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8
Chapter 8

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


~~~

Estel paused and wiped off his forehead with his sleeve, sweating in spite of the bitter wind that had sprung up in the last few hours carrying with it the threat of snow. He took a quick drink from his waterskin before he resumed digging the grave he had almost completed. None of the five graves were deep, but Halhigal, Eradan, and some of the boys and girls were down at the river collecting stones to cover each grave to keep out scavengers. The burial ground stood near the edge of the forest and was quite large, indicating the long presence of the village on this spot along the Bruinen. Estel looked up at Halbarad’s voice.

“Are you almost finished?”

“Yes,” Estel took one final shovelful of dirt and tossed it on the pile to his right and stuck his shovel in the dirt before holding his hand up to his cousin and letting him pull him up out of the grave. “Thanks.” He briskly brushed the dirt off his leggings and tunic before belting his sword back on. Picking up his cloak he swung it over his shoulder and, after taking one last glance at the graves, he headed back to the village with Halbarad at his side.

“Have you decided what you’re going to say?” Halbarad asked, knowing how concerned Aragorn was about having to speak when they gathered to bury those that had died.

“No,” Estel replied, frowning. “I am sort of hoping that words will just come to me at the time,” he admitted. He stopped and put his cloak on, cold now that he had stopped working. Halbarad did the same and they continued on. “Halhigal said to speak from the heart and that I will do… my heart is grieved for these people, Halbarad.” He shrugged, “It will be enough.”

A rumbling noise caught their attention and they looked to see the wagon full of stones being driven by Eradan approaching, Halhigal and the boys and girls walking alongside. Estel and Halbarad went to meet them and Eradan drew the team to a halt and the horses stood stomping and blowing in the cold air. “I think it best if you put the wagon on the far side of the graves, Uncle,” Estel said without preamble. “There is room there, I think, and it should not be in the way during the ceremony.” Halhigal nodded and motioned Eradan to drive on.

“I don’t think I need to go with him, Aragorn.” Though he did send a couple of the older boys along to help with the horses and he sent the rest of the boys and girls ahead of them into the village while they slowly followed behind.

Estel nodded somewhat absently, his mind clearly somewhere else. “We need to burn the bodies of the orcs before it snows.” The three of them, along with Mellonar and Eradan had dragged the bodies of the orcs that littered the ground near the stockade out to where the other bodies lay in the fields – where they had engaged them in hand-to-hand combat and destroyed them. But they had not burned them, wanting to wait until after the funeral that the stench not overcome the mourners. But if much snow fell the task of burning bodies that were wet could prove difficult and Estel did not want the bodies around to attract scavengers.

Halhigal and Halbarad both glanced up at the sky and took long considering looks at the clouds that had formed in the last hour. It was Halhigal that spoke. “I think we have a few hours yet and I still think our original plan was right, not to burn them until after the funeral.”

“We could have the funeral sooner,” Halbarad suggested somewhat hesitantly. His opinion had not been sought on any of the decisions that Aragorn and his adar had made and while he was neither surprised nor bothered by that, it also made him hesitant to make suggestions.

“I wanted to give those who are injured some time to rest in hopes that at least some of them could come,” Halhigal said slowly. “But, perhaps you are right.” He shot Aragorn an inquiring glance and his nephew nodded.

“Everything is ready now. Mellonar told me that they made the litters to carry the bodies and I cannot think of anything else that needs to be done.” Estel looked at his uncle as they entered the village and Halhigal shook his head. “Then I will inform Nestad that we are going to do it now and he can have some of the boys and girls let the people know. The temperature will continue to drop in any case and it is best to do it quickly that those who are injured not be out in the cold too long. I will meet you at Gelmir’s, I do want to wash at least.” He frowned down at his dirty clothes but knew that it was not worth changing. He was going to be burning orcs later and he did not have that many changes of clothing and did not know when he would have time to wash the blood stained clothes he had worn the day before. However, Estel could wash his hands and face and he would take a moment to do that. Nodding, Halbarad and Halhigal turned in the direction of Gelmir’s house while Estel headed for the healing room to speak with Nestad.

0-0-0

As Estel led the line of villagers through the gate and towards the nearby burial ground, he pulled his cloak more tightly around his shoulders against the cold wind. The snow had not yet begun to fall, but the darkening clouds suggested that it would begin soon. His hand rested casually on his sword as he walked and his face was somber, almost expressionless, though inside he was grieving for the loss of life and for the pain his people were enduring. Besides Celeblas they were going to bury a woman, her fourteen year old son, and two young children - a four year old girl and a seven year old boy from two different families. The bodies of the dead were being carefully carried on litters by people of all ages. There were so many injured that there were not enough people to carry all five litters and the two children were placed together on one litter. As many of the injured came as was possible, but Nestad had forbidden some to attend and so less than forty people gathered to see their family and friends buried.

Estel took a deep, steadying breath as the litters were set down by each grave and then his eyes flicked from family to family of those who had lost kin. His eyes lingered longest on the two quietly crying girls that had lost their mother and younger brother. Their father and older brother would be coming back with the patrols, but for now they were alone except for the loving care of the villagers they had known all their lives. Estel knew it would suffice and the girls would be well taken care of, but it was not the same as having family with you during such a difficult time. The mothers of the two children they were burying should have been in bed recovering from their own injuries, but they had insisted on attending and Estel had not the heart to refuse them. Someone had brought stools for them and they sat, stunned, grieving, and weary, surrounded by their surviving children, most of who were also bandaged. Celeblas’s wife, his two grown daughters, his daughter-in-law, and his grandchildren stood to one side of the gathering, their faces lined with grief.

At a nod from Halhigal, Estel cleared his throat nervously and began to speak in a low voice that nevertheless carried to all that were there. “I grieve that I was not able to meet Celeblas, Elgalad, Rothin, Lanthir, or Inthenin. I have heard much of them today and I know that they were much loved by their kin and by the rest of you and I would have liked to have met them and known them as you did.” Estel looked down briefly and then around at the villagers once again as he sought for the right words to bring them some sort of comfort. Finally, after a short pause that seemed awkward to no one but himself, he simply said, “I wish that there were some words that I could say that could take your grief or ease your burden in some way but I can think of none. All I can say is that I am sorry for the pain that you are feeling and I would ease it if I could.” Estel stopped, aware that in his nervousness he was beginning to repeat himself. “Who would like to speak about those who have passed?” he asked quietly, hoping that people would speak up so that he could stop.

Thankfully, the villagers had much to say about those who had died and one after another they stepped forward to speak. Though most of the villagers spoke about Celeblas and the woman, Inthenin, several people also spoke about the children. Estel had to blink back tears when one of the girls spoke about her mother and when the two mothers spoke about their children. When it appeared everyone, including Halhigal who spoke of his long acquaintance with Celeblas, was finished, Estel stepped forward once again to conclude the funeral. “May Ilúvatar bless and protect those of you who have lost your kin and may they find peace beyond the Circles of the World,” he said simply. Snow began to drift down around them as he finished.

The bodies were gently placed in the graves and each villager threw a handful of dirt in each grave before returning to the village for a communal meal. Of course, it had been decided that all meals would be cooked communally for the foreseeable future to help ensure that food was not wasted. Soon only Estel, Halbarad, Halhigal, Mellonar, Eradan, a young man named Pador, and several boys were left. Glancing up at the falling snow, Estel turned to Halhigal and the others. “We need to get the orcs burning as well as get the graves filled in. Uncle, if you will handle the graves, I will see to the orcs.” Estel paused briefly. He did not really want to take any of the young men or boys with him and yet Halhigal would need at least one of the men to help him. He made a quick decision, “Halbarad, Eradan, come with me.”

“When was the last time you ate, Eradan?” Halbarad asked the young man in a casual manner, giving Aragorn a sidelong glance as they crossed the field towards where the orc bodies were lying.

The young man shrugged, “Right before the burial. My naneth gave me a bit of bread and an apple because I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and she knew I wouldn’t make the meal.” Eradan paused and gave Halbarad a knowing look. “I’ve heard how bad it is, my lord. I’ll be all right,” he said with a grim smile. “Even if I do get sick, I can still do what needs to be done,” he added after a moment, a look of uncertainty in his eyes.

“I’m sure you will,” Halbarad said. “We need you. And I’m not a lord, Eradan. You need only call Lord Aragorn that,” he reminded him once again. Estel looked away, biting back a smile at the annoyance in Halbarad’s voice.

“But you are Lord Aragorn’s cousin, are you not?” Halbarad nodded once, eyeing Eradan closely. “Then it seems to me that you should be a lord as well. However, I will try and remember not to call you that again,” Eradan said with an earnest expression that was at odds with the mischievous glint in his eyes. Halbarad simply shook his head in annoyance and continued walking.

There were two piles of orcs and the stench hit them from thirty feet away. Estel stopped and reached into his healer’s pack on his belt for something to cover their noses, but he had used all the bandaging supplies that he normally carried and had not had time to replace it. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, he walked on noticing the white falling snow was already beginning to cover the black orc bodies. At least the snow should prevent the fire from spreading. He sent Eradan into the woods to gather some small, dead pieces of wood while he and Halbarad cleared a small area to start a fire. When Eradan returned and Halbarad was kindling the fire, Estel looked long and hard at the young man for a moment.

“All you need do is watch to make sure that the fires do not spread beyond the piles of orcs, Eradan. We cannot let this field catch fire because it might sweep towards the village. If you get sick or need help, tell us immediately, do not try and deal with it yourself.” Eradan nodded his understanding. “I want you on that side of the piles,” Estel pointed to the side closest to the woods and Eradan headed off without a word. When the small fire was burning well, Estel and Halbarad each took a couple of long, burning branches and, exchanging brief grimaces, they quickly walked around the two piles setting them on fire.

When the fires were burning well, Estel stepped well back from the piles and pulled his cloak up and over his nose as his sharp grey eyes closely watched for sparks or spreading flames. As he watched, he thought about the other things that needed to be done in the village. They had not gotten the stockade repaired and he did not think they would be able to do that today. Trees needed to be felled and trimmed for that, but the sun set too early and Estel did not think there would be time before dark. They also needed to go hunting; he and Halbarad would have to go out in the morning with some of these young men. A sudden gust of the bitter wind made that thought less than appealing, yet it needed to be done. The sound of retching made him look up and he gave Eradan a sympathetic glance as Halbarad went to him, holding back the younger man’s hair and patting his back while he recovered. Estel looked back at the graves and saw that each one had been filled in and the stones were starting to be placed on them.

Yawning tiredly and rubbing at his eyes, Estel wondered how Celin, Culas, and their mother, Rían, were doing. When he had seen them earlier in the day, the twins had appeared to be recovering; Celin had spoken to him briefly and Culas had at least been awake and responsive, though he was still not out of danger. But their mother had not looked well. Her breathing was labored and that concerned him more than her numerous burns. Estel frowned, wondering what else they could possibly try. He absentmindedly stepped on a couple of sparks that landed near him. His eyes widened and he swore softly under his breath as he thought of something he had not yet tried. It was not something Estel even felt comfortable trying and yet he realized that in this case it might be their only hope. “Halbarad,” he called sharply.

Halbarad looked up at the urgent tone of Aragorn’s voice and hurried to his cousin’s side when he beckoned him over.

“I need to return to the healing room. Do you want me to send someone to help you?”

Halbarad glanced around and shook his head, “Eradan and I will be fine.” He watched with a puzzled frown as his cousin turn and sprinted towards the village and then began circling the piles to speak with Eradan.

0-0-0

Slowing as he reached the building, Estel silently crossed the porch and eased the door open, trying not to disturb the patients. Nestad was changing the bandages on one of the patients while Laereth appeared to be brewing more willow bark tea. Estel was worried about the supply of herbs on hand but had not had a chance to speak to Nestad about it; though there was little he could do about it if they were running low. Crossing quickly to Rían’s bed he saw that she was little changed from the morning, her breathing perhaps a little more labored. Crouching down next to her, he stared blankly down at the floor for a time, trying to remember all that his adar had taught him about healing sleep. It was a gift he had because of his ancestry, but again it was not something he had ever had to use. It looked like he was going to experience many new things in Taurnand he thought wryly. He only wished he had thought of this earlier because many of these people could be helped if he sent them into such a deep sleep; he just hoped he could do it correctly.

“My lord?”

Nestad’s quiet inquiry brought Estel out of his musing and he looked up at him.

“Is there something the matter?” Nestad wondered if Aragorn had discovered something or if something were wrong with Aragorn himself.

“No, I am just trying to remember something.” Estel stood and moved a few paces away from the patients that they not be overhead. “I just remembered that one of the gifts of my ancestry is a… healing sleep.”

“I had forgotten that,” Nestad said with a thoughtful look. “Have you used it often?”

“No, never,” he admitted. “I have never had occasion to do so. Adar had me observing and then helping in the healing rooms from when I was a young boy and I studied the healing arts intensely. But elves do not get sick, though of course accidents happen and so stitches and setting broken bones is something I do quite well. Though, I think I needed more stitches than I set,” Estel gave Nestad a brief, boyish grin.

Nestad was suddenly reminded how very young his Chieftain was, only twenty if he remembered correctly. His demeanor and his healing skills were those of a much older man. He realized that he had grandchildren older than Aragorn. He was pulled from his musings as Aragorn quickly sobered and continued.

“When I patrolled with my brothers or Lord Glorfindel I never had need to use this healing sleep either. There were arrow wounds and gashes from swords, but none to the point where any of us felt it was needed.” Estel shrugged and looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think it would help her,” he gestured to Rían, “and some of the others, I only wish I had thought of it earlier.”

Nestad shook his head, “It matters not. You’ve remembered now and I think it’s worth a try, though I am uncertain about it helping those who are having difficulty breathing. But perhaps it might slow the breathing to a point where it will make it easier for them,” he shrugged. “At this point we have nothing else we can do for them.”

Estel nodded and hurried back to the Rían’s side and knelt beside her. He took several deep breaths to calm himself and then placed his right hand on her forehead and closed his eyes to help him concentrate on what he was doing. All Estel could do was try and follow what Adar had explained to him, how it felt when he pushed someone to sleep. Somehow he had to connect with Rían’s spirit, sooth her and gently guide her into sleep. For a long time all Estel could sense was darkness and then there was a spark of something that was different… something he could not really define at first and then he gradually became aware that it was the woman’s spirit and she was in excruciating pain. His first instinct was to recoil away from it, but he held his ground and he somehow knew instinctively how to sooth her. After a short time Rían quieted and the pain seemed to diminish and Estel was able to help her slip into a deep, healing sleep. Estel removed his hand and slumped back against the wall behind him, breathing heavily, his eyes wide.

“My lord!” Nestad cried in alarm, crouching down beside him and immediately reaching out and checking his pulse.

Estel grabbed Nestad’s hand and moved it away from his throat. “I am all right, Nestad. It was just more… difficult than I thought it would be.” He looked at the other healer and then away. “I could sense her pain,” he said softly. Pulling his knees up, he wrapped his arms around them as he continued. “She is in terrible pain. Adar never told me that I would sense their pain,” he whispered. “Perhaps I did not listen the day he told me that,” he tried to smile, but failed.

Nestad let him speak without interruption as he tried to remember if either Arathorn or Arador had ever mentioned this happening. Though, as he thought about it, he could not remember a time that either of them had used healing sleep when he was with them. Perhaps neither of them had the gift for it. Nestad supposed it didn’t matter, what was important was helping Aragorn.

“Or, perhaps Lord Elrond does not sense their pain,” Nestad stated softly. “Though, I think it more likely that he has just used it so often that he has learned how to deal with it, my lord,” he said in a low, soothing voice. “Perhaps he forgot to tell you because he is so used to it.” Nestad gave a small shrug and gave his Chieftain a comforting pat on his shoulder.

“Adar does not forget things. My gift must be different than his somehow,” Estel said with a thoughtful expression. “But, as you said, I need to learn how to deal with it.” He got back to his feet, waving off Nestad’s assistance, and moved back to Rían’s side. Her breathing had slowed and appeared to be much less labored than it had been and her coloring was better. “She appears to be doing better,” Estel commented, glancing at Nestad.

“Yes,” Nestad checked her pulse and it had slowed to a normal beat and he gave Aragorn a small smile. “It seems to have helped, my lord.”

“I think Culas would also benefit.” Estel moved to the young boy’s bed.

“You’re willing to do it again?”

“Of course,” Estel looked back at him in surprise. “It would help him, and I can only learn how to do it by actually using it, Nestad.”

Nestad made no comment, simply following him to support him if needed. Since Estel knew what to expect it was a little easier to send Culas into a healing sleep, but it was draining nonetheless. When he finished he moved on and sent two more patients into sleep and then Nestad stopped him.

“That is enough, my lord,” he said firmly. “The others are healing well.”

“But they will heal faster if I help them,” Estel protested, though it was a rather weak protest. He could see the last four patients were doing well enough without him.

Nestad snorted. “Yes, but we need you on your feet. I do believe you have other things you need to be doing and this takes a lot out of you.”

Estel nodded, “It does. I wonder if I can learn how to control that as well.” He shook his head and turned to more immediate, pressing concerns. “You are right.” Glancing out the window he saw that snow was falling thickly now and it was growing dark. They had not set the watches for the night, not that there were a lot of options.

“When was the last time you ate?”

“What?” Estel’s thoughts were far away at the moment.

“When did you last eat?” Nestad repeated patiently. He suspected that Aragorn might be feeling weakened not just by sending people into this healing sleep, but also by a lack of food.

“This morning… right before I spoke to you, I think.”

“My Lord Aragorn,” Nestad lowered his voice but it was gently chiding in tone. “You must remember to eat. You cannot expect to work like you’ve done today with as little sleep as you’ve gotten the last few nights and not eat either. Your body must have at least some food. As a healer you know this and I would expect you to take better care of yourself.”

Blinking his eyes several times as he stared at the healer, Estel finally gave him a brisk nod. “There was no time today, Nestad, but you are right and I should have taken something with me. Though, if food runs short, I will not eat more food than any other adult.”

Nestad waved his hand dismissively. “I’m not talking about that, my lord. Everyone will be treated the same,” he started moving towards the door and he changed the subject. “Laereth told me the funeral went well.”

Estel shrugged, “It was my first one,” he admitted. “So, I really do not know if it went well or not. I am glad that she thought so.” He glanced over at Laereth where she was giving one of the patients a drink. He wrapped his cloak around himself.

“I can help with the watch tonight, my lord. Laereth is willing to stay here and I think our patients will be fine under her care… especially now.”

Estel hesitated only a moment as he looked closely at the older man, taking in his dark-rimmed eyes and then shook his head. “No, I want you to go home and sleep for at least half of the night and I want Lady Laereth to return to her home and sleep for the other half of the night.” He held up his hand to stop Nestad’s protests. “I know that you did not get much, if any, sleep last night either, Nestad, and you need sleep as much as I need food.” Estel smiled briefly. “There are six of us to watch and Mellonar and Pador saw no signs of orcs when they did a short patrol this morning. I need you to look after the patients and you need to be well rested to do that.”

Nestad gave a reluctant nod, “All right, my lord, but do not forget that I am a Ranger as well as a healer.”

“I will not. Halhigal and I will be by in the morning to speak with you. Good-night,” Estel headed out into the cold and snow, this time in pursuit of supper.

0-0-0

Estel and Halbarad talked quietly as they saddled their horses in the early morning darkness. Eradan and Pador knuckled sleep from their eyes as they listened to the older men while they also saddled horses in preparation for the hunt the four of them were setting out on. None of them had had more than five hours of sleep. The two young men had stood first watch and Estel and Halbarad had just finished their own and now Halhigal and Mellonar were on guard. They needed to find some kind of meat today. The women estimated that what they had could be stretched to last another eighteen to twenty days. But mostly what they had been able to salvage was wheat and a small amount of corn, plus whatever dried fruits, vegetables, and cheeses families had in their own homes. They needed meat for the protein it would provide and to make the rest of the food last as long as possible.

“What’s the biggest deer you ever shot?”

Estel thought for a moment, “Ten points is all, you?” He cinched up the girth strap.

“I shot a sixteen point buck once,” there was a definite note of satisfaction in Halbarad’s voice.

Estel turned and gave his cousin a hard stare. “A sixteen point buck? I’ve never even heard my brothers speak of a deer that size. But, perhaps they just never mentioned it,” he turned back to his horse and Halbarad had no doubt that he did not believe him.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” he asked, hurt that Aragorn would think he would lie about anything.

“Of course I do,” he quickly replied, not looking at Halbarad; he simply finished strapping his small pack onto his horse and prepared to lead it from the stables.

Halbarad angrily attached his own pack and then patted his horse as he waited for Aragorn and the young men to finish and then trailed behind the others as they led their horses from the stables and out through the gate. He gave his adar a brisk nod, ignoring his concerned frown, as he passed him. Stopping just outside the village, the four of them mounted up and headed slowly up the river to an area Mellonar had recommended.

The only light was from the moon, but it reflected brightly off the fast flowing Bruinen and off the glistening snow. It had stopped snowing well before midnight and two to three inches covered the ground, but it was already much warmer than the day before and Halbarad doubted the snow would remain on the ground more than a day or two. They rode for close to an hour before lightness in the east heralded the coming of the sun and they reined their horses to a halt in a small copse of trees and tied them securely.

Few words had been spoken as they traveled - none between Estel and Halbarad - and now Halbarad would not meet his cousin’s eyes and Estel grimaced inwardly. He knew he was wrong, that Halbarad would not lie to him about shooting a deer or anything else. But he could not take the time to speak with him now, the deer would soon be moving and they needed to find them before they bedded down for the day. Estel split them into two teams.

“Eradan, I want you to come with me. Pador, stay with Halbarad and follow his directions. Eradan and I will go down along the waters edge and head upriver a mile or so and see what we can find. You two can stay on this side of the trail.” Mellonar had told them that this area had several well traveled trails that the deer often used to come down for water. Halbarad nodded and Estel and Eradan headed off. Estel had only gone a couple of hundred feet when he stopped. “Wait here, Eradan.” He turned and jogged back to where Halbarad and Pador where slowly moving off and he saw his cousin motion Pador away.

“Forgive me, Halbarad. Of course you shot a sixteen point buck; you would never lie about something like that.”

“Or anything else,” Halbarad said quietly. “I don’t lie, Aragorn. Not to you, not to anyone. I would have thought you might have known that by now.” He gave his cousin a wry smile, “Though I suppose we really haven’t known each other that long. It just seems like it at times.”

“We have known each other long enough and I do know that,” Estel shook his head. “It is not in your character to lie and I do apologize.”

“I forgive you,” Halbarad reached out and clasped his cousin’s forearm tightly. “Now go and find your own sixteen point buck,” he waved him away.

“I am the one who is supposed to be in charge here,” Estel said with a mock frown. Halbarad simply laughed and walked away while Estel jogged back to Eradan.

“Did you apologize to him?” Eradan asked curiously and somewhat hesitantly, yet not afraid of this man who was his Chieftain.

Estel looked down at him in surprise and gave him a small smile. “Yes, because I was wrong, Eradan. Now, come, we need to find some deer.” They hurried upriver.

0-0-0

“Here,” Estel breathed out softly, pointing out the tracks of three deer that stood out sharply in the snow. The tracks led down to the river and then away again. He and Eradan crouched down beside the tracks and studied them, looking closely at the length and width of the tracks to try and determine the size of the deer and if they were bucks or does. “Two are bucks and this one is a doe,” he said after a moment. Eradan nodded his agreement. They stood and followed the tracks for a few yards until they split, with the two bucks going in slightly different directions, with the doe going with what appeared to be the larger buck. Estel frowned. They needed two of the deer if they could get them. He glanced down at the young man at his side. “Have you hunted by yourself before?”

“Yes, quite a few times. Celeblas allowed us to go out when we turned eighteen, and I’m nineteen, my lord.”

Estel was reluctant to let him go with the threat of orcs in the area even though it was daylight. There was always the possibility of stumbling over the place they had denned up for the day. Still, they did need the meat. “I want you to track and take this one if you can.” He pointed to the tracks that would at least be between where he and Halbarad were hunting. “Use the bird signal I taught you if you need help.” Estel clapped Eradan on the shoulder and moved silently off to follow the other set of tracks.

It was easy to follow the tracks in the snow and Estel slowed when he saw that the deer had begun to paw through the snow to graze. He knew that once it had eaten its fill then it would look to bed down to rest for the day and so he slowed his movements as he neared any type of thicket or place a deer might hide, scanning them carefully. Suddenly Estel saw what he was looking for. And it wasn’t by his usual means of seeing the brown coloring of the deer or the flick of an ear, but the snow that covered the clump of bushes had been disturbed. Carefully checking the wind and seeing that he was downwind, he moved cautiously forward, his arrow nocked and at a half draw. He was able to approach within thirty yards before the buck exploded out of the bushes and leaped towards freedom. But Estel was quicker and had an arrow in the animal’s chest before it had taken more than a couple of steps and it dropped immediately.

Laying his cloak aside, Estel pulled his belt knife and began the long, messy process of gutting and cleaning the deer and making it ready to take back to the village. An hour later as he was finishing he heard the sound of approaching horses and he whistled to alert them to his location. The other three hunters rode through the trees with pleased expressions on their faces and Estel saw that each of them had also had successful hunts. Four deer wouldn’t last long among fifty-five people, but it was a start. Halbarad gave him an inquiring look.

“Six points. Yours?”

“Eight,” Halbarad replied with a grin. Estel shook his head and laughed before turning his gaze to Eradan.

“Eight points, my lord,” the young man replied, smiling. “I thought there were ten, but I counted twice and there are only eight,” a twinkle lit the depths of his dark grey eyes.

“I am glad to know that you can count that high,” Estel commented dryly as he began cleaning his knife. Eradan simply grinned at him. Estel looked at the last member of their party, who seemed quite reserved… at least he had been since Estel had known him. Estel did not know if it was caused by the events of the last few days, if it was his natural personality, or if it was caused by Estel’s presence. The young man finally answered the unspoken question in a quiet voice.

“Mine was only a six point buck, my Lord Aragorn.”

“Thank you, Pador. At least you remembered that you should not shoot a deer that is larger than your Chieftain’s, unlike these two. I might have to assign them additional watches or something.” Estel got to his feet and hoisted the deer up with a small grunt and set it behind his saddle where he lashed it in place. He looked over to see amusement on Halbarad’s face and uncertainty on the faces of the two young men. “Though,” he said as he swung up into the saddle, “as we do need the meat for the villagers, I suppose I can overlook it this time.” Halbarad started chuckling and Estel joined him after giving each of the young men a quick grin. Eradan grinned in returned and Pador lost the look of uncertainty that he wore and relaxed in his saddle. Urging their horses into a trot, they headed back to the village.

~~~

Author notes: I base Aragorn’s ability to send someone into a healing sleep on the fact that he was able to do that to Frodo and Sam in the Return of the King. I do not know if he could feel their pain or not, Tolkien never said anything about it, but to me if you are sensing and soothing someone else it only made sense that you would. I also did not think that you would practice sending others into a healing sleep, but of course it is entirely possible that he would have done so.

As I know little about deer hunting myself, I did do some research about tracking and such and also spoke with a friend who is an avid hunter. I discovered that there are two ways to count the points on a buck, either the total number of points or the number of points on each half of the head. It seems to depend on where you are from which way you count them, obviously I took the total number of points.

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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