37. Chapter Thirty-Seven
They found an inn with an attached stable and the four of them dismounted. A boy came out from the stable and Aragorn, dressed in his stained ranger clothes, pressed a copper coin into his grubby hand.
"Take care of the horses boy and there will be another one of these for you in the morning," he said, undoing his pack from the back of his horse.
"Strider, maybe you shouldn't flash so much coin around," Boromir said, glancing back at Legolas.
"Aradan, Einar, you both worry too much," Strider said, heading into the inn.
Legolas looked at Boromir and shrugged. "He's not thinking straight, Einar. We will have to keep a close eye on him."
"The boy is my son. I'm in love with the boy's mother…I'm not the best one to make sure Strider remains cautious."
"Guess that leaves me to make sure the three of you don't get us into any trouble," Gimli groused.
"Borin…with that axe and temper of yours, we have a better chance at felling an Oliphaunt," Aradan said. "Oh, wait, I've already done that once."
"We'd better get inside," Einar said, retrieving his own gear from the ground.
The two friends were always at each other, picking and teasing. They groused at each other so much that if you didn't know better, you would think they didn't like each other. However, they were the best of friends, had been since the days after Amon Hen when they had had to run through the Riddermark looking for Merry and Pippin.
He had to hide a laugh when he remembered the tales they had told him after the fall of Sauron. The counting game they had at Helm's Deep, killing the enemy. Then there was the drinking competition at Edoras after the battle where Legolas's fingers took on a tingle after drinking the fine ale of the Golden Hall. Finally, there was the story of the Oliphaunt Legolas had brought down on the Pelennor, that Gimli wanted to count as just one in their ongoing battle.
Legolas and Gimli headed inside the inn, their gear slung over their shoulders. Boromir looked behind him to find their horses had disappeared into the stable, no sign of the boy. He slung his own pack over his broad shoulder and followed the others inside.
Boromir looked around the smoky tavern and grimaced. Not much to write home about, had he been so inclined. He had not seen anything as deplorable as this inn since before the war. There were food scraps on the floor, puddles of ale along the bar top, the smoke from pipes and the fire hanging thickly in the air. The men were scraggly looking, hair hanging in dirty tendrils about soot covered faces. The women wenches weren't much better, their clothes soiled with spilled food and drink, their eyes haunted by what they had seen and endured.
"A fine, happy place you have brought us to, Strider," he grumbled, easing into a chair at the table where his fellow travelers sat.
"I am sure that this won't be the worst of things we will have to endure and put up with, Einar," Strider said, glancing about the common room. "I believe the first order of business is to get some much needed food and drink."
"I do not like this place, Strider," Legolas said, his eyes following the patrons as they shuffled from table to door, door to table as they came and went about their business.
"It is just for the night, Aradan. We will sleep under the stars soon enough," Strider said, reassuring the elf.
Still uneasy in his surroundings, Legolas sat back in his chair.
After a meal of stew, day old bread, and some stale ale, Strider and Einar retired to the room they rented for the night, leaving Aradan and Borin to stand watch in the common room. Strider dropped his gear and Aradan's near the window, leaving Einar the bed nearest the door. They would rest for a few hours then relieve their companions in the common room.
"Is it wise to split up?" Einar asked, dropping to the creaky mattress.
"Aradan and Borin need little rest. I suggest we get as much rest as we can. The morning will come quickly enough," Strider said, lying back on the other bed, his hands laced behind his head.
Einar nodded and tried to get comfortable on the lumpy bed. Soon enough, his eyes grew heavy and he fell asleep.
Aradan leaned back against the wooden chair, his eyes scanning the room. Borin was beside him, a tankard of ale in front of him, the foam sliding down the sides. So far it had remained quiet, the few patrons having come and gone, leaving just the two of them in the common room. Even the barmaids had retired for the night, the barkeep still behind the bar.
"Shall you be retiring then?" he asked them, wanting to seek his own bed as the hour was growing late.
"We shall sit by the fire for a while, but do not let us keep you," Aradan said, wishing the man would retire and perhaps, lock the heavy door as he did.
"Aye! A fire, a tankard of ale and my pipe…fine company that is!" Borin cried, pulling his pipe from a hidden pocket of his jerkin.
The innkeeper shrugged, and doused a few lights, leaving just one lantern and the fire to light the room. He crossed to the door and threw the big wooden bar across it, effectively sealing them all inside. Aradan released a small sigh of relief. He nodded to the man as he trod up the stairs and then turned his attention to Borin.
"Seems my misgivings were unfounded."
"Aye, the laddie tends to have the right of things."
Aradan crossed his arms over his chest and watched in amusement as his dwarf companion drained the tankard. The foam that had spilled over the edge of the mug now clung to Borin's thick red beard.
"Too bad the barkeep headed to bed. I could do with another of these," he said, holding up the empty mug.
Legolas looked at him with a raised eyebrow. The last thing Gimli needed was another mug of ale. After all they were supposed to be on watch.
Arwen stared out the window, thinking about Laeriel. Éowyn said she had once again returned a tray of food untouched. That was the third time today that she had sent the tray back to the kitchens. She knew that she was worried about her family, but Estel would bring them home. She had to know that.
Determined to reason with Laeriel, Arwen crossed through her chamber and to the door leading into the hallway. This was a stressful situation for the woman, and maybe all she needed was a friend. Arwen knew she could be that friend for Laeriel, if only the woman would allow her.
It was late, close to midnight, but she could see a light shining from under the door, casting a dim glow across the stone. Arwen knocked softly, just in case Laeriel was sleeping, and was not surprised when she heard her call to come in.
"You should be sleeping," Arwen said, slipping into the room. "You need your rest."
"I can't sleep. My dreams are dark and frightening. Every time I close my eyes I see my daughter being tortured. She can be quite willful. I know she will try to do all she can to secure her and Brannon's escape."
"Tell me about her, your daughter," Arwen said, settling into the chair by the bed.
Laeriel leaned back against the pillows and closed her eyes, smiling. She could remember the day Adariel was born as if it were yesterday.
Laeriel walked through the hallowed halls of Mithlond, praying that she would find Círdan or Cuileth, Merilwen, Minuial, anyone that could help her. It was late, after midnight, and she thought everyone would be asleep. Until she remembered that elves did not sleep like humans did. She would have to leave the sleeping halls in search for help.
Another intense pain ripped through her belly, causing her to reach one hand to her round stomach and the other to the stone wall of the hallway for support. The powerful twinges had been coming for over an hour, first in her lower back, before tightening in her abdomen. Laeriel panted through the latest of the searing pain, willing it to go away.
If she had counted right, they were actually coming closer. Her child would be here soon and if she didn't want to have it in the middle of a cold drafty hall, she needed help. Searching the halls for a clue as to where everyone was, Laeriel eased away from the wall. Her feet were bare, and even though it was summer, the stones she tread upon were cold. The breezes from the River Lhûn swept through the open arches and kept the halls cool during the day, but at night, after the sun set, the halls could get chilly, especially to a human.
Where was everyone? Laeriel turned a corner and nearly ran into Tauron. The tall dark haired elf reached out both hands to steady her, concern shining in his grey eyes as another sharp pain racked her body.
"The babe is coming?" he asked calmly, guiding her into the room he had just exited.
"Yes…." Laeriel groaned, easing into a chair.
"Will you be okay here while I go get Merilwen?"
Laeriel nodded, waving her hand at him. "Go…go!"
Tauron skidded out of the room just as another wave of intense labor pains hit her. Laeriel would have laughed at how quickly the elf had moved to find an elleth to help her had the pain not hurt so badly. He had not been gone long before he returned with half the household in tow. Merilwen, a tall slender elf with silver hair and startling blue eyes entered the room first, nearly gliding to her side. Right behind her were the twin sisters Cuileth and Minuial, their dark hair twisted into identical knots at the nape, their grey eyes filled with concern.
"Are the pains coming close?" Merilwen asked, wrapping an arm around Laeriel, helping her to stand.
"I've counted between each wave. They are close, close enough that I think I will have a child by morning."
"We need to move you to the room we have prepared," Merilwen said, moving toward the door.
Círdan, who had been waiting in the hall, smiled at Laeriel and wrapped his strong arm around her. She looked up at him and tried to smile, but another wave of pains hit.
"I wish you would have allowed me to send for Lord Elrond," he said.
"No! You promised Círdan…you promised."
Círdan, his silver grey eyes full of understanding, smiled and nodded. "I know I promised. I wish now that I had not. But I will hold to my word. We will take care of you and your child. Merilwen and Minuial are very good healers."
Laeriel smiled weakly and leaned against him. Maybe she should have allowed him to summon Lord Elrond. No! He had made it perfectly clear to her that she was not worthy of Aragorn and she did not want him here.
"I still find it hard to believe that my father had been so cruel, as to tell you that you were not good enough for Estel," Arwen said.
"In not so many words. I will never forget the subtlety of his words. That Estel would be a great man and he would need a woman by his side that would be his equal."
Arwen reached out and grabbed her hand. "He was wrong, you know. You would have made a great queen for Estel."
Laeriel smiled. "No…he would have given all this up and remained in the North as the Chieftain of the Dúnedain. Your father's words were true. I did what needed to be done."
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.