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The Ranger and the Eagles  by Cairistiona

A missing scene for Chapter†8 closes out the tale.† Aragorn may have had no memory of those two days spent in delirium, but that's no reason we can't†have a peek at†what transpired.† Written at Lilybaggins' request, for her birthday. :)

~~~

Appendix - "Please Try Not to Bite Me Like Last Time."

He could not warm himself.

Cold seemed to have seeped into his very marrow and no matter how many blankets were laid atop him and how many warm stones were placed along his body, he shuddered and shook and felt the avalancheís cold fist hit him again and again.

Soft voices spoke to him, but he could not understand the words. Someone might have said his name, but the cold snatched all meaning away. Maybe... maybe he did not have a name... maybe all that made up his essence, his fŽa, had been snatched away, flung into the chill void. Maybe this aching, freezing shell was all that was left of him, was all that he had ever been...

But he remembered... had vague memories... of a past... a future...

He shuddered again. The memories darkened... the avalanche...

Was that it, then? Was he alone, buried in snow?

He must be... he was so cold... so cold.... He could feel Deathís frozen hand reaching for him... grasping... holding not a gift but only despair...

It touched his face. He cried out, weakly, tried to turn aside, but the hand was relentless, grabbing his jaw, pulling his mouth open. He tried to bite the fingers, but he was too slow, and then something hard pressed against his lips. He clamped them shut and jerked his head away but the hands brought it back and then they covered his nose and he couldnít breathe and he gasped and foul liquid splashed into his mouth and against his throat and it burned him and he gagged and retched and through red agony he heard a dismayed cry from somewhere beyond this frozen hell.

"Good gracious, what are you doing! Youíve all the gentleness of a Breeland butcher!"

And then Death reached for him again, but no....

He scarcely trusted his senses, but arms held him, folded him into a tender embrace... surely Death would not be so gentle... and finally the confusion lifted. He opened his eyes but saw only vague shadows. More hands pulled away the soiled blankets.... it shamed him, for he knew the mess was his... and someone gently held a warm cloth against his forehead.

A soothing voice murmured in his ear. He knew that voice. And he realized he knew the arms and the robes and the scent. He spoke the name in a frail whisper. "Gandalf..."

"Shh, shhhh," It was Gandalf, and Aragorn reached up and wrapped strengthless fingers around a sleeve.

"Sorry... sorry..." He was babbling, he knew, but he could not form any other word. It had been Gandalf,†and he had thought†him Death... it was unforgiveable. "Sorry."

"There now, no need for apologies, my dear, dear boy. Shhh."

"Whatís... wrong... with me?"

"Your wound has turned for the worst, I fear, and fever has a fierce hold on you. You must fight it, Aragorn." Gandalf had never sounded so stricken. So terrified. "Call on your strength, on your healing skills. You must, or all will be lost."

"So cold. Tired."

"I know, but you must keep fighting." He pulled him closer to his breast and stroked his hair. "You must keep fighting."

Aragorn nodded. He hurt, oh how he hurt, but he sighed and whispered, "I will ...fight..."

His eyes drifted shut and he slid into the blackness of sleep.

~~~

Gandalf shut his eyes tightly as Aragorn sagged against him. If he had thought that arriving at Beornís would set all things aright, he had been grievously mistaken. Aragorn held to life with a grip more feeble than the one he had on Gandalfís sleeve, and now, going into dawn after a night of restless pain and mounting fever, death seemed to lurk under the very lintel, watching for its chance to swoop in and steal Aragorn from their arms. "Oh, Elbereth, lend him your strength. Lend him my strength, for he needs it more than I in this hour."

He laid Aragorn carefully back against the pillows.

"How is he?" Grimbeorn asked quietly as he shook out clean blankets warmed by the fire and spread them over Aragorn.

"Weak. Very, very weak. I have seen him under the pall of the Black Breath and thought him near death then, but this..." His voice trailed away.

Grimbeorn eased himself down beside Aragornís leg, a look of shame on his face. "Iím sorry about the medicine. I didnít expect him to wake up and fight me. And I fear I am more used to medicating animals. That was ham-fisted of me."

Gandalf almost glared at him, but he realized that Grimbeorn was indeed trying his best, and he imagined, from the purple smudges beneath the manís eyes, that Grimbeorn was nearly at the limit of his endurance. "No harm done. We will try the medicine again later. For now, weíll let him rest, and see about some rest for ourselves. Or at least for you."

"Worry not about me; I have plenty of strength left. But Aragorn... he seems not to shiver so much now. That and his speaking just now are surely good signs, don't you think?"

Gandalf said nothing. It was all too uncertain. He dipped his cloth into the warm water and again wiped down Aragornís cheeks and forehead. Aragorn murmured something, but Gandalf could not make it out. "His chills are fading, but his fever rises. I wish we could find a way to get the medicine to stay down."

"Usually mixing it with honey works."

But it had failed, both times they tried it. The only thing Aragorn seemed able to tolerate was small mouthfuls of water, and with such a high fever, he needed far more than mere dribs and drabs. But if that was all he could handle, then Gandalf would keep dribbling water in one drop at a time until the end of the Age, if that was what it required. But such tiny amounts... how could Aragorn hope to survive on such scant mouthfuls? But he shook himself. Surely a little was better than none, and none would be all Aragorn got if Gandalf kept losing himself in worried reverie. He reached for the cup and a clean cloth. He soaked the cloth and touched it to Aragornís cracked lips. "Come now, open just a little."

The lips parted and he squeezed water in until he saw Aragorn swallow, then he dribbled some more. Aragorn again swallowed. Gandalf waited a few minutes and when Aragorn showed no sign of rejecting the offering, he repeated the process until the cup of water was finally gone. He sat back with a sigh, glancing at Grimbeorn, who instead of going off to find rest had stayed to watch. Grimbeorn nodded encouragingly but said nothing.

There really wasnít anything to say, after all.

~~~

Gnawing pain in his back woke him, but this time his wits seemed in better shape, and he felt hot instead of cold. He also felt as though Morgoth had been at him with Grond, but he didnít think he was about to go the way of Fingolfin just yet.

Close, though.

He licked his lips. They were so dry they felt rough under his tongue. He sensed movement beside him and opened his eyes. The lids would barely respond, but he managed to peer through the slits.

What he saw made him change his mind about his wits. There was a sheep standing by his bed, holding a stack of blankets on its back. Aragorn frowned and tried to blink but once his eyes shut, they refused to reopen. He felt a hand touch his shoulder, and then a finger upon his lips, rubbing a soothing balm across them. Then the press of a cup. He opened his mouth and tasted cool water. He swallowed, hoping for me, and after a moment, more indeed came.

"Can you hear me, Aragorn?" a gentle voice asked. It was not Gandalf. Grimbeorn. It was Grimbeorn. Again, he tried to open his eyes to see, but they refused. "Aragorn?"

He nodded. Twitched, more like it, but he hoped Grimbeorn would understand that he was hardly up for lengthy speeches.

"I am going to give you some medicine. Itís mixed with honey, but I fear it will still taste fairly rancid. Do you think you can manage to swallow it?"

Aragorn licked his lips... the balm tasted sweet... and mustered the energy to give another twitch of a nod.

"All right, then," Grimbeorn said, and then with a touch of humor, "Please try not to bite me like last time."

So it had been Grimbeornís hands forcing his mouth open, earlier.

"Are you ready, then? Here we go," he said, and without waiting for a response, slid his hand beneath Aragornís head and quite abruptly lifted it, and at that moment Aragorn knew he would not be swallowing anything. He gasped as the world spun madly about, and before he could brace himself, the water he had swallowed came back up and over the blankets.

"Oh dear." Grimbeorn lowered his head back to the pillow, and, while Aragorn coughed painfully and tried desperately to force the bed to stop spinning,†he pulled away the blanket and flipped another... from the sheepís back? Oh Elbereth, I have utterly and completely lost my mind... over him. "That was clumsy of me. I am terribly sorry, Aragorn. Iím not proving to be much of a dab hand at nursing."

Aragorn meant to say, "No need for apologies; I understand completely. Not everyone has a gentle touch... nothing to be ashamed of." All that actually came out was, "Nnnnuh..."

Then Grimbeorn spoke to someone else. "He seems unable to tolerate lifting his head."

"We must try to get the medicine in without doing that, then." That was Gandalf. Aragorn would always know that testy grumble, even when†all his wits†had spun†to shreds.

"Can you steady him? Your touch is far gentler than mine."

"Morgoth has a softer touch than you!" Gandalf snapped. "Grimbeorn, many things you may do well, and I do not question the sympathetic intents of your heart, but pray never take up leechcraft."

Aragorn felt warm hands on either side of his face. "Aragorn," Gandalf called softly, all traces of ire completely gone.

"Gan...off..." Had he no control at all over his tongue? "Gannn..."

"Shhhh, do not try to speak. Save your strength. Now, listen to me closely, my friend. I know it is very hard, and youíre so very tired, but we must get some of this medicine into you. But fear not, we will not lift your head again. But you must be extra careful not to choke when you swallow, no matter how badly it tastes. Can you do that, do you think?"

"Y-yes," he whispered. And, feeling flush from his success at finally articulating a word, he felt sure he could do it, but just how horrific would the stuff taste? After a few moments, he found out. It was truly rancid, as Grimbeorn had warned. Aragorn knew many medicines but he could not imagine what was in this vile concoction. Still, he carefully swallowed. His stomach clenched and rolled in stern protest, but he forced himself to hold it down, and after a few moments, he relaxed.

"There you go, thatís the way," Gandalf said a shade too brightly. Had he the energy, Aragorn might have retorted that he was not, after all, a toddler finally trying turnips and so would he please refrain from speaking in such a ridiculous sing-song. But consciousness was slipping from him again, quite rapidly.

He wondered what ... had they put... in...

~~~

Grimbeorn let out a huge sigh. "Thank goodness. Now maybe heíll get some true rest and be able to fight off that fever."

Gandalf nodded. "Sleeping can only help. But I wonder if we should put a hot compress against the wound."

"Draw the poisons out?"

"Do you think it would do him harm?"

"I wouldnít think so, no. Iíve treated infected wounds on horses with that very method."

"Just you remember this is no horse weíre tending."

"Yes, sir," Grimbeorn sighed. "I truly am sorry."

"Yes, yes, I know, and I should not snap at you so." Gandalf took a deep breath and stifled all evidence of his irritation with Grimbeorn. He actually found he was able to give the poor man a smile. "You mean well, and perhaps it is better to be nursed with clumsy compassion than with able hands but a cold heart. Now go prepare the compresses, if you please."

And so they gathered what they needed, and for the remainder of the day, they applied warm, wet compresses against the wound, occasionally stopping to clean away the discharge. Aragorn woke at times, but his mind seemed to be wandering far afield, for he mumbled nonsensical things and spoke of riding to Bree and at one point seemed to hold an entire conversation with Halbarad about the proper technique for assisting ewes in difficult births. Despite the dire situation, Grimbeorn was beside himself with mirth, listening. Then even Gandalf had to chuckle when, after Aragorn announced that he would now put his arm into the birth canal, the ewe that had been patiently bringing them hot cloths let out a terrified bleat and ran from the room.

"Is Aragorn a shepherd, then?" Grimbeorn asked, once he regained control of himself.

"Only of the Dķnedain, to my knowledge. But I suppose he must put his hand to many tasks, as chieftain." Only after the words were out of his mouth did he realize what a terrible pun he had uttered, quite unintentionally, but Grimbeorn seemed not to notice.

"Well, I fear heís chased Daisy off for good, and I canít blame her. Iíll see about bringing some more cloths. Maybe I can convince one of the dogs to help." He left, and Gandalf examined the wound. It did seem to be less red, and he was unable to see much in the way of pus draining from it.

He reached around and felt Aragornís forehead. It felt much cooler, and Aragornís mumbled ravings had stopped. It seemed that the ewe had delivered her lamb and all was well in the pastures of his fevered imagination. He allowed himself a smile as he brushed Aragornís hair back away from his brow and laid the back of his hand against Aragornís cheek. "You manage to look after your people and their livelihoods even in your delirium. My dear, dear boy."

He gave Aragornís shoulder a squeeze and then worked at gently affixing a loose bandage over the wound. It had been a long and hard battle, these past thirty-six hours, but as he listened to Aragornís easy, deep breathing, he felt they had turned death away from the threshold, and he dared hope that the morn would find Aragorn on the way to recovery at last.





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