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Heart of a Warden

Chapter 9: Chapter 9

by aimless

Chapter 9
Note: See Disclaimer in One

It was easy to follow her trail back to the ambush site. It was as she described. There were a few orc corpses scattered about, not even the creatures that habitually dined on carrion would touch a dead orc. He also found the orc that had injured Dara in front of the ruined wagon. He saw the evidence of the attack in the marks upon the ground. The weapon that the orc used to stab her was lying close to the corpse. He bent over and picked it up. It was stained with her blood and several other unnamed substances. With a growl Rúmil flung it away from him and kicked the corpse. It took him a moment to compose himself and return to the task at hand.

He picked up signs of the Orc band and followed it for quite a distance. The trail led into the hills to a large opening in the rock. He knew better than to go inside, these hills were riddled with caves and the raiding party he had been trailing had been a good sized one. A larger force would be needed to exterminate this group of orcs. It was getting late and he had been hunting the foul beasts for hours. It was time to head back; he stopped at the ambush sight and piled the few orc corpses into a heap and set fire to the small pyre.

Rúmil stood staring into the flames. He tried to sort out his feelings. He thought about his relationship with Dara. He did not want to jeopardize the friendship they shared. Finding her so desperately ill had triggered every protective instinct he possessed. Feelings he had thought long buried were brought back to the surface to be scrutinized. He had always felt closer to her than any other female; she actually challenged him like no one else ever had. She listened to him when he talked and laughed at his jokes. Dara did not just look on him as just another conquest. Most of the elleth he had spent time with over the years had somewhat jaded him. All they were concerned with was his status, looks and physique.

Dara had taken the time to actually get to know him, something only his brothers had managed to do. She had all but said that she had no interest in a relationship. Rúmil could not ever recall her showing any favor to one particular elf. A few had pursued her, but it was more for the novelty of her station and not for herself as a person. She had also mentioned to him during one of their evenings together that she would never pick a lover from among the wardens. She had worked too hard to earn their respect and even now she still had one or two critics just waiting for her to make a mistake. Besides not many of the elves that he knew would like to be with someone who could best them two falls out of three.

She was not soft and meek. Dara was almost as tall as him. She was sleekly muscular from her many years of training and her stride was long and purposeful. She did not back down in a fight and was not hesitant in voicing her opinion. Rúmil laughed, thinking that trait had gotten her into trouble on several occasions. Most found her intimidating and as for the other elleth, he had seen them treat her as if she were an oddity. He could not recall the last time he had seen her in a dress. She was either in uniform or dressed in tunic and breeches. For him it did not lessen her appeal, it was who she was, minus the artifice that the other elleth donned like face paint. In fact they should be envious of her accomplishments; she was out guarding the borders while they lived virtually care free in the city. He knew Dara had learned long ago to shrug off their sly comments but they still made him angry.

The fire from the small pyre had all but died out and his retrospection was doing nothing more but adding to his discomposure. He would have to content himself with their friendship no matter the feelings that were plaguing him. Having resolved nothing, he left the ambush site and headed back to the wood.

Dara woke out of her light sleep and looked around the flet. She did not see Rúmil so she assumed that he was still on his scouting mission. She hoped he did not run into any trouble and that he would be back soon. His presence was a comfort and she had been glad that he was the warden that showed up as her replacement. Dara was not used to being fussed over and had it been anyone else tending her wounds and fever she might not have handled it well at all. Her sleep had not been a restful one, the pain in her leg made comfort impossible. She shifted again on the pallet trying in vain to find a position that did not aggravate her injured leg. Dara did not like being idle, but there was nothing she could do to ease her restlessness. She was too weak to even stand on her own even if her leg would have supported her weight.

Dara was also frightened; it was a feeling she was not accustomed to. Her leg was not healing properly and something was terribly wrong with her knee. She could not bear the thought of her injuries taking her away from the sworn duty that she loved. Dara’s fierce dedication to the protection of the wood had earned her the respect of the other Wardens. Her duty was her life, it was a life she freely embraced and had for decades. It amused her to no end that there were now several elleth training to be wardens. She had, on occasion, helped with the teaching of said recruits. They were a bit in awe of her skill; she could understand their feelings.

It was how she used to feel when training with Rúmil and Orophin. Constant practice had raised her skills over the years so she no longer felt like a stripling when facing the two brothers. Dara was still not quite their match with a bow, and she could not, to this day consistently best Rúmil with a sword. In hand to hand fighting though, she knew no equal. Her fluid grace and wiry strength gave her a distinct advantage in this form of combat. At least that is how it used to be, before that thrice cursed orc drove it’s poisoned blade into her leg.

Left to her own thoughts Dara dwelled on her future. As she lay there sadness and depression hit her like a fist in the gut. She could not stop the tears that pooled in her eyes and spilled over her lashes. Angrily she brushed the tears from her cheeks, she never cried. To do so now would not help matters, that thought was of little comfort and it did not stop the tears of self-pity that wet the blanket under her cheek. Eventually weariness claimed her again and she slept.

Rúmil got back to the flet just as the sun was setting. He was anxious to see how Dara had managed in his absence so he fairly flew up the ladder. He immediately went to the pallet and checked on her. He noted with relief that she was sleeping and her breathing was deep and even. His hand brushed her forehead and found it cool to the touch. It looked as if she drank some of the water he had left out but had eaten none of the food. It worried him that she had not eaten in close to four days. He would have to make sure that she did before too much longer.

He sat down beside her and peeled back the blankets to check her leg. He did not like the looks of it at all. It was badly infected and he had run out of things to try to combat the pernicious malady. Rúmil thanked the Valar that the outrider would be there by mid-day tomorrow at the latest and he could get her back to the city. Rúmil also saw the tear tracks on her face and gently traced them with a fingertip. He wished he had been here to soothe them away. She was still far too pale and her face was lined with pain. Reluctantly he got to his feet to fix them something to eat.

He needed to heat some water to make a broth for Dara to drink. He grabbed the things he would need and climbed down the rope ladder and swiftly built a small fire. He heated some water in a cooking pot and added dried meat and some herbs and stirred it till the meat was soft and falling apart. He took the pot of broth and carefully climbed back up the ladder and poured it into two bowls. He drank his portion and moved to Dara’s side laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Dara, wake up you need to eat something. It will help you get some strength back.”

Her eyelids fluttered a bit and she opened her eyes. She smiled up at him.

“You are back. Did you run into any trouble?” She tried to sit up a little and grimaced in pain.

“Here let me help you, if you promise to drink all of this broth I will tell you how the scouting mission went.”

He set down the bowl and grabbed his pack for her to use as a backrest. With an arm around her shoulders he assisted her to sit up and slid the pack behind her. Then carefully leaned her back against it. The only indication she gave that she was in pain was the hissing indrawn breath as he sat her up. Dara’s head swam dizzily and she closed her eyes willing it to pass. Rúmil picked the bowl back up and held it to her lips. With her eyes closed Dara negatively shook her head.

“Dara you must eat. I will pour it down your throat if I have to, but you will eat.”

Dara opened her eyes and stared at him, her mouth set in a stubborn line.

“I am too nauseated to eat anything. I will not be able to keep it down, take it away.”

He hastily pulled the bowl away as she tried to swat it out of his hand.

“I would not do that again. I can be just as tenacious as Haldir to get what I want, you know. Push me far enough and you will find out. Now open you mouth.”

She glared at him but did as he bade. At the first sip her stomach knotted up and she tried to turn her head away. A stern look from Rúmil made her take another drink. As she drank more of the warm broth her stomach relaxed and she realized that she actually was hungry and drained the bowl.

“Now will you tell me what you found? Thank you for the broth, I hate to admit it but you were right I was hungry.”

He set the bowl aside and made himself comfortable beside her. Rúmil sat on her left side and rested his back against the pack as well. Bringing their shoulders and legs in contact with each other. Rúmil enjoyed the sensation of being so close and Dara did not seem to mind either. She had been lonely when she had awoken and accepted his nearness without complaint. Dara had never minded being alone before but her injury and bout of self-doubt had left her feeling insecure.

“I went the direction you said, it was pretty easy to follow your trail. I found the ambush site and tracked the orcs farther west, at one point it looked like they joined with a bigger contingent. Their trail led into the hills to a very large cave. The Orcs will have to be flushed out and dealt with. It is a large number, I will have to inform Haldir and come back with a sizable force to deal with them. Right now our only concern is to get you to the city and to the healers. Why don’t you see if you can get some more rest.”

Dara fidgeted on the pallet. “I am tired of resting, I am tired of my leg feeling as if it is afire. I wish this had never happened.” Dara crossed her arms over her chest and decided to sulk. Since it was the only thing she felt she was capable of doing at the moment.

“Well it did happen and we will deal with it. I will help you.” He tried to put his arm around her but she shrugged it off.

“How can you possibly help? I fear there is not much that can be done. I had a lot of time to think today and I do not have much hope for a positive outcome.” Anger tinged her voice as she answered him.

“How can I help? I can keep self-pity from eating you alive for one thing. Dara, this is not like you. Where is the young elleth who would let nothing stand in her way to become a Warden? Who would train to near exhaustion to be the best she could be? Where is the Warden who would defend the borders with her very life? She had spirit and determination and let nothing hold her back. Where is she?”

“I fear she is lost and cannot find her way back.” Dara looked at Rúmil and laid her head on his shoulder as she had done in the past when terribly upset. “Help me find my way back?” She whispered.

He rested his chin on the crown of her head and whispered back. “I will help you in any way I can. You can lean on me Dara and I will support you. Now try and sleep it will not be an easy day tomorrow.”

“Thank you” She simply said as she snuggled into his side and drifted off to sleep. The fierce headache and some of the fogginess she had been feeling had lessened considerably after she had eaten.

He placed a light kiss on the top of her head and sat there savoring every moment that she clung to him. It was exquisite torture to have her so close. She had spoken of being lost, but Rúmil was the one lost, lost and floundering in the newly awakened feelings he had for her. He sat there long into the night watching over Dara as she passed a very restless night, her injury making it near impossible to fall into a deep sleep.

Morning dawned and he was still sitting there holding Dara. Sometime after midnight exhaustion had finally pulled her under and at last she slept deeply. Rúmil was stiff and sore and the arm Dara was leaning against was numb. He suffered it gladly if it meant he could hold her that much longer. He fell into a light reverie and did not stir until he felt Dara pull away from him. She was awake and trying to extricate herself from his arms and sit up. He helped to steady her and shook his numb arm till he got feeling back.

“How are you feeling this morning?” he asked as he studied her sleepy expression.

“Much the same, although not as tired. I am a bit hungry though.”

“Do you think you can manage some solid food?”

“Yes, My stomach is not as unsettled as it was yesterday.”

He nodded and got up and fixed them some food from the stores that were left. Some way bread and dried fruit and some cheese made up their breakfast. He brought the food over to the pallet and sat down beside her. They shared the simple fare. She did not eat as much as he would have liked but it was a start. When Dara declared she could eat no more he set the plate aside and placed a hand on her forehead. To his dismay she felt slightly warm again.

“You Feel a bit fevered again, how badly off are you?”

“I do not think it will get as bad. I do feel flushed but not terribly so and my mind is clear. My leg is about the same perhaps a bit worse, I cannot tell anymore. It just hurts, the pain lessens for a bit then flares back to life again.”

“I will have to change the bandages, there are just enough supplies to do it. Is there anything left in the healer’s kit that I can use?”

“I think there is still a pot of salve used for minor cuts and scrapes. It cannot hurt and has some astringent properties. I pretty much used everything else.”

Rúmil got the supplies he would need and laid them out close to hand.

“Are you ready? I do not have to tell you this will hurt.”

She closed her eyes and her hands fisted at her sides. “Just get it over with.”

He took a deep breath and pulled back the blanket. She flinched when he placed his hand on the bandage. Rúmil took his knife and cut the linen. He peeled the bandages away to reveal the ugly wound. The slight smell from the wound was not a good sign; it had begun to fester. Dara’s inborn healing ability appeared to have been overwhelmed. She steadfastly refused to look, her eyes remained tightly shut and she bit her lower lip to keep from crying out. He cleaned the wound as best he could and used all of the salve in the small pot to thickly coat the wound. By the time he had finished Dara was shaking and ashen faced. Her fists were clenched so tightly that her knuckles were white.

“Dara? Are you all right? I’m sorry if it hurt.” He disposed of the soiled bandages and returned to her side. Her eyes were still closed and she had leaned her head back against the pack that was propping her up.

“I will be, just give me a moment.” Dara took several deep breaths and opened her eyes. They looked a bit glazed. “Don’t bother telling me how bad it looked, I can guess.”

“The healers will take good care of you. I am sure they can make it right. The outrider should be here soon, why don’t we get you dressed for the trip. I think if we cut the leg off of one of your pair of leggings they should go on no problem.”

She watched as he rummaged through her pack and pulled out a buff colored leather pair and took out his knife.

“No! Not that pair, I just got them. There is a worn gray pair in the bottom of the pack, use those.”

Rúmil chuckled. “Dara I have never known you to be overly concerned about your attire before.”

She frowned at him. “I am not, it is just why waste a brand new pair when my old gray leggings will suffice as well?”

“You are right, they Gray ones it is.” He found the mentioned article of clothing in the bottom of her pack and pulled them out.

Rúmil was glad for the distraction of getting them ready to leave. He had been too preoccupied of late tormenting himself with a situation with which he had no control. His sharp knife made short work on the threadbare material of the leggings. He had cut them off just about mid-thigh and took them over to the pallet to help her dress. Dara sat there with a sullen look on her face. She muttered something that not even his sharp hearing was able to catch.

“What was that Dara? Did you say something?”

“I said this is embarrassing. Having to dress me like this.”

He stood there frowning at her. “Are you able to dress your self?”

“Well no but….”

“Do you see anyone else here that will help you get dressed besides me?”

“Again no, but that does not keep….”

“I fail to see the problem then, I do not understand this modesty you have developed all of a sudden. You need help so I will help you. End of discussion.”

Dara scowled at him. “Just help me with the one leg and I can manage the rest.”

“We’ll see, now just sit still and I’ll be as careful as I can.”

He kept her injured leg as still as possible as he eased the garment up her legs. Rúmil tried to stay as impartial as possible but the sensation of the smooth skin on her legs brushing his fingers caused an involuntary shudder to course through him. He was glad she did not notice his reaction to touching her. He was sure she would have recoiled in alarm. Dara finished pulling the leggings on and tied the laces. Rúmil stepped back to put a bit of space between them.

Dara then let out the breath she had been holding and waited till the fierce pain of the wound subsided to a dull ache.

“Well that was unpleasant, you moved away awfully quick. I was not going to bite you.” Dara frowned at him as he stood with his back to her.

A sharp whistle from below interrupted any answer he might have had.

“That must be the outrider, I will go down to meet him.”

Rúmil gave the counter sign and climbed down to inform the rider of the current crisis.


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Chapter name
Chapter 9
15 May 2004
Last Edited
15 May 2004