But a Day from Home – Part 10
Once the whole of the tale had been told, and the Rangers realized that they had come out looking rather badly in it from Brassica’s perspective, they became extremely gracious towards their diminutive guest. It had taken a rather stern lecture on the hobbit’s part to make it clear to the Dunedain that it was bad form to assume that their guests were spies, and especially bad form to keep them waiting when they’d been kidnapped by bandits. After that, she was privy to all manner of courtesies, and her next few days on the shore of the lake were filled with a variety of occupations at the hands of the gruff, but strangely decorous men of the North.
Beldrieth and Llythne seemed to draw polarizing reactions from the Rangers. Where Beldrieth’s counsel and company were welcome, for she brought with her much news of the world to the south, and had a great deal of wisdom to offer with regard to the concerns of the Wardens of Annuminas, Llythne seemed to be just barely tolerated. Far from being hurt or offended by this, Llythne seemed to delight in the suspicions the Rangers had about her, and would burgle trinkets from them here and there, only to barter them back in exchange for silver, or a choice volume or two from the library they kept in the ruin.
Now over her timidity, Brassica’s tale of her adventure with the goblins had circulated the camp, and as the Dunedain realized that this was a feat entirely uncharacteristic of a hobbit, she had gained a certain celebrity around Tinnudir. This was pleasant in and of itself, and coupled with the fact that the Rangers were eager to make reparations for her ordeal on Rantost, she was treated to a great deal of attention. They were good men, and when Brassica made it back to the Shire, she was going to tell every hobbit who would listen about how the Rangers were some of the nicest people you could hope to meet, once you got past their roughness.
Perhaps the most exciting thing the Rangers did was to take it upon themselves to outfit Brassica for her journey onwards, wherever it took her. It had taken some shuffling of resources, and some rummaging through old chests in the great keep, but on the second day after she had returned from Rantost, a trio of the Dunedain had presented her with a set of armour.
“Oh!” she had cried, when they had drawn her aside to present her with the gift. Every care had been taken to tailor the clothes to her needs. There was a sturdy pair of leather trousers, dyed a dark olive green, and a lightly padded tunic of soft linen. To cover this–and at first Brassica was daunted by it–a mail shirt which in size seemed to have been intended for a young man, but which she could wear like a hauberk, dropping down to her knees. Over this another green leather jerkin was provided, though it had needed to be drawn tight and shortened in assorted places with leather cinches and straps, and a mantle of warm wool to wrap about her shoulders. There were also a pair of fine, sable trimmed leather gloves. Brassica could not even begin to wonder at their origins, for they fit her perfectly, and looked as though they certainly didn’t belong on the rough hands of the warriors of the North. Nonetheless, she was thrilled and delighted by the gifts. “Oh, you wonderful, lovely Rangers! Thank you!”
“It was a job to find these things, let me tell you, little mistress,” the first of them declared, with a sort of shy pride. “Did you know, there was a great battle in the North Downs to the east, long ago at the beginning of the Third Age, on the Fields of Fornost. The legends say that there were small folk like yourself in a company up from the Shire, brave archers all. We thought of them as we looked through our stores.”
Another thing Brassica had discovered about the Rangers was that they loved stories just as much as hobbits did, and could be moved to great joy when she took a genuine interest. “Why, then you aren’t such strangers after all, are you? Only like neighbours we’ve forgotten about,” she had giggled. “We think the lot of you to be a skulking, nervous lot, and odd, no mistaking it. We oughtn’t, really, not if we’ve got ties so far back in one of your old Kingdoms. You have rather a lot of Kingdoms, if you don’t mind my saying. But Fornost! Oh, we’d think you less queer, surely, if you went down by one of the taverns some night, and told that story.” She had attempted to look stern through her plain delight. “And stop with all your secrets! How old does a secret need to get before it can be a story? I’ve been told about how you’re watching our borders and keeping us safe, well, there’s plenty you don’t know about us, for all your watching, if you don’t know that we’re a trusty folk, allowing that we get to know who our friends are.”
The Rangers had laughingly agreed to take this on advisement, but that was not the last of their gifts. Along with the clothing, she had been presented with a small, round, wooden shield, banded with metal, with a divot in its edge, and a compact little rucksack, with four sleeves, through which were thrust four sharp javelins. She had not quite understood the purpose of these things, but then the Rangers had grown quite cruel, and her leisure at their hands had ended. They meant to train her! Her little silver blade had been observed and admired, and they meant to see to it that she had at least the basics of how to use it before she left.
By the third day, she had decided that if she ever got back to the Shire, she was going to tell everybody that the Rangers were slave drivers, with their spars and their drills and their relentless insistence on practice. And that their armour was hot and heavy and it chafed, even if it would keep her safe. Still, she was stubborn and determined, and Beldrieth and Llythne drew much amusement watching her, as she huffed and puffed about a sandy ring near the outside edge of the camp, her arm aching from the weight of her shield, but determinedly poking at the ranger with whom she skirmished.
“Enough!” Brassica had finally declared, when the noon sun had grown too hot to bear, flopping down in the dust and refusing to move. “You win! You killed me, well done! I hope my family sends you a basket of fruit for your trouble.”
The Ranger had laughed and bowed at her. “Well-fought!”
“Well-tired!” Brassica had retorted, sitting up and getting to her feet. Llythne and Beldrieth sat outside the ring, the former perched on a barrel with a book in her lap, the latter standing, arms folded as she observed the contest. As Brassica approached them, Beldrieth poured and offered her a small clay jar of water, which the hobbit accepted gratefully. “Where’s Celebarad today?”
Beldrieth shrugged. “I saw him go into the great keep, I have not seen him come out again.”
Brassica sighed exasperatedly. She had listened and taken to heart what Lithuifin had said on the isle of Rantost, but it had been three days! She suspected that Celebarad had come to the end of whatever self-reflection was necessary after such an event, and now he was just moping. And Brassica was incredibly intolerant of moping. “Well, if I have anything to say about it, he’s coming out today. There’s been more than enough of this nonsense. I’m fine, and he’s fine–or getting to be, anyway, Lithuifin said that Elves heal quick enough if they aren’t permitted to despair.”
“It’s nothing so serious as despair what ails him,” Llythne observed. “The Fair Folk merely give a little too much of themselves over to thinking, if Beldrieth will pardon my saying so.”
“It could equally be said that Men give themselves too little to thinking,” Beldrieth answered dryly. “But I take your point. However Celebarad feels, we begin to make ready to depart–Calenglad had given me a message to take east to his man at Ost Heryn. After that we shall cross the Downs, and turn south towards Bree. Go and see if you can rouse him. We’ve all of us seen little of him these past days, but surely you have seen him least of all.”
That was true, and Brassica felt just the tiniest bit hurt by the fact, as she took her leave of Beldrieth and Llythne. When they had returned to Tinnudir, Celebarad had made it quite plain that he wished to be let alone, and everyone had respected the fact, and left him to wander the isle or to sit on the shore by himself. But even with what minimal contact he needed to have with the rest of the camp, he had very deliberately avoided Brassica, and she wasn’t sure she understood why. By this time, though, she’d had quite enough of it, and she was building herself up into a rare old temper on her way towards the big old ruin.
“You!” she summoned the nearest Ranger as she clambered up the broad white stairs. “Come with me, I need your help.”
And then, having recruited a bewildered Ranger called Cannuion to open the doors, she strode inside the great keep of Tinnudir. On any other day she might have stopped to wonder at the huge dark inside of the keep, it’s steep stairway like the throat of a great beast, and to examine the old faded tapestries, and stare up at the great statue of Elendil. But now she had set herself on an errand, and she pursued it intently, looking almost imposing in her mail shirt, with her shield still buckled to her arm. Or at least as imposing as it is possible to look when one is not quite three feet in height, and flushed from a morning’s exertions.
She had no particular thought for how she looked, though, and so when she found her friend, sitting on a bench in the cool dimness of the great hall, she could not account for the surprise on his face when he glanced up to see a hobbit in full battle dress bearing down on him like a tiny thunderhead.
“Come here!” she commanded Cannuion, who had trailed uncertainly behind her, unsure whether he hadn’t been enlisted just to open the door, and just as surprised as Celebarad at the fierceness of the young hobbit. “Now, I have a lot to say, and I need it put in Elvish, so you’ll kindly do that for me, please.”
It was said in such a way to only have been phrased as a request, the “please” having been the bare minimum requirement of hobbit-civility.
“I’ll do my best, little mistress,” Cannuion promised respectfully, and then hesitantly pronounced some greeting for Celebarad’s benefit.
Brassica folded her arms and looked her friend critically up and down. The armour he’d worn on the island was gone, and he was attired once more in blue and gold, but of a soft, belted tunic instead, not the leather of his traveling clothes. He certainly seemed as though he’d been comfortable, and even had a book in his lap.
“Well!” she began, and placed her hands on her hips for greater effect. “I don’t know what you think you’ve been at for the last three days, but let me just tell you I’ve just about had my fill of it!” She paused and waited for Cannuion to render this sentiment in Elvish, and this took rather longer than she had anticipated, with a lot of pausing and “um”ing and muttering about conjugation on Cannuion’s part. Made slightly peevish by this development, Brassica doggedly pressed on. “I’m not mad at you! Nobody’s mad at you! All I wanted to do was try and sort out a way to say thank you, and every time I’ve almost got my head around it, you’ve gone running away. Well, now you’re getting thanked, and I’ll make no bones about it!”
And now the thing she had wanted to say, ever since the night beneath the stars on the Isle of Rantost came tumbling out of her. “I was afraid, when the robbers took me, but only a little,” she started, and then the sentiment grew legs and ran away, with no regard whatever for poor Cannuion needing to translate along as she went. “Because I knew you’d come, and it wasn’t your fault I got snatched away. I don’t know why you’re so sad. I don’t even know if you are sad. I’m only just a hobbit, and I’ve only been on this earth for a very little time, compared to you. How am I supposed to understand what Elves are about? It’s only that you’re my friend, at least I think so, if Elves have friends the same way that hobbits do.” Brassica had gone into the lecture all indignation and outrage at being ignored by the elf, but now it began to dawn on her that perhaps she hadn’t really understood. “Maybe I got it wrong,” she mumbled, staring down at her toes. “Did you only come because you had to? Are…were you mad at me for getting snatched? Is that why you don’t want to see me any more? I know you said you’d look after me, and I didn’t mean to need such an awful lot of looking after. I only wanted to come and see everything, because it sounded like such an adventure. I hadn’t ever had an adventure before, not a real one. Even…even with everything dreadful about it, I’m not sorry I came. I…I just…w-well…thank you, anyway. I’m sorry I was such a bother.”
There was no answer, and Brassica stared down at the floor of fitted stone tiles beneath her feet, tears beading in her eyes, though she blinked fiercely to keep them at bay. She realized with a sinking feeling that Cannuion hadn’t been able to keep up with her, and that he’d fallen silent somewhere in the middle of her rambling. And now she felt foolish and ashamed. It was nonsense, and she couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid as to think she could be anything but a burden. She was just a silly hobbit, after all, and it didn’t matter if the Rangers dressed her up in mail and leather and gave her javelins, she had no business trying to go out into the big wide world.
She couldn’t bring herself to look at Celebarad, couldn’t bear the thought of what a fool she’d made of herself. A couple tears squeezed themselves from her eyes and threatened to slip down her cheeks and splatter on the floor. She heard the elf close his book and lay it aside, and then address Cannuion quizzically in Elvish, to which Cannuion replied, sounding faintly embarrassed.
“Ah!” the elf exclaimed when the Ranger answered, and then Brassica felt a light touch on her shoulder, and hesitantly tore her gaze away from the floor. She hadn’t really known what to expect, but Celebarad had leaned forward, and the look in his bright blue eyes could almost have been contrite, yet for the first time in days, there was also the faintest beginning of a smile again. Then, carefully, with the tone of an apology, “My friend!” And, as though he realized he’d forgotten the other half of the statement, “Forgive me?”
And Brassica felt her heart light up and she gasped in surprise. “You learned! My friend!” She found herself having to wrack her brain for her limited store of elvish, as it seemed to have vanished. “Mellon?” she questioned shyly, making sure he had it right.
“Nin mellon,” Celebarad agreed, and now it was more than just the beginning of a smile. Brassica found herself wondering how she could ever have doubted him, even for a moment. “My friend,” he repeated firmly, for emphasis. He frowned for a moment, thinking. “You…have some sorrow?” he asked tentatively, only half-glancing at Cannuion for reassurance that he had the words right.
Brassica smiled back. “No,” she answered, and remembered everything about Celebarad that she’d somehow forgotten in the last three days of his absence. “I only thought I did. I’m just a silly hobbit, after all.” Brassica looked over her shoulder up at Cannuion. “Thank you for your help,” she said, first, for she felt sorry for having been so bossy to the poor Ranger. “Could you let him know that we’re making ready to leave?” Her grin widened until she felt her cheeks ache and stretch. “Seems to me there’s things in the big wide world that I still need showing.”