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Star of the North  by Halrohir Haladanion

Chapter Three:  The Long Middle-Marches

Halrohir and Dorwin spent the night in watchful solitude after their crossing of the Greyflood.  All of them, both horse and rider, were taxed from fording the river, except perhaps for Morindal, who was if anything hungrier than his wont.  The giant black horse began cropping every tusset of grass within sight of the ruined house, while Forosul was simply munching in his fodder bag.  Halrohir and Dorwin were content with their shared meal, and the Ranger slept soundly while the Elf watched the hours pass undisturbed.  But neither of them forgot the encounter of the previous night with the thief in the shadows, upon whom they found the stolen letter of a King’s Messenger.  Halrohir mused on that long after the sun had set, reading over the torn parchment several times as he puzzled out its riddle.

“The parchment is torn in two, and only the bottom half remains”, he explained to Dorwin.  “So much of the messenger’s errand is gone, but this is plain, when and where he came from and where he was headed.  The last lines read, done by my hand in the city of Minas Tirith, on this the New Year’s Day, in the fifth year of the reign of The King Elessar, and of the new age the third, so signed, Camwaen, King’s Writer and servant of the Steward of Ithilien.”  

“This tells us that this letter was signed on the twenty-fifth of March, barely a month ago”, he went on, “and that the bearer rode out from the White City headed north.  He must have been waylaid at Tharbad or nearby, as he was fording the river and headed up the Greenway from Gondor.”

“Is there naught you can glean further?” Dorwin asked.

“Only a half-broken wording near the frayed edge, which reads in part, deliver your packet to Calcallon, the King’s Minister at Annuminas, or his deputy, Ranger Captain Galador should he not be present.  Galador!  They never received this message, or the packet that the errand-rider bore.  Alas, that the road is still too perilous for any to travel, even after the return of the King.”

“If we speak of roads, then why not about the roads ahead?” Dorwin asked.  “I suppose you have a clear plan as to what you might do, and where you might go?”

“I had thought of continuing down the Greenway until we crossed the Fords of Isen, on the borders of Rohan”, Halrohir said, “then on northeast to strike the Entwash, and follow it north into the forest from there.  I had thought it would be six days, at Morindal’s pace, to arrive at Isen; but with Forosul setting the pace, it may be closer to nine.  We have to consider about food and water for both us and the mounts.”

“There are places for water, and fodder for both we and the beasts”, Dorwin said, then grinned.  “Even the Ranger must learn some new things about life in the Wild, I deem.  I shall show you some simple works that will make it easier to pass the long and lonely miles ahead.  That will wait for the morrow, and our next day’s march.”  And with that, the Elf let the watchfire burn a little lower, while Halrohir rolled up in his blanket and uneasily fell to sleep.

The next day dawned slowly but with great news from the skies.  Dorwin had been watching the light climb over the eastern horizon when Halrohir arose to see the Elf first standing to the east, then the west, then turning to the north.  At length, he turned to Halrohir and spoke.

“The weather is changing.  See, the clouds are distant over the western sky, and there is a tang of rain on the wind, rain borne from the Sea.  Even if we break camp and begin riding soon, we shall be overtaken by those clouds before the day is out, even before we could find a camp.  I trust you thought of what to do in the event of the weather turning against you?”

“Yes, I had”, Halrohir replied.  “I brought with me oilskins, heavy cloth treated with oil that repels water.  With these, I make a small shelter.  It was meant for one full-grown man plus his gear, but I suppose we could squeeze the both of us inside.”

“Good, you have shelter, now what of water and meal?”

“Morindal can graze, and I have skill as a hunter and trapper in the Wild.”

“But hunting and trapping will take time, time you do not have to spare from Morindal’s errand.  And what again of water, or were you going to drink from the same puddles that your faithful horse would draw?  Let me teach you a way.  Have you your kettle handy?”

Dorwin quickly rebuilt the fire to a blaze, and Halrohir’s kettle-pot was set to the boil, filled with brackish water from a nearby depression at which the Ranger turned up his nose.  As the kettle began to sing, Dorwin piled more fuel beneath it, bringing the kettle to a roiling whistling boil.  After several minutes, he reached with a branch and took the kettle off the flame, setting it aside on a stone to cool.

“Such is the first step”, Dorwin explained, “boiling the water until all that is impure is killed.  Second, we do this”, and he produced a heavy cheese cloth, draped it over the lip of Halrohir’s metal pan, and poured the water over the cloth.

“This strains anything that may have not been purged in the boiling.  Still, this water is too hot to drink, so it must be allowed to cool.  What happens next, is this”, and Dorwin poured the boiled and strained water into a water skin, separate and larger than the one he used.  “This water skin has a nugget of pure silver inside.  The silver, when immersed in the warm water, further kills anything which might poison the water, and prevents mildew from forming within the bag or the water itself.  Not much silver is required; it can also be used in anything even as large as a barrel – for that as much as a silver coin will suffice – and water can be brought safely over great distances.”

Halrohir was amazed.  “Marvelous!  What a thing to learn!  So many can benefit from this wisdom.  What else can you show me?”

“First things first, mellon nin”, Dorwin said, “for now we must prepare more water for all of us.  Start gleaning more water, and I shall rebuild the fire.” And the two friends set about their work.  Soon, both Halrohir and Dorwin had full water skins, to which Dorwin had added a precious nugget of silver to Halrohir’s; and Dorwin’s larger water bladder was also filled, for which they would use for the horses in the leagues ahead.  Firewood they had in plenty, stripping the ruins of the house for kindling and fuel.  Soon they had the camp cleared, then they mounted and began the next leg of the ride south.

“You spoke of food, Dorwin”, Halrohir asked as they jogged along at a trot.  “Have you any tricks in your sleeves for that, as you did for the water skins?”

“Not in my sleeves do I carry water”, Dorwin grinned, “nor food for that matter.  But here, you tell me what precautions you already have.  What do you pack for journeys like this?”

“I’ve packed cornmeal cakes, baked hard and crisp and wrapped in cheesecloth so they’ll keep longer.  Many of these will keep a man in the saddle for a long journey.  Also, I’ve brought slips of cured meats, which can either be eaten plain or warmed over the fire.  Morindal will eat the cakes as well, he likes them for the salt taste.”

“All well and good, my friend, but would you know how to extend you store, or to make it more enjoyable to the tooth on the way?  Here, see this,” and Dorwin produced from his bag a glass phial, with a golden liquid inside. 

“Honey from the bee-pastures of Rivendell”, he said.  “Sweet to the taste and fortifying in a way all its own.  Those with long lore of plant and herb tell us honey has much the same effect as silver does with water, and this will aid to reduce illness if one feels ague approaching.  Now, I have brought for both of us what should be enough to last us the trek, should we not have a chance to replenish our stores.”

“There is one other thing I have, my friend”, Halrohir said, and that is the writ of the King’s Messenger I bear.  I am hoping that, by using its influence, we might claim hospitality wherever we go, and whatever hosts we find might refill our stock of rations for the next leg.  Once we reach Isen, and cross into Rohan, we shall meet folk who will provide us with many things.  Until then, we might not even find folk at all.”

So, the day’s ride continued, as they talked and schemed of their road before them, as the gondlar marched past, counting down the leagues.  Just south of the ruined farm, the next stone read “two-hundred-ninety-and-four”, and both Halrohir and Dorwin were in earnest to make good time before the weather changed against them.  South and east they travelled, glancing over their right shoulders at the gathering clouds, while looking ahead at the empty, dreary moors that opened before them.  They had come to Enedwaith, the Middle-lands, the vast and barren land between the realms of old, Gondor in the south and Arnor in the north.  Nine days they had given themselves for passage though that lonely land, and the two riders were determined to keep that pace.

As the sun began westering that afternoon, the stone pillar numbered “two-hundred-seventy-and-nine” was just behind them, showing they had gone full fifteen leagues, a good day’s ride without a hard effort.  Neither horse seemed winded, nor were their riders especially tired, but both agreed they should husband their mounts and themselves and rest where needed.  After scouting around both sides of the road, they found a small stand of stunted trees a furlong to the west, and there made their camp.  Halrohir had found in their scouting signs that this spot had been used before:  charred wood lay scattered in places, and stones had been moved, but the signs were old, and not recently left.  While he searched and began to make camp, Dorwin watched the northwestern skies, and seemed pleased with what he read in the clouds.

“The weather has turned”, he said as he sat down next to Halrohir, who was working with the now crackling blaze and boiling water.  He gratefully accepted a honeyed cake that the Ranger handed him.  “The clouds now move northeast, leaving us be for now.  We shall sleep dry tonight, and feel the air, as well; it will not be chill tonight.  Now, will you insist on this pace for a while?  I would agree, so long as the weather holds for us.”

“I was hoping you’d agree”, Halrohir said as he munched on a honeyed cake.  “It seems the horses agree, too.  Look at what they’re doing!”  They turned to watch, as Morindal was shoving a cake with his nose toward Forosul, who sniffed at it with interest.

“I offered a few of them to Morindal, but then he began sharing them with Forosul”, Halrohir laughed.  Laughter and talk circled the camp far into the night again, as the stars wheeled overhead and closed out the latest day of the long errand. 

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