The view from the top of the mountain pass over Hollin ridge was spectacular. It was a favourite of the young ranger's. He would stop at that exact point to look down into the valley below whenever he chanced to journey through there.
A river ran through this green vale, making it not only a sight for weary eyes but his favoured watering hole as well. But this day when he stopped what sight should greet his eyes but a tinker's camp set up neatly at the river's edge. With a sound of annoyance and a scowl to match Aragorn made to move off, already deciding in an instant to forgo the place and make instead for the village of Trant. But even as he clicked his tongue at the mare, the thirst that had travelled with him for the last three miles reasserted itself. He really needed to refill his skins. With a sigh he looked down at the valley again, hoping he had perhaps been mistaken. No. The camp had not moved.
He took the easiest way down to the river bed; he let his mount pick her own way. Sure footed and slow, for it had been a long journey, she negotiated the final steps to the valley floor. There Aragorn reined her in. He was on the far side of the river, facing the camp. As yet no one had noticed him. He however observed them keenly. The camp was really no more than a rickety wagon on its last legs sporting a tattered cloth roof. To one side a slightly less beaten structure stood. A tent or at least the makings of one.
There was an old man asleep on a spavined chair in the shade of the wagon. His thin arms and legs jutted out over the sides in careless rest. Aragorn could just make out the tufts of his silver hair as he snored contentedly, neck tucked on his chest. A boy was at the river's edge, kneeling half in and half out of the water, a motley heap of dented cups, tins and pots at his side. As Aragorn watched he scrubbed at one, rinsed it clean in the clear water and put it to one side.
When Aragorn was sure that there were only the two of them, he urged the horse forward. The river was low and stony at this point and the horse's hooves splashed loudly as they made their way across.
At the first sound the boy looked up and caught sight of Aragorn. He turned and the ranger clearly heard his cry of warning to the old man. When that failed to wake him the boy yelled again and banged two pots together. The racket brought the old fellow awake abruptly and he spluttered out of the chair to see what the fuss was about. Aragorn noted that the boy stayed kneeling at the river's edge while the old man pulled out an old sword from the depths of the wagon and backed slowly to the boy's side.
Aragorn approached slowly, giving them enough time to look him over. He stopped a respectful distance away.
"Hello the camp," he called out in the usual greeting.
"Hello to ye," the old man returned in a surprisingly deep and pleasant voice. "It's a ranger ye be if the tale of your clothe be true. So welcome ye are to our camp."
The boy, who Aragorn could see now was older than he thought, neither spoke nor moved. He was still kneeling in cold clear water of the river. Aragorn thought he must be no more than sixteen years old. He dismounted leaving the horse's reins trailing. He caught up his water skins.
"I need only to fill these, then I shall be on my way." Aragorn said.
But the old man who had not seen another soul in some time prevailed upon Aragorn to tarry.
"Would ye leave so soon? I have had naught a word from any place in the last three months. Might you not share a meal and pass the time of day?" he asked.
In truth Aragorn was hungry and saw no harm in tarrying a while. He was not hurrying to any place or purpose.
"Aye," he agreed. "I thank you."
"See to the horse boy," said the old man to the boy.
Aragorn demurred saying it was unnecessary but the old man insisted.
"Let him. He loves to play with them creatures, he does. Has a way with 'um. He'd do it no harm."
When the boy stood Aragorn saw that his right foot was encased in a metal, box like contraption. He frowned, but the old man observing his expression said.
"It is to help with his walking. That leg is none too good. He walks with a terrible limp without it."
Aragorn nodded, but observed that the metal shoe must be very heavy for the boy walked laboriously, dragging the foot instead of lifting it, as he made his way towards the mare.
The old man ambled back to the wagon with Aragorn and secreted the old sword somewhere in its cluttered depths. The old man was stooped with age. His body was shrunken but Aragorn could see traces of his former strength in the ropy thickness of his arms and the width of his hunched shoulders. He must have been a bear of a man in his youth. Even now he topped the ranger by some four inches yet he moved carefully as though afraid his head would fall off his shoulders. His mane of silver hair was still thick and when he turned to speak to the ranger Aragorn took note that his green eyes were bright and alive with an undying zest for life.
They sat in the shadowed lee of the wagon. Aragorn found himself watching the boy as he carefully brushed and fed the mare. He seemed to develop a deep rapport with her in minutes. He leaned his head against her flank and ran his hands along her strong neck and back. The mare luxuriated in his affection and nickered softly.
Finlorn, so the old man was called, pulled put a long pipe and offered sweet smoke weed to the ranger.
Aragorn accepted gladly for he had run out of pipe weed some weeks before and had not had a smoke for some time. When he lit uphe took a deep pull and let out a long stream of smoke slowly. Then he gave a sigh of pure pleasure. Finlorn chuckled and for some time they both puffed away contentedly. Then Finlorn began to speak. It seemed that he, his son Talen and the boy were trappers by trade, travelling from wood to forest earning their keep.
The season had not been bountiful because they had had to avoid scattered band of orcs that also hunted in the woods and forests lately. Yet, they had managed to glean a decent number of furs and hides. It was now season's end, time for trappers to take their bounty into towns and villages to trade for food and coin. But as fate would have it their old gelding had died, leaving them stranded in the valley with their goods. Talen had decided to go on foot to trade in the nearest towns and barter a horse. That had been three months ago.
"I had hoped he would be back before winter. I am too old to endure such cold out here."
Aragorn leaned forward and said, "Gather your things, as much as you need. I will take you both to the nearest town; you can await your son there. This a lonely place and not many honest men journey this path."
Finlorn gave a sad smile at Aragorn's offer. "I thank ye ranger, but the boy would not survive in any town such as they are."
Aragorn frowned, but before he could voice his question Finlorn said.
"I'd tell ye a secret ranger, if ye'd keep it as such."
With Aragorn's assent he continued.
"The boy is not as he seems. I found him almost fifteen years ago. In the wood beyond the mountains."
Finlorn paused and chewed on his bottom lip.
"It were Talen who saw them first, five in all, all dead save for the boy. They were beaten up and torn almost apart. Looked like wargs had been at them. There was so much blood, I thought him dead. Even after we sewed him up I didn't think he would live."
Here his voice trailed off, he stared at his folded hands, old, huge and calloused.
Aragorn stared at the boy.
He was tall and thin. As tall as Aragorn yet slender enough to appear fragile. His hair was long and the colour of pale gold. It was untidily combed, pulled backfrom his faceto cover his ears and tied at the nape of his neck with a leather thong. His face was fair. Thin black brows and thick black lashes protected his deep blue eyes. His nose was delicate and set above pale pink lips that looked bruised. He wore a loose fitting, roughly woven shirt and leggings that had seen much better days. His hands were long and his fingers slender and they were reddened from constant work. His foot, the one not imprisoned in the metal box was shod in an old leather shoe.
"Though he understands our language, he does not speak it. His own seems but some sort of strange song." Finlorn said softly.
They both watched him as he quartered a stringy hare, adding roots and dried vegetables toa pot that hung over the fire.
Aragorn had a deep and saddening suspicion.
"Have you never tried to find his people?" he asked Finlorn his grey eyes stormy.
Finlorn shook his head.
"It were not possible. It took long for him to heal. By then we had moved on from the forest, following the migrating herds. It were coming on winter as I recall. By spring he were better but Talen said he should stay on with us, said the town folk would not tolerate his strangeness. He seemed to take a liking to him for he said he would teach him to scrape and cure the hides, earn his keep so to speak. It seemed a good arrangement to me." Finlorn stopped again and stared out at the valley.
Aragorn studied the weathered face of the man at his side. There was more that the old man did not say, yet Aragorn was of a mind to assist in whatever way he could.
"I'll not leave you here even so. I know of a place that you can stay out the winter months where strangeness matters not and all are welcome. We shall leave on the morrow." Aragorn said with finality.
Finlorn turned his bright gaze upon him and finally nodded in agreement. Aragorn clasped his shoulder. "Do not worry for your son. I will leave word of our destination where he is sure to get it."
The meal though simple was delicious. Aragorn and Finlorn did not talk during the meal and the boy sat a little apart. He took furtive glances at the ranger now and then. Aragorn caught him at it and smiled, but the boy lowered his eyes and did not respond. He also did not look up again. While they ate the sun had begun to set and a rosy glow covered the sky.
When Aragorn was finished he took his tin plate, cup and spoon to the river, knelt and began to wash them. He could feel the boy's eyes on him; it gave him a strange itch between his shoulders. When he returned to the camp the boy was taking the used utensils from Finlorn's slack hands. The old man was fast asleep once more. The boy stiffened as Aragorn approached but the ranger simply returned the clean dishes to their place. Aragorn let him reach the water's edge before went to his mare to collect his empty water skins. She nudged him roughly, reprimanding him for his neglect of her. He laughed softly rubbing her velvet nose until she forgave him.
The boy was still at the water's edge, so Aragorn went a little upstream of him. He held the mouth of the bladder just below the level of the water and it filled up quickly. The boy was observing him secretively and Aragorn pretended not to notice. But when he rinsed the obviously clean dishes for the fifth time Aragorn laughed outright. Startled the youth leapt up poised like a frightened deer.
Aragorn smothered his mirth and help up his hands in a gesture of peace.
"Amin hiraetha," said Aragorn. "Gohenan nin."
The boy clutched the wet dishes to his chest undone by Aragorn's words. His mouth moved but no sound emerged. His blue eyes were wide in surprise and fear.
Aragorn did not move but continued to speak, "Iston edhel le, I ven thaed le."
"Man le?" the elf whispered in a trembling voice.
"Im Aragorn ned Imladris," Aragorn answered "Man eneth lín?" he asked.
The elf shook his head slowly, "Ú èrin eneth,"he answered as though in a dream.
Aragorn shook his head, "You must have a name."
"If I did once I do not remember it… I do not remember many things," the elf said.
"And what of your people?" persisted the ranger.
"Ú èrin gwaith," he responded, his face a mask of confusion.
"You must have come from somewhere?" the ranger insisted.
"Finlorn and Talen are my people," his voice was trembling.
"No mellon nin, you are elf kind, you have a home."
"My home is here."
Aragorn sighed and the man and elf stared at each other.
"How did you hurt your leg?" Aragorn asked finally.
The elf shook his head and did not reply.
"At least let me take a look at it, I am a healer."
The elf took two steps back in alarm.
Seeing his sudden panic Aragorn held up both hands in a placating gesture.
But the elf was already spooked and he made his way back to the camp as fast as his metal shoe allowed.
Sighing Aragorn hoisted the full bags to his shoulder and walked slowly over to the mare. He deposited them on the ground at her side and patted her on the rump. He knew he had pushed too quickly with the elf.
Aragorn watched the sun set and when the sky was dark he walked around the small encampment. He was looking for the best place to bed down for the night. He wanted a clear view of the river bed yet did not relish sleeping on the cold stones near to the river. As he moved about the elf's eyes followed him.He finally settled on a spot not too far from the warmth of the fire but in plain view of the river. He undid his cloak lay it on the ground. He removed his coat and used it to cushion his head. On the other side of the fire Finlorn snored softly and the elf was curled up on the ground not too far from him apparently asleep. Aragorn closed his eyes.
The sound came again and this time woke the ranger. He flew upright hand leaping to the hilt of his sword, senses alert to danger. He climbed to his feet head cocked eyes scanning the darkness. The fire had burned low and only cooling embers glowed. Then he heard the sound again, a scrape of metal on stone and a smothered sound of pain. Aragorn slowly approached the source of the disturbance, sword at the ready. But he did not have to go very far.
The elf was writhing on the ground in agony.
"Man na den?" Aragorn asked dropping to his knees next to the elf. He put up his sword quickly, the healer in him coming to the fore.
"Leg," whispered the elf between gritted teeth.
He was curled up on his side panting as his leg spasmed painfully. Every time it jerked, the metal shoe around his foot banged against the ground. Aragorn caught the foot and held it steady as the leg twitched again. The elf's breath hitched at the sudden action and he kicked against Aragorn trying to ease the pain, unable to stop his leg's uncontrollable movement.
"Relax," Aragorn said to him. "Lie back and it will pass."
The metal shoe in his hands was heavy. He skimmed the rough surface of it with his fingers seeking the catch that would open the thing and free the elf's foot. Instead his fingers encountered a small keyhole. With a sigh of frustration Aragorn reached for the small paring knife he kept tucked in the scabbard of his sword. He inserted the tip into the hole and tried to trip the lock. It was no mean feat to do so while keeping the elf's foot steady, for still in terrible pain he thrashed continuously. His hands beat the air, unintentionally slapping the ranger about the head and shoulders.
"Be calm, be calm," Aragorn soothed. "I am here to help you."
But the elf had long gone past that stage of reason. He was in full blown agony.
So Aragorn did the only thing he could in that situation. He knocked him unconscious.
As the elf went limp, the tip of Aragorn's knife flipped the tumbler that opened the lock. With a creak the shoe sprang open. Tossing it to one side Aragorn scooped him up and crossed quickly to the fireside. He placed the elf on the ground and stoked the cooling embers till they blazed for he needed to see clearly.
The elf's foot was bleeding it was mottled blue and purple and stank of metal. Aragorn felt along the thin bones, searching for any breaks but there were none. But as he squeezed the instep the elf gave a low moan. With a sigh Aragorn sat back on his heels; it was going to be a long night.
Amin hiraetha……….I am sorry
Gohenan nin………..forgive me
Iston edhel le, I ven thaed le………….I know you are an elf, let me help you
Im Aragorn ned Imladris….I am Aragorn of Rivendell
Man eneth lín………. What is your name
Ú èrin eneth…….I have no name
Ú èrin gwaith,……………I have no people
Man na den?...What is it?