The Healer's Journey


Tree and Flower Awards, Aragorn, Third Place
Tree and Flower Awards Nominee


lindajourney.jpg picture by lindahoyland

The Healer’s Journey


 “The Lord of the Rings”, its characters and settings are J.R.R. Tolkien’s marvellous idea. No offence is intended nor will money be made.

With grateful thanks to Raksha and Virtuella.

 

Prologue

“Naneth has a headache and needs to rest,” Gilraen told her small son who stared at her wide-eyed. She buried her aching head in the pillow as his nurse led him away.

“Estel make naneth better.”

Gilraen woke from an uneasy slumber to find her child pressing a handkerchief filled with crushed leaves against her forehead. She recognised a familiar scent.

“Did Master Elrond tell you to choose these leaves?”

“No, they called to Estel.”

Even as her pain started to ease, a thrill coursed through Gilraen. The child recognized athelas. He would be a great healer, and maybe more.

 

Part one - Estel

Estel hurried to the healing rooms with the sprigs of fresh athelas that Master Elrond had bidden him to gather that morning. The boy could see that something was wrong, as a general atmosphere of bustle had replaced the usual prevailing calm of Imladris. Elves hurried hither and thither tending wounded Men and Elves.

“What has happened?” Estel asked.

“There has been a battle; Orcs attacked one of the Edain villages,” said Erestor. “This is no place for you, child. You should return to your chambers and bear your mother company.”

“Master Elrond wanted these herbs.”

“Well, take them to him and then go. He is in the herb room.” Erestor hurried off before Estel could question him further.

The boy was in no hurry to obey. He looked around him, at first anxiously, in case any of his friends were amongst the injured Elves. He then studied the wounded men curiously. He knew little of his lineage, but he did know these were his mother’s kin; tall, dignified and courageous fellows who were making light of their wounds and comforting each other while their gashes were stitched and bandaged.

Elrond had several chambers in this wing of the Last Homely House; a room in which he mixed herbs, a book lined study, and a room where he tended the most seriously sick and wounded. Estel loved learning herb lore in this chamber and watching Master Elrond mix healing brews. It was here that the boy found him; together with a curly haired man who looked close to death, his face as ashen as the bandages that swathed his body. Elrond held the wounded man’s hand with one of his own hands while the other he had placed on the sick man’s brow. On a table beside the bed the scent of athelas rose from a bowl of steaming water. Elrond’s usually peaceful countenance looked drawn and his complexion was tinged grey.

“Master Elrond, are you well?” Estel enquired anxiously.

Elrond gave no indication of having heard him.

Estel instinctively placed his hands over those of his foster father, hardly knowing why he did so. To his alarm the room spun around him and he felt as if he were being pulled along a long dark tunnel. Stones were under his feet and the air was close and stuffy. He had no idea where he was. Never before in his young life had he been so afraid.

The tunnel ended abruptly and Estel found himself on a precipice together with his foster father and the injured man, though now no wound was visible upon him. The wounded man was clothed in a grey cloak secured by a brooch shaped like a star. He was hanging from the cliff edge by his fingertips. Master Elrond frantically grabbed his hands, but he appeared to be sliding towards the edge together with the curly haired stranger. Estel lunged to save his foster father. Then everything went black.

Estel gradually became aware of familiar voices and realised he was lying on his own bed. The scent of athelas pervaded the room. He felt very tired and neither stirred nor opened his eyes.

“It is a remarkable gift in one so young,” said Master Elrond. “I always suspected he was a born healer, but this kind of power I have not seen for many generations.”

“What he did today could have killed him!” Estel had never heard his mother sound so angry before.

“You told me yourself that he could use athelas to ease pain from a very young age,” said Elrond.

“It is a very different matter from utilising herbs to allow his soul to wander,” Gilraen retorted.

“Lúthien’s gift is strong in him. He might well grow to have the healing power of the king.”

“He is but a child! Our days of glory are long gone.”

“A child he might well be, but he helped me save Gilmir’s life today. I was losing him when Estel aided me.”

“You should never have allowed it!” Gilraen snapped. “There are trained healers aplenty here in Imladris.”

“I did not permit it, your son simply acted. He needs training how to use his gift, but the ability is natural to him.”

“I don’t want to do it again.” Estel opened his eyes and regarded his mother and Master Elrond. “It scared me. Where was I?”

“You connected with Gilmir’s wandering spirit in a healing trance. He was very close to death and you helped me save his life,” Elrond explained gravely. “It was a great deed, Estel, but a dangerous one. You have a good deal of studying to do before you can attempt it again.”

”I should like to be a healer,” said Estel. “But the healing trance frightened me.”

“We will speak no more of it now,” said Elrond, as much in response to a glare from Gilraen as to the boy’s words. “How do you feel, child? You gave us cause to fear just then.”

Estel tried to sit up. “ My head is spinning!” he cried.

“My son!” Gilraen exclaimed anxiously. She enfolded the boy in her arms.

“It will soon pass now he is awake,” said Elrond. “It is best that he remains in bed for the rest of the day.”

“But I have sword practise with Glorfindel!” Estel protested.

“There is always another day,” said Elrond. “I will see you in the healing rooms tomorrow to begin your studies.”

“What did Master Elrond mean about Lady Lúthien and kings?” Estel asked once he was alone with his mother.

Gilraen hesitated as she often did when her son asked her questions. ”They are old stories from another age of the world, child,” she said after a few moments’ thought. “Lady Lúthien was Master Elrond’s foremother and our people are distantly akin to him.”

“And what of kings?” the boy insisted.

“Our people had kings long ago,” said Gilraen. “Then as time passed, they dwindled and were led by a chieftain, but now even that office has fallen into abeyance. One of my forefathers many centuries ago was Aranarth; son of the last King, so I think that Master Elrond believes you could have inherited your healing gifts from him. Folk always told me when I was a girl that I had the ability to ease headaches using athelas.”

“So we have royal blood, mother?” Estel’s eyes grew bright.

“It is only counted from father to son here in Arnor,” said Gilraen.

“They had Queens in Númenor,” said Estel. “Master Elrond has made me learn all the history.”

“That was another age of the world too,” said Gilraen. “Since then the world has become too violent for any save a warrior to rule. Now enough of ancient tales, would you like something to eat?”

“Could I have some cake?” Estel asked.

“I think broth would be better,” said Gilraen. “You have had quite a shock.”

“Master Elrond told me sweet things were good for you after a shock,” said Estel.

Gilraen laughed and despatched a servant in search of cake.

 

The next day Estel’s training as a healer began in earnest. The boy learnt how to distinguish between different herbs and their uses, how the parts of the body worked and were connected together, how to bind up wounds, diagnose fevers, and the skills of Elven healing touches, which soothed and stimulated the body to heal itself. He studied how to hold his hands over a hurt and direct healing energies into it, how to mend broken bones, and as a very last resort, how to amputate a diseased limb. He learnt too how to enter a healing trance and seek out a wandering soul, but this was the one skill he never practised. 

Estel part Two – Baptism of Fire

 

Rivendell was almost deserted. Master Elrond and most of the Elves had gone into the surrounding countryside to mark the coming of spring with an Elven ritual.

Estel was enjoying practising archery in the gardens away from the critical eyes of his Elven tutors. Only his mother was nearby, her spindle was in her hand, but instead of spinning, she was watching her son with a mixture of pride and apprehension as he repeatedly hit the target. Her little boy was growing up into a warrior all too quickly.

The peace of the spring afternoon was suddenly shattered when a dark haired man, obviously a Ranger by his dress and appearance, came running towards them.

"Our village has been raided by Orcs! Many are wounded," he cried. "We have come to seek help from Master Elrond. I am Halthorn, son of Halborn."

"Master Elrond is away for the afternoon," said Estel. He hesitated only for a moment. These men were his mother's folk and always welcomed within Elrond's halls. "But bring your wounded here and await his homecoming."

The man turned and called. A bedraggled group emerged from the trees. Women clutched babies and wept. Many of the men were covered in blood and some were being carried by their fellows.

"Are the sons of Elrond here or Glorfindel or Erestor here?" Halthorn asked urgently. "Our wounded cannot wait! The foul Orcs slew our healer."

"I am sorry, they have all gone to celebrate the coming of spring," said Estel. "But bring your wounded within. I will do what I can."

"You are but a boy!" Halthorn said. "How can you aid them?"

"I am fifteen and Master Elrond is teaching me the healing arts," said Estel. "There is no other here save my mother and I and few guards and servants."

"It seems we have no other choice then," said Halthorn. "They will surely die if no one tends them."

Estel paled, but tried not to show his apprehension. "Mother," he said, "Will you see that the women and children are cared for? We will take the wounded the Master Elrond's healing chambers."

"Gladly, my son. Please come with me." Gilraen drew her veil about her face and beckoned the women and children to follow her to the guest hall, while Estel led the way to the healing rooms. By now the guards and servants had appeared. He swiftly told the guards about the Orc attack and asked the servants to bring hot water.

At first Estel felt quite overwhelmed and wished that he were elsewhere. Long had he desired to but into practise the healing arts that he had been taught, but not like this away from Master Elrond's skilful supervision! He took a deep breath and tried hard to recall all that Elrond had taught him. The first thing you must do is staunch bleeding when you are dealing with the wounded. Do not waste time dealing with someone you cannot save while there are those that you can in need of your help. He could hear Master Elrond's words in his head as clearly as if his teacher stood beside him.

The Rangers had placed six wounded men upon the beds. Two were sitting up and did not appear too badly hurt. Two others were groaning loudly, but did not seem to be bleeding very much. That only left two. One was deathly pale and had a deep wound across his chest and was coughing up blood and froth, the other was bleeding copiously from a wound in his leg.

Estel hurried towards the man with the injured leg, grabbed a cloth and pressed it down firmly against the wound.

"What about my brother?" cried one of those sitting up. "He is dying!"

"I am sorry!" Estel swallowed hard."I fear his wound is beyond my aid." He felt sick, but he continued to apply pressure to the bleeding leg until the flow stopped. "Hold that in place!" he ordered a hovering servant. He went to where Master Elrond kept his medicines and mixed potions of poppy juice for the wounded. He gave the largest amount to the dying man, hoping he could at least ease his pain. Then he cleaned and stitched the other men's wounds as gently as he could.

"Estel, what has happened here?" Master Elrond's voice started him, as he was engrossed in tying a bandage.

"These men were wounded by Orcs. I tried to help, but I am not sure if I acted rightly."

"I will take over now."

Estel sank down thankfully on a chair in the corner while Elrond attended the patients. He found he was shaking.

A while later, Elrond came over to him and placed a comforting hand upon the boy's shoulder. "Estel, I am so proud of you, " he said. "You have saved a life today and treated each man's wounds skilfully."

"There was one I could not save," Estel's eyes wandered to the now motionless form shrouded with a linen sheet.

"I could not have saved him either. The Orc blade sliced deep into his lung. There are some wounds no healer can treat. You treated the wounds that can be healed. It seems you have heeded my teachings well. I will make a fine healer of you yet! Now go and rest then eat when you can."

Estel left the healing chambers, his young face glowing with pride.

Elrond thoughtfully watched him depart. It seemed that his foresight concerning the boy was already coming to pass. He believed that Estel would be a great healer and a great leader one day A high destiny could await his foster son.

 

Part Two - Aragorn

Aragorn urged his horse forward inwardly begging the Valar that he would not arrive too late. Word had reached him when he was out patrolling early that morning that Halbarad had been severely wounded three days previously. His kinsman now lay unconscious and very close to death.

His mind was filled with thoughts of his cousin. In the four years since they had known each other they had grown to be close friends who loved each other as dearly as brothers. When they had first met, such a bond had seemed unlikely, as neither knew quite what to make of the other. Halbarad had considered Aragorn to be an over pampered youth, out of place amongst the Dúnedain, while Aragorn had regarded Halbarad as uncouth and lacking in social graces.

Initial suspicion and dislike had been overcome after Halbarad's greater experience had saved Aragorn's life during a skirmish with a band of Orcs. Halbarad had been won over by Aragorn's genuine gratitude and eagerness to learn the ways of his people. Halbarad was only five years older than Aragorn and the two found they had much in common despite their very different upbringings. They both had a love of lore and of music, of horses and of the countryside. Both cared deeply about their people and fiercely desired to protect the helpless, fight Sauron's evil and restore the lost glory of the Dúnedain.

Aragorn thought of the last time he had seen his kinsman. They had been on a successful hunt for game to feed the women and children of their village. On the way back they had camped under a clear starlit sky, roasted a rabbit and told each other tales of old Númenor late into the night. They had then gone their separate ways as each were in different patrols, but had hoped to be reunited for the Mettarë feast. Now it seemed that that parting might be the last time they were destined to see each other within Arda's bounds. Until these past few years, Aragorn had been denied the companionship of a friend or brother close to him in age, and now it seemed that the gift of Halbarad's friendship would be cruelly snatched from him.

Aragorn slowed the horse to a trot as the village came in sight. The sentry recognised the Chieftain and waved him through the gate in the stockade.

At the sound of hoof beats a women came running out of one of the huts. "Aragorn, praise the Valar, you are here!" she cried.

Aragorn swung from the saddle. A boy took the horse's reins and led it to a stable in the village.

"Aunt Inzilbêth! How is Halbarad?" Aragorn asked anxiously. He embraced his mother's older sister as he spoke.

"Alas, he grows weaker by the hour. I have used all my healing arts upon him, but in vain."

Aragorn's expression grew even graver. His aunt was the village healer, and a skilled one at that. If she feared the worse for her son, his condition was grave indeed. Aragorn followed her into the hut and through to the bedchamber where Halbarad lay.

"He took an Orc blade across his ribs three days ago," said Inzilbêth. "One of his companions staunched the gash and brought him home where I cleaned and dressed the wound. He was conscious then, but developed a fever within a few hours and has not opened his eyes since. You need hot water?" She lifted the kettle onto the hob before Aragorn had a chance to ask her for any.

"Halbarad?" Aragorn called. His cousin lay motionless on the bed, his face as pale as the pillows he was propped against to ease his laboured breathing. Halbarad made no reply. Aragorn pulled off his gloves and laid a gentle hand on his cousin's forehead. It was dripping with sweat.

Inzilbêth briskly placed bandages, a towel and a bowl of water on the table by the bedside. Aragorn washed and dried his hands, then pulled aside the blankets that covered his cousin. Halbarad's ribs were swathed in bandages.

"When did you change these, aunt?" Aragorn enquired.

"This morning."

Aragorn looked grave. "They are unstained. The wound should be draining by now." He started to unwrap the bandages. Inzilbêth helped him lift her unconscious son.

Aragorn swallowed hard when the deep and ugly gash was revealed. He had seen many such wounds and treated far worse, but never before on someone who was so dear to him. He had found it difficult enough to stitch a cut on Elrohir's arm after a battle they had both fought in, and that was but a minor wound that his foster brother had made light of.

Forcing himself to concentrate on the task at hand, Aragorn carefully examined Halbarad. Master Elrond had taught him both how to feel an injury and also sense damage to the life force that surrounded all living beings. He could feel at least two broken ribs, but as Halbarad still lived, it was unlikely that they had pierced his lungs or any other vital organ. The wound was scarlet and hot to the touch. "I need to try and drain the infection," said Aragorn. He took a very sharp knife from his healing supplies and placed the blade in the fire to cleanse it. "Erm, could you fetch me more towels," he asked his aunt, once the blade was ready.

"You will need me to hold him down," she said stoically, only her eyes revealing the pain she felt. "I have had to drain his wounds myself in the past. You are still very young, Aragorn. You have to learn not to let your feelings interfere with what is to be done."

Aragorn nodded mutely. He braced himself, trying to pretend that it was not his cousin that he needed to use the knife on. He managed to expertly lance the wound. It was a futile exercise as very little infected matter issued forth. Halbarad did not stir.

"We could try bathing him in the hope of abating his fever," he suggested.

"I have been doing that ever since he was brought home, boy, " Inzilbêth said a trifle sharply. "If that was all that was needed, I would not have sent for you!"

"Have you added athelas to the water?"

"I do not have any."

"We will try that then. Could you heat more water, please, aunt?" Aragorn rummaged in his pack and took out two leaves of the herb. "I need a bowl of steaming water."

"I will change the linens too," Inzilbêth said. "Fresh sheets should be cooler and more comfortable for him."

"I doubt he is aware of his discomfort," said Aragorn. "Let us try the athelas first."

As soon as she had brought what he has asked for, Aragorn breathed on the leaves and crumbled them into the water. At once a living freshness filled the room, which invigorated Inzilbêth and her nephew. On Halbarad it had no effect whatsoever. They began bathing him with the mixture.

"Usually he cannot abide anyone tending him," Inzilbêth said sadly.

"Nothing would make me happier than if he sat up and berated us both soundly!" said Aragorn.

They finished their ministrations and Aragorn felt Halbarad's forehead again. It was no cooler. They could only sit by the bedside and wait.

Slowly Halbarad's breathing became more laboured. When Aragorn felt his pulse it was weaker, but still the fever burned. His skin only slowly sagged back into position when Aragorn pinched his arm. Aragorn and Inzilbêth regarded one another with mutual anguish. "He is dying," she said bleakly. "My son is dying and there is nothing we can do to save him!" She sank down on to a chair and buried her face in her hands. "I suppose I knew it," she said, her voice sounding unsteady. "But when you came, I thought - I hoped… Master Elrond might have tutored you, but you are still but a boy. I was a fool to send for you!"

"There is still something I have not yet tried," Aragorn said slowly. "I could attempt to enter a healing trance to seek his wandering spirit. It is but a slender hope, though, I do not know if I am able to do so at will. Master Elrond says I have the power, but I was only a child at the time when I fell into a trance accidentally and Elrond was there with me."

"Please try it for the love of my son!" Inzilbêth begged.

"I need fresh hot water and more athelas. If I should swoon, place the bowl under my nose so I can breathe the vapours." Aragorn looked away, trying to conceal the fear he was certain must be apparent in his eyes.

As soon as the hot water was produced, Aragorn again crumbled the leaves into it, this time more slowly. He offered a solemn invocation to Estë, begging the Healing Valar to aid his endeavours. Aragorn then dropped to his knees beside the bed and took Halbarad's limp hand in one of his. The other he placed on his cousin's brow.

Closing his eyes, he concentrated on calming his mind and trying to recall all Master Elrond had taught him about entering a healing trance. To begin with, Aragorn feared he would be unable to reach inside his kinsman's mind as his own brain refused to quiet. His thoughts were brimming with half forgotten memories of everything he had been told or experienced about healing trances. He was afraid too, remembering the last time and the terrifying precipice he had almost fallen from. Would doing this kill him? Master Elrond had constantly warned of the dangers that Elven healing might pose for a Man. And even if he succeeded in joining with Halbarad's spirit, would he be able to bring him home? Did he know the way himself?

Aragorn heard a muffled sob and looked up to see that Inzilbêth's stoic demeanour had finally crumbled. His aunt was weeping for her dying son. Her life, like that of all her people, was bleak and harsh, and would grow much bleaker if she lost Halbarad. How bleak Aragorn's life would be too without Halbarad's loyal and cheerful companionship! Better that he should die trying to save his kinsman and friend rather than abandon him to his fate. Aragorn took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of the athelas and tried again to free his mind from all distractions.

He found himself in a dense forest unlike any he had been in before; the trees were unfamiliar menacing shapes while thick briars and thorns covered the forest floor. The air felt heavy and oppressive causing him to struggle for breath. Aragorn looked frantically around him trying to find Halbarad. Then he spotted his cousin a little way ahead making his way along a path, which seemed to lead to a gap amongst the trees as a bright light shone through them. Maybe that was the way out of this place?

Then Aragorn recalled that Master Elrond had told him. "The brightness leads beyond the circles of the world, my son. Do not venture there until your time is come to seek your home beyond Arda that Eru has gifted to his younger children. You may yearn for the light when sorely wounded, but there is only one right time to enter it".

Aragorn knew that he must try to make Halbarad take a different path. Frantically he called his name.

Halbarad turned and looked at him. "How did you come to be in this place?" he asked.

"I have come to take you home," Aragorn replied. "Your mother is anxious about you and I promised her I would find you."

"I have found the way out," said Halbarad. "See, there is light over there."

"No, that is not the way," said Aragorn. "We must retrace our steps and go back the way we came."

"I have forgotten the path," said Halbarad.

For the first time since Aragorn had met him, his kinsman sounded afraid. "We will find it together," said Aragorn.

"No!" Halbarad protested. "The light yonder is fair indeed. I am too weary to go back."

"I, your Chieftain, command you to follow me!" Aragorn said sternly. He grabbed hold of Halbarad's arm and started to pull him along in the opposite direction to the bright light.

"Let me be, I am weary!" Halbarad protested.

"If need be, I will carry you!" said Aragorn. "We must leave this place." He half dragged, half carried his kinsman along the overgrown path. His arms ached, his legs felt heavy and he could hardly breathe. He stumbled along almost blindly with his burden until he saw a chink of faint light through the trees. He glanced upwards and to his amazement saw it was the Star of Eärendil.

"We must follow the star," he told Halbarad. Then everything went black.

"Aragorn, wake up!"

Aragorn groggily opened his eyes to see the concerned face of his aunt bending over him. Tears streamed down her face. She was holding a steaming bowl in front of his face. He breathed deeply, inhaling the refreshing scent of athelas. "Halbarad?" he murmured.

"He is awake. The fever has broken."

His strength rapidly returning, Aragorn sat up, albeit with a helping hand from his aunt.

Halbarad raised his head from his pillows and looked at him. His eyes were full of the love he bore his kinsman and also a mixture of wonder and fear. "My lord!" he whispered. "How did you find me?"

Aragorn looked at him in bewilderment. Why did Halbarad look at him so strangely?

"You appeared to me, tall and mighty as Elendil himself, the Star of the North upon your brow and the light of the stars shone around you," said Halbarad in an awe struck tone.

"You were feverish and must have been dreaming," said Aragorn, getting to his feet. "Drink, you are in sore need of water." He picked up a full glass that Inzilbêth had placed on the bedside table and offered it to his cousin. Halbarad drank deeply.

Aragorn smiled, his whole face lighting up with joy at his cousin's improvement. When Halbarad had drunk his fill, he placed his hand on his cousin's brow. The fever had gone. When he pulled the covers aside to examine Halbarad's wound, he found it was oozing foul matter, the poisons rapidly being expelled.

Inzilbêth brought more hot water and bandages and cleansed and dressed the gash across her son's ribs and washed the dried sweat from his body.

"I am not an infant!" Halbarad complained. "Mother!"

"You are as weak and helpless as when I brought you into the world!" Inzilbêth retorted. Her twinkling eyes belied her tone, though.

Meanwhile Aragorn mixed a herbal tea for Halbarad to drink to promote healing and help restore his strength.

"How do you feel now, cousin?" Aragorn enquired.

"Very tired and my chest hurts," said Halbarad.

"I fear that is not surprising as those foul Orcs broke your ribs," Inzilbêth replied.

Aragorn held his hand a few inches above the wound and Halbarad cried out, "The heat in your hands! I thought only Master Elrond had such power!" He then sighed and fell into a deep natural sleep.

"He will recover now," Aragorn told Inzilbêth with a new found confidence. It seemed that he had greater healing powers than he could ever have imagined. And what did Halbarad's vision portend? Was it foresight or simply fever dreams?

"You have a true healer's gift, nephew," said his aunt. "I foresee the years to come will bring you greater powers still."

Part Three - Elessar

Aragorn sat alone in his tent, having dismissed the well intentioned offers of his friends and foster brothers to help him divest himself of his armour and remain with him. He buried his head in his hands. He wanted to weep, but dared not, fearing that if he permitted himself to do so, the tears would never stop flowing.

Halbarad was dead. Never again would he ride beside the kinsman he had loved dearly as a brother, never again would they lie side by side beneath the stars when out on patrol, discussing their hopes and dreams for their people while Eärendil journeyed across the night sky. It was his dream of being king that had killed his cousin. Bearing Aragorn's royal standard aloft, Halbarad had presented all too easy a target for the Southron who had cut him down.

They had won one battle, but the throne seemed further away than ever, and with it the prospect of Arwen's hand in marriage. What dreams he had shared with Halbarad! Aragorn had often told his cousin how he planned to rule with both justice and mercy. With Arwen as his wife and Halbarad as his chief advisor they would make both Arnor and Gondor great once more. Not only would he be a king, but a healer too, using all the Elven arts that Master Elrond had taught him, together with all he had learned on his travels to succour his people's ills.

Aragorn laughed bitterly. Was he even a worthy healer, never mind a worthy would be king? He had been powerless to heal Frodo, and had barely been able to keep him alive until Master Elrond could remove the shard of the Enemy's weapon that had wounded him. What use had his healing arts been to Halbarad today? He fingered the green gem that he wore on his breast. How his heart had soared when Lady Galadriel had given it to him as a bride gift. It was said that the hands of the one who rightfully held it could bring healing from all hurt. Little good had it done Halbarad when he received the Southron's mortal blow! Maybe it was better to concentrate on being a warrior? Andúril could be better trusted to deal death to his foes than his healing abilities to give life to those he loved.

Halbarad had believed in him and encouraged him to believe that one day he would wear the crown of both Gondor and Arnor and win Arwen's hand in marriage. Halbarad had faith that Aragorn would restore the lost glory of their people. Those dreams now seemed to be turning to dust and ashes.

"Aragorn!" Gandalf's voice roused him from his reverie.

"I am sore weary, old friend, and would be alone," Aragorn replied.

The Wizard ignored his request and entered the tent. "I know you are weary and heart sore," said Gandalf. "I would leave you to your rest, save that the lives of two dear to me are ebbing away even as we speak."

"Gondor has many fine healers, unless matters have changed greatly for the worse since I was last here," said Aragorn. "Why do you come to me?"

Gandalf regarded his friend gravely. "Only the healing hands of the rightful King can cure the Black Breath," he replied. "Faramir, son of Denethor, Meriadoc the Hobbit and Lady Éowyn, as well as many others lie stricken with this foul malady. Their only hope of life lies with you, Aragorn."

Aragorn laughed mirthlessly. "The rightful heir I might well be, but I am far from being king! Should I even attempt to enter the City, Denethor would send me packing unless I resisted him by force of arms!"

"Denethor is dead. He chose to take his own life by fire and attempted to take Faramir with him," Gandalf said grimly. "There is none left to oppose your entry into Minas Tirith."

Aragorn received the tidings in stunned silence. "I had little love for Denethor," he said at last, "But never would I have expected this of him. He was a skilled warrior and a master of lore."

"The Enemy destroyed his mind," said Gandalf. "But there is no time for speech. I beg of you to come, or Faramir will most surely die, albeit of the Black Breath rather than by his father's hand. Faramir is one of the finest men who dwells upon Arda in this present age.  Gondor has need of such men, as do you. And would you let Meriadoc perish, or the unhappy Lady Éowyn?"

"I will come, but only because you beg me too, old friend," said Aragorn. "I will try to help the sick, but I know not if sufficient power over the Black Breath lies within my hands."

000

Within the hour Aragorn had swiftly examined Faramir, Lady Éowyn and Merry. He ascertained that they were indeed suffering from the Black Breath. His heart desired to first aid Merry, but although the Hobbit was grievously ill, he was not yet close to death, unlike the Steward's son, Faramir. There was something strange about the case, as the young man burned with fever, which was most unusual for sufferers from the Black Breath, who usually were cold and silent. Neither did the fever come from Faramir's wound, which showed no sign of infection or poison. It had been inflicted by a Southron arrow and was the type of injury that Aragorn had treated many times. Shoulder injuries were rarely mortal, but could cause lifelong pain if not treated properly. At present, that mattered not at all, though, for Faramir's life force was almost spent. His pulse was weak and rapid and his breaths were becoming less frequent with every moment that passed. To make matters worse there was no athelas to be had anywhere. Aragorn wondered just how low the healing lore of Gondor had fallen if they did not keep athelas in store. It was as essential a healing herb as dandelion, comfrey, or foxglove.

He studied the sick man's face. How like Denethor he was, as he remembered him from his time here long ago! When he had examined the young man he had half expected to hear Denethor's proud voice protesting at his presence and see the dark eyes smoulder with fury that Thorongil had returned, but Faramir made neither sound nor movement and was oblivious of his presence.

Aragorn realised that Faramir's spirit was wandering and he would have to enter a healing trance to try to bring him back. Over the years he had used this skill of his forefathers many times, but never without athelas. He thought wistfully of the first time he had deliberately attempted a healing trace and wished he were back with Halbarad in that dark and quiet room in his Aunt Inzilbeth's cottage.

In the Houses of Healing the oil lamps burned brightly and Faramir's chamber was crowded with eager watchers. Some like Gandalf trusted his abilities, while others either expected him to perform some sort of magic or to fail dismally. If truth be told, he had little confidence in his own abilities at this moment. Éomer alone, despite his fears for his sister, seemed to understand just how weary and heart sore he was. A severe case of the Black Breath needed a healer with the skills of Master Elrond, the eldest of their race. Master Elrond had taught his pupil how to treat the Black Breath, but Aragorn had limited experience of it, as it was mercifully far from a common malady.

Aragorn took a deep breath, trying to ignore the weariness that threatened to overwhelm him even before he had begun. He knelt beside Faramir and took the dying man's limp hand his own and placed his other hand on Faramir's brow and prepared to enter a healing trance. "Faramir!" he called, "Faramir!"

The room started to spin and a thick mist swirled before Aragorn's eyes. When it cleared he was no longer in the crowded sickroom in the Houses of Healing, but in a hideous dark vale, more fearsome than any place he had travelled to before, either in the real world or the spirit realm. The air was foul and hot. An eerie black sun gave off a sickly glow. No stars shone in this place. He seemed to be in some sort of thorny labyrinth, strewn with the bodies of the slain. Foul monsters hovered, seeking to pounce on anything that appeared to move. It took all of Aragorn's considerable courage not to leave this land of nightmares while he yet could and abandon Denethor's son to his fate. Instead he drew Andúril and cut down the creatures that assailed him, all the while calling Faramir's name. There was no sign of any living man in this dreadful place.

Aragorn clutched at the green gem secured to his cloak, trying to call upon the power that he had been told the stone held. Then the mists swirled again and cleared and he could see a man a little way ahead of him, stumbling painfully through the thorns towards a bright light that had appeared. Quickening his pace, he caught up with him and grasped his hand. "Faramir!" he cried. "I have been seeking you."

Faramir started as if fearful some fiend had caught up with him. He then turned and looked at Aragorn and appeared reassured.

"Come with me," Aragorn said. The path beneath his feet suddenly became steeper.

"I should like to, lord," said Faramir. "I fear I am sore weary, though, and I do not know the way. Boromir is waiting for me yonder."

"I will lead you safely home if you will come with me," said Aragorn. "Lean on me, I will not let you fall or lose your footing."

"Why do you trouble yourself over me, lord?" asked Faramir. "Who are you that shines like a star in this foul place? Are you one of the Valar?"

Aragorn could not help but laugh. "I am no Valar, but Aragorn, son of Arathorn," he said.

Faramir looked at Aragorn again and exclaimed. "I know you, lord! Long have I dreamed of your coming that the White Tree might blossom anew! Now I can die content."

"You shall not die," said Aragorn, wondering as he spoke how he could keep that promise. The path grew steeper by the moment and with his free hand, he was forced to defend them both against more and more shadowy fiends. He grew ever more weary and his strength ebbed from him. He needed athelas if they were to leave this place alive. Why was it taking so long to find it?

Then a boy's voice called "It is kingsfoil, Sir!"

Recalled to the waking world, Aragorn stood up and took two leaves in his hands and crushed them into a bowl of steaming water one of the healers had ready. At once the scent filled the stuffy chamber. Refreshed, Aragorn smiled as he held the bowl in front of Faramir's face. Almost at once Faramir's eyes flickered open and he gazed at Aragorn, his eyes full of love and awe.

"My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?" Faramir asked.

Renewed strength and resolve filled Aragorn. He had succeeded in his hardest task yet as a healer! He had successfully bent his will to heal after a day of killing. Faramir had hailed him as both healer and king. Maybe it was indeed his destiny to be both? Today he had dealt death to many and watched many die, including Halbarad. How much more satisfying it felt to be able to save lives, rather than see good men die! How blessed he was that the power of healing ran in his bloodline just as surely as skill on the battlefield. He was the rightful bearer not only of Andúril, but also of the Elessar. And how fortunate he was that he had been taught his skills by the greatest healer of the Age.

He smiled encouragingly at Faramir and love sprang between them. "Walk no more in the shadows, but awake!" he told him. "You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when I return."

Aragorn took his leave of Faramir and went to heal lady Éowyn and Merry. Then as word spread around the City of Faramir's miraculous recovery others begged him to heal them and the word soon spread, 'The King is come again indeed."

Aragorn's journey as healer was complete. His journey as king was just beginning.

 


 


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