Embers of Hope Chapter 4: The Abandoned Hills

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As their entourage traveled towards a small trading village in the hills, John was muttering about the time they were making. However, Zaradanoric was overcome with weariness and drifted off to sleep.

Dreams provided no shelter for him. Zaradanoric relived the raid on his home eighteen winters ago and his flight to safety. Yet this time he watched from his own body and did not relive it. As he watched the red flames consume his home and everything he loved, Zaradanoric began to weep. Suddenly, the dream shifted and it was no longer his home. It was a small village burning merrily the sign bearing its name barely readable except for the word ale. Flames leapt from homes as burly orcs slaughtered innocent families. As Zaradanoric watched the carnage he saw a man slide a book under a stone before he was brutally slaughtered by an orc. Zaradanoric could stand it no longer and he charged shouting.

He hit the ground and forgot the dream almost immediately. The next thing he heard was, “John, ya great ninny, why’d you let the lad leap out of the cart like that!” Zaradanoric heard Maggie shout.

“Darlin you have to trust me I didn’t know he was gonna take after a bird and fly away. He just jumped up and shouted something before taking a header off the cart. Probably trying to get away from me beautiful mug after three days in the cart. Oh pies and ale! What was the for Maggie?” John exclaimed.

“You know what it was for John Puddin-head, now help the lad up and back into the cart.” Maggie retorted.

Zaradanoric felt himself lifted into the cart and set down. As the mists of sleep and the fall began to clear he felt a cool cloth on his head. He tried to move but was pushed firmly down by Maggie.

“You and John are just the same. You don’t know when to stop” Maggie complained. Then she shouted, “John, thank you for helping me hoist this lump back into the cart. I love you dearly husband but if you don’t watch it your mouth is going to break your nose one day.”

Zaradanoric chuckled as John responded, “I forgive ye Maggie my flaxenhaired beauty! I don’t recon anyone will be tryin to break my nose though not with you around love!”

After a few minutes Zaradanoric felt better and sat up. He looked out the back of John’s cart but what he saw didn’t help his heart. Katherine had met a young man the day before and now the two were inseparable. Zaradanoric felt very alone in the world again.

Maggie noticed his saddened look and said, “There now. Not all things are meant to be and heartbreak comes. Just be happy that you have someone else who will be that one for you. Besides a little secret. If John found someone then you can.” Maggie stopped speaking and broke into laughter.

A smile crept onto Zaradanorics face and he shouted to John, “When do we get to the town?”

“Another day now. Its called Streamdale it’s a small farming community but has always taken care of us.” John replied.

Hearing the name brought a sudden flashback to Zaradanorics mind. He crawled to the front of the wagon with a sick feeling in his stomach.

“John, how long would it take a few single riders to get there?” Zaradanoric inquired.

John thought for a moment and replied, “About eight hours but why would we send them? They usually just accept us.”

Zaradanoric explained his dream and stated, “When you said the name, I had a flashback. All I feel now is this sickening feeling in my gut that something bad has happened.”

John and Maggie mulled it over for a moment. John spoke first, “I’m not usually one to believe in dreams and omens but the description of the town and some of the town folk has me curious. What do you think darling?”

Maggie thought for a moment more and said, “I agree with John, I am a farmer by trade and believe in only what I can touch and see but that dream. It doesn’t feel like a nightmare. It sounds believable especially since you have never been there. I say you and John take three men with you and take a look. I can run the wagon train.”

John nodded and said, “Come on lad, grab a bow and come with me. I’ll get Lander, Coburn, and Walter.”

Twenty minutes later the five men assembled and got on horses. John informed them of the mission and they rode off into the setting sun. Zaradanoric held to the horse he borrowed as they dashed into the night. He counted his arrows and adjusted the bow he had built while on the trip. It was a simple affair that was right for his size. While he was armed with an ax, Zaradanoric longed for a proper sword.

John slowed the horses to a halt several hours after nightfall. He dismounted and was looking at something on the ground. Zaradanoric dismounted and looked at it with him.

“Well this looks like a large party of people have been through here in a hurry. It may be,” John paused as he cast about the roadside and returned with something, “Ah yes, it was farmers fleeing something. This is a farmers doll.” John looked it over.

Zaradanoric stared at the doll and remounted his horse. “Something caused these farmers to flee for safety but what? The vale was clear of orcs when we came through and it takes a lot to shake a frontier farmer.”

John nodded as he remounted. Silently the men continued spurred by greater urgency. They exited the mountain pass into a small clearing several hours later and were greeted with a massive plume of smoke in the distance.

“I was hoping you were wrong Zaradanoric. I really was.” John muttered in shock.

“Aye John so was I. So was I.” Zaradanoric replied as he urged his horse on with great speed.

As they thundered near the village, a shape lunged at Zaradanorics steed and knocked the two of them over. Zaradanoric lunged out of the way of the maw that bit at him but his horse was not so lucky. A beast Zaradanoric soon recognized as a warg swiftly dispatched the borrowed beast as he drew his ax. An arrow from Landry’s bow grew from the wargs neck but did not stop it. One heave of the sharp ax however ended the beast’s feeding permanently.

John Brackenbrook dismounted, approached the dispatched warg, and rolled it over with his foot. In a disgusted tone he spat, “Warg scavenger, a warg so gutless and cowardly he has to feed off the packs scraps. That means the pack is nearby and they will be bigger then this one. Be on guard!”

The men continued into town on foot and looked at the still burning village. The fountain in the center of town had burned bodies heaped around it but still continued to pour water.

Zaradanoric walked over to the bodies and looked at the fountain. He waved his comrades over not being able to yell over the roar of the fire. Several buckets bobbed in the fountain and Zaradanoric filled one and threw it on a burning structure. The men quickly formed a bucket line and had partially extinguished a home.

On the steps of that home lay the headless corpse of the man Zaradanoric saw slaughtered. He gently rolled the body over and searched for a loose stone. After a minute he found it and pulled it out. Behind it was the book he had seen in his dream.

Zaradanoric leafed through the book, stood up, and shouted urgently to Landry, “Ride back to the caravan and bring more men. We might lose the valley! John! Lets keep that bucket line up!”

One comment

  1. Aradathalion /

    Hey all. Hope you enjoy. The schoolyear is almost over for me so I’m looking forward to continuing my work and returning to LOTRO

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