Lady From Beyond the Sea — Chapter 1 – The Lady
It was a dark night, in the village of Bree very important things were being discussed, and in one inn, the Prancing Pony, new friends were being made. . .
“I see,” laughed Strider, “I look foul and feel fair. Is that it? All that is gold does not glitter, not all who wander are lost.”
“Did the verses apply to you then?” asked Frodo. “How did you know that they were in Gandalf’s letter?”
“I did not know,” he answered soberly, “But I am Aragorn, and those verses go with that name. Well, with Sam’s permission we will call that settled. Strider will be your guide.”
Pippin yawned. “I am sorry,” he said, “but I am tired. Where is that silly fellow Merry? It would be the last straw if we had to go out in the dark to look for him.
At that moment they heard a door slam; then feet came running along the passage. Merry came in with a rush, followed by a figure swathed in a hooded cloak.
“I have seen them, Frodo! I have seen them! Black Riders!” Merry cried.
“Black Riders!” cried Frodo. “Where?”
“Here in the village,” a soft voice replied. The hooded figure that had accompanied Merry threw back her hood. Long golden hair tumbled around her shoulders, and framed dark green eyes in a delicately boned face.
“Zandra!” Frodo cried, recognizing the lady that he had often seen visiting Bilbo with Gandalf. As a younger hobbit he had been more than a little dazed by her. Her lips curved in a fond smile for an instant.
“Hello Frodo, it is good to meet you again.” She frowned, “I only wish it were in happier circumstances,” she turned to Strider. “It made off up the Road to the east. Merry here tried to follow for a way.”
Strider looked at Merry with wonder. “You have a stout heart, but it was foolish.”
“I could hardly help myself. I was drawn somehow. Anyway, I went, and heard voices by the hedge on the edge of town. One was muttering, and the other was whispering, or hissing. I couldn’t hear a word they said. Then I felt terrified and turned back, when something came behind me and I. . . I fell over. I thought I had fallen into deep water.” he concluded, a shadow falling across his face.
“It was the Black Breath,” said Zandra, looking from Merry to Strider, her face carefully blank, though it was kept so only with effort. “I was watching Ferny’s house, and saw the Black Rider come. I was coming back to warn you when I saw them stooping over this little fellow. I backed down the road, then ran towards them shouting. Needless to say they did not stay to be discovered by one of the villagers.”
Aragorn laid his hand on her shoulder in sympathy. It had taken great courage for her to act as she had, knowing what she did of the Black Riders. Even he had no true idea how much.
“What are we to do?” asked Frodo.
“Stay here, and do not go to your rooms,” Strider said thoughtfully, “They are sure to have found which those are. We will all remain together and bar this window and the door. But first I will fetch your luggage.” Strider moved towards the door, and Zandra followed.
“I am worried about Gandalf,” the hobbits heard her say softly, “I am going to go look for him. I’ll meet you in Rivendell.”
“Be careful my friend.” Aragorn said, gripping her hand. And with a swirl of her cloak she was gone.
The eagle soared high above the earth, its keen eyes scanning the ground below. It instinctively adjusted its great wings to compensate for a shift in the wind. Suddenly it spotted a figure clothed in earth-tones signaling for it to come down. The great golden wings curled around its body as it fell into a steep dive, opening the powerful limbs at the last moment, and swooping gracefully over Radagast’s head, to land softly on a small hill.
“What do you want,” the eagle asked as it looked majestically down on the wizard.
“Gandalf asks that all beasts and birds aid him in a great matter. . .” he began, but the eagle interrupted him.
“You have spoken to Gandalf recently?” it asked excitedly, ” I have been searching for him! Where is he? I have something of great import to tell him.”
“He asked for all news to be brought to him and Saruman at Orthanc.” before he could continue, the great bird, with a great cry and a single beat of the powerful wings, was gone.
Up, and up it flew, swiftly turning towards the south, and the dark pinnacle of Isengard. As it neared that impenetrable fortress its acute vision spied a figure in grey standing on the pinnacle.
“My friend,” the eagle cried, “I had not thought when I set out that I would find you so quickly! What good fortune that I stopped to speak with Radagast!”
“I had hoped you would come,” Gandalf said, ” and now we must away!”
“But what are you doing up here?” the eagle questioned as the wizard climbed on the great back. “Why are you not in council with Saruman? Or on your way to find Frodo, whose rendezvous you have missed?” It leaped off the tower, and with a few strong beats they were soaring to the Northwest.
“Alas,” cried Gandalf into the wind, “Saruman has betrayed us! He had imprisoned me up there.”
“This is very ill-news indeed!” the eagle cried.
“Yes, but how far can you carry me?”
The eagle turned its head to look at Gandalf, and its bright eyes gleamed. “Worried that I might drop you?” it joked. Gandalf laughed in response.
“If it were not for you,” the eagle continued, “I would not be here to soar the winds now. I will bear you where you wish, though all my feathers fall out, and I die from the exhaustion. But I had intended to bring you to Rivendell. That is where Aragorn is taking the hobbits.”
“Is taking?” Gandalf said with misgiving, “they ought to have been there by now, if Frodo had received my letter.”
“Alas, I understand that you letter went astray, and the company just left Bree two days ago. I was sent to search for you. I first traveled to Edoras for news of you, and I was coming North again when I met Radagast.”
“Ah, this is the worst news yet. Tell me what else you know!” The eagle recounted what it knew of the events in Bree. Gandalf was thoughtful for a moment.
“Take me to Weathertop,” he said at last, “That is where Aragorn will go, and if the Nine are following they will need my help. At the very least I can lead some away.”
“Very well,” said the eagle, making the adjustment in direction. “I asked a friend of mine to go to Rivendell, as I thought you might need him. If we overcome him, I shall let you ride him instead, you will need his speed if you are to outrun the Nine, and I shall go first back to Bree, to see what news I can. I would try to find the travelers, but I would have difficulty seeing them beneath the trees. Then I shall go to Rivendell to tell them the news.”
“Who is this friend?” Gandalf asked, “I had not thought that any could fly faster than you.”
“Not fly, run.” The wise eagle replied. “The riders would soon tire of chasing an eagle. I would have to fly low, and very slowly for them to keep up, and would seem only to be taunting them, and they would soon abandon the chase, and turn again to seek the Ring.”
“What then could out-run the Nine?” Gandalf asked. Just then the eagle swooped low, calling back to Gandalf, and ahead to the horse that Gandalf could now see as a tiny speck on the rocky ground, “Shadowfax.” The horse neighed in response to the eagle’s cry, and slowed his pace as the eagle landed.
“It is well you said ‘Shadowfax’ and not a horse.” Gandalf said in a voice approaching awe, or as near it as a wizard can come, “He is no horse, he is too beautiful and great for such a mundane word.” The Mearas trotted towards the old man, slowly lowered his proud head, and nuzzled the old man’s outstretched hand.
“He has consented to let you ride him,” the eagle said, “Ride swiftly to Weathertop, if that is where you would go. For Shadowfax it is a mere two day’s ride. I go to Rivendell.” The eagle called this last as the magnificent wings sent up a cloud of dust, and the eagle was gone.
Zandra strode out of her room at Rivendell, her skirts swirling round her long legs as her thoughts swirled around her head. It had been a long night, full of strange dreams filled with shadowy images, and blinding pain. Or perhaps they were not dreams. If her current exhaustion was any indication, she had not slept much.
“Where is Elrond?” she asked a passing elf.
“In the council room with Glorfindel and Galdor,” came the response. She swiftly turned in that direction. When she entered the room the three elves stood. Elrond came forward to greet her.
“Zandra! It is too long since you have visited Rivendell. We have missed your music in the Hall of Fire. But come, what news do you bring?”
“Bad news I am afraid. The Black Riders are following Aragorn and the hobbits. I went back to Bree, to see what I could discover, and learned that they had left the day after I went to discover what had happened to Gandalf, but they were afoot. All the ponies had been stolen in the night. Gandalf has been found, and he went to Weathertop to find them, but I fear that they will need more help. Gandalf was planning to try to lead the Nine away,” she shook her head, “I cannot think that they will be so easily dissuaded from their purpose. Even if he does manage to lead them away for a time, it will be nearly a fortnight before they will be able to get here. I greatly fear that they will require a steed that can travel very swiftly. They will need to be able to at least send Frodo ahead quickly should the need arise.”
“I will take Asfaloth and search for them,” Glorfindel said stepping forward.
“Thank you!” said, Zandra, “that eases my mind. Now I can rest.” She sighed. Elrond could see that she was exhausted.
“Go now and rest,” he said kindly. “Do not worry, Glorfindel will find them.”
Zandra thanked the elves, and turned to return to her room. Fire in the night, she thought to herself with forboding, That was four nights ago, I hope you’re ok Gandalf. Where are you? Why did I dream so last night?