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Enter the Ranger  by Larner

For IgnobleBard and LaPrime's birthdays.  


            Baerdion shook his head as he considered the trainee standing before him.  “You cannot continue to borrow other people’s things, Orominion.  This time it was all I could do to restrain Finwë from blacking your eye at the very least after you took his spare shirt.”

            “Why does it bother them so?” the young Man demanded.  “It does not bother my brothers when I borrow from them!”

            Baerdion’s brow rose.  “Is this indeed how it is with your family, Orominion?  I know that my older brother took great exception to me even touching anything that he thought of as his.”

            Shaking his head, Orominion ignored what their mentor said.  “And are we not to consider ourselves brothers-in-arms?  Why do they begrudge sharing with those who have less than they?”

            “Less than they?” the Man returned, not certain he’d heard aright.  “But I have counted at least five shirts that you brought with you, while Finwë has but three with him.  It appears that if your own things are not fit to wear it is then that other people are judged to have more than you.”

            At that moment Nardir returned to the encampment at a run.  “To the east!” he gasped.  “There is a dust cloud to our east!”

            Orominion was forgotten as Turin hurried over to hear the youth’s news.  “A cloud of dust?” the quartermaster asked.  “And where is Peredhrion?”

            “He remained behind so as to keep an eye on their movement.  He does not believe it is orcs, as they will not usually move when the Sun is bright.  But it may be either a party of traders or of raiders.  He says that the cloud of dust appears to be due to the movement of wagons.”

            Baerdion and Túrin exchanged looks.  “Wagons are not used by orcs,” Baerdion said, “and are seldom used by Elves, so again this indicates that those who come this way are more likely Men, or possibly Dwarves.  But Dwarves seldom leave proper roads with their wagons, and we are far from the East Road here.  We will be cautious, then.”  He sent Túrin off to warn Malvegern, and gathered the young recruits together to advise them regarding the approaching wagons.

            “Not Dwarves,” Finwë murmured to Orominion and Varadorn, who crouched beside him in the brushy borders to the faint track the Men approaching them used.

            “Not from the Breelands, either,” Varadorn whispered, his expression grim.

            The whisper was passed down the line from Túrin, “Dunlendings!”  All of the recruits in this group straightened, and most touched the hilts of their swords to assure themselves that their weapons could be easily drawn when the time came.  The Men of Dunland had a reputation for being fierce enough in a fight, although they were usually not as well trained in swordcraft as were the warriors of the Dúnedain.

            There was the sound of cursing from down where Túrin knelt, and now the word was passed from youth to youth, “Beware—that is a power bow.  They are not particularly accurate from a distance, but they can be deadly.”

            There were eight mounted Men and two on the wagon’s bench.  At least one of the riders held what appeared to most of the recruits to be a child-sized bow mounted somehow upon a stick, as did the one sitting next to the wagon’s driver.  Most of the young warriors in training were now peering at the odd weapons, hoping to make sense of their configuration before the strange Men came close enough to pose a real threat to them.

            One of the eighteen-year-olds commented in a low voice, “I wonder if Peredhrion has seen such weapons before?”

            Nardir replied, “I suppose we shall soon learn the answer to that.”

            There was a short shared laugh amongst them, one last release of the tension building within them as the Dunlendings came closer.

            Suddenly Baerdion stepped out of the trees opposite Nardir, his longbow ready and an arrow nocked to the string.  “Hold!” he commanded, his voice ringing in the clear air.

            The rider with the strange bow raised it, laying a odd looking dart upon the stick by which he held it, but before he could do more he let go of his weapon, an arrow having transfixed his shoulder.  When another arrow struck the wooden bench of the wagon by his hand, the second archer cried out in surprise, and his bow also fell to the ground.  Its dart, however, flew faster than the young Dúnedain had expected, and sank its point deeply into the trunk of the tree behind which Berevrion crouched.  Had it hit him….

            “Hold!” Baerdion said once more, following it with the same command in several different languages.  The horses pulling the wagon bucked and tried vainly to rear, at which Berevrion ran forward to capture the headgear of the animal closest to him to calm it. 

            There were too many arrows aimed their way for the intruders to ignore, and soon all had their hands raised, and Túrin and Malvegern went forward to see them all disarmed and forced to dismount.  Peredhrion and Finwë were set to seeing the arrow wound suffered by the one Man dealt with, and soon he found himself, with his arm bound across his chest, sitting on a log alongside his fellows while the young defenders went through the contents of the wagon.

            “There are many sacks of grain under a tarp toward the front, and weapons in the back,” Nardir reported to their mentors.  “And two barrels of what appears to be smoked pork.”

            “The grain is barley and wheat,” added Bregorn.

            “Neither of which grows easily in the hills of Dunland,” Malvegern commented.  “Are they trading weapons for grain, I wonder?”  His tone of voice made it clear he suspected that the weapons were indeed used in obtaining the grain, but not in trade.

            “But these are but boys!” one of their captives commented in heavily accented Westron.  “We ought to have been able to take them easily!”

            Baerdion gave a feral smile.  “These may be young, but they are swiftly becoming seasoned, and more than one has fought successfully against enemies before coming on this patrol.  You would not find any of them as easy to overcome as you appear to believe, my friend.”

            The Dunlending spat.  “I am no friend to you or yours,” he growled.

            “Nor to the farmer from whom you took this, I suspect,” Peredhrion said, raising a particularly fine sickle he’d found amongst the weapons.

           “Nor his wife, from whom you most likely took these,” Túrin added grimly, pulling from a small bag he’d found beneath the wagon seat a pair of gold earrings, perhaps once the only treasure owned by the wife of a Man who’d taken land in the wild to farm. 

            They bound the intruders and aided most to mount their own horses, only to tie their feet together under their steeds’ barrels.  With the wounded Man and the former driver loaded in the wagon and the others each on leading strings behind one of their captors, they headed toward the site where they were to rendezvous with another patrol within the next two days.  As they rode the youths took turns examining the power bows taken from the Dunlendings, taking note of the manner in which the bows were mounted upon their stocks and the way in which strings were winched back to give the darts used in them greater force once the strings were loosed.

            “They are ugly weapons,” Dirigil commented, “but I suspect that they are most effective.”

            “They can easily pierce a Man’s skull, or that of a troll, even,” affirmed Malvegern.  “But they are not particularly accurate over any real distance.  Had Berevrion been struck by the one dart that was loosed in our attack on them it is likely it would have gone clear through his body.  As it was, we did not bother to recover it from the tree, as it is buried too deeply to easily remove, and it would be useless to try to use it again.”  He turned to look more closely at Peredhrion as they rode.  “Have you had the chance to see such things before, growing up as you have in Lord Elrond’s halls?”

            “I have seen a few, and was permitted to handle one recently taken from Men routed in Rhudaur,” he answered.  “Elladan and Elrohir described them much as you have.  I was allowed to fire the weapon to get the feel for it, but they did not allow me to pull the string to its greatest tension, for they said that it could easily be pulled apart by its own stresses.  They told me that it was not the best of such weapons they had ever taken.”

            “It is good that at least one of you has had the chance to handle such things, and the Twins are correct as always in their evaluation of the power bows.  Know this—the more complicated the weapon, the more easily it can break down during use, and the greater the danger it poses to its own wielder should it do so.”

            This was advice the young Men were to remember always, and Halbarad saw that his unacknowledged cousin was nodding as he filed the information away in his mind to ponder further when time allowed.

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