Boring but necessary introduction:
This is a sequel of sorts to "The Taming of the Badger." I don't usually self-promote this blatantly, but reading it first would be helpful in understanding Aragorn's and Kenuric's relationship, which is very important later on. It can be found here: It is two chapters long.
This story occurs several years after "The Taming of the Badger", somewhen in the 'ranger years'. The geographical setting is the same, between the North Downs and the Mountains of Angmar (closer to the mountains). In the time since the first story, the rangers found a place to make a semi-permanent outpost, as the region continued to be troublesome to forces of the Light from time to time. Aragorn has not always been present at this encampment—only when the need was great. When the story begins, Legolas has been staying with his friend for some weeks.
Grateful thanks: This fic was a medium length, very ordinary ranger & elf fic until my beta, Chris, said, "You need to develop the Kenuric character more." So I wrote "The Taming of the Badger" for his backstory, and that totally changed "Fidelis" altogether. It's now long. It's now very angsty. The story is finished, although I will post week by week.
The first chapter is just set-up - sorry 'bout that.
Chapter 1 – Two Arrivals
Aragorn heard the drumming of hooves behind him and stopped his own ambling mount. He looked back to see the youngest of the rangers riding pell-mell toward him, waving a hand over his head, and shouting. Aragorn's horse sidled uneasily when the boy pulled to a sliding stop next to his commander. Motioning the seven men behind him to wait out of earshot, the Chieftain of the Dunedain asked tersely, "What is it? What has happened?"
The boy shook his head reassuringly and panted, "Nothing to threaten us, lord, but we have guests – " He drew a gasping breath and continued, "Two of them, but one needs a healer; one of great power for Kenuric says he cannot do more for him than cleanse him and put him to bed, although that will do for now."
Aragorn looked puzzled. "He – whoever he is – is not on his deathbed? Then why ride your horse nearly into the ground? I would have returned in a few hours at most."
The youngster apologetically stroked his horse's neck but kept his eyes on his leader. His expression became somber as he said more quietly, "He is on his deathbed, right enough, but Kenuric says it has been a long time coming and he will not pass today, or for many days if you are able to tend him. But, Lord Aragorn, they are elves!"
"What?! From Imladris? Who -"
The boy dared to reach a calming hand to Aragorn's sleeve. "No, not from Imladris! They have not said yet where they are from, but we asked—of course we asked—if they came from Lord Elrond. They say they have been traveling a long time and will wait to tell their story until you are returned to camp."
"I will come at once, then, as soon as I send the patrol on."
Aragorn gave orders to the curious men behind him, and then rode homeward with the young ranger. At first glance they could have been brothers—especially when clothed much alike in their ranger garb—for both were broad shouldered but narrow through the hip, with dark hair and light eyes. Neither was hard to look at, but Aragorn's eyes were silver grey while his subordinate's were nearly as blue as periwinkles. Another difference was the mantle of leadership that lay easily on Aragorn's shoulders. The youngster, spending his first years away from home, reminded one a bit of a puppy with his shy but ready smile, and his eagerness to prove himself. As the two rode side-by-side, Aragorn insisted they keep to a decorous pace while he listened carefully to what was known of the two strange elves.
"I saw them come in, since I was training with Legolas—he says he will make an archer of me or throttle me, one of the two! They rode in on two well-bred horses that looked like they have been on the road for some weeks: they are footsore and thin. One of the elves is old, I think. I did not know elves ever looked old, but his face is drawn and he moves slowly. He looks a little like Gandalf, as if he is very wise and patient. The other one is younger, I am sure, and allows his companion to speak for him. He dismounted quickly to help his elder down before we could do him the courtesy. The older one nearly fell into his arms, and then we could see he was badly wounded. We took him at once to the healing hut and Kenuric is caring for him now. He was able to speak and told us he was not from Imladris, Lorien, or Mirkwood. He said he had news of orc movements to the east, but that the telling could wait for your return. And that is all I know."
"Well done, Arvel, you have an observant eye. I must admit to a great deal of curiosity, so let us move on a little faster, now that your horse no longer looks like he will expire at any moment!"
The young ranger dropped his head in shame but raised it again when his hero set heels to his horse's sides and began to pull away. "Wait for me!" Aragorn's laugh drifted back to him as he pleaded with the tired horse to catch up with his mocking commander.
The base camp for the rangers in this territory was within an ancient wood, in an area that had been used for charcoal burning before orcs and other dangers made it unprofitable. Only the largest trees remained, widely spaced, with no undergrowth beneath them except for closely grazed grass. In a wide clearing there could still be seen the large dusty circles where the coppice wood had been burned to create charcoal. Just within the fringe of the surrounding trees were huge piles of wood trimmings; they were leftovers from the charcoal process. Twice as tall as a man, they hid a cunning secret. They were the lodgings of the Dunedain rangers: huts that could sleep nine or ten men at a pinch, with small circular fire pits in the center, and trap doors that led to escape tunnels. One was given to Aragorn—and Legolas and Aragorn's brothers when they were in residence—in consideration of his status, one was devoted to the healing arts, and one provided limited cooking when the weather made it difficult to cook outdoors. The remaining four housed the rangers, providing snug quarters through the hard northern winters, though in milder weather the men preferred to sleep under the canopy of the trees.
The horses were corralled far back in the trees, and as Aragorn walked the path that led to the clearing, the chief of the healers that served the rangers came to meet him. Kenuric silently fell in beside Aragorn, and the younger man shot sideways glances at him as they walked together to the healing hut. Kenuric was tall and weedy, standing an inch or so above his leader. He always moved with an impatient vigor, leaning forward as if into a strong headwind. Alone among all but the younger rangers, his face was unscarred, though deeply graven with lines from his habitual scowl. The lines were all the easier to see since he was clean-shaven, though he made up the difference with long grey-blonde hair that he tied into a tail that hung down his back. His eyes were a glittering pale blue, like evening shadows on snow, and some of the rangers said they were every bit as cold. Nonetheless, they trusted their lives to him without question, and many a man was still alive only because of his stubborn will. He took the fight between himself and death personally, and when he lost a patient he did not weep, but swore bitterly and railed beneath the stars.
After walking together for some time, Aragorn finally broke the silence. "Are you going to tell me about them?"
"No. Best you meet them and draw your own conclusions. You and I will speak privately after you become acquainted."
Aragorn nodded, his straight white teeth tugging on his lower lip. He watched Kenuric's face become flat and expressionless, and sighed. "I have done it again. What was it this time?"
"He used to sink his teeth into his lip like that when he was thinking. I often scolded him for it, for he would create abrasions that I always feared would become infected."
Aragorn smiled wistfully, "Did they?"
Kenuric snorted, "No, blast him!"
Aragorn laughed outright and touched Kenuric's arm briefly but in an unmistakable gesture of warmth. "Then I am truly his son, for I never sicken nor do anything my family says is sure to happen to me, if I continue my rash behavior. You should visit Imladris again; you and Lord Elrond would have much to commiserate over!"
Kemuric said quietly, "When I was there for training, I did not speak with Lord Elrond of your father very much at all. Why should I, when we had so many long years ahead of us? If I knew then how short our time together would be…"
Aragorn sobered, and his eyes turned to gaze across the compound to where an elf was removing his weapons and laying them against one of the huts. The elf raised a hand as he returned Aragorn's regard. The man nodded to him, then turned back to Kenuric. "I have learned much from you but nothing of more importance than to value the time I have with my friends."
Kenuric's reply stuck in his throat as he caught a brief glimmer of something odd in Aragorn's eyes. It was gone as soon as he noticed it, but he filed the occurrence away for later contemplation. He returned to the subject of the two elves in the healers' hut. "Come, you must be nearly consumed with curiosity as to the identity of our guests."
"That I am!" Aragorn reached out to pull at a bit of fungus—or what appeared to be so—and the door to the healing hut swung open. Inside, the walls were smooth and whitewashed, with six narrow beds set up for patients and piles of bedding in the corners in case others must be accommodated on the floor. Aragorn stood a moment and let his eyes become accustomed to the indoor light. He first noticed a long, slim form occupying a bed close to the wall, and another being standing behind it, pale hands tightly clasped and shining in the torchlight, while the face was in shadow.
Kenuric stepped forward to make the introductions. "Lenwë, allow me to introduce to you Aragorn, leader of the rangers, and a fine healer. Aragorn, this is our guest, Lenwë."
Aragorn stepped close to the bed and was barely able to control his expression. Propped up on a pile of pillows stolen from the other beds, was an elf with hair of midnight black and dark gray eyes. His face bore not only a narrow scar that ran from his jaw to his eyebrow on the left side, but also lines of pain that were so deeply etched that he appeared old. His complexion was pale, even for an elf, and in addition had a sickly yellowish tinge. Aragorn now understood Arvel's words, for surely this elf was well along the road to Mandos' halls. The elf smiled at Aragorn slowly, as though to move his lips took great effort. He carefully extended one finely shaped yet frail hand to Aragorn, who clasped it in both of his, feeling their healthy strength to be suddenly coarse and excessively robust. "Suilad, Aragorn. I thank you for the welcome and grace I have received. Your people are most kind to aid us."
Aragorn looked up at the figure standing so tensely and silently in the shadows beyond the head of the bed. Lenwë gestured slightly. "Come forward, Nienor, and greet our host." He looked again to Aragorn. "This is my friend who has cared for me most diligently during our travels. I pray one welcome holds for us both."
Aragorn looked at the elf as his face entered the light of the torches, and his breath was taken away. Surely only two or three hundred years old, Nienor was extraordinary in his beauty, even by elven standards. His hair was a rich chestnut, glimmering in the torchlight with red and bronze highlights. His eyes were the kind of hazel that takes its coloring from clothing or lighting, being at one moment a smoky green, and the next the color of amber flecked with gold. His ears, uncovered by warrior braids, were sharply tapered with slender tips. His cheekbones were high and his chin slightly pointed. His face was at the moment blushing rose up to his temples and down his throat but would normally be the color of the finest vellum—pale cream warmed by days in the sun to a golden glow on brow and cheekbones.
Aragorn loosened his jaw and nearly blushed himself to be caught staring, as he noticed a hint of amusement in the older elf's eyes. "The Dunedain welcome you both, for as long as you need to tarry here. Rest with us, regain your strength, and let us do whatever we may to help you heal of your wounds or illness." To Aragorn's surprise, the young elf made a graceful gesture with both hands but said no word. He stepped back into the shadows and clasped his hands again, but Aragorn saw tension in every line of the slight body, and observed how the fine eyes flickered between the elf on the bed and the ranger almost suspiciously.
"Does your friend not speak Common?" The ranger turned to Nienor. "Mae govannen. Heniach nin?"
The young elf's head moved gracefully in negation and regret. Lenwë said gently, "He is mute, Aragorn." At the man's startled look he added, "But although he cannot speak, he hears better than most, so do not hesitate to give him direction as to how our few possessions should be disposed and where he may sleep."
At those words the young elf moved abruptly and fell to his knees by the bed. He took the elder's hand in one of his and made frantic gestures with the other, indicating the space between the bed and the wall. Lenwë spoke sternly, "Hush, now! I will be fine here, and you will sleep wherever these kind folk bid you." He raised a shaking hand to touch Nienor's cheek. "It will be well; you must not fret so for me."
Aragorn could not bear to watch the distress of the young elf and said quietly, "We can move one of the other beds close to you, Lenwë. There is no need for him to be parted from you if he wishes to stay, especially since you are our only patient at this time."
Nienor bowed deeply in gratitude and Lenwë gave another of his slow smiles. "I must thank you again, Aragorn, for such consideration of Nienor's foolish fears. Now then, I am told you have a great gift, but while I will be grateful for any ease you may give me, my trouble is an old one and can wait to be tended. You have been on patrol and must wish to cleanse yourself of the dust of the road and get something to eat. I will still be here whenever it is convenient to tend to me."
Aragorn hesitated but thought that perhaps a little quiet and rest would be beneficial for the elf, especially since he was still unaware of the nature of the injury or illness, and did not yet know how taxing any treatment might be. He bid both elves a temporary farewell and stepped out into the leaf-patterned sunshine to speak with Kenuric. They moved a little away from the healers' cabin and with a raised eyebrow Aragorn indicated that the other man should begin.
Kenuric did not spare the bitter truth. "He is dying and no mistake. He took a horrendous wound perhaps a decade ago and has been slowly wending his way to the Halls ever since. It was a scimitar of the Haradrim that cut him stem to stern—I saw that type of wound often when I traveled in the south. If he had not had the finest care at the time he was injured, he would have died within a day or two at most. You will be able to strengthen him for his journey but little more, so put out of your mind any great healing feats. Even Lord Elrond could not save him. The wound becomes green again from time to time and that is what has happened now. I have sent Legolas to fetch athelas and blue flag, so that they will have been freshly plucked today. Now go and do as he suggests: clean yourself and get some food. It will take me nearly an hour to prepare enough bandages and solutions, so take some time and get a little rest. He will drain you, Aragorn, so best be prepared."
"That is a great sadness, but I trust your judgment. I will do as you bid me, if only to save myself the rough side of your tongue! One more thing, though. The younger one, Nienor, have you examined him as well? It is unusual to see one who is mute but not deaf. May we not do more for him than for his companion?"
"I had the same thought, but I have left him to you. He is very skittish and more than a little suspicious of our intentions toward Lenwë. Let him see you with his friend first, and then I think he will gentle to your hand. You are, after all, known for your winning ways!"
Aragorn rolled his eyes and turned away, smiling. The healer's words always had a little bite to them, but times had changed for the better between the two men. Once Kenuric's words might have been similar, but the tone would have been sharp and bitter as a dagger's point. These days, Aragorn often disgraced himself snorting back an inappropriate snicker when the healer let his sarcasm loose in council meetings. The irascible old badger was entertaining, Aragorn had to give him that. Though it was always more amusing when the tongue he wielded like a weapon was turned on someone else!
Before he headed for the hut that held the bread ovens, and the heavenly luxury of a hip bath out behind it in the trees, he went in search of Legolas. He was fortunate to find him quickly and filled him in on what he had learned of their visitors. Legolas, nearly blending into the wall of the hut behind him in his usual Mirkwood livery, creased his brow in thought as he sorted carefully through the green, leafy stems he had collected. "I have not heard of any elves wandering about on their own for many years, but in these times it is easy enough to be parted from your kin by violence or other mischance. The name Lenwë is familiar to me, but surely this cannot be that Lenwë. They are not Noldor, you say?"
"The elder has the look of it, but I believe he is of a kindred that diverged and took a different life-path." Legolas' brows arched high in disbelief but the man nodded, "I think he is of the original Nandor. My father spoke of them occasionally, saying there are a few still to be found, passing like shadows over the earth. Nienor, now, is another story. Are there any Silvan that have hair the color of buckeyes?" Legolas shook his head in wonderment. "Well, it is not important now, I suppose. I would like you to be present while I examine them; it may put them more at ease, especially the younger of the two. It may be that I will have to bring pain to Lenwë, and if Nienor must be restrained, I would rather it be done by another elf. And Legolas…" Aragorn's eyes met his friend's with sadness. "Nienor is mute—he cannot speak. Will you do what you can to help him understand he is among friends?"
Legolas looked a little puzzled. "Of course, Aragorn. I will aid you and these elves in any way I can; surely you know you have no need to ask."
Aragorn gave his friend a wry smile. "I do know that. These two have unsettled me, though it is hard to imagine anyone less a danger to us, or what we do here. Pay me no mind; my foolishness will soon pass."
Legolas clapped him lightly on the shoulder. "No doubt this particular foolishness will pass, but I have great faith that you will find another!"
END Chapter 1
A/N The Nandor thing will be explained after Ch. 2. Nienor is a female name but he is not a girl in disguise, or anything like that. He is just what he appears to be. I don't usually use 'real' elf names, but there is a reason why I did so this time.
Pen golwen - wise one
Mae govannen. Heniach nin? -Well met. Do you understand me?