Dinmir darted through the town as the sun shone on the first day of Summer, her feet barely touching the ground as she clutched her satchel close. She was on the hunt for some treats for when she and Aldawë met with Farothel and Auros later in the day, grinning at her musings as she hummed a tune to herself. Dinmir Treat-hunter I am. Finding something with apples for Auros and Farothel was easy. Something with orange for Aldawë was a little trickier, but on this particular day, finding blueberries for herself was proving impossible. The baker didn't have any, the shopkeep didn't have any, and she certainly didn't have any.
As she skirted by one of the buildings she caught sight of Auros standing around with some other boys, and it didn't look like a friendly visit. Dinmir tried to fight a wave of curiosity, but Auros turned ever so slightly, giving her a look at his face, and she got caught in the undertow. Dinmir drew close to the wall, creeping towards the gathering while doing her best to stay out of sight. Just a little closer and she might be able to make out what they're saying. A small corner near some crates was as close as she could risk, but it got her near enough to see and hear most of what was going on.
Auros seemed grumpier than usual. She saw seven... no eight boys standing in front of him. One of them was... Bragolnaur? He was one of the older boys, a little older than she, Aldawë, and Auros were, and a rather unruly one from her experience; not like Auros. Dinmir mused to herself as she watched the confrontation. Sure, Auros can be brusque, but he's not inconsiderate. He's just... less concerned with how he seems and more concerned with doing what needs to be done. A smile crept onto her face. Especially when he tries not to be concerned. Usually that meant helping someone, and when someone needed help, Auros found it difficult to walk away. Bragolnaur is more like... well, the histories of the Noldorin princes of old. All he seems to be concerned about is being the biggest, the boldest, and the loudest. I'm sure he thinks he is a Noldorin prince. I can see how someone like that would get under Auros' skin.
Dinmir remembered when Auros first mentioned the name 'Bragolnaur'. She still couldn't believe he let her scold him for so long. Dinmir was sure it was so that he could laugh when she had to eat a big serving of humble pie, though she noticed he did most of his laughing while she was chastising him. It taught her to make sure she knew the whole story before jumping to conclusions. That's why I'm here. I'm trying to learn the whole story. Yeah, that's it.
"This is your grand opportunity, Auros. I've decided to make you my second!" Dinmir heard Bragolnaur speak with a cold haughtiness that Auros couldn't muster if he wanted to.
An odd laughter ushered forth from Auros. "What kind of opportunity is that? To follow you around like a witless fool? To feed your ego? I have no use for either. Begone, and trouble me no more."
Dinmir had never heard such bitter laughter come from him. Auros was definitely grumpier than usual. Any other time he would've simply said "no" and left. Auros wasn't walking away. He wasn't even trying to. Dinmir saw the group start to close in around Auros. He hadn't just disparaged Bragolnaur, he'd insulted all of them. Auros showed as much concern as if he stood in a field of tall grass.
Bragolnaur's expression didn't change. "You know, Belwë here thinks you're all talk. He's been trying to convince me you're not worth the effort. I've tried to tell him it's not a light matter to cross you, but I think he wants to see it for himself."
Auros remained unfazed. "I have nothing to prove to one of your lackeys."
Dinmir covered her mouth. She didn't want to accidentally make any sound.
Belwë stepped forward, speaking too low for Dinmir to hear. Auros' response, on the other hand, was crystal clear. "If you get me down, you better be able to keep me there." She saw fists fly. Auros put up a valiant fight, but two other boys caught him by surprise and helped bring him to his knees. Dinmir didn't need to see Auros' face to know how furious he was.
Bragolnaur had a derisive smirk as he circled Auros. "I don't know if I want you as my second any more. That display wasn't so impressive as I thought it would be. Oh well. Maybe I'll just move on to Farothel and Aldawë. I'll give you some time to say goodbye since I know when they join me you won't want to be around them."
Bragolnaur and his group left Auros sitting on the ground. Once they were gone, Dinmir watched as Auros stood up, spat, and wiped the blood from his lip. He walked right by where she was crouched behind the wall, and though he stopped for a moment a few feet away, he gave no indication that he knew she was there. When the four of them met later, he said nothing. By all appearances, one would never guess he'd been in a fight.
It was quiet as they ate the treats Dinmir brought. She never found those blueberries, but she did find a strawberry tart, and that was almost as good. Auros had an intense, thoughtful look as he sat chewing his apple-filled pastry. Whether his chewing was slow because of a sore jaw or because he was deep in reflection, Dinmir couldn't tell. That's Auros' problem: he's always trying to solve everything by himself. If me or Aldawë weren't right there, he'd never come looking for us. He can be so... Dinmir grinned to herself as she considered the best word to describe Auros. Bull-headed? No, that's not fair. Obdurate? Stiff-necked?
She was so deep in her own contemplation, Auros' voice startled her when he finally spoke.
"I think we should start sparring, Aldawë."
Aldawe had finished his sweet roll with orange icing. "Hmm, what's that?"
"I think we should start sparring. It's time we gave more consideration to getting stronger and faster. Training isn't enough. I need practice that's more... unpredictable."
Dinmir looked at Aldawë, expecting some questioning thought directed at her, some sort of discussion between them, but neither came. She tried to question him in thought, but he didn't respond. Aldawë merely looked at Auros for a moment before nodding in agreement. "You're right. Let's start now."
The next few weeks when they got together, Dinmir spent most of the time sitting on the stone wall watching Auros and her brother sparring. Auros didn't seem to be content unless they'd practiced for a while each day. Sure, afterwards they amused themselves with games or other sport, if there was still time, but there were days where they sparred from the moment they met until it was time to go home. She supposed she could've just found something else to do and they wouldn't have been upset or missed her, but she felt like she had to be there. She wasn't sure what it was, but she was sure this was about more than Auros losing a fight. If Auros did know she'd seen it, she didn't want him to think she stopped coming because of Bragolnaur.
Both Aldawë and Auros were pretty good, so far as Dinmir was a judge, but while Aldawë usually wore a grin and took his progress in stride, Auros always had a determined glare for as long as they were at it. Sometimes Dinmir could hear him growling low, saying "Come on! You're faster than this!" It took her some time to realize he wasn't talking to Aldawë, but to himself.
Farothel couldn't sit by and watch for long and after a few days started sparring with them, as much as Auros would allow. For Farothel it was still a game, so when he was involved they both took it easier for Farothel's sake, but even Aldawë started taking it very seriously. The three seemed to enjoy pushing eachother as far as they could before they had to collapse in exhaustion. Dinmir thought it was never enough for Auros, though he never voiced a complaint. She suspected he was practicing even when he wasn't with them...
...Until a day came where Auros wasn't interested in sparring. Dinmir knew something was up.
"I'm sorry, Dinmir." Auros appeared quite contrite as he spoke to her, and he had his usual look rather than the determined glare, but he sounded more like he was pronouncing a judgement than making an apology. "I know watching the three of us has to be terribly boring. I'm rather surprised you didn't find something else to do."
Dinmir tried not to make her skepticism too evident. That's what he says.
"Today, I would leave it to you to choose our activity. I can't speak for Aldawë or Farothel, but my vote shall be with whatever you choose."
Aldawë of all people had a scowl. "Well that's not fair. Even if Farothel and I teamed up, the best we could do is tie and then we'd stalemate and choose nothing and who am I kidding Farothel is going to vote with you and I'd more than likely vote with Dinmir anyway." Aldawë had managed to disagree and then resign himself all in one breath. His usual grin overtook his scowl as he turned to Dinmir. "Go ahead sis, you get to pick."
Dinmir was sure her grin was something to behold, but Auros' solemn tone gnawed at her. She refused to let her misgiving weigh on the lightness of her voice. "I have three knights at my service. Who could ask for more? And I've been given the choice? Let's see. We could go riding..."
"Yeah!" Farothel made no pretense about his hope.
"We could race to the other end of the town..."
Aldawë groaned. He'd just got used to the idea of an easy day.
"Or we can go skipping stones on the stream. Hmm. Let's go with that one."
"Then that is my vote." Auros' tone was solemn, but for all Dinmir could tell, he was pleased with the choice.
Aldawë patted Farothel's shoulder. "Well Farothel, I guess that means we're skipping stones today."
"Aw. That's fun too." Farothel tried not to sound too disappointed.
Dinmir hugged Farothel and ruffled his hair. "We can go riding tomorrow."
Farothel brightened up. "Promise?"
"Of course! Aldawë and Auros will hold me to my word. Isn't that right Ald---" Aldawë had the look of someone already trying to plan a way out of tomorrow's activity. "Auros. Auros will hold me to my word."
The day proceeded as planned. They reached the bridge spanning the stream, they skipped stones, they joked, they even laughed, but Dinmir couldn't help but suspect Auros was holding something back. He paced around the stream as he took too much time simply looking for stones. Dinmir was sure even Aldawë suspected something, though he wouldn't speak up.
"If he wanted to talk about it, he'd talk about it, Dinmir. Leave him be."
"And what about me has ever told you I could do that?"
"Leave it be, sis."
"Aren't you concerned about Auros? He's our friend, is he not?"
"Of course I am, and of course he is. It's Auros. You saw us sparring. You saw how he can handle himself."
Dinmir's eyes darted to the ground. "Yeah. That's not the point."
Aldawë sighed. "What do you suggest? Bugging him about it won't do any good, and you know it."
Aldawë was no help, Farothel knew nothing, and when Dinmir tried to gently broach the subject Auros denied everything and anything. If she pushed too hard he would just get mad and still she would learn nothing, so against her own desire she let it be.
As the sun began to set and they parted ways for the evening, Auros admonished her. "Now remember you promised Farothel you'd go riding tomorrow."
Dinmir put her hands on her hips and gave him a stern look. "As I recall, I told him we'd go riding. I expect you'll be there."
Auros' eyes narrowed. "I will be there. I just might be late. I have another obligation. Start without me."
"What could you be doing ---"
"I have another obligation. I've given my word. I will be there." He was being brusque.
It was obvious whatever was going on, he wanted her to have no part in it. All that did was make Dinmir more curious. She said nothing, but walked home with Aldawë deep in thought. You can't end a conversation like that and not expect people to wonder, Auros.
Time crawled by from sunset to sunrise as Dinmir struggled to sleep. Her curiosity was too great, and she had a strong suspicion that the end of sparring meant Auros felt he was ready to confront Bragolnaur again. What she didn't know is why this was so important. Auros is too... Dinmir grinned to herself. ...knightly to be seeking this fight for no reason, and the last time I assumed something was frivolous, I had to apologize. I'm not going to make careless assumptions if I can help it, but I can't judge it fairly if I don't know why. Of course Auros isn't going to tell me why, so the only solution is to figure out where he's going so I can find out for myself.
Anar had no regard for Dinmir's lack of rest. As light entered through the cracks in her shutters the call for breakfast came up through the hall. Dinmir leapt out of bed, threw on her day clothes, and raced to the table. Aldawë was still dragging his feet. It looked like he wasn't even out of bed yet. Right after she ate she shoved a carefully prepared napkin into her satchel and darted out the door before Aldawë could catch up.
"Watch out Dinmir!"
She almost ran into Farothel! "I'm so sorry! I was trying to hurry... to meet you all at the stables! I didn't want to be late." Farothel would believe her. He wasn't the skeptic Auros was.
Farothel looked at her with a heavy dose of curiosity. "You're not late, we're early. Aldawë and Auros sent me to come get you."
"Aldawë...!" Dinmir's mouth moved, but no words escaped. Everything became clear, and she was flabbergasted. So that's why he wasn't at the table! That's why he insisted Auros would be fine! He knew! He was part of it all along, and he never said a word to me! Dinmir took a deep breath as she tried to think fast. She put an arm around Farothel. "Farothel, you look like you could use some breakfast."
Farothel shook his head. "No, I already had breakfast." The scent of apples and spice wafted out through the door, and Dinmir could see Farothel fighting temptation. "I shouldn't. Auros sent me to come get you."
Dinmir started leading him into the house. "I get the feeling Auros knew there were going to be apple muffins for breakfast today, and if that's the case, he knew you would like them."
"Yeah, but ---"
"And Aldawë sent you too, so he was practically demanding you have some!"
"No. Auros said that once you're ready, we should hurry to the stables. I'm not to leave unless you're with me."
Dinmir tried hard to wipe the grin off her face. There's no way Auros expected them to hurry to the stables, regardless of what he actually said.
"Ok, Farothel, you win. We should hurry to the stables."
Farothel cast his eyes to the ground.
"You know what though, I'm not quite ready to go to the stables, and you can't very well go back without me, right?"
"No..." By the grin on his face and the light in his eyes, Dinmir had no doubts he saw where she was going.
Dinmir continued in her nicest tone. "So while I'm finishing my last few preparations, it wouldn't hurt if you enjoyed a muffin or two, now would it?"
"Well, I can't go back without you. I don't suppose it could hurt."
"So you stay here, with this fresh plate of muffins, and I'll be back in a few minutes." Dinmir was starting to feel bad about what she was planning to do, but she hoped the muffins would make it up to Farothel. He's obviously too young to get mixed up in this, or they would've taken him too... and left me all alone wondering... She fought to keep her smile from fading. It's not Farothel's fault. They left him out too, but I can't bring him along on this. "Mom! Farothel's going to have some muffins while he waits for me!"
"Ok, make sure he takes one to Auros!"
I'm way ahead of you.
Climbing out of her window wasn't as hard as she expected it to be. Figuring out where Auros and Aldawë went was. She wasn't sure where to start, and even worse, she wasn't sure what she really expected she was going to do if she did find them.
A stern talking-to and an admonition to be nice doesn't work on those Bragolnaur-types, or on those Auros-types when they have their minds set to deal with those Bragolnaur-types. And now he's dragged Aldawë into it! Dinmir sighed as she wavered. Maybe it's better it doesn't work on the Auros-types. Maybe I should just leave it to them, go back in and take Farothel riding. They'll catch up when they're done... A scowl took hold as her will hardened. If I do that, I'll never know what's going on! That's worse than getting there and seeing there's nothing I can do! Off she went without another wasted thought.
Dinmir's mood cooled and she started thinking again once she'd put some distance between her and her house. I wish I'd taken time to figure out where they are before dashing to and fro on nothing but a sense of urgency. I spent all night convincing myself this was the right course and no time figuring out how to find them, but I couldn't risk lingering and being stopped -- or worse, reconsidering. Now that I've left Farothel behind, I'm committed, for good or ill. Now I have to find them.
Tapping her foot wasn't helping her think any faster, but it did keep her from rushing about without a destination. They can't be at the stables, or they wouldn't have pushed for me and Farothel to be there. They can't be where I saw Auros last time because that would draw too much attention. Come on, Dinmir, you know Auros, and he's with your brother. You should know how they think at least as well as they know how you think. Come on, think!
Dinmir took a deep breath. Auros would want somewhere he won't get backed into a corner but he could keep the field narrowed, especially after that last fight. Aldawë... well, I've never actually seen Aldawë fight. He never did that before we met Auros, but then he never ran into anyone he'd fight before we met Auros. I dare say some of Auros' more tenacious qualities have rubbed off on my brother. Dinmir tapped her foot again. Auros would pick a place he could narrow the approach... the stream! He was studying the area while we were there! He could use the bridge to his advantage!
Again she dashed off, now with a direction.
As the bridge came into view she saw Auros standing in the center, twelve boys gathered at the far end. Bragolnaur's group had grown. Bragolnaur was taller than Auros, but somehow Auros managed to be more imposing. Not that he wasn't particularly tall himself, now that Dinmir thought about it. He'd managed to pass Aldawë by a couple of inches, and if Aldawë didn't catch up soon he was going to lose their race. Dinmir crept closer, but stayed out of sight.
Bragolnaur held his head high, trying hard to seem even taller than he was. "So we came to your appointed place at your appointed time. Have you reconsidered my proposition, or did you just come to bid farewell to Aldawë as he swears fealty to me?"
Dinmir was almost too indignant for her own good. Swear fealty? To him?! That... that... hooligan! I'll... I'll... Dinmir grit her teeth.
"Neither." This Auros... this was not the solemn but kind Auros that she'd become accustomed to. This wasn't even the intense, determined Auros she'd seen while he was sparring. This Auros had a cold, almost haughty demeanor she'd not seen from him before. He stood to his full height, proud and unafraid, his eyes locked on his foes, facing towards the sunrise. It was the trees towering above all of them that prevented the sun from hindering his vision. "I've decided that I don't like how you lead, Bragolnaur. I don't like how you carry yourself. I don't like what you're willing to do for what you want, and I don't like you. Trouble me no more, and stay away from my cousin and my friends. I will not permit you, or any who side with you, to come near them."
For a moment as Dinmir saw Auros, he appeared to her like a bulwark, protecting all that stood within his shadow from whatever danger was before him. As the sun moved toward mid-morning she thought his shadow stretched enough to encompass the tree behind which she stood. She could imagine that shadow stretching to encompass Aldawë and Farothel. Auros would not waver. He stood in his convictions, and he would stand alone if he had to. Dinmir grimaced, a look of worry forming as she watched events unfold. He stands alone even when he doesn't have to.
Bragolnaur, however, stood in the confidence of one surrounded by allies, the sun at his back. "And what about him?" Dinmir saw Bragolnaur point at someone out of her view.
"Me?" Aldawë's voice came from the other side of a tree Dinmir couldn't see past. "I'm just here to keep things fair."
So that's where he is! We're going to have words about him keeping this from me later.
Bragolnaur didn't hide his sneer. "Twelve against two and you think it'll be fair?"
"You're right, it won't be. I guess you just couldn't find enough lackeys to pose a challenge to us." If Aldawë stood behind the bulwark, he was close enough to feel the danger and still scoff at its approach.
Bragolnaur laughed. "You're bold, Aldawë, and you have some wit. That's why I wanted you for my group."
"You must not think much of me, if you think I know nothing of you. But even if we'd never crossed paths before today, I know enough from Auros to say I would take my chances in the wild alone before I'd take up with your band of ambushers."
When Aldawë said that, Dinmir saw some of the other boys shift uneasily. It seemed not everyone was comfortable with how Auros' fight ended last time. She carefully found a new vantage to get a better view. The wind shifted, coming from behind her new spot.
Aldawë wasn't done yet. "Now some of you we know, and some of you I thought we were on amicable terms. One or two of you, we've had our disagreements. You'll remember how those ended in my favor."
Aldawë in a fight? When?!
"Regardless, if any of you are even half of what I thought you to be, you'll stay put until it's your turn. Auros doesn't need my help, but if you make me get involved, we won't stop until we've dunked all of you in the water, and then you can go home soaking wet explaining how eleven of you got bested by the two of us. As for you, Bragolnaur, we might just dunk you anyway to cool you off."
Dinmir realized Aldawë wasn't standing behind the bulwark, he was guarding the flank. Dinmir couldn't help but feel a bit of pride. That's my brother. I guess Auros knows he doesn't have to stand alone after all. I can't be mad that Auros never seeks help from his friends then also be mad when he does.
Dinmir could tell the resolve of Bragolnaur's group was shaken. Auros and Aldawë had presented themselves so confident of their impending victory that it looked like even Bragolnaur was considering if these two really could take all twelve of them. Bragolnaur shifted his stance. As the silence dragged on, it was looking like Bragolnaur didn't want to take the chance. "Well, that is certainly your prerogative to reject my offer, but you cannot speak for everyone. Would you deny Farothel his own choice? His right to determine his own fate? Is our history not full of such acts of hubris? Ultimately, we must all make our own choices, no?"
Auros was silent.
Why is he hesitating? Auros' mind is already made up. Dinmir saw the look in Bragolnaur's eye. Bragolnaur is most certainly not looking for an agreeable resolution. He's probably foolish enough to take Auros' hesitation for indecision. He's just looking for anything that you'll cave on, Sir Knight. Don't fall for it.
Auros' head turned ever so slightly towards her.
Dinmir almost gasped. He knows I'm here! It was at that moment she remembered something she'd heard her father telling Aldawë: "If you can help it, never fight in front of a lady." She could almost hear it in her father's voice. Auros has probably been told the same. Of course he would take something like that to heart! Here I've been so concerned with finding out what was going on, I'd forgotten why I was concerned in the first place. She grit her teeth and decided to chastise herself later. Besides, she'd already made to herself an amusing observation. Evidently sports and sparring don't count. Dinmir looked around her. There's no way I can sneak away without being seen. I'm too close. You might have no choice, Sir Knight!
Bragolnaur called Auros' attention back to him. "You two have courage, and I respect that. How many would dare to stand just two against twelve? I want you as my second after all. Aldawë can be third behind you. Or if you still refuse me, Aldawë can be my second. There is safety in numbers, is there not? It would be easier to protect those you care about as part of my group."
Dinmir didn't think Auros could stand any straighter or taller than he was already standing, but somehow he found a way. "Now I know you are desperate, Bragolnaur. I would not join you if you had a thousand thousands at your back. You are no leader."
"You've slighted me one too many times, Auros. I guess we'll see what you're made of yet again."
"That's fine by me." Auros pointed to one of the boys in the back. "Him first."
Bragolnaur laughed. "You want to try Belwë so soon? He's the one that got you last time."
Auros didn't waste a look at Bragolnaur, directing his full attention now to Belwë. "Do you remember what I told you? You didn't keep me down. Now you'll regret it."
Belwë looked confident but wary. From this distance it was easier to tell Belwë was a little bigger than Auros, but that didn't stop good Sir Knight. Belwë threw a punch. Auros dodged it and gave him a quick jab. Belwë swung again and Auros deflected it, then gave him another jab. A third swing, and Auros knocked him on his back. No one came to Belwë's aid this time.
"Say it." Auros was calm. It was clear he wasn't sparring.
"I yield." Belwë was not pleased to admit defeat.
"You two. Lhochnir and Dollost." Auros pointed at the two in the front.
Dinmir couldn't hide her surprise. Those don't sound like proper names. Is he mocking them?
"You helped him last time. Both of you at once." Both were about Auros' height. They charged him, and Auros deflected and dodged their attacks. After a brief scuffle he provoked the one he called Dollost to swing with everything he had. The punch connected with Lhochnir, causing him to stumble into the stream. When he stood up, his hair was matted over his face and he decided he'd had enough fighting for one day. Auros gave Dollost a solid hit and he went to the ground. "Say it."
"I yield!" Dollost looked like he just wanted to be done with it. Dinmir decided he must've been the most swayed by Aldawë's speech.
Auros glared at their leader. "How many now, Bragolnaur?"
Bragolnaur looked around him. Some of his group were whispering amongst themselves. Aldawë's rebuke had shaken them and Aldawë hadn't even raised a finger. He didn't even appear to be ready to jump in. He was leaning against a tree! Even the new boys didn't like the idea of fighting Auros, let alone Auros and Aldawë together. Some were indeed familiar with both Auros and Aldawë, and began to question their own involvement if Auros was standing against them. Bragolnaur was losing the esteem of his compatriots, and Dinmir could tell he knew it.
Dinmir glowered at Bragolnaur from behind the tree. There's only one way for Bragolnaur to turn this around, and he knows it.
Bragolnaur turned back to Auros, but his eyes didn't have the same fire in them Auros' did. "I suppose this is how it had to go, even if you had taken my offer. We two couldn't long be in the same group before we'd have to see which of us was best."
"You know nothing of me."
Bragolnaur stood face to face with Auros before he swung. Auros barely parried it and took his own shot, connecting with Bragolnaur's gut. Bragolnaur didn't even try to block or dodge; he took the hit straight on and barely grunted. "Not bad." Bragolnaur came at Auros with everything he had, and Auros returned the favor. Auros was faster, and he managed to dodge or parry most of the attacks. He couldn't avoid everything, but he'd become adept at maneuvering so he wouldn't take the brunt of the hit. Still, Bragolnaur made a few punches count, and Auros felt them. Dinmir flinched at the sound as each landed on Auros, but Auros barely let out more than a grunt and grit his teeth.
"You've come a long way Auros, in these few weeks."
Auros spit. "I don't need praise from a braggart like you."
Bragolnaur was panting. "It's a shame you won't join me."
"I have no desire to become a shameless sycophant, nor do my friends."
"They don't have to like it, they just have to do as I say. If they want to be part of my group, if they want my protection, they don't need to think, they just need to do. Once you're out of the way, your friends won't have any choice but to join me."
Bragolnaur's words caused the fire already burning in Auros to flare. He swung and connected. "You haven't got past me yet!"
Dinmir flinched when Auros' fist landed on its target. Bragolnaur definitely felt that one.
Bragolnaur recovered and swung. Auros grabbed his arm and pulled him to the ground. They rolled around, Auros struggling to put him in a lock and Bragolnaur doing everything he could to prevent it. They almost rolled into the stream until Auros threw his opponent off him and leapt back to his feet. Bragolnaur pulled himself up to meet him, and after a last trade of blows Auros landed one good hook. Bragolnaur stumbled to his knees.
Auros had a fierce light in his eyes as he circled Bragolnaur. Even his determination when sparring did not prepare Dinmir for how Auros fought when he was serious.
"I want to hear it, Bragolnaur."
Bragolnaur was worn out. He spat on the ground. "I yield, for now."
"I'd hoped you could be reasoned with, but it seems you're the kind who doesn't learn until you've been taken down a peg. Now that I've done that, don't cross me again, don't come near my cousin, and don't come near my friends, or Aldawë and I will show you and your lackeys what we are really capable of."
Bragolnaur grinned, a most sinister grin if Dinmir had ever seen one. "I will leave them be, but you won't be around forever." Bragolnaur's last words left Dinmir puzzling over their meaning as he and his group left Auros and Aldawë at the bridge.
Auros was facing away from her as he bent down to the stream and washed his face. "You can come out now Dinmir."
Dinmir jolted out from behind the tree. "How did you know?"
He turned to look at her, and she saw only the serious face with kind eyes she was used to seeing, though he was holding a scowl in check. "I knew when you got here."
Dinmir thought she'd been extremely quiet. "So what was this all about?"
Auros straightened and brushed himself off. The scowl faded, replaced by a grin that all but screamed "I'm not telling." Dinmir started to wonder how many of Aldawë's traits had rubbed off on Auros and how much of this was just a side of him she'd never noticed.
"This? Just a minor disagreement. It's straightened out now. Nothing to worry about."
The scowl found its way to Aldawë. "I told you to leave it be, sis, but you couldn't. I told you Auros would be fine, but you didn't trust me. We didn't want you involved."
"Is that all either of you have to say?"
Both boys spoke in unison. "Where's Farothel?"
"Don't change the subject!" Dinmir's guilt made her shift uneasily in the ensuing silence. "He's enjoying some apple muffins."
Aldawë grinned. "So we have plenty of time. I didn't expect you'd abandon a whole plate of muffins to him to come chase us down."
Dinmir huffed. It was obvious she wasn't going to get more on the matter, even after all she went through to get it. Still, Dinmir couldn't help but wonder. "You didn't answer me. How did you know I was here?"
Dinmir saw a strange look on Auros' face, then a sheepish grin formed. "Well..."
Aldawë cut him off. "You never could resist that second helping of bacon at breakfast, sis. I bet you grabbed a few extra pieces when you convinced Farothel to sit down, and were in too much of a hurry to get all the grease off your fingers before you picked up your satchel."
Auros nodded in agreement.
Dinmir gaped. "Well that's a fine thing to say!" She sat down in front of Auros and pulled out the napkin from the satchel she was carrying. "And after the effort I went through to bring you this!" She unwrapped it to reveal a muffin and a couple of strips of bacon. "For all I knew when I grabbed these, Aldawë was going to eat them all! I bet you went into this on an empty stomach, didn't you?"
Auros looked surprised for a moment, then his expression hardened. "So this was going to be your excuse if you'd caught us before we got here?"
"You can't just accept a kind gesture, can you? Should I just eat this myself? I wouldn't mind a third helping of bacon, evidently."
"It's yours to do with as you wish."
"You are a stubborn one, Sir Knight."
A thoughtful look planted itself on Auros as he considered his response. "It's served me well so far."
"Well I'm not going to give you another opportunity."
"Give it to Aldawë."
Aldawë held his hands up in protest. "I've had my breakfast, and we both know you skipped yours. Don't bother arguing with her, mellon."
Auros looked at the stream. "Would you feel better if I ate it?"
Dinmir grinned. She'd won this round at least. "Immensely. You can consider it the spoils of victory if that helps."
Auros sat in silence for a moment. "I wouldn't want to disappoint a friend." Auros accepted the bacon and muffin and ate them quickly.
Dinmir couldn't help but get a little bit of teasing in while she was at it. "Be sure to wash your hands. I wouldn't want anyone to know you're sneaking up on them. Now if your other obligation has been met, we can go riding. I'm sure both Farothel and the horses are champing at the bit by now, and only Farothel has had apples to pass the time."
Auros helped Dinmir to her feet. "I've been looking forward to it."