I'll send him back as soon as I find my own horse, Gaergath thought, when once more his conscience pricked more keenly than the blade of the stolen dagger.
And when he stuffed the brown cloak into the bag and put on the black, it did not prick at all.
But the horse was virtually unmanageable then.
The brown cloak would have to do. Once they had crossed the river, he would let the beast go. He could find Russi and his village on foot, surely. Perhaps.
For the first time in two weeks, he thought of the small army he had seen. He wondered how the captives were enjoying Sauron's hospitality. Probably as much as Rimbrion was.
He would not think of them.
And he could scarcely wait to let this brute of a horse go. And where was this blasted river's crossing? There seemed to be none.
And then suddenly there it was. The Ford of Brithiach. He had never been so glad to see anything.
Yet once he had crossed it, the horse seemed more docile. Perhaps just a while longer. He was almost to the Forest of Brethil now. And there was a road. As long as he did not put on the black cloak, perhaps he would be all right.
"Patience, lad," he told it as they rode into the deep wood, which still retained much of its autumn foliage. There was an aura of peace about this forest. He had heard tell of it, but had never ventured in its direction before. The air was cool and sweet, birdsong echoing throughout, ferns growing all along the pathway, and he could hear woodland creatures here and there, a deer leaping through the brush, squirrels zipping in and out of the trees, rabbits and badgers and other small beasts scuttling about.
He felt as calm as he ever would feel in his life. He felt he could make his home here.
And as he camped out in a small clearing, he felt a tremendous sadness. He would never truly see his home again, nor his horse. They were gone, his childhood was gone, his mother was gone. What was there for him now?
Even She was dead.
Nothing to do but find his horse and move along. Perhaps see his friends again. Maybe Thorodon would go with him. Ride out and see the world with him.
Sauron, you never should have let me see that book. Were it not for that vile thing, I might have been to Angband and back again by now.
He hated the thought that he was now wanting to go back and read the rest of it. He had not finished it that night. Too late now.
It was another week before he finally reached the Cross of Teiglin. At last.
He was on his way home.
However, he could not let the horse go just yet. He had to find Russi first. It would take him too long if he were to go on foot. And he was not even sure where the horse was.
If only he had his own black cloak. He could have been there and back already. It was gone forever, he supposed. Why did he still have this one?
There were many roads here. None of which looked familiar.
He rode on, until he found himself confronting a vast plain. He could not remember ever seeing it. It was all of yellow grass and wheat and rye, with but a few farmhouses and barns and outbuildings, and he stopped at some and begged for a meal, offering once more to work, and he stole a few things, but nothing of great value. Mostly things that would not likely be missed.
And in one, there was a young wife who cast her eye upon him, while her husband was out feeding the pigs.
"Meet me by the well," she told Gaergath, "after he is asleep tonight. You'll be able to tell by his snoring. One can hear it from miles away."
She was rather comely, in her plain and suntanned way, much younger than her husband, a red-faced lout with a belly out to there, who scratched himself a good bit, and walked as though he had a barrel between his legs. And smelled of rum.
Gaergath met her as she had indicated, and they went up to the barn loft, she carrying a lantern in a lazy swaying manner, talking all the while of how much she hated her life.
"Every time we do it," she said, "he has his way, then rolls over on his back and snores. The beasts in the fields could do it better, I am sure. And then he rails at me because I do not give him a son. What I would like to give him is the gate. Look at this." She rolled up one sleeve, and showed him a bruise on her upper arm. "He did that, just the other day. Because I did not cook the stew to his liking. It is no unusual thing, with him."
"Why don't you leave him?" Gaergath asked, a bit numbly.
"Whither would I go?" she said, tears starting in her eyes. "My mother is dead. My father would merely send me back to him. My sisters are married, with children of their own. Come up this way."
"You do it well," she said after the first time. "I thought you had not been with a lass before. But I think you have."
"I have indeed," he said. He caressed her hair, which was brown and long, finer than Binya's. She was rather thin, and he could see more bruises on her in the lantern-light, and a couple of scars the nature of which he did not care to guess.
"Where are you going?" she asked him.
"To find my mother," he said. "I have been stolen from her, and have been trying to get back to her for a long time now."
"Take me with you," she said letting her fingers trail along his chest. "Perhaps I can help you. I only wish to get away from him. Please let me go with you."
He looked up at her. She was close to thirty, he thought.
"It would be dangerous," he said. "Have you any idea who I am?"
"Nay, and I care not," she said sitting up and looking him in the eyes. "I know only that I wish to leave."
"I am Gaergath, son of Sauron," he said raising himself up and looking back at her. "My...mother is Thuringwethil, woman of the Secret Shadow. She is a Blood Drinker. Long ago, she split into two women, and one of them was my true mother. Then the bad half tracked her down and killed her. That was...I know not how long ago, but not so very long. I mean to avenge her...my true mother, that is. Trust me, you do not want to come along."
She drew back, looking at him with wide frightened eyes.
"Are you telling me the truth?" she gasped.
"I could not make up something like this," he said.
She picked up her clothes and began putting them back on, her hands shaking.
"You had better go," she said. "You may stay here in the barn tonight...but in the morning, I would have you gone."
"As you wish," he said blandly. She got her skirt hung on the loft ladder as she climbed down, and he casually reached down and unhooked the fabric for her. "Thank you for a nice time," he said.
She looked back up at him over her shoulder, then took the lantern he handed down to her and ran out into the night.
For the first time in weeks, he laughed aloud. But not for long.
In the morning, as he came from the house, he was confronted with a red-faced farmer wielding a long knife--a pig-sticker, as some folks would have called it.
"You!" he said. "Don't think I don't know what you and my wife been up to, you sweating young pig-of-a-skunk! Come here and let me hack your cullions off and fry 'em for breakfast!"
Gaergath spied a large barrel and he upended it and rolled it right at the farmer, who fell over it and narrowly missed flopping right over onto the pig-sticker. He did manage to cut himself, and the wound distracted him enough to enable Gaergath to run back to the barn and fetch and saddle the horse.
He did not see the wife anywhere.
He did manage to snatch the bag with the black cloak and his bow and arrows just before the farmer got his bearings and ran back at him. Gaergath kicked the sides of the horse and was on his way once more, the farmer in hot pursuit.
Then he looked back just in time to see the wife come from the farmhouse.
Gaergath stopped the horse, then carefully fitted an arrow into his bow. He waited until the farmer stopped running, then took aim...and fired.
He did not really expect to hit the man. His object was to shake him up...or so he told himself. When the arrow struck the farmer in the stomach, Gaergath drew in his breath sharply. Then he tucked the bow back over his shoulder, slapped the reins down on the horse once more...and fled.
He had no idea where he was now.
He wondered if the farmer were dead. Perhaps he was only wounded, and the wife would nurse him back to health.
Gaergath imagined her now, dragging the body into a clearing, piling wood all around it, tossing oil onto it, and flinging a burning stick onto it all, then watching until it was all burnt to ashes.... Would she bury the bones so none should ever know, and tell anyone who wanted to know that he had been killed by a wild boar or some such, and run the farm by herself?
Gaergath told himself he had saved her. The farmer surely would have killed her.
I've done murder. Add that to my other crimes. I am an outlaw now.
Perhaps I should try once more to go to Angband. Perhaps now I've blood on my hands, it will work.
The next day, near nightfall, he found himself in a wooded area once more, this one not so nice as the Forest of Brethil. He could imagine that ghosts walked abroad in it. He wondered if it were the one where his mother lived...but no, not likely.
Seriously unnerved, he contemplated putting on the black cloak.
And then he saw something. Its eyes were looking at him through the brush. It was black, apparently, and looked to be the size of a small horse. But it was not. Horses do not growl.
And a feminine and very lovely voice spoke just above a whisper, "What is it, Huan?"