27. From Riches to Rags
"He's here, bring a light!" Beregond called.
Almost as swiftly as an arrow in flight, Faramir appeared, the other men followed as best they could, struggling to keep a footing on the muddy ground.
Faramir sank beside the still figure, oblivious of the rain and the mud. Nearby, Roheryn watched them, pawing the ground with his great hooves.
"The King is alive," Beregond assured him. " I saw him moving. I think he must have fallen and struck his head."
"We must get him to shelter," said Faramir, noting Aragorn's pallid features and soaked clothing. His voice was scarcely audible against the wind and rain.
Aragorn stirred and moaned softly. His grey eyes flickered open.
"Faramir?" he whispered.
"I am here, I will not leave you," said the Steward, reaching out to clasp Aragorn's hand reassuringly.
"Faramir, they …"
"Where are you hurt, mellon nîn?" Faramir asked urgently.
"What?" Aragorn sounded bewildered. He closed his eyes again.
"Is it safe to move him?" one of the men asked.
"We cannot leave him here in this weather," said Beregond. "That would kill him more swiftly than any injuries he might have."
"We passed a cottage about a mile back, we will have to ask there for shelter, " Faramir decided. "Beregond, help me get him on my horse. Whoever has the swiftest horse must ride on ahead. Unless you meet with resistance, it is better our identities remain secret. Enemies could be lurking while simple folk might be overwhelmed if their King and Steward came upon them thus."
The Steward urged his mount to move as swiftly as could safely be achieved under the treacherous conditions. Why, oh why had they gone in search of a renegade band of Southrons in this weather? he wondered. Aragorn had spotted their trail and gone on ahead. Now he was injured, maybe gravely so.
Aragorn thrashed around, making it difficult for Faramir to hold on to continued to groan. The short journey seemed endless as Faramir attempted to soothe him while guiding his horse through the mud.
Lamps were burning in the cottage window when they arrived, and an old woman stood at the threshold with the guard who had ridden on ahead. "You are welcome, travellers," she said. " I am Maedaneth, daughter of Mardil. Come and sit by the fire. I will bring blankets and hot drinks."
With Beregond's assistance, Faramir carried his lord into the living area. They left puddles of rainwater in their wake as they moved. Faramir and Beregond looked doubtfully at Aragorn's dripping clothes, then at the dry covers on the bed.
"We need to get him out of those wet things first," said Faramir. "If we sit him on the chair …" He cast aside his own dripping cloak, as did Beregond. Underneath, their clothing was fairly dry. They began by peeling off Aragorn's saturated cloak and boots, discovering the garments he wore beneath were equally soaked.
The old woman entered with two worn blankets. "I'll brew some tea while you get dry," she said, retiring to the kitchen.
"Hardly fit for a king, but these will have to suffice," said Faramir as soon as she was out of earshot. He started to ease Aragorn's. tunic over his head, while Beregond pulled at his breeches.
Aragorn started to struggle fiercely. "Desist and let me be!" he cried.
"You need to get warm and dry, mellon nîn," Faramir said gently but firmly. "Beregond, I need your assistance. The rest of you can wait in the other room."
Relieved not to be forced to choose between obeying their King or their Steward, the other men slunk after Maedaneth into the kitchen.
"Easy, it is I," Faramir, soothed. Even Aragorn's linens were soaked and his bluish tinged skin felt icy to the touch. Once his shirt was removed, a vast bruise across his shoulder and chest was revealed, matching an ugly bruise on his head. It seemed Aragorn recognised his friend's voice for his struggles abated.
"It looks as if he was attacked," Beregond said grimly, as they swiftly wrapped the wretched blankets around their lord. "I assume one of those Southron brutes saw him and struck him down, thinking he was alone and would not survive the elements long."
"They will pay," said Faramir grimly, momentarily feeling chilled to the bone. "Let us get him on the bed. I will move it nearer the fire. He most likely has cracked or broken ribs or, at the very least, severe bruising. I will see if he has some salve in his pack." He rummaged amongst Aragorn's healing supplies, which had remained safely stowed in his saddlebags, and selected a jar of comfrey ointment, which he applied liberally to Aragorn's bruises. Though he tried to be as gentle as he could, Aragorn groaned at the lightest touch. Faramir's anger surged; how dare anyone treat his lord thus? If any one of them had been injured, Aragorn's healing hands would have tended them and eased their pain rather than increased it!
"I will see if Mistress Maedaneth has a hot drink for him," said Beregond.
Faramir kicked off his muddy boots and climbed up beside Aragorn, cradling his blanket-shrouded form in his arms, propping him up to make it easier for him to drink and trying to offer warmth and reassurance. Aragorn groaned again.
"You will soon be well and home with your lady," Faramir promised him.
"Cold," Aragorn murmured.
Beregond returned the next moment with mugs of steaming tea, and held one to the King's lips. Aragorn managed to sip the hot drink. After a few minutes he started to shiver, a good sign that he was starting to get warmer.
When the cup was drained, Aragorn sank back against the lumpy pillow. "So tired," he whispered.
Faramir put his hand on Aragorn's chest beneath the ragged coverings. His skin was feeling warmer and his heart beat strongly. His companions were taking no chances, though, and remained throughout the night either side of him. Beregond dozed fitfully while Faramir remained wakeful and watchful while his lord slept.
The sun was streaming through the cottage window the next morning when Aragorn opened his eyes. "Where am I?" he enquired.
"An old woman gave us shelter in her cottage," said Faramir, trying to ease his aching arms to a more comfortable position. "She does not know who we are."
"I remember now, Faramir, I was struck with a cudgel," said Aragorn, "They came upon me unawares, but Roheryn bolted before they could do me any great mischief, though I feel as if a mûmak has sat upon me! Why are you smiling like that, mellon nîn?"
"Because you are awake and in your right mind!" Faramir found himself blinking back tears of joy. He shifted himself into a more comfortable position.
"It is good to see you looking better, sir," said Maedaneth, bustling in with more hot drinks." A cup of hot tea should soon set you to rights, sir, now you are awake. My old grandmother always swore by it as a cure for all ills!"
Faramir made to hold the cup for Aragorn, but after a few sips, the King felt able to hold the tea for himself.
"Whatever have you wrapped me in?" Aragorn enquired, shifting uncomfortably. "These blankets itch indescribably!"
"It was all the lady who gave us shelter had," said Beregond.
"And I shall see she is richly rewarded," said the King. "She shall want for nothing in future."
Just then Maedaneth returned with a bundle of clothing. "I dried these in the kitchen," she said producing all of Aragorn's garments and the cloaks of the other two. "These are mighty fine linens, fit for the King himself, I'd wager! You are welcome to bide here until you are fully recovered, sir," she told Aragorn.
"Thank you, mistress, your kind hospitality saved my life," Aragorn told her gravely. His spirits rose considerably at the prospect of shedding the itchy blankets in favour of his own more comfortable garb. Soon he would be reunited with Arwen and his children, saved from an untimely death, not only by his loyal friend and his men, but also by one of his most lowly subjects and two tattered blankets!
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.