It had been a day since Darramir left his companions in Minas Tirith. Some planned to stay and fight, others were to return to Bree by boat. For Darramir, his path was the open road. If this truly was to be the end of days, it was time to pay his respects to the places and friends he left behind. If there was to be a war, he was going to fight it from his home: Bree. If the Dark Lord was any sort of tactician, there would no doubt he a force descending from Angmar was well.
When first leaving the city, Darramir saw a fair number of travelers on The Greenway, the majority of which were headed to the White City. Whether they did this simply to visit or to find safety from the coming storm, he knew not. By midday, he found himself looking down on a small settlement in southern Anorien. This small border-town was aptly named Edrain, but more specifically it was his birthplace. After taking a steadying breath, the lone Gondorian urged his smokey steed forward.
As he slowly made his way through the town, it became rather apparent what little change had occurred over the eighteen years he had been gone. It was just as he remembered. The buildings were largely unchanged aside from a new roof here or a bit of paint there. He had expected it to be in some state of disrepair with all that was going on, but strangely it seemed in better condition than ever. The stable where he once worked was as it always had been, and perhaps more alarmingly, the old stable master, Himlad, shouted orders at his employees the same as he always had.
Darramir found it hard not to stare at the old man. Edrain was the same, and yet it felt alien and far from home. Before him was his first employer. This man, while perhaps a bit abrasive, had taught him his first trade and was one of the first men in his life he aspired to make proud. Now, a score of years later, here he was only a few feet away.
“Something you need, stranger?” Himlad asked expectantly. Darramir blinked away his thoughts, realizing the stable master had caught him staring. The stable boy looked up from filling feedbags and stared at the traveler.
“Oh, no. Apologies,” Darramir quickly replied. “Simply lost in thought.” In an effort to avoid further conversation and uncomfortable questions, Darramir began to continue on, but before his mare could take another step, he pulled back on the reins and turned back to Himlad. “Actually… a question for you. The paupers’ graves, those are just west of town, aye?”
Himlad eyed the horseman for a long moment before giving a curt nod. “Aye. Surrounding the oak tree. You’ll not miss ’em. Got a corpse to visit?”
Darramir simply nodded in answer. “My thanks,” he said politely before giving his steed a light tap with his heel. With that, he was off.
As Darramir turned off the road and headed west to the lone oak tree, he pondered why he had asked for directions. This was a route he knew well despite his time away. There was no reason to ask. Perhaps he just wanted to make conversation.
Unable to come to any logical conclusion, Darramir abandoned the thought and it was not long before he found himself before rows of small stones forming concentric circles around the old oak. The stones were known as the paupers’ graves, or the graves of the unclaimed. If bodies were not claimed by a family, they were put in a pine box and buried here among the rest of the unwanted.
Darramir dismounted and led his horse through the circles with purpose. He came to rest before a small stone in one of the inner circles. Like the others so close to the tree, this stone was covered in moss and was claimed by the earth long ago.
With a strange mix of reverence and discomfort, Darramir knelt before the grave and gently pulled away the moss, revealing the nameplate, which simply read “Caeleril”. As the graves belonged to the unclaimed, they were marked without any sort of family name or identifier. To most, this name was meaningless.
He lightly traced the hastily-engraved name with his fingertips and took a long, steadying breath. “Rest well, emel,” he said in a whisper as he climbed back to his feet, his respects now paid.
As he returned to his mare, he found himself thinking of what would become of his body when he passed. After all, he had successfully burnt almost every bridge he had. Who would claim him?
Perhaps it was high time he looked to the future instead of mourning the past.It was time to make sure his grave read more than just “Darramir”. It would not be overgrown and forgotten as his mother’s was. Now was the time to mend bridges. It was the time to make a new home. His life had cost his mother’s hers. He would not waste it.