18. Strength of a Woman
The two men quietly entered the cozy room of Halbarad and Rowgond. The grizzled Malbeorn was leaning lazily against the far wall near the window, one foot braced against it. The Ranger squinted as a shaft of sunlight fell across his face, lighting his pale sea-colored eyes, and pulled back the dingy burlap curtain a little farther. “Weather’s cleared,” he announced in the typical short mannerism of his speech.
Boromir washed a hand over his tired eyes and ran it through his hair. Malbeorn looked as though he had been awake for hours. ‘Does he not sleep?’ wondered the son of Denethor incredulously.
Halbarad was seated on the edge of his bed, attempting to fasten his tunic. Boromir and Aragorn exchanged amused glances as Halbarad discovered he had mismatched the hooks and began to swear furiously. The Ranger angrily fumbled with the fastenings, but only succeeded in rumpling his tunic. “Argh!” he spat in disgust, throwing up his hands. “I shall go about wearing this stupid tunic as it is. I care not.” With that, the Ranger folded his arms over his chest and glowered down at the troublesome hooks. His resemblance to a pouting child was remarkable.
Aragorn chuckled as he knelt down to straighten his sour friend’s tunic. “I take it you did not sleep well this past night?”
Halbarad wearily shut his red-rimmed eyes and sighed. “Sleep is impossible when one must reside in the same quarters as THAT.” He jerked his thumb towards a lump in the opposite bed, which Boromir supposed was Rowgond. “A cavern of slumbering Dwarves would seem as a melodious lullaby compared to him.”
Aragorn re-fastened Halbarad’s final hook and gave him a clap on the shoulder. “I think you exaggerate, my friend.”
Halbarad snorted. “Then by all means, you attempt to sleep near him for one night.” He reached to the head of his bed and grabbed a pillow, then threw it at the lump that was Rowgond.
The lump jerked as the pillow smacked it with a dull thud. “What, eh?” The tousled blonde head of Rowgond suddenly appeared from under the covers. The young Ranger yawned and stretched, blinking in surprise when he noticed the small crowd in the room. “Good morning all,” he said in a sleep-laden, albeit cheerful, voice. He propped himself onto one elbow and turned his head to the dawning light at the window. “I slept as though I were a rock!”
Halbarad growled and vehemently muttered something about stoning under his breath.
Aragorn chuckled and opened his mouth to reply when piercing screams shattered the calmness of morning. “TO ARMS! TO ARMS! THEY ARE HERE! THE BLACK RIDERS ARE HERE!”
* * *
The sleepy village of Fenadoch suddenly sprang to live, save five men who stood frozen in one of the boarding rooms at the Singing Mûmak. The call to arms was heeded by all, and soon the entire town was a seething mass of swords, spears, axes, pikes, and all manner of makeshift weaponry.
* * *
The sounds of a bellowing crowd approaching snapped the company from their initial shock. Boromir swiftly made for the door, which was the most obvious (and preferable) way to exit the room. He stuck his head out of the doorway then quickly drew it back in, shutting the door behind him. “They are coming down the corridor, from both the right and left stairways,” he stated grimly. “They bear torches and all manner of weaponry.”
Malbeorn again lifted the curtain from the window and surveyed the area surrounding the tavern with a sharp eye. A large and murderous group of townsfolk was beginning to amass at the door, like a nest of angry hornets. “How many in the hall?” he growled, leaning back into the shadow of the window frame as a peasant below caught sight of him and began to point and shout.
“I know naught,” replied Boromir. ‘Ten, perhaps. I can only guess.” Rowgond hopped on one foot as he simultaneously attempted to shove a boot on and loop an arm through his tunic.
Aragorn rapidly walked to the window and leaned next to Malbeorn. “We cannot exit through here. It is a straight drop to the ground.”
“Only two stories,” murmured Malbeorn.
Halbarad braced himself against the door, shoulder-to-shoulder with Boromir, in preparation for the oncoming hoard of townsfolk. “I shall not go jumping out of windows,” the Ranger stated emphatically. “We will land directly at the feet of the mob below, and quite possibly break our legs in the process.”
Malbeorn said nothing, but continued to warily eye the growing crowd.
The dull thunder of pounding feet along wooden floorboards grew louder as the host of peasants drew near the company’s chambers. Boromir grabbed the doorknob as Rowgond joined he and Halbarad in their effort to stay the door.
Malbeorn and Aragorn drew away from the window and stood tensely in the center of the room. “Let them make the first move,” Aragorn commanded softly, his voice low and gravelly. “Should they choose confrontation, do not hurt them.”
“His head appeared from here! This room. They are in here!” A distinctly familiar feminine voice could be heard from the corridor.
Rowgond stifled a groan as he, Halbarad, and Boromir braced their full weight against the door. “What joy, Boromir,” muttered Halbarad. “’Tis the fair maiden you are so fond of.”
Boromir glared at the dark-haired Ranger. “She is no fair maiden of mine,” he snapped.
Angry murmurs and shuffling feet paused on the other side of the door. Boromir tightened his grip on the doorknob and inhaled sharply as someone attempted to turn it.
“Now listen here!” cried the serving maid’s voice, “We know you are in there!”
Buoyed by Mysian’s fearlessness, the other men of the village began to chime in. “That’s right!” “Aye, we know you’re in there!” “Get them!” At the maid’s hushing, all fell silent.
She cleared her throat. “Fenadoch does not shelter servants of the Dark Lord! Your attempts to fool and enchant us with your vile charms have failed!”
Boromir furrowed his brow. Enchantment? Charms?
“We do not serve the Dark Lord,” called Aragorn. “We serve the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. We apologize for any troubles we may have brought upon you. We wish to cause no harm, and seek only to leave your good village in a peaceful manner.”
Mysian watched as the armed village men exchanged glances amongst themselves and shuffled nervously. They appeared to be in no great hurry to face the Black Riders, and were willing to believe every sugarcoated word Strider spewed forth. The honey-haired girl could not believe her eyes. “Cowards,” she hissed defiantly to the men, causing more than one to flush in embarrassment. “They have already collapsed our bridge and kidnapped me!” She turned to a hawk-nosed peasant. “Astern, would you have these wicked men kidnap your own Linelle?” She placed her hands upon her hips as the hawk-nosed man shook his head. “Or you, Thorald? How should you like to discover your home burned to the ground and your prized heifer slain?”
The toothless Thorald set his face into a hard grimace. “Le’ss ged dem,” he slurred, raising his gardening hoe to striking position.
* * *
An animalistic roar broke forth from the angry mob of townsfolk as they charged the door. Boromir and the two Rangers, their boots slipping on the worn floor, fought with all their might to keep the door shut. Despite their best efforts, the three men found it nigh impossible to do so. The door was slowly forced open as the peasants angrily lunged and pushed.
“Aragorn!” cried Rowgond as he placed his back to the door and frantically tried to keep his feet from sliding out from under him, “Do something!”
“Stay the door but a moment longer,” ordered the Heir of Isildur. He ran back to the window, where Malbeorn was already jerking open the cumbersome pane.
“Hurry,” grunted Boromir, punching at an arm that snaked around the doorframe and clawed at him.
Aragorn and Malbeorn had managed to wretch the glass open halfway, when suddenly a flaming bottle of liquor and cloth smashed through the top portion of the pane. The burlap curtains immediately caught fire and the two men jumped backwards with a cry of surprise. A ragged cheer erupted from the crowd below. Two more bottles were quick to follow; one shattering the moment it hit the floor while the other rolled under Rowgond’s bed. The straw mattress kindled akin to a dry bonfire, and within a matter of seconds the entire room was filled with smoke and dancing tongues of fire.
“We must use the door,” coughed Aragorn, dropping to his knees and crawling towards the door. Fire licked and nibbled at his boots. He pressed his sleeve to his mouth and nose in desperate attempt to filter the smoke from his burning lungs. The room had become a roaring furnace of flame and smoke.
Boromir watched in horror as the fire raced up the walls and rippled across the ceiling with a macabre beauty. Everything it touched curled and melted; leaving only charred shells and ashes. He knew his face was flushed from the heat and sweat began to bead and drip down his face. The doorknob was becoming slippery within his grasp.
Halbarad coughed in the smoke and waved off pieces of flaming ash. “On the count of three, release the door!” The peasants on the other side redoubled their efforts, sensing their quarry was trapped.
“One. . .” Aragorn and Malbeorn reached the door and staggered to their feet. “Two. . .” The muted threats of the townsfolk mingled with the roaring, cracking fire. “THREE!”
Halbarad, Boromir, and Rowgond leapt backwards. The door burst open and peasants cried out in surprise as they tumbled into the flaming room. Wasting no time, Boromir and the Rangers shot through the doorway, plowing over the group of townsmen in the process.
“Split and meet outside the city,” roared Aragorn as he bolted left and charged down the corridor. Boromir followed him, while the three remaining Rangers dashed to the right staircase.
The peasants recovered themselves quickly and took up chase with shouts of vengeance. “Wrull while ouuuu khan, summ ubp Sahrwonll!” screamed toothless Thorald, gardening hoe singing through the air and spit flying from his mouth as though he were a rabid beast. Rowgond, utterly fascinated by the sight, paused to stare at the enraged farmer before Halbarad grabbed him by the arm and yanked him down the stairs.
* * *
Aragorn and Boromir sprinted to the left staircase and fled downwards, legs pumping furiously as they pounded the stairs. Unfortunately, the angry hornets’ nest of townsfolk outside the tavern had by this time swarmed into The Singing Mûmak. The two men suddenly found themselves trapped as angry mobs from both front and rear bore down upon them.
Aragorn promptly realized such a desperate situation called for desperate measures. Praying to the Valar the bottom cartel of townsfolk was not armed with spear or pike, he threw caution to the wind and flung himself down the stairs with a fierce battle cry of “ELENDIL!”
The plummeting Ranger hit the ascending group like a sack of flour, and all tumbled to the bottom of the staircase in a mass of arms, legs, and makeshift weapons.
Boromir leapt over the pile of groaning bodies and hit the hallway at a dead run. He paused momentarily to see how Aragorn fared. The rugged man was fighting off several of the townsfolk, whose skills at weapon yielding were downright atrocious. Satisfied Aragorn could take care of himself, Boromir continued his flight.
Past the astounded and sleepy faces of roused travelers poking their heads out of the doors he ran. Past the kitchen area (causing several serving maids to scream in terror and three cooks wielding knives to give chase) he ran. Past the main room, past the front counter he ran. Boromir did not stop running until he reached the stables, and then he stopped only to grab the tack of his steed Gehtront. He threw the saddle over the horse’s barreled back, fervently hoping the black steed would not swallow air to inflate his belly as he habitually did.
Gehtront whinnied in protest as Boromir shoved the bit between his teeth and fastened the bridle. The normally even-tempered stallion did not appreciate being handled so roughly to say the least. “I suggest you hush,” snapped Boromir as he hastily checked the saddle girth one last time, “lest you wish to be roasted on an open flame by these imbecile townsfolk.”
“Apparently, we are not as imbecile as you would think.” Boromir froze. He felt three prongs of a pitchfork digging uncomfortably into the flesh of his neck.
He was caught. And worse, he had been captured by a woman, no less. But even worse, far, far worse, was who that woman was.
“Turn around slowly, Borofara,” commanded Mysian. “Or I shall spear you.”
Boromir carefully rotated his body, keeping his hands outstretched in a gesture of submission. The green eyes of Mysian glittered as the girl held up the pitchfork threateningly. Boromir sighed. “Let me go,” he began, “I have no wish to hurt you.”
The rosy-cheeked maiden clenched her teeth. “Hah!” A short, angry laugh escaped her clamped jaw. “You are in no position to place demands, vile creature of Sauron!”
Boromir rolled his eyes. This was becoming ridiculous. “For the last time, we are no servants of the Dark Lord!” He gingerly placed his hand upon the pitchfork and shoved it away from his face. “Now put that tool down before someone is injured.”
Mysian growled and jabbed the fork back at him, causing the man of Gondor to jerk back his head. Boromir promptly grabbed the tool and wretched it from her hands. “Will you cease this?” he cried in exasperation. He disdainfully tossed the pitchfork to the side, where it hit the stable wall and fell into the straw.
“You have been warned!” Mysian cried, her voice shrill and quivering.
Boromir rolled his eyes again. “Of course,” he said in agitation, “I have been warned. And I assure you I am absolutely terrified. Now if you will just let me leave—“
Mysian let out a scream of rage. Boromir lifted his eyes towards the heavens and shook his head. Foolish girl.
It was the first—and last—time the son of Denethor ever underestimated the power of an infuriated woman.
The serving maid’s fist met the bridge of his nose with a solid CRACK! He staggered backwards into his horse, eyes watering as red and yellow stars danced sickeningly in front of him. The pain was excruciating. His hands slid over the smooth coat of Gehtront before he toppled gently into the straw.
* * *
The western scouting party met in a ring of oak, ash, and thorn* trees directly outside the boundaries of Fenadoch. Aragorn was the last to arrive. The Ranger breathlessly looked about him. “Where is Boromir?” he inquired.
Halbarad knit his brows together. “We thought he was with you.”
Aragorn shook his head, stomach sinking. The four Rangers looked back to the town in dismay. A dark billow of smoke poured from the burning tavern and rose slowly into the air like a black marker of warning. “We are not riding back,” Halbarad stated flatly. “It would be suicide.”
Roheryn shifted impatiently under Aragorn, causing the rings on his halter to jingle. “We have no choice,” said Aragorn. “He is one of the representatives of the Fellowship.”
“But we have already agreed to meet Láthain and the others at Amon Sûl.* If we are delayed any longer, we shall miss them.” Halbarad’s voice rose hopefully. “Perhaps we could leave him here and rescue him on the return trip. What is the worse that could befall him—a week or two within a cell?”
“An axe to the neck,” growled Malbeorn. Halbarad grimaced.
Rowgond pulled at the neck of his cloak and sighed. “He does have a brother…” the young Ranger muttered under his breath.
*A ring of oak, ash, and thorn: Interesting tidbit of Celtic lore for you. The Celts believed a grove of oak, ash, and thorn trees was a “fairy ring” and avoided such places. I don’t know if the people of Middle-earth hold this superstition, but it’s plausible.
*Amon Sûl: Weathertop, i.e- Where Frodo Was Stabbed.
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