After Imladris Interlude
I departed Tham Forodren and shut the door behind me. I thought I may well need its familiarity again on the return journey, for though we had set no time limit on our forthcoming explorations, it would not go on forever. It was my hope we would find those we were looking for and grow closer together in the searching. That would be enough. Anything concerning Cuivienan would be a bonus.
I stretched a little, easing the stiff, brown leather jerkin I wore. The long but thick red wool skirt was maybe not the best of colours to travel unseen in the snowy mountains, but it was that or the white dress. I knew which was more practical. A dark brown cloak, and fur lined leather gloves and boots completed my ensemble. I hoped it would be enough. I remembered the last time we had been in the Hithaegir, and trembled. It was not from the cold.
I had watched Estarfin closely since we met, looking for signs of any frailty, but it was not there. He had almost perished in those mountains. So had I. But his injuries were by far the greater that the healers thought he would never use his left arm and hand again. No more carrying a shield. Maybe no more holding sword or smithing hammer? It had been a dire prediction. Yet, at least to the outward eye, he had defied their words. He was as hale and capable as he had ever been. It was how that event had affected his spirit, if it had, that concerned me.
Throwing my saddlebags over my shoulder, I headed down the slope towards the market. Message had been sent the previous evening to the stable, to have Pelorian and Gilastor ready for a journey over the mountains. I had packed some food supplies and some waybread, though we might need to hunt once in the Vale of the Andune. Three filled water bags, a bag with basic healing supplies, broken bones or poisons being the only real concerns, were added. I had a long knife in one of my boots, a shorter one in the saddle bag, and Sarphir. I was ready.
As I approached the bridge to the stable yard I saw Estarfin looking at the waters. He was also ready, and with a thicker, furred cloak than mine.
I raised a hand in greeting. He turned. His hands moved swiftly across his own armour, checking straps and pockets. He nodded, cast a critical eye over my attire, then nodded again. I passed muster.
“You are ready to leave, Estarfin! Then let us be away.”
He took a look around the valley briefly, then pointed to the stables over the bridge. “Come then.”
As expected, Pelorian and Gilastor stood ready. Well fed and groomed, with thicker saddle blankets and a warm caparison if needed, there were also small bags of feed to ensure passage through to the Vale on the further side.
I walked over to Pelorian, who was watching me with her large dark eyes. I patted her on the neck, “We have adventures ahead of us, my friend. But first we must cross the snowy heights. It may be treacherous in places, but I know we can do this.” I said to her in Quenya.
I heard Estarfin addressing Gilastor in similar manner. The great, black warhorse tossed his head. He had not crossed the Mountains before, so he did not know what lay before us.
Mounting up, we headed behind the stables to the upper gate, at a slow walk. I turned in the saddle to address Estarfin, who was riding behind me.
“You understand, of course, we shall be passing quite close to the place we were rescued from? You have said nothing of your thoughts on the matter.”
He would not be afraid. By Tintalle, I knew he would not be afraid. But I did not want to provoke any dark memories of that time.
He frowned. “The vermin should be quieter this time of year,” he said defensively. “I shall not fall again.”
I nodded, though I was still concerned regarding his memories, and my own. “So they should. And the path we take goes above or behind most of their camps. A little further to the East and the path should be guarded by allies now.”
He looked curious. It may be he knew not of the men from the bear clans who watched the far end of the pass? But as they were men, I spoke no more of it to him at that time.
“We shall see,” he said.
We rode up the incline beyond the gates, between tall, sentinel pines, and then turned right as we approached Imdolen. After that it was but a few hundred yards before we were into the snows. And it was snowing. I drew up the hood of my cloak, glancing back I could see Estarfin seemed to have eschewed that idea, and the snow was settling in his hair. Cirith Imladris…we rode along it slowly and steadily. Estarfin and I fell into silence for a while, each of us caught up in our own thoughts of the place, I suspected. The horses spoke a little, a few snorts and neighs, that I thought Pelorian was telling Gilastor she had managed, and so would he. She probably missed out the part where she was swept away by an avalanche though.
We passed close by a Dwarf settlement, to the left. A few of their guards were on patrol. Given the location, they must have seen many elves travelling at times. Estarfin watched them closely. I understood he was suspicious, never having the closer contact with those folk that I had had.
“I would tell them where we go, lest we do fall foul of anything. But they will have enough of their own concerns on their minds, and in truth, what we do is none of their business.”
Estarfin nodded. “They are not our concern, nor are we theirs.”
And so we rode on, heading deeper into the Hithagelir. The snow was thicker, in many places the horses struggled, but then we found rockier ground and the decline to Frosthyle Pond, passing several foxes and a few thick furred lynx searching for food. The ice looked thick enough to bear our weight, but we took no risks and rode around it.
“This reminds me of winter rides around Helevorn,” I said, just as a matter of conversion. I looked back.
Estarfin shrugged. “The snow was deeper, particularly higher up.” he replied, sounding as if he wished for silence at the moment. “I remember sledge races as a child, and sometimes sleighs. That was frowned upon by the guards.”
“What did they not frown upon?” I smiled back. In truth the guards of the Citadel had been quite accommodating to the young, but we could be headstrong and overly adventurous. At least my friends and I could. I expected no less from Estarfin.
“Snowball fights,” I said.
He looked at me warily. “This is no place for such indulgence.”
I knew that. Not with our memories, but the thought was there now that I had not encountered him in the snowfields around Helevorn. One day, I thought to myself with a grin, one day I shall make up for it.
We turned the horses to another slope, moving down into a slight drift, then struggling out to turn right and make for Whitcleft. From this point on we could well encounter wolves or wargs, and maybe goblins. The pass was narrow, not a place to be caught unawares. We passed two old auroch hide tents, fluttering in the wind, deserted now. There were no footprints to be seen. But with the near constant snowfall that could give a misleading impression. Then, as we emerged from the pass there was a muted sound of galloping hooves as a small heard of reindeer ran past us. Our horses flicked their ears back and forth, listening, as were we, for sound of a pursuer.
And then they were in sight, two large wolves close on the heels of the hindmost cow.
I moved to draw Sarphir, but now alongside me, Estarfin shook his head. “The wolves are not interested in us,” he noted. “We should ride across to the High Pass.”
I nodded. Much as I disliked leaving any creature to the wolves, he was right. We must focus on our journey. The cow had no calf near her, and she had quite formidable antlers. The chase was not a foregone conclusion.
We pressed on. The snow was less deep as we passed Caldwell pool. Slippery though, so we could not chance anything more than a trot. I pointed ahead to our ascending trail. And there it was, the Northern High Pass.
We slowed to a walk again. The air seemed clearer as the snowfall lessened. But the Pass was steep so the horses walked again. Pelorian was puffing quite a lot, so half way up I halted, to let her rest momentarily. Estarfin turned Gilastor, so he could look over the vale below us.
“There are still some Goblin camps down there.” He pointed towards some distant Goblin camps in the valley. “Still they multiply and sully this place with their presence.”
“I would think they learned a lesson. Riders out of Imladris have hunted them several times since we were here. They cannot defeat us.”
Estarfin looked at me and shrugged. “You are surprised? Their numbers increase rapidly. And they are almost without end.”
He raised his head, hair now quite sodden with the snow, and hanging lankly about his face and shoulders. “Keep watch as we ride.”
I nodded. I thought we had managed well so far, with only two disinterested wolves encountered. I hoped that would continue.
So we turned the horses back on the windy ascent, watching and listening as we went. After several more minutes we came to a large bridge. It was not the work of our folk. Some said it was a giant’s bridge. I could quite believe that. Half way across, Estarfin dismounted, and walked nigh the outer edge. He looked out over the valley again and pointed out another goblin camp.
I remained on Pelorian for a moment, uncertain what he was looking for. Then he said,”I remember walking this bridge with Daegond, many years ago. The snow was heavier, it was colder…but….” He stamped firmly on the bridge. “Same bridge.”
Then I did dismount. I was hesitant to join him in his memories. They would be different to mine, though I had also had much regard for Lord Daegond. I knew Estarfin had been on patrols, missions with Lords Veryacano and Daegond before I had encountered him in Imladris. I knew he had been relatively happy there. For my part Daegond had ever been a friend and ally. He had some ‘different’ ways, such was true. I put that down to being raised among Celegorms people. But he was true to a fault.
“I miss him,” I said. “There are no others quite like him.”
Estarfin smiled slightly. “One was often enough.”
At that, I moved to stand at his side. The wind had whipped up again and was making wild with both of our hair. The icy sleet was in our faces, but for a few moments I think we were both warmed by memories. ‘I don’t forget you, Hound,’ I said in thought. ‘You taught me much.’
Then Estarfin turned back. He smiled to himself then walked back to Gilastor and prepared to mount up. “Come. We should not tarry overly long in one place,” he said.
“I agree. But the path ahead is treacherous. It may be best if we walk and lead the horses?”
And at that moment we had our first issue.
Three wargs slid down the slope at the far end of the bridge, and rushed at us. Gilastor stomped on one. Estarfin and I had drawn our swords and swiftly dispatched the others. There had been no time for them to cry out for reinforcements. Our good fortune may still be holding.
Pelorian was snorting softly in disapproval of the wargs. I took her bridle and made to walk on.
“Through Cirith Daur, then we can hopefully camp for a few hours at Vindurhal,” I said.
Estarfin cleaned his sword, checked his weapons were all in easy reach, and looked unconcerned. “We can make it before nightfall?” He gestured to the sky. “Or do you know the path in darkness?”
“As long as we do not encounter goblin patrols,” I said dryly.