Summary: The Rangers are a hardy folk…
Rated T for a bit of salty language.
The boy had taken a shield-boss to the chin and sat with his back against a tent-pole, trying to hide his bruised and crooked jaw in the collar of his coat. Those dying or attempting to do so had been aided as best as they could; now Aragorn—returned to these proud and solemn people for no more than a few months—joined the healer-women in tending the less alarming hurts.
“Your jaw is out of socket,” he said. Reached out a slow hand to tip the boy’s face up. He could not have been much older than fifteen. Aragorn had seen him hold the line among the Rangers when the orcs came shrieking at them, steady as a seasoned man.
The boy made a jerky gesture toward his own face. Then put it back, his eyes said clearly, and Aragorn did so, feeling the grate and snap of joint and tendons realigning, hearing the soft suck of the mandible as it slipped into its cradle of bone.
“Dírlach’s boy,” said Dírhael with a tilt of his head, when Aragorn had left his silent patient sitting with his face once more symmetrical. The old man grinned. “Your cousin, Halbarad.”
At noon the threshers paused beneath an elm tree in the cool and dappled shade. Halbarad was the last to join them, limping slightly through the barley. He hacked his scythe into a nearby stump and accepted a waterskin. Aragorn gave his arm a genial shove.
“What happened? Stub your toe on a…”
He trailed off. The lower half of Halbarad’s breech-leg was glossy black with blood, so thick the smell was heavy on the air. Halbarad dragged his sleeve across his dripping beard. Glanced down as he handed the skin back to Feridir.
“Nicked myself, a while back,” he said.
Aragorn bent and pulled away the rend in the breech-leg. A while back indeed; his blood was beginning to crust on the canvas. Halbarad bit into a lump of cheese, watching his cousin’s investigation with mild disinterest.
His shinbone was flayed like a fish for frying, a slab of flesh the length of Aragorn’s hand hanging in a gory ribbon.
“Sweet stars, man, ‘nicked yourself’?”
Halbarad swallowed and yanked free his scythe. “Dangerous work, cutting grain,” he said, and started once more for the field.
It took three Rangers and their Chieftain to grapple him back to the village so Ivorwen could stitch him closed again.
“They will pass on their own in a day or two, though it will feel like trying to piss a cocklebur,” said Aragorn. Knowing what the reply would be, he offered anyway, “I have a dram of opiate, if you’d rather a few hours untroubled sleep.”
Halbarad tugged his grey cloak tight around his shoulders and curled away towards the earthen wall with a snarling sort of mutter.
Aragorn sank down on the stone step beside his cousin and offered the flask. Halbarad took it and wasted no time in tipping it up.
“She’s done it before.”
Halbarad took another pull, longer, gasping slightly as he swallowed.
“Perhaps a boy, this time.”
A doubtful sideways look. Halbarad stoppered the flask.
From inside the house came a long low moan that swelled and summited in a shrieking wail. Halbarad was on his feet and reaching for the doorlatch before Aragorn managed to catch his arm in one hand and his coat in the other and wrest him back down onto the step.
“Leave them to it. It won’t be long now.” He pressed his cousin with more brandy.
Halbarad was quite drunk when he leaned forward and pressed his face into his hands and said, hoarsely, “I do not like to hear her hurting.”
No brandy this time. Not so much as a swill of watered ale. He could have used a draw of it himself.
“Something to bite on?”
Halbarad snorted once and presented his broad back, stripped to the skin. From beneath the left shoulderblade jutted a black and broken shaft, the wound exuding blood and dark discharge.
Extracting the arrowhead was a slick and crunching business. By the end his own hands were trembling, his cousin’s face curdle-pale and limned with sweat. Halbarad had not made a sound.
“Son of a spavined whore.”
Aragorn glanced up from flint and tinder to see Halbarad had dropped his axe and was sucking ferociously on the third finger of his right hand.
“Cut it off?”
“Go swive yourself. Morgoth’s balls.”
Aragorn tugged the injured hand down. No blood, no jutting bones, no fingers grossly out of joint. Halbarad tried to snatch his hand back; Aragorn clenched the wrist and peered more closely at the third finger…
“Gerroff, you leeching bastard…”
“A sliver.” He batted Halbarad’s hand away. Bent again over his fragile firemaking.
“Under the cockthistled fingernail.” Halbarad resumed gnawing his fingertip. He stooped and hefted an armload of split wood and dropped it clattering onto Aragorn’s tiny plume of smoke.
“The little devils hurt,” he said, and turned and stalked off into the trees to nurse his wound in solitude.