5. The Return of the King
The Return of the King
With thanks to Raksha and Bodkin for their suggestions, which I decided to use.
Warning - Sensitive readers may find this chapter distressing
Éomer blinked back his tears and swallowed hard. Then he began to sing in a strong, clear voice.
"Weary the warrior, winnowed by war;
In battle the bravest, in love the most loyal.
Foes could not fell him, so mighty the man!
Yet, he lies stricken, yielding his lifeblood,
Giving himself, the heroes to save.
Where are the Valar, Valinor's greatest?
Where are they now, when on them we call?"
During the song, Legolas rose to his feet and started to wander round the meadow as if looking for something. He returned a few moments later, clutching a bunch of long leaves in his hand.
"Athelas," he explained in reply to their questioning looks. "Aragorn seems to have a special affinity with the plant."
"It revived him when he was healing Lord Faramir," said Éomer, a gleam of hope lighting his eyes. "I fear though, it is too late."
Legolas grumbled the leaves under Aragorn's nose and waited. Nothing happened. The watchers could no longer even detect the rise and fall of his chest. It seemed as if his life had already flown.
Legolas knelt and took Aragorn's hand again. The four friends wept bitterly.
The sun slowly remerged from behind the cloud. A sunbeam fell across Aragorn's face, illuminating his countenance with such beauty and majesty that the watchers gasped in awe. Time seemed to stand still.
Suddenly a Great Eagle flew over their heads and across the meadow .It swooped down upon the ravens, which squawked angrily and then disappeared. It then returned and hovered over Aragorn for a few moments, spreading its giant wings over his prone body. It then flew away, vanishing, as quickly as it had come.
All at once, the air was alive with birdsong, as every thrush and blackbird seemed to erupt in joyous song. Butterflies danced across the meadow in a cloud of vibrant life and colour.
To their amazement, Aragorn slowly opened his eyes and moaned. He seemed unaware of his surroundings; then focussed on Eomer's face.
"The light so glorious? Éomer? I am thirsty," he murmured.
"He lives!" Éomer cried in amazement. He grabbed a cup of water, which Gimli had brought for Sam, and cradling Aragorn's head in his arms to support him, held it to his lips. "My friend!" Eomer whispered, "I feared I had lost you!"
Aragorn swallowed, sighed, and then closed his eyes again. The colour slowly returned to his face. He appeared now to be in a natural sleep. His breathing appeared almost normal and when Éomer felt his brow, his temperature appeared normal while his pulse felt strong and steady. The wound in his side had burst open and evil looking matter was oozing forth. The surrounding flesh however felt cool when he touched it.
Together with Sam, Éomer was both laughing and crying together, Gimli grinned from ear to ear and Legolas looked ecstatic.
Cautiously, they released Aragorn's hands. His condition did not change and they gave a collective sigh of relief.
"What happened?" asked Sam.
Legolas shook his head. "I do not know," he replied, "In all the long years of my life, I have never seen such as this before! May the Valar be praised!"
"Quickly, let us replace the bandages. Then cover him with some fresh blankets!" said Éomer. "I am no healer but I have some experience of wounds such as this from tending my men on the battlefield. We need to boil water and fetch fresh bandages and salves!"
Relieved to find someone, who appeared to have more knowledge of treating wounds than he did, Legolas did as he was bidden while Gimli carried Sam back to the other Hobbits.
Éomer gently covered Aragorn with his cloak while he waited. He watched the man's sleeping face. He had only known Aragorn a short time but already he loved him as a brother and revered him not only as a great warrior, but also as the Healer who saved his beloved sister. He gently wiped the dried blood from the gashes on Aragorn's body and applied salves and bandages with Legolas' assistance. The wound on Aragorn's side was the worst of his injuries. However, he decided against trying to stitch it closed, thinking it would be better to let it drain. He washed it with salted water and bandaged it carefully. It appeared that the weapon had chipped a rib and Éomer feared his friend would be in great pain once he awoke.
Aragorn moaned slightly in his sleep but to their great relief did not awaken while they tended him.
"It gladdens my heart that I slew many of the Orcs who inflicted these hurts upon Aragorn." Éomer said grimly. "I only wish I could have killed them all, before they could get near him!"
There were no clean blankets but the sun had warmed and aired the others. Éomer found a sheet of soft linen, with which they covered Aragorn's, before replacing the blankets.
"He looks exhausted. I expect he will sleep for many hours," Éomer said after he was satisfied he had done all he could "Many generations will sing many songs of his great deeds. Let him rest and regain his strength now. Do you have kingly garments for him when he awakes?"
Legolas shook his head. "We left in such haste and secrecy that we came without any raiment for him."
"I have some spare clothing," said Éomer "He is taller than I but less broad. Still, loose garments will chafe his wounds less."
By now, the afternoon was almost over and the sun was starting to go down. They prepared and ate a meal. Afterwards, loath to disturb his slumber, they erected a tent around Aragorn and carried the Hobbits within to sleep beside him.
"I shall stay here too until morning." Éomer said, "I hope I shall have good tidings to return to Gandalf with."
"Good tidings of Aragorn, perhaps," said Legolas "But still I fear for the Hobbits."
He looked towards where they lay with Gimli tending them. Sam looked somewhat better but Frodo and Pippin both burned with fever. Pippin was crying constantly in pain.
Éomer changed the bandage on Pippin's shoulder and spooned water into his mouth but it seemed to do little good. He left Gimli to give Pippin and Frodo more water and turned his attention to Sam, offering him some of the broth they had prepared.
Sam looked at him aghast. "You mustn't feed me, sir!" he protested."It wouldn't be proper at all!"
"And why ever not?" asked Éomer in bewilderment.
"You're a king," said Sam "And I'm Mister Frodo's gardener!"
"But Gandalf told me that Aragorn had been caring for you," Éomer replied.
"Why yes, but he's just one of those rangers, isn't he? He the nicest of the big folk I've ever met but it's not as if he were the King or anything is it?"
Éomer roared with laughter. Then hastily stifled his mirth lest he woke Aragorn.
"Didn't you know, Sam? " he said between guffaws, "Aragorn is the King of Gondor and Arnor, the most powerful man in the West. Then, Legolas is a prince!"
"What?" Sam was dumfounded.
"He is joking." Legolas said hastily, fearful of how Sam would take the news. There would be time enough to tell him when he was recovered, or so he hoped.
"You should be caring for Mister Frodo and Mister Pippin instead of teasing me then." Sam retorted, momentarily forgetting his awe of Éomer.
Grinning, Éomer handed the bowl of broth to Gimli, meekly obeying Sam's instructions. Sam was so open mouthed with astonishment that the Dwarf was able to spoon the broth straight in.
It was dark now dark and Sam had fallen asleep almost before Gimli had finished feeding him.
They decided that the Dwarf should rest first while Legolas sat with the Hobbits and Éomer watched over Aragorn. They lit a single lamp and placed it in the centre of the tent.
The Orcs were surrounding him, pulling him from his horse and dragging him roughly through dark tunnels. Every movement jolted his injuries. However, he would not give them the satisfaction of knowing he was in pain.
They brought him to a circular stone chamber and threw him down on the cold, hard floor. Then he could see it, the Eye, flaming and angry, filled with rage and malice.
"You dared challenge me, Heir of Isildur and now you will pay dearly for your foolish pride!"
The voice was inside his head, though the Orcs heard it too. They approached him and he found himself trying not to cringe like a cornered deer.
Four of the creatures grabbed him and spread-eagled him face upward on the floor as they stripped him of all his garments.
One yanked him upright by his hair while another approached with a cruel whip, the thongs weighted with lead. With it, he beat him across the back and shoulders. Sauron's laughter rang inside his head, the Dark Lord was greatly enjoying every moment of his pain and humiliation
"Perhaps we should all bow to your majesty?" mocked the Orc with the whip "You say you're the King, but where are your fine garments and golden crown?"
He closed his eyes unable to bear their leering, mocking looks. They subjected him to every cruelty and indignity imaginable during the endless hours that followed. He had heard many stories of what Orcs did to their captives, but this surpassed any imaginings. It would have been better by far to have fallen in battle than to be subjected to such torment! After what seemed an eternity, an Orc threw some foul smelling brew across his face and shook him by his bruised and bleeding shoulders.
"Wake up you! We've another nice surprise!"
Two of the creatures dragged him to his feet and he saw another approaching, carrying a spear. A fourth held his garments in a bundle. He put out his hand trying to grab them to cover himself .However, the Orc poured more of the foul brew over his clothes and then threw them at him.
"Get dressed!" he barked." We can't have your majesty catching a cold and spoiling all the fun now!"
He was reaching out for the dripping, foul smelling garments when the Orc with the spear lunged at him and plunged it deep in his side.
This time, he was unable to suppress the scream that welled up inside him.
"Easy now, my friend!" Éomer's concerned voice roused him from the nightmare.
Confused, he opened his eyes and tried to focus. The Orcs had gone but the pain still throbbed throughout his body.
He felt under the blanket and found that he was naked apart from some bandages. When he touched where the pain was worse, the bandage felt wet. Biting his lip, he tried to suppress a moan.
"Where am I?" he asked faintly. "What happened?" His eyes flashed in sudden fear. "The Orcs?"
He tried to sit up. Éomer restrained him as gently as he could. "You were injured during the battle, Aragorn, " the King of Rohan said. "The Orcs were overcome and you are safe now in Ithilien."
"Where are my clothes?" Aragorn asked, still struggling to get up." I need to..."
"You were badly injured." Eomer replied, trying to sound soothing." Let me tend to your needs for now. Later, I will find you some clean clothes. Yours were ruined."
With a gasp of pain, the King of Gondor sank back on to the pillows and allowed Eomer to bring him the chamber pot. His pain and confusion were too great for him even to feel much embarrassment at his predicament.
"You know more of healing than I," said Éomer." If I bring the supplies over here, maybe you could tell me which herbs would ease your pain?"
Before he could move though, Legolas was beside them carrying the chest containing the remedies the sons of Elrond had provided.
"How are you feeling, mellon nin?" he asked Aragorn.
"Sore," Aragorn replied, suppressing another groan.
"Do you need me to help you tend him?" the Elf asked Éomer.
"Thank you, but I think the Hobbits have need of you," he replied.
Legolas' remark brought the memories of the last few days flooding back to Aragorn and his head gradually cleared. He knew now why he had dreamt of being tortured by Orcs, as that was what Sauron had shown him in the palantir, threatening him daring to challenge him. He had been spared such a fate but Frodo had not been so fortunate. The memories came rushing back
Agitated, he again attempted to sit up, exclaiming. "The Hobbits, how are they faring? I must go to them! "
"They all live still and are sleeping. You are not well enough help them," Legolas said firmly. I will return to them and leave you with Éomer."
Éomer looked through the medicines and discovered a supply of poppy juice. "I will give you this to ease your pain," he told Aragorn.
"No!" Aragorn protested." One drop of that will make me sleep for hours when I must get up and tend the Hobbits! Give me some willow bark, that will suffice!"
Éomer marvelled that any man could be so selfless. He mixed a drink with a small quantity of willow bark. Then, while Aragorn was not looking, added a drop of poppy juice, thinking that more sleep was the very thing he needed; at least until the injury in his side was healing.
He brought the cup to Aragorn but the King of Gondor and Arnor shook his head. "When I have seen the Hobbits, I will drink it, I must see them while my mind is clear!"
Seeing he was adamant, Éomer first carried the soundly sleeping Sam over to him.
Aragorn laid a hand on his forehead and seemed satisfied.
Legolas then brought Frodo, while Éomer carefully carried Pippin, taking care not to jolt his injured ribs.
This time Aragorn looked troubled when he felt their brows.
"They both have high fevers!" he exclaimed in dismay. He tried to get up but fell back exhausted, and groaning with pain.
Éomer steadied him and eased him back on the pallet. "I beg you, have a care for your own health!" he pleaded.
Aragorn lay gasping with pain for a few moments. He then recovered sufficiently to instruct Legolas. "Bathe them with lukewarm water each hour and give them a pinch of willow bark in a cup of water at the same time."
"I will, I promise. Now please rest." the Elf replied.
Éomer retrieved the painkilling potion he had mixed, hoping that it would not be refused this time. He held the cup to Aragorn's lips and was relieved when he swallowed it without comment. Legolas had brought water and clean bandages together with the herbs."
I'd better change your bandages now you're awake." Éomer said, starting to pull down the blankets.
Aragorn pushed him away with what little strength he had. "No, I can do that as I am a trained healer!" he protested.
Éomer grinned." I do mean to wash my hands first if that is what troubles you." he assured him." And if you're still not happy we could always ride back to Minas Tirith to see if my sister is sufficiently recovered to tend to you as she usually tends our wounded, or failing her, I could summon old Ioreth!"
"I can do it myself!" Aragorn insisted. He struggled to prop himself up on his elbows, but fell back groaning, as another sharp stab of pain jabbed his side.
Éomer waited, thinking it was easier by far to tend an injured horse. It might try to kick him, but you did not have to worry about the animal's pride. He was accustomed to tending the men who served under him but the High King of Gondor and Arnor was a different matter entirely.
Defeated, Aragorn ceased to struggle and resigned himself to Éomer's rough ministrations. Deep down, he knew it would be almost impossible to tie the bandages round himself properly in his current condition, not to mention cleaning the wounds. However, he found the whole situation very uncomfortable to endure.
He had been wounded many times, but always; either his foster father, Elrond or his fellow rangers, who were like a close knit family had tended him. He was fond of Éomer but he was ill prepared for him having to carry out such intimate tasks. Then he was the trained Healer, not Éomer who was young enough to be his grandson!
"It had better be you, as that old woman's tongue would drive my wits from me! Be quick then, so I can see how the Hobbits fare!" he groaned. He shut his eyes and tried to pretend he was elsewhere, as Eomer pulled back the blankets and uncovered him.
Éomer's keen glance revealed that only the bandages around Aragorn's side were stained.
The King of Gondor could not have looked unhappier, had Eomer suddenly transformed into the Dark Lord himself, as he turned his head away from the other's scrutiny.
Given Aragorn's obvious discomfort Éomer decided just to tend the worst of the wounds now and leave the others until later. He pulled the covers back up over Aragorn's hips and helped him to a sitting position, propping him up with pillows.
It was hard to discern who was the more relieved now that this much at least was accomplished
"I fear I'm not gentle. Not like you were with my sister," Éomer said, pulling the bandage away from the oozing wound and starting to wash it clean.
Aragorn blanched with the pain and sweat poured from his face. He cried out as the cloth touched the wound.
"You took an Orc weapon and it chipped the bone and became infected," Éomer explained, hating the fact he was inflicting more pain on his friend.
His healer's instincts getting the better of him, Aragorn forced himself to look at the wound. He was reassured the flesh was clean and did not look inflamed.
Trying not very successfully to be gentle, Éomer applied a herbal salve after he got a nod of approval from his reluctant patient.
Aragorn bit his lip when the salve stung the raw skin and brought tears to his eyes. Ashamed of his own weakness, he tried to turn his mind to other matters. "It grieves me about your sister, I never meant to hurt her," he told Éomer, looking him straight in the eye. "My heart belongs to another lady to whom I have been troth plighted for many years. I am sorry if Lady Éowyn misunderstood friendship for something else. I do love her as a sister, for who could fail to admire a lady of such courage and beauty? I hope she one day finds a man worthy of her love."
"You have only my gratitude, not my blame. " Eomer replied, fastening the bandage securely. "You saved her life."
Aragorn yawned. "I feel so sleepy, " he said "Did you…?" Before he could finish the sentence, he was fast asleep.
Éomer tucked the blankets round him and patted his hand rather awkwardly." Dream of your lady, my friend," he whispered. "Would that I could find one as fair!"
The King of Rohan sat watching Aragorn for a while, thinking about how much he had come to care for him in the short time that he had known him. Already he loved him as he would a brother.
He had lost so many whom he had loved. He was but a child when his parents died, now both his cousin and uncle were dead too. Were it not for Aragorn, his beloved sister would even now, be lying in state beside King Théoden.
Such melancholy thoughts made him weary and he suppressed a yawn. Legolas came over to where he was sitting. "The hobbits seem a little better," the Elf said. "How fares Aragorn now?"
"Sleeping but I still fear for him," Éomer replied. "Look how pale he is now!"
"I think he must have used his healing touch on the Hobbits again," Legolas said after a moment's thought. "They grow stronger as he grows weaker. I would not have brought them to him had I known, but I thought he was just feeling their brows to test for fever."
"It is hard to resist his will when he is determined." Éomer commented. "I realised that when we first met on the plains of the Mark."
"Were he not of such virtue and had laid hands on the ring, his will would inspire terror in all," the Elf said thoughtfully. "Yet his virtue is such that, all who know him, come to love him."
" I know, I gave him my love when I first laid eyes upon him," Éomer said sadly, "I only hope he has chance to show his true worth to all."
Legolas knelt beside Aragorn and felt his wrist. "His pulse is strong," he said reassuringly "He will recover I think, given rest and care .The herbs you have given him will make him sleep for many hours."
He looked at Aragorn who was sleeping peacefully and then at the weary King of Rohan. "Why not rest now?" he suggested, "I will watch all of them. Elves need less sleep than mortals do. I will call you if you are needed, though that poppy juice should make Aragorn sleep for hours. You will need all your wits about you for when he does awaken"
Éomer was going to refuse the Elf's offer but realised it would be folly to do so. He lay down alongside Aragorn, pulling his cloak around him for warmth. Within moments, had fallen into a deep sleep
When he woke again, it was almost dawn and a glimmer of pale light was coming through the flaps of the tent. Legolas was sitting where he had left him, his keen gaze moving back and forth between the Hobbits and Aragorn.
Seeing that Éomer was awake, the Elf came over to him. "The fever has left the Hobbits," he said, before Éomer could ask any questions." I last bathed them an hour ago. It is as we suspected; Aragorn used his healing power."
Éomer shook his head. "Why must he put himself at such risk?" he asked, more to himself than the Elf.
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.