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Half The Battle

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The sun beat down upon the western hill range of Emyn Muil mercilessly and its harsh glare found Aragorn lying on his side with his ear pressed against the rocky ground as Haedirn closely studied the trodden ground, brushing her fingers against the dirt and feeling the warm earth beneath her fingertips. Legolas and Gimli were running a few paces behind the two Rangers as they listened and waited for the siblings to tell them their next move - following the Uruk-hai who took Merry and Pippin was not going to be easy since the creatures could travel by day and at great speeds.

 

"Their pace has quickened.", Aragorn mumbled softly as he looked up at his adoptive sister. "They must have caught our scent!", he realised.

"Onónë? Where are they headed?", Aragorn called out to Haedirn who brushed the soil from her fingers and turned to the men with worry in her amethyst eyes.

 

"They're headed Northward. These tracks are cold - they have at least a day's head-start ahead of us.", Haedirn pointed in the said direction.

 

"Hurry!", Aragorn shouted down the hills as he and Haedirn and Legolas surged forward up the rocky outcrops.

 

"Come on, Gimli!", Legolas paused halfway up the hill to yell behind him at their Dwarf companion before hurrying after his fiancée and friend.

 

Gimli huffed and puffed, clearly out of breath, as he staggered up the rocky hills of Emyn Muil with his axe being used as a bit of a walking stick now. He paused to catch his breath before returning to struggle up the hills once more, trying to catch up his much faster companions.

 

"Three days and nights' pursuit. No food, no rest and no sign of our quarry but what bare rock can tell.", the Dwarf warrior grumbled in between gulps of breath as he kept pushing himself forward after his companions.

 

The four warriors hurried far beyond the boundaries of Emyn Muil and along the edge of a cliff that loomed over a trickling stream at least twenty leagues below till they reached the plains of Rohan and came to a narrow pathway surrounded by tall rocky cliff-like structures. Haedirn spotted something small twinkling on the trodden mud path and knelt down, digging it up from the flattened soil - it was a leaf brooch of Lothlórien. Aragorn came up behind the she-elf and peered over her shoulder, the Ranger taking the leaf brooch when his adoptive sister handed it to him as Legolas jogged ahead of them both.

 

"Not idly do the leaves of Lórien fall.", Aragorn looked at his sister before glancing at the brooch again, the Mirkwood Prince backtracking to look at what his fiancée had found.

 

"They may yet be alive.", Legolas said hopefully and Haedirn briefly studied the ground she had plucked the brooch from.

 

"The ground has been trodden not too long ago. We're getting closer.", a sense of hope swelled in her breast.

 

"Less than a day ahead of us. Come.", Aragorn pocketed the brooch as he, Haedirn and Legolas took off running once more.

 

Behind them, Gimli let out a shout of surprise as he stumbled clumsily on some jagged rocks and the Dwarf tumbled gracelessly onto the pathway with a terrific clatter, armour and axe and all. Legolas paused briefly to look behind him at their companion and urged him forward encouragingly.

 

"Come, Gimli! We are gaining on them!", the Mirkwood Prince's voice echoed.

 

"I'm wasted on cross-country!", Gimli shouted back loudly, panting heavily as he hurriedly jogged after his comrades who were already a good distance from him. "We dwarves are natural sprinters! Very dangerous over short distances!"

 

"You can do it, Master Gimli! You're almost there!", Haedirn shouted back in encouragement as she kept on running forward with Aragorn.

 

The four of them kept on running forward, following the Uruk-hai trail, till they came to a tall hill. They jogged on up over the crest of the hill and stood atop its surrounding boulders, looking over the vast open fields of Rohan. As her violet eyes scanned the empty lands, the she-elf wished that Tinnuroch was here with her - her beloved stallion companion would have loved these wide and boundless lands that were absolutely perfect for him to gallop across.

 

 

"Rohan, home of the Horse-lords.", Haedirn breathed in amazement as Gimli caught up with them on the hilltop, panting heavily for breath as he leaned against his axe for support.

 

"There's something strange at work here - some evil gives speed to these creatures, sets its will against us.", Aragorn furrowed his brow and Haedirn was silent for a moment, trying to feel what her brother was feeling, before she too frowned with concern when she felt this land's presence.

 

"Meleth, come. Let us scout ahead.", Legolas called to Haedirn and the two Elves ran ahead onto a large boulder some distance up ahead, the Mirkwood Prince holding his fiancée's hand to make sure that she would not slip and lose her footing.

 

"Haedirn! Legolas! What do your Elf eyes see?", Aragorn shouted from his and Gimli's position on another boulder behind them.

 

Haedirn squinted slightly against the sunlight, shielding her eyes with the hood of her cloak, and saw in the distance a large cloud of dust being stirred up northeast in the otherwise serene view of the Plains of Rohan, pointing it out to her fiancé who focused in on the retreating cloud of dust as well.

 

"The Uruks turn northeast!", Haedirn shouted back when she realised where they were heading and paled at the thought.

 

"They're taking the Hobbits to Isengard!", Legolas spoke what they were both thinking, his own cerulean eyes widening with fearful realisation.

 

"Isengard...! They're delivering the Hobbits to Saruman! But once the White Wizard finds out that Merry and Pippin do not have the Ring, he will kill them!", the very blood in Haedirn's bones ran ice cold at that thought.

 

"We must hurry after them!", Aragorn shouted and the four warriors immediately set off after the Uruk-hai again, leaping from rock to rock and dashing across the large sprawling lands of Rohan.

 

The Uruk-hai tirelessly trampled across the plains as if they had wings on their feet, but the four warriors were determined to catch up with them. Legolas and Haedirn swiftly dashed in front of the group for Elves were light-footed and swift as birds, Aragorn dashed behind them with his sword swinging at his hip and his bow and quiver full of arrows slamming against his back and Gimli brought up the rear, jogging after his three fleet-footed companions with heavy breaths.

 

"Keep breathing. That's the key. Breathe.", Gimli panted breathlessly as he pushed himself to keep up with the others in front.

 

"They run as if the very whips of their masters were behind them.", Legolas noted grimly as they continued to pursue the Uruk-hai.

 

"We can't stop now, not while they still have Merry and Pippin in their clutches. If we don't get them back, they're as good as dead.", Haedirn willed herself to keep running despite the burning in her legs, her muscles screaming for rest.

 

The two parties continued their relentless chase through the vastness of Rohan from morning through the scorching heat and merciless glare of the sun all the way through to sunset with neither the Uruk-hai nor the four warriors willing to stop once for rest or breath. Even as night fell, the four of them continued their pursuit; they did not want to stop because if they did, it only served to put more distance between the Uruk-hai and them; Haedirn silently prayed to the Valar over and over again, even begging Eru Ilúvatar Himself to grant them more strength and endurance so that they could reach the Hobbits before it was too late...

Chapter Text

The dawning sun slowly crept over the distant hills and bled over the horizon like freshly spilled blood in war as Haedirn, Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli continued their pursuit across the lands of Rohan at high speed. Legolas suddenly paused in his tracks and turned to face the blood red sky with dread visible in his cerulean eyes; Haedirn glanced behind her and approached her fiancé, holding his hand gently.

 

"A red sun rises. Blood has been spilled this night.", Legolas murmured ominously.

 

"There may be hope still, meleth nîn.", Haedirn whispered softly and the Mirkwood Prince gently pressed their foreheads together, giving a small nod of acknowledgement. "Come, we must hurry.", the two Elves hurried after Aragorn and Gimli as the sun continued to rise in the painted sky, bringing about a new day.

 

As the sky grew brighter, the four warriors reached the top of a hill rise as Aragorn and Haedirn stopped to examine the ground again for more Uruk-hai tracks when the she-elf grabbed her brother's wrists and frowned in concentration.

 

"Man te, onónë?", Aragorn looked at Haedirn questioningly.

 

"I hear horses.", Haedirn frowned warily before looking past the rise. "They're coming this way.", at that, the four of them hastened and quickly huddled tightly behind a nearby rock formation just in time as the Riders of Rohan galloped over the rise and thundered down into the plains below past their hiding spot.

 

 

"Riders of Rohan! What news from the Mark?", Aragorn stepped out of their hiding place and called out loudly to the Rohirrim.

 

The two Elves and Dwarf stepped out of their hiding place to stand beside their Ranger companion and watch in an amazed silence as the head horseman signalled his troop with a single lift of his spear and with astonishing speed and skill, the Rohirrim checked their steeds before wheeling them around in a tight turn and charged back at them. The Riders surrounded the four warriors in a tight circle of neighing horses and armoured men before multiple spears were pointed at them; Aragorn lifted his arms in surrender to show that they meant no harm while Haedirn, Legolas and Gimli eyed the Rohirrim and their weapons warily.

 

"What business do Elves, a Man and a Dwarf have in the Riddermark? Speak quickly!", the head horseman trotted up front and addressed them from his steed as he stared them down sharply.

 

"Give me your name, horse-master, and I shall give you mine.", Gimli replied defiantly.

 

"Gimli, shut up.", Haedirn hissed, giving the Dwarf's shoulder a firm tap, as Aragorn let a soft exasperated sigh slip at their friend's attitude.

 

The horseman seemed irked by this response and handed his staff to one of the men before dismounting his steed, approaching the four. Gimli gave an arrogant nod at the Rider's approach, but Aragorn put his hand on the Dwarf's shoulder as if silently urging him to keep quiet and stay back.

 

"I would cut off your head, beard and all, Dwarf...", the horseman enunciated that word firmly as if it were almost a curse. "...If it stood but a little higher from the ground.", he sneered threateningly and with reflexes like a bolt of lightning, Legolas instantly nocked an arrow at his bow and aimed the projectile at the Rohirrim.

 

"You would die before your stroke fell.", the Mirkwood Prince threatened him, ready to shoot the horseman to protect their Dwarf companion.

 

The rest of the Rohirrim trained their spears on Legolas and Haedirn quickly dissolved the tense moment, lowering her fiancé's bow. She shook her head discouragingly at the Mirkwood Prince before turning back to face the young horseman - they were not here to fight, but to merely ask the Rohirrim about the Uruk-hai party if they had indeed come across the foul creatures during their rides. Gimli breathed an audible sigh of relief and Legolas continued to send a warning glare towards the Rohirrim leader while Aragorn and Haedirn turned to face him, the rest of the Rohirrim withdrawing their spears when the four warriors made no sudden moves to attack their leader.

 

"I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn. This is Gimli, son of Glóin, Legolas of the Woodland Realm and Haedirn of Rivendell.", Aragorn briefly introduced their little group to the horseman. "We are friends of Rohan and of Théoden, your King."

 

"...Théoden no longer recognises friend from foe...", the Rohirrim replied with troubled eyes after a brief silence, removing his helmet. "...Not even his own kin.", he stared Aragorn in the eyes.

 

The Rohirrim leader was tall and well-built from the apparent years of riding and training, his long golden hair - wild and untamed as the lands of Rohan - spilled messily past his armoured shoulders even though it was tied back as best as possible, his hardened dirt-smudged features and sun-kissed skin were undoubtedly characteristic of the Horse-lords and his dark hazel eyes pierced the four warriors with its troubled stare.

 

 

"His kin?", Haedirn studied the Rohirrim carefully before she finally spoke to the horseman. "Are you perhaps Éomer, son of Éomund, nephew to King Théoden?"

 

"I am.", the said male seemed slightly surprised at being recognised by the she-elf, already slightly tongue-tied from noticing how beautiful she was with her smooth marble skin, dark oak hair and piercing amethyst eyes.

 

Legolas noticed Éomer's starstruck gaze upon Haedirn and his frown deepened with jealousy, stepping closer to his fiancée; the Rohirrim quickly tore his gaze away from the she-elf with a stern clearing of his throat and turned his full attention to the four warriors as a whole.

 

"Saruman has poisoned the mind of the king and claimed lordship over these lands.", Aragorn, Legolas and Haedirn exchanged troubled glances before turning back to Éomer. "My company are those loyal to Rohan and for that, we are banished.", Haedirn frowned with disconcertion - so Saruman was beginning to help Sauron conquer these lands firstly? After Rohan, then what lands would be next? The she-elf shuddered at the very thought of Middle-earth being overrun by all manner of these dark and foul servants of Mordor.

"The White Wizard is cunning. He walks here and there, they say, as an old man hooded and cloaked. And everywhere, his spies split past our nets.", Éomer hissed accusingly, his fierce gaze boring holes into their souls, and they shared a troubled look of their own amongst themselves.

 

"We are no spies. We track a party of Uruk-hai westward across the plain; they have taken two of our friends captive.", Haedirn explained to Éomer.

 

"The Uruks are destroyed - we slaughtered them during the night.", Éomer replied.

 

"But there were two Hobbits!", Gimli sprang forward at that, desperation clear in his gruff voice. "Did you see two Hobbits with them?!"

 

"They would be small, only children to your eyes.", Aragorn added, hoping that the Rohirrim's next response was a more positive one.

 

"We left none alive.", Éomer shook his head. "We piled the carcasses and burned them.", the Rohirrim pointed to a smouldering pillar of thick white smoke billowing in the distance.

 

"...Dead...?", a shocked Gimli managed out as a dumbfounded Aragorn turned away and Legolas held Haedirn's shoulders with one hand to steady her, the she-elf covering her mouth in horror with tears brimming in her widened eyes.

 

"I'm sorry. Truly.", Éomer apologised softly with a slow nod, Legolas laying his other hand on Gimli's shoulder in grief, before turning his head and whistling sharply.

 

"Hasufel! Arod!", he called and two armoured stallions - one white as snow and the other a chestnut brown - trotted up to Éomer obediently, the young Rohirrim lovingly patting their muzzles before handing their reins to the four warriors. "May these horses bear you to better fortune than their former masters. Farewell.", he exchanged a sympathetic nod with Aragorn before turning back to his own horse as he wore his helmet once more and mounted his steed with practiced ease.

"Look for your friends. But do not trust to hope - it has forsaken these lands.", Éomer left them with this final solemn piece of advice as he rode by them before he turned to his men. "We ride north!", at this command, the rest of the Rohirrim quickly rode off into the distance with Éomer leading in the forefront and left behind the four warriors with their two newly acquired horses.

 


 

The four of them, two companions each on one horse, galloped across the plains toward the thick pillar of smoke - Aragorn and Gimli on Hasufel with Legolas and Haedirn riding behind on Arod - and reached the borders of Fangorn Forest where the large pile of dead Uruk-hai and Orcs laid smouldering as blackened corpses. The stench of death and burnt flesh permeated the surrounding air, the flattened grass beneath the pile was blackened with both blood and ash as well as broken Mordor weaponry and armour scattered haphazardly across the ground. Nearby the carcasses, the decapitated head of an Uruk-hai warrior hovered above the ground, impaled through its neck stump with a sharpened stick as a singular warning to whatever foul beast dared to trespass or threaten the security of Rohan.

The four warriors halted their steeds and dismounted, looking upon the carcasses with dismay. Gimli half-heartedly began to sift through the smouldering bodies with his axe as Haedirn, Legolas and Aragorn hung back, awaiting more ill news of the Hobbits' fate. The Dwarf spotted something familiar amongst the carcasses and grabbed it quickly, turning to his companions mournfully - it was one of the Hobbits' dagger sheaths from Lothlórien.

 

"It's one of their wee belts.", Gimli reported sadly in a small voice, holding the dagger sheath out to them and Haedirn reached for it with trembling hands.

 

"Hiro hyn hîdh ab 'wanath.", Legolas bowed his head and closed his eyes with a sorrowful whisper, pressing his hand to his heart.

 

Aragorn reared back and angrily kicked a helmet lying close by with his boot, sending it flying across the grass. The Ranger let loose a long and anguished cry that seemed to travel all the way up to the heavens and far across the plains of Rohan, falling to his knees in despair as his head hung low with hopelessness.

 

"We failed them.", Gimli lamented quietly.

 

Haedirn refused to believe that Merry and Pippin were dead - she just couldn't! Her violet eyes scanned the surrounding area in desperation of anything that could prove the Hobbits hadn't perished; her heart swelled with hope in her breast when she noticed something on the ground not far off from where Aragorn was kneeling and handed the sheath back to a confused Gimli, kneeling beside the ground as the men watched her curiously.

 

"A Hobbit lay here. And the other.", the she-elf murmured with a frown of deep concentration as she touched the flattened ground and brushed some dead grass aside, feeling the marks left behind in the trodden earth.

"They crawled.", her watchful eyes followed a new set of markings off to one side and followed them carefully, the rest of her companions trailing close behind her with a glimmer of hope flickering across their visages.

"Their hands were bound.", Haedirn pointed out the marks on the ground with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli closely following her progress. "Their bonds were cut.", the she-elf realised when she came across a short severed length of rope buried in the trampled grass next to a fallen blade before continuing to follow the Hobbits' history left behind in the battlefield.

"They ran over here!", Haedirn excitedly ran over to their tracks left imprinted in the ground before she frowned again, seeing another pair of tracks that did not belong to either Hobbit. "They were followed. The tracks lead away from the battle...", she continued to run after their tracks, reimagining the path Merry and Pippin took to escape, with Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli running after the she-elf when all four of them stopped short of entering Fangorn Forest.

 

"...Into Fangorn Forest.", Aragorn finished his sister's words breathlessly as they stared at the dense and dark forest of large trees, looming and gnarled so closely as if guarding against entry.

 

"Fangorn? What madness drove them in there?", Gimli muttered disbelievingly and they stared into the dark woods, uncertain as to whether they should enter or not, until Haedirn made a move to follow the Hobbits' tracks into the forest.

 

"Meleth, man cerig?!", Legolas clapped a hand on his beloved's shoulder and pulled her back, fear apparent in his brilliant cerulean eyes. "We can't just march in there! We don't know what lies in these forests!"

 

"The Hobbits are somewhere in that forest and we have to find them.", Haedirn looked at Legolas firmly, clasping his hand that laid on her shoulder. "We've come this far - we can't stop now."

 

"You're right.", Aragorn finally agreed with his adoptive sister. "Let's go.", with some measure of apprehensive caution, the four warriors entered the forest to look for Merry and Pippin with Haedirn leading the way by following their tracks through the maze of twisted roots and the others looking for extra clues.

 

Legolas and Aragorn scoured the forest floor for additional leads to the Hobbits' whereabouts while Haedirn slowed down in her tracking as the forest floor became even more gnarled with tree roots and plant life. Gimli spotted a dark stain on the leaf of one of the many forest plants along the way and touched it with two of his fingers, bringing it up to his mouth.

 

"Orc blood.", the Dwarf spat out the offending substance with disgust.

 

Haedirn leapt over a small trickling stream and continued deeper into the forest, hopping over boulders and intertwining roots with the three men close behind her, until she came to a new and much larger set of unfamiliar tracks that were not made by any Hobbit or Orc.

 

"These are strange tracks.", Haedirn frowned, touching the upheaved dirt. "This is fresh."

 

"The air is so close in here.", Gimli remarked fearfully.

 

"This forest is old - very old.", Legolas looked around slowly as if feeling the very air. "Full of memory...and anger.", the four warriors looked up when low groans like those of old men reverberated through the entire forest, trembling in their bones, and a frightened Gimli gasped as he raised his axe in defence.

 

"The trees are speaking to each other.", Legolas, Haedirn and Aragorn turned back to Gimli who was fearfully waving his axe as the Dwarf searched for foes, the groans and rumbles of the trees growing louder as if displeased with a weapon being waved around so carelessly.

 

"Gimli!', Aragorn hissed at their companion, the said Dwarf turning to the Ranger with a start at the sound of his name. "Lower your axe.", the Man gestured and Gimli recollected himself before complying, slowly lowering his weapon as if surrendering.

 

"They have feelings, my friend.", Legolas whispered reverently. "The Elves began it - waking up the trees, teaching them to speak."

 

"Talking trees.", Gimli huffed with disbelief. "What do trees have to talk about. hmm? Except the consistency of squirrel droppings.", Haedirn almost let an uncharacteristic bark of laughter escape at the Dwarf's words as they continued through the forest.

 

"Aragorn, nad nâ ennas!", Legolas suddenly sensed something and dashed ahead for a better look with Haedirn and Aragorn following close behind him.

 

"Man cenich?", Aragorn asked the Mirkwood Prince who was intently scanning the forest ahead of them.

 

 

"The White Wizard approaches.", Legolas whispered ominously and the four warriors weighed the gravity of this pronouncement.

 

"Do not let him speak - he will put a spell on us.", Aragorn warned his companions as he readied his sword, Gimli gripped his axe and both Legolas and Haedirn nocked arrows in their bows.

 

"We must be quick.", was the last thing Aragorn said before they all swiftly turned around in unison to face a dazzling white light brighter than the sun emanating powerfully throughout the entire forest.

 

Gimli hurled a throwing axe at the glowing figure who shattered the weapon with his staff, sending the pieces flying off into the forest in separate directions. Legolas and Haedirn launched their arrows at the same time, but those too were deflected by the figure's staff. Aragorn raised his sword and was about to attack when it became red hot in his grasp and the Ranger dropped his weapon, the blade clattering to the forest floor noisily.

With weapons being useless against the White Wizard, all they could do was shield their eyes emanating from the glowing figure as best as they could with their hands.

 

 

"You are tracking the footsteps of two young Hobbits.", the figure stated simply.

 

"Where are they?", Haedirn asked with a shout, using her hood as extra help from the blinding light.

 

"They passed this way the day before yesterday. They met someone they...did not expect. Does that comfort you?", the figure asked.

 

"Who are you? Show yourself!", Aragorn demanded.

 

The White Wizard recalled his light and it slowly began to fade until the wizard, all garbed in white, was revealed to be...

 

 

"...Mithrandir...?!", Haedirn gasped in astonishment and pure joy - their wizard friend was alive! But how?

 

"It cannot be...", an equally astounded Aragorn whispered in disbelief.

 

"Forgive me. I mistook you for Saruman.", Legolas apologised as he knelt reverently to Gandalf, Haedirn and Gimli following his lead as Aragorn continued to stare at the wizard in a stupefied silence.

 

"I am Saruman. Or rather, Saruman as he should have been.", the barest of knowing smiles flickered across Gandalf's lips.

 

"You fell.", Aragorn reminded Gandalf of what the Fellowship had seen in Moria.

 

"Through fire...and water.", Gandalf recalled his tremendous fight with the Balrog. "From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak, I fought with the Balrog of Morgoth until at last, I threw down my enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside."

 

 

"Darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time; stars wheeled overhead and every day was as long as a life age of the Earth. But it was not the end - I felt life in me again. I've been sent back until my task is done.", the White Wizard looked at each of the four companions.

 

"Gandalf...", Aragorn whispered happily as he stepped closer to the wizard.

 

"Gandalf? Yes...", Gandalf looked momentarily confused before a thoughtful smile spread across his face with a nod. "That's what they used to call me.", Aragorn nodded with a small smile. "Gandalf the Grey. That was my name.", he smiled warmly at the male Ranger.

 

"Gandalf.", Gimli repeated happily, barely choking back all of the emotions he was feeling, and Gandalf's warm smile only broadened.

 

"I am Gandalf the White.", his deep azure eyes twinkled with a glimmer of his previously mischievous nature and both Legolas and Haedirn couldn't help the overjoyed smiles splitting their faces. "And I come back to you now...at the turn of the tide.", his visage grew serious.

 

"Welcome back, mellonamin.", Haedirn stepped forward with an extra Elven cloak of Lothlórien and handed it to Gandalf who threw it over his pristine pearl white robes. "Lead the way.", the wizard exchanged a nod with the she-elf and he took the lead of the group, bringing the four of them out of Fangorn Forest.

 

"One stage of the journey is over, another begins. We must travel to Edoras with all speed.", Gandalf told them as he led them up jutting boulders, across lilting streams and over large tree roots.

 

"Edoras?! That is no short distance!", Gimli exclaimed with shock.

 

"We hear of trouble in Rohan - it goes ill with the king.", Aragorn remembered what Éomer mentioned to them back at the plains and Gandalf stopped with a troubled shadow crossing his face.

 

"Yes, and it will not be easily cured.", Gandalf muttered lowly as they continued to trek on through the forest, sharing a concerned stare with Aragorn.

 

"Then we have run all this way for nothing? Are we to leave those poor Hobbits here in this horrid, dark, dank tree-infested--?", Gimli stopped his complaints short when the trees overhead began to rumble lowly with displeasure, quickly backtracking his statements. "I mean, charming!... Quite charming...forest...", the Dwarf smiled a little fearfully as the trees' grumbles slowly ceased almost as if they were satisfied.

 

"It was more than mere chance that brought Merry and Pippin to Fangorn - a great power has been sleeping here for many long years; the coming of Merry and Pippin will be like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains.", Gandalf turned to Gimli as the trees creaked and groaned at the White Wizard's words.

 

"In one thing you have not changed, dear friend...", Gandalf leaned in close to Haedirn. "...You still speak in riddles.", they shared a laugh in between them.

 

"A thing is about to happen that has not happened since the Elder Days - the Ents are going to wake up and find that they are strong.", Gandalf smiled mysteriously.

 

"Strong?! Oh, that's good.", Gimli smiled nervously, glancing up at the rumbling trees as if expecting a sudden ambush.

 

"So stop your fretting, Master Dwarf.", Gandalf said pointedly at Gimli and continued leading them out of Fangorn Forest. "Merry and Pippin are quite safe; in fact, they are far safer than you are about to be.", his voice echoed loud and clear from the front of the group.

 

"This new Gandalf's more grumpy than the old one.", Gimli grumbled to himself as he trudged after his companions.

 

The little group emerged from the forest with Hasufel and Arod immediately trotting over to them - they must have found a way around the forest by themselves, being born and let loose on the lands of their home. Meanwhile, Gandalf let loose two piercing, yet melodious, whistles that reverberated far and wide across the Riddermark; a loud neighing responded as a beautiful pure white horse like the light of Eru galloped over a nearby hill and up to them. It stopped before Gandalf who smiled gently and patted it tenderly as both Legolas and Haedirn stared at the wondrous steed in awe.

 

"That is one of the Mearas, unless my eyes are cheated by some spell.", Legolas breathed in wonder.

 

"Shadowfax.", Gandalf said reverently as the stallion nickered gently and pressed its muzzle against the wizard's hand. "He is the lord of all horses...and has been my friend through many dangers.", he stroked his neck gently before mounting the horse easily; Aragorn and Gimli hopped back up onto Hasufel's back and Legolas and Haedirn on Arod's back.

 

"To Edoras!", with that, the six of them galloped off on their steeds towards Rohan; the horses thundered all day across the vast open plains past ranges of snow-capped mountains, up the ridges of steep hills and over jagged rock formations that littered the ground around then. It would not be very long before they would reach the next part of their journey - Edoras, the capital of the Rohan.