Format: short story
Genre: drama,h/c,humour, mystery,angst
Characters:Aragorn, Arwen, OMCS, OFCS
Creators notes: Ragnar the Beorning is not to be confused with Ragnor the soldier. The OCS are introduced in my stories “The Revenger's Tragedy “ and “Of Bakers and Bears” but this story can be read on its own.
Summary; Aragorn hears of strange happenings in the woods.
“I can't stand the creatures,” complained the woman. “They dig holes in my garden and kill birds. I petition you, my lord, to stop my neighbour feeding them!”
“Do you like mice and rats?” Aragorn asked mildly.
The woman, a well-dressed matron of middle years shuddered. “Certainly not, nasty horrible things!”
“Do you see rats in your home?”
“No?” the woman sounded puzzled.
“You should be thankful then your neighbour feeds the cats. They kill the rats and mice that steal food, damage property and spread all manner of maladies. They are protected by Royal Decree. Maybe if you fed cats too they would not dig holes in your garden. Minas Tirith needs her cats and those who care for them.”
“In short, I refuse to stop your neighbour feeding stray cats. I suggest you help rather than hinder her, Good day, mistress.”
The woman curtsied and withdrew, an angry red flush spreading across her features.
Aragorn turned to Arwen, who was sitting beside him to hear the peoples' petitions that day and sighed. “Is that what I became King for, to listen to angry women complain about stray cats? Maybe keeping a few might improve her temper!”
Arwen patted his arm. “At least your words will protect the cats.”
“I hope so, but today the petitioners have done nothing but complain about their neighbours! What sort of person has so little of interest in their own life that they wish to meddle in the affairs of others?”
“I do not know,my love.”
Just then the next petitioner was announced, a fairly young man with a worried expression. Instead of launching into a tirade, he bowed low then stood twisting his hands nervously.
“How might I help you, Master?” Aragorn asked after a long pause. “What is your name and what troubles you today?”
“I am called Hostamir son of Inglor.”
“What do you wish to ask of us, Master Hostamir?” This time Arwen asked the question fixing a beaming smile on the young man.
“I scarce know how to tell you this, my lady, my lord, in fact, I'm wondering if I'm losing my mind and should have gone to see the Healers instead of coming here.”
“I have knowledge of the healing arts,” said Aragorn. “I should be able to judge whether you need a healer after you have told us your story.”
Hostamir took a deep breath and began. “It's like this you see. My wife's very fond of mushrooms so I went into the woods early this morning to gather some for her. None were growing near the path so I wandered far deeper into the woods than I intended and off the main pathway. I came upon a pool and a woman was bathing there.”
Aragorn gave him a stern look.
“I didn't spy on her, my lord, I swear it. I was about to turn away and go back the way I'd come when she spotted me then she- “ He swallowed hard again. “I swear I'd not been drinking, sire.”
“Tell us what happened,” said Arwen.”We believe you were not drunk.”
“She turned into a bear and ran away. A bear, I tell you, a bear! I saw it with my own eyes but I can't believe what I saw! Am I losing my wits?”
“I very much doubt it,” said Aragorn. “There are a race of folk in the North, who are skin changers and have that ability. Now tell me exactly where you saw her and what landmarks you recall. The clerk here will take notes.” He beckoned the scribe to come forward with quill and parchment
Hostamir launched into a long rambling description which the clerk wrote down.
“I shall look into the matter, Master Hostamir,” said Aragorn. “Thank you for telling me of this matter.”
Hostamir was the last of the day's petitioners and Aragorn and Arwen retired to eat their noonday meal.
“Hostamir had a strange tale indeed to tell,” said Aragorn as he ate. “The only Beornings I know of in these parts are the bakers, Ragnar and Olaf and their wives. I cannot imagine either of those ladies bathing in a remote part of the woods, so there must be other Beornings in Gondor. Maybe the bakers will know if any of their kin are in my Southern Realm. I shall pay them a visit this very afternoon.”
“I will come with you, my love and bring the children,” said Arwen. “A visit to the stall to buy honey cakes is long overdue. I have a meeting later but we should be back in good time.”
“We can combine our duties with an enjoyable outing,” said Aragorn.
As soon as they had finished their meal, the Royal Family and their Guards made their way to Ragnar's stall in the fourth circle. It was a fine summer's day and they enjoyed the walk, though it was too far for little Farawyn who rode on her father's shoulders.
Ragnar was pleased to see them and hastened to serve them with his finest honey cakes. After the King had paid and asked after the baker's wife and young son, Aragorn questioned him. “I don't suppose your ladies were in the woods this morning?”
“Indeed not!” said Ragnar. “My wife spent all morning with our son and my brother's wife was baking cakes.”
“Are any of your kin in Gondor?” Arwen enquired.
“No, my lady. I did have a letter from a distant kinswoman, Ingrid, a few months ago to tell me that she and her husband planned to move here. I hoped they might help me with the bakery, but they never arrived. I assume they changed their minds.”
“Thank you,” said Aragorn. “We will take our leave now.”
“Enjoy your cakes, my lord and lady,” said Ragnar then turned to serve the next customer.
“I wonder if it were Ragnar's kinswoman in the woods,” mused Aragorn as they walked back to the Citadel. “I need to go there to find out. If only Faramir were not in Ithilien!”
“You need a woman with you, not Faramir on this occasion,” said Arwen. “The Beorning woman will be more likely to speak with a woman rather than turn into a bear and flee if not surrounded by a group of armed men. I would go with you myself, but I am needed at the Embroiderer's Guild meeting.”
“I would not risk you being mauled by a bear, my love,” said Aragorn.
“I would be quite safe,” said Arwen. “Maybe one of the women at the Houses of Healing would go with you and the Guards?”
“I shall take Uzza if she agrees,” said Aragorn. His thoughts turned to the woman born in Harad. Uzza was exceptionally tall and strong. The King had helped her when she first came to Gondor just after the war, filled with grief and rage. A darwisa, or wise woman in her own land, she had become a healer in the Houses of Healing and now had a young son. “I will despatch a messenger to ask her." He gestured to one of the Guards and explained the errand then sent him up to the sixth circle with all haste.
By late afternoon, Aragorn, Uzza and a small group of guards were making their way through the woods on horseback. When they drew near to the place Hostamir had had his strange experience, the King called a halt. Ignoring the Guard's protests, he went forward on foot with Uzza alone. “Are you afraid, Mistress?” he asked.
The tall woman snorted. “I fear nothing. I have seen far worse than skin changers.”
“I will teach you how to say, we will not harm you in the Beorning tongue,” said Aragorn.
She repeated it after him until he was satisfied.
They had passed the pool with no sign of life when suddenly Aragorn espied a shelter which had obviously been constructed. An infant's wail suddenly pierced the forest air. Uzza walked forward calling out “We will not harm you” as the King had told her.
A woman clutching a baby appeared in the doorway. She froze at the sight of the King. Aragorn sheathed Andúril. “ We come in peace as we are concerned for you and your child,” he said. “The forest is no place for a little one.”
“It is safer than a town by far,” the woman snapped. “We came here to join my kin. My husband went hunting one night in his other form and the townsfolk killed him. We meant them no harm.” she started to weep. “There is nothing left for me now save to protect my child in hiding!”
“You are Ingrid?” the King asked.
“How do you know my name?”
“Your kinsman, Ragnar told me who you are. He is waiting to welcome you into his home, Ingrid” said Aragorn. He racked his memory, trying to recall any reports that that reached him of roaming bears being slain. He could recall none. Maybe the dying Beorning had shifted back into the form of a man and the fearful folk had concealed what they had done?
“Leave me in peace with my grief!” said Ingrid, sobbing all the more.
Aragorn moved forward to comfort her but she backed away. He felt somewhat at a loss. He knew Elven healing arts to ease pain and grief in Elves and Men, but not in Beornings.
“Translate, please,” said Uzza. She strode forward and placed a comforting hand on Ingrid's arm. “I too knew great grief when all my kin were killed in the war. I came here seeking death and vengeance, but I found a new life and slowly I healed. I will always miss my father and brothers, but now I live for them. You have a child to live for. Come, find a new life with your kin here. I had no kin, I was all alone, but here I stand.”
Ingrid looked around her wretched shelter. “I will come,” she said at last. Aragorn and Uzza helped her gather up her few possessions.
As they rode back to the City, Aragorn turned to Uzza. “Thank you, Mistress, for finding the right words to comfort Ingrid.”
“I have known grief such as hers,” Uzza said simply. “The pain never goes away but the scars heal over.”
That night , when the King and Queen were alone together Aragorn told Arwen of the Bakers' delight in being reunited with their kinswoman.
“It seems your audiences can lead to a great deal of good,” she said.
“Especially for cats and bears it seems.” Aragorn smiled and drew her close.