For a long moment, all he could hear was the pounding of his own pulse in his ears, and the stillness all about. In the distance he heard the plaintive bleat of a sheep, then the stillness again. No difference in the fog. He closed his eyes, waiting for something to happen.
And then after a moment that seemed to go on for an age, he heard a voice—or not so much a voice, as a prompting that came from without, telling him to go forward. He opened his eyes, half expecting to see someone, but all he saw was that the fog appeared thinner. But it was a moment before he urged the horse on. He was not a timid lad, by any means. He would do almost anything on a dare, particularly if Thorodon was about. Still, a feeling of dread had seized his very bones. He knew he had crossed a point of no return, and that the boy who sat on this horse was a very different Gaergath from the one who had set forth three days previous.
Then he felt the prompting once more, and this time he went on, telling himself that if the voice were evil, Russandol would know it. Perhaps it was his mother’s, guiding him, asking him to save or avenge her. He felt momentarily comforted. She was looking out for him still. He would reach his destination, one way or another….
He scarcely noticed when the fog did lift, and he found himself on a narrow road in a forest that appeared to be quite old, judging from the size of the trees. He talked aloud to Russandol in order to stave off the dread and the loneliness. The sky was cloudy, but he could see the sun trying to shine through. By and by he came to a fork in it, and dismay seized him. Which to take? Remembering the prompting, he was still and silent, waiting for it again.
The road on your left. And he took that road.
There was an open stretch, where there were not so many trees, and he could see a dwelling or two. There were mountains in the distance, with haze hanging over them still, over which tall dark trees rose, and he could hear the moo of a cow from a remote valley, and the barking of a dog. He judged that he must still be far from his destination, and wondered if he would have to stop again tonight. He wondered if Túruan had been responsible for bringing Celirwen to his mother’s, by saying her name, and a blinding anger seized him…until he remembered that he himself had been the one telling tales about her. Trying to scare the others, show them what he was made of…Perhaps he was the one who had caused her death or abduction….
He felt a little sick.
But he did not stop.
What would he do, once he reached her house? If he did, that is.
He touched his silver dagger. Yes, he could overpower her…. But his mother’s silver pendant had not saved her. What made him think he was any match for a witch-vampire who had been a favorite of both Sauron and Melkor?
But he could not turn back now. He had spoken her name, and if he turned back, she would have him. She would never leave him in peace. Only by destroying her could he ever hope to escape her. No going back, no going back….
What if she destroyed him instead?
What would happen after death? He had asked his mother once. She had explained that the dead passed into the Halls of Mandos, where they waited until their time to go into the Presence. However, not all of them stayed. The wicked were confined to the lower reaches, the nether-world where they could not plague the denizens of the Halls, and were tormented by the memory of their own evil deeds. What became of them there, she knew not. And there were others who did not reach the halls because of their attachment to the circles of Arda. These spirits wandered about unhoused, forlorn, searching, restless, sleepless, unable to connect with any living, at least in any positive way.
“How were you able to get out of…her?” he’d asked her once, not long after she appeared to him. “How did you take on a body?”
“I am half Maia,” she explained. “The Maiar have powers that mortals and Elves have not. These enabled me to take on a solid hröa so I could reach you and claim you, and protect you from her evil. I am not sure how I did so--it is not given me to know all. I am thinking that when she first drank blood, an unhoused spirit claimed her body, and pushed me out…perhaps thinking there was not room enough for both of us.”
She chuckled a little. He frowned.
“Could I do that?” he asked her. “Split off from this body into another, and be two people?”
She sobered. “I do not know, my son. You are more Maia than I, and there is no telling what powers may be slumbering within you. I warn you to be most careful of awaking them, for powers can easily go astray. I would wish you to use them only at sorest need, if at all. And I do not wish you to even think of trying to use them now, for you are but a lad, and not strong enough yet to grasp what may be too great for you to handle. It is as if you would try to ride a horse that is too big for you. You would not have proper control over it yet, and it could only do you harm. It will be many years before you will be able to master what powers you may have. I wish you to promise me that you will not try to harness your powers until you are ready.”
He promised, secretly wondering just what powers he did possess. It had never occurred to him that he had any at all. Surely if he did, he would know it.
Perhaps someday he would save the world….
Or rule it.
It made him dizzy just thinking of it.
He was not even sure he wanted to rule the world. Still, it would be fun going about telling people what to do, and seeing them do it. Seeing them quake in fear before him. Having armies at his command. Building cities, traveling the world, seeing what was out there. Flying high, looking at everything below him, seeing people look up at him and wondering what he was, a bird, or…
He shook his head. Well, he could not fly, he knew that much. He had tried it, and gotten a broken wrist for his trouble. He could fight, but not so well as Thorodon, who was all mortal, as far as he knew. He could not shoot so well as his friend either, although he was a good hunter, and he could run fast, but Thorodon could run faster. Just what could he do, that the others could not? He could read and write, but his mother had taught him, so that didn’t count. It was not a special power, although it did inspire awe and respect in some of the other boys.
Perhaps it was his promise to his mother that had been holding him back. Preventing him from what he was truly capable of doing.
Perhaps now his time had come....
Strange how lonely this road was. No wheel-ruts, no hoofprints, no human footprints, nothing. Just a rocky stretch of road, with weeds springing up here and there, and low-hanging branches he had to avoid, and at one point he had to jump over a large tree that had fallen down in it.
But by and by he found himself on a high slope, looking down into a place where the fog still hung low. And he noticed the clouds had largely cleared from the sky and the sun had come out…and yet that fog remained.
“We’re here, I think,” he whispered to Russandol, who seemed quite uneasy now.
He thought his heart would escape his breast as he rode ever nearer the grey-white mist that shrouded the hollow ahead. Russandol whickered and balked, and Gaergath kicked his sides to urge him on, half hoping that the horse would turn and bolt, taking him with him, and sorely tempted to let him do so. But She would follow him, he knew. He had spoken her name, and now he belonged to her, as he had known he would.
But perhaps, if he belonged to her…he could destroy her. As he would not be able to otherwise.
Vainly he tried to urge his horse forward, but Russandol continued to fight him, and reared up at one point, nearly throwing his rider.
“Castrated old plug!” Gaergath exclaimed in rage and frustration, kicking him once more with his heels and hanging on with all his might. He slapped the reins down on the horse, with the result that Russandol turned and bolted, headed back for the forest. When they came to the fallen tree, Gaergath managed to hold on as the horse cleared it once more, but soon afterward, they came to a low-hanging branch, which he had managed to avoid on the way out, but had forgotten, and before he could gather his wits about him, the branch brushed him off his steed. He gave a yelp and soon found himself on his backside in the road.
And the horse ran on.
“RUSSI!” Gaergath screamed, springing up, then giving an exclamation of pain. His ankle was hurt, he found, but not broken, since he was able to stand. He could not run on it, however, and even if he had been able to, he could still have not run fast enough to catch up with the horse….
Or could he? Would those powers enable him to run that fast?
He could but try.
But his ankle pained him too badly. He could but stand and cry out vainly for his horse. But he could not even hear the hoofbeats any more.
He sat down in the road, finally, and bawled like a small child, not caring who heard him.
After a while he crumpled up on his side, sobbing, then lay face down in his despair, moaning.
He truly belonged to Her now. She was his true mother, and he had given himself to her, surrendering full ownership, and now he truly knew it.
At last, he rose, sniffling, wiping his nose on the back of his wrist, and began hobbling along in the direction of the mist.