Lady From Beyond the Sea - Chapter 24 - The Muster of Rohan
"All the forces of this great land, and yet they are so few," she whispered to herself. Arrayed against the forces of Mordor and its allies these would be but a drop in the pond. What hope could they have?
"Do they know how futile their gathering is? Most likely they are all riding to their doom. There is only one hope, and that carried by a tiny person fighting nearly alone against seemingly insurmountable odds." she said aloud, then turned to look to the east, willing the darkness that surrounded that land to part, to reveal that much beloved being. "Frodo, where are you? Where is that hope that you carry? Our hope, and our doom? Are you whole? Are you hungry? What sufferings have you been called to bear?" Tears slipped down her cheeks as she recalled the days that she had spent watching with Aragorn and his kin.
Those had been happy times despite the worry in the world that necessitated their watch. She had watched Frodo grow, and play with his cousins. She saw Sam watching too, always keen to hear one of "Mr. Bilbo's" stories. Little did they know that they would be taking part in a story of their own, one that was uncertain yet as to its ending. How she loved that delightful people. How she envied them their tranquil lives, their blind unconcern about what the next day would bring. How her heart bled that one of the most beloved of all had to carry this burden which, if he survived to succeed in destroying, would still claim his life.
"It's not fair!" she cried hysterically, then more softly, "It's not fair." And there was nothing she could do. Frodo was far away. There was no way for her to find him, not and keep his secrecy that was so vital. For Sauron was watching her now. She could feel his gaze upon her. Ever since she had stumbled upon Aragorn looking into the Palantir. Oh, he couldn't see her clearly, but he knew where she was, and she could sense that he was preparing to come and get her.
"Well you won't get me." she whispered defiantly. There was still that trace of fear, but behind it was a new found strength. She could not identify it's source, or she would not, but it was there. She was ready to face whatever Sauron threw at her.
As if in confirmation of her new assurance a chorus of horns sounded in the valley. King Theoden's heralds! she thought. She turned to hurry back to the small gathering of tents that was Dunharrow. As she arrived she saw Eowyn, astride her horse leave the gathering and approach the small company of horsemen that climbed from between the walls of rock onto the wide upland.
"Hail, Lord of the Mark!" she cried. "My heart is glad at your returning."
"And you, Eowyn," said Theoden, "is all well with you?"
"All is well," she answered; but it seemed as Zandra approached that she heard in Eowyn's voice that which belied her words. She had been weeping again. "All is well. It was a weary road for the people to take, torn suddenly from their homes. But all is now ordered, as you see. And your lodging is prepared for you; for I have had full tidings of you and knew the hour of your coming."
"So Aragorn has come then," said Eomer. "Is he still here?"
"No, he has gone." Zandra said as she came up with them.
"Whither did he go?" said Eomer.
"I do not know," Eowyn answered. "He came at night, and rode away yester-morn, ere the Sun had climbed over the mountain-tops. He is gone."
"He has gone to pass through the Paths of the Dead." Zandra said, "As he had announced to you that he would."
"Alas! I had hoped he would turn from that course." Eomer cried, "Then our paths are sundered, he is lost. We must ride without him, and our hope dwindles."
"Do not be so certain that he shall not pass through. Aragorn is no ordinary man. And though hope may dwindle, hope there still is, while we yet live." Zandra said quietly, thinking once again of the little hobbit on whom so much depended.
Suddenly there was a pounding of hooves, and a tall man thundered up on his heaving mount, bearing a single arrow, black feathered, and barbed with steel, but the point was painted red. Zandra's heart clenched when she caught sight of that. Were things come to such a pass so soon? He quickly dismounted, and sank on one knee to present the arrow to Theoden. "Hail, Lord of the Rohirrim, friend of Gondor!" he said, "Hirgon I am, errand-rider of Denethor, who bring you this token of war. Gondor is in great need. Often the Rohirrim have aided us, but now the Lord Denethor asks for all your strength and all your speed, lest Gondor fall at last."
"The Red Arrow!" said Theoden, holding it, as one who receives a summons long expected and yet dreadful when it comes. His hand trembled. "The Red Arrow has no been seen in the Mark in all my years! Has it indeed come to that? And what does the Lord Denethor reckon that all my strength and all my speed may be?"
"That is best known to yourself, lord," said Hirgon. "But ere long it may well come to pass that Minas Tirith is surrounded, and unless you have the strength to break a siege of many powers, the Lord Denethor bids me say that he judges that the strong arms of the Rohirrim would be better within his walls than without."
Zandra looked from Hirgon to the king and back, if Minas Tirith was nearly surrounded, then haste was needed, and every sword or spear possible. If Minas Tirith were lost, the path would soon be opened to the rest of the world, even if Frodo won through, this would be a sore blow.
"But he knows that we are a people who fight rather upon horseback and in the open, and that we are also a scattered people and time is needed for the gathering of our Riders. Is it not true, Hirgon, that the Lord of Minas Tirith knows more than he sets in his message? For we are already at war, as you may have seen, and you do not find us all unprepared. Gandalf the Grey has been among us, and even now we are mustering for battle in the East." Theoden said.
"What the Lord Denethor may know or guess I cannot say," answered Hirgon. "But indeed our case is desperate."
"Dark tidings," said Theoden, "we will speak no longer counsels of prudence. We will come. The weapon take was set for the morrow. Wen all is ordered we will set out. But it is a long road, a week it may be from tomorrow's morn ere you hear the cry of the Sons of Eorl coming from the North."
"A week!" said Hirgon, and Zandra heartily concurred with the distress apparent in his tone. A week might be too late. "If it must be so, it must. But you are like to find only ruined walls in seven days from now, unless other help unlooked-for comes. Still you may at the least disturb the orcs and Swarthy Men from their feasting in the White Tower."
"Do not discount the possibility of unlooked-for help," Zandra said, "All hope is not yet lost."
With that the king stood up, and they all rose. "Go now each to your rest," he said, "and sleep well. And you, Master Meriadoc, and Lady Zandra, be ready to my call as soon as the Sun is risen, if you will."
"I will be ready," said Merry, "even if you bid me ride with you on the Paths of the Dead."
"Speak not words of omen!" said the king. "For there may be more roads than one that could bear that name. But I did not say that I would bid you ride with me on any road. Good night!"
The king tuned then and made his way to the Pavilion that stood in the center of the Camp.
"I won't be left behind, to be called for on return!" said Merry, and Zandra turned her gaze to the little hobbit. "I won't be left, I won't."
"We'll see." Zandra said gently. "It may be that we will be called to follow a different path."
"You?" Merry said, "You might not go?"
"I haven't yet decided," she sighed. "I don't wish to go if my presence will bring more danger to those I accompany."
"You mean like Saruman said?" Merry was wide eyed, "Zandra you can't believe what he said!"
"The best lie is one that has an element of truth in it." Zandra said quietly, much cheered by Merry's confidence. "The king was right about one thing," she said, "We both must rest tonight."
Early the next morning they were called to the king's side, at least Zandra assumed it was morning, the sky was dark, a cloud, grown from the darkness about Mordor obscured the sky. Zandra rode by Merry's side, behind the king and Eomer. An unsettling feeling of foreboding filled her. Eowyn was no where to be seen, she had bidden the king farewell in the Hold, but did not exit to see them off, not even to plead again to accompany them. That fact alone was enough to make Zandra wary, but that on top of this oppressive darkness was nearly too much for her, even with her new found strength.
Two hours passed, all too swiftly for Zandra, for it meant that the time for her to make her decision, to go or to stay. The king only halted in Edoras for a short time, when he turned to bid farewell to herself and Merry.
"This is no place for a Lady to come, and Aragorn bid me tell you to stay." Theoden said gently, "When the battle is ended, then you still will be needed."
Merry begged for the last time not to be parted from the king, whilst Zandra looked on.
"This is no journey for such steeds as Stybba, as I have told you," said Theoden, "And in such a battle as we think to make on the fields of Gondor what would you do, Master Meriadoc, swordthain though you be, and greater of heart than of stature?"
Zandra did not wish to stay to watch with Merry, as the lines of horsemen passed by, instead she went up to her room in the keep, and looked out her window, which faced to the South, and tried to imagine where Legolas was at that moment.
"I have decided to stay safe," she whispered to him, though she knew he could not hear. "I would not do it for any but you." Was he thinking of her the way she was of him? She could not help but wonder. The sound of the hooves of the horses began to fade, and Zandra looked out, thinking, I really should go out and comfort Merry. Her eyes scanned the court yard, but she did not see him. Where was he? She hurried down the stairs, and out, to stand just outside the gate, calling out his name.
Away to the East she saw the cloud of dust that was the Rohirrim. Surely he couldn't have. But she knew that he had. Merry had somehow joined the ranks of the Riders. That tiny life amidst the horrors of this war that was to come. It didn't bear thinking of. She also knew that it was not her place to say him nay. But he couldn't face it alone.
Forgetting her earlier decision, she called for Serilla, and together they set out in the wake of the Army of Rohan.