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Branwyn's Bric-à-Brac  by Branwyn

This chamber had always smelled so sweet, like lavender and sunlight, but now the air seemed dark and stale. If only the servants would open the windows, Boromir thought. He felt a gentle but stubborn tug at his hand as Faramir sought to pull away. He loosened his grip and watched as, with a happy squeal, Faramir ran to their mother. Though her head was bowed, as if in slumber, she quickly looked up at the sound of his voice. Her chair was drawn close to the brazier, and she wore a fur-lined mantle over her gown.

Faramir held up a muddy fistful of crocuses. “Mother! I brought you these flowers!” A shower of dirt pattered to the floor. He had yanked the crocuses out by their roots before Boromir could stay his hand.

Leaning forward, their mother admired the gift. “That is very kind of you. How beautiful they are.”

“They are yellow,” Faramir said, wisely nodding his head. His younger brother often spoke these great truths, and Boromir always struggled not to laugh. Yet today he felt strangely annoyed by this chatter.

“Yellow like sunshine or egg yolks,” their mother replied with a smile. Faramir giggled.

“But he pulled up your flowers, Mother. Now they will wither and die.” Boromir scowled at his brother.

“No, you need only plant them back in the ground, and they will flower for many more years. The gardener can show you how.” She put one arm around him while clasping Faramir with the other, wrapping them both in the mantle.

“Could you come to the garden and show us? I can dig the holes. And Faramir will help.”

“I can help!” his brother said, his voice a high-pitched echo. The bruised and muddy flowers were still clenched in his hand.

Boromir squirmed in his mother’s grasp, trying to stand upright. “You can sit on the bench and tell us what needs to be done.”

“The cold is too bitter, my love. When the days are warm again.” His mother drew him closer, until he no longer could look in her eyes.

“Do you promise? As soon as the days are warm, then you will come outside with us?” The soft fur of the mantle pressed against his face.

“Of course, Boromir,” she murmured into his hair. “I promise.”

Written for the Tolkien_weekly "Shiny" challenge.

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Aragorn stared ahead of the boats. They had no pilot to guide them, but that willow branch had begun to drift faster. Here they must strike for the shore.  It was death to fight these waters; none could prevail against their force.

The sound and fume of Rauros shimmered in the air. As they pressed the oars against the current, he glanced toward the precipice.

Sailing faster and faster, the willow branch neared the edge. There it lingered, foam surging against black twigs, before it fell and vanished in the golden haze.

Later, he would marvel at his own blindness.

Written for the "Fear" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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"Ride light. Carry food and fodder to last until Mundberg; we need look no further.” Their captain glanced around the encampment. “Leave the tents; take only your bedrolls. Let us sleep behind the City walls, if that is our fate.”

The men sorted their gear as they packed. They had brought small comforts from their farmsteads--

Cooking pots, a sack of walnuts,
Feather pillows, oil lamps,
Folding stools, a painted chessboard.

As they set these goods aside, they bid their homes a last farewell. Then they turned the horses to the south. No longer encumbered, they rode the more swiftly.

Written for the "Wrath" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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"Is the lord Denethor here?"

The guards fell back without a word. He is your liegelord, Imrahil thought, yet the blood sang in his ears like the tide. With careful steps, he crossed the hall. He bore a heavy burden, but he dared not stumble or falter.

"Your son has returned, lord, after great deeds."

Denethor rose from his seat.

Your kinsman and friend, Imrahil repeated, as he dropped to one knee. Gently, he lowered his nephew to the floor. Yet how he burned to raise a mailed fist! To strike that proud face and shatter that cold ivory mask.

Written for the Tolkien_Weekly ‘Warm Drinks and Roaring Fires’ challenge.

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The old soldier blew on his crooked fingers and rubbed his hands together. “That roof stops the worst of the snow, but the wood is still damp. We have casks of oil to help set it alight.”

The other man, leaning heavily on a spear, limped after him. “How long since this beacon was lit?”

“Many years.”

“So I am sent to guard a heap of wood, since I am left fit for naught else.” Snow fell like ashes on his black hair.

“You were sent here to watch for a signal; I see no dishonor in being a scout.”

For the "Marriage" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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The guests had traveled from great distances, and the singing and drinking would last for weeks to come. Yet the wedding itself was quite simple.

Lithe as green willow, the bride raised a stone jar and filled a shallow bowl; then, bowing, she offered the drink to the groom. At the touch of her slender hands, he nearly dropped the bowl to the ground. His friends cheered as he drank deeply; then he poured for her. She watched him over the rim as she drank.

“Field and forest, apple and rowan. Let these two hearts entwine, never to grow apart.”

For the "Craftily" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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“You were right, my lord. Hidden by the ring, I surprised them at their treachery, my friends and dearest kinsmen. Yet how was I so blind until now?"

“Love leaves us prey to all manner of deceit. Glad am I to help a friend, but now the ring must be returned.”

“I am loathe to surrender this fair and useful thing. It is most craftily made.”

“Then keep it as a gift, in token of our undying friendship.”

“You honor me, Lord Sauron.”

“And for the traitors—“

“My lord?”

“It is time we restored the ancient form of worship.”

A pair of drabbles written for the "Death" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.  Thanks to Raksha the Demon for her skillful beta-reading.

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The Guest

At the sound of hooves, I had looked up from the plowshare. The horse bore no bridle, and the lady’s eyes were as bright as stars. My boots slipping on sodden clay, I tried to bow. The Fair Folk seldom journey in these parts, and we offered our guest all that we had—dry onions, black bread, and bacon from the rafters. With gentle speech she thanked us, yet the meal was hardly touched as she gazed about the room with distant eyes.

How short and wretched our lives must have seemed, as we ate last year’s onions for supper!

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The Gift

How many years had passed since last I had traveled these wastelands? Fifty years? Five hundred? I found that much was changed. Stone cottages had sprung up, like mushrooms after rain. The farmfolk gave me shelter, for still there was no inn or castle. It seemed strange to sit with these mortals, as if I kept vigil over the dying, for they changed with every breath they drew while I neither grew nor grew older. Life had left no marks on me.

In truth, I envied their hands worn with work, and their greying hair. I even envied their dying.

Written for the "Births" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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“Our Enemy breeds his servants from darkness. He is a most powerful wizard.”

“Nay, Lord Denethor, he is not a wizard, though indeed he is akin to us.” The old man leaned down to take a small, grey stone from the path. At a whispered word, it puffed up and opened into a mushroom.

“Why do you not conjure me an army, Mithrandir?”

The wizard held out his hand. The mushroom was a grey stone again. “Why will you not understand, my lord? He creates nothing but merely bends the world to his purpose.”

“Then indeed you are close kin.”

Note: Mormegil, Denethor's courtly manservant, appears with the gracious consent of Annmarwalk.

***************************************

“So what did he say in reply?” the tailor asked.

“He released me from his service.”

“Mormegil, I do not believe it.”

“Believe it,” the steward’s manservant replied.

“You merely..”

“I merely tried to send for a healer, which should have been done hours past. I have served our lord for three score years, yet it seemed I spoke with a stranger. He sent me away, having no need of more meddlers,” Mormegil said flatly. “So now we must stand aside while Lord Faramir sickens.”

“Surely the other servants—“

“Will do nothing. Like rabbits will they cower before him.”

Written for the "Dirt" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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Not far from the lake, Faramir found the small glade. The linden trees bore sword cuts, black arrows were buried deep in their limbs, yet still their heart-shaped leaves were green. Men fashioned shields from this tree, for its wood was not easily sundered.

Using his dagger, he dug up a sapling and wrapped a wet cloth about its roots. Beside the City gates, he tenderly settled the tree in the dirt. He foresaw that, in days to come, maidens would cut its sweet flowers, while men who once were soldiers sat in its shelter and watched the children play.

For the "Change in the Weather" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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Winter swept from the north on grey gull wings. Chill waves furrowed the grass, while the branches above surged and heaved in a golden tempest of leaves.

The elven woman weighed down the hill with her stillness, her black hair streaming like the banner from a mast. As she faced into the storm, her long cloak flapped like a poorly-trimmed sail.

“Bear me away with these words,” she whispered to the wind. “Bear me away across the sea; take me beyond the walls of this world.” There was no answer, only an echo of the waves’ song in the trees.

For the "Angle" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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In those first days of grief, Denethor scarcely spoke to him. During their silent meals, his father stared at the empty chair and would look away in surprise if Faramir made a sound.

Faramir thought of his childhood studies, when he had learned to draw shapes with ruler and compass. He had pictured his family as a lopsided triangle, with Boromir having the longest side. The lines were unequal, yet still were they joined, creating an unbroken whole.

Now Boromir’s side was erased, so all that was left were he and his father, the two diverging lines of an angle.

For the "Awkwardly" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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The boy flung down the wax tablet and slumped in his chair. “There are too many adverbs.”

The loremaster cleared his throat awkwardly. “Lord Boromir, how will you write orders for your captains, unless you can spell adverbs? How will you tell them to assemble swiftly or to march south?”

“A scribe will write for me.”

“Not when you are on campaign.”

“Then my lieutenant.”

“What if he is wounded and you must send for aid before the orcs surround you?”

The boy sat up. “How many orcs? What are they armed with?”

The loremaster sighed. “With adverbs, no doubt.”

For the "Speedily" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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A ranger learned to read the signs, swiftly scanning the woods as he traveled. Even the craftiest foe left a trail, and to the trained eye, a leaf turned astray was a banner.

After Boromir’s death, their father had ceased to heed reason, yet this change was not from grief alone. His stern mind was bent, like a branch pushed aside by the enemy’s passage. Faramir knew not how this could happen, for his father was guarded behind walls of stone, yet he feared that he read the signs aright--for long had he been a scout in dark places.

For the "Line" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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Yellow irises rose above the marsh like banners, and the tiny boat drifted in a sea of green swords.

The fisher trailed one hand in the water as he lazily swung the willow switch back and forth. He had baited his line with a deadly prize, a nightcrawler dug from the garden. Too late would his prey feel the cut of the hook, discover the hidden treachery. The fisher knew he need only wait. Sooner or later, some unwary creature would seize the offered bait.

Six feet below, in the mud of the river-bed, sunlight glinted on a golden ring.

For the "Point" challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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How gently men are schooled in war, Faramir thought as he raised the longbow.

First, he had shot blunt arrows with a child's toy of willow. Then, bearing a deadlier bow, he learned to hunt rabbit and deer. Though he pitied the unlucky beasts, a soldier must know how to fare in the wild. Later, he helped shoot the wolves that prowled the timid flocks, and surely this was not wrong.

Now he drew back the arrow, aiming the point of steel at a soldier. How gently men are schooled in war, so gently that they see not the lesson.

For the "Grumpily" challenge at Tolkien_weekly. With abject apologies to Tolkien.

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The eldest dwarf bowed to Thorin. “Doc son of Dorc, at your service. And these are my companions.”

A dwarf rubbed his sleepy eyes. Another blushed and looked down bashfully.

“I love adventures!” one cried with a happy smile, while his neighbor mumbled grumpily, “We will come to a bad end."

The beardless youngling gave Thorin a dopey stare. Beside him, a dwarf buried his face in a handkerchief and sneezed.

“I am honored by your interest in this venture.” Thorin bowed to his visitors. “But I have already chosen the party.” Very funny, Gandalf. I will throttle that wizard.

Written as a companion piece to The Road Not Taken and in response to HASA's "Your Favorite Poem" challenge. Many thanks to Raksha the Demon for her helpful comments.

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Night fell early at the turning of the year, and the birch trees gleamed like bleached bones in the twilight. Snow swept across the western highway, stirring the yellow leaves that lay heaped around the milestone. To the north of the road, a narrow path divided the trees.

Two riders trotted out of the storm and reined in their mounts at the crossroad. With a faint jangle of harness, the horses whickered and tossed their heads, eager to find the warm shelter of a farmstead.

The first rider drew back a hood of plain wool. He wore his fair hair in a warrior’s plaits, and his face was young but stern. “There lies the old road to Tharbad, lord. Even in these days of peace, few riders take that path. Dwarven folk, for the most, and messengers of Elessar King.”

The second man nodded. “Though the road has become less perilous, it is still a long and hard journey.” His hood was cast back, and white hair brushed his shoulders, shorn after the fashion of Gondor. With surprising grace for one so old, he swung from the saddle, and handing the reins to the other rider, he knelt beside the milestone. The front of the marble tablet was deeply carved with runes, while elvish letters were chiseled on the back. Pulling off a heavy gauntlet, he traced his fingers along the graven lines, brushing away the dust of snow. “One hundred leagues to Tharbad, two hundred and thirty to Imladris,” he murmured. “And whither thence, Boromir?”

The only sound was the sweep of snow among the bare branches.

"One day I will follow, my brother, but for now that journey must wait.” The white-haired man straightened and rose to his feet, shaking the downy flakes from his cloak. He stared into the woods as he drew on his gauntlets. “When did they set up the milestone? It was not here when last I came this way.”

“Four or five winters past, lord. Old Ragnvald could say for certain. He owns these woods and the fields hereabout, though his house is in the next village. On this darkest night, he and his folk will be drinking waes hael by the fire.” The fair-haired rider leaned forward to stroke his horse’s neck.

“Then let us join their Yule and leave these woods in the keeping of the snow.” The man of Gondor put boot in stirrup and swung lightly into the saddle. Their breath like smoke in the cold, the horses set out at a willing pace. He started to sing, in the language of the Mark. “Swift is the mare, bright is the sword.” His voice was low yet clear.

“Now drink we waes hael to king and to lord,” the younger man joined him.

Short is the day, dark is the night,
Now drink to the dead so glory shines bright.

Feathers of snow soon brushed away their tracks, so that none would know they had ever passed that way.

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Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

  --Robert Frost

Written for the “Plane” challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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Rosie looked down as she set the pie before him. “This must seem plain, after feasting with the high and mighty.” She wiped her hands on her best embroidered apron, the one she wore only on feast days.

“They do eat some fancy stuff down south. I saw roasted swans with the feathers still on ‘em!”

“Maybe for outlanders," Rosie said as she sliced the pie. The berries glistened like rubies in the flaky crust. Cherry pie, his favorite.

Samwise nodded, and he raised the mug of golden ale brewed by Farmwife Maggot. “Plain food is best. Leastwise for hobbits.”

Written for the “Complement” challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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“We could muster no larger complement of riders, lord,” the grey-haired sergeant told him. “We are short of horses, and men will be needed on the walls.”

His rangers were still stowing their gear on the borrowed mounts, as what was left of Gondor’s cavalry watched in stolid silence. Some of the horsemen had seen too many winters to ride out on a foray, and here and there he saw the white flash of bandages. He watched as a stableman adjusted the straps on his ill-fitting armor.

“Carry on, sergeant,” Faramir replied. Never was there a greater compliment than this.

Written for the Tolkien_weekly “Area” challenge.

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He knew he was held the least among equals. Proud Saruman’s glance spoke as loudly as words. The wizard was a fool who would waste his time on the study of birds.

A crow swooped down from the bookcase and hopped across the table, leaving black tracks on the freshly inked pages of The Noble Tongue of the Eagles.

“You have no respect for learning, Randir.” He stroked the coal-sleek wings then set out a dish of seeds to keep the rascal at bay.

Radagast took up the quill. “In the speech of the eagles, the word for friend is…”

 

Written for the “Surface” challenge at Tolkien_weekly

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“Now!”

You shout the command.

In a trail of sparks, the torch is thrown,

And light flares on the courses of stone

raised from the flood by the craft of Numenor.

Breathing out the black stench of pitch,

The flames blot out the very dome of stars.

Down the rope you go, hand over hand,

Sliding down to the river’s black surface.

So begins the final retreat.

Followed by Boromir, you swim away from the fire’s light,

Away from the gaze of enemy archers.

With the crack and heavy slide of stone

the last bridge burns and falls into ruin.

Written for the “Sour” challenge at Tolkien_Weekly.

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Lobelia could write letters of spidery elegance, for she had been taught alongside her brother. Not only to write but also to do sums. She needed no tallystick to count the stores of her household. Hardworking and thrifty, she rose before dawn to stir up the fire and start the day’s work.

“The finest wine makes the sharpest vinegar,” the folk in Hobbiton laughed.

Yet later, when most of them cowered, she stood her ground against the ruffians. For she was mistress in her own household. With grudging respect, the neighbors muttered, “That old Lobelia is still full of vinegar.”

 

A/U, written in memory of the anniversary of the First Battle of the Fords of Isen.

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“Hold him up while I get the buckles.” Grimbold’s fingers slipped as he worked at the bloody straps. Finally, the mail shirt slid to the grass with the whisper of a thousand iron rings.

Little good it did him, the old Rider thought. That spear pierced it like butter. Never was armor made that was proof against fate.

He loosened the torn arming shirt and drew it aside, and then he cried in wonder as he lifted a small book from Lord Theodred’s breast. Carried close against the lord’s heart, the book had turned aside fate when armor could not.

Written for the “Bitter” challenge at Tolkien_weekly

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A sleek head popped above the gentle surf and blew out a spout of water. “Ugh! That tastes terrible!” Boromir scowled as he wiped a hand across his lips.

Imrahil struggled not to laugh. “Now you know why sailors must carry casks of water.”

“Look! I am a seal!” Faramir shrieked, flailing about in the shallows.

“You are getting better at it; keep practicing,” Imrahil called to him. The pair of seals bobbed up and down as the sunlight danced on the waves. His clothing and swordbelt were soon left on the sand as he waded out to join them.

 

Written for the “Sweet” challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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At first, she thought this a strange sort of love-making. His shaggy head bowed, he straddled her like a beast and thrust from behind. The hard muscles of his thighs pressing against her, the tickle of the curly black hair, and then the slow ache of fullness that made her sweat in anticipation. The heavy dance began slowly then quickened. As he thrust in full, he caught the nape of her neck in his teeth. When both were sated, he lay on her breast and licked the salt from her skin. “Honey,” he called her, the words a sleepy growl.

A/U, written for the “Salty” challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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“What land is your purpose?” The outlander spoke their tongue in a stilted, halting fashion.

“We are taking salt and coffee to Tarqa.”

“This is a distant place?” Pale eyes stared out of the sun-burnt face.

“It lies to the south, through hundreds of leagues of jungle and desert.”

“I am hear you have need for one teamster more.”

“Yes, that is true, but the journey will take some months and you will find no men of Gondor in Tarqa.”

“Such pity.” The outlander laughed, a sound like the cracking of stones that have lain too long in the fire.

Written for the “Doom” challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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During the searing day, they carried their burdens in silence, hurrying onward under the whip. But later, the prisoners talked softly in the darkness, for none of these black-haired men knew their tongue.

They spoke of simple things--of galloping through the grass as it bowed before the wind, of resting where clear water washed the flat stones. Of the first glimpse of home above a distant ridge.

Reaching through the bars, each gently searched for the other’s face, until the black muzzles brushed together. Dead to their Riders and kindred, at least they two could share this evil doom.

Written for the “North” challenge at Tolkien_weekly.

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“After years of torment and slavery, they can scarcely bear to be touched by the healers.” The young king of Rohan bowed his head.

Radagast nodded wisely; then he sat cross-legged on the ground. The horses listened quietly as he told them tales of their sires, for he had lived in Rhovanion when Eorl rode from the North. At night he slept close by, wrapped in his tattered brown cloak.

After a week, a stallion sidled over and began to nuzzle his beard.

“You are great hearted,” Radagast murmured, stroking the hollow flanks, “As brave as the horses of Eorl.”

[A/N: Credit goes to Annmarwalk for the idea of Radagast as horsey therapist.]





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