Aldamir's Journey

by Frodo Baggins

Chapter 30: Riding Northwards

The Rangers rode northward nearly without stopping, pausing only briefly to give the horses a rest and eat a small meal of dried meat and fruit. Aldamir and Lindir ate lembas instead; dried meat was fine for Men but Elves subsist best on lembas when on a journey.

The first time they stopped was shortly after noon. For the last couple hours they had more or less been following the winding way of a river running southwards; now, reaching a place where it ran quietly chuckling through some rocky hills, they stopped to give the horses a brief rest. Aldamir, who had been wrapped in his own thoughts through most of the journey, watched the river’s waters rush past for a moment, and turned to Lindir.

“Lindir, shall we climb the hill?” he asked, wishing for a better view of the lands around them. Lindir nodded, and they scaled the hill fairly quickly. It was steep and very rocky, but because of the rocks footholds were easily found and they had no trouble reaching the top.

Once up there, they could see a great deal further than before. The land they had been traversing was wild and varied; here and there it was flat and grassy, other places it would be rocky and hilly, yet others there would be long stretches of pine woods with a soft mossy floor carpeted in pine needles. The grass, rather short, was brown with a slight beginning of green underneath; Aldamir thought longingly of the lush green forest of Lórien and the tall, grey, golden-leafed mallorns.

To the south they could see spread out the land they had covered since that morning, split by a silver-grey ribbon of water, and to the north lay the land they had yet to cover. To the West rose the towering White Mountains, dark and beautiful in their grey, cloud-wrapped majesty. To the East lay the Anduin, its normally bright and sparkling surface dulled to a deep blue by the cloudy overhang. Aldamir could only see it by straining his eyes hard, and after a moment he gave up and turned away.

“Look,” said Lindir softly, and raised his hand to point in a south-east direction. “One can almost see Mordor from here.”

Aldamir followed the line of his hand. “The darkness there - is that what you mean?”

“Yes. It has grown a great deal darker of late, or so it seems to me.”

Aldamir did not answer, but his eyes gazed unwaveringly at the darkness. He thought of Haldir; he saw him standing beneath the trees of Lorien, gazing upwards, and then he saw him lying cold and pale on the stones of Helm's Deep, lifeless and limp, his cloak stained with dark blood.....

He turned away, trying to think of other things. Far north hung a great heavy mass of clouds, and he pointed them out to Lindir. “We're going to see some rain before long, unless my eyes deceive me,” he said cheerfully.

Lindir nodded. “That cloud mass, you mean? It's moving this way at a steady rate. Do you think we can outrun it?” he asked with a grin.

Aldamir chuckled. “Outrun the rain, my friend? You might as well try to climb an Ent without him noticing. But sometime we should - outrun the rain, I mean. I'd rather let the Ents in peace.”

Lindir laughed softly. “Aye, I think I agree with you there.”

They fell silent and watched the sky in the quiet way that Elves do. It had not been longer than a few minutes, however, before they heard Halbarad call to them from below.

“Aldamir? Lindir? Are you up there? We’re riding again!”

Aldamir shook himself out of his reverie, and the two Elves climbed down.

They rode nearly without stopping until nightfall, and yet they still had not caught up with Aragorn. Halbarad reckoned that they would reach the Gap of Rohan sometime in the night, and, providing Aragorn had not ridden a great deal faster than they thought, they would reach him early the next morning.

As night fell with velvety darkness, and stars began to show their brightness in the sky, Halbarad called for a short halt while he plotted the next step of their ride. The Rangers reined in their horses, most dismounting for a short rest.

Aldamir remained on his horse for a few minutes, watching the activity about them. The Rangers spoke in eager, low voices among themselves, and though Aldamir could not catch more than a few words, those few were enough to tell him that the men were restless to be on again. He knew they were eager to strike but still wary of moving too quickly, and he wondered as he listened to them. He knew most men as headstrong and stubborn, often having too little patience. Yet these men here were wise, almost like unto the Elves...

His thoughts were broken off as Halbarad rose from a short consultation with two othe Rangers, and the company once again rode away into the night. The stars above them shone with a white, piercing brightness; their beauty seemed to be made somehow terrible by the prospect of looming war. Yet the sight gave him a strange sort of courage; the stars would always shine, regardless of how dark and heavy the clouds of Mordor grew; there would always be light above the darkness....

Later that night two riders, who had been ahead scouting, joined the company, and Aldamir learned to his great surprise that they were Elves. Not only that -- they were Elladan and Elrohir, sons of Elrond. They too were riding with the Rangers; their aim was the same as that of Aldamir’s. They wished to go to war against Mordor, even if all others of their kin stayed away.

Elladan and Elrohir were delighted to see Aldamir and Lindir; they knew both of them well from their days in Rivendell. Aldamir had lived there for most of his life as a younger Elf, and Lindir had dwelt in Rivendell his entire life except for the short time he had spent in Lórien. Now the four rode together to war, and each was comforted by the fact that there was three more of his kin riding to war with him; riding to a war in which they would most likely be the only Elves fighting....

Chapter 31: Rohan

Towards early morning, at the time when the horizon is just beginning to glow lighter than the rest of the inky-black sky, the Dúnedain and the Elves came to the Fords of Isen. None of them knew the river, but they found it on Halbarad’s worn, much-used map, and discovered that they were not so far from Isengard itself.

Reining in his horse, Halbarad called for a short halt to water the horses.

As Aldamir stood by the river’s edge and let Fearán drink of the clear water, he thought he heard, faintly and far ahead, the soft thudding of many horses’ hooves, as of a small army. Frowning slightly, he listened again, intently, but this time heard nothing.

Dropping Fearán’s reins, he knelt and pressed his ear to the earth. Immediately he could hear it, soft but distinct; a large company of horses and men riding away from them.

“What is it?” asked a voice above him. “Can you hear them?”

He looked up into Lindir’s face, and nodded as he got to his feet. “We’re not too far away now. I do not know if Aragorn is with them, but they are likely a company of the men native to this land. They would most likely know where he is.”

“Good,” said Lindir.

Aldamir nodded, and filled his water flask from the river. Cupping his hands and dipping them into the cold water, he drank several mouthfuls and stood up refreshed. The men were mounting and crossing the river, and fastening his flask by his belt, he swung easily onto Fearán’s back. “Noro lim, my fine one,” he whispered.

Fearán rode into the river, the water splashing merrily about his hooves, and Aldamir looked up for a moment. The sky was still jet-black with small glittering stars; the moon was sinking low, and the eastern sky was slowly lightening. A think streak of orange was beginning to gain a foothold, a forerunner of the vivid, fiery colors that would blaze out when the sun rose. But as yet it was only a streak, licking at the horizon like fire licks at the twigs and dry grass before it becomes a blazing fire...

They caught up with the riders ahead of them an hour later. It was still dark when a man hailed them from about fifty paces off. “Halt! Halt!” he cried, and they knew that the company had their weapons at the ready. “Who rides in Rohan?”

Halbarad lifted his hand and the Rangers halted. “Stay here,” he said to them. “I will go and speak with them. It is better that one walks to them than many ride up as if in war.”

Dismounting, he handed the reins to one of the Rangers and went forward, his hand held up, palm outward, in a token of peace. “Rohan, did you say?” he called. “That is a glad word. We have been seeking that land for many long days...”

“You have found it,” came the reply. “When you crossed the fords yonder, you entered it. But it is the realm of Théoden the King. None ride here save by his leave. Who are you?”

“Halbarad Dúnadan,” answered Halbarad, “I am a Ranger of the North. “We seek one Aragorn son of Arathorn, and we heard that he was in Rohan.”

“And you have found him also!” cried another voice which Aldamir recognized instantly. Aragorn himself ran forward and embraced Halbarad. “Of all joys you are the least expected!” he cried in delight.

Aldamir was relieved and glad, and the hand which had been warily on his knife-hilt fell away.

“All is well,” Aragorn assured the man who had challenged them. “Here are some of my own kin from the far land where I dwelt. But why they come and how they be, Halbarad shall tell us.”

“I have thirty with me,” replied Halbarad. “That is all of our kindred that could be gathered in haste; but the brethren Elladan and Elrohir, and Aldamir and Lindir of Lórien, have ridden with us, desiring to go to the war. We rode as swiftly as we might when your summons came.”

“But I did not summon you,” said Aragorn, “save only in wish. My thoughts have often turned to you, and seldom more than tonight, yet I have sent no word. But come! All such matters must wait. You find us riding in haste and danger. Ride with us now, if the king will his leave.”

Théoden was glad of the news, and welcomed the Rangers and Elves warmly. “It is well!” he said. “If these kinsmen be in any way like to yourself, my lord Aragorn, thirty such knights will be a strength that cannot be counted by heads. And I know the strength of these Elves; even four of them can make a great difference.”

Aldamir smiled.

From there they rode to Edoras; but Théoden, Éomer, and the Rohirrim left them soon after the Rangers had joined them. They rode southwards to Gondor, to give them aid in the war that would soon be upon them. Aragorn, however, had decided to take a different road. The Paths of the Dead, it was called, and Aldamir shivered when he heard the name from Lindir.

“Why does he wish to set foot on such a road?” he asked, distressed. “None have ever come through there alive.”

“He has struggled with Sauron in thought,” answered Lindir. “Elrohir told me of it; he has come into possession of a palantír, one of the seven, and as he gazed into it he saw many things, also Sauron. But he spoke of a great peril to Gondor which will come from the South, and if it is not averted very soon it is likely that the city will be taken in ten days. What the peril is I do not know, but he has chosen his road. Elrohir spoke to him of it; his father Elrond sent Aragorn a message referring to the Path. If you are in haste, he said, remember the Paths of the Dead.”

Aldamir frowned. “Then indeed there is need of haste, but a man must be desperate indeed to venture those accursed Paths. The Dead reign in those shadows; I fear if he sets foot in them he will never return.”

“I have no great wish to go there,” said Lindir. “But we have chosen this road, and if Aragorn will take those paths, we must follow to whatever fate awaits us.”

Aldamir sighed. “You are right, Lindir; I will not shy away now. Maybe the Heir of Isildur has the strength.....I do not know.”

They spoke no more of it.

Late that day they reached Edoras, a city of the Rohirrim, built onto a great, stony hill. It rose majestically from the middle of a wide plain, and at its very summit was built Meduseld, the Golden Hall of Rohan. The sun glinted on its golden roof as they rode forward, and Aldamir gazed at it in awe.

Passing through the gates, they rode through the dusty streets toward the Golden Hall. Aldamir looked about him as they went, and saw that the people drew back in fear as they passed. Women called their wide-eyed, staring children to them, and men gazed with distrustful and suspicious eyes. At first he was startled, and then, as he realized why, he smiled to himself. Of course..... these people were not accustomed to seeing a company of tall Rangers of the North and Elves in bright armour ride through their midst, out of the blue as it seemed. No wonder they reacted as they did...

But at the Hall they were welcomed warmly by a tall lady clad in white, and they learned that her name was Éowyn, and that she was the princess of Rohan. Her hair was of a slightly pale, shining gold, and her eyes, which were deeply blue, seemed to mirror Rohan’s sky in their depths. She bore herself regally and proudly, every inch a maid of the Rohirrim. Looking upon her, Aldamir saw a great courage and a strong spirit within her; but he also saw that it was as if her wild, adventurous spirit was bound and placed behind bars. Through her smiles of welcome he saw a great frustration, and knew that she was forced against her will to curb her spirit and remain at home; and he pitied her.

But she showed no sign of her feelings and ushered them inside with warm words of welcome. “Come, my lords, and eat! You must be weary and thirsty from long riding; come and eat of the king’s table.”

They bowed and thanked her, and that evening they dined in the Golden Hall of Meduseld.

The tables were laden with food and drink; none went hungry from that table. Smoke rose from the crackling fire in the hall’s center, and torches glowed and flickered in their brackets on the wall. Richly colored tapestries, depicting great scenes of Rohan’s history, hung upon the four walls of the hall, silken banners bearing the White Horse and other emblems hung from the beams above them, and coats-of-arms of Rohan’s many kings decorated the wall behind the throne. The pillars which rose from the floor and supported the high, beamed, arching roof were heavily carved with ornate golden patterns, intricate designs of intertwining beasts and vines; and at the top four horses’ heads were carved from the wood. No corner of the hall was without some fantastic design wrought by the smiths and builders of old who had crafted the hall with skilled, loving hands.

Aldamir shook his head in wonder. Accustomed to the light, simple flets of the Galadhrim, the ornate, heavily carved Hall of Rohan filled him with awe. Never before had he seen such wild beauty crafted from wood. It must have taken them many weeks and months to build a hall of such magnitude and magnificence, he thought to himself, wondering.

Tearing his eyes from Meduseld’s beautiful interior, he turned to the food; yet he ate but little of it. He did not have need of much food, depending mostly upon lembas for nourishment, and gazed about at his surroundings as he ate a small portion of the repast before him. Looking to the head of the table, he saw that the Lady Éowyn sat by Aragorn’s side and spoke long with him. He could not hear their words, but her eyes were shining as they conversed, and Aldamir guessed that he spoke to her of the victory of Helm’s Deep. But then he saw suddenly that she grew pale and distressed, and seemingly sought to dissuade him from something, and he knew that he had spoken to her of his resolve to take the Paths of the Dead......

They rested that night in Edoras, and early in the morning Éowyn came to bid them farewell as they readied to depart. She was clad in shining mail, as a shieldmaiden of the Rohirrim, and a long sword was girt by her side. Her golden hair flowed down her back in a thick braid, and she was beautiful like a lily, but she was sad and troubled, and Aldamir could see upon her that she had not slept that night.

But she bid them farewell and gave Aragorn the stirrup-cup. He drank of it and wished her well, but she was full of grief and begged him to let her ride with him, yet he refused. And when he kissed her hand, leapt into the saddle and rode away without looking back, it seemed to Aldamir that he bore a great pain.

Away from Edoras they rode, and into the dark shadows of Dwimorberg, the Haunted Mountain, where the Paths of the Dead lay. As they rode the light was still grey about them, for the sun had not yet risen above the jagged peak of the mountain before them; the Door of the Dead. Passing through the lines of ancient stones, they came to a place where black trees loomed over them, their branches twisting together above their heads. Dread fell upon them all.

None spoke as they passed through the trees. A chill swept over Aldamir. He could feel the breath of the Dead hanging about them; the dark, hungry shadows seemed to want to entangle them and draw out their life. The subdued wind blowing through the black, leafless trees seemed to whisper of death; and he shuddered in fear.

And so they came to the Dimholt; and they found a hollow opening which led into the mountain’s black depths. A great stone lay in the pathway, a finger of doom, as it seemed. The horses would not go past it until they dismounted and led them. Passing it, they entered into the deep glen, and so came to the Door itself, in a great wall of sheer stone. It loomed before them like some evil mouth. Signs and writing too ancient to read were carved in the archway above it, and skulls had been set into the stone around it.

“This is an evil door,” said Halbarad in a low voice, “and my death lies beyond it. I will dare to pass it nonetheless; but no horse will enter.”

“But we must go in,” said Aragorn, “and therefor the horses go too. For if ever we come through this darkness, many leagues lie beyond, and every hour that is lost there will bring the triumph of Sauron nearer. Follow me!”

With a firm and steady step he went forward, leading his mount Roheryn, and passed through the Door. The Rangers followed him, as did Legolas and Gimli the Dwarf.

Then Aldamir dismounted and laid his hand on Fearán’s bridle to lead him through the darkness. But the horse trembled and shied away, terrified. Aldamir stroked him and spoke to him in Elvish; words that fell quietly on the horse’s ear and faded into the shadows. Then Fearán hesitantly stepped forward, and Aldamir passed through the Door of the Dead and into the black shadows beyond.....