Chapter Twelve: Lilies in the Valley – 3 to 5 Afterlitha, 3017 TA
Folcwain stood tall and looked round. The waxing moon shone pale and low and the eastern clouds were dark and spreading in the sky as he thought back to Arrod the Elf’s consuming desire for the most perfect token of incomparable beauty for that which he had sought so desperately.
Folcwain had risen the late the day before when the clouds were still thick, but they had begun to break and pale strips of blue appeared between them above the Elven camp of Thorenhad. The wind too changed and shifted as he had set out in search once again for the treasured feather so fiercely needed by Arrod.
After one final word with the Elf, Folcwain sped onwards from the ruins above the Road and went out over the wooded hills to the north. The dying sun was sinking deep into the west and the shadows of the trees and hills were black. For many long hours Folcwain scrambled about, along the furrowed gullies and many ravines, or climbing the many hillocks and towering cliffs in the darkness of the deep winding valley in search of this elusive treasure.
Then in the cool hours before the setting sun, he had found what he had sought. High up atop a tall hill riddled with large boulders and rock, Folcwain found a large hendroval nest and within the prize he had for so long hunted. Happily, he turned from the hill even as the sky darkened and the sun sank to the distant West. With weary but gladdened feet, he was brought back to the camp high above the Road.
'Hail good Arrod,’ he had called out upon his return. ‘I have returned and bearing a fine gift for you.' As the Elf turned to watch the Eorlingas in silence, Folcwain drew from his pack a single beautiful feather. Folcwain smiled as he offered it to Arrod.
And yet this was not the last of Folcwain’s searches, for so overjoyed was the Elf of the delivery of the feather he was spurred further to great lengths. 'I have decided to craft a necklace for my Elf-maid,’ had Arrod said with blissfulness. ‘And though the feather you brought me is a fine addition, it is not yet enough.’
'Lilies grow along the banks of the Loudwater, the Bruinen to the east, and any of them would be pretty enough for an Elf-swain to give his love. Mine is no ordinary love, Folcwain, and these white lilies will not be enough! Only a mauve lily of unsurpassed beauty will be lovely enough for my Elf-maid. Look for one somewhere along the Bruinen, and carefully -- lilies of such a shade are exceedingly rare!'
And so now, as the thoughts of the Elf’s unrelenting desire faded from his mind, Folcwain’s glance returned to the present; his eyes swept round until they stopped. Through the shadowed trees he glimpsed that the Road fell steadily away downhill ahead. At the bottom of the sloping ground he saw before him a wide ford and river. On the further side was a muddy bank that wound up a steepening path towards towering mountains in the darkened sky.
The Eorlingas followed the river bank first left then right in silence; the swiftly-flowing waters flowed from the north past sheer cliff walls and into the hollow where the ford stood. Further on it went, only to become impassible to the south by more rising towering walls of natural stone and rock.
With one last gaze at the rising cliff wals, Folcwain quickly splashed across; the ford was wide and strong but not deep and within moments he was standing on the far bank. Slowly and warily, he began scrambling up the steep slopes of the dreary hills that rose higher and higher and dark with trees.
When he had struggled to the top of the long slope, he paused. Through an opening in the trees he caught the glimpse of open but murky skies to one side. He passed through the foliage and came to a ledge; there he looked down from the edge high above. Beneath his feet, he gazed out upon the river far below running southwards and lined with steep cliffs sides, all overhung with trees. Overhead the cool pale foredawn was fading fast to the coming dawn and the sky bore the threat of coming rain.
Folcwain turned and began following the ledge as it wound to the south atop the towering cliffs, always mindful to the sudden drop to his right. Then the wind flew now strong and the leaves blew up with sudden gusts as spots of rain began to fall from the overcast sky. Then the skies rumbled with sound of thunder and the rain came streaming down.
He went on for perhaps a half mile or more as the sun gleamed out of ragged clouds for a moment, only to be swallowed by darkening skies. After some time the ledge began falling away further south as it wound slowly down where the river ran below.
At the bottom, he now passed through a narrow cleft of rocks and looked out; there he found a sheltered hollow along the swiftly-flowing banks of the river that seemed shadowy and dim. There he found a narrow fen hemmed in by the cliffs walls to one side and at once he had a sense of great dislike. Unseen birds chattered in the wafting mist that obscured his distant sight that mingled with the insistent rhythms of stridently piping bull-frogs.
A faint miasmal odour rose from the thick undergrowth, grass and mosses that were separated by narrow muddy flats and pools. But more to Folcwain’s growing fear was the sense that the foliage seemed to sway even as the wind fell away as the rain continued to patter and fall. Folcwain stared out as he watched the growth moved, twitched of stretched at the very air or at the muddy earth of the fens.
Folcwain set an arrow to his bow and stepped forward along the feet of the tall cliffs; he had only gone a short few paces when there suddenly came a rustling, or perhaps only it was only the wind in the reeds that now sprang up. He tensed and watched with fearful guardedness as one of the bushed seemed to shiver and then grow very tall in the dim murky mists.
What he looked upon was a strange sight of a thing; its body seemingly made from root and bramble, its back alive with marsh-plants and its long spindly limbs formed of bark and wood that each ended with one single curled toeless foot. Suddenly a long sinuous neck snaked high into the air from the creature and turned towards the startled Eorlingas.
At once there came a creaking and groaning of root and wood as the thing leapt forward, a strange croaking sound erupting from the beast. Folcwain’s bow sang and arrows flew at the oncoming thing; and yet its skin or body seemed very spongy, and his arrows passed through it as if he had shot right into a patch of mossy earth.
Folcwain fell back as its twisted roots clawed and tore at him like thorny branches, or lashed at him like many whips. Folcwain drew out his sword with a cry and hewed at the thing with all his strength, heedless of the roots snaking round his legs and feet that gripped him like a pair of pincers. His blade rose and fell and shorn off a root with a heavy stroke; a shiver ran through the main boughs of the thing and the mossy back rustled.
As tough as wire and sinewy as thorny undergrowth it was, the thing came at him, its roots cleaving him as claws. Folcwain stumbled as its root-like limbs gained hold of one boot with a horrible strength. He slashed and hewed and dug his heels into the soft earth as the beast tugged and pulled him. With one final desperate flash, he hewed at the back of the thing with a heavy stroke; a long tear split open along the mound atop the spindly legs and a shudder ran through the thing from root to tip. Then the thing crumbled to the muddy earth like a jumbled pile discarded garden waste.
For a long while, Folcwain looked down at the strange plant-like creature at his feet. He then turned his gaze round the fen as the wind picked up and rain spattered upon his fair face. He could glimpse movement in the rain-swept mists about and the strange creaking and croaking came easily to his ears. Suddenly he gave a soft cry and turned to one side. He leapt forward and bent to the muddy ground and plucked something from the wet earth.
It was a beautiful purple lily he now held delicately in his hand, more lovely than he had ever seen. Folcwain smiled and carefully placed the fragile lily into his pack then, with a watchful glance about, stealthily made his way from the fens. Pausing to gaze back at the fens behind, he began the long arduous climb up the slopes once more.
It was getting on to the late afternoon as Folcwain crossed the ford at last; the nearing dreary hills were clouded in rainy mist and the sky was still cold and wet. He was very tired and stumbled up the muddy slopes from the road as he neared the ruins atop the tall hill. The Eorlingas’s cloak was torn and tattered, his mail rent and his face scarred and bloodied as he entered the ruins quietly.
He made his way to the tall silent Elf and drew out the lily from his pack. 'Long was my search Arrod for what you so desperately sought,’ he said plainly. ‘Many a beast and creature barred my way as I searched in vain for this. Yet triumphant do I now return to you!'
The Elf cried aloud as his eyes fell upon the beautiful lily. ‘Such a beauty! This lily will do nicely, Folcwain. You have my thanks, of course, and they are most heartfelt! Narlinn will cherish this necklace and recognize the depth of my affection for her!'
Folcwain did not speak but a smile passed over his rain-swept face. He nodded solemnly and turned to sit at the fire on the edge of the ruins; cold and chill was the night that now gathered and the moon was hidden behind thick clouds. All was quiet that evening as Folcwain slept fitfully beside the crackling fire, his cloak wrapped tightly about him.
The next morning dawned without rain and the clouds from the day before hung tattered in the sky. But the air was chilled and the wind had turned back towards the east when Folcwain stirred from sleep at the soft footfalls of the approaching Elf.
'There, I have finished the necklace, Folcwain,’ said Arrod as he held aloft a necklace in his hands. It was overlaid with a tracery of lily petals and feathers and wrought with gold and silver of unsurpassed beauty and care. ‘If you will bring this to Narlinn, I will be in your debt! You will find her at Thorenhad, the camp of the sons of Elrond located north-west of here, north of the bear dens.’
Folcwain took the necklace and smiled at the tall Elf who now spoke swiftly. 'Narlinn believes that the maiden for whom I have been sighing is Faimir of Rivendell. She is lovely, and for a time I thought I loved her, but my time here in the wild has taught me that Narlinn is the one for whom my heart sings.’
'Bring her this necklace with my fondest affection! I will stay here and continue my duties, though I will look forward to rejoining Narlinn in peace when the dark times against which we must guard have passed.'
Folcwain did not tarry long, but took a short breakfast before departing with the Elf’s gift in hand. He climbed down from the hill and turned away to the north and made his way along the faded path that wound through the wooded hills; and he came at length to the high camp of Thornehad as the wind hissed around the ruins that stood there.
The Eorlingas bowed his head at the shadowy guard at the summit and passed quietly through the camp until he was standing before the silent form of Narlinn. He said nothing at first as the Elf maiden turned her bright fair eyes to him. ‘A small gift…from Arrod,’ he said finally and held forth the exquisite necklace.
'What? This necklace is from Arrod?’ she cried aloud with astonishment. ‘You must be confused -- he is interested only in Faimir of Rivendell. He has told me this himself!’
Folcwain hid a widening smile on his face and shook his head. 'Nay good Narlinn, the love so clutching Arrod's heart is not for another, but for you,’ he said plainly.
'You are well-meaning, Folcwain, but I cannot take this,’ murmured Narlinn with grief and gazed at the Eorlingas with saddened eyes. ‘Return with this to Arrod, and tell him that you did not understand his charge.’
At once Folcwain began to protest. ‘I cannot Narlinn…’ he said gently yet the words fell from his lips under the Elf- woman’s silent untiring gaze.
'I will not hear anymore of this,’ she said aloud with a clear ringing voice. ‘I do not wish to embarrass you or Arrod any further. You have brought this beautiful necklace to the wrong Elf-maid!'
'No wrong have you done to me, Narlinn,’ said Folcwain softly and he turned his eyes away. ‘Glad was I to offer aid to you in your worry, and gladdened still was I for the aid I gave to Arrod. I will do as you ask for I cannot do likewise...’
He looked up into the face of the Elf and for a moment it seemed to shine and he saw her again like an ageless queen, great and beautiful. He bowed his head but no words could reach his lips. He turned aside with a heavy heart and made his way from the camp. He paused with one final glace towards the Elf maiden, who stood silent and still gazing out over the lands. Then he began the journey back to Arrod’s camp in grim silence.
Chapter Thirteen: The House of Elrond – 5 to 9 Afterlitha, 3017 TA
The sky now was clearing the last memories of the rains and the sun shone brightly. But the growing day brought little joy to the Eorlingas. His heart seemed to diminish and he felt a heavy sadness when he at last came to the Elf’s camp. There stood Arrod far above the Road, heedless of the heavy footfalls of Folcwain as he entered the ruins. The Elf was looking forth to the eastern sky that even now was growing bright and pale as the sun climbed higher and his voice rose with a beautiful song of unremembered words.
Folcwain took a stand beside the silent Elf; he said nothing at first, his fair face lined with great sorrow and with a great torment of mind. Then the Eorlingas held up the necklace as his eyes fell to the stones at his feet. 'What? Why do you still have the necklace, Folcwain?’ murmured the Elf with astonishment. ‘Do not tell me that Narlinn refused it!’
Folcwain smiled on him and said, ‘Narlinn says that this cannot be intended for her and that you have been mistaken. I am sorry.’
For a while Arrod was silent, as if pondering what this may mean. ‘I see...’ he said finally and softly. ‘I have become a victim of my own subtleties, my friend! So good was my performance that Narlinn believes that Faimir truly is the Elf-maiden for whom I have been sighing!’
Folcwain looked at him. Tall was the Elf there, his eyes bright in his white face. Folcwain sighed and shook his head. And he was moved with pity, for he saw Arrod was grievously hurt, and his clear sight saw his sorrow and pain. After some silence, Folcwain turned to him again, a grave tenderness slipping into his eyes. 'Love is a terrible gift,’ said Folcwain quietly and his eyes misted. ‘And ever more so a burden my friend...'
At first the Elf did not answer; but to the Eorlingas something softened in his face. A single tear fell from his face and ran down his cheek. His proud head fell too. Then, softly and quietly, as if speaking more to himself than to Folcwain, he said, ‘I will maintain my watch here, ever-vigilant and meet Narlinn personally when my duty here is done. I will then explain my true feelings to her!’
Then he raised his head and looked out over the lands again, and a colour came in his pale face. ‘I should not have given you this task at all. This task is for Arrod of Rivendell, and Arrod of Rivendell alone!'
'Indeed my friend, indeed,’ answered Folcwain as he laid a gentle hand upon the Elf; and he smiled, though his heart was filled with pity.
Arrod stood in the growing shadows of the ruined pillars and watched the Eorlingas go, bidding him a farewell with a soft voice. There was no laughter or mirth at their parting. Folcwain paused to look at the Elf one final time; he unsheathed his sword and held it aloft even as he lifted up his clear voice in stirring song. At last he turned away and faded silently from the hill.
In the last hours of day, Folcwain sat in the quiet camp of Thorenhad, readying a set of arrows for his bow. He was provided with food and water for the journey ahead and blankets for the coming cold nights of the highlands. Long into the darkened night did he prepare and little sleep came to him.
When the light of day was coming into the sky, but the sun had not yet risen above the towering mountains to the East, Folcwain made ready to depart. No farewells were exchanged as he strode from the camp. For a long moment, he turned to watch the gleam of firelight within the camp and the soft glow of the delicate lanterns that hung from the trees. The Elves could be seen only as dim grey shadows of the coming dawn in the darkness.
The seclude camp now sunk from sight and Folcwain’s eyes looked ahead. He made his crossing of the ford, pausing only briefly to fill a waterskin in the rushing waters. Then he began the slow climb upwards towards the snow-capped mountains that rose ahead, blurred by the mists of falling snows. He did not sing that day, though the weather held true and good.
The day passed and then another; higher he climbed and unexpected cliffs blocked his path at times, or he came upon narrow clefts or vales. There were dark valleys and sheltered hollows that lead nowhere and he more than once was forced to turn round to find another path.
At night he camped under the twinkling stars, but he ate sparingly from his pack for he knew not how long the path would take. Hidden somewhere ahead lay the House of Elrond, yet little did he find a clue to its path thus far.
On the third day, he had reached the summit of the long slopes that rose slowly from the wide river valley below. Folcwain had come to a high moor of undulating land, the colour of heather and beaten rock, with patches and swaths of green grass and moss. Few trees dotted the ground in any direction.
This land was not one he would have chosen, lonely it seemed yet he had little choice. Not that it mattered much; he had not chosen to come here willingly. He had been driven, and now was driven on. The hills about stretched on and upwards into bleak rolling moorlands as far as the eye could see. He walked in silence and the silence of the hills lay on all the land.
From time to time he spotted tracks of badger or lynx in the earth crossing his path or branching from his. Now the peaks of the approaching mountains were hidden in the gathering gloom of the night. Only the wind blew always from the north. After he had walked for several hours, he thought he glimpsed away off a tiny scratch against the darkened sky, like a ragged tooth, crowned with white. But the light of the dying day was fading and on the next rise he could see it no longer.
Folcwain paused wearily in the darkness and thought of rest and camp. Suddenly he started and leapt over the grass where his keen eyes glimpsed a path marked with white stone, half-covered and hidden with moss or heather.
Spurred by his find he sped onwards, his eyes turned down this way and that as he followed the stones. But it was slow going following the path, even by one such as Folcwain, who was a keen a hunter as any other. As a silvered moon slowly rose into the air above, Folcwain came to a steep fall in the moors. There he saw a wide valley far below and could hear the sound of rushing hurrying waters. There was the scent of trees and flowers in harmony.
Down a winding road he went, zig-zagging back and forth from the great heights and into the valley below. Shadows were falling in the valley, but the light was still upon the high faces of the hills far above. The air was warm and the pines of the moors changed to beech and oak. As he neared the valley floor, the sound of waterfalls and bubbling brooks was loud in the stillness. Then there came the burst of laughter and song in the distance, the sweet syllables fell like clear jewels of mingled word and sound, and he halted for a moment looking about. He could catch fleeting glimpses of shimmering forms in the trees that wavered and disappeared from view, only to reappear elsewhere within sight.
Soon, the stony path became a narrow lane of beautifully-laid stone that stretched through the valley. Presently, it came to a falling stream that sputtered and foamed round the feet of a slender and delicate bridge of stone. The bubbling brook mingled with the sounds of many songful birds in the darkened air.
Folcwain crossed the bridge and he began to grow very sleepy, as if he lay in his bed in Snowbourn as his cheerful fire crackled and sputtered on a cold wintry night. He glanced about and caught fleeting glimpses of figures that seemed to shimmer without light as the darkness deepened.
Shortly, he came to another bridge that spanned a swift-flowing brook that leapt merrily along, glinting here and there in the light of the stars which already shone in the sky. The waters murmured with glimmering mists of white foam and strayed about the roots of the trees along its banks. Suddenly the lane came to an end and the mists lifted, into view there came a house of impressive size and unimaginable beauty and timelessness.
Standing there under the pale starry night were a few of the Elvish folk; one or two turned towards the Eorlingas and laughed aloud. Still others spoke softly with hushed voices in their tongue. Folcwain halted and looked upon them with wonder in his eyes, unable to speak. Just then a tall elf lady stepped from the shadows of the doors to the house; young see seemed and yet not so and her long dark hair gleamed in the thin silvery rays of moonlight.
‘The doors of the Last Homely House are wide open,’ she said aloud with a gentle laugh, her voice light and cheerful. ‘Welcome, stranger, to the Last Homely House East of the Sea!’
At once Folcwain felt very small and his passed his hand over his face, as if in a dream. 'What is this place?’ he said softly, fearing the very sound of his voice. ‘I have travelled far and through much danger and I must know if this is the place I have so desperately sought...'
‘We call it Imladris, but Men oft call it Rivendell, home of the Last Homely House,’ said the lady merrily and laughed at his grim bewilderment. ‘Many a traveller has found his weary footsteps to this very threshold over the years.’
'Ah so Rivendell it is!’ He cried out with joy. ‘I had been told of this place and long have I searched for the path here. Glad am I to find my search was not in vain. Yet misery and sorrow not joy has brought me here.'
‘Then put aside your troubles for now, traveller!’ said the lady, her gentle fair face reflecting the sober eyes of the Eorlingas. ‘In Imladris you will know peace. Only those that are meant to find the path to Rivendell find it, it is said, and so follow that path to what peace you can find from your sorrows.’
'Solace is not what I seek...nor to put trouble aside, even for a little while.' Folcwain fell silent for a moment and then stood up tall and proud before the Elf. 'I am Folcwain, son of Aldwic, fifth Héafod of Snowbourn in the Riddermark. The Riddermark is my home and Snowbourn the place of my fields that I tend to every Spring. Edoras to the south and west is where Théoden King sits, while to the north lies Isengard. Long have these two stood opposed to one another, yet we are not at war.'
A shadow passed over Folcwain’s face. 'And though open war had not breached our borders, we are without strife,’ he said slowly. ‘Orcs pillage and loot many farmsteads in the fields and some speak that our King is unwilling to release our men to hunt them down. This is not cowardice but foul counsel from one called Wormtongue who now only bends the King's ear.'
'Théoden King wishes peace with Isengard, even now it seems, and wary is he to bring open war to the Lord of the Tower of Isengard. But by the valour of those who have not heeded the King's word, some peace and freedom has been kept within the Mark.'
There Folcwain paused again and sighed. 'And yet this is not what has brought me hither, for I have not come seeking aid for war in these dark times for my home. Nay, I have traversed many lonely days to find the hidden path here seeking counsel about a much darker road I have now trodden down.'
'Prideful and shameless has been the path that has brought me to this house,’ he muttered gravely and with shame. ‘I was one of the few that defied our King and sought to hunt our enemies that trample upon our lands unheeded. With my hafred, I pursued a great láthnéat, a wolf, into the North and, by doing so I have lost both my men and my beloved horse, Hálasfal.'
Folcwain fell silent once more, and he glanced about the fair faces then to the eyes of the lady before the doors of the house. A great heaviness fell upon him. At last he spoke with a grave effort. 'And yet, horseless and alone, I still seek this beast, even to the ends of the world should that be my fate. Loath am I turn aside from this task, for in doing so, I will forsake the terrible price paid by my men for my rash pridefulness that began this sorrow...'
‘I was told the wisest of the wise, Elrond, dwells here. Little love have my people shared with your folk…and yet of late I have been granted friendship and aid from your people and in turn I have tried to repay that kindness in such small payment as I can. I wish to speak with this Elrond in hopes that his wisdom does ring true and he can aid me in finding the path in this dark task that lies before me...' Folcwain’s voice trailed away and he turned his eyes down.
‘Master Elrond's wisdom always does!’ laughed the Elf and her voice rang as merry bells. ‘If it is counsel you seek, then you have come to a place no better West of the Hithlaeglir,’ said the Elf quietly. ‘For, as you were told, Master Elrond is considered one of the Wise and has offered his knowledge to many a Man over the long years this refuge has been here.’
'And how may one beg a meeting with the master of this hall?' asked Folcwain thoughtfully.
‘So early in the day he is preparing for his morning meal; I would advise refreshing yourself while he sees to his morning duties. I will inform Erestor of your wish to speak with Master Elrond and he will let him know-- you will be summoned to him when he is ready. Rest is oft needed after a long road before counsels are taken, good traveller!’
'Little may I ask for more,’ answered Folcwain solemnly. ‘Weary am I from the long journey here. I shall await then the coming dawn and then speak with Elrond should he have me.'
‘I shall lead you to a guest room.’ Said the Elf with a warm smile. ‘Please, follow me.’
Chapter Fourteen: The Riddle Game – 10 Afterlitha, 3017 TA
Folcwain awoke in a soft bed, his eyes gazing up at the ceiling overhead. The ceiling was traced with dark carved and beautiful beams touched with sunlight, and through an open window he could hear the distant sounds of a waterfall. He lay there, breathing in the fresh scent of flowers for a long while, unwilling to stir.
As the morning drew on, Folcwain felt refreshed and now had the mind for some breakfast and a stroll round the gentle valley. At last he climbed from the bed, donned his hauberk of mail, clasped his belted sword round his waist and went out.
The morning was fair and fresh; the light of a clear summer morning was glowing in the valley. The sky was high and cool above the hill-tops; and in the bright air below a few golden leaves were fluttering from the trees. The noise of bubbling waters came up from the foaming river-bed. The ground was strewn with many red and yellow leaves, but the trees above were still clothed with fading green; a clear sky of pale blue hung high above, filled with the light of morning.
Folcwain walked along under the fair trees of Rivendell, sniffing the air and looking about in wonder at the valley. He went down many lanes and over slim bridges, until he came to a high hill among the trees that overlooked the valley about. A falling river ran at the side of the hillock, and the trickling and bubbling of the water was mingled the sound of many birds.
There he turned to gaze at an Elf under the fragile roof of a beautiful pavilion overlooking the rushing river below. The Eorlingas watched in silence as the Elf smoothed the shaft of a long wooden spear with careful delicate hands. He smiled at the Elf’s workmanship, and then strode under the pavilion quietly.
'This I found after felling a mighty boar some days before…’ he said, as he drew from his pack a single boar’s tusk and held it up in the glittering sunlight. ‘Perfect it seems and long have I carried it in hopes of it to be crafted into a fine weapon...'
The Elf paused his work and set the spear atop a long table. He turned and took up the tusk in his hands, saying, ‘I have lived many years and seen many gifts pass from the creatures of the wood to the Elves of Imladris, but I have never seen a boar-tusk of such beauty.’
'Indeed was the gift taken with much regret,’ said Folcwain softly. ‘The boar was a cherished foe and loath was I to silence the proud beast.’
The Elf nodded solemnly. 'I would be honoured to fashion this into a dagger for you, friend. It will be a worthy remembrance of its might former owner.'
Folcwain smiled and bowed. ‘I thank you for the offer, and I shall carry the dagger in remembrance of the gentle beast.’ He stepped from the pavilion and crossed a narrow bridge of stone. Folcwain presently found himself in a sheltered coomb, and the whinny of horses filled the soft air. Beyond lay a beautiful open air stable housing many fair and lovely horses, tended to by gentle Elven hands. His face warmed as he gazed at the magnificent equines and then strode up to the stable master.
'I seek word on a horse…’ he said softly to the silent Elf standing there. ‘Nay not any horse but my own that has been lost to me. Little hope do I have yet I must ask: what can you tell me of any horses that have come recently into your gentle care?’
‘Some Men stopped here a few days ago from the east and south,’ answered the Elf as he brushed the mane of the horse beside him. ‘They had a couple of horses they wished to sell but they seemed a bit shady and I did not trust them.’
'And what these Men?' said the Eorlingas darkly. ‘Where did they go from here?’
‘No I can’t say where the strangers went from here,’ said the Elf sadly.
Folcwain sighed and thanked the stable master, then turned round to cross the slender bridge once more. The sun climbed to noon and was turning westward before he had returned to the House of Elrond. He bade an Elf within for supper and was taken into a further hall beyond. There a bright fire was burning at the far end; tall carven pillars marched down the sides of the hall that bore no windows.
Within the hall were a few of the Elven folk, and they spoke with low merry voices as Folcwain stepped within.
‘Folcwain has come to the valley!’ laughed one of the Elves with mirth. ‘What business have you for the Master of The Last Homely House?’
‘Dark is my business here,’ muttered Folcwain quietly. ‘I seek to speak with the master of this home, but for the moment I seek only a meal and rest.’
Then Elves brought food and drink for the grateful Eorlingas. The sun had fallen low and its slanting light was red in the valley outside the windowless hall as Folcwain sat down for supper. ‘The yellow leaves will brush your cheeks, the wind will blow your hair,’ said one of the Elves as Folcwain took the offered meal. ‘Though you may enter with troubles a-plenty you will leave without a care.’
So Folcwain sat in the hall for some while, watching the bright fair faces of the Elves who fell into their tongue and paid him no more heed. Soon, he began to grow sleepy as he listened with lidded eyes to the song and music of the Elves. Then he fell into a gentle sleep and the visions of grass-swept plains and the cries of distant unseen horses mingled with the voices in the hall.
Suddenly Folcwain woke to the sound of laughter. There was no longer any music, but on the edge of his waking sense came the echo of Elven voices. ‘Old Bilbo has promised us a new poem,’ said one Elf cheerfully. ‘Lindir and Master Baggins always seem deep in one matter or another,’ laughed another.
Folcwain yawned and looked about and saw a peculiar figure sat atop a stool set in the middle of the hall. A forgotten plate of bread and glass of wine sat on the table beside him. Next to the strange figure stood a tall Elf, the golden glittering firelight dancing in his un-aging eyes and upon his shimmering hair. The Elf did not stir but gazed down at the figure atop the stool with warm and gentle eyes. Folcwain sat up and glanced about at the sight of the other fair and seeming faces of listeners gathered about in quiet waiting of the curious pair.
For a moment, the Eolringas blinked in the flickering light with wonder-filled eyes; the figure that now turned round to the many listeners seemed to him more a child of men. The youth had a wizened look upon his face, and yet there was something in his eyes that seemed friendly, and even familiar to Folcwain.
Folcwain stepped from his chair and the strange youth turned to him on furry unshod feet to the Eorlingas. ‘Greetings young master,’ he said to the youth with some gentle mirth in his eyes. ‘I am Folcwain; what brings such an attentive audience, if I may ask?’
'Hello there, friend,’ said the youth in a cheerful voice. ‘I wonder if you can help out an old hobbit who is not as spry as he used to be?’
‘You?’ laughed Folcwain dubiously. ‘You seem but a boy to me and yet not so. A hobbit you say? I will try to remember that. Your tongue is strange as is the name of your folk, yet it seems not unfitting! But pray what be your name little master?’
‘Master Bilbo be his name…’ said the tall Elf simply with respectful eyes.
‘Then, Master Bilbo, you bring old tales to mind as I speak with you,’ said the Eorlingas. ‘Those tales spoke of the Holbytlan, a people of old songs and children’s tales in the vales of Anduin, or so the legends tell. Yet my people came from the north long ago and little more do I know of those tales.’ Folcwain then turned to gaze at the watchful faces of the Elves in the hall, then back to the hobbit.
‘And what of this assistance you require?’
‘Lindir and I are playing a friendly riddle-game,’ said the hobbit with a broad smile. ‘Here is his latest:’
'I often hold your hand,
But I have no hands wherewith to hold.
I often sleep in summer,
But I do my best when it grows cold.
I often lose my mate,
But I feel no sorrow, if truth be told.’
The hobbit fell silent and coughed slightly as the Elves about the hall laughed aloud and applauded. 'If truth be told, I'm quite stumped!’ said Bilbo. ‘Speak to Lindir about it -- it could be he has forgotten an important line or two.’
The Eorlingas smiled and looked down on the hobbit. 'Your levity gladdens me, Master Bilbo. A hunt for a riddle is a much looked for respite from the dark hunt of mine that has brought me to this house. The air of this place has driven away the darkness that has gripped my heart so heavily of late, if only for a short while.’
'And so what of this riddle, master of the wood?’ asked Folcwain as he turned to the Elf beside Bilbo. ‘The written word is not of my folk, but of song and tale. Perhaps I may be able to solve this riddle for the holbytla?'
'I thought for once I would try one of the homely riddles that Bilbo loves so well, rather than an involved mystery of Elf-lore,’ smiled Lindir even as the hobbit snorted aloud at his words. ‘And so it seems that with his mind in the clouds of Sindarin poetry, our friend here cannot solve old-fashioned riddles of the hobbit-kind. But I will give you the hint I gave Bilbo. The answer to this riddle can be found here in Imladris. Just find the answer and bring it here to solve the riddle.'
Folcwain smiled at the hobbit and murmured the riddle softly. Then he stood dumb and silent for some time. Finally he spoke. ‘You ask for a difficult answer Lindir,’ he said. ‘Many a song and tale I know but this riddle is another matter…’
He sighed and looked about the hall. 'I cannot by force to wring the answer from you, master Lindir, even if I possessed the power to do so. I shall then sit until my belly is weak until such time that the answer is uncovered!'
So he went off a little way in the hall and sat down. Outside the sun went down late and bright. Lights of silvery lanterns gleamed in the growing darkness along the bridges and stony lanes of the valley. Many things crept into his mind and yet the more he pondered the less he saw of the answer. He pondered flowers and grass and tree, but none seemed what he sought. Then he thought of something that slept during the summer, bird or bear, or the like. And of snow or cold. Suddenly he leapt to his feet and laughed aloud, snapping his fingers. With a start he flew from the hall.
It was dark outside the House and deep night had fallen. There were many clear stars and the moon was slowly. And so he wandered by snow-fed streams and through the trees of the vale. He looked out with marveled eyes at the simple and timeless beauty of the vale as he went, but he never forgot the prize he sought. He kept a keen eye about as he climbed and roamed and explored until the night drew very late.
He halted finally as he came to a meadow beneath the boughs of a tall tree; white and yellow flowers grew thick in the grass and their blossoms glittered in the failing light of the sinking moon. He stooped over the rushing stream nearby and drank; it felt cool and refreshed and when he had eaten, Folcwain sat down in the grass and the fragrant scent of flowers filled the darkened air. He then laid out in the grass and soon was fast asleep.
At dawn he roused and went along once more in his search. Folcwain climbed the lane to the high hillock and across the bridge over the foamy hurrying waters of the stream towards a swirl of misted pools among the roots of dim trees.
He made his way into the stables, bowing his head to the stable master there. Folcwain turned his eyes about and then cried aloud and leapt forward. Atop a low stone table he found a pair of work gloves. He took the gloves in hand and stuffed them into his pack. With a laugh he sprang down the lane back to the Last Homely House.
The hall was filled with more folk than before though it remained quiet and dark as before. A group of Elves stood together with soft voices near the flickering hearth atop the low steps at the far end. One of the Elves glanced at the Eorlingas before turning his dark eyes back to his companions.
There too stood the Elf Lindir and Bilbo, having returned to their riddle game after breakfast. Folcwain strode up to the Elf and smiled. He held up the work gloves and then set them down atop the table.
‘Ha!! Well done,’ laughed the Elf aloud. ‘The answer fits like a glove, does it not?’
'You have out-foxed me, Lindir!’ muttered the hobbit with a rueful shake of his head. ‘I was rummaging through all my small stock of Elf-lore searching for some poem or tale to fit the verse, but I should have been thinking of more prosaic things, after all.’
Bilbo then turned to the Eorlingas with clever eyes. ‘I wonder if you can answer my next little puzzle, though, my friend!'
'It seems we have an expert riddler here, my dear hobbit!’ clapped the Elf smiling. ‘Bilbo, perhaps you can offer up one of your own riddles for our friend to solve.'
It was Folcwain’s turn to laugh and held up his hands in defeat. 'I think not master Lindir!' he then turned to look down on the grinning hobbit. ‘Yet another riddle?’ he asked curiously.
'I would like to offer one of my poems on Elven lore, but I dread Lindir's gentle laughter more than a goblin's sword!’ scoffed Bilbo, and he looked at the Elf with bright eyes. ‘So I will follow his lead and make another homely riddle, one that I am sure you can solve by finding another item here at Rivendell. Here it is:
'A long beard I have of bristly hair,
But no chin or cheek on which to bear.
Many hands hold me, with ne'er a caress,
Yet I'm e'er the first to clean up a mess.’
Chapter Fifteen: The Rider Fallen – 11 to 12 Afterlitha, 3017 TA
It was already past noon and getting on towards dusk as Folcwain came along the Road where it cut through the deep forests towards the ford. For a moment he halted and recalled the words of the Elf at the secluded camp of Thorenhad.
'There have been worrisome signs for the past few months that something has not been right in the Trollshaws, but wherever I search I am unable to find the cause. And once more I have found what seems to be a symptom rather than a cure: the wolves that prowl the Bruinen Gorges have been greatly disturbed, but by what I cannot determine.
'It is true that servants of the Enemy pursued a small company along the road not more than two months ago, but the wolves have become more unruly in recent days, and I cannot determine the reason.
'Travel south-east into the Bruinen Gorges and seek out the wolf den in the south-western valley. Defeat as many wolves as you can and put an end to their pack-leader. It may be that you will find some clue I have missed in the deep reaches of the valley.'
From the Road he wound his way up the slopes to the north until he came to a sheltered pocket in the rising hills to the north. A hunter could approach the den from the Road through a narrow pass that swept to the west into the depths of the lair. There he paused to look down the narrow ravine that lead away and he shivered unknowingly. ‘Perhaps something fell is afoot…’ he said softly with grim eyes.
He looked darkly upon the ravine and then took a slow step forward; he took only a few more wary steps when the sound of the first howling reached his ears. Within seconds there came another and then another, and now the chorus came in such harmony that all number of voices was suddenly lost to Folcwain. What he was certain of was that the unseen wolves seemed to be signaling to one another, as if to come together.
After a time, the howling ceased and fell away; suddenly it broke out again, from deeper within the ravine, but now much closer than before. Folcwain started as his keen ears heard the cracking of broken twigs on the stony ground ahead.
Just then Folcwain peered forward and saw the first large grey wolf some dozens of yards ahead, streaking straight towards him across the ground. But it was not alone for another soon followed coming in line with the first. Folcwain broke into a hard run for the trees behind. At once another form rose in the darkness between him and the trees and Folcwain instantly knew it was a trap set by the clever beasts.
Knowing he could never make the trees in time, Folcwain set an arrow to his bow and took aim. His bow sang and the nearest wolf fell, the arrow penetrating its throat. Yet the one standing between him and the trees was not alone for another wolf appeared from the thickets near the entrance of the ravine. It halted to fix its slanted grey eyes on him.
There came another sharp twang as Folcwain loosened his bow; but the shot went wide as the leaping shape shot towards him with a shuddering snarl. Folcwain leapt forward too, straight over the head of the snapping jaws of the wolf and he sped at once for the cover of the forest. He dared not look back even as the hot breath touched his neck and he felt the tug of the beast’s jaws at the hem of his cloak.
But then he felt the teeth of the wolf graze his back. Without thinking, he drew his sword and turned to the left with a great sweeping stroke. The wolf reared up upon its hind legs and Folcwain cried out as its talons tore at his side. Before he could hew at the beast, the wolf sprang back and out of reach.
Now feeling the strength ebbing from his limbs, Folcwain staggered backwards towards the trees, steadying his blade with both hands. As he did the wolf bore down on him with a howling rush. As the beast neared, Folcwain cried aloud and struck, cleaving the head of the wolf from its massive shoulders.
That left two of the wolves that now drew nearer; they did not spring at him, but advanced slowly with snarling jaws, gazing carefully at him. Foclwain turned to bolt over the rocky ground and at last found himself under the boughs of the tall trees. Desperately he turned round seeking a way up but none of the limbs were low enough for him to catch hold of.
The nearest wolf snarled and sprang towards him. Folcwain slipped upon the mossy grass as he fell back and slashed at the beast. The wolf darted away as the other came closer. With a maddening snarl on his lips, Folcwain drew his dagger with one hand and faced one of the wolves, gazing wildly into its eyes. The wolf halted, bowed its massive head and then trotted several paces to one side.
The other waited as if for some invisible signal some distance off. The first wolf turned its snout and eyes to Folcwain in an uncanny calm fashion. Then without a sound, it plunged forward. Folcwain swung his sword over his head and brought it down with a slicing blow along its back. The beast yelped and darted off as the second ran round him in a wide undulating circle, dancing first towards him and then back again.
And so the wolves began a gruesome dance with Folcwain; one and then the other would lunge in close as he slashed with his blade and dagger, then sprang away. For long agonizing minutes this went on, until Folcwain’s breath came in great wheezing gasps. It was clear what the beasts intended; they meant to wear the hunter down and it became a sort of cruel game to them.
Folcwain whirled left then right as they darted in and out, thrusting and slashing, almost falling to his knees. Then the snarling grew faint and fell away altogether. For a moment, Folcwain dug the tip of his sword into the earth and leaned upon the hilt wearily.
The rocky ground from the ravine to where Folcwain stood was beaten and trodden down and soaked a deep crimson with fresh blood. The wolves now stood unmoving and silent upon some feet away to either side. As his legs began to give way, Folcwain stood up tall and proud, crying, ‘Eorlingas!’
And the wolves came straight at him, coming in close and unwavering for the kill. Folcwain cried again and his blade plunged into the shoulder of one of the wolves. Its head jerked upwards and its hot breath washed over him as it let forth a shuddering howl. The other was at his side at once, and Folcwain felt its jaws pierce his leg.
Suddenly all Folcwain could sense or hear in the trees was his own breathing and the rattling of his rent mail. Then his voice cried out in pain and he stumbled back under the weight of the overbearing wolves. He toppled over and crashed to the rocky earth. Blackness and crushing pain came upon him and all was swept from his mind into a great blackness.
For long moments he saw nothing else. Then upon the edges of the darkness he heard the call of a horse far off in the distance. The scent of fresh grass washed over him and he felt the warm spring wind upon his face. He smiled; then the thoughts melted and fled away and his eyes dimmed to see no more.