Lore Note: This episode takes place two mornings after the attack of the Nazgul on the Prancing Pony as they search for the Hobbits.
Dawn broke with an apparent sluggishness and an unwillingness to yet again banish the darkness. The mist over the Barrow Downs was clearing but the howls and cries of the night still rung in the minds of most of the small fellowship. Faeladar was never fazed by such sounds and, having had his wounds redressed, had fallen into an uncomfortable, but relatively peaceful sleep with Reggie nearby. While death as an end itself did not worry Caethir, the process did. He also despised evil powers raising things that should be left deep in the tombs. He had decided the best way to put the evil day behind him was to be unconscious, which he did away from the others. Hanawen had slept near her father for comfort and Herynglas had decided not to sleep, which allowed her and Gwathruin to guard the camp at Dead Man’s Perch.
Early Morning Togetherness
It was the Dùnedan girl who woke first, to the rich aroma of breakfast the other scouts and adventurers were preparing. Yawning and stretching she inhaled the scent of sweet dew on the grass and, more importantly, the meat that was cooking on the spit. Easing herself gently out of the rollmat, trying not to wake her father, she stood and shuffled over to where Caethir was still dozing.
Caethir grumbled grouchily but eventually forced himself to sit and look at Hanawen, his head still groggy from the night before.
“Hey, yourself,” replied, trying to smile, “nice to see a friendly face in the morning.”
“Friendly, yes. Awake, not really. I’m hoping Bree has some good coffee when we get there. Or tea at the very least,” she replied, just covering her mouth in time for another huge yawn.
“And hopefully some real beds and clean water to wash in,” Caethir said, wistfully.
“Definitely. Oh, I hate to ask, but do you have any coin? We should probably eat but I don’t like asking these folks without offering something in return. Good food is hardly plentiful around here.”
Caethir rubbed his eyes and ran his fingers through his now-grimy long, dark hair, wishing he could wash after the last couple of days’ upheaval.
“Sure, just check in my pack. I didn’t think to remove it from there last night. Help me up, please, my legs ache from this uneven ground.”
Hanawen offered her hand, which he gladly took. Elf he may be, but strong in the mornings he definitely was not. The girl then went to find the pouch to go barter for breakfast. Caethir glanced around and, seeing his mother leant up a nearby rock face, went to join her, placing a light hand on one of her shoulders.
In Need of Encouragement
“Morning, mother,” Caethir smiled, “anything of note happen last night?”
Herynglas shook her head.
“No, Gwathruin did a few scouting trips but I think he mostly did that to find food. He always flew towards the Barrow-Downs but I highly suspect he flew round these hills and back towards Bree. Barghest meat can be tough and most of the small vermin here are poisonous.”
“That makes sense and there are a good number of boar that wander between here and Bree,” Caethir agreed, “Where is he now?”
“I told him to be free for a couple of days, but I would call him if needed. It seemed only fair after yesterday.”
“I agree with you there,” Caethir nodded.
Broaching the Unknown Before Breakfast
Sensing movement behind them, he turned to see Faeladar similarly being helped up by Hanawen. Although he seemed much better, the Captain’s leg was clearly still troubling him.
“There’s something familiar about that girl, don’t you think?” Glirheryn asked, keeping her eyes fixed towards the Barrows.
“Yes and, to a lesser extent, her father too.” Caethir agreed.
“I was thinking more in terms of temperament and character,” his mother clarified, “but she seems very at ease with you.”
“How do you mean?” Caethir asked, feeling a little puzzled, “I get the feeling she’s at ease with anyone she trusts.”
“Maybe, but she isn’t the same with me as with you. Maybe I’m still shaking off the ‘old me’.” Herynglas sighed.
Caethir put an arm around his mother’s shoulders.
“Be patient with yourself,” he encouraged.
Herynglas put a hand on his that lay on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Thank you, I will try. I should also tear myself away from looking for trouble and go join the others.”
“There should also be breakfast, which I suggest you take,” Catheir pressed.
There was a slight pause, which Faeladar’s call interrupted.
“Elf friends, time to eat so we can begin the walk to Bree soon.”
“Well,” Hanawen added laughing, “the hobble to Bree anyway!”
A Careful if not Care-free Walk
An hour later, the group had cleared up their belongings, tidied up the camp and descended from Dead Man’s Perch in the direction of Bree Town. It had taken Caethir and Reggie’s strength to support Faeladar down the steep decline to the foot of the hills as the path was worn and gritty. On more than one occasion they had just caught themselves in time to prevent the Captain from landing face-first in the dirt. For her part, Herynglas had placed herself at the back of the line, just behind Hanawen, as if trying to figure her out.
Though, in fairness, I’ve caught her on more than one occasion doing the same to me, she rebuked herself.
A Welcome Change
Bree Worryingly Subdued
Once they arrived at the West Gate of Bree, a grumpy guard, standing stiffly at his post, gave them a resentful greeting.
“Morning travellers, what is your business in Bree?” he asked gruffly.
“Since when was every passing traveller questioned about their motives for visiting Bree?”
“If anyone else had asked that I would have bitten their heads off,” he guard scowled, “but supposedly, despite you being one of them Rangers, you’ve helped folk around here recently. So I’ll humour you.”
“Then humour me, I need to get in to sit down and quickly,” Faeldar insisted, wincing as the treatment on his leg wound was beginning to need reapplying.
“Fine,” the guard reluctantly agreed. “Since yesterday we need to check everyone entering and know who is leaving Bree. No exception. Well there are exceptions for those worthy of them,” he sneared. “So I’ve answered your question, now what about mine?”
Caethir glanced at Herynglas who just shrugged and shook her head. Faeladar cleared his throat and took a breath to calm himself after the unexpected anxiety caused by requiring to justify himself.
“Our business is quite simple,” he explained, “I need rest and medical supplies for leg-wound suffered yesterday, which my daughter here will help me with. My friend Reggie here is my loyal guard who likely needs to mend weapons and purchase supplies. Caethir is passing through on the way to the Lone-lands and the other Elf is Herynglas who, I don’t know her plan actually.”
Herynglas interjected before the Guard decided she could not be admitted to Bree.
“Once the party is rested and recovered I will be coming back through this gate and departing Bree-land.”
The Guard huffed.
“So you’re spending coin and not getting nothing in here to sell you say? I suppose that’s alright. Just don’t cause any trouble else it’ll be your heads and, after last night, likely mine too.” he complained.
“What happened last night?” Hanawen asked.
“You’ll find out if you ask the wrong people. Now get in before I change my mind.”
A Disturbing Lack of People
This morning was different, radically different. Traders’ doors, which would normally be open, were closed with notes pinned on them stating “enquire within”. A few people were seen crossing the street, but they had their heads down and were clearly focussed on getting where they were going as quickly as possible. Bree was worryingly subdued, nearly silent.
“Well this fun,” Hanawen observed sardonically, “let’s hope the Prancing Pony is a little more welcoming”.
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