Remember How to Smile
Chapter 3: Nursemaid to a Mûmakil
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“I remember that night like it was yesterday. That was awful and it was the last time I was ever that sick from drinking
again! I think everyone was sick that night.” Legolas commented,
pushing himself up on his elbows. “That little hobbit though,
nearly got us in more trouble than even you are capable of, my dear
“Whatever happened to him?” Elrohir questioned. They were fond of
the Hobbits, but had little contact with the Shire now that Bilbo,
Frodo and their father had gone over the sea.
“I heard he is Thain of Hobbiton now.” Aragorn shook his head,
trying to remember, “We haven’t received word from the Shire of late.
I’ll have to look into that when we get back and make sure they are
“Let it go for now,” Legolas warned the king off of his pondering,
“This is not the time for work. Here you are not King.” He
taunted the human lightly. He shifted and something poked him in
the ribs. He fished around in the blankets to discover what it
“Certainly not!” Elladan exclaimed with a derisive snort. “Here
are you are simply Estel, human, Dùnadan, brother, little
brother at that!”
Legolas found out that the hard item he had rolled on was the wooden
Oliphant that Dari must have accidentally left behind in the blankets
when he fell asleep.
“You forgot nursemaid to Mûmakil!” the prince put in,
brandishing the little carving and laughing at the scowl the man laid
on him. “Elrohir did beg for that tale you know.”
“Oh, do tell, dear friend, but don’t think for a moment that I will
leave out your part of the tale.” Aragorn threatened, much to his
Legolas’ eyes went wide at the threat as he burst out laughing.
“Now that had nothing to do with your side of it! In fact it
wouldn’t have happened at all if it weren’t for you!”
“Tell us! Enough of the cryptic twin-talk between the two of
you,” Elrohir reprimanded. “I have been waiting years to hear
“Well, perhaps we should make you wait a few more! I thought
elves didn’t measure time like we humans do.” Aragorn teased. He
laughed as the twin’s frustration peaked. The man was
stalling and Legolas knew it. It wasn’t a story that he or the
prince recounted often. Their time in Harad had been difficult
and the extended separation from his family was still painful for
Aragorn to remember.
Legolas eyed the human carefully. He could tell that Aragorn was
weighing whether or not he actually wanted the story retold.
“Come on, Strider,” Raniean prodded quietly, using the human’s old
nickname. “Save us from Trelan telling more stories of
trelleps.” The elf smiled softly when both Legolas and Aragorn
glanced his way.
“There’s so much of that tale that we never heard,” Trelan continued
the argument. “Legolas was distinctly tight-lipped about the
With a small nod, Aragorn relented to the cheers of the elves sitting
about him. Glasses were quickly refilled with wine and Moranuen
hurried to stoke the fire before they all settled down once more.
“I can’t quite remember how it was that it came to be,” Aragorn spoke
quietly, trying to recall how the exact events had taken place.
His frown deepened as he sifted through memories.
“I remember,” Legolas’ voice broke into his thoughts. “Rhuddryn had
purchased extra stock that day and the herd he had cut from was wild
and mistreated. Some of the older mûmaks were hostile and a
few were cowed. The new oliphaunts were not mixing well with the
common herd and there was an orphan.”
The elf smiled impishly at the man that reclined next to him.
“That’s right. The orphan. That’s what happened. The
wild mûmaks were keeping the herd from settling down.”
Aragorn’s voice was soft as he picked up the retelling. “Rhuddryn
had wanted to increase his wealth and status and so he had acquired
more stock. But the new animals were unsettled and fearful and
the scent of the taergs kept them restless.”
“I think that was the longest day we ever worked out in the fields,”
Legolas added. “Wasn’t it nearing the first watch of night before
we headed back to camp?”
“I don’t think we’ve worked a longer day since I’ve been here,” Aragorn
whispered quietly to the Haradrim slave that walked next to him.
He wiped the sweat out of his eyes and tucked the edges of his bandana
back in on themselves, holding the white swatch of fabric in place.
“It was the longest, and the hardest as well,” Sircyn answered
softly. He was the son of the tribal head that had adopted
Aragorn into their family.
The ranger’s gaze was riveted to the ground, trying to watch out for
any pitfalls that might trip him. The sun had set long ago and
only the moon lit the path of the weary slaves. The soft glow
of his other companion helped steady the man’s feet as they trudged
The ranger and the Haradrim were accompanied by a third slave.
The elf’s blond hair and fair features made him stand out starkly
against the dark-skinned peoples of the southern regions. Even
Aragorn’s skin had tanned a deeper brown and his dark hair had
lightened by shades after the months of labor on the oliphaunt
farm. The Olybryn. That was what the mûmak herders
were called. Now, willing or no, both the elf and the ranger had
become part of them. The elf walked in silence next to the
ranger. His body still ached from the severe beating he had taken
earlier last week when his true identity had been discovered. In
all his immortal years Legolas could not remember being so tired.
He was recovering well. Miraculously, as far as the other Olybryn
were concerned, who had never seen someone that injured survive
before. It frightened them a little and their natural instinct
was to avoid the elf and give him a wide berth. Fortunately,
Aragorn was able to help dispel some of their apprehension.
“I am not sure that they will bed down very well tonight,” Sircyn
commented. “Their surroundings are new and the younger ones
aren’t adapting well.”
The slaves’ quiet conversation was interrupted when Talft waded into
the group, shoving the elf out of the way much more roughly than was
necessary and smacking Sircyn hard with his spine of his bow.
“Silence!” the guard roared. “Your slowness has cost us dinner.
We are late because of the lot of you. Now walk faster and keep
Talft and Lur were the two guards that had been assigned to protect the
Olybryn. Half the time however, the Olybryn needed more
protection from their guards than they did from the wild beasts.
Talft and Lur weren’t the brightest of Rhuddryn’s men, nor were they
the best. The only thing the two thugs were good at was harassing
the slaves, which they did with exceptional joy. Keeping the
taergs from stalking the herd during the daylight hours was only their
only truly useful purpose. Beyond that the two were worthless as
far as the Olybryn were concerned.
It did no one any good to cross them, however, especially when their
moods were dark. Doing so would only invite unnecessary pain.
Stepping back near Lur, Talft reached out and smacked Legolas hard on
the back of his head just out of spite. The blow caused the elf
to stumble forward into the slave in front of him. Reacting
quickly, Aragorn grabbed his friend around the waist and righted the
prince carefully before he could fall.
The two soldiers thought this was incredibly funny and began to take
turns shoving any of the Olybryn within reach as they vented their
“Some elf you are, Tyndel. Has to have the help of the half-wit just to walk!” Talft taunted.
Legolas bit back his frustration and anger and focused his emotions
instead on the darkly humorous fact that these two imbeciles acted as
if they knew anything at all about elves.
The teasing had nearly provoked Aragorn too far when the sleeping tents
mercifully came into view. Ignoring their escorts, the slaves
broke away from the guards and quickly filed into the canvas shelters
that served as home. Mambre, Syna and several other women had
returned earlier to prepare the evening meal and light the fires that
warmed the sleeping quarters. The sight of the gently glowing
tents brought a sense of peace and safety to Aragorn’s heart. He
shrugged off the senseless cruelty of the guards and found himself
smiling as he followed Legolas in through the tent flap.
The meal was simple and hot. The familial closeness was warm and
satisfying. It was a routine the human had fallen into
easily. Moments after laying his head down on his pallet, Aragorn
was fast asleep.
The workers were so exhausted no one noticed at first when, hours
later, the tent flap was thrown back and Talft and Lur barged in on the
It seemed like only moments before that he had lain down when Aragorn
was roughly woken. Strong hands were pulling him up out of his
slumber and dragging him to the tent opening. People were yelling
and Cabed was asking for an explanation. Legolas leapt to his
feet, but Sircyn pulled him back and held the elf fast to the ground,
trying to keep the prince safe from the melee.
Aragorn stumbled and pitched forward, unable to gain his footing.
He slammed hard into Talft. The guard grabbed him by the hair and
jerked him upright.
Behind him, he barely registered the sounds of scuffing as it took all
of Sicryn’s power to physically restrain Legolas, weakened though the
elf still was. The prince was obviously alarmed that his friend
had been singled out in this unexpected, brusque manner. It was
all the Haradrim could do to keep the prince from gaining the ranger’s
side. If he quarreled with the guards, it would bring pain not
only to the elf, but to the whole group with which he was
associated. The Simbani clan did not wish to be placed on
punishment duty if it could be helped.
Dropping to his knees, Aragorn lowered his head and sat still at Lur’s
feet. He had learned quickly how to diffuse the two guards’
tempers. The last thing he wanted was to endanger his adoptive
family through his actions.
“What have I done wrong?” he asked simply. Keeping his voice soft
and his eyes lowered, the ranger played the part of the simpleton they
believed he was.
Silence fell in the tent.
Aragorn was rocked sideways as the guard slapped at his head.
“You haven’t done anything wrong, half-wit,” Lur spat at the
northerner. “The boss is unhappy because he can’t sleep.
That means we can’t sleep, so neither can you. That orphaned
mûmak won’t keep quiet and Rhuddryn says if you can’t get it to
stop making noise he’ll put it down. He wants you to see what you
can do since the brutes seem to listen to you. Now get up,” Lur growled at the ranger.
Hauling Aragorn to his feet, the guards shoved him out the tent
flap. The ranger glanced back over his shoulder into the sleeping
quarters before Talft dragged him away towards the open fields where
the oliphaunts were kept.
No one ventured to the fields at night. It meant sure
death. The mûmaks were safe in the nighttime hours.
They had been dealing with the threat of the predators in the wild for
long before the humans domesticated them. The huge beasts slept
in a tight circle, their young kept inside the protective ring.
Their massive size and numbers created a protective barrier that even
the taergs knew better than to cross. But it did not mean that
the taergs didn’t hunt in the dark hours. Other creatures were
susceptible to the carnivores at night and more than once they had
killed slaves who were out too late. It was understood that the
night was the predator’s time, and the slaves wisely stayed well within
their own protected encampments... usually. Tonight, obviously,
things were different.
Cabed pulled the tent flap back and watched as the guards manhandled
Aragorn down the path past the great house. The ranger didn’t
fight back and didn’t resist. The soldiers had not yet caught on
to the fact that the man’s mind was whole once more and Aragorn wanted
to keep it that way.
“You must let me go,” Legolas struggled against Sircyn and the other
Olybryn who held him back. He broke the hold the Haradrim had on
him and rushed to the doorway. Cabed casually drew the tent flap
closed and stood in front of the portal. The elf could have
pushed past the elder slave, but he restrained himself. Cabed had
been good to him, allowing him to stay with Aragorn when he could have
just as easily disposed of the elf. And more than that, the
elderly Haradrim had been good to Aragorn and for that Legolas
“Wait,” Cabed commanded simply. He took the elf’s arm and led
Legolas back to the dying fire ring. “Wait for a few
moments. Talft and Lur will not stay to guard Adrar. They
will set him to his tasks and leave. They are cowards and think
only of themselves.” Cabed’s weathered eyes were dark with
contempt. “Give them a few moments and then you may go. I
cannot risk having you discovered outside the tent. If you are
caught out at night the whole clan will have to pay.”
“I will not be caught,” Legolas defended his actions fiercely. He
greatly feared Aragorn being left in the fields alone. This was
not a safe place. He had guarded the Olybryn with Talft and Lur
until his secret was discovered and he knew the dangers that lurked
“No, of course not. You will do as I say and wait,” Cabed’s
gentle rebuke was softened by his smile. “Sit,” he commanded,
seating himself next to Mambre who was stoking the fire back to life.
“Adrar will be fine,” Sircyn added as he sat down cross-legged by the
elf and threw bits of wood and kindling into the fledgling
flames. “Lur was right about one thing, Adrar is good with the
Legolas frowned slightly as he allowed himself to be detained.
They had all been so tired from the work of the day that none of them
had heard the crying of the lonely mûmak. Now that he was
awake, the elf could hear the oliphant’s bawling, grating on his
sensitive hearing like a flock of crebain permanently caught and
wailing in a whirl-wind. He wondered how Rhuddryn had tolerated
the constant mewling so long.
Aragorn stumbled out into the pasture, falling hard to his knees.
Talft was laughing as the simple-minded slave slowly picked himself
up. He kicked the northerner hard, just for good measure,
dropping the slave back down onto the hard packed dirt.
“Now quiet it up before we do!” he hollered at the slave.
Schooling his face free of the anger he felt, Aragorn slowly rose to
his feet. The baby mûmakil had silenced its forlorn crying
when the men had come in sight. It was fearful of the humans and
shied away from the loud guards. The weapons they carried brought
back bad memories for the little creature and it trembled slightly as
Aragorn walked closer to it.
There was little feed left over from the day. The troughs were
nearly empty as Aragorn walked next to them. He grabbed what bits
of straw and hay lay at the bottom of the stone bins until he had a
good handful of the feed. Glancing out of the corner of his eyes
at the oliphaunt, he judged the small pack animal to be no more than six
or seven months old. The mûmak was old enough to be eating
on its own but still young enough to be attached to its mother.
“What happened to its parent?” Aragorn questioned softly as he slowly approached the forlorn creature.
“Its mother wouldn’t cooperate when the herd was culled and she was
killed,” Lur responded dispassionately. “Can you keep it quiet or
Aragorn sighed deeply; it was no wonder the little beast was so
upset. Now the creature’s crying made sense, as well as the
fearful agitation it was exhibiting towards Talft and Lur. Just
the sight of them seemed to be enough to upset it so much that Aragorn
wasn’t having any luck even getting close. He had initially
wondered why the poor creature hadn’t followed the herd out to safer
pastures and stayed with the other adults. Now he understood: it
was waiting for its mother to return.
Turning back towards the guards, Aragorn stopped and addressed them
more harshly than he had intended. “If you will lower your weapons and
leave I might have a better chance.”
The two overseers glared for a moment, but were too tired and fearful
of the night to fuss much at the moment. They wanted to get out
of here as soon as possible. The half-wit could fend for himself.
“Whatever you want, Adrar. Have fun with the taergs,” Lur taunted
as he pulled Talft with him and walked away towards the safety of the
“What if the taergs do find them?” Talft questioned as he followed his friend back to the safety of their hut.
“Well then the master will sleep very well,” Lur laughed at his own
joke. “Who cares? It’s only an orphan calf and a
half-wit. There isn’t anyone who would miss either of them, let
alone the master.” The guard’s coarse laughter floated out across
Sighing once more, Aragorn wiped the sleep out of his eyes and took in
a deep breath. The cool air helped clear his head and wake him
fully. He realized that his lip had split in the ruckus at the
tent and he swiped at the blood with his free hand. He glanced
about the fields, sizing up the surrounding area and scanning the
hillocks for signs of taergs.
So far he and the distraught mûmak seemed safe.
Looking back up, he noted that the young oliphaunt was shifting its
weight from one foot to the other, nervously eyeing him. He was
just glad that it had stopped bawling for the moment. Licking his
split lip, Aragorn thought back to his training with the horses that
his father kept. His brothers were excellent with the animals
that were brought to their stables. Often if an injured ranger
was brought to the house his horse was kept in the elven stables.
Aragorn had found that the horses sometimes needed as much attention as
their riders did. So, he had found himself in the stables often,
helping with the frightened stallions that were brought to them.
The baby mûmak wasn’t much taller than a horse and right now it
was acting just like some of the steeds he had dealt with at
home. He tried to remember all that his brothers had taught
him. Lowering his eyes he walked slowly towards the
oliphaunt. He stretched out his hand that held the fistful of hay
and spoke softly in elvish.
“Easy,” he whispered. “You’re fine. They are gone and I’m
here now. We are safe.” He held the hay closer to the
creature so the mûmak could smell it. He couldn’t remember
seeing the youngster eating earlier. The oliphaunt shied
sideways, stopping when the human stood still.
“That’s it,” Aragorn continued talking. Reaching out he
stroked the young animal’s rough hide, constantly moving slowly
closer. “You’ll like it here. The food is good; the people
are nice, well except for Talft and Lur. They are idiots,
although they think I am. Just don’t believe anything they
say.” He kept his voice low and soft as he moved closer and
closer. The fingers of his right hand strayed to the oliphaunt’s
ear, rubbing gently behind it as he offered the feed with his left hand.
The baby mûmak watched him closely. The youth’s trunk
slowly snaked up and touched the man’s hand, smelling the hay and
passing it up as he explored the human that stood next to him.
The warm breath of the animal brushed through his hair as Aragorn
allowed the youngster to explore the way he smelled. He stayed
calm when the strong trunk wrapped around his arm and pulled him closer
to the animal’s head. The oliphaunt eyed him for several minutes
as the human softly spoke to it, continually offering the hay. A
soft, plaintive cry shook the small mûmak and Aragorn was
momentarily afraid it would begin calling for its mother again.
Without thinking about it the human pushed the hay into the gaping
mouth and gently pressed it shut.
With a start the oliphaunt jerked back, surprised at the sudden
movement. A second later the youngster realized just how hungry
it truly was. After the first mouthful it was all Aragorn could
do to find enough leftovers to feed the hungry oliphaunt.
It took him several more attempts to fetch the beast water. As
quickly as he filled the water trough the mûmak emptied it out
Leaning against the low fence, Aragorn gazed at the young
oliphaunt. It contentedly slurped up the last of the water he had
just poured into the trough. He realized how tired he was
after the long day he had put in with no chance for rest. The
baby hadn’t made a noise the whole time he had been with it and, now
that it seemed to be settling down, he intended to lead the mûmak
out to the herd and leave it there for the night.
Before he could formulate how exactly he was going to get out there and
back safely, he was startled by the touch of a hand on his arm.
Aragorn jumped back from the touch, stumbling out into the field and
scaring the oliphaunt with his fast movement. The mûmak
trumpeted and jumped backwards as well.
Legolas stifled his laughter when he saw the weary, frightened look Aragorn laid on him.
“Don’t DO that!” Aragorn practically yelled at his friend, “Do you
want to make my heart fail? You nearly did! I’m not that
awake right now.”
“Forgive me, my friend,” Legolas apologized with a smile. “I
merely meant to check on you. I feared for you being out here by
yourself.” The elf held out his hand towards the orphaned
mûmak and beckoned it to come closer in elvish.
“How are things with your new friend?” Legolas questioned.
He couldn’t help laughing when the mûmak stepped behind Aragorn,
grabbing the man around the waist with its trunk and pulling the human
back against the side of his face as though for protection.
Aragorn gently patted the animal, glancing up into the small, black eye that watched him so closely.
“I think we are doing better. He’s eaten and had his fill of
water. I was going to walk him out to the herd and then head back
to the tents. You want to come with us?” Aragorn asked as he
started to turn the animal out toward the open pasture. “I’d love
the company and need the help.” The man’s soft laughter caused
the oliphaunt to jump slightly, so Aragorn wrapped his arms around the
mûmak’s trunk as he began to walk slowly away from the feed
Reluctantly at first, the youngster followed. As the two friends
walked and talked between themselves, the creature settled down and
loosened his grip on Aragorn, allowing the man to walk freely beside
him. The ranger gently grabbed the animal’s large ear, knowing
the youngster needed the touch.
“I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner,” Legolas apologized. “I wanted
to, but Talft and Lur came back to make sure that none of us
would. They didn’t want to get in trouble for letting any of the
other slaves possibly be lost to the taergs. They didn’t seem to
care about what happened to you and the young one. Cabed would
not risk the clan and asked me to wait until we were sure they were
“That was wise,” Aragorn replied with a soft laugh. “The funny
thing is there haven’t been any taergs.” He glanced skyward
watching the full moon that tracked over head. “I don’t know
why. The night is well lit, they should be out.”
“They are,” Legolas responded softly, pointing to the cresting hills on
their left. Long, sleek bodies stalked them, pacing their
progress and hiding in the tall grasses. “We have been noticed,
“We are close enough to the herd that they won’t attack,” Aragorn
assured, hoping he was correct. He picked up their pace, not
wanting to tempt fate.
“How did you get it to quiet down?” Legolas asked, switching the
subject. He glanced back at Aragorn before returning his gaze to
the bracketing knolls. The moonlight painted the grasses in
silver tones that changed colors as the wind swept through the
fields. Ahead of them the hills were dark and mottled and they
shifted from time to time – the herd slept tightly packed together.
“My brothers,” Aragorn answered simply.
When Legolas looked back at him, the ranger was smiling softly.
The baby mûmak’s trunk was draped over his head and the youngster
had a fistful of hair grasped in the end of its appendage breathing in
the ranger’s scent. It seemed not to bother the human at all.
“They taught me how to work with the wounded horses that are brought to
Rivendell,” Aragorn continued, knowing that Legolas was confused by his
cryptic answer. “And sometimes they played practical jokes at my
expense as well.” He laughed as he remembered a certain prank his
brothers had pulled.
“Father had this one horse. It was a magnificent beast, but the
most ill-tempered, unruly creature Ilúvatar ever deigned to
create.” Aragorn stumbled slightly as they walked. He
brushed against the oliphaunt, righting himself quickly. The
creature compensated for the man’s clumsiness and moved its trunk from
his head to his shoulders.
Legolas couldn’t help laughing as the baby mûmak fondly pulled the human closer.
“I think you have become its mother,” Legolas teased.
“Not a chance,” Aragorn growled softly. “I fully intend to sleep
tonight. There are plenty of mothers for it in the herd.”
A long, low growl trembled the still night air. Man, elf, and
mûmak all tensed and rechecked their immediate
surroundings. Aragorn could see the dark shadows of the taergs
pacing them, slightly closer now. Legolas could clearly see the
creatures themselves, with their fur rippling silently and their dark
eyes reflecting the moonlight hungrily. The mûmak couldn’t
see them at all, but he could smell them and was obviously getting
nervous. If it panicked, the taergs would see the fear as a
weakness to exploit and most certainly attack them. Just a little
further. They just had to make it a little further.
Aragorn patted the creature’s head and haunches reassuringly, still eyeing the shadows on the ridge warily himself.
“So, tell me of this horse,” Legolas prompted with a carefully calm
voice. He was counting on the mûmak to take its cue from
its two companions.
Aragorn understood and tried to release the tension from his body as
much as he could. He nodded. “Oh yes... the horse.”
“Wait a minute! Just one minute!” Elladan interrupted the
retelling of the story. He leaned forward and pierced his little
brother with a hard stare. “You didn’t tell us you were going to
include that story.”
“Yes, that’s not fair,” Elrohir continued the protest. “No stories inside stories!”
“Do you want to hear the tale of the mûmak or not?!” Aragorn
chuckled. He knew the response his elder brothers would have when
they discovered he had told Legolas about one of their most badly
“Oooh, I remember this,” Moranuen spoke up helpfully. His memory
dredged up the time the twins had ventured to ‘teach’ Estel how to work
with horses. “That was nasty, but do tell it. They deserve
it.” The elf laughed and scooted away from the twins as they
“If you’re going to insist on it being told then I should tell it,” Elladan shouted down all the others.
“Nay, dear brother,” Aragorn disagreed with a laugh, “If anyone should
tell it, it must certainly be me for I was the one that it happened to.”
“Let him tell the story!” Trelan begged. “I want to hear more
about the mûmaks. Did the taerg get to you before you made
it to the herd? Did it stay with the others? Finish
Raniean smacked the smaller elf upside the head as he nearly fell over
laughing. “You nift! If the taergs had gotten them they
wouldn’t be here to tell the story!”
“You don’t know that!” Trelan argued.
Legolas stood to his feet and called for silence. Spreading his
hands out away from his sides he slowly turned in a circle, shushing
the elves that were talking all at one time.
“This is Estel’s story,” Legolas stated, glancing at the human out of
the corner of his eyes. “And you two asked for it.
Therefore you must be silent and listen. Everything he has told
you so far has happened including the retelling of your horrid attempt
to trick him,” Legolas continued, turning his attention to the
twins. “Now sit there and do not interrupt again!” His
reprimand was softened by the smile that spread across his face.
Legolas knew full well how to command an audience. He also had
deftly learned from his father how to put just the right inflection in
his voice to silence any arguments. So it was with great surprise
and satisfaction that Aragorn watched his twin brothers stop speaking
and rest back against their cushions in sullen silence. When the
room had quieted, the Silvan elf turned to the man behind him and bowed
“Now, please, dear friend, continue,” he instructed as he sat down next to Aragorn.
Leaning back, Estel stalled for a few minutes, re-collecting his
thoughts. “Legolas wanted to know how I had learned how to work
with horses. So, needing a distraction from our situation, I told
him of the time that my two dear brothers introduced me to father’s
favorite steed, Brêgalos. It means Wildwind and he lived up
to his name.”
“So, tell me of this horse,” Legolas prompted with a carefully calm
voice. He was uneasy with their pace. The taergs that
hunted them were completely silent even to his ears. They had
ducked down where the deeper grasses hid them completely and it was
difficult to keep their positions tracked.
“His name was Brêgalos - Wildwind. My father thought it suited
him and it really did. That horse could run for leagues and not
tire. Not to mention that he had a temper that could go off at
the slightest upset,” Aragorn readily spilled the tale for his
friend. “The only one that had ever ridden Brêgalos was my
father. That horse seemed to hate everyone else, well except for
me in the end.” He smiled softly as recollections of his
childhood flooded back into his mind. It felt good to remember so
much after so long of having nothing to remember.
The memories held a touch of sorrow, though, that he could not
escape. He feared the fondness between he and his adoptive family
had been ruined forever and that left a deep dread in heart.
Choosing to ignore that fruitless train of thought for the moment, he
concentrated on retelling the story.
“Well, one day I was in the stables pestering the twins,” Aragorn
continued, laughing at the recollection. “I think that Elladan
got tired of all the questions and whining about when would I be able
to work with the horses more than they were letting me.”
“I can only imagine you as a child. You were probably most annoying,” Legolas teased.
“I’m sure the twins would agree!” Aragorn laughed and gave the
young oliphaunt beside him a gentle pat. They could see the herd
more clearly now and he was glad.
“Anyhow, they finally relented and told me that I could brush down
father’s horse. I had no clue which one it was. I wasn’t very
good at distinguishing between them just yet. One brown horse
looked much like the next to me,” He shook his head as he recalled the
events. “I was never sure that the twins had actually intended
for me to be with Brêgalos or if they had meant for me to work
with a different horse but I ended up with that whirlwind of a steed.”
Aragorn stepped closer to Legolas, pulling the mûmak with him
when some night predator off to their right broke the stillness of the
night with a keening cry.
Trying to ignore the oliphaunt’s nervousness and discount his own,
Aragorn continued the tale. “Brêgalos didn’t move when I
first entered his stall. In fact I bet that dratted horse was
just waiting for someone to come close enough. I had a brush in one
hand and a little footstool in the other so I could reach his shoulders
and hindquarters. The moment I set the step down, Brêgalos
reared up and started such a racket that even Celboril came
running. By the time by brothers got me out of there and Ada had
entered the scene the horse had kicked me into a corner of the stall
and I was curled into a ball, unconscious. I don’t even remember
what happened. The only thing I could recall was trying to get
away from him and then waking in my room. Elladan and Elrohir
were getting the worst lecture I can remember Ada giving anyone.
It almost made it worthwhile, almost - except for the fact that I broke
my wrist somehow and had this nasty knot on the back of my head.”
Legolas was laughing helplessly at the images that his friend’s tale invoked.
“I can only imagine the looks on your brothers’ faces. I missed so much not having siblings.”
“Oh right, like getting kicked in the head by a cantankerous horse, or
dropped in the pond in the middle of winter, or locked in the supply
house overnight,” Aragorn agreed sarcastically. “Yes, you really
missed a lot.”
They had reached the herd and the adult animals shifted
restlessly. Their eyesight was at its worst at night.
Aragorn held out his hands, speaking in the Haradrim language as they
drew closer. The large bull mûmak that had taken a liking
to the northerner moved forward, trumpeting inquiringly.
Softly, the ranger addressed the upset oliphaunt. He walked
towards the creature until the mûmak recognized him and settled
down. Swinging its head back and forth in agitation it approached
the Olybryn. The herders were never with the animals at night and
so this new development disturbed them. The scent of taergs
drifted to the herd on the slight winds and the outer ring of
oliphaunts stirred, grumbling sleepily amongst themselves.
Aragorn pressed the bull mûmak aside and entered the inside ring,
pulling the orphaned oliphaunt with him. It took some coaxing for
the juvenile to accept the fact that he was part of this herd.
The newer animals were skitterish, still shying from the Olybryn and
breaking the outer ring as the three newcomers entered their domain.
It took a few moments for the pack animals to settle down and
relax. Legolas and Aragorn walked slowly around the interior of
the ring, speaking to the younger mûmaks and getting them to rest
once more. Their own young charge collapsed in an open patch near
the large bull. Its trunk snaked around Aragorn’s ankle when the
ranger passed by. Bending down, the human stroked the soft skin
around the baby’s eyes and forehead, calming it with soothing words.
“Aragorn,” Legolas called softly to his friend, garnering the ranger’s attention.
When the man glanced up, he noted that the ring of oliphaunts had
reformed. His first thought was that this was good, the creatures
were settling down again and all would be well. As he followed
Legolas’ line of sight he saw the old bull mûmak wriggle its way
into formation and sink back to the ground, sealing off the circle from
any avenue of entry or escape. As one, the oliphaunts settled
back to the ground and proceeded to go back to sleep.
“Hela! No!” Aragorn commanded in Haradrim. He jumped to his
feet, only to trip forward because his leg was still held fast by the
baby mûmak. “Legolas, we have to get one of them up and out
of the way or we’re stuck here all night!” Aragorn pried at the
trunk wrapped around his ankle but the result only made the youngster
cry out and tighten his grip on the man.
“Satahe,” Aragorn called out to the bull oliphaunt. He reached
out and smacked the creature’s rump, commanding it again to move while
still trying to detach himself from the orphan. “Satahe
eha! Come on, move!” He rose only to have his footing
yanked out from under him again. This was getting old fast.
Ignoring the Olybryn much as they would one of their own restless
calves, the big animals forming the outer circle simply shifted
slumbered on. It seemed the adults had decided that their
caretakers were safer inside the ring than out because none of them
obeyed or acknowledged the elf and the ranger at all.
Glancing up at his friend, Aragorn found Legolas doubled over, laughing as quietly as he possibly could.
“This is not funny!” Aragorn shouted at him. He was completely
irritated with the entire situation and extremely tired – a dangerous
combination for the human.
Legolas realized immediately that his friend had been pushed too far
beyond his ability to cope with the situation or see any hilarity in it
at all. Sobering quickly, the elf seated himself next to his
friend and helped the human sit up.
One of the adult mûmaks shifted agitatedly and the distinct
sounds of taergs growling beyond the protective wall of animals could
be heard. The old bull grunted warningly and dug furrows into the
ground with his tusks warning the predators off.
“Estel, I don’t believe this is necessarily a bad situation. The
taergs have our scent now. To go back out there, unarmed as we
are, would be folly. It’s too far and too dangerous to make it
back to the tents. It seems the herd has seen to our safety as we
have seen to theirs. I believe we are sleeping with the
oliphaunts tonight. Besides your orphan is not letting you go
that easily,” Legolas soothed his companion’s frayed nerves. “The
night is not so cold and the mûmaks shelter us from the
winds. We can sleep here. We’ll join the other Olybryn in
the morning when they call the oliphaunts to feed.”
Aragorn slumped back against the side of the orphan behind him.
Slowly the baby’s trunk released its death grip on the ranger.
The young animal was watching the human carefully, its small black eye
tracking every move.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he assured the creature grumpily. “I
don’t seem to have a choice.” Scooting down, he made himself
comfortable against the mûmak’s belly and rested his head on the
“Seeing as we are going nowhere, how about finishing that story?”
Legolas encouraged. He smiled gently when the human turned a
scowl in his direction. “Come on, Strider, entertain me.”
With a snort of derision the man relaxed and shook his head.
There was no use fighting. They could not get out of the circle
of mûmaskil and the orphan was not content to release his
“Very well,” Aragorn sighed. “Where was I?”
“You never did explain how you learned to work with animals.
Certainly it wasn’t from your brothers’ first teachings, but how did
Brêgalos fit into your training? I’m assuming he did, am I
Aragorn nodded slowly. “It was he and my father actually.
You see Ada realized what had happened and he knew that I would just be
underfoot again as soon as I was well.”
The ranger was interrupted by the elf once more. “You can be very
stubborn when you set your mind to it,” Legolas taunted. The fact
that the elf was actually smiling and laughing in the middle of an
oliphaunt field, forgetting for the moment that they were slaves,
warmed Aragorn’s heart.
He pulled up a clump of grass and threw it at the laughing elf. “Do you want to hear this story or not?!”
“I do, I do! Please continue,” Legolas deferred, trying to stifle
his mirth. Something about the sheer ludicrousness of their
situation here seemed to put him in a humorous mood.
“Well as soon as I healed, Ada came one night and took me out to the
stables – just he and I.” Aragorn’s voice dropped slowly as he
retold what had happened. His thoughts searched back to that day,
remembering an older elf that was pleased with his adopted son,
remembering a time when strife and estrangement did not mar the
family. “He said that he wanted to teach me how to heal not only
people, but animals as well. I remember him saying that the line
between the two was not as dissimilar as I thought. He believed I
would be good at it one day.”
The ranger plucked at the coarse grass beneath them.
“You are,” Legolas whispered softly. When the human glanced up at
him perplexed, he smiled and explained himself further. “You are
good at it: healing people and animals. Look at the
oliphaunts. The difficult ones no one can touch or console, you
can. Look at the Olybryn; even now you heal their souls and unite
them. Your father was right.”
Aragorn was watching the elf closely, weighing what his friend was saying against the contrary voices in his heart.
“He taught me how to soften my voice, how to sense what the animal was
feeling, how to move slowly yet with enough confidence to assure the
horse that it was safe. He was right about it being not so
different with people. They also need to know they are safe, that
someone is there to take care of them, and they need that person to be
calm and calming. Those are things he taught me that night.
The next morning when I went out to the stables and begged my brothers
to let me brush the horses again I strode right into Brêgalos'
stall. I think I gave my brothers heart failure for a moment.”
Aragorn glanced back up to meet his friend’s gaze once more. “Do
you know, that horse didn’t move the entire time I was in there with
it? In fact after that night Brêgalos let two people ride
him and touch him, Ada and myself.”
The smile that touched the elf’s face reflected on Aragorn’s.
“I suggest you get some sleep,” Legolas commented with a soft
sigh. “Morning is not coming so soon that you cannot rest.
You are insufferable when you are tired.” He ducked as the ranger
threw another wad of grass at his head.
With a snort of derision, the man lay back against the animal behind
him and closed his eyes. “You aren’t that swift when you’ve been
up too long yourself,” the man retorted, much to the elf’s amusement.
A soft, snuffling sound was the only warning the ranger had before the
mûmak’s trunk wrapped around his waist and held him fast.
Smiling to himself, Aragorn let the animal content itself with his
nearness and was asleep in minutes.
When the sun finally touched the grasses of the plains of Harad, it
found the two friends asleep against the belly of the orphaned
mûmak. Aragorn lay nestled in the crook of the animal’s
trunk, slumbering soundly.
Legolas heard the rustle of the adults as they anticipated the
Olybryn’s presence. It wasn’t long before he heard Sircyn calling
the herd. The larger mammals responded slowly, heaving their
bodies up from the grass and shaking off the night's slumber.
Startled by the movements, the orphan mûmak rolled up onto its
stubby legs, dislodging Aragorn and dumping the ranger unceremoniously
onto the ground.
With a grunt the man picked himself up off the floor and glanced
sleepily around them. He squinted in the early morning light,
watching the older oliphaunts begin to lumber off in response to
Sicryn’s call. The human stumbled back slightly as the baby
mûmak took hold of his leg and pulled Aragorn along with
them. The confused, half-awake look on the ranger’s face caused
the elf to break out laughing.
It took Aragorn a few attempts before he could remove his leg from the
orphan’s death grip so he could walk properly without being half
dragged by the animal.
“Cabed and his family have called the oliphaunts. I suggest we
accompany them,” Legolas informed his sleepy companion. In the
distance they could hear Sircyn calling for them, his deep voice
reverberating across the open plains.
“He sounds worried,” Aragorn observed. He brushed himself off and
ran his fingers quickly through his hair to dislodge the pieces of
grass that had wedged in there overnight.
“Wouldn’t you be?” Legolas quipped sarcastically as the walked
alongside the animals, accompanying the herd back to the feed
troughs. The elf’s sharp eyes noted the tracks of the large
predators that had stalked the outskirts of the herd the night
before. Elbowing the ranger, he quietly pointed them out.
Aragorn’s eyes widened slightly as he stepped past the large paw
print. The imprint was nearly as long as his own boot
print. He decided that spending the night with the herd hadn’t
been such a bad idea after all.
The animals in front of them gave way as the Olybryn pushed them aside, looking fearfully for their adopted kinsmen.
The ranger’s attention was quickly redirected as Sircyn wrapped him in
a tight hug. Pushing the man back just as quickly, the slave
glared at the northerner.
“You did not return, either of you,” Sircyn accused, glancing between
Aragorn and Legolas. “We feared you had not survived the night.”
The baby mûmak pushed its way into the reunion, shoving the ranger aside in its exuberance to find out what was happening.
“No, Adrar was playing nursemaid to your youngest mûmakil,” Legolas laughed lightly.
“Ah, I see! Well you all survived the night! This is
good.” The Haradrim turned a huge smile on Legolas as the elf
helped Aragorn keep his feet.
The northerner patted the mûmak fondly, scratching the baggy skin around the infant’s eyes.
“I am no nursemaid and, yes, we all survived. Even Talft and Lur,” Aragorn laughed.
“Unfortunately,” Legolas muttered in response to his friend's
observations. He smiled broadly as Cabed approached them. The old
weathered Haradrim was nodding sagely.
“I see you have helped the young one to accept the herd,” Cabed
observed. He watched as the orphan raced to the feeding troughs
ahead of the men.
“I’m hoping so,” Aragorn answered as he walked slowly alongside
Legolas. His ribs were aching from where he had been kicked the
night before and he was moving more slowly than normal.
“You are hurt,” his adoptive father noted after a moment. “What else did they do to you?”
Grabbing a pail and heading for the well, Aragorn cast a small smile at
the older slave, “Nothing. They just thought it sport to kick me
around a bit.”
“I see you survived, Adrar,” Talft called out tauntingly, “Too bad for
you but good for us. We’d miss not having your simple mind around
to entertain us.”
Aragorn, his back still to the guards, grimaced and rolled his eyes as Legolas came alongside him.
“The Valar spared no intelligence on them did they?” the elf commented dryly in elvish.
The comment earned him a soft chuckle from the ranger who was doing his best to appear innocent and busy.
When no retorts were forthcoming and it was apparent that the Olybryn
where simply concentrating on their jobs, Talft and Lur quickly lost
interest and set off to find shade.
As soon as the animals were sufficiently fed, the men began to lead the
mûmakil off to the watering hole. It was a routine to
which they were accustomed and took little thought on the Olybryn’s
parts. Ointment was handed out and rake-like brushes were
collected from storage bins and passed among the slaves who trailed the
oliphaunts across the fields to the north.
This time of year the watering hole was little more than a mud hole,
but the mûmaks enjoyed it all the same. It gave the large
creatures great pleasure to roll in the cool mud and coat their hides
with the wet earth. As the watering hole dried up the Olybryn
changed their methods of cleaning and washing the animals. They
allowed the great beasts to wallow in the dirt and then lie on the
edges of the pond until the sun baked the mud dry. With their
brushes they cleaned the animals of the fine layer of dirt and spread
ointment on the soft skin around their eyes and ears.
The larger animals waded out into the middle of the dying pond,
stirring up the dirt on the bottom and effectively creating a muddy
mess. The younger oliphaunts kept to the edges, content to wallow
in the shallow waves their elders kicked up.
Aragorn watched as the orphan ran towards the mud hole with the rest of
the herd. Content that the little one would be fine, he turned
back to talk with Sircyn and Legolas. A loud trumpeting startled
them all and before he realized what was happening the ranger was
lifted off his feet. The sickening feeling of weightlessness and
falling nearly caused Aragorn to panic. He only had seconds to
comprehend that a strong trunk was wrapped around his waist before he
was submerged under the muddy water.
Sputtering and gasping for air, Aragorn fought to sit upright in the
shallow water. A heavy weight lay across his lap restricting him
from standing to his feet – an oliphaunt’s trunk.
Laughter from the edges of the pond reached his ears. Glancing
back at his friends, the ranger realized that the orphan mûmak
had picked him up and pulled him into the pond. He half turned to
his left to find the juvenile lying on its side. One black eye
watched him hesitantly. To Aragorn it seemed even the mûmak
“You couldn’t bathe by yourself?” he reprimanded the smaller creature,
flinging a fistful of mud at the mûmak. Delighted by the
human’s response, the oliphaunt released the man and rolled onto its
back trumpeting happily.
Aragorn was a mess. His clothes were filthy. His hair was
matted and dripping with dirty water. It stuck out at odd angles
around the edges. He stood from the water and tried to shake as
much of the mud off of him as possible. The scene was so
ridiculously funny that most of the Olybryn were laughing at the
“You think this is funny?” Aragorn asked. His voice was dark and
low. Legolas could not mistake that edge to it. It was the
same tone the human took with his brother’s right before he exacted
retribution. “You think it’s funny.” It was a statement, not a
question, the second time he spoke.
Holding up his hands in a placating gesture, Legolas tried to calm his
friend. “Now, Estel, it’s not personal. But you have to
admit...” The elf pointed at the man’s attire. “You look every
inch a ranger of the north,” he continued barely containing his mirth.
With a nod and a step toward the shore, Aragorn grabbed the ear of the
large bull mûmak that was making its way out of the watering hole.
“Hanta se,” the northerner commanded the animal. “Hanta se. Banar tu. Fetch that. Bring here.”
Sircyn knew exactly what the ranger had said and quickly ran back from
the edge of the pond. Retreating with the rest of the slaves out
of reach of the mûmak, the Olybryn left the elf standing on the
shore alone. Legolas on the other hand did not understand the
Haradrim language. The few seconds that it took the elf to catch
on were just enough to put him at risk.
The cantankerous mûmak easily snatched the elf up before the
prince realized what had been said. Turning around with greater
speed than one would think possible for a creature of its wide girth,
the mûmak tossed the elf behind Aragorn into the deeper part of
the mud hole.
When Legolas surfaced, his look was nothing less than lethal. He
stalked ungracefully towards his friend. The muddy water and the
milling oliphaunts impeded his speed but not his progress.
“You...” he sputtered the word with as much venom as he could.
The prince’s golden hair had turned entirely brown from the dirty water
and was plastered to his face and shoulders with mud.
Aragorn, for his part, was swiftly backing up, trying to escape his friend.
“What?! Now you look like a ranger of the north yourself, Prince of
Mirkwood. Oh for Ran and Trey to see you now,” Aragorn laughed as he
backed into the bull mûmak.
The oliphaunts had shifted from the interior of the pond to the edges,
soaking their feet in the soft, sandy shoals. As a result Aragorn
was trapped inside with a highly infuriated elf.
Legolas grabbed the ranger by the sodden collar of his tunic and jerked
the man forward. His piercing blue eyes were aflame with a temper
Aragorn had rarely seen and never endured.
“You, human, will never live to tell them about this. I’m going
to bury you in this water hole with these insufferable creatures,”
Legolas growled. He shook his head, flinging dirt and water
Aragorn’s eyes were huge as he watched his friend, but he couldn’t help
the smile that tugged at the edges of his lips. Slowly, he
reached up and brushed mud from the dirty braid that hung against
The action only caused the elf to growl dangerously. The words
forming in the prince’s mind were unacceptable and he bit his tongue,
closing his eyes and breathing deeply.
“Legolas?” Aragorn whispered. It occurred to him that perhaps he had pushed his friend too far.
One blue eye opened and glared at the human.
“I’m sorry,” the ranger offered tentatively.
The smile that gently turned the prince’s lips up at the corner could not be denied, although the elf fought it.
“I’m forgiven?” Aragorn asked sheepishly. When Legolas looked
away for a moment, the man pulled the elf against him and hugged him
fiercely. “We can be nursemaids together,” he taunted.
Legolas shoved the ranger back against the mûmak behind him,
causing the old oliphaunt to stir and move out of the mud hole.
“I will never be a nursemaid to these creatures,” Legolas
countered. In moments, however, the elf was laughing as much as
the Olybryn at the edges of the pond. He and Aragorn were hauled
of the muddy water and sent aside to shed their outer clothes and dry
Sitting on the small knoll, the two friends watched the Olybryn work
with the mûmaks. Legolas reached out and smacked the ranger
on the back of the head for good measure, eliciting a snicker from the
“You are forbidden to tell anyone about this, especially Ran and Trey,”
the elf warned the man. The smile on his face overrode any
hostility that might have bled through. “You filthy human,” he
teased. “I cannot believe you did that.” He nudged the
ranger with his shoulder before lying back in the long grasses.
With a laugh Aragorn laid back next to his friend. “You should
have seen your face, Legolas,” he commented with a chuckle before
closing his eyes and relaxing.