14. Once Again I See the White City
The Road was slowly filling up.
Slow wagons rolled north. The wheels groaned under the weight of too great a burden and they turned inch by agonising inch. The oxen were strong, but slow beasts; surely they dragged the wagons over every hump and dip in the road. Perched on top of the wagons those too weak-footed to walk held on to their places. Not beggars these, though without the means of better transport. At the foremost wagons could be seen some of higher status: they sat comfortable though the seats were the same. The numbers sharing them were not.
Around the wagons walked both young and old; those strong enough to walk or too poor.
The walkers always overtook the wagons.
Éomer did not speak with any of his men. The people moved aside to let them through and all he could see were bowed necks and dark hair. None met their eyes, and most turned their faces away and down. Do not look. Do not draw attention; you do not wish to be seen. Make room for the high and mighty lest they do more than ride you down. Éomer did not speak to his men, but he wished he had brought the silver bells his mother had left him.
You left them in Meduseld, he reminded himself. If the orcs have not taken them, the Master of Isengard has. There were things of far greater worth lost there. Still, they would have been handy.
Too many people on the road, and Firefoot chose now to earn his name. He might have to relent and call Fastred to his side.
The stallion snorted and stamped, dancing to one side, then the other. Éomer could only hope his curses would give the people enough warning. He looked forwards, but even beyond the carts the Road was dark as far as he could see.
"Will you listen," Éomer hissed. "Isnod is just at the back, and there are no other stallions here. Stop your antics."
The horse did not listen. He danced to one side and the people scuttled out of the way. Éomer let his spur meet him there, and he danced the other way, only to find the other spur waiting. He snorted and lifted both forelegs in protest.
"Oh no, you don't," Éomer scolded. "It was your own fault, sott: it was you that walked into it. Now behave."
The travellers keep away from him as best they could, but they were close to the wagons and there was not enough room. None had been hurt, but… Éomer made one last bid to force the stallion back under control.
Moving his legs further back Éomer gripped the flanks with his calves and pressed. Firefoot jumped, but Éomer held him and one by one the hindquarters came under him until the horse relented to the rhythm he asked for. One-two, one-two, an even beat and the horse surged under him, growing powerful and soft. Firefoot snorted again, but this time Éomer did not mind. He urged the horse forward into a slow, cadenced trot. The gait was too demanding for Firefoot to think of anything else.
They made it past the wagons but the respite was short. Quickly the Road was as full as before, even without the carts.
Éomer fell back to speak with Aduiar.
"Is all well, Master Rodhaer?"
"The Road is filling up, Lord Mayor," he answered. Firefoot tried to press closer to Aduiar's mare, Isnod forgotten beside this new temptation. Éomer did not allow it.
The people around could not have seen the movement, it was too small for that, but there was more space around them than there had been further back. Éomer looked at Aduiar only to be met with a wry smile.
"Tiresome as it may be, my work carries a few benefits with it," the mayor said.
"I see," Éomer answered. "Would you wish to exploit those benefits now?"
"I leave that to your judgement."
Éomer glared at him. "As you wish… Lord Mayor."
He pressed forwards again. The land stretched out wide and flat for this part of the Road, with ploughed fields around, right up to the sides of the Road.
"Borondir!" he called.
Firefoot laid his ears flat when Borondir's horse came up alongside him, but a prick from Éomer's spurs brought his manners back. It might have helped that Borondir's horse looked suitably frightened and subservient.
"You know the tilling of land better than me," Éomer said. "Tell me: can we use the fields? The Road is too slow."
"Not without damaging them," Borondir answered. "Not here. These fields are ready to be sown, some might have been already. The hooves of the horses would damage them – even a man walking un-burdened might do them harm this early in spring."
"Very well. See if you can clear the road a little. The lord mayor wishes to arrive today."
Éomer fell back to take Borondir's place beside Húrin. The slow pace irked them both and none of them spoke. Firefoot was as impatient as his master, and both grew hot under the sun.
They halted for a rest early in the afternoon – the only rest they took that day. The geldings were hobbled and left to graze, but the two mares and Firefoot could not be trusted to that. It was too much work to make enclosures for them like they had done the previous days, and therefore they rotated the duty of looking after them.
Bergil and Aduiar were excepted from that duty; the young man was ordered to rest, and it would look strange that the Mayor did such a lowly duty, should any see. Ingold, too, was put to other work, preparing their meal. He was the best cook, and the worst horseman.
Éomer and Fastred grazed Firefoot and Isnod together. It calmed Firefoot enough for the stallion to feed and rest, but Aduiar's mare, grazed near the geldings, was a nightmare. It did not take long until Éomer decided that a better handler than a Ranger was needed, and he sent Fastred over to deal with her.
"You do not trust my horsemanship?" Húrin asked – half in jest – when he joined Éomer to take over Fastred's duty.
"Your horsemanship is surprisingly good, to tell the truth," Éomer said. "But Fastred has a way with mares that is rare, even among the Eorlingas."
"I know his skill," Húrin said. He shrugged. "I guess I did not expect a mare would be so troublesome."
"She is in heat; then they grow worse. But even without that excuse they are difficult. More stubborn than you would expect. A stallion is simple, and the gelding even more so, but the mare… I would rather not have anything to do with them. Wilful and stubborn, with a tendency to lose their heads."
"Like most women?"
"I would hope not! I will have to find one, one day, or Elfhelm and my sister will never give me rest."
"I am sure you one day will meet one that will fit you well." Húrin chuckled and shook his head. But Éomer knew that glimmer in his eye.
"What now?" he asked. "Are you going to make me pay for leaving you stuck with that mare for so long? Or for pulling you out?"
"Neither, Master Rodhaer. But I cannot help but think that when you find that woman, she just might show all the traits you so abhor in mares."
"Fate would not be that cruel."
Húrin chuckled again, but before he could answer Ingold called them to the evening meal.
"Go eat," Éomer said. "They have settled well enough; I can watch them both for now."
Having two horses to mind, and two sets of reins, Éomer could not sit down to rest. Despise this he found it peaceful to watch the two horses. They grazed side by side, content for now to do little else. From time to time their tails would swish to chase away the flies. Few as they were this early in spring, the insects seemed to always be able to find the horses.
Firefoot was shedding in great flakes of hair. The patches where the summer coat was visible were lighter than the winter coat, and it made him look more unkempt than he was. The hair underneath the saddle had been partly worn off, and the thinner coat showed clearly where his ribs stuck out. He had lost weight before they left Fangorn, but to Éomer it now seemed to be getting worse. Spring, and the presence of the mares, took too much out of him. Éomer suspected that if it wore on he would regret his choice of horse; for all that he loved Firefoot. Or because he did.
"Eat, old friend," he said. "You will need all the strength you can get before our task is done. I am sorry for what I will have to ask of you before we get home." He looked at the mare and chuckled a little. "Just make sure she does not foal a mare, and I promise you that you can rest for the remainder of your life. No more marks from saddles and bits, how does that sound?"
The horse lifted its head and snorted at him as if to say that it was the most laughable thing he had heard.
Éomer smiled. "No, you would not like too much rest; you delight in work. Well then, my trusty steed, I promise this: I will ride you each day if I can, but I will not take you on such a taxing journey again. Some other horse will have to be found for that."
Firefoot snorted once more, but lowered his head again to eat. Éomer let them eat in peace.
Before long Húrin took his place, and Éomer could seek his own food. He, too, had lost some weight this spring, but it was not until the very last weeks that food had truly been lacking. He hoped his men would return safely with the provisions, or starve they would until new food grew or game could be found. It would be difficult to leave the Huron's Guard again, should their own quest be won. They might have to keep a smaller group of men at Wellinghall, but even that would be hard to feed; Ents might be able to live on water, but even their potions would not sustain Men over time. Elves might fare better, or so he hoped.
The grazing of the horses had taken him a little away from the camp. When Éomer returned, he saw that they had company. Beside Bergil there sat a young man. He looked as if he was in awe of the mayor, afraid to approach him but still wishing to be near. Éomer had never seen him before.
He did not sit down. Aduiar did not make answer to the question in Éomer's eyes, but Bragloth stood to greet him. In hushed voice he explained that this man, one Hardang from the Green Hills, had asked for their help, and the mayor had agreed to let him eat with them, and travel with them if he was able to keep pace with the horses. The man came from a small settlement; so small that they had only been required to send one man to the celebrations in Minas Tirith. Hardang had been chosen, but he had never been outside the Green Hills in all his life, and now he was more than a little lost.
"Lord Mayor," Éomer said, "you know that we must reach the White City this evening, before the gates close at night? Else we will be forced to wait outside until the morning, and who knows if the inn-keeper will keep the rooms for you if we are late?"
"Will not a lowly inn-keeper keep his word to such a man as the Lord Mayor?" Hardang spoke before Aduiar could answer.
Aduiar left it to Éomer to chastise the youth. He only lifted an eyebrow at the young man.
Éomer stared at the youth. He seemed to understand that something was amiss, but not what. It did not endear him to Éomer.
"I spoke to the Lord Mayor." Éomer's voice was cold. "He is not only capable of speaking for himself, but also more likely to know the mind of an inn-keeper in Minas Tirith than a boy who has stolen from his mother's skirts."
Hardang hung his head. "I spoke out of turn, Master Hunter. I am sorry; my mother always berated me for that. 'Don't speak out of turn,' she would say. 'Mind your manners before your betterers.' Yet I never learn. But she stopped when my father died. Now she hardly speaks a word."
"My condolences on your father," Éomer said, but his voice did not soften. Before he could say anything else, Hardang spoke again.
"Thank you, but it was three years ago; it matters little now. At the time I did not know what to do; my older brother taken by the soldiers and I alone but for my mother. Too lose them both the same day was hard for her. She has never been the same." It looked as if he did not intend to speak again, but before Éomer could open his mouth, Hardang continued his story.
"It was the first day of spring.
"My father was preparing the field behind the house. It was the smallest one, but the one that yielded the most. The one that thawed first in spring and froze last in autumn. The one that the sun shone upon from early morning until nightfall. The only one that was ready for the plough; all the others still had ice beneath the surface of the soil.
"My mother was inside, baking bread. We still had some grain left from last year's harvest, beside the seeding-grain. I remember seeing her kneading the dough when they came. We could not see them when they came, for they came over the field where my father worked with my brother. He was the eldest; always the stronger, and I had been ill that winter or I would have been there with them.
"I did not know that anything was about to happen until I heard shouting. The harsh language of the Southrons, and my father's voice, calling for my brother. My brother begging him not to act. By the time I reached the field – short as the distance was – my brother was gone, and my father dying.
"We buried him in the south-field. Where the sun would reach even in winter. He loved the sunlight."
Hardang fell silent. Bergil sat beside him as if he wished to speak, but did not know what to say. Aduiar said nothing, showed nothing. Éomer looked between them and shook his head.
"The soldiers of the Eastern Lord are to be obeyed," he said. "Do you not know that? Do you not know that your words may condemn you?"
"Peace, Master Rodhaer." Aduiar finally spoke. "A young man, grieved by his father's death, can be given some lenience. Eat your food and be reassured, he will not slow us down. If he cannot keep up, he knows that we cannot wait for him."
Éomer nodded, pacified for the moment. The boy was either too trusting, or he was testing them with his story. The question was why. Was he another spy for the Enemy's vassals, or was he looking for others of the Faithful? They could not risk another spy. He took his food and ate without any more words. The others sensed his mood, and kept quiet as well. Even Hardang seemed to sense that silence would be the best course of action.
They continued as soon as all had eaten. The horses were saddled, everything clear, and the young man walked beside Bergil's horse.
Éomer rode in front. Firefoot did not want to leave his mare, but Éomer would not accept any disobedience. He was in a bad mood and Firefoot could sense it. It woke the fire in him again. The fields still stretched close to the Road, but a small strip of yesteryear's grass still grew between the ditches of the Road and the tilled earth. Éomer made his horse canter off along the road, hoping that the speed, as well as distance, would help.
It did. Somewhat.
Most of the day the stallion would not walk calmly, but prance and trot. A few times Éomer took him into the slow, cadenced trot that would tire him quickly, but even that worked only for a time. After some hours' travel this way, Éomer was relived to see that they had passed most of the crowd; the Road stretched out, abandoned for a long stretch. Not only could they move quicker, they would also leave Hardang the stranger behind. Éomer hoped, and expected, never to see him again. Minas Tirith was large; they would probably not run into each other again.
In this Éomer would prove to be mistaken, but for the rest of the day their most pressing concern was to reach the City before nightfall.
A few hours' swift canter brought them to another stop. There were too many people on the road to get past, and they could not see the end of them. Éomer wanted, for the most fleeting of moments, to use the horses' strength and push through the crowd. But no, it would not do. Instead he took Fastred with him to scout ahead, riding on the side of the road once more. The soil was not tilled yet that close to the road here, and they managed to find a path they could follow without damaging the land.
Firefoot did not make any trouble once he had his mare to himself, much to Éomer's chagrin. Fastred did not comment on it; he knew well enough that his mare often made life a little harder on both her and the horses around, if any were stallions. At least in spring. Firefoot was more protective than possessive, though, and he began to wonder if she indeed had taken with the first mating, unusual as that was.
They turned back before long. They had not spotted the end of the line, but they figured that they would be able to pass more quickly if they used the field beside the road; even the Eorlingas' untrained eyes could see that the earth lay unbroken and untended. And Aduiar's status would keep all objections away – any other mayor would just have had his men force a path through the crowd. Which would be a show of force rather than a need for speed: even thought they would have to go slower than if the road were empty, it was still faster to go around than to force their way through the press of people.
Two hours later they found the roadblock; another slow-moving cart that blocked most of the road. Some dignitary from the South was bringing his wife, and would have none of the rabble – as he saw it – pass too close to her. As luck wanted it the Road went through a small cluster of trees where they caught up with the cart. The trees were tall, with little undergrowth or low-hanging branches. Éomer had Húrin lead them and they passed with little problems. Once past, the Road was almost empty and they rode on as quickly as the horses could manage.
Even so, they were late.
The sun had set when they reached the White City. Only a lingering glow of red shone upon the walls, belying the name. Éomer looked up on the tall walls, saw the Gates rebuilt and there, from the Citadel, flew what he had hoped never to see: the white banner of the Stewards hanging side by side with the Red Eye. He turned away from the sight. It was almost as bad as seeing that sign in Edoras. Almost.
Bergil did not look up, and even Fastred was disturbed, who had no memory of Minas Tirith before the War, or carried any dreams of it.
"This was not how I hoped to see her," Húrin muttered to himself. "Would that my brother saw her happier, even in the midst of war."
Only Aduiar looked as if the sight was as it should be. He stopped, and the others with him, and he turned to them. He checked that there were none in sight, and then studied each of the company to gauge their reactions.
"The Gates will be closed," he said. "And we will have to sleep one more night outside. That, it seems to me now, is a good thing. You will all have to school your faces; Minas Tirith is not the City you remembered or dreamed of, but you must not let it show. You must harden your hearts and minds; whatever injustices you will see, you cannot interfere. Large or small. It is the fate of spies that is not easily borne: to seem not to care. To play along and even contribute to what your heart tells you is wrong. But if we cannot curb our emotions, all will be lost. We might as well turn back now, and leave the King to the Enemy's devices."
They had all known it before, but only at the sight of those banners side by side did Éomer understand how hard it would be. He would always prefer the horses' way, with no deceit or lies, and now he had to learn the way of worms. He shuddered and clenched his teeth, but nodded.
"Then let us find a place to camp for the night," Aduiar said, and he led them on, down from the small hill on which they had halted. Was it the same hill from where Éomer had seen the black sails, and the banner of his friend unfolding? Such a happy sight, and a happy meeting amidst battle and fight and sorrow.
They choose a place not far from the walls so that they might enter as soon as the Gates opened the next day. Éomer hoped that the Faithful would not be hard to find, and that they would have enough time to adjust their plans once they had seen and knew more abut the City and its streets. And whether any of the Faithful had made plans themselves.
But one thing he could do tonight. He told Bragloth to find Bádon and Echil to let them know that they had arrived, and to find out where they had made camp. But Húrin interposed.
"I should go," he said. "It may take time to find them, and in the morning Bragloth should be here, entering the City with the rest. He is, after all, supposed to be one of the representatives from Calembel. It would be strange for him not to arrive with the rest of us."
"Neither should go." Aduiar had not disagreed with, or even commented on, Éomer's decisions on guards and scouts during the travels. Éomer turned to him.
"Húrin has a good point; it would look strange if any of the delegates from Calembel came later than the rest, but unless he wants to spend the days of celebrations outside the City, he has to come with us. Because of the number of people coming, and the guests of honour – so to speak – none is allowed inside the City unless invited. Or unless their arrival was announced beforehand. Húrin will not be allowed inside the City unless in my company, and neither will Bragloth. Not on his own. Borondir should go, unless you are confident that whomever you send will be able to return before sunrise. His name has already been given, and he knows both where we are going and whom to contact."
"And would it not look as strange for Borondir to arrive later as would if it were Ingold or Bragloth?" Húrin could see that Aduiar had a point; still he would rather speak with his men if he could, and it would look strange for the delegation not to arrive at the same time. He had figured that a lone traveller would not call much attention with so many arriving.
"Borondir was my main guard before Gwidor arrived," Aduiar answered. "It will not be as unusual for him to be sent on some errand for me."
"Then Borondir will go," Éomer decided. He turned to the guard. "The sooner you go, the better. If you can get back before sunrise, that would be the best, but regardless of that, if you do not make contact with them before midday, come back to the City."
Borondir nodded. "Yes, lord Rodhaer."
"I want to go with him," Húrin said. "I will make sure to return before sunrise, but I will have a better chance of finding Bádon and Echil than Borondir has. They are Rangers; we are trained the same. I know what signs to look for."
The rest of them made camp. Since they were only a little way from the walls, they lit a fire; there was little point in keeping their camp secret, and though Calembel no longer was great, Aduiar was Mayor still. No man of his standing would hide this close to the walls.
"We should have brought tents," Aduiar said. "Sleeping outdoors is not a usual pastime of mine, nor of most dignitaries."
"I am sure you can come up with an explanation if you are asked," Éomer replied.
"That will not be necessary; you merely did not expect to arrive too late to be admitted into the City before nightfall." Éomer shrugged. "That was our plan, before you wanted to take in a stranger."
"You know, as well as I do, Master Rodhaer, that that boy was not the reason we were late." Aduiar watched Éomer for a moment. "Why were you so hostile to him? You treated the old farmer with kindness and courtesy, but to young Hardang you were rude."
"The farmer was no threat," Éomer replied. "We invaded his home, and he feared us, but I sensed no threat from him. That boy, I am certain, did not speak the truth. He concealed something from us, that much I know though I do not know what."
"You are good at judging characters?"
"I am seldom wrong. I know dishonesty when I see it."
"I, as well, can read the hearts of Men," Aduiar said. "Not as well as it is said our Steward can, but in my own way I am seldom wrong in assessing their motivations and loyalties. I felt no ill-will from Hardang, and no deceit. Just a rather naive belief that the world means him no harm. That is rare in these times.
"I was rather like him when I was a boy," he continued. "I should not have been, given the manner of my birth, but my mother sheltered me as best she could. It was not until we came to Gondor that I learned otherwise, strange as that may sound. My mixed blood made people distrust me, and children can be cruel. I quickly learned to hide my thoughts, and my background, and to distrust those I meet. It should have made me bitter, an easy ally for the Enemy to convert. But I had learned, and learned well, what flattery was, and how false those that give it can be. Being skilled at hiding my thoughts, I learned to read others' from the words they did not speak.
"But I still remember the innocence of my youth, and in young Hardang I saw the same. Such innocence is to be treasured: a promise, or so I think whenever I encounter it, that there is still hope for Men. And so I nurture it, when I get the chance."
"I do not think he will thank you, if you read him right," Éomer said. "He will soon learn, and likely the learning will be hard."
"That may be so," Aduiar admitted. "Yet I cannot bear to do otherwise."
"That I think I understand," the king said. "I know I should prepare my sister-son for battle. He will be old enough, soon, to lead men, yet I cannot bear the thought of sending him out to learn of bloodshed. Not yet."
"How old is he?"
"That is too young still. You have many years before that is necessary."
"Not that many," Éomer sighed. "At twelve I joined my first patrol. I was not sent to any danger, but still I had to learn to fight before I left. And my uncle knew that I might have to use those skills.
"The world was safer then than now." Éomer shook his head. He could not imagine what he would do, should he father a son of his own, when he could hardly think of letting his nephew go into danger.
"Let us hope," he said, partly to change a subject of which he did not want to speak, "that your judgement is the better."
"Let us," Aduiar agreed. "And let us find our rest."
They did. Stretching out beside the fire, one by one they fell into slumber, and into deeper sleep. And into dreams.
Éomer, in his dream, saw again the great field. He knew it, and knew he dreamed, but he could not wake. He tried not to move, not to go where he would turn to stone. Not to go where that man had turned into a statue, but when he stood still, the world around him moved instead. He tried to run away, to turn from the centre of his dream, but in the manner of dreams, no matter where he ran he ended up where the dream would take him. Where he did not want to be. It took him where he saw what he knew would come.
He woke, his breathing caught in his throat and heart hammering in his breast. Above the stars turned, and the night-wind brought a whiff of salt and sea. Just like it had more than ten years before.
It was Fastred's voice.
"Are you well?"
Éomer did not answer at first. He tried to collect his thoughts, but they were scattered by the dream. He rolled to his side and pushed himself up to sit. The embers from the fire glowed in the dark. Angry, red eyes against the black.
"Bring more wood." It was the first words he spoke, and Fastred, ever the good subject, did as he said without another word. He said no more until the fire burned and the flames chased away the visions of the eyes.
"What did you dream?"
Or perhaps not such a good subject. A good subject would not pry into his king's thought.
"Sire, it is clear to me that you are not well, yet you are not ill – I cannot think of any illness you might have caught that will wake you in such a manner. Only night-visions make a man wake so; breathless and confused until the light shows us the world of waking."
"And what do you dream, Fastred, that you know this so well?"
Fastred looked away. "We did not speak of me."
They sat in silence for a while, neither wishing to pursue the other's question. Then Fastred spoke.
"You know," he said, "that I have not supported this quest. From the beginning I have been afraid that it will not end well."
"You made that clear, but I never understood where your misgivings came from. Apart from the obvious." Éomer tried to smile, but Fastred did not look at him and it was wasted.
"No," Fastred said. "How could you when I have not made clear my fears. I feared, and I still do, that you will not trust the source, but now I think that I must tell, ere it be too late." He paused again, as if to gather his thoughts and consider the best way in which to speak. Éomer waited, not only because he wanted to know; Fastred had forgotten Éomer's own dream, and he did not wish for him to remember.
"The night before we left the Huorns' Guard, a dream came to me," Fastred began. "I do not often dream, and rarely do the night-visions linger in my mind when I wake, but this dream was more vivid than any I have had. It has stayed, and repeated itself in my mind both sleeping and awake."
Fastred's voice was low as he described the snow-clad fields, the banner and the maimed man. The talking dead and the raging dark that would devour the man. Éomer let him speak, and both avoided the other's eye but the dream-vision grew clear before both their minds; vivid in the horror of their fears.
"Then a White Horse arrives." Fastred turned to catch Éomer's eyes. "Its rider young as you were when you became our king, or younger still. The horse is a meara, or my dream-self has forgotten all I know of horses. The darkness fights and rages against them, but the young man steps off the horse to lift the broken man to his feet. I cannot see the fight between the light and dark that rages, nor can I see anything but the swirling storm, until it passes, and on the ground the youth lies as did the broken man before. Maimed as he.
"He has disappeared, but in his hand the youth holds a gem, green as the grass, and lifts it to the horse. It takes it away, leaving us behind. Before I wake, or the dream starts anew, the dead man says: 'You are alive.'
"I do not know what it means, but when I wake, I fear for you."
Fastred fell silent and turned away. "Sire, if you are to exchange your life for his, we will have gained nothing."
Éomer did not reply at first.
"I have never put much faith in dreams," he said at last. "Neither they of sleep or of waking hours. Still this dream might be a warning; the Elves have taught me not to disregard the warnings of the heart, be it in dreams or just the formless voice in my heart that impels me to go against the wishes of my councillor. And you are right; I have dreamed.
"Like you, the dream has visited me more than once. I too, have seen a field, though mine was green and no corpses lay there. I ran across it for many years, or so the dream made it seem. I too have seen the banner of the White Tree, and the Man beside it."
"Did you know the Man?" Fastred asked.
"No, I cannot put a name to him, but it seems to me that I should know him. Both in my dream, and when I recall him now he is familiar. A Ranger, I think. Perhaps one of those that came to meet lord Aragorn, and fell at the Black Gate."
"Yes." Éomer was not sure why it would matter where the man fell, or whether they needed to know his name to read the dreams. He continued to recount his dream.
"Unlike you," he said, "I saw no other man, or living creature, in my dream. Just the man, holding the banner of the High King. He said that he was dead, and could not take the banner away. He bade me do it, so that they could hope once more. But as he spoke, he turned to stone – it covered his skin, his clothes, his face. The stone crept on until it covered me, trapping me inside so that I could not move, or see, or even scream. He spoke in my mind, always does, right before I wake: 'Break free. You are alive.'"
He did not know what else to say. And Fastred sat, unmoving, for a while, staring at the flames. They leaped and danced. Sparks flew into the air as if they strove to reach the sky and join the stars there, dance with them and sing in the silence of the Void, where nothing lives that is not stars or darkness, sun or moon.
"And still you wish to do this thing?" Fastred asked at length. "Even with the warning of your dream?"
"The dream, it seems to me, warned not against saving my friend, but of doing nothing, waiting while the stone creeps up on us, devours us and traps us helpless beneath its cold. In indecision and despair.
"Nor, it seems to me, does your dream warn against our fight."
"The Rider dies, my lord."
"The Horse does not. And it saves the treasure that is left. I know that green stone, have seen it, ten years ago, at lord Aragorn's breast."
"Perhaps. Lindir thought the dream heralded hope as well as fear of peril."
"There you see; even the Elf who will not speak of any forethought, sees hope in your dreams."
"He saw peril too, my lord."
"Then we will make sure to avoid it." Éomer looked up. The Morning Star was clear above, hasting towards the West. He smiled at it: the beauty of the night had chased away the terror of the dream and now his heart was high. Even here, beneath the Shadow's reign.
sott: OE: fool/downright fool
Note on horsy technicalities:
Some things are very hard to render in words. When Éomer is forcing Firefoot back under control, he is collecting the horse, and getting the back moving/swinging. In modern terms he is doing a few steps of piaffe: a highly collected trot where the horse does not move more than one hoof-width forward at the time. This, when done on a good horse, feels to the rider as if the horse is both getting very soft, and as if the horse is growing taller at the withers, an upwards-forward feeling of growing, or like a surging wave.
The 'slow, cadenced trot' is a passage, also a highly collected trot, but more forward-moving than the piaffe, and with more swung. The horse seems to float in the air for a few seconds between the steps.
Since both piaffe and passage are words that don't fit into a ME setting, and certainly not an OE-language feeling, I have tried to give an impression of what it feels and/or looks like instead.
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