haldir, eowyn and thorkell

With the help of Legolas and his Mirkwood elves, the cavalcade crossed the Anduin at the Southern Ford, the able-bodied—leading their horses—wading through the swiftly-flowing shallows on foot, the injured and the elderly riding across on the baggage carts.

“Le cenithon ned lû thent, melmenya,” murmured Legolas, kissing Eowyn’s forehead. “We will join you in Lorien, on the fifth day.” He sprang upon Arod’s back—“No i Melain na le, meleth nín,” he added, with a smile—and, with Gimli clinging on behind, he crossed the river and, signalling his warriors to follow, he galloped across the floodplain, to where Eomer and the Rohirrim were waiting for him.

“Take care, Lassui,” whispered Eowyn. “Gods speed, my darling.”

The going was easier on the western bank.

Eowyn, riding beside the March Warden, led the travelling households of Rohan and Eryn Carantaur—the lawyers and scholars, the healers, cooks and servants—flanked left and right by a small band of mounted warriors and followed by a rearguard of elven archers, along the broad, grassy plain, keeping a sharp lookout for any sign of danger.

At noon, having—by Haldir’s estimation—already covered more than half the distance to the guard post where they planned to spend the night, she brought the cavalcade to a halt, and gave orders for the warriors to form a protective circle, whilst the cooks prepared a midday meal.

“I have been thinking,” she said to the March Warden, as they threaded their way through the temporary encampment, checking the condition of the travellers, their horses, and the carts, “that before we enter the Forest, we should send out scouts, to make sure that the way is safe.”

“It will leave the column more vulnerable.”

“I know. But we will only send two—Lorien elves, who know the terrain—and we will wait on the river bank until they return. If there is danger ahead, Haldir, I would prefer to face it in the open.”

“Very well, I will see to it.”

“Thank you.”

“Why do you do it?” asked Eowyn, sitting down beside Thorkell bogsveigir.

“Do what?” asked the Beorning—trying, one-handed, to slice a lump of cheese with his plate balanced precariously upon his knees.

“Do what, my Lady,” corrected Eowyn.

“Arrgh!” cried Beorning, watching the cheese shoot off his platter, and land upon the grass.

“You know that Rothinzil is betrothed to Master Dínendal,” Eowyn insisted, retrieving the food, wiping it, and putting it back on his plate, “and you know that she dislikes you; so why do you keep hounding her? Here.” She set down her own platter and, grasping his plate, held it steady for him.

“Why are you getting your draws in such a twist over it?” He cut off a chunk of cheese and put it in his mouth. “My Lady.”

“Because the cavalcade is my responsibility now.”

“Ah, yes. The hen is in charge of the foxes.”

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning that I am a man—”

“Oh, a man. Of course.” Eowyn picked up her own platter. “One of those strange, exotic, never-understood-by-women-and-always-allowed-to-do-whatever-they-want creatures, a man.”

Thorkell bogsveigir took a bite of bread. “What would you know of men,” he mumbled, “married to an elf? We Beornings are real men—my father, he…”

His voice trailed away.

“Your father is dying,” said Eowyn, quietly. “Why do you refuse to make peace with him?”

The man did not reply.

“Do you know what I think?”

“I am sure that you will tell me. My Lady.”

I think that your father was cruel to you—not deliberately, perhaps, but because he believed that men should be hard.”

The Beorning sneered. “He favoured me. I was his son.”

“So it was your mother he treated as a chattel—”

You should get yourself a bag of seeing stones,” said Thorkell bogsveigir. “If we knocked out a few of your teeth and rubbed a bit of dirt on your face, you could make a good living as an old crone, cackling out your visions and your warnings.”

“Do you want a warning, Thorkell? Do you? Leave Rothinzil alone or else!

“Or else what?”

“There are honourable men in this world,” said Eowyn, ignoring his question. “There are men that even you must look up to—my brother, for one. And Legolas—elves show us what men can be—what you can be. Think about it, Thorkell. Now,”—she rose to her feet—“I have a cavalcade to get moving.”

The Beorning watched her stride across the campsite in her little suede jerkin and her elven boots, small but determined, and he smiled affectionately, in spite of himself.

Two hours later

The elven scouts ran silently down the Forest trail, carefully noting every twist and turn, assessing each steep slope and sudden narrow gap, seeking, where necessary, alternative routes for the carts—and, all the while, watching and listening, and reaching out with their sharp elven senses, for the slightest hint of danger.

Half an hour after leaving the others, they reached the guard post, climbed its ladders, and searched its deserted flets. “Clear,” said Belegorn.

His companion nodded.

Back on the ground, the elves made a final inspection. “If we draw the carts into here,” said Belegorn, indicating the gaps in the natural ring of trees, “they will form a fence.”

“There is no need,” replied Celeblas. “We will be safe here—the Lady’s grace still protects the Forest. Let us deliver the good—”

Wait!” Belegorn caught his companion by the arm. “Look! What is that—over there?”

“Ai,” cried Celeblas, flinching from the hideous sight, “I spoke too soon.”

An hour later

“Describe it,” said Haldir.

Celeblas turned to Eowyn. “It is not—it is hardly fit for your ears, my Lady.”

“Speak to me as you would to Lord Legolas,” said Eowyn.

The elf acknowledged her order; but he continued reluctantly, glancing, from time to time, at the woman, as though to make sure that his words were not causing her distress. “It was the body of a man, my Lady,” he said, “naked, and daubed with red—not blood, I think, but some stain. He was hanging from a tree. His flesh was corrupted,”—he flushed—“like a beast’s…”

“He had been impaled,” added Belegorn, quietly, “upon a branch that had been cut and sharpened for the purpose, like a giant thorn.”

“And hanging beside him,” said Celeblas, “was another figure, fashioned from bundles of twigs.”

“What do you think, March Warden?” asked Eowyn.

Haldir shook his head. “It is not the work of Orcs.”

“No. Orcs would never have wasted human flesh.” She scanned the Forest, her eyes lingering upon the distant mountain range, beyond. “Who lives to the west?”

“West of Lothlorien? There are Orcs and goblins in the Misty Mountains.”

“But no men?”

“Not in any numbers, to my knowledge.”

“That leaves only the Beornings to the north, and Rohan to the south.”

“There is Fangorn to the south west.”

“I doubt that the ents would permit whoever did this to shelter in there.” She turned to the elf. “This was done by a man, Haldir—by a man or by men. I am sure of it.”

“But why?”

Eowyn shrugged. “As a warning, perhaps. Or in triumph. Or…” She looked down the length of the cavalcade. “We must speak with Master Wystan, and with Thorkell bogsveigir—he has lived east of the river all his life and may know something of local lore. In the meantime,” she added, “I think we will be safer making camp out here, beside the river.”



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Le cenithon ned lû thent … 'I will see you in a short time.'
No i Melain na le, meleth nín … 'May the Valar be with you, my love.'