I'm a pioneer in Forochel, or so my title tells me, but I still feel as if I don't know this untamed land. It's the roof of the world, or so they say, with odd peoples, strange languages, and frozen ruins. I see sights there that I never would anywhere else in Middle-earth, and it almost feels like an alien world removed from all I've known because of that.
I walk toward a distant fire while the snow falls behind me and covers my footprints. Too often I think of how far away I am from the safety and warmth of home, and it frightens me. Am I a fool to forge into this land? To go in the opposite direction of the One Ring? Or is this my destined path?
The natives of Forochel -- the Lossoth -- are as far removed from the Men of Bree, of Rohan, and of Gondor as could be. The outside world doesn't bother them, for the most part, and they don't care what goes on elsewhere. Here it's about survival, the hunt, and the untamed beauty of the frigid north.
They see me and frown, calling me "Sivullinen" -- outsider -- once I come within speaking distance. What hospitality they have is reserved for their own, and words do not need to be said to convey that they would be happiest if I would just pass on by. I don't. I stop and talk, keeping my voice strong but humble. I ask for work and seek opportunities to prove myself useful. The snow men send me on tasks both trivial and death-defying, but I complete them all without comment or complaint. Slowly, ever so slowly, I chip away at the frozen snow to reveal the heart underneath.
These are a proud people, I know. What they lack in culture and civilization they make up for in sheer ingenuity and grit. Day in and day out they survive and even thrive in a place that picks the bones clean of tundra bears. They have mastered the mammoth, erected great halls, and held off from succumbing to the temptations of Angmar. I admire them, even though I have little chance of being welcome by them.
I am not the only outsider there, I am pleased to find. A fellowship from the south encountered hardship and was split up across the region. I help them as I can and bask in their friendy countenances. I wish them the best of luck and think often as to whether or not that fellowship ever reunited.
A fool would travel to Forochel, see its blinding white, and pronounce it empty and void. I know better. Its history is not as accessible as it is elsewhere, but that makes it more compelling to seek out and uncover. Great battles have been fought in the region, terrible battles that stained the white land crimson -- until the next blizzard, that is. I traverse these battlefields and find mementos here and there. Many of these I crouch down next to and look at them intently until they give up their story. Some are reluctant to do so, but I can tell so much from a few nicks and a torn cuff.
Besides, once night falls you don't need an object in the hand to tell you a tale. The ghosts themselves come out to howl their legacy as they slither over their long-forgotten corpses. They do not frighten me, of course. I need only to look up at the shifting colors of the night sky and be reminded that beauty covers all. And so I listen, murmur back, and leave with their stories in my heart.
One of the members of the doomed fellowship warned me not to test the waters of the great Ice Bay, not even in a small boat. "It is sure death," she said, "a death that pushes up against the land and hungers for all in it."
I believed her. I believed her more when I saw an elk stumble off of a hillock and land with a splash into the shallows. Even though the water could not have been more than a few feet deep, the elk did not come back out.
And so when my journey took me to the shores of that slate-gray water, I kept my distance and watched the pyramids of ice float in solemn procession. Then I turned around and went as far away from them as I could. This path took me to hot springs and welcome heat, and I shed my crusted cloak as I made shelter that night.
As I cooked a pair of coneys that I caught along the way, I thought about the eventual return trip. There was no question of staying; the Lossoth would not have me, and I was not trained to live in such a climate. My supplies would allow me to linger for another day or two, but the south beckoned.
Still, I knew that when I left I would feel a pang of regret at leaving such a place. It was free here, freer than many places I had visited, and honest, too. There were no politics to navigate, no marching armies to avoid, no dark riders bearing ill omens. It was man and beast and snow, a portal back to a time before this one. I would miss it dearly.
After finishing my meal and sketching a winter-worm that warily eyed me, I rewrapped my cloak about me and wandered back to the road.
And after the crunch of my footsteps faded, the snow fell to cover any trace that I was ever there.
When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at email@example.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.