The Dragon and the Fox

by Varda

Chapter 49: The Dreamer Never Lies

When at last the Great Gate of Minas Tirith was breached and the enemy poured into the Square of the King, the sight was rendered even more terrible by darkness. But the night-time was illuminated by burning buildings and towers, set aflame by fireballs catapulted over the walls by the army of Sauron. The fires revealed a great horde, black-armoured orcs in droves and men, fierce Haradrim and Easterlings, ravening for blood as they scoured every street and alley and square in search of men women and children to put to the sword….

From his vantage point on the wall high above the ruined gate he could see no sign of dawn on the plain, only endless battalions of orcs, pushing back the slender strength of Gondor, slaying and savaging as they went. He himself was cut off from retreat, and watched with horror as orcs swarmed up the walkways to where he stood on the wall. Above everything was a high, shrill screaming, like a keening for the slaughtered. And now he too was screaming….

‘Wake up! Wake up! You’re killing yourself!’

Someone was shaking him, calling him, trying to bring him back to life. He coughed, gasped, and began to breathe again. He opened his eyes and saw Seolta leaning over him, holding him in a desperate embrace.

‘At last!’ the Ranger cried. ‘I thought you were gone. You took some kind of seizure, you stopped breathing and turned cold as stone…I thought we had lost you, Dreamer….’

Seolta helped An Bruadar to sit up. He looked round in a daze, slowly recognizing the caves of Helm’s Deep. All around stood the Elves, their deep blue cloaks wrapped round them, watching in silence. Seolta said angily to them;
‘Why didn’t you help him? He could have died….’
But An Bruadar shook his head and said;
‘There is nothing they can do…’

The leader of the Galadhrim, Rosc, stepped forward and said to Seolta;
‘The gift of foresight is rarely given to Elves, and never to men. No other mortal has ever possessed it, to our knowledge. It is a dangerous gift. As the days become more desperate and the darkness grows, his dreams become more deadly, for him and in their meaning for us all, men and Elves both…’
He turned to An Bruadar and asked
‘What did you see, Dreamer?’

An Bruadar was silent for a while, trying fearfully to recover the images seen in his dream. The grey light of dawn was creeping into the Caves. The Elves, who never slept, had been standing leaning on their bows and watching the chilly morning over Helm’s Deep. Now they gathered quietly round, and the Rangers of the Black Company had also begun to come out of their quarters in the caves, drawn by the sound of shouting. The tall warlike Elf Dearfa repeated Rosc’s question;
‘What did you see, An Bruadar?’

‘I saw Minas Tirith in flames.’ said the Ranger in a dead voice.
‘ I saw the gate breached and the enemy in the streets…all fire, all smoke ….’
‘When, An Bruadar?…’ broke in Rosc. ‘Can you tell us when this will happen? How much time do we have?’

An Bruadar drove himself deep into his thoughts, recreating the events of his vision. Cold sweat rolled down his face. Then he looked up suddenly and cried;
‘We have only four days! Above the city, in the darkness, I could just see the moon. It was no more than five days past the moon of last night….’

A murmur of consternation ran round the Elves and the Black Company. The young Ranger Fíor exclaimed;
‘This is dreadful news! We swore our allegiance to the Dúnedáin Aragorn, to support him in war. Now he is gone to battle in Gondor, and we are still here! We should be with him!’
‘What else can we do?’ rumbled the giant Ranger Téagar. ‘We have no horses with which to follow him….’

The Rangers fell silent. Téagar was right; Aragorn and King Théoden and the Grey Company had passed out of the Deeping Coombe the previous day, leaving behind all those who could not fight or who had no horses. The Galadhrim, and the Black Company, had to wait for the Rohan levies. But scouring the Mark for horses was a slow task, and first choice was given to the Rohirrim, who were also mustering at Helm’s Deep, the men of the Westfold, those éoreds which had not gathered in time for the siege of the Hornburg.

‘But waiting for horses could take days, weeks even!’ said Fíor desperately. ‘We will be too late to save Minas Tirith….’ He looked at Seolta and Rosc
‘..we will break our oath to Aragorn!’

‘Quiet, lad’ said Téagar, putting a calming hand on the young warrior’s arm. Seolta met Rosc’s gaze and signalled to him to walk outside.

Out in the great castle yard where such bitter fighting had taken place only two days before tents had been pitched. The villagers had moved out of the caves and had camped in the cashel and outside on the plain. They seemed to fear the darkness of the caves; the memory of being trapped by the Uruk-hai was still raw in their minds….but it was early, and as yet no-one was about. A dog barked and a horse whinnied outside on the picket lines. Seolta motioned to Rosc to follow him and walked up the stone steps to the Deeping Wall.

A very different sight greeted them from that of the night of battle; rows of white tents, the Rohirrim preparing for war, and beyond, lines of horses picketed in the shelter of the walls….

‘There, my lord Elf, are our horses.’
The tall Elf, his long shining hair catching the early sun’s rays and his deep blue silver-embroidered cloak stirring in the breeze, looked at the dark-cloaked Ranger, barely as tall as his shoulder, in astonishment. Instinctively Rosc held his injured hand close to his side and suddenly burst out laughing.
‘We can’t take those! They belong to the Rohirrim, they would never give us their warhorses. It would be pointless to even ask such a thing..…’
‘I never said anything about asking’ replied Seolta quietly.

Rosc’s laughter stopped abruptly. He spoke coldly;
‘The Elves of Lórien do not steal’
‘Then the Elves of Lórien won’t be able to fight for Gondor. They won’t be able to fulfill their oath to the Dúnedain….’
Rosc looked grim, but said nothing.
‘What matters more’ went on Seolta ‘..offending some fat, tardy villagers who came late to the battle in the first place, or the walls of Minas Tirith breached and the city burned. You well know, Lord Rosc of the Galadhrim, that The Dreamer does not lie….’

At these words Rosc gazed out over the Deeping Coomb and said as if to himself;
‘The Dreamer has only one vision left to him.’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Seolta in surprise. Rosc answered quietly;
‘The next dream will kill him.’

Seolta looked at Rosc in horror and cried;
‘What do you mean? How can you know that?’
Rosc answered in the same quiet, resigned voice;
‘It is given to Elves to know more than mortal men. As the darkness advances, so too does the terror of his dreams increase. He will not survive another vision, unless there is some hope given to us…’
‘Then we must take these horses and go at once!’ urged Seolta. ‘He is one of you now, he is your second in command. If you will not go to honour your word, go for pity of An Bruadar, to save his life!’

Rosc remained gazing across the plain. He might have been carved out of the wood of a tree of Lórien for all the feeling he showed. Seolta waited in anguish, and was about to turn away in despair when Rosc held out his hand and plucked an imaginary harpstring;
‘Do you think that the greatest song of the War of the Ring will be the Lay of the Horse Thieves….?’

It was still barely dawn when Seolta sought out their wounded leader Ruán among the other hurt and sick lying in the Great Hall of Helm’s Deep. The Elves had brought him their healing, but he lay gravely sick, fevered and dreaming.

Seolta nodded to the healer who moved away and left them alone. Seolta took Ruán’s hand in his and spoke his name, but the Ranger did not reply, and his hand burned like fire. Seolta said softly;
‘All I can do is promise you that I will avenge you, and that I will return, and bring the Black Company back with me.’

The sick man gave no sign of hearing. Seolta wondered that there had been a time when he hated this man. Now he leaned over and kissed his brow and whispered;
‘Farewell, Hawk of the North. You are our true leader, and will always be….’

At the same time the young Ranger Fíor walked whistling through the breach in the Deeping Wall, nodding a good morning to the guard on the picket line of horses. He looked sharply at the man; he was dozing, his helmed head nodding on his chest, at the end of a long watch.

Fíor stopped whistling and looking about quickly he ran to the end of the picket line and with trembling fingers he undid the knot and ran the lead rope through the ring in the picket. He heard a step behind him and whirled round but a voice said softly;
‘Hush! Make no noise, Ranger…..’

It was Dearfa, the tall dark-haired warrior Elf. Turning from Fíor he laid a hand on the glossy flank of the nearest horse and spoke softly to it, upon which it which flicked its ears forward and shook its head. Quietly, one after the other, the horses were freed from their tethers and without a whinny or hardly a loud hoofbeat, they filed through the tents to the gap in the Deeping Dike, beyond which the Black Company and the Galadhrim waited….

Dearfa looked at Fíor’s astonished face and winked.

‘Now we ride for Gondor…’