31. Two Bags of Tricks and One up the Sleeve
A/N: I humbly offer this excerpt as testament of “why Boromir would not make a good spy”:
“’. . . always have I let my horn cry at setting forth, and though thereafter we may walk in the shadows, I will not go forth as a thief in the night.’” --Boromir, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter III: ‘The Ring Goes South.’
Glóin drew himself fully upright and puffed out his chest. “Well my boy,” he said gruffly, “I expect this is goodbye.”
Looping his thumbs through his belt, Gimli grunted and gave a brisk nod.
Glóin and Barin were to continue on and reach Lake-town by evening. Residents of the Lonely Mountain would be eager to hear of what news transpired at the Council of Elrond, and Glorfindel felt the Dwarven settlement ought to be informed of the Enemy’s increased presence as soon as possible. The time had come for Gimli and Glóin to split ways.
The party had reached a worn little inn at the forest outskirts. It was nothing special, but appeared cozy and well suited to the needs of travelers pressed for time. Village men often made use of it when dealing with the Elven-king, thus ensuring the two-storied building would stay in business despite its obscure location.
“Stay away from dragons and the sort, if you can,” Glóin continued. “Otherwise your mother will have my beard. And keep an eye on that fellow Gandalf. He has a habit of disappearing when you need him most.” He placed a heavy hand on his son’s shoulder and squeezed. “To tell the truth, I would rather you come home. But,” he smiled slightly at Gimli’s look of protest, “that must wait until you fulfill more important duties.”
Glorfindel and Calengaladh stood off to one side at a respectful distance. Glorfindel’s face belied one touched at the scene before him, whereas Calengaladh stared up at the rose-tinted clouds and politely stifled a yawn.
Glóin pulled his son closer. “You know, the Elven-king Thranduil was not so terrible after the War.”*
“Listen to me, boy. Greedy, stubborn, and arrogant he was, but not without honor and compassion. He is a good sort underneath it all, I think. His tribute to Thorin* was heartfelt and respectful.”
The Dwarf’s deep brown eyes slid over to Calengaladh, who was mentally counting every third needle on a scraggly pine. “I have little love for the Elven-king, and even less for his sons. But it would behoove you to make some sort of peace with the prince Legolas. Your journey is for the sake of Middle-earth, Gimli. It goes beyond our two Races’ squabbles. I hate to think my own dislike has colored your thinking, but I know it has.”
Glorfindel, who faulted his keen ears for overhearing the conversation, could not help but smile in approval. Perhaps there was hope, after all.
Gimli nodded in agreement, though it was primarily to appease his father. ‘Next he will suggest we become best friends,’ the Dwarf thought rather sourly. Visions of himself frolicking through flower-strewn pastures and thick forests, hand-in-hand with the Elf and singing at the top of his lungs came to mind. He very nearly made himself ill.
“Gimli?” His distaste must have shown, for Glóin was looking at him in concern.
Gimli shook his head and shuddered. “Nothing,” he replied. “It is nothing.” The day he willingly made peace with Thranduil’s youngest brat was the day he would have tea with Sauron.
The old Dwarf smiled again, though it was tinted with sadness. Gimli almost believed his father’s dark eyes bore tears.
Glóin awkwardly cleared his throat. “I am proud of you, Gimli. Imagine: My very own son chosen to represent all of Dwarf kind!”
At a loss for words, Gimli gripped his father’s shoulder in reply. He did not quite trust his voice at the moment, anyways. His father was proud of him. Heart swelling, Gimli vowed he would not disappoint the elder Dwarf.
His father was proud of him.
* * *
Several days passed before Aragorn and Boromir discovered an alternate route across the River Hoarwell. Awkward moments between the two men came and went as expected, though inclement weather and other traveling difficulties did not offer many chances for idle conversation.
They traveled by day and well into the chilly evenings, remaining on known paths while the sun was high and slipping to lesser-trod routes when nighttime shadows beckoned. It was during these midnight sojourns that they spotted the Enemy most often. From thicket, fen, or ancient Dúnedain blind, they silently watched and tracked.
Had Boromir been better acquainted with Aragorn, he would have noticed the Ranger’s growing unease. The subtleties were clear enough to those who knew him well: the undecipherable Elvish muttering when they came upon the ransacked and abandoned woodcutter’s home; the way Aragorn’s jaw tensed when they discovered the tracks of orkish parties heading towards Rivendell; the grim flash of concern in the grey eyes when it appeared the parties were strangely organized—almost to the point of cunning. But, as Halbarad was fond of saying, Aragorn had “grown up Elvish.” The calm demeanor, coupled with the dour weariness of the Dúnedain, remained ever intact. And Boromir was none the wiser.
“There is some strange devilry afoot,” Boromir had remarked, upon witnessing a pack of wolves trot mutely over the hillside and vanish without a trace. “And I like it not. Even the mindless beasts have become as trained soldiers.”
Aragorn nodded, jaw tightening, but made no reply.
The son of Denethor—as most people of Gondor—was leery of any act deemed “magic.” Such powers were unpredictable and uncontrollable; they defied laws of nature that simply were not meant to be broken. Beings who held these powers were just as dangerous. It was precisely this reason Boromir was so wary of Elves.
Magic trinkets were different. Now there was a power one could hold in the hands; feel the weight and perfect smoothness, see the flashes of orange, red, and silver-white as they danced off the golden band…
Amid the frigid air and softly dusting snowfall, Boromir found his respect deepening for this supposed Heir of Isildur. In fact, he was actually beginning to like the man. It was an odd feeling, to say the least. He wished to call Aragorn friend, but was not sure if such a thing were appropriate.
They were both allied against the same evil—certainly—but Aragorn was also Boromir’s rival for leadership of Gondor.
‘Perhaps we could be friendly rivals?’
Boromir was not sure if he were capable of such a thing. Faramir was, for he had inherited their mother’s soft heart. Boromir, on the other hand, knew an underlying jealously would taint any ‘friendly rivalry.’
He was a leader, not a follower.
It was precisely this reason he detested Éomer Éadig of Rohan. The latter, he knew, felt just the same. Boromir liked Théodred enough; Théoden’s son had a temperament similar to that of Faramir. Éomer on the other hand… Boromir scowled. That straw-headed horseman was far too brash and impudent for his liking. Thankfully, the tattered state of relations between Gondor and Rohan ensured neither man was forced to deal with the other.
One of his fondest memories of the Rohirrim horseman was the day his over-spirited horse shied at a flapping banner. Éomer had ended up on his backside in the dust.
‘Fallen from atop his high horse—literally.’ Boromir choked back a snicker, rather amused with himself.
It was said Éomer had a sister, though Boromir had never met her and could not recall her name. The lady was rumored to be quite skilled with the blade. Boromir envisioned her exactly like Éomer: broad-shouldered, tall, and slightly bow-legged from years of horse riding. Yes, she was the spitting image of her brother—minus the facial hair. Well, maybe she had a little…
Boromir blinked. Aragorn was lying on his stomach in the forest leaves, frantically motioning him to dismount. He did so, releasing his horse and moving to duck down beside the tarred Ranger.
“What is it? More orc patrols?” He shifted uncomfortably in the decomposing leaves, wet mud seeping through his clothing and onto his elbows and knees. Dusk had begun to settle over the Trollshaws, and in the gloam is was difficult to distinguish shadow from tree trunk. Boromir squinted and peered down the hill.
Aragorn nodded. “Yes. There. And there.” He silently pointed to the bottom of the hill, where the hideous creatures slunk through the woods.
Boromir sighed in frustration. He was tired of all this sneaking and spying. It was an affront to his pride. He much preferred facing the enemy head-on. And there were only five of the beasts. The broad-shouldered man glanced at Aragorn, who was intently studying the orc’s movements, and made up his mind.
“Boromir! No!” Aragorn made a futile grab for the man’s ankles. He was not fast enough.
Unsheathing his sword, Boromir leapt forward.
The oath that escaped Aragorn’s mouth was so vile it startled even himself.
“Boromir,” he vehemently hissed, scrambling to his feet. “You fool! Come back! We are only to scout the Enemy!” He lunged in desperation; catching Boromir the moment the man began his charge.
Branches snapped, leaves crunched, and bodies thudded painfully as the two men rolled downhill.
They came to an abrupt and tangled halt by slamming forcefully into a clump of junipers. The bushes shuddered angrily.
“There are only five,” Boromir spat, groaning and discovering himself in a most awkward position. The Horn of Gondor dug into his side. “We could have easily overpowered them.”
Aragorn was livid. “Only five that we saw!”
Further debate was quelled by the calls of alerted orcs.
“It came from there!”
“What was it?”
“Look, it made a big trail where it slid down.”
The two men held their breath, Boromir silently cursing their luck and Aragorn silently cursing Boromir.
The ring of unsheathed weapons shivered in the crisp forest air. Boromir and Aragorn instinctively reached for their swords.
Aragorn peered through the closely-knit branches. He recognized the sound of arrows rattling against one another in the quiver. ‘Running will do little to avail us now,’ he thought grimly. Orcs were bred to live in the dark; their eyes capable of discerning objects in even the blackest nights.
The five orcs, followed by a sixth and seventh previously unseen orc, cautiously slunk closer. Aragorn gritted his teeth and tensed.
A sudden grating chuckle from behind caused the heads of both men to simultaneously snap back. “What’ve we got here?”
Boromir suppressed a groan. They were lying on the ground, in far too vulnerable a position to fight back. He wondered where the orcs from behind had come from.
The orc sneered, yellow eyes glittering with a light that mocked that of the Elves’.
Aragorn was struck with the vague notion he ought to be thankful Malbeorn wasn’t present to witness this latest disaster.
* * *
Stifling a yawn, Gimli emptied the ashes from his pipe into a small tin on the nightstand. He gave the pipe a final tap and carefully laid it upon the small table.
Ignoring the dry burning of his exhausted eyes, the Dwarf picked up the candle illuminating his quarters and began to scour the room.
He was staying on the second floor of the cozy inn, though he would have much rather roomed on the ground floor. Dwarves had no love of heights, and the notion there was no solid ground beneath the wooden planks at his feet was somewhat disconcerting. Still, the food was prepared with care, the quarters spotless, and the innkeeper and his family pleasant. Not a speck of dirt could be found on the oft-polished and worn floors, and the warm scent of bayberry soap lingered throughout the snug halls.
Lifting the candle and squinting, Gimli illuminated each corner in turn. Though not fancy, the dwelling was more than suitable. A straw-mattress bed was positioned directly opposite the door, its head resting against the wall. The room was also furnished with a nightstand and several shelves. A well-kept washbasin sat next to the nightstand, so old the spidery, angular cracks covering the bowl appeared part of its pattern.
A small window was located on the far right wall. Gimli trundled over to it, pushing open the shutters and peering out into the night. The curtains flapped and shivered in the chilly nighttime gusts. Mirkwood’s trees creaked and swayed, seeming to bemoan the onset of winter. Gimli pulled a face and quickly withdrew his head back into the warm room. There was something downright unnatural about those trees, and not in a typical flowery Elvish sort of way. He securely bolted the shutters, grateful they blocked out the trees’ moaning.
The Dwarf again raised the candle and looked around the room.
‘No Elves,’ he thought, and then snorted angrily. Of course there were no Elves.
His eyes slid to the suspicious darkness underneath his bed. He fancied three pairs of bright eyes stared back.
He approached cautiously. Glancing over his shoulder (just to make sure no one was watching), Gimli slowly squatted down and held the candle forth. His heart fluttered.
The Bed Shadows leapt and fled in terror. Gimli’s heart leapt with them.
After a few tense moments, the Dwarf emitted a grunt of satisfaction. Just as he suspected: There were no Elves under the bed.
He straightened, wincing as saddle-weary muscles he didn’t even know existed protested at the act. He limped to the door and gave the doorknob an experimental turn. The black iron knob held fast. Gimli patted his breast pocket. Yes, the key was there.
His eyes slid back to the space underneath the bed.
A second check confirmed there were still no Elves.
He raised the flickering candle high above his head and glanced at the ceiling. Perhaps it was rather absurd to think the Elves were somehow up there. ‘But,’ Gimli told himself, ‘it always pays to be cautious with those devious tree-coddlers.’
He turned back to the window with a resigned sigh. Mere shutters would not stop an Elf. “‘Drive an Elf out of the door and he will fly in at the window,’” the Dwarf quoted aloud. Though, now that he thought back to his experience in Rivendell, Elves were apt to fly in at the window even if the door wasn’t locked.
Gimli frowned and surveyed the room.
One hour later, deciding he had done all he could to Elf-proof the room, the weary son of Glóin climbed into bed.
The candle sputtered and died, smoke mixing with the scent of bayberry. Gimli sleepily placed a hand on the axe underneath his pillow and promptly fell asleep.
* * *
Legolas, Calengaladh, and Mallos quietly scouted the inn from atop a weathered pine tree.
“Which room does the Dwarf reside?” asked Legolas.
“The first room to the left, on the second floor,” Calengaladh replied.
Mallos eyed his two brothers’ wriggling sacks. “Are you certain? It would not bode well were you to enter the wrong room.”
Calengaladh walked out further onto the tree limb. “I assure you it is the correct room.” He swiftly leapt down to the ground and beckoned for Legolas.
Legolas followed, landing rather heavily when his sack decided to bolt.
“Do not let them loose!” Calengaladh hissed.
Legolas brushed the dirt from his knees with his free hand. It was not fair; why must he carry the spiders? Granted, they were just barely hatched—only about the size of two fists—and had been de-fanged. But it was still not fair.
“Let us go! Let us go, stupid Elf!” The sack’s inhabitants began to curse and snap.
Darting after Calengaladh, Legolas gave the bag a half-hearted thump against the bole of a tree. “Hush, or I shall swing harder.”
The spiders growled. “Dumb Elf! Springy little Tree Hopper! We will eat you. EAT YOU!”
“I highly doubt that. You have no teeth.”
Calengaladh, his face appearing strangely pale and angular in the dim moonlight, halted in front of the inn so abruptly Legolas nearly ran into him. “Legolas, please cease conversing with the spiders.”
Running a slender hand over the weathered building, Calengaladh searched for imperfections in the outer walls. He murmured appreciatively at what he found. The climb would not be a difficult one. One hand keeping a secure hold on his sack of squirrels, who were nervously chattering, the golden-haired prince ascended the building walls.
Legolas carefully climbed up next to Calengaladh. The squirrels, scenting the presence of their most feared predator, began squeaking and chattering in terror. Black squirrels and spiders of Mirkwood were natural enemies; a single grown spider was capable of finishing off five squirrels in one meal. No other member of the forest found the squirrels’ bitter taste appealing. The spiders, however, seemed to relish it.
The spiders, upon scenting the squirrels, took up the chant, “Meat! Meat! Meat!”
“I wonder how it was they learned to sing,” Legolas absently remarked.
Calengaladh, busy working the pins in the shutters, paused to give his brother a look that suggested normal Elves do not contemplate such matters.
“Are you certain this is the right room?” A nagging voice in the back of Legolas’ head seemed to think the plot an increasingly bad idea. Even more irritating was the fact that it sounded like Mallos. ‘Or perhaps Glorfindel.’
Calengaladh allowed himself a grin as the shutter loosed. “I have already told you, yes, it is this room. Quit hovering over my shoulder and listen.”
The sonorous waves of Dwarven snores halted any further doubts of to whom resided in the room.
They kneeled, poised on the window ledge like two sleek cats. Calengaladh was forced to admit there were certain benefits to working with Legolas. Mayhap they ought to do it more often.
Gimli slept on, oblivious to the terror about to be unleashed.
Calengaladh crouched. “Shall we proceed?” Only then did he notice Legolas’ unconscious kneading of the spider sack and furtive glances towards the trees. Calengaladh scowled. This was precisely why he never worked with Mallos or Tuilë. He had no time for hesitation; second-guessing was not his nature.
“Legolas? If you fear the Naugrim will again shoot you—“
“We shall proceed.”
Calengaladh hid his smile. Sometimes provoking Legolas was too easy. Turning his attention to the window, he drew back the faded curtains. The two Elves leapt from the windowsill, swift and silent as midnight shadows.
Their feet slid out from under them the moment they landed.
Gimli had soaped the floor.
* * *
So intent was Mallos upon watching his brothers, he never felt the slight dip of added weight on the pine branch, nor did he see the tall figure looming directly behind him.
A heavy hand suddenly fell upon his shoulder. Mallos jumped with a gasp, nearly falling from the pine’s branches in the process. He instinctively whirled and drew the knife from his belt in one blurred motion.
The dark figure deftly caught his wrist in its vice-like grip. The knife was forcefully extracted from Mallos’ fingers.
“Where are your brothers?” Thranduil demanded.
White as snow and heart pounding faster than a runaway horse, Mallos wordlessly pointed to the two figures framed in the inn’s second-story window.
Thranduil released his son’s wrist and pushed back the hood of his cloak. He looked murderous. Blazing grey eyes watched Legolas and Calengaladh leap into the room, cloaks fluttering behind them.
Mallos tried to swallow, but his tongue seemed to be stuck to the roof of his mouth. Willing his heart to slow, he managed a painful gulp. Elbereth Gilthoniel, were they in trouble.
Thranduil angrily turned to the dark-haired prince and opened his mouth to speak. That very instant, Gimli’s room erupted into a cacophony of screams.
The words, “But I had no idea,” reverberated painfully through his skull. Knowing his mouth would likely get him into even more trouble, he bit his tongue and remained silent.
Anger rolled off Thranduil in smoldering waves. “Come with me,” he ordered. His voice was calm. Dead calm. “And do not even bother claiming you had no knowledge of this.”
“. . . the War.” --The Battle of Five Armies
‘[Thranduil’s] tribute to Thorin. . .’ – “Upon his tomb the Elvenking then laid Orcrist, the elvish sword that had been taken from Thorin in captivity. It is said in songs that it gleamed ever in the dark if foes approached, and the fortress of the Dwarves could not be taken by surprise.” --J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit. Chapter XVIII: ‘The Return Journey,’ pg. 292 (Del Ray/ Ballantine Books, 1982 Revised Edition).
* * *
Miriel- *lol* Trouble is right! And yep, it looks like our three darling princes are in quite a bit of it. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near Thranduil at the moment. As far as my records go, no one has claimed Shadowfax, so he's all yours. Expect a crate via post to arrive at your doorstep in a few days. It will have 'Caution: Live Animal' stamped on it in red. All I ask is that you return him during chapters and that he is capable to perform what duties he must. That being said: enjoy!!! ...The townspeople of Pahtoh are a fairly simple folk. So when they see A Giant Winged Beast, it's obviously going to be equated to something that needs to be conquered. (Cute little warrior villagers they are...) Alas, there were no dresses involved in the rescue of Boromir. Halbarad is still complaining. (I love that Ranger to death.) After all my cruelties to Boromir, I suppose he deserved a little loving, don't you think? *lol* Spread the wealth of "backwards" elvish!!! :) Thank you for the fantastic reviews!!!
Hai- I completely agree--Shadowfax deserves what he gets. The rotten, egotistical monster he is. ;) And Glorfindel really doesn't get enough credit. (Plus Arwen went and stole his scene in the movie. The poor Elf gets no breaks!) *grin* I think I got a little carried away with writing the Revenge On Gimli, but it was fun... :) Thank you for the great review!!
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