This "chapter" and the following ones were all inspired by prompts for this year's B@MeM. I don't know if I'll ever expand these and work them into a longer story, but I thought people would enjoy them.
Day Fifteen-Arnor. Write a story beginning with these words: A gentle breeze brushed the hilltop, combing the ruins...
A gentle breeze brushed the hilltop, combing the ruins. “Elostirion,” my slave-driver said. “Gil-galad built the towers for Elendil, ‘tis said, and Elendil kept a palantir here.”
“I know! I did have an education, you know!” I snarled at her. We were stopped at the most eastern tower. I was dirty, exhausted, foot-sore and chafed from the straps on my pack, and already thoroughly disgusted with the way my father and grandfather had abandoned me to the non-existent mercies of this old harridan.
“Beyond being able to accurately identify the products of every brewery in Gondor? I had no idea.” Hethlin slipped her pack from her shoulders. I looked at her warily, having already discovered that doing so myself without being given leave was a bad idea. She nodded. “We’ll take a rest here.”
“’Rest‘? We’re not stopping for the night? The sun’s going down!”
“I’m well aware of that. But the moon’s already rising, it’s near full and we can walk on further. We’ve not made very good time-only twenty miles yesterday and another twenty today? You’ll have to do better than that if you want to keep up with Rangers.”
“And why ever would I want to keep up with Rangers! This wasn’t my idea!”
Hethlin seated herself upon a large boulder, took up her water bottle and took a drink. Her other hand rubbed her thigh absently, and I felt a momentary pang of shame about complaining about a walk that someone decades older than I was and lame to boot was making.
“Well, it was either this or the Harad border,” she noted. “And I’ll guarantee that the beer is better and the girls friendlier up here.”
I looked at her in surprise. That remark had been almost civil. She cocked an eyebrow at me.
“You might want to drink while you have the chance. You should always do so, even if you don’t feel thirsty. And here, have this.” She reached into her own pack and pulled out one of the packages of dried meat she’d brought along. Last night’s dinner had been packed for us by the Elves at the haven and had been very good. I was not looking forward to living on trail rations.
Opening the package, she broke off a piece of dried meat and handed it to me. “Take a drink, take a small piece and let it soften in your mouth before you try to chew it. You don’t want to break a tooth.”
I did as she suggested and found that the meat was actually rather tasty, lightly
salted and seasoned with an unfamiliar combination of herbs.
“Did you know the Elves who left very well?” I asked when I had taken a couple of bites. I could match civility with civility, yes I could!
She nodded, her face very still of a sudden. “A long time by my reckoning, not so long by theirs.”
“I met Uncle Elladan and Uncle Elrohir when I was younger,” I said. “They were always a lot of fun and always got us children into all sorts of trouble when they visited. But I never met Lord Celeborn before.”
“He came to Minas Tirith a time or two when I was younger,” Hethlin said. “To visit his granddaughter. But once he’d moved north to Rivendell, he did not travel again.”
I thought back to my introduction to the tall, silver-haired elf. His eyes had been extraordinary, like pools that are sheened silver on the top, but beneath are bottomless. I had shivered at the time and I shivered again now, though he had been nothing but polite. But the courtesy had had a distance to it, as if his spirit had already flown across the sea and his body was simply following after.
“It feels odd to think I have a little of his blood in me. He’s so uncanny! How many greats is he to me?”
“He is your great-great-great-grandfather,” the old Ranger said, “so there’s not so much of his blood in your veins as all that. Perhaps a fraction of a drop. And I certainly can’t see it.”
“Thank you so much,” I sneered, since it seemed we were back on our original footing.
Her eyes met mine and it was hard to hold against that grey-gold gaze. “You should be thankful that you got to meet him, Thorontaur. Remember it always. Your children will never have the opportunity.” Rising abruptly, she moved to the eastern edge of the hill, looking down towards the Shire. I noticed she’d taken her stick with her and was leaning on it, her water bottle in her other hand.
“I prefer to be called ‘Tel’,” I called after her.
“And I don’t blame you one bit,” came the response. “I really do wonder what your mother was thinking.“ Mollified, I finished my meat and drank my water, then got up with a groan and moved over to where she stood. Hethlin gave me a sideways glance.
“I’ve been thinking and I’ve decided that, given your objections, you have a decision to make, Tel,” she said, her voice a bit gruff. “Since you don’t want to walk further, we can camp here tonight. There’s firewood stored in the tower so we can cook and be out of the wind a little, but I will warn you it gets cold up here after sundown. Or we can walk the five miles to Undertowers, where the Fairbairns have a guest room for Big People and you can sleep in an actual bed and have a Hobbit-cooked dinner.”
I pondered my choices for a few moments. Given how she’d described them, the prospect of five more miles didn’t sound that bad. She nodded, unsurprised, when I told her my decision.
“I rather thought you’d feel that way. Come on, pack up.”
Shouldering our packs again, I asked her, “I don’t suppose these Fairbairns have any horses we could buy.”
Hethlin snorted. “They’re hobbits. They have ponies.”
“What about the Shire? I know that Men aren’t supposed to go in there, but surely Rangers can.”
She nodded. “Indeed, Rangers can. But it’s more hobbits and more ponies. And we’re going around north to Evendim in any event.”
Somewhat exasperated, I asked, “So are there any horse-traders in Evendim?”
She cocked that damned eyebrow at me again. “Sometimes. But you don’t get a horse until I get a horse and I left a perfectly good horse I was very fond of in Gondor on account of you. Move out!”
I fell in behind her and decided that there was no way those could have been tears in her eyes she’d blinked away when I’d come up on her looking down the hill.