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Marpol the Builder
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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23
A Kind of Road

Marpol:

After hastily breaking our fast the next morning, I was the first to carry my saddlebags down to the inner bailey, only to see Master Nerufin standing at the archway to the outer bailey, shaking his head. Hearing me behind him, he turned and said, “I never thought to see this!”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Look!”

Glancing over his shoulder, I stared. All of our horses and mules were gathered in a ring around a magnificent white steed in the center. My eyes widened. “Is that one of the mearas(1)?”

“That is THE mearh,” he corrected me. “Shadowfax, now that Snowmane has fallen under Theóden, and the only one ever to bear someone not of the Royal line. That is the Greyhame’s mount. Are your horses from Rohan?”

“Aye, we got most of them from Éomer King,” I said.

“There are many tales of the mearas among the Rohirrim,” he told me. “but it is very rare for them to permit folk outside of their lands see them communicate with horses.”

“The Rohirrim?” asked Rihan, joining us.

“Well, yes, but I meant the mearas,.”

From behind him, Tambaro said, “Then we should grant them privacy until he is finished,” just as Shadowfax glanced towards us. The three of us bowed in respect, and he slowly nodded his head just as one of the Tiromen hurried up to us. “Pardon, sirs, but have you seen Captain Halvador?” he asked breathlessly.

Coming out of the tower, Halvador broke off a conversation with Dirúvel, asking, “Here I am; what is it?”

The guard saluted crisply. “Captain, the Kings, Mithrandir, and Lord Halladan all request you and Lord Tintehlë come up to the beacon, and that I am relieved of my duty until I am summoned.”

“Relieved?” repeated Captain Aledil, who had just left another building. “Why, Trinch?”

The young guard said miserably, “I don’t know, Captain. Honestly, I don’t think I did anything wrong! But they were talking, and—and—I couldn’t hear a word they said, and they sent me away!”

“If you couldn’t hear, why do you say that they were talking?” Aledil asked reasonably. His tone sharpened. “Weren’t you on report for being tipsy on duty your first month? Don’t tell me you think you can resume such behaviour here!”

“Excuse me, Captain,” Halvador said diffidently. “Trinch, you did say that those atop the tower included the Wizard, did you not?”

“Yes, Captain, and both the Kings, and Lord Halladan. Do you think Mithrandir bespelled me?” he asked. “I swear, I haven’t had no more ale than I’m ‘lowed, not since that one time! I promised you, and I ain’t broke my word!”

“I think we should not keep them waiting,” I said mildly, and smiled at the anxious guard. “My thanks for conveying the message, Trinch.”

“My lord!” He saluted us, and Halvador and I made our way quickly up to the top level.

Each of the four stood at the compass points, and King Elessar turned as we emerged into the light. “Ah, there you are! The day’s greeting,” he said as I bowed and Halvador saluted awkwardly with his good arm.

“And to you as well, Sire,” I said.

“Just Aragorn, until we go down, Marpol,” he replied. “Halvador, if you would be so kind as to stand there by the hatch and see that we are not disturbed, I would appreciate it, for we have something of import to discuss with my Gwaron-i-Menon(2).”

“As you wish, my lord King,” he said, drawing his sword left-handed, and standing where indicated after a nervous glance at Mithrandir, who was approaching with the King of Rohan and Halladan so that we stood on the side of the beacon farthest from him.

I bowed to each of them, frowning as the Wizard remarked, “He seems rather nervous.”

More acidly than I had intended, I said, “All the Tiromen are going to be looking at you sideways. A Wizard working spells makes Men nervous, especially in broad daylight.”

“A spell?” echoed Éomer. “Gandalf, what are you doing?”

“Why would they think that?” Halladan asked.

“I quote poor Trinch: when two Kings, a Wizard and a Steward are all talking and he couldn’t hear a thing before they sent him away—well, I think Aledil is putting him on report for being drunk on duty, and that’s no small matter when it’s his second possible offense.”

“You seem quite upset,” Elessar noted.

“I have seen young careers blighted by unfair assessments by superior officers before.”

“Captain Halvador!” the Wizard called.

“My lord?”

Mithrandir sighed. “I had no idea that youngster would get that impression! I most certainly do not act without finesse, in broad daylight nor any other time. Of course he didn’t hear us; he was standing exactly where he could not, with the wind as it was. Would you mind going down and telling Aledil so?”

Halvador brightened. “Of course, Lord Mithrandir! Aledil was a good friend of his grandsire’s, and is anxious for him to do well. With your permission, my lords?”

“I will apologize to him for the confusion,” Elessar said. “And so will Gandalf. When you return, please stand where you are now, if we haven’t finished by then and come down.”

Frowning, the Wizard nodded.

Halvador saluted and withdrew.

Halladan was smothering a smile, and Éomer was openly grinning.

Aragorn called us to order by becoming serious. “It was good of you to speak for Trinch when he isn’t under your command.”

“I hate waste, and it would be a waste for him to be unfairly on report,” I said.

“Cousin, I did not say that to chide you,” he said softly. “I know that the Men who served under you did and do so with great respect and affection, and that kind of attitude helps to explain why.”

“So please get rid of the spear up your butt and relax,” Éomer added, poking me with one callused finger. “You’re among friends, you know.”

“You really are,” Halladan agreed, and to my shock, Mithrandir nodded.

I was suddenly aware of tears pricking my eyes—and that I was indeed standing at parade rest. I cleared my throat and moved my feet slightly.

“Good. Now, we have a question for you,” said Elessar.

“I’ll ask it,” said Mithrandir. “Marpol, have you any knowledge of the Hidden Paths?”

“What, the Menon nuin Palath nin Hadhodrim, also called the Ethraid Thurin or the Tëa Thurin?” I asked. Seeing Éomer’s blank look, I added, “Those are translated as the ‘under-surface roads,’ ‘the hidden ways’ in Sindarin, and in Quenya, ‘the hidden straight roads.’”

Aragorn and Halladan’s jaws dropped and they gawked at me. “You know of these?” the Steward asked.

Mithrandir chuckled. “I told you he had unexpected depths. How do you know, Marpol?”

“I have an interest in old lore about roads and journeys,” I confessed, flushing. “Always I have collected all I can find about them. The Dwarves made them during the First and Second Ages, under most of the lands; some were lost, of course, when the world was changed. So far as I know, none have been made during this Age, and little is known about them. I was wondering if the Paths of the Dead were a part, and if some of the ways the Drúadain used with you and Theóden King were part too, my lord Éomer.”

“Those were all above ground, surely,” said Halladan in surprise.

I looked at Éomer, who rubbed his nose in perplexity. “I want to say yes, but…I don’t remember much, except that we worried if they were leading us aright, and the sound of their drums. We didn’t pay much attention to how we went, somehow, even those of us trained in seeking escape routes in case a hunt goes wrong.” We had all been warriors; we knew about the responsibility of a leader for his command’s safety, so he saw nods of comprehension. He added slowly, “It’s odd how muddled that memory is. I just know that I heard drums, and the way was narrow and long, yet swift.”

“I believe,” I said, “that the pûkel-men have ways of…bending time and distance. I cannot say exactly how long it took Lord Rigil’s group to come, but Cardin and I went from here to Amon Dîn in less than a half-day, and the same back again, hearing their drums and following the signs they left for us, when it took the party from Amon Dîr much longer.”

“Could so primitive a folk have such magic?” asked Éomer skeptically.

I turned to him. “My lord, they are a folk small in numbers, but have you never wondered that yours could not exterminate them completely, with your spears, arrows, and horses, and they afoot? Might not necessity have compelled them to learn other ways of surviving? They are ancient among Men, living fully in harmony within their habitat. Do not the Halflings also have a name for disappearing when they wish? Can you find all the habitations of Elves and Dwarves? I have heard of a folk to the far south and east who live on boats and never set foot on land; even their children swim like fishes and read the tides as you would your own emnets (3). The Drúags are ancient, ancient, and might have kept skills and talents that other Men either lost through disuse or never had.”

Mithrandir’s eyes were bright, and he inclined his head to me. “Did not Ghân-buri-Ghân name you the Waygiver? You’d better tell him the rest, Aragorn.”

“We need to find the Hidden Paths,” the King said. “I have talked with my brothers, Legolas, Gimli and Dalfinor, as well as with Silma and Faramir and others whose Foresight I trust. For strategic reasons alone, they need to be known and mapped. By the way, Marpol, Silma and Dalfinor are going to be married—“

I laughed aloud with delight. “Then she accepted him after all?”

“They had an adventurous trip to Ithilien, came back betrothed, and presented me with a new ally a few days ago,” he said succinctly. “Gimli has formally appointed Dalf his Assistant Ambassador from Erebor, so they’ll have to go back there for her to be introduced as his wife and my envoy to them, and I intend to ask them to look for those ways going and coming.”

“But Silma also said that in a dream she Saw you at her wedding,” Halladan said. “It seems clear that that will be before the height of summer, so within a month or less.”

“Then you wish me to curtail my trip?” I asked, fighting disappointment.

“Yes and no.” The King was biting his lip. “I still need you to go, Marpol. But everything points to it being equally important that you go as planned and come back sooner.”

“But it’s dangerous,” Halladan said bluntly. “No one’s doubting your courage, but—” He trailed off, shaking his head.

“It does involve what some might call meddling,” said Mithrandir. “I think that there is a way to blend the pûkel-men spell beads with the Hidden Paths’ own spell and those of the mearas.”

My eyebrows rose. “You can do that?”

Éomer’s brows were drawn down into a scowl. “You would use Shadowfax in that way?”

“My dear boy, it was his suggestion, and it quite startled me when he made it. But he is willing, and is talking to your and Marpol’s herds about it now, particularly imparting what is necessary to Arananna and Islilta, since of those here, they bear the most mearhas blood. But no, to answer your question, Marpol, I am not going to do it.”

I looked at Aragorn, who shook his head. So did Halladan.

“Then how--?”

“You are,” said the Wizard calmly.

Silence, except for the wind. I took a deep breath, then another, just concentrating on that before I actually thought about it. Finally I asked, “Any suggestions?”

Mithrandir inquired, “May I place my hands on your head? I think it will tell me something I have long suspected.” Without waiting for my response, he reached out and gripped my temples firmly in his long, cool fingers, looking deeply into my eyes.

They widened as I perceived the purity of his spirit behind the guise of an old man. The Istar was one of the Maiar! For the first time, I realized that the rumour that he had been killed by the Balrog in Moria with the Fellowship was true; like Glorfindal of the Elves, he had been re-embodied and sent back to finish his Task. Awe loosened my knees, but I kept my feet; Halladan and Aragorn were supporting me by each arm.

When Mithrandir withdrew, I leaned against a wall, then slid down it to sit limply on the roof; sensation, colors, images, sounds, even aromas, swirled through me, and I felt as if I was both moving fast and standing still, both expanding and contracting. I closed my eyes, and when I cautiously opened them, it was to see Mistress Alta trying to get past Halvador and Éomer. “What are you doing to him?” she was demanding—and to my amazement, she had a knife in each hand!

Aragorn had a hand on my wrist, and Halladan held a flask to my lips. I drank, tasting fine brandy that traced a line of warmth down to my heaving stomach and steadied it. Mithrandir was leaning against the wall, unusually pale.

“I’m—“ I cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m all right.”

“Let her by,” said my royal cousin, and she hurried over to drop to her knees beside me, the knives disappearing up into wrist-sheaths.

“Are you?” she asked anxiously, scanning my face.

“Aye,” I said, knowing it for truth. For the first time in many years, I felt well in ways I had not thought possible. I smiled at her reassuringly. “No harm done; in fact, I am grateful. I think. Is the Grey Pilgrim well?”

Mithrandir waved a hand. “That was surprising for both of us; I am unaccustomed to being a channel after so long,” he said cryptically as he straightened. “You will know what to do when you must, Waygiver, now that you have come to your strength.”

I looked at the others with some awe. “Was it so for you?”

“Not exactly,” Aragorn said. Halladan shook his head.

“How is it you came up here, mistress?” he asked.

Her face reddened. “I…felt—I was disturbed,” she said miserably.

Aragorn touched her shoulder and smiled. “My mother said it was so for her as well, once,” he said gently, and glanced at me, his smile broadening.

A sudden thought, a memory of something I had once overheard my mother say brought a hot flush to my face. “Worst of all is not your inconstancy, my lord, but that you insist you feel no bond to me, knowing I was compelled by mine to you. You took advantage of it, deceiving me, and now chastise me as a lightskirt. Hush, hush, my little love,” she had added to me, drawing me close, for I had begun to weep at the sorrow and pain I perceived within her.

A deep, angry voice said over my head as I burrowed it into her skirts, “You had better take steps to stem his channels, Kalwanissë, for he is trumpeting all he feels to everyone, and I will not have it! Either you discipline him or I will!” Menace was abruptly silkening his tone. “Shall I take him with me?”


Swiftly I set that memory aside to think about more fully later. “Thank you, Gandalf, if I may use the same name that my kinsmen do.”

“You may, especially given where and when you are going,” he said cheerfully. “You may consult me at need, you know, as long as I am yet in Middle-earth.”

“My thanks.” I accepted Éomer’s hand in regaining my feet, and held out my hand to Alta; to my gratification, she took it instead of the Rohirric king’s, also extended.

“Have we more to discuss, my lords?” I asked; a quick glance at the sun showed me that not as much time had elapsed as I thought.

“Only to caution you not to wait too long to go through those memories and the knowledge we have imparted to you, or you will suffer intense, blinding headaches,” Aragorn said. “This method has not been used in—how long, Gandalf?”

“Since the beginning of this Age, at least,” he answered.

“I will remember,” I promised.

Mithrandir took Alta’s hand. “I meant, and mean, him no harm, Hiril (2) Altáriël.”

She blushed again. “Please forgive me, my lord Mithrandir. And it’s just mistress, not lady.”

He smiled. “You will become used to the other title in time.”

“Shall we go down?” asked my Royal Kinsman, and we followed below after the Men, the two of us holding hands—I am not certain whether she believed she was steadying me, but I certainly did not want her to misstep on the steep ladder-steps until we reached the stable floor, when she withdrew her hand to smooth her hair.

Outside, Aragorn was saying to Trinch, “My cousin reminded me that I may not have been clear; we meant no censure of you, asking you to come down.” He glanced at Aledil. “Captain, he was in no manner derelict nor lacking in his duty.”

“The wind was so loud that he may have misheard,” said Mithrandir blandly, casually touching Trinch’s cloak-hem with the tip of his staff as he moved it. “How clumsy of me! I almost dropped it!” Suddenly he looked like a tired old man leaning on the now-upright staff, and I wondered how often he had used that ploy; he glanced at me and winked with the eye they could not see. I stifled a grin while wondering if he could hear my thoughts. Common sense intervened; why would he bother?

“We do not mean to delay you further, Marpol,” the King said meaningfully.

I bowed at the clear dismissal, but he stepped forward to embrace me, followed by Halladan, who murmured to me, “Travel safely, Cousin!”

Éomer clasped arms with me, and Gandalf inclined his head. After the exchange of more bows and farewells, I swung up into my saddle—‘Gift and Islilta had been the last to finish attending Shadowfax—and bowed to the great white mearh, who bobbed his head at me. The rest of my party hastily mounted, and I led them out of the bailies and down the path.


At the road, Ghân-buri-Ghân stood attended by six others. I dismounted and bowed.

“You take your way this day, Waygiver Thoronhen,” he said in his own tongue. Somewhere nearby a drummer tapped his drum softly.

“I do, with my friends,” I agreed.

“These are for them,” he said, holding out thongs similar to mine, but with only one bead on each, of different colors. “And one for your Under-Chief so distant. Touch them to yours before they put them on. You will know who gets which one, and how to empower them and your own. I spoke with the Grey Wanderer as well as your Chief. It is good to see you complete. The eagle should fly fast as well as far.”

I bowed. “My thanks to you, Chief of the Drúadain. Please remember me to Bhân-guri-Bhân when next you speak.”

A faint smile creased his broad face. “You will meet our folk again. Follow the signs. You and yours are welcome in the wood.” That last was spoken in Westron.

I bowed again, and they melted away, but the drum did not stop.

At my gesture, the others dismounted and came closer. I touched the bead on each knotted thong to mine, murmuring in Pûkael, and put each over its wearer’s head—red for Rihan and Tambaro; orange for Cardin; green for Dirúvel; and blue for Alta. A blue one I knotted around Swift’s collar. The last, another red, meant for Vorondor, I tucked into my pouch. “Wear these outside your clothing,” I instructed them,” and do not remove them until we are home again. We have far to go, so let us ride.”

Swinging up into my saddle once more, I urged ‘Gift to the front, and we continued north and east. The drum sounded softly, insistently, as I guided us along a series of paths, or perhaps it was a series of drums and drummers.

We emerged from the forest onto a small track just at noon, and I turned to bow to the wood, calling out my thanks for the passage in Pûkael. “Let us have a morsel,” I said, and soon we were enjoying meat-wrapped rolls, cheese, and handfuls of nuts, washed down with some cool ale as the hobbled animals grazed.

“Do we ride on at once, my lord?” Dir asked.

“Why?”

“Only because I see a patch of bursethlas, and would like to gather some, if there’s time.”

“What’s that?” asked Cardin.

“An herb that grows in cool temperate climates, also called marrowroot and lime-heal,” he answered. “Master Nerumir said I should forage when I can, to save on dried supplies, and to practice brewing and infusing. It’s good for fractures and shattered bones.”

“We can spare an hour before we go on,” I agreed.

“Stay within view,” Rihan said, already looking over one of his birds.

“Well, while they’re busy, my curious lad,” Tambaro said cheerfully to my aide, “we will have time for you to spar with me, and then Dir can do so while you practice with your bow.”

“But what about Dir’s shooting?” Cardin asked unwisely.

“Why, that he will do this evening while you help with camp chores, beginning with a jacks trench,” was the inevitable answer.

I chuckled as they moved off, looking over at Alta as she began stacking used utensils. “Knives, Mistress?” I asked softly, going to one knee beside her.

She blushed but looked at me defiantly. “I didn’t know what they were doing up there.”

I handed her a mug. “You don’t trust two Kings, the Steward of Arnor and a Wizard?”

She dropped what she held; her hands were shaking and she clasped them tightly in an attempt to control them. “I have never felt as I did then, as if you were on the edge of a precipice, as if you were being cored out and something was pouring into you. I had to come up!”

I laid one of mine over hers, trying to make my tone light and inquiring. “Where on earth did you get them?”

“They’re from Harad. Uncle brought them back from his service, and gave them to Tarlmer, my brother. Mother insisted I bring them, although I didn’t put them on until after we were attacked by those brigands. I do know how to use them.”

“I’m sure you do.” With a finger of my other hand, I lifted her chin and gazed into eyes the color of a stormy sea with worry. “Something was done to me when I was a child, blocking off some abilities I have, and Mithrandir removed it. I will need time to become accustomed to the change, but I believe it is a good and necessary thing. You need not worry.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I will explain to everyone soon.”

She nodded, accepting. Suddenly self-conscious of our proximity, I let go and rose to my feet as she did the same; the result was that we knocked heads. Reflexively, we grabbed each other’s shoulders and as hastily let go. She immediately bent down to retrieve a mug, and I took several steps back, rubbing my head. “Did I hurt you?’

“My head is so hard, Mother says, it’s unlikely,” she said wryly, and I laughed.

“Vorondor says the same of me,” I replied.


Sometime later, I called them together. Swift sat at my feet; the rest gathered in a loose circle, our mounts and pack-animals forming a larger circle with their heads over our shoulders. I stood between ‘Gift and Islilta. “You all know that we have a long journey to make,” I began. “The King has spoken to me of its importance—and of my being back in the city before the end of next month. How can both be accomplished? They seem contradictory goals. But I have promised to try. Mithrandir believes in a method for covering long distances in less time, if it works. “

Everyone stared at me. Predictably, it was Tambaro who asked, “How can this be?”

“The means has been given to me, if I can retrieve it from my memory,” I said steadily. “Much was imparted to me this morning which I need to sort out. That is why I ask you to make camp and wait for me as I go back within the edge of the wood for a while.”

“How long?” he asked.

“I am not certain. A while.”

“A candle-mark? Two? Half a day?” he pressed.

“A while.”

Tambaro looked at Rihan. “Solarion, say something,” he pleaded.

Our old friend had been uncharacteristically silent. Now he asked, “Does this have something to do with the horses’ behaviour this morning?”

“It does.”

“Then will you at least permit one of us to guard you, if only to wait a few yards from you, in case something menaces you during this…retrieval?”

“Only as near as I say,” I conceded.

“All right.”

Tambaro, visibly disturbed, ran his hands through his hair in agitation. “How can the two of you be so calm about this?” he demanded.

“I could ask why you are being so disturbed, distraught, and upset?” Rihan countered, his use of synonyms telling both of us that he had made up his mind.

“Because it’s impossible, that’s why! Ordinary people cannot cover hundreds, if not thousands, of leagues in shorter than usual amounts of time!”

“You are basing that on what may be two fallacies, errors, or quirks: one, that ordinary people have not done so to your knowledge heretofore —“

“That isn’t a fallacy!”

“Aye, it is! I put it to you, what about the journey of our King, Prince Legolas and Ambassador Gimli from the Hill of the Eye to Rohan? What about their journey on the Paths of the Dead? And what about the time it took for Mithrandir and Captain Peregrin from Meduseld to Minas Tirith? Those are three instances, all attested as truth. For Valars’ sakes, we’ve seen Halfllings, Dwarves and Elves walking the streets of the city! The King has returned! These are not ordinary times, however you define ‘ordinary’!”

“And what is the other fallacy you’d point out?” Tambaro asked, folding his arms.

Rihan looked him in the eye. “We’re talking about Marpol here, and he is hardly ordinary —“

“Solarion!” I protested, my ears fiery-hot.

“Be quiet, Marpol! We all know that you are not. Have you no trust in him after all this time, Tam? We are his gwedeir (3), as is Faldi, so act like it! Stop making this harder for him! Or have you forgotten our other oath?”

Tambaro froze.


I wondered: What other oath? “That’s enough,” I said more calmly than I felt. Was our long brotherhood about to end? “If he cannot—“ I trailed off, unsure of what to say, what to do if he could not. “Do you wish to leave us, Tam?”

He took a deep breath. “I shall guard you first. I told you, Vittribula, I will not quit unless you sack me.”

“Thank you.”


I knew he followed as I walked away, back into the wood. I found a spot I deemed right, beneath a large oak, and sat down facing the North, unsheathing my sword and laying it beside me along with my knives. For a long time I sat, hands on my knees, emptying my mind, seeking the stillness within before opening to the memories and knowledge that Mithrandir had imparted to me….


It was dark when I rose, staggering slightly as long-unused muscles made known their stiffness until I had done a few stretches. Distantly I noted that I had missed weapons-practice again and must not do so the next day as I restored my blades to their places and walked to the camp, Rihan falling into step beside me after a few strides.

By the moon’s position, it was two marks after sunset, but Alta dished up some stew for me, handing me some crusty bread as well, and a mug of ale. No one spoke as I ate ravenously. Wiping out the bowl with the last of the bread, I said, “Friends, let us rest tonight. I will explain what we are doing tomorrow after we break our fast.”

My slumber before and after my turn at guard was deep and dreamless.


We finished the morning routine and broke camp before I called everyone into a circle as I had before. “We need to travel faster and farther in less time,” I began. “A Foreseeing has shown me back in the city within the next month, yet our mission to make this survey still stands. The question of how to reconcile these seeming opposites is a thorny one. The method I will use is to combine and control elements of spells used by three disparate peoples: the Drúadain, the Elves, and the mearas of Rohan.”

“How can you do this, my lord?” asked Cardin.

“Mithrandir advised me on finding a way, with the consent of both Ghân-buri-Ghân and Shadowfax, but since as far as we know, a Man has never done this before, we don’t know if it will work or any possible effects it may have on us. All our horses have some mearh blood, and have agreed, so I am informed by Shadowfax.”

*That is true..*

*We have indeed.*


I could hear the two voices—and from the stunned expressions of my group, the other humans could as well. I looked at Islilta and ‘Gift, who both bobbed their heads. Islilta added, *Speaking in this way is a strain, but when necessary, the two of us can do it.*

*Although we’d prefer speaking only with you, in your mind, Marpol,*
‘Gift said. He looked at Cardin, whose mouth was hanging open. *You are in danger of swallowing a fly, young colt! And for those of us with less of the bloodline in our veins, they have agreed to abide by the Rules of the Herd.*

“Which means to obey the leader,” I said, to prevent more inquiries. “Now I have a question: because this is unknown territory, I must have your consent first, for I will have to impose a kind of similar obedience in a light trance state, upon each of you.”

Rihan grinned at me. “You’ve never led us wrong before. I consent, assent and agree!”

“You’re conveniently forgetting a few times we almost landed in orcs’ stewpots,” Tamparo remarked. “I don’t mean to be difficult, Marpol, just curious: why does Mithrandir think you can do this? I mean, of all of us? Could the King do it?”

“Yes, he could.” I hesitated. “You all know of the palantíri?”

“But they were lost,” Dir said.

I took a deep breath and told the truth. “Not all of them. Sauron had one, using it to seduce Saruman and deceive Lord Denethor—“

There were exclamations of shock at this; Alta faltered, “The Steward betrayed us?”

“No, Alta. Lord Denethor’s own pride and arrogance allowed Sauron to show him false information and convince him that we could not win. Valar know that he paid a heavy price for it! But the King can and has mastered the palantír that Denethor had, as he did the one Saruman had. It is in Elessar’s bloodline to have that ability, and it seems that I am distantly a part of that bloodline. Were this a thousand years ago, I might have been trained in some of the mind-methods they used at that time. Unknowing, I have studied what I could find about them over the years, feeling drawn to that information since I was a boy. Lord Halladan speculates that that is why a pûkel-man first befriended me when I was a child. At any rate, my mother apparently had it as well, and my father, and it was…blocked. What you responded to when you rushed up to the top of the tower was its being reawakened.”

“I felt something as well,” Dir said. “I think Captain Tambaro did too.”

Tam glared at him, then shook his head. “Many changes,” he said before looking at me. “And if we do not consent?”

“Then you are free to return to Minas Tirith,” I replied evenly. “The Drúadain will let you pass so long as you respect their forest. If you wish to leave my service, or go back to the House and help Vorondor, I shall think no worse of you.”

“And miss this?” His grin was impish. “Nay, Marpol. I’ve followed you too long to stop now. I’m coming. Besides, Faldi would skin me!”

“Mistress Alta?” I asked gently.

Her eyes were bright. “My mother would disown me, did I turn tail now. I’d disown myself! I have no fears, my lord. I consent.”

“So do I,” said Cardin.

“You already have my oath, my lord, but I will say it: I too agree,” Dir said more sedately, then grinned and bounced slightly on his toes with excitement. Cardin was grinning too.

“You young ones expect too much in the way of adventure,” I grumbled. “Very well. Now, each of you stand still, and try to empty your minds except for thinking of the rhythm of the drums we heard.” Actually, I could faintly hear them as I spoke.

One by one, they each took on a listening expression. I went to stand a few inches from Rihan, and touched the side of his head, gazing into his eyes, willing myself to go beyond them, to touch his true self…. To my surprise, I did so without any difficulty, and in a moment, he was in trance. Over the next few moments, I gathered in the others, humbled by their trust in me. They mounted at my command, and I started as an amused voice said in my mind, *Nicely done, Marpol.*

“Thank you,” I said dryly as ‘Gift angled his head around to look at me and wink.

*Oh, stop it and let him get on with it until he’s more used to this,* Islilta switched her tail and nipped gently at Jitters, about to step out of line behind Fleabag. *You are doing well for your first attempt; there are so few Men who can do this, it is quite remarkable.* Her tone was so maternally encouraging, I hid a grin.

“Thank you.”

Somehow we were combining the added endurance and speed of the mearas with the energy I was able to pull from the natural lines of energy under the earth that Mithrandir had shown me; many roads the Elves and Dwarves used followed them. Those two things, combined with the Drúadain ability to twist time slightly, would greatly increase the distance we could traverse. That is the best and shortest explanation I can give, and even now, so many years later, I am not certain how I was able to do it. The cost of doing it was high, for them and especially for me, and although we stopped for a morsel at noon, by the time we stopped at nightfall, I was light-headed with exhaustion. Alta had to remind me three times to finish my food, and I fell asleep after swallowing the last bite.

~~~

1. Mearas, sing. mearh – Rohirric for those horses of Rohan descended from the Elvish horses and from Eorl’s mount Fearlóf. They were revered by the Horse-folk for their great intelligence, stamina and speed, and there are many tales and much lore about them. It was said that they could speak to the royal line; until Shadowfax consented to bear Gandalf, they would only be ridden by the Kings of Rohan.

2. Gwaron-i-Menon -- Sindarin for "Warden of Roads," Marpol's official title in Elessar's court; the position is a new one.

3. Emnets – A steppe or plain. In Rohan, there were the Eastemnet and Westemnet; some Rohirrim lived on them like nomads in the summer, following the herds as they grazed.

4. Hiril – Sindarin for lady. Hir was a lord or baron.

5. Gweidyr, sing. gwador – Sindarin for foster or sworn brothers (close friends, not blood relations).


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