Growing up, a boy of the Dúnedain hears tales aplenty of bloody battles against long odds, grim journeys in the face of great perils, tragedy, hope, Orc-work and Elf-spells. Somehow, the elders neglected to mention the more mundane aspects of Ranger life: combat training – grappling, swordplay, shooting at the butts – carpentry and blacksmithing, arms and armour maintenance, and, of course, guard duty. Long hours spent in silence, waiting and hoping for something, anything, exciting to happen, yet knowing that excitement nearly always equals danger. Boredom is better in principle, but it is a fine point oft-forgotten in the cold, dark hours of the early morning.
Annûngûr, Emynion, and Tirithadan find themselves once again at Rostor’s Roost, a look-out post maintained on the ridge extending northward from Barad Naith for over one league. Overlooking the Hoarwell and manned only at night, it is perhaps better called a listening-post. This evening, however, the waning moon and stars reflect brightly off the river and illuminate the wide banks of fist-sized round stones. Still, where the far bank meets tall grass and scattered beeches and alders some twenty yards from the water’s edge, all is shrouded in darkness.
Occupied almost every night for centuries, Rostor’s Roost is well-camouflaged and well-appointed, and reached by a spur off the hidden path connecting Barad Naith to the Dúnadan villages to the north. The three young Rangers take turns between resting and watching, at least two remaining alert at all times. At the moment, Emynion and Tirithadan chat in whispers, imagining life after the Rangers – marriage and children, farms and flocks of sheep – whilst Annûngûr naps behind them.
“My uncle says the farming is better by the Evendim. It is no surprise that Elendil built his capital on its shores.”
“I wonder if he says that because your family held a castle there in fief to the sires of Arvedui.” Though Emynion cannot see the smirk, he can hear the sarcasm.
“Maybe so, though the castle is nothing more than broken black stone and thick green moss these days, according to my father.”
Tirithadan muses, “Duty in the North Downs must be better than this. I –.”
“Shhh.” Emynion places his hand on Tirithadan’s arm with intensity. “I think I hear something.” The breeze, blowing from the west, rustles the leaves that camouflage their post. Yet, it also carries snatches of voices, yelling in fact. Both heroes strain to make out the words, but they are indecipherable.
It now occurs to someone that Annûngûr should be awakened and Tirithadan wakens their friend. In hurried whispers, Emynion and Tirithadan explain the situation to Annûngûr. Still rubbing his eyes, Annûngûr now joins the other two at the lip of the window overlooking the Hoarwell.
There is a loud ring of metal striking metal… then silence.
Long minutes pass. Had Annûngûr not heard the bang, he might wonder if his friends woke him as a joke. Emynion suggests descending from the post, hopeful that more might be heard closer to the river, but Annûngûr and Tirithadan agree that maintaining their current position is the wiser course of action. In that vein, Annûngûr despatches Tirithadan to Barad Naith.
Finally, after a seeming eternity of no more than half an hour, Emynion spots a dark shape slowly moving where the bank meets grass. He points out the location, but it nevertheless takes Annûngûr a few minutes to mark out the humanoid form creeping toward the water. Emynion secures his bow, still keen to leave the post and investigate more closely. Annûngûr counsels patience even as the form reaches the water’s age and becomes still.
Captain Alphros, Cordof – another Ranger – and Tirithadan return more than an hour later, even as the sky gradually begins to change from a deep blue-black to dark grey. No further sounds break the silence of the early morning, nor does the form stir. To the east, the Sun begins to crest the Misty Mountain, crowning the white peaks with a crown of gold and sending long shadows from the ridge over the Hoarwell. What was a suspicion is now all-but-confirmed: the dark form is a body, Man- or Orc-sized.
Associated with Shadow on the Hoarwell.