36. Healings and Betrayals
Healings and Betrayals
Legolas did not return that day or during the night.
Early that afternoon the Lord King An'Elessar and the Lady Queen Arwen Undomiel visited the infirmary of the second royal complex, a building which had been given over to the use of the healers for the past thirty years, which proved to be the building where the stranger called Horubi'ninarin had come with his hosts during his last visit to the Valley of the Sun and where he had removed the growth from the side of An'Horubi. Here the Lord and Lady of Gondor examined patients and offered suggestions on how many ought to be treated. In the case of two children and one adult with fevers and infections the King spoke quietly with them, let his fingers feel deep, and in one case asked for hot water for the use of athelas so he could clean a suppurating wound, sang the invocation----
Sa'Amonri smiled with relief as he saw several responding to the touch of King and Queen, as he saw easing of pain and easing of fear, as he saw the weeping sore finally begin to heal once the King found the fragment of wood that remained in it and removed it and saw all cleansed and laid his hand upon it. He saw a woman who had been suffering from headaches find easing; a child whose bowels had been cramping for weeks was able to stand and straighten and smile again; a young Man who approached death and who had been in terror was soothed, the fear fled away. Here the King again felt deep, and then the Queen did the same. Both came back to themselves, the King looking very tired. "I can do nothing," he said softly once a seat was given him to sit by the youth's bed, "nothing to halt the progress of the disease at this point. I can offer you easing in it only, and help to continue to relieve the fear that you do not miss the Way to the Halls of Waiting in your terror."
"I understand, great Lord," the young Man returned. "I am already easier."
The Queen went out with the herbalist and the healer who dealt with the case as the King stayed by the youth and held his hand, spoke in a low voice, placed his other hand over the young Man's brow, and Sa'Amonri and Sa'Harpelamun, who were among those attending on the King as he went through the place, saw a further relaxation of the young Man's body, a further calming of his face, saw him take deeper and deeper breaths. At last the healer returned, followed by Queen and herbalist, the last bearing a glass beaker. At last the King removed his hands, and they could see the youth's face, the smile he now wore--tired, but relaxed. He looked up at the Northern Lord, reached up to grasp his hand, drew it down to kiss it and hold it to his cheek, then released it. "I am no longer fearful. Thank you for showing me the Way," he said. At last the King rose, and went to the door, turned and bowed deeply to the youth, then signed to the healer to give him the draught as he left.
The last cases were of two children both in the grips of fevers, an infant and her three-year-old sister. The King took the infant from the arms of her terrified mother, held it as he sang the invocation.... His face was stern with contained fury as he came back present, and he demanded steaming water and a large number of cloths for cleaning be brought immediately, asked the infant's name, and he began to call the name, then laid it beside the small girlchild and set a hand on each. The Queen followed suit, and she, too showed deep concentration. They saw her eyebrows rise, then the growing anger in her, too. She looked to the herbalist and swiftly demanded certain herbs, two of them commonly pounded to a paste and dissolved in wine to coat the stomach, others to ease spasms of the bowels, described exactly how she wished them prepared. He nodded and hurried away, and she returned her full attention to the two children and her husband....
The King's head was raised, his eyes were closed, his attention fully fixed on whatever place he went through to find the two spirits he sought. Then suddenly both bodies broke out in sweats, both urinated, their bowels relaxing. The children's mother was shocked and fearful.
The hot water arrived then, and the King suddenly came back to himself, took out athelas from his kit--he had so little left now, he noted, dropped it into the basin with his blessing, then took up one of the cloths and began cleaning the baby as swiftly and thoroughly as could be effected. The Queen did the same for the older child as the King labored over the infant. As they worked the Queen was silent, but the King could be heard murmuring words of calming and prayers for strength and endurance. As each cloth was fouled it was dropped into a basket which lay nearby for the reception of dirty sheets, and as now King and Queen held the two small figures in their arms, Sa'Amonri ordered the two cots be changed completely. Stools were brought for the Lord and Lady to sit upon, the two cots carried out and new ones brought in with clean linens, the basket changed as the cloths dropped had less and less matter on them as they were finished with, and finally, both bodies cleaned, they were placed carefully onto the clean cots, and they were wrapped with fresh blankets. When the herbalist came with the two draughts, the King asked for a small leather funnel, and gently administered a portion of the draught to the infant, a very small amount at a time, asking the mother to hold the child as he did so. The queen asked for a smaller tumbler, and holding the girl in the crook of one arm did similarly with her, feeding the girl a measure of the drink, then after a time of simply holding her gave her another measure, until she'd been given half of what the herbalist had brought for her.
Now the King had both again laid together on the same cot, and again laid his hands over their brows, went back distant and called their names, brought them back to themselves, saw each come briefly awake and look up at him with trust as he smiled down on them. He spoke quiet words, eased each into a healing sleep. Then he exposed their bellies and laid his hands there.
Finally he pulled away, having done all he could at this time. He looked to the mother. "You will need to come away to another room where they cannot hear," he said. He rose heavily, and it was obvious he was near exhaustion himself. They went into what had once been the dining room and he sat heavily. The Queen spoke to the herbalist and asked for a draught of certain herbs in wine to be made up for the King, and she stood behind him, her hands on his shoulders. For a time he was silent, his hands on his knees, his eyes shut. Finally he opened his eyes and fixed them on the children's mother, began to ask his question.
When he was done, the healer's face was a mix of fury and understanding, and Sa'Amonri looked on the King with increased respect. The mother was still confused at what was wrong and what had been revealed through her testimony. The herbalist came with the draught the Queen had requested, and the King accepted it into his hand, automatically smelled it first and examined its color and clarity, then smiled his thanks before taking a sip from it, grimacing at the taste. Finally he looked at the woman. "Your children were poisoned. It is a slow poison that must be given daily over time, and it builds up in the bodies, damages the bowels and stomach, causes bleeding. I believe that they will now recover, but there are certain foods they must not be given in the future, not for a very long time and perhaps never. And your mother will be arrested for the poisoning."
The woman looked stricken, but slowly the shock was replaced by fury as she realized how her mother had decided to remove the children and the husband she'd never wanted her daughter to marry from her household. She'd managed, apparently, to get rid of the unwanted son-in-law, now was slowly killing the grandchildren. That her daughter might take them to the Valley of the Sun to pray for healing she'd not foreseen; that her part in the disappearance of the husband and the illness of the children would be brought out she'd simply not imagined.
Sa'Amonri looked at the King. "I will advise the Farozi and oversee the questioning of the woman, find out what happened to the father of these two girls. Even if he abused his wife, it is not up to the wife's mother to take justice into her own hands."
"But he never abused me!"
The Queen reached out her hands to the young mother, drew her close, spoke softly to her, eased her fury and her confusion, finally let her go. Still weeping at the betrayal of her happiness at the hands of her own mother, the woman returned to the room where her daughters lay, vowing to never seek to hold them so close that she would betray them as had happened with her. Relieved of their pain and their fever finally fled, both smiled up at her, and lay against her as they slept and their strength began to return.
Afterwards King and Queen went back to the house of the Farozi where the King went to his chamber and slept, the Queen sitting beside him, her hand on his shoulder as he rested. He ate lightly that evening, went out with many of the party to a place near the gate to the courtyard of the temple of Neryet, and began his own circle of music and song. Others of those who were within the Valley now began to gather to the place, heard the singing, watched as Isumbard Took danced the Husbandman's Dance, watched as Benai danced a dance of his people. Music of Harad was now played, music in which Ankhsarani joined playing a zithern kept here in the house of the Farozi within the Valley of the Sun, music to which Ankhrabi and Rustovrid sang and Nefiramonrani and the daughters of Ghansaret danced, music of joy and life and fulfillment.
The high priest of Amon sat on the chair set for him, his hand on the head of Sa'Harpelamun as he knelt by his master's side. The high priestess of Neryet stood beside him, smiling also as she saw Ankhsarani smile once more, saw the joy between Nefiramonrani and her husband, the looks the oldest daughter of Rustovrid and Ghansaret gave to Benai and his response.
Others now joined in the circle the King and Queen had begun, and more music was shared--drinking songs from Gondor, riding songs from Rohan, courting songs from Arnor, walking songs from the Shire. Hymns to Elbereth were sung in Sindarin and Quenya; to Neryet in Haradri. The song Sam had admitted he'd sung when his search for Frodo within the tower of Cirith Ungol seemed fruitless was sung by Pippin. And the song Frodo had written after the fall of Gandalf was sung by Pippin and Aragorn son of Arathorn.
Smiles were given, respect shown, laughter shared. And at last the Farozi's party rose, gave the others a good night, and returned to sleep in preparation for the morning's return to Thetos. The high priest of Amon rose stiffly, accepting the aid of the hand of the priestess of Neryet. "They are all good ones, blessed by the gods and beloved of the Creator," the priestess said quietly. "Middle Earth is better for the rule and service offered by each of them."
Looking after them the priest nodded his agreement, but the peace of his soul was troubled, foreseeing troubles on the return to the outer world.
Before they went to their beds, the King unfastened the chest of weapons. "Those of you who have mail, you will see it ready for the morning," he said. "It shall be worn hidden under the desert robes."
The others withdrew a bit and talked, and soon Berevrion, Haleth, and Pippin returned.
Berevrion held out his mail. "Let the Farozi wear my mail."
Haleth held out his. "I wish Lord Ankhrabi to wear mine--we are much of a size."
Pippin asked, "Which was born first, Amon'osiri or Ma'osiri?"
Aragorn looked at his white, set face. "Why?"
"He should wear mine. I only wish I had two sets, one for each." He raised his chin. "I doubt anyone will seek to hurt me, for they won't recognize the threat I might pose. But the secondary heir to the Farozi...."
The King held out his arms, drew all three to him, held them to his breast.
They rose an hour before dawn and went to the stables where Sa'Harpelamun awaited them. The horse Legolas had ridden was not there, and those who cared for the animals would say only that he'd taken it out the day before, along with quantities of food for it over his back. Quietly Gimli had gathered the Elf's personal satchel and put it over his shoulder and carried it with his own. Now he looked again at Aragorn, but kept quiet. As they started to mount the King stood by him to assist him if necessary, laid his hand on the Dwarf's shoulder, murmured quietly to him. The Dwarf nodded quietly, then turned to Ankhrabi. "I would like to take Amon'osiri before me on my pony," he said. "I find I miss my friend, and perhaps he can lighten my concern."
The boy seemed surprised, but agreed, and Ankhrabi seemed relieved in some manner, which surprised his wife.
"Where is Prince Legolas?" asked Lady Ankhsarani.
"He's gone to scout the trail for us," the King said quietly.
No one else asked anything. At last they were mounted, and with the Dwarf leading Amon'osiri's pony they set off.
The women and children and the priest were placed in the center of the circle, and those who carried weapons had them ready. Bows were already strung, and each one skilled with them had an arrow ready, concealed inside their robes. Careful watch was kept around them as they rode throughout the ride.
They were about an hour out of the Valley when the King saw the signal he'd watched for, and he slowed the pace. Quietly he passed the word, "Legolas signs there is an ambush ahead." The Farozi was now instructed to ride inside the ring of warriors.
Aragorn addressed the Farozi and Ankhrabi, "Is there any way other than the track we can go to outflank the ambush?"
Ankhrabi shook his head. "There is a pair of rocky outcrops ahead between which the road goes; beyond it the sand has ever been soft and treacherous. That is why the road goes between them, for it is the one way where we can count on firm sand beneath us and not have to worry for falls and slips and the sliding away of the dunes below us."
Sa'Harpelamun indicated his agreement. "The folk of the Death Eater tried several times to change the route--perhaps so that they might more easily come upon the Valley undetected; the desert always covered their proposed paths quickly."
"Perfect for an ambush," growled Rustovrid. He thought. "If I can get alongside them on one side.... Which side is Prince Legolas watching them from?"
"He was on the North side of the way when I saw his signal," Aragorn said.
"I know the land enough to get around them to the South. I'll leave my horse here. A Man on foot can get through where one on horseback will founder."
"Shall I go with you?" asked Hildigor.
"You know how to slip through forests undetected I know; but are you accustomed to walking on shifting sand?"
"No, I am not."
"Then you'd best stay where you are, then. Keep your bow ready." Rustovrid slipped off his horse, let its reins hang, and slipped among the dunes to the South of the way, followed by one of the Farozi's nephews. His wife watched with concern.
The party slowed as they approached the outcrops, and the King made a point of slipping off his horse to check its shoe, as if it had begun to go lame. Others crowded around him as if all were concerned with the condition of the horse as well, and he murmured his orders. "Women and children are to remain in the center of the circle. Have bows ready, swords ready to draw. Lord Farozi, stay in my shadow; Prince Ankhrabi, remain in Faramir's. You are the most obvious targets. The rest, mill sufficiently they can't tell necessarily that we are not our full number."
Ruvemir and Owain shared glances, knowing they'd do best to remain back and out of the way of those who knew hot to fight. Faramir smiled his approval as he saw them take positions on either side of Ankhrabi's wife and her sister.
All nodded and remounted. Last the King gave the hoof of his mount a pat and resumed his place in the saddle of the horse, and slowly led the way forward. He'd slipped his bow off his shoulder as he'd gotten off the horse and now turned as if saying something to the rest, actually scanning to see if he could see any of those who were lying in wait, wishing he had an idea of how many there might be.
Berevrion had pulled ahead on his right, while Haleth was ahead and to the left, and he realized they were in the configuration of his confused dream----
He slowed as if leaning over his horse and drew out the arrow he carried within his robes, saw that Hildigor was doing the same. Some way behind him Éomer was drawing his horse bow, calling out that he saw a vulture overhead, and would Aragorn like to compete with him as to which could hit it with his arrow. Glad of the excuse, Aragorn translated the question aloud in Haradri, and several laughed. The two of them now raised their bows as if aiming at the bird circling overhead on the thermals, but both were looking for other targets. A movement left, and another to the right----
Aragorn took the one to the left, while Éomer took the one to the right, and both Hildigor and Berevrion had their arrows in the air but a half-instant after. Faramir suddenly took his own aim, half behind them. But suddenly one stood atop the outcropping to the right of them and his arrow fell amidst them, striking Ankhrabi where neck met shoulder, and he fell. Suddenly Ma'osiri was riding forward between his father and the one on the outcrop, calling out, "Not my Babari!"--and another arrow caught him--in the throat.
Mablung's arrow took the one on the outcrop, while an arrow aimed at Aragorn from behind bounced back from his mail. A cry, and the one who'd fired that arrow fell forward down the slope, one of Legolas's arrows in his shoulder. The one who'd shot Ma'osiri fell over from before them on the left, clutching as his side where Rustovrid's sword had taken him.
Benai was off his horse, his sword from the pool in his hand, and he was between the Farozi's party and the ones running down the slope, swiftly overpowering those attacking them from northwest of their position.
Meanwhile the King was off his horse and kneeling over the child. Briefly the boy's eyes opened to look into his own. He mouthed, "Save my baba," and his body relaxed, his head falling back.
Arwen was by his side, took the child out of his hands, pushed him toward Ankhrabi, and he was now kneeling there by the body of the fallen Haradri Prince, checking the position of the arrow, seeking to see whether he could do any good. Ankhrabi was in shock, but still alive, although the bleeding was heavy, although probably much of it was going into his lungs. They were Haradri darts, shorter than those of Rohan, had no barbs to the points. Grateful for some mercies, he drew it out while packing a roll from the hem of his robe into it. There was fighting going on around them, but he paid it no mind. Then a shadow fell over them, and he looked up as one of the great Eagles landed alongside the Farozi's party. Arwen, the child in her arms, was approaching it, and then she was being helped by Benai onto its back, the child's body laid in her arms, and it rose up into the air, flying back to the West and the Valley of the Sun. The King had barely time or attention to note these details before he was being drawn back to the one before him, before he began the singing of the Invocation, letting his fingers feel deep.... "Oh, Ankhrabi," he murmured, "don't allow your son's sacrifice go for nought!"
Benai was there with his healer's bag, the knot already undone and the flap back when he came to himself. Hildigor was pulling out bandaging material, cutting off a small amount to pack into the wound in place of the robe material the King had used first. He now kept the pressure on the wound as the King leapt into Hirvuiloth's saddle, and handed Ankhrabi's body into his arms. Once again the King put his own fingers over the bandaging material, turned his horse, and with Mablung right behind him rode at speed back to the Valley.
Pippin brought out Sam's rope from within his pack, and soon the survivors from the ambush were bound and prepared for a march on foot back to the Valley in the midst of the Farozi's party. The bodies of those who'd been killed by Legolas and the archers among the guards were loaded onto the cart, as was the one Rustovrid had injured. Then the rest turned about and set out on their return.
Just outside the Valley the King was met by a party sent by the high priest of Amon with a litter and blankets. Aragorn handed down the body of Ankhrabi once he knew one of those taking him was able to continue the pressure, then he slipped from the saddle himself, was again taking responsibility for the pressure. He was reminded as they hurried as quickly but with as little jouncing as they could manage of the time he'd done similarly with the body of Frodo as they hurried through the Vale of Imladris to the House of Elrond.
Three hours he and Sa'Amonri, who had remained within the Valley and was now there to meet him, labored together over Ankhrabi, getting the bleeding stopped, sucking out as much of the blood as possible out of the upper lung, coaxing him to breathe normally again. The steaming water was brought to him, and he cast into it one of the last two leaves of athelas left to him. He didn't notice when Benai came and took the other. The room again smelled of clean air and the scent of the River, and he at last leaned over Ankhrabi, who was placed half sitting up now against cushions, and called to him. At last the wounded Man woke, his eyes confused but trusting, smiled, accepted a drink of broth, and slipped into sleep. The King let his fingers feel deep, felt at last the damaged tissue begin to knit, the last of the seeping from the smallest vessels finally stopped, felt the rhythm of heart and lungs ease and calm, begin returning to normal.
At last the King rose, straightened, began to reel. A stool was set behind him, and he was being coaxed to lean forward with his head between his knees and to take deep breaths. Then Pippin was putting a cup into his hands and insisting he drink it.
Sa'Amonri examined Ankhrabi, and said quietly, "He is well enough for now, Lord An'Elessar. Go out now and speak to the Farozi. You can give over fear for this one, at least for the moment."
He slowly walked out into the other room, Mablung by his elbow. Éomer came forward to his side, his eyes concerned, took his wrist. "You look worn, my brother."
"I feel worn. In the last ten years my stamina has decreased, I fear."
"It doesn't help, probably, that you yourself appear to be wounded."
Aragorn was surprised, for he'd not felt anything since the one arrow had rebounded from his back. But a check showed a broken shaft in his upper left thigh. Now he was being led into a side room, and Sa'Amonri, Hildigor, and Faramir were making him lie down on his side, Éomer giving him his hand to hold, Sa'Amonri giving him a strap on which to bite as the leg of his trousers was being cut away.
"If it gets too much to bear, my brother," the King of Rohan was telling him, "squeeze my hand."
Faramir smiled down on him from beside his brother-in-law. "And mine," he said, taking Aragorn's other hand. There was no real time to say much, as the dart was being pulled out and packing placed against the wound. He clutched desperately at their hands, then passed out.
He woke to look up at Éowyn, who was feeling his pulse. He could feel the pressure in the bandage wound around his thigh, realizing with some relief it was not too tight. Realizing he'd awakened, she smiled at him, then called over her shoulder, "He's back with us."
Hildigor was standing, looking down on him, the concern in his eyes lifting as he realized his cousin's own eyes were clear. Behind him was the Farozi, whose own face looked much older than it had looked when they'd left the Valley. His expression also began to relax. "I am so glad," he said softly. "I'd thought at first that it had gone badly with my son."
"He was doing well when I left him. I never realized I myself was wounded."
Sa'Amonri was on his other side now, his hand against the pulse in the King's neck. "You rode for half a mark, apparently, at top speed with Lord Ankhrabi in your arms, keeping the pressure on his wound, keeping him alive, with that dart in your thigh; and then spent three marks more standing on it while you and I fought for his life. You do not appear to have lost much blood, but in time your body was bound to let you know of the insult to it. I am amazed that you did not pass out the sooner."
"The last time I did something similar was when we were trying to remove the splinter of the Morgul knife from Frodo's shoulder. We almost lost him, for he was too weak from the long journey; then Adar caught at me and had Elladan, I think, carry me to my bed. I'd barely slept for the full two weeks since his wounding."
"We flushed the wound," Éowyn told him, "then had to use two stitches to close it."
"What did you flush it with?"
"Boiled water cooled to warm to the wrist in which sea salt was dissolved, forced from a leather dropper."
"That should be well enough," Aragorn said thoughtfully. He turned to Sa'Amonri. "Does the Prince still do well?"
The priest nodded. "Yes. He has awakened once more, accepted more of the broth, and we are preparing liver for him to eat to help build the blood. He sleeps again."
"How long have I slept?"
"Amon'osiri--how is he?"
"It has been a shock to his spirit, seeing such violence done to his father and his brother. He sits now with his father and holds his hand."
"She also is with her father. She was standing behind her brother, her hands on his shoulders, when I left them a few moments ago."
"She sits with her son."
The King closed his eyes briefly with remembered grief that was now flooding back into him. "He looked up at me, couldn't speak. But he let me know he wished me to care for his father."
The Farozi nodded. "I was right behind you then, saw your wife take him from you. I know he wished you to care for his father. He realized the wound was mortal, I think."
"Where is Arwen?"
"With my grandson and his mother. They have not yet allowed me to go to him."
"The Eagle bore them here?"
"Yes. Never have I seen such ever, my Lord An'Elessar."
"We tried to protect him. Pippin gave him his mail to wear."
"Yes, he had it upon him. But it could not protect his throat."
Aragorn realized he was weeping. An'Sohrabi took his hand, was also weeping. Faramir was once again there by him, had his hand on his shoulder while Éowyn brought a cloth for him to blow his nose upon, then a dampened piece of linen to cleanse his face.
Finally he calmed, and he asked, "How many were there?"
"Twelve Men. Three left out of here from the Valley, and the other nine joined them in the desert, apparently. From what we could tell, they were from Asual, some ten miles south of Thetos. They were supposed to come to the Valley of the Sun just after the expected triumph in Thetos, were to enter and occupy it. Instead, they set out and were overtaken by three who were to have taken control of Asual with the word that the revolt had failed.
"The one called Setra'amun apparently was intended to raise a revolt here in the Valley which those from Asual would have joined; but he found he could not find any here who would follow him. When two who arrived here the day before us gave news of the trial and death of Mertirion, he refused to believe you had destroyed his Ring, was certain you'd taken it to take its power for your own. He decided to set the ambush, kill you, me, Ankhrabi. He decided only a fully new Farozi could heal Harad of the evil which he believed has infected it since the end of the Death Eater."
"Is he yet alive?"
"Yes. He and the other seven who survived are held in the caverns where the horses are stabled. We have a few secure chambers there."
Faramir added, "Gimli, Legolas, and Damrod are among the guard there."
The King looked about and was counting. Finally he looked to his steward and asked, "Lord Benai?"
"He attends on the Queen."
"Good. Lord Rustovrid?"
"He has gone on to Thetos with one of Lord An'Sohrabi's guards to let Lord Amonrabi and Lord Afraim know what has occurred. His wife and daughters returned here with us."
"Was anyone else injured?"
"No, great Lord."
Benai came out of a nearby room. "Great Lord, you are now awake?" At the King's acknowledgment of the question he continued, "Your Lady would wish you to come to her, if you can. I will assist you as I may. I saw the dart take you as you leaned over the Prince, and I leaned over to break it that it not be in your way, for I saw it was not serious, and I feared to pull it out lest the point cause damage. It was told me when I came out before you had lost consciousness when it was drawn."
"I will come, if I can stand," Aragorn said. Sa'Amonri started to protest, then thought better of it. Aragorn was assisted to rise, and a cane was given into his hands. He realized it belonged to the high priest himself. He thanked the young priest who had seemed to materialize beside him to give this to him, and he limped to the doorway through which Benai had come, entered the room.
The high priest of Amon and one he recognized from the conference in the priests' quarters as the priest of Annubi and the priestess of Neryet were in the room already, the high priest of Amon sitting on a high stool with Sa'Harpelamun behind him. Nefiramonrabi sat on the other side near the child's head where his body lay; Arwen bent over his chest. She looked up as he entered, met his eyes, her own grave yet not unduly disturbed. "Estel," she said quietly, "if you would assist me with the calling, for he has slipped away yet again...."
He did not remember later how he came to be by the child's side, only was aware that his left hand lay on the boy's chest while his right was on the temple, that the room was filled with the scent of the athelas, which smelled like the perfume of Nefiramonrabi and the cosmetics worn by the Farozi when he must appear in public in his official function, that Arwen's right hand lay over his; and they were calling, seeking to draw the child back....
A cloth which had been placed in the cooled water in which the athelas had steeped was placed in his right hand, and he was bathing the child's temple and brow, then his chest. Pippin's mail lay on a nearby table, covered with the child's blood. Then he was letting his fingers feel deep, letting his attention seek the way to the Gates in pursuit of a small boy.
Two shining figures were there looking down, amused apparently, as the boy's spirit faced them, demanding he be weighed in place of his father. One looked up as he saw Aragorn approach, placed his hand on the boy's shoulder, turned him about, gave him a push between the shoulder blades....
And then the King was back inside his body, his eyes opening, looking down on the boy's eyes as at last they opened, confused and still somewhat defiant, looked up and saw his own, then turned and saw those of his mother, and the child smiled. And at his shoulder the King felt one of the Shining Ones murmuring in the ear of his spirit, "He is a spirited child, my son." Then he felt the withdrawal.
An'Sohrabi rose when the door opened again to the room where the King had gone, his pale face waiting word. King and Queen came out together, both also pale and worn with tiredness, both calm. "You may go in to be with him now," the King said with a gentle smile. "I must seek a bed."
Benai stood by King and Queen. Sa'Amonri gave a quiet word to a healer priest, and the rulers of Gondor were led to an empty room where two cots had been pushed side by side. Benai and Lady Avrieth helped King and Queen out of their clothing, helped unlace the mail and slip it over the King's head. Finally, King stripped to small clothes and the silk shirt he wore under his mail and the bandage about his thigh, Queen to her shift, they were coaxed onto the cots, and a single large blanket laid over the two of them, and they held one another and slipped together into sleep as the doors closed and left them alone together.
An'Sohrabi, meanwhile was stealing himself to look down on his grandson's body. He entered the room, heard priests chanting together in soft voices, saw where Nefiramonrabi sat near the boy's head, holding the child's hand, smiling through her tears. She looked up at him. "He's been so brave," she whispered. He nodded and drew nearer--and realized the child was breathing, that his throat was heavily bandaged, but that he lived.
He was sitting on a stool, his head down between his knees, being coaxed to take deep breaths. The high priest of Amon stood by him, had his hand on his shoulder, smiling down into his eyes. "He offered himself for his father with no fear, only love. He was sent back to you, great Lord."
It was only then that the Farozi of Harad realized the prayers he'd heard were prayers for healing and strength.
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