Alephnull and Kynta returned to Esteldin where they found that the chaos they had left earlier was still in progress. They found Tayrn outside the walls near the skirmish camp. The hunter was talking to Tagram and Melannuial.
“So we travel all the way up here just to be told to leave?” Tagram grumbled. “That’s outrageous!”
Melannuial shrugged. “The Rangers know nothing of an impending attack,” she said as the hobbits dismounted their ponies and walked up to them. “There is nothing for us to do here. They’re mad enough that several other Kinships have already showed up. With this many people here they could gather unwanted eyes.”
“Well,” Tagram huffed, starting to walk away and nearly walking on the two hobbits. Alephnull gave the captain an indigenous glare and Kynta squeaked as she ducked out of the way. “And where have you two been?”
“Finding winged wolves dead on the Kingsfell fields,” Alephnull said seriously.
Tagram blinked at him. “Winged wolves? There is no such thing.”
“Really. I’ll show you where they are If you don’t believe me.”
“We were going to go to Stoneheight,” Kynta said crossing her arms as she launched into her tale. Alephnull stood nearby – story telling was Kynta’s job. “On the way there I saw what I thought were rocks. I’ve never seen those rocks there before, I was sure of it. So we went closer and they were bodies of wolves and yes they had wings. I saw them with my own eyes. They are huge, like wargs but they were not wargs. I know what a warg looks like. Some had bat wings, some head bird wings. And the dread…the dread coming from that area was terrible. It was as bad as the time I fought Wobbler in that evil castle Mirkwood.”
“Wobbler?” Tagram asked, looking very confused. He turned to Melannuial who rolled her eyes.
“That’s the name she gave Mazog,” the elf explained.
“Oh, I see,” Tagram chuckled.
Kynta shrugged. “Well, he does wobble. When you’re chasing him through a damn swamp, ya notice.”
“Perhaps we should go find investigate these dead wolves,” Tayrn suggested after a moment. “I’m not going to go raise an alarm until we know what we’re dealing with, if we even are dealing with something unordinary.”
“What we’re dealing with are stubborn old men who like to play games with their allies,” a new voice said. Cocah walked up to them, looking sour and agitated. “And where were you two gallivanting around to? I hope you weren’t stirring up any more trouble.”
“Finding it is more like it,” Alephnull replied. He quickly repeated the story about the wolves. Cocah was frowning at the end. “The hunters here don’t believe us and want to go look themselves,” the warden added, crossing his arms and scowling at the two hunters, namely Melannuial.
The elf was already hefting her bow to her back. “It is not that we don’t believe you, Alephnull. There may be signs that you did not see that Tayrn and I would understand. Perhaps there is more to this riddle they you two saw.”
A small group mounted up and set out, following the two hobbits into the Kingsfell. Tayrn and Melannuial went with, as well as Cocah. They recruited the dwarf guardian, Wani, to accompany them, too. While they were investigating the wolf corpses, the Kinship would remain camped outside Esteldin in a location that would hopefully not draw attention to the Ranger’s refuge.
“What in the name of Mordor!” Kynta swore as they neared the location. Even under the sunlight that wavered between the bleak clouds both hobbits recognized the location though there was nothing left of the wolves. Not even a blood stain on the ground. “I swear this is the spot!” Kynta cried, sliding off her pony’s back and running around the spot. “I swear it!”
“There is nothing here,” Wani said, sounding very disappointed. “Not even rocks.”
They dismounted while the hunters began to walk around looking for signs of anything that might prove the hobbits’ tale correct. Kynta looked about ready to cry, continuing to claim that there had been something there while Alephnull went to find proof that they had been right.
“It must have been a trick of the morning mist,” Wani said. “Or perhaps you two are just underfed considering the trip.”
“No,” Melannuial said. “I think they told the truth.” She was walking around the area as if it was broken glass, eyes glued to the ground. Close by, Tayrn was also scouting the ground. “There is a strange feeling to this area but it is not evil. It is…strange but I do not feel any dread from it. Just a powerful aura of magic. The earth feels changed here and in some areas there seems to be tainted somehow.”
“There are tracks,” Tayrn said. “Paw prints,” he pointed to the trail he was following until it suddenly stopped. “It vanished.”
“How to paw prints vanish?” Cocah asked. “Did the creature jump?”
“Is it human or animal?” Wani asked, moving next to the human hunter to peer at the steps himself.
“Defiantly canine,” Tayrn said.
“Look!” Kynta suddenly cried. She was waving something in the air as she joined them. “It’s a feather! A bloody feather! See! I’m not making up tales!”
Melannuial inspected the feather, frowning before passing it to Tayrn who in turn gave it to Cocah. “Whatever these creatures are, I wish we knew what they’re doing up here in the North Downs. It is rather disturbing.”
“None of this makes sense,” Cocah muttered as he accepted the feather from Tayrn. “Are they a new breed of monster from Angmar sent to destroy Esteldin? The Rangers would have no defenses against such beasts.”
“The Rangers deny any danger,” Wani pointed out, leaning on his axe. “Perhaps they don’t know about these winged wolves. If what the hobbits say are true, then they will be a creature more feared then a warg or orc.”
Kynta nodded vigorously. “If they had dread like that coming off them while dead I don’t want to meet them while alive.” She shuddered to make her point. “Either way, I don’t think we should be leaving the North Downs yet. At least not until we figure out more about these winged wolves.”
Tayrn frowned. “While I still don’t see how a bloody feather and paw print gives credence to your tale,” he said, looking at Kynta and Alephnull, “I do agree to not leaving yet. This feeling that’s followed us up here has not yet dissipated.” Melannuial nodded.
“Let’s return to Esteldin,” Cocah said, handing the feather back to Kynta. “Keep that, Kynta. We may need it as proof.”
“To convince the Rangers that they’re in danger?” Alephnull asked.
“No,” the rune-keeper said. “Not yet. I do not think they are in the right mind to listen until we have more than a feather as proof.”
“But…where are we going to go?” Kynta asked as she went to tug Oreoh off the grass he was contentedly eating. “Please tell me we’re not sleeping in tents again!”
Cocah chuckled. “No. We’ll see if the dwarves at Othrikar are more hospitable then the Rangers of Esteldin. I, for one, would feel safer behind walls of stone made by my kind.”
Melannuial snorted but said nothing. There was once a time when she and Cocah had had many heated arguments. They had come to a mutual agreement – sometimes. As the group departed the wind stirred the grasses around the field. A of their mounts snorted, smelling the blood that had soaked into the earth enough to fool the simple eye.