5. Matters of Perspective
What do you mean? Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?
Bilbo and Gandalf—The Hobbit (An Unexpected Party)
Arcing bridges of white stone flashed high overhead, creating a rather bewildering display of light as the sun appeared and disappeared behind the arches. They journeyed quickly on horseback with many bumps and jolts, though it was evident that the man charged with his wellbeing was taking as much care as he could. Still, it seemed strange that there should be such a fuss. Aside from a horrendous pounding in the back of his head, he felt fine. Well, perhaps fine was not the best term to use. Dizzy would work. So would disoriented. Bewildered, confused, and lost also came to mind as apt descriptions of his current state. But after seeing a woman that challenged the beauty of the stars themselves, bewildered, confused, and lost were minor irritants.
Glancing about in the hopes that the mysterious woman had followed him, he winced as he moved his head too quickly and felt the throbbing pain behind his eyes escalate violently. His vision blurred and the sound of hooves echoing off stone streets pounded through his head. Where was he being taken? And where had he been to begin with? Not that he was in any condition to resist these men. He had a rather strong suspicion that he would swoon the moment he attempted to take any substantial actions of his own. And he didn’t feel as though he was in any danger, thus eliminating any need to escape in the near future. But how can I trust my feelings when I am not even certain of my own identity? He paused at this thought and felt a twinge of frustration. All creatures have identities. Surely I must have one. They called me something. Something…Eomer? His face creasing in a frown, he murmured the name quietly, feeling it roll off his tongue. Eomer. It sounded…right. And since he was quite unsure of anything else at the moment, he latched on to this name quickly, binding it to his soul and whispering it repeatedly as though to assure himself that he did have a place in this world. Exactly what that place was…well, that was another matter.
Turning his attention back to his surroundings and once more looking for the beautiful woman, Eomer watched as they wove their way through hushing crowds. His eyes were keen, and he was quick to notice that his group was drawing a good deal of attention. Nay, not the group, he suddenly realized with something of a shock. I am the one drawing the attention. The people are staring at me. Uncomfortable with the scrutiny, Eomer looked about for something that might strike him as familiar, but the many shops, taverns, and walls that met his eyes were strange and foreign. He did not feel at home here. He did not feel like an intruder, but he was very certain that he did not belong in this stone city. He belonged…where did he belong?
The horse was suddenly brought to a halt, and Eomer could not hold back a low moan as his vision blurred once again and the pain in his head became a blinding agony. Voices rose around him, and he felt himself lifted down from the horse. His hand brushed against the animal’s sweaty coat, and Eomer found himself wondering why there should be so much perspiration. Not enough grain, he decided, turning his attention to the horse’s breathing. He should not be so winded from so short a run. It must be a lack of grain. ‘Tis no wonder his stride was so uneven. He has had greens enough and now needs something more sustaining. Corn, perhaps, would be good if they plan to use this horse for messengers. And here, Eomer stopped, confused. How was it that he could so easily determine the horse’s ailment and feel so confident of his diagnosis? For there was no doubt in his mind as to the chief cause of the problem or what the solution should be. It would seem I know something of horses, he decided. Interesting. I suppose it is a rather useless bit of trivia at the moment, but it is interesting nonetheless. Every creature must have a hobby. Mine apparently involves horses.
Eomer would have continued to study this seemingly innate knowledge, but hands were suddenly about him, lifting him and carrying him forward. His contact with the horse was lost, and Eomer felt as though something familiar had just been taken from him. Then the world fell dark as he moved through a tall doorway and into winding halls. The scent of many strange herbs caught his sudden attention, and his mind identified this as a place of healing. Feelings of instant rebellion rose in his heart, and he began to struggle, not knowing why he should feel so leery of a healer’s care but deciding that these feelings were too strong to question. Doubting one’s instincts only led to trouble. He could not say where this conviction came from, but he trusted it completely and knew it to be truth.
Reacting to his struggles, the hands upon him tightened and a voice ordered him to cease. But the idea of being commanded by another stirred even more feelings of rebellion, and thoroughly disgusted by his situation, Eomer began to fight in earnest. He jerked himself to the right, feeling the men carrying him stagger at this sudden shift in weight. With his opponents off-balance, Eomer lurched forward, dragging himself upright and squeezing his eyes shut against the blinding pain in his head. He did not need to see in order to escape, for his body seemed to know exactly what to do. Once his feet hit the ground, he turned and swept one arm outward while keeping the other close to his body should he need to fend off a blow. His fist connected solidly with someone’s jaw, and as his victim fell, Eomer changed tactics yet again, seizing the man and using him as a living shield against any who sought to charge him.
Backing against a wall with his hostage held firmly immobile before him, Eomer opened his eyes and hissed as his headache became even larger. The world spun wildly, but he was not about to let himself be taken by these healers. They were naught but trouble. Leaning against his hostage and assuring himself that his hold around the man’s neck and head was secure, Eomer eyed those who sought to capture him and began looking for a method of escape.
The stern voice immediately caught his attention, and against his will, Eomer felt his eyes drawn toward a man now striding toward them with firm, determined steps. Gray eyes flashed in what seemed to be a strange combination of frustration and resignation, and jaw muscles tightened as though biting back scathing words. Rebellion surged again in Eomer’s heart, but even as it did so, something in the face of this man drove these feelings back.
"Eomer, release that guard."
Before he even knew what he was doing, Eomer dropped his arms and stepped to the side, allowing his captive to stagger forward. The logical portion of his mind screamed at him, demanding to know why he had done such a thing, but he could give it no answer that made sense. He only knew that this was a man to be obeyed without question. A sliver of annoyance edged its way into his mind at this thought and he wondered why anyone should deserve unquestioning obedience, but this rebellious inkling was too small to be of any use in escaping the gaze of this man.
"My thanks," the other said, his voice filled with what might have been reluctant amusement. He approached Eomer slowly, much as one might approach a wild animal, and held out his hand. "Come. You are not well."
"I am well enough," Eomer answered, but he did not back away.
The dark-haired man snorted at this and shook his head, his gaze turning inward for a moment. "And they say elves are bad patients," he murmured before raising his voice and once again addressing Eomer. "Believe me when I say that you are less than hale, my friend. Come. It would be best if we found a place where you might lie quietly."
"I have no wish to lie quietly," Eomer said, but he still could not seem to move away.
"I am hardly surprised," the other retorted. "Nevertheless, you should not be up and about in your condition." His hand fell upon Eomer’s shoulder and he gently pulled him away from the wall. "Let me help you."
Eomer stiffened, his rebellion once again rising. He would obey this man to a point, but no further. And his wariness concerning the healers was still strong. "I assure you that I am fine," he warned through clenched teeth.
"And I assure you that you are not," came the answer, now tinged with rising impatience. "Now come with me before I—"
"King Elessar, might I have a moment with him?"
Eomer flinched violently, having forgotten that others were in the room, and then he clutched his head as the pounding agony behind his eyes flared back into life. He felt hands upon his arms seeking to steady him, but he pulled back and shook them off, all the while moaning quietly and willing his pain to cease. Bracing himself against the wall, he felt those around him withdraw, but the low hum of hushed conversation told him that they were still near.
The gentle voice was difficult to ignore, and Eomer eased his eyes open slowly. He found himself staring back into a face that was so familiar he felt he might have been looking into a mirror. A woman stood before him, her hair the color of burnished gold and her eyes flashing like moonlight upon a polished blade. An overwhelming sense of kinship washed through Eomer, and as she placed a gentle hand upon his shoulder, he felt himself relaxing despite his fears.
"I know you," he whispered, his hand reaching up to cover hers.
"And I you," she said. "Do you trust me?"
"Yes," he answered, not understanding his sudden change in feeling but willing to accept it.
A smile flashed across her face, but it was strained and lacking in real mirth. She was tense and uneasy, and Eomer was overcome by the need to comfort her. Too long had she endured the darkness and too long had fear haunted her bower. She was meant to be free and happy. She had more than earned it.
"Walk with me," she commanded, taking his elbow and turning him away from the crowd in the hallway. "There is much that must be done."
Eomer allowed this lady to lead him forward, somehow knowing that whatever plans she held in her heart, they were for his wellbeing. He felt as though he had protected this woman for years and that she had done the same for him, though the methods of protection differed greatly. How this was, he could not say, but he was convinced that such was the case. And so he willingly gave himself over to her care, an honor he would bestow upon no other. He would follow her no matter where her course led, and he would—
Eomer’s thoughts and sense of familiarity abruptly vanished as he caught sight of a figure standing to the side. Stopping cold, he felt fire rush through his veins, and his breath caught in his throat. The woman who held his arm turned, her face showing confusion, but Eomer was no longer aware of her existence. All noble intentions of standing beside his kinswoman disappeared in the face of the dark-haired enchantress he’d seen while out on the field.
"My lady," he breathed, his eyes wide as he stared at the flawless face framed by hair as deep as midnight. Her skin was pale, her eyes glittered with stars, and the slight tug of a repressed smile upon her full lips almost sent Eomer to his knees. "My lady, I did not know you had come."
Had Eomer been more attentive to his surroundings, he would have immediately noticed the change in atmosphere. The hallway seemed to darken and several faces clouded in anger. Orders were barked sharply and hands suddenly fell upon Eomer’s arms, but he took no note of these things. He had eyes only for the vision before him, for indeed, what else could this creature be save for a vision? She was the embodiment of perfection come to grace the cheerless earth with a moment of priceless beauty. She was a treasure beyond treasure, with neither equal nor rival. None could touch her. None could draw close to her. All the kings of men arrayed in all the splendor of their glory and renown could never hope to hold a candle to such natural grace. To such ageless wisdom. To such perilous beauty…
A sharp stinging in his shoulder jolted Eomer from his trance, and survival instincts somehow managed to overcome infatuation. Turning his head to the side, he stiffened as he saw a dart of some kind being pulled from his skin. His eyes flashing in anger, he looked up to discover that the culprit was the man who had spoken to him earlier. King Elessar, his mind recalled, and he moved to defend himself, outraged at the interruption. But much to his dismay, his limbs were heavy and would not obey his commands. He felt himself falling, and the king who had drugged him stepped forward to support his weight, though it seemed that he did so reluctantly. Eyes the color of fierce storm clouds glared out at him from beneath lowered brows, and Eomer wondered exactly what he had done to incite such rage. He opened his mouth to speak, but he no longer had the strength to voice words. The surrounding world started to dim, and his head lolled to the side as he lost control of his body.
"Believe me when I say that we will speak of this again and at length," a taut voice promised grimly, and then darkness fell, banishing Eomer to a dreamless world of shadows.
With the forlorn look of a lost kitten that has inadvertently stumbled into a puddle of water, Pippin backed away from the locked pantry door and turned beseechingly to Merry. Had the situation not been so serious, Merry might have laughed. Pippin appeared utterly devastated. But then, Merry knew that he probably wore a very similar expression himself. Beyond the door before them, a menagerie of smells taunted their senses and teased their hunger. But the lock was a strong one, and not even Pippin’s nimble fingers had managed to crack it.
"It wouldn’t surprise me if Arwen herself held the key to the door," Merry sighed when Pippin started to play with the lock again.
"I don’t understand how she could do this to us," Pippin murmured.
"You saw what Elladan and Elrohir did to Gimli," Merry shrugged, attempting to take the situation in stride despite the complaints of his belly. "And you heard Legolas telling Gimli what he did down on the Pelennor. Or rather, what was going to be done on the Pelennor. Based on all that, should we really be surprised?"
"But this is Arwen!" Pippin protested, tugging vainly on the door’s handle. "I thought she was…above all that."
"Then I guess we both thought wrong," Merry answered with a grim shake of his head. "And you can quit trying, Pippin, because we’re not getting into that pantry without the key."
"I don’t see you doing anything useful," his cousin retorted.
"Then you aren’t looking closely enough. I’m thinking." Ignoring Pippin’s look of disbelief at this statement, Merry backed away from the door and studied it for a moment before turning and examining the walls. "The door is wooden," he said at length. "The walls are stone. And between the two of us, we should be able to move everything out of the way so that nothing else is damaged and things can be contained. And we’ve got the wine to help us start."
Pippin frowned and narrowed his eyes. "If you’re suggesting what I think you’re suggesting, then maybe I should suggest that you suggest something else."
"But Pippin, if we—"
"No!" the other hobbit said firmly. "Absolutely not. I know all about the Brandybucks and your fires. You’re too eager to use them and you always overdo it. Why, just think of the Old Forest! The trees planted themselves near the Hedge, and what did you do? You tried to burn the entire place down."
"That was a long time ago," Merry reasoned.
"Not long enough ago. The Brandybucks still have this unusual need for fire. And didn’t you try to do it again a few years ago? I heard that the flames swept out of control and almost reached—"
"The stories were exaggerated," Merry interrupted quickly. "There were Bolgers helping at the time who didn’t understand that we had everything under control."
"I see," Pippin said, nodding complacently. "Then I suppose that those homes near the southern end of the Hedge were destroyed in a completely different fire that happened to take place during the same time that you were trying to burn down the Old Forest."
"We weren’t trying to burn down the Old Forest!" Merry exclaimed. "We were just trying to teach it a lesson. It’s not as if there are any Ents to watch over the trees like in Fangorn. It was getting too dangerous again, and the Bonfire Glade was completely overgrown."
"And there you have it," Pippin said triumphantly. "Only a family possessed of an unhealthy obsession with fire would name a clearing the ‘Bonfire Glade.’"
"It was a fitting name!"
"It struck the rest of us as a bit of Bywater humor."
Merry rolled his eyes and turned away. Attempting to explain methods of dealing with the Old Forest to anyone who didn’t actually live next to it was quite hopeless. The Tooks were usually more accepting than most, but even they could never understand what it meant to have rather ill intentioned trees living just on the other side of the Hedge. "We’ll do this your way, then," he said, making a mental note to bring up the possibility of fire once Pippin’s idea failed. "How do you propose we get into the pantry since you’re against my plan?"
"I don’t know yet," Pippin answered. "But give me a moment or two to look around and I’m certain that I can come up with something."
This prompted a rude and rather derisive snort on Merry’s part, but Pippin chose to ignore him, moving away from the locked pantry door and examining the rest of the cellar. Predicting that he would be here for a while, Merry clambered up on one of the wine barrels, dusted it off, and sat down. From his perch, he could see that there was actually quite a bit of dust on the casks, which meant they’d been here for a while. That seemed odd to him. Why wouldn’t this drink be used? Mirkwood made extremely fine wine if one could handle its potency. Of course, its potency was something of a legend and had gotten many of them into trouble once, so perhaps it was understandable that Strider would be reluctant to serve it. After all, it wouldn’t do to have ministers and governors staggering about the Citadel in a drunken and somewhat giddy stupor.
A sudden rumbling sound in the pit of his stomach interrupted Merry’s musings on wine and brought him back to their current predicament. He was starting to get hungry, which was definitely not a good thing since they couldn’t seem to get their hands on any food. And lunch was still several hours away. Beyond that, they would have to journey down to the Pelennor for it, and Merry didn’t know if they could make such a long trip on an empty stomach. While it was true that they’d traveled further distances on shorter rations, it didn’t seem necessary to make such a sacrifice when there was perfectly good food stored only one room away. One very inaccessible room away, the hobbit amended grimly.
Merry turned toward Pippin, hoping that his cousin might have found something, only to freeze as a shiver of fear crawled down his spine. Not this! Please not this! Of all the problems to face today, why did it have to be this?! Pippin had a look about him that suggested a combination of boredom, frustration, and a slight twinge of curiosity. It was an extremely unnerving look, particularly when considering the circumstances in which it had previously appeared. Pippin had worn that expression just before he dropped a pebble into the well in Moria. He’d also worn it the night he’d stolen the palantír from Gandalf and eventually came face to face with the Dark Lord himself. As a result, seeing this look upon Pippin’s face gave Merry great cause for alarm, and he wondered if it might not actually have been safer to stay on the Pelennor Fields. True, elven pranks were abroad this day, but elven pranks were nothing compared to Pippin when he set his mind on something. Or perhaps I could sneak into Ithilien and climb up to Cirith Ungol. Sam was wondering just how many steps were on that trail. I could count them for him. That should be long enough for Pippin to get into trouble and back out again.
"Merry, it’s become clear to me that simple measures will not work. We will have to do something drastic."
Merry inwardly cringed at these words. Cirith Ungol, he decided. I will definitely be climbing the trail to Cirith Ungol. I’m sure it will be good exercise.
"Arwen seems to be thinking one step ahead of us, so that means we’ll have to change our strategy. We need to think one step ahead of her, which means two steps ahead of us. So we have to plan our next two ideas completely and then skip to the last one."
I might even become famous as the hobbit that counted all the steps.
"Of course, Arwen could already be two steps ahead, which means we need to be on the third step. And if we add a fourth step just to be on the safe side, I won’t say that’s a bad idea. But we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves or we might circle back and accidentally use the first idea, which is what Arwen would be counting on."
But what if some of the steps are broken? Should I count those as half a step or a whole step? And what about different sized steps? Should they be counted as something different? Perhaps I ought to count all the stairs separately. If anyone wants a total, they can add them together later.
"Merry, are you listening?"
"Steps," Merry answered, still going over the problems of accurately recording the trail to Cirith Ungol. "You were talking about steps."
Merry blinked. Pippin usually talked himself out of his inane plans by the end of the monologue. Asking for input before deciding that the plan was a waste of time—or even revealing the crux of the planet itself—was something of a rarity. Consequently, Merry had only noted that he and Pippin both seemed to be thinking about steps but that they were considering them in vastly different contexts. And at the moment, Merry could not say exactly what Pippin had been thinking about doing with his steps. "I…believe we might want to consider other options," Merry said at length. It was a safe answer and undoubtedly sound advice, given Pippin’s usual plans.
"You weren’t listening, were you?"
Well, it would have been a safe answer fifteen years ago, but Pippin had grown significantly since the War of the Ring and had developed a strange ability for determining whether or not others were being completely honest with him. "Sorry, Pippin," Merry confessed. "I suppose I wasn’t. What were you saying?"
With a long-suffering sigh and a shake of his head, Pippin folded his arms across his chest and tapped one foot. "This is serious business, Merry. We can’t take this insult lightly."
"I know, and I’m sorry. Would you tell me again what you were saying?"
There was a pause during which Pippin stared at his cousin with a look that Merry assumed was reproach. But it was difficult to tell because some of the lanterns near the stairway were burning low, and the rumblings of his empty stomach were becoming distracting. Beyond that, Pippin had never been very good at giving reproachful looks despite the vast number of times he’d been on the receiving end of said looks. The current glare resembled indigestion as much as it resembled reproach. Nevertheless, Merry tried to appear properly contrite—hoping that contrite was the desired response—and eventually Pippin sighed again and continued. "I was saying that we seem to be one step behind Arwen so it would now be best to think at least two steps ahead. Three might be even better."
Merry blinked. "And how are we going to go about that?"
"It’s really quite simple. We’ll plan out our next steps and then skip all of them except for the last one."
Rubbing his brow, Merry frowned and thought the idea over. "Let me give you an example and you tell me if you still think this will work," he said after a long pause. "I’m going to float my boat down the Brandywine. First, I will get in my boat and check to see that it’s in good condition. Then I will cast off. Then I will start rowing, steering around obstacles when I come to them. When I reach my destination, I will find a dock, get out, and tie my boat up. If I understand you correctly, you’re suggesting that I skip everything except the part where I get out of the boat and secure it."
"Pippin, I can’t get out of the boat if I’ve never gotten in! And I certainly can’t tie it to a dock it’s never reached."
"Yes, but Arwen doesn’t know that."
Merry stared at his cousin and wondered what had brought on this sudden madness. "Perhaps you’d better lie down."
Pippin rolled his eyes. "Think about it, Merry! Arwen will be expecting you to cast off and row down the Brandywine. She’ll have set things up so that one event leads to another. But what if we skip ahead? Find another way around so that we don’t trigger anything in between?"
"As in carrying the boat overland?"
"Something like that."
"Sounds like a lot of work."
"With a boat, it would be," Pippin agreed. "But we’re not working with a boat and we’re not back in Buckland. That’s the Anduin out there, not the Brandywine."
"I think we’d better change stories, then."
Pippin shook his head. "No, we’ve already wasted enough time. Come on. We have things to do. I’ve planned out our next steps, and I know what we’d do last. So we’re going to do that first."
"Wait," Merry called as Pippin headed for the stairs. "You know what we’re going to do next? What about me? What if I would do something different?"
"Arwen would be expecting you to take the lead. Therefore, I have to be the one doing the deciding."
"Ah." Merry debated about making further attempts to understand Pippin’s twisted line of reasoning but ultimately decided that such a tactic could only result in trouble. He would simply have to sit back and try to keep the damage to a minimum. And with this in mind, he hurried after his cousin, thinking that if nothing else, the rest of the day would be interesting.
Though he could be fiercely independent from time to time, Prince Elfwine of Rohan was usually not too proud to admit that he was young and had seen very little of the world. There were yet many mysteries to be discovered and many realms to explore. However, Elfwine was reasonably confident that what he witnessed now was something that even the weathered Marshall beside him had never seen, and he doubted that he would ever see it again. A rival stallion that knowingly challenged the chief of the Mearas was either overly confident, hopelessly foolish, or a combination of both. None of the studs throughout the Riddermark would dare take such a risk, and all the horses in Gondor and the surrounding area were too frightened of Shade to place themselves in such danger. But it seemed that horses of the Eldar were not so constrained, and Elfwine watched in amazement and fear as the smaller of the two elven stallions sped toward an outraged Shade.
Piercing screams hit the air as the horses raced for one another, and then the bay stallion leaped the fence that separated the breeding mares from the rest of the herd. Almost he seemed to float over it, and he landed well, resuming his pace and stride with all the grace of the elves that he served.
"Eorl’s balls!" Elfhelm swore violently, and Elfwine blinked, grateful that his mother was not present to hear such language.
"What can we—"
"Naught," Elfhelm answered the prince, slowing his pace. "We can only wait. Should any interfere now, it is likely that they would be killed."
Slowing his own frantic run to match the other’s pace, Elfwine shook his head in disbelief. "But—"
"We cannot step between those two lest we be trampled in the process. And Shade will not let any incursion into his herd go unchallenged. We can do nothing!" Elfhelm spat. He turned and motioned to other riders, signaling them to create a loose half-circle around the closing stallions. "We can only hope that the bay horse retreats, and if he does retreat, he must retreat far enough for our ropes to snare him. If not, Shade will kill him before he allows us to take him away."
"Kill him?! Why would—"
But Elfwine was not allowed to finish his question, for Shade and the bay had quite literally collided with one another, ramming shoulders together with a sickening crunch. The harsh sound of their impact echoed off the Rammas Echor, and twin screams of rage tore through the morning air. Shade reared, his forelegs flashing and his teeth bared, but in a surprising display of ingenuity and innovation, the bay took advantage of his own small size and scooted beneath the taller stallion. Flailing hooves clipped his back, but the elven horse took no notice and squared about as soon as he cleared the other, lashing out with his back legs and registering a solid hit on Shade’s hindquarters.
Elfwine felt his breath catch in his throat as Shade stumbled to the side, but the chief of the Mearas quickly regained his balance and lashed out with his own hind legs, striking the elven horse in the shoulder and driving him back. Whirling upon one another, the horses tossed their heads and screamed, leaping back and forth in mock charges as they evaluated one another’s health.
"Elfhelm…" Elfwine hissed.
"We can do nothing until Shade feels himself avenged," Elfhelm answered, his voice betraying his own frustration. "If we interfere now, he will turn on us."
"If we do nothing, they might kill one another," Elfwine answered.
"Both are too wise for that. One shall back away before that happens."
Had Elfhelm sounded even remotely confident of this statement, Elfwine might have been reassured. As it was, though, his fear only grew. But he was not given the chance to pursue the conversation, for a new voice was suddenly added to the scene. Forgotten for the moment by all involved, the taller black stallion now joined the fray, his challenging screaming ringing strong across the Pelennor and his pounding hooves swiftly closing the distance between himself and the other combatants.
Shade screamed an answer and whirled to face the newcomer while the bay stallion whinnied shrilly and charged the chief of the Mearas. Shade turned back to face his first opponent and the two horses reared, striking out at one another. Then the bay lunged forward and shoulders met. The two horses reared again, their necks snaking together and their forelegs failing wildly. And in the background, the pounding thud of approaching hooves grew louder and louder as the second elven horse approached. A ripple of fear went through the surrounding riders, but as Elfhelm had said, there was nothing that could be done until dominance was established by one of the participants. And so Elfwine watched in growing horror the bay stallion and Shade pressed against one another, biting and kicking, while the black horse charged.
What happened next was so unexpected and so fast that Elfwine had to mentally reconstruct it afterwards. In a blur of confusion and hooves, the sounds of a collision were heard and then the dust cleared, revealing a rolling bay horse, a snorting black horse, and a very confused Mearas chieftain.
Apparently as bewildered as everyone else, the bay surged to his feet and stomped before screaming and rearing. But the black elven stallion leaped at him, catching his chest with his own and pushing him back by sheer virtue of superior size. In the meantime, Shade snorted loudly and also reared, clearly issuing a challenge to both elven steeds. But the black horse was resolute and continued to push the bay away from Shade. And for his part, the bay seemed to grudgingly accept this intervention, though it was obvious that he was less than pleased with the situation.
"Never in all my years have I seen anything like that," Elfhelm murmured.
"Now we can send riders in, correct?" Elfwine hissed, keeping his voice down so as not to alarm the horses.
"We may not have to. The elven horses seem to be coming to us."
And Elfhelm was right. It was, perhaps, one of the strangest sights any of them had ever seen. The bay snorted and reared periodically, his head swiveling back and forth between the black elven horse and Shade. Shade did not move from his spot, but he would stomp the earth and toss his head, occasionally loosing a challenging scream. But the black horse was studiously ignoring him and steadily pressing his companion toward the waiting Rohirrim, who stood with ropes and halters ready.
Elfwine blinked and looked up at the Marshall. "What?"
"Call Shade. Distract him. Get his attention away from those two."
The crown-prince of Rohan nodded and took a small step forward, his eyes focused upon the chief of the Mearas. "Shade? Shade, hear me. Come, my friend. You need not stand there."
Shade’s ears flicked and he turned dark eyes upon Elfwine, almost as though he was uncertain of the situation. Unfortunately, this action did not go unnoticed by the bay stallion, who whistled sharply and attempted to charge him. The black horse held him back, but Shade was already whirling about, rushing the two and crying out in challenge. Now the black elven horse turned and reared, though he made certain he was blocking his companion’s path as he did so. His shrill whinny carried overtones of warning but also something of a plea. Shade skidded to a halt and snorted, his head tossing and his forelegs pawing at the ground. The bay horse attempted to leap around the black one, but his friend was ready for him and quickly dropped to the ground and shouldered him back, making no pretense about being gentle. And his shove managed to push the bay into range of the riders.
A rope sailed through the air, neatly looping about the bay’s thick neck, and it was quickly pulled tight. The stallion screamed and reared, but the black reared as well, knocking him back to the ground and pushing him even closer to the men. Apparently having enough of this treatment from one who should have been an ally, the bay bared his teeth and snapped, grazing the other’s neck. And then a second rope was seen, falling onto the black horse and jerking him away from his companion. Shade neighed loudly, but fortunately for all involved, he made no move to interfere. He seemed satisfied with what was happening, though his posture made it clear that he was still tense and angry.
"My lord, your orders?" a rider called, struggling to keep the bay horse under control. The black stallion was allowing himself to be led away with something of an ill grace, but his companion seemed affronted by the fact that he was being handled by mortals.
"Tether both near the city, and keep them together," Elfhelm answered. "And keep men with them at all times. We cannot risk an escape."
"And what of Shade?" another the rider asked, his voice low so as not to attract the attention of the Mearas chief.
Elfhelm grimaced and then turned toward Elfwine. "My prince, when you feel it is safe—and only when you feel it is safe—I would have you go to Shade and lead him back to his paddock. But give him time to cool his temper first! And if he wishes to visit the mares, allow him to do so. We can certainly remove a few from the breeding herd if it will aid in assuaging his anger. We will probably have to remove some of them anyway thanks to our elven friends."
"It may take some time before he will allow any to handle him," Elfwine murmured.
"You are probably correct."
Elfwine frowned, his young brow furrowing. "And what of my father? I must know how he fares."
"You will," Elfhelm answered. "But as I said before, we have duties that cannot lightly be dismissed. We both must wait."
"I thought you said Arhelm would be here soon."
"He may have been sent on some errand or other by King Elessar," Elfhelm said quietly. "If that is the case, it will take time for Fréalaf to find him."
"And until he comes, we must wait," Elfwine said bitterly.
"We wait, and we tend to such duties as come to us," Elfhelm answered firmly. "But we can also take action to ease our fears," he added, his face softening into a smile. He then turned back to the rider who’d asked about Shade. "Send more men out in search of Arhelm. He is to report here immediately. Also, send others to seek out the king and ask after his condition. If he is hale, they are to tell him of what has happened here."
"By your command, my lord," the rider said. "Do you have anything else you wish done?"
"Yes," Elfhelm said slowly his eyes narrowing. "Before you go, have someone look through our supplies for a gelding iron. I feel the king may want one close at hand when he learns of what has happened. Dismissed!"
"Those stallions are stud horses of Rivendell," Elfwine protested even as the rider hurried off. "My father would never go so far as to—"
"I did not say the gelding iron would be for the horses."