Here it is! The 7th and final piece of “The Long Road Home” series by Vraeden of Elendilmir. If you’re just joining the story now, you should go back and read the first six parts of the series first!
I’d like to thank Vraeden for his excellent story and sharing it with us here at CSTM! I hope you are already working on your next short story!
Cayleigh rode at the head of the column, her head held high. She would not let anyone see her break down.
By the time they wound their way through the homesteads, they had attracted a small following. Riders had gone ahead; surely the news had already reached Garald’s home. They made their way along to the first house on High Street, and turned into the magnificent manor on the crest of the hill.
Commander Angelos Osgood stood on the steps of his family’s house, his face grave. Like Garald, he was a handsome man with broad shoulders, a barrel chest and the confident manner of one fit to command. His one remaining eye was filled with sadness. His wife, Mirabella, stood at his side, leaning on her staff to keep from shaking.
As the companions approached, Angelos and Mirabella descended the walk with sharp, deliberate steps. Squires took the reins of the horses and ponies as the five friends dismounted. It was an odd honour guard for the fallen captain: a dwarf, a hobbit, two elves and a fierce, diminutive woman. The watchers and taggers-along stopped at the road.
“My lord,” Cayleigh bowed deeply to the man who stood a head and a half taller than she. “We have brought your son home.”
“Aye,” he whispered. He patted Cayleigh on the shoulder, before walking past to see Garald’s body. He lay on the funeral carriage, still in the ancient armour of his family. Flowers covered his body, which had been carefully preserved by Vraeden’s elven magick.
Cayleigh stepped back as Angelos and Mirabella touched his still cheeks, oblivious to the stares of the others. No one spoke for a long moment. Cayleigh could tell that Angelos and his wife had buried many of their friends, and knew from her conversations with Garald that they had already outlived one son. Their grief would be private, not a spectacle for the world to see.
“Come in,” Angelos said gravely. “Garald’s companions are always welcome in our home.”
The Osgoods’ squires produced a litter and carried Garald’s body from the hearse into the great hall, where they gently lay him in state.
Cayleigh stepped forward as those present gathered to pay their respects. “Before he died, Garald asked me to return these to you, my lord.”
The family’s banner was carefully folded, the watchful eyes of the eagle showing on its crest. Angelos unfurled the standard and instructed his herald to fly it from the great mast on the front lawn. He also took Garald’s greatsword, his hands running over the pommel with the familiarity of one who had wielded that weapon for many years.
“Gavin!” he called to one of his kin. “Instruct the forge-master to light the furnaces. It’s time to melt down Skyblade.”
“You can’t . . . my lord,” Cayleigh stammered. “That’s Garald’s sword!”
“I can, and I will,” Angelos snapped, perhaps a little more harshly than he meant. His eye softened after a second. “And it’s not Garald’s weapon. It was mine once, and it looks like it is mine again.”
An uncomfortable silence fell over the assembled group. No one wanted to upset anyone else, least of all the parents of their fallen friend.
“Tell me of my son, friends,” Angelos said softly.
“Garald died with honour,” Cayleigh started, but he held up his hand to stop her.
“My dear,” the father said, a sad smile on his lips. A great scar ran from his forehead to his chin, right through the eye that was sewn shut. His full beard was gray with age and wisdom. He reached out to Cayleigh and took her hand. “I don’t care how Garald died. Tell me how he lived.”
For the rest of the afternoon, they sat around the hall and shared stories of their son and friend. Mirabella told of the time Garald first tried to heft his father’s sword and nearly chopped the tail off her pet lynx. The group erupted with laughter as Sally recounted Garald’s exasperation at being sent all over the Shire delivering pies, and how he only wanted to smash them over the heads of the fussy hobbits by the end of the day. As always, Braggar’s story involved drinking and a bar brawl: Garald “recruited” him into the company by bailing him out of jail and then took him on the road with the rest of them.
The elves sang a set of the campfire songs Garald enjoyed; some bawdy, some somber, some simply joyful. Angelos recounted the day he came home from the war, his eye torn out and one hand mangled by a viscous warg in an assault on Tol Ascarnan, and how Garald—even at the young age of fourteen—vowed to take up his father’s sword and carry the banner of the Free People.
Cayleigh volunteered nothing, and none of the others asked.
As the sun faded from the sky, the Osgoods and their kin gathered around the house to celebrate the life of their friend and fellow. They threw a grand feast in Garald’s memory, and welcomed the five companions into their circle as if they were kin. They were prepared to return to an inn in Bree, but the Osgoods would hear nothing of it. Comfortable rooms were provided for the company and Cayleigh retired early, wanting to be alone with her private grief.
She cried herself to sleep, curled up in the corner of a strange bedroom.
Just before daybreak, there was a heavy knock on the door. Cayleigh blinked the sleep from her eyes and was surprised to find Angelos and Mirabella at her door. Neither spoke as Garald’s mother helped her dress in a traveling hauberk.
They departed by horseback to a nearby forge hidden deep within the woods outside Bree. As she approached, she saw that it was tended by four master smiths: two dwarves, a man and an elf. Her eyes grew wide when she realised that it had been fired all night. She recognised ancient runes of power carved into the heavy stone of the forge and the khazad-steel anvils.
“Are you familiar with weaponsmithing?” Angelos asked.
“I’m not a very good one,” she admitted sheepishly.
“Then it’s good that I am,” he winked. The three of them dismounted their horses and Mirabella handed Cayleigh a smith’s apron.
She drew in a sharp breath when Angelos drew Garald’s greatsword from its scabbard and placed it in the furnace. As the sun rose, the dwarves led the seven of them in the songs of the forges and mines. When the steel of the blade turned white and then became nearly transparent, Angelos pulled it from the fire and thrust it quickly into a tub of water.
Through the cloud of steam, he then raised his hammer over the anvil and, tears streaming down his cheeks, shattered the blade into a thousand pieces. It erupted with a deafening blast of power and Cayleigh had to steady her feet or be knocked to the ground.
The smiths gathered the fragments of the weapon and placed them in the furnace to be smelted in with blocks of khazad-bronze and khazad-iron.
“Do you know why I broke my sword?” Angelos asked as they waited for the ingots to melt.
“No, my lord,” Cayleigh said. A part of her was angry that he would destroy a weapon that obviously meant a lot to him and his son.
“Don’t call me that, Cayleigh. And don’t call me ‘Commander’ or ‘Lord Osgood’. ‘Angelos’ will do fine,” he said gently. “That sword was once mine. I forged it right here the day after my father died. You see, that blade has been reforged half a dozen times. Whenever it is passed along, it is broken and remade. When a warg took my eye and part of my hand, I gave it to Garald, just as my father passed to me and his father passed it to him. He was to reforge it when he had completed a quest and then make my weapon into his own.”
“What was the quest?”
“To obtain a Symbol of Celebrimbor,” Angelos replied. “Unfortunately, I don’t have one.”
Cayleigh’s jaw dropped, thinking that he had broken his sword for naught.
“But I do have something else.” Angelos summoned his herald who handed him a plain wooden box. He lifted the cover. “This is a Symbol of the Elder King, a very rare relic of the First Age.”
“My lor—er, Angelos! Where did you get this?”
“Ask my wife, Second Marshall Mirabella Osgood,” he winked. The other woman only shrugged and smiled mischeviously. Like Cayleigh, she was quiet and spoke sparingly, but the warrior found that Garald’s mother had a wry sense of humour and a warm, welcoming embrace. “Let us shape a new weapon.”
For the rest of the morning, the seven smiths forged a new sword. Cayleigh joined them in song as they first smithed dark iron blades and dark iron pommels. It felt good to work alongside Garald’s mother and father, and be doing something other than mourning her lost lover. They infused khazad-steel ingots with mithril, and then combined them with the fragments of Garald’s blade and the symbol Mirabella had plundered from the depths of Ost Dunholth.
When they were done, the sun was at its zenith and Angelos pounded out the final strokes in the new sword. Its blade was lined with runes that would aid its wielder in battle, and it seemed to crackle with power.
As the smiths gathered up their metal and tools, Angelos took the sword in his single full hand and swung it in wide arcs, following a martial form he had committed to memory two score and ten years ago. The others left and the furnace began to cool. Mirabella sat on a small stone bench, gently stroking the great bear who lay at her feet.
Angelos produced a new sheath from his saddle and cradled the blade in his arms, as a man might cradle his newborn child. He motioned for Cayleigh to sit with he and his wife. Beneath the great oak trees, they listened to the birds and the wind.
“You and Garald were betrothed, were you not?” Mirabella asked in a kind voice. Cayleigh nodded. Garald’s mother drew out a letter and Cayleigh recognised her beloved’s crisp handwriting, even though she could not read it very well. One of the oddities of Middle-Earth is that no matter what trials and tribulations a person may be experiencing, the mail is always delivered. “He intended to ask you to be his wife.”
Privately, Cayleigh feared that conversation. She was simply a beggar from the streets of Gondor. Garald was from a family with a long and proud tradition of service in the armies of the Free People. She thought she was beneath him.
“The Osgood name has no heir,” Mirabella continued. “Both of our sons are dead, and we will not be bringing any more into the world. Tell me, are you with child?”
“No,” Cayleigh shook her head, and the tears came again. Though she would not want to give birth to a son or daughter who would never know their father, at least then she would still have a part of Garald with her. Mirabella pulled the girl in to a tight embrace.
“My dear, we would like you to be our heir,” Angelos said quietly. “Garald always spoke highly of you, as do your companions.”
It took Cayleigh a moment to find her voice. “You would take their word?”
“Let me tell you something about your friends: there is no better group of warriors in all of Eriador you would rather be fighting alongside,” he winked. “My family has been fighting with those two elves for almost two hundred years. They are a reminder of the bond that was once shared between elves and men. They think the world of you, Master Braggar and Miss Salvatina. If they tell me that your character is pure, then you are.”
“But, my . . . Angelos, I have no name, no family,” Cayleigh breathed, ashamed. “I have no honour.”
“Bah! Your honour is your life!” Angelos snorted. “We all make our own honour. And you, young lady, have more honour than half of these ‘knights’ that roam Eriador with no deeds under their belt and a sword their father bought. And as for your name and family: now you have ours.”
“I would be honoured,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “I will not disappoint you.”
“I trust not,” Angelos replied too gruffly to be serious. “I wouldn’t have you carry this sword if I thought you would disappoint me.”
Cayleigh’s eyes grew wide as she took the sword from her “father”. “I cannot . . .”
“You have to,” he said with a wink. “It’s already been forged, and it will not be broken again until you grow old and beautiful like my wife, and my grandchild makes it again! Besides, I cannot wield it with only one eye and half a hand.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, taking the sword that was remade from her betrothed’s blade. As they forged the new blade, she thought it odd that it was shorter than Garald’s greatsword. Now that she held it in her hands, she felt its perfect balance. For her, it would take two hands to wield, but Angelos could heft it in his single full hand. Cayleigh instantly knew that no other person would ever wield this blade. Once strapped across her back, it seemed the perfect companion to the longsword and shield she had received from the elves.
She felt as if she could overpower any foe with it in her grasp.
Angelos and Mirabella held her close and the three grieved Garald’s death together.
Three days later, they buried Garald in the family crypt, surrounded by the ghosts of his ancestors. His armour would never fit Cayleigh, so Angelos and Mirabella lovingly packed it away to await its next wearer. A stone likeness topped his sarcophagus, the carved face seemingly a perfect image of her beloved.
The five companions rode out the next morning, their journey to Imladris delayed long enough. Cayleigh’s armour now bore the crest of the eagle, and the banner of the Osgoods—her family—flew from her saddle. Arrangements had been made to bring her sister from Gondor to Bree so that she might live with their new family, and although she now had a room as one of Angelos and Mirabella’s kin, she heard the call of the open road.
For it was the only place she ever truly felt comfortable, and despite all of the mud and the cold and the danger, it would always be her home.
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