Meandering about on the hillsides of the old Twilight Estates, Ragnbourg was lost in the reflections of the night while her mind seemed content to waver like a driven sea; tossing to and fro as if by a westward gale. Unexpectedly, however, a voice called her from her thoughts, and for the suddenness of the sound, Ragnbourg drew up her axe by the hilt!
"Peace, Daughter of Beorn." Spake the voice of the Elven maid standing amid the broken and entangled boughs of a lesser tree. Ragnbourg looked up, and knew not what to make of the stranger, for surely she had never seen this other before.
"Who are you?" Ragnbourg said, and though her words were in her heart chosen for the confusion, they came to her lips rather coldly.
"A wanderer." Was the simple reply, and the Elven maid, knowing these words would not satisfy, spoke on. "The two of us are alike in that way, are we not?"
Ragnbourg was quiet a moment, thinking of what she might answer.
"I do not know you, stranger." The Beorning woman said after awhile. "Why do you approach me? It is not oft wise to seek my kind in the night, and but for my thoughts I might surely have been in a far different state than you see me now."
"Had that been the case, you would find that it would make no difference to me." Answered the Elf evenly. "I speak the languages of both men and of beasts, of trees and of the earth... Another thing, perhaps, in which we are alike."
Hearing this, Ragnbourg grew more confused at the appearance of this Elf, and ventured ask again in a voice more genuine than before, "Who are you?"
"I am neither a light in the void nor a shadow under starlight." Answered the Elf.
"You speak strangely. You have answered me what you are not, but not who you are." Ragnbourg replied. "If you will not tell me, then I do not know why we need speak further tonight."
"We speak because you are wounded, though you do not know it." This time as the Elf spoke, her voice was direct, and it caused Ragnbourg's blood to run chill with coldness.
"... How do you know this?" Rangbourg asked, and for the first time in a long time, she could not muster the slightest ounce of anger to defend herself from her fear.
"The thing is known to you, for it has caused you a hurt in previous days and although there has been no loss of blood or flesh, you are weighed down by a grievous affliction."
The Beorning woman trembled. There was no way she could think of to explain why she did not argue, and nothing she could think to say that would dissuade the Elf from her words, for Ragnbourg knew verily that they were true.
"Please," she ventured now, with so much timidity that she might later scarcely believe herself capable of it. "Will you not tell me who you are?"
Now, it seemed as if the Elf gave a moment to thought, for Ragnbourg heard her sigh softly in the boughs and there was a minute of silence. Then at length the Elf did speak, and her voice was gentle. "I will not give my name, for it displeases me when it is idly used. But this I will say; that on the Mountain on which you stand, though I belong not to it, I pass by and lend my hand withersoever I will in such matters. Tonight, I lend mine to you, for I know the cause of your stumbling, and I know also that I may mend it."
"How so?" Ragnbourg said, staring up at the figure in the tree with confusion in her eyes and earnest perplexity in her heart.
"I have eyes to see," the Elf replied. "And though I would hope this answer to be sufficient, I know you cannot understand it, so I will further explain; As light enables men's eyes to perceive images of the world around him, I may perceive other material that needs not be evident to be real."
As Ragnbourg pondered this and tried to understand, her hands slowly tightened to fists and her feet relented their stance. "Very well. I do not know you, and I do not fully understand what you have said. But for reasons I cannot grasp, it is impossible for me to compel myself to disregard you. Therefore, you may take what you will from me."
"Nay, I will take nothing." The Elf answered quickly. "It is for the same reason that you feel so much anxiety for the earth that you cannot bring yourself to disregard me, because your ability to commune with nature also enables you to speak freely with me. Such is your gift, and mine. But put away your weapon, Daughter of Beorn, and I will come down."
Ragnbourg had not noticed that up until that moment she had retained her axe in her hand. Now being reminded of it, Ragnbourg drew the weapon back to her side, but in a moment of consideration, she hesitated to put it away.
"Nay," she said aloud. "I will place it on the ground, so that I may not be tempted to use it, for I know readily that you can see my fear. Nonetheless, I will not take up my axe."
True to her word, Ragnbourg knelt down and laid the axe on the grass, then stood and took from it several steps.
The Elf watched Ragnbourg's actions carefully through her pale green eyes, and, as the axe was lain aside, she fluidly descended from the boughs. There was not a sound to be heard when the Elf alighted on the earth, nor did she seem much bent by the leap, but touched softly and stood erect.
"Will you draw off the covering of your head and shoulders?" The Elf asked gently.
Ragnbourg was hesitant, but she complied with the request and took off her hat and the fur shawl that was wrapped about her shoulders, placing both items on the ground.
Looking keenly but with a sensitive gaze, the Elf met eyes with the Beorning. "How did it happen?" She said.
"I do not know." Ragnbourg replied. "I can scarcely remember the events that led to it. All I can recollect was that there were mounds of earth, and there was a cry from within, as if someone were in dire need. So I went in, and I remember no more until that terrible icy hand gripped my shoulder. I do not remember else after that, but I must have torn from the barrow with awful wrath, for when I came to myself again I found that I was no small distance away from that place and I was not as I was when I went in."
"Since that time," Ragnbourg continued, "It has been as if the smell of death, or whenever I have felt the presence of wandering shades, has caused me to be haunted by the memory, and my mind is soon overcome by insurmountable anger... I have kept it completely my own...."
"Know this, then, Daughter of Beorn," The Elf said, after hearing the tale. "That contrary to the whims and demands of fate, you have been made to continue another man's story, though it be ended. It was by little fault of your own, and in that you may have comfort, but I will tell you the tale that proceeded your coming to the Barrow of the Herdsman, and then tell you what must be done."
Although Ragnbourg did not yet understand, and nor could she fathom how the Elf knew of this particular matter, she was grateful for answers and listened with earnest interest.
"In an age I shall not name, only let it be said that it was long before your mortal arrival in this world, a man came to sojourn on the plains of an uninhabited land. From a boat he had come off the sea and made his mind to dwell amid nature's beasts, to serve them as healer, steward, and friend. To them, he was known by the name Keeper, after they came to understand his reasons for dwelling within their domain. There was peace and conflict-ended in his time, his days were spent in service to animals. But they were lonely days for a man, and they did not last, for men were at that age of the world engaged in great explorations and conquers - and conquering nature was no less their endeavor."
"Great ships arrived on the shore of the man's peaceful land, and those that came from them began their tireless effort to extract a living from the wood and bountiful riches of the earth that were found in plenty there. But where men toil they must also reap, and for strength they needed what-with to subsist themselves on, thus the animals began to be slain. It was the desire of this man that these unwanted visitors should leave, and discontinue their work of destruction, but try as he might to forbid them, they continued their work."
"What ire was raised! What terrible hatred poured forth, as the land began to be desolated! Woe befell the man, as it must needs do to all who cradle such loathing and animosity for their own race. He cursed the sailors with tongue and deed, and they cursed him when once they knew the cause of his fight - for they were desirous to be rid of him and thus actively hunted those beasts that he knew. All were slain, and with their passing a boiling wrath infested the man's heart, and drove him that he might enact vengeance for the loss of blood with more blood. So it was. Then, for all that was then done, the sailors conceived to bring an end to their torment, and thus sought out the man. Terrible was his end, and those that were his killers also were those that placed him within the mounds."
"But his spirit did not sleep, nor did his body rest - all for the wrath that was kindled in his heart. Deep was his barrow, and deeper still his hatred for men." The Elf maid said. "Long, however, was he made to dwell where light does not descend, and he plotted his revenge in those dark places of the earth, forbidden to rise."
Ragnbourg listened, and felt all the while much colder in body than she ever had prior.
"He knew well that he would never be able to escape his prison, Daughter of Beorn." The Elf said, and her voice was no less than it was before, though she could see Ragnbourg's unrest. "Therefore, he who's story was ended, sought another to act in his place."
There was a stiffness in Ragnbourg's limbs and something quite hard to swallow in her throat, so she said nothing for the moment and the Elf continued.
"It might well be known to you, that had he found a person bereft of their own malice and anger, that nothing could have been done against you..." She said, and her pale green eyes leveled with Ragnbourg's gaze as she tilted her chin downward.
The Beorning woman was still, and said nothing.
"But now, I have told you all that need be told, and what remains is what may be done." As this was said, the Elf turned and swiftly got herself back up into the tree, looking downward on the Beorning once again. "It is this: The wight can have no satisfaction in death for his crimes in life - and his hatred against those who wronged him will prove vain, for their time is far past. But his anger will thrive where it is given room to thrive, and his desires will not rest until his anger is no more. Therefore, the answer is one that is hard for mortals to hear, but nonetheless the answer; Forgive those who have caused you hurt, and release your own anger, then the Wight's Wrath will depart. But if you do not, then you will carry it to your grave, even as he did."
Truly, even as the Elf had said, Ragnbourg did not find these words easy to hear, nor comforting, but after a moment she found the strength and bowed to collect her shawl and hat from the ground. When she stood again, she went to pick up her axe, and looked once more to the Elf in the tree. But where she looked, Ragnbourg saw only the gnarled branches and the empty night sky... the Elf was gone.
There was much to think about, and the night hills of the Twilight Estates felt even more quiet and lonely than before. But unlike how Ragnbourg had felt when first wandering here, the stillness and silence seemed dreadful and unwelcome, so she left the hills quickly, and went back to Ost Forod. Tomorrow, at sun's first light, she and her brother would depart from the hills and go again to Oatbarton, where there they would aid the folk of Northcotton on their errands.
Such was the strange encounter of a wanderer in the hills of Evendim...