He travelled alone, as foolish as that might have been in these times; there was not one person in Minas Tirith who would have wished to come to the North with Thorongil, and certainly very few who could have kept up with him. So he rode with a patrol as far as Anórien, and then turned and left them as he cut through the Drúadan Forest.
Old, it was, and not without menace, but not haunted, as he’d heard some claim. For Aragorn remembered them from among the old tales told while he’d written clumsy tengwar on his slate and wondered how Elrond could possibly know so many things. Even in the great libraries of Rivendell there was little to be found to tell of the Drúedain; footnotes in the tales of Haleth and her people, perhaps, folk stories passed down through the years. All were collected in the libraries of Elrond, who gathered such tales like others might gather gems or gold, but shared far more freely.
He saw many of the watch-stones along his way, marking paths since apparently overgrown or guarding places seemingly abandoned. When he could, he made his camp near them, for it seemed even to him that there was a comfort and a strength in these people of stone, even if their makers were nowhere to be found.
Then one morning he awoke, and there was not one statue as there had been the night before, a laughing warrior with his hand on the severed head of an orc – there were three. Granted, two of them were smaller than the first, life sized rather than larger than life, and even as Aragorn watched, almost holding his breath, the two smaller statues moved, exchanging a few words in a tongue he did not recognise, before lapsing back into stillness and thoughtful silence.
Neither were bearded and at first glance it was difficult to say whether they were man or woman, though one was shorter and slighter of form, for they were dressed alike for hunting and both carried crude but wicked looking bows and quivers of arrows, knives at their belts. He felt almost as if he was intruding, but they did not speak to him until he approached, and even then it was a few long moments before the slighter of the two turned to consider him, and when she spoke it became obvious that this one was, indeed, a woman of the Drúedain.
“Does he run from or to?” Her words were oddly accented, but understandable enough.
“To, I think. He goes from Stonehouses to the forest, not hiding behind walls any more.” The other grinned, showing crooked yellowed teeth. “I am Drúch. She is Ghâni. You are?”
“Thorongil.” Aragorn bowed politely, which seemed to amuse his companions. “I am travelling north, and am merely passing through your lands.”
“There are forests north also.” Ghâni pointed out, and smiled. “Thor-on-gil. But fewer houses of stone for you to hide in.”
“There is one House.” Drúch added something else in the tongue of the Drúedain, and they exchanged an odd look. “And he does not need a house to hide in. His name, he hides behind. A cloak to be cast off when the time comes.”
Aragorn frowned, wondering if the old tales of the magic of this folk had any weight in them, or if Drúch had made some sort of lucky guess, that Thorongil was not his right name. “I am no coward. I do not hide, I simply…”
“You go in the wrong direction.” With a flick of her fingers Ghâni dismissed his comments. “Not time yet, perhaps.”
“He has many years.” Drúch laughed. “Longer than Wild-folk. Can hide more.”
“Wrong direction or not, my travels are not done yet.” Aragorn shrugged, smiling. “And the sun has long since risen – I should move on.”
“You hurry.” Ghâni rested her back against the statue and closed her eyes – whether she meant to tell him that he should hurry, or that he hurried too much, or merely make an observation on the fact that he was hurrying, Aragorn did not know. Drúch merely nodded to him, following suit and leaning against the other side of the watch-stone. For all that they moved, there might have been three statues again, resting in a clearing in the wood undisturbed except for the passage of bird and breeze for many years.
It did not take long to pack away his things – he travelled light, and needed little enough to carry with him besides – and Aragorn looked to the north and wondered whether, in fact, Ghâni had been correct and he was going in the wrong direction.
Then he remembered dark hair and a voice like a nightingale’s song, and smiled. “Running to.” he said, and although neither of the Drúedain moved so much as a hairsbreadth when he said it, he could have sworn that their laughter chased him through their woods all that long day, guiding him towards the horizon, and home.
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.