The sun slowly remerged from behind the cloud and a sunbeam fell across Aragorn's face, illuminating his countenance with such beauty and majesty that the watchers gasped in awe. Time seemed to stand still.
Suddenly a great eagle flew over their heads and across the meadow .It swooped down upon the ravens, which squawked angrily and then vanished. All at once, the air was alive with birdsong, as every thrush and blackbird seemed to erupt in joyous song.
To their amazement, Aragorn slowly opened his eyes and moaned. Though he seemed unaware of his surroundings; he focussed on Eomer's face.
" The light, where? Eomer? Thirsty, pain." he murmured.
"He lives!" Eomer cried in amazement." The fever has broken!"
Eomer grabbed a cup of water, which Gimli had brought for Sam and held it to Aragorn's lips, cradling his head; he swallowed, sighed, and then fell into a deep sleep.
"My friend!" Eomer murmured," I thought I had lost you!"
The colour was slowly returning to Aragorn's face and he appeared to be in a natural sleep as his breathing was normal although still rather shallow due no doubt to his painful ribs.
Eomer felt his pulse, which was strong and steady while the clamminess had left his skin leaving it warm but not feverish. The wound in his side had burst open and evil looking matter was oozing forth. The surrounding flesh however felt cool when he touched it.
Sam was both laughing and crying together, Gimli grinned from ear to ear and Legolas looked ecstatic.
They cautiously let go of Aragorn's hands. His condition did not change and they gave a collective sigh of relief.
"Quickly, let us replace the bandages. Then in the name of all decency, some fresh blankets!" said Eomer. "I am no healer but I have some experience of wounds such as this from tending my men on the battlefield. We need to boil water and fetch fresh bandages and salves!"
Relieved to find someone who appeared to have more knowledge of treating wounds than he did, Legolas did as he was bidden while Gimli carried Sam back to the other Hobbits.
Eomer gently covered Aragorn with his cloak while he waited and watched the man's sleeping face. He had only known Aragorn a short time but revered him as the saviour of his people, and more than that, a friend and brother in arms.
He gently wiped the dried blood from the gashes and applied salves and bandages with Legolas' assistance and bound the man's injured ribs securely.
The wound on Aragorn's side was the worst but he decided against trying to stitch the hole the arrow had made, thinking it would be better to let it drain, therefore he washed it with salted water and bandaged it carefully.
It appeared that the weapon had chipped a rib and Eomer feared his friend would be in great pain once he awoke.
Aragorn moaned slightly in his sleep but to their great relief did not awaken during the procedure.
"It gladdens my heart that I slew many of the Orcs who inflicted these hurts upon Aragorn." Eomer said grimly. "I only wish I could have killed them before they could get near him!"
There were no clean blankets but the sun had warmed and aired the others. Eomer found a sheet of soft linen, which they covered Aragorn's injured body with first, before replacing the covers.
"He looks exhausted. I expect he will sleep for many hours." Eomer said when he was satisfied he had done all he could." How was it he was so stricken, as these wounds would not kill a man such as he?"
"He pushed himself too far, even for one of Numenorean lineage." Legolas answered." He fought three battles, confronted the dark lord himself and summoned the oath breakers and then gave all his strength to heal the sick though he had had little food or rest."
"Many generations will sing many songs of his great deeds." Eomer said in awe. "Let him lie there and regain his strength now. Do you have kingly garments for him when he awakes?"
Legolas shook his head. "He had no other clothes with him than those he wore in battle."
"I have spare garments "said Eomer". He is taller than I but less broad. Still loose garb will chafe his wounds less."
The afternoon was almost over and the sun was starting to go down. They prepared and ate a meal and then erected a tent around Aragorn loath to disturb his slumber and carried the Hobbits within.
"I shall stay here too until morning." Eomer said, "Then I hope I shall have good tidings to return to Gandalf with."
"Good tidings of Aragorn maybe," said Legolas "But still I fear for the Hobbits."
He looked towards where they lay with Gimli tending them. Sam looked somewhat better but Frodo and Pippin both burned with fever and Pippin cried out constantly in pain.
Eomer offered to change the bandage on Pippin's shoulder and spooned water into his mouth but it seemed to little good.
He left Gimli to give Pippin and Frodo more water and turned his attention to Sam, offering him some of the broth they had prepared.
Sam looked at him aghast.
"You mustn't feed me, sir!" he protested." It wouldn't be right at all!"
"And why not?" said Eomer looking puzzled.
"You're a king," said Sam "And I'm Mister Frodo's gardener!"
"But Gandalf told me that Aragorn had been caring for you." said the King of Rohan.
"Why yes, but he's just one of those rangers, isn't he? He the nicest of the big folk I've ever met but it's not as if he were the King or anything is it?"
Eomer roared with laughter before stifling his mirth in case he woke Aragorn.
"Didn't you know, Sam? " he said between giggles", Aragorn is the King of Gondor and Arnor, the most powerful man in the West while Legolas here is a prince!"
"What?" said Sam dumfounded.
"He is joking." Legolas said hastily, fearful of how Sam would take the news. There would be time enough to tell him when he was recovered, or so he hoped.
"You should be caring for Mister Frodo and Mister Pippin instead of teasing me then." Sam retorted, momentarily forgetting his awe of Eomer.
Grinning, Eomer handed the bowl of broth to Gimli, as he meekly obeyed Sam's instructions. Sam was so open mouthed with astonishment that the Dwarf was able to spoon the broth straight in.
It had grown dark and Sam was asleep almost before Gimli had finished feeding him. They decided that Gimli should rest first while Legolas sat with the Hobbits and Eomer watched over Aragorn. They lit a single lamp and placed it in the centre of the tent.
The Orcs were surrounding him, pulling him from his horse and dragging him roughly through some dark tunnel by his arms. Every movement jolted his injuries but he would not give them the satisfaction of knowing he was in pain.
They brought him to a circular stone chamber and threw him down on the cold hard floor. And then he could see it, the Eye, flaming and angry, filled with rage and malice.
"You dared challenge me, Heir of Isildur and now you will pay dearly for your foolish pride!"
The voice was inside his head though the Orcs heard it too. They approached him and he found himself trying not to cringe like a cornered deer.
Four of the creatures grabbed him and spread-eagled him face upward on the floor as they stripped him of all his garments.
One yanked him upright by his hair while another approached with a cruel whip, the thongs weighted with lead. With it, he beat Aragorn across the back and shoulders while Sauron's laughter rang inside his head enjoying every moment of his pain and humiliation
"Perhaps we should all bow to you your majesty?" mocked the Orc with the whip "You say you're the King but where are your fine garments and golden crown?"
He closed his eyes unable to bear their leering, mocking looks as they subjected him to every cruelty and indignity imaginable
He had heard many stories of what Orcs did to their captives but this surpassed any imaginings.
Why could he not have fallen in battle and at least been spared this humiliation?
After what seemed an eternity, an Orc threw some foul smelling brew across his face and shook him by his bruised and bleeding shoulders.
"Wake up you! We've another nice surprise!"
Two of the creatures dragged him to his feet and see saw another approaching carrying a spear. A fourth held his garments in a bundle. He put out his hand trying to grab them to cover himself but the Orc poured more of the foul brew over his clothes and then threw them at him.
"Get dressed!" he barked." We can't have your majesty catching a cold and spoiling all the fun now!"
He was reaching out for the dripping, foul smelling garments when the Orc with the spear lunged at him and plunged it deep in his side.
This time, he was unable to suppress the scream that welled up inside him.
"Aragorn, my friend!" Eomer's concerned voice roused him from the nightmare.
Confused he opened his eyes and tried to focus. The Orcs had gone but the pain still throbbed throughout his body.
He felt under the blanket and found that he was naked apart from some bandages and when he touched where the pain was worse, the bandage felt wet. Biting his lip, he tried to suppress a moan.
"Where am I?" he asked faintly." What happened?" His eyes flashed in sudden fear. "The Orcs?"
He tried to sit up. Eomer restrained him as gently as he could.
"You were injured in a battle, Aragorn, " the King of Rohan said." The Orcs were overcome and you are safe now in Ithilien".
"Where are my clothes?" Aragorn asked, still struggling to get up." I need to..."
"You were badly injured." Eomer replied, trying to sound soothing." Let me tend to your needs for now. Later I will find you some clean clothes as yours were ruined."
With a gasp of pain, the King of Gondor sank back on the pillows and allowed Eomer to see to his needs. The pain in his side was too great for him even to feel much embarrassment at his predicament.
"You know more of healing than I," said Eomer." If I bring the supplies over here, maybe you could tell me which herbs would ease your pain?"
Before he could move though, Legolas was beside them with the chest containing the remedies the sons of Elrond had provided.
"How are you feeling, Mellon Nin?" he asked Aragorn.
"Sore." the man replied suppressing another groan.
"Do you need me to help tend him?" The Elf asked Eomer.
"Thank you, but I think the Hobbits have need of you." he replied.
Legolas' remark brought the memories of the last few days flooding back to Aragorn. He knew now why he had dreamt of being tortured by Orcs, as that was what Sauron had shown him in the palantir, threatening him daring to challenge him. He had been spared such a fate but Frodo had not been so fortunate. The memories came rushing back
Agitated, he again attempted to sit up, exclaiming." The Hobbits, how are they faring? I must go to them! "
"They all live still and are sleeping, but in your current state you could not help them. " Legolas said firmly. I will return to them and leave you with Eomer"
Eomer looked through the medicines and discovered a supply of poppy juice. "I will give you this to ease your pain," he told Aragorn.
"No!" Aragorn protested." One drop of that will make me sleep for hours and I must get up and tend the Hobbits! Give me some willow bark, that will suffice!"
Eomer marvelled that any man could be so selfless. He mixed a drink with a small quantity of willow bark and while Aragorn was not looking added a drop of poppy juice thinking that more sleep was the very thing he needed at least until the injury in his side was healing.
He brought the cup to Aragorn but he shook his head.
"When I have seen the Hobbits, I will drink it, I must see them while my mind is clear!"
Seeing he was adamant, Eomer first fetched the soundly sleeping Sam over to him.
Aragorn laid a hand on his forehead and seemed satisfied.
Legolas then brought Frodo, while Eomer carefully carried Pippin, taking care not to jolt his injured ribs.
This time Aragorn looked troubled when he felt their brows.
"They both have high fevers!" he exclaimed in dismay. He tried to get up but fell back pale, exhausted, and groaning with pain.
Eomer steadied him and eased him back on the pallet.
"I beg you, have a care for your own health!" he pleaded.
Aragorn lay gasping with pain for a few moments before recovering sufficiently to say to Legolas.
"Bathe them with lukewarm water each hour and give them a pinch of willow bark in a cup of water at the same time."
"I will, I promise, now please rest." the Elf replied.
Eomer retrieved the painkilling potion he had mixed, hoping that it would not be refused this time.
He held the cup to Aragorn's lips and was relieved when the man swallowed it without comment. Legolas had brought water and clean bandages together with the herbs."
I'd better change your bandages now you're awake." Eomer said, starting to pull down the blankets.
Aragorn pushed him away with what little strength he had." No, I can do that as I am a trained healer!" he protested.
Eomer grinned." I do mean to wash my hands first if that is what troubles you." he assured him." And if you're still not happy we could always ride back to Minas Tirith to see if my sister is sufficiently recovered to tend to you as she usually tends our wounded, or failing her, old Ioreth!"
"I can do it myself!" Aragorn insisted. He struggled to prop himself up on his elbows but fell back groaning as another sharp stab of pain jabbed his side.
Eomer waited, thinking it was easier by far to tend an injured horse, true it might try to kick him but you did not have to worry about the animal's pride. He was accustomed to tending the men who served under him but the High King of Gondor and Arnor was a different matter.
Defeated, Aragorn ceased to struggle and resigned himself to Eomer's rough ministrations. Deep down, he knew it would be almost impossible to tie the bandages round himself properly in his current condition, not to mention cleaning the wounds, though he found the whole situation very uncomfortable to endure.
He had been wounded many times, but always either his foster father Elrond or his fellow rangers, who were like a close knit family had tended him, not a virtual stranger however much he liked the man.
"It had better be you as that old woman's tongue would drive my wits from me! Be quick then I can see how the Hobbits fare!" he groaned. He shut his eyes and tried to pretend he was elsewhere as Eomer pulled back the blankets and uncovered him.
Eomer's keen glance revealed that only the bandage round Aragorn's side was stained.
The King of Gondor could not have looked more unhappy, had Eomer suddenly transformed into the Dark Lord himself, as he turned his head away from the other's scrutiny.
Given Aragorn's obvious discomfort Eomer decided just to tend the worst of the wounds now and leave the others until later.
He pulled the covers back up over Aragorn's hips and helped him to a sitting position, propping him with pillows.
It was hard to discern who was the more relieved now that this much was accomplished
"I fear I'm not gentle. Not like you were with my sister." Eomer said as he pulled the bandage away from the oozing wound and started to wash it clean.
Aragorn blanched with the pain and his face was drenched with sweat. He cried out as the cloth touched the wound.
"You took an Orc weapon and it chipped the bone and became infected." Eomer explained, hating the fact he was inflicting more pain on his friend.
His healer's instincts getting the better of him, Aragorn forced himself to look and was reassured that although the wound still oozed, the flesh was clean and did not look inflamed.
Trying not very successfully to be gentle, Eomer applied a herbal salve after he got a nod of approval from his patient.
Aragorn bit his lip as the salve stung the raw skin and brought tears to his eyes. Ashamed of his own weakness he tried to turn his mind to other thoughts.
"It grieves me about your sister, I never meant to hurt her," he told Eomer, looking him straight in the eye. "My heart belongs to another lady and we are pledged to each other and have been for many years. I am sorry if Lady Eowyn misunderstood friendship for something else, as I do love her as a sister, as who could fail to admire a lady of such courage? I hope she one day finds a man worthy of her love."
"You have only my gratitude, not my blame. " Eomer replied as he fastened the bandage securely. You saved her life."
Aragorn yawned. "I feel so sleepy. " he said "Did you…?"
Before he could finish the sentence, he was fast asleep.
Eomer tucked the blankets round him and patted his hand rather awkwardly." Dream of your lady, my friend, he whispered." Would that I could find one as fair!"
Eomer sat watching Aragorn for a while thinking about how much he had come to care for him in the short time that he had known him. Already he loved him as he would a brother or maybe even a father, if he could but remember what it was like to love a father as he only had vague recollections of either parent.
He had lost so many whom he had loved now that both his cousin and uncle were dead too and were it not for Aragorn, his beloved sister would even now be lying in state beside King Theoden.
Such melancholy thoughts made him weary and he suppressed a yawn. Legolas came over to where he was sitting after he had bathed Frodo and Pippin.
"The hobbits seem a little better," he said." How fares Aragorn now?"
"Sleeping but I still fear for him. Look how pale he is!"
"I think he must have used his healing touch on the Hobbits again." Legolas said after a moment's thought. "They grow stronger as he grows weaker. I would not have brought them to him had I known, but I thought he was just feeling their brows to test for fever."
"It is hard to resist his will when he is determined." Eomer commented." I realised that when we first met in Rohan."
"Were he not of such virtue and had taken the ring, his will would inspire terror in all. The Elf said thoughtfully." Yet his virtue is such that, all who know him, come to love him."
" I know, as I gave him my love when I first laid eyes upon him," Eomer said sadly, "I only hope he has chance to show his true worth to all."
Legolas knelt beside Aragorn and felt his wrist.
"His pulse is strong." he said reassuringly "He will recover I think, given rest and care .The herbs you have given him will make him sleep for many hours."
He glanced at Aragorn who was sleeping peacefully and then at the weary King of Rohan.
"Why not rest now?" he suggested "I will watch all of them, as Elves need less sleep than mortals .I will call you if you are needed, though that poppy juice should make Aragorn sleep for hours. You'll need to be alert for when he does awaken"
Eomer was going to refuse the Elf's offer but realised the wisdom of his words. He lay down pulling his cloak around him and within moments had fallen into a deep sleep
When he woke again, it was almost dawn and a glimmer of pale light was coming through the flaps of the tent. Legolas was sitting where he had left him, his keen gaze moving back and forth between the Hobbits and Aragorn.
Seeing Eomer awake, the Elf came over to him.
"The fever has left the Hobbits." He said, before Eomer could ask any questions." I last bathed them an hour ago, so it is as we suspected that Aragorn used his power".
Eomer shook his head.
"Why must he put himself at such risk?" He asked more to himself than the Elf.
"He loves the Hobbits and saw they were growing weaker. I feel though that all may yet be well with him."