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Mother of Horsemen: 25. Chapter 25
I think now I may have gotten throuh a literary bottleneck that has plagued me in this story for a long time. Some of the subsequent chapters were written over two years ago, but getting from point A to point B didn't make sense when the time arrived to write about it.
Those of you who have hung in there so long, thanks for your patience.
Mother of Horsemen - Chapter Twenty-five
The weather was already turning colder when Readfah arrived at the foothills of the mountains West of Lothlórien; another day at least it would take to reach the Wood. It had been a long time since she had ever traveled so far alone, and she vowed to herself never to do so again. Something bestirred the air as if that of an approaching storm. Unwillingly she thought of the Dark Days and her flight to Forochel. No Orcs had disturbed her as she rode this time, but once out of the Shire, Men seemed fell and suspicious and she was careful to make camp well away from any villages.
Readfah thought of the Shire fondly. The Holbytlan were courteous and respectful of Elves, though even they seemed to be touched by the same unnamed fear that was slowly growing in Middle Earth, so slowly as to be unnoticeable. Still, it was a good place, and its folk desired no more than to live in peace and enjoy the fruit of their labors. She smiled, remembering the ponies she had seen there, cleverer and more resourceful than any full sized horse, and nearly every one understood speech though none spoke themselves.
It was late afternoon, and she urged Hriðscur into a canter as they approached a thickly wooded dell which promised a good place to stop overnight. The other horses followed hard by and slowed to a walk as they entered under the trees. Suddenly the mare pawed the air and whinnied as if something had startled her, and moved forward only reluctantly. Readfah rode deeper into the wood, and she drew her blade from it's sheath. A few more steps, straining to hear more, but whatever it was had gone silent.
"We will not find much rest tonight, I fear," she said aloud. Hriðscur picked her way carefully through the mud and stones of a long disused path, and Readfah looked right and left warily, preparing to gallop at a heartbeat's notice.
Then far up the path she saw a figure coming toward her, quite alone. Uncertain, she willed the mare still and waited. Then, she let out her pent-up breath and smiled.
It was Gandalf.
"So many years it has been, Mistress Readfah!" he cried as she leaped from her horse and embraced him. "Where have you been and where do you go now?"
She told him the story, and walked with him up the path while the horses crowded around him and pushed at him with their noses, for all good beasts loved him. He patted them and spoke a kind word to each.
"And what of you, Gandalf? It seems you are on my path now, but where have you been?"
"Traveling...seeking news," he said a bit vaguely. "I have been to the Shire, and to Imladris..." he stopped when he saw her face. "I was going to Lothlórien for a while to rest."
He led her to a clearing where he assured her that they would be safe, kindled a small fire, and settled comfortably against a fallen log and filled his pipe. There was enough grass to content the horses, and water to be had not far away. Crickets began their evensong, and the orange glow in the West faded away as they spoke.
"And you have still not wed?" his bushy eyebrows lifted in surprise.
"No," she said, the heat rising to her cheeks.
"Whyever not? Surely you could have your choice of any of the fine Men of Rohan?"
She did not tell him that she hadn't been to Edoras in years and that only a few horsemen of the Wold knew her, but she blushed again at his forthright words, and even more so for her reason, which now seemed foolish.
"I was waiting..." Here she lowered her voice as if someone else might hear, "For a Man who would make me feel the way Elrond did."
She waited for him to tease her, but he only looked at her thoughtfully for several moments.
"That may never come to pass, Readfah."
"I am beginning to think you're right. But I cannot wed where I do not love."
He was silent again for an even longer time. Then he spoke thoughtfully.
"I think maybe there is a veil before your eyes. Loving a Man is not very different than loving an Elf, to be sure, but if I may say so the steps are reversed. Elves see the heart first, then are moved to desire, while Men, in some ways for good and some ways for ill, are moved by desire and then learn to see the heart. Of course it's not as simple as all that, for no two Men, or Elves, are the same, but it's quite generally as I say."
Readfah thought for a moment, then murmured, "My father said much the same thing."
Because she had never hidden anything from him, she told him about Maedhros...from the time so long ago when his anger manifest in her made her threaten the life of Talanzef the Númenorean Horsemaster, to when she would have beheaded Galadriel at Imladris, and then about his most recent and very much different but no less startling visit.
"I had heard much of the tremendous will of Féanor...no doubt his descendants possess it, too. What you tell me is not impossible, yet I have never heard of such a thing 'till now. Your father was right, though. It is somewhat different, and may seem strange to you."
"What is there for me to do, then?"
"Sleep for a while. I shall keep watch, and think a bit."
She lay down on her outspread cloak and was soon asleep, while Gandalf refilled his pipe and gazed into the fire for a long, long while.
Readfah slept a long time. The Sun was well risen before she stirred to the sound of the horses coming up from watering. Gandalf was behind them, still with a thoughtful expression, and was silent while she rose and shook out her cloak.
"Good morning!" he said at last. "I hope you are well rested!"
"Yes, thank you. I'm afraid I haven't much breakfast to offer..." she said, thinking of the bit of bread and sheep's milk cheese she had left.
He produced a ripe apple from behind his back and offered it to her, and gestured toward a row of apple trees not far off. "That must have been an orchard long ago." He had gathered a few, and now placed them in her bag.
Readfah leaped up onto Hriðscur's back. "Will you ride?" she nodded toward the other horses.
"I suppose I should, but I'm afraid I'm not as gifted a rider as you are. I've never ridden Elf-fashion."
"Bana* will carry you," she indicated a quiet dark bay animal. "Do not mind his name, it was given in jest. When he was only a year old he was carrying children about! But one day a fly had been tormenting him and he kicked Regeon instead. It was his first and last kick, he was so ashamed!"
With no command, Bana knelt, and Gandalf swung himself up. The horse turned his head, nodded, and bared his teeth in a good-natured grin.
"See? He too is glad of company!" Readfah laughed. Then her eyes grew even merrier. "I remember the first time you came to Lothlórien. The horse..."
"Ah, you remember! Yes, Luf was a kind creature, and of more worth than he looked. I chanced upon a band of Northmen as I traveled from the Sea-coast. I was afoot and had no coin, so they pitied me and bid me choose a horse. Or I might say allow a horse to choose me. Luf did, and we wandered for many years together. He is buried in Imladris...
"Since that day I have mostly been afoot, except on borrowed horses now and then, such as now," Gandalf stroked Bana's neck. The horse behaved as if it were an honor to carry him.
"It looks as if another has chosen you, Mithrandir!" Readfah laughed, using his Elvish name.
"It seems so, " Gandalf patted the horse again, who stopped and turned his head once more.
"It is a good thing to be Mithrandir's friend," said Bana in a husky Sindarin.
Readfah and Gandalf looked at each other in surprise. "Why, Bana! I have never heard you speak!" Readfah turned to him.
"No, Mistress," he bared his teeth in a grin.
"Will you stay with Mithrandir then?"
Bana nodded and grinned again and moved in beside Hriðscur, who lifted her head. "Shall we be away?" she asked.
Readfah's brow rose. "Another silent one has found speech!"
The horses both swung into a kind of ambling gait, swift as a trot but far smoother. Gandalf remarked on this, and Readfah explained.
"A good many of my horses, mostly of the Eärroch's line, have this pace."
"And who is the Eärroch?"
"He is a stallion, and immortal. He runs wild among my mares. He chooses but few. Eorl's horse, Felaróf, was his son. The Rohirrim prize Felaróf's descendants so highly that only the King may own them. They do not speak, but understand speech, and they live long."
"It is a strange thing," Gandalf said at length. "That an immortal horse should still be in Middle Earth. I am told the Valinorean stallions were the mounts of...your grandfather and his followers."
"Do you suppose that the Eärroch is my father's horse?" she wondered aloud, the idea making her eyes round.
"Think back," advised Gandalf. "Do you remember the horse your father rode?"
"Well, I remember him telling me that all of the horses they brought with them were white or pale grey, for they were all of one line. He called his horse Iya. He was white, like the Eärroch, and his eyes seemed pale like his, but now it has been a long time..."
She turned to Gandalf. "It must be him. To this day the Rohirrim say that the sire of Felaróf was brought by Béma from the West. Those are stories handed down from a time when the Rohirrim knew me well. But now there is a fear growing among Men, and the people who remember me are few."
Readfah reflected a moment. "Then all this time a part of him has been with me...and I thought I had only this," she fingered the curved blade hanging from her belt.
Galadriel's face wore a serious expression. Almost as soon as Gandalf and Readfah had arrived in Caras Galadon, Gandalf had urged a private conference. Readfah stood a little apart, not sure of what they were talking about, but almost certain it involved her.
She was certain indeed when at last Galadriel seemed to agree with Gandalf, and they turned as one and beckoned to her to follow them to the private glade when Gandalf had first spoken to her so earnestly about the sapphire Ring Elrond held.
Gandalf spoke formally, "Mistress Readfah, you have lived long, suspended in time, robbed of love yet never doing evil"- here Galadriel bowed her head - "I'm not sure what effect this will have, but I deem that the nature of this Ring will bring you something you seek..."
He produced the flame-colored ruby Ring he had long carried. Readfah looked stunned.
"I cannot take that!"
"Nor do I wish you to, but merely hold it in your palm a moment, as you have done Vilya."
Readfah, with a shudder, stretched forth her hand and received the warm golden weight of Narya upon it. The flickering, ember-like glow of the stone drew her eyes into it's heart. For what seemed hours, but was only a moment or two, she stood as one mesmerized until Gandalf gently removed it from her palm. She could have stood there forever, forgetting all else, staring at the ring as one trapped in a beautiful prison one has no desire to leave.
Then Galadriel approached with a light in her hand, but, no! Readfah stood fast as she saw yet another Ring, the stone of this one clear as water yet bright as a star...of all stones Celebrimbor fashioned the most like to a Silmaril of the Three...tiny rainbows danced around it and flew to the other lamps nearby to circle their lesser glow with shimmering colors.
She put out her hand again, and the radiance of Nenya shimmered in her palm. A sudden weariness came over her as she felt her own smallness in the fashion of the world. How had Galadriel borne this beautiful, mighty thing so long? How had any of them, indeed, borne the Rings without succumbing to the temptation of closing themselves off behind a wall and just staring at them for a lifetime? She thought of the day she had, so briefly, touched Vilya. So ignorant had she been that she mistook it's great, pulsing power for her joy that Elrond had returned. Though Nenya was the most startlingly beautiful, and Narya the most comforting, it was Vilya that held the greatest gift of strength and promise, and was in its way the most powerful of the Three.
Only after Galadriel gently retrieved Nenya from her hand did Readfah become aware that Gandalf was speaking. "...save Celebrimbor who made them, only you of all creatures in Middle Earth have seen and touched all Three of the Elven Rings of Power. Though you do not possess them, it is our hope that their gifts will help you."
It was true...neither Gandalf nor Galadriel nor Elrond had ever touched any of the Rings they did not possess, and Gil-galad only one. What the result of this singularity would be was beyond her sight.
The following Spring, Readfah noted with satisfaction that her herds had prospered finely and that the foals born in the especially fertile Spring three years ago were waxing strong as they came of age. But there were too many. The trade routes that passed the Wold were now seldom used, and she decided to make a trip into Edoras itself, though it had now been many years since she had done so. Déor had been King then, and troubles in the Westfold had kept her from meeting him. Later, from a handful of Dalesmen traveling North from Rohan, she heard rumors of Gram, Déor's son, abdicating. She was not certain what she would find when she arrived, but surely, the influx of so many fine horses would be as welcome as it always had been.
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