The Great Escape|
I borrowed these characters from Tolkien and make no money from this story.
Aragorn and Faramir’s hunting trip is disrupted.
Aragorn sipped his drink with appreciation. It was a good ale, or maybe it simply tasted better for being drunk in a country tavern. Opposite him, Faramir smiled as if sensing his thoughts. Both King and Steward cherished these rare opportunities to escape from the City, cast off their court finery and travel unrecognised amongst their people. Dressed in humble garb, the two were enjoying a brief hunting trip in Lossarnach. Catching their own supper and sleeping under the stars was nowadays a rare treat to be savoured like fine wine.
Aragorn and Faramir had arrived in the village just as a wedding was about to take place. The village headman had invited the strangers to join in the celebrations as the blacksmith married the miller’s daughter. After feasting and dancing, the happy couple had retired to the smithy where the smith had carried his bride over the threshold, before firmly closing the door. The women and children had then returned to their cottages while most of the menfolk had made their way to “The Ploughman’s Rest” to prolong the feasting well into the night.
One man, who looked like a farmer had a set of pipes and struck up a merry tune. Soon everyone was singing. Aragorn and Faramir joined in. It was a popular song; about a soldier who had wooed and won a farmer’s pretty daughter.
“I used to sing this on winter nights with my men,” Faramir murmured during a break in the singing, during which the innkeeper refilled everyone’s tankards.
“It was a favourite of my men, too, when I was serving your grandsire,” said Aragorn. He took a sip of his drink then joined in as the song resumed.
“Be you a minstrel?” asked a man at a nearby table when the song ended. “You sing well.”
“I have been many things,” said Aragorn.
“Give us a song!” said the man with the pipes. “I will play for thee. Know thee’ The Soldier’s Lament’?”
“Aye,” said Aragorn. He began to sing the plaintive tune. He knew the words well from his days as Captain Thorongil when his men would sing around their camp fires. The song told of a soldier who despaired of ever being able to return home to his young bride. As he sang, he wandered round the room and he noticed a young man was also moving around, pausing at each table in turn. The man made Aragorn suspicious. The others, though, did not seem to notice anything, though. Maybe it was because they had drunk considerably more than the King.
His song ended, Aragorn took advantage of the hubbub while drinks were refilled to watch the man more closely. He was certain he saw the fellow dip his hand into the pocket of the man he had just walked past. Aragorn felt angry. These were honest farmers and labourers enjoying a wedding feast.
The man was now making his way towards where Aragorn and Faramir were sitting.
“Who is that?” Aragorn asked a man at the next table.
“That be Turgon, the Smith’s apprentice.”
Aragorn was about to get up and challenge him, but the innkeeper had obviously spotted something was amiss too….
“Turgon, a word with thee,” he cried.
Turgon looked startled and stumbled heavily against Aragorn. He righted himself and pointed at the King. “This fellow here has been picking pockets!” he announced.
The innkeeper looked taken aback. “But I saw you going round the tables suspicious like, Turgon,” he protested. “Search me,” said Turgon. “Thee’ll not find nothing.”
The innkeeper rifled through Turgon’s pockets while the Smith’s apprentice grinned cheerfully. He seemed not to be concerned in the slightest. All the search yielded was a couple of small coins and several nails.
“Now be searching him!” Turgon demanded, pointing towards Aragorn.
The innkeeper hesitated.
“I let thee search me and I be one of your own. He be a stranger.” Turgon now sounded belligerent.
“I be sorry,” the innkeeper said apologetically to Aragorn, “but if thee don’t be a-minding us, good sir.”
“Very well,” Aragorn consented. He was annoyed, but unperturbed. His pockets held only a handkerchief, which was a gift from Sam, a flint, a lodestone and a few small coins. To his horror, though, when the innkeeper rifled through his pockets, he brought forth a collection of worn purses, filled to varying degrees with coins. The innkeeper grabbed Aragorn’s arm.
“That be my purse there!” cried one of the men sitting near the bar.
“And that be mine!” cried a man at a table by the window.
“Punish the thief!” cried a third.
Faramir leapt to his feet. “There is some mistake!” he cried. “Unhand my friend this instant!”
“That be his accomplice!” cried Turgon. “Seize him before he be running away!”
Two burly farmers grabbed hold of Faramir’s arms.
“I did not take the purses,” said Aragorn. “They have been planted on me.”
“All thieves be saying that,” said the innkeeper. “I be taking you to the head man”
“Put them in the pillory!” cried one of the men whose purse had been taken.
“Give them a good whipping!” cried another.
Aragorn glanced towards Faramir, indicating that he should flee. It would surely be easier to explain everything and clear their names if they talked to the village elder. But he had no desire to risk them both being captured The mood in the tavern had turned ugly and although these country folk would be no match for seasoned warriors, Aragorn had no desire to harm them. They were rightly angry, albeit with the wrong men. “There is no need to restrain me,” the King said calmly. “We should like to see your head man. He seems a just and reasonable fellow.”
“Thee looks as if thee could run well,” said the innkeeper doubtfully. “I be taking no chances.”
“There is no need to restrain me!” Aragorn shouted. He stretched out one of his long legs and kicked over a chair.
Faramir took advantage of the diversion to slip away.
One of the farmers noticed and cried out “After him!”
The men hesitated, trying to decide who should pursue Faramir. The Steward used his few moments’ advantage to ride away into the night.
Aragorn allowed himself to be marched out of the inn and through the village. Luckily few folk were abroad to witness this humiliation.
The headman’s dwelling was at the far end of the village and a little larger than the other homes. The innkeeper banged on the door, which was opened after a few minutes by the man who had earlier that day conducted the wedding ceremony. He looked irate and appeared to have got dressed in a hurry as his tunic was on back to front. He was of ripe years with grey hair, rather overweight and sported a bushy beard.
“I hope this is important!” he snapped. “My wife be unwell and we were a-resting.”
“Beggin’ your pardon, Master Tuor, but I be a- catching this fellow a-stealing my customers’ purses. “,
“We are honest men and have stolen nothing,” said Aragorn.
“All thieves be saying that,” said Tuor. “Be bringing him in and put him in the cellar. I’ll be a-dealing with him in the morning. Shame on thee after we welcomed thee and invited thee to the wedding.”
Aragorn took a deep breath. He had no wish for a night in the cellar rather than under the stars, a rare treat to be savoured on a summer night. It was time to cast aside his disguise. His captors dragged him over Tuor’s threshold into a stone- flagged hallway furnished with an oaken bench.
“I am no thief,” he said. “I am the King.”
“Where be your crown then?” asked Tuor scornfully.
Aragorn struggled to keep his temper. “It is locked safely in a casket in the citadel. It is too heavy to wear often. I have other tokens with me. This sword is Andúril, the sword- that-was- broken.” He would have reached for the blade, but the innkeeper prevented him. He lifted up his hand. “This ring is the Ring of Barahir.”
“One sword looks much like another to me, I be a farmer not a warrior” said Tuor. “Be taking his weapon and a- stowing it safely. As for the ring, surely a king would be having a ring adorned with some kingly beast, not serpents. No doubt thee stole it.”
Ignoring Aragorn’s protests, the innkeeper unbuckled Andúril and placed it in the far corner of the hallway.
“I am no common thief!” Aragorn protested. “The Smith’s apprentice stole the purses and planted them on me.”
“Turgon be one of our own and thee be nothing but a stranger and a vagabond,” said Turgon.
“He said he be a travelling minstrel,” explained the innkeeper. “That kind often be light fingered.”
“I never claimed to be a minstrel, you assumed that because I sing well enough,” said Aragorn. “Listen to me, man, I am your King!”
“I suppose he be saying his accomplice is the Lord Steward next,” said Tuor.
“He is,” said Aragorn.
Tuor burst out laughing but quickly sobered.
“It be a serious offence to be pretending to be the King and his Steward. What sort of fool be thinking up a story like that? If thee were the King thee would be dressed in fine clothes and have servants and guards with you. No King nor Steward would be a- coming alone to our village.”
“I like to walk in disguise amongst my people,” said Aragorn.
“That sort of thing be a- happening only in tales,” said Tuor. “Well, whoever thee might be, thee deserve a day in the pillory then a good flogging. That will teach thee not to steal and slander our King’s good name! We be upholding his laws here and protecting his honour.”
“The King would care not what men said about him and condemns no man without a trial,” said Aragorn.
“This be a small village, there be no magistrate here and I can’t be a-sparing men to be taking you to the City.” Tuor nodded to the innkeeper and the farmers. “Lock him in the cellar. My sick wife be needing me.”
“I am a healer, maybe I could help her,” said Aragorn.
“Thee will keep your filthy thieving hands off of her!” cried Tuor. “First thee be a minstrel, then the King, then a healer. Enough of thy lies! To the cellar with thee!”
The innkeeper and the two farmers grabbed Aragorn and marched him across through the kitchen and into a cellar at the back. The King was sorely tempted to overpower them and flee, but he reminded himself again that these were his subjects and he must protect rather than harm them. They were strong country fellows and it would be impossible to overpower them without using considerable force. He knew he must think of some other means of escape. He decided to try using his natural authority. “I tell you, I am your King and no thief. Release me at once!” he cried in his most commanding tone. “You can send to the City for the Captain of the Guard to identify me.”
“Maybe we should do as he says?” The innkeeper sounded uneasy. The farmers murmured their assent.
“Nonsense!” snapped Tuor. “These rogues be saying anything to escape their just desserts. Lock him in the cellar.”
Somewhat hesitantly, the innkeeper and the farmers pushed Aragorn down some steps and inside the cellar. “I be sorry,” the innkeeper muttered before he shut the door.
Aragorn heard the key turning in the lock and the sound of footsteps retreating along the passage. He sighed deeply and tried to take stock of his surroundings. It was pitch dark, so he had to feel his way around his makeshift prison. There were barrels around the walls, which suggested it was usually a wine store. A heap of straw in one corner and an old bucket in the far corner made the room into what Aragorn suspected was the village prison.
He sat down on the straw and glumly considered his predicament. It would almost be amusing, were it not so humiliating, the King of Gondor and Arnor imprisoned by a handful of his loyal subjects. At least Faramir had escaped. He would be riding through the night to fetch help. Aragorn groaned at the prospect of being freed by his guards. The indignity of it all! And the worst thing of all, he would lose what little freedom to roam that he still had as King. He knew that kings were not supposed wander the wilds incognito, but he had been a Ranger for too long to completely abandon that way of life whatever his Council thought. Arwen, somewhat surprisingly, encouraged his rare hunting trips with Faramir or Legolas. She understood that he feared he would lose his wits if forced to remain cooped up in the Citadel. She preferred a happy husband to a grumpy one. He suspected too that she enjoyed using her considerable gifts to rule in his absence.
A King needed to move freely amongst his people and learn how his kingdom was truly faring and not merely what his advisers wanted him to know. Aragorn groaned again at the prospect of his future freedom being restricted to a ride across the Pelennor accompanied by his guards, or a walk through the market place with everyone bowing and scraping to him. It was intolerable. He must escape, but how?
There were folk in neighbouring villages who knew him and would vouch for his good character, but they had no idea of his true identity. He would have to break free when they took him out in the morning. He had no intention of submitting to either the pillory or a flogging. Hopefully, he would meet up on the road with Faramir and the guards his Steward would bring. Poor Arwen, she would be so worried when she learned her husband had been arrested.
Aragorn got to his feet and restlessly paced the cellar. The air was starting to feel oppressive. He hated above all else to be confined and he admonished himself sternly not to let his fears overcome him. He could feel a grille in the wall and knew he would not suffocate.
He tensed as he heard a sound. A chink of light appeared as the door slowly opened. It seemed that Tuor had returned to check on his prisoner. Aragorn braced himself. Now would be a perfect opportunity to flee under cover of darkness.
The familiar voice whispering held him rooted to the spot. His Steward was standing in the doorway with a lantern in his hand.
“Faramir? I thought you would be half way to the City by now.”
“I would not leave you here alone. Come, we must hurry! I have left the front door ajar.” He handed Aragorn his sword. “Here is Andúril. I found it in the passageway.”
Aragorn needed no second bidding and hastened up the cellar steps with his Steward. The house was dark and silent until a sudden gust of wind blew the front door shut with a crash.
“Who be there?” Tuor appeared, clad in his nightshirt and clutching a candle. “Help, thieves, murder!” he yelled at the top of his voice.
Aragorn placed his hand on Andúril’s hilt. “Stay there!” he ordered.
“I’ll not be letting a thieving good- for- nothing get away with it!” Tuor retorted, descending the stairs determinedly. “I have to be upholding of the King’s laws.”
“Let us leave. We are armed,” Aragorn said sternly. He moved to stand beside the open doorway to the living room. He nodded to Faramir.
As Tuor approached them, the two men gently, but firmly pushed him into the living room. “Let me go, thou ruffians!” he cried.
“I am sorry,” said Aragorn, leaning against the door to stop Tuor escaping. “You give me no choice, though. I will see that you are freed soon.”
“There is coin on your kitchen table to pay for the damage I caused by breaking into your home,” said Faramir.
“Thou can’t be keeping me here. There be no lock on the door! I be getting every man in this village to be hunting thee down in the name of the King!”
Faramir was already dragging the oak bench in front of the door.
The two men raced out of the front door to the sound of Tuor’s enraged shouts.
“The horses are just around the corner,” said Faramir. “Where do we ride for, home or deeper into the countryside?”
“Deeper into the countryside,” said Aragorn. “We are not expected back for a few days, so let us make the most of our freedom. But first, we must rouse the innkeeper.”
The two set off at a canter down the moonlit village street, stopping only when they came to the inn. “Hey there!” cried Aragorn in a loud voice.
After a few minutes, the innkeeper’s head appeared at the window. “Thee again!” he cried.
“Your friend, Master Tuor needs your help,” said Aragorn. “Tell him that Elessar Telcontar sent you!”
Before the innkeeper could reply, King and Steward had urged their horses to a gallop, and quickly disappeared from sight. They rode onwards until they reached the forest, where they stopped to rest their horses.
“We will make camp here for the night,” said Aragorn. “We have come far enough to evade pursuit.”
“Never did I think I’d live to see the day you had to flee from your own justice,” said Faramir. He dismounted from his horse and tethered him to a tree.
“Neither did I. That rogue, Turgon, must not be allowed to get away with robbing his fellow villagers, though.” Aragorn likewise dismounted.
“I agree, but what do you propose to do?” Faramir began to gather wood for a fire.
“I will send a small troop of guards to the village with some of them in disguise as rich travellers. I surmise Turgon will try to rob them when they dine at the inn. The guards in uniform will then arrest him. I believe we should send officials round the villages more often. I have little liking for punishments without a proper trial. Tonight has taught me that I have not paid enough attention to justice in country areas.”
“It seems you can never escape your burdens, even on a hunting trip,” said Faramir.
“I am King,” said Aragorn. “With the crown, goes the burden.”
A little later, the two men sat beside their campfire and prepared for the night.
“I have not yet thanked you,” said Aragorn.
“For what, mellon nîn?”
“For helping me escape.”
“I could not ride away leaving you captive.”
Aragorn squeezed Faramir’s shoulder then lay back and studied the stars twinkling through the forest canopy. Their beauty against the midnight sky never failed to soothe his spirits. He took a deep breath and rejoiced in the sweet pine-scented air. It was the scent of freedom. Soon his eyelids grew heavy and he fell into a dreamless untroubled sleep.