without form and void
A/N: Thank you so much for the reviews and to Ashkana, jezaeiri, and MountainWilliam for the recs! I'm in unfamiliar territory here with LotR, so I really, really appreciate the support. Mind you, I'm doing a TON of research and know more about Old English than I ever thought I would, but I know I've barely scratched the surface to the world that is Middle Earth. So please forgive me for any blunders I make, and if they're really egregious, please let me know!
Also, I should warn people that Buffy will not be joining the Fellowship in this fic. There are already fics out there that do this and do it freaking fantastically (yes, I'm looking at you, jezaeiri!). I'm trying something a little different here -- and hopefully I'll actually be able to pull it off!
Now, on to the story!+++
Like most races of Men, the Rohirrim were mistrustful of the Elves. While those descended from the Dúnedain were not met with quite the same suspicion, neither were they embraced.
It had been reasonable, then, for Aragorn to assume that he would not be well-received by a healer in the Westfold, appearing at her door before the sun had fully risen, no less, clad in dirty, blood-stained garments that clearly marked him as a Ranger, with a gravely wounded girl in his arms.
At the time, however, he had not had much choice in the matter. The girl had needed immediate attention, attention he himself could not give; for though it had seemed as if he and the others had done little else but slay orcs since they had first begun their journey down the Anduin, there had been another reason for their travels.
They had been tracking what Aragorn hoped was the creature, Gollum, a search that was to be resumed as quickly as possible, leaving little time to win over the healer’s trust.
It was for that reason that Aragorn had hastily declared himself ‘Thorvenel’, kin to Thorongil, as soon as he had caught sight of the woman.
It was a tenuous claim at best, for it had been well over 40 years since he had ridden as ‘Thorongil’, but he had made it nonetheless, hoping that his deeds in service to Thengel had not yet faded from the memory of the Rohirrim.
He had underestimated the healer, however. Both his name and his appearance had mattered not.
The instant she had set eyes on the girl, her focus was on her and her alone. He had not even finished stating his own name before the woman was ushering him inside, and she said not a single word when he took his leave shortly thereafter.
Judging by the look on Leofwen’s face now as he approached her and the girl, she had not expected to see him again, either.
But then, he certainly did not expect to see her sitting out in the cold morning air with the girl, who was fast asleep amidst a heap of blankets.
Aragorn frowned. As serious as the girl’s injuries were, it did not seem wise to have her out of doors like that.
Still, he withheld judgment. The woman was a healer, so he would trust her reasoning in allowing it. And in fact, the girl did have a peaceful look on her face, which was a vast improvement to the way he had last seen her, caught in an endless stream of night terrors.
“Leofwen,” he called out in greeting as he closed the distance between them.
Though he tried to speak in quiet tones, the girl stirred almost immediately, instinctively seeking out the owner of the voice.
With sleep still clouding her eyes, Aragorn could not help but notice how unassuming she appeared. In fact, with her fair hair and hazel eyes, she looked every inch a woman of Rohan, her slight stature the only indication that she might not belong.
Yet he remembered all too well the state she had been in when he had found her, gravely wounded, dressed in strange garments; he could still hear the words she had uttered, spoken in a tongue foreign to his ears.
She was a mystery; of that, there was no doubt. It was why he lingered in the Westfold while Halbarad and the others hastened back to Eriador, the trail having gone cold.
Indeed, at that very moment, her eyes found his, and all traces of slumber vanished, only to be replaced with a look of wariness.
His frown deepening, Aragorn quickened his pace until he was standing before the two women, his gaze never wavering from the girl.
She, in turn, sat up to return his look. As she did, the blankets around her fell away and something caught his eye.
Aragorn could not help but stare, for it was no ordinary piece of jewelry. In fact, it almost looked like it was of elven origin, though the craftsmanship was one that he had never seen before.
He was a little chagrinned that he had not noticed it when he had first found her, though in all fairness, his attention had been on her stomach, where she had clearly been run through by a blade.
Still, it was something that should not have been overlooked. If only he could—
Suddenly, the necklace disappeared from sight as the girl shifted to cover herself.
With a start, he realized that he had been staring at the girl rather inappropriately. The twin expressions on the women’s faces told him that it had not gone unnoticed, either.
Not willing to let a breach in etiquette dissuade him, Aragorn gave a short nod.
“I apologize for any offense, but that is a most unusual necklace round your neck,” he began in Rohirric, partly for Leofwen’s benefit and partially as a test.
When he received nothing but a slightly puzzled look from the girl in return, he tried again, this time in Westron, and when that yielded nothing, Sindarin, and so on, until he had exhausted every language that he knew.
Yet there wasn’t even the slightest flicker of recognition.
How someone could not know a single language of Middle Earth, he knew not, and it unsettled him; for while it was possible that it was a deception on her part – a theory he would not dismiss out of hand – the strange words she had uttered in her delirium echoed in his mind once again.
Up until that moment, Leofwen had been content to remain silent. Now, however, she sprang from her seat, moving so that she stood between him and the girl.
“Enough. I will not have you upset Líhtwen with your questions," she declared. "I understand that there is much to be discovered, but it will not be today, not when Líhtwen has only so recently come back to herself.”
Though he kept his expression neutral, Aragorn felt his emotions warring within.
On the one hand, he was displeased. Questioning the girl would be no easy task in itself, but now it seemed as though he would have another obstacle to go through as well. And yet he could not help the small tug of amusement at the way the healer had obviously taken to the girl, going so far as to give her a Rohirric name; a fitting one, at that.
Perhaps sensing his indecision, Leofwen pressed her advantage, taking him by the arm and leading him away from the girl.
"No matter where she came from, the child has been through a terrible ordeal, one that follows her in her sleep. There will be time enough to see her," she promised. "Come back tomorrow if you must, but let her rest for today.”
Aragorn paused, mulling over the woman’s words.
A day’s rest was not so unreasonable a request. Had he himself not been alarmed to see the girl sitting out in the cold air? And though he could not stay in the Westfold much longer, one more day would not hurt. What was more, he could always return if he was not satisfied, for it would be some time before the girl was well enough to leave the healer’s care.
Yes, it was as Leowfen had said; there would be time enough to speak with the girl, and to do so, he would need to remain in the good graces of the healer. Judging by the look in the woman’s eye at that very moment, nothing short of force would allow him to question the girl just then.
After another long moment, Aragorn finally nodded in acquiescence.
With a satisfied smile, Leofwen turned and hastened back to her ward, clearly signaling an end to their conversation.
Aragorn did not follow. He merely watched as the healer began fussing over the girl for another moment; then, without another word, he took his leave, though not before casting one more glance at the girl, at this 'Líhtwen'.
To his surprise, she immediately returned his gaze, looking neither frightened nor relieved, merely thoughtful.
Yes, she was a mystery. It was not one he would solve today, however. +++
Unfortunately, he did not fare much better the next day.
To be sure, he had not returned believing that by some miracle, he would be able to understand her. He simply came to observe, to look beyond words at the girl herself.
Even that was proving to be difficult, however, for she did not react at all how he expected, from the moment he had walked in the door.
After their brief encounter the previous day, he had thought she might have been displeased by his appearance, or at the very least been uncomfortable to have someone approach her while she rested in her bed.
Yet he had been met with nothing but a roll of her eyes.
The situation had not much improved since then, either.
At that very moment, she had her arms thrown up in frustration; whether it was because she did not understand what he was trying to say or because she lacked the words to tell him so, he knew not.
When that proved to be unsatisfying, she launched into a rant in her native tongue, her words coming out in a rush as her arms began to wave about, only this time more wildly than before and with more energy than he thought possible of someone with her injuries.
It could not last forever, though, and eventually her stamina did falter, causing her to fall against her pillows, slightly winded from her exertion.
Aragorn sat back in his chair, discreetly looking away as he gave Líhtwen a moment to regain her breath.
Feeling a little frustrated himself – and well aware of the looks he was receiving from Leofwen – Aragorn decided that perhaps it was time to change course.
"Líhtwen," he said gently.
She did not show any sign of having heard him, however, so he leaned forward and repeated her name.
With an almost startling abruptness, her eyes locked onto his as she speared him with a look that could only be described as ferocious.
It was at complete odds with her slight form, buried underneath a heap of blankets, yet there was no denying the intensity of that look, and for a moment, all he could do was stare.
Then he noticed the way her lips had pressed together, almost the way a child would when refusing to answer a question—
A chuckle escaped from his lips before he could stop it, which only served to deepen her scowl.
Smiling in earnest now, Aragorn held up his hands in mock surrender.
"Would you like some water?" he asked, miming the action of drinking.
He saw the understanding light in her eyes almost immediately. Still, it took a moment before she nodded her head, perhaps wary that it was some sort of trick, that his offer was contingent on something.
Without another word, Aragorn got to his feet to fetch her some water. As he turned, however, he heard her murmur something under her breath, very faintly.
With a start, Aragorn realized that she was repeating what he had said, obviously trying to commit his words to memory.
He hastened back to her, water in hand. She murmured what must have been words of thanks in her language as she reached for the cup.
But he did not hand it to her.
“Water,” he said, clearly and deliberately.
Her brow furrowed, and, for a brief moment, he truly thought that she would hurl a pillow at him.
Aragorn simply repeated the word again, this time more slowly, then stopped, giving her a look of encouragement.
Her expression cleared almost immediately, and she rewarded him with a beaming smile, all traces of annoyance gone.
He smiled back.
It would be some time before they were able to speak, let alone trust one another, but it was a start. +++
Aragorn did not emerge from Leofwen’s hut until quite some time later; almost too late, if he hoped to begin his journey back to Eriador before nightfall. For although many questions still surrounded Líhtwen, more pressing matters awaited him in the North.
Paying no heed to the curious stares, he quickly made a course to the edges of the hamlet to Roheryn, who was waiting patiently for him there, grazing on some grass.
She was not alone, however. As Aragorn approached, he noticed a man admiring her from a respectful distance.
He looked to be about eight and twenty years of age, not quite as tall as Aragorn but broader in the shoulders. By the soot on his hands and clothes, Aragorn guessed that the man worked at the forge.
“She’s a beautiful beast,” the man commented as he drew near.
Aragorn nodded. “That she is,” he said, taking a moment to stroke Roheryn’s muzzle.
“What business does a Ranger of the North have in a place such as this?” the man asked bluntly.
Aragorn took no offense, knowing that it was part of the forthright nature of the Rohirrim. Still, he did not offer much information, either.
“I had need of your healer,” Aragorn answered vaguely.
The man’s eyes lit up with understanding. “Ah, so it was you who brought the girl,” he noted.
This time, Aragorn did not reply; he simply readied Roheryn for the journey ahead.
“But you are leaving?” the man exclaimed, and Aragorn could hear the disapproval in his voice.
He turned to face the man with a slight quirk of his brow. “She is in capable hands, is she not?” he countered mildly.
The man bristled. “That she is. Leofwen is the finest healer in these parts,” he replied, his voice gruff with pride. He regarded Aragorn for a moment before continuing to speak. “Ride safe then. The orcs have been restless as of late.”
Aragorn grimaced. He himself had observed the same, and it did not bode well. Retrieving the One Ring was of the utmost importance.
With one last glance toward the hamlet, Aragorn quickly urged Roheryn into a canter, his thoughts turning from the girl he was leaving behind to the task ahead. +++