The Two Towers: Kyshri's Story - The quest to destroy the One Ring told through the eyes of a runaway elf (part three of thirteen)
I sighed and turned to my companions, shaking my head. "If it was truly our steeds I perceived, we could not catch them."
There was a long silence.
"Well," Aragorn said finally, "they are gone. We cannot find them or catch them, so if they do not return of their own will we must do without them. We started on our feet and we still have those."
So the watches were arranged again. I curled up by Legolas and yawned widely as I rested my head against his ribs and folded arms, drifting to sleep in the security of his presence.
In the morning, with little else to do, we made a search of the area for signs of the hobbits, in search of a sure direction that they had gone, for I might have missed their leaving of the forest for a more westerly path. I paused in my hunt and looked over to Legolas. To Telrak in particular, who had been sent to scout ahead and had waited in the trees by the slaughter until our arrival--knowing we would come--and awakened us as the sun rose.
[Telrak!] The falcon turned to me. [Please take to the sky and circle this area. Look for any signs of hobbits!]
Legolas extended his arm and Telrak sidestepped to his forearm. With a powerful swing, Legolas launched the falcon into the air. The raptor circled over us several times, then let out a cry and pulled in his wings, diving for the ground. At the last second he pulled up and landed in a place we had not yet checked. I ran that way, as did the others, and Telrak flapped his wings in alarm at our sudden approach, though he did not abandon what he had found.
I stroked the falcon's breast feathers and he puffed proudly. [Very well done, Telrak. Very well done indeed.]
It was a large, pale gold leaf; a mallorn leaf from Lorien. I sniffed lightly and caught a faint scent of lembas, all but washed away by the past nights' gentle wind. I let the others argue about what happened, then said, "I smell waybread."
"Still?" Gimli asked in surprise. "But it must have been days since the hobbits were here!"
"Perhaps. However, they may have escaped into the forest bound and then returned to free themselves once the Rohirrim had gone."
"You said you saw them," Aragorn noted. "How did they seem?"
"They seemed free--their legs were unbound--but I saw only their backs. For all I am aware, they made straight for the northern border to return to Rivendell or the western border to slip past Saruman and find their way to their homes or perhaps even the eastern border in hopes of meeting Frodo."
"Then let us enter the forest as well."
And so we entered Fangorn, searching along the Entwash for further clues. Aragorn discovered the hobbit-prints along its banks; they had obviously paused for a time, but had not lingered too long. We continued until Telrak, who had been perched calmly on Legolas' shoulder, went into a mad hissing fit and began fluttering at the air. I took him from a startled Legolas and cradled him, pinning his wings to his sides and cooing.
"What is it?" Legolas asked.
My reply was soft. "He says we are being watched." I glanced around the area, my ears angled outward. ". . . I hear footsteps."
"Saruman!" Gimli snarled, his hand moving to his ax.
"It is not an orc," I conceded. "The footfalls are too light. They are also too light to be a hobbit."
"Then it may be Saruman," Aragorn decided. "Let us not draw our weapons yet. Surprise is our best chance."
I hushed Telrak, thanking him for warning us, and replaced him on Legolas' shoulder. The falcon kept a sharp but quiet eye out for our follower as we continued on our way. It was not until we came upon a shelf-like area that we found ourselves caught in a sudden trap.
Saruman was right before us, standing tall on the raised earth. There seemed to be something not quite in keeping with how I knew Saruman, but instinct had overrun my senses and as Gimli threw one of his axes and Legolas loosed an arrow, I reached for my sword. But when the ax was deflected and the arrow incinerated, I considered the assurance that he would use magic against us.
So I acted first. Drawing my comparatively weak magical strengths together, I lunged for him silently, casting my magic before me in a sort of shield. He met me with nary a motion to reveal his plan and our magic struggled angrily with each other for several minutes before his magic pulsed the slightest bit, destroying my magic with ease and throwing me violently back into a tree.
He sat up with a sharp gasp and after panting a moment to calm his wildly pounding heart, stared down at the bedsheets pooled in his lap. The dream--vision might be a better term--replayed over and over in his head, mocking him for his inability to help her.
[Kyshri . . .]
Rising, he stepped out onto the balcony and gazed off to the southwest. Though he had decided he was alone in this nightmare, he was not surprised to hear Celeborn's voice in his head.
[She is in Fangorn.]
[She has been there before?]
[Briefly, she told me.]
[She is in danger.]
[The War is moving toward Rohan.]
[And this is our concern . . .?]
[Mithrandir has found them. He will lead them on to Edoras to speak sense to Theoden.]
And then she would be at the center of battle . . .
He grasped the rail of the balcony reflexively. [What do you wish me to do?]
He watched her fly across the small clearing and come to a sudden halt as she connected with a large tree. Her body curled backward around it, then fell limply to the ground.
She must have been killed.
No longer caring what might happen, he turned and ran to where she laid, gently rolling her and cradling her in his arms. [Kyshri . . .?]
He heard the others approaching and looked up in surprise, only to see that it was not Saruman they had attacked, but---"Mithrandir?"
He did not understand. Kyshri had attacked him, yes, but had she attacked him in such a way that she deserved such vicious punishment?
"Yes, it is I," Gandalf answered. "Forgive me; I sensed her magic was strong, but did not realize its power was so easily disrupted."
He nodded and refocused on Kyshri. Her magic was as that of an untrained horse; powerful and dangerous but lacking control.
"She wakes!" Gimli announced, routing all attention to Kyshri.
I blinked rapidly against the sun, glad when a shadow blocked it. Opening my eyes fully, I focused first on the face directly above me. [. . . Legolas? . . . What happened?]
[You fought against a strength far greater than your own,] was his disapproving answer. [You nearly invited death.]
I tried to move, but found myself able to stir only a slight bit. [Legolas . . .]
[Do not try to stand. You will be well in a moment.]
And indeed, after lying still for a few minutes I found a heavy sort of weight that I had not noticed before lift from my body and free me. However, I was still extremely weak and could not rise. I clutched at Legolas' tunic and tried to pull myself up; he shifted so that I was sitting, though I still leaned completely against him. I closed my eyes at the pain coursing through me and rested my head against his shoulder, slowly regaining my senses.
He laid me back again and gathered me carefully, lifting me from the ground. However, my brain was still fuzzed over and I felt as though I was falling, for I had never been carried this way. I twisted away, trying to pull my feet beneath me, but I could not. I reached up, grabbing wildly at whatever touched my hand.
[I am falling! Falling!]
[Kyshri, calm down---]
"Put her on her feet!"
Suddenly, my feet came into contact with the earth and I stilled, my weak knees giving beneath me. Legolas kept me up, kneeling slowly on the grass. [Kyshri, stop. Kyshri, it is all right. You are not falling.]
I opened my eyes cautiously and looked up at Legolas, who gazed back at me curiously. [. . . I know.]
Aragorn chuckled. "So the fearless elf does have a fear."
"Quiet, you!" I snapped. "I am ill at ease on my back in an unfamiliar land! You would be too if you had any sense!"
"I never said I was so unwary. I was merely noting that you, who has taken on a host of orcs nearly alone, is frightened of simply being on your back."
I growled to myself.
"Come along, all of you," said a new voice.
I jerked upright, nearly catching Legolas' chin. "Mithrandir!"
[Hush,] Legolas scolded softly. [You are still not fully recovered. Do not waste your strength through shouting.]
Gandalf smiled down at me. "Yes, I am here."
"I will excuse, though there is no need for it. It seems that the mistake was not only yours. Saruman was attempting to control you through your magic, but it was not enough for him to grasp you firmly. I have broken his spell. Now rise, for we must move on to Edoras. If you cannot, allow yourself to be carried."
This time, I had plenty of warning and let Legolas pick me up as before. I hooked my arms around his neck and held on tightly, for though I trusted him I still feared that his grip might fail and I would be injured further. However, we reached the edge of Fangorn without trouble. The horses had still not returned.
"They have not returned," Legolas said as he searched the plain. "It will be a weary walk."
"I will not walk," Gandalf replied. "Time presses." And he whistled loudly three times.
I heard it first; the joyful whinny of a horse. [Legolas, put me down. I have recovered.] He obeyed carefully, but I merely crouched to place my hand against the earth briefly before rising again. I could see them now in the distance, four horses moving at a fast clip. One I recognized immediately--the shimmery bronze coat and silver mane of---[Quephiril!]
I received his deep neigh in reply. He ran a few lengths behind another horse I had not seen before whose coat shone like silver. This new stallion was certainly a very important creature, particularly if he was outrunning Quephiril, who I had finally come to realize was--with such a unique coat--a horse lord of some sort. Which had explained his difficulty with being reigned in.
Gandalf explained. "He is Shadowfax, the chief of the Mearas--lords of horses--and not even Theoden, King of Rohan, has ever looked on a better. Does he not shine like silver and run as smoothly as a swift stream?"
Even though the stallion was near enough for me to touch, I dared not. But I was soon distracted by Quephiril, who nudged my head to get my attention. I laughed and stroked his cheeks. [Forgive me, friend. I did not mean to ignore you so. I hope you are up for a run.]
He tossed his head and lifted to his rear hooves a bit, but settled to the earth almost immediately. I hopped to his back and let him rise slightly once more, giving him a gentle scolding when he pawed at the grass. [Patience, my friend. We will be on our way soon.]
Telrak took off as Legolas leapt to Arod's back. The falcon circled until we set out and then glided down between us, allowing Shadowfax to lead the way. I sent him ahead several times to check, however unlikely the possibility, for orcs or any other company like Eomer's.
Nightfall caught us and Gandalf allowed us only a few hours' rest. I dismounted only a moment to keep my legs from stiffening and then remounted Quephiril, lying along his back. I do not remember when we resumed, for my mount was most gentle and did not disturb me. I woke at dawn, when he came to a hard stop and I had to fling my arms back and as far around his flanks as possible so I did not fall off, though he had stopped in such a way that I would not have.
"That is Edoras," Gandalf informed us as I sat up. "Meduseld is the golden hall, where we will find Theoden, son of Thengel, King of the Mark of Rohan."
Shadowfax snorted and nickered softly. Quephiril nodded sharply and set out alone at a gentle canter. I tilted my head, confused and curious but surprisingly unafraid, as we moved to the southwest toward a small collection of trees.
I turned around and smiled, waving calmly. [It seems Shadowfax has asked something of Quephiril! I am sure we will not be gone long! Do not wait for me if Shadowfax leads on! We will be fine!]
Legolas watched helplessly from Arod, who would not move without the consent of Shadowfax. The smaller horse turned his head to Shadowfax and stretched his neck playcatingly, but the silver stallion tossed his head and Arod's shifting fell to stillness once more.