First days with Arynd

Haram and Aswig had been taken prisoner by Korhal. All summer long they had endured to work in the Dunlending’s village and still they hadn’t found a way out and home. They had gathered in the fruits and the nuts that autumn had brought and now the leaves were falling from the trees. Soon, they’d all be gone and winter would rule, covering passes with snow, making any attempt at flight even harder.
Aswig sighed as he was being led to the woodcarver’s hut. This was going to be a long, cold season, his first winter in Dunland. He only hoped it would also be his last winter here.
They’d chosen Haram to care for the horses today. He shook his head. Whatever had possessed the carver to request his assistance? The man had spent the spring shouting at him because of his incompetence and Aswig hadn’t seen much of him in summer. Granted, in summer, he’d been working on the meagre fields. But now he’d asked for him to be brought over, as soon as the harvest was in. He’d stopped shouting. He usually just removed the pieces Aswig had ruined with raised eyebrows and showed him again how to handle the tools. Once Aswig had realised that the old crafter had a seemingly endless patience if he so chose he had felt at ease at his place and even tried to do it right, ‚cause he liked to sit in the moderately heated room while outside the wind rustled the bushes and rushed around the edges of the houses. Better to work in here with the friendly old man than outside cutting up wood with an axe or fetching water from the icy brook.
So he examined the pieces before him closely.
It was a girl’s toy, a wooden doll complete with small things she needed, like a box, pots and dishes, a broom, table and chair…
Aswig had been given the parts of table and chair, to stick them together with paste.
He tried not to cry.
He really did, and he succeded.
But one leg of the chair broke and stuck in his palm and he didn’t even flinch. The woodcarver stepped up to him, sighing and reaching for the toy.
The old man took the pieces out of his prisoner’s trembling hands and laid them aside.
„I know“, mumbled Aswig in the broken dunlendish he’d so far managed to learn. „The idiot Rohirrim can’t do the simplest thing right.“
The carver sighed again and sat down opposite of him to look him in the eyes.
Aswig averted his face. „I have really no idea why you still put up with me, Asztalos. I’d have thought you’d never take me in to work for you again after the first time.“
„I know no other man who whistles merry tunes as he cuts his hands bloody by his own clumsiness“, replied the old man. „And I know no other man who tells stories and talks away like an old crone while trying desperately to get paste off of his fingers and fighting with the unfamiliar words.“
Aswig snorted. „Yeah, well, so you like to watch the Rohirrim make a fool of himself. Glad to have added to your happiness, Asztalos.“
„That word describes what I do, it means I’m a man who works with wood and shapes it. The name I’m really called by is Arynd“, said the old man quietly. „Yes, I have made fun of you. But I’ve also grown fond of your company.“
Aswig turned back to search his face quizzically and Arynd shook his head. „Don’t mistake me. I would raise an alarm just like anyone else should you try anything. I can’t help you in any way without feeling like a traitor to my own folk. But I won’t mistreat you either. I think I understand your sorrows. Today, you neither whistled nor talked. You have children of your own, do you?“
Aswig nodded and looked at his feet. „A girl of three years of age, my little Lentje. I bought a set of toys just like these for her fourth birthday, to give to her after our return… I wonder how old she’ll be when I finally do return… if ever…“ He fell silent, absent mindedly pressing a dusty cloth on his bleeding palm.
Arynd took the dirty thing away and handed him a clean one. „Tell me of your daughter“, he said.
Aswig shook his head. Some days he got by fine, but today was one where he missed his family so sharply he almost couldn’t breath. And yet he found, to his surprise, that he actually wanted to talk about them, wanted this stranger to know of them, know of their beauty, their cheerfulness, his little girl’s witty comments as she learned to speak and explored her world. He was so very proud of them and he wanted all the world to know, wanted all the world to understand that there simply wasn’t any better wife or any better daughter alive. They weren’t gone, they just weren’t here at the moment and they were his family.
So he did look up again and he even managed a smile. „I met the woman who stole my heart in the blink of an eye only late in life“, he began. „I was 31 and we’d just returned from a very successful mission. The summer was a glory… we were wed that very year and Lentje was born the following spring. You should have seen her, she…“
He went on in that way, never minding the time, and Arynd still listened to him when day had turned into evening. He’d resumed working on the toys while Aswig spoke.
Aswig reached for the repaired chair that stood beside the miniature table when he had stopped talking. Now, he was smiling as he held it. „This one’s beautiful. You even carved little squirrels in its sides… you’re really good at what you do. That’s why your people turn to you to make such things, yes? Others can make the everyday tools, but only you can make a thing like this.“ Arynd nodded. „That’s right. This one is for a friend in another village. He rode many miles to tell me he wanted it and he’ll do the same again to get it before the weather gets worse.“
„You do know what the little ones like. Why did you not marry yourself?“
Arynd held his breath and somehow the room seemed to be darker after this question. The old man sighed and watched the flame of the candle flicker. „I was married once. I had daughters, too. That was more than twenty years ago, when I was young and foolish.“ He paused and his voice was hoarse and hard as he spoke on. „Foolish enough to go raiding with our chief and to leave them behind with only a handful of guardians.“
„We had bad luck and met up with that dreadful dark-haired warrior of yours, the one who later teamed up with that berserk. He almost killed me in that fight. When we’d gotten home, we saw that our village had been attacked. My wife had been killed and my daughters taken. I was still too ill to go after them and seek them out and our warriors were too few. When I finally found them, many weeks after it had happened, it was too late. One of my daughters was dead, the other one with child and grudgingly willing to stay where she was.
I alternately blamed myself and the man who’d wounded me for the fate that had befallen my family. Had I not gone to Rohan… had Taernedden not proofed the better fighter… – oh, yes, I do know his name, Aswig. I know it very well, for because of him I was never again able to fight as a warrior, because of him I stayed home and became a master carver. Our chief watched that man after he’d become the leader of your band. He acquired quite a reputation and we avoided him at first, but when the tide turned… when the next chief was even wilder and stronger than the one before… I do not like that we fell in with the orcs, but… that one at least was a leader and knew how to protect and enrich the clan. Did you know it was our pack of orcs who were sent to get rid of Taernedden last autumn?
Now they’re saying that the berserk was alone when our men met him at the river this spring, so tell me, Aswig… I didn’t want to ask it of you before… is Taernedden dead?“
Aswig’s jovial mood and the concern for Arynd’s fate had turned to ice. ‚Sent to get rid of him? Sent?!‘ „You wanted Geol dead? I mean, he was your intended target, not just anyone of the Rohirrim in general?“ „What did you think? Of course not just anyone. The best, the one most dangerous to our plans. Only, they got away that time. One cannot rely on orcs. So the next time our chief went to meet up with them and make sure none of you returned this time. He got distracted on the way, had other tasks, too. Got himself killed by a Falcon… yeah, well, you know how Korhal carried it out instead. Some got away. Again. And he fears the berserk now and won’t go back to Rohan and calms his pride by showing you off.“
„It was a trap for Lorron, it was meant to kill us all?“ Aswig couldn’t get over that fact. Haram and he had realised by now that it had been a trap, but specially for them?
„Yes“, confirmed Arynd. „He is still young but so was Taernedden twenty years ago. They don’t get easier to cope with with age. Together, they could not be tolerated. Even one of them was a menace. Our chief wanted them gone and so did those who recruited him.“
„Recruited? Who?“
Arynd shrugged. „I do not know, and I wouldn’t say if I did.“
„Arynd, I’m warning you. Lorron got away, I’m sure. And Geol is not dead. They will be back.“
Arynd looked up startled. „Taernedden lives?! Truly? They said a monster of an Uruk had hacked him down…“
„And a monster of a healer pieced him back together. So much for your revenge, then.“
Shaking his head, Arynd looked intendly at Aswig. „This wasn’t about revenge, you misunderstood. I asked if he was alive because I wanted him to be. There’s few men worth a story nowadays. Just look at Korhal… look at the orcs, look at what’s become of us, that we have to lay a dirty trap for our enemies instead of challenging them to fight us. We couldn’t bring him down clean… no, I did not want him to end like that. If I were still able to take the fight to him…. different matter. But I’m not and it wasn’t his fault what happened to my family back then and… to be honest, I’m over the point where I cursed him for crippling my side. If I’d stayed a warrior, then nowadays I’d curse Korhal and the orcs. But as it is I’ve found me a work I really like. Something that makes me happy. When I look at the things I achieved at the end of a day, I’m content. I believe few men can say that of themselves“
Indeed, few could.
Aswig sat with his forehead leaned on one hand and still couldn’t believe it. Someone was trying to get rid of both Geol and Lorron. And he’d succeeded, hadn’t he? Lorron may have returned, but what had happened then? No one ever came looking for them here…. No one would come in the future, he knew that now. And the only halfway decent person in this whole village was an old foe who’d never turn traitor on his people… someone who still dreamed of settling matters with Geol, if only he could, despite being content with his work…
…and also someone whom Aswig nonetheless liked too much to earnestly consider harming him while trying to escape.
He groaned. But escape he must, there was no point in waiting for help now…
Arynd stood up, filled a mug with something that was definitely not water and offered it to him. „You were hoping for them to come… but it takes them too long, doesn’t it? Face it, Aswig, you’re stuck here with us. Let’s make the best of it, shall we?“
Aswig sighed and took the offered beverage. He sipped it in silence. The warmth it spread and the cozy twilight around him made him relax a little. ‚I’ll bide my time, I’ll find a way‘, he told himself.
Arynd held a candle ready to replace the one that was about to burn down and snuff out. „I don’t like the time of year when the days grow ever shorter“, he said. „But at least then few others require your services and I may claim you. Your pronunciation needs improvement and I could try and learn a bit of your tongue. ‚Learning keeps old age away‘, my father used to say, and he died with over ninety, so… what do you think?“
„I think that right now I got a lot to think about“, replied Aswig, setting the mug down on the table. „Thank you, Arynd. It’s good to know here’s a place where someone understands… even if it involves wood.“ The carver laughed. „Don’t trouble with the wood anymore. I think I tried often enough and so did you and it is unsatisfactory for both of us. We’ll just use it as a pretext to get you here, allright? The work you’ll really do for me is to tell me of you and your land while we both learn each other’s language. We have the remainder of autumn and all winter ahead of us ere the seasons for planting and harvesting start again.“

aus den Ländern von Mittelerde und darüber hinaus