3. A Dawning in the Darkness
This chapter is a little slow on action because I had to tie my storyline back into the Fellowship of the Ring. Consider it housekeeping or foundation building. I promise to get back to the action next chapter.
Fargand felt completely drained of physical and emotional energy long before he found any sign of the patrol he was seeking so desperately. The mare was beginning to falter beneath him as well. He had briefly stopped to allow them both some rest but he knew they were both reaching the limits of their endurance. He had seen the flashes of light that lit up the sky behind him but he continued to push forward, trying not to imagine the horrible confrontation raging and the almost certain fate of the wizard he had left. He thundered along more by instinct than sight towards the site where he believed the Rangers to be camped. He was upon it before he realized it and would have passed the turn if it were not for the shout of the Ranger standing watch at the camp. As he turned the mare into a small copse of woods to his left, he saw the glow of embers and reined the horse in.
Falling more than stepping down, he dismounted in the space before the fire. His legs collapsed under him but strong arms caught him before he fell face first into the remains of the campfire. He began trying to relay the wizard’s message and tell the startled Rangers of Mithrandir’s plight and the danger that Aragorn was facing, but the words came out rushed and jumbled in his haste and anxiety. The urgency and fear of young Fargand was much clearer to them than his words. They were only able to understand a few words but they were able to catch the name of Aragorn and something about danger and Weathertop. They had seen the flashes of light in the sky back to their southwest during the night but had no idea exactly where they originated or what was causing them. Coruraun, the lieutenant in charge of the Fourth Northeast Patrol, issued quick terse instructions and the group of five grim Rangers prepared to move out. They could not afford to hesitate if Aragorn needed their help and were quickly ready to begin their ride back to the mountain they had left the day before.
One of the Rangers took the mare to a small meadow nearby and tethered her near grass and water. Another had taken Fargand and led him over to a bedroll and finally managed to calm him down enough to stop the babbling and get him seated. Coruraun gave him a cup of soothing herbal tea.
“Just take it easy. Drink some of this. It will help calm your nerves. We need to know exactly what happened and when.” Fargand took a sip of the warm tea and drew a deep breath.
“I met Mithrandir today at Weathertop and he..” Coruraun cut him off.
“The wizard? I thought he was just a legend. You mean to say you actually met him?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes. I spoke to him and he sent me here. He was worried that the Dark wraiths would come back before I left and wanted me to take a message to Aragorn.” Fargand took another drink and continued. “I left him alone there to face those monsters but he was so insistent that I leave. I could not persuade him to leave with me and I could not stand against the force of his determination. We have got to go back quickly and help him! I saw those riders and their beasts. They made my heart stop and my very bones melt. I cannot imagine anyone being able to stand before them much less defeat them in battle.” When Coruraun heard the words ‘dark wraiths’, his heart went cold and the faces of the men around him tightened with anxiety. These were things that they were not prepared to deal with directly but they could not forsake their kinsman if he were in need.
“We will go soon. You must remain here. We do not have any spare mounts, and your mare can carry you no further tonight. You are exhausted as well and need rest.” Fargand began to protest and tried to rise from the bedding where he had collapsed but the lieutenant pushed him back gently. “There is no way for you to travel with us. Relax and trust us to find the wizard and bring him out safely if it is possible. You mentioned Aragorn. Is he in trouble? Do you know where he might be?” Fargand slowly shook his head.
“No. I have not seen him. I think that Mithrandir believes that he has come this way and that is why he had come to Weathertop. I am not sure he expected to face those Black Riders there. But he would not come away with me! How could I have abandoned him?!” The young man was close to sobbing.
Coruraun coaxed him to finish his tea. As he drank, the herbs began to move through his system and allow him to relax. They gathered together some food and a water skin and left them beside the bedroll where Fargand was sitting. They did not want to leave him, but they could not delay any longer. He would just have to fend for himself and depend on his training to sustain him until they could return or he could go on under his own power. They mounted and the Ranger lieutenant led them back down the trail, riding as quickly as they felt was safe. It would take them more than four hours of hard riding to get back to the ruined fortress and they all were silently praying that the wizard could hold out until they got there.
Daylight had already come before they reached the trail leading up the slope to the summit. Cautiously, with the experience and skill of fighting men, they moved up the hill, bows at the ready, looking for any signs of danger or their beloved leader. As the others searched around the campsite in the dell and the stream below, Coruraun went on to the ruins at the summit. He stopped in astonishment as he viewed the scorched and scarred earth, trees, and rocks before him. He did not know what had happened here during the night but he was glad he hadn’t been there at the time. He searched around the rubble and stones but did find any sign of of Mithrandir or Aragorn or any clear indication of exactly who had been involved in the maelstrom of fire that had blackened the earth across the top of the hill.
When he went back down and gathered the rest of the men together, none of them had been able to find anything either, and the last set of runes on the Ranger stones (see A/N below) were the ones his patrol had left as they departed the previous morning. The only thing that they could identify were the tracks of a several large horses, most of which seemed to roughly shod with a peculiar type of shoe, and several sets of boot prints in the soft earth in places around the hill. They mounted up and began to move back down from the summit. As they turned and headed back towards the camp where they had left the exhausted Fargand, one of the Rangers called out and dismounted. He walked over to a clump of brush and picked up an old, rumpled, pointed gray hat. They were certain it did not belong to Aragorn but no one had ever seen anyone wearing a hat like that. From deep in his memory, Coruraun recalled something about an ancient gray wizard that wore a pointy hat. More puzzled than before they set out back to the camp where they had left Fargand.
After the others had ridden away, Fargand lay on the blankets completely worn out but he was still too keyed up and anxious to sleep. The events of the day kept running through his mind and he was filled with remorse that he had fled and left Mithrandir to face the Black Riders alone even though he had no idea how he might have helped him. Eventually weariness overtook him but he fell into a tossing, fitful sleep that would not render much rest. As he tossed and turned he kept dreaming of a gray, grizzled old man glowing with an inner light that was slowly being engulfed in shadow until the light was extinguished and darkness completely devoured him.
A/N:Ranger stones (or markers) were used to pass on information to other Rangers that may pass through an area. Gandalf’s message in The Fellowship of the Ring is one well known an example of these. There were several sites known to the Rangers throughout eastern Eriador where these messages were regularly left. They were usually scratched into a softer type of stone or a large fallen tree. The messages were by necessity short and always consisting of three parts: identification of the writer, the date written, and pertinent information. The runes were shorthand known only to the Rangers and a few trusted allies that had been developed hundreds of years before when the Northern Dúnedain became a semi-nomadic people. The information normally provided would indicate if there were any known hazards in the area and/or the patrol/individual’s status and rarely would be intended for specific individuals. The overlapping areas between Ranger company patrol areas always had a message site. Weathertop was at the southern border of the Northeast company’s sector and the northern border of the Southeast’s patrolling area and therefore had one.
Until next time,
I menel darthant lim or le a i men taer athan le.
(May the sky stay clear above you and the road straight before you)
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