Fog on the Evendim Hills
Inside the Eagle’s Wing, Harlan Churner whistled happily as he wiped the counter clean of the night’s spilled drinks. He straightened the stacks of tankards along the back shelf and then turned back to the main room, giving the dark corners a searching look to decide which deserved the first attention of his broom. He grabbed the handle and came around the counter, dragging the straw under the nearby tables as he passed them. When he glanced up again, he was startled to see a strange-looking weather-beaten man sitting in the shadows near the front door!
The man was smoking a long-stemmed pipe with his legs stretched out before him, showing high boots of supple leather that fitted him well but had seen much wear and were now caked with mud. A travel-stained cloak of heavy dark-green cloth was drawn close about him, and a hood overshadowed his face.
“Hallo, there, now, we’re closed,” Harlan cautioned the stranger.
“I wish to speak with you.”
“Well, now, you’re speaking, then, aren’t you?” Harlan pulled the broom in front of him, holding it tightly in clenched fists.
“You seem to be afraid, and that is all to the good. You have been much too careless so far. Your door was not barred, else would I have knocked.”
“Go on, then!” Harlan urged. “What do you have to speak of?”
“Too many dark things,” the man replied. As he shifted in his seat, Harlan recognized the pattern of rents and tears in the man’s gear. He was one of the wandering folk— Rangers—and what his right name was, Harlan didn’t know; people along the Brandywine called him Patch-Cloak.
Seeing Harlan’s eyes widen, Patch-Cloak continued, “Care is needed. Orcs have been seen in the Evendim Hills. Watch every shadow. And lock your doors at night. Offer what succor you can to those in the surrounding settlements.” His pipe went out, and he rose, tapping it against the table. “People have gone missing from Riverrun, and I would see that such a fate does not befall those of Waterdown.”
“Lock the doors, right you are. I can do that.”
“You must do more than just that. This inn fills with folk in the evenings. You must warn them so they can keep their families safe. Stay near the river, away from the lake. I fear the ruins of Annúminas may no longer be abandoned—and not because of the King.” Patch-Cloak slipped quietly toward the door, pulling it open without a creak. “Keep watch, Master Churner. Foul things are about.”
Harlan scurried over to the door and locked it behind the departing Ranger. By moonlight, he watched from the window as Patch-Cloak vanished into the fog rolling off the river. It seemed to him that the Ranger was heading southwest, toward Lake Evendim, the very direction he had told Harlan was dangerous.