28. Off of the Mountain and Into the Woods
*moan* I can’t believe I did this, but I guess in honor of Valentine’s Day and as my very belated birthday present to you, Ithilien. . .
*uuuugh* I am already slapping myself upside the head for this one. Merciful Tolkien, please forgive me.
And stop grinning, Ithilien. I can see it from here.
Mysian- barmaid at the Singing Mûmak, accidentally kidnapped by Boromir and Aragorn
Grimbeorn- The Carrock (he can change from man to bear form). Son of Beorn, a prolific figure in ‘The Hobbit’
~ Eastern Scouting Party Members ~
Barin- Dwarf from the Lonely Mountain
Orimhedil- Elf warrior from Rivendell
~ Others ~
Calengaladh- Mirkwood group commander. Thranduil’s 2nd son
Mallos- Thranduil’s 3rd son
Othon- Mirkwood archer.
Powdered snow parted before the charging bear like sea foam. Mentally sizing up the massive foe, Legolas concluded it would take far more than a single arrow to even slow the beast—much less slay it. He and Orimhedil possessed but four arrows between them.
He pulled back his bowstring, wincing as the movement aggravated his injured shoulder. ‘I fear we shall meet a most painful end.’ Perhaps they would be able to slow the bear, but it would still tear them to pieces once they were within range of its paws. Axes, knives, and even swords would be useless.
‘And its minions follow close behind!’ Legolas’ heart sank. He had no desire to be taken hostage, knowing all too well what tortures would follow. He hoped the bear would show no mercy.
And yet…The Elf squinted, daring his eyes to betray him. He felt a tug of recognition at the sight of a golden-haired figure sprinting near the head of the charging party. Legolas’ heart skipped a beat.
The golden-haired figure waved an arm in reply. A dark-haired Elf at his side, whom Legolas immediately recognized as Mallos, cupped a hand to his mouth and called back.
Legolas breathed a ragged sigh of relief. He heard Orimhedil’s breath catch as the Rivendell Elf recognized their pursuers as friends. “Calengaladh! Mallos!” Never mind he was acting like an overexcited elfling. “Over here!”
Calengaladh’s sharp reply immediately deflated him. “Of course you are over there! Now lower your weapons before you shoot someone.”
“Let none accuse you of lacking tact, dear brother,” Mallos dryly remarked. Calengaladh shot him a look of warning, but let the comment slide. His primary concern rested with Legolas at the moment.
Legolas hastily bade the others to lower their weapons. All did so, with the exception of Gimli—who was not about to take orders from the son of Thranduil. Not to mention lowering one’s axe in the face of an oncoming bear charge struck him as downright stupid.
He was rather surprised when the great bear blew past them, leaving a whirlwind of glittering snow in his wake. The Carrock made straight for the giant pile obstructing the Pass and began digging like a madbeast. Gimli tossed aside his axe and made move to join the Carrock in his efforts. He still did not trust the bear, but as it had made no move to harm them as of yet, perhaps it was not a creature of Sauron.
‘And should the beast even think of devouring Father, he shall first have to pass through me.’
Gimli snarled as a chunk of snow, dislodged by Grimbeorn’s paws, flew into his chest and knocked him flat.
Before Legolas could join in the rescue of Glorfindel and Glóin, he found himself wrapped in Mallos’ heartfelt embrace. He returned it, squirming slightly as his brother unknowingly pressed his sore shoulder.
Mallos heaved a sigh of relief. “We have been greatly worried. It gladdens my heart to see you.”
Grimbeorn’s roaring laugher tumbled over the cliffs. “Look what the mountain spit up! An Elf and a Dwarf!” He promptly seized Glorfindel by the collar of his tunic, grinning as the coughing and greatly disoriented Elf lord swore and attempted to fight him off.
Mallos drew back and held Legolas at arm’s length, a smile of relief shining upon his fair face.
Calengaladh stepped forth and gave his youngest brother a stiff pat on the back. His grey eyes took a decidedly icy turn as he took note of Legolas’ appearance. Legolas cringed inwardly.
Mallos’ smile melted into a frown. “Legolas, there are burns upon your face. And your eyebrows…”
“Perhaps you slept too near the campfire?” Calengaladh leaned forward and made move to take his youngest brother’s chin between his hands. Legolas narrowed his eyes and jerked back his head, hobbling as his weight shifted onto his injured leg.
Mallos’ eyes widened. “What,” he quietly demanded, “have you done to your leg?”
Legolas drew himself upright and squared his shoulders. “I was shot.” His face darkened as he recalled the incident. “By the—“ He paused, suddenly envisioning his brothers’ reaction should he admit to have been shot with his own bow and arrow. And by a Dwarf, no less. Eternity would first end before they allowed him to forget it.
And what would Thranduil say?
“By the what?” Calengaladh impatiently cocked his head to one side and raised a golden eyebrow.
Legolas sighed. Saving face took priority over revenge—for now. “By a Warg rider.” Curse the Dwarf for making him speak lies. “We were attacked just before reaching the Pass, and one of the arrows found its mark.”
Mallos’ jaw tightened in disapproval. “Before you enter the High Pass, you say? I have no doubt your ride through only served to anger the wound. Sit, and I shall tend to it.” His eyes darted to Legolas’ shoulder. “As well as the one on your shoulder.”
“Nay,” replied Legolas with a shake of his head, “I need no tending to. I am well enough at present, thank you.”
Calengaladh’s face darkened into a scowl. “Sit. Or I will make you do so.” His tone brooked no argument. It was Legolas’ fault they had been camped at the mountain foot for two miserable weeks; indulging in soothing the bruised ego of his baby brother was dead last on Calengaladh’s list of priorities.
“I shall not sit.” Legolas folded his arms across his chest and lifted his chin, an act that never failed to draw Calengaladh’s ire. “I am hale, and have no wish to sit upon wet snow.”
Fire glinted in Calengaladh’s eyes. He too folded his arms across his chest.
Mallos released a frustrated sigh. He wished Thranduil had sent Lhûn upon this errand instead of Calengaladh. At least Legolas obeyed Lhûn.
Between Calengaladh’s incessant need to prove his leadership abilities, and Legolas’ obsession to prove himself a capable warrior, the two could not help but engage in futile power struggles. Mallos didn’t understand it in the least; he supposed it had something to do with his brothers’ birth order. Calengaladh’s leadership capabilities were renowned, and Legolas had demonstrated his battle prowess on more than one occasion. Still, Calengaladh would ever be the son just below Mirkwood’s Heir, and Legolas would ever be the youngest child.
Mallos was secretly thankful for his position as middle child. Though it was somewhat irksome to be constantly overlooked, he had to admit his quiet nature also contributed to the fact. And at least he did not possess the ridiculous complexes of his siblings.
“Unhand me at once, Calengaladh!”
Calengaladh had a secure grip on Legolas’ forearm, and looked as though considering whether or not to kick the younger Elf’s feet out from under him. Legolas glowered, only years of proper etiquette keeping him from forcefully wrenching his arm away.
Mallos decided it wise to intervene, lest tempers burned out of control and the two made spectacles of themselves. He loudly cleared his throat, steeling himself for the simultaneous glares he knew would be quick to follow.
“What?” the two snapped in unison.
Thranduil’s third son furrowed his brow, fighting down his own rising irritation. ‘One day I shall not be here to watch over them; then what damages would they inflict upon each other?’
He chose his words carefully. “Calengaladh, I am sure Grimbeorn and the Woodsmen chief will require your counsel in regards to our company’s next course of action. And you, Legolas,” he turned to the defiant younger Elf, expression schooled with years of practiced serenity. “We cannot have your injuries hampering our descent. Please, do not make yourself a burden to the rest of us.”
Grimbeorn carried the disgruntled Elven lord in his teeth, much as a hound transporting her pup. Glorfindel groaned as he was roughly deposited on the ground. Sitting upright proved most difficult. Why must earth spin so quickly?
“You’ve got a nasty head wound,” said the talking bear. “Don’t move.” Its pearly fangs gleamed dangerously. Glorfindel closed his eyes and willed himself not to be ill.
He opened his eyes, groaning as sunlight reflected off snow with blinding white intensity. His stomach somersaulted. The bear was conversing with a man—or was it three men? As Glorfindel’s vision kept doubling and tripling, it was impossible to tell. And since when had bears and men been on speaking terms?
The bear transformed into a man before his very eyes. Glorfindel balled his fists in the snow, attempting to grasp some reality. He was a methodical thinker, priding himself on logical thought. Unfortunately, any logic appeared to have been left buried in the avalanche. He gritted his teeth as the ground begin to tip. Or was that him? Well, no matter. One of them was about to fall over.
“Steady yourself, my Lord. You are in the presence of friends.” Gentle yet firm hands grasped him by the shoulders. Glorfindel immediately recognized the Silvan inflections of the voice and placed it as that of a Mirkwood native. “Legolas?” He turned to the Elf in dazed confusion, growing even more disturbed when an unfamiliar face looked back at him. Thranduil’s folk were on the mountain. Why?
Where was the rest of his company? Had they been buried as well?
“Be at ease, Lord Glorfindel.” The strange Elf restrained him as he lurched forward. “The others are safe.”
The golden-haired Elf lord closed his eyes in concentration and licked his lips. Speaking in full sentences was going to require a bit of concentration. “Where… Where happened the… Mirkwood… bear?
There was an awkward pause. The captain of Imladris could feel the other’s scrutinizing stare. Glorfindel didn’t blame the Elf. How four individual questions became lumped into one even he was at a loss to say.
The Mirkwood Elf lifted a hand from Glorfindel’s shoulder. “My lord? How many fingers do I hold before you?”
Glorfindel sighed in resignation. “Two,” he replied, not even bothering to open his eyes.
The Mirkwood Elf Othon started, peering first at Glorfindel and then at the two fingers he held forth. Amazing. “How did you—“
Glorfindel grimaced and gingerly rubbed his aching head. “Because… because they always hold up two fingers when… have been…hit on head.”
* * *
“I am unsure whether or not his refusal to ride alongside us was insulting.” To those who did not know Mirkwood’s second prince, Calengaladh’s face and stiff posture indicated skillfully restrained anger. Mallos, however, was well-acquainted with the nature of his brother. The mischievous gleam in the other’s eyes was not lost upon him.
“Indeed,” answered the dark-haired prince, guiding his steed around a rocky outcrop. “And I suppose your suggestion he ride with both legs to the side in the manner of a gowned maiden had nothing to do with his shun?”
Calengaladh scowled, not quite managing to cover up his smirk in the process. “I merely spoke out of concern for his injured leg.”
Ignoring Mallos’ exasperated sigh, Calengaladh allowed his gaze to slide forward and rest on Legolas. The younger Elf was riding alongside Othon and a rather dazed Glorfindel. Judging from the redness of Othon’s face, and the barely perceptible smile on Legolas’ lips, Legolas had probably asked the archer if he had proposed to Tuilë yet.
Calengaladh was secretly as relieved as Mallos by Legolas’ return. For all his antagonism towards the younger Elf, an aggressive protectiveness lie beneath it. Legolas’ injuries irked him. Only he was allowed to torment his brother. All others were severely punished should they even touch a single hair on Legolas’ head.
Unfortunately, Legolas had never been one to thrive under the protection of his betters. ‘And in doing so,’ Calengaladh mused, ‘he only makes a greater mess of things.’
“What make you of those Naugrim?” Mallos quietly asked.
“Hmm?” Calengaladh, startled from his revere, blinked and turned to his brother. Mallos was watching the three Dwarves somewhat pensively.
Calengaladh snorted and curled his lip in disdain. “They are Dwarves, what more is there to make?” He frowned as the eldest Dwarf shook a fist at the mountain peaks and bellowed something about surviving giants who topple every mountain in Arda. “Though it does appear someone attempted to roast them. Not,” he added in afterthought, “that I find any fault with the idea.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Mallos’ mouth in spite of himself, and several snickers were emitted from the Elven members of their party who were within hearing distance.
Any inquiries as to what had transpired to leave the scouting party in such a singed state had been brushed aside. Granted, Legolas and Orimhedil were the only two Calengaladh had questioned; Glorfindel could barely remember his own name, and speaking to a Dwarf about any subject was preposterous.
Calengaladh shifted his weight back as his steed began to descend a particularly steep dip in the trail. “Of course,” he muttered, more to himself than to Mallos, “it would be only Legolas who receives injury at the hands of the Warg riders. And in such a peculiar spot. Mayhap the arrow was intended for a Dwarf, and the creature ducked.”
“If it is as Legolas says,” Mallos responded dismissively, grey eyes scanning the approaching autumn-draped forest.
Calengaladh turned to the dark-haired Elf with raised eyebrows. “Why would it not be?”
Mallos remained silent for a few moments, pretending not to notice his brother’s growing impatience. “Do you recall the arrow I took to the shoulder, several seasons ago?”
Calengaladh’s face darkened at the memory. “Yes. As I recall, Legolas and that ridiculous Dúnadan—“
“—The arrow was barbed and filthy,” Mallos smoothly interrupted, “as all weapons of the Enemy tend to be.”
Calengaladh frowned. “That is understandable. Why do you speak of it now?”
“Legolas’ wound was clean, and the tissue not torn in the manner of a barbed arrow.”
Calengaladh was rendered thoughtfully silent, an event Mallos decided noteworthy in its own right.
“I think,” the golden-haired Elf finally spoke, “we shall have to have a talk with our precious Gift of Sauron.”*
* * *
Mysian rocked back on her heels and sighed. “You should be on your feet shortly. Old Niram’s poultice is marvelous stuff.” She lifted the damp cloth. “You are extremely lucky the fall did not snap your neck.”
“Did you—why—how—?” Boromir’s voice rasped painfully. His mind reeled in confusion, yet remained as dim and muted as the Fenadoch stables. What was she doing?
Mysian sniffed. “Yes I cut you down. I do not know who you truly are, Borofara. But I do not think you one of the Nazgûl.”
“Perhaps you might have mentioned this before I was hung?”
The pretty maiden shrugged, her skirts rustling in the straw. “I was angry with you. You had no right to kiss me.” She scowled. “Did it ever occur to you I may be betrothed, or that my heart belongs to another?”
Boromir suddenly felt immensely ashamed of himself. He should not have kissed her. Such actions were lewd and far below his code of conduct. And if Mysian was already claimed by another…
But was it not she whom began flirting with him in the tavern? Now it was Boromir’s turn to scowl. “Have you already given your heart to another? As I recall, you seemed quite interested in me while my friends and I dined.”
“That is beside the point,” the maiden snapped, a rosy blush spreading across her cheeks. Her green eyes glinted dangerously in the dim lantern light. Boromir again raised his hands to protect his nose.
Where on Middle-earth was the irresistible Steward of Gondor Charm when he needed it? Perhaps he had lost it in Rivendell. His shoulder twitched at the thought. Boromir growled. Thankfully, Mysian did not notice.
“Thorald has gone to fetch some of your things,” said the maiden. “I released your horse some time ago; if it is an intelligent beast it will undoubtedly find its way back to you.” She rose to her feet, brushing away the pale yellow straw clinging to her skirts. “In the meantime, you may ride old Nelav. She is not much, but she will deliver you from the village without suspicion.”
Looking at the horse in question, Boromir decided “not much” was an understatement. The old nag was sway-backed with droopy lips and pink-rimmed eyes. Boromir was not sure if ugly was an actual color, but found it did quite fit the molted creature before him. He could hear the mare breathing, and did not doubt any attempt to escape at speeds greater than that of a walk would prove disastrous.
Boromir blinked. Wait a minute, what had Mysian said? “Pardon me, my lady. You are going to free me?”
Mysian tried to look as though the matter held little importance. “Well… yes.”
Boromir gaped. He could not believe his ears. “Even though we kidnapped you?”
Mysian furrowed her brow and nodded.
“And burned down the tavern?”
The maiden fidgeted with her braid and nodded once again.
“Despite the fact you believe us to be the Black Riders? Destroyers of the Last Bridge? Harbingers of evil and—“
“Do not make me regret my decision,” the fair maiden snapped, blushing furiously.
An awkward silence settled between the two.
Mysian’s eyes darted furtively about the stable, flitting past everything but Boromir. She shuffled her boots in the brittle straw.
Boromir adjusted his belt and sniffed.
A horse nickered and swished its tail in some far-off stall.
The silence stretched longer.
‘Charm of Gondor, charm of Gondor, charm of Gondor,’ Boromir repeated furiously. Valar this was embarrassing. He could almost hear his heart beating.
The silence threatened to suffocate.
Borormir cleared his throat, the unexpected noise causing Mysian to jump. A barn cat, one paw flicking in annoyance as though it had accidentally stepped into a puddle, paused its stalking and glared at the man before resuming the hunt.
“So,” he began tentatively. “You, ah, serve at the Singing Mûmak?” Of course she did, but at this point he was willing to say just about anything if it would end the silence.
Mysian nodded vigorously, apparently as glad of the break as Boromir. “Yes. Well, I used to serve at the tavern. Before it was burned down.” She mentally kicked herself as Boromir cringed.
“Yes… That had… That had momentarily slipped my mind.”
‘Especially considering you are partially responsible for its demise,’ Boromir’s mind felt gleefully compelled to remind him. He almost wished she would punch him again.
His mind raced for any topic. “Ah, how did the ‘Singing Mûmak come by such a name?” Still on the tavern, but slightly veered away from the topic of fires. Boromir supposed it would do for the time being.
Mysian responded with gusto, leading Boromir to believe he may have struck the correct nerve for a change. “Actually, it is a deviation from the tavern’s original name: ‘Spring and Music.’ It was known for its spring-drawn baths and a favorite place of rest for traveling minstrels. In days past, when most could not read, word of the tavern was spread by mouth. The ‘Spring and Music’ eventually became jumbled to the ‘Singing Mûmak,’ and the name has remained ever since.”
“Truly?” asked Boromir, slightly intrigued.
Mysian shook her head in affirmation. “Oh yes. It is a quite common occurrence. I know of a tavern named ‘The Hog’s Head,’ and its original title was ‘Board and Bed.’”
“Indeed,” Boromir mused, stroking his chin. He could not help but wonder if the same sort of thing happened to people. Many years from now would he be known as the Great Bormadeer or some title of that nature? ‘With my luck,’ he concluded, ‘it shall most likely be Borofara.’
The initial flood of conversation ebbed once more. Heavy silence draped over the stable yet again.
‘Do not look at him. Do not look at him…’ Mysian glanced at Boromir. He had a rather noble chin. And intelligent grey eyes. They probably crinkled when he smiled.
His eyes met hers and he gave her a lopsided smile. The corners of his eyes crinkled.
‘Oh help,’ she thought, stomach fluttering.
Somewhere between his admiring glances of the rosy cheeked, green-eyed maiden with the thick braid of honeyed hair, and the realization they were alone, Boromir’s Charm of Gondor returned in full-fledged chivalry.
And one serving maiden of the former Singing Mûmak, upon suddenly finding herself wrapped within two very capable arms and an equally capable mouth, decided perhaps Borofara would not end up on the receiving end of her fist, after all.
“Gift of Sauron.” --Legolas’ endearing nickname from his brothers.
Fear not, Halbarad lovers! The noble and benevolent PuterPatty has kindly offered to care for him between chapters. He too, following in the footsteps of Legolas, Boromir, and Glorfindel, has found a good home. :)
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