Reflections of Squire Ifllwine of Rohan, as muttered to himself by a campfire
When Captian Bémasbrand told me I would be accompanying Lord Thorvall’s men on their journey east to Cliving, I expected the Lord to be with them. I was surprised when we rode to Fréasburg’s Eastern Gate and instead of a fully-armoured Rider, a lady huntress in simple maille was at the head of our column. Some of those with her I recognized—Gamforth who is one of the town’s garrison and the quiet woman who I see sometimes at the market or the gate stableyard—but the rest were strangers. We waited a long while before taking the road, and I thought perhaps the Lord Thorvall should be showing up to escort us, but it was Rosehildda instead, returning from her ride ahead to say the road had melted of snow. I half-expected a speech, or some song, or anything else to mark my first long Patrol past the Westfold. But the huntress just smiled at us, as if remembering some fond story or a joke she’d not heard in a long while, and we were off...
Haeneth at the head of the column of Riders at the gates of Fréasburg.
We arrived at Maccus’ camp with hours of daylight left. It is only ten miles from the city gates, after all, and the roads were mostly dry, though the crossing is uphill and hard. I heard the huntress say we would stay the better part of a week. A week after such a short ride! We are barely out of sight of Fréasburg. On a clear day I can see through the gaps in the Trihyrne the Isen glisten as it flows west. I hope the whole road is not so slow. I am eager to see more of the Mark than just the Fréasmeade.
There was some diversion, at least. The Riders who are stationed there played games of dice and tabula, but Gamforth seemed to find the activity distasteful and brought out his lute instead. I’d not heard the song before, but I remember some of it, I think... "Once on a way, led to a field caressed by day.. Stood the shieldmaiden fair.. Her golden locks tucked away, sun shining on her hair..” There was more, and it was very good, but then the singing turned somber and I left to play dice with the Riders. When I looked over the man Orduin had joined in the music, and he had a fair and strong voice, but it was sorrowful. I wondered if he had been set with some misfortune to make him mournful as of late, but he has been smiling and laughing with the Riders, giving advice on the care of their equipment, passing out small tokens of new friendship and nearly as many stories. Of the women I saw little—they seemed to go about their own rhythms, as you would expect from women, I suppose. The lad Alweard was kind and friendly with his smile, but he kept to himself, for the most part.
Gamforth looks out at the sunrise over the White Mountains at Maccus’ Camp.
I see the wisdom, I suppose, in riding to the camp and spending some time there. We had fewer distractions than in Fréasburg, and I did get to know the Men I would be riding with a little better, even if only by watching them. The road we took to the Fréasmead Gate was as short and uneventful as our first, but we were there only a day before we carried on. I was glad for the rest, for what happened after...still chills me.
The road that passes over the mountain ridges above Helm’s Deep is narrow even in fair weather, and it was clear not many had been out to tend it since the mountain snows had washed away rock, root, and soil. We came upon something unusual—a cow, half-torn apart, lying in the middle of the path. I do not know the mountains well, but I did not think cattle graze so high up. It became clear where it had come from, for no sooner did we find it than we heard a terrible rumbling and felt the ground shake. A troll the size of a stable stormed down on us from the ridge and nearly knocked us completely off! I am no fighter, so I took the pack-horses back up the road, but from what I watched from my distance, the fighters were ready for it. Haeneth took the archers up the ridge to flank it from where it had attacked, while Alweard, Orduin, and Gamforth stood against it with spears and swords. I must admit...I closed my eyes.
I heard it, though. The shouting and the gasping. The squeal of a horse as it was knocked onto its rider—Gamforth’s, I later learned. The curses Orduin shouted to confuse and distract it, and the arrows...so many arrows that sounded...like puncture and suction at once. I only opened my eyes when I heard the beast howl and barrel down the gorge to be free from the melee.
Letting an injured troll go free in the mountains in which you are to camp is no wise move, apparently, for the huntress ordered its pursuit. Rosehildda took Gamforth on along a different route to our next outpost, and the rest of us followed the troll’s very clear trail. It ran off into a limestone gulch out of which water trickled, and it was too slippery and too narrow for horses, so we followed in on foot. When we could not go further, Alweard blew his horn and the beast exploded out of the cleft. He flung the man clear off the ridge, but Haeneth and Adriwyn injured it more with arrows, and with both swords Orduin landed the killing blows.
I watched, as before, from the entrance to the gorge. Their faces when they emerged were solemn and stricken, Orduin’s most of all. His gaze went more often than the others to where I’d watched Alweard’s body tumble off the cliff. Haeneth still carried his horn. As for the rest of him...
It was near dark, then, and there was no finding Alweard without risking the rest of us, so the huntress ordered us on to the next outpost, vowing to send Riders out before first light. I worried for the man, but truthfully I was glad to be out of the dark in the mountains and back by a campfire with timber walls around...
Adriwyn, Haeneth, Orduin, and Alweard pursue and corner the injured mountain-troll.
We made it to the Hornwatch before the last star came out and were exhausted. Rosehildda and her husband had made it there safely, but Orduin was in poor spirits, despite losing no lives to the ambush. Well, no lives but Alweard, and the huntress is sure he is still out there. She brought back his horn and has hung it on the lantern nearest our watch, maybe to remind us he’s still out there, maybe to encourage that he will be back soon.
I have some peace, at least. The Hornwatch is a quiet place. The only purpose of the ridge of outposts is to guard the roads and rivers around the Hornburg and aid in its supply in times of siege. They are not even fully fortified, with a handful of idle Riders to man the tower and send messages back and forth. It is a good respite after our troubles and the last glimpse of the Fréasmeade I’ll have before we descend into the Grimsdale and ride for Edoras. Edoras...the very name fills me with more thoughts than my conscious can keep up with.
We still keep watch for Alweard and over Gamforth. I watch Orduin, but he is hard to read and always in one fit of mood or another. Rosehildda is always away, at work, and Adriwyn...I try not to look at her too often, lest she notices. There are too few Riders here to play Tabula, and even if there were, I think the rest would look down on me. They busy themselves, and I am idle. Yet...I am only their squire, and I do my duty, and if that is not enough...then I shall be happy to see Fréasburg on our return, again.