By the Road Abandoned – Part 1
The morning was bright, and clear, and the gold of the sunrise over the lake promised a beautiful summer day. They had passed a few days on the shores of Lake Evendim, but now they were to continue their journey eastward, and cross into the North Downs. Brassica was assured that there were Rangers to be found in this region as well and as she now bore a seven-pointed silver star pinned to the mantle about her shoulders, she would be known for a friend. There was a sense of determined industry about the Ranger camp of Tinnudir, and as she finished making the last check through her pack to ensure she had everything, Brassica found herself saddened by the thought of not being a part of it any longer. There was a nobility about their cause that it was impossible not to admire. The Dunedain had fed her and clothed her, and helped rescue her from the hands of the brigands who roamed the land. She had heard their stories and learned their history, if only in a tiny part. Enough to realize that she had lived her whole life–indeed, all of hobbit kind had lived their whole lives–in peace and safety, for which they were indebted to the guardianship of the Dunedain.
Now, she and her companions, outfitted once more for the road, were making the last of their preparations for departure. Llythne had bartered with the Rangers for a mount of her own, dappled brown and white, a mare, lively but gentle. She had also come away with saddlebags stuffed full of books and scrolls, which she seemed thoroughly smug about. Celebarad had been made a gift of the sturdy shield he had first been given before departing Rantost, with the provision that he learn to use it, and thus avoid the worst of the blows that could be delivered at the hands of the enemies of the Free Peoples. Cannuion had also found for him a heavily annotated edition of the history of Arnor, written originally in Sindarin by some long departed scholar and translated into Westron, to help him along in learning the Common-Tongue. Beldrieth had been offered a variety of things by the Rangers, but had refused them, requesting only that her party be provisioned, and that they be given a writ of passage into the North Downs, to prevent any difficulties with the local authorities.
Brassica wore and carried her own gifts, though more than these, in her heart she felt gratified that she had had the chance to get to know what the Rangers were really like. If she’d ever had any doubts about the honour and goodness of the men of the North, they were well refuted now, and she realized that she was going to miss them.
There was, however, one thing she wasn’t going to miss.
“The next person who tries to pick me up is going to be stabbed in the knees!” Brassica shouted at the top of her lungs, to the general surprise and slight amusement of the people around her.
“Quit it!” she snapped at the Ranger who had unthinkingly started to boost her into the saddle behind Llythne as they began to depart. This was not the first time this had happened while she had prepared with her companions for their departure, or even in her time with the Rangers generally. She would be reaching for something, or climbing a chunk of rubble, and some well-meaning big-person would come up behind her, usually with a chirpy “Here, little lass,” and scoop her off the ground. Brassica gritted her teeth and decided to put a stop to it once and for all. “Right, we’re sorting this out now!”
And then, unaided, she clambered up on top of a crumbled wall and took full advantage of the spectacle she was making. “Listen up, all you Big Folk!” she announced, planting her hands on her hips. “There’s a great big statue of your old King up in the keep! He’s about three times taller than any of you! Now, imagine if he picked you up! How d’you think you’d like it? You wonder why we’re all so standoffish about you great big lumps, well, I used to wonder too. Now I know it’s because you all think we’re just meant to be picked up and toted about like sacks!” She held a hand up above her head, measuring her height. “I’ll have you know, as hobbits go, I’m pretty tall! And I’ve managed for twenty-six years without anybody carrying me around! Men or Elves or whoever! No more picking me up, unless I ask!”
Rant delivered, Brassica folded her arms and scowled around at the big people, to make sure she made her point. As an afterthought, because she knew her friend still had only about one word out of every five in the Common-Tongue, however quickly he was learning, “And someone tell Celebarad I’m not mad at him, he looks about ready to cry.”
This was perhaps an overstatement, but the elf did look rather stricken and bewildered by her outburst, until Beldrieth explained.
“Your kin were right about your red hair, too,” Llythne teased, as she nudged her mount over to the chunk of rubble on which Brassica perched, and held out a hand to help the young hobbit scramble into the saddle. “There’s a temper on you, and make no mistake.”
Brassica blushed a bit as she settled in her seat in front of Llythne. “Well, you’ve all taught me such a lot. I don’t have much to teach that’s worth knowing by big folk, except that the surest way to get on a hobbit’s bad side is to go around picking them up!”
Llythne lifted a hand and placed it over her heart with a solemn expression. “I give you my word that I shall never again pick up a hobbit without his or her consent.”
“You needn’t make fun,” Brassica grumbled peevishly. “It’s only just what I said; how would you like it?”
In her usual, un-serious way, Llythne merely laughed at this, and pressed her heels into the mare’s flanks, trotting over to join Celebarad and Beldrieth at the stable, where their own mounts had been groomed and made ready. Beldrieth’s bay was a stoic, placid stallion which she sat astride at leisure, consulting a map and conversing with Calenglad, the chief Ranger, about the route she had planned. Celebarad’s blonde sorrel was a restive, high-spirited creature, and it was hard to tell who was indulging who, as the pair trotted in circles about the stable, anxious to be on the road and riding free once more.
Beldrieth looked up from her map as the other half of the party joined her. “All is well?” she inquired solicitously, indicating the packs and saddle bags at the rear of Llythne’s mount. “You should count yourself fortunate to have a companion so small, or your poor steed should be well overburdened by the library you’ve chosen to carry.”
“We haven’t all lived forever, dear Beldrieth, I have to carry my history around in crumbly old books and tomes, for there’s not enough room in my head to hold it all,” Llythne answered loftily, and patted her saddlebags lovingly. “The stories of the West are valuable, and what bits and pieces I may barter and trade for are treasures most dear to me.”
Calenglad spoke up at this point, with a wry smile at Llythne. “Aye, lass, for all your theft and trickery, at least we can be assured that you hold your history dear. I hope you don’t take it to hard to heart that we shall be glad to see the back of you.”
Brassica thought this was a shockingly rude thing to say, but Llythne only laughed. The hobbit was beginning to wonder if there was anything anyone could say that wouldn’t make the woman laugh. “I hope you keep yourselves well, Master Ranger. I don’t know how far I’m going, and I can’t say when you shall see the front of me again, but I hope the lake doesn’t drain itself out in my absence, or the walls of Annuminas crumble.”
Beldrieth called to Celebarad in Elvish, and beckoned to Llythne and Brassica atop their painted steed. Then she turned her own mount to face Calenglad head on, and as the informal leader of their party, to address to him a final goodbye. “We had best take to the road. Too much longer and we shall see nightfall before we reach the Fields of Fornost. Farewell to you, Calenglad, and our thanks to you and your men, for what aid and comfort we have been given. I have none of the gifts of prophecy and far-sight, not such as that of the Lady of the Golden Wood. But I have long watched the changes in the currents of the world, and I think soon the road shall call to you as well. If we are to meet again, than I wish you well until such a time. If it is not to be, then may the Valar see to your safety.”
Calenglad bowed deeply in response. “We are glad to have had the company of such a rare fellowship. Go well in your travels! You will be in our thoughts often, and we shall hope for your safety as well. Fare well!”
There had been rather more formality about it than the last goodbye that Brassica had made, but as she turned in the saddle to watch the assembled Rangers waving their farewells, and to wave back until they’d crossed the bridge and lost sight of the camp, she felt the same sad emptiness that had hollowed a place in her heart when she had left Dill and the Shire behind. Those same feelings stirred inside her again, and she wondered how many times she’d find herself riding away from people she had grown to care about. She sniffed a little forlornly, and sighed, reflectively silent for a while, as they left Tinnudir further and further behind.
“I suppose,” Brassica said to Llythne, after a long period of quiet riding, as they approached the fork of four road, where a statue of four great kings stood, facing the points of the compass, “that journeying anywhere means a lot of goodbyes.”
“Aye,” Llythne nodded, but she smiled. “But you learn to cherish the ‘hellos’ that came before, and to look forward to the meetings again. We leave no one behind forever, my friend. Beldrieth spoke of prophecy and the way the world goes, well, I don’t know about that. But I think I know this about you; this is not the last time you’ll see the shores of Lake Evendim, or enjoy the company of the good men who make their home here. It is, after all, only a day away. And places are like memories, once you hold them in your heart, you can always return to them again.”