Chapter 1- The story of Maranwe Ar Feiniel, Woman Rider of Rohan. - The story begins.
My life began in my father's house. My father was reckoned great among the Rohhirim, and my mother was gracious, beautiful, and, strangely mysterious. Later I was to find out why she was so mysterious. But I was born in my father's house, on a cold night in December, which the Elves call Ringare.
For years I lived in relative peace and contentment, interrupted but little by unsettlement on my fathers farm, which lay by the borders of Fangorn Forest. Living by the forest as we did, we had few travelers or visitors come to our home, for a superstitious fear of the forest lay on most of the people of Rohan. So, for the first twelve years of my life I lived unworried by the world out side my home.
On my twelfth birthday, early in the morning, my mother's favorite mare, an elegant, fiery chestnut, called Caranaranel foaled a bright bay filly, and my mother said that she was mine to raise and train. From the first the filly was very spirited, even though she could barely walk, and when the light of dawn broke through the window she seemed to dance in it. I named her Are Fea, which means Sunlit Spirit. That day my father gave me some other gifts, which, he said, had once been my mothers. The gifts were two beautiful knives, with bright silver blades, and ivory handles, inlaid with gold. He also gave me a bow made from a dark wood, with designs inlaid in gold and silver on it. Father said that I was to learn to use them, since there were orc raids, even though I never worried about them.
So, that spring, Are Fea and I started training. Are had grown much during the winter, and was ready to begin training. I had started to get her used to being handled and led when she was two months old, and now I began teaching her to wear a halter and how to trot and walk on command.
I also began training that spring. Each day I practiced my knives and bow, on foot and on horse. Father insisted that I practice for three hours each day, one and a half in the morning, and one and a half in the afternoon.
Mother didn't really involve herself with my weapons practice. She insisted that I learn the "Womanly Arts". That was sewing, singing, harp to accompany my singing, and riding. When I heard I was to learn how to ride, I wondered at that, since I had been able to ride since I was five, and had been able to keep up with my father since I was ten. But, unfortunately, she had a different sort of riding in mind. "A lady does not ride astride, unless necessary," my mother decreed. "A lady rides side-saddle." My heart sank at that. I was to ride sidesaddle. That meant also that I was to wear long, heavy skirts, a thing I had managed to avoid for a while, since I was a bit of a tomboy.
So, I learnt bowmanship, how to notch an arrow while on a galloping horse, or running on foot. I learnt to use my knives, spinning them deftly in my fingers, the blades flashing in deadly silver circles, to dodge a sword blade, and to strike while still dodging. I also learnt how to sew a fine seam, spin a delicate thread, carry a tune, pluck and strum the harp to accompany my singing, and, of course, to ride side-saddle.
Four years passed, little interrupting my routines but the changing and passing seasons and the progressions of Are's training. She was a tall horse, about 16-2 hands, and I had taught her to carry a rider, to be guided by just my knees, and to be calm, even with arrow shafts whizzing by her head. I also grew. I grew taller and passed from a girl to a young woman. I also learnt my mother's story.
She was mysterious, my mother. Tall, graceful, hauntingly beautiful, yet there was a sadness about her at times, a sadness that made me wonder about her early life.
One day, late in the month of February, after my sixteenth birthday, I asked her about her life before she met my father. Little did I know I was to be changed forever by what she told me.
" I grew up in the royal city in Mirkwood, the only child in a noble family, and close friend to the royal family. When I was young, my mother was attacked by orcs when she was riding to visit her sister in Lothlorien. She never came back. My father was sickened with grief for a while, but when he recovered, he was not the same. He seemed to be driven by an insatiable, unreasoning thirst for revenge. I had always been a tomboy of sorts, and when my father rode out against the orcs I would ride with him, for he only counted his enemies with his sword, and often refused to leave a battle, even if we were hopelessly out numbered. Each time, however, I managed to bring him out of the fray. For years I managed to keep him from harm, but one night, as I slept, he rode out with a large company. I awoke as they left, and just managed to dress, grab cloak and weapons, and saddle my horse as the last rank left the enclosure of the Elven City. I could not find my father, even though I searched through the camp each night that we halted. After four days of marching, we reached a broad lake, beyond which was a lone mountain. This was our destination. During the march, I had found out what we were doing here.
We had come to take treasure from the dwarves, which the king considered rightly, at least in part, the elves' fair due. Tharanduil had not attempted this before, for the mountain had been the dwelling of a fearsome dragon, but now the dragon was slain, and the treasure would belong to the elves. I could not understand why my father, whom I still was looking for, would march against dwarves. He had no grudge against that race, and the nearest I could figure was he thought that we marched against orcs, for he never really gained his mind back. So, we elves marched for treasure, but all that was gained was grief, at least for me.
Almost on the eve of battle, a small, odd creature, somewhat like a dwarf, but not bearded, came to Tharanduil and gave him a great dwarvish treasure, a great stone known as the Arkenstone. The next day, they took it to the dwarves, offering it for a share of the gold. The leader of the dwarves, whose name was Thorin, was astounded, and soon figured out how the great jewel got to Tharanduil. He was beginning to threaten the thief, when Mithrandir appeared, and saved the skin of the dwarves companion.
The next day Thorin's cousin, Dain, arrived from the North, with a great host of dwarvish warriors. We were poised for battle, about to charge, when a horrible darkness came over the sky, with terrible thunder, and a wild wind. Mithrandir appeared between the two armies, and stood like a statue. He raised his staff, and it flashed with a brilliant light. Then he shouted `Halt! Dread has come upon you all! Alas, it has come more swiftly than I guessed. The orcs are upon you! Bolg of the north is coming, oh Dain, whose father you slew in Moria. Behold! The bats are above his army like a sea of locust! The orcs ride on wargs!' Then he called for a council between the Men, Elves, and Dwarves. They reached an agreement, and we did battle, men, dwarves and elves together against the terrible horde of orcs. We battled long, and many brave elves, men and dwarves died. Hope seemed lost when the eagles arrived, and on their wings they brought fresh strength and courage.
It was not until after the battle that I found my father. He had been mortally wounded, and died in my arms. I don't know exactly what happened after that, except I wandered long, over that dreadful plain, through strange parts of Mirkwood I had never seen before, infested with hideous spiders of gargantuan size. I passed, after that, through the Iron Hills, down the Carnen, and through the southern part of Mirkwood. It was dreadful, a great, dark fortress in Mirkwood, so dark and forbidding that it made the name Mirkwood seem too cheery. I then passed through the Brown Lands, dreary they were, but they seemed full of light and life after passing so near to Dol Goldur. I crossed the Anduin, and entered Rohan. I went to Fangorn Forest, for Mirkwood was too full of memories, Many good, but some evil, and all sad. I decided to live in Fangorn, to start a new life.
I lived in Fangorn for 55 years, living alone, except my horse, Caranaranel, who was my only companion from the time my father perished. I lived on berries and game I had hunted with my bow. I built a small house for myself, small and crude, but snug against the elements.
One day, I heard a great noise beyond the next hill. I had not ventured beyond that hill ever since I had come to Fangorn. I had no reason to. I heard the harsh voices of orcs and desperate cries of men, the braying of orc-horns and the clear, deep-throated bugle of the men's horn. They sounded all day, the voices, horns, and the clanging of swords on swords, but in the evening, they gradually stopped, leaving me to wonder about the wounded, and who won the battle. After much consideration, I girt myself with my knives, took my bow, mounted my horse and rode out to see if I could assist the men. I reached the top of the hill, and stood hesitant, peering through the darkness, trying to see the men's camp. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain between the shoulders, and all went black.
When I awoke, I was lying by a fire. A strange face, the face of a man, leant worriedly over me. `How do you feel?' I fainted again, weak with my wound. Gradually I regained strength and learned what happened. An orc had crept close to the camp, and caught me between the shoulders with his spear, but fortunately it was an ill throw, else I'd be dead. The men had won the battle, driving the orcs into Fangorn. No orc ever came out of there. While gathering the dead and wounded, the Rohhirim found me, laying like a dead woman, but the man I first saw, whom they called Folca, saw I was alive, and nursed me back to health. I grew to love him, even though he was of the race of men, and I an elf. After a time, during which I lived with his sister, he asked me to marry him. I accepted, and we married.
So now, Maranwe, you know my story, yet it is your story as well. Never forget it."
And I never have.
That night I lay awake in bed, my mind racing. "I am an elf." "I am related to royalty." "I should have known. I should have discovered it before." It was all so confusing. It was too confusing. I had to get out, clear my mind, think. I decided to sneak out, to sleep under the stars, as I did when I was confused or needed to relax. Getting up, I dressed in a green tunic, with a darker green, long, knee length vest over, breeches and boots, took my knives and bow, and went out to the barn. Edging quietly beside Fea, I stroked her smooth, glossy hide. " Come up, Fea. We're going out for the night." Leading her out of the stall, I saddled her and mounted. "G'up!"
We cantered through the velvety darkness, my long, blonde hair whipping my freckled-but otherwise elvish-face. Fea's smooth, surging gait soon took me to the edge of Fangorn. I dismounted, spread my blankets over some dead leaves for a bed, and lit a fire. It wasn't really that cold, but there was a bit of a nip in the air. Settling down in my bed of leaves, I gazed up at the stars. Just the ride had been soothing, and the sight of the stars twinkling above me filled me with peace. I drifted into the sweet realm of slumber.
The next morning I awoke, refreshed and rested in spirit and body. The nip that had been in the air last night was lingering, and the morning was chill, but not unpleasantly so. I saddled Fea, mounted, and urged her on. "Come on, Fea! Home for breakfast!" She snorted, and started to prance and canter, made playful by the lingering cold. Soon she settled down to a smooth canter, and within a half-hour we were but a quarter mile from home, and would sight it when we came over the next hill.
I drew rein at the crest of the hill, laughing at Fea's attempts at running straight on to home. I loved the sight of my home, touched with the golden light of dawn, surrounded by tendrils of fog, and looking like the most beautiful place in the world.
What I saw was not that.
The barn was on fire, black smoke pouring from the roof, apparently the fire was recently lit, but the house was almost naught but charred beams. A single glance brought all this to me, and a single thought across my mind. "ORCS" Those foul creatures struck thus, burning, looting, and killing all who stood in their way, and many who didn't.
I gave Fea her head, and urged her down the hill, dreading what I would find.
Kicking Fea to her best speed, I soon reached the farm, though the little time seemed like an eternity. Dismounting outside the barn, I heard the frightened whinnies and screams of horses trapped inside. Without another thought, I rushed into the barn. Father had worked his whole life for this farm, and these horses were the results of years of breeding. I was not going to let these horses be killed! Going down the long aisle that ran down the middle of the barn, I unlatched the bolts of stalls on each side as I went. Despite my coaxing and cajoling, the horses, horribly frightened, would not leave the stalls, knowing not that staying in their stalls, which were security to the horses, would kill them. Finally, I reached Caranaranel, my mother's horse, of pure elvish blood, and some how she seemed to know what needed to be done. She trotted up and down the aisle, urging them out none too gently with her teeth and heels, and then led them out; me following as best I could, choking on smoke. I stood awhile outside, coughing out all the smoke, and breathing gratefully the clear air.
Then I saw something that made me forget all else.
Father lay behind a pile of slain orcs, hewn by cruel orc scimitars, and behind him lay mother, pierced by a single orc-bolt through the heart.
Obviously he died defending her, and avenging her. In that moment I knew I would avenge them both.
I left for Edoras after I buried them, leading the horses that had been my father's dream, his dream that never came to quite to completion. I figured the kings riders could use these horses, as they were all splendid animals, and there were several mares in foal, with foals that would be even finer, judging from the other mares that had foaled that spring.
I stopped on the hill looking over the farm, and looked at what had been my home, where many memories dwelt. Memories of learning to ride, on an old horse that was far past his prime, but was quiet an exciting ride for a five-year-old girl. Memories of my first horse of my own, a younger one than the one I learned on, and many, many other fond memories with my parents. I looked once, and saw the graves of my parents, and then I knew that I would not be back, not for a long time, or maybe even never.