A Better Huntsman by Ainu Laire|
Summary: Times of relaxation are sorely needed for those who work hard all of the time. So it truly was a good idea to take a small break. But it seems that even then, good ideas can go wrong.
Note: Some elements can be considered AU, but to the average fan, it will not be at all noticeable. :-)
Chapter One: Of Good Ideas
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Well, at least to him it sounded like an excellent idea. Sure, he had thought up bad ideas in the past, but this time it was a good idea. And as the others had agreed it was a good idea, he was perfectly justified in saying that it actually was a good idea.
It was not his fault that everything always turned out wrong.
It had all started out this morning; no, it had started out just a few days ago, in Minas Tirith. It was spring; the flowers were blooming, birds were singing, the people were content and happy… and he was near the point of insanity.
He had been raised to be a tactician and a leader. His foster father had been sure to see to it. Along with learning the art of swordplay and archery, he had learned politics and the ways of diplomacy. After all, Elrond did expect him to become king of Arnor and Gondor; if he were to rule a kingdom, he would have to know how to deal with the politics of his own country and of other countries.
He gained even more experience once he joined the Dúnedain and when he traveled as Thorongil in Rohan and Gondor. As he raised to high positions in both countries, he soon learned what he needed to be in order to gain respect from other men of high positions. By the time he had become king, he knew almost everything there was to know about politics.
But some of his councilors were completely and utterly insufferable! When he had councils with men from all over Gondor and Arnor, usually the meeting would flow smoothly and with little nonsense. However, often he had to attend smaller-based meetings with lords of the City, and while many of them he admired, there were a few that were completely impossible to work with.
And it was those few who was driving him insane.
"Bavanor is a thrice-cursed fool!" Aragorn said when he entered his private rooms. His wife looked up from the book she was reading and put it down.
"Another bad meeting?" she asked.
"The worst," he clarified as he sat down beside her. "He is asking me to do the impossible. Honestly, I wish I could be rid of him!"
"Bavanor… is he not the head of the stone mason’s guild?" asked Arwen. At Aragorn’s nod, she continued, "I believe I remember him from our wedding night a few years ago. I did not like him that much; he felt false to me. As it is, I do not think he liked me, either."
"Many times a fool, then," Aragorn mumbled.
"Is there naught you can do, meleth nin?"
"Nay; he does his job well enough, and many of the other guild leaders respect him enough to be angry with me if I remove him." Aragorn sighed. "I can usually handle him and his selfish rambles, but at the moment I am at the end of my rope. I am in a desperate need of change."
Arwen nodded thoughtfully as her husband stood up and started to pace. "Well, Estel, you have not had any time to yourself for many, many months, despite the peace within your realm. Is there any time at all for a well-deserved break?"
The king shook his head as he continued to pace. "Nay, my love, I must meet with Faramir within the coming week to discuss… Faramir!" Suddenly Aragorn stopped pacing, and he turned to his wife, a bright light within his eyes. "That’s it! Faramir! Thank you, Arwen, you are brilliant!"" He embraced her and planted a kiss upon her lips.
"You’re welcome, Aragorn," she said, her eyes twinkling. "But tell me, what exactly did I do?"
"I shall explain later," he said, pulling away from her and heading towards the door. "Arrangements must be made!" With that, he left the room, leaving behind a very amused wife.
Within a few days Aragorn, Arwen, and a small guard left to Emyn Arnen to see the Lord Faramir and the Lady Éowyn on "state business". Originally Faramir himself was going to come to Minas Tirith for a few days to work out all that was needed to be done, but with this arrangement, the king would be able to escape from the most annoying of his councilors and finish necessary business. The best part was that he had over a week to do so; Faramir and he would finish it within a couple of days, and thus the four of them would have time to enjoy themselves and be able to relax.
Now that, that was a brilliant idea. And indeed, all necessary business has been finished earlier than expected, leaving the two lords and two ladies to enjoy some much needed relaxation.
But of course, fate had other plans. In other words, he had just come up with another idea that very morning.
The steward of Gondor turned from where he was reading to the king, who was currently gazing at the head of a buck on the wall. "Yes, Aragorn?"
"Are the buck in Ithilien still as large as they used to be?"
Faramir looked at the buck head, and then to his liege lord. "Well, in the last days of the stewards, deer were difficult to find, and they tended to be small. However, ever since the end of the war, buck are now quite plentiful and large."
Aragorn nodded as he stared at the buck in thought. Suddenly, he said, "Let us go hunting."
Faramir blinked. "What?"
"Hunting." Aragorn turned to look at Faramir, a fiendish gleam in his eyes. "You have gone hunting before, haven’t you, Lord Faramir?""
"Of course," Faramir replied, raising an eyebrow. "Have you, Sire?"
"Naturally," said Aragorn without missing a beat. "And I am an excellent huntsman, if I do say so myself."
"Is that a challenge?" asked Faramir, standing up.
"It is whatever you make it out to be."
Aragorn approached Faramir, and the two men looked at each other in the eye. Faramir raised his eyebrow again. Aragorn folded his arms in response. The two lords gazed at one another, gray eyes on gray, two dark-haired reincarnations of Númenórean lords of old. Thus they stood like this for a while, until finally the steward broke the silence.
"I imagine our lady wives shall not be pleased."
"Nonsense," said Aragorn, waving his hand. "They will be amused, if anything."
"Beregond will not like such a short notice."
"Neither will Galdir."
Faramir slowly nodded. "So… would you like to inform the ladies or the guards?"
"Guards," he immediately replied, and Faramir burst out laughing.
"Leave me with the challenge!" Faramir cried. "But I shall do as you command, my king," he said with a low, exaggerated bow. "Know that you shall hear all of their worries and warnings from me; think not that you can escape it!"
"I expect I shall hear all words of caution needed from the queen; I need not you to repeat it to me!"
"But nevertheless, repeated it shall be," Faramir retorted. "And now, I believe we both have missions to complete. So we shall go hunting… tomorrow?"
"Yes. We shall leave tomorrow at dawn, and come back in a day, or two; whenever one of us has proved to the other to be a better huntsman." Aragorn said, a grin on his face. "Whoever shoots down the largest buck."
Faramir nodded. "Very well then. I shall give the news of this little venture to our wives, and you to our guards."
Aragorn nodded. "And tomorrow at dawn, we shall begin."
"May the best man win."
Chapter Two: The Hunt
Now when he thought upon it, perhaps it was not such a clever idea to go hunting. Well, not that hunting was bad… but the fact that he woke up to a stormy dawn should have been all that he had needed to postpone this small hunting trip for another time. But of course, he had never let a few clouds stop him before.
"It looks as if it will rain later today," commented Faramir as he looked out of the window. "Are you quite sure that you want to go today?""
"Yes," Aragorn said without hesitation. "A little rain has never stopped me before."
"I’m not sure if our wives would appreciate it."
"That is why we leave now."
Faramir glanced at him. "Are you thinking that our wives will keep us in?"
Faramir slowly nodded. "And you are afraid of what they will say when you plan on going hunting in this weather?"
"You are as well," Aragorn pointed out.
"Any man in his right mind would. I married the shield-maiden of Rohan."
"And I married the granddaughter of Lady Galadriel."
"So let us leave before they awake."
And with that ending note, they left the home of Lord Faramir and headed north, towards a small tributary of the Anduin. Aragorn, Faramir, and their men were all dressed in clothing of the Ithilien Rangers, for the metal plates of the normal garb would cause too much noise and frighten away all living creatures within the area. Aragorn and Faramir blended with their men; indeed, any strangers that saw them would mistake the whole band for a troop of patrolling Rangers, not the king, his steward, and their guard. As it was, they did not expect to come upon any travelers, considering the fact that the sky looked as if it were soon to drench the earth with rain. However, neither Aragorn nor Faramir could say that they actually minded; it had been quite a while for either of them since they were last out, and both planned to enjoy their small trip fully.
But of course, fate always has other plans.
After a short period of riding, the group stopped in a small clearing a couple miles east of the tributary and ten miles southwest of the Crossroads. While the men set up camp, Aragorn, Faramir, Beregond, and Galdir, the captains of the steward’s and king’s guard, were all huddled around a map, discussing where to go.
"We should not approach Minas Morgul," said Aragorn. "There is still not much life in that area, and the place itself is still not completely safe. When the odd band of orcs does attack, it is usually in that area."
"I agree with Lord Elessar," said Beregond. "That place is much too dangerous. You may want to try to actually head south."
"No, the buck do not usually wander there," argued Galdir. "I would think that they would be near the river, perhaps northeast of our current position."
"I agree," said Faramir. "I would imagine that there would be many around the river for a good, constant supply of water and food. That is where we will find the largest deer."
"But in this current weather, it is not safe to wander there, my lord," argued Beregond. "The river tends to swell and the steep banks can be treacherous."
"We shall be careful," said Aragorn. "We know of the risks."" When Faramir nodded his head in agreement, Beregond bowed his head in submission.
"Very well," said Galdir. "But you should take ten men, at the least."
"Nay, that is too much!" Faramir exclaimed. "We shall find nothing with ten men with us."
"One or two, at the most," said Aragorn. "We can handle ourselves."
"Safety in numbers, my lords," said Beregond, and Galdir nodded in agreement.
"Eight," he added to Beregond’s comment.
"Very well, then," said Aragorn, glancing at Faramir with slight exasperation. "Five men. But no more, and have them be your most silent!" The two captains nodded, bowed, and went to find men for the venture.
"The burdens of leadership," muttered the steward once they were alone. Aragorn nodded, and chuckled.
"If only others knew how much people such as us would give for a bit of privacy.""
Soon seven men left the camp: the king, the steward, three men of the king’s guard, and two from the steward’s guard. Beregond and Galdir were part of this guard, for both were loath to leave their lord behind. And thus the men moved silently, on foot, garbed in the colors of the forest and blending with the shadows of the trees. Unfortunately, the sky had not cleared up; instead, it had gotten darker, and it looked as if it were to rain anytime soon.
"Let us hope you find this buck soon, my lords," muttered Beregond to them, "for if it begins to rain too hard, all creatures will flee to find shelter."
"We shall," said Aragorn. "Come, we shall be near the river soon."
And so the men trudged on forward through the forest, coming upon no wildlife. The birds themselves had stopped singing long ago, and nothing had come their way, despite how silent they were. But nevertheless they continued forward on their venture, hoping that they would come upon at least one buck.
As it was, luck finally came to them when they spotted a very large buck grazing upon some wild grass, looking as if it had not a care in the world. Faramir took out his bow; earlier he and Aragorn had drawn sticks to see who would shoot first, and he had the luck of pulling the longer stick. Slowly, he drew the bow until it was taut, exhaled, and released. But as it was, the buck looked up at the exact moment before Faramir had released, and gracefully he sprang out of its way. Taking one look on the two, as if daring them on, he suddenly jumped out of sight.
Caught within the moment, both king and steward went after it, regardless of Beregond’s surprised objection. The large, majestic buck, instead of seeking for shelter, made sure that he was only just out of reach, as if he were saying that he were better than them; as if he were taunting the two on. No hunter before had ever caught the noble beast, and no one ever would.
He led them further and further, and they lost all sense of rationality and focus, both eager to conquer the taunting buck and be able to claim that they were strong and clever enough to catch it. As they ran, the dark clouds finally broke, and the skies released torrents of rain upon the earth.
Neither man nor beast let this stop them, though. They ran and ran, tireless, both men eager to take down their prey and the beast eager to outsmart the hunters, as he had done to so many before them.
Soon they had come to the river, and now it was raining with full force; the ground was slippery and muddy, and even Aragorn and Faramir were hard-pressed to keep their balance and speed. The buck led them following at the edge of the banks, which dropped many feet to meet the gushing waters below. If they were their normal selves, they would have immediately ceased and tried for another day. However, the large back had them both entranced, and as he stared back at them, his taunting eyes ever led them forward. They would catch this beast, even if it be the death of them.
Unfortunately, their luck with trailing it ended just there. For as they ran along the steep banks, Faramir suddenly slipped. In his haste to keep himself steady, he grabbed onto Aragorn, thus bringing him down with him. Stumbling, they both tumbled over the edge of the steep, tall banks, and they fell into the rushing rapids below.
The buck, satisfied that his hunters would bother him no longer, left the banks and fled into the forest to find shelter from the storm, not once looking back.
Chapter Three: Unexpected Events
No, it had not been a clever idea to go hunting in such stormy weather at all. It was even less clever that he had followed that buck; what had he been thinking? Nay, he had not been thinking at all. Neither he nor Faramir had thought about the others, nor about the consequences. It was odd… there was something very… well, enticing about that buck.
As it was, after they fell, he had immediately hit his head upon a rock and went into unconsciousness. Faramir, however, did not have such luck.
The icy water was a shock that brought him to reality once more. He could not exactly say how he had fallen in, if you had asked him right there and then; but as it was, he was too busy concentrating on keeping himself above the rapids to really think about the strange events that had led both him and the king into the river- the king!
The steward looked around desperately, trying to find where his king exactly was. He could barely see through the darkness and the splashing water, but finally his keen eyes found what they were looking for. He saw Aragorn’s limp body float above the surface, and then submerge once more under the water. His eyes widened and he nearly cursed. This was not what he needed right now; he could barely keep afloat himself!
Taking a deep breath, he used all of his strength to swim against the rapids in order to reach his unconscious friend. The waters fought against him, and many a time he nearly went under himself. Finally, though, he reached Aragorn and took him into one of his arms while trying to keep himself up with the other. He looked around and searched for something to hold on to; he could not keep both of them up for long.
To his luck, a stray piece of driftwood came his way. He immediately latched onto it for dear life, his other arm still supporting Aragorn. He was in pain, and filled with fatigue, but he knew that he could not lose consciousness; that could mean the death of both of them.
He noticed that the rain started to lighten up, but the river still flowed quickly. Thankfully, the waters were not as dangerous as they were before, but he still needed to find a place to land before he himself became too weary to hold on. He needed to find shore soon.
After a few moments, shore came. A sandy bank was just up ahead; he had to make it there.
Using all of his strength, Faramir made his way to the shore, making sure Aragorn was secure in his arms. He took a deep breath, and let go of the driftwood. He pushed and kicked against the current, despite a burning sensation within his leg. He simply ignored it kept swimming until finally, he found himself on the banks.
He dragged his liege lord’s limp, soaked body out of the river, and made sure that it was out of the water’s way so it would not be pulled back into the river. He looked at Aragorn’s pale face, and at the large gash on the side of his head. Blood dripped out of it and dropped to the ground; he was still alive, which relieved Faramir to no end.
Oh, how weary he was! But he could not rest now; he had to find help… When he went to get up, a fiery pain shot through his leg, immediately stopping his movements. He looked down, and saw a large gash in his left leg. Well, would you look at that…
Finally, exhaustion overtook him. Though he desperately wished to find help, his body gave out, and fell into unconsciousness.
The rains had ended by morning, which meant that she could play outside instead of being cooped up inside like she was yesterday afternoon. Even better, her father and brother were going down to the river to look for driftwood and other things the rains may have brought in, which meant that she was able to play by the river! She wasn’’t able to play there too often, so she was quite pleased when her mama finally let her go.
However, she found herself wanting to go further down the stream to explore. She looked at her papa and asked in her sweetest voice, "Papa, may I go explore? Please, I promise to be careful!"
Her papa thought about for a moment, and then finally nodded. "Alright, then. But don’t go too far! And if you need help, just shout!"
She didn’’t even hear him after he granted her permission. Squealing with joy, she sprinted away down the banks, kicking pebbles and wet dirt with her feet. She took off her boots and ran in the water, splashing and shouting with glee. Leaving her boots behind, she waded in the water and walked on further, looking at all the debris that the storm left behind. One of her favorite trees was now gone, as was one of her little hideouts that she had found a couple months ago. At least it wasn’’t the one near her home; that one really big and took her a long time to clear out!
As she played and explored, she suddenly spotted something large up ahead. Being the curious young girl she was, she walked forward, interested to see what it was. When she was close enough to see, she stopped in her tracks, speechless. But not for long.
"Papa!" she screeched. "Papa!" She ran away from it, screaming for her papa over and over. Quickly her father found her, crying and screaming for him. He lifted her up, ignoring her wet and muddy feet.
"Shh, shh…" he hushed her, gently stroking her back. "I’m here, darling, I’m here. What’s wrong, precious?""
Still sobbing, she cried out, "There are two men lying down and they’re not moving and there’s, there’s blood coming from them!" She then burst out into louder, more tearful sobs.
He hid his concern from her and simply asked, "Where, sweetie?" She pointed in the direction, and he handed her to her older brother. "Take her to the house, and tell your mother where I am. Stay with them." The elder sibling nodded, and he turned away as the older man went to see what exactly his daughter had been talking about.
He followed the river, looking for any signs of men… or bodies. He did find his daughter’s boots, and made a mental note to pick them up later. But for now, he needed to find what had terrified his daughter so.
And soon he did find it. Like his daughter had said, there were two men, side by side, dressed in Ranger garb. Every now and then rangers had visited their home, and so he knew their appearance well. However, these two were taller than most, and certainly not in the best condition. One had a gash on the side of his head, drying blood covering the side of his face, while the other had blood covering nearly the whole of his left leg. Both were wet, despite the bright, warm sun in the sky, and both were covered in bruises and lacerations.
He immediately went down near them both and looked for breath. He was relieved to see both of their chests moving. It seems that they were caught in the storm last night, and somehow had fallen into the river. The fact that they had made it out alive was miraculous.
Suddenly, the one with the wound to the head stirred. So as to not startle him, the man moved a few feet away, and waited for the Ranger to wake up.
He felt as if he had been in a drinking contest, and lost. His head was pounding with the ferociousness of a thousand trolls. And the bright sun upon his face was hardly helping matters. But… if the sun was so bright, then why did he feel so cold and… wet?
He willed his eyes to open, and immediately wished that he hadn’t. Ah, too bright. What had he done last night? He was pretty sure he hadn’t participated in any drinking games… nay, that would be too undignified for a king, and Faramir would have never let him hear the end of it-
Faramir! Buck! Rain! … River.
Aragorn’’s eyes shot open again as he realized where he was. He must be on one of the river’s sandy banks… how in the world did he survive? From what he could recall, his head had struck something, and then nothing… and where was Faramir?
Biting back a moan, he started to lift himself up, but immediately stopped when he heard a voice, and it certainly wasn’t Faramir.
"How’re you feeling?"
He swung his head around, instantly regretting it when his head started pounding once more. Taking a deep breath, he looked in the direction of the voice and saw a man; Gondorian, by the looks of him, and a simple woodsman at that. He was around the age of Faramir, with short, dark hair and a scruffy, dirty beard. However, his dark eyes were kind and filled with concern, and Aragorn saw no malice in him.
"Where am I?" he asked, ignoring the question.
"Ithilien, ‘round ten or so miles from the Anduin." The man studied Aragorn as he slowly got himself to his knees and gently felt the side of his head. "My daughter found you and your friend a bit ago. Scared the daylights out of her."
Aragorn looked, and saw that Faramir was lying right beside him, still unconscious and with a large gash in his left leg. Gently, Aragorn turned him onto his back; it proved to be simple enough, for the man had lost his quiver and bow in the river, although he still had his sword and knives. Aragorn himself still had his quiver, though all of the arrows were now gone, and his bow was lost as well. Andúril was still safe in his sheath, as were his knives.
Once he was turned over, the sun hit the younger man’s face, which seemed all that was needed to bring him to the world of the living. He groaned, and slowly Faramir opened his eyes. Aragorn smiled down upon him, blocking part of the sun from his face.
"Welcome back. How do you feel?"
Faramir blinked, and then shut his eyes. "As if my leg is slowly being torn apart.""
"It doesn’t look too good."
Faramir stiffened as he heard the unfamiliar voice, but he looked at Aragorn’s face and relaxed. Aragorn looked back up at the stranger, and asked, "So, you say your daughter found us?"
"Aye," he nodded. "Frightened her, too. At first I thought she was hurt by how much she was screaming. But you two looked dead; at first I thought you were. As it is, I’m surprised you two aren’t; the storm was bad last night, and the river definitely was not friendly."
"No, not at all," said Faramir, who was now sitting up with the help of Aragorn, his left leg stretched out in front of him. "I also am surprised that we are not dead."
The stranger nodded, and then blinked. "Ah! Where are my senses? Come, come, come to my house. You two can dry yourselves and my wife could bind your wounds and make you something to eat. By the way, the name’s Ondren."
Aragorn nodded as he got to his feet. "I am Strider, and this is…" He looked to Faramir.
"Turgon," he said.
"Pleasure," replied Ondren. "Now, we need to somehow get you to the house; you certainly are not walking there with that leg, and I don’t expect you to hop the whole way, either."
"If Strider supports me, I’ll be able to manage," replied Faramir.
Ondren gave him a doubtful look, but finally nodded. "Well, then. Suit yourself. Come, let’s get there before my wife starts worrying about me."
They nodded, and Faramir, with the help of Aragorn, managed to get himself up. Ondren looked them over, and satisfied that neither of them would fall over when they took their first step, he turned his back on them and started to head towards his home, not knowing that it was the king and steward of Gondor trailing slowly behind him.
Chapter Four: Revelations
And now here he was, following a simple woodsman and supporting a limping Faramir through the forest. It really had sounded like such an excellent idea at the time… all he wanted to do was get away and go hunting. Was it really too much to ask?
"Of all places I thought we would be, I did not think I’d be following an oblivious citizen of Gondor through Ithilien to receive some aid for a gash in my leg," said Faramir in Sindarin.
"Trust me, this was the last place I thought we would be," said Aragorn in the same language. "At least he doesn’t know who we are. I do think that he would be in shock."
"Or he wouldn’t believe us."
"Well, at least you always have an available alias, Strider," said Faramir with a grin. "I actually had to think of one."
"And you were not very clever at thinking up one, Turgon. Honestly, giving yourself the name of your great-grandfather?"
Faramir cleared his throat. "Actually, I was thinking about the king of Gondolin when I thought of it."
Ondren turned around, confused when he saw Strider burst out laughing. When Turgon simply shook his head, Ondren shrugged and continued forward. He didn’t understand what they were saying, and as it was, it probably was none of his business. It probably wasn’t anything important, anyways.
Aragorn suddenly stopped laughing when his head started pounding again. Faramir shot him a look of concern, but the king simply ignored it. Once the pounding had settled down again to a small throbbing, he looked to Faramir and smiled.
"Only you, Faramir, would think of the old elf king before your own ancestors."" Faramir raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. However, not even he could hide the small smile threatening to turn into a grin.
They soon fell silent, and brooded on their own thoughts. Suddenly, Faramir frowned, but still he said nothing. Aragorn waited for him to speak, but when he did not say anything, Aragorn asked, "What ails you? You look as if you are in distress."
Faramir was still silent, but at Aragorn’s encouraging look, he sighed, and said, "This is all my fault. If it were not for me, we would not be here right now."
Aragorn frowned. What in the world was he talking about? "Whatever do you mean, Faramir? If there is anyone to blame, it should be me."
Faramir looked genuinely surprised when he said this. "You, Sire? No, it was me! It was I who followed after the buck, and it was I who grabbed onto you and pulled you with me into the river. If I had not, you would not be wounded now!"
"I followed the buck not because you did, but because I also was acting foolish,"" admitted Aragorn. "And it was I who suggested this silly hunting competition as it was, and it was I who insisted on coming, even though it looked as if it were to rain! Indeed, I believe I am the much larger fool in this case."
Faramir shook his head. "No, you are not to be blamed for following the buck. Indeed, that buck was not normal. There was this… look in his eyes. A look that I have never seen before in any creature."
Aragorn nodded. "And I doubt we shall see such a look ever again. But buck or not, I am still the one who proposed this silly venture in the first place."
"It was a good idea," pointed out Faramir. "It is hardly your fault that nearly everything turned out wrong."
"Nearly everything?" asked Aragorn skeptically.
"Well, we are not dead," said Faramir with a smile. "And we were found by a seemingly friendly woodsman." Aragorn gave a small nod as Faramir continued. "I do believe that we both equally share the blame. And I am sure Beregond and Galdir shall scold us enough to make us both feel equally guilty."
"Our wives, too," added Aragorn. Faramir grimaced.
"I was trying not to think about it," he said.
They once again fell into silence. Finally, Aragorn broke the silence by chuckling. When Faramir gave him an inquiring look, the king said, "We both went on this hunt to prove to one another who the better huntsman was; who could outwit the buck. In the end, the buck outwitted us both!" Faramir frowned as Aragorn kept chuckling, failing to see the humor in this, but the laughter was contagious and soon he found himself laughing as well.
Ondren shot the two an odd look as their laughter became louder. He supposed that their wounds were affecting them in some odd way that made them act strangely. Or maybe Rangers were just like that.
Soon enough they came to the house. Ondren opened the door, letting the two in. Inside was a boy around fourteen or fifteen sitting at a table, a young girl sitting on the table, and an older woman sitting on a chair, scrubbing the girl’s feet.
"Honestly, Celonrél, where are your senses? Jumping in the river, getting yourself all muddy and wet! You could catch a cold, child. And where are your boots?"
"They are still near the river, Mothelwen," said Ondren as he stepped in. The three looked up at him, and then stared at the two strangers.
"Oh lords!" said Mothelwen, dropping the rag she held. "What happened?"
"Nothing, love, nothing," said Ondren, trying to calm her down. "The wounds are not too serious; they did make it here without collapsing, after all."
Mothelwen simply nodded, staring at Faramir’s bloody leg. Ondren cleared his throat. "Maenréd, would you go and find Celonrél’s boots? They are near the spot we were at earlier." Maenréd nodded, though he did not move. He was too busy staring at the strangers, especially at their weapons. "Maenréd," warned Ondren. "Now."" Maenréd blinked, nodded, and left the home, but not with one last look at the Rangers. Ondren then shooed his daughter outside, telling her to stay within the yard, and with that closed the door.
"Now, let’s look at those wounds," said the man.
Both husband and wife treated the two’s wounds, and made sure they were warm. The fire was lit and both were given blankets to wrap themselves in. Meanwhile, Aragorn and Faramir told of their venture, and how exactly they ended up in the river. Mothelwen, who was making a broth for them to warm up a bit more, was absolutely horrified at the end.
"Oh, that is quite terrible!" she claimed as she stirred the stew. "That must have been absolutely dreadful. I would be quite terrified, myself. I am so glad you two made it out alright."
They simply nodded, and watched her make the stew. Though both had insisted that this was already too much, she was insistent and did no less than her best for the two. Ondren, once the bandaging had been done, went outside to watch over the young girl so she did not run off nor disturb their guests inside.
Suddenly, Ondren came in, Celonrél in his arms, and following him were his son, Beregond, and four others, making the small home a very crowded place.
"My lords! Thank the Valar you are both well!" said Beregond with delight. He frowned at the bandage around Aragorn’s head, and the even larger one around Faramir’s leg. "Well, perhaps not completely well…… but nevertheless, it gladdens us all to see you both alive and coherent.""
"We are very well, Beregond," said Faramir with a smile. "You have not lost us yet."
"Valar forbid," Beregond muttered. "The ladies Arwen and Éowyn would have my hide."
The family, meanwhile, looked completely and utterly confused. Aragorn felt sympathy for them, and said, "Ondren, Mothelwen, I’m afraid we have not been quite honest with you. We are not exactly who we say we are."
"Then who are you?" asked Ondren. "I wish to know who I have in my house."
"You did not tell them who you were?" Beregond asked, raising an eyebrow. When Aragorn and Faramir remained silent, Beregond fought the urge to bang his head against the wall. Turning to the family, he said, "The one with the head wound is the Lord King Elessar Telcontar, and the other is the Lord Steward Faramir."
When the family heard this, Ondren, Mothelwen, and Maenréd’s eyes widened, and immediately they bowed in reverence. The girl, still too young to understand, looked at her family in confusion. Aragorn and Faramir gave Beregond a somewhat exasperated look, and Aragorn bid them to rise.
"I thank you for your hospitality. Unfortunately we will not be able to try some of your soup, as I am sure Captain Beregond is anxious to leave as soon as possible." They simply nodded, and with small farewells, all of the men left the home.
"Even though things did not go out as were planned… I must say, I enjoyed myself more than I have in quite a long time."
"… I agree. I did enjoy myself. We should do this again."
"We should. After all, we have yet to see who the better huntsman is."
"Oh, but we know that it shall be me."
"And we know I shall prove that wrong… next week?"
"… sure. Next week."
"May the best man win."