Chapter 1: A Stranger in the Woods
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"Damrod, Mablung, it is good to see you back!" Faramir quickly counted the rangers as they entered the caves of Henneth Annûn single file, "it's good to see you all back," he added with a sigh of relief when the last ranger entered the secret complex.
He had been Captain of the Ithilien Rangers for barely a month and already Faramir had lost a number of good men to various skirmishes with Orcs. When the scouting party lead by the two Dúnedain rangers had not returned on the arranged day, or the day after, or the day after that, Faramir had seriously started to worry, even though many of the veterans had, when they noticed their young captain fretting, assured him it was not at all uncommon for scouting parties to stay out longer than planned. But still, in the short time he'd been there, Mablung and Damrod had quickly become Faramir's most trusted advisors; his friends even -for his part anyway- and he couldn't imagine leading the company without their support.
While the rest of the men busied themselves with finding comforts such as fresh clothes, hot stew and a place near the fire, the two Dúnedain turned to their captain. "There is a stranger in the woods just south from here," Damrod started, "we followed him for a few days, but he wouldn't let us get too close."
"It didn't look like he had spotted us, not from what we could see, but each time we moved towards him, he moved with us, away from us," Mablung added, trying to clarify, "we couldn't get close enough to see who, or what, he was. And we thought it best not to crowd him, not until we had spoken with you."
"A spy, you think?" Faramir asked.
"Could be," Mablung sounded doubtful, "but there are a lot of creatures on the move these days with good reasons to keep to themselves. Not all fiends, not at all. Many Elves travel trough these parts for instance. Though not alone of course."
But Damrod snorted, his mind was made up: "What would anyone but a spy be doing so close to Henneth Annûn, and sneaking around at that! If he were a friend, he'd come greet us, not run from us! He is alone and on foot; with a larger party of Rangers we can easily encircle and capture him. Let us bring him in and have him answer for his behaviour."
Faramir nodded, taking it all in. He also didn't miss that Damrod looked very tired, and Faramir presumed that his exhaustion combined with the frustration he must feel after chasing this stranger around for days without any result, may well have had their influence on his bold words. "Mablung, what do you think?" he asked turning to the other ranger.
"Well, Captain, I should think it'd be wise to first find out who this stranger is, before we decide to contact, or even capture him. We stayed at a distance now because he kept moving away, but that's not saying we couldn't get any closer if we really wanted to."
But we might also be caught in a cat-and-mouse game for days again, Faramir thought, regarding the ever-cautious Dúnedan. Hardly the kind of swift and decisive action his father always praised in Boromir's command.
What happens next?
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