My Lord Arathorn... It's a Girl!

Argaladiel (aka Notes From A 400lb Nuzgûl)

8. Aramiriel 1

   
The Prancing Pony was never her favourite place in Eriador. Too small, too cramped, and too full of suspicious Breefolk who were too keen on casting a suspicious eye at a strange face. She had earned some marginal tolerance out of them by coming through on a regular basis with a wagonful of goods, so they were willing to speak to her, and Barliman Butterbur charged her one silver less for ale than he charged any other of the Dúnedain who came through. Such were the scant privileges of being known as "Mistress Kingsfoil", trader and herbwife. Yet still Bree was a rather friendless place for one of the old blood. Rangers were regarded with extreme suspicion, and only the trade coin she brought to the place “on behalf of the Chief” allowed them to use the Pony as a meeting place, or as a way station on their journeying.


From what she had learned from Gandalf before he had taken Arador off with him toward Mordor, it was hoped that the two hobbits he spoke of would be stopping in Bree and looking for him. Either way, she had arranged to meet with Arador there after checking on the local patrols. With any luck, she would meet those hobbits at the same time.


The planned visit to the Northern patrols had been successful, but the time she had allowed had been insufficient to deal with the loss of her horse to a wolf pack. The Sarn patrol would have to do without her. It was not that her presence was necessary, but rather that she made a habit of visiting each patrol at least once every two years, in order that they remember that although Arador, her son, was the war leader of the Dúnedain, the Chieftain was still the Lady Aramiriel. Again, not a strict necessity, although she sometimes felt that if she did not perform these small rituals, she would be giving creedence to those who stated (loudly in some cases) that she should step down from the task of being Chieftain, retire to a woman's role in the Angle, and let Arador rule in her stead.


She traded the wolf pelts and horseskin she had brought with herself (she had a policy of always having something to trade, although she had been planning to bring rabbit) and booked herself a room at the Pony for a week. Barliman seemed rather noncommittal when she asked whether the Ranger they knew as "Stalker" had been in. She put this down to a natural reluctance to comment on the doings of “foreigners”, as the Breefolk put it. Bringing out her purse of trade coin, she paid the existing slate for the Rangers.


“That'll be the last you'll need to pay me for those folk, Mistress Kingsfoil,” Barliman commented in a voice sour with disapproval.


“Why ever?” she asked. “Have they not been good customers?”


The innkeeper looked uncomfortable. “Aye, they have,” he admitted, the words coming with a certain amount of reluctance. “But the gates of Bree are being closed to strangers. Too many strange folks coming in with too much mischief on their minds. We're shutting all of 'em out, and that includes the Rangers. You'd best pass the news on to your folk, mistress, for we're not of a mind to allow this trickery to be going on for much longer.”


She understood the disapproval in Butterbur's voice. He made his living from selling food, drink and accommodation from those who travelled from place to place. For the gates of Bree to be shut would mean that he would have far less money coming in, far less income. She cast a glance around the common room. It was much as she had remembered it, shabby. Many years before, Butterbur's mother had confided in the woman she had thought a mere wandering trader of her plans for “doing the place up”, plans that had been based on a sudden influx of dwarven gold coming westward from Esgaroth. However, the promise of those early years had vanished in the past ten. Years of poor harvest, of sudden floods, or droughts, or unseasonal storms had broken Bree down to near nothing. There was very little surplus these days. Trade coin was the one way of getting new supplies in, and most of Bree's trade coin came from the Pony. The policy was sensible, when viewed in isolation. However, when viewed in the larger context, it was short-sighted, to say the very least.


She found the chambermaid more voluble about the reasons for the ban on foreigners. Things had been getting strange in Bree over the past few months. Squint-eyed southern folk coming up, folk with hands a trifle too free with her breasts and behind for the maid's liking, and a bit much coin to spend on the wrong sorts of things. Rumours of strange things moving up on the Downs, up among the Barrows.


“We don't want no strange things here in Bree. Best to just lock the gates, and be done with it,” was the comment of the chambermaid.


The woman gave her some coin for her troubles, to win her friendship (such as it was) as well as further rumours as they came to hand.


Once the maid was gone, she sifted truth from exaggeration in the gossip, and added it to a number of other factors, getting a result which did not please her. Foul things were on the move, and they seemed to be moving toward the Shire. The One was involved in this, in fact, it seemed that the actions of that evil thing might well be at the core of it all. Gandalf had seemed rather startled by her deducing that the One might have been up and active at around the same time he did, although she had no idea why. The pattern was there if one had eyes to see it. Just a series of little things - things like the Shire patrols spotting a few too many strangers on the borders to the South and East these days. Things like the Breeland patrols changing from being well-regarded into near-outcasts within the space of her own lifetime. Things like a series of difficult years for farming. Things like the reports of increased activity from Mordor. Things like the stories that her agents caused to be sent back from Rohan, Gondor and Harad, as they gathered intelligence. War was coming, to the North as well as to the South, to the West as well as to the East. The Dark one was rising, and gathering power to him.


The One was active. By virtue of who she was, she could not avoid getting involved in the forthcoming events. The fate of the line of Isildur was tied to the fate of the One. It was, in many ways, her destiny. When she thought on events, she wondered whether this was the time foretold by Malbeth, the time when the line of Elendil would reclaim their place in Gondor. There was always a small ripple of anticipation which shuddered through her at that thought: would she be the one to make all right? Or would that be the task of her son, or his son, or his son's son? She laughed to herself. Idle fancies these, imaginings for a time when no other tasks awaited her.


Now her task was to shepherd this "Baggins" fellow up to Rivendell. To deliver him and that which she hoped he still bore into the care of her foster-father. Of course, this was all dependent on him arriving in Bree in relative safety. She had a suspicion that the Nine were out a-riding: it would be what she would do were she the Dark one. She pushed the worry and the vague fear that accompanied it away from her.


Arador had been taken by Gandalf in search of the creature that called itself “Gollum”. From what she had heard back (via the messages that flowed between the elven kingdoms rather seldom these days) they had been successful in apprehending the creature, which was even now under guard in the kingdom of Thranduil. The Nine had not been seen (“they are invisible” murmured an all-too-literal part of her mind) or spotted (“they would leave none alive to tell tales”). It seemed that her task would be a straightforward escort mission, and she had performed enough of those in her guise as a mercenary of the Dúnedain to know what the expectations would be.


She spent a few hours in her chambers, considering the more urgent problem of Bree's forthcoming isolation. This isolation would not be a good thing, for Bree, besides being situated at one of the major crossroads in the North, was something of an economic clearinghouse. It was also a centre for her intelligence network, although the Breefolk did not know it. Were the gates of Bree to be shut, she would be effectively be blinded westward from the Chetwood. The thought was not a pleasant one. She reached her decision, and left the inn, heading for the house of the Squire of Bree.


The Squire was a plump, red-faced man. He knew who she was, of course. How could he not, when she had been treating him for dropsy any time these last ten years? He would always say “I could not do without your medicines, Mistress Kingsfoil. You must tell me what you put into them, that I might obtain them locally.” Always she would demur, for she knew that the chief “ingredient” was actually her own skill with healing.


“Ah, Mistress Kingsfoil,” he greeted her. “What brings you to Bree this day?”


“Trade, Squire,” she replied. “I brought in some pelts for trading. Got a fair price for them, too.”


“Ah, 'tis good to hear.”


“Aye, 'tis good to tell. Although, from what I hear, I shall not be able to tell you such tidings again.” She looked at the Squire. He blushed, going even redder in the face than he was now.


“So you've heard of the ban on foreigners, I take it?” the Squire asked, direct as always. She nodded. “Well, it goes against the grain, but with folks in Bree being terrorised by strange things in the night, and all these strangers appearing from nowhere, there's a lot of calls from the common folk to just lock the rest of the world outside our walls and have nothing to do with it. I've been resisting them for as long as I can, but just before the last town meeting, there was something happened that was so uncanny it quite changed my mind on the subject.”


She looked at the Squire, raising an eyebrow. Taking this as an invitation to continue, he told of the happenings. There had been a strange noise through the town the night before the last town meeting. Folk had spoken of hearing hoofbeats, screams of agony, and swords clashing one against the other. Terrible sounds, sounds that frightened even the bravest into cowering beneath the bedclothes.


“But that wasn't the worst,” he continued. “The next day, we found the watchman dead in the street. His head had been cut clean off, as if by a great blow from a sword. That frightened a number of people. The day after that was the regular town meeting, and everyone who had heard the screams and the hoofbeats seemed to have the idea that the only way that they could protect themselves was by locking the doors, and locking the gates, with the rest of the world firmly outside.”


“I can see that those events would frighten people,” she commented, mind rushing to add in the information she had just gleaned. It seemed that the Nine were out, within range of Bree itself. This was not welcome news. “Yet I still wonder why it was that the decision to bar the gates was taken out of your hands, sir. After all, 'tis your family holds the commission from the kings of old to guard and protect Bree, and your family which has the final say in the matter. T'would be a sad thing for Bree, I would say, if there were no trade to be coming through, after all.”


The Squire nodded. “Aye, well, I'm well aware of it. But it's not possible to convince some of the folk of this town that my family knows what is best for them. There's been calls for someone else to become Squire. I'm holding them off, but there's some rowdy new folk coming to these lands, and they keep saying that the deeds of the Kings don't count for anything any more. There's bad times coming for Bree, I can see that much.”


She walked away from the Squire's house with a heavy heart. Bad forces were moving, that was certain. Her thoughts started to turn toward the steps she would have to take in order to free up her intelligence network, that she might still receive information from Bree and its surrounding districts. As she walked, she could feel the eyes of the townsfolk upon her. Disapproving, disliking her presence. She might not have had the hearing of her foster-brothers and sister, but she could hear the comments clearly enough.


“What sort of a woman is she, anyway? Always appears out of nowhere, never seems to settle down.”


“She'm got the look of them ranger folk. Bad things I 'ear about 'em. Dangerous folk, they are.”


Forty years these comments had been coming. Forty years, and the comments had been getting worse and worse. She looked around the town. Even ten years ago, the hobbit-folk of Bree walked the streets alongside their human neighbours. Yet now, she could not see them, save when one of them paused to dodge out of the way of the taller folk. This was new, also, this cowed, cowering view of the Breeland hobbits.


Lost in thought, she had almost walked into the man before realising that he was there.


“Watch where you're going!” The tone of the remark was indignant. “Or next time I'll take the edge of my hand to ye!”


She took a look at the man. He was near to her own height, although she still overtopped him by an inch. Swarthy face, dark eyes. Dunlending blood, unless she missed her guess. Still, Bree drew all sorts of folk to it down the four roads.


“I beg your pardon, sir,” she replied. “I was distracted.”


The man took another look at her, and recoiled. “Bloody tarkil! None of 'em worth a plug copper between 'em.”


The oath surprised her. She knew what it meant – she had killed her share of orcs in raids with the Ranger bands through the mountains. It was the commonest name among orcs for her people, for the Men of the West. That this man knew not only the look of those who had the blood of Númenor, but also the orcish curse word to describe them – that was unusual. She laid her hand on her sword hilt, drawing some strength, some control from the cool of the metal beneath her touch. It was also misinterpreted by the man, who paled and ran from her.


She returned to the inn and collected a selection of small pouches from one of her saddlebags. These she walked about the town to distribute, stopping here and there at various houses. At some she would talk with the folk to whom she handed on the pouches. Prying ears (and these days in Bree, there were many of those) heard only instructions on how to mix up herbs to treat various ailments. Those among the recipients who listened to the words between the words heard the true message: safety could not be guaranteed; information was needed; beware the dark.


That night, she sat in the common room of the tavern, warming herself by the fire, listening to the talk that swirled around the room, discerning the tone of the place from the low mutters and suspicious glances she was given.




This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

   

In Challenges

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Author: Meg Thornton

Status: Beta

Completion: Work in Progress

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 04/27/03

Original Post: 01/15/03

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