13. The People of the Watch-stones
Chapter Written by Angmar
Half dozing as he leaned against a block of stone, Fródwine awoke at the sound of Frumgár's frantic shouts. Muttering under his breath, he rushed up the embankment and found a sobbing Frumgár kneeling at the edge of the ancient limekiln's collapsed chimney well.
"What in blazes has happened?" Fródwine demanded angrily as he moved beside Frumgár.
"Fritha is dead, our little brother is dead," came the anguished reply.
"Dead? What nonsense is this? You are not making any sense!" Fródwine followed Frumgár's glance downward into the emptiness below them.
"The ground slid away under him and took him down with it." Frumgár gestured towards the pit. "He is down there somewhere, crushed to death under the rubble."
"Why do you think he is dead?" Fródwine demanded, shock and incredulity on his face. "This cannot be happening! This is some sort of mad nightmare!"
"I called down to him and he would not answer!" Frumgár wailed, the tears and misery freely running down his face and dripping from his cheeks.
Disbelieving, Fródwine grasped Frumgár by the shoulders and turned him around to face him. "Make sense, brother! You are babbling foolishly! Fritha is not dead! You are mistaken!"
"He would not listen when I warned him not to venture near that hole! He ran away from me, refusing to obey me! He is dead! He is dead!" Frumgár moaned over and over again, blaming himself for the accident. "It is all my fault!" Life is unfair, Frumgár told himself. He had lost both his mother and father, and now his little brother. Nothing could be as black as this night had been!
Fródwine pushed Frumgár to the side and peered down into the cavity. "Fritha!" he yelled. "Can you hear me, lad?" His anxiety and alarm growing with each pounding beat of his heart, Fródwine again shouted down into the void below him. "Fritha!" There was no answer, only silence. "Fritha!" he screamed again and again. He moved closer to the yawning mouth of the pit and felt a barely perceptible quiver in the earth. Leaping backward, he watched as a chunk of earth broke off and tumbled into the pit.
"Fródwine!" Frumgár cried. "The ground is moving again!"
Fródwine looked down in horror and saw that the unstable ground was beginning to slide, slumping towards the gaping pit of the well. Grabbing his brother by the arm, Fródwine screamed, "Come on! We have to get out of here before the whole hill slides into the pit!"
Giving in to total panic, the boys ran across the top of the limekiln, not looking behind them. Their terrified flight did not end until they had gained the firm ground of the slope behind the limekiln. Stumbling down the incline, Fródwine led a dazed Frumgár by the arm until they both stood at the dismal entryway to the burning chamber and stared into its yawning darkness.
"You wait out here. I am going in to look for him!" Fródwine exclaimed as he grasped Frumgár's forearm encouragingly. Then taking a deep breath to bolster up his own courage, he ducked beneath the crumbling archway. He had taken only a few paces when he found the passageway impassible, clogged with rubble. Cursing in defeat, he returned to his brother.
"After a few feet, the tunnel is blocked!" he admitted despondently.
"It is hopeless, Frumgár," Frumgár choked out another sob and wiped his nose with his finger.
"Frumgár, this is no time to lose your head! We have to get Fritha out of there!" Fródwine exclaimed as he eyed the blocked opening. "Now get over here and help me!"
Frumgár barely heard Fródwine's voice, for grief had set a cushioning curtain over his mind, blocking out the horror of losing his brother. His mind numb, he stared unseeingly at the aperture that lay dark and gloomy in the last light of the sinking moon.
"I want Mother, Fródwine," Frumgár burst out, sobbing disconsolately, his slender shoulders shaking.
"Keep your courage, lad. Mother will be with us soon." Fródwine felt a twinge of conscience as he told another comforting falsehood.
"You know she will not be, Fródwine," Frumgár lashed out bitterly. "We will never see her again! Your stories are just lies, and your talk about a quest foolishness! Tell the truth for once, or have you forgotten how?"
"Frumgár, help me, and maybe we will have him out soon!" Digging with his orcish knife, Fródwine struggled to dislodge a piece of stone which was wedged against the archway, but his hopes were lessening by the minute.
"It is useless, Fródwine. He has passed beyond our help," Frumgár replied in a mournful voice. "He is with the ancestors now, and this will be his cairn."
The feast had lasted throughout the night, and as dawn slipped up on them, the revelry showed little signs of ending. The flames of the huge bonfire still roared in the center of their small settlement and cast flickering shadows against their dwellings, built around the boles of great trees. Though some never drank any draught stronger than water, a sense of innocent merriment pervaded the assemblage. Those children who had managed to stay awake this long were welcome to sit among their elders, asking questions when they had a mind, or listening quietly when they deemed that most appropriate. Children were greatly beloved among these people, for they were few in number.
Around the outer perimeters of the enclave were built bizarre statues which, though crude by some men's reckoning, resembled amazingly well the images of orcs fleeing in terror from the area. Other statues were built farther away from the village and set about the paths that led to the settlement. These depicted the villagers themselves squatting atop the carcasses of dead orcs. Those who were friends with the Dhrû-folk knew the purposes of these statues and the power which lay within them. They called them by the name that the people themselves used - the watch-stones.
Though the people were shy and secretive by nature, those outsiders who possessed the wit and wisdom to appreciate them found them to be a friendly and generous people. During the First Age of the Sun, they had dwelt near the habitations of the people of Haleth, the warrior woman, and offered protection upon occasion to her people. Guardians and helpers of their friends, they were fierce foes of the orcs, hating those brutes with a furious passion.
Lore told that they had devised no written language of their own other than signs to mark trails through the forests. They excelled in carving wood and working stone, and were renowned and skilled craftsmen in these materials. Making their own pigments, they decorated their creations with bright colors. They were short people, some no higher than four-feet tall, their outward appearance belying hearts and minds that were usually cheerful and happy. They never tired of singing and dancing, delighting in playing music upon the drums which they crafted.
Though they could laugh and jest when occasion demanded, many were introspective and could spend days at a time reflecting in total silence. It was told that a man once came upon two of these people along a byway. Because neither one had spoken to him when he greeted them, he assumed that they were both statues. Then when he passed by that way again, he draped his cloak over one of the statues and leaned his back against the figure, for he was very weary. Falling asleep, the man was awakened by a voice which implored him to remove the cloak and place it on the true statue, explaining that he had grown too hot with the cloak about his shoulders. The man, shocked almost beyond words, apologized to the small man for his error and was quickly away.
These obscure people left no written history of their own, and the little that is known about them was recorded by the learned in the annals of elves and men. Though few among the Drughu ever learned to read and write, still they were able to pass down their history to their children through a system of oral tradition.
Among these tales it is told that Barach, a forester of Beleriand, was friends with a Drûg named Aghan, who was greatly skilled in leechcraft. Barach and his family lived in a hut in the forest, two miles from their nearest neighbor. Much loved by Barach's children, the little man often stayed with Barach and his family and guarded their home at night.
A time of relative peace had prevailed for some time, but then the predations of the orcs began anew, fiercer and more savage than before. Many of the beasts had crept secretly into the forest by twos and threes. Their vile acts of murder, rapine and savage destruction raged rampant throughout the forest land.
It was in this time of woe that word came to Aghan that his brother, who lived at a distance, was wounded by orc poison and was in great pain. Though loath to leave his friends, Aghan departed from them and went to aid his brother. Before leaving, he first endowed a watch-stone with some of his power and left it to guard the family.
Three nights later, the good man was asleep in his bed when he was awakened by the warning cry of the little people. Possibly he had only imagined it or dreamed it, for his wife and children had heard none of the cry. Alarmed by this warning, Barach rose from his bed and took up his bow.
Peering through a narrow window, he espied the shadowy forms of two menacing orcs who drew near his home. Certain that they planned mischief, Barach prepared to defend his hearth and home and nocked an arrow, pulling the string close to his cheek and waited until they drew nigh. As he watched, the orcs piled wood against the side of the house. They had with them devil's fire, or as some would call it, brimstone, a potent substance that quickly explodes into flames, with water seldom exercising power over it. Though the orcs employed this devil's fire, it is said by some that the ancestors of the Khandians were the original inventors, and made good use of it throughout their history.
As the flames about his house grew higher, Barach was about to launch an arrow, but before he could do aught, he beheld one of the small people, who seemed to come from nowhere, save out of the night. The Drûg rushed upon the orcs, knocking one sprawling and senseless with his fist. The little man jumped up and down and stomped out the fire with his feet. The other orc, terrified, fled away, and upon seeing his retreat, Barach rushed out, but there was no sign either of the orc, or of Barach's protector.
Returning inside the house to comfort his terrified family, Barach did not issue forth from his hut until the next morning, when he inspected the grounds about his house. He discovered that the watch-stone was missing, and he concluded that the orcs must have stolen it. Later that day, Barach was gladdened when Aghan returned from his brother's house. Upon inquiring about the Drûg's brother, Barach was relieved to learn that Aghan had reached him before he succumbed to the poison of his injury, and that now he was on his way to recovery.
The two friends were happy that all had turned out well for both of them, but Barach was puzzled about the identity of his unknown protector of the night before and the fate of the watch-stone. Aghan's reply was that he needed to look about the grounds and ponder about the matter. After a lengthy inspection of the environs of the house, the Drûg came to a thicket, where they found the watch-stone, both legs covered with soot and one of them broken and lying at the side.
Barach could see that Aghan was saddened at the ruining of the watch-stone, but his friend soothed him by saying that the stone had done all in its might and it was far better that the rock be burnt than him. The little man had come back wearing buskins - a sort of sandal-like boot which was open-toed and laced up the front, which the little people wore sometimes in rough country to protect their feet from stony ground and thorns. Pulling off his buskins, Aghan showed his feet to Barach, and the forester saw that both were bandaged.
Barach listened in awed wonder as the Drûg related that he had kept watch by his brother for two nights and had not slept until the third. Then awakening in pain before dawn, Aghan discovered that his feet had been terribly burned and blistered. Divining what must have happened, the Drûg realized that his friend and family must have been in dire peril the night before, and only through the power which he had placed in the watch-stone were they able to escape. Barach was humbled by the sacrifice that the little man had made, but Aghan only shrugged. Looking towards the watch-stone, he explained that when a person creates a magic thing, placing his own power and part of himself into it, he must expect to suffer the same pain that it did.
Besides these tales, the lore also relates that after the great Melkor was stricken down and fallen, the isle of Númenor was raised up as a habitation for the just and righteous of that holy war. The Drûgs were allowed to sail across with the Atani. Never a populous people on Middle-earth, they had few children, with many of their women staying unmarried. Still their numbers increased while on Númenor.
In time, though, having foreknowledge, they became dissatisfied and sought to return back from whence they had come. Then, begging passage, by small groups they slowly returned to Middle-earth. Fleeing the wrath which was to come, by the time that Eru saw fit to punish the Númenóreans for their worship of Sauron, none of the Drúedain remained upon the island when it sank at last beneath the sea.
Though ungainly in body and uncomely to the eye, still these simple, small folk possessed a quiet, calm dignity and beauty of the spirit. Though there was great strength in their squat bodies, the years of their lives upon the earth were not numerous, and they perished before great age came upon them. Their numbers steadily dwindled, until by the time that the three brothers from Rohan were born, the largest population was in Druadan Forest. It was passed down in the legend of the men of Andrast that a remnant of this mysterious people yet lived in Drúwaith Iaur, the old Pûkel-land, around the mountains of the promontory of Andrast. However, whether the tales were true or not, no one could say for certain, though some swore they heard drums coming from deep within the forests of southwestern Gondor.
To learn more about the often overlooked Drúedain, read the below:
"The Drúedain," Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth by J. R.R Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien
"The Ride of the Rohirrim," The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien
"Of Dwarves and Men," The Peoples of Middle-earth by J. R.R Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien