7. Of Blood And Twilight
Of the three, Haldir's perceptions were the clearest and the least complex. He saw only a bedraggled black horse that was incredibly lucky to be alive. Even had the floodwaters been gentler, surely the heavy saddle and the cruel bridle should have dragged it to the riverbed.
Eomer saw an affront and a great injustice. This stallion should have been running free across the plains, or serving as a beloved war-companion such as his own Firefoot. Instead, Eomer's horrified gaze tracked over gaunt hollows, torn mouth, and a half-healed crosshatch of spur scars. He edged closer, making small soothing sounds and keeping both hands reassuringly in sight.
Boromir, however, saw nightmare.
For one dark, disorienting moment he stood not by the Bruinen but above the Anduin, on the crumbling causeway with his brother and the last battered few of his men. The east side of the riverborne city was lost -- flames licked over the once-proud ruins, and mishapen shadows dancing with gibbering glee in the ancient streets. Osgiliath had been taken by the enemy. This one last bridge was all the Gondorians yet held, and that only until it could be destroyed to keep the hordes from swarming over the west bank as well...
Then all had gone silent. The day had turned dark. And he'd appeared. Slowly, deliberately, the black rider had emerged from the falling darkness to tread the far end of the causeway. The stones themselves seemed to cringe away from his foul presence. All who had attempted to face him thus far had failed, and fled, or fallen. None could look directly at him, for the eye shuddered and slid aside, but in his darkest dreams Boromir recalled the blood on his sword...the blood on his robes...and the blood on the lethal iron-spiked hooves of his great black steed.
The very same animal, he realized in horror as the brief spasm of memory left him ice-cold under warm sunlight, that now stood on the bank of the Bruinen.
He opened his mouth to shout a warning, but he was too late. Eomer's hand closed on the monster's bridle.
The horse's pain-clouded eyes flashed bright, and it jerked its head up hard. The metal-edged leather ripped open Eomer's palm like a jagged knife. He yelped then flung himself aside as iron-shod hooves lashed out where he'd stood but an instant before.
Mistaking the attack for fear, he scrambled back to allow the animal enough room to obey its instinct to flee. This was a sensible move. It should have worked. After all, once upon a time the black horse had been a colt just like any other born in the grasslands. Once upon a time, perhaps not so very long ago, it might have been possible for a gentle touch and a kind word to stir that lost colt back to life. No horse is evil.
However, a horse can be tortured into expecting nothing but torment at man's hands.
And once this is done, it is easy to twist this despair into blind hatred.
Boromir was already urging Smokechaser forward, shouting, trying to drive her between horse and man, but the bank was too treacherous and he was too far away. He caught one glimpse of Eomer's shock as the ebon stallion deliberately turned upon him...
Then he lost sight of his friend beneath a shrieking whirl of mane and hooves.
He knew he was shouting in his grief, but he did not know what. Too late, Smokechaser found enough purchase to spring forward. Firefoot shrieked a belated challenge behind him -- then Boromir was flung against his mare's neck as she crashed into the black stallion's shoulder at full tilt. The stallion grunted and danced back a step...no, limped back, panting, his deadly intent hampered by injury and confusion...
...and Haldir was there, a nimble silver and grey blur, dodging snapping teeth and thrashing hooves to vault into that ugly jutting saddle. Something grey billowed in the wind, and the black horse shied aside as a cloak whipped around his head. Step by fighting step, the elf grimly hauled him back. "Get to your friend," he barked -- then the cloth was ripped from his hands and the stallion plunged away screaming.
As horse and rider vanished into the hilly countryside at a hard gallop, the Gondorian swung down from his steed's back to land amid the stones. Eomer lay sprawled in the mud, half-curled where he'd tried to defend himself. He wasn't moving. Boromir moved swiftly towards him -- and was stopped short by a wall of angry horse. Not the black stud, thankfully, but a very agitated grey one. Firefoot!
Swallowing a harsh oath, he raised his hands and tried to defuse the situation with a stream of gentle nonsense words. He was acutely aware that he was mirroring the actions which had resulted in his friend's injury...or perhaps even death...he could not tell from where he stood...
Luckily, this was no half-mad creature of Mordor. For a tense moment Firefoot stood his ground, teeth bared and ears pinned, barring the way to his master's body...but after months on the road he knew this dark-haired man as a friend. The fire in his eyes faded to apprehension; his ears swiveled hesitantly and he let out a low deep nervous whinny, butting Boromir in the shoulder but allowing him to edge past.
Eomer was still breathing. Boromir exhaled a shaky sigh of relief. Sauron would not claim this life, at least! He was no healer, but he'd seen his share of battlefield injuries; it seemed to him that the Rider had dodged or fended off the worst of the mercifully brief attack. Another few moments and it surely would have been too late. Eomer's arms were sorely battered, and in places links of his light chainmail were driven deep into his skin, but it had saved him from worse. Boromir could see no obvious broken bones.
Still, if one of those deadly kicks had struck stomach or chest...
Mud squished lightly behind Boromir. Haldir looked bleak, his tunic torn and one of his impeccable braids hanging haphazardly loose over his ear. He was sheathing a knife as he approached; the man's gaze flicked to it and back, relaying an obvious question.
"I cut his bridle and the girth," the elf explained tersely. "Perhaps I should have done more -- he was badly injured by the torrent, and may not live to see the dawn -- but I hesitated, and the moment was lost. He threw me, and is gone. How does your friend fare?"
At a loss, Boromir shook his head, so Haldir crouched down beside him to probe for broken ribs. Eomer groaned at his touch and tried to roll tighter. Only now did Boromir see the blood-drenched rock which had been hidden underneath the Rider's long hair.
Boromir snarled a scorching curse. Haldir's head snapped up, startled -- then his gaze tracked over to the spreading pool of muddy crimson. He said nothing, but his expression clouded alarmingly.
"I hope we are closer to Imladris than you led us to believe," Boromir grated. "Do they have healers there?"
"Of course." Haldir's mouth tightened as he weighed their options. "I do not wish to move him, but..."
"But sometimes one has no choice."
Between the two of them, they bound the worst of Eomer's wounds -- his palm, which was laid open nigh to the tendons -- then eased him to his feet. The Rider wavered in and out of semi-consciousness, never quite clawing his way back to the surface. As they edged toward the staring horses, he was suddenly wracked by painful retching heaves; Boromir steadied his friend's head until he lost the entire contents of his stomach and passed out again.
They considered lashing him to Firefoot's saddle, but this was too risky, and impossible without rope. In the end it seemed best to lift him onto Haldir's smooth-gaited mare and let the elf hold him safe. When they set off, the elven horse appeared to understand her new task. She arched her neck and glided over the rough ground like drifting mist...Boromir had never seen a horse move like that...
They set a desperate pace now, winding up and up into the wild country in search of the birthplace of the Bruinen. At one point they crossed a road which forded the river. Bright water rippled invitingly in the shallows. Boromir wanted to turn aside to seek aid from a human settlement, but in this he was denied.
"What few humans venture into these hills are herders, remote and difficult to find. There are no farms," Haldir explained. Eomer shivered unaware within the circle of his arms, blond mane matted with blood and dirt. "I have traveled this way before, though not for many years. It will not be far now."
"You are a messenger, then?" Boromir hazarded, casting an anxious look back as the fords vanished around a curve in the river canyon.
A nod. "My Lady has her own ways of sending messages abroad, but there are times when more is required than words. I am more accustomed to crossing human lands than most of my kin. I welcome these too-few journeys, even if the word I bear lies heavy on the heart."
He fell silent, and Boromir knew that he'd struck the impassable armor that guarded the truth of Haldir's presence in these lands. Still, this was more than the elf had said before. Curiosity goaded him to ask for more information, but diplomacy insisted that he change the subject... The latter reverberated like an echo of his father, and he obeyed. "You speak of your Lady in such strange tones. Tell me more of her?"
Haldir explained and Boromir listened intently to avoid dwelling on Eomer's pallid silence. He'd become deeply fond of the light-hearted Rohir over the past three months. To have fought so many battles and ridden all these long miles only to fall under the hooves of a half-drowned horse! It was absurd. They would laugh long and loud about this later.
He kept telling himself that...but as day faded to night, "later" felt less and less possible. The river dwindled to a restless brook with the passing miles, and still Eomer did not open his eyes. Boromir knew two types of head injuries from his fighting days: the kind men awoke from within a few minutes...and the other kind.
Perhaps they should never have moved him in the first place. Perhaps they should have camped there, above the flood line, and trusted the simple healing properties of rest and quiet. Perhaps...perhaps this was a fools' errand after all. Boromir felt icy doubt creeping over him. What had Haldir said? That it had been years since he had last visited this place. "Years," from an elf, could mean "centuries." What if Imladris was no more? What if the elves of this northern land had truly become mere figures of mist and legend? What if...
As night brightened toward dawn, a shift in Smokechaser's gait broke his despairing spiral of thought. He glanced down to find that the ground was no longer trackless wilderness. The path was faint and narrow, but it was a path, and not one made by deer and other wild things. This trail had been tramped by other horses...and recently.
He'd been far away for some time now, his blank gaze lost in the rhythmic sway and swish of the elven steed's starlit tail. He refocused with a start as she topped a rise and halted, sidestepping to allow Boromir's mare to move up alongside. The riderless Firefoot followed close on her heels.
Haldir was occupied, resettling the extra weight across his mare's back for the downhill ride ahead. Eomer was finally regaining brief moments of consciousness, but he was disoriented and difficult; Haldir murmured quietly yet firmly in elvish as the injured man tried to shove him away.
Boromir noticed very little of this, and for good reason. Past the rise, down the winding road, lay a deep wooded valley laced with silvery waterfalls and the dancing gleam of fireflies in twilit glens. And here and there, among the autumn trees...
"That is...we've..." He swallowed, restraining the urge to shout aloud with joy. "Is this...?"
Haldir glanced up, and whatever witty retort he might have tossed back died at the wonder in the Gondorian's usually guarded expression. Something gentle flickered behind the marchwarden's ancient eyes.
"Yes," he replied simply instead. "This is..."
"Imladris." Eomer's voice was barely a whisper, but he was still alive, and they'd found it, and soon all the riddles would be solved. Or so Boromir thought, rejoicing in his heart, as they hastened down into Rivendell on a fine cold October morning on the eve of the end of the Third Age.
.-= Finis =-.
From the Sindarin, courtesy of Ramlatch:
"Sîdh. Hain pân si mae, abonnen." = Peace. All is now well, afterborn.
"Dammathenin, bain pen, sîdh. Alagor achas, iell o beleg rokko." = Dammathenin ["true hammer"], beautiful one, peace. Do not fear, daughter of great horses.
Be thankful I didn't have Eomer break into Old English. I am perfectly capable of it.
I'm a dead woman for stopping there, ain't I. :)
Seriously though, while I have scattered ideas after this point (and IMHO some of them are rather good), I simply don't have enough stamina to rewrite the entire trilogy. I need a breather, and to get back to work on my other stories...like how Haldir met Eorl (aka "why Lothlorien's horses have mearas blood" -- in my head, the Haldir in that tale is the same Haldir as you met above), or the next installment of the Southern Crown series, or perhaps an A/U about how Elrond became the Lord Of The Rings. Trust me: those humane muse-traps don't work. I'm up to my eyeballs in the bastiches!
BTW, yes, I've already had requests for slash. mock-glares You people! NO. I'm exhausted! However, the way I see it is thus: this is not a slash story. It is the fic equivalent of a buddy flick. But! It is an unspoken fandom rule that all the best buddy flicks inspire slash. So. If you want to slash these boys, well...hey, it'd be a compliment, and I'D certainly read it. *G*
Hope you enjoyed!
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.