July 14 – Bree-land
Dawn had barely broken as Aeleron awoke, pulling himself from his bedroll and slowly crawling out of the tent. Fog lay over the field like a thick blanket on a cold winter morning, and above them, black clouds threatened rain. Despite the early morning hour, Apollo was already awake, lazily grazing among the tall grasses.
Aeleron whistled softly for the horse and went about prepping him for the day’s ride. First he lay the blanket down, a thin woolen one intended to provide the horse some comfort from the caparison and saddle that covered it. Then came the barding. Both horse and rider were used to the routine, and were ready quite quickly. Aeleron let the beast wander off to graze some more as he quickly broke camp, packing up the meager belongings that provided him warmth and shelter from the elements. Sliding them onto Apollo, he quickly jumped up into the staddle and pointed the steed south, away from the walls of Bree.
“Come on boy,” he said, gently patting the horse’s thick neck and settling himself into the saddle, “let’s go home.”
It was an odd word to him, one that he hadn’t used, or even thought of, in months. The little cabin had hardly been home to him since his father had died and Emilie had moved to Bree and he had begun a long journey to Rohan to lay his parents remains to rest. Home had been open fields, rocky outcroppings, and the warmth of a strange hearth, in a strange land, with strange company. Home had been wherever he could find a few moments of rest. Home had been, since that fateful day, mostly an illusion.
And before then? Was it even home?
Aeleron sighed, and closed his eyes, sitting quietly in the saddle and listening to the soft clip-clop of Apollo’s hooves against the worn ground. He didn’t need to guide the horse; it already knew its way. Aeleron opened his eyes again and looked to the sky. The clouds were getting darker.
“Gonna rain soon,” he said, as the horse picked up speed into a trot. A morning’s ride down the Greenway might get them to the Chetwood in time to avoid it by slipping under the tree cover. Or else they’d get wet.
Not like that hasn’t happened often, Aeleron thought, with a short laugh.
By late morning, Apollo had turned off the Greenway and onto a well-worn path leading into the Chetwood. The rain had started, but the trees gave them a bit of cover from the drizzle. A few hours later and the horse and its rider emerged into a clearing, a small cabin cozily nested in its center, surrounded by tall trees.
The grass and weeds have become overgrown, Aeleron thought as he slowed Apollo to a walk and slid himself from the saddle. On the edge of the clearing sat a small structure, a tall lean-to of sorts, that acted as a stable. Aeleron led the steed over and began quickly stripping off the horse’s packs and barding. Giving Apollo a quick rub down, he let the horse graze freely. Almost immediately, the horse began lazily munching on the overgrown thistles and wildflowers.
At least one of us is happy to be back.
Apollo took a long look over the cabin. It was in roughly the same shape as he had left it all those months ago. It was in roughly the same shape as it had been all those other times he had ridden up, returning from this hunt or that range. Except this time, it was … cold. There was no sound, except the soft singing of birds and babbling of the nearby stream. No smoke drifting from either chimney. No sign of any life except him and Apollo.
He strode towards the door, fishing a key from his pocket and fit it into the lock. The key turned with a bit of effort and, with a groan, the door swung open. Aeleron stepped inside, giving his eyes a few moments to adjust to the darkness. In front of him sat a table, empty save for a few books and half-burned candles. Across the room sat a few shelves, some empty wooden chairs, and a large, cold, fireless hearth. Cobwebs crowded the cabin’s corners and dust settled on every available surface, flat, round, or otherwise.
But it hardly felt that way. He looked up, into the rafters, where the two cots he and Emilie had slept on through their childhood were stored. The cot Emilie had slept on every night, even as their father lay dying of fever in the next room. He had been a rider once, proud and strong…
And a deserter too, Aeleron thought, remembering his last conversation with his father.
A pang of regret immediately flooded Aeleron’s mind. Theoren Kinnaird had been many things in his life, but Aeleron had always known his father as an honest, loyal, loving, and hardworking man. As a man who had given up the only life he had ever known to ensure he raised his family in peace and safety even if it meant doing so in a strange land. As a man who had taught himself a new vocation, one that involved hunting, and trapping, and fishing, and tracking, and all sorts of other woodland skills that were as foreign to the boy who had grown up in Rohan as fighting atop a horse might have been to a Bree-lander. And above all, Aeleron remembered Theoren Kinnaird as a loving, nurturing father; one who had taught his young son everything he knew about being a woodsman and beamed with the pride and joy only a father could when his son’s skills quickly outpaced his own.
Tears welled in Aeleron’s eyes as he crossed the room to the hearth, and pulled the small box sitting atop it from the mantle. He opened the box, peering down at the pipe his father had always enjoyed after a long day. Aeleron touched the pouch at his waist, holding the pipe his father had given him on the day of his sixteenth birthday, and remembered the nights the two of them had spent in quiet discussion. He quickly shut the box, and returned it to the mantle, before stepping into the back room.
It had been his parents room, their refuge away from everything, even their own children, when it was necessary. And now, with both of them gone, it was his. His eyes studied the bed for a long moment, thinking of the nights he had slept in a cot, on the other side of that threshold, and listened to his parents softly chat about days past. It was a sound he missed, now more than anything.
He wiped more tears from his eyes before sighing softly and heading towards the door. In the corner rested a small axe, sitting in one of the places it always had. Aeleron lifted the tool, checking its weight in his hand, and set out the door.
Home… he thought, the weight of the word finally sinking in. If this is going to be home, there’s a lot of work to do.