Lorron stopped so he could listen, but all he heard were Arnim’s slurring footsteps. „Shhh!“ he hissed. Arnim snarled and gave a rock a kick. „There’s no one here. We’re wasting our time!“ he grumbled. „I’m not so sure about that“, Lorron whispered, inwardly cursing Hrimholt all the time for choosing Arnim to accompany them on this patrol. Hrimholt wanted his own men along, fine, but why that one? And why, damn him, insist on it?! „I’d appreciate it if you didn’t send off my men with some other minor task again, Captain. I do not want you to proceed on your own in this country,“ he had said, still angry that Lorron had ordered Eogard and Torvun back on a trifle-mission the day before to give Jarl and Haram the chance to act independently. He sighed, remembering. Haram and Torvun were like dog and cat, why in all the world did Hrimholt never take that into account when he organized groups? They all did their job of course, because no one dared not do it under the old Captain’s scrutinizing eye. Yet it hadn’t been necessary to try and make them work together as far as Lorron could see. Well, thanks to the old warrior, today it was him who had to get along with his own nemesis. ‚Is that your way of sorting it out? Pit them against one another until they sort it out for themselves? A dangerous approach, captain,‘ he thought. Today, he had had to send Hereward and Eogard off as scouts after some tracks they’d found splitting off of the path. They weren’t back yet. That in itself alarmed Lorron and made him proceed with more caution on the main path. Having Arnim at his back though gave him a constant tingle between the shoulderblades that hampered his awareness for other dangers.
His foot slipped as a rock under it shifted. Lorron lost his balance. Worse, more sediment broke loose and slid downwards under his weight, taking him with it.
His fingers scraped against rocks as he tried to get a hold and he hooked them into some gap and held on for dear life. His feet found a lug, but it wasn’t worth trusting in. „Arnim“, he wheezed. „My pack! There’s a rope tied to its side!“ He could hear the other man moving above and tried to get a look up. How far had he skidded down? ‚He can make it‘, he thought. ‚It’s allright, Lorron, calm down, he’ll have you out of here in no time…‘ The sediment under his feet crumbled and broke off. „Arnim!“ he cried out. Pain shot through his hands as they suddenly had to take all his weight. „Hurry!“ What was taking him so long? Why didn’t he answer? Had he been hit by other stones?
The porous rocks he held on to could only take so much weight… he felt them coming loose… „Hurry!“ he screamed, his voice sounding shrill with panic. But no rope was being thrown and then it was too late.
He landed in a cloud of dust and pain, momentarily losing all sense of place and time. Gasping for breath he found he couldn’t move at first, stunned by the impact. One by one, he tried out if his limbs were still his to command. They responded under protest, his legs being buried under rubble. But nothing seemed to be broken. As the dust settled he could make out Arnim’s head, peering over the rim. „Get me out of here!“ he called up, coughing. „Please get me out!“
The head disappeared. Lorron waited. And waited. He began to try and shift the rocks that buried his legs, occasionally looking up. No rope was flung over the rim. „Arnim?“ he called. There was no answer. „Arnim!!!“ he shouted, not expecting an answer now, for he realized that there was no one up there anymore. His fist hit a stone with more power than intended. On his own, it would take long to get out from under this rubbish and… his eyes scanned the walls looming up above him on all sides… there was hardly a way up. The walls blocked out what light there was, making it hard to find a promising route. He counted to ten in an attempt to calm himself. Maybe the man had just gone to get help, but he doubted it. Testing every angle for an approach in his mind he sighed with relief as he found one that he judged possible to attempt on his own. He cursed and spat as he lifted more stones and clawed himself free. By the time he shook off the last pieces and stood up he already felt exhausted. Nothing might be broken, but many places were torn and scraped and bruised and twisted. He leant against the wall till his head stopped spinning. Then he started on the ascent, fervently hoping that the rest of the rocks would stay where they were.
Arnim had heard him call, had taken a look at Lorron’s pack and… buried it under a slab of stone.
‚Never‘, he thought. ‚The rocks on this ramshackle path cannot be trusted, so why risk one’s own life in an attempt to get down a crumbling ravine? We’d just both end up down there. No. He’s already losing his hold… I’ll… I’ll wait and see what happens.‘ And he did. From what he could make out it was safe to say that he’d seen the last of Captain Reen. So he’d proceeded on his way. The man had sounded pained and had been only half – visible. For sure he was crushed under those rocks. There was nothing he could do for him anyway, was there? Even if he got safely down and dragged him out from under the rocks, then how to get a probably mortally wounded man up? No way. No. It just wasn’t worth the risk if one most certainly ended up with a dead body after all the trouble. Now, he could go back and try to meet up with Eogard and Hereward, or he could go on and finish their patrol and alert the men in the camp. Let them get the body out if they wanted to give the man a proper burial. He decided for the latter. The path turned from the ravine to a plateau some while later. Arnim halted after several steps, as he heard his name echoe up from out of the crevice behind him. So he was still alive. He sighed. He wanted him dead, and chance had presented him with an opportunity to see that happen without Arnim having to take an active part. But he’d hoped it would happen faster. For a moment he considered turning back.
‚He knows you left and you could never convince him it was to get help. For then you’d have gone to fetch Hereward and Eogard. If he’s still alive when they arrive, he’ll discredit you. You should have shoved that heavy slab down on him, not on the pack. Go back and correct that mistake‘, one nasty voice hissed inside him.
‚The others might have encountered some mishap and not come at all,‘ said another voice. ‚You needn’t kill him with the slab. Time will do for him. Go warn the camp, Eogard and Hereward might be in danger.‘
And a very tiny voice threw in: ‚Lorron needs you more than they. He’s still alive. He might make it if you run back and help him.‘
Arnim bit his lip. He didn’t know what to do. If he helped him and he survived he would for certain-sure discredit him for turning away in the first place.
The mere thought of having a very angry Lorron back at camp, yelling truth at Hrimholt, sent shivers down his spine. He shook his head and walked onto the plateau.
Eogard held Hereward back by the shoulder and pointed ahead. They both pressed themselves deeper into cover. Dark men, wild looking servants of the dreaded lord, were encamped not far ahead. They had put out guardsmen. Well-armed guardsmen. And they were too many to take on alone. They watched as a group of them returned from some foray and another one left.
Herward nodded to the leaving group. ‚Follow them?‘ his eyes asked. Eogard shook his head ’no‘. From their angle, it was impossible to get past the guards to follow that group. Unfortunately, as they wanted to turn back and warn Lorron, they found that another group was returning and coming their way. They managed to hide from them at the last second, but that group took up station in a way that made it impossible for them to get to Lorron, either. „It’s no use“, hissed Eogard as soon as they were out of earshot. „All we can do is hasten back to camp and alert the others. They need to be warned of a force this big as soon as possible. Captain Hrimholt will want them routed out before they pose a problem.“ „They already do“, sighed Hereward with a look up into the mountains. „I don’t like leaving the two of them like that.“
„The two of them will be glad when we return with reinforcements“, said Eogard. „Now come on.“
The man who had watched the red-hair striding over the plateau leading to their post nudged his partner, who took up his spear, smiling. „He’ll tell us all about those warriors down on the plain. I’ll make sure we catch him alive.“
Arnim screamed. He was resolved not to tell them anything, but… what if… he lost his mind somewhen during… this…
They cut his screams short by simply choking him with the rope round his neck. A long-haired fellow smacked his fist into the face of the one with the spear. „Idiot! If there’s others, he’ll alert them. Don’t let him scream. He can point out the numbers we want to know.“ He then turned to Arnim. „You: long death or short one? How many of you?“
‚No death at all!‘ Arnim thought, as he gasped for breath. ‚If I’d gone back I’d been in the crevice… they might never have found me…‘ The dagger in his side was being turned. Trying to cry out he almost lost consciousness as the rope was being pulled tight from behind. His one free hand clawed thin air, then he balled it into a fist. ‚You’ll learn nothing!‘ he thought.
Lorron flinched, pressed his face to the wall and dug his bleeding fingers into the cracks. The rocks from above bounced off his back. Then it stopped. He dared breathe again. It hadn’t taken him down with it. This was the third time a shower of rocks had passed him by since he’d attempted to climb upwards. The slide hadn’t left the walls stable. Each time now, one of those falling rocks might be too big, hit him too hard… or one he held on to might break loose… if he fell again… he didn’t think he’d survive a second time.
„Captain!“ Jarl’s voice. „Can you hear me?“
„If they’re down there they’re dead. No, they must have gone on.“ „They wouldn’t have left the pack if they’d gone on.“ Tjoren and Ranulf.
They couldn’t possibly be here… didn’t they have other duties today? Was he starting to hallucinate?
„I saw something move down there“, Jarl insisted. „Captain?“
„I’m here !“ Lorron called, relief washing over him like a spring rain. „I’m here“, he whispered again, leaning his face against the cool stone. Now all he needed to do was hold on till they came to get him out.
„Lorron…“ Ranulf’s voice was full of concern. As the most agile of the three, he’d climbed down and managed to get a rope round his trembling Captain, but now he needed him to move. „I can support you, and Jarl will hold you, but we need you to try and climb round this protruding slab there. Look up, can you see it? Come on, let’s get out of here.“
Lorron did look up. He knew Jarl was able to hold him even if he lost his grip. Yet he couldn’t unclench his fingers, cramped as they were. „I’m sorry“, he said. „I… fear these walls have worn me out.“ Ranulf just nodded as he reached out to him. „Don’t you worry. That’s what I’m here for.“
The long-haired warrior snarled. This was taking much too long. He was beginning to doubt that their prisoner would ever give them the signs they waited for and he was beginning to doubt that it was worth the while waiting any longer. The others were getting restless, too, as the fun in torturing the man had worn off by now. „We’ll find out for ourselves“, he decided, walking over to where the victim was being held.
„He’s chosen a slow death, so give him one that lasts at least until we return here. We’re leaving for the plains.“ The spear-man nodded, then his eyes grew wide and his knees buckled. Only when he sagged did the other see the arrow in his back. Everything happened simultaneously now. They ran for cover while the bowman kept firing and hitting his mark. Then the arrows stopped coming but the place they’d driven them to wasn’t safe. An enormous man stepped out from behind a rock and simply snapped the neck of one of the warriors, then took up his weapon. Knowing that none of his fighters would be able to hold out against that one, Long-hair cried out and charged at that mountain of an enemy and they engaged in combat. He was dimly aware of other enemies, he heard the cries of his warriors, but he never knew if they won or lost in the end, for he couldn’t stop his foe for long.
Jarl looked around. Tjoren had discarded the bow and run over to defend Arnim with axe in hand, Ranulf stood at Lorron’s side and they were just taking down the last of their foes. Lorron’s movements were wooden. Jarl had not wanted him to fight here at all, but well, it wasn’t easy to give your own captain an order.
Arnim kneeled, slumped over in a heap, his hand still balled into a fist and pressed onto the wound where the dagger had stuck. Blood flowed through his fingers. He watched as Tjoren made sure the enemies were dead before turning back to him. With crossed arms he stood and looked accusingly at him. Arnim couldn’t stand his gaze and averted his face. The weaponsmaster gave a contemptuous sniff, strode over, cut his bonds and took off the rope from around his neck. He did this very carefully though, for it had bitten deep into the flesh. Arnim closed his eyes but couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks. „I’m sorry for everything I said against you, Tjoren. Thank you,“ he whispered hoarsely. „I didn’t think anyone would come for me.“
„No, of course not, since you didn’t alert Hereward and Eogard and left me down in the crevice,“ growled Lorron, who’d come to stand before him. „When did you think to return may I ask?“ The others had never heard his voice so cold, not even when he’d spoken of the dunlendings who’d sided with the orcs. His was a fiery rage, usually.
Arnim shivered and his eyes flew open. He hadn’t seen and would never have expected Lorron.
‚Tell him you ran to get help from the camp‘, one voice inside prompted. ‚Tell him you didn’t hear him.‘
He didn’t listen to it. Right at the moment, he lacked the strength to lie. „I… I hoped you’d die from the fall and that the men I was going to send would bring back your body“, he confessed. Jarl hadn’t expected so plain an answer and took a step back in surprise. Lorron wasn’t surprised at all. He only nodded. „You must have heard me. What did you think? Blast, he’s taking his time? Should have sent a boulder after?“ Arnim swallowed. „Something like that, yes… but… but I didn’t do it…“ Speaking wasn’t easy for him after his ordeal. He paused. „I thought of helping you out then… only… I couldn’t… your tone was unmistakable, even as an echo. You knew.“
Ranulf shook his head. „Never wake a bear if you aren’t prepared to fight it,“ he said. „Now that he’s angry, what are you going to do?“
„Lose“, said Arnim. „I’ve lost, there’s nothing left to do but wait what he is going to do.“
Lorron took his time thinking about it and realized he couldn’t decide it here. There were other pressing matters at hand. „Jarl, find out where they came from, we got to search their hideout“, he said. „Tjoren, dress his wounds and see to it you get him back on his feet. Arnim, I expect you not to lie about this when we stand before your captain and to accept whatever he thinks is appropriate. For I won’t decide it. I’m not impartial in this matter. Ranulf, help me drag the bodies into cover, just in case.“
Ranulf walked with him. „You do not know what to tell his sisters about it, right?“ Lorron sighed. „That, too.“ „Well, it was Hrimholt’s idea to send him. Let him find an answer now.“
They both looked back to where Tjoren bandaged Arnim. „His answer is likely to hurt him more than anything those wild men did to him,“ said Lorron. „Do you think he would have come back if I hadn’t known?“
Ranulf shrugged. „We can guess but never be sure. I was surprised he didn’t try to lie his way out.“
„Mhm. Me, too.“
The first part of the way to the wild men’s camp they found by Jarl’s cunning. The last part was clear just by listening. There was a fight going on. „It’s Hrimholt and our men already“, shouted Jarl, coming back from the lookout and pointing to the path they should take. Lorron nodded, then turned to Arnim. „You’ll fight with us“, he demanded. „Tjoren, give him back his weapons. And no, I don’t care if you’re hardly on your feet, Arnim. Guess how I feel!“
When the fight was over and orders were out to clear up the place and search the area the two Captains met on the field. Hrimholt shook his head as he scanned Lorron from head to toe. It was plain to see that he thought his ragged appearance matched his ragged leadership. „I see you found the men we couldn’t find at their appointed stations when we left camp“, he said.
„Of course you couldn’t find them“, said Lorron, looking him straight into the eyes. „For it weren’t their appointed stations. Their orders were to keep me safe, not to peel potatoes.“
„Weren’t we clear on differing orders?“
„We were, sir. Only it weren’t my orders, but Rulavan’s from after the Pelennor. They held them to be still valid, for the situation was such they didn’t think me safe.“
„Ah? How come they don’t follow you always and everywhere? It is nowhere safe around here, man! Or hadn’t you noticed?!“
„It hadn’t escaped me, sir. We arrived right on time to take the enemy in a pincer and crush them, so what is it you want me to tell my men? They were where we needed them. I don’t intend to blame them for following us into the mountains. I was glad they did.“ „That is not the point. They left their stations. There’s a punishment for that which they ought to accept if they choose to follow outdated orders. – Arnim, you were up there. Did you judge their presence necessary?“
Arnim had been standing between Ranulf and Tjoren, held up by them actually, for the bandage hadn’t lasted through the first enemy and he was bleeding again and felt ready to drop. He had been glad that Hrimholt’s anger had been directed at Lorron so far. He raised his head and looked uncertainly at his Captain, utterly at a loss for words.
It was now that Hrimholt saw the traces the rope had left. „How did that happen?“
„I… fell into the wild men’s hands. They wanted to know our numbers.“
Hrimholt’s head snapped round to Lorron. „And they had time to do this to your companion before you got him out? Don’t tell me ‚the last man standing‘ wasn’t man enough to act presently. Don’t dare to tell me it’s your fault they had time to torture him!“
Lorron’s eyes were burning coals. „Sorry, sir. Arnim went ahead without my leave. We got him out as fast as we could. As I said: My men’s presence was crucial today. The group we encountered was quite big. Jarl’s experience saved us. He judged this country too rugged and torn, a labyrinth not only to get lost in but to hide things, too. His experience told him a group of four would most probably encounter problems, that’s why he led the other two after us. Had he not done so it would not have been reinforcements at your side today but another group of foes. They are my men. I will not judge them by your standards but by mine. I will not limit their abilities unnecessarily. They’ve got minds to adjust to a current situation and I trust them to do so. If that was all I’d like them to take Arnim to Hamnath now. With your leave of course, sir. He’s yours.“
Hrimholt’s attention snapped back to Arnim. „You went ahead without leave?“ Ah. So he had listened.
Arnim shuddered and Tjoren had trouble holding him upright. „Yes, sir.“
„I will not ask you for the reason, for it matters not, now. There’s extra-shifts for men who don’t follow orders, even if some Captains choose to neglect this. You’ll present yourself to Wulthred as soon as Hamnath is ready with you and do anything he needs you for outside your ordinary shift for the next 5 days. Are we clear on this?“
„Yes, sir,“ he answered and his eyes darted to Lorron, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Something passed between them without words in that short moment.
Hrimholt looked back to Lorron, too, condescendingly.
Lorron smiled. „Allright then: Jarl, Haldagard, Tiskanen: You’ll keep yourself at Hamnath’s disposal outside your ordinary shifts for the next three days.“ Hrimholt harrumphed. They both knew that the healer needed extra-help after a fight like this in any case. But at least the proprieties had been observed. They parted to oversee the work.
That is, Hrimholt parted. Lorron kept standing looking after him, lost in thought, while his three men and Arnim kept standing looking at him, gaping.
„You didn’t tell him“, Tjoren said after a while.
„No. What kind of monster do you take me for? I wouldn’t wish Hrimholt’s wrath on my direst enemy after a day like this.“
„Are you going to, another day?“
Now Lorron turned and looked directly at Arnim. „I trust this remains between the five of us and I trust something like it doesn’t happen again. For I do not forgive as easily as you might think now. I will need to see you changed, cousin. I will need to hear an apology one day. – Not now. When you mean it.“
Arnim nodded. He could hardly believe what was happening. He’d been truly ready to accept any sentence… now he needn’t. He would be spared the public shame that indeed would have hit him harder than any physical punishment. Still shivering, he tried to reply something but there was a lump in his throat and now his knees buckled and Tjoren had to pass him to Jarl, who lifted him up as easily as if he were a child. „I think his Captain said he needn’t work his extra-shifts as long as Hamnath wasn’t ready with him“, Lorron remarked. „See to it Hamnath knows this,“ he told Jarl, who grinned.
Ranulf listened to the voices drifting out of the tent behind him. He didn’t understand everything that was being said, but those snippets were enough to know that a heated argument was going on in there between Lorron and Tjoren. „…damn it, man! Use common sense once in a while!“ – „Are you…..ouch! … no, absolutely not.“ — „I’ll not… until you….“ „Will you shut up now? I can hardly…“ „If you… then I….“ Ranulf rolled his eyes, drew the flap aside and glared at them. „Shhh, keep it down if you really don’t want everyone to know.“ Tjoren threw a handful of bloodied towels into a basket with a curse. „Talk to him!“ he hissed. „This is madness. I didn’t know how bad it was. Look at this!“ „Don’t“, said Lorron with a stern face. „Go back to watching out, I don’t want anybody to come in now.“ „I can imagine. But Tjoren’s right. If this…“ „Ranulf, I was taught by a healer. I can manage. Once I have this treated by Hamnath in the common infirmary questions will be asked. I cannot risk that.“ „But you can risk this, yes?“ Tjoren barely controlled his voice. „To help Arnim! What’s wrong with you? Had you lost your grip and crashed down a second time he’d have had his wish granted for sure!“ Ranulf sighed. „We came in time. Nothing’s broken“, he said and went back to his post. „Yeah, just leave old Tjoren alone with this stubborn mule of a captain, thanks a lot,“ Tjoren called after him. „Calm down, Tjoren. Please.“ It wasn’t the ‚please‘. It was the weak tone of voice that made Tjoren turn to the table where he quietly chose the salves and mixtures Lorron had named. „At least tell me why“, he said as he applied them. „Had I known… this… before I sure wouldn’t have let Jarl stalk off with him. He’s not worth it, Lorron. How did you fight with this? How are you going to go about tomorrow as if nothing happened?“ „With the help of my friends?“ Lorron tried with a wry smile. „Hrimholt does it all the time, he’s followed us wounded from the Pelennor. He’s worse off than me, Tjoren, but still he goes on.“ There was admiration for the old man in his voice even though he didn’t approve of his strictness. Tjoren snorted. „If it weren’t for that bastard Arnim…“ „Tjoren, once we get home, I’m going to marry his sister.“
Ranulf thumped against the flap. „Shh.“ He guessed what Lorron must have said.
„You… what?“ asked Tjoren again, quietly this time. „You’ve been away for years, how on earth did you manage to get a girl nonetheless? Without me noticing?“ Lorron chuckled. „Shall I invite you to dinner next time I meet someone?“ „Mphh. Well. At least I understand Arnim a bit better now. Having to call you ‚dear brother‘ wouldn’t list among my favourites, either.“ He smiled as he said it. Lorron had to laugh out loud, but stifled it immediately. „Thanks for being with me.“ „You’re welcome. But this will cost you, man. When that wedding takes place at latest.“
Hamnath looked up as Tjoren laid down a pile of cloth on the chest next to his chair. „Ah, thank you. Now there’s just one thing more I need you to do today before you get in the firewood and leave. Arnim’s been calling out to you in his sleep and he’s clearly not feeling well. I think you should go talk to him. I brought him some tea a moment ago, he’s awake.“ Tjoren’s brows furrowed. „Must I? There’s reasons aplenty I might be in his dreams, but did he ask for me when he woke?“ „No“, Hamnath replied and practised a ‚look‘. „But I ask you. Do you question my orders? Why would you turn my request down? Just because he’s one of Hrimholt’s men?“
Tjoren bit his lip. They hadn’t told the camp and so of course he had to play along, but he didn’t want to. „You’re not of Cliving, Hamnath. You may not know that Arnim’s father died protecting me. Arnim’s been hating me ever since and he’s done his best to make my life hell these past years. He doesn’t want to talk to me, trust me on that.“ Hamnath eyed him from head to toe and back again. „On the contrary, I believe he does. After what those wild men did to him… it was you up there with Ranulf and Jarl who got him out, wasn’t it? Or why else do I have the three of you at my disposal now? Go, set things right with him, Tjoren, don’t be such a jerk. The man may have realized he owes you an apology.“ Tjoren snorted. „He already apologized for those years since… then. There’s nothing more to be said about it. If that was all I’d like to carry in the firewood now.“ „You may. – After a detour to Arnim’s cot.“
Seeing that Hamnath was set on this Tjoren flexed his fingers and growled something unintelligible as he turned into the direction the Healer indicated. He had so far managed to avoid Arnim and always been elsewhere when the man had been tended to. So his sudden appearance at the bedside almost made Arnim bite into his beaker in surprise. He managed to set the thing aside and stared at his visitor, whose face showed all too clearly that he was not happy to be here.
„I… hadn’t expected you“, he stammered.
„Hamnath sent me.“ And one couldn’t argue with Hamnath. One couldn’t even be angry with him, said the following sigh and look into the healer’s direction. There was a three-legged stool beside the bed, but Tjoren didn’t use it. He didn’t intend to stay long.
Arnim looked around. The man in the next cot was snoring softly, fast asleep, and so was the one across the aisle. The other bed was empty, that man had been able to return to the commons today. „Don’t get me wrong“, he began, whispering, „I am grateful we kept what happened amongst us,… there are many reasons for that being the wisest course…, but….. I somehow wish they knew and I could talk about it and get it behind me. Poor Hamnath. He tries to console me telling me I was safe here and no darklings or wild men would get at me here.“ He shook his head at that. „He cannot know what I really see when I close my eyes. I keep hearing Lorron as he calls out to me, and I keep seeing myself as I turn away and I keep shouting at myself not to be such an idiot, but… I cannot change what already happened and then I swirl back in time and hear my father’s voice, very sadly: „Why can’t you just accept him? The poor lad has no family but us.“ And I hear myself screaming back at him that I would never ever accept Lorron as family. And I see the disappointment on his face as he shakes his head and turns away from me. Back then, it hurt as much as it does now. But back then, I only needed to pile that on top of everything else I blamed on Lorron and hate him a bit more for it. Now, I cannot do that anymore. That great big pile just vanished and… I have to accept that it was my fault, really.“ He paused and his eyes darted around to check if everyone was still sleeping. Tjoren adjusted his stance. „A-ha. And? Can you sleep with that or do I need to get you something?“ His tone said he wanted this to be over and done. Arnim shrugged. „I don’t know. It would be most unfortunate if Hrimholt found out now that we withheld information from him. I wouldn’t want that, he’s been suspicious of Lorron all the time. Knowing this could cause a quite a rift in their relationship.“
„As if you cared.“
„But I do.“
Tjoren’s snort made it clear he found that highly unlikely. „You getting along or is it a refill with ‚fast and dreamless-tea‘?
„Tea helps only for so long, Tjoren. Would you answer me a question, please? When you knew me, back in Cliving, what kind of a man did you think I was?“
„You honestly want me to answer that?“
Shaking his head, Tjoren grabbed for the stool and sat down. His eyes were of a level with Arnim’s now and he was surprised to find that the man didn’t avert his face but looked directly back at him. „Well then,“ he said. „When your father still lived I kept asking myself why he’d been punished with a son like that. Later I tried to avoid cursing you, in honor of his memory, but I failed quite often. I never understood how someone from an educated family could be so dumb. You didn’t understand half of the things that went on around you, even if your sisters shouted truth in your face. Now, being born witless isn’t a crime in itself, so… I do believe you really didn’t realize what your fine friends were playing at. Hello, man?! Those were the ones who sent orcs to kill your father’s company, and you sat with them almost every night and didn’t notice a thing? Blind, dumb and deaf. And arrogant on top of it. They congratulate you on your fine horses and you think you’re king. Wasn’t it your finest stud you gave to Athelward as present? They were using you and you didn’t get it! Your horses are fine, by the way, I give you that. You have a hand with breeding and I know your crops were the richest for miles around. Agriculture and a little hunting, sometimes, I recommend sticking to that. Yes, you’re good with the spear and even better with the bow. I remember the few times Aerwald brought you to the training grounds and I remember thinking that you were a damn good shot. But then old Hesken laid into the dummy with his mace and you went white in the face as Lorron asked him to be your sparring partner the next time around. We all laughed our heads off as you dropped your weapon, told everyone you’d forgotten to close the door to the sheep’s shed and ran for it. A damn coward. Lorron apologized to Aerwald all afternoon, which made it worse. You were definitely a coward back then.“
„But would you have said I was capable of letting someone die right in front of me?“
Tjoren squinnied his eyes. „Not sure there, really. Not where I was concerned. I’m remembering most satisfied grins whenever Ortmer or Olwig got me down. Didn’t you invite them over for a drink after they got me into jail by lying? I heard you, the guards and me had only just gone a few paces. But well, you couldn’t know of course that some jailors were theirs and that my life indeed was threatened at the time… so let’s look at other people… hmmm… say, did you have friends, Arnim? Real ones, I mean? You chose men for their usability, didn’t you? Can lift me up in position/can’t do a thing to enhance it. But you stood by those you chose, as far as I know. And then there was the way you treated beggars… with all signs of contempt, but no… they even made the sign at your door that this was a place one could turn to… so no, I wouldn’t have expected it of you. You were weak, vain and sometimes cruel, but not that cold-blooded. But I wouldn’t have expected you to survive the Pelennor and I sure wouldn’t have expected you to ride to the Black Gate. So I clearly didn’t know you.“
Arnim sighed. „Something… must have changed… somewhen. I didn’t want to be a soldier, because I didn’t want to have to kill people. I blanched at Hesken’s moves because the pictures in my head replaced the dummy with a real man and I couldn’t stand to imagine that. I hated violence, Tjoren. Maybe because I was a coward, maybe because my imagination ran wild, I do not know. I love hunting, yes, I love tracking and the pursuit and the moment I manage to lay down the animal with one clear shot. But I always hated the part that followed and left it to others if I could. You left that out in your list, how they used to laugh at me behind my back because of that and that I was resentful and paid them back some other time.“
„Why did you ride to the Pelennor?“
„We all had to, to prove our worth. I am head of the family, and I’d brought enough shame on us. I wanted to clear our name, of course.“
„Sure, but why did you pull it through? Why didn’t you hide somewhere behind a carcass till it was over?“
For the first time during their talk, Arnim got angry. „What kind of a man do you take me for?“
Tjoren smiled a mean smile. „You asked something similar at the beginning. My answer is: Now you’re one that turns away from a wounded comrade.“
Arnim almost forgot to whisper. „But I wouldn’t! Not on the field, that is. I… I sure was frightened, but as soon as I got angry enough there was no more fear. I didn’t see other people against me, they had become ‚the enemy‘. And I could definitely kill the enemy, ask the others. And I stayed on long into the night to bring our wounded in. I didn’t turn away, Tjoren, not then. That is why I cannot understand how I could fall so low…“
„Why did you march to the Black Gate?“
Arnim didn’t answer.
„Still in a rage and still trying to bring honour to your name?“ Tjoren guessed.
„That, too“, said Arnim absent-mindedly. „Do you think that is the answer? That I stopped seeing Lorron as one of us, but instead something like ‚the enemy‘?“
Tjoren shrugged. „One thing is certain“, he said. „That war brought us to our limits and made us find out who we are. Some withstood the shadow longer than others. Some, like the King of Gondor, started out good and became even better in the face of adversity. Some started out bad and became even worse. Take that wizard of Orthanc, for instance. Or, well, yourself.“
Arnim nodded. „It showed us who we are allright. And I don’t like who I am. Was. I don’t know. I don’t want to be like that. Is it too late to change, what do you think?“ His tone was so earnest and he kept looking at Tjoren so directly that the weaponsmaster felt he needed to be careful with the answer.
„You weren’t meant to be a fighting man, Arnim, even though you managed just fine so far. I don’t think you can change that. But your attitude is quite a different thing. When I came over I didn’t think I’d stay to listen. But I did, because I believe you’re asking yourself the right questions. Keep doing that. And use that newfound courage of yours to face down your memories. And then we’ll see.“ He stood up. „A cup of ‚fast-and-dreamless?“
„No, thank you“, said Arnim while he lay back against his pillow again. „I got a lot to think about.“
Tjoren had already turned to go when he called out to him softly. „Tjoren? Thank you. Thank you for listening. You won’t tell sweet lies, and I’ve had enough of them.“
It was almost midnight when Arnim walked over to his tent. The other company’s shift had just changed and he was dimly aware of men talking quietly, coming his way. He stopped to let them pass, being too tired to talk after a long day. Walking on he noticed that one of the others had been lagging behind. „Lorron…“ He’d only seen him from afar since… well, since.
The tall Captain looked down on him, displeasure plain on his features. Arnim swallowed. „You’re still angry.“ Lorron’s brows furrowed. „It isn’t easy to smile at someone who neglected a plea for help. This wasn’t a quarrel about some toy like when we were children. My life was at stake, Arnim.“ He sighed. „I refused to believe your hatred went that deep. Until you walked away.“ The elder man hung his head. „I… I… it was so easy, just walking on… when I realised what I’d done it was too late to turn back…“ „No, it wasn’t!“ Lorron had to fight to keep his voice in check. „It’s never too late as long as there’s life! Torulf now… I guess he might have found it difficult to leave the path he was on, for knowing all the things he did Athelward would have had him killed. But you, you only faced shame, and you placed your own well-being over my life.“ Arnim said nothing. Lorron snorted. „It might have been a mistake to spare you the public confrontation with your deed. Might have done you good to loose some of that arrogance. You just tried to defend your actions, still, here, in front of me! I don’t get it. How can you?“ Arnim had known it was a mistake as soon as the words were out. He hadn’t called out to Lorron to make him angry. What he had wanted to do was tell him he was sorry and thank him for his kindness. How could he possibly do that now? He really felt grateful, he really was ashamed of himself to the bone, but he found no words. Not saying anything at all he just looked at Geol’s son, then closed his eyes with a groan and turned to go.
Jestim had worn that expression when he’d despaired of answering Creodric, Lorron remembered. „Arnim, wait.“
He stopped but didn’t turn.
„Old habits die hard and maybe your words ran ahead of your thoughts. Try again,“ Lorron said softly.
Arnim choked back tears. „That I hated you… that was before. Before I thought I’d die at the wild men’s hands. Before I knew how it feels when time is running out and you long for somebody to help you and realize there’s no one there. When I saw Tjoren’s arrows… it was a miracle. You came for me, even though…“ he shuddered. „I have no idea how you feel, to be honest. I betrayed your trust and I can see I disgust you. But you were there when I needed you. Something strange happened then, you know. Tjoren and Jarl and Ranulf and you… I feel safe around you, protected, even when you’re angry. I dared hope… I pleaded with you there in front of Hrimholt and you didn’t let me down. Again. And the strangest thing is, I feel sure you didn’t do it because of Larynje but because of who you are. Right now, my captain’s wrath seems like a small thing compared to yours. I am sorry, Lorron. For everything.“ He sighed and sat down on a pile of wood, head still bent and eyes unfocused, turned to some point between his feet. There was a pause and his voice was hardly audible as he spoke on. „I’m sure our fathers hoped we would get along well when we were children. They were friends, though some years apart in age, so why shouldn’t we become as close as they? You could have had the brother and sisters you always wanted, if not for me and my hatred. They never understood why it didn’t happen as they’d hoped. I didn’t explain, I’m not even sure I could have explained back then. They thought it was because you were better than me in many regards, but that was only half of it. Yes, there was a time I wanted to be big, blond and a very good warrior and I envied you all those things. But what I most envied you was the time you spent with my father when you both rode with the company. He loved you deeply and that’s why I hated you. Oh, he tried to spent at least as much time with me, but the problem was: I felt he just did it to be fair and that made me angry. Today I believe that that was a false judgement. He did it because he loved me and desperately wanted to get in touch with me. He stood no chance. Already, that hatred against you went too deep and tainted every other feeling. I never understood back then how much worries I had caused him. He even tried to turn me into a warrior once, insisting I learn swordplay and everything. I did what he asked, grudgingly, though I never liked to handle a sword. A hunting spear, a bow, allright. But I never liked close fighting, be it with weapons or fists. Well, his teachings saved my life out here, many a time.“ He paused again. Lorron stood quietly at his side, listening as Arnim went on after a sigh. „We are very different, you and I. My father’s nature was more like yours. Riding, weapons: his eyes would shine. They never shone when he accompanied me. Agriculture… the things that interested me were a bore to him. He listened politely, but hunting was about the only thing we both liked. We just didn’t have that much in common. None of us could alter that fact, and you the least, but I didn’t care to give it a thought then. I had chosen you to be my enemy and the sole source of every unhappiness and when he didn’t become captain after Geol, when you did, I screamed at him. He smiled. If he’d had that ambition, Geol wouldn’t have been captain in the first place, he said. He trusted you, he said. And then you came back and he didn’t…“ Arnim swallowed. Aerwald’s untimely death still hurt. „Larynje said he wouldn’t think twice to defend a comrade. I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t understand how anyone would throw his life away thus. I… I think I understand it better, now. The wild men could have hewn Tjoren down as he stood at my side to defend me. Luckily they didn’t. He sure didn’t love me, but he stood there nonetheless. He had no choice, right? If you wish to be able to look at your own face in the mirror the next day, you give all to protect whoever needs protection, that’s what you do, what my father did. It wasn’t your fault he died. Now I know that. The Arnim-before-it-happened didn’t know. That Arnim was blind with rage. When I heard you had survived the Pelennor I knew it would only be a matter of time till you became an even closer part of the family. All I could think of was how to prevent that. Great good ancestors, I went to the black gate in hopes of seeing you go down, not to save anyone or anything…“ Lorron drew in breath sharply, for this confession sounded much harsher than what he’d thought before, that Arnim had just been misled by an opportunity.
„I was never the person to actively hurt you, but when that chance came and I just needed to walk away… it was what I’d been waiting for. I can well understand you despise that Arnim. I myself do, now. When the hate had turned into gratefulness and was finally gone, only then did I understand how much it had controlled me, how much I’d changed from the person I thought I was. It left me shivering and ashamed of myself. Loose some of my arrogance, you said? I lost it all that day, or most of it at least. To be arrogant you have to hold yourself in high esteem, and I don’t, not anymore. Not since I’ve seen what’s become of me, controlled by that compelety irrational anger. Death came too close, Lorron, but I fear that that was exactly what was needed to get me off of the path I was on. I mean, not even thoughts of my first child held me back… Brynda was pregnant when the call to the weapontake came, did you know that? After all those years we’d hoped for a child in vain… now it finally happened. It must have been born by now. I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl and I came very close to never knowing. It came very close to growing up without a father.“ He fell silent. Lorron waited for him to go on. He waited quite some time. Around them was darkness. Most men were asleep and even Arnim’s soft voice had sounded loud in this quiet night.
He was just ordering his thoughts for a reply to what he’d heard, when Arnim spoke again.
„One day, only a few short years from now, you’ll probably be a father, too. What if our children grow to be very different than we hope? What if mine is a strong lad, keen on every kind of weapons? What if yours prefers some gentle trade? What if they don’t like each other though they’re cousins? I’m willing to let my child choose its own way, but I’m not willing to stand by and watch it make the same mistake that I made. I ruined so many things… please, Lorron, don’t let our children suffer from the past I created. Despise me all you like, but don’t let them know it.“
Lorron was shocked. That was what troubled Arnim? He wasn’t even married to his sister yet. But he was right, one day, their past might be a problem for their children. The Arnim-before-it-happened wouldn’t have spared that a thought.
„I don’t know when I’ll lose the urge to yell at you“, he answered. „But that anger is directed at someone who doesn’t exist anymore. I like the new Arnim much better than the old. It must have taken some bravery to tell me all of this and I believe you couldn’t have done it if there was still a trace of hatred left. You’ve been honest with me ever since we rescued you. It’s clear you’ve truly had a change of heart, so… I think we can put this incident behind us. Now go, get some sleep, Arnim. I’ve seen you working from dawn until now and tomorrow won’t be any easier.“ Hearing this, Arnim took a deep breath and turned to face Lorron. „Thank you,“ he said, and then he smiled. „It will be easier, much easier, now that we talked. Believe me.“
alternativ (bevorzugtes Ende):
Arnim kneeled, slumped over in a heap, his hand still balled into a fist and pressed onto the wound where the dagger had stuck. Blood flowed through his fingers. He watched as Tjoren made sure the enemies were dead before turning back to him. With crossed arms he stood and looked accusingly at him. Arnim couldn’t stand his gaze and averted his face. The weaponsmaster gave a contemptuous sniff, strode over, cut his bonds and took off the rope from around his neck. He did this very carefully though, for it had bitten deep into the flesh. Arnim closed his eyes but couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks. „I was sure this was it…“ he whispered hoarsely. „I’m sorry, Tjoren, sorry for all the wrong I ever did you. I thought no one would come for me. I thought I’d never see my family again.“ Tjoren gave no reply but continued working on the rope.
„You certainly don’t like me, but you’re here… by my side… it’s what you do, isn’t it? Protect anyone who needs you. It’s what Father did, too, only, I never understood before.“
Tjoren took the rope away and laid a steadying hand on Arnim’s shoulder as he listened. The man was trembling.
„It wasn’t your fault, or Lorron’s , that he died. I know that now“, Arnim murmured. „Forgive me, if you can.“
Tjoren sighed. His gaze went up to his friend and Captain, who’d come over silently and stood on Arnim’s other side, listening, too.
„What now?“ Tjoren’s eyes asked.
Lorron’s face was unreadable.
„Lorron…“ Arnim wheezed, in a completely different tone of voice that rang of despair. Both Tjoren and the Captain were sure Arnim had noticed him now, but when the man’s head came up it swung round to Tjoren. „Lorron…“, he repeated, his eyes now open and wide with fear. „Tjoren, he needs you… I left him in a crevice down the valley behind us, I left him though he was in pain and half buried by rocks. I… I hoped he’d be dead by the time I sent help. “ He stopped and swallowed, then went on, his voice urgent and getting steadier as he spoke. „You might still be able to save him. Hurry, track back my footsteps till you reach the sharp, black cliffs, hurry and leave me now, I’d only slow you down if I tried to come along. Take what men you have here and take ropes, you have to get him out of there!“
Tjoren made an astonished sound, then actually smiled at him, squeezed his shoulder and got up. „All yours“, he said. „I’ll go get some bandages.“
Arnim saw who he was talking to and his first reaction was to exclaim out of joy to see the Captain alive, but then his smile froze on his face. It was one thing to wish a crime undone and quite another to deal with the consequences. To his puzzlement, though, there was no anger in Lorron’s eyes. He’d have wanted to apologize to him now, but couldn’t get a word out.
As Lorron knelt at his side, stiffly, and favoring his injured leg, Arnim shivered. „Cousin“, Lorron said and heaved a sigh so deep it spoke of a heavy burden indeed. „I so wish Aerwald could have heard that you finally understand. I’m so glad you got rid of that all-consuming hate in you.“
Arnim’s eyes filled with tears again. „I ruined everything.“ He sounded so very sad that Lorron laid an arm round his shoulders. „Not everything“, he assured him. „You just managed to set something right, with Tjoren and me.“
„Did I? But that was just fear it might be too late for you and sheer horror when I thought what I’d been capable of! “
Lorron smiled at him like Tjoren had done. „I know. It’s called a conscience, Arnim. And it’s the reason we shall not mention this to Hrimholt. You might have gone ahead without leave, if he needs an explanation, but that’s all. This was very personal. I do not wish for it to be discussed in public.“
Relief and something else he couldn’t name flooded over Arnim in a wave. He leant into the support Lorron provided and listened to the Captain give orders to his men, to hide the enemies‘ bodies, to scout the region and to make ready to depart as soon as it was clear where the group had come from.