Denra Gorse was surprised to find out how eagerly she was awaiting the return of her boarder, for the house seemed deadly dull with him gone. “Mayhaps him’ll be back t’night,” Carnation had suggested as she left, and Denra found herself hoping it would be so. He was so very different than those who lived here in Bree with his odd way of speaking, his tales of lands so far away, his innate courtesy and intelligence, his devotion to his small dog. This wasn’t a hound to hunt with, or a herd dog, or a ratter--this was simply a beloved companion for a Man Denra realized was too often much alone as a result of his unusual interests and ability to reason. It was odd to think that in his own lands he was a judge of sorts--a magistrate, he’d called himself.
It was so odd to think that elsewhere folks lived not only in villages or on farmsteads but in great cities; and so odd to think that Strider the Ranger was now the King Elessar--“Elfstone,” Master Alvric had explained the unusual name meant.
“But folks don’t name their children such odd things as that,” she’d objected.
He’d smiled. “No--his parents named him Aragorn, a name I’m told means valiant or victorious lord. I’m afraid I am not particularly fluent with Adunaic, as it’s not spoken widely within Gondor.”
“The language most commonly spoken by those who lived on the Isle of Númenor at the time of the island’s foundering and the return of the Dúnedain to Middle Earth. Most of the Faithful who returned in Elendil’s wake spoke Sindarin as well, and that was the language favored in the southern kingdom founded jointly by Elendil’s sons Isildur and Anárion; here in the northern kingdom of Arnor it appears more chose to speak Adúnaic, which our Lord King speculates is due to the fact they lived in the midst of Elven kingdoms where Sindarin was the more common language. He suggests that by choosing to speak Adúnaic the northern Dúnedain had a more private language with which to discuss matters of perceived importance, as well as indicating they were an independent people from the Elves.”
“So why’s he the King Elessar if his parents called him Aragorn?”
He’d laughed. “He came to us wearing on his breast the Elessar stone, a great jewel of power wrought by the Elves. The tradition of this gem as one of renewal and regeneration had been told amongst us for centuries. It is said to have been wrought in the Elven kingdom of Gondolin, a land that lies now under the waves of the Sundering Sea----”
“Like the Star Isle itself?” she’d asked.
He’d nodded solemnly. “Yes. It sank at the end of the First Age, however, when the Valar themselves came from Aman to assist in the war against Morgoth--when the Powers involved themselves in that battle it wrought great changes in the structure of Middle Earth. One tale tells that when he sailed west to beg the Valar to come to our aid Eärendil wore the Elessar stone itself, and that when the Istari came to Middle Earth one of them bore it back with him as it was intended to be used here and not in Aman. Another tale is that after the initial Elessar stone was borne away a second was made here, and that this is the one now worn by our King.”
“But how’d a Mannish King end up wearin’ an Elvish jewel of this sort?”
“It was given to the Lady Galadriel, who wore it for many years; she gave it to her daughter, who gave it to her daughter, who returned it to her grandmother, who presented it to our Lord Aragorn when last he passed through the Lady Galadriel’s land of Lothlorien as a token that her granddaughter did indeed intend to marry him when the power of Mordor was broken. She returned to him what had been his promise gift of the Ring of Barahir after they married that it might be worn after him by their son when he should be born and judged the heir of his father; but she would not receive back the Elessar stone, saying only that it had been passed to the one intended to wear and use its power.”
The story had sparked her imagination, and she’d ended up asking ever more questions, now and then offering her own thoughts on what he’d told her. As a result she’d found her mind stimulated and her thoughts ranging far from her cottage and still room in Bree.
It was as she remembered that conversation that she heard from outside her windows, thrown open to capture what breezes might be stirred as the evening deepened, the stride of Men and the squeaking of wheels approaching her house, cutting through the creak of the small frogs that lived in her garden and the crickets that inhabited the woodshed. She heard a quiet question, and the voice that answered it was that of her boarder! She rose quickly, setting aside the dress panel she’d been embroidering, to hurry to the door to lift the bar. “You are back?” she asked, smiling as she swung open the door--then stopped, seeing that he was accompanied by Eregiel, who carried small Holby, who’d obviously been seriously hurt, and followed by Eregiel’s hound. As for Master Alvric himself--his shirt front and the knees of his trews were dusty, and he had a huge smear of dirt across his cheek as well as a bruise blooming on his forehead. And the grim expression on the Ranger’s face, and the worried one on that of Master Alvric....
She had them ushered inside immediately and was off finding a low crate in which she’d taken delivery of a number of bottles for tinctures as soon as the request was made. Master Alvric fitted it out with his own dressing gown for the small dog to lie upon (“It has my scent to it, and undoubtedly will allow him to rest better,” he said as he clumsily folded it and laid it in place) as soon as she set it down near the chimneypiece. She then fetched a small bowl of water for the dog and the basin and soap and toweling and some arnica for Eregiel’s use as he set to cleaning off Alvric’s face and hands and checking for any less obvious injuries.
“But what happened?” Denra asked. “Your horse--did it fall?”
“No,” Alvric said as Eregiel carefully washed and examined his forehead. “I was attacked as I was on my way here from the Prancing Pony.”
“Attacked? Were there more of those Southerners within Bree, then?”
“It was Bender Cotman,” Alvric replied. “Ouch! Oh, forgive me if I moved, but it is quite tender.”
“Bender Cotman?” Denra felt shocked and dismayed. “But you’ve barely had a thing to do with Cotman, save to send him away as when he wasn’t wanted.”
“I know--but it was apparently enough to convince him that I was a rival,” he answered her.
Assured there were no wounds on Master Alvric’s head or hands, Eregiel suggested, “If you’ll remove your shirt, I’ll see to the place where he struck you.”
Alvric flushed. “Must I?” he asked, obviously embarrassed. “With a lady in the room?”
For some reason that amused her, and Denra responded, “’Twon’t be the first nor probably the last time, Master Alvric. As I do most o’ the still room work for the village, it’s to me as the menfolk hereabouts, Big and Little, tend to come for sun burn, hornet stings, and small cuts and the like.”
Flushing the more, reluctantly the Mannish lawyer, with Eregiel’s help, shrugged out of his surcoat and loosened the lacing on his shirt, allowing the Ranger to lift it over his head, his face expressing the pain he felt. The skin at the base of his neck on the left side was also beginning to turn purple--it was plain he’d been struck hard.
“I suspect this also is quite painful,” commented Eregiel, gently running his hand over the area. He felt carefully. and at last sat back with a relieved nod. “There is some swelling, but not excessively as yet. Lift your left arm.” Again he gently felt the area as he had the Gondorian move his arm and shoulder this way and that. “I suspect there is a crack to the collar bone here,” he said at last, gently touching a specific place, noting the pronounced wince Alvric gave. “It’s not serious from what I can tell, but you should wear your arm in a sling for the next few weeks at least. I’ll suggest Halladan examine it tomorrow--he’s had some training from Rivendell to increase his skills at dealing with injuries and illnesses. Hand me the arnica, please.”
Denra went off to her own room to fetch a scarf to use at relieving the strain on the collar bone, returning to find Eregiel and his hound both leaning again over the dog. “But what happened to Holby?” asked Denra. When Alvric described Holby’s attempt to protect him and the kick he’d received in response she grew cold with fury. “That oaf! Does he truly think as I’d be willing to accept someone who would not only attack a hapless Man but would kick at small dog as well?”
“I don’t believe he intended to leave Master Alvric able to bear witness to his actions,” Eregiel said grimly. “It would be best if we could assist Holby into a doze. Have you any...?”
Within half an hour Holby had been dosed with a small amount of a tincture that appeared to relax him as well as easing the pain. “I’ll come by in the morning to help relieve him and check on the ribs. Keeping him quiet until he is fully healed is likely to be anything but simple once he begins feeling better, though. He’s a game creature. But keeping him by you would be advisable for the peace of mind of both of you.” Denra had helped Alvric into a night robe over his trews, then fashioned a proper sling from the scarf, fastening it tightly to immobilize the arm as much as possible for the time being. Eregiel examined Alvric thoughtfully. “I suspect that both Mr. Cotman and the two ruffians will be examined by Lord Halladan tomorrow afternoon. It is not necessary that you attend, but if you would do so and speak to the Man’s previous offenses against Mistress Gorse it would not go amiss.”
“As one of the King’s magistrates within the White City, it would behoove me to attend,” sighed the lawyer. “When you come in the morning perhaps then you can give me the details of precisely when, and where as well should the Grange Hall not be free.”
“Agreed. Mistress, Master, I give you a good night, and pray Eärendil’s star shine upon and guide you.” And with a bow the young Ranger left them, quiet and watchful, the great dog Artos alongside him.
Denra watched him go, then at last withdrew back inside and placed the bar again across the door before turning to her guest. “Will you need any more aid, think you,” she asked, “in undressing yourself before you go to your bed? I suspect you will find trying to hold up your nightshirt and unlacing your trousers will not be particularly simple.”
Again he flushed with embarrassment, an act she found endearing. “I know it will not be easy--I fell once when yet a boy and broke my shoulder, so have been through this before. And I doubt it will be any easier now than it was at that time.” He leaned down as if to pick up the case in which Holby lay, then colored again as he straightened. “I will be able to deal with the lacings for my trousers, but would ask if you would please carry Holby for me.”
“But gladly,” she smiled. “You wish to withdraw to your room now? Or would you like some tea first? I have one mixture of chamomile and rose hips you might find soothing.”
“That sounds delightful,” he agreed as he sat rather heavily in the chair that had once been Fell’s and that had somehow now become his. “At least it is my left arm, so I shall be less clumsy.”
So the two of them sat and sipped at their mugs while he described the ride north and what could be seen of the rebuilding of the ancient capital of Arnor and the fortress of Fornost. “There are ancient libraries in both places,” he sighed. “Part of that in Annúminas was burned; but so fashioned is it that the fire failed to pass from one section to the next, and I understand that the section that was lost was considered superficial at best. Lord Halladan’s older brother was the one who, using clues found in the archives in Annúminas, found the hidden doors to the caverns in Fornost, where most of the nation’s most important records were stored, although most of those relevant to the last thousand years since the death of Arvedui have been kept, I am told, in Imladris under the protection of Lord Elrond.”
“I know how to read, of course, but have had so little chance to read much in the way of histories or tales,” she sighed. “To think of whole chambers devoted to the keepin’ of records sounds fascinating. I should love to see them one day.”
He was smiling. “Then that of Minas Tirith would undoubtedly fascinate you as well. I understand that during their visit Lords Frodo and Samwise both spent much time within them.”
“Tell me of them,” she invited, and listened, finding herself increasingly fascinated not only by his description but by his voice itself. It was far later than either of them had anticipated before she picked up Holby’s case and carried it to his room for him and set it by his bed while he made a visit to the privy. He returned and found her kneeling by the case, stroking the body of the small dog. “You were so brave,” she was saying as he entered. “So brave, small Holby. A hero as much as those as braved the Enemy’s lands.” Then she realized he’d come in, and turned to smile up at him as Holby sleepily licked her hand. “He is a fine one, with a heart much bigger than his body,” she commented.
His smile showed some surprise and more delight. “Oh, yes, my small guard dog he’s ever seen himself. And indeed as brave as Hobbits. Thank you, Mistress Denra.”
“Master Alvric--you need not speak of me as ‘Mistress’ unless you so wish.”
Again he flushed slightly, with even more pleasure, she noted. “Then, if it please you, Denra, you need not speak of me as ‘Master,’ either.”
“Thank you--Alvric. I will wish you a good night, then.” She rose and gently laid her hand on his sound shoulder before leaving him to his rest and Holby’s now snoring company.
Both felt somewhat--warmer--as they pulled their blankets over themselves that night.
Shortly after elevenses the Hedges’ wagon rolled into Bree through the north gate, followed by Boboli’s brother and the village head for Staddle. Shortly before luncheon all interested parties gathered in the now-empty common room at the Prancing Pony to see the lease agreement signed between the Lord Iorhael and Master Boboli Hedges, farmer, for the piece of land that had been part of the dower lands for a former princess of Cardolan, lands settled on Lords Iorhael and Perhael for their maintenance on their having been made lords of several realms for their part in helping to bring down Mordor. One of those looking on was Barliman Butterbur as head of the Bree Council, although it was plain he didn’t understand one word in four of what was being discussed. In the end the last of the witnesses signed for Mr. Hedges, and Merimac Brandybuck of Brandy Hall signed as Frodo’s proxy and as witness in his own right to having seen Frodo’s signature affixed to the document. Barti finally signed off on it as legal representative for Lord Iorhael and Alvric as legal representative to the King, then Berevrion as head of the newly reformed Guild of Lawyers for the realm of Arnor. At last Halladan accepted it and countersigned it, registering it properly in the tome brought by Berevrion for the records of the North Kingdom. Once all copies were properly signed and each returned to its proper recipient all sat down to a meal sponsored by Lord Halladan himself.
“And it’s ours now, is it?” Boboli asked one more time.
“For as long as you see to it the lease rents are properly paid, yours to do as you wish with, once the thirteen months of trial are completed, of course,” Halladan assured him. “Although once the well is dug you need to forward the bill proper to it to Master Frodo that he might recompense you for it, as that is an improvement that would benefit any who might live or work on the land and not just you and your family.”
“Well, in the dousin’ for a well we’ve found what ’pears to o’ been an old well head. Don’t know as how much a’diggin’ as we’ll have t’ do, you see,” Boboli explained. “Most like all as it’ll take’ll be some cleanin’ o’ the shaft, don’t ye know.”
“That may be, but do forward a proper bill for honest wages for the cleaning of the well shaft, for again that is the responsibility for the lord of the land.”
“Will do that, sir,” Bob said, smiling. He clapped his hand on his brother’s shoulders. “Well, Eboli, what ye thinkin’ now o’ me decision to build our own place?”
“Sounds as if ye’ve managed to land right on yer feet, Bob-lad. Good on you!”
Bartolo and Merimac took part in the festive meal, and many of the locals who drifted in for nuncheon while it went on looked over at the mixed party of Hobbits and Men, most of them strangers to Bree, with open curiosity. None in that party, however, appeared willing to indicate what has sparked the celebration there.