Chapter 1: The Regiment’s Children
A shrill whistle was blown in the corridor, followed by a loud shout:
”Company, wake up!”
Ereg jumped to his feet almost before he had opened his eyes. He yawned as he looked around him dejectedly. How he hated that whistle! Every single morning began with its sound. With ten men turning on their beds constantly, snoring and mumbling in their sleep, seven or eight hours just weren’t enough to rest properly. He stretched his muscles and started to arrange his bed. Next to his bed Nárion, a smallish, wiry man with black hair and green eyes, sat up on his mattress.
”Good morning, Ereg!” he greeted, seeming to be only a little tired. Ereg only mumbled something inarticulate and took his uniform out of his wooden locker. Almost all men were already stirring, only two still in their beds. When Ereg started to pull his trousers on, a high, irritated voice shouted from the door opening:
”Get up, you lazy bums! This not an inn, to sleep all day!”
A tall man wearing the insignia of an ensign on his upper sleeve stepped inside. Now even the last man sprang up, as Ereg shouted attention. The ensign let his eyes cover whole the room as he wrinkled his long nose.
”You have a quarter an hour to wash and dress! The service uniform, as usual. After that, to formation on the front yard with rest of the company!” He turned and walked away, but stopped at the door and said over his shoulder:
”And open the window, it stinks like in an orc-den here!”
Then he strode out and left the still yawning men standing. Nárion humphed and said:
”Our kind ensign Belranc straight from Dol Guldur struck again! I guess he smelled himself.”
”I’ll bet he was too evil even for the Necromancer, that’s why he is here” said a stocky, brown-haired man with a sigh. Ereg laughed and answered:
”You are right, Manceleb! But now we must hurry, if we want to wash before the others use all the water!”
They almost ran to the bathroom across the corridor, a yawning corporal staring dully at them. The neighbouring squad was there already, the soldiers cursing and elbowing each other. The water was again only tepid, the corporal on duty having not bothered to fetch enough fire-wood to warm it. After three hectic minutes Ereg had splashed his armpits and face and was putting his uniform on. It consisted of a dark grey tunic, a simple image of the White Tree embroidered on the right side of chest, and trousers of the same colour. The black boots were almost knee-high, sturdy and serviceable. All was crowned by a grey cap. All the others clothed themselves with haste, too.
”Company, outside – form!”
All rushed through the front door and formed a neat three-row line. Ensign Belranc seemed to be rebuking their sergeant Gladhir. The men were worried how this would affect their lot. Ereg’s uncle, who had been a corporal, had told him in his earthy way:
”Remember, boy, in the army all shit flows downwards.”
He hadn’t told, however, that sometimes a man-at-arms would wade up to his chin in it. A lieutenant made a sergeant angry, he took it out to a corporal, and the corporal made his men suffer. There was no way around it. Now Gladhir shouted to them:
”You morons, worthless sluggards! How damn long it takes to rise in the morning? If you think you are still being pampered by your mommy, you are wrong! Today the time for breakfast will be only ten minutes! Teaches you the meaning of time! Right – face!”
The company turned right and on the command began marching towards the ”banquet hall” as they called the low and long kitchen building. The distance was short, only a hundred yards across a paved parade field. In a long line they marched inside and received their portion of porridge, bread and butter from a bored-looking woman, who was part of the kitchen staff. Hastily they sat down and began to eat. Ereg had gobbled only a half of his porridge, however, when the sergeant’s whistle sounded.
”Company – up! Back to the quarters, no formation! No sauntering!”
Ereg tucked his piece of bread to the pocket of his tunic and ran with the others across the field. Once in the barrack, he sat on his stool and drew a deep breath. He turned to Nárion.
”Whew, sarge sure is in a bad mood today! What have we in the schedule this morning?”
”I think it is sword-practice until the noon-meal. In the afternoon, cleaning and repairing the equipment.”
All the others seemed crestfallen. After the measly breakfast sparring of many hours wasn’t an exciting prospect. But Nárion was cheerful.
”Have fun, boys! I’m off to the storage!”
He had been assigned to the equipment storage for two mornings in every week. A friend of his cousin was the lieutenant in charge there, so it had been easy to secure the job. He had been also a sailor in a merchant ship, so he was quite familiar with packing and carrying heavy loads. The other men in the squad envied him for the storage assignment. Now Manceleb grimaced:
”Damn, some people have all the luck in the world! You little cheat, why didn’t you arrange some easy jobs for us also?”
”Sorry, it was for one man only. Maybe you have better luck next time they need somebody.”
Nárion walked out, whistling. They heard him booming to the corporal on duty and the bored answer.
”Man-at-arms Nárion going to the equipment storage!”
”You may go.”
Ereg was dejected and cursed himself for a thousandth time for having volunteered. He had had a comfortable life as an only son of a carpenter. His father had planned to teach him the profession, and his tuition had been nearly complete, when he had met the recruiters, a year ago. They had offered him ale in an inn and painted a rosy picture of the life in the army. They had said:
”Think about it, an exciting life, full of action! You will have great honour, when you fulfill your duty to our King. Besides, no pretty girl can resist the lure of an uniform.”
Being of somewhat easily persuaded disposition and having drunk eight tankards of ale, he had signed and collected his recruitment fee. His father hadn’t been pleased, but there was nothing to do, as the contract couldn’t be cancelled. Next week he had donned the uniform of the Osgiliath Regiment for the first time. This far there hadn’t been a hint of excitement. And as for the girls, they had only the Wednesday evenings and Sundays off, so there was not much chance to chase women.
He came back to the present as orders to don their hauberks were shouted in the corridor. Sighing, he pulled the heavy mail on him, donned the surcoat and fastened his sword-belt.
Ereg was thoroughly exhausted, as sergeant Gladhir ordered a little break. They had sparred with dull swords for two hours, and all his joints ached. His opponent had been Gladhir himself, and the sergeant had hit hard, rebuking:
”What are you doing, can’t you even hold a sword? My granny hits harder! What are you going to do with the Easterlings, pat them on their shoulders, huh? Swing it, like this!”
Ereg had only barely kept on his feet, when the irritated sergeant had landed heavy blows on his helm and body. But now that was finally over, at least for some time. He drank from his tin canteen and wiped sweat from his brow, trying to dry his face. It was quite useless, however, for the weather was horrible. It was only early Sulimë and a cold rain poured from the sky, drenching the soldiers. All were cold to the bone now they weren’t moving anymore. But soon they had again action enough. An order to strip their armour and weapons was cried. They wondered what this meant, until ensign Belranc walked to the place, smiling and carrying a ball.
”It seems the last sleep has fallen from your eyes. As you are looking so fresh, what could be more fun than some sports? Platoon one, divide in two! The others, back to the barracks and prepare for a running exercise!”
The men of Ereg’s platoon mumbled wearily ”one” or ”two” and formed the groups. They knew what to expect. Belranc held that games were a good way to build endurance and agility and often ordered them to play football or wrestle. Usually it was fun, but today everyone was too tired. They flung their coats off nonetheless and erected poles marking the goals. The game started, quite slowly. The ensign was not pleased and suggested some corporals and sergeants to join in. The sub-alterns did so with gusto, as most of them liked games like this. They played quite roughly, tackling and elbowing mercilessly. Ereg soon had even more bruises, as a gigantic corporal kicked the ball away from him and elbowed him to the ground.
The men-at-arms only became more energetic, when the ensign shouted:
”The team that wins may leave one hour earlier to the city this evening! The match lasts for an hour, with fifteen minute break in the middle!”
As it was Wednesday and everybody waited the joys of the city, all tried harder. Belranc acted as a referee, but didn’t interfere with the tricks of the sub-alterns. After all, they did need some fun after the dull morning. The men warmed as they played and even the tired Ereg found that he was actually enjoying the game a bit. The match was quite even, the goals being 2-2 five minutes before the end. Then something unexpected happened. Ereg was attacking towards the goal, when he saw Manceleb suddenly rushing from behind, elbowing every opponent as he went. He slowed only some yards before the goal. Ereg had the ball and kicked it to the stout man. Manceleb neatly caught it with his feet and kicked it mightily. Although the goalkeeper tried to jump in the way, the ball rocketed between the poles and flew nearly a hundred yards. Then the whistle of Belranc sounded and the match had ended 3-2. All men in the team of Ereg rushed to Manceleb, patting his shoulder and chattering excitedly. The fat man beamed with pleasure, wiping sweat and rainwater from his face.
Finally the evening came and the fortunate soldiers could leave at five o’clock, the losing team grimacing at them and waiting for their turn. The afternoon had been quite irritating, because the ensigns and sergeants checked all pieces of equipment with painstaking care before giving them leave to go. But at least the armour and the swords shone now brightly, and the dull quarters seemed a bit more cheerful when clean. Ereg putted on his leave tunic, whistling merrily, when Nárion came in.
”There you are, you slacker! You should have been the afternoon here.”
”Oh, lieutenant Aiwenor needed me badly, as there was a load of new boots and uniforms to put on the shelves.”
”Oh, don’t lie, you played again cards and dice with him all day!”
”Well, we all have our duties. If a lieutenant orders me to play, what can I do?”
”Such a hard task! Let me guess, as a reward he gave you also leave to go earlier to the city?”
”Yes, he arranged that with the captain. I knew it was a good move to let him win some coppers.”
Ereg laughed again, shaking his head. Nárion was the most sly man he knew. After running away from his ship, Nárion had drifted to Minas Tirith and led a life of petty crime and odd jobs. When the soil had begun to burn under his feet, he had come to Osgiliath and joined the army. Now he hummed a tune, as he clothed himself. After checking the polish of their boots, the two marched to the gate of the garrison along the others. Soon enough they were almost in the centre of Osgiliath. Nárion waved his hand to Ereg and said:
”Well, have a nice evening!”
”What, don’t you come with us? There’s a cheap tavern on the riverside.”
”Oh, no, I have another appointment. Maybe next time.”
With that, the small man walked around the corner. Ereg shrugged and followed the others, who were lured by the seiren-call of cheap ale, greasy meat pies and pretty barmaids.
The rest of the week dragged on slowly but at last Sunday came, sunny and relatively warm. The wake-up call was sounded two hours later than usual, but many were awake well before it nonetheless, waiting their day off with eager anticipation. After the breakfast almost all the soldiers of the regiment streamed out of the gates, Ereg and Nárion with them. Nárion declined, when Ereg asked him to come to Ereg’s home.
”It is very kind of you, but I don’t think I would suit in the company of people like your parents, no offense meant. And I have again something else to do.”
Again he walked away with a brisk pace. Ereg was quite intrigued by his behaviour. Nárion hadn’t come with the others to taverns almost ever, but always slipped to his own ways. There had been speculation that he had a woman somewhere. Nárion himself had supported these theories by a grin here and a sly comment there. Ereg pondered. He had only promised to his parents to visit them in the afternoon, so he had plenty of time in his disposal. And it would be interesting to see what Nárion was up to. He made his decision and started to follow his friend from some distance. Nárion walked quite a long way, to the southern riverside, where poorer folk lived.
Ereg saw Nárion going inside a little badly-kept house and staying there for some time. He waited for some time, and wondered if he should go away. The situation was quite embarrassing and he felt that what he did wasn’t proper. Just when he was turning to go, the door of the house opened and Nárion came out. Ereg was quite surprised when he saw that the other man was accompanied by a little girl, perhaps four years old. The two walked hand in hand, chattering merrily and the girl sometimes laughing with a bright voice. Ereg was still embarrassed but followed them nonetheless, as the whole thing was very strange. He thought he began to understand, though.
Nárion and the child walked to a public garden and sat on a stone bench, the girl talking endlessly and the man listening with a tender smile on his face. Now Ereg decided to make his presence known. He surprised the two by striding in front of them and exclaiming:
”Why, Nárion, you never told you had a daughter!”
The little girl was startled and clutched the sleeve of Nárions tunic, peering at the strange man curiously. Nárion went all red and stammered:
”She... she is not my daughter, but my niece. My sister Riliel is her mother.” Then he turned to the child:
”Say hello to my friend Ereg. He is in the same company as I.”
The girl let go of Nárion’s sleeve and said shyly, curtseying:
”Good day, master Ereg.”
Ereg smiled gently and greeted her in military fashion, by placing his right fist over his heart.
”Hello, little one! What is your name?”
The girl didn’t answer, but looked at her feet shyly. Nárion answered for her:
”Her name is Dilthwen and she will be five two months hence. She is my sister’s only child. Riliel’s husband died last year and she has to work in taverns and wash laundry to support the child and herself. An old woman looks after Dilthwen usually, but I do that whenever I can.”
Now Dilthwen had gained some courage and broke in:
”Master Ereg, are you an officer? My uncle always says they appear when you least expect it.”
Ereg grinned a little and answered:
”No, I am not, little maiden. Like your uncle, I am only a man-at-arms. Be glad that you don’t ever need to be a soldier.”
”Oh, I’d love to be a soldier, if I was a boy! You have such handsome clothes!”
Now both Nárion and Ereg laughed, the former stroking Dilthwen’s hair. Nárion said:
”You have something to learn of this world, it seems. Wait until you are a big girl, then you won’t anymore want to be a man-at-arms.” Dilthwen was incensed:
”But I AM a big girl, mother said so just yesterday!”
”Oh, of course. Don’t be angry, I was just joking. What if we went home? I can tell you a few stories and then it is time for you to go sleeping.”
Dilthwen forgot her anger instantly and exclaimed:
”Oh, yes! I want to hear again about the bear and the princess, and the story about the Swan of the North, and about the old blacksmith with enchanted hammer. When we walk, tell me about the man who found a golden treasure.”
Nárion rose and took Dilthwen’s hand.
”I’ll do that. Now, be a good girl and say farewell to Ereg. Ereg, I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell about this. You see, the laugh would never end.”
The girl curtseyed again and said:
”Goodbye, master Ereg!”
Then the two walked away, Nárion beginning to tell:
”Once upon a time, there was a farmer. Now, he was very poor...”
Ereg watched them walk around the corner, smiling. Then he turned and began his long walk to his parents’ house.
The names of this story are made with the help of an online Sindarin dictionary. Any corrections are welcome.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Disclaimer: I don’t own anything J.R.R. Tolkien wrote whatsoever. Almost all the characters are my original creations, excepting King Ondoher, Minohtar and other people mentioned in the Unfinished Tales and Appendices of the LotR. This story is set in the year 1944 Third Age.
Chapter End Notes:
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