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Written for the LOTR Community Character Study challenge. For Radbooks, Awallen, Erulisse, and Aliana for their birthdays.
The Elven Princeling
“Are you certain that you wish to return to our people by joining a training patrol of newly recruited Rangers?” Baerdion, who had been tasked with preparing the young Men of the Northern Dúnedain to protect their ancestral lands from all enemies, carefully surveyed the youth who stood before him. The young Man’s face was beardless, his hair long and arranged in Elven warrior braids the older Man was certain had been properly earned, his grey eyes, which held a touch of green and blue like the Sea, steady.
“Is this not how those who become Rangers usually meet one another?” asked Arathorn’s son.
“Most of them live either within the Angle or between the ruins of Fornost and Annúminas,” Baerdion explained, “and so they have all had occasion to meet with at least some of those from other villages. This time, other than you, only the two who come from our settlements on the Firth of Lhûn are strangers to all the others chosen for this patrol.”
“At least I will not be the only stranger to the others in the group, then.”
“No,” agreed Baerdion, “that is true. But you will stand out from the others by your speech, your dress, and your training.”
“My brothers have told me that they have had a hand in the training of many of the Dúnedain’s warriors for many lifetimes of Men. How will mine be any different?”
Baerdion gave a twisted smile. “When the sons of Elrond come among us, they come for a few months at a time, and they work primarily with Men who have already had experience in both battle and surveillance, helping them to enhance skills they already have honed. You, on the other hand, have been working with them from your earliest days, and I have been told by Elrohir that you began training in tracking when you were barely able to walk and that you can follow the trail of a mouse that passed that way six days previously. None of these young Men will have such skills. And as you have been trained in archery and swordcraft by Elves from the beginning, you will begin by holding your weapons in a different manner, and the others will find that questionable. Can you bear with their criticism of you? For you can believe me that they will be critical of you, of all you say and do and of how you say and do it. You were not raised as they were, and they will most likely all see you as alien in nature to themselves, and many of them will feel threatened by that sense of difference.”
Young Aragorn shrugged, and Baerdion felt relieved to see that he had not as yet been able to perfect the level of arrogant grace with which Elves performed such a simple gesture. Had he been able to fully replicate the shrug as performed by, say, Lord Glorfindel, it would be unlikely that the boy would be accepted at all by the others who would be joining them over the next few days. Nor had he learned fully to hide his thoughts, not as yet, at least. The Man could see that Aragorn now felt concern for how he might be accepted by others. As for Halbarad, who had been standing quietly beside his newly-met cousin throughout the interview so far, he noted that Halbaleg’s son was nodding his agreement with Baerdion’s assessment of the situation for which he was trying to prepare their new Chieftain.
Aragorn said, “I have been warned that this might well be so, and I will accept it. I must if I am to take my father’s place with this people.”
Well, at least Gilraen, Elrond, and the denizens of Rivendell had not sought to convince the lad that it would be easy to come of a sudden into the midst of the Dúnedain and be accepted as Arathorn’s heir immediately! Baerdion found himself giving a nod of understanding and further relief. “Then it would appear that you have been prepared in a realistic manner, young Lord. But tell me, why have you chosen to enter immediately into a training mission? I am told that you have already proved yourself as a warrior. You could merely have been introduced to the elders as the son to your father and the Lady Gilraen, and could then have walked by the sides of your grandfather Dírhael and your Uncle Halbaleg and learned of our style of leadership and the nature of our people from them.”
“My----” The young Man stopped, as if suddenly uncomfortable with what he had been ready to say. He began again. “Lord Elrond and I discussed this, in company with Glorfindel, Elladan, and Elrohir. In the end it was left for me to decide how I should present myself to this, my true people, the ones for whom I must offer leadership and rule, for whom I must be ready to spend myself if it proves necessary.”
Again Baerdion nodded slowly. “Go on,” he prompted.
Aragorn took a deep breath. “I could go first to my uncle and my grandfather and apprentice myself to them, but in doing so I would be identifying myself with them, with those older than myself. I would not have established ties to those of my own age, those who will be my own first lieutenants as we take the field and offer protection to the peoples of Eriador, all of whom, whether or not they are of the Dúnedain, are yet under my protection as the Heir to Isildur.”
Baerdion did his best to suppress the twitch of surprise and pleasure his lip wanted to show at the youth’s words. Instead he gave a single nod.
“I need to prove to those who will be the commanders I must rely on that I am not distant from them. Yes, I know how to fight and track, how to handle sword, knife, and bow, how to anticipate how orcs, trolls, and ruthless Men are likely to attack or respond to the threat those with me pose to them. I have stood by my adar’s side as he has dispensed judgment and have even been consulted at times as to how I might respond to such cases as are likely to come under my decision when I am accepted as the ruler to the Northern Dúnedain. But will those I would lead onto the field accept that role for me if they are not convinced that I can indeed fight? Will they listen if they have not found personal reasons to trust my judgment? Will they accept my help in the healers’ tents if they are uncertain as to how much of the gift of healing I have inherited from my great-father Eärendil, much less that I have been trained to use it properly?
“I am already accepted as a warrior, as you say, but not by those whose acceptance of that role is crucial to my rule in the future. I have been accepted as such by Elves, but it will be among Men that I will live from this time forward. As these will not be accepted as full warriors until they have finished their training mission, so it must be for me. Also, I must become more aware of how it is that Men have been taught to fight and protect themselves. I have only fought by those who have had millennia to perfect their skills. I know that I have much to learn about working alongside Men, who are, after all, my own people. By going on this patrol, not only will I learn of them, but they will be learning from me. As we are all supposed to be learning together, they will hopefully be more open to learn what I have to teach and show them, and in the end have more respect for what they have learned about my abilities once they realize who I am and what I am intended to be as the leader of the Dúnedain.”
“Then you do not intend to reveal your true identity to them from the beginning?”
“And have them forcibly deferring to me from the start?” Aragorn shook his head, his imagination already playing out that scene for him. “No, let them think of me as merely a youth as they are, although one who grew up amongst Elves rather than Men. Some will discern the truth easily enough, I suspect, while others will be stubbornly obtuse about my likely parentage. But unless they are able to easily express their discomfort for the differences between us, I doubt that that discomfort will ever truly be put aside as we learn to trust one another.”
“Then how am I to introduce you?”
Halbarad spoke up then. “How about calling him Peredhrion? He has lived as the fostered son of the Peredhil, after all.”
This time Baerdion allowed himself to smile. “A good plan, Halbarad. You have your grandfather’s sagacity.”
Apparently unable to think of a better name to take unto himself, Aragorn indicated his agreement, and so his first patrol as a would-be Ranger of the North began.
Those who would take part in the training patrol varied in age from seventeen to twenty-two. Even the one who was seventeen was beginning to show signs that he would grow a full beard within a year or two; against the others the one called Peredhrion appeared youthful indeed, his cheeks still smooth with no trace of down.
Baerdion was himself but thirty-two. He had spent some time in his early twenties riding with the sons of Elrond, who had praised his skills. He had proved himself good with the new recruits, and so had been involved in such training missions for the past six years, alongside Malvegern, who had been working with the youngest Rangers for better than three decades. They and Túrin son of Gardir, who’d been a Ranger for five years and who served as quartermaster for the patrol, knew the true identity of Peredhrion; only Halbarad of the recruits themselves knew this information. All four were sworn to silence by Halbarad’s father Halbaleg, who had served as Steward for the Chieftain of the Northern Dúnedain until a new Chieftain should be finally appointed, a day that had not come any more than had happened in Gondor in nearly a thousand years since Eärnur disappeared into the mouth of the Morgul Vale.
It took three days for those who would join this patrol to gather near their Steward’s dwelling, and the youths greeted one another cheerfully enough, save for the new one in Elven dress—no one seemed to know quite how to respond to him. One of those who was nineteen, a narrow-faced youth with a suspicious air, made a point of approaching Malvegern and asking in Adûnaic in what was meant to appear a confidential manner but which in fact was intended to be heard, “What are we doing with that one in our midst? What do Elves do, seeking to train with Edain?”
Malvegern kept his expression strictly neutral. “I assure you that Peredhrion is as much one of the Dúnedain as you are, Orominion. In years past his father often fought alongside the sons of Elrond, and he died during one of their sojourns together. When they came to bear word to Peredhrion’s mother, they found her ill and the boy also near death, so they took the two of them into their keeping, feeling they owed their friend’s family a debt of honor.”
“And they send a mere stripling to train alongside us?”
Malvegern turned an evaluative gaze upon Peredhrion. “And just how is he more a stripling than you or any of the rest?”
Orominion gave a vague wave of his hand at the youth in question. “Look at him—he has not yet begun to grow a beard! Even Berevrion there will likely be shaving ere we’re through with this patrol, and he’s but seventeen! They send a mere child to learn a Man’s duties?”
The Ranger’s expression grew stern as he turned his gaze on Orominion. “He is taller than any of the rest of you. And not all of us grow beards. Ripon has never done so, and he is your own close kinsman, is he not?”
Orominion straightened, obviously stung by the tone of Malvegern’s voice. “Ripon has never appeared a foppish fellow,” he grunted. “Not like that one there.”
One of the other young Men, a broader youth with a cheerful expression, broke into the discussion. “Agreed, he looks quite the Elvish princeling, but you’d best remember that Elves are deadly fighters. Odds are that he’s good with that blade of his, particularly if he was trained by the sons of Elrond; and as that sword appears to be of Elvish make I’d also hazard that it’s a deadly weapon indeed.”
Orominion gave his fellow a disapproving stare. “The meanest sword borne by a true Dúnedain Ranger is the equal of any Elvish blade, Dirigil.”
Dirigil merely shrugged, refusing to be chastened by the likes of Orominion. “If you say so. I would be glad enough to carry a sword crafted by the Elves.”
One of the others laughed. “I’ll match my sword with anyone else’s blade. It’s of Dwarvish make from the hills beyond Fornost, and it’s been in my family for six generations! Wouldn’t give it up for love nor money!”
Peredhrion glanced over at the others, and then turned back to going through his pack, his mouth set, making certain that all was settled properly, with those things he suspected he would need frequent access to within easy reach. He had a second long bag he’d brought with him that so far he’d not allowed Halbarad to look within. Halbarad sat nearby, working a new lace through the leatherwork for a worn stirrup that it not give way unexpectedly while they were on the road. Halbarad also glanced at the others, and when he turned his attention back down to his work he murmured softly in Sindarin, “He is assuming by the fact that you have no beard as yet that you are younger than Berevrion, even.”
“I know what he’s saying,” Aragorn returned, his words abrupt. “I do speak Adûnaic, after all. When I was a child my mother usually addressed me in Adûnaic, m-Master Elrond would speak with me in Sindarin, Glorfindel in Quenya, and Erestor in Westron that I become proficient in all of the languages commonly spoken throughout Eriador.” He worked quietly for a moment, listening to the others in spite of his apparent distraction. At last he glanced up from his pack to meet Halbarad’s eyes. “Let them think for a time that I cannot understand Adûnaic. I suspect that when it becomes obvious I do it will cause Orominion particularly a good deal of embarrassment.”
Halbarad’s hands went idle momentarily as he searched his cousin’s face. A small smile twitched at his lips. “You would listen in on what they say about you, would you?” At Aragorn’s slight nod he continued, “My mother has always warned that listening in on what others say about you is bound to make you uncomfortable, as you most likely will hear things that you do not want to know.”
“Perhaps,” Aragorn said softly and slowly, “I shall not wish to know all that they think of me. But that does not mean I should remain ignorant of it.”
Halbarad gave a slight shrug, and both resumed their work.
Baerdion came down to join the party not long afterward, his attention focused on Aragorn. “Peredhrion!” he called in Westron. “If you will come, Berevrion’s father has sent down from his horse herds a steed that should serve you well.”
Aragorn looked up, gave a nod, and swiftly replaced the last few items within his pack and fastened it.
“He doesn’t even have a horse of his own?” Orominion demanded, switching to Westron. “Since when do the Elves deny their young princelings a steed? Is he even a proficient rider?”
“I can ride well enough,” Peredhrion answered him as he rose to approach Baerdion. “But the horses I rode when I was younger belonged to my hosts, never to me. Anyway, a fine Ranger I would make riding a horse far beyond my apparent station.” He turned to Baerdion. “How am I to repay Lord Halbaleg and Berevrion’s father for a mount of my own?”
Malvegern sighed. “I suppose that if it serves as balm to your bruised honor you may think of this horse also as a loan, youngling. But Berevrion’s father had his life saved by yours more than once, as is true of most of those who rode with him ere he died, and accounts a single horse for that Ranger’s son but a tithe of what he owes in return.” Peredhrion’s neck flushed, but his expression remained fixed. Malvegern straightened and addressed the other young Men in the party, speaking still in Westron. “Know this—every Man who has ever fought in the Rangers has managed to do similarly—to save his fellows more than once, and we do not forget such service. Not ever. And considering that when we last saw Peredhrion here we thought him dying, and indeed many have thought him dead these many years, to have him returned to us to take his father’s place amongst our Rangers and our people is a great gift indeed to those of us who have grieved so long for his father’s loss. Now, I see that while the rest of you have been indulging in idle talk, Halbarad and Peredhrion alone have been preparing for our training patrol by readying their gear. I suggest that the rest of you do the same. Now, go!”
The party dispersed at speed, and the one known as Peredhrion went with Baerdion to examine the gift made him by Berevrion’s father.
Of the young would-be Rangers, most spoke primarily Westron and Adûnaic. Besides Halbarad, Peredhrion, and the two from the Firth of Lhûn, only three others spoke any Sindarin beyond the most basic.
Halbarad’s two younger brothers spent a good deal of time with those who would take part in the patrol before they left Halbaleg’s lands. Here they camped for four days as they were evaluated by Malvegern and Baerdion and as the final supplies to be administered by Túrin were gathered and prepared for the two pack horses. Peredhrion was not the only one to be riding a steed new to him; the two from Lhûn admitted that they rarely had known any chance to ride astride prior to this, as most horses that far west were draft animals. Their mounts were gifts from an uncle who dwelt near the ruins of Fornost, and they were usually sore after only an hour or two of riding practice. The other young Men were surprised to see Peredhrion assigned to apply ointment intended to ease their sore muscles, but it soon was accepted that the Elvish princeling, as he was usually entitled, had a deft hand when dealing with medicaments. By the time they were ready to ride out for the first time together, all accepted that Peredhrion would most likely serve as their orderly should any suffer injury.
Halbarad’s brothers stood by rebelliously to watch them leave, the younger one, Hardorn, swearing that he would not wait more than a year more before he, too, rode out on his initial patrol with the Rangers. Peredhrion smiled down upon him and bade him keep a guard upon his father’s keep, and waved back at the two brothers ere the patrol disappeared into the forestlands, heading eastward toward the Ettenmoors and the Misty Mountains. Their initial patrol as Rangers of the North was begun at last!
“Well,” commented young Berevrion to Dirigil in Adûnaic, “there’s no question of Peredhrion’s ability to ride!”
That was true enough. The horse sent down by Berevrion’s father was a gelding of three years who might have been properly broken to the saddle, but he made it plain that he did not like being ridden for prolonged periods of time. Yet, in spite of the fact he wore no spurs, Peredhrion swiftly and effectively exerted his mastery over the animal, and within the space of a day was experiencing no more balking from his mount. No one understood what it was that Peredhrion said in Quenya to the horse, but whether it was the words or merely the tone of voice did not matter in the end. The animal calmed notably and was soon one of the steadiest mounts in the entire patrol.
They camped that first night in the ruins of a former hamlet on the banks of a stream that fed into the Mitheithil. It was the first time that most of those taking part in the patrol had seen the damage inflicted upon their people by the Enemy’s creatures, and even Dirigil grew solemn as he surveyed the extensive signs of fire and heavy clubs and saw the mound raised over the mass grave for the dead.
Peredhrion examined a wall where it had been beaten down, and commented, “Trolls did that.”
“And how is it the likes of you would recognize the work of trolls, Princeling?” demanded Orominion.
Baerdion shook his head, saying tersely, “He is right, Orominion,” and leaving it at that.
They awoke to lowering clouds and a stiff westerly breeze that intensified into an uncomfortable gale by midmorning. Not long after noon it began to rain, and within an hour all were wet in their saddles as they worked their way southward along the foothills of the mountain chain. Most were complaining under their breath, even Halbarad. Only Peredhrion and the two from Lhûn held off from voicing their discomfort, although the younger of those two was soon white with cold and pain from his saddle sores. Peredhrion wore now a cloak that appeared to shed much of the rain, although he was constantly rearranging it so as to keep water from finding a larger opening down his neck. His knees were as sopping as were those of the rest, but he bore it silently, his eyes ceaselessly watching from side to side.
“What is he looking for?” asked one of the smaller youths.
Halbarad nodded toward Malvegern and Baerdion. “Most likely the same as them—anything out of the ordinary. He has ridden out with Elvish patrols, after all.”
“So he says,” muttered Orominion in Adûnaic, and one of the oldest of them grunted his agreement.
There was nothing to indicate that Peredhrion had been listening, but Halbarad was certain that he’d heard even the quietest comments.
Halbarad became aware that his cousin was also keeping a concerned eye on the two from Lhûn, for after a glance over his shoulder at the younger of the pair he turned his horse to come alongside Malvegern, with whom he spoke in soft Sindarin.
The Man gave a quick glance at the miserable youth, and said in Westron, “We shall be coming to shelter soon, at which time we will do what we can to ease whatever discomfort anyone feels. But all need to know that what we would wish for is rarely what we find when we ride out on patrol.”
Not long afterward they approached a valley between two hills, and all could see Peredhrion become even more alert, eyeing the valley with suspicion before turning his attention upwards at the slopes to either side. At the last moment, however, they turned to the right to skirt the outer hill along its western flank. Peredhrion gave a single nod, but he still divided his attention between the hillside to their left and the way ahead. Suddenly he stopped, signaling those behind him to halt as well. When Malvegern eyed him in question, the young Man indicated a tumble of stone lying on the edge of the path, and Halbarad noted it was not the same color on top as it was on its sides. Malvegern exchanged a glance with Baerdion, who gave a nod. Smiling grimly, Malvegern loosened his sword in its sheath, and Baerdion signaled for the rest to do the same. Remembering the instructions they’d been given before leaving Halbaleg’s lands, they increased the distance between them, and two who carried horse bows swiftly strung their bows and slipped arrows from their quivers.
“Let’s hope that the strings have not taken the damp,” muttered Dirigil. Wet weather could play havoc with bowstrings; that Halbarad knew as well.
The assault was sudden, but they were prepared for it. A small boulder rolled down the hillside before the nose of Orominion’s horse, and behind it came three orcs, none of them particularly large but all carrying scimitars stained dark with filth. One fell with an arrow in its side, while Orominion managed to defend himself from the second. Four more followed the first three, and the young Men were soon busy defending their line. The skirmish didn’t last particularly long, and soon all seven orcs lay dead. Dirigil had a shallow cut to one arm, and the older boy from Lhûn had been hit by a thrown rock and was holding the side of his head with blood seeping out from between his fingers. But they had all survived—that was good to know!
Baerdion called on three of the youths to help him dispose of the bodies, and Peredhrion to stand guard on them as they did so. The rest followed Malvegern beyond the hill, where he led them past the ruins of an ancient watch tower to a hidden covert along the wall of the next hillside. He indicated they should remain quiet behind a screen of trees and bushes and wait while he scouted the place he’d chosen, and at last he appeared from the shadows beneath the hillside and signaled for them to join him. There was a natural bowl in which the horses could be successfully hidden, and a shallow cave where they could take refuge from the weather. As the group crowded into the cave Halbarad realized he was shaking badly, now that the danger was past.
Berevrion and another were assigned to keep watch while two of their number and Túrin saw to the horses and Halbarad and one of the older youths fetched water as directed by Malvegern. Dirigil had shed his cloak when they returned, and a fire was burning in a hollow in the furthest reaches of the cave where a small crack served as a chimney to draw off what smoke there might be. Soon they were joined by Baerdion and his party, who threw off their damp cloaks as quickly as could be managed. Malvegern was examining Dirigil’s wound, and beckoned Peredhrion to join him. They conferred as to what ought to be done in rapid Sindarin, and at last the Man indicated for Peredhrion to see the wound treated while he examined the two youths from Lhûn.
“You’re going to allow a mere boy to treat Dirigil’s cut?” demanded Finwë, one of the older youths from a settlement near the ruins of Annúminas, in Adûnaic.
Malvegern cocked an eye at him. “Do you have a healer’s kit from Rivendell? No? Then let the one who has one do what he’s been trained to do.” He turned his attention back to the older one from Lhûn and switched back to Westron. “I will need to clean where the stone hit you, Damrod, although it will be an easier job than Peredhrion there is facing with Dirigil. You, Finwë—get some clean rags from Túrin and dampen them in cold water. We may also need a bandage to bind about his brow. I doubt the wound is too deep, or it’s likely Damrod would be unconscious by now. Brendor, if you will help Peredhrion—when it comes to cleaning that wound Dirigil is likely to fight it.”
Brendor, whose father had a farm near Halbaleg’s land, nodded his understanding and turned to join Peredhrion at Dirigil’s side.
Dirigil did seek to fight Peredhrion at least at first as the young Man sought to cleanse the wound with spirits. “It’s but a shallow enough cut!” he objected. “Spirits will burn it like fire!”
“That is true enough, but I fear water alone won’t be enough to counter all that is likely to be found on an orc’s blade,” Peredhrion pointed out. “Orcs smear all sorts of filth and poisons on their weapons—that Lord Elrond has learned to the grief of many far too often in the years he has served as a healer and as a teacher of healers. Spirits serve to cleanse away such filth more effectively than mere water. Now, if you will look into my eyes and hearken to my voice….”
There was something soothing in his tone as he spoke quietly and calmly, and Dirigil’s eyes first opened wider, then half closed as if he were nearly ready to sleep. As Peredhrion took his arm and began cutting away the sleeve of his shirt to expose the wound, Dirigil made no outcry of protest, not even when Túrin, at Peredhrion’s quiet direction, poured the liquor directly over the cut, Brendor catching the overflow in a bowl held under the arm. Peredhrion used clean cloths to make certain that all was properly cleansed, finally smearing the wound with honey and bandaging it tightly. “I will have to check it several times a day in order to make certain that it does not become seriously infected, and there are other treatments we can use if that happens,” he said as Dirigil suddenly snapped back into full awareness. “But it is likely that we were able to wash out the worst of what might cause infections. It is not deep enough to require stitches, so it is better to merely bandage it so that we do not accidently hold any filth within the wound to cause problems later.”
Dirigil looked questioningly between his bandaged arm and Peredhrion, at last offering a confused thanks for what the other youth had done, and he went over to where packs and bedrolls were set to get a different shirt to change into and to draw his blanket about his shoulders. He told the others quietly that he had felt somehow distanced from the proceedings, as if it were another who was having raw spirits poured over his wound rather than himself, and that although there was still a burning in the wound that it at least felt clean and wholesome.
Peredhrion was now examining the wound on the side of Damrod’s head, agreeing with Malvegern that it did not appear serious but advising the younger boy that it would most likely be rather painful and swollen for a few days. Malvegern directed Peredhrion to bandage it, and once that was done Damrod announced with surprise that he felt much the better, and smiled tremulously up into the taller youth’s eyes.
Finwë and Orominion exchanged looks of confusion, which Peredhrion pointedly ignored. Halbarad shook his head at the other young Men’s discomfiture, knowing that Aragorn had easily understood Finwë’s objections to him being chosen to minister to Dirigil.
As they gathered about the fire to eat the meal Túrin had prepared for them, Damrod turned to Peredhrion. “You knew that orcs were likely to be on that hillside, didn’t you?” At the taller youth’s nod, he asked, “How did you know?”
Peredhrion exchanged glances with Baerdion. “It was the fall of rocks by the path—it was too fresh, and the upper surface of many of the stones had plainly been deeper into the soil of the hillside very recently. It was likely that there were enemies of some sort above us, although that hillside could not hold many unseen. I was relieved that we did not go between the two hills, as then it would be possible that we could have enemies above us on both sides, ready to roll stones down upon us from above with no room for us to move out of the way as Orominion was able to do.”
“Were there any enemies upon the other hillside?” asked another youth named Geldir of Baerdion.
“We saw signs after we saw to the disposal of the bodies that originally the four who came second had been waiting upon the other hill, which was why they came down upon us after the first three. But we saw no further signs than that. We will send a small group out in the morning to see if this was a scouting party for a larger troop of orcs, but we should be safe enough here for the night.”
“But why here?” demanded Orominion. “Why not in that watch tower? It ought to have been more comfortable for us.”
Malvegern cast an eye at Peredhrion. “Can you hazard a guess as to why we did not use the watch tower for shelter?”
“There were trees and shrubbery right up to the wall of the tower on one side,” came the answer. “We could not have been able to clearly see any approaching us, and there was no sheltered place for the horses. And there were signs that orcs had been there recently, perhaps the very party that attacked us.”
“I saw no signs of orcs there,” objected Orominion.
Baerdion shook his head. “Perhaps we should return there in the morning, although by then the rain might well have washed away the signs Peredhrion recognized. The rest of you should know this—Peredhrion here may not have ridden out on patrol with any of the Dúnedain in the past, but he has ridden out with the sons of Elrond. He has been instructed in how to recognize the passage of orcs, trolls, and evil Men by those who have had many, many lives of Men to learn to recognize their signs. If any of you have the chance to ride with the Elves in the future, you would do well to take it and learn from them what they are willing to teach. There is no better tracker to learn from than an experienced Elven warrior.”
There were low murmurs as the young Men of the patrol considered this information.
Not long afterward the three older Men withdrew slightly. Baerdion went out to watch with those keeping guard, while Malvegern indicated he intended to get some sleep while he could. Túrin chose three to help him clean up after the meal, and the rest sat about the fire, talking idly, eventually to be joined by those who’d done the washing up. Soon the party began exchanging boasts and jokes. But while even Halbarad was laughing freely with the rest, Peredhrion, though he sat with them, did not appear to find the jests humorous. At last he, too, indicated he would rather sleep than sit up longer, and he fetched his blanket roll and set it out in an out-of-the-way place and lay down. Those at the fire switched to Adûnaic, continuing to speak quietly until, one by one, the rest slipped away to find places of their own to sleep.
Halbarad came to lie down near his cousin, and realized that Aragorn was still awake. “Why could you not laugh with them?” he demanded in whispered Sindarin. “They now think that you consider yourself too far above them to appreciate their jests and boasts.”
Aragorn gave a slight shake to his head. “But why were those stories considered funny?” he whispered back. “I do not see anything humorous in considering the possible last thoughts of a dying orc!”
“That story you told about someone named Erestor certainly was not funny,” Halbarad responded.
“It was if you knew him,” his cousin insisted.
Halbarad shook his head in exasperation. “But how are we to know anyone you’ve been around while you were growing up? Few Men have been free to come and go within Imladris for many years.”
Aragorn sighed. “I suppose that you are right. But I simply do not appreciate why that story Bregorn told about his father should be considered funny at all.”
Halbarad was about to respond to that when he realized that he had been ready to use precisely the same reasoning as his cousin had used regarding the story about Erestor. He merely shook his head, and advised Aragorn to get some sleep while he could.
But Aragorn did not sleep, for he was now listening to the three who remained around the fire, who included Orominion, Finwë, and Bregorn. And the three of them were discussing the braids that Peredhrion wore and what his reaction might be should he awaken to find them gone….
It was Finwë who drew the short straw and was expected by his fellows to cut at least one of Peredhrion’s braids from his head. He lay awake in his bedroll until it was plain all others were asleep, at which time he slipped out of his blankets and crept with great quietness to the place where Peredhrion lay near Lord Halbaleg’s son. It had been agreed that it was most likely that Lord Halbaleg had enjoined his son to befriend the newest member of the Dúnedain that the young Man not feel totally alone while out upon this patrol. How close the two of them were was unclear to the rest, particularly as the tone of voice Halbarad had used when he went to lie down near Peredhrion had indicated that he, too, was annoyed with the one raised by the Elves. Finwë drew the knife he wore in an ankle sheath, knowing it was honed to razor sharpness. It should work well enough to remove a braid from the side of Peredhrion’s head, he thought.
But as he leaned over his intended victim suddenly his wrist was caught in a vise-like grip. “I do not suggest you ever think to approach me with a drawn blade,” Peredhrion hissed in Westron, applying additional pressure until Finwë’s knife fell from his hand and clattered on the stone floor of the cave.
To his credit, Finwë did not cry out, although his expression indicated he was in a good deal of pain. Baerdion, who was entering the cave at that point in order to summon the next pair to take the watch, was upon the two of them like a panther leaping. “What is this?” he demanded. He saw the glint of reflected light from the knife’s blade and instantly realized whose it was. He turned on Finwë. “Why did you come upon Peredhrion with a drawn knife?” he asked, his tone deadly serious.
Peredhrion sat up, although he kept hold of Finwë’s wrist. “Do not worry, Lord Baerdion. He meant me no real harm, thinking that what he intended was merely a jest of sorts. But I will not allow my dignity to be taken from me in what is intended to be a mere prank.”
The others were rousing and raising themselves up on their elbows, all craning to see what was causing the disturbance. Baerdion looked from one of the two linked youths to the other, seeing a braid on Peredhrion’s head swinging as the young Man straightened further. “Oh, so that is it, eh?” he said. “I would almost wish to see his wrist broken for thinking to do such a thing, but then he would be of little use to the rest of us for the remainder of our patrol. Let him go, Peredhrion.”
Peredhrion did so, and instantly Finwë was cradling his wrist. “I cannot feel my fingers!” he protested.
“Had you received your due, you would be more concerned about having to have your hand splinted and immobilized,” Malvegern noted, coming to stand by his second. “Threatening one who has the training this one has is never a good idea, even if it were perceived as the joke you’d intended. He probably could have snapped your wrist like a twig, had he been so inclined. And threatening a warrior’s braided locks was as stupid a move as anyone could have considered.”
He looked around at the group of would-be Rangers. “You have never been amongst the Elves as have Baerdion or I,” he said, “so you can have no idea as to what the warrior’s braids mean. Each twist and entwined bead has its own meaning, and no Elf is allowed to braid his temple locks at all until he has earned that right in battle. I suspect that Elladan and Elrohir, possibly assisted by the great Lord Glorfindel himself, first braided this one’s hair, but not until he had proven himself by their standards, which I assure you are high. The braids indicate that he has fought and fought hard, and that his actions served to spare one or more of his companions in the patrols he has ridden with from imminent death at the hands of their enemies. He is a fair shot with the bow as Elves judge it, but is an expert with sword and knife. I have noted that in the sparring we did back ere we left Lord Halbaleg’s keep Peredhrion always tempered his blows, not allowing any of us to see just how good he is with a blade. As we meet more orcs and other enemies I suspect that we will begin to see just how good he actually is. No, he does not hold his weapons as you do, but then he has been trained from his childhood by Elves, not Men. And he has already proven to us all that he is familiar with the tactics of orcs and with seeing signs of disturbance.”
He turned his attention now on Peredhrion himself, who’d risen to his feet. “On the other hand, you have already been warned that by identifying yourself with the Elves who saw you raised after your father’s death you set yourself apart from these, who are now your true peers. Remember that, Peredhrion.” So saying, he turned to Baerdion. “For the next watch, I suggest Bregorn and Orominion, and these two for the watch ere dawn.” At Baerdion’s nod, he looked about him and ordered, “The rest of you, sleep while you can.” So saying, he swept up Finwë’s knife and returned it to its owner.
Aragorn lay down again by Halbarad. “I warned you,” the latter yawned.
Aragorn gave a slight shrug. “Well,” he responded in Sindarin, “you must remember that I was raised another way.” He closed his eyes and was soon—apparently—asleep.
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