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Chapter One: The Rider Goes South
Halrohir awoke the next day later than he had planned, the comfort of the wilderness lulling him deeply into slumber. The fire had burned out in the night, not even a warm coal to reignite for a new fire. Looking around him, even the morning mists had burned off in the bright sunlight, and Morindal stood nearby on his tether, contentedly cropping what little grass was left.
Shaking off sleep, Halrohir rose and covered the fire in earth. He rolled his bedroll into a tight tube and tied it across the back of the saddle. In two saddle pouches on either side were the rest of his gear: clothes and sundries, wrapped in wool stockings; food wrapped in cheesecloth, mainly biscuits and slips of cured meat, enough for one grown man for weeks with care; cooking gear, including a small pot with a kettle lid, spoon and fork, and some spices, all wrapped in a cloth so as not to clink together; and of course, a small supply of apples for Morindal, a gift from a Breeland farmer. Smiling at the memory of the farmer’s gift, he took one and offered it to Morindal.
“It’s a late start to the day, my friend,” Halrohir said, as Morindal downed the apple in his usual crunching bite. “This day will be just a ride until nightfall, then we’ll get back into the rhythm of day and dark. As I said, we shall take our time, but there is a time to our journey that we cannot stray from, even if we wanted to.”
With that, Halrohir finished checking the last of his gear, the gear of war: his sword on a holster affixed to the left side of his saddle; two hunting knives, forged in Rivendell by Elven-smiths, a final parting gift from Cambeleg, knives which would hold their edge for a longer time than most; and a short bow of hawthorn, with a quiver of a score of arrows. He knew how to make and fletch arrows, of course, from part of the Trials, but these would suffice for now.
Satisfied as to his gear and to how he left no trace of his camping place, Halrohir collected a few bits of kindling and some wood for their next camp, not knowing what may lie ahead. He then heaved into the saddle and urged Morindal to a trot to start on their late morning trek. They had stopped close to the Andrath, the pass between the South Downs and the Barrow Downs, the long high ground twenty miles south of Bree. The Andrath split the long heights into two, with the Greenway running through it. As they rode through, Halrohir reined up at the crest, the highest point where the road leapt over the downs. He looked back over his shoulder to the north, seeing green lands and just on the edge of sight. If he squinted and looked long enough, shading his eyes with a hand, he could just discern the tilled lands and farm country of Breeland. Turning forward, he looked south to see the Greenway and the lands beyond, the barren moors and lands of Eriador leading south.
“A long and lonely ride we’ve picked for ourselves, Morindal mellon nin,” Halrohir said as he ran a hand through the horse’s mane, “but one that must start someplace. Let’s be off.” And they rode down the sloping road, the height of the South Downs giving way to the flats and unremarkable lands of southern Eriador. Morindal’s pace was steady as a marching drumbeat, trotting then walking, then picking up a trot again, tirelessly pounding away the miles. Even after the years he had spent with the great black horse, Halrohir always had wonder in the stallion’s seeming bottomless well of strength and endurance. They made good time in the day remaining to them, having traveled by Halrohir’s reckoning about forty miles from the last camp, when he reined up near a tiny group of trees he had spied, just about a furlong off the road. As the sun began to set and the light to fade, he had a small fire burning, boiling water in his kettle, and Morindal grazing nearby. As his tea and broth were steeping, he ran over in his head the reckoning of the journey before them.
Before departing on this ride, Halrohir had devoured every map and every story, and talked especially to his father, Haladan, who had ridden with the Grey Company during the War of the Ring. With all this knowledge, he mapped out his route and committed it to memory before riding out. He planned to keep to the Greenway through Eriador, a three-day ride until the road crossed the Greyflood River at the ruined city of Tharbad, the only reliable crossing of the river for miles in any direction. There through the ruined town ran an ancient causeway, built by the Kings of Men in the days of their might; but as the centuries passed and the town fell into ruin, the causeway became nothing but a broken ford, as treacherous to cross as the Greyflood itself.
Once the Greyflood was behind them, Halrohir reckoned it a further six days of steady riding, passing through the old lands called on the maps Enedwaith, the Middle-lands. This was of old the region that lay between the borders of the Two Kingdoms, Arnor and Gondor. At the end of that leg awaited the Fords of Isen, the border of the kingdom of Rohan, the home of the Horse-Lords from where in years past, Morindal himself was foaled.
This might be the first real obstacle on the journey; for the Rohirrim, he was told, did not suffer any to ride across their lands without leave. And if there was one thing he could not get in advance of the journey, it was the leave of the Rohirrim to ride freely through their realm. To that, Halrohir trusted to his name, his rank, his father’s name, and the name of the King. And to this end, Haladan had given Halrohir one thing to aid his quest. In his gear he bore a letter, with the seal of the King obtained from the King’s Messenger at Bree, declaring he himself to be a King’s Messenger, hopefully with leave to ride through Rohan without let or hindrance. At least, that was the intent.
But once they passed over Isen and crossed into Rohan itself, came an obstacle that no letter or word could solve. Halrohir had no clear idea, no matter who or where he searched, or any indication as to where or how he might find the source of the Entwash, where should be the origins of the waters that might restore Morindal to his vigor. It couldn’t very well be any stream or rill running into the river itself, or there would be herds of giant horses running over the plains; it had to be a precise location where these waters might be found. And for that, he only had one clue.
One of his recent rides took him over the borders of the Shire, the land of the hobbits west of the Brandywine River. During his brief visit, he had heard tell of the Three Travelers who resided in the Shire, three valiant hobbits who had adventures in one year to last three lifetimes. One was a Knight of Rohan and had ridden with the host of the Rohirrim at the great Battle of the Pellenor. The second was a Knight of the Citadel of Minas Tirith, who had ridden with Mithrandir on his great horse hither and thither across the lands and was present at both the Siege of Gondor and the fight before the Black Gate. The third, it was told, was the gardener of the Baggins of Bag End who had borne the Enemy’s treasure into the Black Land and set the Dark Tower to ruin. Mighty stories, to be sure, and hardly to be believed, were it not for the accounts from the Grey Company who had seen it all come to pass.
But the most intriguing part of these tales, the part that interested Halrohir the most, was the account of the two warrior-hobbits who were uncommonly large and strong. The secret to their size and strength, it was said, was they too had drunk of the same mysterious waters of the Entwash that had given Morindal his virtues. Although he was not able to have an audience with the Travelers personally, Halrohir talked with every possible source he could find regarding the tales. And he had pieced together his plan, based on the word gleaned from the loose accounts and vague reports.
Somehow, Halrohir had to make his way northeast across Rohan once he crossed Isen, over the trackless miles of open plains, until he struck the line of the Entwash itself; then follow the river north until he reached the southern eaves of Fangorn Forest. From there, he had dark imaginings of having to enter the wood itself, to find within what he sought: the fantastic creatures from out of the Elder Days, the Ents themselves. Halrohir had no illusions of confidence as to how that encounter might go, but it was Morindal’s life or death in the balance. And that was all he needed to decide.
So, by his own calculation, and his being familiar with Morindal’s endurance, Halrohir reckoned on a journey of a fortnight in the saddle, barring any encounters with trouble of hardship along the way. Weather might play into the trek, as every river he crossed might be a torrent; ruffians or worse might waylay him on his way. He might even get turned back at the borders of Rohan by the march-wards, letters from the King notwithstanding. Too many troubles, and too early in the journey for worry. The first step was to cross the Greyflood safely, then all else would follow.
While Halrohir had been running all these thoughts through his mind, he absently watched the sun fade below the horizon and the twilight close in upon the lands. It being April, many of the blooming trees and brush and field flowers had begun their season, and the lands of Eriador were fragrant with spring after winter. Especially this last winter; for though the worthies of Breeland recalled the recent years of plenty, just this last winter was as harsh in any memory, with bitter cold winds and snow far down upon the mountains. That did not bode well for the spring flooding of the rivers, and Halrohir realized this among his possible hazards.
Halrohir stood up and stretched, the fire dying slowly and all receding into shadow. He walked past Morindal, letting the horse’s bulk block the firelight, and he stared up into the night sky. A blanket of stars stretched overhead, pierced now and again by a shooting flicker as a star fell from the heavens. All was incredibly quiet, not even the night breeze stirred the grasses. He returned to the campfire, his blanket unrolled, his saddle a pillow. He cast himself down onto the bedroll and slowly let sleep take him.
Hours had hardly seemed to pass when Halrohir awoke, startled to see Morindal snuffling into his face. He bolted sitting upright, his eyes focusing on a brightly blazing fire, and a figure sitting by, poking at the flames with a stick. He had his hand on the hilt of his dagger out of habit in the Wild, and it flashed in the firelight.
“You give welcome to all the same, Dunadan? Your friend has more sense than you, and he is a horse”, the newcomer said as he turned to face Halrohir. Silver-gold hair framed a fair face and bright eyes and a smile of mischief that flickered in the firelight.
“Ah, so now you know me,” Dorwin laughed. “And you even hear my speech better, do you like it? I took the time to learn your Common Tongue since our last meeting. Years pass. Seasons change. Even words do. But it was not hard.”
“All the same,” Halrohir said in surprise, “how came you here? I left Bree but yesterday, although I’ve been planning this errand for a long time.”
“True enough,” Dorwin replied. “But if you seek to find the reason for my joining you, look to your own father. He it was who confided in me of your errand, and your reasons for abandoning the North on a ride of your own. For that is what you are surely doing? Putting aside the burden of the Ranger, and going forth to save your friend, this creature of wonder?”
Halrohir had to admit it. “Yes, that’s true, as far as it goes. Would you not do the same for a friend or brother? For that is what Morindal has become to me. My companion on the weary road, my brother in battle. How can I look at myself if I let him become dead, or worse?”
Dorwin threw more wood onto the fire, and in the blazing light, his Elven features looked ethereal, but with a force of purpose behind those eyes now. “Dunadan, others have shared your worry and your labor, though you might not have known until now. You spoke with your father about Morindal. And he spoke with me. And I, in turn, spoke with lore masters in Imladris and elsewhere. You wish to find the source of the Onodlo, and the Ent-draughts? You need not seek it alone. For I offer to come with you, and together we shall see this marvelous sight. Will you have me, as a guide and companion?” And smiling, he held out his hand.
Halrohir was overwhelmed by Dorwin’s offer and candid honesty. He also recognized the truth, and the wisdom, behind the Elf’s words. With Dorwin as a guide, he stood a fighting chance of finding his goal and saving Morindal. The choice was easy. He took Dorwin’s hand in partnership.
“You are most welcome, Dorwin of Rivendell”, Halrohir said. “May we both journey to good fortune, for Morindal’s sake. But, how did you find me? You’re not on foot, surely? Have you a mount of your own?”
“I most surely do”, Dorwin said, “and there he is, my Forosul, my ‘Northwind’ in your tongue. Look at them both, he and your Morindal, getting to know each other!” Halrohir watched the two, Morindal and a smaller horse, circling each other beneath the stars, high whinnies from Forosul versus Morindal’s deeper snorts.
“Now, the dawn is not far off,” Dorwin said, “so let us both have a light meal, and for the horses as well. Then we might have a long day to ride, and the miles shall fall behind us. What say you, Dunadan?”
“An early breakfast, and an early start to the day both sound well,” Halrohir agreed, digging into his gear for food for them to share. The ride had taken a turn for the better.
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