11. On to Fornost
"Strider, if you think we're going to go home and get on with the haying after all this -"
"Just because this Draugoth's gone elsewhere doesn't make the Forest safe -"
"I realize that." the King's voice cut across theirs silencing them. "The Shire is still in danger and this is no time for it to be left leaderless."
"That's true." Merry said after a moment, "but we are also knights and councillors of the Reunited Kingdom - "
"That's right!" Pippin put in, "We have a duty to defend and advise you - "
"And what concerns the Kingdom concerns Hobbits as well." Merry continued. "We're not going to hide in the Shire and let you Rangers take all the risks for us as if the War of the Ring had never happened."
"Absolutely not!" from Pippin.
Aragorn knelt down on the dew-wet grass putting himself on eye level with the Hobbits. "Master Meriadoc, Thain Peregrine," he said very seriously. "I assure you I do not hold the valor or the allegiance of the Shire lightly and will make full use of both, but now I ask you to remember your oaths, both as my knights and my councillors, and obey my orders."
"Strider's right." Sam said suddenly. All three looked at him; the King in surprise, his fellow Hobbits in outrage. "And so is Merry." he continued. "I'll go back and put the Shire on a war footing but I think, your Majesty, the Thain and Master Meriadoc should stay with you. To represent us Hobbits in council."
Aragorn's lips twitched in what might have been a quickly surpressed smile. "A masterly compromise, Mr. Mayor. Very well, Merry and Pippin will come with us to Fornost."
Pippin's face brightened at once. "Is that where we're going?"
The King nodded, rose to his feet. "The Wolf-lord ran north. Let's find out why." ****
Aragorn set a brisk pace across the downs, following a winding course north and east which brought them at mid-day to a roughly oval structure built upon the crest of a hill. Its walls were formed by megaliths set close together and caulked with earth and its roof by great slabs covered with turf. The interior was dimly lit by sunlight falling through the open door and a small fire burning on the hearth between the two stone plinths that upheld the roof. The three Rangers sharing this odd shelter, an unfinished barrow by appearances, made their visitors welcome betraying no surprise at seeing their King in Ranger dress, travelling on foot accompanied by two Hobbits and a wounded Man, but listened with grim attention to what Aragorn had to tell them.
"There has been an unusual amount of movement between the Barrows, Dunadan," the senior of them said when the King had finished, "but we have seen nothing else. Certainly no sign of wolves or a werewolf."
"I am not surprised. As Tom reminded me Draugoth has good reason to avoid Dunedain if he can. Be on your guard, he must have some plan for dealing with your patrol when the time comes, and it would be well to augment your numbers." Aragorn handed over a letter sealed with the star and tree of the Kings. "For the Warden of the Downs and Captain Belegon."
The Ranger passed it at once to one of his companions who proceeded to quietly collect food and bedroll and leave the shelter heading south.
Such dispatch was mildly startling. Boromir was also impressed by the steely calm with which the Rangers took the news of their danger. They reminded him strongly of Aragorn as he had first known him; silent and unapproachable with stern, closed faces that revealed nothing of the thoughts or feelings behind them.
After bidding the two remaining Rangers farewell the companions turned due north, striking the road just an hour before sunset.
The Elfstone was on the other side of it, defended by a dike and hedge. The inn, an L-shaped building with the King's stable forming the long arm, faced the open gate at the end of a short cobbled street with perhaps a dozen houses clustered around it. The sign hanging above its door was bright green and carved with the King's cipher, L*S*R, beneath a many pointed star, both inlaid with bright tin that glittered like silver in the rays of the westering sun.
Inside the windows had already been shuttered against the night and the candles lit, bathing the long common room in a smoky golden glow. The proprietor, bustling to meet them, was a Hobbit and one well known to Merry and Pippin - which somehow did not surprise Boromir. But most of the patrons were Men, shorter and stouter than the Dunedain, ruddy faced and brown haired. There was however a table or two of Hobbits and, in a corner beside one of the two fireplaces, another with four tall Men of Westerness seated around it. Younger and less grimfaced than the Rangers, clad in the black livery of the Kings with the royal cipher on their shoulders.
Aragorn slipped quietly from Boromir's side as the proprietor ushered the companions to a table, heading straight for the King's Messengers. They looked up politely as he greeted them, then jaws dropped and eyes rounded as they recognized the King. The four Men started to rise but Aragorn forstalled them with a gesture, seating himself at their table and speaking quietly but urgently. He took out four sealed letters handing one to each Messenger.
The letters, Boromir knew, contained a full account not only of his encounter with the wolf wraiths in the Old Forest but his name and who had sent him there. Including the one intended for Faramir. What his brother would do when he read it Boromir dared not guess.
He didn't know whether to hope Faramir would come or that he would stay well away. He was torn between his desire to see his brother again and his fear of the pain such a meeting - and the inevitable second parting - would cause them both. In a way it was a relief to have the decision taken out of his hands. Faramir had always been the wiser, he would know which course was best.
Boromir himself was feeling increasingly out of his depth. He'd expected a straightforward one on one duel, like Turin's against Glaurung, and a quick return to the Halls of Waiting. Instead his quarry had eluded him and he'd become involved again in the lives of his old friends. It was all becoming very complicated - and painful.
Aragorn returned to their table. "We will continue on to Bree in the morning. I've sent to Amon Sul for an escort, we will await them at the Prancing Pony."
Boromir breathed a sigh of relief and the King smiled. "I do not court danger needlessly, my friend, after the other night it is clear we need the protection of greater numbers." he gave the two busily eating Hobbits a slightly mischievious glance. "We must consider the safety of the Thain and the Master of Buckland after all."
Pippin finished chewing and swallowed. "Tease all you like, Strider, I don't mind admitting I'll sleep better with a few more armed Men around us."
"As will I." Boromir agreed.
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.