6. Chapter Six
They sat at a rough table in the corner of the common room, smoke hanging in the air around them. Empty platters sat before them, but the mugs were still full of ale. Strider had to admit that the ale was indeed good. But as Balharn had warned, the food was only passing. Though after that long ride from where they had camped last night, the food was welcomed.
"I am off to seek my bed," Thurin said, watching as a woman practically threw herself into Gaelon's arms.
"What, no woman again this trip, Thurin? Surely you have no woman waiting for you back home?" Gaelon teased.
"No. Nor do I seek the comforts of a known strumpet," Thurin said, pushing back his chair.
"Perhaps a young stable boy would be more to your liking..." Gaelon teased.
Thurin reacted quickly, knocking aside his chair to reach for Gaelon. His hand circled Gaelon's arm, dragging him to his feet, the strumpet falling from his lap. "Take it back..." Thurin hissed, his face mere inches from Gaelon's.
Strider stood, stepping between the two men. He placed a hand on Thurin's arm, adding a little pressure. "Leave be, Thurin. He meant nothing by it, did you Gaelon? It's the ale speaking..."
"Aye...that's it, lad. I am sorry. The ale has loosed my tongue."
Thurin released his hold on Gaelon, yanking his own arm from Strider. "You should stay out of business that is not your own, Strider."
Strider held up his hands in front of him, backing away as Thurin pushed by him. He turned and watched the young man leave the bar room, heading up the stairs to his room. Sighing, he sat down, taking up his mug of ale.
"Don't mind young Thurin, Strider," Balharn said. "Gaelon has picked on the lad since he joined our company.
"Why does he do it?" Strider asked as he watched Gaelon follow the young woman up the stairs.
"Because Thurin will have nothing to do with a woman of any type. He won't go near one at all. Even the oldest of men will find comfort in the arms of a woman at times. But not Thurin. The men talk about it behind his back, but Gaelon, when he is in his cups, will let his tongue loose, saying what most are too afraid to."
Strider nodded. Well, it seems they would have another to gossip about behind closed doors and late at night. He had pledged his love to Arwen, even though she knew it not. "Well, seems as though I have reached the end of my mug," he said, setting the cup down upon the table. "I think I will follow Thurin's lead and head for my bed. I am sure we will have yet another long day on the morrow. I should not want to fall from the back of my horse for lack of leg strength."
Balharn laughed at this, his mirth apparent as he watched Strider climb the stairs with weary steps. Perhaps the two youngest of their troop had the right idea. A good night's rest would make the journey that much easier tomorrow.
"It seems that the youngest of our company, may prove to be the wisest, eh, Aron?" Balharn asked, draining his ale.
Aron raised an eyebrow at this. "Perhaps. Time shall tell. Come, we have an early start in the morning."
The two of them headed for their own beds above the common room, their thoughts on two completely different things. Aron was thinking about the mission they were about to undertake, while Balharn's thoughts were of the newest member of their company.
Strider knocked on the door of the room he was to share with Thurin before entering. He didn't want to catch him unawares. Sometimes, when he had snuck up on Elladan as a child, the Elf he called brother had forgotten who was approaching and had drawn his sword. He didn't want his head taken off by some ranger's blade, when he had escaped an Elf sword as often as he had.
The room was empty. With all his protesting, had Thurin sought out another's bed after all? He stepped into the room, only to have the door close behind him and a sharp point at his back.
"Sorry. I had to be sure it was only you," Thurin said, sheathing his sword at his waist.
"I should have said my name as I entered," Strider said, turning toward Thurin.
"I am overcautious," he said, taking the bed nearest the door. "Take your rest, Strider. I will wake you in a few hours."
"You stand watch, though you know you are safe inside the Inn?"
"Am I safe?" Thurin asked, leaning against the headboard.
Strider, arched his eyebrow, then lay down and closed his eyes. Maybe none of them would ever be safe again.
Strider was awakened by a loud noise some time later. He jumped off the bed, his sword already drawn and his stance ready for a fight. Thurin had already taken position behind the door, his sword raised in readiness. With a finger to his lips, Thurin reached for the handle of the door. A quick flick of his wrist, and the door opened, revealing Gaelon and his lady friend outside the door.
"For the love of.... Gaelon are you trying to get yourself killed?" Thurin asked in disgust as he turned back into the room.
"I was trying to apologize, young Thurin. I didn't expect to be met with drawn swords."
"We are sorry, Gaelon. It was not our intention to meet you with weapons drawn. You did, however, startle us both. It is late; perhaps you should seek some rest. I think Aron intends to leave early," Strider said. With a nod of his head, he closed the door. Turning back to the interior of the room, he found that Thurin had taken over the bed by the window. Obviously, it was his turn for the watch, Strider thought. Just as well. He was no longer tired.
"Get some rest, Thurin. I will wake you in the morning."
Thurin curled up on the bed, his back to the door. Whether or not he heard him, Strider did not know. He never acknowledged him. Shrugging, Strider took his sword and laid it across his legs. It was going to be a long watch.
The sun's rays broke through the dirty windows, casting the room in a murky daylight. Strider stood, stretching his arms high above his head. As he twisted to relieve the tightened muscles of his back, the vertebrae popped. Grimacing, he retrieved his sword from the bed. It never failed. Ever since the fall from the tallest tree in Rivendell, his back popped painfully when he stretched. He could just move the wrong way and it would send ribbons of pain along his spine.
"You okay? I heard that all the way over here," Thurin said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
"I am fine. An old childhood injury. The result of a human child trying to follow a woodland Elf through the trees."
"That doesn't sound wise."
Strider chuckled, remembering the incident. "It wasn't. Not only was I laid up for a week in bed, but Lord Elrond punished me as well."
"Wasn't he happy you weren't hurt badly?"
"He was quite relieved. He just wanted to remind me that I had disobeyed his rules and that I was not to do it again."
"How did he punish you?"
"I had to muck out the stalls in the stables for a week. There was also the extra lessons with Glorfindel."
"Well, seems that you emerged from the experience virtually unharmed," Thurin said, gathering his few belongings. "We had best get down to the common room. I am sure Aron is already there."
Strider nodded. He had already packed his gear in anticipation of getting underway. But he seriously doubted that the others would be ready to travel. Gaelon hadn't found his bed until the late hours. With a quick look around the room, he joined Thurin in the hallway.
On silent feet, the two of them headed down the stairs to the common room. There they found Barliman Butterbur puttering around behind his bar.
"Ah...good morn, fine rangers. I hope you found your accommodations to your liking."
"They were adequate as usual Barley. This is Strider. He's new to our company."
"Pleased to be making your acquaintance, to be sure, Strider, is it? Well, and how that's a fine name. I was just about to set Nob onto making some breakfast sausages for you all. Would there be anything else you'll be needing?"
"I don't think so, Barley. Has Aron come downstairs yet?"
"No young Thurin. You and Strider are the first to emerge. Shall I put on a kettle for tea?"
"Perhaps you should. I shall rouse them from their slumber, Strider. You had best go check on the horses. I know if we don't get on the road soon, Aron will not get a warm welcome once we get home."
Strider nodded. As he left the Inn, he saw Thurin taking the steps two at a time. He was thankful he wouldn't be the one waking the others up. He would much rather take care of the horses.
Aron woke with startling clarity as a bucketful of cold water hit him square in the face. Balharn laughed heartily, the bucket at his side.
"Good morning, old man. Thurin has notified me that you, Gaelon and I are the last ones abed. I sent him on a similar run to visit Gaelon. I figured after last night, the lad deserved a bit of retribution."
"Balharn...you old reprobate!" Aron groused, swinging out of the soaked bed. "You are causing problems that I do not need. You had better douse the fire you have created before it swells out of control," Aron warned, searching for dry clothes.
A loud shriek echoed throughout the second floor and Aron groaned. Too late. Thurin had exacted his revenge. The remainder of the trip home will be unbearable. Gaelon would retaliate this affront.
Aron could hear heavy footsteps coming up the hallway. He looked out the opened door and saw Thurin run by, a wide grin on his young face. Seconds later, Gaelon rushed passed, the bucket in his hand, his soaked shirt plastered to his chest.
"Balharn, I suggest you tell Strider and Thurin to ride ahead with you while the rest of us follow. I don't think it would be wise to allow Gaelon within a mile or two of Thurin in the mood he is now in."
"But my breakfast..." Balharn complained.
"Well, this was your doing," Aron said, waving a hand at his wet clothes that now lay upon the hardwood floor at his feet. "And it was at your urging that young Thurin played his own little prank. I suggest you hurry to the kitchen and grab what you can. Gaelon will be hard to convince to stay his own retributions."
Balharn groaned and tossed the bucket to the floor. With one last glance at his leader, he headed down to the kitchen for a breakfast that he could eat on the dusty road.
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.