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Flight of the Dunedain  by Halrohir Haladanion

The Dunedain took their rest in ease and comfort that night, knowing and trusting the Elves of Rivendell and their own Rangers would guard them in the night.  Such rest they had not known since the camp beneath the shadow of Weathertop, now long days and miles behind them.  But there was one who refused to rest.  Halrohir had not slept in three days, not since the arrival of Cambeleg and Dorwin to their company.  He felt a creeping dread in his mind and heart, that all the things he had done and achieved on this march were about to come to ruin, and he was determined not to let anything slip past his vigilance.  But weariness was taking its toll, and the youngest Ranger for all his stamina was stumbling as he walked, and others saw it.  One among them was Cormadin, Halrohir’s closest friend, who cornered him as he made a circuit of the camp, a cup in his hand.  

“Halrohir, stay a bit,” he said.  “You give yourself no rest.  You eat, but I have yet to see you sleep.  What drives you on like this, we need our newest legend on his feet, not on his knees!”

“What would you know of it?” Halrohir growled, clearly in no mood to argue.  “You were at the council, we cannot let our guard down this close to the end, and I will surely not…”

“I’m not speaking of our task, I’m speaking of you, foolish one.  You are no good to anyone if you are sleeping in the saddle, and a fall from Morindal’s height would kill you for certain.  Here, at least have a cup with me, as you used to?”

“As if I’ll addle my wits with a draught from something you’ve drained from some keg in the wagons, be serious for once.”

A chuckle.  “I am, at least this once.  This isn’t Galador’s pickle juice.  This came from Dorwin, who tells me through Cambeleg that you will either drink it, or we shall force it down your throat.  It will restore your vigor in ways that the Elves only know and won’t share.  Will you, please?”  Cormadin held out the goblet once more.

Halrohir looked at the cup and, taking it reluctantly, drained it in one draught.  Almost at once, the young man swayed on his feet, and leaned heavily against Cormadin who, smirking satisfactorily, walked Halrohir by the shoulder to the camp and cast him down on his pallet, snoring even before he lay down.

“So, you gave it to him?” Cambeleg asked as he walked over from the nearby fire.       

“Yes, and that fact he listened to me at all, showed me how exhausted he was, he barely put up a fight,” Cormadin said as he handed the cup back to Cambeleg.  “Can you tell me at least what that was?”

It was now Cambeleg’s turn to smirk.  “Just wine…” he said, and he walked away.  Cormadin laughed to himself, reached down and draped Halrohir’s cloak over his friend’s shoulders before leaving him to sleep.

Halrohir didn’t move for what seemed hours on end, before he rose to sitting and looked around.  It was still nighttime, the starry skies wheeling above him, no trees or firelight to block the ribbons and rivers of stars in the night sky.  As he gazed around him at the beauty of it all, to the east he saw the amazing sight of a star with a long tail, sparkling against the black of night.  All about it, so it seemed, were lesser stars that crackled for an instant, flaring with colors before winking out.  Off in the distance, as gathering on the edge of the sky, came cracklings and sparking as if of lightning on the cloud tops.

Halrohir watched the dancing flaming stars and lightnings for what seemed a long pass of time, struck by the beauty of the distant star fires.  And, as had happened twice now before, an image coalesced before his eyes; there in the night sky were two beautiful eyes watching him or watching over him.  But these were not the green eyes of the previous dreams.  These eyes were dark, deep as the night sky or dark as deep waters of the open sea.  They were the same, and not the same:  the green eyes held devotion and love, where the dark eyes beckoned like an irresistible summons.  Both eyes welcomed him, but differently, where the green said we belong to each other, the dark said you belong to me.

Halrohir wondered at the difference in these visitations to his mind, the green eyes and the dark.  He asked out loud, “Which are you, and from whence you come?  I have not seen you before, how it is you know me?”

And once more, a voice answered him in the Elven-tongue, which he understood instantly – and this voice was different from before.  The green eyes’ voice was soft and gentle; the dark eyes’ voice was sultry and demanded one’s attention:

“I gar-dartha annin, lindir. Tol Imladris, i tir anim hal vin i lynyd. An im Elennaur!” 

[I have been waiting for you, minstrel.  Come to Rivendell and look for me, and we shall lift our voices in song.  For I am Starfire!]

Halrohir stood transfixed, watching the night sky and the fires sparking overhead, and the unfathomed depths of those compelling Elven eyes until he was abruptly shaken to wakefulness by Cormadin.  He had slept the night away in the same place where Cormadin laid him and threw his cloak over his shoulders, and he sat up shivering; from the chill or the dream, he could not tell.

“How long have I slept?” he asked Cormadin.

“Long enough to recover your wits, I hope,” Cormadin quipped, “though it may take until Midsummer for uninterrupted sleep to achieve that.  And by then, Morindal will have eaten your cloak, your tunic, your shoes, and you’d be running about in your nightshirt!”

“Harsh words upon waking – what are you, a wife?” Halrohir retorted.

“And just who have you been speaking to?” Cormadin asked smiling, “unless you have plighted your troth with Ercolindo!?”

“Fighting words, friend,” Halrohir laughed as he stood and hurled a pebble at Cormadin that bounced his friend’s retreating back.  But, he had to confess, Cormadin was right in that he felt more rested than he had been in a while.  He would be able to bear the burden of leadership for one more day.  He looked around the camp to see the folk barely stirring in the early morning, just before dawn as it was.  There were almost no Dunedain on guard or watch this night, as the Elves patrolled the bounds of the dell ever watchful for any sign or sound of trouble.

Halrohir gazed into the eastern sky, looking for signs of the dawn’s light, and knowing that just beyond that horizon lay Rivendell and the hidden stronghold of the Elves, and journey’s end.  But against his thought, looking into the starlit sky brought back the memory of the dark eyes and the message in his mind.  A riddle once more, another message of foresight which had to be answered.  First, he sought out Galador, but seeing he was still asleep, he looked for Cambeleg, who was speaking to two other Elves whom he did not recognize, possibly scouts reporting in.  Halrohir called to him, and Cambeleg came to him, smiling.

“I am still troubled, friend Cambeleg”, Halrohir said, “by two things.  Firstly, they have not assailed us in force for weeks now, save that you have dogged their movements and balked their plans.  It’s bought us precious time to move the caravan this far.  When whatever captain leads our foes finds out the speed of our movement, I wonder what act he will take in a desperate attempt to strike us.”

“And secondly, answer one question for me: what or who is Elennaur?”

Cambeleg started at the word.  “For what do you ask this?”

“Because just this night, I saw and heard something in a waking dream; eyes as dark as the moonless night, and a voice the like of which I’ve not heard in all my life.”

“Elennaur. You touch on something of a mystery.  She is an Elf, a healer in the house of Elrond.  She is of the Sea-elves kin, an ancient people with deep wisdoms.  Some say she is more sea-creature than of Elven-kin.  Her brand of healing is not of the body, but of the mind and spirit.  It has been said no secret of the heart can hide from her eyes, no wound of the heart cannot be changed by her caress.  And when she sings, her voice can either lift your heart, or break it.”

“But, to help answer your first question, these are scouts, even as you thought, come to report of what they have seen,” Cambeleg said.  “The Road up to the Ford of Bruinen is clear for now, but off to both north and south are signs of small camps made by scouts and spies of the enemy.  The Bruinen is surely being watched, but by how many, we cannot surely say.  There were wise words in council about the chance they are pursuing us, so I ordered posting a small company right at the Bridge at Mitheithel, as a rearguard to prevent any pursuit.”  

“How soon do you think they will be in place?” Halrohir asked.

“Soon, I judge, but we should start the next leg of the march at first light, or close”, Cambeleg said.  “The Elves of my company are riding ahead, doing the work of your ‘quartering party’ as you call them.  They will choose and prepare a campsite for the night.  As you say, haste is life, and the day’s march will be farther than your people have been wont to try.  But the need is greater.  For I, too, share your concern of the growing threat.  Come, let us see to the readiness.” 

And as the two walked about the site inspecting the preparations, they became less and less satisfied with the progress of readiness.  The rest of the previous night had made the Dunedain refugees sloth and complacent, or maybe it was their weariness finally catching up with them.  Galador, who had risen groggily from his corner, began issuing orders in a cross tone, spurring on the others with an urgency not seen on the march before.  The tents and shelters had been struck, the wagons and carts staged, and the caravan finally prepared to move out with the sun fully risen above the trees and the hill; they were hours behind time for the march, and the leaders knew it.

Elven riders now kept pace with the line of march, coming and leaving in pairs, some headed west back to the Bridge, others east up the Road, still others breaking north and south to glean tidings from the wilderness.  By unspoken agreement, the Rangers kept their patrols and scouts closer in to the caravan, forming the inner wall around which the Elven cavalry formed a screen.  The carts and wagons rolled along, those on foot jogging along to keep up.  Those who tired or could not match the pace were placed in wagons or among the draft animals.  Several times a cart would throw a wheel or break a harness; moved off the road, the repairs were done rapidly with the caravan moving past them, until they would hasten to rejoin the march, watched over by a rider guard. 

All through this time, the Rangers kept up a ceaseless guard, roving round about the caravan, patrolling for even the slightest thing out of place in the land.  The Trollshaws tumbled down from the north, giving a watching enemy too many places to hide or from where to spring from ambush.  The Rangers smelled out every possible danger point, every hollow from where an attack might come.  Galador and Angbrand were as hawks on the wing, watching from the great wains and craning their eyes here and there at the edge of the road.  The youngsters Meldor and Cenion rode with the Elves in the out-companies.  Cormadin had the lead riders, Ercolindo the rearguard.

But Halrohir was seemingly everywhere.  The sleep he gleaned should not have been enough, but he strangely felt refreshed, energized as if lightning coursed through him.  Doubly alert and powerful, he and Morindal rode in wide circles and up and down the line of the march, many marveling at the endurance of the youngest Ranger and his mighty mount.  Morindal it seemed, reveled in the challenge of keeping up with his rider’s demands.  Tirelessly they rode on their errand, stopping only to take a bite or drink before thundering on to their next task.

The day wore on, the sun peaking in the sky above, then sinking to the west, then slowly and ominously setting in scarlet and orange streaks through the clouds.  Still the Dunedain marched on.  The dark was beginning to settle about them when Dorwin and Cambeleg rode up to Galador and the other Rangers, who were conferring at the lead wain.  The concern on the Elves’ faces was plain.

“We have reports from the rearguard at the Last Bridge”, Cambeleg said.  “Far off to the west, a single great fire is alight at the edge of sight, maybe at the place you camped when we met you, five nights past now.  It is a mighty bonfire in the night, more than just several watchfires.  We have not gotten anyone close enough to investigate further.”

“That puts them two days behind us, at most”, Ercolindo said.  “But they now know we’ve crossed Hoarwell, and are on our way east, and that your folk are guarding the way.  This bodes well, I believe.”

“That’s behind us, I worry of what’s before us,” Halrohir countered.  “We are a day and more before Bruinen, and Cambeleg still has no word from the Fords.  Can we not send riders to be certain?”

“We shall hear from our scouts by tomorrow noon, mellon nyn, I have already seen to it”, Cambeleg said.  “But I urge you to do as you did today, and a second forced march is needed.  That will put the Dunedain further along, and your next camp after this will be within sight of the Fords at last.  But for tonight, the camp is already prepared.  There is wood and kindling in plenty, and water and food as before.  The horses and animals can graze as needed. Come, all of you, camp again and take your rest.”

Once again, the weary Dunedain were treated to the Elvish hospitality of bright fires and satisfying food and drink, but the word that came to them dampened the good spirits somewhat:  rest as you can, another forced march tomorrow, and uncertain conditions which meant this would be their last comfortable camp.  The folk took it in stride, all the same; morale in the camp was still high, they had hope with the presence of the Elves that all would now be well, and their Rangers would still be there.

The flight of the Dunedain was turning into a race, against time and the enemy. And what would become of it no one knew.

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