Recap of Tale 3 . . .
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 horse tossed his head and Arod’s shifting fell to stillness once more.
Quephiril slowed to a trot as we neared the copse of swamp trees, his ears focused completely on what was ahead of him. I lifted my ears as well and began to search through the trees, gradually weeding out the sound of the stallion’s hoofbeats beneath me. It was then that I heard three stretching bowstrings.
My stallion heard it as well and abruptly stopped. Spooked (or knowing), he pivoted and raced away from the forest, drawing out a small band of mounted border guards and running perpendicular to our original path. I watched as we put distance between us and our pursuers, then looked down at Quephiril’s back-angled ears. [Why are you running from them?]
His ears pinned and he snorted angrily, as though wondering the same thing himself. I quickly reached into my pack for my weapon of choice. I did not wish to hurt these guards and I understood that the point was to keep them from stopping us, not to kill them; however, I was not particularly well-versed in this sort of weapon and was still a great deal unsure as to why I had bothered to bring it in the first place, besides its use as a possible rope and the emotional value.
I pulled my father’s whip from my pack and grasped the handle, tossing the rest out and uncoiling it with a sharp crack. Quephiril nearly sat on his rump to stop and then turned, lunging into a gallop immediately. There were six men, each on a horse, and I held my left arm out, keeping the long end of the whip away from my stallion’s feet, as we raced head-on into a collision.
The other horses were decidedly reluctant to go against one of their lords, but the Men quickly pulled them aside, splitting into two groups. Quephiril whirled and took off for one of the packs before they could regroup and chose the largest horse of the bunch.
Naturally, it was wholly terrified to see its lord coming at it with such intent and it broke into a mad run away from us. Quephiril followed and I took note that the other five had rejoined and would try to ambush us when we turned. But I then focused again on my stallion’s first victim and flung the whip out toward the man who was now just trying to stay with the horse.
The end of the whip sang through the air and wrapped around the man’s ribs. I gave a small tug and he came out of the saddle and hit the earth hard. I gave the whip a second crack, freeing it of the man’s weight, and waited for Quephiril to pick the moment to turn.
Once heading for the other five, I watched one string an arrow and loose it at me. My father had known how to use the whip to deflect it, but as I said, I was not so versed in its use. So I used what could be considered a time-honored method of the Elves to protect myself.
I caught it and then snapped it in half with one hand.
I quickly took aim at that rider and let the whip loose; he came off his horse as well. Quephiril turned yet again and I was so close to one rider that I merely had to punch him instead of drag him off his horse. The fourth was also very close and Quephiril reared, striking out with one well-aimed hoof to hit the man’s helm with enough force to knock him from the horse.
By now the other two were fleeing–one toward Edoras and one toward the swamp. I was sure Quephiril could catch them, but instead he stopped and lifted his head in a loud whinny. Both horses quit running immediately, throwing their riders to the earth, and began to graze as the other four were.
Legolas twitched nervously, watching Quephiril dash back and forth before them to allow Kyshri to decimate the city guard numbers.
Aragorn laughed at him. “Legolas, unless Arod’s back is uncomfortable, do not fret so!”
“But she is outnumbered!”
“When has she not been?”
“But she is not trying to kill them!”
“Legolas, she will be fine! Do not fear a mishap or it may occur!”
The elf prince continued to observe the battle worriedly. [Kyshri . . .]
And then, like that, it was over.
“Let us go!” Gandalf called back as Shadowfax headed out across the plain toward Edoras.
I started to coil the whip as Quephiril joined Shadowfax, Hasufel, and Arod as they passed calmly through the area we had just been battling in. Legolas seemed ready to burst with concern. Shadowfax neighed a compliment as Quephiril fell into step beside him.
[Kyshri, are you all right?!] Legolas cried over the horses’ hooves.
I laughed as I tucked the whip in my pack again. [Of course! I was not hit! I told you I would be fine!]
He appeared ready to faint. [Kyshri, you could have died!]
I snorted. [And it was different from any other battle . . . how?]
[They were aiming to kill and you were not! It put you at a considerable disadvantage!]
I frowned. [Are you implying that I am an incompetent warrior?]
He closed his mouth and sat back, as though he might have swallowed a bug. [. . . No, not at all.]
[Then the battle was simply another one, a new challenge. The fact that I was not attempting to kill them, contrary to their own intentions, means nothing. A warrior with any kind of sense can handle such a situation.]
He did not bother me further. We reached the gates to Edoras and the guards there barred our way and spoke harshly in a language I did not know. Obviously it was the language of those of Rohan, but I did not know much of the language myself. Gandalf did most of the conversing and I heard my name once in a quick introduction or something, but that was all.
One of the guards left and we waited at the gate for ten minutes before he returned and allowed us through. We made our way to the golden hall (I had to command Quephiril to return to the others twice because he kept escaping the stables and following me) and were stopped at the doors.
“I am the Doorward of Theoden, Hama,” said one of the guards. “Here I must bid you lay aside your weapons before you enter.”
Legolas gave over his daggers, bow, and arrows. “Keep these well, for they come from the Golden Wood and the Lady of Lothlorien gave them to me.”
Hama, wide-eyed, quickly laid them against the wall. “No man will touch them, I promise you.”
Before I could place my weapons down, there was a small disagreement between Aragorn and Hama about Anduril. “It is not my will to put aside or deliver to the hands of any man my sword.”
“It is the will of Theoden,” Hama replied sharply.
Gandalf waved his hand dismissively. “Needless is Theoden’s demand, but it is useless to refuse his order. A king will have his way in his own hall, be it folly or wisdom.”
Aragorn finally did relent and Gimli then did as well.
I set my sword, bow, and arrows with Legolas’. “Each of those was a gift. The quiver holds twenty arrows; half gold, half silver. I do not want to have to count them when I reclaim them.”
“There will be no need,” Hama assured me. He looked at Telrak curiously; he obviously did not know what he was do with the falcon. “You carry a bird of prey on your journey?”
Legolas turned to me. I shrugged. “He is well able to fend for himself and has proven his worth time and again.”
“He cannot go inside.”
“And where would I tell him to go? One of your monuments, where he will scratch it with his talons, or perhaps leave him with you, where he will make himself unwelcome? He used to be owned by one of the race of Men, who did not treat him well. He still bears that grudge now; would you dare to perhaps bring his wrath upon yourself and then present me with a dead falcon upon my return because you could not control him?”
“He is a bird.”
“He is a predator with more sense than many I have come into contact with! If you fear for your tapestries, do not! He is not a nuisance and he will obey me if I ask something of him.”
Hama took a contemplative breath. “Very well. But you will keep him under your arm so that he does not damage anything.”
“If you feel that is truly necessary.” I pulled Telrak from Legolas’ shoulder and tucked him under my arm. He looked up at me, his expression indignant. [Do be patient, my friend. This will not be permanent.]
To Gandalf, Hama said, “I must ask you to leave your staff.”
“Foolishness!” Gandalf scoffed. “Prudence is one thing, but discourtesy is another. I am old. If I may not lean on my stick as I go, then I will sit out here until it pleases Theoden to hobble out himself to speak to me.”
“The staff in the hand of a wizard may be more than a prop for age,” Hama said, eyeing the staff distrustingly. “Yet in doubt a man of worth will trust to his own wisdom. I believe you are friends and folks worthy of honor, who have no evil pupose. You may go in.”
We entered and passed through great rooms. I released Telrak and he quickly returned to Legolas’ shoulder. [You lied?] Legolas asked.
[I did not. He told me to keep Telrak under my arm, but he did not say for how long. And I never agreed to do as he wished, I just acknowledged how he felt on the subject.]
Aragorn laughed. [A sly elf you are, Kyshri!]
We came at last into a darkened chamber, where Theoden sat on a three-step dais, hunched over so that he seemed to be a dwarf. I could tell that a good deal of convincing was going to be necessary to get him up. To confirm my suspicions, we were not greeted warmly.
Theoden stood–barely–to address us. “I greet you, and maybe you look for such welcome. But truth to tell, your welcome is doubtful here, Master Gandalf. You have ever been a herald of some woe. I will not deceive you: when I heard that Shadowfax had come back riderless I rejoiced at the return of the horse, but even more so at the lack of the rider. When Eomer brought tidings that you had gone at last to your long home, I did not mourn. But here you come again. Why should I welcome you, Gandalf Stormcrow? Tell me that.” He sat down.
I looked curiously around the hall. It was almost completely dark; few torches had been lit. How could anyone possibly exist in such a dismal place?
“—Do you bring men?” Wormtongue asked loudly. “Do you bring horses, swords, spears? That I would call aid; that is our present need. But who are these that follow at your tail? Four ragged wanderers in grey, and you yourself the most beggar-like of the five!”
“The courtesy of your hall has somewhat lessened of late, Theoden, son of Thengel,” Gandalf noted. “Has not the messenger from your gate reported the names of my companions? Seldom has any lord of Rohan received such guests. Weapons they have laid at your doors that are worth many a mortal man, even the mightiest. Grey is their raiment, for the Elves clad them, and thus they have passed through the shadow of great perils to your hall.”
“Then it is true, as Eomer reported, that you are in league with the Sorceress of the Golden Wood? It is not to be wondered at: webs of deceit were ever woven in Dwimordene.”
Gimli strode forward a pace, but I caught him. ” You speak ill of my homeland and my Lady, Grima Wormtongue. I can neither appreciate nor overlook your inconsiderate words.”
He snorted. “So you are one of the net-weavers yourself! What evil do you have planned for Rohan?”
“That is up to you,” I replied coolly. “What do you fear most? If you truly believe me to be evil, then all you must do is ask it and I will create it. Evil shall serve evil, Wormtongue.”
“There is no evil here other than you.”
“Would you be willing to wager your life on that?”
Gandalf broke in then. “The wise speak only of what they know, Grima, son of Galmod. A witless worm you have become. Therefore be silent and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy words with a serving-man till the lightning falls.”
He lifted his staff and there was a crash of thunder. The sun was blacked out and the hall fell dark. Surprised, Gimli stumbled back into me. Telrak gave an angry squawk and I felt Legolas touch my arm briefly, as if making sure I was still near. I reached back and grasped his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze that he quickly returned before letting him go.
“Now Theoden, son of Thengel, will you heaken to me?” Gandalf asked of the stooped king. “Do you ask for help? Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I for those in despair, yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long it has been that you have sat in the shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.”