34. A Lonely Ride
I sat up and carefully got to my feet. Then I sighed with relief. I felt a little stiff but nothing really hurt.
The first thing I did was to go to the window and have a look outside.
It was almost the middle of March. At six o'clock in the morning I should have been looking at a glorious sunrise and should have been greeted by a great choir of birds celebrating springtime.
There was no sun.
There were no voices of birds except the disharmonic cries of jackdaws and crows above the Hills of Tarnost.
Dim twilight covered the land. A cold wind made me shiver as I looked down at the silent castle and town of Tarnost. There seemed to be no one about at all. For a moment I wondered if I was the last living person in the castle, but then a window opened a floor below and a bucket of water was flung out. Obviously there were still other people alive in the castle. But the contrast to the uproar of the leaving army the day before was chilling. With no sun Tarnost was a depressing place. Somehow it reminded me of the movie "The Name of the Rose".
I closed the window again. I would set out for Dol Amroth today. There was really no point in staying here another day. If I was lucky and did not lose my way, I should be able to reach Dol Amroth on the fourteenth… the day the host of the south-western provinces should arrive at Minas Tirith.
Yes, I would do that. I pulled the map of Gondor I had carried with me from Edoras out of my pack and had a look at it. The route looked fairly simple to me. A road led from Tarnost to the Haven of Edhellond on the southern banks of the river Ringló. With Mithril this would be a journey of no more than two days of easy riding. And it was only another day's ride from Edhellond to Dol Amroth, on a road up on the cliffs.
Dol Amroth… the capital of the fief Dol Amroth and home to Prince Imrahil and his family. I would finally meet the woman (or girl?) I was named for. I sighed. I wished I could have met the Prince's family in happier times. Until I had met Sorcha, I had not really thought about what the message I had carried to Tarnost really meant for most families in the south-western provinces.
I knew that it was not my fault as Sorcha had pointed out. But still… I was not comfortable to be the harbinger of bad news, a Láthspell, as Gríma had called Gandalf at Meduseld. And yet I knew that many would remember my name as the name of the messenger that took fathers and husbands and sons away from their families forever.
I have heard that name, Sorcha had said, her voice carefully devoid of any emotion.
I forced myself out of my dark thoughts. There was no use in succumbing to depression like that. After all, it really was not my fault. It was the fault of that fucking demon in the east. And in a very short time there would be no more fucking demon in the east, I thought furiously. No more Sauron. No more dark times. Once and for all.
I took the message for the Prince's family from the table and carefully stowed it away. Then I rolled up my map and stuffed it back into my pack, too.
Now. First things first. Washing. Dressing. The clothes I had worn yesterday would still be fine. When I was done, I had a look around the room to see if I had forgotten to pack anything.
I grinned wryly. As if I was on holiday and leaving a hotel I had stayed in. Hotel Tarnost…
Holiday in a medieval castle. Fun and games: watching an army leave for battle.
I grimaced. Somehow I was not yet up to jokes like that. Even if they were only in my mind. Gimli would be, however, I thought. And the hobbits, too.
No, Lothíriel, no more thinking. Breakfast and then up and away.
This time I was not quite as timid as the day before and simply went down to the kitchens. There I met the girl who had served me at breakfast the day before. She was on her feet and bowing and trying to usher me to the breakfast room in a blink.
"Just some breakfast right here in the kitchen will do," I said and would not be budged.
At least I would not be all alone in the kitchen. "I am only a messenger. There's no need to get bread crumbs into the fine room on my account."
In the end I got my way and had a nice breakfast at the huge square wooden table in the castle's kitchen. The coming and going of the servants soothed my mind. And it was warm and bright in the kitchen, too.
"Do you think that my horse could be made ready?" I asked the girl. "Prince Imrahil asked me to carry another message. I want to get going as soon as may be."
The girl bobbed a curtsy. "Of course, my lady. I will send Hílo."
Hílo turned out to be a kitchen boy of perhaps eight or nine years of age. Obviously there was no such thing as compulsory education in Gondor. Perhaps I would bring the matter to Aragorn's attention when he was king. If I was allowed to talk to him when he was king…
I finished a last cup of the coffee-cocoa-whatever-liquid and thanked the plump, red-faced cook for the lovely breakfast. The woman smiled and wished me Godspeed for my errand.
When I came back downstairs later, dressed for riding in my trekking boots and my cloak with my backpack slung over my shoulder, the little boy, Hílo, was back from the stables. He bowed to me and told me - in a sweet high voice thick with brogue - something that sounded like "Th'orse is made ready, Mam. Sh'll ah take you doon?"
I smiled and nodded.
The boy skipped ahead of me totally oblivious of the surrounding gloom. Talk about the resilience of children…
Just when we reached the outer court of Tarnost, a burly groom was leading Mithril out of the stables. The mare neighed when she saw me and strained towards me.
She really likes me, I thought, and all of a sudden felt tears rise in my eyes. I shook my head briskly. This was neither the time nor the place to get all sentimental!
"Thank you," I told the boy and realized that I did not have any money to give him. Then I remembered the leaf covers of the lembas that I kept as souvenirs in the small outer bag of my backpack. I pulled one out of it. It was still fresh and green, its veins gleaming golden. I gave it to the boy. "This is a leaf from the wood of the Elves. Perhaps you want to keep it as a… lucky charm."
The boy stared at me with his mouth round and open. Then he took the leaf and ran away like a rabbit with the dogs behind it.
The groom grinned. "With that you 'ave made a kid really 'appy, my lady," he told me. "And I wouldn't 'alf mind getting of 'em leaves myself."
I grinned right back at the man. "If you help me tie that pack securely to the saddle and give me a lift up there," I held up my bandaged wrists to explain why I needed such help, "I think that I may have another one of those leaves left in my pack."
My pack was fastened to the saddle in a minute and I was up on Mithril's back without tearing my wounds open once again. The groom held a golden mallorn leaf in his hands, an expression of awe on his face.
"Godspeed, my lady!" he called after me.
I stroked Mithril's silky neck.
"Hey, my sweet," I whispered, enjoying the warmth of Mithril's skin and her easy strength under me. I felt curiously at home and safe on her back.
"We have another message to deliver."
"But this time we can take our time, we don't have to hurry. Or at least not much. Idhel, Mithril. Just walk for the time being." I gently nudged her to the gates.
The guards in the towers at the gates had obviously been told that I wanted to leave because the gates opened at once when I rode towards them. Mithril's hooves echoed on the cobbled stone pavement in the tunnel between the walls of the battlements. Then we were out of the gates and on the winding road down the hill.
The gates closed silently behind me.
At the foot of the hill of Tarnost there was a crossroads. One road led away to the north. That was the road I had used coming to Tarnost. The other road led to the west. This road, too, had once been paved with great flagstones, but of that pavement not much was left. Now it was mostly a country lane of hard, bare earth. I did not mind. Mithril would probably prefer the softer ground anyway as long as it did not turn into sludge.
The countryside on the sides of the road was mainly grassy plains with occasional clumps of trees here and there. Towards noon the plains turned into meadows and fields. We were getting close to the river Ringló. At noon we reached the confluence of the rivers Ciril and Ringló with Ringló village.
But I did not cross the bridge into the village. Instead I continued on the banks of the Ringló, following the river in its south-western direction. Even now, in the middle of the day, there was no sun, but only a grey twilight that grew very dark in the east. Dark days indeed, I thought as I rode along.
I tried to cheer myself up with singing, but it did not really work. I am not a good singer at the best of times and the dreary atmosphere of the day seemed to turn any song tried into a dirge.
Finally I gave up on the singing and began talking to Mithril, practicing my Sindarin.
Mithril flicked her ears and snorted now and again as if she understood my every word and wanted to comment. And perhaps she did; after all the Mearas are supposed to be bred from Oromë's heavenly horses.
The afternoon waned and the twilight deepened. I realized that for the first time I would be really all alone in the wilderness for the night. Apart from my horse, of course. I tried to ignore the quickening of my heartbeat at that thought and only stopped to make camp for the night when it had grown so dark that I could not see the surface of the road from Mithril's back.
I slid down from her back as carefully as I could. I winced when my ankle struck the saddle. But apart from that I was not really sore. Perhaps I was getting used to riding. I managed to unsaddle Mithril and clean her hooves. Then I rubbed her down the way Éowyn had shown me to do and led her down to the river. Close to the edge of the water was a small sheltered dell. Perfect for the night. I did not feel up to lighting a fire and cooking a meal, so I only ate one of my last remaining lembas and then curled up in my sleeping bag, listening to the soft ripping noises of Mithril grazing nearby.
I woke way before the dawn as I had grown accustomed to during the last months.
Another day without a sun.
I washed with the icy water of the river and drank some of the cold coffee-cocoa-mixture I had brought with me from Tarnost. For breakfast I ate some bread and cheese supplied by the cook of Tarnost Castle. Saddling Mithril was a bit of an adventure, but in the end I managed it. I was sweaty and nervous when I finally mounted, but obviously I had made no really gross mistakes, because the saddle stayed where it should, and Mithril did not snort or toss her head in discomfort but only lipped my fingers softly when I stroked her nose – as if she wanted to tell me that I had done it correctly as far as she was concerned.
On we went, following the Ringló on its way to the sea.
I love the ocean. I was looking forward to see the famous Bay of Belfalas.
At noon I came to the confluence of the Morthond and the Ringló. Both the Morthond and the Ringló are mighty streams so close to the ocean. Their currents are not as strong and cold as they are close to the Ered Nimrais and their mountain springs, but they carry a lot of water down to the sea. I rested on a small hill overlooking the confluence of the rivers. The water stretched wide and greenish grey before me. White gulls wheeled above the water and now and again dipped into it only to appear again seconds later with tiny silvery fish in their beaks.
From the joining of the Morthond and the Ringló to Edhellond was only fifteen miles or so, I mused. The correct designation of the body of water before me was probably 'firth'. Looking at the stony banks of the estuary I could see the marks of high tide as a greenish line of sea weed. Firth of Ringló? Or Firth of Edhellond? There had been no name on the map.
After half an hour of idly watching the gulls, I mounted again and rode on.
In the evening I reached Edhellond and the sea.
Edhellond is a white city. Its elvish origins are obvious for even the most casual visitor. Edhellond is a white city as the harbour towns in the Aegean Sea are white cities, but it is elegant and ethereal, built in the flowing and vaguely art-nouveau style adored by the elves.
Even in the dreary gloom of these dark days, it was beautiful.
But it was very quiet and almost deserted. There were not many people out in the streets and the few that were there, were old people, women and children. I realized that it was very probable that I had seen many husbands and fathers of the city of Edhellond in Tarnost.
I was in a country that was at war. This whole world was at war.
I decided that I would try and find an inn for the night. An inn!
I felt hot and cold with shock as I realized that I had no coins of Gondorian currency. How should I pay for a room and a meal?
I stared down at my hands clutching Mithril's reins. I was tired. And I was hungry!
And I had no money!
No money… suddenly a thought stirred in my mind. I still had some Euro coins. Perhaps I could persuade an innkeeper to accept them as a curiosity? Do some haggling? Wasn't that how it was supposed to work here?
I decided to give it a try.
And… I was lucky!
With the city emptied of its men and trade diminished by the war in the east, the first innkeeper whom I tried to convince of the value of my strange coins,simply told me to hand over five coins and lead my horse into the stable at the back of the inn.
I did not have to think twice.
I led Mithril into one of the empty stalls and leaned against her. I sighed, willing my pounding heart to slow down. I was simply not used to the fact that there was neither a fixed price for anything in Middle-earth nor a fixed currency or exchange-rate. If you wanted something and you did not have the coin of Gondor or Rohan, you made an offer of whatever you happened to have in the way of valuables and haggled for it. I knew that. I had seen others do it. But I was still not used to do it myself and somehow I felt as if I had broken some law by offering Euro coins to the innkeeper.
Hay for Mithril, a bed for the night and something to eat, that's the important thing. And as there are no other Euro coins in Middle-earth except the ones that I still had hidden away in my backpack, it was not even a bad deal for the innkeeper. I had paid him with a real rarity, after all.
The room was tiny, but clean. A straw mattress and a woollen blanket and a table with a chipped ewer and blue washing bowl. Perfect for one night, even if "sleep tight" was not really applicable to the way the ropes gave out under me.
Dinner was a huge bowl of black mussels in a sauce of white wine, garlic and parsley with fresh brown bread. It reminded me of holidays spent in France and Italy. Another life. Another world. After dinner I had another cup of the coffee/cocoa thingy, which was called 'Tírithel', a word of Sindarin origin if I did not miss my guess. 'Tír' is Sindarin and means 'to wake, to look for, to guard'. How very aptly put, I thought, as I felt my weariness dissipating with the warmth of the hot caffeinated beverage spreading through my body.
As I was not yet tired enough to go to bed, I got my cloak from my room and decided to go for a walk around the harbour. It was around nine o'clock and the night was deep and dark. But it was not as bad as the twilight of the day. After all, you expect the night to be dark.
Around the harbour there were lanterns lit at regular intervals. I walked up to one of them and peered up at it. It was not gas. Probably oil lamps. Kindled and extinguished by a night watchman probably.
The harbour was quiet and full of ships, small fishing crafts most of them, tied up securely with the fishers gone… to the East and to war.
But in front of the harbour's entrance I could see the outline of a big sailing ship, and I remembered what Sorcha had told me about the soldier-sailors of Ethir, that only a few men could be spared, because the coasts had to be defended against the corsairs.
I shuddered. But then I remembered: Aragorn would defeat the corsairs at Pelargir. At least if the appendices of the books turned out to be true, too.
I remained at the harbour for a while longer, growing calm and tired as I watched the gentle inky waves in the harbour basin lapping against the quay and the regular blinking of the two lighthouses at the edge of the harbour.
At last I turned around and walked slowly back to the inn.
The stories I had read on earth were becoming hazy and distant, I pondered. It was getting more and more difficult to remember any details. The details of what really happened on the quest had wiped out my memories of the quest as it was in the books. And of the days to come I only remembered pages filled with battle and death and only a pinprick of hope: a small sparkle of light in the darkness of Mordor far away in the east. Mordor… Frodo and Sam would be in Mordor by now, I thought. With Gollum. And the ring. Hopefully.
As I slipped under the covers, my thoughts went back to the hobbits and then to my other friends, especially to Éowyn who was on the way to Minas Tirith, but also to Aragorn and the Grey Company who were perhaps even now fighting the corsairs at Pelargir… and Gandalf and Pippin who were at Minas Tirith, waiting for the attack.
I wanted to pray for my friends then, I wanted to pray to God and to Eru and ask the Valar and all my earthly saints for their blessing, but the words would not come.
Finally I closed my eyes and only whispered, please, please, please…
The next day I rose early. Breakfast was a large mug of Tírithel and a bun with honey.
I saddled Mithril, feeling accomplished that I was not nervous about doing it right anymore. I mounted easily this time. With a smile I realized that I felt pretty at home on Mithril's back by now.
I walked her past the harbour and then along the main road.
As we left the last houses behind us, the pavement gave way to a broad and well-maintained lane that could still be used easily by carriages. But if there had been any pavement on the surface of the road, today there was nothing left of it at all.
In a way, I mused, the situation in Middle-earth was a bit as it must have been in Europe when the Roman empire of the Ancient World passed away and the dark ages came. The Noldor and the Númenoreans had brought civilization to Middle-earth, architecture and paved roads, probably bathing houses and the art of writing. But the bloom of the elvish realms had long since faded and the splendour of the Gondorian kingdom of old was but a memory.
The high tide and low tide of history, rising and falling with the passage of millennia…
The incursions of orcs and dark lords and demons were of course not exactly helpful to the development of human civilization, I thought. Perhaps I would live to see better days in the years to come.
The road wound along the edge of the cliffs. Now and again I had a breathtaking view of almost sheer formations of cliff rock with the waves crashing against the rocks at their feet in swirls of dark water and white foam. Of the sea or the lands around me I could not see very much. Again there was no sun in the sky, but only dark grey clouds and a sickly greenish glow around an unmoving, impenetrable blackness in the east. Only at the far western horizon there seemed to be a small ribbon of golden light. The West…
And in the West is Aman, the Blessed, I mused, the home of the elves.
Perhaps that was the light. Though how I would be able to see the light of heaven beyond this world at the edge of the earthly ocean was beyond me.
Nevertheless it lifted my heart.
Around noon I grew tired and thirsty, so I decided to have a break. After all, I had not really far to ride anymore. I had time to stop and relax for a bit. I dismounted and left the road, looking for a place suitable for a picnic.
What I found was… on earth I would have said: a holy spring. It was a shrine built around a spring in a little dell surrounded by thickets of gorse and heather. The shrine was made of smooth grey stone and it held a basin filled with clear, cool drinking water that tasted slightly of earth.
A spout in the form of an ivy leaf was inserted at the top of the basin, and from there the water dripped in a small rivulet down into a small channel of stone and then disappeared again into the ground. The roof of the shrine was fashioned in a pointed gable and covered in dark grey slates. In the tympanum the design of a sailing ship and a star were engraved with elvish runes curling around it. The runes were fading but still clearly visible.
After I had watered Mithril and eaten a quick lunch of cheese, dried fruit and brown bread, I knelt down in front of the shrine. I stared at the runes and tried to remember what Glorfindel had taught me about elvish runes.
It took me a long time to figure out the individual words because the language that was used in the inscription was Quenya, not Sindarin, and I knew only a little about this elvish "Latin".
Finally I thought I had figured out what they meant. This is what I thought was inscribed above the spring:
"Mi oro-mardi Andúne pella
Vardo nu luini tellumar, yassen tintilar i eleni
óma-ryo lírinen aire-tário.
Sí man i yulma nin en-quant-uva?
Merale sa hiruvalye Valimar ar sa yulmarilya quatina."
However my knowledge of Quenya was not sufficient to translate it, although some of the words seemed strangely familiar.
Some kind of elvish blessing, no doubt.
I refilled my bottle with water from the spring. Then held my cupped hands under the spout and let them fill up with that clear water. I washed my hands and face and sprinkled a few drops on the tympanum, as I would have done at a holy spring on earth, a gesture of gratefulness to forgotten gods.
Then I mounted Mithril and rode on along the cliffs.
It was early in the evening when I reached the peninsula of Dol Amroth. The castle and town of Dol Amroth were situated in the north of the peninsula, above the Bay of Cobas. The rocks of the cliffs were red, orange and yellow. The castle and the battlements around the town were built from this red rock. As I rode towards the gates, I reflected that the Castle of Dol Amroth had to look splendid in a real sunset. Probably like great red ruby, with a red sun setting behind it. But today it only gave the grey twilight of the low clouds a sickly reddish hue.
The land narrowed down to a promontory towards the walls of Dol Amroth, until there were only a few feet of rock grown with heather at the sides of the road. Then even that bit of ground dropped away into a deep gorge. A drawbridge led across a deep gorge to the gates of the city of Dol Amroth. The gates were closed.
I nudged Mithril onto the bridge and called up to the small towers at the sides of the gate.
"Hello there?! My name is Lothíriel. I come from Tarnost with a message of Prince Imrahil to his family!"
As I had expected, the rough voice of a guard answered. "Show the message and the seal, and we will let you pass."
I turned in the saddle, hoping that I would manage to get the envelope out of my backpack without letting the message fall into the gorge or falling down into that gorge myself.
After a few moments of nervous fiddling, I got hold of the envelope and managed to pry it out of the backpack without mishap. The seal was undamaged and showed very clearly the blue colour of the coat of arms of Dol Amroth.
I held it up in front of me.
"Well, this looks indeed like the Prince's seal. We will open the gates."
The gates swung open, creaking slightly at the hinges.
I walked Mithril through the gates.
The gates of Dol Amroth were still shut by mere man power. One guard in the blue uniform of Dol Amroth stepped up to me; two others closed the gates behind me, securing them with a heavy beam thrust into the stone at the sides of the gates.
I dismounted, taking Mithril's reins in my right hand, the message in my left.
I smiled at the guard. "Nice to meet you. I am Lothíriel, messenger at large."
He did not smile back, only stared at me with a strange expression on his face. Okay, no more jokes until we get to know each other a little better.
"Welcome, my lady," the guard said finally. The guard was an older man with grey hair and a dark beard.
"I would like to give this message to the Prince's family as soon as possible," I went on. "Perhaps if someone could take care of my horse?"
The guard nodded. "Ewan," he turned to one of the other two guards. "See to it."
Ewan was no more than a boy of perhaps thirteen, tall and thin with growing too quickly. Ewan bowed to me. I asked Mithril to go with him. The horse tossed her head indignantly but allowed herself to be led away.
Then the old guard turned back to me. "If you will follow, I will take you to the castle."
Dol Amroth consisted really of three parts.
There was the town of Dol Amroth up on the cliffs of a promontory off the peninsula of Dol Amroth, there was the castle of Dol Amroth that was situated on a second, separate promontory behind the one on which the town had been built and there was the harbour of Dol Amroth at the foot of the cliffs with the fishing village of Dol Amroth.
The Castle of Dol Amroth was reached by a second drawbridge. As I looked down over the sides of the drawbridge I experienced the dizzying sensation of vertigo. Almost a hundred feet below, the rocky gorge was only a few feet wide and at each side the waves crashed against the rocks with a roar of wild water. From the tide marks in the gorge I guessed that the gorge was flooded completely on a regular basis. Not much to fear from corsairs, up here, I thought as I walked behind the guard towards the castle.
The castle, built of the same red stone as the battlements was a good deal smaller than Tarnost. Nevertheless it was still impressive. At the very edge of the cliff behind the castle, I glimpsed the outline of a round tower. Probably a donjon, the remains of the first attempt to build a fortified settlement up here. Now it served as a lighthouse. Not that the light helped much in the grey twilight of the day.
A servant in blue livery opened the doors of the castle and bowed to us.
"A message for her ladyship," the guard told the servant. The servant inclined his head politely.
"If you will step into the hall, I will send word to the lady at once."
The guard nodded and led me to an archway to the right of the entrance hall. At the end of a short corridor was a large door made of black wood. The guard opened the door and waited for me to pass him by.
The great hall of the Castle of Dol Amroth – just like the rest of the castle – was built of the beautiful red stone of the surrounding cliffs. The masonry was deceptively simple and faintly Romanesque in style. High Doric columns supported a ceiling of dark wood. The western wall sported four large windows with round arcs and pure, flowing framework. At the inner wall were two great fire places. The centre of the room was covered with a thick red carpet. On the carpet was a long table made of dark wood with many straight backed chairs. I decided that I liked the style.
In front of the windows, groups of arm-chairs and low tables were arranged.
"If you would like to sit down, my lady. The lady will be here shortly," the guard told me.
"No, thank you. I have been in the saddle all day, it's good to stretch my legs finally," I answered politely, walking along the windows. The glass of the windows was thick so that it did not offer a really clear view of the sea and the coastline of the Bay of Cobas. But nevertheless it was a magnificent view.
On earth Dol Amroth would have made a smashing hotel.
From far away the sound of the waves drifted up to us, a soothing, rushing sound.
For the first time in days I felt a part of the tension drain out of me.
I had made it. In a few moments the message would be delivered and I would be free.
Free to do what? Free to wait until the war would be over…
I sighed softly. I had no idea. If only the war was already over…
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.