Eodred cherished the patrols most of all.
The Mark was strong, now, stronger than it had been before the war. Gondor to the south had regained a king, and Eomer ruled well in Edoras; the might of the Black Land had been thrown down. But that was before his time; they were only stories, now, sung in the halls or tales told by the fireside. Rohan no longer was at war with the Black Land.
Eodred wished it were not so. Who now would make songs of this time? Any deeds he and his did now would pale to nothing in comparison to those great times far behind. He had been born fifty years too late. While Riders would sing of the renown of Erkenbrand the Red, and noble Elfhelm, and Grimbold, and Eowyn the White Lady, his name would fade into nothing. Who would sing of Eodred, born too late to fight?
His only solace were the patrols. The Dark Lord was defeated, but his orcs did not drop dead when the Ring was destroyed. They roamed still, hiding here and there among the hills. Few dared to enter the wide plains of Rohan, but now and again a larger band captained by a fierce uruk would dare to cross the plains.
Eodred spurred his horse on. His company’s charge was the Westfold, along the River Isen and by the ruins of Isenguard. the river foamed to his left, roaring onwards, telling tales of war. A war I will never see, he thought bitterly. The sun beat down upon his helm and shone golden off the star upon his shield. A pretty warrior I look, he thought, who has never seen an orc.
He spurred up next to Guthmer, the captain of their patrol. He was nearing seventy, and had seen his share of the Great War outside the gates of the White City, but did not march on the Black Gate. Guthmer was pulling the company away east, before they reached the eves of Fangorn. “Why do we not pursue west, beyond the fords?” Eodred called over the noise of armor and galloping hooves.
Guthmer lifted his spear, angling it against the falling sun, and waved it sid to side. The company pulled easily to a halt. Guthmer twisted to look at Eodred, resting his spear like a quarterstaff across the saddle. “Don’t you know of the Watchwood? It’s said it’s growing down, past the borders of Isenguard. The Onodrim are there. They may have helped, during the War, ’tis true; but the trees are strange in the Watchwood, stranger than even in the darkest dells of Fangorn. And even King Eomer wouldn’t follow Legolas beneath the leaves of that wood.”
Eodred spurred a little ahead of where the Riders were making camp, gazing into the forest. A host of orcs could pass beneath those trees unnoticed, he thought, pass unchecked right through Rohan and to the Shire. He had never seen that place, but had heard tales enough of it. The land of the Little People. The Ringbearer came from there, it was said.
“Ho, Eodred!” It was Guthmer. “Since you’re still ahorse, could you check the forest for fallen wood? I’d rather have a proper fire–but fallen only, mind! And don’t stray too far in, hear?” Eodred waved his spear in acknowledgement, starting towards the shadowed eaves. Before long he was passing under the eaves of the wood. Was it only his imagination, or was it quieter here? A strange hush.
Promising himself not to stray too far beneath the trees, he dismounted in search of fallen branches. Here and there he gathered a few, until he had an armful. He whistled. “Aful?” he called, looking for his horse. “Aful? Here, boy!” but there was no familiar answering whinney. He glanced back at the fields, then dodged deeper into the trees. “Aful? Aful!” No answer. “Drats,” he muttered, shouldering his way through some bushes. “What a time to wander! But he’s always come back. He broke into a clearing, and there was his stout grey, blinking at him and snorting reproachfully. “Don’t do that again, you know better,” Eodred smiled, dropping his load and stroking the grey’s mane. The horse whinnied, nudging him.
Suddenly Eodred saw another shape, half-hidden in the trees. “Hullo, what’s this?” he said, making out the form of a proud white horse. “Whose are you? Wandered off?” he said, then seeing that it had no harness, “or are you a wild one? Here, now,” he said, “but you’re Rohan stock, make no mistake.”
He stepped forward, a little closer. “Don’t run off,” he told it softly, “Let’s see if I can’t get you back where you belong.” He reached out to stroke its gleaming mane. A sudden sound froze him in his tracks.