7. A Black Wind in the Morning
Osta was on the gate when the barbarian came. He ought to have been with the Commander, poring over maps, planning the defenses; he was chief officer under Canohando. It was twenty-eight days since they discovered the presence of the barbarians, and in that time the enemy had made no move. They were close, but they came no closer; they sent neither demand for surrender nor invitation to battle. Osta had slept only fitfully and had risen when the dawn trumpets called the garrison to duty. He had gone to the guardhouse well to douse his aching head in cold water, before he mounted the steps to the lookout above the gate.
The men who had been reconnoitering the enemy camps the night before made their report: the barbarians had them hemmed in on two sides. There had been some commotion during the night in the encampment farthest to the rear, where they thought the command center lay. Osta chafed at the absence of Logi and Haldar. This was no time to lose two of his best scouts, and besides that Haldar was his own grandson, the apple of his eye. He had been uneasy at sending him out alone to search for Logi, but Canohando had thought he would be safer alone than with companions. Logi was missing for three days now, Haldar for a day and a night. If they had not returned by evening, he would mount a double patrol to beat the bushes for them.
They were more like brothers than – second cousins, was it, or third? It took a Hobbit to keep track of such fine shades of relationship. As nearly inseparable as made no difference. Osta wondered in passing if their bond would survive the marriage of one or both of them. Haldar seemed young, but he was full old enough to be mated; his grandfather was a little surprised that no lass had snared him yet. Logi was a different matter. Sullen and hot-tempered by turns – the Orc had no charm to draw a damsel's interest.
Osta's eye was caught by something moving at the edge of the forest. He squinted to see clearly, then with an oath he clattered down the stone staircase to the gate.
"Captain, it's a barbarian – even though he carries a white flag, do you want to trust him?"
Osta pushed the guardsman aside and himself threw back the heavy bolts that secured the gate. "Ho, you! What have you got there?" he shouted.
The messenger threw down what he carried and backed away. He was still out of bowshot from the walls. Osta held out his hands, weaponless.
"Can you understand me? Don't run. Tell me where you got those." He was walking forward slowly as he spoke; he reached the little heap of clothes on the ground and bent to pick them up. The shirt, blue as a summer sky – that was what had drawn his attention. Haldar's shirt – and his knife sheath, with its design of ivy leaves – the weapons and deerskin breeches wrapped in Haldar's cloak.
"Where is he? Is he alive?"
The barbarian gave a mocking laugh. "Alive as the logs that fueled your supper fires! He is burned, and it was his comrade lit the flame, to buy the girl he wanted! My chieftain bade me tell you. I have done so." He stepped back a few steps more, wary of any attempt to catch him, but Osta stood turned to stone, a breath of air fluttering the blue shirt that hung forgotten in his hand.
"Logi? Of his own will?"
"Is that his name? Greyface, grey as ashes – may he choke on them! Give me a fine, high day to fight in, and the blood flowing crimson – that's how a man should die, not burnt to charcoal against a stake. Aye, he did it willingly; he wanted the girl. The youngster was brave enough; he would not tell us where to find this Logi, and he died without begging."
Osta did not see the man go. Blindly he turned back to the fortress; by the time he reached the gate he was jogging, Haldar's clothes and carved bow cradled against his heart.
His cry rang against the stone walls, and Canohando knocked his chair over, jumping up from where he had been poring over maps of the North Kingdom, to race down to the gate. Osta met him on the stairs and thrust the sad little bundle into his arms.
"The Orc, the Orc has slain him! We sent him to be burned!" He broke into sobs, beating his fists against the wall until Canohando caught his wrists and held them, to stop him from doing himself an injury.
The Commander was still trying to get a coherent story from him when Malawen reached them. She picked up the scrap of tell-tale blue from the stair where it had fallen, spread it out to examine it. Back and front were shredded, the edges of the torn fabric crusted black. She moaned and shook her head.
"Whipped, and – held to ransom? Osta, where is he?"
Osta had gotten control of himself; he took deep, slow breaths and pushed past his parents up the stairs. They followed him into the sunny tower room that served as the fort's command post. Osta went to a side table and poured out three cups of wine, dark as blood.
"To Haldar," he said, raising his cup. "More shining than mithril, true as fine gold tested in the fire – " He choked, recovered himself, and drained his cup.
They drank, watching his face. Canohando set down his cup with a click against the table.
"He is dead. How?"
Osta told them.
Malawen hunched over Haldar's shirt, weeping and rubbing it against her cheek, kissing it as though she kissed the beloved flesh instead of torn linen. She whimpered, calling his name. She had no favorites among her grandchildren, she would not play favorites, but – he was her favorite. His fervent spirit, his unquenchable joy – his mercy, his kindness to Logi most of all, whom few would befriend –
"Logi. Where is Logi? He murdered him – and remains with the barbarians? For a woman he did this?"
She did not question - none of them questioned - whether the report was true. Now that the blow had fallen, it seemed inevitable, a doom written in the stars from the day of Logi's birth. They should have known, always they should have known, that the Orc would prove a traitor.
It was long before Canohando could calm his mate. She ranted, pacing up and down, shrieking what vengeance she would wreak on Logi, on the woman who had bewitched him to this crime, on the whole barbarian nation – Canohando was reminded of the fierce little outcast he had met in the Golden Wood, when Queen Arwen yet lived and walked beneath the mallorns. Not in an Age of the world had he seen Malawen so torn with grief and rage.
At last she wept herself to quietude. He poured more wine for her and made her lie down on the narrow bed in the corner, where he rested when he was up all night in this tower, plotting strategy.
"Sleep, melethril. He is out of his pain, poor lad, and no one who knew him will ever be able to forget him. May Frodo and Arwen take him by the hand, wherever he is, and lead him into peace."
He stayed stroking her forehead and trailing his fingers over her eyelids, making her close her eyes, until she fell asleep. Then he rose and went quietly down from the tower, with Osta at his heels. At the foot of the stairs he entered his own bedchamber and shut the door behind them.
"Send out a foray at sundown. I want the front ranks of the enemy well harried, but not enough to draw them out of that camp to the rear. Can you do that?"
Osta frowned. "Surely. What are you planning, Afar?"
Canohando was pulling on a mail shirt over his tunic of soft leather. He slid the sword down his belt and threaded on a knife sheath before he buckled it around his waist.
"I am going in to kill that murderer. I will bring back his head and mount it over our gate."
Osta gripped the doorframe with both hands. "You will do what? At the border of the Shire! You would not."
His father sighed. "No. But I will slay him, Osta – of a certainty I will do that!"
Canohando glared, but Osta stood his ground, blocking the doorway. "We need you here, Commander. You cannot put yourself at jeopardy in that camp. There are how many thousands of them to our nine hundred? Even if we armed our women, we would be hard pressed to hold the line. You cannot step aside for private vengeance, while the Shire hangs in the balance."
"Osta, he burned him! For his lust he betrayed him to the fire – will you let him go unpunished?"
"He will not go unpunished. Why did their chieftain send back Haldar's things? That man was ordered to tell us who lit the fire. They are savages, but they do not love a traitor, and the day is coming that we meet in battle. Do you think any of them will guard Logi's back?"
"So you will leave him to the chance of warfare?"
Osta's teeth glittered suddenly in the shadows. "There will be no 'chance' about it, Afar. Haldar was my grandson."
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.