Remember How to Smile

Chapter 3: Nursemaid to a Mûmakil

by Cassia and Siobhan

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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 Estel.”

“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 well.”

“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 was.

“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 companions’ amusement.

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 this story.”

“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 whole affair.”

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 wearily homeward.

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 your tongues.”

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 frustration.

“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 sleeping occupants.

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 respected him.

“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 here.

“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 animals.”

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 not?”

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 guard’s bunkhouse.

“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 the plains.

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 again.

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 troughs.

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 truly gone.”

“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, my friend.”

“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 failed pranks.

“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 protested loudly.

“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 already!!!”

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 slightly.

“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 tough hide.

“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 shepherd.

“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 correct?”

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.

“Adrar!  Tyndel!”

“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 was smiling.

“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 northerner.

“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 everywhere.

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 Legolas’ chest.

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 out of the muddy water and sent aside to shed their outer clothes and dry off.

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 human.

“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.