The Rohan Pride Trilogy
Part Three: Terms
The doom of Middle-earth is to be decided, and Gúthwyn's own fate is tangled up with it. Reunited with her people, her thoughts now turn to the children, and she would know what has befallen them—even if her life is the cost of such knowledge.
This is the only disclaimer you will see in Terms. I do not, in any way, shape, or form, own any part of Tolkien's brainchild. I am not making any money from this. The characters I do claim are the non-canon characters—especially Gúthwyn. Every character I put in the story has a name that comes from The Lord of the Rings UK website (besides Gúthwyn), except for the rare occasion when I look up a name in a book called The Fourteen Languages of Tolkien's Middle-earth. This was where Gúthwyn, 'one who delights in battle', came from. Also, I have a very limited knowledge of fighting, whether it involves 'street smarts', swords, knives, bows, or axes, and I do not claim to be an expert on any of them.
About the Trilogy:
I have decided to do what Tolkien did with his books. The Fellowship of the Ring had two books within the text, as did The Two Towers and The Return of the King. The only change I have made is the first part in my trilogy: Alone. That was divided into three books, the first book explaining how Gúthwyn got to where The Fellowship of the Ring started. Reunions will be divided into two books.
About Chapter One:
As always, I'm using a crazy blend of movie and book canon, and it may at times get confusing. Please bear with me.
"How far is it to Isengard, Gandalf?"
Legolas' voice grated on Gúthwyn's nerves, and she flinched. As she did so, Heorot stumbled a little; the movement jolted her stomach. She winced even more, trying and failing to keep her face from contorting. It was no matter: Everyone's eyes were on the wizard, who now glanced up at the sky.
Gúthwyn looked up as well. She could barely see it through the countless tree branches that criss-crossed menacingly above them. For nearly half an hour, they had been riding through the very woods that had appeared mysteriously at the edge of the Deeping Coomb. The Uruk-hai had run for the cover of these trees, yet not one of the foul creatures had they seen.
All around them, the trees were shifting slightly. From time to time a horse would get skittish, no doubt disliking the way they were moving without a breeze to stir them. Gúthwyn herself was uneasy in these woods. Much like Fangorn, here the air seemed old, and harder to breathe in. It was as if she were riding with a blanket over her head.
"About fifteen leagues," Gandalf said then, and she hastened to listen to him, "as far as the crow makes it: Five from the mouth of Deeping-coomb to the Fords; and ten more from there to the gates of Isengard."
Ahead of her, Gúthwyn saw Théoden's back stiffen at the mention of the place where his son Théodred had fallen. She felt a twinge of sadness run through her at the thought of her cousin. Worse than the news of his death was the realization that she had never gotten a chance to say goodbye to him: He had perished six days before her arrival in Edoras with the Three Hunters and Gandalf.
She sighed heavily, just as the wizard said, "But we shall not ride all the way this night."
"And when we come there, what shall we see?" Gimli wanted to know. At this, Gúthwyn leaned forward, eager for any information Gandalf might have concerning the fate of Isengard. From the frustratingly vague hints he had given them, much had changed with the recent events, but she could not say how. She felt deeply the slight impatience in the Dwarf's tone as he continued. "You may know, but I cannot guess."
"I myself do not know for certain," Gandalf replied, his eyes briefly flickering over Gúthwyn. The wizard was actually the reason why she was here: Théoden had been unwilling to let her go, but when Gandalf had argued for her he had relented. She still did not understand why Gandalf had helped her so, but she was exceedingly glad that it was so, and would not question his motives.
The sound of Gandalf speaking entered her mind, and she shook herself from her thoughts. "I was there at nightfall yesterday," the wizard was saying to Gimli, "but much may have happened since. Yet I think that you will not say that the journey was in vain—not though the Glittering Caves of Aglarond be left behind."
Earlier, they had heard the full extent of Gimli praising the caves, at which Gúthwyn could not help but roll her eyes at various points. They were simply caves, after all, and she did not see the beauty in them that he had claimed to behold. Legolas, however, had been on the receiving end of such commentary, as Gimli was behind him upon Arod. She and the Rohirrim had listened, with much shaking of the head, to the Elf and Dwarf debating. Legolas had argued that the trees were the greater sight; Gimli had stagnantly refused to change his mind.
In the end, they had struck a bargain: To return together, when or if they survived the war, and travel through Fangorn before going to Helm's Deep to see the caves. At this agreement, Éomer had caught her eye, and they had both had to stifle grins. Neither of them could see the attraction of the caves to the Dwarf or the forest to the Elf. They were features that had been on Middle-earth for years unnumbered, and had not changed at all in that time.
Coming out of her reverie, Gúthwyn asked, "Gandalf, when you went to Isengard, did you see any humans?"
The wizard glanced at her, as did everyone else. "I saw some men," he at last replied guardedly, not seeming at all keen to continue the conversation. Yet she was desirous of news, and pressed him further.
"What about women or children?"
He shook his head. "I did not stay long," he told her, but for a moment he and Aragorn exchanged a look that she could not interpret.
After that, she did not finish the inquiry. Legolas' eyes were on her, and in order to get away from them she moved Heorot up beside Éomer. Her brother was mounted atop Firefoot, looking every bit the Second Marshal that he was. Clad in armor, died red and adorned with various symbols, he was distinct among a mass of Riders. His sword, Gúthwine—he had named it partly after her, and partly for its meaning, which was 'battle friend'—hung sheathed by his side, but she had seen him wield it at Helm's Deep, and knew that he was a formidable warrior.
"We will soon be there," Éomer reminded her then. "Patience, sister. It as a virtue you seem to have not received over the years."
He laughed when he saw her fidgeting in the saddle, and she blushed. "What I lack for patience I must make up in other areas," she replied.
Éomer glanced at her. "Have you had much practice with that sword?" he asked, gesturing at Framwine. "Théoden says that you rode to battle against the Wargs—did you kill any of them?"
"You are not mad at me?" Gúthwyn asked, looking at Théoden. He was riding at the head of the column, conversing with Gamling. "Uncle was furious."
Her brother sighed. "I wish you would not endanger yourself so," he said quietly. "Yet I have grown used to a headstrong sister over the years."
She digested the information, and then took another glance at the king. "I slew four of them," she told him at length. His eyes widened slightly; she smiled briefly before continuing. "Did Théoden tell you aught else of me?"
Éomer nodded, growing serious and looking at her closely. "All that you told him."
"Oh." Gúthwyn did not want to meet his eyes, and she stared intently at Heorot's reins.
"Did you truly think that we did not care for you?"
The question was gentle, but she cringed when her brother asked it. "Not you," she muttered to her hands. "Théoden."
He fell silent, and they did not say anything more for awhile. At length, they emerged from the woods. Gúthwyn would have been all too happy to leave the forest behind and never look back, but Legolas halted and gazed at it for a moment. And then he cried out:
"There are eyes!"
Gúthwyn gave a start, but when she squinted at the trees she could see nothing.
"Eyes looking out from the shadows of the boughs!" Legolas insisted, and she could not help but shudder at the sound of his voice. "I never saw such eyes before!"
He nudged Arod back towards the woods; Gimli gave an indignant shout. "No, no! Do as you please in your madness, but let me first get down from this horse! I wish to see no eyes!"
Gúthwyn was worried for Gimli, though privately she did not think she would care if the Elf disappeared into the forest and never returned. After how he had humiliated her back in the fortress, she was not feeling particularly kind to him.
"Stay, Legolas Greenleaf!" Gandalf commanded, and Legolas halted. Gúthwyn wondered at the surname: She had never heard it before. "Do not go back into the wood, not yet! Now is not your time."
Gúthwyn was about to turn away when something moved in the forest. She and the others gaped as three strange creatures broke forth from the trees—as part of the woods they looked—and hardly glanced at the mounted company. Raising gnarled hands to what she presumed was their mouth, they each let out ringing calls that echoed towards the north. They sounded rather musical, and Gúthwyn was astonished to hear equally melodious answers.
Then her hand gripped her sword tightly, as from out of nowhere more of these creatures appeared, striding towards them swifter than a bird.
"You need no weapons," Gandalf told them, and when she glanced around she saw that she was not the only one who had been ready to draw her sword. Nearly all of the Rohirrim had their hands curled around the hilts protruding from leather sheathes. "These are but herdsman." As he spoke, the things were moving into the woods, vanishing without so much as looking at them. "They are not our enemies; indeed, they are not concerned with us at all."
The Riders stared in amazement at him. "Herdsmen!" Théoden exclaimed in bewilderment. "What are their flocks? What are they, Gandalf?"
Gúthwyn looked at Aragorn, who had kept to himself for the entire journey, but he was silent, and she had rarely been able to interpret his expression. This time proved to be no exception, and Théoden continued as her curiosity went unsatisfied. "For it is plain to you, at any rate," he said to the wizard, "that they are not strange."
"They are shepards of the trees," Gandalf replied immediately. "Is it so long since you listened to tales by the fireside? Many years cannot have passed since you told them to your nieces, and already you have forgotten? There are children in your land who, out of the twisted threads of story, could pick out the answer to your question. You have seen Ents, O King, Ents out of Fangorn Forest, which in your tongue you call the Entwood."
Ents! Gúthwyn thought in amazement. Gandalf had spoken correctly: Not much more than a decade had gone by since Théoden had sat her on his knee and told her in a low voice about these trees. They could walk and converse just as Men or Elves did, and had been on the earth far longer than the former. She had always assumed that they were the stuff of legends, entertaining enough on rainy days but never having any basis in fact. And, as with the Halflings, whom she had similarly believed to be nonexistent, she had been proven wrong.
Suddenly she realized that Gandalf was still speaking. "The evil of Sauron cannot wholly be cured, nor made as if it had not been," the wizard said. Blinking, Gúthwyn decided that she must have lost thread of the conversation quite some time ago, as she did not know how they had gotten on this topic. "But to such days we are doomed. Let us now go on with the journey we have begun!"
At his words, Théoden kicked Snowmane, and they followed him. Gúthwyn remained close to Éomer as they left the Deeping-coomb, turning towards the Fords. The sun had set while they had been in the woods, and now all was dark. She reached up with one hand to tighten Chalibeth's cloak around her. In honor of the trip to Isengard, where so many memories with her friend lay, she had elected to wear this one.
Thoughts of the hours they had spent together, cheerfully complaining about the work they had had to do and knowing fully well that such words would not accomplish anything, occupied Gúthwyn's mind so that she almost did not even notice when they arrived at the Fords. When she did, she slowed along with the others, and gaped in shock at the River Isen.
The last time she had seen these waters, she was crossing them in order to fulfill her mission to Sauron. Less than a year ago, the river had been running swiftly, tinkling merrily as it went. Yet now, hardly any water flowed before the horses' feet; instead, the Riders looked upon a bare expanse of shale and clay.
"This has become a dreary place," Éomer murmured, his eyes widening in disbelief. "What sickness has befallen the river? Many fair things has Saruman destroyed: has he devoured the springs of Isen too?"
"So it would seem," Gandalf replied soberly. Gúthwyn and her brother exchanged dark glances. So it was not enough that Saruman had ravaged the Westfold. Now he had brought the destruction to his own realm, as well.
"Alas!" Théoden cried in distress. "Must we pass this way, where the carrion-beasts devour so many good Riders of the Mark?"
In a sudden flaring up of her old anger, Gúthwyn wondered just how many less men would have perished if it had not been for Théoden's weakness. The next instant, she felt guilty for such thoughts, and tried to banish them from her mind. Haldor retreated into a corner, still muttering incessantly.
"This is our way," Gandalf said, looking across the river. "Grievous is the fall of your men; but you shall see that at least the wolves of the mountains do not devour them."
"Are there any nearby?" Gúthwyn asked anxiously, glancing around. Her fingers twitched, moving towards her sword.
Yet the wizard shrugged. "It depends on what you would call nearby," he answered. "They are out tonight, of that I am certain, but not close enough to concern us. It is with their friends, the Orcs, that they hold their feast: Such indeed is the friendship of their kind."
Gúthwyn shivered, knowing all too well that he spoke the truth. No amount of whip-lashings could deter a Warg, if they wished to eat their rider. She had seen it happen often enough, each time worse than the last.
"Come!" Gandalf cried, and they sprung forward, reaching the river swiftly. Here they paused once more, at an eyot, and gazed in wonder at it. A cairn of stones had been built, crowned with several spears that were thrust into the night. Even with her poor vision, she could tell that they were those of the Rohirrim. "Look!" the wizard exclaimed. "Friends have labored here."
Gúthwyn sent a prayer up to the Valar for those who had fallen defending the Fords, hoping that they were now in a better place.
"Here lie all the Men of the Mark that fell near this place," Gandalf murmured. The air was heavy with silence until Éomer spoke.
"Here let them rest!" he declared, his helmet shining in the darkness as he talked. "And when their spears have rotted and rusted, long still may their mound stand and guard the Fords of Isen!"
"Is this your work also, Gandalf, my friend?" Théoden wondered, looking at the cairn in surprise. "You accomplished much in an evening and a night!"
As she listened, Gúthwyn found herself staring off into the distance, looking into the blackness beyond the mound. Her eyes darted around aimlessly, though her hands were shaking uncontrollably. She wanted to be gone from this place; it was too dark, and the river was the perfect opportunity for the enemy to ambush them. There was no sound of any approach, but one could never be too careful.
That was when she saw them. Two pinpricks of light, gleaming out at her, unblinking and unswerving in their gaze. Panicking, Gúthwyn pulled back on Heorot's reins, moving the horse away from them. She nearly fainted as the eyes pinned her down, cruel in their relentlessness, not once leaving her own. Heorot snorted nervously as she shook violently; her breathing was becoming labored, and still the eyes were there…
"Gúthwyn!" Someone had nudged their horse up alongside her. Éomer. She stared at him in wild terror, unable to conceal it. "Gúthwyn, what is it?"
She swallowed the lump that was forming in her throat. "T-There are eyes here," she whispered, extending a quivering hand to point at them. "Watching us!"
Éomer followed her gaze, and then said firmly, "They will not attack us now."
"Now?" she repeated in horror. "D-Do you mean they will attack l-later?"
It was one thing to face the Wargs in the daylight—it was another thing entirely to face them in the dark, where their eyes had slowly and methodically driven her to madness, where they had waited with the voices until she let her guard down…
"Gúthwyn, listen to me!" Éomer ordered, leaning over and gripping her arm tightly. She started, looking at him in fright.
"Éomer, they are here!" she cried. Why did he not understand?
"You need to calm down," he hissed. "The others are staring."
He was right. Gúthwyn's trembling gaze focused on Legolas, who was watching them concernedly. With a horrible flush of shame, she realized how weak she was behaving. "I-I am sorry," she muttered, taking a deep breath. "I-I do not know what I was th-thinking…"
Éomer's hold on her loosened. "We are safe from them," he reassured her quietly, and straightened back on Firefoot. "Do not worry."
"Is everything all right?" Théoden called from the head of the column. Gúthwyn's face turned bright red, and when Éomer glanced at her, she shook her head quickly.
"Yes," her brother replied. "Let us go!"
At Éomer's command, the horses leaped forward. Like lightning the somber Fords passed behind them, and as they went a chorus of howling sounded their farewell. Gúthwyn paled, but when Éomer looked back at her she kept her face as calm as possible. Yet she did not turn her head left or right until they had gone nearly a mile away from the Fords. Her heart was hammering in her chest, more skittish than a mouse in the cats' lair.
Gradually, as they heard no more of the Wargs, she began to settle down, and focused more of her attention on the road. They were riding alongside the same path that the hunter had taken her, nearly eight years ago, back in the day when she had naively believed Saruman to be a supporter of Rohan. Much had changed since then—and she was not just thinking of herself. If the Isen was any indicator, she would find things far different from when she had lived in the Nan Curunír.
Eventually Théoden called for a halt. The men were weary, especially as they had not gotten any sleep two nights ago. Gandalf led them to a stretch of level ground at the foot of the Misty Mountains, where they had a clear view into the Vale of Saruman. Well, in most cases, it would have been clear: Now, such mist and cloud poured from it, choking the skies with its blackness, that they could discern nothing within the ring. An unsettled feeling sunk through her stomach.
"What do you think of that, Gandalf?" Aragorn asked, and Gúthwyn glanced over at the Ranger. He had not spoken for nearly the entire journey, clearly lost in his own thoughts. Now, up close, she thought he looked tired and wayworn. "One would say that all the Wizard's Vale is burning."
They were dismounting from their horses as Éomer replied, "There is ever a fume above that valley in these days, but I have never seen aught like this before. These are steams rather than smokes."
Gúthwyn squinted, and saw that he had spoken correctly. Cold worry began seeping throughout her. What was happening there? Were the slaves being affected by it?
Éomer continued as her mind tortured itself with horrible scenarios. "Saruman is brewing some devilry to greet us," he said, narrowing his eyes. "Maybe he is boiling all the waters of the Isen, and that is why the river runs dry."
"Maybe he is," Gandalf answered, though it did not seem as if that was his opinion. "Tomorrow we shall learn what he is doing. Now let us rest for awhile, if we can."
Everyone agreed to this, and before long the other men were setting up their pallets. Gúthwyn watched them, still standing beside Heorot. She did not think she would be able to go to sleep tonight, not with the Wargs around them. Who knew if they would see a camp of slumbering men and decide the time was ripe for attack?
She jumped slightly, and turned to see Éomer approaching her. He had removed the bulk of his armor, namely the breastplate, and was wearing a green cloak over a simple tunic and leggings. "Are you coming?"
"I am sorry for what happened earlier," she apologized suddenly, hardly able to look at him for embarrassment. "I should not have—"
He made a motion to silence her. "Your fears are understandable," he told her, stepping closer. A firm hand was laid on her arm, which she had folded over her stomach. "Come," he said. "You will need your rest for tomorrow."
"I do not think I will get any," she whispered, shaking her head.
"You cannot just stand next to Heorot all night," he replied, and though he did have a point, she was not altogether willing to lie down and let herself become vulnerable to nightmares.
"What shall I do, then?" she asked.
"I would suggest putting your things beside mine, but all the other men lie near me," Éomer answered, casting a glance over at the huddled lumps on the ground.
"No, I will do that," she said. He would make her feel safe. She was not concerned about the guards. They were trustworthy, and even if she slept amongst them she knew their minds would not turn to dishonorable thoughts about her.
"Are you sure?" he wanted to know, eyeing the guards doubtfully.
"Yes." It was either that, or go closer to where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli were sleeping, and under no circumstances would she willfully approach the Elf—especially after what had happened in the Hornburg.
Éomer waited while she retrieved her pack, then led her to where he had laid his own pallet. She put hers down close to it, relieved to have his protection from the Wargs. As much as she hated to admit it, she was still terrified of the creatures. Even after slaying four of them on the way to Helm's Deep, she was nowhere close to overcoming her fear.
"Goodnight," Éomer murmured to her as she settled down.
"Goodnight," she replied, but when her eyes closed the dreamy whispers of sleep did not assail her. For nearly two hours she was wide awake, listening to the silence that shrouded the camp, her mind alternately tossing between the gleaming eyes and the fates of the slaves at Isengard.
Midnight had passed when suddenly one of the watchmen gave a cry, rousing everyone in the camp. Gúthwyn opened her eyes and saw that, though the stars remained in the sky, the moon was not there. Then she turned to where the men were now pointing. All of the blood drained out of her face.
On either side of the river, rolling slowly towards them, was a darkness thicker than anything she had ever seen before. A great rustling noise sounded from within it, yet it was impossible to see what lay inside its depths. Panicking, Gúthwyn all but flung herself backwards in an attempt to get away from it. Something seized her chest, making it harder to breathe… harder to think… harder to move…
"Stay where you are!" Gandalf warned them. "Draw no weapons! Wait! and it will pass you by!"
Éomer's hand clamped down on her shoulder just as the darkness swallowed the camp. The rustling grew louder. Gúthwyn squirmed under her brother's grip, terrified of this thing, this thing that was threatening to destroy her. Yet he would not release her. Nothing could she see around her, not even Éomer. And then the voices came, swirling around her with the shadows.
You are pathetic… worthless…
A useless whore…
Borogor loved you, and you betrayed him…
It was as if a great pillow had been pressed over her mouth and nose. Gúthwyn choked as the breath left her body, then felt a speeding darkness overcome her that had nothing to do with that which surrounded them. She wavered, and fainted.