Lady From Beyond the Sea - Chapter 15 -- The White Rider
They swiftly told Gandalf all that had transpired, and he in turn told them what he knew of events. Zandra's heart leapt to hear that the hobbits were safe, yet she was puzzled.
"What are Ents?" she asked.
"I thought they were only a memory of ancient days, or a legend from Rohan," Aragorn said.
"A legend of Rohan!" cried Legolas. "Nay, every Elf in Wilderland has sung songs of the Old Onodrim, the giant shepherds of the trees. Yet even among us they are only a memory. If I were to meet one indeed I should feel young again!"
"Treeherds?" she asked, a small smile on her face, "Jaessa would surely love to meet such as that."
She caught the swift glance that Gandalf gave her, "It seems my friend," he said, "That you have a tale of your own to tell."
Her smile widened, then faded. Remembering what she had learned led only to the many questions that remained. "Indeed, but now is not the place to relate it. And in any case the story is not yet complete."
"Hmmmm. . . but you are right. Now is not the place, the morning is wearing away. We must go."
"Do we go to find our friends and to see Treebeard?" asked Aragorn.
"No," said Gandalf, "That is not the road that you must take. The quest of your companions is over. Your next journey is marked by your given word. You must go to Edoras and seek out Theoden in his hall. For you are needed. The light of Anduril must now be uncovered in the battle for which it has so long waited. There is war in Rohan, and worse evil. It goes ill with Theoden."
Aragorn is needed. Zandra thought, a strange feeling of near despair coming over her, What of Zandra? What part do you play? Her joy at being reunited with Gandalf faded back into the familiar hopelessness. There was still so much she did not know. She was Dae Kular, Zandra, helper of mankind, but what did that truly mean? She pushed these thoughts away. Her own concerns were of little importance at this time.
"The Dark Lord has Nine. But we have One, mightier than they: the White Rider. He has passed through the fire and the abyss, and they shall fear him. We will go where he leads."
"Yes, together we will follow you," said Legolas. "But first, it would ease my heart, Gandalf, to hear what befell you in Moria. Will you not tell us? Can you not stay even to tell your friends how you were delivered?"
"I have stayed already too long," answered Gandalf. "Time is short. But if there were a year to spend, I would not tell you all."
"Then tell us what you will, and time allows!" said Gimli. "Come Gandalf, tell us how you fared with the Balrog!"
"Name him not!" said Gandalf. A cloud of pain passed over his face. A cloud that was easily recognized by Zandra as she had often felt it herself. He sat silent, looking old as death.
"Long time I fell," he said at last. Zandra's heart ached, as the pain in his voice brought back memories of her own time in the shadows. "His fire was about me. I was burned. Then we plunged into the deep water, and all was dark. His fire was quenched, but now he was a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake."
Like Dyryn, Zandra thought, her mind going back to her last meeting with her one-time love. He had been like fire, but he became a thing of slime. . .
The iron bars, rusted from long disuse protested with a long shriek as they were slowly forced open. Zandra slowly raised her head, eyes straining to see, straining to penetrate the darkness. One manacled hand weakly came up to push the matted hair from her face.
It was no use, the dark was too deep. Who could be there? What creatures did this place hold that they could travel about with no light at all? She recalled catching faint glimmerings of torchlight, from people, or things, traveling down distant tunnels.
"How long have I been here?" she muttered hoarsely, as had become her habit in the long years, though it had been long since she had talked even to herself.
"Too long," came a harsh whisper.
"Who's there!?" she tried to cry, but her voice cracked and would not work, as an unknown terror filled her. Whoever this was, he held great power. Was this the person who had ordered her imprisonment? Come to inspect his prisoner at long last? But no, he was not much more powerful than she herself had been, she might even have been stronger, had her long imprisonment not weakened her. There was something oddly familiar about that power as well.
"The Great Lord tires of waiting." the voice said, not rising above that harsh whisper. "Where are the others?" it demanded.
Zandra shrank back further at the evil in the voice. Never had she heard a sound so purely evil. She heard a faint rustling as someone, or something, came further into the cell. Zandra shivered as icy cold filled the air.
Suddenly a ringing blow snapped her head around. Pain throbbed on her cheek, and she felt a trickle of blood flow from her temple. "My master wishes the fulfillment of the prophecy to be the crown of his victory over the Alliance," the harsh voice grated out. "Tell me where the others are!"
"Who? What others?" she wanted to ask, but terror, and disuse closed her throat, and she lapsed into a fit of coughing.
"Tzoch!" the command echoed in the darkness. Zandra felt a rough hand force her head back, then felt something at her lips. She tried to fight it at first, but was too weak. Slowly something was poured down her throat.
Water! She realized in surprise and ecstacy. She gulped it down, but retained enough presence of mind to take advantage of this opportunity. She gathered the little power she could manage, and, shoving the waterbag to the ground, she used her power to create enough light to see who faced her.
A tall figure, swathed in black robes stood before her, hood pulled forward despite the darkness. She watched, nearly mesmerized, as one arm lifted, empty, but with her power she was able to see what she realized was not visible, one ghostly, gnarled hand point at her, a ring, that was all too familiar, though she had only seen it once, on its finger.
Pain exploded in her mind, and a scream was torn from her raw throat, and darkness again filled the cell. She had only one thought as oblivion claimed her, "Dyryn."
Zandra blinked against the light of day, as she emerged from her memories. She focused slightly on what Gandalf was saying.
" . . .Why do thy kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the lost should come forth,
And the Grey company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed for thee:
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.
To Legolas she sent this word:
Legolas Greenleaf long under tree
In Joy thou hast lived, Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
To Zandra the Lady says:
Listen thou well, child of water,
Loud are the cries of mother for daughter.
The time will come when are united the three,
Then comes doom or salvation of land and of sea."
Gandalf fell silent and shut his eyes. Zandra stared at him, unseeing. The three? What could her words possibly mean? Did this have anything to do with the "others" that Dyryn had mentioned?
"Then she sent me no message?" said Gimli, and bent his head.
"Dark are her words," said Zandra, "and little do they mean to those that receive them."
"That is no comfort," said Gimli.
"What then?" said Legolas, "Would you have her speak openly to you of your death?"
"Yes, if she had nought else to say."
"What is that?" said Gandalf, opening his eyes, "Your pardon Gimli! I was pondering the messages once again. But indeed she sent words to you, neither dark nor sad.
"To Gimli son of Gloin, she said, ‘give his Lady's greeting. Lockbearer, wherever thou goest my thought goes with thee. But have a care to lay thine axe to the right tree!"
Gandalf now stood, "Come! We have spent all the time that is allowed to a meeting of parted friends. Now there is need of haste."
As he listened to Gandalf's tale, Legolas did not fail to notice Zandra withdrawing into herself. She gazed, unseeing, into the forest. The shadow, which he had hoped lifted, was back in her eyes.
They now walked silently back beyond the eaves of Fangorn. There was no sign of their horses to be seen.
"They have not returned," Legolas said. "It will be a weary walk." And a lonely one, if Zandra stays withdrawn. he added to himself.
"I shall not walk. Time presses," said Gandalf. Then, lifting up his head, he gave a long whistle. So clear and piercing was the note that Legolas stood, amazed to hear such a sound come from those old bearded lips. Three times he whistled, and then faint and far off Legolas heard the whinny of a horse borne up from the plains. Before long there came the sound of hoofs growing steadily louder and clearer to a quick beat.
"There is more than one horse coming," said Aragorn.
"Certainly," said Gandalf, "We are too great a burden for one."
"There are four," Legolas said as he caught sight of them, "See how they run! There is Hasufel, and there is my friend Arod beside him! But there are two others, one strides ahead: he is a very great horse. I have not seen his like before."
"Nor will you again," said Gandalf. "That is Shadow fax. He is the chief of the Mearas, lords of horses. Does he not shine like silver, and run as smoothly as a swift stream? He has come for me: the horse of the White rider."
Even as the old wizard spoke, the great horse came striding up the slope towards them; his coat glistening and his mane flowing in the wind of his speed. As soon as Shadowfax saw Gandalf, he checked his pace and whinnied loudly; then trotting gently forward he stooped his proud head and nuzzled the old man's neck.
Gandalf caressed him. "It is a long way from Rivendell, my friend," he said; "But you are wise and swift and come at need, bringing Serilla. Far let us ride now together, and part not in this world again!"
Legolas turned to see Zandra caressing the neck of the fourth horse, who must be Serilla. She was obviously glad to see the mare, but she was still very subdued. He sighed as he turned to greet Arod. Would he ever figure that girl out?
For many hours they rode. Slowly the sun fell away from the sky down into the West. Low upon the edge of sight, shoulders of the mountains glinted red on either side. A smoke seemed to rise up and darken the sun's disc to the hue of blood, as if it had kindled the grass as it passed down under the rim of earth.
"There lies the Gap of Rohan," said Gandalf, "it is now almost due west of us. That way lies Isengard."
"I see a great smoke," said Legolas. "What may that be?"
"Battle and war!" said Gandalf, "Ride on!"