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An Unexpected Detour
A day later the troop of Rangers-in-training was on the East-West Road, heading west for the Breelands, their five young prisoners now riding double, each in front of or behind one of the young Men who’d captured them. Jimson, the smallest of the youths, rode before Peredhrion, with Berevrion on one side and Halbarad slightly behind on the other.
“I don’t understand fully why you chose to follow your fellows into exile,” the tall Dúnadan youth commented, “particularly as you had not agreed to take part in their intended folly.”
“You have t’understand,” Jimson answered again, “as they’re all my mates. We’ve done everythin’ together all our lives, and I’m not gonna let them go off all on their own to become ruffians. Mebbe I could help them get by for a time, and then go home, knowin’ as them could take care o’ themselves now.”
Noting the continued knotting of the brow of the young Man who held him, he said, “I suppose as you’d not understand, seein’ as you’re not one o’ these.” He waved his hand to indicate the other trainees.
Peredhrion straightened. “What makes you think I am not one of these, my own fellows? Are we not riding together? Have we not learned to work together in the past many weeks?”
“But you don’t look like ’em, nor dress like ’em, nor move like ’em. Don’t even talk like them!” Jimson countered. “It’s gonna be a time afore you’re actually one o’them, you ask me. If you ever are,” he added.
It was the first time that Halbarad saw his recently returned young kinsman flush and look uncertain.
Jimi continued, “Them, bet as most of ’em has known each other most o’ their lives. Most times, one had started somethin’ right foolish, I’d wager the others has stood right by him no matter how much they tried t’ warn him off ahead o’ times. That’s what friends do!”
“Even when it could lead to you being named a wolf’s head, too?” Peredhrion asked sternly.
Berevrion answered, “But a family will often lie for a child or a brother, trying to protect them. Will the others in Bree believe your parents would not do so for your sake?”
The boy started to reply, but paused, unable to answer in the end. He looked away once more, clearly disturbed.
Peredhrion looked from Berevrion to Jimi, and at last asked, “Do you believe that your friends here killed Gaffer Teasel?”
Jimi was shaking his head no before the tall youth finished. “Only one as might even think o’ such a thing’s Fry, and I don’t believe as him has the stomach for it, not really. Certainly Tad, Ledo, nor Abe wouldn’t do it. And I’m not sure as they’d of actually took the cup if’n they’d found it—I mean, if’n someone else hadn’t of already took it and stabbed ol’ Teasel and left him dead on the floor.” Halbarad could see Jimson shiver. “There was no call t’kill ’im, after all,” he added. “It’s not like he coulda stopped someone else takin’ it. He’s a bit frail. Oh, he’s able t’dig a new root cellar, I’d say. But his eyes ain’t what they was, and too oft he’ll not even hear what’s said t’him. Or, that’s the way it was. I don’t understand just why whoever did it killed him!”
“Who knew that he’d found the cup?”
Jimi shrugged. “About everyone, I’d suppose. He’d took it t’the Pony—the Prancing Pony, that is. That’s the main inn there in Bree, you know. He was askin’ if’n anyone else thought as it was gold, and then said as he was takin’ it home agin, and was gonna keep it t’give to his daughter what lives in Combe when she come t’see him next, t’sell fer his grandson. Don’t know as what use a bairn like his grandson could have for the money, but you know grandparents!”
Halbarad did his best to suppress a smile, for he knew well enough that Peredhrion did not know much about grandparents, although he would learn soon enough, he supposed.
But Peredhrion was asking, “Would anyone who was there when Gaffer Teasel was at the inn be likely to wish to take the cup?”
“Most like ol’ Ferny hisself what used to run the Pony would of liked to have it, and most of the Bigs there.”
“Men. See, there’s Bigs and Littles as live in Bree, Men an’ Hobbits. Most Hobbits would never think o’ takin’ things as amn’t theirs, but seems as too many Bigs is needin’ coin, or at least wantin’ it.”
“Can you think of many who would kill someone else to get what they want from them?”
Jimi paused thoughtfully. Finally he said slowly, “Mayhaps Hap Goatleaf. Lives near the South Gate, an’ is a rough sort. Some o’ the Fernys as live close by the East Gate amn’t too concerned about whether what they have is rightfully theirs, or so my dad says. But I don’t think as they’d kill someone else t’take what they want. Cheat’em or pick up somethin’ what was left lyin’—yeah, they’d most like do that. There’s the Mistletoes over near the Chetwood—they don’t have a good name. But, you ask me, I’d say as it was one o’ those as comes up the Greenway. Not all of those as visits Bree’s strictly honest traders.”
It took a few days to ride to Bree. Malvegern sent a message to Halbaleg via a solitary Ranger message rider they met near Amon Sûl letting the acting Steward know where the patrol was riding and why, and he and Baerdion set to instructing their charges on how to properly travel the roads, how to send out scouts and set a proper rear guard, and how to camp well off the road leaving little sign they’d been traveling that way so as not to attract attention during their periods of rest.
The boys from Bree quickly adapted to the routine of the camp. Fry proved to be handy at setting snares, while Jimson turned out to have excellent knowledge as to what plants were good to eat and which should be avoided completely. “My neighbors is Hobbits,” he explained as if that ought to be reason enough to have garnered such knowledge.
All of the boys helped in the fetching of water and wood for the camp, and Fry and Abe both proved able and willing to help with the horses. Halbarad was glad they were willing to be helpful and showed no resentment toward the Rangers-in-training. Nardir directed Abe in the exercises Peredhrion ordered the boy to do so as to strengthen his wounded arm.
“How come you know what I ought t’do?” Abe asked.
“I must do similar exercises myself,” the Dúnadan youth explained. “I almost lost my arm in a battle with orcs, and am having to make certain that the muscles strengthen properly without causing more injury to my arm.”
“Orcs?” asked Fry, who was nearby, currying Orominion’s horse. “What’s them?”
“It’s Elvish for goblins,” Nardir answered. “We had quite the battle with them a few weeks back. I was the worst injured.”
Fry shuddered visibly. “I never seen goblins, but from what I’ve heard, I don’t think as I’d want to.”
Nardir gave a twisted smile. “You are fortunate not to have had to face such things. However, they are far too common nearer to the mountains where our major dwellings lie hidden.”
“Your arm seems fit enough,” Abe observed.
“It is now, but you did not see it when I was first struck down, before Peredhrion did what he could to keep me from losing it. He tells me it will likely ache whenever the weather prepares to change, probably for several years.”
Both of the Bree youths glanced over their shoulders toward the tall, oddly dressed young Man who was sitting at the fireside speaking with several others of the trainees. “How come he wears different clothes than you others do?” Abe asked.
“He only returned to us recently from years of living with the Elves,” Nardir explained. “He is accustomed to wearing such garb.” The others of his company had all come to accept this was true of Peredhrion by this time.
“An’ he amn’t an Elf hisself?” Fry asked.
Nardir shrugged. “So all say, including himself.”
“I’ve always wanted t’see an Elf,” Abe said thoughtfully. “Sometimes they’d come t’Bree, you see, and my dad said they was passin’ beautiful.”
“Peredhrion can tell you about them, or perhaps Varadorn or Dirigil, who grew up on the Firth of Lhûn where the Elves have their major Haven here in the north. Although the Elves will at times ride with our fathers, they have never been frequent visitors to our villages, save for the sons of Elrond, and even they have visited rarely for the last five or six years. But, yes, they are indeed fair and noble of face, and their voices clear and beautiful, and their songs are wondrous to hear.”
Abe gave a satisfied smile, although a moment later, when one of the exercises pulled too much at one of the injured muscles he gave a brief, sharp cry of pain. Almost immediately Peredhrion appeared, his brow furled with concern, reaching to take Abe’s arm gently and examining it carefully, allowing himself to feel deeply, moving the injured joint, then holding his hands about the injury, finally massaging it gently before smiling and letting it go.
“That is enough for now,” he said. “Go and rest for a few minutes, and then our meal ought to be ready.” And with a smile he went to rejoin the others near the campfire.
Abe watched after him, his eyes wide with surprise. The pain had eased almost immediately, and his whole arm felt warm and relaxed. He turned his eyes to meet those of Nardir, who smiled in return. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” the Dúnadan youth murmured. “How just his touch can help one feel better!”
Halbarad, who was cleaning the hoofs of his own horse, smiled to himself as he again bent over his work.
That evening Malvegern and Baerdion questioned the boys from Bree, asking similar questions to those Peredhrion had asked of Jimson and receiving similar answers to those the smaller boy had given.
“So,” Malvegern growled, rubbing his right hand against his temple, “the one who entered his home and killed the old fellow could have been anyone, even a newcomer to the Breelands. But would one newly come to Bree be able to learn where Master Teasel lived?”
The Breeland youths looked questioningly at one another for a moment or two before Fry gave a shrug and answered for all of them. “Anyone what wants t’know aught about anyone in Bree only needs t’ask Giddy Goldenrod. Giddy’s potboy at the Pony, and when he’s got nothin’ else t’do he spends a lot o’ time there near the stable. Just ask him anythin’ an’ he’ll answer. Giddy’s rather simple, and wants t’please people.”
Malvegern, Baerdion, and Túrin exchanged looks. At last Baerdion commented, “It does appear we, too, would be well advised to question Giddy Goldenrod.”
In the morning the company was gathered together once all had a serving of pottage in hand. “We are less than a day’s journey from the Breelands,” Baerdion advised the youths, “and it would not do to take all of you into the town of Bree at the same time. The folk of Bree are suspicious of strangers, although they welcome the custom and coin travelers bring; but they have no love for us as Rangers. Not understanding why we travel about Eriador as we do, well armed but apparently rootless and purposeless, they tend to see us as reckless and most likely dangerous. They have developed the habit of bestowing upon us names they see as descriptive of us, and it has become our policy to accept and embrace these names, even to use them amongst others. That we do not pull away at the Breelanders’ attempts to belittle us intrigues them in the end, we’ve found, and makes them wary of trying to upset us in other ways.
“I am uncertain which of you Túrin and I should take with us. Baerdion will stay with the rest of you in case anyone should stumble across our camp. The last time he visited Bree there was an—incident—that might make him somewhat unwelcome at this time. However, should he be encountered here by Breelanders it is probable all of you would be treated with a greater degree of respect, and our own guests will be less likely to be summarily dragged off to questionable justice.”
He turned to the boys from Bree. “Of you I propose to take only young Jimson, as he is most likely to be seen as innocent of Master Teasel’s death and thus perhaps able to convince your elders that you are all innocent. The rest of you will stay here with our young Men until we are certain you will be able to return to your own with safety.”
“Which of us will go with you?” asked Orominion.
Malvegern looked thoughtfully about at the trainees. “Finwë,” he began slowly. “Damrod.”
“Won’t you take Halbarad?” suggested Dirigil. “After all, he’s his father’s son.”
“Berevrion’s father outranks Finwë’s or Damrod’s,” objected Geldir. “Perhaps he ought to go, too.”
Orominion surprised them all by declaring, “I think that the Princeling ought to go. He’s the most sensitive of all of us, after all, and the people from Bree are likely to take him for an Elf and hold themselves from acting without thought.”
Baerdion rubbed his beard to hide a smile of pleased satisfaction. “That is a good observation, Orominion,” he commented.
“Indeed,” agreed Malvegern. “Although I had reason to wish him to remain as well, including the fact that as the best swordsman amongst you he would serve well as a second to Baerdion should anyone stumble upon the camp. Not all who pass through Bree and follow the road toward the High Pass are of good character, as has been made plain by our Breeland guests. Should ruffians find you, they may well need—persuasion—to leave you all be.”
The Man stood thinking for a few minutes, his eyes considering Peredhrion. At last he turned his gaze to Halbarad. “What think you, as Halbaleg’s son, as to whether Peredhrion should go with me?”
Halbarad knew that the Breeland boys had no idea of the significance of his own father’s name, and he suspected only Berevrion was certain as to the actual parentage of the one they all knew as Peredhrion. He licked his lips nervously, and thought. At last he said, “We have faced both orcs and evil Men so far upon this patrol, and we know that we can—and must—stand against such creatures. We do not need Peredhrion’s example to protect ourselves should it come to a fight.
“As for Peredhrion accompanying you into Bree—well, I am of two minds. He has no experience of which I am aware with the communities of Men. He needs to learn the nature of such places, and certainly if this is a training mission for those of us entering manhood, it is needful he should gain this experience. But the question arises: if he accompanies you, might he become so distracted by all that he sees and hears that is new to him that he fails to be at his greatest vigilance when it might be most important that he use those faculties in which he has been trained by those who raised him? Still, to see how our people negotiate with those who live within the Breelands and those who pass through the town of Bree is a lesson that we all need. I simply put these ideas before you that you might better decide whether or not to have him accompany you further.”
He sensed approval from both Malvegern and Baerdion. “Well stated, Halbarad. And it is neatly done that you return the final decision to me,” Malvegern responded. He addressed all of the trainees. “A good commander chooses lieutenants whose judgment he trusts, and he does not counter their decisions without good reason. Halbarad has given me reasons I might myself change my mind, and has indicated that with this increased intelligence he trusts me to make a final decision in the best interests of all, including Peredhrion here.”
He now turned to Peredhrion himself. “What say you? Why might it be wise that you accompany me, or that you might do better to remain with these others?”
The tall youth stood quietly looking at Malvegern for some moments before responding, “Halbarad is correct that I have need to learn how others live and support their communities, but as he also said that is true of all of us. As the Breelands support a fairly large population within a relatively small area, and as Bree itself serves as a crossroads where Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, and Men from many regions of Middle Earth meet, I must agree we should all learn much by visiting the town. However, as I understand it, although our Rangers may visit Bree fairly often, usually only a few will visit at any one time. This is correct?”
At Malvegern’s nod, he continued, “As I understand it, the Rangers are believed by most others throughout Eriador to be wanderers, most likely hunters, and possibly sell-swords.”
“Yes,” Baerdion indicated. Malvegern again nodded.
“So, the main reasons we do not wish to arrive, all of us, within Bree is that we do not wish for most Breelanders and those who are within the place at this time to realize that, first, we are possibly as numerous as we are, and secondly, that we prepare our youths to become Rangers by taking them out upon such patrols as we do?”
“Correct.” Malvegern straightened some. “As long as we arrive few in number and stay basically aloof, interfering only when things become excessively dangerous or rowdy, we are treated with a degree of deference by the Breelanders, and for the most part we are ignored by both the inhabitants of the land and by those who are passing through Bree. But,” he added, “this does not indicate why you should or should not accompany us into the town.”
“Well,” Peredhrion said slowly, “I would be an anomaly in the eyes of the people who dwell here, for I do not dress as you do, nor move as you do, nor properly sound as you do. It would most likely confuse them, and if as I suppose few Elves enter Bree itself, most would likely take me for an Elf and would do their best to avoid me. It would possibly add to your stature in the eyes of those who see me—were I, of course, to accompany you. And, as you know, I have been trained in observation by Master Elrond, Lord Glorfindel, Master Erestor, and the sons of Elrond. Perhaps I might notice something that you might not while people talk to you of what is known and supposed regarding the death of Master Teasel.
“On the other hand, my presence might draw too much attention to yourselves, particularly if anyone is observant enough to realize that I am merely a young Man in Elvish costume. Or, those you would question might be so distracted by my presence and appearance they might fail to respond appropriately to your questions.”
Baerdion and Malvegern exchanged amused glances. “It would appear,” Baerdion drawled, “that this one, also, is skilled at allowing those he would advise to make up their own minds.”
“Go not to the Elves for advice, for they will answer both yes and no,” quoted Túrin in a dry tone. “He obviously has learned that lesson well.”
The other two adults laughed briefly, while most of the others glanced sideways at the tall youth who wore Elven braids before returning their attention to their mentors. Halbarad moistened his lips and added, “Peredhrion has been speaking with Jimson and has perhaps learned from him and the others somewhat of those most likely to have more accurate suspicions as to who slew Gaffer Teasel.”
Again Baerdion and Malvegern exchanged looks, clearly thinking on this new intelligence. At last Malvegern gave a great sigh. “We cannot and will not take all of you,” he said solemnly, “but as it appears that independent of us Peredhrion has already been making his own inquiries, it would appear that Orominion is right in suggesting that he ought to accompany Túrin and me into Bree. So, we will go accompanied by Jimson, Finwë, Damrod, and Peredhrion. Both Damrod and Finwë have visited Bree in the past, and both have lately proved themselves increasingly observant. And both have learned somewhat of dissembling before outsiders. The rest will remain here with our remaining Breeland guests and Baerdion. Do as little as you can to draw the attention of those who might be traveling along the East Road, and keep vigilant and aware of all that passes around you.”
With that he directed the three chosen youths to prepare their horses alongside Túrin, and with Jimson before him on his own steed the small party headed on to Bree.
They returned early the next evening, without Jimson, Halbarad noted. Peredhrion was quiet and showed no signs of what he was thinking or feeling; Damrod’s eyes were wide, and he kept glancing between Malvegern and Peredhrion; Finwë sat his mount with his mouth firmly shut; Túrin’s eyes were twinkling but he held his own counsel.
Those returned from Bree saw first to their horses, and finally joined the other youths near the fire ring they’d established, Peredhrion having lingered over Carniaxo’s hooves so that he joined the others last. Tad, Abe, Ledo, and Fry were anxious, eager to learn whether they might return home or must remain wolfs heads. No one, however, appeared eager to answer the questions of any of them. Malvegern was involved in being advised as to all that had occurred while he was gone from the group, and Dirigil and Geldir were assisting Baerdion in offering this information while Brendor saw to serving the new arrivals with a hot drink and making some warm stew and cold bannock available to those who wanted something to eat.
It was some time before the impatience of the rest was finally assuaged.
“Well?” demanded Dirigil.
Damrod was looking at Malvegern imploringly until the Man finally gave a dramatic sigh and said, “Well, go ahead then, Damrod. You may tell them.”
Damrod smiled triumphantly and turned to the rest. “We were well upon our way, and Malvegern had called Peredhrion up alongside himself, and they spoke together quietly, and we could not hear what it was they said to one another. At last we paused, and after a few more words, Peredhrion left us. It had been decided between them that it would be better if Peredhrion did not appear to be a member of our party, so he was instructed to go southwest so as to approach Bree through their south gate, as if he had come up the Greenway or had approached via the Shire. We would continue westward so as to enter the town through their east gate.
“We waited for a time before going on, hoping he would arrive before us, which he did. When we reached the Inn of the Prancing Pony he was there before us, and in company with Elves!”
Baerdion looked up with surprise. “Elves? But Elves rarely enter Bree itself, preferring to bypass it either south of the town walls or north of Bree Hill.” He turned to fix his gaze on Peredhrion’s face.
At a nod from Malvegern, the young Man explained, “As I approached the south gate I was hailed, and realized I’d been seen and recognized by Elves from the wandering tribes out of Lindon. They suggested it would be better if I arrived in their company, considering my dress and general appearance—that it would draw less attention to me as an individual were I to arrive with them than if I appeared to be alone.”
Baerdion smiled approvingly. “Good advice, I would say. So, these were among the folk of Gildor Inglorion?”
Peredhrion gave a slight shrug. “One of them was Lord Gildor himself,” he said.
As he had apparently said all he would, Malvegern indicated Damrod should continue.
Damrod glanced at the tall youth before turning back towards the others. “We did not see Carniaxo when we entered the stable at the Prancing Pony, and feared we had come before him. Only when we entered the common room we found he was there before us, and in company with other Elves, as he has told you. Malvegern ignored him, giving only a bow of respect to those about him as we approached the table in the back corner, whose occupants rose and gave it over to us without a word.
“Jimson was recognized as we entered the gates, and one had run off through the streets. Soon after we seated ourselves at the table in the corner a Man and his wife entered and hurried toward us—Jimson’s parents were come! They were followed by others, including the Headman for Bree and several others from the Breelands Council, all of whom wished to question Jimson regarding these others who have been accused of the death of Gaffer Teasel. Malvegern spake for Jimson, telling that we had found him out in the Wild, and that he had told us he had gone in search of his fellows to tell them that it was believed they had killed a Man of Bree in hopes of taking from him a golden cup that he had found by happenchance. He said that we had taken him among us and promised to bring him back again to his home to the comfort of his family.
“Then the Headman for Bree and those from the Breelands Council made it plain they wished to question Jimson as to what he knew or guessed of the death of Master Teasel, and he told them that he knew that his fellows had considered stealing the golden cup so that Fry could pay for a healer’s services for his mother, and I saw many of those who were listening look at one another as if shamed that they’d done naught for the lady in her illness. But he also told them that he was satisfied that they had not taken the cup, as when he glimpsed his friends from a distance none carried aught about him indicating they had either the cup or money from the sale of the cup. By that he guessed that none of you,” he turned to look at the four youths from Bree, “had taken the cup, but that instead you had come to the house and had found Master Teasel already slain.”
“True enough,” commented Fry, “although he might as well have told them he’d been with us betwixt times, I suppose, and thus had more than ample chance to know as none of us had the cup.”
Damrod shrugged. “That is so, but he feared that if he admitted he’d been within your company all would realize the rest of you were perhaps near at hand and some might come out of Bree to seek and take you. He’d discussed with us what he might or might not say as we approached the East Gate, and Malvegern had agreed that for now, at least, this was all he should admit to.”
He shifted slightly before continuing. “All within the room had risen and crowded close behind the members of the Breelands Council.”
“Even the Elves?” asked Orominion.
“They were seated at the next table,” Malvegern answered.
Túrin added, “Those who had sat at the table in the corner had been contemplating moving when we entered. They were relieved to leave the table to us, as in doing so it appeared to be an expression of thoughtfulness rather than one of rudeness due to being uncomfortable sitting so close to a party of the Eldar.”
Several of the youths laughed openly at that, and Baerdion commented, “So, they would leave the two parties that made most of them most uncomfortable close to one another so as to hopefully make each in turn uncomfortable as well.”
Malvegern’s expression was sardonic as he agreed, “Even so, my friend.”
Damrod smiled, and continued his tale. “The members of the Breelands Council appeared convinced that you four must have killed Gaffer Teasel and taken the cup, and did not wish to believe that Jimson could have seen truly that none of you carried it away with you. And they were being spurred on to this belief by one they called Hap Goatleaf, who was supported by another they named Rod Ferny, who stood alongside someone who we heard it told had come up the Greenway from the south. Whoever he was, he was no merchant or farmer looking for lands to break and settle. This southerner at least kept his own counsel, although he would nod agreement almost every time Hap Goatleaf or Rod Ferny would speak.
“This Goatleaf told that he had overheard the four of you and Jimson together speaking of taking the cup and carrying it away to a place where it would be safe to sell it. He admitted that Jimi had refused to have anything to do with the plan, but said that he believed that Jimi had agreed to bring news to you of what was said of it having gone missing afterwards.”
Ledo shook his head insistently. “No, that’s not true,” he said. “Jimi told us plainly he’d not take part in any plot to steal the cup, and that we’d be on our own should we try.”
When the other Breeland boys agreed, Damrod gave a single nod and continued. “So Jimson insisted there in the inn, that he’d refused to be part of it at all. But when Master Teasel was found dead he knew that you four would not have done such a thing, so only then did he go out to warn you that all four of you were being named wolfs heads. But he said he came after, only in time to see you all quitting the town, and so he followed after, being fearful for your safety.”
“I thought he left Bree with the rest of you,” Orominion said.
Abe explained, “Nah, he went to get supplies, since none of us felt it safe to return to our homes afore we fled out o’ the Breelands, and we met up some ways east of town. He told us after as he got them from his neighbors, those as is Hobbits. Hobbits is usually willin’ t’give what food as them can spare to those as might need it, even if they disapprove of what they might of done.”
“But how did you get out of the town without being seen?” Damrod asked. “The gate keeper was watching all come and go when we went to pass through the east gate.”
The four boys exchanged glances before Tad explained, “The hole as we hid out in—it was an old Hobbit hole as was on the east slope o’ Bree Hill, just inside the hedge. It’s not very big—a couple o’ brothers dug it long ago, an’ it just has a few rooms. Jimi’s neighbors as is Littles, them have two lads about the same age as Jimi an’ us, an’ them showed the hole to him years ago, an’ we all use it as a secret place t’go, away from the grown-ups. There’s a hidden door as leads out o’the smial outside the hedge. The brothers, them had fields that-aways, so they’d use it t’go in an’ out an’ not worrit ’bout havin’ t’knock at the gate when it was closed t’come an’ go. That was how we got out and nobody saw us.”
“So, there is a secret way into Bree, is there?” commented Baerdion. “That is useful to know.”
“As long as it is not known by enemies,” agreed Malvegern.
Baerdion returned his gaze to Damrod. “Jimson did not tell this to those in the Prancing Pony?”
Damrod indicated he hadn’t. “Nor to us,” he added.
Finwë took over the narration of what had happened. “The way these two, Goatleaf and Ferny, were insistent that the rest of you from Bree were guilty of murder and needed to be hunted down and hanged immediately was----” He sought for the right word, finally settling for, “odd.”
“Disturbing,” Malvegern suggested at almost the same time. “Most disturbingly insistent, the two of them.”
Berevrion’s eyes had narrowed. “Papa always insists that when a person becomes too insistent that someone else has done a terrible deed, it is likely that in reality the insistent one is who committed it to begin with.” He looked at Peredhrion questioningly.
“As I was taught as well,” Peredhrion said. “And so I became convinced in this case.”
Bregorn asked, “But how could it be proved?”
Finwë continued, “That was when Peredhrion here straightened in his seat and began to ask questions. How did they know that you boys had killed Master Teasel? Had either of them seen you in or near Teasel’s dwelling? Yes, or so they said! Did either of them live nearby? No? Then how was it they could see what they had claimed to see? What was this Man strange to the Breelands doing in their company? How was it he appeared to stand as a witness as to what you might or might not have done? Where was he from? What was the bulky item to be discerned within the bag that lay by his pack? How had he come by Master Teasel’s gold cup if you boys had killed the old fellow to steal it?”
All of the boys straightened at that. “He had the cup—this Southerner?” demanded Berevrion.
At the same time Orominion was asking, “But how did you realize he had the cup?”
The Bree boys were shocked. “Ferny and Goatleaf were in company with this Southerner? And they still claimed to have seen us somehow killing Gaffer Teasel and taking the cup—the one their friend had in his sack?” Fry’s voice was shrill with frustration.
More questions were raised, and Malvegern was forced to stand to make himself heard. “Enough!” he insisted. “With all of you shouting over one another, how can anyone find a clear thought within his head to answer?” When all had gone quiet, he turned to Peredhrion. “Now,” he said, “it is time that you described what you realized and how it was you came to do so that led you to reveal that it was not any of these—” here he indicated the boys from Bree, “—that stole the cup and slew its finder.”
Peredhrion sighed and straightened, dropped his gaze as if he saw again the scene in the common room of the Prancing Pony playing out as if against Malvegern’s chest, and began to speak.
“Lord Gildor’s people were heading for a site near Annúminas where they have not visited for several sunrounds but that has pleasant associations for them, so they have just come through the Shire and were planning to go around Bree Hill so as to pass through some of the farms and woodlands that they favor ere they found the Greenway north of Archet. As they approached the south gate of Bree, however, they sensed the upset of the land over the death of Master Teasel and the theft of the cup. They were debating whether they should proceed unseen or if they should send a party into the village to learn what was the source of the disturbance they felt when we approached, and they stopped on seeing me within the company.”
“They know you?” asked Nardir.
Peredhrion gave a slight nod. “Lord Gildor has seen me within the Last Homely House when he has come to speak with m-Master Elrond, which happens on occasion. He recognized me even from a distance, and realized that we, too, must be aware of the discord set up by first the finding and then the disappearance of the cup and the death of its finder, and that it was likely we were come to investigate. He asked if I saw this as a test of my ability to reason, and I told him, yes, I believed so. So it was suggested that four of their party should accompany me into Bree to the Inn of the Prancing Pony so that I should not stand out in memory as an apparent Elf who had come alone to the Breelands, which would be a most unusual event, and I agreed. Carniaxo was left in the care of one of those who did not enter the village. I was given some assistance so that I should not look as different from their party as I did, and we went into Bree and to the inn, where we entered the common room not all that long ere Malvegern and our others and Jimson arrived. As Lord Gildor explained softly that the Rangers usually chose to sit at the back of the room, near the corner, we chose a table there at which to sit.
“As soon as Malvegern and the others arrived, matters began to move most rapidly. They had barely taken seats at the table next to ours than others followed them into the room, beginning with those who appeared to be Jimson’s parents, who were accompanied by a man from amongst the Hobbits. They cried out in their relief to see their son come again to his rightful place and begged to be told where he had been found. But those who had followed them began to shout, demanding that he be taken into charge for having taken part in the murder of Master Teasel, that he tell where the rest of you might have gone for it was believed that you had killed Master Teasel and stolen the golden cup, that he tell where the golden cup was hidden, that he tell why it was decided by all of you to steal the cup and kill Master Teasel, and more demands that became increasingly difficult to hear or understand as each person sought to outshout the rest. Finally the headman for Bree and some I learned were from the Bree Council arrived, and most fell silent.
“The expressions I saw were mixed. Most showed concern, but many showed stern anger, and too many appeared gleeful that there was someone upon whom they might rightfully rain accusations and abuse. A few appeared somehow fearful, as if Jimson had proved himself a monster they had never dreamed lived within his person. The headman and the Councilors sought to question Jimson, but they were often interrupted, and each time that happened the headman for the town had to shout out so as to make the others quiet themselves. Jimson barely had the chance to answer a word or two before someone else would speak out a different question or would shout out a different accusation or threat. And the whole time more and more crowded into the room and pressed toward the end of the room where we sat.
“In the midst of this confusion two Men entered, both unkempt and with expressions of what appeared to be triumph on their faces, a triumph that appeared furtive and sly. Another also pushed to the front of the press who was clearly not from the village, for he looked not like any of those I saw who dwelt in Bree, and was dressed in a mode that I have seen only on those we took with the wagons.”
The other trainees straightened and exchanged looks of surprise with one another along with quiet comments that stopped almost immediately.
“These three,” Peredhrion continued, “pushed their way to the front of the crowd, the two local Men together on one end of the line of the Councilors, and the Southerner where he could easily see them and they him. The glances they shared made it plain to me, at least, that they were familiar with one another, and all equally interested in seeing the case made against Jimson or you four as those who must have killed Master Teasel.
“The stranger wore a pack upon his back wrought from rough sacking, and carried a leathern bag within his arms as if it and its contents were precious to him. When the two unkempt Men joined with the crowd in calling demands that Jimson be forced to tell where you others were so that you each and all might be hanged for the murder of Gaffer Teasel and the theft of the cup he’d found, the Southerner held his tongue, although it was soon obvious that he wished also to be free to shout out, even as he held the bag more tightly to his chest.
“The headman sought to question Jimson as to where he’d been and why he had not returned before this, and he told of hearing that many believed that you four had taken part in the murder of Master Teasel and wished to see you hanged, and that he felt you should be warned to flee lest you be slain out of hand with no one seeking to learn what truly might have happened. But after that no one could make any sense of what he sought to say, as he was not allowed to speak without interruption. Most loud were the two unkempt Men. Finally Lord Gildor rose to his feet, and suddenly all went quiet. He said not a word, but few will continue to rant when a lord among Elves rises in his power.”
There were a few nervous laughs at this.
“When all had gone quiet, he finally spoke. He suggested that if all wished to know what had truly occurred, each needed to speak in turn, and the rest needed to listen. He asked that all who had knowledge of the crime should raise their hands. Both of the unkempt Men and the Southerner were among those who did so. Lord Gildor asked each in turn for his or her name and to speak shortly as to what they knew or believed they knew of the theft and the death. The unkempt Men and the Southerner he spoke to last. The only ones who claimed to truly know what had happened were the two unkempt Men and the Southerner. The others had seen the four of you passing their homes or their fields, or thought they had heard noises on the night before Gaffer Teasel was found dead. One woman said she heard people run by her house in the night, and caught a glimpse of several figures when she looked out her window. She said she recognized you, Abe, as you live near her home and are supposed to start your apprenticeship with her husband as a saddler soon.”
Abe groaned. “Missus Alba!” he sighed. “She would o’ seen us, I suppose. Always hears ever’thing, or so Lars, their apprentice now says.”
Peredhrion nodded. “I spoke up, asking, ‘Then, when he has finished his apprenticeship he will be his own master and accepted as an adult?’ to which she agreed.
“At that Lord Gildor gave me a long-suffering look and said, ‘Well, as you wish to learn more of the ways of the Men in this place, let you continue the questioning, and show us who it is that slew this Master Teasel and took the cup.’ And with that he sat down.
“I motioned for those who had raised their hands but who had not yet spoken to come forward, which they did, the Southerner drawing closer to the two unkempt Men. One looked alarmed at the bag the Southerner carried, so he shrugged himself out of his pack and placed it upon the floor and set the bag upon it, only the bag fell, and many could hear the clink of metal as it struck, muffled though it might be by the bag. It drew many eyes to him. At that almost all noticed how close he was now to the two unkempt Men, who indeed proved to be Hap Goatleaf and one who named himself Rod Ferny, and the others drew away from these three.”
He took a deep breath. “The two others who had not yet described what they’d seen or thought to have happened on the night that Master Teasel died and the cup was stolen now spoke, but it was obvious that they had been distracted by the falling of the bag, and that they had an idea as to what it contained. Their answers were short and blunt, and they both seemed to cede the floor that I might question the stranger who’d come up the Greenway and who now held this clinking bag.”
“It was quite funny,” Finwë interrupted, “watching as the Southerner sought to protect himself by crowding against Ferny and Goatleaf, while they were trying to distance themselves from him by creeping further away from him each time he came closer. It was as if he were pursuing them sideways across the common room!”
His gestures and expressions as he described the scene had them all laughing, and even Peredhrion was smiling widely. “Indeed!” he agreed. “And now all attention was on the three of them, and one of those who’d stood near to them crowded forward so as to see better, and knocked the stranger’s pack over. It was not properly secured, and one portion of the flap fell open, and some small items fell out—items that were immediately recognized by some of the villagers. ‘My bairn’s silver milk cup!’ called one woman, while a man pounced upon a bracelet, saying, ‘This is my Jenny’s—I’d know it anywhere! But it went missing a month past! Where’s it been in the meanwhile? After all, this Man’s been here less than a week!’
“And then the saddler spoke up, saying, ‘And what is this Southerner doing with your pack, Hap Goatleaf? Didn’t I just make this for you a few months back? As the three of you came in together, you can’t have missed the fact he was wearing your pack!’”
“So, they were all in this together!” Orominion said.
All thought on this.
Peredhrion eventually continued, “The headman for Bree came forward and searched both the pack and the bag. Sure enough, the missing cup was found in the bag, and there was a knife in the pack that appeared to be the one used in killing Master Teasel, or so proclaimed the village healer. I could not say, as I was not able to see the body to make a comparison.”
“You were trained in such things?” asked Malvegern.
Peredhrion gave a nod. “The Elves have had ages to learn how to recognize how wounds have been inflicted, and m-Master Elrond was able to teach some of the art to me.”
Malvegern and Baerdion exchanged thoughtful looks. “That could indeed prove important in the future,” the former commented.
Baerdion nodded his agreement.
“So,” Baerdion asked, “were all satisfied that these three had brought about the death of Gaffer Teasel together?”
Malvegern was shaking his head, and Peredhrion dropped his gaze. Túrin explained, “Most of those within the village did not wish to believe some of their own would conspire in the death of someone they’d known as a neighbor, so in the end both this Hap Goatleaf and Rod Ferny were let go, although the headman for the village made it clear he did not believe they were as innocent as they claimed, and would be watching them closely.”
Finwë gave a humph! of disgust. “While they were still talking, Jimson led me out, explaining to his parents he was showing me where the privies were. Instead, he showed me where it was that Goatleaf and Ferny lived, and where the home of Gaffer Teasel was. None of you had said that he was a Halfling, by the way. Ferny lives near the east gate, and Goatleaf near the south gate. As Gaffer Teasel lived in a low house near a spur of Bree Hill at the northwestern end of the village, no one could have seen his home from either of theirs, much less heard anything from it.”
“The Gaffer wasn’t rightly a Hobbit,” Abe objected. “His mum was a Big and his da was a Little. Gaffer Teasel married a Hobbit woman and them lived in the place as she got from her mum and da when they died. But their daughter was born bigger’n both of them and married a Man. But it’s true—nobody could of heard nor seen nothin’ t’do with his place from either Goatleaf’s or Ferny’s. If’n either of them saw any of us around theres, they’d of had t’be there themselves.”
“How did they explain this Southerner having things that had disappeared months ago?” asked Nardir.
Peredhrion frowned. “When I asked that question, Goatleaf suddenly began coughing and choking loudly. The Southerner said that he’d been given them by Rod Ferny, but I doubt anyone could hear him say it other than the Elves and me. I tried asking again, and again Goatleaf began choking, and all were distracted by trying to aid him to overcome the cough. I have to admit he was very good at feigning the cough—had I not been watching closely I, too, might have been fooled. When at last he quieted again one of the Councilors spoke over me, asking a different question. Nor was I allowed to ask the question again.
“We did get to question Giddy Goldenrod, and he admitted that he’d been asked by the Southerner where Gaffer Teasel lived, so this was seen by most as proof he could have--and thus did--commit the crime without assistance. That he was last seen before the old one’s death in the company of Goatleaf and Ferny was apparently forgotten by everyone else. He knew the site of the dwelling, and had the cup and other stolen items and the apparent weapon used to stab Master Teasel in his possession, and he was not one of their own. That appeared to settle it for almost all present.”
All went quiet for a time, digesting this information. “So,” assayed Fry, “they’re all for blamin’ the Southerner, are they? What they gonna do about it all?”
“They plan to hang him tomorrow evening,” Peredhrion answered, his eyes full of an emotion the rest could not truly name. Halbarad wondered if his cousin was appalled at the lack of true justice here, at the plan to execute the Man so swiftly, at the apparent lack of a proper, orderly trial, at the violent finality of the sentence, or what precisely was bothering the young Man. He suspected that it was a combination of all of these.
Abe asked, “Then we can go home?”
Malvegern nodded. “I told the townsfolk and those of your parents who were there that we would search for you to send you home. I suggest that you not go home for at least two to three days, and that each of you should appear rather unkempt so that they do not realize you have been in our safekeeping for as long as you have.”
“What of my mum?” Fry asked, obviously remembering all too well why they had considered stealing the cup to begin with.
Peredhrion’s expression lightened. “One of the healers for the village of Archet has seen her and offered her care, and I was allowed to visit her ere we left. Jimson told her why it was you had considered stealing the cup, and she was much relieved to learn that none of you actually was involved in the murder of Master Teasel. The problem proved to be an abscess in her jaw; once it was lanced and cleansed and she began receiving proper herbs to fight the infection she started recovering rapidly. I do not understand why the healer for Bree village had not done so.”
Fry ducked his head. “Missus Marshsweet and my mum—they’ve never got on well, not since my mum married my dad, what Missus Marshsweet had set her cap for years agone. She wouldn’t agree to see Mum without us had paid her first, and we had none t’spare.”
“I see. Well, the headman for Bree had words with her, and paid for the healer to come from Archet himself. She should be close to full healing when you get home again.”
Fry had a watery smile on his face and appeared much relieved. “So,” he said shakily, “all’s well as ends well, as they say. We can go home again, and not have to go for robbers after all!”
“Well, I’m all for that,” Ledo responded. “I never liked the idea as we could end up wolfs heads from the start!”
They broke camp in the morning and moved some miles further east along the road, and remained there for a day and a night. They gave the lads from Bree enough to see them through another night and the tramp back home, and left them well provisioned and in good cover, knowing they’d now be welcomed back among their own.
It was as sunset approached of that first day in the new camp, while the two of them were seeing to the horses, that Halbarad saw Peredhrion stiffen suddenly, standing as if he were hearing a sound he could not identify far off to the west. Then there was a look of shock and surprise—and pain—that caused the hair on the back of Halbarad’s neck to rise.
“What is it?” he asked, but Peredhrion apparently could not answer. Halbarad turned and called out to Malvegern, and soon all were crowding about, wanting to understand what it was that was wrong.
Malvegern’s mouth opened in surprise, then closed with apparent understanding. “Get the rest of these back to the camp,” he commanded Túrin. “Peredhrion does not need them adding to his distress with their concern and questions. Go, now!” he told the rest. “See to it a meal is prepared, and tea—strong tea. He will likely need it.”
“Is it a fit of some kind?” demanded Dirigil.
Malvegern gave him a stern look. “No. Now, go. We ought to have been aware this could happen. He was raised in Rivendell, after all. Túrin?”
The rest were all shepherded off by the quartermaster, leaving only Halbarad with Malvegern and Baerdion.
Now it was Halbarad’s turn to demand, “What is wrong with him?”
Baerdion exchanged looks with Malvegern. “There is nothing wrong with him. But he of the lineage of our Kings and Chieftains, after all.” At the apparent blank expression Halbarad showed, he added, “It is the King’s Gift. He said, did he not, that they would hang the Southerner near sunset today? Yes? Well, they apparently have done so, and he has felt it. He will feel the griefs and the joys of all he comes to know as those whose lives he touches. This is not uncommon amongst those who have ruled over us. It helps make them better leaders, and less likely to turn to unnecessary violence or the form of injustice he saw yesterday in Bree. Do you understand?”
Halbarad found he did. “Like me knowing that time that my sister had injured her foot. Papa said that I appeared to have some of the King’s Gift myself.”
Malvegern nodded. “Yes, you do, as is true to a lesser extent of your father as well.”
He turned to Peredhrion and placed his hands upon the young Man’s shoulders. “It is well, our son. This is the pain another feels, and it will very soon be over, if it is not done with yet. You did what you could to see proper justice rendered, and I suspect you know that he was the one who most likely did kill Master Teasel. Let him go now, and do not hold the pain to yourself. I suspect this is not the first time he’s killed to get what he wanted, and most likely it would not have been his last time, either, had he not been caught. But know that, yes, you have had a part to play in his doom, but that it was his own decision to do what he did and to keep company with others probably little better than he was. It was his own actions that brought him to the hangman’s noose. This is part of what you will always know now, now that you are engaged in finding your proper place amongst us.”
Peredhrion’s eyes were haunted as he searched Malvegern’s face. “I will feel this again?” he asked in a hollow voice.
“Yes. And it does not matter whether you are here or amongst the Elves of Elrond’s household—you are our rightful Chieftain and King. You will know the echo of both the pain and the joy those who come to depend on you will experience. Accept this, and learn from it. You will need to order too many executed over time. But you will also rejoice with the bride and the bridegroom, and with those who welcome new family members, and who merely rejoice to be alive and happy on a glorious day. Now, sit and put your head down until you are calmer. The others are preparing a meal, and they will have tea awaiting you. Or perhaps you would prefer some wine? I do have some in my gear, if Orominion has not found and ‘borrowed’ it.”
Halbarad and his cousin both gave weak chuckles, and Aragorn sank heavily down upon a stack of saddles, his hand to his forehead.
“So, as I was a part of the trial, such as it was that he knew, I must know when he was executed.” He sighed. “They tried to warn me, m--Master Elrond and the rest. But one cannot know what it is truly like without experiencing it.”
“They warned you? Good! Now, when you can, lift your head to see the glory of the Sun going to her sleep in the west. And be glad that you did not order the death in this case.”
“It could be worse yet?” He looked alarmed.
Malvegern nodded slowly. “Oh, yes, child, it could be worse. And one day it will be worse. Just remember to let the joy in as it comes, too, for it will help to keep you grounded.”
After a few minutes the young Man rose shakily to his feet. His pace, however, was steady once more as they joined the rest back in the main camp.
Baerdion remained behind to finish the work with the horses.
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