Korin’s Journey Part I July 1, 2003
rev. Jan 29, 2004
Her horse shuffled nervously and signaled to Korin the fact that she had lingered for too long near the unnatural pyre before them both. The tower of flames that had initially drawn her attention late that morning was subsiding now and the massive pile of bodies turned to ash while she watched, leaving very little recognizable in the aftermath. Without warning the wind changed its course and the full force of the stench of the burning corpses came to her, causing an involuntary shiver of disgust. At her close proximity, the fire’s heat washed over her, until she could feel the metal helmet she wore begin to scald the skin on her face. Korin backed her mount to a safer distance, slightly away from the smoldering heat.
Unceremoniously she pushed back the heavy silver helmet and drew her gloved hand across her brow. She narrowed her eyes to block the smoke that issued from the ashes and without dismounting, reached behind her until she felt the smooth neck of the water skin tied to the back of her saddle. She took a single unhurried draught and then replaced the worn wooden stopper and refastened the leather loop that secured it.
Korin wondered how long she had delayed her quest here. She had just situated herself to rest for the night beneath the canopy of the trees, when she had been woken by the sound of battle in the gray hour before dawn. She had led her mount slowly toward the scene, hugging close to the side of the forest. But by the time that she came close enough to determine who had been fighting, it was over.
For hours, Korin had waited and watched in hiding. The men of Rohan had been swift and lethal in disposing of the band of Orcs. And after they took care of their own wounded, made fast work of piling the dead and burning their carcasses. Even from her secure vantage point, Korin had felt the hatred coursing through the men as they viciously skewered several of the Orc heads and set them up to announce their victory. The white hand of Saruman adorning their helmets could easily be seen.
She had been glad to have the camouflage of the trees and did not for a moment let her thoughts dwell on what she would have done if she had been detected. The horse lords were known to her to be just and proud, but she was riding alone openly on their lands and with no invitation. No disguise could protect her here. It was a perilous time she had chosen to ride through Rohan. They would see everyone first as an enemy and an offer of trust could not be expected.
Throughout the morning, the clouds had thickened and it became difficult to see the time of day, but the sun must have been at it’s highest point when the men of Rohan finally set fire to the mound of bodies. And another hour had passed before Korin felt safe enough to venture forward to investigate.
Now there was indecision wrinkled upon her brow which was still sheltered beneath her helmet. Korin knew when she had left her home in the north weeks ago, that she had no real idea of where she would find them. Just an ever-increasing feeling that it must be soon. She had reached the dreaded crossroad of her quest. Her path had taken her past the Gap of Rohan and still there remained no sign of the party she sought.
An uneasy feeling was starting to bear down upon her. There should have been some sign of their passing these many days hence. She had assumed that the party would have chosen to come through the Gap of Rohan. But perhaps they could not risk passing so near to Isengard. Doubts began to assail her as she allowed these questions to enter into her mind. Had she missed their trail? Should she wait here or continue to seek them?
The quickening thud of hoof beats stayed all of these questions for the moment and simultaneously both horse and rider jerked their heads in the direction of the sound. From what she could hear, they seemed to be few and she wondered if the riders had sent back men to look after the pyre they had created earlier that morning. Without waiting to count them, Korin turned her mount abruptly and made her way back near the forest. She had little time to take cover and gratefully found it just behind a large mound of stone some yards from the trees.
Korin knew she could not remain hidden here for long, once they arrived. She looked to her side at the beckoning branches at the edge of Fangorn, but the riders were now too close to risk moving from her current place of hiding. There was nothing she could do but wait and watch in breathless panic as the figures of the riders came into view.
It was beyond belief, the sight that she beheld when the riders pulled in their mounts. There were two horses and three riders or at least two full-sized riders. Closely, she watched them as they circled the great pile of ashes and flesh. They had dismounted now and were scanning the ground before them and were yet a short distance away. They seemed to be looking for something among the bodies and it made her uneasy as she watched.
So much depended upon this moment for Korin that it was difficult to clearly reason. What would she say to him? How would he hear this news from her? Years had passed since she had last spoken to him, and so much had changed for them both. Korin took a deep breath and turned away all of the anxiety. She should count herself fortunate to have found him at last. With a huge sigh, she let out her breath and walked her horse forward to become visible and then waited until they had seen her.
It took only a short time for the three men to discover the lone rider watching them. For what seemed far too long they stood and watched her. No one spoke. Korin’s breath came fast and she fought to control her emotions. Everything she had ever known and believed in now stood on the fragile edge of this long- sought meeting. She could not allow her fears and uncertainty prevent her from stepping into her destiny. So when she could no longer withstand the intensity she spoke, pleading with her voice not to falter.
“A man and an Elf and a Dwarf on horses of the Mark. I have traveled far as of late and have seen many things, but this is a strange sight indeed.” She used great effort to disguise her voice, but still it sounded delicate to her own ear.
From this distance it was difficult to see the effects of her words. Korin waited briefly and her patience was rewarded when Aragorn spoke and all at once a great flood of relief flowed through her when at last she heard the familiar warmness of his voice.
“We have had words with the riders of the Mark and they have lent us these horses. I would think they left a man behind to guard the fires, but I can see that your horse is not of the Riddermark.”
Aragorn had soon concluded to himself that this horse and rider were instead from the North. The simplistic, once-black leathered clothes adorning both the rider and the horse were seen solely in the Dunedain. The animal also was found only in the North with its dark gray coat and slightly smaller stature than the horses of the Mark.
“Why do you ride alone in Rohan and what is your business? The men we spoke to were not eager to find outsiders treading openly upon their land.”
His tone was not yet firm and Korin could also sense a certain weariness in his voice, but the joy of finally finding what she had sought for so long overcame her wariness. She felt the tension leave her and the hands that had been clenching her reins relaxed somewhat as the familiarity of his face and even the memory of something as simple as the way he stood came back to her. Korin carefully kept her voice lowered once again as she spoke to him though. She could not restrain herself from discovering just how far her masquerade could carry her.
“I can see that they were gracious enough to you.”
Aragorn ignored her words. “We are searching for two companions we were traveling with. We fear they were lost in the battle.”
“You keep bad company when you look for companions among a pile of burning Orcs. I believe I will bid you farewell and inquire no further of your business.”
“Our two companions were not Orcs or Uruk-hai. But Hobbits of the Shire. Halflings if you will.”
Immediately, Korin felt admonished after learning the true reason for their mysterious search through the remnants of the bodies. As Aragorn awaited her response, she took an opportunity to wonder at his appearance. His clothes were slashed as with the blades of many a sword fight and there was a look about him of pure exhaustion. She moved her eyes from Aragorn to his traveling companions and sympathy filled her heart for whatever ill had come upon this small band, for they all seemed to carry a weariness beyond imagination. The dwarf eyed her with suspicion and from behind the endless beard that sprung from his face and the helmet that covered his head, Korin thought he seemed a fearsome sort. One glance to the Elf revealed to her a bow and long-knife strapped over his shoulder. She guessed his clothing to be the deep forest-green of the woodland realm.
Korin had not yet dismounted and so they looked up to her now. She sat quiet and thoughtful behind her mask and was about to reveal herself to them, when Aragorn spoke again. His voice was even and expressionless.
“Are you from the north?”
“I am,” Korin said.
Aragorn watched her carefully and questioned her again.”Are your people those of the Dunedain?”
“Yes,” she said.
“I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn and although it has been long since I have beheld my home, I do not recall ever seeing you.”
Korin was glad to be finished with this deception. Slowly she lifted the helmet from her head to release a shower of long, dark hair that swept across her back and shoulders. The face revealed was small and elegant, with features strongly resembling those of the Ranger before her. “Perhaps you should not keep yourself away to such lengths, if you cannot remember the ones you leave behind.”
Behind their own astonishment, the Elf and dwarf looked to Aragorn for his response. He seemed to show no emotion though, or it was masked to such an extent as to seem so.
“I then must certainly beg forgiveness, for had I known what beauty grew in my absence, I would never have strayed.”
Korin set the helmet behind her on her saddle and stepped lightly to the ground. She was still unsure of his response as she looked up to him. Yet before she could wonder to any extent, Aragorn had reached for her and she was afforded only a glimpse of his grin before he had swept her into his arms and placed a very rough bearded kiss onto her cheek. He held her long and when he finally relinquished her, she peered into his face and found the years had slipped away and he was unchanged from how she had remembered him to be. As he released her, none could mistake the familiarity between them.
“You do not leave me to guess at your desire to see me then?”
“No surprise it is that I find you here, cousin, but your traveling attire has been well suited to you and has hidden your secret as was meant.” Indeed, she did look like a slightly smaller version of Aragorn to the others as they watched.
She felt at ease now and could not stop the wide smile that set upon her lips. How she had missed this man, whom for years since her father’s death, had been the only family she had known. The love between them was strong and this reunion brought to her the peace of belonging that she hoped had endured through their long separation. When at last he held her at arms length, Korin saw again a hint of despondency pass over his features, although his warmth remained.
“I would press upon you the matter of our friends that are lost to us. They were captured from us at Tol Brandir four days since and we have pursued them on foot until Eomer, Rider of the Mark entrusted these horses to our aid.”
She could sense the defeat and grief they must be feeling to realize that their friends were lost to them. “I watched the battle in the early morning from the other side of the hill. Over there.” She motioned behind her to the north. “I came down only when the men of Rohan had gone. I am sorry, but I saw nothing.”
Aragorn turned to his companions, both the Elf and the Dwarf. “What then? The hour is late and already the shadows have lengthened, bringing to an end any light that would have aided us in searching the wood. Shall we then rest until morning when we are better able to find our way and what trace a Hobbit may have left?” They agreed with Aragorn though it was the Dwarf who spoke.
“Although I cannnot expect daylight to offer any more solace to those trees.” He motioned to the forest in an offhand manner, yet slightly underlined in awe.
Aragorn focused his attention back to the woman beside him. “My lady, may I present to you Gimli, son of Gloin.”
Korin bowed her head toward the Dwarf and gave to him a warm look. “My lord,” she spoke softly and looked down upon his great grizzled face and could not help but smile.
Gimli, immediately seemed uncomfortable in her presence and muttered something no one was meant to hear. This had the effect of increasing her smile and she was immediately drawn to his humble stature.
Eventually, he managed to find his voice, ” my lady,” was all that he said. He did manage to look up at her briefly, but then just as quickly he became flustered once more.
Korin’s attention was then directed by Aragorn to the Elf.”And this is Legolas, son of Thranduil.”
Such a simple introduction it was, yet his very words shook her. She looked sharply from the Elf back to Aragorn, who had the shadow of humor on his face. He said nothing just lowered his head in acknowledgment to the truth of his statement.
Korin could feel the color rising in her face and inside, waged war trying to keep her mouth closed from astonishment. She returned her eyes back to the Elf, who to no surprise, had the same shadow of humor on his face.
Korin could not stop the red heat that was encompassing her from her ears to her nose. She lowered her eyes and willed her voice not to falter. “Forgive me my lord, I did not realize-” She lifted her head to find the deep gaze of the Elf fixed upon hers and found that she could not look away. Behind his eyes she could see the great depth of the years and the pureness that was all of life.
He bowed his head to her and replied kindly, “My lady, may the friendship between our fathers serve us as well.”
Aragorn broke the silence that had fallen, “this is my cousin Korin, daughter to Kednomar and I am quite certain that we shall know soon why she is here.”
“Let us stay here for the night then,” said Gimli, “it seems there is much to say and I am so hungry that I could eat even one of these trees.”
“I wouldn’t say that in the company of them here, even at the edge of Fangorn,” said Legolas, “for they would not forgive you your axe.”The sun was setting far into the horizon and between the hill and the wood there was little light left. Gimli peered cautiously into the trees which were now nearly blackened for lack of light. “The warmth of a fire would be much welcomed, for already the night grows damp. Could we not gather the dead wood on the ground? There is plenty to be found.” He seemed pleased enough with his plan and did not wait for reply, but began his work and soon had a small, warm fire blazing cheerily.
Legolas stood resting one foot upon a stone and gazed into the emptiness of Fangorn. “Celeborn warned us not venture far into Fangorn. I wonder what stories there are to be told about this place?”
Gimli let his eyes graze steadily over the darkness that bordered them, but quickly riveted his attention back to the light of the fire before him. “You will have a fight on your hands if any of you think to drag me under that menacing tangle of firewood. I can see no good coming from venturing into a place where we may not be welcome.”
Aragorn came to Korin where she was busy tying the horses for the night. “She is a beautiful animal. What do you call her?”
“She is called Avathar. She is young, but she is learning quickly.” Korin patted the rump of the horse and was rewarded with a soft whinny from Avathar. “And we have traveled far together.”
“It is a dark name for one so chosen.”
Korin shrugged as if she had never thought about this. “She was a gift from Kednomar. It was of his giving. Perchance he could see the darkness of the time set for her service?” She had kept her back to Aragorn while she attended the horse. A gesture of uncertainty on her part.
“For the plight of our people Kednomar has ever been blessed with foresight. Yet it has come to me that even more abides with one born to his house.”
Korin had kept her interest to the bags tied to her saddle, but stopped and straightened at his words. “You have not yet asked me why I am here, my lord.”
Aragorn beheld this woman, his kin, before him. Though it had been some years since he had seen her last, he found her unchanged, save perhaps even more lovely. Age had also seemed to increase the power of her determination. He could feel the natural warmth they had always shared, yet he answered her slowly, measuring his words carefully.
“I thought you would tell me soon enough. And why should you call me lord? Have we not known each other for so long that you need not address me so?” He smiled as he looked down upon her.
Korin looked up at him, but her face was solemn. “Are you not lord of the Dunedain?” Her eyes strayed away from his. “There is much that you do not yet know about my being here.”
“We have all night to speak on it,” he replied.
“Aragorn, I would speak to you now, for there are things to tell you that I should keep between us- at least for now.”
Korin waited to see that he understood and then went on. “I have come to bear you news of our people.” Here she paused to regain her resolve.
Aragorn could plainly see her struggle, but waited beside her.
Soon she continued. “Do you remember how it was when you left us last? The men do not understand this turmoil that is growing out of control. Our people seek only their own will. Since father’s death there is no leader. Again Korin paused only to find Aragorn’s face saddened and stern. ” I have managed to persuade some of the men to come, to join you in the fight against Mordor. There are not many who are willing to fight, but there are some.”Aragorn looked grim still. “How many will fight?”
“There are thirty or so. Halbarad will lead them. And he is trying to raise more- even now. He will ride forth with the Dunedain and meet with us shortly. He may already have departed. It has been more than three weeks since I have left our home to bring you this news.”
Korin stopped and looked hard into his eyes for a short time. She reached to her side and felt the leather scabbard that held her sword. She withdrew it and laid it across the palms of her hands. It was small and light, and shone from a source independent from the golden rays of the setting sun. She knelt upon the ground in front of Aragorn and held it out to him.
“I have come to offer you my service. By Rilma, I pledge myself to you and every breath that is left to serve the one who will be king.”
Aragorn recognized the blade as that of her father. He could find no words at all to say to this woman who pledged her life to him, but looked upon her in astonishment.
“You need not face this darkness alone. I have spent all of my life preparing for this day and I will not turn away now.” Korin looked steadily at Aragorn, “and I think you know this as well.”
Aragorn found he could do nothing but take the sword from her hands. He was lost for words and for a minute stood mesmerized by its unearthly glow feeling the coolness of the blade against his skin. He had always understood that his cousin had indeed been raised and taught by her father for just this day. For as long as Kednomar had lived, this evil had grown across the land. Having no sons, he devoted his entire attention upon his only child. He taught her how to read in the ancient tongues of Men and Elves and many of the now forgotten histories of Middle Earth, even from the very beginning. He satisfied her thirst for knowledge in the tomes of Rivendell and Isengard. And not only in writing and books, but also with the sword. He taught her leadership and strategies of battle. From an early age, it had captivated her and soon she had immersed herself in it. Kednomar had never directly told his daughter why she was learning the ways of their ancestors, but she had always known that Aragorn had been born the Númenorean heir. She had never doubted, like he, that he would one day arise and reclaim the throne.
Aragorn was troubled now to think of his cousin and the days that were to come, but he knew that she would not be denied. When he did finally find the words to speak, his manner was thoughtful.
“You are right. I have also known for some time that this day would come. But now that it has, I cannot find the words to speak. My love for you makes it difficult to assume this service, knowing the danger that it brings onto you.”Without moving, Korin spoke, “Aragorn, no man alone can contain the peril that all of Middle Earth is now facing. You cannot change it, only accept what will be.” Her voice was soft, but insistent. At the same time she felt both nervousness for the position she had placed herself in and a certain poignancy, for she did not doubt the sincerity of his words.
Aragorn’s hands were almost steady when he placed the sword back into the hands of Korin, and accepted her promise to him.She still bowed before him. “There is no other place for me, but beside the one I also love.”
Legolas and Gimli had not missed the exchange between the Lady Korin and Aragorn, their friend. And it did not seem strange to them, after all they had seen, that as the last rays of light streaked down the trees, a lady knelt and offered her life in service to a Ranger. They watched together as Aragorn and Korin found their way toward the fireside.
The company was indeed grateful for the warmth the fire provided them and all were quiet for a time while food was shared and rest was gladly taken. It was Gimli who spoke first, “I never thought I should be so grateful for dried meat and bread my lady. You have my thanks. And the change from lembas, is very much appreciated.”
“You did not seem to mind the eating of it these past days,” Legolas reminded him.
“Yes, well it fills a stomach, but meat and bread have flavor to satisfy the heartiest appetite.”
“I am glad you enjoyed it then, master Gimli,” replied Korin.
The Dwarf leaned back onto the blanket that was to be his bed and propped himself onto one arm, seemingly contented now. “Will you not share with us the story of your journey my lady? And how you seem to know my good Elf friend.”
“I will gladly relate my tale, yet I must first ask about your company. Is it true then? Was the ring brought forth from the Shire of the hobbits? Is it indeed the same ring of Bilbo Baggins? And where are the others? On the road I met with the sons of Elrond, and had time enough only to learn that a ‘fellowship’ had departed Rivendell. I knew not who had left, yet I had expected more to your company. Was Gandalf not with you?”
Korin saw all three faces before her suddenly fall. Gimli and Legolas looked to Aragorn to explain and Korin could see that his story was difficult, yet she needed to know.
“Nine there was in our band, left from Rivendell. Myself and Legolas and Gimli. Boromir, son of Denethor of Gondor, and Gandalf. And the four hgobbits. I have told you of a battle at Tol Brandir. There Boromir was slain by the Orcs and there our Merry and Pippin were taken by them. The ring-bearer and his companion Samwise, have gone down their own path alone to Mount Doom.
“And Gandalf-” Here he paused and looked up into the black cover of night. “Gandalf was lost to us in the mines of Moria.”
It was good that the three were saddened enough by their recollection and could not see the lady’s bewilderment. The breath was struck from her with his words and yet she could scarce believe them. Gandalf fallen? She did believe his words though and bowed her head in respect. “That is ill news you give me cousin.” Although Korin inwardly had many questions, she took his words to heart and pondered them long and kept her suspect to herself.
“How did he fall?”
“On our descent from Khazaad-dum there came a Balrog of Morgoth. Gandalf raised a challenge and fell into the great void.”
All at once, Korin found her breath again and it caused a great pain in her chest as she sought to envision her old friend and the events of his passing. Doubt assailed her once more, but she stilled further questions.
A great silence settled upon them, and for a time all were lost in private thought until Gimli broke the awkward quiet.
“The ring now travels with Frodo and Sam, and we are left to find the others.”
“Our journey has been troubled, and until now hope has been small.” Aragorn caught Korin’s eyes with his own as he spoke.”But come,” said Gimli, “I would discover how it is you know of Legolas.”
“I have never had the fortune of knowing your friend before today, I must confess. Our paths have never crossed, save for the bond between our fathers.” Korin reached for the scabbard laying beside her on the ground and slowly pulled the sword from within. The blade was long and thin, as was the custom of the Elves. It was wrought in silver, save for the hilt. This was layered in several shades of gold, woven together. In the middle there was a crescent moon in the palest gold. Surrounding the moon, seeming almost to swallow it, was a blazing sun in a darker golden color. It was the sword of Light. Forged when Thranduil himself was young.
Legolas exclaimed upon its sight. “Rilma! You carry the sword of our fathers!”Korin’s face was staid as she ran her fingers down the blade. “Kednomar would not let its strength die with him. He bade me hold it for him, in his honor.””And now to war, it shall again be spent.” Legolas could not help, but admire this kinswoman to Aragorn.
“A tale of a sword is what binds you in friendship then,” said Gimli.
“Not only the tale, but the sword itself. It had belonged to Thranduil since even I can recall,” said Legolas.
“In the time of the wars between the Rhudaur and the Arthedain, my father wielded Rilma and fought beside Kednomar. In the midst of battle, Kednomar’s own sword was broken. Thranduil was himself wounded, but before he was taken off the field, he bade Korin’s father to take up Rilma.”All of them waited and Legolas continued. “After the battle, they traveled to the Dunedain where Kednomar tended my father. This started a friendship between the two that would last until the end of their days.” Here the Elf stopped and stared at Korin and his eyes were strange to her, disquiet and reverent, as if finally he realized the very chance of their meeting.
Korin met his gaze and he began again, seeming to speak only to her. “Out of their friendship the two formed an alliance to keep at bay the evil that threatened their lands and every year at the anniversary of the battle, a council would meet on a hill near the east of the North Downs. Here, there was such a gathering of trees that encircled a great green area. My people have always called such a hill a `korin’. Thranduil had this place called Kortirion, for this hill had so resembled to him the korin of Kortirion, in the time of the Eldar.By the words of my father, one year the spring came very soon to the land and the sun warmed the earth earlier than usual as the time came for the council with Kednomar and the Dunedain of the North. And although the time for her to bear their first child was near, Saban, wife of Kednomar attended with him. On the eve of the second day at Kortirion the weather changed and a cold winter wind blew around the hill. It came time for Saban to bear her child. For two days she fought in her labors, but passed without ever knowing of her. It is said that the trees there are still heard, mourning her passing in the gray winds of an early spring.” Legolas’ eyes strayed to the small fire and he paused for a time as if recalling some lost detail.
He looked again to Korin. “Here it is told me, by my father that he came upon the hillside that next day, to find Kednomar holding his tiny daughter and both weeping bitterly over their loss. Then to Thranduil he spoke. `What man am I to have this child without mother or wife?’ And Thranduil had no answer for him. For a long while, they sat upon the hill and when the baby slept, there came a quiet from the skies and the trees were still. Thranduil told his grieving friend, `your daughter will forever have the solace of the trees and they will call her their own. Our council has brought peace to this place and so may it be with this favored one.’ But to Kednomar, his words offered no comfort and he said, `Then will I call her Korin now, and be thankful for that much.’He took home his only child, and could not for his grief, ever return to Kortirion- and the council ended.” Legolas’ voice fell off and for his silence was said more than words. His eyes rested upon Korin and she was left to wonder at this narrator to her past. She was moved beyond all else and could not reflect adequately what emotion he had seized from its telling, but for the depth behind her eyes.Gimli spoke then, “how strange to never have met someone, only to find that they know you so well.”
In that moment, Korin was thinking just that and she lowered her eyes to her hands, but not before she found the smile of Legolas. She felt the warmth of it course through her, even while her face remained downcast. And never before had she seen anything so beautiful in all her time and doubted that she ever would again.
Gimli slowly stood and extended his arms above his head and then toward the heated coals of the fire. “We will need more wood if we wish for this heat through the night.” He had drawn the chance of first watch and so he departed in search of it.
Aragorn also stretched and emptied the contents of his long pipe into the fire. He watched Korin for a moment and she returned his stare. A smile smoothed the creases from his troubled face, and Korin was content to have brought some small peace to her cousin, after all. Within minutes he slept, but for herself, it was short in coming. She stood and ventured to Gimli, gathering fuel for the night.
“The trees seem to enjoy your fire Master Gimli,” she said. And they did seem so, bowing their branches low over its warmth.
“I would think they bowed to you, my lady, after my friends story,” he replied softly and esteemed.
The words of the Dwarf were so sincere that Korin could not help but smile. “You leave me without words, Master Gimli. I am unaccustomed to such.” She would get no reply from Gimli though, as he pretended to stir the fire instead.
Korin bent to sit once more alongside the glow of the fire. Legolas had not yet retired either and he spoke now to her. “My lady, I wish to say that I am sorry for your father’s death. My people mourned long for him from my home, most of all Thranduil.”
Korin could tell that his words were uncomfortable to say, but his condolences meant much to her.
“How is it for the Dunedain, since his passing?”
“My people are no longer the people in the time of our father’s fellowship. Perhaps it is because of the ending of the council, but I think not.” Her voice lowered even more now to a whisper. “This evil plague of Sauron’s is spread to all corners of the land.” She did not try to disguise the disdain in her voice.
“Even to the realm of Mirkwood, his power has laid waste. Trolls and Orcs have been seen now on every border and they are closing.”
“How long will Thranduil hold there?”
“Much depends on the days to come.” Legolas bowed his head again to watch the embers of the dying fire. The light was fading from it, but still Korin could see his turmoil and sadness. He looked once more upon her though, and she found her breath shortened. Almost all light was gone now, from sun or from flame, and as he spoke Korin was taken aback at the depth of sorrow she saw as the fire lit his dark eyes.
“Still, the Lady of the Wood did say to look for hope where it was not looked for. I wonder my lady, how is it that you have come to us?”
Korin sat back and looked up through the canopy of trees and found the bare glint of the stars in the black of the evening sky, and to Legolas she replied in the speech of the Elves. “Long have my travels brought me. Over river and hill and plain. With no promise of finding my lost kin. If no hope I can bring to you, then better had I stayed.”
“I did not know you spoke the language of my people.” Legolas did not seem surprised though, and his voice was bright as he strained even his eyes to spy through the darkness, but it was only the darkness that answered back to him.
“I should hope there are still a great many things that you do not yet know of me, my lord.” No more was said then and they laid and rested. But not before they woke Gimli again for his watch.
No time had passed before a cloaked man, appearing to be stooped with age, emerged from the darkness. This startled Gimli to such an extent that the others woke immediately.
“What can we do for you?” Aragorn asked, rising to meet the old man. Yet as soon as he stood, the figure was gone and darkness was replaced. They heard a rustling towards the horses and upon their arrival, found that all of them fled into the night.
Thoughts of Celeborn’s warning filled the thoughts of the three men. Could it be Saruman? Caught in the peril of the dark, there was little else to do, but rest through the night. They each took a watch and the remainder of the night came with no event.
July, 7, 2003
In the clear cold of the morning Korin woke with a start. Had yesterday really happened? Was she now here encamped with Aragorn and his companions? She looked to her side and found this to be true. She let her thoughts wander back to the past evening and all she had learned. Lost Hobbits and the ring went to Mordor. Boromir, son of the Steward and Gandalf lost. Over and over again she pondered the possibility of the gentle Gandalf, fallen. With all of her resolve she could not understand how he could be gone. She must believe what Aragorn told her, yet then how could she explain her messenger. Her reason for being here now. She sensed that Gandalf had been calling her to come away, bewitching and insistent, as only he could impart. For two nights before her departure, she had visions of a rider, white hair flowing with the mane of an equally white horse until you could make no distinction between the two. It was the insistence of the voice that caused her to come to Aragorn, telling her that the time had come.
Even the very vision taunted her. Like the wind was the voice bearing the message, leaving only confusion and doubt in its wake. It was always this way, the visions that came to her. Making good reason for Korin to keep them secret. And she would keep them this way, until a time or cause was given to relinquish them.
She rose and moved toward the horses, but memory forced her to step back. Standing beside the dying fire, she wondered if the others had considered that the horses seemed not to be distressed at their flight last night. It was not as if they were led away, but of their own will, vanished into the dark.
The others were waking now and though the sun brought no warmth, what it did bring was light enough to see. Aragorn searched the grass beyond their place of rest and could find nothing of the old man.
“A phantom that leaves no trace of footprint on the ground. It must be the work of Saruman,” Gimli said quietly.
“Whichever is the case, we may never know, ” Aragorn offered. “Where now will we go? Shall we go back and take the road through Rohan or risk the feared forest in front of us? As finding Merry and Pippin was our course before, I say we chance to enter Fangorn and find what we will.”
Korin and Legolas stood at the edge of the forest straining for any sign to read from the ancient trees. While nearby, Gimli appeared wary of every branch that moved.
“The wood did not stir as this in the dark of night. Now it has eyes that see, and ears that hear all. Let it be said that I do not trust this plan.”
Legolas tried to put him at ease. “I sense no good or ill from these trees, only a force, a compelling power from within. But let me not dictate what forces lay waiting. It is Korin who should accord for the forest.”
For this morning, Korin had been grateful to rely on the others and their decisions. It had given her time to ponder the thoughts she had earlier and could not yet still. She wondered if Legolas did not feel the same unexpectedness that seemed to emanate from the outstretched arms of the trees. Or was he hiding his doubts to soothe his friends’ nervous axe?
Korin returned her thoughts to the question at hand and looked to the Elf and then to Gimli and said carefully, “my heart tells me that Fangorn holds many secrets. Though the calm that has endured, is replaced with suspicion. I should guess we may pass without event, master Gimli”
Aragorn wandered first through the sunlit borders, crossing into the warmth of the green darkness. He glanced at Korin as he passed, and she was grateful that he seemed not to notice how much the forest affected her.
She heard the sound of many voices that rose and fell together in a chorus, like an angry troupe, barely checked and slowly gaining momentum. Although she had reassured the Dwarf, Korin felt much trepidation and cautiously made her first step under the canopy of leaves and twig. She felt the eyes of the Elf to her back and turned toward him. Without speaking, Legolas said that he also went forward with some caution as he whispered to her.
“What force threatens to overtake here? There is a sense of expectation, like all breath is being contained in waiting.”
“I would not have this fear spread, my lord. Let us hope we may discover your answers without harm to any here.”
As Korin walked along, ducking and turning her way with the others, she felt as if every step into the wood took her further from a life she would never recapture. In truth, she welcomed this change. She had been estranged from her people for all of her life. Although she had never felt like an outcast as Aragorn had at times, Korin could not help but sense certain differences that were so evident.
From a very young age, Kednomar had taken her any place his affairs took him. Later in years, he would claim any opportunity to further her learning. All of her days studying and learning the histories of Men and of Elves. Time spent in the Dunedain, while not abroad, was filled with training of war and battle. Countless hours spent over maps and schemes from the wars of her father’s day. She had never recalled wanting anything else, though. There were other daughters also trained in battle. And swordplay was common in the older children as they yearned to imitate their fathers. Except for Korin, these daughters became wives, while her training lasted well into her adult years. She had always accepted that she would not be afforded this simple existence and it had never seemed a burden to her. Korin’s entire existence had revolved around the time spent with her father, until his death these two years past.
Korin lagged behind the others and stopped and turned. All that could be seen was a faint glow of light from the forest border between her and all she was leaving behind. The cries of the open wind upon the rocks and hills were slowly being replaced with a lolling hum from the branches of the treetops as they brushed together in a concerted effort to capture a glimpse of the sun. Without another thought, Korin turned again and concentrated on the path before her.
They had covered much ground since morning, though the twisted branches and roots slowed them. Aragorn did his best to distinguish the small footprints from among the litter on the floor, but the tracks they found were already old, and some hours later they seemed to vanish altogether in a small opening in the wood. Aragorn was at a loss. The rest could see from his frown that the forest yielded no more clues.
Legolas found his way to the top of a wall of rocks that had created rough steps going to the upper shelf of the trees. “Come up! The air is not so close.”
Together with Gimli and Aragorn, Korin made her way to peer above the treetops. They saw the plain and the tower of trees they had just climbed to come to the middle of Fangorn.
Aragorn continued to explore the ground for signs of the Hobbits. The perspective obtained from their perch still offered the company no evidence of their missing companions though, and as it was, they made their way back down. As they came halfway, they were every one stopped by the gaze of Legolas.
“Look- in the trees!,” his voice hissed in whisper. He pointed to the figure of a bent, old man dressed in rags approaching them quickly. Instinctively, the small group separated and their hands went to their weapons. The figure drew nearer and seemed to move fast for such an age. Each one watched warily and when the stranger continued at them, Gimli prepared his axe.
“This stranger can bring naught but ill. Let us show our weapons and he will depart. Unless he is more phantom than stranger.”
Leglas fitted his bow slowly, as if the decision was difficult to make. Aragorn looked to Korin and together they drew their swords.
“I wish to speak to you, my friends. Will you come down?” The old man broke the silence and spoke in a soft voice. The hood of his cloak covered most of his face, but the point of his nose and his long beard. His robes were gray and dirty, falling to the ground at his feet and he held a wooden staff tightly in his hands. He made his way up toward them then, and moving even more swiftly. He was in front of them now and spoke again. “What have you to find here? Will you not speak?”
Still, the old man talked kindly to them. He looked behind him and paused there, as if to sit. As soon as he turned, the others relaxed their weapons somewhat. But when they returned their attention, they saw the old mans’ cloths part slightly and noticed there were white garments beneath.
“Saruman! cried Gimli, his axe ready at hand and Legolas took up his bow once more. Aragorn tightened his grip on the hilt of his sword, but Korin found the breath taken from her. She fell to her knees onto the rocks and stood frozen watching as from afar, the next events unfold.
“What have you done with our friends? Tell us or I will strike, wizard or no.” Gimli raised his axe and the men made ready to strike.
The stranger’s hand went to his remove his hat and sent a shaft of light blinding all who saw. The rags fell away to reveal a brilliant white that shone in the filtered sun from above the canopy of trees. He lifted his staff and the weapons each of them held, clanged to the ground.
“Mithrandir! cried Legolas.
His hair was white as snow and underneath his eyes shone bright and piercing. The company stood in wonder at the sight of their lost friend. Yet the power they felt about him, left them with fear and amazement.
“Gandalf. Beyond all hope you return to us in our need!” Aragorn’s voice faltered as he spoke. “Gandalf, yes. That is what I was called.” And if he pondered this from his memory. “Yes, you may call me Gandalf.” His voice was merry now. “And so we meet again. The storm will soon be upon us, but for now there is time.”
He turned then to Korin who stayed still upon the stone, her head bent low.
Gandalf touched her shoulder. “My lady, you have found them.” He smiled kindly upon her.
Korin could not move. She willed herself to still the tears that loomed. He reached for her hands and urged her to her feet and saw clearly the grief that he had caused. “My sincere pardon lady. I meant not to cause this misunderstanding.”
“Misunderstanding,” she choked. “They said you had fallen.”
Gandalf leaned close and touched the trace of the tear across her cheek. He spoke gently. “And they were true.”
Korin lifted her chin in childish defiance of his half-hearted apology. She was not yet ready to forgive him. “And what is one left to believe then. Do we heed what is said or hearken to what is not “
Gandalf raised an eyebrow at her question. “It seems that one should rely on their better judgment in times of doubt.”
She could almost smile at him and was glad at least, that his words did not betray her secret. She rose then, and after a pause there was absolution.
Gandalf held her gaze and for a moment and Korin was overwhelmed by the strength behind his eyes. No other heard what was said to her this time, as his lips never moved. `Time has come to cast off uncertainty. You must come to trust your judgment, for we will have need of it soon enough.’ He let go her hand and turned to the others, watching with interest. Korin was thankful he averted his attentions from her then, and she refused to meet Aragorns’ eyes when they searched hers in bewilderment.
“You have been searching for friends and their path has taken you into Fangorn,” said Gandalf.
They sat there, the reunited ones, and listened to the story of Gandalf and he, to theirs. They marveled at the changes in the old wizard. No longer did age seem to assail him. His moves were agile, and his person held such a power as to humble them all.
The company learned from Gandalf the impact of Saruman’s treason at Isengard and the hope of the ones to undo it. “Merry and Pippin are safe, I should tell you. They have been taken into safety by Treebeard.””Who is this Treebeard,” asked Aragorn.
“He is Fangorn. Oldest of all the Ents. Older than all of Middle Earth.”
“There is truth then to the old legends of the giant shepherds of the trees?” asked Legolas in amazement.
“More than truth. They are gathered now, all of them to decide what their course should be. Their wrath now overflows and the tide of it is turned to Isengard. They will take their revenge against the one has wielded the axe.”
Gimli quickly bristled at the thought of Gandalf’s warning.Suddenly, the wizard stood and spoke. “We must be gone soon. There are other matters.”
“Shall we meet with the Hobbits then, and Treebeard?” Aragorn asked.
“Our path takes us apart from them now. To Edoras and the aid of Theoden the king. Isengard has dealt it’s wrath to the people of Rohan and war will soon be upon them. We should assist to them there.” The old man rose and although somewhat crooked, his command stood unequaled by man or king.Next rose Aragorn to stand before them, a tall figure, stern as stone as he spoke. “To Edoras then, and on foot, I suppose.”
“Come if you will, but come now. The search for your companions is over. Gandalf the White am I now, yet black forces still prevail. Each of you will choose now your course, but quickly.”
Legolas said to him, “Mighty you are now Mithrandir and to Rohan we will follow.”
Korin had remained silent through all, and much had she heard that her attention required, though now was a time for actions not thought. “You have my trust, dear friend, but to Aragorn goes my allegiance. Where he should choose will also be my path.”
Gandalf replaced his gray and tattered clothes then and together they descended the bank, until again the grass was felt beneath them. But the long hoped for sight of their lost horses was not to be found, and the plain before them was silent and lonely.
“A long walk it would be to Edoras.” Gandalf seemed to speak only to himself and instantly gave a long, piercing whistle. For a moment he waited and then was won the faint sound of the whinny of a horse. And shortly the sound of hoof beats could be heard from the opposite side of the ridge.
“Four horses do I see. There is Hasufel, Arod and Avathar. And a great white horse, the likes of which I have not seen before,” said Legolas as he looked to the ridge.
“The White Rider,” whispered Korin to herself. Now she understood. Her vision-the hair and mane and tail all flowing together as the rush of a river. “Shadowfax,” she whispered again.
“Yes,” said Gandalf. “He has come for the White Rider, to go to battle. He is the chief of the Mearas, lord of horses.” The animals quickly came to stop where their masters stood.Shadowfax and Avathar stood close, their bodies touching, dancing together and when Korin moved toward her bridle, the horse pulled back it’s head. Once more Korin moved to catch the reins and again her mount averted, each time rounding to the other side of Shadowfax. He in turn seemed to place himself between Korin and Avathar.
Aragorn and Legolas were already seated with Gimli coming up behind Legolas, leaving Gandalf and Korin to wonder.
“It seems that ` lord of the Mearas’ is now preferred as master,” said Korin.”None can contain Shadowfax. He carries me at will. Should he not choose a mate then and have care which he chooses?” Gandalf raised a hand and the muzzle of Shadowfax greeted it instantly. Their bond shown to them all there.
“Korin, come here,” he motioned to her.
She held out her hand to touch the face of the horse, stroking and speaking softly to Shadowfax. She stepped closer and spoke then in words of old to him, proudest of all horses. The great horse snorted and backed away. Korin reached again for the reins of her horse and this time Avathar was stilled.
Korin mounted and then spoke aloud. “And to you Avathar, your betrayal is an injustice. Whither will I find another to carry me?” Her voice was soft though and toned with mirth. She patted the neck of her horse and waited beside Gandalf and Shadowfax. “Always at the will of men,” she murmured beneath her breath.
“At least we now understand last night’s riddle,” said Legolas. “They fled to meet their master.”Korin had no time to sense any humor from the good elf’s’ arrival.
Like lightning, Shadowfax broke the air and without urging, Avathar followed suit and then Hasufel and Arod. They crossed the river and set a course due south. For hours their path took them over field and bog. Shadowfax led the way through his familiar homeland, the others trailing at a distance.
When the shadows of evening gathered, they halted. For a few hours only, they took to rest and all was silent, but the lament of the wind on the open plain. Gandalf stood to watch and while Legolas and Gimli slept, Aragorn looked for Korin, though his own weariness was great.
He found her a short distance from them, watching the darkness of the land before her. He knew there was nothing she was seeing in the black of the night and he wondered at her thoughts.
“What answers do you hope to find from the dark, lady?”
Her response was long in coming. When she turned to speak, he beheld the moonlight reflected in her eyes. Behind the illumination, he could sense a premonition of discord.
“I can receive no answers for lack of questions, I’m afraid.” Her manner was calm and Aragorn prodded further. “I could find questions to ask.”
She smiled and shook away the tenseness. “I am sure that you could, my lord. I wonder though, would you be contented with the answers you receive?”
“I am tired and have no wish of battle this night. Would you speak not in riddles, for I wish to know much. Turmoil seems to come from all around you. You are at once the woman that I left years ago whom I love, and then instantly filled with mystery. Tell me now what I would learn. What of this silent misunderstanding between yourself and Gandalf?”
She looked to him now and though she was also weary, felt strength enough to begin an explanation. Yet wondered how much she could tell. “Aragorn, when I came to you just yesterday-.”
Korin took a step away and again peered into the night. “There is so much that you do not yet realize- and not enough time to tell-” her voice fell away and once more she turned to him.
“It was Gandalf who brought me to you.” It felt easier now having stated that much. Aragorn listened intently.
“I had a vision of a rider in white. A haze of light and hair and mane flowing like a river. A voice spoke to me, that of a friend I believed to be Gandalf. I have ridden with him, Aragorn, since Kednomar’s death. We have talked much about the coming of evil. The days that will decide.” She searched his face and he seemed unsure of her words. “He bade me come forth and find you. He was not lost in Moria and though I believed your words, I could not stem my confusion. Perhaps it had not been Gandalf in my vision. And then to find him in Fangorn. He asks me not to doubt, but-.””You had a vision which brought you to me?” His amazement was apparent, but Korin could not unsay what was said. Her mood changed now and suddenly, she was not afraid. She looked up to Aragorn and was filled with a strength that seemed to emanate from within. Quickly she seized it and held fast, without care where it stemmed from. She breathed and still this fortitude held her.
“Do not pretend that you have never known. Always has it been so, though it is not important now. All of these secrets I have hidden deep inside my heart. Kednomar never saw this in me and for that I am grateful. But you, Aragorn. I have seen it in your eyes at times when you have looked long enough. Whether it is true, the tale of the trees at my birth I cannot tell. All I do know for sure is that I do not understand it. Visions and feelings -sometimes more of a burden than anything.” Korin gave a long pause and tried to change the nature of her words. She shook off the tenseness and passed Aragorn a small smile that told him there would be no more revelation this night. ” We should sleep while able and there will be another time to speak. I should be glad if you should not trouble over my words. You carry burden enough.”
The Ranger shook off his fatigue and carefully searched the face of the woman before him. She reached up and kissed his bearded face and tread in silence toward the others, giving him no more opportunity for query.
For a while longer, Aragorn stood and pondered what was told him, but in the end, he could not still his own exhaustion.
The riders set out again before dawn. The waxing moon gave them little light to mark their way, but the paces of Shadowfax were sure. And in its time, the dawn branded the new day with a storm of red and blue, across the expanses and above the plain they rode. The sun had soon shed a warmth upon them that lightened everyone’s spirits.
The great white horse and rider paused then at the top of a flattened hill. There they saw mountains to the south, tipped in white. The grassy lands where they perched, lay rolling at their feet. Below the mountains ran a stream that gleamed golden in the rising sun.
Legolas shaded his eyes from the glare and scanned the mountains before them. “I see a vale to the east and then houses and buildings, fenced all around. In their midst there stands a great hall of Men.”
“Edoras is it called and within, Meduseld, hall of Theoden, King of Rohan.” Gandalf led the others through the streams and rough, green ground that lay before the mountain-vale of Edoras.
As they approached, they had to look up to see the great barred doors at the gate entrance. Many men were gathered there. All of them dressed in coats of mail and armed with rough-hewn spears. There was a hard and distrusting look about the guards as they surveyed the uncommon group before them, demanding from them both names and business.
“What brings you here strangers, in this time of unrest? No longer are any welcome but our own. We have watched you from afar and never have we seen riders of your like. Strangely clad and on horses so likened to our own.”
It was Gandalf that responded and his tone was not so easy. “We have come seeking your king and to speak to him of need. You may tell him that Gandalf the White seeks his audience. With him are Aragorn, son of Arathorn, heir of Kings, and Korin of the Dunedain. Also, our comrades Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf. We come bearing horses that Eomer lent them two days past.”
“I will go at your bidding, but do not hope, for times are grim.” And the guard left them to wait beside the gate. In a short time, he returned with answer. “You have leave to enter, but any weapons you bear must be left behind.”
They stepped down then and walked upon a paved terrace toward the stair’s head. They were greeted by Hama the Doorward of Theoden. “I must bid you lay aside your weapons before you enter.”
Each one complied then and laid down their gear to the Doorward. Legolas lifted off his bow and long knife and Gimli laid down his axe. Gandalf set down Glamdring and Korin, Rilma. Aragorn hesitated once more though, reluctant to part with Anduril.
Korin looked up then at the front of the hall and suddenly she was filled with panic. How would she ever enter the company of this King of Rohan, without revealing herself? She looked back to the floor, where were laid the weapons of her companions, and she thought quickly.
“Lord, if you wish it , I will stay outside and look after our weapons.”
Her eyes met Aragorns’ and she willed him not to escape the meaning of her words, though it was difficult to detect what perspective had overtaken him at that moment.
He seemed to understand what she had indicated, but after consideration, he answered her. “I wish you to remain with me.” It was gruffly stated and in an offhand manner and she took heart at least, that he had plans regarding her disguise. They followed the Doorward inside and Korin was rewarded when Hama dismissed her with the same casual manner as Aragorn had.
Gandalf was first to enter the hall and he leaned heavy on his staff as he walked forward. Behind him came Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli. Yet behind them was Korin. She was glad to be unnoticed, while they moved to stand in front of Theoden. Even from where she was, she could see that he sat his throne with a heavy burden and was slumped with age.
The air was tense with their arrival as Gandalf addressed the King of Rohan. “Hail, Theoden son of Thengel.”
Slowly the king rose and with difficulty stood tall, “I will greet you, Master Gandalf, but in truth your welcome is doubtful here. Trouble seems to follow you evermore. Tell me why I should welcome you.” Once more he sat down upon the throne.
Korin watched as the man beside Theoden spoke to his master. His face was gray as death and he seemed as much to her. He was called Wormtongue and she thought it was indeed fitting. He taunted Gandalf as he spoke to the king. Condemning him for taking Shadowfax and his arrival of ill news.
When Gandalf had heard enough, he cast off his tattered robes and spoke in a harsh voice. “Speak only what you know Grima Wormtongue or speak not at all. He raised his staff and there was a roll of thunder. The hall became dark and the fire in the great hall faded. Gandalf shone white against the blackened hearth. In the darkness they heard the hiss of Wormtongue and then came a sound of lightning that spread from the hall. Grima Wormtongue collapsed to the floor and hid his face from all in view. He scrambled like a dog out of the hall and fled down the steps before action could be taken against him.
Once more Gandalf spoke to Theoden, “Counsel I would give, if you would ask for it. Come away to look out the doors and into the light. Long have you sat in the shadows, Lord of the Mark.”
Theoden again lifted himself up and a light began to grow within the hall. He went with Gandalf and the doors were opened. The wind came from the hills and whistled past the walls and the hosts within. A woman came to Theoden’s side and took the arm of the king. She was regal in a gown of white and silver. Pale and fair was she, but also cool and stern, her hair flowing below her waist in waves of gold. She looked with concern upon her uncle.
To all of them witnessing, Theoden seemed to shed his years before their eyes. Gone was the darkness behind his eyes and his bearing returned until his shoulders no longer slumped with age and lack of use. His very skin brightened once more as blood coursed faster through him and revived his spirit.
“Leave us now, lady, I will care for him,” said Gandalf
“Go, Eowyn, sister-daughter,” said the king, “the time for fear is passed.”
The woman walked away from them, but before she departed the hall, she turned and beheld Aragorn. The light fell from the open door and rested upon her, where she stood. Aragorn returned her stare for a moment. With no more words, she picked up her skirt, and gracefully fled the room.
Theoden led himself to stand beside Gandalf at the door. The wind that gathered, seemed to chase from the sky any lingering clouds, and sunlight streamed into the hall. Slowly, it engulfed the Golden Hall and its coming eased the tension that had built around all who waited.
“I doubted your welcome, but now wish it had come sooner, Gandalf. Too long have I sat in confines. Strength returns to me now, though. Tell me then, what is there to do?”
They retreated to the throne once more and Gandalf sat at Theoden’s side.