Summary: A man of Harad, studying to be a doctor finds himself on a ship bound for battle, a place he's not prepared to be. His first battle and its aftermath lead to disaster, but with the right friends everything has the possibility to improve for the better.
Disclaimer: These wonderful characters, worlds, civilizations, etc. , belong to J. R. R. Tolkien.
Author's Note: Thanks to my family for help with the ideas and for betaing for me.
The streets were hot under his thin sandals, as if the stone bricks had been recently baked. Alexander ran a little faster, hoping to get to the library before it closed for the night. But the sun didn't heed him and continued to set as he darted through back alleys and dashed through the open air market where he usually bought dinner.
The library doors were already closed when he arrived and the university next door was emptying quickly, with staff and students alike heading for home. Alexander collapsed onto the stairs of the library to catch his breath and waved as a few of his friends passed by. His classes ended early every third day into the week and he took the time to visit his mother and pick up some more substantial groceries.
The sun continued its slow descent, basking the library in a red glow as the light bounced off the rocks. For a moment the beauty was astounding, but then it had passed and the light made only heat once again. Alexander smiled to himself for a moment, the ingenuity of his people never ceased to amaze him and he couldn't see why so many were anxious to expand to the north.
He gathered his purchases from earlier and pulled his hat down lower on his head before heading towards the student apartments. He stayed in the same room that his father had stayed in and perhaps even his grandfather. All the men in his family had become healers or engineers or the ones that attempted to unite the tribes.
Alexander began to hum through the streets. Visiting his parents, both retired, had always brightened his day. And now he felt as if he truly was almost finished his schooling. He'd understood his father and the books on the shelves in their house. The material didn't seem nearly as complicated and he was ready to sit the examinations and finish school.
The alley, now dark, ahead of home, lead to home and soon to a position, a doctor and a healer. He aspired to his father's position as head of the university program. But the alley didn't seem to end this time. Alexander kept walking, waiting for the light to come and then the door.
There was a pain on the side of his head and then the darkness became absolute.
He woke with a groan. There was a shooting pain in the side of his head and his whole body was sore, and moving. Alexander sat up carefully, raising a hand to the side of his head, trying to figure out what was going on. It smelled like fresh sweat and muck.
Sounds of water crashing against something and screaming from somewhere close to him. Alexander opened his eyes and looked around. What he saw was a nightmare.
Men, packed in all around him. Lying in their own stink and not caring. Chained to each other with a look of hopelessness in their eyes. The whole thing seemed like something out of a book. A tale to scare young children into being good with. It was some kind of death ship, and he was on it.
“What is this?” he asked out loud. He had one idea. This must be death, the Halls of Mandos. But it was nothing like it suppose to be, or at least what the thought it was suppose to be like.
There was a rustling noise to his left and then the sounds of clinking chains. “You're awake.” The voice was there, quiet and raspy, but it was human and Alexander felt more real, less separated from everything around him.
“I was worried you weren't going to wake up. The guards hit you very hard.” A man, smaller than Alexander, with a ratlike face moved into his field of view. He felt Alexander's head for a moment. “The swelling is gone, that should be good.”
Alexander nodded. “Who are you? What's happening? How long have things been like this? Who are the guards? Why are we here? Can I have something to drink?” He asked, trying not to listen to his own raspy voice and think about how much damage he was probably doing to his vocal cords.
The man touched his shoulder, trying to be comforting, but just making him more aware of how much dirt was everywhere. “Relax, please. The guards,” he motioned towards a monster-like beast standing on a raised platform overseeing everything, “they don't hesitate to kill prisoners that are causing problems, or if they're hungry they'll choose a few at random.”
Alexander nodded and kept his head down. “But what's happening?”
“They're taking us somewhere. I think to fight. I've seen weapons stored somewhere. The war in the north. They must be running out of soldiers. And here,” Alexander took the waterlogged fabric the man handed him and followed his directions, sucking out the water and savouring its feeling on his dry throat.
Alexander let these words sink in. All his life he had grown up knowing he was going to help people. Be a healer, fix the broken parts and soothe what he could. His family did not fight. They were exempt from drafts and in a separate caste from the masses, a step above them. His parents were pacifists and he'd never considered war before.
“I don't fight,” he told the man. “I am going to be a doctor. My family, we don't do those kinds of things.”
The man shook his head. “You wish. No one here is exempt from the horrors that await us.” He turned away, ignoring Alexander and the rest of his attempts at conversation.
Days, weeks, possibly months passed quickly. It was always dark and one thing bled into another, it got colder and more people died. Alexander did what he could to heal, taking advantage of his training. But there was no supplies, not even proper food or enough clean water.
Then one morning things changed. The smell got to him first. It was clean and sweet, like evergreen plants that grew in the cold room of the university arboretum. Light began to filter in through the cracks in the ship's boards and fresh water, not salty, had been slowly dripping in to float around the feet of the prisoners. Soon they'd be made to bail it all out again. Even the Orc guards seemed to be in lighter moods.
The light came and went, and the morning brought more hope. Some of the top boards were pulled off, the blue of the sky peaking through and the water was clean enough now. Alexander rinsed his clothes and the sweat from his body. He tried to clean his patients, but it wasn't much help. They still needed food and medicine.
Two more days passed. Alexander prepared himself, walking as much as he could, stretching his weakened muscles. Something told him that the journey was bad, but their arrival and goal wasn't much better. He wanted to go home and forget about it all.
The morning of the third day, the Orcs were noisier. They pushed the prisoners around and ate one man raw in front of the others. Alexander felt sickened, it was nothing like the dissection rooms he'd grown use to. It was altogether much too real.
The sun was high in the sky, filling the hold with light, when the last of the boards were torn off. They were herded out, like cattle, and unchained from each other. Alexander stretched his arms, reaching above his head and to the sides. There was space now and the sun fed his soul.
Clothing was handed out. Normally he would have scoffed at the bad quality and ridiculous patterns. The hats were absurd, reaching up high and long down the back of the wearer. But his current clothes weren't much better than rags. He'd torn them into bandages and cleaning cloths ages ago.
And then there were weapons. Some men, Alexander assumed they had some kind of training, got bows, everyone else got a sword. His own looked like the blade would fall from the handle if he shook it hard enough. On top of it all, the blade was rusty. Not only was he suppose to kill people, he had to try and poison them too!
The Orcs pushed them off the boats in large crowds. A man, with lighter skin than Alexander's own, obviously from northern Harad, made a speech. He ranted angrily about northerners taking their land, women, and goods. The people worked themselves into a froth, Alexander nearly included. But he kept his head and until his body moved forward with the surge of people, he didn't quite realize what was going on.
People were in front of him. Pale skinned and sun burnt, others from his land flashed before his eyes. He parried with his sword the best he could and tried to stay towards the back of the group. It was a mess. Clumps here and there. If this was what all fighting was like, Alexander found it easy to believe that chaos ruled the lower classes, as it ruled the battlefield.
He faced a man with long blond hair on a horse. He cut Alexander's arm and he fell to his knees, screaming at the pain it caused. He'd treated wounds before, but the sight of his own blood changed it all. It shined and seemed to give off its own glow on the dirt and mud and churned up grass beneath his feet.
Alexander couldn't feel and yet all sensation seemed to be in his arm. The nerves felt fiery and burning and oh, how it hurt! He looked up at the blond man and the pommel of the man's sword met his head and he went down once again.
This time, he came to in a slightly more pleasant place. The walls were stone and there were bars where the fourth wall should have been, but there was a window and he wasn't chained to anyone. In fact, he was alone and only the sounds of human suffering on either side lead him to believe differently.
He sat up and rolled over, his hands grabbing wildly, luckily landing upon a bucket. He drew it close to face and spent the next ten minutes dry heaving into it. His stomach was empty, nothing but bile and acid. Alexander wiped his mouth on his sleeve and spit into the bucket, trying to clean the taste from his mouth.
As the pain slowly left his head, he felt his arm for the first time. At first, he wasn't sure it was a good thing that the numbness had retreated. Alexander took a careful breath and tried to harden himself before turning his forearm and exposing the wound.
It stunk. He was amazed he hadn't noticed it earlier. His arm burned red hot and he could see the first starts of blood poisoning infection creeping into his blood stream. It didn't seem possible. Alexander swore, he had not survived all those weeks on the hall ship only to die soon afterwards from infection!
He tried rinsing it with the water in his cell. It hurt too badly. He knew that cleaning it was important. But so was drinking water and he couldn't bear causing himself pain. Alexander was a coward. He hated pain, he always had. Running, sports, being outside, he'd avoided it all as much as he could. Everything from scraped knees to bruised shins had pained him and made him avoid any activity for as long as he could convince his mother.
The light fled quickly from the window of his cell and Alexander took to the pile of straw in the corner and lay down on it, curling in on himself. He felt colder than he ever had before. From the northern environment, the lack of other bodies, or infection, he wasn't exactly sure. Perhaps it was all three.
But sleep came to him and the pain went away, for a while.
Alexander was shook awake roughly by strong hands. He looked up, his eyes blurry and tearing from the pain his injured arm took from being jerked around. He cried out in protest and begged, “stop, stop, oh please stop! It hurts so badly, just kill me quickly please.”
The newcomers, the man with rough hands and another one with lighter hair didn't answer. They both looked at him and discussed something in their own tongue. Alexander listen to their odd words and for the first time wished that he'd chosen to study northern tongues instead of geography. It seemed so much more practical all of a sudden.
“Do you stop fight?” The light haired one asked.
Alexander had to concentrate to make out the words through his thick accent and bad grammar. “Oh yes, please please. I never wanted to be here, help me! I do not want to die!”
The pale men exchanged more of their soft words and he was picked up for the floor, screaming as his arm burned even more and placed on a board held by more men. Slowly they began to move, his body rolling side to side on the board and his arm sending fresh waves of pain through his body with every movement until he fainted and gained relief.
Loud voices and pain woke him next. Alexander looked around, he didn't dare sit up, he feared he'd pass out again or vomit onto his saviours and disrespect them. He wanted help more than anything now. Before it became too late for him.
He was on something hard and clean feeling. Everything seemed to be white, the walls, the sheet covering his body, the robes the men and, he was surprised to note, the woman around him. The smell of herbs and potions filled the air. It reminded him of home, of the university halls and practice rooms.
A man with scraggly brown hair approached him. There was a small metal cup in his hand. He held it out towards Alexander, letting him sniff the contents. It smelled like poppy. Alexander opened his mouth as much as he could and tried to gulp the pain relieving drug down, letting it send him into a deep, and painless sleep.
Alexander woke up slowly in a lighted room. The pain was less, almost to the point were he could ignore it. But not quite there. He looked around, taking in the clean atmosphere and the man sitting at his bedside. His body still felt weak, but his mind was coming together as the drug wore off. He blinked a few times and tried his voice.
The man jumped at the sound of his rasp and motioned for him to be quiet. He filled a cup from a pitcher sitting on a small table next to the comfortable bed Alexander was on. Helping each other, the two lifted Alexander's head and allowed the water to trickle down his throat.
“What happened?” Alexander asked. He remembered asking a similar question on the hell boat. It seemed like so long ago since he'd seen home and lived in peace and comfort, the sensation of pain almost seemed like a friend, it never seemed to totally leave his side.
The man, his hair and face were fair and he was dressed in well made, though simple, clothing. “You are injured,” he said, “Your arm, infected it was.”
Alexander nodded, not commenting on the man's talent at his tongue. “Is the infection gone? I am a healer, I could help.”
The man nodded. “That explains much. You spoke in your sleep and I did not understand your words. The infection is gone.” He paused for a moment. “Your arm will be fine.” He touched Alexander's shoulder gently and sat back in his own chair.
Alexander turned on his side and tried to look at his own arm. And then he screamed. There was no infection left. There was no arm left to be infected. Just above his elbow was gone now, his right arm too. The one he used for healing and holding a pen and doing all his work. He screamed again, not pain, but anguish and loss. There was a part of him, a real part, that was gone now.
“Please, you will be all right.” The man tried to comfort him, but Alexander wanted none of it. He cried. Women and men who must have been the northern version of healing assistants pushed him to drink water and slurp the mashed food and broths they brought him. And he did, he was too hungry not to. But the man he could talk to did not return.
The next morning, he woke with the fair man that he could speak to next to his bed. “I am Faramir.” He said. “You will be healed. A healer is coming now and there will be something for you.”
Alexander nodded. “Thank you.” He reached out and touched Faramir's hand. “Thank you for everything.”
But Faramir wouldn't stop there. “What is your name?” he asked, not knowing that if Alexander didn't offer, asking was prying.
Alexander sighed, he'd heard of a few northern customs like name sharing. “Alexander,” he said in his own tongue, hoping that Faramir would not attempt to translate it, he didn't want a northern name. They'd taken his arm, he feared what Faramir would tell the healer.
But the same scraggly man he remembered from before came in. Faramir spoke in low tones, explaining something and motioning at various things around the room. Alexander heard his name a few times, odd sounding in the soft voices of the north.
Faramir came back to his bedside. “Alexander, this is Aragorn, he is a healer. He will see your wound and,” he paused for a moment, not too sure of the words, “make it better. He says that it may hurt, but he will make sure it does not become poisoned blood again because this is bad. You would die.” He looked very serious, as if he was not sure Alexander understood what infection was and how important it was to be healed.
But Alexander smiled and spoke back. “I am a doctor in training, a healer of the south. I understand infection and healing.” He watched as the two men spoke and the new one, Aragorn, laughed and commented back, but Faramir did not bother to translate for him.
With the help of the two men, Alexander pulled himself into a sitting position, still refusing to look at his missing limb. It was unwrapped and the last of the bandage soaked off. He closed his eyes once the limb was bare and bit his lip as the wound was cleaned and wrapped. At last, Aragorn stepped away and he slowly laid back, confident the torture was over for a bit at least.
“Did you use mint?” he asked Aragorn, always eager to learn more about healing of any form. “Infection, plant, smells good?” The extent of his knowledge of the tongue of northern men was rather small and limited to the medical terms he'd heard many people use.
Aragorn stopped proceeding towards the door and looked back. “For infection,” the rest of his words meant nothing to Alexander, bits of gibberish and nonsense. He happened to catch some rather crude slang words but figured they meant different things to the man.
“Honey.” Faramir told him, putting the words in simpler terms that could be communicated across languages.
Aragorn nodded in agreement. “Bee spit.”
Alexander laughed. “It sounds so different depending on how you say it.” He looked at Faramir, hoping that someone else had understood the joke. Aragorn laughed after a moment, Faramir had translated the difference.
Aragorn conversed with Faramir for a moment, very quietly. “So does, prisoner and transion.”
Alexander gave Faramir a confused look. He didn't know what a transion was in relation to a prisoner, or not in relation to it.
“An exchange student. I think.” Faramir added a bit uncertainly.
Alexander smiled. Perhaps his future was not too dark after all.