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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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30
30: Mushrooms and Vengeance

Again, this chapter contains sexual innuendo.


~~~

30: Mushrooms and Vengeance


Wasnior looked up as Angrapain reentered the house, his usually sanguine expression one of fury. “What is it?”

Angrapain only glared at him.

“I take it that the plan to learn from the Perian did not go well.”

Angrapain growled, “Many years I have studied the hearts of Men, and always one can snare them through the beauty of a woman or youth--or even another Man. But when I see the look of hunger on the face of the Perian Frodo Baggins--does he think of the one to raise his heart and delight his body and soul? Ah, but no! No, not for him the love of the body. No, he is too fine for that. No, for him it is the love of the stomach!”

“Love of the stomach? But he barely can eat!”

Angrapain’s look was stony. “He may barely be able to eat, my Lord Wasnior, but that does not mean he is unresponsive to food. Does he dream of the light of Anor reflected back from the hair of the one who stands by him? Or the light of Ithil caught in the eyes of a woman who enthralls him? Oh, not he! No, instead he dreams of--mushrooms!”

“Mushrooms?” Wasnior felt totally out of his depth. “He dreams of mushrooms?”

“Not only does he dream of mushrooms, but the King approves and is relieved!”

“The King was there?”

“He and other lords came down from the Citadel to practice at swords. They paused to hear our talk.”

“And he is not tempted by his companions?”

“He said that he had as much desire for a fish as for the Ernil i Pheriannath. What is more, that one is not a prince among their people, apparently. Precisely what authority he might bear among his own people when he comes into his office I know not.”

“But he is heir to an office?”

“Yes, apparently the office of the Thain. However, I was not told what this means, save that he may direct but not command.”

Beslor, who sat nearby, his usual cup of mead at hand, suggested, “Perhaps, as long as the King has come down through the circle to practice at swords, we might go and watch and gauge what kind of swordsman he is.”

Leaving Belladon to keep an eye on the disgruntled Angrapain, Wasnior, Dorath, and Beslor headed for the North end of the Circle to the barracks area. They worked their way through the complex to the practice grounds, and found the King sitting on a bench watching the practice of Éomer King and a slender youth, both in practice garb and wearing helms. The two were beyond practicing forms and were definitely sparring in earnest. Éomer had the advantage in height and reach; but the youth was a more than canny opponent, constantly managing to slip inside his guard and keeping the Rohirric King on the defensive. Finally Éomer managed to disarm the other, evoking an unusually high-pitched cry of frustration. Both removed their helms, and those from Umbar were amazed to see that the youth was actually the Lady Éowyn, her jaw set as she removed her glove and rubbed her wrist.

“Excellently done, my Lady,” called the King as Éomer retrieved her sword, “particularly as this is the first chance you’ve had to lift a weapon since the Battle of the Pelennor. Come here, though, and let me ease that and assure myself that you have not injured yourself anew.”

As Lord Faramir stood to face Lord Hardorn, the sons of Elrond entered the practice area together. One of the twins examined the King’s practice garb with interest. “And so, Estel,” he commented, “where did those come from? They fit you well enough.”

Aragorn looked up from his examination of the Princess’s wrist. “Belveramir was certain he knew where was stored gear I could fit. It appears that Lord Steward Ecthelion had a certain officer’s gear brought to him and caused it to be stored in case that one should ever return. After his father’s death, Lord Denethor ordered it was to be burned; but Belveramir quietly removed the contents of the chests to others and replaced it with older gear discarded by the barracks of the Citadel Guardsmen, and burned that in sight of Denethor instead.”

“Not many among Men have ever been as tall as you, Estel, not since Arvedui himself, although Adar has told us that Elendil was taller than many among Elf-kind.”

“Obviously I am not as tall as was he.”

“Shall you take a turn with me and I shall see how well you remember your lessons regarding fighting with knives?”

“If you so desire.” He completed his evaluation of the Lady Éowyn’s wrist. “This does well, my Lady. And you remain yet a formidable opponent.”

The two of them looked into one another’s eyes, and suddenly hers softened. “Thank you, my Lord Aragorn. That is high praise indeed, coming from such as you.”

“Ah, but it is likely you will see me now soundly drubbed, for seldom have I ever been able to best my brothers, who after all have had almost three thousand years to hone their skill.”

All turned their attention to the match between the new Steward and Lord Hardorn. It was not as furious as had been that between Éomer and his sister, and was comprised by much careful circling and watching of one another’s eyes and hands; but when one sword touched the other both were shown skillful and able, and the exchange of blows could be quite rapid and then as rapidly stopped again. The final exchange was as swift as had been its predecessors. Faramir’s eyes were alight with the pleasure of practicing against a worthy opponent, while Lord Hardorn’s were narrowed in concentration. Suddenly it was over, and both swords were lost.

The other of the dark-haired Elves, whose attention had been fixed throughout on the match, straightened. “Well done, the both of you,” he called. “Very well done indeed. My Lord Faramir, I salute you, for I know few save our brother here can easily equal or best Hardorn.”

“You have not the weight behind your blows your brother had,” commented the King, “but it is easy enough to see from whence came your skill. He taught you the handling of a blade?”

“Not all. The swordmaster when we were both young was Gilarion, who had studied much under the tutelage of the Lord Captain Thorongil. Our father insisted he teach us, for he said he wished us to learn from the best available.” Lord Hardorn had scooped both swords from the ground and given each a swift examination before offering Lord Faramir’s weapon to him hilt first. “But I will admit that my primary partner when we were younger was my brother.” His expression was somewhat solemn.

“Did you ever practice with your father?”

“A few times. He was excellent with a blade, but gave up practicing against me when I learned to take advantage of the fact that there was one move he preferred and tended to overuse.”

The King’s lip twitched as he watched Faramir check his blade, then sheathed it. “I see. Those whose actions are too predictable are more easily opposed at times.” He rose and unhooked the sword from his belt, handing it into the keeping of the other dark-haired Elf. “If you will watch over Anduril, Elrohir, until Elladan has managed to disarm me.”

“Do not take it for granted that this will be true, youngling, or you defeat yourself before you are begun.” The Elf’s eyes were severe.

Aragorn shrugged and went forward. He drew the dagger given to him a few days previously by Éomer, and after sharing a bow with Elladan they began to circle.

All watched in fascination. Both Man and Elf were obviously well matched, and both appeared as able to fight with either hand. Shifting of blade from one hand to the other was frequent and tended to be sudden. The final flurry was quick and difficult to follow, but suddenly the Elf was disarmed. Aragorn straightened and drew back. “You were overconfident, muindor nín.”

Elladan laughed with pleasure. “Excellently done, Aragorn.” The King retrieved the Elf’s knife and checked it, then returned it; then checked his own blade. Then as he turned to retrieve his sword Elrohir pulled it away. The Man’s eyes widened in question.

Elrohir’s expression was steady. “You failed to meet the specified conditions.”

Aragorn’s eyes narrowed, then he pulled out his knife and held it out to Elladan. “Take this, please.” Once Elladan had accepted it, his own eyes amused, Aragorn turned again to the other twin. “Now--he has disarmed me.” He held his hand, and Elrohir surrendered the sheath to him. He then turned back to Elladan and accepted the dagger once more. “I advise,” he commented to no one in particular, “that all be careful what they speak to Elves, as sometimes they choose to be so literal in interpreting what is said to them.”

All laughed.

The three Umbarians looked to one another, rose and quietly slipped away. Once they were on the main way of the Circle they exchanged looks. Beslor shook his head. “Never,” he said quietly, “have I seen such skill with a knife in my life.”

The other two nodded their agreement, then returned to their house.

Angrapain was still sullen when they returned. Dorath looked at him, then at Belladon. “He’s been like this the whole time?”

“Yes, and has been drinking steadily. He feels cheated.” Angrapain ignored the others, taking another swallow from his cup. Belladon sighed. “How was the sparring?”

“Alarming,” Dorath answered. “Apparently the Lord Aragorn Elessar is Elven trained, and showed marked skill with daggers.”

“They are all superb with blades,” Wasnior admitted sourly, “including the Lady Éowyn of Rohan.”

Belladon’s eyes widened. “A woman is a master with a blade?”

“Yes,” Beslor affirmed.

“I see.” After a moment’s thought, Belladon rose. “I am going down to the Dimmed Star in the Fifth Circle to purchase more mead. I am pleased any here brew it, and that which they provide is excellent.” And in moments he was on his way.

The others went to the kitchen to speak with their servants about the evening meal, leaving Angrapain alone in the day room, contemplating his now empty beaker. The Man seethed with quiet fury, for he felt worse than cheated--he felt shamed.

He’d been--initiated--at the age of thirteen, and by his uncle, his mother’s brother. He’d later killed the Man, and gladly; but he’d learned that men and women could be easily led by their desires, and he’d gone on to make a study of the subject, making himself extraordinarily useful to various individuals within Umbar. Certainly Sauron had found his services satisfactory in bringing various individuals into situations where their reluctance to allow the powerful fathers and brothers of their wives to become aware of certain--details--had made them extraordinarily willing to do things which ordinarily they would have refused to do.

Angrapain found a good deal of satisfaction in leading others to corruption, or in goading them to reveal details which they would have preferred to keep private. The Perian Frodo Baggins was close to the King. There was a strong sense of protectiveness in the attitude toward the small one shown by the King; and in Angrapain’s experience there were only a few reasons for such an attitude, the primary one being physical closeness. He had determined in his own heart that this was the situation between the two of them. However, he noted a sense of reticence and what he interpreted as ambivalence in the Perian which reminded him strongly of his own feelings toward his late uncle--strongly enjoying the physical sensations of such intimacy combined with hatred of the one who had corrupted him.

If he could only convince the Perian to admit the relationship he was certain was there, then he could share that information with those who were in positions to exploit that situation to the benefit of Umbar--and, of course, themselves and himself. That had been his intent in approaching Frodo Baggins as the Perian took his regular exercise that day; but instead of him leading the Perian to reveal his secret desires, instead he’d revealed his own.

For he found both the one called Frodo and the one entitled the Ernil i Pheriannath both very attractive; Frodo not only due to his physical beauty and the sense of vulnerability to him, but also due to the assumed relationship with the new King of Gondor; the other due to both his obvious youth and innocence as well as the title and the power which he’d assumed went with it. For Angrapain of Umbar, power was indeed an attribute he found--attractive.

He was now certain that the Perian had seen his own desires and had rejected him. Angrapain of Umbar was not one who accepted rejection easily. And to learn that he’d apparently misread true hunger as the hunger he found within himself was most galling.

Angrapain of Umbar, when he’d imbibed more than was good for him, did not react as do most to strong drink. He did not become maudlin. He did not stumble when he rose to walk. He did not slur his speech markedly, or repeat himself excessively. He did not become sleepy; nor did he become openly belligerent or irrational in his speech and actions.

Instead, Angrapain of Umbar became frighteningly singleminded. The repetition he did not speak occurred instead within his brain, and he would rehearse the perceived wrong toward himself over and over and over again in his thoughts until it had become a towering inferno of insult; and then he would plot revenge and go out to carry out that vengeance. So it had been when he finally killed his uncle; so it was now. The Perian had wronged him, forcing him to reveal his own desires; the Perian had deceived him with his attitudes; the Perian had shamed him before the new Lord King Aragorn Elessar himself. The Perian, therefore, must pay. The Perian would pay--Angrapain would see to it.

He went to the bedroom that he’d not yet been able to share with any other; he opened the small chest in which his clothes had been brought into the city; he withdrew a thin knife that he favored and slid it into his boot. Then, very quietly, he slipped out of the house to lie in wait for the Perian. The Perian would undoubtedly return to the low wall where they’d met before in his walks; he’d wait there. It was the proper place for his vengeance, after all, the site of his embarrassment.

The others had heard him go up the stairs to the sleeping rooms on the upper floor and enter his room. They did not hear him creep down the stairs, or the door open and close quietly.

The Guardsmen on duty noted this one leaving the house, but as their orders were not to interfere unless he tried to leave this level, they allowed him to go on his way.

*******


Frodo rested for a time and accepted a light meal prepared for him by Mistress Loren, then determined to go back to the empty house to get some of the mushrooms he’d seen growing there. He went into the kitchen and obtained a light metal bowl, paused at the hall tree to don his cloak from Lorien, and then went out, and at the top of the lane turned northwards.

The low wall was no deterrent to his goal, and soon he was kneeling in the area where the mushrooms grew in such abundance, and began to gather them. He’d not take all of them, for he wanted some at least to continue to propagate. He had half filled the bowl when he heard someone approaching from behind. He turned and realized that the Umbari who’d spoken with him earlier was once again almost upon him, and he rose hastily, turning to face him.

Frodo was annoyed, for he certainly didn’t wish to indulge in such conversation as this one seemed to find enjoyable. After all, his sole intent was to obtain mushrooms for dinner, not to air what attractions others might hold for himself, much less what this Man found--interesting. “You wished to speak to me, sir?” he asked, making it clear from his tone of voice that whatever the Man desired, he didn’t wish to waste his own time in pointless conversation on improper subjects.

“I thought I might find you here,” said Angrapain quietly.

“And so you have.”

“You shamed me earlier.”

“Shamed you? How did I shame you? It appeared to me that you were doing well at accomplishing that for yourself.”

“You would not see how I was drawn to you.”

“You--drawn to me?” Frodo looked at the Man with shock. “Drawn to me? I was supposed to see such a thing?” He took a step backward.

Angrapain immediately stepped forward, a long pace which brought him even closer than he’d been before. Frodo realized he could not afford to retreat further, as it would only draw the Man on.

Angrapain said quietly, “You are very beautiful, you know--slender and delicate. It would be a pleasure to show you the delights of the body----”

Frodo realized the Man was drunk in spite of his sober bearing. He would never say things such as this were he not. He looked up at the Man and wondered if he could handle the situation. He didn’t have Sting with him--never thought he could need it within Minas Tirith itself. But, then, having Sting was not likely to have allowed him much of an advantage anyway, for he’d not had the nature that made learning to wield a sword properly easy or desirable. In fact, he’d not managed to do a great deal of good with blades during his journeys, save in the barrow when he’d saved the others from the wight, and apparently in cutting Shelob’s web.

However, Frodo did have one weapon which he’d not used during the quest, although he’d been tempted when facing the unknown Man who’d attached himself to their party in Bree. Long ago, a few years after he’d gone to live with Bilbo in Hobbiton, he’d ended up spending much of one summer in Brandy Hall again, keeping Merry company. Merry had fallen from a ladder which he’d climbed to aid Uncle Dinodas in replacing a shutter blown down in a storm, and he’d broken his leg. He’d been bedfast for several weeks, and it appeared only Frodo’s presence served to keep him reluctantly lying down while the break knitted.

Uncle Saradoc had taken on several tweens that year to help with the farm, including Tolman Smallburrow. Tolman Smallburrow had been uncommonly large for a Hobbit, and had taken a marked delight in tormenting those smaller than himself. Finally Frodo had begged his cousin Merimac to teach him some means of defense, and the older Hobbit had agreed. Using the scarecrow from the grainfield as a target, Merimac had taught Frodo how to use his fists properly. Frodo became very good at it very quickly--so good at it that Merimac had become concerned that his younger cousin might seriously hurt someone if he weren’t careful. As a result Mac had made Frodo swear he would never strike anyone unless it were truly necessary to protect himself or someone else. Having made that promise, Frodo had kept it faithfully. Never, so far, had he ever needed to use more than one blow. Well, he realized, here he just might need to use two.

Angrapain took another step forward, and Frodo readied himself. “You are, you realize, very beautiful, my Lord Frodo Baggins....”

The first blow took the Man in the midriff, and he bent over in the shock of pain he felt. The second caught him on the point of the chin, and he fell like a polled ox.

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