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For Armariel, Lily Baggins, Lily the Hobbit, and Elynn's birthdays.
When Halbarad woke the following morning as the false dawn was just being supplanted with the real thing, he found Peredhrion already up and busy. The taller youth had gone to a nearby grove of birch and had come away with two lengths of bark. On returning to his bedding, he sat down and removed the unwieldy bandaging from his foot and ankle, exposing the extensive, most colorful bruising to be seen there.
“Here,” he said, tossing a stocking that sat beside him to Halbarad. “Put this on my foot, please—it is difficult for me to do this for myself at the moment.”
Once the stocking was in place he took one of the lengths of bark and bent it under his foot, and had Halbarad bind it into place with short lengths of the bandaging he’d removed. A second went under his foot and up behind his ankle, and this, too, he had bound into place, and then had a second stocking placed over the first. He then had Halbarad fetch his second boot, and with a good deal of care he donned that and had it laced carefully into place.
“There!” he finally said, apparently satisfied with the new arrangement. “This should help protect and immobilize the ankle and foot while the muscles heal without restricting my movements totally. I will need to ride today.”
He accepted his cousin’s help in rising, and went off to the tent where those who were healing were sleeping. The one who’d been impaled upon the fencing proved markedly better, and all looked much improved from how they’d been the preceding evening. He gave each proper treatment, and was soon amongst the horses, greeting Carniaxo with pleasure and rubbing his ears before seeing to the horse’s tack.
“Then you shall ride today?” asked Túrin.
“I shall,” Peredhrion answered. “Somehow I feel certain that it would be better, that I will be needed.”
Their quartermaster gave a nod of assent, and soon enough all was ready for the day’s journey.
“It is perhaps good that it was your right foot that was injured,” Halbarad commented as his cousin swung into the saddle at last.
“I agree.” But Halbarad sensed that there was unspoken discomfort behind Peredhrion’s tone. There would be a cost to the tall youth’s choice to ride with his fellows rather than once again within the wagon.
They had been riding for about three hours when Peredhrion straightened as if he heard something approaching. Within twenty minutes one of those scouting ahead of the party returned at speed, approaching Malvegern to announce that two riders, one of them one of those Sedras had sent ahead, were approaching, their expressions grim. Malvegern nodded his understanding and signaled for his best fighters to come forward, including, after obvious thought, Peredhrion. Sedras and his remaining escort were directed to remain with the wagon, Lady Ivorwen, and the prisoners, with the lighter trainees and Baerdion and Túrin as extra protection. Many appeared surprised Geldir, Dirigil, and Peredhrion were included in the party to accompany Malvegern along with Orominion, Halbarad, and Berevrion, but none thought to openly question his choice as he led his chosen young warriors to meet those approaching.
As they came within hailing distance, the returning member of Sedras’s escort called, “There have been incursions from Angmar right along the foothills of the Misty Mountains. They skirted our northernmost settlements and keeps, and appear headed for the region where we are most densely settled. They attacked Margold’s farm, and there are two known deaths amongst our folk there, although they were driven off. However, they fled into the foothills of the Misty Mountains and hid, and appear to have skirted most of the farm’s herd lands and continued south, and were seen yesterday some leagues north of Elendil’s Bounds. They made off with at least three horses from Margold’s herd, although it cost them at least one Man’s life, and it’s believed three of their warriors are wounded.”
“Guide us, then,” Malvegern said to the newcomer, and signed that the one formerly of Sedras’s party should go on to advise Sedras and Baerdion of what was happening, and at the acknowledgment of the remaining messenger the small band following him headed northeast at what speed they could make.
Within a few hours they joined a larger party of Dúnedain also responding to the call to arms, and by nightfall they were further north than most of the young Men other than Berevrion had ever been. They stopped for rest for a few hours, and then were astride again, taking advantage of a full moon and clear skies to ride through the early morning hours until daybreak came. They were going more slowly, for the paths they followed were narrower and less well defined than those they’d followed since leaving Lifewater Farm, but still more quickly than many might have looked for. Twice during the day they paused to rest themselves and their horses, and they were joined again by others who advised them of other parties of defenders converging on the area where the invaders had last been seen.
Late in the third afternoon the group they’d joined was broken into three companies, and the one in which the trainees found themselves was sent eastward toward an area where the Angmarians might well have gone to ground. It was rough country, with tumbles of great stones that had fallen from the mountains over the space of many, many years.
“It is likely that trolls favor this area,” Peredhrion commented, to which two of their more experienced fellows grunted assent.
But as sunset approached it was not trolls they discovered, but instead a party of about eighteen young Men, thin and poorly armed, Men who were definitely not of the Dúnedain. Five of these had managed to scramble atop great boulders, and sought to take those native to the land by surprise with thrown spears and slung stones before they could come close enough to engage the invaders hand to hand.
The Dúnedain archers handily disposed of these, however, and the rest were forced to come out of their hiding place and fight as others from the Dúnedain found ways to penetrate their defenses.
The Dúnedain had dismounted to fight on foot. Berevrion, Halbarad, and Peredhrion stood near one another to guard one of the expected escape routes the Angmarians might choose to attempt. Orominion, Dirigil, and Geldir were already engaged in a fight with a cluster of six Men when two broke away toward the spot where the other obviously younger Men waited. Neither of the Angmarians was particularly skilled with a sword, but they made up for their lack of expertise with a particularly violent level of desperation.
“You cannot hold your stroke, Peredhrion!” shouted Malvegern. “They are too desperate to appreciate your desire to spare them!” But at that he had to turn all of his own attention to the two who were attacking the small group with whom he was fighting.
Peredhrion had stepped out in front of his two companions, but Halbarad was quick to notice that Malvegern had been right in recognizing that the tall Dúnadan was indeed not using his full weight or skill against these two enemies. They were young Men, probably no more than seventeen or eighteen years themselves, neither with more than sparse fuzz upon his cheek or upper lip. Realizing that the tall youth who was dressed differently from the rest was tempering his blows, the taller of the two raiders sought to slip past him. Twice Peredhrion forced him backwards, but on the third attempt the taller raider struck out at Halbarad, catching him a glancing blow high on the chest. Realizing his own attempts to spare these two boys were endangering his fellows, Peredhrion groaned and surged forward, swiftly killing the one who’d just wounded Halbarad, and then turning to face the smaller one who remained. The sword swung at him was clumsily wielded, but Peredhrion now recognized that these invaders intended to kill if they were spared, and with an expression of frustration he defended himself, then drew his sword down and across from the neck down into the rib cage of the youth now facing him.
The young Angmarian’s furious expression changed to the surprise so often seen upon the faces of those who were struck down in battle as the young Man crumpled, his knees buckling forward as he fell backwards and to the right. He struggled to breathe, to cry out, to look up into the face of the one who’d struck him down before the spark of life left him. Peredhrion’s own face was white, and the grating of his sword on bone as he struggled to free it from the young Man’s body was sickening.
He turned to see if there were any more enemies to fight, only to find that apparently these were the last of the Angmarian raiders to fall. He absently wiped his now freed blade on his cloak as he turned to Halbarad, who lay on the ground, himself surprised to find how difficult it was to breathe. But in spite of his injury, Halbarad could see how unnaturally pale Peredhrion’s face was, how bloodless his lips, as his cousin still disciplined himself into healer mode. “Let me feel how deeply the sword penetrated,” Peredhrion was murmuring as he fell to his knees, already gesturing for Berevrion to bring him his red healer’s bag.
When Halbarad was fully awake again it was after sunrise. A tall, burly Man he could not quite put a name to was sitting on a large stone, and facing him stood Peredhrion, his face still pale but set, the hand Halbarad could see balled at his side. Malvegern stood between the Man and the beardless youth, off to the Man’s left, perhaps somewhat closer to his charge among the trainees than he was to the other Man.
“So, why are you dressed in Elven fashion?” the Man asked.
What is his name? Halbarad wracked his brain, but it appeared some shadow stood between himself and the identity of the burly Dúnadan sitting upon the stone.
“I was raised among the Elves of Imladris.”
Malvegern added, “It is how he has ever seen warriors dress, in the style of Rivendell.”
“And what do they call you?” demanded the burly Man, ignoring Malvegern.
His kinsman had apparently taken a dislike to the one interrogating him, for his voice was far cooler than Halbarad had generally heard him. “I am called Peredhrion.”
“Half son?” translated the Man. “And what kind of name is that?” When the youth did not deign to answer, he asked a new question. “Why did they raise you within Rivendell?”
Halbarad’s vision was not particularly clear at the moment. He thought Peredhrion shrugged. “I am told that my father was befriended by the sons of Elrond, and that they often rode out together. They were accompanying his last patrol when he was slain in an attack by orcs, and it appears they felt obligated to see to the well-being of his only child.”
“Why did you hold your hand when you faced those two raiders?”
Peredhrion stiffened—Halbarad could almost feel it where he lay, wrapped in blankets, some of which smelled of horse and must have been removed from some of the horses they’d ridden to get here. “They were little more than boys themselves. They were not evil, only desperate. They did not come to kill, but to take what they and their families needed to survive.”
“Your refusal to use your sword led to your companion there being sorely wounded. He could have been killed due to your lack of willingness to strike.”
Peredhrion’s voice was now chillingly cold. “Yes, the young raider was able to slip by my guard due to my unwillingness to strike a killing blow. But—Halbarad knew he should have already had his own sword at the ready to deflect any blow that came his way. So we have been taught and told countless times during our time under the tutelage of Malvegern and Baerdion. We were there to fight as a team, Halbarad, Berevrion, and I.”
“Halbarad? Lord Halbaleg’s son? Do you not realize that he is his father’s heir, and will likely lead our people one day? That it was your duty to protect him?”
“I have been taught that it is the duty of all Men of honor and skill to protect all of our people. And I stepped before Halbarad and Berevrion in hopes of doing that, knowing that although they have been taught the same, I should be the one to draw the blows of the two raiders rather than either of them. But I also knew that all of us have been told repeatedly to be ready in case one of our attackers should manage to slip past the guard of those in front.”
There was a time of quiet as the seated Man considered Peredhrion and his words. At last he said, “I see your logic. But I also saw that your unwillingness to strike from the beginning endangered both you and those behind you.”
Malvegern spoke again before the young Man could answer. “It was his first fight with Men rather than orcs, trolls, wolves, and wargs. Remember your first such fight, Duinhir, and how you reacted? I certainly remember well enough.”
Duinhir, the son of Belechar! That is the burly Man who is questioning Peredhrion! He was not at the meeting at Amon Sûl at Midsummer! He has no idea as to who this one with the Elven warrior braids might be! He probably does not know how to read the warrior braids, either. Not, of course, that I do. Halbarad found himself stifling the urge to chuckle at Duinhir’s expense. Who should have been protecting whom? he asked himself. And he found himself wondering what Duinhir had managed to do in that first martial encounter with Men that brought out that observation from Malvegern.
There was an awkward silence before Duinhir spoke again, addressing himself again to Peredhrion. “Well, at least it ended well enough. That last blow was mighty enough, if inelegant.”
“There was no time for elegance,” he was answered. Even Halbarad could tell that Peredhrion was beginning to shiver.
“I suppose so.” But then Duinhir’s voice changed. “And what are you shaking about?” he demanded. “Do you so hate the idea of fighting Men?”
“He is himself only starting to recover from an injury he suffered whilst fighting orcs along the Road, Duinhir,” Malvegern said, stepping to the young Man’s side and clasping him about the chest. “He needs to sit down. You,” he added, addressing himself to Orominion and the Man he stood by, “bring something for this one to sit upon. His right ankle is trying to give way.”
A fallen tree was dragged forward, and Geldir added a saddle atop it to make it sufficiently high enough to accommodate Peredhrion’s height, and Malvegern eased his charge down to sit. Even seated, Halbarad judged that Peredhrion’s eyes were still higher than Duinhir’s own.
Duinhir shifted his gaze to meet that of Malvegern. “Then why was he allowed to come, if indeed he was injured while your troop was on its training mission?”
It was Orominion who answered. “First, because he put himself forward, and second because he is the best swordsman among us, and because he’d already shown that as long as there are enemies to fight he can and will do all he can to offer protection to others.”
Halbarad’s vision had cleared, and he could see the smile upon Malvegern’s face as he nodded his thanks to Orominion. “He has spoken truly,” he said, turning back to meet Duinhir’s eyes levelly. “Peredhrion injured himself leaping down into a defile to face a line of orcs hiding there, but fought each in turn, with help from Halbarad there and another, then ran over a mile to join the fight at Lifewater Farm, arriving just too late to join in the battle there, after which he stood for hours in the farm kitchen stitching up the wounds endured by both our young warriors and those we captured before he allowed the weakness in his ankle and the break in his foot to make themselves manifest.”
“I noted you allowed him to work over the wound Halbarad suffered. He is trained in healing, then?”
“By Lord Elrond and his sons themselves. There are no greater teachers of the healing arts here east of the Sundering Sea.”
Halbarad could hear the murmurs shared amongst the gathered Men. One of these stepped forward. “Then he will serve us well even if the break in his foot fails to heal properly,” the Man observed. “We always need trained healers.”
“He will heal,” Malvegern promised. “And he shall indeed serve the Dúnedain well. Of that I am certain.”
“He handles a blade well enough,” someone else added.
But Peredhrion was shaking his head. “What I did today was not fighting—it was sheer butchery, and I pray I never have to strike such a blow again.” His face was pale as the Sun, rising higher and emerging from behind the eastern mountains, showered her light down upon the gathering.
Someone brought a blanket and laid it around the youth’s shoulders, and the Men began dispersing, seeing to one another’s well-being and that of their horses, which had been gathered into a line. Halbarad drifted into a doze, and awoke suddenly to find Peredhrion leaning over him.
“I did not mean to startle you. How is the pain?”
Halbarad lay there, taking stock of himself. “I do not feel much in the way of pain, not lying here. But I do feel weak. I do not want to sit up, I find.”
His young kinsman smiled. “There does not seem to be excessive warmth over the wound—some, but not an unhealthy amount.”
“What was done to me?”
“Your lung was pierced, and I had to close it that you might breathe properly. You were fortunate that it did not collapse, and that the weapon was wrought and carried by—by Men, and not orcs. Not that the one who wounded you was indeed a Man grown.” He shook his head. “Nay, he was but a boy, and younger than both of us.”
“And you slew him?”
Peredhrion—Aragorn—his face was almost grey at the memory of it. “Yea, I slew him. It was horrible, Halbarad! The way my sword caught in his collarbone and ribs!” He was shaking, Halbarad realized. He had done what he needed to do—what he as a warrior was trained and expected to do, what he had known he must do one day; but it had scarred him, as would be true of every decent Man who was forced to kill against his nature.
“I am sorry that your first kill among Men should be such a one. It was perhaps easier for me, as I was able to use my bow and did not have to feel the point hew into a Man’s bones. It is bad enough fighting orcs, or so I have found.”
Berevrion, who had been lingering behind the taller youth, came forward with a water skin and a horn cup at the ready. “Would either of you like something to drink?” he asked. “He can have something to drink, can’t he?” he asked, addressing the young healer.
“Yes. Let him drink first, and then I shall accept some. And, thank you, my friend.”
Berevrion smiled. Between the two of them they helped Halbarad to sit up so he could drink, then lie back down again. Peredhrion drank deeply before returning the cup to Berevrion, then stood and stretched.
“Well, are we going into those rocks to check out their camp or not?” asked someone over near the tumble of stone where the Angmarians had been hidden.
The three youths turned their heads to look at those crowding near to the hidden area. Peredhrion shook his head. “I feel I need to be one who goes into there,” he murmured, and he hobbled over to join those standing near to the opening from which the Angmarians had emerged.
“Go with him,” Halbarad commanded Berevrion, who nodded and followed the tall trainee.
Two Men had already entered the area where the invaders had hidden themselves, and Peredhrion pushed himself in behind them, earning glares from those he’d pressed backward that turned to questioning glances at their fellows as they noted the Elven braids. The one in front turned to call back, “There are two more in here,” only for one of the two hidden Angmarians to lunge at him with a knife.
Exactly how Peredhrion managed to get past the second and even with the first Dúnadan to chop the Angmarian’s wrist with the side of his hand so that he dropped his knife no one could say, but by the time the second Dúnadan came forward with sword drawn the Angmarian was hunched over his hand, clutching at his stinging wrist, his face white with surprise. The other invader half lay, half sat on a flattened boulder, torn cloth wound about his torso, indicating he had taken a major wound earlier. Peredhrion’s eyes were busy assessing the situation, and he turned to the other three now within the hidden hollow in which they found themselves.
“He will be no threat now. Bind him, but be gentle about it. His left shoulder is bandaged, indicating he, too, was wounded. As for this one—he is badly off, and is no threat to anyone, save perhaps as a carrier of infection. Berevrion, go fetch my red bag.”
The former knife-wielder was led out, and Berevrion came back to Halbarad with an ironic lift to his eyebrow as he grabbed up the healer’s bag to bring to their fellow trainee.
It was some time before Peredhrion allowed the young raider to be moved, and he was issuing orders that only clean blankets were to be wrapped around this patient. The three Men who carried him out rolled their eyes, but complied. As for Duinhir, the Man watched with marked surprise as the young Ranger took control and issued orders, and the older warriors simply followed them as if they were accustomed to being ordered about by beardless young trainees. Malvegern had come to sit near Halbarad, and both the Steward’s wounded son and Berevrion could see that he was most pleased with the situation.
Once satisfied as to the well-being of the more severely wounded raider, Peredhrion immediately saw to the one who had sought to use the knife. Both of these were well under twenty years of age. The wound on this second Angmarian ought to have been stitched closed three days earlier. It was healing, but it would undoubtedly catch should the young Man seek to move his arm swiftly over his head, and the scar would not be a pretty sight. Peredhrion did what he could, and the raider was looking at him with wonder, not knowing what to think of having what was obviously a proper healer from among his enemies seeing his wounds and those of his companion set right.
“What kind of madman have you brought us, Malvegern?” demanded Duinhir. “Offering aid to our enemies!”
Malvegern indicated the row of dead raiders being assembled by many of their number, including Orominion and Geldir. “Look at them, my friend. Peredhrion there is right—all are astonishingly young, save for that one there.” He indicated the only one who appeared to be of middle age. “All are also terribly thin and ill fed. Where they are from there has apparently been famine. They needed food and transport, not necessarily to feed and equip more enemies, but more likely their families. It is probable that they heard all of the old lies about us—that we are implacable foes who roast our enemies alive, or who torture them cruelly. That one there,” he nodded toward the one with the heavily scarred shoulder, “now is learning better, and he cannot reconcile what he experiences with what he has been told of us in the past. We may just win at least one friend in that one, one who will owe us a debt of honor—or at least he will owe Peredhrion such a debt. We could learn much from him, and see to it that at least one young Man of Angmar knows the truth of our nature.
“As for Peredhrion himself, he was sent with excellent reports from Lord Elrond and his sons. He has shown himself the best swordsman among Men that I have seen in all of my days, and he is, as you have seen, also a skilled healer and even a surgeon, as young as he is. He also well understands the nature of orcs and their tactics, and has been teaching to our company all that he has learned within Rivendell from the sons of Elrond, Lord Glorfindel, and even Elrond himself. He has just demonstrated that he has also taken on lessons in command, and you have seen how the others have responded naturally to the tone of his voice as if they were accustomed to responding just so to him, even though none of them has seen him before, or at least not that they know they have. His mother chose to remain in Rivendell until he finished his time on the training patrol, but intends to come to pin his father’s star upon his cloak on our return. And I do believe she will have reason to be pleased with his performance.”
“But none of the women of the Dúnedain have dwelt among the Elves of Rivendell,” Duinhir objected.
“None?” Malvegern responded, and with that he closed his mouth, shaking his head as he watched his tallest recruit work his way back to the saddle atop the log where he’d sat before. Berevrion removed the stocking and wrappings from the injured leg, examined it, answered the tall youth’s questions, resettled the bark splints, and retied them in place.
And Malvegern continued to smile with approval and satisfaction.
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