Note: Well, I missed my chance to post on the Professor's birthday. Alas, poor handses: they just weren't up to the challenge. Enjoy the new chapter nonetheless! Happy New Year.

Chapter LVI: Safety and Slumber

Gollum's enraged and terrified shrieks roused Aragorn from the sweet balm of unconsciousness into a world made dark with unaccounted agonies. Though his heart hammered against aching ribs and his breath caught in a raw throat, he could neither muster himself to rise nor call out to his captive. He was lying on his belly, and it felt as though some great weight were pressing down upon him – as though he lay crushed beneath stones loosed in a mountain avalanche, or the great bole of a fallen tree. His left hand was close by his face: he felt a wafting of warm air as his fingers scrabbled down towards his wrist in a vain attempt to grasp the cord that bound him to Gollum. He could not find it, and his right arm was pinned beneath his battered body. The cries rang out again, echoing and muffled as if coming from a great distance. Now panic gripped the Ranger: somehow Gollum had managed to get free of his bonds, and he had tried to flee. He had not gone far before some calamity befell him, but Aragorn had to rise up and ensure both the security and the safety of his hard-won quarry, and he could not move.

When a cool hand descended upon his fevered brow, disturbing the grains of grime and dried blood upon it, Aragorn's first instinct was to strike out at his unknown assailant. He had neither the strength nor the mastery of his limbs for such a show of defiance, however, and so with a small abortive jerk he tried to shrink away. Another hand settled upon the crown of his head, and he felt the unlooked-for but unmistakable outpouring of goodwill from an Elven fëa. Beneath it his frantic heart seemed to quiet of its own accord, and his addled mind settled down to the task of opening eyes that appeared to have been pasted shut.

'Peace, Dúnadan,' a kindly voice murmured. 'I feared his cries would wake you. The prisoner is well and he is secure – but he seems inclined to fits of histrionics.'

The voice was vaguely familiar, but only vaguely. Certainly it was not a voice out of his childhood, and Aragorn found himself struggling to remember how he might have come to be in the company of a strange Elf, here in the bitterly cold expanses of the Wilderland where he had wandered so long with only Gollum's hated presence to keep him from solitude. His tongue tried to flick against his teeth, but it was swollen with thirst and managed only a clumsy wriggle. He still could not quite remember how to work his eyelids, and as Gollum let loose another indignant howl he stiffened. The sudden contracture of tormented muscles flung him into a drowning pit of pain so complete that he could not pin it down to any one area of his body. Lost as he was in this indistinct misery, he scarcely felt the slender hands as they shifted to brace his elbows.

'Leave the vile thing to its own devices!' the voice called, more commanding than kindly now. 'Lord Aragorn is conscious and has need of your care.'

There was a noise of rustling garments and against the faint reddish glow beyond his unresponsive eyelids a new shadow appeared.

'Conscious? Are you certain, sire?' This voice was utterly unknown to him, and fair though it was Aragorn felt his anxiety mounting again. He tried to fight the muddled and irrational fear and to unearth his memories from beneath the weight of bewilderment. He remembered the spider; hobbling on with a twisted ankle; the great cats bent on depriving him of his prisoner. He remembered horns in the darkness, the wood-elves coming, the swift and gentle mare, and the last painful mile. And then – O, then! – the moment when the rope was cut away and at last he was free. As overwhelming as it had been delicious, that knowledge that his toil was passed and he might rest.

There was one last indignant shriek and the sound of a grinding lock. Aragorn found the strength at last to force his eyelids open, though the sights before him were blurred and dim. Sure fingers that had been feeling for his pulse drew back.

'Conscious indeed,' the strange voice said. 'I had hoped you might rest longer, my lord. Alas that the wretch took so unkindly to my ministrations.'

Aragorn tried to speak, but the words caught in his throat. Of his well-formed question only two broken syllables emerged, but the elf seemed to understand them. The shadowy shape nodded. 'I am Helegond, a healer,' he said. 'With your leave I will remove your cloak: the captain reports that you were wounded by a lynx.'

Swallowing hard against the grinding in his vocal chords, Aragorn managed to speak. 'Gollum,' he said. 'My prisoner. Are his wounds—'

'Nothing serious,' said Helegond. 'Shallow hurts that will heal swiftly if he can be compelled to keep them clean. Never have I seen such a stinking stubborn thing. Bring water, my lord; perhaps this patient at least will allow me to tend him.'

Aragorn shifted, trying to prop himself up with his right arm. He raised himself a little, and was smitten by a searing pain through his shoulder and back. Before he could fall he felt firm hands gripping his arm and bearing him up. There was a moment of sickening dizziness as his legs swung off the edge of the cot, but he had sufficient presence of mind to keep from barking his twisted ankle against the stone floor. Then at last he was sitting, curled low over his lap while his sides throbbed and his spine rippled with hot waves of pain. Trails of chilled perspiration trickled into his eyes, but he had a firm grasp upon his dignity.

'Thank you,' he panted. The healer's hands hesitated a moment and then moved to turn the ring of brass that clasped Aragorn's cloak. It fell from his shoulders to puddle on the mattress. 'Perhaps…' He blinked to clear his sight. 'Perhaps…'

'Drink: it will ease your throat,' the healer said. There was another shadow at his shoulder now, passing of a flagon that glinted a little in the torchlight that spilled through a narrow door into the darkened room. Its cool rim touched Aragorn's lips and he took a wary sip. Spring water, clean and cold and fresh, slipped over his teeth. He took a longer draught, then forced himself to pause. He thought he saw a glimmer of a smile amid the indistinct shapes before him.

'You are wise,' said the healer. 'Often I must remind Men to restrain their urge to quaff too quickly. Even when they know better the temptation can be too much.'

Slowly his eyes were clearing. Aragorn lowered his lids again and raised them cautiously. He could see the shadowed features of the Elf before him, and the rich coppery hair against shoulders clad in green. Behind the healer stood Thranduil, turned a little so half his face was in the light. His fair brow was knit with worry as he looked upon his guest. The room itself was small and narrow, lit only by the torches in the guardroom beyond. In the haste necessitated by his sudden swoon, his hosts had laid him to rest in the cell beside Gollum's. His eyes slid to the mattress on which he now sat. Where the indent of his head was still visible in the straw there was a dark, spreading stain. Hastily he raised his fingers to his nose. The nostrils were choked with clotting blood.

The healer was offering him the water again, and he curled his shaking hand around the vessel. The Elf did not release his own hold, which was fortunate, and Aragorn managed to drink without spilling. Again he murmured his thanks.

A third form appeared in the doorway. It was Losfaron. 'If you are strong enough, my lord, perhaps you would sooner remove to more clement lodgings,' he said. 'I would not rest with that creature so near at hand.'

The healer shot him a quelling glance. 'It is best that he remain where he is until I can catalogue his hurts,' he said. He swivelled his gaze and his words back to Aragorn. 'In any case I do not want any weight upon that foot. If any of the small bones are broken you may do it permanent harm.'

'They are not,' said Aragorn vaguely; 'at least not severely enough to be felt from without.'

Helegond smiled patiently. 'A healer may find injuries a warrior cannot,' he said. 'Leave me to judge.'

Thranduil cleared his throat. 'Lord Aragorn was fostered by the Peredhil in Rivendell,' he remarked. 'No doubt he understands full well what is within a healer's scope.'

The healer's eyes widened a little, and he looked at the Ranger with new respect. 'A mortal fostered in the Last Homely House?' he said. 'You must be an extraordinary Man indeed, lord.'

'Master Elrond has ever been gracious to my folk,' said Aragorn. His voice was hoarse but steadier now. The water had done much to clear his head, and his hurts were settling. So long as he did not move, nor breathe too deeply, he could bear them. 'He taught me something of his skill, and so I too am a healer. I pray you be frank with me, and perhaps we may confer upon my treatment.'

Now Helegond seemed almost stricken with awe. A flush rose to his cheeks that was visible even in the ruddy offcast glow of the torches. 'To study beneath the hand of Elrond Halfelven is an honour indeed,' he murmured. 'Forgive me: I did not know.'

Aragorn wished to make a dismissive gesture, but he was loath to move his hands lest he should disturb the hurts higher up on his arms. Instead he said; 'It is nothing.' From the next cell came a low, malicious grumbling. He could not make out the words, but the very tone set his teeth on edge. He shuddered, and the shuddering sent the fire blazing again in his side and through the deep claw-marks in his back. 'Good king,' he said, raising bleary eyes to Thranduil; 'I pray you: if there is anywhere else that I may bide let me remove there at once. Long have I travelled in the company of your prisoner. I can bear him no longer.'

Thranduil smiled sadly and nodded his head. 'There is no room prepared that is suited to your station,' he said; 'but if you do not object to passing what remains of the night in a humbler place there are chambers not far from here that stand ready to house soldiers.'

'Whatever my birth I am naught but a soldier,' said Aragorn. 'To rest in peace, sheltered from the cold, is all that I ask.'

Helegond did not approve of the idea of moving, but he seemed reluctant to argue now that he knew of the mortal's extraordinary education. He suggested hesitantly that they might send for a litter and bearers, but Aragorn demurred. His interest was not so much to spare his hosts from any further inconvenience (though that was true), but to prevent further delay. Gollum's mutterings ground on hatefully, muffled only a little by the heavy door in the next room, and he felt that if he had to listen any longer to it he would surely go mad. Furthermore he did not think that lying upon a litter would prove any less painful than limping with a pike to lean on. His whole body was wracked with hurts, but his back had borne the worst of his recent woes.

In the end it was decided that he would hobble with Thranduil and Helegond to bear him up. Losfaron did not even offer to take his king's place, and for that Aragorn was grateful: clearly the Captain of the Guard took his duty seriously enough that he was unwilling to leave the cell unguarded. He did, however, offer the little flask of cordial to the Man, and Aragorn took a mouthful and felt his pain recede a little. Under its influence and with firm and trustworthy arms to lean upon, he tucked his right foot up behind and struggled to stand upon his left.

The rooms in question were indeed near enough, but despite the support of his escort and the euphoria of the Elven liquor Aragorn was quaking with suffering and enervation when they reached the corridor. He saw nothing of the room around him as he was led to the bed – both higher and broader than the one he had left, and with two plump ticks and fresh linen upon it. The Elves helped him to sit and he eased his right shoulder against the bedpost, breathing shallowly and fighting an onslaught of chilling nausea.

'Perhaps if you would fetch Lethril, sire, and have her bring dressings and tinctures for pain and sleep,' Helegond was saying. His voice seemed to come from a great distance, but Aragorn could follow the words well enough. 'I will treat what is most pressing, but it is sleep that he needs most of all. Sleep, and many days' rest, and much gentle care. What a battle must have been joined, to leave him so battered.'

There was a whisper of silks and the squeal of a firesteel, and then Aragorn felt fingers on his left wrist.

'Can you speak, my lord?' asked Helegond. 'Or has the journey spent your strength? Do you know what has bloodied your arm?'

'A spider-bite,' Aragorn mumbled. 'Two… three… how long have I slept?'

'You have slept not at all,' said the healer, and there was an edge of uneasy concern in his voice. 'You swooned away, from pain or from hunger or loss of blood. I had time enough only to answer my summons and anger the ugly twisted thing before you roused.'

'Two days, then,' breathed Aragorn. 'Two days past, a spider-bite to my shoulder. Little poison reached me: I did not succumb to it.'

There was a tugging at the cloth of his shirt as Helegond pierced it with a bright little knife. He cut the sleeve from the body and tried to tug it away, but the blood had affixed the cloth to the wound. There was a sound of a cloth being wetted and rung out, and the healer began to dab gently at Aragorn's arm. 'You are fortunate,' he said. 'The spiders are a plague upon all this land, and as the Shadow spreads they grow ever more bold. A nest of them is more than a match for a lone traveller – and I doubt that your captive was much help.'

The protestation that he would have managed the spider quite well if not for Gollum's treachery could not quite find its way to Aragorn's lips. Though the cool water was soothing as it seeped through to his inflamed flesh, the pressure upon the wound was painful. He bowed his head slowly forward so that his brow might rest against the smoothly-hewn cavern wall. When at last Helegond began to peel the cloth away his breath caught in his throat and his fingers clutched reflexively at the tattered tails of his cote.

'There,' the Elf said soothingly, making a gentle pass of the wound with the wet cloth. 'Over and done. It does not appear to have taken any infection, and the wound is already closing. Fortunate indeed.' His hands moved to the dressings about Aragorn's wrist and hesitated over the traces of thin yellow discharge. 'But this… what happened here?'

'The rope,' Aragorn mumbled. His thumb jerked in an inarticulate half-gesture. 'Gollum's halter…'

The knife slid through the stiffened linen and there was a stinging, creeping pain as the bandages were drawn away. Helegond made a small horrified sound and Aragorn forced his eyes to focus on his arm where it lay limp across his lap. The bracelet of denuded flesh was still raw and sore, dark blots of cruor and fine ridges of pus standing out starkly against the pallid red stripe. He saw nothing of great concern: properly washed and freed of the constant chafing of the cord it would surely heal well enough. Then he realized the healer's sorrowful eyes were no longer fixed upon the wound, but upon his face. Wearily he veiled his gaze with leaden lids. A moment later he felt the sharp little pains as his wrist was washed.

There was a low knock, and Helegond bade the newcomer enter. There was some shuffling as supplies were laid out and sorted, but Aragorn was content to remain as he was, eyes closed and spirit drifting shallowly on the borders of the waking world. His hand was lifted and his arm wrapped, wrist and shoulder, in fresh dressings. It was eased back against his side, and someone unbuckled his belt and drew it away. For a startled moment he thought that he ought to reach for his knife before it was taken from him, but he soothed anxious instinct with the promise that he was safe here, in the Elven-king's palace beneath the earth.

Firm hands now probed his ankle, awakening its pain like a slumbering troll that stormed up into his knee and beat against his thigh. Aragorn's eyes shot open and his jaw tightened, but he managed to keep his peace as Helegond, kneeling now before him, began to cut the thin woollen strips. The loose sole flapped down, slapping against the floor, and the Elf let out a thin, surprised laugh.

'Perhaps you won't object after all,' he said, looking up at Aragorn. His lips formed an apologetic half-smile. 'I am going to have to cut off the boot.'

The mere thought of nodding raised a protest of nausea. 'I expected no less,' said Aragorn. 'It is beyond saving anyhow.'

Helegond held out his hand, and an Elven maiden standing near handed him a stout pair of shears. It must have been she who had knocked. Good manners demanded that he greet her, but Aragorn's weariness left him little will for such things. She was watching intently as the other Elf slit the leather with the point of the shears and began slowly to lever them up the Ranger's leg. As he passed the ankle bone there was a sudden hot rush of flowing blood as the pressure upon the inflamed joint was released at last. A queer sickly feeling settled upon Aragorn's foot, as though the ankle had been twisted afresh. Away from the injury the healer took larger bites of the leather, and soon he cut through to the top and the boot came away, a sundered husk that fell useless to the ground. For a moment Aragorn looked at it with the fond eye of an artisan who must at last lay to rest a trustworthy and faithful tool. That boot and its mate had carried him more than two thousand miles, stolid and uncomplaining all the while before their mistreatment at Gladden. They had served him well, but their time was past.

'Cut the other as well,' he begged. 'I have not the strength to haul it off.'

Without question Helegond obeyed. Then he untied and drew off the dirty hose, and lifted Aragorn's foot into his lap. The ankle was swollen to twice its proper size, and the foot beyond was pale and bloated. Where the joint had twisted black bruises stood out in stark relief as if painted in ink. Carefully and expertly the healer flexed the foot, felt each of the toes, and set palpating thumbs into the ankle. Each motion brought with it an arabesque of pain, and Aragorn floated quietly with them. The maiden brought down a basin to set upon the floor, and Helegond bathed the Ranger's feet before wrapping the sprain tightly in clean white bandages.

'Now,' he said, rising and reaching to untie the lace of Aragorn's cote; 'to see to your back. I think it will be best for me to cut this off as well. It is too tattered to be decently worn, and I am certain the king will be glad to provide you with raiment.'

At another time Aragorn might have protested, but he had no wish to spare these filthy rags that he had worn so long. He sat unmoving as the Elf unfastened the garment, and slit its shoulder-seams. Then he let Helegond straighten him, lifting him away from the support of the bedpost so that the healer could split the one remaining sleeve. He cut the shirt beneath in the same fashion, and then with the help of the two Elves Aragorn managed to stretch prone upon the bed. The pad that the archer had fixed upon him in the forest was removed, and the slow work of soaking the clothing free of the wounds began. As Helegond and Lethril worked with expert hands, Aragorn subsisted in a murky vale of misery where only the sharp and unexpected bursts of fresh agony kept him from slipping into merciful insensibility. When at last the foul-smelling weight of the garment was lifted from him he could not supress a small, wretched moan of gratitude.

'The flesh is torn deeply at the top of the wound,' Helegond said quietly. 'Near the bottom it is little more than a whip-weal. You shall have to lie upon your front tonight, and perhaps for many nights to come, but I will pack the worst of it.' Hesitant fingertips brushed Aragorn's right flank, and even that faint pressure sent a sundering ache into his innards. 'These bruises – you took a fall?'

Aragorn tried to speak, but could not find his voice. The healer laid a soothing palm upon the healthy expanse of his left shoulder-blade. 'Never mind,' he said. 'There is nothing to be done for such hurts but to wait. Let me do what I can for the claw-marks, and then you may sleep. Lethril has brought medicines to ease your pain and deepen your rest.'

He set about bathing and packing the wounds, and from the depth of the intrusion Aragorn knew that he was fortunate indeed to have taken that hurt only in the last hours of his journey. He would never have been able to dress it properly unaided, and such a large wound would have been fatal if left to fester. After a while he seemed to grow less aware of the pain and his mind began to slip away for long stretches at once. He came drifting back from one of these to find a lady's hand beneath his cheek and a delicate glass dosing-cup tipped to his lips. He drank the sour draught within unquestioningly, and felt its warmth trickle down through his chest. A sheet was drawn carefully over his shoulders, and a warm blanket to just above his waist. He heard the sounds of graceful bodies moving efficiently about the room, but his eyes were closed and his weary spirit was slipping ever farther from his ravaged body. When the lights against his lids dimmed to a quiet glow and the world fell silent, he found that he was able to let go at last.

lar

All that day he slept, and long into the night, waking only for scant minutes when the healers roused him to take a little water or another dose of the unpleasant-tasting elixir. Once he came back to consciousness in a cacophony of pain to find that Helegond was changing the dressings on his back, but otherwise his brief journeys into the waking world were gentle and dreamlike. In his slumber it seemed neither pain nor nightmares could reach him, so complete was his exhaustion. He tarried there as long as he could, but it was not possible to drift forever. At last he found himself wakeful behind closed eyes, listening to the quiet popping of a charcoal fire, and he knew that he would not sink swiftly back.

Still Aragorn lay motionless for a time, reluctant to bestir himself. He could feel the many pains of his body lurking just beyond his muscles, ready to be roused at the slightest movement. It was far easier to remain as he was, comforted by the knowledge that somewhere else in this subterranean palace Gollum was secure behind a solid door and guarded by Thranduil's folk.

In the end it was thirst that compelled him to open his eyes to the low red glow that enveloped the room. He could see little of his surroundings, lying as he was upon his front with his face turned to the left. Beside the bed was a small table covered in the assorted accoutrements of a healer: phials and bandages, shears, probes, and ointments. There was also a tray with a flagon and a pitcher, and it was upon this his attention fixed. He longed to reach for it, but it was just out of the range of his arm and in any case he had no wish to waken the deep pain of the spider-bite. Instead he watched the vessel as if he could will it to come to him, and wondered whether he would be a fool to attempt to sit up.

Then someone stirred near at hand and a lady's voice asked; 'Are you in pain, my lord? What has wakened you?'

Aragorn had to search for his tongue, and when the words came they were coarse and hoarse. His lips were dry, and one of the deep cracks opened again as he spoke. 'My pain is bearable, but I am thirsty,' he said. 'If you would help me to sit…'

At once she was at his side, firm practiced hands bracing him as he eased up onto his hip. His legs caught in the bedclothes, sending up a bolt of fire from his foot, but soon enough he was sitting with his spine curled over his lap. The lady propped a pillow against his lower back, where neither the bruises nor the claw-marks reached, and disentangled the sheet so that she could tuck another behind his knees. The aches of a long journey had settled in amid his other hurts, and Aragorn was torn between the pained desire to move as little as possible and the urge to be up and stretching his limbs. The lady, Lethril if he recalled correctly, poured cool water into the flagon and held it for him while he drank. He did so eagerly but with restraint, and careful though he was his stomach still roiled a little. His head was pounding as if he had taken too much cheap ale, and his neck throbbed fiercely from lying so long twisted to one side.

Beyond the foot of the bed was a small grate in which the charcoal embers glowed. It was vented into an unseen airshaft that likely serviced many small caves before reaching the surface, and it gave warmth without smoke. The Elf-maiden lit a taper from the fire and set it to a torch in a bracket by the door. After a minute's fanning the flame flared and the room was bright. The healer drew near, studying the Ranger's face.

'Now that you are awake you ought to be examined properly,' she said. 'I can fetch Helegond if you wish. I am as skilled as he, but I understand that among the Secondborn there are certain customs regarding the duties of men and women.'

The instinct to shake his head brought bright pain and fresh giddiness, and Aragorn aborted the motion at once. 'I am comfortable with the customs of the Eldar,' he said. 'I shall be glad of your care, lady.'

So over the course of the next hour she examined him, checking each limb for hidden hurts and sounding his ribs. She looked into his mouth and ears, and felt his skull with her fingers. She measured his pulse and she bent to listen to his heart. With the corner of a damp cloth she cleaned the lesser abrasions on his face and neck and body, and she studied the weeping sores on his hands and feet with care. 'Frostbite?' she asked, pausing over a place where a blister had burst.

'A little,' said Aragorn. 'I was tended for it in the house of Grimbeorn near Anduin's bank. If my pack is at hand I have a salve within it to soothe the skin. It has served me well thus far.'

Rising from her chair the lady went to the washstand in the corner. She brought back Eira's little jar, still whole in spite of its hard road. She removed the waxed cover and sniffed at it. 'It seems pleasant enough,' she said. 'I had always thought the medicines of Man to be foul and harsh. Among the folk of Dale bloodletting is still practiced as something of a panacea.'

'I assure you that your westerly neighbours are gentler,' said Aragorn. Despite his weariness and the omnipresent pain he found a spark of amusement as he spoke. 'The lady who made that dealt most tenderly with me, with neither leech nor fleam to be seen.'

'I am relieved to hear it,' said Lethril. 'From your pallor you have lost blood enough without being unduly deprived of it.'

There was little to be said to this. From his thirst, already returning again, and from the lightness in his head Aragorn knew that he had indeed lost more than was wise. The thought was not a happy one, for it would hobble his recovery and slow the gathering of his strength. He put aside that worry. It was enough that he was safe and that Gollum was secure. There was no need to think beyond that now.

'My prisoner,' he said, watching as the lady spread Eira's unguent over his riven fingers. 'Do you know how he fares? He too was injured.'

A furrow of a frown appeared between Lethril's arcing brows. 'He is your prisoner no longer, and you should not fret for him. The captain and his guards will see that he is tended; he will be given food and water, simple but plentiful; and they will not be negligent in their watch.'

Astonishment at hearing his litany of concerns from her lips raised Aragorn's head against the discomfort in his neck. At his expression the lady smiled sadly, eyes warm with pity. 'You cried out in your sleep,' she said. 'Time and again we soothed you: worry over the creature seems to consume your spirit. Is he dear to you, that you should worry so for him?'

A harsh barking noise broke from Aragorn's fissured lips. 'Dear to me? Nay lady, never have I travelled with any thing less dear to me. But he is dangerous and I have brought him too far to see him perish for hunger or lack of care. I would sooner see to his hurts myself, but in my present state I fear I cannot.'

'Do not regret that you are exempt from that duty,' Lethril said. 'I certainly do not. Helegond says that he is foul and he stinks, and he will not suffer himself to be touched. In the end they left him with water and towels to clean his own wounds. You can judge better than I whether he would do so.'

'I think that he would,' said Aragorn. 'He is no fool, and he clings to life with a spiteful will scarcely to be imagined. It was he who gave me those marks.' He gestured with one stiff finger at the glossy scars upon his right forearm.

'Ah,' said the healer. 'I wondered. There is still a pocket of infection beneath the skin. It ought to be drained, if you can bear it.'

Aragorn sighed. 'I have drained it many times myself. The wretch was foul with the muck of Daglorad when he bit me; I dare not wonder what poisons he carried on his teeth. It pains me little now, unless sudden pressure is thrust upon it. Perhaps cleaned and tended daily it can heal at last.'

Lethril worked swiftly and with skill, piercing through the scar tissue and drawing out pus and stagnant blood. She bathed the site and cleaned it with a dram of potent liquor before wrapping it with care. She next checked the dressings on his left arm and, finding them to be satisfactory, turned her attention on the damage done by the lynx. These last ministrations were the most painful, but in the end the bandages were changed for fresh ones and Aragorn was rewarded for his fortitude by another helping of water and a dose of the draught against pain. By then his head was heavy with fatigue and his weary mind cried out for sleep. With the maiden's help he settled again, turning his face this time to the wall in the hope that he might balance the strain upon his neck. With the soft Elven mattress beneath his sore ribs, and the soft Elven linen drawn up to cover him, he slept long and deep.