Flight to the Ford: Asfaloth's Tale
3. Never Cross an Elvish Horse
Hmmm, I believe I left off on the second day of my journey and just after my little, ahem, pleasure jaunt and the ensuing chase. We rode hard. I did not complain because I felt sorry for leaving Arwen in the tree (even if she deserved it). Well, perhaps the fact that our ride was frequently disturbed with the sounds of the Nazgul calling to each other also made me a little reticent. A shiver went down my spine whenever I heard their calls and I dearly wished they would keep silent. I had determined that they had not pursued us because they had better game to chase. Probably that which we also sought, but I could not be positive since certain elves who shall not be named refused to enlighten me on the matter.
All the same, by moonrise, around two hours after darkness fell, little visions of a soaking wet elf who had been dumped into mud holes or tossed into brooks were darting through my head with increasing regularity. That is why I didn’t pay any attention to what Arwen was doing when we stopped. All I could think of was the delightful look of rage that would be on her face as mud got smeared all over her lovely dress in the shape of the Hooves of Asfaloth. Oh, bliss! That is why all I did when she dismounted and led me with drawn sword, was gnaw on the ends of her long hair. I did not even see the human until she stopped and I ran into her.
“Silence,” she whispered.
She crept forward towards the human. He was bent over, cutting at a small, white-flowered plant. Humans! Ugh! I do not understand how any elf, even Arwen can like them. They are ugly and they stink. Uhh, maybe you should forget I said that. After all, Elrond and his children are half-elves and they would not take kindly to it. Neither would my master.
Nevertheless, despite their appearance and their low intelligence (Have I mentioned that humans are stupid?), it is not wise to sneak up on a human Ranger with a drawn sword. Unfortunately, that was precisely what Arwen was doing. At first I thought she was angry because he was destroying the plant life. Then I noticed she was smiling. Crazy elf! If he killed her, I had no intention of going to report her death to Elrond. I was going straight back to the stable and staying there! She crept up behind him and placed the tip of her sword at his neck. He could not see her, but he froze instantly.
“What’s this?” she murmured impishly. “A Ranger caught off his guard?”
I did not have a great amount of confidence in her abilities as a warrior and barely resisted the urge to close my eyes and try to stick my hooves in my ears. It is fortunate I did, or I would have missed the human tilting his head up and giving her a slightly disgusted look. He stood up and Arwen withdrew her sword and sheathed it, still smiling delightedly. A smile suddenly flashed across his face as well.
“Well met, Undomiel,” he said.
“Well met, Aragorn,” she replied smugly. “It has been too long.” She paused, and then said simply, “I have missed you.” Then she frowned. “You are gathering Athelas. One of the hobbits is injured?”
He nodded grimly, his smile disappearing. “The Ringbearer was stabbed by a Morgul blade. His wound is beyond my skill to heal.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “I will do what I can for him, Aragorn,” she promised. “Where is he?”
“Behind you,” he replied. “By the stone trolls. There are three other hobbits with him.”
My eyes were turning circles in my head at this point because I had recognized the human. My sire, Noladar, had pointed him out to me when I was young and told me horrible tales about when that dim-witted Aradorm son of Aritorn (or whatever his name was) used to ride him. Not only was he a terror, he was a human (though my sire said there was nothing wrong with that)! The nasty little fiend liked nothing better than bouncing around on my sire’s back, and pulling his mane. Although he had been called Estel (which means hope) not Ara-whatever, there had been nothing about the little monster that had inspired even the remotest spark of hope in me then and there still was not.
Arwen walked to my side and climbed onto my back again. ‘Traitor,’ I thought savagely. Before I stopped to think, I did what I had wanted to do for a long time and whipped my head around and bit her leg. Surprisingly, there was no terrified scream of pain or fury. She simply nudged me, instructing me to move. Instead, I gnawed a little bit on what I was holding in my mouth. It was tough and unyielding. It was. . . . a saddle. Oh, that pestilent she-elf! She was just sitting in the saddle and snickering! She probably made me do it.
I raised my head and pranced off, pretending that I did not care what she thought of me. A worthy effort on my part, but her giggling only grew louder.
‘Just you wait until I tell Glorfindel about this,’ I thought furiously. A slight movement caught the corner of my eye and I turned my head (I had long since mastered the art of looking at one thing but moving in another direction since it often helps with an innocent air and swift retreat) and saw Estel cutting the plant called Athelas. The problem was he had the impudence to be watching me with a smirk on his face. I was so thoroughly disconcerted by then that I bumped a tree slightly (all right, I ran straight into it) and was forced to concentrate on my forward path.
I arched my neck, cantered forward and then turned slightly to my right. There they were: three hobbits, and another one lying on the ground looking quite ill, who were underneath three large statues that upon closer examination turned out to be very ugly stone trolls. Not to say that another kind exists.
There was also a chestnut pony with a white blaze on his face. Estel had not even bothered to mention the poor, hard-working beast of burden. We horses get completely disregarded all too often, though I was uncertain of how worthy of regard this pony was, seeing how he seemed perfectly happy despite the presence of a human. Since everyone was so worried about the hobbit lying on the ground, I suppose they just forgot us.
As I paused and eyed them uncertainly, Arwen alighted from my back and approached the hobbits. They all looked at her with expressions of awe on their faces, even the unwell one who hardly appeared to be able to focus his eyes, but gasped at her approach.
“Frodo, I am Arwen. I have come to help you. Hear my voice. Come back to the light.”
This she said as she approached; kneeling beside him. Apparently she was going to try to heal him or something. After all, she was the daughter of the greatest healer in all of Arda (my master said so).
I heard one of the other hobbits ask in an awestruck voice, “Who is she?”
“Frodo,” she said again. It was almost as if she were calling him.
Another hobbit, who was slightly more well-built, replied in an even more awestruck voice, “She’s an elf.”
That, at least, was obvious I thought with disdain. Maybe not in the same class as Glorfindel, but an elf still and the hobbits should have known that.
Estel brushed past me and crouched beside her. He was holding some of the Athelas, but surprised me by putting it in his mouth and chewing it. As I have said before, I do not have a lot of experience with humans, but they usually do not eat flowers (not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you).
“He’s fading,” she said. “He’s not going to last.”
Even more unexpected, was Estel’s then spitting it out and placing it on the shoulder of the hobbit called Frodo (Where had I heard that name before?) on what appeared to be a small wound causing the poor halfling to moan and convulse.
“We must get him to my father.”
My ears pricked up immediately. Father? Elrond? That meant Imladris! Oh, yes, yes, yes! At last! Home, sweet home! I felt like doing a little dance but restrained myself like the good, elvish horse I am. Maybe Arwen was not as heartless as she seemed. Estel scooped Frodo up into his arms and started to carry him in my direction. Uh-oh. . . . maybe not so good after all.
As they reached my side, I turned my head slightly so I could watch them. Arwen stayed beside them.
“I’ve been looking for you for two days. There are five wraiths behind you. Where the other four are, I do not know.” She told Estel as he placed Frodo on my back.
Now before I continue my narrative, I need to explain a little bit about my opinion of hobbits. Unlike humans, I have had some contact with them, and I actually am fond of them to some degree. They understand that horses need apples and bread (and anything else the hobbit happens to be eating) to sustain them. Mind you though, hobbits are nothing like elves. But I stray from my point. My point being that Frodo did not immediately find himself airborne and the human remained intact.
“Stay with the hobbits,” Estel instructed Arwen. “I will send horses for you.”
I rolled my eyes back in my head and pawed at Arwen’s foot, hoping she would get the point. More explicitly, that if the human thought I was taking him anywhere he could think again. She placed her hand on my shoulder to quiet me (which only annoyed me), and shook her head at Estel.
“I will take him,” she disagreed. “I am the faster rider.”
“The road is too dangerous,” he countered.
I mentally rolled my eyes. Humans always state the obvious. Hello? Nazgul are the definition of dangerous, human. Lamentably, he could not understand me.
“What are they saying?” I heard the hobbit who had not spoken before ask.
Arwen did not notice, her gaze being intensely fixed on Estel. “Frodo is dying. If I can get across the river, the power of my people will protect him.” She hesitated. “I do not fear them.”
What?! What do you mean you do not fear them, you senseless she-elf?! It is their mission to inspire fear and they fulfill it well. We barely got away last time.
Estel sighed, looking worried, but nodded. “According to your wish.”
He gripped the hand she had placed against my side, and then released it, stepping away as Arwen mounted and gathered the reins. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was going home. No more hideous Nazgul, no more disagreeable humans. I looked ahead and prepared to set out.
Then I heard Estel’s voice again. “Arwen, ride hard. Don’t look back.”
I felt Arwen gather the reins, and heard her voice call to me as I had heard it call after we fled from the Nazgul. “Ride fast, Asfaloth! Ride fast!”
I cantered swiftly away through the ferns, gaining speed as I went; ready to break into a gallop as soon as we cleared the trees. As I ran, I heard the voice of the well-built hobbit echoing through the woods.
“What are you doing?! Those wraiths are still out there!”
I ground my teeth. So much for stealth.
It did not take us long to leave the trees behind. Once clear, I galloped as fast as I could for Imladris. And despite what you are probably thinking, it was not just so I could get back to my stall as quickly as I could. I wanted to, of course, but in truth, I like hobbits and this one looked very ill to me.
I galloped until Isil had set and Anar had risen far into the sky. I had not heard the calls of the Nazgul in some time, but I knew that did not mean they were not near. I galloped over hills and through fields. The Hithaeglir were visible, looming forebodingly at the far horizon. I entered a forest with numerous fir trees which was annoying since I kept getting whacked by low branches.
It was there that, though I did not see them, I felt their presence closing in. As I galloped through the trees (the trees were sparse, making traversing the woods easy, if annoying) I noticed movement to our sides. Glancing from the corner of my eye, I could see two dark riders approaching. One was on either side, even, and drawing closer, attempting to intercept us.
My heart jumped into my mouth and I snorted fearfully as I leaped forward, somehow finding the power to increase my speed yet more. I heard an increasing number of hooves drawing closer and surged forward again as we entered a small clearing. Horses have better peripheral eyesight than humans or even elves, so I was able to see that there were more dark riders coming to intercept us. Despite my fright, I couldn’t help feeling slightly smug as their attempted interception of us failed miserably.
We exited the clearing and branches whipping at us from the sides forced me to stop gloating over their typical stupidity and concentrate. I am not used to being smacked by branches since Glorfindel is always very careful of my well-being. My poor, tender, sensitive nose! It will probably never look the same again.
Now mind you, I would not have lost any ground if it were not for the distraction, but when my eyes stopped watering and I managed to pay attention to my path again, two of the dark riders were almost upon us. They were so close that if they had tried, the horses’ heads could probably have touched my flank.
Then we were out into a field. The way before us was clear. I stretched my neck out and fled for all I was worth. The river Bruinen was not far ahead. Once through it, we would be in the outer boundaries of Imladris. I thought of my nice soft straw, my stable mate Sailandil, bread rolls and apples slathered in cinnamon, a nice, tasty book (mmm, paper), my master. . . . Glorfindel. I could not let him down! Irritating or not, the elf princess was not actually that bad a rider. I could not go back and tell him the dark ones had claimed her. The problem was, the horses of the dark were fast. Not as fast as I am, but too fast to claim an easy victory over.
Despite my desperate endeavors, one of the dark riders drew nearly even with me. I briefly considered turning my head and biting him, but Arwen sensed my distraction and twitched the reins to keep my attention on the path. The rider beside me shrieked in triumph as he reached toward Frodo.
“Ride fast, Asfaloth!” Arwen cried to me just as we entered. . . . what a surprise, more trees.
I felt a sudden dread of our path further on as I sensed the presence of another servant of Sauron in the trees ahead, directly in our path.
‘Ride fast,’ I thought, for Glorfindel. If the dark ones had their way I would never see him again.
Suddenly, I was filled with a deep and unreasoning rage. This was so unfair! How dare they chase us? How dare they disregard the authority of Elrond and threaten his daughter and her charge?! There is not much for which I would fight, but I respected Elrond (my master spoke often and highly of him) and would do anything for Glorfindel. Arwen did not deserve this fate. Neither did I, but that is hardly consequential. My fear vanished completely in the wake of my wrath. They wanted a chase; I would give them a chase.
I increased my speed still more and this time, started to leave them behind. The other dark one was still in our path, but I no longer cared. They might still catch us, it was true. However, I was going to make it just as hard for them as I possibly could. I requested my head from Arwen, asking her to allow me to choose my own path. She seemed to have sensed my change in feelings, and granted my request instantly. I held my course for another pace, and then dived to the left, swinging tightly around a small pine, briefly surprising them. I had thrown them off now and they struggled to regain the ground they had lost. I tossed my head and dove to the right, feeling triumphant. They were not quite as taken aback this time, but they gained no ground back, and every foot we traveled brought us closer to home and safety. I swerved left and then right again, making sure to kick dirt in the faces of those who were closest. To her credit, Arwen stayed with me during my display of superior speed and agility almost as well as Glorfindel would have. He must have been the one who taught her to ride.
Then, approaching from my right, HE appeared. I was dismayed and almost stumbled, but just as quickly recognized him, the last rider to have appeared in my previous encounter with them, their leader. All tales told of the one who commanded them, the captain of the Nazgul. My fury again overcame my fear and I swerved to the right, easily avoiding him. I clenched my teeth as I ran, considering turning around and stomping him into the ground. He would make a nice rug for my stall doorway.
I felt the reins twitch as Arwen tightened her hold on me again. The problem with being able to communicate with elves is that they can often tell what you are thinking. I let her guide me and jumped over a fallen tree. I laughed inwardly as I did so, for it was wide and had been a great tree in its day.
‘Just try to jump that,’ I thought to the dark horses. With great satisfaction, I heard them jumping over it after me, then sliding and slipping in the mud. I, Asfaloth the Agile, never slip. I am an elvish horse after all.
The path turned slightly to the left and down a bank which I followed without thinking, and almost before I realized it, I was splashing across the Ford of the Bruinen. Bruinen means Loudwater in the Common Speech and I do not believe I have ever heard a more welcome sound in all my life.
I had to slow down as I entered the water and be more careful of where I placed my hooves. Arwen stopped me as we neared the far bank, and turned me to face the dark riders who had stopped at the far shore. I was rather surprised, for I had not believed that she would take such a course of action, but I was not complaining. I was trained by Glorfindel of Imladris. I never run away. Well, almost never.
Now that I could see them I saw that all nine were there, the horses neighing and their riders shrieking, for neither wished to enter the water. They were probably more powerful when together, for that is the way of such creatures, but I was not unduly worried.
I snorted a challenge and shook my head trying to appear a ferocious warhorse. Despite the fact that there were few battles to be fought in Imladris (who gets to eat the rose bushes first and who gets to chew through the elf-lord’s bowstring before he turns around and sees basically summarizes the total excitement) and since my master was an elf-lord and might be required to command on a battlefield, he had trained me for years on how a warhorse is supposed to act. But my poses did not really help much. The dark riders paid me no heed whatsoever.
The dark captain stilled his horse and called to Arwen. “Give up the halfling, she-elf!”
I snorted again and half-reared (as a warhorse would), pretending the sound of his voice had not sent chills down my spine. Undomiel drew her sword. If nothing else, she was brave. No fear was evident in her voice as she cast forth her challenge.
“If you want him, come and claim him!”
The nine riders drew their swords and spurred their horses into the water. I smirked inwardly. Now they are encroaching on elvish ground and, evil though they may be, the battlefield is ours now, not theirs. Perhaps arrogance clouds their wits. After all, they were once human.
I prepared for the coming attack, but I felt Arwen shift as if her concentration had faltered and she was paying them no heed. Glorfindel never lost his focus, and once again I started wondering why I had to be the one she chose to carry her. But then I understood what she was doing as I heard her voice, quietly at first but increasingly commanding as it echoed off the surrounding hills.
“Waters from the Misty Mountains, listen to the great word;
Flow, waters of Loudwater, against the Ringwraiths.
Waters from the Misty Mountains, listen to the great word;
Flow, waters of Loudwater, against the Ringwraiths.”
Again I reared and snorted. The foremost of the black horses was over half-way across the ford. At that moment there came a roaring and a rushing: a noise of loud waters rolling many stones. The River rose and down along its course there came a plumed cavalry of waves. White flames seemed to flicker on their crests and it seemed that I saw amid the water white riders upon beautiful white horses with frothing manes. The black horses were filled with madness. Leaping forward in terror they bore their riders down the stream, but were swiftly overtaken by the fast flowing water, and their piercing cries were drowned in the roaring of the river as it carried them away. I splashed in the water with my forehooves while briefly considering chasing them down and gloating over their destroyed bodies. But Arwen indicated that I should hold my ground. Frodo was moaning again and seemed to be worse.
I could feel Arwen starting to sheathe her sword as she turned back towards the bank. With that in mind, perhaps I should have been more careful since the water was still flowing swiftly. Instead, I tossed my head and jumped in the direction of the bank, nearly turning completely in mid-air for I was feeling rather gleeful that we had put the black riders to flight. As I did so, I felt Frodo starting to slide off my back. Arwen jerked, I suppose trying to catch him, and I saw Hadhafang fly over my head, arcing gracefully in the air and then vanishing under the waves. Not good. Not good at all. Arwen had not seemed to notice, being preoccupied with Frodo, but I was not looking forward when she did. I remembered clearly that Glorfindel had particularly asked her not to lose Hadhafang. I groaned inwardly. I was going to be orc-bait, I just knew it.
Arwen was starting to become rather impatient with me, for I was simply standing in the water, staring downstream at the path of the departed sword. But being the good, elvish horse I am, I turned away and scrambled up the bank at her insistence. At once, Arwen pulled me to a stop. She dismounted, pulling Frodo off after her, laying him on the ground. Horses do not study the healing craft, but Frodo certainly appeared to be dying. He was making some odd sort of choking, squealing noise and his eyes (which looked very odd) were glazing over.
“No!” Arwen cried. “Frodo, no!” Her eyes filled with tears and she shook him slightly. “Frodo, don’t give in! Not now!”
Arwen’s grief-stricken voice tore at my heart. I felt terribly saddened as Arwen held Frodo close, shutting her eyes and allowing a tear to trickle down her cheek. For a moment, it almost seemed to me as if she glowed. The wind blew over us, ruffling my mane. As it whispered by, I thought I heard words murmured by it, indistinguishable. Perhaps they were no more than a figment of my already overwrought imagination. But it seemed as though I heard, “What grace is given me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared. Save him.”
I shook my head vigorously as I tried to regain my breath from the run. ‘Stop it, Asfaloth,’ I scolded myself. ‘You cannot let your mind gallop away with you now. Arwen needs you.’
I heard a muffled sob from Arwen. She was still kneeling and clutching Frodo. I walked over and nuzzled her hair. In my experience, this never failed to get a reaction out of a person--either affection and appreciation, or complaints about horse slobber. In this case, it got neither. Arwen took a deep breath and rose. She said nothing, but turned and lifted Frodo up onto my back and mounted after him. I felt her pick up the reins and nudge me in the direction of Imladris. “Ride on, Asfaloth,” she said. “Ride home.” I needed no further encouragement.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.