N’wyn returned to the camp fire and slumped down next to her “Elf Friend” as Caethir called him. His actual name was Callodhir, a travelling companion and wielder of two fine swords. He passed the girl a cob of bread, which she reluctantly took.
“He will have no problems, you know?” he carefully asked.
“I know.”, was all she could reply.
“And he will return to Evendim.”
“I know.” she simply stated picking absent-mindedly at the bread, not making eye-contact with her friend.
“You will wait for him?” the Elf ventured.
“There is much for us to do here. My armour needs mending before our next foray. Passing time will not be difficult.”
“That wasn’t what I meant”, the Elf replied, sighing.
Caethir himself spurred his steed onwards, the wind rushing through his hair as he rode. Aware he would have to rejoin the paths before reaching High Kings Crossing, he tried to savour the moment of freedom on the hills as much as he could.
Is freedom the right word?, he thought.
His mind still felt clouded by the Evil he had encountered during his time based at Tinnudir and he knew that would probably not change until he reached The Shire. As he rode on, the sun behind him lighting his way, he thought he caught a glimpse of movement out the corner of his eye. Dismissing it instantly, he rode on albeit allowing his horse to slow the pace a little.
“I’ll need to find some fresh water for him anyway,” he muttered into the wind.
In the past he had considered himself a “wood Elf”, one more accustomed to fighting in the shade and protection of trees. But over the last year, his assistance of the Eglain in the Lone-Lands against the Evil facing that otherwise fair land, his necessary but brutal assault of Dol Dinen in the North Downs to protect the Rangers, he had grown to prefer open space. He had learned to rely on his sharpness of eye and quick reflexes, instead of placing false hope of the woodland. His steed slowed to a swift trot, as Caethir considered if he was any particular kind of Elf at all. The sudden, insidious Evil of Angmar seeping into the land, the horrifying spectre of Ivar the Bloodhand, the reanimated Dead he had had to face – all these forces seemed to have flung Caethir from crises to crisis.
“That’s why I need this journey,” he whispered.
This time he knew he hadn’t imagined it – a rustle of the bushes gave away a pursuer – or a spy. His horse heard it too and began to whinny in objection to being asked to continue forwards. Frowning, Caethir’s blue eyes darting here and there, he pulled the reins to tell his steed to stop and dismounted as slowly as he could.
I knew I should have kept my armour on, he cursed himself for that oversight.
Brigands and Tomb-Robbers had become more than just a nuisance of late and every time the Wardens had disbanded one cell, another appeared elsewhere. Some had been trained to be nearly invisible and silent in their movements, but this one had not been so stealthy. Moving around to the head of his companion, he stroked his nose and looked him in the eyes. Something was definitely amiss. Speaking softly into the horse’s ear, and pulling the reins gently down, the creature laid down.
I wish I had a way with nature like my brother. he thought, an image of Ayrthir crossed his mind.
“Now’s not the time,” he mouthed and turned back to the source of the sounds he had heard. He looked up at the clear Evendim sky, listening for anything that might help him. Cursing his tall stature he half-walked, half-crouched forwards, to provide a distraction, keeping his horse as safe as possible.
I really should name him, he pondered.
Zzzzip, Zzzzip! The Elf arched one way then the other to avoid the flurry of arrows. Drawing two arrows of his own he quickly lined up the double-shot and returned fire, wishing for once he had chosen the crossbow. Such a weapon could have been used flat against the floor. He only heard one thud, knowing therefore one had not hit a target. Dropping to the ground, he rolled sideways behind a mound of tall grass, which offered little by way of protection, but something in a way of covering. He balanced himself carefully on one knee and peered through the grass. He could nearly make them out now, a row off five, six, seven roughly-dressed humans, all with the same coloured sash. The mark of a particular band of Tomb-Robbers.
Couldn’t you, just for once, be looting a tomb, where the Dead could get you?
“Come out old friend!”, one of the brigands shouted, “Me and the boys want to have a chat!”
The Elf heard laughter.
Caethir pulled out another couple of arrows from the quivver, and loaded one, keeping the second between his teeth. He could not afford to waste many. Pulling the bow as tight to his face as possible he allowed it to sail towards one of the stronger-looking men. Without looking to see if it had struck down his target he immediately loaded the second and aimed for the leg of one of the women.
“I wish I didn’t find killing women so difficult,” he muttered through gritted teeth.
A howl went up, along with some cursing. Glancing up, he saw just five people standing, looking around. The one man who appeared to be the leader, suddenly turned and pointed and they began charging his position. He was out of time. He would have to make his stand here. Quickly fixing his bow to his back he drew his two swords and stood ready, his heart beating quickly. He tried using the seconds afforded to him to calm his mind down, but simply could not.
Why me? It can’t end here, I’ve barely begun!