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Chapter One: The Ranger’s Charge
The Breeland was in the past a quiet, ordered land of peaceful business, rarely noticing the affairs of the Wide World, except for perhaps the travelers’ talk that could be heard at the Prancing Pony, the popular inn at its center and crossroads. Up until now, there had been talk of troubles away in the South, and rumors of things south and east which troubled them not. But the last fortnight held talk of a different kind; for Men had been seen passing through Bree, headed east along the Great Road. Some were single or in pairs, others a family hauling a cart, or here and there a rider in green and grey. None stopped to talk, few stopped at all, except to purchase fodder and meal and find water. The Breelanders gave them passing heed, seeing them on their way, and not minding much in any way.
This day, the chill February wind groped with bitter fingers into any place it could reach, whether the still-bare boughs of trees, the hissing grasses of the downs, or the tightly-wrapped folds of the young man’s heavy cloak which failed to keep out the searching cold. He stood on a low rise, under trees which provided no shelter from the steady breeze. With him, stood a horse which, for anyone else, might have been more than tall enough to suit the needs of a rider; the young man, though, was tall in his own right, and the horse barely allowed his legs to ride in any comfort. Indeed, most of his clothing was stretching, failing slowly to accommodate the growing youth.
With him also, stood a man of greater height, and an air of nobility and authority about him. His horse was equally strong and noble, but his gear and the harness were plain and unadorned. Packs and rolls on the saddle showed plainly that the elder man was setting out for a long journey, and not a safe one, for among the gear were also tools of war: a spear set in a mount, a longbow and a quiver of arrows, and the man himself was girt with a longsword which his cloak could not conceal. The wind had thrown his hood aside, and the face that the youth beheld was noble, and care-worn, and a copy of his own.
“Adar, what would you have me do?” the youth asked. “Why can’t I ride with you and the others? I am ready, you said so yourself to them!”
“You were ready for the Trials, and earned your present station”, the older man said. “And you should be content with that – should, though you plainly are not.”
“You have seen me, you have tested me – indeed, and you judged me! How does one judge it, how it looks to them, for the captain’s son to be left behind, when all who can ride are needed?”
The father stepped closer to the son, forcing the youth to step back a pace. “You answer your own protest, Halrohir, my son – all who can ride, are needed. This ride of the Grey Company is not for the untested, but for those who have faced hardships the like of which you have not. You are a man of barely thirty winters, my son, a stripling in the long reckoning of the Dunedain. And though you may have been tested as a Ranger, there are perils and horrors which you have yet to face.” The captain laid his hand kindly on Halrohir’s shoulder. He could feel the trembling underneath – whether from cold, or the heat of his bruised heart, he could not say.
“There is something else that needs saying. I cannot allow you on this ride, because there is pressing work to do here. As I said, all who can be gathered shall ride south to answer the call out of Imladris. This will leave the lands of the North without the protection of the cloak of the Rangers. And this, Halrohir son of Haladan, is your charge. All of our folk who can be moved, the women and maids, the old and young are gathering. They must be safeguarded, and taken to shelter. For our race, that means only one possible journey.”
Halrohir listened as his father spoke, his mood slowly changing from despair to curiosity. “You intend for the folk to flee? But that means gathering them in one place, which no one does, and taking them to- “
“-to Imladris itself, yes”, Haladan finished. “Now, listen carefully. Tomorrow, the Grey Company rides to Bree, and from there, to the Forsaken Inn, a day’s ride east. You know it well, I think, from past rides. All our folk are gathering there, and in the shelter of the woods nearby. At dusk, Halbarad leads the Company as it rides south, across the downs, and thence to the Great Road and south-east to Rohan. It is left to those who remain here, to escort the folk to Rivendell, under such cover and haste as can be contrived. There will be few to guard and to watch; and that, young Halrohir, is your task. Lead the remainder of our folk along the East Road to Master Elrond, who expects us, and will offer us such hospitality as he can.”
“But, how many stay behind? And does this mean”, Halrohir said with a rising note in his voice, “that I shall lead the folk east?”
“Nay, my son”, Haladan answered, “a captain has already been appointed. Galador shall lead the folk east to safety- “
“Galador! The old gaffer!?” Halrohir exclaimed. “He can barely ride, let alone draw a sword! I know we should respect our elders, father, but in truth, his son, Galafin, would be better suited.”
“Galafin…” Haladan held up his hand for quiet. “He rides with the Company. And Galador is wood-crafty even in his greater years. It is done.”
“Yes, father”, Halrohir said, biting back a retort.
Haladan, Captain of Rangers, looked long and quietly at his son. Halrohir was reeling from inner torment, it was plain. His son had long been on a quest to prove himself. The Trials which established him as a man worthy of the company of Rangers were no more or no less arduous than for anyone else. Haladan was especially proud that Halbarad, kinsman to Lord Aragorn himself, bestowed the rank upon the young man. But Halrohir was consumed by the desire to stand out, to be first among equals; not for glory or renown, but to be relied upon and to win valor as the protector and bulwark of the weak, and to be worthy of the honor bestowed upon him; indeed, the young Ranger had told him, “Honor must be purchased daily, lest its worth diminish among Men.”
Haladan motioned for Halrohir to mount. The two men did so, and rode slowly from the rise and the trees, along a fold in the land, where none could see them. Reining up to a halt, Haladan spoke once more to Halrohir.
“Haladanion, this ride of the Grey Company may be its last. We ride forth to battle and war, and if all hope comes, we shall stand alongside the Lord Aragorn once more. Even the brethren, Elladan and Elrohir, shall ride with us. It was Elrohir for whom you were named, and I think it pleased him to learn that. Fortune may not favor any of us, and it pains me to think that this may be our final parting. I am proud of you, my son. Never forget that for a moment. Your fortunes will last beyond this war, even if we do not return – but if we do, it will be to a brighter future, and your destiny shall rise with a new kingdom.
“Now, come, let us ride back to your mother. I daresay, we shall find her in her flowerbed once more, tending her morning rose – what is it, my son?” he said, as he saw Halrohir gave a repressed shudder at the mention of the flower’s name.
“I am not sure, father”, Halrohir answered, distantly, as if in a dream, “but a foresight came upon me – that flower has meaning, some time in the future…"
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