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Enter the Ranger  by Larner

Alterations and Recognition

            The group remained camping in place one more night while Halbarad and the two Angmarians rested and began recovering from their wounds. 

            A search deeper into the rocks at the foot of the mountains led them to two of the missing horses, a milk cow, and three sheep.  Signs were that a number of fowl had been taken and had provided the raiders with at least one meal.  One of the Rangers who owned a farm saw to the milking of the cow, whose udder was painfully full; the other animals were led out and allowed to graze and drink alongside the Ranger’s mounts.  A pole drag was prepared for the young Man who was more severely incapacitated, and one of the recovered horses was chosen for the scarred young raider to ride.

            Shortly after noon the bodies of the slain raiders were carried into the tumble of rocks and settled quietly back by the foot of the mountain.  The scarred Angmarian youth watched with concern until he realized they were being treated with respect.  He followed two who carried one of his former fellows, and appeared satisfied when he saw the body laid gently down in a line with the others already there, and appeared reassured when he realized that earth from the steep slope overhead would be used to bury them.  He emerged and returned to the line of bodies that remained.  Seeing Peredhrion standing, looking down with pity at the two he’d been forced to kill, he said something in his own tongue.

            Berevrion explained, “I believe he has told us that these were brothers.”

            Peredhrion looked at him with surprise.  “Then you speak their language?”

            Berevrion shrugged.  “Somewhat.  We had a Man from Angmar whom my father found injured, so he brought him home and saw him treated.”

            “Was that Hagmar?” asked a Man nearby.

            A nod.  “Yes, Hagmar.  He never agreed to return to Angmar.  He said that the local warlord had stolen his wife and land, and had slain his children.  He said there was nothing to return to.”  Then, realizing that the young Angmarian standing by was trying to understand, he repeated this information in that one’s language.

            “Hagmar?” 

            This was followed by a question that Berevrion answered as best he could, and further words from the youth that Berevrion relayed to the attendant Dúnedain.  “It is a slightly different form of the tongue than what I learned from Hagmar.  He knows the story of Hagmar being forced to flee southwards.  He says, if I understand him correctly, that Vanwein, Hagmar’s enemy, is now dead, having been poisoned by Hagmar’s former wife.  The woman was burned as a witch, and no one will live on the land Hagmar once farmed, believing it cursed.  But she was pregnant when Vanwein took her, and so Hagmar has a son living now among his mother’s people.  Things have been bad in their area since Hagmar was driven south, and there has been a terrible drought, and their animals are beginning to die of thirst.  All are now convinced that somehow when Hagmar left, he took their luck with him.  They came south perhaps to find him and convince him to return north.  But they also came in hopes of bringing back horses and cattle with which to replenish their herds and to work the land.  Things are very bad among them.”

            “Would this Hagmar agree to return to his own place?” asked Duinhir.

            Berevrion shook his head.  “No.  He died three years ago, or nearly that.  We miss him greatly because he was good with the land and our horses.  I can see why those who lived in the area would wish to have him return.”

            The youth was allowed to help move the bodies, and watched as some of those accustomed to the work climbed the steep slopes over where the Angmarian bodies were laid.  One of the Dúnedain spoke over the bodies, asking the Doomsman to be merciful to them as they’d come primarily not to bring war but to obtain what they believed their people needed for them.  At a signal those upon the slopes began to work to release a contained slide intended to cover the bodies.  When the slide was over, many worked to distribute the fallen soil and rocks as evenly as could be worked over those who had fallen, after which they went on with the work of the camp.

            Halbarad was encouraged to rise and walk about late in the afternoon, and he helped in some of the lighter camp chores before returning to his bedroll and falling into a surprisingly restful sleep.  In the night he woke to the sound of singing; much as Peredhrion had sat by Nardir and sung after the younger trainee almost lost his arm, the tall Dúnadan youth now sat and sang over Halbarad, an Elvish song of healing that called upon various of the Powers to offer one who suffered easing, strength, and comfort.  Warmth appeared to flow into Halbarad’s breast where his young kinsman’s hand lay over the wound he’d received.  He smiled up into Peredhrion’s eyes, and the taller youth returned it.  Before the song was ended, Halbarad was once again asleep, seeming to see Varda scattering the stars across the sky, Manwë beside her, his breath blowing them into the familiar constellations.

            No one seemed to think it odd that he rose the next morning with little memory of the pain he’d suffered, and that he went about preparing to leave as readily as the others.  The scarred young raider was directed by gesture to assist Halbarad, and watched with interest as the Rangers cleaned their campsite, shoveling dung and offal from those small animals caught for their meals into the hole dug as a latrine and filling it in, making certain that the fire was thoroughly out and buried, brushing the ground to cleanse it of signs of occupation.  Little save foot and hoof prints would remain to speak of the party that had camped there, and wind and rain would wash that away soon enough.  His fallen fellows had been treated with respect, and he had been shown mercy and care far beyond what he had expected.  He accepted the portion of the meal offered him, which was no less than what the others received, and he swung up upon the back of the horse assigned to him readily enough for the ride south, realizing that no one intended to offer him further hurt.

*******

            They were joined by other parties as they rode, and found still more groups as they traveled closer to the lands surrounding Halbaleg’s keep.  One other party had encountered raiders.  Two of the Dúnedain had died in the encounter, and they had six prisoners, all of them bound hand and foot and laid over the backs of the mounts used to transport them.  Yet even these showed little sign of bad usage, or so Halbarad realized that the Angmarian youth riding with them noted.

            Peredhrion had been spending time riding near to Berevrion and the scarred Angmarian, doing his best to learn the language their prisoner spoke.  Already he spoke both Sindarin and Quenya, Westron, and Adûnaic; that he would seek to learn this youth’s dialect of Angmarian was understandable to Halbarad, at least.  Duinhir, on the other hand, looked at Peredhrion’s new interest with uncertainty, even with a hint of disfavor.  But the tall Dúnadan youth merely shook his head at Duinhir’s obvious disapproval and continued on, and in return helped the young Angmarian to learn some basic words in the Common Tongue.

            It took much of four days to come to the village that housed the Steward for Arnor and his keep, and Malvegern drew his young recruits out of the by now large party of Dúnedain defenders, bringing them back to the place where they’d been camped before they started their training patrol.  They were gladly welcomed back by their fellows, and all had much to tell one another as they found their places.

            “We are to be granted our stars tomorrow about sunset, or so I’m told,” Nardir announced.  “Your brothers have been much about our camp, Halbarad, although they keep being called back to the keep by their mother, who has had a good deal of work they must accomplish.  Hardorn is most disgusted by the whole affair, and insists that his sister would be better to do much of what they have been expected to accomplish.

            “Bregorn was buried on the second day after our arrival, and his parents are in deep mourning.  Rarely does any training patrol end with but one death, however, so most are in excellent spirits, seeing this as a good sign for our group of trainees.  Nardir’s parents have rejoiced to find him with only scars to indicate how badly he was wounded, and it is much the same with all others Peredhrion has treated.  Our parents are not allowed to come to us today that we might ready ourselves for the morrow.  We’ve had to wash our own clothing, just as the older Rangers must before rejoining their families, and we’ll be expected to bathe in the small lake over there and to make ourselves as presentable as possible.  Orominion’s family has sent word that they cannot arrive before late afternoon tomorrow, however, so there has been no way for them to know he needs a new cloak.”

            At this Orominion grew anxious.  “Am I to be the only one with no cloak when I am presented my star?” he demanded.  “I could wear Bregorn’s, I suppose—he shan’t need his now.”

            But Varadorn was shaking his head.  “He was wrapped in it for burial,” he explained, “as is true of all Rangers who die protecting the lands we guard.”

            At this Orominion was ready to find the grave and open it so as to take possession of Bregorn’s cloak, and it took Baerdion’s order to make the young Man realize that this would not be tolerated.  “If your star must be fastened to your shirt or tunic for the present, it will be enough,” he said.  “But if you seek to despoil a dead Ranger of his cloak, you will be cast out of our company.  Do you understand?”

            Orominion calmed, but Halbarad was certain that the desire to appear wearing a cloak onto which to pin his star as a Ranger of Arnor would become increasingly an obsession before the end.

            Their three trainers withdrew to the keep immediately after the younger warriors received their evening meal.  As they sat about their campsite with their metal plates and cups, Peredhrion, who’d remained quiet all through the time since they’d rejoined the rest of their patrol, finally spoke.  “I have heard much disquiet amongst the Men with whom we have ridden over the past week,” he said, “over how I am dressed and my Elven warrior braids.  The majority of the younger Men especially appear to find my hair makes me look a woman.”

            Orominion interrupted, “Well, among us, we menfolk rarely wear our hair beyond our shoulders, after all, unless we have full beards to go with the longer hair.  Even our beards we tend to cut fairly short so that enemies may not grab them during a close fight.”

            When the rest of the group indicated that Orominion was correct, Peredhrion sighed.  “I hate to sacrifice my warrior’s braids, but I don’t need them to indicate I am a warrior when I live among Men.”  So saying, he pulled out his belt knife, took a deep breath, closed his eyes, carefully positioned the blade close to his scalp, and with a swift motion cut away the left braid.  The cut to the right braid was not quite as carefully done, and he had a slight cut to the side of his head that bled freely until Brendor managed to find a soft cleaning skin to hold to it until the bleeding might stop. 

            “Well,” Geldir noted, “you will certainly need to wash your clothing and to bathe so that you don’t appear to have been attacked here in the camp!”

            All laughed nervously.

            Varadorn asked, “What about the rest of your hair?  It looks odd, what with the braids being gone.”

            “It will have to be cut, too,” Orominion noted.

            “We wouldn’t want to do that with a belt knife,” commented Finwë.

            Dirigil suggested, “How about the scissors you carry in your healer’s kit, Peredhrion, the one you use to cut linen into bandages?”

            First the tall youth went to the lake and bathed to wash the blood from his face and hair and to make the hair easier to cut.  Then he combed it thoroughly to smooth it.  Orominion was granted the right to do the cutting, it being accepted that he’d had the most experience, seeing he often cut the hair of his brothers.  Halbarad wasn’t certain of the wisdom of allowing Orominion this honor, but he held his tongue, and had to admit, once it was all done, that Orominion had done a creditable job of it in the end.

            Baerdion, Malvegern, and Túrin returned just as this operation was being completed, and appeared surprised to see Peredhrion seated calmly, dressed in his small clothes and wrapped with his cloak, while Orominion worked to straighten the last cuts.  “What is this?” demanded Baerdion.

            Peredhrion sighed.  “If I am to live and work amongst Men from this day forward, I must suppose it only right that I should appear a Man in my own right.”

            Túrin was lifting the discarded Elven clothing and eying the blood.  “And did this decision come after a fight?” he asked, holding the shirt so that Malvegern could see the stains.

            “No—I did that myself.  I am good at fighting with either hand, but apparently not so good at cutting off my own braid with my left hand,” the tall youth admitted.

            “So it would appear,” Malvegern drawled, more concerned than he allowed himself to show.  “So, this was your own decision, was it?”

            “Yes, sir.  It was totally my own choice.  Did you not yourself say that I must identify myself with the Men of my own people if I am to be accepted fully amongst the Dúnedain?”

            Malvegern’s expression softened.  “Indeed I did, but I did not expect you to nearly bleed to death to see your hair cut.”

            All laughed, and this time the laugh was one of shared relief.

            Túrin straightened.  “Should I return to Lord Halbaleg and ask if he has clothing that Peredhrion might wear tomorrow when the stars are bestowed, Malvegern?”

            But Peredhrion was shaking his head.  “My hair should be enough of a change to allow others to accept that I may have been raised amongst the Elves, but that I am yet a Man of our people.  I have more clothing and an extra cloak amongst our goods.  Not all I brought from Rivendell shouts out Elf, or so you will find.”

            Túrin smiled as he dropped the stained clothes Peredhrion had shed.  “I shall show you where those goods that were not taken with us have been held while we were off on patrol.  Some of those closest to Lord Halbaleg have taken it in turn to make certain that the goods tent remained inviolate whilst we were gone.”  So saying, he led the youth off toward a red tent that stood alone north of their campsite.  “The long chest that came with you lies along the left wall,” he was saying as they walked away from the other trainees.

            Halbarad noted that Orominion was listening closely as Túrin and Peredhrion headed for the storage tent.

*******

            All were up early, each trainee seeing to it his goods, tack, and horse were all in good order as they waited for the late afternoon when they would appear before those gathered to the Steward’s village to be accepted as Rangers of the northern Dúnedain.  Peredhrion and the others who had gone on the journey northward repaired to the shallow river at the western end of the lake where they all were to bathe later in the day to clean the clothing they’d worn.  Fortunately, the Elvish material he’d worn the previous evening appeared not to stain easily, and most traces of the blood from the wound to the side of his head washed away easily enough.  His newer shirt was plainer than the ones he’d worn on the patrol, although it had a subtle pattern of embroidery across its yoke that relieved its apparent severity.  Certainly it fit him well, as was true of the surcoat worn over it.

            In the light of day his hair appeared quite short indeed, although that had come as a result of how close to his head he’d cut his own braids.  The cut he’d made was barely to be seen—it certainly did not look to have been made just the preceding evening.  But as they bathed together, Halbarad noted that none of the scars that had been garnered by the trainees during their first patrol that Peredhrion had treated appeared particularly new, not even the one on his own chest where his breast and lung had been pierced.  The King’s Gift of healing appeared to be quite potent in Peredhrion—or Aragorn, as he would be known by all after this evening.

            For Hardorn and Halladan had slipped out of the Keep and into the camp to let it be known that a party had come from Rivendell, one that included a number of Elves and at least one woman, perhaps two.  The twin sons of Elrond had come to the Keep to meet briefly with Halbaleg, after which they’d returned to the place on the eastern bounds of the village where they were to set up their own camp, there to remain until the ceremony of recognition for the new Rangers was to begin.  Among those who’d arrived within the last week were all of those who had served as witnesses that Arathorn and Gilraen’s son had lived; with those who’d come from Rivendell, Halbarad was certain even the most resistant Dúnedain would be convinced that this was indeed Aragorn son of Arathorn, the rightful Chieftain for their people.  He found himself looking forward to Duinhir’s reaction to the proper identity of the young trainee he’d questioned so closely during the day spent near the rocks in which the Angmarians had been hidden.

            Orominion was one of the first to leave the lake, although he was not near his own bedroll once the rest returned to the campsite once more.  Damrod sighed.  “I wonder whose cloak he will end up borrowing?” he said.  “There is no way in Middle Earth that he will agree not to wear a cloak today.  I’m only glad he’s far too big to wear mine!”

            There were many who agreed with him.  Now they worked to don their clean clothing and to see their hair combed carefully.  A few went through their own goods to see what might have gone missing, but other than a vest belonging to Finwë all appeared to be in order—until Orominion came strolling down to the camp from the red storage tent wearing a cloak none of them had yet seen, and bearing a sheathed sword.

            Sweet Valar! Halbarad thought.  He’s gotten into that long chest Túrin spoke of yesterday!  Those are Peredhrion’s goods!

            And indeed Peredhrion was straightening, his eyes fixed on the sheath Orominion now carried in his hands.

            “Look, all!” Orominion exclaimed.  “It is not only extra cloaks that our Elven Princeling carries with him, but even an extra sword!  Now, how wasteful is that?  Shall we see just what kind of sword it is that he refused to bring with him upon the patrol we just finished?  After all, he just might have broken that fine Elvish blade he wears at his hip!”

            With a flourish, Orominion shook out the sheath upon the ground.

            Only it was not a complete sword that fell upon the earth at Peredhrion’s feet.  The handle was that of a long sword, made for either a single or two hands to grip; but the blade went not even foot from the tang before it was broken off.  The rest of the blade was clearly etched with intricate runes.

            “No Man made that sword,” Varadorn whispered.

            “And no Elf, either,” muttered Damrod.  “That was made by a Dwarven Master!”

            Orominion’s face had gone stark white with shock.  He had certainly not expected this!

            Peredhrion’s face was nearly as pale as that of the youth who still held the worn sheath in his nerveless fingers.  As he’d dressed, he’d slipped a scrip of green leather around his neck.  The lacing of the placket of his embroidered shirt was not yet tied, and all could see him lifting out the scrip and fumbling it open.  All watched with fascination as he delved within it.  Every young Man present knew the story of a certain blade that had been broken an age ago, one that had remained in the keeping ever of one of their people, at first in the keeping of each of their Kings in turn, and then in the keeping of each of their Chieftains.  This broken sword had not been seen since the death of their last Chieftain, Arathorn son of Arador.

            “Does that mean…” whispered Hedron.

            But Peredhrion was drawing out something from the bag, and placed upon his own finger the….

            “The Ring of Barahir!” said Finwë.  “He wears the Ring of Barahir!”

            “And those are the shards—the shards of Narsil!” agreed Varadorn, stepping forward.  “And that makes you….”

            “And that makes me Aragorn son of Arathorn,” Peredhrion finished.

            “Oh, blessed Creator!” moaned Orominion, who fell to his knees and buried his head in his arms.  “What have I done?”

*******

            The Sun drew westward toward the distant Sea early that evening.  It was nearly the day for the autumnal equinox, after which the days would be shorter than the nights to follow.  The young trainees, much subdued, were led to the open square in the center of the village before the hall of meeting by their three trainers, with Hedron as the shortest in the lead, and Orominion at the back, only just ahead of the one they’d all thought of as Peredhrion until a mere hour or so before.  Orominion wore no cloak.

            “Behold our new Rangers, each having proved himself well upon this newly finished patrol,” announced Halbaleg, the Steward of Arnor.  “May each be honored as one who has worked to protect our people and who has sought to see things made right throughout what was once the proud land of Arnor, which may be again recognized under that name, the Powers willing.”

            Women were lining up to greet the newly anointed guardians of the northern Dúnedain, looking to see that each was properly placed to meet her own son, grandson, or brother, each holding in her hand a grey or green bag in which lay a brooch in the shape of a star.  Some of these stars were newly made, while others were handed on from a late or disabled father or grandfather or uncle, displaying that this family had given their people a lineage of protectors over the years.  At the end of the line one of the two women who had come from Rivendell stood, cloaked and hooded, holding a worn bag of silver that she kept turning in her hands.

            “Hedron son of Bolsig,” Halbaleg intoned, and Hedron stepped forward to stand before his mother, who removed the star brooch from her green bag and carefully pinned it to the shoulder of his cloak before bending to draw him to her, forgetting the bag, which fell unheeded to the ground while she embraced and kissed her son.  Varadorn stooped to retrieve it, and returned it to Hedron before he stepped forward to stand before his own mother as his name was called.

            “Where’s your cloak?” asked Orominion’s mother as his turn finally came.  “Oh, but never you mind—I have a new one for you anyway, only I didn’t think to bring it with me to the ceremony!  Here—this is now yours, my son.  It was my father’s, and now it is yours.”  Smiling proudly, she pinned it to the tunic he now wore, and at last he accepted that he was just as much a Ranger of Arnor as was any of his fellows as he fingered it with wonder before hugging his mama to him, kissing her cheek soundly before moving to the side as their tallest new Ranger stepped forward to stand before his own mother.

            “Naneth,” he murmured as she stood looking up into his face from beneath her hood.

            “Sweet Creator!” she breathed, pausing to examine him.  “How much you favor your father!”  She brought out her own star, one no one had seen for eighteen years, and pinned it to the shoulder of his green cloak.  “May you not meet his ending, but may you do our people as proudly and as well.”

            Those who had not recognized the star did recognize her as she pushed back her hood.  “Aragorn son of Arathorn,” she said clearly, “my beloved son, who has been known as a child as Estel, or Hope, I give you back to the Dúnedain as their next Chieftain, assured as I am that you have earned your place fairly, and have shown forth the King’s Gifts on this, your training patrol.  May you prove worthy of your new standing, and may our people prove worthy to receive you as their new leader.”  She drew him down to kiss his brow, and then hugged him to her as closely as any other of the women who’d greeted their sons this evening.  “How I do love you!” she whispered into his ear as she did so.  Halbarad, standing next to his own mother, Anneth, smiled proudly as his kinsman was finally greeted in his own name, watching as now fathers, brothers, friends, and others crowded close to recognize these returning sons as the hope for the future of the remnant of Elendil’s people.





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