1. Troll country
May 28, 2941 – near the Great East Road
"Travellers?" Halladan cursed; just what they needed with three trolls so near the road…
"Yes, and they're an odd bunch," Saeros said. "Dwarves, thirteen of them, but no wagons or goods, just ponies; and they were with that old wizard, Gandalf, but he went off on his own a while back, heading for Rivendell I think."
"Gandalf? Anything else?"
The younger man shuffled his feet, "I don't think you're going to believe this, Captain…"
"Let me be the judge of that, Saeros," Halladan interrupted him.
"As you wish, sir." Saeros paused again before he went on, playing for effect, Halladan suspected. "They are travelling with a hobbit."
"A hobbit? You're right; I don't believe it. Why on earth would a hobb… Never mind." He stood up, looking north. Accursed trolls!
"Captain?" Saeros asked. "If I go back, I can still catch up with them, and warn them to travel that stretch of the road in daylight and in haste."
"No." Halladan shook his head.
"But they're heading straight into troll country," Saeros said.
"There is nothing we can do. We cannot risk drawing attention to ourselves." Troll country…
"This is troll country, or I'm an Orc," Húrin, Halladan's second, says. They are about half a day into the Coldfells.
"Thank you for that observation, Húrin," Halladan answers. "I'm sure no one realised before you pointed it out."
"Troll," Halladan says. "About a day old."
"More than one," Húrin replies. "Heading north."
A bright, sunny morning.
Vultures circling against the blue sky.
Running as fast as they can. Almost slipping on a loose rock. Not slowing down.
Crows, their meal disturbed, fly up like a black cloud as the Rangers cross a ridge.
The men who are strewn across the hillside have been torn limb from limb. Sight and stench compete to turn Halladan's stomach.
Húrin kneels down beside the first body. "It's Marach. This was the Chieftain's patrol."
Halladan closes his eyes briefly. "See if we can find him. Perhaps one or two got away."
The next two bodies are barely recognisable as human, so badly have they been mangled. Húrin turns away and is violently sick.
Arador's sword, broken.
A trail of bloody troll footprints leading further down.
The Rangers follow the trail warily. In the sunlight they are safe from the trolls, but once they find their shelter…
A quick glance at the sun; only just past noon. There is still time.
Further down the slope. A cave, its entrance facing north; in front of it a fire pit, and gnawed bones lying around. A head on a spear. Grey-streaked hair, still tied back in Arador's characteristic style.
They cannot retrieve the Chieftain's remains, or even bury the men further up the hill. Word must be got to Arathorn. Later, perhaps, they will return and root out the trolls.
… Troll country. Halladan took a deep breath to banish his memories.
"Sir… please," Saeros said.
"No," Halladan repeated.
"But, sir, the trolls… and aren't we supposed to protect travellers?"
"Yes, we are, and no, you can't. Have you forgotten?" Halladan thought of a young widow in Rivendell, her child growing up in virtual exile. He dared not even risk sending a message there so Rangers and Elves could attack the trolls together, not that that would help this group of travellers. He thought of his own wife and children at home, and of trolls and worse descending on the Angle from the hills across the road.
Saeros looked down. "No, sir." He paused. "But that doesn't mean I like it."
"No one does." Halladan sighed. "I hope those Dwarves have some luck on their side." They'll need it…
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