July 15 , 2912, Caras Dirnen
“Well, well, if it isn’t our newest captain,” Guilin said as he joined Halladan.
“I’m sure you’ll have your chance soon enough,” Halladan replied.
“But a lot sooner if the Chieftain had another niece to marry,” Guilin said, his tone amused.
“Is that why you think Arador made me a captain?”
“Have you any idea how bad it has been in the west?” Halladan started. “The Captain had to hang a recruit for stealing food, we lost over half the company to cold and hunger and wolves, and then Tharbad...”
Tharbad. He still saw it, smelled it, when he closed his eyes. The stench of the river. The mud. Bodies that had been in water for weeks. The survivors clinging to the remains of the town, half-starved, haunted by disease.
“I am sorry,” his friend said, his expression now serious, placing a hand on his shoulder. “That, I should not… We are both fraught, and weary of all this. I do know you earned it.”
Halladan sighed. “Maybe so.” Had this been a normal winter, he might have ended up with a lieutenancy, and that would have been more than enough for a long time. But he had the rank now, and he would have to bear the responsibility.
“You’ll do well enough,” Guilin said. “Besides, you’re hardly the only new captain after this winter. Any word yet on where you’ll be going?”
“Probably Sarn Ford again. Bereg’s leg never healed properly, so he’s retiring, and Galador will take one of the other companies out of Fornost. You?”
“No news yet,” Guilin said, “but I heard Arathorn will still lead the Grey Company, and Arador is not giving up going out with the Rangers either.”
“I’m not sure it’s wise having both of them out in the Wild.” Halladan shook his head. “Not that we won’t need every Ranger we still have out there. Anyway, I just hope the worst is behind us. After the late frost and soggy ground, if we lose this year’s harvest…”
“Let’s not think about that. But speaking of captains…”
Fíriel and Ivorwen were standing talking some distance away, with Ivorwen’s little daughter Gilraen next to her mother, when Arathorn came over to them at a gesture from Fíriel, and reached out to pat the child’s head.
Gilraen stepped back. She did not hide behind her mother as Halladan had expected, but said something to Arathorn, who seemed taken aback but then crouched down to speak to her. Fíriel laughed, but Ivorwen did not.