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The Demands of Seniority
Halbaleg was sitting in his wife’s solar, reading to her and their daughter, when his second son, Halladan, entered and leaned down to report, “I am sorry to interrupt you, Papa, but Grandfather Dírhael has arrived and is pausing only to visit the water closet before he joins you and Mama.”
The Steward of the Northern Dúnedain felt his jaw tighten. His father had not been pleased to learn that he had been denied the knowledge that his daughter’s son Aragorn had indeed survived the illness most had believed had left him dead when he was so very young, only days after word came that the child’s father had been slain by orcs. For years he had believed that his daughter had been so overborne by the double grief of the deaths of both her husband and her child that she had fled life among her own people so as to avoid reminders of her terrible loss. Now he realized that it had all been a ruse, and no matter how needful that artifice might have been in order to protect the boy, Dírhael felt as if he had been needlessly deprived of information that was due to him both as the child’s grandfather and as one of the patriarchs of their people.
Halbaleg slipped the ribbon marker into the book to mark his place and set the volume on the small table beside his chair. He rubbed at his temple. It was not going to be an easy interview, he knew. However he might sympathize with his father, there simply had been no other choice at the time. Catching his wife Anneth’s concerned gaze upon him, he gave her a wry smile. “You had perhaps best not linger long, beloved,” he murmured, to which she nodded.
Then Dírhael was entering the solar, and Halbaleg, his wife and their daughter all rose to greet him.
“Daeradar!” Eliessë said, running to him and throwing her arms about his waist. “Where is Daernana?”
“She went to Fornost with your uncle Sedras. They intend to see it made habitable once more. And since when do you greet me in Sindarin, child?”
She smiled up at him ingenuously. “Peredhrion speaks Sindarin, and it sounds so elegant! Don’t you like Sindarin, Grandpapa?”
Dírhael gave his son a questioning look. “Peredhrion?” he asked.
Halbaleg shrugged. “It is what he chooses to call himself for now, now while he learns about our people.”
Eliessë tugged at her grandfather’s sleeve, wanting to draw his attention. “Don’t you like it when I speak Sindarin, Grandpapa? Peredhrion says I have a lovely accent.”
Anneth, ignoring her daughter, was demanding, “Is it truly safe for Mother Ivorwen to go so far, all the way to the ruined fortress? What if raiders come south from Angmar? We don’t need Fornost reopened, surely?”
With an almost desperate laugh, Dírhael focused on his son’s wife first. “After the heavy drubbing the forces of Angmar received at our hands last fall, it is unlikely that they will seek to attack us now, Anneth, and particularly not so far west of the Angle. I assure you that Ivorwen and your brother and those with them will be safe enough—for now, at least.
“As for you, granddaughter, I must say that I, too, find your accent pleasant when you speak Sindarin, and I am proud that you are attending to your studies so closely. However, I need to speak with your father and would appreciate it if you would please leave us for the moment. We will send for you when we are done with our talk, and you and I will speak in Sindarin for the rest of the evening if it should please you.”
Only half mollified, the girl left the room, followed by Halladan at a nod from their father.
Dírhael did not have a chance to speak before Anneth again was importuning him. “But why is there a sudden interest in doing reconstruction at Fornost, Father Dírhael?”
He sighed as he looked into her eyes. “He has come back to us, Anneth. He has returned with all of his promise. Shall we not now do what we can to prepare for the return of the King to that estate? If all goes as we pray that it will, the Kingdom of Arnor will be restored, and he shall be King of the South Kingdom as well. Arnor and Gondor shall once again be united under one rule as had been intended by our great-fathers, Elendil, Isildur, and Anárion. Are we to wait until all of the prophecies are fulfilled, and leave him with nothing of worth here in the north for him to claim as his kingdom?”
She looked down. “Gilraen has allowed her son to return to us, yes. But,” she said more challengingly, meeting his eyes directly, “he is not King yet and may not come to that estate for many years—if the prophecies are indeed fulfilled. Our enemies are many, and come against us from all sides. He, too, may not live more than a few years before he dies as did his father and grandfather before him, having lived only as our Chieftain as has been true of so many generations of the Heirs to Isildur. Can we afford to restore old ruins when our communities are few and so often vulnerable to destruction by orcs and other enemies?”
It was her husband who answered her rather than his father. “It is for this reason, to prove to himself and our people that he can meet our needs to protect and lead us, that he has gone on the training patrol with the others learning to serve as our warriors and guardians. We already receive word that he is the warrior that he was proclaimed by Elrond’s son, and that he is winning the respect of the other recruits as a result of his skills with both weapons and with the healer’s knife. The healer with Iorvas’s patrol has praised him for the way in which he has dealt with what could have been a crippling wound to one of his comrades.”
Dírhael was searching his face. “Then—then he has already begun to show forth the King’s gift of healing?”
“Yes, Papa, he shows the King’s gift of healing. Young Nardir took a serious wound to his shoulder, but was already far upon the path to recovery when he was seen by Lendiras. Lendiras left Nardir with the patrol, considering that he showed such renewed strength. But he says that without the services of Peredhrion that Nardir would have most likely lost the arm completely, or at the very least it would have been almost totally useless to him. And others have spoken of how much care he has shown to all of them for their wellbeing.”
Dírhael was smiling. “Then perhaps he shall be as the prophecies have foretold, and the two kingdoms shall be reunited!” His gaze sharpened. “But Halbarad also shows a talent toward healing. It is small, I know----”
Halbaleg gave a wry smile. “Many within what remains of the North Kingdom show some remnants of the King’s healing hands, Papa. But what—what Aragorn shows forth is the full gift, and has been properly trained by the teaching of Elrond and his sons. He shall be for us the full healer our Kings ever were.”
“Does he show forth any of the other gifts common to the Kings of our people?” Dírhael asked.
“There is no question that he is gifted with languages, for as Elrond’s son said when he returned him to us he is fluent in Sindarin, Quenya, Adûnaic, and Westron. According to the report we received from Iorvas, Malvegern told him that Peredhrion does not look down upon the others, but also does not allow them to take undue liberties with him. They were not fully welcoming of him when they learned he was to be as one of them, but they are coming to accept his greater skill in tracking and in anticipating the actions of enemies as being advantageous to them all, and honor him for his abilities as a healer, now that he has proven himself. He does not boast idly, nor does he put himself forward unless directed by Malvegern or Baerdion. He listens to others, and offers honest praise when it is due, and increasingly the others are drawn to listen to him. In short, he indicates he will prove a good leader. And he certainly has proved he has a way with beasts as well, considering the manner in which he has gained mastery over the steed he was given.”
“But why did you send him out upon a patrol? We could be teaching him the ways and customs of our people. You saw him upon Amon Sûl—he appears a very Elven warrior, at least until you look into his eyes. But we need him to be a leader of Men, not of Elves.”
“He desired to reenter the life of our people in this way, Papa. He argued with all of us—Malvegern, Baerdion, and me—that he needs to find his place first with those who will be his captains when they go out upon the field, with those who will in turn lead those of our people they know best. He does not wish to be introduced back into the remnants of Arnor as the Chieftain with no one certain he is able to serve the Dúnedain as we need to be served.”
“Is this Elrond’s plan for him, then?” Dírhael demanded.
But Halbaleg was already shaking his head. “No, Papa. He insists that this has been strictly his own decision. He asked his mother how it is that those among our people come to be accepted as adults, and she told them that usually it is after our young Men have either finished an apprenticeship in a craft or they have completed training as Rangers. As he seeks to enter our people, he considers it best that he should do as the other young Men do, and that he should complete a training patrol. He said that he was convinced this was necessary when he learned that his father and both grandfathers had done so in their own youth. So, although he has completed an apprenticeship with the healers of Imladris and has accompanied patrols guarding the vale for the past five years, he still felt it necessary to do what is expected of our other young Men so that none should question that he is capable of protecting our lands and people. After that he is willing to follow at your side and mine to learn more of our ways and the manner in which our people are ruled. Not that he is likely to prove ignorant in matters of rule, having been raised by Lord Elrond.”
Dírhael sighed and looked up at the ceiling to the room. “I hope that this proves wise, as it is too late now to go out and bring him back.”
“True,” agreed his son.
After a moment’s additional thought, Dírhael added, “And I hope that the others will not give him too much grief. Do any of them know who he is?”
“Only Halbarad knows of all of the youths. He, Malvegern, Baerdion, and Túrin have all taken an oath not to tell the others who he is. Lendiras only realized his true identity as a result of seeing how swiftly and how well Nardir was recovering from the wound he took. Peredhrion indicated he would admit to his real name and station only when he deemed the others were ready to know.”
Dírhael sighed. “The word will be spreading throughout our lands that he is actually alive and has returned to us. It will be ironic, don’t you think, if it is those who are with him who realize last who he truly is.”
Halbaleg smiled. “Indeed, Papa. Shall we summon the children to return, do you think?”
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