I found Deverell waiting for me outside the encampment, watching the horses graze on the grassy hill nearby. She stood as she saw me approaching and gathered up her things.
“What word from the way-watchers?” she asked. “What have they planned for us?”
I unfurled the map that I had been given, showing her the areas that Hithlim had pointed out. “We have much to do,” I said gravely, “and little time in which to do it.”
Deverell whistled, “There is so much ground to cover. Did the way-watchers say where we should begin?”
I shook my head, “No. I suspect, with so few of them still in these parts, there are no others with whom to coordinate. We are on our own.”
When she did not say anything, I looked to her and put my free arm around her shoulders, smiling at her. “You know, we did quite well against the watchers back in Archet, and that was when we were young. Think of all the tricks we have learned since then to employ.”
She nodded, smiling a little, and moved closer to study the map. “Where should be begin, do you think?”
As I poured over the map, my eyes were drawn to the south and east, to a weathered peak where a watchtower once stood.
“Here,” I poked at the map, where a lonely hill rose over the level lands surrounding it. “Weathertop. We will have a good look about from there and be able to spy anything moving toward the east.
Deverell pointed to the map, “What about this marshland to the south? Will we be able to skirt it safely?”
“Lin Giliath lies on its northern border. From there, the marsh may be a safer road than what lies on either side of it,” I said softly.
We looked at either other silently for a moment. I drew her close to me and asked, “Are you ready?”
She looked to me and nodded, a tear spilling down her cheek. I pressed my cheek to hers, to share the burden with her, as we would together in the days to come.
“Two troublemakers, off to make trouble one last time,” I whispered, holding her close.
“Two mistrals, that will scatter and divide every foe before them, until their last breath is finally spent,” Deverell replied.
…our path lay before us, and her words lit the way more brightly than a thousand torches. We were away…
We left Esteldin behind us and rode westward, seeking the north-south road that would lead us to Lin Giliath.
The downs rose in the south, before dropping away toward the marshland once again.
The path rose, as did our spirits, knowing that the true journey had finally begun. Our path was lit before us.
Once we gained the peak, we began our descent into the lowlands.
The beauty of the lands before us betrayed nothing of the turmoil brewing upon them.
“May that always be so,” I whispered…
Finally, Meluinen and the elven settlement of Lin Giliath lie before us.
I walked Dandi down the slope leading to the refuge on the marshland’s border and the ruins that lay nearby.
I looked over my shoulder to Deverell and beckoned she and Dancer forward, toward the western side of the marshes, where I had spied an elf-maiden tending to some horses.
She waved to us, and we made our way over to where she stood, near the water’s edge.
The elf-maiden told us she would watch our horses while we took rest in their settlement, so I guided Dandi over to her.
As I was about to dismount, I noticed Dandi pawing at the wet earth near the water’s edge. Thinking she did not want to be left alone, I leaned forward and whispered in her ear, “Do not worry, girl. We will away again early tomorrow.”
She looked out over the water to the east…
…and before I could do anything, she twirled in place so quickly, I was nearly thrown.
“Dandi!” I cried. “What are you…” I looked back to Deverell and the elf-maiden, “What is she doing?!”
The two of them just shrugged and laughed, as Dandi carried me out further into the water.
“What are you up to, girl?” I asked, as she carried us into deeper waters. She seemed to be looking for something.
I looked back to the shore and beckoned to Deverell. “Come on out here!” I called out to her.
She held up her hand in protest. “You two are on your own!” she laughed.
Dandi took a drink of the water she stood in, while still peering into its depths, so it seemed.
No urging of mine could get her to the shore. She kept on wandering about, until her eye caught something. She began to turn about and then eased backward…
She had found a depression at the bottom of the water and was backing into it. The water touched my boots and began to climb.
“Oh, no you don’t!” I laughed, strengthening my grip on her. as she continued to try to get me in the water.
She straightened up, and I felt myself sliding backwards. I looked back to ready myself for the plunge…
…but it never came, thankfully. She stopped just before I was about to become drenched, and had a good laugh at me to boot.
Finally, Dandi eyed the shore and began to make her way back for us. “You have had enough fun now,” I pretended to chide her, though we both knew it was only for show. It was her spirit above all else that made her so dear to me.
I took one last look at the water where we nearly went in and shivered.
Deverell and the elf-maiden beckoned to us as we neared the shore, both of them trying not so hard to suppress their laughter.
Once we were on shore and finally settled, Dandi nudged me with her muzzle, her way of being playful and showing her affection. I was not sore one bit, though, and I hugged her about her neck for a long while before finally turning to the others.
“Welcome to Lin Giliath,” said the elven maiden with a smile. “My name is Dilath. Most visitors do not honor us with such a show upon their arrival, though few visit us at all.”
I flushed a bit, but before I could introduce myself, she continued, “Deverell has told me why you have come. You may not remember me from your visit before, Kaleigh, but you are known to us. Please, take your ease while you are here, though I know you mean to leave us on the morrow. Until then, you both are our honored guests.”
I lay my hand on her arm and smiled at her, “You are very kind, Dilath. Thank you. I think I will lie out on the grass and dry out for a bit before anything else.”
With a grateful curtsey she laughed and said, “As you wish.”
I turned to Deverell, and we gazed out over the wetlands. “The beauty of the water is very alluring, is it not?” she teased.
“That beauty is better appreciated from afar,” I grumbled, feigning irritation as I took off my boots to let them and my feet dry.
She grinned, nudging me with her shoulder, “No, really. It is lovely here.”
I turned to her and nodded, smiling at her. “Wait until the evening comes. It will not be easy to leave come morning.”
Evening did come, and the moonlit beauty of Lin Giliath was revealed.
One of the elven lords, Medlichen, offered to show us about, and we gladly accepted.
As we neared the Library of Tham Giliath, Medlichen said, “Lord Gildor is visiting us here, and he has heard of your arrival. He would like a word, with each of you, privately.”
He meant Gildor Inglorion, the elven lord who took part in the Council of Esteldin and who advised the elves who remained in this refuge.
“We would be honored, of course.” I smiled and nodded to him.
“Yes… yes, of course,” added Deverell haltingly. I felt her clutch at my arm, so I stopped to speak with her. Medlichen waited for us on the far side of the bridge patiently.
“Kaleigh, I’ve hardly ever spoken to elves, much less met with an elven lord. What do I say?” She was very nervous, I could tell.
“Deverell, I think they know what we are up to already, and Lord Gildor is amongst the wisest of all who walk these lands. Just be candid and forthcoming, and all will be more than fine.”
She nodded, still nervous, but a bit calmer.
I returned from my meeting with Lord Gildor, nearly bumping into Deverell, who was awaiting her time with him. I wished her luck before rushing to fetch my map and quill, in order to put Lord Gildor’s insights onto parchment before they were lost to me.
I visited with the elves for a while, before finding a spot near the waters within the refuge to reflect on things and await Deverell.
After a time, I heard footsteps, and she came to stand behind me, upon the rock I had settled myself upon.
“How did your meeting fare?” I asked her. She lay her hand on my shoulder, and I reached up to place my hand over hers.
“It was wonderful, Kaleigh. To speak with someone of such wisdom and splendor…”
I craned my neck to look up at her and smiled at her beaming face looking down to me.
She blushed, “…not that you aren’t either of those…”
I laughed and held up my hand, “Say no more, my friend. I know what you mean.”
We looked out over the water quietly for a moment until she asked, “What did you two discuss together?”
“Oh, mainly places for us to consider scouting for foes,” I replied. “His ideas on when and where the minions of the Enemy might show themselves and things of that sort.”
She nodded. “Knowing you to be a first-rate Scout, I would imagine so. Did he have any insights?”
I flushed, both at the compliment and out of embarrassment, “More in the few minutes he looked over our map than in the entire time I have done so, since it was given to us.”
She gave my shoulder a squeeze and laughed, “Oh, for the wisdom of the ages, yes?”
“Indeed,” I replied. “So, what did you two discuss?”
The mirth left her voice, “He spoke about the nature of our endeavor, and that it would be our discretion that would ultimately decide its fate and ours.”
I turned to look up at her. “In what way did he mean?”
She paused for a moment, as if she were deciding what to say, before she finally replied. “He said that there would be two different types of foes that we would face. Some, like the orcs and the goblins, are beings born to evil. These serve it, and it alone, knowing no other way.”
I nodded. “And the other?”
“The others are like the Dourhand and the Blackwold brigands, those whose hearts are their own but, whether through malice, or greed, or any number of things, give themselves over to something else,” she said. “For those, it is only a lack of discretion that changes them from friend to foe, both toward others, and to themselves as well.”
I rose to my feet and studied her for a moment. “Why did he tell you these things?” I asked.
She drew in a deep breath and released it before replying, “I think he just wanted us to remember that why we act can be as important, and even moreso, than the acts themselves.”
She lay her hand on my arm, saying softly, “We act to change the future, not the past.”
I smiled at her, putting my hand over hers. “I know we do.”
For the rest of the evening, before we saw to our rest, we took in some of the beauty that we endeavored to save. And we wished for ourselves wise discretion, to know how best to serve in that role…
We awoke early the next morning and gathered our things for the journey ahead. We consulted with Dilath over the best path to take through the wetlands.
“There is drier land to the east than on this side of the marsh,” she said. “But there are more creatures that way as well. There are even some trolls rumored to live in the caves near the glade to the southeast.
I looked over the map for a moment. “I am not sure we will be able to take the western side without swimming, though. I think we had best head eastward.”
Deverell agreed, so we made ready for the journey and said our farewells to the everyone in the refuge. It was not easy to leave, but the time had come.
We headed eastward, skirting the northern edge of the water, with the hope of finding passage southward on the other side.
We came across more solid footing as we crossed over, and trees began to mingle with the marsh grasses and flora.
After mid-day, the grove Dilath spoke of came into view.
I brought Dandi to a halt behind an outcropping of rock near the shore of the marsh and waited for Deverell to join me. “We had best go cautiously here,” I told her. “Let me go first and scout around a bit.”
That discretion was proven quite useful not long after…
I slowly and cautiously eased Dandi away.
I returned to Deverell. “There are trolls wandering the glade to the south and east. The canopy of leaves gifts them safe passage away from the sunlight, no matter the time of day.”
“How will we get past them?” asked Deverell. “Surely, we cannot fight them with just the two of us.”
“No, and they are not our fight. Not this day, at least,” I mused, while pondering our options.
“Will they rest at night and allow us to safely pass, do you think?” she wondered.
“Perhaps, but those hours spent idle might cost us down the road. If we can save them, it would be better for us.”
…I quieted myself, letting the wilds speak over my thoughts… I heard the waters quietly lapping against dry land, and the calls of marsh creatures in the distance… I heard the wind in the leaves above… The smells of the wetlands were still strong near to the glade…
“I have an idea,” I said.
We ducked behind one of the trees closest to the water. I took one of my stickers and began scraping off some of its bark and handed it to Deverell. “Rub this in your hands, until it is broken down. We will rub it on our skin to lessen our scent.”
“Do trolls have a strong sense of smell?” Deverell asked, with a feint wince.
I smiled at her, “I have never asked one, but the creatures here in the glade and the wetlands likely do. Their attention to us may draw the trolls’ attention to them, and from them to us. We will walk the horses through the water here as well, to hide their scent, before we are stuck to dry land. Then, we will skirt the glade as best we can and hope we are not seen.”
We took the crumbled bark and coated each other with it as best we could. “We are a mess!” laughed Deverell, “but if this works, I will not grouse about it.”
I rubbed a bit on her nose for that and laughed. “Nen Harn will be a balm for all this, once we make it there. I am going to go about seeing to a diversion, to keep the trolls looking the other way, if I can. I will return soon.”
She squeezed my hand. “Be careful, Kaleigh.”
I nodded and skulked away. A few pebbles and a stone’s throw later, the trolls I had found were looking for something toward the East. I hurried back to the others…
“Slow and easy, Dandi,” I whispered. “Slow and easy, girl.”
We took the horses through the waters near the edge of the glade, as quietly as we could.
I kept watch to make sure that Deverell was with me and close at hand, in case we were spotted.
We held our breath as we skirted the glade, taking what cover we could find…
…but fortune was on our side, and we made it to the rise that marked the southern edge of the glade safely.
We paused at a small waterhole on the southern side of the ridge to gather ourselves for a few moments.
Deverell rode up alongside me, and the two of us silently surveyed the lowlands heading down toward Nen Harn.
“You came up with a good plan, Kaleigh,” she said, after a time.
“Thank you,” I smiled at her.
She looked off into the distance, “The moments when I am reminded why I brought you along are always nice.”
She had Dancer off before I could even smirk at her. I chased her all the way to the high banks of the lake.
We made our truce on the bank of Nen Harn, and we shared in its beauty and that of the lands surrounding it.
“It is gorgeous, Kaleigh. Simply breathtaking,” she said, and I had to agree.
…there is so much beauty within the lands that we all share, that we all should share…
We crept down closer to the water’s edge. “We best wait for the twilight for a swim,” I suggested.
We made our camp between the high bank and a large tree growing nearer the shore and waited impatiently for dusk to fall.
When dusk finally came, we made for the water with glee and abandon. “The water is perfect!” I said to her.
…we dove into the lake and freed ourselves of the bark, and the grime and, for that perfect moment, the concerns of the day and the days to come…
We swam until the fatigue of the day left us with only the strength to make it back to the shore.
There we built a fire, within the shelter of the depression between the bank and the tree that sheltered us, and laid out to dry and rest for the new day.
Early the next morning, before we were ready to depart, I went out and looked over the lake and the path we might take.
Once we were mounted up, I told Deverell, “We will follow the eastern shore of Nen Harn and then into the Weather Hills. There will not be much cover, so keep an eye out for anything moving.”
“I may not be able to wrest my eyes from the lake,” she said with a smile.
I sighed, “Well, if we each keep one eye on the lake, that leaves another to spy for trouble. I guess two eyes will have to do, then.”
We made our way down the eastern shoreline of Nen Harn.
… and the beauty of the wilds and the landscape happened to me all over again once more…
Elsewhere, at that moment, there were surely quarrels, and fighting, and war over snips and parcels, while the two of us alone roamed over mile after mile of bounty gifted to us, that we all could share in peace…
I heard Deverell call out, “Let us take rest for a bit.” I looked back and nodded to her.
We let the horses graze, while we had a bit to eat and looked around. Deverell spied something by the shore.
“What a peculiar looking rock!” she said. “Do you think the lake flooded in the past and give it its colors?”
“Mmm… let us see about that,” I smiled. I reached down to find a pebble, which I tossed near the rock.
After she had jumped three feet in the air I said, “No, I do not think so. But I do think the ‘rocks’ will leave us alone, if we do the same for them.”
She sighed. “How long did you know?”
“A Scout never tells,” I replied. “Come, we best be off again.”
We continued following the shoreline, until the steep hills to the east began to recede, and a slim corridor of wood and brush bridged the two.
“This cover will serve us well,” I told Deverell, as we left the shoreline to enter the wood. “Lord Gildor said that there has been word of evil in the hills to the south, minions searching through the ruins of old.”
“For what do they search, did he say?” Deverell asked.
I shook my head, “I am not sure, but he suggested we stay clear of them, if we can. They are not our fight.”
She nodded, and we continued on.
We pressed on through the wood and brush, moving south and east.
We took one last wistful look over the body of the lake, before the visage was lost to us as we pressed onward.
Both the Weather Hills, and the ruins Lord Gildor spoke of, came into view as we reached the southern tip of the lake. I took cover behind some tall brush and beckoned to Deverell to join me.
We consulted our map. I pointed to the hills, “There is far too much open land for us to stay hidden, if we go directly through the hills. They will likely have lookouts upon the rises, keeping watch over the valleys.”
Deverell looked over my shoulder. “How do you suggest we go, then?”
I studied the map for a few moments, before pointing to the southwest, “It is a bit out of our way, but we can try to keep to the edge of the Chetwood for cover, without going so far in as to rouse…”
She stopped me with an exclamation, “The Chetwood! And those Blackwolds?!”
I lay my hand on her arm.
“Not our fight,” I said softly. “At least not this day.”
“They had best not make it ours, if they know what is good for them,” she steamed. I smiled at her before looking to the map once more.
I pointed to the map, “There is a gap between the woods here, and once we go as far south as we can, we will have to cut back to the east, and with no cover at all. But this way we avoid the central hills, where most of the ruins lie. With luck, we will pass through unseen.”
“With luck,” she repeated.
I squeezed her hand for a moment before we set off once again.
We skirted the hills, while staying as close to the edge of the Chetwood as we could, moving south and west.
As we reached the edge of the Far Chetwood, we had no choice but to enter the open and find what other cover we could.
As we neared the hills, we saw many minions roaming outward from the ruins, keeping watch that none should trespass near their treasures.
We skirted those we could…
…and ended those that we needed to, risking much to keep our presence hidden. But it was our only choice, if we wished to make progress.
We pressed on, as swiftly as we dared, and as cautiously as we could.
The southern wood afforded us more cover, and we passed safely within its shelter before cutting back toward the east.
The dusk came upon us as we neared the Weatherway. I beckoned Deverell close.
…our goal was finally within sight…
We met with some mercenaries on the ridge overlooking the Weatherway, whom had been hired to keep watch over the hills to the north. They let us share their camp and assured us that the half-orcs, and whatever else may be roaming within the hills, kept to their place and did not wander further than that.
I made a note upon the map by the firelight, so that I would be reminded to report their presence to the way-watchers before I could forget.
The next morning we wished each other well before Deverell and I took our leave, making toward Weathertop once more.
“We should reach the foot of Amon Sul before dark,” I told her. “And from there, we will see what we will see.”
We passed down from the Weather Hills and over the Weatherway into the Lone-lands.
A way across the Midgewater Pass was our next obstacle to best.
We went against the waters’ flow, pressing northeast, with the hope of finding a shallows nearer to its source.
And, as the visage of the ruined watchtower loomed over us, we found a ford that afforded us safe crossing.
Dandi looked about as we came to the water’s edge. I leaned forward and hugged her neck, whispering in her ear, “Sorry, girl. These waters are too shallow for your games today.”
She shook her head and whinnied before making her way into the water…
We crossed the waters safely and made our way into the foothills. As we were about to gain the peak of one of the few hills near to Weathertop, I began to smell smoke upon the air. I made a sign to Deverell, pointing down over the ridge and then beckoned her forward.
As she slowly crept up to me, I whispered, “I think something is below making camp.”
“Something, or some things?” she whispered with a bit of alarm.
I dismounted from Dandi, as quietly as I could and whispered, “I am going to go have a look. Take yourselves back a ways and be ready.”
I handed her Dandi’s reins and waited for them to move back down the hill a bit before turning toward the ridge.
I skulked up to the ridge’s edge and peered down below…
“No… it cannot be…”
But it was true. I beheld one of the way-watchers making camp at the foot of Amon Sul. He sat alone, save for the company of his steed.
After watching for a few minutes, it seemed he was making great effort to keep himself awake. He would slump forward before catching himself, only to do the same not long after.
I beckoned to Deverell, and we slowly walked the horses down the hill and toward the camp.
The way-watcher stood in alarm once he heard us approaching. I held my hands out to my side, nodding to Deverell to do the same. Once he had turned toward us and we reached the camp, I could see it was noble Candaith who stood before us. He looked to be past the brink of exhaustion.
“Kaleigh, what are you doing here?” he asked wearily, as we moved into the camp and freed our horses of their burden.
I looked at him with concern. “Right now, we are going to keep watch while you get some rest,” I said.
He began to argue, but I shushed him. “Unless there is a war-band headed our way that will reach us within the next few hours, the best thing for us all is for you to rest,” I said firmly.
“It is nearly so,” he sighed, as I pushed him toward the small tent he had crafted nearby.
“Then we are nearly ready to deal with them, once you rest.” I smiled.
Candaith allowed himself a few hours of rest before speaking with us. “These lands are very dangerous in these days, Kaleigh. You and your friend should not have come.” He looked at Deverell for a few moments before turning back toward me.
“It is precisely for that reason that we have come,” I said. I searched my pack for Halbarad’s note and handed it over for him to read.
After reading over the note, he looked toward us. “What was your reason for coming here, then?”
Deverell spoke up, “We are arrived from… from the Northern downs, and we made our way here to look over these lands, that we might spy any movements of the Enemy nearby.”
Candaith looked between the two of us knowingly, before speaking to Deverell. “Forgive my being a bit harsh earlier, Deverell. It was out of weariness and a concern for you both is all. It is a concern that yet remains, however.”
He then looked to me and said, “As far as what you might spy from atop Amon Sul, I can spare you the climb. A band of the dead and other evils, led by a wraith of Angmar, is making its way across the plain. It will likely be here on the morrow.”
His words left us cold and silent for a time.
“They mean to make war in the South?” I asked finally.
“Yes. Halbarad has sent a few of us back to these lands, to act in the same manner he wrote of to you. We are desperately needed in the South, but we will not let that which was in our care for so long fall so easily, either.”
Hope yet remained for us, for us all. I knew, deep within my heart that still fought to be free, that we had not been left to our fate, alone…
I took his hand and held it within my own. “What can we do to aid you?” I asked.
“You both have done enough, truly,” Candaith said. “Go on your way, and aid others in any manner that you may, while the opportunity still remains.”
I looked to Deverell, and when she nodded, I said to Candaith, “We mean to, and we mean to begin today, here with you. Discretion demands no less.”
…after a time, he saw that he could not sway us and, though he was careful to hide it, I think our presence was welcome to him and he was thankful for it… No one should have to brave such terrors alone…
Candaith said, “My lures and traps have hindered the band and lessened their number these past few days, but we cannot let them any nearer to those we must keep safe . I will set out in the morning to set more lures and lead them here. They will only move in the darkness, so you will have to leave the horses here and gain the peak at dusk tomorrow. I will meet you there, with the war-party not far behind.”
Deverell and I looked to each other. The time had finally come.
“To we three, they will seem numberless,” Candaith warned. “And they are strong.”
“We will be stronger,” replied Deverell.
The two of us took turns keeping watch through the night, to allow Candaith more rest. He left us the next morning, to brave luring a host of wickedness into our very midst.
Deverell and I kept watch over each other throughout the day, while taking more rest in turns, so that we would be ready for what the evening would bring.
At the first sign of twilight, we began our climb toward the weathered peak.
…the twilight sun cast shadows, long and finger-like, over landscapes both within and without…
…my atonement was nigh…
…we gained the peak, keeping watch for Candaith, and whatever else might come…
…darkness fell and, with it, the rain. Deverell and I held each others’ hand and waited…
Candaith burst through the darkness into the firelight…
“They are minutes behind. Be ready.”
Soon after, the light of the fire dimmed, and a coldness permeated the air…
…I squeezed Deverell’s hand, as we began to see movement at the edge of our vision…
“They are here.”