Title: The Taming of the Badger

Rating: k+

Summary: Everyone loves Aragorn…don't they?

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Three riders slowly picked their way through a rocky ravine. Behind the riders trotted a pack pony, laden with small, oil-skin wrapped bundles. Of the three riders, only one was human, though the three were brothers. He was a young man a few years past his majority. He was dressed in clothing that was either old or had led a very hard life. His long leather coat was scarred and stained, though his scabbard was well-oiled and sun flashed on the bit of blade that was exposed. The other two riders were elves. They were dressed far finer than he, with tunics, leggings, and cloaks in shades of dark red and russet, well-tended and unpatched. Where the man wore short, heavy boots with sturdy heels, the elves wore tightly laced soft boots to the knee, with soles nearly too yielding for riding. There were other differences between the three. Two were slight and swayed like rushes as they rode, gracefully answering the motion of their horses' bodies with their own. The third was stockier, with a look of strength, and though he rode as if born to the saddle, his body moved with less grace than his companions' did.

After another hour of riding, the traveling party moved into an area that widened before them into a scrubby plain. The trailing riders moved up until all three rode abreast, and now voices could be heard. The man asked a question for what appeared to be the thirtieth time.

"How far until tonight's camp?"

"I thought you spent hours with Glorfindel, looking at every map in Imladris that covers these lands?"

"I did, Elladan, I just like to ask you how long until we get there." The man's eyes shone with innocence.

The elf groaned, "So you do, Estel. So you always have. I had thought at one time that you would grow out of it, say when you were five or so. I cannot help but notice that you never ask Elrohir."

The second, nearly identical elf broke in, "That is because I am not fool enough to answer him! He stopped asking me when he realized you return far more value for the pestering."

Estel did not respond, his hand going to the breast of his coat. After hovering there for a time, it pulled out a much folded letter. His eyes skipped over greetings and such, and jumped to the important section. As he read, his companions' eyes met in expressions of concern.

'We have been receiving increasing reports of Orc attacks south of the mountains of Angmar. Many villagers have fled to our territory and we cannot hope to feed and house the ones we have, let alone more if the situation continues. I have sent a small contingent to set up a post near Carn Dum. I have sent all the men and supplies I can spare, but they need leadership. I must ask you to go at once, Aragorn, for I cannot leave now; the press of my own command is too great and my lieutenants are both recovering from wounds. Although we had agreed that you would shortly take your rightful place, this is sooner than you had planned. Nonetheless, I have full confidence in you. You will find the men will welcome you, for the most part. One exception will be Kenuric, our chief healer. Speak with Lord Elrond about him. Please send word when you have arrived and let me know the situation. I will advise you as I can. Halbarad'.

Since the letter had been discussed endlessly in Elrond's study, the twins made no comment for long minutes. When Estel carefully folded it up again and restored it to an inside pocket of his coat, Elladan said forcefully, "I still say it is too soon. A few years of riding with the rangers now and again are not enough to prepare you for command."

The man fought to keep harsh words behind his teeth. He knew that everyone with older brothers suffered as he did from over-care, and the refusal to admit that adulthood had replaced a protected child with an independent man. Yet it seemed to him that elves had the ability to nurse a grievance with great tenacity—no doubt they expected them to last an Age or two, at the least.

Elrohir said tiredly, "'Dan, that is water that has gone under the bridge, down the river, out to sea, and rolling onto the shores of the Undying Lands! Please let it go, because otherwise Estel will kill you and I will be forced to help him, out of considerations for simple justice."

As Elrohir had hoped, his words made Estel laugh, and the young man tried to turn away Elladan's thoughts before they began to argue again. "What do you know of this Kenuric? I asked ada about him, as Halbarad suggested, but he said he was not sure what Halbarad meant. He said he had only known him for a year or two. That the man came to Imladris for schooling in healing and excelled at whatever he was shown, but that he seemed uncomfortable there. Other than that, he had little to say of him."

Estel waited patiently, for when did an elf answer a question quickly or without thought? At last Elladan said, "Well, he is a twisted willow and no mistake. Next to him, Erestor is frolicsome." Estel's eyes widened in dismay, and Elrohir brushed his lips with a passing hand to hide his smile. Elladan continued, "He is a good healer, though, so you should get on well in that regard. Actually, he is the best the rangers have, so I am surprised he has allowed himself to be posted out in the middle of nowhere."

Elrohir spoke up at that. "I am not surprised at all. He is ever a solitary soul. He dislikes the bustle of the settlements, and only forces himself to stay because his art is most needed where there are more wounded. Then anon he must go off to a quieter place for a time; that must be why he went up by the mountains of Angmar."

Estel frowned. "Have I ever seen him? If he is often with Halbarad at the main settlement…surely I should have met him?"

Both Elrohir and Elladan cast their minds back to the times they had been with the rangers at the same time and place as Estel. Their heads suddenly turned to each other and their eyes met in surprise. Estel turned his own head back and forth between them and then said, with great forbearance (so he thought), "Whenever you are finished with your communion, will you tell the non-twin, non-elven brother what is going on?"

Elrohir spoke hesitantly, "We have just remembered…it is a little odd…we were very busy at the time and did not remark on it…three years ago, when there was trouble in the south, we three were with Halbarad. Do you recall that time?"

"Yes, of course I do! Go on!"

"Kenuric was there too, and 'Dan and I have just remembered that on two separate occasions he was coming toward you—or the people with you—and when he saw you he abruptly turned around and went elsewhere…"

"But….why? I tell you, I have never met him. He can have no reason to avoid me."

Elladan's thoughts now raced and he spoke quickly, "What makes it stranger is that, even then, you were known to be a fine healer, though we have always tried to hide just why you excel so easily. It would seem natural he would seek you out."

Elrohir cautioned, "That was a very chaotic time, 'Dan. There were wounded in every hut and not nearly enough healers to go around. I was working steadily, on my own foolish twin I might add, and I never saw but one or two other healers. If I did not know better, I would have thought that they were all we had."

"True. Still, we both saw him deliberately turn away from Estel."

Estel was looking increasingly concerned, as well as a little indignant; he was accustomed to being accepted warmly by both men and elves. Elrohir saw this and spoke reassuringly. "It does not matter; no doubt we exaggerate a simple act into a complex melodrama. Perhaps he merely remembered he was to be elsewhere at that moment. Regardless of why he did what he did, we have had no problems with him and will be staying at Angmar with you, for at least a month. We can help smooth away any awkwardness."

"Yes, and I thank you for that, but why would there be any awkwardness?"

Elladan straightened in his saddle as the trail began to climb. "Leave it for now, Estel. You will be facing the man himself in a week, why borrow more trouble when your cup is already overflowing?"

That was all it took to start the argument anew. "When will I be old enough to make my own decisions and lead my own command, Elladan? When I am old and grey and sitting in a rocking chair?"

"It is not a question of -"

Elrohir sighed.

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The three rode, scouted, and camped for eight days more before they reached the temporary garrison of the rangers. The country hereabouts was a vast plain, stretching out with only small woodlands and an occasional sharply cut ravine to break it up. The rangers had chosen one of the larger woods for their camp, as they hated being exposed by being out in the open. Off in the distance, the mountains of Angmar rose abruptly, with few foothills to soften them. The orcs that were troubling the region had made the mountain cliffs and caves their home, a familiar one from an earlier time when Angmar was king there.

The two elves and the man were hailed by a ranger in the outermost perimeter of guards. He was a tough, grizzled veteran who welcomed his new commander with gratifying eagerness. "Ah, Lord Aragorn! Well met! And the sons of Lord Elrond also! How was your journey?"

Aragorn had dismounted for politeness' sake and smiled at the ranger's warmth. "The best kind of journey: uneventful. Thank you for the welcome; what is your name?"

The older man gathered his scattered wits and sighed shakily; Aragorn was so like his departed friend. "Trallen, sir. Forgive me for staring but 'tis a fine thing to see Arathorn's son in his father's place. His rightful place."

Aragorn said grimly, "Perhaps. It may be my place, but I had not planned to take it for a few years yet."

Trallen just grinned and clapped a hand on Aragorn's back. "He must needs go that Sauron drives, eh? Now then, you will be wanting vittles and beds and such, and I cannot take you to them. Just go on straight that way, and you will be met by them that will give your lordships a fitting welcome."

Elrohir and Elladan had remained one pace behind their brother, for they were determined that they would set an example of respect, and not by word or deed undermine Aragorn's command. Elladan's worries would never be shown before the rangers, and he made up his mind to speak to the boy…man…and tell him so, as soon as an opportunity presented itself.

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Two hours later, as the sun set quickly over the grim mountains behind them, the three travelers sat around a blazing fire, catching up with news and friends. While many faces were new, Aragorn was pleased to see that there were more than a few that he had met before. He basked in the glow of the rangers' acceptance of him as their leader. He had been surrounded at his entry into the camp by men who knew their own worth, but also knew they needed direction to be both effective and as safe as warriors can be. And it seemed they were well pleased that the direction should come from one with the blood of kings in his veins.

Elrohir and Elladan were each sitting by favored companions, learning what they could of the situation in this territory. Their information gathering had to stop when calls came for the elves to sing. Once the singing began, it was hours before the tired travelers were led to the largest tent - excepting those set aside for the healers. It was a rough affair, but had a framework of aspen poles to strengthen it and allow for a ceiling tall enough that a man could easily stand upright. The commander's hut had the luxury of a raised wooden floor which helped to keep belongings dry and mud out of the blankets. It had chests for scrolls, a wardrobe for clothing, and even small rugs upon the floor. A brazier stood upon a firestone, and its coals were a welcome sight as the nights were still cold this far north.

Three cots stood around the sides of the tent, with blankets and even a pillow. Aragorn sat down on one and motioned to his brothers to take the others. Now that they were alone, there was much to discuss. "What do you think of what you heard tonight?"

Elladan, the strategist of the two elves, said grimly, "They sang and laughed for you tonight, Estel, but they are hard-pressed. There are only thirty-three warriors here along with two healers—one an apprentice—and a handful of others who cook, smith, and so on. There are hardly enough to divide into separate patrols so that one may rest while the others are on duty. They are over-tired and over-matched by the enemy. This is no sinecure, Estel."

Elrohir flashed him a look sharp with annoyance. "He is not a half-wit; he knows this camp is in a desperate situation. But we are with him and are worth a handful of men apiece. He has been trained by the finest tacticians of this or any Age." He turned to face his little brother and smiled warmly. "You are ready to command and we will support you in any way we can."

Aragorn gazed soberly at the two dark-haired elves. The soft glow from the brazier shadowed their cheekbones and made their eyes appear timeless and ancient. For a brief moment he saw them as alien beings, too lofty for mortal company, and a shiver passed down his spine. But then Elladan rose and came to kneel before him, and took the man's forearms into his hands. He spoke earnestly and his words chased away the eldritch mask of his face. "Forgive me, my brother. Since you received the letter, I have led you to think that I do not believe that you can do as you must and will. My heart dreads harm coming to you, but it is also filled with pride in you. You will make legends here, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and I will be proud to serve you, to serve under you. Command as you will, and I obey." He bowed his head in a timeless gesture of fealty, and Estel's eyes stung and overflowed with love and gratitude. Here, with these two, he could show emotion shamelessly, for elves do not scorn the visible signs of the heart's warmth. The three embraced, then talked on a little longer before finally taking to their beds.

Just before the elves' eyes glazed and they wandered the paths of reverie, Estel's voice came once more in the darkness. "Did either of you see Kenuric? I am sure I was not introduced to him."

Elrohir's voice came thoughtfully, "No, Estel, I did not see him. Did you, 'Dan?"

Elladan laughed, teasing. "No, brother, I did not. Perhaps he heard the mighty Aragorn was coming and is hiding on the mountain, instead of staying to face him."

Estel snorted but, for once, got in the last word. "Very amusing, Elladan. At least I know who to make jester, when I come to be king."

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The next day was filled with bustle from first light. Aragorn was shown over the camp and his maps were updated. The week's sorties were discussed, and a list of the wounded was presented. Fortunately, the list was not a long one and only two of the men were too injured to fight. Aragorn then went riding out with three rangers to get the lay of the land for several miles around the camp, while the twins rode with a small patrol that was to hunt down a group of orcs that were, for once, too far from the mountain to seek refuge in time to escape. With such a busy schedule, it was late before Aragorn finally had time to view the healing tents and their supplies. He had brought medicines and other supplies in the packs that had been loaded on the pony, and wanted to see how all was bestowed. A young ranger, stuttering with nervousness, showed his new commander to the tents. The youth entered and held the flap for Aragorn. Once inside, Aragorn found himself facing two men, one several years younger than himself, and one on the far side of middle years. The younger smiled warmly, his gaze open and welcoming. The elder's face was blank of expression, his eyes hooded beneath heavy, frowning brows.

Aragorn's escort made the introductions. "Lord Aragorn, this is Healer Kenuric and his apprentice, Ros. If you will excuse me, I must get ready to leave for my guard duty tonight."

"Thank you. May you have an uneventful watch."

The young ranger spun and left the tent, leaving the flap tied open to the early evening sunshine. Aragorn smiled at the two before him. "I am pleased to meet you, Healer Kenuric. I have heard of your skill from Lord Elrond, and am grateful that the men here are so well served. I am also happy to meet you, Ros, as I will not be able to spend as many hours here as I might otherwise choose. It is well that your master has assistance."

The apprentice, a stocky, tow-headed youth from the far north, smiled even wider but he left it to his mentor to be spokesman. Kenuric lifted one eyebrow and said quietly, "Lord Aragorn. It seems that I now must answer to you. Rest assured, I have always done my duty, even when unpleasant. But I will not have interference in how I run the healing tents and how things are done here. I thank Imladris for the supplies she has sent, and now, if you will excuse me…" He gestured to indicate he had much to do and little time to spend chatting with new-come commanders.

Aragorn showed nothing on his face, but he was dismayed at the healer's attitude. He studied the man before him through slightly narrowed eyes. His features were sharp, like a fox's, with cheekbones nigh to break through his skin. His entire face tapered from a wide brow to a narrow chin, and his skin was firm and snug against the bones for a man of middle years, except where a constant frown had etched a deep furrow between his brows. Unlike most of the rangers, he was clean-shaven. His hair was a lifeless grey-blond and he wore it plaited down his back, elven fashion. He had apparently picked up other habits in Imladris, as well, for he and his apprentice wore dark colored robes instead of ranger garb. His eyes were a pale blue, like evening shadows on snow, and looked every bit as cold.

Aragorn made a conscious effort to relax in an attempt to diffuse the pending confrontation. He looked steadily up at the man who stood half a head taller than himself, and spoke in the diplomatic tones he had learned in Elrond's house. "I have no intention of overthrowing your rule here, Kenuric. But I am a healer myself – " Kenuric snorted. "- and I must insist on knowing what your inventories are and any needs you may have. I will also require a daily report on the wounded you are tending."

Kenuric was trembling slightly but Aragorn doubted it was with fear. The tightly pressed lips parted, but before the healer could say something that could not be allowed to go without a reprimand, Aragorn said gently, "I do not think you would choose me as a friend, Kenuric, but I am no threat to you. My upbringing means that I can be of assistance, at least when I will be in camp. You are too wise to toss away a tool that may be of use, merely for personal reasons."

Kenuric clasped his hands together and released the breath he had been holding. He dropped his eyes and said tightly, "Time will tell how useful a tool you may be, but you are correct in that I may not turn away help when it is freely offered. It is quiet here today, with only two men recovering from minor wounds. But at other times it is…not…" The healer's voice trailed off and for a moment his weary face looked much older than his true age . Aragorn felt a little grudging respect. Whatever this man's problem with him, the healer cared about those he tended. Kenuric raised his eyes to once again glare coldly down at his new commander. He appeared to fight within himself and then said curtly, "Very well. I will show you what you want to see. Let us begin by checking on my two patients." He turned with a swirl of heavy skirts and strode out the door to head for the other healing tent.

Ros said earnestly, "He is a fine healer, Lord Aragorn. Do not let his manner convince you otherwise."

"Since both you and Lord Elrond say so, I do believe it. But let us follow quickly, lest he become more irate." Grinning, he turned to hasten out the door.

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The sons of Elrond and their human brother once again had a discussion of the day's events as they readied for bed. A table with a basin and ewer had appeared sometime during the day, and there were buckets of fresh water just within the door flap. It was while Elrohir stood before the basin, dragging a dripping cloth across a bare shoulder, that the topic turned to Kenuric.

"At least he has things well in hand, Estel. From what you say, you could not ask for a more organized or experienced battlefield healer." Elrohir twisted his hair into a rope and tossed it down his chest so that he could reach farther across his back.

"Yes, true, but –"

Elrohir shot a laughing look at Aragorn. "But apparently he is the first person not to swoon at your overwhelming charm."

"Are you sure neither of you remember any incident with him at home? Something must have happened there to account for his attitude, for he has never even met me before!"

Elladan, reclining on his cot, leaned on his elbow. "Like what? Do you think he and adar got into a hair-pulling brawl over whether borage is a good fever reducer?"

Aragorn rolled his eyes. "Or more likely you pranked him! No, seriously, there must be some reason he hates the ground I walk on."

Elladan dropped back to his pillow and rubbed against its softness with a sigh of content. "Nothing like being brother to the chieftain. I do believe this is linen, no less." He turned to douse the oil lamp. "No, brother dear, it appears he hates you for you alone. Sleep well!"

Elrohir collapsed on his own cot and drew up the blanket. "Worry about it later, Estel."

Grumbling, Aragorn shut his eyes.

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Out in the center of the camp, there were two who remained talking long after everyone else had gone to find repose. One was the guard who had first met Aragorn, the veteran of many campaigns and drunken revelries. The other was an unlikely companion for such a one, for he was the ascetic Kenuric. Trallen poked the dying embers with a stick and looked at the healer impatiently.

"Kenuric! Pay attention! I am trying to tell you of my nephew!"

"What?"

"Please, let your mind forget him for now. You give yourself few enough hours to relax, and besides, you're giving me a headache."

"I cannot. Everywhere I turn, it is Lord Aragorn this, and Lord Aragorn that! And Oh! Is he not brave, is he not clever? It is making me nauseous."

"I don't know what to say that I have not said before. You must give him a chance, for pity's sake!"

Kenuric twisted to look fully into his friend's face. "How can you bear it? How can you bear that it is him, not…." His voice faded into a whisper. "…not Arathorn."

A heavy sigh answered him. "Like most of us here, if I cannot have the sire, I will take his get. Who would you have over us? Halbarad? He has done his best but –"

A hiss. "He is not of the blood!"

Trallen grabbed his short, grey-flecked beard in both hands and spoke very quietly, though the sound of grinding teeth could be heard. "Aragorn is of the blood. Aragorn is a fine warrior; trained by elves and proven in combat. He has been schooled by a wise leader to become one himself."

"By one whom he dares – dares – to call his father!"

"Not in my presence, he hasn't, and what do you expect anyway? The elf raised him, what else should he call him?"

"He should never have been taken from us!"

"Kenuric, you know better than this. Many of the line of the Kings have sheltered in Imladris; some for a few years, some for many."

"But they were kept by our own people there! They were tutored by our own, in our ways. It is one thing to live within the borders of the valley, and quite another to have your highchair at the High Table!" He broke off and continued in a pain-filled voice, "It would be different if we had seen him grow, watched him turn slowly into a man…instead of seeing him…seeing him!"

"Fine! Maybe you are right, but it cannot be changed now! What's done is done, and you must accept it. And that, my friend, leads to your true grievance. You have never accepted Arathorn's death. Do not blame his son for that."

"Do not be absurd - I was his physician. I tended his body after death. No one knows he is gone

better than I." With that Kenuric stood abruptly. "And I will not have that pup in his place!" He stormed off into the darkness.

Trallen drove his stick hard into the ground with frustration, but when he spoke to it, his voice carried only sadness. "You know, some say I am too easy with my friendships, giving too freely where it is unwise or misplaced. But at least when Arathorn died I did not lose every friend I had, as Kenuric did."

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The next morning was bright and beautiful, with dew sparkling on the grass and flowers. A large party of warriors assembled with Aragorn at their head. His brothers had left before dawn, scouting for the trail of a large party of orcs that had attacked a village two nights before. It was Aragorn's first sortie as their commander, and the warriors cheered and sang as they rode out of the encampment. It was a fine and stirring sight.

Sadly, the party did not return in quite such gladsome array.

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The dire news came at midday, when thundering hooves shot past the guard posts without a pause. A tall bay horse was brought to a sliding halt in the middle of camp. By this time, those who had remained behind were all running to see what was the cause of such haste, though all knew it could not be good news. Kenuric was one who did not run, but waited tensely at the door of his tent, watching the elven rider spring from his horse. The elf pulled away from questioning hands and pelted to the healer. Panting, he cried, "Wounded! Many are fallen! The sortie went awry and we were ambushed. They are bringing them as quickly as they can, my brother among them!"

Ros caught the elf's shoulder. "Lord Aragorn?"

Every man waited with held breath for the elf's reply. "He took a wound, but it is slight. My other brother is badly hurt, as are many others."

Kenuric drew a deep breath and said loudly, "This is grievous news, but we all know what to do. Prepare the area before the healing tents for sorting the wounded by degree of harm. Cooks, to your pots and fires, we will need all the boiled water that you can supply. Go on now, it will help no one to stand wringing your hands! Get moving!"

The small crowd scattered every which way, and Kenuric put out his hand to detain the elf who was pale as snow. "Come within, Lord – blast it, which are you? I cannot be expected to tell elf twins apart!"

"Elladan."

"Lord Elladan. Come within and take a cordial to calm you. You are stretched tight as a bowstring and I will need your help soon."

The tugging hand and calm voice broke through Elladan's abstraction. He wordlessly followed the healer and was pushed, not unkindly, to sit on a cot. Kenuric moved about briskly, easily avoiding his apprentice who scurried to and fro. He sat next to Elladan and pressed a small glass vial into his hands. "Drink. It is your father's own recipe." Elladan blindly raised the vial to his lips. "Good. Now, how was your brother injured?"

"He took a sword in the stomach. It was not a direct blow; he twisted away, but too late. Only the grace of the Valar saved him from immediate death."

"Hmm. Bad enough, but if he was alive when you left him, he will likely make it here alive as well. How much internal bleeding?"

"I do not know. He did not bleed from his nose or mouth."

"Excellent! Perhaps it is not as bad as you fear."

Elladan turned to look at the healer and the man's breath caught at the pain he saw there. He said gruffly, "No need to look like that until you have reason. I will do all in my power to aid him."

Elladan's mind grasped at one word. "Power. Yes, I am sure you will, but Aragorn can –" He broke off as though remembering something, and then said quietly, "I will go and help prepare for their return. Thank you for the cordial." The shaken elf walked from the tent to await the coming of the wounded.

Four hours later, the litters began to arrive.

When Elrohir was laid on a cot in the main healing tent, he looked as if Mando's Halls were a faint breath away. Kenuric ordered Ros to cut away his clothing, while he saw other wounded disposed on other beds. Elladan held his brother's hand tightly, and whispered continually in Sindarin. Kenuric returned and shouldered him aside, laying a tray of instruments at the foot of the bed. The healer worked quickly, cleaning the wound to view its severity and hissing at the sight of the exposed, rounded structures within. Elrohir began to struggle as pain forced its way through the haze that clogged his mind. Kenuric turned on Elldadan and snarled, "Hold him fast, damn it! Even if he has no perforations from the blade, my fingers may pierce him if he thrashes about!"

Ashen, Elladan leaped to the head of the cot and forced down the thrusting shoulders while the apprentice lay on the elf's legs. Kenuric's hands held no gentleness as he pulled Elrohir's chin down and poured three different vials down his throat before returning to the gaping wound on the elf's left side. For nearly an hour he worked on Elrohir, all the while answering questions from harried assistants as they tended other victims. His voice was sharp as glass shards and he never took his eyes from his hands. At last he snapped to his apprentice, "Sew him up." He looked at Elladan stroking his brother's forehead, and hesitated only a moment before saying, "He does not need you now, but I do. Go and cut the arrow fragment from that boy's shoulder – it's not deep; I know you have skill enough for that."

Elladan spoke softly but forcefully, "Tell me first how my brother does! Will he live?"

"I cannot say. There are three cuts into his organs, and a great deal of filth entered on that blade. He may sicken from it, and there is little we can do. He is still better off than these others. At least three here will die today, no matter what we do. As an elf, he has a better chance than most. Now get to work!"

Elladan's hands fisted at his side, but after a moment he turned to smooth the blanket covering Elrohir and whisper more encouragement, then moved to where a very young ranger moaned continuously. He spoke soothingly to the boy and the ranger holding him, then reached for a basin and the small, very sharp knife on the tray by the youngster's feet.

The sun was setting and still the wounded came. These, the Valar be praised, were the last; the ones who could limp to the encampment under their own power. With them came a grim-faced Aragorn, his shield arm bandaged and a clotted cut on his neck. He gave his horse to one of the men who was only slightly lamed, along with some final instructions to secure the camp, and walked quickly to the healing tents. Once inside, his eyes raked the room for Elladan, and saw him tying a knot in a bandage for Trallen. Elladan, who had been continually watching the door, sprang to his feet. He said hoarsely, "How are you? Let me tend your wound."

"Later - it is a scratch. How is Elrohir?"

"Come this way." The two wended their way through and over exhausted helpers who rested wherever there was a foot or two of room on the floor. They were so covered in blood that they now looked to be worse off than their patients. Soft moans and pleas sounded continuously. It was sight to tear at the heart of any man. Well, most men. Kenuric alone stood straight as an arrow shaft, no slump of fatigue in his shoulders. He smirked as Aragorn approached. "So at last the great warrior returns. I see you are virtually unscathed. Unfortunately, most of your men are not! Even your 'brother' pays for your incompetence!"

Elladan's lips drew back, uncovering even, white teeth. He raised his hands, but before he could make another move, Aragorn's voice cut sharply into the red haze that obscured his vision. "NO, 'Dan! Leave it!" He faced Kenuric. "Tell me of my brother. Then move out of my way or I will move you myself."

Without the least softening, Kenuric replied, "His intestines were cut in two places, his spleen once. A man would almost certainly die of the rotting sickness, but since he is an elf, he may live. May." The healer stepped aside, letting Aragorn and Elladan get past to Elrohir's bedside. The most severely wounded had been placed against the farthest wall to give them what little peace there was to be had. The two brothers knelt beside the cot and Aragorn took Elrohir's cold hand and held it between his warm ones. After a long minute he raised the blanket, removed the bandages, and inspected the wound site. A long line of small, neat sutures marched across the abdomen below the ribs. Aragorn lowered the blanket and gazed at the pale face with its closed eyelids. "'Ro…'Ro, I am so sorry." He laid his forehead on the wrist he held and tears fell upon the long fingers. Elladan spoke intensely, "Do not listen to that misbegotten fool, Estel! You made me proud today, and saved many lives! It would have been a massacre without your leadership! But there is time to speak of that later. Now you must let me tend to your wounds and you must eat and rest. You cannot heal Elrohir until your own strength is returned."

Aragorn did not appear to hear him. "I am sorry I could not come sooner. But I could not leave my men…."

"He understands and so do I. We have both had to put our commands above our heart's desire. Come, Estel. Let me take you to your own bed, just for a little while." He gently put an arm around Aragorn's shoulders and led him out of the tent.

Behind them, Kenuric administered a dose to a ranger of middle years and answered his desperate question. "I am sorry; there is nothing I can do. Tomorrow I will take your leg." He then turned purposefully to another cot.

Three hours later the healer was the only one still awake in the two tents full of wounded. He heard a gasping rattle from his current patient and swore fervently and violently, yet all in a whisper. He set bloody instruments down and rose from his knees. He slowly pulled a blanket over the man's face; his own was impassive and his hands were steady. He went to where his apprentice sat slumped against the tent's center post, and shook his shoulder. "Go to your own tent and get some sleep. I will remain until Elendil sails the sky. Find someone to take the watch from then until sunup, when I will return."

When the apprentice was gone, Kenuric walked slowly from cot to cot, placing fingers against throats, checking bandages, and dosing with poppy syrup so that even those in the most pain could rest. As he walked to the other tent, the one for those in less desperate straits, he gazed upward to the brilliance of the heavens above him. The starlight must have reflected in some odd fashion in his eyes, for surely such a hard man would never weep.

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End Part 1

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