When he awoke, Zaradanoric had no idea where he was. Opening his eyes, he saw a large piece of leather supported by branches. As his eyes slowly roved the tent the events that had occurred before he blacked out flooded his mind. He sat up and looked around for people. as he did one of the Earth-Kin entered the tent; he appeared to be a healer of some sort. He spoke in a low rumbling tone.
“Peace child. I am the healer of this tribe. My name is Althanier and I have been caring for you since you arrived. Can you walk about?”
As Zaradanoric pondered the question he sat up and stretched a little. He slowly stood up and then he spoke.
“Thank you Althanier,” he paused as trying to pronounce the name correctly, “I appreciate it.” He paused and slowly stood before he continued, “I believe that I can walk.”
Then a more pressing issue entered his mind, “Have you found anybody else from my farm? There was a girl about my age who was taken by hill men and I have to find her. Also do you have anything to eat? I am starving.”
Althanier laughed a low rumbling chuckle that sounded like an avalanche. Then he spoke.
“You recover quickly, but I suppose all children do.” He paused and pondered his response before deciding to tell the truth, “No child, we found nobody from your farm. The search party we sent found only dead bodies and buried them. As for your friend she may be gone forever. Our party followed the tracks of the hill men as far as the borders of Angmar where we would follow them no further. We are simply not strong enough to fight the evil there.” He paused and then began to smile as he remembered the last question, “And yes we have something to eat. My mate Elthainiel remembered that young ones were always hungry so she prepared some food for us. It makes us happy to have one so young join us for even a short time.”
Zaradanoric paid this last comment no heed because he was too focused on the food. As the late fall sky faded to night they walked over to a table near a large fire the warded off the autumn chill. As it turned out it was a humble feast that was prepared. Elthainiel had cooked plain bread, roasted hoar-mantle, some sort of a savory meat and vegetable stew, and it was complemented by cold stream water. While he waited he asked Althanier some more questions.
“Where is everyone? Are there any children? Is this how you live?”
Elthainiel glanced to her husband, who looked a bit overwhelmed, smiled then spoke with a lighter voice, which sounded like a rushing waterfall, “Zaradanoric, most of village is on a hunting trip. There are a few guards left but the rest should be back by moon-high. Yes, there are children here. Many of them want to meet you when you are finished eating.” She paused while she ate some stew, then she resumed, “Yes this is how the Earth-kin have always lived. We build simple homes that provide what we need and a safe place to live.”
Zaradanoric nodded and continued eating. He was on his fourth helping when some Earth-kin approached with a strange, short bearded man between them. Then Zaradanoric realized that it must be a Dwarf. He listened quietly while Althanier spoke to him.
“Hail and well met friend!” The Dwarf bellowed in a jovial tone. “I brought you those healing herbs you wanted. Also best wishes from all at Othrikar. The guards met me at the top of the hill and we came in together. I hope you saved me some food because I am starving!”
Althanier looked to the two Earth-kin who had escorted the Dwarf and nodded. The two guards trotted off into the night. Althanier responded to the Dwarf with a chuckle and spoke, “It is good to see you again old friend Barain Battledeep. Thank you for your healing herbs, they will be sufficient for the winter. You know as well as I that you are always welcome at my table. I have a request to make of you though. How long will you be staying?”
The Dwarf thought for a minute the spoke, “I will be staying for a few days. The trip gets more challenging every time and winter at our threshold. More evil seems to be afoot but I best not speak about it here and at this time.”
Althanier nodded and spoke, “Then would you help take this young one to the Rangers? I know that you see them occasionally and he is their kin. He is the only one left of Eguald’s brood and he need transportation and care.” Then he whispered and relayed the story of the raid to Barain.
The dwarf didn’t even hesitate in his response but he did wipe tears from his eyes before he spoke, “Of course I will take him. I owed his father a blood debt and I will see it repaid. In fact I was going to visit Eguald after you but that will serve no purpose. I will take him to Othrikar and inform the Rangers of this.” Then he turned and spoke to Zaradanoric, “Hello boy, I suppose you don’t even know me but I know you.” Tears brimmed in his eyes as he spoke, “You look so much like your father and you have your mothers hair. I will miss them greatly.”
As Zaradanoric thought some memories came back to him. His father and Talurien’s father leaving with the dwarf for a place in the east when left they spoke of a lone mountain that had armies approaching from all sides. The clearest memory came to him from two years past. It was at Yule time and the Dwarf had come with a large bag of presents. He stayed and entertained the family for a time before he left.
As his revelry faded Zardanoric felt a connection to the sturdy dwarf. He rose and greeted the Dwarf in the time honored Dwarven greeting his parents had taught him.
“Hail and well met Barain Battledeap, son of the Iron Hills. I don’t remember much about you but I know you were close to my father.”
The dwarf smiled, wiped away his tears, and spoke, “Well here is my axe and here is my heart! Only Eguald and Amantha would raise a sliver-tongued rouge like you.” He paused and embraced Zaradanoric in a crushing hug and spoke again, “It is good to know your father raised you well. I am sorry about your family, your father and I were close but don’t you worry now. I will take care of you like my own son. Now Althanier where is that food?”
While the Dwarf and Zaradanoric had been reacquainting Althanier had set an extra place to eat. For as much gusto that Zaradanoric had eaten with he had never seen anybody put away as much food as fast as Barain. He ate like there was a ten-season famine ahead; the dwarf finished five full servings before he excused himself from the table. Then he spoke.
“Althanier and Elthainiel of the Earth-kin, I thank you greatly for you hospitality, I will now retire to the tent for rest.” And with that he entered the tent and promptly fell asleep.
Althanier chuckled at the dwarf then spoke to Zaradanoric, who was trying to help clean the dishes with Elthainiel, “Zaradanoric, go to that tent over there,” he pointed to a larger tent on the other side of the camp, “That is where our young ones play and they have wanted to meet you. I will finish the dishes and you go play with them”
Zaradanoric quickly stepped down and shouted “Thank you Althanier,” as he dashed towards the tent. When he entered, a huge game table that had a map of a large location greeted him. After sitting and observing the table he was greeted by younger Earth-Kin and was invited to play a game with them. Zaradanoric made a fast friends.
Zaradanoric played the game for hours and was quite good for a human. After many games he was quite tired but happier then he had been in the past week.
As Zaradanoric went to bed in his tent, he reflected on his day. He thought about his recovery, his new friends and old connections. He thought with excitement about the coming day and the promised daylong match of the game they were going to play. He remembered his old home, his slain family and friends, and promised revenge quietly to himself. He stared at the fire’s embers for a time and though. Maybe all embers were not bad; this time these embers represented hope, a new future. Zaradanoric happily nodded off to the thought despite Barain’s obnoxious snoring.