<strong><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>Chapter Two: Breaking</span></strong>
A gentle shaking of her shoulders and her eyes flew open. She didn’t remember falling asleep, didn’t remember dreaming. It had been an empty, uneventful sleep of a person who is so desperately weary that even their minds are too weak to wander.
The voice of a Ranger apologized for waking her. She turned over and propped herself on her elbow. She stared at him with red-rimmed eyes that seemed to warn of an impending explosion. He was unknown to her, one of the nameless faces that she knew would never feel pain like hers. She despised him.
“The Captain requests you, miss,” he stammered, wary of the way she resembled a snake poised to spring. “The company is preparing to ride out.”
She sighed and crawled out of her cocoon, following the Ranger over to Halbarad’s tent. The namelss Ranger ambled away, off to complete a menial chore before he and the rest of the Grey Company departed. She watched him leave, envying him. Though he was easily twice her age, she knew that she was feeling a deeper pain than he had ever, nor would ever, feel for himself. Jealousy.
“Come,” Halbarad’s voice brought her back to the present. “Pack up your things. We have much land to cover today. We may even have to go into the night, thanks to your little cat-nap.”
Her eyes darted up at him, instantly defensive towards his insinuation; but she saw that he was smiling. “Only a jest, my friend!” he said. “Only a jest.”
Now she found that she was angry at him, that he was able to joke when she was hardly able to think. She shook her head, hiding her resentment as best as she could, and turned to pack up her things. She knew in the corner of her mind that Halbarad was a friend, not one to be angry at; but there was nothing for it. She would be angry at anyone she wanted: the unknown Ranger for not knowing real pain; Halbarad for being in any mood other than a dark one; and herself for letting her mentor, and the only mother she had ever known, die while she did nothing.
That was it. In the middle of the now empty encampment, Mithnen fell to her knees and wept. Tears ran down her face and splashed onto the ground, pockmarking the dirt. Her head fell into her hands and they too, soon became wet with her sorrow. Halbarad knelt beside her and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. She fell heavily into him, covering her face with her hands, and he held her tighter.
“I know,” he mumbled under her sobs, his voice cracking slightly with emotion. “I know.”
She grabbed his shirt and buried her face in his chest, stretching her legs out while her heels dug angrily into the dusty pineforest floor. “Why?” she moaned, her chest heaving with exertion. “Why did she have to go? Why did they take her from me?” More sobbing, asking the same question over again.
She felt the jaggedness in Halbarad’s breath as he held her, but she did not make sense of it. “I don’t know,” he said quietly. Stroking the girl’s hair, Halbarad felt the torrent of her emotions wash over him and it was all he could do to keep from joining her in her lament. “It will be good again,” he whispered. This only brought more tears.
“How?” she demanded, her voice muffled in the fabric of his shirt. “How could it possibly go back to good when so much bad has happened?” The last few words were forced out on the tail of a vocal sob.
His sigh was broken, and getting more ragged with each breath he attempted to take. Then it became too much, and he held the girl closer as he wept silently into her dark hair. “I don’t know,” he said quietly.
The two of them sat there, in the middle of the abandoned camp, wrapped in their grief.
After hours of walking and running through the vast pine forests of Lamedon, the two of them had finally reached the foothills of the Ered Nimrais. The sunlight of that day had already begun to fade and aduial was quickly following. The twilight between the sunset and starrise had always been Mithnen’s favorite time of the day in the summertime; but now she took little notice of it and simply followed at Halbarad’s heels through the increasingly sparse pine trees.
The attack by the river two nights prior had left its mark on the girl. She could claim that she was more aware of her environment, though it would have only been a nicer way of saying that she was more paranoid. At every crack of a twig and rustle of pine needles she would look over her shoulders and quicken her pace. She had never been truly scared of staying in the wilderness at night, and now she began wondering if she would even be able to sleep. Crickets serenaded each other in the shadows, their lulling tunes making her feel somewhat at ease; though it was not enough.
As they approached the start of the slope of the nearest foothill of the Ered Nimrais, Halbarad’s swift pace slowed to a comfortable walk. “I think we can continue through the mountains in the morning,” he stated, dropping his pack onto the ground. “We can make camp here for tonight, if you go fetch some firewood.”
Mithnen cast a gaze full of doubt and fear at the elder Ranger, and he instantly took her meaning.
“Well if you want I can come with you,” he offered, knowing that his new charge was still afraid of an ambush. So he shouldered his pack once more and the two of them ventured amid the pines for proper firewood.
“You know,” Mithnen began as she bent to pick up a fallen pine branch, “you still haven’t really told me where we’re headed, except for ‘north.'”
“Well for now,” Halbarad started, rising from his stooped position, “we make for the Westfold of Rohan. There are troubles there-” he stopped himself from going into details, unsure if the girl was emotionally prepared for their charge, after the tragedy that had befallen her mentor. But he watched her and she seemed undaunted, so he went on. “When the men and I passed through there on our way to Ithilien we were stopped by Théodred, the king’s son and Second Marshal of the Mark. It seems that battle with Isengard is imminent, at least from what I gathered by his speech. Strange orcish creatures, apparently sent forth from Isengard and bearing his White Hand, are roaming through the Westfold, burning as they go.”
“And?” Mithnen asked, somewhat angry, but mostly afraid, though she did her best to hide both. “Why should I be concerned with the business of Rohan? Why should you?”
Halbarad paused, setting his sights northwest. A sudden chill breeeze moved through the pines, their trunks and branches creaking as they swayed, as unsettling and as unseen as a specter that moves through an empty corridor. He felt a shudder move down his spine. “Let us continue our talk around a fire, the daylight is fading too quickly for my liking.”