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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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19
Aftermath

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.

Author Note: Words in italics are elvish and are translated at the end of the chapter.


~~~

Laying Rebecca carefully down on the cot near Thomas, Aragorn tenderly washed the dried blood from her face and hands before covering her with a blanket. Stepping back, he gazed sorrowfully down at both of his young wards as he took in their blood-stained clothes and their wounded, exhausted bodies. He frowned slightly, wondering if they had, in fact, now fulfilled their purpose in Middle-earth, and if so, could he perhaps leave them somewhere safe. Shaking his head, he realized there was no way he would ever be sure that their purpose was complete and no safe place to leave them in any case. Finally washing his own hands and face, he lay down next to Gimli and Thomas and immediately fell into a deep sleep.

-----

“Wake up,” Legolas’s slightly musical voice touched the edges of Rebecca’s and Thomas’s consciousness and started dragging them back to reality. A gentle shake of their shoulders completed the process. Rebecca cracked her eyes open first.

“What do you want, Legolas?” she growled, rubbing her hand across her eyes.

“I am sorry to awaken you, Lady Rebecca. Aragorn asked me to see that the two of you are ready to go; we leave in an hour. You need to get cleaned up and eat.”

Rebecca grimaced as she realized she was still wearing her blood-stained clothes, though she noticed her hands and face had been washed. “How long have I been sleeping?”

“About six hours.”

“Rebecca?” Thomas quickly sat up, but dizziness hit and he groaned, pressing a hand to his throbbing head. Leaning back against the wall next to her cot, he stared at her in dismay. “What happened to you?” he whispered, reaching out and gently stroking her cheek with the back of his fingers.

“I was in a battle, same as you,” Rebecca retorted. “But you were hurt,” she said as she looked over his heavily bandaged head and lightly wrapped wrists and hands with a critical eye. She slowly and carefully sat up on the edge of the cot, trying to stretch the stiffness from her painfully hurting back. “Are you dizzy?” she asked, peering into his eyes.

“A little,” he admitted. “But it’s better than last night. Or, I guess it was this morning, or…” Thomas looked at Legolas questioningly as the elf laid a hand on his arm.

“There is not much time, you need to get cleaned up and dressed. There is water over there for you, Lady Rebecca. Thomas can change in the hall.”

Both nodded, though Thomas stopped immediately and Rebecca looked at him, frowning. “Thomas needs something for his pain and dizziness.”

“I will inform Aragorn,” Legolas replied as he carefully helped Thomas to his feet, making sure he had regained his equilibrium before releasing him.

Rebecca looked down at her blood-stained clothing and shuddered, “It’s ruined and the elves made these especially for me.”

“Elven-made material is easily cleaned, Lady Rebecca, I cleaned mine a short time ago. When you have changed, I will clean yours and Thomas’s while you eat.” Legolas smiled at Rebecca as he helped Thomas out the door.

Fumbling with the ties of her tunic, Rebecca finally managed to unlace it. Taking a deep breath, she slowly arose, grimacing at the pain in her back. As she removed the tunic she wondered if the stiffness and pain were caused from all of the crawling around she had done during the night as she tended the wounded. It was a struggle taking off the heavy hauberk; pulling it up and over her head was almost impossible because of the pain and it took her many minutes to accomplish. She took off her shirt, pausing to look at all of the small rips and tears on the back of it, some of which were lightly tinged with dried blood. It was her own blood she realized with surprise, not Renward’s or one of the numerous wounded men she had tended. It had to have been caused by the rings in the hauberk and could only have happened when Renward fell on her and she landed so hard on her back. She closed her eyes to try and drive that image from her mind.

Wishing she had a mirror so she that could see her back, Rebecca slowly removed her leggings and started to wash. The water was cold, but she was so glad to rid herself of the last drops of blood and to feel clean once again that she didn’t care. She donned her spare set of clothes, again struggling with the hauberk while she debated about what to do with her shirt. It was torn and she wasn’t sure she wanted Legolas to see the holes and know that she was hurt. Still, she didn’t have any other clothing and the shirt wasn’t so badly torn that she couldn’t wear it under the hauberk or her tunic. Finally she decided he would question her about it either way so she put it with her other dirty clothes before opening the door and cautiously poking her head out.

“Come, Lady Rebecca, Thomas is dressed and waiting for you,” Legolas said with amusement in his voice. “Leave your weapons and packs, we will return for them.” Thomas stood leaning against the wall, his arms crossed, staring at the floor with hooded eyes. Taking Rebecca’s clothes, Legolas led them down the hall, stopping outside a small room and motioning for them to step inside, “Wait here, Gimli is supposed to bring you something to eat. I will find Aragorn and then clean these before returning.”

Sitting on a bench at the table, Rebecca leaned wearily against Thomas and he pulled her closer, resting his right cheek on the top of her head. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. I thought all of you had died,” she whispered.

It was a long time before Thomas replied, “I almost did. I mean, I was fighting for my life the whole night, but this one time was different…” Rebecca felt him shaking and she sat up, turning carefully to see his face. He was staring at the wall opposite them, his eyes unfocused. She took his fingers, avoiding the bandages on his hands and wrists. Thomas glanced at her briefly, took a deep breath and continued. “I-I got distracted,” he confessed, “and an orc surprised me and did this,” he gestured to his face. “I saw him at the last moment and-and I tried to move back, but I wasn’t quick enough. My helm saved my life. But still… I fell and…” Rebecca’s eyes widened in horror. “And his sword was coming right at me…” Thomas stared at their hands for a moment, lightly caressing her bow calloused fingers as he paused. His voice was barely audible as he continued, “One of the Rohan men killed the orc. And then… and then he was attacked and I-I couldn’t get to him in time to help him. I was too slow. He-he died, Rebecca. He saved my life, but I couldn’t save his.” Thomas’s eyes glistened with unshed tears and guilt.

“I’m so sorry, Thomas,” Rebecca said, leaning against him once again, not really sure what to say. “I’m sorry the man died, but I’m so glad he saved you.”

Thomas went on, as if she hadn’t spoken, “All I can see, when I close my eyes, is him dying in front of me and not being able to stop it,” he dropped his head into his hand.

“I understand,” Rebecca whispered.

Thomas’s head jerked up. “No, you don’t,” he said angrily. “How could you? You weren’t there. You didn’t see him fall,” his voice rose steadily in his pain and frustration.

Rebecca shoved herself back away from him, flinching slightly, staring at him in shock. “No, of course I couldn’t understand, Thomas,” she said sarcastically, “because I was safe up here and no died here.” She glared at him with eyes full of hurt and anger before turning away.

Thomas blanched as he looked at Rebecca sitting rigidly on the bench turned away from him. Caught up in his own pain and memories, he had forgotten about hers. Reaching for her, he gently touched her shoulder, “I’m sor…”

“Don’t touch me,” she hissed, jerking her shoulder free.

“Rebecca, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking… about what you’ve been through, even though I knew you were in the battle and I saw the blood on your clothes earlier. I just… I just… will you please look at me?” a note of pleading entered his voice.

Rebecca slowed turned to face him and Thomas was not surprised to see tears pooled in her eyes. “Will you tell me?” he asked softly, “Was it in here helping the wounded?”

Hesitantly, Rebecca tried to explain, “It was horrible here, too. I-I had to decide who I thought had a chance to live and who to just let die.” She closed her eyes and tears leaked from the corners and trickled down her cheeks.

“Oh, Rebecca,” Thomas moved closer and tentatively placed his arm around her waist, drawing her closer when she made no objection.

“But-but it was worse on the wall when… Renward…”

“Who’s Renward?”

“One of the men who lives… lived in the Westfold, he and a man named Lyfgast stood beside me. We talked before the battle, they both have families,” Rebecca fiddled absently with the tie on her tunic and took a deep breath. “I don’t know what happened to Lyfgast. Anyway, Renward… there was an arrow and… I-I tried to catch him, but he was too heavy and we fell.” She choked back a sob. “It was mostly his blood on my tunic, Thomas… at least at first.” Rebecca turned her face into Thomas’s chest and wept. He held her as tears rolled down his cheeks as well. They cried only briefly and then just held each other, neither one speaking, as they both marveled at the miracle that had allowed them to survive such a horrible battle when so many others had died.

“I have food,” Gimli announced as he entered the room. Rebecca and Thomas reluctantly pulled apart, quickly wiping away any last trace of tears as the dwarf set two plates of food and two mugs of something in front of them.

“Thank you, Gimli,” Rebecca said.

“Eat, the both of you,” he ordered as they just stared at the bread, meat and cheese on the plates. “You haven’t eaten for more than a day and we have a long ride ahead of us.”

Obediently, Rebecca and Thomas slowly started eating; eagerly gobbling it down once they tasted it. “What is this?” Rebecca sniffed the contents of the mug.

“Ale.”

“Ale?” Thomas asked, glancing at Rebecca.

“Aye, it’s not as good as dwarf-brewed, but it’s not half bad.”

Thomas took a small sip and smiled faintly at the dwarf. “It’s good, Gimli, different than what I’ve had at home, but good.”

“You drank beer at home?” Rebecca asked as she pushed her mug away after tasting it, grabbing her waterskin instead.

“I did work on a horse ranch and the men would have beer after work, Rebecca,” he said somewhat defensively, but Rebecca gave him a half-smile and he relaxed. He glanced back at Gimli who was watching them with a look of bewilderment. “At home you’re not supposed to drink beer or ale until you’re 18 and I’m not 18 yet.”

“You can’t drink ale until you’re 18?” Gimli looked at them in disbelief. “What do you drink then?”

“Water, milk, juice, soda…”

“Tea and coffee,” Rebecca added.

Thomas nodded, “Lots of other stuff, too.”

Gimli just shook his head, “Why do you have to wait until you’re 18?”

“You become an adult at 18 and you drink and do other ‘adult’ things then,” Thomas shrugged.

Gimli grunted, “Our young ones start on ale at a young age, but we don’t have all those other things to drink.”

“Do not drink too much ale, Thomas,” Aragorn cautioned as he strode into the room carrying a bowl of steaming water. “Legolas told me your head is already in pain.”

“He’s dizzy too, Aragorn,” Rebecca spoke up.

“It’s not that bad,” Thomas protested.

After setting the bowl on the table, Aragorn crouched down next to the bench, looking into Thomas’s eyes and feeling his forehead. “No sign of fever,” he murmured with relief. “Now, Thomas, are you dizzy?” he stared intently at the young man.

Lowering his head, Thomas finally admitted, “A little bit, Aragorn, but only when I stand or move too fast.”

Aragorn’s lips twitched in amusement, “Sounds like more than a little. And you do have a headache,” he stated.

“Yes.”

Aragorn stood and made him some of his pain-killing willow bark tea using the hot water he had brought. “Drink this, it is the strongest I can give you without putting you to sleep again. I want you to ride next to Legolas,” Aragorn glanced up at the elf who had returned, “and if you are still in pain or have any difficulty, you will ride with him.” He waved off Thomas’s protests, “Rebecca is riding with me tonight.”

Thomas swallowed the herbal tea without complaint as Aragorn turned to Rebecca. “How do you fare?”

“Well, I… ”

“Tell me,” he ordered.

“My back hurts… at first I thought it was just because I was tired, but…” Rebecca glanced away from Aragorn’s intense grey eyes.

“Do you know what caused it?”

“I-I think so,” pictures of Renward falling on her flashed through her mind again. “I fell when one of the men on the wall… died and I tried to… catch him.”

Aragorn’s eyes widened and he glanced at the others to see that Gimli was staring at Rebecca, while Legolas was nodding as if it confirmed something he already knew or suspected. Thomas just looked down and Aragorn knew that Rebecca had already told him this story.

“I… see.” He tried to imagine the damage a fully armored man could cause if he fell on Rebecca and knocked her to the hard stones of the wall. “Well, your back is probably just bruised, but I need to check it before we leave to make sure you have not damaged your ribs or kidneys.” Aragorn glanced around the room and decided it would give them enough privacy. “Thomas, you wait outside with Gimli.” He waited until they left before continuing, “Rebecca, remove your tunic and hauberk, I can lift your shirt in the back and examine you, if that is all right.”

Rebecca nodded, “I trust you, Aragorn,” she said quietly, “and I can hold my tunic as well.” She slipped off her tunic and paused before attempting to remove the hauberk. Struggling with it, she found Aragorn’s gentle hands there to smoothly slip it over her head. “Thank you,” she whispered. Grabbing her tunic, she pressed it to her chest and turned her back to Aragorn, leaning against the wall.

Aragorn slipped up the back of her shirt, drawing in a sharp breath at the extent of the bruising that was already visible and the small gashes scattered here and there across her back. He glanced at Legolas to see his sorrow mirrored in the elf’s eyes. The worst damage appeared to be across the parts of her back where her quiver had lain, it had evidently forced the chain mail into her skin. Holding her shirt up with his left hand, Aragorn gently pressed on different areas of her back, especially around her ribs and kidneys, with his right. In some places, Rebecca gasped or hissed in pain.

“Forgive me,” he said. “You are breathing well and I cannot feel any cracked ribs and your kidneys appear to be all right, you did not seem to be in any discomfort when I touched them. The worst is here,” Aragorn lightly touched the rough outline of the quiver and she nodded. He let her shirt drop and she turned around. “The cuts need to be cleaned but should heal on their own as they are not deep. I can make a healing salve that will soothe your back, especially the bruises. It will also greatly reduce your pain and speed the healing process, if that is what you want.” Aragorn waited patiently for her decision, knowing that as a healer herself, even if a novice one, she knew what that would entail.

Rebecca stared at the ground, fidgeting uncomfortably, knowing that if Aragorn applied the healing salve he would also have to bandage her. But the pain she was in was so great that she knew she really had no choice. Perhaps if they were staying here for a few days she could deal with the pain, but not if they were going to be riding out in a few minutes.

“I am a healer, Rebecca,” he said gently, “and have treated many women in my long life.”

“All right,” she whispered.

“Sit down while I make the salve. Legolas, would you go and get more bandages and then take Thomas and get the horses ready? Leave Gimli to guard the door.” Legolas nodded and silently left the room. Aragorn watched Rebecca from the corner of his eye as he started making the salve and he sighed inwardly at the distress he saw in her eyes. He wondered again at the wisdom of having a young girl in the midst of all of these men. It made situations like this so difficult for her and he wished there was some way he could make her feel more comfortable.

Tapping her foot nervously, Rebecca sat on the bench waiting for Legolas to return. She could hear Aragorn mixing and crushing the herbs, adding water and making the salve, though she refused to look at him and she was glad he didn’t try and talk to her. She sighed as she saw Legolas enter the room and hand Aragorn the bandages before quickly leaving and she wondered if life here in Middle-earth could get any worse than the past twenty-four hours.

Aragorn’s deep, gentle voice spoke behind her, “Rebecca, I believe we can do this so you are not too embarrassed. I will clean the wounds and then apply the salve and when it is time for the bandages, I will stand behind you and hand the roll to you to wrap around your front. Would that be better?” Rebecca nodded, biting her lip. “Then stand up and take off your shirt, we will do this quickly.”

Taking a deep breath, Rebecca removed her shirt, clutching it to her chest while Aragorn quickly cleaned the gashes and applied the cool healing salve to her back. “Now the bandages,” he murmured. She set her shirt on the table and Aragorn passed her the roll of bandages and she wrapped it around her and passed it back on the other side. They continued for several minutes until she was tightly wrapped. Aragorn neatly tied off the bandage. “You can put your shirt back on.” Rebecca quickly complied.

“How does it feel?” Aragorn asked.

Rebecca sighed, “It feels better, Aragorn. Thank you.”

He touched her shoulder briefly, “Good, but you still need to drink this,” he handed her the tea which she quickly downed. Aragorn helped her put the hauberk and tunic back on and they cleaned up the herbs before exiting the room. Gimli held out her weapons and Rebecca belted on her sword and dagger, but held her bow and quiver.

“How did my arrows get here?” she looked at Gimli in surprise as she ran her fingers over the fletching.

“The elf went out and retrieved them while we slept. Evidently elven arrows are easy to find,” he replied.

Rebecca shuddered at the thought of pulling arrows from dead bodies. Slowly she followed Aragorn and Gimli into the courtyard, blinking in the late afternoon sun. She stopped and stared at the ruined gate and wall on which she had stood with Renward and Lyfgast. Shaking her head, she hurried after Aragorn and Gimli.

“Good afternoon, young lady.”

“Gandalf!” Rebecca exclaimed, looking up to meet the wizard’s searching gaze.

“I hear you were injured.”

“A little, but Aragorn took care of me,” Rebecca glanced down and away.

“I also heard that you took care of him and Éomer last night.”

Rebecca stared at him in surprise, “How-how did you know about that?”

“Aragorn told me.”

“He or Éomer must have seen me, I guess. I never saw them after that until the battle was over. Actually, I haven’t seen Éomer since then. Is he all right?”

“He is fine,” Gandalf nodded in the direction of the horses and Rebecca could see him there talking with Aragorn and the king.

“That’s good… there’s been so much death here.” Rebecca glanced up at the wizard, “Where did you go last night?”

“Oh, here and there, I had some people I needed to speak with.”

Rebecca shook her head, “You never change, do you?”

“Are you saying I am set in my ways, young lady?” a tone of sternness in his voice, but amusement in his eyes.

Seeing his expression, Rebecca nodded, “Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.” She tried to smile, but she had neither the heart nor the energy for it.

Gandalf patted her shoulder gently as they reached the others and Rebecca made her way to where Thomas was standing near Gimli and Legolas.

“Are you all right?” Thomas asked, looking at her with concern.

“I feel better,” she replied. “How’s your head?”

Thomas frowned, “It still hurts,” he whispered, “but not as bad as it did. I’m sure I can ride by myself.”

“I can hear you,” Legolas said, his gaze fixed firmly on Thomas. “There is no shame, Thomas, in being injured and needing help. Almost all warriors are wounded at some point and have to rely on those around them until they are well. Do not let your pride cause you to bring further injury upon yourself.” Legolas’s voice was stern in a way Rebecca and Thomas had never heard it before, and Thomas dropped his head wearily in acceptance.

“All right, Legolas, I’ll ride with you,” he sighed in frustration. Riding with Legolas would make him feel like a child, even if he were injured. All of the other men riding out were strong and uninjured and were obviously better fighters than he was. Just like that man who had saved him during the battle. Thomas was tired of always being the youngest and the weakest… it had cost that man his life. He knew if he had just been a little more experienced or quicker, he could have saved him.

Legolas nodded and Rebecca watched him walk over and speak with Aragorn and Éomer.

“He’s right, lad.” Rebecca jumped at the sound of Gimli’s gruff voice beside her. “You don’t have anything to prove to us and no one will see riding with the elf as a weakness. Not with your injuries and especially not after last night.”

“Thanks, Gimli. I guess it just makes me feel like a kid to ride double…”

“Do you think I’m a child?” Gimli interrupted with a fierce gleam in his eye.

Thomas’s eyes widened in shock, “No, no of course not,” he quickly said.

“How about Rebecca?”

“No, definitely not.”

“Well, if we ride double and we aren’t children, then I doubt that anyone would think that of you.”

“I know you’re right, Gimli, but I still don’t like it. I hate being injured and having to be taken care of like this,” he paused. “What about you? Who will you ride with?”

“Master Gimli may ride with me,” Éomer said, and the three of them looked up to see the tall horse-lord approaching, followed closely by Aragorn and Legolas.

“It would be an honor to ride with you once more, Éomer.”

“Then that’s settled.” Éomer looked Thomas over with concern, laying a heavy hand on his shoulder briefly before turning to Rebecca.

“Lady Rebecca!” Éomer took her hand and clasped it briefly as he looked her up and down. “Aragorn tells me that you were injured.”

Rebecca nodded, “I’ll be fine, Éomer, it isn’t serious.” She ignored the looks Aragorn and Legolas shot her, though Thomas and Gimli saw them and glanced at each other in concern.

Éomer smiled broadly, “Good. I was impressed by your skill with a bow and grateful for your help when Aragorn and I were on the causeway.”

Embarrassed by his attention and not wanting to talk about and relive her experiences on the wall, Rebecca nodded in acknowledgement of his words, but did not otherwise respond, instead staring at the ground.

Evidently confused by her reaction, Éomer glanced at Aragorn with a puzzled expression, but Aragorn shook his head and frowned. Thomas, Legolas, and Gimli were also looking between Rebecca and the two men wondering what had happened on the causeway.

It was King Théoden who broke the awkward silence by calling for them to mount up. As they moved to their horses, Éomer took Rebecca’s hand again and pressed it to his lips briefly. “Forgive me, Lady Rebecca, for making you uncomfortable. It wasn’t my intent.”

Sighing, Rebecca finally met his eyes, “I know. I just… I just can’t talk about it yet.”

“That I can understand,” he said softly. Glancing at Aragorn, who had arrived with Hasufel, he released her hand and moved to his own horse, Firefoot. Aragorn watched him go with narrowed eyes before looking at Rebecca.

“How does your back feel?” he asked as he took her bow and quiver and attached it to the saddle.

“It’s a little better, the pain isn’t so intense. I’m sure a long horse ride will help it a lot,” she said dryly.

Aragorn gave her a half-smile, “I would leave you here if I could.”

Her eyes widened in fear, “Please don’t,” she whispered, laying her hand on his arm.

“I will not, but both you and Thomas would do better by staying here and resting until our return. Now, do you think you can mount by yourself or do you want me to pick you up and set you in the saddle?”

“I can do it, Aragorn,” she said in irritation, “I’m not a complete invalid.”

Biting back a grin, he motioned for her to proceed. Putting her foot in the stirrup, she reached up for the pommel of the saddle and gasped as pain rippled across her back. She dropped her arms and leaned wearily against the horse. “I guess I need help, Aragorn,” she whispered. Without saying a word, Aragorn placed his hands around her waist and lifted her into the saddle before mounting swiftly behind her.

------

Thomas looked at Arod in appreciation as he approached. Even if he didn’t like the idea of riding double with Legolas, he did relish the thought of riding his horse. He let the stallion sniff his hand before he scratched and patted its neck.

“Are you ready?” Legolas asked.

Thomas nodded and waited for Legolas to mount so he could climb up behind him.

Legolas just looked down at him expectantly for a moment. “You will ride in front of me,” he finally stated.

“What? Why? I’m not a child,” he protested. “You don’t need to hold me.”

Legolas’s eyes turned to ice. “Thomas, you are injured, I will not have this discussion with you again. Get on the horse.”

Startled, Thomas obeyed the stern elven warrior without another word and was quickly astride Arod with Legolas behind him. He sat rigidly upright as Legolas urged the horse to follow Aragorn and the others out the broken gate and down the causeway. Thomas looked around at the trees, wondering how it was possible for an entire forest to appear out of nowhere. As much as possible he ignored the piles of uruks and orcs that they rode around, thankful that the bodies weren’t being burned yet. When Arod was urged into a slow canter, Thomas closed his eyes. Dizziness hit him as the ground sped by underneath them and his body sagged back towards Legolas.

“Are you well, mellon nín?” Legolas asked, his voice full of concern.

“I’m dizzy,” Thomas admitted.

Legolas slipped his arm around Thomas’s chest and pulled him closer, “Rest, Thomas, your body needs it to heal. I will not let you fall.”

Thomas didn’t respond, but he kept his eyes closed and soon fell into a restless, uneasy sleep.

------

Aragorn heaved a sigh of relief as he finally rode out through the last of the trees following Théoden and Gandalf. It had taken them several hours to ride through the dark, dreary woods and the light of the setting sun was a relief. He glanced around to see identical expressions on the faces of those he rode with, except for Legolas who looked back at the woods longingly. Rebecca stirred against him and cried out softly in her sleep. Aragorn whispered to her soothingly in elvish and she quieted once again. He adjusted his cloak, which he had placed between them to cushion her back, so that it would pillow her head as well.

Free of the gloomy forest, the small company kicked their horses into a canter as they headed north towards Isengard. Aragorn looked to the east, his thoughts drawn, as they often were, to Frodo and Sam. He hoped they were safe and that the events of the last day would draw Sauron’s eye to Rohan and away from his own borders. Slipping into Mordor was an incredibly difficult and dangerous task and keeping Sauron occupied elsewhere could only help the Ringbearer. He knew their only true hope lay with the two hobbits. Aragorn turned his gaze back to the north with a soft sigh.

They rode late into the night, pausing once briefly to rest the horses. Around midnight they stopped to sleep for the few hours left of the night. Aragorn hesitated as he sat on Hasufel. He did not want to wake Rebecca, she needed as much sleep as she could get. Frowning slightly, he watched as Legolas easily slipped off Arod holding Thomas, and not for the first time in his long life did Aragorn wish he had the innate grace of an elf. Deciding to wait until Legolas was free so that he could hand Rebecca down to him, he watched patiently as Legolas directed Gimli to lay out Thomas’s bedroll. Seeing Éomer approaching, Aragorn stiffened slightly and his eyes narrowed with annoyance.

“I’ll take her,” he said meeting Aragorn’s steely gaze.

Aragorn hesitated only briefly, knowing it was best for Rebecca to be off the horse and lying on the ground. “Be mindful of her back,” he said as he gently settled Rebecca into Éomer’s arms.

As Éomer moved away, Aragorn dismounted, handing the reins to one of Théoden’s guards before grabbing their packs and following the horse-lord. He placed Rebecca’s bedroll on the ground a short distance away from Thomas’s and then placed his on top for extra padding. Éomer placed her there, laying her gently on her side and covering her with a blanket. She stirred momentarily and then slipped back into sleep. “Thank you,” Aragorn said as Éomer looked down at her briefly and then glanced at him with an unreadable expression before walking away.

Aragorn moved over to check on Thomas and found him deeply asleep. He touched his forehead lightly and was relieved that there was still no sign of fever. Infection from filthy orc weapons was a common problem and a frequent cause of death among warriors. Aragorn glanced at Legolas as he stood, “Did he sleep the whole time?”

“Much of it, though he was restless until the last few hours.”

“He is deeply asleep now. I believe he will be much improved in the morning.”

Legolas switched to elvish, “You will not be able to keep him off of Baldor, then,” he shook his head. “He is quite stubborn.”

“His stubbornness also gives him strength, helping him overcome his inexperience; in battle and just surviving here in Middle-earth.”


Legolas nodded, “Yes, but it hinders him from seeking aid when he needs it.”

“He will learn… as I did, Legolas. Thomas is still very young. I think we all forget how young he is… how young both of them are,”
Aragorn glanced over at Rebecca.

“What happened on the causeway last night?”

Éomer and I were trying to stop a battering ram and Rebecca helped us by shooting uruks so that we could make our escape.”

“Are you sure it was her?”
Legolas looked at Rebecca, his disbelief obvious to Aragorn.

“Quite sure, I saw her when we returned to the Hornburg. Everyone else was out of arrows by then, but she would have had to wait until the orcs were closer before she could shoot.” Aragorn shrugged. “You saw her reaction, mellon-nín, it was her or she would have denied it when Éomer spoke of it earlier.”

“So they both saved someone last night… it hardly seems possible.”

“And yet it is. Now, while I am sure you are still not tired, I certainly am. Good-night, Legolas.”
Aragorn wrapped his cloak tightly around himself and laid down between Thomas and Rebecca, noting that Legolas lay down on the far side of Rebecca next to Gimli.

The sound of weeping awoke Aragorn. Recognizing that it was Rebecca, he pushed himself up on his elbow and gazed down at her. He saw with surprise that she was still asleep even as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“She began stirring a short time ago,” Legolas whispered.

Aragorn nodded as he carefully felt her forehead, but there was no sign of a fever which might have caused such a reaction.

“No…no… Renward… don’t…. blood….Renward!” Rebecca began mumbling and moving restlessly.

“Who is Renward?” Legolas asked.

“I know not. It is obviously Rohirric, someone from the battle, I assume,” Aragorn replied.

“Blood…so much…Boromir… mom… mom?” Rebecca started moaning.

Aragorn swiftly picked her up and cradled her in his arms. She quieted some as he softly spoke to her, but the weeping continued unabated. Gandalf had risen at the noise, looking at Rebecca with compassion as he joined them.

“Can you not send her into a healing sleep, Aragorn?”

“I could, Gandalf.”

“But?”

“It is not what she truly needs… she does not need that sort of healing,” he gave the wizard a grim look. “Also, we have to ride in another two hours and I would have to wake her. It is not wise to send someone into that kind of sleep and then bring them out so quickly.”

“Could she not sleep while she rides with one of us?” Legolas asked. “It is another five or six hours until we reach Isengard.”

“She could…” Aragorn paused, “yet she has slept so long all ready today that I hesitate.” He glanced down at Rebecca who was still quietly asking for her mom as she wept and his heart tore at the sound. Aragorn placed his hand over her eyes and forehead. Closing his eyes in concentration, he reached his mind out and gently soothed her spirit, easing her into a deep, calming sleep. He carefully placed her back on the bedroll and Legolas pulled the blanket over her. With a last glance at Gandalf and Legolas, Aragorn wrapped his cloak about himself once more and lay back down for the last few hours of the night.

------

Thomas awoke while it was still full dark. He lay quietly for a moment and then slipped from his bedroll as noiselessly as possible. Although he knew that both Aragorn and Legolas heard him get up, he hoped they would go back to sleep once they realized what had disturbed their rest. Walking carefully through the sleeping men he nodded to a sentry as he passed. A short distance beyond the perimeter of the camp, Thomas sat down just below the crest of a small hill, out of sight of the sentries. He sat with his arms wrapped tightly around his pulled up knees with his cloak wrapped around him and the hood pulled up over his head.

Staring into the darkness with a heavy heart, Thomas tried to figure out what he could have done differently. A man was dead and it was all his fault. If he hadn’t gotten distracted the man would still be alive. Thomas wondered if he had had a wife and children, but he quickly tried to push that thought away as it reminded him too much of his own family.

But thoughts of his family were not easily pushed away and Thomas found himself thinking of his father. He wondered if his father had been killed because some other young soldier had been careless, or if his father had caused the death of others for the same reason.

Thomas groaned and buried his head in his hands, consumed by guilt and then anger that he was even in this position where he could cause another’s death. He knew this war, these battles were important for the future of Middle-earth. Sauron had to be destroyed. But he didn’t even belong here and if he was going to cause other people to die maybe he should just stay somewhere out of the way until the war was over.

Shaking his head, Thomas knew he could never do that. It was a cowardly thing to do and he cared too much for Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, and Gandalf to stay behind. There was no way he could watch them ride off into danger while he stayed in a safe place like a scared little boy. Then there was Rebecca. She would not be left behind again and loving her as he did, Thomas planned to remain close to her, to protect her if he could. No, he would go on and he vowed to do a better job in any future battles – to not get distracted and to try and do his best to avenge the man who had died.

Sighing, Thomas looked up and wiped away the tears that had silently fallen. The sun was just starting to lighten the sky in the east and he realized he had been sitting for more than an hour. Starting to arise he felt a firm hand on his shoulder pushing him back down.

“Stay, I need to change your bandages and check your stitches,” Aragorn’s quiet commanding voice broke the stillness of the morning. He moved around in front of Thomas and crouched down. Aragorn regarded him steadily for a moment before he opened his pack of healing supplies. “Are you dizzy or in much pain?” Thomas shook his head. “What troubles you this morning, Thomas?”

“Nothing troubles me, I was just thinking.”

“Nothing?” Aragorn stopped unwrapping the bandages from Thomas’s head and looked at him in disbelief.

Thomas shrugged.

“How did you get this wound?”

Shocked by the question, Thomas tried to pull his head from Aragorn’s grip.

“Stay still.” Aragorn looked at him with a slight frown, “Thomas, how did you get this?” he persisted, setting aside the bandages he had removed.

“An orc did it.”

“So I gathered,” Aragorn said dryly. He tilted Thomas’s head to inspect the stitches more closely. “But how did it happen?”

Thomas let out a frustrated sigh and began to explain, never once meeting Aragorn’s eyes. Aragorn continued to check his wounds as Thomas talked and he re-bandaged his hands, but not his face.

“I was battling an orc… and-and I heard someone yell about the orcs in the Deep. I-I got distracted, Aragorn,” he paused.

“Go on.”

“Well, that’s when the orc did this,” Thomas shivered.

“And?”

“And, what?”

“What happened next? When the orc slashed you, you probably fell, did you not?” Aragorn gazed at Thomas shrewdly from where he now sat next to him.

“Yes,” he whispered, hanging his head. “I-I would have died too, but-but a man killed the orc. I got up as fast as I could and the man was attacked, Aragorn, but I wasn’t fast enough to help him.” Thomas looked at Aragorn with anguished, tear-filled eyes. “I should be dead, Aragorn, not him. It’s my fault he died… if I hadn’t been distracted he’d still be alive.”

“Hmm, possibly.” Aragorn stared across the plains for a moment lost in thought. Finally he glanced at Thomas, but he had his hood back up and his eyes were hidden. “Did I ever tell you about my cousin, Halbarad?” Thomas shook his head. “I know in Lothlórien I told you how I was raised and about my elven brothers, Elladan and Elrohir.”

“Yes,” Thomas whispered.

“I am as close to them as if we were true brothers, for all that they are 3,000 years older than me. They were almost always around as I grew up and they taught me much of what I know. When I was twenty and my adar told me my true name and heritage, I left Rivendell soon after to join the Dúnedain.”

Thomas had pulled his hood down and was staring at Aragorn curiously for this seemed to have nothing to do with what they had been discussing.

“One of the best things about being with the Dúnedain was discovering that I had close kin, an uncle, an aunt, and a cousin, Halbarad.”

“You had an aunt, an uncle, and a cousin you didn’t know about?”

Aragorn shook his head, “My naneth and adar told me nothing about my family, even though Halhigal was her older brother.” Aragorn sighed, “They were doing their very best to protect me from Sauron, Thomas, and to give me the best childhood they could. It was very difficult for my naneth.”

“Is-is she still alive?”

“No, she died several years ago,” Aragorn glanced away briefly.

“I’m sorry,” Thomas laid his hand on Aragorn’s arm and he nodded once before returning to his story.

“My cousin is now the only close kin I have left since my mother passed, though I am distantly related to all of the Dúnedain. He was only a couple of years older than me and we became friends very quickly. For several reasons… our kinship and our close age made it easy to start with. But for me it was also that he treated me normally.” Aragorn absentmindedly twisted the clean bandage he held in his hands as he spoke. He glanced at Thomas, “I was only a couple of years older than you and all of these older men looked to me because of my name and who I was supposed to be.” He smiled wryly, “It was a little intimidating. Halbarad just allowed me to be myself and we became as close as brothers.”

“I had been with the Rangers less than a year when Faelon, one of my patrol leaders, and I planned an ambush of an orc den. We thought that somewhere between ten to fifteen orcs were holed up inside and we were in place an hour or so before nightfall. The battle started and I had killed a couple of orcs when I found my attention drawn to movement inside the cave. I was so focused on it that I did not see an orc coming from behind me. Halbarad shoved me aside and though he eventually killed the orc, he was slashed rather severely across the leg. The sword was poisoned and he almost died.”

Thomas stared at Aragorn, slowly shaking his head in disbelief, “That happened to you? What did you do?”

Aragorn snorted. “Everything I could to save his life. I could not let him die after he saved my life and was wounded when it was my fault. Though I was the youngest, I was the best trained healer in our patrol and I barely left his side for three days until I was convinced he would recover. Still, the guilt I carried was incredible.”

“I understand,” Thomas said quietly, looking at the sun that was now peeking over the distant mountains.

Aragorn laid a hand on Thomas’s shoulder and waited until he looked at him. “But Halbarad would not let me hold on to that guilt, Thomas. He told me it was his choice to risk his life for mine and he would willingly do it again. He also reminded me that if he had not been hurt then, he might have been hurt later in the battle.”

“But if you hadn’t been distracted… if I hadn’t been distracted, it wouldn’t have happened,” Thomas protested.

“Thomas, by that time in my life I had been training with a sword and as a warrior for more than ten years. If I, who had been trained by not only my brothers, but also by Glorfindel, the mightiest elven warrior on Middle-earth, can be distracted in a battle, so can you. Things happen in battles that we cannot control.” He paused and looked intently at the young man, “Would you have tried to save this man’s life if he had needed help?”

Thomas looked startled and then thoughtful, “Yes, of course I would. I couldn’t just stand there and watch someone die and not try and help them.”

“I imagine he felt the same. Let go of the guilt, Thomas, do not let his choice… his sacrifice turn you bitter and angry. You cannot change what happened, be thankful that you are alive and enjoy the gift he gave you.”

Nodding, Thomas gazed at Aragorn searchingly for a long moment, “But it’s not easy, is it?”

“No, it is not, but it is worth the effort that it takes.”

“Did-did you have dreams… well, not dreams really, but… Aragorn, when I close my eyes, I see him dying again and again,” he whispered.

“No, not from that time, but from other battles I have had those kind of visions. It will diminish eventually, but it will take time,” Aragorn gazed at him with such compassion and understanding that Thomas had to look away.

“Well, at least I know I’m normal,” he said, glancing sidelong at Aragorn. “Thank you, I will try.”

Aragorn nodded as he arose, “I need to bandage your face so we can return to camp.” He quickly did so and they returned to find the others starting to pack up and saddle horses for the ride to Isengard.

------

They had been riding for about four hours when Aragorn decided it was time to wake Rebecca. She had not stirred since he had sent her to sleep. In an effort to make her more comfortable she was riding with both her legs on one side of the horse while he carefully cradled her shoulders and head with his left arm. Shifting the reins to his left hand, Aragorn covered her eyes and forehead with his right. Concentrating for a moment, he smiled and then called softly, “Rebecca, awake now.”

Her eyes slowly opened and she clutched at him instinctively at the movement of the cantering horse. “What? Aragorn?” She gave him such a look of confusion that he almost laughed.

“Be at peace, Rebecca. We are on our way to Isengard.”

“But why am I…” she struggled to sit up, “sitting… or lying like this?”

Aragorn helped her sit fully up, being mindful of her back. “Because you needed the rest.”

“And I slept this long?” she glanced up at the sun.

“It is not quite how it appears. You were having a very difficult time last night,” his voice became soft and gentle. “Crying in your sleep and mumbling about people… you will have to tell me who Renward is.” She looked away. “But then you started asking for your mom over and over and nothing Legolas, Gandalf, or I could do seemed to sooth you. Finally, I pushed you into a healing sleep.”

“Oh.” Rebecca digested this information for a few moments, looking down at her hands and trying to decide if she should be embarrassed or not. She realized, though, that she had been in much more embarrassing situations with these men and there was really nothing to be ashamed of in any case. “How can you do that?” she asked, glancing up at him.

“It is part of my healing gift because of my lineage. All of my ancestors had it to some degree, though I suspect mine may be greater because of the training given me by my adar, Lord Elrond.”

“It must be useful.”

“It is, though I was sorry to have to use it last night. It was not what you truly needed, but it was the only comfort we could give you.”

“Thanks,” she smiled faintly up at him before looking back out across the plains. “Is everyone else all right?” she tried to see over her shoulder, but the awkward way in which she was sitting on the horse made it difficult.

“They are fine. Even Thomas is feeling better and is riding Baldor this morning. How is your back?”

Rebecca moved her shoulders up and down, frowning at the pain. “Sore.” Her eyes widened, “But I’m sure I’ll be fine, Aragorn,” she said quickly.

“Yes, you will. However, your back will be sore for several days. I can give you something for the pain, but you will need to remove the bandage soon, tonight or in the morning.” Rebecca nodded. They rode in silence for a time before Aragorn asked, “Who is Renward?”

Rebecca shot him an irritated glare, “Don’t you ever forget anything?” Her hand that was not firmly clamped to Aragorn’s arm began to fiddle with the ties on her tunic. Her voice was dispassionate when she finally answered. “He was a man I met on the wall and we talked before the battle. An arrow hit him in the throat and he was the one I tried to catch, but we fell. I had his blood all over me,” she shuddered.

“I am so sorry, Rebecca.” He paused, looking down at her uncertainly, “Did that happen before or after you shot the uruks on the causeway?”

“Before.”

Aragorn shook his head slightly, even more amazed at her courage. “After that happened, you got up and continued fighting?”

“Yes,” Rebecca turned and looked him in the eye. “I was needed, Aragorn. So many men were wounded and dying…” her voice was barely a whisper. “I had to help.”

“You have incredible courage, Rebecca. Lady Galadriel was right to have you trained as you were; you saved many men with your healing skills alone.”

“I hope I never have to fight like that again, Aragorn, but I will if I have too.”

“I know you will and I fear that we shall have to before this ends,” Aragorn looked at her with sorrow.

She just nodded grimly and turned her face to the north, towards Isengard.

------

The black tower of Orthanc could be seen looming above the earth several miles before they arrived at Isengard. Rebecca, who was now sitting more comfortably astride, glanced over at Thomas with a grimace which he returned. As they approached, Aragorn suddenly thrust the reins into her hands, “Take these and duck down,” he ordered. Startled, she complied, cringing as he pulled Andúril from its sheath with his left hand, passing it over her head and transferring it to his right. “You may sit up now,” he said as he took the reins back.

“Do I need to draw my sword?” she asked, glancing back at him.

“Not yet, just be prepared to. Mine is just harder to get to,” he said, not taking his eyes off Isengard. The beautiful forest he remembered surrounding Isengard was gone, replaced by jagged stumps and the filth of orcs. The towering walls had been breached and completely destroyed in places and they reined to a halt at the nearest gate.

“Is this your doing, Gandalf?” Théoden asked.

“No, I had not the time nor the power for this, Théoden King,” Gandalf said with a trace of amusement in his voice. “But, come we shall meet the ones who did.” He led them cautiously through the partially destroyed gate.

Inside Isengard the destruction was even more apparent. There were huge piles of broken stones, scattered pieces of wood, bodies of dead orcs, and pools of filthy water. Movement on top of one of the piles of stone brought swords out among Théoden’s guards, while smiles of delight graced the faces of those that remained of the Fellowship.

“Pippin! Merry!” Rebecca cried, struggling to get off Hasufel to greet them. Aragorn tightened his grip around her waist. “Wait, Rebecca, it may not be safe,” Aragorn’s eyes searched the ground looking through the debris. She stopped struggling with an annoyed sigh while Merry and Pippin looked at her with surprise clearly written on their faces.

Pippin recovered first, “Rebecca, how did you get here? Why aren’t you in Lothlórien? You’re wearing chain mail! Did Aragorn let you fight?” The last was said with a fierce scowl directed at Aragorn and muffled chuckles came from Éomer and the guards while Gimli, Legolas, and Thomas grinned. Aragorn just stared at Pippin as he struggled to hold back a smile.

“Pippin!” Merry scolded, pulling on Pippin’s sleeve even as he smiled at Rebecca. “It’s good to see you again, Rebecca, and everyone else, of course,” he said looking at the rest of his companions.

“Gandalf, are these the ones who have caused this damage?” Théoden asked dubiously, looking Merry and Pippin up and down

“We’re hobbits, my lord King,” Merry bowed. “Treebeard told us to watch for you. Meriadoc Brandybuck at your service and this is my cousin, Peregrin Took.” Pippin also bowed. “And, no, we did not cause this damage,” Merry looked around, “the ents did.”

“Ents! Then they still exist and are not just legends… as do holbytlan… or hobbits as you name yourself.”

Merry nodded, “Yes, my lord, though some people call us halflings. We’re from the Shire which is far north of here…” Gandalf cleared his throat.

Théoden smiled down at him, “I would that we had more time to talk Master Merry, I’d like to hear more of you and your people. However, I fear that other things will take my time this day.”

“Merry, where is Treebeard?” Gandalf asked.

“Oh, he is on the northern side of Orthanc and he is expecting you and the King. Pip and I picked out some food for you and your men earlier this morning. Though we kept some back if our friends would like to stay here and eat,” Merry looked up at Gandalf with a grin.

“I imagine you did,” Gandalf said with amusement before looking at Aragorn. “I must speak with Treebeard, but I can summon you before we talk with Saruman.”

Aragorn nodded, “Then I will stay, I would like to hear how these two brave, young hobbits managed to escape the orcs. We may not have another chance.”

As Gandalf and the Rohirrim rode off, the others dismounted and Rebecca finally got to greet Merry and Pippin properly. She dropped to her knees to hug Pippin and stopped, giving him a puzzled look. “Wait a minute, you’re taller.”

He grinned, “We both are, the ents gave us what they usually drink and this is what happened. I don’t mind.” He hugged her, followed quickly by Merry. She gasped softly at the pain their embrace caused, but tried to hide it from the hobbits. Merry’s sharp eyes saw her, however, and he asked, “What happened? Are you hurt?”

“It’s nothing to worry about Merry, I’m feeling much better.”

Merry and Pippin glanced up at Aragorn who shrugged and nodded.

“And what happened to you, Thomas?” Pippin demanded.

“An orc,” Thomas replied, glancing away, missing the concerned looks that passed swiftly between the hobbits and the rest of the Fellowship.

“I heard you hobbits talk about food,” Gimli said. “Can we talk and eat at the same time? I’m hungry, not that were likely to get anything good to eat here,” he said darkly.

“Come on,” Pippin said, tugging on Rebecca’s hand. “We actually have very good food, Gimli! We found the storerooms where food was kept for the men Saruman had in his service. There is also pipeweed from the Shire,” he glanced up at Aragorn as he said the last.

Aragorn’s face brightened at the thought of being able to smoke again, but then darkened as he considered how pipeweed could have made its way here from the Shire. There was no regular trade between the Shire and most other places except for the village of Bree, so it should not be here in Isengard. Yet it was not something he could deal with now, it had to be set aside to be dealt with at a later time.

The hobbits led them into what had once been a guardroom and the five of them sat down as Merry and Pippin bustled around pulling out cheese, dried meats, fruit and even ale and wine. Finally all was in readiness and the hobbits joined them at the table for their second lunch of the day. For a moment it was quiet as they dug in, but eventually questions started flowing back and forth between the friends.

“Rebecca, did Aragorn let you fight?” Pippin asked, again scowling at Aragorn who just looked at him impassively.

“I fought, Pip, but I was needed a-and I wanted to… though that was before I knew what it was like,” she looked at him sadly. “It was horrible, but,” she swallowed hard, “I’ll do it again if I need to.”

“She saved lives,” Legolas said. “And then when she ran out of arrows she helped with the wounded and I know that many lives were saved there as well,” he gave Rebecca a small smile, but she shuddered in remembrance of the blood and the dying.

“Arrows?” Merry looked between Legolas and Rebecca, “What do you mean arrows?”

“Oh, Haldir taught me archery while we were in Lothlórien,” Rebecca shrugged. “Lady Galadriel asked him to teach me right after we got there, but she didn’t want any of you to know for some reason.” She glanced at Aragorn with a sly smile, “Actually, I think she believed someone might not approve,” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. Aragorn smiled at her, somewhat relieved to see her sense of humor, even if just a tiny bit, coming out.

“I’m just glad you’re all right,” Merry said before turning to Thomas who was staring at the floor. “You don’t look very well, Thomas.”

Thomas glanced at him briefly, “Oh, I’m feeling better, Merry. My head is just a little sore is all.”

“Do you want something for the pain?” Aragorn asked.

“No, I’m fine,” Thomas sat up and looked at his friends who were watching him with concern. “Really, the pain is not that bad,” he said shifting uncomfortably under their regard.

“Thomas saved my life!” Gimli announced to the hobbits and Thomas looked at him gratefully for a moment.

“What? How?” Both hobbits spoke at once.

Gimli told them what had happened in the cave during the battle and Thomas once again found himself the center of attention and the hobbit’s praise.

“I’m no hero, it’s what anyone would do,” he protested, pausing as he realized what he had said. He looked at Aragorn who gazed at him with an eyebrow raised and a faint smile.

“I’m still grateful, lad,” Gimli replied as the conversation moved on leaving Thomas alone with his thoughts.

“We still have not heard of your time with the orcs,” Legolas reminded the hobbits.

The hobbits glanced at each and then Pippin spoke quietly, absentmindedly rubbing his fingers along the rim of his mug as he spoke. “It’s hard to talk about really, because the days blurred together. But there were endless times of running. They would make us run until we fell and… and then one would pick me up and throw me over its shoulder like I was a sack of potatoes.” He glanced around the table at the others and then kept his eyes on Aragorn as he continued. “I felt so alone, Aragorn. Merry was separated from me a lot of the time,” he swallowed hard and then stopped altogether.

Merry placed a hand on Pippin’s shoulder and continued. “We were separated, but mostly it was because I was unconscious for a lot of the time. I hit my head on something and was only partially awake during those three days. Pippin was very brave, he cut the ropes on his hands when he had the chance and then left them looped so the hands still looked tied. That’s how we eventually escaped.” Merry embraced his cousin from the side and whispered something into his ear that no one could hear. Pippin smiled and straightened up on the bench, giving Merry a grateful glance.

“Pippin, I have something to return to you that I believe you thought lost forever.” Aragorn held up Pippin’s Lothlórien leaf-shaped brooch pin.

“You found it,” Pippin’s eyes became enormous.

“It gave us much hope.”

Pippin reached to take it and Aragorn noticed his wrist for the first time as his growth spurt left his sleeve a couple of inches too short. The ropes the orcs had bound him with had cut deeply into his flesh in places and rubbed it raw in others. While it was healing well, it still looked painfully sore. As Pippin took the pin, Aragorn grabbed his forearm and turned the wrist around carefully to inspect it before looking up to meet the hobbit’s eyes questioningly. Pippin shrugged, “The uruks seemed to be quite serious about us staying with them.”

“Oh, Pippin,” Rebecca winced as she looked at the wound from where she sat next to Aragorn.

“Let me see your left hand.” Pippin gave it to him and Aragorn found it to be much the same. He turned to Merry to find the hobbit already had his arms extended for Aragorn to inspect. “Are you hurt anywhere else?” After exchanging brief glances, both nodded reluctantly.

“They whipped us across our legs,” Merry said and he and Pippin came around the table to show Aragorn the back of their legs. The damage on their legs was less severe and while it would leave scars, it also was healing well. Aragorn brushed the hair back on Merry’s forehead as he caught sight of something and discovered a gash, but it too was closed up and healing.

“Who took care of these injuries?” Aragorn asked.

“No one,” Merry replied. “Oh, I did what I could of course, which wasn’t much as we had no supplies. I think it was the ent draught we drank that has us healing so well.”

“I suppose if it made you grow, it could heal your bodies as well,” Aragorn looked at them sadly and patted them gently on the shoulder.

“It looks like you had to be royalty not to be injured on this journey,” Pippin quipped, glancing at the Prince of Mirkwood and up at the heir to the throne of Gondor. He laughed and after a moment the others joined him.

Merry pulled out the pipeweed and he, Aragorn, Gimli, and Pippin eagerly filled their pipes. Legolas looked at them with a frown, “Must you do that in here?”

Pippin shook his head, “We can go back outside, we found a decent spot near here.” He led them to what had evidently been a roof-top guard post. They sat or lay sprawled across the hard rock. Legolas kept well away and upwind from those with pipes. They sat quietly for a time as old friends do, just enjoying being together; being in a place of relative peace and safety for the moment.

“Merry, how did the ents do this?” Gimli waved his hand around to indicate all the damage done to Isengard.

Merry looked down for a moment and then gazed around him with narrowed eyes. “An angry ent is a frightening thing to watch, Gimli, and these were very angry ents. Pip and I stayed with Treebeard and so we knew we were safe. They tore through these walls and this fortress like it was… paper. They killed every orc they saw, all the men seemed to have disappeared.”

“They dammed up the river and flooded the place, that’s why there’s water everywhere,” Pippin interrupted.

“That is why the Isen River was empty last night,” Legolas commented, glancing at Aragorn and Gimli.

“Orthanc is the only thing that they haven’t been able to touch,” Pippin continued. “I don’t know why. It looks like rock, but Saruman has done something to it.”

“It is not of Saruman’s doing,” Aragorn looked towards the black tower. “The men of Númenor built it thousands of years ago during the Second Age.”

“Anyway, Saruman is still in there,” Merry said with a shrug. “Maybe Gandalf can get him to come out.”

“Um… Aragorn?” Rebecca hesitated for a second, but her curiosity got the best of her. “What age is it now and where or what is Númenor?”

Aragorn chuckled and Rebecca said, “Well, I don’t know.”

“When this is over, I shall have to find you a good teacher. To answer your questions, this is the Third Age…”

“Almost the Fourth,” Legolas interrupted. “When Aragorn takes the throne,” he gave his friend a piercing glance, “that will be the start of the Fourth Age of Middle-earth.”

“So… it’s not like so many years long, some event or something starts an age.”

“Yes. Now your other question is much more involved and as I see one of the guards approaching I will be very brief. Númenor was a great island nation of men that was destroyed in the Second Age. Some of the people escaped the destruction there and sailed to these lands where they founded the nations of Gondor and Arnor, I am descended from those people.” Aragorn stood, drawing the attention of the guard and indicated that they would join him in a moment.

------

They rode carefully through the debris following the guard towards Orthanc. Rebecca finally got to ride with Thomas again, while Pippin rode with Aragorn, Gimli with Legolas and Merry with the guard. The guard led them to the north side of the tower where they found Gandalf, Théoden, and Éomer waiting for them. Treebeard was also standing there, towering over the group. Rebecca watched her companions with amusement as they got their first glimpse of an ent and she wished she could also see Thomas’s expression.

“That’s an ent?” Thomas whispered in her ear.

Rebecca nodded, glancing back at him, “His name is Treebeard.”

“How…how is that even…possible?” he asked as they dismounted.

Rebecca stared at him, “After everything you’ve seen here, you can still ask a question like that?”

Thomas smiled faintly, “I guess that’s true, but still…” he shrugged.

The two of them walked with the hobbits as they headed to the tower. Pippin slipped his hand into Rebecca’s and she smiled down at him, “I missed you a lot,” she whispered. He grinned, “I’m sure you did, being surrounded by all of these old men is not easy.” Rebecca giggled and Gandalf turned and glared at the two of them, while Aragorn glanced back with a frown, though there was just the slightest hint of relief in his eyes.

Gandalf turned to the group as they reached the bottom of the steps that led up to the entrance of the tower and he looked at them sternly, “Remember that much of Saruman’s power lies in his tongue, do not be deceived. Rebecca and Thomas, I want you and the hobbits to stay here. Do not speak under any circumstance, whether he asks you a question or if you are upset by his words. Do you understand?” He gazed long and searchingly at Rebecca and Thomas as all four nodded and sat near the steps on a large stone to watch and see what would happen.

“Éomer shall accompany me, my guards will also wait there,” Théoden directed, motioning them to the side of the steps.

The small group mounted the broad black steps leading up to the door of Orthanc. Gandalf rapped sharply on the door several times with his staff calling, “Come forth, Saruman.” Several minutes passed with no response and he knocked again. This time a window about ten feet above the door opened and an old white-haired man peered down at them.

“Théoden King, long have I desired to meet with you to discuss the evils that have plagued our lands,” Saruman’s voice was soft, yet there was an undercurrent of power and an almost hypnotic quality to it. “We have much in common you and I. Our lands are too close together for us to be at odds with one another. We must have peace you and I.”

Théoden stared blankly up at the wizard for a moment and then seemed to shake himself awake. He glanced briefly at Gandalf who stood leaning on his staff, watching him intently, before he glared back up at Saruman. “Much in common?” his harsh voice broke the spell that had been cast by the wizard. “We have nothing in common,” he spat out bitterly. “You have killed my people all across the Westfold; your uruks and orcs burning and hacking them to death. No, we shall have no peace, Saruman.”

“You are a fool,” Saruman hissed angrily, but then he seemed to rein himself in. “It was a misunderstanding and we can overcome that. Cannot two wise people such as ourselves work together for the good of all of our people?”

Éomer laughed, “Our people? What people do you have? Orcs and uruks, if any survive, are not people!”

“Be silent, Éomer son of Éomund. It is not for you to speak in your lord’s stead.” Éomer grinned at Aragorn but fell silent.

“But it is true, nonetheless, Saruman,” Théoden said. “You have no people, only evil creatures and those you hire. No, I will not treat with you and there shall be no peace between us.”

Thomas could see the wizard glaring at Théoden with anger and he wondered why Gandalf had not said anything yet. He thought the point of all of this was to get Saruman out of the tower, so that they could go back to Helm’s Deep and then move on to wherever they were going next. Yet, Gandalf was just watching and listening as the conversation was taking place between the wizard and the king, though Thomas knew Gandalf always had his own plans. He glanced at Rebecca as she took his hand and he shrugged slightly.

The small movement served to draw Saruman’s attention and he turned his gaze on Rebecca and Thomas. “So these are the ones who have come, Mithrandir,” he laughed low before his voice turned smooth and enticing. “Will you not come up young ones? There is much I would show you and that you could learn from me.”

Rebecca ducked her head under his regard and shook herself to try and get his voice from her mind as she felt herself drawn to go to him. She was only partially successful and opened her mouth to respond when she remembered Gandalf’s words of warning. Raising her head, she looked at Gandalf begging silently for help and found him looking at her steadily with his kind, blue eyes. She took a deep breath and kept her gaze fixed on him, now able to set aside the words of Saruman.

Thomas shifted nervously on the rock and gripped Rebecca’s hand tightly as he stared up at the wizard, wondering what he was talking about; what he could possibly show them or teach them. He was very concerned that Saruman even seemed to know who they were. Struggling not to ask the questions that he had inside of him, he finally lowered his gaze to Aragorn and gave him a questioning look. Aragorn shook his head minutely with a frown and Thomas stared down at the ground instead.

“Foolish children,” Saruman hissed. “Know that your purpose here will fail.” Both of them jerked their heads up and stared at him. “What help and comfort you were meant to bring will only result in anguish and death and loss,” he sneered. Rebecca and Thomas looked at each other in horror and Rebecca felt Pippin take her hand and squeeze it tightly.

“Be silent, Saruman,” Gandalf commanded. “You have no authority or power over these two.” He gazed up at the wizard for a moment before continuing. “Will you leave this tower and be free, Saruman?”

“Free? You will kill me if I leave this place,” Saruman said with a bitter laugh and he moved away from the window.

“Stay, Saruman,” Gandalf ordered, “we are not yet finished.” The wizard turned back reluctantly. “You truly would be free to go, though you would have to leave your staff and the keys to Orthanc behind.”

Saruman shook his head, “You just want Orthanc for yourself, Mithrandir! I will not leave.”

“Then you leave me no choice,” Gandalf sighed. “Saruman, your staff is broken.” With a piercing wail, Saruman dropped his staff as it suddenly shattered into tiny pieces that landed scattered around his feet. “You may leave,” Gandalf dismissed him. As Saruman left the window, something fell from above, struck a glancing blow off the rail and then headed down towards the men on the stairs. It bounced down the stairs and as it rolled toward a pool of water, Pippin ran and picked it up.

Aragorn turned to look at Thomas and Rebecca as soon as Saruman had disappeared from view, though he ducked back quickly as the object fell from above. Seeing their scared, bewildered expressions he grabbed Legolas’s arm and hurried towards them, even as he noticed Gandalf approaching Pippin and wresting a round object from him and hiding it in his cloak. He knelt down in front of them and placed a hand on their knees, while Legolas slipped around behind them and put a hand on their shoulders. “Look at me,” Aragorn said softly and he waited until first Rebecca’s and then Thomas’s frightened eyes met his. “Be at peace, he has no power over you,” his voice was calm and reassuring and they both breathed a little easier, but it did nothing to answer their questions.

Grabbing his hand, Rebecca asked in a voice filled with confusion and stress, “What did he mean, Aragorn?”

“How did he know who we are? We don’t even look that different anymore, Aragorn,” Thomas asked at the same time, as he fingered his hair that was almost shoulder length now.

“I cannot answer either of those questions, but I know he does not have power to control you. You saw him come at Gandalf’s command and his staff broken. He lies, he deceives, and his whole purpose is to get you to start doubting and questioning yourself. Did you hear when he spoke with Théoden and how he tried to twist things around?” They both nodded. “That is what he tried to do with you as well.”

Thomas looked at him for a long moment before he asked the question that was burning in his heart, “If-if he knows who we are, do you think he might know how we could get home?” he whispered. Rebecca looked hopefully at Aragorn who pursed his lips in thought for a moment. “I know not, Thomas.”

“He does not.” All of them looked up at the sound of Gandalf’s voice as he gazed down at Rebecca and Thomas with compassion. “As I told you earlier, much of his power comes from his voice and he used that against you. You cannot worry about things that are out of your control. You can only do the best that you can in each circumstance you face and not worry about all of the possible outcomes.”

Rebecca and Thomas exchanged glances before nodding in agreement with Gandalf’s words, though both still looked frightened by the encounter. “Gimli,” Gandalf turned to the dwarf who was standing at Aragorn’s side, “will you take these two and the hobbits back to join Théoden and tell him that we will be along directly?” Gimli grunted his agreement and they started off, all of them quiet for once.

As they passed out of earshot, Legolas turned to the wizard. “I notice that while you spoke to reassure them, you did not dismiss what Saruman said to Rebecca and Thomas.”

“No, I did not. How could I? I will not lie to them and I do not know all that Saruman has knowledge of or what he has foreseen. I did tell Thomas the truth when I said that Saruman does not know how to send them home. But as for the other things, Aragorn is right, he lies and deceives. The anguish and death he spoke of, whose death is he speaking of? He may have seen things and then twisted it to make them hesitate when they should not.” Gandalf frowned, “Perhaps I should have left them with the horses,” he sighed, “or, perhaps they were meant to be here.”

Aragorn, who had been staring at the ground as Gandalf spoke, glanced up at that. “Do not doubt what you have done, old friend, it is in the past now. Help and comfort,” he mused. “They have already been a help, to Éomer, Gimli, and myself at least,” he shook his head. “What was it that Pippin picked up?” he asked. “You seemed quite irritated with him.”

“I was,” he responded, though he smiled fondly. “The young rascal picked this up.” He pulled a dark-colored orb from his robe briefly and then quickly wrapped it back up.

“A palantir!” Aragorn and Legolas exclaimed. “Why did Saruman let that go?” Aragorn asked in amazement.

“He did not. Gríma threw it, at me or Saruman… I am not sure which of us he was aiming at,” Gandalf laughed grimly. “A priceless treasure from his tower and one he will sorely miss.” He started walking towards the horses. “Well, we have long to travel this night and longer still tomorrow and I am sure the king is not waiting patiently.”

Aragorn and Legolas chuckled softly as they swiftly returned to their horses.

------

The company rode hard back towards Helm’s Deep. Rebecca often took the reins from Thomas as his fingers cramped from holding them. He knew he would have to ask Aragorn to wrap thicker bandages around his hands to enable him to hold his sword or his reins more easily. Little conversation passed between them as they both tried to focus on what Aragorn and Gandalf had said to them and to dismiss Saruman’s lies. But it was not easy.

Shortly before midnight they stopped in a sheltered area and quickly set up camp. Rebecca stumbled as she walked over to Hasufel to retrieve her bedroll.

“Careful, Lady Rebecca,” Éomer cautioned, as he grabbed her elbow to keep her from falling.

“Thanks, Éomer,” she said, rubbing her blood-shot eyes. “I’m so very tired.”

“I noticed,” he grinned. “Unfortunately, tomorrow will be more of the same.”

“I know. Well, I need to get my bedroll,” she tried to move past him.

“I shall accompany you, so that you do not stumble again,” he led her to where Aragorn was caring for Hasufel. He glanced at Éomer briefly before turning to Rebecca.

“Your bedroll is there,” he said, pointing to it. “Will you also take that blanket to Merry and Pippin? They forgot it in their excitement when I returned their swords to them.” Rebecca nodded, gathered the blankets and left without a word, though she had a puzzled expression on her face.

Aragorn watched her for a moment before looking at Éomer.

“I will not hurt her, Aragorn,” he said quietly.

“No, not intentionally, but she loves another.”

“I cannot help my feelings towards her,” Éomer said in frustration. “Have I acted improperly or been other than kind towards her?”

Aragorn shook his head and sighed, “No, Éomer you have not. But there are other… factors that you are not aware of.”

“So I gathered from what Saruman said. Will you not tell me?”

“I cannot, at least not now. Rebecca is my ward, Éomer and I would not see her hurt. I know she sees you as a friend, just be careful with her heart.”

“Always,” he whispered before turning and striding off.

------

A scream shattered the stillness of the night and people leapt from their bedrolls to discover the source. Aragorn and Legolas found Pippin staring blankly into the night sky, the palantir lying beside him. Gandalf roughly pushed them aside and spoke to Pippin while everyone stood around and watched in horror.

“Pippin! Pippin, come back!”

Pippin blinked and breathed in deeply. He stared at Gandalf, his eyes full of tears and remorse. “Forgive me, Gandalf. I-I had to hold it, I had to see…”

“Hush child, I forgive you. But tell me what you saw.”

“I saw… I saw a tower, evil and black. I-I saw fire and burning and… and the eye, Gandalf,” he whispered. “He asked what I was and I told him I was a hobbit.” Pippin screwed his eyes shut.

Gandalf patted his arm and helped him to his feet, “Go with Merry now and calm yourself, Pippin.” Gandalf looked at the others for a moment, “Rebecca, you bring Pippin comfort as well, go along with them.” Rebecca nodded and hurried after the hobbits, leaving a surprised Thomas behind wondering why he had not been sent away as usual.

Gandalf spoke quickly, “I fear I must leave you now, Théoden King. The enemy will assume that Saruman has the Ringbearer and will quickly come for him. I will make haste for Minas Tirith. My counsel is for you to muster your men at Dunharrow as quickly as possible.” Théoden nodded. “War is coming to Gondor and Sauron must be stopped there or else it will quickly spread to here as well.”

A great shadow covered the moon and most of the men ducked down under the evil presence it brought. Looking up, Thomas saw one of the winged creatures such as the one he had seen on the river days ago. It swiftly and silently passed, headed towards Isengard.

“We must hasten. Aragorn, I give this to you,” Gandalf handed him the now wrapped palantir. “I would counsel you not to use it, except in direst need.”

“I will take it into my keeping as it is mine by birthright,” Aragorn said with a grim smile. “Though it is not a burden I take lightly.”

“I will take Pippin with me to Minas Tirith that he not succumb to temptation again.”

The men scattered to gather their things and to prepare their horses. Gandalf whistled for Shadowfax and waited for Pippin to say good-bye. As he said good-bye to Merry, Rebecca slowly approached the wizard. “I will miss you,” she said, looking up at him tearfully.

“And I, you, young lady. Have courage and do not give into your fears in the days ahead.”

She gave him a shaky smile, “I’ll try not to,” she replied before turning to say good-bye to Pippin. Their farewell was brief, and consisted of tears, hugs and forced laughter as both tried to cheer each other up. Then Gandalf and Pippin were gone and Merry and Rebecca were staring after them, holding hands in an effort to comfort one another.

Aragorn and Thomas led their horses to them and they all silently mounted and the company headed once more into the night. Several hours before dawn, they crossed the Isen River and one of the rear guards come galloping up to Théoden.

“Riders approach from behind, my lord.”

Théoden halted the column, “How many?” he demanded.

“Around thirty, my lord.”

“Éomer, ride back and make a defensive line.”

Éomer wheeled around and did as ordered, placing his men in a defensive shield with himself, Aragorn, and Legolas slightly in front. Théoden, Rebecca, and Thomas, because of his injury, were behind the shield. Merry sat now with Théoden in the event they had to make a sudden retreat.

Soon all could hear the sound of the approaching horses. Éomer waited for them to draw closer before yelling out commandingly, “Halt! Who dares ride in the Riddermark without leave of Théoden King?”

The unknown riders pulled to an abrupt stop and one dismounted, moving cautiously forward. “Is this Rohan?”

“It is. You entered it when you crossed the river. Speak, who are you?” Éomer demanded harshly.

“I am seeking one called Aragorn son of Arathorn. I am his kinsman, Hal…”

Aragorn leapt from his horse, “Halbarad!”

~~~

Reviewers: Many thanks to everyone who is reading this story and especially to those who reviewed. I appreciate the encouragement.

Elvish Translations:

Mellon nín – my friend


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