1. Healing Time
From a sweet dream of peace and safety, Aragorn woke alone, without the strength to open his eyes. The dull misery of broken bones and overstressed muscles spread a weary malaise that pinned him to the lumpy ground. He remembered sitting to ease his aches, but he must have slept. The light came low and harsh on his face. The day had fled. If he did not open his eyes and move he would die here and not quickly. Should he bother? Even his mother would only feel a brief passing grief if he did not return from the Wild.
He found himself not despairing enough to simply lie and wait for death. He still craved secure shelter, fire, and food. Gathering his will, he tried to rise. The dull ache of his broken ribs flared into a sharp stab and his arms quivered, his still swollen hands unwieldy. On his knees, he paused. Within easy reach on the forest floor rested a water bottle. Delicate tooling on it showed a bird with wings upraised, in the elaborate branches of a tree, protecting its nest from a passing squirrel, who stood, merely curious, one paw wrapped protectively around an acorn.
The beauty in the bottle smote his senses and he hung his head, panting, as pain threatened to rip his mind asunder. He had forgotten such things were possible. Even the carelessly draped shoulder strap of the bottle was braided and knotted in pleasing patterns. The self-imposed barrier in him rent, and the light became more golden. The shadow patterns of the leaves danced to the music of the merry bird-song that filled the air. A cousin to the squirrel on the bottle stood motionless across the clearing. Their eyes met and with an admonitory chitter, the squirrel bounded away.
Next to the bottle lay a neat package of folded leaves. Mindful of his ribs, he reached out with a swollen, discolored finger to touch it. They fell apart, revealing a strip of rations – dried fruit, parched grains, smoked bird flesh, the whole marbeled with fat and bound with honey. He thought he had gone past hunger, but the scent of the rich, wholesome food brought a flood of moisture to his mouth. His fingers bent when he willed them to, but they could not quite grasp the food, only smearing them. He brought them to his lips and licked.
Disregarding the pain in his side, he pushed himself higher and a fine cloak slipped off his shoulder. With the eaves of the dark wood behind them, the elven guards, with ready weapons and hard, ageless eyes pressing him for his name, had blended into the unrelenting duress from before. He had clutched his identity closely and finally choked out "Estel" and nothing more. Vagabonds were not welcome. He must stay while they consulted. After they disappeared into the forest, he had staggered over to the nearest tree, and slid down the trunk, too tired to do more than wait.
The elves had not abandoned him. He looked at the evidence of their casual kindness to a chance-met, ragged wanderer - the cloak, the water, and the food – and tears pricked his eyes. He blinked them away. He would not waste their bounty. Not able to gobble the meal, he savored each morsel as he licked it from his fingers, feeling a tiny amount of strength return. Holding the bottle between his arm and his chest, he pulled the cork with his teeth and upended it. It held, not water, but a weak tisane with the woodiness of willow bark.
He drank half the bottle in greedy gulps, hoping it was enough to ameliorate his pain. Propping the bottle against his leg, he tried to insert the cork. The bottle tipped, splashing liquid. He fumbled it upright, cursing his unresponsive fingers, and saw that he had not been quick enough. The beautiful leather was wet and stained, ruined. He seemed destined to mar all that he touched. Left alone here… Panic froze him. The Nazgul! Had they already killed the guards? Were they toying with him until dark? Had he led them here to sully and defile the golden trees?
Aragorn staggered up and put a tree at his back. They would not take him alive a second time. He waited, pressed aginst a rough bole, as the sun slid down beneath the treetops and the day cooled. Shaking with fatigue, he did not know how much longer he could stand.
One moment the clearing stood empty, the next it was crowded with armed and wary elves. A silver-haired lord stood in front of him resting his hands on the hilt of his sword.
"I know of only one Estel. Speak the truth of your lineage or go," he demanded.
Was this a fair-seeming over evil? Aragorn's vision tunneled. He marshalled his remaining strength.
"Master Elrond named me Estel when he fostered me. If you know that, you know my father's name." He held out his hands and saw angry red lines radiating from the supperating gashes on his wrists. "I am sore in need of succor."
"So! Elrond's fledged cuckoo has need of a nest. Be welcome, Dúnadan." Celeborn, for it could only be he, smiled.
Aragorn shook his head. He had brought evil with him. "Orcs captured me, and – Nazgul follow."
"The Nazgul fear the river. Rest now."
An exquisite pain flared in his wrists and Aragorn writhed against the strong hands that held him still. The second-most beautiful woman he had ever seen looked up and he was pinned to the soft mattress like a collected moth by the force of her cool gaze.
"Sleep. Fear not. When you wake you will be whole."
She had kept her word. The neat bandages seemed a mere formalilty and, though still discolored, his fingers moved smoothly when he made a fist and stretched them out. The ache in his ribs had subsided. He lived. What would he do now?
Aragorn's fate had been foretold: bitter days alone. A wife and sons: an impossible dream.
The third day they sent his dinner with a cheerful Marchwarden.
"I Haldir," he said slowly in Westron. "Have I little facility in the tongue of Men, but the people some have need learn it. Talk with me while you here?"
"I will not be here much longer."
Haldir grinned at him. "The Lady says you not yet healed." He pointed at Aragorn's bare feet and laughed. "Warned she me not to give you boots."
Aragorn summoned a weak smile.
"There is still a shadow upon you," Galadriel said.
"If there is, it is an old grief, and of my own making. Will dazzling clothes disguise it?" He gestured at the gleaming white and silver that clothed him. "I am no Elf lord. Give me Ranger garb, Lady, and a sword. It is time for me to go."
"You have not yet seen the Golden Wood." She regarded him. He met her eyes and fought the urge to stammer excuses under her gaze. She seemed to approve. "Walk upon Cerin Amroth. There is beauty there that can heal your heart."
Happy Birthday, Lissa. It's not quite your universe, but it does have Haldir.
For how Aragorn got captured by Nazgul and injured his hands, see my story Fell Memories
""Then bitter will my days be, and I will walk in the wild alone," said Aragorn.
' "That will indeed be your fate," said Gilraen;" – The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen
I know Haldir seemed pretty fluent in Westron when he met the Fellowship, but he'd had another 38 years to perfect his accent and expand his vocabulary.
Because JRRT tells us Galadriel "clothed him in silver and white, with a cloak of elven-grey and a bright gem on his brow. … And thus it was that Arwen first beheld him again after their long parting," I assume she had not spent the previous week sponging Aragorn's fevered brow and his presence had been kept from her. It's a big city, and Galadriel wanted to play matchmaker.
And many, many thanks to my betas. Sulriel for general comments and help, and I fall at the feet of and worship Darth Fingon for making Haldir's speech properly Sindarin-ized "Westron."
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