Under the Shadow of this Red Rock - Linda Hoyland.
“And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” – T.S. Eliot – The Wasteland.
With thanks to Raksha and Deandra.
Tolkien owns any recognisable character in this story. Only the OC’s are mine. I make no money from writing this.
Summary – Aragorn burns in the heat of a cruel sun.
Stars! This place was hot. Aragorn wiped his brow wearily and made his way towards a booth offering exotic juices for sale. Rather to his surprise, the stall was manned by a pretty little girl with copper- coloured skin and brown eyes.
"A mug of juice, please," said Aragorn, offering a coin.
"We don't serve tarks here," said the little girl, turning away from him.
"My coin is good and I am thirsty." Aragorn's tone was pleading.
"Tarks should be sacrificed in the fire to the Lord of Gifts," said the child. "Go get water from the village pump if you want some!"
Aragorn trudged towards the direction in which she pointed. For a small village, the distance from one side to another seemed endless. His way was constantly blocked by children. There appeared to be dozens of them. Strange that such a small village should be home to so many little ones.
Aragorn reached the pump and pulled at the handle. It came away in his hand.
“You have broken our pump!” cried a small boy angrily.
“I am sorry. It was an accident,” Aragorn said.
“We will all die of thirst now!” screamed the children.
Aragorn knelt in the sand and tried to work out how the pump might fit back together. His head throbbed and he could not focus his eyes clearly. Maybe if he could but have a drink he might concentrate better. He trudged back towards the juice stall and held out coins for several times what the asking price was. “Please, let me have a drink!” he begged.
“Never!” said the little girl.
“I shall surely die of thirst!” Aragorn threw down his coins and reached out to grab a mug of the juice. Suddenly the stall collapsed, spilling the contents of all the mugs. The juice trickled away in the sand.
Aragorn could have wept. He snatched up one of the mugs but there was not a single drop of moisture left in it.
He knew he must get away from this place or he would die. Summoning his last vestiges of strength, he tried to reach the track that led away from this village. The children, though, had other ideas; they blocked his path, shrieking and jeering.
Then they started to swarm all over him and tear off his clothes. The blazing sun seared his bare flesh relentlessly. He tried to crawl away, but the children would not let him go. “Sacrifice him to the Lord of Gifts!” they cried.
He was bound to an altar and a fire was lit below him. It was growing ever hotter. A man in scarlet robes, a priest he supposed, was chanting, though the words made little sense.
Everything went black.
Aragorn trudged despairingly through the desert. He must find the lost child, he must! He had given her mother his word that he would save her. How could she have vanished so completely in this featureless landscape?
His throat burned. He reached for his water skin to quench his thirst. It was empty. He must find an oasis soon or he would surely perish. First, though, he must find the child. If he were suffering in this heat, how much worse it must be for a little one.
Suddenly he spotted her a short distance ahead. He summoned his last ounce of strength to quicken his footsteps. He caught up with her and took hold of her hand.
“Help me!” she cried as she sank into the sand.
Frantically, he tried to pull her out, but she vanished from his sight. Aragorn crept into the shadow of a great red rock. He fell to his knees and wept. Everything began to fade into blackness until Aragorn perceived a faint glow. It grew brighter and hotter.
Aragorn realised he was on the edge of bottomless fiery pit. He tried to grasp at the rough footholds before the flames consumed him. Foul goblins assailed him and tore at his robe. He was falling, falling into the abyss.
Out of the darkness, he heard a voice calling his name and a wondrous fragrance filled the sulphurous air. A hand reached out. He grasped it.
Aragorn blinked and opened his eyes to meet the concerned gaze of his wife. “Thirsty!” he muttered.
She supported his head with one hand and with the other held a cup to his lips, allowing him to drink. He drunk his fill then tried to take stock of his surroundings. He was lying on a rough pallet in a poorly furnished room. He appeared to be wearing only his drawers, but he was decently covered by a fine linen sheet, which seemed out of place in these surroundings, as was the soft pillow on which his head lay. Arwen was kneeling on the floor at his bedside. Behind her stood two men, one of whom he recognised as Master Aedred, his personal physician from the Houses of Healing, the other wore the robes of a Haradrim Physician. A bowl of steaming water stood by the pallet and the sweet scent of athelas filled the air.
“What happened?” Aragorn whispered. “The children? So thirsty and hot!”
Arwen offered him more water and when he had drunk his fill, she wiped his face and neck with a cool, moist cloth. Only when she had finished these tasks did she speak.
“Don’t you remember, Estel?”
He shook his head.
“There was an outbreak of fever amongst the children of the Haradrim who dwell here in Minas Tirith. You came here to help them and laboured day and night until you collapsed while you were tending a little girl here in this hovel. Her mother sent for a healer who deemed it unwise to move you. Then Ambassador Tahir was told what had happened, He was most concerned and insisted on sending his personal healer to attend you. The man was well versed in the malady, but he could not rouse you. You have been here two days and nights lost in fever dreams. The healers tried to break the fever, but in vain. It was only when I came that I was able to rouse you with athelas."
“The little girl, what happened to her? I could not find her!” Aragorn muttered fretfully.
“She is recovering, as are the other children, thanks to you, o honoured King.” The healer from Harad spoke. “This fever is common amongst our little ones, but the cold and damp of your land meant it afflicted them especially badly.” He moved towards the pallet and began to examine Aragorn. “The fever is breaking, o honoured King. In but a few circles of the sun, you will be fully recovered.”
“Varda be praised!” exclaimed Arwen. She squeezed her husband’s hand.
“I think we should be able to move you back to the Citadel later today, my lord,” said Aedred, the Gondorian healer. “You should recover faster in your own bed and you are no longer contagious.”
“That would be good,” Aragorn murmured. “Is Eldarion safe? How fares the kingdom? Where is Faramir?”
“Eldarion is safe and well,” Arwen assured him. “Éowyn has taken him to Ithilien for a few days. Gondor is Faramir’s capable hands. He wanted to come to your bedside, but I thought the risk of contagion too great. You will see him soon now you are recovering and he can tell you everything you wish to know.”
“Your tidings gladden my heart.” Aragorn struggled to keep his eyes focussed upon her. “Ah, I am so weary. I feel as if I have been lost for days in a desert!”
“Fever dreams are exhausting, my lord,” said the healer. “Maybe in future, you will have more of a care for your own well- being, though I very much doubt it! You have caused us all a great deal of worry, not least your lady!”
Aragorn nodded. He knew Aedred scolded because he cared about him. The two were good friends who often worked alongside one another at the Houses.
“Now drink this,” Aedred said in a softer tone.
Aragorn recognised the bitter taste of willow bark. He swallowed obediently.
“Rest now, my love,” said Arwen, raising a cup of clear water to his lips. “Rest and recover. You are safe and I am beside you.” After he had drunk, she kissed him lightly on the brow.
Lulled by the sound of her voice and the scent of the athelas, Aragorn fell into a deep dreamless sleep. His beloved was beside him, he was healing, and he would soon be home.
A/n. Written for the Teitho “Sickness” challenge” where it was unplaced.