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Horse Lady of Rohan  by Mimi Lind

27. Finding a Healer

“There is a healer closer than that.” 

Everyone turned to the uruk-hai. His eyes were red and the lower lip trembled. For the first time he looked his age.

“With your friends?” Galion asked, brightening up.

“Yes. But… it’s… this way.” He indicated the direction they had come from.

“Back? But…” The ginger elf’s face became stiff. “You were never leading us there,” he concluded.

The uruk only nodded, tears brimming in his eyes.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Sidra croaked. Her eyes were dry, but matted with sadness and guilt. “We were going to tell you. We were discussing… about when. When it happened. We were too late.”

“There is no time for this, we can settle it later,” said Nodir urgently. “We must go there directly.”

“I hope we can get him on a horse,” said Galion, and went back to where Thranduil was still hovering over his son. The king obediently went to the side when asked to. It was as if all energy had drained from the normally so proud elf, his shoulders were sagging and there was a listless sluggishness to his movements.

Galion and Nodir tried to help Legolas rise, but he only slumped back with a groan, the shock apparently beginning to subside and pain following in its wake. He was clearly unable to walk, and certainly not ride. 

“We need to make a stretcher.” Galion looked about him eagerly. “The oak is too big. For Sauron’s sake, why are there no damn trees here?” 

Wynne stared at him, it was unsettling to hear an elf use strong language.

“We can take the spears!” Nodir began to pull on the one embedded in the oak, still red and slick with Legolas’ blood. Wynne felt sick, knowing that he would be carried by the item that had hurt him so.

The two elves worked fast and efficiently, tying a bed sheet securely around the spears. Then Nugu and Galion, who were strongest, lifted Legolas onto it. He cried out in distress, a drawn out moan that was heartbreaking to hear. 

Wynne hurriedly brought two of the pack horses to the litter. Using rope they were able to fasten it between their harnesses, but they would have to move very synchronised to make it work. There was no help for it, this once the horses had to be reined, and with nimble fingers Wynne tied a simple rope halter for each of them. 

“Lead the way,” Galion instructed the uruk-hai. Since Thranduil seemed to have entered an almost catatonic state, the ginger elf had taken command.

Wynne took on the task of handling the two carrier horses. She steered Vatna next to the stretcher, and with the halters she could make the two pack animals move in unison. When she got into the rhythm of it, she increased the speed from a walk to a trot, and later a canter. The elves had tied Legolas to the bed, or it would never have worked, but it was still a bumpy ride. Every sob, every whimper from the stricken elf made her almost cry, but what else was there to do? They needed the healer fast .

On Legolas’ other side rode Thranduil, he held his son’s hand, managing his stallion to maintain the exact speed of the litter carriers, again proving his skill as a horseman. He was mumbling continually, soothing wordless sounds mostly, and now and then something in Sindarin. He seemed to be slowly coming out of the strange numb state, perhaps beginning to realize his son might survive after all.

Afterwards Wynne could only remember that nightmarish ride in flashes. Legolas pale, moist face and sounds of distress, the horses’ heavy panting and necks covered in foamy white sweat, Thranduil’s unceasing murmurs. It took so long, and she was so tired, and so desperately worried.

They kept the same merciless speed all through the night, wringing every last ounce of energy out of the Mearas. The distance that had taken a day and a half to cover in their normal travel pace, was now traversed in less than a third of that time. 

When a red hue to the west announced the sunrise was near, they were finally back at the heather moor. Here Nugu stopped by the steep cliffside, just beside the pool where Wynne and Thranduil had bathed an eternity ago. 

The horses hung the heads low, their flanks heaving and the steaming bodies trembling in exhaustion. 

“We must climb up here. There is a cave entrance on the other side.”

How ironic. They were back where they had started, the uruk having only brought them farther away from his friends.

“We shall have to carry the stretcher by hand then, the horses can’t climb this,” said Wynne.

They set the animals free, finally allowing them to drink their fill and get a well-earned rest, and then left the packs by the well. 

Galion and Nugu began to crawl sideways with the stretcher between them, step by step up the hillside. Thranduil and Nodir assisted them, steadying the litter and making sure Legolas would not fall off. The blond elf’s eyes were tightly shut and the cheeks feverishly flushed. He had ceased his moaning now, but pain was etched into his features, his forehead creased and the teeth clenched together.

When at last they had ascended the sharp slope, there was an equal hard course down. Legolas was breathing faster now, if from pain or something else they did not know. 

Below they entered a narrow pass between naked cliffs, sparsely covered with pine trees on the steep sides. A bit further ahead a massive rock had fallen down, and behind it they finally saw a black, jagged opening. 

Inside was a small cave, that looked unused. A few gnawed clean old bones in the corner indicated it might be the home of a hibernating bear during the winter, but apart from that it was empty.

“Over here.” Nugu put Legolas down and went to the middle of the cave, where he felt around above him. With a faint click, a round piece of the ceiling came down on hinges, like a big hatch. It was made of wood, but painted underneath to look like rock. 

“I have to warn them we are coming. Be right back.”

He pulled down a ladder, climbed it swiftly and was gone, leaving the others to wait anxiously. Galion checked on Legolas again, uncovering the bandage. It had a big, ugly stain, a rusty shade of brown.

“It needs changing.” Then he pressed his palm against the sweaty forehead. ”No fever, at least. Yet.”

Wynne felt oddly disclosed. She wanted to be near to Legolas as well, try to comfort him, hold his hand and stroke his face. But how could she? He was not hers. They were not lovers, and she had no right to do anything but stay in the background. A silent bystander. Seldom had she felt more powerless. 

“We can bring him up now.” Nugu’s voice from the hole sounded hollow and echoed between the cave walls. Thankfully he had not been gone long.

It took some effort to haul Legolas through the opening, but with the elves pushing the stretcher from below and the uruk-hai steadily pulling from above they finally made it. Then the rest of them followed suit. Nugu closed the hatch after them, cutting out all light in the process.

“This way.” 

Wynne froze, afraid to stumble or fall in the darkness. The elves were less concerned, having their keen eyesight, and she heard them start walking. 

“Here, take my hand. I know the way in the dark.” Sidra’s alto next to Wynne was comforting, and she gratefully obeyed, feeling the other’s warm palm envelope her clammy fingers. The woman was a lying traitor, but right now there was no time to be angry.

Wynne shuffled ahead, one hand on the wall to the left and leaning heavily on Sidra to the right. The air was cold and damp, smelling a lot like the farm cellar back home. She could hear the children tag along a behind their mother, the youngest whining quietly, probably feeling rather neglected and tired. 

Gradually Wynne’s sight came back, and she let go of the other’s hand. They were walking down a rough, narrow tunnel, that forced the tall elves and the uruk-hai to crouch. It was not pitch dark, there was a light ahead, and when she came closer Wynne saw an oil lamp in an alcove outside a round, wooden door, a lot similar to the ones they had seen in many orc nests before.

The door opened, and one of the most ancient orcs Wynne ever had seen peeked out. It had runny eyes in a sickly, greenish hue and a thin mouth with only a few yellow fangs left. The body was bent and wiry, with lead gray, deeply creased skin and white tufts of hair in a halo-like fringe. 

“Hallo my boy, Dad went to prepare a bed.” The orc was speaking the common tongue with a heavy accent, and to Wynne’s surprise the thin voice was distinctly female. So there were orc ladies? She had not known, and judging by the puzzled looks on the elves, it was news to them as well.

“Nanna!” The uruk-hai bent down to kiss her wrinkled cheek, still holding the stretcher behind him.

“There now Nugie, no cryin’, you ain’t no babe anymore.” Nanna wiped his face with a bony thumb. “Dad shall fix your elf up good, don’t you worry.” She took the lamp, beckoned for the others to follow and began to hobble away, supported by a rather nice wooden walking stick.

The elves hesitated, their hands warily hovering over daggers and swords. Wynne shared their apprehension, it did not feel safe to enter an unknown orc abode. If there were hostile inhabitants they would be stronger on their own ground. 

“Well now, don’t drag your feet! Come along.” The orc lady had a no-nonsense tone of voice that somehow was hard to disobey. 

They looked at each other, and then Thranduil shrugged. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Nugu had said they had a healer there, and Legolas would not survive without one. There was no helping it, they had to take the risk. 

When they all were inside, Nugu closed and bolted the door behind them.


A/N:

Can orcs really be trusted? What do you think?





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