It was cold, and wet.
The unbelievable snow had been falling steadily for weeks on end, and the old man was weary; tired of running, tired of dodging the City Guard, tired of leading them on this endless run-around. It was time, he thought, to get this Game on the road.
" Nothing's the same anymore" he grumbled to himself, absently shifting the small bundle he held in his arms into a more comfortable position. " Bloody Daffyd! Had to go and set everything on it's bloody ear..!"
He walked with the ease of use through the dense forest, heading towards a clearing he knew lay some half-mile away. When at the treeline, he stood for some minutes, studying the open field and clearings that now lay before him.
"Bugger!" he muttered. Land he knew man and boy, carefully tended for generations, now lay deep in mud and snow, blasted and barren. This field, which no less than two months ago had been verdant, lush with the first growth of spring, was nothing more than a trampled and littered charnel wasteland. Huge scorched and blacked patches bore witness to the battle. Scattered everywhere were the gnawed carcasses; hundreds of casualties of many races, all ages. The battlefield was that removed from the City, that the bodies lay as the animals had left them, undefiled by those who would seek out places such as these, and loot the dead.
In the midst of this abomination, were the remains of what once was a prosperous farmhouse, it too a bizarre sculpted destruction. Charred and gutted, parts of it apparently remained standing for the simple reason it would be too much effort to collapse.
Still, thought the old man, it is standing, so to speak, and it's shelter, while limited, would be an improvement on that which he had. Again casting a thorough eye about for signs of the Guard, he slowly stepped out of the trees, then gathered himself and ran like the clappers of doom for the house.
Foundering in knee-high snow with his bundle still clutched under his arm, he found the remnants of the main door garlanded with snow hanging almost decoratively from the low thatching which survived, almost meeting the drifts outside. Puffing with the effort, he pushed his way inside, and leaning against the doorway, again searched for the Guard or their dogs. Seeing nothing, he finally snorted a breath in relief, and turned to look within.
' T'won't take more than a quarter hour for this wind to cover my tracks' he thought, and his attentions turned to what remained within the ruin, which might be of some use. But worse was what remained inside, than that which had become the exterior. Worse because signs of the home it had been still remained, albeit smashed and scattered about the room. Ominous dark stains were everywhere the snow was not.
"This," exclaimed the old man in a twisting fit of anger, " is what the whole Shire has become since Daffyd destroyed his Keep.. since the mad Elf blew himself and the rest of us too all to hell and gone! A world we're left with that none of us recognise, and fewer can exist in. Damn him for his arrogance! Damn him, for being right!"
Taking a moment and gathering calm like an old cloak, he slowly walked to the centre of the room, and gently righted a table which by some miracle had survived, deeply scarred, but otherwise intact. He set his bundle down with great care, and removing his cloak, wrapped the parcel within its soft grey folds.
He stood for a moment in the gloom of the deepening evening, and giving his head a slight rueful shake, waved his hands in a short series of gestures. Softly, a warm glow began to permeate the shattered room, easing the edges of destruction, the pain of the wreckage, chasing the shadows towards the corners like a terrier after a rat.