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Brothers at Heart
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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2
Chapter 2

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters; I am only borrowing them for fun for a little while. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many thanks to my Beta Readers – J. and Marsha


~~~

Chapter 2

As the men of the village drifted back to their homes, Estel looked after them, his brow slightly furrowed as he tried to remember all of their names and how they were related to each other. The fact that most of the Dúnedain tended to have dark hair and some shade of grey eyes did not help him at this particular time. Most of the men had been welcoming, if somewhat reserved as they greeted him and he was not sure if the reserve was part of their natural tendency or because they were waiting to pass judgment on him as their Chieftain. However, in spite of their reserve, Estel sensed that most of the men looked up to him in a way that he could not define and he knew that what Elladan had told him earlier was true. That the Dúnedain would follow him simply because of who he was and not because he had earned his place as their leader and that responsibility suddenly seemed even more overwhelming to him. Yet it was not something that he could change and he realized that he needed to learn about his people and their ways quickly so that he not endanger them by making some foolish mistake out of ignorance.

“Aragorn?” Halhigal’s questioning voice brought Estel out of his musing and he looked at his uncle as the older man continued. “As I explained earlier, we will have a welcoming feast tomorrow evening when, hopefully, Caladel’s patrol will have returned, but Nimrie has supper ready for us now.” He indicated the house behind him. Halhigal turned to go in and then looked back over his shoulder at Elladan and Elrohir, “You are also welcome to join us, my lords,” a faint smile crossed his lips.

“Thank you, Halhigal,” Elrohir said with a small bow and smile, “I would be most glad to join you this evening.” Elladan simply nodded his acceptance of the invitation. Estel watched the interaction between Elrohir and Halhigal with interest, knowing that they had been friends for a long time. Elrohir had often mentioned Halhigal, though of course the name meant nothing to Estel at the time, he was just one of the Rangers his brothers often rode out with when they hunted down orcs. Both Elladan and Elrohir had also been close friends with Arathorn and had been with him when he died and Estel had learned many things about Arathorn from them in the last six months.

Estel took a deep breath before entering the log house, steeling himself for what he knew would probably be another…interesting experience. From comments his brothers had made over the years he knew that even though the Dúnedain did live differently than other men, there was still the problem of having easily available heated water and it was harder for them to bathe as frequently as elves did. While Estel had been vaguely aware of the smell of unwashed bodies as he spoke to the men, it was not something that he had paid much attention to as he focused on learning their names. It was just something else he had to become accustomed to, he thought wryly as he entered the house. He blinked his eyes rapidly as he entered a large room that appeared to be a combination sitting room, dining room, and kitchen area. The smoke from the fire made his eyes water and he wondered if the chimney did not have a proper draw on it and that was what was causing the smoke to filter into the room. But the look on Halhigal’s face told him otherwise as his uncle crossed to the fire and spoke to Nimrie before helping her adjust the damper which began clearing the smoke from the room. At least the smoke covered any other smells in the room. He turned as he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“How do you fare, young one?” Elrohir asked in a low voice, a small smile on his lips, but his grey eyes intent and serious. He was concerned after watching Estel meet the men. Elrohir had seen their looks of surprise when Estel had called Elrond his adar and had seen some of the men’s wary looks, though most of the men had seemed pleased enough after speaking with their newly returned Chieftain.

Estel scowled at him briefly over the nickname, more because it was expected than from any real annoyance. “I am all right, Elrohir,” he replied softly, his gaze flicking to Elladan to include him in his answer. He paused and tried to put his thoughts into words. “It is an interesting place, and I sense that they are good people. I have even more to learn than I realized,” he said and then lowered his voice even further, “I like my kin, though I do not see why you said that Halhigal is like Naneth,” he commented, looking at Elladan.

Elladan stared at him impassively as he replied, “You have barely met the man, Estel. As I have known him for many years, I believe that I am better able to judge if he is like her or not.”

“He is,” Elrohir added, “though I do not know if you will see that as easily as we do. It might be harder for a son to see those things.”

“Perhaps,” Estel conceded with a slight shrug. “I suppose it does not…”

They were interrupted by Halbarad. “It’s time to eat, Aragorn, my lords,” he said, motioning them to the table on the other side of the room. Halbarad led Aragorn to the chair at the head of the table while Elladan and Elrohir went automatically to the far side of the table and sat on a bench they used whenever they visited with Halhigal and his family.

Estel remained standing and gave Halbarad a puzzled look as his cousin sat on a bench next to the chair and opposite the twins. “Is this not your father’s chair?” he asked quietly, glancing at Halhigal as his uncle approached the table carrying a small cask of what Estel assumed was ale. Nimrie looked up from the other end of the table at his question and then resumed dishing out the venison stew she had prepared and handing bowls of it to Elladan and Elrohir.

“It is where I usually sit,” Halhigal acknowledged as he set the cask on a small side table and carefully pried the cork out and began pouring the ale into cups. “But you may sit there,” he said as he began handing the ale to the ones already seated.

“I’ll sit by Halbarad, I do not want to take your place,” Estel replied and his cousin obligingly moved down the bench and Estel was beginning to sit when his uncle looked directly at him.

“But your place is at the head of the table, Aragorn. You are the Chieftain of the Dúnedain, even here among your kin.”

Estel straightened back up and returned Halhigal’s steady regard with a long look of his own, sensing his uncle was talking about far more than just where he sat, as he was, in fact, taking over leadership from Halhigal. “I know very well who I am, Uncle, and whether I sit in the chair or on a bench does not change the fact that I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur and Chieftain of the Dúnedain.” Estel looked briefly down at the floor and then met his uncle’s eyes again, “My uncle should sit at the head of the table in his own home, I suspect there will be many other times for me to sit in a place of honor,” he said quietly before sitting down next to Halbarad, his eyes never leaving Halhigal’s.

“Sit, Halhigal,” Nimrie directed from the opposite end of the table, “the food is getting cold.”

Halhigal glanced at his wife and nodded before settling into his chair, giving Aragorn a thoughtful look, “Yes, there will be,” he finally said before turning to speak with Elrohir. As he spoke with the elf, part of his mind was focused on Aragorn as he tried to understand his young Chieftain and nephew. He well understood the slight uneasiness that he could sense in Aragorn; he had just recently learned of his lineage and heritage and that was a lot for a young man to be burdened with all at once. It was not as if Aragorn had grown up with the knowledge that he would one day be in this position, or had any type of example to follow. It had been thrust on him unexpectedly and now he had to take on the role of Chieftain all at once with little knowledge of what that would entail. Yet he was younger than his own son, Halbarad, who was just now being allowed to join patrols.

And yet even in the very brief time Halhigal had known Aragorn, he saw glimmers of a hidden strength in his Chieftain that surprised him. Few men that he knew would have stood up to him the way Aragorn had just done. Halhigal well knew how most of the Dúnedain perceived him; he was considered a strong, stern leader who did not back down when he felt he was right and yet he just had. That Aragorn was compassionate did not particularly surprise Halhigal, Gilraen was one of the most compassionate women he knew and being raised with elves would also have nurtured that quality in Aragorn. That his compassion would so quickly surface with a grandmother he had just met and in front of a group of men he did not know, did surprise him, however. Halhigal started when a hand was laid on his arm and he looked up into Elrohir’s amused eyes and he realized he had become so absorbed in his own thoughts that he had not heard the last question his friend had asked him.

Elrohir glanced at Estel who was speaking with Halbarad and Nimrie before he leaned over and spoke softly to Halhigal. “Do not seek to understand everything about him today, Mellon-nín. You will not be able to do so; it will take time for him to adjust to his life here and time for you to truly know him. But both will happen,” the elf said firmly.

“Yes, of course,” he murmured, idly stirring the stew in his bowl with his spoon for a moment and shifting in his chair which creaked under his weight. The noise caught Estel’s attention and he turned his grey eyes to Halhigal for a brief moment and then looked at Elrohir who gave him a faint smile before the young man turned back to his conversation with Halbarad and Nimrie. Deciding that Elrohir was right and that there was more than enough time to get to know Aragorn in the days and weeks ahead, Halhigal pushed thoughts of his Chieftain to the back of his mind and began asking Elrohir, and also Elladan, if they had seen any sign of orc activity on their way to Dolomar.

0-0-0

“Where do you want to live, Aragorn? You may stay here with us - we have an extra room - or there is the chieftain’s house… your house now, of course.”

His aunt’s question caught Estel off guard and he thought quickly as she continued to speak, explaining that the women of the village would be happy to bring him meals and clean the house for him. While Estel knew he would like the privacy that living in his own home would provide, he wondered if that would be the best thing for him. If he truly wanted to get to know his people and their customs and traditions, then it would probably be best to live with his aunt and uncle. Estel also did not like the thought of having women bringing him meals and cleaning his house when he was perfectly capable of doing those things himself and he did not know how he could refuse that without hurting someone’s feelings. He gave his aunt a small smile, “If you truly have the room, Aunt Nimrie, then I would like to stay here. If that would not place too much of a burden on you,” he hastened to add. Glancing at Halhigal from the corner of his eye he saw that his uncle appeared mildly surprised, but Estel turned his attention back to Nimrie as she laughed.

“Of course you won’t be a burden, Aragorn. You’re kin and besides,” she let out a resigned sigh and looked at her husband, “I imagine you’ll be gone just as much as Halhigal is and now Halbarad is starting to go out with the patrols. But,” her face brightened, “if you’re living here it’ll be easier for you to start teaching me a little more about healing when you’re in the village.”

“Yes, it will be,” Estel nodded. He hesitated briefly and then asked, “Do all of the villages rely on untrained healers?”

“It depends what you mean by trained,” Nimrie replied slowly. “I’ve heard that some have more training than I do because their mothers or fathers were healers and so they’ve been around healers all their lives. Some became healers the way I did, their healer died and there wasn’t anyone else to do it. I had helped our healer from time to time and so it fell to me to do it when she passed.”

Estel narrowed his eyes, appalled that there were few trained healers amongst his people. Opening his mouth to say more, he quickly shut it, realizing that he needed to wait and see how things were in the other villages. He needed to learn from his uncle before he made any suggestions or changes, Halhigal had led his people for eighteen years and had, of course, lived in the village of Dolomar for more than fifty years before that. He was not in Imladris anymore Estel reminded himself sternly where a comment he might make could be taken lightly. Amongst the Dúnedain things he said would be taken seriously and so he needed to be cautious until he was confident that what he was speaking about was possible or really needed to be done. But Estel did believe that having trained healers was important, even if he could only teach his aunt as he had time so he said, “When we have time in the next few days, you will have to show me what herbs you use, and your healing room, if you have one set aside, and I will begin teaching you what I know.”

Nimrie smiled as she arose from the table and began clearing the dishes. “Halbarad, show Aragorn his room,” she said. “Rosruin brought his packs and set them on the bench outside. Your packs are also out there, my lords,” she continued, glancing at Elladan and Elrohir. “Where will you sleep tonight?”

Elladan glanced at his brother who gave him an almost imperceptible nod, “We will sleep out under the stars, Lady Nimrie.” Nimrie gave them a knowing smile, she had been around the two brothers long enough to know that it was difficult for them to stay inside the house. Only on the coldest of winter nights did they do so. But she had thought they might want to share a room with Aragorn this last night at least.

Halbarad stood and led Aragorn outside while his father remained at the table still speaking with the elven brothers. Hearing the deep breath Aragorn took as soon as they stepped through the door, Halbarad chuckled softly and glanced at his cousin, but he could not see his expression in what little light shone through the window. “You’ll get used to it,” he commented.

Estel did not even pretend that he did not know what Halbarad was speaking about. “I will,” he said quietly, turning his gaze up to the stars. He quickly looked back down again because the stars reminded him of Arwen, the Evenstar, and that was not something he could think about right now. The longing for something he could never have brought too much pain to his heart. Estel knew he could never love another woman and yet he knew that someday he would have to marry and have a son to continue his line. He shook his head to clear those thoughts from his mind, he had many years yet before that became a concern.

“Do you smoke?” Halbarad asked, holding up his pipe. Estel wrinkled his nose in distaste and Halbarad laughed again. “You have many things to get used to, Cousin. I think every man in the village over the age of twenty smokes a pipe.” Halbarad started filling the pipe with pipe-weed and Estel watched him curiously, his eyes having adjusted now to the lower light level.

“Why?”

Halbarad shrugged, “It’s soothing… it gives you something to do. I really don’t know,” he finally confessed. Using his flint and steel he quickly struck a small spark to light the pipe almost without looking at it. Estel watched him puffing on it for a moment and then wandered a few steps away and stopped under a large tree, leaning against it with his arms crossed. His aunt and uncle’s house was at the far end of the village from the gate and so there were only a few houses nearby, but he could hear the faint sounds of people talking and the occasional laughter of children which brought a smile to his lips. Estel glanced at Halbarad as he joined him, still puffing on the pipe, and he was thankful that his cousin was standing downwind. “I meant what I said earlier,” Halbarad said, staring into the darkness, “I’m glad you’re back, Aragorn. Though,” he paused and looked back at his cousin, “I’m sure this probably all seems so… different to you.”

“It is, but I will become accustomed to it. I may need your help though and I will probably be asking you many questions,” Estel said, giving Halbarad a small smile.

“Yes, sure,” Halbarad nodded. “Did you really just find out your true name and lineage?” Estel nodded. “Why didn’t they tell you before?”

“Because my adar… Lord Elrond,” Estel explained at Halbarad’s questioning look. “He has been my adar since I went to Imladris and I have no memory of Arathorn,” he added in a whisper. “But I honor his memory and my brothers and my naneth have now told me more of him, personal things instead of just facts and…”

“You don’t have to say that to me, Aragorn,” Halbarad interrupted him quietly. “I barely remember him either, but I know that the older men, both here and in the other villages, might be… well, surprised at least.”

“I will not change on calling him my adar,” Estel said firmly, “my naneth never minded that I called him that,” he shrugged. They turned as the door opened behind them and Elladan and Elrohir came out in search of their packs and a place to sleep.

“I should show you your room,” Halbarad said, walking over to the bench beside the door, “Which packs are yours, Aragorn?” he asked.

“Estel’s packs are the ones to the left,” Elladan said as he gathered up his own pack and bedroll.

“Estel? Why do you call him hope?” Halbarad looked at the brothers in confusion.

“We could not call him by his true name and Adar gave him that name soon after he arrived,” Elrohir explained with an elegant shrug of his shoulders. “I fear that our younger brother will always be Estel to us.” He reached over and lightly grasped Estel’s shoulder affectionately.

“It’s an interesting name, Cousin,” Halbarad said with a faint smile, “and I suppose it fits with an elvish family. Though, I think I’ll still call you Aragorn,” He realized that here was another thing that Aragorn had to change and the enormity of everything that his cousin was having to adjust to made him wonder how he would handle it all.

“I like the name,” Estel said, returning Halbarad’s smile. “But then I did not realize I had a different one until six months ago. Will you show me my room now?” Halbarad nodded and led the way inside and Estel told his brothers good-night before he followed his cousin into the house. His room was small, as he had known it would be. It was less than a quarter of the size of the room he had in Imladris, but it did have a small window to let in light. There was a bed, a high-backed chair, a small two-drawer dresser with a pitcher and basin on top and along one wall were several hooks so that he could hang up his clothing. Several woven rugs covered the wooden floor and Estel fingered the soft, green quilt on the bed and smiled, knowing that his aunt had put the best one that she had on his bed. Removing his sword he carefully hung it from the back of the chair, within easy reach of where he would be sleeping. Estel turned to his packs then and quickly hung up his spare clothing and put things in drawers before storing his bedroll and things that would not fit in the drawers under his bed. He turned to the pitcher of water on the dresser and sighing softly poured some of the cool water into the basin before grabbing a cloth and the rough bar of soap and cleaning his face and hands. As Estel dried his hands a loose thread in the towel caught in the ring he wore and after he worked it loose he stood staring at the sparkling emerald in the ring. The history of his ancestors was carried in this heirloom of his house and he idly traced the serpents and flowers with his finger. He shook himself from his musings, removed his boots and clothing and got into bed. After blowing out the lamp, he lay awake for a long time, his hands clasped behind his head as he stared up towards the ceiling, lost in thought.

0-0-0

Standing at the gates of the village in the faint light that heralded the rising of the sun, Estel and his brothers took leave of each other. “You will do well, muindor-nín,” Elladan said quietly as he embraced Estel. He kept his hands on the young man’s shoulders as he stepped back and his piercing grey eyes studied him intently, knowing he would miss his youngest brother in the months and years ahead. “Remember that Adar would not have told you of your heritage if he did not believe that you were ready for this. Heed Halhigal’s counsel, and do what you believe is best for your people. You have learned from the very best of teachers, Estel, do not doubt yourself.” Elladan embraced him again.

“I will remember your words,” Estel replied, “Navaer, Elladan. Be well.” He turned to Elrohir and embraced him tightly. “You also be safe as you journey, muindor-nín, I shall miss you.”

“And I will miss you,” the elf replied with a smile. Elrohir paused as he considered the young man before him. He knew he would see Estel again in a few years, once his brother had settled into his role as Chieftain. But Elrohir knew that things would not be the same between them ever again, that his younger brother would have changed during that time, matured in the way that men did so quickly at this age of their lives. He had seen it happen with many of Estel’s ancestors over the last several thousand years, though he had never been as close to any of them as he was to Estel. “I will watch over your naneth whenever I am in Imladris.” Estel gave him a grateful smile. “This may seem like a strange thing to say, Estel, but try and enjoy this time.” Elrohir smiled at the puzzled look the young man gave him and he continued in a quiet voice, laying his hand on Estel’s shoulder. “Yes, enjoy it. I know that some parts may be difficult for you, but you should already see some things that you will enjoy. Teaching Nimrie about healing will be one thing and I believe that you and Halbarad are getting along well. There will be other things as well. Do not become so overburdened with the responsibilities that you now have, young one, that you do not enjoy life.”

“I will try not to,” Estel said slowly, “and I do like Halbarad,” he added with a smile.

“I thought as much. Navaer, Estel. Elrohir kissed his brow and embraced him before mounting his horse. The two elves rode through the gates and Estel watched them until they were out of sight before turning back to the village. A black and white dog lay in the lane behind him and it thumped its tail and lifted its head in greeting. Estel crouched down and fondled its ears and spoke to the dog for a moment before walking on. People were beginning to stir now from the houses as Estel began to slowly walk back towards his uncle’s house. He and his brothers had gotten up very early so that the two elves could leave with the dawn for their journey south to Tharbad and then east to Lothlórien. Reaching the smithy, Estel paused at the opening and looked around curiously, wondering if there was one man who did the smithing work for the village or if each man did his own work as needed. The forge was unlit in any case. As he moved towards the next building a slight movement caught the corner of his eye and his hand went to his sword and then stilled as he turned and saw a boy sitting on a small bench almost hidden back between the two buildings. As Estel looked closer he realized the boy was older than he had first thought, perhaps fifteen or sixteen, and the movement that had caught his eye was when the boy had turned the page of the book he was reading. Wondering what book brought a boy out to read at this time of the morning, especially when it was so cool, Estel turned down between the buildings to speak with him. So engrossed was he in the book, the boy did not look up until Estel spoke.

“What are you reading?”

Alvist jumped and almost dropped his precious book into the dew-dampened grass. “Don’t scare me like that! I almost dropped my book,” he said, irritably, not looking up as he checked the book for damage.

“Forgive me,” Estel said. A smile covered his face, both because of the fact the boy very obviously loved to read, which was something that he, himself enjoyed doing, and because he knew that the boy would be embarrassed as soon as he looked up and saw who he was speaking to. “Is the book undamaged?”

“Yes,” Alvist said with a sigh, finally looking up. His eyes widened and his face paled as he jumped to his feet. “F-forgive m-me, Lord Aragorn,” he said, bowing. “I-I didn’t…”

“Peace, it is all right,” Estel said with a small laugh. “I should not have startled you like that. What is your name?”

“Alvist, my lord,” he replied, swallowing hard, but otherwise recovered from the shock of seeing his Chieftain standing in front of him in the early morning light.

“What are you reading? May I see your book?”

Alvist handed it to Estel and he began flipping through the pages as Alvist began telling him about it. “It’s a history of Númenor, my lord, it’s very good.” Estel recognized it as a book that he had read and the print as one that Erestor had copied out – a long time ago by the looks of the binding. He was not surprised that some books from Imladris had been given to the people of Dolomar.

“It is a good book,” Estel nodded, handing it back, “I read that one several years ago. Why are you sitting out here reading? It is very cool to be outside at this time of day.”

“My naneth lets me come here because my little sister wakes up and is very noisy in the morning and later I’m too busy too read,” Alvist shrugged. “I’d rather come here than not be able to read at all.”

“I understand,” Estel said quietly and then asked, “How old are you?”

“Fifteen, my lord,” he straightened up.

“What do you do the rest of the day?” Estel asked, deciding that he might as well find out how the boys spent their days. He gestured for Alvist to sit back down and Estel joined him on the bench.

Alvist knew that the Chieftain had been raised in Imladris and didn’t really know how things worked in Dolomar so he tried to answer him as completely as he could. “It depends on the time of year, my lord, but right now we’re harvesting the crops and that takes a lot of extra work. I also help take care of the sheep and the cows and, of course, our own chickens. In the spring and summer we also have big vegetable gardens to take care of. I go out with the other boys and help get firewood.” Estel raised his eyebrows at the thought of boys this young out in the woods and he wondered if any men went along, but he made no comment and let Alvist continue. “Boys my age and older help with the watch at the gate, but only during the day and two of us work together because it takes two of us to close it. Of course, then we have to practice with our bows and swords and that takes time, too.” His brow furrowed as he thought for a moment and then he shrugged. “I think that’s all, my lord.”

“You are busy, Alvist, and it sounds like you work hard for… our people. I understand why you take this time in the morning by yourself,” Estel commented quietly. He had questions but he decided to direct those to Halhigal instead of to Alvist who might not know the answers. Standing and stretching, Estel looked down at the boy standing alongside him and gave him a small smile. “Forgive me for interrupting your morning. I brought a few books with me and you may borrow any of them that you have not read.”

Alvist eyes sparkled, “Thank you, Lord Aragorn. I would very much like to read some of your books, I’m sure they’re different than the ones here in the village.” He laughed, “I’ve read all the ones in the village anyway.”

Estel’s eyes widened, “Truly? You have already read all the books in the village?” He did not know how many that might be, but knowing that each village had basic schooling for their children and knowing that the Dúnedain were far more literate than most men in Arnor he assumed that many homes might have at least a few books.

“Yes, even this one,” he held up the one in his hand. “But I’m reading it again anyway; I still learn things when I read them a second time.”

“Yes, you do,” Estel murmured absently, already thinking about ways to get more books to this boy. He would have to see about contacting Erestor and seeing if things could be sent here. Estel did not know if it was possible, but it was something he intended to find out. Something else he would have to speak with Halhigal about, he decided. He glanced down at the boy who was biting his lip, an anxious look in his eyes. Estel laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze, “I will see what I can do about getting more books for you, Alvist. I do not know if it is possible, but I will try.” Estel did not know what the future held and he wanted to nurture any gifts or interests his young men and women had, at least if it was possible. Alvist would become a Ranger, like almost every boy in this village, but that did not mean he could not pursue other interests as time allowed. “I must go before someone thinks I became lost,” Estel said, smiling as he turned to walk away.

“Thank you, my lord,” Alvist said, bowing deeply. He watched his Chieftain for a moment and then turned and sprinted around the back of the building to get home as quickly as possible to tell his naneth his news.

Estel had barely stepped back onto the main lane when he was hailed by Halbarad. “My adar is looking for you,” he said as neared.

“Where is he?” Estel asked as he looked around.

“At the stables; I think he wants to show you those and then take you out to look at the fields and around the outside of the stockade,” Halbarad gave a small shrug.

“I saw the stables,” Estel replied as they headed in the direction of the gate, “when I checked on my horse and saw my brothers off.” Halbarad did not respond other than another small shrug as he was watching a young woman who was approaching.

“Good morning, Lord Aragorn, Halbarad,” she greeted them with a smile as she walked past with two empty buckets swinging gently from her hands.

“Good morning, Braniell,” Halbarad replied with a smile of his own, while Estel just inclined his head and said, “Lady.” Both were quiet as they walked on for several paces and then finally Halbarad asked, “Is she not pretty?”

Estel gave him a startled look, “That girl?” Halbarad nodded, puzzled at his response. “I suppose she is, Halbarad,” he said slowly. “I confess that I was trying to remember whose daughter she is. I think she is Faelon’s daughter, is she not?” He could not and would never tell Halbarad or anyone about his love for Arwen whose beauty so overwhelmed him that it made it hard for him to see beauty in other women.

Halbarad nodded again and then began to laugh quietly, “I think you might be the only man I know who would be more concerned about who the father of a pretty girl is than the girl herself. But then you are young,” he pointed out with a small grin as they neared the stables.

“I have been told that more times than you can imagine, Cousin,” Estel said, shaking his head. “Being surrounded by elves, who are thousands of years old and who were often quick to point out my youth, it hardly impresses me for you, who are a mere three years older than I, to point out my lack of years.” He gave Halbarad a brief grin as they entered the stable. Halbarad chuckled as he followed behind.

Halhigal was waiting with a man that Estel remembered was named Ladreníl. Ladreníl had been injured by orcs years before and now walked with a severe limp and had also lost his left eye. “Good morning, Ladreníl,” Estel greeted the man and the man bowed slightly and returned the greeting. “Halbarad said you were looking for me, Uncle,” he said, turning to Halhigal with a questioning look.

“I thought to show you the stables and then take you outside the walls and show you around, but Rosruin informed me that you were already here this morning with… your brothers,” Halhigal said with just the slightest bit of hesitation, not used to thinking of Aragorn as having brothers. “So we will go and look at the fields and livestock and such. I asked Ladreníl to join us because he is in charge of the village when I am away.” Estel gave the man an appraising look and Ladreníl returned his intent gaze steadily; Estel gave a small nod and turned back to his uncle to find he was watching him with narrowed eyes. “Ladreníl also trains our boys and young men in archery,” Halhigal continued after a moment. “He is an excellent archer.”

“Who teaches them swordplay?”

Halhigal grimaced. “Right now their fathers do what teaching they can when they are here and Ladreníl does some, although,” he shot the man a rueful glance, “the sword is not his best weapon and I’m reluctant to have him do much teaching.” At Aragorn’s questioning look he continued, “The man who taught our boys died about a year ago and I do not have enough men to pull one back from the patrols to teach them.”

Estel frowned and stared down at the straw covered floor of the stable. He knew how important it was for them to have skilled teachers for all of the weapons they used. Soon they would be out facing orcs, wolves, wargs, and other evil creatures of darkness, or perhaps simply bandits who sometimes plagued these parts of Eriador. If they did not have the proper skills, then his men could quickly be killed, it was a problem that must be overcome quickly. He looked back up and met his uncle’s questioning eyes and spoke quietly, “Perhaps once I know a little more and can be out patrolling with the men, then you will be able to have someone teach them. I know how important it is… do you have someone in mind?”

“Yes, I do,” Halhigal nodded, “He’s very good with a sword and I think it might be time for him to stop patrolling.”

“Will he work well with the boys?” Estel asked sharply. Something about the way his uncle made the remark about the man needing to stop patrolling made him wonder. He did not want just anyone working with them even if they were good with a sword. Having been taught by Glorfindel, who was always firm with him, yet patient and understanding, he wanted someone similar for these boys. He had sensed that Ladreníl was a patient and kind man and so with Halhigal’s knowledge of his skills Estel felt he probably worked well with the boys and young men.

Startled by the sharpness in Aragorn’s voice, Halhigal blinked and then nodded, “Yes, I believe he will, Aragorn, but when you meet him if you don’t think so then we can find someone else.” He gave Aragorn a small smile, “It will be your decision of course,” he pointed out.

“Yes, I suppose it is,” Estel agreed after a moment’s pause.

“Who taught you to use a sword, Aragorn?” Halbarad asked. Halhigal motioned them toward the door and Aragorn answered as they walked outside and towards the gate.

“Lord Glorfindel taught me how to use my sword, though my brothers also helped from time to time and I sparred with them quite frequently. Elrohir is an excellent archer and I learned archery mostly from him, though again I had other teachers at times.”

“Lord Elrohir is the best archer I’ve ever seen,” Ladreníl commented. At Aragorn’s questioning look he continued quietly. “I rode out with him and Lord Elladan many times, Lord Aragorn. This,” he gestured to his face and leg, “only happened ten years ago.”

“Are you better with a sword or a bow, Aragorn?” Halbarad asked, glancing at his cousin from the corner of his eye. He wanted to ask him to spar, but he was not sure if he should do that so soon after meeting him as he was three years older and he did not want to embarrass his cousin. Though Aragorn had been trained by elves and that worried him a bit.

“A sword,” Estel gave his cousin a very brief smile. He knew how good he was even though he had never sparred with a man before. But he had been trained by and sparred with elves for half his life and from things his brothers had told him, Estel knew that his skills were probably greater than any of the Dúnedain. Though of course he would never say that to anyone nor would he ever approach a sparring match with that in mind, but he was very confident of his sword skills.

“Would you like to spar later if there is time?” Halbarad asked.

Estel eyed him for a moment and then shrugged, “If there is time.”

“I would like to spar with you as well,” Halhigal said, even though he had a very good idea how well trained Aragorn was with a sword.

“Why do I have this feeling that many men are going to want to spar with me?” Estel mused softly, gazing into the distance for a moment before looking back at his uncle. “Yes, of course I will spar with you.”

The talk then turned to how the village was run and they spent the rest of the morning looking at the herd of cows, the flock of sheep, and walking through the fields. They talked briefly to the people who were harvesting the crops. Most of the villagers were in the fields that day, only a few had stayed behind to care for the smallest children and some who were standing guard at the gates. Harvest required everyone’s help and Halhigal could feel Aragorn’s uneasiness at merely watching and his desire to help with the work but he made no comment and instead turned to show the Chieftain the sheds used for the making of soap and candles and the one for the tanning of hides.

Estel learned that while individual families owned the cows and the sheep, all of the boys of the village were responsible for caring for them. They had to take the animals to and from the pens inside the stockade each morning and evening and help the women milk the cows. The sheep were kept for the wool they provided and were even more highly prized than the cows. The majority of the clothing that the villagers wore came from the cloth spun from the wool. Any extra cloth was taken by the men to villages like Bree to be traded for things that were needed.

The crops belonged to the whole village and were shared as each family needed and it was the same with the summer gardens, though some families planted additional vegetables that they particularly enjoyed. Because the men of the village were gone the majority of the time and were not usually able to hunt for their families, meat that was brought in was typically shared. The young men went out as often as they could in search of deer and other large game, and the other men that remained in the village who were not yet too old or were uninjured joined them whenever possible. Some of the boys had traps out for smaller game such as rabbits and also went fishing in the nearby stream. Estel was becoming more and more appalled at the hard life the women and children had to endure, not that he thought it was any easier on the men.

As they walked back to the village Halhigal and Ladreníl continued answering Aragorn’s many questions. Ladreníl was impressed by both the types of questions his Chieftain was asking and the fact that the young man was not content with just a simple answer. He wanted his questions answered completely and was not satisfied until they were. Ladreníl was eighty-two and had served under three chieftains - Arathorn, Arador, and Argonui - and had been somewhat skeptical of having such a young man taking over as Chieftain even if he was the son of Arathorn and the heir of Isildur. While Ladreníl still intended to reserve his judgment on Aragorn until he observed him for a time, he already felt much relieved. As they walked back down the main lane of the village, he pointed out the house to the right of the Community Hall. “That is your house, Lord Aragorn, you were born there.”

Estel stopped and looked at the house. It looked little different than the other houses, except that he could tell that the women had spent time cleaning it as the window was sparkling and new curtains hung there. “I would like to see it,” he said quietly and moved towards the door. The three other men started to follow and he stopped again and looked between them and the house and then shook his head. “I would like to do this alone. Were there other things you intended to show me today, Ladreníl?” The man shook his head and Estel looked at his uncle. “And did you have things you thought I should see?”

“No,” Halhigal shook his head, his eyes softening with understanding as he looked at his nephew, “but we can talk when you’re finished here, I’ll be at home.”

“All right,” Estel nodded and walked up to the door of the house and with just the slightest bit of hesitation, opened the door and walked in. He stood, leaning back against the door for a moment, to let his eyes adjust and then looked around somewhat hesitantly. He was not sure what he expected to see, but the room was little different than his aunt and uncle’s home. Pushing off from the door, Estel walked first to the hearth and ran his hand gently across the mantle and looked at the pegs above it that might have held a sword. The sword Arathorn, Arador, and others of his line had wielded. A sword he had been given several months ago and yet remained hidden with the shards of Narsil with his bedroll and other items under the bed in his room. It was something he did not feel comfortable using; he had not yet earned the right to wield it. With a small sigh, Estel turned and moved to the table, wondering how many meals Arathorn…his father and his naneth had actually gotten to sit together and eat at it. He knew that things had been worse then than they were now. Ten years ago, the dragon, Smaug, had been killed and the Battle of the Five Armies after his death had killed off a considerable number of orcs in the northern parts of Middle-earth. Though Estel knew it was just a matter of time until the number of orcs in the Misty Mountains increased again.

Like his uncle’s home, this house - Estel had a hard time calling it his, though he knew that eventually he would move into it – also had three bedrooms and he quickly glanced into each of them. One was empty and the other two were furnished similarly to his own. He wondered which one he had been born in and then smiled inwardly, wondering why it even mattered. Standing in the middle of the main room, Estel took one last look around, somewhat disappointed that some type of memories had not been triggered by looking through the house even though he knew that everything was different than it had been and he had only been two when he had left. Still, he had hoped that he might have some memories of this house even if he had none of the village itself.

Stepping outside, Estel immediately spotted Halbarad leaning against a nearby tree, obviously waiting for him and he gave him a questioning look.

Halbarad just shrugged slightly, “I thought you might need to spar now.” He did not know what memories might have been stirred up by going into the house, but he thought it might help Aragorn take his mind off things by practicing his swordplay.

Estel gave him a long considering look and then he gave his cousin a very small smile, “I believe I do need to spar, Halbarad. Lead the way.”

~~~

To be continued…

Reviewers: Thanks to everyone who reads the story and especially to those who review, I appreciate the encouragement. I will answer everyone by email if I have an address.

Elvish Translations:

Adar – Father
Muindor-nín – My brother
Navaer - Farewell
Naneth - Mother


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