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Brothers at Heart
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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14
Chapter 14

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

Author’s Note: I apologize in advance for the length of the chapter, I did promise one reader (who shall remain nameless, but you know who you are!) that I would keep my chapters shorter than my last story and I have done that, except for this one. I just needed to finish up some things here so that the story could move on to the next section and I could not see breaking this into two chapters.

Also, I am aware of the enormous number of original characters in the story and I do try and at least describe who they are – who they are related to or other pertinent information. But, when Estel is in the village(s) he does interact with different people and so it’s hard not to have these people, though I honestly do try and keep it to a minimum. Would it be helpful to have a character list at the end of the chapter? You can email me or let me know in a review if you would find that helpful.


~~~

As he strode briskly down the lane in the cold morning air, Estel squinted in the bright sun that was just rising to see who was walking ahead of him. Realizing it was the three girls from Taurnand he quickened his pace, wanting to speak with them to ask if they had settled in and, with the oldest two girls, to see how they were in the absence of their father and brother. At least they had each other and someone to care for them, someone they knew well. Drawing alongside, he pulled the hood on his cloak back a bit so he could be heard and seen more clearly, though he felt the cold more keenly. Estel smiled as he greeted them.

“Good morning, ladies.”

The youngest girl, Héthurin, giggled at being called lady, but the older girls murmured good morning in reply.

“Are you on your way to take care of the animals?”

“Yes, my lord,” the oldest girl, Miniel, answered, staring at her feet as she walked through the snow.

“Have you had any problems with them?”

“Just that the sheep like to run away sometimes,” Héthurin replied with a smile that Estel returned.

“I do remember what that is like.” He looked at the three girls closely and saw that the older two were drawn and pale and he grieved for them, yet he knew not what to do for them… he knew there really was nothing he could do. Though the three lived together, Héthurin at least had her mother to care for her while her father was on patrol and though she undoubtedly grieved for her younger brother, it was not the same as losing a parent as well as a brother.

“Do you enjoy living in my house?” he asked for lack of anything else to say, not really comfortable talking with young ladies.

The girls stopped and looked at him in surprise. “That’s your house?” Miniel asked.

“Well, I was born there but I only lived there until I was two,” Estel shrugged. “So, it is mine because it was my father’s, but I guess what I am really asking is… do you like it here in Dolomar? Have you met some of the other young ladies?”

All three girls looked at each other and, again, Miniel answered, so quietly that Estel had to strain to hear her. “It’s a nice village, my lord, but it’s not home.”

Her younger sister, Tadiel, interrupted her, “Taurnand wasn’t home anymore either, Miniel. Not since…” she bit her lip and looked away.

“I am sorry for your pain and wish there were something I could do to ease your burden.”

“At least you talk to us,” Héthurin mumbled. Miniel pulled on her friend’s cloak and shushed her, but Estel heard her comment anyway.

Estel frowned. “What do you mean? Do the other girls or young ladies not speak with you?”

“I’m sure they would, Lord Aragorn,” Miniel gave Héthurin an annoyed look, “it’s just that we haven’t seen them very often. But we’ve only been here a little over a week and I’m sure we’ll have more time soon.”

“When?” Estel raised his eyebrow in question as he realized that the job of taking care of the animals had deprived the girls of any time to meet the girls of the village. These three were gone from soon after dawn until close to nightfall and with any other chores they might have it left them no time for other activities. He would have to find some way to give them time to meet with the other girls, if any of the people from Taurnand needed to meet with and feel comfortable here, it was these three girls. The older two girls especially needed a place that was welcoming and warm to them.

None of the girls answered his question, staring at the ground instead. “I will find a way for you to have time away from caring for the animals, ladies.” They looked up at him with hopeful, though guarded expressions. “It may take me a day or two to figure something out, but I will do it. You need to know the others of this village, I want it to be your home and somewhere you feel comfortable and I am sorry that I did not think of it before.”

“B-but someone needs to care for our animals,” Miniel protested. “It’s our duty to do that, my lord.”

“And it is my duty, Lady Miniel, to see that my people are taken care of. And that includes making sure that you three have a chance to know the other people of this village. You will never feel a part of Dolomar if you do not know the people, especially the ones that are near your age.” Estel smiled at them.

“Thank you,” Héthurin grinned, while Miniel and Tadiel were more restrained, but no less sincere in their thanks.

“I will walk with you to the pens as I am going to the stables,” Estel offered and the four of them walked on with Estel sharing some of the things that he knew about the village with the girls.

0-0-0

“What are you making?”

“It is supposed to be a whistle,” Estel scowled down at the wood he was attempting to whittle into a whistle as a Mettarë gift for Balrant.

Halbarad gingerly sat down beside him on the log that had been carefully wiped clear of snow. “It doesn’t appear to be a whistle,” he observed with a grin.

Estel flipped the wood aside and sheathed his belt knife with a deep sigh. “I am not very good at carving things like that,” he admitted with a rueful smile. “I never had much time to do such things when I was young. I was always reading or studying with Adar and then I started my training and I just…” he shrugged.

Halbarad picked up the cast aside wood and looked it over. “You could, perhaps, make it into a very short spear,” his eyes twinkled as he glanced sidelong at his cousin. “That wouldn’t take much work and would be much easier.”

Ignoring him, Estel tried to think of something else he could give to the little boy. He also needed to come up with a gift for his grandmother for the Mettarë festival they were celebrating in a week, but he pushed that thought aside for now, trying to concentrate on one gift at a time. He watched with amusement as Halbarad began whittling on the piece of wood. Leaning back against the tree behind him, Estel asked, “Are you going to give Balrant the whistle?”

“No, I just thought I would help my Chieftain in this very difficult skill that he has not mastered.” Halbarad did not look up from the wood. “I’ve heard that Nestad is quite good at whittling, perhaps he would have time to teach you, my Lord Aragorn,” he glanced sidelong at Aragorn with a sly grin.

“You do know that I can have you…” Estel paused and narrowed his eyes in thought. “Well, I am not sure what a suitable punishment would be for being so disrespectful to your lord, but if I think on it, I will come up with something. Banishment, perhaps?” He chuckled for a moment and straightened up on the log. “And, I can do some carving, just, simpler things.” Estel picked up a handful of dry branches that were each about an inch and a half across. All the bark had been stripped from the branches and they had been neatly smoothed.

“What are those for?”

“These are to make the markers for a game called draughts I am making for the children of the village. I played it when I was quite young,” Estel gave a wistful smile. He looked down at the branches, rubbing his thumb along the smooth surface, “I still have to cut these into the right sizes and Mellonar is making a flat board for me so that I can finish it. I thought the children might enjoy it,” he shrugged. “I have never seen them play games like this, though I know they do not have the time that I did for such things.”

“You miss them, do you not?”

“Yes,” Estel sighed. “The festival is making it difficult, I think, even though among the elves Mettarë is not celebrated until March. But, it is a special day and it makes me think of Naneth and Adar and my brothers. And, I am not as busy as I was, Halbarad, and that gives me more time to think of them as well. I will be all right, but I miss them right now.”

“Go and see them.”

Estel shook his head, “No, I will not see them for a long time. My place is here now amongst my people and it would not be good for me to go back and forth, it would make it harder, I think.”

“I suppose it would. I thought, perhaps…”

“I feel very much at home with you and your parents,” Estel interrupted him, seeing the look in Halbarad’s eye. “I think you know that, but it is not the same.”

“No, it wouldn’t be… it isn’t something I can imagine. I think about being gone from here and being with the Rangers, but then I will be coming back home here to my naneth and adar and to the village I’ve lived in all my life. You won’t have that.”

Estel gave a single nod and looked away as he spoke quietly. “No, but it seems to be the life that was… destined for me for some reason. Remember I told you as we journeyed to Taurnand that my life would be unsettled for a long time. Though how long that is, I do not know.”

“Well, considering how long the Dúnedain live, it could be a very long time,” Halbarad grinned. “Forgive me,” he quickly apologized at the pained look that Estel shot him.

“It is not something that I have any control over, nor do I really know what it means. It is just an impression that I have… a very strong impression… of living an unsettled type of life.”

“All Rangers have unsettled lives.”

“It is more than that, I think, but I do not know how or why it is different.”

“Then, I suppose you just have to see what happens and not be concerned about it until then.”

“That is your counsel?” Estel asked with a small smile.

“Well, do you have a better suggestion?”

“No, I do not, and I will take your counsel, it is not something that I can be concerned about right now. I have to lead my people and it just may be that that is what will cause my life to be unsettled.” Estel shrugged, “Or, something else may happen that I cannot see right now and I will deal with that when it happens.” Cold and weary of the discussion, he stood brushing the small clumps of snow from his cloak as he did so. He glanced at the whistle that Halbarad still held, “Are you going to finish that for me?”

“Yes, I will.”

“Thank you. What are you going to give grandmother?”

Halbarad shrugged, “Naneth is making something for her, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t give her something just from me, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Estel nodded, absently tapping the bundle of branches he held in the palm of his hand. “I do not know what to give her… what to make for her. Do you have any suggestions?”

“No, but you could ask Adar or Naneth, they might know something she’d like.”

“I hope so,” he murmured. “I would like to give her something. Well, I am cold and I have other things I need to do.” Estel started back towards the village with Halbarad falling into step alongside him.

“I think the children will appreciate having a game like this… whatever kind of game it is,” he smiled as he gestured towards the branches.

“I will teach you how to play it; it is a very simple game. If you practice you might be able to beat the children.” Estel laughed softly as he remembered his own childhood. “There was a fancy draughts set in the Hall of Fire, along with a few other games, and I would be allowed to play in there sometimes. But Elrohir made me a small set of my own and I would carry it with me into Glorfindel’s office or Erestor’s office and they would always stop what they were doing and play one game with me.” He smiled. “That was the rule, one game, even if I begged them, which I soon learned did not work with them, though it did with Adar. He could be talked into three or four games. I suppose it depended on how busy he was.”

“Or, how much he sensed you needed to spend time with him.”

Estel gave a thoughtful nod as they approached the gate.

“What about your brothers?”

“When they were there, they would, of course, play this game and others with me. Naneth, too.”

“Were they gone often?” Halbarad looked at Estel in surprise, he had assumed Elladan and Elrohir had always been in Imladris when he was growing up.

Greeting the boys on guard duty at the gate with a smile, it took Estel a moment to answer Halbarad. “They were often gone for months at a time when I was quite young, but they were almost always home after I turned seven.”

“I cannot imagine not having other children to play with.”

“And I cannot imagine having them to play with. It is just how it was,” Estel shrugged. “But, I had my adar with me every day as I grew and you did not… these children do not,” he gestured at the young children who were playing in the freshly fallen snow. He smiled at Balrant who appeared to be building some type of stockade with his friends.

“No, and actually my adar was home probably…” Halbarad stopped as an anxious looking Rían approached.

“Lord Aragorn, Halbarad, have you seen Celin or Culas?”

Shaking his head, Estel turned and looked over the children they had just walked past, but the twins were not with there, though as he quickly counted them he realized that all of the children between the ages of five and ten were there, except for the twins. The day was not the bitter cold it had been and after several days cooped up inside the children seemed to be enjoying playing outside. He turned back to Rían. “When did you last see them?”

“They were playing here with the children and I went inside for just a few minutes and now they are gone. Where could they be?” Rían bit her lip and looked around anxiously, not knowing where to even start looking in this village.

Estel exchanged a puzzled glance with Halbarad as he wondered why Rían was so concerned if the children had only been gone for a few minutes. Though, it was Celin and Culas so he supposed anything could happen in a very short amount of time. “I am sure they are nearby, Lady Rían,” he said gently. “We will go and ask the other children.” Estel led the way over to where the children were playing and he watched Rían from the corner of his eye, noticing she was still limping slightly on the leg that had been broken. The children paused in their play and looked up as the three adults drew near.

“Where are Celin and Culas?” Estel asked, looking first at the oldest children and then his gaze moving on to the younger ones, including Balrant who simply smiled before looking to the oldest girl who was answering the question.

“They went to find something…” she frowned as she tried to remember what they had said. “They wanted it for that thing that are making,” she gestured to a pile of snow and even Estel could not figure out what it was supposed to be. “Celin said they were coming right back, my lord.”

“Did you see which way they were headed?” The girl shook her head.

“They went to the stables, Aragorn!”

“Thank you, Balrant,” Estel said with a small smile as one of the older boys reminded Balrant to address him as lord. He turned to Rían. “Shall we go to the stables and see what they are doing?”

“I will go, my lord. There is no need to trouble yourself further now that I know where they are,” Rían replied, embarrassed that she had not simply asked the other children herself.

“It is no trouble.” He glanced at Halbarad, “Would you mind taking these home?” he held out the bundle of branches. “I will return shortly.” Halbarad took the branches with a small nod and, with one last slightly puzzled look at Rían from the corner of his eye, he headed for home.

Estel carefully shortened his stride as he walked alongside Rían to the stables in search of the children, and he noticed that, in spite of the slight limp, she did not appear to be in any pain. “How do you fare, Lady Rían? Do you like it here?” he asked, concerned about the way she had responded to her children being missing for only a few minutes. It was not that the twins could not get into mischief quite quickly, but there was something about the way she was acting that hinted that she was bothered by much more than just the children.

“I’m well, my lord. I-I like it here. The women have been very kind to me and…” Rían took a deep breath and looked away, not wanting to tell him of her fears.

Estel grew increasingly alarmed as he saw her eyes fill with tears. “What troubles you, then?” he asked softly. He stopped in his tracks and watched in shock as tears began flowing down her cheeks. Uncertain as to what to do to comfort or help her, Estel looked around helplessly. Finally he decided that perhaps a woman could help her where he could not and he was about to suggest that she go and see Laereth and Linnor when Rían spoke.

“Forgive me, Lord Aragorn,” she said with a deep and weary sigh. “I did not mean…”

“There is nothing to forgive,” he replied. “I think that you should go and see Laereth and I will find Celin and Culas and bring them to you. Perhaps you might speak to her about what is on your heart.”

“You will find them?” Rían asked anxiously, her eyes brimming with tears once again.

“Yes, I will,” Estel promised and he watched as she took a deep breath before turning and making her way slowly towards the house where Laereth now lived with her sister. His brow furrowed in thought as he turned towards the stables to find the twins. He quickly found them poking around in the tack room, though he could not tell what they were searching for as they chattered back and forth. Leaning against the door jamb, he observed them for a few minutes to see if they appeared out of sorts or upset. But the two of them appeared to be behaving in what he considered their normal manner. Celin suddenly saw him standing in the doorway and she froze, giving him a tentative smile.

“Hello, Lord Aragorn.” At his sister’s words, Culas twirled around and stared at Estel.

“Celin, Culas,” Estel said with a small smile. “What are you looking for? Can I help you find it?”

Both children relaxed and Culas answered carefully. “We need a long piece of leather to help us with our snow village…”

“And some pieces of wood,” Celin added.

“I see,” Estel nodded. “And did you ask anyone if you could take those things from the stable?”

“No, my lord,” Culas said, shaking his head, “but at home we were allowed to take such things…”

“If it wasn’t part of a bridle or a saddle,” Celin finished. “We know not to take things that are being used. We’re looking for things that no one wants.” Culas nodded.

“Good, I am glad to hear that and as this is now your home then as long as you only take things that are not being used, I will allow that as well. However,” Estel cautioned them, “you must promise me that you will not go into the stalls of the horses. Is that understood?” he eyed each of them sternly until they nodded. “Now, I came to get you because your nana was concerned and I told her that I would find you. Come along.” He turned to go, expecting them to follow.

“Is she all right?” Celin asked anxiously, not moving.

Hearing the slight quaver in her voice, Estel glanced back to see that neither child had moved and were watching him with widened, anxious eyes and, again, he was perplexed. He walked over and crouched down in front of them. “She seemed upset,” he said, not really sure what to say to them. “But otherwise she appeared to be well. She is waiting for you with Lady Laereth and Lady Linnor.”

“She has been upset a lot lately,” Culas informed him matter-of-factly, ignoring the look Celin gave him.

“Do you know why?”

Culas shook his head, but Celin stared at the ground for a moment and then met Estel’s eyes for a long moment as she thought about whether she should tell him. But he had saved her life… all of their lives. And he was the Chieftain and so she decided she could trust him and maybe he could even help her nana. “She has bad dreams,” she whispered. Estel gave her an encouraging nod and she continued, grabbing Culas’s hand for comfort. “I-I hear her crying sometimes at night and she says things when she’s sleeping about… orcs,” Celin swallowed hard, “… and fire.” Tears began trickling down her face and not knowing what else to do, Estel gently embraced her with one arm as she cried, putting his other hand on Culas’s shoulder.

All of Rían’s earlier concerns now made sense to Estel. She wanted her children kept under close watch to keep them from further danger. Evidently Hirgon’s presence on the journey here or the fact that she had not been fully recovered then had kept these fears at bay. Or, perhaps, it was the fact that she was now sleeping in a house again that brought the memories flooding back. Estel sighed inwardly at this new pain she was suffering.

After a few minutes, Celin’s tears slowed and she pulled away from Estel, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. Looking from her grief stricken face to Culas’s shocked one, Estel wondered how she knew and he did not and why she had not told her brother, though he knew it really did not matter. “Celin, do you have such dreams?” She gave such a quick shake of her head without meeting his eyes that Estel wondered if it was the truth, but he did not press her for now, it was something that he would speak with Nestad about. He looked at Culas, “Do you?”

“No.”

“Thank you for telling me, Celin, though I know it was hard for you to do so. I know that there are things that will make it easier for her, though it may take some time. Will you trust me enough to let me tell some of the other adults, like Nestad and Lady Laereth, so that they may help her as well?”

“Yes, my lord,” the twins said in unison.

“Then I will do so. Now, we must not keep your nana waiting any longer.” He quickly left the stables with the children trotting at his heels.

0-0-0

Estel sat at the table, occasionally speaking with Nimrie, but mostly lost in his own thoughts as he smoothed the markers for the draughts game he was making. The day had seemed long already, even now in mid-afternoon. He had gone hunting early with Gilost and they had had to travel many miles before catching even a glimpse of tracks in the new fallen snow. Gilost had brought down a fine buck, but that is all they had been able to find for their hours of effort. They had arrived back in the village later than usual and Gilost had taken care of the deer meat while Estel had gone immediately back out with Halbarad to do some scouting before returning to work with the boys on their swords skills. That was something he usually enjoyed, but today he had been somewhat short with them which made him annoyed with himself. He knew he would need to apologize to the boys and probably should not have gone today when he was so preoccupied with thoughts of Rían and the children, but he had thought it would be a good way to take his mind off the situation. Estel was frustrated at his failure in not seeing her fears earlier and his inability to help her now. Though, it did appear that speaking with Laereth was helping her in some way.

As Nimrie sat near the fire sewing she occasionally glanced at Aragorn with concern, though he was so busy with his own thoughts that he never noticed. A knock on the door startled them both and as Nimrie rose to answer it, Estel suppressed a sigh at the interruption and prepared to cover the markers with a cloth. He was hoping it was one of the women coming to see Nimrie, but it was Nestad and he relaxed back in his chair.

“Hello, Nimrie. Is Lord Aragorn here?”

Nimrie returned his greeting and invited him in with a smile. “Would you like some tea?”

“Yes, thank you,” Nestad replied as he crossed the room to the table, studying Aragorn as he approached. “Good afternoon, my lord,” he said as he sat in a chair opposite him.

“Nestad,” Estel nodded, idly turning one of the markers in his hand.

“What are these?” Nestad picked up one of the finished markers, noting the smooth finish and the cross mark that was carved on one side. He gave Aragorn a questioning look.

“Markers for a game called draughts,” he gestured to the board leaning against the wall behind him that he had painstakingly finished by neatly carving in crossing lines to make squares and then coloring every other square black by carefully using a dye that Nimrie normally used for cloth. “It is for the children,” Estel explained.

Nestad’s eyes softened as he looked at his Chieftain. “I see. I have not heard of this game,” he admitted, “but, I seem to remember hearing of a game with a board like that… what was it called?” He furrowed his brow in thought.

“Chess?”

“Yes, I do believe that was it. I can’t remember where I heard of it; it was years ago now, but the person telling me about it made it sound interesting.”

“It is a wonderful game, Nestad, and you would probably enjoy it. If I had the time, I would make the pieces for that as well.” Estel gave the healer a rueful smile, “And, if I was a little better at whittling. The pieces are much more difficult to carve than this.”

“Perhaps you should draw out what they look like and I could carve them, I certainly have the time right now,” Nestad offered and Estel nodded. “Which brings me to the point of my visit, my lord.” He smiled his thanks at Nimrie as she set a cup of tea beside him. “I do have quite a bit of time and thought perhaps I could help by doing some hunting or scouting for you. I know the additional people have added a burden to you and the others and I’d like to help. There has been little need for my healing skills and with you and Nimrie both here, I think I could be gone for a few hours with it harming anyone.”

Estel gave the older man a dubious look as he responded slowly. “I suppose it would free up some of the men for other things or allow us to scout further afield. I did not ask for your help because of your… age.”

Nestad snorted. “I’m perfectly capable of going hunting or scouting if that is what you need. I’m not even ninety years old! I’d still be out with the other Rangers if our healer hadn’t died. There just wasn’t anyone else to take her place that had any sort of training.”

“How did she die?” Nimrie asked from her place by the fire. She had wondered what had happened to the previous healer as it was rare amongst the Dúnedain to have a man become a healer.

“She died of a wasting sickness that lingered for several years. I tried everything that I knew, but there was nothing that seemed to help.” Nestad glanced at Aragorn, “Perhaps if you had been there…”

“I do not think I could have done much more than you except ease her pain a bit now that I know how to use this healing sleep. But there is no cure for a wasting sickness that I know of.”

“What is this healing sleep?” Nimrie moved from her spot near the fire and joined them at the table, the talk about healing gaining her interest.

Estel returned to smoothing one of the markers as he sought the words to explain to his aunt what exactly healing sleep entailed. “It is a… gift of my ancestry that allows me to send injured people into a very deep sleep and it enhances the healing process. When I was in Taurnand I used it on some of the people that were badly burned.”

“And this truly helped them?”

“It saved Rían’s life,” Nestad stated empathically. “It also sped the healing process for several of the others that were quite seriously injured.” He saw the flash of frustration cross Aragorn’s face at the mention of Rían’s name and he leaned back in his chair watching Aragorn with hooded eyes as Nimrie asked another question.

“How does it work?”

“I am not really sure,” Estel confessed slowly. “Adar explained what he could several years ago and I had mostly forgotten about it until I was in Taurnand. I-I just… somehow I can sense them or connect with them in some way and I am able to… almost,” he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “It is… I know what they are feeling and somehow I can soothe them and send them into a very deep sleep which seems to help them heal more rapidly.” Estel shrugged and gave Nimrie an apologetic look. “That is the best way that I can explain it to you.”

Nimrie was starting to respond when Nestad abruptly broke in, though his voice was low. “My lord, I also came to speak with you about Rían and her children. Since Rían spoke with Laereth and Linnor two days ago she is sleeping better and seems a bit calmer.”

Surprised at the interruption and change in topic, Estel stared blankly at him for a moment and then responded slowly. “I am glad to hear that. I was hoping they would be able to help her.”

“As you did not?” Nestad asked softly, his gaze sharp and piercing as he stared at the younger man.

Estel looked away from the healer after a moment and then nodded once, running his hand through his hair. “I should have seen that she was having such difficulties or at least thought that she might have such dreams. She could have been helped earlier and…”

“My Lord Aragorn,” Nestad interrupted him with an almost stern voice and Estel jerked his eyes back to him in surprise. “You cannot take the blame for not seeing that Rían was suffering from these dreams and fears. No one is at fault for this; she did not tell anyone of her troubles either.”

“It is my responsibility to see to the needs of my people, Nestad,” Estel hissed angrily, his frustration at himself coming out.

“In a general sense that is true,” Nestad agreed calmly. “But you cannot stop every illness or tragic thing from happening to the Dúnedain either. It is not possible. If a child falls from a tree and breaks an arm, are you going to take responsibility for that as well? Perhaps you should have had the tree cut down before the child could be injured.”

“That is hardly the same thing and you know it!”

“It is exactly the same thing, my lord. You cannot anticipate every situation ahead of time that might cause your people to be hurt in some way, nor can you be expected to solve every problem that comes to our people, though I know you will do your best to do so.” Nestad leaned forward, drawing closer to his still frustrated, but closely listening Chieftain. He lowered and softened his voice. “My lord, you have a compassionate heart and I know that it is difficult for you to see your people suffering, it is difficult for me as well.” Nestad paused briefly and took a deep breath before continuing. “You will have to find a way, Aragorn,” he deliberately did not use his title, “to take responsibility for only those things you are truly responsible for, and to steel your heart against the suffering you see and deal with it without losing that compassion. It is not an easy thing to do. But if you do not learn how to do this, my lord, it will break you. You will live far too long and the burden will become too great for you too bear.”

“I cannot just turn a blind eye to what I see or what I feel, Nestad,” Estel replied quietly, looking at the healer now.

“No, no, you cannot because that would make you into a shell of a man without a care for your people and you know that is not what I am saying. There is a way to see the hurt your people are enduring, to help them through it, and then let it go. When you realized what Rían was suffering, you got her the help that she needed and now you let it go and move on, though of course you will check on her… that is your healer’s heart. But you do not blame yourself for not seeing it earlier, my lord. That was out of your control and not something you were responsible for.”

Estel slowly nodded his head and tipped back in his chair, absently playing with several of the markers as he pondered the words Nestad had spoken.

“He’s right, Aragorn,” Nimrie said after a few moments of silence.

“I know, but… “ Estel glanced between the two of them, “It will take me some time to think through what you have said. It will not be an easy thing for me to do. I am already used to thinking and seeing myself as solely responsible for everything… everyone here.” He gave a small laugh and then said wryly, “That sounds rather arrogant, does it not?”

“It sounds like someone who takes his duty seriously,” Nestad replied with a small smile.

“I do, but I will try and heed your words, Nestad. Thank you, and forgive me for taking my anger out on your earlier.”

Nestad stood, shaking his head, “It’s all right, my lord, I understood it. I need to go, let me know when you want me to go out hunting or scouting.”

“I will, though it will probably be a couple of days.”

Nestad nodded and after thanking Nimrie for the tea, he wrapped his cloak around himself and headed back out into the cold.

0-0-0

Estel stood looking down at the books lying on his bed trying to decide which one to give to his grandmother. It was all he had been able to think of as a Mettarë gift for her, but he hated the thought of parting with any of them. All had been carefully chosen as he could carry so little with him. He was already giving his book on herb lore to Nimrie, deciding that she would most enjoy that and it would be a help to her. Sighing softly, he picked up a red leather bound book and rifled through the pages before setting it aside, deciding a book on the history of Gondor was probably not something she would enjoy, the same with the history of Harad, setting that book on top of the other. That left three and one was in Sindarin and, as he was not sure she could read that, he added it to the stack he was keeping. One of the remaining books was a book of poetry and the other was a book of tales of elvish heroes that had been a favorite of his when he was young and he had added it to those he was bringing with him at the last minute. He had read and reread the book so many times when he was growing up that it had just seemed right to bring it with him. For that reason alone Estel did not want to part with it, nor did he think his grandmother would enjoy it. That left the book of poetry and he picked the small book up and flipped through it, stopping at a few places to read some of the poems. Well, he hoped she liked poetry as much as he did. He set it with the other gifts he had set aside for his family before putting the rest of the books away.

Nimrie had given him some cloth and he carefully wrapped the two books before looking at the gifts he had for Halbarad and Halhigal. Picking up the knife he had for Halbarad, he pulled it halfway out of the sheath and looked at the elvish lettering and designs that had been etched into the blade and he nodded with satisfaction. At least this one gift he knew would be appreciated he thought as he re-sheathed. It was a spare knife that he had brought with him and it was something he knew he could live without. For his uncle he had a new leather belt pouch. He had noticed Halhigal’s pouch was quite old and worn and Estel knew his uncle needed one for his pipe and pipe-weed and things of that nature. Estel quickly wrapped those gifts and, leaving them on his bed, he walked out of his room where the rest of his family was waiting and greeted him warmly on this cold Mettarë morning.

The Mettarë customs of the Dúnedain were simple and in some respects did not differ greatly than that of the elves. At least, not in spirit. Individual families spent time together during the day and celebrated the festival as they so chose. Late in the afternoon the whole village would gather in the Hall for a time of music, dancing, a meal, and the evening would end with a large bonfire to celebrate the end of the old year and the start of the new. Estel had been alarmed when he had heard there would be dancing when they gathered but he had been assured that no one would expect him to dance this first year. Although, he had seen a slight twinkle in Halbarad’s eyes that made him wonder if that were really true. There was no way he could get out of attending that part of the festival, however, and so he would just have to wait and see what would happen. As he did not know any of the dances of the Dúnedain, he had no intention of dancing regardless of what was expected, but he did not want to appear unwilling to participate in the customs of his people either.

After breakfast was eaten and Nimrie bustled around with a smile on her face fixing a mid-day Mettarë meal that was the first one her husband had been at in years, Estel taught Halbarad and Halhigal how to play draughts. They laughed and told stories as they played, Halhigal sharing stories of Arathorn and of both of Estel’s grandfathers while Estel spoke of his years in Imladris. Both Halbarad and Nimrie chimed in with their own stories of life in Dolomar and Nimrie spoke of growing up in the village of Forntaur. The morning passed pleasantly and as the time for the mid-day meal approached, Halhigal threw on his cloak and left to help his naneth walk through the snow back to the house. Mettarë was one of the few times that she chose to eat with her family.

“She will be somewhat… downhearted today,” Halbarad told Estel as soon as his father left. “This day she always feels most deeply those she has lost.”

“I imagine so,” he replied, continuing to stare into the fire and knowing how the festival was affecting him and he was only missing his family, not mourning those who had died.

The two young men stood to greet their grandmother as she came in and Estel immediately saw that Halbarad was right, that there was an aura of sadness around her. “Good afternoon, Grandmother,” he said, inclining his head and then hesitantly reaching for her hand but quickly withdrawing when he saw her move her arm back.

“Good afternoon, Grandmother,” Halbarad echoed.

Ivorwen looked from one to the other and gave them a small nod, “Mettarë greetings, boys,” she replied as she moved past them to speak with Nimrie.

“Boys?” Halbarad mouthed silently to Estel who just shook his head.

Halhigal leaned over and whispered, “She still calls me boy at times.” He walked around them carrying several wrapped gifts which he placed near the hearth before taking a seat by the fire thoroughly enjoying the looks on their faces. Estel and Halbarad joined him, both now more amused than anything else. They talked quietly until the meal was ready and the five of them sat down to eat. Nimrie had fixed a meal that was more elaborate than what was normally eaten. She had made roast chicken with special herbs, fixed special breads, made a baked dish with potatoes and some of the dried vegetables that were carefully hoarded to last through the year. She had also made a tart using dried apples.

Estel enjoyed every bit of the meal, the chicken and the tart reminding him of things he had often had at home. It was without question the best food he had eaten during his time with the Dúnedain and he ate more than he normally did, thankful that Nimrie had prepared extra. He noticed that Halbarad and Halhigal did the same and his uncle made several comments to his wife about her cooking. His grandmother did not speak often as they ate, but was not totally withdrawn either and Estel even ventured a question or two which she answered without her usual curtness.

As the meal finished it was the time for the exchanging of gifts and Estel retrieved his from his room, hoping they would be well received. As he returned to the table, he discovered that by family tradition he was the first to open his gifts as he was the youngest family member present and he grinned briefly. “I was always the youngest at home, too… by many years.” Ivorwen scowled briefly, but made no comment. Estel started to laugh as he opened the gift from Halbarad, “You really want me to smoke, do you not?”

“I know it is something you will use someday even if you don’t use it right now.”

He turned the beautiful hand carved pipe over and over in his hands before looking at the pouch that contained the sweet smelling pipe-weed. “Thank you. Did you make this?”

“Yes, I enjoying whittling,” Halbarad said with a grin that Estel returned.

Nimrie slid a package across the table to him and Estel could tell it was some type of clothing item and he opened it to find a new tunic in a dark green color that had been simply decorated with designs of leaves, and there was also a pair of warm leather gloves. He looked to his aunt and uncle and smiled. “Thank you both very much. My gloves are about worn out and I can always use a new tunic,” he said, fingering the material and looking closely at the design.

“You’re welcome,” Nimrie replied with a pleased smile. “I’m just glad that your grandmother had your measurements so that I know it’ll fit.”

“I am glad also,” Estel murmured, looking at his grandmother who simply nodded and then with the slightest of hesitations handed him a large square package she had retrieved from near the hearth before sitting back down with a worried expression that confused Estel.

“I didn’t know what to give you, Aragorn, and then I remembered this and thought you might like to have it.”

“I am sure I will like whatever you chose for me.”

“Just open it,” she ordered gruffly. She had worried about the gift for several days and now she just wanted to see if he would like it.

Opening the string that held the cloth together, Estel found a beautiful stool. It was small, but was a stool that could be drawn up close to a fire so that you could really feel the warmth of it on a winter morning. The stool was very well made and was intricately carved with flowers and birds. “Thank you, Grandmother,” he smiled. He was sincere in his thanks because it was a beautiful piece of furniture, but Estel was puzzled by the gift.

“You do like it, then?” Ivorwen asked, a hint of suspicion in her tone and eyes as she watched him run his hand over the surface of the stool. Estel nodded. Sighing, she explained the gift to him, watching him closely as she did so. “I’m giving that to you because your father made that for your mother before they were married.” Estel simply stared at her and then down at the stool he was now gripping tightly. “Arathorn would sit in a chair by the fire,” she continued softly, “and Gilraen would often sit on the floor by him and…” she took a deep breath and looked away briefly. “Anyway, he made her this stool so that she wouldn’t have to sit on the floor. Of course, she couldn’t take anything with her when she left,” Ivorwen’s eyes flashed angrily for a moment at Halhigal, but he just met her gaze steadily and she looked down and then back to Estel. “When you left, most of Gilraen’s things came to me, though none of it was very special, but I thought that this was something you should have.”

Estel eyes filled with tears that he quickly blinked away as he stared down at this stool that his father had made. He had never thought to hold something that his father had made with his hands; he did not even know he could do such things. Of course he had the star brooch he wore and the sword that was still hidden under his bed, but this was something personal, something his parents had shared between them. He swallowed hard and looked back at his grandmother. “Thank you, I will treasure this.” She did not respond, but Estel could see the relieved, yet pleased expression in her eyes. He was so caught up in the gift that he missed what Halbarad received for gifts until his cousin nudged him with his elbow.

“Didn’t you get me anything?”

“What? Oh, yes, of course, I did. Forgive me, Halbarad, my thoughts were elsewhere.” Estel handed him the package.

“I know,” Halbarad patted Estel on the back before opening the gift. Halbarad’s eyes widened as he pulled out the knife that had been made in the forge in Imladris. He looked from the knife to Estel and back to the knife. “It’s a beautiful blade,” he breathed as he pulled it from the sheath and looked at the designs etched into it. “Thank you, Aragorn.”

“I thought you would like it and that blade will last you a lifetime.” Estel watched with amusement as Halbarad immediately stood and took off his old knife and slid the new one onto his belt. Glancing at his uncle he saw the same look in his eyes.

Halhigal and Nimrie did not exchange gifts and so Estel handed them the ones he had selected. As he hoped, Halhigal was pleased with the belt pouch, and just as Halbarad had done with his knife, he immediately replaced his old pouch with the new. Nimrie did not say much as she opened her book on herb lore but her eyes lit up as she began turning pages and reading about the various herbs and what they were used for.

Halhigal and Nimrie gave Ivorwen a warm shawl and socks that Nimrie had made from wool. The last gift to be opened was Estel’s gift to his grandmother and his hesitation as he handed it to her was almost as great as the hesitation she had shown when she had given him his gift. That it was a book was obvious and she said that as she took it from his hands.

“A book?”

“Yes, like you, I was not sure what you might enjoy, but I am hoping that you might enjoy this book.”

Ivorwen peered at him closely, seeing his nervousness and gave an abrupt nod before opening the package. The book was well bound with a dark blue cover and she slowly opened it and began looking through it and quickly realized it was poetry and she paused, surprised. She knew that Aragorn would have brought this from Imladris with him and so it was probably special to him and that he would like poetry surprised her for some reason. Ivorwen raised her eyes and gave him a questioning look. “You enjoy poetry?”

“Yes, I do, it is something I have been reading since I was quite young and…” his voice trailed off. All elves that he knew enjoyed poetry, but perhaps it was different amongst the Dúnedain he thought with an inward sigh.

“Hmmm, well thank you, Aragorn. I haven’t read much poetry myself, but I’ll try it. Perhaps when I’m finished I’ll return it to you,” she watched him carefully and saw a look of dismay cross his face.

“But it is a gift, grandmother!”

“I have no need of such books,” she gave a small snort. “No, Aragorn, I do thank you, but I know this book is precious to you or you wouldn’t have brought it with you. I will read it and enjoy it, but I will give it back.” Her voice had softened only slightly, but enough that Estel heard it.

“Then, I thank you,” he said inclining his head. “I do hope you enjoy it though.”

With the exchange of gifts finished, Ivorwen took her leave of them and Halhigal helped her home so that she could prepare some dish that she was making for the supper that evening. The rest of them spent the afternoon either talking, playing draughts, and, in the case of Estel and Nimrie, going through the book of herb lore and discussing various treatments the herbs could be used for.

0-0-0

Supper was over when Estel pulled Balrant aside, crouching in front of the boy. “I have a small gift for you,” he said quietly, handing him the whistle.

“You made me a whistle?” Balrant asked, eyes wide and sparkling.

“I did the best I could,” he replied, which was the truth, if not the whole truth.

“Thank you,” he threw his arms around Estel’s neck and hugged him tightly.

“You are very welcome.” He carefully pried the boy’s arms off so he could breathe. “You are not to play that in here, however. You must wait until you are outside.”

“I will,” he turned and ran off to show it to his friends and Estel watched him go with a fond smile.

Estel then gathered Celin, Culas, and other boys and girls about their age around a table and set the board and pouch of markers on the table. Some of the older boys and girls gathered around behind them, watching curiously over the younger children’s shoulders. “Now, I made this game for all of the children of the village and I expect you to take turns playing and to play fairly,” he said, looking from face to face as some of the bolder children reached out and touched the board.

“What’s it called?” Culas asked.

“Draughts and I played it often when I was quite young.” He took out the markers and there were oohs and aahs as the round pieces of wood came tumbling out of the pouch, half of them were colored a deep red. “I made extra of each color, you only need twelve on each side.” Estel went on to set up the board and to explain how the game was played. The game itself was very simple to play, though the strategy that was needed to play it well took time to learn. As he continued to show them, he was unaware of the small number of adults that had also come to see what was happening. After five or so minutes of explanation, Estel had Celin and Caladithil sit down and play the first game while he stood there and helped them play a game all the way through. As they played, he finally looked around and he noticed that Alvist and the others of his age, both boys and girls, were watching and he smiled inwardly. After the first game was over, Estel asked Caladithil if he would be willing to be in charge of the game, to make sure that everyone had a chance to play at least one game and he nodded his acceptance.

Several of the children thanked Estel as he walked away but most were too excited and he was just pleased that they were enjoying it so much already. He hoped that it didn’t lead to conflict as he suddenly realized how long they would have to wait for their turn to play. Well, patience was a good thing to learn he mused as he looked around for Halbarad or Gilost. Spotting them speaking with Eradan he went to join them. He was stopped on the way by several of the ladies of the village who thanked him for the gift to their children and he simply smiled in acknowledgement and walked on. The gift of the game was a small thing in comparison to the things that he had received from the villagers. Every family had come with some gift for him, socks, gloves, a belt pouch, even pipe-weed. It seemed that everyone expected him to smoke, or perhaps they did not realize that he did not as yet. It had been overwhelming and slightly embarrassing and made him look forward to next year when he would not be in the village for the festival. Though he was also thankful for the gifts and the acceptance that it showed and he supposed that next year he would wish he were here and not out in some cold place searching for wolves or orcs.

“They appear to be enjoying your game.”

“Yes, even the older boys and girls will like it, I think.”

Halbarad glanced over to where some of the men and women had gotten out their simple instruments and he gave his cousin a sly look. “Are you ready for some dancing?”

“I am not going to dance,” he stated adamantly. “I do not know any of the dances of our people.”

“They are not difficult, my lord,” Gilost said earnestly. “I think that if you watch for a moment you’ll be able to do them easily enough. I know my sister would like to dance with you… as would all of the other ladies, of course,” he added quickly. He glanced around hoping Gaerwen had not heard him.

Estel shook his head, refusing to even answer and when Eradan opened his mouth to speak, he simply glared at him and the younger man shut his mouth with an audible snap. Halbarad, however, was not so easily put off.

“But there are never enough men for all of the ladies that want to dance, my lord Aragorn. They are reduced to dancing with each other most of the time.” His eyes were twinkling as he watched his cousin shift uncomfortably, and with a deep sigh he relented… sort of. “But, I suppose as the Chieftain you are allowed to dance or not as you choose.”

“Halbarad,” Estel growled with annoyance. “I am not dancing because I do not know the dances and that is the only reason.” Halbarad smiled and did not respond.

As the music started, Estel leaned back against the wall as the other three immediately went off to find partners for the first dance. He watched the first few dances and saw all three of them dancing with different young ladies or with their own mothers. He smiled as he watched young boys and girls dancing, and, as Halbarad had told him, girls dancing with each other. Estel tried to ignore the curious looks cast his way, but he did see them, more by the older women than by the girls. He straightened up on his bench when he saw his grandmother approaching and he suppressed a sigh when she sat down beside him without a word. He knew why she was there and he thought desperately of a way to avoid the conversation she was about to start, but could not think of a way to leave without being disrespectful.

“You should dance.”

“I do not know the dances, Grandmother,” he kept his voice polite and respectful, despite her abrupt manner and tone.

“I am sure that the dances of the elves are much more difficult than these and you could quite easily learn these.”

“That is why I am watching, so that next time I will be able to do so.” He leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms.

His grandmother made a small humph noise. “I’ve raised four children, Aragorn, and have heard every excuse that you can possibly give me. You will not get out of it that easily.” She turned and looked directly at him and he finally had to look away from her steady regard. “There is something else that holds you back from dancing,” she guessed shrewdly, her eyes narrowing as she observed him carefully, noting the slightest hint of color that rose on his cheeks under his scraggly beard that had not fully come in yet in one so young.

“You can dance with the older women if you are uncomfortable dancing with the ladies closer to your own age. Nimrie, Linnor, Emeldir, Arthiell, and the others, those from Taurnand...”

“I cannot dance with married women! It is unseemly, Grandmother,” Estel gave her a horrified look, though he truly did not feel as strongly about dancing with married women as his words suggested, it did, however, provide a convenient excuse.

“It is not unseemly, look out there and tell me who Halbarad is dancing with.” Estel did not respond as he already knew that his cousin was dancing with both young and old women of the village. His grandmother gave him another piercing look and then sighed deeply. “It may have been unseemly among the elves, Aragorn, but not amongst the Dúnedain. Not for a young man of your age. You are twenty years old and won’t be looking to marry for at least another ten to fifteen years. As long as you are dancing with many different ladies, no one will think that you are particularly interested in a certain one.” Again, Estel did not respond, though his eyes narrowed as he watched the dancers, especially Halbarad, Eradan, and Gilost.

Ivorwen looked at him closely and then said quietly, “Perhaps I’ve said too much, but…” she shook her head slightly and did not finish what she had planned to say to her young grandson.

“I will listen,” Estel said, turning slightly on the bench and facing her more directly.

“You’re a good leader from what I’ve seen and from what I’ve heard. But when I see you, I see my twenty year-old grandson, not the Lord or the Chieftain of the Dúnedain,” Ivorwen looked away briefly, biting her lip. “I know that you have so many responsibilities, Aragorn, so many duties, so many things that will take you far from here. Do not forget that I, too, have a measure of foresight, grandson,” her voice held a hint of grief and her eyes were piercing as she spoke those words and Estel wondered what she had seen, but she never told him. “But that’s why I want to see you enjoying yourself at a festival like this or at anytime that chance allows you a rest from your duties. It will not come often.”

“No, I fear it will not,” Estel replied in a low voice, staring down at the floor as he considered her words. Finally, he took a deep breath and stood, glancing around the room before looking down at his grandmother with an eyebrow raised in question.

“I’m afraid not, Aragorn, my body is too old for dancing,” Ivorwen waved her hand dismissively. “Nimrie isn’t dancing right now and she’d be someone to start with.” Estel nodded and started to walk away when his grandmother called to him and he swung back around. “Just remember that the girls are just as nervous about dancing with the Lord of the Dúnedain as you are about dancing with them.”

“I am not nervous,” he protested, but she simply chuckled and Estel turned and walked off to speak with his aunt about dancing his first dance among his people. Nimrie was sitting with some of the other women watching the dancing and he grimaced inwardly about having to ask her in front of all of them, though he supposed he would be asking some of them to dance later. He set aside the thought that flashed through his mind of grabbing his horse and riding quickly back to Imladris; it was amusing but hardly helpful at the moment. The conversation among the women stilled as Estel stopped next to Nimrie and he glanced around at the others. “Forgive me for interrupting you,” he said politely before turning his gaze to his aunt. “Would you be willing to dance with me?”

Nimrie knew him well enough to hear the nervousness in his voice, though she doubted any of the other women caught it. She smiled in response, “Yes, of course.” She stood, taking his hand and walked a short distance away from the others while they waited for the current dance to end. “They really are simple dances, Aragorn. I’m sure you will do them well.”

“I know, they do not appear very difficult,” he looked down at her and gave her a brief, wry smile. “I had to take many dance lessons as a boy and elven dancing is very complex. I believe I will be able to follow along, I have only seen four or five different dances so far this evening.”

“No, we don’t have too many. Then, why haven’t you been dancing?”

Estel was saved from answering that question again by the breathless arrival of Halbarad. “You are going to dance!” he exclaimed with a broad smile. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to sit there all evening.” Halbarad looked down at his mother briefly, “After you dance with Naneth, you must come and dance with some of the younger ladies, Aragorn.”

Hesitating only a moment, Estel nodded, earning a grin from his cousin who quickly left, evidently to speak with one of the ladies in question. As the music started, Estel led Nimrie out onto the floor and began dancing with her without looking around at those around him, though he was well aware of the eyes that were on him. “You dance very well,” Nimrie said after a few moments, “the elves taught you well.”

“Thank you.” Estel started to relax and looked around from the corners of his eyes and saw that most people were focused on their own dancing and ignoring him and Nimrie. The rest of the dance passed swiftly and the two of them talked quietly as they moved. Halbarad reappeared as quickly as he had disappeared earlier and Estel barely had time to thank Nimrie for the dance before his cousin started steering him away from her.

“Now, who do you want to dance with first?” Halbarad asked with a gleam in his eye.

Estel gave his cousin a very small smile. “I thought all of these girls were like sisters?” He continued without waiting for an answer, “I-I know Gaerwen the best, so perhaps…” He gave a small shrug, knowing he was going to have to dance with all of them eventually and saying he knew Gilost’s sister better than the others was not exactly truthful either, but he had at least spoken to her more often than the others, except for the girls from Taurnand he suddenly realized. Gazing around the room he looked for the three girls and found them sitting across the room and he grabbed Halbarad’s sleeve as he was moving away. “Have you danced with Miniel, yet? Or her sister? I suppose Héthurin is too young, but have you danced with the other two?”

Halbarad shook his head and followed his gaze across the room to where the girls were sitting with Héthurin’s mother, talking quietly to each other. “I’m surprised they’re still here, it must be so difficult for them,” Halbarad commented sadly. He glanced at Estel, “Should we ask them? They may not want to, but we can at least ask.”

Nodding, Estel led the way across the room and stopped at the table where they were sitting and the four of them looked up in surprise. Estel looked at each of them in turn and then fixed his gaze on the oldest girl, Miniel, “Would you like to dance with me, Lady Miniel?” Startled, Miniel only nodded shyly before taking his hand and letting him lead her to the dance floor. Halbarad soon followed with Tadiel.

Searching for something to say as the music started, Estel asked the most obvious thing he could think of, “Do you enjoy dancing?”

“Yes, but I’ve not done it very often, my lord.”

Estel winced inwardly at being called that while he was dancing. “This is my first dance… at least here among the Dúnedain.”

“What was it like in Imladris?”

Smiling, Estel spent the rest of the dance talking about Imladris and answering Miniel’s questions about elves. When he escorted Miniel back to her table, Halbarad was waiting to drag him off to dance with someone else. After the third or fourth dance, Estel found he was actually enjoying himself. Some of the girls were very shy and some were talkative, but most were pleasant and since he danced with different girls or women each time, it was not as difficult as he had feared. It was, however, rather tiring and he was glad as the time for the bonfire neared and the dancing drew to a close. He was sipping on ale and watching people starting to leave the Hall when he noticed his grandmother slip out the door and he handed Halbarad his mug and hurried out after her.

“May I speak with you a moment, Grandmother?” he asked as he caught up with her.

“If you’re quick about it, it’s cold out here,” she snapped.

“Yes, it is. Why are you not going to the bonfire?” Estel could see she was heading for home and not towards where the bonfire was starting.

“Is that what you really want to know?”

“No, no, no. I came to thank you for your… advice earlier. I had a good time and I just wanted to thank you for suggesting that I dance and…” he shrugged. “Thank you.”

“You would’ve figured it out yourself eventually, or Halhigal or someone would have told you, I just happened to be there tonight. Now, I’m going home and going to bed. I know its Mettarë, but it’s too late for old women to be up. Good-night.” Ivorwen turned and hurried off towards home leaving a somewhat bemused grandson staring after her for a moment before he turned to walk over to the bonfire to finish celebrating the ending of the year.

~~~

Author’s Note: The game of draughts or checkers has been around for thousands of years and so I thought that it was a game that could have existed in Middle-earth. As for chess, Gandalf talks about the board being set and pieces in place, etc., in Return of the King and so I assume he is speaking of chess.


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