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4
Hard to Get

Day Eight-Dorthonion-Today's Challenge:

Write a story or poem or create a piece of artwork reflecting identification with or connection to one’s land, country or culture.


~~~

She was currying a horse in the stables when we brought our mounts in and at the first sight of her, my travel-weariness fell away as if it had never been. A tall girl, as they bred them here, her features were fine and even, her complexion pale, her braided night-black hair fell to her hips.

“Who is she?” I muttered quietly to Hethlin, who took one look and started to grin.

“That is Baraiel. She’s actually a connection of mine, descended from one of my uncles on my mother’s side. So I suppose she’s also very distantly connected to you as well.”

“She’s lovely!”

“Good luck with that,” came the dry rejoinder. “Baraiel is picky.”

“I am a prince of the House of Telcontar! How picky can she be?” I certainly never had trouble with girls at home!

Hethlin started laughing outright and gestured in her direction. “Give me your horse. By all means, go make an ass of yourself.” She only laughed louder at my glare. “I’ve never seen a lad with such a talent for putting his foot in it! Shoo now-I need some entertainment!”

Suppressing my perpetual annoyance at my keeper, I gave her my reins, assumed a pleasant, engaging expression and strolled over to the girl.

“Might I help you?” I asked with a smile. Baraiel did not smile back or even look up from her work.

“Brush basket is over there,” she said, indicating the basket with her own brush. Her voice was deep and mellifluous despite the northern accent, pretty as her face. “Horse has two sides. Help yourself.”

I did so, endeavoring to brush swiftly, thoroughly and gently. After working for a couple of minutes, I smiled and said, “I’m new here. Tel’s the name. My great-grandmother Hethlin says your name is Baraiel. That’s lovely.”

Baraiel sighed and stopped brushing. “I know who you are, Prince Thorontaur. Fornost is all abuzz about your arrival, the prince who wants to play at being a Ranger. What I want to know is why you‘re bothering me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can you shoot a bow at all?”

“A little bit,” I said, trying for a charming diffidence. Baraiel was unmoved.

“Have you ever hunted for your own table? Can you stalk a deer, kill it, dress it and cook it?”

“Well no, not yet.”

“Have you any skill with the sword? Have you seen battle? Could you defend a home with bow and blade?”

“I have some skill with the sword,” I answered, hoping she wouldn’t demand proof here and now. Maybe a couple more months down the road…”But as to the others, no.”

“Then I will save you some time, little prince. I am not interested. I am not a slattern to be had for the night and the man who pays court to me will need one of these,” and she indicated the Ranger star I’d not noticed before, hidden in a fold of her cloak. “So get you home before the North devours you and spits out your bones!”

“I might be harder to devour than you think!” I declared. She was not impressed.

“The Council of Arnor was not happy when Lord Aragorn went south to take up the kingship of Gondor. They feared that dilution of his Northern blood would cause his line to diminish.” Baraiel looked me up and down. “I think they had cause to worry.”

Knowing a lost cause when I saw one, I set the brush back in the basket. “A good day to you, my lady.”

“And to you, my lord prince.” Even now that voice sent a thrill through my loins!

“Warned you,” Hethlin said unsympathetically as I returned to her, totally routed. She handed my reins back. “By the way, I’m not your hostler. Spend some time currying your own damned horse, you being the one who wanted him so badly.”

“So much for the girls being friendlier here. I might have been better off in Harad after all,” I grumbled as I took my horse down the aisle to the stall assigned to it and began to unsaddle. Hethlin was doing the same in the next stall.

“In Harad, you’d have never seen Baraiel unveiled and had you done so, she’d probably have had five brothers who’d have come after you and killed you for the insult. You are better off here, you just have to pick your targets better.” Hethlin was obviously enjoying herself very much, that evil smile was curling her lips.

“They don’t seem to respect the throne much here,” I said in a much lower voice. My great-grandmother shrugged.

“On the contrary, they respect your grandfather and father very much. But both of them came up here in their youths and proved themselves. You have yet to do so, and yes, rumors of your dissolute behavior have reached even this far north. Also, your grandfather’s decree displaced several young Rangers I had promised to patrol with in the spring. One of them is Baraiel’s cousin. Since I’m babysitting you, it does not look like I’ll be able to patrol. So you will be encountering bad feeling, Tel.”

I found myself looking back up the aisle despite the futility. “I’d certainly like to change her feelings about me!”

“Well that’s easy enough,” Hethlin declared, taking up her brush and making long sweeps over her appreciative horse’s hide. “Lord Elrond declared that your great-grandfather could not marry your great-grandmother until he was king of Gondor and Arnor both. To do that, he had to wander in the wilds for decades and unite the peoples of the West so that he could battle and defeat Sauron. All you have to do is wander in the wilds for a few years and get a Ranger star.”

“By which time Baraiel will probably have found someone who already has a star,” I remarked glumly.

“Quite possibly. If you were really serious about the girl, you’d have to show her you were really serious about becoming a Ranger and then she might give you some time.” The old Ranger paused in her brushing, folded her arms across her horse’s back and gave me one of those penetrating stares.

“What it amounts to in the end, Tel, is this-is there anything in the world you want badly enough to put in some effort to get it?”

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