In the Glade of Cleansing

“A Captain of Gondor, he is,” said Glamren, a slender soldier of Gondor, clad in dark leather and a grey cloak.

“Aye, and barely a phase of the moon, for I heard nothing of ‘im until we were called by Lord Denethor,” his companion said, rather grimly.

“Surely, Caradol, you heard of what he did at Cair Andros,” Glamren said. “Not to mention he saved a lord’s neck in Pelargir. By any account, that will get you a seat in the high levels.”

Caradol, a broad-chested man with reddish hair and a beard flecked with grey, snorted, “Stories is all. You know those men in Ithilien talk a lot when they come back here. Think we have it all easy. Everything is all, Mumaks and great snarling wargs.”

“I never seen a Mumak. Though, I suppose I never want to, if half of what they say is true,” Glamren said.

Abe Papakhian

Aragorn paid little attention to the two men who sat upon the grass behind him, down a gentle slope while he lay belly down on the turf, eyes just over the top of the hill. The sun was falling behind Mindolluin and less than a week had passed since he and Denethor encountered the so-called Hand of Castamir; the shadowy figure still held some grip over the Steward’s son, and they had spent the better part of the days and nights since, searching for those who were in league with him. The map they found led them to many small nooks and storehouses that held supplies and stolen wares. But many still seemed to slip past them, as if the news had spread quickly among their kind that the Knights of Minas Tirith came for them. And as the hounds dug in through one hole, the rabbits sprang from another.

His eyes were fixed upon the outer wall of Minas Tirith, looming black and glistening wet. The shadow of the mountain lay across the city and the outer hills like a soft shroud, and it stretched ever further across the Pelennor. The wall met the mountain and the foothills tumbled from the finely-carved face, but some small culverts and drainage holes were in the rock there, and they poured out from the mountain and joined with the natural soft-trickling springs that welled up in the high passes and fell down among the hills into the gently rolling land and finally the flat plains. Their map had shown them clearly, and now Aragorn waited.

“If half of what they say is true, then every man in Ithilien has slayed a Mumak,” Caradol huffed.

“Silence,” Aragorn hissed, turning his head back to the men, who looked up at him as scolded children. He turned back and saw shadowy figures with his keen eyes, moving out of a cleft in the rock and among the boulders. Down a hill they slinked, until at last they came to a grove and there joined other companions, who emerged from the darkness, shielded by thickets and trees. Five of them were there, now.

Glamren rather clumsily crawled up the slope beside Aragorn and peeked over himself, but little could he see in the dimming light. He squinted and carelessly lifted his head higher, but Aragorn gripped his arm with a firm hand and Glamren caught himself, and lowered back down. “What do you see?”

“Five men. Three emerged from the tunnel exit; two others waited in the brush.”

“What did he say?” Caradol called in barely a whisper.

Glamren turned back his head to his companion, “He says five men.”

“Five against three? Are we to slay them or capture them?” Caradol said.

At this Aragorn turned back as well, “Are you concerned with their numbers, my friend? It should be no problem at all, for they have no Mumak.” His face, often grim and serious, lightened with a smile and Caradol huffed and did not answer.

“What are we to do, my lord?” Glamren asked. “Should we intercept them?”

“No, I would like to see where they may lead us. For there are exits and entrances to Minas Tirith that your lords and knights cannot all monitor. Perhaps, if they carry us to the den, then we may at once root out the pack for good.”

“Just the three of us?” Glamren asked worriedly.

“Let us follow them, and I shall consider our course of action upon the road.” Aragorn nodded his head and Glamren slid away and walked down the slope to Caradol to inform him of their captain’s decision.

The two of them stood and rushed back quickly to a grove where three horses grazed peacefully and freely. The two men greeted the horses and lifted the reins over their heads, led them out from below the trees and across a small green space between the trees and a tall hedge. The North-way ran along the hills and up to the Forannest, or the northern gate of the Rammas Echor. The road climbed and dipped as it traversed hills and passed through great groves and orchards. Brooks ran down from the mountain and arched bridges passed over them. Glamren and Caradol led the horses to the hedge and waited there.

Aragorn watched as the shadowy men mounted their own steeds and turned them away from the city and casually trotted to the road. From his point he could see down the road a ways, and the men emerged from the brush onto the road and trotted northwards. Should any men greet them at the gate, none would view them with suspicion. He waited a while before standing freely and walking down the slope to where Glamren and Caradol held the horses.

“Should we be quick on them?” Caradol asked.

“No, we will stay back a ways, as I do not want to alert them. And we will not follow the road, at least until we come to the north gate. That will keep us out of their sight,” Aragorn said. He climbed upon a great sorrel steed and ran his hand softly along its neck. The other men mounted as well and gripped the reins. Aragorn spoke softly to his mount and the soldiers of Gondor could not understand his words, but they knew he spoke in the Elven tongue. They looked at one another strangely. “Let us go,” Aragorn said at last.

His steed softly led them over fields and hills, across rippling brooks and beneath fragrant orchards. Aragorn rarely told the horse where to tread, as his eyes were focused upon the road and his ear bent to the sounds around them. He could hear the far away voices of the men ahead and the hoofbeats of their horses upon the road, which was partially cobbled, with earth and overgrown grasses covering it here and there.

They rode into the evening and night fully lay on the land when they arrived at the Rammas Echor. The wall rose above the trees ahead and it was then, in sight of the wall, that Aragorn reined in his steed and stopped in the dark, the road on his left. The wild trees gave way to bare turf before the wall and he saw the men on their horses sitting before the gate beneath the lantern light. The gate opened in a great arch beneath the wall, with windows above, brightly lit and a wispy smoke streaming from a chimney in the wall. Men walked to and fro, or stood upon the wall looking north, or leaning over the parapet to look down at the men below.

With a clang and the grinding of gears and the creak of wood, the gate opened and the soldiers of Gondor waved the men on, and they spurred their horses into a gallop, through the gate and out into the night. As the soldiers began to close the gate, Aragorn clicked his tongue and his steed trotted out of the dark towards the road and he softly called, “Ho, there!”

The soldiers at the gate stood fast and looked out to see Aragorn, Glamren, and Caradol approaching, and they recognized the garb of their brethren. The guards at the gate greeted them warmly and Aragorn spoke to them quietly. “Well met, friends. Those men who you let through the gate, what was their business?”

The soldier before him looked at his fellows and then back to Aragorn, “They did not say, my lord. And we did not question them. It is common for people to come to and fro through the gate, traveling to Anorien.”

“That was their road? To Anorien, you say?” Aragorn turned to Glamren and Caradol, “Well, their direction we know, lest they sought to deceive the gate’s keepers.”

“Certainly a possibility,” Caradol said.

“In any case, hold the gate open a moment for us to pass through, for we are on their trail, but we go quietly,” Aragorn said to the guard.

“Are they enemies?” The guard asked, a look of dark worry passing over his face, fearful that he had failed in his duty, either by complacence or misplaced trust.

“Enemies, or simply brigands, we have not determined, for we must overtake them or follow them to the end of their path to find the truth,” Aragorn said. “But do not fear, my friend. As you said, many pass through the gates of the Rammas Echor, and your vigilance has not failed. If you had known their ill intent, to hinder them would have thus hindered us in our mission.”

“I wish you luck then, in your hunt!”

The guard stood aside and Aragorn, Glamren, and Caradol passed through the gate and followed the road to keep to their quarry’s tracks. The road was empty, and it seemed that not only did Aragorn’s eyes guide them, but also the sharp senses of his steed. They had been upon the road for little more than an hour when Aragorn stopped them and, dismounting, he looked around on the road and saw the rushed and heavy prints of hooves and they broke away from the road and headed down into a ditch and the pine woods beyond.

“They left the road,” Aragorn called as Glamren and Caradol held their horses up next to him. “Remain here and keep your eyes sharp. Do not let your guard down. I fear they intend to waylay us.”

He quickly vanished into the dark, following the hooves that tore up the grass and undergrowth, signs that perhaps only he could follow in this realm. He moved swiftly and remained close to the pines, hiding himself against their trunks. But his fears were proven true as he saw ahead the horses of their quarry tied to trees, tightly together. He lay a hand upon the hilt of Narsil at his waist, and as he listened, he heard footsteps approaching, crunching on the leaves and needles beneath them. A better skilled foe may have startled him, but he stood firm, waiting for his pursuer to draw nearer.

In a rush, he heard the shrill swipe of a blade unsheathed and the footsteps became heavy and quick. In one swift motion he turned and Narsil flew from his waist and with his strength, it clashed against the blade of his foe and knocked it from his hand. Aragorn cried loudly to his companions, “To arms! Glamren! Caradol!”

The unarmed brigand attempted to tackle Aragorn, but he could do little but grip Aragorn’s limbs and they struggled as the brigand held his sword hand aloft. Aragorn heard the quick footsteps of another and saw a glistening knife blade coming for him, but as he turned and wheeled the brigand toward the new attacker, the dull beating of onrushing horses thundered and he saw Glamren and Caradol burst through the trees and Glamren’s veteran steed crashed into the oncoming brigand and trampled him to the turf. Caradol rode swiftly by and cut down the man who held Aragorn at bay. Now free from the struggle, Aragorn looked back to the horses tied together and saw among them panicked men, and the horses nervously stamped and the men climbed atop and wheeled them round and flew.

“Glamren, Caradol! Fly! Keep on them; I shall follow!” Aragorn cried.

“Aye, Thorongil!” Caradol answered, and he spun his horse back and broke off in a great rush after the three brigands as they raced north. Glamren, too, kicked his horse and the steed pinned back its ears and crashed through the woods in haste behind Caradol.

Aragorn sheathed Narsil and ran back to the road, letting out a high whistle and he ran across the ditch and up the road with his long strides and his sorrel steed rode up alongside so that neither had to break their speed and Aragorn deftly climbed aboard and they sprang away after the others.

They raced through the night and the steeds of Gondor were in full spirit, for they flew at great speeds and their muscles glistened with sweat and their nostrils flared. Glamren and Caradol drove them hard, but knew their limits and did not test them. Aragorn let his run at its own will, and it carried him easily, and the hooves beat upon the road like a great rhythmic drumming that went straight to Aragorn’s heart.

He saw Glamren and Caradol ahead through the mist of the early dawn. And, further ahead but beyond his sight, the brigands and bandits kept the pace. But, as the sun crept ever higher in the east, and the road was bathed in orange light and still mists in the shadows, the brigands turned west and off the road, speeding through forests of oaks and into a thin valley, and though Glamren and Caradol gave chase, at mid-morning they pulled their horses to an abrupt halt in wide bowl surrounded by sloping hills and a great thick forest forming the north border to the right of the valley.

Gail McIntosh

Aragorn came upon them and halted though the horse stirred under him, displeased that the chase had been interrupted. “Why do you halt, now?” He asked, looking ahead as their quarry passed beneath the shadow of the northern trees. Glamren and Caradol looked shaken and fearful.

“That is the Druadan Forest. We do not vention into those woods,” Glamren said.

“The Druadan? I have heard nothing of this place. Why do you avoid it?” Aragorn asked.

“It is a haunted, my lord. Either some dark power dwells there, or the trees themselves have no love for men. Those who enter do not come out again,” Caradol said.

“They venture into those woods, perhaps to escape our pursuit, knowing you would not follow,” Aragorn said.

“That matters little, it is also said that savages live among the trees. Ancient men and their dark spirits, neither care for our purpose, and will only seek our end,” Caradol said.

“Have you been there, Caradol? Have you seen these spirits or ancient savages yourself?” Aragorn asked.

“Well, no, but stories tell much of their ways, and they have dwelt within these trees since ancient days.”

“Stories, you say? Such as those out of Ithilien, which you were so swift to dismiss? Perhaps this land is not as you believe, and only those who bring evil with them, encounter evil in the Druadan Forest. Come! We must not delay further. We enter the forest, and we bring no ill will, for our purpose is just.”

Aragorn commanded his horse forward and it sprang across the dell, though he slowed it short of the trees, and as Glamren and Caradol rode up behind, they slowly entered beneath the shadowed canopy. With Aragorn leading, he bent forward in his saddle and looked upon the ground to see the broken twigs and verdant floor disturbed by swift hooves. This trail he followed for some time, and his steed carried him thoughtfully, avoiding tree and branch, allowing him to keep his eyes upon the trail.

“Captain of Gondor you say,” Caradol whispered. “If he’d been a captain for longer, he’d know our journey is folly. He has led us to doom.”

“Ever you speak ill of him! Though we venture where few dare to tread, he may be right. I fear the stories as much as you, but I will follow my captain, for that is our lot,” Glamren answered.

“Your captain, you say? You know less of him than you know of this place. But, I will not abandon you to this folly.”

The forest grew dense and the trail became harder to follow on horseback, for though their steeds were sure and skilled, thick undergrowth and fallen trunks covered in soft green moss blocked many passages. Aragorn dismounted and continued on foot, brushing aside ferns and horsetails to seek the trail beneath them.

“Thorongil, sire, it appears our horses can little traverse this land, perhaps our quarry abandoned theirs?” Glamren called out as his horse backed away from a fallen tree, unwilling to make the leap.

“Right you may be, for the trail is difficult to find in this undergrowth. I will find it better on foot. Let us leave them be, and they would find the road home easy,” Aragorn said. And they set about unpacking their supplies from their saddlebags and taking what they could upon their own backs. They had little food save for a few handy rations, but Aragorn wondered whether they would pursue the brigands through the forest for that long. He feared the hunt was up, and he would have to return to Minas Tirith with little to report to Ecthelion, or Denethor.

He held his horse’s reins gently and whispered to it as it turned its head and walked back toward the edge of the forest. The three men stood there as Aragorn’s steed led the other two back to the dell and they would find their way to Minas Tirith again. Aragorn turned aside and pushed through the greenery, bending down to and fro and searching. Caradol and Glamren followed behind, and they walked for many hours, unsure of whether Thorongil led them smartly, or if they merely wandered aimlessly.

“The light is fading,” Caradol said at length. “Not only do I fear we are losing what little light we have, but a growing dread has been on me for these past few hours.”

“What do you mean?” Glamren laughed as his comrade had suddenly become fearful.

“I cannot see it, but I feel as if others are watching us as we pass.”

“He is not wrong,” Aragorn suddenly said, interrupting them. “For I have seen their signs as well.”

“Whose signs?” Glamren asked.

“Men who live in these woods; an ancient people. Their tracks are like little I have seen in the world, and as difficult to see as elves. It appears they traverse the trees and branches, as well as walk upon the ground.”

“They are following us?!” Caradol drew his bright blade. “They seek to ambush us!”

“Nay! Stay your hand, Caradol. They watch us, yes, but for now, I do not think their intent is to harm us,” Aragorn said.

“Night falls, and soon, they may be upon us,” Caradol said, taking little heed of Aragorn’s counsel.

Aragorn sighed and continued onward, though which direction he walked became difficult to tell. The light indeed faded, and rays of pink and orange light spread through the thick canopy overhead, and the shadows spread about their feet and the air grew thick. Aragorn walked in the gathering dark with little to guide him, and at last he relented. He halted and ahead saw a fair glade, but with it, felt a strange power there, and so he remained under the cover of the trees, and they set about building a fire and clearing room to sit and sleep. A small fire was kindled and it did little to provide warmth, but its light danced among the leaves and Aragorn sat back against a mossy stone while Caradol and Glamren sat on the other side, reluctant to let down their guard. Caradol volunteered for the first watch of the night, though he did so out of a fear of sleep than anything else, and he sat up, his eyes constantly searching, while Aragorn fell off for the night, and Glamren hung his head to his chest.

Sometime later in the depths of night, Aragorn awoke to a shout, “Caradol! Caradol!” He stood up swiftly and saw beyond the dim firelight that Glamren wandered in the shadowed wood, frantically calling out his lost companion’s name. “Glamren! What has happened?” Aragorn called.

“I woke to relieve Caradol of his watch, but he was not to be found!” Glamren said, coming back to the fire. Pain and dread were in his eyes and his hands shook.

“Stay calm, we shall find him. Stay here, and I will look for signs of his passage,” Aragorn said. He left the camp and paced circles that slowly grew wider around them, bending low and feeling the trunks of trees, looking up among the branches. Above them, and through the canopy, he saw the silver light of stars overhead. As he moved among the trees, he saw upon some low branches where hands rubbed them free of bark, and though they did not scar the trees, he could see clearly that many had used the branches for a handhold. He searched the ground and there on the ground found Caradol’s blade, dried with dark blood, though no blood of an orc.

He saw that he had come near the glade, and Glamren came to where he stood. The soldier saw Caradol’s sword in the undergrowth and he fell back on the ground and feared the worst. “Do not yet despair Glamren! His sword had found its mark upon some foe, and it was no orc. Our quarry may yet be out there and they may have lured Caradol away. But, I also see signs among the trees, and do not think those brigands deft enough to move high among them. Something else may be at work here.”

“The forest spirits have taken him!” Glamren said.

“Let us not jump to some dark spirit yet,” Aragorn said. “There is a glade ahead, and though I feared it contained some power, I did not perceive it to be an evil. There is an ancient power here, and none like any you or I have known. It may simply be defending itself, for we know not who struck first, Caradol, or those who came upon him.”

“We must find him quickly!” Glamren said, rising to his feet.

Aragorn searched the area more, “Indeed, there are heavy footprints all around, and it appears a struggle ensued. I detect many separate prints, all coming from different directions. These here must be Caradol’s for they come in the same direction as we; these here surround him, and it appeared these brigands did indeed wait for us. But something came upon them that none expected. These must be the hands in the trees. And here, is blood upon the fern,” Aragorn knelt and smelled the plant surface and suddenly pulled back. “There is a strange, pungent smell to it, like that of poison.”

“Do you know where they went, Thorongil?” Glamren asked.

“Yes, this way, there is a clumsy trail off in this direction, for those who went this way did so hurriedly, and it seems they dragged something through the brush along with them.”

Aragorn and Glamren followed the roughly stamped trail, and Aragorn clearly saw further marks in the bush and grass beneath of something dragged. They followed it round the glade, and for some time as the night slowly gave way. The air was red with the morning and the mists beneath the trees were slow to burn away. Still, Aragorn followed, and wet dew dripped from every leaf and began to soak them through, and the trail became overgrown, yet in places fresh mud could be seen recently disturbed.

After a time, Aragorn stopped and bending low, looked ahead through leafy fronds at another glade, but this one appeared different, for he could see dark shapes lying upon the ground. He approached cautiously, and Glamren held tight his sword hilt. At the edge of the trees, Aragorn saw more clearly that the trail burst through nearby and the shapes he saw upon the ground were three bodies, and within them many arrows.

Adam Lane

“It looks as if this is our quarry,” he said with a sigh. He broke through the trees and into the glade and found the first body lying on its belly, reaching out toward the others, with a broken arrow in its thigh and many in its back. Just ahead, two more lay with even more arrows, but the fletching was unfamiliar to him; not crude and black like orcs, yet not ornate and colorful as the elves. “The air is strange here, and these men lie in a stench, like that I smelled at the site of Caradol’s disappearance,” Aragorn said.

“Poisoned arrows; they must be!” Glamren said.

Aragorn nodded, “Indeed, this is the tale. Our quarry attempted to ambush Caradol, yet whoever let loose these arrows overwhelmed them all. One of these men, that one there, was hit with one before, and they dragged him as far as they could; and here they met their untimely end.”

“Let us hope the same fate does not befall us,” Glamren said. “Yet, this still does not tell us what happened to Caradol. Do you see any sign of him?”

“No, none others entered this glade, and none left,” Aragorn said gravely.

“Perhaps they captured him! We could return to the struggle and look for another trail.”

Before Aragorn could answer, he heard the soft, slow stretching of a bowstring, unheard by Glamren’s ears, and even almost imperceptible to his own. Aragorn did not move, and held his hands out at his sides, clearly away from his weapons. Glamren looked at him strangely and nearly spoke, but before he did, he started at the sound of far off drumming. The sound was a patter like heavy hands lightly on the drum skin. They knew at once that they were no orc drums, which boomed and rolled ominously. Yet, these were no less ominous to them, as they signaled that more than just one hunter approached them.

“Do not move, Glamren, and do not reach for your blade,” Aragorn whispered.

Silently, a figure emerged in the trees ahead, and then another, and yet more still. They bent at their knees and in the growing red day, they were hidden beneath strange shadows, yet their eyes burned bright. With flowing movements, two swung head over heels, somehow still gripping the branches upon which they sat, and reaching out with their large hands, they gripped lower branches and somersaulted onto their bare feet, softly upon the grass. They held bows in their hands and did not creep further toward Aragorn and Glamren, but stayed bent low to the ground.

Aragorn stood in a strange awe, for he looked upon men that he had never seen before. They were large and their limbs strong, yet they moved gracefully like lithe elves. Their faces were defined by strong bones and their noses were wide. By many standards of men and elves, they looked grim and unlovely, but Aragorn remarked at the strength of their clear muscles and the fair paintings of white and green upon their skin. The two before them did not speak, and the drumming continued.

Two more came up behind them suddenly, silently, and spears were thrust in their backs, but only with the intent of moving Aragorn and Glamren along. They walked with the strange men, and followed a footpath that suddenly seemed clear to Aragorn now that these men followed it effortlessly. They were led along into another glade, but this one still covered by sparse trees, with a dense ring of fern and fronds all around. There, the drumming was louder, though the drummers remained unseen. Ahead, Aragorn saw a large, rounded man, with a dark leafy garment about his waist and an ornate collar of leaves, sticks, and bones about his neck. He sat upon a stump, his legs thick and trees. Rings were pierced into his skin and in the morning light, his skin appeared pink, contrasted by the dark hair that fell off the sides and back of his head, which was clean upon the top like a bare hill emerging from the trees.

“Sit,” he commanded, as Aragorn and Glamren were brought before him. His voice was deep and guttural, yet he spoke the Common Speech. They did as they were commanded. “Men of stone houses come to Druedain wood. Three left in Glade of Cleansing; light out of eyes.”

“Those men we pursued,” Aragorn said calmly. “Our kindred they were not. They fled from us here, and we merely followed.”

The large man narrowed his dark eyes and looked at Aragorn, almost through him. “What of fourth man?”

“Caradol!” Glamren shouted suddenly. Aragorn held out a hand to Glamren to calm him, “That man is with us, and he was waylaid by our quarry,” Aragorn said.

“He struck Druedan, and we tied him. You speak for him?”

“I do, and I seek your forgiveness for his offense. I am Thorongil, and I come from the great North. I also knew not your ways, and his trespass is mine as well. I am the leader of our company, and it was by my hand that we entered your wood. We meant your people no harm,” Aragorn said.

Dru-buri-Dru lifted his large arm and from behind him, through the trees, two more of his kind approached, bringing Caradol with them. The soldier’s arms were tied behind his back, and a cloth was tied across his face so that he could not see. They set him on the grass and stood beside him.

“Man must be weighed. Dru speaks firm,” the Druedain chieftain spoke. He rubbed his pointed chin and thought for a time.

“And what does this require in your law?” Aragorn asked.

“If man toss Dru, then Dru will show him the way out,” the chieftain said.

Caradol eyes widened and Glamren looked to Aragorn, who sat calmly in the grass. “If you grant me leave to fight for him, I will, for this man is in my charge, and I will answer for him, still.”

Dru-buri-Dru smiled a toothy grin, “Thorongil fight Dru, then.”

“Thorongil, you cannot!” Caradol cried out, standing abruptly. The wild men beside him stepped toward him with their hands gripping his shoulders like he was pressed between two stones.

“Be calm, Caradol. My doom does not lie here and now,” Aragorn said.

“No weapons,” said Dru-buri-Dru, and he stood in a wide stance and his arms spread out at his sides, waiting to grasp Aragorn within them.

Aragorn nodded and removed his belt and handed Narsil hesitantly to Glamren. “Do not unsheath that sword, Glamren,” he sternly said, and Glamren nodded and backed away.

Aragorn and Dru-buri-Dru circled one another, for Aragorn was unsure of the style of combat that these men practiced, though he ventured to guess that it would be some sort of grappling contest, and he knew not how to win, save to survive himself. Dru-buri-Dru’s eyes were narrow and focused and his wide lips curled into a smile. The drums about them beat swiftly and they quickened like a nervous heart. Dru stood shorter than Aragorn’s height, but he was considerably wider, and when the two met in a hurried rush, Aragorn nearly fell back, but the great hands of Dru gripped him like tree roots. The Druedan lifted him off the ground by the waist, a great hug, and Aragorn knew not what to do within the bounds of the rules. But he brought down his fists upon the chieftain’s head and the blow dazed Dru-buri-Dru enough for him to release Aragorn.

Catching his breath, Aragorn backed away and bent low, and Dru-buri-Dru came at him again, attempting to lift him once more, but Aragorn held back the wide hands and dug his feet into the earth, though the weight and rush of the Druedan nearly threw him on his back. But, in that stance, Aragorn saw his advantage, and let himself be overcome by the force of Dru-buri-dru’s weight. He fell backward, and pulled Dru-buri-dru with him, and with his long legs, catapulted the chieftain over him, and sent him head over heels, rolling onto the grass.

The wild men around them broke out in a strange and exuberant chanting and pounding on drums and grass. They grunted and hollered as Dru-buri-Dru stood, smiling. It seemed the ritual combat was ended, and the chieftain approached him and this time embraced him warmly, though with a grip no less powerful.

“Thorongil stronger than he look; he is free to pass,” Dru-buri-Dru said.

“Is that it?” Glamren remarked, behind Aragorn, looking at them stupidly.

“Thank you, Dru-buri-Dru. Your people will forever be well-regarded by me and my kin, the Dunedain. Never shall I pass the borders of your sacred lands again, and I shall protect them as ever I can,” Aragorn said, bowing low.

Dru-buri-Dru said little in reply to that, but he pointed away and said, “Passage out is east.”

David A. Nash

Aragorn took his sword from Glamren and tightened his belt once more. Caradol came up to them, and looked at Aragorn, searching for something to say to him, though he could not come to them. He simply put a hand on his chest in the manner of Gondor and they spoke no more for many hours. Aragorn walked them out of the forest and the two soldiers passed behind him, ever keeping a wary eye on the way they came, for the sight of the Druedain still filled them with a strange fear.

“Look!” Glamren cried. “The peak of Eilenach! That is a small beacon, and is the only place our people dare tread within this forest. We are near to it.” And indeed a high sharp hill rose from the trees up on their left, and Aragorn could see through the bright day overhead that it rose up in stoney levels with grass and trees upon its knees, and a small guardhouse stood there, a wisp of smoke coming from its chimney. “There is a clear path from the road through the forest that leads up to the hill,” Glamren continued. “We can find our way out there!”

“Let us go then! By this path, lead us on,” said Aragorn.

The three of them ran swiftly and they came to a wide dirt pathway among the trees and it ran easily with only roots sticking from the earth to hinder them. The path ran between Eilenach and Amon Din, two great hills astride a wide dell that the forest stretched within. They came out of the forest at last toward the north, for Amon Din was high upon their right, and the sun was now high over them. They looked out upon the fair farmlands of Anorien, a land long and thin from east to west, and the road drove down its center.

“This is splendid land, Anorien; farmland,” Glamren said.

“It is quite pleasing to look upon,” said Aragorn. But, with his far sight, he looked across the plains and to the east, where the land lifted gently in small hillocks, “What is that there?”

“I see nothing but the haze of midday,” Caradol said, with his hand shielding his eyes.

“Nay, I see smoke, white and black, of fires extinguished, and those still burning,” cried Aragorn. “Let us fly to them! For trouble may be upon the fair people here!” And with that, they sprang away by foot, and Aragorn swiftly outpaced them.