Author Name: Linda Hoyland
Prompt. Morning Landscape with Trees - Grubicy de Dragon
Summary: Halbarad and Aragorn have an adventure in the Old forest.
Warnings: very mild horror
Author's Notes: Short story with grateful thanks to Shirebound, Curious Wombat and Elanbarati for help with the plot.
Disclaimer: The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate. No profit has been, nor will be made from this story.
The mist hung low over the river. Aragorn and Halbarad shivered and pulled their cloaks more closely around themselves. The damp seemed to seep into their very bones. The trees loomed wraithlike out of the mist, the few leaves that still clung to their branches in November providing scant covering.
“I heartily dislike mist,” said Aragorn. He took a swig from his water bottle as he spoke.
“So do I,” said Halbarad. “Everything seems muffled and eerie.”
“It disguises the enemies’ approach, even from Rangers such as we,” said Aragorn. “Even the trees seem strange and hostile when surrounded by mist.”
Halbarad laughed. “Hostile trees! Are you certain it was just water you were drinking just then?”
Aragorn did not join in his friend’s laughter. “The Elves can communicate with trees. They are sentient beings like you and I.”
“I respect the Elves,” said Halbarad. “However, I find some of their beliefs a little far- fetched. Trees are just trees, and very useful for firewood. ”
“Have a care what you say, kinsman,” Aragorn cautioned. “We are in the Old Forest here, which is full of mysteries. I am going to see if I can hunt some game under the cover of the mist. You keep watch. I shall not be long.”
“I would enjoy a nice plump rabbit,” said Halbarad.
“I will see if I can oblige.” Aragorn said. Within moments he had vanished into the mist.
Halbarad stood for a while. He stamped his feet to keep warm. This confounded mist! Not even a bird chirping broke the silence. Time passed, minutes, or maybe even hours, he could not tell. Then he heard a sound, like a whisper out of the mist followed almost at once by a muffled splash coming from the direction of the river. Fearing that some harm had befallen Aragorn, he drew his sword and hastened in the direction of the sound. Suddenly, he felt something twist itself around his ankle. He stumbled and fell to his knees, lashing out with his sword. There was no one there, just an old gnarled tree. He struggled frantically to escape, but the more he struggled, the more tightly he became entangled. The branches seemed to be dragging him towards the river. He called out for Aragorn but the mist smothered his cries. A great weariness came over him and he knew no more.
“Halbarad, wake up!”
Halbarad opened his eyes and looked into the concerned face of his kinsman. He looked around him and found he was lying amidst a tangle of willow branches half in and half out of the river. The mist had vanished and watery sunshine bathed the riverbank.
“Whatever were you doing?” Aragorn demanded his voice a mixture of anger and concern. “This neither the time nor the place to either take a nap or go swimming!”
“The tree! It attacked me. Have a care!” Halbarad gave a great shudder and looked wildly around him.
“What tree?” Aragorn looked puzzled. “It seems you tripped over a willow root and hit your head. It is fortunate that I returned when I did or you could have drowned!”
“Let us get us get away from here!” Halbarad said frantically.
“I could not agree more,” said Aragorn. “You need to get warm and dry. Can you walk? Here, take my arm.”
The two made their way to a sheltered clearing where they had made their camp earlier and had left their horses and packs. Halbarad leaned heavily upon Aragorn’s arm.
Aragorn soon had a cheerful fire blazing. He helped Halbarad out of his wet clothes, swiftly examined him for injuries and wrapped him in blankets. He then told him to sit by the fire while he roasted the rabbit he had caught.
Halbarad was still pale and shaking. He said very little as Aragorn tended him. Not until Aragorn had handed him a steaming mug of herbal tea did he speak. “I thought my last hour had come,” he said. “How did you find me?”
“I was on my way back to you with the rabbit I had caught when I heard you call out. The mist made you hard to find, but then the sun came out and a breeze blew from the west. Did you fall?”
Halbarad shuddered again. “I heard a whisper on the wind and then a splash. I drew my sword and went to investigate. It was then the tree root caught hold of me and tried to drag me to my death in the river. I tried to cut myself free, but my senses left me.”
“Had it not been for the tree roots holding you above the water you would have most surely drowned,” said Aragorn. “The mist is treacherous. Maybe it played tricks with your mind?”
“I tell you, the tree tried to kill me!” Halbarad insisted. “Surely you do not doubt my word, kinsman? You said yourself that we should have a care in the Old Forest.”
Aragorn shook his head and placed a reassuring hand on Halbarad’s shoulder. “Never would I accuse you of falsehood. Maybe the tales concerning the Old Forest have truth in them. There are many Powers at work, of which we know little. Now let us eat. A good meal should warm you and ease your heart.”
Aragorn divided the rabbit between them. They also had a supply of mushrooms to accompany the meal and a handful of hazelnuts to finish with.
Halbarad glanced around the peaceful sunlit glade and leaned back against a sturdy oak tree. He could hear the birds twittering in the treetops. This morning’s events seemed very distant now. Had the tree truly attacked him, or had he dozed off in the mist and fallen down the bank? He had been so certain at the time, now it seemed a preposterous idea. Maybe there were some mysteries that were unfathomable even to a seasoned Ranger? He took another mouthful of the tasty rabbit stew and felt the warmth seeping back into his limbs.