Caethir’s heart was beating fast and his mind was on overdrive as the Tomb-Robbers bore down on him. His hands gripped his two swords tightly and his eyes darted between each of the assailants.
“So you’re the Elf who has been leading those foolish Rangers against us!”, the apparent leader growled.
“Do we kill him, or just take his stuff and bleed him for information, boss?”, a female to Caethir’s right asked menacingly.
The leader pondered this.
“Oh there are so many ways we can get an edge over the Rangers with this prisoner!”, he smirked, “And we can still get the satisfaction from killing him in the end.”
“Ha ha, yeah,” snarled another brigand, “and so many horrors we can lock him in with too!”
“You’re forgetting one thing,” Caethir pointed out, amazed at how composed his voice sounded, “the Dead know who tresspass and steal from where they lay.”
“Who cares if you’re in and we’re not?” the leader laughed, “We have a weak Ranger who will break and bring glory to our Masters and coin into our pocket!”
He drew his own sword from its sheath, metal grated against metal and suddenly out of nowhere Caethir’s horse bolted right into the group of Tomb-Robbers. At the same moment arrows came flying from behind the Elf. Seizing on the confusion, Caethir swung both swords towards the Leader. In the commotion, he parried one attack and narrowly avoided another. Shouts of anger were being raised before being permanently silenced. The sun glinted off one of his own blades, temporarily dazzling him and he felt something strike his leg, the warmth of blood soaking into his trousers.
Crying out in pain he whirled around on the spot instinctively lashing out before the pain became too great. He dropped to one knee, dizzy and gripped the wound to stem the flow. It was only after some moments had passed that he realised silence had descended. Lifting up his head he saw that all the Robbers were lying dead and were being looted by some Rangers.
“Surely you must know it’s not safe to travel alone on this road?” the kindly voice of man behind him spoke.
Caethir gritted his teeth, tore off some fabric from his top and tied it around his leg.
“I’m not even supposed to be here, I was…trying to leave,” he began, “But yes I did another stupid thing and paid for it”
“Calm yourself, my friend, we can talk about that later. Just be grateful we were already tracking that particular band of Tomb-Robbers. Tell me you weren’t just walking around out here?”
My horse!, Caethir panicked, forcing himself onto both feet wincing in pain. He stared around wildly and gave a low whistle.
After some anxious moments he heard his steed trotting towards him through the grass. The animal had suffered some cuts, and out of a saddle bag two arrows were embedded.
“No I wasn’t alone, well, not really. Though I have my provisions to thank for saving this creature’s life. Are you from High King’s Crossing?”
The Ranger nodded and beckoned one of his fellows.
“Did we all survive this battle, Theodhal?”, he asked.
“Minor injuries but yes. The surprise advantage was ours, this time at least.”
“Caethir and his horse need getting back to camp and the Elf is in no state to fight. Escort them back and dress their wounds.”
The man called Theodhal nodded.
“You know my name?”, Caethir asked frowning.
“Of course, word was sent from Tinnudir that you would be coming this way.”, the Ranger replied
“I had hoped to make somewhat more progress today to be honest, but…”
The Ranger held up his hand.
“Fate does not care much for our plans. But we can react and alter our approach. Today stay at High King’s Crossing and we’ll make sure you make it to Dwaling safely tomorrow.”
Theodhal held out a hand to the Elf and helped get him settled back on his saddle. Caethir bent down and kissed the top of the horse’s head as an apology and the two Rangers walked them slowly down the hill towards the huge stone monument that also served as bridge and refuge.
An hour later, while one Ranger bathed and treated the wounds to his steed, Caethir was performing the same task on his own leg. Cursing his stupidity for not wearing his battle-armour, he was less than gentle with the gouge, pain searing up his body each time he forced the plant matter in too harshly.
He glanced over his shoulder at his friends’ affection and care towards his animal, he felt both in great company yet the lonliness of the journey he was undertaking. There would not be friends at every stage between here and Rivendell. He would have to be more careful.
“Your horse is very resilient, as are your bags!”, a female Ranger came over smiling, lowering her hood revealing golden hair tied back loosely. “We only had to do some minor stitches on the material.”
Caethir forced a smiled and sat back against the cool stonework, airing and resting his leg.
“That creature deserves more than to be called ‘my horse’ everywhere I go, but my skill is not with names or poetry.”
The woman sat down next to him and gazed at the creature.
“Theodhal says he came to your rescue at some speed. That’s such a show of loyalty.”
“Blind loyalty with no consideration of danger, yes, that is my friend.”, Caethir nodded, watching as a Ranger brushed the horse’s dark gray fur.
“When he realised you were in danger, we saw him charge just as we entered the fray, it was as though there was fire in his eyes.”
Caethir pushed his matted hair back over his shoulders.
He came at speed, like the wind. Yet he had eyes like Fire. he thought, bringing back his old language to mind by sheer force of will.
“I think you have helped me with those thoughts, my Ranger-friend. I will name him Gwaerennaur, Firey-Wind in your speech.”, he allowed himself a smile.
“I like the sound of that. And by the morrow he will be ready to carry you South.”
Caethir rubbed his eyes and stretched. It was still afternoon and the sun still shone through the white stone walls of High King’s Crossing. But the earlier battle had been draining. It was unanticipated and frenzied.
“You’ll stay here tonight?”, the woman asked
The Elf sighed.
“Yes, I’m not safe to ride until tomorrow. And Gwaerennaur should be fed and rested also.”
The woman laid a kindly hand on his shoulder, then stood and returned to her guard post. Caethir retrieved some parchment from his saddle bags, discarded those sheets shredded by arrows and began considering how to record his thoughts and feelings of the day.