A Morning Star ~ Chapter 13 of 18 - A Meeting with a Ranger
Chapter 2: The Road West
Chapter 3: Questions and Answers
Chapter 4: The End of a Quest
Chapter 5: A New Home
Chapter 6: Decisions
Chapter 7: The Battle of Ridden
Chapter 8: A War Ends and a Journey Begins
Chapter 9: Rohan
Chapter 10: Captivity
Chapter 11: Return to Gondor
Chapter 12: Tearful Partings
Chapter 13: A Meeting with a Ranger
Recap: Ariya has left Édren's family to return to Ridden and to her love, Duran. Édren gave her a mare of Rohan named Styrra as a parting gift.
Ariya decided to take a different road than the one she had used on the journey south. She traveled for several months, through the Gap of Rohan and then steadily northward, anxious to return to Ridden but always alert to the dangers of the road. After a while she found herself in a land she did not recognize. She rode Styrra steadily northward for a few more days until she realized that she was in the wilderness not far from the Shire.
"So we have traveled farther to the west than I realized," she said to the mare. "No matter; once we find the East Road we will easily be able to find our way to Ridden." She patted Styrra's neck and gently urged her forward. She soon came to a small stream and then dismounted and allowed the mare to drink. Basking in the warm sunshine, Ariya suddenly realized it had been a long time since had experienced the luxury of a bath. She laid her quiver and sword on the ground and sat down. Arranging the folds of her plain brown skirt in the grass, she then reached up and unbraided her hair. As she ran her fingers through her long, loose hair, she suddenly heard a voice behind her:
"It is a rare occasion to see such a lovely lady in this wilderness."
She turned, surprised that someone had been able to approach her unnoticed. Keeping one hand near Cul-Rômen, she saw a man standing in the trees. He wore a hooded cloak that hid his face.
"I am merely passing through these lands, and it seems I have traveled a bit too far west," she replied. "Am I intruding on any restricted lands?" She sensed no danger about the man and suspected that was why he had been able to surprise her, for it was often her elven instincts rather than her senses of sight and sound that alerted her to approaching visitors. Yet she kept her hand near her sword until she knew more about this strange man.
"It depends on your intentions," he answered. "I would feel more confident that you indeed meant no harm if you were to draw your hand away from your sword." Ariya could a hear smile in his voice, and seeing that he had made no move for his own sword, she relaxed and pulled back her hand.
"May I ask your name?" said the man.
Ariya paused, wondering whether she should give him her Elvish or human name. She realized that she would likely arrive in Ridden in several days and that if Denya were still king he would know of her presence in the north soon enough.
"My name is Ariya Alayah," she replied. "And yours?"
"Aron," the man said, taking a step forward and removing his hood. Ariya could see that he was young, a few years short of thirty she guessed. He had grey eyes and dark brown hair that was beginning to curl in the slightly humid air. As Ariya studied him, she absently brushed a strand of hair behind her ear.
"I did not realize you were an elf," the man said with some surprise. Ariya smiled, for it was obvious that the man rarely saw elves, if at all.
"I am but a half-elf," she replied. "And it has been many years since I have lived among the elves. I am returning to my home in the north."
Aron's eyes widened slightly. "You must be the half-elf from the Battle of Ridden!" he exclaimed.
"Yes," Ariya answered, surprised. "But how do you know of me? Were you there?"
"No," he replied, regaining his composure, "but I have heard many stories of the half-elf who fought against the Northern Tribes."
"All of them exaggerated, no doubt," Ariya said, recalling how much the stories had been exaggerated just days after the battle. Aron laughed but was cut short when they suddenly heard a distant howl, and then another, much closer. Ariya felt her blood chill.
"Wolves!" Aron cried, the smile quickly leaving his face.
"But it is still daylight!" Ariya exclaimed in reply. As she stood and strapped her quiver to her back, she said, "I thought they normally only hunted at night."
"There is a growing evil in these lands," Aron answered solemnly. He said no more, despite Ariya's questioning gaze. He silently drew his sword and Ariya fitted an arrow to her bowstring. They waited to see if the wolves would come near.
After a long, tense moment, two wolves suddenly ran out of the trees. Ariya managed to shoot them both, one through the eye and another through the chest, but several more quickly followed. She shot as many as she could, but was forced to use her sword as the last few wolves nearly came close enough to bite her.
As Ariya slew one of the two wolves that were attacking her, she suddenly heard a cry from Aron. She looked to her left and saw him lying on the ground, a large grey wolf on top of him and a brown one dead at his feet. He still had his sword, but the grey wolf continued to evade his blows. She drew her knife and threw it at the wolf, and the blade sank into its shoulder. However, the wound did not kill it, and it left Aron and ran toward Ariya in a rage. She quickly beheaded the wolf that was still attacking her and then met the charging grey wolf with her blade. It was not long until she had killed the grey wolf, the last remaining wolf in the pack.
Ariya could see blood flowing from a wound on Aron's side. Her eyes and ears still alert should more wolves arrive, she quickly jogged over to him. Examining his wound, she said, "Aron, I have little experience in the healing arts. I can wrap the wound to slow the bleeding and perhaps even find an herb to alleviate the pain, but it would be best if we found a healer soon." This was not the first time in her life that she wished had apprenticed with a healer, rather than a potter. She whistled to Styrra, who emerged from her hiding in the trees and trotted over to them. Ariya rummaged through the pack on the mare's back until she found some cloth to use as bandages.
As she was wrapping the wound, Aron spoke, the pain evident on his face: "My second cousin Aragorn is a healer, and I believe he is not far away."
"Aragorn?" she replied.
"I - I mean Strider," Aron stammered. "He is known as Strider in these parts."
"All right," Ariya said. She knew better than to ask why his cousin went by another name; after all, she had used alternate names in her travels as well. "Where can we find him?"
"I think he is in Bree," he answered. "It is about a two day's journey."
"Or one, if we do not sleep tonight." Ariya stood and turned toward Styrra. "Lie," she commanded. The horse responded and lied down on the ground.
As she helped Aron onto the horse, he said, "This is a remarkable steed."
"She is from Rohan," Ariya replied. She could see he was slightly surprised by her answer, but neither spoke. They both knew the other had many secrets, but they had to trust each other if they were to get to Bree. She walked over to the grey wolf's carcass and retrieved her knife, and then they set off on their journey.
Ariya walked beside the horse as they made their way to Bree as quickly as possible. As the hours passed, she could see that Aron was getting weaker, and she tried to talk with him to keep him awake. She felt she could trust him, so she told him stories of the Battle of Ridden and of her captivity in Minas Morgul. She told him about her life in Ridden and in Rohan, but revealed few names. She had only just met him, and while her heart told her she could trust him, she still wanted to be cautious. Aron told her little about himself, only that he belonged to a group of men known as rangers and lived in the wilderness.
As the sun set and the full moon shone down on the earth, Ariya began to grow tired herself. But she forced herself to continue, knowing that they must find this Strider soon. She only hoped that he was in Bree and that they would be able to find him.
As the dawn approached, clouds covered the moon and a cool rain began to fall. Ariya and Aron held their cloaks tightly against their bodies in a feeble attempt to stay warm. They finally arrived at the city gates as the sun was rising behind the rain clouds, and the doorman allowed them to enter when he saw the injured man. Aron told her to stop at the Inn of the Prancing Pony to see if Strider was indeed in the village.
She left Aron outside, still sitting on top of Styrra but under an awning to avoid the rain, and entered the inn. Looking around, she saw only a few people in the common room this early in the morning. She watched a man whom she assumed to be the innkeeper serve a patron some breakfast, and as he walked away from the table she approached him.
"Excuse me," she said. "I am looking for a man named Strider, and was told that he may be here in Bree."
The innkeeper raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Strider, eh?" he said. But before he could say anything else, she heard a voice behind her:
"I am Strider."
She turned a saw a man near the edge of the room rise from his seat. He wore a cloak similar to Aron's, and as he walked toward her he removed the hood from his face. "Why do you seek me?" he asked.
"Your cousin Aron is outside," she said. "He was badly wounded in a wolf attack yesterday, and he said that you were an experienced healer and may be able to help him." With that, Strider quickened his pace, calling for the innkeeper to find a room for Aron. It was not long before Aron had been half-carried into the inn and laid in a bed. Ariya stood by to help, but she soon realized that Strider needed little assistance. She watched him apply several herbs and expertly wrap the wound, occasionally muttering songs or phrases too quiet for her to hear.
When he was done, they left Aron to rest and went back to the common room. Ariya and Strider sat down at a table together, and the innkeeper quickly brought her some breakfast. Strider thanked her for bringing Aron to Bree, and she in turn told him about the wolf attack.
"That is rather unusual for wolves to attack during the day," he said when she had finished her tale. "But we can discuss that later. You look exhausted; let me get Barliman to prepare a room for you as well."
"Thank you," she replied as he stood up from the table.
Ariya soon found herself in a small but comfortable room. She laid her weapons on the floor and slipped out of her wet clothes, and collapsing onto the bed she soon fell fast asleep.
She awoke to feel the late afternoon sun shining on her face through the open window. She could hear voices in the common room as the patrons began to arrive for the evening. She saw that Strider had brought her pack up to her room, so she rummaged through it until she found the second dress she had packed, for the one she had worn the previous day was stained with blood and still damp with rain. She slipped on the second dress, which was the color of evergreen needles, and left her hair down. She then walked to Aron's room to see if his condition had improved, but finding the door shut she decided not to disturb him. She instead made her way to the common room to ask Strider or the innkeeper how he was doing.
Looking about the room, she did not see Strider. She took a seat in a corner, wanting to remain inconspicuous until she was able to catch the innkeeper's attention. She knew that it would not be long until the other men noticed her, and she did not feel like making idle conversation at the moment. Barliman soon saw her and stopped to talk with her.
"The ranger said your friend's wound will heal, and that he should be fine in about a week." Ariya was relieved to hear the news, but before she could reply he continued: "He also wanted to know whether you would be staying here at the Prancing Pony for a while."
"Oh?" she replied. Her heart yearned for Ridden now that she was so close, but she knew that a few days tarry would not matter after being gone for nearly six years. "Well, I do not know why the ranger is interested in my whereabouts; but yes, I would like to stay for a few more days until Aron is well," she replied.
"Very well then," he said, quickly hurrying off to wait on another customer. Ariya sat alone, wondering why Strider would want her to stay. For surely he wanted to speak with her again; otherwise, why would he be concerned whether she stayed at the inn?
List of Names and Places through Chapter 13
- Ambilë: Ariya's mortal father. Chapter 1.
- Arelen: "Morning Star"; Ariya's Elvish name. Chapter 1.
- Ariya Alayah: Translated as "Morning Star" in an ancient tongue of men; the heroine of our story. Chapter 1.
- Aron: Ranger of the North; second cousin to Aragorn. Chapter 13.
- Beredhel: "Bold Elf"; Ariya's maternal grandfather. Chapter 1.
- Beros: Lamir's older brother. Chapter 9.
- Cul-Rômen: "Golden-Red Sunrise"; the name of Ariya's sword. Chapter 5.
- Deilen: Duran's brother. Chapter 5.
- Denya: Renya's only son; succeeded his father as King of Ridden. Chapter 6.
- Dunneth: The city-kingdom to which the refugees of Ridden fled. Chapter 6.
- Duran: Advisor to the king of Ridden. Chapter 3.
- Durlow: A small village in eastern Rohan. Chapter 8.
- Édren: Lamir's father; farmer and soldier of Rohan. Chapter 9.
- Eomas: The first city to be attacked by the Northern Tribes. Chapter 5.
- Halamir: Lamir's younger brother. Chapter 9.
- Isilmë: "Moonlight"; Ariya's maternal grandmother. Chapter 1.
- Kalen: A man from Dunneth; leader of a group of archers in the resistance against the Northern Tribes. Chapter 6.
- Lamir: Son of Édren; Ariya's apprentice in Rohan. Chapter 9.
- Land of the City-Kingdoms: A land northwest of Rivendell, consisting of several small cities of men, each ruled by their own king. Chapter 2.
- Lein: Ariya's half-brother, son of Ambilë; a smith in Ridden; killed in the Northern Tribe's invasion. Chapter 2.
- Lindë: Lamir's love interest. Chapter 9.
- Lómion: "Descendant of Dark"; maker of Ambilë's ring. Chapter 4.
- Melwen: "Kind Maiden"; Ariya's elven mother. Chapter 1.
- Nía: Lamir's sister. Chapter 9.
- Peramac "Perry" Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Tanagrim. Chapter 2.
- Renna: Beros's wife. Chapter 9.
- Renya: King of Ridden. Chapter 5.
- Ridden: A city in the land of the city-kingdoms. Chapter 2.
- Selleth: Lamir's mother. Chapter 9.
- Styrra: Ariya's horse, a mare from Rohan. Chapter 12.
- Tanagrim Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Peramac. Chapter 2.