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
Many thanks to my Beta Readers – J. and Marsha
Estel awoke before dawn and he burrowed deeper into the quilts on his bed. It was cold in his room, but the luxury of sleeping in a bed after months on the ground made it difficult to arise and start the day. Thinking about all of the things that he needed to do that day did not make it any easier for him to get up either. He groaned and rolled over on his back and stared up towards the ceiling as his mind began to sort through lists and ideas. Just because they had all arrived safely back in Dolomar did not mean his work was over, just a different kind of work needed to be done, and not just for him, but for the whole village. Glancing out the window into the darkness Estel thought that perhaps there was time for him to take a walk before he was to meet with some of the men and women to organize things in the village.
Throwing back the covers, Estel hopped out of bed and quickly pulled on his clothes before stepping over to the dresser and pouring cold water into the basin and quickly washing his face and hands. He chuckled as he realized that he did not even think anymore about the fact that the water was cold, it was just something he had become accustomed to. Picking up his boots and sword he quietly opened the door and crept out, but his stealth was in vain, Nimrie was already up and preparing breakfast. She looked up from the pot she was stirring over the fire and smiled at him.
“Good morning, Aragorn, are you hungry?”
Estel sat down in a chair close to the fire to put on his boots. “Good morning. Yes, I am, but I did not think you would be up yet and thought to just take some bread with me.”
Nimrie glanced at him with a question in her eyes. “Where are you going so early? Don’t you want something hot? It’s very cold out.”
“I want to take a walk… we have a lot to do today and I thought it might help me think things through if I had some time alone.”
Walking over to the small kitchen area Nimrie rummaged around in a cupboard and pulled out a couple of biscuits she had made the day before and then sliced off a few thick pieces of cheese from the large wedge on the counter. Placing the cheese inside the biscuits she carried them back to her nephew. “This will keep you from starving until you return. I’ll set some of this porridge aside for you and have lots of hot tea ready. You’ll certainly need it.”
“Thank you,” Estel said as he stood and belted on his sword. “I will be back in an hour or so.” He wrapped his heavy cloak about himself and with the biscuits in hand he slipped outside and into the cold and dark. It was snowing, flakes settling onto his dark cloak and he pulled up his hood, tucking his long hair inside of it. Estel stood for a moment enjoying the quiet stillness of the morning and, as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he took in the beauty of the snow covered trees and bushes that he could just make out. He had a feeling that this snow was not going to melt in a day or two; it had the look of a snowfall that was going to last all day and with the cold it was not going to disappear quickly. It appeared they had arrived barely in time, but arrive they had, Estel thought to himself as he moved down towards the gate taking a bite of the biscuit as he walked.
As Estel neared the center of the village he realized he could not leave the village as he had planned, that it would be foolish for him to do so in this weather, and so with a sigh and a moments thought he turned into the smithy instead. He had no desire to spend any more time around the animals, not even his own horse and so the stables were less than appealing at the moment and at least the smithy would give him some protection from the cold. Settling down on a large chunk of wood near the small forge he pulled his hood back and finished eating his meal as he stared blankly out into the falling snow that was becoming more visible as the sky lightened in the east. Finished with his biscuits, Estel pulled one leg up and wrapped his arms around his knee as he watched the snow and thought.
The snow reminded Estel that Mettarë was coming and he wondered how it was celebrated amongst the Dúnedain. Among the elves the end of the year wasn’t celebrated until the end of March, but he knew that here it was December twenty-first. He would have to find out if gifts were exchanged and, if so, what he could possibly do for gifts for his family here. Shaking his head to clear it from his musings, Estel turned his mind to the discussions they were to have in a short time. But, it was not to be. His mind kept drifting to other things as he sat in the smithy watching the falling snow. He had too many fond recollections of playing in the snow and so his thoughts were drawn to Imladris. Especially to his naneth and his adar, though thoughts of Glorfindel and Erestor often crept in and he wondered if Elladan and Elrohir had returned home yet. The events of the last couple of months had given him little opportunity to spend much time thinking on his family.
The sound of children’s laughter caught his attention and Estel realized with a start that the sun was fully up and it was time for him to go… home. He smiled inwardly as he realized he did, in fact, now have two homes and he felt fully comfortable here with his aunt and uncle and cousin. Pulling his hood up once again and shivering a bit against the cold that had crept over him while he had sat motionless for so long, he stood and walked to the entrance of the smithy and looked to where the children were running and laughing and playing in the snow. A smile crossed his lips as he watched them for a moment before heading back.
Estel paused with his hand on the latch of the door as a sudden vision came to him. It was brief and it was just a glimpse of an older Halbarad leading a group of Rangers and then another picture of him directing women and children in a village that appeared to be Dolomar. That was all he saw and he stood there for a moment, frowning as he considered just why he had been shown those particular pictures. It did not surprise him that Halbarad would one day be a leader of men, it was in his blood and as Estel’s cousin it was a natural position for him to assume. But he felt that there was more to it than that and he was still trying to figure it out when he finally opened the door and stepped inside.
Halbarad, Halhigal, and Nimrie were sitting around the table talking as he walked in stomping his feet and brushing the snow from his cloak. Estel hung up his cloak and turned to see all three of them watching him. “Is something the matter? Did something happen while I was gone?” he asked.
Halhigal cleared his throat as he studied the younger man, “No, but I was getting worried about you being out alone in the snow for so long.”
Estel stopped abruptly on his way to the fire and shot his uncle an incredulous look. “You were worried about me being out in the snow? I am a skilled woodsman, Uncle Halhigal.” He continued on to the hearth and crouched down by the fire to warm himself. He murmured his thanks to Nimrie when she handed him a cup with tea leaves already in it and he added hot water from the kettle hanging over the fire and set the cup aside to let it steep for a moment.
“I know you are, Aragorn, but anything can happen and I was concerned.”
“Well, if it will set your mind at ease, I only went to the smithy,” Estel gave his uncle a very small smile, “and I sat on a log there and watched the snow fall as I thought. I realized not long after I left here that it would be foolish to leave the village.” He paused, “As I said, I am a skilled woodsman and I do not take risks needlessly.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Aragorn, and I’m sorry that I didn’t trust your judgment,” Halhigal apologized. “But it did bring one thing to mind.” Estel gave him a questioning look. “You need to appoint someone as your regent in case something happens to you or you need to be gone for an extended period of time. That is what your father did and why I was left in charge after he died.”
“I just assumed that you would do it.”
“Not unless you appoint me. Your return took that authority away from me and you need to appoint someone yourself. You may find you would like to appoint someone different… Nestad, perhaps.” Halhigal had seen the closeness that had developed between his nephew and the healer.
Estel just looked at him and shook his head and then he was reminded of his vision and he gave Halbarad a thoughtful look.
“I believe Halbarad is too young, Aragorn, I don’t think the people would follow him.”
“No, not right now… but someday they will.” Estel made a quick decision. “Halbarad, I want you to start coming with me when I meet with the other leaders. Like this morning when we meet with Nestad and Ladreníl and the others, I want you there. I do not want you to say anything, just listen and we can discuss it later if needed.”
“But…but, Aragorn, I’m only twenty-three and I don’t belong in those meetings. The other men won’t like it if I’m there.”
“And I am only twenty. The men will get used to it.” Estel looked from Halbarad to Halhigal and then to Nimrie and only she seemed accepting of his decision. “I just sense that this is important for the future and…”
“Did you have some sort of vision?”
Estel nodded slowly before he answered his uncle. “Yes, I did. It just showed Halbarad leading a group of Rangers and then him directing a group of women and children here.” He glanced at his cousin who just looked surprised. Estel turned his gaze back to Halhigal. “He was older than he is now… maybe fifteen to twenty years, but I am not really sure as I have a hard time judging the ages of the Dúnedain. I would like to prepare him…you,” he looked directly at Halbarad who gave a slow, if somewhat puzzled nod, “for that future as much as possible.”
“I will not always be here, either.” Halhigal’s voice was matter-of-fact.
Estel grimaced and then nodded, “I will appoint you as my regent now and then whatever the future holds we will deal with at that time.” Halhigal nodded while Halbarad just stared down at the cup he was holding.
“Are you going to join us at the table?” Nimrie asked, tired of seeing him sitting on the floor in front of the fire.
“I am cold, Aunt Nimrie,” he picked up his tea and carefully scooped out the leaves before sipping it. “It is cold out there and sitting still instead of walking around did not keep me very warm. Is there any porridge left?” he asked hopefully.
Nimrie snorted softly as she got to her feet. “I told you I would save you some.” She gave him a fond smile as she neared him and carefully pulled a covered pot out from the edge of the fire with a thick cloth. “Though, I’m not sure it will taste much like porridge anymore.”
Estel shrugged, “It will be hot.” He frowned as his aunt took the lid off the pot and he stared down at the brown mass of what had been once been porridge but now looked more like… well, Estel was not sure what it looked like but it did not look very appetizing. However, he was hungry and still cold and he would at least try and eat it. Nimrie scraped it into a bowl with a loud plop and handed the bowl and a spoon to him and he murmured his thanks. Suppressing a sigh, he lifted out a small spoonful and almost had it in his mouth when the sound of quiet laughter reached his ears. Looking up he saw Halbarad chuckling and Halhigal had a smile that Estel had never seen on him before.
“Are you really going to eat that?” Nimrie asked, trying to suppress her own laughter as her eyes twinkled with amusement.
“Yes, I was going to… I am hungry and you did save it for me. But, I will admit it does not look very… good.” Estel lowered the spoon and looked at the three of them suspiciously. “Did you do something to it?”
“No, Aragorn,” Nimrie laughed quietly, “it really is just porridge that has been left to cook for far too long and is something no one should eat. However, I started a new batch of porridge a little while before you came in and it should be just about ready now. I would never let anyone eat something like that in my home.” She lifted the lid on a pot that was hanging over the fire and Estel could see what looked like regular porridge cooking and he gave his aunt a quick grin.
“Thank you, that looks wonderful.”
Nimrie got a new bowl and ladled in several scoops of porridge and handed that to Estel. “It will be nice to have all of you around here this winter,” she commented as she took the other bowl over to the counter.
Estel exchanged a quick glance and grin with Halbarad before starting in on his breakfast.
Estel noticed the curious glances directed at Halbarad when he followed Halhigal, Nimrie and himself into the Hall to meet with the others, but no one made any comment as his cousin sat quietly at the far end of the table throughout the rather lengthy discussions. Estel had asked Ladreníl, Alpheth, Thalion, Laereth, and Nestad to join him as they decided how best to run things in the village with the additional families. The biggest issues were taking care of the animals and the sharing of food. Bedding, clothing, and household things had mostly been taken care of before the families even arrived and any additional needs would easily be remedied in the next few days. The issue of food turned out to be easily solved as well, Alpheth and Nimrie assured Estel that any of the women from Taurnand could just go to the storage sheds and take what was needed for their own use. Also, the women from Dolomar would give them some additional things, like cheese and dried fruits from their own personal stores.
As talk turned to the animals, Estel decided he really should have paid more attention to how they were cared for in Imladris. Though he never had thought he would have a need to learn such information and he supposed it really did not apply in this situation anyway. The problem was the lack of boys to care for the animals. It had always been the responsibility of the boys between the ages of ten to fifteen to care for the animals and after that age they started doing other things like guarding the gate and hunting and eventually scouting around the village. There were barely enough boys in Dolomar to care for their own animals, let alone the additional ones that had come from Taurnand and there were no boys in their party, except for Culas and he was only nine and deemed a little young for the task.
“I think the girls are going to have to help, my lord,” Nestad finally offered. “They did a good job helping Eradan on the way here. I know it’s not traditional, but they can do it. I think it’s either them or you pull some of the young men from their jobs and then you have a different problem.”
Estel nodded, “I think you are right, I worry about them out in the cold,” he ignored Nimrie’s raised eyebrow, “but I do not see any other solution. And, perhaps, keeping busy this winter will help them overcome their grief over their losses. In fact, I did want to ask if you thought that either Tadion or Beraid should stay here over the winter so that the girls would not be alone. I… I do not have enough experience in these things to know if that would be the right thing to do.” Estel looked around the table at the older men and women who surrounded him, men and women who had experienced much grief and loss over the long years of their lives. He waited patiently as they thought and finally Halhigal spoke quietly.
“I think you should speak with Tadion about this, Aragorn, and let it be their decision as a family. There is no doubt that it would be good for the girls to have one of them here with them, but at the same time I don’t know if they would appreciate it if you just told them that they had to stay. Even the girls at sixteen and seventeen know how important the patrols are and don’t expect their father or brother to be around.” Halhigal furrowed his brow as he added, “And, with orcs in the area they patrol, I’m not sure you want to send Thalion out short-handed either.”
“I thought to send Gilost with him instead. But, I will speak with Tadion and let them decide. They have several days before they have to leave.”
“I thought we would leave tomorrow, my lord,” Thalion said, surprised.
“No, I want you and your men to have a couple of days to rest and to see your families settled. You have today and the next two days and then you will leave at dawn the following day. We need to decide where exactly you are going to go and look for the orcs that attacked the village.”
Halhigal exchanged a look with Ladreníl and then spoke hesitantly, “Aragorn, I think you might want to consider sending them out tomorrow, they’ve been gone a long time from their patrol area and it’ll take them a couple of weeks to return there in this weather.”
Estel glanced at the other men and Ladreníl and Nestad both nodded so he turned back to Thalion. “Do you really feel you and your men need no more time to rest or have more time to help your families adjust to living here?”
“My lord, we’ve all spent more time with our families the last five weeks than we’ve spent with them in years,” Thalion gave Laereth a quick smile before turning his gaze back to Estel. “And while there were some tense times on our journey here, this trip was not a difficult one for us, it was very slow and I think all of us are very well rested, my lord.”
“Then I will heed your counsel on this,” Estel said after a moments thought. “I will go and speak with Tadion when I leave here.”
“What are you going to do about the orcs that crossed the Bruinen?” Nestad asked.
Estel grimaced and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. “I am uncertain about what to do with those right now.” He glanced at Thalion, “You need to get back to your regular patrol area and that would take you well out of the way and I cannot lead a party from here. There are simply not enough men given the fact that some must remain behind to ensure that the people have enough meat to get them through the winter.” He sighed and shook his head. “No, I think we will have to leave them for now and in the spring when some of the patrols return we will go and see if we can find any sign of them, though I am aware that it will probably be far too late.” He shrugged, “It cannot be helped.”
“We don’t always get them all,” Halhigal said and Estel nodded.
“I had one other thing to tell you before you leave,” Estel said. “I wanted you all to know that I have appointed Halhigal as my regent in case anything happens to me or if I am gone for an extended period of time for whatever reason.” Estel saw questioning glances cast once again at Halbarad but again he said nothing about his cousin’s presence at the meeting. “Unless there is anything else that needs to be decided,” he paused and when no one said anything he continued. “After I speak with Tadion I will be helping on the pens for the animals if anyone needs me. Thalion, I will speak with you later about your patrol.” With that, the men and women went their separate ways to work on the things that still needed to be done around the village to help the new villagers settle in.
Watching the six men ready their horses in the bright early morning sun, Estel realized he was going to miss them, particularly Thalion and the youngest Rangers, Laegrist and Beraid. He was coming to realize that in normal circumstances, this was the way it was always going to be with his men. That he would just see them occasionally as they returned briefly to the villages to visit their families. It made him determined to go out with the patrols as soon as possible in the spring because otherwise it would take a long time to get to really know his men, especially those from the other villages.
“Do you wish you were going?”
Estel looked at Halbarad from the corner of his eye, “Yes, and no. I would enjoy the freedom being on patrol would allow me, yet I know I am needed here. There are people to feed and with the threat of orcs we have seen in the last few months it is best that we are here to protect the village if it becomes necessary.”
Halbarad nodded. “Perhaps we might find time to work on our swordplay. We’ve never had time for that.”
“No, we have been rather busy,” he smiled at his cousin before looking around for Mellonar who was not in sight. But it was cold and only a few family members of those leaving appeared to be waiting to say good-bye. “I am going to ask Mellonar if he will take over the sword training of the boys.” Estel paused, “Though, as long as I am here I believe that I would enjoy working with the older boys. And, you, of course,” he smiled.
“We’re ready to go, my lord,” Thalion said as he walked up leading his horse, little clumps of sparkling white snow being thrown up by the horse’s feet as it moved.
Estel clasped his arm, “Be well, Thalion. May the Valar protect you, and the men you lead.”
“Thank you, my lord.” Thalion hesitated, “And may the Valar protect you as well, Lord Aragorn, we need you. It’s good to have you back and leading us.” He smiled then, a slight twinkle lighting up his eyes, “Keep an eye on Eradan for me and don’t let him get into trouble.” He quickly mounted his horse.
“I will try, but I will make no promises regarding your son.” Both men ignored the quietly protesting Eradan. “And, Thalion?” Estel waited until the Ranger looked at him, “Thank you, I am glad to be here.” Thalion simply nodded and urged his horse towards the gate. Estel walked among the other men saying farewell to each of them. He spoke quietly to Tadion about his daughters, Estel had not really been surprised that neither he nor Beraid had decided to stay behind, though he still thought that it would have been better for the girls. But he was learning that there were some things that he really had no control over. Or, rather, he could control, but it was best left in the hands of the families to deal with as they thought best. The only man he did not really speak with was Hirgon as the Ranger would barely look at him and so with an inward sigh, Estel simply wished him well and Hirgon responded with a nod and a curt thank you, my lord. And with that, the six Rangers rode out of the village, leaving their families behind once again.
All of the tables in the Hall had been pushed up against the walls to clear room for the men and boys to practice. The benches lining the walls were filled with boys and young men eagerly watching with sparkling, interested eyes the sparring going on in front of them. Even those who were too young to participate themselves were watching and learning what they could of a skill that could, and probably would, someday save their life. Only those on guard duty were not in the Hall this afternoon, but there would be other days for them to watch and learn.
Estel stood to the side with Ladreníl, Halhigal, Gilost, and Nestad watching Mellonar with an assessing gaze as he sparred with Halbarad. From talking with Nestad, Estel did believe that Mellonar had the necessary skills to teach the boys and, while he was a reserved man, Estel thought he might work well with them. Still, Estel wanted to observe Mellonar for himself and so he watched him carefully as the older man and Halbarad sparred with the blunted practice blades.
“He is quite good,” Estel murmured quietly to the other men, satisfied with the level of skill that Mellonar displayed.
“You mean for a man.”
Estel fixed Nestad with a hard stare, ignoring the slight twinkle in the healer’s eyes. “I meant for someone who wields a sword, Nestad.” He finally gave a brief smile, “I do try not to compare men with elves, though of course their skill is what I am most familiar with.”
“I know, my lord, and I didn’t mean to imply…”
“You did not say anything wrong,” Estel interrupted him with a shake of his head as he looked to his uncle and Ladreníl. “What do you think?”
“I’ll be glad to let him take over teaching the boys,” Ladreníl replied fervently.
Halhigal watched the spar another moment, “I think he will work out well, Aragorn. He handles the blade well and will do a good job with the boys. I’m glad that you’ll be working with the older boys and young men when you have time. It’s good for them to have a variety of teachers when they’re a little older.”
Estel nodded and then turned his attention back to Halbarad and Mellonar as he waited for a slight pause so that he could call a halt since he had seen enough to make his decision. As they broke apart and began circling each other once more he called for them to stop and Halbarad had a look of disappointment in his eyes as he approached, followed by Mellonar.
“Well, Mellonar, would you be willing to teach the boys here the art of swordplay?”
“If that is your wish, my lord,” he replied gruffly.
“Ladreníl has taught them some of the basics, but even he admits that swordplay is not his strength so you will have to assess them to see what needs to be taught. I would like to work with the older boys and young men as I have time, if that would not interfere with what you would plan to do.”
Mellonar looked at him with an eyebrow raised in disbelief, “Your teaching would never interfere with my plans, my lord.”
“All right, then. How and when do you want to teach them?”
“They have to care for the animals and they have guard and scouting duties,” Halhigal pointed out.
“In Taurnand I had a lesson first thing in the morning and one in the afternoon before supper.”
“Everyday?” Estel asked. “For all of the boys?”
“Everyday, but the youngest boys didn’t have to come everyday unless they wanted to.” Mellonar paused and gave his Chieftain a pointed look, “They always seemed to come, though.”
Estel looked to the other men and they nodded their agreement. He then turned to the anxiously waiting boys. “I want all of you who are ten and older to come here.” A group of boys and young men hurried to his side, leaving a small, dejected looking group of little boys sitting on the sidelines. Estel looked over the eager young faces briefly, remembering the days of his own training and then he introduced Mellonar to them. “Mellonar is going to be teaching you swordplay. Depending on your various chores or duties you will come here first thing in the morning or right before supper. As I have time, I am also going to be working with some of you,” his gaze flicked to a grinning Eradan, and others who wore more serious expressions, including Alvist and Rosruin. “We have time now, so,” he glanced around once more, “Eradan, Alvist, Rosruin, stay with me. Halbarad, perhaps you might stay and help me with them. The rest of you go with Mellonar.”
Waiting until the larger group of boys followed Mellonar to the other end of the room, Estel looked at the three students. “Go get practice blades,” he said quietly. While they were gone he turned to Halbarad, noticing as he did so that the rest of the men had gone to sit by some of the little boys in the room. “I thought you and I could practice after I was done with them, but I do want your help, too.”
“I can wait, though I do wish you’d have let me finish sparring with Mellonar,” he whispered. “I think I could have beaten him.”
“Perhaps,” is all Estel said before the others returned. “I want to see how you grip your sword.” Estel checked each of their grips and made tiny adjustments to the way both Alvist and Rosruin held their sword. “You need to start practicing this over and over now to make it permanent, you have been holding it incorrectly for a long time and it will take much practice now to correct it.” He was pleased as he checked their stances; all three of them seemed to have mastered the basic stances and had developed good balance and footwork, though Eradan’s skill was far superior to the other two. Estel knew that was partially due to the fact that he was several years older than the others, but he also thought that it spoke well of Mellonar’s teaching ability.
“Wait here,” Estel commanded quietly as he strode to where the practice blades were stored. He was picking through them, trying to find one that had the right balance when he felt eyes on him and he knew who it was without looking. He continued his search and waited for Balrant to ask the question he knew was coming. Finding a sword that felt right to him, Estel was starting back when the boy finally spoke.
“Aragorn, are you going to teach me, too?” there was just the slightest quaver in the voice and Estel sighed inwardly as he turned to the boy sitting as patiently and as still as Estel had ever seen him.
Estel crouched down in front of the boy and took his small hand in his sword calloused one. “Do you remember what I told you a few months ago, Balrant?”
Nodding, Balrant whispered, “That-that when I was older you would teach me some things about swords.”
“Yes, and I will still do that, but you have to get a little bigger before you start learning to wield a sword. How old are you?”
“Seven, and I know I have to be ten. But I want to help, Aragorn,” Balrant said with a fierce expression that took Estel by surprise. “I don’t want people to be hurt, like… like… that boy was.” He gestured down the bench and Estel glanced down to see Culas sitting alone on the bench watching the others intently.
“Do you mean Culas?” Balrant nodded. Estel tightened his grip on the boy’s hand as he tried to sooth and explain at the same time. “I am glad that you want to help others, Balrant. You have a kind and generous heart. But right now, at your age, we will have to find others ways for you to help. You already help by running errands and such and those are things that need to be done. But,” he said firmly, “you cannot learn to wield a sword until you are ten.”
“All right, Aragorn, but… but what if the orcs come here? Like they did in Culas’s village, I can’t…” Balrant stopped and he looked away.
Estel saw his eyes glistening with unshed tears and he wondered exactly what Culas had told him. Though he supposed he really should not be surprised that Balrant had learned what the orcs had done in Taurnand. They had not tried to keep it a secret and he could have overheard any of the adults speaking about it. He supposed it was one thing for Balrant to hear of orcs and fighting off in some distant place and another thing to hear that they came into a village and people were injured or killed by them. And for him to actually know someone close to his age that had been injured by orcs must have been a shock to the little boy, though he wondered if he had any memory of the attack in Dolomar, maybe he had been too young at the time. If it was upsetting Balrant, it was probably upsetting to other young children in the village as well. Estel would have to speak with Halhigal and Ladreníl about it, but for now he turned his attention back to Balrant, his heart saddened that one so young should have to face the realities of their harsh life so soon.
Laying his practice sword down, Estel brushed some of Balrant’s hair back out of his face as he spoke softly. “Balrant, I will not lie to you and say that it will never happen here because it could,” Estel said with a voice full of sorrow as Balrant watched him closely. “All I can say is that those of us who can wield swords and bows will do our very best to protect you. It is all any of us can do and it is why we practice so hard,” he gestured around the Hall. “Now, while you cannot actually start training with a sword, you can come and watch the others and I know that you can learn much by simply watching and listening. I know that I did,” Estel smiled at the boy.
“C-can I come anytime?”
“As long as your nana says it is all right.”
Balrant nodded and Estel stood and glanced around the room, spotting Halhigal and Ladreníl watching them from the other side of the Hall. “I think that Halhigal and Ladreníl would be good for you to sit by and they will be able to help you learn. Come along,” Estel held his hand out to Balrant who took it hesitantly not really sure he wanted to go and sit with the men. Glancing at Culas sitting alone, Estel called to him to join them as well and he took both boys across the room, skirting around the area where Mellonar was leading some boys through basic sword drills.
“Uncle Halhigal, Ladreníl, I thought Balrant should sit by you so that he might start learning a little about swordplay in the event that orcs ever attacked Dolomar as they did Culas’s village.” Estel saw the men’s eyes widen in understanding and then sadness as they looked at the little boy.
“Of course. Balrant, you sit between Ladreníl and me and Culas sit over here,” Halhigal patted the bench next to him and Culas eagerly sat by him, glad to have someone he knew to sit with. Balrant was a little slower, glancing up at Estel who nodded encouragingly at him.
“You two watch and listen,” Estel said before turning and walking slowly back to his group who were waiting for him with puzzled expressions.
“Is everything all right?” Eradan asked with a concerned frown marring his usual lighthearted expression.
“Balrant wants to learn how to use a sword, which is not unusual, but he has heard all about what happened in Taurnand and it frightens him.” Estel saw Rosruin’s jaw tighten and knew the boy was thinking back three years to the attack here when his own mother had been killed, leaving him an orphan at the age of thirteen. At least he had family here to take him in and now he lived with his uncle, Talagan, his aunt, Linnor, and his cousins, Alvist and baby Imlos. Of course, now the house was even more crowded with Laereth and Eradan now living there.
“Now, who wants to go first?” Estel ignored Eradan’s eagerness and turned to Alvist instead. “Alvist, come.” Estel led him a few feet into the room while the others stepped back and leaned against the wall to watch and learn. Estel spoke quietly at first so not to be overheard by the others. “My intent here is not to embarrass you, but to see what you already know how to do so that I can teach you further, all right?” Alvist nodded and Estel stepped back a few paces and nodded for him to begin.
Estel watched Alvist closely as the boy began circling him warily. He noticed that his footwork, which the boy had done well in the drills, was not as smooth when he was actually using it in a sparring situation. Alvist also held his sword too low and the grip that Estel had corrected had returned to the old way, but he knew it would take the boy some time to correct that. He did seem to be focused on Estel as he should be and when he feinted to the left, Alvist responded correctly. “Well done,” he murmured encouragingly. Deciding that he had seen enough of his footwork and focus, Estel pressed his attack, though he did so slowly, keeping in mind the boy’s age. He went straight ahead and probed for an opening at Alvist’s chest, but the boy quickly blocked it, pushing Estel’s blunted sword down and away as he backed away. Following him, Estel aimed for a spot on the boy’s left side and Alvist just barely got his blade in the way and Estel pulled his sword back and stepped back himself to see if Alvist would come after him. But the boy did not and Estel frowned slightly, though part of him was not really surprised as he remembered his own days of sparring with those who were older… much, much older in his case… and he knew it would take time for Alvist to feel comfortable. He sparred with the boy for several more minutes, noting the way Alvist always defended himself the same way and the way his eyes gave away certain movements. Finally, Estel ended the match with a quick, light tap on the boy’s leg with the flat side of his sword that Alvist never even saw coming.
Alvist stood breathing heavily as Estel approached with his sword held loosely in his right hand. “You did quite well, Alvist. I can tell that you have worked hard with your sword, have you not?” Alvist nodded and watched him closely to see what else his Chieftain had to say. “Between that and reading your books, you must keep very busy considering all of the other things you have to do,” Estel commented before continuing. “Now,” he placed a hand on Alvist shoulder and led him over towards the others so that all could listen. Not to embarrass the boy, but so that all could learn. Estel spent time explaining what he had noticed and how Alvist could correct some of those things and how he, Estel, planned to work with him to overcome some of the other mistakes he was making. Still, Estel told him as he finished, he was doing quite well and Alvist grinned at the praise.
As Estel sparred with Rosruin, he found the boy to be much more aggressive than Alvist. It surprised him, because the boy was usually quiet and somewhat withdrawn around others. But his aggressiveness with his sword led to carelessness and Estel quickly ended the spar and spoke to the boy away from the others about his need to keep himself under control as he fought. It was good to have a certain amount of aggression, but not if it led to mistakes that could cost him his life as well as the lives of others. Rosruin had some good skills, which Estel praised him for, but he tempered that with the need for control. Rosruin only nodded without comment and Estel sent him off and called Eradan to him. As Eradan approached, Estel saw Halbarad speaking to both Alvist and Rosruin as he demonstrated something to them and Estel was pleased as he turned his gaze back to Eradan.
“You have some good skills already, you listened and applied Mellonar’s teaching quite well.”
“My father also taught me a lot. When I was eleven he was home for awhile because he was injured.”
Nodding, Estel motioned for Eradan to take his place and they began to spar. Gone was the grinning young man and in his place was a serious young warrior. Watching him carefully as they circled, Estel saw immediately that Eradan was as comfortable with a sword in his hand as he was with a bow when they were hunting. They exchanged a series of thrusts and parries and Estel was impressed at Eradan’s ability. As Estel was not using anywhere close to all of his skill and knowledge, and trying to do more observing than actually trying to win the match, he found himself having to go on the defensive several times. He was surprised to realize that Eradan had only a little less skill than Halbarad. After five minutes and having seen enough, Estel slipped his blade past Eradan’s and lightly slapped his upper arm.
Eradan grimaced and Estel gave him a quick grin as they walked over to the others. “You do very well already, Eradan and I think that you mostly need to work on your quickness and do as much sparring as you can. I will work with you and give you advice and help on little things that I see, but really I think it best if you spar with me, Halbarad, or any of the men who might be available. It really is the best way for you to improve right now.”
“Then I will do that, my lord, thank you.”
Estel shifted his gaze to the two boys, “Keep working on the things I showed you. Tomorrow, if I have time, I will work with you again. You may go.” The boys left and Eradan was following when Estel called to the young man, “Gilost, Halbarad, and I are going hunting in the morning if you would like to join us, Eradan.”
Looking back at him with a grin, Eradan said confidently, “I would enjoy bringing a deer back to the village, my lord. Perhaps you will bring one down as well.” He turned and walked away, missing the chagrined look on Estel’s face.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll bring something down tomorrow,” Halbarad said with a twinkle in his eye. “A rabbit or a squirrel, perhaps.”
Ignoring both of their comments, Estel began speaking to Halbarad about swordplay instead and Halbarad quickly focused on what he was saying, just as Estel had hoped he would. “When I sparred with you before and as I watched you here with Mellonar, one thing I noticed is that when you start to move to your right you drop your sword a bit which leaves you vulnerable. Even if you block your opponent’s sword the first few times, he’s going to begin to see what you are doing before you actually move and eventually it will catch up with you.”
Halbarad’s eyes widened in surprise, “I actually do that? Every time?”
“Yes, and Mellonar saw it today and was starting to take advantage of it.”
“That’s why you stopped us,” he mumbled, “You didn’t want me to lose to him.”
Estel frowned at his cousin, “It is not why I stopped it. I had seen enough to satisfy myself that Mellonar would do a good job with the boys and there was no reason to continue.” Glancing around he saw that the Hall had emptied, except for Ladreníl and Gilost who were speaking with Mellonar at the other end of the room, and he continued. “But I do believe he would have won and there is no shame in that. He is eighty or ninety years older than you and has many years of experience as a Ranger; I would expect him to be better than you.”
“I suppose so, though I doubt he’s better than you.”
“I know not,” Estel replied, though he gave Halbarad a brief grin. “Now, do you want to spar with me? It will take time for you to overcome this bad habit you have developed, but you really need to do so, Halbarad.”
“Of course I want to spar with you! It’s why I’m still here and I need to fix this… I don’t want it to cost me my life. Are there other things you noticed?” Halbarad asked somewhat hesitantly, not sure he really wanted to hear a list of his faults, but if there were things that he could improve then he wanted to do so.
Estel nodded, his eyes intent and serious, “Yes, there are. But this is the most serious one and we need to work on it first. The other things are relatively minor, but will help you, and I will point them out to you as we spar. I will also show you some exercises that will help improve your quickness. I had to do a lot of them when I was younger and we can do them together, I think we will have the time this winter.” He paused, “Perhaps I will ask Eradan to join us as well, he is quite good with his sword already.”
Nodding, Halbarad held out the blunt blade he had taken from Eradan. “Well, I’m ready, Aragorn,” he lightly tapped his sword against the one Estel held, “Come on.” He walked to the center of the room with a determined look on his face and Estel slowly followed, his expression no less determined than his cousin’s.
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.