Format: short story
Genre: h/c, angst
Warnings: Symptoms of poisoning
Characters: OMCS, Aragorn
Creator's Notes; I based some of the story on a half remembered account I heard many years ago about a friend's daughter eating laburnum seeds as a child. Other details I googled.I am not certain laburnum would grow in Gondor, but for artistic licence, assume it does.
Summary: A young recruit under Thorongil's command is poisoned.
“We scout for signs of enemy activity, keeping our eyes peeled and weapons at the ready. While we are on a mission, we live off the land and what rations we can carry without slowing us down. Move swiftly but stealthily. If you hunt, kill quickly and cleanly and do take any creature with young. Be alert at all times and inform me if you espy anything out of the ordinary. Understood?” asked Thorongil.
“Yes sir!” the men chorused.
Thorongil ordered the small company to depart. Ecthelion has asked his favourite Captain to train some raw recruits. He was also taking a handful of experienced men in case they did encounter any dangers. He led the way with the recruits behind him and his experienced men brought up the rear. The lads started talking, laughing and jostling each other as they left the city walls behind.
Thorongil called a halt. “If the enemy were here, what would have happened?” he asked. He was met by silence from the recruits. He directed his gaze towards the experienced men.
“They would have heard us coming,” said Ragnor.
“Indeed, Lieutenant. The enemy could have heard us approaching from a league away and you could have given our plans and position away by talking. We proceed in silence from now on.”
The group proceeded in near silence for a while before more chattering broke out between two of the recruits. Thorongil again called a halt. “What are your names?” He asked the offending lads.
“Galador,” said one lad. He was a freckled faced youth who looked about sixteen.
“Haldad,” said the other, an equally young recruit with a darker complexion than his fellows.
“I am giving you this final chance before I have to put you on report,” said Thorongil sternly. “Unless you want a week of scrubbing latrines back at the barracks, I suggest you remain silent and watchful.”
The rest of the day passed without incident. The boys were now in a more subdued mood. Thorongil pitied them away from their families for the first time, but the sooner they learned military discipline, the easier it would be for them and the more likely they would survive to return home.
He chose a camping place for the night and permitted quiet conversation around the campfire. He and the older men stood a little way off observing the recruits.
“What a hopeless bunch!” said Turgon.” Still wet behind the ears the lot of them!”
“We all were once,” said Ragnor.
“We weren't this hopeless,” said Turgon. “That lad, Haldad, moaned all the while about blisters on his feet while we were building the fire. Then he had no clue how to light it, said his mother always lit fires at home.”
“I will take a look at the lad's feet,” said Thorongil. “In fact, I will check all their feet. One of the first things a soldier needs to learn is to care for their feet.”
“I thought it was how to hold a sword,” said Ulfast.
“If you cannot stand up to fight, a sword is of little use,” said Thorongil. He rejoined the group by the fire and ordered them to remove their shoes and stockings. Several revealed blisters. Thorongil treated them with witch hazel and instructed the boys how to care for their feet.
They broke camp early the next day and after a breakfast of rations set off again. Just before sunset, Galador broke away from the group and ran into the bushes where he started retching violently. Leaving Ragnor in charge, Thorongil went after the boy. “What ails you, lad?” he asked.
“I must have eaten something that disagreed with me,” Galador gasped between heaves. “Maybe I ate too many unripe peas along the way. They tasted bitter.”
“What sort of a plant did they grow off?” asked Thorongil, rubbing the heaving lad's back.
“It was a tree with yellow flowers. Want to sit down.”
“Oh no, you don't lad.” Thorongil grabbed Galador's arm and half dragged, half carried him back to the others. “How many “peas” did you eat, Galador?”
“Don't remember.” Galador's speech was slurred.
“Tell me about how many?” Thorongil snapped in his most commanding voice.
“Quite a lot, but you said we had to become accustomed to living off the land.”
Thorongil groaned inwardly, blaming himself for his words.
“We make camp here by the stream,” said Thorongil to the others. “Galador has eaten laburnum seeds. We must keep him awake at all costs.”
“The young fool!” said Turgon. “Even a child knows to avoid the seeds. My mother thrashed me when she caught me touching some when I was but a young lad. The youth of today know nothing!”
The recruits stood in shocked silence staring at their afflicted fellow. Ragnor kindled a fire while Ulfast told the recruits to fill their canteens with fresh water from the stream.
“Recruits, eat your supper then try to rest,” Thorongil said. “Your comrade has eaten laburnum seeds and must be kept awake at all costs. Has anyone else eaten the seeds? You will not be in trouble, but you must tell me. Your lives could depend upon your honesty.”
The boys all shook their heads.
“My father told me not to touch them and to keep the chickens away from them,” said Haldad. “Poor Galador's going to die! We're many leagues from the Houses of Healing. Let's talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs!”
“None of that talk!” said Ragnor sternly. “We have Captain Thorongil with us.”
“We need a healer, though,” Haldad persisted.
“Captain Thorongil is a healer as well as a captain,” Ragnor replied. “Did he not tend your blistered feet?”
“I am well versed in healing arts,” said Thorongil.”I intend to save your comrade.” He went to his healing supplies and started mixing charcoal with water.
“My mother said not to touch laburnum seeds,” said another recruit and his comrades murmured agreement.
“We only have one poisoning case to deal with then,” said Thorongil.”One is too many, though.”
Galador tottered into the bushes again this time fumbling with his breeches. When he re-emerged Thorongil noticed his pupils were unevenly dilated and he was frothing slightly at the mouth.”I want to sleep now,” he muttered, slumping to the ground.
“Oh no, you don't,” said Thorongil, hauling him to his feet again. “You life depends on us keeping you awake. Ragnor, you are with me. Turgon, keep watch! Ulfast, keep the recruits calm. We have a long night ahead of us. Galador, you are to drink this.” He gave the boy the charcoal mixed with water."
“Yes, sir. The men hastened to fulfil his orders. “Ragnor, you take Galador's left arm, while I take his right,” said Thorongil. We need to keep him on his feet and walking around.”
“I want to lie down,” Galador protested."Fill too sick to drink."
“If you do you may never get up again,” said Thorongil. “If we keep you await tonight, and drink your medicine by the morrow, the poison should have worked its way out of your system. Tell me, lad, where are you from?”
“Minas Tirith, sir. Father's a blacksmith.”
“So you learned nothing of poisonous plants, lad? Did you not pay attention to the talk about them during your training?”
“Never left the City before, sir. Had a fever the day of the talk. ”
As it cost him a great effort to keep speaking, Thorongil walked him around the camp in silence for a while and forced him to drink the charcoal and water. Every now and again Galador had to go into the bushes again.
“Do you like horses, Galador?” Thorongil asked trying to keep the lad alert.
“I -” The boy struggled to speak and then started convulsing. The Captain and Ragnor supported him until the convulsion passed. “Let me be, sir!” he pleaded and struggled to free himself from their grasp. “I can't take any more, I just want to sleep!” His eyes filled with tears. "Dig my grave and let the worms destroy my body.Engrave my epitaph!"
“Don't you dare let go!” said Thorongil. “You are under my command and my protection. I do not lightly give up on my men.” He squeezed Galador's shoulder.
“The Captain would go to Mordor and back with us,” said Ragnor. “You can't give up, not while he's fighting for you.”
“I will try,” said Galador.
Hour upon fear hour passed and Galador's symptoms gradually started to subside. By sunrise, the worst was over. “You can rest now,” Thorongil said at last.
“Thank you, sir.” Thorongil eased him down on the ground and wrapped a blanket around him. Ragnor stifled a yawn. “You rest too, Ragnor. Turgon, Ulfast, get a few hours sleep. I will keep watch.”
“You have had no sleep either, sir,” Ragnor protested.
“I am hardier than most men and I need to keep an eye on my patient.” Thorongil sat beneath a tree and leaned back against it stretching out his long legs. He would head back to the City the next day and give Galador a few days leave to recover after he had given him a lecture about poisonous plants. Praise the Valar the lad had survived. To lose him would have been a grim blow indeed. He was entrusted with the lives of these men and boys and would not lose any if he could help it.