10. Chapter 10
“Ulmo help me!” Lothíriel screamed. Water deluged over her; the fierce cold taking her breath away. Flung forward, she held the reins high on the horse’s neck. “Come on, Amaurea, swim!” she cried, putting her trust in her horse as foaming water swirled around them. Amaurea struck out strongly, but the force of the current pushed her on a diagonal line towards the opposite bank. The rampant power of the water threatened to tear Lothíriel from the horse’s back. Sweet Elbereth! She would never hang on! Buffeted and battered by the surge, it took all her strength to stay in the saddle. But safety depended on it! Umar’s boats could not get up the river against the force of the water, but once swept down to the open sea they would pick her up easily. Head held high above the turbulence, Amaurea fought for both of them. Minutes seemed an age. With legs like jelly, Lothíriel thought she could hang on no longer, but at last the mare got her front feet on the shelf that bordered the deep channel. “Oh, you did it! You saved us!” Lothíriel sobbed with relief, tears running down already wet cheeks.
The gallant animal struggled out onto wet sand. Snorting and blowing hard, the mare trembled from her exertions. Standing with legs splayed, Amaurea shook her head, water spraying in a shower around her. Lothíriel gulped air. She couldn’t stop shivering, her leggings cold and clammy against her skin; her skirt heavy and sodden. Resolutely ignoring the discomfort – the hot sun would soon dry her – she wiped her arm across her face and gathered up the reins. But when her eyes swept the opposite riverbank she teetered uncertainly on the brink of flight. Those of her escort still able to fight had formed a defensive ring of horses and men in the middle of a throng of Haradrim. For her, freedom lay east. She could ride away now with no risk of Umar catching her. But however temping, she was Imrahil’s daughter and that made her hesitate. She absolutely knew that Erchirion and Sergion would yell at her to escape when she had the chance. But would they ever leave any of their people in danger to seek safety for themselves? Never! Neither would her father, Amrothos or Elphir, at whatever cost to themselves. Her people had suffered enough from Umar’s obsession. No more would die on her behalf. Decision made, and not knowing if she had any chance of aiding her brother or if it were too late, Lothíriel reached for her quiver. It dripped water. She pulled out the arrows and emptied the quiver, shaking the arrows with a quick flip to get rid of most of the water. They would do: the fletching, made from plumage of sea-birds, would recover from the dousing. She slotted them back into the quiver and unhooked her scabbard from beneath the saddle flap. The bow was damp but unharmed. Already strung for the journey, Lothíriel twanged it to dislodge any clinging wet.
Urging the mare forward, she brought her mount right up to the edge of the deep water channel. “Termáre, Amaurea!” she ordered as the horse shied away from the furious torrent. “Termáre!”
A shudder ran through the mare’s body and she flicked her ears, but stood fast. Lothíriel knew Umar could blow his evil whistle, spook the horse and possibly unseat her, but it was just as likely Amaurea would bolt away from the river in her panic and out of his range with the prey still on her back. Hopefully he would realise that. And she was sure Amaurea would not go to him willingly, even if he summoned her. Not back across that boiling torrent. Taking a few deep breaths to compose herself—she needed to be calm to do this – Lothíriel wrapped the reins around the pommel and bent her bow. The fighting men were right on the edge of the river, just within her range. A steely determination swept through her: maybe it was fate that she should be here, sitting astride a desert mare and about to use a bow designed after those the Southron mounted warriors had used through the ages. Not a straw butt her target now, but Haradrim. Fools that they were for wearing scarlet, she could pick them off easily. She whipped an arrow from her quiver and nocked it to the string. Taking aim at the nearest red tunic she cleared her mind of any thought but that of assisting her kin-folk, and released the arrow. The man she hit jumped, clutching at his side. Seeing that she had struck her target Lothíriel dismissed him, and reached for another arrow. The next two were hits, the third a miss. She grabbed the forth and sought out Umar. She could not see him so let go her arrow at the easiest red target. Another hit – she was making a difference. Two more down and she saw him strutting about giving orders, but the scum was out of range. She loosed two more arrows at Haradrim on the edge of the melee and then saw that Umar was pointing at her. He had lined up three bowmen who were taking aim towards her. Would he really kill her? It looked as though he was waiting to give the command to shoot. Cold, Lothíriel went icy cold. No! She would not run! He had frightened her enough; she refused to let him turn her into a coward. Fingers shaking, she took another arrow, so numb that will power alone made her fit it to the string. Clenching her teeth and drawing back as far as she could, Lothíriel aimed it right at the black serpent emblazoned on Umar’s tunic. But as she loosed the shaft Amaurea screamed and stumbled – a red-feathered arrow had embedded in her chest.
“No! You craven cur!” Lothíriel yelled across the river, realising they were aiming for Amaurea and not her, but too late! Another arrow hit its mark and the mare fell, rolling onto her side and sending Lothíriel sprawling in the shallows. She scrambled clear, soaked again but unharmed, and managed to grab the reins just before Amaurea slid into the deep channel. Screaming in her pain and anguish, the mare frantically thrashed and struggled, hampering Lothíriel’s efforts to stop her being swept away. Pulled off her feet, and the leather cutting into her hands, she desperately held on, but the weight of the horse and the force of the wild water gave her no chance. Wet leather slipped and tightened around her hand; she had to let go or be dragged in herself. Amaurea’s huge, terrified eyes met hers one last time, and then she was gone. Her wonderful brave horse taken by the river and given to the sea. Tears streaming down her face, Lothíriel knelt on the sand and stared unbelieving, for caught around Amaurea’s body was a raft of broken branches and foliage. The horse floated to sea as if on a funeral bier, surrounded by the pink blooms of Oleander washed down from higher up the river. Her vision! It was her vision… Lothíriel collapsed into the shallow water, burying her head to shut out the sight.
His sister must have ridden most of the way near the edge of the surf as the tracks steadily vanished, surrendering to the persistent tide. Pulling away from the water, Amrothos led his company along the firm sand to make best speed, riding closer to the trees as the beach narrowed. He slacked pace only slightly as they skirted the village, jumping a beached boat and waving an apology to a dumbstruck fisherman who sat peacefully mending his net. The others followed. Shouting to the children to keep clear, they impatiently wound their way through the array of obstacles spread over the shore.
After the village a clear stretch of sand opened out, its length disappearing under flying hooves with a swiftness born of dread. Here the tracks showed plainly across the width of the beach. A third of the way along Gidon shouted. “The fisherman was right! Look! There it is!”
Easing off, Amroth scanned the sea. Fear caught in his throat at the sight of the three-master hove to halfway between the island and the shore. She couldn’t get any closer to the beach along here and was probably picking up the boats! Blessed Eru! Pray he was not too late. “Come on!” he bawled out, digging his heels in. Hero responded, bunching haunches and stretching out his powerful neck to put Amroth in front of his men. But as he got nearer Amroth slowed him again, eyes searching the water. “There are two boats close inshore. It doesn’t seem as though they are ready to leave.”
“There’s another, but it’s near the mouth of the river. It looks like it’s going away from us.” Gidon said, shading his eyes. “They’re not corsairs,” he yelled, sounding flabbergasted. “They’re blasted Haradrim. Those red tunics stand out a mile.”
“Umar! Now I understand! And they’re still fighting. Look down by the river bank.” The remaining escort were in a tight circle, no doubt protecting the injured and a few horses, fretfully tossing their heads. The beach around was littered with red-garbed bodies, and here and there lay grey mounds of horseflesh, the crows already staking claim. Amroth took out his battle horn. Sounding it would save lives. But just as he was about to put it to his lips a cold dread arrested him – what of Lothíriel? Where was she? In the middle of the circle, or somewhere else? A cavalry charge would strike fear in the enemy and their own would find new heart. But if they had captured her and put her in a boat…. No, he decided they could not have done so, as the guard would be beating their way to her rescue not taking up a defensive position. And if she had already been put in a boat he was too late. Far too late! Announcing their presence would make no difference. He put the horn to his lips, supremely conscious that this was his first command. But the Princes of Dol Amroth had been warriors for a thousand years. Confidently, Amroth blasted out the stirring tones – a dozen horns echoed behind him. The battle cry never changed, just the enemy differed.
The horns evoked confusion. Some of the Haradrim broke off from the conflict and ran for the boats. Fuelled by fear for his sister Amroth bore down on the escaping men, trying to work out what was going on. He could make no sense of it. The boat in the river mouth, he could see now, carried about six Haradrim plus the rowers. But it turned and headed back out to sea, making for the ship. That seemed to be the signal for all the Haradrim to try and break off. It didn’t look as if any wanted to stay and fight. But they damn well weren’t all going to get away. And he wasn’t the only one who thought that. Mercifully, Amroth picked out his brother –Erchirion and a few others were still fighting hand to hand with Southron warriors who were trying their best to retreat. “I want a couple alive!” Amroth shouted to him.
Levelling his spear to charge, he directed his men to cut off those making for the boats. The first boat got away — overloaded, with the gunwales only just above the surface—the rowers straining to get into deeper water and out of spear range. But Amroth concentrated on those trying for the second boat and still in the sea. No chance for them, they made the mistake of running when they should have stood and fought. A volley of spears flayed the nearest, the rest mown down by the cutting hooves of warhorses as they scrambled for safety. In minutes Haradrim blood and surf mingled in a swirling red foam. Amroth had to pull himself up as fury caught him, wanting no more than to trample every raiding Southron into pieces of bloody fish bait. But he needed some alive to question, and where was his sister? Throwing an order to Gidon to round up any survivors – a couple were coughing and spluttering in the water – Amroth turned and headed up the beach to his brother. At the moment he couldn’t see Sergion or Lothíriel, but perhaps they had got away somewhere. A fleeing Southron, caught between the two arms of Dol Amroth – one on the sand, the other in the surf – tried to dive away as Amroth kicked his horse into a last effort and ran him down, slicing into the back of his neck with one arc of his sword.
Coming up alongside Erchirion, Amroth pulled Hero to a halt. Sides heaving, the poor horse was near exhaustion after the long gallop and the charge. Grim faced, torn and bloodied, if anything his brother looked worse. He had stuck his sword in the sand and one arm hung limply by his side; the other grasped a Haradrim warrior by the golden collar of his tunic. The man slumped against him, black braids clumped with blood, his dark face twisting in pain as Erchirion shook him.
“This one still lives!”
Amroth flicked his eyes over him. “Only just. Keep him that way. Where’s Lothíriel?”
Erchi’s expression softened. “Don’t worry; she’s safe for the moment. You came in the nick of time, little brother. How did you know?”
“Sheer luck, I’ll tell you later. But we didn’t know it was Umar’s doing.”
Erchi’s face turned rigid with disgust. “He was here himself. Kept out of danger, the bastard! Concentrated on getting Lothíriel, but she outwitted him. You’d better go and get her, Amroth. We’ve lost six men. More are hurt, and Sergion’s been badly injured. He got caught on his own trying to get her away. “She’s over the river.” he jerked his head towards the Ernil.
Over the river! That explained the third boat. Amroth turned to look.
“And Amroth,” Erchirion waited until Amroth looked directly at him, “She’s brave girl. They got the horse, but she picked off a few of them herself.”
“Damn Umar! He will pay for this!”
“I hope so, the man is mad. Probably got the pox.” Erchi’s eyes darkened. “With any luck it will finish him before we do.”
Revolted, Amroth said nothing to that. “I’ll get Lothíriel, but I’ll have to go round. Hero will never swim it, he’s spent.”
“Take Warmonger, he’s fretting to do something. He might not be pretty, Amroth,” Erchi flared up at Amroth’s look of derision, “but he’s powerful and game.”
He’s going to have to be, Amroth thought, as he surveyed the river. He could see Lothíriel, huddled on the sand opposite him – a bedraggled, forlorn looking bundle – head buried in her knees. She hadn’t seen him, but he hesitated to call to her, guessing she would need some comfort. Best to cross downstream a bit, he decided, where the incoming tide was calming the angry water, spreading the force over the wide river basin. The big horse snorted and tried to pull away, but once Amroth had persuaded him in he was able to push his way forward through the tide for some way, swimming only when they reached the channel.
Warmonger neighing and snorting when he got out the water lifted Lothíriel’s eyes to him. But she didn’t move, staring vacantly at him as he approached. Sitting in a few inches of water she was shivering in spite of the sun. Amroth slid from Warmonger’s back, commanding the horse to stand. Still Lothíriel did not move, and Amroth got down beside her, putting an arm around her shoulder.
“Are you hurt, Lothíriel?” She looked terrible: White faced, damp and covered in sand, her hair hanging in rattails.
As if she had not heard him Lothíriel stared at the river, her eyes glazed. “She came to me in the end, Amroth. Umar thought he had mastered her, but he hadn’t. And then I let her down. I couldn’t hold her. She was screaming. So frightened, and I couldn’t save her. The river took her. I should have taken notice of my vision, but I didn’t realise.”
Amroth had no idea what she was talking about but knew that Amaurea’s loss would have affected her badly, especially as she had witnessed the horse’s death. And she was so stunned that she hadn’t even asked what he was doing there. “She was a brave horse, little sister, and you did your best. Nobody could hold a horse against the river.” He pulled her to her feet, knowing he needed to shock her out of her daze. “We have to go, you are needed. Sergion has been injured and will require your skill.”
“Sergion!” Lothíriel’s eyes opened wide, the vacant look gone. “No!” She wrung her hands in distress, chewing on her lip, but did not move. “And Erchirion?”
“He’s fine, but others are hurt.”
The desperate look she gave him pierced his heart. “How many? How many won’t be coming home with us?”
No point in denying, she would find out soon. “Six, I think.”
Silent tears started to roll down her cheeks. “Why, Amroth? Why is Umar doing this? I am not worth all this death. What is it about me that provokes him to such madness?”
“That’s just it, Lothíriel. He is mad. And he doesn’t like to be beaten. Come, there is no time to waste, we will talk it through later.”
Wordlessly, Lothíriel allowed him to lift her onto Warmonger. Looking utterly dejected, she huddled into the saddle. Amroth heard a small sound like a sob, her whole body trembled. He wouldn’t risk the river again. Also, the tide was very likely to bring Amaurea’s corpse onto the sand and he did not want any chance of her seeing that. But almost as if she heard him think it, Lothíriel grabbed his shoulder as he was about to mount.
“She’ll be washed up on the beach, Amroth. I can’t bear it! We’ve got to bury her. I won’t leave her for the birds.”
“Don’t worry, Father will arrive soon. He will organise it.”
Placated for the moment she slumped again, and he quickly swung in front of her.
“We are going to cross by the bridge, as speedily as we can, so hold on tight, won’t you.” Something he would never have to say to her normally. But she grasped him firmly around the waist and cuddled against him.
Aldburg – The Riddermark
Firefoot pranced about, tossing his head, sniffing and snorting and flirting with any mare coming within his range. In fact generally making a spectacle of himself, Éomer acknowledged. But he could not blame him: the merrymaking had affected everyone. Any stray thought in Éomer’s mind that the East-mark riders would resent his rapid rise through the ranks melted away when the race between him and Éothain turned into much more than a private wager. Almost a full scale tournament. Three other patrols had challenged his own, and glad of an excuse to celebrate – relief from a life of vigilance and the dealing with death was always needed– had organised a course on the cropped grass that swept right past the gates of Aldburg. The Rohirrim liked nothing better than to test their horses against others, and if they could accompany friendly competition with a barrel of ale on the sidelines, so much the better.
By the time he emerged from his meeting with Eorllic hurdles kept for the spring and autumn fairs had been lugged out and hammered into place, and merchants took the opportunity to hastily erect a few stalls. Horses and people thronged around the gates waiting for the first race; mothers holding the hands of excited children; young boys arguing over the outcome and loudly discussing the finer points of every horse, and the unmarried girls dangling woven ribbons from their hands, eying their favourite riders.
A giggling group clustered round Æbbe, Eorllic’s daughter. The lively maiden was always the centre of attention and her hand held a whole bunch of ribbons. Éomer covered his mouth to contain his hoot of laughter as Éothain sidled Starkhorn up to Æbbe. Seeing him coming, Æbbe quickly stuffed the ribbons in the pocket of her skirt, leaving just one hanging from her fingers. A few moments’ conversation and the bubbly girl placed her hand on Éothain’s arm, grinning up at him and bestowing a ribbon on his red-faced friend. Éomer had not missed the doughty warrior’s decided partiality for Déor’s sister over the preceding months, although he doubted the feeling was reciprocated. But Éothain rode towards him fixing the ribbon to Starkhorn’s brow-band with a very smug expression. Éomer moved Firefoot slightly around and said conversationally, “A pretty ribbon, Éothain. Fine workmanship.”
Éothain fairly bristled with pride. “It is Æbbe’s; she is an accomplished needle-woman.” He fingered the woven red, green and yellow wool fondly, before giving it a tug to make sure it was securely fastened. “It will have taken time to weave, and she does not bestow her favors lightly.”
“I am sure she doesn’t,” Éomer agreed, choking back another laugh. He tugged at Firefoot, who had decided that he had stood around long enough and having spotted a pretty young mare he had not met before, was making serious efforts to effect an introduction. Forestalling the possible ruckus, Éomer pulled him around to face Éothain. His friend glanced indifferently over the stallion, his attention still on Æbbe. But something must have registered in his brain because he suddenly swung his head back to stare at Firefoot’s bridle. Éomer said nothing, pretending to inspect a slight tear in his sleeve whilst observing Éothain under his lashes. White; red; purple; the hues crossed Éothain’s face in quick succession.
“What’s that?” Éothain exclaimed, astonishment and anger vying for position.
“A tear in my sleeve.”
“No, I mean that ribbon!” Éothain barked back. “It’s one of Æbbe’s.”
Stifling his mirth, Éomer carefully examined the ribbon, comparing the pattern to the one Starkhorn sported, as Éothain visibly fumed. “So it is. She must have had another one.”
“We’re ready, lord. And we are going first.” Guflaf glanced at Éothain as he trotted up, drawing his brows together in surprise at the belligerent expression he encountered. His horse had a colored ribbon under each twitching ear. “We are bound to win.” He smirked at Éomer, “What with ours now being the senior patrol, so to speak. Besides, Æbbe gave all our lot a ribbon, and baring my daughter, she’s the prettiest maid in Aldburg.”
A good day, Éomer decided later, leaning against the door to Firefoot’s stall and watching Éothain shovel muck. His patrol had won the challenge and, unusually, he had beaten Éothain in their personal contest. Mayhap his friend’s bad temper had affected his horsemanship. Not getting much conversation, he left him to it, strolling outside into the stable yard.
Éomer stared at the sky: the mountain just about to claim the sun, it blazed as red as Éothain’s face. With a quick goodnight, a rider hurried past him as he lingered in the doorway. But the man didn’t stop to look at the spectacle, no doubt eager to get home to his wife. Family time was precious to the warriors of the Riddermark. A stable boy looked up from his last sweep of the day. Putting the brush over his shoulder, the lad nodded his goodnight, and disappeared into the tack room. Still enjoying the evening, Éomer watched a big tabby cat hunting around the edge of the yard, his head cocked to any noise. Seeing Éomer, he broke off from the hunt and strolled towards him. Arching his back, the tabby rubbed contentedly against leather boots. Éomer pulled at its ears and scratched the silky fur of its head. It mewed appreciatively, pushing its head deeper into Éomer’s hand. But suddenly the cat went stiff, every nerve on alert in feline anticipation, before it darted out of his grasp. Summoned by a movement too slight for even Éomer’s warrior senses to detect, the cat dived behind a water butt. Emerging proudly moments later with a rat still struggling in its jaws, it slunk off around the side of the stable. Éomer followed it with his eyes until, with a last twitch of tail, it vanished from sight. He sighed audibly. Not even the cats could afford to relax for long. Tomorrow his patrol would be off again, this time checking up on the others as well as keeping vigil themselves. Wives and sweethearts would wave goodbye with glistening eyes, while others looked longingly down the road for their men returning. And with any luck Éothain’s chagrin would not last farther than the Entwash, lost in the banter and rivalry that existed in such a fine group of Riders. Turning on his heel, Éomer went back into the stable to see if Éothain had finished.
To be continued.
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.