31. Théodred Rides to Minas Tirith
The air whipped across his face, lashing his hair free from its braids, making him squint hard into the wind. Théodred tangled his hands firmly into the stallion's mane, pressed his thighs tightly to the horse's flanks and clung on hard. Strangely, he felt no fear of tumbling to the ground that raced away ever quicker beneath the animal's thundering hooves. This horse would not let his rider fall! The thought made him grin broadly… until windborne dust made him cough. He hunkered down and gingerly freed a hand to try and pull his shirt higher; cursing himself for not thinking to wind the scarf in his pack around him before mounting. He had simply not expected this extraordinary turn of speed – or the tremendous exhilaration!
A few hours later, his legs and fingers were numb, his face sore from wind-burn and his eyes ached from squinting against wind and grit, and… his bladder was becoming very insistent that he dismount – or else! He pulled on the mearah's mane and tried an experimental 'whoa…' that emerged as a mere squawk, his throat and tongue were that dry. He swallowed, worked his mouth and tried again.
"Wind-dream – whoa… stop…"
The horse tossed his head and snorted but eased its pace, soon slowing to a canter, a trot and finally walking a little before coming to a complete halt. Théodred almost fell off rather than dismounted; he slumped to his knees as his legs failed to hold him upright. He tried to stand, failed again, and rather than risk something unfortunate… struggled with his numbed fingers to undo the ties of his breeches. Blesséd relief! He sighed deeply as the arc of golden liquid sprayed the tough grass. The horse nickered at the sharp unfamiliar odour and walked a few paces up-wind, fanning his tail before putting his head down to crop the grass.
The Rohir, finished now and half smiling with relief, struggled to his feet and staggered around in a circle in an effort to get the feeling back in his feet. After a few steps, pins and needles made him sink to the ground, groaning and rubbing his legs. He lay on his back, stretched his legs and feet to ease them, and gritted his teeth as he tried to wait out the ache nagging at his muscles – all he could hear was the rhythmic ripping of grass as the stallion took his own refreshment. Apart from that there was absolute stillness; the wind nosed around him, the solid earth clung to his back, but there was no sound of a bird, no movement of man nor beast… save himself and the stallion, the world seemed empty.
He dragged his gaze from the turbulent clouds above him and rolled stiffly onto his side. To the distant south running parallel to his route lay the long range of the White Mountains… and a dense green shadow at their feet… He frowned, then realised what he saw '… the Firien Wood!' That meant… the Mering Stream must be just ahead; he had travelled twenty leagues… '…twenty leagues!' And there was still plenty of day-light left… Théodred regained his feet with an effort; he sighed. In those early days paddling the boat with the indefatigable elves he had still felt the benefit of Lord Celeborn's grace, but now it seemed to be fading a little – 'but still…' he reflected '… I dare say I've strength enough to ride on…' Indeed, Théodred still retained far greater strength and stamina than men who had not received a mighty elf-lord's kiss of grace.
He judged the stream must be near and decided to stretch cramped muscles and rest his steed by walking to the water that was the Rohan's southern boundary between itself and Gondor. The stone-strewn grassland ahead crested, and beyond and below him he saw the swift stream; slaked now from the rush of snow-melt in the mountains, yet still running clear with what was likely to be an icy chill. It was slower and broader than when it tumbled in a rush through Firien, but this early in the year it ran fleet here, brimming to the edge of its banks. Further on it joined the sluggish, brown waters of the Entwash, making the lower, southerly stream run clearer and more swiftly to the Anduin. Wind-dream scented the water and walked more quickly. Theo patted his flank.
"Smells good, does it?"
His horse reached the water before he did, lowering its head to drink deep. The Rohir knelt nearby, cupping his hands to splash water over his face; he hissed as the coldness stung his burning, wind-chapped cheeks, but it was refreshing. He drank in his turn, filled his water flask and pulled out a packet of lembas. He sat on the bank chewing contemplatively; down to his left he could see the occasional glitter of light on the many streams of the Entwash, while well to his right was the green shadow of the Firien – he needed to ride a course that angled towards the mountains. If his father rode to Gondor's aid they would not lengthen their journey by riding out beyond the Great West Road. He must ride towards it, but there was no point in losing time by heading there directly. He must go east and south, his instinct told him, '…as fast as you are able.'
His body when he lay on the ground felt no reverberation; there was no dull thunder that told of thousands of horses on the move… 'No – either the Eorlingas were a day ahead of him… or a day behind…' He bit his lip with a frown; he couldn't take the risk of falling further behind if they had already ridden out to war. If he reached the Grey Wood and there was no sign of many horses having passed, he would wait there for the Riders… but in his heart of heart's he knew that had already passed.
He put aside his food and searched for the finely woven elven scarf in his bag. Perhaps they had guessed the effects of the wind on a rider astride the swiftest steeds of Middle-earth. Lindir had insisted he take it when they had re-packed after the man had had to don Gwindor's spare shirt and small clothes - their own clothes being soaked when they let Gelmir go to the river. Involuntarily Théodred shuddered at the memory of the obscenely ruined body of the elf, his beautiful face twisted in agony before… before… He reminded himself that, what seemed like an age ago, he too had been prepared to cut his lover's throat rather than see and hear him suffer… 'Enough!'
He shook his head and jumped to his feet, startling the horse, which shied a pace sideways at the sudden movement. Theo hushed the animal and picked up a piece of lembas, crumbled it and held it out on the flat of his hand. The stallion sniffed the elven waybread and delicately deigned to accept it, nibbling the crumbs from Theo's palm. Afterwards, the Rohir quickly packed the remainder away along with his water flask. He stood to wind the fine linen scarf tightly about his face – and smiled. It smelt of Lindir, a clean tang of greenness, underlaid with spicy Gillyflowers and fragrant wood. It was only now he recalled that each elf he'd associated closely with had his own distinct odour – Gwindor's clothes had smelt lightly of rich old honey and darkly resinous smoke. There was a universal muskiness when they sweated through exertion… be that fighting or making love… he grinned to himself at that thought… but then there was more to it – be it soap or scented water, though he'd not seen any use the latter – each elf definitely smelt different. He shrugged; such speculation should not detain him now.
He finished wrapping the scarf as he'd seen the Haradric merchants do, when he was in Minas Tirith many years ago; rather clumsier than they did admittedly, but his face was now protected, only his eyes showing through the swathed folds. He slung his pack around his shoulders, clutched a handful of mane and swung himself up onto the stallion's back. Seemingly revived by the water and the lembas, Wind-dream was eager to be off. They forded the stream, the mearah shoulder deep in the chill waters. Shortly they were galloping full speed over the rugged plain that was now Anórien, the Sun-land, heading east towards the rolling clouds above Mordor.
The leagues were eaten up by Wind-dream's hooves; hour after hour he galloped, swifter than any horse Théodred had ever ridden – Prince of Horses both of them. Glancing to his right, Théo saw the beacon mountains rise and then fall behind them: distant Calenhad, then Minrimmon, Erelas… Nardol neared as the light dimmed into evening. Théodred was exhausted. They had stopped once, shared lembas and water; Theo had stretched the cramp from his fingers and back and rubbed the circulation back into his legs and feet before re-mounting and galloping onwards. They were riding the Great West Road now and from the spoor and hoof-prints left behind, a great many warriors had passed this way not more than a day before.
He marvelled at how far he had come and how quickly, but, he noted worriedly, he was still a day behind. He could see from the horse's gait of the later riders over the churned earth that they too had galloped as fast as they might. He nodded to himself; he must push away troubling thoughts, his worries about Boromir, anxieties for his recent travelling companions, and his guilt that he was not already in his rightful place, where he should be if the Mark rode to war - at his father's side. He must ride on with all speed. Wind-dream was still strong and willing. Steeling himself, Théodred swung back up onto the horse's back and they followed the track of the Eorlingas.
It grew darker. At first Théo thought somehow he had lost their tracks when, abruptly, he realised there were no longer recent marks of a host upon the road. He dragged Wind-dream to a halt and re-traced his path. Casting about he found the tell-tale marks – they had taken the route into the overgrown, wooded valley. He frowned, puzzled. Should he follow? He took the opportunity to dismount, sinking gratefully to the soft ground under the trees. Druadan Forest… he shook his head; he had travelled sixty leagues or more! 'It was unheard of… but…' …there were still twenty leagues to Minas Tirith. If he took the road he would make faster time than a host of riders riding through the dense woods, even if in distance it was further, and he did not know the route they took.
'…There must be a valley through the mountains, perhaps his father had found a guide among the Rangers of the South?' But he had no guide, and his one advantage was the speed and sure-footedness of the mearah he rode… he would ride on. Another ten leagues should bring him to Amon Dîn; it might be held by the enemy, but he was one rider alone and could slip into the forest to avoid them… so he hoped.
So, as his father, Theoden King camped briefly in the Grey Wood beyond the Stonewain's Valley, Théodred, his son and Marshal, clambered back onto his steed to take the road to catch up to the Riders of the Mark. The night became darker still as he rode. Finally, with Amon Dîn before him, Théodred eventually slid from the stallion's back and walked him into the deeper part of the wood. Having found a thicket he thought beyond prying eyes, he settled himself on the ground, wrapped his cloak tightly about him and fell quickly into exhausted sleep.
It was still dark when he felt hot breath on his face and warm wet lips nibbled at his braids. Théo awoke groggily, but swiftly came alert as memory returned. All was still quiet in the wood. He made hasty ablutions, relieving himself as silently as he could, before sparing a few handfuls of water from his flask to rub the sleep from his eyes and hands. He tugged the last packet of waybread from his pack and found a small bottle of the elves' miruvor tucked at the bottom. He weighed it in his hand, then, making his decision, unstopped the bottle and drank down the lot in one deep draft.
Instantly, his vision flared clear, every dense shadow became merely a shade of night, neither dark nor light, his limbs thrilled and tingled; he took a deep breath filling his lungs to the full. The air smelt of … so many things: the sourness of his own urine, the acrid odour of the bruised leaves he'd slept on, the sweet musky warmth of his strong, but gentle companion, the sweet, fresh green and spicy woods of Lindir and his scarf at his throat… a bare hint of the rich fragrance of old honey from Gwindor's shirt against his skin… and in the distance there was the wood-smoke of camp-fires… whether the Riders or a more sinister encampment he could not tell…
Enlivened, renewed, almost as refreshed as when Lord Celeborn had given him that kiss of grace, Théodred made ready to ride again. It was still dark, just a hint of pre-dawn light in the east… or was it fires that glimmered rosy against the dark clouded sky? This time he would catch up with his father – in the hope that whatever they rode to, he would be there to face it as he should, at the side of his father-king with the spears of the Eorlingas behind them. He skirted to the west of the hill-top to avoid the drifting, unwashed stench that spoke of wildmen or even orcs and headed south towards Minas Tirith. The base of the clouds was reddened above the city… there were fires there. The city was burning.
With much of the night still dark ahead of him, and darkness behind; his thoughts drifted to Boromir, far away to the north – how was he? Where was he? At least, he was sure he was alive. It was his one certainty. He knew, knew in his heart, that if Boromir was dead, then he would feel it, know it, and although there was an ache within him… it was the small, familiar ache of absence from one another, not the dreadful void that he had seen in Gwindor's eyes.
"I made you a promise," he muttered aloud, "I swore to you I'd be with you again… and I shall! Take care, beloved."
And as he rode he made a silent entreaty to whatever forces were listening to allow him to keep his solemn oath. Then he packed those thoughts away in his heart and turned his mind to matters of war.
The true dawn showed him the Riders had passed before him, perhaps only by an hour or two. He urged Wind-dream forward with his knees and followed the trail to a red day of battle.
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.