The Owl Screamed

The Owl Screamed

B2MeM Prompt:.G54 Blind Guardian Lyrics- Dammed shall thy house be, Story Elements. Waiting
Format: short story
Genre: drama, friendship, humour
Warnings:alcohol consumption
Characters:Aragorn,Faramir, Denethor, OMCS,OFC
Pairings:Aragorn/Arwen, Faramir/Éowyn.
Creators notes: With grateful thanks to my friends on LJ, especially elenbarathiand just_jenni  and Bella.

Aragorn's men also feature in “Voice in the night” I do not see Aragorn and Faramir as habitual heavy drinkers nor approve of overindulgence, but I felt Faramir's question would not have been asked if he were not a little tipsy. I have never encountered a fortune teller but both my Mother and my Aunt had weirdly accurate encounters with one.
Summary: A night at an inn leads to an unsettling encounter.

I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. - Macbeth . Shakespeare

The two scouting groups met at the crossroads as had been previously arranged. Thorongil saluted the Captain General.

“You are late, Captain,” said Denethor coldly.

Thorongil glanced up at the sun. “We agreed to meet at sunset and the sun has not yet sunk below the horizon.”

Denethor snorted. Before he could say anything else, they heard the sound of galloping hooves. A despatch rider rode towards them and handed each captain a sealed missive. Denethor quickly tore open the letter and scowled. “The Lord Steward informs us that the supply wagons are stuck in the mud and we will have to wait for the rest of the men and supplies to arrive before we can proceed with our mission.”

Thorongil broke the seal of his letter almost reverently. It too was a message from the Steward saying much the same as Denethor's message with the addition. “I suggest that you and my son take your men to an inn while you are waiting. There is one I recall from my youth in the vicinity called The White Tree. Do not let the men overindulge, but permit them to rest and refresh themselves.” He folded the missive and said loudly.”The Lord Steward orders us to wait at a nearby inn, The White Tree.

Ulfast, a veteran of Thorongil's company, chuckled. “I thought this campaign against the Easterlings had got off to a bad start, but it seems our fortunes are improving.”

“I would have suggested we make camp in yonder field,” said Denethor. “The men will get soft if coddled.”

Thorongil offered Denethor his letter. “It is the Lord Steward's orders.”

Denethor waved the letter away. “The inn is about a league yonder. Quick march!”

They soon arrived at their destination, a weathered stone building situated at another crossroads. A faded sign hung above the doorway. It was dusk and the crickets chirped in the hedgerows. An owl screamed from a nearby tree. A few of the younger men shudered.

"My Grandmother says an owl screeching when you enter a house is bad luck", said Ragnor, Thorongil's recently promoted young lieutenant.

"I expect it is calling to the other owls to warn them of nearby predators," said Thorongil." Or maybe it is a love song to another owl. Now let us get inside before dark in case the innkeeper bars the doors."

“Be sure your conduct is a credit to Gondor!” said Denethor sternly as they entered.

They found themselves in a dimly lit room with a low ceiling. Groups of men sat at the tables. In a corner by the fireplace, sat a wizened old crone. Several men surrounded her. As they watched, one turned away from her smiling. “I'm going to be rich!” he said.

Just then the innkeeper came to greet them. He was a well-built man of middle years.

“We require food and shelter for ourselves and our men, good sir,” said Thorongil.

The innkeeper regarded them thoughtfully and counted them on his fingers. “That can be arranged, though it will mean four to a bed,” he said. “We can make a right good stew for your supper, but you'll have to wait awhile. The farmers who just came in finished the last of what I had made. I have good ale ready for you to drink.”

Denethor glared. “I desire a room to myself.”

"I am sorry, sir,we simply don't have enough rooms," said the innkeeper. “maybe you officers could share?”

I shall stay here by the hearth for the night.” Denethor snapped.

“I am happy to share with my men,” said Thorongil. “We are hungry but we can wait.”

The men muttered amongst themselves, obviously not happy.

“I fear we are busy tonight, “ said the innkeeper. “You could always enjoy my ale and ask my Grandmother to tell your fortunes while you're a -waiting. A right gift for it she has. Folk come from miles around to hear her.”

Denethor snorted. “Superstitious nonsense!”

“I'd like my fortune told,” said Ragnor.

“Go then,” said Thorongil. “I hope she forecasts riches for you too.”

Ragnor went to join the group around the old woman and returned a few minutes later.

“What did she tell you?” asked Turgon, another of Thorongil's men.

Ragnor looked thoughtful. “She said the soldier's life wasn't my destiny, but I like being a soldier. Then she said I would die in my bed surrounded by my great-grandchildren. That is a comforting prophecy, I suppose, though I'm not yet wed, though I hope soon to be!”

“It's all nonsense,” said Ulfast. “Still, I'll take my turn.”

He returned a few minutes later, beaming. “I'm going to be promoted and become rich!”

“That will be the day!” said Turgon.

One of Denethor's men was next to have their fortune told and the time passed quickly as each man shared promises of good fortune to come and downed their tankards of ale. Soon only Denethor, Turgon and Thorongil had not had their fortunes told.

“I'm sure the good lady will foresee great things for you, Captain,” said Ragnor. “Why don't you ask her to read your palm?”

Several of the men joined in ."Go on, Captain, let her see your fortune!”

Thorongil laughed somewhat ruefully. “It seems I will have no peace until I do.” He made his way to where the old lady sat. Now, he was close to her he could see her clouded eyes and realised that she was blind. She looked to be about a hundred years old and her face, though withered, had finely carved features. She must once have been beautiful. Aragorn suspected she was of Númenorean lineage.

“Give me your hand, young man, that I may read your palm,” said the old dame.

Thorongil gently took her hand. She looked so fragile he feared he could crush her delicate bones. Her wizened hand was surprisingly warm as she traced the lines on Thorongil's palm. “You are different from the others,” she said after a long pause. “Your road will be long and hard and would destroy a lesser man. I see a fair maiden in your future and you shall gain your heart's desire .You shall also succour the seed of your enemy foolish though it may seem. The Valar smile on you, though you may not always think it.”

“I thank you, good mistress,” said Thorongil, pressing a coin into her palm. “May good fortune smile on you too.”

“What did she say?” asked Ragnor when a smiling Thorongil rejoined the group.

Thorongil replied. “That I would gain my heart's desire, which could mean many things.”

“Who's not had a turn?” asked Ragnor.

All eyes turned towards Turgon and Denethor.

“I don't want to know my fortune,” said Turgon. “It is all nonsense and what if she predicts I'll be killed in the coming battle?”

“That makes no sense,” said Ragnor. “You think it is nonsense yet fear what she might say?”

“We are soldiers who know we could fall in battle at any time, but the Captain has led us well so far, “ said Ulfast. None but a coward would fear an old woman's words!”

The other men murmured agreement.

“Very well,” snapped Turgon. “I'll show you I'm no coward!” He stormed over to the chimney nook where the old woman sat. A few minutes later he returned looking pale and shaken.

“What did she tell you?” asked Ulfast. “You look like death warmed up! Are you destined to fall in battle according to the crone?”

“ A far worse fate lies in store for me. She said I am to be wed soon,” Turgon said with a groan.

“Surely those are good tidings then,” said Ragnor.

“My mother desires me to wed the blacksmith's daughter and her face is like like of a horse while her tongue is sharper than my sword! For some reason, my mother likes the girl. I'd rather fall in battle than wed her!”

The soldiers burst out laughing.

“You must take care to find a maid to wed more to your liking then,” said Thorongil.

“You haven't met my mother!” He turned to his comrades.”You got your wish at my expense. We have all had our fortunes told,” said Turgon.

“One here hasn't,” said Ragnor.

Thorongil silenced him with a wave of the hand a sharp look but Denethor had noticed.

The old woman called out, “Who fears to hear what fate is in store?”

Scowling, he strode over to the fireplace and demanded that the old woman tell his fortune.

The boldest of the men moved a little closer but they had no need to do so as the old lady shuddered as she took Denethor's hand in her own. “The owl's screech portended your coming!” she said is a surprisingly loud clear voice. “ Dammed shall thy house be! It will fall to utter ruin unless the one that you hate saves a seed to replant.”

Denethor snatched his hand away. His features were contorted with rage. “How dare you insult the Captain-General, crone? Your words are treason!”

Thorongil hurried over. “She is blind, Captain General. There is no way she could know who you are.”

The innkeeper rushed to his grandmother's side. “Have mercy, sir!” he begged. “She is but an old woman somewhat addled in her wits. She means no harm.”

“I suggest you take her to her room,” said Thorongil. “Let her rest away from us men.”

“Keep her out of my sight,” said Denethor coldly."I will not tolerate such behaviour."

“Come, Grandmother, it is time you went to bed,” said the innkeeper, taking the old woman's arm.

“I am not tired!” she protested. “I tell the fates I foresee and my wits have never been sharper!”

Everyone except Denethor let out a sigh of relief as the innkeeper led the still protesting old woman away, leaning heavily on his arm.

A serving maid approached the soldiers. “Sirs, your food is ready if you will come into the parlour,” she said.

The soldiers followed her and their talk turned to other matters as they enjoyed a hearty meal.

Many years later.

King and Steward lolled side by side on the couch in Aragorn's study. On the table in front of them stood an empty bottle of wine and two nearly empty glasses.

Aragorn yawned. “This wine Tahir gave us was stronger than I expected.”

“I will have a headache tomorrow,” Faramir groaned.

“As will I, I must mix us some herbs ere we retire. At least we passed a pleasant evening.I so miss Arwen and the children when we are not together. Still, some country air after a winter caged by walls of stone will benefit her.”

“I miss Éowyn too,” said Faramir morosely. “She is happier staying with her horses though.”

“We shall join them soon when the Council session is over,” said Aragorn. “Until then we must be patient. As King and Steward we always have many duties to occupy us. There must be times when you wish I had told you to retire to Ithilien!”

Never!” said Faramir.

Praise the Vaar for that as I have no idea how I would fare without your counsel. Badly, I supect.” The King clapped his friend's shoulder.

The two lapsed into silence for a while then Faramir said suddenly. “Why did you save me?”

“I have never regretted doing so, as I have come to love you as dearly as a son,” said Aragorn looking somewhat surprised by the question. “You know that.”

“But why?” Faramir persisted, taking another drink from his glass. “I could have caused you a great deal of trouble, as my father did.” His words slurred slightly.

Aragorn closed his eyes and remained silent for a few moments, lost in past memories. At last he spoke. “I knew you might resist my claim for the crown,” he said at last. “It would have been all too easy to let you die. I knew though, it was right to try and save you. Gandalf thought very highly of you and I always trusted his judgement. Also, I had dreamed of you handing me the White Rod. Then there was the fortune teller too.”

Faramir laughed. “Fortune Teller! We have both enjoyed this wine overmuch.”

“It is true,” said Aragorn. “I rarely recall the incident but your question brought it back to me. An old woman once told me I would find my heart's desire if I helped the seed of my enemy then told your father his house was cursed unless the one he hated spared his seed. It seemed like nonsense at the time.”

Faramir gasped.”Father would be furious!” He exclaimed then yawned loudly.

“It is a long story,” said the King. “I will tell it you in full one day, when you are less wine fuddled. It is time we were abed. We have a meeting on the morrow.”

Faramir stumbled rather unsteadily to his feet and the King lent him a supporting arm. The King's mind wandered back to that long ago night at the inn and the men he had served with. Were any of them still alive? And the old woman. How had she known his and Denethor's destinies? Maybe she had the Númenorean gift of foresight to an unusual degree? He had never thought her wits addled. Her grandson had surely said that to save her from the Captain General's wrath. Denethor must have indeed felt cursed by the end with all the misfortunes that had beset his house. He looked fondly at Faramir. This seed of the House of Hurin had flourished and blossomed, the finest of his line.

A/N This is a slightly revised version of a story written for the BTMEM challenge back in 2019.

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