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Brothers at Heart
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Chapter 17

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters; I am only borrowing them for fun for a little while. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many thanks to my Beta Readers – J. and Marsha

All conversation is assumed to be in Sindarin. Any conversation that is in italics is in Westron, the common tongue of Middle-earth.


“Go, Halbarad!” Estel shouted, motioning him to lead the string of horses and bandits up the steep loose grass and rock covered incline while he lingered at the edge of the road watching the approaching orcs. Halbarad charged up the slope, but as Estel had feared, the horses of the bandits faltered without their direct guidance. He urged his horse after them and, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nestad do the same on the opposite side. Estel grabbed a bridle on one of the packhorses and pulled on it, speaking softly to it at the same time, encouraging it to keep going. But the horses in front of it were struggling and holding this one back. Without conscious thought, Estel pulled his belt knife and swiftly sliced through the rope holding the packhorse to the horses in front of it.

Now, with only three horses tied to his, Halbarad was able to urge his horse on, though it was still a struggle. Above them, Gilost emerged from the trees with his bow strung and watched in horror as they struggled up the slope ahead of the rapidly approaching orcs. Unable to secure a good grip on the packhorse and conscious of the danger, Estel finally slipped from his horse and sent it up the hill with a sharp command. Trained in Imladris, the horse obeyed without pause and bolted up the incline while Estel turned to the packhorse and the three other horses attached to it. The prisoner’s eyes were wide with fear as they yelled and kicked their horses harshly to try and get them to move up the slope. The horses squealed and snorted in fear and anger, rearing and dancing sideways. Tied together as they were, it threatened to tangle the long rope holding them together.

The packhorse, which Estel had under some measure of control, was being pulled back down by the other horses in their struggle. Holding the rope tightly, Estel followed it down the length of the horse and cut it, setting the packhorse free. It immediately shot away, taking the easy way… back down the slope to the road and heading west away from the orcs. Dismissing it from his mind, Estel focused on the three rearing, frightened horses in front of him, each with a struggling, frightened man on it. He risked a quick glance at the oncoming orcs and saw that he had only a precious few minutes left before they would be within range of their bows. Above him he could hear Halbarad’s shouts as he urged his charges on. Nestad suddenly appeared behind him, yelling above the sounds of the horses’ loud, fearful neighing.

“Cut the men loose, Aragorn!”

While Estel thought that was a good idea, he first had to actually get to the men. He thrust the rope into Nestad’s hands and approached the horses as quickly as he dared, ducking around flying hoofs. He got to Will’s horse first even though he was in the middle; the way the horses were swinging around made it possible. He grabbed the bridle and spoke soothingly to the horse which stopped rearing though it moved nervously from side to side. Estel quickly sliced through the rope that bound Will’s feet together and then the ones securing his hands to the saddle. Estel jerked him from the horse and pushed him up the hill. “Go,” he yelled, turning away without watching to see what he did. If he wanted to run away and risk the orcs, it was his own life to risk.

Again watching out for the hoofs of the horses, Estel darted to the last horse in the line, the one Kenrick was on. This horse calmed as he rubbed its nose briefly. Again he quickly cut the bonds holding the man to the horse and pulled him from the saddle. Kenrick fell to the ground before scrambling to his feet and making a dash up the hill. Estel started making his way back up the line of horses to the first one where Dale sat frantically pulling on the ropes that bound him. He was not helping the horse calm down, even though Nestad was telling him repeatedly to stop so that the horse would settle enough that he could cut the ropes. Estel was just reaching the horse when arrows began falling around them. Dale began screaming for help, his horse rearing and finally it jerked its head back so viciously that the rope slid through Nestad’s hands. He lunged for it but he was too late as the horse backed out of reach. An arrow came flying in just then and hit, not Dale’s horse, but the one that Will had been riding and it squealed in pain, jumping ahead and into Dale’s horse. The horse bolted, taking Dale with it. The horses belonging to Kenrick and Will which were still tied to the saddle followed as they tore off down the road heading west.

Estel and Nestad watched in horror as Dale’s horse sped down the road, knowing there was nothing they could do for the man. Perhaps if they survived this, they would be able to find him, but if not, he faced a long, slow death. Rangers did not tie their bonds lightly and there was little chance he would escape from them. Suddenly aware of the arrows as they continued to land around them, Estel and Nestad fell flat and began crawling on their bellies up the steepest part of the hill. As they neared the ledge, Estel felt a sharp, stabbing pain in his left calf and he let out a loud yelp of pain.

“Aragorn!” Nestad looked over at him in alarm, paling at the sight of the black arrow sticking out of his Chieftain’s calf. He reached a hand out to grab him, but Estel shook his head.

“Keep going,” he hissed, grimacing in pain as he continued the last few feet to the top. Gilost was there, then, to pull him up and over the edge and back out of sight into the shelter of the trees and boulders that dotted the area. He laid still for a moment, panting heavily, his hands digging deeply into the long grass and dirt. Estel could feel a trickle of blood flowing down his leg.

“Aragorn!” Halbarad dropped to his knees beside him, grabbing one of his cousin’s hands in his own. He made an abortive gesture towards the arrow, thought better of it and simply laid his hand on Estel’s head.

“Help me up,” Estel said through clenched teeth.

“You’re hurt,” he protested, pointing out the obvious.

“Get me to my feet, I can use my bow. It…it does not hurt that much,” he lied rather poorly.

“Halbarad!” Nestad yelled, “We need you now!”

Halbarad looked over his shoulder to where Nestad and Gilost were firing down at the oncoming orcs. “Stay still,” he said, patting his shoulder and starting to get up.

“Help me up. That is an order.”

“One I’m not obeying, my lord,” he replied tersely as he left.

“Halbarad!” Estel called sharply, but his cousin ignored him. Groaning with pain and displeasure, he looked around for something to brace himself on so that he could lever himself to his feet. His eyes fell on Will and Kenrick who were watching him with shock and fear. Galt and Beck, who had been tied to trees, wore malicious grins even though their eyes held fear at the growls and grunts of the oncoming orcs. “Will, come here and help me up. Now,” he added when the man did not move as fast as Estel thought he should.

Will moved to Estel’s side, though he did not like the thought of going closer to the edge of the ledge and nearer the orcs. Will leaned down grasping Estel under his arms and none too gently hauled him to his feet. Gasping and hissing in pain, Estel shot Will a dirty look as he clung to him until he had his balance. Loosing his grip on Will, Estel balanced on his right leg as he took his bow from his back. “Go sit down and do not move, Will. You either, Kenrick.”

“I’m not going anywhere!” the fear in Will’s voice was obvious. Kenrick looked away and did not respond.

Estel strung his bow and nocked an arrow before hopping back to the edge where Gilost, Halbarad, and Nestad were carefully picking out and shooting orcs who had taken refuge behind the boulders and were trying to creep up the slope. Standing behind a large tree and leaning against it, Estel surveyed the scene below him, assessing the number of orcs and the probable routes they would take up the hill. They needed to be sure that the beasts did not come around and attack from the sides. It was already getting hard to see them, and Estel thought they had about an hour before full dark when the advantage they held by virtue of holding the higher ground would switch to the orcs with their superior night vision.

Nestad crept closer, hiding behind a boulder near Estel. “How do you fare?” he asked worriedly. He looked his Chieftain over carefully, seeing his pale, drawn face and clenched jaw. The arrow appeared to be on the outside of his leg so Nestad could only hope that it had not struck bone.

“I have felt better,” he responded with a grimace, not looking at the healer. Estel quickly raised his bow and shot an orc that had raised its head too far above the boulder it was hiding behind. He bit his lip at the pain when he had to steady himself by dropping his injured left leg to the ground. But the orc died and that was all that mattered. Estel turned his head to the left, seeking Gilost and saw him crouching behind a clump of bushes staring down intently, his bow taut. Just after the Ranger loosed the arrow, Estel heard a scream of pain that was quickly cut off.

“Gilost,” Estel called. “How many are there?”

“There were seventy or so, but a few continued on after the horses and we’ve killed some. There are probably about sixty left down below here, but I worry about those that left coming back and flanking us,” he gestured to the right.

“These aren’t anxious to attack now,” Nestad said. “They can wait until it is truly dark before coming up.”

Estel frowned as he looked down and saw that Nestad was right. The orcs had settled in behind the rocks, seemingly content to wait for another hour. He turned his upper body, keeping his left leg as still as possible, and scanned the area around and behind them. Halbarad was well to the right of where he was standing, lying on the ground among some rocks and peering over the edge. Beyond Halbarad were more trees and rocks and Estel could not tell how close to the western edge of the ledge they were. Ten yards behind him were the horses and bandits, the horses still shifting nervously with the smell of the orcs in the air. The bandits were quiet and watchful. Estel was not particularly worried about them at this point. He turned his gaze back to Gilost.

“Do you know how far back the ledge goes? Did you see anything when you arrived?”

“No, I just tied my horse and hurried back here.”

A sound to his right made Estel turn too quickly and the shaft of the arrow hit the tree; all of the color drained from Estel’s face and he hissed in pain. Clutching his bow tightly and leaning hard against the tree he returned his focus to the orcs below, missing the concerned glances that Gilost and Nestad exchanged. “Gilost,” he said, glancing back at him, “I think we have a few minutes right now. Go and scout back behind the bandits and see how wide the ledge is. I would like a way to escape if we need to.” Estel did not think that was going to be possible, but he did want to know all of their options. They might defeat the orcs in battle, though the odds were slim with the approaching darkness. Their bows would be of little use in the woods after dark and, with him injured as he was, they would be hard pressed to battle a group even half the size that were gathered below. A bow was one thing, but he knew that using his sword would be much more difficult when he was having such a hard time putting weight on his leg. Though, he had no intention of giving up. Gilost hesitated and then slipped away.

“Ara… Captain, I know there is no time to remove the arrow, but can I at least cut the end of it off? It will not lessen your pain, but it should keep you from hitting it on most things and give you greater freedom of movement.”

Glancing down at the waiting orcs and then back at the very concerned healer, Estel nodded and watched as a relieved expression crossed Nestad’s face briefly.

“Halbarad, I need your help,” Nestad called quietly. Crouching low, Halbarad hurried to them with a questioning look. “I need you to hold him still while I cut the arrow here,” he indicated a place on the arrow that would leave about three inches still visible in Estel’s leg. Estel braced himself against the tree, keeping a wary eye on the orcs below. Both because it needed to be done and to distract himself from the pain that he knew was coming.

Halbarad grabbed Estel firmly around his ankle and placed his other hand tightly just below his knee. He leaned his body hard against his cousin, pinning him to the tree and he nodded at Nestad. The healer took a deep breath and firmly grasped the arrow in his left hand, ignoring the sharp indrawn breath of his Chieftain. While his knife was extremely sharp, it still took several strokes to cut through the dense wood and Estel bit his lip hard enough to draw blood.

“I’m finished,” Nestad informed Estel quietly as he threw the shaft of the arrow into the bushes.

Estel nodded his thanks as Nestad handed him a waterskin. He rinsed the blood out of his mouth before taking a long drink and handing it back. As Halbarad started to move away, Estel grabbed him by his cloak and pulled him back. “We will talk later about obeying my commands,” he said fiercely, glaring at him.

Halbarad shrugged Estel’s hand loose, “I hope we are able to talk later, Captain,” he retorted, glaring right back before creeping away to his own spot.

Nestad patted Estel’s shoulder. “He’ll always be torn between his care and concern for you and his duty as a Ranger.”

“He needs to do what I tell him,” Estel replied, his eyes not leaving the slope below.

“You don’t want blind obedience, my lord… not from any of your men. But this is not a discussion we need to have right now.”

Estel did not answer as he watched Halbarad shoot an orc and listened to the grunts and howls continue below him. Gilost returned then and saved him from answering at all.

“This ledge extends back about a half mile before sloping upward again. But in front of the slope are more of the ruins we’ve been seeing. It’s not much, but more protection than here.”

“We would truly be trapped.”

Gilost nodded once, “I know. But the trees are not so thick around it… there is a small clearing… and if we can last the night, then they would be forced to retreat at least into the trees and perhaps we could escape. Here…” he gave a helpless shrug.

Furrowing his brow as he considered the matter for a moment Estel finally glanced at Nestad.

“Without seeing it, I can give you no real counsel, but I do trust Gilost’s judgment. And we stand little hope here. Not with them.” He gestured to the bandits and horses.

“Halbarad,” Estel beckoned for him to join them. He knew they would follow his commands without question, but this was a situation where he wanted all of them to say what they felt. Estel quickly told Halbarad what Gilost had found and what they were considering. The young Ranger seemed surprised that his opinion was being asked.

“I don’t like the thought of being trapped there,” he finally responded. “Have you thought about leaving the horses and just slipping away? I’m sure we could…” Halbarad’s voice trailed off as he looked down at Estel’s leg with a grimace. “Perhaps we could take one horse and…” Nestad put his hand on Halbarad’s shoulder and he stopped talking.

“I don’t think either of those things are possible, Halbarad. The orcs would quickly realize we were gone and we could end up in a worse situation than we are in right now,” the oldest man of the four said quietly. Nestad turned his gaze to his Chieftain and waited for his decision which was swiftly given.

“Halbarad, Nestad, stay here and keep watch on the orcs while Gilost and I move the prisoners and horses. Listen for our call and then come quickly. Whistle if you need help.” At that Estel gingerly turned and hobbled off, his jaw clenched against the pain. He unstrung and shouldered his bow, pulling his sword as he stood over the four bandits. “We are moving back to a place that we hope will be safer. Someplace we may be able to defend through the night when the orcs will be forced to retreat somewhat and we may be able to escape. I suggest you come along peacefully.”

“Orcs or the men in Bree, we’ll still be dead,”
Galt said bitterly.

Estel read the fear in Galt’s eyes and knew he was speaking more out of habit and to impress his men than any real desire to escape and face the orcs. “I believe you would find there is a great deal of difference between the two, Galt. The men in Bree do not eat the men they sentence to death. Nor do they tear them apart while they are still alive.” Estel shifted his gaze briefly to Will as the young man let out an involuntary cry. “I will loosen your bonds so that you may walk to where we are going. If you chose to run, we will not stop you but I am sure that the orcs will.”

Will and Kenrick got to their feet at the look Estel gave them. Though he did not fear them running, he did think they might attack him and Estel held his sword ready and watched Galt and Beck closely as he untied the rope holding them to the tree. He stepped back warily as they stood, but neither man showed any sign of either attacking him or fleeing. They feared the orcs too much and were willing to take their chances with these Rangers… for now. If they survived and the journey continued they would not hesitate to attempt an escape, but they had no choice right now but to hope these men that held them captive would be able to protect them from the orcs.

“Will,” Estel hesitated and then asked Kenrick as well. He had noticed his earlier refusal to answer him and was less certain of Kenrick than he was of Will, but he really did not think the man would attempt to escape even with a horse. “You and Kenrick help Gilost lead the horses. Galt, Beck, walk in front of me,” he gestured with his sword and with scowls the two men started moving in the right direction. Estel followed close behind, biting his lip against the stabbing pain that each step brought. By the time the ruins were in sight, he was sweating profusely and the pain was nearly intolerable, but he wore an impassive expression as he told Galt and Beck to halt as they waited for Gilost and the others.

Gilost gave Estel a piercing glance and his mouth tightened into a thin line at the pain he read in his Chieftain’s eyes as he led his three horses past, but he knew nothing could be done so he continued on into the ruins without a word. The ruins had evidently been some sort of small rest station for men who had patrolled the roads in the distant past. It was not large, no more than thirty feet wide across the front and extending back some sixty feet. The walls were made of large stones that had been carefully fitted together and then mortared in place, though the mortar was crumbling. Stones had fallen and a couple of large gaps could be seen in the front of the building. The sides appeared to be mostly intact, except for a few places where stones had fallen from the tops of the walls. The rear of the building was directly up against the almost cliff like slope and seemed secure. The roof was gone, it appeared to have been made of wood and except for a few scattered pieces of rotten wood there was little evidence that there had ever even been a roof. The floor of the building was stone and was covered with dried pine needles and leaves that were stacked quite high in the corners where the wind had blown them.

The horses were taken back into the furthest room and tied securely and, with only a little grumbling from Galt and Beck, the four bandits were tied nearby. Estel looked around for a way to bar the open doorway leading into the building, but there was nothing in the ruins that could be used and he sighed wearily. Seeing that all was in readiness, he whistled for Halbarad and Nestad to join them and the two men came on a dead run. Estel could barely make them out in the deep twilight that had crept over the land in the last ten minutes.

“Halbarad, take that area down there,” Estel gestured to his left. “Nestad, there is a large gap in the wall to the right. Gilost and I will cover the doorway,” said Estel.

“My lord, let Halbarad or I cover the door with Gilost. The brunt of the attack will be here and you are injured.”

“I am a better swordsman than either of you, even if I am injured. I will deal with the pain, Nestad, because I must.” Estel paused and looked away briefly before meeting the healer’s eyes again and giving him a wry smile. “I also thought that it might be best if… if I was not solely responsible for an area, but was fighting with someone else.”

“Perhaps, but…” whatever Nestad was going to say was cut off by the loud calls and roars of the orcs.

“I believe they’ve discovered that we’ve disappeared,” Gilost said grimly.

“May the Valar protect you, Halbarad,” Estel whispered as his cousin walked past him and Halbarad stopped and gave him a quick, firm embrace before moving on.

Estel restrung his bow, preparing to use it as the orcs crossed the small clearing in front of the building. Hopefully, it would be enough to keep them back and to make them hesitate. The longer they could keep the orcs away from the building and hand-to-hand fighting the better it would be.

The first four orcs into the clearing died with barely a curse escaping their mouths. Several more died as the four men loosed arrows into the darkness, their eyes focusing on the small flashes given off by the orc’s swords or any metal they wore. They could hear shouts of rage and then whoever was in charge of the troop was giving some kind of order. At least it sounded like it, none of the Rangers spoke the black speech, but it sounded like orders were being yelled out and they could hear the heavy sounds of feet stomping in the bushes across the clearing.

Arrows came whistling into the ruins and Estel and the others pressed themselves up against the walls of the building as they passed harmlessly overhead. Peeking around a corner of the doorway, Estel and Gilost watched alertly for orcs trying to sneak across the clearing and they shot at any movement they saw. The orcs grew bolder as time passed and Estel wondered if it was simply impatience or if they suspected they were running out of arrows. He was down to three arrows now and he sensed it would not be long before the orcs decided to rush them.

It suddenly become almost silent… as silent as orcs could be and for a time there were no arrows from the orcs and no movement in the clearing. Estel exchanged a grim look with Gilost. He had been able to brace himself well enough while using his bow that his injured leg had not bothered him overmuch. But now with having to use his sword, he knew it would be different and he attempted to put his full weight on his leg. A shooting pain went up his leg and he grimaced and bit his lip. Ignoring the pain, he gingerly shifted from side to side to try and prepare for the adjustments his body needed to make when wielding his sword. He tapped his fingers nervously against his sword and he thought of his family as he waited for the orcs.

When they came, the orcs came en masse with the intent to overwhelm them. As they expected, the majority of the orcs appeared to be headed for the wide doorway and small groups aimed for the smaller gaps in the wall that were defended by Halbarad and Nestad. A few more orcs were taken down by arrows, but bows were quickly cast aside in favor of swords as soon as the beasts drew near.

While the doorway was wide, it was not wide enough for more than three or four of the orcs to engage Estel and Gilost at one time. The two men stood as close together as possible without hampering each other’s long and violent swings of their swords. The loud clashing and screeching of metal filled the air as the orcs finally reached the ruins and ran head-long into the fierce defenders.

Estel pushed all thoughts and feelings of pain aside and concentrated solely on the orcs in front of him. As usual, the orcs relied on brute strength to try and overwhelm them… with no success. Estel knocked aside the sword of the first orc and just as quickly slit its throat before turning slightly and stabbing a second one under its arm and deep into its heart. Both fell silently and Estel spared them not a second glance before turning to the two that took their place. After seeing their comrades fall so quickly these two were a little more hesitant, but tried rushing Estel together. It made no difference. Estel blocked the rushed blow from the orc to his right and then danced backward, without his usual grace but managing it nonetheless, out of the swinging blade of the orc on his left. He was able to somehow duck under the blade of the first orc while at the same time bringing his own sword up and under its defenses and driving it deep into its stomach. He pulled his sword out quickly, trying, without success, to avoid the black blood the dying orc was spilling as it slumped moaning and gasping to the ground. The second orc’s blade was nearing his head as he pulled his sword from the dying orc and immediately raised it up to block the incoming blade. The resulting clash made his teeth rattle and he shuddered slightly even as he pushed hard on the blade, forcing the orc to stumble back. It gave Estel just enough room to thrust his sword through the foul creature’s heart.

As he continued to fight, Estel could sense Gilost next to him and knew that he was doing well, that he was having little problem with the orcs he faced. His main worry was the sheer number of orcs and how long they could continue at this pace. While he could not see them, Estel could hear Halbarad and Nestad and he thought that Halbarad had let out a small cry of pain at one time, but whatever had happened it had not been enough to overcome him as he could still hear him fighting. He tried to think of a way for them to force the orcs to withdraw for a time, but nothing came to mind as he fought the newest orcs that he faced. Though, it was rather hard to face and fight two very determined opponents and to come up with a plan of escape.

Gilost hissed in pain and fury at the sword that had just sliced him open across his left forearm. At least it was not his sword arm, but it was painful and deep and the blood that was pouring from the wound would weaken him. His eyes sparked with anger as he quickly cut down the orc that had done the damage.

“What… happened?” Estel called out urgently with an undercurrent of both concern and fear in his voice.

“A… cut… my… left arm.”

“Do you… need help?” Estel glanced at him briefly from the corner of his eye.

“No! Later,” he panted.

“All right.” Estel knew there was little he could do for him except perhaps slide a little closer but that might hinder both of them and so he stayed where he was, grimly determined to make it through the long night.

They had been fighting for a couple of hours, the orcs retreating occasionally to regroup which allowed them brief respites, when something happened. Estel was not sure what it was, but something was happening and he first noticed it because the orcs he was fighting became distracted and he was able to kill them quite easily. The other orcs paused in their attacks as well and he exchanged a puzzled glance with Gilost and dropped back further inside the building. While he did not know what had caused the orcs to stop, he was fully willing to take advantage of the rest it provided. Glancing around, Estel saw that Halbarad and Nestad were doing the same.

Then they heard it. It was the sound of arrows and they were striking into the bodies of the orcs from the trees surrounding the small clearing. The orcs suddenly realized what was happening and they panicked, running to and fro, howling in fear and anger.

“Rangers!” Gilost exclaimed hopefully. “It has… to be. No one else… would be here… or would attack orcs.” A smile appeared on his lips and lit up his eyes.

“Or, elves,” Estel felt obligated to point out, though the Imladris patrols rarely, if ever, patrolled this far west of their lands.

“Should we join them, Captain?” Nestad asked grinning; his relief at having survived was overwhelming.

Estel shook his head, “No, I think they would have a hard time telling us apart. But remain alert, the orcs may try and escape into the ruins. Halbarad? How do you fare?” he called down to his cousin who had not moved from his spot.

“I’m… all right, Aragorn. Just a small injury that will need… stitches, I think.”

Estel frowned at the way Halbarad was speaking. He did not sound all right, but he could wait a few more minutes to check on him. Seeing that Gilost’s wound was still slowly dripping, Estel carefully ripped off a strip of his own shirt and gently pushed Gilost’s sleeve up and then bound the wound until it could be cleaned and stitched. Turning his attention to the battle, it appeared to be dying down as most of the orcs were either dead or had fled the area. He let out a series of bird whistles and chirps to let the Rangers, if that’s indeed who they were, know that there were Rangers in the ruins. After a moment, cautious whistles were returned and he smiled at Gilost.

“I am going to check on Halbarad.” Estel hobbled carefully to his cousin’s side and found him slumped against the wall holding his left hand gingerly, his eyes glazed with pain. “What happened?” he asked quietly, reaching for the injured hand. There were indeed several jagged gashes that would need stitches but that was not what concerned Estel. What concerned him was the way Halbarad was cradling it against his body to protect it. He flinched when Estel barely touched it and without checking it further, Estel knew that it was either severely sprained, or more likely, broken.

“It got hit with one of those large… club like things some of them use. One with sharp, pointy things on it,” Halbarad gave him a grim smile. “At least it wasn’t a sword. I know this will heal.”

“Yes, it will, though it will be painful to set and while it heals. But you are alive and that is the most important thing.”

“Is anyone else hurt?” Halbarad asked as he let Estel lean on him and hop as they made their way back to the doorway. The adrenaline that had sustained him earlier was rapidly disappearing.

“Gilost has a long slice on his left forearm that will need stitches.”

“It appears that Nestad will be busy.”

“I will help. My leg will not keep me from doing stitches and…”

Nestad interrupted him. “Your leg may not, but I will, my Lord Aragorn. You need to get off of your leg right now. There is no sense in risking further damage to yourself when there is no need. Bring him over here, Halbarad.” His tone brooked no nonsense and he just returned Estel’s dark look with one of his own. Finally Estel gave a small nod, knowing that the healer was right and that he would insist on his men doing the same.

“Very well, Nestad, I will sit down, but I will not allow you to work on my leg until we see who is out there.” He carefully sat down on a piece of stone that had been part of the wall, his leg stretched out in front of him.

“Of course not, my lord. I would not think of doing that!”

Estel just looked at him with an eyebrow raised in disbelief and the healer gave him a small smile and shrugged. “And, I believe we agreed that you would call me captain. I know it’s hard in a stressful situation and the bandits are back there,” he waved behind him, “but you must try to do so.” There were sheepish nods and then Gilost straightened up from his post at the door.

“Someone is coming,” he said in a low voice. He gave a bird call that was a Ranger greeting and it was quickly returned and the four men relaxed.

The Ranger stopped uncertainly just outside of the doorway, looking down with disgust at the dead orcs that blocked his way. He looked up again and spoke, “Who is here? There should not be any patrols in this area.”

Gilost smiled as he recognized the voice. “It’s Gilost, Faelon. I’m here with Halbarad and our…” he glanced back at Estel who shook his head. “Our captain and Nestad.”

Faelon frowned as he thought. What was Nestad doing here? And who was this captain without a name… oh. But why did they not simply call him Aragorn or Chieftain? Well, he supposed he would find out soon enough if he could just get over these dead bodies. Since he now knew who was within the ruins, Faelon turned and called to his Rangers and the five men came trotting up from various spots around the clearing.

They grimly pulled the bodies of the orcs to the side and within minutes Faelon and his men were inside the ruins greeting their Chieftain and fellow Rangers.

“Well met, Faelon!” Estel said with a weary smile as he looked up at the grim-faced patrol leader. “I am very glad to see you, though you seem to be well east of your patrol area.”

Faelon crouched down next to Estel, his sharp eyes looking over and finding what was left of the arrow in his Chieftain’s calf and he grimaced, knowing the pain he must be in. His gaze met Estel’s questioning one then. “We are,” he admitted. “We’ve been tracking these orcs for almost a week as they came down from the northwest. We feared they were making for our villages in the Angle.”

“Perhaps they were,” Nestad interjected. “It wouldn’t be the first time that would have happened in the last few months.”

Twisting slightly and looking intently up at the healer with his stern grey eyes, Faelon spoke to him in a low, concerned voice. “What happened in Taurnand, Nestad? Why are you here?” He had met Nestad a couple of times over the years, though he did not know the healer well.

“I am here to accompany my… captain to Bree.” Nestad gave a weary sigh. “As for Taurnand, that is a long story, it is enough to say that it has been abandoned for now and that I live in Dolomar with Emeldir.”

Sharp indrawn breaths and low cries were made by the five other Rangers while Faelon shifted his gaze back to Estel. “Then your journey did not go as planned, my lord?”

Estel shook his head and gave him a grim smile. “No, it did not, and I am going to ask you to call me captain.”

“Why? Is there a…”

“C-captain? A-are the orcs gone?”

“That is why,” Estel answered Faelon who had reached instinctively for his sword at the sound of Will’s voice.

“Who is that?”

“He is one of the bandits that are in the back room with our horses. We are taking them to Bree to be judged for slaughtering two families.”

Faelon’s jaw snapped shut and a fierce righteous anger glowed in his eyes as his eyes darted towards the back room.

Nestad interrupted their conversation by placing his hand on Estel’s shoulder. “Captain, we need to get that arrow out now, it’s been long enough.”

“When did it happen?”

“Four or five hours ago,” Nestad answered Faelon’s question.

“You also need to set Halbarad’s hand and stitch up Gilost,” Estel reminded him.

“After I take care of you, my Captain,” Nestad said with a small smile. “Faelon, it would be very helpful to have a fire… perhaps in that corner over there.” He pointed to the most protected part of the building and Faelon nodded before ordering a couple of his men to gather wood for a small fire. He sent the other three back out to retrieve their horses which they had left a short distance away.

As the water was heating, Nestad got his pack of healing supplies from his horse, speaking briefly with Will and the others as he did so. While the bandits were relieved, it only delayed the inevitable for them and so it was a mixed relief at best.

Nestad spread his bedroll on the ground and made Estel lay down on his stomach which he did with a grimace. As Nestad cut off the bottom part of his legging, Estel thought of the two other times he had been injured enough to require this kind of attention… once from Elladan and once from his Adar. He had been eighteen and on a patrol with Elladan, Elrohir, and a few other elves when they had run into a small troop of orcs and he had taken an arrow high up in his shoulder. His shoulder was painful and sore for weeks afterwards, but what had made it so difficult was the poison on the arrow tip. He was violently ill for a couple of days and Elladan had been hard pressed to heal him.

The one time he had required Elrond’s assistance for a real injury and not sickness or a small training injury had happened the first time he had ever gone on a patrol of any kind. He was barely sixteen and the patrol was only a basic scouting trip around the closest parts of Imladris, but Estel had taken the mission very seriously. Somehow, however, he had managed to trip while he had his sword drawn and had cut a deep slice across his right leg – just below his knee. As they had been close enough to the house, Glorfindel had simply looked at him with a deep, resigned sigh, dragged him onto his horse and hauled him home where his Adar had cleaned and stitched the wound without comment. Although, Estel was sure that Glorfindel had told him what had happened based on the slight twinkle of amusement he saw in Elrond’s eyes.

Those thoughts were running through Estel’s mind when Nestad nudged him and handed him a small cup. “Drink this for the pain.” Estel downed it, wrinkling his nose in distaste. Nestad patted his shoulder and started to move back down to the leg to begin moving the arrow when a thought struck him. “Do you have any athelas with you?”

“Yes, in my pack. I will prepare some, though I have never done it for myself before. But I see no reason why it should not work for me as well as for Halbarad and Gilost,” he glanced over at the wall where the two of them were leaning back against it half asleep. Nestad sent one of Faelon’s Rangers to fetch Estel’s pack and he waited to remove the arrow until the athelas had been prepared.

Estel looked up at Faelon who was sitting near him. “How has the winter patrol been? Have you seen many orcs or wolves?”

“Quite a few, my l… Captain,” he corrected himself with a grimace at Estel’s admonishing look. “When it was so cold in January, there were a couple of large packs of wolves that came down from the north. But my patrol and one of the patrols from Forntaur were able to dispatch them. This was the largest troop of orcs we’ve seen. Though, there were smaller groups threatening Bree from time to time and we handled those readily enough.”

“Well done,” Estel said with a small smile as he yawned tiredly. “Oh, Arthiell was well when I saw her a few days ago.” Faelon’s eyes lit up briefly at the thought of his wife. “And, Braniell and Balrant were also in good spirits.”

“Balrant is always in good spirits,” Nestad pointed out as he handed his Chieftain a couple of athelas leaves and set a bowl of steaming water beside him.

Estel nodded as he crushed the leaves, blew on them and dropped them into the steaming water. He put his head over the steam and inhaled deeply for several long minutes. The scent released reminded him of Imladris – flowers from the numerous gardens and the fresh, crisp scent of the towering evergreen trees that surrounded the hidden valley. Nestad finally took the bowl and moved back down to his calf and he called to a couple of the Rangers to come and hold Estel’s legs still while Faelon spoke to the Chieftain to keep his mind off of the pain, though the herbal would help dull it somewhat.

Torches had been lit to provide enough light for Nestad and he looked carefully at the arrow one last time. As he had hoped, the arrow had not struck bone, but it was cruelly barbed and the best way to remove it was to push it all the way through Estel’s leg. With a deep frown and a glance at the men holding him down, Nestad grasped the arrow shaft firmly and began pushing on it steadily. He had done this many, many times in his long life, but it was never easy and he ignored the sounds of protest and pain that his patient was making.

Estel fought the urge to strike out at the pain that Nestad was causing him, knowing that it had to be done. He glanced at Faelon as the man suddenly took ahold of his hands, gripping them tightly and began speaking to him in a low soothing voice. Estel knew that he was telling him about the patrol and things of that nature, but he was focusing more on the tone of Faelon’s voice. Finally the pain was too much and he passed out. Seeing this, Nestad pushed a little harder on the arrow and it finally broke through the skin on the front of Estel’s leg and he heaved a sigh of relief. The worst part was over and he gently pushed it the rest of the way through his leg.

Wiping off his brow with his shoulder, Nestad set about stopping the flow of blood from both sides of Estel’s leg. He then carefully cleansed the wounds with the athelas infused water, checked carefully to make sure that no bits of metal had lodged inside the wound, and then stitched both openings closed before bandaging the leg tightly. Estel awoke just as he was finishing the bandaging and he turned his head back over his shoulder, his eyes glittering in the light from the fire.

“Are you still not finished?” he whispered.

“No, my Captain,” Nestad replied with a brief grin having heard the resigned amusement in the question. “But almost, I’m just bandaging it now.”

“Good.” Estel laid his head back down on his folded arms with a sigh and looked up at Faelon from the corner of his eye. “Thank you,” he whispered and the man nodded. “Were you planning on going home now or heading back to your patrol area?”

“I had planned to go back to patrol until the end of April. That’s when we usually head home. Would you like me to do something different?”

“I think we will need your help for a few days at least,” Estel yawned again. “We lost some of our horses.” He frowned, “One of the bandits was tied to one of those horses. We must try and find him.”

Nestad patted his uninjured right leg, “I’m finished, you should rest now.”

Estel nodded, but continued his conversation with Faelon. “If you ride with us for a few days, that will give Halbarad, Gilost, and I time to recover. Some of these bandits are quite difficult to handle.”

Nestad snorted from where he was beginning to work on cleaning and stitching Gilost’s arm. “We may need them for more than a few days, my Captain. I do not trust any of those bandits and with everyone but me injured I think we may need them.”

Faelon raised an eyebrow at the tone that Nestad was using and he glanced at Estel to see how he was reacting, but the Chieftain only gave him a small, wry smile as he spoke softly. “He often gives me counsel.” He raised his voice as he replied to Nestad. “They will ride with us for a few days and if we need them longer, then they can continue, Nestad. I do not want to keep them from their patrol any longer than necessary,” he said firmly and Nestad gave him a small nod. “Will you help me up?” Estel suddenly asked Faelon.

Startled, Faelon glanced first over at Nestad, who had not heard the question, and then back down at his Chieftain. “Should you not lie here and sleep?” he asked cautiously. He still did not know this man very well and was not sure how he would react to him questioning his orders.

“I want to check on Halbarad. He is in a lot of pain.” Estel glanced over at his cousin who he could see was slumped over sound asleep, his left hand still cradled protectively. He started to push himself up with his hands and Faelon reluctantly began to help him.

“Stop!” Nestad hissed, suddenly at their side, glaring from Estel to Faelon and back to Estel. “You may not get up. You need your rest.”

Estel eased himself back down but returned Nestad’s glare with a dark look. “I want to check Halbarad’s hand. I will rest when I have done that.”

“Halbarad is in my hands and he’ll be all right, you need to rest, my Captain,” he implored softly. “You may trust me with your cousin’s injury. You’ve seen my work and need not fear for him.”

Estel looked beyond Nestad to Halbarad and back. “Forgive me, Nestad. Of course, I trust you.” He paused and gave the healer a long look. “I let you work on me.”

“You had no choice!”

Ignoring the interruption, Estel continued as if Nestad had not spoken. “I would ask that you wake me if you need me. You know I am a better healer,” he said without a trace of arrogance in his voice, “and, if his hand is broken, you know it can be difficult to set properly.”

Nestad patted Estel’s back, “I will call you if I have need, my Captain. Now go to sleep.”

With a final glance at his cousin, Estel closed his eyes and almost immediately drifted off into an uneasy sleep.


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