A prophet hath no honour in his own country. - The Bible John 4.44
The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been nor will be made from this story.
With grateful thanks to Raksha.
The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been nor will be made from this story.
With grateful thanks to Raksha.
“We welcome you to our village and offer our hospitality, even though you ruined Beleg’s crops, and now you have the audacity to disrespect our dead!” Borlach looked outraged.
“I believe your people may not be dead,” said Aragorn. “There is a very large spider in the vicinity. Its bite causes the victim to appear lifeless to all but the most skilled of healers.”
“You are a soldier, not a Healer, or so you have said,” Borlach replied. “This tragedy concerns our village, not strangers from afar. We have no giant spiders here.”
“I am also a healer of long experience,” Aragorn said firmly.
Beleg had moved to the front of the crowd and laughed mirthlessly. “I suppose he’ll be claiming to be the King next?” the farmer scoffed. “His sole claim to anything uncommon is that he is the most useless worker I have ever been unlucky enough to know.”
Aragorn struggled to keep his temper. “I beg you to let me examine these bodies,” he repeated, “A spider's venom could have paralysed both of them.”
“How could a spider fell a grown woman?” Borlach challenged. ”I have heard legends of such, in the far off lands to the North that drowned in Ages past. They tell us, though that such evil creatures perished with the first Dark Lord, no more to trouble man nor beast.”
“Nay, good sir: giant spiders infested the Elven woods near Dale until Sauron's end," answered Aragorn. "Though Mirkwood recovers from the Enemy's influence, and Dol Guldur has been thrown down, some of the spiders still linger to this day, hidden in fens and marshes and caves. They are more cunning than the spiders we are accustomed to. No one knows many spawn were thrown by the great spider of Cirith Ungol, not far from fair Ithilien. But I do know that one such creature attacked my son! That is why Beleg’s crops were damaged. Falborn was witless with delirium while the effects of the bite were wearing off.”
Beleg’s sarcastic laughter rang out again. “Now that is a fine tale, fit to frighten little children! I saw Falborn running naked and unmanned with my own eyes, as did my wife and sons. He was witless for certain, I tell you, witless with drink! Spider bite, my foot!”
“It is the truth!” Faramir spoke for the first time. “I was bitten by a giant spider.”
With the exception of the mourners, the whole village erupted in mirth.
“It is better to admit to overindulgence than to tell such falsehoods,” Borlach rebuked him.
“I do not lie and neither does my father.” Faramir trembled with scarcely controlled fury. “Is there anyone amongst you with some knowledge of the healing arts? Let them examine me and see the mark the foul creature left on my body!”
Aragorn sighed and briefly closed his eyes, knowing how much this would cost his reticent Steward.
Tasariel hurried forward. “You all know me well and trust my remedies,” she said. “I will examine Master Falborn and see whether there be any truth in his and his father's words. We owe it to Vanreth and Gwinhir not to bury them without discovering if they could have suffered some malady which creates but a false seeming of death.”
Aragorn nodded approval at her words. From his experience of Tasariel’s remedies over the last twenty-four hours, he was not surprised that she appeared to be the village Healer.
The crowd muttered amongst themselves.
“These men are fools and drunkards,” Beleg protested. “We should ignore them.”
“I pray you all, at least to let Mistress Tasariel decide," said Hareth, speaking for the first time. "We must not bury my daughter without knowing if their story could be true."
“We cannot delay the funeral in this heat!” Borlach protested.
“I intend to examine Master Falborn,” Tasariel said firmly, gripping Faramir’s arm and leading him in the direction of her hut. “I expect you to wait on the burial until I return. It should not take long."
Faramir followed Tasariel into the hut with an expression like that of a sheep being led to the slaughter. She closed the door behind them and lit the lamps. “I’d like to believe you, lad,” she said kindly. “ But whoever heard of such a thing as giant spider save in stories to frighten unruly children?”
“I assure you I am marked by the creature’s bite, mistress,” said Faramir. "And have you not heard the tales of Frodo of the Nine Fingers, how the Ring-bearer was stung to supposed lifelessness by a giant spider, and left for dead by his faithful servant? I assure you that Shelob of Cirith Ungol was no child's tale; for I saw the Ring-bearer myself after the Enemy's fall. The brave perian still bore the monster's bite, though the wound itself had been cleansed.
“You had better show me the mark of what stung you, then,” said the woman. “Where is this bite mark? I don’t recall seeing it when you were running naked through my husband’s field!”
“On my back, between my shoulders,” Faramir replied, starting rather hesitantly to unlace his shirt. He pulled the garment over his head, flushing scarlet. He turned his back to her to allow her to examine the bite.
“You’ve naught to fear from me, lad, “ said the farmer’s wife gently. “I bore and raised four sons, though alas, two fell fighting against the Dark Lord.” She picked up a lamp and Faramir felt the flame’s heat against his bare skin as she lifted his hair to scrutinise his back. “Hmm, you certainly have had a nasty bite of some sort. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and I’ve seen many a bite from stinging insects during my life.”
“My father said the bite looked much worse a few days ago,” said Faramir, finally daring to hope that they would be believed.
“I believe you, lad,” Tasariel assured him.
“Thank you, Mistress Tasariel,” Faramir reached for his shirt, but the woman quickly grasped his arm. She moved in front of him and prodded his ribs.
“I can see why you insist on keeping your shirt on,” she said in a horrified tone of voice. "You're half-starved! And where did you get all those bruises from, lad? Has someone beaten you? “
“The bruises were caused when my father thought I was dead and tried to revive me,” Faramir explained.
“That proves your tale beyond all doubt then,” said Tasariel, continuing to feel Faramir’s ribs.” Don’t they feed you in the White City? I can count every one of your ribs, you are so painfully ill nourished! I suppose that if I could but get a proper look at your father, I'd find him as scrawny as you are! You can put your shirt on again now, lad. But don’t you dare think I’m letting either of you leave here before I’ve had a chance to feed you up a bit!”
“He has suffered much and I have been concerned for him,” Faramir said truthfully, thankfully donning his shirt once more.
“It is clear you are devoted to one another,” said Tasariel. "Morrandir looks at you as my Beleg looks at our lads, and never was a father so devoted to his sons as my man. Come on, we had better tell the others that you do indeed have a strange bite mark on you.”
She led Faramir outside again and cried in a loud voice: “Master Falborn speaks the truth! He has indeed been bitten by some large creature unknown to me.”
“Now will you let me see the bodies?” Aragorn demanded in his most commanding tone, which most in his Council quailed to hear.
“Let Master Morrandir see your son!” Borlach ordered Finrod. “I am beginning to think there may be some truth in his claims. Certainly Mistress Tasariel’s word can be trusted.”
Aragorn lifted the pitifully small bundle from the bier and made to take it to the hut he had been sharing with his Steward. Finrod turned to follow.
“No!” Borlach halted Aragorn, “Whatever you plan to do; you do it here in front of us all.”
“I sought only to act out of respect,” said Aragorn shooting a baleful glance at the headman. He took his knife and cut open the winding sheet, revealing the pitiful body of a little boy who could not have been more than about two years old. The child certainly looked dead, for it lay unmoving and bluish tinged.
Almost immediately, Aragorn espied a small puncture mark on the toddler’s chest that confirmed his suspicions. The discovery gave him scant sense of relief. How could one so young survive the bite of a poisonous spider whose venom had also felled a tall strong man in his prime? Yet, Frodo had lived after being bitten by Shelob. Aragorn raised his hand and begged for quiet, then lifted the child in his arms and pressed his ear to the small chest and waited. The following seconds felt like an eternity as he failed to detect any sign of life. He could sense the growing impatience of the crowd.
“Throw him in the river for desecrating our dead!” cried a woman.
“He should be whipped out of the village!” cried Thoron with relish.
“Quiet! My father needs to concentrate.” Faramir used a tone more often heard when he was addressing his troops.
Aragorn was beginning to lose hope that any life remained in the unfortunate child. The infant was well-fleshed, lacking in bruises, and of good size. He seemed to have been well cared-for, and was probably much loved by his family. Aragorn put his ear once more to the small body, above the silent heart. Come now, little one, show us that there is yet a flicker of life within you, he asked silently. Then to his joy, he detected a faint heartbeat.
“He lives, but barely,” the King announced to the waiting throng; and began to vigorously rub Gwinhir’s chest. It would be a struggle to keep this little one alive. Unlike adults such as Faramir, so young a child might not revive if left alone. “Fetch me some hot water, and let me also examine the mother!”
Finrod was still eying Aragorn suspiciously. “You will not uncover my wife!” he protested. It just isn’t decent! And how can you be so certain my son is still alive?”
“His heart still beats, though only once about every two minutes,” Aragorn explained. “I suggest you allow me to look at your wife inside one of the huts.”
“No man save I has ever touched her!” Finrod said adamantly.
“Maybe Mistress Tasariel could examine her body for bite marks then?” Aragorn enquired, now sorely tempted to end all the pretence and reveal his true identity so that they would obey his orders. He could not risk exposing Faramir to public humiliation by so doing so, though.
Hareth suddenly pushed her way forward, elbowing Finrod aside. “Please, take her to my hut so that I can see if she has any mark on her,” the woman said desperately. "I have buried my husband, and three sons and would not bury my only surviving child alive!”
“How can we believe this stranger?” Finrod protested. “Mistress Tasariel had no idea what had bitten his son, it could have been anything!”
“I do not know,” said Hareth, “ But if there is any chance, however slight, that my daughter still lives, I would grasp it. Take her home; Tasariel can aid me.” She gestured the bearers to return to the huts with the body. While the villagers were eager enough to challenge a stranger, they seemed more willing to heed the pleas of a grief stricken mother who was one of their own.
Borlach seemed to be waging an inner struggle, torn between possibly saving the child and having his authority usurped. “Fetch a tub of hot water!” he said at last, his desire to protect his people proving stronger.
Aragorn heaved a sigh of relief. He continued rubbing the child’s body, trying to stimulate the flow of blood to and from Gwinhir's sluggish heart. If the blood flowed normally, there was a greater chance that its protective armaments would destroy the spider's venom. “Bring my healing supplies to me!” he entreated Faramir.
As soon as the water was brought, Aragorn took an athelas leaf from his pack, breathed on it, while murmuring an invocation in a language strange to all but Faramir, who thought it an obscure dialect of Quenya. He then cast the leaves into the water and lowered the child into it. He bathed the little one thoroughly, while continuing to vigorously rub the child's limbs, the pain in his back and shoulders forgotten. From time to time, the water grew cold and Aragorn demanded infusions of freshly heated water to keep his patient warm. After a while, his efforts were rewarded when Gwinhir's heartbeat became stronger and slightly more frequent. Taking the little boy from the tub, Aragorn dried him and called for a clean napkin to clothe him. He then made to put the child under his shirt.
“What are you doing now?” Finrod asked suspiciously.
“My heartbeat and breathing will encourage him to breathe once the paralysis wears off,” Aragorn explained. “Such a young child might forget what comes naturally to older folk.”
“He’s my son, I’ll take him, “ Finrod said gruffly. “Not that I’m certain even, that he is still alive, but, I’ll care for mine own!” Thus saying, he took his child from Aragorn and stuffed him under his shirt.
“Be sure to wear a shirt for the rest of the day,” Aragorn cautioned. “He must be kept warm.”
Just then, Hareth reappeared and ran towards the assembled villagers, her tear-stained face alight. “You were right!” she said, “I found a mark, just as you said, on my daughter’s leg. And Tasariel has found a faint heartbeat! How can I help her?”
“We can only wait,” said Aragorn. ”It took many hours for my son to recover. Keep your daughter comfortable and keep talking to her; she may be aware of what is happening at times. Make sure she knows that she will not be buried alive. Most importantly, do not leave her alone, for when she regains consciousness she might be confused or feverish like my son was. It might also help to place a poultice of cabbage leaves on the bite to draw out the poison.”
“My father's telling me that he knew what had happened to me was a great comfort when I was bitten,” Faramir added.
A sudden horrible thought struck Borlach. “ Might we have buried the men alive who collapsed last week?” he asked.
“Where were they working?” Aragorn queried.
“In the hayfield by the river,” the village elder replied.
“My son was bitten there,” Aragorn said sombrely. “However, you cannot know. They most likely succumbed to heatstroke in this weather," he added, not wanting these simple villagers to dwell on what was likely to be a grim truth. The buried men would be far beyond help now in either case. “I would advise you to wait at least a day before burying anyone else who collapses, until this creature is destroyed.”
The villagers murmured their assent.
“Back to work now!” Borlach ordered, not wanting the people to think too deeply about the ill fate that had befallen their fellows. “There is a harvest waiting to be gathered or we will go hungry this winter!”
Aragorn and Faramir lingered as the villagers drifted back to their work.
“Come, you two, no more idling!" Beleg chided, “You said yourself it will be hours before Vanreth and her child awaken. That is, if you are not playing some cruel trick on us.”
“Their fates lie in the hands of the Valar,” Aragorn replied soberly. He could only hope that Vanreth did truly still live, and the faint heartbeat was not merely the wishful thinking of her distraught mother and Tasariel. They reluctantly returned to Beleg’s field for what mercifully proved to be only two or so hours of work before the sun set.
The evening meal was a subdued affair that night. Finrod still clutched his son to his chest, but the toddler showed no further sign of life and Finrod refused to let Aragorn examine him again.
Faramir walked back to their original campsite and retrieved their bedding, which he shook out and arranged under a giant oak. He was determined that Aragorn should have the chance for a good night’s rest beneath the stars. They retired briefly to their hut so as not to hurt the villagers’ feelings, and tended each other’s hurts within the privacy the walls afforded.
It was hard for Aragorn to properly see the bite mark on Faramir's back in the dim light. Aragorn’s pains were easier to tend. . He just lay flat on his belly while Faramir rubbed in the soothing salve and tried his best to copy the Elven healing methods that Aragorn had used so often on him.
"You have healing hands," Aragorn remarked.
Faramir looked surprised. “I cannot cure by touch and my hands are always cold, unlike yours."
"Your hands can quickly ease pain and remember, you twice recalled me from the brink of death by the strength of your will and devotion. I believe you inherited some small measure of the healing powers of Elendil's line."
Faramir beamed. “I should like to think so," he said. They crept outside and settled down to sleep in the shelter of the great tree.
It seemed they had only been asleep a few minutes when they were awaked by cries of “Master Morrandir! Where’s that fellow who says he’s a healer? Has he run away?”
For a moment, Aragorn forgot that he was Morrandir. Then it dawned on him and he rose stiffly to his feet.
“I am here. Who summons me?” he called, striding out from the shelter of the oak.
“It is my daughter. You must help her, please!” Hareth approached, trembling with agitation.