Title: Voices in the Mist
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.
When Aragorn and Halbarad awoke that morning, the mist hung low over the river. The two Rangers 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 this fog," said Aragorn. He took a swig from his water bottle as he spoke.
"So do I," said Halbarad. "Everything seems muffled and eerie."
"We must be on our guard as it can mask an enemy's approach, all too easily," said Aragorn. "The very 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. "It is not such a strange notion. The Elves can communicate with trees. They are living things 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 and shelter. "
"Have a care what you say, kinsman," Aragorn cautioned. "Remember, we are in the Old Forest, 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 for our meal," said Halbarad. "My mouth waters at the very thought."
"I will see if I can oblige." Aragorn said. Within moments, he had vanished into the mist.
Halbarad remained where he was standing for some time. 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.
Suddenly, he heard a sound, 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 towards the sound.
Halbarad felt something grab hold of him and twist itself around his ankle. He stumbled and fell to his knees, lashing out with his sword at his attacker. There was no one there, though, just an old gnarled tree, the roots of which held his ankle in a tight grip.
He struggled frantically to escape, but the more he struggled, the more tightly he became entangled. The branches grabbed his hair and dragged him towards the river. He cried out for Aragorn but the mist smothered his cries. What a way to die, he thought, felled by a tree! Who would care for his wife and little ones?
A great weariness came over him and he knew no more.
"Halbarad, wake up!"
Halbarad opened his eyes and found himself looking into the concerned face of his kinsman. He looked around and discovered he was lying amidst a tangle of willow branches half in and half out of the river. The mist had dissolved 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 go swimming and take a nap!"
"The tree! It attacked me. Have a care!" Halbarad gave a great shudder. He sat up and looked wildly around him.
"What tree?" Aragorn looked puzzled. "It seems you tripped over a root of a willow 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."
Halbarad gripped Aragorn's outstretched arm and rose unsteadily to his feet.
The two made their way to a sheltered clearing where they had made their camp the night before and had left their horses and packs. Halbarad leaned heavily upon Aragorn's arm. He still felt dazed and very cold.
Aragorn swiftly kindled a fire. He sat Halbarad beside it and helped him out of his sodden clothes, and wrapped him in blankets. The wet garments were arranged round the fire to dry. Aragorn carefully examined his kinsman for injuries, but could find only a few minor scrapes and bruises.
Halbarad was still pale and shaking. He remained silent as Aragorn tended him and applied salve to his injuries. 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. I was singing, but I heard you call out. The mist made you hard to find, but then the sun came out and a fresh breeze blew from the west, dissolving the fog. Did you fall down the bank?"
Halbarad shuddered violently. "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."
"When I found you, the tree roots were holding you above the water. Without them 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." He busied himself preparing the rabbit and placed it in a pan on the fire to cook. He then came to sit beside Halbarad. As the older Ranger was still shivering, Aragorn placed an arm around his shoulders and drew him close for warmth. "Maybe the tales concerning the Old Forest have truth in them. There are many Powers at work, of which we know little, said Aragorn.
"I shall be wary in future of the trees in this forest," said Halbarad.
They said little more until the meat was cooked. "Now let us eat," said Aragorn. "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 meat and a handful of hazelnuts to serve as dessert.
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? Halbarad took another mouthful of the tasty rabbit stew and felt the warmth seeping back into his limbs.
Down on the riverbank, the willows murmured in the breeze.