21. Chapter Twenty-One
A/N 1: The conversation between Strider and Ivorwen takes reference from the online movie "Born of Hope". Good fan movie if you haven't seen it.
Strider eased into the hard chair at Ivorwen's table and closed his eyes. He was almost too tired to eat the fare she set in front of him. Almost, but not quite. He reached for the mug of ale she had recently poured and drained it. Amazingly, it had quenched his thirst and provided a much needed boost to his lagging energy. He ate, slowly at first, then the weariness left him and his hunger returned with vigor.
He cleared the plate, not once but twice and leaned back in his chair with satisfaction. The food was hearty here and he would have to be careful not to over eat while he was training. He glanced at his grandmother, who was carrying the pitcher to refill his ale. She was a stunning woman with curly blonde hair, green eyes and a smile not unlike his mother's. Seeing her made him miss his mother, her daughter, very much.
"She looks like you," he said softly, his words just above a whisper.
"And you have the look of your father," Ivorwen replied, sitting beside the young man who she could only remember as a toddler running about his father's ankles.
"Tell me about him, Grandmother. What was he like?"
Ivorwen poured more ale into his mug and sighed, setting the vessel on the wooden table top. "Your father was a brave man. He rescued us from a band of Orcs that had burned our village and had terrorized us as we fled. His ranger patrol attacked the band swiftly and without mercy. None were left to report our whereabouts to the Dark Lord.
"It was soon after we arrived in the village that Arathorn caught your mother's eye. She was smitten with him, and he with her. Your grandfather, on the other hand was not pleased. He did not want your father to break her heart. He knew that as the son of the Chieftain, Arathorn would take on danger as no other in the village. He went on many a dangerous patrol, sometimes on his own, deep into the wilderness. He would be gone weeks at a time, sometime months.
"But still, that did not deter your mother. She was in love and she knew what she wanted. After your father returned from one such mission, the two of them approached Arador and asked permission to wed. The only condition he gave them was that your father had to ask Dírhael for permission. It took your father the entire winter, but he finally asked for your mother's hand.
"When Arador was slain and Arathorn became Chieftain, he grew harder, more distant. I know he had a great burden on his shoulders. He was ready for it, but it was still a troubled man that my daughter had wed. At times it seemed that all he could do was despair. The enemy was constantly at our door, the battles were great and the losses many.
"Then you were born and a new hope surged through him. His heart rejoiced and the few years he had with you were the happiest I had ever seen him. He saw prosperity in our village and peace, as the enemy had seemed to have given up.
"He was a kind man, stern when needed, fair always, and pleasant to look at. He was tall, with brown hair, the silver-grey eyes that changed with his mood or his clothing and a quick smile. Just like you. You remind me very much of him."
"I remember mother staring at me sometimes, a wistful look in her eye. When I asked her about it, she would always shrug and tell me it was nothing."
"I am sure she was remembering your father, my dear one. For not only do you look a lot like him, you sound like him and you carry yourself as he did. He was sure of himself in ways that not many men were. He knew his place and knew what was expected of him. He didn't shirk his duty or ask his men to do something he himself would not do."
"That is much to live up to, Grandmother," Strider said, wondering if he were a strong enough man to do just that.
Ivorwen stood, placed her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. "I have seen great things for you, my grandson. You are man enough."
Strider watched as she walked away, praying with all his heart that she spoke true.
Thurin strode through the village, having just come off a recent tour of standing sentry. The enemy was far from here, but that did not mean that the rangers had become lax in their duty. As a matter of fact, the patrols were coming in and going out with such frequency, he wondered when he would be assigned to the next patrol leaving.
"Thurin! I want to talk to you."
He turned and found Aron approaching. Maybe he was going to get his wish after all. He stopped and waited for his leader.
"I would hear of your time with Strider, Thurin," Aron said, catching up with the young man.
"I will tell you all I remember."
"Let us sit by the fire. Have you partaken of the evening meal as of yet?"
"I am just coming off duty, so I have yet to get dinner. But I can eat and tell you all you wish to know."
Aron nodded and headed for the outdoor fire that burned brightly in the clearing in the middle of the village. Above the fire was a pot with a venison stew bubbling away. A woman from the village ladled out two bowls of the stew and poured each man a pint of ale. Then she headed away from the fire, more chores to do before she could find her own meal.
"Now, tell me all from the time you left the Inn," Aron said, needing to know the story of his friend's death.
"We rode along for several hours, putting distance between us and the rest of the patrol. We figured it would be best to allow you and Gaelon to dry off and let the anger you felt toward us to come to a low boil.
"Strider and I mentioned that it had been said we were well matched with a sword, so we rested a bit by a stream and had a small contest of wills. It seems that we are indeed well matched as neither could get the best of the other.
"Balharn…" the young man's voice hitched with emotion and he was afraid that he wouldn't be able to go. He took a swift drink of his ale and cleared his throat.
"Balharn decided we should leave as we had tarried too long…"
Aron turned to find Strider, who had approached the fire. He stepped over the log where Thurin was sitting, his hand grasping the young man's shoulder in reassurance.
"Strider…mae govannen, my friend. Please, continue. I would know of your trials," Aron said, urging the man to continue on with the tale.
"We came to a clearing that Balharn knew to be dangerous. We had to cross in order to get to the rendezvous point, but in hindsight, we should have gone back to the road and taken the long way around," Strider said.
"Wargs attacked our party. Balharn fell, and Thurin and I were badly wounded. I thank the Valar that we were able to escape the clearing with our lives."
Aron looked at young Thurin and felt a pull at his heart. He knew the young man looked up to Balharn as more than just a mentor. He was a substitute father for the young man, who had lost his entire family three years before. Aron knew it was hard for the young man to relive this tale.
"Your wounds are healed now? Do we need our healers to look at them?" Aron asked, concerned for the two youngest of his troop.
"Strider is an accomplished healer. He was taught by Lord Elrond himself. And we ran into a company of Elves that helped with the injuries as well. We are fine," Thurin said, glancing quickly at Strider.
"Aye, Aron. The wounds should be completely healed. It has been nearly a month since the attack. What little pain is left is naught to be complained of. Besides, I know I am too busy to hurt from an old wound. Halbarad has been taking me to task for the Council of Elders. It seems I am to relearn everything I have been taught by the Elves."
"Well, the Elders want to be sure you know what you know. I am sorry to have made you relive this event Thurin once again. I just wanted to know how Balharn died."
"He was your friend, Aron. I understand. And we couldn't really talk on the ride here."
"Still, you did speak to Halbarad already about this. And I know you were close to the old reprobate. If you need to talk?"
"What I need, Aron is to continue my fight against the darkness. I would like to put in a request to go out with the next patrol."
Strider snapped his head toward Thurin, wondering what he was playing at. They had just returned to the relative safety of the north camp and he wanted to go back out into the wild already?
"There is a patrol coming in within the week. I want to send out another to check on the inhabitants of Michel Delving. If you want to be a part of that patrol, I have no complaint."
"Thank you, Aron. I think I will turn in now."
Strider watched as Thurin rose from the log and headed away from the main houses into the dark. He waited for a moment, then rose as well and returned to Ivorwen's. He wanted to speak with Thurin, but it would do no good for Aron to suspect that he was concerned. He did not want any suspicion to follow Thurin.
He approached the house, stealing a glance over his shoulder as he reached for the doorknob. Aron had gone and the clearing in the center of the village was empty. He needed to speak to Thurin. Now.
Thurin slipped inside the home, closing the door behind him. Leaning against it, the tears slipped down his cheeks unbidden. Why? Why had they taken the short cut instead of staying to the road? He missed Balharn.
A knock on the door startled the young ranger. He quickly wiped away the tears, took a deep breath and turned to open the door. Standing in the doorway, the light from the fire that burned in the main room shadowing his face, was Strider.
Thurin took a deep breath and stepped aside to allow Strider to enter the house. He could tell the other man was upset, furious actually. He could see it in Strider's eyes and in the frown he wore.
"What are you playing at?" Strider demanded.
"I don't know what you mean…" he replied, closing the door.
"Don't…don't play games with me, Laeriel!" he growled, grabbing her arm and turning her to face him.
"I am not playing games, Strider. Let go of me!" she hissed, pulling her arm from his grasp.
"You asked to be put in danger, why? Why would you not stay here, where you are safe?"
"I can't be what you want, Strider. I can't stay here and cook and do needlework. I am not that kind of woman. You knew that!"
"I have to remain here, train under Halbarad. I can not go with you."
Laeriel sighed. "I can take care of myself. I don't need you…"
"Of course. You don't need me…" he said, slipping past her to reach for the door.
Laeriel grabbed his arm just as he opened the door. "You know that's not true. Strider…please."
Strider sighed and pushed the door closed. He turned and pulled her into his arms, his lips claiming hers in a harsh kiss.
A/N 2: I hope you all have a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year. See you in 2012!!!
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.