59. Chapter 58
I remained where I was, keeping vigil over my dead host until the Captain and his guard arrived at the house, and were shown into the chamber by the servant who had fetched him. I put down the empty flagon I had been nursing and got to my feet. He surveyed the candlelit scene before him and shook his head. "What has passed here?" I gave him my account of what had been said and done, and he ordered his men to remain with me whilst he went to seek the lady of the house. I sat back down, and the men watched me impassively, though I had no doubt they were hoping everything would be concluded as soon as possible so they could get back to their beds. I too felt deathly tired now, and would have given anything to have been able to lie down and go to sleep.
A few minutes later the Captain re-entered the room, his broad intelligent face wearing a thoughtful look. "Captain Esteldir of Northford, you have tonight taken the life of a man under his own roof whilst partaking of his hospitality, which is a grievous crime by all the laws and norms of this land. You well know the consequences of committing such an act". He paused, and I nodded my head in acknowledgement before he continued. "However, I have spoken to Mistress Lenneth, the dead man's wife, and she says you were unarmed, and that you were attacked from behind as you went to her aid. In such circumstances a reasonable claim of self defence can be made, and the act pardoned. Find Deleric's manservant and bring him here". One of his men did as he was bid and the servant came in, looking worried. The captain stooped over his dead master's body and withdrew the ornate blade, holding it delicately by the pommel. "Whose blade is this, do you know it?" The man did not hesitate. "Aye, 'tis my poor dead master's, murdered by this man's hand". He looked angrily at me, shaking with rage and close to tears, but the captain remained impassive. "Killed by his hand, but in a reasonable act of self defence. For the man you accuse bore no weapon himself, and the lady corroborates his tale. I fear your former master let ale and temper get the better of him once too often". The servant looked aghast, uttered a cry and spinning on his heels fled from the room.
I could barely take in what was happening, for I had not dared hope for any other outcome than the blackest possible. "You are free to go, but I would not tarry if I were you, for Deleric was a popular man in some quarters despite his fondness for ale, and many of those he counted as friends acknowledge chieftain rather than king as their rightful ruler. My writ does not always run far outside the walls of the town out here at the edge of things". Weary as I was I took his warning seriously, and I immediately went back to my room to gather my things and leave. As I filled my pack the maidservant appeared in the open doorway and handed me a cloth full of food for my journey. I thanked her warmly and asked her if I could see her mistress before I went, and when I was done she took me upstairs to her chamber. Lenneth was sat up in bed in her shift, looking pale but unbowed. One of her eyes was blackening and there was a bandage on her brow, but she gave me a wan smile. "My lady, I thank you with all my heart, for your words to the captain have without doubt saved my life this night". She shook her head. "No, it is you who have saved mine, for he who lies dead below would have taken it eventually, for it had become of little worth. Now at least I have a chance, though the future is uncertain for all of us. Come…". I went to the bed and sat down on the edge of it and took her in my arms, where she remained quiet for a moment before breaking down with a series of great racking sobs. After a while she mastered herself again, withdrew and looked at me with dark eyes so much like her brother's and whispered "may the Valar protect you my child". Then she kissed my brow and we parted.
I left her, full of sadness and worry about what the future might hold for her now, and also in some concern for my own safety, for I would need to put as many miles as possible between myself and any possible pursuit before morning. The captain and his men were waiting for me in the courtyard, but as I left the maidservant met me in the doorway, and surprised me by speaking freely for the first time. "I thank you for what you did tonight, for my mistress' sake and mine own too". There was something I could not read in her eyes as she said this, but before I could answer she turned and went back down the passageway. I joined the captain and his small company out in the night and we set off back towards the town.
Fortunately for me the moon was full that night and cast a good light, and after we had been walking for about half an hour the captain pointed out two wooded ridges visible off in the distance to our right hand that rose up, one behind the other. He told me to aim for them and crest them, and if I maintained my course thereafter I would come at last back to the East Road. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart, wished him and his men well and struck off across country, which was a mixture of meadow and copse to begin with. I made good progress at first, but then the moon began to set behind the second ridge and I found myself in deep shadow. Not only that but the ground was now growing steep and rocky and my progress slowed to a crawl. The irony of my situation was not lost on me, for once again I found myself alone at night and climbing ridges in the Shaws, but I reached the first crest more quickly than I expected. The moon still illuminated the downhill slope on the other side for a good distance and so I pressed on again until weariness and darkness finally forced a stop, so I found myself as good a hiding place as I could contrive and lay down to sleep a little. At first my mind raced with all the events of the previous day, but not for long, and I slept deeply for a while.
I was woken by the crack of a twig, and rose in alarm drawing my sword as I did so, but nobody came forward. I eventually concluded that it must have been a forest animal that had disturbed me and sheathed my blade. The cold grey light of dawn showed that my hiding place had actually been no hiding place at all, but it did not matter now. I quickly ate a small meal and set off again across a barren stony valley floor dotted with pines and began to climb up to the top of the second ridge. It took me a good hour or two to reach it and the going was steep and difficult, but the view from the top when I reached it was splendid. Ahead and to my right hand the ridges and summits of the Southern Shaws marched off into the distance, rank upon rank, and I was reminded vividly of the last time I had seen such a sight, though the land had been cold and white then. On my left hand the land dropped away down towards the plains in the south, and the line of the road could be glimpsed here and there in that direction which heartened me considerably. At my back the misty mountains rose, as close as I had ever seen them, but still fifteen to twenty leagues distant, a mighty wall marching across the horizon. Before them lay great uplands riven by deep valleys, and somewhere amongst those hills lay the settlement of the elven folk that no man had ever seen. But I had no time to ponder for long upon such things and quickly resumed my journey, striking off downhill towards the road.
I must have been nigh on noon by the time I scrambled cautiously down a bank and seeing nobody ahead or behind on the road stepped with some relief back onto its smooth paved surface. The captain's advice had been good, for I found myself already some distance from Elford, and so far there was no sign of any pursuit. I walked for the rest of the day, constantly glancing over my shoulder, but the only traffic I encountered were carts coming in the other direction. I left the road as soon as I glimpsed them, and where I could cut across country to avoid them. It was not always possible however due to the steepness of the ground, and I was twice forced to hide for considerable lengths of time and lose valuable daylight waiting for them to pass. The second time I actually fell asleep, and must have slept for some considerable time because when I awoke the shadows were already beginning to lengthen and I was very hungry. I cursed, and ate some more of my rations, but before I set off I heard the sound of hooves on the road and the rumbling of yet another cart. I cursed again, for this meant yet more skulking in the bushes when haste was needed.
But when I saw the cart my mood changed completely, for it was none other than Fradur, who was making his way home from Elford to Greenwood, and I gave a cry of greeting and burst out of the foliage at the roadside. He dropped the reins and leapt to his feet, drawing a cudgel from the behind him as he did so, but his alarm and surprise were soon replaced by puzzlement as to what I was doing there out in the wild. I told him it was a long story, and asked if he would mind bearing me as a passenger once again, which he assented to without hesitation. Though there was rarely ever any trouble on the road in those parts and it was not unusual for people to travel alone on it, you couldn't take anything for granted any more and the company of a well armed man was always going to be welcome. I climbed gratefully into the back and settled myself down out of sight amongst the load of goods he was carrying back from Elford and eventually the rumbling of the cart and all my exertions had me drifting off to sleep once again. In fact Fradur made camp for the night and thoughtfully left me where I was, and I slept right through until the following morning, when I awoke stiff and cramped but quite refreshed.
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.