Eodred allowed himself to be led over. The Elves–nine, he saw–were talking quietly among themselves in their own tongue, and he could not catch the words. Every now and again one would raise his voice to the Ent, who would rumble back thoughtfully, long and slow. They fell silent as Eodred approached.
Nine, he thought. Why is Nine so familiar? Eadil guided him with a hand on his shoulder. She was taller than he was, he realized again. Somehow that felt odd. He shouldn’t look up at her… “Forest Elves,” she said, breaking into his thought with a happy note in her voice, “this is Eodred of Rohan, warrior of the Mark. He has come with me through the Forest, hunting the orcs which you and the Onodrim” she bowed to the Ent “have slain.”
The Elves looked at him with curious eyes. “It has been long since the Horselords have come beneath the Trees and walked with the Ents,” one said. “I rejoice that you have come here again. Ever the Riders of Rohan have hunted the foul orcs across their plains, and for this I am thankful.” He reached out, touching Eodred’s shoulder, and the ghost of a smile crossed his face. “It would take a man of courage to enter Fangorn, for few but the Eldar and the Onodrim venture here.” His smile faded as he withdrew his hand.
“But why would a mortal pursue such creatures, alone when the Children of Elros found him?” asked another, in the Common Tongue for Eodred’s benefit, for his eyes were on the Rider, not on the Elves about him.
Eodred hesitated. How could he explain to an Elf the meaning of death, tell those who were immortal the shadow that had taken up a residence in his heart, until he feared it would eat its way outward and cover all in its emptiness? Let them at least find some measure of comfort, he told himself, lest all the world see Darkness and Eä itself fall back into the Void. Let them be spared.
“Who has walked the Halls of Mandos, and returned to tell the tale? Can the shade of a man return to haunt the world of the living?” he said at last.
“To that the Elves know not the answer,” spoke another, softly. There was a ring in his voice that Eodred had not heard before in the speech of Elves, a chime that reminded him of the open plains, and the fury of the thunder of the hooves of the eored under the glory of the sun, a charge of spears and swords and men singing as they rode by, passing like a grey wind over the horizon. Eodred looked in wonder at him, hearing the ring of a sorrow that is mortals’ alone to bear.
“You are no Elf,” he said, his voice filled with wonder and no little awe.
But the Elf only smiled. “You mistake yourself, good Rider,888 he replied, the chime of his voice jingling like the bells on the harness of a Marshal of the Mark. “I am Greenleaf, in your language, Prince of Mirkwood, and it is true that I have lived a while among mortals. But like them I am not, and soon my time will come to call me over the Sea. I have seen many battles, and many wars, and many bittersweet victories. Perhaps it is that that you hear, Rider of Rohan: the ring of truth and of sorrow that touches all the Ring touched.”
Afterwards Eodred could never recall what else was said. He remembered Eadil speaking to the Elves in their own tongue, too swift to follow, leaving him only with a light and swift memory in his ears; he remembered the slow, thoughtful Elvish of the ent, wide and broad and rolling; and he remembered the eyes of the Elf, this Greenleaf, and the ringing timbre of his voice.
It was dusk, and shadows cloaked the river by the fords when Eodred and Eadil met Avar and Anormene again. The ents had done their work, and the slain orcs were gone, though only time could heal the trampled grass and muddied water. The foursome sat out under the stars, Eadil binding a cloth about a long slash from an orc-blade on Avar’s arm. He had not been so lucky as Eodred. The Rider wondered that he himself was still alive.
The stars were bright above the cloudless sky and Eodred lay back as he watched them swing in their long, slow course. He had never learned their elvish names, but he remembered the names he had given them when he was still a lad; the three of the Fiery Mountain, glowing red, and the long chain he called the Ring’s Necklace, and the fiery point of the Rider’s Spear. A boy’s names, for a boy’s dreams of glory. What a fool he was, Eodred thought. What a pitiable fool.
He fell asleep dreaming of battles, of a grey shadow host that rose up tall and straight as trees, whispering, whispering. But the phantoms were chased away by rolling thunder as a great host of riders thundered through them across the plain, flying banners of green with the white running horse, and black, black with white and silver, whose banners were those? The jingling of their harness rang out over the plains to herald them, but then suddenly it was a voice, the Elf’s voice, chanting something; but no, it was Guthmer’s face, but he couldn’t hear the words, what was he saying? Then the Captain changed, and it was fire, fire and shadow, a great figure with wings of darkness and flame, and as it looked at him it laughed….
Eodred woke to Eadil’s soft laugher as she murmured to her brothers. It was cool under the stars, and they shone softly down, glowing on her white skin and winking off her silver hair and Avar’s dark head. White and silver and black, like the banners, he thought. Eadil’s calm laughter was the last thing he heard as he drifted off into deep, dreamless sleep. Tomorrow would come, and with it day made anew.