“Ugh, what a horrific night’s supposed sleep!” Reggie groaned forcing himself to sit, shivering as he did so.
Faeladar had been awake for a short while already, but the sense of dread threatening to make him vomit, had been plaguing him since he awoke.
“Can’t disagree with that. This wasn’t exactly my plan for this week.” he nodded.
Throughout the night, the howls of Barghests roaming the Barrow-Downs along with bodiless, terrifying cries had echoed through their camp. Faeladar had faced such creatures of course, but that had not made him immune to the horrors.
“I would be happier with Hana here, she’s seen off many more of these creatures than I”, the Dùnedan muttered.
“Which one?” Reggie asked
“Which Hana?” he clarified.
“Now there’s a question,” Faeladar mused.
As they fell silent they were aware of talking outside their tent.
“I hope they’re not at it again!” Reggie complained, “I can’t stand another day of their bickering. I thought Elves were supposed to be nice! Sorry, my Captain, I know your family is close to some Elves, but still…”
“It can be difficult for Men to understand the Elves have the full range of feelings. Including irritability. They are not without imperfections.”
A Surprising Unity
A short while later, the haggard pair exited their tent and shuffled towards the campfire. The welcoming scent of freshly-cooking meat began to awaken their senses.
“Morning friends,” Caethir pleasantly greeted, “I’d say good morning, but the only thing that’s good for you is breakfast!”
“Food cooked by anyone but me definitely makes this a good morning,” Reggie smiled.
“Hey, hey, hey now!” Faeladar jested, “I do sometimes make our wild meals!”
Herynglas, they noted, was unusually quiet and seemed more tired than the previous day.
“Did neither of you sleep?” Faeladar asked, frowning.
“There are more important things in life than sleep,” Herynglas quietly asserted.
Reggie was about to give an inappropriate observation when Caethir held up a hand.
“Faeladar, Reggie…I’d like you to meet my mother.” he said gesturing towards the lady.
Reggie’s mouth was still open, his joke lost on the air. He snapped his jaw shut, quite unable to process the revelation.
“My lady,” Faeladar bowed, “it is my pleasure to make your acquaintance, for the first time?” he asked
Herynglas nodded weakly.
“And you. I’m really sorry about yesterday.” she apologised, holding his gaze.
“There are more important things in life than holding onto yesterday’s hurts, my lady” the Dùnedan smiled, before kneeling by the fire and turning the spit of meat.
“Such as… breakfast!” Caethir laughed.
“You must eat now, the only path we can take is the one forward.”
His mother hesitated before nodding and accepting the proffered meat.
“I’m more hungry than I realised. Thank you.”
An Encouraging Word
An hour later their camp was more-or-less tidied away. Caethir had retrieved some dirt and twigs to restore the patches of ground the Men had slept on. Some local treasure-hunters and historians were also very grateful to be allowed what remained of the wolf-carcass. The campsite was still very dark, despite dawn having broken, which seemed to unsettle a few of their number.
“We’re lucky to find wild berries to eat here,” one had explain forlornly, “My Pa used to say I should learn to hunt, but I hated weapons. Twenty years later I realised he had been correct.”
They all had packs loaded and even Herynglas had accepted a small satchel of provisions.
“How do you carry all that weight and still manage to reach your sword, Faeladar?” she asked.
“My lady,” he explained gently, “if we are traversing the Barrow-Downs, you will want to keep your weapon in your hand.”
The Path of Nightmares
At the mention of the Barrows, the small company fell silent and the laughter of the morning quickly faded away. As one, they turned to the opening in the trees, each willing desperately that another would take the first step. The discomfort was broken by the appearance of Herynglas’ black-and-red Eagle who landed on the path in front of them and stared inquisitively at each member of the Company.
The path of nightmares was just beginning and all four Company members knew a long and trying day lay ahead.
“We had best not keep Gwathruin waiting,” Herynglas grumbled.
So it was that the Elf-lady led the party into mists of the haunted Barrow-Downs.