Monday, April 10, 2017

The Adventures of Elladan's Outriders -- Episode 4

Of Ending Threats in the North Chetwood

Trewsday, 5th of Afteryule, Year 1418, Shire-reckoning
The Comb and Wattle Inn, the Village of Combe, Bree-land

Campfire in the Chetwood
I felt much better this morning after finally getting a decent night's sleep. I thought perhaps moving into Nephyn's empty room put enough distance between me and Drodie's thunderous snoring as to make the difference. However, after rolling out of bed just as the Sun was peeping over the horizon and bathing the sleepy town of Combe in its soft burgundy light, I discovered the real reason for my undisturbed repose.

I bounded downstairs feeling eager for the day's work (and hungry), but when I reached the Common Room, I was met only by the faces of Luean, who was seated, as always, along the far wall behind a well-laden table, and Gaelira, whose demeanor would be best described as a storm-cloud on the verge of unleashing a dreadful squall. I'd never seen her in such a state!

"Good morning!" I chirped. Luean nodded at me and smiled, but Gaelira was furious.

"What's good about it?" she snapped. I was shocked utterly speechless.

"I have about had my fill of this Company already!" she went on. "First Nephyn and Raviron vanish in the night and now the Dwarf is missing! Does no one understand the importance of our mission? Or is there some dark force we cannot fathom which is thwarting our cause ere we even begin it in earnest?"

"Drodie is missing too?" I had heard her well enough, of course, but in my surprise I couldn't stop myself from asking the question.

"Yes! Yes, did I not say so just now?" Gealira's mouth was puckered in a fury I had never thought possible for her. "And before you ask, no: there was no sign of his leaving, neither from the constables nor from me, as I was watching the roads again by night. Apparently, our fellowship is being transformed one by one into wraiths who are then wafting up the chimney and floating off on the breeze to the-Valar-know-where!"

"Wherever they have gone, from there they will eventually return and in their own time," said Luean, with no hint of sarcasm. Gaelira shot him a venomous look for using her exact words from the day before, when Nephyn and Raviron had vanished. Still, Luean's admonition had its desired effect, as Gaelira sighed and seemed to calm down. I ventured to speak again, albeit none too confidently.

"Shall we -- should we go and look for them?"

"Yes," said Luean without hesitation -- a very different reaction than the one I got from him yesterday morning. Gaelira breathed deeply.

"Yes, let us get started at once," she said calmly, with only the slightest edge to her voice. "I fear the experienced ones among us have led the Company into nothing but trouble thus far, and so I would have you lead us today, Padryc, if you are willing."

Normally I might have been less receptive to such a suggestion, but things had not been going well for us and it would be hard for them to get much worse, so I assented. Just as yesterday, none of us had the slightest idea where to begin looking, but since all of the trouble began after we had attacked the Blackwolds in the Chetwood two days ago, we decided to pay them another, more thorough visit. Before we set out, Liz Honeymeade, the barmaid also let us in on a rumor about a terrible beast roaming the forest and bade us beware of it. Apparently a few of the folk of Combe had been taken by the thing in the night and there would be no hope of any peace while it roamed free. We told her we would do our best to track the monster down and slay it, if we could. Gaelira seemed convinced it was actually the work of the Blackwold brigands, but Liz was buying into the rumors going around town. Our minds made up, we three shouldered our gear and left the inn.

The day had dawned crisp and beautiful: there wasn't a cloud to be seen in any direction and the sky might have been made of sapphire. There was a thin breeze, but it was refreshing in the warm light of morning and not cold. There were people already up and about their business in this small, working-man's village -- coopers and loggers, smiths and bakers, tanners, trappers, and hunters all ready to begin their day's labor. But despite the quaint and ideal setting, every face was lined with worry and every eye was tinged with a vague fear, knowing that just over the ridge was the main encampment of a growing force of brutal highwaymen as well as some nameless beast, supposedly stalking the forest in search of human prey. I gripped my shoulder-straps and trudged on.

Just like the two days before, we crested the little hill just east of Combe then followed the winding dirt track down past the Lumber Yard and into the Chetwood. As I noted yesterday, the place was quite pleasant by daylight: any hobbit would relish an afternoon stroll through there and even enjoy a picnic under one of its massive oak or rowan trees. Unfortunately, we knew well enough that there were foes aplenty to be found there, and we kept our senses sharp for signs of any adversaries -- adversaries who, by now, were well aware of our presence in the area.

Our first adventure came as the Sun was nearing the third hour from dawn. I had mentioned previously how we had encountered a great number of wolves in that wood, and today we stumbled right into their den! They hadn't detected our approach, luckily, but we decided it would be right to destroy the vicious creatures and remove one more cause of worry for the poor people of Combe. I was a bit scared at first -- we were now only three, you remember -- but Gealira and Luean both seemed convinced we would be fine, and Gealira even managed to convince one of the local bears to join us in our assault! I've heard this in tales, of course -- everyone has heard of Elves being able to do these sorts of fanciful things -- but I saw it with my own eyes! I was truly afraid the bear was going to eat me, but it obeyed Gealira's commands at a word. I don't know if the bear had a name, or perhaps it was in "bear-speech," which I would have no hope of understanding or repeating anyway, but now we were four and better prepared to succeed at the task we had set ourselves. 

When we challenged the colony, the wolves seemed to know our intentions and rushed at us with a merciless fury. Gealira's quarterstaff was in a whirlwind, dealing bone-shattering blows to the heads and bodies of many a hound while I managed to drive off a couple on my own. Our bear-friend was a true boon as it smashed several wolves and sent many more howling into the trees. I also noticed that I felt strangely emboldened, as if some will outside of my little self was enheartening me while the will of the animals to resist us was weakened. I also noticed, as before, that Luean raised no weapon and did not even really engage in the battle -- he stood off to the side, quite isolated, and none of the wolves ever went near him. But I didn't have time to ponder this strange sight as I was busy dispatching single wolves where I could. Gealira and her bear-friend were much more effective at this than I was, but eventually the wolves were destroyed or fled from us. With our first job accomplished, we took a brief rest, bid Gealira's bear farewell, then resumed the search for our missing companions.

We were drawing near to the Blackwolds' Headquarters once again. This, you may remember, was the old system of ruins we had entered the day before where we had defeated the brigands guard but the Elves had not allowed us to penetrate to its deepest depths due to the appearance of some evil presence within. Since we had already made up our minds that the Blackwolds were, in some way, connected to the disappearance of our comrades, we decided to infiltrate the fortress a second time, but this time by stealth. 

It would not be an easy task: the ruins were well-guarded from every approach we could see as we peeped out of the underbrush from several vantage points, trying to assess the brigands' strength and locate a weakness in their perimeter. Finally, I spotted a section of wall near the southwestern edge which had crumbled down, leaving a rift in the fences where we could see no sentries. We crept our way in that direction, taking care to avoid any of the bandit patrols moving along the pathways. The Sun was nearing the noon hour -- and I felt it was high time for elevenses.

But a repast would have to wait: it turned out that luck appeared to be on our side and we would need to seize the opportunity or lose it. There were indeed no guards watching the broken section of wall. Behind it, though, we did not see the interior of the fort as the ground suddenly fell away, plunged under a bridge, and down into a small creek or moat that ran along the bottom of the ruins. We followed its path, hoping to find some point where we could climb upward again and get into the fortification itself. I led the way, quietly prodding all along the edges of this muddy enclave, but no upward path presented itself. We were forced to swim to the other side of the moat and, while the water was not foul it was terribly muddy. We emerged on the opposite bank dripping wet and sliding treacherously on the steep banks, but even on this other side it was not possible to gain our way back up. I was beginning to fear I had led what was left of the Company into an inescapable quagmire which would be the end of us all. I finally was forced to turn around and hope we could somehow get out of this mess the way we got into it. We swam back to the other bank again and began looking for a way out. My skin was cold and clammy and I began to shiver in the cool Afteryule breezes. Under the shadow of the old ruins as we were, it only made things worse. I have heard Elves do not feel bodily discomfort the way mortals do, but neither Gealira nor Luean looked pleased at the route I had chosen.

And then luck really did smile on us: as we neared the point where we began our ill-fated entry we passed under the same stone bridge as before. But this time, looking upward and desperately trying to find some way into the place, I noticed a section of the bridge had fallen away, offering a way onto it from below if only we could get close enough to access it. With some difficulty, we were able to reach that spot and clamber onto the bridge! We had finally entered the Blackwolds' Headquarters, and so far we had not been sighted. Just as importantly, there were no guards patrolling the area at that time.

We snuck further and further in toward the center of the ruins, where we had reached the day before. We carefully avoided the guards and finally entered the courtyard where our hearts had faltered yesterday. Since I was expecting it this time, I was aware when the shadow fell on us again, but this time the feeling was very different -- much more remote. The were no Blackwolds in sight.

"This is the place," I whispered while looking about us. There were still a great number of sheep carcasses littering the ground at our feet. "I'm not sure, but I think this time..."

"A shadow lies still on this place," Luean cut in. "But it is much less potent than before. Something that was here yesterday is here no longer, but its stain remains."

"I think the time is right for us to strike at the heart of the Blackwolds," Gealira said. "Let us put an end to them here."

There was a small rise in front of us. We ascended this point and were suddenly met by a group of three brigands and their wolf sentries! The affray was sharp, but we had the mastery: two wolves were overcome quickly by Gealira's staff and my hammer. I saw Luean with his head bowed, and the brigands seemed to melt before us -- disheartened by our skill at arms. They quickly disappeared into the shadows of the ruins, laying the way forward clear to our advance.

From atop the knoll, the land fell away from us and down into a little dell, which was the very center of that place. There we could see a small pool of dirty-looking water and a curious pile of stones which glowed with a sickly pale light flanked by two torches. We could see three Men down there: one very large and muscular who was apparently the chief of the Blackwolds, and two others wearing strange crimson robes with hoods which covered their faces. The two in robes were busy at something beside the small pool while the brigand captain and his wolf-hound stood guard nearby. We could hear their hushed voices, but we were not near enough to hear what was said.

"The Angmarim have come to Eriador!" said Gealira. I had no opportunity to ask what that meant since all three of the enemy raised their heads at the sound of her voice and beheld us. We rushed down the hill and the fight began!

Luean withdrew himself again while Gealira and I charged to meet our opponents. The two robed Men drew daggers and came at Gealira while the brigand chieftain sent his wolf to attack me! I haven't talked about it so far, but I've always carried a stout, iron-capped hammer made of ash wood; it is bound twice with iron straps and also has an iron spike on the top. It was my dad's at one point, but I took it with me when I joined the Bounders and it has served me well since then. 

Today, I used it to fend off the wolf, waiting for the right time to counter-attack. Once it lunged at me, I was able to side-step it and bring the iron cap down across its shoulders. The wolf cried out in pain and stumbled before I finished it off with a sturdy thrust of the spike into its neck, pinning it to the ground. The brigand captain let out a cry of rage and began to run toward me. He suddenly seemed to swell to an enormous size in his wrath -- he was a powerfully built Man -- and he swung a great club over his head. I looked to my side hoping to see help coming my way, but I only saw Gealira skillfully deflecting the various attacks of the robed Men's daggers with her staff. She was holding her ground, but she was only able to defend herself and not attack her quarries. I could not see Luean from where I was and there was no time to look for him. I took two steps backward as the brigand reached me in his fury at the loss of his pet. Suddenly, I slipped on a smooth stone and fell flat on my back! He raised his club over his head and prepared to crush me! I was sure my time in the Company had reached its end.

But then I heard a sharp whistle and there was an arrow protruding from the chieftain's neck! He looked at its shaft, then at me with total shock on his face before collapsing to the ground. The sound of fighting ceased to my left and I saw the two robed Men looking at their fallen companion. Then one of them drew forth a phial of grey liquid and smashed it on a rock. A noxious cloud of smoke erupted from that spot and my eyes burned as the fumes met them. I coughed fitfully, and by the time I was able to see anything again the two Men were nowhere to be seen.

Through my tearful eyes, I could see a hand reaching down to help me up. I took it and was hauled to my feet. I started to brush myself off and thanked the owner of the hand.

"You're very welcome, Master Padryc," came the answer. I froze. The voice belonged to our missing Woman!

"Nephyn!" I cried, straining to see through my clouded eyes. "Is that really you?"

"It is," she laughed. "I'm happy to find you not ground into hobbit-meal!" The mist before my eyes was clearing and there, sure enough, was Nephyn's smiling face, her bow still in her hand.

"But where have you been?" I asked. "And what happened to the robed Men? Are you hurt? Are we still in danger?" I was talking wildly from one worry to the next.

"There is time for the unraveling of riddles later," said Gealira, who was looking with great interest at the pool by which the robed Men were working earlier. "I think we should leave this place at once. There are still brigands about."

"Yes," said Luean, who seemed to appear from nowhere. "Let us go."

It was no trouble to extract ourselves from the Blackwolds' Headquarters at that point. Once outside, we moved well away from the walls of that place and proceeded to recover from our ordeal. My mind was fair bursting with questions and the Sun was only just beginning to start its westward descent.

With our adventure in the Blackwolds' Headquarters at an end, we nestled ourselves under the branches of a large fir and proceeded to have lunch. I normally detest meal times in the Wild thanks to the omnipresence of traveling rations, but on this occasion I was far too occupied with the strange events of the day to pay much attention to my food.

"Where have you been?" I asked Nephyn. "Did you know we were trying to find you?"

"I did not know, but I did not doubt it," replied the huntress. "I must beg your pardons for my sudden absence, but there is a very good reason for it. But first I must ask: where are Raviron and Drodie?"

"We do not know," Luean said. "We were hoping to find all three of you at once, but it seems you may have each disappeared for different reasons, though I know not what yours might be."

"Well, I for one am dying to hear it," I said. "We feared the Blackwolds had attacked the inn and drug you off during the night!"

"No, they hadn't, but if they had my story might be somewhat less embarrassing," she laughed. "But the Blackwolds were involved, as you shall see."

"Two days past when we had returned to the Comb and Wattle after dealing with that wolf-infested farmstead, you may recall Gaelira went outside to stand guard and the rest of us retired to our rooms. I lay there for an hour or so in the darkness, but sleep did not come to me, for I was troubled in my mind. Common wolves do not swarm and gather in such force unless there is some powerful will driving them to do so. Yet the hounds we fought in the Chetwood by night were clearly acting as if they were of one mind. Ordinary brigands would never have the ability to master even a small wolf-pack, let alone the numbers we encountered here; what, then, could be the source of this menace? I climbed out the window of my room and down the wall. She was difficult to evade, but I managed to give Gaelira the slip as I left Combe and headed out toward the Chetwood. I wished to examine the bodies of the wolves we had slain at the farm to see if there might be any indication of what was leading them to be stirred so. I trusted that my skill in the hunt would lead me to the answers I sought and to avoid any danger which might still be lurking there... but I was dealt a powerful lesson in humility that night."

"Once I was back under the eaves of the forest, I noted how utterly black it had become. I could almost feel the darkness, and it seemed to move about me in strange fashion. I cannot really explain it any better than that. My heart pounded with a fear I've not felt before and my feet became leaden."

"We know the evil fit of which you speak," said Gealira. "We encountered it, or something like to it, near the depths of the Blackwolds' Headquarters while we searched for you there yesterday."

"Well, I foolishly decided the source of this fear must be what was stirring up the wolves, and so I followed it." Luean and Gealira both looked at Nephyn with great concern.

"You have a stout heart," said Luean gravely, "but it was most unwise."

"I cannot argue that point," Nephyn replied. "I am a huntress, and I always follow my prey, but I hope to think I learned the limit of my abilities that night. I could feel, rather than see, that I was gaining on my quarry, for the feeling grew stronger and stronger. Finally, I felt I was very near, but suddenly..." she faltered.

"Yes?" Gealira asked. "And then?"

"I... I do not know what happened," Nephyn said slowly. "I don't remember any more. I suppose I must have fainted. I've never experienced anything like it." Here, I noticed the Elves gave each other quick looks, but neither of them said a word.

"The next thing I knew I was tied to a stake in the middle of that bandit camp we just left. They beat me, but I've taken worse. They kept asking me who sent me and what I knew about the Rangers and their plans. I knew nothing, so I said nothing, but of course that only made them angrier. I spent a day and a night in those awful conditions, but I trusted that my friends would not desert me."

"No indeed," I said, "but we had no idea where you had gotten off to. Drodie and I did suspect the Blackwolds had something to do with it, so it is nice to have at least gotten that bit correct."

"Well, there is little more to tell you of my ordeal," Nephyn went on. "I could hear the commotion you caused when you stormed their fortress the first time. I tried to call out to you, but my guards throttled me with their hands and I could scarcely make any sound. This second time your attack was more determined, and so they had cut me loose in preparation to retreat with me still their captive, if need be. But the uproar of your assault caught their attention, and it was all the opening I needed once my hands were free. They only deigned to assign me one guard, I suppose because I am a Woman. I do not think they would make the same mistake twice if given the chance! I dispatched my guard and it took me several moments to locate my bow and some arrows. After that, I think you know what I did," she said, giving me a smile and a wink.

"Quite so, and I'll never forget it!" I said, rising and bowing. "I only hope we can locate Raviron and the Dwarf now. Did you learn anything about them while you were held by the Blackwolds?"

"No, I do not think they were involved with the disappearance of those two at all," said Nephyn. "The only other unusual thing I can point to is this. It was being kept near me and my guards seemed to fear it. I cannot say why nor what they intended to use it for, if anything." She drew forth from the scabbard at her belt a curiously made sword. It seemed to be forged from some cold metal, dull and gleaming like glass in the afternoon sun. "I needed a weapon since mine had been taken from me, and it has a very keen edge." The Elves eyed it with interest.

"I can tell you nothing of this blade, save that it is not of Elven make," said Luean. "What do you think, Gaelira?" The she-Elf shook her head.

"I know little of the weapons of mortals," she said. "They are all crude and unlovely to my mind. I am just relieved these events have unwound themselves in the way they have."

"There is still something I do not understand," said Luean. "The Angmarim. What are they doing this far south? It does not bode well for Eriador."

"No, indeed," Gaelira replied. "The Black Numenoreans were never completely driven from the far recesses of the Witch-realm of old, but for centuries they held their ground there and came not forth. Their presence here means our mission is even more important than we initially thought. But as to what they were doing in this place I cannot say; their interest in that pool I found most intriguing. A foul stench lingered there, but I did not wish to stay and examine their evil arts more closely -- the blasphemous altar they had constructed was darkening my mind." Much of this was too difficult for me to understand, but I did not think that Gaelira would willingly explain these things openly, even under the light of such a fine day. I do know enough Elvish to at least know that Angmarim simply means People from Angmar.

"Then part of our quest is achieved, at least," I said, gathering my things and preparing to move out. "We have found one of our three missing companions -- or she found us -- but we had best get moving if we are to also locate this creeping monster."

"Monster?" asked Nephyn, her eyebrows raised. "What new devilry is this?"

"Two people of Combe were lost in the night to what is believed to be some sort of monster stalking the Chetwood," Gaelira answered. "Personally, I think it far more likely that the brigands were taking hostages than random villagers were being hauled off into the woods by --"

A horrible howling cry sound suddenly split the air! We all wheeled around to see, above us at the top of a small rise, a grotesque and loathsome shape. It eyed us with an awful, malevolent stare; its long, red tongue licked a row of jagged and misshapen fangs! With a bound, the black Warg was upon us!

I was rooted to the spot in sheer terror. No doubt I would have ended up as the beast's first kill if Gaelira hadn't hurled her quarterstaff like a missile and struck the thing squarely on the side of its head. That got its attention, but now Gaelira was defenseless. With a terrible snarl, the Warg turned toward her, ready to spring. That's when Nephyn's bow twanged and a shaft sprouted from the beast's left shoulder. It let out a yelp, but quickly turned its head, yanked out the arrow, and crushed it in its jaws. Blood spotted on the earth at its feet. I vaguely heard Luean muttering strange words behind me, when suddenly a large shape barreled through the brush with a roar! It was Gaelira's bear-friend, come to the defense of the Elf. It tackled the monster from its right side and the two went sprawling. There was a terrific battle, with fur and spittle flying every which way. We four stood by aghast, unable to render any aid as the two animals were locked together and jousted for position. Before I knew what was happening, the Warg had pinned the bear's neck to the ground with its jaws. There was a gruesome gush of blood and the bear cried out in agony. My heart lept into my throat as the Warg raised its head to unleash a howl of triumph, but that howl never came: Nephyn had fired an arrow directly into its exposed throat. The Warg's voice gurgled hideously while Gaelira -- who had recovered her staff -- cracked it across the thing's eye socket with a vicious blow. Even I took a hand, smiting its hindquarters with my hammer, though I doubt I did the beast any serious injury. Finally, as the Warg began to yield under our combined attacks, Nephyn thrust her newfound sword into its ribs. The monster whimpered, slumped to the forest floor, and did not move again.

Tears sprang into my eyes. Our brave bear-friend was already gone, his throat torn open by the ravening Warg. We grieved as long as prudence allowed and Nephyn and I managed to dig him a shallow grave under the watch of an ancient oak tree. We had to leave much too soon for my liking, but the light would not last and there were still enemies about us.

No one said a word as we returned to Combe. Nephyn, despite her upbeat demeanor upon rejoining our Company, admitted she was exhausted from her captivity -- she had not slept since the day before yesterday -- and would be well-served by an uninterrupted sleep. She intended to head straight for the Comb and Wattle as soon as it was in sight. That's when the next odd event of the day occurred.

Raviron stood before us right in the middle of the marketplace, cheerfully hailing us in the fine afternoon sun. He looked just as he had two days prior, when he abruptly vanished during the night.

"Greetings, friends!" he called to us. "Well met, indeed!"

"Well met, my furry feet!" I shouted racing up to him. "Where in all the name of wonder have you been, you... you... Elf!" I was simply beside myself in anger. Quite aside from the day's trials, which had already been substantial enough, there could be no doubt the pain at seeing the bear slain in front of me was contributing to my unleashing my fury upon our friend. Raviron seemed genuinely surprised at this salutation, his mouth hanging open for a moment.

"Why... I... I fell asleep," he said, lamely. Naturally I knew right away he was not telling us the truth, but I was far too furious to consider why he might be trying to deceive us all.

"FELL ASLEEP!" I bellowed at the top of my shrill hobbit-voice. We were in the very middle of Combe and more than a few eyebrows were raised in our direction by now. I, of course, could not have cared less.

"Fell asleep!" I repeated, turning to Gaelira. "Is this the sort of company you keep? Are all of your kin so -- so flighty?" I could think of no better words to express my outrage under the circumstances. Gaelira ignored me and looked hard at Raviron.

"Well, wherever he's been to, he has returned from there, and in his own time," she said. I threw up my hands. Nephyn did say she was glad to see Raviron safe, but she could not stand on her legs much longer. She quickly excused herself and retired to the inn.

That left us with only Drodie still inexplicably missing. We never did get anything else out of Raviron regarding his mysterious vanishment, so we decided to search south of Combe instead of north for a change. We perceived that the Blackwolds were now broken and would pose no serious threat to the village any time soon; nothing that the constables shouldn't be able to deal with, anyway. We set off for the village of Staddle while the Sun still rode in the sky.

Staddle is not a great distance from Combe and we did not accomplish much there in any case, so I will try to bring my account of this strange day to a close as swiftly as I can. We did happen across some more old ruins halfway between the two villages and I received a bit of schooling from Gaelira on their origins -- the Dunedain, the Rangers of the North, the descendants of Numenor, children of the Peredhel, and all that. It is a rather long tale, so forgive me if I do not recount it here... perhaps some other time (it is an excellent story, if you've not heard it!).

Anyway, we reached Staddle without incident and asked the townsfolk if any Dwarves had passed that way recently. No one had seen any, so we merely helped the locals with their boar problem (those things are a real nuisance in many lands, including the Shire). We also discovered a small encampment of brigands south of Staddle in another bunch of ruins they call Ost Baranor. We drove the ruffians from there with little difficulty. Once you've gone toe-to-toe with an enormous Warg, a little party of highway-robbers is no great feat. We did happen upon some more Dunedain relics in those ruins -- a majestic statue, which was a true sight to see. Before long, though, the light began to fail and we made for Combe to check in on Nephyn and regroup from the day's trials.

The crumbling walls of the Comb and Wattle Inn seemed more desirable than any time since we first arrived there, even if I did have to kick a chicken out of my way as we entered. Nephyn was sound asleep in her room, so we had Liz serve us another platter of bread, butter, honey (apparently Combe is rather well known locally for its honey), cheeses, and ale. We fell to talking, but no one seemed in the mood to talk more about our adventures of that day. I did have one question for Luean, however.

"Master Elf," I began, between bites of a deliciously ripe cheese, "how is it you never come to our aid when enemies confront us?" Luean seemed puzzled by my question.

"How do you mean?" he asked.

"Well," I said, swallowing and reaching for my pint. "you never enter a fight. I've never seen you fight. You don't even seem to own any weapons! Doesn't that worry you?"

"Ah, I understand," came the reply. "But I am in the fight, I assure you. I am a reader of sacred rune-stones, Master Hobbit. A rune-keeper, so named by most who have ever heard of such things."

"I admit that I have not," I said. "Whatever is a rune-keeper? And how can you be fighting when you never engage our foes?"

"But I do engage our foes. The reading of runes is not an art that has ever been practiced by your kind, I think, nor could it truly be. Neither have Men ever mastered it, save one that I know of, and that was a very sad tale. The Dwarves have their own skill at this, from what little I know of them, but of course they speak of it to no one. The runes reveal much to those who know how to read them and focus their energies."

"That all sounds most interesting, but you have not answered my question," I persisted. Luean cocked his head at me.

"No, I did answer, as well I know how, at least. I can put it no plainer than to say I am engaged in our battles. Perhaps you do not see in what way because you have not been trained to see. And for that, you would need a life much longer than the flitting one your kind has upon this Middle-earth."

This conversation didn't seem to be going my way, so I let the matter rest. But I did think back to our armed escapades and recalled how, on all occasions, I felt that our victory was assured, so long as we kept heart. I also thought of how easily our enemies seemed to be routed once one or two of them fell. Could this have something to do with the Elf's rambling answers? I couldn't hope to discover this without much more information. Instead I decided to finish my ale and get some much-needed rest.

The Sun sank behind Bree-town and night covered the hamlet of Combe once again. I lay there, missing Drodie's incredible snores, oddly enough. We had recovered two of our comrades and now there only remained the Dwarf to locate. In the process, though, we had crushed the Blackwold brigands, foiled some plot or other of these dark Men from Angmar, and slain the terrible Warg stalking the North Chetwood. All in all, the Company of Elladan's Outriders was becoming a sword in the service of the Free Peoples of Bree-land. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

No comments:

Post a Comment