Chapter 1: On the Road to Fornost

 

Eoras and Taurvantar trudged wearily, leaning into the wind to try to keep their momentum going. Eoras was wondering if his feet were frozen. He looked back to see his horse caked with snow, icicles clinging to its muzzle as laboured steam breaths bellowed out of the tired animal. They had to find shelter soon or they would soon be dead. This hell born storm was leaching the life out of them with every breath of wind. They stopped to catch their breath, gazing wearily at each others icicled faces when the heavy clomping of horsehooves in the snow told them they weren't alone.
Trying to free frozen hands from the rags that shielded them, they grabbed for their swords. Just as well that the horseman wasn't a bandit because he was already upon them.
He rode a large horse draped in barding and he himself was heavily armoured, with a surcoat that had a crest of some sort on it.
"Have either of you seen anything of an infant? Or someone who had an infant, a maid or a old crone?"
Neither had seen such and in cold choked words, both told him as much.
"An evil has plagued our villages for many months now. Children and babes are stolen from their cribs. Now the son of my Lord Tarma is missing, plucked from the midst of an armed castle. I thought the tracks led this way, but now with this storm, I can find nothing." Though he said these words, Taurvantar had the feeling that he wasn't speaking to them.
"Can't the Rangers help you?" the half-elf suggested.
The Requain, being drawn out of his thoughts, nodded. "I am off to far Fornost to ask the aid of the King. This is indeed a matter for the Rangers." He waved and turned his horse, ready to ride back the way he had come. Taurvantar thought to volunteer to help him, but knew that he could do no more in the midst of this storm.
"Wait!" begged Eoras. "We are freezing. We are not from these parts. Can you tell us if there is an inn or tavern, or even a farmstead that would give us shelter?"
"Yes," added Taurvantar, "at least until the storm clears."
The knight thought a moment and nodded up the road.
"This is the road to Annuminas. I would say find shelter there, but it is a dead city and you still would not make it for many days in this weather." He appeared to think a moment.
"There was a small inn a few miles up the road. I think it is still there. You should be able to make that in time."
Both thanked him and he nodded and clopped off, on his errand to Fornost Erain. Had his horse been big enough, Eoras was tempted to have him take Taurvantar and he would ride his own. But, he realized, there was no sure footing with all the ice.
"That inn sounds like heaven," declared Taurvantar, his spirits lifted by the Knights (Requain's) news.
"It probably has fleas and bedbugs," Eoras warned him.
Taurvantar just smiled. "With a full belly and a pint of drink, I'd kiss a bedbug and call it a privilege."
Eoras laughed and they both trod on.

"If ever'n there were a more useless stack o `orse apples Gentry, it were you," Ginny spat. "`Ere I am workin me fingers ta the bone, an you, jes sittin there." For emphasis, she swiped at his legs with her twig broom.
"`Ere, give off!" Gentry protested. "An why ya doin that anyow, it ain't Spring yet."
"Because I feel like it," she told him, "`at's why. Why don't you get out an do somthin useful."
Gentry sat propped himself up, balancing his body on the uneven stool. "Don't be daft, Gin, es bloody freezin outside. There's a storm goin on out there."
"Well, we got ta get tha place ready for guests," she insisted, "I've got a feelin that we're goin to get some guests soon"
"Gists? Oh give off, Gin. We `aven't `ad a gist in more than half an `ear."
Ginny scowled at her husband, "Oh don't remind me. `oose idea were it then ta come `ere of all places an set up an inn, in the middle of road what ain't used no more? Under `at `ouse up there?"
"You gonna hit that me with that evry time, ain't ya?" Gentry got off his stool and stomped off into the corner. "Property was cheap `ere. `Ow many times I got ta tell ya."
"It's cheap cause no one's stupid nuff ta live around `Er, cept'n us. We're jes lucky, she don't come lookin us up one o these days. And what a stupid idea! Cash in while properties still low. The King's goin ta come back `ere, of all places." Ginny mocked him.
Gentry came across the room and glowered in her face, "Look, I knaw the King is goin ta come back `ere someday. An `eed want ta rebuild `is Capital city is what I'm sayin. It's goin ta `appin. `Ow many time I got ta tell ya."
"We've been `ere ten years, Gentry." When's it gaoin ta `appin? King ain't made a move from Fornost in over a `undred `ears! An it doesn't `elp that ya build the inn under that `ouse up there. You're a dreemah, and I'm a big n fat fool for list'n ta ya!"
"You're fat n'a fool, thas right!" Gentry agreed with her.
Ginny grabbed her broom, brandishing it like a weapon. "Aw, that does it then!"
Gentry backed off around the big table in the middle of the room, "Naw, Buttercup, let's not get angry. I was only teasin. Let's calm down naow. You ain't fat. I was just `avin a bit of a lark."
Ginny ignored his pleas, continuing to advance on him. Outside, the North Wind howled and tore at the tiny two storey inn, sending bits of snow and frosty air under the door to bite at Gentry's feet.
Just then, there was a knock at the door.
Ginny stopped advancing on Gentry. They stopped and stared at each other.
"`Oo is it?" Gentry called out through the door. "What ya want?"
Both he and his wife shared frightened glances.
"Can't be anyone ta stay. Not in this weather," Ginny whispered to her husband, but he waved her quiet.
"All right, `oo is it then? Speak up!"
Instead of an answer, there was a scrapping sound. Ginny looked under the crack under the door and saw that snow and a large gold coin had been pushed underneath.
Gentry saw it and picked it up. "By Eru's Eye!" he declared as he looked at the coin. It had the emblem of a Sea Dragon upon its back, and on the front was a picture of a noble lady "I've never seen anythin like it," Gentry muttered as he stared at the coin, shocked by its weight and implied value. He bit it and looked at his teeth marks in it's mirroured surface.
"Es pure!" he told Ginny.
"Push it back!" she told him, her voice now afraid and timid. "Tell `im we're all full up."
Gentry looked back at her and shook his head, unbelieving. "Don't be daft ya stupid cow. Push it back?" Without even waiting for a reply, he tossed the crossbar off the door and opened it with an effort. Blinding snow reflected whiteness bleached out the room's interior and as Gentry pulled the door open, their "guest" came inside.
Ginny screamed and Gentry, looking at her first, didn't see it coming until a cold hand was laid upon him.
"Run Ginny! Ru!" His last words were choked and cut off.
Ginny ran, tripping on her broom. It was too late.

"Well, is anyone home?" Fred asked of the Dunedain Warrior.
Ranciryan, grim faced and fell, shook his head. "We will find no shelter there." he told them.
Ordain peered past the big fellow's shoulder. "What did you find?" he asked. Ranciryan just shook his head. He didn't want to speak of it. Exchanging sober glances, both the Fred and the Ordain cautiously went into the Inn. A swinging signboard clacked above them, with only vestiges of paint that showed a stag or a dog, Fred wasn't sure. They peered in through the front door. Everything was strewn about and the chill of the place was like a coldbox. On the floor, a middle aged man lay dead. His chest was split. Fred found his horrified eyes drifting into the dark chasm unable to tear his gaze loose.
"His heart has been cut out," Ordain stated the obvious. Who knows how long he's been dead with all the cold. He looked at his hobbit companion. "Don't stare Fred."
"Did bandits do this?" the hobbit asked Ordain, but Ordain didn't have an answer for him and just shook his head. Certainly, it wasn't like any bandit attack he'd ever heard of. He looked at the hobbit. Fred was still staring at the corpse,
"Maybe you'd best go outside, Fred. I'll look around." he suggested.
Fred, still staring, replied, "There's something in his mouth."
Ordain looked down at the dead man's face. There was a twinkle of something shiny. Reaching down he felt a cold piece of metal that was lodged there.
"Look and see what it is, Fred," he told the hobbit.
Fred game a disgusted grimace, but swallowing, put his face closer to that of the dead man.
"I think it's gold," he announced. "Should I get it?" he asked Ordain.
The tall Dunedain nodded and Fred pulled out a whittling knife and, with the taste of raw bile in this mouth, he began to pry what ever it was out. There was a sucking sound, and Fred retrieved a large gold coin, frozen blood still clinging to its surface.
"Here! Take it!" Fred insisted, handing the bloody coin to Ordain. If this was what adventuring was like, he was himself definitely bound for home, Fred decided.
Ordain looked at the coin. Its mirroured surface shined like new, though there were marks in it as though someone had bitten it.
"It's Numenorean," he announced.
Fred looked up, "You mean the lost Isle of Westernesse?" he asked, intrigued.
Ordain nodded. "Yes, the people of my forebears, though that was thousands of years ago. I wonder what it's doing here?"
"Perhaps the bandits dropped it," Fred suggested.
Ordain nodded, though he wasn't sure he agreed. He read the inscription that ran along the rim. It was in Adunaic. "imTar Ellenya, Daughter of the Sun." And on the reverse there was nothing but the emblem of a Sea Drake.
Ordain was about to comment to Fred when the hobbit ran past him in a full run. Ordain looked outside. Fred has slipped on the snow and was retching on his own coat while Ranciryan tried to help him up.
Ordain went into the other room to see what had frightened the hobbit. Then he saw her, the hair rising on his head. Ordain found himself running, though his legs felt like water. His stomach churned emptiness and found some portion to throw back out of it. Ordain threw up onto the snow, and for the rest of his life he would remember the acrid smell of his own stomach's water and the terror he felt as he tried to master himself.
It was then that two travellers walked up, bundled against the cold. The storm had started to abate, so both could be seen clearly. Fred, frightened that the bandits had returned, pointed them out and Ranciryan drew his sword while Ordain continued to retch.
Eoras and Taurvantar raised their hands to show they were not hostile. Both stared with perplextion at Ordain, wondering maybe if the fare was that bad indeed.
"We only seek rooms," Eoras announced. "Is the Inn full yet?"
Ranciryan stood dumbfounded to tell them. Where would he begin?

The two Quendi, having seen the great Lake Evendim, had also found themselves caught by the storm. Having smelled the inn on the way to the lake, they now thought to try its fare on their return, especially given the bite of the wind, harsh even to an elf.
Daern led the way, his Sindarin friend Tirion following.
They had run lightfooted many miles, their tired legs giving out as they neared the two story building. The storm was letting up, but they could see it would only be for a short while. Tirion noted a great house on a distant hill that sat behind the Inn. It looked like a mansion in the distance. Tirion pointed it out to his friend and both wondered how they had missed it before. Perhaps the storm had masqued it. As they neared the inn, Daern saw a group of men and a halfling talking before it, on the road. So intent on their conversation that none of them noted the smoke billowing out of the back of the inn. Fire! A short wiry figure Daern only saw for an instant scampered away from the back of the house.
The two elves were down the hill in an instant and Tirion helped Daern through one of the broken back windows, then Daern pulled his friend up. Inside, smoke clung to the ceiling and choked the two of them as the black cloud lowered. The kitchen was on fire, oil spread everywhere.
"Tirion!" Daern grabbed his friend by the arm and pointed something out in the smoke. It was difficult to see, but Tirion made it out nonetheless. A human woman was pinned to the wall by kitchen knives, strips of flesh hanging from her butchered frame. That she was a woman could only be seen by the naked bits that hadn't been taken. A frozen rivulet of blood followed her body's contours down to a frozen puddle on the floor. But the most horrifying thing about her was her expression. She had been alive when the work had started. And she had been with child.
Daern and Tirion, perhaps left more composed by their elven blood than had the others who had seen this, calmly loosened their weapons and grabbing bows, walked through the smoke to deal with the men outside.
Ranciryan had finished his tale when he noticed the smoke billowing from the inn. It was on fire! He motioned for the others and they had just turned to look at it when two elves walked out, their arrows notched and ready.
"You men will put your hands up and any who doesn't or who makes one untoward move, " Daern warned, "I'll put an arrow through his eye."
Fred's eyes were agog. "Elven bandits! They've come back!"
"Oh so you're the ones that did this!" Ordain growled, not putting his hands up, "Well there's only two of you, and I, for one, am not going to let you get away with it."
Tirion and Daern exchanged a quick puzzled glance.
Ranciryan yelled out, "No! Hold on here! Everyone!" He looked to make sure that no one moved. "We'd best talk, but perhaps, after we fight the fire. That inn is our only shelter for the night and the storm is coming again."
All but the elves looked up at the sky, noting its black darkness, heavy with snow. And as if to add to Ranciryan's words, the wind again picked up, ripping through each of them as though they were naked. The wind whipped the fire in the building to an uproar so that the elves had to jump away, so strong was the air being sucked into the flame. In a few hours, all that was left was burning embers. Enough time for man, elf, and hobbit to warm themselves against the wreckage while they told each other their stories. They dare not leave for fear of loosing their way in the storm.
Finally there was a break in the storm and as the sky cleared, the stars came out, lighting heaven with their distant brilliance. Ranciryan pointed, and in the distance where the elves had first seen the great house, there could be seen a firelight, as if from a great camp.
"This break won't last", Daern told them.
"What shall we do?" Fred asked, but no one paid him any heed. All eyes were drawn to the fire on the hill.

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