Lady From Beyond the Sea - Chapter 14 -- Human again
As they rode forward the day was overcast. Low grey clouds came over the sky, a mist shrouding the sun. At times Zandra would leave her perch, and circle above them, coming back to alight on Aragorn, or Legolas or even Gimli's shoulder.
She knew she could swiftly fly to the battlefield, and use her enhanced eagle vision to see what could be seen, but she dreaded what she might find. To fail yet again might be more than she could bear. Don't think like that! she admonished herself, It does nothing but lower your spirits. There is still hope.
At last, as the afternoon was waning they came to the eaves of the forest, and in an open glade among the first trees they found the place of the great burning: the ashes were still hot and smoking. Beside it was a great pile of helms and mail, cloven shields, and broken swords, bows and darts and other gear of war. When they reached the glade Zandra took flight, and circled the glade, searching for what signs her keen eyes could detect from above. Below her, her companions also searched, but the light soon faded, and by nightfall they had discovered no trace of Merry and Pippin.
Zandra dove down and landed on Legolas's outstretched arm. She took comfort as he gently stroked her feathers, and listened to Gimli.
". . . Elrond was against their coming," he was saying.
"But Gandalf was not."Legolas said, and Zandra turned a grateful eye to him. She could not discount Gandalf's words. He was not against the hobbits coming, nor against her coming. Therefore she must be meant to accomplish something.
"Gandalf chose to come himself, and he was the first to be lost," answered Gimli. "His foresight failed him."
"The counsel of Gandalf was not founded on foreknowledge of safety, for himself or for others," said Aragorn. "There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark."
Zandra now spoke, "It is true, we cannot see until long after what effect we may have. It. . ."she paused, she did not like to think about this, "Even their loss would have a purpose. There are forces in the universe that we cannot understand. Evil is not the only force." She stopped. It was a sad possibility, and she did not want to speak of it more. And, in any case she disliked speaking as an eagle. It did not feel right.
"But I shall not depart from this place yet." Aragorn said, "I do not yet despair of finding traces of them still."
A little away from the battlefield they made their camp under a spreading tree. Legolas looked up at where Zandra sat perched in its boughs. He wished she would transform back into herself. He wanted to talk to her, but felt, . . . distanced from her as an eagle. Almost as if it weren't really her. Be honest! he admonished himself, You want to kiss her again, have been aching to do so since Lothlorien, and you can't very well do so when she's a bird!
This thought did nothing to cheer him, so he sat glumly as Gimli requested they make a fire, as the night had grown cold, and they had only one blanket apiece. He contended that the Rohirrim had a bonfire the day before, so surely a little campfire was safe.
"They were many," said Aragorn, but finally he conceded, only admonishing Gimli to cut no living wood.
Legolas stood, gazing into the forest. These trees seemed to call to him, a whisper out of the darkness, but what they said he could not discern.
"Look!" he heard a soft voice exclaim, and he swiftly turned, to find Zandra standing by the fire, her face, softly illuminated by its glow, turned up towards the tree above them. "The tree is glad of the fire!" she continued, and Legolas followed her gaze.
It may have been that the dancing shadows tricked their eyes, but it did indeed seem that the boughs were bending this way and that so as to come above the flames, while the upper branches were stooping down.
His gaze traveled back down to the Lady who stood silhouetted in the firelight.
"Welcome back," he said, and she turned to him, her eyes dancing with mirth.
"I have been back all day," she said, laughter in her voice. It marveled him how changeable she was. Not long ago she was talking of darkness, yet now she was laughing teasingly in the glow of the fire. He fought the urge to gather her into his arms. It was a bitter fight, but he managed to control himself, saying only, "How shall you travel on the morrow?"
A slight frown creased her brow, "I shall have to return to eagle form. I did not wish my secret broken to Eomer yet, so I have no horse until I can get Serilla, and it is easier for me to ride as an eagle than for Hasufel to carry two." She sighed, "I don wish it were otherwise, for though I do love the feeling of flying, . . . It is, . . . awkward to be an eagle among other people."
"Indeed," Legolas said, laughing a little in his turn at her forlorn expression. Then he asked a question that had been bothering him, "How did Eomer know you so well?"
She hesitated, but then Gimli, who overheard this question also spoke up.
"Yes, I think you have some explaining to do young lady."
Legolas watched in delight as she bit her lip to try to contain her mirth at being so addressed. He thus noticed an exchange of glances between Aragorn and Zandra before she turned and responded to his question with a shrug, her voice almost terse.
"I have been to Rohan many times, . . . in both forms, . . . but mostly as an eagle. I have been their with Gandalf, and Aragorn, and . . . on the most recent occasion, . . .When I asked Shadowfax for help before I found Gandalf on Orthanc."
"Before, . . . You were the eagle that rescued him!?" Legolas asked incredulously, as Gandalf had told the story at the Council. Zandra had been present, but no mention had been mad that she was the eagle.
"If I hadn't found him, then Gwaihir would have, he, and the rest of his eyrie were also looking for him." she said, brushing aside her act. There was a strange expression in her eyes though. Legolas could not define it. She looked, . . . struck. . . by some idea. . . and not happy by it.
He sensed she did not wish to talk more, so he made no attempt to detain her as she laid down within the circle of warmth created by the fire. She was asleep in moments, testifying that she had not yet completely recovered her strength.
He too laid down and let his mind wander down the paths of elvish dreams.
He awoke to find Gimli on his feet staring at an old man who stood at the edge of their firelight.
Aragorn spoke, leaping to his feet, "Well, father, what can we do for you? Come and be warm, if you are cold!" He strode forward, but the old man was gone.
Legolas searched the darkness with his keen eyesight, and cried out at what he found, or, rather, didn't find. "The horses! The horses!"
The horses were gone. They stood silently, and it seemed that they heard, far off in the night, the sound of horses whinnying and neighing. Then all was quiet again, except for the cold rustle of the wind.
"Well, they are gone," said Aragorn at last. "We cannot find them, or catch them; so if they do not return, we must do without. We stared on our feet, and we have those still."
Legolas brightened, if they were walking, perhaps Zandra would stay in her true form.
The following morning Zandra awoke to the news that the horses were gone, and she listened carefully to the description of the old man.
"I would guess it was Saruman." she said, "but I don't know, I never accompanied Gandalf to Isengard."
They then began to search again for some sign of the hobbits. Zandra could barely keep herself from crying aloud for joy when Aragorn found a lembas leaf wrapping. Soon more signs were found, all leading into the forest of Fangorn.
They walked into the dark woods, stooping low to search for more signs. Zandra was very tired when they reached the bank of the Entwash, and reached joyfully into the water. And stopped. This water was unlike any she had ever sensed.
"What is it?" Legolas asked, crouching beside her.
"I don't know." she replied, and put her hand back into the water, stretching her awareness out of herself and into its cool depths. "It feels, . . ." she fumbled for a word to describe it, "alive."
"What!?" she could hear the surprise, and confusion in his voice. It sounded like she felt.
"I can't describe it any better. It is wholesome. . . perhaps more so than any other, . . . but it is . . . throbbing with. . . the essence of life." she stood. "Do not drink it. I don't know what effect it might have, . . . and do not have the time to study it properly."
"This is good tidings!" Aragorn cried out, and they turned to him. He had discovered footprints, definitely hobbit. "Yet the marks are two days old. And it seems that at this point the hobbits left the water-side."
"Then what shall we do now?" said Gimli, "We have come ill supplied. If we do not find them soon, we shall be of no use to them, except to sit down beside them and show our friendship by starving together."
"Do not worry about that friend Gimli," Zandra said with a smile. "At the least I am fairly good at hunting as an eagle. Let us go on."
They came at length to a steep hill. They climbed up, for the hobbits had done so. At the top they gazed about.
"There is a strange beauty about this wood." Zandra whispered, looking about her. "My sister would love it." she said absently, not noticing the glance that Aragorn and Legolas exchanged. Suddenly she saw a solitary grey figure walking towards them, staff in hand.
"Look!" she cried, pointing. She could sense power within him, oddly familiar.
"Your bow Legolas!" Gimli cried, near panic evident in his voice. "Bend it! Get ready! It is Saruman. Do not let him speak, or put a spell upon us! Shoot first!"
Zandra reached for her own bow, slowly. She felt an odd reluctance. Why did he seem so familiar. She felt she ought to know, but the familiarity was tinged with a touch of something, . . . something foreign. She saw that Legolas was holding an arrow, but had not fit it to the string. Did he feel the same reluctance as she did?
At last the old man neared, and spoke. "Well met indeed, my friends," he said in a soft voice that filled Zandra with a sense of yearning that she could not define. "Put away that bow Master Elf!" he said. Dimly Zandra heard the clatter of his bow and arrow on the stones. A section of her mind was shocked that he would treat Galadriel's gift so.
"And you, Master Dwarf, pray take your hand from your axe-haft, till I am up! You will not need such arguments."
Zandra tensed rather than relaxed at this assurance. She felt too anxious to accede to this stranger's every wish. She sternly repressed the strange yearning she felt. If he was indeed Saruman as Gimli said, . . . she cut that thought off as it began. Surely she was not so susceptible to a wizard's power. Should she listen to her instincts? She peered at him, striving to penetrate the shadows from his hood which enshrouded his features. She dimly heard Aragorn ask his name.
"My name!" said the old man. "Have you not guessed it already? You have heard it before, I think."
As he spoke Zandra suddenly from whence the familiarity came. But it can't be. she thought, not daring to allow hope where she had long thought there was none. Tears stung her eyes again, as inexorably hope struggled to turn into certainty. But doubt would not be so easily defeated. What of the element of strangeness? She knew Gandalf's power well, this old man's power was the same, . . . but different.
"I know something of your tale," he said, "You are tracking the footsteps of two young hobbits. Well, they climbed up here the day before yesterday; and they met someone that they did not expect. Does that comfort you?" Not until then had Zandra realized that he had avoided looking at her. But as he asked that question, he turned that oh so familiar gaze on her, and she knew.
She gave a wordless cry, putting her hand to her mouth to stifle it. It seemed so long since she had felt such joy and relief.
It seemed that her cry had shaken the others from a trance, galvanizing them into action. Each drew their weapons, obviously misinterpreting her cry.
"Saruman!" cried Gimli, springing towards him with axe in hand. "Speak! Tell us where you have hidden our friends! What have you done with them? Speak, or I will make a dint in your hat that even a wizard will find it hard to deal with!"
The old man was too quick for him. He sprang to his feet. His hood and grey rags were flung away. His white garments shone. He lifted his staff, and Gimli's axe leaped from his grasp and fell ringing on the ground. Zandra darted forward, as the sword of Aragorn blazed with a sudden fire. Legolas gave a great shout and shot an arrow high into the air: it vanished in a flash of flame.
"Mithrandir!" he cried. "Mithrandir!"
"Well met, I say to you again, Legolas!" he said, then looked down at Zandra who had enveloped him in a fierce hug. "Well met Zandra." he said more quietly. She looked up at him, her eyes glowing with tears of joy.
"Oh Gandalf!" she said, "I thought. . ." she stopped and drew a deep breath, "We have missed you my friend."