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Theodred's Tale  by Elana

Chapter 24 – The Journey South

Dawn was rising in glory behind her, stretching her shadow long before her feet, as Elana picked her way down the steep slope to the river, careful not to overbalance with the weight of her pack and Deore on her back. She was weary from the night’s journey. Usually she would stop and make camp before dawn, lying in some concealed spot during the daylight hours and traveling only in the concealment of darkness, but she wanted light to be able to see this place. Already she had traveled many days out of her way to come here. She intended to travel south toward Gondor, and could have saved long weary miles of walking by proceeding directly west, meeting the River Isen far south where it bent towards the sea. She would not be crossing it, so this long detour north to the Fords was unnecessary. But she could not bring herself to leave Rohan without coming here, to see the place where Theodred had fallen, to bid him a last farewell at the mound where he lay in silent sleep forever.

She had reached her camp outside Waymeet a few days after her escape from Donaldo. For several weeks she had rested there, planning, gathering supplies, winnowing her belongings ruthlessly to the bare minimum necessary to support herself and Deore on the road. She had looked skyward, wondering, on the day black gloom obscured the sunrise, and again when the haze dispersed. She fretted constantly over worries about what was happening in the outside world. Had Saruman’s forces attacked again? In those days of despair it seemed possible that his armies could have swept all Rohan’s defenses away before them, overwhelming all the free folk of the land, leaving only herself and a few other pitiful refugees. But she had not dared venture forth from her hiding place to seek tidings.

Then the day had come when nothing changed, but everything changed. The sun seemed to shine brighter, the colors of the leaves and the rocks and the water took on a luminous intensity, the songs of the birds and the chattering of the squirrels sounded like music, and Elana found herself laughing for no reason at all, swinging Deore around in the air while her daughter crowed in delight. Some great and wonderful thing had happened, something that changed the very quality of the air around her. As the days passed, the feeling lessened but did not depart, until finally, curiosity overcoming her caution, Elana ventured again into Waymeet. There she had lurked at the edge of a crowd and heard a minstrel sing the tale of two creatures out of legend, who had ventured into the heart of Mordor, struggling on to the end of strength and hope, and whose very failure had been transformed into glorious victory. With the rest of the people she had listened spellbound, and wept, and laughed with joy, and though the cover slipped from Deore’s face midway through the telling, somehow her features went unnoticed in the midst of the general rejoicing.

Elana had reconsidered her plan then, but found that, though the most urgent fear was gone, still she was restless. Nothing bound her here anymore. Roswyn and her family had left Waymeet months before, fleeing with many others the threat of Saruman. Even if she were to return, nothing had changed. Nothing in the glad news gave any reason for her, or Elana’s family, to change their feelings about Deore. With Theodred gone, Rohan was empty for her, holding nothing but memories. At least elsewhere would be new, fresh, full of possibility.

So she had continued her preparations, and just a few weeks later had set out. Night travel seemed safest, so her progress had been slow, but she felt no need to hurry. The whole summer stretched out before her, promising ample time to journey and find a new home before the next winter descended.

Now she had come to the Fords, far off her direct path, to lay her past to rest before she ventured into the future. Deore had been fretful earlier, but now settled into alert calm, big brown eyes taking in the sparkle of the sun on the water. Elana came to the river’s edge and looked across to the little island in its midst. Then she lifted her skirts and ventured out across the stones that formed a walkway through the shallows.

The mound rose before her, taller than she was, taking up most of the north end of the island. Spears ringed it, a bristling forest pointing outward in guard. At its peak a banner fluttered, white horse on green.

Her steps slowed as she approached, until she halted just outside the ring of spears. Soft threads of green were already springing up on the dark soil. She looked for a long while, as her throat closed and her eyes blurred. She groped behind her for Deore, pulling her free of the carrying cloth and wrapping her arms around the baby. Always quick to catch her mother’s mood, Deore snuggled close in silence. Elana bent her head and rested her cheek against her daughter’s sparse, downy hair. Only a few tears escaped to dampen Deore’s head.

It was a fair place. No sign remained of the blood and death that had raged here, except the mound before her. Deep within lay her beloved’s body. But whatever last trace of Theodred she had come seeking was not here.

“Farewell,” she whispered. Then she made her way back over the stepping stones to the shore. Deore’s sturdy body was already growing heavy in her arms, but she would carry her thus for a while longer, before moving her again to her accustomed position on Elana’s back. Hugging her close, she looked once again at the mound, and beyond it into the west. The she turned her face resolutely downstream, and set off on the first steps of the journey south.

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