Working Life in Middle-earth

Beast of Burden

1. For a cause, a friend, a loved one

   
   
   
"The third principle of sentient life is the capacity for self-sacrifice, the conscious ability to override evolution and self-preservation for a cause, a friend, a loved one." Draal from Babylon 5 Inspired from the Jethro Tull song "Heavy Horses". ******* March 14th, TA 3019. Someone is coming. Summerstraw raised his head with all senses in sudden alert and sniffed the air, nostrils flaring wildly. A hint of distant fire teased his nose, carried by the morning breeze to this fenced part of the meadow. But this fire felt different from the one the humans used for warmth - this one burned of hatred and bloodshed. Predators. The brown horse shook his head and snorted apprehensively. All his instincts urged him to flee the coming threat, but the blood of his forefathers kept him inside the fence, a long forgotten memory of noble ancestry lost in the depths of time. He trotted nervously along the fence line as his eyes scanned the path downhill for a sign of the humans. They had to be informed that someone –something- was coming. The fair-haired boy of the household had left the meadow some time ago to refill his water skin and bring him apples, or so Summerstraw had hoped. Now his heart fluttered frantically inside his chest at the thought that a human foal could not protect himself against the predators he sensed approaching. Even if the boy survived, who could stand against this coming threat? The dominant males of the household were away fighting another evil, leaving in their stead the females and an old man whose bad eye and age rendered him useless in battle. Summerstraw nickered impatiently, pawing as the stench of the approaching predators became stronger. Anger filled the air – anger and hatred and bloodlust. Pounding the ground nervously, he chewed on the leash that kept him restricted. A deeply rooted sense of loyalty still kept him from fleeing. A robin chirped nearby; then a blackbird answered that first calling. Something stirred inside Summerstraw’s big heart - something he had never felt before. The brown horse had always known he was no match to his siblings. He was shorter and bigger-boned and even his coat had a dull brown shade, like straw scorched under the summer sun, hence the name the humans had given him. His brothers and sister were swift, beautiful animals, a proud addition to any Rohirric household. Although he was almost as fast, he was of heavier build, his legs sturdier and his back fit to work the fields and not trot to battle, lacking the agility and grace of most of his kin. There is no shame in being a beast of burden, his mother once told him. Sometimes the greater heroes come from those left behind to tend to the simple tasks. Summerstraw had desperately wanted to believe her and for a long time he had accepted his place among them. But recently, after his siblings had left, something had changed. He had heard it in the relentless chattering of the birds: something great was happening in the world, something that could affect the land and the people and even this meadow. In the cry of the hawk he had heard tales of great battles, as he worked the fields with his head low, his eyes fixed on the fertile soil, flies pestering his face and the plough gliding behind him. In his head he saw his brothers and cousins standing abreast on a hill, manes flowing in the wind, hooves pounding the ground impatiently while facing hordes of evil creatures. His nostrils suddenly filled with the smell of blood and fire; his hooves came down on skulls of fallen enemies while many of his kin fell dead by spear or arrow or the tusks of enormous beasts. But what the wind brought him on that spring morning was no vision of a workday’s toil. Somehow the enemy had found their way into his meadow and death followed their heels. The evil scent waxed stronger and he turned his head to the north, waiting to see the form that evil chose to take. A noise behind him made him turn. The slender form of the boy appeared among the trees, his human senses incapable of alerting him of the approaching predators. In that moment Summerstraw chose his path. He reared, pawing the air with his forelegs and snorting furiously. Taken aback by the unexpected reaction of the usually calm horse, the boy froze and stared blankly, his eyes huge. Run! Run as fast as your feet can carry you and alert the others. The boy overcame his surprise and turned around, stumbling during his frantic escape. Had the boy understood? Summerstraw could not tell. But he had no time to think this through further. Hungry snarls and malicious chuckles made him pivot to face the malformed creatures that leaned against the fence. Orcs, the humans called them, plague-bearers and followers of evil. There were four of them, all bearing signs of recent battle with open wounds, wielding bloodied weapons, hungry and weary, and they were not alone: a wolf-creature stood with them. “Fresh meat,” growled one orc. “And females nearby,” snarled another, sniffing the air. Summerstraw shied back several paces as the warg flexed its muscular body and leaped over the fence, landing a few feet away from him, close enough that he could almost taste its stench. An arrow had pierced its face, half of it still inside its skull just above the right eye, damaging its vision. The beast snarled hungrily, drooling and licking its ugly muzzle with a purplish tongue. The horse struggled against his natural urge to flee, aware that the moment he turned his back to the beast would be his last. I am hungry. Yield, prey, and I will kill you swiftly and painlessly, it demanded. Summerstraw did not move. This was his home, with his bed of warm straw coating under the starlit skies and the soil he had laboured on, and his harness and reins of polished leather hanging on the fence just a few paces away. These creatures defiled it. He raised his strong head defiantly, eyed the ugly beast and made his stand. This is my land, he said. Leave. On hearing his reply, the warg paced backwards and crouched, its good eye fixed on Summerstraw’s neck. Under the cheering cries of the orcs, the beast snarled, its fangs exposed for the lethal bite. The horse tossed his head, his eyes rolling white, and snorted hard, waiting for the predator to attack. Flashes of hunting scenes passed before his eyes, scenes he had witnessed on the open fields where foxes killed field mice and hawks dove from the heavens to rise soon after with lizards in their talons. In that moment he knew that the beast would go for his hind legs, to sever his muscles and tendons and leave him helpless on the ground. And so it did. The warg flung its body forward, jaws parting to close around flesh and bone. Anticipating the move, Summerstraw pivoted away on his hind legs and the warg’s fangs closed on thin air. Startled by its prey’s evasive move, the beast never saw the kick coming. It cried out in pain as an ironclad hoof landed on its nose. Snorting, the horse trotted slowly back and forth, awaiting the warg’s next move. Furious now, the beast leaped and clawed but none of his next couple of attacks inflicted significant damage on Summerstraw. However, blood dripped down his neck and ribcage from various scratches and lesions, none of them serious. Pain never troubled Summerstraw, unlike the beast that kept licking its sore nose. But this dance of death had to end soon, for the horse knew he could not avoid the beast’s claws for long. Lowering his head to the ground, muzzle nearly touching the dirt, the horse paced along the fence, faking exhaustion, and for a moment he exposed his vulnerable backside to the warg. Seizing the opportunity, it leaped in the air, aiming for the horse’s spine. Summerstraw put all of his strength in his back and hind legs, in the muscles that had pulled the plough on deep soil all of his life, and kicked hard. A muffled yowl accompanied the sound of bones breaking, followed by the thud of a body hitting the ground. A heavy silence fell over the meadow. Summerstraw turned around to see the lifeless body of the wolf-creature lying on the ground, its black blood feeding the disturbed soil beneath. Circling his fallen enemy, he saw that one of his hooves had hit the broken arrow, which had been jutting out of its skull, and driven it deeper inside its head. A triumphant whinny echoed across the meadow as Summerstraw rose up on his hind legs and declared his victory. But the orcs overcame their stunned silence fast and aimed their bows. Retreating to a safe distance, they let the arrows fly. Summerstraw ran and bucked but he was tired and could not easily avoid their missile assault. One arrow after another hissed through the air, piercing his legs and back until he could no longer run. Exhausted, he crashed to the ground, his head low, blood from a wound on his forehead and clouding his vision. If I could only rest for one moment … Then sounds of metal clanking and humans shouting reached his ears through the mist which held him. Gathering his last remnants of strength, he raised his head. From behind a crimson curtain he saw the humans approach, wielding pitchforks and slings and an old bow. Summerstraw became vaguely aware of the thunder of distant battle, but he no longer saw what occurred around him. The chill tightened its grip around his heart. Then the bloody veil parted one last time and he found his head resting on the boy’s knees, a boy with a wet face, who clutched him desperately. Someone’s hand stroked his nose. No nickering came in response to the familiar touch, requesting scratching and apples. The cold had reached too deep and the curtain fell over his eyes one final time; a curtain not of of red, but a purple that turned deep blue. The deep blue grew brighter until it was a cloudless sky sheltering endless fields of fragrant grass. The horse with the dull, brown coat trotted inside the Blessed Meadows of his forefathers and his fallen kin came to meet him, proud stallions and graceful mares with silken manes flowing in the wind. They greeted him in their midst with welcoming nickering and joyful neighs. The day Summerstraw crossed over he was no longer a beast of burden but a hero of war. ******* Many thanks to my good friend for her beta.

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.

   
   
   

In Challenges

Story Information

Author: Werecat

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/02/09

Original Post: 06/26/04

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