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Ozwell's farm


Part 4

Ayleth’s cousin’s farm, set slightly back from the road, was a cheerful wooden house with an open shelter at the western end—housing a cow, two pigs, and a handful of chickens—and a snow-covered vegetable plot in front.

As the four friends approached, Ayleth’s cousin came out to meet them, carrying a lantern in the fading light.

Suilad, Ozwell,” said Haldir, dismounting. “Have you had any trouble here in the past two or three days?”

“Trouble?” The man shook his head. “No, Master Haldir.”

“Nothing out of the ordinary has happened? No strangers have passed by?”

“Oh, you mean the traveller?”

Obviously unhappy that he was neglecting his other visitors, Ozwell turned to Legolas, Eowyn and Gimli, placed his free hand upon his heart, and bowed his head in a hasty greeting. “He only wanted a little food and water, my Lord,” he said, having decided to address himself to Legolas, “and he insisted on paying for what he took. He didn’t give me any trouble.”

Haldir glanced up at Legolas; Legolas nodded. “Might we beg a favour of you, Master Ozwell?” he asked. “Might we spend the night in your home?”

“That would be an honour, my Lord,” said Ozwell, bowing again.

The little house was warm and cosy.

Ozwell gave them a simple meal of winter stew and fresh-baked bread and, over supper, the friends asked him about the stranger he had called the traveller. Ozwell described him as a man in his middle years, stern-faced and abrupt; he had refused an offer of shelter, and had insisted on trading a silver buckle for his bread and cheese. Ozwell rose, found a small object on the mantelpiece, and brought it over to the table. “It was a matter of pride with him, I think—being in no man’s debt.”

“You say he asked you a question,” said Legolas, picking up the buckle and examining it carefully.

“He wanted to know if I’d seen two strangers,” said Ozwell; “a man and a woman on one horse, passing through here three or four years ago.”

“What an odd question,” said Eowyn.

“And had you?” asked Legolas.

Ozwell shrugged. “So many people pass through here, my Lord. Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. I can’t be sure.”

Legolas glanced at Eowyn, and she asked the question that she had been longing to ask: “Amongst the traveller’s possessions,” she said, “did you happen to notice a brass oil lamp?”

Ozwell looked surprised. “You mean the fancy thing with red leaves around the middle? Yes, he asked me if I wanted to buy it from him, but I’ve no need for aught like that!”