The Fall of Night, Part 12
19 January 3019
There is not much time for writing, and my hand shakes so with fatigue that barely can I grip my quill. This time since leaving Sarn Ford has been a misery. Somehow word of our mission have reached Isengard and Saruman, and he set a company of his orcs to beleaguer us. The foul beasts have injured Aras, but I have been able to tend his injury. I thank Eru for the healing abilities of the elves, as I doubt a Man would have been able to survive as he has.
Rûmil has shown his mettle as leader. His cheer is neither forced nor false and keeps our spirits high. He has complimented me on the neatness of my stitches in closing Aras’ wound, and approved when I took myself away from the battle to hide up a tree.
Rûmil gave me a single hard look when first I removed a bottle of medicine from my pack, but seems content now to trust me. It surprises me how pleasing it is, to have his trust and friendship, and I rue that I spoke rudely to him in the garden, those many months ago.
I have not laughed again since that single time, but then neither have I thought of dumping hot food over Rûmil’s head, so perhaps that explains it. There has been little time or inclination for levity, and now I must cleanse Aras’ wound again, and dose him with a pain-soother, so I will close this entry.
Eru, help us, and keep Nana and Legolas safe.
Lalaith closed the journal and stuffed it away hurriedly, then made her way to Aras’ side. So relieved had she been when they arrived at Great Bend and found this abandoned crofter’s hut that she had nearly cried. For at least one night, they would have walls around them, and the elves would be able to take some rest.
Rûmil had not slept since Sarn Ford, she knew, nor had Thalion, and when she glanced up to watch them discuss some matter, she saw weariness etched onto their handsome faces. The elves who now slept did so fully dressed and armed, sitting up with their bows in their hands and quivers on their backs. Aras’ injury was because they had not been perfectly prepared; it would not happen again, Rûmil vowed.
Aras was a pleasure to have as a patient, Lalaith thought. Quiet, polite, undemanding. He never flinched when a needle pierced his flesh or strong antiseptic stung his wound. If anything, he seemed perturbed that Lalaith might be upset over causing him pain. He was darker than most elves, his hair more brown than gold, and his eyes though clouded with pain were yet the same lovely topaz as she recalled Legolas’.
“He is my cousin,” Aras told her when she mentioned that elf. “My mother is from Mirkwood.”
Lalaith was delighted to have someone with whom she could discuss her friend, and Aras happily told his nurse all manner of embarrassing stories of Legolas’ youth.
“Should you not be sleeping?” asked Rûmil from behind her, but there was no censure in his voice. Aras needed rest if he were to heal quickly, and quickly it must be—traveling with an injured elf while orcs pursued them left them in grave danger. Aras smiled sheepishly, and obediently lay back and closed his eyes. Lalaith raised her hand to brush a strand of hair from his brow, and Rûmil drew in his breath to see how it trembled.
She turned to look up at him, and he was shocked at the deep hollows under her eyes and the deep grooves etched around her mouth. “You need to rest, as well,” he told her, grasping her wrist and tugging her to her feet away from the rickety old bed.
“But I must stay with Aras, to check on him through the night,” she protested, trying to pull free. “What if he becomes feverish?”
“Then Thalion or I will bathe him,” Rûmil replied calmly, spreading out her pallet with his free hand.
“But what if his stitches pull free?”
“Then Thalion or I will re-sew him.”
“But—“ His eyes narrowed dangerously, and Lalaith sighed in defeat. “Fine,” she agreed. “I will rest, but only if you agree that if Aras needs anything—at all—you will wake me.”
“Of course,” Rûmil lied smoothly. “Now to bed with you.”
Obediently, she lay down on her side and curled up, pillowing her face on her hand and closing her eyes. Her lashes made dark fans on her cheeks, and despite the shadows beneath them, she looked much like a child. Rûmil found himself smiling down at her as he pulled the blankets to her chin, smoothing them tenderly over her shoulder. “Good night, Lalaith.”
“Night, Rûmil,” she replied sleepily.
He ignored the sly glance Brethil shot him, as well as the jealous one of Erêgmorn and Thalion’s speculative one. Bunch of old gossips, he thought sourly as he sat in a corner and busied himself by sharpening his daggers before allowing himself some rest.
He was woken hours later by the pained shout of an orc who’d just received an arrow in the throat. “Get you up, Rûmil,” said a calm voice from the window as he automatically reached for his bow, an arrow nocked on its string before his eyes were fully open.
Thalion was crouched beneath the sill, every so often straightening and firing out the window. A scream of pain followed each shot, no matter that he had no time to aim; Thalion was rightly famed for his archery skill.
Rûmil made his way to the window, and ventured a peek without. “They have torches,” he said, his voice low. “Think you they mean to fire the hut?”
Thalion merely nodded, and Rûmil’s heart sank even as he made his way to Lalaith. So exhausted was she that she had continued to sleep despite the noise from outside, and he had to shake her shoulder to rouse her. She blinked sleepily, and looked alarmed but not panicked to realize they were under attack, for which he was vastly relieved—an hysterical woman would have sorely tried his patience.
“Rûmil, you should take her and Aras out the back,” Thalion said even as he loosed a double-shot, allowing himself a grim smile at the twin shouts of agony outside. “Get you on horses and make for Eryn Vorn; we will hold them here.”
Rûmil stared hard at the older elf, and then nodded. “Ready your patient,” he told Lalaith. “And yourself, for we ride within minutes.”
Lalaith scurried to pack up the few things she had left out, and bundled Aras up in spite of his protests; it was cruelly cold now, in the midst of the night.
“I shall not be able to walk, so padded am I,” he grumbled, but did not fight her as she wound another blanket round his shoulders. “Ah, this one is mine!” he said fondly, fingering the familiar weave.
“There will be time for a reunion with your blanket later, perhaps when we are not in danger of perishing,” Rûmil told him with a grin, and pushed Aras gently out the back door. The door opened into the barn, where were tied all their horses. At the end of the barn was only a small slice of land between the door and the River Baranduin; it would have to be trod carefully, else they would wind up in the water.
“Can you ride?” Rûmil asked Aras, who drew himself up tall.
“While there is breath in my body,” the elf replied, a touch offended, and Rûmil laughed.
“I meant no offense, O Lord of Horses,” he told Aras, who relented and smiled as well while he limped over to his horse.
Rûmil fairly threw Lalaith up onto Lagor, then climbed up behind her, reins to his own mount in his hand. She knew he did not trust in her riding skills, and did not blame him—she was a Breewoman, not given to expert horsemanship in spite of her mother’s Rohirrim heritage. Still, the feel of his lean body against her back, his arms close around, made her breath come faster in a way that had nothing to do with their danger.
“On three, we shall burst out the door and ride west,” Rûmil told Aras. The other nodded.
And out they went, smashing the door down beneath powerful hooves and flying right between a phalanx of surprised orcs as the remaining elves peppered their enemy with a hail of deadly arrows. Rûmil pushed Lalaith down until she was bent low over Lagor’s neck, covering her entirely with his body so she could not be struck at all.
They rode furiously one mile, then two, until no hoofbeats could be heard behind them. “We have lost them!” Rûmil exulted, straightening from Lalaith and glancing back.
“Oh, good,” replied Aras weakly, and plummeted from his horse.
Rûmil immediately leapt from Lagor and ran to him. Lalaith wheeled the horse around and brought him to a stop beside the elves, nearly falling to the snow in her haste to be with her patient. “Thank Eru the moon is full tonight,” she whispered to no one as she yanked away the blankets and his cloak to reveal his wound. High on his leg, the motion of straddling his horse and gripping it with his thighs had made the stitches pull cruelly free, and the long gash was now accompanied by a score of tiny, ragged ones all around it. Blood coursed freely down his leg to pool obscenely on the snow, staining it the bright red of arterial flow.
Lalaith saw Aras was unconscious, and took a deep breath before turning to Rûmil. “He will die unless…”
“Unless?” he prompted, the moon reflecting like a silver coin in his eyes.
“I have a bottle of Nana’s tonic with me,” she said quickly. “It might help seal the wound, stop the bleeding… if nothing else, it will ease him.”
Rûmil nodded slowly, and fetched it from her pack. She made a point of sniffing it, even pouring a little on her finger, showing him she was taking care in determining it was the right potion, and then dribbled a fine stream of it directly into the wound before allowing a trickle down Aras’ throat.
“We must bind it closed; the flesh will not bear another stitching,” Lalaith told him.
“Poor Aras,” Rûmil said, standing. “It appears he will not have a joyful homecoming with his blanket after all.” And he used one of his daggers to slice the hapless blanket into strips, then held the injury closed as Lalaith wrapped the cloth round and round the thigh, tying it snugly in a square knot. In spite of having his skin bared to the chill winter air, his flesh was warm and dry.
“The tonic keeps him from becoming chilled,” she muttered. “I must write that down.”
“You must take some yourself,” Rûmil corrected, taking Aras’ arm and hoisting the unconscious elf to his feet. “Ever are you shivering.”
Lalaith frowned and took Aras’ other arm. “I will just wrap myself in another blanket,” she firmly replied. “Aras will doubtless have need of the tonic as we continue; I dare not squander it.”
“You will squander it if I tell you to,” Rûmil informed her, and placed Aras carefully on his horse before mounting behind him, arms locked stiffly to keep the other elf from listing to port or starboard.
Lalaith too mounted. “The only way that tonic will pass my lips is if you tie me down and force it into me,” she said flatly. “Are you prepared to do that?”
They stared at each other a long moment. “Not yet,” he said at last. “But I reserve the right to change my opinion at a later date.” Even at this hour of the night, he could see the roll of her eyes, and could not restrain a grin.
They rode. At sunrise, when Rûmil was sure the orcs would be snoring in their camps, he found a snug clearing in a copse of trees along the river, and had to nearly hit Lalaith in the head to get her to take some rest. When she awoke a mere hour later, she found Aras awake, if somewhat put out over the sacrifice of his blanket, and his wound mending nicely. She applied more tonic and ate a few mouthfuls of lembas before insisting they continue toward Eryn Vorn.
Pushing the horses hard, they rode all day, delaying their stop until the very last beams of sun had faded over the horizon and the world around them was glazed in the blue of twilight.
“There is naught we can do for the horses,” Rûmil said, “But as for us, we will sleep in the trees, this night.”
And so they did. Aras chose a tall poplar and settled comfortably in the fork of two strong branches, and was swiftly asleep. Rûmil watched Lalaith squirm and wiggle, trying to find comfort in the mighty oak he had deemed appropriate, for ten minutes before giving in to laughter. “Here,” he said, and tugged on her hand, making her fall against him. “You will not fall unless I do, and I will not fall.”
Exhaustion made her agreeable, and she let him wrap his cloak around them both, resting his chin on her head. He would not sleep that night.