9. True Colours
At the mayor's words, Gwidor flinched under Éomer's arm. "Lord Mayor," he began, but Éomer tightened his grip and Gwidor fell silent. But his body relaxed a little; he had been proven right. The mayor could not deny him now. "Killing me will not avail you now," he hissed at Éomer.
"I told no lie," Éomer replied, he spoke to the mayor as if the Gwidor had not spoken. "You are late, Aduiar. I began to fear that you had forgotten me. But that can wait." Gwidor tensed, sensing that something was wrong, but Éomer held him as before; the king had neither tensed nor relaxed his stance. He nodded towards the wall. "Both Targon and Bergil are hurt, I know not how bad," he continued. "Look to them; I will keep this rat."
Aduiar obeyed without words. He crouched down beside Bergil and began loosening his bonds. At the sight Gwidor struggled; he was in deeper trouble than before! And he could not get out of Éomer's grasp. The king held him and spoke in his ear.
"You did not aim high enough, Gwidor," he said. "For all the conspiracies you saw, you saw not the one you should. I had hoped to keep the secret longer, but from what I hear you will be no loss to this town. Now tell me: who are the masters that sent you here, and why were you sent?"
Gwidor said nothing. The one risk he had been forced to gamble, he had lost. He did not wish to die; his whole life he had lived avoiding death, but now he did not doubt that he would. He would die, and soon. If not by Éomer's hand, then by worse.
"Who gave you proof against my men? Who gave us away?"
He wondered if the king would spare him if he told. But no. His masters would not, and the mayor would not let anyone go that could give him away. Before he could make up his mind Targon spoke.
"It was Sedil, the girl that Ingold took in. I met her at the door and let her go, believing she was safe." He looked up at Bergil whom the mayor had freed and who was now sitting propped up to the wall. "How badly are you hurt?"
"I do not know," Bergil said. "The room keeps turning. But why were you helping? I thought…"
"That story is too long to tell here," Aduiar said. "Be still for now, both. You will need better care than I can give here, but that, too, must wait a little while." He pressed Targon's hand to his side to staunch the bleeding. "Keep pressing here, I would not lose you now, but I need more hands to move you." He stood and turned his attention to Gwidor and the king. But Targon spoke to Bergil, his voice barely heard:
"I served with your father at the Citadel. I could not stand by and see you hurt."
Bergil found nothing to say to that, but he moved closer and helped him press down on the wound. Targon hissed, and did not speak again.
Aduiar faced Gwidor. "Is there anything you can tell us that will be useful?"
"Can not or will not?" But Gwidor did not answer. He pressed his lips shut and tried to struggle free from Éomer's hold.
Aduiar shifted his gaze to Éomer. "It is too dangerous to let him live. If he was sent to spy on me, his word will be believed above mine."
Éomer nodded. Before Aduiar could step closer, or Gwidor struggle loose, his hand moved. He let go of the guard, and Gwidor fell to the floor. He bled out quickly; his throat was cut.
"His death was mine, King Éomer," Aduiar said. "It was me he betrayed. And Targon…" He could not finish the sentence.
"Yours, and many others'," Éomer replied. "But there was no reason to wait, and now you can truthfully say that a rebel killed Gwidor. A rebel you ordered locked in your cells to await your judgement."
Aduiar shock his head, but he could not fully repress a smile. "You do not like lies," he said. "Even when it is necessary, you do your best to avoid them."
"The Enemy lies," was Éomer's answer.
They left Gwidor on the floor and locked the cellar-door. A corpse tells no stories true or false, and fetches no patrols. Gwidor could wait; moving Targon and Bergil was difficult enough. Bergil could walk, but he was unsteady on his feet. He held on to Éomer's shoulder and leaned heavily on him whenever he stumbled. Targon had to be carried. It took all the strength of both Aduiar and Éomer to carry him up the stairs, across the square and into his room in the main building. Aduiar left it to Éomer to make the wounded comfortable.
Only one other servant, a cook, stayed in the Mansion with the mayor and Targon. She was preparing the midday meal for the mayor; cutting and mixing, stirring and blending and tasting the seasonings. The door opened behind her, and she turned, a rebuke ready on her tongue. It died there when she saw it was the mayor.
She curtsied and stammered. Apologies for the state of the kitchen, for the state of her clothes and hair, for not having the food ready but "his lordship had not asked for so early a meal." Behind all her babbling words the question could be heard: why was the mayor there, and not his servant?
Aduiar sent her to fetch the healing woman. She who knew of herbs and plants, cattle and childbirths: old Adeglan's widow, Asteth. The nearest healer was too far away; she would have to do.
"My lord," she said. "My old legs; I cannot run as once I did in my youth. Where is your servant? He could find her sooner, and the sooner she will come to ease you."
"I need her not," he answered. "Targon has been hurt, and his hurt is grave. Bid her bring all she might need to staunch blood and bind wounds."
The cook fled, her legs far younger than she liked to complain. She asked no more questions, and Aduiar was grateful for it. He took one last look at the kitchen before he, too, left. He had not been down there before. The kitchen was large. The barracks had had their own kitchens, but the mayor's kitchen was still built to feed many. Up underneath the roof dry or drying herbs and spices hung. Most of them grew in the gardens, but some were bought from the South. Aduiar knew that the cook tried, but she had yet to manage to make the food of his childhood. Even with the spices. It was the one thing he had never been able to forget: the taste of the food in Harondor.
His eyes counted and named the spices, remembering each taste. Hot, sweet ginger, fiery pepper, dry cinnamon.
He stopped his reminiscing. There was one herb there that he had not seen before, but he knew it. It had been described to him; a forbidden herb to be wary of. He did not know that the cook kept it, here of all places. Gwidor could not have seen it, or he would have acted sooner.
A moment's hesitation, then Aduiar took the stick behind the door and gently fetched the herb down. He did not know if half the stories about it were true, but even so it would be useful. Wrapping the leaves in a piece of cloth, Aduiar took the kingsfoil with him when he returned to Éomer king.
Blood. Red, fresh blood seeped out beneath the bandages Éomer kept pressed against Targon's wound. He had placed Bergil on the floor with strict orders not to move, for now it was the servant that needed care the most.
Éomer was no healer. He only knew that he must stop the blood. He could feel it running through his fingers, leaking away. Warm and sticky and red. Red staining his hands. Red staining the clothes. Red spreading over the bedclothes, the bed, the floor, the walls until the whole room was red, smelled red, tasted red, and Éomer regretted that he had killed Gwidor because now he could not kill him again.
Aduiar stood in the doorway.
"Is there a healer on the way?" Éomer wanted someone else to take over, to put Targon back together and leave him free to do what he needed to: get food for his people. Rescue a friend.
Aduiar nodded. "We have no healers like those in Minas Tirith, but I have sent the cook for Asteth, Adeglan's widow. She knows the property of herbs and the binding of wounds."
"The wound is deep," Éomer said. "I have not been able to staunch it. And we have other concerns as well."
"Yes." Aduiar poured water into the washbasin Targon always kept by the door. Where that habit came from, Targon had never told. Now it was useful.
"Who will need to know?" he asked.
"Ingold and Borondir," Éomer answered. "And my men, at least those that will meet you. We should gather here, now or as soon as possible. Húrin might be of help, he knows most about healing, and neither Targon nor Bergil should be moved. Is there any you can send?"
"No. Targon did all my errands, and the cook was the only one left here. One of us must go."
"Take over here," Éomer said, and Aduiar knew it was an order. "I am more suited for that task; the others do not yet trust you."
"There might be other spies."
"The girl worries me, but I do not think there are others. And even if there were, we have little choice." Éomer moved so that Aduiar could take his place with new bandages. He looked at his hands. "I should wash, and change my clothes. Walking bloody through the town would not be wise."
"Take whatever you can find to fit you."
Éomer nodded and turned to check on Bergil. He had not moved since Éomer ordered him to sit. He had not spoken either. His eyes were closed, and he was leaning his head against the wall. Beads of red seeped from a cut on his forehead.
Éomer crouched down before him, one knee on the ground not to fall. He did not touch him, did not want to leave the red on his hands on anyone else.
The young man opened his eyes.
"How are you?"
"I … I don't know," Bergil said. His eyes wandered a bit, but he spoke clearly enough. "What happened?"
"Later," Éomer said. "You took a hard hit to your head and I want Húrin to have a look at it. Or a healer, but Targon is gravely hurt. He will need Asteth's skills more. Wait here. Rest, but try to stay awake. I will fetch the others; all answers will have to wait until then. For now: know that you will be safe here."
Bergil nodded, too tired to do anything else.
Éomer washed as quickly as he could. Washed away the red. Washed away the uncertainty; there was no more time for doubt or secrets. Clean cool water on his skin, washcloth rubbing away the dried stains of rusty red. It burned. The water too cold against raw hands, but all the red slid off him and into the basin. His hair was wet again, but it did not matter. Éomer found a clean shirt and dragged it over his head, sleeves slightly too long and shoulders tighter than he liked but it would serve for now.
Aduiar turned his head towards him.
"Borondir's wife might be home still. You can send her for him."
"That would save time," Éomer agreed. "But there is one thing I must ask. It would save much time later and allow me to decide on what we should do."
Aduiar had turned back to Targon, but he answered: "Ask."
"Will the Enemy come himself?"
Aduiar did not answer. His face was turned away and Éomer could not read his posture.
Éomer could hear the confusion in his voice; he had not anticipated the question. Éomer would have smiled; few managed to surprise Aduiar.
"Ingold had a letter," he explained. "A letter sent to the Steward from the Dark Tower. It said that the Enemy would be at the celebrations in Minas Tirith himself. Do you know if this is true?"
"No," Aduiar answered. "No, he is not coming himself. His servant, the Master of Orthanc, will preside."
"That is all I need to know, at the moment. We will lay our plans when I return." With one last check on Bergil, Éomer left.
Adulas closed the door. Since this autumn they never left it unlocked and she fumbled a bit with the keys, still not quite used to it. She did not see or hear Éomer approach, did not notice him until she turned and he was there, standing on the bottom steps.
He was beside her, silencing her before she could say more.
"There might be other ears around," he warned. His voice was low. "And there is little time for explanations, should it be safe to speak them here. I need you to fetch Borondir. Tell him to meet me in the mayor's house. Let none else know what has happened– we need some time to determine our best course of action– but Gwidor has forced our hands. The story of it can wait until all are gathered; I will find Ingold and my men. We will all meet at the Mansion."
"But… he told me you had been arrested," she stammered. "What have Gwidor and the mayor done? Why are you here? How are you here?"
"The answers must wait," Éomer said. "Just fetch him. We need to lay plans while the town is empty. If I am not there when he returns, tell him to wait. Aduiar will know if there is anything he can do to help until I return. I must catch a spy before she suspects anything.
The command sent her scrambling down the stair; she all but stumbled in her haste. Mayhap he had been too harsh, but Éomer had no time for her questions. Too late he realized that he had forgotten to ask if she knew whether Fastred and Húrin had heeded his command to shoe the horses or not. The inn would be best, he decided; Ingold would know where they were if they were not there. And the girl should be there. He could not risk that she should leave and bear news to Ethring or Tarnost. Or a nearby patrol.
If Fastred and Húrin had stayed at the inn, and if one of them had kept watch through the window, they would have seen the king arrive by the back-alley. But the window was empty and dark, and none could be seen in the square outside the inn. Empty was the hall as well, but Éomer found Ingold in the common room, cleaning the tables. He looked up, and was startled to see Éomer there.
"É… Master Rodhaer!" He remembered himself in time. "It is good to see you safe and free. How…?"
"The tale can wait. I must find my men, and the servant-girl you took in." Even in just a borrowed shirt Éomer looked in that moment far more a king than he had earlier. He had decided on what action to take, and now time was short.
"Lord. Your men have taken the horses to be shod. There is a stable beside the blacksmith; they will be there still." Ingold had not moved from the table he had been cleaning; the rag was still in his hand. "Sedil is in the kitchen, she has been there all morning. But why do you need her, lord?"
"Have you seen her?"
Ingold frowned. "No," he said. "Not since Borondir came with your message, but at this time of day she always prepares the meals."
"Show me to the kitchen," Éomer said. "I hope she is there now, but I know that she has not stayed there all the time."
The kitchen was empty. As was the stables, the yard at the back and the rest of the inn. What little clothes Sedil had owned, were gone from her room.
Éomer wasted no more time to search any further. He bade Ingold gather all the maps and letters they had used last night and catch up with him on the way. Or at the blacksmith's stables if he was not fast enough. Ingold heard the command in his voice, and hurried with no further questions.
Éomer turned the last corner when Ingold caught up with him.
"Can we trust the blacksmith?" Éomer did not turn or acknowledge Ingold's presence in any other way than to question.
"This morning I would have said yes," Ingold answered. "But this morning I thought Sedil was just a poor outcast. Even thought you have not told me the reason that you seek her, I can guess that it is not good."
"She spied on you," Éomer said. "She reported to Gwidor." He walked on, giving Ingold no choice but to follow.
"Then we must get you all away before he tells the Mayor! It was lucky he let you go before the news reached him. Borondir and I will have to flee as well, and who knows how many more." Ingold paused, struck by a new thought. "But how did you learn this?"
"Gwidor will tell nothing," Éomer said. "He is dead by my hand. We must stop the girl before she can reach the nearest soldiers. I had hoped to catch her before she got suspicious and left, but the full tale must wait. Can we trust the blacksmith?"
"I would trust him," Ingold said. "But his apprentice is young and has not yet learned caution. And it is better if as few as possible know."
Éomer agreed. If they could avoid it, he would not show himself to the blacksmith just yet.
They were there. The stable-doors were half open, but the door to the smithy was closed. Someone worked there, though: they could hear the noise from the hammer and smell the burning coals. Ingold peeked inside the stables to make sure.
"They are alone."
As soon as Éomer entered, Firefoot turned his head. Húrin, who was holding the stallion, paid him little attention, and in turn Firefoot paid him none. He turned, all grace and dignity like only a horse can muster, and walked towards the doors to greet his rider. Húrin found that he had to let go of the lead-rope, or be dragged along.
"This is why I do not need Rangers watching my back," Éomer announced. "My horse is far more vigilant than they."
Two sounds cut through the silence that followed. The loudest was the sharp, metallic sound of the rasp Fastred dropped on the floor. The other was the soft, deep sound of Firefoot's greeting.
"And this, Ingold," Éomer said. "Is why we love our horses so; they are far more loyal than men. And far brighter. Why else would Firefoot be the only one to greet me, instead of being struck dumb?"
Fastred dropped the hoof he was working on and straightened his back.
"I am glad to see that you have obeyed my message. How far is the work?"
"Sire." Fastred could not find his words, and Éomer king was of no help. He stuttered: "How did you come here?"
"On foot, since my horse is here."
Éomer smiled. "I promise you the full tale, but we do not have the time now. How many horses are ready?"
But time enough to jest. Fastred did not speak his thought, but answered his king. "Four, lord. As soon as I finish with this hoof."
"Which one is left?"
"Bergil's, sire. But…"
Éomer stopped him. "Good.
"Now, we will need to make plans. Borondir has been sent for, and I need all of us gathered as soon as can be. Bergil's horse can wait, or the blacksmith can shoe it if you think him capable. But Húrin, I am sorry; you must hear our plans, and the tale, later. I need you to track down and bring back Sedil, the servant-girl from the inn. She left no more than an hour ago, but we do not know in what direction she went."
"I can track her," Húrin said. "But why? What danger threatens her?"
"Us," Éomer answered. "She is an agent of the Enemy."
Húrin nodded, he knew better than to waste time on further explanations. "I will go at once," he said. "Is Bergil outside? Two eyes are better than one. I could have need of him."
"He is wounded, but it is not too grave, I think. I would have wanted you to look at him, but that too will have to wait. You must find the girl before she can tell her tale to anyone else. Bring her to the Mayor's Mansion when you catch her, we will lay our plans there."
"To the mayor?"
The question echoed between all four. Éomer waived it off.
"Húrin, you must begin your search now. The mayor is an ally; let that be enough until you return."
"That would explain much," Húrin said, and with that he wasted no more time.
Fastred did not let go that easily.
"The mayor is an ally?" he asked. "When did that happen?"
But at the same time Ingold asked: "How did you win him over?" and though Éomer would prefer to wait, he saw that it would take less time if he gave some account now.
"Close the doors, Cearl," he said. "And keep an eye on the street; make sure that there are none listening." He waited until the doors were closed before he continued.
"To answer your question, Ingold: I did not. Aduiar has been an ally before he ever came to Calembel. Because of his mixed blood he could infiltrate the Enemy's men and gain positions no other among the Faithful could. It would give him access to information it would be hard to come by otherwise, and his position here has made this town as safe for the Faithful as any town in Gondor can be.
"We deemed it safest that only three of us knew what he truly was: Glorfindel, myself and Targon, his servant."
"Targon?" Ingold asked.
"Yes." Éomer would tell no more. "Fastred," he said. "Finish shoeing your horse, then meet us at the Mansion. If you think the blacksmith will do decent enough work, have him shoe Bergil's horse. If not, it will have to wait. Cearl and Ingold: come with me. We will take the horses to the inn on our way, and lay plans as soon as we can."
"It may take time before Húrin returns," Ingold said. "I do not doubt that he can track the girl, but unless he happens upon her trail at once, he might be gone a day or more."
"We do not have a day," Éomer said. "We must leave by tomorrow if we shall have any hope of reaching Minas Tirith in time."
"You meant to…?"
"Yes," Éomer cut Fastred off. "And I will speak no more of it here. Voice your concerns later." He did not give Fastred any chance to say more. He took Firefoot and left. Ingold and Cearl followed, each bringing a horse.
Cearl lingered a moment after the others had left. He sent one last look at Fastred, silently begging forgiveness that the king had ordered him to follow, and Fastred to finish the shoeing. But it was lost on Fastred; he stood already bent over the hoof and did not see the youth.
The walk back was without words.
The sun grew hotter on her way down from her midday-height. She travelled slowly, sending her rays down on the town and the fields around. There, out in the fields the workers shed the last of the clothes they could shed with decency and worked in their long under-shirts. Some had even shed their breeches. From above the men looked like white dots of sheep spread across dark pastures. The women in hitched-up over-skirts had darker colours against the white, all drab and faded with the long days of outdoor work. One man, Borondir, had donned his clothes and broken off his work, heading home while the rest worked on. His wife took his place. On the lighter road, he was a dark spot; a black sheep leaving his work before the day ended.
Húrin met him at the gates. A moment later they passed, each going where the other had been; Borondir into the town, and Húrin across the road and into the forest beyond. He soon disappeared from sight.
The sun above, looking down on Calembel, could see the men that moved through the empty streets; small dots of grey and green hardly distinguishable from the houses. From time to time she could see movement in the forest as well. There, Húrin picked up a trail. There, he disappeared beneath the canopy of trees. There, he crossed a clearing, getting closer to the small, light dot of the servant-girl.
She had taken a wide berth off the road so that she would not be seen by any of the townspeople. She did not know it at the time, but just as she stepped back on the road, Húrin bent down to study the footprint she had left in the mud beside a small brook. His longer legs were gaining on her, and his wood-skill far surpassed hers; she would not reach Ethring. She should never have tried.
Húrin rose. The trail was fresh and clear. He did not hesitate but ran with the long, easy steps of the hunter that knows that his quarry is already caught.
It was at the same time that Húrin rose from the trail that Fastred reached the Mayor's Mansion. The door was unlocked and he entered.
The hallway was empty. He listened, but could not hear any voices that could lead him to Éomer king. The first door he came to was closed, but he tried it, and found it too unlocked. Empty, like the hall, the room was big, and on one wall there was a mural of the White City. Fastred recognized one of the figures standing outside the walls: the Master of Isengard. A Man knelt at his feet.
"You found my mural."
Fastred turned. The man standing behind him looked much like Borondir, or perhaps Húrin. Taller than Fastred, dark hair, grey…ish eyes. His skin was darker than the men of Gondor, but that, and the muddled eyes, was all the difference.
"Not that I can take the credit for having it commissioned," the man continued, "but now it is mine nonetheless. I like to ask people what they see in it, what story it tells. The answers are most revealing." He paused, as if waiting for Fastred to speak, but the Rider did not respond. If this were a test, Fastred would not play. The man smiled, the gleam in his eyes unlike any mirth Fastred had seen in other men.
"Silence is an answer most telling too, you know," he said. "But you are the first to offer me it. Most are too frightened to deny me. Or at least most have been these past seven years. Today, it seems, all things change; I am even reduced to playing errand-boy in my own home."
"You are the Mayor." It was a statement, not a question.
"Correct. Or, more precisely, I am Aduiar of Harondor. Many have been mayor here before me, and many will hold the office after, I have no doubt, but at the moment I am the mayor of Calembel." He gave another small smile. "You are Fastred. One of king Éomer's lesser marshals and his chief scout. Step aside, please."
Fastred tensed at his words.
"Despite my wording it was not a request," Aduiar said. "Your king would wish us to join him quickly. Do you not wish to see him?"
"I wish to," Fastred answered. "I came here looking; take me to him."
"Then step aside so that I can find what I was sent to fetch." Aduiar moved into the room, past Fastred. Around his neck he bore a golden chain with an emblem fastened on it, the symbol of his office. A Tree, for Gondor, a purse, for the merchant town of Calembel, and above them; the Eye. Fastred shuddered, but Aduiar took hold of the emblem and pushed on the eye. There was a click, barely audible, and he pulled a small key from it. He reached the mural.
"None have ever asked me what I see in this picture," he said. Fastred said nothing. Aduiar continued nonetheless. "I see many things, but foremost is the story of how even the Enemy's actions can carry a truth he never intended." He brushed his hand over the image and pushed on the crown held in the hand of the Master of Isengard. There was a click, and a panel sprang up where the white banner of the Stewards was painted. Behind there was a keyhole, and when Aduiar turned his key, another section of the mural opened. Behind were hidden scrolls and papers.
"Ah! There they are. An elaborate hiding-place, perhaps, but none have dared ask me what I see in the picture." Aduiar stretched out his hand and reached in to retrieve two of the scrolls. "I will take the rest with me later, when we leave I suspect. It will be of little use here, and I do not know if I will be able to return."
He closed the hatch. It shut close with a scraping of stone; if any crack was visible on the closed stone, it was hidden by the paint. The keyhole covering shut with a small click– it, too, invisible under the mural's colours. Aduiar turned to Fastred.
"The image shows the coronation of the king Elessar. On the surface, the lie that the Enemy would have us believe; underneath, hidden except for those that know where to look, is our resistance, which is the truth about that day. I did not witness it, but I have heard that the strength of the Elfstone was greater that day than that of the Lieutenant of Barad-dûr."
"Ingold said as much." Fastred did not quite know what to think about this man who was no longer an enemy. He never was, a small voice whispered in his mind, but Fastred paid it no attention; his eyes had caught a glimmer of green on the kneeling figure's breast.
"What is that?" he asked. He pressed forward to see it better. Aduiar moved out of the way.
"It is the Elessar, the Elfstone."
"No," Fastred said. "I mean that thing around his neck; the green stone."
"The stone is the Elessar," Aduiar answered. "The king was named after it, or so the story tells. He carried the stone when first he came on the dark ships. The people did not know his name, and so they called him 'Elfstone' from the green stone. It is said to have healing powers, and that it was given to him by the Lady of the Golden Wood, but I do not know the truth of it."
"I have seen it," Fastred said. "In a dream." He hunched down before the picture and leaded in to study the face of the kneeling king. Was it the face from his dream?
"You saw the Elfstone in a dream?" Aduiar hunched down beside him. "When was this?"
"On the first night after leaving. We had not left the Huorn's guard. Since then the dream has visited me three times; last only this morning." Fastred did not know why he told this man of all people, this half-Corsair whom he still did not quite trust, despite the words of Éomer king.
"I know something about dreams," Aduiar said. "Tell me."
Aduiar's words made Fastred withdraw the hand that had hovered above the painted stone. He stood. He stepped away from the wall, and so it was that he never learned the second secret that the mural held. It was not until years later that another would come and uncover the secret that only the painter knew. But that story must wait, and it is uncertain if the secret would have helped them.
"I did not see him." Fastred pointed to the kneeling king.
"How do you know?" Aduiar asked.
"He did not look like him."
"So you saw a man. Know that in dreams looks matter little, and should the dream be right, the painting might not. I am not entirely certain that the painter knew what the king looks like. Did the man wear the stone?"
"No. None did. Unless you count the horse." Fastred would rather not talk, would rather forget the dream. Perhaps then it would go away and turn out to mean nothing. What he thought he understood, he did not like, and the rest confused him.
"Tell me the dream," Aduiar repeated. "It is clear that it troubles you, and if it concerns the lord Elessar, it might well bear significance to our endeavours."
That only reminded Fastred of Éomer's decision to risk a rescue. He could not see how it would be possible to free anyone held prisoner in Minas Tirith, let alone the Hostage of Mordor. And he saw none of the hope Lindir had expressed in his dream. Only peril.
"If it has, it is as a warning," Fastred answered. "It is full of death. Death, darkness and decay." He fell silent, but Aduiar just waited, still hunched down by the mural. He showed no sign to move or rise, content to wait until Fastred would continue. Damn the man!
"I dream of a battlefield, covered in snow," he said, giving in. "As the snow melts, the fallen lie there, rotting. In the middle of the field there is a white tree with seven stars above it, hovering in the air. Under it there lies a man, rotting like the rest, but he is moving. Beside him another man stands, dark-haired and tall. He says: 'I am already dead; I cannot help.'
"The dream shifts, and I see a White Horse galloping towards us, greater than Shadowfax himself. On his back is a youth, fair-haired and keen-eyed. The youth tries to help the fallen man, and there is a great struggle between Light and Shadow. They whirl around each other, making it impossible to see. At the end of it, the youth is on the ground. Fallen, moving in decay as the man did before, and the man is gone. But the youth holds in his hand a green stone, like the one painted here, and the Horse takes it and bears it away, and the grass covers the field where it runs.
"But the youth dies, and when I ask why, the dead man standing beside me only tells me that I am alive."
Fastred did not say any more. Aduiar sensed that he did not wish to say more.
"Both a warning and a promise, I think," the mayor said. "I do not doubt that it was the lord Elessar you saw; the White Tree and Seven Stars is the mark of Elendil that lord Elessar raised at the battle of Pelennor Fields. Together with the green stone, it does not matter if the man in your dream looks like the king; I cannot think of any other it could be. The man beside him I do not know, but many fell in battle. It may be that it is one of his men that are appearing in your dream.
"The youth on the white horse…"
"I know that part," Fastred said. "That part is the warning, that is easy enough to guess."
"And so you fear that Rohan will suffer for Gondor's deliverance."
Fastred would not have put it that way, but…
"I fear for Éomer king," he said.
"Who else could the rider be? Eorl the Young? Béma himself? Eorl is long dead, and Béma would not fall to the Shadow."
"It is, of course, your dream." Aduiar did not sound convinced.
"It is not just the dream," Fastred protested. "We came across a dying orc in Fangorn. It revealed that there were some plans laid against the King in Minas Tirith. It carried the star-brooch and the dagger Gwidor found."
During most of the conversation Aduiar had been pursing his lips and tapping his fingers on his chin or the corner of his mouth, much to the chagrin of Fastred, but when he heard about the orc, the tapping stopped. The Mayor curled his lips in mirth.
"Who killed the orc?" he asked.
What does it matter who killed the orc? Fastred did not voice his thought, but it must have somehow showed. The Mayor gave a small chuckle.
"Indulge my curiosity, Master Rider," he said. "I merely wish to solve a small mystery."
"It was stabbed by its own leader," Fastred found himself answering. "I saw it; it was a mortal wound, though a slow death."
Aduiar laughed. Fastred had quickly guessed that Aduiar was a man whose actions were not easily predicted, but even so, laughter was something he had not anticipated. He saw no reason to laugh himself.
"Forgive me," Aduiar said. "But your king really does not wish to lie, does he?" He shook his head, still laughing, and rose to his feet. A different man from the one that had spoken to Gwidor only this morning. His mask had fallen, and for a time he had no need to resume it.
He clasped Fastred's shoulder. "Come," he said. "Let us go find your truth-speaking king. And tell them all the warning of your dream, if warning it is.
"Tell me," he added, "have you been foresighted all your life? It is an unusual thing among your people. Even here in Gondor that gift is rare, and only among the highborn is it seen with any frequency. Among the commoners it is very rare indeed. I hear it is different in the North, but I know little of the people of the Mark."
"I have never had the gift of foresight," Fastred said. "And my dreams have never been true. This could just be a nightmare."
"But it does not feel like one."
"No," Fastred admitted. "It does not. And I fear for the king."
"You already said as much."
"He has already decided to go to Minas Tirith. I knew as soon as we heard the news that he wanted to go. Even knowing what the orc said, he wanted to go. Even if he knew for certain that there is a trap waiting for him, he would still want to go. And if he falls, his sister and Elfhelm will never forgive me.
"He is not even wed; his line may be broken before it even begins. If not for his sister-son, I do not think Elfhelm would ever let him leave Wellinghall, let alone the Huorn's Guard."
Fastred stood facing the mural. It was hard to take his eyes off it, and though he never had seen the king Elessar, he began to understand a little the need and desperation he had heard in Ingold's words when he spoke of him. He turned away, and met the eyes of his king.
Targon is mentioned in RotK; he is the quartermaster in Beregond's company.
Béma is the name the Eorlingas gave the Valar Oromë. They believed he brought the forefather of Felaróf – and the mearas – with him from the West. See App A, The House of Eorl
Weelrider has helped me a lot with a final proof-reading of this and the remaining chapters. Any remaining mistakes are wholly my own.
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