1. Chapter 1
Fourth Age - Year 22 Dunland
He had known it would be hard when they first ran from the demons that shattered their home their family. He was not so young to think it would be easy. But never had he realised it would be as hard as this! Loch stared at his feet stretched out before him. They were too large for his spindly legs. He had no idea how he had not lost his fingers or toes…or life…or hers. The nine year old boy looked to where his sister lay. She was wrapped into a tight ball near by, sleeping. She had not said a word since the day they ran. Not even in her sleep. He could see her spine now, all knobbly. Da would have said she were too thin, too poorly to be helped. Da would have eased her suffering, were she one of his horses. Da said that sometimes such things were kindnesses. Thinking of Da, left him feeling more hollow than his empty belly. Da was gone now and only he was left. Him and his sister. He had considered it. Were better than starving, or freezing, bit by bit turning black, rotting. But he'd not even had the courage for that.
Somehow they had made it through the bitterest cold of winter. The warmth of summer was some way off still. They were so weak now that Spring just might finish off what Winter had started. Loch swallowed and cocked his hearing for the baying dogs. The sound of pursuit was fading. So were they. They'd not even managed to bring with them the food that had triggered the dogs. The eggs and bread had been dropped in their desperate flight. All their remaining strength was expended. Loch squinted up at the sky. Patches of distant, remote blue showed between the rafters of the dilapidated barn they had sought shelter in. They'd been squatting in the barn for days. All of the feral chickens were gone now, their bones and feathers the only thing left. They'd been so hungry that they'd eaten them raw. It hadn't been a good idea. Rin had gotten ill and it was hard to get all the feathers out when your hands were slick with blood and you had nought to wash or dry them with.
Like all the other places, they'd not be able to stay here long. It did not do to settle in. That was one lesson learnt early on that he'd not forget. The farm this barn belonged to had a house. It weren't empty, he knew from early scouting. People lived there, with dogs. A man and woman. No children. Only dogs. Pigs too...but they were too big and clever to catch. The house was a ways off, far enough away to keep this barn in poor repair and them safe, relatively. The caved in roof and gaping walls offered little shelter, but least they weren't out in the open. He suspected the men that had chased them off today might continue looking. They wore uniforms. Black ones, with pretty silver markings like a tree. Their dogs weren't like the ones on this farm. Their dogs were knots of raw power, straining at the leash. He didn't know why they hadn't let them off. Made no sense. Unless they meant to track them later, in their own time. He'd tried give them a trail no man or dog could track, like Da had shown him. He was not confident it would be enough.
Loch eased himself down and curved around his sister's back for warmth.
"Be alright, Rin. Promise," he whispered like he always did. She never answered with words, but she responded in other ways. He felt her settle back against his thin chest and sigh. Was a long time before Loch managed to close his eyes.
Perhaps a mile away, in one of the few snow drifts that remained, a man crouched. He was a tall man, with dark hair and grey eyes. His face was a young one, but his expression was not one of callow youth. He squinted at the track left. A foot. A single foot. Not the first child's footprint they had found, but smaller than the other. Tiny. He held his hand along side…tiny. A child…little more than a baby. Two of them then, as reported, one a few years older than the other. Kin, he guessed, for the elder one had not abandoned the younger to improve the odds of fleeing. Behind him the others held their dogs. They snapped and snarled, eager for the hunt. It was what they had been bred for and, Valar knew, they had brought to heel all manner of fell beast…and man. There was more than one kind of monster in this part of the world. But these…these were children. Children so desperate as to steal food. So hungry as to be unable to resist the urge to crack some of the eggs there and then and consume them on the spot.
The tall man stood and considered the daylight. Night came sudden and hard here. He turned back to his men, saw the questions in their eyes.
"We'll continue in the morning, early."
"Loose the dogs and we won't have to," the nearest said.
"I'll not hunt children. Not like that," he answered and eyed the baliff of the village.
"Have a lot of children running about, stealing food, here?" he asked, voice cold. The baliff's chin jutted forward.
"Weren't children we was chasing."
"No? Then what manner of creature made this?" he demanded, pointed at the forlorn footprint in the snow drift.
The man edged forward and, upon sighting it, spat on the nearby stoney ground, "Ent proper children, not children as belong here, in this place. Not our children."
The baliff wisely snapped his mouth shut but he needn't speak further. The rot of racial intolerance and cruelty, between Rohan and Dunland, lay as thickly over this village as any other. While the punatative raids had stopped there was a long way yet to go before any meaningful peace was restored. Or safety, particularly for children who had the misfortune of mixed parentage. The man flicked a signal at his men, all men of Gondor sent on rotation here by a king impatient for order and prosperity. Their hunger to release the dogs had vanished upon learning the nature of their quarry. They trudged back into town and their lodgings. Like as not the baliff had known from the outset. Was him that took the goodwife's complaint. The tall man of Gondor twisted back to peer at the mountains. Wherever these children were, he hoped they would be safe enough. Tonight would be another cold one.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.