Flight to the Ford: Asfaloth's Tale
2. Flying Squirrels and Flying Hooves
Arwen and I continued for the rest of that day and most of the next, but did stop and sleep for a few, all-too-short hours before going on again. Elves do not need much sleep, but they do have to sleep sometimes. I still didn’t know what we were doing or where we were going. You would think an elvish princess would have been more considerate of my feelings.
It was nearing dusk when we finally stopped at the top of a small hill, adorned with a few tall fir trees. Arwen dismounted and told me I was free to graze though not to roll, so long as I did not go far. She wanted to try something new. Hmph! The first thing I wanted to do was go splash in the stream, saddle or no. I briefly considered doing it anyway, but decided to be a model of decorum. How could I teach the little twit good manners if I did not set her a good example? I decided to chew on some grass instead.
Just as I was about to start on a stand of timothy grass, a branch and a bunch of twigs hit my ears. I leaped in fright. What in Middle-Earth was trying to destroy my peaceful life now? I looked up into the elm tree that was towering over me, and not surprisingly spotted Her Ladyship climbing it. I do not know what it is about elves and trees, but all of the elves I have ever known love to climb trees. Even Glorfindel does though he climbs a lot better than any arrogant princess. Well, I thought crossly, she can climb a tree if she wants to. Something new indeed! I shrugged and went back to my grass. This time an irate squirrel landed right on my head. That was it! I had had enough! I will live without treats. I will carry the female. I will gallop without rest. I will not splash in the stream. But when the malevolent princess resorted to throwing squirrels at me, it was the end! I was getting out of there! I turned to flee, but in my haste did not consider that despite all the times I had seen elves in trees, I had never seen one disturb the animal or plant life.
I ran back the way we had come. All I wanted now was to get back to Imladris. I am not a very adventurous type, and this had never been the kind of thing I enjoyed. I had not gotten far; in fact, I had barely crossed the next hill and was still well within sight of the tree Arwen had climbed when a wave of fear swept over me. I slid to an immediate halt, stopping dead in my tracks. I had never felt anything like this before. I was suddenly and inexplicably terrified. It was then that I realized that this little jaunt of the Princess was actually a serious matter. She was not merely impatient for the return of her betrothed. My fear grew. I tried to move, but found I could not. I tried to whinny, but my voice choked off in my throat. I could barely think. I, who am never afraid, found myself consumed with a terror I could not seem to fight. Vaguely, I wondered if this is what a carrot feels like before I eat it. Cold assailed me despite my recent exercise. It seemed that the day had grown dark; the sun shadowed. Then I saw IT. There is no better word to describe what was there. My panicking mind hardly even realized what it was, but this I knew immediately: IT was evil. Not far from where I stood, barely fifty yards off was a tall, black horse bearing a black cloaked and hooded rider. They appeared to be watching me.
The horse was big, though not unusually so. Its gear was standard for a horse of humans, nothing seeming odd about it. However, the horse itself seemed odd, a creature of darkness. All this I noticed, though my focus seemed captivated by the dark rider. To the ordinary horse, it would have seemed human. Indeed, it almost did, but being an elvish horse, sometimes I perceive things closer to the way the elves do. I saw immediately that this being was the cause of my fear. It was not human or elf, or in truth, close to anything I had ever encountered before. Only a creature that came out of the black land of Mordor, domain of the Enemy, could inspire such horror. It was certainly not orc-kind, the customary servants of the dark lord. Actually, I could see no face beneath the hood. But the malevolence that I could feel had no other possible source.
Once again, I tried to flee. Once again, I could not move. Although it was hard to see for certain, I am convinced the creature laughed as I struggled against the power that held me captive. Dimly I became aware of all the creatures around me fleeing, even the insects and spiders. Despite all this, only a few seconds had elapsed since I had seen it. Now the cloaked figure nudged the horse, and it began to move in my direction. I would have been doomed. I am as certain of that as I am that Sauron is evil, and humans are stupid. Except for one small thing I had forgotten: a little thing, and, to repeat myself, a twit. From a distance, I heard a voice call out, piercing the fear and darkness.
“Hear my voice, Asfaloth! Come to me!”
It was the voice of Arwen. I did not need a second invitation, but turned and fled back to where I had left her. I heard a call behind me. It sent a shiver down my spine, for it sounded like the call of a bird of prey mixed with the neigh of a horse. Whether it was horse or rider, I could not tell. Perhaps it was both. I will never know for I am a very fast horse and used all of my speed to flee from the abhorrence behind me.
I could hear the pounding of hooves and realized that the dark rider had taken up the chase. My mind was clearer now and I recalled the conversation between Arwen and Glorfindel. The whispered “nazgul” that I do not think I was supposed to hear. Ringwraiths! The nine black riders that serve the dark lord. I tried to dredge up from my memory some of the stories I had heard about them. When they go forth, they wear the guise of cloaked and hooded riders in black. They have no faces that can be seen, for, in spite of the dark power they possess, they lack physical substance and are only apparitions of their former selves. Well, that’s what I had heard anyway. I had always thought the stories were greatly exaggerated, but now I was not so sure.
My mind was still reeling from the events of the last few minutes when I arrived at the foot of the tree that I had last seen Arwen climbing. She had climbed down to the lowest branch and immediately jumped onto my back when I stopped. I was off again swiftly, but was more than content to let her direct me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another dark rider come suddenly out of the trees to join the one who was chasing us. Then I realized that the squirrel that had hit my head had probably had nothing to do with the Princess and everything to do with the presence of the Nazgul!
The terrain we were being chased over was slightly hilly, although not steeply so. There were some trees but none were close together. More importantly, there was nowhere to hide. I thought longingly of my stall in Imladris. Even though most of my time was spent outside, it was a nice place to retreat to in times of great peril. Unfortunately, no amount of wishing could take me there.
I glanced back and saw two more of the dark riders had joined those who were chasing us. I tried to increase my speed, but was spent from having carried Arwen far and fast just before my first encounter with them. With alarm, I realized I might not be able to outrun the dark riders if there were any more of them further ahead. I stumbled in a small hollow in the ground as I crested a hill and started down the other side allowing them to gain ground. Arwen bent forward and whispered a command which regrettably, I could not hear. I tried to run faster. Leaves and thin branches smacked my face as she turned me and I entered woods. I could hear the hooves of the Nazgul’s horses drawing closer. Then I heard another call. I shivered but did not slow. I thought Arwen said something to me, though I could not make out any words.
Then I heard clearly, “Asfaloth! Asfaloth, halt!”
I thought she was crazy. What was she going to do? Fight them? However being the good, obedient, elvish horse I am, I halted. I turned and saw then that the dark riders had stopped the chase. They were all standing on a hill facing us. Only now there were five. Then one of them turned and rode back over the hill the others following at once. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Arwen slid off my back and walked to my head. She looked me in the eye but I quickly glanced away and lowered my head. She seemed reproachful and I knew I was in trouble. Elves have a way of looking at you when they are displeased that make you remember in minute detail everything you have done wrong since you were a tiny foal. I suddenly found the passage of an ant across a fallen leaf extremely fascinating.
“That was not good, Asfaloth. You should not go looking for trouble, it will come to us soon enough.”
She did not need to say more than that, I understood what she meant. I should not have run off and I knew it. I raised my head and looked at her. At least it did not appear I was going to be Warg food. After all, she was an elf and elves are always patient with their horses. Well, most of the time. For losing my never-ending composure and abandoning her, I probably deserved whatever she could devise. Such a thing could easily have resulted in her death or mine. I am an elvish horse of Imladris and I know better.
“I am sorry,” I nickered and stared at the ground again. There was not much else I could do.
She nodded slowly and I could feel her piercing gaze as she evaluated what I had said. Then she smiled and stroked my nose. “It is fortunate that they found neither of us important enough to continue pursuit. Nevertheless, you did well,” she murmured.
I looked at her with surprise. She did not seem very angry. What's more, she seemed to find my expression highly amusing.
“Are you ready to continue?”
I closed my jaw which had somehow fallen open when I found that my time on Middle-Earth was not going to be prematurely cut short. I shook my mane and snorted my assent.
She smiled again and then swiftly leaped onto my back. “Ride fast, Asfaloth.”
And we were off again. Surprisingly, she wanted to follow in the direction of the black riders, though bearing slightly northward from their course. They had been heading west. I thought she was senseless, but am I going to argue with an elvish princess? Of course not, I am too smart for that. It is a well-known fact that females are hopelessly stubborn—especially elvish ones.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.