7. Chapter 7
The Ered Nimrais June FA 01
As soon as she had waved goodbye to Ashild and Bregil, Devoran hurried around to the stables. Fearful that Alhael might come early, she was desperate to get away. Her mind had been busy with plans for the last few days, although she had been unable to do anything that would arouse her servants’ suspicions. Having known her since her birth, they would never have let her set off on such a journey alone. But what choice did she have?
The first thing was to harness up Plugh, their carthorse. A nuisance, as she would have to take the heavy tack off again – it was too late to leave today – but she wanted everything packed up so she could set off at first light. Plugh nuzzled into her. His coat might be white with age, but his eyes were still bright and clear. Devoran fixed him between the poles with no trouble; the last two years had taught her many unexpected skills. Glad of something to do, even though it was just moving the cart around to the haystore at the moment, Plugh trotted off at her command. She wanted to take as much hay as the cart would hold, as grass would be scarce until she reached the lowlands, and anyway, if she covered it with a canvas sheet, she and Drummer could sleep warm and cosy. Devoran knew she couldn’t risk the inns, even disguised as a boy, which was how she intended to travel, because often the customers had to share rooms.
She grabbed the pitchfork and dug it in. Dry and dusty, the hay had lost the sweet smell of summer, but was still good. Bregil had kept it well. She stuffed some in bags, the rest she loaded loose.
“There will be plenty of water, Drummer there are lots of streams coming down the mountains.” Her main concern had been how to get out of the Vale without being spotted, but she had studied her father’s map, knowing there was an old track that went up behind the house. It crossed the river higher up and came out at Erech, joining the main way from Rohan to Dol Amroth. The track had been made long ago, cut into the mountainside. Her father had marched his men to war that way, although she had never been very far along it. It was the way to take as long as she could get the cart over the ancient river crossing. A risk, but one she was ready to take to avoid being seen. She didn’t trust her cousin not to stop her by force.
At Erech there was another turning and the main way went down to Linhir, the map also showed another road, running all along the foothills of the Ered Nimrais, through Lamedon, Lebennin and then Lossarnach. That should be a good road, too. But it would be slow going until she reached Erech, she thought, and she might have to lead Plugh to avoid the possibility of losing a wheel to a stone. Luckily the weather had been fine for weeks, which would help.
Piling up the hay made her hot and sticky, and the dust got up her nose, causing her to sneeze repeatedly. Little wisps stuck to her bare arms and her dress started to resemble Drummer’s coat before Amroth had cut it. Thinking of him, Devoran let the fork stop in midair, but resolutely dug it in again, shaking away the temptation to saddle Col and ride headlong for Dol Amroth. She had fought down that urge over the last few days and refused to let it surface again. Best to stick to her plan and let Amroth choose what he wished to do.
“Come on, Drummer, we must load up the rest of our things now.” Devoran dragged out the stiff canvas and struggled to pull it over the cart; she could tuck the food under the covering, out of the sun. Most of her clothes could go in bags behind the seat.
With the hay piled and covered, she took the cart around to the side door to load up her things. It took numerous journeys – in and out of the house with armfuls of stuff and Drummer stalked her every step. She took time to stop and pet him.
“It’s all right, Drummer, I won’t be going without you. But it is taking longer than I thought. I do not know what is mine and what is Alhael’s, or if anything is mine at all. My mother’s dresses, they must be mine. I shall need them when we get to court, they only require a little alteration and they are so pretty.” She’d adjusted a couple to wear at the wedding, but would need more at court. They would need rolling and packing in a bag.
“Those candlesticks my mother brought and her books, I will take those as well.” Her mother’s lyre, and her own, room had to be found for them.
“My father’s sword and his big tall bow. He’s not having those. Or Col, I don’t care if he does not belong to me. Alhael is not having Col. He didn’t earn him in the battle.” Somehow Col was a visible reminder of her brothers’ and her father’s bravery, and she didn’t want to part with him. Although she knew she would probably have to sell the horse once she reached Minas Tirith, she would need the coin. But she would make sure he went to someone nice. “And I suppose the cart is his, and Plugh, but I will just have to borrow them.”
“My own bow and my drawings. Can you remember the last time I drew the mountain birds and flowers? I will take my mother’s also. But I am going to have to load some of it onto Col. I hope he won’t mind. He’s a warhorse, Drummer, not a packhorse.” She would have to do that in the morning.
“It is a long journey, Drummer. We are going to the White City, just like King Elessar said. I know you will not like it much, but if Amroth does not come for us, we will not stay. I will ask the King a boon. It sounds very nice, Drummer, in Ithilien. The King said in his speech at the wedding that people are settling there. It would suit you and me, Drummer, better than the City.”
She kept up the endless chatter to Drummer to stop herself from faltering. Easy to say she would leave her home and travel to Minas Tirith, but the map had shown her how far it was. Her father had walked there, she reminded herself, so she could get there in a cart. And thank goodness one of Amroth’s soldiers had overhauled the cart; hopefully it would get to the City in one piece.
With everything ready for an early start, Devoran fell into bed exhausted.
She had slept with the curtains drawn back, so the first glow of the rosy dawn had her up. Hose, a shirt, and a loose tunic already laid out, Devoran dressed quickly, binding her breasts with a strip of linen. But next was the decision she had been dreading, and putting off – what did she do about her hair? She ran her hands through it. So thick and soft and wavy it did not look like it belonged to a boy. Perhaps if she tied it back? Drummer watched her from the end of the bed; he obviously thought it too early to be up and about. “I cannot cut it off, Drummer. I will be laughed at if I turn up at court with no hair.” And if Amroth came for her he would be so disappointed, he liked her hair. No, that settled it – she would have to wear a hood that covered head and neck, even though it would be hot if the weather kept up. But at least it would keep the flies from biting. A straw hat could go on top to shade her face from the sun. Having made her decision, she finished dressing and hurried outside to get the horses ready. Best to get out of sight as quickly as possible and then stop to eat something.
The road rose steeply behind the house, and then levelled out along the side of the mountain, disappearing around its shoulder. Drummer whined a protest every few moments, very indignant at her treatment of him.
“I am sorry that you have to be tied to the seat, Drummer. I do not wish to lose you. If you went chasing something you might get lost and never come back and then I would be all alone. Col is tied on behind, he’s not making a fuss.”
Plugh plodded along. She didn’t like to push him, and anyway the road was stony and it was all too easy to damage a wheel. If that happened she had no idea what she would do. But in spite of the slow pace, she very soon reached the bend and pulled Plugh to a halt, swivelling around in her seat –
“You must look, Drummer, it is the last we will ever see of it. We are not coming back.” Tears ran down her cheeks when she picked out the place where her mother and father were buried. All her family under the earth, and she didn’t even know where they had buried her brothers. Her father had never said. “But they would have wanted me to be brave, Drummer. They wouldn’t have wanted me to stay and do Alhael’s bidding.” He wanted to sell her to some rich old man! Her brothers would have killed him for even thinking of it. A memory of Amroth’s words rocked her. “He said they would have been friends, Drummer. I am sure they would have liked me to marry him.” She let her eyes linger on the walled garden, the stone outlined against the pasture. “It is where we sat and talked. What do you think he is doing now, Drummer? It is hot. Do you think that he is swimming in the sea?” How she would have liked to be paddling in the cool water right now. Determinedly banishing mawkish thoughts, Devoran flicked the reins to get Plugh moving again. She had put herself in the hands of fate and now had to see what would happen.
The road became stonier and she was forced to walk leading the horse – hot and tired as noon approached. She stopped for a meal where a fast stream gushed down the mountainside, taking off her hood and splashing her face with water. The horses had a good drink, and so did Drummer, wading in a small pool, but she kept hold of his rope. The thought of being completely alone in the mountains terrified her.
“There, you are nice and cool now, Drummer. And we had better go, it is a very long way.”
They travelled for another hour or so and then her heart went to her mouth, for the road ahead was blocked by a rock fall.
“You stay here, Drummer. I will look.”
She walked up to the fallen stones; most were quite small, but there was one big one that she knew without a doubt would be too heavy for her. The fall did not quite cover the entire road and then there was a stony verge before a steep drop to the valley below. Now what did she do? She thought for a moment before taking a rope to measure the width of the cart, then the distance between the large rock and the edge of the cliff.
“There is just a little to spare, Drummer, if I can manage to move all the small stones. It is a good job that I brought my leather gloves, as I am sure that the ladies at court have very soft hands.”
The sun had sunk behind the peaks by the time she had finished and the air had cooled with a breeze getting up. It dried the sweat and made her shiver. Already tired she would have liked to eat and sleep, but she wanted to get further away from the house. They were nowhere near the river yet. With the road cleared, she went back to the cart and a bored Drummer.
“Now, Drummer, I am going to take Col first and then you. There is a stumpy tree; I will tie you to that. You wait here, Drummer, and please do not bark.”
Devoran led Col past the fall and tied him to the tree on the other side. He made no fuss whatsoever, wisps of hay protruding from his mouth. She had given the horses a feedbag each to keep them occupied. With Col safe she took Drummer, tied him up and went back for the cart. Plugh moved a few paces and then stopped. Nothing she did would budge him. He wanted his stable.
“Well,” she said to him, “you will have to come someway, there is no going back and we cannot stay up here all night.” Devoran thought hard, hoping she had not cleared all those rocks for nothing. Drummer whined, not liking being tied up away from her. “Now what would my Prince do, Drummer? He is very good with horses. He shouts at dogs, but not at horses I am sure.”
Instead of trying to pull, Devoran went around the side of the old horse and put herself between him and the drop. Whispering softly in his ear, she told him what a brave horse he was and how she needed him, and with a shudder that rattled his old bones, slowly he walked forward.
“It is going to get dark soon, Drummer, we will have to find somewhere to stop. There is something we have to decide, you and me. Do we light a fire? I have brought wood, there was plenty left in the pile, but should I light it? A fire could attract brigands, but it protects against wolves. The mountain lions and the bears, I know they sleep at night. Let me think, we have not heard wolves for a long time and I have my bow. You and I, Drummer, I think we would be better against wolves than brigands.” Drummer cocked his head to one side listening intently to all this, making no other response. Devoran laughed at herself discussing her predicament with a dog, but she had to have someone to talk to or she would go mad. She nodded. “You are right; we will not light the fire.”
No sign of wolves or anything much else except a few birds winging back to their roosts, a flight of black arrows against the darkening sky. Munching on some cherries – she had brought a big bag – Devoran snuggled into her warm cloak. The rocky cliffs fell away in great steps until they hit the floor of the Vale way below. But all the landmarks had disappeared, merging into a formless blend of greys. In the morning she would be able to see the shapes of the villages and perhaps the sheep grazing the high pastures, but now she was alone in a dark empty land, with only a new moon and the stars to give her light. An unsettling feeling that even Drummer’s comforting presence could not ease.
Her supper finished, they curled up amongst the hay and Devoran was so tired even fright could not keep her from sleeping. She knew nothing until she was woken by the dawn. Jumping up quickly, her heart pounding, she looked around in panic, but the horses were still there, quietly munching.
The track became easier as it gradually descended, skirting the outthrust of the mountain, enabling her to make good progress. By early afternoon she was looking down on the Morthond River again. Devoran shaded her eyes, gazing across to the ridge on the other side of the valley, sure she could see the line of the road.
“We will go down and camp by the river tonight, Drummer, and at first light make for the road. I shall be glad to be on it, for it will be easier to travel.”
The river crossing was still good, great slabs of granite laid on stone piers in ages past. Not that high above the water, but narrow. Meant more for men than carts. Or perhaps the carts were smaller years ago. Could she get hers across the river another way? Devoran wandered along the bank. The water ran fast, but the fine weather meant it was low, in fact quite shallow. However the bed was rough and stony. She got out her rope again and went back to the bridge to measure – just enough room for the wheels. But she couldn’t face it now, not tonight. It would be better attempted in the morning.
Still not wanting to risk a fire, Devoran contented herself with stale bread and cheese. Drummer got a bit of dried meat. No view of the lowlands tonight. Although she had more company, sharing her supper with a pair of rock thrushes, the male’s blue rump flashing brightly as he darted in for crumbs. She watched the river for a while whilst the horses grazed a few clumps of coarse grass, preferring that to the dry hay. More birds came down to drink, a pair of ring-ouzels eyed her suspiciously and a black wheatear sat on a rock singing its rich warbling song.
Up at the first flush of dawn again, Devoran ate a few mouthfuls of soaked oats, her eyes on the bridge. But it had to be faced and there was nothing to be gained by putting off tackling it. Drummer hung about her legs as she hitched up Plugh. She would have to tie the dog up again, not wanting him on the cart when she made the crossing. “You stay here, Drummer with Col. I am going to take the cart across first.” Best to get the difficult bit over with and hope Plugh would cooperate.
Holding his head and walking backwards she guided him on to the first of the slabs. There were only inches each side of the wheels. But the horse couldn’t see that, and perhaps realising he had no other choice, let her lead him step by slow step. The slabs were slightly wider in the middle and she started to relax a bit when suddenly two birds shot out from under the bridge, their harsh tac-tac-tac of alarm rising over the sound of the water. Startled, Devoran let go her grip. Plugh pulled away from her and skewed around. The cart swung sideways, one wheel sliding over the edge of the stone. Drummer started barking madly from the bank, adding to the mayhem. “Plugh! Plugh! Stand!” she begged. The old horse blew disgust down his nostrils as the angry ring-ouzels wheeled and dived at the intruders threatening their nest, but he didn’t move any more.
Devoran’s heart thumped in her chest; she wiped her clammy hands down the side of her tunic. The wheel had lodged on one of the supporting piers, safe from falling for the moment, as long as she didn’t upset the balance. But could she get it back on? Her brothers would have cut a stave and heaved: it only needed to be lifted a few inches. But that was beyond her strength. It looked hopeless, but maybe if Plugh pulled, the wheel would slide back up over the lip of stone.
She encouraged him forward. “Come on, boy. You can do it.” The cart jerked, but settled back in the same place. “Come on, Plugh!” As the horse pulled, there was a loud scraping noise, followed by the unmistakeable sound of splintering wood. The cart lurched and tipped drunkenly onto the bridge, the wheel splaying sideways.
No! Now what did she do? Devoran stared at it, her stomach churning as her worst fears were realised. How could she carry on without a cart? Wiping a hand across her eyes, she sniffed, determined not to cry. She still had two horses. Swallowing, she reached for one of the straps. First things first – unhitch poor Plugh and get him to the bank.
With trembling fingers it took her ages to undo the stiff buckles, but at least the birds had shut up. Once Plugh was free, she led him over to the bank. He’d be happy grazing the few clumps of grass whilst she sorted everything out. Retrieve her stuff next, and decide what to do about the hay. Hopefully there would be better grazing in the following days. Could she manage to ride Col and lead Plugh? It would be difficult. And what about Drummer?
Devoran climbed up onto the cart, and started to undo the ties. She would take all her belongings to the bank and then bring Col across and load up both horses. She pulled the lyres from under the canvas, and the bag of drawings, they weren’t going to travel so easily on horseback, but she needed to take the map. Loading her arms with as much as she could carry, Devoran grabbed the bag with her mother’s dresses with her free hand as she got down. There was not a lot of room, and as she squeezed herself under the pole she lost her balance. Clutching for a handhold, she loosened her grip on the bag of dresses and it fell with a soft plop into the water.
No, not the dresses! Devoran dumped everything else on the granite and got down on her knees to look under the bridge. The bag would surely be caught in the stones. But it had already gone. Letting out a long low wail of misery, she scrambled up and rushed to the other side, only to see it floating serenely away on the current.
Her eyes followed the bag; if it got swept into the bank she might be able to get it. Then she noticed Plugh, trotting purposefully away from her, heading down the valley. “Plugh! Plugh!” she yelled. No chance against the call of the summer grass. How could she have been such a fool! A farmer would probably find him, even recognise him, so he’d be safe. But what about her? How much could she load on Col? He already had her father’s sword and the candlesticks. If she put her food in the saddle bags she could tie on the hay bags, taking enough for emergencies. She would reach the lowlands much quicker riding Col than with the cart, and there should be enough grazing.
Drummer jumped up and down, demented with joy, when she went back to him. He must have thought he was being left behind. “I am afraid you are going to have to walk, Drummer.” Was that fair, his paws might get sore on the long road. And should she still go? What would she look like arriving with a few summer dresses, which was all she had left? All the good ones were floating down to the sea. Devoran sank down, put her arms around Drummer’s neck and sobbed into his fur. She was cold and shivery, and wanted to go home.
“But there is no home, is there Drummer? Not anymore.” That decided her. Whatever lay ahead, there was no going back.
But now she had to get the three of them across the river. Drummer could have used the bridge, but seeing they were off, he bounded into the water. Not much point in keeping him on the end of a rope anymore, she’d never be able to ride and lead him in the days ahead. She and Col would have to ford the river; the big horse wouldn’t get past the broken cart. Devoran thought of riding Col across, but, lacking confidence in her skills, led him. Not much depth of water to hinder them, but the riverbed was stony and uneven, so she would have to keep her boots on and put up with them being wet for the rest of the day.
The water was over her knees in places. She hung onto Col’s strong body as the icy current sucked the strength from her legs. No wonder the Rohirrim loved their horses if they were all like Col. Drummer didn’t mind, he waded the shallow bits and jumped from rock to rock when it got deeper.
Once across, it took ages to retrieve and sort out all her belongings. Devoran sobbed quietly to herself as she wrapped her up mother’s books and the candlesticks in the big piece of canvas. She would have to leave them, no way could she load everything on Col. And her father’s bow, she couldn’t carry that either, hers was much more use to her. But she would not part with his sword, snug in a scabbard it hung from the saddle. Her mother’s lyre had to be tied on somehow; she’d rather take that than her own. Devoran wrapped up all she had to discard and covered in with some rocks, although it seemed stupid to think she would ever get to retrieve it.
Still squelching and shivering, the heat of the day purged by despair and exhaustion, Devoran led the horse to a boulder so she could get on his back. The track zigzagged from the river up the valley side. With Col making little of the climb, sooner than she thought, she was on the road.
Drummer trotted a few feet ahead; far from home now, he bristled responsibility, reassuring her that he would stick close. As there was nothing to be seen on the road, Devoran studied the map. To her left the high Dwimorberg rose into a cloudless sky. Somewhere under its rocky crags, the road disappeared into a tunnel that ended in Rohan. But a little way along, perhaps around the other side of the rocky outcrop she could see, would be the turning for Erech and Tarlang’s Neck. The road to Minas Tirith.
She looked to her right. Clouds were piling up on the horizon, threatening a change in the weather. The road descended through a landscape of sparse trees and stunted bushes until it dropped away out of sight to gather up the villages and farms of the rich land between the mountains and the sea. It was the way to Dol Amroth. Devoran stared down it; she could be there in a few days. But what then? What reception would she receive from Amroth’s family? A portionless girl, as Alhael had reminded her. And one with only two summer dresses and a spare shirt and hose, riding what might very well be a stolen horse.
She turned left.
To be continued.
A/N – If anyone is interested in what type of Bridge Devoran had to cross, type – Clapper Bridges – into Google Images. LBJ
Original Characters mentioned in this chapter.
Devoran- G Lord Duinhir’s Daughter.
Ashild - G Housekeeper to Lord Duinhir.
Bregil- G General Servant, Ashild’s husband.
Alhael- G Devoran’s cousin. Son of Duinhir’s elder sister.
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