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12
Chapter 12

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 and Halbarad rode hard throughout the early December morning trying to outrace the bitter cold that had descended during the night. They rode warily, keeping an eye on their surroundings for any sign of orcs but spotted nothing as they hurried home to Dolomar. Estel was surprised at how much he was looking forward to being back in Dolomar, to seeing his aunt and the other people of the village again. He realized that though he had spent less than a month there it did feel like his home amongst the Dúnedain.

Pausing at the top of a hill to give the horses a short rest, the two men looked out over the tree filled valley spreading out below. The forest was like a patchwork quilt, dark splotches of evergreen trees surrounded by the bare branches of the trees that had lost their leaves. In the distance the rays of the sun reflected off of a small stream that wended its way down to the Bruinen. Frost clung to everything within sight.

“It is beautiful,” Estel murmured, his breath leaving a visible mist in the air.

“It is,” Halbarad agreed. “Though,” he added after a moment and with a sidelong look at his cousin, “I’d have to say that I’ve seen things that are more beautiful.”

Estel took one last look at the valley and then urged his horse on before he responded. “Where?”

“In Taurnand,” Halbarad replied with a grin. “Do not tell me you didn’t see the beautiful young ladies in the village! I know we were busy, but you must have seen them, Aragorn.”

Estel almost reined to a halt again so great was his surprise at Halbarad switching from speaking of the beauty of nature to the beauty of a woman. He shook his head and slowly responded, “Yes, I saw them, Halbarad.” He shrugged, “But I do not think they were any more beautiful than the young ladies in Dolomar.” Thoughts of Arwen were carefully tucked away in a corner of Estel’s heart and he only allowed himself to think about her on occasion and so it was somewhat easier for him to talk about women with Halbarad.

Halbarad gave a derisive snort, “Those ladies are like my sisters. I grew up with them.”

“It does not mean they are not beautiful. And you seemed to like Braniell well enough that first morning I was there.”

Furrowing his brow as he tried to remember what Aragorn was talking about, Halbarad finally let out a low chuckle as he recalled the incident. “I was only pointing her out for your benefit,” he grinned.

“That was not the impression that I had at the time.”

“Well, perhaps it wasn’t strictly for your benefit… she is rather pretty. She’s much too old for you anyway, she’s twenty-two.”

Estel threw back his head and laughed at that.

“Well,” Halbarad said uncertainly, “most men don’t marry women that are older than they are. You should look at the girls younger than you, Aragorn. Like Tadion’s oldest daughter.”

“She is only seventeen,” Estel said with a frown. The girl seemed even younger than that, though he did admit to himself that she was pretty.

“Yes, and you’re only twenty. She is pretty, Aragorn.”

“I… yes, I suppose that she is.”

They rode on in silence for a few minutes and finally Halbarad reined his horse to a halt and looked questioningly at his cousin when he stopped alongside him. “Why did you laugh so when I mentioned that Braniell was too old for you?”

Estel hesitated only briefly before explaining, “Because I grew up among elves, Halbarad, and two years is nothing in their eyes. I know elvish couples that are many hundreds of years apart in age. Adar and his wife are separated by thousands of years and so for you to say that two years older was too much struck me as humorous.” He did not intend to tell his cousin about his love for someone three thousand years older. “Age is just seen differently among the elves and so I guess I see it differently as well.”

“Oh. Well, do you think you could marry someone older than yourself?” The thought had never really occurred to Halbarad. Most men he knew married women that were five to ten years younger than themselves.

“Yes, if I loved her and she loved me in return. Age would not make any difference to me, it simply is not that important.” Estel wondered if he should tell Halbarad about Arwen, but decided that he was not ready to speak about her to anyone yet.

Thinking it over for a moment, Halbarad finally commented with a small smile, “It does give you more ladies from which to chose a wife.”

Estel chuckled and they urged their horses back into a canter to continue their journey home.

They stopped again at a small creek a couple of hours before noon to water their horses and to give the animals a chance to rest. Estel and Halbarad stood stretching their legs as they watched their horses drink. Halbarad glanced at his cousin and then asked quietly, “Aragorn, have you ever wondered about what it would be like to be the king?” It was something he had thought about ever since meeting Aragorn and he was curious to know if his cousin ever thought about it.

Estel turned and stared at him in disbelief. “The king? Being the king, Halbarad? Why would I think about something that is impossible?” He was not angry, just surprised, but he was not being totally honest either, he had thought about it on occasion. He shook his head and stared off into the woods.

“I just wondered, Aragorn.” Halbarad shrugged, “I think I’d wonder about it… what it would be like to be a king. That’s all I meant.”

Shifting his gaze back to Halbarad, Estel nodded and gave his cousin a sheepish grin. “I suppose I have thought about it… when Adar first told me who I was, but I do not really spend time thinking about it. It will never happen and so I do not waste time on it.”

“Why do you not think it could happen? There is always hope that you could return to Gondor and reclaim the throne that is rightfully yours.”

Estel started slowly walking back to his horse. “I just think it has been too long. They are so used to being ruled by the Stewards that they would not accept the return of a king and I would not go and fight for it, Halbarad. It is an argument I could not win and could cause problems in Gondor that it does not need – not with the enemy that we are all facing. None of my forefathers have tried to claim the throne for hundreds of years, why am I any different?”

“No, I suppose you really couldn’t, but you are different than your forefathers,” Halbarad smiled. “You were raised in Imladris and have abilities that none of them had… or so Adar says. Besides, you also have me at your side to help you!”

Chuckling softly, Estel mounted his horse and looked down at Halbarad. “Are you saying that to encourage me or discourage me?” he grinned and before his cousin could respond he urged his horse forward and out of sight before Halbarad even mounted his horse.

0-0-0

The cousins arrived at Dolomar just before noon, cantering across the open fields to the south of the village, past the grazing cows and sheep, and through the open gate. Reining to a halt in front of a wide-eyed Alvist and Rosruin, Estel and Halbarad quickly dismounted.

“Lord Aragorn, where are Gilost and Halhigal?” Alvist asked anxiously as soon as he recovered from the shock of seeing the two of them back in the village months before they were expected.

“They will be here before nightfall. Where is Ladreníl? I must speak with him immediately.”

“I’m not sure…” Alvist replied.

“He’s at home, my lord,” Rosruin spoke up. “I saw him go there a little while ago.”

“Please care for our horses,” Estel handed the reins to Alvist before striding swiftly down the lane to Ladreníl’s house with Halbarad at his side. The boys watched them go wondering what horrible thing must have happened that would have led them to return so early and without Gilost and Halhigal. After a moment, Alvist took the horses off to the stables leaving Rosruin to guard the gate.

Estel knocked on the door of Ladreníl’s house and then stepped back and glanced at Halbarad. “Do you want to go and speak with your naneth? She may well hear that we have arrived without your adar, she will be worried.”

Halbarad looked up the lane towards his house, biting his lip and then shook his head. “I’ll ask Gaerwen to go and tell her that everything is all right, I should be here.”

Estel nodded as the door opened. Ladreníl stood there staring blankly at them. “My lord! Halbarad! What are… come in,” he stepped back so that they could come in out of the cold, though he looked anxiously behind them for any sign of his son, Gilost, or for Halhigal. Questions could be asked just as easily in the warmth of the house.

“Thank you,” Estel said, “It has been a long time since we have been out of the cold. And let me put your heart at ease,” he continued as he moved towards the hearth glancing at Alpheth and Sírdhim who were sitting next to the fire. “Gilost is well and should be here before nightfall.” He gave Alpheth a reassuring smile as he crouched down next to the fire and Gilost’s mother let out a relieved sigh and got up from her chair to retrieve cups to make hot tea for the two men.

“Gaerwen,” Halbarad looked at Gilost’s sister as she came into the main room of the house. “Aragon and I need to speak with Ladreníl, would you please go and tell my naneth that I’ve returned and that my adar is well and will be home before dark? I don’t want her to worry about him if she hears that we’ve returned without him.” He paused, “Perhaps you should inform our grandmother as well.”

“I will,” she nodded with a shy smile before slipping a heavy cloak around her shoulders and heading out into the cold.

“What happened? Where are they?” Sírdhim asked brusquely, though Estel also heard the concern in his voice.

“Wait until they’ve had a minute to rest, Adar,” Ladreníl said quietly, laying his hand on his father’s shoulder as he watched the two men eagerly accept the cups of tea from his wife. “They said they are all right,” he reminded him.

Estel took a small sip of the hot tea, savoring the taste before he stood and sat in the chair Alpheth indicated. “They are, or they were when we left them this morning. We rode ahead because they are not coming alone; they are bringing eighteen people with them. Some of them are children and one of the women is still injured, though she is almost fully recovered now.”

“Don’t forget the animals,” Halbarad reminded him.

“How could I forget them?” Estel shook his head and took another sip of his tea. He quickly continued at the confused and concerned expressions on all three of those listening. “Forgive me, I am not making myself very clear. Taurnand was attacked by orcs right before we arrived at the village. They managed to set fires inside the village during the battle and though we were able to drive them off it was too late for some of our people.” Estel paused and stared into the fire, taking a long drink of his tea, the memories of those first days coming back to him. He had never really had time to sit and think about all that had happened; he had been too busy just dealing with what needed to be done. He shook himself slightly and returned to the story.

“Five people were killed.” Flashes of sorrow passed over the faces of Alpheth, Ladreníl and Sírdhim. “Celeblas was one of them. I do not know if you knew him.”

“I did, my lord,” Ladreníl bowed his head briefly while Sírdhim just nodded and looked away.

“He was killed in the actual battle, but the others that were killed - a woman and three children - were killed in the fires. The fires burned quickly and some of the houses collapsed. Many others were burned and some had broken bones,” Estel sighed and ran his hand through his hair and Halbarad picked up the story.

“The food storage buildings were also destroyed in the fires… all three of them. All of the wheat, the corn, and any dried or smoked meat they had stored for the winter was gone. Gilost and I and a couple of others saved a little bit, but the only food left in the village was what people had in their houses and you know that not a lot is stored in anyone’s home.” Alpheth nodded. “Gilost,” Halbarad paused and looked at Aragorn wondering if he should go on, but he motioned for him to continue. “Gilost,” he repeated, “was sent out to bring back the patrols and…”

“Alone?” Sírdhim interrupted, appalled at the thought of his grandson being sent out alone to find the patrols. He well knew how far away those patrols were from the village and the dangers he might run into.

“Yes, alone, Sírdhim,” Estel replied evenly, looking the man straight in the eye. “It was not something that I wanted to do, but we had no choice. I had a village full of injured people and we were hard pressed to keep all of them fed with the three of us and the one uninjured man and two young men that could help us.”

“There were many other things we had to do, Aragorn,” Halbarad started to explain, but Ladreníl interrupted him.

“It doesn’t matter. You did what you needed to do, my lord, and I know you wouldn’t ever purposefully risk anyone’s life.” The initial uneasiness that Ladreníl had felt around his young Chieftain had been put to rest during the time he had spent in Dolomar before he had left to go to Taurnand. Ladreníl had learned enough of his character to know that the man would never send his son into danger without great need.

“No, no, I wouldn’t,” Estel acknowledged. He was beginning to explain his reasoning for making the move when the door opened and Gaerwen and Nimrie walked in. Halbarad and Estel stood as she quickly moved towards them, concern written all over her face as she looked them up and down. She embraced Halbarad and, after a moments hesitation, Aragorn as well. “Gaerwen said that Halhigal will be here later but she didn’t say why. What has happened?”

“Sit, Naneth,” Halbarad gently pushed her down onto the chair where he had been sitting. “Aragorn and I are just explaining.” Nimrie nodded, grabbing his hand and holding it tightly. Halbarad smiled slightly and exchanged a brief glance with Aragorn.

Estel spent time explaining why the decision had been made to send the people to other villages and began telling about all of the families that were coming to Dolomar. Halfway through their discussion, as Estel commented that he wanted to speak with all of their people, Gaerwen was sent to get Balrant and Caladithil. Ladreníl and Sírdhim knew or had heard of some of the men who were coming and they all knew of the ones who had relatives in the village. Estel paused when he came to the last family.

“You all know the last family… well, at least you know the man, I assume do not know the wife or children. His name is Hirgon…” Estel saw the looks of surprise that were exchanged. Choosing not to tell them of the problems he had already had with the man, he spoke simply. “I do know what happened many years ago, but that is behind us now and I would not have it spoken of. His wife, Rían, and his children were badly injured and they needed additional care so they came with us so that Nestad could care for them on the way. Though, they are all doing quite well now.”

“People will talk, my lord,” Alpheth said quietly. “I don’t think you will be able to stop them from doing that.”

“I suppose not,” Estel admitted, “but I would ask that you do what you can to discourage it.” He shrugged and gave a small smile, “Though, I imagine the people will be talking about the twins soon enough.” Halbarad chuckled. Estel turned to more pressing issues, “We need to have places for all of them to stay, I want a hot meal for them tonight, and we need to make arrangement for the animals… even if it is just something temporary for tonight.”

“Did you and Halhigal have any plans for where the people might stay?” Nimrie spoke up, knowing that her husband would have thought much of this out before they even left Taurnand.

Estel nodded and the discussion turned to housing the people and how to supply the bedding, clothing, and other household necessities that were needed before they moved on to deciding how best to care for the additional animals.

A banging on the door interrupted their conversation and the door flew open without anyone responding to the knock and Balrant rushed into the room and headed straight for Estel. “Aragorn!” he cried, launching himself at the Chieftain from several feet away.

Estel grabbed the boy before he could actually land on his lap. He smiled at Balrant as he set him on his feet in front of him. “Hello, Balrant.” He looked him up and down. “Where is your cloak?”

“I left it at home… it’s not that cold and I was in a hurry to see you.”

Estel glanced up at Gaerwen and smiled his thanks as she handed him the boy’s cloak. “Balrant, a Ranger never leaves his cloak behind in this kind of weather if he has a mission, he might freeze and the mission would not be completed.” He put the cloak around the boy’s shoulder and fastened it.

“All right, Aragorn. I’ll remember,” Balrant said earnestly, straightening up and giving his Chieftain his most serious look.

Choking back his laughter at the boy’s expression, Estel looked at the other boy who had come and was standing near the door. “Hello, Caladithil.” The boy smiled and greeted him in return before crossing over to Ladreníl to see why he had been sent for. Estel gently pushed Balrant over to the older man so that Ladreníl could tell them what he wanted them to do.

Estel stood and stretched before finally removing his own cloak which he laid over the back of his chair. He watched Nimrie speaking with Halbarad and suddenly felt a pang of longing for his own naneth and he turned and stared into the fire, shaking his head slightly at the feeling. He was a grown man and it struck him as odd to suddenly miss her… Estel knew it would probably be years before he would see her again.

“Lord Aragorn?” Estel turned a questioning gaze at Alpheth and she continued. “Would you like to eat something? It will take some time before everyone is able to gather.”

Glancing around, Estel realized the boys had gone without him even noticing. “Yes, thank you, Alpheth, I would. It has been a long time since breakfast.” They sat and ate a quick meal, the best thing about it for Estel and Halbarad was the fresh bread which they had not had in weeks. As soon as they were finished eating, they headed over to the Hall. Estel and Halbarad received many worried glances by those they met on the way, but both of them spoke words of reassurance to them and the women relaxed somewhat. Their grandmother was waiting for them right inside the door but she spoke no word of greeting.

“Where is Halhigal?” she demanded.

“He will be here before nightfall, Grandmother,” Halbarad said reassuringly. “Did Gaerwen not tell you?”

“Yes, yes,” she sniffed, “but she’s a flighty girl and I want to know what you two are doing here without my son.” She looked both of them up and down for any sign of injury. Seeing none she relaxed slightly, though her eyes narrowed as she noticed that Aragorn was once again wearing elvish clothing, but she made no comment, her concern for her son overriding anything else.

“All of your questions will be answered in a moment, Grandmother,” Estel replied. He raised his hand to pat her shoulder but let his hand fall back to his side when he realized she might not accept such a comforting gesture from him. “But,” he continued, seeing the fear in her eyes, “he was well and in good health when we left him this morning and he is not alone, but with many other people.”

“Aragorn needs to speak with all of the people, Grandmother,” Halbarad said, seeing her about to question him further. “Come and sit with me and Naneth.” Ivorwen hesitated, looking between her two tall grandsons and seeing no deceit in their eyes; she nodded and allowed Halbarad to lead her to a place at a nearby table.

Estel glanced at Ladreníl who had been waiting, “I do not think she realized what she was saying about Gaerwen,” he gave the man an apologetic smile.

“I have known Ivorwen all of my life, my lord, and I well know her ways. I think this is everyone,” he glanced around the Hall.

Nodding, Estel strode quickly to the front of the room and faced his people. “I do want to reassure you that Halhigal and Gilost will be here before nightfall. However, they are not coming alone. Eighteen people from the village of Taurnand are coming to live here.” Estel went on to explain what had happened in the village and why he had decided to move the people to the others villages of the Dúnedain. He felt and saw the horror and grief on behalf of the people of that village. There were no questions about helping the people, all Dúnedain felt a level of kinship with one another due to their common Númenórean ancestry and the shared hardships of the lives that they all lived.

Nimrie, Alpheth, and Balrant’s mother, Arthiell, were charged with making sure the houses were ready for the families when they arrived. Estel mentioned the lack of bedding, clothing, and basic household necessities that those families would have and he could see, by the expression on all the women’s faces, that those needs would be taken care of. Estel had thought to have a large supper in the Hall for everyone, but Nimrie and Alpheth had each spoken against it, saying that the arriving villagers would be too tired to appreciate it and would probably prefer a simpler supper and a warm bed. It had only taken Estel a moment to realize that they were right, but now he needed people to serve supper to Hirgon’s family and the two families staying in his house. From the murmuring at the mention of Hirgon’s name earlier, he suspected it might be a difficult task. Still, he hoped that someone might remember him with some bit of fondness.

“We have decided to have some sort of welcoming supper tomorrow evening, but I would like all of the families to have a hot meal tonight. It has been a long, cold journey. Is there anyone willing to have Tadion’s, Maldathor’s, or Hirgon’s family in for supper?”

“I will gladly take in Tadion’s family,” a woman in the back spoke up.

“Maldathor and his family are welcome in our home,” said another.

An uncomfortable silence fell on the room then and Estel grimaced inwardly. He had known it would be hard on himself to have Hirgon here, but he had not considered how the other people of Dolomar might treat him until Alpheth had spoken of it earlier. It mostly concerned him for Rían and the children’s sake. Finally Alpheth spoke up and offered to have them in and Estel gave her a grateful smile as he knew what a sacrifice it was considering Gilost was also just returning.

“Now, we also have a large number of animals arriving and so there will need to be some type of pen set up for them. Ladreníl,” Estel beckoned the man forward, “is going to be in charge of that.” Estel stepped back and let him speak about what he had planned for the animals. He asked all the boys ten and older to come with him as soon as they were done here in the Hall. Finished, he stepped aside for his Chieftain.

“Does anyone have any questions?” Estel asked the villagers. He continued on when none were asked. “I do know that the addition of these people… our Dúnedain kin… will make things a little more difficult this winter and I appreciate your willingness to take them in without question. As you experienced something similar here in the last few years, you well know it has been a very grievous and painful time for all of them. To then lose their homes as well…” his voice trailed off; there was little else he could add. “However, do not fear overmuch about food running low. There will be four of us men here throughout the winter and we should be able to keep us well supplied with fresh meat.”

“Don’t forget Eradan, my lord! He’s also an excellent hunter,” Halbarad called out with a grin and a sparkle in his eyes.

“Yes, yes, he is,” Estel acknowledged and then explained to the others. “A young man named Eradan will also be staying here through the winter.” He did not otherwise respond to Halbarad’s unspoken reminder that every single time the three of them had gone hunting, both Eradan and Halbarad had brought back larger deer than he had. “If you do have questions for me later, I will probably be working with Ladreníl,” he said by way of dismissing the people. After telling Ladreníl that he would join him shortly, Estel went to speak with Nimrie and his grandmother, pausing along the way to greet and speak briefly with various people as he did so. He sat down at the table opposite his aunt, grandmother, and cousin. “Thank you, Aunt Nimrie, for taking care of the housing and such.”

A smile lightened her face as she responded. “It is something I can easily do, Aragorn, and will keep me occupied until Halhigal arrives.” Estel and Halbarad exchanged amused looks. Nimrie lowered her voice. “What would you have done if no one had offered to have Hirgon in for supper?”

Estel hesitated, “I was about to have them over to our home and was hoping you could forgive me.” Nimrie gave him a look of understanding and was starting to respond when Ivorwen interrupted.

“You are definitely Gilraen’s son,” Ivorwen said with a scowl, not quite so willing to look past the trouble Hirgon had caused all those years ago. But she knew that Gilraen had forgiven the man long ago, before Hirgon had even left Dolomar.

Estel knew that his grandmother did not mean for her comment to be a compliment, but he chose to take it as one. “Thank you,” he replied with a smile. “Naneth is a special woman and to be compared to her is a wonderful compliment, Grandmother.”

Ivorwen gave him a hard stare and an abrupt nod, “She is. But you do not know what it was like then… how hard it was on all of us.”

Hearing the hint of long remembered hurt or possibly embarrassment in her voice, Estel thought carefully before he replied. “I do not, I only know what Uncle Halhigal has told me and it sounds like it was very… unpleasant…” Ivorwen snorted at that. “Yet it was over twenty years ago and I have a duty to care for all of my people, Grandmother, whether I personally like them or not. Hirgon and I have had words several times already, yet I can also see his good qualities. He is a good husband, father, and Ranger, so as long as he is not disrespectful, I will not have a problem with him. And, I would not like to see his wife and children suffer any more than they already have.”

“What happened to them?” Nimrie asked.

Estel quickly explained all of the injuries the three of them had suffered and he could see that even his grandmother’s eyes softened as he spoke, though she said nothing.

“It will be fine, Aragorn, the people here will see how you treat him and act accordingly. I think they were hesitant to take them in because they feared offending you,” Nimrie explained.

Estel blinked in surprise at that comment and knew he would have to spend time thinking about it. Why would the villagers think he would be offended by them taking Hirgon and his family in for supper?

Nimrie leaned across the table and patted his arm as she stood. “Now, I must go and start getting the houses ready for all of them.” She patted Halbarad’s shoulder as she passed him on her way out the door.

The three of them sat there for a moment and then Estel stood to head outside. He paused and glanced at his grandmother who still sat staring vacantly into the distance. Exchanging a look with Halbarad and knowing he would probably regret it, he inquired politely, “Are you going to stay here, Grandmother? Halbarad and I are leaving.”

Startled, she looked up at him in surprise. “No, I’m going home.” She looked her grandson over as she stood. “It appears I need to make you another set of clothes, Aragorn. Did you already misplace the ones I made for you?” Ivorwen began walking towards the door with her grandsons walking alongside her.

Estel bit back a grin at the almost conversational tone his grandmother was using. “No, they are in my pack and they are rather dirty, Grandmother. We have been traveling for two weeks and I have not had a chance to wash them. This is all I had to wear,” he plucked on the sleeve of his tunic. Estel looked at Halbarad from the corner of his eye and saw that he was staring fixedly ahead and he knew his cousin did not want to risk catching his eye.

“I see. Well, you bring me your pack and I’ll wash your clothing this afternoon so that you’ll have clean, Dúnedain clothing to wear again. Bring yours too, Halbarad, I’m sure you have some that are filthy as well.”

Estel opened his mouth to protest but closed it when he realized it was a battle he would not win… not that he was sure he wanted to.

“Naneth will clean my clothes, Grandmother,” Halbarad protested.

Ivorwen snorted and cast him a withering glare. “Do you not think your naneth has enough to keep her busy, Halbarad? This is something that I can do quite easily while she is busy preparing the houses.”

“She won’t like it,” Halbarad muttered,” but I’ll bring them… or send one of the boys with them.”

Giving them an abrupt, satisfied nod she turned and headed towards her home. Estel and Halbarad stood watching her for a moment as they pulled their cloaks tightly about themselves against the bitter cold that seem to have worsened since they had arrived in the village. Then they turned in the opposite direction to go and help with the pens for the animals.

0-0-0

Estel and Halbarad were working hard on the animal pens when a yell from the gate alerted them to the arrival of the company from Taurnand about an hour before sunset. Exchanging a relieved look the cousins set aside the axes they were using to split the rails for the fence, buckled on swords and donned their heavy winter cloaks once again. Ladreníl and the boys of the village joined them as they walked to the gate and then through it to wait for the approaching people. Estel quickly ran his eyes over the group, counting them and looking for any signs that they had run into trouble, but all he saw was weariness and deep relief that they had finally arrived at Dolomar. Halhigal reined to a stop and looked down at him.

“You made it safely, then?”

“I was going to ask you the same, Uncle,” Estel replied with a small smile. “We are as ready as we can be,” he continued as Halhigal dismounted and greeted Ladreníl. “I think it best to take the wagons to the center of the village and get the women and children out of the cold as quickly as we can. Ladreníl has made temporary arrangements for the animals.” Estel called Alvist, Rosruin, Caladithil, and several other boys to him. “I need your help with the animals. Come along.”

Except for Eradan and the girls back with the cows and sheep, the people were gathered around the wagons waiting to see where they were supposed to go. The men were looking the stockade over with experienced eyes, while the women looked curiously around at the fields and the sheds. Estel stopped in the middle of the group and the people drew close to listen. He started to speak and then paused and glanced at Nestad, giving the healer a quick grin.

“Nestad, here is someone that I think you would like to meet. This is your grandson, Caladithil,” Estel drew the boy forward and watched a smile light up the man’s face.

“Hello, Caladithil,” Nestad smiled at his grandson and beckoned the boy to him and looked him over carefully. “You look just like your father,” he murmured, before embracing him. Clearly embarrassed, Caladithil said a quiet hello and stared at the ground while Estel continued with his directions.

“We are going to take the wagons into the village center and get the families into the houses or homes we have for you. Gilost, help your adar with the cows and the sheep. Caladithil and,” Estel pointed to a couple of other boys, “will help you. Halbarad, Alvist, and Rosruin, take care of the horses. Halhigal and I will bring the wagon teams after we have everyone settled.”

“Alvist?” Laereth said from her spot on the wagon she was driving. “Who is Alvist?”

“I am,” he stepped forward holding the reins of a couple of horses he had already taken from the men. “Are you my aunt? Naneth told me you were coming.”

Laereth gave him a gentle smile as she looked him over, seeing her own sons mirrored in this boy. “Yes, I’m Laereth. This is your Uncle Thalion and your cousin, Laegrist.” The two men greeted him with smiles of their own. “Your cousin Eradan is back with the other animals.”

“I’m glad to finally meet my mother’s kin. I’ll take your horses, Uncle Thalion, Laegrist,” Alvist held out his hand and took the reins of their horses with a smile. “I’ll speak with you at supper,” he said as he led the horses away.

They drove the wagons into the center of the village and stopped near the Hall. Doors around the village opened and women and girls came out to help with the unloading. Estel paused to watch as Nestad greeted his daughter, Emeldir, whom he had not seen in over fifteen years, and to see the reunion between sisters Laereth and Linnor. He then turned back to directing the people to their new homes and making sure that they had the things they needed at least for the night. Although, as he looked around his house that was now furnished for the two families that were sharing it, he realized he need not worry about them lacking for anything. From what he could see, Nimrie had thought of everything that they could possibly need.

Estel kept one eye on Hirgon while they all worked and saw the hesitancy in the man as he greeted Ladreníl. But Ladreníl greeted him no differently than any of the other men except to invite him and his family to supper. Hirgon was visibly surprised but quickly masked his feelings as he nodded his thanks. Some of the older women also greeted him in passing and were quickly introduced to Rían. Estel saw the tenseness in the set of Hirgon’s shoulders lessen as they continued unloading and he knew that he was not the only one who had been worried about Hirgon’s acceptance in the village.

With the wagons finally unloaded the people of Dolomar hurried back into their warm homes, some of them ushering in the families from Taurnand ahead of them. Estel, Halhigal, and Halbarad exchanged long, relieved looks at getting them all safely back to Dolomar. Weary beyond measure, the three men turned towards home with thoughts of a hot meal and a soft bed foremost on their minds.

0-0-0

To be continued…

~~~

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


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