Theme: Light and Shadow
Elements:Gapfiller: POV of Mablung or Damrod or another Ithilien Ranger: what did they think of the hobbits? did they wonder why Faramir let them go?
Author's Notes: Much of the dialogue in this story was taken directly from LotR: The Two Towers, Book IV, Chapter IV, "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit"; Chapter V, "Window on the West"; Chapter VI, "The Forbidden Pool" and LotR: Return of the King, Chapter IV, "The Field of Cormallen" Normally, I italicize such material, but in this case there was too much of it.
Mablung halted. That low call, like a rock-thrush, was the Captain's signal. He and Damrod must have spotted something. Mablung gestured, and Gelmir came silently to his side. Mablung returned a whistle of his own. The two Rangers peered in the direction of the signal. There! Just beyond, a faint plume of smoke, barely discernible.
Moving as stealthily and silently as possible, Mablung and Gelmir joined Captain Faramir and Damrod. There was a small clearing directly ahead of them, to one side a small copse of trees with a fern-brake before it. Nothing was to be seen--yet that was where they had seen the smoke. They stared at the scene, and then the Captain gestured with a finger, to the center of the clearing. At first, Mablung could not see anything out of order, but then he realized that an area of the grass had been disturbed. Turves had been cut out and replaced.
"Here!" said the Captain. "Here is where the smoke came from. 'Twill be nigh on hand. In the fern, no doubt. We shall have it like a coney in a trap. Then we shall see what kind of thing it is!"
"Aye, and what it knows," added Mablung. There had been reports from the scouts of a skulking creature--not an orc, but some other type of creature. Yet it had proved elusive.
The four of them moved into the clearing, and then began to encircle the fern brake. As quietly as possible, swords were loosened in their sheaths. The ferns moved, as though a small animal was hiding in it. Mablung briefly thought it would be embarrassing if it proved to be no more than a rabbit. But no, the smoke had been there.
Suddenly, something sprang forth from the ferns. Children? was Mablung's first astonished thought. But these were no children. The two creatures stood back to back, small swords in their hands, fear and determination on their faces.
For a long moment all of them stared at one another.
"We have not found what we sought," said Damrod. "But what have we found?"
"Not orcs," Mablung responded, releasing the hilt of his sword, though he kept his hand ready to seize it once more if needed.
"Elves?" asked Gelmir doubtfully. Mablung refrained from rolling his eyes. Gelmir was young.
"Nay, not Elves," answered Captain Faramir. "Elves do not walk in Ithilien in these days. And Elves are wondrous fair to look upon, or so 'tis said."
The sandy-haired creature set his legs apart, and looked the Captain in the eye. "Meaning we're not, I take you. Thank you kindly. And when you've finished discussing us, perhaps you'll say who you are, and why you can't let two tired travellers rest."
Mablung was hard put to suppress a smile at the pert remark. No, these were not children, and they were clearly not Elves. Elves were tall, these creatures no taller than a child of eight or nine. True, their ears were pointed, but they had thick hair growing on their bare feet. And they were definitely not "wondrous fair". Yet there was something appealing about them--in spite of the fact that they were travel-worn and clearly weary and fearful, he saw hope in their faces. The brown eyes of the sandy-haired one held a challenge, but also curiosity. And in the blue eyes of the dark-haired one was something that reminded Mablung of the Captain--a certain innate authority and wisdom. He shook his head forcefully; he needed to keep wary until the Captain decided what to do with these beings.
He stood back and listened as the Captain identified himself, and repeated his questions.
This time, it was the dark-haired one who answered, and Mablung could not help notice that aside from their names--rather outlandish names--he was not actually forthcoming with much information, until--
"...They were Aragorn and Boromir, who said that he came out of Minas Tirith, a city in the South."
Mablung could not help it--nor could the others. At the mention of the Captain-General, all four men suddenly exclaimed "Boromir!"
There was a brief silence, and then the Captain pressed his questions once more, a different note in his voice.
The one who had identified himself as "Frodo" asked, "Are the riddling words known to you that Boromir brought to Rivendell?
Seek for the sword that was broken
In Imladris it dwells"
Mablung, Damrod and Gelmir cast a glance at Captain Faramir. This was news to them. But it was clear that it was not news to their Captain, although since the Captain-General was his brother, that was not surprising. "The words are known, indeed," he said, astonishment clear in his tone.
Once more the Captain pressed the halfling, and then he seemed to recall why they were there. "We have business in hand." Mablung was startled, as he realised he had nearly forgotten they had been returning to their patrol with news of Haradrim heading in their direction. The plan was to ambush the invaders before they could reach the Black Land.
"I will leave two to guard you, for your good and for mine. Wise man trusts not to chance meeting on the road in this land. If I return, I will speak more with you."
The halfling bowed. "Farewell! Think what you will. I am a friend of all enemies of the One Enemy. We would go with you if we halfing folk could hope to serve you, such doughty men and strong as you seem, and if my errand permitted it. May the light shine on your swords!"
"The Halflings are courteous folk, whatever else they may be," the Captain answered. "Farewell!" He gave a nod to the two halflings, who now sheathed their small weapons. Turning, he whispered, "Mablung, Damrod--stay you here and watch over these two! It is most important that I be able to question them again! Gelmir, come with me!" Smoothly and silently, the Captain glided away, with Gelmir on his heels.
Mablung and Damrod exchanged a glance, and then looked to their wards. The two halflings settled down upon the ground, and leaned wearily upon one another, drawing their cloaks about them. Was it some trick of light and shadow, that they appeared almost to vanish? Or was it the cloaks? What colour were those cloaks? Green or grey? Mablung could not be sure. The sweat came down from under his mask, and he took it off. Damrod followed suit. They waved their masks before their faces to cool off.
"They appear to be travel-worn," said Damrod quietly. "See the shadows under their eyes? And they are leaner, I trow, than they are accustomed to be."
"Aye." Mablung had noticed that the halflings' garments hung more loosely than they were meant to. "I do not doubt that we interrupted a meal." He realised he had smelled the faint odour of cooked coney in the air. "But they look as though they have been on short rations for a while."
"Hist," said Damrod, and he switched from speaking Westron to Sindarin. "They were listening to us."
"I have no doubt of that," replied Mablung. "Would you not do the same, were you in their plight?"
"Aye, indeed I would. Which is why we should now speak so they cannot understand."
"Even so, let us keep our voices low. We do not know that one of them does not speak the old tongue."
"They spoke of the Captain-General. There has been no word of him since he left Gondor on his errand these long months past." Damrod cast a quick glance at their charges, but they had not moved.
"If the one was speaking the truth, then these two know of his errand. But we should not speak of that, since the Lord Steward and our Captain have not seen fit to tell us what it was." Yet, all the same, Mablung wished he could question the halflings.
All of Gondor had been worrying about the Lord Boromir, and their Captain not the least of those who fretted.
"You are right," answered Damrod. "Still, I ween they could tell us a thing or two, if they would."
The one called Frodo spoke up then. "Who are you, and what are your names, if I may ask?" he said. He spoke courteously, and without any of the fear he must feel, imprisoned as he was by men so much larger.
"You might ask, indeed, Master Halfling," Mablung answered. "Yet this does not mean we will answer." Mablung spoke without heat, yet he was troubled in his mind, for he felt that he should trust them in spite of his orders. Clearly, they could be no threat, with their small size and their tiny weapons. But orders were orders. And Mablung did not wish to think to what end certain standing orders could lead. He was glad he was not the Captain.
The halfling shrugged, and exchanged a wry glance with his companion, who gave a small grin and said, "Now I know how old Strider felt in Bree, when we wouldn't trust him, Mr. Frodo."
"Yes, Sam, I think we can understand. But I also think that we can understand why they don't trust us."
Mablung looked at them regretfully, and was startled when, after a moment of silence, Damrod spoke up.
"My name is Damrod, and this is Mablung. We are soldiers of Gondor, and Rangers of Ithilien."
"This was Ithilien?" asked Frodo.
Mablung nodded. "It still is Ithilien, though the Enemy has made it unsafe for any to dwell here in peace, as in the days of old. Our longfathers dwelt in this land, and it was the Garden of Gondor at one time. The Lord Denethor knows we do not forget that this was once our land, and he chooses among those of us whose ancestors lived here, to harry the Enemy, and do what we can against the darkness of the Black Land."
"There are many enemies here, between the Ephel Dúath and the Anduin. It is our lot to see to it that they do not cross the River," added Damrod.
"It is close on ten leagues hence to the east-shore of Anduin, and we seldom come so far afield. But we have a new errand on this journey: we come to ambush the Men of Harad. Curse them!"
"Aye! Curse the Southrons!" Damrod went on to explain the alliance between the Haradrim and the Dark Lord, and how those of Harad and Umbar were preparing to make war on Gondor, sending Men to fight for Sauron.
"But still we will not sit idle and let Him do all as He would," Mablung spat, and then told the halflings how they would harry these new allies of Sauron as much as they might. "The road may pass, but they shall not! Not while Faramir is Captain. He leads now in all perilous ventures. But his life is charmed, or fate spares him for some other end."
The halflings had been listening seriously, and with widened eyes, as the two men grew heated, speaking of the Enemy. Mablung drew a deep breath. They had said too much already, mayhap.
No one spoke again. The halfling called Samwise rose to his knees, and peered out through the fern-brake, in the direction Captain Faramir and Gelmir had gone. The silence stretched. Mablung knew the ambush was prepared, and would take place not far from this very spot. The Sun rose higher, and it neared the noontide.
Mablung watched carefully, as Samwise crawled further into the shade of the ferns, closer to where his companion lay. Soon both of their charges slept huddled together, hard and deeply, in spite of all the danger about them.
Damrod moved into the trees on one side of the fern-brake, and Mablung moved to the other. The Southrons should be approaching nearby anytime now. There was the sound of horns, and the two men drew their swords, and waited, alert and tense. More horns, louder, and the clash of arms, and the battle-cry of "Gondor! Gondor!". Mablung cursed under his breath, that he was not there, striking a blow against the Enemy. He glanced down at the halflings, and saw they had wakened, and risen to their feet.
"It sounds like a hundred blacksmiths all smithying together," said Samwise. "They're as near as I want them now."
Frodo made no response, but put on hand on his companion's shoulder, in a gesture of reassurance. Mablung and Damrod exchanged glances. They would have to defend these small creatures, if they could.
"They are coming!" Damrod shouted. "See! Some of the Southrons have broken from the trap and are flying from the road! There they go! Our men after them, and the Captain leading!"
In spite of his timid words earlier, Samwise stepped closer to the men. Suddenly, he climbed up into one of the bay-trees. Mablung spared a glance, but decided that the halfling would be safer there than on the ground. Frodo moved closer to the tree, and put a hand against it, as if he too were going to climb up. But they were suddenly and rudely interrupted, as one of the fleeing Haradrim suddenly appeared over the rise, falling to the ground with several of the Rangers' arrows piercing him. Mablung spared enough of a glance to be certain that the enemy was truly dead, before returning all his attention to the battle raging before him.
Before any of them could catch their breath, the earth shook, and a great bellowing trumpet split the air. Mablung did not need Damrod's cries of "Mûmak! Mûmak!" to know what was coming. If the great beast did not veer aside, all four of them were doomed--there was no way they could move fast enough or far enough to miss its rampaging feet! He cast a quick and regretful look at the halflings and was surprised to see an expression, not only of terror, but of wide-eyed astonishment and delight on both their faces! And then, against all hope, the creature veered aside, passing just far enough away to avoid trampling its watchers. On it ran, and was soon out of sight, struck uselessly by the arrows that bounced from its thick hide.
Samwise clambered back down from the tree, and shook a little, as he met the gaze of the other halfling. Frodo appeared to be somewhat amused by his friend's reactions.
"An Oliphaunt it was!" Samwise exclaimed. "So there are Oliphaunts, and I have seen one. What a life! But no one at home will ever believe us. Well, if that's over, I'll have a bit of sleep."
He huddled down upon the ground against the tree, and held out an arm. Frodo sat beside him, and leaned into his side, clearly weary.
"Sleep while you may," said Mablung. "But the Captain will return, if he is unhurt; and when he comes we shall depart swiftly. We shall be pursued as soon as news of our deed reaches the Enemy, and that will not be long."
"Go quietly when you must!" said Sam. "No need to be disturbing my sleep. I was walking all night."
Mablung laughed. What an impertinent creature this Samwise was, in no wise daunted by men twice his size. Mablung wondered how well he would have fared in a similar situation."I do not think the Captain will leave you here, Master Samwise. But you shall see."