The man had grey eyes that looked sad somehow, but kind, and he was sitting under a tree by the stream, reading a book. A beautiful grey horse on a long line was grazing beside him. Mother had told me to speak to no one, and return as soon as I could. But the gelding had spent the entire day in the sun, pulling the wagon, and he needed the water. So I took my chances and led him to the bank. He thrust his nose gratefully into the water, sucking it down in noisy gulps.
The other horse lifted his head and stared at us, snorting a bit. He was very large and looked dangerous. The man lifted his head from his book and looked at us as well. He was wearing one of those quilted coats soldiers wear under their mail, and a very fancy sword. His hair was dark, though there was a little silver in it, and unlike his horse, he looked tired and not dangerous at all. He smiled when he saw me, and I wanted to smile back, but remembered what Mother had said, and ducked my head instead.
“A good afternoon to you, my lady.”
Despite what Mother had said, both of my parents had been at pains to teach me manners. So I had little choice but to answer him.
“Good afternoon to you, sir.”
“What is a young lady such as yourself doing abroad alone? There is an armed camp of soldiers right over the hill, did you not know?”
“Yes, I did,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster. There were camps up and down the road now, with night coming on. “I’ve been watching soldiers march towards the City all day. But my horse needed water.”
“One should always look after one’s horses,” he agreed, and as it was the sort of statement that did not need a response, I should have kept quiet, watered my horse and left, but I was curious.
“Are you a soldier?” A stupid question, given the sword, but there was no mockery in his voice when he answered.
“Yes, I am.” An eyebrow arched, and he asked me a question in return.
“Are you leaving the City?”
“Yes. Mother and Esvy and I are. Father could not come.”
“Why is that?” I frowned, for he had touched upon a very sore point.
“Because the Steward wouldn’t allow it! He made all the men who were old enough stay to defend the City. Father doesn’t know anything about fighting! He’s going to die! I hate the Steward!”
His eyebrow arched up higher still, and the corner of his mouth twitched. “I wouldn’t say that, were I you. The Steward is a man with a very difficult job to do. He did not keep your father there out of spite, but out of necessity. I am sure that he is no more happy about it than you are.”
“I do not see why he should be unhappy! He is not the one being forced to fight when he doesn’t know how. He’s not going to lose his father!”
The soldier sighed, got to his feet and tucked his book under his arm.
“No, but he has lost one of his sons in battle already,” he said sadly. “The news came to us but a couple of days ago. And the Steward was a soldier in his youth, shedding his own blood for Gondor. Both of his sons have done the same since they were not much older than you. The one who is still alive is in Ithilien, and he will probably be the last man into the Gates when the Enemy comes--if he lives. So you cannot say that the Steward does not know what it is to sacrifice something he loves for Gondor.”
I bowed my head, ashamed of myself and abashed at the sorrow in his eyes, but after a moment looked up again.
“You sounded so sad when you spoke of the Steward’s son. Did you know him?”
“Yes,” he responded simply; then in an obvious effort to change the subject, asked me to tell him about my father and family.
So I spoke of my father and his patient smile and skillful hands, and our instrument shop in the fourth circle, and my sister who cried entirely too much for a five-year-old, and how Mother’s voice was so beautiful that she was always asked to sing at peoples’ weddings. In truth, I must have been almost babbling, but he seemed to enjoy it, listening with his head tilted slightly to one side most attentively, and when I had done, he told me in turn a little about his home by the sea in Dol Amroth, and the two sons and daughter that he had left there, and the other son who rode with him to war.
Eventually, he noticed that the shadows were lengthening, and said that he must go.
“Your mother, I am sure, will be worried about you. But if it makes you feel any better, I swear to you that your father will not come to the fight until all the rest of us are dead. And we breed doughty fighters in Dol Amroth.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said softly, then moved by an impulse I did not entirely understand, pulled the ribbon from my hair and proferred it to him. It was my very favorite ribbon, a bright green one that I felt showed well against my dark hair. “Is it not said that to bear a lady’s favor brings a soldier fortune in war?” I asked.
“So ‘tis said,” he replied gravely.
“Then take this, and bear it to good fortune. Isn’t that what I am supposed to say?”
“It is exactly what you are supposed to say,” he assured me, the corner of his mouth twitching again. He had long, slender fingers, not very soldier-like at all, I noticed, as he tied the ribbon onto his belt, next to another of blue and silver.
“You already have one!” I exclaimed, and he nodded, smiling reminiscently.
“Yes, my daughter’s.” My face fell as I realized something, and he looked at me with concern.
“Is something the matter, lady? A soldier can use all the luck he can get, but if you would rather not bestow this upon me, I will understand.” I shook my head.
“It’s not that. It’s just…..I didn’t think about this until just now, and I didn’t give my father one! And he is going to need all the luck he can get, since he is not a warrior!” My eyes started filling, to my dismay, and I blinked hard. He gave me a sympathetic look.
“Why don’t I take it to him for you? What did you say his name was?”
“Taleroth. On Artisan’s Street in the Fourth Circle.” He nodded once more, then something else occurred to me, and I laid my hand upon his arm.
“No, wait! Don’t take it to my father. You said you would defend him, and you know how to fight. If you live, then he lives. It is better left where it is.”
“As you wish, my lady…?” There was an inquiring note in his voice, and I realized he was asking my name.
“Luthien,” I admitted in disgust, but he smiled, a big smile this time, a smile like the sun coming out.
“A man can hardly do better than to go into battle with Luthien’s favor.”
“Mother loves those old songs! I hate my name!”
“It could be worse. Try having twenty generations of nothing but Galadors behind you,” he suggested, still smiling, and was then kind enough to escort me halfway back to our camp. I noticed that he kept watch from the top of the hill until he saw me enter the ring of wagons.
I did not see my ‘Galador’ again until the next day, when the army of Dol Amroth broke camp and started marching early. We watched them pass as we were readying ourselves for our own journey, and I searched the ranks eagerly for my soldier. I knew that he was not a foot man, but looked long for him in vain among the Swan Knights. Finally the Swanship banner itself passed. Deeply disappointed and thinking that my soldier had discarded my token, I was about to turn away when, amazed, I finally spied my favor. The warrior agleam in the silvered mail and the jeweled helm of the Prince himself bore a flutter of green at his hip.
“Aragorn and Eomer and Imrahil rode back towards the Gate of the City and they were now weary beyond joy or sorrow. These three were unscathed, for such was their fortune and the skill and might of their arms…” --The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, The Return of the King.