Tales of the North
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An excess of weather: 4. The silence before
November 17– 18, 2911
Halladan gratefully took the steaming mug of tea Saeros handed him as he entered the Rangers' camp. The pewter mug was almost painfully hot to hold, but after a day watching the Ford he welcomed the warmth; for a few minutes he just stood at the edge of the camp, letting his hands warm up. It was still snowing lightly, thick, slow flakes, drifting down like feathers.
His watch had been uneventful; who would want to travel in this weather? Merchants were either done for the year or waited to see if the weather might improve again, and ruffians would rather move their attention to outlying farms and hamlets, not lie in wait for the few travellers that there might be. Finishing his rapidly cooling tea, Halladan shrugged. In this weather, he did not look forward to the journey to Tharbad, but at least there would be a warm inn and decent ale at the end of it.
He looked around as he walked over to the Captain's tent to give his report, such as it was. It was quiet, unusually so, he thought. Even Saeros, who was normally eager to hear all news, had gone back to where he had been sitting cleaning a mail shirt. As soon as Halladan looked in to announce himself, the Captain stood up from the small writing desk he had been sitting at.
"How was your watch?" Arador asked as he stepped outside. "Anything out of the ordinary?"
"Quiet. Nothing noteworthy, except that the river is starting to freeze," Halladan replied.
"Ice on Baranduin? That is unusual," Arador said. "Better hope the weather improves over the next few days. You'll be taking the next patrol out to the Shire."
"Sir? But I th..." Halladan got no further before Arador interrupted him.
"...thought you were going to Tharbad. That was my intention, but this morning Ingold cut himself in the leg while hewing wood, so he cannot take the Shire-patrol out. Daeron will take your place for Tharbad."
"Is he badly hurt?" It was not like Ingold to be clumsy at such tasks, but the accident did explain the subdued mood in the camp. It also was singular bad luck, especially after their captain's injury that had led to Arador himself taking Bereg's company out.
"He'll be out of action for at least several weeks," Arador confirmed with a frustrated shake of his head.
"Weeks?" Halladan asked, resolving to go see Ingold as soon as he could. That must have been some mishap.
The Captain was about to say more when the camp's sentry sounded an alarm for approaching strangers. Before either Halladan or the Captain had done more than turn towards the signal, it was followed by the whistle that indicated that those approaching were friendly. It was another few minutes before two riders came into view.
Elves! Or rather Half-elves, for Halladan recognised Elrond's sons. He wondered what they were doing this far west, when they usually rode with the eastern patrols. Did they bring ill news, either from the Rangers in the east or from Caras Dirnen?
Clearly, Arador had similar thoughts, for though he was visibly glad to see them, his expression was still guarded, wary of what news they might bring. As soon as one of the two waved a cheerful greeting from across the camp, he relaxed and Halladan too was put at ease.
The one who had waved – Elladan, Halladan thought – addressed Arador as soon as he had dismounted. "We heard you were spending the winter here, so we thought we might as well come by for a visit."
"Elladan!" Arador confirmed Halladan's guess as he embraced both of Elrond's sons in greeting. "And it is always a pleasure to see you two, even if you did not bring better weather."
Elrond's sons glanced up at the grey sky in unison, all mirth suddenly gone. "That is part of why we were looking for you," Elladan said. "Our father fears that this winter may be as harsh as the Long Winter."
Arador nodded, but added, "Little good will that warning do us. It has been snowing for close to a month already."
"True," Elrohir answered. "And if his warning were only for the weather, that would be a good point. Alas, neither trolls nor wargs heed frost and snow; and if the Orcs are starved down from the mountains in great numbers, we will be hard put to it to hold them back."
"Of course," Arador said. "And I had already given some thought to that myself."
Elrohir went on, assuming a lighter tone again, "We do not merely come to bring dire warnings, though; we came by Caras Dirnen and your father sends his greetings, and well-wishes for you and your company for the winter's patrol." Elrohir stepped back to rummage in his saddlebag; he took out an oilskin-wrapped bundle and handed it to Arador. "Also, here are letters for you and the men."
Arador took the bundle and unwrapped it. As he went through the small stack of folded papers, he kept some apart, then handed the rest to Halladan. "Go give these to the men, and after that you are off duty for the rest of today. Come and see me in the morning, and make sure your patrol is ready to depart at noon. You will be taking Vëantur, Orleg and Hador."
"Yes, sir," Halladan acknowledged the order. Even with the rest of the day off duty, there was much he needed to do before he could take his rest. Best to deliver the letters first, there were only five after all. He started as he saw that one was addressed to him, and the handwriting Bereth's. The sooner he delivered the other letters, the sooner he could read it. Most of the Rangers who were in the camp had gathered round to hear any news there might be from their guests, and Halladan quickly disposed of the letters.
His duty done, Halladan went to his tent, empty with Finglas out on patrol and Ingold in the healer's hut, and sat down on his pallet. He would go and look in on Ingold later, but first he would read Bereth's letter. As he unfolded it, he couldn't help feeling a stab of disappointment that it was no more than a few lines.
I wish there was time to write more, but I must hurry or the sons of Elrond will not be able to take this note with them. Already one is on horseback outside, impatiently turning circles... but I digress. Alas, I can only say now that I miss you. I hope your patrol will go well, and that we may have another chance to send letters before we see each other again in the spring.
Nothing about whether she had spoken to her mother... but given the barely legible scrawl of the last line, she had really been rushed to write even this much. Halladan sighed. Naught to be done until the spring anyway, except hope that Fíriel would relent and grant her permission for the betrothal.
Halladan read the note again, then folded it and put it in his pack. First, see Ingold, then he should go and talk with Húrin this afternoon, and see what provisions there were for them. The Captain would brief him in the morning on his patrol's route, and they would leave at noon.
Ingold seemed in good spirits when Halladan walked into the healer's hut, and Carnistir agreed they could talk for some time.
"I won't ask how you managed to do this," Halladan started.
"I'm not quite sure myself," Ingold admitted with a grimace as he gestured at his wounded leg. "I was getting on with the work, and before I knew it, I was on the ground, bleeding all over the snow. Ruined my boot as well."
Halladan could not help laughing; how like Ingold to complain of a ruined boot after nearly crippling himself.
"Yes, very funny..." Ingold muttered. "But another thing, who is taking out my patrol? Have you heard yet?"
"I am," Halladan said, trying not to sound apologetic.
"Oh," Ingold said, then stopped. "Well, I suppose it may as well be you," he finally added. "Try to bring the men back as good as you're taking them out; I'll be waiting for you when you get back."
"Of course," Halladan replied. He noted that Ingold was starting to look weary, when Carnistir came up to them.
Ingold held up his hand to stop Carnistir. "I think you are about to be sent away," Ingold told Halladan with a weak grin. Carnistir nodded, but said nothing as Halladan stood up.
As Halladan was nearly at the door, Ingold called out softly. "Halladan! Good luck with my patrol!"
That evening around the campfire, talk turned to the upcoming patrols. Halladan let others do the talking. He was honoured that the Captain had asked him to take over Ingold's patrol, rather than one of the more experienced men, but he still couldn't bring himself to be too pleased about it. Not all were as reluctant, though.
"I don't mind," said Daeron, who now would go to Tharbad in Halladan's stead, "I have some coin to spare, and there's more than a few barmaids in Tharbad that sell more than just beer, if you know what I mean."
"You better keep your plans quiet," Amlach said, "You're going with Galador, and he holds with that sort of thing even less than... "
"Galador doesn't see everything. I'm sure I can sneak away for an hour or so," Daeron interrupted him to reply. "Or I'm less of a Ranger than Saeros and Hador," he nodded his head at the two recruits. Ignoring their indignant looks at the comparison, he turned to Halladan. "But what about you? Not too disappointed about missing out on Tharbad?"
"Not at all," Halladan replied, "But I thought you were married?"
"Widowed these two years," Daeron answered, then at the hiss of disapproval from several of his fellows, "And I never was unfaithful to my wife while she was alive, so no need for that from any of you. Elvish ideals are all very well, but they don't keep you warm at night, do they?"
"It's still wrong," Halladan replied, wishing he didn't sound quite so prim.
"I'm with Daeron," Vëantur said. "I know how I'll be spending my coin when it's my turn to go to Tharbad. Some of you may be married to your right hand, but I'm not going all winter without some warmth in my bed if I don't have to."
"Stop baiting Halladan, you two," Orleg spoke up. "Do you not know he's as good as betrothed to the Chieftain's granddaughter?"
Daeron snorted incredulously as he looked at Halladan. "The Chieftain's granddaughter? You aim high."
"Perhaps he does, but from what I heard the target is not unwilling to listen to his suit," Imlach, Amlach's brother, joined in as well.
"Without a doubt the Chieftain will be pleased to have her married," Herion said. "Before she ends up like her mother, and..."
"I suggest you stop there," Halladan cut in sharply.
"Or what?" Herion laughed. "It's the truth, is it not? Don't tell me you haven't..."
"Hush, you fool," Amlach cut in. "With the lady's uncle our captain you would do well to keep quiet."
"Indeed," the Captain's voice suddenly came from beyond the circle of the campfire. "Herion, I seem to recall that your firstborn saw the light of life about four months after your wedding. Had you failed to come back from patrol, your betrothed would have been in the same situation as my sister." There was nothing anyone could say to that, other than a rapid apology from Herion, and all took the guards' shift change soon after as a sign to call it a night.
The next morning, when Halladan went to the Captain's tent, he found not only Arador there, but the two Half-elves as well.
"Come in and close that flap. It is too cold to stand around in doorways." Arador impatiently waved him in as he hesitated. "Sit down. We will not be long."
Halladan gingerly moved past several stacked crates. Most tents were shared between two or three men, but Arador had a tent to himself. However, as it was in use much of the time as the company's headquarters and seemed to attract almost every bit of gear that could not be put elsewhere, it was more cramped than Halladan's own tent, especially with three men already inside.
"Will you join the Grey Company after you return from the Havens?" Arador asked Elladan as soon as Halladan was seated.
Elrond's son shook his head. "Not unless Arathorn brings them further south than the Hoardale. Our effort will be best spent keeping the High Pass safe."
"Do you think our strength near the Misty Mountains will be enough?" Arador asked.
"For the northern passes, yes," the other peredhel replied, "But Glorfindel will most likely take a company to patrol closer to Mount Gram and Carn Dûm. If you have any men to spare, they would be a welcome addition."
"I will see what can be done," Arador said.
Mention of the Grey Company brought to mind Guilin, and Halladan wondered how his friend was faring in the Hoardale. He'd only ever done one patrol there himself, and had found the area already bleak enough in summer. Undoubtedly, Guilin was in for a cruel winter. But what would they face here in the west? The weather would be harsh everywhere.
"We will join you again later before we leave," Elrohir said to Arador as the peredhil stood up. "We must return home immediately from the Grey Havens, so it is likely we will not see you until the spring."
Arador also rose and followed them outside. Halladan could not make out what they said, but the Captain quickly returned inside, and turned to Halladan. "I had hoped the brethren could accompany your patrol for at least some of the way, but they are unwilling to lose time by travelling at walking speed. When you leave, go west first, staying about ten miles west of the road until you near the Shire, then follow the border as far as Baranduin. Either cut across country to come back here, or if you can, follow the river back towards Sarn Ford."
Halladan nodded; he knew the route, and it was not an especially dangerous one. Likely their only challenge would be to avoid being seen by any hobbits they might encounter.
"Also make sure there are no ruffians moving in if you find any empty farms along your route," Arador added. "As for your men, Vëantur and Orleg are experienced Rangers, and can be relied on. Keep a tight rein on Hador; he needs to learn that he does not know everything yet."
That assessment Halladan could only agree with. He would rather have had Saeros along; though he was the younger and less experienced of the two recruits, the lad was quick-witted and eager to learn. Hador might have a patrol's more experience, he was also too certain of himself and prone to sullenness if corrected.
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