Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings, any of the associated Characters, or the SCA, and no profit is being made from the publication of this fic.

Sumary: See Previous Chapters


CHAPTER NINTEEN

Suzi-Maria might not be the smartest person ever, but she could see the obvious, and was looking forward to getting Mairi alone long enough for a few remarks about making changes to the storyline.

That would have to wait, though. The more seriously wounded were seen to by healers, while those less injured (ie. not requiring stitches, bone-setting or specialist knowledge) were seen to by the women, most of whom had raised enough children to have a basic knowledge of patching up minor injuries.

Mairi, to Suzi-Maria's amusement, was busier than most, trying to bandage the arm of a young boy who was far more interested in relating his exploits to anyone who would listen than in sitting still. On top of that, she was stuck attempting to answer questions from women who had found themselves with nothing truly pressing to do and wanted to know more about the tactics that had allowed an untrained force to hold off a horde of creatures bred to kill. As unobtrusively as she could (not very), Suzi-Maria caught the attention of a young woman who she vaguely recognised as having been one of the spear women. "Why are you all so curious?"

The young woman shrugged. "A number of reasons, really. First, too many of us have died, or seen loved ones die, because of a raid where we fought individually against a superior number. Second, this attack proves that The Enemy is preparing for a major strike. If we know enough to defend our homes, that frees our husbands and brothers to take the battle to Him, rather than staying in our villages to protect us."

Suzi-Maria blinked, not having thought of that, and added another fact to her list of remarks to throw at Mairi. She didn't get the chance to respond as another woman chimed in. "After all this, my eldest daughter has her heart set on becoming a Shieldmaiden. I want to know enough to give her the best chance of surviving a battle."

Eowyn arrived just in time to hear that, and looked very pleased. "I would be honoured to teach her. Much of the written history of Shieldmaidens and the old alliances was 'confiscated' by Wormtongue during the King's... ah... Illness, so the background of Shieldmaidens might be a bit vague, but we can work on that."

Boromir, Rowan and Sam had come searching for them, too. "Gondor has accounts of the Shieldmaidens of Rohan, though doubtless not as complete as your own. I am sure that copies could be made and gifted to your House."

The conversation had caught Mairi's attention, and she finally finished with the youth and stood up. Boromir gave her a warm smile. "Aragorn says that we will continue to Isengard to find the Hobbits. We leave in an hour."

Rowan chipped in. "I already packed for you, though I wonder why you had sewn the linen kerchiefs together into a pad like that."

Mairi sent him a flat look, while the Rohirrim women tried not to look at the young man. "Unless you've developed a sudden interest in female biology and it's less pleasant aspects, you don't want to know."

It was interesting to see a man try to blush and turn green at the same time. Suzi-Maria and Mairi exchanged amused looks. "We'll meet you at the stables.


Fangorn was not any more welcoming on the second visit, especially after witnessing what the Hurons had done to the remnants of Saruman's army. Thankfully, everyone was considerate enough to pretend not to notice if everyone else was unusually jumpy.

Mairi stuck close to Boromir, hoping that no-one would remark on it. Rowan and Suzi-Maria had too much self preservation, and Sam wasn't that observant. Others might tease Boromir about it in private, but had too much concern for a lady's reputation to say anything in public.

That was one of the best things about the SCA and Middle-Earth, as far as Mairi was concerned; men kept crude or impolite remarks to themselves unless they knew that the people around them wouldn't be offended by a dirty joke - or if Mairi's household were trying to see who could make her blush the hardest, which Mairi knew was in good fun and would stop if she actually minded.

(As it was, such competitions usually ended with Mairi waiting for an opening and injecting a straight-faced remark of her own, which tended to make people stop, stare in shock that polite and proper Mairi had actually said that, and burst out laughing because she ruined the delivery by blushing crimson.)

Unlike most of the Mundane world, it was possible to walk around a SCA event without hearing catcalls, and a compliment was actually a compliment, rather than a suggestive remark that someone was stupid enough to consider flattering. The costuming collective even had a running joke that hen people were staring at your chest, most of the time they were admiring the embroidery or other detail, or trying to mentally pattern out the adjustments needed to make it their next project.


On the bright side, it only took a few hours to reach Isengard, where Merry and Pippin were seated, eating and smoking. Not for the first time, Mairi wondered exactly what was in pipe weed, as both Hobbits were sounding suspiciously like her cousin when she had been high on painkillers after giving birth. "Welcome, my lords, to Isengard!"

Gimli was not so cheerful, as all of the Fellowship had been worried out of their minds about the Hobbits. "You young rascals! A merry chase you've led us on, and now we find you drinking and...and feasting!"

Mairi was a bit more tactful as she squeezed Boromir's hand. "I'm glad to see that you're both safe."

Boromir nodded, the traces of guilt that he still carried from his failure to protect the two at Amon Hen visibly easing. "Very much so."

Pippin nodded cheerfully. "We are unhurt, and sitting on a field of victory enjoying a few well-earned comforts. The salted pork is particularly good."

Rowan rolled his eyes. "Just wait until you hear the time we've had of it.

Gandalf merely shook his head, speaking volumes in a single word. "Hobbits."

Merry didn't look offended. "We're under orders from Treebeard, who's taken over management of Isengard."

Suzi-Maria grinned as Sam raised an eyebrow. "I bet Saruman is less than pleased about that."

Sam looked at her. "Was that sarcasm or stating the obvious?"

Suzi-Maria returned an annoyed look. "Never mind." she held a hand down to Merry. "Jump up and let's get this over with."

Gandalf sent the younger woman a somewhat more impressive irritated scowl as Aragorn hauled Pippin onto Brego. "Be careful. Even in defeat, Saruman is dangerous."


As the only one present who had not seen Ents at least from a distance, Mairi stopped in surprise when she saw Treebeard. Most of the others had only seen the Hurons from a distance that, in their opinion, was still far too close. While undoubtably strong and imposing, Treebeard at least didn't inspire running and screaming at the sight of anything larger than a bush. "Young Master Gandalf," both Ent and Istar ignored the muffled chokes and cackles. "It is good that you have come. Wood and water, stock and stone, these I can master, but there is a Wizard to manage here."

Mairi sighed. "Is there a reason we can't just kill him and get it over with?"

Gandalf shot her another irritated scowl. "We need him alive. We need him to talk."

Rowan looked unconvinced. "If Sauron is even half as bad as you tell us, I doubt that Saruman will say anything for fear of retribution."

Sam agreed. "Even if that wasn't the case, I would sooner expect him to remain silent out of spite. Even if he douse talk, I am reluctant to trust the words of one who would betray their divine master as Saruman did."

Mairi looked at him in surprise. "That was unusually profound, certainly for you."

Sam gave her a haughty look, Mairi having been one of the more vocal commentators on the divine wisdom of standing outside on a winter night instead of coming in where it was warm and joining in the illumination and religious song classes. "I wouldn't expect you to understand, but if one will betray his god, will he not also betray thee."

Legolas glanced back at them, "Why would Lady Mairi not understand?"

Mairi shrugged, eager to cut that off. "Religious differences; it's complicated and not important right now."

They turned their attention back to the tower just in time to see Saruman a ball of fire about the size of a minivan, engulfing Gandalf and Shadowfax. Fortunately, they simply brushed it off, Gandalf acting as though it were little more than brushing away an annoying fly. "Saruman, your staff is broken."

To Saruman's obvious surprise and fury, his staff shattered in his hand. Gandalf tried to continue talking to his obviously derranged former friend. "Saruman, you were deep in the enemy's council. Tell us what you know."

Saruman only snarled at them. "You withdraw your guard, and I will tell you where you doom will be decided. I will not be held prisoner here!"

He raised something that looked far too much like the black powder that four of the party had seen in the movies. While that had not happened this time, the rest of them had no intention of taking chances with anything Saruman was holding and aiming at them. Legolas drew an arrow and shot Saruman in less than three seconds, hitting him straight in the heart. Having done cloud- and long-distance shooting before, Mairi was impressed.

Saruman plummeted off the tower, his dead body landing on the spoke of a large wheel. If it wouldn't have been entirely inappropriate for the current situation, Mairi would have called it appropriate.

Gandalf sighed almost imperceptibly. "Send word to all our allies, and to every corner of Middle-Earth that still stands free. The enemy moves against us. We need to know where he will strike."

Treebeard watched as the still-turning wheel drew Saruman under the water, distracting everyone from Pippin sliding down from behind Aragorn. "The filth of Saruman is washing away. Trees will come back to live here. Young trees, wild trees."

Rowan shuddered. "And thank you for confirmation that nothing short of the apocalypse will ever get me back here again. Seeing Hurons once was more than enough."

There were subdued mutters of agreement, as no-one really wanted to offend Treebeard, before Suzi-Maria frowned, "Pippin, what do you have there?"

Treebeard blinked as everyone's attention was drawn to the glowing orb in Pippin's hands. "Bless my bark!"

Gandalf moved Shadowfax over very quickly. "Peregrin Took, I'll take that, my lad. Quickly now!"

Pippin reluctantly handed Gandalf the orb. Gandalf covered it up in his cloak, and with a sidelong glance at Pippin, turns away.

Mairi, Sam, Rowan and Suzi-Maria exchanged glances as the party turned their horses to make their way out of Isengard and back to Edoras. This wasn't over yet, but what would be the repercussions if they tried to do something about it?

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A/N: First, I am so sorry that it took so long to get this done. Working full time and studying part time for the last six months, on top of an annoying tendency to get most of the way through a chapter before getting stuck at one point really slowed down my writing time, and I tend to write where inspiration strikes me.

Anyway, the chapter is up now, and I would love to know what you think. I'll try to get the next chapter up, or at least started on, before the end of the holidays.

Thanks,

Nat