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Enter the Ranger  by Larner

For Inzilbeth, Elveses, Aliana, and Radbooks for their birthdays, and with special thanks to Radbooks for getting me interested in how Aragorn might have returned to the Dúnedain.

The Emergence of Leadership

            Halbarad still wasn’t certain what to think about the time they’d spent among Iorgil’s people.  He knew that word of the youth Peredhrion’s true identity and name must be spreading there for all of the secrecy his cousin had exacted of Iorgil and his daughter.

             They’d had an uneventful ten days after leaving the village.  The days had been hot and clear, and overhead the hawks had circled lazily for hours before dropping suddenly down upon some unsuspecting creature that had slipped out of its burrow for a breath of fresher air.  Even many of the biting insects that had been plaguing them and their horses for much of their patrol appeared to have been enervated by the now relentless heat, so that now it was primarily sweat that caused their itching and discomfort.

            “I could happily do with a good bath,” commented Dirigil, to which several others readily agreed.

            Varadorn pointed to a line of trees in the distance.  “Is that the line of a river?” he asked Baerdion.  “Perhaps we could bathe there.”

            They were not far from the Mitheithil, and Malvegern and Baerdion agreed that they might indeed camp near its banks and they could take turn bathing in it.

            “Oh, to be cool and cleansed of my own stink!” breathed Finwë, to which sentiment most of the others agreed wholeheartedly.

            But Peredhrion cautioned, “Do not so think of the relief that you let down your guard betimes.  There might be enemies even here, deep in lands you think safe.”

            Orominion groaned at such a warning.  “And why should we look out for an attack now, when we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of any enemy for so long?”

            Malvegern sniffed, “Perhaps precisely because it has been so long since we saw any such sign.  A wise Ranger never lets down his guard, for it’s too often when he does so that he’s struck from behind.”

            It took nearly an hour before they found a camping spot to the liking of their mentors, by which time many of the young Men were so anxious to cool down in the river they appeared willing to ignore all warnings to keep up their watch for danger.  Halbarad held his own impatience back by force of will, however, and when Peredhrion indicated he would be among the first to take the watch he indicated he would stand by the taller youth’s side, as did Berevrion.  Since he apparently realized Peredhrion’s true identity Berevrion was seldom far from the side of the young Man with the Elven braids. 

            “I wish I had a bow,” muttered Peredhrion.

            Túrin asked, “You are skilled with a bow?  I do have two or three amongst the stores should you wish one of them.”

            The side of Peredhrion’s mouth twitched.  “Raised amongst Elves, you think they would not train me with a bow?  It’s not my first weapon, but I am skilled enough to be at least competent, if with nowhere the aim of any Elf I know.”

            In moments Peredhrion and Halbarad were equipped with a bow and quiver of arrows each, and both were stringing their new weapons and checking the tension.

            “It is well made, although of a design with which I am unfamiliar.  Does it tend to pull one way or another?” Peredhrion asked.

            They quickly returned to the watch alongside Berevrion, Túrin joining them with his own bow, and after considering the area for a few moments, Peredhrion indicated to each of his fellows where it was he felt each would do best should they find themselves having to protect their bathing companions.

            Baerdion watched with interest, approving of the manner in which Peredhrion’s judgment was accepted as naturally by Berevrion and Halbarad—and Túrin—as was that of Malvegern or himself.  The young Man might still be perceived as an outsider and lacking in knowledge of the ways of the Dúnedain, but rarely now was his experience or knowledge questioned by the other recruits.  Peredhrion already knew that Berevrion was well skilled with a bow, so he was given the spot that offered the greatest coverage of the whole area, and it was much the same with Túrin.  He put Halbarad and himself in positions where they would not likely be in the crossfire of the other two and where, should an enemy show himself, they would have clear shots; but they would also be able to move swiftly to where their swords would do the most good, each being well skilled with their blades.

            Assured that their Elf-trained recruit had the protection of the others well in hand, Baerdion fetched his own bow and made certain that his sword was free in its sheath before joining the other four on guard.

            The bathers began retreating onto the bank within half an hour, some dressing and joining the watch but most lying lazily in the sunlight for a time.  “Orominion is snoring,” Finwë reported to Halbarad as he joined the watch, shaking his head half in admiration and half in disgust.  “And Dirigil has relieved him of the small clothes Orominion has been wearing the last few days, as they came from Dirigil and Brendor’s packs.”

            “Do you think he will ever learn better than to continue to ‘borrow’ from others?” Halbarad responded in low tones.

            Dirigil shrugged with a wry smile, but at that moment a number of birds rose with cries of alarm from trees near the path they’d taken to arrive here, and all turned to look.  Peredhrion rose briefly into view, pointed to Finwë and Halbarad, and gestured that they should move across the pathway swiftly to cover on the other side while Baerdion touched Damrod on the arm and led the boy quietly down toward the point of disturbance to do some reconnoitering. 

            It was not long before Damrod returned, reporting to Peredhrion.  “There are five young Men, all apparently from the Breelands, and apparently long-time friends.  They are after our horses, and are working themselves up to become violent if necessary in order to take them.  Baerdion stayed behind to keep watch on them, and said that you should direct the defense against them.”

            Peredhrion visibly winced, but nodded.  “Well enough, I suppose.  What kinds of weapons do they carry?”

            “Three have slings, all have knives, and one an ancient sword that is improperly sharpened.  He is the biggest and fancies himself the leader.”

            After considering for a moment, Peredhrion suggested, “Go back to that oak there where the river comes closest to the trail we followed in, and signal when they are close.  The call of a wood pigeon should do.”

            Damrod nodded, and slipped noiselessly off through the trees as directed.  Almost immediately they heard a pigeon’s call, and all stiffened into readiness.

            It was not long before the five strangers came into view, two with slings at the ready, cradling stones in the pockets held in the hollows of their hands, two each holding a knife, and the fifth with his hand on the hilt of his sword inexpertly thrust through his belt.  Looking at it, Halbarad felt himself cringe, imagining the damage the fool might do to himself seeking to draw the weapon with any rapidity.

            “Are you certain they’re near here?” one of the newcomers asked the tallest of his fellows.

            “You heard’em as them come by us,” came the answer.  “Not thinkin’ o’ nothin’ but gettin’ cooled off in the river, them was.”

            “Glad as us come the other way so them didn’t see our trail,” commented a third.

            “They got swords,” the first one said warningly.

            “And we got slings,” the leader answered.  “Can get them afore they get close enough for swords, and I’m even with’em on that count.”

            “I don’t like it none at all,” muttered the smallest of the five.  “Yes, we got slings and at least Abe an’ me’s good with’em.    But these’ve got the look o’ Rangers to’em, and ever’one knows as the Rangers is all good with those swords of theirs.”

            The leader gave a dismissive gesture.  “Too young t’be Rangers, them.”

            “And we’re too young t’be ruffians,” countered the smallest.  “Face it, Fry, we’re but lads ourselves.”

            “Don’t you be a-callin’ me no lad, Jimson Greenbriar,” the one called Fry answered.  “I amn’t no Hobbit!”

            “I know as you amn’t,” Jimson answered.  “Hobbits got more sense’n t’run off into the wilds to become ruffians just a’cause somebody was found dead.”

            “And they’re all a-thinkin’ as us was the ones as killed ol’ Gaffer Teasel,” Fry spat out.

            “But we didn’t!”

            “But them is thinkin’ as we did whether we done it or not,” another of the youths said.  “After all, Jimi, you was the one as come t’tell us what they was sayin’ t’home about it after we found ol’ Teasel dead and run off t’hide.”

            “And a’cause we all ran away, now they’re all certain as we done it,” Jimson muttered.  “And now we’re all wolfs’ heads!”

            “Well, if’n we’s all wolfs’ heads we may’s well be proper ones and earn the title as them give us,” Fry answered.  “May’s well be hanged for sheeps as fer lambs.”

            “I don’ wanna be hanged fer nothin’!” declared the taller of the two with the slings.  “I’ve had enough o’ bein’ a ruffian.  I wanna go home!”

            “It’s too late fer that, Tad Oatbarrow.”  Fry gave Tad a look that was disgusted and sad at the same time.  “Now, if’n we’re t’be proper ruffians, we’ll need horses t’ride and carry our loot.”

            “What loot?” demanded the first one.  “We ain’t got no loot!  Was tryin’ t’steal loot as got us in this mess t’begin with!”

            “Well, we would o’ had loot if’n someone else hadn’t of killed old Teasel and took that gold cup as him found diggin’ his new root cellar,” said Fry.

            “But none of us would’ve killt him,” reasoned the first one.  “We’d of just let him go t’sleep and snuck in there and took it without him knowin’.”

            Fry shrugged.  “Too late fer that,” he grumbled.  “Let’s find where them boys went and get us some horses.”

            “I would advise you that not only are those you seek not boys any longer, but that they are not about to allow the five of you to take their horses,” Baerdion said, emerging from the woods behind them, his sword at the ready.  “Not that three of us have been even youths for many years.”

            At that Peredhrion, Berevrion, Halbarad, and Túrin rose to show themselves, their arrows aimed at the five young Breelanders, and Damrod came out of hiding, sword in hand, to stand beside Baerdion.  Others were coming up to the road from the riverbank, most with a weapon to hand, and they encircled the five would-be ruffians.  Peredhrion said in a deceptively casual tone, “I suggest that you drop your weapons.  We can loose arrows before you could swing your slings----”

            With that he loosed his own arrow, catching the taller one with a sling in hand just above the wrist even as the young Man had sought to hurl a stone toward Baerdion.  The sling fell to the ground, and its stone bounced on the path and rolled to an ignoble stop while the would-be assailant grabbed at the place where Peredhrion’s arrow pierced his arm.

            Peredhrion gave a quick glance at Túrin and announced, “It pulls slightly to the left, I see.  Just in case anyone else asks.”

            The laughter at this was short and without a good deal of humor.  At a gesture from Peredhrion several went to surround their prisoners.  Peredhrion himself handed his bow to Berevrion and went to the one who’d been the target of his arrow.  “If you will stand still, I shall break and remove this and then cleanse and bind it for you,” he said.  “You are Abe?”

            The youth he faced gave a numb nod. 

            After a brief examination of the young Man’s face, Peredhrion ordered Nardir, “Go and get a blanket.  He is entering shock.  Dirigil, go with him and fetch my healer’s bag from my pack.”  He pulled his knife and gave a swift, certain slash at the arrow, cutting it cleanly a few inches from the skin, and after handing the knife to Halbarad grasped the feathers of the arrow shaft to pull it backwards out of the arm, swiftly pressing a shirt handed him by Túrin against the wounds with one hand while guiding Abe safely to the ground with the other arm.  “Do not fear—you will be well.”  He turned to his fellows.  “Disarm them and take them in hand.  I do not believe we will have to bind them, not with what I see in their faces.  And do be careful relieving Fry of his sword—I do not wish to have to stitch up his leg.”

            Abe was quickly wrapped warmly, at which time Peredhrion cleansed, examined, and bound his arm.  “I do not believe stitches are called for,” he said, “but it needs to be kept scrupulously clean and the bandage changed regularly for the next several days.”

            By sunset they had the full story out of their five—guests.  Fry was sullen and reluctant to answer for himself, but Jimson, Tad, and the last youth, whose name proved to be Ledo, told the story of the misadventures that had led five youths from the Breelands this far east of their own place.

            “It all started with old Gaffer Teasel,” Tad explained.  “His old root cellar had gone damp the last few years, so him chose a place more uphill to put in another one.  As him was a-diggin’ it he found this gold cup—very old and dented, but surely gold.  Well, ’twasn’t his t’begin with, an’ ought to’ve been up for whoever might take or need it, see?  So, as Fry’s mam was that sick, he thought t’take the cup and sell it hisself and get a healer t’see t’her.”

            “We said as we’d help him, all but Jimi there,” Ledo continued, indicating the smallest of the group.  “Him didn’t want nothin’ t’do with the plan.  So the rest of us went to old Teasel’s farm, but it seemed as nobody was t’home when we got there.  So we went in, and it looked as if wights’d been through the place.  Then we found the Gaffer hisself a-lyin’ on the floor near the cookin’ hearth, all dead.  Somebody’d stuck a knife through him.  And the cup wasn’t nowhere t’be found.  We run fer it, and hid out in a hole where we go when we’ve been a-scrumpin, don’t ya know.  Didn’t know as what we needed t’do next, so we stayed there the rest o’ the night.  Late afternoon Jimson come t’tell us what was bein’ said in Bree, and lots o’ folks was certain as we’d done fer him and as we all needed t’be strung up.  Even me own dad was sayin’ as if’n I’d been part of this I should be hanged with the rest.”

            His face was white, and there was no guile to be seen in his expression.

            “Why did you come with them?” asked Peredhrion of Jimson.  “You weren’t there, after all.”

            “But they’re me mates,” the smallest youth said.  “I couldn’t let them go off on their own, could I?”

            Halbarad looked up to see Malvegern, Baerdion, and Túrin standing back, all watching the interrogation of the five young Breelanders with interest and obvious satisfaction.  He wasn’t certain where Malvegern had been earlier while the rest were swimming and bathing in the river, but the Man’s smile as he watched Peredhrion question Fry’s companions was full of approval.  But then, Halbarad thought, of course he’s glad that my cousin is showing he has the skills to take up his place as our Chieftain!  Well, it was obvious that Lord Elrond had seen Peredhrion—Aragorn—properly trained for his intended place amongst the Dúnedain.

            With that in mind, Halbarad turned back to listen to the final portion of the story that was being told now by the supine Abe.


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