The dense mist seemed to have no end. To the group’s relief, however, the wights seemed to have ceased their attacks, at least for the timing being. The idea that they would reach Dead Man’s Perch anytime soon had been forced out of their minds as a desperate search for their missing fellowship members ensued.
Herynglas was struggling to see through her distress at losing Gwathruin and she simply followed the others in a daze. Reggie had pulled out his red banner, unfurled it and attached it to its pole, which he had secured between his backpack and his shoulders.
“It may draw unwanted attention, but may also be the only way Faeladar can see us,” he reasoned.
“Yes, ironic we have to fight through death in order to find life,” Caethir mused.
It was now edging towards the middle of the afternoon and the constant attempts to focus in the fog, the trudging through mud and fearing what the next few steps would bring was beginning to weigh heavily on the trio. When even the now-courageous Reggie began to doubt they would find his master, Caethir stopped abruptly and dropped to his knees, searching the ground.
“There’s something here, definitely not from the locals, if you catch my drift.” he mumbled.
After a few minutes of scraping with his pocket-knife, he pulled out what appeared to be a brooch or pin with a horse’s head engraved on it. Reggie edged closer to the Elf and peered over his shoulder.
“It’s the crest of Rohan!” he cried, “Either this is a strange coincidence, or that belongs to my master. Such a badge pins a cloak to his shoulders should he feel the need for one.”
“Faeladar’s from Rohan?” Herynglas enquired joining them, “His name is more Elvish, though he is clearly a Man.”
“My lord was raised in Rohan and so were his daughters,” he explained, “Correction, one of his daughters was. I don’t know where he was born. He’s had a few names, though most of us have forgotten the others he carried.”
“What’s he doing in Bree-land?” Herynglas wondered.
“Same thing all his people are doing. Wandering, watching and protecting those who do not know the work they do.”
“…and not appreciating or trusting them either.” Caethir sighed, while tracing slight undulations in the earth with his hands, “Such is the life of the Dùnedain, or Rangers as most people around here know them.”
The howls of the wind and hounds echoed around them once more, setting them all on edge.
“We should keep moving,” Herynglas cautioned.
“In a minute,” Caethir replied, pointing to the ground near to him, “these marks are very recent.”
He had found what appeared to be sharp cuts and gouges in the mud. Reggie gave an unusual chuckle, in stark contrast to the cold, dead landscape that surrounded them.
“My master can be a little…over-zealous with his sword. Leaving cuts in the ground when he swings with more enthusiasm than is strictly required in the moment.”
“A sword could definitely have made these marks, ” Caethir slowly acknowledged, “Let’s see where they lead”.
They followed the trail and, where there were no sword marks, Caethir managed to find hints of footprints that helped them to keep moving. As they journeyed, Reggie and Herynglas defended the group from disgusting crawlers, haunting barghests and the occasional wandering wight. While the dread of the Barrow-Downs still penetrated their minds, hope that their friend may be found spurred them on.
On more than one occasion, due to focussing on where they were going to, they almost fell headlong into a Barrow. Rancid hands grasped for them, hoping to pull the living into the domain of the dead. Each time they were rescued by fire, or light, or a sword from whomever had spotted the danger first.
An hour or two later and, being so far off-course they wondered if they were doomed to stay in the Barrow-Downs for days on end, the trail suddenly stopped.
Evil Clouds the Mind
Caethir frowned and looked about for some hint of where they should go next. Tension seemed to cloud around him and he was developing stabbing pains in his temples.
“Is the fog getting worse?” he asked as his vision seemed to fade.
Reggie looked at Herynglas, who took the cue and stepped up to her son. With a look of concern she lifted his head to look into his eyes.
“We really need to get out of here,” she stated, “These Barrows are dark even in daylight. And even daylight will begin to fade soon.”
She held her staff into the air with her right hand, closed her eyes and placed her left hand over Caethir’s eyes, muttering something under her breath.
“I can see a little clearer now, thanks Ma” Caethir said gratefully, once Herynglas removed her hand from his face. “But I agree we need to move.”
Reggie gave a gasp.
“You’re not suggesting that we, we, leave now, are, are you?” he stammered.
Herynglas glanced over at the Man and smiled warmly.
“No, we’re just saying we need to move quicker. We’re not in the habit of abandoning allies.”
“Agreed,” Caethir acknowledged, stretching his aching arms. “On the upside, the fog seems to be lifting.”
The Hunter’s Intervention
Reggie stared about them and saw that, although the mist was as dense as it had been, it was now slowly moving upwards, revealing mounds all around them. Unspoken, each of them wondered how many times they had all but managed not to stumble into the dreaded tombs.
As Caethir’s eyes adjusted, he found he could make out a figure, previously hidden, just ahead of them, with its back towards him. Another form lay on the ground nearby. He motioned to the others to follow him and slowly approached whoever it was who had suddenly been revealed.
As they neared the two people, Reggie took a sharp intake of breath, seeing his master motionless.
“You’re too late,” stated the female voice of the one standing, who held a crossbow in her right hand.
“What, what do you mean?” Reggie struggled to ask.
“Your attempted rescue has failed.”