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Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe  by shirebound

Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe

Chapter Seven: Kings of Men

“It is fortunate that I could find it, for it is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle-earth.  Athelas they named it, and it grows now sparsely and only near places where they dwelt or camped of old.” ‘Flight to the Ford’, The Fellowship of the Ring

“ for why you are quartered with the hobbits, that idea originated with Frodo.  Éomer seemed uneasy about the Men discovering that their new king was ill or in any way weakened, and was quite adamant that they not see you again until you are well.  Frodo grew impatient with all the discussion, and insisted we find you immediately, then bring you to their tent and sort things out afterwards.  Legolas thought of spreading the word that the Ring-bearer needed tending, and that you would remain here until he was well.  As this grove is quite secluded, the Men will not suspect that it is you in need of healing.”

“I see,” Aragorn said.  “I might have made the same decision, had I the chance.  Frodo continues to prove himself very quick thinking and resourceful.”  He closed his eyes briefly, and sighed.  “My head is aching dreadfully.  Why did I not recognize the symptoms of dehydration and exhaustion?”

“You scarcely left the hobbits’ side for two weeks,” Elladan reminded him.  “Your focus was on them, not on yourself.  However, your collapse was due to more than a physical cause; your inner reserves were depleted to a dangerously low level.  Had you been alone and far from aid when you finally exceeded your limits...”  Elladan held a water bottle to Aragorn’s lips, then insisted he eat small amounts of the bread and cheese he had brought.  “My brother, you fought many battles, on many levels, and are fortunate to see your hopes coming to fulfillment.  Allow yourself to gain strength and recover.  Rest, drink frequently, and eat light meals.  While you are with the hobbits, you would do well to dine whenever they do.”

Aragorn chuckled softly.  “No mere Man could eat as often as a healthy hobbit, and continue to fit into his garments.”

He sat propped against the sheltering tree where Elladan had settled him.  From where they sat, they could see the hobbits' tent, with the King’s standard planted before it, and several small figures walking about on the grass.  A hobbit dressed in the green and white livery of Rohan waved to them, then walked off quickly in the direction of the encampment.  At the sight, Aragorn grew restive.

“I am out of touch with what is happening.  What of the wounded?  Are there any shortages of which I should be aware?”

“None,” Elladan assured him.  “The camp continues to be well provisioned by the hunting and fishing parties, as well as by stores sent from further south.  Éomer and Imrahil oversee the Men, and all goes smoothly.  Merry has been a tireless messenger, and information with which he is entrusted is quickly and discreetly relayed to those who require it.  Pippin has been visiting the wounded, and they delight in his presence.  Gimli is everywhere, lending a hand to anything that needs doing.  The healers...” Elladan sighed.  “They are skilled enough for what is required of them, although they could use further training.  Elrohir and I have spoken together, and we would like to dwell for some years in your city.  Now that we have worked alongside the healers, we realize that there is much they could learn from us.”

“You would be most welcome,” Aragorn said fervently, “and I agree with your assessment; they are skilled, for their part, but there are plants of great potency about which they know little.”  He was struck by a sudden thought.  “Would you search the area, Elladan, and see if there is any athelas growing nearby?  There should be; these are ancient lands where Men once lived in great numbers.”

“I will ask Elrohir to join me in searching for some at first light tomorrow.”

“Thank you.  There are those whose spirits may be refreshed by its virtue.”

Yours not least of all, Elladan agreed silently.  But he said only, “You are thinking of Frodo?”

“Yes,” Aragorn said.  “Do you sense it, as well?  His manner is jovial and he says only that he is tired, but something is troubling him deeply.  I did all I could to lead him back from the abyss whole and well, but...”

“You did all you could, and nearly lost yourself doing so,” Elladan said quietly.  “You must promise me you will take this time to rest, Estel.  Your people will be ill-served by a king who does not stand before them strong and fit.  You are their Hope.  Your service to them has only just begun.  Allow us to care for you.”

“I only need a few hours’ sleep,” Aragorn insisted.  “This coddling is unnecessary.”

“Can you stand unaided?”

Aragorn was silent for a moment.  “No,” he admitted at last.  “I agree, the Men should not see me like this.  I hope the hobbits do not mind having me about.”

Elladan smiled.  “It is very clear that it gives them great purpose and joy to be of service to you.  They are not fully aware of the source of your weakness, but they are not frightened by it as the Men might be.”

Aragorn yawned hugely.  “I did not realize that I could put myself into a healing sleep without my knowledge.  How odd.  I wish to have control over myself.”

“I believe you are completely in control,” Elladan said.  “However, this ability comes from a part of you that knows better than you do, if you comprehend my meaning.”  He eyed Aragorn shrewdly.  “The worst is over, I deem, and you will feel more refreshed each time you awaken.  Do not fight sleep, my brother... your body and mind need to recover from all you have demanded of them.”

Aragorn found his eyes closing again, and felt himself being lowered to the grass. At least now he knew he could stay awake if he concentrated on doing so, but in Elladan's words he recognized the wisdom of their father and teacher, Lord Elrond.  He relaxed, succumbing to the swirling mist which gently carried him into oblivion.

Elladan was still sitting quietly, stroking Aragorn’s brow and enjoying the music of the birds and the nearby stream, when Éomer came striding towards them.  He was bareheaded, and dressed not unlike that of the other Rohirrim: in simple green tunic and brown trousers.  But at his side was the mighty sword Gúthwinë, and he walked tall and proud, a leader of Men.

“Good day, Elladan.  How does he fare?”

“He recovers quickly.”

Éomer breathed a sigh of relief.  What might have happened to Gondor, had their new king been seen as weak or vulnerable?

“He has ever done so, when faced with illness or injury,” Elladan continued softly, almost to himself. “I have observed the same strength in many of his lineage whom my family has safeguarded for an Age and more.”

Éomer was silent, wondering about these strange beings called Elves.  The millenia of experiences through which they lived was beyond his comprehension.

“It is time I returned Aragorn to his bed,” Elladan said.  “I have been lost in my thoughts, and did not notice that the afternoon is waning.”

“I will accompany you, as I have been summoned to dine with the hobbits.” Éomer motioned to the tent, outside of which there was now a great deal of activity.  “My uncle’s sword-thain informs me that a supper is offered in exchange for an evening of songs and tales.”

“If the stews Samwise has been preparing are any indication, you will enjoy a feast.”

“As will you,” Éomer smiled broadly.  “You and your brother are invited, as are Gandalf, Gimli, and Legolas.  I believe Merry wishes to cheer his cousins, and help Aragorn endure his confinement.  I have heard much of the hobbits’ love of storytelling and song, and of their love of ale, as well; Gimli is delivering a cask to their tent, along with a basket of fresh produce and a bathing tub for Aragorn.”

“I anticipate an enjoyable evening,” Elladan said, his eyes twinkling, “save for the bathing; Aragorn may need assistance he does not wish to receive.”

“I will leave that challenge to you,” Éomer chuckled.

“Merry is very wise to arrange entertainment,” Elladan said approvingly.  “I suspect that Aragorn will need all the distraction we can devise.”

“It may be unnecessary, if he sleeps through it!”

“I do not believe he will.”  Elladan’s long fingers ghosted once more across Aragorn’s brow.  “Each sleep is lighter than the last.  In fact, we may be hard-put to keep him abed through another day; his stubbornness can rival that of any warg.”

“Had he been less stubborn, he would have faltered long before this,” Éomer said gravely.

“I agree,” said Elladan.  “He endured beyond the point even my father believed would be possible.  Many things can now unfold that will bring the race of Men to a destiny nearly despaired of.  I offer my compliments to you, Éomer.”  He gazed thoughtfully at the young king.  “It is a difficult thing to stand forth as leader when this role had not been envisioned.  Aragorn is fortunate that you stand so firmly at his side, and that your Men see you accept his claim to the kingship without hesitation.”

Éomer met his gaze, and Elladan saw that no offense had been taken at his frank words.

“Perhaps he and I are brethren long-sundered, both descendants of the ancient Fathers of Men,” Éomer said softly.  “Perhaps some among my people see us as equals, and wonder at my fealty.  But the son of Arathorn is the High King of this land, and my heart knew it the day we met.”

Elladan bowed his head, content.  There was nothing but love and respect in the voice and eyes of Éomer, and he knew without a doubt that his young brother had allies of which any king could be proud.  Perhaps the time had come when the sons of Elrond no longer needed to safeguard the sons of Elros; this was something to be pondered another day, or even over the long span of years yet to come.

** TBC **

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