A Lady's Tale - Part Seventeen
The first rays of a warm, rosy, dawn stretched high over the darkened sky. The plants reached out to the lightening heavens and sang with pleasure as the warmth of the sun touched their leaves and petals.
But the sun was not so welcome everywhere. To the two sleeping forms on the grass, it was a call to consciousness that they did not want. Nori rolled over and groaned, and Analsiel just lay still and twisted her face, afraid of reopening her arm wound. But the sun was right in her eyes, so she had to get up. She promptly fell back to the ground again. The world was spinning. Spots of color whirled in front of her bleary eyes, making it impossible to see clearly. She closed her eyes to fix them, and it was the last thing she did all day.
She woke again the next evening. Twilight was just closing in, and night birds were starting to sing softly as stars rose. She was more cautious as she stood this time, remembering her earlier attempt. She had made it all the way to her knees when she felt a soft muzzle at her neck. Carandae was standing beside her, her water skin held gently in his teeth. She took the canteen and gulped the contents, for she hadn't noticed how dry she had been. The cool water was stale, but it caressed her throat like silk, and she finished all of it in her next swallow. Then she turned her attention to her horse.
He was well and awake, but in terrible shape. His withers and flanks had been scratched up and down by the branches that he had snagged on him as they fled the spiders. He was filthy, and his were full of rocks. When Analsiel examined Sunbeam, Nori's horse was no better than her own. She staggered over to her packs and pulled out her bathing things. She remembered a pond nearby and wanted desperately to wash off all the forest dirt she had accumulated on their long run. And the horses could help.
She crawled on all fours down to the pond, for she did not have the strength to stand. But when she reached the water, she stood and took off her filthy clothes and unsaddled the horses, then wrapped her arms around Carandae's neck, and beckoned Sunbeam into the water. Neither horse needed any urging. The water was warm in the early morning sun, a pleasant surprise that Analsiel was intensely grateful for. Carandae held still and supported his exhausted mistress until she was accustomed to being on her feet. Then she un-plastered herself from her faithful horse's neck and sank down into the pond to wash her hair and herself. Carandae joined Sunbeam and the two splashed out to the deeper part of the pond where they washed themselves and helped clean each other's cuts.
When Analsiel was happy with her own state of cleanliness, she called the horses to her and began to rub at their sore and dirty hides. They had faithfully carried their riders to safety without once faltering and it was the very least she could do in return. She planned to do more, but this was the most she was capable of in her current condition. Then she went to fetch her pack, and Nori's and came back just as the soaked horses were climbing out to dry in the sun. She opened the packs and spread out all their clothes, along with some food. The bread was still soft, and the cheese was warm from lying in the sun. She broke off a few pieces of each, and stuffed them in her mouth. The two apples she had brought went to the horses. Then she dunked all of her clothes in the clear blue water and scrubbed at them with the soap Nori had brought for herself. Then she laid them out to dry on a warm rock that was right in the sun's path. After that she washed Nori's clothes. While she waited for them to dry, she ate more of the food and drank some thick milk that was warm, but still good. She checked her clothes and found a sunny yellow dress of Nori's that was dry enough to wear, and as soft as it's color. She slipped it on over her head and left her feet bare. Then she flung herself out on the grass as the horses surrounded her. Her only though before she fell asleep was "Well, you overdid it and you deserve whatever comes to you..."
When Nori awoke, she saw that her friend had left their resting place and that she was down by the pool she could see in the distance. A wisp of brown hair was whipped in front of her face by the wind. Wait...Brown? Disgusted, Nori realized her hair was dirty in place sit looked as if she really did have brown hair instead of blond. She crawled in much the same way Analsiel had as she went down to the pool. Once there, she hardly spared a glance for her friend, who it seemed was asleep, but only plunged into the water, expecting its icy chill to wake her up fully.
It didn't. Because there was no icy chill. The water was warm, and Nori was glad of it. She rinsed out her hair so thoroughly she thought it must be bleached white, but it felt so good to be clean. Then she walked over to the rock where her clothes were drying and fumbled into a blue skirt that belonged to Analsiel and a grey tunic she had stolen from the palace stores before she left. Then she tied her hair back to keep it from dripping onto her face. She stood next to her sleeping friend.
As she thought about, she realized just how beautiful Analsiel was. Lying there on the grass, her black hair spilling out on the grass and Nori's yellow gown on her slender figure, her pale face serene in a dreamless sleep, she looked more beautiful than any Elf. Nori felt a strange pride in her friend for being so beautiful, but she was a little jealous too. Nori brushed away all angry thoughts, and tried to restrain a giggle as she thought of herself being mooned over by half the court the way everyone mooned over her raven-haired friend. Then another giggle came on as she thought about how moody Firndil had been after Analsiel had left. He had said he was worried for Firnciliath, his sister, and of course he was, but the whole court knew who he was really missing. They knew the same about her. The whole world was empty of laughter and friends after Analsiel left, and that was why the queen had sent the two of them in particular. Then she remembered with a sigh how joyful Firndil had been on the road to Mirkwood. She sighed, thinking about how worried he must be now, worried for Analsiel. She tried to imagine Legolas worrying about her...but no, he was probably only worried about Analsiel. Still, they were safely out of Mirkwood and she needed to sleep. Lying down next to Sunbeam, who was sleeping on the grass, she closed her eyes and slept.
The sun was high and hot as the two girls trotted across the open lands. Far in the distance, they could see the peaks of the Hithaeglir Mountains, and knew that as long as they traveled south along those mountains, they would reach Gondor. Another thing they remembered, and this was not so pleasant, was that they would have to cross the Anduin River to get home. Legolas had showed them a ford on their way toward Mirkwood, but it took Analsiel and Nori too far from their route. It would take them an extra day to go across it and then return to their course. A full day might cost Arwen her life. They hoped that another situation would arise when they the fierce river.
By sunset, they could see it, but only barely. Analsiel suddenly started in her saddle.
"What?" asked Nori.
"I just realized how close to Rohan we are! Once we cross the river we will, in truth, be in Rohan!"
"Oh," said Nori, not really interested. Why was Analsiel making such a big fuss about it?
"Silly," said Analsiel, knocking her friend lightly on the head. "Rohan is where I come from!"
"Oh," Nori said again. "Well, no wonder you're so excited. Still, I don't believe we can afford to stop for a while to visit. Arwen might..."The girl's voice trailed off, not wanting to say what Arwen might do.
"Yes, I know," sighed Analsiel. "Still, it would have been great fun to show my mother that I turned out a warrior maiden after all!"
It was close to nightfall when the company could make out the two lone horses on the horizon. They had riders, and were moving fast toward the banks of the river. The horse masters could tell immediately that both horses and both riders were exhausted, but they moved at ferocious speeds. Wondering why, the horseback patrol hid in the leafy branches of the trees on the riverbank. They had done it so many times before that they didn't make a sound, and even their horses kept still at the command. The two riders had found the only ford at the river Anduin and were going to swim across right into a Rohirrim ambush