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Halrohir watched patiently as the last of the column of his folk moved into the protective walls of the hollow. Giving a last look back down the path from the Road, he then passed into the perimeter of the hollow, looking to the makeshift paddock where the horses were being tended to by the drivers and other folk. He gave his own mount over to the men and boys who were tending the beasts, when he noticed a pair of men, a father and son, wrestling with the last wain and the horse that pulled it. This made Halrohir stop and really look; each wain had a team of great horses to pull them, but this one had only one horse, a beast of a size and build that he had never seen in his life. The great horse, black with a shaggy mane, stood taller than the tallest Ranger, its legs long as a normal man is tall, rippling muscles beneath its dark hide, the hooves larger than a booted man’s foot, blacker still than the hide.
“Surely, this lone beast did not pull that wain alone!?” Halrohir asked the drivers.
“He surely did, my lord”, the lad said as he removed the harnesses from the horse. “Blackfoot here is the strongest horse there is! Only he could master this wagon without aid. There is no other working horse like him!”
“My son speaks out of youth, Ranger,” the man said as he moved around from the other side of the great horse, “but he is right. Blackfoot needs no other to help him. He bore this burden all day today, and look at him – hardly winded, not lathered or straining. No other horse is his equal for strength.”
Halrohir agreed silently with the two. Blackfoot was the single most magnificent horse he had laid eyes upon. The sheer power in the animal’s body was no boast of the two handlers. He looked closer at the great beast, and examined his eyes. The eyes were strange, as well: bright, intelligent, they regarded the Ranger with an unblinking gaze, as curious of the man as the man was of the horse.
Halrohir took his gaze away from the horse with some effort, nodded to the man and boy and walked on, to find a small group sitting near one of the bonfires. A pot of stew sat warming over the coals. Gratefully, he accepted a steaming bowl someone handed him and sat on the grass to eat, a cough alerting him to the approach of Galador, who grunted as he sat next to him.
“You did well today, my boy”, he said to Halrohir. “Tomorrow, Cormadin shall lead the quartering party, as you did today. Your task will be to guard the caravan as we move out. Get some rest tonight, for I hope tomorrow is as restless for you as it was busy today.”
“As you wish, Captain”, Halrohir said. As he ate, his gaze kept moving about, from the group around the fire, to the people making bedding for the night, and then back to the line of horses near the wains…
“Ah, so you met him, have you?” Galador asked, amused.
“What do you mean?” Halrohir said.
“The great black stallion, there”, the old Ranger said. “There are legends and tales passed around between every knowing tongue, save the one that knows the true tale.”
“And who might that be?”
“Why, me, of course!” Galador laughed. “Some say Blackfoot is half dragon, because of his size and power. Others have thought he was a horse of the Elves, fed with some eldritch virtue. Still others, that he is no more than a bewitched dumb animal with a brutish brain in its oversized skull. Though some of them strike near the mark, none are the true story.”
“How could it be, that such an animal of wonder”, Halrohir thought aloud, “is kept harnessed to wagons and plows? Surely such a great horse should be a knight’s steed?”
“Well, there’s more of the tale to that”, Galador said, as he brought forth a skin and drank from it, offering it to Halrohir; the young Ranger accepted it, and took a long pull of weak watered wine. He handed the skin back to the old captain, who began his tale.
“Nigh on ten years ago”, Galador began, “word came to us of a party of the Elves out of Imladris, that had been waylaid coming over the High Pass. A party of Rangers rode out at once, thinking that if we could not save the fair riding, we would at least disturb their attackers’ looting. When we arrived, it was as we feared: the Elven party had been ambushed, but some survived, holding out in a cave where they could at least hold off the attacks. We fell upon their rear and scattered them, and tended the living and the dead.
“The Eldar had suffered losses, but all that was left of their animals was one horse, a great black stallion, which was carrying the load of four normal horses. None of us had ever seen the like of him before! Well, we rescued them, and brought them to Imladris directly, and in gratitude, they gave us a gift: the black stallion, which you see there”, he said, pointing toward the giant figure of Blackfoot.
“So, he is an Elven-steed!” Halrohir said. “A most worthy animal, but if that’s true, why does he not have a rider, and a harness worthy of him?”
“That’s the problem, you see”, Galador continued, “The great beast will suffer no man to ride him! Perhaps it is his Elven treatment, or something else, but no man yet has mounted him, let alone ride. But, the Elves told me the tale of how they came by him:
“Long ago, this very horse was foaled in Rohan, in the dales of the Eastfold near the waters of the Onodlo, the Entwash that comes from Fangorn Forest. Ah, I see you know the stories”, he said, seeing Halrohir’s reaction to the name, “and they’re all deserved. The waters of the Entwash have a virtue even the Eldar do not fully understand. This horse, it is said, was drowned and drawn forth from the river's source, and that virtue permeated his very being. There can be no greater horse than he, for no other beast has been drowned in those mysterious waters. From Rohan, he found his way to Lorien, and the Eldar husbanded his strength, and made good use of him as a draft animal, all this time.”
Halrohir was lost in the tale, his eyes riveted on the mighty shadow of the black horse. “So that explains all; an enchanted steed, which even the Elves might not ride. But surely”, he said to Galador, “the Elven virtue with all good beasts would – “
“None have ridden him, neither Elf nor Man”, Galador said. “And if that horse has his will, none shall. He is content enough to be led about, and allowed to run free, and he seems to relish testing his strength to its limits. You see how he hauled that great wain, alone, an entire march? That is nothing to Blackfoot – Halrohir? Where are you… Halrohir!” Galador called, as he watched the young Ranger stand and walk, heedless of all else, toward the horse tethers, and slowly approached the place where Blackfoot stood.
Halrohir now looked at the giant horse up close, in a new light. There could be no doubt. The sheer size and power of this stallion made him the greatest any there would ever know, surely the mightiest horse in all the lands of the North-Kingdom of old. Fully twenty-three hands high, only a Dunadan could hope to mount him unaided. Strength and vitality flowed along his flanks; his barrel chest drew deep breaths that echoed in his lungs. When he pawed the earth, one could feel the slight tremor of the hooves that bore the massive weight. But to Halrohir, it was the eyes that made more difference. There was intelligence there; a will that passed beyond the mute thought of animal and beast.
Cautiously, he walked closer to Blackfoot; the horse regarded the man with interest. Seeing a barrel of fodder at hand, Halrohir reached in and plucked out an apple. Tentatively, he held the fruit out at arms’ length, as an offer to the great horse. Slowly, the muzzle swung toward the hand, sniffed, and accepted the apple, downing it with one crunching bite of his jaws. Halrohir smiled, watching the muzzle swing closer once more.
“You wish for more?” he said to Blackfoot. Smiling, he found two more apples, and held one out in his palm, closer than before, taking a bite of the second in his other hand. Blackfoot took the offered apple, downing it as before, and then looking expectantly at the apple in Halrohir’s hand.
“Your hunger matches your size, Blackfoot”, Halrohir said. Offering the half-eaten apple to the horse. He looked into the beast’s eyes, now fully alert to the man’s closeness, trusting the presence of the newcomer. Halrohir looked over the horse from front to back, and his gaze held on the great hooves.
“I see where your name came from, great one”, he said, seeing the huge hooves shod with iron, and hair from the legs hanging down like the hide of boots. “Those are the largest feet I’ve seen in one of your kind. Huge, dark feet… yes.” The thought came to Halrohir right then. “That’s it, that’s what it’s been all along. Blackfoot is your name among Men, but in the Elven-tongue, it’s more noble.” Halrohir moved toward the horse, which stood utterly still, his ears twitching, listening to his voice.
Halrohir said softly, “I know your name. An Elven name, for a horse with great feet that match his heart. Black Foot."
“Morindal...” Halrohir said.
The horse’s reaction took Halrohir by surprise, as well as all others who were near. The stallion threw his head back, and let forth a thunderous neigh, a blast like a heraldic horn sounding a charge. All who heard that cry started at its volume; some sprang to their feet, thinking the camp was under attack. But though the others heard only the horse’s mighty cry, Halrohir heard something far different; for to his ears the horse’s voice bore a sound of pure joy.
The commotion in the camp died down, after all was assured there was no cause for an alarm. The horse’s handlers tried to rebuke Halrohir for disturbing the animals, but quickly stopped in wonder when they saw how close the young Ranger stood to the giant beast, which scared off anyone coming close with a deep snorting “Whuff!” Indeed, the horse suffered no hand to touch him that night, or the next morning, save the hand of Halrohir alone, who was compelled to harness and rig the wain to the great beast, all under the watchful, thoughtful and silent gaze of the horse that now answered to the name of Morindal.
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