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The Green Knight  by Le Rouret

8.

            Aragorn threw an old cloak over his doublet, dismissed his guard, and strode toward the Tent City.  At first he marched forward with his usual purposeful pace, but after some moments he slowed as the beauty of the day about him took its hold upon his mood.  He greatly disliked the preposterous situation Legolas had forced him into, but at length his sense of humour resurfaced, and his sense of perspective also, and thus resigned he resumed his pace, enjoying the light cooling breeze after the stifling stillness of his tent.  All about him hurried his people, though they marked him not as their king; they bustled to and fro, hawking cakes and breads, haggling over pennies and hens, arguing about cows and corn and fence-posts:  market-day as usual in Osgiliath and its surrounds.  Small round arbors crowned with spindly young trees he passed, noting the oaks and pines and lindens; here and there were stone-encircled gardens of herbs, casting their fragrance into the golden air.  There were rosemary and tarragon, verbena and basil, coriander and thyme, oregano and marjoram, and placed here and there amongst the aromatic pots and brakes were flowering lobelia and impatiens and roses, with marigolds to discourage the rabbits.  Women tended and harvested them, placing great handfuls in broad flat baskets, smiling and laughing, and discussing this or that young lady’s fancies on the lists.  There was great excitement mingled with the homely husbandry, the day-to-day tasks of his poorest people were tinged with the thrills of the Tournament.  King Elessar smiled secretly to himself as two young maidens, laden with baskets of late peaches, gave him appraising looks as he passed, giggling together appreciatively.  No doubt they took him for a noble or one of the competing knights; neither recognized him for what he was, and he was grateful.

            The gates to the Tent City were opened wide; the guards stationed at either side wore crowns of clover and honeysuckle twined upon their helmets, and they laughed and jested together, heedless of all who passed in and out, save some smart-looking young lady who might give them the eye and pass the time of day with them.  So unnoticed the king entered, and approached the booth inside the gate, where sat a man in a brown tunic, studying some charts.  There was a large map hung behind him of the Tent City, divided into sections denoting where one knight’s territory began and the other’s ended.  He looked up upon seeing a visitor, and sprang to his feet, smiling in a friendly fashion.

            “Well met, good sir!” he said, bowing with his hand upon his breast.  “I am Targil, Quartermaster to the Grand Tournament’s Tent City.  You are but late come to our city, I see, but still I hope we can accommodate you!  How many in your party?”

            “I come not to compete, only to visit a friend,” said Aragorn with a smile.  “So I fear I must disappoint you; I am housed already, outside the Tent City.”  He gestured behind him towards the gates.  “But tell me, my good man, where will I find Lasgalen of Dale?  I am very anxious to speak with him.”

            “Lasgalen of Dale?”  The porter’s face fell.  “Well, sir, I can direct you to his tents – indeed they are not difficult at all to find, being in the prime location and very luxurious and well-appointed – but you should not hold out much hope for an interview!  Many knights and nobles have attempted to meet with him, desiring to arrange various partnerships and alliances, but none have prevailed; he speaks not to anyone, and neither his esquire nor his armourer are the manner of servant to coerce; never have I seen such an aloof knight!  Yet those who overlook his secretive nature benefit the most from his custom, as I can attest to personally; his esquire is quite free with his master’s money, procuring the best and paying the most.”  The man smiled at this.  “But if it is your will, sir, I will show you here on this map – his tents are here, by the well, and but one street removed from the ice house; the esquire was quite particular about the placement and the amenities.”

            “I doubt it not!” said Aragorn.  “The Halflings are, I am told, quite fond of their provender, preferring that it be both abundant and immediate.  But I have no qualms about addressing the Green Knight.  He is a friend of mine.”

            “Is he, sir?” said the porter curiously.  “Then perhaps before you go, you can satisfy my inquisitiveness; he is obviously very rich and splendid, and his skills are remarkable; if he is not married, as his esquire insists, why have no offers from the noble families around us been accepted, or at least attended to?  It seems passing strange to me, that he should not require a wife.”

            “His father would say he is too young to marry,” said Aragorn.

            “Too young!” exclaimed the porter, shaking his head in disbelief.  “Well, if he is old enough to joust he is old enough to produce heirs, in my opinion, sir – and you may tell him that for me, if you like; it is unseemly for so great a knight to hold himself so detached from the matchmakers hereabouts.”

            “I will tell him so,” laughed Aragorn, and taking his leave of the man he entered the maze of streets.

            It was hotter between the tents, and dusty; many feet of both man and horse had passed that way and churned up the dry dirt.  Aragorn held his cloak before his face, in part to block out the dust and in part to secrete his features lest some knight or lord chance to glance upon him and recognize him.  All about him were the voices of men and the sounds of the blacksmith’s art; armour was being repaired and strengthened, lances built and swords sharpened in preparation for the next day’s entertainments.  Also there were grocers pushing wheel-carts through the streets, calling out their wares in hoarse voices:  “Rabbit, pheasant, grouse, goose and duck!  Fresh pork sausage, sweetbread, smoked ham!” and others: “White bread and brown, honey-cakes and sweetmeats!  Sugar white and dark, loose and candied!” and others still:  “Red and white wine; sweet and dry!  In bottles, skins and tonneaus!  Mead, ale, beer!”  Aragorn stood aside to let them pass and continued on into the northern part of the City.

            It was scarcely necessary to ask for further directions; the tents of the Green Knight were palatial, rising half again as tall as their neighbors, surmounted with bright banners bearing his heraldry upon gilt-tipped poles.  Great swags of heavy green fabric covered the main body of the tents, worked all over with embroidered dragons and motifs of flame and edged with gold and silver cord tassels.  The first two tents were more open pavilions with removable outer walls; they housed both the armoury and the stables, in which stood the various beasts of burden, stamping and swishing their long tails upon well-groomed flanks.  The armoury was partially enclosed, but Aragorn could see it housed a well-appointed kitchen as well, with an oven, a brick cook-stove, and an open fire with a spit; there was another small brick enclosure which Aragorn guessed was the ice-chest.  It was no wonder the denizens of the Tent City were impressed with Lasgalen of Dale; no other knight, not even Malbeth of Celos or Aldamir of Minas Tirith, rich lords though they were, even rivaled the Green Knight’s temporary home.

            This remarkable spectacle was marred somewhat by the sight of the Hobbit sitting upon a small stool before the entrance to the main tent.  He was clad in a ragged looking red tunic, somewhat too small for him, and was covered in feathers, as he was engaged in plucking a brace of young hens, which lay in a basket beside him.  He glanced up as Aragorn approached.

            “For what they charge for these birds,” he complained, by way of beginning the conversation, “you’d think they’d pluck and dress them for you, too!  Well, at least they’ve cleaned them and taken their heads and feet; I can’t be expected to do everything, you know, at least not before dinner-time.”

            “I am sure, Master Hobbit, if you but paid the grocer a penny or two more, he would surely find it in his heart to pluck the birds for you,” said Aragorn, suppressing a smile.

            The Hobbit seemed to find this remark very foolish.  “Why, I have paid him three pennies apiece already!” he said indignantly.  “I should have stuck with the original poultry-man; he charged two-and-a-half for four hens fully cleaned, though I’ll admit they were not so young as I would have liked.  Well, it is only for a casserole anyway; and tomorrow you can be certain I’ll go to a different butcher, and get some game-hens to roast, or perhaps a gigot of beef.”  Then he looked up and realized who stood before him.  He jumped to his feet, face very red.  “I beg your pardon!” he exclaimed.  “Please forgive me!  I didn’t recognize you, all covered up like that!”

            “Not at all!” said Aragorn.  “I meant to not be recognized; it is gratifying to know I managed to trick you as well, though I’d hardly hoped to do so to one with such sharp eyes.”

            “Gimli’ll have my head if he hears of this,” sighed the Hobbit, gesturing to the armoury with the half-plucked chicken.  “I never manage to get the greetings right.  Seems a big waste of time to me, really; why would any Big Folk care how I addressed them?  But he’s got this notion in his hard head to make a proper squire out of me, with all the courtesies and flowery language and such.  Waste of time, really; I mean, my Master doesn’t care how I speak – well, not really, he does mind I suppose, but he doesn’t show it as much as Gimli does – and even my mother couldn’t get me to talk sensibly to the Thain, which got me in hot water more than once, I can tell you!”  He took a deep breath, and looked inquiringly at Aragorn.  “I say, shouldn’t I be bowing or something here?  Seems to me my Master told me I should bow when being presented to a king or a monarch or such, but we’re not really in a throne room or any official place, and you’re not dressed quite regal, you know.  And besides,” he added, brightening, “if you’re walking about incognito, as they say, a bow would be pretty out of place, wouldn’t it?  I mean, it’d just be advertising to all and sundry who you are and all.”

            “I’ll overlook the bow for this once,” said Aragorn solemnly.  “It would not be the first time I have been told by a Hobbit that I do not look regal.”

            “Well, that’s a relief,” said the Hobbit, smiling engagingly at the king.  “I bet it was my Uncle Pip told you so, too – sounds just like him.”

“He was but one of them, yes,” said Aragorn.  “May I speak to the Green Knight?  I have something of import to disclose to him.”

“Well, you could, I guess, if he was here,” said the Hobbit, “except he isn’t, so you can’t.  Sorry about that and all, but we didn’t know you were coming, you know.  You ought to have told us.  So he’s taken Arod out, to give him a turn around the outside of the enclosure, seeing as he’s getting a little restless – Arod’s getting restless, I mean, not my Master -- , what with Hatchet doing all the work all of a sudden.”

“What about Gimli, is he here, then?”

“No – sorry!  He ran off to find some smelting-stuff, or whatever it is; I’m not too familiar around the smithy, though it’s not for want of asking for information.  Good gracious, you’d think I was sticking him with needles instead of asking him questions, for how he reacts.  ‘Not now, Bandy, can’t you see I’m busy?’  ‘Put that down, Bandy, before you poke my eye out!’  ‘Get off the bellows, Bandy, or you’ll break them!’  Heavens, it’s not as though I’m actually trying to get in his way, but my kitchen is right next to him, after all, so it’s no wonder I’m curious, is it?”

“Certainly not!” said Aragorn.  “And it is by the posing of questions that one is enlightened.”

“Just what I said!” agreed the Hobbit.  “Only I didn’t say it as refined-like as you did.  So now, what can I do for you then, your  – I mean, sir?  Decided what to do about my Master’s jousting yet?”

            “I have,” said Aragorn.  “I have met with my councilors and we have agreed to let him continue.”  He took out Éowyn’s scarf.  “Will you give this to him?  Lady Éowyn wishes him to wear it as her champion in the foot-combat and the joust.”

            “Oh!” said the Hobbit, taking the scarf and setting it upon his little stool.  “Well!  I’m – well, he’ll be pleased no end, I’m sure; got his heart set on seeing this through, you know.”  He dug one toe into the dirt and feathers at his foot and shifted uncomfortably.

            “You do not seem very contented with my decision,” said Aragorn.

            “Well, your – sir, to tell you the truth, I’m not so keen on this tournament business as I was when we started out,” the Hobbit confessed.  “It was just a lark at first, with him charging about on Hatchet and whacking at dummies and scarecrows and shields hanging from tree-branches, but the first time I saw him crash into that other knight, Malbeth he was, well, you can imagine what went through my mind – all that noise, and the splinters going everywhere!  It fair knocked me senseless, it did, and I got to thinking how it could be that he’d hurt himself, or even get killed dead, doing this here.  Didn’t like it a bit, I didn’t.  But he’s a brave one, my Master,” the Hobbit conceded, looking proud; “and say what you like about him he’s not one to give up on something, or go back on his word.  Honourable, that’s what he is, and he’ll see this through to the end, no matter what happens to him.  I’ll give him the lady’s scarf, at least, that ought to make him happy, though he hasn’t been too pleased over all the other scarves and tokens and what-nots that’ve been dumped on me.  You’d think there were young ladies running around without a scrap on, you would, for all the cloth I’ve collected these past few days.  I suppose it’s customary for a knight to wear something of a lady’s clothing when he fights, isn’t it?  Though I do wish, sir, you’d have talked him into withdrawing; I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to him; I really don’t.”

            “You needn’t fear for your Master,” said Aragorn gently, seeing that the Hobbit was truly concerned.  “The Green Knight is swift and strong and sure; I fear more for my own men than for him.”

            “True enough,” said the Hobbit, casting aside his worried expression as quickly as it had come upon him.  “Very quick, isn’t he, sir?  Never seen anyone move that sudden-like, not even my Aunt Vinca, who’s mighty quick on her feet, especially if she’s caught me and my cousins up in her apple orchard.  My, but she could whack us hard!”  He rubbed thoughtfully at his backside in reminiscence.  “I just wish he was a bit more used to fighting with that there sword.  His dad gave him a warm-up before we left, but it’s been bow and arrow for more years than I’ve been around, and he’s out of practice, like.”

            “I greatly wish he had entered only in the marks,” agreed Aragorn.  “It concerns me that he has placed himself in so much danger, for such a frivolous thing.  And though I love him, at times I confess I understand him but little.”

            “You're not the only one!” nodded the Hobbit.  “But I don’t see as I have much right to judge him in that; he’s a bit loftier than me, you know, being what he is.  It still shocks me a little to think of him taking me on along with him on this little adventure.  You’d think a Hobbit’d be a bit below a fellow like him.”

            “Not at all!” said Aragorn.  “Though I confess I am asking myself how you came to be in his service, and not as a companion.”

            “Ah, now, that’s a tale and a half!” sighed the Hobbit.  “Not his fault, really; I put him up to it and Gimli backed me up.  He’ll be well pleased to be shed of me, I bet!”  The hobbit’s face clouded over.  “Not that I’m looking forward to that,” he said a little sadly.  “But I can tell you, sir, that –“

            There was the sound of bells from Osgiliath, clanging and jangling through the air over the noise of the Tent City, and the hobbit gave an exclamation.  “Bless me!” he gasped, shaking his hen in agitation.  “Is it that late already?  Heavens, but I’m behind!  Will you excuse me, please, sir?  I got that caught up talking to you and I haven’t even finished plucking these dratted birds yet, and there’s dinner to start.  Oh!”  He dropped the bird and said, “Wait a moment!” and ducked inside the tent.  Aragorn waited, hearing him rustling around inside, then he came back out, holding two vellum envelopes, addressed with purple ink in elegant script and sealed with green wax.  “These are dinner invitations,” he explained, handing them to Aragorn.  “I was going to find a boy to run them over this morning, but what with my pony foundering and the sword-fights and all, it flew completely out of my mind.  And then I was going to bring it over to you myself after the jousts, but you called my Master in to you, and I was so harrowed-up I completely forgot.  This one’s for you and your lady,” he said, pointing to one, “and the other one’s for Lord Faramir and Lady Éowyn.  Would you give it to them, please?  Otherwise they’re likely to accept some other invitation, and my Master’ll not be too happy with me, even if dinner is on time, which doesn’t seem likely at this hour.”

            “I will do that,” said Aragorn, tucking the envelopes inside his doublet.  “And now I shall take my leave of you, Master Hobbit, so that you may facilitate the preparation of your Master’s dinner.”

            “Thank you!” said the Hobbit, picking up his hen and sitting back down upon Éowyn’s scarf, as he had forgotten it was there.  “See you tonight, then!”  And he dismissed the king with a friendly wave.

            As Aragorn walked away, Bandobras thought to himself:  “Well!  Kings aren’t that hard to talk to after all.  This one’s quite pleasant.  I bet at bottom they’re really a lot like me.”





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