3. Chapter 3
“Gentlemen!” Halbarad greeted them. “What brings you out this way? Valandur, I know you’re off on a few days rest, but Tarkil, aren’t you supposed to be patrolling the South Downs?“
“Angrim gave me a few days off.” He held up his bandaged hands and shrugged. ”We were just headed… for some…” Laughter rippled through the others as they overheard the exchange.
Halbarad raised an eyebrow. “I am perfectly aware of where this path leads. Spare me the details. Unfortunately I must divert you from your planned entertainment. You will ride with us.”
Exchanging a rueful look, the two brothers changed their direction and joined the group.
After a few miles, Halbarad manoeuvred his horse to ride beside Tarkil. “How badly are your hands injured?”
Tarkil unwrapped the bandages to show the extent of the burns, and briefly explained how he’d received them.
“But the injuries affect your ability to hold a sword, don’t they.” Halbarad stated.“We’ve received information that makes us need to strengthen Sarn Ford and the areas surrounding the Shire. You can save me some time and run my orders to the various posts in my stead.”
He handed a scroll to Tarkil. “You read Sindarin, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Good. Read it now so you know what the orders are and who is giving them.”
Tarkil shifted the reins in his hands and carefully unrolled the parchment. He looked up in shock. “The Nine Riders? Coming north? How reliable is this information, sir?”
“It’s written in the Captain’s own hand, son, so I’d say it’s reliable, wouldn’t you?” the commander tersely replied. “Keep this close and allow no one else to see it, except the commanders and only if they give you argument. They will have to adjust their defenses. Do not accept any arguments from them, Tarkil. They’ll argue that it will spread us too thin, and they will be right. But it must be done. We need the men.”
“Yes, sir. The orders will be followed.” Tarkil wrapped the scroll in a cloth and packed it carefully in his bag.
Halbarad called to Valandur, “You’ve been stationed at the High Pass, right? Your orders have just been changed. You’re going to be stationed at Sarn Ford now. You can head south with these men.”
Tarkil thought Valandur looked annoyed at the change and knew his brother wanted to argue for his return to the High Pass where he felt there was more chance of fighting Orcs, but saw him swallow his argument. “Yes, sir. Sarn Ford it is.”
Halbarad pulled up on the reins to face Tarkil who slowed Nâlo to match.
“Tarkil, if any of the commanders give you any trouble, remember whose orders you’re acting on. You speak for the Captain on this.
“Yes, sir, but...wouldn’t Valandur be a better choice for this assignment?” Tarkil asked. “He is more experienced than me.”
“Only by a year if I remember correctly. But I think you’re the one for this assignment.” He sensed Tarkil’s self-doubt. “You report to Angrim, don’t you? Who do you think Angrim reports to, Tarkil? Do you think I don’t know of the work you’ve been doing? You’re ready. Just don’t let some of the older commanders try to walk all over you. Remember, you’re carrying out the Captain’s orders. If they don’t follow these orders, you are authorized to remove them from their command. It will then be up to you to choose a new commander.” Halbarad did not miss the shock on the younger Ranger’s face at being faced with such responsibility. “Can you handle that?”
“You’ll do fine. Start with the post by the Last Bridge. Then work around from there to the northern ones. I’ll handle advising the commanders east and south of Bree so you don’t need to worry about those. And I don’t want you riding through these parts alone.” Halbarad scanned the rest of the riders then called to one, “Gethron!”
An older Ranger reined his horse to ride beside them. Their commander introduced them, “Tarkil son of Beleg, this is Gethron son of Gundor. Gethron, Tarkil will be taking my orders to the rest of the posts. You will accompany him.”
Gethron nodded as he gave a quick glance at the younger Ranger, “Yes, sir.”
With that, Halbarad spurred on his horse and called to the rest, “Come on, you lot, I want to make Bree by nightfall.”
With a wry grin to Tarkil, Valandur called, “No rest for the wicked, little brother.” He kicked his horse to catch up with Halbarad who already had his horse in a canter far down the path.
“So much for a little relaxation.” Tarkil sighed as he kicked Nâlo’s sides, urging him into a run as well, Gethron beside him. Only they headed in the opposite direction.
”I can’t spare more men! We’re spread too thin as it is. You’ll have to get them from the other posts.”
“As I’ve said, Halbarad acknowledges this shall strain your resources. Yet still your orders are to provide men. These orders are directly from the Captain. This scroll is written in the Captain’s hand and bears his seal. Now will you or will you not comply?” Tarkil stood straight as he squared off with the commander. While he had faced complaints before, the other commanders had grudgingly dispatched the men requested.
“I cannot do it, son. The incursions are growing too many and the villages around here will be left unguarded if I send even two of my men.” The commander rose to stare at Tarkil.
“I am not your ‘son.’ I am a Ranger, as are you. And you are being given orders to send men to help fortify the border. Will you obey them?” When he did not receive a response he curtly ordered, “Come with me.”
Tarkil picked up the scroll and strode from the commander’s quarters, heading to where several other Rangers sat around a fire.
“Borgil son of Ragnor. You have been ordered to send men to fortify the ranks at the borders. You have seen these orders written in the Captain’s own hand. You stand here in front of witnesses -- do you agree all I've said is true?" He waited till Borgil nodded his assent. "Will you obey his command?”
“And I told you that I cannot spare any men. Each man here will agree with me that it would leave the villages around here unprotected. I cannot obey these orders.” Borgil stood stiffly in front of his men.
“You are relieved of your command.” Tarkil ignored the gasps behind him. “Pack your gear, for you shall be one who will strengthen the borders to the south.”
“You can’t relieve me, son. You don’t have the authority. Only Halbarad or the Captain can do that,” Borgil snarled.
“Halbarad gave him just such authority – to relieve any who disobey the orders. And you’ve just been relieved of your command and received new instructions. I suggest you start packing.” Gethron stood behind Tarkil, a hand on his sword.
Borgil glared for a moment, turned on his heel and stalked back into the tent followed quickly by another of the men.
Tarkil breathed out quietly to release the tension that had built during the exchange. He glanced back at Gethron and gave him a nod of thanks.
He faced the remaining Rangers. “Who is the next most senior here?”
As one, the men glanced at a Ranger who sat in their midst. He slowly rose, “I am Vardamir, son of Duilin.”
Tarkil led Vardamir away from the others to discuss the threats to the area, and the Rangers who patrolled it who might be most capable to lead them. When they returned from their walk, Borgil sat on his horse, packed for the trip south. The Ranger who had followed him into the tent also mounted his horse, apparently volunteering to accompany his former commander. “I shall speak with Halbarad about this, lad. I think the decision you made here was a bad one.” He kicked his horse and they left the camp in a cloud of dust.
“I shall want to meet with the others to determine how the post will have to be managed and who is best suited for the command.” Tarkil informed Gethron and Vardamir. He headed into the former commander’s tent, Gethron followed close behind.
Tarkil closed his eyes briefly as he mentally reviewed the conversation with the commander. “Do you think it was a bad decision, Gethron?”
“No, sir, you were following the Captain’s orders. Borgil wasn’t. You handled yourself well back there, if you don’t mind me saying so. You don’t need to worry about what you had to do just now.” Gethron pulled out a flask and found a battered mug, pouring some brandy into it. He handed it to Tarkil who gulped it down. He gasped as it burned its way down.
“How come you’re not a commander, Gethron? You certainly have the experience,” Tarkil finally asked his companion.
Gethron shrugged. “You know the old saw: some men are born to lead, others to follow. I don’t want the burdens of command. I prefer to follow. You, though… You’ve got the strength of character -- the presence a commander needs. You just need some more experience. And perhaps a shot of self-confidence.”
Tarkil snorted. “You only met me a few weeks ago, Gethron. How can you tell?”
Gethron shook his head with a wry grin. “I just can, sir.”
Tarkil looked at the older man, his eyes narrowing. “Is that why Halbarad selected you to accompany me? Was this a test? Were you going to step in if I hadn’t relieved Borgil?”
Gethron snorted in turn. “Sir, Halbarad and I have served together for many years. I don’t try to figure out his motives. That’s probably why I’ve never made commander. And I didn’t have to step in, did I?”
Tarkil spent the rest of the night with the remaining Rangers who were not out on patrol. He did not have an opportunity to retire until late in the night. He removed his sword, but left it close to hand, then fell fully clothed onto the cot, exhausted.
“Sir, time to wake up.” Gethron shook him awake.
Tarkil groaned as he cracked open an eye. “I just got to sleep, Gethron.”
He heard a chuckle as his companion handed him his sword. “The sun is rising, it’s time to get moving. You’ve a decision about appointing the commander still to make. We need to be on our way to the North Downs.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to be a commander, Gethron? You’d make a good one. You’re quite a task master, you know.” Tarkil stood and attempted to attach his sword, quietly cursing as his right hand refused to close properly around the clasp.
"Still giving you some trouble is it, sir? I thought it was well healed by now." Gethron took the younger Ranger's hand and looked at it. "Hmm, I see, it's scarring. You might have to get someone look at it -- maybe even the elves in Rivendell."
“Yes, I suppose you're right. And drop this ‘sir’ business, Gethron." Tarkil grumbled. "For Eru’s sake, you’re old enough to be my father.”
“Actually, I’m quite a few years older than he was.” He saw Tarkil’s quick glance. “Yes, sir, I knew Beleg though we never served together. I was sorry to hear what happened to him.”
Tarkil nodded his thanks and set out to find some breakfast. He spent the rest of the morning sorting through the assignments and the patrols, making his decision to appoint the unit’s new commander until Halbarad could return to make a permanent assignment.
Midafternoon had passed before he and Gethron finally mounted their horses to head away from the post. They rode along a wild path until nearly nightfall where they found a place to camp. Tarkil took the first watch. He woke Gethron midway through the night to switch places. They followed the pattern for several days.
Too soon Gethron was shaking him awake once more. Tarkil went to speak but Gethron clamped a hand over his mouth and he noticed Gethron had his sword drawn.
He nodded his understanding so Gethron removed his hand and pointed in a direction behind him. Using only hand gestures, Gethron managed to tell Tarkil that there was something approaching from the east and, from what he could gather, there was more than one.
Tarkil drew Berior from its sheath as the movement continued through the underbrush. He flexed his hand around the hilt in an effort to ease the pain caused by the pressure of his grip. Tarkil turned as he heard a rustle behind him. He realized they were being approached from both sides but by how many he could not tell.
Before he could draw this to Gethron’s attention, several dark figures plunged through the brush, blades raised to strike. Tarkil and Gethron stood back-to-back as they raised their own swords in defence.
The small glade rang with the sound of steel on steel. Tarkil parried a stroke, quickly turning his blade back upon his foe. He drove Berior through the chest of the Orc and withdrew it to block the force of another Orc’s blade. This Orc was stronger, larger than the last. Heavy blows rained upon him as he shifted his sword to block the punishing attack.
The wicked Orc blade found its way through his defences, slashing him across the chest.
High, then low, the blades swung. The orc blade got through again, this time to knick his thigh. He moved aside as it quickly returned. An opening appeared. He took it, stabbing his blade deep into the gut of his opponent.
His sword still embedded in his assailant, he felt himself grabbed, his legs swept from under him. He fell back, smashing upon the ground. Pain exploded in his head. Sheer reflex made him grab his short knife. He hacked at the claws that closed around his throat. The face of the creature that loomed above him disappeared as its head suddenly separated from its body.
“Sorry about that.” Gethron grabbed the Orc’s body and rolled it off of Tarkil. “I had my hands full myself for a bit there. I think that’s all of them, but we shouldn’t stick around here long, just in case. Probably some scouts, which means there are more coming.”
Gethron’s voice faded. Tarkil struggled to make out what he said.
“Tarkil?” Gethron looked closer at the younger Ranger and saw dark, unfocussed eyes look back at him. He grabbed a stick from the brush and wrapped a small cloth around it and lit it in the embers of the dying fire. Bringing it closer to Tarkil, he noticed red blood mingling with black on the ground beneath him.
“You just hang on now, Tarkil, while I check you out.” Gethron probed the back of Tarkil’s head. “You’ve got a nasty cut and quite a goose egg back here from the feel of it. There’s a rock right by your head. You must have hit it when that Orc threw you down.”
“I’m fine….” Tarkil mumbled. He was so tired; he couldn’t understand what Gethron was saying. His head pounded and his eyes ached from the flare of the makeshift torch. “Jus’ le’ me sleep…”
“Oh no, you don’t! No sleep for you, lad.”
Tarkil felt hands pulling at his vest and made to push them away but found he did not have the coordination. Every time he tried to close his eyes, Gethron would wake him. The sky was growing brighter when he suddenly retched. Gethron rolled him over and held him as his stomach emptied. He lay back limply, the pain in his head excruciating.
“Come on, lad. Stay awake.” Gethron lifted Tarkil up and put a water skin to his lips. “Have some water. You’re going to need something in your stomach if you have to do that again.”
Tarkil choked as some of the water trickled down the back of his throat. “Don'...no...makes me...” He retched again. His head exploded in pain once more at the effort as his world went black.
In FOTR – The Council of Elrond – Gandalf tells that Radagast met him near Bree and told him “The Nine are abroad again. They have crossed the River secretly and are moving westward. They have taken the guise of riders in black.” Although there is no canon saying that information was ever received by Aragorn or the Rangers, I have chosen to have the information passed to Aragorn.
Berior (the name of Tarkil’s sword) is Sindarin for “Protector”
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