Title: The Ranger Hell Week
Disclaimer: Tolkien's creations are not mine and I will never own them.
Summary: Aragorn and Halbarad have taken two young rangers under their wings. But when Aragorn gets injured in the wilds and Halbarad has to leave him, the two young rangers are the only ones who are there to help Aragorn survive.
Chapter 3: Unlikely Heroes
Sighing, Aragorn leaned his head back against the empty pack he was using as a cushion and closed his eyes. Halbarad would need three days to reach the ranger outpost, then at least one and a half back with the horses, maybe a bit longer. That meant he would have to spend four or five days in the company of the two young rangers. Alone. And injured. Could his life become any more miserable?
"Uh, Aragorn, Marek and I wondered whether you need anything."
Yes, it could.
"No, Romorin, I am fine, thank you." Aragorn answered, opening his eyes out of politeness. His headache had gotten better, mostly due to the fact that he had slept most of the previous day, but it was still there and slowly grating on his nerve. The fact that the two rangers had manage to wake him more than ten times during his sleep the day before had not truly made him appreciate their presence. All he wanted to do now was catch some more sleep.
Romorin shuffled around for a few seconds and Aragorn counted silently to ten. Five, six, seven, eight…
"We could make some tea."
Keep calm. He only wants to help. Aragorn managed to smile up at Romorin. "No, thank you."
"But Halbarad told us to make sure that you drink enough." He sounded more than ever like an eager child and Aragorn vowed silently to hurt Halbarad for this order.
"Romorin, why don't you and Marek go and collect some more wood for the fire?" That had sounded civil enough, had it not?
Romorin eyed the huge pile of firewood that had been stacked at the end of the cave. It was enough wood to make a pyre; it would last for at least a week. Romorin frowned, but then nodded, "Aye, we can do that. If there is anything you need, Aragorn, we are just outside. You have just to call, we will hear you." And with that the young ranger practically fled the cave.
For a moment, Aragorn felt happy; now he could rest and think of all the different ways to make Halbarad pay for leaving him alone with these boys. But then, a wave of guilt washed over him. Romorin had only tried to help. This was not a situation the two had ever been in, and Aragorn knew that they were probably scared. After all, never before had the two had the responsibility for a life in their hands, let alone that of their Chieftain.
Groaning, Aragorn closed his eyes. He would apologise. Yes he would. Later. Once he had gotten a good nap that would surely chase away that nasty headache of his.
He had the feeling to have barely closed his eyes, when he was shaken awake. With a curse on his lips, Aragorn opened his eyes, ready to scold whoever it was that was waking him. Valar, his headache was still killing him, not to mention the pain in his arm or ribs.
"Aragorn, wake up!" Marek's voice sounded frightened, causing Aragorn to hold his tongue. It was dark in the cave, and Aragorn realised that he must have slept away the whole afternoon; he had not realised that he had been that tired.
"Marek? What is it?" He asked, rubbing his uninjured hand across his face to wake up more fully. Marek was still clinging to his shoulder, his fingers digging painfully into his skin.
"Wolves. There are wolves. We heard them."
This brought Aragorn fully awake in seconds. Wolves? Here? Halbarad and he had chosen this area not only because of its usefulness for the Ranger Hell Week, seeing that it had a deep river, some hills, a dense forest and this cliff, but also because it was known to be free of wild animals or orcs. At least, they had thought so.
"Are you sure, Marek?" Aragorn already tried to sit up, but the moment he moved the broken ribs in his chest stole his breath away.
Marek nodded, and in the light of the fire Aragorn could see the pallor of his face and the fear in his eyes. This was not good. In that moment, a high howl filled the night, followed by several others. Aragorn swallowed. This were definitely wolves, and they were close.
"Help me up, Marek."
For a moment, Marek looked as if he wanted to protest, but a sharp look from Aragorn stopped him. "This is not the time to argue, Marek." Would this boy never do as he said? Aragorn wondered not for the first time, but the next second he felt a pair of strong arms under his shoulders, helping him up into a sitting position.
The sudden movement made his head swim and he had to close his eyes until the dizziness passed. His ribs were sending stabs of pain through his whole chest, and by now his injured ankle throbbed painfully, too. All the signals his body send him told him that it was a bad idea to get up, that he should lay down and rest. But, if there were really wolves outside the cave, then they would have to fight. Wolves could smell blood and weakness for leagues.
Clenching his teeth, Aragorn pulled his legs up and tried to get to his feet, but he failed miserably when his injured ankle would not support his weight. Had it not been for Marek, he would have fallen back to the ground. As it was, he clung to the boy's arm it his good hand, and after a few long moments, Aragorn managed to stand on his own, albeit swaying slightly.
"Captain, Halbarad told us to not let you get up." Marek said, sounding terrified.
I will have a good word with Halbarad once he is back, Aragorn vowed, putting it on the mental list he had started the moment Halbarad had left him behind.
"Halbarad is not here, but those wolves are." With that, Aragorn moved away from Marek, using the cave wall for support instead. He slowly made his way over to the entrance of the small cave, peering out into the darkness. The moon was already high in the sky, and Aragorn realised that the had not only slept away the afternoon, but a good part of the night as well.
It was dark outside, making it almost impossible to see more than a few feet. But there, on the other side of the small clearing in front of the cave, a pair of yellow eyes stared back at him. A moment later, a second pair of eyes appeared, then a third and a fourth.
Oh is this not wonderful, Aragorn thought sarcastically. He had no illusions that this pack only consisted of four wolves. They were three tall humans, with a burning fire; only a large pack of wolves would be bold enough to try to attack them. For a few more moments Aragorn stared at the pairs of eyes, before he turned back to the two young rangers.
In the light of the fire they looked even younger than they were, and Aragorn felt his heartbeat quicken. To learn how to fight was one thing, but to actually do it was something else entirely.
"Have you ever been in battle?"
Both boys shook their head, paling even more and causing Aragorn to sigh inwardly. "Then this will be your first fight. Get your weapons and make some torches. We will need them."
As quickly as they could, Marek and Romorin prepared some torches, lit them and moved up beside Aragorn, who had turned his attention back to the wolves that were slowly circling them.
"Do you have your swords?" Aragorn asked, placing his own hand over the hilt of his sword. The boys nodded, but said nothing. Their eyes were wide as saucers, reflecting the light of the moon.
Again, they nodded.
"Good. Bows will be of no use here, the wolves are already too close." Aragorn loosened the sword in its sheath as another howl echoed across the clearing. More pairs of yellow eyes appeared, and Aragorn knew that it was only a matter of time before the beasts would attack. They probably waited for the leader to arrive.
"Alright, now listen to me." Aragorn locked his eyes with the boys' for a moment, before he looked back at the wolves. His ankle already hurt horribly and his broken ribs was making breathing difficult, but he had to instruct the boys if they wanted to stand a chance in this fight.
"This pack is large, at least twelve animals, but I suspect that there are more hidden in the woods. They will come at us at once, not single file. A few will stand back and wait for a chance to break through our defences, but we must not give them that opening. This cave is probably the best position we could wish for, for it protects us from three sides."
Anther howls pierced the suddenly otherwise silent night. Marek shivered and Romorin swallowed thickly. Tightening his hold on his sword, Aragorn narrowed his eyes, following the form of a wolf through the underbrush.
"The bad thing is that this cave is too small for all three of us to fight side by side. We would impale us on out own swords." Aragorn leaned a bit more heavily on the cave wall, taking some strain from his ankle and hoping the boys would not notice. He continued in a calm voice, wanting to reassure the two and take some of their fear away.
"We will have to move out of the cave and into the open to be able to fight properly."
"O-out of the cave?" Marek stammered, wide eyed.
"I-into the open?" Romorin asked, his voice higher than that of a four year old girl.
"Aye, out of the cave and into the open. But we will stay with our backs to the cave wall, side by side. The one who fights in the middle will only have to face the wolves head on, the others have to protect their sides as well."
Aragorn had barely ended his sentence, when a loud growl filled the clearing. One by one the other wolves took it up, until the night was filled with the menacing howls and growls of the wolves. The leader had arrived. Time was up.
"Give me a torch!" Aragorn ordered, and Marek handed him one, almost letting it drop because of his shaking hands. With a fluent motion, Aragorn threw the torch into the night. It flipped a few times, before it landed at the other side of the clearing, illuminating a few wolves, who hurriedly retreated into the darkness of the woods.
"Another!" And again Aragorn threw the torch through the night. It landed in the middle of the clearing, creating a small circle of orange light. "Now, throw the others as well," Aragorn said, already reaching for a third one. Obediently, Marek and Romorin inched out of the safety of the cave and hurled the rest of the torches into the night. Soon, the clearing was illuminated by flickering flames.
"The fire will not hold them back for long." Aragorn said, eying the flames critically. He could see the wolves shift positions in the undergrowth and wondered when they would finally attack. It could not take long now, he was sure.
Taking a steadying breath, Aragorn leaned away from the cave wall. They would have to fight soon, and he knew that he could not fight while leaning against a wall for support. As soon as he shifted some of his weight on the injured ankle, a fiery pain shot through his ankle and up and down his leg, causing him to clench his teeth and grimace in pain. But, instead of seeking support, Aragorn took a hissing breath through his teeth and put even more weight on his injured leg. The sooner he numbed the ankle, the better.
Behind him, Marek and Romorin exchanged a worried look and tightened the grips on their swords. Another loud howl filled the clearing, chilling their blood. The light of the torches made the night even darker where it could not reach, and the two young rangers narrowed their eyes to make out their enemies. It was difficult to say how many animals there were, seeing that they seemed to exchange positions and move around stealthily.
Aragorn, too, had problems making out the number of the wolves, but that was not his only problem. His ankle hurt fiercely, as did his ribs, and he knew that it would get even worse once the fight started. And the fact that his sword arm was broken topped the whole mess off. Aragorn could fight left handed, almost as good with his right, but he knew that fighting one handed with a broken ankle and broken ribs would trough off his balance.
He made a quick decision. He knew that the two young rangers would not like it, but the two had no chance to survive this without his help, and he would not survive this fight without support.
"Marek, you fight to the left, Romorin, you will fight in the middle, while I will take up the right flank."
"But, Captain, your leg, you cannot…" Marek began, but was cut off almost instantly.
"Marek, for once, do as I tell you!" Aragorn's voice was a bit sharper than he had intended, but it could not be helped now. This was no training, this was reality. Still, when he unsheathed his sword with his left hand and moved into position, he vowed to remember to apologise not only to Romorin, but also to Marek.
In that moment, the first wolf broke through the underbrush, sharp teeth bared. More followed, and while the beasts rushed them, Aragorn wondered briefly whether there would be a chance to apologise.
His first sword stroke killed the oncoming wolf instantly, but more and more followed. After a few moments, all that Aragorn could see were snarling snouts, sharp teeth and furry bodies. He could hear Marek and Romorin fight to his left, but he had no time to take a look at how they fared. For as long as they were still on their feet, it was enough for him to know.
More wolves came at them, and they fought for their lives. The animals seemed never to tire, and they jumped over their fallen comrades without any hesitation.
Another wolf charged him, causing Aragorn to take a quick step back. His broken ankle wobbled under him, and Aragorn stumbled back against the cave wall. His injured ribs protested vehemently, and his still hurting head made his vision swim for a moment. It was all the time the wolf needed. With a growl that came from deep within his throat he jumped, claws reflecting in the firelight.
With a breathless gasp Aragorn threw his body to the side, and the wolf howled in anger as its prey fled its deadly yaws. Aragorn fell to the ground, the sword slipping from his grip and causing him to curse inwardly. His ribs hurt by now so much that he had no breath left to curse aloud.
Behind him, the wolf turned on his paws, lowered its head and growled deeply. Aragorn turned on his back, and when he fixed his gaze on the wolf, he knew that he had not much time left. He reached for the knife at his belt and had just unsheathed it when he wolf jumped. Its furry body hurled at him, smashing against Aragorn's chest. The knife cut deep into the wolf's side, opened the skin and breaking the ribs until it sank deep into the beating heart. With a last growl the wolf broke down, jerking in its death throws, until it lay finally still.
Panting, Aragorn tried to lift the dead weight from him chest, but his broken arm refused to cooperate. Groaning, he took a look around, searching for something to help him get the wolf off of him. Or at least his sword.
His searching gaze fell not on his sword, but on the two young rangers. Marek was bleeding from a cut to his cheek and Romorin was already swaying on his feet, but both rangers were still alive and fighting furiously. None of them had noticed Aragorn's plight, but as long as none of the wolves realized it as well…
In that moment, one of the wolves turned its shaggy head, fixing its yellow eyes on Aragorn. Another curse sprang to Aragorn's mind, and he tried again to lift the dead wolf off of him, but failed as miserably as he had done the first time. The weight was crushing his ribs and lungs, and he simply did not get enough air to mobilize all his strength.
If his brothers could see him now, he thought grimly, they would first rescue him, and then lecture him endlessly for having managed to end up sprawled on his back, with his sword gone and a hungry wolf charging at him.
Frantically, Aragorn tried to get the knife out of the dead wolf, but it seemed to be stuck between the ribs. Oh, for the glory of it all! A frustrated yell came from Aragorn, and he turned his head in the direction of the wolf. Only a few more feet, closer, closer…
The wolf crouched low to the ground, ready to jump, Marek suddenly called his name, one of the torches sputtered and hissed, a wolf howled, Romorin screamed, Aragorn held his breath…and a feathered arrowed hissed through the air and killed the crouching wolf on the spot.
Aragorn blinked. Then blinked again, but the wolf had definitely killed by an arrow. For a moment Aragorn wondered whether he had hit his head again when he had fallen, but then another arrow whistled through the air, killing a wolf that was charging at Marek.
And then, a horse galloped into the clearing, followed by another. More arrows came from the trees, injuring the wolves and scattering the confused animals. One of the horses galloped up to Aragorn, came to a sudden stop, sending earth flying in all directions. The rider dismounted quickly, silver sword flashing in the firelight.
Giving the horse a slap on its hindquarters, the riders sent it rushing away, before he looked down on Aragorn. Halbarad lifted an eyebrow and sighed deeply.
"Well Aragorn, it seems I can not leave you out of my sight for even a second without you causing trouble."
Aragorn let his head sink back and sighed. Who needed the twins when he had Halbarad to lecture him?
Mist hung over the clearing, hiding the dead bodies of the wolves that had been slain in the night. The rangers had killed as many as they had been forced to, leaving the rest to flee and seek their luck elsewhere. Of course, they would send a patrol after them, but their first concern had been Aragorn, Marek and Romorin.
Both young rangers had been injured, but their injuries were not serious. Their wounds had been treated, and when the adrenalin of the battle had slowly left their bodies, they had fallen into a deep sleep.
The sun peeked up over the tops of the trees, but Aragorn had not been able to sleep during the rest of the night. The fight had caused his injuries to roar to new levels of pain, and the fact that Halbarad had insisted on treating them once more with the herbs he had brought, had not helped the matter either. It would take time for the herbs to take effect, and Aragorn hoped that he would be able to sleep a bit once they did.
At least, Halbarad had used the time while treating his wounds to tell him why he was back so early. He had just pitched his camp for the night, when he had met the group of rangers from the outpost, who had chased the same pack of wolves that had attacked Aragorn and the two young rangers. For once it seemed, that Aragorn had been lucky.
Aragorn watched the sunrise tiredly, swathed his blankets and due to the herbs finally, after hours, relatively pain free. He was ready to drop off to sleep, when the Marek's called him back from near sleep.
Sighing inwardly, Aragorn blinked his eyes open. "Mhmmm?"
"Uh, Halbarad send me to ask whether you needed anything."
"No, nothing, thank you." Aragorn said calmly, but inwardly he was fuming. Marek nodded, then turned back and made his way over to Romorin, who was retelling his fight with the wolves for maybe the hundredth time.
Aragorn followed Marek's retreating back, but when he eyes fell on Halbarad, he narrowed them menacingly. Halbarad was vainly trying to suppress the smirk that threatened to escape, and when Aragorn lifted a frustrated eyebrow, he could not suppress it any longer and laughed heartily. The rest of the ranges gave him strange stares, but Halbarad ignored them and made his way over to Aragorn.
Sitting down next to him, he gave him a broad grin. "Nice boy, he is, is he not. Always so concerned about your well being, Aragorn."
"Halbarad, cousin and friend or not, I am going to kill you. Slowly. Painfully." Aragorn ground out, causing Halbarad to laugh out loud once more.
"Oh come now, Aragorn. I only meant to make your days with those two rascals as funny as possible."
"You will understand if I forget to thank you for that, won't you?" Aragorn yawned, and Halbarad patted him on his leg.
"You should sleep a bit, Aragorn. I promise to keep the boys entertained for some time. Promise."
"Mhmmm." Aragorn made, but then he managed a smile. "Thank you for being back so quickly and saving the day."
"You're welcome, Aragorn." Halbarad got to his feet. "And well, I could not leave you alone with them for so long."
"Why not?" Aragorn asked, looking up at his friend.
Sighing deeply in mock suffering, Halbarad tilted his head to the side. "To keep you company when you are injured is no light feat, Aragorn. You can be quite grumpy, you know. It needs a real hero to do that."
And with that, Halbarad made his way over to the two young rangers, while Aragorn muttered an 'I am not grumpy' under his breath. He watched how Halbarad gave Marek and Romorin a hearty slap on the shoulder, and heard his unnecessary loud words float back to him.
"That was quite a feat! A task worthy for a real hero!"
Groaning, Aragorn closed his eyes and tried to get to sleep. But before he finally fell asleep, he vowed to not only apologize to Marek and Romorin, but also find a piece of paper and a quill to pin down all the numerous ways to get his revenge on Halbarad he was able to think of.
Grumpy, he was never grumpy.
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