Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Twenty-One - The Riders of Rohan
"Their pace has quickened," he murmured, speaking only to himself. "They must have caught our scent." Then he turned around, stood up, and called loudly, "Hurry!" Novarwen tossed a glance behind her to see if Legolas and Gimli had heard, then ran after Aragorn, wondering for the thousandth time how the Man had gotten to be so fast.
She heard Legolas call, "Come, Gimli!" behind him, before he too took to his heels. Fast upon her brother's call was the crash of Gimli falling on yet another rock and hitting his armor on it. Novarwen's first reaction was one born of habit - irritation at the cursedly slow Dwarf who held them up. Then she recognized that feeling as being part of the prejudice Elves bred against Dwarves. She was trying to fight that off, to see Dwarves as people, not just thieves and clumsy beings. With a sigh - despite days of running without a rest, she would have liked a nice sprint across the plains they ran on - Novarwen turned around and ran back to Gimli.
The Dwarf was already on his feet, but behind the bushy beard, Novarwen caught the faint embarrassed flush on Gimli's face. Biting down her pride, Novarwen said, "I'm getting pretty tired." It was a lie, of course - no Elf would get tired after only three days of running - but it was a lie that saved face for Gimli. He growled, "Buck up, they can't be that far ahead!" and gathered himself for more running. Novarwen hid a smile as she ran after him, her quiver bouncing against her back. That had been one of the more affectionate growls Gimli had given her during the whole journey so far.
When they caught up to Aragorn and Legolas, the Ranger was kneeling and her brother was looking over Aragorn's shoulder at something in the Man's hand. "Not idly do the leaves of Lorien fall," Aragorn was saying as Novarwen trotted over to them and peered at it herself. She caught her breath - it was one of the green leaf brooches that Galadriel had given them all when she outfitted the entire Fellowship. "It belonged to one of the hobbits," she murmured to herself.
Aragorn stood up and, a resolute look on his face, began to run again. Legolas ran after him, calling, "Come on, Gimli!" The Dwarf tumbled onto the ground, picked himself up, and ran as fast as he could, yelling about how fast Dwarves could be over short distances. Novarwen grinned and picked up the pace again.
They crossed the border of Rohan a short while later. Novarwen cast her eyes quickly over the land, seeing much farther than Aragorn or Gimli. Rohan was a land of horsemen and simple people, living in houses with thatched roofs, and it bordered on Gondor. There was no reason for there to be that touch of evil she felt in it, nearby. She walked over to Legolas. "Can you see anything?" she asked him. "I can feel something evil, but I can't see it. You're older than me, you may be able to. Try." She pointed in a direction she assumed was northeast. "I felt it over there." His brow furrowed, Legolas went toward the direction she had pointed in.
Aragorn had noticed Novarwen's hushed speaking to her brother. "Legolas, what do your Elf eyes see?" he called.
Novarwen's eyebrows shot up. "I might ask you what your Elf ears just heard," she muttered as Legolas peered into the distance. "The Uruks turn northeast!" he called back. He paused, then added in tones of horror, "They're taking the hobbits to Isengard!"
"Saruman," Novarwen gasped.
A day later, they were still running. Novarwen was tiring now. Aragorn was hoping to overtake the Uruk-hai before they reached Isengard, but the creatures were unlike their Orc counterparts. They were stronger, they had more endurance, and they moved in sunlight. Novarwen had little hope of catching up with the Uruks before they reached Saruman's fortress of Orthanc, but she said nothing about it to her companions.
Then, right in the middle of the plain, Aragorn stopped running. Novarwen screeched to a halt and caught her breath during the however-brief respite. Aragorn was looking behind them, and suddenly he made for a huge boulder, big enough to hide all four of them. Quickly getting the hint, Novarwen, Legolas, and Gimli followed him. They had barely all gotten behind the boulder when Novarwen felt the ground shake beneath her feet. The next instant, a company of horsemen rode past the boulder.
Novarwen pressed herself back against the boulder, wanting to stay out of the sight of these grim-looking armed riders. Not so Aragorn. He waited until the riders had gotten past the boulder, then stepped clear of it and shouted, "Riders of Rohan! What news from the Mark?"
Novarwen shook her head in despair, but Legolas grabbed her arm and pulled her with him as he too came free of the shelter of the boulder. Gimli came too, with no grumbled complaints. That spurred Novarwen to stop her own whimpers of distress, and she bit back a decided feeling of misgiving as the Riders of Rohan wheeled around, encircled all four of them, and leveled their spears at their throats. One of the Riders, the man who had been in the head when they rode past the boulder, looked them all quickly up and down, then asked, "What business do Elves, a Man, and a Dwarf have in the Riddermark?" Not liking his high-handed way of speaking, Novarwen said nothing. "Speak quickly!" the man demanded.
Gimli crossed his arms. "Give me your name, horsemaster, and I shall give you mine," he replied, winning Novarwen's instant approval.
The man dismounted and looked down at Gimli. "I would cut off your head, Dwarf, if it stood but a little higher from the ground."
Novarwen's eyes widened. "You would die before your stroke fell!" she snapped, her bow drawn in an instant and leveled at the man's throat. Immediately, she found herself staring down the shaft of a spear pointing at her own throat. Glancing around, she saw that her companions were in the same positions.
Aragorn threw her a stern, calm-down glance, then stepped forward to face the leader. "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn," he said quickly. Indicating Gimli, he added, "This is Gimli, son of Gloin, and Legolas and Novarwen of the woodland realm." In a stronger voice, meant for all the riders to hear, he finished, "We are friends of Rohan, and of Théoden, your king."
The man gave a sigh. "Théoden no longer recognizes friend from foe," he said heavily, dragging off his helmet, "not even his own kin." The helmet came off, and his blue eyes looked sadder now. "These men with me are those loyal to Rohan," he continued, "and for that, we are banished." Novarwen was sure now that this man was King Théoden's nephew, Eomer. She had not heard much of Rohan in Mirkwood, but she did know that Théoden had a nephew who would be about the same age this man looked.
Aragorn was speaking to Eomer again. "We track a party of Uruk-hai northward across the plain. They have taken two of our friends captive."
Eomer's eyes became guarded again. "The Uruks are destroyed. My men and I attacked them last night."
Unable to contain himself, Gimli stepped towards Eomer. "But there were two hobbits!" he exclaimed. "Did you see two hobbits?"
"They would be small, only children to your eyes," Aragorn persisted.
Eomer bit his lip. "We left none alive," he admitted. Novarwen's heart sank. She had no reason not to believe Eomer, and no reason to assume that because she had wanted the hobbits to live, they would. Her senses dulled by all-too-familiar grief, Novarwen barely listened as Eomer went on. "We piled the carcasses and burned them." He pointed to where a black column of smoke rose from the plain.
"We have to look, even to assure ourselves that -" Novarwen couldn't bear to let the word `dead' pass her lips, so she swallowed and looked at Aragorn and Legolas pleadingly, hoping they could understand her.
Eomer saw the look in the Elf-woman's eyes. He smiled to himself, having seen that same pleading, hopeful look in his own sister's eyes when she had asked to ride with him into exile. He had forbidden it, although he believed Eowyn capable of almost anything, but he had not wanted his sister to be in danger. Here, though, was another young woman, and this one he could help. He turned around and called, "Hasufel! Arod!" The two horses whose masters had died fighting the Uruks last night trotted up to him. "May these horses bear you to better fortunes than their former masters," he said, taking the reins and handing Hasufel to Aragorn and Arod to Legolas. Then he swung up onto his own horse, but he looked down at the four of them. "Look for your friends," he added, "but do not trust to hope." His mouth was set in a grim line. "It has forsaken these lands." Then he turned around and rode onward, his Riders following him.
The saddles on the horses were only meant for one rider, and as Novarwen climbed up on Hasufel behind Aragorn, she wished that she had not had to leave Brethil, her favorite horse, who she had taken from Mirkwood when she followed Legolas to Rivendell. Part of her was glad that her companion was safe in Lord Elrond's stables, but it was extremely uncomfortable trying to ride behind a saddle. The contortions she went into, however, seemed like the dance of Tinuviel when compared with the near-acrobatics Gimli and Legolas had to do to get the Dwarf securely on Arod - along with his axe. Novarwen was glad that Aragorn did not mind that she held very hard onto him as they rode.
Thanks to the speed of the horses of the Rohirrim, they came to the place where they had seen the smoke much more quickly than they had anticipated. Novarwen slid right off Hasufel's rump, and only barely managed to land on her feet and preserve her dignity. She cared nothing for dignity, however, when she saw the pile of burned Uruk-hai bodies all tumbled together, one on top of the other, and the grisly Uruk head mounted on a stick by the pile.
Much as she detested the very idea, Novarwen reached toward the pile of bodies, searching for some belonging of Merry or Pippin. She had found nothing, and was starting to believe that they might possibly still live, when her hand found a small, thin belt-like object. Her heart sinking, she pulled it out of the pile, and immediately recognized it as one of the belts Galadriel had given Merry and Pippin. It was charred and blackened with flame, and as she stood looking at it, her own hopes that Merry and Pippin might have survived the massacre seemed to go up in flames with the bodies of their foes.