[Shameless self-promotion mode=on]
Mae govannen! This story isn’t exactly a sequel to a previous series I have submitted to CSTM, but many of the same characters will appear. The Long Road Home was my first submission to CSTM, and leads into the story here. It’s not necessary for this series, but there is some background in my first series.
[/Shameless self-promotion mode]
The ride from Gondor to Bree was long.
It was dangerous, too. But Danyelle didn’t fear the bandits or the orcs or the other hazards of the road. Her companions were revered by the goodly folk and feared by rest.
She had been sitting in her letters class when the message arrived from her sister that she was to come all the way from Minas Tirith to the backwoods town of Bree. She was to leave all that she had known behind. At first, she thought the messenger to be a kidnapper or someone who had a score to settle with her father or sister, perhaps.
That inkling vanished when the herald turned out to be Captain-General Calebril Isarawyn, a legendary warrior in the armies of the Free Peoples. He and his retinue were resplendent in their shining armour, their battle flags flying from their saddles.
So renowned were they, even the captains of Gondor bowed to them.
Captain-General Isarawyn presented a locket that had once belonged to Danyelle’s mother, along with a handwritten letter from her sister, Cayleigh, instructing her to gather her things and make the journey across Eriador.
The teachers and her friends at the boarding school were sad to see her go, although the honour guard of high-ranking and esteemed warriors stepped Danyelle up a peg or five in prestige among her classmates.
Even with the swiftest mounts, the journey would be long and perilous.
The first days of the trek were difficult for Danyelle, who had never lived outside of the city since she and Cayleigh had been orphaned those many years ago. Sleeping on the hard ground reminded her of being homeless, begging for scraps of food and finding a warm, dry spot to lay down where ever they could. The strange sounds of the birds and the woods and the streams were so different from the hustle and bustle of the streets, and it took her some time to get used to them.
Her companions tried their best to make the journey easy on her. Once they were outside the walls of Gondor, they changed from their polished, ceremonial armour into well-worn, but equally well-maintained armour that was functional rather than pretty.
“Don’t call me ‘Captain-General’,” their leader said kindly around the campfire one night. “I hate that. ‘Calebril’ will be fine.”
Although there was some amount of distrust among the races, no one doubted Calebril’s fealty to the cause of the Free Peoples, nor his skill in battle. He was a mighty champion who, according to the stories whispered in quiet reverence, had been fighting the minions of Mordor for over three millennia. His fair Elven skin and flowing golden locks belied the strong, corded muscles that wielded a pair of swords which seemed to sing as they cut through foes.
Also in the party were two other elves, Calebril’s daughter, a rune-keeper of no small repute, and her husband, a hunter who spoke sparingly but was always kind to Danyelle. Their fourth companion was a large, profane man who told bawdy stories around the campfire, and who stank of sweat and ale. He carried a shield that was outweighed Danyelle by a stone or two and a longsword that was nearly as tall as she. Despite his apparent disdain for social niceties, Danyelle found herself liking the big man who charged headlong into battle with little regard for his own safety.
As their days on the road lengthened, the elves and the man taught her the basics of swordplay and archery. They showed her how to hunt and clean animals to eat, and how to gather food in the wilderness.
“One day, you will have to make your place in this world,” Calebril told her. “Even if you never leave Bree, you must have skills to share and contribute to those around you. You have survived with your wits and your cunning, but these alone will not help you in every situation.”
“What can I do?” Danyelle asked.
“Anything you want, young lady,” the elf replied. “Your sister has made quite a name for herself as a warrior. Even if she had not been taken in to Commander Osgood’s house, her renown is formidable in her own right.”
“What if that is not the life I want?”
“You must find your way in the world as you see fit,” Calebril said gently. He waved his arm at their companions and the open road. “This life we have chosen is not for everyone. It is hard, especially for the short-lived peoples. Many leave their families behind, knowing they will probably not live to have children of their own. We have buried many friends; orcs and brigands do not show mercy. But you have a life ahead of you, and I sense that yours will be one of great things.”
“What would you do, if you weren’t fighting?” Danyelle asked.
“I am a painter, although I’m not a very good one.”
She didn’t believe those words for a moment. Even though she had only known him for a matter of days, Danyelle sensed that he was the kind of elf who excelled at whatever he put his mind to. And if he was half as good with a brush as he was with a blade, his oils were worthy of museums.
Danyelle spent the next couple of days thinking on what the Elven champion had told her, and wondering what lay ahead in her new life.
They finally arrived in Bree, the five companions riding through the homesteads to where she would be living. Her new home was a magnificent, well-groomed manor. A handsome man and equally beautiful woman waited on the steps as they dismounted. From her companions’s stories, she knew them to be Commander Angelos Osgood, and his wife, Second-Marshall Mirabella Osgood. Danyelle looked around for her sister, but Cayleigh was not there.
A great scar ran down Angelos’s face and he was missing two fingers from his sword hand. Mirabella leaned on her staff and smiled warmly.
“Hail, Captain-General!” he called formally.
“Well met, Commander,” Calebril replied, the laughter of old friends in his voice. They clasped one another in a warm embrace. Danyelle had heard stories of Angelos and his family, of their nobility and of their ferocity in battle.
“Angelos, this is Danyelle, Daughter of Renton.”
“Welcome to Bree, my dear,” his deep tone was surprisingly gentle.
“Thank you, my lord,” Danyelle bowed. “I am honoured to be here.”
“Call me, Angelos, and call my wife Mirabella,” he said in a booming voice. He was stern, yet kind. Danyelle instantly found herself desperately wanting to not disappoint this man. “We don’t stand on formalities here. Your sister sends her regrets. She is on her way back from Rivendell.”
Danyelle was a little disappointed, but she knew that Cayleigh would not have gone on unless the need was great, and she wanted to hear stories of the cities of the elves.
The Osgoods’s retainers led the companions into the house, and showed Danyelle to the room she would share with Cayleigh. A hot bath and change of clothes awaited her before she met the others for dinner.
“Will you be joining us in the field, Angelos?” Calebril asked at the great table. “We could use you in Dunland. Someone needs to cleanse the warrens beneath Orthanc.”
“My sword is always ready,” he said, a trace of bitterness in his voice. “But my hand doesn’t like to hold it anymore.”
“Your presence is needed more than your blade,” Mirabella chided him gently.
“That it is,” Calebril nodded in assent. “We have scores of fighters but no one to lead them. We need someone to plant the banner on a hill and hold the line for all to see. And no one’s standard strikes more fear into reavers and defilers than the eagle crest of the Osgoods.”
“They follow you,” the other man replied.
“Only because I charge headfirst into long odds,” the elf replied. “I am no grand strategist and you know it. I lead with my swords, but that will not win this war. You see the big picture.”
“I only see half a picture now, Calebril,” Angelos said softly.
“My friend,” the elf set his goblet on the table and looked his compatriot in the eye. “Your family has been among my staunchest allies for a dozen generations. Men, dwarves, elves and the halflings will rally to your call, as they did for your father, his father and his father before him all the way back to Kael Osgood. There are other captains of men who are good leaders, but they are young to this war. The forces of Mordor and Isengard are up to something. I don’t know if it has to do with Elrond’s secret mission or something else, but we need you, Angelos. I need you.”
The other man snorted, but committed to nothing. Danyelle remained silent, watching the exchange and wanting to hear the story of Angelos’s missing eye and half hand. They retired late in the evening, the elf trying desperately to convince his friend to take up his sword again.
When she awoke the next morning, her four companions had already departed, returning to a war that had been raging for centuries.
Although they had left without taking their leave, Danyelle found her name on a note attached to a perfectly-balanced greatsword that seemed to be made just to fit in her hands. In Calebril’s flowing cursive, it said simply:
Follow your heart.
Sleep whenever you can.
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