21. Visitors From The North
As the sun dropped lower in the late afternoon sky Owen sighed and stretched from his task of cleaning the mess of fresh trout he had caught earlier that day. He was hoping to hear soon from the Ranger chieftain Argonul that his request to join them had been approved but so far there had been only silence. So many of his hopes for his future here in Middle Earth were hanging on it. Feeling a bit morose and sorry for himself, he volunteered to stay behind when his father and cousin had left for their visit to Imladris pointing out that “Some one has to care for the goats and chickens.” Grinning he waved them off cheerfully, but he had fooled no one.
Owen placed the cleaned fish on the large wooden trencher sitting on a bench outside the back door of the cottage and poured the remaining fish innards in a pail. Carrying it to the far side of the garden he buried it next to the recently repaired stonewall that now enclosed the recently neatly planted vegetables and herbs. He noted with approval the many delicate green shoots emerging from the rich soil that indicated a bountiful harvest later if deer or rabbits were unsuccessful in their attempts to raid it. Clearly all their work in revitalizing the soil has helped. He grinned wryly remembering the cartloads of chicken and horse manure their village neighbors had hauled and helped them to spread over the long neglected earth. For weeks as the weather had grown warmer the smell had made sleeping in the cottage nearly impossible. Then suddenly it disappeared as the sweet smell of spring flowers and budding fruit trees replaced it pungent odor.
Mentally reviewing their “still to do” list of necessary chores it was clearly time to complete repairs on the root cellar so that it would be ready for the first crops due within just weeks. Before he returned to the cottage Owen stopped and studied the nearby rock pile that had previously provided the stones for repair of the garden wall. He shook his head; additional stones would have to be gathered before they could do any more work.
His attention was captured by a low-pitched moan the other side of the wall. Owen grinned as a large gangling mutt rose from the shade of the old oak tree next to the cottage and stretched bonelessly before ambling up to him. The dog was another “gift” from one of the villagers who had indicated it would be a good hunter when fully grown and Owen had to admit the pup had done a fairly decent job of chasing the occasional rabbit and stray goat out of the garden. He had a strange yelp when on the scent of a quarry that often ended in a change of tone not unlike a male adolescent’s voice just approaching maturity. Reaching down he pulled gently on a long ear and rubbed the bony head eliciting a soft rumbling whine from the canine. Owen laughed as the dog leaned in against his leg and pushed his head against Owen’s hand.
“Alright you idiot, I know it is time for dinner but you will just have to wait for me to prepare something. It is too bad there are no such things as super markets or grocery stores here where I could pick up some dog kibble for you but since there is not, you will have to be patient a while longer.”
Returning to the cottage followed by the dog, he picked up the fish and entered the main keeping room. Setting them aside on the table near the fireplace he added fresh wood to its embers. While he waited for the fire to reach sufficient heat, Owen gathered a heavy frying pan, butter, and flour from the storage lean to. To that he also gathered new spring onions, mushrooms, and small root plants not unlike Earth’s potatoes but which had a sweeter taste. Placing some butter in the pan he then floured a couple of the trout and placed them in the now sizzling butter. As they cooked he peeled and sliced the onions, potatoes, and mushrooms, and added them along with some herbs to the pan to simmer in the remaining rich butter and fish broth reduction.
When all was ready he sat down at the table and prepared to eat, he found himself under the intense pleading gaze of the dog. Each time he lifted a bite to his mouth the dog would quiver and whimper softly. Owen shook his head and laughed. “OK, OK, my friend, you win.”
Rising he crossed to the lean to and removed the remains of some breakfast porridge, chicken and cheese. Placing them in a large wooden bowl that served as the dog’s food dish he set it down near the fireplace and watched as the dog inhaled the food and pushed the bowl around the floor searching for every minute missed morsel. When he failed he looked up at Owen and wagged his tail tentatively.
“That is it my friend. You will just have to wait for any of my leftovers.”
The dog sighed and laid down on the hearth, his head on his front paws and watched Owen from under expressive hairy brow ridges that gave him a perpetual worried expression.
Owen chuckled and sat back down to finish his rapidly cooling meal. The presence of the dog had cheered him and he found himself tucking into his meal with relish. After finishing he cleared away the remains and poured the left over vegetables and some slices of bread into the dog’s dish. “There is not much pup, but you are welcome to it.” The dog wagged his tail and quickly returned to the dish emptying it swiftly. “We will have to find a good name for you soon, pup.”
Owen turned as the sound of horses’ hooves drew his attention to the front of the cottage. Frowning he moved cautiously to the shuttered window and looked out. Three riders were pulling their mounts to a stop in front of the cottage’s gate.
“Hello, anyone here?” One called out and turned to speak to one of his companions before calling out again. “We seek the one called Owen, son of Theodore the scholar.”
Owen opened the door halfway his sword in hand. “Who seeks him?”
Laughing, the rider dismounted and moved halfway down the path between the gate and the door. Pushing his cloak back over his shoulder he revealed a star on his shoulder and held his empty hands out in front of himself.
“I am Argonul, Chief of the Dunedine, I believe we have some business to settle with him.”
Owen relaxed when a second figure followed the Dunedine chieftain and he found Aravir grinning back at him. Laughing, Owen returned the smile and opened the door wider. “I feared you had forgotten about me, sir. Welcome, it is good to see you again Aravir, your parents will be glad to see you again.”
With approval Argonul studied the young man and noted the strong shoulders and his easy stance. “We have traveled a great distance and would seek lodging here for the night if you will allow it. We do not wish to call attention to our presence here in the village just yet.”
Owen nodded, “I am alone, and there is plenty of room for you all. I am afraid we have no barn or shed for your horses, but there is a small hollow just beyond the spring where they can be picketed out of sight to graze until you are ready to depart. I have just finished supper but I have yet some fresh fish and bread and cheese you are welcome to.”
Argonul placed a hand on Owen’s shoulder. “That is most gracious of you, son. We will be content to share what ever you may offer. You know Aravir of course. This other is my brother Durham.”
Durham nodded silently at Owen in acknowledgment as he pulled the saddle packs from his horse and that of his brother’s mount. He turned to the other man. “Aravir will you help me unsaddle the horses? I will settle them for the night afterwards while you and Argonul move our things inside.”
Owen moved forward to accept some of their gear. “There is room in the small shed over there where we keep our goats where you can store the saddles and they will not be seen. I do not believe Eli would like to come home and find the odor of horse sweat in her house.”
Aravir nodded and with a wave of his hand moved to help Durham remove the tack and then help move the rest of their gear first to the shed then into the cottage. While Durham tied the horses out in the hollow Owen showed Argonul where they would sleep. “There is water in the pail next to the back door where you can wash some of the dust before you eat and I will have some hot water for you to do a more through job of it before you retire. Sir, you can use my father’s room and your companions can spread their bedrolls here in front of the fire. ”
“I can sleep here as well, Owen, there is no need for me to occupy your father’s bed.”
Owen shook his head; “He is not here and would count it an insult if you refused our hospitality, sir. We have found your people most friendly and helpful since our arrival and he counts it a point of honor to return the hospitality as well.”
Argonul nodded, picked up his saddle pack, and moved towards the bedroom. “Very well, but please express my gratitude to him for it when he returns.”
“I will sir. I will have some food for you as soon as you are settled and ready to eat.” He watched as the bedroom door closed behind Argonul and did his best to steady his shaking hands. Owen felt a surge of excitement. Surely if the Chieftain intended to refuse his request, he would not have found it necessary to do so in person would he? Surely this could only mean good news!
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.