Part 78 – Those Who Watch Us
Mid day was upon the seven travelers as they made their way through the ruined road of Men Erain. The sky was gloomy, here and there broke through the blue sky through the clouds as a cool north wind blew southward. The wind gave the waters of the lake ripples, white crests like snowy peaks on a mountain top after a blizzard. The great statues of Men Erain and the mausoleums that stood at the sides of the northward path stood proudly on each side, a testament to the the kings of the great land and the liniage Theomin and Sergee were hoping to preserve along with their brother, Teryndir.
Through the afternoon, the seven traveled through the northward path, silent for a time. Though the wind was rustling the waters of the lake; their waters breaking on the shore near the path, there was another sound accompanying those of the sloshing of the water. Swishing sounds they were and Theomin’s ears continued to pick up on them just to the left of the travelers. Every so often, he would look to the side, but saw nothing. He looked at Estonethiel. Her elf ears had to pick up the same noises.
“Are you hearing what I am hearing, Estonethiel?” Theomin asked the elf.
“I hear a man disturbing the waters of the lake. Here and there, darting just out of sight. Only one there is, not wanting to be seen and barely noticed by ear.” She looked at Theomin. “But that is not all. The souls that occupy this path are standing watch over us; great men of old watching us pass, keeping their awareness over that which we ride on like sentries on an eternal watch over kings.” She looked around the mausoleums flanking them on both sides, “They are the watchmen of those who ruled these lands long ago. Their pikes are ever sharp and their armour is ever glistening in the sun, and even into the night. They say many travel this path, even in the days of the occupation of the men from the northern lands. They say recent travelers have come here from the lands far away. For good or ill they know not, but they have watched as those travelers have passed this road. Travelers both alive and dead to see the city regain its former splendor.”
“Alive and dead?” Teryndir said from the rear of the small host. “That disturbs me.”
“Disturbing it is not. They have come to see. No harm will befall the living so long as we bring no harm to them,” said the elf.
“I hate to do this but I agree with Teryndir,” Helesdir said. “So long as I cannot see them, I fear them.”
“Give me pardon for going back on on what you said, but who is this man you speak of who is disturbing the water?” Theomin had to know.
“A man not from here,” she said. “He moves as if he stalks. Along the road just out of sight. Black he wears and cloaked, masked, and by his sides he is armed with strange swords not of this land.”
“You know all this just from the sounds?” Eleswith asked.
“Clearly not,” Estonethiel said. “The guards of old told me.”
“Of course,” Helesdir smiled mockingly at Eleswith.
Eleswith just gave him a smirk but had a sudden realization, “He is wearing black you say?” she asked the elf.
“Black and cloaked,” she achnowledged.
“I spoke with a cloaked man in black not but a week ago,” Eleswith said. “For that brief time Theomin banished me from the city, I met the man all in black up in the ruins on the hills. I wonder if he is the same.”
“The same man who was firing arrows into the city?” Teryndir said.
“I believe he wasn’t,” she said. “His intentions were good.”
“That arrow almost pierced me,” Theomin said. “I fear those intentions were not good in any respect.”
“But I believe it wasn’t him. When I met him up in the ruins, he had no intentions of harming me. He told me of the woman who tried to murder you, Theomin,” she said. “His intention was to keep you safe, not to kill you.”
“Or maybe he was saving me for him to kill later,” Theomin said, half joking but realized the seriousness of what he said. “What more did he tell you?”
“Not very much. I asked him who he was. He just told me he was an ally.” Eleswith said, recounting her experience with the man in black. “He knew of you and Amathwyn. He knew of her desception and that you needed to be watchful of her.” She looked down, “It is really him you should thank. I was only the messenger.”
“An ally?” Helesdir said. “I remember not seeing such a person in the Lone Lands.”
“I saw him in Breeland, at least I believe it was him, it was so dark,” Eleswith said. “A whole host of goblins gave chase that one night after the attack on those ruins on the eastern outskirts of Bree. It was he who saved my life.”
“Eleswith,” Theomin said. “Can you recall when the orcs gave us chase after our hunt a while ago? There was a man in black standing on one of these ruins near the edge of the eastern hills.”
“That’s right,” she suddenly remembered. “He aided us on our flight from the orcs.”
“I think I can also remember seeing the same man up on the Colossus a while ago. He was just standing there watching,” Theomin recalled.
“More eerie than those specters are if you ask me,” Teryndir said under his breath.
“This seems like a mystery that will only be solved with time,” Sergee told his traveling band of mates. “The strange man in black will reveal himself some how, or some way, either by choice or by force.”
“Whatever his intentions, they only seem to aid us, not to hinder us.” Theomin said. “I am glad we have an ally, whomever he is.”
By that time the Warriors of Eriador had already passed through Men Erain and over the bridge of the Colossus and were heading up the way toward Parth Aduial. The sun was sinking down toward the west and the air blew cool and steadily down from the north.
“Forochel’s fury is strong this evening,” Sergee said. “I’m beginning to regret wearing armor such as this. A nice warm wrap would do me good, I believe.”
“We could make our way to Ost Forod,” Theomin suggested. “I am quite certain they would feel obliged to part with a cloak or warm cloth for you.”
Sergee thought for a few seconds and said, “That is quite alright. I will be fine. Soon, we will leave the northerly winds of Forochel and be traveling east toward the North Downs. Less winds we will encounter there.”
“As you wish,” Theomin said.
“I believe we shall be resting at the boarder to the North Downs, much like we did the night before we retook the city,” Sergee said. “There, I believe we can find shelter from the cold winds of the north.”
“Tis a shame you have not the jacket I have. A warm wrap it is,” Helesdir said as a mocking jest.
“And stunning it looks on you,” Eleswith quipped.
“Are you mocking my fashion sense?” Helesdir asked. “And what of yours?” he continued. “Starting a dinner? It looks like you stole your outfit off a cook.”
Eleswith’s mouth dropped, but not in an angry way. Her pretend anger led her to back hand Helesdir’s arm. “Take your mocking comment back,” she said, half joking.
“I wish, but I must first inform the cook his smock has been found,” Helesdir quickly returned the joke. “I never knew cooks needed chainmail beneath their smock. Plan on being attacked by your food?”
“I’ve seen the way you eat,” Eleswith quickly returned. “If any food is attacking anything, tis your face.”
“Please,” Helesdir came back, “I am a quite respectable eater.”
“Yes, that is right. As you are shoving food into your mouth, that meat dangling from your chin shows only the finest quality in a diner.”
The two continued on much the same through some of Parth Aduial, trading quips back and forth, insulting each other but neither being hurt by the other. It was almost like a sport or a game they were playing, trying to out insult the other. By partway through the road east, the two had stopped. It was not them who had changed but rather the surrounding mood of the old ruins of Parth Aduial. They gave an icy relentlessly dreary feeling.
Theomin felt it the last time he and Amathwyn traveled through the ruins of Eastern Evendim. It had oppressively ominous feel to it, which started churning his stomach, afraid of what might be found just around the corner. The feeling never left him and Theomin was sure it did not leave the group as each was silent. Theomin leaned toward Estonethiel and asked, “Why does this place have such a poor feel to it?”
“These ruins were once owned by families. Rich families of great wealth and standing in Evendim. High in the esteem they were and well liked by the royalty of both Evendim and the North Downs. Oaths they swore to protect the land if any harm was to come to it. When darkness did come; when the men of Angmar besieged the land, the men in these ruins hid, and were thereby cursed. Now they roam the ruins of their dead estates, cursed to eternal pain of regret for their disloyalty.” She shook her head with pity, “Such is the folly of men. To swear an oath and then to break it and to spend time in eternal regret. It is not the first of such things happening and it will not be the last.” She looked at the sad state of the ruins sitting beside the the road. “So now they roam their once proud estates, mournfuly regretting their ill choice, ever wanting redemption but never having it. That is why there is a poor feel to this land.”
“All this land is in such a state,” Sergee said. “Abandoned are all these ruins. Now men of the north occupy places far from the once proud ruins, forgetting them, not preserving them or their splendor.”
“Magla and my people try to occupy such ruins in the Lone Lands. You’ve seen it, Sergee,” Helesdir said. “We have not the tools or the understanding, though, to preserve those ruins. The Eglian want to do so, but we know not how. We are not great skilled builders like Numenorians of old.”
“There are some places yet in Middle Earth we can find preserved Numenorian buildings,” said Sergee. “The fortress city of Minus Tirith is one example. The tower of Orthanc is another.”
“I remember seeing the Argonath on my travels here,” Theomin added. “My wanderings had also brought me to the fortress of Helm’s Deep. That was once a Gondorian stronghold, was it not?”
“Yes it was,” Sergee said. “Never before have I had the pleasure to set my eyes upon those great buildings. I yearn to see the grand fortress city of Minus Tirith or splender at the sight of Dol Amroth. My heart tells me that had I continued with the Grey Company then I would have visited such places. I suppose now I never will.”
The company reached the boarder of Evendim and the North Downs. Late was the hour but the travelers did not feel it. Their conversations brought them all the way to the edge of the region of Evendim. They were glad and dispite the forboding feeling they had traveling through Parth Aduial, they were in good spirits again. The ominous feeling melted away as they reached the ruins just before entering the Fields of Fornost.
“Here we will camp for the night,” Sergee said. “On the morrow we shall cross the Fields of Fornost. That place is not a good one at night. None care to pass through the haunted barrows and mousoliums of those fields.”
“I wish we did not have to pass them at all,” Helesdir said almost under his breath. “That place has an ill feel to it, more oppressive than the feel of Parth Aduial.” The others looked at him as he continued, “We came up from the south, through the sweet hills of the Shire before making our way north to Evendim. I knew we would need to pass through those fields if we turned north from Breeland.” He furrowed his head and shook it, “That place is evil.”
“Regardless,” Sergee said, “we must cross it if we are to push on to the Kingsfell in the North Downs.”
The company made camp rather quickly. Magla and Helesdir were the first to have things ready with a fire and a place for them to rest. Helesdir readied his bow and cocked his head to the side to Magla, motioning him to join. “We will return soon. Magla and I will be hunting for deer.”
“I’d like to join, if it’s not too much trouble,” Eleswith said, ready to go.
“Come along,” Helesdir said happily. “We’d love to have you.”
The three skipped off into the fog of dusk. Not much could be seen of them as their shapes faded quickly into the fog. Theomin, Estonethiel, Sergee and Teryndir were left at the campfire. The company of Teryndir was not to the liking of Theomin and Sergee had to keep watch on him, just to make sure he did nothing cruel.
Estonethiel moved on to the edge of camp and kept a watch out for anything creeping around. Seeing as how Teryndir’s company was not to Theomin’s liking, Theomin joined Estonethiel at the edge of the camp.
“A strange place, this boarder land,” the elf lady said. “An unpleasant place this feels like. I feel a malice is wandering about like a burning ember on a wind swept scape. A cruel taunting entity sweeps in and then away. It has made itself known but stays away as if it is too afraid to approach us.”
“Could it be that one in black who was tracking us on the path through Men Erain?” Theomin hoped.
She paused for a bit then answered, “It is not. A different presence this is.”
“What does it want?” Theomin asked as shivers ran down his back.
“I do not know. An angry feeling it has, but scared at the same time,” she said with inquisitive feeling in her voice.
“Are the others safe?” Theomin had to ask.
Estonethiel stayed quiet for a while, as if waiting for an answer from the entity or the surrounding land. She finally spoke up, “They are safe, yes. It is not them that it wants.”
Theomin’s heart dropped as he did not want to ask the next question but felt a burning need to ask anyway, “Who does it want?”
The elf’s gaze turned slowely toward Theomin and she looked right at him, as if her eyes pierced his very skin and looked deeply into his soul.
“Dinner!” Helesdir yelled out while as they came up to the camp, Magla holding an adult male stag over his shoulder. The sudden yell out shook Theomin to his core.
Theomin started for the rest of the company, suddenly feeling the pains of hunger when Estonethiel grabbed his arm and pulled him close. She said into his ear, “There is no safe places here. What ever you do, do no leave the safety of this camp. I fear that whatever malice lurks out there in the darkness of this land is out to keep you in its grasp. This night will be a sleepless night, I fear.”