Interlude: A star-lit vigil

The Man would scarcely have caught her eye, normally, as he was as plain as any and more than most. The Men who dwell on the edges of the Forest of the Great Fear sometimes passed along this path, and this Man followed in their footsteps. But she had not been appointed by Thranduil to scout the edges of the forest had she not been keen of both eye and mind, and so, she noticed what was peculiar, even when she was hard-pressed to say why it was. Watching the Man, she was intrigued.

First, there was the horse. It could hardly be more plain that this horse, and this Man, did not belong to one another. Or perhaps that they had not at first, but were coming to. The Man certainly respected the horse in a way that made the Elf-maid's heart glad; for every horse was as a prince, if one knew how to speak to them and hear what they did not say, and this horse, dark as night, as a prince amongst princes, and worthy of such respect as the Man seemed unthinkingly to give. At first, she'd thought perhaps the Man had stolen the horse, but only for a moment. It was clear this was not a horse that would willingly bear a Man unless it were by his own choice. Why, then, would this magnificent steed carry a Man so ordinary, so simple?

And while the Man wore furs fashioned in the style of the Men whose halls hung beneath the edges of the forest, and made his camp in the spots they chose, and followed all their ways, even those whose true purpose was to show to the unseen Elves that their sovereignty over the Mirkwood was absolute, he clearly was not one of them. None of the Men who walked this path knew when, by star-light, Elves watched them, but they nevertheless always strained their eyes, seeking to catch a glimpse of those who warded their path, though they never did. Not so this Man; indeed, he did not even seem aware that Elves dwelled here, let alone that they watched over him. He simply strode, fear in his eyes but determination in his stride, from one camp to the next.

She wondered most of all what purpose drove him through a forest of such ill omen, which clearly filled him so with terror. She listened for a whisper of his speech, but he spoke not, not even to the horse. She followed, her footsteps light on the path beside him, or across the boughs above him, and studied him, sometimes so close she could taste his breath, though he never knew she was there. But there was no hint of the source of his resolve. He remained stubbornly a mystery to her.

Dangers were all around him, and if she merely stayed her hand, he would fall and be forgotten here. And the mystery he was would end with him. She considered allowing this, but, leaping onto a branch above him, she shook her head. The flight of her arrows sounded to him as nothing but whispers of the wind, and he knew nothing of the horrors that fell, leaking ichor, just beyond the stone he sat against, or fled in fear of more Elf-shot. She was resolved; she would see him safely to the other side of the forest, because she felt sure that, if she did, one day, his mystery would be answered.