You've got to be carefully taught.
These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
With thanks to Raksha and Virtuella
You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught. - South Pacific – Rogers and Hammerstein
Lightning streaked across the overcast sky while deafening thunderclaps seemed to shake the ground. In the rising wind and rain, a massive branch splintered and snapped off an ancient oak.
"We must find shelter!" Aragorn cried, his voice barely audible above the driving wind and rain.
"I saw a cave about half a league back," Faramir replied, shouting to make himself heard.
"We will head for there."
Drenched and thoroughly miserable, the two former Rangers turned their horses back in the direction from which they had come. They had been looking forward to at the rare opportunity to spend a few days in the wilds when the Envoy from Khand had been forced to cancel at state visit at short notice after falling from his horse and left the two men with several days free from official duties, which otherwise would have been spent entertaining the envoy.
Arwen and Éowyn had noticed their husbands growing restless from being confined indoors during a long winter and had encouraged them to use their unexpected freedom to go hunting. Now it seemed that instead of enjoying sharing a freshly caught meal roasted over a campfire, and sleeping under the stars, they would be forced to spend the night in the stuffy confines of a cave.
It took far longer than anticipated to reach shelter. The wind and rain battered against their faces relentlessly. Aragorn and Faramir tethered their horses in the shelter of a rocky outcrop, then cautiously made their way into the cave's wide mouth. It was larger than Aragorn had expected and the air was mercifully fresh. Neither man especially liked caves, but as no other shelter was available, it would have to suffice.
They dragged their packs inside and shook themselves like dogs to remove the excess moisture from their persons. Their clothes were sodden and they were both soaked through to the skin. Fortunately, their packs were wrapped in oilskins, which had kept their belongings dry. Both men rejoiced that they had brought some spare clothing and blankets.
"We need to change our clothes," said Aragorn, removing his boots while he spoke. He tipped them upside down and water poured out of them. "I am drenched. " He started to peel off the remainder of his dripping apparel.
"I feel as if something is watching me," said Faramir. He looked around anxiously and coughed.
"You are imagining things," said Aragorn, pulling a dry tunic over his head. "No one is here excepting ourselves. I recall once changing my clothes in similar circumstances, and like you I feared I was being observed, but it proved only to be a cat and a friendly one at that!"
He went to the cave entrance and peered outside. Glumly he noted that the rain had become even heavier.
”I expect you are right for I cannot imagine any sensible cat venturing out in this storm.” Faramir sounded unconvinced, but continued to divest himself of his sodden garments, occasionally glancing around and peering into the darkness at the back of the cave. He coughed again.
"Have you got a cough?" Aragorn asked, concern in his voice.
"I had a slight cold earlier this week, but it is better now," Faramir replied.
"It sounds anything but slight to me!" It was Aragorn's turn to appear unconvinced. "A soaking could be harmful if you are already unwell as I learned to my cost on the occasion I met the friendly cat. I was suffering from the Fever."
"It is nothing, just a slight cold," Faramir insisted. “There is no Fever in Gondor at present.”
"My tinder box is damp," the King lamented. "I had hoped we might have a fire to dry our clothes, keep us warm and cook something."
"Come inside," Faramir counselled, "before you get soaked again. We may as well snatch a few hours rest. Hopefully once the rain stops, the wind will dry our things."
Aragorn moved further back into the cave and they settled themselves on the hard floor, huddling together for warmth. Faramir, though, continued to shiver.
"Have my blanket, mellon nîn," Aragorn offered. "I do not feel the cold as badly as you."
"You will only shiver too," Faramir replied. "I will walk around a little. Maybe that will warm me up." He feared he might indeed be developing a fever and was anxious not to alarm his friend. Aragorn would want to help him, and there was nothing he could do until the storm was past and he could gather healing herbs. Faramir scrambled to his feet, his blanket draped around his shoulders, He began to pace the cave restlessly. Then he saw it, a large blue slit- eyed pupil gleaming in the near darkness.
"Argh!" he exclaimed. "Whatever is that? I told you there was something here." He turned to where Aragorn was waited, only to catch his foot against what appeared to be a huge branch - save that it moved. Faramir fell; landing sprawled in an undignified heap across the branch.
An irate deep voice demanded. "Can't you watch where you're going?" The branch moved from underneath him as the voice spoke.
Horrified, Aragorn, who could now see the gleaming eyes, drew Andúril and hastened towards his friend. He knew of only one creature with glowing eyes and the power of speech - a dragon!
Faramir felt something the width of a tree trunk encircle his body. He froze, hardly able to take in what was happening.
"Sheath your blade or he dies!" cried the beast. "Not that you could do me much damage with that pin of yours, but I dislike being tormented to humour the Children of Ilúvatar! I am hungry and in no mood to jest!"
"Firedrakes were Morgoth's creatures, sent to cause misery and ruin for Men and Elves alike!" Aragorn retorted. "Why should the Secondborn not defend themselves?" He spoke bravely, but his heart sank. The dragon was right; Andúril would scarcely pierce its hide. They were doomed to perish in this foul cave. To think that he should have survived so many perils in the past only to end up as dragon's dinner! Alas, he would never again see Arwen or his children, nor could he realise his dream of restoring Gondor to its former splendour. And Faramir, his best friend, dear to his heart as a son, the one man who would have tried to continue rebuilding Gondor in the manner he desired, was doomed to perish with him!
A/N. This story was written originally for the Teitho contest “Strange Encounters”. It has now been revised and forms part of what should be a story of considerable length!