Beyond the Mists - Chapter Five

Nessa sat slumped in the saddle, her eyelids flickering as she struggled to keep them open. Night was closing in around her and the air was growing chill. She shivered and drew her cloak closer, scanning in the fading light the land for sign of the Fellowship. She had tracked them for the best part of three hours at a flat out gallop until late afternoon, and then slowed to a walk. She knew that soon she would have to stop and rest, but not yet. She had to keep going for a while longer. Then a thought came to her. When she had been a small child, the maids had sung her songs of the outside world to intrigue her. One of these songs came to her now, stronger than ever before. At first she only began to hum the tune, but as a brisk breeze picked up, she burst into song and the wind carried her voice like falling silver across the land.

"When the stars are out in full,

And the moon is shining bright,

Then the Sea, far ways from here,

Dances and shimmers in its light.

Forest dark and unexplored,

Lie beyond the mountains tall,

And when the wild wind blows,

Their leaves and branches call.

Down the river to the lands,

Where are grasses like a sea,

And they sing and whisper too,

At peace and in harmony.

To the West now sail the fair,

Into lands free from pain,

Never again to mortals meet,

Until all the world is changed."

As all became black around her, she continued to sing, her spirits rising and her weariness leaving. Still, she headed nearer to the mountains for protection and as she came around the shoulder of a peak that touched the sky, she saw what she had been looking for - a spot of red flame, flickering faintly in the gale. Laughing to herself, she cantered down to it, hardly daring to believe she was there.

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Legolas jumped at once to his feet, quickly followed by his companions.

"Over there!" he cried, pointing to a ghostly silver shape emerging from the shadows. A pure white horse, bearing a dark figure on its back.

"Draw your weapons." muttered Gandalf and in a flash, swords were glinting blood red in the fire light, Legolas with an arrow once more fitted to his bow. They saw the horse come nearer an all at once they heard laughing from its rider.

"That is no Orc laugh," frowned the elf puzzled," that is a woman unless my ears are cheated by some spell."

"And that may be - but remember, Saruman will be seeking us now also. His wizardry and trickery could prove fatal." The horse came to a halt, just outside the reach of the light.

"Who are you?" demanded Aragorn. Silence. "Show yourself!"

The figure dismounted and entered the light to reveal what looked like a young man, smaller than most, and a knight of Leithen. Gimli couldn't help but smile - Legolas was wrong! It was a man!

"What are you doing here?" asked Boromir," Should you not be with your King?"

For the first time, the figure spoke. "And no doubt, that is what my father thinks as well." grinned the stranger.

"Father? You go with the riders on his behalf?" questioned Aragorn.

"Not...exactly." came the slow reply.

"Well you either are or you aren't." stated Gimli.

"I am not here for my father - nor am I here for the King, though I am his kin," admitted the stranger, and the helmet was lifted off, " I am his daughter."

The companions watched shocked as a cascade of golden hair went tumbling down her back. Boromir and Gimli gasped.

"Princess Nessa, daughter of King Othan of Leithen." introduced the woman and she bowed. Still, the Fellowship did not lower their weapons.

"How do we know you speak the truth?" asked Legolas suspiciously

Nessa was taken aback. She had expected them to be questioning her, but not this, well, uninviting.

"Oh...well, earlier today you encountered a group of 52 riders, the Captains Lerron and Alforn and we gave you provisions and aid as we could lend."

"Anyone who had been spying on us could have told us that." said Gandalf, eyebrows raised.

"Yes, but they were from Leithen and you have never heard of that Kingdom before - I could see it in your eyes."

"If you are a Princess and you were there, then why did we not see you? Why should we trust you?" glared Gimli.

"As for being there, I have my own reasons," replied Nessa darkly, "but it looks to me like you are the ones being untrustworthy - I'm not the one with my sword out!"

For another moment, there was silence - then the weapons were lowered.

"Very well," said Gandalf, "why are you here?"

Nessa raised her head and looked Gandalf straight in the eye. "You are probably wondering why, in all of your travels, you have neither seen nor heard of Leithen or its King." she began and yawned - she had not realized how tired she was.

"Perhaps if we sit down?" suggested Boromir and Nessa nodded at him gratefully. As Elformen began to graze beside a small chestnut pony, they all seated themselves around the small fire and the Lady continued.

"Leithen is one of the most ancient Kingdoms of Men, though it is known to few. When Men first woke in the East and came West, many passed in to the realms of the Elves in Beleriand. Some went South and a small number of the Edain remained by the Misty Mountains. The leader of the small people was Éodrin, and he settled behind a forest nestled in the mountains and they became a people of horses. Such magnificent horses they were, yet they are remembered now almost only in song," said Nessa sadly as she looked over at her own mare. Elformen was in fact the last of her kind - her fathers horse had died the previous year. "Few of pure blood now remain. Most are mingled with lesser horses. So as the troubles of Elves took form and came to a head in the West, the Lerthenim prospered and were known to few, having a kingdom now named Leithen."

"That fits in with the tales I have heard." commented Legolas, nodding.

"That' the basic history of my people. We never in the beginning had dealings with the outside world, and though word reaches us of the wars, we still have no part in them - and that feeling as grown through the ages. The law of the King says that none shall in or beyond our borders purposefully and as none before have desired to do so, it has never been broken. Until now."

Nessa paused and her eyes sparkled with an emerald flame.

"For 19 years I have remained within the keeping of my father and obeyed his wish - but no more. My heart longs for more than that. All the stories I have heard of far off lands have ever intrigued me. No longer will I sit idle and bound to the castle walls. Adventure is what I want, so adventure is what I shall find!" concluded Nessa triumphantly.

There was an awkward silence as the Fellowship glanced at each other.

"What?" asked Nessa frowning.

"My Lady, I - we - fear we have given you the wrong impression," said Aragorn gently, "our quest is no mere journey or adventure. It concerns the whole of Middle Earth and its entire people. If you were planning on coming with us, then I'm afraid you are mistaken. You do not belong here, my Lady. Rest with us tonight, but I think it would be best if returned to your own people at dawn."

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