The Old Grey Wizard
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The Chronicles of The Kelvar: 2. Negotiations Begin
Part 1: Shadowfax.
Chapter 2: Negotiations Begin
"Never before had any man mounted him, but I took him and tamed him…"
From The Council of Elrond, FOTR.
(Here is another viewpoint of that briefly explained event…)
Rohan. September 20, Third Age, Year 3018.
A day or so later, the report came to me from my lieutenants among the Mearas, that a Two-Foot, speaking the tongue of the Firstborn, was prowling about the herds. That he was not of the Gold-Hairs was cause enough for alarm among my soldiers, but his uncouth appearance and the awkward stick he bore added to their curiosity—and their jumpy anxiety. For we horses are, after all, what some might call high-strung, and with good reason. We have not forgotten the days of our forefathers, when herds lost many a foal and sickly elder to the long-toothed Kelvar hunters of the great grasses, and to the ancestors of the ancestors of the Two-Foots; for our meat was once of more value to Men than our long limbs and swiftness. Thus are strangers of all kinds among us, two-footed or four, regarded askance.
I came to a ridge-top and surveyed, and to my amusement I realized that the Two-Foot causing my soldiers' consternation was none other than the clumsy fellow who had tumbled in the night from the Windlord's feathered back! And now, it seemed, he sought a land-borne mount, for he approached one of my people after another, scanning and searching, cautious in his own ungainly manner. As I watched, it became apparent that he fancied the fleetest and strongest of my folk; yet, of course, those were most able to elude him, slow as he was.
My people cantered with ease about him, laughing at him with scorn and much tossing of their many-hued maned heads. The inept fellow persisted long, calling out and giving chase after futile chase, never coming near enough to even touch any of my folk. As the day wore on and the light began to slant westwards, I thought he would surely give up, perhaps to call a Gold-Hair to him for aid, for it was apparent he had no skill as do the Horse-Men in cajoling permission from one of my people.
But no—instead of retreating, the grey-draped Two-Foot did something unexpected. He tossed his long, knobbed stick to the ground, raised both hands to the sky and cried out. I watched from far off, able to hear his deep voice raised, but what words he spoke I could not discern. Yet to my surprise, my folk ceased their teasing laughter, and stopped as one, encircling the fellow. Heads inward and all eyes upon him, they gathered about, tails swishing and hooves restlessly tapping in what appeared, from my vantage point, to be signals, strangely enough, of rapt attention. What in the name of the Great Rider* was happening?
I began to suspect this Two-Foot was other than he seemed. Mayhap he was a sorcerer! That such existed was beyond doubt, for I had heard the Gold-Hairs speak in low and fearful tones of such a one not far, hidden in a black stony spike that rose from a cleft vale of the Mist Mountains. Could this grey-skinned one be another? He had, I recalled, come from the Eye of the North Wind. Was he in league with the one the Gold-Hairs named the White Wizard? Perhaps this Grey one had cast a spell upon my folk! Was he even now ensorcelling my people? I stomped my hoof and snorted in alarm. This must stop at once, I neighed hoarsely, and with my guards beside me I galloped away from my perch and onto the upland plain.
As I approached I called out proudly. "What transpires here, folk of the Wind Upon Grass? Why heed ye this Two-Foot's voice? Come away from him, I command ye!"
My people obeyed at once. The circle parted, and with graceful steps they moved back and away. The Two-Foot in Grey stood alone.
I grunted, and my guards held back. I stepped forward. We regarded one another, the grey-draped old one and I, Lord of the Mearas. He raised his eye and met my gaze. I saw that his overly hairy lips were twisted in that peculiar toothy grimace I had come to understand in my dealings with the Gold-Hairs was called a smile, and despite its display of weaponry, apparently denotes good cheer. He opened his mouth and to my astonishment, what came forth from within him were words in my own tongue—the speech of the Horse!
"Ah, what a fool I am," he said with a laugh. "I'd nearly forgotten that Radagast taught me your language, long ago… But given recent events, it is no wonder it was driven from my head… Saruman certainly saw to it that my mind was otherwise occupied of late… "
His casual, overly friendly manner—not to mention that his remarks seemed aimed at no one in particular, and were certainly not relevant to me—and the utter absence of obeisance toward me, the King of the Mearas, was infuriating. It mattered not that he could speak our tongue. He must be put in his proper place! I clashed my hoof against the ground and shouted at the insolent boor.
"Silence!" I said, and to my satisfaction, the Two-Foot's gaping mouth shut at once. "You may speak only when given permission, Old Grey Two-Foot!" I paused and glared at him, noting with pleasure how his facial grimace vanished at once, and his demeanor was abruptly much more subdued. One of his unkempt eyebrows rose, and a light of comprehension came into his dull features.
"Ah!" he said, ignoring my specific and very clear command. "Then you must be their leader… Wonderful! Then it is with you I must speak, and explain…"
His impertinence was so absurd as to be laughable. In a flash I discarded my earlier worry that this fellow was a perilous sorcerer. Nay, I thought, this one is some sort of simpleton, of no danger to anyone but himself. But that did not excuse his extremely bad manners. I stamped my hoof again, and this time my guards came forward, pawed the turf and bared their teeth menacingly.
"Once again, silence, you old Fool!" I said firmly. Once again, the Two-Foot responded with shutting his flapping maw; this time he blinked as if in awe, or as though his capacity for understanding was now deployed in full. My lieutenants huffed and snorted, and he glanced from one to the other with wide-eyed apprehension. At last—finally, I thought—he bowed.
"My Lord," he said, as he bowed again more deeply. He raised his head, and for a moment I thought he intended to speak yet again before being granted permission. But if I am not mistaken, he thought better of it at the last second, and though a fleeting smile slid over his wrinkled features, he remained silent and waited.
"Why are you here, sneaking about among my herds, Old Two-Foot?" I said with a suitable tone of imperiousness. He opened his mouth to reply, but I interrupted him. "I saw you, last night, old Man… How dare you ride upon the back of a King Among the Kelvar? Just who do you think you are, arrogant Human, earth-bound Weakling, tool-dependent, weaponless Babbler?"
My officers and the other folk in earshot snickered approvingly at my flood of insults toward the old creature, and my head swelled a bit. The effect I'd hoped for was bearing fruit, for the old human's eyes flashed, and he fairly bristled with irritation. I raised my hooves in a most attractive manner and pranced before him, tossing my silver mane in the yellow-gold light of the waning day.
"Who are you, you Ragged Old One?" I laughed. "What favor have you come to beg from my munificence? Name the boon you seek, and quickly, so that I, Shadowfax, Lord of the Wind Upon the Grass, can dispatch with you, before you bore me even more than you already have!"
That brought a roar of laughter from the stallions gathered, and more than a few of the mares. Though I caught, from the corner of my eye, that the plump red mare I had mounted in the night was glaring at me peevishly. What is her problem, I sneered to myself—and then I promptly forgot her, for the Two-Foot had bowed even lower than before, and had drawn in a breath to speak. I beat him to it.
"You are granted permission, Old Ragged One, to speak," I said with a toss of my head as I suppressed a yawn. "And be quick about it…"
I half expected that the old fellow would stammer and fumble, and be quite unable to articulate any reasonable request beyond the usual Two-Foot bleat: I need a swift horse… But such was not the case with this one. I found myself hearing a tale, a fascinating, terrible tale, of darkness spreading across the green plains, of fire and smoke, of death and enslavement. And the tale concerned not only Speaking Peoples, but the Kelvar—indeed, the Olvar as well. He spun it well, I shall give him credit. Not a nicker was heard as he spoke in stern and commanding tones. Every one of us—aye, I admit it, I was as enthralled by his forbidding words as the rest—stood in silence and had tilted our sculpted heads slightly away, the better to catch his aged visage clearly in our eyes.
"How many leagues of rolling green grass have already been despoiled by the iron-shod feet of Orcs, sire? How many acres of the Eastfold shriveled and burned? How long, my Lord Shadowfax, for how many Moon-Rounds have your folk reported that those of your people whose glistening coats are raven-black go missing? How many of your people have already been enslaved?" The old Two-Foot's eyes blazed at me—at me in particular, and I felt a rush of anger rise in my great heart. Yet my fury was not aimed at him, but at the Menace in the East that all creatures, even the dullest, could feel in our very bones. "It shall continue, and worsen… Indeed the days ahead shall be more terrible than any days of this Age, that any of you or your forefathers for many generations have seen..."
I stomped my hoof at that. "Very well, Old One, you have described well enough these dark times. Think that I, Lord of the Mearas, knew not of those taken from us? Think that I suspected not that Orcs and the Shadowed Darkness were behind these crimes? Think again, Grey Two-Foot! I am well aware of all that you spout as news, grim though it is…"
Back and forth we bantered so for a while. But he had come no closer to naming his purpose.
"To the point, Old Man," I snorted at last. "What is it that you want of us? And what do you and all of your babbling possibly have to do with my missing Horses?"
It was, of course, the same old dreary desire of the typical Two-Foot: speed of a kind that would otherwise be beyond reach. He needed a horse, and he wanted not simply a swift one. He wanted the swiftest—indeed, none but the swiftest among us would do, he insisted! Little did he know how thin was the ice upon which he trod! For, I, Shadowfax, am the swiftest of all my folk—of any of my kind, in any land, and swifter than all but the fleetest earth-bound Kelvar. What a brash and arrogant creature he was, to stand there and demand such a thing—of me, the King! All around me my lieutenants and guards converged in anger upon him, stamping the turf and huffing with displeasure at his insolence.
I stopped them with a shake of my head and a loud snort. "Enough! Enough! He is an old Fool, 'tis true, but he likely is too ignorant to know of what he speaks…" My officers grunted with laughter but obeyed, and they stepped back from him.
I looked at the old Man as he clutched his stick. The day had wound on, and the shadows were long upon the grass as he and I stood there, glaring at one another in the red light of a dying afternoon. The sun was at his back, and his face should have been obscured—yet, I noted that his features were quite clear to me. Strange, I thought; is there a pale light arising from within him?
His eyes met mine, and for a moment I thought I heard the Valaróma's note rising like the scarlet sun… I heard the distant thunder of galloping, and saw a Rider upon a great white horse with hooves of gold, and beside him was another mounted, lesser, but still flush with power… I felt a flash of… something… something as mysterious and as old and as strong as the fields of grass on which we stood. Perhaps even older.
The moment passed, and his face was cloaked in the shades of evening approaching. But my heart thudded unaccountably within my chest, and I wondered who and what this creature disguised as a decrepit Two-Foot really was.
Looking back, it was that moment that altered the course of my history, and his, and even, it may be, the course of the history of this very Age. For in the very next instant he stepped toward me, and turning to stand by the side of my neck, he smiled up at me. The red glow caught him full in the face, and the sparkle in his deep dark eyes told my heart it had been right to thud. For this—this—was no Mortal Man. And in his eye I saw that he knew—I saw him.
We might have moved on more quickly then, from that fleeting moment. But it happened that the red mare came into my vision just then, and like any healthy stallion's, my ability to concentrate on such elusive things as words and ideas drifted from me, and more urgent concerns, shall we say, reared up.
"We shall speak more of this upon the morrow, Two-Foot," I said as I made to follow her. Over his protests—and over my shoulder, as I trotted away—I neighed.
"Come to this place at dawn. I would hear more of what you have to say, Old One…"
As my guards closed in behind me to prevent his pursuit, I heard his frustrated protestations. No matter, for I gave no more thought to him that night.
*"The Great Rider" is another name for Oromë, or Béma, and I thought Shadowfax might use this name for the Vala. Oromë's horn was the Valaróma, and his white horse Nahar had hooves of gold. Somewhere in the Silmarillion, Tolkien reports that the Maia Olorin often rode with Oromë.
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