Fire on the Mountain |
Author’s note: How can a geologist resist this prompt? :)
Summary: As the Captain of the West heals the Ringbearers he finds a puzzle …
“He who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones first”
Frodo lay still and silent, unmoving when Aragorn gently clasped the child-like, bloodied fingers, brushed the dark curls from off the hobbit’s face. A fine grit of ash rasped against his sword calluses, roughened anew by battle. He carded weary fingers slowly through the dirty, sharp-smelling strands and a reek of horror, the mountain’s foul and acrid fume, rose with his touch.
That they should survive, breathing a soup of gas and fine-ground rock, it was a wonder. The hobbit’s chest rose and fell now steadily, if slow, and for that alone he felt grateful for his skills.
Aragorn sat back wearily, laid the poor bound hand with its dirty rag once more upon the soft coverlet. The beech boughs of south Ithilien rustled above, made a song of hope amidst the quiet worry of their space and a small sigh of relief that gusted through the fresh-scented air. He had put forth all such effort as he was able and a battle it had surely been. So close to death, Frodo’s spirit had mounted the top step of Namo’s hall. Aragorn had ventured far to bring him back and now, near spent, it was time to turn his thoughts to the hobbit’s other hurts. It would not do to miss aught more of ill….
Practised hands felt carefully for wounds or other signs of hurt about the hobbit’s neck and scalp. There were none, although the dark shredded cloth of orc-rags could yet conceal a myriad of hurt and so Aragorn loosened the neckline farther still. He removed the shirt, noted with a heartsick pang the thinness of his chest, the ugly wound from Shelob’s piercing and eyes sunken with dehydration, mute witness to the trial Frodo had endured. All under the crushing weight of a small and golden band.
Many times Aragorn had tended the sick and injured but none with more reverence and care. The lowly go where the wise fear to walk. And walk they had, throughpits of hell and choking, poison fumes, lethal to beast and man alike from Gandalf’s words. Even Landroval, that mighty eagle of the great Wind-Lords, had felt the bite of acid in his throat. Slowly, with gentle circles he rubbed a minted-salve across Frodo’s neck and chest, the sharp hills and valleys of his ribs. It wouldease the hobbit’s laboured breathing, though if the evil winds had scarred his lungs only time could tell.
With care for their survival, Frodo’s orc-rags were removed and the grit and grime and blood washed clean. Salve was spread on each burn and cut and fresh bandages soaked in a healing brew were wound. It was all that could be done. Especially for the maimed and bitten hand.
Aragorn tied off a careful knot and repressed a sudden shudder. He knew the hurt and torment such a wound could give, flexed his own hands thankfully, remembering them broken, swollen and abused. Fingers useless and paining with every move. He had spilled a healing tea across himself, desperate to find relief. And then barely healed he had found his Evenstar upon Cerin Amroth. So many steps and battles back, yet for all that, not so long ago.
With a last kiss upon Frodo’s brow he made his weary way to the other bed. To Sam.
Now he smiled. Not with sadness but with the gentle mirth of memory. The Gaffer’s son was not so burly as the hobbit who set out from Bree, who had looked suspiciously upon a Ranger from the wild. Sam too had red-rimmed eyes and a scarletthroat from the acid on the wind.The voice that had scolded him would be hoarse he knew for many, many days.
Gently he tousled the hobbit’s ginger mop, began his survey once again. Bright spirit, Sam too had strode the vale upon his final road, no so far as his Master to be sure, it had been less a trial to call him back, but a battle still. Aragorn again took a catalogue of thesmaller hurts, the bruises, the myriad of fine raser-like cuts on hands and feet. Almost he missed it: below a small pointed ear there was a mark: a tear-shaped burn.
Reflexively he touched the back of his own neck. Once he had stolen across the muddy plain of Gorgoroth, seen it pockmarked and rent by great black slabs, as if a giant had played knucklebones with the crags for fun. For all the miles, none had been so foul as last few at Orodruin’s foot. In his mind’s eye he could see the black rain of ash, the searing beauty of her red-glowing river, snaking faster than a man could run across the western slope. Aragorn himself had choked on the heavy air’s metallic tang, had gulped greedily like a drowning man when the steady eastern wind resumed, blown the mountain’s smoke back aloft.
How had they survived?
Later, when he had roused them long enough to take clear water, had set them peacefully back to sleep, the Ranger stood wearily and stretched, bade an anxious healer watch his charges for a while and followed Gandalf out into the glade.
“I have done all that I can. They will be well in time but need many days to heal.” he said. A gnarled, warmhand was laid upon his shoulder as they walked.
Guards snapped to attention when the wizard and the King paused upon the threshold of a large white canvas tent. Wearily Aragorn blinked into the morning sun and scrubbed his hand across his face. Why were there guards? The makeshift surgery surely had no need.
He peered inside and groaned.
His armour was stacked neatly against a cot, Anduril laid expediently across its foot as with any soldier’s kit. The only concession to imminent kingly status was a folding table and a carven chair. And a somewhat richer blanket.
Valar. Quite unconsciously he had made for his own tent though he had meant to find the healers on the far side of the glade, to head the other way.
“Come.” said Gandalf, gesturing to the chair a man in black livery hastened to provide. “Sit. The healers will watch for us. Take some food yourself and rest. You ventured far to bring them back and if I am not mistaken at peril to yourself.”
Aragorn took a deep, measuring breath. Filled his soul with the fragrance of fair Ithilien and made to turn away. “Nay..there may be others who have need of me and it is a boon to be just a healer for a moment.”
A healer. Just a man of skill and not a King.
A slow smile graced the wizard’s face. “There are good healers here my friend. Nor is the Black Breath so very fearsome here…the Nine were called so quickly back. Time also for a king to rest.”
He looked sharply up but something, the love, the grace that shone in that gaze as deep as time, made the words of protest die before they left his lips.
It is done…
Aching shoulders slumped just a little and he took a proffered cup, paced restlessly across the dewy grass for though it was morn, and a new one, unsullied by fear or shadow, when one has been running for seventy years it is very hard to stop.
Gandalf’s gaze followed each leg of the parade and Aragorn reluctantly forced himself to still, to drink deep of the goblet, amused to taste a tonic in the dregs.
Old friend, do not worry so. I shall not falter now.
And yet the wizard’s gaze narrowed more. The cup trembled just a little as he set it down upon a handy leather chest.
“You will get on famously Elessar with your new Steward.” The wry observation was just barely tinged with exasperation. “You both do not know when to stop.”
It seemed standing still was not enough.
The King sat more heavily than he planned upon the selfsame chest, felt it groan under his not inconsiderable bulk and then with alacrity switched to the chair. His legs were not jelly from the strain. No. It was only the relief, the expected release of tension when one has been working hard.
The wizard pointedly rolled his eyes.
An embarrassed cough preceded a judicious change of topic. “There is a puzzle I do not understand.” The hobbits’ cuffs and pockets, every crevice of their rags had been filled with ash and larger stones: spun glass of greenish- gold. Some were straight and thin like hair, others tear-shaped and of a delicacy that seemed impossible for rock.
He explained his find and took carefully from his pocket a glassy drop and brittle strand. They shimmered in the dappled morning light below the rustling trees.
Gandalf curiously poked a finger at his upraised palm, touched the iridescent stone. It was beautiful, not sinister as one would think, formed in that hateful land.
”Ouch.” Aragorn tried not to laugh at the sight of the wizard sucking on a cut.
“They are very sharp. Like shards of glass. And oddly Sam had a burn upon his skin, just the same size and shape.”
Gandalf nodded thoughtfully. “Because the stones fall hot on every darkened slope, or thing, that has the fortune to be in their path.”
“You have seen them?”
“Yes. Once. Long ago, on a journey best forgotten.”
Aragorn turned the small green-gold but heavy drop wonderingly in his fingers. “They look so very much like tears.”
“They are, my friend.”
He looked up, startled, and for a moment the Maia, lost in thought, let slip his guise. Shining certainty, the fair brow and face of another being reined.
“The peoples of Middle-Earth are not the only ones to rejoice at your ascension. What Manwe’s air and Aule’s liquid stone have wrought together is all part of the music of the One.”
“Though fearsome in her raw beauty and her strength, the mountain has a deeper heart. To see Mairon, he who marred her beauteous face, meet his justice at the last: even Arda wept.”
End note: Gwynnyd has kindly allowed me to refer to what has become my headcanon: Aragorn's experiences in Dol Gulder after the raid on Umbar that she so wonderfully told in Fell Memories and Healing Time.
Mairon is the name of the Maia Sauron was before he was corrupted utterly by Melkor.
I have modelled the tears of Arda on Pele’s tears, a natural phenomena described from Hawaii and named for the Hawaiian goddess of Fire. Basaltic lava, erupted at 1200C, thrown into the air by high pressure of eruption or bursting gas bubbles in the decompressing magma, fuses nearly instantly as force and friction twist it into tear-shaped droplets of obsidian and even fine wires known as Pele’s hair. Wind causes the light material to collect in crevices.
The gases that Frodo and Sam were breathing, based on a typical intraplate mafic eruption, would have been rich in hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide, hydrochloric acid and fluorine, all deleterious to the airways and likely lethal in the concentrations at Sammath Naur.