Lady From Beyond the Sea - Chapter 13--Riders of Rohan
Sorry this has taken so long, I've been really busy, I'm back on track now though, and will try to keep up.
Dusk deepened. Mist lay behind them among the trees below, and brooded on the pale margins of the Anduin, but the sky was clear. Stars came out. The waxing moon was riding in the West and the shadows of the rocks were black. They had come to the feet of stony hills, and their pace was slower, for the trail was no longer easy to follow. Also Legolas began to notice Zandra's pace was slower still. When he looked back he could see the signs of strain about her eyes. Perhaps she wasn't completely healed after all.
Finally, in the still cool hour before dawn, Aragorn called for a brief rest. The orc trail had descended into the valley, but there it had vanished. He had to think for a bit to decided which way to go. And he too had noticed Zandra's lagging pace.
"Aragorn," Zandra said, looking down at the ground, as if to avoid his gaze, "I. . . I am holding you back. I. . . am afraid that I cannot keep up the necessary pace."
"I thought you had healed your wound." said Gimli.
"Yes," she hesitated, "Well, . . . it's not that simple, . . ."
"What do you mean?" Legolas asked, his voice sharp with worry. "Is not your wound healed?"
"Yes it is, but . . . there is a price. . ." she stopped, "It is much more difficult to heal one's self than to heal another. Often it is impossible. We are warned to consider carefully the risk before attempting it."
"But you did it," said Aragorn, making it into a question.
"Yes, but it has drained my power, I couldn't so much as make a dew drop sparkle."
"That is the price you spoke of?" Legolas asked.
"Part of it. You see, . . . when . . . what I did was, . . . speed up the healing process. . . but it still requires the same amount of energy, . . . more, . . . than what it would take to heal over time. That energy comes from my power, and the water, . . . but, . . . even that was, . . . is not enough."
"What do you mean?" Legolas asked alarmed.
"I mean, at the moment I feel as weak as a newborn kitten, and I think that the merest scratch would do me in." She turned to meet Aragorn's gaze, "And if I keep on trying to meet this pace I shall likely collapse from exhaustion, . . . and not wake up for a week."
"Then we will, . . ." Aragorn began, but Zandra cut him off.
"If you do, then it will be like abandoning the hobbits. You cannot wait for me."
"What are you saying?" Aragorn asked warily.
"I would have said this before, but I could see in your eyes that you had no intention of leaving me. For Frodo you would have, . . ." She waved away his objection, "Protecting him is much more important than protecting me. But now you have to go after Merry and Pippin. Waiting for me will prevent that. So I want you to go on without me."
"NO!" Legolas said.
"Zandra, I can't. . ." Aragorn said at the same time.
"You will," Zandra said, cutting them both off. "Think. I am in no immediate danger. I merely require some rest. I can easily catch up with you. I can fly, remember?"
Aragorn wanted to protest, but he knew she was right. He had to do whatever possible for Merry and Pippin. "Very well," he said, forestalling Legolas's further protests. "If you are certain you will be all right."
"The danger lies ahead, not behind." she said calmly. He nodded and stood.
"They will take the shortest way they can find over the fields of the Rohirrim. Let us search Northwards!"
The ridge upon which the companions stood went down steeply before their feet. There was a wide and rugged shelf which ended suddenly on the brink of a sheer cliff: the East Wall of Rohan. So ended the Emyn Muil, and the green plains of the Rohirrim stretched away before them to the edge of sight.
"Look!" cried Legolas, pointing up into the pale sky eagerly, "There is an eagle flying very high. But, . . . it seems to be flying away. . ." he finished sadly.
"He must be far aloft indeed." Aragorn said, "Not even my eyes can see him, my good Legolas." He put his hand on the Elf's shoulder, "Do not worry. It has not even been a day since we left her. She will be all right."
Zandra was making her own slow way along the trail, when she felt a tugging sensation in her heart. She looked up and saw through the trees a small point, far up in the sky.
"Ah, my friend," she said to the eagle, "I wish I could join you. But I have not yet the strength to make the transformation." It seemed to her that there was a brief flash of light, almost as if in response to her whispered words. She blinked in surprise. Was that perhaps on of the eagles she knew? Gwaihir perhaps?
The thought of the great bird reminded her of Gandalf. Gandalf, how I wish you were here. she thought. I told you I would carry you until my feathers fell out, and now I will carry you no more.
They went in single file, running like hounds on a strong scent. Nearly due West the broad swath of the marching Orcs trampled its ugly slot, the sweet grass of Rohan had been bruised and blackened as they passed. Presently Aragorn gave a cry and turned aside.
"Stay!" he shouted. "Do not follow me yet!" He ran quickly to the right, away from the main trail; for he had seen footprints that went that way, branching off from the others, the marks of small unshod feet. At the furthest point Aragorn stooped and picked something from the grass; then he ran back.
"Look at this!" he held up a thing that glittered in the sunlight. "Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall," he said, "This did not fall by chance: it was cast away as a token to any that might follow."
"Then one at least was alive, and had use of his legs too. That is heartening. We do not pursue in vain." Gimli said.
"And did not abandon Zandra for nothing," Legolas muttered to himself, looking back the way they had come, wondering how she fared. "Let us hope he did not pay too dearly for his boldness," he said aloud, "Come! Let us go on! The thought of those merry folk driven like cattle burns my heart."
Zandra came to a small stream. Here the tracks of the Orcs became again more apparent, as well as those of her companions. She knelt wearily at the side of the stream, and drank deeply of the cool clear water, it's purity adding to the strength that was slowly growing again within her.
She turned and looked back towards the River, and beyond.
"Frodo, where are you?" she wondered aloud, her heart heavy. "What path was laid before you? What will you find waiting for you at the end?" she paused, "What can I do to help when I am here and you are there? My name gives me the destiny of Helper, but what can I do?"
Legolas walked to and fro as his companions slept fitfully. He sang softly to himself. He sang again the song of Nimrodel, and also of Luthien. But as he sang, his thoughts were not on those maidens, but on the lady who had captured his heart. He pondered the questions that surrounded her, and reviewed all he knew of her. It was woefully little.
Slowly the dawn grew in the sky. Legolas gazed across the slopes of Rohan, away to the Northwest lay the dark forest of Fangorn, and out of it the Entwash flowed to meet them. The orc-trail turned down from the downs towards it.
Aragorn came and stood beside him, also gazing towards Fangorn. Suddenly he stiffened, and Legolas followed his gaze. He saw the small figures of horsemen, many horsemen, and the glint of morning on the tips of their spears. Far behind them a dark smoke rose in thin curling threads.
"Riders!" cried Aragorn, "on swift steeds are coming towards us!"
"They are one hundred and five. Yellow is their hair, and bright are their spears. Their leader is very tall, and they are little more than five leagues distant." Legolas said, shading his eyes with one slim hand.
"Five leagues or one," said Gimli, "we cannot escape them in this bare land. Shall we wait for them here, or go on our way?"
"We will wait," said Aragorn. "Our hunt has failed, or at least others were before us; for these horsemen are riding back down the orc-trail. We may get news from them."
Legolas's heart fell as he looked towards the horsemen. This news would be very painful to Zandra. "I see no hobbits," he said, "but there are three empty saddles."
"I did not say that we should hear good news," Aragorn said grimly.
The three companions now left the hilltop, where they might be an easy target against the pale sky, and they walked slowly down the northward slope. A little above the hills foot they halted, and wrapping their cloaks about them, they sat huddled together upon the faded grass.
In pairs the horsemen galloped by, and they did not appear to perceive the three strangers sitting silently and watching them. The host had almost passed when Aragorn stood, and called in a loud voice:
"What news from the North, Riders of Rohan?"
With astonishing speed they checked their steeds, wheeled and soon surrounded the three companions. They halted, a thicket of spears pointed towards the strangers. Then one rode forward. He advanced until the point of his spear was within a foot of Aragorn's breast.
"Who are you, and what are you doing in this land?" said the Rider.
"I am called Strider," answered Aragorn. "I came out of the North. I am hunting Orcs."
"There is something strange about you Strider." He bent his clear bright eyes upon the Ranger. "That is no name for a Man. And strange too is your raiment. Have you sprung out of the grass? Are you elvish folk?"
"No," said Aragorn. "One only of us is an Elf, Legolas. But we have passed through Lothlorien, and the gifts and favor of the Lady go with us."
The Rider looked at them with renewed wonder, but his eyes hardened. "Then there is a Lady in the Golden Wood, as old tales tell!" He said, "Few escape her nets they say." He turned a cold glance upon Legolas and Gimli. "Why do you not speak, silent ones?" he demanded.
Gimli rose and planted his feet firmly apart, his hand gripped the handle of his axe, and his dark eyes flashed. "Give me your name, horse-master, and i will give you mine, and more besides," he said.
"The stranger should declare himself first," said the Rider, staring down at the Dwarf, "Yet I am named Eomer son of Eomund, and am the Third Marshal of Riddermark."
"Then Eomer Eomund's son, let Gimli the Dwarf Gloin's son warn you against foolish words. You speak evil of that which is fair beyond the reach of your thought, and only little wit can excuse you."
Eomer's eyes blazed, and the Men of Rohan murmured angrily, "I would cut off your head, beard and all, Master Dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground," said Eomer.
"He stands not alone," said Legolas, bending his bow and fitting an arrow with hands that moved quicker than sight. "You would die before your stroke fell."
Suddenly there was the shrill cry of an eagle, and the riders cried out, and drew back as a streak of gold flew through their ranks.
Legolas held out his arm instinctively as the eagle gave a back stroke of her wings, and settled upon it. His heart leapt in joy that Zandra was back with them.
Suddenly Eomer gave a hearty laugh, as the eagle turned her now golden gaze upon him. "So it's you again is it?" he laughed, "Well then, this is a different story completely." He stopped and his eyes narrowed, "The King is very displeased with you."
Legolas caught a sparkle of amusement in the eagles eye.
"Why would that be?" Legolas jumped in surprise. It was quite a strange experience to have Zandra's voice coming from an eagle, Well, almost Zandra's voice he thought, It's more . . . birdy.
"Because you are a friend of Gandalf's and Gandalf took Shadowfax." Eomer replied.
"Bit it was I who asked him to go to Gandalf!" the surprise was evident in her voice.
"Nevertheless, King Theoden blames Gandalf, after all it was for the wizard that you did it. Therefor it is the wizard's fault." he paused to wait for the eagle's reaction, then went on. "Seven nights ago Shadowfax returned; but now he is wild and will let no man handle him."
"Then no one will ride him again. Gandalf is gone." The eagle said sadly, then her piercing eyes glanced sharply back up at Eomer, "Was there another horse with Shadowfax?" The bird asked excitedly. Eomer blinked in surprise.
"Yes, a beautiful little mare," he said, obviously wondering what an eagle would want with a horse, and how she had known.
"Serilla!" the Eagle said, but would say no more.
"Well now, who are your companions in reality?" Eomer asked, turning to face Aragorn, "I know this eagle well enough to know there is always more to her companions than meets the eye. Why do you hunt Orcs in our land?"
"The servants of Sauron I pursue into whatever land they may go. These Orcs took captive two of our friends. I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, the heir of Isildur of Gondor. Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again!"
He drew forth Anduril, and for a moment it seemed to Legolas that a white flame flickered on the brows of Aragorn like a shining crown. Eomer stepped back, and look of awe was in his face.
"These are indeed strange days," he muttered, "Dreams and legends spring to life out of the grass. Tell me, lord, what doom do you bring out of the North?"
"The doom of choice," said Aragorn, "You may say this to Theoden son of Thengel: open war lies before him. None may live now as they have lived, and few shall keep what they call their own. But of these great matters we will speak later. If chance allows I will come myself to the king. Now I am in great need, and I ask for help, or at least tidings. You heard that we are pursuing an orc-host that carried off our friends. What can you tell us?"
"That you need not pursue them further," said Eomer gravely, "The Orcs are destroyed.
"And our friends?"
"We found none but orcs."
Legolas winced as the eagle's talons bit into his arm. He brought his other hand up to soothe down her ruffled feathers.
"Our friends were attired even as we are," said Aragorn; "And you passed us by under the full light of day."
"I had forgotten that," said Eomer. "It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. How shall a man judge what to do in such times?"
"As he has ever judged," said Aragorn, "Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear."
"This is my choice:" Eomer said at last," You may go; and what is more I will lend you horses. This only I ask: when your quest is achieved, return with the horses to Edoras. Thus you will prove to Theoden that I have not misjudged. In this I place myself, and maybe my very life, in the keeping of your good faith. Do not fail."
"I will not," said Aragorn.
When Eomer gave orders that the spare horses were to be lent to the strangers, one of the riders spoke up.
"I may be well enough for the Elf and this lord of Gondor, but who has heard of a horse of the Mark being given to a Dwarf?"
"No one," said Gimli, "And do not trouble, no one will ever hear of it. I would sooner walk than sit on the back of any beast so great, free or begrudged."
"Come, you shall sit behind me, friend Gimli," said Legolas, "Besides someone must double up, or Zand. . ." he stopped as Zandra dug her claws into his arm in warning, and turned those bright golden eyes on him. Eomer did not notice the slip, and a dark grey horse called Hasufel was brought for Aragorn, and a lighter bay named Arod for Legolas and Gimli.
"Please remove the reins and saddle, I need them not," he said, and the Riders leading the horse complied. He was about to leap onto the horse, when the eagle flew from his arm and alighted on Aragorn's shoulder, where he was already mounted on his horse. Feeling suddenly bereft, he mounted Arod, and helped Gimli on behind him. The poor dwarf was not much more at ease than Sam Gamgee in a boat, clinging to the Elf. No wonder she went to Aragorn Legolas thought wryly.
"Farewell, and may you find what you seek!" called Eomer as the companions rode away, "Return with what speed you may! Farewell!"