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Halrohir did not sleep again that night, the last night before the Dunedain caravan was expected to cross the ford of Bruinen and into the safety of Rivendell. He was troubled by myriad things on his mind: the news that Galador had confided to him of Angbrand and the seriousness of his condition; the closeness of the pursuit by the surviving forces of Saruman; and lastly, the encounter with the mysterious and compelling Elven woman called Elennaur. As quietly as she had appeared, she vanished into the dark, leaving him with his thoughts wildly stirred. Why the messages, why the secrecy, what sense did any of this make? All it did, he concluded, was served to distract him from the true task of safeguarding the Dunedain who could not hope to defend themselves.
Halrohir steeled his thoughts to that task and went to seek out the others who led the caravan. He found Cormadin and Cambeleg by the fireside and was eager to talk to both. Cormadin was reveling in his improved health, courtesy of the Elvish healing skills practiced upon him. Cambeleg saw his friend’s face, and how he was troubled.
“What ails you, Ranger?” he asked, “you have the look of one who has seen the spirits of the dead that prey upon the fears of Men.”
“Not so much,” Halrohir said, “but rather something that preys upon the heart. I met Elennaur tonight. Why did you not tell me she was in your company?”
Cambeleg looked at Halrohir in surprise. “Surely, I knew not she was among us. She may have come with the healers, in response to the orders of Master Elrond. And this troubles you? Why?”
“She and I had a strange talk just now”, Halrohir said, “as if she had an offer to propose to me, something she alone could grant. And she ended it with, of all things, a kiss…”
At this, Cormadin laughed out loud. “An Elf-maid kisses you in the starlight, and you’re bothered by it!? Would that any of us had the luck – “
“Say rather,” Cambeleg said, “that it was luck she didn’t bestow it upon you, friend Ranger. Halrohir, recall what I told you of her? Elennaur is perceptive of the mind and heart, for those are her gifts. But how she uses them, and what she learns in their use, she shares with few. Her purposes are her own. What did she tell you, this offer of hers?”
Halrohir struggled to remember; indeed, most of it was fading from memory, clouded by the image of the Elven-eyes, the voice, and the final kiss. “She spoke of the Sea, and a trial to be made. She spoke of music and song, and how we two alone could make such.”
“Yes, she would. Elennaur is among other things, a powerful singer as well. Her minstrelsy is sought after in Imladris, for she sings often of the Sea-longing that is in the hearts of all our people. But come, enough talk. Why are you not resting, this long from sunrise? Let us of the Elves watch over the camp, and take your rest, for surely you will be – “Cambeleg paused, for he saw two other Elves hastening to their fire, accompanied by Cenion the young Ranger.
“Halrohir, come,” Cenion said breathlessly, “Galador is calling the council together. Let the others come too, it sounds urgent!” All rose and followed Cenion to the central fire where sat Galador and the rest of the Dunedain leadership.
“Good, we’re all here”, Galador said without preamble. “Word has come from the scouts of the Elves. It is as we feared, the remnant of the host of Saruman is massing to strike the camp before we cross Loudwater. Haste is now life or death. I want everyone in the camp awakened, as quietly and quickly as can be, and take the livestock and carts across the fords before daybreak. Elven scouts positioned at both sides of the Fords will guide the way.
“I also command every man, from old to young, who can ride or wield a blade, marshalled at the near side of the Fords. As our people cross, it will be up to us to guard the folk in this last attempt. Go now, and may fortune be with us all!”
So now, the battle lines were drawn for the last sprint across the Fords of Bruinen for the Dunedain. Galador, Angbrand, Meldor and Dorwin were positioned in the wains, bows at the ready. Ercolindo fought on foot with a score or more men armed with a hodgepodge of weapons. But a mounted contingent, led by Halrohir and accompanied by Cormadin, Cenion and Cambeleg, stood by the side of the Road, ready to fly at the enemy if they showed themselves.
One by one, hindered by the darkness and the swiftly flowing waters, the carts and wagons of the Dunedain made their laborious way across the Ford. Those who struggled on foot found the current too swift and frigid; several fell and stumbled on the slippery stones into the icy waters.
Halrohir had a solution. Taking a rope held by Cormadin, he and Morindal waded out into the center of the stream onto a small outcrop where the water was only deep enough to wash the great stallion’s hooves. The rest of the rope he ran across to the other side for Dorwin to hold as soon as the great wain had crossed. With this three-man rope ladder, the folk on foot slowly made their way across the Ford, but too slowly. The Elves on the near bank urged haste with every passing moment, as did those on the far shore. Slowly, the eastern skies began to lighten with the coming dawn.
Suddenly, the sound all there had dreaded shook the night, a braying horn followed by harsh cries and the howls of Wargs. A horde of half-orcs, both mounted and on foot, could be seen in the gathering light. Some of them wielded great crossbows with odd-shaped missiles upon them. These they launched high into the air, landing down in the middle of the Ford; when they impacted, a roar and a ball of flame burst forth, frightening both man and beast. Some of the carts in the stream, their animals driven to panic by the fires, plunged forward to safety; others upended the carts, spilling the contents and their drivers into the freezing waters.
It was at that moment that horn calls answered the attackers on two sides, the high rasping calls of Elven hunting-horns. Archers had hidden themselves on each side of the Road, per Cambeleg’s order, and now they rained arrows from two sides upon the attackers. The Warg-riders wheeled and charged the archer lines in response, and battle was joined as the fighting dissolved into spears and swords against bows and knives.
Throughout this part of the fight, Morindal remained as a stone statue in the center of the Ford, Halrohir bending his bow and aiming into the mass of half-orcs clustering on the bank. There were still men and women struggling in the water, and they could not abandon them to the current. Meldor and Dorwin both waded into the stream, shooting as they came, trying to reach the rocks and support their friend.
The fight was swift, ended swiftly, then restarted with greater ferocity. Ercolindo was hard pressed to hold the bank of the Ford, but looked back at Halrohir who was holding the crossing as steadfast as a rock himself. Cormadin had released the rope, handing it off to another, and turned his mount to the fight. The battle hung in the balance on the rocky strand.
“Halrohir!” Angbrand called from next to Galador on the wain, “the last of the folk are across! We’ve done it! Get our Rangers out of there! You can do no more good to us there!”
“You think I can’t!” Halrohir shouted in return. “Watch what else can be done! Morindal, now!!” And at his urging, the great black horse trumpeted his voice, loud and heard over the foaming waters of the Fords, and charged back across to join the fight next to the other Rangers. The half-orc archers saw the giant black plowing through the water, and more blasting arrows winged their way toward him. Great gouts of fire and water showered the pair in mud and water, but the two pressed home their charge. Surging out of the water, the other mounted Rangers rallied round Halrohir and, with a united front at last, broke upon the enemy in a crash of steel and flesh as they rode down the foes.
Faced with Elven archers on both flanks, and charging riders to the front led by the dark rider in his wrath, the forces of Saruman broke. Many were ridden down or shot where they stood; others, trying to break out west to the rear, were overtaken by the Dunedain riders and hunted this way and that over the grassy downs.
As Halrohir and Morindal made one last gallop to run down a group of half-orcs who were slowing and turning to face him for one last stand, he saw too late they were carrying some dark satchel. Too late, he reined up before the fire of Orthanc erupted before his eyes, causing Morindal to rear back, his front hooves fighting the air, and Halrohir flying backwards off his faithful mount, slamming into the earth and knowing no more.
Halrohir awoke and saw he was in a soft bed with clean, white sheets over him, and pillows behind his head. He stared up at the ceiling of a room carved with beautiful traceries of wood for beams. He looked around the room, and saw his travel-stained clothes had been washed and partially mended, though there were rents and gouges that mending couldn’t completely repair. As he turned his head, he became dizzy and had to wait until the room stopped moving. He managed to blurt out in a slurred voice, “What is this place?”
“You are in Rivendell at last, Halrohir Haladanion, and your task is now complete.” And there sitting on a chair next to the fireplace in the room was Galador, looking clean and rested, but incredibly much older and wearier.
“Captain!” Halrohir winced at the sudden movement of his head. “Have I slept? But I thought the fire had taken me. Foolish it was to charge like that.”
“Not in the least, and don’t second-guess that. Had you not pursued those half-orcs, they would have used that wizard-fire on someone else, someplace else, and there would have been death. You chose well.”
“Death, there’s been too much death on my watch. Has anyone else made it through? Did anyone – did anyone die?”
Galador smiled a small smile and looked long at the youngest Ranger. “Believe it or not, the Rangers of our company have all lived, down to the last man. And I also have better news: Angbrand will also live, by the gift and skills of Elvish medicine. They found a cyst which formed inside his head, working its way inward until it may have killed him. They removed it, and he will live; but he might never recover his full strength.
“Cenion is unhurt, but Meldor will require rest before he can ride again. Cormadin and Ercolindo are both hale, and look forward to feasting with you. Lainbarad is even asking about you,” he said with a grin. “In fact, there were few deaths at all among the folk of the Dunedain at the crossing of Bruinen, maybe ten or less, though many were injured. And throughout the camp, your name is on everyone’s lips as the hero of the day, indeed the hero of the journey. So, young one, your quest for renown is complete. What shall you now do with it?”
Halrohir went silent and thoughtful for a long while, then said slowly, “I shall follow the example of those better and wiser than I. The journey’s end is the goal, but the journey itself can be learned from. I have been given an amazing chance, to become a beacon of hope to those who need hope or have none. I shall do this, in every way, and the Ranger’s Creed shall be my standing stone.”
Galador leaned over closer and patted Halrohir’s shoulder like a grandfather. “Well spoken, Ranger. Now, to your rest, which you most assuredly have earned.”
“Wait a moment,” Halrohir said as Galador stood and made to leave. “What of Morindal, is he well looked after?”
“Yes, indeed,” Galador laughed, “and eating the stable out of every barrel and trough! But none will deny him, the great heart that he is. Now, to rest.” And he left the room, leaving Halrohir to drift off to sleep.
Halrohir awoke later, seeing the sun had moved across the ceiling showing a good time had passed. He saw that he was not alone in the room again, for in the same chair by the fireplace, with an expression both unreadable and desirable, now sat Elennaur, in a robe of shimmering blue.
“How long have you been watching me, Elennaur, and what is it you wish of me?” Halrohir asked.
“I have watched you for only a few hours,” she replied, “but I have seen your coming since the beginning of your flight across the waste. I had hoped things would have been different with us, between us, but now I see they are to be otherwise.”
“I do not understand, your words are deep and cryptic. Will you not speak plainer?”
“You were wounded at Bruinen, as was I,” she said, parting her robe just enough to show a massive bandage on her left side running from breast to hip. “The wizard-fire did this. I shall not recover, even with the grace of the Elves, save one way. Halrohir, child of Numenor, this will be our parting.”
Halrohir reeled at this news, sitting back in bed and leaning onto the cushions. “Then why such an intimate greeting to me at the camp, and the words you shared? You change from mockery and reverse, to a bitter parting?”
“It was because I had seen a future, one of song and music, that we would share; that you would forsake the life of your people, the hard life of the Ranger, and dwell here with me with our song. But I see more clearly now, your path lies truly with your folk, and your spirit longs for the open sky. Mine longs for the Sea, and that longing calls me at last. I shall depart to it, and pass over it, and return to the land of my people where the leaves fall not and the tides ever flow.”
Halrohir considered these words, and could see no deception or misreading behind them. This Elven-woman was grieving at parting, that was plain. He did not, nor could not, understand the Elven mind that changed not with the years. He struggled to reach the edge of the bed and sit there, closer to her. Elennaur moved her chair closer, and their hands met.
“Now that this is truly a parting, as you say, when shall you go?”
“If I desired it, the time would pass without our knowing it, here in the timeless halls of Rivendell. But the time, yes even the hour, draws near. But there are things you must be aware of, young man of the West, and I shall share them with you.
“First, for your mighty horse, the great black stallion who has chosen you, and not the other way around, there is counsel to be had. His incredible strength is founded from the waters of the Onodlo, the Entwash in your tongue. In addition to his mighty size and strength, the waters granted him one other blessing: extended life. Every twenty years of Men, the normal span of years for his kind, he must return to that river where his virtue was founded, and drink once again. In this way, he shall be your faithful friend and companion for as many years as you have remaining to you. But break that cycle, even once, and his normal span of years shall catch him, and he shall be no more.
“Second, the foresight of your kin is upon you. You already see things others of your kin do not, in dream and sleep. Heed well those messages, they will serve others and not just yourself in years to come.
“Thirdly, and most important: you saw me and heard my voice in your mind. But I could never enter into your heart, for there was already someone there. Those eyes of bottle-green were there before I could ever arrive, and they hold that place where I can never go. You will not see those eyes again for many years and miles, and many trials lie before you. But see them you shall and when you do, any memory of my eyes will fade. But I shall carry that memory to a place where it will never fade, but never be more.”
Halrohir was moved, even to tears, by these words, especially the last words, for he felt rather than saw the weight on the heart of this deathless woman. “Lady Starfire, I am so sorry. I would rather this be a rejoicing after a hard-won victory, where we are at last safe, rather than a bitter parting. For I say this to you, there is no way I could forget the beauty of you, in everything you are, and everything that reminds me of you: the stars, the lightning, the sound of the waters.”
“And yet, that is what shall be, the forgetfulness of your kin,” Elennaur said, “for one day you shall succumb to the Gift of the One, and all memory shall be withered away. Grieve not for me, for I shall grieve for us both.” And she kissed his hands, and stood as if to leave, but Halrohir called out desperately.
“Elennaur, dartho, u-gwannen nin, lin u-I vedhed, u no cirar!”
[Starfire, wait, don’t leave, the song isn’t over, it’s not too late!]
And sadly, softly, she answered:
“Nennyn lynyn, u-laer in gur nin. Navaer, Halrohir.”
[The waters may sing, but there is no song in my heart. Farewell, Halrohir.]
And she was gone, and he did not see or hear her again.
And Halrohir, for the first time in years, wept.
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