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7
Chapter 7

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


~~~

Grey smoke lingered low over Taurnand like a dense fog and the reek of burning wood and other unidentifiable things hung heavily in the air as Estel, Halhigal, and Halbarad ran swiftly to the village. What had been indistinct noise could now clearly be heard as the sounds of frightened animals as well as the frantic cries of the villagers. Pounding on the gate brought no immediate response and the three men exchanged worried glances wondering how to let the people know they were there. A cry from the wall above made them look up.

“Halhigal!” A young man appeared briefly overhead and then ducked back inside. A moment later, a creaking sound was heard and the gate was opened enough to let the three men inside. “Halhigal,” Eradan said again as he pushed the gate shut. “Thank the Valar you and your men arrived when you did,” he said fervently. “I don’t think we could’ve held out much longer.”

“Where is Celeblas?” Halhigal asked, looking around at the destruction. Young men, women, and some of the older boys were still fighting the fires that were burning, though they appeared to be mostly under control now. Several houses and several of the other buildings had been completely destroyed. He started to walk on but stopped abruptly at Eradan’s answer.

“Celeblas is dead,” he said, struggling to hold back his tears. Eradan stared down at the ground and took a deep breath; there was no time for tears and grief right now. He wiped a dirty sleeve across his eyes before looking back up at Halhigal.

“How?” Halhigal asked, noticing that Aragorn had quietly directed Halbarad to wait at the gate for Gilost while he himself continued quickly down the main lane of the village. Halhigal followed with Eradan at his side.

“An orc arrow got him early in the battle,” the young man said with a deep, weary sigh.

“Did you lose many others?”

“I don’t know. I know that there are a few wounded and some with burns, but how many of them are serious…” Eradan’s voice trembled slightly and then trailed off, and he suddenly looked his nineteen years.

Halhigal rubbed his forehead as he thought. Losing Celeblas was a tragedy this village could ill afford right now. Besides the personal grief that he felt - he had known the village leader for more than forty years - the people of the village needed a strong leader right now. Having Aragorn and himself would help, but it did not take the place of the man that had led them for many years. Halhigal glanced at the young man, “Is your family well?”

“Adar and Laegrist are out on patrol of course and Naneth is well, she’s helping care for the injured,” Eradan gestured down the lane ahead of them.

“Good,” Halhigal patted the young man’s shoulder. “Guard the gate, Eradan. Gilost will be arriving soon with our horses.” He thought for a moment, “Do you know where Gelmir is?” Gelmir was the oldest man in the village and would be the logical choice to speak with since Celeblas was dead.

“No, I don’t. I haven’t seen him since this started.” Halhigal nodded and the two of them went their separate ways.

0-0-0

Estel decided to leave Halhigal to discuss the leadership of the village with the young man, though he was grieved to hear that Celeblas had died. But he knew there must be wounded people that needed his care and they could not wait. He jogged down what appeared to be the main road of the village in search of the healing room. The road curved around between several buildings and he was not quite sure it would lead him in the right direction until it widened out into a large open square. Several more burnt out buildings lined the square on one side and he shook his head sadly. He easily found the building that housed the healing room, the light from the rising sun enabled him to see quite clearly now and there were a small number of people gathered outside the small building. They were sitting on the porch, their clothing spotted with black soot; their faces lined with grief, their eyes anguished and, in some cases, full of pain as well. Sweeping his intent grey eyes over his people, Estel saw that several of the ones that were seated – some with small, crying children being held and rocked by women or older girls - also had injuries of varying degrees. Some of the injuries appeared quite serious, broken bones and burns at least. It indicated that those inside must be sorely injured if these ones were not being taken care of… or there was no one to help them. He stopped abruptly at the covered bodies that he saw off to one side of the building. Three adult sized bodies and two smaller ones lay there, though he could not guess the ages of the smaller ones. Grimacing in frustration at their failure to arrive in time to stop the attack on the village, Estel ran his hand through his hair and continued on.

Lightly running up the steps to the porch Estel paused briefly and then began making his way into the building. “Pardon me,” he said quietly as he made his way through the people on the small porch. People grudgingly moved aside for him, murmuring under their breath as he passed, but he knew they were not really aware of him, they were focused on their own pain and grief. Estel opened the door and walked in, stopping just inside the room looking around in horror as the smell of burnt flesh and the moans and the cries of the injured hit him. He took a deep breath and steeled his heart at what must be done; while he knew how to deal with burns it was not something he had ever done. He did know that it was incredibly painful for those so injured and his heart ached for the people lying here, especially as several of them were quite young. There were also a couple of young men with arrow wounds, though those could wait as they did not appear as life-threatening as some of those who were burned. The room was larger than the one in Dolomar which surprised Estel as the village itself had fewer people. There were six beds in the room and all of them were occupied and several other injured villagers lay on the floor. One man and one woman were working feverishly trying to help one of the patients, but the number of injured was clearly overwhelming them.

“Wait outside with the others,” Nestad said in a sharp, strained voice as he heard the door open. “It’s too crowded in here as it is.”

Estel turned sharply and looked at the man he assumed was the healer for a moment. “I am here to help you,” he stated calmly as he looked around for a place to put his bow and sword.

“Oh.” Nestad looked up then and realized he didn’t know him. Taking in his filthy, blood stained clothing, he commented, “You are one of the Rangers that just arrived. Someone mentioned that help had come,” he sighed, wiping his forehead with his sleeve and looked back down at the burned young boy he was tending. “Well, we can certainly use the help. You do have training as a healer?” He did not want someone cluttering up the room that would just get in the way, untrained people only made his job more difficult. Although he had never had so many patients to deal with at one time and he knew that he would need to call in some of the women once he got things under control and once the fires had died down.

“Yes.”

“Good. We’ve given all of them willow bark tea to help with some of their pain until we can treat them, but,” he frowned, “it can only do so much.” Nestad abruptly returned to his own patient.

Estel set his things in a corner before turning to the fire. Taking a cloth he wrapped it around the handle of the steaming kettle and poured hot water in a small basin sitting on the table next to the hearth. As he waited for the water to cool a bit, he looked around the room to see where the supplies were located and found them on open shelves across the room from where he was standing. He noted the large piles of clean cloths and the bandaging materials and hoped it would be enough. Looking down at his filthy tunic, Estel decided to remove it; it would take the worst of the black orc blood away while he worked. While he could do nothing about his leggings or the bloody sleeves on his shirt he did roll up the sleeves before he thoroughly washed his hands with the hot water and the rough bar of soap.

Assuming that the healer was already dealing with the most severely injured villager, Estel looked around at the rest to find the patient that most needed his help and quickly just moved to the nearest bed. All of them were badly injured and in need of immediate care. A young girl lay on the bed and he crouched down next to her looking her over carefully. She was breathing normally, but her once blue nightdress was now mostly black with soot and full of holes where it had been burned and ripped. From what he could glimpse though the holes in her clothes, Estel could see that her skin was deep red and blistering in many places. Pulling his belt knife, he was preparing to cut off the nightdress when he became aware of eyes on him and he looked up into the frightened, pain-filled bluish grey eyes of the girl.

“Hello,” Estel said softly. “My name is Estel and I am going to help you. What is your name?” he gently wiped the dark hair back off her face in a soothing manner.

“Celin,” she whispered hoarsely. “I’m nine.” She began to cough and tears trickled down her cheeks and into her ears at the pain brought on by the movement. Estel looked around for water for her to drink. There was a small bucket by the fire and cups hanging on hooks above it and he quickly poured a small amount of water for her and carefully helped her drink it. Celin lay back with a weary sigh and seemed to drift off to sleep again and Estel frowned. He needed more water than what the bucket held and he would like someone to help him when he needed things; he did not want to leave the girl alone once he started cleaning her burns. Estel looked over at the healer.

“I need more water, both to clean these wounds and for the patients to drink.” Estel knew that people who had been burned needed a lot of fluids to replace what was lost through the burned areas. “And is there anyone who can help me hold down this child when I start cleaning her wounds? Her mother or one of those women perhaps?” he gestured over his shoulder towards the women outside.

Nestad looked up from where he was still carefully tending the burned boy. “Her mother is there,” he pointed to a woman lying on another bed and Estel could see her burns were extensive, her breathing ragged. Nestad continued, “I’ll send for the water.” He glanced at the woman helping him, “Laereth, go and ask some of the boys to bring us as much water as they can.” He paused briefly, frowning. “Hopefully they’re done using the buckets for the fires - tell them to clean the buckets out first.” Laereth nodded and turned towards the door. “And get someone to help…” Nestad looked at Estel and realized he did not know his name. “What’s your name?”

“Estel,” he answered without thinking, having already turned back to the girl and was carefully cutting off her nightdress, missing the confused look Nestad shot him. He had never heard that name for a man of the Dúnedain.

“I’m Nestad,” the healer said with a slight frown as he returned to his own patient wondering who this Ranger was. But he quickly dismissed the matter from his mind, it appeared that Estel was a competent healer and that was all that mattered.

Estel eased the nightdress off the girl, blocking out the sounds of her quiet whimpers as he gently moved her. He murmured soothingly to her in elvish as he turned an assessing gaze to her burns, which were scattered all over the upper half of her body. From the things his adar had taught him and the detailed drawings he had studied, Estel thought these burns were not the deepest types of burns that someone could suffer, they were slightly less severe. If she received proper treatment and the burns did not become infected, she had a good chance of surviving, though the number of burns ensured that she would suffer great pain as she healed. Many of the blisters had broken open and were raw and weeping fluid and he knew they must be gently cleaned and covered. Estel quickly returned to the fire and poured another basin of hot water and carried it back to the bed and then brought a basin of cool water as well. Taking a leaf of athelas he breathed on it and crumbled it into the hot water and left it to steep and the water to cool. Without someone to help him keep the girl still he did not want to set it beside her lest it spill. Taking a clean cloth, he dipped it in the cool water and began gently cleaning the burns, starting with a small burn on her face and working his way down her body, holding her squirming body still with one hand and ignoring her moans. Estel had only been working a few minutes when a woman joined him.

“How can I help?” Malrín asked as she knelt down opposite Estel, biting her lip as she looked at Celin.

“Right now I need you to get me more cool water and some clean cloths and then I want you to hold her still for me,” Estel replied, glancing at her and then giving her a brief, reassuring smile upon seeing the young woman’s nervousness. Malrín hurried away to do as he asked while Estel continued on and then the two of them worked silently together for a time upon her return. When the water in which the athelas had been steeping was cool, Estel lightly rewashed each burn and Malrín looked at him, surprised by the pleasant scent of flowers it gave off.

“What is that?” she whispered.

“Athelas,” he replied absently, not looking up from the girl’s burned body. Never had he imagined that a body could suffer these kinds of burns and live and yet he knew that these were not even the worst types of burns. The burns the boy Nestad was tending appeared worse and he was sure that some of those covered bodies he had seen outside had died from burns... burns and, most likely, inhaling the smoke or being hit by falling debris. Estel thrust those thoughts aside and concentrated on helping the living. He finally finished cleaning each of the girl’s many burns and he sat back on his heels and thought for a moment about the different salves and things that would be best for the burns. “Do you have honey?”

“In here? Whatever for?” Malrín asked, shocked.

“It works well as a salve for burns and will help them from becoming infected.”

“We have it,” Nestad said, “It’s in the large dark brown crock on the right side of the shelf.” Malrín retrieved it shaking her head in wonderment.

Estel carefully dabbed the honey on each burn and then lightly wrapped them, taking extra care around the burns on her fingers and he did not wrap the burn on her face, though he did apply a thin layer of honey to it. He was aware when Halbarad entered the room and set his pack down beside him, though his cousin said nothing, simply patting his shoulder before leaving. Celin had drifted into unconsciousness at some point and so Estel directed Malrín to begin boiling more water and then to pour it into large basins while he finished with the girl. When he finished he carefully wrapped a blanket around her before standing and stretching. Estel washed his hands thoroughly before starting more basins of athelas steeping and moving on to the next patient, a boy he guessed to be somewhere around fifteen who was also burned and he started the whole process over.

Estel lost track of the time as he worked steadily on the injured, it often took hours to clean and cover the burns on a single patient, and some of them also had broken bones where parts of a building had fallen on them. Then there were the two young men with arrows that needed to be removed and he and Nestad each tended to one of those before they began calling in the less severely wounded who were waiting on the porch. At some point during the long day two other women came in to help with the wounded, women Estel assumed had been helping with the fires or some other things that needed doing around the village. He imagined that there were many, many things that needed to be taken care of right now.

Nestad had looked at Estel appraisingly when he began using athelas though he said nothing at the time. There were few healers that used the plant as there was only one person that could completely release its full healing potential. He was aware that the Chieftain had returned to the Dúnedain and he wondered if it was this young man. That he called himself Estel and not Aragorn puzzled him but he pushed that thought to the back of his mind to deal with later and instead asked if he could use the athelas infused water as well and Estel had simply nodded and made more. Nestad was not a fool and he knew that athelas prepared by the hands of the Chieftain would be more healing than anything else that could be done for the patients. If nothing else the sweet smelling fragrance began to overpower the smell of burnt flesh that filled the room. During the occasional glimpses Nestad took of Estel tending a patient, he could see that he was a gifted healer and, more than that, a compassionate one as he spoke calmly and soothingly to those who were awake.

Tiredly washing his chapped hands for the last time… at least for now, Estel glanced around the room with a discerning eye. All of the injured had been made as comfortable as possible and those that could walk had been helped home, or at least to someone’s home to rest and recover. Left in the healing room were the eight with the worst injuries and while he thought that most of them would survive, he and Nestad were concerned about the young boy, Culas, that Nestad had been tending when he first arrived and an older woman – the mother of Culas and Celin. Drying his hands, Estel slumped back against the wall and glanced out the window at the stars, not really surprised to discover that it was only a couple of hours before midnight. Halhigal had come in several times throughout the day and spoken to him briefly and quietly about immediate arrangements for the village until finally Estel had told him to just do what he thought best and that he would speak with him later. He had eaten a couple of bites of bread and cheese at some point during the day but had never finished it and Estel realized how hungry he was and wondered where he might get some food, though sleep sounded wonderful as well. And a bath or at least a change of clothes he thought as he glanced down at his blood stained clothing.

“Are you hungry, my lord?” Nestad’s low voice brought Estel’s head up.

“Yes, I… how did you know?” he knew he had introduced himself as Estel and while it had not been on purpose or with the intent to deceive it had allowed him to simply be himself as he tended to the patients.

Nestad gave a short, quiet laugh. “Not many healers use athelas, my lord, nor does Halhigal come and seek the advice of a young man such as yourself on important matters. I had heard that you had returned, but I didn’t know you were called Estel,” he said, frowning. His tired, dark-rimmed eyes were puzzled.

“I did not mean to deceive you, Nestad. My name is Aragorn but Estel is the name I was called during my years in Imladris and when you asked I said it without thinking. Forgive me,” he gave the man an apologetic smile before yawning.

Nestad snorted, “Forgive you? Of course, though you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m just glad you were here, no matter who you are. People would have died without another healer here.”

Estel nodded before he replied. “They would have… they still might.”

“Yes, perhaps. Come, Laereth will watch over them for a time while we eat.” Nestad led the way outside and stopped on the porch, taking a deep breath of the cool night air, thankful that there was only a faint lingering scent of smoke. Halbarad was sitting on the edge of the porch leaning back against a pole, sleeping. Estel walked over to him on silent feet and nudged him with his boot.

“Wake up, Cousin.”

Halbarad opened one eye and peered up at Aragorn, “I’m awake, Aragorn.” He sat all the way up, stretching his back, somewhat sore from all the digging out and lifting he had done that day. “Adar wants to see you when you’re done here,” he glanced behind Aragorn.

“This is Nestad,” Estel indicated the healer, “and this is my cousin, Halbarad.” The men exchanged nods. “What does he want?”

Halbarad shrugged, “He didn’t say, I just know he wanted to see you as soon as you were finished.”

Estel frowned and then turned back to Nestad, “It appears you will have to eat without me. I will return when I can or, if you need me, I will be at,” he looked questioningly at Halbarad.

“Gelmir’s house.” The men parted and Estel and Halbarad walked quietly for a time, Halbarad giving his cousin little looks of concern from the corner of his eye as the younger man yawned frequently and kept rubbing his eyes.

“I am all right,” Estel said after a time. “I have a headache,” he shrugged, “tired, of course, but probably no more than you.”

“I slept for several hours this evening. Did you take anything for your pain?” Halbarad asked, already knowing the answer and not in the least surprised when his cousin shook his head. Halbarad frowned. “You should have,” he chided softly.

“Perhaps, but I fear that we will not have enough for those that are seriously hurt, Halbarad. There are so many of them and some of them are so young,” he whispered.

Halbarad grimaced, “I know, I saw them earlier. How many died?”

“Five that I know of, there may have been more,” Estel shook his head. “I do not know what happened out here while I was tending them.”

“A lot happened,” Halbarad said grimly. “All of the food supplies were destroyed, Aragorn. Both of the buildings where the wheat and corn was stored and the building where the dried meat was kept were burned to the ground.”

Estel stopped in his tracks, a look of horror on his face. “Everything is gone?” Halbarad nodded continuing to walk and after a moment Estel followed him, his mind racing with the implications for the people of Taurnand. “Nothing could be salvaged?”

“A little, but not much. Gilost and I and some of the young men and women spent our day trying to recover what we could, but it’s not much. It won’t last long with this many people.”

Reaching Gelmir’s house, they found Halhigal and Gelmir sitting on the porch waiting for them, a small oil lamp providing light. Introductions were swiftly made and Estel finally sat down in a chair with a weary sigh, running his hands through his hair as he leaned against the back of the chair, stretching his long legs out in front of him.

“Can I get you something to eat or drink, Lord Aragorn?” Gelmir inquired politely with a quick little bob of his head.

“Yes, something simple would be fine,” Estel answered and the man stood and slowly hobbled inside. Estel wondered what had happened to him and then shook the thoughts away at his uncle’s question.

“How are the injured, Aragorn?”

“I am quite concerned about two of them but I think that the other six in the healing room will recover in time. We sent the rest home to be cared for by others. Nestad, Laereth, and I will watch over the ones still there… at least for a few days.”

Halhigal slowly shook his head as he quietly advised his nephew. “I would suggest that Nestad and Laereth watch over them, Aragorn, and that you attend on them only if there is great need.” He paused at Aragorn’s wide-eyed stare. “There was such a need today, but the people need you to be their leader tomorrow, Aragorn. Celeblas is dead and Gelmir is not in a position to take on that responsibility. They need someone strong to give them hope,” he gave his nephew a small smile, “and to lead them through this.”

“You are here and they know you,” Estel pointed out weakly, knowing it was a losing argument even as he said it. Halhigal did not bother responding and Estel knew his uncle was right, but his heart ached for his injured people and he would be with them to ease their pain if he could. Though he knew that Nestad did not really need him now and the healer could summon him. And it was his responsibility to see to the needs of all of his people not just those that were injured. Estel stared into the darkness briefly before meeting his uncle’s eyes again and giving him a brisk nod. He asked Halbarad to go and inform Nestad that he would not be returning but that the healer was to send for him immediately if he was needed. Estel watched Halbarad walk away and then started when a large black dog laid its head in his lap and then he relaxed and began petting it absently as he and his uncle continued their discussion.

“The dead will need to be buried in the morning,” Halhigal said. He waited for some response from Aragorn and continued when he said nothing. “You will need to see to that, Aragorn, and to say something when they are buried.”

“Me?” Estel frowned and closed his eyes wearily. Until today he had never even seen a dead body other than that of an orc or an animal. Elves did not die unless of great grief or in a battle and none had on any of the patrols he had been on. He opened his eyes and saw Halhigal gazing at him with compassion and something in his uncle’s eyes reminded Estel of his naneth. “What…what do I say at something like that? I’ve never been to a funeral before and I do not know any of these people.”

“Speak from your heart, Aragorn. That is what people will remember and what they will cherish. You can talk to any of the family members before the funeral and find out about them, but I would advise you to keep it simple and speak from your heart.”

Estel nodded and looked up as Gelmir came back out with his food. He gently pushed the dog away and dug into a hot bowl of stew and a thick slice of bread that was thinly spread with butter. A large cup of ale and an apple were set within easy reach and he smiled his thanks at Gelmir. Gelmir took his leave of them, pleading old age and fatigue and they wished him good-night as he left. Halhigal picked up the conversation where they had left off.

“The villagers know that you do not know them and will not expect you to speak of the individuals… there are too many of them,” Halhigal looked away briefly as he thought of the loss of life here. It was the most lives that had been lost at one time since the attack on Dolomar three years ago. That the villages were being attacked so frequently was alarming. “Others will speak of the individuals, but you will start the ceremony and end it.” Estel nodded. “You know,” Halhigal continued quietly, “that you will also perform weddings,” he smiled at his nephew.

Estel swallowed the last of his bread before answering, “Those will be enjoyable,” he said with a small smile that quickly faded as he thought of Arwen. But he just as quickly pushed the thought away; it was not something he would focus on or that he could change at this point in his life and so he changed the subject. “Halbarad told me that the food is mostly gone,” he frowned down at the bowl in his hand.

“Yes,” Halhigal rubbed his forehead and frowned as well. “I had them save what they could and it’s in the Hall, but it’s not much. I thought that tomorrow we would have people bring whatever they have stored in their homes to the Hall so that it could be shared with everyone as well. But I doubt that whatever we have will last more than three or four weeks.”

“How many houses were lost?”

“Four, but that’s not as big a problem, mostly it’s the clothing and the bedding that was lost that will be the most difficult to replace,” Halhigal sighed. “People have extras and will share what they can. It will be enough to get them by for now.”

Estel drained the last of his ale and set the cup and the bowl aside; he rubbed his eyes tiredly as he thought, his head still throbbing. He suddenly knew what they must do, though he was not sure how his uncle would respond. “We have to bring back the patrols,” he said quietly. Halhigal slowly began to shake his head and Estel held up his hand to forestall his protests. “These families need their husbands, and fathers, and brothers to provide for them, Uncle.”

“You cannot do that, Aragorn! It will leave areas unprotected and open to attack.”

Estel’s eyes flashed as he responded angrily. “I cannot do that? I thought I was Chieftain of the Dúnedain and could order my Rangers as I wanted. That my people would follow my directions, Uncle Halhigal, is that not true?”

Halhigal backed down. He could see that Aragorn’s exhaustion, grief, and pain had pushed him past his breaking point. This conversation needed to be continued in the morning. “Of course it’s true, Aragorn and I’m sorry for making you think otherwise.” He hesitated and then suggested, “I think we should talk about this in the morning, nothing can be done tonight.”

Estel turned his tired eyes back to Halhigal and nodded once and took a deep, steadying breath. “Yes, we should,” he replied quietly and then continued in an even softer voice that Halhigal had to strain to hear. “Forgive me for speaking to you in such a manner; I had no cause to do so.”

“No, you didn’t,” Halhigal agreed after a brief pause. “Our bedrolls are in the house and I know I could use some sleep.” He stood, waiting for his nephew to join him.

“I think I will wait for Halbarad.”

“I’m here, Aragorn,” he stepped out from around the corner of the house, looking slightly embarrassed. “I didn’t want to interrupt you.”

“Perhaps you should have,” Estel commented with a wry smile as he stood.

Halhigal chuckled and clapped him on the back as the three of them entered the house.

0-0-0

Awake before dawn, Estel eased out of his bedroll and tried to slip quietly from the house, pausing when he noticed the eyes of Gilost and Halbarad watching him from their places on the floor in front of the hearth. He shook his head at their offer to accompany him, explaining his desire to see the village on his own. Glancing around for Halhigal, Estel was still tired enough that it took him a moment to remember that he had taken the last watch with one of the young men of the village. As he walked, villagers were beginning to stir; he could hear them talking as he passed the houses. Estel stopped and looked at the buildings that had been the food storage for the entire village and shook his head at the destruction. All of the fires were on this one side of the village and he wondered if it had been many arrows or if the fire had just spread rapidly, he would have to ask someone. Whichever it had been, it had been the first part of the attack and had caught the people totally unawares which is why so many had died or had been injured.

Finding a tree in a somewhat secluded area, Estel sat under it to consider what needed to be done. While the way he had spoken to Halhigal had been inappropriate, he still believed calling back the Rangers would have to be done. The villagers could not survive here without help and Estel was not willing to risk his peoples’ survival in order to protect an area that may or may not be in immediate danger. Even with the men here though, he did not know how they would get through the winter without having wheat and corn and the other vegetables and fruits that had been gathered and preserved. With the men returning, it could be done, but it would be extremely difficult for them. A thought floated across his mind and he paused and considered it carefully. It was not a solution that anyone would be particularly happy with and yet it was one that would ease the burden of the women and children and would allow the men to return to their duties in a relatively short amount of time. Perhaps it would work. Sighing, Estel leaned back against the tree and the advice Elladan gave to him as they parted came to him, ‘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’. With that thought in mind, he stood and made his way back to Gelmir’s house, stopping and speaking with those he passed, the people of Taurnand, while somber and grieving, still eager to meet him.

Estel met Halhigal as his uncle was going to the Hall and they walked together speaking of the need to gather the food. Finally, Estel broached the subject they had discussed the night before. “I really do believe that we need the men here, Uncle Halhigal. I just do not see how the women and children can survive without their help.” He briefly paused, running his hand through his hair. “I am not willing to risk their lives for the sake of protecting an area of Eriador that may or may not be in danger.” The two of them had stopped in the middle of the lane and were talking in low, urgent voices and people gave them curious looks as they walked by. “Even with them here it will be difficult and…”

Halhigal interrupted him. “Yes, it will be,” he released a heavy sigh as he stared at the ground. “You’re right, Aragorn, it is not something I want to do, but I’ve been thinking about it and you are right. Perhaps we can have some of the other patrols swing a little farther east and cover those areas as well,” Halhigal shrugged.

“I was wondering,” Estel said hesitantly and then continued at Halhigal’s nod. “Do you think we should move these people to the other villages? Split them up between the other four for the winter so that they will have enough clothing and bedding and, most importantly, food. Mainly I was thinking of the wheat, corn, and vegetables, the men can provide meat, but I worry about the other food. Children, especially need those. The men could escort them to the other villages and then return to their patrols. I do know it would be a big burden for the other villages.” He watched Halhigal carefully for his response.

Staring at the ground as Aragorn spoke, Halhigal narrowed his eyes in thought as he tried to think of all that moving the people would entail and finally he shifted his gaze back to his Chieftain and slowly shook his head. “I don’t know, Aragorn. This village would probably be destroyed over the winter and these people could never come back. I would hate to see us lose another one… we’ve lost too many over the years. But,” he sighed, “it might be the best thing to do. It’s the smallest village, they only have enough men right now to send out two patrols, though they have some young men that will be joining them soon and might allow them to add a third.”

“We cannot do anything until the men return so that gives us some time to think about it and to talk with the people. Do you… or I guess it would be me,” Estel gave his uncle a faint smile, “do I appoint someone to run the village now that Celeblas is dead? Or, do the villagers pick someone?”

”You appoint someone, but there is little choice here. Gelmir is not able to do it. It will have to be either Nestad or Mellonar. He teaches swordplay and archery and just stopped patrolling a few years ago.”

“Who do you suggest? I only know Nestad as a healer; I do not know how he would be as a leader.”

“I actually think he would be the better man as leader, the people seem to respond well to him, though he can be a little abrupt at times.”

Estel nodded and turned to the next decision that had to be made. “We have to send for the Rangers, where do they patrol?”

“It takes about six days to get to the closest patrol; though of course they could be anywhere in their assigned area. The other patrol is beyond that, another four or five days west.”

“Do we send just Gilost, or him and Halbarad?” Estel asked. He knew that it was not a task that he or Halhigal could do, much as they might like to.

Frowning, Halhigal stared at the ground for several moments. “I do not like to send any of our Rangers out alone, but I think we are going to need Halbarad here. It will be at least two weeks before the first of the patrols return and it’ll take all of us to repair damage to the stockade, to stand watch, and to provide food for the villagers. Didn’t you say that several of the young men were wounded?”

“Yes, two of them and also a couple of older looking boys and it will be at least three or four weeks before they can be out hunting or doing much of anything.”

“That leaves only Nestad, Mellonar, and two young men that can hunt and we cannot all leave the village at one time. And with all of his patients, I doubt that Nestad will be able to leave at all.” Halhigal shook his head. “No, I think Halbarad needs to stay and Gilost will have to go alone.”

Estel nodded, “Then I will speak with Gilost and send him off. If you will start the women gathering the food, then I will speak with Nestad about his appointment as village leader and about the burials. It will also give me a chance to check on the injured.”

Halhigal nodded and the two of them started another long, hard day in the village of Taurnand as they helped the people recover from the devastating attack.

~~~

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.


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