The sun was shining as young Aragorn crept through the woods near to Trollshaws- the white deer had been sighted and the Elves were out hunting.
Aragorn as usual had fallen behind the main hunting party but had not given up on his chance of sighting a deer if not actually hunting one for the table. If nothing else he could use the time in tracking the Elven party which had gone ahead. If he could track them he could track anyone or thing.
There was sound in the distance where he thought the Elf party should be, but it didn't sound like the sounds of celebration- more like the din of battle. He drew his sword and crept through the undergrowth closer to the noise. The clamour was closer, so he pushed aside a branch and saw the cause- the hunting party had been ambushed by a party of Orcs, which out numbered them many to one. He leapt into the battle, his sword sweeping left and right, clearing a space for him to work in. He could see Elrond holding off five orcs, his silvery blade flashing too quick to be seen. Elladan and Elrohir were also dealing with several of the foul breed, as were others of the party. All seemed to be coping. He shrugged his shoulders- so much for his coming to the rescue. A sword swept in from his right side, he dodged to the left and parried it.
'Human! What are you doing with the stargazers?' hissed the hideous creature.
'These are my people, and you are in my wood,' he retorted slashing the creature across the face. It feel back, clutching at the wound so he stepped forward and finished it with a stab to the chest.
'Well done Aragorn, nicely parried.' It was Elladan, yet again taking any chance to jest with his adopted brother. Aragorn returned a grimace and turned and stabbed yet another through the chest as it tried to creep up on him. He span to the right, jumping as an axe came in at knee height, bringing the pummel of his sword down on the creature's skull before swinging the sword up and removing its head. The black gore spread everywhere causing him to momentarily loose his footing. He slipped to his knees as a ugly billhook flow through the space where his head should have been. He slashed up, opening the beast's stomach to throat, its entrails spilling onto the forest floor.
'Archers, archers,' shouted Olambë 'Archers in the trees!'
Aragorn spun to side as an black head arrow flew towards him, grazing his chest in its flight. He saw the archer just inside the tree line and began to fight his way towards it. The archer seemed to be searching for someone, not just firing into the melee. He suddenly realised that the brute had his eye on Elrond, and was drawing his bow to aim for the Elf Lord.
'Elrond, get down!' he screamed as he launched himself forwards. He had no plan, just to stop the arrow from reaching its mark. He barrelled into the archer, knocking it aside as it let loose the arrow, punching its face to a bloody pulp, ignoring the whining and pleading noises it made. Filthy creatures, not content with hunting for food they killed for pleasure, despoiling and ruining all they touched.
The orcs, realising that they were beaten, turned and ran, not in any sort of orderly retreat but a complete riot. Aragorn, still dealing with the archer, was unaware and knocked flat, stunning himself on a tree root.
When next he came to his senses all was quiet- the elf hunters had gone in pursuit of fouler prey. He climbed to his feet, fighting the dizziness that threaten to swamp him, and looked around the glade. Several piles of orc bodies showed where the Elven hunters had stood their ground. The breath suddenly caught in his throat.
Leaning against a tree was Elrond, his eyes shut and a cruel black arrow piecing his chest. Aragorn rushed towards his adopted father, crying out in despair.
'Adar, nai adar, speak to me.'
Elrond opened his eyes and smiled at his human son.
'It's all right Estel. It's only through my shoulder, not serious. The others will be back soon and they can help to release me.'
Aragorn would not believe him until he had checked for himself. 'It's gone right through! Shall I pull it out?'
'No ionn leave it. If you pull it out more damage will be done. It must be pushed through, but not now, you have nothing to dress the wound with. Telair has some dressing he will help when they come back,'
Aragorn nodded. As usual his father was right in matters of healing. He had panicked but he had so much to learn. He offered the water skin that he carried to Elrond, who gratefully drank. He could see that Aragorn although only sixteen years old was becoming a resourceful man, always ready to learn.
'You fought well, Estel, I saw you kill at least three of those creatures.'
Aragorn nodded, 'There's another one over there, it was the one that shot you. I couldn't get to it soon enough.'
'Estel, you cannot be responsible for everyone. You warned me, and diverted the arrow enough to not cause a fatal wound. You did well, don't berate yourself.'
'I'm sorry father. '
'Why don't you light a fire and put some water on to heat? The others will appreciate a hot drink when they've finished, and there will be other wounds that need cleaning.'
Aragorn nodded. He knew what his father was doing- keep him busy and he'll stop fretting.
'I'll collect wood, the water skin is here.'
Elrond nodded. Aragorn ran off in search of suitable wood. Elrond couldn't help but smile, everything was always in such a hurry when Estel was around. He wanted things to happen and he wanted them to happen now, he rushed from thing to thing, never giving any his full attention. He signed, his fosterling was only young, young in human years and even younger in Elven terms.
Suddenly Aragorn burst back into the clearing, gasping for breath
'The orcs have doubled back around! They're heading back here and there's at least twenty of them! I can't fight that many!'
'Calm yourself Estel. What is the panic?'
Aragorn took a deep breath, knowing that he was making no sense.
'About half a mile from here the path branches. Most of the orcs went one way, and the hunters have followed them. But some were hiding until they'd gone past, they're on their way back here. We've got to hide, there's too many for the two of us to fight. What am I talking about? You can't fight! You've got an arrow stuck in you!'
Aragorn looked around but no longer in terror. His mind had become deadly calm and everything was in sharp contrast.
'Do you think you could climb that tree, father?'
'Yes, I think I could. But why, they will track us to the tree and then burn it with us in it.'
'Not us, you. I'll help you up, then I can confuse the trail and lead them off. The others will have realised what has happened and be on their way back by now. You stay up the tree until you're sure it's them. I'll lead them away and double back after a while, by which time the others will be back and we can all deal with them. I hope.'
Elrond nodded. The plan was good, but could Estel outrun a pack of hunting orcs?
'I can do it father,' Aragorn said, knowing what his father was thinking.
Elrond nodded, 'Help me up then. The quicker I can get up the tree the sooner you can get away.'
The Elf managed to climb into the tree with Aragorn's help. He was a lot weaker than he'd thought. Soon he was perched high up above the clearing. Aragorn had found his sword and a knife which he returned to him.
'No matter what happens stay in the tree. I get the feeling that the orcs are out to get you for some reason,.' cautioned Aragorn as he departed.
Elrond could just see through the branches as Aragorn stirred up the clearing floor before disappearing into the forest. Now he would just have to wait. He shifted his body in an attempt to ease the pain from the arrow, but froze as a band of orcs ran into the clearing.
'I tell you Meskrut, I saw that Elf get stuck by an arrow before we ran off, stuck good. If we can find it we can take it back to the master. He said we could play with it when he'd finished with it. If it's not dead.'
'You might have seen if get stuck, but it ain't here now is it, Gokkert?'
'Na, where's it gone? Can't have got far. Look here's its blood against the tree.'
'Looky here. There was something left behind. I reckon it's that human that hang out with them. I bet it's taken the elf.'
'But where? If we don't take it back. He'll have us as warg grub. I don't want to get eaten by them things ever.'
Their conversation was broken when another band entered the clearing dragging with them Aragorn.
'This ran into us when we came round the back way. Trying to run away we thinks it was.'
'Let me look at it,' said Gokkert, 'Yeah, this is the one I saw with the elves. Where have you put him, human?'
Aragorn pulled himself free of the restraining hands.
'Where have I put what?'
This earned him a cuff from Gokkert, 'Don't be so bleeding clever. Where's the elf? I know he got stuck. So he couldn't have run away. Where is he?'
Aragorn wiped his lip. The cuff had split his lip which was now bleeding.
'I don't know who you're talking about. I'm a hunter. I was out hunting and heard the fighting so I ran away.'
'Ran away alright you did. But not until you'd killed four of our lads. Now where have you put the elf?'
Aragorn gave him a blank look, 'I don't know what you're talking about.'
Meskrut stepped forwards and hit him in the stomach, causing him to double over winded, as he double over it grabbed him by the hair and slapped him across the face, splitting his lip further.
'Give him a bit of a slapping lads. Maybe it will help him to remember. Not too much though you don't want him to die on you.'
The orcs closed in around Aragorn, kicking and punching. Elrond realised that if he didn't intervene there was a likely hood that the orcs would beat Aragorn to death just for fun. He tentatively began to climb from his perch.
'Tampa, dina esta,' Aragorn shouted
'What's that he's saying? That sound like elf-talk to me. I told you he was with them. Where is it boy, and well let you go without hurting you any more.'
'Nurta, umuma dela.'
'What, what's that? Tell me now or I'll hurt you proper.' screamed Meskrut.
'Mereth en draugrim.' spat Aragorn.
'Lift him up boys, lets give him a tickle with me old tickler, maybe he'll learn some manners then and talk proper.'
Aragorn could sense that Elrond was beginning to climb from his perch.
'No, stay there, they'll kill you, please stay there,' Aragorn called harshly in Sindarin.
Elrond stopped, the boy was getting a beating, but he could hear the others making their way back through the forest.
'Hold on my son, help is coming,' he whispered, 'Hold on.'
By now the orcs had Aragorn flat against a tree with his face pressed cruelly into the bark. Gokkert tore the clothing from his back and Meskrut shook out a long evil-looking whip. Two orcs held Aragorn's arms outstretched, exposing the tender flesh of his back.
'Last chance before I tickle you boy. Now where is it?'
Not giving the young human a chance to reply he flicked the whip forward, hardly seeming to touch the bare skin of Aragorn's back but a bloody welt appeared as he arched his back in pain.
'Talking yet? No? Never mind, you will in a bit.'
Meskrut then began to flog the bare flesh with a slow and painful regularity, leaving welt after welt. Soon Aragorn's back was streaming with blood, but still he kept his silence.
'This is boring,' said one of the orcs holding his arms. 'Can't we try something else?.'
'Yeah let's try something else. Where's that new stuff the master made up, that stuff that makes them do what ever you ask?'
'That's an idea, I'd forgotten about that, who's got it?'
A small orc came forward and offered a black skinned bag to Meskrut, who took it grinning.
'Right let's have his mouth open, he'll play our games better after a dose of this.'
Even in his beaten and stunned state Aragorn was not going to let them pour the potion into him without a fight.
'Hold still you worm, hold him I said! How can I get it into him if you don't hold him still?'
Still Aragorn struggled.
'Damn this,' said Meskrut and slapped him hard across his face, momentarily stunning him. Then pinching his nose, forcing him to open his mouth, he poured the foul smelling concoction in.
'Hold his mouth shut now. Don't let him spit it out. Take your medicine like a good boy now.'
Meskrut struck him in the stomach causing him to gasp for air and in doing so swallow the brew. He double over in pain as it seared its way down his throat. The orcs dropped him to the ground where he lay writhing in torture.
'Leave it a minute lads, then he'll have remembered his manners. Where the hell did he come from?'
Meskrut had seen out of the corner of his eye Elrond step from behind the tree that he had just climbed down. He had pulled his cloak around his body so that the arrow could not be seen and now stood ready sword in hand. He wouldn't let the boy suffer any more, he had suffered enough.
All the orcs froze, the tall Elf had appeared as if by magic from nowhere. They gibbered in alarm.
'Don't just stand there, it's by itself! Kill it, kill it now!' shrieked Gokkert. That was the last thing it ever said as an elven arrow flew from the trees, piercing it through the eye.
The orcs now in blind terror tried to run away, but the Elf hunters would not be done out of their prey. Within a short moment they all laid slain. Telair went from creature to creature to ensure that all were dead.
Elladan and Elrohir ran to their father who was using the support of a tree to stay upright.
'Father, are you all right? We realised that you and Estel were missing and came straight back. You're hurt.'
He could see the blood seeping through the cloth of the Elven cape.
'See to Estel- he's over there,' gestured Elrond as he sunk to his knees. 'He was trying to protect me.'
Elladan ran to the pile of orc bodies and with help from Telair pulled them away to reveal the body of Aragorn curled into a foetal ball around the agony in his stomach. They gently lifted him up and away from the foul beings who had done this to him, and carried him to where Elrohir was dressing his fathers shoulder.
'Some sort of Mordor brew,' said Elrond through his son's ministrations. 'You need to make him vomit it up. Get some horseradish and make a tea quickly, that should work.'
Quickly a fire was lit and the bitter tea was made. Elrond, taking Aragorn's head on his lap, poured some into his mouth and massaged his throat to make him swallow. The effect was nearly instantaneous. Elrond held Aragorn's heaving shoulders until his stomach was empty. He then fed the lad a soothing tea of slippery bark to ease the tormented lining of his stomach, spooning it gently though his son's cut lips. With help he rolled him onto his stomach and spread a soothing balm over the bleeding welts, and cocooned him in a soft Elven blanket to sleep. Then he sat to watch over him, it was the least that he could do, considering what he had been willing to do for him.
The Elves soon had a comfortable camp set up and a loin of deer roasting over the fire.
Elladan came to his father with a plate of the roast meat and a hunk of bread to soak the gravy.
'How is he?'
'Asleep. That's what he needs, sleep.'
'So do you Father, that's a nasty wound you've got. You'll be no help to him if he needs you when you're sick yourself. Rest, I'll watch him and wake you if you're needed.'
Elrond nodded, he was weary. He looked at his older son, 'He kept crying out, telling me to stay hidden. He was willing to die there.'
'Yes Father, he was willing, but he hasn't. Now sleep.'
He draw a blanket around his father's shoulders and pushed him down onto the forest loam. Within minutes of the older Elf's head touching the rolled pack his breath became even and his eyes glazed over in sleep.
Elladan nodded, good he was asleep. Elrohir came over to his twin brother, sitting crossed legged between the sleeping two.
'Both asleep, well done.' They then sat to keep the night watch over the two injured pair.
As the first rays of the sun broke through the trees Elrond stirred, groaned and pushed the blanket away.
'Quel amrun, Ada.'
'Quel amrun yourself, I'm getting too old for this camping out.'
'How are you feeling, apart from grumpy?'
'Well, my shoulder is healing well. Has Estel stirred yet?'
A noise from the cocooned figure draw their attention to Estel, he was trying without much success to unwind the blanket that Elrond had enveloped him in.
'Easy, tithen muindor easy,' said Elrohir as he eased the tangled blanket from around him.
'Father? Where's Father?' cried Aragorn.
'I'm here son. How do you feel?'
'Father,' Aragorn pushed himself upright, wincing with the pain of his tormented back and stomach. 'I wouldn't have told them where you were hiding, I wouldn't!'
'I know you wouldn't, but I won't let you suffer on my behalf. You'll have enough to endure without me adding to your burden.' He took the young man's body in his arms and gently cradled him.
'I don't understand you Ada. What burdens?'
'You'll learn about them soon enough, my son. Soon enough, but your brothers and I will be there and will help you to be strong to bear them.'
Aragorn lay in his Father's arms, his back was a burning sheet and he ached everywhere but…he was at peace.
'Adar, nai adar...' - Father, no father
'ionn' - son
'Tampa, dina esta,' - Stop, stay silent
'Nurta, umuma dela.' - Hide, don't worry
'Mereth en draugrim.' - Feast of wolves
'Quel amrun, Ada.' - Good morning, Dad
'tithen muindor' - little brother