7. The Collaborator
Éomer led the way down the stairs and into the common room of the inn. Húrin and Bergil followed, their arms full of skins and pelts.
Borondir was there, and a small, skinny little man – a clerk – who held on to his box of inks and papers as if he feared it would be taken away from him. By the fireplace the mayor of Calembel stood, and beside him a scarred man, his servant.
The fireplace was cold, for wood was scarce at the end of winter. No weapons, not even a wood-axe, were allowed without permission and woodcutting were far between. It had been the hope of the townspeople that the corsair soldiers would at least stay long enough for them to oversee the cutting of more wood, so that at least some good would come of their visit, but corsairs had little interest in the comfort of the people they taxed, and they had stayed no longer than needed. This day the sun shone through the windows and the heavy curtains – necessary to keep out the cold at night Ingold insisted – were pulled away to let her in, giving both some warmth and light.
There were no others in the room. Húrin picked a table near the windows for them to lie out the furs. All the tables were littered with the burnt-down stumps of crude candles, the tallow hardened in strange and fantastic shapes where it had pooled on the boards, and this was no exception, but it was better placed than the others. He tried to brush away the worst, but the tallow had fastened to the boards and could not be removed without a knife or some other tool. He guessed that was the reason the maid had not already done so. They would have to hope that none would stick to the furs.
He turned beck to the room, leaving it to Bergil to arrange the skins. Éomer had approached the mayor. He stood in a patch of sunlight falling in from one of the windows. There, in the sun, it was clear that his hair was lighter than that of the men of Gondor, despite his efforts to hide it. Húrin tensed, but made no other move when he saw that none of the other men seemed to notice, and Borondir was the only one standing between them and the door.
"Lord mayor," Éomer said in greeting. "I am Rodhaer, a humble hunter, and I am honoured that the mayor would view my wares. I beg forgives if the mayor has had to wait; I did not expect a call this early. I had taken the opportunity to bathe and wash when the innkeeper informed me of the lord mayor's arrival. Forgive my somewhat lacking appearance as well; there are but few times a man can get clean whilst hunting in the wild." He bowed, not quite managing to conceal the practiced manners taught him in his youth.
The mayor looked at Éomer for a moment. "Master Rodhaer," he said. "You seem to know me by look, if not by name."
"Lord mayor," said Éomer. "Your looks and your name are equally familiar to me."
"I do not recall that we have meet here before," said the mayor. "But perhaps you have been here, and seen me from afar."
"I have not," said Éomer, "but, pardon my bluntness – I am but a hunter unused to such fine company – I was told that the lord mayor was here in person, and none of the others could have been him. I confess that I trusted to my judgment rather than to wait and have my guess confirmed. You are the lord mayor?"
"I am," the mayor said. "Aduiar of Harondor is my name."
"At your service," Éomer said. "Can I interest you in some of our wares? We have selected only the finest for your viewing. What Húrin here does not know about furs, is not worth knowing. Let him show you what we have to offer." He gestured Húrin forward and left it to him to sort through the soft furs, and struggle to find something to say about it. Húrin did not gainsay him; he merely stepped forward, a bit stiffly, and began.
The mayor said little while Húrin showed him the skins, letting him feel how thick and warm the coats had been and how soft the leather had been worked. He listened only with one ear to the man's explanations on the difference in quality between martens and minks, how the fur of the wolverine would never freeze no matter how cold it would get, and whether the summer-coats or the winter-coats – the hunters had both – of wolves were to be preferred.
At last Húrin ran out of things to say. The mayor fingered one of the marten furs. It was softer than most he had felt; even the flesh-side had been worked until it was almost as soft as fine leather.
"Your wares are good," he said. "Better than I have seen in many years. I would have been less cold this winter, had you visited us before the snow."
"More winters will come," Éomer answered, taking over for Húrin. "And we can do little about the past, but to seek to amend it and prepare for the future. In truth, lord mayor, we could not have come earlier, though we wished it; most of these animals were caught just before the year turned, and the snow made it difficult to travel."
"You are right, and I will make sure to be prepared this year. Targon," the mayor called his servant closer. "I want you to choose some of the large, warm furs. Enough to line my winter-cloak; it was too cold this winter. And also pick out some of the finer minks or martens. It will not go amiss to bring some tokens of good will with us when we leave." He turned back to Éomer.
"Master Rodhaer, if we can leave the details to my clerk and your man, I would to speak a few words with you in private. So few travellers come to Calembel these days that I often forget my duties, but I must question you about your men, your trade and your travels, and make sure that all your papers are in order. It is a wearisome task, but it must be done."
"Of course," Éomer answered. He inclined his head and was about to speak again when they heard the sound of many boots outside. Through the window he could see that many men were gathering outside the inn. He counted at lest ten, all from the town he deemed, with no weapons save wooden staffs.
"Lord mayor," Éomer began. "Is there…" but at that moment the door to the common room swung open and Gwidor entered. He had two more men with him, but his entrance lost the impact he clearly wished for; he walked straight into Borondir who had moved to stand before the door as soon as he heard the noise.
"Move out of my way, you fool," Gwidor hissed.
"You are late, Gwidor," the mayor said. He seemed unconcerned, as if Gwidor had merely been late for supper and would now have to eat it cold. "We were about to finish here."
Gwidor stepped around Borondir.
"My Lord Mayor," he said. "I have reason to believe that this man, the hunter who calls himself Rodhaer, is not who he claims to be, and that he and his men has come here to spy. That they conspire against you, against Gondor and against the Great Lord who protect us all, may his mercy never end."
"You are late." The mayor said nothing on the charges made. His voice and face showed no sign that he had heard Gwidor's accusations, nor that he had noticed how Bergil and Húrin tensed and Borondir changed his grip on his staff and shifted his weight. The clerk had withdrawn behind one of the sturdy tables, guarding his treasure of inks and quills. Éomer looked relaxed, but his stance, too, shifted.
"My Lord, I have good reason for my suspicions," Gwidor said, ignoring the mayor's reprimand. "I now have proof. Solid, tangible proof." He looked at Éomer and smiled. "I have sharper eyes than you have thought, master hunter, and sharper ears as well. Did you think you could hide the colour of your hair? Or your strange manner of speech? You are not from Gondor, and all travel between Rohan and Gondor is forbidden."
"Not all travel," Éomer answered, "but that is not our concern. It is true that I have family in Rohan. My father was born in the Eastfold, but from my mother I have family in Lossarnach as well. I was but a boy when my father was killed, and my mother died. My mother's brother raised me. The colour of my hair comes from my father's kin.
As for my speech," he continued, "I know that my manner is not often heard here, but I have never been able to mimic the speech of the south. The speech of Minas Tirith was used in my uncle's house, and I have never been able to change what I learned in my youth."
"Gwidor," the mayor said. "You are late. This is the solid proof you have? Too many times this winter have you given groundless accusations, and I tire of the work you put me through for each innocent man I have to release. You know it is a far greater hassle to release a man than to apprehend him, and it is I that must do it. Off course we can detain master Rodhaer now, until his story is confirmed, but I do not wish to begin an investigation that will most likely prove fruitless now, so close to the celebrations. I do not have the time. Since all your other suspicions have been groundless until now, I think I will do as I had planned and simply speak with him here and see his papers."
"My Lord Mayor." Gwidor made a show of bowing to the mayor. "I humbly ask forgives for my tardiness, but if you will hear me, you will see why I was late, and that my suspicions are built on more substantial evidence than hair-colour or a slight accent."
"If accent it can be called." The mayor's voice was low. "Very well," he continued in a stronger voice. "I will hear you. But you have probably ruined all my chances of getting a good deal out of these men."
Neither Éomer nor Húrin liked the surety they heard in Gwidor's voice, but while Húrin had wished that Fastred and Cearl were with them, Éomer was glad they were not; Fastred would probably have made the situation worse, and Cearl… Cearl was young, and though he had seen more than Éomer had at his age, there was no guessing what he might do; Éomer did not know him well enough to know. He signed to Húrin to be silent and wait until Gwidor had produced his proofs. Whatever that might be.
"Lord Mayor," Gwidor began. "Let me first tell you that I spent all of last evening talking to the people of this town, but they could tell me nothing of these hunters. That, and the fact that the boy there came to Calembel a day early, claiming to seek work and then appeared in the company of these men, roused my suspicion. But, as I know you are most fair and would never judge a man without clear proof, I knew I had to prove this suspicion right before any action could be taken. Having only your best interest in mind, for it would reflect poorly on you, lord mayor, should a spy and conspirator escape me while in your service, I took it on myself to find such proof. As early as I could, I therefore entered the stable of the inn to see if I could learn more from examining their horses and their tack. And I did." He paused a moment before he continued.
"Their horses are of far better stock than men of their trade can afford, despite their scruffy looks. Master Rodhaer's horse in particular is better than most I have seen, though a little thin after the winter. It would not let me close enough to determine for certain, but I would be surprised if it is not of Rohirric stock."
"He is also old," Éomer said before Gwidor could speak further. "I have had him since before the triumph of Barad-dûr. That I still have the same horse, so many years later, should speak for the income of my trade."
The mayor spoke before Gwidor could answer that. "These proofs you cite are not enough for me to risk being delayed, Gwidor. If you provide sufficient proof that I can bring this man with me for judgement, that will be a different matter, but the colour of his hair and the breeding of an old horse are not."
"Lord Mayor, I have more," Gwidor said. "I did not want to reveal it here, but rather save it for the interrogation later so that he would have no time to think up a lie, but since you wish to know it now, then know that my search of the stables revealed, in one of the saddle-bags they had left behind, a most damming evidence. The law that forbids the bearing of arms has no exceptions save for the soldiers appointed by the lord Steward at the word of the King and the pleasure of the Great Lord. These hunters are not soldiers, yet I found this!" His words were laced with triumph as he held up a dagger.
If Éomer had given a sign, any sign, he would have had at least three men fighting with him, and the noise would have brought Fastred and Cearl down soon enough. But he gave no sign and said no word, and Húrin laid a hand on Bergil's arm warning him to wait; the men outside had them outnumbered.
And if Gwidor had expected some reaction from Éomer at this revelation, he did not let his disappointment show. He slowly presented the dagger to the mayor, studying Éomer's reactions. Therefore he missed the sign the mayor gave his servant, neither did he see the servant easing himself back on the soles of his feet, as if he had stopped himself from jumping forward.
"You will see, my lord," Gwidor said, "that this dagger not only condemns the hunter with its very existence. It is of Rohirric make, and far to new for it to be an heirloom from his father. Moreover, I found beside it this broche. It has the shape of a star, the sign used by the rebel Dúnedain in the North. Are not these indisputable proof?"
"They do make a strong case," the mayor said. "And you found them in Master Rodhaer's saddle-bags?"
"He did," Éomer said before anyone else could speak. "We found them in the forest, on a dead orc."
"Killed, no doubt, by you," Gwidor said.
"No," said Éomer. "One of its own did the killing; it was stabbed in the belly by an orc-knife. The wound was unmistakeble."
Húrin stepped closer to the king. "We might be able to hold them of long enough for help to arrive," he whispered. "Or long enough for you to escape if you can get to the stable. The men outside are not armed, and some of them would be on our side. As would at least one inside."
Éomer made a small gesture with his hand, barely noticeable to anyone else: no! He would not have them risk it.
"This is most unfortunate," the mayor said. "The evidence is too grave to ignore, even if it should turn out that your story is confirmed, Master Rodhaer. I have not choice but to ask you to come with us."
"And his men," Gwidor said. "They surely are part of it too."
"None of my men are involved in any way," Éomer said. "And they will stay here at the inn. You can be assured that they will not leave without me, lord mayor. Let me just have a word with Húrin here before we go."
The mayor nodded. "If that is all it will take to have Master Rodhaer's cooperation," he cut Gwidor's protest off, "then I see little harm in it, and much benefit. I do so hate too much fuss."
Éomer turned and dragged Húrin with him further into the room. Bergil followed, keeping himself between Éomer and the other men.
"The men at the door will be easily taken out," Húrin said. His voice was low, hardly sound at all. "Beregond will take care of at least one. The clerk has already gone into hiding, and Gwidor strikes me as a coward that can be taken down without much trouble. The mayor might be tougher, and he has the dagger, but I would be able to hold him off at need. The servant…"
"I want you to keep Fastred from doing anything stupid," Éomer cut him off. "You two will go to our rooms and keep both him and Cearl there. If you do not hear from me before nightfall, I want at least one of you to meet up with the others. Coordinate with Ingold and be prepared to leave for Minas Tirith with as many men that can be spared. Wait for me at the edge of the forest east of the town; I will meet you there sometime tomorrow if not sooner."
"Éomer king," Húrin hissed. "You can not…"
"I have not had the chance to get the information we need," Éomer said. "The mayor will know."
"Fastred will kill me if I let you go."
"Trust me," Éomer said. "I am in less danger in the mayor's keeping than you are if we resist. Gwidor has gathered too many men, and neither the mayor nor his servant is to be taken lightly in a fight. I do not need you to keep me company in a cell. Gwidor has set his eye on me, and will be satisfied with my arrest."
"And that is to ensure me that you will be safe?" Húrin shock his head. But Éomer's reasoning was sound enough; better one than all. He nodded. "And if you are not there to meet us?" he asked.
"I will be. One way or another, I will be there." Éomer's voice was low and intense. "This is not the time or place to explain. Remember what you told your men, and trust me. All will be well."
Húrin could only hope the king was right. And that neither Cearl nor Fastred would look out of the windows and see Éomer being taken away.
Borondir stayed close to Éomer on the walk back through the town. Targon, the servant, had, somehow and for some reason, claimed the place at Éomer's left hand, and so Borondir could not risk talking to him, as he had hoped. The mayor and Gwidor walked ahead. The mayor had taken hold of Gwidor, forcing him to walk in front with him, and they were now talking, but only snatches of the conversation drifted back and Borondir could make nothing of it. Nor could he read anything from Éomer's face.
Whether by design or by chance, Gwidor had struck at the time when the people of Calembel began their day. The streets began to fill with men heading out to the fields, the older boys by their side, shovels and small tilling-tools slung over their shoulders. The women would follow later, bringing their baskets of food for the midday meal and the smaller children; old enough to help pick the stones form the fields, too young to do much else. Borondir would have been with them, should have been with them, as should the other men Gwidor had brought. All hands that could be spared were needed to ready the fields for the crops.
The men turned away, avoiding Gwidor and the mayor. A few meet Borondir's eyes, their unspoken questions unanswered. Borondir did not know what they should do, what they could do, and the king had not given him any sign. Unless ordering his men to stand down was one. Borondir hoped he would be able to speak with Éomer before he was dismissed. Then he would confer with Húrin and Ingold. And Fastred, thought he could guess what Fastred would say.
Curse it all, king Éomer, he thought. I warned you about Gwidor. One king at the Enemy's mercy is enough!
The walk was not long. Éomer had been there once before, three years ago, in the servants' quarters. This time he was taken to the old barracks. Underneath what had once been the mess hall of the soldiers there were five large cells. Each was large enough to hold seven men with ease, and more if needed. Bars kept the prisoners apart, but nothing else separated the cells; these cells were not intended for those that were to be held for a long time.
Éomer was put in the first cell. The dust on the floor was not as thick as in the others and there was straw, reasonably fresh, in one of the mattresses. Was it two or three men that had been arrested this winter? Éomer could not recall. The door shut behind him and he could hear the key turn in the lock. He turned around.
"The mayor will send for you shortly," the servant said. He put the key in his pocket. "Your duty is done, Borondir. You may join the men in the fields," he added when Borondir gave no sign to leave. "I know all hands are needed that can be spared."
"And I can be spared here? I am not needed to guard… him?" Borondir asked. He could not bring himself to say the word 'prisoner'. "I'd rather not displease the mayor by leaving while he still have need of me."
"Master Rodhaer is quite secure," the servant answered. "The door is locked and I will bring the key to my master; there is no need for you to remain."
Éomer had remained silent so far, but now he spoke. "Targon, may I ask a favour? I had so little time earlier and there was something I forgot to speak with my men about. If Borondir here is leaving, perhaps, if he is willing, he could deliver a message for me?"
"Do you think it wise, master Rodhaer?" Targon returned. "I think it will be better to wait until you have spoken further with the mayor. A message now may cause both the good Borondir – and your men – trouble."
"I am sure I will be fine," Borondir hurried to say before Targon could say more. "It will not delay me much more from the work in the fields than I already am."
"I do not think that was what the good servant meant," Éomer said. A ghost of a smile played on his lips. "I would not want to incriminate you, though all I wanted was to remind my men that my horse needs to be shod. Since it looks as if I might stay here a little longer than I had planned, they can as well get it done while they wait. If you would be so kind as to remind them? I fear they will forget. But tell them to make sure it is done properly – I do not wish him lame because some oaf hammered a nail wrong!" He looked at Targon. "Too sinister?"
Borondir was startled to hear Targon laugh softly in reply.
"I doubt even Gwidor suspect the bringer of that message, though it does speak against you; who but one of the Rohirrim would worry for their horse when charged with rebellion and spying?" The scar made it harder to interpret his expression than it should have been, but Borondir did not like his words or the tone of his voice. It was as if the servant knew more than he should.
"Deliver the message if you will," Targon told him, and it was clear to Borondir that he would not get a chance to talk with Éomer alone. He turned to leave with the servant, and did not dare to turn back when Éomer called after them:
"Others besides the Eorlingas care for their horses when their livelihood as well as their lives depend on them."
Targon turned to reply: "True, but I am not the one you need to convince."
And with that they climbed the stairs and left Éomer alone.
The men Gwidor had brought had all left for the fields when Borondir came back out. He debated whether he should change out of the uniform he wore when guarding, or to go straight back to the inn and change after he had spoken with Ingold and Éomer's men. In the end he decided against the later. Éomer had given him an excuse to call back on the men, but the servant's comments had made it clear that it would be dangerous to seem too eager. Better to ready himself for work first. Since they all, as far as he could tell, had been dismissed, Húrin had been able to keep Fastred from doing something rash, like storming the mayor's house. Borondir could afford a small delay.
His house was close by. It was one of the few houses of stone still left standing in Calembel. When the Mayor's Manor – as it was called – had been built, many houses had been torn down and the stone used for the new building. They had built new houses in wood to replace those torn down, since that was quicker and simpler, and because stone was hard to come by after the War. It had taken most of the old houses to supply the Manor, and now most of the buildings in Calembel were wooden. Borondir had been given the house when the mayor had picked him as his preferred guard since it was close to the Manor. His wife had been more pleased than he, but it was good for the Faithful to have one of their own so close to the mayor, and the house was large enough that he could hide refugees there at need.
His wife was in the kitchen when he came home. She was stirring a pot, the fire beneath it too small for it to heat enough to boil.
"Wife, what are you making?"
She turned. "Husband. I did not hear you come; I thought you were in the fields with the other men."
"The mayor needed me," he said. "And it took longer than planned. Gwidor has set his eye on the hunters."
"At least that might turn his eyes from the town," she said. She turned back to her pot. "I do not know why he came here; he is too ambitious by far. All winter he has tried to make some big catch that will let him advance. These hunters are strangers; perhaps it is better this way."
"Better! You cannot mean that." Borondir could not believe it. This was the woman he had married? The woman that had worked as hard as him keeping the Faithful safe?
"He may soon turn his eyes to you!" She spun to face him. She held the ladle still in her hand, pointing it at him. A few specks of gruel hit his cheek. "Then what shall I do? There would be none to help you and speak for you as you have done in the past. He will take you to those that do not care who is guilty or not; being accused is enough. And you will just disappear, and I would be lucky to get your body back to burry."
"Wife, I am safer than you," he said. "The mayor will not be happy to lose me and he trusts me over Gwidor."
"That may quickly change."
Borondir had not known her fear ran so deep. He wanted to reassure her, but she was more right than she knew.
"Adulas," he said. "You are right to think Gwidor a threat, but you know the risks I sometimes must take; you take them with me."
"Yes," she said. "But things change, and the risk is higher since he came. Take care, Borondir. I can not lose you now."
"You might have to," he said. He hesitated to say more, but how could she understand unless he told her? "I may have to risk more now than I ever had. The hunters…"
"You will not let Gwidor use them to further his ambitions," she cut him off. She turned away from him, back to the gruel. She looked smaller, and more tired than he had ever seen her. "You are too good a man. I knew that when I married you. You would not sacrifice strangers to keep yourself safe. But have you considered that the Faithful may need you, even if my need weighs too little for you?"
"Listen, wife. You do not know of what you speak." Borondir stepped close enough for him to lower his voice. "It is not just any stranger that Gwidor have set his eye on. He suspects that they are not all what they appear to be, but even his suspicions cannot guess the truth. These men are not strangers; I know them, or most. They come from Fangorn, Adulas, and their leader will give Gwidor more than he had ever hoped to gain." His voice sank to a whisper.
"One captured king is enough."
She stopped her stirring. He could not see her face, but her body had frozen. He laid his hand on her arm and slowly turned her. She let him. She looked past him, avoiding his eyes, and he gently tipped her face up to his.
"Look at me," he said. "Look at me. You did not know. You are my wife and I should have told you, but as you want me safe, I want you. I thought it better that you did not know. I thought there was no need. That has changed, and we may both have to risk more than we have in years."
She laughed, but it was a bitter laugh. "And we can ill afford any risk now. It never rains, but it pours." She met his eyes. "I, too, have kept secrets, husband. But now I must tell as well; I am with child."
He closed his eyes. Her skin was soft beneath his fingers and he could smell the smoke on her clothes and the fading smell of the bread she baked the day before in her hair. He curled his hands in the air beside her face, careful not the touch her lest he harmed her. He could not find the words to speak.
"I do not tell you this to make you change your ways," he heard her say. "If we must do without you, then know that I will tell this child of what his father wrought, and teach him to be as good and brave as the man I loved."
He opened his eyes. "And if it be a girl?"
She smiled. "Then I will do the same. And I will see her married to a man as brave and good as is her father." She hugged him and held him close. "I know what you must do," she said. "We cannot let Gwidor and the mayor take the king, and if you can, you must help free him. Even if we lose everything here. Even if I lose you. I will find a way for me and our child."
"If the worst should happen," Borondir said, "then leave with Éomer and his men. They will care for you and protect you, and our child will know a better life than it will here.
"But nothing is certain. Éomer did not resist arrest, and none know his true name yet that did not already know. The mayor have never condemned a man before; he may yet be convinced that Éomer is nothing but a hunter. I will not act yet, and if I must, I will not be alone."
She nodded to his words. "If you plan to wait, then get changed and get yourself out in the fields with the rest. The town will need food, whatever the outcome be."
"I will," he said. "But I must speak with Húrin and Ingold before I leave; they need to know where he is held, and they will know better what must be done."
"Then go," she said. "I will bring you food at midday with the rest, if I can make enough heat in this pot to cook your gruel."
"Gruel," he said. "It is always gruel."
"And it will be gruel until you catch me something else to put in the pot."
He kissed her. "One day I will." And he went to change.
Bergil was not often glad to be one of the youngest men among the rangers, but he was now. The only reason that Fastred had not gone after the men that took Éomer away, was that Húrin had blocked the stairs when he came running. Fastred was not pleased.
"How could you let them take him?"
"Idid not let them take him anywhere," Húrin answered. "He did. He ordered me not to do anything, and to keep you from doing anything rash. There were too many men, and only a few of them we could be sure of helping us."
"We would have come. It would have been enough for him to escape."
"He would not let us. Did you not hear what I said? King Éomer ordered us not to act. And that order was for you and Cearl as well, Fastred. He wants us to wait until nightfall before we do anything. He seemed to think that he would be able to get a message to us before that."
"I wonder if you would be so willing to obey if he had been your king."
Fastred was so angry that he did not consider his words, nor did he foresee Húrin's reaction. He found himself pinned to the wall with Húrin's forearm holding him in place, pressing on his throat.
"Do not speak of him," Húrin hissed. "You, who have not even wanted to see if there can be a chance to rescue him. Perhaps now you will know why we would, that knew him."
"That gives you no right to sacrifice Éomer king for the slim chance that you may have a chance," Fastred returned.
Húrin let him go. "I have not," he said, and his voice had lost much of the anger. "I would not. I was ready to fight that he could escape, even though he would be the only one. Even though it would mean that there would be none to attempt to rescue the Chieftain. But I know that Éomer wishes to rescue him too. I can only trust to that, and that he knows what he is doing."
"I know he wishes to free the lord Aragorn," Fastred said, "and that is why I fear. I fear the king will risk too much. Tell me; would it do much good to gain one king if we lose another? Is he worth that much more?"
Húrin wanted to answer yes! That and more, but he could not. Ten years ago he would; even five years ago he might have thought it, and perhaps even said so, abet not as blunt, but now, now he could not. He began to speak, but Fastred did not hear. He cut him off, speaking on about his own fears.
"Éomer king thinks so. I know he does. And now he will throw his life away. Fool. Stupid, honourable fool; he still thinks too little of his worth, takes too many risks, and he has not even been willing to take a wife. If not for the lady Éowyn…"
Húrin did not touch him again, but the call stopped Fastred mid-rant. Cearl was staring at him, frightened and unsure what to do, and Bergil… Bergil had snuck from the room, trying, no doubt, to escape the scene he was making.
"What are you talking about?" Húrin asked. "King Éomer is wise enough, or at least have grown so, to know that he can not take too many risks. Do I have more faith in the lord of the Mark than one of his own people?
"Besides," he continued, "he knows that we will not be able to rescue him, if he is not there."
"We will have little hope of rescuing the Chieftain unless Éomer leads us," Húrin said. "We need more than five Dúnedain, and the Faithful here and in Minas Tirith knows him, or of him. I am known. Or, at least I am to those in Minas Tirith, and we will need their help. Just knowing king Éomer has come will raise their hearts and give them the will to try. You heard Ingold."
Fastred nodded. He had heard Ingold. He just wished he had not, that he had not understood the feeling so well, that he could just take his king with him back where is was safer.
"Húrin," he said. "Listen to me. You heard what I told that the orc in Fangorn said; there is some plot, some plan, to lure Éomer king to Minas Tirith."
"You don't know that. What if the orc tried to say tark-king? It might have heard of the plans for the celebrations."
Húrin was right. Of course he was, but Fastred could not get the image of the shrunken, dead youth from his dreams out of his head whenever any of them spoke of Mundbrug. "My heart fears that the king is in more danger than any of you think, if he goes to the City of Stone," he said, more to himself than Húrin. Húrin heard him anyway.
"Are all the Rohirrim gifted with foresight suddenly?" he asked. "I had thought that was the gift of my people. First Éomer, now you?"
"It is no matter for jests!"
"You have been on edge since we left Fangorn," Húrin said, "but it has grown worse these last days. What is this fear? What does your heart tell?"
Fastred waved him off. "Nothing," he said. "My dreams have been dark, nothing more."
"Dreams can speak of many things. We long since learned to listen to ours."
But Fastred just shook his head. He was not ready to voice the fears of his dream, lest they would turn real with the speaking. Húrin did not press him further, but neither would he let him leave the room.
"He took my place," Fastred said instead. It was easier to voice this guilt than the fear of dreams. "I was the one to forget the knife in my saddle-bag, though I could have sworn I had not."
Húrin had no answer for him.
Outside the sun climbed the sky, hot with the first warmth of spring. She tracked the time, moving slowly across the floor of their room. Fastred paced between the window of the inner room and the table in the inner, waiting for something to happen. He turned from the table and walked back to the window once more. Below the street was empty. It was a small street, hardly more than an ally. The houses across stood close together, were small and low. Still the ally was so narrow that the sun did not reach all the way down to the dirt. The ground was hard-packed and dark like still-damp clay and not even weeds grew there. On one side a small trickle of dirty water made the ally unsavoury to use. The men Gwidor had brought had come another way, and the room had no widow facing the square outside the inn.
He turned again. Húrin sat at the end of the table, the chair drawn back so that he could keep an eye on both the door and Fastred. Other than that, the room was empty.
"Where are the lads?"
"They cleared out, clever little buggers," Húrin answered. "I am not quite sure when Bergil left, but Cearl I sent to the stables while you was brooding. He looked as if he was scared half out of his wits, and the way we were going on my only surprise is that he was not scared all the way. We need to make sure nothing else has been left there to incriminate us further, and he needed the comfort of his horse."
"You have learned something of us then," Fastred said. "Though why you say 'we', I don't know."
"I admit that you were more to blame than me…"
"I would be perfectly calm if you had not allowed my king to be taken prisoner! And why, pray, would you let Cearl out and not me?"
"If I could be certain that you would not go off – alone – to free Éomer the minute I let you out of my sight, I would."
Húrin sounded much too calm in Fastred's mind. The Ranger had not moved, but he was ready to stand at a moment's notice. It was not Fastred, however, that brought him to his feet a moment later. It was the sound of footsteps in the hall outside. Three or four people, they guessed. No words were needed; Húrin was by the door before it opened.
It was Bergil and Cearl, with Ingold and Borondir close behind.
Borondir quickly explained what had happened at the Manor, and how Éomer had provided him with an excuse to report back to them. It did somewhat ease their minds that the king seemed to be in no immediate danger, thought nothing had really changed and Borondir could shed no further light on why Éomer would put himself in danger that way. They decided to wait, as Éomer had ordered, until evening for more news. Borondir would try to get a word with Éomer after the work was over, in the meanwhile Bergil would keep an eye on the barracks. Ingold would seek information too. The remaining men would have to wait.
"What was the message Éomer king sent?" Fastred asked. Borondir had risen to leave; he was already late for the fields.
"That is of little consequence," Borondir answered. "It was but an excuse for me to speak with you."
"Fastred is right," Húrin said. "He might have tried to give us some hidden message in his words, and even if he has not, we should know it in case we are asked."
"I did not think of that." Borondir scratched his head. He used both hands, one behind each ear, scratching up and down the back of his head with short, fast movements; a sure sign that he was unsure. "He said to remember to shoe his horse, and take care lest it become lame from careless work. I do not know if this is some code you use; to me it did not mean much."
"I'll see it done," Fastred said. "On all the horses. If we need to flee, it would be better that they all were shod so that we don't risk soreness."
"I will let the blacksmith know," Ingold said. A Rider would know their horses' care best, though he could not quite see why Éomer would think it important to get the horses shod. Nor that Fastred should care about it when his king was imprisoned. But Húrin nodded, and that was enough. Both left, and Bergil followed shortly. It was already near midday, and they did not know what they should do. Or what Éomer king planned.
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.