From A Tale of the Bard series
It was the beginning of a new day. The sun was slowly rising up and the dark blue sky brightened. During your chase the few things that belonged to you became heavier than they were before. It was almost impossible to keep your (e/c) eyes open as there wasn’t much time to rest and have some sleep. You were so tired that you couldn’t even feel your muscles being sore.
"A red sun rises. Blood has been spilt this night." Legolas’ voice reached your ears as you were walking past him. It made you turn your head to gaze at the dawn behind you, hoping that your friends were still alive.
It took you another second to begin moving again. The plains around you seemed like an endless sea of grass and dirt and utter silence. There was nothing to be heard as everything was still. Aragorn crouched on the ground to check for any tracks left by hurrying Orcs. Suddenly his head rose and a moment later he stood up, gesturing with his hand for you to follow him.
It was when you heard it, the clop of hooves on the hard ground. It was getting closer. The companion hid behind a great stone and a moment later a large group of cavalry appeared. So much time passed since you saw so many horse riders, or rather since you saw any riders at all.
As they passed Aragorn and Legolas exchanged glances before they stood up, leaving your hiding position. Curious what they were planning you followed a second later, Gimli behind you.
"Riders of Rohan! What news from the Mark?" Aragorn shouted towards them and you looked at him in disbelief.
“I’m not sure if it’s a good idea...” you whispered to your Elf companion as you stood beside him. He only looked at you and then at the man before him. You too wanted to trust Aragorn but then a little voice in your head grumbled something about fighting with a small army.
Hearing your friend’s voice the riders made a quick turn and headed towards your tiny group. You moved closer to each other keeping an eye on the riders, while you wondered, what was the plan?
Horses encircled the four of you and a moment later a spear was pointed directly in your face. As you were too afraid to talk you gazed at Aragorn with a look in your eyes that said “I told you so.”. He casted you a quick glance before shifting his gaze toward the raiders while raising his hands in a peaceful gesture.
Suddenly one raider appeared from outside of the circle of horses.
"What business does an elf, a man, a woman and a dwarf have in the Riddermark?"
As the whole group turned around towards the speaker, your lips opened to correct him but in the same moment you felt a hand on your arm. It was Legolas’. Even if he didn’t look at you, you knew what he meant by that. Let it go.
"Give me your name, horsemaster, and I shall give you mine." Gimli had spoken which earned something of a smirk on Aragorn’s face before he gazed at the rider waiting for his response. This seemed to anger him as he dismounted his horse and started walking towards Gimli.
The Dwarf’s head was raised as if he was challenging the tall man. Aragorn put his hand on his companion shoulder to calm him down. You could only stand there, shifting your weight from one foot to another, wishing that they would end that disagreement peacefully. That spear on the level of your head wasn’t the greatest encouragement for the battle.
"I would cut off your head — dwarf — if it stood but a little higher from the ground." his words were full of anger while their receiver tried to keep a serious expression on his face.
Suddenly Legolas reached for an arrow from his quiver and aimed his bow at the raider. You looked wide eyed at your companion wishing that the squeal left your lips only in your head.
"You would die before your stroke fell!"
In a second every spear was aimed at the Elf. Then Aragorn’s hand appeared on Legolas’ arm pushing it down, as if telling him to put his weapon away. After that he faced the raider again.
"I'm Aragorn, son of Arathorn." as he gained the man’s attention he continued "This is Gimli, son of Glóin, (M/n), the wandering Bard and Legolas, from the Woodland realm."
You tried to look welcoming or even neutral but any attempt to form something of a smile on your lips was unsuccessful because of a death glare that was present on the Elf’s face.
"We are friends of Rohan and of Théoden, your king." Aragorn finished.
"Théoden no longer recognizes friend from foe." said the man after a moment of thinking. He looked at Aragorn before taking his helmet off. "Not even his own kin."
The spears were taken away and you felt as if you could breathe safely again.
"Saruman has poisoned the mind of the king and claimed lordship over this land.” hearing his words Aragorn begun to look worried or maybe he just couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He exchanged looks with Legolas before Èomer continued. “My company are those loyal to Rohan. And for that, we are banished."
"The White Wizard is cunning. He walks here and there they say, as an old man, hooded and cloaked." his gaze shifted from every one of you before stopping on Legolas, giving him a meaningful look. "And everywhere his spies slip past our nets."
"We are no spies. We track a band of Uruk-hai westward across the plains. They have taken two of our friends captive." Aragorn said with his usual calm voice but with a brooding expression on his face.
"The Uruks are destroyed. We slaughtered them during the night."
"But there were two hobbits; did you see two hobbits with them?" Gimli exclaimed as he was worried about your friends.
"They would be small, only children to your eyes." Aragorn explained.
Èomer’s gaze was casted down before he spoke again.
"We left none alive." your eyes widen. "We piled the carcasses and burned them." he pointed at the smoke in the distance. A quiet sigh left Aragorn’s lips as hope in your hearts was replaced with sorrow.
"Dead?" the Dwarf’s voice was heard as he couldn’t believe in the words he just heard.
"I am sorry." Èomer nodded his head.
Legolas rested his hand on Gimli as shock washed over his body. Dragon poked his head out from one of your bags but you didn’t notice it as you were too occupied with your own thoughts. What were you supposed to do with your friends gone?
Suddenly you heard a whistle and your head rose.
"Hasufel! Arod!" Èomer called and two horses came to him. "May these horses bear you to better fortune than the former masters.” he gave Aragorn one last look before saying his farewells and mounting his horse.
"Look for your friends, but do not trust the hope. It has forsaken these lands. We ride north!"
As the last words fell from Èomer‘s lips, the raiders started moving away, after their leader. And just for a second your eyes met with the man whose horse still stood in the same spot. It seemed as if he was watching your face. But in the moments your gazes locked he gestured his horse to move and followed the rest passing you by.
Dragon flew outside and sat on one of the horses head as the four of you gazed at the departing raiders.
Aragorn mounted the horse and helped you to sit behind him. A long time passed since you rode a horse. And it was the moment when you remembered why. Horses weren’t your speciality. With a sigh leaving your lips you gazed at the grey smoke that flew towards the sky.
Maybe there was still hope?
The first thing you noticed when you reached, what previously was, Orcs’ campsite was a head on pole next to the still burning corpses. The smell was sickening and you were glad that you didn’t eat anything before coming there.
As you were dismounting the horse Gimli was already standing near the pile going through it with his axe. Aragorn stood aside waiting while Legolas looked around trying to spot any sort of creature around.
You watched as Gimli picked something from the ashes. It was a belt, or rather, what was left of it.
"It's one of their little belts." he said after a moment of silence.
"Hiro hyn hîdh ab wanath." Legolas bowed his head and closed his eyes praying for the souls of your lost companions. You bit your lip in an attempt to stop it from trembling. Why so many people had to die? The feeling of endless despair embraced your heart.
Suddenly, the always calm Aragorn kicked at the helmet that once belonged to one of the corpses. He yelled so loud that goosebumps appeared on your skin and then he fell on his knees with his head hung low.
"We failed them." you heard Gimli’s whispering as you watched your human companion.
What didn’t go unnoticed by you was that something caught Aragorn’s attention as he looked to the side. He touched the ground with his hand as if he saw something on it. As for you, it was just normal ground with grass.
"A Hobbit lay here, and the other."
He was lost in his thoughts for a longer moment before continuing.
You exchanged looks with Legolas before both of you looked back at your companion. The three of you begun to move after him as he followed the tracks left by the Hobbits.
"Their hands were bound." Aragorn stood up making a few steps before kneeling on the ground again, taking a piece of rope into his hands. "Their bonds were cut." he started moving faster and you waited impatiently for what he would say next.
"They ran over here… and were followed." you were a few meters away from the burning corpses. He speed up and you were almost running after him. Step by step you followed the tracks until you reached a place that no sane person would go to.
"The tracks lead away from the battle! Into… Fangorn Forest."
The four of you looked wide-eyed at the sea of thorns leaves and thick darkness. The place looked like one from the nightmares or maybe from hell itself as your mind wasn’t brave enough to think about place like that. Your heart begun to beat faster. If the Hobbits went inside there still was a hope of finding them.
Or a possibility of getting lost looking for their bodies.
"Fangorn! What madness drove them in there?"
There was a moment of silence with only your breathing that could be heard.
“So...” you begun “We are not going inside, right?”
The forest was even darker than you thought. Only few of sunrays broke through the thickness of leaves and branches leaving the woods covered in the shadow.
You watched as Gimli tasted a dark liquid from one of the leaves. After a second he spat it out announcing that it was Orc blood. You moved forward keeping close to each other and listening to the sounds from around.
Suddenly you stopped as Aragorn examined the path you were following. Dragon sat on his shoulder and cooed softly.
"These are strange tracks." Aragorn said as he touched the ground. You stood next to him and looked over his shoulder trying to understand why they were ‘strange’. An open book was present in your hands and you felt great happiness that you could hold it again.
"The air is so close here." Gimli looked around weary of his surroundings.
"This forest is old. Very old. Full of memory… and anger." Legolas’ words, or maybe the way he had spoken them, made a shiver run down your spine. An angry forest was the last thing on your list of desired occurrences.
Suddenly you heard a strange sound, something like many voices forming a one deep voice coming from around, coming from the trees. Gimli raised his axe waiting for an attack. A soft but cold wind brushed through your hair as you looked around.
"The trees are speaking to each other." Legolas informed and you hoped they didn’t argue about which spice to use while eating you alive.
"Gimli!" Aragorn whispered to his companion who spun around in one place, earning a weak </i>huh?</i> from him. "Lower your axe."
He looked dumbfounded but still did as he was asked.
"They have feelings, my friend. The Elves began it: waking up the trees, teaching them to speak." Legolas smiled, it sounded as if he was proud of his ancestors’ actions.
"Talking trees. What do trees have to talk about, hmm? Except the consistency of squirrel droppings." he said, his voice full of ignorance but his eyes were cautiously looking for any kind of hostile action.
"Aragorn, nad no ennas!" you only made a step forward before hearing your Elf companion’s voice.
"Man cenich?" Aragorn asked standing next to the Elf.
You wrote down their words and wondered if it was impolite ask if they could stop using Elvish? Because it would take another month to get back to the beginning of the story and translate everything later.
"The White Wizard approaches." your attention directed from the book to your companions as you heard the familiar phrase. A silence embraced the company as you moved to Aragorn’s side.
"Do not let him speak. He will put a spell on us!" he whispered after a longer moment. His hand gripped the handle of his weapon and it was a sign for you to close your book and hide it. Your other companions drew their weapons and as your hands were empty again, you did the same.
"We must be quick."
Swiftly you turned around to attack but as you shot from crossbow, a bright light blinded you and you weren’t sure if the bolt hit anything. But guessing from the sounds you understood that your attempts were ineffective. So you stood there, waiting.
"You are tracking the footsteps of two young Hobbits." you heard the male voice saying.
"Where are they?" Aragorn asked.
"They passed this way, the day before yesterday. They met someone they did not expect. Does that comfort you?"
You looked at Aragorn. Something wasn’t right.
"Who are you? Show yourself!"
The light dimed and you had to blink a few times to adjust your eyes. But a second later they widen as the wizard’s silhouette became visible. This was definitely something you weren’t expecting. You were ready to say it was a trick, a magical spell.
Gandalf, dressed in white stood proudly before the four of you, holding his staff in both of his hands.
"It cannot be!" Aragorn voiced your thoughts.
Legolas bowed before the wizard with Gimli following after him. "Forgive me. I mistook you for Saruman."
And you? You just stood there, next to Aragorn, with your lips opening and closing, trying to form any words but no sounds came out.
"I am Saruman. Or rather Saruman as he should have been." it was so... strange to hear his voice again.
"You fell!" Aragorn whispered with a weak voice, taking a step forward.
"Through fire. And water."
That were the words that begun a story, a tale that would complete the one written by you. A tale of great battle, greater than any you saw. In a lonely place surrounded by storm or blizzard, by rain or snow. With the freezing wind howling and beast growling.
A story about a hero that killed the beast with a single thrust but a thrust strong enough to take the life away from the beast. But in the same, to leave the protagonist weak and dying.
"Darkness took me. And I strayed out of thought and time."
You stopped writing for a moment and looked at the wizard before you. There were still many things in the world you couldn’t comprehend. And probably, you would never understand. For example, when Dragon managed to sat on Gandalf’s staff?
"Stars wheeled overhead, and every day was as long as the life age of the earth." there was a short pause as he casted a glance at the bird.
"But it was not the end. I felt light in me again. I've been sent back until my task is done."
"Gandalf!" Aragorn started.
"Gandalf?” with a puzzled expression on his face he looked at the man before him. “Oh yes. That's what they used to call me. Gandalf the Grey. That was my name." he smiled and in the same moment joy appeared in your heart. Guessing from the expressions on your companions’ faces, you knew they felt the same.
"I am Gandalf the White." he nodded his head slightly. "And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide."
You followed the wizard through the forest waiting for any words that would tell you what you were going to do next. And they came faster than you thought.
"One stage of your journey is over, another begins. War has come to Rohan. We must ride to Edoras with all speed."
"Edoras?” Gimli exclaimed hearing Gandalf’s words. “That is no short distance!" was it bad to wish that you wouldn’t have to run the whole way again?
"We hear of trouble in Rohan. It goes ill with the king." Aragorn begun and you moved closer to him.
"Yes, and it will not be easily cured." was the wizard’s answer as they stopped.
"Then we have run all this way for nothing? Are we to leave those poor hobbits here in this horrid, dark, dank tree-infested…" he said as he glared at the trees around him. But they didn’t stay quiet and the deep rumble reached your ears. "I mean charming, quite charming forest."
"It was more than mere chance that brought Merry and Pippin to Fangorn. A great power has been sleeping here for many long years. The coming of Merry and Pippin will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains."
You titled your head to the side hearing Gandalf’s explanation. It sounded like an announcement of a great battle that would happen in the near future. How you regretted that you couldn’t be in all the places at once. You had to take a mental note to talk with the Hobbits later and ask them about their adventures.
"In one thing you have not changed, dear friend." Aragorn said looking at the wizard making him move closer towards the man waiting for the rest. "You still speak in riddles." they laughed and you couldn’t help but smile at those words.
"A thing is about to happen here that has not happened since the Elder Days. The Ents are going to wake up and find that they are strong." Gandalf said smiling.
“Ents?” you asked while writing the word down.
“Tree-like creatures.” Legolas whispered to you as he found the easy and short enough explanation that would satisfy you.
"Strong?” Gimli asked discriminating the power of the nature. But as the grumbling sound got louder he looked around with a nervous smile on his face. “Oh, that's good."
"So stop your fretting Master Dwarf. Merry and Pippin are quite safe.” Gandalf began to move forward, Aragorn close behind, smiling at his short companion. “In fact, they are far safer than you are about to be."
Why Gandalf’s words never ceased to make you nervous? But you didn’t know if it would be better if they were beautiful lies of great endings without having to worry about your lives. Maybe you could have believed in them few weeks ago but your perspective changed since the beginning of that adventure.
"This new Gandalf's more grumpy than the old one." you patted Gimli’s shoulder as you followed the said man and Aragorn who moved towards the end of the woods.
Once outside the wizard begun to whistle and you tried not to ask why he was doing that. But soon your curiosity was satisfied as the pure white horse appeared from nowhere.
"That is one of the Mearas, unless my eyes are cheated by some spell." Legolas said seeing the beautiful animal. You scribbled faster as it seemed you would have to move soon again.
"Shadowfax. He's the lord of all horses, and has been my friend through many dangers." Gandalf told you as his hand brushed through the horse’s hair.
As you wrote the last few words a hand was placed on your shoulder. You looked up and saw Aragorn gesturing you to mount on the horse. Nodding your head you closed the book and put it back into the bag before you were helped onto the tall animal.
Casting one last glance at the forest the companion departed towards their new destination and you could only wonder what was waiting for you on the other side of the wide plains.