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The Better Huntsman  by Aelaer

Apologies for the delay. The nasty bug known as author shyness bit, for some odd reason. It doesn't usually occur. I blame college. Hope my readers enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.


Chapter Three: Unexpected Events

No, it had not been a clever idea to go hunting in such stormy weather at all. It was even less clever that he had followed the stag; what had he been thinking? Nay, he had not been thinking at all. Neither he nor Faramir had thought about the others, nor about the consequences.

As it was, after they fell into the water Aragorn had immediately hit his head upon a rock and went into unconsciousness, thus ending all of his thoughts. Faramir, however, did not have such luck.

The icy water was a shock that broke the spell upon him. He could not exactly say how he had fallen in, if you had asked him right there and then; as it was, he was too busy trying to keep himself above the rapids to ponder about the strange events that had led both him and the king into the river. It was then that the full meaning of his thoughts assaulted him.

'The king! Where is he?'

The steward looked around desperately, trying to find his king in the water. He could barely see through the darkness and the rain-filled rapids, but finally his keen eyes found what they were looking for. He saw Aragorn’s limp body float above the surface, and then submerge once more under the water. His eyes widened and he nearly cursed. This was not what he needed right now; he could barely keep afloat himself!

Taking a deep breath, he used all of his strength to swim against the rapids in order to reach his unconscious friend. The waters fought against him, and many a time he nearly went under himself. Finally, though, he reached Aragorn and took him into one of his arms while trying to keep himself up with the other. He looked around and searched for something to hold on to; he could not keep both of them up for long.

To his luck, a stray piece of driftwood came his way. He immediately latched onto it for dear life, his other arm still supporting Aragorn. He was in pain, and filled with fatigue, but he knew that he could not lose consciousness; that could mean the death of both of them.

He noticed that the rain was starting to lighten up, though the river still flowed quickly. Thankfully the waters were not as dangerous as they were before, but he still needed to find a place to land before he himself became too weary to hold on. He needed to find shore soon.

After a few long moments, a reachable shore came. A sandy bank was just up ahead; he had to make it there.

Using all of his strength, Faramir made his way to the shore, making sure Aragorn was secure in his arms. He took a deep breath, and let go of the driftwood. He pushed and kicked against the current, despite a burning sensation within his leg. He simply ignored it and kept swimming until he finally found himself on the banks.

He dragged his liege lord’s limp, soaked body out of the river, and made sure that it was out of the water’s way so it would not be pulled back into the current. He looked at Aragorn’s pale face, and at the large gash on the side of his head. Blood slowly dripped out of it and dropped to the ground; he was still alive, which relieved Faramir to no end.

Oh, how weary he was! But he could not rest now; he had to find help. When he tried to get up, a fiery pain shot through his leg, immediately stopping his movements. He looked down, and saw a large gash in his left leg.

'Well, would you look at that…' he thought. 'I'm bleeding.'

Finally, exhaustion overtook him. Though Faramir desperately wished to find help, his body finally gave out, and he fell into unconsciousness.

***

The rains had ended early that morning, which meant that she could play outside instead of being cooped up inside like she was all throughout yesterday afternoon. Even better, her father and brother were going down to the river to look for things the rains may have brought in, which meant that she was able to play by the river! She wasn’t able to play there too often, so she was quite pleased when her mama finally let her go.

However, she found herself wanting to go further down the stream to explore. She looked at her papa and asked in her sweetest voice, “Papa, may I go explore? Please, I promise to be careful!”

Her papa thought about for a moment, and then finally nodded. “Alright, Haneth. But don’t go too far! And if you need anything, just shout!”

She didn’t even hear him after he granted her permission. Squealing with joy, Haneth sprinted away down the banks, kicking pebbles and wet dirt with her feet. She took off her boots and ran in the water, splashing and shouting with glee. Leaving her boots behind, she waded in the water and walked on further, looking at all the debris that the storm left behind. One of her favorite trees was now gone, as was one of her little hideouts that she had found a couple months ago. At least it wasn’t the one near her home; that one really big and took a long time to clear out.

As she played and explored, she suddenly spotted something ahead that looked like a clump of large rocks; she knew, however, that they had not been there before. Being the curious young girl she was, she skipped towards it, intending on exploring this new landmark fully. When Haneth was close enough to see the rocks better, she stopped in her tracks. They were not rocks as she had originally thought, but two men who were completely still. When she saw the blood, her breath hitched, and she took two steps backward before she spun around and fled.

“Papa!” she screeched. “Papa!” She ran as fast as she could from the frightening sight, ignoring the small sharp stones that dug into her bare soles. As soon as her father heard her scream, he sprinted down the river, praying that her fearful cries were for a trivial reason. He soon met her and knelt to catch her in his arms. He lifted his young daughter up, ignoring her wet and muddy feet.

“Shh, shh…” he said gently, stroking her back. He saw no obvious hurt on Haneth, and many of his fears were quieted. It was clear that she was frightened, though. “I’m here, darling, I’m here. What’s wrong?” Still sobbing heavily, she cried out a garble of words that he could not decipher. "Darling, you will have to calm down; I cannot understand you."

She took a moment to catch her breath, but he waited patiently. Between hitched breaths, he was able to make out, "I was exploring the river like you said I could, and I saw some rocks, but they were not rocks. They were men, like you Papa, and they looked like they were sleeping, but..." Her sobs came back in full force before she could finish her thought, and he could not understand anymore she said.

"Father, what is wrong with her?" his elder son Handir came from behind him. He looked curious, but became concerned when his father shot him a grave look.

"Grave news, if she did not imagine things." He turned once more to her. "Where did you find them, Haneth?" he asked calmly, keeping his thoughts barred from her. She did not speak, but merely pointed in the direction from which she had come from. Nodding, he turned and handed the girl to his son. "Take her home. Tell your mother that I am investigating something that frightened her. You are to stay at the house. Do not come to look for me," he added.

Handir looked as if he wanted to protest, but said nothing when his father shot him a look. "All right," he agreed, and turned back to head home, his sister in his arms. Satisfied, the older man started down the river, looking for the sight that had frightened his daughter so much. He did find his daughter’s boots, and made a mental note to pick them up later.

While Haneth was known to have an active imagination, he did not believe a girl as young as she could make something like this up. She did not see the dead during the War, and Handir was not the type to tell her such gruesome stories. So, to his grief, he was afraid that his daughter had truly stumbled upon dead men; he hoped it was not many, for one was already too many. A battle site would be the last thing the young girl needed to see.

He found the spot soon. From a distance he could see there were two men close to one another, dressed in Ranger garb. Every now and then the Ithilien Rangers visited their home, and so he knew their appearance well and knew that they were good, decent men. As he came closer, he saw that these two were taller than most, and certainly not in the best condition. One had a gash on the side of his head and dried blood covering half of his face, while the other had blood covering nearly the whole of his left leg. Both were wet, despite the bright, warm sun in the sky, and both were covered in bruises and lacerations. From their state of being, he concluded that the two had pulled themselves out of the river, though how they had done it he could not begin to guess.

He went on his knees beside them, inspecting them closely. Even if they had managed to pull themselves out, they certainly looked dead. He did not know how to check for a heartbeat on the wrist, but he did know that dead men did not breathe. With that thought in mind, the woodsman placed his hand on the chest of the Ranger who was on his back, and waited to see if it moved. To his utmost relief, the man was breathing, so he was alive. He wanted to check to see if the other man was still living, but was afraid to turn him over. However, if he was alive, laying on his back may make it easier for him to breathe, or so he thought.

As he debated about the subject, the Ranger he knew was alive, the one with the head wound, stirred. He did not want to startle him, so the man moved a few feet away and waited for the other to wake up.

***

He felt as if he had been in a drinking contest and lost. His head was pounding with his erratic heartbeat and the bright sun upon his face was hardly helping matters. 'But,' he thought, 'if the sun is so bright, then why do I feel so cold and… wet?'

He willed his eyes to open and immediately wished that he hadn’t. It was much too bright for him. What had he done last night? He was pretty sure he hadn’t participated in any drinking games; nay, that would be too undignified for a king, and Faramir would never let him hear the end of it.

'Faramir!'As he thought about his steward, all of his memories came rushing back to him.

Aragorn’s eyes shot open again as he realized where he was. He must be on one of the river’s sandy banks; how in the world did he survive? From what he could recall, he had suddenly fallen into the river, but could remember nothing after that. And where was Faramir?

Biting back a moan, he started to lift himself up, but immediately stopped when he heard a voice, and it certainly wasn’t the steward.

“How're you feeling?”

He swung his head around, instantly regretting the action when it started pounding harder. Taking a deep breath, he looked to the direction of the voice and saw a man; Gondorian, by the looks of him, and a simple woodsman at that. He was around the age of Faramir, with short, dark hair and a scruffy, dirty beard. However, his dark eyes were kind and filled with concern, and Aragorn saw no malice in him.

“Where am I?” he asked, ignoring the question.

“Ithilien, ‘round ten or so miles from the Anduin.” The man studied Aragorn as he slowly climbed to his knees and gently felt the side of his head. “My daughter found you and your friend just a few minutes ago. You scared the daylights out of her.”

Aragorn looked to his left and saw that Faramir was lying right beside him, still unconscious. He noted that the younger man had a large gash in his left leg. Gently the king turned him onto his back; it proved to be simple enough, for the man had lost his quiver and bow in the river, although he still had his sword and knives. Aragorn himself still had his quiver, though all of the arrows were now gone, and his bow was lost as well. Andúril was still safe in his sheath, as were his knives.

Once he was turned over and the sun hit his face, Aragorn was relieved to see that was all that was need to be done to bring him back to the world of the living. He groaned and then slowly opened his eyes. Aragorn smiled down upon him, blocking part of the sun from his face.

“Welcome back. How do you feel?”

Faramir blinked, and then shut his eyes. “As if my leg is slowly being torn apart.”

“It doesn’t look too good.”

Faramir stiffened as he heard the unfamiliar voice, but he looked at Aragorn’s face and relaxed. If his king was not alarmed, then neither would he be. Aragorn looked back up at the stranger and asked, “You say your daughter found us?”

“Aye,” he nodded. “Frightened her, too. At first I thought she was hurt by how much she was screaming. But you two looked dead; at first I thought you were. As it is, I’m surprised you aren’t; the storm was bad last night, and the river definitely was not friendly.”

“No, not at all,” said Faramir, who slowly pulled himself up into a sitting position. His left leg was stretched out in front of him. “We are very fortunate.”

The stranger nodded. "I'd ask what you two were doing out here where so few people live, but Rangers have stopped by my house before. I recognize the uniform. But don't you Rangers travel in larger groups?"

"We do," Faramir nodded. "We were separated from our company in the storm last night. I imagine they are looking for us right now."

Aragorn held in a wince at Faramir's last statement. Galdir was not going to be happy about this.

The woodsman nodded and then shook his head. “Ah! Where are my senses? Come, come, come to my house. You two can dry yourselves and eat something, and rest as long as you'd like. My wife can help see to your wounds, as well; she knows a little about healing. By the way, the name’s Maethor.”

Aragorn nodded as he got to his feet. “I am Thorongil, and this is…” He looked to Faramir.

“Turgon,” he replied.

“Pleasure,” replied Maethor. “Now, we need to somehow get you to the house; you certainly are not walking there with that leg, and I don’t expect you to hop the whole way, either.”

“If Thorongil supports me, I’ll be able to manage,” replied Faramir firmly.

Maethor gave him a doubtful look, but finally nodded. “Well, then. Suit yourself. Come, let’s get there before my wife starts worrying about me.”

They nodded, and Faramir, with the help of the others, managed to get himself up. Maethor looked them over, and satisfied that neither of them would fall over when they took their first step, he turned his back on them and started to head towards his home, not knowing that it was the king and steward of Gondor trailing slowly behind him.


Note on Aragorn's alias: At first I had used 'Strider' rather than Thorongil, since he used Strider most recently. However, since he is dressed as an Ithilien Ranger rather than a wandering vagabond, I thought it would be more appropriate and convincing for him to use a proper name.





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