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Flight of the Dunedain  by Halrohir Haladanion

The camp in the hollow began stirring even as the eastern sky began to brighten.  As soon as there was light enough to see, the Dunedain began to break camp in the cold mists that sank to the bottom of the hollow.  Only a few fires burned in the fog, for there was only fire for need, not for comfort.  The folk were busy packing bedrolls and blankets and furs, stowing gear and equipment, and readying the draft animals for the day’s trek.

A party of six riders once more made ready to ride out first, the quartering party that Halrohir had led the day before; today, Cormadin rode in the van, to scour the road before them.  Cormadin sought out his friend before he set out, and found Halrohir struggling with the hitching of the great wain, trying alone to harness the wagon to Blackfoot, who would now let no one else close.  Even Cormadin, as used to horses as any of the Rangers, pulled up short when the dark beast snorted defiance as he approached.

“Well, what manner of work have you found for yourself?” Cormadin asked wryly.  “Have a care, Halrohir – Blackfoot has been known to eat whatever he can reach, so watch out for your cloak, it looks tasty to him, I wager!”

“Better a tasty cloak than tasteless words, eh?”  Halrohir laughed as he succeeded in getting the harness secure around the horse’s great torso.  “The least you may have done would be to lend a hand with the labor – or why do you delay your riding out?”

“Can I not spare a few precious minutes with one whom might miss me when I leave?”  Cormadin laughed in turn.  He and Halrohir had endured the Trials of the Rangers together, and had been fast friends for much of their young lives.  Once more, he tried to approach, and came up short to the towering threat of a snorting black horse.

“It would seem”, Cormadin said, “that this one will let none close to him - or you, perhaps?  Maybe he protects you…”

“You are being foolish, friend”, Halrohir said as he emerged from behind the horse’s bulk.  “At least my task is done, and this great horse is ready – see to your own mount, and perhaps it will run as quick as your wits!”  Smiling at the jests, the two men looked at each other, and then seriously nodded in parting, and Cormadin moved off to mount his own horse and lead the quartering party.  Halrohir watched his friend ride off, then turned to finish up what remained of harnessing Blackfoot, and to his surprise, the horse was also watching the others ride off, a silent but thoughtful look to his eyes.

“I have heard of how you suffer none to ride you, great thing”, Halrohir said to the horse, leaning close as he finished the harness knots.  “Do I see you desire to run with the others, with a heroic and furious charge?”  Blackfoot turned his head and nudged the young Ranger.

“Maybe someday, pulling weights will not be your work, if the right rider comes along – but it seems to me you’ve waited a long time”, Halrohir said.  “There, your harness is ready for a long day’s dragging.  Let me get you moving”.  Halrohir climbed aboard the wagon and with a flick of one rein, drove the wain to the loading area where Galador stood with the others.

“About time you got that wain ready, young one!  We are late in starting”, Galador scolded.  “What, the black did not allow anyone but you to touch him?  So told Cormadin, I think he’s scared off for now, so find your own mount and quickly!”  Halrohir gave the wain over to the two drovers, and hurriedly sought out his own horse.  To his surprise, the horse stood already saddled; Cormadin was waving on the rise above the camp, then turned away.  Halrohir smiled at his friend’s thoughtfulness.  

Halrohir then heard a low horn call:  the ride of the Dunedain was about to resume.  He fell in with the column of wains, carts and wagons, at the front of the column with Galador, waiting for the old Ranger’s orders.  Galador was silent for a good long while, as the morning went on.  The sun, which had been directly in their eyes when they started, had climbed now to that they could march without shading their eyes.  

“Halrohir…” Galador said, “order two of your fellows to ride a furlong ahead – there is fog up ahead, or my eyes water.”

Halrohir nodded, and motioned for two Rangers to ride forward.  After a few moments, one of them could be seen riding back swiftly, halting near the wagon.  “This is not fog, but smoke – Cormadin has found a wagon, pillaged and left to burn.  No bodies were with it, and whatever goods were aboard have been taken, save for this!”  He held up a torn and slashed cloak of thin weaving.

“Someone tried to do as we do, flee along the Road”, Galador said, “Whatever of value they had is gone, but we know a few things.  This wagon was attacked by a group of someone, they were not defended as well as we are, and they paid dearly for their passage across the fens.”

“Should we not make these ruffians pay dearly for their goods in turn, captain?”  Halrohir asked.

“Haste will ruin us all, Ranger”, Galador.  “Especially such rashness as you propose.  I can tell one thing of this rag:  it is that which was worn by those who are not defenseless.  For behold!”  He draped the cloak over his shoulders; the hem barely covered them, not even reaching the buckboard of the wagon.

“A Dwarf wore this cloak, Halrohir”, Galador explained, “and Dwarves never go unarmed.  Whatever attacked them, was armed, and doubly as well, for them to be taken by ambush or assault.  Cormadin will tell us more, since he is at the wagon wreck, reading unspoiled marks; he will report as time permits.  For now, ride to the back of the column, and see to the rearguard, then report to me.”

Halrohir took this rebuttal and dismissal, and rode back along the Road feeling rebuffed for his willingness to attack.  As he thought, he realized he knew not who to attack or where – but the marks would reveal them – then, Cormadin would see them first, and know from where the attackers came.  He bit his tongue, and rode away.

Later that day after a long march and ride, Halrohir was once more riding next to Galador when a rider of the quartering party approached them.  “Cormadin has found a dell where the people may lie hid for one night.  Fuel is scarce, so is water, and he has had to forage long for fuel; but there is grass enough for the mounts.  There is little hiding to be had, as we had last night, but the entrance can be concealed easily enough.”

“Well done, Ranger”, Galador said, “guide us as you can.  Halrohir, send the word back across the column:  little fuel, some water, the mounts and livestock can graze, but we must be watchful tonight.”  Halrohir and the other Ranger nodded, and rode off to their errands.  Presently the dell came in sight.

Cormadin had done well, Halrohir thought to himself, the second camp was little less than the first; though lacking in certain comforts.  A call from one of the wains brought him around to see where Blackfoot would, once again, allow no one to approach him to remove the harnesses for the wagon.  So Halrohir dismounted, handed his horse over to a lad who worked on its saddle, and approached the great black steed.  Upon seeing Halrohir, the black stopped shying and pawing the earth, and became docile, allowing Halrohir to complete the task of unharnessing him.

“Your burden is double, Ranger”, smiled the drover of the wains, “but we can help you by unsaddling your mount in exchange.  I wonder if we might help you, if you are near enough to Blackfoot.”  The effort was only partially successful, as the great black kept moving and would not stand still.  

Halrohir had a sudden inspiration:  he leaned close to the horse and whispered in the Elven-tongue: dartho le, Morindal, gwain mellon nin, tol-lin vin*; the horse became more relaxed and allowed the others near enough to help.

“Well done, Ranger, I think this walking appetite likes you,” the drover said.  Halrohir completed the task quicker than before with help, and once again, after seeing to his own food, came back and saw once again the truth in the drover's words:  the great black accepted every offer of fodder given him by Halrohir's hand.

"Well done again this day... Morindal", Halrohir whispered to the horse, who nodded his head several times at the mention of the secret name.  "This cannot be your destiny or fate, just as watching a slow-moving caravan all day and night.  How I long to be in contest and combat, proving my worth not just with tests of strength - why, even you do, I think!"

The black horse called Morindal simply pressed his muzzle against Halrohir's outstretched arm, and said nothing.

* Hold, Blackfoot, my new friend, our time will come soon

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