Third Reflections of Squire Ifllwine, Long Overdue



Reflections of Squire Ifllwine of Rohan, as muttered to himself by a campfire...some time ago
 

We left Cliving...how long has it been now? Every day since has seemed a blessing. For the two weeks we were there I had nothing to do, and yet I could not get a moment alone. It is one of the largest cities in the Mearc, crowded and bustling. Every inch of space boasts a lord’s proud house or a ring of travellers’ tents. There are fields, but they are for the Riders’ practice, and the streets are crammed with low-stone walls. The canals—they were a beauty at first, I will not lie. A work of Men to be praised. But at night it is like camping at the foot of a waterfall. I barely slept for the thunderous noise, and when I did, I woke up with dreams of drowning. For having lived my whole life on the shore of the Isen, I never faced the sounds of such a torrent.

Six weeks on the road since we reached the ancient fortress...and for what? At the welcome feast I heard talk of trades and treaties, but that was the last of either I heard. The Lords and Ladies have their own business, and I let them keep it. The mead, though, was fine indeed. 

Orduin, Dytha, Sheldian, and Alweard at Cliving's Feast of Welcome.

Throughout the fortnight within the city, my fellows made themselves busy, selling what we’d brought up from our stay at the trading post a day south for goods we’d need on our journey further east (east...again...and I thought Cliving was our furthest destination, but we ride for the Wold is the news). Captain Orduin seemed the one tasked with the healers’ aid and supplies, for I saw him at the apothecary often and even accompanied the healer's daughter once to the kitchens, where the locals who are not esteemed enough to sup at the mead-hall can find ale and a carving with gravy for a decent price. Lady Dytha was surely busy with noble matters, for she spent most of her time in the company of Lord Sheldian, when she was not in the Mead-hall with the rest of us, sharing stories. 

Orduin at the Oathsworn's camp.

Twice the warband left the walls to hunt enemies in the Norcrofts. An uruk-band they slew, and a warg-pack that Gamforth and Rosehildda had spotted days ago on our road north from Cadabrand’s Camp. They slew all but a handful of beasts and chased the rest off. Only the Captain and Rosehildda were injured, and I have been told one Osythe is to thank that there was not worse injury to all, for she spotted the skirmish from a distance off the road and hurried to aid. And so another joins our band.

Thorvall accompanies Gamforth as he leads the Oathsworn against the warg-horde. 

The road to Cliving itself was easy—much smoother and swifter than the mountain-passes and marsh-trenches I am used to. Before Cliving we camped at the Trading Post just north of the river flowing west from Elthengels. Much of our troll-hoard we traded there for goods to be sent back to Fréasburg or north as gifts to Cliving. It was my favorite rest, but not for the wares or better fare on which we feasted. The company gathered around the fire and Lord Thorvall bid them each tell a tale. 

Rosehildda recalled one day when out gathering, she heard a distant rumble from up a mountain path. Following it, the sound led her to a cave, and just as she thought she’d made a fatal error and stumbled upon a dragon—her lantern light fell upon a lizard lounging on a rock, its shadow rearing behind him. The bellow she’d heard came from the roar of a waterfall that’d carved out the back of the cave and crashed to a canyon far below. I nearly spit my stew out laughing. I am no story-teller, or I’d have shared some tales of my humble youth, but I was glad to be silent for the rest that followed...

Alweard recounted his own adventure. A very real tale of his finding of the cave troll. I had thought he’d been beaten off the ridge in the fight and found the cave quite by accident. I had not realized, as he recounted, he nearly lost his life to an orc who’d laid claim to it—Shoggat of the Mountain. He must have been a fearsome orc indeed to have a name for his own...a dreadful thing with fangs like sharpened flint and a spear to match. Alweard fought for his life, the orc for his troll-hoard, and Alweard won both that day. He told the story well, as a warrior should. He did not lord over us that it was the silver he found that bought our bread and filled our bellies since. 

Barst was last to tell his tale. I expected one of some heroic feat to match the grim mountain of a man. He began a tale of a great and fell fen-stalker in some distant land, on whose head the lord had placed a ransom. A fisherman’s son took his family’s wood-axe into the woods and climbed a tree to await the beast. Twice he was tempted by the wily creatures of the woods to come play, but he refused them all. When the boy found it safe again, he climbed out of the tree, but he landed on the back of a bear who spoke! It hurried him home, and the next day the village found the fen-stalker slain. Ever since, the Northman said, the bear became a symbol of the village, who respected the great beast, and he has guarded their warriors into battle ever since.

It seemed the kind of tale to tell a child, to impress a lesson, but the bear of a man seemed to take it to heart. He left the firelight to linger at the edge of camp. The captain followed him, and Lady Dytha’s gaze joined them, though in silence. 

I retired early, that night. The day before we’d ridden up from Cadabrand’s Camp. Other Men of the Mark had camped there, as well as travellers. I’d arrived late with Lady Dytha, her handmaid, and the Houndmaster, delayed on business from Faldham, and so met none of them, but it seems there had been some commotion. A traveller the band met had riled the Captain, and he was in a foul mood when we rode into camp. Better to have missed it, I think. I only follow this band under Captain Bémasbrand’s orders, and I do not intend to get involved in what personal matters plague them. 

The warband gathered at the Trading Post, sharing stories.

We reached Cadabrand’s Camp after a long, ambling pace from Entwade, following the road. It twists through farms wide as you would not believe. No wonder our diet in Fréasburg is more fish than grain. To make better time we skipped the long road south to Snowbourn and hurried through the northern border of the Sutcrofts, though I hope to see the city on our return. I have heard of its strange stone walls and the wondrous river for which it is named. We crossed it coming through Kingstead, but I have heard it grows mighty the further east it goes, lured by the hungry Entwash. 

Entwade is where we parted ways with the huntress who led us from Fréasburg. There at last did I meet Lord Thorvall and his daughter, Lady Dytha. I knew them, of course, from my time as a man-at-arms under Bémasbrand. For a year they have been guarding and guiding the council of Fréasburg. I am no councilman, so I cannot speak to that, though I have seen the Lady about the city and on patrol, when she is not on a King’s errand to Edoras. She has always been vivacious and kind, and I was honored she remembered my name. 

I look forward to crossing the Entwash again, though this time from east to west. I have enjoyed adventure, a little but I miss my home by the Isen. We ride further east, though, from Cliving. I am told we are to take oaths on Eorl’s Hallow. I am but a squire, and do not expect to be pressed for such loyalty. My sword is duty-bound to my captain, but it will be a solemn thing to witness. We approach the anniversary of Eorl’s victory on those very fields. If I can kneel at our great ancestor’s memorial on the some-hundredth year of his greatest triumph...my father would be proud.

Lady Dytha looks back on the Norcrofts' capitol as the Oathsworn ride east from Cliving.