He stood there with outstretched arms, waiting to sprout feathers and a beak...and yet, it did not happen. He looked down at himself, and saw only clothing.
Perhaps I am thinking too big, he thought. Something smaller.
He checked himself for anything silver. There was none; his belt-buckle was of steel. His buttons of bone.
Well that I did not jump off the railing after all, he thought.
"Sparrow," he said and laughed a little. Still nothing.
He felt a mixture of frustration and relief. And a spark of fury. She really is dead. That is why the cloak does not work.
Or perhaps she saw Sauron take the cloak, and rendered it ineffective? And yet it seemed to urge him northward.
Perhaps it only works when she is wearing it.
Most likely, the problem was himself. He was afraid to go. His fear was keeping him from shifting.
What to tell Sauron now?
Not that he was going back. He'd had a notion of telling Melkor that Sauron was conspiring against him, with plans to usurp him. A pity he had chucked the crown out the window; he might have taken it along as proof. But what if he could not get there?
Well. So now what?
Once more he took out the map, sitting down to look at it more closely.
All he knew was that he lived south of the river Teiglin, near where the Malduin forked from it. His village, he surmised, was a few miles from the river, but it did not show on the map. He would have to cross the Teiglin, and as far as he could tell, it was nearly two hundred miles from where he was now. Unless he could make the cloak work, he had a very long trip on foot ahead of him.
He never knew how long he sat studying the map, turning it this way and that way, then trying once more to make the cloak work, then persuading himself that Celirwen really was dead, and that Sauron, being the wonderful father he was, had taken it upon himself to avenge her and save his son the trouble. Then again, what if he had been telling the truth?
At any rate, Gaergath wanted his horse back, if nothing else.
He found the spot where he had buried the dagger and dug it up, pausing to look at the blade, which had a pure and dazzling shine to it in the morning sunlight. He ran a finger over it, and as he did so, the cloak felt very heavy all of a sudden, and he untied it and let it fall to the ground. Yet the beauty of the dagger afforded him no comfort; in fact it smote him, reminding him that he had allowed Rimbrion to go to his fate without warning him back. That perhaps he had even wanted something horrible to befall the Elf, whom he saw as trying usurp him in Sauron's affections. What was being done to him now? Sauron was likely torturing him in order to make him tell where Gondolin was.
Gaergath began to shiver, and he put the knife back into his belt and picked up the cloak once more, and put it over his shoulders, and felt wonderfully comforted once more...it was even more effective than his own had been, in that respect. In fact, he thought this one much better, and perhaps soon it would work, once it got accustomed to someone else wearing it. Perhaps it was like a horse that would bear none other than its master, and Gaergath chuckled at the idea. You will come to love me also, he told it silently. We will conquer, you and I. We'll drive Sauron out of there and rule ourselves. And then....
He rose, picked up the bags and turned off down the river, and had not walked a quarter of a mile when he heard something. Shouts in the distance, the clanking of chains. He turned in some alarm and saw something far up the river. A small army it appeared to be, darkly clad, and he could see that some carried spears. There was a very tall tree close by, and Gaergath climbed up into it, going up as high as he might, the better to see who was coming without encountering.
They were going to Sauron's tower. No doubt about that.
As he continued to watch, he could see their armor was dark and rather ugly. Spiked helmets and shields, and the spears were very long, and one of them appeared to have a human head on its point. Gaergath shuddered, then noted that there was a small band of men or Elves, or both, with them...wearing chains. And more armed ones behind them, with whips.
He began to shiver once more. He wanted to climb down and flee, but feared to be seen. So he waited until they disappeared behind the trees that rose above the river mist enshrouding the bridge, and even then he waited until he could hear no more. Only then did he climb down, feeling as though he had aged ten years up in that tree.
He began walking in the opposite direction, after studying the map once more, gnawing on one of the pieces of jerked venison. It had a pleasant taste, and was peculiarly refreshing...until he wondered if it really were venison. It tasted like no deer meat he had ever eaten before, and then, shuddering, he tossed the rest of it out.
For days he wandered, sleeping beneath the trees where the cloak provided him much warmth and comfort. He tried one of the cakes, and found the only way he could choke it down was to toss off the cloak. Its sweetness was cloying, like too much honey on bread, and it lay heavy in his stomach, and yet it did satisfy his hunger for the rest of the day.
The days turned into weeks, and he lost his road, for it turned to the east, and there was no other. He had to tramp through the wilderness, and soon he no longer knew where he was. He ran out of the cakes, and was filled with a strange restlessness; he found he could not sleep. He had to rely on his skill with the bow to satisfy his hunger, and on the nuts and berries he found on his way. He stole vegetables from gardens he encountered along the way, but these were far and few between.
When finally he came to a village, he encountered hostile stares from a few people, and that was when he realized it must have been because of the cloak. He took it off and stuffed it into the bag he still carried, and then he found that the villagers were friendlier. At the edge of the village he saw an elderly woman leading a fine gelding toward a stable, talking gently to the beast. Her small house stood close by, with a good garden growing out front.
"Pardon me, good mother," he found himself saying, "but...I have been wandering a good deal, having lost my way, and I was wondering if I might sleep in your stable tonight? I will do what work I might around your place, in order to pay for food and lodgings."
After he had mucked out the stable, she called him in for supper. It was getting dark already.
"Rimbrion is my name," he said. "I was abducted by spies for Sauron and taken away in the direction of his stronghold, but managed to escape and now I am trying to find my home. It is on the south bank of the Teiglin. Would you have any idea where that might be?"
"Nay, lad, I would not," she said as she placed a bowl of thick bean soup on the table and dipped out a generous ladlefull into his dish. Then she cut two slices of brown bread and set those beside his bowl. The cottage was sparely furnished, shabby, but neat. She lived alone here, save for her cat and her chickens, some of which pecked about the table now, for she had no chicken-house. The cat merely watched them unblinking, but made no move to attack any. "I have lived in this village since I was borned, and know naught of the world outside. From some of the tales I've heared, I would not wish to know."
"You are right not to wish it," he said. "It is a cruel and evil world out there. It may look beautiful on the surface of it, but there are dark and hidden things that lurk behind it all. Oh, which reminds me, do you know where I might find me a cloak? I was robbed of mine, and it grows cold outside."
"I've one that belonged to my late husband," she said. "'Tis no more use to him, so you might have it. 'Tis in this trunk at the foot of my bed."
It was brown and woolen, with a trimming of brown fur. Very old and shabby, with moth-holes here and there. Gaergath restrained a curl of distaste.
"'Tis a mite short for you," she said, "you bein' taller than he were. But not so much."
"'Twill do nicely," he said. "I thank you from the bottom of my heart. This soup is delicious, also."
He secretly thought it could do with some spices. But it was food, far better than anything he had eaten since leaving Sauron's tower.
She said he might sleep beside the fireplace, but he shook his head.
"The stable would suit me much better," he said. "Do you suppose I could find employment in this village? I've some skill as a blacksmith."
"I will put in a good word for you at the smithy," she promised. "And I will make you a bath in the morning, and wash your clothing. Have you a change of clothes?"
"None," he said, remembering how he had hidden the bag in the stable loft. "But do not trouble yourself, good mother. Perhaps it were better if I went on my way. I can find someone who can tell me which way the Teiglin lies."
And late that night, he lay in the stable loft, waiting until the light that burned in her one small window went out. And long after it did so, he saddled her handsome brown gelding, and rode out into the night, her husband's worn brown cloak on his shoulders and the black one in the burlap sack behind.