I am again on my own, or rather, Kestrel and I are again on our own, as we pass into the far northern reaches of the valley which is shaped by the Great River -- I have learned that it is also called the Anduin. I seek the ruins of an ancient city called Framsburg, long abandoned, and perhaps the most likely place I could hope to find the lantern. The silence by night, when even most of the wild beasts slumber, aches me more now than it did this past spring when I was first becoming accustomed to solitude. I bear the loneliness with hope, hope that my journey may be nearing its end.
Early in the summer, I had been seeing signs of the passage of Men for days before I was even sure that I was reading them truly, and days more before I met any. In the days since, I have met scores of them, and slept in their huts and under their stars, in tiny settlements hidden in copses of trees or nestled under the shelter of the mountainsides. They are reluctant to tell me what they call themselves; as a people they simply tell me to call them Woodmen, while each individual keeps their true name from me and instead goes by a title they choose to share with outsiders. Amongst them, men and women are equally likely to be warriors, or hunters, or chieftains, or healers; and there is not a one amongst them that I would care to be on the wrong side of, whether warrior or no. A hard people and a strong one, and I have no doubt that they are of a kind with my own people; some are even fair of hair. But I have been able to learn very little about them, and I am all but sure they are not the lost cousins I seek.
I had been certain there were Men living in the plains for some days, but unable to find them. I was not surprised at all, though, that they had found me, and were watching me. They judged me to be little threat, so two of them confronted me, rising from hiding places within the tall summer grasses and holding spears and arrows at the ready. They spoke at first in a language that reminded me of that of the Eorlingas, but that I couldn't quite understand. When they realized I could not make out their words, they spoke in Westron instead, and I dredged up my memories of that language to answer.
One was a tall, lean man, like a sapling that had forgotten to grow out but only up, who called himself Healer; the other, a woman with hair paler than the grass, who called herself Eagle-Eye. They were as suspicious of me as if I'd been caught with my hands full of their most prized possessions, and this would prove to be the way of their entire tribe, and nearly every other tribe of Woodmen I would meet in the weeks to follow. I would have to prove myself, not merely with promises and oaths but with deeds -- often mundane chores or challenges -- before I could even be allowed to see their homes, after which I would have even more days of work before me to earn the right to ask them questions, or meet their chieftain.
They asked for no coin for their hospitality, though, for coin was not a thing they used. Instead, it was through labor alone that I earned a share of their food and fire. After days of service, some of it menial and some dangersome, some of clear value to the tribe and some seemingly made up simply to test my resolve, I was even allowed to join on hunts and help feed the tribe. It would take longer to be able to speak to the chieftain about my purpose in these lands, and to ask for aid.
There was little aid to be offered. I could tell that the Woodmen and the Éothéod came of common stock, but their tales of ancient days did not speak much of horses or horse-lords, nor did they mention Eorl or Léod or Felaróf, and certainly they contained no tales of lanterns. It was the same in each tribe, even as I traveled further north along the west bank of the Great River, save that now and again, there was a faint glimmer of hope: someone might have a story that a great-grandmother knew of her great-grandfather telling stories that some ancestor had come from a tribe of horse-lords, and had come to dwell amongst the Woodmen, but only that: a person here or there who'd married into a tribe, but no sign of what had come of the rest, and none bearing a lantern.
There were tales of a larger Woodmen settlement on the eastern banks that might know more, but the more promising thing I learned was that the city of Framsburg remained, as naught but a pile of tumbled stones, but that one of the scouts of one of the tribes knew the way to it, and could tell me how to find it. He warned me there would be little to see there, but how could I not pursue it? Framsburg, after all, had been the capital city of Eorl and every chieftain before him to the time of Fram, the slayer of the long-worm called Scatha. The very place that the people of Eorl left to come to Calenardhon, to found the Mark, when Eorl and Círion's alliance called them.
And so I am making my way north to the utmost origins of the Great River, where it forms from two small rivers barely worthy of the name, joining and beginning their long journey to the sea. Now the Woodmen wait behind me and the plains stretch before me again, open and bare, silent as an empty heart. Amongst the Woodmen, even when I'd proven myself to the utmost I could, I never felt welcomed so much as tolerated; but now that I stand with no one beside me but Kestrel, even their distant impression of favor seems like the warm embrace of family, by comparison to the solitude; and the full weight of seclusion drives my shoulders to the ground once more. How I hope the lantern will be in these ruins so that I might begin the journey home; I could be there amongst my family again before harvest.