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Brothers at Heart
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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10
Chapter 10

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.

I have added a character list as the last chapter of this story. The only bad thing is that it might give some information away as it lists ALL characters in the story.

Many thanks to my Beta Readers – J. and Marsha


~~~

“I won’t do it! I’m not moving to another village,” Hirgon spat out angrily as he glared at Aragorn and then briefly at Halhigal and Nestad. They, along with Beraid, Maldathor, Pendem, Laegrist, and Thalion had gathered in the Hall so that Aragorn could explain the reasons for the upcoming move and to answer their questions. All of them had heard about the upcoming move from their families and while Hirgon was the angriest none of them were happy about it, especially Beraid and Maldathor. However, Estel thought that their unhappiness had as much to do with leaving behind the graves of those they had just buried as it did anything else.

While taken aback by Hirgon’s anger and, what seemed like an attempt to intimidate him, Estel listened to the man for another minute wondering what exactly upset him so much. His response was not like the women who did not want to move, Estel knew they had reacted mostly out of fear. And, as the week had passed and Estel had spoken with each of the women individually they had come to accept that the reasons for the move had truly been made because of his concern for their well-being. While he knew that the women still struggled with the thought of moving, Estel felt that at least they understood the reasons for it.

Hirgon was simply angry… and at him, not really over the move. Nestad had said Hirgon had his reasons, but Estel did not have time to deal with those now. While Estel was willing to listen to concerns and answer questions, he would not let Hirgon continue and he knew he could not allow him to so openly and defiantly question his authority which would allow others to do the same in the future. Estel glanced at Halhigal who gave him an almost imperceptible nod and he held up his hand to stop Hirgon’s flow of words.

“Cease, Hirgon,” Estel commanded in a low voice filled with steel as he met Hirgon’s angry gaze steadily. “I think you forget to whom you are speaking.” Hirgon eyes widened briefly and then he looked away under Estel’s intent regard and his face flushed slightly. Estel heard, but ignored, a few sharp indrawn breaths from some of the new men. “Moving is not a suggestion, it is something we, the Dúnedain of this village, are doing. While I am willing to answer your questions and to explain my reasons for doing this, I will not suffer your disrespect.” He paused and waited until Hirgon looked up again, his eyes still angry. “Do you understand, Hirgon?”

“Yes… Lord Aragorn, I do.” Hirgon swallowed hard, his eyes darting around to the other men, but none of them would meet his gaze. He shifted uneasily on the bench, wondering if he had pushed too far this time. But, he was not satisfied with the results and so, trying to keep the anger out of his voice, he said, “My…lord, I don’t want to leave Taurnand. It’s been my home for a long time and I don’t want to live in some other village.” Hirgon thought he succeeded in sounding respectful to this young man that looked so much like Arathorn. But none of them missed the edge of sarcasm that tinged his voice when he said ‘my lord’.

Estel also caught the tiny gleam in Hirgon’s eyes that was quickly masked and he knew that the man was baiting him, trying to take advantage of his youth perhaps and to push him into losing his temper. He sighed inwardly and wished he knew exactly what it was that this man had against him. He supposed it did not matter. Narrowing his eyes, Estel just stared at Hirgon for a full minute and this time, Hirgon drew back away from the table as if he had been physically struck. Finally, Estel spoke.

“Do you think you are different than anyone else in this village, Hirgon? I do not think there is one person here who wants to leave. But they understand the necessity of it and I am amazed that you do not. I did not make this decision lightly, nor did I make it without counsel from those I trust,” Estel’s gaze flicked to Halhigal and Nestad. “But the final decision was mine as it is my responsibility to see to the needs of my people… all of my people, Hirgon.”

Pausing, Estel gave the man a long, considering look. “I suppose if you truly desire to stay here in Taurnand, I will allow it.” Estel ignored the expression of triumph that flashed across Hirgon’s face as he continued. “However, I will only allow you to stay. Rían and your children will leave with the rest of us.” Estel’s stern look stopped Hirgon’s protests before he could get them out of his mouth. “I will not stop you from being foolish with your own life, but I will not allow you to risk theirs. Our people are too few already.” Estel knew that he was likely adding to whatever caused the man to be angry with him in the first place, but he truly saw no way around it at this time. “You let me know what you decide in the next few days, Hirgon. Now, unless you actually have a question for me, I am going to let the other men have a chance to speak.” Hirgon nodded mutely and though Estel could still read intense anger in his eyes, there was also a hint of fear and he was appalled by that, yet he felt that he had had little choice in this matter. It was something he would have to speak with Halhigal about later.

Estel turned his attention to the other five men and saw a wide range of emotions. Shock and a mixture of relief and that same hint of fear were easy to read in the eyes of two of the youngest men – Beraid and Pendem, while Laegrist, who was also their age, did not show any sign of fear, just relief. Maldathor seemed stunned, though there was a good measure of respect in his eyes as well. Thalion, however, seemed pleased and almost amused by the whole thing and a small smile played about his lips as he studied his Chieftain, ignoring the quietly seething Hirgon. He inclined his head in a respectful gesture before he spoke.

“I have several questions, my lord Aragorn. Since we won’t be leaving until the other patrol returns, how would you best like to use the men of my patrol? Several of them are quite good at hunting and scouting, while others,” he deliberately did not look at Hirgon and his eyes twinkled as he added, “might be particularly good at standing watch.” Thalion had put up with and dealt with Hirgon and his somewhat intimidating ways for years, but never had the man been so bold or tried it so openly. And never had anyone put Hirgon in his place as Aragorn had just done. Though, Thalion had tried to do so many times. That Hirgon was so gentle with his wife and children always amazed him, but then Thalion supposed that everyone had a soft spot somewhere. “Do you want to set a schedule for us, my lord? Or, just assign us as you have need?”

Studying Thalion as he spoke, Estel decided that Eradan took after his adar in more than just his appearance; that he evidently got his sense of humor from him as well. Which, he was grateful for at this particular time. “I think,” he began and then he stopped and looked at Halhigal and Nestad. He wanted their advice, not so much because he thought it would be different than his own, but to show the others that they were all working together. He thought it might even be why Thalion had brought it up, the man knew very well that they would set some type of schedule. “What do you think, Nestad, Uncle?”

“I’d set a schedule for watches and hunting, my lord,” Halhigal replied, “but I’d also send out a couple of men to scout a little further away now that we have them.” Estel nodded and turned his gaze to Nestad.

“I agree,” the healer and village leader shrugged. “But I want to be added to the schedule as well.” Nestad paused and added in a quieter voice than was usual for him, “I know we are all needed, my lord.”

Estel nodded after a moments thought. “But only for some of the night watches, Nestad. I do not want you outside the village in case you are needed by those who are injured.”

“If you are in the village I could leave, my lord,” he pointed out. Nestad was careful in the way he spoke, that he not appear disrespectful in front of the other men even though he knew Aragorn would know he was not. “You are a better healer than I am, you saved their…”

Estel quickly interrupted him. “Even if I am in the village, I may not be available, Nestad. I would prefer that you treat those who are injured unless you truly have need of me.” He did not want to further discuss anything related to Hirgon or his family; the man would learn what he had done at some other time.

“Yes, my lord,” Nestad replied, realizing why he had been stopped and understanding the reasons behind it.

“Uncle Halhigal, Nestad, and I will stay and work on the schedule then, but I will tell you that I do not expect any of you to do anything except spend time with your families until tomorrow.” Estel was surprised when Pendem spoke up; he had seemed as quiet as his younger brother, Pador.

“I can help now, my lord, truly I’m not that tired.”

“Thank you, Pendem, but your eyes tell me otherwise. No, take the day and I will send you out hunting in the morning. We need the meat.”

“If you’ve been depending on Eradan to bring it in, I’m not surprised,” Laegrist snorted with a grin.

A few chuckles broke out and Estel felt the last of the tension drain away. “He seems to always bring down a bigger deer than I do, Laegrist,” he replied. “He and Halbarad both.” He looked at the men who had not said a word yet. “Do you have questions for me?” There was a general shaking of heads and murmurs of ‘no, my lord,’ and Estel sighed inwardly hoping they truly did not have questions and that it was not that they were afraid to ask him. “Come and see me if you do,” he said, “I am willing to discuss any of my decisions with anyone.” He looked each of them in the eye - even Hirgon, though the man would barely look at him. Estel changed the subject to more personal matters. “Beraid, how do your sisters fare? How do you fare?”

Beraid gave him a startled look and then stared down at the table, shocked at the question. “I’m doing… all right, my lord… it’s strange not to have Naneth and Rothin here… my home to be gone.” He shook his head and glanced up at Aragorn and then away again, his eyes glittering with unshed tears. “My sisters are glad to have me home, but it’s difficult for them.” Beraid stopped, not knowing what else to say.

“We’ll all miss them, Beraid,” Thalion said quietly. His gaze shifted to Maldathor, “And your son, Maldathor.” The man nodded, but said nothing.

“How does your wife fare, Maldathor? And you, yourself?” Estel asked.

“It’s hard, my lord,” he whispered, staring down at the table.

Estel simply nodded, his heart aching for both Maldathor and Beraid and their families. Steeling his resolve he turned to Hirgon. “Were you able to speak with Rían and your children this morning, Hirgon? They were resting peacefully when I checked on them early this morning.”

Surprise and then worry replaced the anger in his eyes as Hirgon spoke of his family. “I…I did speak with them for a time this morning. Rían only awoke for a brief period, but it was enough for us to talk and for her to know I was here. Culas and Celin were still awake when I left to come here… I’m… I’m not sure how long Celin will be willing to stay in that bed.” Cautious chuckles followed that statement, the men of the village knew the twins quite well – by the stories their families told if nothing else.

“I would like to see her up and running around,” Estel commented as he remembered his first sight of her. He was looking down and missed the surprised look Hirgon shot him. “Well, if no one has any other questions, you may go. I will send Eradan or Pador to tell you what I would like you to do tomorrow. The men drifted away until only Estel, Halhigal, and Nestad were left and Estel turned to his uncle with his eyebrows raised. “Well, Uncle? What does Hirgon have against me? Or, against my family? I do not suppose it is truly against me as I just met him last night.”

Halhigal looked at Nestad for a moment and then back at his nephew.

“Nestad told me he already knows,” Estel said with a small shrug.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Nestad knows, he reads people and situations quite well and people seem to confide in him for some reason,” Halhigal said with a knowing smile. Nestad gave him a bland look in return. Halhigal drummed his fingers on the table as he pondered how to tell Aragorn of the rift between Hirgon and their family. “Actually, Aragorn, I’m surprised that Hirgon is taking his anger out on you when it was Arathorn that he was so furious with. I would have thought that his death would have put an end to it and he does have his own family now.” Halhigal sighed and thought back twenty some years to when Arathorn was courting Gilraen. “Hirgon’s family lived in Dolomar…”

“Is he related to Sírdhim?” Estel interrupted with a quick grin and Halhigal laughed and shook his head before continuing. Nestad merely looked confused.

“It doesn’t matter, Nestad.” Halhigal said, “I’ll tell you some other time. Anyway, Hirgon grew up in Dolomar and he’s in his late forties now, I think, three or four years older than Gilraen. Anyway, someone was teasing him about a pretty girl or something…”

“He loved Naneth,” Estel whispered, interrupting once again as understanding dawned.

“Yes, he did, and I think he had since he was quite young, though I don’t think Gilraen had ever had anything to do with him. She was quite young at the time, if you’ll recall.”

“Yes, I know,” Estel gave him a puzzled look. “But, still why was… is he so angry? If Naneth didn’t love him, then he should have accepted that and… and, well let her go without getting angry at Arathorn and now me.”

Halhigal and Nestad exchanged quick glances before Halhigal slowly responded, first reminding himself how young Aragorn was, it would be years before he began looking for a wife. “Yes, he should have, but Hirgon had loved Gilraen for years and then Arathorn suddenly became interested in her and she quickly returned his love and I think Hirgon was devastated. He had always had something of a temper, though he mostly kept it in check and the men even teased him about it at times. But when this happened,” Halhigal paused for a moment considering, “he spoke words to Arathorn that should never be spoken to any man, let alone the Chieftain’s heir. He did apologize later, but he left Dolomar shortly afterwards and moved here.”

“Perhaps that is why he is so set against moving,” Nestad remarked. “He does not want to move again to a new place.”

Estel shook his head. “I do not think so. I watched him closely, he was angry at me, it had nothing to do with the move itself.” He sighed and stood, slowly walking back and forth as he thought. While he could understand the bitter disappointment Hirgon must have felt at the loss of the one he loved… Estel knew he would feel the same if Arwen were to marry another… but he could not allow Hirgon to undermine his authority in any manner. He would not allow anyone to speak to him in the manner that Hirgon had done today… well, perhaps those that he was closest to and trusted, but then only in private. Estel knew that as young as he was, he could ill afford to have people openly questioning him and his decisions. He turned back to Halhigal with a question. “Do you have any suggestions?

“On how to handle him? No, I don’t, though I thought you did well enough today, Aragorn. I think you might just have to do that with him on occasion until he realizes that you will not allow him to intimidate you.” Halhigal sighed. “I would have thought that having his own wife and children would have given him peace by now. Where is he moving to?”

Estel shrugged, “I do not know, Rían has not been in any condition to make a decision… in fact I would be surprised if she even knows we are leaving. She has not been awake long and I doubt that Nestad would choose to trouble her with such things while she is recovering.” He glanced at Nestad who shook his head. “I doubt he will be returning to Dolomar, however,” he said with a grim smile.

“Perhaps they should though,” Nestad said slowly and then continued at their surprised looks. “I know, Lord Aragorn that it would not be comfortable for you to have him around, but I think that it might be better to have him close than to have him in some other village possibly stirring up trouble.”

“Do you think he would really do that?” Estel asked skeptically.

“He might,” Halhigal said after a moments thought. “Especially now,” he gave his nephew a rueful smile and Estel grimaced. “And the people in the other villages do not know you yet.”

Estel ran his hand through his hair and sat back down. “I could not let him speak to me that way… could I?” he asked, looking at his uncle with uncertainty in his eyes.

“No, you could not.” Halhigal was adamant and Nestad nodded his agreement.

“He will not be in the village that long; he would be going back out on patrol…” Estel paused and considered his words and the two men were quiet and let him think. Having Hirgon in Dolomar was not something he wanted, but sending him off to another village where he might cause difficulties just to make it easier for himself did not seem like the right thing to do. If he let Hirgon go elsewhere, it would probably only make it more difficult in the long run, eventually they would have to work this out in some way. Estel remembered Elrohir’s comment to him that there were always men that questioned those in authority and that he needed to learn how to deal with them, well here was his chance. He looked up at Halhigal and Nestad.

“How do we get them to Dolomar? He will not want to return there.”

“Leave that to me, my lord,” Nestad said with a sly smile. “Rían and Culas will need my care for quite some time yet, and as I find that I would rather go and stay with my daughter in Dolomar instead of the one in Forntaur, they will just have to go with me.”

Estel grinned in return, glad that he had found a relatively simple solution to that problem and also that Nestad would be living in Dolomar. “Thank you, that will work and I will allow you to inform him as well.” He turned to his uncle, “Do you know who else has decided to go to Dolomar? I have been out of the village a lot the last couple of days and no one has spoken with me about their decision.”

Halhigal nodded, “Thalion, Maldathor, and Mellonar so far. With them and their families and with Hirgon’s family and Nestad, that would be fourteen people. I think that Beraid and his sisters will come, but they’ll have to wait until their father returns to make that decision. That would give us eighteen.”

“That is about the right number,” Estel commented. “Are the other villages about the same?”

“It’s very close, I don’t think we need to worry about any village having too many people.”

“Do you have enough room for all of these people?” Nestad asked. “I will stay with my daughter, but what about the others?”

“My house is empty,” Estel said, glancing at his uncle who nodded. “One or even two families could stay there since the men will be going back on patrol.”

Nestad snorted, “I don’t think you should give it to Hirgon’s family.” Estel and Halhigal chuckled.

“There is another small, empty house that might work for Hirgon’s family. It’s close to the smithy which is why no one lives there, but it would do for now. The rest we will deal with when we get there, some may have to be taken in by other families.” Halhigal said with a thoughtful look as he considered the possibilities of placing the people. He finally shrugged, “We have time to deal with that on the way home.” The thought of home and Nimrie lit his face up briefly.

“Well, this can wait until later. If we set the schedule for the men for the next few days, then I will go find Halbarad and go hunting and leave you two in charge here.” Estel bent his head over the parchment he had and, grabbing a charcoal stick, began sketching out a list of things for the schedule. Halhigal and Nestad exchanged glances and simply nodded without saying a word. The chance of actually finding any game at this time of day was small, but they knew that he needed some time away from the village and they could give him that.

0-0-0

Halbarad looked up from where he was cutting trees into appropriate lengths for the carts Mellonar was making just as Aragorn came striding out the gate. The teasing comment he was about to make died on his lips at the somber look on his cousin’s face and he lowered his axe and leaned on it as he watched him approach. Aragorn almost always had a serious, reserved demeanor, especially around the older men. But Halbarad had gotten to know another side of Aragorn, one that was more light-hearted and Halbarad often thought it was probably the way he was with his brothers and at his home in Imladris. He had seen that side of Aragorn a little more often the past week as they worked with the young men. But Halbarad had never seen the look he was wearing now and he wondered what had happened.

“Do you want to go hunting with me?” Estel asked abruptly and without a word of greeting.

Halbarad blinked in surprise, both at the tone and at the thought of going hunting in the middle of the day. But he just replied to the question without any comment. “Sure, anything would be better than chopping wood, Aragorn. Let me get my things.” He drove his axe into a log before moving to where he had left his weapons and cloak. As he belted on his sword and put on his cloak, Halbarad kept an eye on his cousin who stood staring blankly into the woods with a frown on his face and he quickly threw his quiver and bow over his shoulder and walked back to Aragorn. “I’m ready,” he said quietly.

Estel glanced at him then and gave him a faint smile, “Good,” and set off at a brisk pace into the woods. Halbarad followed close behind with a puzzled frown darkening his features. They had been walking for close to an hour when Halbarad had had enough.

“Aragorn,” he growled. “Where are we going and what is the matter with you? We are obviously not hunting.” Aragorn swung around and just looked at Halbarad for a moment with a somewhat sheepish expression.

“I am sorry, Halbarad.” He ran his hand through his hair and glanced around. “Have you eaten lunch?” Halbarad shook his head mutely, it was only a little past noon and he had had no time to grab any of the simple fare they were serving. “We can share what I brought,” Estel said, laying his hand on Halbarad’s shoulder and moving toward a fallen log and sinking down on it with a weary sigh.

Halbarad sat beside him and eyed his cousin with concern as he dug into a pouch and brought out a small chunk of bread. Aragorn tore it in half and handed him a piece, he also gave him a strip of smoked venison, and pulling out an apple, carefully cut it in half with his belt knife and handed him his half. It did not take long for them to consume the food and as Halbarad put his cork back in his waterskin, he spoke again. “You didn’t answer my question, Aragorn. What is the matter? What happened at the meeting?”

“Hirgon… do you know who he is?”

“I know he’s one of the Rangers that returned last night.”

“Well, it turns out that…” Estel paused, wondering how much he should tell Halbarad and then he shrugged, deciding that if Nestad knew than it was all right for Halbarad to know. Besides, he needed Halbarad to know, especially as Hirgon was going to be traveling with them. Estel doubted that the man would be much different on the journey than he had been today. It was possible that he would be even worse. “Evidently,” he continued slowly, “this Hirgon was in love with my naneth at one time…” Halbarad looked startled and then motioned for him to continue. “Naneth did not love him and Hirgon got angry at Arathorn… my father and moved from Dolomar to here many years ago. He still is angry at my family,” Estel gave Halbarad a speculative look. “I am not sure if that includes you and Uncle Halhigal or not. At the meeting he was… disrespectful and tried his best to intimidate me.”

“But it did not work, did it?”

Estel snorted, “No, it did not. I cannot allow anyone to speak to me the way he did. But,” he paused and once again ran his hands through his hair. “I am not sure that what I did was much better, Halbarad,” he admitted softly.

“Why? What did you do? I can’t imagine that you would be disrespectful to anyone.”

“I do not think… he does not want to move, well… that is what he said. But I know he was really just angry at me and I think because I am young he was trying to see if he could make me lose my temper. I finally told him to stop, that he could not speak to me that way and then he repeated himself only changing the words a little and I could see in his eyes what he was doing. And this is where I was wrong, I think,” Estel hesitated for a long moment, remembering the fear in Hirgon’s eyes. “I told him that he could stay here, but that his wife and children were going with us, that he could not endanger their lives even if he wanted to endanger his own.”

Halbarad studied Aragorn for a moment before he spoke. “And you think that is wrong? To protect his wife and children?” he asked quietly, not understanding what was upsetting his cousin.

Estel shook his head vehemently. “No, no, of course I should protect them.” He jumped to his feet and began pacing back and forth in front of Halbarad who watched him curiously. “It was the way I did it, Halbarad. He was trying to intimidate me and then I did the same thing back… I threatened to take those he loved away from him,” he whispered with a frown. “He only backed down out of fear of what I could do. I do not want to rule people out of fear, Halbarad. There must have been another way… something else I could have done… a way to reason with him.”

“And have you thought of anything in the last hour as we walked?” Halbarad asked mildly. At least he now understood what was bothering Aragorn, though he could not readily think of anything he might have done differently, but neither had he been in the room to see what had happened. “What did my adar say? Did you ask him?”

“Not directly,” Estel replied, frowning. “But he and Nestad both agreed that I could not let him speak to me the way he did. They said nothing about how I handled that part of it.” He let out a weary sigh.

“Adar would have told you if you should have done something different, Aragorn. You know that he would have.” His cousin gave a hesitant nod. “And, from what I have observed of you, you do not rule out of fear or intimidation.” Halbarad paused and thought for a moment, “When you spoke with the women and told them about the move, almost all of them were fearful, but it wasn’t of you. You told them what had to be done and then you spoke to them in a way to reassure them and to help them understand. Some of them said things that might have been disrespectful, did they not?”

Estel shrugged, “I suppose some things they said could be taken that way, but I knew they were not really being disrespectful, they were afraid of leaving and they were afraid for their children and I knew that.”

“So it was different than what Hirgon was doing and you needed to treat him differently than you did the women. It sounds like you handled it just right.” Halbarad shook his head slightly. “Do not doubt yourself, Aragorn, you’re a good leader and the men respect you. Well, most of the time,” he grinned. “Except when you take your cousin out into the middle of the woods saying we’re going hunting and then you don’t even bring enough food to feed him lunch!”

Slowly an answering grin spread across Estel’s face and his tense shoulders relaxed. He glanced back the way they had come, “I suppose we could go back so you can eat… and there were a lot of logs that still needed to be cut to length.” His eyes sparkled with amusement as he looked back at Halbarad who was shaking his head. “Thank you, Halbarad,” he said simply.

Halbarad heard, but ignored his thanks. “I think the logs can wait, Cousin. Perhaps we might be able to find some kind of game if we look really hard.” He made it sound like a question and Estel nodded.

“The village does need the meat,” he replied as he pulled his bow off his shoulder and strung it without thinking. Laughing softly, Halbarad did the same.

0-0-0

The addition of the six Rangers made things much easier for the men who had been doing all the work in Taurnand. They were able to bring in more meat and, with the additional men, they were able to get a full nights sleep every couple of days. The work on the carts was quickly completed as Maldathor was able to help Mellonar with the wheels and axles and the rest of the men quickly finished cutting the trees into the proper lengths. The women smoked as much of the venison and other meat that was brought in as they could in preparation for the upcoming journey. As much as could be packed and prepared ahead of time was completed, all they could do was wait for the last patrol to arrive.

The healing room had been emptied of patients except for Rían and Culas. Though Nestad continued to check up on several of his former patients daily, they did not need his constant care and so they were sent home for their families to care for them. As the approached the end of the third week since the attack, several of the other young men and older boys began helping to stand watch and do some of the easier, less strenuous work around the village, further relieving the other men to do more hunting and allowing them to go further afield in their hunt for game.

It continued to snow occasionally, but there were no large accumulations and most of the snow melted within a day or two after falling. Estel was still hopeful that they might make it to the villages without encountering any large storms. He wrote letters to each of the village leaders, explaining why he was sending the people to their village. He was not really worried that the people in the other villages would not help them, but he did want to make it clear that these people were being sent because he had told them to go. Estel appointed Pador’s father to lead the group headed to Forntaur, but the men he intended to lead the other two groups, on the advice of Nestad and Halhigal, were in the patrol that had not yet returned.

Estel did not deliberately avoid Hirgon during the time they waited for the patrol, but he noticed that Hirgon went out of his way to avoid him. The man had been furious when Nestad informed him that Rían and Culas would require additional care that made it necessary for them to move back to Dolomar. He had complained loudly and bitterly for a time until Nestad put him in his place by pointing out that he seemed more concerned about where he was going to live than he was about the health of his wife and son. That had settled Hirgon down and if he did anymore complaining, those complaints never reached Estel’s ears.

As their wait stretched into the fourth week, Estel grew increasingly concerned that the patrol had not returned even though he knew that it might have taken Gilost several days to find the patrol once he even reached their assigned area. But he was anxious nonetheless. He wanted to leave as quickly as possible to try and get the people to their new homes before heavy snow fell. But, more importantly, he was concerned about Gilost. Estel knew it had been a risk sending him out alone and the longer he was gone the more likely it was that he had run into some type of danger. Still, there was nothing they could do but wait. He had spoken with Halhigal and Nestad and they had decided that if the patrol did not return by the start of the fifth week – the last week of November - then it would be too late to leave and they would just have to somehow make it through the winter on their own.

But the patrol did finally appear. One morning not long after dawn the six Rangers of the patrol and Gilost came trotting up to the gate after riding through the night on the last leg of their journey home. Estel was out hunting with Halbarad, Eradan, Beraid, Laegrist, and Maldathor when they returned and did not see them until a little later in the morning. He was spared having to tell this group of men which of their loved ones had died, that task fell to Halhigal this time, a fact for which Estel was immensely grateful. Halhigal also informed them of their decision to leave the village and sent them off to be with their families for a time, telling them that they could meet and speak with their Chieftain in the afternoon.

Halhigal and Nestad were speaking with Gilost when Estel and his men rode through the village gate. Estel’s eyes shone with relief when he saw Gilost standing there. Hearing Beraid’s sharp indrawn breath at the sight of Gilost, Estel turned to him, his voice full of compassion as he spoke. “Go and find your father and sisters, Beraid. We will take care of your horse.” Beraid quickly slid from his saddle and hurried off to find and comfort his father who had just learned of the death of his wife and youngest son. Estel dismounted and found Eradan at his side to take his own horse and he gave him a small nod of thanks before striding quickly over to speak with Gilost.

“Gilost!” Estel looked him up and down with a practiced eye, noting the filthy clothing, his sunken, dark-rimmed eyes, and his pale, exhausted countenance. But he was alive and safe and right now that was all that mattered to Estel as he reached out and grasped Gilost’s forearm.

“It’s good to see you again, Lord Aragorn,” Gilost said with a weary smile as he eagerly returned his lord’s arm clasp by putting his other hand on top of Aragorn’s.

“Where did you find them? How far did you have to go?” Estel cast a sidelong glance at Halbarad as he joined them and then glanced over his shoulder as the rest of the men led the horses away. Halbarad just shrugged.

Gilost nodded at Halbarad before answering the question. “Once I reached their patrol area, it took me four days to find them, my lord,” he replied, frowning down at the ground.

“You got back here quickly then,” Estel remarked, adding up the days in his head.

Gilost nodded again, “They were, of course, anxious to return, my lord, and we traveled with very few stops. Only enough time to rest the horses and get a little rest ourselves and we didn’t run into any trouble on the way back.”

“And on the way there?”

“None, my lord, I didn’t see any signs of orcs as I traveled.” Gilost paused, frowning, “Though I was traveling rather swiftly and I don’t know if I would have seen much sign unless I had really been looking for it.”

“If there had been orcs around they would have found you,” Halhigal pointed out grimly.

“You’re right,” Gilost grimaced, fighting back a yawn. He looked at Aragorn, “Halhigal said that we’re moving the villagers away… some of them are coming with us back home.” His voice was faintly questioning, it wasn’t that he didn’t really believe Halhigal, but the idea of moving the people was overwhelming to him.

Estel nodded, “Yes and we are leaving the day after tomorrow. You need to rest.” He turned his gaze to Nestad who had been listening quietly. “Do you mind if he sleeps on one of the beds in the healing room? I would not have him sleep on the hard floor at Gelmir’s house if there is somewhere else he might rest.” Estel laid his hand on Gilost’s shoulder to stop his protests. “You need to sleep well, Gilost, we have a lot of traveling to do in the next few weeks.” He paused and gave Gilost an intent look, “Thank you for going and getting the patrols, I do appreciate it.”

“I only did what any other Ranger would have done, my lord,” Gilost protested, as he looked away slightly embarrassed.

“Yes, I know, but I still thank you. I know it was a very large personal risk to you and sleeping on a real bed is not much, but it is all I have to offer.” Estel smiled.

Nestad glanced between the two men and then laughed quietly, “Well, I suppose that I shall have to let him have a bed now, my lord. Perhaps I might even find him a hot meal as well. Come along, Gilost.” He beckoned the weary Ranger to follow him and Gilost gave Aragorn, Halbarad, and Halhigal a puzzled glance, but they just motioned for him to follow the healer.

Estel turned to Halhigal and Halbarad. “We will pack the carts and wagons tomorrow and give Gilost and the returned Rangers and their horses a day to rest. We leave at dawn the following day.”

~~~

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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