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Disclaimer: This story is non-profit and was written for purely entertainment purposes. All recognized characters and places are property of Tolkien Estates and New Line Cinema. I own nothing but my name.
~ Chapter 17: It All Goes Up in Smoke ~
The female of any species is a most wondrous creation. All outward appearances hint at a delicate and fragile being, yet beneath her soft exterior lies a devious and calculating beast, craftier than the sliest fox. She is a master of perception, and when pushed to the edge the true steel of her character is revealed. Thus, it was not in the nature of the serving girl Mysian, who deemed herself so cruelly bound and gagged by the “Black Riders,” to simply wait in helpless misery until a brawny hero came to her rescue.
Immediately following her return to consciousness, the girl had lain on the bed as quietly as she could and slowly worked at the knotted bonds around her wrists for the remainder of the night. They had not been tightly bound, for the Rangers and Boromir were perhaps too kindly for their own good. By the time the scent of morning began to fill the crisp air and starlight faded into the first streaks of dawn, she had loosened them completely.
* * *
Aragorn awoke with a start. He rapidly blinked the sleep away from his heavy eyelids and stood up with a groan. Spending the night in a hard wooden chair was not the most comfortable of makeshift beds, but the Ranger had encountered far worse. His wrist cracked as he placed his hand in the crook of his back and arched his spine. He heaved a sigh and gave his shoulders a languid roll, feeling them stretch and pop.
‘I wonder when I became so rickety,’ he thought in wry amusement. ‘One of these days I shall begin to inadvertently lose body parts.’ He pictured Arwen’s reaction should he roll out of bed and stretch, only to have an arm or leg fall off. ‘I prefer it be an arm,’ he decided. ‘I do not think a one-legged version of myself would pose very threatening.’
He was in the process of contemplating how the single-legged Aragorn would sword fight, ride a horse, dance with Arwen, and trek up a mountain when Boromir lazily sat up from the floor and yawned. “Good morn, Arag—, er, Strider,” Boromir said softly as he attempted to stifle a second yawn. The son of Denethor massaged the back of his painfully stiff neck. “I admit the floor did nothing for me. How fare you?”
“A lot of hopping,” muttered Aragorn.
Boromir cocked his head towards the man in confusion. “Pardon?”
Aragorn blinked and rubbed his hand over the stubble on his chin. He needed a shave, and did he just say “a lot of hopping” out loud? “Forgive me, my mind was elsewhere. What were you asking?” He never had been a morning person.
Boromir shook his head and wondered what the dark-haired man could possibly think about so early in the morning that involved hopping. “Ah, never mind. It was nothing of great importance.” He shifted his body to look at the still form of the serving maid. She appeared to be sleeping. “What shall we do with her?”
Aragorn’s mouth drew into a thin line as he regarded the sleeping girl. Her shoulders moved up and down in response to her slumbered breathing and the braid of her honeyed hair had loosened, allowing tangled strands to hide her face. “Leave her here, I suspect. Hopefully she will not wake until after our departure.”
Boromir reached for his boots and began lacing them up. “Do you think anyone noticed her missing?”
Aragorn shrugged, his sharp gaze still resting upon the maid. “I do not know. Perhaps, perhaps not.” Boromir found little comfort in his words.
The pretty maid clamped her eyelids shut and willed them not to flutter. The Black Riders must not discover she was awake. ‘I wonder if anyone did notice my absence,’ she pondered, forcing herself to breath as evenly as she could. The weather had driven many to seek shelter the previous evening, sending the tavern into a chaotic whirl of weary travelers, bustling servers, and countless ale mugs and stew platters. Her absence had most likely been lost amidst the hectic masses.
She slowly cracked open one eye as wide as she dared and watched the two men through her thick lashes. Curse the day she had ever laid eyes upon that Borofara! Her anger began to boil as she remembered how he had toyed with her emotions. Of course, Boromir had done no such thing, but as Mysian perceived it, he had caused her great insult. There was, she reasoned, only one explanation for her ridiculous infatuation with the man: he had cast a spell upon her, which rendered her completely enchanted and powerless. ‘The way he looked straight into the depths of my eyes, my very soul,’ she silently ranted, gnashing her teeth in fury. ‘He knew I would be helpless against his wicked Black Powers.’
Boromir finished lacing his boots and stood up. He reached for his cloak and began to fasten it around his neck, but Aragorn stopped him. “Let us first see if the others have risen.” Aragorn glanced at the dark cloak and winced. “In our current situation, it would be best to avoid wearing those.”
Boromir hastily threw the cloak aside. “Of course, how foolish of me.” The two men buckled their scabbards and headed towards the door. The kidnapped girl listened to their heavy boots clomp across the wooden floorboards, followed by the rattle of a door handle as it was turned. Aragorn and Boromir exited the room, and the door closed behind them with a sharp click.
Mysian the serving maid suddenly found herself alone. She held her breath and waited several tense seconds before springing to action.
Rolling over onto her stomach, the girl shimmied out of the cloth that bound her wrists. She then sat upright, swiftly untied her ankles, and tore off the gag around her mouth. Before hopping to the floor, she froze, her body rigid, and strained her ears for any hint of the Black Riders’ return. Her ears were greeted by only the muted murmur of conversation as it drifted up from the room below her. Inhaling a shaky breath, the very rumpled Mysian pushed stray pieces of hair away from her face and cautiously stood up. She cringed as the floorboards creaked ever so slightly beneath her.
‘I must escape,’ she told herself resolutely. ‘I must warn the town.’ What if the Black Riders were to capture her family? What would they do to them? She suppressed a shudder at the thought. No, she would not let Borofara and the rest of his minions destroy her family or her village. He and his dark friends had tried to subdue her, but they would not succeed!
With steps lighter than a feather, the girl stole across the room. She was almost to the door. ‘It is but a few steps more,’ she encouraged herself. Her trembling hand reached for the knob. What if Borofara knew she was trying to escape? What if he and his companions were on the other side of the door, waiting for her to open it? The pretty maid closed her green eyes, sent a quick prayer to the Valar, and thrust open the door.
The hallway was empty. Mysian almost began to cry in relief, and bit her bottom lip as it quivered uncontrollably. ‘You are not in the clear yet,’ she reminded herself. She cautiously stuck her head out of the doorframe. ‘They must be in the room of their fellow Riders.’ She envisioned Borofara and his men sitting around a bubbling cauldron, chanting in strange tongues and plotting the demise of she and the entire town. Her fear melted away and was replaced by indignant anger. How dare they!
Without further thought, the girl dashed into the hallway and let loose several blood-curdling screams loud enough to make even the deaf cover their ears. “TO ARMS! TO ARMS!” she cried. “THEY ARE HERE! THE BLACK RIDERS ARE HERE!”
* * *
The eastern scouting party trekked forward at a brisk clip following their late noontide battle with the orcs. Seeking to put as much distance between themselves and their slain foes—for they reasoned where there was one large camp, there was bound to be another, the company continued on through the night and into the next morning. The day dawned pale and washed-out, sobering the group as they plodded forth. Luckily, there was still an abundance of trees in the area, which served to break the howling wind as it tumbled down from the mountain heights.
Glorfindel twisted around on the back of his mount in order to check on the well being of the three Dwarves. Gimli, Glóin and Barin huffed and panted as they toiled up the mountain trail. The Elf lord’s eyes did not miss the slight hitch in the step of Glóin, or the fact that he tended to veer slightly to the right when walking. ‘An old battle injury, I presume,’ Glorfindel thought. ‘I worry for Master Glóin’s welfare.’ His eyes scanned over the remaining members of the party. Even Orimhedil and Legolas were beginning to show signs of weariness.
They pressed ahead into the late afternoon before the captain of Rivendell opted to halt for the evening. Though several hours of daylight still persisted, all were taxed too far to safely journey onward. The forest had begun to thin as well, and Glorfindel decided to make use of its cover while the trees were still available. The company built a makeshift camp within a rocky, weathered glen and then each attended to his needs.
Legolas sighed in relief when he found the object of his desire—a small, cold stream gushing through a shallow and rocky bed. He had not attended to his cuts earlier, for he deemed them minor and unnecessary of immediate attention. Though this was true, they nonetheless burned and stung incessantly. Legolas found them incredibly irritating, and the soothing waters of the stream would feel marvelous on his sore and abused skin.
He unfastened his wrist guard and rolled up his sleeve, examining the cut along his forearm. It was swollen and puckered an angry red, but would not hinder him to any great degree. He closed his eyes and stiffened as the freezing water splashed over the wound. Gradually relaxing as the water numbed his arm, Legolas slowly rotated it back and forth. The rushing water cleansed the cut and the Elf was finally relieved a majority of the wound’s painful burning.
‘And now to attend the shoulder.’ Legolas undid the nape of his cloak and the topmost fastens of his tunic. He rolled his shoulder forward in attempt to better view the wound and gently prodded it with his fingers. It had ceased bleeding, but was still immensely tender. Legolas grimaced as he caught sight of the purplish-blue bruise beginning to form on the outer welted edges of the cut. It would take at least a week to heal.
He cupped his hand, scooping up a small amount of water, and poured it onto his shoulder. The cold water dribbled down his back and effectively soaked his tunic sleeve. Perhaps his method did not yield the most advantageous result, but it was by far the most convenient.
He had almost completely cleansed the wound when approaching footsteps reached his keen ears. Short, heavy footfalls. ‘Please let it not be a Dwarf. Please let it not be a Dwarf,’ Legolas pleaded silently to any whom might be listening. His mind was still jumbled with conflicting emotions concerning the most recent turn of events, and he had yet to sort them out. Coming face to face with one of the three Dwarves was the last thing he wished for at the moment. The footsteps grew louder. There was no denying who they belonged to.
‘Turn away,’ willed Legolas with all his might. ‘Return to camp. Turn, turn, turn!’
Gimli bustled through the trees, water skin in hand. Glorfindel had informed him a small stream ran up ahead. The Dwarf sang softly to himself in his deep bass as he marched along.
“Chisel the stone and whet the axe
for the Dwarves have gone a-marching!”
Legolas lifted his face to the heavens and rolled his eyes. Some folk should NOT sing.
“The dragon trembles within his lair
and the Elven-king pulls out his hair!”
Legolas snapped his head around and narrowed his bright eyes in the direction of Gimli’s voice. He had a sneaking suspicion of who the Elven-king in question might be.
“For the Dwarves have come a-marching home!” Gimli ended the ditty with a flourish of booming drum imitations, and would have struck up the Dwarvish jig that went along with it had he not reached the streambed first.
Still humming, he knelt down in front of the stream and began filling his flask. A sudden tremor ran up and down his spine. He was being watched. The Dwarf suspiciously lifted his eyes. He cried out in shock and started backwards when he noticed the half-dressed Elf sitting cross-legged on the stream’s bank, glaring at him.
“Elf.” Gimli gave Legolas a somewhat courteous nod, but continued to watch him as though he expected the archer to attack at any second.
“Dwarf.” Legolas answered in a similarly cold fashion. The two continued to eye each other.
When Gimli’s flask emitted several burps of air, signaling it had been filled, the Dwarf withdrew it from the icy water and replaced its cap. He could still feel the sharp gaze of the Elf boring into him. ‘What happens now?’ he wondered. He looked back to the Elf, noticing the Elder’s slender hand was covering a decent sized gash on his shoulder and that a slight grimace sat upon the Elf’s lips.
Gimli felt a twinge of concern, in spite of himself. The scouting party would not have split had he not said those cruel words, and the Elf would not have been injured. None of the Elves would have been. Perhaps if he were to… No, he would not try to apologize. His words would be wasted on the haughty son of Thranduil. ‘If the Elf cannot defend himself, it is no fault of mine,’ Gimli decided. He brushed aside the errant drops of water clinging to the flask and turned back to the forest.
“What have we here?” Gimli stooped down to investigate the mysterious plant that had caught his eye. “Why, this looks like… Nay, it cannot be!” The excitement in his voice was evident.
Legolas unrolled his sleeve and slipped his wrist guard back on with a sigh. Gimli had stumbled across some *Ionillis—a plant so similar in appearance to pipe-weed that only one with an expert eye could tell the difference. Though the two looked the same, Ionillis was extremely flammable. During Legolas’ first journey with Aragorn, the Heir of Isildur had made the same mistake. Had Legolas not interfered, Middle-earth would have been left with one very headless future king of Gondor. Legolas was familiar with the plant because Mirkwood Elves often used it in performances that required smoke or small explosions.
“What luck is this!” cried Gimli in delight. Legolas curled his lip in disdain. Imbecile Dwarf. The prince would have to stop the fool before he attempted to smoke the stuff and ended up instead with a face full of sparking ashes.
Legolas paused. That was, if he told Gimli what the plant really was. ‘No,’ he warned himself. ‘Tell the Dwarf it is not pipe-weed! His father saved your life.’ True, Glóin had saved Legolas’s life. Gimli, on the other hand, had not. Gimli had thrown a rock at him. Gimli had insulted his mother. And Gimli had just sung a rather nasty tune concerning the events of the Battle of Five Armies—efficiently cutting down Thranduil in the process. ‘Tell him,’ his mind hissed.
“I believe that is what you call pipe-weed in the Common Tongue.” Apparently Legolas’ mouth had different ideas. There was no going back now. ‘He is deserving of a proper scare,’ the Elf reasoned, knowing all the while he had no business leading the Dwarf on. ‘And I shall not be inflicting the damage. He will inflict the damage upon himself.’
Gimli, forgetting his hatred of the Elf in his excitement, began to hastily gather some of the plants’ dried leaves. ‘I shall at least be certain he does not gather too much,’ Legolas decided. Ionillis was only dangerous if used in large amounts. ‘As much as I detest the thing, I will not be held accountable for directing him straight to the grave.’
“Dwa—Gimli,” he began. Gimli’s name was still unpleasant to his palate. “Take only a small amount of the plant. It is vital to the forest.” He hoped Gimli would not ask him what the plant’s importance was; it was a weed and choked out the more delicate fauna of the area.
Had Gimli been on his guard, he would have grown suspicious when the archer informed him what the plant was. And if that had been overlooked, Legolas’s use of Gimli’s name should have set off a barrage of warnings within the Dwarf’s mind. Yet it was not to be, for the son of Glóin was far too enraptured by his fortunate discovery of “pipe-weed.”
“Yes, yes,” the Dwarf responded impatiently. Elves and their plants, honestly! He carefully plucked a final leaf. ‘Mayhap the son of Thranduil is not quite as terrible as I made him out to be,’ he thought. ‘I was almost sorry Father saved his wretched little life, but I begin to feel his efforts were not in vain.’ He stood up and shot a grateful, albeit somewhat reluctant, look in the direction of Legolas, whose face remained completely unreadable. “Ahem,” he grunted, embarrassed. “Thank you.” With that, he turned abruptly on his heel and headed back to camp.
Legolas sat wordlessly upon the pebbly bank, his lithe form straight as an ash tree. Was that guilt he felt gnawing at his insides? He scowled. ‘Cease this at once,’ he ordered. ‘Should an orc express gratitude, would you show him mercy as well?’ Admittedly, the chances of an orc expressing gratitude of any kind, particularly towards an Elf, were slim to none. Legolas chose to ignore this fact. Instead, the archer pictured the look on the Dwarf’s face when he lit up his pipe, receiving a giant billow of smoke when expecting the breathy wisps of tobacco. The Elf’s thoughts then turned to his mother. Any lingering guilt quickly vanished.
Legolas refastened his tunic and cloak, then fluidly rose to his feet. For once, he would be looking forward to the Dwarves’ evening smoke. It was as Glorfindel said: “Fight fire with fire.”
* * *
Gimli stumped through the autumn-painted eaves of the forest as the light gradually waned. Despite the fact that he was surrounded by trees and traveling in the company of Elves, the Dwarf was in wonderfully high spirits. Two evenings ago, he had been most disturbed to discover his leather pouch of pipe-weed had begun to mould. The constant rainfall had seeped in, destroying nearly all the pouch’s contents. The stuff of Barin and Glóin had also fallen victim to the rain, leaving precious little for them to smoke. But, as luck would have it, Gimli had managed to find more.
The Dwarf caught sight of several pipe-weed plants growing in various spots within the forest carpet. He might as well replenish his entire stock while he could.
Gimli furtively scoured the trees, searching for any sign of the Elf. He would not let the Eldar catch him picking more leaves when he had been specifically bidden not to. The forest remained still, save the rustling of branches and leaves. ‘He must have remained sitting by the stream.’
Gimli dumped out the entire contents of his leather pouch and swiftly plucked a few leaves. And then a few more. He paused to glance around him; there was still no sign of the Elf. ‘This lot of trees looks to be doing well enough,’ he thought. ‘The loss of a few plants here and there will not destroy it.’
The dried out leaves were brittle and crumbled in the Dwarf’s strong fist with little effort. Gimli ground them all and deposited the fine shreds into his pouch. Humming gruffly to himself, the Dwarf began to jauntily march back to camp, oblivious that he had just obtained enough Ionillis to lay an entire legion flat.
* * *
Dwarves do not usually partake in sharing, but Gimli was in such a merry mood that he felt downright generous. The moment he returned to camp, he sought out Glóin and Barin and promptly split his tobacco between the three of them. There was an abundance of the stuff, and he reasoned it was only fair he do so. After all, if Glóin had not saved Legolas’ life, the Elf never would have spoken to Gimli, and Gimli would not have discovered the pipe-weed.
The entire company reconvened at dusk, settling for a cold meal. Though warm food would have been preferred by all—especially as the night promised to be frightfully cold, they thought it unwise to risk lighting a fire. The three Elves snacked upon dried fruit (for they did not require much), and the three Dwarves gnawed dried meat, cram and sugared nuts. It was a scanty meal, but nourishing nonetheless.
Glorfindel watched in amusement as Legolas chose to seat himself next to Glóin. The young Elf reacted in surprise as Glóin offered him a sugared nut and then shyly accepted the candy. ‘I see you begin to hold a Dwarf to some esteem, young prince,’ Glorfindel thought with a chuckle. ‘It is a start.’
What the Elf lord didn’t know was, while Legolas was grateful to Glóin for saving his life, he actually wanted to get a better view of Gimli.
Legolas could barely conceal his mirth as Gimli reached for his pipe. In a very few seconds, the Dwarf’s face would be covered in a cloud of Ionillis ash. Glóin and Barin had also reached for theirs, but it was Gimli the Elf concentrated on.
Glorfindel noticed the mischievous glint in Legolas’s bright eyes. He knew that gleam—it was the same one the young Elf had prior to “shooting” Gimli. Glorfindel was immediately alarmed.
Gimli lit his pipe, as did Glóin and Barin. Legolas leaned forward, eyes twinkling in merriment. Glorfindel narrowed his eyes. “Leg—“ he began.
He never had the chance to finish.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Not one, not two, but three full-blown explosions complete with bright yellowish-orange fireballs shot up into the night sky and resounded throughout the mountains.
It had all gone horribly wrong.
Bits of flaming Dwarven beards and Elvish braids rained down from the sky as members of the eastern scouting party ran screaming towards the stream.
It had all gone so terribly wrong.
*Ionillis- “Nicotiana explosio. Relative of the nightshade family. Long, flat leaves contain small hairs and appear dark green in color. Height ranges from approximately six inches to one foot. Leaves dry out in autumn months, becoming highly reactive when exposed to flame. Prefers cooler climates than the more common N. tabacum. Found in areas containing abundant shade and leaf detritus. Also see: ‘Smoke Leaf.’”
-- Bryn’s Guide of Imaginary Middle-earth Species, Chapter 5 “Fun With Fire”, page 83.
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