4. Wild Missteps
"Boar hunting can be dangerous this time of year." Harwilthel said, as he loaded the spears from the shed into the arms of Amarië and Aragorn. "The big sows have piglets they are protecting." The previous evening after Deesch's singing, one of the uncles had been describing what fine boar roasts they'd had at Eagles' Rest in older times and spontaneously the hunt had been arranged, the older cousins and several of the adults' eyes gleaming at the thought of the adventure.
The rich woodlands of the Angle were the perfect grounds for snuffling pigs. The loamy leaf covered ground was littered with tasty roots, nuts, and tubers. The wild pigs thrived with no real predators except an occasional wolf and the men with whom they grudgingly shared their territory. The loose hogs grew large, sharp of tusk, and wily, and seemed to relish clashing with their two-legged foes.
"Boars are dangerous in all seasons." Amarië pointed out, balancing the load of spears as the three walked to the yard where the hunters were waiting. All were armed with daggers and swords; in addition, Harwilthel handed each a long spear fitted with a crossbar about two feet above the wicked iron head. As he gave Aragorn his spear, he assessed his nephew carefully.
"Have you been boar hunting before, lad?" The young man had never hunted wild pig, but compared to orc, how hard could bringing down a pig be. At Aragorn's shake of his head, he felt a prickle of apprehension for his nephew. Dangerous was a euphemism for a boar hunt; deadly more correctly described it. Knowing it was poor substitute for experience, Harwilthel provided an impromptu lesson.
"Dig the end into the ground when they charge and brace yourself." He demonstrated, secretly regretting the enthusiasm all had shown for this hunt.
"How do you make them charge?" Aragorn asked ingenuously.
Laughter from the group greeted his inquiry. "You don't have to make them charge!" they said in chorus. Often, during a hunt, it seemed difficult to discern between hunters and hunted, and several of the older men showed Aragorn scars left from losing footraces with charging boar.
Since the pigs were plentiful and slow moving in the heat, the hunters divided into groups of three, tied up the boar hounds, and spread out to search the wallows near the river for their prey. Aragorn was matched with Amarië and Thargeldel. This quiet man had impressed Aragorn the day he and Harwilthel had stopped by his well for water as they rode the perimeter of the compound. Thargeldel was an unimposing farmer who lived in one of the outer cottages, grew the most amazing fields of pole beans and a brood of bright haired children. His uncle explained that the farmer had once been the most daring ranger in his father's command. Harwilthel held him to be the best boar hunter at Eagles' Rest and today, he whispered intently to the man as the hunters prepared to depart, sending him off with the inexperienced Aragorn and the hotheaded Amarië.
Deep in the woods near the river, Amarië signaled for them to stop and squatted to read the boar sign, tracks and scat, and Aragorn, as avid pupil, looked over her shoulder carefully to see what it was that she saw. She silently was pointing out the tusk rubbing at the base of a willow tree when they realized a half-grown young boar was staring at them from across the glade. It looked at them carefully, decided on retreat, and went snorting away into the brush, tail high.
Thargeldel signaled for the other two to circle around and come together again on the bank of a stream some yards to the east. Aragorn held his spear lightly and followed what seemed to be an animal trail of broken leaves and twigs. He was rewarded with a clear print of a hoggy hoof in the dirt. The brush around him was silent and Aragorn was so intent on his tracking that he was unaware of the boar until he nearly stumbled over it. A deep snort brought him up sharply. He stared into the wavering reeds and realized then the young pig had brought back a parent.
The black boar facing him, its eyes ringed in red, was easily thrice his weight. It gnashed its yellow curving tusks and trained its tiny wicked eyes on Aragorn. A thread of fear unraveled in him. He recognized this danger was more unpredictable than orcs. The hog stamped and squealed and charged. Aragorn planted his spear in the ground and braced himself. In its mad rush, the boar's sharp hooves tore up clumps of earth. Suddenly the young man's foot slipped and instead of meeting the boar's chest point on, the spear tip dug a furrow down the pig's side. The enraged animal screamed and turned more swiftly than Aragorn though possible for so large a beast. As he tried to turn with it, he lost his footing altogether in the mud wallow and sat down hard. His spear flew out of his hands. The boar was on him before Aragorn could roll to his feet and he faced it with only his dagger. He sent a plea to Oromë, the Huntsman; only the Valar's intercession could save him from those tusks tearing into his flesh.
Two quivering arrows, perhaps sent from Oromë's bow, seemed to sprout magically from the boar's side. It fell and slid, kicking, its champing snout coming to rest against Aragorn's boot. As if from the very air, Thargeldel appeared before him and drove his spear into the thrashing hog. For a moment, only Aragorn's ragged breathing broke the stillness of the glade. Then Amarië stepped out of the brush, her bow drawn, two more arrows double nocked.
"Excellent shot!" Aragorn congratulated her from his place on the ground. He pressed his hands against damp loam so that neither she nor Thargeldel would see they were trembling.
"The boar would have torn you to bits." She stated quietly, using her training to calm the slamming of her heart. She had nearly allowed the Dúnadan to be injured under her protection. All of her sins to date would have appeared insignificant to that heinous blunder.
"Aye, it was clumsy of me," he said honestly, contemplating his mud-covered clothes. Thargeldel pulled him to his feet and assessed him silently. Deeming he was unhurt he gave him a nod and set about field dressing the boar, and after a moment they joined him. They slung the gutted boar between two spears and Aragorn and Thargeldel carried it home.
The rich smell of roasting hog filled the dusk air as the three pigs rotated above a fire carefully tended by several cooks, Harwilthel advising them on how best to baste the beasts. As the pork cooked, the families listened to the tales of the hunts. While the storytellers for the other two kills embellished their tales into feats of bravery and the crowd greeted them with appreciative laughter, Amarië briefly and dryly related theirs. Aragorn added the more story-worthy, deprecating part about himself falling in the mud and his salvation by his Ranger cousin, her arrows as accurate as the Galadhrim. Deesch soon turned it into a song to the delight of the family and the embarrassment of his sister. She walked away with the group's laughter ringing in her ears.
Later, Amarië found Aragorn sitting alone under a tree. He was so full of roasted pork he could barely breathe and had only the ability to sit watching the stars wink on. She sprawled down beside him. After a long moment of silence, she began nervously fiddling with the locket on her dagger scabbard until Aragorn reached over and grabbed her hand, wondering why his cousins could not long endure quiet.
"How can you bear their laughter?" she began. He looked at her quizzically. "You have no shame you were saved by me?"
"I am happy to be saved by anyone. Why would it matter whether it was you? You are a well-trained Ranger." She shook her head.
"You see things differently than most in the wide world do. Many would be too proud to admit they were saved by a woman."
"My upbringing by the Elves held that females and males are equal. What work they do is suited to the person, not their gender. I was led to believe it was so among the Dúnedain also." She digested this quietly for a bit.
"There are female Rangers that are greatly respected," Amarië ducked her head. "Perhaps I meant you should be embarrassed being saved by me---I am not held to be the best of Rangers."
"You seem to have good skills," he observed, "for one who has been training for only two years. That seems like a short time to expect perfection."
"I have been in difficulty with my commander most of that time. I'm held to be the most temperamental, undisciplined cadet ever to ride into Fornost. If not for Uncle Harwilthel and Aunt Wyorven, I certainly should have been dismissed long ago."
"Wait until the end of summer," he mused. "That title will not be long held by you." Aragorn chuckled at his own expense. The silence held for some time. Finally, Amarië spoke:
"You are unique, Aragorn. I find I enjoy your company." She took a deep breath and plunged ahead. "We are cousins but it is not unheard of. I could come to feel strongly for you." Startled, he for a moment was flatter by such attention from one he much admired, but realized there was a seed of seriousness in her assessment that he could not allow to take root.
"Nay, I would make a poor mate," he joked. "I will probably get myself killed before much longer if I continue to be so careless when hunting pigs." She laughed with him then, still at ease. "Beside," he said, his eyes softening and taking on a far away look as he suddenly felt a tug of homesickness in his heart, "I—I care deeply for another and this lady spurned would be much harder to deal with than any angry hog." He hoped Arwen could forgive the comparison. Amarië genuinely laughed again, uninjured by his rejection. She rose to her feet and reached down a hand to help him up.
"I must ride to Fornost soon. I shall see you there in the fall."
"Yes, I believe so." He held her hand a moment. "I am happy to know I will have a friend waiting when I arrive." His cousin smiled and walked alone back to the noisy crowd.
"Aragorn." His mother's voice halted him on his way to bed. She rarely used his given name, so used to his disguise; in her mind, he was always Estel or an endearment. "Walk with me." Silent, she led him out across the wide porch to Wyorven's moonlit garden, walking until they were at the far end.
"She is not for you." Gilraen's mouth was drawn in a tight line. Aragorn raised a questioning brow. "Amarië is not highborn enough for you as mate," He shook his head and she held up a hand to silence his denial. "and if your plan is simply dalliance, I will not allow you to dishonor your cousin or yourself."
"You would think so of me?" Her accusation stung him.
"You are a young man and the girl desires you."
"And that means I would take advantage of her?" Aragorn was seething. "Mother, since we have arrived, you have accused me of arrogance and conceit, and now deceit and lechery!" Gilraen stood with arms crossed, silent, staring at him as if she could read his heart. Suddenly, Aragorn realized his mother did not know him at all.
"You may accuse me of many things, madam, but never again bring this charge against me." His cool grey eyes bore into her. "My heart is given already and I'll not wed or bed another until the lady herself returns it unwanted." Gilraen stamped in exasperation.
"Not that tack again! You cannot be serious! Elrond told you the bride price for his daughter! Only the King of Arnor and Gondor of any mortal man could think to wed her. That could be tens of years away, if ever!"
"Then, I shall wait," he said firmly.
"You could be gray-bearded before it comes to pass."
"Then I shall wait."
"You could die without offspring! 'Tis selfish!"
"Unless the lady herself rejects me, I shall most certainly wait!" His voice rose in anger.
"You threaten the very existence of our people!" she shouted.
"Mother," he retorted with biting sarcasm, "I'm overwhelmed by your optimism for my success!" Aragorn turned on his heel and stalked away toward the stables. Gilraen strode to the house as angry as her son. Harwilthel's pipe glowed red on the porch. He stepped closer to the railings.
"That went well," he commented dryly.
"He is a young fool!" Gilraen crossed her arms and stared back at the stables. "I do not want him hurt or endangered!"
"You do not want him to grow up," Harwilthel observed.
"That is nonsense! I brought him here to make him see what he must do."
"You fear he will meet the same fate as his father." Her angry reply died on her lips as she recognized the truth in her uncle's words. "You, Gilraen, must overcome your past before you can help your son face his future."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.