2. Darkness Took Them, Horse and Horseman
"As I told you, my lord, it is some two months since my lady was struck down," Béodred continued, "and this how it befell. Word came one day to my uncle of a rogue horse running wild in the borderlands of Rohan; a black stallion. 'Tis rare these days to see such a one in our lands; for in recent times we have suffered many raids from the East, some say by foul creatures of Mordor. They steal our horses, but only the black ones..."
Only black horses? That was highly suggestive, Elrond thought. The news that Mordor had grown so bold as to raid even into Rohan itself disturbed him considerably. He said nothing, however, only nodded for Béodred to go on.
"The folk of the few homesteads nearby had tried to catch the horse, but it was half-crazed, lashing out wildly at any who came near, and they had to give up. My uncle and Rowanna are well-known as some of the best tamers of horses in all Rohan, so we were asked to ride out to the marches and see whether we could get the beast under control. The people feared it might do great damage, or harm other horses. Of course if this one turned out to be a mearh we would have little hope of capturing him, for only the royal house of Eorl can command those steeds. But the folk who told us of him said he did not look of mearas stock , and since we had heard no word of any of those being taken by the East, it seemed worth the attempt. So we agreed to go..." He sighed, and ran a hand awkwardly through his mane of blond hair. "Would that we had not!"
"We rode out," he continued, "with several of our stable-hands – hefty lads, for we knew we would need strength as well as cunning if this beast was as wild as the account painted him. One of the local men met us and we recruited plenty more, thinking to cast a wide net around the horse first if we found him, and only afterwards draw it tight. We found him, well enough."
Even in his distress, Elrond realised with a brief flash of amusement, he holds his audience, and knows it, this one. Truly do they call the Rohirrim tellers of tales...
"A local boy on a pony who had been scouting ahead found us while we were still mustering, and pointed us in the right direction. The horse had turned up near one of the streams of the Entwash. That helped us, as it turned out, for the creature was nervous of the water; unwilling to plunge in even to escape us. So we spread out our line and very slowly ringed him around. The closer we got, the less I liked the look of him." Béodred shook his head. "I swear I never saw such a beast. Great red eyes rolling back in his head, stamping and sweating and foaming at the mouth..."
A crazed black horse, roaming the eastern borders of Rohan, thought Elrond. Not hard to guess why the beast was half mad; but what does Sauron want with Rohan's horses?... Back to the business in hand, he chastised himself.
"How then came the lady to be injured? Did you restrain the horse?"
"My lord, we encircled him loosely, to avoid panicking him, and then Rowanna called to him. I know not how well you know the ways of the Eorlingas, but it is not our way to compel any horse or to take him by force with a rope if kindness will persuade him to work with us. And rare is the beast the lady Rowanna cannot persuade!"
"But this one would have none; I swear her voice made him wilder, plunging and whinnying. Finally, my uncle gave the order to move our mounts in around him, so he would have no space to kick and perhaps be calmed. If we must we'd get a rope on him. But we reckoned without our own poor beasts' opinion of him, and in a moment, all was gone awry. One of the locals' horses lost its nerve, faced with this demon-creature. Suddenly it reared and threw him, right into the midst of the ring. Any normal horse would have backed off, fearing to tread on a man downed, but I swear this black beast was about to trample him!"
Elrond could see it all, just as the Rider painted it. "Go on.."
"I tried to move my mare forward, urging her to stand over the fellow so we could give him some protection, and I could see others trying to do the same. But our horses would not move; they were terrified; they started to rear and kick too. Then before any of us could stop her, she had done it... Rowanna was off her horse and standing over the fallen man, facing that creature on foot and commanding it to leave him be!" The Rider closed his eyes.
He is back there, Elrond realised, watching frozen in the ring...
"It reared up on its hind legs, screaming at her. Then suddenly she was down! - crumpled in a heap alongside the man she had tried to save. Our ring broke utterly then. The mad creature kicked out once more, charged a gap between two of us - and was gone."
"She was kicked in the head?" Elrond broke in sharply. "I found no trace of injury there, and you told of none..."
"That was the strangest thing of all, Master Elrond. Amid all those flailing hooves, no one saw her take anything more than a glancing blow to the shoulder. The Healers found bruising there, later, but that healed soon enough, and nothing was broken. But from the moment she fell in that dead faint, she never woke, and from that moment on she has been as you saw her."
"I begin to understand, I think," said Elrond quietly. He rose from his chair and began to pace slowly to and fro. His robe whispered in time with his pacing as it brushed the floor. Béodred swallowed audibly.
"Do...do you know what happened to her, Master Elrond? Can you heal her?..."
"I hope so, my friend." Elrond continued to pace. "But tell me, you brought her off the field. What then?"
Béodred reached for his goblet of spring water and drank deeply before he went on. The worst was now told, and he could deal swiftly with the plain facts that remained. The Eorlingas, well accustomed to examining for broken bones, had looked Rowanna over for fracture or head injury. Finding none, they had constructed a stretcher to sling between two steady horses and brought her slowly back to the farmstead where she and Béodred's uncle worked. Two days later, when she still had not moved or awakened, she had been carried in a litter to her mother's house at Edoras.
"There the Healers attended her," Béodred explained, "and they, too, said there was no damage to her head nor broken bones. They did what they could, but in truth I think they were baffled. Our ailments are of the body; we are thrown from horses, break bones, tear muscles. This was a thing unknown to our physic."
Days, then weeks, had gone by with little change. Rowanna remained in her strange deep faint, her pulse barely detectable, always cold no matter how warm the room. Her mother had sat by her, consulted every Healer in Rohan, and endlessly scoured her few precious books of Gondorrim and Dúnadan lore, looking for any account of such a sickness. Finally, she had conceived a desperate plan.
"The Lady Míranna sent for me one day to her house in Edoras, and I went at once, thinking there might be some change," Béodred went on. "But that was not why she had summoned me." His eyes wandered around the room as he spoke, taking in the flowing carving of window and door frames, the sunlight dancing on drapery and panelling, before coming to rest again on Elrond's grave face.
"Míranna spoke of the traditions of her northern kindred," he went on. "Rowanna's mother was born in Gondor, and her grandmother too; but their bloodline comes of the North, as I told you, and her kin guard their lore and legends fiercely. Míranna spoke of a refuge of the Elder Kindred to the North, a sanctuary of Elven healing, called Rivendell." Elrond nodded. "She remembered tales from her childhood of where it lay, even found a map in one of her books. I confess, my lord," Béodred shifted in his chair, "that I doubted much whether such a place could still exist outside the old tales, much less be found. But so desperate was Míranna, with no other hope, that I agreed with old Dirgon's help to make the attempt. I was never more glad in my life than when we came over the last rise this afternoon and found the stories true!"
"Two things I should like to know," said Elrond softly. "Firstly, what happened, in the end, to the horse?"
"The black fiend? We'd have no more to do with him, my lord. The local people sent for a bowman a few days later, a keen enough shot to put an arrow through his eye from a good distance." Béodred shook his head sadly. "Shooting a horse which was perfectly sound! Well," he corrected himself, "sound in body, at any rate... 'Twas all a bad business!... You had a second question, Master Elrond?"
"Indeed. The man downed? The one the Lady Rowanna tried to save?"
Elrond almost wished he had not asked, for the young man winced. "That last kick the black beast gave before it broke our ring - it took him in the head. Broke his skull. He was dead before we reached him."
And so Míranna trusted her unconscious daughter to the care of two Men for all those weary miles, mused Elrond, seating himself once again opposite Béodred. That says much for her opinion of these two, and not a little for her desperation! Dirgon is an old and trusted servant, I think, and would guard Rowanna as though she were his own daughter. As for Béodred, clearly chivalry and honour are as sacred to the Rohirrim as ever they were. Would he be more than a protector to her, though, I wonder, if he could?
Béodred was recounting something of their journey. "We left Edoras under cover of darkness..."
"In secret?" Elrond demanded. "Why?"
Béodred shook his head sorrowfully at that. "Rohan is...not at ease, in these days, Master Elrond." He frowned and got up to pace the room in his turn.
Seeking the words to describe ways of dealing which are strange to him? Elrond wondered.
"There are rumours that dark things rise again in the East. Men say the court at Edoras is grown nervous, suspicious, and that the King is counselled against all strangers. There is no quarrel with the People of Mundburg like Rowanna and her mother, thank Béma, not yet! But no subject of King Théoden goes out from Rohan without the leave of the chief counsellor, one Gríma. If it had been noised abroad that we rode North to seek a land of Elves..." He shook his head.
This I like as little as the news that Mordor raids Rohan's borders! Elrond reflected, as Béodred briefly told of their slow and painstaking journey, through the Gap of Rohan and then northwards along the western flanks of the Misty Mountains. But let Rohan's troubles pass, for now...
"Those are wild and barren lands you travelled through," he commented. "It was no mean feat, to bring the lady through them safely…"
"We had to be cautious passing through Dunland," admitted Béodred, "for the Dunlendings are no great friends of the Eorlingas; but Dirgon knew the lie of the land, and took us by paths far from their settlements, and in part we travelled at night. Once we forded the Glanduin and got beyond Dunland's northern border, though, we passed into a drear and empty land – "
"Eregion," nodded Elrond –
"– and there we made sure instead to journey by day, keeping close watch at night, for Dirgon had heard rumours that in those Northern lands wander trolls, and other foul things which cannot abide the light of day…"
"And so all these weeks later you have reached us," Elrond concluded, smiling at the weary Rider. "A more than worthy feat, my friend, with such a precious burden. I thank you as her kinsman, too, for daring the attempt, and for all your care of the lady. Now, I imagine you are in need of rest, and perhaps a good deep bath would be welcome before dinner? We dine after sundown in summer, when the air is cooler. Come..." With a guiding hand on the Rider's shoulder, he ushered Béodred into the care of his steward to be bathed and lodged. Then the Master of Rivendell stepped out on to a balcony overlooking the Falls, glinting gold now in the setting sun, and paced up and down once more, deep in thought.
Meanwhile, a band of sunlight had slowly rippled its way across the ceiling of the quiet room where Rowanna lay, and now intense red-gold beams lit up the white wall behind her bed. Arwen looked up from her vigil to see a sleek, dark head slide around the doorframe.
"So this is where you're hiding, Arwen. The rumours are true? We've got a mortal woman among us?" The figure in the doorway arched one black eyebrow. "We could do with the excitement..." As Arwen glared at him, he padded into the room, attempting, unsuccessfully, to look penitent. "Peace, Sister. I jest. How fares the lady?"
"She is far from us, Elrohir." Mollified, Arwen made room for him at the head of the bed. "She was brought in barely breathing, and so cold... Father steadied her and warmed her a little, but he can do no more until he knows how she came to this pass. He is with the young Mortal who brought her - a Rohir, I think..."
"Rohir?" Elrohir chuckled softly. "That accounts for it. The rumour-mill was grinding furiously on the subject of a straw-headed giant from the South. Too few of Father's people have travelled beyond this valley for many a year, if you ask me!" He cast an appraising eye over his sister's charge. "That would almost look like a natural sleep, if I knew no better. Father loses none of his touch! I shall leave her in your more than capable hands, Sister... you've not seen Elladan?" Arwen shook her head, not taking her eyes from the woman in the bed. "Ah, well, then I'd better catch up with him." He wandered out as soundlessly as he had come, and only after he had drawn the door gently to behind him did Arwen hear the faint sound of whistling from the corridor.
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