Through the Morning Mist
Brethil was very different from Dorthonion. In the north most of the forests were pine, cool and dark and evergreen, but here grew slender birches, great tall beeches, and even greater oaks, among others whose names Rían did not know. They stumbled into the forest in autumn, when all the leaves had turned color, so that it seemed to Rían that the Sun had come down to walk through the forest, lending her glory to every branch and twig.
When she said this aloud, Morwen shook her head and said, a little sharply, that such a thing was impossible. But Rían’s mother scooped her up into her arms, though they trembled with the effort, and kissed her cheek. “Impossible, perhaps, but a lovely thought,” she said. “And we could do with lovely thoughts, couldn’t we, Morwen?” Morwen mumbled an apology, looking away. Rían rested her head on Tatharien’s shoulder. There were birds singing all around them; they had not heard birdsong since before the evil fires with their thick smoke had streamed out of the north to choke the air and blot out the blue sky.
It was easier, here, to get up each morning after freezing nights and to put one foot in front of the other, to keep going--Lady Emeldir had urged them on all through worse places, through the mountains and the dark forests where even trees and plants harbored hatred in their hearts for Men and Elves. There had been no sunshine there, beneath the tangled branches and the thick smoke that chased them out of the north. Day had been no brighter than evening gloaming, but never as gentle. Spiders had hunted them, scurrying through the brush just out of the light of their campfires, and snaring any who strayed into thick grey webs. Some, they had rescued; Emeldir had sliced the head off of a spider with a single neat stroke before hacking away the webs binding one of the youngest boys, who still shook like a leaf in the breeze whenever his mother had to set him down. Others had been dragged away into the darkness, and were not found again.
There had been wolves, too, that filled the night with raucous howling, and prowled through the shadows alongside their party. Sometimes Rían had thought she heard laughter among their snuffling and snarling, although maybe that had been only her imagination.
But there was nothing like that here. Only birdsong, and pale flowers still bobbing in the breeze, undaunted by the frost.
Not long after they entered the woods, they woke up surrounded by soldiers--Elves and Men. The Elves were tall and fair, clad in green and brown; the Men were smaller, dark and quick and armed with bows and swords, all of them ghostly in the morning mist that shimmered silver beneath the trees, and golden in the growing sunshine. Rían shrank back against her mother’s legs; Tatharien pulled Morwen closer, too, as Lady Emeldir rose and stepped forward. If Emeldir was at all afraid, Rían could not see it.
The soldiers were on their way to intercept a large company of orcs their scouts had seen coming down from the mountains. The orcs were close enough that, Rían heard one of the Elves say to Lady Emeldir, they were lucky they had not been caught and overwhelmed.
As the leaders spoke, the other Elves and some of the Men moved among the Beorians, handing out food and water. The pair that approached Tatharien, Rían, and Morwen were not Haladin, though--one was taller, almost as tall as the Elves, and both had bright hair that shimmered with the mist as though it were made of gold.
The tall one crouched in front of Rían and held out his water skin, revealing himself to be only a boy, with a face scarcely older than Morwen’s. “It’s all right,” he said smiling. “Ephel Brandir is not far, and you’ll be safe there. What is your name?”
“I am Rían,” she replied, returning his smile and accepting the water. It flowed sweet and cool down her throat.
“Well met, Rían. I am Huor.”