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A warm hand gripped the back of his neck. Fingers wound into the front of his tunic and pulled gently, but Aragorn had no wish to rise. When he would have resisted, however, a strained voice insisted, “Sit, Aragorn.”
Rarely had he heard exhaustion so thick in Elladan’s tone. Aragorn ceased his struggle and allowed himself to be drawn forward until his head spun and his heavy body felt near collapse. Just when he feared he might vomit the grip loosened, releasing him back against a solid body. He sagged gratefully, letting the other take his weight. The smooth metal of a cup pressed against his lips and Halbarad’s voice spoke in his ear. “Drink.”
The water was warm and tasted of leather, yet it was wonderfully refreshing. He noted vaguely how parched were his mouth and lips, but all too soon Halbarad was removing the cup.
“Not too much at once,” Elladan reprimanded, a tired chuckle hidden within the admonition. “You know to take it easy after going without.”
That caught his attention, and Aragon opened his eyes.
They were gathered around the fire at the base of Weathertop, flames flickering bright against the falling twilight. Across the circle, partially hidden by the flames, he spotted Daelin and Dorhaur. His friend was similarly slumped into his father’s solid grip, eyelids drooping and limbs lax. Dorhaur saw his glance and offered a bracing nod.
“He is well. He has had water and broth, and will sleep again shortly.” The older Man crooked a smile. “As will you. It is good to see your eyes again, young one.”
Young one. Aragon snorted softly, eyes wandering. Long had been the time since any of them were young ...
To his left, Elrohir lay still as stone near the fire. He was covered with several blankets, skin drawn and ashen against the orange of the flames. Aragon looked quickly to Elladan, who reassured him with a touch.
“I will attend him momentarily.”
“It was a Nazgűl.” The words were softer than he had intended, his tongue thick and uncooperative. Halbarad tipped another mouthful of water in, cutting off any further explanation.
The Elf nodded. “Indeed.” A wealth of loathing and confusion lay beneath the word, but Aragon had nothing to offer even should he feel capable now of that discussion. He had no more idea than Elladan how a Nazgűl had come to be haunting the Trollshaws.
Halbarad stirred. “The remains of your fire were more than a day old when we arrived, and that was yesterday.” He grunted. “I don’t suppose I need to tell you we were less than happy to find the three of you lying like dead things among the ruins – not a movement nor blush of color among you, no response of any kind when we tried to rouse you.”
“It took me longer than I might have wished to determine the cause.” Elladan’s voice was tight. “Many long years have passed since the Witch-King dwelt upon the Ettenmoors. That land is home now to any number of vile creatures, yet little did I think to find Nazgűl among them.” His visage darkened. “Adar will be little pleased.”
Aragorn was little pleased himself. The thought of Sauron’s greatest servants and most fell minions haunting the wild spaces between his own people and Rivendell was not a welcome one. Halbarad voiced his next concern before it had time to fully form.
“And we have no way of knowing how many have come, or what it is they want - whether the enemy has sent them here for some evil purpose not yet clear, or if he simply wishes to see what may be found.” Halbarad shifted beneath Aragorn, body tense. “There is much in these northern lands it would be best for our enemy not to discover.”
Aragorn nodded, sending the world into a slow, drunken spin. He ignored it. “We must spread this word to our peoples as soon as may be. These are ill tidings.”
“We will make for Imladris when the three of you are able to ride.” Elladan waved aside Aragon’s immediate protest. “We have taken thought for your people, Aragorn. Halbarad and Dorhaur will return with this news to the Dúnadain and instigate a watch on your eastern borders. Once we consult with Adar and know more, we will send further instructions. The three of you, however, will come to Imladris with me. I have no experience with the Black Breath, I know not how long the recovery process may be nor what aftereffects may arise.”
“Comforting,” Aragorn mumbled.
Elladan scowled. “I am unaccustomed to being out of my depth in matters of field healing - long has it been since a challenge has presented itself to which I felt so unequal.”
“One might be glad of that, my Lord,” Halbarad huffed softly, “considering such a lack means Nazgűl have been few and far between in these lands.”
Elladan tipped a reluctant nod. Aragorn sighed. Fatigue was encroaching upon the edges of his vision, bleeding dry his strength, and despite the nearby fire he was still chilled deep within. “It is well you knew enough to bring us out of it.” He cast uneasy eyes toward Elrohir, unnerved at the Elf’s silent stillness. Elladan caught the direction of his gaze.
“Adar ensured we studied the theory, of course, but we have neither of us had cause to practice the skill. The sufferer must be convinced to freely abandon the nightmare world of the Black Breath - it is not a decision which can be forced by the healer.” The Elf hesitated, then shrugged. “I thought it best to begin with Daelin, who knows me least. I assumed he would require the most effort, and would therefore need me at my freshest.” He glanced toward his brother, rubbing the back of his neck. “It is my hope that Elrohir will respond to me on instinct. I am … more weary than I had expected.” Elladan’s gaze pinned Aragorn, suddenly dark. “The scenes which you and Daelin inhabited were …” He paused, and Aragon wondered vaguely what his brother had seen as he coaxed them away from the dark dreams of the Nazgűl’s poison . He himself remembered only vague images, the weight of bleakness and terror and despair. Perhaps he would remember more as time passed, but he found he could not wish for it. He shivered, slumping more heavily against Halbarad.
“I thank you, brother.”
Elladan gripped his shoulder hard. “You are most welcome.” He rocked back onto his heels, brisk determination settling upon him. “We will discuss it further tomorrow, but for now I must go to Elrohir.” The Elf looked to Halbarad. “Get some broth into him, then he may sleep again.”
Aragorn felt Halbarad nod and reach behind them, but paid him little mind as Elladan moved to kneel beside his twin. The Elf closed his eyes and sighed deeply, entire body slumping as he considered this new effort, but Dorhaur appeared suddenly beside him. “Come,” the older Man urged, laying a calloused hand upon Elladan’s arm. “One more, and you may rest. Daelin sleeps, I will care for Elrohir when he wakes.”
Elladan nodded, clasping Dorhaur’s shoulder gratefully before bending over his brother. Elrohir stirred even as Elladan lay a hand upon his forehead, and Dorhaur hurried to take a seat at his head. Elladan took a long breath, and when he spoke the word crackled with urgency and command.
The dark eyes opened even before the echoes had faded from the rise of Amon Sűl. Elladan and Dorhaur moved as one to lift Elrohir into Dorhaur’s grasp, and then Aragon’s attention was drawn away from the scene as Halbarad pressed a cup of savory broth to his lips. It warmed him from the inside, and if the rich liquid did not abolish the chill of the Black Breath it at least soothed it. Fatigue fell upon him with stunning force, and he felt Halbarad rolling him onto a waiting bedroll.
“Sleep now. You’ll feel more like yourself in the morning.”
The last he saw before sleep claimed him was Dorhaur doing the same for Elrohir, as Elladan stretched out near the fire.
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