Only Water in Your Veins by Michelle|
Summary: A foray into the enemy's land goes awry and Aragorn finds himself in a perilous situation.
Timeline: During Aragorn's time in Gondor.
Disclaimer: Nothing here is mine and I promise to give Aragorn back to his owners in (almost) good health and spirits once I'm done with him.
He woke slowly, taking stock of his body’s discomfort with closed eyes. This could have felt like a hangover – a hangover sent by Morgoth himself, for there was the pulsing headache right behind his forehead, the parched mouth and the queasy stomach. But he was lying in a tangled heap, his left arm under his back at an uncomfortable angle, his upper body twisted, his legs spread apart and he was certain that however much ale and wine he had imbibed last night, he would never have fallen asleep like this.
Aragorn groggily opened his eyes, only to close them again against the merciless sun beating down on him. A colourful curse was on the tip of his tongue, but he never uttered it, for he felt that it would have cost too much energy. Thinking it was nearly as satisfactory, but in the end he could not suppress an annoyed groan when he tried to reassemble his bones into a manner that felt like his own body.
When he opened his eyes for the second time he lifted his right arm as well, shading his eyes with his hand. Aragorn had to squint nonetheless – so much light after the blessed darkness of sleep took some time to get used to. He saw that the sun was at its zenith and frowned. When had that happened?
Aragorn tried to recall the last thing he remembered and when the memory finally came to him, the sudden recollection made him sit up in alarm, his eyes finally adjusting to the light.
What he saw was worse than anything he could have anticipated. There were bodies all around him, of men and horses alike. Nearest to him was a young soldier, whose belly had been opened by a large gash. His eyes were wide, staring at Aragorn, who for a moment thought the other still alive until he found that the eyes were dead, not following the movements Aragorn made. The stench of spilled blood filled his nose and he swallowed the bile that rose in his throat. He had seen too many men die a violent death to be sick at the sight.
He looked further, only to be met with the same image wherever his eyes fell. Bodies mangled, blood spilled, eyes dead, mouth opened in one last desperate scream. When Aragorn was finally able to stand he walked on unsteady feet between the carnage, looking for a survivor. Or at least for something that might be salvaged.
He had been riding at the rear of the group of soldiers and only when he had walked slowly to the head of the column, turning bodies and kicking dead horse flesh in the hope of getting a reaction, did he find someone still alive. There was their guide, Varenor, lying buried under his horse up to his chest. Aragorn hurried over to him, falling to his knees at the man’s side. The commotion seemed to bring Varenor out of his stupor and he turned his head in confusion, coughing violently as he did so. Aragorn pretended not to notice the gush of blood spilling out of his mouth.
“Ah, Thorongil,” Varenor said in an exhausted and weak voice. “Anyone else alive?” He tried to turn his head to see better, but Aragorn’s body effectively blocked the other’s view.
“No,” Aragorn had to admit, but found it difficult to meet Varenor’s eyes. He was their guide, responsible for everyone’s safety, and knowing that the men under his command were dead must be hard to bear. “We need to get you out from under the horse.”
Varenor’s laugh grated on Aragorn’s ears until it turned into a violent cough, spilling forth more blood. Lacking more elaborate means to help Varenor, Aragorn used the sleeve of his shirt to wipe the blood away from the man’s mouth.
“There’s no use,” Varenor halted Aragorn’s efforts. “I know a losing battle when I see one.” Speaking cost the man strength and he panted heavily to fill his lungs with air. “Can’t feel much anyhow. My legs are dead and breathing is a real nuisance.” Aragorn’s hopes fell when he heard that and it was up to Varenor to offer the other man a lopsided grin.
Aragorn was never one to go down without a fight and he started to push against the dead weight of the horse that was pinning Varenor down. It would not budge enough for Varenor to scramble out from under it, but the shifting hurt the man and soon he was pleading for Aragorn to stop tormenting him so.
“I am sorry,” Aragorn felt obliged to say and within him panic started to rise at the prospect of being alone in a hostile place like this. He had never been here and realized full well that without a guide he would be lost. However, the guide was dying a slow and agonizing death while there was nothing he could do about it.
There was no reaction from Varenor, for truly, what should one answer to that? Instead, the guide gathered his strength enough to tell Aragorn in a quiet voice where to go in pursuit of help and water. He kindly neglected the fact that both were too far away for a man on foot to reach.
Even though Varenor urged Aragorn to leave at once, he stayed until the very end, unable to let the man die alone and without a friendly face to keep him company. Varenor had spoken truly, for the pain was bearable and he not once complained about the weight upon him. He must have sustained fatal inner bruising, though, for he continued to cough up blood and soon had trouble breathing. Aragorn watched how the man fought for each breath and was surprised when Varenor’s will was strong enough to hold out for most of the afternoon. But in the end, his wounds defeated him. He embraced death like a true man of Gondor, without fear or regret.
Aragorn looked long upon the peaceful face of the one who could maybe have saved both their lives. Then he stood, his legs creaking, and his eyes swept once again over the bodies strewn in a pathway of death. He then looked further, seeing the endless plains of the desert spreading out in either direction. There was no vegetation, no life as far as the eye could see and from above a merciless sun was walking across the sky, bleaching everything in a harsh light.
But as Varenor had told him, his path would lead him further into this hell, deeper into the desert of Harad.
Aragorn would have liked to bury the dead, but he lacked the tools and the time to do so. With a heavy heart he searched the bodies for anything that might help him, but soon found that they had been stripped of their rations. Neither in the soldiers’ packs nor in their saddlebags could he find water or food.
It had been a small party making their way steadily south into Harad, only their guide and five soldiers including Aragorn. Stealth was of the essence for this mission of reconnaissance, making their small number a necessity, but in the face of an attacking group of Haradrim there had been little they could do. Aragorn dreaded the memory of the short and violent fight. About twenty riders had attacked, circling them on their small and agile horses and bringing them down one by one with arrows or thrown knives.
Aragorn had not been the last to fall. He had just shot one of the attackers from his horse, a beautiful long-limbed chestnut, when said horse reared wildly and then took off in a panic, running him over in the process. He remembered trying to twist out of the way, but the horse must have caught him nonetheless, the sheer force of the collision knocking him out. In hindsight, that horse had probably saved his life since the Haradrim had not spared him another glance, leaving him for dead.
He had to admit to himself that maybe his death had merely been postponed. He had no provisions and only Varenor’s advice to head south and slightly west. That should lead him to a small settlement, whose inhabitants could provide him with water, food and maybe transport. If they do not kill me on sight, Aragorn thought dismissively. Gondor’s relationship with Harad was strained at the best of times. And this was definitely not the best of times, else their mission had not been necessary.
“Let us cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said out loud and took his first step away from the site of carnage. It was afternoon by now, but the sun was still high in the sky. The disc seemed much bigger than he remembered it from the north and it certainly shone warmer than in his homeland. It had burned away all life here, leaving only masses of sand. There was nothing here, no birds whose song could fill the eerie silence, no trees whose branches could sway gently in the wind. There was no vegetation and no wildlife, just the sand, the sky, the sun and the wind whistling over that barren land.
How could anyone live here? Aragorn wondered while walking steadily south. He imagined that such a harsh place would shape the humans who populated this land into a grim and resilient people, used to the hardships of living a difficult life. This was no place for the weak; only the strong and cunning would be able to survive here and he wondered, not for the first time, why humans had chosen to inhabit these lands to begin with. The desert offered nothing for the ears or eyes and certainly nothing for the mouth. Sitting with Varenor while the other man struggled for his life had deadened Aragorn to his own needs, but now when he had nothing else to occupy his mind he became very aware of his body’s discomfort. His shoulder was aching in the exact same spot where the horse had caught him and he could very well imagine that the skin was heavily bruised. He did not verify that assumption, deciding to spare his strength for walking instead. The pain was enough to be distracting, but it would not hinder him in any way. What was worse was his thirst and the fact that he had not eaten since morning.
It was indescribably hot in Harad, especially for someone used to the milder climates of the north, and Aragorn detested this heat. It seemed to shimmer around him, appearing almost like a physical enemy. It was one he had no means to fight, though, and so he had to bear the fact that sweat was running down his neck while he felt tired and lethargic in the merciless sun.
“Just one tree to sit under,” Aragorn mused and imagined a single oak in this wide expanse of nothingness. He could sit leaning against its trunk and the shadow it provided would be most welcome. The sunlight would filter through the branches and shed a gentle light, something that would be a balm for his eyes.
He smiled, basking in that vision for a moment longer, before the sun and heat once again infiltrated his thoughts. His thirst started to become a nuisance. His mouth was dry and his lips parched. Aragorn could not stop his ingrained reaction to moisten his lips with his tongue. But only a few minutes later they felt as dry and cracked as before.
By evening Aragorn was exhausted and bone-tired. It was hard work to walk through the sand. Sinking in deep with each step made walking a constant struggle and the effort only added to his ever growing thirst. His tongue was dry and felt plastered to the roof of his mouth. He swallowed repeatedly to get rid of the dry and sandy feeling, but it seemed his body had become tired of producing something as unimportant as saliva.
He was actually glad when the sun finally sank, hoping the cooler climate might help him get his bearings back. But once it was fully dark the air became quite cold and shivering violently, Aragorn once again cursed this hostile landscape.
He walked for as long as his tired body allowed and finally slept curled in a ball against the cold, imagining the swiftly flowing waters of the Bruinen.
Waking felt like a repeat from the day before. The sun was just as hot and the desert just as wide as it had been a day prior. If he thought about it, Aragorn had to admit that he might not have moved at all, for his surroundings had not changed in the least. It was a disconcerting thought to realize that only his growing thirst indicated that any time had passed at all.
With a groan Aragorn slowly got to his feet, feeling his muscles cramp from sleeping on such an unforgiving surface. He swayed unsteadily when his vision turned grey for a moment, but he ground his teeth together against the sensation and soon it passed on its own. He looked at the sun with disdain and then turned southwards once more, in the hopes of coming upon life soon.
He climbed one dune after the other, sometimes going down on his knees when he stumbled on a steep incline. As the day wore on, Aragorn found that it became increasingly difficult to get to his feet once again. Sometimes he simply sat on his hands and knees and concentrated on nothing more than breathing in enough air to get him going again.
It felt so good to sit, to stop moving. He could almost forget the headache that had started to plague him that morning when he sat and closed his eyes tightly. What he could not forget, though, was his thirst. The terrible, terrible thirst that reminded him that a human could not go long without water. Even an elf might be hard pressed to survive in these conditions, Aragorn noted wryly.
He did not know how to find water here and indeed was not at all certain whether such a feat was even possible. The longer he stayed here the more convinced he became that if he dug into this sand, all he would find was just that: sand.
Aragorn tried nonetheless. With bare hands he began to dig a hole where he knelt, his motions becoming more frantic the deeper he reached. The sand chafed his skin and bloodied his fingertips, but he was dead to those idle hurts. Like a man possessed, he attacked the sand, but as time wore on his movements became feeble and then stopped altogether.
“Nothing.” His voice sounded alien to him, as if it was produced by grating over too much metal, raspy, deep and full of needles that pierced his gums. Aragorn was breathing heavily by now and spots were dancing wildly in his vision. In desperation he looked upon the hole as if will alone could cause water to well up in it. But nothing happened.
He sat for a moment more, concentrating on how his head pounded in time with his heart, loud and violently. When both sounds refused to slow, he decided to ignore them. He had to go on after all, sitting here would resolve nothing.
He rose to his feet determinedly, preparing to feel dizzy again. The sudden blackness caught him by surprise, though, and he was still thinking that he would certainly not faint now when his knees gave way and he hit the ground hard.
The sound of someone moaning roused Aragorn from unconsciousness, and his need to help the person who had made such a weary sound caused him to open his eyes. It seemed that the simple action brought back his hurts in full force. His bruised shoulder screamed at him to please not lie on it a moment longer. With difficulty, he forced himself into a sitting position and heard that moan again, even more plaintive than before. Aragorn looked around, searching for the origin of that sound, but soon found that he was still alone and that the moan had come from his own mouth.
His head was pounding in earnest now, feeling as if it was much too big and heavy to be carried on his shoulders. He massaged his aching neck with his fingers, hoping to alleviate the pain there, but it seemed his hurts were past such easy remedies.
The thirst was still there as well, like a nagging thought in the back of his mind. His mouth felt as dry as the desert and even swallowing repeatedly did not help that feeling. His tongue felt swollen and when he tried to form words with it they came out as mangled gibberish.
Water, he needed to find water. South-west, Varenor had said. Or was it south-east? Aragorn closed his eyes and imagined Varenor lying under his horse telling him where to find the settlement. What had he said exactly?
“Come on, Thorongil! Can you not keep a few simple instructions in mind?”
Aragorn looked up sharply at the voice filling the silence of the desert and regretted the sudden movement at once when his vision became grainy and the world tilted sharply to the left.
“Move it, soldier. I had thought you hardier than that!”
Aragorn blinked tiredly. “Varenor?” He would rather not hear his own voice, so dry and painful. Even that one word had been hardly recognizable.
Varenor seemed to have no such qualms. “The one and only.”
“You are dead.” Aragorn felt the need to at least inform the other about that little detail.
“And you will be dead if we go on trading idle words here. Up with you. You see that?” Varenor pointed south and when Aragorn followed the direction of Varenor’s finger he saw something shimmer on the horizon that had not been there before. There were trees and greenery very far off and his heart began to hammer in anticipation. Plants would not grow without water...
“I’m hallucinating.” That word was a bit much for his swollen tongue, but Varenor understood him without problems. He bent down and looked Aragorn in the eye.
“Can you really afford to dismiss this chance?” So near to the other Aragorn found that he looked very real and in the end he took the hand that was offered and let himself be helped up.
Varenor set a steady pace, one that Aragorn found hard to match. He dragged his feet through the sand with difficulty, stumbling repeatedly. Varenor did not help him up again, he just walked on and left Aragorn to struggle painfully to his feet.
With Varenor’s figure to lead him on, Aragorn managed to walk through the day, but when night approached Varenor had such a head start on him that Aragorn could only see the small silhouette of the other soldier in the distance. The oasis seemed to move further away from him the longer he walked. Clear thought evaded him more and more and several times he caught himself simply standing since he could not remember why he was walking to begin with.
The headache had not abated. His skin felt tight and stretched-thin as if it could crack at any moment. His swollen tongue did not allow any more words past his lips. He had tried to call out for Varenor to wait for him, but nothing more than a bellow would come out. The sound had appalled him so much that he had decided to keep his mouth shut from now on.
During the day he had felt his throat swell just as his tongue had before and swallowing became increasingly painful. Distractedly he noticed that he was not sweating anymore and supposed that was a blessing. But at the same time he was so terribly hot that he almost felt as if in the throes of a fever. The heat caused him to breathe more rapidly, but the more his throat swelled shut the more difficult such a basic task became.
Aragorn was light-headed and weaved an uneven trail through the sand, one that showed many turns and bends. He did not notice his lack of direction for other things had taken priority in his mind. Breathing was one, water the other. Each breath was a struggle and he constantly felt on the verge of passing out because he could not fill his lungs with enough air to keep going. And then there was the desperate need for water. In his dimming thoughts, he imagined himself as a field in a hot summer: the earth had dried to a hard block, cracks crisscrossing the surface like veins in a human body. Like that field he hungered for water, for rainfall, because the liquid would rush through those deadened veins. The cracks would close and the earth would once again be fertile. Life would return.
No rain came, of course, and the oasis pushed further away from him with every step he took. When Varenor had disappeared behind the horizon and Aragorn was alone once more in this vast emptiness, he could not keep to his feet any more.
The desert would beat him and it would beat him now.
He was not certain how he supposed death should feel, but so far he was pleasantly surprised. His unimaginable thirst was fading to a vague memory in his mind, his shoulder was all but mended and his head felt like his own again. It was not hurting any more and it felt good to be able to think straight once again.
Arms embraced him from behind, gently and lovingly, and he would have recognized her touch anywhere.
“Am I dead?” he asked without turning.
“No.” Her answer was spoken right into his ear as if she was telling him a secret. He felt her exhale, the puff of air caressing his skin.
The fact that he was not dead surprised him. “I am dying then?”
He heard her sigh and felt the need to turn around so he could look into her old and wise eyes. “Why do you ask such things?” she countered with her own question and Aragorn noted that it had not been a definite no.
“I am glad you are keeping me company.” He looked into her face, the face he had not seen for so many years and found she had not changed at all. Apparently it was night in this unknown place and the low light complemented her pale complexion. The moon reflected in her deep-blue eyes and her luscious lips were slightly parted. He felt compelled to kiss her.
A kiss like that brought colour back to a world of black and white, it returned flavour to one who had tasted nothing but ash in his life. It was clear spring water to one who was thirsting and a well of emotion to one who was deprived of love.
When he broke their kiss he could see a slight flush creeping up her cheeks and could not help but love that sign of passion on her. Still, her eyes stayed sad and shadowed.
“I wish you would not leave me,” she told him and gripped his forearms tightly as if she could keep him with her in that manner.
“I would never willingly leave you,” Aragorn vowed, but could see that his answer did not satisfy his lady.
“I fear that will not be enough this time.” A tear escaped her, a silent testament to her despair. It crawled down her flushed cheek and Aragorn followed its trail, mesmerized. He leaned down to her to kiss the tear away and felt the salty flavour explode on his tongue. Such a rich taste, he thought, and as soon as he had swallowed the tear his thirst for more doubled him over like a fist to the gut.
“Do not leave!” He heard her desperate cry, but could do nothing but hold his cramping stomach, wishing for something to fill it with.
They found the man by pure chance, crawling on his hands and knees through the desert. Rajal halted his companions at once and dismounted with a graceful move born from a life spent in the saddle. He hurried over to the pitiful figure and laid a gentle hand upon the other’s shoulder announcing his presence, because he feared startling the man with a sudden move.
The touch seemed to rob the stranger of all his remaining strength. The body crumbled as if dead, coming to lie face down in the sand. For a moment Rajal feared that the man had indeed died in that very moment, just when help had finally reached him. Upon a second look he noticed that his chest was still rising and falling and that their help, therefore, would not be too late.
“My water skins!” he bellowed in the general direction of his men, trusting that one of them would come to his aid and bring the skins tied to his horse’s saddle. He turned the man onto his back and only now realized that his skin was much too light to belong to a Haradrim. His face was sunburnt, but it had not the bronzed complexion people born and bred here were used to. His eyes were open and staring, but when Rajal purposely moved into the other’s vision, there was no reaction. The man did not even blink and no flicker of human emotion crossed his face.
The delicate skin around his sunken eyes had cracked from the sun and lack of water, his lips were two thin lines and his gums were almost black. He was breathing deeply and rapidly and when Rajal felt for the man’s pulse he found it to be feeble but galloping under his fingertips.
“The water!” he called again, knowing that he needed to act quickly.
“Here, my lord,” came the immediate reply from behind him and when he turned he saw Fadim, his second in command, standing at the ready, a water skin in each hand. Rajal ushered him nearer with an impatient wave of his arm and then took the water from him.
“But my lord,” Rajal heard the man stutter in righteous fear of being reprimanded. “His skin! He’s not one of us. That’s one of the northerners!”
Rajal was too busy trying to wet the man’s parched lips with water to answer immediately. He tilted down his chin and dipped the water skin slightly, hoping vehemently that the man would swallow.
“I am not a murderer,” he answered Fadim's outburst. “It has always been custom to share provisions with those we meet in the desert. I will honour the traditions of my forefathers for they have always proved wise. Now go back and erect the tent. We will have to stay here for a while until the man is fit to travel.” Or until he is dead, Rajal thought.
He heard Fadim retreat and then there was the general bustle of a camp being set up, but Rajal was thoroughly focused on his charge. He wetted his hands and brushed them against the stranger's haggard face, hoping the cool water would revive him a bit. His actions elicited no reaction, though, and he went back to feeding him small sips of water.
He had tried several times to get the man to drink and was ready to give up hope when the water trickled uselessly down his chin for the fourth time. He tried again, a fifth, sixth and seventh time until the man finally swallowed.
Rajal sighed with relief, feeding the man more and more of the water and noting with satisfaction that he swallowed more often than not now. Maybe he was not yet past saving.
Rajal had just finished with the first water skin when Fadim came back to announce that the tent was ready. He ordered Fadim to take the man’s legs and lifted the man’s shoulders himself. Together, they carried the still unresponsive man back to their camp and laid him down on the single narrow cot in the tent. Rajal waved away Fadim, who was still unwilling to accept that his master would choose to help one of those northerners.
Like everyone born and raised in the desert, Rajal knew how to treat dehydration. Every tribe across this wide land had its own recipe for the solution he would prepare now, for they all knew that it needed more than merely water to revive a person. Rajal took the second water skin and added a small amount of salt and a good swig of sugar. He shook the skin for a while until the crystals had melted. The water would have a vile taste now, but somehow Rajal doubted the man would mind much at the moment. They could add a few oranges for the taste later, when the stranger was conscious.
Rajal spent the night sitting at the man’s side, urging him to drink continuously. It took a long while until the man’s pulse started to slow and his breathing calmed down. When Rajal had forced the second water skin down his throat the skin started to look better and seemed less dry and cracked. In the early hours of the new day, the man started to respond feebly, his thoughts obviously slowly returning to him.
From then on Rajal was amazed at the speed with which the man regained his strength. As he had anticipated, the stranger strongly objected to the taste of the solution once he was conscious enough to notice it. So Rajal added the juice of two oranges, something the man found most pleasing since it was nothing he had ever tasted before. By midday he was sitting up and by evening he shouldered his way out of the tent, walking away from their camp on unsteady feet to sit by himself, staring out into the distance.
Rajal gave him some time to compose himself, but after the stranger had sat unmoving for two hours, Rajal decided he would force his company upon him if necessary. The man would have to drink more anyway, Rajal decided, grabbing another water skin and heading towards the figure sitting a small way off.
The stranger did not acknowledge that he had company, instead staring out at the land as if it should provide answers to questions he had asked in silent communion. Rajal held out the water skin to him, prompting him to drink from it. The man raised an eyebrow.
“Just water this time, no vile-tasting brew. You must be thirsty.” He addressed the man in Westron, a language he rarely spoke and which felt foreign to his tongue.
“Thank you.” Rajal noticed how the other swallowed the water in big gulps, exactly like one who knew what it felt like to be deprived of it for too long. With a sigh, the man handed the water skin back to Rajal, who in turn took a sip himself.
“Will you tell me your name, stranger?” Rajal asked, because so far their interaction had not covered such a fundamental topic. The man next to him seemed uncertain what to answer, but in the end obviously decided that he should not oppose his host at this point.
“I am called Thorongil,” he said and his voice sounded raspy and abused still.
“Well met, Thorongil. My name is Rajal.” He nodded his head.
Silence stretched between them and Rajal thought of many ways to approach the stranger about the haunted look he had seen in his eyes. In the end, it was Thorongil who spoke first.
“Thank you for finding me. I am certain I would have died without your help.” He looked at Rajal with gratitude in his eyes, but the haunted look did not disappear. “I am surprised, though, that you helped me.”
“You think I should have left you to die because you are not one of us and because both our countries are at war? You know little of my people if you think we would condemn any creature to a death in the desert.” There was pride in his voice.
“I begin to see that,” Thorongil agreed and then looked out again at the desert. Rajal saw him shiver and frowned. It was not yet cold, the sun had not even set.
“Why are you out here when you should be resting to regain your strength?” It had cost Rajal his night's rest to nurse the man back to health; he would not see his work destroyed by negligence.
“I went to Harad because I wanted to see faraway lands. I have read much about the desert and its people, but now that I am here I find it to be an unforgiving place.”
“It is that,” Rajal agreed, but at the same time his eyes softened while he let them gaze at the horizon. “But it is also the most beautiful place I've ever seen. Just look at the gentle roll of the dunes, so even and yet unpredictable. Look at the azure sky when the sun is at its highest point. Nowhere on this wide earth will you find that exact shade of blue. Look at its people, quick to anger and quick to love, hot-headed and passionate...” Here Rajal chuckled to himself.
“And if you have looked your fill, close your eyes. Breathe deeply and clear your thoughts. You will find the desert to be the most peaceful place you have ever visited.”
Thorongil did not answer, but while he was speaking Rajal had started to understand where Thorongil's mood was coming from. “If you believe that there is a lesson to be learned here, let it be this: If the desert cannot beat you, chances are that nothing ever will.”
“I will try to heed your advice.” Thorongil inhaled deeply and then looked at the desert, at the sky and lastly at Rajal. He closed his eyes and turned his head to the sun, breathing deeply of the fresh air around them.
Rajal stood silently and left, intent on leaving the man to his thoughts. He sat for a long while out there in the desert, still and unmoving, while Rajal and his own men ate and celebrated and sang the songs of their people.
Only when the sun had disappeared and night had settled on the land did the stranger come back to their camp, shyly sitting between them after Rajal motioned for his men to free some space at the fire for their guest. They seemed wary around the stranger at the beginning, but Thorongil drank their wine, offered stories and sang along their melodies until the hour turned late.
Rajal could not be sure in the low light of the dying fire, but when the stranger laid down finally to rest, it seemed that the shadow had lifted from Thorongil's eyes; at least for now. The desert had not beaten him after all.
- The End