Ol Tyke Bonner ran for the door of the Inn like a spry olde goat that he wasnt, and he would pay in painful joints and creaky bones the next morning for this nights sprint. He expected to hear the Roaders heavy boots crashing down the stairs behind him, yet when he got to the woodwalk, a bash of the window above him made him duck, and with a tumble rumble, Bruin dropped onto the road track before him.
Their eyes met for a split moment and before the Gaffer could say a word, the Lank Man was down the road at a gallop.
Bruin made such haste upon the road that the olde guye was left behind quickly, which was fine with the swordsman. The far sounds of battle had ceased, and other then a faint cry, the Hard Man had little direction to follow. Yet he was no ordinary roadblade, was this Bruin. That he lived upon the wilderness was no empty talk, and his purpose in Harlan was no easy happenstance.
For the name Bruin was a travel dodge, one that kept his true name and purpose upon the sly. He was Xalvion Gornstroke, one of the last Rangers of Arnor. A true blooded Dúnedain, some of the greatest lineage of Númenor ran in that true blood. He was, perhaps, the greatest Ranger upon Middle-earth that night, and though he, like all Rangers, carried no rank within the close of brotherhood that was Dúnedain, there were few who could boast his equal. Master swordsman, cunning woodsman, nobleheart and deadly to enemies, the Ranger had come to Harlan to meet and escort a Jurismarke of the King, who traveled the roadcourt circuit.
Yet the travelling Justice was late, days late, and Xalvion had received no word. He had just made up his own mind to backtrack when the opportunity to walk Ol Tyke and his party backroad had presented itself. The Ranger that rode with the Jurismarke would be there to take Tykes party to the Brandywine when they met on the road. Xal could take the Kings Justice onto Fornost, which was the plan. As he ran this night, however, he could feel laid plans slipping from his grasp, the way the road now slipped away beneath his boots.
As he passed the Smiths workshack, he took a quick turn into the doorway. There were things he now had to check, for the Smiths tale of Wraithes and Elves had been too much for him to believe earlier. Yes, he had seen the slain beast in the scrap-yard, and it was no ordinary wolf. But whatever evidence lay inside the shack was now important, for Xalvion was now convinced that something evil had indeed come this night.
He tarried at the door long enough to let his eyes drink in the ice and frost. He now rued hard that he did not look for this sooner. "Black Breath could only cause such." he muttered to himself, and his estimation of Gasgaroth rose at the thought of the aging Smithy facing such a creature as could make such deadly cold.
Xalvion guessed rightly at what was happening in the woods. The Smith had gone, alone and unaided, into the forest to find the boy that had saved his life. Xal rued this heavily also. If he had questioned the Smith, then perhaps whatever went on in the trees, he would be there now instead of running catch-up. He bolted from the door, and began looking for sign.
Gasgaroth panicked, he could not stop the blood, the boys wound was tendon-socked and deep. The Smith had been in situations of battle before, where wounds were given battle-dress and cuatrae, but he was never the one to do it. He racked his hurried mind for proper procedure, but it would not come, and he despaired. Sounds of movement in the trees from beyond the meadow collar convinced him the Wraithe was close by, so he dared not move either the boy nor himself. In the end, he dressed the boy quickly in the ill-fitting clothes that he had brought and did his best to bind the wound.
He placed the boy next to the biggest tree trunk he could find, put his own back to the bark preparing to stand off the night. He could only hope that the boy would live until morning and the Sun.
A shade shook across the glade and made Gas raise his broadblade on high, it was the Ringer! It had to be! Gass eyes teared up and squinted from trying to see the shapes that darkness held, and there! To his left, no, to his right! His head began rocking back and forth, trying to track the movement that he was sure was there. Then a low voice spoke from full behind him. "Hold, Smith. Tis a man who speaks, not a Wraithe! I come to aide..." Gasgaroth nearly dropped his axe in relief when the Roader from the Wood Rogues Bane stepped from out of the gloom.
Xalvion saw the state that the Smithy was in, but he had more eye for the bundled form at Gass feet. He could smell the copper of blood in the air, he knew from whence it came. Xal brushed the Smith aside and dropped to his knees, flinging aside the clothing and binding that Gas had done, his hands and fingers searching for the peachia that had been loosed from the wound.
"Thank the Valar, there are no shards here," the Ranger said, "Tis a clean wicker, and I can close it safely." He turned and gave a look to Gasgaroth that said be on guard. Gas understood and turned from the two, watching out the shadows again while the Roader did a battle-dress proper. Xalvion finished, and gathering the boy in his arms, he stood and nudged the Smith with an elbow. "Take the boy, you go first and I will back you out." He handed the boy over to Gass brawny arms and drew his sword.
The Smithy slid his axe into his belt and took the boy, hunching as he crackled through the underbrush and scagweed. They would break cover in a moment and Gas halted at touch of his shoulder. He turned to see Xalvion signal a flat-handed halt and he waited while the Ranger scouted the collaring of grass. At the Roaders two-fingered sign to move, Gas crept from out of the trees and into the clear, while Xal walked a quick sentry-move across the meadow. They had made it back to back into the trees on the other side of the winterberry dells when Wargs began to howl, close and terrifyingly loud
Ol Tyke sat halfway upon the track between the Inn and the Smithy shack, breathing hard and trying to gulp his heart back down his throat to where it belonged. For the tenth time this night he told himself to get up and go home, he was too old for this, and for the eleventh time a voice in his head said get up and find out whats going on. Head and heart, bah! He took another laboring breath.
He did not have the sight of the Ranger, he did not guess that the Smith had tried a rescue. He only knew that Bruin was out there, alone and hunting what Tyke believed to be a Wraithe. And he knew that he, himself, was too olde and tired to be of any aide.
He had just made up his afeared mind to go into the forest anyway, to do whatever he could, when a startling sound brushed his ears. It was the steady clop and creak of a pony cart and...bells? Coming from behind him, back towards towne. It was bells alright, high, silver bells from the sounds of them, the kind of bells that rang on jesters shoes and showmans hats. Bells? He got up and ran back towards the Bane, and towards the sound of the bells.
For the second time this night, the old-timers heart climbed along his throat, and his lungs bellowed with weak breath, yet he made the dash to the sound of the bells, seeking some sort of aide to his plight. He passed the Inn just as the bells and the clop of wagon pony ceased. He then heard a voice from the darkness of that side of towne that he recognized and lived in fear of. It was Bumis Turk, a roader of the vilest sort, one that had made the road out of Harlan a dicey place for travelers in and out of the village. His gang was the reason Tyke needed a guard to the Brandywine, and so the olde guye slowed as he came within sight of what goes on.
Bumis and a gang of four blocked the track in, while the driver of the cart and a dusty companion stood to them. Unfair odds, to say the least, and Ol Tyke began searching for a goode solid branch or chunk of woode when words began to fly.
"Hold, says I, yell pays uss a toll ere you pass us." Bumis said in a low voice, his menace dripping like spit.
The driver smiled, while his dark and dirty companion made to move ahead of the cart from his escorts place beside the wheels. Yet the driver held out a hand, and the escort stopped. "What can we deal ye fer, ruffy?" the driver said in a musical voice, his smile becoming almost playful. "We havent much in the way of gold or jools, and the like, but I could certainly pay ye in lumps of silver " and the driver tilted his head and arched an eye.
Bumis had already decided that the bells that rang from the riggings of the ponies were silver, and he wanted them. "Well take the shinin dingers whots on them ponies. Liken to take the ponies too." And Bumiss smile got eviler, as if it could.
"Nay, yell not be takin those from me tonite, scruff. They were a gift from a grande Elf of Rivendell, and Id nae part wit them bells for me own blood to save. Ive got lumps of silver, I tell yah! Yourn fer the askin." and the drivers eyes flashed even into the night.
Now the Outlaws eyes flashed of their own, Bumis did not like games and mouthy sorts when he robbed. "Aye, Ill take yer lumps of silver then, and everthin else sides yer garms of under!" he spat.
"Good! good, weve come to an agreement of sorts!" the driver shot back, in a high humor, "But first lemmee introduce yah to a dear friend of me own heart." And he drew from under his seat the biggest long iron sword Tyke had ever seen, "This here be Jimis, me cheese cleaver, and ware to ye, together we have killed a fright number of knots and wheels of Cowsop, Milkecheese and Goats butter. A better friend I do not have in all the world!"
This was just too much for the trail thumper beside the wagon, and the guard guffawed and snorted and leaned against the cart.
Bumis Turk was not amused, yet he had no fear of the take for the sword looked too big to be of any use to the man who drove the ponies, and the drivers armsman laughed to the point of distraction. He drew his own pitted and knicked blade, "Garn, I be sick of this, come ye down from the wagon, mouth! I want those lumps of silver "
"Half a moment, my goode ruffian," the driver said as he climbed down, "By all means ye shall have them."
The Cartsman stood and hefted the pommel of the great sword to his chest, the blade sticking straight out ahead of him like a wainbeam. There were perhaps, twenty longshank paces between him and Bumis, and Tyke wondered if there was room for the charge the driver seemed to prepare to make. And his eyes widened as the charge came down.
The driver began a run, and at ten paces out he drove the tall blade straight into the ground. With a duck of his head and a spring of his boots, the Cartsman flipped over the sword and became airborne! Tyke had never seen the like of it! The blade stuck in the middle of the road, and the man with the good humor did a Tumblesault in mid-aire. Tyke caught the sight of two slim and delicate hammers that fairly leaped into the flying mans hands from somewhere behind his back. When he landed, it was at Bumiss feet, and one, blurred leg of the tumbler swept from the side and knocked the Outlaws own feet out from under him. Bumis went down on his back with a loud and sickening oomph that Tyke enjoyed richly. Before the Bullyboy could catch his breath, the twin hammers spun like kiddie kites in the drivers hands, and whap! whap! down they came on the outlaws skull. Out went the lights of Bumis!
"Two lumps delivered!" the driver looked at the rest of Bumiss crew, "Anyone else for lumps of silver?" Bumiss rushers disappeared, and not like smoke, more like steam, sweaty, noisy and fast!
The driver stood astraddle of the prone Roadpicker, and finally noticed Tyke Bonner at the far end of the track, "Hail and well met, olde timer, my name is Seraph, Seraph the Silver !"
This last was all for the guard that leaned against the cart. He slid slowly to the ground, eyes tearful, belly shaking, and laughter pealing into the night. Lumps of Silver, indeed!
1999 max vonlindern