"When shall we two meet again, in thunder, lightning, or in rain?" Éomer looked up at the approaching storm clouds and angrily shook his fist at the heavens. He flinched slightly, a movement that an eye less observant than his companion's would have been unlikely to detect.
Aragorn raised his own hand to allow his hawk to alight on his gloved fist. "What ails you, my friend?" he asked. "It is unlike you to rage at the weather." He did not look at Éomer, but instead watched the King of Rohan's hawk as it wheeled and circled over the hillside. "We have had a good day's sport and should be able to reach shelter before the storm breaks. I espied an inn at the bottom of the hill.
"It is nothing," Éomer insisted. He stood waiting for his hawk to land on his gloved fist.
"Does your wound pain you?" asked Aragorn.
"No," Éomer said curtly. He shrugged his shoulders again with an almost imperceptible wince of pain.
"You forget I am a healer," said Aragorn. "I see what others might miss. An arrow wound is no light matter. Lothiriel is concerned about you."
"Women always fret," said Éomer.
"I should like to see the wound myself when we reach shelter," said Aragorn.
"There is no need. I …" Éomer bit back a cry of pain as the hawk landed heavily. The bird regarded him quizzically with keen beady eyes. "Very well," he conceded with a scowl.
The two men rode in silence down the hill; their hawks perched on their wrists. Aragorn was not especially keen on hawking, but it had seemed a good opportunity to spend time alone with his old friend, away from the many affairs of state that needed to be discussed on this brief visit to Edoras. Éomer, though, had been silent and withdrawn, quite unlike his usual affable self. Éomer's Queen, Lothiriel, had confided to Aragorn that her husband had recently been wounded in a skirmish with the Dunlendings. Wounds and battles were nothing new to Éomer, though. He had fought as soon as he was old and strong enough to hold a sword.
They reached the inn just as the storm broke overhead. After making sure their horses and the hawks were cared for, they went inside. It was a small, cosy inn, simply furnished, but clean and welcoming. If the innkeeper recognised them, he gave no sign. At Aragorn's request, they were shown to a small private chamber and hot water was brought.
"Now let me see your wound," said Aragorn.
"There is nothing you can do to aid me, said Éomer. "It seems that I shall have no peace until you see it, though!" He pulled off his tunic to reveal a partly healed arrow wound upon his right shoulder.
Aragorn washed his hands and carefully examined the torn flesh. It had been roughly stitched and looked red and somewhat inflamed. "These stitches need taking out," he said. "I shall then clean and re-bandage it. You are fortunate I have my healing supplies with me. You should have been resting, not going out hawking with a wound like this. It has not been expertly cared for."
Éomer shrugged, he then grimaced at the pain. "One does not take one's best healer on campaign," he said. In the Mark, it is the wise women who are the most skilled and they need to stay at home to care for the old and the children."
Aragorn carefully took out the rough stitches, cleaned the wound thoroughly, and rubbed honey on it. Beneath his hands, Éomer's muscles felt taut as a strung bow, even after the most painful part of the procedure was finished.
Instead of telling Éomer to put his tunic back on, Aragorn called for more hot water. He took two athelas leaves from his pouch and cast them into the steaming water.
"Breathe deeply," he instructed Éomer, placing the bowl on a table in front of Rohan's King. He then started to gently massage Éomer's neck and shoulders.
Éomer took deep breaths from the steaming bowl.
"It is time to make use of the Elvish arts that Master Elrond taught me," said Aragorn. "Sometimes a healer must tend more than the wounds of the flesh."
"You were ever a remarkable man, I knew that ever since you arose out of the grass before me," said Éomer.
"I shall never forget you and your riders appearing out of the dust," Aragorn replied. "Tell me, though, why your spirit now lies as if trampled into that dust, which was once dispersed before the flying hooves."
Éomer said nothing. Aragorn continued with his ministrations. The silence was broken only by the sound of the rain pattering against the shutters outside.
At last Éomer spoke. "Good men perished in the battle where I received this slight wound. I made a grievous mistake. I did not think they would attack us after nightfall from what I know of the Dunlendings. Good men paid for my foolish misjudgement with their lives. There, I have said it! What will you think of me now? "
"Love between good friends such as we are, is unconditional," said Aragorn. "You made a mistake, which proved to be costly, but you are human. A king is not unlike a rope maker, you sometimes weave the fabric of men's fates, as the rope maker weaves his strands of hemp together. One of the strands might break, but the rope can be mended. The rope is marred, but it remains strong, as are you, Éomer King, a strong man, and a good one. Mourn those you lost and let their kin know of your grief. Then see they are honoured in song while resolving to be more wary of the Dunlendings in future."
"I thought they were no longer a threat," Éomer said bitterly.
"Talk to their leaders and see if some new grievance troubles them," said Aragorn. "You are still young; you will learn to see into the hearts of Men as the years pass."
"You are ever wise, my friend." Éomer's voice was slightly unsteady.
Aragorn gently squeezed the younger man's good shoulder. Then he continued his ministrations until Éomer's muscles were completely relaxed beneath his fingertips.
At last he ceased and said, "Let us see if the innkeeper has some of the Riddermark's warming ale for us. The storm has passed, but it is getting dark and we must soon be on our way or your good lady will be worried. I recall that you told her you would return in time to bid young Elfwine goodnight. "
Éomer pulled on his tunic and enfolded Aragorn in a bear hug. "So here's to drinks in the dark at the end of a road!" he said. "The end of a road filled with grief and darkness, from which I now see my way home."