DISCLAIMER: The only characters I own are the ones whose names are unfamiliar. I promise to return the others undamaged.
A/N: This story takes place during the Great Plague, approximately 1,300 years before the War of the Rings. I have used italics to indicate when Elvish is being used.
The Kindness of Strangers by Jessie Syring
The storm clouds had built all day, giving nary a glimpse of the sun, and finally broke loose as day passed into night. The rain pounded against the thick glass in the small window and pooled just inside the door where the howling window drove it inside.
Isiriel turned from her vigil at the tiny window. Her son had risen from his bed near the fireplace and looked at her with large brown eyes. Behind him, his younger sisters stared out from beneath their blankets.
"Don't worry about Dad," said the boy. "I'm sure he took shelter somewhere."
Isiriel smiled inwardly---only ten years old and already putting on a brave face for his sisters. "I'm not worried for him," she lied, looking out the window again. "But this much rain will hurt the crops and---"
She broke off suddenly, staring into the darkness. In that last flash of lightning, she had seen something moving near the barn. Fear gripped her as a second flash confirmed what she had seen, something mannish in shape and moving awkwardly toward the barn entrance.
Isiriel looked around frantically, her thoughts racing. Orcs and goblins had grown bold this winter, venturing out of their holes, as there were fewer healthy Men to hunt them down. She had never seen the creatures but had heard the tales. Surely they would come to the house?
"Tal," she said with forced calmness, "take the girls up to the attic and pull the ladder up after you. Get as far under the eaves as you can. Do not come out until I or your father call you."
"Mamma," one of the girls whimpered.
"Do as I say!"
Tal roused the girls from their beds. Isiriel gave each child a hug before they climbed the ladder to the attic. She pushed the ladder upward as Tal awkwardly pulled it up after them. She glanced toward the door, half-expecting it to come crashing inward, and wrapped a heavy cloak about her shoulders.
Bracing herself, Isiriel stepped into the storm. She gasped in shock as cold rain pounded against her face and blinked back tears caused by the stinging wind. Half-blinded, she stumbled to the woodpile and retrieved the axe there before making her way to the barn. Whatever she faced, she would not face them unarmed.
The small stone building gave her some relief from the wind and she paused, steeling herself. She could see light around the edges of the door now---the intruder must have lit the lantern they kept inside the barn. Isiriel took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
And froze at the feel of cold steel against her throat.
"Put down the axe and close the door," a strangely accented voice told her.
Isiriel hastily dropped the axe and shut the door, leaning against it. Turning her head, she saw this was no Orc. The intruder was tall and handsome and his clothes, though soaked with rain, were fine quality. Shoulder-length blond hair was plastered to his head, giving her an unobstructed view of the pointed ears that marked him undeniably as an Elf.
"Where is your husband?" the Elf demanded.
"Gone!" she said quickly, too frightened to lie. "He is out hunting with our neighbors."
The Elf sheathed his sword. "How many are in the house?"
"No one," she answered quickly. His blue eyes narrowed. "What do you want?" she asked fearfully.
"I seek shelter for the night," the Elf said. "If you speak the truth, no harm will come to you."
He turned his head suddenly and hurried to the empty stall in one corner of the barn. Isiriel followed with a mixture of fear and curiosity. A gray cloak was spread over an oddly shaped object lying on the straw. Then she realized she could see reddish-blond hair at the edge of the cloak and knew a second Elf lay there, shivering violently.
"Is he sick?" demanded Isiriel, a hand at her throat.
"He is wounded. A Man shot him."
The first Elf sat beside the second and lifted one edge of the cloak. Isiriel gasped---the cloth had been torn away where a hand span length of a broken arrow protruded from the second Elf's back. Silvery red blood mixed with water from his wet clothes and ran in thin pink rivers across exposed skin. The injured Elf moaned and said something in his own language.
"Sedho, Rumil," the older Elf said, rubbing his companion's back. He looked at Isiriel with intense blue eyes. "You have clean cloth in your home?" It was not so much a question as a statement. When she nodded, he said, "I need to warm him and dress his wound. Your home would be better suited for that."
The warrior carefully sat the injured Elf, Rumil, up. Rumil cried out in pain and went limp. The blond Elf shifted to his knees and rose, lifting his companion as easily as she might her youngest daughter. Emboldened now that his hands no longer held a sword and driven by fear, Isiriel blocked his path.
"Get out of my way," the Elf commanded coldly.
"I can't let you bring your sicknesses into my home."
The tall Elf frowned. "What do you speak of? My brother carries no sickness."
"The plague. How do I know you're not here to spread it?" she demanded. "I hear you Elves are not sickening and laugh while Men are dying around you."
The Elf let out a sound that almost sounded like a laugh. "Woman, we were sent to see if there was aid we could offer. Now step aside."
He pushed past her and out the door.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Haldir paused in the doorway, his eyes sweeping the central room of the small home. Three small beds with disturbed blankets were set near a fireplace against the wall to his right. A small table with five chairs around it were located to his left near a smaller cooking hearth and cabinets. He also could see two small windows and a closed trapdoor in the ceiling. He frowned at the three unmade beds and glanced again at the trapdoor.
"You said you were alone," he snarled, looking at the dark-haired woman. "Who else is here? The truth this time!"
She jerked back, eyes wide with fear. "My children! They're in the attic."
Rumil stirred slightly in his arms. Haldir quickly carried his younger brother to one of the cots and lay him on his side, removing the wet cloak. Rumil was shivering violently, and Haldir knew he needed to get him out of the wet clothes. Rather than jar Rumil's injuries unnecessarily, Haldir used his dagger to cut the blue-gray jerkin and under tunic off him, then removed his boots and covered him with blankets. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Haldir took one of the limp arms and began rubbing it vigorously to restore blood flow.
"I thought Elves didn't suffer from cold."
Haldir looked up, frowning at the woman. She stood no closer than she had to but was now looking at him with an odd expression. "We do not mind it," he agreed, "but Rumil has lost much blood and is in shock."
To his surprise, the woman came closer. She took Rumil's other arm and began massaging it. Concern for his brother warred with indignation at such familiarity. But Rumil was responding to the stimulation and no longer shivered as badly so Haldir let it pass. Color returned to Rumil's pale features and soon he lay still.
Haldir lifted the edge of the blanket so he could see the arrow. The arrow had struck Rumil low in the back, just below the ribs and not quite a handspan from his spine. Blood still seeped around the shaft and stained the bedding beneath. The shaft was more slender than an Orc arrow would be---slightly smaller than one of his own fingers, in fact. But the entry wound was nearly the length of his finger, closed to a slender slit where the muscles had tightened around the wood and steel. Rumil cried out in pain as Haldir gently inspected the injury.
"Edavo nin, muindor," Haldir said soothingly, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Rumil opened his eyes and looked around, immediately seeing the woman. He jerked in surprise and cried out in pain, body arching as the move sent spasms of pain through him. Haldir pinned him to the bed so he wouldn't injure himsel further, continuing to reassure him in Elvish even though Rumil probably couldn't understand him through the pain. Rumil collapsed limply beneath him, his pain-filled gasps nearly sobs. Haldir rubbed his back soothingly and looked at the wound once more, brow furrowing with concern. Blood flowed more freely.
"...qalme..." Rumil managed at last, eyes closed tightly.
"Avo rikho a u-qalme," Haldir chided gently.
Rumil opened his eyes and looked at his older brother with wide blue eyes. "It's bad, isn't it?"
Haldir lowered his gaze and nodded. "The wound is deep and I fear the arrow is barbed. You are losing much blood." He broke off, not willing to speak of his choices.
"You have to take it out."
"It is not something I wish to do, Rumil. I have nothing to ease your pain. But you will bleed to death if I leave it in."
Rumil nodded and winced as a fresh wave of pain stabbed through him. He closed his eyes and concentrated on relaxing. Haldir gripped his hand in gratitude---it would be difficult enough without his brother being tense. Twisting around, he pulled some of the bedding off one of the other cots and began tearing it into strips.
"What are you doing?" demanded the woman.
"I need bandages. And clean water. Where is your well?"
"Outside. But I have a bucket here with water in it." She gestured toward the small hearth behind her.
Leaving Rumil's side, Haldir retrieved the bucket and nodded in satisfaction. The water looked clean and nearly filled the container. "I need to remove the arrow," he said, looking at her steadily and with a softer tone. "It will hurt Rumil and there will be more blood. I suggest you join your children."
The woman straightened and glanced at the injured Elf. "My husband is a farmer and I have three children who don't yet realize how fragile their bodies are. I have sewn my fair share of wounds and seen more blood than I care to remember, Master Elf. I am probably more skilled with needle and thread than you."
Haldir smiled slightly in spite of himself. "I thank you, lady."
"I have a name," she said as she rummaged in a cupboard and found a needle and thread. "My name is Isiriel."
"Haldir, March-warden of Lothlorien. This is my brother Rumil."
Isiriel moved to Haldir's side, looking down at the arrow with pursed lips. "What do you need me to do?" she asked, setting the thread on one of the other beds.
"Keep the bandages at hand. Give them to me as soon as I remove the arrow." He turned back to Rumil. "Rumil, I need to lay you on my stomach so I can do this. Just stay as still as you can."
Rumil nodded weakly. Haldir was as careful as he could in rolling him onto his stomach but Rumil still whimpered in pain. Haldir placed one hand on his back and grasped the arrow shaft just above his back with a steadiness only an Elf could manage. Rumil stiffened and gasped at the pain that slight jar caused. Haldir counted his breaths, feeling Rumil relax slightly again.
"Edavo nin," he said quietly. Then he pulled the arrow free.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =
To Be Continued
 Forgive me, brother.
 Don't move and it won't hurt.
 Forgive me, brother.