Torchanar paused in his stride, sniffing the crisp winter air. It was faint, so very faint that he thought it might be a trick of his senses. Parting his lips, he inhaled deeply, using the trick to increase the sensitivity of smell. There it was. A trace of the odor of burning. It might have been missed by orc or ordinary men, but Torchanar was Dunedain and his senses well tuned to the natural world.
Stepping forward, he kept turning his head and breathing in to follow the odor. Torchanar moved slowly but soon scented it again, the direction leading him towards an eroded cliff overgrown with a tangle of hardy underbrush. At least in the summer it would be invisible but among the bare branches he made out the shadow of a cleft in the stone.
From the dark was the sound of a wretched cough, deep and resonate. Harsh words hissed out, “Be warned black blood..."
As he entered, faint firelight from a pitiful pile of twigs lit the inside of the cave. A man hunched from coughing, clutching his sword. Torchanar slid his own sword back into the scabbard when he saw the sorry state of the man before him. One look told him he was kin, besides the markings left behind. Tall and dark haired, the feverish gleam in the gray eyes and the make of the weapon told of his bloodline.
"Suilad," Torchanar said quietly, "Easy, brother. Put down the blade. I am here to help."
The ill man muttered something about orckind as he swayed on his feet but dropped his sword, sinking back to the ground when he saw there was no danger.
Torchanar moved methodically as not to startle the sick man. He pushed back his hood, his shaggy black hair flecked here and there with silver. His face bore heavy stubble, the product of years without bothering to shave. "I saw no trace of orcs here and I had been tracking one from Fornost. You did well finding shelter."
He watched him of a moment, noticing the flushed skin and hollow eyes. Without another word, he crouched down to give him the waterskin, warm from being carried against his body. Torchanar removed his pack and eyed him, "What are you called?"
The voice was still gravelly and he could see it pained the man to swallow the water but he did so anyway. Torchanar made a motion for Rowan to keep the waterskin. "Sounds Breeish," he said, taking out some venison jerky and small travel cakes made of rendered fat and dried berries. "You do not look Breeish, but have it your way. When did you last eat?"
He glanced over at the remains of what seemed to be a scorched mouse and frowned at Rowan’s answer. Two days without food and coughing the way he was, the ranger was no healer but he knew the man was in trouble. “We need firewood,” he stated, rising from his seat. “I’ll return shortly.”
He left the small cast iron pot with water near the dying fire, giving it a start to boil as he went to search for dry wood. He would use no green for the smoke would be seen for miles and the sun was touching the treeline when he returned.
After he built up the fire, he cut up the venison jerky and added slices of the fatty travel cakes to melt it down into a hearty broth. Torchanar watched as Rowan attempted to smother his coughs against the fabric of a finely woven cloak.
His fear was confirmed when Rowan admitted he thought he might have lung fever. The illness could take children and the elderly within days but the man was young enough and fit. He might have a chance if he stayed warm and a healer was brought to him. He would not do well on the trek to Esteldin for the air smelled of ice.