8. Chapter Eight
Strider held tightly onto the reins, giving his trust into Salo to lead them safely away from the dangerous wargs. He had never been to this area before and the surrounding woods were unknown to him. He hazard a quick glance toward Thurin and sighed. They would have to stop soon. The man was losing a lot of blood from the shoulder wound.
"Do you know the area, Thurin?"
When he didn't answer, Strider asked once again. "Thurin? We must stop. Your wound is bad. I need to tend to it. Do you know where we are?"
Thurin turned a blank look toward him, then slowly slumped forward in the saddle. Strider barely had time to reach out, wrapping an arm around him before he slipped from the horse. Using the last of his strength, Strider pulled Thurin before him on Salo.
"Rada nen*, Salo. We must find water."
The horse raised his head, sniffing the air, and then he headed through the thicket toward what Strider could only hope was a place where they could safely rest. He didn't think Thurin would last much longer and if the pain in his side was any indication, he would need some tending to as well.
Strider clicked his tongue to the roof of his mouth, calling Thurin's horse to him. Thankfully, he had heard Thurin doing much the same earlier on the trail. It wouldn't do either of them any good to lose a valuable horse such as Maethor. Salo could only carry the two of them so far.
A loud roar reached Strider's ears and he sighed with relief. Somehow Salo had found what the two rangers needed most. Water. He tightened his grip on the unconscious ranger in front of him and headed toward the sound of rushing water. Within moments, Salo broke through the brush into a clearing by a small lake. The loud rush of water Strider had heard was the waterfall that fed the lake.
With a weariness that he felt all the way to his bones, Strider swung off Salo, nearly dropping Thurin as his feet reached the ground. Lifting the young ranger, he half carried, half dragged him to a spot next to the lake. Strider surveyed the area and decided that it was safe enough. They had water and wood for a fire. There was food and medicines in their packs. Hopefully, they would not need anything else.
"I am sorry, Thurin," Strider said as he pressed a bit of cloth onto the shoulder wound. "Your injuries must wait a little longer. I have to get a fire going." He glanced at the skies and frowned. "It will be dark soon."
Thurin moaned, but did not wake. Strider left him by the lake, his cloak draped over him to help ward off the chill in the air. They needed a fire. And quickly. They also needed shelter for the night. Strider looked around the small clearing, finding little in the way of a shelter. If he wanted one, he would have to build one.
Moving as quickly as the wound along his ribs would allow, Strider collected fallen branches from just within the tree line. As he turned to head back to where he left Thurin, his eye caught a shadow behind the waterfall. Frowning, he cautiously walked toward the side of the falls. A path, just barely discernable to the eye, lay at his feet.
Strider dropped the bundle of wood he had collected and proceeded behind the falls, water soaking him to the bone. He emerged in a large cave, one that must have been used for a shelter at one point, as there was a fire circle already built. Hope surging through him, he returned to the clearing. All he had to do now was get Thurin, the horses and the wood all inside.
Strider kneeled down beside his fallen comrade and grimaced. The brown leather overcoat was now soaked with blood from the left shoulder all the way to the wrist. He could just imagine how bad the warg's fangs had dug into Thurin's shoulder. He reached out and touched Thurin on the soft curve of his jaw. A slight moan slipped from between parted lips and Strider pulled his hand back, surprised to find it was trembling.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Strider carefully lifted the young ranger. Thurin was so light in his arms, fit within his embrace so easily. If he had been a woman, he would be hard pressed to deny the warm feeling in the pit of his stomach. Thurin was beautiful, not ruggedly handsome as most men were. Strider groaned as his body came to life when he pictured Thurin as a woman.
Shaking himself for the impure thoughts, he returned to his task, tugging on the coat until it came off his arms. Tossing it aside, Strider tackled the bloodied vest one handed, pulling on the ties that held it closed. Carefully, he eased the vest aside. As he maneuvered Thurin from one arm to the other, his thoughts strayed once again.
What was happening to him, he thought? He was acting strangely. It must be the fever that was developing because of the deep gashes on his ribs. Surely, he would not be thinking this way if he was not reaching the point of delirium. With another quick mental shake, he was finally able to remove the once white linen shirt.
"What the..." he asked himself out loud as he gradually lifted the shirt over Thurin's head.
Thurin had linen strips wrapped tightly around his upper chest. He picked up his knife and with a quick flick of his wrist cut the bindings away.
Strider dropped another branch onto the growing blaze, the heat of the fire radiating through the cave. It had taken four trips, but he had gotten everything inside the cave. Both horses were dry and hobbled at the back of the cave, a grain sack around each muzzle. He had tended Thurin's shoulder wound, binding the deep gashes with an herbal poultice for the infection. So far the young ranger had yet to wake and that had him worried. The sun had already crossed the sky and had dipped below the horizon.
Strider heard Thurin moan and crossed to the other side of the fire. He crouched down and reached out a hand to touch the ranger's forehead. It was still warm to the touch. The fever had not burned itself out yet.
Thurin's eyes fluttered open and Strider smiled as pale blue eyes met his own.
"Strider?" Thurin asked, reaching an unsteady hand up to the bandage wrapped about the left shoulder. When fingers came in contact with bare skin, Thurin's eyes grew wide.
"We have much to talk about, Thurin," Strider said.
"You cannot tell my secret, Strider," Thurin said, sitting up, the cloak falling.
A quick hand stopped it from revealing too much. Strider eased the cloak back to Thurin's shoulders. "Perhaps you should start from the beginning and tell me your name."
"My name is Laeriel."
"Thurin was my brother. He was killed with my parents in an Orc raid three years ago. I took up bow and sword that very day to avenge their deaths."
"What of the others? Do they know that you are a woman?" Strider asked, handing her one of her shirts from her pack.
"Only Balharn...knew...." she said, her voice catching on the name.
"I am truly sorry, Laeriel. I could not reach him," Strider said, watching her struggle with her shirt. Silently, he reached out, pulling the sleeve up over her arm.
Tears sprang to her eyes at the gentle touch. She turned away, not wanting him to see her weep. The movement brought forth a sharp intake of air as the wound in her shoulder pulled.
"Laeriel...lay back. The wound is deep and must be painful," Strider said, placing a gentle hand on hers.
Sighing, she did as she was told, lying back against the soft folds of the bedroll. Glancing up at him, she noticed he was frowning, the brows knitted together. "What?"
"Your wound is bleeding again. I will need to look at it once more. You have already lost much blood," he said, helping her to sit up again.
Laeriel watched as he moved slowly about the fire, gathering fresh water, bandages and more of a sticky poultice. When she saw him wince as his arm brushed his side, she leaned forward carefully. "You are injured as well, are you not?"
"It's nothing. Now lie back."
"Strider...your tunic is bloodied."
"It's nothing. A mere scratch."
"Aragorn..." she said softly, placing her hand softly on his arm. "Let me take a look at your wounds. I cannot have the Chieftain of the Dúnedain die on my watch."
"I have yet to take up that post...." he argued.
"Has anyone ever told you that you are stubborn?"
Strider laughed. "My brothers. Many times." When he noticed the exasperated look on her face he conceded. "Okay. You may take a look at the injury. But I tell you, it is nothing more than a few scrapes. But first, I need to redress that shoulder. If it gets infected, you may lose movement in it."
Silently, Laeriel nodded. She turned her head as Strider peeled away the cloth of her shirt, then the blood soaked dressing. As he wiped away the blood, she had to bite her lower lip to keep from crying out. The water, mixed with the poultice he used, stung.
"I am sorry," he whispered, knowing the medicine he was using stung greatly.
Taking a deep breath, she turned to look at him. "I will live. What is in this awful smelling stuff anyway?"
"Many herbs my Ada taught me to use. I am glad I listened to those particular lessons."
Strider re-wrapped her shoulder, making sure the bandage was tight, but that she could still move it. He began cleaning up his supplies when he felt her hand on his forearm.
"I think you are forgetting something, Strider. Remove your shirt."
He eyed her, and then sighed. It was obvious by the look in her eyes that she was used to getting her way. Silently, he pulled the shirt over his head, wincing as the movement strained the torn muscles along his ribs.
"Strider...these are more than mere scratches," she chided. "Hand me that basin of water and the rag. They are not even cleaned properly."
Strider did as he was asked, then twisted his neck to see how bad the gashes really were. He had tried to clean them as best he could, but he had been too worried about Thurin. Laeriel, he corrected. At least he could explain away the odd feelings he had been having for the ranger. And now that he thought about it, the rest of what he had learned about Thurin suddenly made sense.
"Ow!" he cried, glancing back at her.
"I'm sorry. But there was some fur in the wound. I had to pull it out. Did you even try to clean this wound once we escaped?"
"I was more worried about you, Thur....Laeriel. I still am."
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.