Taken III



     The Men of the Boar Clan, with Esmeron among them, had made their way through much of Dunland after seemingly endless miles of hard travel in the wilds south of the Glanduin. They moved by foot, the Bree-lander struggling to keep pace with the exceptionally swift Hill-men. However, they soon came upon a wide, rough road that arced into the hills and beyond sight. Esmeron deduced that this was likely the North-South Road, and the group stopped as the bowman Bradoc went on alone.

     The Dunlendings had returned to Esmeron his sword with some reluctance. The blade would be only a small comfort to a stranger in these lands, but he was glad for it withal. For now, he found some semblance of safety among the wild Men who had shown him unexpected mercy. Catharn stood at the helm of the group, apparently awaiting Bradoc. The bowman soon returned and sought out the taller Dunlending. There was a lengthy exchange between the two Men before it was finally decided that the group would go south along the road.

     The journey through Dunland was largely uneventful and the fugitive for whom the Hill-men had searched throughout Enedwaith was not to be found. The road began to bend eastward and the foothills receded as the group went on. They encountered only a few travelers along the way, all of them dwellers of the hills. They passed crags, bald knolls and modest villages; Esmeron found the land fair but woefully lacking in the way of trees, which he loved well.

     Catharn fell back from the fore of the group and found Esmeron. "We approach the Gap," said the Dunlending as he watched the horizon, his expression quite grave. "Long have the Strawheads contested this land, though no longer do we war with them across the Isen. Not in some time indeed."

     "Strawheads?" Esmeron inquired, cocking his brow.

     The Hill-man gave an incredulous laugh. "Known to you as the Rohirrim, Northerner. Should you choose to ford the river and go east, you will come to know them well enough. Pray that they do not take you for one of us." He was silent for a long moment as he brought his hand to the long scar across his cheek. "You may go your own way from here. Tread carefully, however, an outsider like yourself would do well not to stay in this place overlong."

     The sky was darkening as the Men came upon Dol Baran and it was at the base of this hill's western approach that they made camp. Esmeron set his bedroll upon the ground and laid with his eyes upon the firmament as if searching for some portent among the stars. He then drifted into a long and dreamless slumber.

     Esmeron awoke and saw that the Dunlendings had already set off, with the last of them moving west on the road and falling in with their brethren. The sun was well above the horizon and the Bree-lander did not tarry in his own leaving, for he knew that not all Men of Dunland would prove to be honorable as those of the Boar Clan. With naught but his blade and the garments on his back, Esmeron made for the Fords of Isen.