Darkness was coming down quickly. The walls of Bree had come into view as we’d crested a hill a few hours earlier, and I expected us to arrive just before nightfall, but there was an odd chill in the air, and the sky turned purple earlier than I expected, as if autumn had advanced more here than in other places.
The South Downs gave way to the hills of Bree-land, and for the first time since we left Rohan, as we rode through the day, we saw homes and farms, all the signs of cheerful domesticity. Mindful of the possibility that others might have been told of a reward, we kept to ourselves as best we could, but time and again some farmer would call out a merry greeting as we rode past. The Greenway here was traveled occasionally and we stepped aside for a waggon twice during the day, one heading north to Bree laden with an early harvest to be sold, and another returning nearly empty.
Though we had found dry land, it was some days before we found the first of the flagstones that marked the Greenway. Without the sight of those stones, we had simply pressed on in a northerly direction, trusting that the narrowing of the hills would guide us, as wine through a funnel, closer to the old road. Soon the land rose before us, the rolling hills of the South Downs, and we veered to the left, eventually finding a paving stone sitting in the low grass. In our meanderings crossing the fens of the Gwathló near Tharbad, we had drifted a fair distance east, it seemed, and thus missed our chance to use the ruins of the bridges that still forded the river at the old city; but now, we’d made our way back to the path.
It seemed that, in realizing we needed to be warned off this dangerous ground, Mushiebottom had come to understand our limitations in traveling through the mire. Once we were prepared and on our way again, the bog-lurker kept darting ahead, and when we thought to follow, even when the land seemed yielding or uneven of footing, it proved true. Within but a few days, the looming ruins were now behind us more often than not, and a few days after that, the ground started to become firm. At last, we were reaching the far side of these plains of bog and mire. Even as we crossed from mud to grass and bushes and even trees, Mushiebottom showed no signs of any intent to return to the fens, instead staying near to Shadryn like a faithful hound.
As much as I might have found Mushiebottom’s name hard to take seriously, and a reminder of Shadryn’s hurtful assessment of me, I would, in time, find myself quite grateful for its presence in our company.