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For Tari for her birthday. Enjoy!
The healer who accompanied the patrol led by Iorvas looked up to meet Baerdion’s eyes. “You say that he was wounded three days ago?” he asked, indicating Nardir, who sat patiently on a fallen tree trunk.
“Yes. We found a troop of orcs northwest of Eldar Deep. Nardir was the one who was worst wounded.”
“Who closed the wound?”
“Peredhrion, there,” Baerdion answered, indicating where said young Man stood near the horses, speaking with Varadorn.
“An Elf? Why would an Elf ride with your patrol? Was he trained in healing by Lord Elrond, then?”
At that moment, apparently feeling the healer’s gaze upon him, Peredhrion turned, and the healer saw his face and found his attention fastening upon the youth’s eyes. He went pale with shock, and then flushed. Peredhrion turned back to his companion, and the healer returned his own attention to Baerdion.
Baerdion gave an odd smile of mixed satisfaction and warning. “Yes, he has been fully trained by Lord Elrond and his people. But, as you can see, he is no Elf, and he wished to return to our people in this manner. His father died, you will remember, when he was little more than a babe, only just beginning to walk and speak.”
“We thought he was dead!” whispered the healer.
Baerdion’s smile widened as he returned in extremely soft tones, “As you can see, he did not die. How better to protect him from the Enemy than to allow almost all to think him dead?”
“And he exhibits the King’s Gifts?” came the whispered question. Not waiting for a reply, the healer shook his head with amazement. “When did this come to be?”
“On Midsummer Day they brought him to Amon Sûl to see him returned. He was as you see him now. Lady Ivorwen has accepted him, but his grandfather still questions how it was that he was not advised the child lived after all.”
The healer gave another glance at the young Man in question. “I am not surprised at his confusion,” he commented dryly. “And we missed this news because we were out on patrol.”
“Even so. As for Nardir there, do you believe he should return to his parents’ home?”
With a sigh, the healer returned his attention to the youth he’d examined. “Perhaps he should return home, but his recovery is already well advanced. There is no question that—Peredhrion there is a skilled healer who has learned well from Elrond and his people. We shall undoubtedly all rejoice to have him among us in the near future. But I believe I shall leave the decision as to whether this one returns home to Nardir himself. He shall most likely be fit for full duty within two weeks if the healing continues as it has gone so far, and I doubt he wishes to need his training patrol to start again from the beginning.”
The healer glanced again at Peredhrion. “How is he as a warrior? Is he such as will do well as a captain of Men?”
“He won the right to ride on patrol with the sons of Elrond by besting one of the two of them in sparring at the age of fifteen. What does that tell you? And I watched him fighting the orcs the other day—to watch him with a sword is to watch a master of the dance of death. Nor is he given to airs. He dresses as an Elf because this is how he has seen warriors dress all of his life, and he knows no other way. I tell you, he has earned those warriors braids fairly.”
“But if he is to become who he is meant to be, he must identify with our people, not the Elves, not even the Elves of Rivendell.”
“Yes, you are right. But it must be his own choice to do so. We cannot impose that decision upon him.”
Nardir chose to remain with the patrol, and only when the other group was far out of sight of Malvegern’s trainees did the healer reveal to Iorvas what he’d seen of the new recruit to the Rangers come from Elrond’s hidden valley.
The feeling of Hope Returning and Coming to Be was spreading even now amongst the Northern Dúnedain.
“Was it hard to grow up amongst Elves?”
“Did they treat you badly because you are a Man rather than an Elf?”
“Do they eat different things than we do?”
“When did you realize you are different from the Elves?”
“Is it true that Elves don’t sleep as Men do?”
Malvegern and Baerdion were amused by the questions they heard being put to Peredhrion, and often they were as curious as were the other youths as to what he might answer.
“Did Lord Elrond marry your mother?”
Peredhrion appeared shocked at the very idea of that one. “Marry my naneth? But why? He is already married, although his wife has departed over the Sea to Elvenhome for healing. She was very badly hurt, you know.”
“Then why did he not go with her?”
Peredhrion shrugged. “He believes he is intended to stay here in the Mortal Lands until Sauron is finally vanquished. He will not leave until that day comes. Sauron has cost too many he has loved.”
That appeared to give the other trainees a good deal to think on, not to mention the thoughts entertained by their mentors.
One night as they sat in their camp, having heard one of the tales that Peredhrion had to tell, a story he said was commonly told in the Hall of Fire in Elrond’s House, Berevrion asked, “What did you do when you were a little boy? Did you play with the Elves’ children?”
Peredhrion shook his head, his warriors braids swinging, his expression rather sad. “There have been no children born in the vale of Imladris for over six hundred years as Men count time. Elves must agree for a child to be conceived, and it can cost the father as much as the mother for the child to come to its birth, for the child draws as much upon the spirit of its father as it does the spirit and body of the mother. There are few children conceived in times of uncertainty, not when the attention of those who would be parents must needs be focused on the welfare of their people and homes.
“Master Elrond’s sons would play with me often enough when they were within the valley, much, I imagine, as do much older brothers or uncles of mortal children, teaching me to follow a trail and to look at all that was around me, and sometimes teaching me to use my imagination to plan how I would sneak past a dragon or hunt fabulous beasts. But they were often away upon patrol or seeking out orcs and brigands who haunt the mountain passes or trolls come down from the Ettenmoors. So, when I must play by myself I would pretend I had brothers, and together we would hunt great cats in the gardens or plan raids on pirates’ fortresses. Sometimes when I was very small I would pretend to save the princess in the great tower, and my nana would be the princess and perhaps Elladan would be the wicked enchanter who held her prisoner. But I had little time to play at such things once I was old enough for lessons. I learned something, it seemed, from each and every Elf within the valley. I began practicing with a wooden sword when I was still very small, learning how to carry it, how to draw and sheathe it, and how to hold it properly, what stances I must use. I must learn to read and to write, and to understand what it was that I read. I must learn how to keep proper records. I learned how to care for my pony from those who kept the stable, and how to care for my cat from Elladan and Elrohir. I learned to work with the hunting hounds from those who worked in the kennel, and how to fly a hawk from those who saw to the mews. I began to study how to care for common wounds from the first time I chanced upon the Healing Wing, and often worked in the healers’ garden alongside m-Master Elrond himself and the other healers, learning to tell the plants and how to care for them, and how to harvest and prepare each properly for use by the cooks or with those who might come to us for healing.
“Some days I would work in the scriptorium, copying texts and books or learning to conserve scrolls of lore. Other days I would help those who worked the farmlands, laboring alongside those who planted and harvested the grains and foods we depended upon. I learned to hunt, and how to serve at table. I learned the histories of the Elves, Men, and Dwarves who have dwelt in Middle Earth. I learned how to construct and string a harp, although I do not have one now, and how to blow upon the pipes. Sometimes I was expected to sing or to chant rhymes of lore in the Hall of Fire in the evenings, or to play with other musicians. But my best musical skill lies in my singing rather than skill with any instrument. My mother wished for me to learn to dance, but there seemed not to be time for that, considering how much else there was to learn and master.”
The young Men all appeared to be impressed by the rigors of Peredhrion’s education. So when he asked Berevrion how he spent his time as a child, the younger trainee shrugged as if embarrassed to say, “I had lessons, yes; and I was required to study Sindarin as well as Westron and Adûnaic. But it seemed mostly I must see to those chores assigned to me. I worked in the stables and the herding grounds with the horses and ponies alongside my father and brothers and sisters. I learned to ride when I was perhaps five years old. My pony was named Pererohir—it was named by my older brother, and I fear Beregil had no true imagination when it came to naming any beast.”
“Was it the front or rear half of the creature you rode?” jested Finwë.
Berevrion gave him a wry smile before continuing, “We also work in the fields, and mostly my sisters keep the gardens. It was my job primarily to bring in wood for the fires, and Beregil was tasked with seeing to it that there was always fresh water on hand. When we have free time we often play kick-the-ball in the fields where we have no crops growing. But we always have to watch for enemies, who come mostly from the north, from the remnants of Angmar. Part of the reason I was chosen to go upon this mission was because the last time they came I managed to kill two of the raiders with my bow, after they slew Beregil.”
The other youths gave whistles and words of compassion and appreciation. Death of friends and family from raids by orcs, trolls, and evil Men were too common an occurrence in the lives of them all.
Peredhrion laid a hand on the shoulder of his younger companion, and they nodded their mutual recognition of the types of loss they had in common, including the loss of innocence at a young age.
After several minutes of quiet thought throughout the group, Malvegern cleared his throat. “We shall be riding out early, perhaps just before dawn. You had best see to it that you are all well prepared for the morrow’s needs. Dirigil and Orominion, see to it that you have new laces in your boots—it will not do to have to stop tomorrow should the worn ones each of you had to knot together today break.”
Dirigil smiled, “I shall do so right away.”
Orominion merely shrugged, although he had trouble hiding a smirk. It was not long before the source of that smirk became obvious to all, when Dirigil, going through his pack, held up a single cord and cried out, “Someone has taken one of my spare laces!”
Most of the young Men had leather laces that were undyed, and certainly earlier in the day when Orominion’s bootlace broke his had been similarly tan. The lace Dirigil held up was dyed black, however, while now Orominion wore one lace that was light brown and the other dark as an orc’s blood. “Why did you take one of my laces?” Dirigil demanded.
“You only broke one of yours today, and I didn’t have a spare,” Orominion said as if that explained all.
Baerdion, Malvegern, and Túrin exchanged despairing glances. “It may be true,” Malvegern noted, “he does not need two new laces at this point, but that does not give you the right to take one of his without asking. And why did you not bring extra laces? Was it not written on the letter your parents received when you were accepted to this patrol that you should be so equipped?”
Orominion’s smirk disappeared, his expression now sullen. “We are not wealthy, those in my family. It took a good deal to get me the equipment I carry. There was nothing left over for extra laces.”
Túrin sighed. “Then you ought to have applied to me rather than to go into someone else’s pack, Orominion. I carry such things, you should realize. I am, after all, quartermaster for this patrol.”
Orominion gave an elaborate shrug and turned away. It was the first time it was noticed that Orominion freely “borrowed” from his fellows and thought nothing of the practice.
Two days later a gang of six ruffians was found attacking a farm, and the recruits quickly had them captured. For two days they quick-marched their prisoners until they came to one of the villages inhabited by the Dúnedain, where they happily released the lawless Men into the keeping of the locals, who would see them brought before Lord Halbaleg for judgment. That night as the recruits rested around their campfire the discussion turned to what might have happened had the ruffians been more willing to fight them.
“I don’t know if I could have borne to kill a Man,” one of the eighteen-year-olds said.
Finwë asked, “How many besides Berevrion have had to fight Men?”
Six hands went up. Peredhrion did not raise his. One of those who raised his hand was Varadorn.
Finwë continued, “How many have seen a Man die?”
Almost everyone raised his hand this time. Only Bregorn and two of the eighteen-year-olds had been spared the experience. They looked at Peredhrion, and Finwë asked, “When did you see a Man die?”
“The first time it was a woman. The sons of Elrond were riding with the Dúnedain a few years ago, and as the patrol passed a farmstead not far east of Amon Sûl they were hailed by the farmer, who asked if there was a healer amongst them. His wife had given birth to a son, but by nightfall the child died in obvious pain, and by the next evening his wife also was very ill, and the midwife had told him there was nothing further she could do.
“Elladan and Elrohir did what they could for her, but agreed that there was little chance for her to survive, although they hoped that perhaps their father could do more. They took turns carrying her before them as they returned to the Last Homely House, and she was brought to the Healers Wing. But all that could be done for her by then was to ease her pain that she might die more comfortably—it was too late to undo the damage done. M-Master Elrond said that it was the fault of the midwife, who had not cleansed her hands, her instruments, or the bedding properly, and the womb became infected. The babe was infected as it was born and thus could not live without special treatment that the midwife could not give it, and now the infection had spread throughout the mother’s body and she had not the strength any longer to recover.
“Another time one of the Elves found a wounded Man who had been set upon by highwaymen and left for dead upon the East Road. He had been struck repeatedly upon the head, and again it had been too long since he was injured for him to recover. He did finally wake and spoke with me, and the sons of Elrond were able to find those who attacked him and brought them before our—their father, who saw them properly punished. I held his hand as he quitted the body, and I was glad that he did not appear to be afraid.”
He was quiet for a time before adding, “I have also seen Elves in our patrols die twice. One was cut off by a number of orcs who set upon him in particular, while another was taken by an arrow to his chest that severed the great arteries. Each time we took great vengeance upon the orcs who beset us.”
“So you have killed orcs before this patrol.”
“Yes.” There was no change in his expression to indicate whether he felt good or bad or indifferent about killing orcs—the feeling the others got was that it was simply something that had needed doing at the moment, so he and those with him had merely done what was necessary.
Orominion’s face twisted. “I have no love of orcs, and will kill all I ever encounter.”
Peredhrion shrugged. “To kill is an evil in itself, but is too oft necessary to save what is worth seeing preserved. And certainly orcs were twisted to love destruction more than any other thing.” He met Orominion’s eyes and gave a shrug of his shoulders. “I know that someday I must face Men in battle, and I do not look forward to that day. But, when Men take on the nature of orcs….” He let the sentence go unfinished.
Malvegern said quietly, “When the time comes, I am certain that you will discern rightly whether or not the Men you face are intent on killing you and those you are bound to protect and that you will choose to do what is necessary. But certainly you are right---sometimes Men indeed do take on the nature of orcs, and because they have chosen destruction they must be stopped however it must be done. But it does not do to dwell on what has not happened as yet, save to be prepared when it confronts one; and when the time does come that you must fight other Men, you will need to accept that since it was inevitable that such things will happen from time to time, you cannot hold guilt to yourself, but must go on with life as it ought to be lived while it is yet with you.”
Peredhrion gave a slight nod, a small, sad smile lightening his expression. “When that day comes, it will come,” he responded.
So saying, he rose from the group, beckoned Nardir to him, and set about checking the state of healing of his wound. Berevrion set himself to washing his stockings, something he did whenever he had the chance to do so, having told the others that his mother had enjoined him to watch the health of his feet in especial, and the others prepared for the night’s rest.
In the morning one of the pairs of stockings Berevrion had so carefully cleaned was missing, and were found on Orominion’s feet, Orominion having neglected to realize his own needed to be cleaned. The young Man said that he was sorry, but somehow the others were not convinced he truly meant it.
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