The Mountain Path
I am sitting on the ledge of the window in my room. A warm breeze is blowing from the south, caressing my skin, lifting my hair. I cannot sleep, I don’t want to sleep, not tonight. My left leg is badly bruised and bandaged, resting on a soft pillow. I close my eyes, try to remember. Oh how many times I have to start this thought, how many times I have started over. How can I describe this day ? I wish I had the right words, but I do not. He told me that words are not always needed, and that is true, and yet I need to find some .
So I will not use many words to craft this memory that will stay for me for the rest of my life, instead I will use only a few selected ones. This was the day when I saw him washing in the stream and turned my gaze away with red cheeks. This is the day when I was given new clothes, sturdy and simple, but beautifully made. This is the day we walked on the top of a mountain.
Duncadda is back! I saw him washing in the stream by his camp yesterday , I turned my eyes away, there was no need to pry on such an intimate moment. I waited, until he saw me, and called my name. “ Good Morning Mearhe.” He said with a polite smile and nod. This was the first time he did not call me ‘lady’, it was a little thing, but it made me happy.
Tired and famished but happy, he tells me a few details on his hike. He almost made it to the top of the mountain, but was forced to stop by bad weather just before the summit. I listen and smile, I can hear the enthusiasm in his voice and the see the excitement on his face.
I look up at the mountains and sigh, I wish I could go there, I wish I could climb to the top. “Have you never been there ?” He asks. I explain I was never allowed to walk those mountain paths, but I love the fragrant forest and the snow-covered summits.
He’s silent for a while, then looks at me and says “ I would be happy to be your guide, I know the paths.” I feel my heart jumping. I want to do it, I want to go on the mountain. I know Winfara will not be pleased, but he has grown respect for Duncadda, as men often do with other men.
He looks famished, then again he always does. I invite him to the hall for a meal and he gladly accepts, but first he tells me he has an errand to run, so we agree to meet later. I go in and tell Gwenna to keep the food ready for his return.
An hour or so pass, he enters the halls and strides down towards our table with his usual confidence. He’s carrying a leather bag with two hands. He smiles politely again and puts the bag on the table. Food is carried out, and I pour some dark mead for him.
If you know Duncadda you know he likes his food, he clears the plate and drinks the mead. Happy and content, he then turns his attention to the bag still on the table. “ Last time we walked to the forest...you were wearing clothes that were not quite suitable “ He says. I know I did, those are the only travel clothes I have. “ So I would be honored if you accept this gift from me.” He opens the bag and takes out a bundle of clothes, sturdy, simple, but beautifully made. The stitching on the leather is superb.
I look at the clothes then at Duncadda, then at the clothes again. I run a finger on the needlework, I smile. “ They are beautiful Duncadda, how can I ever repay your kindness.” He looks pleased and smiles warmly. Winfara is not that far from us. I call him over and tell him my intention to climb the mountain path with Duncadda. Winfara at first shakes his head. “ Please let me go, I have never been there.” I plead.
Winfara then looks at Duncadda in the eyes. “ If any harms come to her, I will come after you. Keep her safe. “ He says in a deep calm voice. Duncadda nods in agreement to the fellow man, “ She will be safe.”
Having Winfara’s blessing is a first step. Duncadda and I agree to meet up the following morning outside the halls. I sleep little during the night. I keep watching the new clothes neatly arranged on a chair in my room. I am up before sunrise. The new clothes are comfortable but sturdy. Their color is not the usual color used by the men of the Mark, but deep warm browns to blend with the forest and the trees. They fit perfectly. I look at myself in the mirror and for a moment I think I see a new woman standing there.
I run downstairs and fill my bag with some bread, cheese, and a couple of apples. Gwenna looks at me with her mouth open. “ Do you like my new clothes, Gwenna? “ I ask with a grin.
The air is fresh and clean as I step outside, and there waiting for me is Duncadda. I look at him and tilt my head. His clothes match mine. For some reason this pleases me so. He smiles and nods at me, then is a low voice “ Follow me” Those simple words make me feel happy and safe. The sun is rising in the east, and we are walking out of Aldburg and deep into the forest.
It is a beautiful day, the sky is clear, birds singing in the trees. I follow him, but also look around me, as we climb the steep path, the views change around us, the air becomes thinner, and the mountains closer. It takes us some hour to reach the middle point. We stop and he points a peak in front of us. “ That is our destination.” I smile and nod, eager to get there. “ Are you tired?” He asks. I smile and shake my head. “ I am strong.” he nods looking down at me. “ I know you are,” he says with a smile. We move onwards and upwards.
As we are getting closer, we make another stop. This time Duncadda points at Aldburg below, and my halls now look small. They do not seem so scary from up here. Just an old building among the trees. He then points at the peak he was trying to climb on his hike. “I was almost on the summit, but the weather stopped me.” He says.
I listen and then tell him of the light I saw glistening and reflecting from that mountain. He looks at me with interest “ Maybe the sun caught the blade of my sword,” Duncadda says. “ Maybe I was meant to see the light, and the light was meant to glisten at that moment for me. “ We agree that was a good omen.
The last part of the climb is hard. The rock face is steep. I am still following his steps. Then one last push and we find ourselves on top of the world. High mountains towering still around us, but in front we can now see the Eastfold, the great rivers, and down to the south, the borders of Gondor. It takes my breath away, I am literally left without words to so much beauty. The sky is dotted with soft white clouds, the air is clean. I take a deep breath and smile. Duncadda is just behind me, looking down at me as always, and we begin to talk.
He asks me why I was never allowed to walk on the mountain. Words come easy to me. I feel full of life right now, I want to tell him, and I do. “ You must have been very lonely “ Those words are so true and so painful. Yes, yes, I was lonely, for many years, I knew no other life but that of service and obedience to my Lord and Master, Folcadda. “ Have you ever been lonely ? “ I then ask. Duncadda looks into the horizon, and for a while he’s quiet and thoughtful. He then tells me of his life. Dark times, sad times. His voice is low, there is pain in his eyes.
Our hearts are open and truthful now. Both of us have seen darkness, and have lived into the shadow of pain and despair. This we share, it forms a bond between us. We stay quiet for a while, listening to the wind blowing, then I hear my voice saying “ You come into my thoughts often these days, Duncadda. “ He looks down at me and nods. “ Thank you for trusting me with the tales of your life.” He smiles. “ You are a strong and wise woman of the Mark, it is easy to share with you. I never spoke about this with anyone “ I smile back. “ And you are a proud and brave man of the Mark, and I am grateful for your trust. “
We are still looking at the views. He points out to me a forest in the south . “ There lays the border with Gondor and the beacon of Halifrien close to the Whispering Wood.” I want to know more about this so I let him talk. “ It is a wonderful place , where the only sound you hear is the whispering of the wind, running through it. “ That makes me happy. “ I would like to go there one day, “ I say. “ You will.” The immense peace I feel right now on top of this mountain with Duncadda standing next to me, it is something I never felt before.
I take out an apple from my satchel and rubs it on my sleeve to make it shine. “ I hope now you will call me a friend.” I say. “There are reasons why I shared some of my tale with you. I do see you as a friend now.” He replies. I smile and hand him the apple. He takes out a small knife and cuts the apple, returning half to me.
“Then friends we are, now and for always, and this apple will seal our friendship and this bond, on this fair day, on the top of this mountain". We both eat our apple looking at the view. “ I think this has been the best day of my life so far. “ I whisper. “ I am honored you say so, Mearhe. “ He whispers back. We do not touch, but I can feel his presence and that is reassuring, and it makes me feel safe and happy. Soon we realize we have been out most of the day, the sun will soon set in the west, and it is time to go back.
And the mountains may rise and fall, and the sun might wither away, and the sea may claim the land and swallow the sky. But you will always have my promise. And the stars might fall from the heavens, and night might cloak the earth, but until darkness dies, I will always be here for you.
The descent is fast but dangerous, the rock face is steep. I slip and fall, injuring my left leg. It hurts, but It is not broken. Dun’s instinct is to help me, but he knows I am scared of being touched. He finds a stick to lean against. It is only a bruise. We walked back into Alburg as the stars begin to shine in the evening sky.
In front of the hall we stop. I just don't want this day, this moment to end, but it must. We are both tired, in need of a bath and some sleep. “ I wish I had words to say how I feel Dun, but I am not very good with them. “ I say. He smiles and replies “ Words are not always needed. I know how you feel Mearhe, because I feel the same. “
Winfara welcomes us back into the hall. He sees me on a crutch and is immediately concerned, but I reassure you I am fine. I turn and look at Duncadda standing there. I want to remember him like this forever, on this fair day, and the apple on the mountain. I don't want to leave, but I wish him a peaceful sleep and turn away from him.
My eyes are now filled with tears, but not all tears are evil.