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At Halrohir’s direction, the watch over the Dunedain camp began just after sunset, only a few watchfires to keep back the dark. That was all that was needed, for the Moon was one night past the full, the land lit brightly enough to see by in the dark. For the Elves, Cambeleg and Dorwin, it was brilliant enough light for their Elven bows.
The two Elves made morale in the camp soar to heights of hope that hadn’t been seen since Weathertop. The sight of two of the Eldar and the word that Elrond had sent more aid gave the weary Dunedain a cause for carrying on despite their weariness and dread of the Wild. Songs were raised around the fires again, and spirits rose in the gloom.
As the night wore on, many turned to their blankets and bedrolls for sleep, but not the Rangers, who kept up their watchfulness. As the moon reached its zenith, Halrohir had stopped his patrol and was standing near the paddock, looking at each of the mounts in turn, his gaze falling on Morindal, who also awake and seemed to be watching the night in his own way.
“As I said, a most splendid animal, is he not?” came Cambeleg’s voice over his shoulder. Halrohir looked around and saw the Elf walking to wards him. “Unless I am much mistaken, is he not the same horse that was gifted to the Dunedain who rescued a party of Elves in the mountain pass, years ago?”
“That is also the story I was told”, Halrohir said. “Galador related that tale to me, when our ride first began, days ago, though it seems now like ages past.”
“And he would be right”, Cambeleg said. “There will be no other of his kind like unto him, the mightiest horse in the North. For his own gift is sadly his undoing, we deem. His strength knows no bounds that we have found, but he is barren. Many times, under our care we tried to sire him, but no mare will carry his foal. It is not that they will not, it is that they cannot. There will be no colt of this mighty one – what did you name him, Morindal?”
“Yes”, Halrohir said, “it is the Elvish for his name among Men, ‘Blackfoot’. It simply, well, seemed to suit better…”
“It does indeed, because that is his name among our people as well,” Cambeleg said smiling. “You knew that name in your heart, Dunadan. Do not wonder at that! For it is also a gift of your people, as well, to see the heart and know it, even your own. Allow me, if you will,” and the Elf crossed the paddock to Morindal, who was watching with seeming pleasure at the Elf’s approach.
Cambeleg stroked the horse’s muzzle and massive flanks, ran his fingers through his thick mane, and whispered low in the Elven-tongue. Morindal began nodding his head vigorously, and every so often turned to look at Halrohir.
“Cambeleg, it is said among us that the Elves once tried to teach all living things to speak, even the trees,” Halrohir said. “It this true?”
Cambeleg looked at Halrohir, smiling. “It is part of our memory, and not just tales. Long ago we wished to hear the songs and voices of all living things, and we still do. Now, this great beast will tell you things, if you listen close enough, even though you cannot hear him. He has already told me much: he can pick your scent out of a mile of the Wild, or out of a camp of Men. He knows your voice, and will find you. And more so, you are the only one of either Elves or Men he has ever consented to bear, and he also knows of the pact between you...”
“He… a ‘pact’!?” Halrohir said in wonder.
“Yes, and he marks it well,” Cambeleg said. “You promised to release him from a life of drudgery and toil, in exchange for a life of peril and battle and renown. He will never willingly go back to be a draft horse or pack mule, for he has tasted the chase and the hunt with you. You gave him your word, and he gives his.”
Halrohir had no words to say. He walked slowly up to Morindal, and laid a hand on the horse’s nose. Morindal bent his head and pressed his muzzle into Halrohir’s shoulder. The man caressed the horse’s head, and the horse replied with a playful butt with his nose. Cambeleg chuckled at the sight.
“Yes, the two of you will go on from these dreadful days to greater things, so long as you are in company,” the Elf said. “Now, on to other things, which is why I sought you out just now. Dorwin and I came to you on foot, as you recall. If we are to accompany the Dunedain, it may perhaps be better if we had mounts of our own. Have you horses to spare, Ranger?”
Halrohir hesitated for a moment, then said, “We shall find you two, somehow. I would much rather have you with the scouting parties, as your Elven skills would be wasted as mere guards over the caravan. Come!” And the two left the paddock to return to the camp.
The eastern sky had begun turning to pastel oranges and yellows, heralding the dawn once more. The camp was already stirring, horses and wagons being hitched, goods and store being loaded, and tents stricken for packing. Only two fires burned still in the gathering light, enough for water and food. The wagons and carts once again lined up in column, and at Galador’s word, rolled south to climb onto the Road, and the eastward trek started once more.
The guard mount had changed, with the arrival of the Elves. Horses had been found for the two, and they easily joined the out-companies. Meldor and Dorwin joined Ercolindo’s ride on the flanks; the two had struck up a lively conversation in the night, and were comfortable in each other’s company. Cambeleg rode with Halrohir in the van, riding far out front of the column; Halrohir’s old horse, Bregedur, was a more than compatible mount for the Elf. Cambeleg had counseled the others that as many of the Dunedain as possible should have bows at hand, whether riding or on foot.
From the onset of the ride, Halrohir felt a sense of urgent haste this day, and spurred Morindal to a greater pace, so much that the others in the van could not keep up with the mighty black stallion. Calls from Cenion and Lainbarad did little to slow his pace, and it was not until Cambeleg galloped next to him did he even notice his speed.
“Ranger, what is your haste?” he called. “The rest of the riders cannot hope to match your mount, and the horses are winded. We should find a spot to rest rider and steed, even for a little while.”
“Then see to them and rest them, and catch me up later on”, Halrohir said sternly, “for I intend to press on, as long as Morindal’s strength will allow. A weight of dread is on my mind, after our words in council last night, and I must see this done!”
“What dread, and what weight, mellon nyn?” Cambeleg said. “Will you not confide this to me? Will you not halt, even to speak?”
Halrohir reluctantly reined to a walk, signaling the rest of the ride to do likewise. The horses were puffing and winded, the riders only less so. “What would you know, Cambeleg? You yourself spoke of the peril we may have of crossing the Last Bridge, that it might even be held in force against us. I intend to scout to within sight of the Bridge, and see for myself what I have led the Dunedain into, safe passage or a trap!”
“Then, allow me to give you counsel,” Cambeleg said. “It is after noon already, and we shall barely make it back to meet the column before sunset. You and I shall press ahead to scout the Bridge. Let your young Rangers, Cenion and Lainbarad, find the night’s camp, and report back. Then, we are free to spy out the Bridge and learn what we can, and both our tasks are complete.”
Halrohir thought in silence. “Done”, he said finally, “you speak wisely. It would seem that haste is ever the crow on my shoulder these last few weeks. Let us give the orders.”
Shortly afterward, the next bivouac had been found, and work started to make it ready for the caravan’s arrival. Lainbarad directed the quartering party, while Cenion rode westward to meet with the Rangers. Halrohir and Cambeleg continued to ride eastward, at a slower pace to spare both horses. At last, with the sun westering in the sky, they halted. The land had changed with the miles approaching the valley of the Hoarwell. The heights of the Ettenmoors far to the north ran down to the Road in tumbled masses of hills densely forested in pine and cedar. The barren grasslands of the Wild gave way to grass and turves along the roadside, springy and softer. And the flatness of the land, with hollows and shallow dells, began to steadily slope downward before them. The Road went more or less in a straight line, cutting through steep slopes on either side until it reached the line of the Hoarwell.
The two dismounted and left the horses in a thicket that provided a hiding place, and carefully walked toward a high point overlooking the Road. A thick hazel-brake atop a steep embankment gave them a spot to oversee the Road, and there in the afternoon light, the Last Bridge stretched over the river, three buttresses of stone which spanned the Hoarwell’s cold stream. Long they lay there, as the sun sank behind their view, watching and listening in a tense silence. Only the occasional piping of some distant birds and the flowing stream of the river broke the quiet.
After what seemed hours, Halrohir looked over and signed to Cambeleg to leave, but the Elf was tense as a bowstring, a strange gleam in his eye. He held his hand up as if to call for even more quiet, and signed for Halrohir to have his sword ready. Silently, without getting up, he drew his blade under his body, his torso and cloak masking both the sound and any light off the blade. Cambeleg had his bow already strung and an arrow fitted. Seeing Halrohir’s questioning look, Cambeleg pointed across the Road, not thirty yards from where they now lay. Soon, even to Halrohir’s eyes there was movement in the brush.
“Man cenich?” [What do you see?] Halrohir whispered.
“Yrch, pin egor erchyn**” [Orcs, or something orcish], Cambeleg whispered back.
And within seconds of this, two forms could be seen in the foliage, then two more. Cambeleg slowly drew his bow up, ready to fire from a crouched pose. Halrohir moved to brandish his sword. Then, several things happened at once. Cambeleg’s eyes suddenly widened as he rolled to his side, his bow coming up ready to shoot. Halrohir, seeing the Elf’s movement, flipped on his back, his sword flying into a defensive hold. Two more half-orcs had crept up behind them with swords at the ready, lunging to attack.
At that moment a tremendous crashing sounded through the undergrowth, the sound of rhythmic thudding followed by a familiar thunderous neigh. Morindal, followed closely by Bregedur, burst through the foliage at a near-gallop, bowling over the two attackers where they stood. Halrohir leapt to his feet, sword before him, but saw that the horses had done their work too well. Morindal had crushed the first foe to the ground and brained the second with a smash of his hooves.
A cry from Cambeleg brought their attention across the Road, as the others there had begun to fire arrows at them, several sticking into the trees near their heads. The Elf was shooting back, the shrieks of pain showing he was scoring hits even through the dense bushes. Halrohir quickly ran to Morindal and leapt onto the horse, whirling him down the slope and across the Road, scrambling up the far bank in pursuit of foes he couldn’t see, such was his anger. He saw two dead foes right off, arrows piercing them as they lay. He saw a trail of branches and leaves, and imprints in the ground where the half-orcs had panicked and bolted away, heedless of any stealth. He followed the farthest one, and in seconds rode up to the retreating orc who looked over his shoulder, screamed at the sight of the huge black giant bearing down upon him, and tripped in his terror; Halrohir dispatched him with one sword blow. Cambeleg’s voice could be heard behind him, and Halrohir turned to find the Elf, who was standing over the body of a fourth orc, shot through the neck.
“We were lucky twice over, mellon nyn,” Cambeleg said, “especially with our horses’ joining the fight. And neither we nor the horses have had any hurt.”
“That’s not all the luck we have, some of it bad”, Halrohir said bitterly. “The Last Bridge is being watched and even though these were but scouts, I’ve no doubt they mean to hold the Bridge against our passing. When these scouts fail to report back, more will be sent. This isn’t over yet. Come, we must hide these bodies, then ride hard back to the camp and tell the Dunedain what has happened, and what may happen tomorrow. They are less than a day’s march away, and we may not be able to fight our way through.”
The two mounted once more and rode west, hard as they could, and just before sunset encountered Cenion riding back to find them. Under the younger Dunedan’s lead, the three rode into a camp which, compared to the last few days of the Wild, was a garden of green and shade. The camp was situated in a deep fold beneath a large rocky cliff overhung with cedar trees and greenery, a freshet watercourse seeping from the stone. The air smelled sweet with pine and conifer, a welcome change from the dust and grasses. A merry fire blazed in the center of the camp where sat Galador and the Ranger leaders, eager to hear the report.
“This is disturbing news”, Galador said at last after Halrohir and Cambeleg finished their tale. “If we have a score of Rangers, and perhaps two-score more of war-worthy men-at-arms, we have little chance of fighting our way through a determined defense of the Bridge. Cambeleg, you said Master Elrond sent a company of your folk to aid us. Can we expect more, surely?”
Cambeleg was silent for a beat, then said, “As I said, we are scattered as we are seeking the foes’ camps and strength. Even if I send Dorwin out on errand to gather them together, we could not hope to have them assemble in less than a day, maybe two. I judge that we cannot linger here, even if this is as pleasant a site as you have seen on the march.”
“I would suggest”, Halrohir said, “that we keep the same march order as we did today, and press on to the Bridge, but pull the scout party closer. This way, if we find the Bridge is held, or the scouts are beset, Ercolindo’s riders can reinforce quickly. But we cannot afford the luxury of a slow pace; all the folk must be made aware that haste is life, this day. Every effort must be made to hurry through the crossing, and put the Bridge behind us.”
All there agreed, and the meeting broke. The Rangers went out to mount the guard and get what rest they could. Halrohir, as usual, could not sleep right away. As was becoming a habit, he walked to the paddock where he found Morindal, and laughed softly. The great horse had been tethered just within reach of an apple barrel, and had craned his neck just enough to snatch them one by one.
“You walking appetite, what will it take to fill your belly!” Halrohir laughed. He plucked an apple from the barrel and held it near the horse’s nose. Morindal sniffed, then gently accepted it, downing it in one bite, and stretched his muzzle to gently sniff the Ranger’s face.
“Rochon mil gar-an Dunadan” [The horse has love for the Westman], came the voice of Dorwin, who had been standing nearby in the shadows.
Halrohir started, then relaxed. “I agree with you.” Remembering Dorwin did not speak the Common Tongue, he tried to remember his Elvish, but faltered at the words. Dorwin smiled.
"Im pedich miw a-Westron” [I speak a little of the Common Tongue],Dorwin replied. “The great black feet chosen you. Songs for you and black feet. Songs in… Rivendell. Visit House of Elrond, we… we all sing one voice about black feet and rider.” And he nodded his head and went his way.
Halrohir chuckled to himself again, stroking Morindal’s mane. “Songs about us? Not in a hundred years will we hear that, will we, you big heap…”
But Morindal just nuzzled his rider, and said nothing.
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