already far in debt to your courage and experience.”
“It is only my duty, Aragorn.” Daeron’s scarred eye twitched as he spoke, but Aragorn was learning to see beyond the dour ugliness to the loyal man within. He smiled in acknowledgment.
“And Rodnor?” Halbarad said. “Will he be fit to travel?”
“Not without stronger healing than I can give,” Aragorn said. “I must work on the belief that this wound is just as serious as the one Beleg got in Mirkwood, when Drauchir first got power over him.”
“But Drauchir is not here now.”
“Nor did he follow Beleg to Thurnost,” Aragorn said heavily. “Yet his power stayed. I don’t know how, but it must be so. We must get Rodnor to Rivendell for Elrond’s care.”
“It’s two weeks journey even if we were all fit,” said Daeron. “We have no supplies; we’ll have to stop to hunt. But I have another idea, Aragorn. You healed me with the Elven power—I believe that’s why Drauchir could no longer rule me through Beleg.”
Surprised, Aragorn turned his eyes to Daeron’s weary face. “If I did, I hardly know how. Elrond himself says my training is far from complete and my power untested and unsure. I don’t think he’ll be pleased that I tried it on you.” He smiled ruefully. “Let me assure you, however, that there was no danger for you.”
“Yes, so you said at the time. I remember it well. Did you not just use those powers here with Rodnor?”
Aragorn shook his head and shrugged. “I have not the strength now, I guess. The next few hours will show how much good I may have done. He is hurt far worse than you were, Daeron—he took a direct stroke. But your experience could help me. Tell me anything you can remember of this—creature. How did he take power over you? Did Beleg ever wound you, or cause you some hurt? Do you remember?”
“Never wounded,” Daeron said slowly. “I only know that after your healing, it was as if a fog in my mind cleared. I came to see more and more that something beyond my own knowledge had played a part in my—my unforgivable attack. I didn’t know what it was until the other day, when the sorcerer revealed himself. Now, in thinking back on it, I remember that I spoke to Beleg the evening before I assaulted you, and he asked me to help him bind a cut on his leg. I got his blood on my hands.”
“And I was covered in his blood up to my elbows the day I fell from my horse,” Aragorn said.
“I wonder if Beleg’s presence on the day that Arathorn and I fought had an impact,” Daeron said, his face reddening with distress. “But I fear that was just my own jealousy, and no black arts.”
“But the wound to your eye that day may well have made you more vulnerable to the evil affect. It’s possible. How I wish Elrond were here!” Aragorn muttered. “He would know how to answer these questions.”
“Perhaps you’ve done Rodnor more good already than you know,” Daeron said. “If not, can you try again?”
“No!” Halbarad blurted. “Don’t you see, Daeron? The danger is to Aragorn. Isn’t that so?”
“Elrond has told me so.”
“Just what is the risk?”
Aragorn thought back to the days of Elrond’s teaching. “The power itself has its dangers to an untrained practitioner. Elrond spoke of being ‘lost’ in the channels. I don’t really understand it. But even more, the dark arts of sorcery are fraught with peril for all of us, and the healing power can make the healer himself even more vulnerable to them, if he doesn’t know what to do.”
“You are wounded yourself,” Halbarad said fiercely, “by the same foul knife. What of that?”
“That dousing in the river cleaned it up.” Aragorn probed his own jaw for the small cut. “I think it did more damage to my beard than my face.”
Halbarad snorted, “The beard’s ragged enough, to be sure, but I fear even a small wound from that creature.”
“I won’t argue about that, but I can’t heal myself. We have no good choices here, Halbarad. I am way out of my depth. I am not trained to treat the wounds of the dark arts, and may never have the power for it. I can’t do it as tired as I am now. But Daeron’s idea is a good one, and I must try it. My hope is that after some rest, and with any luck, the weather clearing, I can move Rodnor into the sunshine, and I’ll try my best then. I have a small amount of athelas left in my kit. I’ll set it steaming by his side through the night. Its power can probably do more than I.”
Aragorn rubbed his aching eyes. “Beyond this small chance, our best hope for help is Rivendell. I judge we should separate: Halbarad, you and Daeron go to the Valley with all speed, and I will stay here with Rodnor.”
“And try to heal him on your own?” Halbarad glared.
“I must try, I think,” Aragorn murmured. “Or we will lose him, to death or worse than death.”
“Then try tomorrow morning while we wait! If you succeed, we can all four go together. Sharing hunting and guarding, we can move much more quickly.”
“True enough,” Aragorn said. “But if I fail?”
“Then what chance has he anyway? How much time do you think he has?”
“I don’t know,” Aragorn said. “Truth be told, I am afraid. I don’t know what I may find in Rodnor, if I can find anything at all.”
“And you? What will happen to you?”
Aragorn met Halbarad’s vehement glance with a small shrug. “At the least I will need to recover from the test of the healing before I can travel up to speed. Our departure will be delayed by at least a day, and I don’t know how long we will be safe here.”
Halbarad stared at him steadily, his eyes full of doubt, before he answered with his own small shrug. “It seems we have little choice.” Halbarad gripped his shoulder. “You sleep. Daeron and I will watch.”
Aragorn smiled and returned the grip. “Keep the athelas steaming, too. It will do all of us good.”
The athelas was old and crumbled, but the fresh scent that soon filled the air of the small hideout proved it still had power. As Aragorn held Rodnor’s hands and whispered more words of healing, he felt some of the fear and horror gripping his own heart easing away.
Morning brought a cool, crisp, sunny day. Beyond their hiding place, the heath began, its feathery rolling land reaching east and south. Daeron had already left the shelter to set traps and snares for game. Aragorn and Halbarad moved Rodnor to a soft bed of leaves covered with a thick wrap.
“He is quieter this morning,” Aragorn said. “But too pale. Too quiet, perhaps.”
“How do you read the matter?”
Aragorn shook his head in doubt, and knelt silently by the boy’s side, listening to his soft breathing. “I need your help. Heat some water while I prepare. Then stay by me, silent, but watch me for anything that worries you.”
“It all worries me,” Halbarad growled. But he went to fetch water.
Aragorn prepared himself for the healing by standing in a ray of early morning sunshine, breathing in the rain-freshened air with a steady, slow rhythm. He chanted verses beseeching the Valar for strength, and looked back into his memory for every drop of wisdom Elrond had passed to him. Never had he felt so utterly alone.
When Halbarad had heated the water, Aragorn cast the small remnants of the athelas into the steaming bowl and placed it by Rodnor’s head. He took the boy’s hand and called his name, “Rodnor, wake up!” But the boy did not stir, nor his soft breathing change. Aragorn remembered with fear how the change had seized Beleg that night, through a slow, quiet sleep that no one would have wondered at.
He took both of the boy’s wrists his own, seeking for the pulse. He closed his eyes and felt for the pathways. Desperately he searched for some sense of the power, trying to focus it on the boy. For too long he struggled within his own mind, looking for the channels of healing that he feared were not there.
Slowly, slowly it seemed to him that a deep fog settled over the sunny day, and the sounds of the rustling leaves faded. He heard only the beating of his own heart, until suddenly he felt as if he were falling, or as if he were a bird flying, but the sky was dark. He flew through twisty darkness, his fear seething—and a black force hit him like a thunder of water down a mountain.
He cried out and released Rodnor’s hands. The light of the autumn day flooded back, blinding his eyes.
Halbarad’s strong hands gripped his shoulders. “What is it? What happened?”
Aragorn rested his head in his hands as he answered. “I have just learned how right my fear is. Now I must try to heal him.”
“Perhaps you should not,” said Halbarad fiercely.
“We will all be in danger if I do not. Unless you propose to kill him.”
“That is unthinkable,” Halbarad snarled.
“Then let me do my job. But tell me, Halbarad, what did you observe just now?”
“You called Rodnor’s name, is all I heard. You appeared fixed, as if made of stone. Is that how it should be?”
“If anything beyond that happens to me, you must pull me out of it, however you can.”
“I will,” Halbarad said.
Aragorn tried again. Holding Rodnor’s wrists, he slowly reached out. Rodnor! It is I, Aragorn. Come back from the dark dream. Take my hand.
He returned to the gloomy night, flying like a bird or whirling like a fallen leaf into a vortex as black as Morgoth’s heart. He reached out for the pathway. Rodnor! Where are you? The darkness crackled and swirled. But at last he felt the beating of another heart—Rodnor’s. He reached out and grasped the boy’s hands, and it seemed that now they moved away from the vortex, toward a horizon where a dim grey drifted.
Pearly pale light flickered. Aragorn released Rodnor’s hands—
A dark night of screams and blood. Black wings beat my head, my back. I feel no ground beneath my feet. The screams I hear are my own. But then the gloom parts and a fair Elven face smiles down at me, beseeching me to come, come away! His voice speaks to me alone: Beyond the dark wall lies everything you desire.
I see a star glistening at the heart of the gloom. A woman’s face grows within the shimmer. It is she whom I love. Slowly, slowly I retreat to the blackness.
The sound hit his ears like the harsh croak of a carrion bird.
Go away. Leave me to the light.
His head lurched as strong hands shook him. No! Leave me!
He opened his eyes to find himself on the ground, Halbarad’s desperate face leaning over him. He stared in bewilderment. “What happened?”
“You cried out and fell to the ground.”
Aragorn took a deep breath, and sat up. “Rodnor?”
“He sleeps still, as you see. What happened?” Halbarad asked again.
The silvery light hovered in his memory, a phantom of sorcery to beguile him. He pushed it away with horror. “I wish I knew.”
He rolled onto his hands and knees and crawled toward the boy. Again he took his hands and called his name—and Rodnor’s eyes flickered open. He smiled weakly. “Aragorn. Have I been asleep?”
“Yes, for too long,” Aragorn said. Joy washed over him at the clarity in the boy’s eyes. Somehow, he knew not how, he had done some good.
“We’ve got some food,” Halbarad said, his grim face lightening with relief. “Are you hungry?”
Rodnor ate just like a lad of sixteen would who had gone two days without food. Halbarad thrust a bowl in Aragorn’s hands and commanded, “Eat.”
“Still my mother travels with me, I see,” Aragorn chuckled.
“Well, you can laugh, but I can’t. You are white as a ghost.”
“A poor choice of words.” Aragorn frowned. “Don’t say such things.”
“All right, fine. But you’re going to rest now, you and Rodnor both, while Daeron and I restock our supplies. He’s already gathered a fine catch from the snares, and has set them again. And I see signs of late autumn roots around here. How soon can we travel?”
“I don’t know yet,” Aragorn said. The weariness was already rising through his body, dragging at his strength. “For both Rodnor and me, only time will tell.”
Note to the reader: Thank you for sticking with the story, despite the long interval between updates. I assure you that I have every intention of completing this story, but it is difficult to find the time to put the care into it that I feel it deserves. Thus you are left on a cliffhanger, alas, for far too long. Please leave me a review—that always helps fuel the muse. There are some six more chapters to come.
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