Chapter 2 - A Father's Dream
Jesper lay quietly on his cot, pondering his new life. Despite his heartfelt decision to immediately enter the ranks of the Rangers upon his arrival in Fornost, he instead found himself working in the traveler's shop as his father had intended. He spent much of each day filling small flasks with oil from the barrels it arrived in, cutting and coiling rope into various lengths, and various other chores around the small business.
He thought back to that first day in the city. Finglorn and Jerolas had taken him directly to the shop, where Jesper introduced himself. His two saviors, after briefly consoling him once more on his parents’ deaths, said goodbye and left in search of an inn. As quickly as that, Jesper was alone but for the company of the shopkeeper.
His name was Gorin, and he was agreeable enough. He walked with a slight limp, but his body was hard and muscular despite his fifty years. He had seemed truly sorrowed when he learned of Jesper’s father’s death. His voice was soft, but firm, and his deep dark eyes possessed some quality that seemed to see everything.
Gorin had given Jesper that first day to wander the town and memorize the lay of the streets. He also had provided a list of suppliers and clients in the city, with the intent that the young man put their locations to memory. Jesper had managed to discern the pattern of the major streets, a task made somewhat easier by the fact that his father had brought him along on trips to the city twice before. However, those trips had been years ago and Jesper had remembered little of the city from them. Working his way through the list was frustrating, but Jesper had found many of Gorin’s suppliers and customers.
In the afternoon, he had entered an inn near the shop for a small meal and a drink. This was the Crown of Arnor Inn, the only place Jesper had remembered from his childhood visits. What he had remembered most was the roast duck, apparently the trademark of the Crown. It was perfectly seasoned with spices, crisp on the outside but juicy and perfectly cooked on the inside. Jesper was still able to remember the taste, and he had longed to savor it again.
The Crown’s dining area was spacious, but still had been quite crowded. Numerous patrons supped on venison and duck, the two specialties of the inn. Others ate different, but less flavorful, dishes. Some sipped quietly at mugs of chilled wine, but others laughed raucously as they drained flagons of ale. It was exactly as Jesper had remembered. Jesper had ordered the roast duck, then hesitantly ordered a cup of beer as well. After all, he was a man now, so he should drink like one. But when Jesper had taken his first bite of the duck on his plate, his thoughts had instantly gone to his father, and his first experience at the Crown. His father had, for a while, lost his usually stoic manner and talked merrily with the other customers. Many of the men had acted as though his father was their best friend, even though his father made trips to Fornost infrequently. Thinking back to that occasion, one of the few times Jesper had seen his father truly enjoying himself, had ruined his appetite. All Jesper could see was his father’s laughing face, and Jesper had left the table. The beer was untouched.
After that day, Gorin had kept him busy learning the tasks expected of him. From dawn until dusk, Jesper ran errands, made deliveries, and loaded and unloaded wagons. Thankfully, the hard work kept his mind from dwelling on the recent deaths of his parents. However, when night finally came, he was left alone with his thoughts as Gorin went to his home each night. For weeks, he slept fitfully at best as his dreams replayed every minutia of the battle in his home. Worse still were the dreams in which his parents were still alive, since he awoke each time to the reality that they were forever gone.
Done reminiscing, Jesper silently listened to the night sounds of the city. There was little revelry, since Fornost was, after all, more a fortress than a true city. However, there were still the sounds of night birds, the tramp of guards marching to or from their posts, and the soft scratching sound of those who were paid coppers to sweep the litter and animal droppings from the streets.
Jesper drifted off to sleep once more, to dreams of murderous orcs and succulent roast duck that reminded him of his father.
The next day was Sunday, the one day each week that Jesper was entirely free of duties at the shop. After only a few weeks in Fornost, he had realized how much he preferred the forests to the south where he had been raised. Therefore, he took advantage of his free time to explore the area surrounding the fortress city. Although the woods were sparser than the thick trees that surrounded his old home, they were comforting nonetheless.
The Sundays spent wandering the woods calmed and comforted Jesper, and his anguish gradually faded. He worked diligently at whatever tasks Gorin provided, and quickly learned even the back streets of the city. He no longer needed to ask for directions when Gorin sent him to a particular client to deliver orders, having learned their names and locations rapidly through the course of his errands. Often now, Gorin would give him a few hours of extra time for himself, simply because he had no pressing need for his assistance. Despite his hard work and efficiency, however, Jesper’s thoughts frequently focused on his goal of becoming a Ranger.
Jesper spent most of his free time during the week at the Crown, supposedly so that Gorin would be able to fetch him quickly if he were needed. However, Jesper’s true motives lay instead in the dining hall. That room, more so than any other place in Fornost, served as a gathering point for visitors and residents alike. Jesper would sit and listen to the many tales of adventure shared by travelers. If the story was particularly interesting, Jesper would buy the teller some ale in exchange for more detail and answers to his questions. Jesper sought out tales of orcs and Rangers in particular.
In his work at the traveler’s shop, Jesper had noted that Gorin paid a small bounty for various furs and pelts that trappers and huntsmen brought in. Therefore, in an effort to make some extra coin, he had used some of his pay to buy a hunting knife, some thin light rope, and some other items of use in trapping small animals.
Jesper lay sprawled atop a tiny knoll in the center of a small clearing in the woods. Already he had snared a trio of hares, and he was enjoying the late spring weather. He napped contentedly, the warmth of the sun on his face and the soft breath of the wind easing his worries for a time. The whistles of songbirds in the trees served as a lullaby to his troubled mind, and he slept peacefully for the first time since his arrival at Fornost. When he awoke, two more rabbits were caught in his nearby traps. He walked back to town to sell his day’s catch. Growing up in a forest homestead had its advantages, as the furs from the rabbits brought him a few extra silvers. He was even able to sell the rabbit meat to the cook at the Crown of Arnor, netting him a few coppers more. A few more Sundays would cover the money he had spent on his snares and other gear.
“If you always work this well, you might someday own a shop of your own.” Gorin supplied that compliment after Jesper had returned from his errands the following day, just after Gorin had closed the shop for the evening. Jesper was caught off-guard by the comment, since although Gorin was pleasant to Jesper, he was not outright friendly. The two didn’t normally converse much, except when discussing matters concerning the shop. Jesper had gotten the impression that Gorin was a man of action much more so than words. Gorin motioned to a stool next to the shop’s counter.
“Thank you Gorin, but I’d rather be a Ranger,” was Jesper’s reply as he took the offered seat.
“That’s not what your father would have wanted. That’s why he asked me to take you on here.”
“I know. But my father’s dead. And if I become a Ranger, I can avenge his death.”
“Avenge it? How? The orc that killed them is dead.”
“There are more orcs.”
“And every one would love to split your skull and gnaw the meat from your bones. Do you plan to kill them all?”
“No. But at least I will be doing something to even the score.”
“Even the score? Every orc between Bree and the Misty Mountains could be killed a hundred times over, and the score wouldn’t be close to even. Do you think you are the only one ever to suffer a loss at their hands? Just because the effects of their evil are rarely seen here does not mean that they are insignificant. Where do you think I got this limp? Chasing butterflies?
“Your father wanted more for you than death at the hands of the orcs. And believe me, if you become a Ranger, that is likely the fate that awaits you.”
“My father died at the hands of an orc. And my mother. And if not for those brave enough to hunt it down, I would have died as well. If my father had known how to defend himself, maybe he would still be alive!”
“If he knew how to def-....” Gorin’s face was turning red. “Your father...he knew how to defend himself. I knew him since before your birth, child. That’s why I agreed to have you work here instead of some local boy who knew his way around.”
“Then why didn’t he stop the orc?”
“Without a blade? You saw the beast. Was he supposed to tickle it to death?”
“You said he knew how to defend himself.”
“Knowing how and being able to are different matters entirely. Let me tell you about your father, then you will perhaps understand.”
“What could you know about my father that I don’t? I lived with him my whole life.” Jesper was irritated at the concept that someone would claim to know his parent better. It was his father, his memories.
“Do you think your father was always a woodsman, hunting squirrels and chopping logs? He was born in this very city, the son of a young soldier and his wife. He grew up roaming these streets.
“Let me tell you how I met your father. I was apprenticed to a merchant here in Fornost, and I was told to travel to a customer east of Bree with a load of trade goods. After making the delivery and picking up a load of cloth, I was looking forward to spending the evening at the Prancing Pony in Bree. But I got a wheel stuck in the mud, and it took me quite some time to dig it out. It was impossible to drive in the failing light, so I had to sleep under the wagon instead of in a comfortable bed.
“I don’t know what woke me, but I felt something was wrong. As soon as I crawled from beneath the wagon and stood, there was a snarl. I turned, and in the light of the half-moon I saw several figures approaching. I called to them, asking their business, but got no answer but raspy breath and the clink of armor. When they took a few more steps, I saw...well, you know what an orc looks like, so I have no need to describe them to you.”
Jesper nodded, but wondered what any of this had to do with his father.
“Well, they spread out and had me trapped with my back to the wagon. I could tell that there were four of them. There was no chance that my horse could pull the wagon fast enough to escape, even if I could reach it. I was sure I was orc meat. One of them jumped at me, and knocked me against the wagon. I fell to the ground and it landed on top of me.
“After a time the orc rolled off, but didn’t move. A voice to my side asked me if I was all right. I looked around, and saw that the orc that had jumped on me had an arrow sticking clean through its neck. Another of them had been feathered with two more arrows in the chest. The other orcs also lay motionless nearby. I couldn’t believe my luck; that somehow a group of armed men had happened by in time to save my life. I asked the man where his companions were, that had helped save me.
“I’ll never forget his answer. ‘I’m alone. I’m a Ranger,’ was all he said, plain as that. Imagine! One man killing four orcs single handedly!”
Jesper thought back to the brief but bloody battle in his home, between Finglorn and the orc. Finglorn had nearly lost that battle, and magic from Jerolas had likely saved him. Jesper tried to imagine Finglorn fighting four orcs at once, but couldn’t imagine a positive result.
“That man,” Gorin continued, “was your father, Jesper. He was one of the Dunedain, of ancient blood.”
Jesper was thunderstruck. His father, a Ranger? “If...if he was a Ranger, then why was he so strongly against me becoming one?”
“After your father saved me, I joined the Rangers myself. It seemed a lot more important than hauling ale back and forth. Often, your father and I fought together. For more than a dozen years we fought orcs and other creatures. Our swords were our wives, and death was our brood. We knew nothing else, and wanted nothing else.
“Then, one night while we patrolled the forest northeast of Bree for orcs, we smelled smoke in the air. We sped to its source, to find a village in flames. Dozens of orcs were running about, slaying the townsfolk and putting homes to the torch. There were five of us that night, and nearly forty orcs, but we could not watch without acting. We ran in as stealthily as we could, and five orcs were down without our presence being known. But the next orc we came upon screamed as it died, and we were discovered. An arrow from the darkness took down Baramar, a Ranger for but a few years. We fought well, but Langir was next to fall. At least his head was. His body stood for a moment longer, as if he hadn’t noticed the axe that swept through his neck. We fought our way free, leaving a dozen new orc corpses behind.
“There were still people screaming in the village, so we tried again. This time we managed to kill a half-dozen more, and the rest ran, some of them dragging villagers along. One of the orcs managed to bury its blade halfway into my thigh before it died. That’s where I got my limp. ” Gorin stopped for a moment. “The things we saw that night...I thought, after all those years, that no atrocity of the orcs could yet surprise me. How wrong I was. The choices we were forced to make that night would have made even an elf weep.”
Jesper wasn’t sure he wanted to hear this part of the tale. “If you don’t want to talk about it, please don’t.”
“No. You want to be a Ranger. You should know what you would face.” Gorin paused a moment, gathering breath, then continued, “The people screaming...we ran to help. The orcs...” Gorin's voice cracked. “They had...tortured...them. Some of them had their skin peeled off. The orcs had covered others in straw and lit them with a torch. Some of them had chunks of their flesh ripped out. One had his belly slit open, and his entrails were draped along a fence next to him.
“And not a one of those was dead when we found them.”
Jesper gasped. His stomach was churning, and his head felt light. He leaned over the waste barrel and vomited. Then vomited again. His stomach empty, he stood. Gorin was watching him intently.
“They say that a king’s hands are healing hands,” Gorin went on. “But a hundred kings could not have saved any of them. The only thing we could offer those people was a faster death, so that is what we provided. Your father was leading us that night, and he did the job himself. Every one of them. Imagine that choice. Rangers, sworn to protect, forced to end lives as a mercy. A few of the villagers were tied nearby, those who hadn’t had their turn yet. I almost envied the dead. Those people had to watch the orcs’ work, had to listen to the screams. And it was their families, their neighbors. I’m sure they relived that night every time they slept, for the rest of their lives.
“Out of fifty-two residents in that village, eight lived. Five of them had managed to reach the woods during the raid. The other three were those that had been next in line for torture. By counting the bodies we realized that the orcs had taken a handful of villagers with them as they fled.
“That was our next choice to make. We knew we could catch the orcs, slowed by their prisoners and with dawn on the way. But to chase them meant leaving the survivors behind, and they were in no condition to care for themselves. They sat mindless together, unblinking, unresponsive. Leaving them would mean that a straggling orc could kill them all, or perhaps they would kill themselves or each other out of despair. However, not chasing the orcs would guarantee horrible deaths for the captives.
“Your father made the decision. Although we knew we could catch the orcs, we couldn’t know if they would have killed the prisoners first. But the eight we had saved needed us, and they were at hand. We knew what the decision meant.
“We set out for Bree with the survivors. On the way, one of them walked straight into a bog near the Midgewater Marshes. She didn’t even try to pull herself out. She just kept trying to walk deeper into the bog, and further from those of us trying to save her.
“In Bree we left the remaining seven survivors at the guild of healers there, and we went to the Prancing Pony to try to blur the memory with ale and firebreathers. It didn’t work at all. In the morning we found Tarkimir, the other Ranger with us, and a childhood friend of your father, swinging from a rope in his room. His face was covered in blood: he had dug his eyes out of his skull. Even blind, he must not have been able to hide from the memory. I have to admit, after what we had witnessed, that I didn’t blame him.
“That is when your father decided to give up the sword. At the time, he simply stopped. Months later, when he could put it to words, he explained his decision to me. ‘For fourteen years, all I have seen is death. I have been death. And why? If we are death, and the orcs are death, then what difference? I must see life again, lest I become an orc myself.’ I understood him, then, since I felt it somewhat myself. He must have felt it even more strongly, since he was the one who made the choices that night. And he was the one who used a knife to end their suffering. All that killing, all that we had seen over the years, it makes a person hollow inside. You can’t afford emotions, since they just make things hurt more.
“Myself, I wanted to keep killing orcs, but a Ranger who can’t move swiftly is a dead Ranger. I sought out my old employer, and he gave me a job working here. When he died, he passed ownership of the shop to me.
“Your father met your mother in Bree, and they moved up here near Fornost, away from what he thought was even the chance of an orc raid. He wanted to live the rest of his life without even a reminder of his past. That is why he was so adamant that you didn’t become a Ranger, or pursue a military career. He knew that you would either die or have your soul hollowed out like his had been. Either of those would have killed him, I think.
“Do you understand, now?” Gorin's piercing gaze fixed Jesper in place.
“Better, I think. But I still want to be a Ranger.”
Gorin had a strange expression, somehow pleasantly surprised and disappointed at the same time. “Explain.”
“Father’s decision to move far away to protect us didn’t help. He and Mother are dead anyway. I think you can’t avoid Sauron’s evil. You either face it, or it will come to you.”s
Gorin nodded, acknowledging the reasoning of Jesper’s statement. “Is that all?”
“No,” Jesper answered. “I also believe that if I become a Ranger, someone else won’t have to. Someone else can enjoy the full, peaceful life that was denied to my father. That has already been denied to me. There is great need for Rangers. If not me, then who?”
“In that case, you will need to be trained. I will talk to some of my connections. They will want to meet you first, but if you have potential they will begin your training as a Ranger.”
Jesper was stunned by Gorin's apparent sudden change in opinion. He felt as though perhaps he had just passed some kind of test.
Gorin produced a key from his belt and unlocked an old chest that he had never before opened in Jesper’s presence. From this chest he withdrew a narrow bundle wrapped in thick leather. “You will also need a blade.” Setting the bundle down on the counter in front of Jesper, he nimbly untied the cord that held it closed. Unfolding the leather, he revealed a long, straight-edged sword, sheathed in its scabbard. The hilt was finely detailed in the pattern of a white tree, its pommel serving as the base of the tree and the guard the branches. The scabbard had small metal discs embossed with the white tree, the Tree of Gondor, spaced along its length.
Jesper knew that the sword was worth a small fortune. Having made a habit of examining all the swords the patrons of the Crown were required to hang before entering the dining area, he knew this was a blade of exceptional quality.
Gorin slowly drew the blade from the scabbard, and even in the now-dim shop it glinted fiercely. “Dwarf-forged.” He slid the blade back into place.
Gorin fixed Jesper with his gaze once more, his eyes searching out any sign of doubt in Jesper’s mind. Satisfied, he stated, with much respect in his voice, “Your father’s sword.”
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DISCLAIMER: The following material is based on the Arda presented by MUME rather than Tolkein. As a result, there may be large differences between the two. Please forgive the author his (rather extravagant) poetic license.
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