Trials of Manhood by Rhymer

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Story Notes:

This was written for Back to Middle Earth Month 2015, and was posted on LJ back in March. It was written for the following prompt by Kayleelupin: "While Aragorn is travelling during his time as Thorongil […] he meets up with Gandalf, who is likewise travelling. They share an adventure…"

Howver, this is something of a sideways response to the prompt. Aragorn and Gandalf do indeed have an adventure, and it's an epic one, full of thrilling heroics and desperate deeds. However, said thrilling adventure is seen through the eyes of a boy who stumbles onto the periphery of their tale, and sees only fragments of it. Secondly, in LotR, Gandalf says "to the East I go not," but this is set in the very westerly parts of "East," with huge expanses of more Easty "East" off eastwards. I am stubbornly believing that by "the East" Gandalf means these eastier bits of East, and this adventure in the westy bits of East therefore Doesn't Count.

It was the flies that first betrayed the wounded man. Without the flies, Bedir would never have found him.

Would anything have turned out differently if he had not?

Perhaps not.

That was how he told the story afterwards, anyway, in the dark times when stories were all that was left to them. He would smile ruefully by the camp fire, the movement pulling at the blade scar on his cheek. Faces surrounded him, eyes gleaming in the flickering light. Young men's faces, all, who had never known a settled life. Wolves howled in the darkness beyond the circle of their wains.

Later, much later, he would tell it differently again. He was old then, and his braided hair was brittle and grey. He was more than half blind, the fire in the hearth just a faint glow, with dark faceless shapes that passed before it, and stopped, sometimes, and spoke his name.

Would anything have turned out differently if he had not seen those flies?


"I was young then," he would tell them, brushing paper-dry fingers against their cheeks. "Younger even than you. Young and foolish beneath a fading sky, and the night promised to be so very cold…"


An arm's length away, a small cloud of flies scattered, buzzing in irritation. Instinctively Bedir flapped at them, and the back of his hand brushed a spear of tanglethorn, rattling its twigs. His breath caught, and he shrank lower to the ground, his stinging right hand pressed to his mouth. A fly landed on his dangling braid, paused a moment, then flew away.

Rising slowly, he took a soft step forward, his back hunched to keep himself from breaking the surface of the field of fronds. Tiny beads of blood were forming in a line on the back of his hand. A fly came to investigate, but moved on, drawn by riper pickings.

Riper pickings…? Just as the thought struck him, he saw the blood. There was not much of it, and it was dark and sticky, at least a few hours old. Two flies, bolder than the rest, remained on it, even as he drew close to look. A wounded animal? No, the blood was too high above the ground. High enough for a boy, though…

His breathing quickened. He pushed his hair back, but a beadless braid slithered forward again, reminding him of what he had to lose; no, of what he had to gain.  He was both hunter and hunted in this game. It could be a trap. It could be.

He could not take that risk. A boy, a wounded boy; he would assume it was that. The boy would be as skilled as he was in hunting and in going unseen. More skilled, whispered the small part of him that spoke with a coward's heart. Not as skilled as me, said the part that had already pictured the golden beads of victory threaded through his hair.

Where would he go, this rival of his, this wounded boy? The flies scattered again, startled by his sudden movement. He tried a dozen paces in all directions, searching for signs as he had been taught. His quarry was a clever one, that was for sure. Murat, he wondered, or Erdogan? The ground was hard from the unseasonal frost, and showed no tracks. No leaves were bent, no fronds were broken…

It was a bird that betrayed the wounded man that second time. Still half fearing a trap, Bedir stood up to his full height, and looked out at the crags beyond the sea of withered brown. He was looking for carrion birds, seeking clues from that. Instead he saw a red-wing alight on the nearest rock, and saw it instantly rise up again, shouting its alarm call. As if something had moved there. As if something was alive there, gone to ground between the leaning mounds of stone.  

He was both hunter and hunted, but to win, he had to be bold.

He covered the ground quickly, but not too fast to cover his tracks, not perfectly, but well enough, or so he hoped. As he neared the crags, he slowed his pace, and dropped down low. By the end, he was crawling. He drew his hunting knife, the blade silent against the soft leather sheath. Movement above him made him crane his neck, but it was just a shrieker bird circling for prey. Go away, he told it, because there is no prey here but mine.  

It was just as he had thought it would be. The crags were vast blocks of stone, cast on the scrubland like the gaming dice of long-dead giants. Some of the blocks leant in on each other, and at times there were gaps like caves between them. Just as he had thought…? No, just as he remembered. Long ago, he and Murat had made a den here, living on dew and berries for two whole days, until hunger had driven them home.

He had forgotten all about that until now, but perhaps Murat had not. Perhaps this was Murat, once friend, now rival…

He took a breath; exhaled; took another breath. He had been two nights out in the cold, and had yet to claim a single braid. Knife ready in his hand. Quiet. Quiet. He was against the crag now, his left hand pressed against the cold rock face. The den was three paces away, no sign of disturbance on the ground outside. Two paces. One. His body still ached with the memory of last night's cold, but the knife was slick in his palm. He made no sound. Above him, the shrieker bird screamed and moved on. He turned his head, readying himself, and there was it: a tiny smear of dried blood at shoulder height on the rock.

Silent as a wraith, he slipped into the darkness between the crags of stone. He was grabbed almost instantly, a hand across his mouth, another gripping his wrist. He tried to cry out, then remembered how old he was, and tried to fight instead. The hands tightened. He felt his grip slackening; felt the knife beginning to slip from his hands.

This was no boy.

"You are alone." He thought it was a question, but perhaps it was not. The man's accent was almost like that of the eastern clans, but not quite.

The hand left his mouth, but he would not answer. The knife slipped away from him, but he did not hear it fall.

"Alone," the man said, "and you are but a boy."

"I'm fourteen!" Bedir protested. "This is my Trial of Manhood. After tomorrow, or the day after, or maybe as much as a ten-day span, I'll be a man!"

Or cast out. Or disgraced. A serf, a labourer, forced to wear his hair short, with no beads and no blade and no lord to know his name.

"A boy," the man said.

Outside it was late afternoon on a clouded day. Here in the entrance to the den, it was dark twilight. Two steps further in, it was deep night. Accustomed to the daylight, Bedir's eyes could see very little, but he could see the blade: his own blade in the man's right hand. At least he still had his… "Oh." The sound slipped from his lips, childish, ridiculous. Movement at his hip, and he felt himself being disarmed. "Who are you?" He had not meant to ask that; certainly hadn't meant it to sound like that, like a boy with his voice half unbroken.

"No threat to you," the man said, "if you will be no threat to me." His voice was soft, like a peace offering, but there was something about it in the darkness that was close to a command.

The blood, Bedir remembered. The blood had brought him here. This man's blood? The hand across his mouth had been so very cold, even as Bedir's own breath had warmed it. Had it trembled? Grey light glinted on the knife blade, and it was steady as any warrior's blade had ever been.

"No threat," Bedir said. He would bide his time. If the man was indeed wounded, then Bedir could… What? He had always had teachers, both greybeards and warriors, to show him the way. "Are you… Are you hurt?" he found himself asking.

The man withdrew into the darkness. Bedir could hear his breathing, and there was a faint rasp to it, like his grandsire's breathing before he had gone beneath his mound. Cold, his skin had been; so very cold. Wound sickness normally brought heat, fierce enough that a warrior could die of it.

Bedir took a step backwards, standing half in the shadow and half in the slanting daylight. Evening was falling fast, and the great rocks grasped the coldness of the night and would not let it go, even when sunlight shone outside. "Do you need…?"

The man was a stranger; that much at least could Bedir tell. Strangers who came unbidden into a lord's domain should be bound in chains and dragged to the lord's hall to account for themselves. But his accent was like the accent of the eastern clans, and they were his lord's enemies, rivals in the never-ending trial of manhood that all lords waged.

There was silence, nothing but the man's breathing. Bedir had wept to hear his grandsire's final wheezings. Only a child then, he had been: not yet old enough to reside in the boy's house and sleep on boards, nursing blade-blisters on his hands. Only a child. Just four years ago. Only a stupid child.

"Do you need any help?" Bedir asked.

The man said nothing, but Bedir heard him sitting down. No, he was sliding down against the damp rock face, falling rather than sitting. Bedir began to reach towards him, then drew his hand back. The fading light of the day showed him the thick smears of fresh blood that marred the leather thongs at his wrist, where the man had held him.

He almost walked away then. He should not stay here. It would be dark soon, but not so soon that he couldn't get a few more miles in before it was too dark to see, and perhaps a few more miles after that. Had he left a trail? Maybe Murat would remember their old den, and come to find him. This was his third night out in the cold, and his lips were cracked and his fingers were criss-crossed with scratches. This was his Trial of Manhood. Nothing mattered but coming out of it with honour. Nothing mattered but winning the right to abase himself before his lord.


"What do you have to do," the man asked, "in your Trial of Manhood?" Could the man see his face clearly? Bedir was standing in the entrance to the crevice, outlines by the dying light. His feelings had always been painted clearly on his face, or so the teachers sternly told him. It was one of his weaknesses, one of the worst.

Bedir whirled on him. "Don't you know? Don't they have it in the east?" But of course they didn't. They were savage barbarians, all of them. Everyone but his lord's clan, who had dragged themselves free from years of nomadic wandering, and staked out their homeland and their horse runs. Other clans had done exactly the same, or so said the traders, with their silks and their swords, their tales and their trinkets, but what did they know? Everyone but his own clan spoke lies as easily as breathing.

"All boys grow into men," said the man, this fork-tongued stranger, "and their elders mark it with…" There was the faintest catch to his breathing. "Tests," he said, "or gifts or duties. In the west and in the east…"

"I care nothing of the west!" Bedir stepped towards him, and almost tripped over him. The man was not where he had expected him to be; not where he had sounded. The man had his blade and his knife.

The man was hurt.

"In the west," the man said quietly, "they would call you Easterlings, although you live so close to Rhovanion, and there are so many endless leagues of East beyond you." His voice was almost sing-song, as if he was lapsing into dreaming. Bedir reached towards him; almost withdrew, but carried on. When his hand was close enough to feel the man's breathing, it was grasped and held in a grip as cold and strong as steel.

Bedir gasped, and the man released him. Bedir recoiled, and maybe it was because he was no longer blocking the entrance, or maybe it was because his eyes were growing accustomed to the dark, but he saw the man for the first time. It was just his hand at first, and a torn and filthy sleeve. His face was still shadowed, but Bedir thought it was pale. Then back to the hand again, where he saw the glint of metal at the wrist.

This time the man did nothing to stop him from touching. Bedir's fingers glanced over the back of the man's chilled hand, and rested on the iron band around his wrist. "You're a slave?"

"No." It was quiet, but it had the finality of a stone dropped in deep water. Bedir could no more have doubted that 'no' than he could have flown.

"You were a prisoner." The iron was cold, but the wrist felt colder. Bedir could feel the man's heartbeat fluttering beneath his skin, too fast and too unsteady. But the man's grip had been firm, impossible to break until it had pleased him to let go.

"For but a little while," the man said.

Two chain links were still attached to the band, the second one misshapen as if it had been half melted by a fierce flame that had left the adjoining link untouched. "You escaped," Bedir said.

"I did." The man laughed softly. "It was quite the tale."

Bedir let the hand fall. With every rasp of the man's breathing, he saw things more clearly. The man's braid was dark and tangled, his hair matted at the side of his head. His clothes were too dark for Bedir to see where he was bleeding, but even in the dankness of this hole beneath the rock, he could smell the blood.

There were slimy things beneath him, and things that skittered in the dark.

"My lord's sigil is the Red Sun," Bedir said, because he needed suddenly, quite fiercely, to hear words. "If you come from any of the other clans, then you're my lord's enemy. We're always fighting. That's how my father died. But I haven't heard of my lord taking any prisoners recently, and if a prisoner had escaped, the whole clan would be out, hunting you, and I can't hear any war horns and hunting dogs."

The man was silent for a while. Even his breathing was quiet. Dead! Bedir thought. He's dead! But then the man spoke again. "They are hunting me," he said, "but not your clan, and no longer close, I think."

Bedir let out a breath. "If you were a prisoner of my lord's enemies, you are no enemy of my lord's. He is not kind to strangers - what lord is? - but he won't kill you. Your pursuers won't find you in his lands. They wouldn't dare. They would be stopped."

Another silence. The man's eyes were closed, Bedir thought. "But those enemies have… allies," the man said. "Allies cloaked in darkness who can move like a shadow and pass unseen." He shifted position, cloth whispering against cloth. "I have seen them."

Something screamed in the twilight, not far away. Bedir's head snapped up, but the man said gently, "Just a howlet with its prey."

"I'm not afraid!" Bedir protested.

He had been afraid since the Trial had started; afraid since his fourteenth name day had come, and he had known that this was the year. Afraid of failing. Afraid of disgrace. Afraid of cold nights spent all alone, hunted by boys who had once been his friends. No horse. No bow. No blanket but the stars.

"I know," the man said quietly, and Bedir was suddenly certain that he did know; that he knew everything that Bedir had never breathed aloud, and had seldom admitted even to himself.

He almost hated him then. He almost hit him.

Instead he clenched his fists against his chest, and sat with his legs bent, his back against the damp stone. The light outside was fading, but the man's face was clearer still. He was not well at all, Bedir thought: far worse than you would have believed by the way he sounded. Bedir thought that one half of the man's face was in shadow, but the shadow moved when the man did, and he knew that it was a blood-darkened bruise.

Another scream. Just a howlet. Just a howlet.

The silence had been worse than the cold, really, those last two nights beneath the stars. No boys whispering jokes as the teachers slept. No mother to sing him to sleep. He remembered breaking his leg when he was seven, and a dreadful bout of winter-sickness a year after that, before his father had gone beneath his mound. Without his father's voice to anchor him, he would have wandered lost.

"The Trial of Manhood takes place when we are fourteen," he said. "All the boys of the clan, those who are warrior-born. There are nine of us this year. We are taken and bound, slung over the back of a horse like baggage, and blind-folded. They dump us somewhere, with a knife and a blade, a sling and a snare and a water skin. We have to reach the Hill of the Eagles, where the great wain of our forefathers was buried so long ago, now covered with grass. We don't use wains any more, now we've taken halls and houses to be our own, but we still like to ride. They don't let us have horses, though, or bows."

"What…?" It was just a thread of a sound. The man coughed, and tried again, and this time his voice was firm, almost the voice of a hale man. "What will you find on the Hill of the Eagles?"

Ghosts, Bedir thought with a shiver, because there were such stories! "A small casket beneath a cairn," he said, "and in it, a set of golden beads. The first boy to reach it gets to wear them. He will wear them for the rest of his life. And when the time comes to choose a new lord, because the old lord goes to the fathers or seeks his own ending in the night, only those with golden beads can be chosen."

He was speaking too loudly. The testing ground was large, but there were eight other boys out there, all seeking the same goal. The wind was rising, whispering through the dead fronds outside. How easily it could mask approaching feet!

He edged a little closer to the wounded man. "And what happens to the boy who gets there second?" the man asked, little more than whisper this time.

"No shame if he has acquitted himself well," Bedir said, "but he can never be lord; can never even lead a war band or hunting party. If he does badly or fails too early he might be…" Cast out. Shamed. Disgraced. "We are a small clan," he said, "and our lord doesn't waste any able-bodied men, even if they have proved themselves of little worth. Even though he is warrior-trained, the boy who shames his fathers will be set to work in the fields or as a labourer. He might do women's work. He might…" His eyes pricked. His throat was hoarse. "He might empty latrines."

Nothing. He thought the man was asleep. But when Bedir began to reach for him, the man started awake again with the faintest of gasps, smoothed out into a long breath. "And if you encounter one of the other boys," the man asked, "do you kill them? You thought I was one of them," he said, when Bedir gasped his denial, "and you came in with your knife drawn."

And if the man had been one of those, and had disarmed him the same way, Bedir would have lost everything, all his dreams.

"We hunt each other always," Bedir said. Oh, Murat! "The nearer we get, the more likely we are to find each other. We shouldn't kill, but we can wound. We have to wrestle him into submission and take his braid as a trophy, then send him home. His braid has gone, so he can't deny it."

Two days in, and there were no braids on his belt. Two days in, and he was so very hungry, and so cold.

"What would happen…?" the man said. Bedir could barely hear him, and leant closer, his hand brushing against the tumbled rags of the man's cloak. "What would happen if instead of fighting each other, you made an alliance? If you shared…" Another cough. The man was shivering, Bedir saw. No, shuddering. You couldn't tell from his voice. "If you shared the beads?"

Bedir laughed. Too loud! It was too loud! He pressed his hand to his mouth, and laughed into it. Then the laughter died away, but he kept his hand pressed to his mouth, breathing into it, then slid it down, fingers sliding over his cracked lips.

The man was delirious. "Might as well ask the clans to stop fighting. Fighting is the way of things." I will beat you, Bedir. Murat the night before the Trial began.  I will beat you without mercy.  Murat, his friend and playmate in so many years of games.

"Perhaps the clans will stop fighting each other," the man said mildly, "if the tales are true."

"Who tells these tales?" Bedir demanded.

"In the east," the man said, "and in the south. They say that emissaries have come from the Great Lord in Mordor with promises and threats. They say that old alliances are being rebuilt and old fealties are being renewed. They say that clans are flying their own sigils, but above them, the Great Eye."

Bedir spat. "The dark emissaries! My lord bows to no man."

"Others said that," the man said, "but bowed in the end. Some did so eagerly. There are fields full of blood in the east. I have… heard tell of them."

"My lord bows to no man!" Bedir declared again. Too loud. Too loud. Something moved on the crags above them. A raven croaked, and there was a pattering of falling pebbles. "There's someone…"

"No. A bird." The man sounded so sure of it: reassuring, like Bedir's father gifting him strength in his sickness.

Bedir wanted to leave him. He wanted to hate him. He wanted to help him. "How can I…?" He chewed his lip, pulling it in between his teeth. "You aren't from here. You shouldn't be here. Where's your clan?

"Far away." It was faint again, once more close to dreaming.

"Then…" Bedir shook his head, remembering the melted chains. Could a man have done that alone when fettered and hurt? "You had help," he realised. "You aren't alone."

"A chance-met stranger," the man said. It was not quite so dark that Bedir could not see his smile. "He too had fallen foul of… men it was unwise to anger. The tales of his wanderings went ahead of him, and I was trying to find him. He heard of my plight, and we… found each other. We helped each other."

Make an alliance,  Bedir remembered. Share the beads. "But he isn't here now!" Bedir said harshly.

"He will be."

"A chance-met stranger?"


The raven flew away, claws scratching on stone. Something stirred in the deeper darkness. It had always been quite horrible as a den, really, although Bedir and Murat would have died rather than admit it. They hadn't slept a wink. Only stories and songs had kept them from sobbing from fear. Sometimes a voice was the only thing you needed to keep the darkness at bay.

"Are you…?" Bedir began, but the man was moving, struggling to sit up.

"And here he comes," the man said. His voice was different, somehow, as if something had changed within him.

Bedir went for his blade, but of course it was gone. His hand rose to his braid, pressing it protectively against his neck. How did the man know? It could be one of the other boys, and Bedir had sat here like a fool, making no attempt to get his weapons back, prattling out loud about oh so many silly things.

He braced himself against the rock, and brought his feet up ready to kick out. But it was no boy who stooped to enter the den below the rocks. Why, it was an old man! He had long tangled hair and a long beard, and he wore robes the colour of twilight, tattered and torn. "Who is this?" the old man said, and although his voice was quiet, it made the den feel as cold as the winter snows. Then the wounded man said something, just a single word in a strange language, and when the old man asked the question again - "who is this?" - it felt like an entirely different question, nothing cold about it at all.

"Bedir," Bedir said. "I'm…" Just a boy, he almost said. And I'm afraid.  

The old man knelt beside the wounded man, and something sparked in his hand like a tinderbox, but his robes hid most of it from Bedir's view. Bedir glanced anxiously outside, but he didn't think the light would be visible, shielded as it was by the old man's back. But it was enough to show Bedir the blood stains and scorch marks on the old man's robe. When the old man turned his head, it was enough to show Bedir that he, too, was battered and bruised, with deep lines of weariness etched into his face.

They started talking, the two of them: quick urgent words in that strange language. The glimmer of light faded, but not before Bedir had seen the old man hand the wounded man a pack. The wounded man opened it, looked in, and let out a shuddering breath. It was relief, Bedir thought, but afterwards… afterwards the man sounded weaker, as if he was no longer trying to keep his true condition from showing in his voice. The old man's blood-stained hand brushed over the other man's face and across his hair. He let out a long sigh, like a man returning home after a long ride, but that was stupid, because what sort of a home was this, and what comfort was there? They were only chance-met strangers, after all, and one of them was badly hurt.

Bedir crawled towards the threshold. He should leave, he thought. Almost dark, but he could get a little closer to his goal before he slept. The trails of three people now led to this place. It wasn't safe. They could spend the night if they wanted to, but he had his whole future at stake. His goal was too important to risk.

"I led you here, I understand." It was the old man, now standing close behind him. He, too, spoke Bedir's tongue with an accent, but his was more like the traders who came from the west. "He would have left no trail, but I had been helping him, and had his blood on my hands. It was the blood, was it not?"

Bedir nodded. "Yes."

"Ah. I thought so." The old man clasped his shoulder, squeezing gently. "You should run along, my lad. Run along home."

"But I…" Bedir stopped. What was the point in telling the old man about the Trial? He shouldn't have told the wounded man, except… Except that he remembered what it was like to be hurting and alone, and how much voices mattered. Except that he had gone two days without hearing any voices at all, even his own, just the memory of Murat's final threat, and the ending of something that had once been so good.

That was over now. The wounded man had another grown-up to help him now. Just chance-met companions, but they seemed to understand each other. They had clearly endured danger together, like the warriors who came back bloodied from a war party and shared something afterwards that no-one else could ever share.

"Goodbye, Bedir," said the wounded man from the darkness. "Win your beads, and then…"

"And then?" Bedir asked, when the silence had stretched on for too long.

"Use them," the wounded man said. "Use them well."

"I…" I don't understand,  he almost said. "I will try," was all he said.

The old man came back to him, giving him back his knife and his blade. He gave him a package, too, and later Bedir would discover that it contained food and a blanket. There were no further farewells. Alone, Bedir went out into the night. Spring was late that year, and the nights were bitterly cold, the earth freezing as hard as stone. The blanket was a small comfort. The memory of company was more.

Bedir wondered if his words had made any difference.

Perhaps not.


"And I never saw them again," Bedir would tell them, so many years later. "The morning after, I came upon Murat shivering on the banks of a stream, and I fought him. And then I remembered…" Words in the darkness. Memories of a friend. "Instead of taking his braid, I offered him an alliance. I suggested that we worked together: four eyes instead of two; two blades instead of one. He agreed, and then…"

And then Bedir had seen the glint in his old friend's eyes that told of duplicity. Murat would take his blade as he slumbered. He would fell him from behind. He would betray him. He would win.

And even if he did not, even if he was planning none of those things, Bedir would never be able to relax just in case the betrayal was still to come. It only took a instant to take a braid. It only took an instant, and a foolish, weak, misplaced moment of trust, to blight your future forever.

"I said… I said he would betray me, and he laughed, and said of course he would. He said I was a fool to make the offer, and no true man would try to share the spoils when victory could be his alone. And so I took his braid. It was my first. My only."

But he won, even so. He had a braid, so he would not be disgraced, no matter what happened next. He had taken Murat's braid, and after that, what else did he have to fear? He was swift and bold, risking discovery, moving fast. The other boys, or so he had learnt afterwards, had become bogged down in hunting each other, and had lost sight of the goal.

"And so the beads were mine," he said, as he told it afterwards, as all around them, the other clans accepted the overlordship of Mordor. "But when my lord went to join his fathers, I was not the one chosen…"

…because his clan had listened overmuch to the blandishments of Sauron's emissaries, and were jealous of the spoils being offered to the other clans, and hungry for a share of their killing. The old lord had resisted. The new lord would not. Bedir had been a scarred warrior then, but already becoming famed - imagine that! - for his wisdom. When he had done the unthinkable and refused to obey his new lord, enough of them had come out on his side for him to escape with his life. They had fled to the hills, the few that remained to him, and at length they had fashioned wains again, as their forefathers had done. Theirs had been a wandering existence, caught between two sides in a looming war, kin to one side, but friends to neither.

"Did you ever find out what happened to them?" the young boys asked sometimes, but only a few of them. "The wounded man and the old one?"

And Bedir would shake his head. "I went back to the den after I won my beads, but they were gone. There was no sign of them at all. No blood. No tracks. No sign. Only…" He would pause just long enough for them to ask, and then he would tell them. "A flower," he said. "A small dried flower, like something a traveller might carry as a keepsake, or something caught up in the fold of a robe by chance. It was white. I had never seen a flower like that before." He would gesture to his unseeing eyes. "Now I never will."

He was old now, but the world had changed. His people had lost their dread overlord, and they would be warring again, tearing each other apart, while the might of Gondor grew in the west. Before very long, Gondor's new king would turn his attention their way, and they would fall before him as they had fallen to Sauron, because they were riven from within.

Offer alliance, the wounded man had urged him. Bury your enmity and work together. And he had laughed. Long ago, and foolish, he had laughed. Fifty years later, weak from a lifetime of wounds, and blind, perhaps he could sow the seed. He had been a lord in his own way, leader of a scattered, broken people. He was no lord now, but the young lord heeded him and turned to him always for advice. 

"But I still have that flower," he would say, "and I still remember."

Would the world change because he had stumbled upon a wounded man, on a cold afternoon so long ago?

Perhaps not.


He hoped.



Chapter End Notes:

Original end note (March 2015): Apologies for the sideways way of responding this prompt. Outsider POV is one of my Favourite Things, and I couldn't resist. I did idly think that I could write a companion piece showing what really happened to Aragorn and Gandalf, but to be honest, I think I prefer it as it is.

Tolkien gives us so little to play with when it comes to the Easterlings. The few clues he drops don't particularly support the interpretation I've gone with, but I reasoned that there was enough space there for all sorts of different cultures to exist, even if they aren't seen in the novel. I kept having to stop myself from going off on long tangents about their burial rituals and folklore and the like. Maybe in some future story… Well, actually, almost certainly in some future story, since I'm in the early stages of a long Fourth Age story which will have need of some Easterling characters, and Bedir's people might just fit the bill.


New note (July 2015): That long Fourth Age story (The Shadow of War) was duly completed and posted, and did indeed include a reappearance of Bedir's people. In some ways, it could be called a sort-of sequel to this story - albeit a sequel that's vastly larger than the story it follows.

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