The unrelenting sun pours its merciless heat down through the canopy of the Old Forest. Sweat gathers on her brow as Eruviel guides her tired horse through the thick undergrowth. An afternoon ride into Buckland had turned into a week of exploring the Old Forest. For the most part her exploring proved uneventful aside from being shadowed by wolves for three days, and a long conversation with a beautiful, golden-haired woman who called herself the “River-woman’s daughter.” But now the air had begun to change, and her mount more reluctant to press on.
“Calm yourself, Crithta,” she says, patting her mare’s neck. “Why have you grown skidish?” She dismounts, and scratches along the edge of the horses’ mane as she peers ahead of them.
The horse grows silent. After a moment the mare jerks away from Eruviel’s hand and back away.
The elf-maiden frowns, looking from her horse back to the path ahead of them. “Crithta,” she beckons, “tula sinome.” The horse tosses its head in protest. “Tula sinome,” Eruviel commands quietly, pointing to the ground next to her. Her mount snorts unhappily, but steps up beside it’s lady. Patting the reluctant animal once more, Eruviel takes the reigns and begins to press on through the trees.
The humid air begins to thin as does the foliage. She can see grey hills ahead as she nears the edge of the forest. The sun seems less oppressive, and a sour wind cools the sweat on the elf’s face. Cresting the first open hill before them Eruviel sucks in a sharp breath. A chill courses up her spine and a growl rises from Crithta’s throat as the horse lays its ears back. As far as they can see the landscape is covered with grassy, rolling hills and mounds. Mist creeps like a living thing through the low places, and from nearly every mound stone megaliths grasp at the sky like cold fingers pushing up through the earth.
“The Barrows,” Eruviel says with a hushed breath. “Once part of the capital of Cardolan.” She attempts to comfort her frightened mount. “It fell a hundred years before I was born. Uuma dela, Crithta. We will not remain here long.”
The mare huffs in protest, and jerks the reigns out of Eruviel’s hands. She canters half way down the hill back towards the forest before stopping and whinnying after its mistress.
“Ed’ i’ear ar’ elenea!” Eruviel exclaims. Waving the horse away she smiles down to it. “Begone with you, then! Wait for me by the East Road.” The horse nickers, bobbing it’s head in response before it plows back into the trees, oddly confident of it’s path.
The elf maiden shifts the long daggers on either of her hips into a more comfortable position, and pulls an arrow out of her quiver as she carefully makes her way down the hill and further in. Several times she dodges wights as they rise from the ground or pass through the mists. “This is foolish,” she mutters to herself as she slips behind a boulder to avoid a wight that passes by too close for comfort. She rises up into a crouch, about to turn back when, from the corner of her eye she sees a cloak . . . a sword . . . a withered body she recognizes. Her muscles freeze and her limbs refuse to listen to her.
“I– it c–can’t be,” she gasps, her chest heaving. Her mind snaps to and she leaps down the hill, her sprinted steps silent as she disappears into the mist below in pursuit of a wight, begging the Valar that her eyes deceive her. Leaping up out of the swirling fog, Eruviel finds herself standing on a small, unmarked mound. No megaliths, no markers, not even a barrow door rises from the earth.
Lifting her head, Eruviel sees the the wight hovering not fifteen feet before her. Her pulse quickens. The shade’s breathing echoes in her ears, and as it turns slowly to face her Eruviel’s heart stops and rises into her throat. Her face, her body language remains calm and confident, but her mind screams in agony, beating against the cage of her skull with rage.
“Rainion?” The name catches as it trickles out from her lips.
“Amin toror,” her voice wavers as she stands, “Why is it that I see you now, when you perished three hundred years ago?”
Eruviel drops her bow, the wight too close for it to be of use. Her serene face grows dark, and her eyes gleam with misery and wrath. “No, you are not my brother Rainion. He now lives across the sea. How dare you desecrate his body.” Her voice steadies, her tone deepening with anger as she slowly unsheathes her daggers.
“Thisss body hasss been very ussseful,” breaths the wight. “When my massster fled the battle the lassst of my brothersss came here. Thisss body laid hewn upon the ground. Did it belong to you?” His raspy voice mocks the elf-maiden.
“Rainion, my brother,” she says as she slides her right foot back behind her, ready. “You tarnish only his memory, fiend of Angmar,” she hisses. He is not your brother! She tells herself. Her arms tremble as the wight begins to approach. Rainion’s sword is in its hand. Ranion’s armour clads its body. Ranion’s now-gaunt, decaying face holds only the eyes of a black spirit. Stop shaking. He is not your brother!
With a great cry Eruviel leaps forward to attack the shade before it can raise its weapon. Thrusting her left dagger into it’s chest the wight screams and bats her off of him. She hits the ground hard, but rolls and jumps to her feet, attacking again. Faster! she commands her body, muscles aching with sorrow. What poor fortune has she that she must kill the body of her beloved, deceased brother? She stabs the wight once — twice before he punches her in the face with his cross-guard. Eruviel stumbles back, barely avoiding his swinging blade as the tip grazes her leather breastplate. With one final shout she passes the wight’s swinging sword and thrusts her blade deep into its chest.
The wight screams, struggling in the throes of death. Eruviel pressed herself hard against it, twisting the dagger. The evil spirit attempts to claw at her but it perishes and dissipates before it can touch her. The elf is left standing on the small green hill, panting for breath, a pile of dust, bones and elven armour at her feet.
Her face is cold, and her eyes empty of everything as she drops to her knees. The earth is soft here, and Eruviel has little trouble carving out a hole in the soil just big enough to bury Rainion’s remnants. She can hear the cries and hollow breaths of other wights as they circle their own mounds, but none approach her small hill. Breathing seems pointless except as a habitual action. Her limbs tremble with weakness, and hot tears course down her chilled, pale cheeks. Leaning over she curls up on her side, cradling her brother’s sword, and a bitter, broken wail rises from her parched throat to echo over the Barrow-Downs.