By the Road Abandoned – Part 6
If Brassica noticed, when she came bounding down from the watchtower, that Llythne seemed sleepy and yawned rather a lot, she had no particular comment. Speaking for herself, she was quite refreshed. The tower had been a wonderful place to sleep, and her thoughts coloured by the stories Celebarad had read her, she’d dreamed of Fornost and the great battle there. She would never have imagined that a dream of a battle could be anything but terrifying, but hers had been exhilarating and triumphant, and she’d woken all eagerness and excitement when Celebarad had gently shaken her shoulder.
“Good not-quite-morning!” Brassica called cheerfully, after fairly skipping down the no-longer daunting stairs of the watchtower. It was still dark out, though there was the faintest suggestion of the inky blackness of night beginning to pale towards dark grey in the eastern sky.
“The same to you, little mistress. And how did you find the tower?” Torogethir questioned, from where he sat by the fire, sipping a small clay cup of the warm fragrant broth that had simmered all night.
“Splendid!” Brassica declared, which it had been, at least as far as she was concerned. Beldrieth and Llythne were busily readying their packs and mounts for the road again, and Celebarad was carrying everything they’d brought up into the tower back down. Brassica suddenly realized that there was another departure and another goodbye looming imminently in her future, and her jubilation was suddenly tempered. She went and dropped down to sit beside Torogethir. “Are you going to be lonely when we go?” she asked, concerned. “I’m sorry we have to leave.”
Torogethir peered at her over the rim of his mug and smiled. “I’ll feel the lack of company, that’s for certain. But I’ll be all right, and thank your dear heart for thinking of it. I’ll have the thought of your strange little fellowship and what awaits you on the long road to keep me occupied. And Ost Heryn needs my attention! I’m glad I’ll finally sate my curiosity about the old place.”
Brassica chewed her lower lip and stared hard at the Ranger, trying to be sure he wasn’t just trying to make her feel better. “Be careful. Tomb robbers are bad sorts.”
If the young hobbit had known quite what she was looking at, she would have seen Torogethir’s gaze drift slightly and settle for a few moments on Llythne, who was occupied with checking the straps and fittings of her saddle. “I always thought so,” he agreed distantly. “But perhaps not all of them are.”
“Well, the ones I ran afoul of certainly were. But just be safe.” Brassica wracked her brain for a few moments, trying to figure out if there was anything else that she needed to say to the Ranger, while she had him alone, before whatever thoughts she had were swept up in the formality that would likely go with Beldrieth’s farewell. “Is there bacon in your waybread?” she asked finally.
Torogethir laughed. “No, there’s nothing of the kind. If only!”
This sent Brassica off on a rant about how incredibly unnecessary it was for there to be bacon in waybread, and how the Rangers could learn a thing or two from the elves about how less was more. It was only Llythne’s hand tapping on her head that derailed her from her topic, along with the announcement that it was time for them to depart.
And then there was nothing for it, and Brassica wondered if all her goodbyes would have the same strange sense of suddenness about them. She never knew quite what to say, and somehow it made her shy, to clamber up onto the dappled mare she shared with Llythne, and wait for it all to become official.
Beldrieth, at least, seemed to have a knack for departures, and while her tall dark stallion pawed at the earth, his breath fuming in the chill of pre-dawn, she looked down at Torogethir. “Our thanks to you, again, for the refuge of your camp. You keep a good watch, Dunadan, your duty is a proud and honourable one. Be wary in your new charge, and when you rejoin your brethren, carry with you our regards.”
Torogethir had stood to bid his guests farewell, and he bowed low and respectfully. “Thank you, Lady. You have good people, and kind ones, in your care, and I’m sure you’ll dwell in my thoughts for a long time to come. I have no great way with words, but there’s no telling anyway, just what the companionship meant to me, however brief. Be safe on the road! I wish you the best of your journey.”
Brassica felt tears prickling annoyingly in her eyes, and rubbed them stubbornly away. She added her voice to the chorus of “goodbyes!” that were called to Torogethir, and Llythne turned her mount and they began to ride slowly down the hill, slicked with dew on the edge of becoming frost. This time she knew to expect the lonely, empty feeling that came with leaving a friend behind, and she was settling in for a little bit of sad reflection, when Llythne suddenly reined her horse up at the bottom of the hill.
“Go ahead!” the woman called to Beldrieth, as she slid from the saddle, and passed the mare’s reins to Brassica. “I’ll be just a moment.”
Llythne turned and jogged up the hill, back to Torogethir, who had remained to watch them depart. The darkness of the morning was beginning to fade, and gray light began to suffuse its way through the world. For that, the morning was chill, and her breath hung in steamy puffs as she trotted up the hill. His cloak was heavy and warm about her shoulders, and she was glad of it in the coolness of the day before the dawn. Her cheeks were flushed as she stopped before him, and held out a hand. “I was glad to have met you, Torogethir,” she told him, softly, almost shyly.
Torogethir smiled, and took her hand, bowing to kiss it lightly. “Llythne, to have met you only once cannot be enough. I don’t think I shall be glad until I can meet you again.”
Blushing now, as the Ranger stood, Llythne was also determined that he not out-do her in the moment of their parting. Boldly, she clasped his hand tightly in hers, stepped forward, and kissed his roughly stubbled cheek. “There!” she cried, “Try to keep those southron ladies from your thoughts, and perhaps we’ll meet again all the sooner!”
Leaving Torogethir utterly dumbfounded, which pleased her immensely, Llythne dashed back to the painted mare with a swirl of her stolen cloak, and remounted. “Wait for me!” she called dramatically, with a sweeping wave of her arm. Then she dug her heels to her mount’s flanks, and they galloped away down the road, with a whoop of half-delight, half-surprise from Brassica.
“You are a rogue!” Brassica cheered delightedly, once Llythne had slowed them back to a trot, having caught up to the elves once more. The hobbit twisted in the saddle, trying to see back down the road behind them. “Ooh, I knew you liked him, too! You kissed him! What a cruel thing to do! Oh dear, oh dear, that poor man!” She giggled girlishly. “He’ll wait for you forever, I bet.”
Slightly breathless, but exhilarated and smiling herself, Llythne tried to shrug modestly. “Oh, well, I don’t know about that. It might be nice,” she said offhandedly, and glanced over her shoulder, back down the road. “I hope he’s not following me now.”
“Oh, well, no,” Brassica agreed. “It would be the thing to do, if he were very sweet on you and wanted you to come back and get married and stay with him at his tower. But I think it’s a better story if he needs to wait until you come home again.”
Llythne laughed. “Oh, for a certainty.” Her eyes reached faraway to the horizon and her voice seemed to grow distant. “It’s strange, all the Dunedain I’ve met, and never one quite like him. It’s hard to remember that the men of the West aren’t all carved from stone. How nice that his face didn’t break when he smiled. Ah, but I liked to hear him laugh. I hope I’m not too bold for him. I hope I’ve left him thinking fondly of me. And yes, it would make me glad, so I hope we meet again.” She reached into a pocket in the fold of the cloak about her shoulders, and withdrew a small leather pouch. “But I mostly hope that he hasn’t yet noticed that I lifted his wallet.”