6. The Wounded
Anakil wanted to just cut off the arm and be done with it. The stitches the healer had applied to the wound at his right upper arm itched and burned. He squeezed the fingers of his left hand into a tight fist to prevent himself from scratching. His right arm rested in a white sling close to his body, and he sat with his back against the cold wall, trying not to wince as the healer cleaned the many scratches from the fall off the tree.
He felt rather ridiculous, sitting in the dim light in his underwear. Every Ranger that laid his eyes on him stifled a chuckle or grinned openly. If granted a wish, the boy would choose to become a mouse and hide in a hole in the wall right now.
“Do not move!” the healer commanded sharply, as Anakil instinctively flinched from the touch of the burning, bad smelling ointment the healer rubbed with vigour into the scratch on the boy’s right knee. “You do not want to risk an infection, do you?”
“I’m sorry.” Anakil was sure he had uttered these words more often today than in the last three years - at least.
“You were very lucky, you know? Anborn told me you fell more then ten feet. Most people do not get up and walk after a fall like that.”
“I do not feel lucky right now.”
The healer put the bad smelling ointment away, and Anakil sighed in relief. “May I get dressed now?” he asked.
“You may,” the healer said. “But I would strongly recommend waiting until the smell has diminished a little. Otherwise it will cling to your clothes for days.”
Anakil grunted and reached for a blanket to cover his bare chest and legs.
The healer smiled. “Wise decision, young friend. You would lose all friends you might have made during your stay here, smelling like a walking bowl of medicine. Take it easy for the rest of the day; you have a bump the size of an egg at the back of your head.”
“Thank you!” Anakil said softly. Suddenly he felt very small and very lonely. The healer was talking about friends, but the boy realized that he had not been very successful in blending in with the Rangers and making friends.
“I have patched up worse accidents than yours, young friend. Don’t blame yourself too much. Things happen. You will be fine in a few days.” The man put a soothing hand on the boy’s uninjured arm and stooped to pick up the bowl with the ointment. “Excuse me for a moment; I have to get this out of the cave before Anborn has a talk with me about his sensitive nostrils.” He grinned and disappeared into the twilight of the cave.
“Things happen,” Anakil whispered to himself. “Why do things always happen to me?” His clenched fist unraveled itself with a mind of its own and moved to the arm in the sling to scratch the stitches.
“Don’t even think about it!”
Startled, Anakil hid his hand below the blanket and stared down at Beldil, who had been sleeping on the mattress next to him mere moments ago.
“If you even touch his stitches, he will kill you, very slowly and painfully. He is a healer, believe me, he knows what hurts most.”
“How long have you been awake?” Anakil asked, moving his restless left hand to rub his face.
“Long enough.” Beldil’s small smile widened into a broad grin. “I did not want to interrupt him and remind him that he hasn’t treated my wound yet. I can live without the smell for a little longer, and besides, I feel quite fine.”
“Glad to hear that.” Anakil hid his hand below the blanket again.
“I have to admit I am not so glad about some news I heard about you.” Beldil’s smile was replaced by an illegible frown.
“I am sorry. I did not intend to dishonour the duties of messengers. I just... jumped at an opportunity...rather thoughtlessly.”
“I am glad you did what you did, otherwise there is a good chance I would be dead by now.” Beldil sat up slowly and rested his back against the wall next to the boy. “Why didn’t you tell me yesterday? I would have talked to the Captain and maybe convinced him to just let you go.”
“Why would you do that?”
“You deserve it. It is as simple as that.”
Anakil leaned back his head and winced as his bump came in close contact with the cold, rough stone. “I thought about running away while walking home from the hunt today,” he confessed. “I thought about grabbing my horse and just galloping away. Maybe the guards wouldn’t have shot me. Maybe they would have. I do not know. But where can I go? I cannot go back to Osgiliath, I cannot stay in Ithilien, and I cannot go home. I fear I have to accept whatever the Captain decides to do with me. That seems to be the right thing to do.”
“The Captain is a fair judge,” Beldil said. “And I will speak for you, should he be willing to hear me. Messengers have to stick together, after all.”
“I am not a messenger,” Anakil said. “Not a real one.”
“You delivered a message, and you did well. As far as I am concerned, you are a messenger, until the Captain decides otherwise.”
Anakil took Beldil’s good hand and squeezed it tightly. “Thank you,” he whispered. Maybe he had made one friend after all.
The patrols of the Rangers returned late in the afternoon. All men in fighting condition had been out in the woods, save the few who were needed to guard the cave and care for the wounded. The cave quickly filled with hungry and tired men. But despite their fatigue and weariness, the men did not sit down and rest but moved about, knowing what to do and where they were needed most in the operation of a camp the size of Henneth Annûn. Some set up benches for dinner, other opened storage barrels, some cleaned their dirty hands and green painted faces, others polished swords and mended broken arrows without getting in each other’s way and without any sign of haste.
The wounded were brought in with the same calm order in which all other business was taken care of. The conversation between the healer and the Rangers was short and poignant. Anakil understood that there had been a fight in the woods; a fight with a company of Southrons far larger than the scouting party he and Anborn had stumbled across during their hunt.
One man was dead. The Rangers had been able to recover the body, but Anakil did not see anyone carrying a corpse into the cave. The boy did not know how Rangers mourned and buried their dead, but he knew he was not in the position to ask one of the men about such a personal matter. He probably would not have hesitated to ask Beldil, but the messenger was asleep, and he did not want to disturb the wounded man.
Four men had been severely wounded in the fight. Anakil left his mattress next to Beldil to give the healer more space to work and move about the area. The boy sat down at the wall on the opposite side of the cave, playing with the white sling, twisting parts of it around the fingers of his left hand.
The Rangers tended to those who had sustained minor cuts and bruises, and Anakil realized the men were very capable of performing those duties. The boy had worked with the healers of Osgiliath more then once, he knew what to do and how to assist, but his injured arm prevented him from offering his help.
Anakil returned to his mattress at the wall next to Beldil as soon as all the wounded had been taken care of. The healer stepped back to clean his bloody hands in a bowl of fresh water one of his fellow Rangers had brought him. The sun started to set behind the veil of the waterfall, casting the world outside of Henneth Annûn’s cave into a bloody and golden light, and the Rangers of Ithilien stood in silence, facing west, before they sat down to have dinner.
Anakil stood silent as well, even though he did not dare to sit down at the benches with the healthy men. The healer was grateful that he used his good arm to help the recovering men like Beldil to sit up and eat, despite the fact that he himself did not find much time to stuff a piece of bread or some cheese into his mouth. The boy did not mind skimping his own dinner; it felt good to be of some use.
He had not seen Anborn since the Ranger had delivered him into the healer’s care when returning from their ill-fated hunt. Therefore he was startled as the tall man suddenly appeared next to him, both hands hidden behind his back.
“Good evening, Anborn,” the boy croaked, unable to hide his discomfort in the presence of this particular Ranger. He was sure all the men knew by now what had happened to him, but Anborn had seen it, and that was definitely worse.
“Good evening, troublemaker,” Anborn replied gravely. “I hope you did not even think of getting into trouble for the rest of the day?”
“I didn’t.” Anakil avoided meeting the Ranger’s gaze. He pretended to cover his unease by checking on Beldil, who was fast asleep, but he was sure he could not fool the experienced man.
“You know, I have been observing you for quite some time now.” Anborn pointed to a mattress in an extremely dark area of the cave.
“I am sorry for what happened on the hunt,” Anakil started. He finally looked up to meet the Ranger’s dark eyes. “I really tried to be useful â€“ and to stay out of trouble.”
Anborn silenced him with a piercing stare. “I know,” he said.
Then a small smile crept onto his face. He moved his hands from behind his back and showed the boy a small plate filled with freshly cooked meat. “Fresh meat is rare among us Rangers and normally reserved for those needing it most, but I saved a few bites for you. It’s the rabbit you shot. I cooked it myself; I hope it tastes as good as it looks.” He smelled at the plate and licked his lips. “I can imagine you are still hungry, judging by the few bites you had for dinner.”
Anakil stared first at the meat, than at Anborn’s smiling face, unable to come up with a reply.
Anborn started to chuckle and placed the plate in Anakil’s hands. “Say thank you, troublemaker.”
“Thank you â€“ Anborn,” the boy said obediently.
“My pleasure. Now eat and don’t tell the Captain anything about fresh rabbits when you see him later this evening.” Anborn twinkled and disappeared into the shadows.
“Thank you, Anborn,” Anakil said to the Ranger’s retreating figure as he shifted his back into a more comfortable position against the hard rocky wall, his nose close to the delicious smelling plate in his hands.
“I smell rabbit,” Beldil’s voice stated, and the messenger opened one eye to peer at the plate in Anakil’s lap. “Fresh rabbit. Tasty rabbit. Delicious rabbit. Rabbit cooked by the great Anborn himself.”
“You just had dinner,” Anakil said, trying to cover the plate with one hand. “You should be asleep. You seemed to be asleep mere moments ago.”
“Things are not always as they seem to be. I can’t sleep.” Beldil’s face creased into a broad grin. “But one bite of fresh rabbit, and I will be sleeping all night,” the messenger promised. “Or better, make it two bites, just to be sure.”
Anakil smiled, moved his hands away and placed the plate between their mattresses to share his meal with his only friend. Just to be sure the wounded man got a good night’s sleep...
The rabbit was delicious, and Anakil allowed himself a cup of wine without water. His stomach filled and his mood lightened by the wine, he settled down on his mattress and propped his head on one hand to have a better look at Beldil next to him. “Would you mind me asking something, before we both go to sleep?”
“Go ahead.” Beldil had his eyes close, his injured wrist placed carefully on his stomach.
“The man that died today â€“ what happens to him now? I caught from conversations that they brought the body back to this place, but I did not see him being carried into the cave with the wounded.”
“Galdor.” Beldil sighed, and squeezed his eyes shut tightly to cover his quiet grief.
Anakil remembered the man called Galdor. He had been with Anborn when they had first met at night in the forest, and he had been a friend of Beldil’s. Briefly he wondered how Beldil had been able to get to know the name of the dead, being asleep for the better part of the afternoon and evening. News traveled fast and on invisible paths in Henneth Annûn.
“They will bury him outside in a clearing, facing west, so that he can see the sun set over the plains of Ithilien and Gondor, the Anduin and on clear days the White city and the peaks of the White Mountains,” the messenger said softly and slowly. “He has fought hard for this land for many years. He will continue to look at its beauty even though he cannot protect it with his sword any more. He loved this land deeply - we all do. I am sure he will be at peace here.”
Beldil’s voice dropped to be no more than a whisper. “He took a spear right into the heart. I think he was dead before his body hit the ground. Maybe, hopefully, there was not even pain before his last fight was over. He was a good fellow, a good comrade, a good man. I think I will miss him - his easy manner, his laughter, his bad jokes. Well, maybe not the really bad ones.”
Beldil stopped talking, and Anakil did not press any further. He watched the messenger for a little while, but Beldil did not open his eyes again. The boy curled up on his mattress, mindful of his injury, to finally get some sleep.
Anborn’s well known dirty boot on the left side of his chest roused him rather violently from a deep, dreamless slumber. He heard Beldil’s soft snoring beside him and stifled a yelp of surprise to not wake the sleeping messenger.
“The Captain would like to see you now, troublemaker,” Anborn whispered, tapping the tip of his boot lightly against the boy’s left shoulder.
Anakil tried to shrug off the restraining boot, as he had successfully done in the morning, but the pain welling up in his injured arm stopped the movement. He squeezed his eyes shut to hide the sudden tears.
“I am sorry.” Anborn’s boot disappeared at once, and the Ranger offered a hand to help the boy to his feet. “I did not want to hurt you. How is your arm?”
“Hurt,” Anakil hissed, ashamed of the wetness in his eyes. He ignored Anborn’s outstretched hand and scrambled to his feet on his own, wiping his face with the sleeve of his good arm.
It was quite dark in the cave. Most of the torches on the walls had been put out, but there was enough light to see that the curtain at the end of the cave was open and the Captain’s private recess empty.
“The Captain is outside,” Anborn said. “He did not return inside after overseeing Galdor’s funeral.” The Ranger’s mouth was pressed into a thin line, and Anakil realized the man, too, was grieving for the dead comrade.
The boy remembered the concerned and weary expression on the Captain’s face when he had been worrying about his missing Lieutenant’s company the night before and wondered whether, after having overseen the funeral of one of his men and maybe even a personal friend, the Captain might be in need for some peace. “Are you sure he wants to see me now, Anborn?” he asked hesitating.
“Absolutely sure, troublemaker. The Captain does not like unfinished business.”
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.