Book Two - THE BOY ARAGORN
Chapter Three: Keni from Afar
She was, indeed, dead. Elladan bent his knee and stroked her side, digging his fingers into her thick fur. "Brave mother," he whispered to her, "your little one will live. Yavanna with us." He looked up at Elrohir. "Take him, brother. I will read the signs left in her."
"Him, you say," Elrohir took the pup in his hands and turned it on its back. "And it is so. He lives yet, though barely." He wrapped the tiny animal in a woolen cloth and tucked it into his tunic breast.
Elladan ran his hands over the dead mother, probing with his fingers. "She has gone but lately," he said, "almost we have attended her final breath."
"Hardly would it have cost her life," mused Elladan, "save her mad flight. It depleted her. Even unwounded, she would have run to her death."
"To save her whelp. One of her litter," Elrohir cradled the little body, "for I venture to say there were more."
"At least six," answered his brother, examining her teats. "She took this one and ran, but hardly leaving the others to die." He returned to her dark face and muzzle, now hanging limp from the neck once strong. "Why run, mother, from what foe?"
"Could that arrow hail from a goblin's bow?" Elrohir saw suddenly a story. "The wolf-den assailed by a pack of goblins… the little ones timidly abroad, snatched up and devoured in the wink of an eye. She would have fought back, madly… Outnumbered, she would have taken even one, and run for safety."
Elladan was searching the depths of her maw. "Indeed," he said, "she tore flesh." He sniffed gingerly at a shred of dead meat and cast it away. "Orc," he said, and spat in disgust, then turned again to the dead wolf-mother. "Brave one," he stroked her side once again, "we were kin against the Enemy. We shall care for your pup and raise him as a child of Yavanna.
"We must go, brother, and see to the little one. Let us cover her body with stones at this time; later we may return and raise for her a proper mound."
Elrohir assented, and together they quickly gathered rocks enough to cover the body, curled up as if napping. They took, however, not the way back at once, but followed the trace she had made, coming to give way finally in the shadow of the nettle-trees. They found the spot where she had stopped to pull out the arrow-point, and trailed back to the stream.
"Here she drank, and rested briefly. The very last of her strength was gathered for the climb to her final shelter. A most noble creature, my brother." Elrohir gazed a moment longer at what he saw unfolding in the eye of his mind, and then shook himself. "Let us go."
They made their way swiftly down the mountain and sought the small chamber in the stables, where they kept all provisions for the healing and treating of their horses. There they unwrapped the pup and tended it carefully, rubbing its tiny paws and pumping its legs. Elladan held the little snout and raised the lip on one side, while Elrohir dribbled in a thimbleful of reviving liquor.
At that, the pup awoke suddenly with a squeaky little snarl, and his black bead eyes fixed themselves on the two giants holding him down. "He growls, Elrohir," said Elladan with pleasure, "I feel the buzzing in his little body."
"He shall live, I foresee, and give Estel a good run these coming years," his twin said. "His weight is scant for his size, however, surely from the days of running. Shall we take him first to Vaneta?"
"I believe so," said Elladan. "She will know the best for him to eat now, and regain his strength quickly."
They set the pup down on the floor covered with straw, and observed it taking in the flood of smells and sounds from its surroundings. It sniffed the air to one side and the other, then sat down with a little whine. The lament grew suddenly, it threw back its head and howled a long shrill note.
"Such sadness! We must get him to Vaneta," Elrohir said, scooping the little one up and cradling it against his breast.
"Your heartbeat soothes him, brother," Elladan said as they made their way to the kitchens. They crossed the bridge, stopping for a moment to look up the rushing stream; they breathed a word for the one who had remained there, and went on to the path toward Vaneta's domain.
Trotting briskly up the final stairway, they saw the lady herself awaiting them at the top. "You have brought the babe," she said, not in question.
"We have," answered Elladan. "The mother lived no longer, and the boy-pup would have shortly followed."
Elrohir opened his tunic-breast and drew the little animal out. It was all eyes and ears now, and greeted Vaneta with the tiniest of barks. She shivered with emotion and laughed aloud. "Give me," she said. The pup whined a bit at the exchange, but quickly smelled the food-essence on her hands and ventured a lick of its tongue.
"He must take some nourishment, Vaneta," said Elrohir. "What have you for him?"
"Come, my sons, and tell me all while I make for him a stout gruel. Your father and Master Glorfindel are with Estel and the Lady Gilraen at this time, the ladies Larat and Lynael are here with me. Will you wet your throats with a fresh brew to bring along the story?" Vaneta swept across the sunny terrace and into the savory mist of her cooking-place.
The sisters were seated at the table, sparkling with curiosity as the three came in with the new little charge. The tiny wolf was made much of, and its bright animal wit grew by leaps instant on instant. Vaneta took a small dish and marked it for the pup's own, then settled down to teach it the basic manners expected for eating at the fireside. The twins' story brought sighs and laughter from the ladies, some serious reflection, and general agreement on the likelihood of the events as they were related.
The sound of approaching footsteps was perceived by the five elves, and not by the little wolf busy licking the dish clean. Silence all around was decreed as if by one will, and they sat attentive on the imminent entrance of Estel and his elders.
"Vaneta!" chirped the boy, "what have you-" He stopped suddenly, aware of five pairs of eyes upon him. "What is it?" he whispered.
She rose and took his hand, then led him around the table to the fireside. An arm around his shoulders, she pointed and said softly, "What do you see?"
Estel stiffened with a sharp intake of breath. "Wolf-pup," he said inaudibly, "what is this, Vaneta?" He did not take his eyes from the oblivious pup lapping up the last of the gruel.
"He has come to us for his care and fostering, my love," Vaneta murmured, "to be your friend and companion, up the mountain and down the river."
The boy turned to his mother and mouthed silently, "Momo?" Gilraen nodded quickly, and grasped Elrond's hand behind her back. The elf-lord steadied her arm and bent to whisper in her ear. She nodded again.
Vaneta released Estel's hand and propelled him gently forward. The boy approached the pup slowly and knelt at his side, his gaze fixed upon him. For a long moment they were all thus, unmoving save the pup licking the bowl. Finally satisfied, he seemed to come aware of a body close by. He raised his head and turned to gaze at the creature next to him, smaller than all the others and with those very bright eyes. He whined softly, and Estel slipped his arms around the furry little one. The pup whimpered again, but did not cringe from the refuge of the boy's arms. Rather he squirmed more deeply into them, sighed deeply and fell instantly asleep.
Estel was awed. He looked up at Elladan, then back at the sleeping pup, then at Elrohir. "Later, little cousin," said the first, "you will have the full story. Now it is meet that you procure for him a nest, warm and safe." Elrohir draped over the boy's shoulder the cloth in which he had wrapped the pup earlier, and Vaneta vacated a space at the fireside to accommodate an old basket. She placed another old cloth, soft and warm, into the bottom and gestured for Estel to place the pup within. The boy hesitated, loath to part from the warm little thing, but finally knelt to shift him into the depths of the basket. The pup made no sound, and barely settled himself to more and deeper sleep. Estel breathed and sat back on his heels, still gazing in wonder.
"My son," Elrond's words seemed to come from afar, "this young one has come to us for your company and friendship. Yavanna has opened his path to this valley, and I foresee many seasons for you and him together. You are agreed, I surmise."
Estel nodded, still unsure of proper words, and finally looked around at all with a dawning smile. "I welcome the wolf-pup," he said.
"Will you name him, Estel?" Lynael looked intently at the boy.
He closed his eyes tightly and searched within. "Keno…" he said finally. "He will be called Keno-thon, big, and Keni now, little. Is it well?"
Happy cries and sharp yaps floated up to the balcony of Gilraen's chamber, where she and the three healer-sisters were wont to enjoy the fresher hours past the summit of the arc Arien delineated daily in her journey over Arda. Milia strummed as always, though smiling a bit in rue of the lost quietude of the days.
"A handful only of days have passed," said Larat, "and the bond between them is entwined as the sinews of the mountain itself."
"Hah," laughed Milia oddly, usually given so to silent understanding, "they have taken the garden and made of it a battleground..."
Lynael patted her hand in sympathy, fully aware of the noisy impact on Milia's fine ear and sensitive nerves. "It will be but a passing sigh and soon forgotten, beloved," she said earnestly. "Soon the pup will have mountain-legs and they will haunt the woods from dawn to dusk, and you will dream again in the music of the stream and the garden."
Gilraen alone said nothing, seeming in fact far from the conversation around her. She stretched herself to follow with her eyes the romp of her boy and his friend, tireless both, tousled, speaking to each other in a language of their own. A shout, a stream of barks in answer, and the boy raced up towards the great terrace overlooking the rush of the river, the pup yowling shrilly as he galloped after.
"Such a change come over our quiet Estel," continued Lynael. "It seems his boyhood has awakened suddenly, in the company of another youngling. Poor dear, always in the company of grown ones with their cares and contemplations." She gazed out over the balcony railing towards the last of the two as they disappeared up the path. "A great change, truly," she echoed.
"I was sharing just such a reflection with Elladan and Elrohir," said Gilraen, "as he ran out this morn with the last bite still unswallowed." She smiled sadly. "Only now do I see something of what has been lacking for him during this time. Although the sons of Elrond say nay, that only now is Estel ripe for the caring of this companion. Perhaps that is so..." her words dribbled away into a sigh.
Larat made some mental calculations. "When the snows come, Keni will have his full stature, not quite, though barely half his weight as a grown wolf. He will be sensible and judicious, as becoming a child of Yavanna."
"I await with hungry joy," Milia murmured fervently.
"Even now, he is a bright little thing," said Gilraen with a sudden grin. "He runs about the entire house and outbuildings as if he had been birthed here. I believe he understands everything that Estel tells him. And especially I am touched by the response of Rogarin..." She trailed off again.
"That is a wise horse, with a heart as warm as the caress of Arien," Larat agreed, "and he loves his little rider. Now he steps with great care as the pup Keni dances around his great hooves, barking and tugging at the long hair upon them, Master Glorfindel has told me of their games."
"Estel binds Keni to his body and rides thus upon Rogarin," Gilraen laughed, "but it will be for a brief time only. Soon Keni will be as big and heavy as Estel, and then surpass him, and then later fall behind again, when the boy shoots up to become a man. Before long, as you count, my ladies," she finished again with a smile.
"And we know nothing as yet of whence he came, with the final shreds of strength of his noble mother," Lynael reflected. "Aülean believes that the barb of the arrow that drained her life was plunder from faraway and older battles. That the carrion-seekers of the orcs took it from a body and put it to use once again."
"Faraway, indeed," considered Larat, "far beyond the great Misty range. To the east and to the north, I would venture." She gazed at the peaks clothed in moist-bearing clouds. "Her nest would have been made in a sheltered dell of sorts, in the last of the forested slopes down to the Great River."
"So she ran, wounded and in despair, a fortnight's march, carrying her babe in her jaws yet gently!" cried Milia suddenly, stricken by the terrible images. "I have been unkind, sisters, my daughter, grumbling for the noise and disorder. Forgive me..."
"You have said nothing hurtful to Estel, dearest," Gilraen took her hand and pressed it. "He has nary a thought of any displeasure of yours."
"Nor will he," the songstress responded. "I do see now that Kementari herself opened the path to Imladris for this poor soul, not for her own refuge but for her child, Keni, the little one." Tears welled in her eyes. The four remained silent for a time.
"I have never known a wolf, thus closely," Gilraen mused aloud, "always they have been feared and avoided among our people."
"Verily," responded Lynael, "from the tale of Carcharoth to the fearsome wargs of goblin alliance, wolves have hardly been kept in our love."
"Nor in the love of the Dúnedain, my mothers," said the girl. "Recalleth thou that the first Aragorn, for whom Estel was a namesake, was slain by wolves while lost in the Ettenmoors?"
"A pact of reversal will be, perhaps, between this Aragorn and this wolf of Yavanna," Larat's eyes opened wide, "though neither has inkling of such a portent, nor of the dreadful antecedent for both their tribes."
"There is delicate balance between good and evil, my sisters, my daughter," said Lynael at length. "All the children of Kementari are, in their beginning, creatures of life. And though humble and simple, they too are bearers of the Divine Fire of Eru Ilúvatar, as much as the races of Elves and Men themselves." She stood and made her way back inside the chamber, seeking the small fire in the hearth. Without a word, the others rose and followed her.
"The workings of evil can twist even the First-born, and men, and wolves," she whispered into the fire, "and thus the wargs, who are as different from Keni as the Easterling wainriders are from the Dúnedain; and even, as orcs are from Elves."
"But how...?" Gilraen ventured a murmur of her own into the fire.
"The spirit of the predator, the meat-eater, is a field fertile for the devices of the Enemy," Lynael seemed to tremble, "thus comes the violation of the divine work of Kementari. We must spare no concern in the raising of this forest-child."
"I will call Estel to me for the making of a song for Keni," Milia breathed into the flames, "a song of power to protect him and make certain their friendship for the time the Blessed One has assigned to them."
"We must speak to Vaneta on this, that she find for him the balance of the green and the red in his foodstuffs," Larat reached into the fire and placed gently a cluster of fragrant herbs, the smoke of which twisted softly on its way up the vent.
"Here is Vaneta now," Gilraen said in surprise. The sisters exchanged quick looks and Lynael welcomed her in with a gesture.
The women shifted enough to make room for her at the fireside. She knelt between Gilraen and Larat, touched the hands of each of the four, and gazed into the fire. Long minutes went by, until she finally spoke.
"There is nothing I would not give, no task I would shrink from, to build the joy and the learning of this child. I foresee that with Keni, Estel will learn skills and secrets of the wild far beyond the lore of elves and men. He will learn also of aging, even of mortality, and the mystery of high devotion come from the simple hearts of beasts." She smiled at Gilraen and kissed her softly on the forehead.
"Each day, for many to come, these two will rise together and make their way through the hours together. You, my lady," she touched Gilraen's hand and spoke again into the fire, "will never fear for your son's comings and goings, for he will walk ever with the best of protectors. And are not safe and happy, the heart itself of company?"
A distant bell chimed, and the five rose to go. As they made their way to the hall of merry nourishment, their talk turned to lighter subjects and the laughter that flowed was richer and brighter than it had been for more time than any of them could recall.