~ The Journey Home ~
Once shrouded, and positioned westward, Dirk’s body was allowed to rest while the upper ranks of the Rangers and those of the Mithril Knights conferred.
There was no question, the Mithril Knights asserted; Dirk would be memorialized in Esgaroth and buried in sight of the Guildhouse and of the Lonely Mountain.
Perhaps, it was suggested, the Knight-Postulant Meneldor would carry him with honor back to Laketown but the young Great Eagle shook his head.
“No, my grief is too great to carry such a burden alone,” the young eagle said. “And I would not wish to deprive my fellow Knights of the honor of Dirk’s company on his final trip home. No, Dirk came with us to Carn Dum, and he shall leave with us and together we take the long road home.”
“But his remains, they will not keep for the duration of such a journey,” the Chief Ranger cautioned.
“Not unless we preserve them, as of old,” Anorast offered. And the Elf then recounted how, in ages past, the remains of valiant warriors were preserved for burial by submerging the body in distilled spirits, and kept safe from the air and sun, until delivered home to kith and kin so the proper rites could be observed.
“A coffin, made of young wood, sealed with pine pitch, that would serve,” a Ranger then added. “My father is a boatwright, and I know how to make the pitch…”
“And I am a carpenter, when not fighting orcs,” another Ranger said. “We can do this.”
“Our healers will not be pleased, but I’ll arrange that a barrel of spirits used for the cleansing of wounds be delivered to you,” the Chief Ranger added. “We will honor Dirk’s sacrifice by ensuring all can pay tribute to him in your Guild’s city. The free peoples of Middle Earth will be able to see his face as they bid him farewell, as is fitting a Mithril Knight and a son of Middle Earth.”
A coffin was made, the pitch boiled and applied. Dirk’s body was carefully, and respectfully, laid within and then seeped in the medicinal spirits. When the coffin lid was placed, the Knight Vana took a sharp intake of breath; they would not see their beloved friend until they reached Esgaroth. It was the beginning of the long trek home.
The coffin was placed onto a flat-bedded cart draped with the colors of the Knighthood. At the foot of the coffin was placed the Palantir of Amon Sul. Four torches were driven into the ground to mark the four directions and set ablaze as the dusk drew in and Meneldor agreed he’d keep the first vigil over Dirk’s body that night.
The Mithril Knights, battle weary and heavy hearted with grief, assembled at dawn the next day. They, along with several carts laden with tents, supplies and food and, most importantly, Dirk’s funerary cart, now pulled by two, splendid white horses, all turned southeastwards, towards The Great East Road.
Their journey would be long; once on the Great East Road they’d make for Rivendell, where they’d rest and revive themselves before making for the High Pass over the Misty Mountains and down onto the Old Forest Road. There, the journey would be straight, but long, through the Greenwood until they meet the River Running. Northwards, then, they would follow the western bank of the river until The Falls herald the southward tip of the Long Lake and then, following the western banks of the Long Lake they would arrive at their destination: Esgaroth. A journey of close to a thousand miles that would take nearly two months to finish.
Their progress was steady; their hearts and tongues were silent at first, however, all weighed heavy with grief. With the setting of each sun, a camp was made; the torches were set and lit around Dirk’s bier and a Mithril Knight would volunteer to keep the vigil, foregoing sleep. The morning would come and the camp struck; the procession would make its way for yet another day.
In time the grief eased and the Knights accompanying Dirk found their hearts somewhat lightened; some would find themselves smiling with a memory of their fallen friend, others would laugh at one of Dirk’s jokes, long told. Quiet conversations occurred where recollections were shared, as well as grief.
When the procession arrived at a village or hamlet, the inhabitants would mill about their encampment and ask about the coffin and the person therein. And, at the sight of the gleaming white horses and the brilliantly flaming torches, they’d exclaim: “He must have been a great warrior!”
“He was,” the Mithril Knights would explain. “A very noble and very brave man who gave his life so his fellow Knights would be victorious.”
The villagers would listen, wide eyed and sobered; suddenly aware of whom they were speaking with. “You’re the King’s Mithril Knights!” they’d exclaim. “You slew the dragon! Please tell us! Tell us the tale of Dirk the Daring and the slaying of the vile worm of Carn Dum!”
And so the Mithril Knights told the story, again and again with every village or hamlet they met and the people would listen, enthralled; they gasped at the amazing feats of the golden harp, cringed at the description of the horrid, flying cold drakes, cheered when hearing the tale of the dragon’s bright and spectacular demise, and they wept when told of the finding of Dirk’s remains.
The feats of the Mithril Knights became the stuff of tale and song during that long, procession home to Esgaroth. Troops of minstrels and troubadours would seek them out along the way, careful to learn and memorise every Knight’s name, every deed and thus the songs were written: ‘The Doleful Demise of Dirk, the Daring’, ‘The Cry of the Golden Dragon Harp’, ‘The Death of Mauglar, The Mighty’, ‘Tempest’s Lament’, ‘Vana’s Sigh’, ‘The Elven Knight, Son of the First Born’, ‘Speed On, Oh Eagle’s Wing’, and the touching and haunting ‘Niniel’s Tears’.
Their respite in Rivendell was brief; the sons of Elrond gave due respects to the fallen Knight, and took, on behalf of their brother-in-law, the Palantir of Amon Sul with promises of it’s safe installment in it’s home of old. The procession moved on, lumbering through the Misty Mountains without incident for no errant goblin or orc would dare attack such a mighty company. They reached the Old Forest Road and breathed deep the air of Rhovannion.
More villages and more hamlets were met and again, the people needed to hear their stories. And so the stories were told. At the end of the tales, as the night grew old and it was time to depart, many a village man or woman would quietly approach a Knight before returning home to their ricks or cots, and, along with a light touch upon the Knight’s arm, say ‘thank you.’
Once in the Greenwood, the procession was met with woeful song; the Elves raised their voices in lament for their adopted, fallen son. Quietly, without a word, the Mithril Knights were joined by ceremonially armored knights – Thranduil’s honor guard, wearing high helms and carrying gleaming spears. Their backs were straight, their eyes hard and their horses proud and Dirk’s memory was thus honored as he travelled through the King of the Greenwood’s dominion.
As the Mithril Knights arrived at the banks of the River Running, the songs of many thrushes could be heard ringing in the trees. Were there a true-hearted Daler present they would have heard and understood the thrush’s songs; all were praising the heroic feats of the Knights and all were pleased to see them return home. Anorast, with his keen hearing, thought he heard the voice of an old crow, calling out a hoarse and rasping ‘Welcome!’.
The news of their immanent arrival had reached the wooden halls of Esgaroth and the resplendent palaces and villas of Dale long before the Mithril Knights emerged from the Greenwood; Thranduil’s messengers heralded their coming. Throngs of people met them along the road, carrying flowers and banners but all were silent. The people came to welcome their heroes home with respect and honor, all filing in silently behind the procession as it wound its way northward towards Esgaroth.