My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Where the Stars are Strange: 2. The Sea Wolf
Vanië carefully picked her way through the hickory nut trees on a bluff above the river. She was being cursed by the multitude of squirrels that clung to the branches amid the new leaves and the mare pinned her ears back ominously, wishing for just one of the creatures to scamper within reach of an iron-shod hoof. Aragorn worked his way through the thick wood out onto a point that allowed him to see for several leagues around. The golden Baranduin curled into a great bend to the west here. The river the hobbits called the Brandywine was much broader and slower moving below this bend. He checked his map; he'd come farther than he should have, but he'd met a farmer a half day back who claimed two homesteads near by were ransacked by strangers. What spurred him on was a boy who had told him that he watched a large rowboat-like craft with a single red sail cruise downstream. Someone owned a fine pleasure craft or there was some truth to the tale of pirates.
Aragorn shaded his eyes. He followed the river west until it shimmered into nothingness on the horizon. There was no traffic on it of any kind. Then he looked down. On the narrow gravel bank below, the exact craft the boy had described was beached. A single man seemed to be on guard. A word to Vanië left her standing in the trees and Aragorn scrambled down a deer trail partway for a closer look. He edged up from behind an outcropping of rocks about fifty yards above the boat. The crew seemed to be taking on supplies: crates of clucking chickens, barrels, and several sides of mutton and beef were stacked in the bottom of its hull. The guard looked like any common fighting man, a long sword stuck through his belt, but he wore a bright green scarf tied around his head. He seemed unconcerned about attack. He lounged on the beach, sitting on the gunwale of the boat, eating an apple.
Just as Aragorn concluded there really were pirates on the Brandywine and was preparing to head back to Vanië and ride for Sarn Ford, he heard a scuffling on the path behind him. As he reached for his dagger, a brilliant light exploded in his head before all went dark.
The big pirate hefted the cudgel. "Want me to smack him again, sir?"
"No," the one in charge said. "I don't want him dead. Heft him over your shoulder and haul him down to the boat."
"Aye, sir." The brawny man picked up Aragorn as if he was weightless and headed down the trail.
"Hey, Thomas!" The guard at the boat hailed. "Whatdya and the lieutenant find there?"
"A young princeling of the land," answered the lieutenant, his gray eyes amused. "He looks strong enough to be of use so tie him up." Thomas bound Aragorn's hands and feet tightly and the lieutenant relieved him of his dagger. Three more men came down the trail carrying water barrels. They added theirs to the ones already in the boat, and dumped the unconscious Aragorn in among them. As the last of the barrels were rolled aboard, two more men trotted up, looking sheepish. The lieutenant cast a questioning eye at them.
"We didn't catch that nag, sir," one offered, "but Clayden here was bit and stomped." He indicated his partner who was holding a rag, red with blood, to his head.
"Just as well. I only wanted to go through his saddlebags and that sword looked to be worth having." He turned to the rest. "Cast off. The captain will be wanting to set sail with the tide and we'll need to get this stowed." The overloaded launch slowly eased into the current, Thomas raised the red sail, and with the lieutenant at the rudder, the launch glided swiftly down the Baranduin to the sea.
"Nice of you to sleep until we got under way." The voice spoke in heavily accented Westron. Aragorn still struggled with half-consciousness. Moments ago, the hatch had opened, a grinning guard cut his leg bonds, and he had been half-dragged up steps and across the deck of a three-masted sailing vessel to the captain's cabin. The man addressing him, sat with one leg flung over the arm of his chair. He had the palest blonde hair Aragorn had ever seen. He was of indeterminable age and dressed in a military style, though surely no country boasted such vivid green livery. Aragorn's possessions: the star of eagles, the ring of Barahir, and his Elven dagger in its sheath were spread across the table. The man spun Arwen's Evenstar pendant from its mithril chain wound around his fingers.
"No other valuables, Kindrel?" he asked the lieutenant who stood at a large aft window bay, watching the receding shoreline.
"No, sir, the rest was on the horse that got away." The pirate captain turned back to Aragorn.
"I'm Ascabar and you're aboard the Sea-wolf. You've been recruited into my crew. You might say we are sea-going toll-collectors." He laughed with Kindrel at his private joke. "We collect what I feel we're owed from any ship passing by." He looked closely at Aragorn, who realized what a dangerous man confronted him. His eyes were as blue and cold as the northern ice, and in them Aragorn could see the man's penchance for killing came to him as easily as bidding good day. "Though some would call me murderous pirate…and those some might be right. I cruise the coast, looking for ships worth taking. When we have a rich enough prize, we put into lower Harad to sell the takings and then set sail for home, to Umbar, to celebrate. Here's your choice, my lad: join me and take your share or make trouble and I'll toss you into the sea. We're five miles from the coast and running on a swift north wind. I've need of good sailors. Be one and you'll be treated fair as the rest and be cut in for your share at the end." There was some madness that glittered in Ascabar's eyes, and Aragorn felt a prickling along his spine. His refusal would certainly bring worse than being tossed into the sea, he was sure. Escape at this distance from the shore was not an option. Compliance was, so he nodded. He thought it worth asking and gestured with his head at the items on the desk.
"You own nothing here. All items are considered found and, as such, become part of the crew's lot to be divided up betwixt them later. You can claim them then as your share, if you've a mind." The pirate swept Aragorn's possessions into a leather bag, and after a last look, dropped the Evenstar on top. He stowed them in a locked cabinet. He gestured to the lieutenant who had silently watched the interaction. "This man you'll be beholden to for food and life is Kindrel, my second. And what should we call you?"
"Estel." The captain nodded, but Aragorn caught a flicker of understanding in Kindrel's eyes. The tall man continued to watch him closely.
"Kindrel, cut his ropes." When the lieutenant did, Aragorn chaffed his wrists to get the blood flowing. Ascabar nodded a dismissal.
"Come," said Kindrel, climbing the short stair to the main deck. "I'll get you food and water and set you about your duties." As they walked to the forecastle, the other sailors' eyes darted over him, assessing their newest mate. Kindrel handed him a hard round loaf and a tankard of tepid water and pointed out a rolled hammock and shelf. He quickly realized that Aragorn had no skills as a seaman so the lieutenant set him to splicing rope. He watched him for a moment or two at the task, and then said quietly.
"The captain deals too much with wharf rats of little intellect who think pirating is a fine career, but I see you weighing options behind those grey eyes. I think you've been far too quiet and compliant for the fighting man you are. Plots do no good here, Estel." He emphasized his name and switch from Westron to Sindarin, dropping his voice. "Hope has fled you. Here there is only sun, seawater, and the captain's will. He will kill you as look at you if there is any trouble…and so will I. You do understand me?" Aragorn nodded. The lieutenant turned abruptly and walked aft, leaving Aragorn staring off to the fast-receding shore of Eriador.
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