13. Chapter 12
My mother and grandmother were naturally grief stricken, and I was too. But instead of the peace I thought we deserved there was a constant stream of visitors to the house, all the great and good of the town and beyond come to pay their respects and say the traditional words. I was expected to dress in my best and receive them politely, but I secretly despised them and wished they would all go away.
Finally preparations were made for a burial, I was told to pack up some travelling clothes and informed that I would have to get up very early the next morning. I was both intrigued and full of apprehension at this news. As we were finishing a solemn breakfast there was a commotion out in the street and a firm knock at the door. The rough faced lord with the curly hair was there, dressed in his armour and with a sword at his side, and outside in the street there was a company of soldiers and a horse drawn wagon. Grandmother appeared in a travelling cloak, something I had rarely seen her wear. Sobbing, she went out into the street and mother and I followed her. Some soldiers went into the house with Lord Angon and came back out with grandfather, now completely wrapped in a linen shroud like some sort of ghastly sausage. He was laid in the wagon, covered with a cloak, and grandmother was helped up into the front to sit alongside the carter, and mother and I climbed up into the back, sitting a respectful distance from the sad bundle. The soldiers formed up smartly into a column and then we all moved off down the hill, with Lord Angon mounted on a small stocky horse in front. The streets were relatively quiet at that hour, but the people who were abroad all stopped and stood quietly as we passed, lowering their hoods or doffing their hats. "Where are we going?" I asked my mother in a hoarse whisper. "We are taking Grandfather home" she replied softly, stroking my hair and cheek.
And home is where we took him. Ordinarily I would have been thrilled at the prospect of such an exciting journey, and doubly thrilled at the thought of being able to ride through the town in a cart with an honour guard of the Lord of the Keep and his soldiers, but our purpose was too sombre and too close to me in the wagon. I could not bear to look at the way the bundle bounced and shifted as the wagon crossed rough ground. But it was a beautiful late summer morning, and I was travelling further than I had ever been in my whole life. We left the town gate and rumbled onto the wooden causeway that enabled those using the ford on foot to cross dry shod. The river was very wide here, and divided into many channels that formed a wide sea of dark grey boulders and shallow rushing water. Nowhere downstream of this point, other than the Last Bridge, and away in the south at Tharbad was it possible to crossed the Hoarwell without taking to a boat, and there were many places where that would not be safe either.
Once across the causeway we swung westward and followed the old road through country where evidence human habitation rapidly dwindled and the land became silent and empty, with nothing but the sigh of the wind in the trees and the murmur of birdsong on the breeze for company. The river moved fast, wide and silent to our right, like some great grey muscled thing, its surface broken by and ever changing pattern of eddies and swirls, and the banks rose steeply above the road, and dark rocky crags could be glimpsed here and there amongst the steeply climbing treetops. As the day wore on we bridged and forded several watercourses of various sizes that came down from the heights to our right, each one briefly opening up vistas of steep wooded valleys and empty heights beyond which then rapidly closed behind in turn. We stopped and rested around noon where the road, now little more than a grassy track, met a mighty torrent that could not be bridged and swung round to skirt the side of its valley. This was the Rushwater.
After a quiet meal of cold meat and hard bread under some scented pines we resumed our journey. My mother sat quietly on the bench opposite, me hands clasped over her swelling belly. The road grew steeper and rougher and the day was warm. I became increasingly conscious of an unpleasant smell, and though I did not want to believe it I knew what it must be. I know it well now, and have smelt it on a thousand battlefields, and it no longer troubles me, but as a boy of nine it was soon too upsetting for me to remain on the cart and I made an excuse and dismounted, walking ahead with the soldiers. They were a gruff and kindly bunch, and spoke kindly to me of my father and grandfather. Angon rode in front on his sturdy horse and soon noticed me trudging along nearby, and suspected that I might be tiring somewhat. He came to a halt, swung smoothly out of the saddle and called me over. 'Come lad' he said. 'Ride awhile, the walk will do me good. She's a kind girl this one, you have nothing to fear'. Though I had occasionally been sat up on the carter's horses for a jest I had never really ridden a horse before, and was about to protest when he siezed me and swung me up. I felt unbalanced and strange at first, but the mare was as quiet as he had promised and I soon relaxed and began to enjoy the ride a little. We passed through a ruined village, many of the buildings burnt and tumbled down and what must have been cultivated fields running wild on either side of the track. I also spied ruins up on the hills above, stone walls and the odd gable end still standing bleak and bereft.
As the sun began to sink towards the west we arrived at another abandoned village and in what had once been the square turned right off the main road and took another into the hills. Before long the woods thinned and the road levelled out and crossed meadows crisscrossed with the remains of fences and there before us were the imposing and blackened ruins of a large house. Branniel, who had been silent for most of the day, began to weep and my mother climbed alongside her to console her. A halt was called and the men and horses allowed to rest and eat. Angon and a small part of men equipped with mattocks and shovels left us and went up the hillside and disappeared into the woods. The rest kept a guard of sorts.
Finally when all was ready they returned, the men formed up and six of them took the shrouded body off the cart with due respect and then carried it uphill towards the burial ground, the rest of us falling in behind in a slow march. As the sun set in the west Lord Angon said the old words to Eru and the Valar and Carandir Son Of Candir was laid to rest in the soil of his ancestral home. Stones were laid on the mound with his and his lost son's names engraved on them. We all wept some more, and then quietly made our way back down to the cart. Nobody spoke and we did not linger, as night was beginning to fall. We returned to the ruined village and made a camp in one of the few buildings, that still held a roof, a rickety barn. I felt more tired than I had ever felt in my life and was soon wrapped up in a blanket and sound asleep whilst the grown ups spoke quietly amongst themselves and the patient soldiers kept us safe watch outside in the starry night.
I will never forget the kindness Angon showed my grandmother and my family in general by taking my grandfather home. He truly was the best of men, a stern and formidable commander, but also kind and just, and the people of the north marches loved him for it.
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