The Rangers departed for Ithilien early the next morning, and a little later Master Doron and his wife left for their home. We gave them all our most grateful fare-wells, then settled back into a life with less excitement and worry, and a more reliable food supply.
Was it my mother's invocation of ancient powers that brought us succor that winter or something else? I've never been able to say for certain. But though Gondor itself still had some of its darkest days before it, our lives became much better after the three Rangers stayed with us that Mettarë . Bessie and her calf thrived, and with Speckle's help we were able to plow and plant all of our land. The harvest was good that year, and so were the prices. And Lord Forlong brought us the stipend, so that we were able to buy Speckle outright as well as the other animals we needed to make the farm a going concern once more.
But I suspect the Powers, if they did indeed send us aid, were a little confused. Though the winter observations are for the three faces of the God as the summer are for the Goddess, the Hunter they had chosen was a girl. We found out about that the following year, when the great battle for Minas Tirith finally happened. News of it slowly made its way back to us. Our beloved lord Forlong died on that field, and his son Forald succeeded him, a good lord if not so great in girth or personality as his sire. And there Hethlin the Mûmak-slayer gained fame for herself, as she stood over her fallen captain until the Prince of Dol Amroth could reach him.
Being a dutiful big brother, I twitted Silivren unmercifully when I heard the tale. "You were making a play for a girl! How do you expect to ever wed if you can't tell the difference?" Being a dutiful sister, she gave me no quarter in return.
"How do you expect to wed, then? For you didn't know either!"
Lieutenant Mablung eventually got his captaincy, and went down to Poros, probably the most important military post in post-war Gondor. He took Lorend, now a lieutenant, with him. Hethlin's path lay in other directions, but we heard tales of her adventures over the years. The Hunter's legacy of courage in the face of darkness was certainly hers.
The summer after that special Mettarë , a man limped up the road to our farm. Eryngol, he said his name was, and he made his way upon a wooden peg-leg. It turned out that he was a former Ranger who had lost his lower leg to a orc sword-wound gone bad.
"Lieutenant Mablung said you might have need of a farm-hand," he'd said hesitantly. "There are things I can still do, even with but one leg. And I need naught but room and board."
It turned out that he was certainly as good as his word, a hard worker and a willing one. And it also turned out that he had another skill. He was a wood-worker of great ability. In the evenings he would carve spoons and other small objects, and teach me some of the tricks he knew. Those we would sell in Lossarnach when we went to market, and we kept the proceeds from the sales to save up and buy more tools.
Eryngol spent the first warm months in the barn, and the winter in the house with us, and by the following spring, Gondor's darkest, he and mother had decided to wed. We children had no reservations about the match, for he was kind to us and mother looked young and happy again and was singing once more. In time, we were joined by a baby brother and sister, and Eryngol had created an entire wood-working workshop in the barn, including a lathe. When Tuilinn wed a stout Lossarnach farm-boy, Eryngol and I gradually turned the running of the farm over to them, except for helping at planting and harvest, and concentrated on our wood-working and cabinetry business. We added onto the house over the years, and attached an actual wood-shop there eventually.
Our cabinetry was in great demand in those rebuilding years after the war. We made enough money to buy more acreage for the farm, and I had no trouble finding a fine Lossarnach girl willing to be my wife. I had eventually had that growth spurt Lord Forlong had predicted, though I never became a proper, stout figure of a Lossarnach man. But Maegwin doesn't seem to mind, bless her heart. We were careful of our business and we prospered. But Eryngol had one piece of work which he would never charge for. Any former soldier of Gondor who needed a leg or the base for a hook could get one from him for no charge whatsoever. And they were beautifully carved, as were his own peg-legs, which he eventually had a huge collection of, and used as an advertisement of sorts.
You will notice I've not spoken of Silivren's fate. I feel that it is her own story to tell. She blossomed into a beautiful maiden, dark of hair and eye like Mother, but with a bit more refined beauty from Father's Sea-lord blood. Lads from all over Lossarnach were falling over our doorstep in droves, wanting to court her, but she would have none of them. "I want a man with a mind!" she declared, tossing her head, and eventually she made her way to Minas Tirith as a lady's maid, and then to Emyn Arnen and finally down to Poros. I realized after a time that it was not so much a hunt for the appropriate man as a pursuit…
I did finally meet Captain Mablung again, years later, when he commissioned a dower bed for his first-born daughter. Or rather, when he came to pick it up, for our agent in Minas Tirith had sent us the commission. I had dropped all my other work to concentrate on the bed exclusively, with Eryngol's blessing; "You do it, Idren, for these days your carving is better than mine." And I did my very finest work on it, the same as if it had been for the King himself. Fruits and sheaves and vines covered it, and on the head and foot boards, stags galloped between farmland and forest, for a stag was the Captain's sigil. When it was done, and stained and polished, Eryngol and I spent some time just staring at it in appreciation.
"I've never seen a better, Idren, and that's the truth. It's a masterwork," he said.
As for Captain Mablung, when he arrived to pick it up and first laid eyes upon it, he was simply speechless for a time, eyes wide as he walked round and round the bed. "Well, Idren, I think you've moved well beyond whittling," he said at last huskily. "'Tis beautiful! But I did not pay you enough for this."
"You paid all the money Eryngol or I will take, Captain," I said firmly, "and we'll do the same for any other daughters you have, or any other work you want done."
"You sent me to a place where I could find happiness once more, sir," said Eryngol. Shafts of afternoon sunlight glowed upon the carvings of the bed, on the suspicious shine on Eryngol's cheeks, on the Captain's hair, now almost entirely white. The next moment, we were all embracing, and the Captain's errand ended up being delayed by a day, for we went into the house and spent the afternoon reminiscing and drinking ale, till he wasn't safe to drive and had to spend the night with us.
And now that I'm a guildsman myself, and wise with many more years, I've never found a piece of advice better than what Ranger Lorend gave me years ago-that if you could not repay a kindness done to you at the time it was done, then you should endeavor to pass it on to another at some point in the future. For only in this way will the amount of kindness in the world grow and flourish. So it is known in Lossarnach that on Mettarë , if you are in sore need or want, no matter your estate, you may come to my door and find fire and song and food within. And perhaps hope as well, for as the Sea-lords of old knew and the folk of the Gondor of our day realize as well, all darkness passes, and the light does return.
And Maegwin bakes three loaves of the finest flour and we burn them for the old Lords every year as well. For you never know from which direction your help might come…