11. Chapter 11
The first thing I noticed upon waking was that the nice warm cushion against my back had vanished. Had I only dreamt it? The second was that I could hear low voices somewhere off to the side. I rolled over and had a look around. The fire had burnt down to cold ashes and the sky to the east turned to a pale eggshell green with the coming dawn. Yet surely it was too early to get up?
The voices rose in volume and I sat up in alarm. Where was Léona? Then I spotted him down by the waterside, near Bornathron's abandoned campsite, talking to somebody. I squinted into the gloom and realized there were two new boats drawn up on the sand! Where had they come from? Even as I watched, three men got out of one of them and joined their comrade on the beach.
"I've told you," Léona's voiced carried clearly to me, "I am travelling to Minas Tirith with my wife. Now get you gone."
The other man said something, but again I only caught Léona's answer. "No, you can't have a look," he said, "she is asleep. Come back when the sun is up."
I froze. Were they searching for me? Exactly at that moment one of the men looked up and spotted me. He pointed my way and Léona glanced round. "See, now you've woken her!" he said and beckoned to me.
There was no helping it. Feeling very exposed, I rose and went to join them. Facing Léona was a fat, elderly man dressed in working clothes with a white apron wrapped over them. However, the three men standing behind him were of an altogether different kind: their leather jerkins might be worn and patched in places, but they all wore swords on their belts and one of them even had a hauberk. In the boats drawn up on the sand, two more sat, paddles in hand. Sharp eyes examined me as I walked up, making me shiver, even though I told myself that I looked nothing like a princess in my stained clothes and with tangled hair. The sand was cold under my bare feet.
Léona wrapped a warm arm around my waist. "Rhovaniel, my sweet, this good man here is looking for his wife, who has been abducted from their home." I started and he squeezed my waist in warning.
"How...how dreadful," I stammered. Was it possible they were after Maedwen and Bornathron? It took all my self-control not to look back over my shoulder. The two slept on the other side of the fire from me, and in the gloom might just be taken for heaps of blankets. I studied the fat man more closely. Could he be her abusive husband? He did not look particularly threatening, but then you never knew what drink did to a man.
"Have you seen them?" he asked. With his large hands clutching his apron, he described the young couple.
I was just about to deny any sight of them, when Léona broke in. "Now that I come to think of it," he said, "there were two young people who asked to stay here for the night."
The miller leant forward eagerly. "Where are they?"
Léona shrugged. "I told them to move on."
"Yes, that's true," I said, catching on to Léona's plan.
"Did you hear that, Corethir," the man exclaimed.
He turned to one of his companions, who seemed to be the leader of the other men, for he was the only one to wear chainmail and had some kind of device on the short tabard that went over it.
"They were in a hurry," I added, anxious to have them gone. At any moment the sleepers behind us might wake up and give themselves away. And I hoped the men did not think to ask us why we had two boats – although traders did sometimes have a second one along.
"It has to be them," the miller said.
The man addressed as Corethir regarded us suspiciously. "How convenient that you should remember this encounter all of a sudden." He had a narrow face with eyes so pale they held no emotion whatsoever. It came to me that this man had killed before and would do so again without the least hesitation. I shuddered as his glance slithered over me like the touch of a damp, chilly hand.
Léona tightened his arm around my waist. "What of it?" he challenged him.
"We're only trying to help," I chimed in, willing to say anything to have them gone. "It's a terrible thing for a woman to run away from her husband."
Corethir expelled his breath in triumph. "But Gordir said nothing about his wife running away," he pointed out.
"Oh!" I closed my mouth with a snap. Why hadn't I thought before speaking!
"Oy, you!" Corethir yelled suddenly. "Show yourselves!"
From the fireside an exclamation of dismay showed that the sleepers had finally woken up. Léona cursed and once again I found myself pushed behind him. "Listen," he whispered, "I do not like the look of these men. If things go ill, you grab the girl and get away in our boat. I will stay them."
"Do as I say," he snapped.
"I will," I promised. You do not argue with your commander in the midst of battle. "But please be careful," I whispered.
He nodded absentmindedly, obviously already busy with assessing his options. The two additional men in the boats had alighted and taken up station behind their leader, while Gordir tried to peer round Léona, whose hand on the hilt of his knife deterred them for the moment. I took a step back to give him room in case he had to move suddenly. Was there anything I could use as a weapon?
"It is her!" Gordir exclaimed. "Maedwen, come here at once."
Did he think his wife was a dog? I risked a glance behind me. The two had struggled out of their bedclothes and to their feet. Maedwen clutched at Bornathron, her face white as chalk. The boy suddenly dived for his blankets and came up with his sword, which he drew with a ring.
"You won't have her, you brute!" he yelled, stepping forward. "Not while I live."
I winced at these heroics, well aware that Léona had so far tried to avoid drawing steel, for the very reason that we were badly outnumbered.
He held up a hand to bar the boy's way. "Put your sword away and let me handle this," he commanded and Bornathron stopped beside him. Léona addressed the miller. "Your wife has raised certain accusations which will have to be cleared in a court of law. We are taking her back to Minas Tirith."
Gordir turned red in the face. "This scoundrel has run away with my wife – he belongs in court, not me!" He appealed to his companions. "Do something!"
One of the other men put his hand to his sword hilt. "My lord?" He looked at Corethir for orders.
The man with the pale eyes had crossed his arms on his chest, content to watch for the time being. Now he shrugged. "Gordir, when you hired us to get your wife back, you said there was only a runt in the way. You never mentioned any Rohirric warriors..."
"He's hired you?" Léona asked sharply. "For how much?"
And to do what? I could not help wondering what would have happened, had they caught up with the couple without any witnesses about. Or what still might happen.
Corethir jutted out his chin. "My hire is none of your business, horsemaster." He narrowed his eyes at the miller. "If you still want the deed done, the price has just doubled."
"Doubled!" the fat man looked like was about to have an apoplexy. "You're robbing me!"
I saw Léona hesitate. Did he consider offering for the mercenary's services himself? But how could you trust such a turncoat? And why had his man called him a lord? Was he noble born? What if he knew me!
Gordir decided to appeal to Léona directly. "You are a married man, too." He pointed at me. "How would you like it if another man stole your wife?"
"Nobody lays a hand on my wife, or he's a dead man." Léona said in a cold voice. "But yours wasn't stolen, she ran away because you abused her. You will get in your boat and we in ours and then we'll travel down to Minas Tirith and get it cleared up there."
"I don't care what she told you, but it's all lies," Gordir replied. "I'm a good husband."
Behind me, Maedwen gasped. Although she was the bone of contention, I had almost forgotten about her. "A good husband!" she exclaimed. "Every night you hit me when you got home from the tavern!"
"Nonsense! Those were love pats-"
"Enough," Léona interrupted them. "That is for a court of law to determine."
The blood rushed to Gordir's face. "I won't have my private affairs dragged through some stupid court. The woman is mine, to do with as I please!"
That was too much for me. "Not if you beat her up!" I protested hotly.
"She lives under my roof, she follows my orders," Gordir retorted. His fingers clenched by his side. "Listen, horsemaster, if you're too soft to control your womenfolk, that's your problem, but don't tell me how to handle mine."
A growl rose in Léona's throat. "Your duty is to protect your wife. How dare you mistreat her, you fat little dumpling!"
Gordir's chin quivered at the insult. "She belongs to me! And if she needs a few blows around the head to learn her proper place, that's what she'll get."
"So you're admitting hitting Maedwen?" I interrupted, before Léona could reply – either verbally or with a knife in the miller's guts.
"You have just admitted causing bodily harm with intent, and done so before witnesses," I answered triumphantly, "which is one of the three grounds for which a spouse may seek dissolution of their marriage: bodily harm, adultery or barrenness."
Corethir stirred from his stance as a bystander. "You know the law well."
I froze. During our argument the sun had cleared the Ephel Dúath, and now he examined me with sudden interest. Had I met him before? But there were always so many younger sons of impoverished families hanging about court, hoping to make their fortune.
"You don't know me, do you," Corethir breathed, "but you will. You will indeed!" He started laughing. "Three days we've been searching for you in vain and now that I'd given up..."
Léona decided to act. "Run!" he shouted as he yanked his knife from its scabbard.
Corethir only just caught the blow on the sleeve of his hauberk and swore. Stumbling back, he drew his sword, and so did his men. I did not wait to see more; I had my orders.
Spinning round, I grabbed Maedwen by the arm and pulled her with me. "To the boat!"
Gordir launched after her, but found himself intercepted by Bornathron, who dropped his sword and planted a fist in the other's man's face. Behind me, somebody cried out, a horrible gurgling sound. Sweet Elbereth! Not Léona, please not Léona! But a glance back over my shoulder showed the melee still going on. A dark bundle lay on the ground with a knife quivering in it. Good!
"The woman is getting away!" Corethir yelled and disengaged from the fight. He started after us.
Running past our campsite, I picked up the iron kettle and hurled it at him. Corethir tried to dodge it, but it hit him right in the chest and he went down with a heavy thud. Where was the boat! There!
"Get in and sort out the oars," I shouted to Maedwen and threw my weight against the prow of the skiff to push it into the water.
Perhaps if we got away, they would leave off Léona to pursue us? Shouts and curses echoed across the beach, interspersed by the clang of steel. At least that meant the fight was still going on, however uneven the odds. I pushed harder, but the keel would only slide agonizingly slowly across the sand. Why had Léona pulled it up so far!
"Move, you stupid thing!" I breathed through clenched teeth.
In the boat, Maedwen was fumbling to pick up the oars. Then suddenly the resistance gave way and Cawelcwén slid out onto the water. I waded after her and hoisted myself over the gunwale. "We need to row upriver to get away. Quick!"
Maedwen nodded and started to fit one of the oars into the oar lock. Another glance back showed Bornathron and Gordir still grappling with each other. Léona had somehow managed to seize one of the mercenaries and was using him as a shield against the remaining two. That moment he pushed the man forward into his comrades and rolled in the sand. When he came up, he held Bornathron's sword in his hand! But Corethir had struggled to his feet again, and was coming in our direction. What took Maedwen so long? We had to get away!
"Let me do that," I said, pushing Maedwen towards the stern of the boat.
One oar was in, now for the other one. Then a gauntleted hand grabbed the side of the boat.
"Got you, you wildcat!" Corethir exclaimed.
"First you have to catch me!" I threw a cabbage at him and instinctively he let go of the boat to protect his face.
Swinging round the loose oar with all my strength, I only just missed hitting him. He sidestepped, lost his footing in the shallow water and went under with a splash. But my triumph was short lived; before I could do anything else, he surfaced again, all the more enraged.
"Just you wait! I will beat the wildness out of you," he spat.
I swung the oar back, but this time he managed to duck in time and it went whistling over his head. If only I could lure him out into the deeper water, where he would drown beautifully in his heavy chainmail! A cabbage flew by, as from behind me, Maedwen took up the fight as well.
"Try to paddle backwards," I shouted to her, striking at Corethir again.
But this time he was prepared and grabbed the oar as it went by. For a heartbeat, we strove over it, but he was too strong for me. I had to let go or be pulled into the water. The piece of orc bait laughed as he threw it aside!
Corethir gave me no time to think; he lunged for the boat again and began to heave himself over the side. Cawelcwén listed dangerously from his weight. I snatched up another cabbage and tried to smash it in his face, but he let go of the gunwale for a moment and dealt me a swipe of his hand that sent me sprawling to the bottom of the boat. The back of my head rang from where I had hit it on the wood. Maedwen cried out in fright.
Then Corethir loomed over me and threw himself on top of me, driving the air from my lungs and dousing me in cold water. "Now I have you!" he crowed. "And I won't let such a chance slip through my fingers! By tonight the haughty Prince of Dol Amroth will have a new son-in-law."
No! In breathless panic, I tried to kick and scratch, but he caught my fingers and forced them back from his face. I struggled uselessly like a fish caught out of the water, trying to wriggle away from him. He was so heavy! Straightening up, he sat astride me and gathered both my hands in one of his own. With the other he reached past me to pick up a piece of rope.
"You had better get used to submitting to me, woman," he hissed. His pale eyes no longer were cold, instead they glittered with horrible excitement. "I enjoy breaking the wild ones."
"No!" I gasped. Léona! Where was Léona!
Then I remembered a trick from childhood scraps with Amrothos and thrust my hips up, bucking like a horse. Unbalanced, he had to let go of my hands and I went for his eyes, leaving a bloody gouge across his cheeks. Scum!
Cursing, Corethir twisted his head away, when suddenly the boat tilted. A hand grabbed him by the shoulders and hauled him off me. Léona? I pushed myself up to see what was happening. Corethir got dragged out of the boat, hitting the water with a splash. But with his weight gone, the boat rocked back and nearly capsized. I was thrown to the floor, where something hard connected with the back of my head.
The world went black.
A/N: Again many thanks for your good wishes and advice. My hand seems to be improving slowly, though I still have to be careful. However, there's a long weekend ahead, so I'm hoping to be able to rest it further. Happy Easter to all of you!
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.