24. If You Give a Dwarf an Arrow
A round of applause for Halbarad’s reviewer-inspired rescue plan! ;)
Western Scouting Party:
Malbeorn- a veteran Ranger
Rowgond- a young Ranger from Hollin
Halbarad- Aragorn’s longtime Ranger pal
Eastern Scouting Party:
Orimhedil- male Elf warrior from Rivendell
Barin- male Dwarf from the Lonely Mountain
Glóin- father of Gimli
A pale dawn and smoky blue remnants of the previous night’s campfire were all that greeted the Rangers when they awoke. Breakfast was a scant affair consisting of bread, tea, and plans of how to rescue the captured son of Denethor.
The day had broken uncharacteristically warm, reducing the frozen ground to soupy mud. Halbarad, cloak hanging carelessly from his shoulder, took to a nonchalant pacing between puddles while Aragorn sketched an outline of Fenadoch in the wet earth. Grizzled Malbeorn prowled along the borders of their recluse amidst soggy leaves, padding between trees with such stealth that would impress even an Elf.
Rowgond knelt beside Aragorn and frowned. “I suppose,” he said, “if we each slipped in after dusk, we might be able to locate Boromir’s whereabouts.”
Aragorn nodded. “I was thinking along similar lines myself. And I am sure Malbeorn would prefer such a method as well.” After shooting momentary glances towards the solitary grey figure slinking through the trees, the two Rangers turned their attention back to the rough drawing. Various tactics of how to go about infiltrating the town carried softly in the still morning, blending with the odd birdcall and steady patter of dripping tree branches.
“I see no fault in my plan.” Halbarad leaned back against a gnarled oak tree, ignoring its wet bark, and pretended to squint up at the morning sky as though it suddenly required his undivided attention.
Rowgond raised his head and unleashed an impressive glare at the tall Ranger. “I do,” the younger man spat.
A lazy smile spread across Halbarad’s face, though he kept his head tilted towards the heavens. “Of course you do, Rowgond. That is because you are young and inexperienced.”
Rowgond’s glower deepened. “I am not wearing a dress! You cannot make me—I refuse!” The young Ranger folded his arms across his chest and glared challengingly at his companions, giving all the appearance of a miffed bear cub. “And if you so much as mention it one more time, I shall—“
“You shall what?” Halbarad cocked an eyebrow at the blonde Ranger and smirked. It was a look Aragorn knew well, and one that more often than not resulted in an overwhelming urge to remove it from the man’s face by physical means. Valar only knew how many tavern fights Halbarad had purposely started by merely quirking his lips in such a smug manner.
Rowgond opened his mouth several times to respond, then came to the infuriating conclusion there was very little he could do. Halbarad chuckled as the younger Ranger muttered vehemently under his breath. “If you are so intent on one of us slipping into the village disguised as a woman in order to save the son of Denethor,” Rowgond snapped, after several moments of unintelligible muttering, “I think you ought to be the one to do it.”
Halbarad unsheathed his hunting knife and began to nonchalantly flip it in his hand. “But I lack the well-defined features of a Hollin-bred beauty such as yourself. Is he not wondrously fair to look upon, Aragorn?” He smoothly gestured to Rowgond with the haft of his knife, and then resumed flipping it. “Indeed, I would almost go as far to say he rivals that pretty Elf friend of yours. What was his name?”
Aragorn blinked. “His?”
“Yes.” Halbarad paused his incessant flipping of the knife and frowned.
“Legolas?” Aragorn mentally apologized to the Elf for having immediately thought of him at the mention of “pretty.”
Halbarad shook his head. “Nay, not Legolas. It was the Elf who did not like me.”
Aragorn regarded the dark-haired Ranger with raised eyebrows. There were many Elves who did not like Halbarad.
“I believe he hailed from Lórien,” Halbarad continued. “He was visiting Rivendell for some purpose, and took an immediate disliking to me. I never did figure out as to why that was.”
Aragorn snorted. “Haldir. It was Haldir. And as to him ‘taking an immediate disliking’ to you: I believe it took root the moment you took it upon yourself to chase after the maiden he has been courting for quite some time.”
“He chased after an Elven maiden?” Rowgond snickered as he stood and brushed mud from his hands.
“I was only trying to follow Aragorn’s lead,” Halbarad sniffed, sheathing his knife and kneeling to pack up his bedroll.
Aragorn fought down a rising blush and held up his hands. “Nay my friend, I am not to blame for your shortcomings.”
“Aragorn’s lead?” asked Rowgond. “Oh, of course—Arwen…” The young Ranger looked curiously to Aragorn. “How exactly did you manage to capture her? Aragorn, are you blushing?”
In light of further embarrassment, the Heir of Isildur tactfully changed the subject. “We must rescue Boromir before evening.” He strode over to Malbeorn and looked through the trees to the dawn-lit rooftops of Fenadoch.
“Why?” asked Rowgond.
Aragorn held up a hand and motioned for silence. “Listen. What do you hear?”
Rowgond paused. “I hear… the wind. A bird. Drops of water and the branches of the trees as they creak in the breeze…”
“The man did not request you recite poetry,” groused Halbarad. Aragorn shot him a warning look. Halbarad shrugged and rolled his eyes.
“And what do you hear over it all? More specifically, what do you hear echoing from the town?”
Rowgond blinked. “Ah… Knocking.” He turned to face Aragorn and furrowed his brow in confusion. “A lot of knocking and banging.”
“Hammering,” Halbarad emphasized.
Malbeorn’s smooth growl startled all three. “They build gallows.”
An uncomfortable pall settled over the company while they finished packing. Silence reigned over the ring of ash, oak, and thorn trees, save squelching footfalls and the eager snorts of horses. ‘What am I to tell Father should ill befall Boromir?’ Aragorn’s mind raced as he counted his blades for the fifth time—a nervous compulsion he could not seem to rid himself of. ‘What would befall Gondor, for that matter?’
Of all the Fellowship, only Boromir possessed strong connexions with the race of Men. Granted, Aragorn was deigned to rule them, but he had been raised in an Elven household and “grew up Elvish,” as Halbarad was fond of saying. Aragorn was not so bold as to stake his claim without support of the people. Or, more importantly, without the support of Boromir. Boromir was his link to Men; he needed Boromir.
Halbarad gathered his saddle and threw it over his mount with a grunt. “I suppose we shall have to vote on the manner of rescue. All those in favor of Rowgond demonstrating his knowledge of feminine wiles—“
“Halbarad,” interrupted Aragorn, “Even if I were to agree with your plans of rescue—which I do not—where are we to find a dress?”
Rowgond leaned around the stocky black shoulder of his steed and smirked at Halbarad. “I bet he has one in his travel sack.”
“Aye, and its lovely blue will match your eyes,” responded the Ranger.
Malbeorn cleared his throat. “Or we might ride in and grab Boromir as he is taken to the gallows.”
All three Rangers turned to stare at him in silence.
“And that does not lack in subtlety,” came Aragorn’s dry comment. He shook his head incredulously. “You surprise me, Malbeorn. I seem to recall a certain Ranger stressing the importance of stealth above all else.”
“Yes,” answered the greying Ranger, “and this I still believe. But as the past few days have demonstrated your skill in the area, I deem it necessary to explore other options.”
Aragorn brushed aside the insult before it sank in. During his younger years he often took to heart and would brood over Malbeorn’s comments for days. It had taken him some time to realize the man meant no ill will towards him; the steely aloofness was just the Ranger’s manner and covered a fierce, protective loyalty to those he cared for.
Still, such remarks occasionally drew Aragorn’s ire. Malbeorn seemed to have a knack for driving him, and many others, to aggravated indignation. Even Elrohir, one of the most patient souls Aragorn knew, had fallen victim to the old Ranger’s bite. And during Aragorn’s first journey to Esgaroth, Legolas’ brother Calengaladh had nearly left them to wander the Old Forest Road unaided after Malbeorn curtly reprimanded the Elf for training an arrow at his forehead.
Aragorn’s horse gave him a fond nudge and snorted, effectively breaking the Ranger’s train of thought. The dark-haired Ranger blinked and patted the stallion’s shoulder, giving the saddle girth one last tug to make sure it was secure. Grabbing Roheryn’s wiry black mane, he hoisted himself up and swung one leg over the horse’s broad back.
He twisted around in the saddle and surveyed the remaining group, taking in their subtle differences: Rowgond was short and stocky, as was his steed. The horse barely stood 15 hands. The young Ranger’s hood covered his corn-silk hair and lighter complexion. His build was most ill-suited for the cloaked garb he wore—it tended to make him appear extremely puffy.
Malbeorn, meanwhile, was thin and wiry atop an aging stallion flecked with silver. Aragorn did not doubt both still had quite a few years left. The crafty veteran and his horse stood poised and statuesque, seemingly indifferent to whatever might come their way. Had it not been for the man’s clipped beard and the obvious effects of Time playing across every line in his face, Aragorn would swear the greying Ranger was an Elf. Though he had known Malbeorn for years, the man’s origins were still somewhat of a mystery. Halbarad was convinced the old Ranger had been raised in the woods by a family of foxes. It was an opinion he voiced loudly and often—when Malbeorn was, of course, out of earshot.
And then there was Halbarad: tall, lean and obviously at ease on the back of his lively mount. He and Aragorn had been fast friends the moment Aragorn arrived at the Rangers’ camp to begin his training. The dark-haired Dúnedan had taken it upon himself to rid Aragorn of what he viewed as “Elvish snobbery.” Aragorn loved him like a brother.
The Heir of Isildur started as a cold droplet of water from an overhanging thorn branch splashed across his nose. He absentmindedly brushed it aside. “Do any object to Malbeorn’s plan? I believe it risky, but we have few options and time runs short.”
Giving his head a slight bob, Halbarad flashed Aragorn the giddy, mad grin of one who knows he is about to charge headfirst into disaster. “We stand with you and await your command, Strider.”
Aragorn kicked Roheryn’s sides with his heels. “Proceed.”
“Should we not first work out some semblance of a plan?” Rowgond asked nervously as they left the protective ring of oak, ash, and thorn trees.
Aragorn heard Halbarad chuckle. “We already have a plan, my Hollin beauty: Should you see Boromir, grab him.”
* * *
Gimli fumbled with the bow and arrow in his numbed hands. Thick white snow continued to flurry about him, settling in his eyelashes and rendering any form of sight impossible. ‘Not that I suppose it matters whether I can see the wicked beast or not,’ the Dwarf thought as he squinted and blinked profusely. ‘It would be just as well if I shot with my eyes closed.’
His fingers, which seemed far too slow and cumbersome, sought to nock the weightless arrow against the bowstring. Gimli was positive he had held feathers heavier than the fletched wooden shaft. There was a certain amount of comfort found in the bulky weight of an axe or sword; such weapons seemed real and dangerous. Legolas’ flimsy bow elicited no such feelings, and Gimli suddenly felt himself extremely vulnerable and bare. It was a feeling he did not like.
He cried out in dismay as the slender arrow slipped from his grasp and landed harmlessly into the snow.
The Warg lowered its head and stalked back and forth, tail lashing to and fro across its thickly furred body.* Snow folded and crunched beneath the beast’s massive paws. A low growl rumbled deep within its chest.
Gimli knelt and fumbled frantically in the snow for the dropped arrow, keeping his eyes trained on the prowling beast. Its piggish eyes gleamed as it pulled back wrinkled jowls to reveal yellow, dagger-like fangs. A wave of revulsion swept over Gimli as he caught sight of long saliva strings extending from the Warg’s upper and lower lips.
The dark beast hunched to a pouncing position; oversized shoulder muscles bulging as they contracted under its bristling fur. Cracked, razor-like nails extended from snow-flecked paws. Gimli’s hands rabidly sought out the arrow. Where was Glóin? Where was Barin? Even Glorfindel or Orimhedil would have been a welcomed sight.
He cried out in triumph as his frozen hand came into contact with the arrow’s fletching. Quickly lurching to his feet, the Dwarf threateningly brandished the arrow at the Warg—as though he held a spear or sword within his hand. “Hah! Back, you demon beast! BACK!”
The Warg snarled and dodged the Dwarf’s jabs. Gimli snarled right back.
A groan from behind nearly distracted him. Out of the corner of his eye he caught the swaying figure of Legolas. The flighty prince had managed to stagger most un-Elf-like to his knees and, aside from his disorientation, appeared utterly mortified. “Stay down, Elf,” Gimli ordered, returning his attention to the snarling Warg.
“You—you—That is my—“ Despite the severity of their situation, Gimli could not help but get a small measure of satisfaction from the knowledge he had rendered the wordy Elf incoherent. He was suddenly struck by the thought of throwing the Elf at the Warg; as such an action would probably be more effective than the flimsy arrow he was currently using to keep the creature at bay.
The Warg howled and hunched again. Gimli somehow managed to correctly nock the arrow, though the angle at which he did so would have caused many an archer to pale.
Pulling the bowstring back proved even more difficult. Legolas was apparently much stronger than he looked, and had Gimli been less acquainted with metals he would have sworn the bow was strung with iron cords. He was thankful the Elf’s weapon was not a longbow*, for it would have been impossible to draw.
Gimli pulled back the bowstring with all his might, nearly ripping his arm from its socket in the process. He could feel the muscles in his forearm quiver as they protested violently against the strain. The Warg sprang forth. Its snarling mass slammed into Gimli like a sack of toothed bricks. As the two combatants tumbled to the snowy ground, Gimli released the arrow—or rather, the bowstring snapped back to its original position.
There was a surprised cry of pain, and then silence.
Hastily scrambling to his feet, Gimli brushed snow from his face and burnt beard. His eyes darted furtively over the snowscape as he squinted and sought out the dark creature’s body. It lay wriggling on its back, desperately attempting to right itself. With a low-pitched keen, the Warg staggered to its paws in defeat.
Fierce pride followed by a swift rush of adrenaline coursed through Gimli. He, Gimli son of Glóin, had done it. He had shot the Warg with what was quite possibly the worst weapon ever conceived by any race on Middle-earth. “And let THAT not be a lesson you forget!” he thundered, raising the bow and shaking it victoriously at the panting, slobbering Warg.
The panting, slobbering… unscathed Warg.
Gimli blinked and lowered the bow. Why was the Warg still standing? Where had the arrow gone? He hadn’t counted on using more than one to slay the beast.
The Warg sat back on its haunches and cocked its head. It shook the snow from its foul face and shuffled massive paws. ‘It appears… confused,’ Gimli decided. Perhaps he had shot it in the head.
The dark beast whined at him. Then, to Gimli’s great surprise, it slowly walked off into the swirling snow, casting several dumbfounded glances over its shoulder as it retreated.
Gimli was just as puzzled. Why hadn’t the Warg attacked him?
A sharp hiss of pain from his left distracted him from his ruminations. “Shut-up, Elf,” he snapped. “Allow me a moment for thought—it is the least you could do considering I have just saved both of our lives.” If another Warg chose to attack, he intended to deal with it in the same manner as that of the first. That was, if he could figure out exactly what it was he had done.
Gimli’s ears caught the blasphemous phrases directed towards his kin, which Legolas did not even bother to revert back to Sindarin before delivering.
He spun around, intending to break the Elf’s bow over his empty, pretty head.
Only then did he find the missing arrow.
It was projecting from Legolas’ thigh.
* “The Warg lowered its head and stalked back and forth, tail lashing to and fro across its thickly furred body.” --- I am unsure whether or not Wargs have tails. (I must admit, I’ve never actually seen one.) Speaking from a strictly evolutionary standpoint, a tail would serve to help balance the animal (which we are told is very large).
* “He was thankful the Elf’s weapon was not a longbow,” --- Legolas didn’t use a longbow until Galadriel presented him with one in Lothlórien. Further evidence is given during the Fellowship’s journey to Moria (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter V: The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm), Tolkien writes: ‘Legolas turned and set an arrow to the string, though it was a long shot for his small bow.’
Fear not for the safety of our beloved Elf! Resident physiologist, Ruth, has kindly offered to see to his ailments. He rests in capable hands.
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.