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5. The Brown Lands
The elves grumbled quite a bit over sore legs and backsides the following morning. Most of them were not used to riding bareback, and had exercised muscles they normally did not use. They breakfasted on lembas and it still tasted wonderful, but Wynne suspected she might grow weary of it in time, if this was to be their only food the entire journey.
“Do you never eat anything else?” she asked Legolas, who was seated on a flat rock next to her.
“Of course we do! We are not poultry, that can survive on bread crumbs alone.” He laughed heartily.
Wynne did not see what was so funny about her question. How was she to know?
“What do you eat then?” she asked, and tried to not sound annoyed.
“Same as you humans, I would expect,” said Galion, and gave Legolas a shove to silence his laughter. “Vegetables, meats, fish. It depends on if we are at home, or on a journey”.
“If we see game during a day of travel we shoot it, and prepare it in the evening,” Nodir added.
“But is there anything to eat in the Brown Lands?” asked Wynne. “I heard they were barren.” She thought about the horses, they needed a continuous supply of fresh grass.
“Since the fall of Sauron the Brown Lands and Dead Marshes have come to life, slowly at least. Grass has begun to grow back and even some flowers. It is no flourishing garden yet, but it is getting there,” Galion said.
The elves took down the tents and packed everything just as efficiently as yesterday. When they were done, Wynne could not even see where the fireplace had been.
The horses had wandered off during the night, as they usually did, but came back in a gallop in response to Wynne’s penetrating whistle.
“I love how well trained they are.” Legolas grinned at Stelpa, who had come straight to him, and was buffing on his hands in search of a treat. “I have only lembas, my girl, sorry!” He cast a sideway glance at Wynne, who smiled despite herself. Perhaps he had not really meant to tease her before.
This day they left the river, heading east. As long as they were still close to the river, the nature was similar to that of Rohan. The short grass was lush, partly covered with last year’s withering strands, and spring flowers sprouted in bright yellow groups. Wynne felt quite at home.
She was still taking the lead on Vatna, and kept a slow pace that would allow the horses to graze every now and then. Who knew what food they could find later on? Horses had to eat almost constantly, and she wanted to save the grain she had brought to when it was really necessary.
“In this rate, we will get to the orc dens somewhere around next year,” remarked Legolas dryly.
Wynne shot him a sour look, and did not bother to reply. That elf was a real nuisance, sometimes.
When they entered the vast Brown Lands, the grass became coarser and taller, reaching almost to the horses’ stomachs. But at least it was grass, and Wynne knew they could eat this too, if need be. She saw no flowers anymore, and not many other living things either. Normally, on a plains like this, Wynne would have expected the ground to be littered with marmot and chipmunk holes and the air to be humming with insects. Here it was just the grass, extending endlessly in all directions. It felt eerie.
“Did you know there used to be lovely gardens all over this place? The entwives tended to them, but they are long lost now.” Legolas had made a habit of riding close to Wynne, for some reason.
“What are entwives?”
“Tree-herders. The males are called ents, and the females entwives. Only a few ents remain nowadays, in Fangorn Forest.”
“That‘s only a day’s ride from my home. Maybe I could go and see them.”
“You should. Fangorn is a magnificent forest.” The blond elf sighed. “I miss talking to trees,” he continued, somewhat demurely. “I have not seen a single one the entire day.”
“Maybe you can talk to the grass,” Wynne suggested.
“I did, but one was sleeping and the other did not have very much to say.”
“Try a third one then?”
“There are merely two of them, one blue grama, and one feather grass.”
“Really?” Wynne’s interest was captured. “So all of this is just two individuals?” She indicated the widespread prairie around them.
“Indeed. Dull, is it not? Those two were the only ones to survive Sauron’s poison. All their children were killed, down to the last seedling. They expanded with runners instead, covered ever more ground, abiding happier times. But now they are too old to flower.”
“That is sad.”
“It is. But younger grasses are spreading hither from Rohan. In time they will cover all of this area, I am sure.”
“I hope you are right.”
They continued in somber silence for a while, Wynne musing over the evil that had overshadowed so many parts of Middle-Earth. It was hard to grasp that one being could bring forth so much damage.
In the afternoon the elves pointed out the first sign of animal life since they had entered the Brown Lands, a herd of oliphaunts grazing in the distance. Wynne did not see anything at all, apparently elves’ senses were a lot sharper than humans’, but after another league or so she spotted them too. The oliphaunts were huge, they had majestic tusks and ears like barn doors.
A horrible smell reached their nostrils then, and soon they saw the cause of it. They had crossed a small hill, and on the other side they discovered fifteen or so oliphaunt carcasses spread out on the ground. The tusks, hides and the best parts of the meat had been removed, leaving the rest to rot in the spring sun. Clouds of flies lifted when they came closer.
“Who did this?” Wynne cried. It was such pointless killing, such a terrible waste.
Thranduil picked something up from the ground, a black arrow. Somehow the item radiated evil.
“Orcs,” he spat.
He had not time to say more, before a terrible howl came from behind the farthest carcasses. A warcry.
A gang of the most hideous creatures Wynne had ever seen jumped out from their hiding place, and ran towards the startled elves. In no time the orcs were upon them.
Some action will happen in the next chapter. What will Wynne will think of it, sheltered as she has been?
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