A/n. This is a revised and expanded version of a story I posted for the BTME challenge in March.
Title: The Omen
Author: Linda Hoyland
Characters/Pairing: Aragorn, Faramir, Ioreth, OMC
Book/Source: LOTR book-verse
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
Write a story or poem or create artwork using one or more animals as symbols, omens, or metaphors. Use associations and meanings from any culture or source you wish (e.g., Celtic, Native American, Biblical).
`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.' - Edgar Allen Poe
Aragorn and Faramir urged their horses forward in a gentle trot. After being confined within doors by their duties for days, they had been looking forward to going riding. It was bliss at last to have a free hour to themselves to enjoy some fresh air and exercise on a fine spring day.
As their horses trotted past the Houses of Healing, they espied Dame Ioreth coming out of the gateway. She returned their greeting then asked after their ladies and the little ones.
Just as Aragorn was assuring the good lady that they were all in excellent health, two ravens flew overhead.
"Alas!" cried Ioreth. "That is an ill omen indeed! You should go home at once, Lord Elfstone and then stay within doors this day and take great care!"
"Whatever for?" Aragorn asked, wondering if the good lady had lost her wits.
"Just look at those ravens!" Ioreth said grimly. "See how they hover above you. That can only foretell one thing; the death of a king!"
Aragorn laughed. "I know the old story well; that the ravens bring tidings of death to the Valar, but it is just an old country tale. I am going for a peaceful ride with Lord Faramir, not setting out to do battle. What possible harm could befall me?"
"Alas, Lord Elfstone! Well do not complain that Ioreth did not warn you if you die this day! You do not even have guards with you!"
"Why should I need guards just to go for a short ride in my own City?" Aragorn smiled indulgently. "I can think of far more useful duties to occupy them. Now we must be on our way, if you will excuse me, good lady?"
"Good day, Dame Ioreth," Faramir said politely, fearful the elderly healer would wish to talk all day. The two men urged their horses to a faster pace until they had left her well behind.
Faramir looked up at the sky when they reached the third circle. The ravens were still following. "Are you certain it is just an old wife's tale?" he said. "Those birds are still hovering above you. I like it not at all!"
"Do not fret, my friend," said Aragorn. "Master Elrond told me that the story came about simply because ravens are often seen hovering over battlefields. One might just as well say they appear when any soldier is about to die in battle."
Just then, a black cat ran out a baker's shop and crossed the street in front of them hotly pursuing a mouse. It disappeared into the shop owned by Faramir's tailor.
Aragorn laughed. "If you want omens, a black cat crossing your path is said to herald good luck in the Shire," he said, reining in his horse so as not to injure the cat.
Faramir laughed too, though he continued to keep a wary eye on the ravens.
The tailor appeared, shooing the cat back across the street. "Good day, my lords", he said. "What a fine day it is! Maybe the sun will bring out the customers?" He regarded the Steward hopefully.
"I fear I have no need of new garments at present," said Faramir. "No doubt, though, my good lady will insist that I have new clothes for the feast at Mettarë."
"My scissors and needles are always at your disposal, my lord," said the tailor. He looked rather disappointed and returned to his shop.
Much to their relief Aragorn and Faramir encountered no further interruptions. The two friends rode out through the City gates and into the open fields. They cantered along enjoying the spring sunshine on their faces. When they came to a stream, they dismounted to refresh themselves and let the horses drink.
Some small golden flowers growing amongst the grass caught Aragorn's eye. "Arwen loves celandines," he said. "They remind her of the elanor blossoms of the Elven realms. We need a fresh supply for the Houses of Healing. They only grow well near water. I wonder if there is sufficient here to be worth gathering. There might be more medicinal herbs by this stream."
He started to explore the long grass. Faramir stood a little way off and watched pleased at the King's delight in collecting medicinal herbs, but lacking sufficient knowledge to be of much assistance. He knew the common remedies like dandelion and comfrey, but Aragorn seemed to know of uses for herbs that he would shun as deadly poisons.
He looked up again. The ravens were still there. They seemed to be growing increasingly excited as they hovered above Aragorn's head, squawking loudly. Faramir repressed a shudder. He berated himself inwardly for feeling so unnerved by mere birds. They were hardly Black Riders! He looked down away from the birds and a sudden movement in the grass caught his eye. It was a snake. He was no herb master, but he was a former Ranger and he recognised every breed of snake. This one was deadly. Calling out a warning to Aragorn, he reached for his sword and stealthily advanced.
The ground was soft and muddy and Faramir slipped, his sword flying from his hand. The snake reared and poised to strike at the King.
The screeching ravens must have drowned out his cry, for Aragorn, engrossed in his search for herbs, did not heed him. Seconds felt like eternity as Faramir watched helplessly. His lord was going to die. Surely, this heart would break his instant!
From out of a clear blue sky, a great eagle suddenly appeared, swooped down before the King, and snatched up the serpent. Great wings flapping, it hovered for only a moment before flying away, the snake clutched in one of its mighty talons. The ravens gave a final squawk, this time in terror, and flew away.
Only aware of the danger now it was over, Aragorn watched the eagle fly away until it was out of sight.
Faramir scrambled up out of the mud. He ran over to his friend and hugged him with relief. "The Valar be praised you are safe!" he exclaimed.
Aragorn returned his embrace then gazed upwards. "Maybe I should have heeded good Dame Ioreth?" he mused, "Or perhaps the ravens alerted the eagle to my danger? "
"I have had enough of omens for one day," said Faramir, ruefully trying to brush the clinging mud from his breeches. "Let us go home to our ladies now".
"The ravens might not have foretold my death, but they did foretell ill luck," said Aragorn as they stabled the horses prior to walking up to the Citadel. "I fear your clothes are quite ruined! You will have to replace them."
"Then the black cat must have foretold good luck for my tailor!" said Faramir.
Both men laughed. "It seems that one man's good luck is another's misfortune," said Aragorn. "Small wonder many seek omens to try to make sense of such matters."
A/n. The superstitions about ravens and black cats are popular in the British Isles.