Going Home

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.”

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.

Welcome home

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.

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A Celebration

Buckland – July 3

Aeleron took a deep breath of warm, summer air. The fragrant smell of flowers filled his nostrils as his eyes turned upwards to stare into the blue, cloudless sky. It’ll be a beautiful day for hunting, he thought, s’long as we actually bring something back.

Almost as if it understood his thoughts, Aeleron’s large grey steed, Apollo, snorted and stamped impatiently. The horse obviously had less desire than its master to enjoy the quiet of the morning and wished to get on with the business that had brought them out onto the hill.

Aeleron smiled and, patting the horse’s thick, muscled neck with his left hand, gently reassured him, “Easy there, old friend. We’ll get movin’ soon enough. We ‘ave all day, after all.” The horse snorted again, almost in response to his master’s admonition, but ceased stamping at the ground. Aeleron shook his head, the smile still spread across his lips. They had both been cooped up in Bree for too long, and Aeleron couldn’t help but share the steed’s desire to rush into the valley and feel the wind whip across their face.

It had been a short trip to Buckland, ostensibly to pick up some supplies (like pipe-weed), but both rider and horse knew that the real reason for the trip was to get out of Bree for a bit. Ever since his return from Rohan, Aeleron had stalked the streets of Bree, drinking in the Pony, trading stories with others in the hunting lodge, and checking on Emilie when his younger sister wasn’t exasperated with him. But he had begun to miss the freedom of fields and forests, of traipsing aimlessly with no one waiting on him, of sleeping under the stars … of solitude, just man and his companion. So they had travelled to Buckland where the little folk welcomed him.

Aeleron liked the hobbits. They were simple, humble, and honest folk who were content to enjoy the little things in life: a warm hearth; a tasty meal; and a good pipe after a long day. ‘cept they rarely ever ‘ave a long day, Aeleron thought with a laugh, unless you call waitin’ on second breakfast a long day. He learned upon arrival in Buckland, however, that the hobbits were planning one of their many celebrations. They always seemed to be feasting, even when there wasn’t a purpose or cause for one. And, when one of the Big Folk came to visit, they tasked him with finding the prized boar that would be the centerpiece of the feast.

Aeleron hefted the spear he held in his hand and looked down onto the plains below him. Clicking his tongue softly, Aeleron urged Apollo to make his way down into the fields below them, keeping his eyes open for any sign of their quarry. They rode back and forth for several hours to no avail. The rains of the prior night had driven the boar into the woods, woods Aeleron was loath to go into. There was plenty of game in the woods, Aeleron knew, but that game had drawn wolves and bears. More alarmingly, though, the thick, closely knit trees made using the spear more difficult. Apollo was faster than any boar, but neither horse nor rider could maneuver as quickly in the trees.

Still, they had come to find boar and Aeleron wouldn’t return to Buckland without one.

Pushing Apollo towards the tree line, Aeleron slid from his saddle, stooping down to test the branches. Small trails led between the trees and brambles, used by game. Several snapped branches caught his eye, the work of thick, heavy hided boars escaping into the forest. Hopping back onto his steed, Aeleron settled down, close to the horse’s neck, and urged the beast into the woods. They rode in, perhaps a hundred feet, before coming across a boar lazily munching at the grass. Aeleron spurred his mount into a trot, then a canter, unable to push the horse to its fast speed. Apollo’s hooves snapped twigs below it, drawing the boar’s attention. Rather than run, however, the tusked beast turned, snorting a challenge. It was a mistake, as Aeleron-pushed by the speed of Apollo-drove the heavy spear into the boar’s neck, burying the blade deep and pushing it back the bolts jutting out from the sides. The beast died, almost instantly.

Not wasting another second, Aeleron slid quickly from the saddle. “We don’t ‘ave much time, boy. Wolves’ll be ‘ere soon.” Aeleron ran a hand across his stomach, feeling the phantom pain of the scars stretched across his stomach. “You keep watch, let me know if any of ’em try to get close.”

Pulling an axe forth gear slung across Apollo, Aeleron quickly set to building a make-shift sled out of logs. He cut a few logs about six feet long, and then two more about four feet. Laying the longer logs parallel to each other, he quickly lashed the two shorter logs to the others with some cords, building the frame for a box that he could stretch a worn canvas tarp across. The sled wasn’t pretty, but it would hold the boar, and give Aeleron a chance to drag his prey back to Buckland and away from the wolves that were no doubt closing in.

Sweat dripped from his forehead, the humidity of last night’s rain caught under the trees in the mounting afternoon heat. But Aeleron had no time to wipe it, his hands quickly stretching the canvas across the sled-frame and tying it in place. Taking a deep breath, he dragged the boar over and threw it on the sled, its blood dripping everywhere. Approaching Apollo, Aeleron quickly tied the sled to his mount and grabbed his bow.

“Let’s get out of here, boy, no need to wait for the wolves to come.” The trip back was slow going as the sled snagged on every root, rock, and bush it crossed. Still, Aeleron waited, an arrow nocked into his bow, for the wolves to come claim an easy meal. As the pair breached the forest, stepping back into the fields, Aeleron breathed a sigh of relief. Though they were still a ways out from ‘home’, he’d at least have a straight shot.

Apollo picked up the pace, the beating sun sapping energy from man and horse alike. Aeleron heard the howl, and turning to look at the tree-line, saw two wolves break from the undergrowth. He grimaced, clicking at Apollo to keep going, and drew the bow back. Anchoring his hand against his cheek, Aeleron sighted down the arrow’s shaft, calmly measuring the wolf’s speed. Drawing a breath in, Aeleron closed his left eye, trained the arrowhead, and released the string.

Twang!

Aeleron didn’t watch to see the arrow hit. Instead, he reached over his shoulder and drew a second one, training it at the wolf’s companion who was quickly closing the distance between it and the shooter. Sweat dripped into his eye, blurring his vision. Still, with another deep breath, Aeleron brought the arrow up and trained its head on the wolf. Thirty paces … now twenty … now ten. The wolf leaped in the air, its slavering maw open, intending to clamp down on the man’s face. Aeleron’s hand opened, and the bow shivered in his hand, the arrow leaping forward.

It hit the wolf, but didn’t kill it. Instead, with a loud yelp, the wolf turned, darting away what it had previously thought to be prey. Aeleron drew another arrow, this time wasting few seconds to aim. He fired, not intending to actually kill the wolf, but simply to drive it off. With a deep sigh, he wiped the sweat from his brow, and turned, jogging back to the horse that had, by now, put substantial distance between itself and its rider. Every twenty paces or so, Aeleron turned to look over his shoulder, but was glad to see that no more wolves were following.

Eventually, the pair came within sight of Buckland, and a few bounders made their way out to escort the hunter and his horse back to the safety of the hedge walls.

“Gonna be a great feast tonight!” one of them quipped.

“Aye,” replied another, “Ale … meat pies … and roasted boar!”

“Don’t forget the songs,” added a third.

Aeleron just smiled, glad he and Apollo could take part in the celebration. He rubbed his stomach again, this time with hunger, and asked, “You wouldn’t ‘appen to ‘ave a cold ale waitin’ fer our return would yeh?”

One of the bounders nodded, “No … not waiting, but we’ll be certain to draw you one as soon as you get back.”

Aeleron smiled in return. “And maybe some o’ that pipe-leaf to go with it. Migh’ tide me over till dinner.” He laughed, a dry, hoarse laugh and wiped the sweat from his brow. It was going to be a great evening.