And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing. – Keats
With grateful thanks to Virtuella and Raksha
Disclaimer: The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. This story is written purely for entertainment and not to make money.
Both men gripped their swords. The footsteps grew nearer. Much to their surprise a little girl entered the room. She looked to be about seven years of age with straggly dark hair, and a pale face with huge red-rimmed eyes. "I have lost my dolly!" she cried. "Where have you put my dolly?"
"I do not know where your doll is," said Aragorn, relaxing his grip on his sword. "What are you doing here? Where are your mother and father?"
"I live here with mummy and daddy," said the child. "I've lost my dolly."
Before either man could say anything else, more footsteps could be heard and a tapping sound. A woman entered, dressed in a cloak as if ready for travelling, together with a man who had only one leg and supported himself with a crutch.
"Mirwen, there you are!" said the woman, ignoring the King and Steward. "We must hurry!"
"I've lost my dolly!" Mirwen repeated.
"We must hurry," said the man. "My leg is paining me already."
"I am a healer," said Aragorn. "Maybe I could ease your pain?"
"No one touches me!" the man said fiercely. "Come, Mirwen, we must leave now!"
"Surely you do not want to leave in the middle of the night in the pouring rain?" said Faramir. "We regret if we have frightened you. We thought the house was deserted when we took shelter from the storm."
"Maybe we do not have to go tonight?" said the man.
"I want my dolly!" cried Mirwen again.
"We will look for her, child," said her father. With that, the three turned and left the room.
"It seems that someone is living here after all," said Faramir. "No doubt some poor folk who lost their home during the war. How strange they are, though. They hardly seemed to notice us. And how did they get here? There is no other horse in the stable." He glanced at the candle, which gradually ceased its frenzied flickering. The room seemed colder than ever.
"Maybe they were afraid we would turn them out or hurt them" said Aragorn. "They were indeed strange folk." He yawned. "Let us try to sleep again for what remains of the night. We leave at first light, rain or no rain."
The two friends lay down again, moving nearer to the fire in a futile attempt to get warm. Faramir's teeth were chatting and Aragorn shivered.
"I cannot understand why it is so cold," said Aragorn. "The North is far colder than Gondor, but I was rarely as cold as this!"
"It is this house," said Faramir. "However do that family manage to live here?"
"I do not know," said Aragorn. "Huddle close and maybe we will eventually get warm." He draped his arm around Faramir's shoulders, unsure whether it was to comfort himself or his friend.
Weariness eventually overcame both King and Steward and they slept. When they next opened their eyes it was daylight. The rain had cleared and sunlight streamed into the room. In the daylight it looked even dustier and shabbier than they had imagined.
Aragorn and Faramir picked up their still damp cloaks and packs and prepared to leave.
"We are leaving now," Faramir called out to the other occupants of the house, but received no reply. "They must have left already," he said to Aragorn.
"Or be hiding," said the King. He placed a handful of coins on the table. "This should help them find better lodgings if they return," he said. As he straightened up from the table, something caught his eye beneath it. He bent to retrieve the item. It was a battered rag doll. "That must be the little girl's lost doll," he said, placing it on the table.
Faramir picked up the toy and scrutinised it. "No, it cannot be," he said. "It is thick with dust. No one can have touched this for years." He started to sneeze.
"I suppose there are plenty of lost and forgotten toys in old houses," said Aragorn. "Now let us see how Roheryn is faring."
The horses whinnied loudly when they saw their masters. Aragorn carefully examined Roheryn's injured hoof. "It needs the bruised part tending and a bran poultice for a few days," he said. "Alas, I do not have what is needed here so we will have to walk him to the smith in the village."
"We can take it in turns to ride my horse," Faramir suggested.
"Thank you, but I can walk well enough," said Aragorn. "I was not named Strider for nothing! We will let the horses graze a little and then will leave."
Aragorn and Faramir walked around the outside of the hunting lodge while the horses ate their breakfast. The place looked even more dilapidated in broad daylight while the grounds were overgrown, but oddly devoid of the birds and wildlife that usually frequented such places. Once the King and Steward had reached the road they glanced back at the deserted hunting lodge. Even in bright daylight it looked vaguely sinister and menacing.
"I would not care to spend another night under that roof!" said Faramir.
"Let us be on our way then," Aragorn replied.
Although their stomachs rumbled and they had to walk carefully for Roheryn's comfort, the two friends enjoyed their stroll along the country road in the early morning sunshine.
The sun was high in the sky by the time they reached the village. It was easy to find the smithy, which stood at the end of the main street. The smith, a burly man of middle years with a kindly face, impressed Aragorn by quickly spotting Roheryn's injury and setting to work at once to file the damaged hoof.
"I will give you coin to tend the horse until he is well enough to be ridden to Minas Tirith," Aragorn told the man. "Tend him well, for he is a steed beyond price."
"I can see that," said the smith. "He be a fine horse. A veteran of many a battle, I wager." He patted Roheryn's proud head. "If you gentlemen need a spare horse to get you home, I will lend you one. Not nearly as fine a mount as this one, but a sturdy beast."
"Thank you," said Aragorn. "I will be pleased to accept and promise you the horse will be tended well."
"Do you know anything about the hunting lodge a few leagues from here?" Faramir asked on impulse. "It seems strange that it should lie derelict, a large house like that."
The smith's genial features darkened. "I would not spend a night there if you gave me a herd of Mearas to do so!" he said. "The place be haunted and small wonder after what happened there!"
"What happened?" asked Aragorn.
"I can see indeed that you be strangers here," the man replied. "It be during the war that the Easterlings came. The lord be away fighting and his family had fled to Lossarnach, but a couple stayed to be looking after the house. The man had lost a leg in the fighting and could find no other work to provide for his wife and little lass. No doubt they thought they would be safe in such a lonely spot, but the Easterlings found them and slew them most cruelly, even the lass. What be left of them was buried in the garden by our soldiers who found the bodies. The lord and his family returned after the war, but left only one night, swearing never to set foot in the place again. It be empty ever since."
For a moment Aragorn and Faramir stood speechless.
"You be well, masters?" enquired the smith looking concerned. "You be looking quite pale."
"We have not eaten since yesterday." Aragorn was the first to collect himself, though he turned his head away and stroked Roheryn's mane.
"There be an inn along the street." The smith smiled. "They serve right tasty pies and stews."
"Thank you, we will go and sample them," said Faramir.
"It must be a coincidence," said Faramir, as he bit into a crusty hunk of bread and cheese. Neither he nor Aragorn had much appetite for anything more substantial.
"I do not know," said Aragorn. "I have walked the Paths of the Dead and seen the phantom oathbreakers with mine own eyes. That said, there must be many crippled soldiers and their families who seek shelter where they can. I try to help them, but some are too proud to accept charity. There was something very strange about that house, though. I have suffered many a bitter winter in the North, but never before have I felt so cold."
"I suppose we will never know the truth," said Faramir. "I am simply thankful that tonight I shall lie beside my wife in my own warm bed. I never want to set foot in that deserted house again."
"If we desire to reach our wives ere sunset, we had better be on way," said Aragorn. "They will send the guard after us if we do not return today. Then who knows when we might snatch some freedom again? Most likely, never!"
When they approached the deserted hunting lodge on their homeward journey, Faramir was unable to repress a shudder. Then, to his dismay, Aragorn guided his borrowed horse towards the dilapidated gates. "What are you doing?" he cried.
"Although we will never know for certain if we encountered ghosts last night, there is something I must do," said Aragorn. "I know not if I have the power, as these folk swore no oath to me nor to my longfathers, but if it lies within my power to help them I will." He dismounted as the borrowed horse was refusing to go further. Both men noticed that everywhere was oddly quiet. No birds sang in the treetops, neither did insects buzz around the overgrown gardens.
Aragorn drew Andúril and held it aloft. The blade glittered in the bright sunlight. "Depart and be at peace!" he cried in a loud voice. "Depart beyond the circles of the world and receive the Gift of Eru. I, Elendil's heir, and child of Lúthien bid you rest now."
He sheathed the sword then turned and walked back to the horse and where Faramir waited. A blackbird started to sing, followed by a thrush.
The King and Steward rode away without looking back. In the sunlit garden bees buzzed around a patch of clover, a queen wasp gorged herself on overripe windfalls and the blackbird sang sweetly in a gnarled apple tree.
A/n Wishing you all a Happy Halloween and All Soul's Day.
If you enjoyed this story you might also enjoy "The Spirit of Gondor",http://lindahoyland.yolasite.com/the-spirit-of-gondor.php and "The Shadow of the Past" http://lindahoyland.yolasite.com/the-shadow-of-the-past.php