14. A Slip of Tongue
Gimli groaned and struggled into a sitting position, only to discover Barin and Glóin watching him as though he might fall over any second. He washed his hand over his face and beard in confusion.
“Master Dwarf, have a sip of this water. It will help clear your head—you fainted quite a few times.” Gimli looked up in the direction of the melodious voice. The Elf maiden, Rithol, stood before him and offered her water skin. Fainted? Who fainted?
Gimli snorted indignantly. “I most certainly did not faint!” he rumbled. “Dwarves do not faint!”
Barin and Glóin exchanged an uncomfortable glance. “Usually, that is the case,” began Barin cautiously.
Rithol’s eyes widened in astonishment. “But, Master Dwarf, you fainted no less than thrice! And it is believed you twice screamed as well.”
Two crimson spots bloomed upon Gimli’s cheeks. “I did not scream,” he hastily grumbled. “As I recall, an eagle flew overhead and let forth a cry.”
“But the second time, I was there—“
Rithol stepped back in alarm at the Dwarf’s booming tone. She gave a slight bow. “As you say, Master Dwarf, it was an eagle.” A faint smile of amusement played upon her lips. The poor Dwarf, how embarrassed he must be!
Gimli hoisted himself to his feet, waiving off the assistance of Glóin and Barin. “Where is the Elf?” he spat. He had never been subjected to such humiliation in his life. He began scouring the trees, looking for any signs of his detested foe.
Glóin cleared his throat. “I believe you now owe Legolas an apology.”
Gimli spun his stout body around. “Apologize?” he roared, “After what he did to me? Never!”
Glóin crossed his arms and widened his stance. “He did you no bodily harm, my son. I seem to remember you gave him a rather frightful wound to the head.”
“He deserved it,” growled Gimli.
“As you deserved this?”
Gimli rumbled in fury. His father was taking the side of the Elf—and not just any Elf, but the son of the Elder who had sent Glóin to rot in the dungeons of Mirkwood. Still, he knew better than to argue with his father. Glóin had already threatened to tell his mother Dila of Gimli’s behavior, and Gimli knew it was a threat he would not fail to carry out. “If the Elf apologizes first, then so shall I.”
* * *
Legolas drew himself to his full height and, drawing forth as much dignity as he could possibly muster, came to stand before the two Dwarves. The duo regarded the tall and silent figure with suspicion. Barin, who had been whetting the blade of his axe, stopped abruptly and moved to the side of his comrades.
Glorfindel caught the eye of Glóin and sent him a quick nod of assurance. Glóin returned it, but his mistrust was evident as he addressed Legolas. “What is your business with us, Master Elf?”
Legolas drew a deep breath. Apologizing was going to be more difficult than he originally thought. ‘That I would lower myself to apologize to a Dwarf… I am thankful Father is not here to witness my humiliation.’ He could feel Glorfindel glaring at his back.
“Legolas has something he wishes to say,” offered the Elf lord.
Gimli raised a brow. The Elf prince looked as though he had swallowed his bow. ‘This might be interesting,’ he thought. Any thoughts of an apology from himself quickly vanished.
“I-I,” Legolas faltered. Had that been his imagination, or did the Dwarf just smirk at him? “I am sorry.” Yes, that was definitely a smirk.
Glóin grunted and would have spoken, but Gimli beat him to it. “Sorry for what, Elf?”
A dark look flashed over the face of Legolas. “I apologize for my… rash and irresponsible behavior towards you. It was foolish on my behalf and I know better than to act in such a manner.”
Gimli leaned against his axe and lifted his chin. Thanks to the particularly strong dye of the Eniamil berries, his beard would be stained red for weeks. He was not going to let the haughty, self-centered prince of Mirkwood off so easily. “And?”
Legolas blinked. “And?” he asked, confused.
“And what else do you apologize for?”
“Gimli—” began Glóin.
“No, he owes us far more than a single apology.” He turned to his father. “I bet he has never apologized to anyone or anything his entire life!”
“I owe you nothing more, Dwarf,” hissed Legolas.
“Legolas,” warned Glorfindel.
Legolas closed his eyes and balled his fists. “What more would you have me apologize for, Dwar—Gimli,” he said through clenched teeth. The name “Gimli” felt harsh and grating on his tongue.
“First,” stated Gimli imperiously, “I would have you apologize for throwing my father into a lake.” He regarded Legolas expectantly. The Elf looked as though he wanted to personally rip him apart, limb-by-limb.
“I did not ‘throw’ him, and it was not a lake,” Legolas snapped. The hand of Glorfindel suddenly clamped tightly around his bicep. Legolas pursed his lips in fury. “I apologize for being pushed into your father.”
Glóin lifted one hand in the air. “It is long forgotten, Master Elf. Think nothing of it.”
Gimli, however, was far from finished. “And—“ Legolas started forward, but the hand of Glorfindel gripped him tighter. The Dwarf’s pride had been severely affronted, and Legolas would have to learn he could not escape the situation completely unscathed. “—you are to apologize for suggesting an alliance betwixt the Dwarves and Sauron.”
“Gimli,” cried Glóin, “That is enough!”
Ignoring the commands of Glóin and Glorfindel to immediately cease his tirade, Gimli continued on. The words rumbled from his mouth with more power than thunder. “You will also apologize for locking my father in your dungeons, for your own father’s stupidity and greediness, for your pompous and conceited mannerisms, for the sheer idiocy of the mother who so foolishly borne you into this world—“
Unbeknownst to Gimli, the beloved Queen of Mirkwood had passed away under the most tragic of circumstances. Though the fateful day had occurred many a year ago, her loss was still grieved by the Wood-Elves and the royal family in particular.
Legolas cried out in rage, and had it not been for the iron grip of Glorfindel, Gimli would have been slain on the spot. Glorfindel desperately held onto the writhing, twisting fury that was Legolas and attempted to drag the Elf away from the Dwarves. Things were turning out far worse than the captain of Imladris would have ever expected.
Gimli stood rooted to the ground in shock. If the cold, calculating Legolas who had shot him was terrifying, this unhinged version of the Elf was a nightmare. Perhaps he should have apologized instead of baiting the son of Thranduil.
The Elf had slipped back into his native Sindarin, and was spewing words that sounded terrible even without translation. Glorfindel had wrapped both arms around the Mirkwood Elf and was vainly attempting to talk some sense into him.
“Strike the foundation and call me stone,” murmured Glóin in disbelief at Gimli’s side. “I have never seen the likes of that in all my days. I think Smaug was friendlier than he.”
Gimli nodded dumbly. He was not exactly sure what had set the Elf off, but he had the distinct feeling he had just made things a lot worse for himself.
* * *
Aragorn found himself battling paranoia as he, Rowgond, Malbeorn, Boromir, and Halbarad cast furtive glances about the tavern room. The group half expected the entire place to suddenly jump forth and raise weapons against them, and several tense moments were spent awaiting the attack. Luckily, their fears proved unfounded. Not a single soul within The Singing Mûmak appeared to have noticed them.
“I think,” whispered Rowgond, “we should leave.”
Malbeorn leaned back and lit his pipe. “Yes, that will not call attention to us,” he replied somewhat sarcastically as he shook out the match. “We have already paid for the rooms and ordered our meal.”
Aragorn blew out a puff of smoke and forced himself to relax. “I think we shall be fine as long as we do nothing to stand out.” He tapped the pipe stem against his lip. “Do not forget, we are Rangers—we are well-trained in areas of stealth and observance.”
The others murmured in agreement. They spent the next several minutes awaiting the arrival of their food in contemplative silence. Boromir watched as each Ranger quietly smoked his pipe. ‘I wonder,’ he thought, ‘if that is tradition amongst these Rangers of the North. Faramir and his men do not engage in such activities.’ He wrinkled his nose at the smell as the billowing clouds floated upward and dissipated before they hit the ceiling. At the rate the Rangers were puffing, no one would be able to identify them through the encompassing wall of smoke.
At last, the honey-haired maid returned with a platter of hot stews and several mugs of ale. The meal looked and smelled delicious, and Boromir felt his mouth watering in anticipation. “Here you are, good sirs,” the pretty girl announced sweetly. She began passing around the fare, giving Boromir a shy rosy-cheeked smile as she handed him a bowl of steaming stew.
Boromir thanked her as he accepted the bowl, causing the maiden to blush almost scarlet. Rowgond nearly choked on a piece of potato at the girl’s stammered reply. “You-you’re welcome.” She began fidgeting with her thick braid and, much to the surprise of the group, suddenly blurted out, “My name is Mysian.”
Boromir blinked. The poor girl was turning scarlet all over again. Aragorn’s shoulders shook suspiciously as he bowed his head and placed one hand over his mouth. Even the grizzled face of Malbeorn threatened to crack.
“Oh, that is… nice,” Boromir lamely replied, caught off-guard by the maid’s frankness. Rowgond snickered. “I mean, that is a nice name. My name is Boro—“ No! Wait! He couldn’t tell her his name! “—Fara—” No, Faramir’s would not do either. Oh no, what did he just say?
The pretty serving maid’s green eyes lit up. “Borofara?”
“What? Er, yes,” Boromir grimaced. “Boro… Borofara is my name.” Oh sweet Valar, of all the names he could have chosen… At least his shoulder wasn’t twitching.
“You may call me, ah, Elrond,” Halbarad announced gleefully. Aragorn glared at him.
Not to be outdone, Rowgond chimed in. “And I,” he stated imperiously, “am known as Gil-galad.”
The young maid paused and shot him a skeptical glance. She had obviously heard the name before, and was fairly certain it did not belong to a mortal. Halbarad began to quietly hum “Gil-galad was an Elven-king*” under his breath.
“I am most pleased to make your acquaintances, sirs… Borofara.” She curtseyed gracefully, gave Boromir one last smile, and returned to her duties. It was all the Rangers could do to keep from howling in laugher.
* * *
Mysian watched as the group—Borofara in particular—finished their meals and gradually worked their way through the crowed tavern. She sighed as they departed into the corridor and went to clear the group’s table. Her heart leapt when she noticed one of the men had forgotten his pipe. If she hurried, she could catch Borofara before he retired to his chambers!
The maid quickly snatched up the pipe and went running out of the main room. Her heart fluttered madly—she was going to see Borofara!
* * *
It was with full stomachs and sleepy yawns that the western scouting party made way to their rooms. Rowgond groaned and patted his stomach. “I have not eaten such a wonderful meal since I left Hollin.”
Aragorn stretched his arms above his head and yawned. “It almost feels strange to have a full stomach, does it not?” The others laughed in agreement. “We shall depart early in the morn. I hope everyone rests fitfully tonight.”
Boromir shook his head in wonder. “I still cannot believe they thought we were the Black Riders.”
Mysian turned the corner just in time to hear “—we were the Black Riders.”
The pipe dropped from her nerveless hands and clattered loudly upon the floor. The five men whirled around and were greeted by the sight of the terrified serving maid backing up against the wall and opening her mouth in horror. “You’re the, you’re the—“ she stammered, eyes growing huge and wild.
“NO! No! We are not the Black Riders,” Aragorn said urgently, throwing up his hands in as non-threatening a gesture as possible.
The girl continued stammering and tripped as she attempted to back up. She scrambled backwards on all fours. “She’s going to scream,” warned Rowgond.
“Shh,” begged Boromir. “We will not hurt you. Please do not—“
Halbarad lunged as the pretty maid opened her mouth and let out a shriek of utter terror. He quickly clamped a hand over her mouth and hauled the girl to her feet. “Stop biting me!” he yelped. The maid began to struggle and kick, her eyes wide and crazed. It took Halbarad all the strength he could muster to keep her within his grasp.
Boromir gently placed his hands on the girl’s shoulders and spoke kindly. “Look at me,” he said. “We are not the Black Riders. I promise you this. If we let you go, will you promise not to scream?”
The maid’s breathing came out in muffling gasps as she nodded. Halbarad cautiously removed his hand.
The girl once again let out a shriek of terror, and once again Halbarad swiftly clamped a hand over her mouth. “Strider,” he said, looking at Aragorn, “we cannot go on like this all night.”
All four were at a loss. The serving maid was obviously not going to cooperate, and they had no desire to face the angry mob of townspeople her cries would bring. Luckily, Malbeorn, the veteran and wisest of them all, came up with a simple solution. Drawing the hood of his cloak over his head, he approached the quaking girl in the dragging limp of a Rider. He slowly brought his face closer to hers. The terrified maid began to whimper and writhe in fear.
His hooded face directly in front of hers, Malbeorn looked at her for several moments, then uttered a single word:
The poor maid fainted dead away.
* * *
It was decided that the girl be bound with soft cloth and gagged should she awake and begin screaming again. They placed her gently upon a bed in the room of Aragorn and Boromir, and the two men opted to sleep in a chair and on the floor.
Boromir stared up at the ceiling from his position on the floor. Slightly rolling over, he watched Aragorn shift in the chair. “Aragorn,” he called quietly.
“Mmm?” answered the Ranger.
“We have just kidnapped a bar maid.”
Aragorn sighed and rubbed his temples. He had many names, some he was fonder of than others. “Aragorn the Kidnapper” was definitely not amongst his favorites. “Boromir?”
“If by some miracle we manage to escape, let us vow to never speak of this again. Agreed?”
Boromir nodded in the darkness. He had no desire to be known as “Borofara the Kidnapper” either. “Agreed.”
* “Gil-galad was an Elven-king” – The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I; The Return of the King, Poems and Songs, II. Index to First Lines.