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Chapter 9 - Two Days Spent With Aragorn and Heís Become Just as Obstinate
Gandalf hurried toward him, and fortunately seemed in no way inclined to roast him, lest it be for daring rise from his sickbed. "Aragorn! What do you call this foolishness! You are in no shape to be up and walkingĖ"
"Do not worry about me," Aragorn grunted, but his eyes were taken with the sight before him. Aragorn realized he had never properly seen Menelris. He had been unconscious or very close to it each time she was nearby, save those moments after the fight with the black eagle. His attention then had been more taken with ensuring Durvain had not been severely injured, and to be honest, his memories of the entire time†were hazy at best. So seeing her now, with his mind finally completely clear, was astonishing. Her sheer size momentarily stopped him in his tracks, but again it was Durvain that demanded his attention. He†lay huddled on the ground,†his head stretched disconsolately before him and his left wing twisted away from his body in an awkward sprawl. Menelris bobbed her head in extreme agitation, letting out keening whistles of alarm as she nudged him gently. He neither stirred nor opened his eyes. "What has happened?" Aragorn asked quietly.
"He and Menelris just arrived. He could barely fly; she was very nearly carrying him as she supported him from below. It seems his wound, like yours,†has suddenly turned for the worst."
"If you would help me to himĖ"
"Of course, of course. Here, let me have that staff and you can lean on my shoulder instead."
"Iím sorry to abuse your staff so Ė the dog... he brought it and there was no time to find another, and I did not want to insultĖ"
"No, no. It is quite all right. It is special in my hands, but in yours it becomes just another walking stick. You cannot diminish its power by using it as a crutch in such a dire circumstance as this."
"The dog drooled on it."
Gandalf only chuckled. "Nor is it unduly affected†by dog slobber. Iím sure the dog meant well and could find nothing else suitable at hand, so put your mind at ease."
Relieved, Aragorn draped his arm across Gandalfís shoulders and together they walked to Durvain. "By his wing first, I think, on the side nearest his head," Aragorn murmured. He then lowered himself carefully to his knees. "Durvain, it is Strider. Can you hear me?"
Durvainís eyes opened and he lifted his head. "Hello, Strider," he said, his voice a bit weak but his eyes as bright with friendliness as ever. "I am so glad to see you again, and to see you looking a bit more yourself. Or at least as I imagine you to be. Iíve never actually seen you upright!"
"I am glad to see you, Durvain."
"Do you want to go flying again? I will gladly take you."
"I would like that, thank you, but alas, you hardly look ready for flights of fancy. What is this that besets you, my dear friend?"
"My wing seems to be giving me some bother. Itís nothing, though. I will be well enough, in a few days."
"Two days spent with Aragorn," Gandalf muttered, "and heís become just as obstinate; it must be a catching disease." Aragorn glared at him but he merely jutted his beard out defiantly.
"I just need to rest for a while here, if Master Beorn doesnít mind too much," Durvain continued. "Please tell him we promise not to eat his sheep while we are here."
Menelris, who all this time had been nearly hopping from foot to foot at Durvainís right side, let out a derisive squawk. "Do not pay him a bit of attention, Strider. The wound has worsened beyond any repair that mere rest can provide."
Aragorn nodded, then put a hand on Durvainís wing. "Can you lift it, my friend?"
Durvain strained, and the wing rose shakily, but not high enough to give Aragorn a proper look. "Gandalf, Beorn, if you could assist?"
The two hurried to grasp the wing.
"Slowly! We do not want to injure him further," Aragorn admonished.
They nodded and as one raised the wing high enough for Aragorn to see the problem. The wound was indeed infected, all along its considerable length. He laid a hand flat against the reddened skin, where the feathers had torn away, then placed another hand alongside the opposite side of the wound. He took a deep breath and shut his eyes, then started to quietly sing a song of healing.
"Whatís he doing?" Beorn asked.
"Shhh," Gandalf hissed. "Do not disturb him. He is a healer."
"A healer! You donít say! Like the Elves, I suppose. But see here, if heís a healer, why couldnít he have healed himself?"
"Do be quiet, Master Beorn! Aragorn needs to concentrate...."
Aragorn smiled a bit at their fiercely whispered conversation. He ended the song and looked up at them. "The wound is greatly infected. It needs thorough cleaning. If you could bring me plenty of buckets of hot water, and clean cloths, andĖ"
"We will do no such thing!" Gandalf interrupted. "Or, that is to say, we will not bring those things to you. You are in no condition to take care of this wing; it is huge, and a mess besides and it will take several men to set it to rights. And doing so will take no more than ordinary skill at that, so though youíre to be commended for offering, you are simply not needed in this capacity. Beorn can fetch Grimbeorn, and he†and I will see to organizing it all, while you sit at Durvainís head and provide comfort and the gift of healing and hope for which you are so famous."
"Famous in obscure places, perhaps," Aragorn murmured, but he bowed his head in surrender. He wasnít up to much more than holding anyoneís hand, and well he knew it. He crawled awkwardly to Durvainís head, moving to the side opposite the injured wing so as not to be in the way. He nodded to Menelris, then lowered himself to a seat. He would have pulled Durvainís head into his lap, but he feared the weight of it would crush his legs to powder. "Durvain," he called softly, and the birdís eyes opened. Aragorn stroked the side of Durvainís face. "I am sorry you are so ill, but Gandalf and Grimbeorn and some other very nice men are going to help you."
"I liked that song you sang," Durvain said. "It was so peaceful. It made me sleepy."
"Tuck your head under, then," Aragorn smiled. "This next bit will be messy and likely painful, so if you can sleep through it, all the better."
"Will you sing to me again?"
"Of course." And he started singing, a lullaby this time. He made up the verses as he went along, singing of a motherís love and softly-lined nests and floating clouds and rivers full of nice fat fish. Anything he thought might bring comfort to an Eagle. He also ran his hand over and over the sleek feathers on the side of Durvainís head and neck. His healerís touch had worked in the past on animals such as horses and other domestic beasts, and he had even set a wild songbirdís broken wing to rights. There had been nothing mystical in splinting the fractured bone, but he knew his touch had kept the bird calm when otherwise it might have panicked to the point of death. But despite his varied successes, he did not know how effective that touch might be on an Eagle. It was always a bit of a guess in some ways, trying to heal, although he generally felt immediately whether things were going well. He paused in his singing to lean his forehead down to the crest above Durvainís eye and poured forth every healing thought he could. His breathing grew slower and deeper, and he felt Durvainís slow to match his.
Thank Elbereth, this seemed to be a time where the healing was flowing as it should.
There was movement beside him, and Aragorn lifted his head to look at Menelris. She was settling down beside her mate as close as she could without jostling Aragorn. She draped her wing over Durvainís shoulder, and such was the size of her wing that it covered Aragorn as well, like a canopy. "Keep singing, Strider. It brings comfort to us both."
And so Aragorn did. He sat and sang his own songs until he could no longer think of words, and then he moved to the lullabies his mother had sung to him as a child, and then every song of healing and every hymn to Elbereth he could think of and a few of his own making. He sang as Grimbeorn brought the buckets of steaming water. He sang as Grimbeorn and Gandalf and three men Aragorn did not know gently labored beneath the outstretched wing, pulling away broken feathers and cleaning and murmuring soothing encouragements and then finally rubbing in pot after pot of medicinal salve. He sang as they wrapped a vast swath of bandages around the wound, and he sang as they finally with great care laid the wing down on the ground. And then finally he stopped and leaned exhausted against Durvainís neck.
"What a brave Eagle you are," he murmured. Indeed, through it all, Durvain had not so much as flinched, though his eyes had widened a few times and his beak clacked now and again.
Gandalf knelt beside him. "Your singing and your healing touch quite made the difference, I think. I doubt Durvain would have been so calm otherwise."
"Compared to all he has done for me, it was an exceeding small thing to do. He was injured, after all, while taking care of me."
Gandalf squeezed his shoulder but said nothing, for which Aragorn was grateful. Now that the deed was done, he felt every ache and twinge in his lower back. Acutely. He wondered vaguely how he would regain the hall, and decided that to sleep here, in the open, curled against Durvainís warmth under the shelter of Menelrisí wing, would be more than any king could want. He leaned his head against Durvainís neck and closed his eyes, again sending healing thoughts toward Durvain. Sleep, my friend... sleep and fly through healing dreams... we will fly them together.....
Just before sleep claimed him, he felt the soft weight of a blanket fall across his body.
Stars speckled the cold blackness of the sky when Aragorn next opened his eyes. He took a deep, slow breath. For a moment, he had no idea where he was, but as he felt the warm bulk of the Eagle beneath his cheek, and heard the muffled stentorian rush of Durvainís steady breathing, he relaxed and pulled the blanket, which had fallen from his shoulders, back up under his chin. Menelris had withdrawn her wing and was sleeping beside them, head tucked in proper Eagle fashion. Aragorn was surprised that he had apparently slept away the entire day; Durvain he had expected to sleep, but it seemed he had finally been able to enter a healing sleep along with the Eagle.
There was a very faint hint of light left in the evening sky but nighttime was well upon them. It was chilly, but he was comfortable, snugged up against Durvain as he was. He patted the birdís neck and smoothed down a feather that the breeze had lifted. Durvainís breathing hesitated, then quickened as he started to wake.
"Strider?" he asked, his voice thick with sleep.
"I am right here, my friend. As is your mate, right here beside you."
"Menelris," he murmured, content. His breathing deepened again.
Aragorn heard a step and looked up to see Beorn outlined against the starlight. "How is he?" he whispered.
"I think he is doing well. He is quiet, anyway."
He watched as Beorn ran his hands along Durvainís neck and down the wing to the bandages. He nodded, satisfied. "I do not know how to tell, exactly, if an Eagle has fever, but he seems to be resting well enough, as you say. What of you? Surely after spending all day out here, youíre not going to spend the night out in the open as well?"
Aragorn pushed himself upright, relieved by the ease with which he could move. It seemed the dayís sleep had done well for him. "I think I might, actually. If he awakens in the night, I can calm him."
"Canít his mate there do that?"
Aragorn nodded, but he was reluctant to explain himself, overtaken again with that odd shyness before Beornís keen gaze.
It ended up he neednít have worried. "But you feel responsible, am I right?"
"You read a manís heart too easily, Master Beorn."
"Only when the man wears it upon his sleeve as you do. You will need to perfect the art of dissembling if youíre going to be any good as a king."
"No doubt you are right, but I need no artifice before a good friend."
"Ah, now, enough with flattery."
"They are no empty words I speak; I count you as a friend, one of my dearest though we have known each other but a day. I too can read hearts, you know."
"Then I best hide the mithril before you suss out my hidden stash," Beorn chuckled. "But I do wonder how it was that you managed to sleep away the entire day, and the Eagle as well. I donít think either of you so much as moved. We came out several times just to be sure you were both still breathing."
Aragorn smiled. "It was no ordinary sleep. I put Durvain into what is called a healing sleep, and such was my own need that I found I was unable to keep from falling into one myself. That happens occasionally, though it is rare."
"A healing sleep. What is that, some sort of trance?"
"No, nothing like that. Itís a sort of... state of rest, I suppose you could call it. Deeper than regular sleep but nothing he could not awaken from at extreme need, say if an enemy approached. And itís not something that I use often... in fact, Master Elrond is far better at such healing methods as I am, although I am learning, for healing is a gift of my line, going all the way back to its very beginnings."
"Beginnings? And that would be...?"
"I am of the line of Melian, and Lķthien. Such healing power as Melian passed to Lķthien passed also to those of her line; it is a part of my birthright."
"Melian, you say. So†you are part Maia! A wizard like Gandalf!"
"I am no wizard. It is only the very smallest part of me, Melianís blood. But that is what gives me my healing power. I am trained in the healing arts, of course, the setting of bones, cleaning of wounds, caring for fever, things like that. But the special touch... I can make no claim to that other than having been blessed by Ilķvatar. But whether my own power is as great as Lķthienís, I do not know, as I have not yet been tested to that degree."
"So answer this, then. You evidently can heal a creature as great as this Eagle, yet you could not keep yourself from falling into such fever and illness that you nearly died. How do you explain that? Lķthien probably would have been able to have accomplished it, I imagine."
"Lķthien was Firstborn; I may have some Elvish ways, and in me both lines of the Children of Ilķvatar dwell, but nonetheless, I am a Man, and one in a line that has diminished since its greatest days, although..." Here he paused. "Beorn, hear me in this, before I go on. I do not say any of this about myself out of a sense of pride or arrogance, but simply out of fact: much of what was great about the Nķmenůreans still exists within me, or so I have been told by those whose wisdom I trust. I cannot claim that through any doing of my own; it simply is, by the hand of Ilķvatar."
Beorn nodded. "It is no different than my saying I am a skinchanger. You are who you are, who you were created to be."
"Yes, that is it precisely. I am the last of the line of great Kings, the heir of Elendil and Isildur. I came by that simply through being born to my mother and father, not by any great feat of arms or show of bravery or words of great wisdom. And far from feeling it entitles me to any special treatment, who I am and what I can become hangs instead ever before me as a stern admonition to live my life in such a way that I never diminish what remains of the nobility and purity of that line. I must prove myself worthy to be called the Heir of Elendil by such acts of charity, strength, honesty, wisdom and bravery as I can muster, if that makes sense. I must rise to the heights of all who went before me, or fail utterly. And that is a humbling task."
"I believe I like you, Aragorn. You appear to have been raised right."
Aragorn chuckled. "Thank you, Beorn. I will pass that along to Master Elrond and my mother."
"But youíve strayed from the path as far as my questionĖmaybe that too is emblematic of your bloodline, to wander in conversation much as you wander around the wilds of the North."
Aragorn could not help it; he burst into laughter.
"So back to it: why couldnít you heal yourself?"
"Healing such as that takes much power, and if I am already diminished through injury, or deprivation or illness or whatever the case may be, then I have no stamina to heal myself. I may be hardy, but I am not invincible," he said ruefully.
"Invincible or no, I can see where youíd be a handy person to have around. Care to move here and help me tend my animals?"
"I would love nothing better, but alas, my journey takes me down a different road. But I can stay for a season." Again, the rueful smile. "In fact, I fear you may be stuck with me longer than you wish, for I am not exactly ready for the long journey back home."
"I have the feeling that whenever you leave, it will be too soon. But when you do, know that you are always welcome to return, and know that my people will always come to your aid. This is my solemn promise, Aragorn, son of Arathorn." Beorn held out his hand and Aragorn shook it.
"And I give you that same oath, Master Beorn. Ever will my people see the Beornings as allies."
Beorn nodded in satisfaction, then slapped both his hands on his thighs. "Well then, now that thatís done, what say I bring you some food? Healing sleep or no, a man needs sustenance and youíve only had a plateful of honey cakes and a sip of whatever that was that Gandalf gave you. Elvish wine or some such. At any rate, its effects, no matter how refreshing, are sure to be long past, so something bracing to drink... a mug of hot mead, I think, with cinnamon, and more bread and honey and perhaps some chutney with walnuts, and some cheese as well. That should hold you."
"Indeed it will, and be most welcome. Thank you."
"Iíll have it in a thrice. And some more blankets to keep you off the damp ground tonight."
Aragorn thanked him again and then settled himself a bit more comfortably against Durvain and looked up to the stars. Bright Ešrendil was hours yet from appearing; this autumn he seemed to prefer racing Anor into the sky at dawn. But Menelvagor was readying his sword in the southeast. Like those Elves of old, Aragorn could not help but start to sing softly as he traced the bright belt and admired Borgilís red glow. He started to sing an ancient song of Tķrin Turambar, but his voice trailed away. That seemed too tragic a tale for such a beautiful night, and his thoughts were still very much on Lķthien. On Berenís Tinķviel and from her to another...
He looked to the great milky swath of stars bisecting the sky, and sang a song of his own Tinķviel, a song of the Evenstar.
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