Pippin cried out as Coralie fell. She had fallen on top of him, and now he lay on the earth with her unconscious body across his middle.
“Aragorn!” he cried out. But almost before his name reached his ears, he was there, lifting her prostrate form off the prone hobbit. The others rushed over as Aragorn held her in his arms.
“Hey!” cried Pippin as Merry fell over the top of him in his haste. “That’s the second time someone has fallen over me this evening.
“Hush Pip!” said Merry helping him up. “Looks like Coralie is in a far worse state than you friend.”
“What ails the lady?” asked Boromir, as he dropped to one knee beside where Aragorn bent over her. Merry, Pippin and Gimli followed in his wake.
Placing a hand on her brow, Aragorn’s voice was grim.
“She has a fever.”
It had taken a little longer for Frodo and Sam to climb up the grey ladder to the wooden platform, where Legolas now sat with three others, clad in shadowy grey. Unless one of them moved, he could not discern them amongst the tree stems. Standing up, one of them uncovered a little lamp, which gave out a slender silver beam. Looking at Frodo’s face and then Sam’s, he quickly put it out again and welcomed them in his own tongue. Haltingly, Frodo tried to reply in kind.
“Welcome!” said the Elf then in the Common language. “We seldom use any tongue but our own; for we dwell now in the heart of the forest, and do not willingly have dealings with any other folk. Even our own kindred in the North are sundered from us. But there are some of us still who go abroad for the gathering of news and the watching of our enemies, and they speak the languages of other lands. I am one. Haldir is my name. These are my brothers, Rúmil and Orophin.” The two Elves nodded and smiled at Frodo and Sam. “But we have heard rumours of your coming, for the messengers of Elrond passed by Lórien on their way home up the Dimrill Stair. We had not heard of – hobbits, of halflings, for many a long year, and did not know that any yet dwelt in Middle-earth. You do not look evil! And since you come with an Elf of our kindred, we are willing to befriend you, as Elrond asked; though it is not our custom to lead strangers through our land. But you must stay here tonight. How many are you?”
“Nine,” said Legolas. “Myself, four hobbits; and two men, one of whom, Aragorn, is an Elf-friend of the folk of Westernesse.”
The name of Aragorn son of Arathorn is known in Lórien,” said Haldir, “and he has the favour of the Lady. All then is well. But you spoke only of seven.”
“We also have a maiden,” at this the Elves raised their eyebrows, “and a dwarf,” said Legolas.
“A maiden and a dwarf!” said Haldir. “I cannot understand why you would bring a maiden on so dangerous a journey. But the dwarf! That is not well. We have not had dealings with the Dwarves since the Dark Days. They are not permitted in our land. I cannot allow him to pass.”
“But he is from the Lonely Mountain, one of Dáin’s trusty people, and friendly to Elrond,” said Frodo. “Elrond himself chose him to be one of our companions, and he has been brave and faithful.”
Speaking together softly, the Elves questioned Legolas in their own tongue.
“Very good,” said Haldir at last. “We will do this, though it is against our liking. If Aragorn and Legolas will guard him, and answer for him, he shall pass; but he must go blindfolded through Lothórien. But now we must debate no longer. Your folk must not remain on the ground. We have been keeping watch on the rivers, ever since we saw a great troop of Orcs going north toward Moria, along the skirts of the mountains, many days ago. Wolves are howling on the wood’s borders. If you have indeed come from Moria, the peril cannot be far behind. Tomorrow early you must go on. The four hobbits shall climb up here and stay with us. There is a talan in the next tree. There the others must take refuge. You Legolas, must answer to us for them. Call us if anything is amiss. And have an eye on that dwarf!”
Frodo and Sam remained behind whilst Legolas climbed down the ladder to take Haldir’s message to those that waited below. Seeing the remaining Company huddled together, he immediately sensed that something was wrong. Aragorn looked up at him as he cradled Coralie’s still form in his arms.
“She is very ill, Legolas. She has a fever. I can’t do anything here in the dark. Do we have permission to shelter in the trees?” Aragorn stood with Coralie’s limp body in his arms.
“Yes. There is another talan in yonder tree we can take refuge in. Here give her to me,” Legolas said holding out his arms. “It will be easier for me to take her.”
Aragorn nodded grimly as he gently eased her into his arms. “Legolas. I have no more athelas. I used the last on Frodo and Sam. Do you think our Elf-friends here would have some?”
“Merry! Pippin!” said Legolas to the two hobbits. “You are to spend the night with Frodo and Sam. Climb quickly and ask Haldir to bring us athelas. Explain to him that the maiden is ill. Go!” He issued this last order with such urgency that the two hobbits leapt for the ladder one after the other almost before he had finished speaking.
Legolas, Boromir and Gimli waited anxiously at the base of the neighboring tree whilst Aragorn climbed up first in search of the silver grey ladder, that he knew would be found at the top of the flet. Finding it, he let it down through the round hole in the middle of the talan’s wooden floor. The hobbits had been quick with their message and Haldir had appeared swiftly. He gazed for a moment at the unconscious figure in Legolas’ arms as he gave the fresh, green leaves to Boromir.
“This is all we have, you are welcome to it. If it is not enough, send word and we will go in search of more.” He nodded and withdrew in the direction from which he had come.
A soft moan escaped Coralie’s lips as her teeth began to chatter.
“Hold on Coralie!” said Legolas as he ascended the ladder with his insensible burden. Boromir and Gimli waited until he had reached the wooden platform high above, before following.
Reaching the top, Legolas gently placed her on the floor as Aragorn knelt beside them. With experienced hands, Aragorn quickly untied the sling that bound her left forearm and shoulder and cast her jacket aside. The brown stain of the iodine she had thrown over herself, still marked her arm. Aragorn gasped as he unwound the bandage that he had earlier strapped.
“It is as I feared! The Orc’s blade was poisoned!” The wound was now an ugly raised open welt, from which yellow puss seeped insidiously along its weeping edges. Crimson lines flared out from the original laceration running the length of her arm. Pulling at the top of her t-shirt, Aragorn could see the lines beginning to spread across the hollow of her neck along the collarbone, before streaming down her chest.
“I pray we are not too late. I do not know which poison it is, but I think it is seeking an organ so it can inflict the most damage first. Once it has found what it seeks, it will course through her blood more readily,” he said grimly. “I need warm water, but how to light a fire up here?”
“Here! In her pack, she has that little stove of hers with which she made tea!” cried Boromir as he started to rummage through it. Producing the stove first, and then her lighter from an inside pocket, he and Gimli set about trying to work out how to operate it.
“How serious is it Aragorn?” asked Legolas.
Aragorn looked gravely at his friend. “I should not have let the lady’s obstinacy prevent me from treating her wounds properly when we left Moria. But so much has happened today,” sighed Aragorn. “Now I fear we may lose another of our company.” He turned to Boromir and Gimli. “How’s that water coming?”
“It will be ready soon,” said Gimli. Aragorn left Coralie’s side momentarily, taking the athelas from Boromir he crushed the leaves in his hands and breathed upon them. Placing them in the small pot of water that sat on top, he turned to the Dwarf.
“Gimli! See if she has any more clean swabs in that first aid kit of hers. Just simmer the leaves gently for a few minutes,” Nodding an affirmation, Gimli rifled through her kit until he found the little red box, then handed over some swabs he found inside.
Legolas held Coralie’s hand to his chest and cradled her head with his arm. Leaning down he whispered softly into her ear. The pungent scent of athelas enveloped them as it warmed in the water.
Suddenly, Coralie sat bolt upright with a cry that startled them all, and fell back just as promptly. Legolas caught her by the shoulders as she fell. Quickly returning to her side, Aragorn began to bathe the wound with a swab dampened in the athelas water as Boromir brought the little pot over with the remaining leaves.
“Is there another bandage Gimli?” asked Aragorn over his shoulder.
“Yes!” said the Dwarf handing one to him. Aragorn placed a few leaves of the athelas on the wound as he prepared to bind it. Without warning a great trembling shuddered through Coralie’s body. Crying out, she thrashed her arms and legs about as if in great pain.
“We must keep her still!” cried Aragorn as he held her arm fast in his. Each of them grabbed a remaining limb as they tried to hold her down.
“The Lady has some strength!” exclaimed Gimli as he vainly tried to hold down one of her legs.
“Don’t let her thrash about! I must wrap this arm again and pray that the virtue of the athelas is not too late to undo the damage already done!” said Aragorn as he placed a knee across her forearm, pinning it down as he reworked the bandage over some fresh leaves he had placed on her wound. They all renewed their grip upon her flailing limbs as a new tremor shook her. Coralie’s chest rose and arched off the floor as she fought the strong arms that held her down. Legolas and Aragorn both pressed her shoulders down in an effort to restrain her.
“No!” she suddenly cried aloud as her wild eyes suddenly opened, focusing on some point beyond them. With a deep sigh, she closed them as she exhaled. Her body became limp as a rag beneath their hands, and cautiously they released her from their grip. The trembling ceased in all her limbs as she lay there, still and quiet.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Aragorn felt her brow with his palm. It still felt very hot to his touch.
“Something is wrong Aragorn!” Legolas’ anxious cry broke the stillness. “Her chest does not rise again!”
Quickly, Aragorn bent his ear to her chest. He could hear no intake of breath, and her chest did not rise and fall in answer to the call of her heart, its faint flutterings slowing their rhythm almost imperceptibly to the untrained ear. Without delay, Aragorn clamped his mouth down upon hers as he held her jaw with one hand and pinched her nose with the other. Blowing deeply into her mouth he turned his head to watch for the rise of her chest. There was no reply. Again he blew into her mouth and repeated the procedure several times. Still her chest did not rise of its own accord.
“Legolas! Does her heart still beat?” asked Aragorn. Legolas placed his ear upon her breast.
“Yes, but it is slow and faint,” he answered.
Aragorn continued breathing into her mouth.
“At least we have that,” he said between breaths. “The poison is seeking to paralyze her muscles so she cannot breathe. We must breathe for her in the meantime.” Aragorn continued his labor. “Come on Coralie. Don’t give up. Breathe!”
Legolas knelt beside her with anxious eyes, watching for the rise and fall of her chest as he held her hand in his. There was no movement. For how long Aragorn breathed for Coralie in this fashion, he could not tell. The Elf had placed his hand over her heart, and every now and then he would nod as Aragorn looked up at him to see if it still beat. Boromir paced around the flet running his hand through his hair and shook his head uneasily as Gimli looked on anxiously.
All of a sudden Legolas cried out. “There! Her chest rose of its own accord. I think she is breathing again!” He still held his hand over her heart as her body began to tremble under his touch. Aragorn watched as her breast swelled slowly and steadily.
“Praise Eru,” he said as he wiped the sweat from his brow. “But she is not out of danger yet. We must keep her warm,” he noted as her teeth began to chatter again. Boromir went straight to her pack and pulled out her sleeping bag, unzipping the length of it, he cast it over her body. Placing her head in his lap, Legolas stroked her brow.
“She still feels very hot Aragorn, even though she is shaking with cold,” he said.
“It is the fever. We must keep a close watch. We’ve won the first round though,”
Her teeth began their chattering again as Legolas brought the covering up around her shoulders.
Softly then with more urgency, she began to speak though her eyes were still closed.
“I will not ……. I will not listen to you,” she repeated over and over. Aragorn and Legolas bent to listen to her words. Her words grew louder and more insistent as her shivering increased.
“Coralie! Coralie! To whom do you speak?” Legolas caressed her brow with tender concern as Aragorn wrapped the covering tightly around her.
“No power….. no power ……… over me….. your weapons….have no power over me………you have no advantage…..no advantage,” Her words were halting but clear. Aragorn and Legolas looked at each other with increasing anxiety.
Suddenly she cried aloud again. “No m-m-ore! H-He will f-f-fight for me!” Another tremor shook her body. Legolas slipped his hand underneath the cover of her sleeping bag and took her hand.
“She is like ice!” he exclaimed.
Aragorn felt her other. “You are right! There is no warmth left in her. The battle begins anew,” he said as he turned her on side. “We must warm her ourselves. Get under the covers with her.”
They both slipped under the blanket and embraced her as one. Legolas placed her trembling head upon his breast as he wrapped her in his arms. Aragorn held her close and rubbed her back. Even through her clothing she was deathly cold.
“Boromir! Gimli! Bring every blanket you can find and cover us!” called Aragorn.
The two of them searched through every kit and threw the extra coverings on top.
Coralie continued to shake violently, muttering over and over to herself. Every now and then, Aragorn and Legolas could make out her words as they held her fast in their embrace.
“He will f-f-fight……. H-H-He will…….f-f-fig-ht for m-me……..f-fi-ght
for m-m-me….” Her voice broke and chattered with the trembling cold that enveloped her.
“There is foul craft at work here,” spoke Aragorn.
“S-S-Str-ength-th of li-fe……f-f-fi-ght f-f-or me……m-m-my sh-ie-ld
…… f-f-fi-ght for m-m-me-e….” she moaned shuddering as a new wave of coldness swept through her. Aragorn wrapped his leg over her side, amazed at the frozen condition of her body as he sweated under the blankets that confined them.
“We are fighting for you Lady! Fight with us! Fight for your life!” he held his face against her shoulder.
“O Elbereth Starkindler from heaven gazing-afar, to thee I cry now in the shadow, of the fear of death. O look towards me, Everwhite,” Legolas whispered into Coralie’s hair.
As suddenly as the trembling had begun it now ceased. Aragorn and Legolas felt her limbs flood with warmth as they embraced her. Coralie lay very still between them. Tentatively, they threw the covers off and unwound themselves gently from her insensible frame. Aragorn’s head was wet with perspiration as he sat up beside her. Legolas only looked slightly uncomfortable. Small beads of sweat, barely noticeable, draped his brow in contrast to Aragorn’s sodden locks. Standing upright and stretching out his limbs, Aragorn removed his jerkin and looked down at Coralie and Legolas who still knelt anxiously beside her sleeping form. The back of Aragorn’s shirt clung to his skin, damp with sweat.
“Take rest for yourself, Legolas, if only for a moment. I fear that this is going to be a long night,” he said.
“I will take no rest for myself whilst the Lady suffers so,” he answered clasping her hand in his. “What do we do now?”
“We wait,” came Aragorn’s grim reply.