Aug 20 2013, 5:47am
The Witch of Angmar
LOTR Fan Fiction: The Witch of Angmar #4
Legacy of the Fellowship
Rose makes up her mind
Dawn broke gently over the Tower Hills, promising another warm day. Yet, in this small, peaceful corner of the Shire’s Westmarch, a terrible event cast a shadow over the early morning.
Rowan Fairbairn had been murdered- stabbed in his study – by a man.
The fact that one of the race of men had dared defy King Elessar’s decree and venture into the Shire was bad enough, but that he had broken into Rowan Fairbairn’s home and slain him, caused outrage, and more than a little fear, to ripple across the Tower Hills. According to Ruby Fairbairn, who had managed to recount the tale between heart-rending sobs, the intruder had forced his way in through the study window, stabbed her husband in the chest and stolen the Red Book. Their daughter Rose had tried to stop him, but the man had merely swept her aside. Ruby was fortunate not to have lost her daughter as well. The detail about the Red Book was discounted by nearly all who heard the tale, for the loss of an old book was nothing compared to the death of a hobbit that was loved by all.
Only Rose Fairbairn who knew what the theft of the Red Book meant.
Rose raised her head listlessly and gazed out of the kitchen window at the lightening sky. She had hardly noticed the night pass. She sat pressed up next to her mother, wrapped in a blanket in the kitchen of the Fairbairn’s hobbit hole. In the sitting room – just down the hall – lay her father’s cold, stiff body. They had laid him out on a chaise longue, and would dress him in his best clothes at first light so that mourners could visit.
Numb and hollow, Rose got stiffly to her feet and shrugged off the blanket, quietly so as not to wake her mother. Then, she shuffled over to the sink and filled the kettle. She lit the coal range and went through what was usually her mother’s morning routine, of putting on a big pot of water to boil. As she mechanically completed the chores, Rose glanced over at her mother. Even in repose, grief had etched deep lines in Ruby Fairbairn’s face. Her skin was pale and her eyes puffy from crying – Rose imagined she looked no better, herself.
Rose waited for the kettle to whistle, taking a seat at the scrubbed wooden table, as she did so. The events of the night before were still a horrific blur; it had not taken long before her mother’s screams had roused the neighbours. After that, the Fairbairn hobbit hole had been in chaos, with friends and neighbours rushing in, frantic to know what had happened. They had ushered Rose and her mother into the kitchen while some of the younger, male hobbits had gone out in search of the murderer.
They never found him.
Eventually, a couple of hours before dawn, the last of their neighbours had left Ruby and Rose alone to their grief, promising to return at breakfast. Rose knew they all meant well, but she found their fussing suffocating. Ruby, on the other hand, had not appeared to notice. She had cried all night, until sleep eventually took her. A cloak of grief shrouded Ruby, which made the rest of the world, even Rose, disappear.
The kettle on the hob began to whistle. Rose got to her feet, her movements wooden, and went to retrieve it. She brewed a pot of weak tea, of a calming herb that would soothe her nerves and clear her mind. Despite that the loss of her father was a raw, gaping wound, Rose needed to think. Soon, her mother would wake and the neighbours would be back. Mourners would fill their hobbit hole for the rest of the day, leaving Rose no time with her thoughts, or with her conscience.
‘Tis my fault papa’s dead, she thought dully. I should have come straight home, taken the book and brought it to Salrean immediately. If I had, papa would still be alive.
Even as she thought this, Rose knew that blaming herself was an empty, pointless exercise – for even if she had believed Salrean, they were not due to meet until tonight. Rose would most likely not have left until this morning, meaning that the man would have still broken into her father’s study and killed him.
Rose sipped her tea and felt anger churn in the pit of her stomach. First, she felt an irrational surge of rage towards Salrean; it was the female ranger who had brought this evil into her family’s life. Yet, moments later her anger shifted to the source of the evil itself – the intruder who had struck her father down in cold blood and the witch who had sent him.
They did not need to kill him, she seethed. They could have waited till he was asleep and broken in then – but they had to have it – and my father just happened to be in the way.
Finishing her tea, Rose left the kitchen and went to the study. Their neighbours had washed the blood off the flagstones but the room still reeked of death. Breathing shallowly and quickly, as a fresh wave of grief hit her, Rose sat at her father’s desk and dashed away the tears that flowed down her cheeks.
“I’ll get it back papa,” she murmured, “and I’ll make them pay.”
She took a piece of paper and her father’s quill, hesitating a moment before she dipped it into the inkwell. Then she wrote a brief message to her mother.
Please do not worry when you read this. I am well and will keep safe. However, I cannot let papa’s death go unpunished. I am going away to find some answers, and when I have them I shall be back. Your loving daughter, Rose.
It was a brief missive, and would likely send Ruby Fairbairn into hysterics, yet Rose consoled herself that it was better than no note at all. She could not leave without giving her mother some explanation.
Before leaving the study, Rose gently took Sting down from the wall. Then, she went to her mother’s room and left the note under her pillow. Ruby would not find it until that evening at the earliest, giving Rose time to get a head-start.
Next, Rose packed a satchel with essentials from the kitchen and her bedroom. She moved stealthily around her home, careful now not to wake her mother. If she did, she would never get away. Once she had packed her satchel, and wrapped Sting up in her cloak, Rose knew she should leave. Yet she had one last thing to do. She had to say good-bye to her father.
Rowan Fairbairn lay cold and still on the chaise longue. Someone had covered him with a sheet and Rose peeled it back so that she could take one last look at her father’s gentle face. His features were harder in death than in life, as if it was his expression that made him appear a kind man, despite his rough features. Death had given him an austere, stern appearance.
“Goodbye papa,” Rose whispered, before bending down and kissing his cold forehead. “I should have been able to save you. I’m sorry I failed – but I won’t do so again.”
With that, her vision blinded by tears, Rose slipped from her family’s hobbit hole and into the rosy dawn. She collected Pepper the pony, saddled him and tied her cloak, with Sting hidden inside, behind the saddle. Then, slinging the satchel across her front, she sprang up onto Pepper’s back and urged him into a brisk trot down the hill.
By the time, the Fairbairn’s neighbours emerged, bleary eyed and gaunt with grief, from their hobbit holes, Rose Fairbairn had left the Tower Hills behind.
It was lunch-time in the Green Dragon and Peri was pouring jugs of ale behind the bar when he saw Rose enter the inn. His gaze rested on her face and, immediately, he knew something was wrong.
Her eyes were hollowed, her face ashen and strained. Pausing in the threshold, Rose swept her gaze around the room, filled as usual with hobbits eating, drinking and singing, before it settled upon Peri. Her expression hardened then and she marched across to the bar, elbowing aside anyone unfortunate enough to block her path.
“Good day Rose,” Peri began when she approached the bar, “and what brings you back to Hobbiton so soon?”
“I need to speak to you,” Rose ducked behind the bar and grabbed Peri by the arm. “Come with me!”
“But I can’t leave the bar.”
“You leave it when it suits you!” Rose’s face grew pink and her eyes filled with tears. Peri was shocked – he had never seen Rose cry before. “Something terrible has happened Peri. Have you not heard?” Rose voice caught. “I need your help.”
Rose and Peri sat in one of the empty bedrooms at the back of the Green Dragon. Rose had just finished recounting the events of the night before and Peri found he could not speak. He did not know Rose’s father well; Rowan Fairbairn had always glared at him whenever they had met, but he could not believe he was dead. Yet, it was the circumstances of Rowan’s death that had struck Peri dumb.
Salrean had spoken the truth.
The Red Book was valuable. Enough to steal; enough to kill for.
Peri felt a chill seep through him as he gazed back at Rose’s anguished face. Upon describing her father’s murder, she had begun crying again. Yet, she did not cry like most females. Tears streamed down her cheeks but her eyes glittered with determination and her face was composed; she looked beautiful.
“What will you do?” he managed eventually, although the words came out in a croak.
“I will find who killed my father and make them pay,” Rose said calmly, with a very un-hobbit-like gleam in her eye. “I shall make them regret ever setting foot in the Shire.”
“Very well,” Peri gulped, sensing what was coming next and wishing he could side-step it. “So you will meet Salrean tonight?” Rose nodded her expression steely. “I will.”
Silence stretched between them then as Rose’s gaze settled on Peri. He could see the intensity in her eyes and knew what she was about to ask him.
“No,” he said finally. “I don’t want to go off on some mad quest with a ranger of the North. I like my life here. I like going fishing, serving a few ales here and doing as I please. I understand why you want vengeance for your father but I think you’re taking it too far Rose. If you do this, your mother will end up losing you as well. How will that help anyone?”
“Come with me Peri,” Rose replied, her large hazel eyes pleading. “If I have to do this on my own, I will – but I have a far greater chance of coming back if I have you with me.”
“What?” Peri laughed, both flattered and alarmed by her words. “You’d survive out in the wild better than me.”
Rose shook her head. “You’re the most adventurous hobbit I know. You pretend not to care but in reality you miss nothing. You’re clever, resourceful and brave. I need your help, Peri. Please come with me.”
Peri stared back at her, another refusal on the tip of his tongue. He was no fool – he knew Rose was flattering him. Yet, he could see the hope on her open, honest face and suddenly he could not refuse her. Against his better judgement he nodded.
“Very well, Fair Rose, I will join you,” he agreed grudgingly. “However, you may well live to regret this decision. I’ve told you before, the world beyond the Shire is a harsh, cruel place. You saw what men are capable of last night – their world is ruled by greed for power. ‘Tis no place for hobbits.”
End of Part #4