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The Mathom House  by Baggins Babe

This began as a Halloween story and turned into something more suitable for Remembrance Day.

Gondor, 3rd Year of the Fourth Age

Long skeletal fingers of mist drifted across from the Anduin, swirling dreamily round the causeway forts and floating above the Rammas Echor and the road to the White City. There was little wind but it was a cold, damp night to be out.

       Dorion of the Gondorian Guard shivered as he stood outside the northern causeway fort. Chill wisps of mist seemed to find the smallest gap between his collar and his neck, insinuating themselves about him in an almost uncanny way. He was glad of the single lantern above his head which cast a comforting circle of light in the otherwise all enveloping darkness. The lights from the city were still visible through the mist but they looked a long way away. His father, a soldier of the Citadel Guard, would be at home with other members of the family, celebrating the Souls' Feast. It was said to be the night when the veil between the two worlds was at its thinnest, and Dorion could believe that. He glanced over to his fellow guard on the other fort, which stood on the other side of the great road from Osgiliath to Minas Tirith. At least he did not feel quite so alone while he could see another human being, but the mist was thickening all the time and it was difficult to see anything. He could hear the soft whispering of the river as it rolled towards the sea, a noise which normally would not have bothered him but tonight the water sounded hungry and restless.

       "Stop thinking like a maid!" he muttered to himself. Even as he said it, he wondered what sort of spirits might be abroad on this night. The other-worldly cry of a screech owl made him jump; he remembered the screams of the Nazgul during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. So many Men and Orcs had died out here in that battle, and the Lord of Minas Morgul had been despatched by the Lady Eowyn and the Pheriain Meriadoc. Dorion suppressed a shudder as he wondered if that dark spirit might be abroad.

       The tide of memory carried him back to the night after the battle, when he was sitting beside his father's bed in the Houses of Healing. The tall dark Ranger from the north had come from healing the Lady Eowyn, Meriadoc and Lord Faramir. He spoke with many who had been wounded in the fighting, and gently reassured a worried sixteen year old Dorion that his father would recover. He had also assured the lad that the Witch-King had gone for good. Convinced that the Lord of Minas Morgul was not about to appear, Dorion was still rather uneasy. The mist was now too dense to see more than a few feet, yet he was beginning to realise that something was out there. He just knew it, although he could not have said how.

       The horse startled him as it trotted out of the mist in front of him. Dorion almost laughed in relief; a runaway horse he could deal with. It was a magnificent looking beast, milk-white, with a mane and tail of spun silver streaming behind it, neck arched proudly. Dorion thought it most resembled the horse on which Mithrandir had arrived in the White City at the time of the War, but that creature had gone over Sea to Valinor with the White Rider. Dorion could not think of any other horse like it in Minas Tirith. The Queen rode a grey palfrey and most Gondorian cavalry horses were dark brown or black.

       The horse trotted in a circle, approaching a little closer. It regarded the young guardsman with an intelligent and slightly mischievous gaze, head tilted in unspoken query. It was then that Dorion noticed something else - the initially solid appearance of the animal had given way to something much less substantial. The body seemed composed of the mist around it, roiling and billowing like milk poured into water. Dorion felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck.

       Then he remembered his grandfather's stories of the Pelennor, and the great painting in the museum. Six thousand Rohirrim charging in a mighty wave down the slope and into the orcs of Mordor, led by a single white horse bearing King Theoden to their last battle.

       "You're Snowmane, aren't you?" Dorion whispered. The horse bowed his handsome head in assent. "You and your fellow horses saved Godor and I'm sorry you had to lose your lives." The young man bowed to the animal, who whinnied softly, turned and trotted away through the fog.

                                                                        ***********

       In the guard house later, warming himself with meat, bread and mulled ale, Dorion wondered if he had imagined the horse. He mentioned it tentatively and some of the guards laughed and said he had been dreaming. One who did not laugh was the old sergeant, veteran of many battles. He nodded thoughtfully.

       "I've seen a lot of strange things, lad, and I've seen him a time or two, when he chooses to appear. You're honoured - not everyone has seen him, although I know the King himself saw him not so long ago, on his way back from Osgiliath. You weren't dreaming."

       Following a morning's sleep and a late lunch, Dorion made his way out of the great gates and walked across the fields to the green mound with its simple white marble stone. He carried a bunch of flowers which he placed on the mound before standing with his head bowed. He remembered the hundreds, perhaps thousands of horses and the unfortunate mumaks, taken from their homeland in the warmth of Harad and driven to their deaths before Minas Tirith. So many innocent lives. They had even less choice than the men who fought, and were quickly forgotten by most. Dorion resolved that he would make sure they were not forgotten.

       As he walked back towards the gates Dorion found himself hoping he would see Snowmane again, on a night when mist rolled in from the river and the fields were empty.

Written in memory of all those animals who died in wars. Some people estimate that 7 million horses died in the First World War. In London there is a war memorial to the animals which remembers everything from elephants, horses, mules, dogs, cats, carrier pigeons and even the glow-worms which were used to read maps by on dark nights.

 





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