The company ventured out of the Old Forest, led by Herynglas and ascended a small incline, which opened up to reveal the undulating mounds of the Barrow-Downs. Caethir motioned to them to stop, while he scanned the land for the most efficient route to Dead Man’s Perch. He, along with Herynglas and Faeladar were all frowning at the distant sight of angular figures pacing up and down the burial mounds. Reggie kept rubbing his eyes as if trying to see what the others were focussing on.
“Why does everyone look worried? I can’t see anything but small hillocks and standing stones!” he complained.
Faeladar turned his head to his companion and placed a kind hand on his shoulder.
“I forget that most of the race of Men are not blessed with the far-sight of the Elves. Mine is only slightly better than yours, but I know what the shapes are. Will you trust me enough to say that you are not missing out and you will see that which we see soon enough?” he asked.
“You know I follow your orders, sir. If I didn’t trust you, I would not be here.” Reggie replied, bowing his head slightly.
The Way is Obscured
Caethir stretched then pointed a way South-East of where they were standing.
Herynglas turned to Caethir and was about to speak her question, but Caethir pre-empted it.
“No, the most direct route is not the easiest. However, on this occasion, I strongly suggest spending as little time on the journey to our destination. For once, speed will serve us better.”
Herynglas nodded her agreement, noting a new edge of authority and certainty in her otherwise self-doubting son.
“I certainly do not want to be here longer than is necessary,” Reggie noted glumly, “I just wish it were not necessary at all”.
“Apologies for taking the lead, my Lady,” he gently said to Herynglas, “but I think it would be better, for once, to let us protect you a little.”
“Be my guest, Faeladar. I’ll be relying on the Eagle to see what I now cannot. That puts me on the back foot, something that unnerves me”
“We are all a little unnerved,” the Dùnedan acknowledged. “Right Reggie, let’s go”.
And with that he began taking steady strides in the direction Caethir was facing.
The Fate of Human Frailty
The further into the Barrow-Downs they travelled, the denser the mist seemed to become. Haunting howls could be heard echoing all around them and on more than one occasion they all felt they could hear words being directed at them.
“The dead do not suffer trespassers. Trespassers will suffer.”
The group edged their way further in. Sometimes the ground would crunch underfoot and at other times, oozing mud would adhere itself to their boots, slowing their progress. Caethir’s quick reactions saved Reggie from the assaults of the Barghests, their vicious teeth not being permitted anywhere near his companions. It was nearing midday when they approached what they believed to be about the half-way point of the perilous trek. The creeping dread seeped into all their minds – even the usually-fearless Herynglas was beginning to look worried. None of them could decide which was worse – the haunting cries of the wights, or the deafening silence between them.
“I’m already tired and I think we still have a long way to go!” Reggie complained, “Can we at least get some food?”
“Stopping would not be wise,” Herynglas pointed out, “while we are moving, we will attract fewer abominations at a time.”
“But this mud and mist – and knowing what manner of creatures surround us – I already feel faint!”
Faeladar reached into Reggie’s backpack, pulled out a few hunks of old bread and handed it to his companion.
“Eat quickly,” he rasped, “You need your hands free for your sword!”
The Battle at the Barrow-Downs
At that very moment, Herynglas’ Eagle let out a cry. Caethir spun on his heels to see why they were threatened, while stringing two arrows onto his bow.
“Three shapes over there!”, he shouted, louder than he had intended.
“And two behind us, my son” Herynglas called, pointing with her staff.
Him, along with the two Elves, formed a triangle of defence around Reggie. A deathly rattle of chains and ancient armour against bone rushed the surrounded group.
Reggie froze in fear, neither eating nor fighting.
“Come get it, uglies!” Faeladar growled and rushed in swinging his sword in a wide arc in front of him.
The Eagle swooped time after time, harrying the sallow skulls of the wights and successfully downing one. After loosing three arrows, only to see them whistle through the skeletal forms, Caethir abandoned his bow at Reggie’s feet and took up his swords instead. Overcome, Reggie fell to his knees and wept, dropping his bread into the stinking mud.
“Leave me alone, get out of my head!” he begged, trying to cover his ears in a vain attempt to block out the ghostly voices.
Caethir was locked in a seemingly-unending battle against one particularly tall wight who brandished a somehow-unfaded sword and angular shield. Many times he blessed the Valar that he had worn his armour on this day – that he had learned his lesson from the start of his journey in Evendim. The sword glanced over his chest with barely a scratch, allowing Caethir to parry with his left hand. Suddenly his adversary let out a terrifying scream that gave it an opening, viciously swiping its shield across the Elf’s face with a sickening crunch. Bruised and disorientated, Caethir fell to one knee, but as his foe brought its sword to bear on his head, the Elf swung his right sword across the knee-joints of the wight, which fell awkwardly to the ground. Willing his body back onto his feet, he kicked the skull from its neck and the thing moved no more.
He spun around in time to see a Barghest charge at Reggie, howling and growling with blood-lust. He was about to intercept the beast when fire burst from behind him, incinerating the hound with seconds to spare. Then, for the moment, there was respite.
“Disgusting things,” spat Herynglas in defiance, wiping cold sweat from her face.
The Fellowship Separated
“Where’s Faeladar?” Caethir asked, suddenly aware he could no longer be seen anywhere near them.
Herynglas looked around and shrugged. After a moment’s pause the lady had a horrifying realisation.
“And where’s Gwathruin?”
In the thick of the battle and the desperate struggle for survival, none had been watching for the Eagle.
“I’m supposed to take care of Gwathruin, we work as a team. What have I done?” she moaned, as she felt grief overtake her.
“Reggie, stop listening to the voices. You need to make some sense!” retorted Herynglas, crossly smearing her tears from her eyes.
“I am making sense, follow his cries!”
“Oh. Sorry.” the Elf apologised.
Caethir tilted his head and thought he heard the voice of a Man just barely penetrating the mist.
“That way,” he pointed.
“So much for taking the direct route. None of us know where we are going, now.” Herynglas despaired.
“My lord always follows the heat of battle. Only here,” he shuddered, “there’s no heat”.
A Soldier Emboldened
The Man struggled to his feet, retrieved his own sword and Caethir’s bow, which he handed back to him.
“Wasted a good piece of bread too. I should have just pushed through. But we should get moving again.” Reggie concluded, ashamed.
“These fallen wights are not defeated. Not even banished really. If we do not move now, they will reanimate. Then we’ll have the same number of foes as before, and one less person with which to fight them. Time to go rescue your lord and Captain.”, he affirmed, “And mother’s Eagle, I hope.”
Reggie re-settled his backpack then began trudging in the direction they thought they had heard a voice. It was not normal for Faeladar to get picked off by any enemy, but then the Barrow-Downs were hardly what he called normal. But he had to find his master – and fear of his fate drove him forward. But the voices would not beat him next time.