The Old Grey Wizard
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The Chronicles of The Kelvar: 3. Agreement Reached
Part 1: Shadowfax.
Chapter 3: Agreement Reached
Overnight I had my pleasure with the red mare, and then with the yellow one, and then with the chestnut… Ah, the life of a King must seem enviable to some, but such is my sworn and solemn duty: to ensure that the line of my foresires never dwindles. I humbly carry out my duty. Thus it is understandable that when I arrived in daylight at the upland greensward, I had utterly forgotten the old Two-Foot. But there he stood, the morning's glow reddening his wrinkled, scowling features much as the setting Sun had the night before. Perhaps, I thought, he had not moved through the night, save to turn from gazing to the West to now stand facing East.
If I had not enjoyed a night of magnificent and charming company with my mares, I might have been annoyed by his countenance. But my mood was generous, and a satisfied monarch could afford to be magnanimous.
As I approached, he opened his mouth to speak without leave, as if he had not learned a thing from his lessons of the day before. I gave a warning snort, and he seemed to think better of it. Instead of blathering at once, he bowed—a rather small bow, I might add—and waited for me to signal him my permission.
"And what do you want from me today, Old One?" I sniffed.
He bowed again, and this time he was perhaps a bit less stiff-necked about it. He even smiled again, thinking, I suppose, that I would find his toothy grimace somehow reassuring.
"Merely your attention, my Lord," he said. "Yestereve my tale was not yet complete, and I promised to continue and make clear to you how granting assistance to this old man might be in the best interests of your people…"
"Go on then, and be quick about it," I said with a mighty yawn. I was, of course, very curious, but not about to allow him to see my interest. My guards snickered, and the fellow glared at them. Then he bowed a third time, and this gesture seemed deeper—more sincere.
"King Shadowfax," he said with a serious tone, "what next I would tell you is for your ears alone. For there are some things so deep and so secret, yet so important, that only a monarch should know them... For only one of such high noble blood bears the right—and the burden—of judging the correct course to take."
He was apparently suggesting that he be allowed to speak to me alone, without my guards! Well, if I didn't like the sound of it, my guards most certainly did not like the sound of it. Yet something in the old man's voice—and in his eyes—gave me pause. With a toss of my handsome head, I dismissed my guard stallions, and they obeyed me at once. When they were out of hearing, I peered down at the Two-Foot.
"You now have my undivided attention," I sneered. "And your tale had better be worth my time!" I said as I stamped my brilliant black hoof.
Well, I must admit that his tale was certainly worth every minute of the long hours he spoke and I listened on that late September day. I pride myself in my ability to sense falsehood, and I knew this old Two-Foot was telling the truth. Not only did he engage my curiosity, but quite soon he had stirred my righteous rage.
I heard more than I wished to know of the White Sorcerer: what he once had been, and what he had now become. I heard of the Enemy to the East, and of his growing power. And I heard of a tiny thread of hope that yet remained—something that, if dealt with properly, would bring the Enemy down, but that if found by His servants, would spell disaster. Dark evils were afoot, and the sweeping green grasses of my realm would soon be covered in Shadows if bold action was not taken.
And it was clear that this Grey-Beard was truly, just as he had hinted the day before, right in the thick of it all. None can see the future; even he admitted that he could not. But the choking cinch was tightening on the neck of fate. Time was running out. He was here, many leagues from where the snare threatened to close, and he needed to be there, far to the north and west.
"They have, by now, more than five days lead," he said hoarsely, as he gazed out from the ridge toward the faint haze that hovered over the River Isen at its shallow fords. "The friend I have mentioned, the one they seek, shall have no warning, no protection against their icy breath and their cold blades… Ah!" He struck his fist upon his palm. "Saruman, Saruman! What you have cost me… cost all of us… Alas, treachery has ever been our greatest foe…"
Could his fearsome eyes pierce those fogs and steams, and see the black-robed riders upon their black steeds speeding northward many leagues away? I cannot be sure, even now as I tell the tale many years later. But that he fretted to be in pursuit of them, I had no doubt. And that, perhaps, more than anything he said, convinced me to help the old man. For I knew of those cold undead creatures, and that they had stolen their horses from my herds. I had, once, come within scent of them—and a foul and appalling stench it was, of death and decay. That any Two-Foot would be eager to set out in pursuit of such demons, on behalf of a friend in peril, impressed me more than any words. For such was the spirit of the Mearas, and this man, I deemed, had the heart of a Horse beating within him.
His tale was done, and the light was failing. He stared north and west, facing the cold wind, his grey hair and beard streaming from him. His cloak flapped behind his shoulders, and his fists were clenched at his sides.
"Well, Lord Shadowfax?" he said in a low voice. "What say you? Will you help me try to stop what must otherwise inevitably result in catastrophe? Will you aid me in my struggle against He who is Enemy to all?"
I paced to his side and tossed my head toward the red glow in the sky.
"I shall, Old Man," I said.
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