1. Of Thorns And Eyes In The Dark
This is, indeed, a sequel to "Singing In The Sun," which I wrote based on a plotbunny unleashed by Eric "Falstaff" Gratton -- namely, to replace Merry and Pippin in the Fellowship with Eomer and someone I won't name yet to retain the surprise. Though actually I changed my mind about that and brought in somebody else...eh, still, I won't say.
My point is, "Singing In The Sun" introduced the A/U idea of sending Eomer off with Boromir on his pre-LOTR quest for Rivendell/Imladris. This pairing hit an unexpected chord with my readers, and I was deluged in requests for more. Um. I hadn't planned more. But! I thought about it, and wheels started to turn...
This is a very different tale. I'm very much a short-story writer. So if my experiment in penning greater length does not please those who liked the original piece, or if anyone thinks I played silly buggers with the time/distance scales, well, I apologize. But...this is what my muse served up. Enjoy!
Pedantic Note: I should note that I skipped a few weeks of travel-time between Edoras and Eregion between the previous tale and this one -- if anybody wants it, ask and it's yours.
My sounding boards: DarkRiver & Ramlatch
My betareaders: Calliope, CocoaJava, Jenjinn, & Nicole
My elvish language expert: Ramlatch
"I was in the company that held the bridge, until it was cast down behind us. Four only were saved by swimming: my brother and myself and two others. But still we fight on, holding all the west shores of the Anduin; and those who shelter behind us give us praise, if ever they hear our name: much praise but little help. Only from Rohan now will any men ride to us when we call."
-- Boromir before the Council of Elrond, "The Fellowship Of The Ring"
"The problem with holly is," Boromir said glumly, "it only looks attractive."
He urged his mare forward, but she planted her hooves and favored him with a disbelieving stare. To be honest, he agreed with her. The bramble-choked ravine did not look appealing. All those thorns--
A stubborn equine snort off to his right indicated that his comrade was having no better luck. A moment later Eomer of Rohan rode back into view, shaking his head. "No passage to the east, either. We shall have to swing westward of the mountains and return to their feet when we've cleared this forsaken place."
He looked tired, and with good reason. After they'd crossed eastern Dunland, their northward path had become increasingly choked with thorny runners and wild holly. Finally, even Firefoot's brawny chest had proven unable to force a path. The big grey warhorse was nursing a web of scratches all over his dappled hide. He was sulking despite the fact that Eomer had salved the worst of his cuts.
Or, more likely, the salve is to blame for his foul mood. As they turned west and made better time through girth-high weeds, Boromir grimaced ruefully at the stallion's expression. He'd been subjected to that same medicine himself, once or twice. Though effective, it stung like a--
That was when the world dropped out from under him.
Eomer was lost in thought, considering the clues that had set them on this strange quest in the first place -- seeking a legendary land and the truth behind myth, dream, and song -- when Smokechaser screamed and vanished from sight, rider and all.
"Boromir--!" Eomer's cry was drowned out by a squeal from his own mount. Firefoot propped to a spooked halt, fighting his reins with wild eyes as he cast about for an enemy to flatten. By the time Eomer managed to wrestle all four of the stallion's hooves back to the ground, there was no sign of man nor mare.
"Boromir, curse you, answer me," he shouted. Then he listened intently.
The Rider narrowed his eyes, casting over the hidden ground. If the ancient poem held true, they were near dwarven territory -- a mine shaft, perhaps? He shuddered at the sudden terrible image of friend and faithful steed plummeting end over end into the dark... No! Dwarves preferred deep rocky mountain fastnesses, didn't they? They did not dig randomly. They were not gophers!
Reining in his runaway imagination, Eomer breathed deep then whistled long and shrill. He was rewarded by an unhappy whinny less than a dozen feet away...and down.
Boromir shook his head dazedly and coughed up foxtails. The side of his face was mashed into loose dirt, and his hip hurt like blazes when he rolled onto his back, but nothing ground together when he sat up and he was fairly certain that the coppery taste in his mouth was merely from a split lip.
He spat blood then stared about. At first glance this was a large hole in the ground, deeper than Smokechaser was tall and overgrown by a deceptive fringe of tall weeds. On closer scrutiny, however, the "floor" was more-or-less level and flanked by four distinct (if crumbling) walls. A strange thing to find in the middle of nowhere. If it was a trap, it was a poor one.
Boromir's head jerked up as he felt/heard approaching hoofbeats, "Eomer, 'ware!" he called, but he needn't have worried; the cadence was slow and cautious, and then it halted entirely. Pebbles rattled down. He looked up to see Firefoot's proud neck framed against the afternoon sky.
"Do not move," Eomer told him. "I shall be right down."
Of course, Boromir disregarded this advice and heaved himself to his feet even as his companion swung over the side of the pit and dropped in. Eomer gave him a quick glance, nodded with relief to see him apparently unharmed, then hastened to examine Smokechaser. The bay mare was shaking and her gear was thrown wildly over her right side, but she calmed under Eomer's soothing touch and allowed him to inspect her.
He was joined shortly by his limping friend. After days on the road together, the Gondorian knew how deeply his northern friend cared for horses, and he'd become fond of the sweet-tempered mare himself, so he let all other concerns wait until Eomer seemed satisfied with her condition. "Well? How does she fare?"
"I cannot tell for certain until I can judge her gait, but the ground is soft down here -- she seems to have weathered the fall as well as you did."
"I feel as though I have been tenderized," Boromir muttered.
Eomer gave him a kindly pat on the arm. "As does she, I wager. Let's get you both out of...what is this place?"
"A cellar," Boromir realized. "A cellar without a dwelling above. Perhaps long ago..." He understood. "These are ruins."
"Ruins, eh? We may be on the correct trail after all. Remember what the song told? 'Empty silence before the moon-chased gates / Where once gold and gems had gleamed amid hearths and holly / And smiths' hammers rang out to defy the darkness.' The lost elven smithies of Eregion, remember...?"
"Mmm. I've already had my fill of the part about the holly." Boromir winced as he levered himself up on the lowest and most collapsed of the four walls. Nothing within his body was broken, true, but he'd been thrown hard. It would be difficult to climb back into the saddle today, let alone after a night's rest on the hard ground.
"Gates, eh? Perhaps we ought to seek out the dwarves and the possibility of a hot bath. Since the dragon was slain at Escaroth, the earthdwellers have been more willing to trade with humanfolk..."
Eomer did not answer until he'd managed, with much pulling and puffing and coaxing, to guide Smokechaser up a precarious heap of shifted turf so she could regain solid ground above. By the time he was done, he was breathing hard and as grimy as Boromir.
"We're in luck," he said, gratefully accepting a tossed waterskin. "Another foot higher and I don't know how we would have fetched her out. She's favoring a few scrapes across her hindquarters, but she's otherwise sound. You're both unbroken, and for that I'm glad."
"As am I," Boromir noted dryly. "So. What say you of a visit to the dwarves?"
Eomer gulped down a mouthful of tepid water and shook droplets out of his short-cropped beard. "I am wary of it," he admitted. He lobbed the canteen back and recaptured Firefoot's reins as the stallion mouthed his sleeve. "We would need to ride back into that--" he indicated the thorny wastes behind them, between the ruins and the mountains to the east "--with no certainty of a warm reception. If we stumbled upon the front door of Dwarrowdelf in the first place. I, for one, would prefer to be away northward by nightfall. Have you noticed the silence...?"
"I had, but I had other matters on my mind." Boromir plucked a persistent burr from above his ear and, gingerly, led his mount toward the lowering sun.
With great care and by staying afoot, the two travelers avoided any more incidents. They picked their way over the low remnants of walls and skirted random chunks of charred masonry. Very little was left of this ancient elvenhome, if the tales were true and this was not merely some forgotten human settlement.
Boromir wanted to press on into the night, but Smokechaser balked and Eomer reluctantly sided with the tired mare. Reluctantly, for while they'd circumvented the snarled wilderness and turned back towards the mountains they had heard no sound of bird nor beast.
Uneasy, they set camp for the night in a grassy hollow and did not light a fire. The silence was worse in the dark, but it seemed better to tolerate an oppressive nothing than to attract a dangerous something. Neither desired to forage for game -- surely a hopeless task, as the land seemed to have been plundered bare -- so it was a cheerless evening of cold rations and cold blankets.
Eomer took first watch, reasoning that the morningwards shift would allow Boromir time to regain movement in sore muscles which stiffened overnight. He was unpleasantly surprised to be shaken awake long before dawn.
"If I have learned one thing during our travels," Boromir commented wryly, "it is that the men of Rohan snore louder than the men of Gondor -- and are harder to rouse!
"I believe we should move on, without waiting for the sun," he explained more soberly when the Rider fixed him with a blearily indignant glare. "The horses..."
Firefoot chose that exact moment to shrill a challenge to the smothering darkness. Eomer jerked fully awake. Rather than grazing upon the grass, both animals had crowded into the makeshift campsite...and Firefoot was planted directly over Eomer himself.
His blood ran cold. That meant one thing, and one thing only...
"I feared he would trample you, but he would not allow me to--" Boromir was explaining, but he fell silent when Eomer exploded from his bedroll to arm and pack with frightening haste.
"Orcs," he hissed. "Or something of the sort. He's trained to defend a downed man."
"Excellent training," Boromir replied, wasting no time saddling his mare and lashing his gear into place. He'd been mostly equipped already, from standing watch, so he was ready before Eomer and stood squinting into the night with his naked sword in his hand. His hip and back throbbed with a low hot pain from his spill the day before, but he'd suffered worse after long training sessions in the courtyard with his father's swordmaster. The adrenaline was already surging in his blood, washing away the aches. He was ready to fight, if a fight there must be.
Yet a fight persistently refused to appear. Nothing moved in the darkness. A breeze rippled through the high grass, brushing weeds together -- could that have set the highstrung stallion off? An overactive imagination might mistake the small dry scraping whispers for something creeping closer, closer...
Creaking leather and a jingle of harness told him that Eomer was in the saddle. He heard the Rider suck in a harsh breath. "Boromir. Mount up. Now."
The Rider's tone brooked no hesitation. Biting down an unseemly grunt of pain, Boromir clambered up Smokechaser's stirrup. "What..."
He stopped dead, then swore eloquently under his breath. From this angle he beheld pale eyes in the grass. A great wide ring of them. Closing in.
Firefoot was dancing in place, champing his bit and flaring scarlet nostrils at the prospect of battle. Eomer unshipped his spear, and the same reckless light gleamed in his eyes. "At least it shall be a change from that accursed silence!"
"No." Boromir regarded the rolling nightscape at length, counting and weighing. "There are too many of them."
"Feh! Those are hardly proper orcs. This maggotbreed is no match for men such as we."
The Gondorian twisted in the saddle to confirm his suspicions, and he grimly shook his head. "There are too many," he repeated. "Kill as many as you like, the rest will drag you from your saddle and rip the flesh from your bones. And why haven't they attacked yet? They must know we've seen them by now. They must be waiting for something else to arrive. I have heard travelers speak of fell beasts that serve the mountain breed... I am no seer, but this does not bode well."
He snared Eomer's restless gaze with his own calm grey one -- and deliberately sheathed his sword. "You told me once that there is nothing the two of us cannot outfight or outrun. If the first is not a wise option..."
Eomer nodded, though not without a glimmer of regret. "Then we ride."
Grey stallion and bay mare leapt forward as one, hooves scoring the earth and thrashing the high grass as they charged. Eomer bent low against Firefoot's neck, spear rock-steady over his arm; Boromir unslung his shield on his outward side and braced it, veering Smokechaser closer and closer until the two horses galloped like a team in traces.
Now at last the eerie silence was rent asunder. Shivering, ululating screeches rose from all directions. Enraged at their prey's unsporting attempt to escape, skulking noisome shapes abandoned stealth and burst from the brush, leaping and gibbering, racing to tighten their circle like a snare around a rabbit's throat.
Too late! Boromir ducked behind his shield-arm and tensed in his stirrups as the living trap flashed before them, a nightmare of bulging eyes and leprous cave-pale flesh and mismatched fangs. Something smashed against his shield, nearly knocking him out of his saddle. Another sprang at his unprotected thigh, but even as it gouged his boot a snap of Firefoot's teeth cast it screaming beneath a deadly blur of churning hooves.
An unearthly wail of goblin agony, a deep grunt from Eomer -- his spear had struck home! Boromir glimpsed the writhing body as Eomer lifted it overhead to discard it in their passing. He tore his gaze away and clutched the reins tight as Smokechaser suddenly squealed and leaped at full stride, flinging her heels out to strike something alive with a sickening crack--
Then they were through, and away, and fleeting north under the shadow of the Misty Mountains.
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.