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When the others rose in the morning, Peredhrion was already out amongst the horses, currying his mount, speaking to it in soft tones as he did so. When he came within the cavern to share the dawn meal, he took his rations and sat on his rolled blankets to eat, watching the others thoughtfully. When he was done he saw his own plate and cup cleaned and returned to Túrin’s keeping before approaching first Damrod, then Dirigil, and finally the younger boy from Lhûn to check on the condition of each.
Dirigil’s arm appeared to be in good shape, as did Damrod’s head. But for Varadorn, the younger boy from Lhûn, the situation was not so good.
“There are decided breaks in the skin here and here,” Peredhrion explained to Malvegern, “and the cold damp of the ride yesterday did him no favors. Should those breaks become infected, it could be quite serious, as close as they are to the blood vessels in the groin.”
“Should we wash the affected area with an infusion of athelas, do you think?” the older Ranger asked.
The younger Man considered their patient thoughtfully. “That, and perhaps some special balm that m-Master Elrond made up at my request. Then wrap them to offer more protection?”
“See it done, then, youngling.” He looked up to note that most of the other youths were standing about, watching with curiosity. “And what has drawn you lot like moths to a flame? Get on with you! We ought to be ready to leave in an hour’s time, so see to it your things are packed and your horses readied. Bregorn, I would like for you to prepare Varadorn’s horse and his saddlebags and bedroll. Peredhrion, when we mount up, will you please examine Varadorn’s seat to see if there is anything we can adjust to make things more comfortable for him?”
The others appeared to be surprised at this last request by their mentor, and there were a few comments shared about it in soft Adûnaic as the others prepared to leave the shelter of the shallow cave.
Halbarad saddled Peredhrion’s horse for him, and settled his saddlebags, pack, and bedroll in their proper places. When at last the tall, beardless youth had finished helping Varadorn pull his trews on over the bandages gently bound about his thighs and had finished his evaluation of how Varadorn sat his steed, he seemed both surprised and grateful for Halbarad’s aid. He checked the girth for the saddle as well as the seat of the bridle in his mount’s mouth before he swung up onto the horse’s back.
“What’s the matter, Princeling?” demanded Finwë. “Don’t you trust Halbarad to see it done right?”
Peredhrion appeared surprised by the question. But it was Berevrion who came to his defense. “Did no one ever tell you that a good horseman always checks the bridle and girth for himself, no matter how much he trusts others to prepare the horse otherwise? Well, that is what my father always told me. And it appears that Peredhrion has been taught the same way that I was.”
Baerdion appeared amused. “As Berevrion’s father is one of the best breeders and trainers of horses amongst all of our people, I suggest, Finwë, that you listen well to his advice.”
Finwë flushed, but there was nothing further he could say without making himself appear more foolish, so he wisely kept his mouth shut.
They rode out of their shelter, back the way they’d come. Berevrion came alongside Peredhrion and asked in a warm voice, “What have you named this one?”
The taller youth smiled in welcome. “I’d thought to name him Carniaxo, or Redbone, in honor of his reddish color,” he said. “But I did not wish to change his name if he already had one from your family’s time with him.”
The younger boy laughed. “We have just called him the red colt, so you aren’t far off of what he’s used to answering to already.” He reached over and scratched an attentive ear. “He answers well to you. The Elves appear to have taught you properly how to work with horses. Have you always ridden?”
Peredhrion nodded. “I was introduced to horses when I was young. My mother felt that I would need to know how to ride, so a pony was procured for me when I was still quite small. I rode around the valley frequently behind my mother and my—behind the sons of Elrond.”
“What was the pony’s name?”
“It was named Gerontius.”
Berevrion laughed. “What kind of name is Gerontius?”
“Erestor says that it was the name of a Hobbit of the Shire who visited Rivendell on occasion. M-Master Elrond admired him, and said that the pony was wise, like Gerontius the Hobbit.”
Finwë, who rode not that far away, snorted. “Hobbits of the Shire do not travel outside their own lands,” he said with authority. “Papa says that they distrust us Big Folk, and think that all of the other lands are wild and dangerous.”
Peredhrion shrugged. “I met one once, back when I was a child. He came to Rivendell with thirteen Dwarves.”
Before Finwë could belittle that statement Brendor spoke up. “That did happen, that a Hobbit of the Shire came out of his land with thirteen Dwarves and Gandalf the Grey. My father saw them not far from Amon Sûl, and was amazed that any Hobbit of the Shire would go so far from his home. But my grandsire said that in his youth he heard tell of another Hobbit who would travel at times to Lord Elrond’s house alongside the Grey Wizard. My uncle has served on many patrols through Bree and has even ridden through the Shire from time to time. He says that the Hobbits of the Shire distrust Gandalf, and consider him a bad influence upon their young people.”
“He makes wonderful fireworks, though,” Berevrion said. “My father said that those he displayed when Lord Arathorn married the Lady Gilraen were things of wonder.”
Peredhrion appeared to be intrigued by this and was preparing to ask a question when they were all interrupted by Malvegern. “Peredhrion! Here!”
The youth put aside all curiosity at the tale of the Grey Wizard’s fireworks at the wedding of the last Chieftain of the Dúnedain, his attention now fixed upon the Man who’d called him forward. “Captain?” he said.
The Man indicated the watch tower ahead of them. “You said last night that you saw signs that orcs had come this way.”
Peredhrion nodded, and swept his gaze about the area. “You were correct in indicating that the rain would most likely sweep away most of the signs I’d seen. But note that branch there of the birch just this side of the tower, how it is broken. Had it been a Man, the damage would be small, most likely a bent leaf at most, for it would have struck him upon his head had he been walking beneath it and it would have done him but small harm; therefore he would not have done much in response. But that branch is almost torn off the limb. That is common to orcs, who resent all that is lovely and growing and will see any perceived insult to their own deformity responded to with needless and destructive violence.
“Last night I could see footprints common to the heavy, rough boots worn by those who dwell in the lower slopes of the mountains and who thus do more raiding of the lands below them. Among the boot prints were three other prints, those of at least one large animal with great claws, which I judged to be the prints of a great wolf or small warg, which are often ridden by the orcs as we ride horses. The prints came from the way that we have just come, heading that way, toward the two hills that we skirted and where we met the seven orcs we slew. This is attested also by the angle of the cracked branch, indicating that the orc who sought to pull it from the tree was heading in that direction. But most of the footprints I saw last night appeared to have gone to the west, indicating that most were intent on making a raid on whatever homes, farms, or settlements might lie west of us. That seven met us upon the hills is most likely due to one or more of those seven smelling our scent upon the wind—many orcs have senses of smell as keen as that of any good hound. They were perhaps hungrier than the rest, or may have been sent as a rear guard to take us captive or slay us that we not attack the others. Either way, they had hoped we should ride between the hills and thus would make of ourselves easy prey. That we went west of the outer hill must have frustrated them terribly. If they were hungry, we certainly denied them their meal.”
He looked about again, and pointed here and there where he said that the heel or toe of one of the boots of the orcs still could be discerned. Some could be readily seen by the others, while many were not clear enough for anyone other than perhaps Baerdion to recognize. They went a ways west, and more branches broken as had been the one he’d indicated back by the tower led the other youths to realize that he was right about a larger group heading further out into the lands in that direction.
“What shall we do?” asked Brendor. “Are there any who dwell in the path the orcs have taken?”
“What if there were any others left on watch near where we fought the orcs last night?” asked Orominion. “They might have scurried off to their kin and warned them that we survived, in which case they may turn back in search of us.”
Malvegern and Baerdion allowed the discussion to go on for some minutes, apparently pleased that the young Men under their tutelage were thinking of how the orcs might act and were conscious of the dangers said creatures posed to others as well as to themselves. However, decisions needed to be made, and Malvegern called a halt to the debate.
“Orominion, Peredhrion, and Finwë, accompanied by Túrin you shall go back to the hills where we encountered the orcs and search for their back trail as well as any sign that others might have been on watch. We shall go forward—slowly and carefully, ever mindful that orcs have a far keener sense of smell than do we Men, and that they may well be aware we follow them long before we realize they are anywhere about and that they are likely to be lying in wait. It is still cloudy, and they will move in daylight if there is enough shadow for them to hide within, or if they know enemies are nearby. Finwë, you and Orominion will follow Peredhrion’s orders as if they were from Baerdion or myself. Túrin, unless you see an orc with your own eyes and thus know Peredhrion is wrong, you will do so as well—this time. He has shown that the sons of Elrond were correct when they said he was the best tracker among Men they have ever trained, which is quite the thing to say when one remembers they have been doing this for over two thousand years. They say also he is the best with a blade among Men they have trained in the same time. We will learn, most likely, if this is true should you be forced to fight today. He had little enough to do yesterday with the actual fight, as he was on the end of the line, and the rest of you handled the situation well. But today I suspect that all shall fight. Do not hesitate to strike and to strike deeply, for the orc will never hesitate to kill you if he can.
If Peredhrion was unhappy to find himself charged to direct these two who appeared to see him as a rival to themselves he did not show it. Instead, he inclined his head to acknowledge the order, and looking between Orominion and Finwë, with a glance at Túrin, he indicated that they should follow him. He turned his horse, and the four of them continued back the way they’d come the day before.
“Which way did they come from?” asked Orominion of Túrin. The latter, leading their two packhorses, shrugged and looked to Peredhrion in question.
“They came from the northeast,” Peredhrion said, indicating a trampled area slightly behind them that led back toward the mountains. “They did not come by the cavern where we spent the night, which appears to be favored by Men and Elves, considering the signs I noted there.”
“How can anyone know who else tends to stay in a specific place?” demanded Orominion.
“There were signs for those who have the experience to recognize them,” Peredhrion answered. “One of the Elves from Rivendell always leaves a certain mark beside the entrance of more sheltered camping spots such as that cavern to indicate he had been there and had found it clear of enemies on a particular day. His mark was there on the cavern, and the signs indicate he was there a fortnight since. Orcs do not like the scent left by Elves, and will not willingly use any shelter frequented by the Eldar if they can avoid doing so. That is the most likely reason that Lords Baerdion and Malvegern took us there, knowing that orcs rarely will approach such places when Elves are known to frequent them except to attack those who might rest within, and then only when they are certain that with their superior numbers they are likely to prevail in a pitched battle.
“As for Men—there were layered traces of old boot prints similar to the boots worn by the Rangers indicating that Men have used that cavern many times throughout living memory. And you, Finwë, were not the first to scrawl your name upon the walls there.”
Finwë flushed at having his act recognized, although there was no tone of condemnation in Peredhrion’s voice.
They reached the two hills. Peredhrion and Túrin both examined the ground and the slopes thoroughly as they approached, indicating how the seven that had attacked the patrol the day before had separated into the groups split between the two hillsides. The bodies of the slain orcs had been laid in the valley between the two hills and dirt and rocks had been shoveled over them, and Peredhrion indicated how scavengers had already been drawn to the shallow mass grave and had sought to uncover the carrion.
Now they went more slowly, and with Finwë at his side, Peredhrion dismounted so as to check the earth more closely. When Finwë discovered a place where ferns were crushed into the dirt he earned a smile of approval from the taller youth.
Orominion whistled. “Then one did watch the fight yesterday!”
Peredhrion nodded. “And you realized that this might well have happened. He went this direction, which should lead him back to the same trail followed by the larger group. Yes, it would appear that the orcs may well be aware of our fellows tracking them long before they are close enough to scent.”
They went more quickly, hoping to come even with the other trainees before they might be taken in an ambush.
It was almost an hour, however, before they heard a clash of arms and realized the orcs and their companions were battling it out behind a stand of trees. Peredhrion again dropped from his mount, and leaving the horses in the keeping of Finwë, he, Túrin, and Orominion split up so as to approach the battle from opposite sides, the two younger Men going together.
“We have come!” shouted Peredhrion as he and Orominion joined the fight, his sword already cutting away the hand of an orc who’d been pressing Berevrion.
Seventeen orcs finally lay dead, and the young Men stood at last over the bodies of the slain, two of them rapidly turning green as the violence they’d just indulged in caught up with them. Varadorn was one who was beginning to lose what he’d eaten earlier, but he’d also managed to kill two of the orcs. Túrin had a shallow cut to his forehead, while two others had each been caught in the shoulder. Bregorn’s wound wasn’t that serious, but that suffered by Nardir, who was from a settlement not far from Lake Evendim, could easily cost him his arm if it wasn’t dealt with immediately.
All had seen Peredhrion fight now, and no one questioned any longer just how good he might be with that sword of his; now they learned firsthand his skill with the surgeon’s knife, herbs, and needles he carried with him in that red healer’s bag that was part of his gear. Túrin had Halbarad and another raise one of the tents from the packhorses’ burdens, and Nardir was carried within it. Lamps were lit, and Peredhrion knelt down to begin working….
It was sunset before he was done. The bodies of the orcs had been hauled to a swamp of which their two mentors knew and disposed of; the area around them was carefully searched, a camp was raised, and a meal was already being cooked. Peredhrion was pale when he finally came out of the tent, and asked for water to be brought him so he could cleanse his hands once more. Once he’d washed himself and removed the shirt he’d been wearing, showing he wore under it a second long-sleeved garment of silk, he sat wearily on an ancient stump with a tin mug of tea in his hand. Halbarad had aided him, and now sat within the tent at Nardir’s side, carefully administering sips of rich broth as the young Man could swallow it.
“He is able to move his fingers,” Peredhrion reported to Malvegern, and the older Man grunted his relief.
“Then he should not lose the arm.”
“Not unless the wound should fester,” Peredhrion agreed. “I hope that I was able to cleanse it sufficiently.”
“That we shall tell only with time,” Baerdion sighed, joining them at the fireside. “So, you have been advised about wearing silk under your gear?”
“Yes, to make it easier to remove any arrows that might be used against us. I am only glad that none of the orcs was an archer.”
Several of the others had come closer now that Peredhrion had come out of the tent. “How does silk aid in the removal of arrows?” asked Varadorn.
“The fibers are able to stretch, and often the barbs cannot penetrate the cloth and so tear at the flesh,” Malvegern explained. “Silken undergarments are not simply an indulgence, but have been known to save the limbs and at times the lives of their wearers.”
There were quiet comments regarding this intelligence, and it was plain that those who could manage it would be investing in such garments for themselves and perhaps brothers and fathers as well, when it was possible to obtain such things, of course. Varadorn and Dirigil were exchanging glances—their families were able to trade with the Elves of Mithlond; if they could arrange to get shipments of silken cloth to Lord Halbaleg, all within the Northern Dúnedain should benefit.
Malvegern continued, “We shall go no further tonight or tomorrow. Hopefully Nardir will be able to ride on the second dawn; we will then continue our patrol. We should meet with Iorvas’s patrol in three days. If it is necessary, he can take Nardir back with him to his parents’ village while he recovers.”
All nodded their understanding.
Save for those on watch few remained awake long that night. Peredhrion returned to the healer’s tent and laid himself down by the low cot produced for Nardir’s benefit, and slept lightly, waking frequently to check on the other youth’s condition, and seeing to it he was comfortable and offered water and broth at frequent intervals. When Orominion awoke and rose to visit the area designated for relieving oneself, he saw through the tent’s flaps that Peredhrion now sat by the cot, his hand resting on the other youth’s breast, attending to the beating of Nardir’s heart, and singing softly to himself. Somehow Orominion found all of this proper and comforting, and as he slept he dreamt of the first rising of Eärendil, back in the depths of time.
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