King's Folk, The
12. Men But Not Like Other Men
Beomann had met who seemed almost like plain folk -
He and Dan slept in the loft over the dining room,
or hall as the Rangers called it. The sharply peaked
ceiling was lined with waxed cloth, to protect the
occupants from soil filtering through the boards from
the sod roof, and the cloth painted with strange
looking trees and flowers. There were four beds, low
but very long, one in each corner. And each had a
bench at its foot with pitcher, washbasin, and folded
linen towels; and a candlestand with a white beeswax
candle in a copper holder at the head.
The pitchers were taller and slimmer than
Breelander fashion, and the basins wide and shallow.
Both were glazed a deep rich red and decorated with
designs like those on the wall hangings below. The
towels had embroidered borders and the candleholders
were wrought in the shape of coiled dragons.
"Dan," Beomann said suddenly, after the candles had
been blown out, "how old do your people have to be
before you start looking it?"
"A hundred forty or so as a rule." he answered.
Then: "In case you're wondering, Ingold is one hundred
and sixty-one. A very great age indeed for one not of
a Half-Elven house."
"A hundred and sixty-one!" Beomann's eyes popped
wide open. "Are you sure? How do you know?"
There was a smile in Dan's voice as he replied:
"Because his granddaughter married my grandfather."
"He's your great great gandfather?"
Beomann gulped air like a newly landed fish. Now
there was a thought! His grandfather had lived long
enough to see his grandchildren, and Granny Butterbur
was still alive, living with Aunt Belle. But imagine
having not just grandparents but great grandparents
and great great grandparents! He began to grasp dimly
some of the implications of the Rangers' very long
But Dan was still talking. "Normally Grandfather
would have passed on before this, but he didn't want
to leave his family in such terrible times. I suppose
he'll hang on a few more years, long enough to see our
present troubles settled, before laying down his
"What?" Beomann turned on his side to look at the
other bed, just visible in the dim red firelight
reflected through the open trapdoor from the hall
below. "Dan, are you saying you people can *choose*
when you're going to die?"
"Well, sort of. It's one of the gifts the Valar
gave to us - as a reward for our Fathers' help in the
Wars against the Great Enemy - that we should have
long lives of undimished vigor with a short, swift
aging at the end. It is our custom to give up our
lives willingly before we become enfeebled in mind and
"You mean you just say; 'I think I'll die today.'
lay yourselves down and do it?" Beomann asked
"Well no, not just like that." Dan was begining to
sound a little uncomfortable. "First you make your
peace with Arda, with the world that is. Repent of
your errors and amend them where you can; let go of
attachments to home and kin and concentrate your heart
and will on the One. Then, when you desire reunion
with Him more than continuing your life in the world,
you're ready to pass on. They say when you reach that
point it really is as easy as lying down and going to
Beomann, struggling with half a dozen new and
strange ideas, chose the least disturbing of them. "So
Ingold's not quite ready to go because he's worried
about his family?"
"That's right." Dan sounded relieved the Breelander
had gotten the point so easily, or maybe that he
hadn't asked any of those other, more awkward
Beomann flopped back against his pillow. And here
he'd just been thinking maybe the Rangers weren't such
a strange folk after all!
Beomann continued their journey the next day in a
pensive and distracted frame of mind. Naturally Gil
noticed, or perhaps Dan dropped him a word, for after
a few hours on the road - long enough for misty dawn
to give way to full daylight - he fell back alongside
"Is something troubling you, Beomann?" he asked
after riding beside him in silence for several
"I just can't get a handle on you Rangers!" Beomann
burst out - to his own considerable surprise.
"Sometimes I think you're not so different from us
Bree Men - and other times that you're weirder than
Elves and Dwarves put together!"
Gil smiled, but wryly. "You're right on both
counts, my friend. We are Men like other Men, and yet
we're not. It's not very comfortable for us either." a
sidelong twinkle. "But of course from our point of
view it is you Breelanders who are the odd ones."
Beomann stared up at him, half outraged, half
astonished. "There's nothing odd about us Bree Folk!"
"Isn't there?" Gil asked, suddenly quite serious.
"Our country folk have a gift for peace, for
contentment, that Men of my kind can only envy.
Granted you can be narrow, and parochial and quite
infuriatingly stubborn," a shadow of a smile quickly
fading, "but for all that, there are no folk anywhere
so steadfast in the face of peril or privation."
Beomann could only stare back at him, moved beyond
words but incredulous "Us?"
"Yes you!" Gil answered. "It has been many long
years since your strength was tested - we Rangers saw
to that - but it's still there, ready to come forth at
need." quietly. "To stand fast against the kind of
terror wielded by Barrow Wights is no small feat, yet
your father and the other Bree Men did so - as I knew
they could." smiled. "And you, my reckless young
friend, followed me into the barrow itself which I
most certainly did not expect - but am most grateful
And Beomann, blushing to the ears, found himself
wondering suddenly just how much a desire to live up
to the Rover's trust in them had had to do with the
Bree Men's unexpected courage - and his own.
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