21. The Mearas
There was little to say so not one of them spoke. Lindir signaled to Théodred to watch Gwindor, but the stricken elf simply sat, curled up, his knees bent supporting his arms, his face buried in the sleeves; imperceptibly rocking as his shoulders shook with silent sobs. Between them, they gathered their packs and checked their weapons. Lórindol bundled up Gwindor's gore-encrusted clothes and took them a short distance away; he scooped out a shallow hole and buried them, dragging stones over the top to prevent wild animals digging for them, attracted by the stench of blood. He returned as Théodred and Lindir launched the boat. Gwindor had not stirred from his misery, though his body no longer trembled.
They stowed all their gear aboard, including Gelmir's pack, and when they were ready to depart, the two elves went to fetch Gwindor. Lindir touched him lightly on the shoulder.
"We are leaving now – Come."
They gently helped him stand, and, moving like one deeply asleep, he did not protest as they walked him to the shore. After settling him, half-lying in the middle of the boat, Lórindol tucked Gelmir's cloak over him. Gwindor's face crumpled a little and he pulled the fabric close, burying his face in it. Théodred frowned; Lórindol saw him and spoke softly.
"Let him have the comfort of it while he may, scent and memories are all that is left to him at present."
Théo nodded slowly; they climbed into their places and pushed from the shore, eager to be away from the place that held such horror and grief for them all.
Gwindor remained huddled in the bottom of the boat. After a while, Lindir passed him a water flask and urged him to drink; the elf did as he was bid, but in the absent manner that merely showed he could not find the energy to argue. Lindir had to take the flask from his Gwindor's unresponsive fingers. He stoppered it thoughtfully.
"Rest now, Gwindor. We will watch for you."
The now compliant elf sighed and obediently relaxed back, curled up, eyes half-closed.
They paddled on without incident, down the river that steadily broadened, meandering more often now between willows and banks of reeds that often hid the shore, but likewise hid them from the eyes of enemies that might be traveling across the plain. All the while the land began to look more familiar to Théodred. There were no landmarks he recognized as such… but this was the Mark. He was coming home!
'…But what was he coming home to?'
He dug his paddle deeper into the water and tried to banish thoughts of foreboding with hard work. The Elves caught his mood and quickened their pace, making up for time lost. By mid-morning Théodred knew exactly where they were, approaching the ford, the Entwade. At the shallows, they took a break, shaking Gwindor out of his reverie to stretch his legs with them. From a pack, Lindir took a carefully hoarded supply of lembas and distributed pieces to each of them. Refreshed, they set forth again; even Gwindor seemed uplifted… at least, until he said something that made the other elves' faces cloud over.
"What did he say?" asked Théo.
"He said to make sure we kept some for Gelmir's return." Lindir replied tersely.
Théodred lapsed into silence. They guided the boat through the shallow water unladen, wading though the water before climbing back in. Gwindor stood at the side of the boat staring sightlessly downstream.
"Get in, Gwindor, we must leave." Lórindol urged gently in Sindarin.
"I want to stay with Gelmir..."
Gwindor smiled, "Oh it's all right. He's just swimming ahead – we can catch up with him in the boat, before the current takes him too far…" And with that he clambered in, taking his position and picking up a paddle. Lindir looked at Théodred.
"Let Lórindol share his bench – you and I will sit behind."
"What's the matter?" whispered Théo.
"He thinks Gelmir is swimming with us." Lindir said softly.
Théodred's lips formed a silent 'ooo…' …this was not good. Gwindor paddled as hard as they did, and when they stopped for a short while to drift and ease their shoulders, he did nothing but trail his hand in the water, murmur softly occasionally to the water and smile as he watched the ripples swirl around his fingers. They watched him and his attention to the water closely, but apart from being otherwise silent, he behaved much as usual. They made good time now, finding a rhythm between them, dipping and rising, paddling swiftly.
They judged it well after midday when they stopped again, though it was hard to tell because of the thickening clouds. Finding a shelf of shingle above the water-line, but hidden by a thick screen of willows on the bank above, they beached the boat and climbed stiffly out. Lórindol judged it secluded enough to chance a small fire for a hot drink; he set Théo to collect some driftwood while he made a hearth of stones and Lindir climbed the bank to make sure they were as isolated as they thought. Gwindir remained on the shore, sitting on some low rocks staring out into the river. It was when Lindir offered him some tea and he asked why he hadn't bought some for Gelmir, that the two elves became worried again.
"He says we must brew some more for Gelmir, because he'll be cold when he's finished his swim." Lindir reported.
Lórindol, sitting cross-legged, buried his face in his hands for a moment before leaning his elbows on his knees and, palms together, tapping his thumbs on his chin in thought. Lindir helped them all to more tea in silence.
"Well?" said Théo.
There was another pause before Lindir spoke.
"We cannot encourage him in a lie… but neither can we be brutal…"
"We must just… remind him, gently… that Gelmir is no longer with us."
"Gelmir is dead." Théodred stated flatly.
The two stared at him, finally Lórindol spoke:
"Yes. We know that. Even Gwindor knows that – we just have to encourage him to accept it."
It was then it dawned on Théodred – Death was an unfamiliar thing to them. They were warriors; deaths happened, but only in battle – or sometimes afterward, from poisoned wounds… but it was still a thing rarer to them than it was to him. He had the knowledge, or at least firm belief, that his ancestors, shield-friends and comrades would be united in the Great Hall… why, he'd even come close to that door… but what did they believe? Was there nothing for them? No place after Arda? 'No wonder Gwindor wants to keep his love with him…'
Back in the boat again, they decided to paddle on until sunset, and then look for a place to camp. By the time the light had darkened towards night, they were entering the woods where the Snowbourne joined the Entwash. Edoras was perhaps sixteen leagues directly to the west… Théodred's heart ached for home, for news of his father… for news of Boromir… He pushed the thoughts away and took command of their halt for the night; this was, after all, his realm they were in now. He knew of a glade, hidden, but near the river. A place where a spring rose to pool below a sheltering bluff that had hollowed to a dry shelter; a fire would be unseen and they could fill their flasks with fresh water… shoot a rabbit for supper… Théodred's description was persuasive.
It was not far from the river; they pulled the boat up and hid it in the bushes. As Gwindor picked up Gelmir's pack as well as his own to follow the rohir into the woods, Lindir hushed Lórindol's mild protest.
"Later – we'll speak of it later."
The glade beneath the small hill was everything Théodred had promised, secluded, well-watered, with a sheltering cave floored with soft dry loam to sleep on…
"This must be a place for lover's trysts…" said Lórindol. "Very pleasant… I dare say the Lord of Stone is familiar with it also?" he ventured with a seemingly innocent smile.
And Théodred had the grace to blush – before asserting he knew where the rabbits were, so he'd best catch their supper, and quickly trotting off.
With practiced efficiency the three elves began to set up camp. A stone hearth was already built, proof of occupancy on many previous occasions. They gathered kindling, fetched water, and Gwindor laid out bed-rolls… for five. Lindir caught sight of him, and walked over – enough was enough.
"Gwindor – four sleeping places are all we need…"
Gwindor looked up at him, looked down at the spread blanket and cloak and said:
"I know. I began to make his bed out of habit, and then found I couldn't stop…"
Lindir knelt beside him, and put an arm around his shoulders.
"Why don't you lay the blankets closer together tonight? The air grows chill and I dare say we will all appreciate a little warmth from each other's bodies."
He helped Gwindor rearrange the bed-rolls into one large space for four.
Lórindol had a fire going and water boiling by the time Théodred returned with a brace of rabbits – the elf had even found the cache of salt, dried herbs, oil and honey hidden inside an iron pot tucked away at the back of the little cave – but to spare Théo's blushes said nothing… though his and Lindir's grins were more than enough to tell they knew exactly how the rohir came to know this spot so well!
Supper was stewed rabbits, well seasoned with herbs, in a rich gravy thickened with a little of the crumbled lembas. Lindir made a heady drink from some of the honey, hot water and the reviving liquor from his small flask; satiated and warm, they all felt the better for it.
After a while Gwindor stood; muttering about relieving himself, he wandered off into the darkness of the woods. Lindir nodded at Lórindol, and then followed him at a discreet distance, leaving Théodred and the elf by the warm glow of the fire. Encouraged by the liquor and the comfortable heat, Théo ventured a few questions to satisfy his curiosity:
"How… long have you been together?"
Lórindol looked up from his contemplation of the flames; he paused, half between memory and thought.
Lindir and I…? Or Gwindor with Gelmir?"
"Either… both. And how old are you actually?"
"Gwindor… is much the same age as the Marchwarden. They joined the Wardenship at about the same time – some of us are craftsmen or farmers and might take a turn as wardens for two yén in every twelve before returning to their calling, others choose to join permanently – their life becomes the Wardenship. Gelmir joined perhaps five yén later – that would be long-years, which are, let me see… 144 of your years…"
Théodred's eyebrows shot up in surprise, but he remained silent, not willing to break this rare confidence. Lórindol continued:
"That was soon after the attack on Haldir when he was alone as a border-guard at a distant post; Gwindor was a good friend of Haldir and his brothers – he was in the party that rescued him. He had been captured and tortured by wildmen from Dunland," he paused, shook his head, " …even now they never speak of it – they killed them all, of course…"
Something Théodred had no doubt about, having witnessed Gwindor's rage in action.
"Gwindor and Gelmir became hand-fasted about five yén later. Apparently there was some talk before of Gwindor and Haldir's brother Rúmil being partnered, but nothing ever came of it… So in your terms, they will have been together about two thousand years…"
"So Gwindor is…an important member among the marchwardens, then?"
"He has never wanted to be a leader or hold rank, but he is much trusted by both Lord Celeborn and the Marchwarden, as was Gelmir…"
Théodred nodded to himself, '…yes, they had accompanied Haldir on his mission to find him and Boromir…' then added, "So, they didn't have to escort me… in fact - they should be the ones returning to defend Dwimodene! Oh… My apologies… I did not mean to belittle you… or Lindir…"
Théodred halted in some confusion that he had spoken out of turn. Lórindol waved the indiscretion away:
"Oh, Lindir and I are very much the juniors – we volunteered when they needed somebody to speak Westron… I am barely three thousand years old, Lindir even younger. Our hand-fasting was less than ten yén ago… Lindir will remember exactly, I never can… He gets quite cross about it! I pretend not to know such things to tease him." Lórindol added with a grin.
"What will happen – to Gwindor?" Théo said eventually.
Lórindol sighed: "I do not think he will fade now… it is difficult… Gelmir has gone to the Halls of Mandos. He will wait there, perhaps for longer than you can imagine, perhaps he will return – some do, eventually. Who are we to say how long it will take him to forget his hurts? Gwindor's first thought, after the rage of losing Gelmir, was to join him – many feel that way. He still might fade, but the signs are different… I do not believe he will…" He shrugged.
"We are warriors, we wardens – death is by no means unknown, and in this rising darkness it comes to more and more… which means that there are those left who are left partner-less. To survive and leave the Wardenship…? Very few do that, and if they do, they remain haunted, their eyes shadowed…"
He paused and shuddered at the memory of such a one.
"No. The wheel turns – those who are left are encouraged to find new partners… Not forced, mind… Some take an old companion in arms; some might form an alliance with a new warden, when mentorship can blossom into more… We are what we are; only our like can truly understand us."
That was a statement Théodred could vouch for; he felt a natural kinship with other warriors, even personal animosity did not really undermine his understanding of them… Merchants and the like? What they did left him baffled – oh, he had to understand commerce to be a king… but he was a warrior at heart, and his first love was for other warriors… especially one… who was far away… he sighed.
"Do not fret, Master Horselord, your warrior will be in the best of hands by now…"
Théo looked up sharply '…but they could still read him so easily!' Lórindol just laughed at the expression on his face.
Gwindor burst back into the firelight, rushed by them and flung himself down on his bed-roll with his back to them. Lindir followed more slowly some moments later, rubbing his jaw. Lórindol cocked an enquiring eyebrow as the other elf sank down beside him.
"He said he does not need to be minded like a child – then he hit me."
"And you did not think to duck?"
Lindir shrugged, "He didn't really mean it – after all, it's not broken!"
He tried to grin, but frowned as it hurt. Lórindol snorted with amusement.
"Maybe I had better be on his side of the blankets tonight, then," he said.
They banked the fire, and tidied the camp for the night before getting ready to rest – Lórindol lay beside Gwindor without touching him. Lindir lay against Lórindol, and Théo curled up on the other side of Lindir. The night was chill away from the fire and the man shivered a little.
"Come closer, Rohir – your chattering teeth will disturb us all otherwise."
And with that Théo found himself dragged closer by Lindir, until they lay close together, body to body, the elf's arm comfortingly across his chest. He quickly drifted into a deep sleep, only briefly disturbed by muffled sobs and Lórindol's gentle reassurances to Gwindor. Lindir held the man and curled closer, whispering softly in his ear,
"Sleep, Prince Théodred. We know how to look after him."
Morning dawned a dull grey that inside the thick woodland was little more than twilight. Théo woke with Lindir still curled beside him. He lifted his head. Gwindor sat beside the fire that Lórindol was re-kindling.
Lindir stirred, still curled at Théo's side, murmuring, "Good – you're awake." He rolled on to his back and stretched mightily,
"I must say, having a man to hold on to in the night is more comfortable than a hound, nice and warm and no wet tongues… though - that might not come amiss…"
He winked at Théo, who was initially a little affronted at being compared to a dog. Lindir bounded up with a laugh and slapped the rohir's shoulder in passing, striding down to splash his face in the spring.
Théo blinked himself awake and rose, stretched and followed the elf who was crouching, splashing water over his face and neck. Ablutions over, they joined the two at the fire.
"We should find our mounts today," said Lórindol.
Théo paused in chewing his break-fast lembas: '…Yes!'
"You know your way now, Prince," Théodred nodded. "And it would be a good time for us to return..."
Lórindol glanced at Gwindor who stared moodily into the fire, chewing the cold haunch of a rabbit more slowly and thoroughly than was needed.
"The Mearas will be fleet enough to outrun any pursuer. I think you will be safe enough from now onwards."
The rohir frowned a little. He did not take kindly to the thought of 'child minders' either; he pondered for a moment.
"Which way do you think I should travel? I do not know where the Riders are."
"We think they will already have mustered, though our news is old. They ride to the aid of Minas Tirith – if you ride south and east, you should hear of their passing from the cotts and farms you come across. If you do not, then they are behind you and you should wait for them."
Théodred nodded, chewing thoughtfully, '…that sounded perfectly reasonable.'
"And what of yourselves?"
Lórindol was eating so Lindir replied:
"There will be horses for us, too. We were going to return to the forest, but…" He glanced at Gwindor. "I think now we should try to ride for Lorien."
Gwindor snarled a few angry phrases, which made Lindir bow his head; he spoke a few words in a conciliatory fashion in response.
Lórindol paused, as if considering the translation, "He says, now that you are able to do your duty to your king… we should return to do ours."
But to Théodred's ear there was a lot more anger there than Lórindol chose to convey. Nevertheless, he bowed his head in Gwindor's direction and spoke one of the Sindarin phrases he had picked up.
Gwindor looked mildly surprised, before he put hand to chest and ducked his head briefly in response.
Shortly after, they gathered their gear together and walked the short distance back to the river where they had concealed their boat. It was swiftly launched and they were off, the current of the joining Snowbourne giving them extra speed as the river flowed directly south before slowly veering round to the east. Ahead, the noxious vapours high over Mordor were thicker than ever – all of them frowned as they dug deep to paddle harder, taking themselves closer to the darkness.
The land was flatter here, the river broader; it was a dilemma as to which bank to keep nearer to, or whether to take advantage of the swifter water mid-stream. In the end they decided for swiftness and counted on the fact that any enemy force was likely to be traveling on only one bank and thus they could steer to the other side. They had paddled hard for some leagues when they saw the pale shapes standing on a shallow bluff above the south side of the river – pale shapes that also spotted them as they rounded a bend in the water-way, and came trotting towards them – the Mearas!
Instantly, Théo spirits rose. It had been a childhood dream to ride one of these horses, and now it was about to come true! The elves smiled at each other, partly at the rohir's very evident enthusiasm and partly because the horses would make their own way home far easier. It was not long before there were three of the magnificent beasts trotting along the bank parallel to them, as they sought a suitable landing point to disembark. The river turned south again to round a low hill and as it bent back on its path it had created a wide shallow beach inside the bend. They headed straight to where the horses waited for them, pawing the earth impatiently.
It took little time to get their packs from the boat, but then, what to do with it? Lindir thought they should let it go, to find its way to the sea, but Théo pointed out that between the boat and the Anduin was the Mouths of the Entwash, a labyrinthine area of bogs and marsh and narrow, shifting waterways, some too shallow for even the draft of the slender elven boat – it was bound to become mired among the reed-beds.
"Then let it – if it becomes a roost for wild duck, so be it… Rather that, than break a hole and sink it…" The latter had been Théo's thought which the elves were reluctant to agree with.
In the end, they let the boat go to find its own fate – and many weeks later, a fisherman beyond Pelargir was startled to see an empty, pale, grey boat, slender as the reeds caught under its prow, slip down the river in the moonlight, as straight as if someone steered it.
But now was the time for other partings. Gwindor nodded with only small hesitation when Lindir wanted to open Gelmir's pack. He knelt to do it himself, taking out the provisions for Lórindol to divide equally between the four of them – the remaining items he pushed back inside, rolling the reduced pack up and pushing the whole thing inside his own. There was no room for food now, but Lindir and Lórindol simply divided Gwindor's share between them and repacked it into theirs.
There was nothing now but the awkward pause before saying good bye – abruptly broken by Lórindol flinging his arms around Théodred in a warrior's great bear-hug. He released him, gripped the man's forearms and shook him firmly.
"May we meet again in better times, Prince Théodred."
"Let us pray for that. My thanks to you and all you have done for me."
Gwindor was next. He put hand to chest and bowed his head – before unexpectedly gripping the rohirs's shoulders, looking him in the eye and formally kissing him on both cheeks before releasing him. Théodred was somewhat taken aback; he placed a hand to his chest and bowed low.
"You and Gelmir will always be in my thoughts; I honour the hour of our meeting," he said formally. Lindir translated; Gwindor inclined his head.
"You – in mine." Gwindor said in halting Westron, before going to the side of one of the Mearas that nickered at his touch on her neck.
Finally Lindir bowed, before gathering Théo into his arms in a great hug, whispering in his ear:
"Maybe another time, my Horselord? You were, after all, as I said before, a very pleasurable tup!"
Lindir let go of him and they caught each others arms, grinning. In the elf's face Théo saw genuine warmth – it was only after they'd parted he briefly considered that 'another time' to an elf could be… twenty, fifty, a hundred years from now… when he would no longer be anybody's tup! 'No matter – the moment was now!'
"You are always welcome in my hall – you and any others of your kind."
"Even the Marchwarden?" Lindir said mischievously with a quirk of a smile.
"Even my Lord Haldir!" Théo assured him with a grin. "But Lindir, you will do something for me? Look after Boromir. Tell him when you return – I will keep my promise."
Lindir nodded. They stood in silence for a moment. Then Lórindol came towards them, a fine stallion walking at his shoulder.
"He says his name is Wind-dream. He is to take you onwards."
Théodred put his hand above the horse's nose so that it might smell him.
"Wind-dream…!" He murmured, eyes shining.
Gwindor spoke briefly and the other two elves burst out laughing. Théodred turned…
Lindir shook with laughter, barely able to get the words out:
"Gwindor said, 'Love at first sight, but what will the children be like?' "
Théodred laughed aloud, and the stallion tossed its head and turned away.
Laughter broke the tension, but trailed away as they contemplated the sombre paths ahead of all of them, Prince Théodred to his father, the King… the Elves to defend their own lands – and none knew if they said goodbye, or a final farewell.
Gwindor swung himself up onto the mare who had evidently taken him as her own. Lórindol mounted another mare, Lindir handed him their packs, before coming to Théo's side.
"I wish you well, Prince - and if all goes for the best, we will meet again perhaps. Whatever befalls us, though, I will look to Lord Boromir on your behalf."
Théo lent forward briefly and kissed Lindir quickly on the lips:
"Give him that from me," he said softly, before grabbing a handful of mane and allowing Lindir to boost him onto the stallion's back. Lindir handed Théodred his pack and said:
"I pray to Elbereth, you may pass it on yourself. Namaire, my Prince!"
He slapped the hind-quarters of the Mearah, who started away like an arrow from the bow. Prince Théodred whooped once, raising an arm in salute, before bending forward over the stallion's neck as it galloped away over the plain, heading south and east.
Lórindol urged the other mare forward, bent down and offered his arm to Lindir; the elf sprang up behind him and the two pale horses set off – northwards to Lorien.
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.