In little under an hour, the Otter, as Menrial had christened her rowboat, passed out of Mirkwood’s dark shadow and into the wildlands. Here, bleak, foreboding wetlands stretched to the horizon. The wind blew cold and harsh over a desolate landscape, making Menrial shiver and pull her grey cloak tighter. So much open space was alien and unsettling for one who had lived all her years in the close ways of the forest. She did not feel very adventurous.
Contrary to what Aris had told her, there was no village on the way, only a few run-down, empty houses half-sunken into the mud. There had been many floods and two earthquakes in earlier years. Menrial supposed that the village had been abandoned because of them, as the marshes encroached on what had once been firm ground. Perched on a crumbling wall, a lone crebain cried raucous words to the wind.
Menrial shuddered, and hurried on her way. This journey was not off to a promising start.
A few hours after noon, she was surprised to see other boats in the distance. Cautiously, she rowed closer, until she could make them out more clearly. An elven supply train had stopped by the side of the river, and many elves were hurriedly piling barrels and sacks into various water craft. There looked to be far more supplies than there were vessels to carry them.
Menrial stopped rowing, indecisive. Should she go on, and let herself be seen, or should she stay behind until she knew what was going on? But the choice was made for her rather abruptly, by the sharp eyes of one of the fair-haired raftsmen.
“Mellon!”, he called. “What is an elfmaid doing so far from the forest? Do you bear news from the king’s regent?”
“My name is Menrial, and I am on an private errand.”, Menrial answered, when she’d closed much of the distance between them.
The raftman frowned. “Is it urgent? We could use another vessel here. Though yours is a bit fine for supply hauling.” He eyed the Otter admiringly. “I’ve not seen carvings like that for many a year. Why, they almost remind me of…”
“Why this sudden need?”, Menrial cut in swiftly, hoping to deter any uncomfortable questions. “I had thought that the king and his army were traveling by land.”
“Messengers from Laketown came to us a little under an hour ago, pleading for aid.”, the raftman explained. “The town was destroyed when Smaug fell. We’re sending as many supplies ahead by water as possible.” He shook his head. “I hear they’re in bad straits, with winter coming on.”
Menrial thought of the ruined village, and the crebain’s call echoed faintly in memory. “If that’s the way the wind blows, I’ll be happy to carry supplies for you.”, she said. And then, as an afterthought; “I was heading towards Laketown in any case.”
The raftman smiled in relief. “Hannad, Menrial. Just pull up to shore, and tell someone Feanil sent you to help. They’ll tell you what to do next.”
“I’ll do that.”, said Menrial, and she did.
The other elves accepted her help gratefully, although a few eyebrows were raised at her gender. Soon the Otter was piled full of supplies, so that it rode several inches lower in the water. Then, following instructions, Menrial rowed out and joined a group of smaller boats. Within an hour, the entire supply train set off down the river to Laketown.
Mellon = Friend
Hannad = Thank you.