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The proposal was welcomed by all; and they sat down on the upper steps, dim figures in the gloom.
Sam found one of the packs into which they had placed the food supplies, after unloading poor Bill. He gave a shaky sigh, and dashed a tear from his eye at the thought of having left the pony to the mercy of wolves and monsters. Still, when it came to his Master, really there’d been no other choice. And now here they were in these darksome tunnels.
He felt a sympathetic hand on his arm, and saw Pippin looking at him with sad eyes. “I’ll miss good old Bill, too, Sam. Do you need a hand with anything?”
Sam shook his head, “No, and thank you very much, Mr. Pippin,” and he knew that the younger hobbit would understand his thanks to be for more than just the offer of assistance. “I’m just going to get out some of the journeybread and some of the dried fruit.”
As the company sat companionably in the dark, munching on their meager rations, Merry said “What on earth was that monstrous creature?”
Gandalf shook his head. “There are many creatures, ancient and foul, from as far back as before the First Age, when Sauron’s Master, of whom even the Dark Lord is but a dim copy, first marred the making of the world. Some there are that have no name, for they are alone of their kind, and their malice is deep and unspeakable.”
The hobbits shuddered at this gloomy pronouncement, and Pippin said “Let’s not speak of them then, if they are unspeakable. There surely must be more pleasant things to talk of!”
Aragorn leaned forward, and used his knife to cut through a strip of dried fruit. “Not all ancient creatures are evil. There are creatures of light as well as of darkness, though more rare to be found. Some are little more than tales and legends, and yet they nonetheless exist.”
Frodo’s curiosity was piqued. He leaned forward, and thoughtfully swallowed his bite of bread. “What sorts of creatures do you mean? I’ve never heard of any save the evil ones--like orcs and goblins and trolls.”
Boromir also spoke, saying, “Indeed, I would be most curious to know of what you speak.”
Aragorn looked round at his companions, and then leaned back.
“At one time, my journeys took me deep into the Ered Mithrin--the Grey Mountains--long a stronghold of the Enemy. I had need to spy out some rumors of orcs gathering in great numbers. It soon was revealed the numbers were none so great as we had feared, and I finally turned back to the south, skirting the edges of the Withered Heath, and headed towards the northern reaches of Mirkwood.”
Legolas caught his eye and gave a lift of his own brow in surprise, but said nothing.
“I was running low on water, yet I knew of the enchantment on the Forest River, and that it would be unsafe to drink. The Northern parts of the Forest at that time were not so infested with spiders and other such creatures, and there were a few ordinary animals living in that part of the wood. I knew they must have some safe source of water, so when I came across the signs of a stag, I decided to track him, in the hopes that he would lead me to a spring or other such safe place to drink.”
Legolas now gave a tiny smile, as though he knew what was coming, and Aragorn nodded at him.
“I came upon him suddenly, at night. Imagine my amazement when I realized he was heading for the very enchanted river I had hoped to avoid. I found myself at the edge of a clearing--the canopy of the trees was opened, and the starlight shone down.”
He sighed, and the expression on his face was one of wonder. “I was stunned at the sight that met my eyes: creatures of the forest--deer, rabbits, badgers and others, including even such predators as foxes and a wolf--all were gathered near the enchanted river. But none of them were drinking.”
The hobbits stared open-mouthed in amazement, enthralled by Aragorn’s tale.
“As I wondered what was going on, I suddenly saw something white and luminous appear from the other side of the clearing. Never have I seen such a creature, before or since.
She looked much like a horse, yet far more delicate and graceful. Certainly she was smaller. She was white, and I could see a light about her. She had a small tuft of hair beneath her chin, and her tail was straight and tufted, unlike that of a horse. But the most amazing thing was--she had a single spiraled horn, nearly as long as my forearm, that sprang from the center of her forehead. It gleamed like the Moon above.” He fell silent as he remembered that long ago night.
“But what happened?” asked Frodo, when he did not speak.
Aragorn shook himself, and then smiled. “She walked over to the river, and she dipped her horn into the water. It seemed that the light of her horn began to spread over the water, so that it nearly glowed. Then she began to drink for a moment, before backing up. The other animals now began to crowd forward, and they drank of the water safely. None of them showed any signs of falling into enchanted sleep. I began to wonder if I too, dared to drink of that water, yet still I feared that her grace would not extend to me, a Man.
But she turned her head, and met my eyes, hidden as I thought I was, she saw me, and giving a nod, she whickered softly. Slowly, I stood, and walked to the edge of the water. The animals backed away from me, yet they showed no fear. I stooped and drank. It was the cleanest and purest water ever I have tasted. I filled my waterskins, and stood back.
I looked at her once more, and said ‘I thank you, my lady,’ and it seemed to me that she bowed slightly, as if to acknowledge my words.
I moved back away, and watched as the other animals went and began once more to drink. Finally, all had quenched their thirst, and the grey light of morning was beginning to appear over the clearing.
The creature gave a whinny, and turned, running gracefully back into the trees, and then the animals also began to leave. I looked at the water--the glow faded, and it began to run sluggish and black once more.
I have no doubt that she was an ancient creature of as noble an origin, as that in the water tonight was of foul. But I’ve not ever heard anything about her or any of her kind, before or since.”
“She was a unicorn,” said Legolas. “My father knew of her presence, though I do not believe he ever saw her. You are most wonderfully graced, Aragorn, to have done so.”
Boromir said “There are tales in Dol Amroth of such creatures, but they are considered legendary.” He glanced at the hobbits. “Of course, I have come to realize that legends sometimes have a basis in fact.”
“Of course they do,” said Gandalf. “And it is good to remember that there are creatures of light as well as of darkness. But we must be on our way once more.” He reached into his robes. “Before we go, here--we shall each have another sip of miruvor.
“We shall have to be careful of it. It will not last much longer, I am afraid, but I think we need it after the horror of the Gate. And unless we have great luck, we shall need all that is left before we see the other side! Go carefully with the water, too! There are many streams and wells in the Mines, but they should not be touched. We may not have a chance of filling our skins and bottles again till we come down to the Dimrill Dale.” He paused as he passed the small bottle of cordial--as good as any tonic--around. “Unfortunately there are no unicorns in Moria.”
And soon the company was moving on once more, through the dim and dank passages.
But the miruvor and Aragorn’s tale had put some heart back into the hobbits.
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