Format: short story
Genre: drama, angst
Characters: OMCS, Aragorn
Creator's Notes; Events follow those in “Poison Peas” but the story can be read alone
Summary: Thorongil's evening stroll takes a disastrous turn.
“You can sweep the leaves from the parade square, Ornedil,” said Thorongil. “Ask Mistress Andreth for the broom.”
Ornedil beamed as if he had been given some wonderful gift and scurried off to do as he was bidden. Thorongil watched him go, his eyes full of compassion. The lad, or rather man, had the mind of a child, though he must have been at least thirty years of age or more and was of a large lumbering build. He was fascinated by soldiers and loved to hang around outside the barracks, watch the drills and would copy the men's moves with a stick , which he insisted was a sword. He loved to be given some menial task to perform such as carrying the heavy buckets of water for Mistress Andreth the barracks' washerwoman. He was happiest, though when Thorongil gave me some task. He had developed a deep devotion to the Captain, as Thorongil tolerated his presence and protected him, sternly chiding the men if they laughed at him and called him a simpleton. After a while, they grew accustomed to his frequent presence and simply ignored him.
Thorongil would give him coins for the tasks he performed which Ornedil would take to his widowed mother.
“Are you coming to the tavern now we're off duty, Captain?” asked Ulfast, a veteran of many years service.
“I might see you there later,” said Thorongil. “I need to help Galador practise his sword drills.”
“I wish you joy in the task,” said Ulfast. “Anyone else would have given up on that lad long ago.”
“He just lacks self-confidence,” said Thorongil. “After eating those poisoned seeds he doubts his own judgement. The Lord Steward told me to make these recruits into soldiers and that I shall do.”
“Even when you are not on duty?”
“A Captain is always on duty.”
Ulfast left with several other of the men who had leave that evening, abandoning Thorongil to spend a frustrating evening with Galador. Hard though the young man tried, he could not master the moves.
“Block when I attack,” said Thorongil. “No hold your shield thus. That is better, now you attack. Attack I said, pretend I am the enemy!”
Galador made a half-hearted lunge at the Captain.
“Lad, if I were an Easterling, you would be dead by now! Do not hesitate, attack!”
“Shall I take over for a while, Captain?”asked Ragnor, interrupting them. “You should be off duty tonight. I have duty in the morning so don't plan to leave the barracks.”
Thorongil considered for a moment. Galador had developed a bond with Ragnor when the lieutenant had helped Thorongil save his life. Maybe the recruit would make better progress with someone nearer his age he was less in awe of. , “Thank you, Ragnor. Show him how to parry and attack. Galador, show me what you have learned later.”
“Yes, sir.” Both men saluted.
Thorongil watched for a few moments as the lieutenant sparred with the recruit, then turned away thinking Galador might fare better unobserved by him.
“What can I do now?” Still clutching the broom, Ornedil came towards him, smiling broadly.
“I cannot think of anything else just now.”
“I want to help.”
“I know, Ornedil, but there are no more tasks just at the moment. The Parade Ground looks very clean now.”
Ornedil looked downcast then smiled again when Thorongil gave him a fresh-minted coin. “Shiny!” he said beaming.
“I will tell you when there are more tasks for you.” He was about to bid Ornedil goodnight when he remembered he had left his cloak on a bench while sparring with Galador. He went to fetch it.
Thorongil had meant to retire to his small dwelling near the barracks for the evening, but as there was still an hour or so before sundown he decided to go for a walk. With no particular destination in mind, he wandered down to the lower levels of the City. It was a blustery day and he enjoyed the feeling of the wind blowing his hair while his cloak billowed out. The wind reminded him of his Northern homeland, which he was increasingly homesick for. He could not leave here yet, though, not while the Corsair attacks grew more frequent by the day. If only Ecthelion would listen and let him launch a raid on their ships. He would have to try harder to persuade the Steward that it was worth the use of men and resources.
He was interrupted from his musings by a pitiful meowing. He stopped and looked around him. He was in a run-down area of the second circle outside an obviously empty house. Maybe a cat was trapped inside? Thorongil put his hand on the latch. The door creaked open and he went inside. The meowing grew louder but he could see no sign of the feline. The sound seemed to be coming from beneath his feet. He moved aside a tattered mat and found a trapdoor beneath secured by a catch. He undid it and opened the trapdoor. Out flew a thin grey tabby cat which bolted out of the door with incredible speed.
Thorongil was about to return to the street when a thought struck him. What if the cat were a nursing mother and there were kittens in the cellar? He did not like to think of the poor mites facing a horrible slow death. He had better make sure the cellar was empty.
Taking a taper from his pack, he climbed through the trapdoor and down several steps into an underground cellar. He lit the taper and looked around. The cellar was empty, apart from a broken barrel and a rotting plank of wood. On the far wall was a ventilation grid with a broken bar. Obviously, the cat had got in that way then been unable to escape. Satisfied there were no kittens to be found, Thorongil prepared to climb back through the trapdoor. The wind was howling round the building and he was eager to go home now.
A sudden gust of wind blew through the house, extinguishing the taper. The trapdoor banged shut. Thorongil pushed against it. It did not move. He pushed again with his whole body till beads of sweat ran down his face. The door budged not an inch.
Thorongil slumped down on the floor as the full horror of his situation hit him. He was trapped underground. No one knew where he was and as he had two days leave, no one would miss him for some time. He had been due to dine with Ecthelion on the morrow and the Steward would surely send out search parties when he realised his Captain was missing. They would have no idea where to look, though and never guess he was trapped underground in an empty house. What a fool he had been! If one of his men had got into this situation, he would have scolded them soundly. Now he was doomed to the dire fate he had been trying to save some kittens from. Kittens which did not even exist.
He buried his head in his hands. He had started to shake. He had no fear of death in battle, but to die like this trapped underground! It was the stuff of his worse nightmares. He had no food and only a little water in his flask. His death would be slow and agonising. And in such a place. Since a child, he had had a horror of confined spaces.
He sat up and tried to draw on his innate optimism. Perhaps he could escape via the ventilation grille. But even a slender agile cat had been unable to do that. He slumped down again. Time passed, in the darkness, he had no idea how long. Then he heard what sounded like boots tramping above.
Thorongil thought his mind must be playing tricks on him. Then he heard shouts “Captain, Captain Thorongil!”
“I am here, help me!” he shouted at the top of his voice.
The trapdoor opened and Ragnor and Galador's faces appeared wreathed in torchlight.
“Valar be praised!” cried Ragnor.
Thorongil thankfully climbed out of the cellar. Overcome with emotion, he hugged his rescuers. “I feared I was doomed to die down there, you saved my life!” he said.
“Don't thank us, thank Ornedil,” said Ragnor. “He followed you, waiting for you to give him more tasks. He said you didn't bid him goodnight so he thought there was more work to do. He saw you enter this house and when you didn't come out again he came to tell me. Luckily, I was still on the parade ground practicing with Galador.”
“I shall see Ornedil is rewarded,” said Thorongil. “For a start, I will have a fine wooden sword made for him. He will like that. I thank you both, though for coming to my aid. You have done well.” He clapped them both on the shoulder.
“All in a day's work, Captain,” said Ragnor while Galador beamed with a new found confidence.