The young Perian sat beside the river, his dark green cloak wrapped around him against the frosty chill-before-dawn. At his side was an empty wicker basket, and a fishing rod lain in a position that suggested he had had not yet attempted to catch his breakfast. Indeed, the hour was still too young for a successful attempt to catch fish. Mayhap it was simply his wish to be alone with his thoughts? He looked up as we drew nigh, then rose to his feet in rather a hurry. He may not have been able to make out our features, but he obviously ‘knew’ what we were.
“Peace, son of the Shire,” said Ceuro softly, in the Common Speech. “We are merely passing by.”
In a gesture that implied he would see us better, the Perian swept back his hood to reveal a head of thick dark hair, pulled away from his face and tied with a piece of string. His blue eyes were wide, with curiosity rather than any fear.
“Oh, yer Elves! I didn’t think any o’ the tall-folk could have crept up...”
Then he noticed Hethyr, who was riding next to me, and behind Ceuro. He blinked.
“Two Elves, and an Elf-friend. Have no concern,” I reassured him.
We pulled up our mounts near the edge of the riverbank, Ceuro sweeping a bow from the back of his horse. “Master Hobbit, if you will, there is news I would have you carry to your Bounders. There is a farmer in the Green Hill country, by the name of Odo, who appears to be held captive by several brigands. He is likely in need of aid.”
With a gasp, and a slight frown, the Perian made a swift bow in return. “I know Odo! There be too many o’ them ruffians in the Shire nowadays.” Then his frown returned. “He needs help yer say. Then I best be about helpin’ him. Yer never know what some o’ them tall-folk will do.”
Hethyr smiled a touch grimly at his words, but did not speak.
“Not all Men are of ill-intent, master Hobbit, as I am sure you know. But in this case I can see only harm.”Ceuro replied. “But now, we must be about our own concerns. May the morning chill herald a brighter day for you.”
We turned our horses heads west in union, as the Perian gave another, elegant bow.
“Thank yer for the news. And a good day’s travel to yer all.”
With that he took up his basket and rod, and was away swiftly in the direction of Stock.
We continued riding along the bank of the Brandywine, exchanging but a few soft spoken words. I would have wished to spend some time with my foster daughter. Almost nine years had it been since we last met. But she carried a message for the Wardens of the Havens, and I could not afford time to turn back on my course to carry it myself, nor to accompany her.
From the vitality of her appearance, she was well. From the stealth with which she had tracked us, she was most able in the wilds. I should have sought her out sooner, but had thought to allow her to find her place among the Eglain without more Elven contribution. Had she wished, she was perfectly capable of finding me. She had done so before.
“You are content, Hethyr?” I had inquired.
“After a fashion, mother. The skills taught me, serve me well. I work mostly as a healer, to the appreciation of some in the Lone Lands, but I am also considered a tracker of worth.”
I heard the catch of amusement in her voice. I had taught her some of what I knew in those years she had been with me. Cirthel had taught her a little of the lore of herbs, and of healing. But mayhap she had learned most from Tulko, a bear-friend of recent years, who had taken to her as if to a sibling cub. They had played and wrestled and hunted together, though mostly for honey and fruit. Ai, she was well able to survive in the wilds.
But all too soon the stone span of the Brandywine Bridge was to our right. Longer discussion would have to wait until my return from Eregion.
A candle was lit in a window of a nearby burrow. There was the sound of folk moving about. Had they come to the window themselves, all they would have seen were two tall figures, wrapped in cloaks, riding towards Buckland. And another, equally tall, who laid a wrapped bundle of ‘something ‘ (honey-bread) on the wall of the bridge, before turning back to disappear in a sudden flurry of snow, making to the Marish.
~ ~ ~
Now I was concerned over Hethyr’s news.
An elleth was slain in the Lone Lands? That path to the Trollshaws was not an exceptionally dangerous one. It was true however, folk often rode in escorted groups, particularly if there was any goods to transport to Imladris or Mithlond which would slow their pace. There were scouts from Imladris at times, but in general the ‘jurisdiction’ of the Hidden Vale ended at the Last Bridge. The sparsely populated Lone Lands were the concern of Men. So what had come to pass that one of the Firstborn had been slain there?
Hethyr said the body was of a fair-haired scout, corn-coloured hair it was. She had been clothed in a pale fawn travelling robe, and carried a quiver with Falathrim designs. There had been no sign of her bow. There had been no heraldry nor insignia to suggest she came from any particular House or Order. Her body had been carried to Ost Guruth by the Eglain who found her. They had thought to give her a swift and respectful burial, but a couple, including Hethyr, had objected that her body should be returned to her own kind, if possible.
“How was she slain?” I had asked.
Hethyr shook her head. “There were wounds from blades, but...I don’t know. It didn’t seen enough to take her life. Not to me. I do not think it was the work of others of my kind. Nor do I think it was any form of attack by animals, though there is a problem with a number of wargs at present. Nay, there were no signs of teeth or claws.”
“Agamaur? Garth Agarwen? Was she found near those ruins?”
“Nay, mother, though she was near to the Red Pass.”
And the thought played in my mind of who I knew of the Falas with corn-coloured hair, and who may have travelled alone, and for some reason have left the usual path. I did not like the conclusion I came to.
For the time being, Ceuro and I needs must reach Ost Gurth ourselves. Now it was my intent to follow the Great East Road for at least a few hours. It was unlikely we would encounter many travelling West, or at that time in the morning. We knew of camps of unsavoury Men in these regions, more than in the Shire. But there were still Men of ‘better’ character also, who sometimes made patrol. I hoped to turn south just after the Barrow Downs, and so avoid the town of Bree, which was about a fifty mile ride from the bridge, and make for the Southern Chetwood.
And so we did, passing Buckland and on to the edges of the Old Forest with no interference. By the afternoon we approached the Southern Bree Fields. There we indeed found a number of appropriately named ‘ruffians’ camped in a ruin. Only one of their scouts saw us, and was swiftly unable to alert the others.
By the late evening we had passed the ruins of Ost Baranor at some distance, being alerted by the smell of wood fires and the rather raucous sound of Men’s voices to another probably collection of less that savoury folk. We made camp some five miles further east, on a hillock overlooking the marshes.
It had snowed lightly on and off all the day. The shortest day, as it happened. It was chilly, but not with the bite of the far North, or near the extent of causing Ceuro or I discomfort. There was still no need of a fire for us, our our mounts, who stood close together with rumps turned against the flurries. Partaking of water and some more of our way bread, we fell to talking a little of events of recent years.
I spoke more of Hethyr, of how I found her as a solitary survivor of her kin, tried to find a home for her among her own kind, and ended up travelling with her and sometimes also Cirthel, in Evendim and the eastern reaches of Lindon. On one occasion we three had even wandered the frozen wastes of Forochel. She had been a keen and attentive child...with mortal needs and reactions of course, but with a mind more in harmony with ours. It took eighteen summers before she found a place she would consider her home, and that the Lone Lands.
I missed her when she departed.
Spurred by my mention of Evendim, Ceuro followed by telling of his part in the Battle of Fornost. I had already known that he had been involved, but no more.
“I was among those come late, from Lorien. Archers mostly, but some among us were Noldorin warriors.
“Lorien? I had expected to find you rode with Cirdan’s host?”
He shook his head. “I have spent much time in Lindon, Lady Danel, but also some decades east of the Hithaeglir.”
The news he had been in Lorien gave me more to ponder upon. I wanted to trust him. But in order to do so I needed to know more about him. Until the voice of uncertainty in my mind was stilled, I would keep my own council regarding the matter that drove me on.
Over seventy miles it was to Weathertop. Not that we did much but halt shortly before we reached that place to allow the horses a longer rest. I spoke that time of Turuhalme, as I remembered it in Thargelion. I had hoped that might provoke a memory for Ceuro, but again he shook his head.
“I have celebrated very many times in recent yeni, but I recall nothing from before this Age.” He had lowered his head then, his grey-green eyes clouded. “Such celebrations always remind me that I do not know who of my kin I should remember, Lady.”
“Is there nothing, not even in dreams, that could point the way?”
He shook his head and withdrew a little into himself. It occurred to me that he may want to trust me, but as yet was uncertain. In which case, what was he hiding that he thought I would find unpalatable? Was I not a fine one to consider such matters!
The snow flurries abated, though the air was still chill, as we continued west. It was nigh one hundred miles from Weathertop to the Last Bridge, with Ost Guruth, the broken remains of a Mannish settlement, some thirty miles closer. We encountered a party of the Eglain somewhat sooner than that. They did not appear overly pleased to find us.