Where no Birds Sing
With grateful thanks to Raksha and Virtuella.
Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Disclaimer: These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
"He cannot go much further tonight," Aragorn pronounced after carefully examining Roheryn's hoof. "Alas, that he should go lame now when a storm is brewing!"
Roheryn whinnied. He had cast a front shoe earlier that day and had developed a bruised hoof as result of the stony track they were travelling along.
Aragorn looked up to where the dark clouds were blowing from the West. The wind was rising, sending the fallen leaves scurrying round in circles, while those that still remained on the trees turned their leaves over as if eager to catch the approaching rain.
"We should seek shelter for the night, but I know not where," said Faramir. "I do not know this area very well."
"Someone is coming," Aragorn observed. "We can ask them."
An old man approached from behind on an equally ancient nag.
"Greetings, good sir!" cried Aragorn. "Could you tell us where me might spend the night and find a blacksmith to tend my horse?"
"The village be about eight leagues hence," said the greybeard. "There be a smith there."
Faramir looked at the leaden clouds hovering overhead. "Is there not an inn closer?" he asked. "Or maybe a hunting lodge?"
"There's a hunting lodge, but a league hither," said the ancient. "The place has been abandoned for years, though and is no fit place to stay. Now let me be on my way ere the storm breaks." With that, he urged the ancient nag into a canter and disappeared around a bend in the road in the direction of the village as the first heavy drops of rain began to fall.
"We should make for the lodge," said Faramir. "A deserted house might offer little in the way of hospitality, but it does offer shelter, at least if the roof is still sound."
"You speak wisely, my friend, " said Aragorn. He took hold of Roheryn's reins and coaxed the stallion along the track. "We cannot go much further tonight as I fear Roheyn will develop a painful abscess in his foot."
They trudged along the road and when they rounded the next bend, a large house was visible in the distance.
By the time the King and Steward reached the building, the rain was coming down in sheets, which a driving wind whipped against their exposed faces. Dusk was approaching. Darkness would fall early this night. The hunting lodge appeared far from inviting; the building looked dilapidated and neglected. Even the horses seemed unwilling to approach it and needed to be carefully coaxed. The men led their protesting mounts to the stables, which mercifully still had a roof and some dusty straw. They were glad the animals had grazed earlier as there was no food for them. At least the rain had freshly filled the water trough.
Aragorn pushed the door of the building, which was not locked. It opened, creaking loudly. He made his way inside, his hand on his sword hilt. Faramir followed close behind.
"An unwelcoming shelter," said Aragorn, sniffing the damp air, "but it will have to suffice."
"We have not had the luckiest of hunting trips," Faramir lamented as he peeled off his dripping cloak. "We caught nothing and now our wives will be far from pleased that we will be late returning home."
"At least your horse did not go lame," said Aragorn, shedding his own sodden cloak. "You would never hear the last of it from Éowyn!"
"I will be thankful for small mercies then," said the Steward. " At least it was pleasant to be able to escape together from our duties in the City and avoid being followed by guards for a few days." He shook himself like a dog to remove water from his hair, and then rummaged in his pack.
"Every time I go on a hunting trip I have to remind my guards that I fared very well by myself in the wilds for more years than they have lived!" said Aragorn. "I need to return to my Ranger days occasionally or I feel as if I am living in a cage."
"So do I," said Faramir. "Shall we have some supper? We have some bread left over and there is water in our bottles."
"A feast fit for a king!" Aragorn said dryly as he chewed at the unappetising fare.
"We should try to light a fire," said Faramir after finishing his meagre supper. He looked around the room. Faded and dusty hangings were visible in the gloom as well as old furniture scattered around the room. A knocked over candle lay on a table as if the last occupants of the house had left in a hurry. "We could use one of these chairs for kindling. I doubt the owner would mind. They apparently abandoned the place long ago." He righted the candle and lit it.
"The air in here feels oppressive," said Aragorn. "A living fire should lighten it. We could burn this more easily." He picked up a broken harp and threw the pieces into the grate, then set fire to the kindling with his tinderbox. The wood smouldered rather than burned, providing little warmth or comfort.
"I wonder who played on it?" Faramir mused. "What kind of music did they like?" He shook out their cloaks and laid them at the side of the fire to dry. "I can just imagine a hunting party returned from the chase eating a hearty supper here while a minstrel entertained them."
"I am surprised that no one lives here and the place has been allowed to fall to ruin," said Aragorn. "Maybe the owner was killed during the war, but one would expect his heirs to have laid claim to the house." He stirred the reluctant fire, trying to coax it to burn brighter.
"Maybe he died without direct heirs?" said Faramir.
"It in that case it would become Crown property," said Aragorn. "Like Duilin of Morthond's hunting must have been left to someone who chose not to make use of it."
"Strange then that no one left homeless by the war should have moved in here then," said Aragorn. "Hard as we try to help those in need, there are still folk lacking homes of their own."
"Let us try to rest," Faramir suggested. He yawned. "Maybe the house is too remote to attract attention from those seeking a home."
The two friends huddled together in front of the meagre fire and tried to make themselves comfortable. The air still felt heavy, though the storm had broken, but also exceedingly damp and cold. Both men longed for the warmth and comfort of their beds at home in the Citadel.
Faramir suddenly sat bolt upright. "I thought I heard screams and cries just then," he said.
"It must be the wind howling round the rooftops," said Aragorn. " It can sound like someone crying. Lie down again and try to sleep. We should leave at first light for the village."
Faramir did as he was bidden only for Aragorn to startle him by leaping to his feet a few moments later. "Whatever is the matter?" he asked.
"I can hear a harp playing!" said Aragorn.
"It is only the wind in the trees," said Faramir. "There are some poplars outside and the wind sings in them. I love the sound during the day, but it can be eerie at night."
Aragorn laughed uneasily, ashamed at his foolishness. He settled down again beside his Steward. Eventually they drifted into an uneasy sleep lulled by the sound of the pouring rain and the wind in the trees.
A few hours later the King awoke with a start. The candle was flickering wildly and he could hear footsteps approaching. He shook Faramir awake. "Be on your guard!" he warned the Steward. "Someone is in the house."
A/N This was written for the Teitho challenge "Five Ingredients – One Recipe" Challenge where it was placed second.
Wishing all my readers a Happy Halloween and All Saint's Day.