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Raedwulf

A Breeman Still

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A Breeman Still

On nights such as this; when the storm winds blow, and the rain lashes down; the good folk bar their doors, close their shutters, and keep by the fireside, for it is said that evil walks abroad then. But if that is true, then it is also true that those who hunt evil must also walk those foul and fearsome nights. So it was, though they muttered against him for all that he was one of their kind.

A Breeman by birth, solitary and taciturn by nature, a hunter and bowman by choice. It was not unnatural that he, more than any, far more than any, kept company with the Rangers, spent many of his few words with them. Rangers never were popular in Bree then; before people understood who they truly were. They were outsiders, and outsiders make few friends anywhere as a rule. Bree was no worse then than anywhere else. Folk is as folk does, as the saying goes, and people have always been clannish, so you can't blame them. Especially when you think of how the Rangers must have seemed to them. Quiet, stern, hard; travel-worn and often weary, dirty & tired whenever they came by; seldom seen, speaking little; even their names, if you could get one, or their nicknames were queer. Just think - Strider! And all know what he turned out to be!

So he had few enough friends, and all too many too quick to think ill of him. When Bill Ferny's cow vanished, some said "Why him? He can down a deer, or snare a coney any time he wants. What would would he want with a whole cow? What would he do with a whole cow!" Others, though, they spoke of the enmity that lay between him & Ferny. None knew what were the roots of that dislike, but then Ferny was never popular in Bree, so I doubt any cared much. It was a few weeks later when the girl was found on the outskirts of town with her throat torn out after one of those evil nights. Then it changed.

The whispered word was "Werewolf!" It was known that he was abroad that night; those that hunt evil, remember? But who would believe he stalked what took Ferny's cow, when half the town that cared thought that, maybe, he'd taken it himself? Afterward, some said that it was Ferny himself started that rumour out of hatred. Ferny might have been disliked but he was better than a weasel for rabbits, if it was information you wanted. So if the tale did come from Ferny, it was like as not to be true. So they thought, so they said...

And there he was - distant, solitary, queer... Little seen, and then often with Rangers. Is it any wonder that the Bree folk found it easy to believe the worst and blame him? But whatever else he was, a fool he wasn't. Straws blow only one way in the wind, and he knew the winds well enough. They never saw him again. One morning, though, a morning after another of those foul nights, some 4 weeks later; when Alf Burdock's chickens had all been taken, Will Appledore had lost three sheep, and they weren't the only to suffer; when Harry Goatleaf rose to unbar the West gate, what did he find? A stake with the head of a great wolf upon it; a warg, if you can believe such tales! His rune scratched beneath it on the wood.

There were a few who said that that meant that it was his head, see? That he was a werewolf after all, and now he was dead. But Ferny was one of those, so few enough believed it. Most realised the truth - he'd hunted down that wolf, or that warg, slain it, and left its head at the gate; a message to shame the town. Ashamed they were, those that had spoken against him. But he never came back. Never. I've travelled though; I know a little more. Sit ye quiet and I'll tell ye...

This is no tale you'll have heard in Bree; I have it from the south, where he went after, and him that told it, well! That's a tale in itself! He found the carcass eventually in the eaves of the Old Forest. That's a strange, a wild and dangerous place still; it was worse then, and few men or hobbits dared the place. How Ferny's cow was taken so far is a strangeness of itself. Likely as not, it was an ill-kept & scrawny beast, much like its master was said to be. Nevertheless, a wolf is not so big a beast as to to drag a cow all that way. Even a warg, well, I've never seen one. If they weren't all killed in The War, I doubt there'll be another seen west of the mountains ever again. But if you ever go west and come by Bamfurlong, Hamfast Maggot's hounds are as big as any you'll see. The goblins of the mountains, it is said, used to ride wargs sometimes, but goblins aren't big creatures, somewhere between a man and a hobbit for height, so I reckon Young Maggot's hounds are about the size that a warg would have been.

And goblins is what we we come to, you see. When he found the carcass, what there was of it, it hadn't just been eaten, it had been butchered! That troubled him. He'd never seen a goblin then, so he couldn't be sure of the signs, but the track of a wolf's paw in soft earth is easy enough to read. And wolves don't butcher! So it seemed to him then that it must be goblins and wargs, though neither were more than a tale to him. There didn't seem to be many, by the signs, but even so! There were rumours of goblins being seen again out Oatbarton way, in the north of The Shire, but he'd never been so far. And wargs, wargs was another matter entirely, and no light one.

He scoured that place, found a leather strap, worn through, and an old buckle; made things, an ill omen. The next thing he needed was a Ranger to talk to, but they were harder to find than Ferny's cow at that time. Most had left, gone south to seek their chieftain, and it was only then that folk began to understand, dimly, what they'd been doing all those long years; warding Breeland and The Shire. After a long tramp, he found one, Halros it was, he that the King made warden of Arthobel when he renewed the old north kingdom. Halros had stayed so that there was someone to keep watch over the Shire. Arthobel was his reward for his faithfulness. He's an old man now, but he lives still, for the Rangers are a long lived race.

He found Halros up near Brockenborings in the end, a mighty long tramp, and his worst fears were confirmed. Halros gave him wise counsel, bade him be cautious. The night the girl was killed, he hadn't quite made it back to Bree. He was halfway between West Gate and what is now Adso's Inn, somewhere south of the old Sweetgrass place. He came in next morning, wet and weary, grim-faced and dirty. It took only a little while for him to hear the news; that was the warg's work. It was only a little longer when the whispers started. He knew then that he'd never return, but first there was the matter of the warg.

The tracking of the beast and its goblin friends is no tale to tell. Muddied footprints here, coarse hairs on a bush there, broken twigs that speak of something passing, it's not the stuff of high renown, but he found them right enough, though it took him long enough, and Bree was raided for livestock twice and Staddle once by then. Six goblins, and the warg seemed to be the leader. He never knew their speech, never dared get close enough to listen, but it seemed that it was the warg giving orders. He was careful to stay upwind so it couldn't smell him; never lit a fire to give himself away. Six goblins and a warg, and only one man to face them is long odds.

But goblins and wargs aren't fond of the daytime, they'll lie up somewhere if they can. The first one he killed south of Halecatch Lake while they were sleeping in the woods. Just one shot with the breeze in his face, and he slipped away to the East. The next day at dusk he took another as they were rousing in the South Chetwood. They hunted for him in something of a panic, but a hunter knows how to stay still, and they never found the tree he'd hidden himself in.

He lost them when they ran across the Marsh, but after Combe was attacked, he found them again in the North Chetwood, and another goblin died. They fled further north then, afraid of the arrows that came from nowhere. When the fourth died, it was too much for the last two. They broke, tried to desert the warg. It killed one. The other? Let's just say it didn't make it very far. And that just left the warg.

He took it on a clear, bright night, brazenly showed himself for the first time to that slavering beast. It must have known its fate, but attacked anyway. One clean shot took it in the breast, and it died at his feet. The head he left at West Gate, as you know, but where he went afterwards? Ah well, there's another half to this tale, but my throat is dry, so you'll have to wait a little before I tell you that!

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It's hardly a surprise that the King had Tharbad rebuilt. How can you rule the Royal Land & Stone Land both unless there be a good road between them? And a good road on a broad river is a natural place for a town. So it used to be, in the old days before bad times came; the plague, desolation, the fading of the old North Kingdom. Tharbad was a ruin still when he went south. So was the Great South Road. It isn't all that it might be now, believe you me! Good between Fornost and Bree; decent enough between Bree and Tharbad, but it's not much more than a grass track three leagues beyond the Greyflood. There's few folk still in Enedwaith. Imagine what it must have been when he left.

Aye, south he went. Where else was there for him to go? He might have gone east, it's true, but what was to the East? Dale is all, and that's a mighty long way for a man with no friends to go. South is better; I know. You can lose yourself in the wilderness, if you want to. I know! There are people there, scattered thinly enough, but there all the same. Why should good land be wholly fallow? But it's a hard life. Then there's Rohan, and all of Gondor. A man has choices. No, not Dunland; did I say before that people are clannish? Well, there clan is all. It's a poor life for any man from the North, worse from the South. They might trade with you; they'll never accept you. I know!

Remember, too, this was in the time of The War. The Dunlanders were wholly under the sway of the Wizard of Orthanc. The road skirts the edges of the lands they claim as theirs. Only if you travel straight south from the old elven refuge at Rivendell is there any need to pass through Dunland. Perhaps he did, but it was out of his way, and no tale I've heard says that he went there. I've spent time there, aye, and heard nothing of him, so I think he stayed with the road.

To put it plainly, to Rohan he came, and Rohan remembers him! For now. In two hundred years will you be remembered? And what can you say of your great-great-grandam now, eh? Little enough, little enough... I don't know what he planned. Maybe he never had a plan. I know he never came to Gondor. How? Well, listen, and you'll know too.

In the west of Rohan they speak of "The Breeman". When he was asked where he came from, he said "Bree!"; when he was asked his name, he answered "Is a name so important?", so it is said. Perhaps there were one or two he gave his name to, but "The Breeman" is how he was known, and he seemed content with that.

It was in the time when the King's son, Theodred, was killed, that was when he bought his fame; a terrible price he paid too. A bad time, a terrible, bad time. They talk about the Westfold and the Eastfold in the Mark, but there's more than that to it. The lands beyond the Isen are not, strictly, counted as part of Rohan. That's not to say there weren't folk as lived there, though. Why wouldn't they? If the land is good and people can make a living, live there they will. Men of Erkenbrand they would have been, brave and hardy, but vulnerable, so vulnerable, to the Wizard's marauders in that time.

How he came there, I do not know; to that part of the land that lies between the northern and western spurs of the White Mountains. Perhaps he found the Dunlendings and the servants of the White Wizard too thick to pass, and they drove him away from the road? Perhaps they already held the Isen Fords? I don't know whether he came there before or after the battle where Theodred, valiantly, vainly, lost his life. Whatever it was, he came into lands that were west of Westfold, west of the Isen, and yet were still of Rohan. Hams and tuns, smallholdings, stout fenced halls, or clusters of three houses together.

They were wary, of course, what else? And with his queer & solitary nature, he never made friends easily, I think. The folk drew in, drew back towards the mountains; abandoned the more vulnerable places down on the plains, drove their sheep and their cattle into the folds & dales of the White Mountains. What else could they do? Tales speak of heroes, not men. How many heroes do you know here? No, exactly! And there were no more here in The War, I'll warrant, but our tales of our town will tell you that there were!

Farmers, shepherds, craftsmen, labourers, hunters & trappers. Without making us warriors, our life puts us all in hard condition, so that if needs must, we can pick up a weapon. And, maybe, strength and endurance may make up enough for unhandiness and inexperience. No, I think men are only men, for the most part, and they'll do their best to do what they must when they have to. Does that make heroes of us?

So it was in Rohan, for those that could not cross the Isen, I think, judging by those that lived after. To them the Breeman would have been welcome, wary though they may have been. No warrior he, but was ever there better with bow? There, now! Now I sound like a bard speaking of heroes! "Every arrow found it's target; never a foe did he miss, though he shot for all the day..." For sure, he missed; albeit less , I think, than other men...

Their tales say they drew back, back as far as they could. Back so far that, beast or man, all went hungry. And out in front, far out in front, a screen of craft-wise men. The hunters, the brave, the venturesome, the foolhardy; those who knew the land, those who would learn, those who wanted no more than to keep the enemy as far from their families as they could for as long as they could. All, hoping against hope...

Hope ran out for the Breeman. A raiding party was found on the trail of 'steaders who stayed overlong. There's more than one tale, you'll understand, and I've no tongue to do any of them justice. Some say the Dunnish, some speak of worse. Some say they tried to protect the family, some that they tried to trick the pursuers away. All agree that the hunted were caught at the last. Turned the wrong way, into a cut with no out. Places to run and hide, but no escape and, in the end, only the Breeman to stand between them and death.

If e'er you go south and ask for this, they'll make more of it than I. I'm no storyteller to make a hero of him. Perhaps he was, I don't know. I don't know what happened to him. Only one knows his deeds that day and, I'll warrant, if that one could speak, he wouldn't! It wasn't his way.

I do know that all of their tales agree that all of the 'steaders were found, scattered but alive. I do know that all of the tales agree that he was found, at the last. No bow. No weapons. Terribly cut upon the arms as though, at the last, he'd used them to parry the blows rained in upon him. The trail of dead foes showed from whence he'd come. The fyrdmen, gathered in haste, that brought their kinsmen back to a higher safer pasture found also a corpse. A Breeman, still; but a Breeman still!

~~~~~~

What was his name? How do I know all this? His name matters to very few, and he's all but forgotten here already. I know it, aye, and I know the story because I went to the south seeking news of his fate. He was my grandfather's brother. Gramercy, sir! I will take another drink, by your generosity. There are other tales I could tell if you wish them, aye...

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Since I don't seem to be able to delete my previously reserved post, I will unashamedly bump instead, just to be sure you notice there's a new post... ;)

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