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Old 08-23-2023, 09:54 AM   #1
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
Posts: 3,338
Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
The Hobbits by Gilthalion

THE HOBBITS

by Gilthalion


Chapter I

A SURPRISED PARTY

In a field on a hill there grew a tree. Not a scraggly bent tree, with twisted branches and crusty growths, nor yet a thin, sickly, overcrowded tree, with few leaves and fewer branches for birds to perch on or for squirrels to play in: it was a mallorn-tree, and that means beauty.

It was a mighty tree, taller than any tree in the Shire or in all the lands west of the Misty Mountains. Its great trunk was grey and smooth as silk. Up it towered and opened its branches high above the top of the Hill nearby and gave cool shade to everything under its canopy, like a cloud of living green. Its leaves were verdant in the summer of the Shire and from almost anywhere around you could see the top of the Tree. The Tree, as all the hobbits for many miles round called it, had been planted long ago in the golden year of 1420 S.R. by Samwise Gamgee, the old Hero of the Shire. It was said that the Tree had been magically enchanted by an Elvish Queen to grow faster and taller than any tree before or since. The old gaffers and gammers told that in just a year's time it was as big as the full-grown Party Tree that had stood there before. Some even claimed to have actually watched it growing! But that was long ago and now it was grown fantastically immense. It had been long since any children had dared to climb in its branches, and it was so tall that no one ever seriously anymore thought of trying to climb The Tree.

Faramir Took, son of the Thain and leader of the archers of Tookland, had been the last hobbit to try, but that was at least forty years ago. Even then, he didn't make it all the way up to the lowest branch and he almost came down the hard way! (Some jesters said that the only thing hard about getting out of the Tree would be the Ground.) Hobbits, by and large, did not go much for climbing trees and other adventures of that sort, and most especially wouldn't be caught climbing up into anything like The Tree!

What's that? You don't know what a hobbit is? Well really, I thought everybody knew by now, and we haven't time to catch you all the way up, so you will just have to catch on as we go. For now, hobbits are just like you and me, only much smaller, no bigger than half your height and a quarter your weight. They are almost never as large as that these days (they are now usually much smaller) and are never seen much anyway. They don't like lots of noise, and big moving things, and high places. They can hide from you very quickly, and if you ever walked out in the country far from the Cities they may have watched you go by, having heard you come crashing and snapping and shuffling along with your great big feet! Hobbits can move absolutely quietly in the woods and can get out of sight faster than you can say 'stick.' They are very close to Nature, perhaps even more so these days. They live in holes for the most part, hidden in places far from the Big Folk, as they call you and me. They can throw a stone or anything else exactly where they want it and are good at all sorts of games. They have fur on the top of their bare feet as thick as the hair on your head and they have never taken to wearing shoes. Other than that, perhaps they like to eat more, and drink more, and sleep more, and laugh more, and sing more, and dance more, and tell stories more than the Big People, who don't have as much time for that sort of thing, being much too busy with the bigger matters of Business, and Government, and War.

That ought to be plenty to get you started. Now, on this particular Mid-Year's Day, Master Samwise had gone down to the Party Field under The Tree for the celebration. Hobbits didn't need much reason to have a party and Mid-Year's Day seemed as good a reason as any. Old Sam's wife, Mistress Rose, had a few more things to do in the kitchen at Bag End and would be along shortly. The old hobbit whistled as he walked briskly to the field and he saw many hobbits gathered under The Tree. He thought back on all the many celebrations his old eyes had seen under the mallorn-tree of Galadriel.

Of course, Bilbo's Eleventy-first Birthday Party had been long before the Tree, but there were still the old gaffers and gammers who remembered that day, and especially the wizardly fireworks and the disappearance of Mad Baggins, as Bilbo was remembered in hobbit legend. As far as they were concerned, there would never be another party like it! Sam thought so himself. Then there were other parties and celebrations through the long years and folks started forgetting Sam's old master, Frodo Baggins, who had lived in Bag End before him. These days, fewer and fewer outside of the family knew or remembered that Frodo of the Shire had carried the greatest burden in the War of the Ring. It pained him to think, that try as he might, and with all his might, to set things straight, the hobbits of the Shire had enshrined old Master Merry and Master Pippin and himself as Heroes and Frodo remained a footnote for those who could read.

And Samwise had indeed tried very hard! Just three years before, back in 1479, a few years after retirement from his sixth and final term as Mayor, Samwise announced that he would hold a Three Hundred Mark Feast to celebrate the Birthday of Bilbo and Frodo and this was the talk of the Shire. The day of September 22nd, throughout all the years of good old Sam's service as Mayor, had been observed, even though participation had fallen off from its first days. Still, the Three Hundred Mark Feast had been extra-special, and made extra-specially so because Peregrin Took, right Thain of the Shire, and Meriadoc Brandybuck, Master of Buckland had come. There had been fireworks from Dale and food and drink enough to satisfy the Shire. The old hobbits held forth and gave tribute to Frodo, perhaps living still, far away in the true West on the Straight Road under the Star of Eärendil, but this was too elvish and outlandish for the hobbits to really grasp, and rather hard to believe anyway. They listened politely to the old heroes and raised their glasses and mugs to Frodo of the Nine Fingers, listened to minstrels from Gondor (there by special permission!) sing his praises, wearing their outlandish garb, and speaking with grandiloquent phrases and unusual accents. The hobbits just didn't understand a lot of it, but it was mighty entertaining. After that day they did not much think on Frodo again.

The new mayor, Ed Sandyman, the old miller's son, had not bothered with the occasion officially in either the years before or after the Three Hundred Mark Feast. And so the event, Baggins Day, as the faithful called it, was marked by fewer and fewer hobbits outside of immediate family and friends, but it was lively enough still, for hobbits did not need much excuse for a party, especially if it meant a feast! Old Samwise Gardner himself was still held in high regard by the old gaffers and gammers (who still remembered when he was called Gamgee like old Hamfast before him), but fewer and fewer young hobbits knew why folks thought so much of him and the old stories were not regarded as highly as they might have been.

This too, bothered the venerable old hobbit, but being a sensible fellow and knowing there wasn't much he could do, he never really let on about it. There were plenty of grandchildren and grandnieces and grandnephews and the like who would come up to the famous hole on The Hill and listen to his stories and his poetry as he gardened.

Samwise Gardner was a century old himself, but still sturdy and hale, and he worked in his own garden (almost) every day. That was how folk started calling the family Gardner in the first place, following after his tremendous labours in the years after the Scouring. They started by calling him "The Gardener" and this became "Master Gard'ner" and finally the whole lot of them in Bag End were called The Gardners. Young Frodo, Sam's son, at last insisted that they just go ahead and make legal what was already the fact and be done with the confustication that ensued if a Gardner insisted his name was Gamgee.

But Sam was not gardening today! It was Mid-Year's Day, and he was looking forward to the party, not expected to be as grand as the Three Hundred Mark Feast had been, but a party is a party and all hobbits simply loved parties. Master Samwise and Mistress Rose just loved to have family members over, especially the youngsters and the tweens. Lots of them had come for the celebration and the table at Bag End! Elanor, their daughter was there with her husband Fastred. She was still a breathtaking beauty and called Elanor the Fair; though over sixty, she still looked as if she were not long out of her tweens. The ladies of Bag End would come down momentarily to great acclamation for they were bringing the Blackberry Pies for which the Mistress Rose was herself famous. Her pies would have won the Shire Fair every year even if Sam had not been the Mayor for so long!

Master Samwise sat down with a sigh and a smile and watched all the young people. It is only fair to say that just a few of them noticed the old hero, but they were all polite enough when they did. And of course there were those young ones who came from time to time to visit him in his garden, such as Faramir's sons, the Took Twins, and that young Miss Elediriel Cotton (who listened to her great-granduncle so earnestly that Elanor herself noticed and hired her to work in the library at the Undertowers), and of course, the pretty and audacious Miss Madrigal Brandybuck (known variously as either the Beauty or the Terror of the Shire!). These, and a few others, did not hesitate to come to talk (and to listen!) to the old hobbit.

Many other hobbits were there under the Tree and there was already music and dancing and talking, and of course, eating and drinking. Every kind of little appetizer and meat and vegetable was laid out for them as well as good beer for all and fine wine for the head table. Quite a merry time was being had, for the Shire was prosperous and peaceful, and there had been no greater troubles for many years than the usual homely disputes over games of chance and romance.

After a while, the sun began to set and the sky became a warm red and lit the clouds with glowing light. The leaves of the Tree glinted as if their living green had been overlaid with rich gold. It was at last time for the desert! At the head table Mayor Sandyman had stood and was speaking. The loud talking and singing faded to whispers and subdued speech here and there as certain hobbits more quietly continued with their own very important things to say to one another.

"My fellow hobbits and most estimable citizens of the Shire! I need not speak long!"

They cheered and clapped for old Ed at this, for they knew that he, indeed, would not speak long. The Mayor was often asked to give speeches for various occasions, owing to his reputation for getting squarely to the point and not using many words to do it. Not that he often actually answered a question. He could come down on both sides of an issue with the fewest possible number of words. A very clever and businesslike hobbit was Ed Sandyman, miller's son and prosperous merchant in his own right, and he was standing again for Mayor. He would especially not risk any lengthy speeches this close to an election and they all knew it well!

"We have gathered here on this Day to observe the end of the beginning of the year and the beginning of the end of the year. Today is Mid-Year's Day!"

They applauded and cheered and blew horns and rang bells and beat drums and Eglantine Goodbodie even began playing her harp so that it was difficult for Mayor Sandyman to continue, but, of course, continue he did as soon as he could make himself heard.

"What better way... what better way... I say, what better way to mark the occasion than with the delicious first fruits of the Shire, prepared for this Party under the direction of Hobbiton's very own Mistress Rose Gardner!" The Mayor waited for more applause and was not disappointed. Everyone loved the dear old lady. Sam looked around for her. So did everyone else. She and Elanor and the ladies should have been laying out the pies. He looked up the Hill. The Mayor continued, oblivious to the fact that neither the ladies nor the desert had arrived. He had already perhaps had a glass too many from the heady vintage imported from Dorwinion.

"Gentlehobbits one and all, it is my honor to present, the Blackberry Pie!" The crowd was silent. Was this his idea of a joke? If so, it was highly inappropriate! Old Sandyman turned around and saw for the first time that the dessert table was bare. His face turned as red and as shiny as a tomato! Some of the younger and the more stuffed hobbits laughed at the Mayor of Hobbiton. Many more were seriously concerned about the pie, especially those who had saved some room for it with great anticipation! There was now little left for filling up the corners if the Pie was not to be had and they began to worry a little.

Sam himself was suddenly worried a lot. Something wasn't right. He continued looking back up the path, as the hobbitry began to talk loudly, and as the Mayor came straight over to Sam with a red sweating face and an angry expression indeed. Old Master Samwise got up to his feet and walked away, as if he did not hear the embarrassed official or the frustrated partygoers. Elanor had flung open the round green front door of Bag End and was actually running down the Hill toward the party field.

If only someone could have painted a picture of the lovely Elanor, dressed in a fair silk dress given to her by the Queen, her hair streaming golden behind her in the breeze as she ran to her elderly father. The weathered old hobbit walked slowly, his sturdy frame now bent with the weight of what his heart already knew. That painting would have been both beautiful and sad. For a moment they lingered thus, and then without a word, they walked into Bag End together and did not come back down again that night.

Fortunately for the Mayor, because there were not a few angry hobbits and concerned hobbits and suddenly hungry hobbits, some of the ladies of the Gardner household soon came down with the much-anticipated desert on a cart. Without any fanfare, the blackberry pies were dispensed and everyone agreed that this year's pies were the best that Mistress Rose had ever made and therefore, no doubt, the Finest Blackberry Pies that had ever been. Mayor Sandyman was pleased to say that he would issue a Proclamation the very next day to say so and all of the hobbits who paid him any attention whatsoever agreed that it should be done.

A few wondered why Mistress Rose had not come down. Some of the old folk seemed rather sad, as if they guessed what none of the youngsters had considered. The guess became a question and the question became a rumour and the rumour passed through the entire gathering. They looked down at their empty pie plates and some of them actually burst into tears. The sad ladies of Bag End confirmed what the crowd had now realized. Mistress Rose would never cook another pie again. And they all mournfully agreed that as much as they would miss the Best Blackberry Pies that ever there were, they would miss their dear, sweet Miss Rosie still more.

Sam had found the weeping ladies clustered around Mistress Rose where she had passed out on the kitchen floor just as the pies were cooled and loaded on the cart. Sam quietly told the ladies to take the pies down to the party and let folks enjoy them the way Rosie wanted them to, and as they did just that, he carried his unconscious wife to her room. He was old, and not the strong young hobbit he had been, but Rosie was small and very thin in her old age. She hardly seemed to weigh anything at all. Elanor turned down the covers and they tried to make her comfortable. She stirred a little and opened her eyes and looked up at Samwise.

"Hullo, Sam!" she said weakly. "Where have you been? You haven't hurried have you?"

"Oh, Rosie!" he said thickly, holding back tears. "What will I do without you?"

She smiled up at him and whispered to him so that he had to bend low to hear her. "You have one last journey. I fancy you'll find Mister Frodo is waiting for you."

This was too much for Sam and the old hobbit could hold back his emotion no longer. Elanor was already weeping quietly. "Rosie," was all he could manage to say through the sadness that blurred his vision and gripped his throat.

"It won't be too long, Sam," she continued even more weakly. "I'll just wait for you... again..."

And she sighed and breathed her last breath in the Shire.

Sam fell across her bed and his body heaved with hard wracking sobs. Elanor stayed with him, still quietly weeping herself, softly stroking her father's snow-crowned head. She left him late in the night but Sam did not leave Rosie until after the sun had set the next day.

***

Master Samwise was never the same after Rosie died. She was laid to rest beneath a small green mound on the Cotton Farm where she was born, and that was the last that most of the hobbits of the Shire saw of old Sam Gardner, son of Hamfast Gamgee. Family members came to visit, and he would put on a cheerful face for the children but everyone knew he was just not the same. He neglected his little garden, still considered the best in the Shire, but as the summer became autumn, it became overgrown, still beautiful, but now untended and becoming wild.

Sam himself seemed to shrink, and started to look more like a hobbit of over a hundred. He no longer walked with a straight back and uplifted head, meeting the local hobbitry with a cheerful eye and a happy smile. Now the poor old fellow hardly stirred out of Bag End at all, except late at night when he would go to sit by himself in his garden to look up at the stars as they set into the West.

September came around and folk had almost forgotten about the elderly hobbit when word went out that he was planning a family party on Baggins Day. He let it be known that anyone who wanted to attend would be welcome, but he really only expected the usual small crowd. He was planning to make an Announcement and other than that, was all too happy to let Elanor handle the arrangements.

Many of the Hobbiton folk and some others from Buckland and from West March had come especially to please old Sam, knowing how the passing of Mistress Rose had grieved him so. Oddly enough, Elanor and Fastred of Westmarch were missed, but everyone else who really knew him was there. The kind hearts of the little people had overflowed for their old hero and they welcomed him happily into the throng that had gathered for him under the Tree he had planted for them so long ago.

Its leaves were turning a resplendent golden colour and they caught the light of the setting sun, reflecting it with such a rich glow upon the gathering that it reminded Sam much of the elvish land of Lothlorien. That memory in turn took him back to the great days of his adventures and the companions of his youth. He choked back tears and thanked each one of them as they took turns shaking his horny old hand and slapping him (gently) on the back. Last of all, two of the companions of his youth were indeed there, Merry and Pippin, or as the hobbits round about knew them, Meriadoc the Magnificent, Master of Buckland, and Master Peregrin Took, Right Thain of the Shire, the great Heroes of the War of 1419.

And great and magnificent they still looked. The two of them together each stood head and shoulders above all the hobbits of the land, and though they too were old, they stood tall and straight and walked with the firm confidence of youth, rather than the careful steps of the elderly. They could still ride ponies, and did so with almost the speed and recklessness of hobbits in their tweens. They wore finery of gold and silk, and carried on their belts, swords of ancient lineage in fine embroidered scabbards. The curly hair on their heads was streaked and flecked with gray and their faces were lined with years of smiles and cares, but their eyes were bright and their hands were strong. Well, perhaps they were a little stiffer and a little slower, and perhaps Master Meriadoc's belt was rather broad, and perhaps Thain Peregrin's memory wasn't what it used to be, but if anyone ever saw fit to notice it, few bothered to mention it.

It snowed food and it rained drink under the Tree on the Hill in the Shire that night. The stars glimmered brightly in the sky and the Evenstar tarried late behind the sun. A bonfire was lit and its light was caught in the mallorn leaves high above and the hobbits seemed to dine and talk and dance and sing under a glowing cloud of gold. Sam talked long and earnestly with his old friends and seemed more his old self than he had since before his Rosie had died. Finally, Master Samwise stood to his feet and in an unusual show of respect, the hobbits all became quiet before he spoke.

"You're all family and friends here, and since I ain't never been good at speechifying..." this brought forth from the hobbits a little laughter. "I'll just come right out and say what I mean to say. I have lived a good long life, and I reckon I'm blessed to have known so many good hobbits and great people as I have. Today, we are met to celebrate Baggins Day, and I'm glad to see a few Bagginses here tonight. This is really about Bilbo and Frodo and what all they've done for hobbits and a whole world of people who had no idea we were even here. I've tried to live my life so they would be proud of me, just as if they were still here in the Shire. And much as I love the Shire..." The old hobbit looked up at the outstretched branches of the Tree he had planted so long ago. He choked back a sob, thinking of all the trees he had planted after the Shadow and of all his labours through the years and of all the hobbits he had loved. He swallowed hard and steadfastly continued, "...and as much as I love all of you, now that Rosie has gone, if I'm to live, I need to be there..." he said, pointing west, "...with Mr. Frodo. I'll be leaving tonight, under the stars. So now it's time for me to say to you all, as Mr. Bilbo once did many years ago--this is the end. I am going. I am leaving now. Good-bye!" And with that, the old hobbit simply walked out of the lights under the Tree, leaving the surprised hobbits with nothing to say for several minutes. They just looked at one another dumbfounded, and then all began talking at once. Some of the tweens would have run off to follow, but the Thain was firm that none but Merry and himself were to accompany Master Samwise on his last journey. Music was struck up, wine was poured, a new course of dinner was laid, and the conversation turned to the great adventures of the past and to the absorbing doings of the present.

At the garden, the old hobbit was helped by Master Meriadoc up onto a pony and then the three old Companions set off with a couple of dwarves and a spare pony with some baggage. They did not stop until they reached the Tower Hills, where Merry and Pippin said goodbye to him for the last time. He slept and rested there at the home of Elanor, for he was very old and wearied easily these days. But he did not stay long.

Sam gave Elanor a thick book of the finest parchment, bound in red leather. It was the Red Book that Bilbo had begun so long ago with his stories and poems, that Frodo had continued with his own account of the War of the Ring. Sam himself had finished it, with history and ancient legends copied from scrolls and records and books of lore still kept in Rivendell and Gondor. There were only a few copies in all the Shire, one for each of Sam's children and for some of their close friends and relations (and of course for the libraries at the Great Smials and in Brandy Hall). Elanor had been charged with having this work done, and now the Red Book itself was hers.

Elanor's fair face seemed more care-lined now as if the enchantment of youth was leaving with the old hobbit. Her tears fell freely as she and Fastred bid her father a final farewell. As soon as the sun began to set the next day, Sam set out west again with the dwarves for the Grey Havens of the Elves and was never seen again by any hobbit in Middle-earth.




Chapter II

INCIDENT AT THE GREEN DRAGON

It was the very next night, on the evening of September 23nd, 1482 S.R., at the Green Dragon, when Elediriel Cotton read her first poem in public. She had been working for Master Samwise making fair copies of the Red Book for nearly the last year. Being one of the few hobbits who could both read and write, she was hired for the painstaking task of writing and writing and writing again and again and again every word that had been set down in the old book by Bilbo and Frodo and Samwise. The hobbit lass was steeped in the legends and poems and stories and lore perhaps more than anyone else in the entire Shire. It was tedious work, but she was paid well enough and it helped her take care of her poor old mother. Her father had long since passed away and she was their only daughter, born late in life. Perhaps through taking on life's cares and burdens at a young age, she was more mature in some ways than most hobbits in their tweens, but far less experienced in social life. She found that out, when she shared in the Common Room of the Green Dragon on that Baggins Day, a poem she that she had written on her very own. She became very nervous when it was her turn and she almost sat back down, but she made herself go on and chanted before the room in a soft voice that the hobbitry had to strain to hear.

When Shadow to the Shire had come
he too, came home from far away,
from land of dread and mount of Doom,
a land where evil had its day.

From home and hearth he heard the call
and knew at last he must return
from fountain, river, pool and fall,
to stop the ones who kill and burn.

He never faltered, never tired,
and stayed he true the long road there
and back again, the Hamfast sired,
who never shirked a single care.

How he could sing a laughter song
and cheer a heart that's sorrowing;
how he would try to right a wrong
and never trouble borrowing.

With will of iron, he foe assailed,
and faced the monster in her lair
and took the Quest when master failed
and humbled Pride and Darkness there.

O could we ever live to see,
if like the Elves we lived till End,
more blessed folk than you and me
and all who called Good Samwise, friend?


The hobbits applauded politely, some more enthusiastically than others. A couple of old gaffers, with backs bent over their mugs from the weight of years of toil, wiped their eyes with bowed heads beneath their gray hoods, and made then a great fuss over lighting their pipes (as if that covered their heartfelt emotion). Some said the poem was good enough to be a song. Others said it was too strange and sad seeming for that.

And then there were still others who had no appreciation for it at all, at all. These were the hangers on, admirers, and followers of young Ned Sandyman, the Mayor's son. They also happened to be his employees, since these were the only sort of hobbits who would work for him. Ever since his father had turned Sandyman's Mercantile Store over to Ned, a braggadocious hobbit not long out of his tweens, he had been insufferable. And since his father had narrowly won reelection as Mayor of Hobbiton, he had been intolerable. He cruelly jeered at the young hobbit lass.

"What was all of that?" he asked, and then proceeded to answer himself. "Elves, and pools, and quests, and a lot of rhyming nonsense!" said Ned Sandyman. "That's what comes of learning girls their letters!" His followers and a few other hobbits laughed as if he had said something clever. Little Elediriel was stunned and looked as if she might just screw up and start bawling. Turgon and Fingon, the Took Twins, grandsons of Thain Peregrin and of Master Samwise alike, stood as one and walked right up to the sneering shopkeeper.

"Our grandfather..." began Turgon.

"...was a hero..." continued Fingon.

"...and you will take those words back!" finished Turgon.

"Or what?" taunted Ned, who had never liked Turry or Furry, as most of the Shire called them. He had been quite jealous of them growing up and for some reason, his entire family never much cared for these hobbits who thought they were so high and lordly. The Twins began to get boiling bad now.

"Or we'll flatten your face, that's what!" shouted Turry. The hobbits in the room started shouting, hoping for a fight. More than half the room wanted to see the Tooks mop up the floor with Sandyman. Some waited to see their Boss humiliate the uppity hobbits. Almost all of them anticipated a great fight. It looked about even: the big Tooks against all of Sandyman's boys, for no one doubted that was how it was about to turn out. Money almost immediately started changing hands, and Gaffer Brockhouse was giving odds in favor of the Twins. Turgon, or Turry, looked grim. Fingon, or Furry, just looked furious. Ned had a number of sturdy hobbits around him. So he laughed in their faces, though he was a thin wiry hobbit and they were uncommonly large and strong. Ned had a sharp mind and a sharper tongue and had already thought of what he would say to the glowering Took Twins.

"Well, the old gardener might have been a hero, but then, those might just be stories the lot of them told to explain how they came by what they got. We only have their word for it. And the word of folks who believe in such fairy tales. It's a Man's world now, and any Hobbit's that's smart enough to be a part of it. But even if there were heroes, and even if old Samwise was one himself, we can all see that you're not! Look at you, trying to take on little old me two to one. All right then, one at a time," he licked his lips and grinned wickedly. "Which one takes his lickin' first?"

Right away both of the Took Twins stepped forward. But Turry, who was older by a few minutes wanted to be first, and so did the furious Furry, and the clever Sandyman knew, as did all the Shire, how competitive the brothers were. Soon they fell to pushing and pulling and holding one another back and many of the hobbits in the Green Dragon had to laugh. The sly shopkeeper egged it on.

"Look at them! They're so afraid that they can't decide who gets to be last!"

At that, the tavern was filled with laughter, and rude catcalls from Sandyman's hobbits. That was almost more than he had bargained for. Now the Tooks were ready to beat him into the floor whether anyone thought it was fair or not. But they collided into each other and fell sprawling across a table. The hobbitry roared with loud shouts of laughter and a genuine barroom brawl might have started right there in the Green Dragon if Madrigal Brandybuck had not put a stop to it. As Ned exulted in his glee at the expense of the Took Twins, he heard Maddie's sweet voice behind him. He turned to look at the lass, for she was pretty, in a wild dryad fashion, with a long untamable mane of tight brown curls. Quite a few in the room stopped what they were doing and paid attention, ignoring the Took Twins struggling up from the tavern floor.

"Ned," she said sweetly, "this is for my grandfather and for all the heroes everywhere." And with that, and with no other fanfare, would you believe the pretty hobbit lass knotted up her little fist and punched him hard and square, straight in the nose?

The roof of the tavern rattled on the rafters and would have raised right off if the hobbits had laughed any louder or longer! Sandyman lay on the floor with a bleeding nose, his hobbits fumbling and bumping into each other to see what they could do for him. Elediriel just stood there with her leather-bound manuscripts in her arms and a shy grin spreading across her delighted face. Maddie grabbed her by the hand and led her out the door, still looking back, and the Took Twins grinned and followed the girls into the night. Some of the older hobbits decided that this was a good time for them to leave as well, since nothing would top that, and they filtered out of the Green Dragon. This would be the talk of the Shire in the morning!

The boys were quite cheerful now that all had turned out well enough. Maddie was still furious. She might have been happier to know that with her punch, she had not only broken Sandyman's nose, but had given him two black eyes that were already starting to darken. Those black eyes stayed with Ned for a long time, and folk took to calling him "Bandit" Sandyman. The name stuck for the rest of his mean little life, being all the funnier not only as a joke about his appearance, but as an apt description of his well-known business practices.

But Maddie did not know this at the time and so an angry storm of words surged through her lips as they walked down the Road and up the Hill to sit under the Tree. As the hobbits marched up the Hill, Turry and Furry began to sing a little song that the two of them made up on the spot. They did not notice the gray shadows that followed them.

Turry sang first,

"Ned came into the Dragon's den
And slurred and slandered our kith and kin
For many a year he'd made it clear:
He did not like those heroes!
Up Nose! Weirdoes!
He did not like those heroes!"


Then it was Furry's turn:

"Then Madrigal, our dear old pal,
Stood right up, the prettiest gal,
She looked so sweet, on her velvet feet,
That Ned just stood there gawking!
Talking! Squawking!
She looked so sweet, on her velvet feet,
That Ned just stood there gawking!"


Not to be outdone, Turry finished:

"She laid Ned low with a single blow
So everyone in the Shire would know
Though Maddie's nice, you'd best think twice
Of talking down her Heroes!
Trash those? Smash nose!
Though Maddie's nice, you'd best think twice
And don't down talk her Heroes!"


They sang it through thrice, louder each time, and, by the time they got to the Tree, Maddie's fury had passed and she was laughing merrily with Elediriel at the silly boys. They all lay down in the grass and looked up at the stars and talked and laughed some more. The Moon was bright, but hidden above the high branches of the Tree. The golden mallorn-leaves glimmered with silver moonshine. Elediriel sighed and was ever so happy to be there with her new found friends. She had never had many before that night and lay there keenly realizing what she had been missing.

Turry lifted up on an elbow and looked over at the bookish hobbit girl, gazing up into the boughs above. She had fine golden hair and a pretty face, but she was no stunning beauty like Madrigal. Still, she had a sweet shy smile, and he thought her poetry fine. They were all young hobbits in their tweens and as tweenagers will, they thought often, though in hobbit fashion, not seriously, about the opposite gender. As you may have noticed from their rhyming, Furry was quite smitten with Maddie, and Turry was not far behind his brother in that regard. He looked at the Brandybuck lass and with a little annoyance saw Furry doing the same. As for Maddie, she thought the two of them quite amusing and did not know which one she liked better, and being unable to tell them apart anyway, kept both the Twins on a string, along with half the tweenaged boys in the Shire. But her attention was on the glowing leaves of gold high above, as they gleamed with silver and rippled in the breezes that gently stirred through the mighty limbs of the enchanted tree.

They themselves were all being watched from the shadows. Two shapes had moved quietly behind them and now blended unseen into the hedge bordering the Party field. Even if you had been on the lookout, straining your ears to hear and your eyes to see, I doubt you would have noticed the figures, for they seemed to be little more than gray shadows, a part of the grass and the rocks and the foliage that they passed near. You would have rubbed your eyes and thought maybe you only imagined a trick of the shadows in the moonlight. As for the hobbits under the Tree in the heart of the Shire, they never even thought to look and never imagined that they were the objects of such stealthy scrutiny.

The young hobbits fell to talking of the olden stories and were amazed at how much Elediriel knew about them. In that magical way that seems as right as rain, they all became inseparable friends that very night under the Tree. Soon, the Twins had nicknamed their new friend Ellie, since Elediriel was too fine a name for casual use, as Turry pointed out. Many of their generation had been given Elvish names, or names that the hobbits thought sounded Elvish. They begged her and she gladly promised she would bring her manuscripts and, if they were ever so careful and only touched them with clean dry hands, she would let them read for themselves the words she had transcribed herself right out of the Red Book.

"It's too bad we can't see the Red Book itself," lamented Furry.

"Maybe Mistress Elanor will let us look at it one day. Master Samwise always said that he would leave it to her. I only got to see it long enough myself to make the first copy," Ellie said. "But he checked it himself to make sure it was absolutely perfect and then locked the Red Book safely away. Then, I made my own copy from the copy! But I am oh-so-careful with even with the copies, for the parchments are costly."

They talked a little more and then thought it time for sleep. The Twins and Maddie each had rooms they had long before rented for the little private holiday. They escorted Ellie first to her mother's humble little hole and then went back down the Road to the Green Dragon, the Twins singing their song again for Maddie. Ellie watched them until they were out of sight and listened until they were out of hearing. She thought she saw shadows cross the Road after them, but looked again and saw nothing. She went in the little round front door and found her mother waiting up for her.

"Hullo, child! Did you have a nice reading?"

"Oh Mother! I had the most wonderful time!"

"It sounded like it! Who were those boys singing that song?" her mother asked. She looked fondly at her daughter and saw a brightness on her face that she had not seen there since before Odo had died. Her husband had been a fine hobbit and a good father, and his passing had left its mark on the hobbit lass. She had done all she could to make her little girl happy, even encouraging her when she wanted to learn her letters, something that relatively few hobbits lads and fewer hobbit lasses ever learned well, and something her mother hoped would not come to trouble. But now the lonely widow took joy from the sight of her daughter's happiness, glad to see she had at last found some friends.

They talked for a long time into the night, over cups of tea and butter cookies. Her old mother had to hear everything that had happened and Ellie could not have held back from telling her. The fire died low in the hearth that Odo Cotton had built and they went to bed and slept deeply and contentedly, the aged widow and her happy daughter. Had anyone been there to tuck them in, they would have seen identical smiles on their sleepy faces.
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Old 08-31-2023, 08:08 AM   #2
Mithadan
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Chapter III

A SUMMONS FROM THE THAIN

The next morning, Elediriel awoke to the bright sunshine streaming in her deep-set bedroom window. There were only a few rooms in the little hole, but it had been built with care and was still snug and dry. Her bed was comfortable and she just lay there awhile, listening to the singing of the robin just outside and the sound of her old mother, humming and singing to herself over the stove. Bacon was sizzling and Ellie could smell it along with her mother's mushrooms stuffed with sweet herb butter. Fresh bread was in the oven and coffee was in the kettle. She threw off her covers and hurried to wash up so that she would be ready for breakfast while it was still fresh and hot!

The dear old girl always cooked too much, trying to feed up her pale, thin daughter. Ellie would sometimes forget all about food, if she had a new book she had borrowed, or one she had borrowed again after a long while. Still, this particular morning, it was a good thing that Mrs. Cotton had cooked so much because just as they had poured the coffee, and before they sat down to eat, there came a sharp knocking on the door. It was an Official Four Knocks such as the Sheriffs might use!

Sure enough, it was a Sheriff, Caractacus Boffin, or Cracky as everyone called him. He was a decent old fellow from the Southfarthing and was always as helpful as could be and his word was trustworthy. In fact, if word of some happening was said to have come "by Cracky," it was accepted as a fact. Now, here he was himself, rapping Officially on their door at Breakfast Time!

Mrs. Cotton opened the little round door and there the old sheriff stood, looking a little uncertain. He asked to come in and have a word, especially with Miss Elediriel. The mother hobbit kindly invited Cracky to have some breakfast with them and he lost his uncertainty and sat to the delicious meal heartily.

"Mrs. Cotton, I won't deny I'm a hungry hobbit!" he said between big mouthfuls of bacon and mushroom. "Do you know that I was rousted out of bed in the wee hours of the morning by the Thain himself! I've walked a long way on a slack stomach and this is sure a blessing!"

"The Thain!" mother and daughter exclaimed together. "What does he want with me?" Ellie squeaked.

"Let him be, child," Mrs. Cotton said. "We can finish breakfast first!"

"That's all right Mrs. Cotton," said the Sheriff, putting down his fork. "I shouldn't have sat down without getting to it right away, but your cooking smelled so good and I was so hungry! Anyway, I was sent all the way here by Thain Peregrin to bring Miss Elediriel back to the Great Smials with me."

"Goodness gracious!" cried Mrs. Cotton. "Whatever for?"

"Don't take on so!" said old Cracky. "I'm sure it's nothing too serious. He said it had to do with the incident last night in the Green Dragon. He said she was to come with me first thing and I've only just got here. I don't know any more than that, but he didn't seem angry or out of sorts. Rather like it was some game. Now, that ain't official, but I shouldn't worry. He seemed right pleased he did." The grey-headed sheriff took another bite and said, "but you didn't hear that from me! These are mighty good, Mrs. Cotton!"

They finished breakfast pleasantly and Mrs. Cotton insisted on doing the washing up and shooed the old sheriff and her daughter out of the hole and down the road. Elediriel carried her manuscripts, for she thought in the back of her mind, or she hoped, that this would have something to do with her poem! Her last memory of her father was of him reading poems to her when she was just a tiny wee lassie on his knee. She always wanted her poems to be special to someone. But she was a sensible hobbit girl and told herself that it probably had nothing really to do with her except as a witness to a fight. She sighed as they tramped along the beaten path into the rolling hills and pleasant lands of the Tooks.

They finally walked over the last hill and saw it, the Great Smials. What met their view was a long broad hill, massive, though not very tall, its surface regularly marked with round openings for windows and doors, its rounded top covered with pleasant gardens and lanes of trees.

Centuries ago, nearly the entire hill had been excavated and refilled to cover the series of connecting tunnels, rooms, and halls that had housed the great families of the Took clans, particularly the central Took family itself. It had served them as a stronghold in the War and was the heart of freedom in the Shire. The Thain always held a position of respect, and now that the King had returned, was reinvested with authority and responsibility for maintaining the peace and the roads and the liberty of the Shire.

Thain Peregrin was a personal friend of Good King Strider and one of the three living heroes of the Shire, leading the Tooks into battle to free the Shire back in 1419. He was old and venerable now, but still tall and strong with the same irrepressible nature tempered with the wisdom of many years. Ellie said goodbye to old Cracky at the great front door and went inside. She was expected. A middle-aged hobbit lady looked down her nose at the lass and asked her name. Upon hearing it, she only said, "Follow me" with a disapproving tone and led her down a long high tunnel to the very end on the other side of the hill. Behind a great round door was the Hall of the Tooks.

Seated on a chair behind a desk, with a rather large open window behind him, was Peregrin Took, Right Thain of the Shire, bending low over the desk, arm wrestling both of his grandsons, Turry and Furry, at the same time, one on each hand. Madrigal caught Ellie's eye and they smiled the smile that girls will smile when boys are being boys. The hobbit matron who led Ellie to the chamber officiously cleared her throat and announced, "Miss Elediriel Cotton is here." Having done this, she turned on her stout heel and stumped back down the hall.

"Miss Cotton! I'll... be... just a moment," said the old Thain, straining with great exertion. The two boys were more than he had bargained for. The old hobbit had clenched his eyes shut with the strain and was turning a bright red. The twins looked at one another and reached a silent agreement. All at once, the Thain began to overcome them and then with all his might, drove their arms to the desk. "Ha HA!" cried old Pippin in triumph.

He was puffing and blowing and mopping his face. The boys just grinned and praised the old fellow for his amazing strength. Maddie rolled her eyes and Ellie smiled despite herself. When he had settled down and had a glass of water, the old grandfather put aside merriment and as if pulling on a jacket, changed his demeanour, and was suddenly the Thain of the Shire.

"Now!" he said. The tweens grew serious as he looked hard at them. "I want an explanation for what happened last night." Many long silent moments passed. "Turgon," he said, "you are, I believe, the eldest in this room, save myself. Speak up!"

"Are you asking about The Green Dragon?" Turry asked in response.

"Didn't Faramir teach you not to answer the questions of your elders with questions? Of course I'm talking about The Green Dragon! Everyone is talking about The Green Dragon! I've already heard from Mayor Sandyman down in Hobbiton. He says the four of you attacked young Ned and battered him senseless! What have you got to say for yourselves?"

"He was senseless before he ever walked in!" cried Furry. The Thain stifled a smile and sternly continued.

"I'll have none of your sauce young hobbit! Since the two of you are unresponsive, I'll deal with you later. Miss Brandybuck! What part did you play in all of this?"

The pretty hobbit lass turned a pretty pink, but looked the Thain in the eye and said, "I gave Ned Sandyman what he was asking for, that's all."

The Thain scowled at her and turned his glare upon Ellie, who shrank before him. "And you, Miss Cotton! I hear this is all your fault! Perhaps you would care to explain yourself?"

Ellie felt as if everything was caving in. But she saw her friends sneaking smiles and winks at her, and she was reminded that the Thain was certainly a Good Person if ever there was one, or nothing else she had learned was true. She set aside her doubts and fears and found courage somewhere deep within. The shy girl said to him then, "I wrote a poem for Master Samwise. Mr. Sandyman didn't like it. Turgon and Fingon told him to take his words back. Then..." Ellie noticed the boys looking a little anxious. She didn't want to embarrass them by telling how they had fallen all over themselves!

"Then," she continued, "he turned around and Madrigal let him have it!"

"Let him have what?" the Thain asked impatiently.

"What he was asking for!" she answered impertinently, perhaps for the first time in her life! All the tweens began laughing but stopped short when Peregrin slammed his big gnarly fist down on the desk, making them all jump.

"QUIET! I see no other choice! I find that you are all guilty of disturbing the peace and of assaulting a merchant in a public gathering. It is my solemn duty now as Thain of the Shire to pronounce sentence."

The twins began to protest. They had done nothing wrong! Maddie chimed in that Sandyman had it coming, everyone saw it, and Ellie even piped up that Ned had no right saying the things he had said and that...

"QUIET! QUIET!" roared the Thain fiercely, smashing the desk twice with his big right hand, making all the knickknacks, brickabrack, and dust catchers jump and rattle. Had the old hobbit lost his senses? Would he throw them in the old Lockholes, reserved only for the most incorrigible? He continued now in an official tone as a judge condemns the most heinously guilty criminal.

"Your sentence, Elediriel Cotton, as instigator of the incident at the Green Dragon Inn, in Bywater, the evening of September 22nd, 1483, is exile for an indefinite term from the Shire until the payment of your debt to society be deemed by me to be paid in full.

"Your sentences, Turgon and Fingon Took, as aiders and abettors of general mayhem, disrupters of the peace, and destroyers of private property, is to accompany Elediriel Cotton in exile until her sentence is served.

"Your sentence, Madrigal Brandybuck, as perpetrator of the act of assault, shall likewise be exile with Elediriel Cotton for as long as I shall deem."

The young hobbits for once sat utterly stunned and for the first time actually believed that the addled old hobbit was serious and that a severe and unjust punishment had been decreed. From behind them came the sound of hearty laughter. There stood another tall old hobbit, as tall as the Thain himself, if not taller. His big hands gripped his broad (and rather extensive) belt as he stood there in his amusement.

"Grandfather!" cried Maddie, with great surprise and relief, and ran and threw her arms around old Meriadoc Brandybuck, Master of Buckland and friend of the Thain.

"You're late, Merry! Sleeping in?" asked old Pippin.

"And what if I was?" old Merry retorted. "It was a late night. It's still early in the day for terrorizing young tweens, isn't it, Pippin?"

"Duty calls. But, now it's the call of second breakfast I hear! Let's go down to the dining hall and see what we can find!" Merry and Pippin started off and each of the four young hobbits cried out with some variation on the question, "what about us?"

"What about you?" asked old Pippin. "You're exiles now! I expect you will want to go to Rivendell."

"Rivendell!" cried Turry and Furry at once.

"Should we really let them go by themselves?" asked Merry.

"You're right. They would be sure to cause all kinds of havoc and the King would hold us responsible," Pippin agreed.

"Well, if we're responsible, we'd best go with them," Merry observed.

"Yes, I guess you're right again, Merry. Old responsible hobbits do not shirk their duty," Pippin pronounced solemnly as the two old war-horses walked out the door. "The four of you had best come along so we can discuss what to do with you," he called back, offhandedly. They rushed as one through the broad door and followed the old hobbits, pelting them with questions, until the aging gallants had to laugh and decided not to drag it out any longer.

They found coffee and apple juice and hot honey cakes and tubs of butter and bottles with different fruit syrups set out for them and so they all sat around the table, digging in. Still, even the fine products of the little bakery in the Great Smials did not keep the tweens' mouths so occupied that they could not continue their questioning.

"Now you've had your fun, Grandfather," said Madrigal, starting to get a little cross. "What's going on? Are we really going to Rivendell? Why?"

"Yes, you ARE going to Rivendell," Merry answered, around a buttered bite of honey cake dripping with blueberry syrup. "And to many other places besides, I expect."

"But why?" cried Turry and Furry together.

"Because the King has sent word asking that a Delegation of Hobbits be chosen to serve as Emissaries to deliver an Important Message to the Master of the Beornings, to King Bain, to King Thorin, and to King Thranduil. He shall tell us all 'Why' when we reach Rivendell!" said Pippin. "And that's really all we know." And as if he were merely discussing a new secret fishing hole in the Northfarthing, he popped another bite of honey cake in his mouth and reached for his coffee.

"But why me?" asked Ellie. She could understand Turgon and Fingon being chosen, for they were the old Took's grandsons, and Sam's too, and Madrigal was a granddaughter of Meriadoc. Ellie was only one of many great-grandnieces of the famous families and considered herself the least among them.

Pippin put down his fork and looked kindly at her. "Master Samwise thought very highly of you. A year and a day ago he told me, 'Look after young Miss Elediriel when I'm gone. Someone needs to take care of the old stories and tales and make sure they're remembered.' That's what he said, and after I heard that poem of yours last night, I was sure old Sam had it right. And perhaps you'll take even better care of them if you get to meet some of the great folk Mistress Elanor has put you to work writing about. And don't worry about your mother, Mrs. Cotton. I've already made certain she'll lack for nothing, while you're gone. Now let me finish eating," the old fellow said, and gave his plate serious attention before he teared up in front of the tweens. Pippin really was a very sentimental hobbit.

"How did you hear that poem? We didn't see you there," cried Turry.

"But we saw you!" said Merry. "And a word of advice to the two of you," he said to the boys, "mind you don't let Maddie do ALL your fighting for you! But you might let Ellie do your rhyming!"

They all laughed at this, but Ellie started thinking. "It was the elven cloaks of Lothlorien! You were the grey shadows I thought I saw!"

"We leave Brandy Hall in three days," said Merry, ignoring the girl's speculation.

"I expect you'll want to pack and let your folks see you off!" said Pippin.

The young hobbits started excitedly talking to one another, planning what they would take and what they would need, and occasionally even asking the old campaigners for their advice. Soon enough, their second breakfast was done and the elder hobbits bid the tweens farewell until they met at Brandy Hall. The girls said goodbye to the twins and left for Ellie's hole. Maddie had her own little yellow pony; a small mare named Cider. In fact, Maddie was the only girl in the Shire who rode a pony and she did much else besides that other hobbit lasses, as a rule, did not. She could shoot a bow and use a sling as well as any hobbit lad, though she had never killed anything with it. Maddie was a proficient rider on her spirited little pony, but this was first time in her life that Ellie was going to ride on the back of one of the beasts!

Maddie laughed, and told her she would have to get used to that, if they were going all the way to the Lonely Mountain and back! Cider was a sweet-tempered pony, gorgeous with her dark mane and spotless shining yellow coat: sturdy and strong and spirited she was! She made no fuss at all about carrying the two young hobbit lasses on her broad little back, for Maddie often rode with a friend this way. Cider proudly wore a fine wool blanket and a polished, brown leather saddle and reins that jingled with several tiny silver bells, a gift from the Master of Buckland, himself! She was the best little pony in all the hobbit lands, and well she knew it! (Why, Maddie told her so everyday!) Ellie sighed and thought of how magnificent life must be as a Brandybuck.

Then away they went! How the wind blew past! Ellie tightly clutched Maddie to keep from falling off and she just laughed and urged Cider to greater speed. She neighed proudly and showed Ellie what she could do! They tore off down the lane as if late for supper! The wind of their passing mingled Elediriel's fine blonde hair in a stream with Madrigal's long brown curls. The long walk to the Great Smials that morning, became a ride that was over too soon for Ellie, when they stopped in a cloud of dust before the humble hole she called home.

The girls alit from the pony's back and stroked her and petted her and told her what a fine pony she was. They took off her saddle and reins, got her some water (not too much, too quickly!) and let her graze in the lush grass near Ellie's hole. They went in and found Mrs. Cotton starting to fix lunch and Ellie introduced her mother to her new friend. Mrs. Cotton continued cutting vegetables and listened as Ellie and Maddie excitedly told the old widow the happy news.

But Mrs. Cotton started weeping. Just then, Ellie really realized that going also meant leaving! She burst into tears herself at the thought of leaving her old mother all alone and she started to promise her that she didn't have to go anywhere and would never leave her. But before Ellie could say more, the old widow put down her knife and vegetables and hugged her daughter close. Madrigal had to turn and wipe a tear away herself.

Mrs. Cotton told the weeping girl to dry her tears and told her that this was the happiest day of her life and told her that she always knew Elediriel was meant for more a poor little hole in the Shire. She stroked her daughter's straight blonde hair and told her that she loved her and that she had plenty to do to keep her days busy and that she would just wait for Ellie to return. Maybe with a husband!

The three hobbit women, young and old together, all laughed at this and their tears were the dew of happiness.




Chapter IV

WHERE MANY PATHS AND ERRANDS MEET

Maddie stayed with Ellie and Mrs. Cotton for a night and a day and with the next dawn the two girls set out together on Cider for Maddie's home in Buckland. They laughed and talked merrily as the yellow pony trotted east. Ellie's mother stood there long, watching them until they were out of sight. Then the old widow broke down and wept again as she had not since Odo had died, though she did not weep with bitterness. The dear old thing would miss her daughter terribly, but in her unselfish way, was also happy to see her ride off into the sunrise of a better life than she had known. Finally, she smiled, sighed sadly and went back to the routines of her gardening, and her sewing, and the many little things she did for the neighbouring hobbits that made them love her so.

It was a lovely autumn day among those happiest of days in the memory in the Shire. The girls rode past the cultivated fields, the hedge-lined roads, the flower gardens, the fruited orchards, the teeming fishponds, the rich pastures, and of course, the merry people of the land themselves. Since the days of their grandfolks, the little crossings had become villages through the years, and what were villages became towns, but still the burgeoning population of hobbitry had carefully planned and consulted with one another as their numbers grew. No hasty ugly structures had been permitted. The little cottage industries of the hobbit families were run with care, so that there was little waste, and uses were found for everything. The hobbits lived in a remarkable harmony with the land of the Shire.

After the Battle of 1419, the folk of the Shire were determined not to let their little country ever become what Sharkey and his Men had tried to make it. Only recently had some folk like Ned Sandyman started talking of expanded trade with the Big People out there. Most folk appreciated a wee bit of this, but were determined that they would not be ruled by it nor have their Shire changed because of it.

In the days when their grandparents were young, there had been something of a revival of hole building in the Shire. Some said it was due to disgust with the buildings Sharkey had built, but for whatever the reason, holes were in and houses were out, especially as a populous new generation of hobbits came of age and discovered the efficiency of the old ways. Even if there weren't a hillside, they would dig down just a little ways into a field and then use the excavated soil to raise small mounds of grass-covered earth over a snug little single family hole. These green mounds were planted with little gardens of flowers and herbs and shrubs. The holes had become numerous, in fact, few new ones were allowed to be dug, and folks were encouraged to go west to the new lands King Elessar had granted from the west of the Shire all the way to the Tower Hills (one of the reasons he was called "Good King Strider" by much of the hobbitry). Still, it was very pleasant to look upon the cultivations and habitations of the Shire as Cider trotted easily by.

Though Maddie and Ellie started early, they arrived late at the bridge over the Brandywine River. Turry and Furry were already there waiting for them. On their backs were the slender bows of the Tooks, fashioned it was said, like the great bows of the elves. Ellie thought they looked fine and handsome on two black ponies that looked as much alike as the Twins! No one but the Twins remembered what they had originally named their little steeds, for soon enough they were called Lightning and Thunder respectively, if only for the speed and the sound of their hoofs as they galloped together through the countryside. They were the fastest and grandest ponies in the Shire and well they knew it! (Why, Turry and Furry told them so everyday! But Cider was not impressed. Thunder and Lightning might be fast, but she had just run all day carrying TWO of her friends and she wasn't tired a bit. She nickered proudly to let them know just that.) Soon they were all off at a merry trot for Brandy Hall, ancestral home of the Brandybuck clan.

The tweens made sure that the ponies were well stabled and watered and fed for the night and then went off themselves to find hot baths and hot suppers. And they didn't care which they got first! Madrigal's mother made sure it was the baths.

Brandy Hall was a very large collection of tunnels and passages, older even than the Great Smials of the Tooks. Hot water was ready and baths were had by all in various places. There were rooms for baths, and rooms for kitchens, and rooms for dining, and rooms for sleeping, and rooms for teaching, and rooms for washing, and rooms for storage, and rooms for work and play of all sorts. It had been enlarged and improved through the years, and was almost like a small village by itself.

Here, the Master of Buckland lived, Meriadoc the Magnificent. He was the head of the clan and he looked it! When he had a mind to, he could do prodigious deeds with plate and cup, and none had ever out-drank him. He had a loud and hearty laugh that could set folks around him laughing almost in spite of themselves. The old fellow was taller (and broader) and stronger than every other hobbit in the Hall, but for all his size and girth, was still nimble and light on his feet and loved wrestling and martial sports of all kinds, as long as they were strenuous and challenging. This would be amazing enough in itself, but the fellow was a century old if he was a day and did not look over seventy! For all that, he had a keen mind and was one of the best masters Brandy Hall had had since it's first excavation long, long ago.

He was in the great hall of Brandy Hall, at his table, smoking a pipe and pouring himself another large cup from a great flagon of wine, and he was watching for them. He called from across the room for them to join him. The room was large for a hobbit hole, but trunks of trees rose from the floor and their branches met and were joined in arches to support the timbers that held the heavy roof of soil and sod high overhead. It was now common for orchards of shaped timbers to be grown for support structures in smaller holes. But these massive old trees were actually found by the original builders of Brandy Hall, and brought from diverse places in the Old Forest, chosen for their size and for the shape and placement of their limbs, not for convenience in harvesting and transporting. The bark had been removed and the great trunks and limbs were carved with wooden leaves and flowers and they were richly coloured with long age. It was magnificent! Ellie had never seen anything like it, though she had heard others tell of it.

Thain Peregrin, Old Pippin, was already there; indeed, he had arrived the day before, setting out the day before that and spending the previous night at the Golden Perch.

The tweenagers hurried over to the head-table where Master Meriadoc held forth. Old Merry was living up to his nickname that night and all were merry with him. Ellie caught herself nodding off and looked up sheepishly to see if anyone had noticed. Maddie had, and with a reassuring smile and wink for her shy new friend, all was well with the world.

Maddie's mother finally insisted they all be off to their beds since the day would start early, and some hobbits had already had more cheer than was good for them. She was looking sternly at Turry and Furry when she said this. Thain Peregrin had already bid them all a good night.

"Not at all!" cried old Merry. "Why, strapping young hobbits like this turning in early? It's the shank of the evening!"

"It's after midnight," said Mrs. Brandybuck, his daughter-in-law. "And if I may say so, you've had as much as is good for a hobbit your age as well!"

"Then as much more will be all the better!" he roared, laughing. "What d'you say, boys?"

The twins, of course, could hardly refuse to stay up at least a little later, but Maddie knew better than to thwart her mother's good advice. She and Ellie bid the twins and old Master Merry a good night and were asleep almost before their heads hit their respective pillows.

Madrigal's mother was a wise hobbit and certainly knew what she was talking about. The next morning, the Sun seemed to have raced with extra speed through the Night. She took a special delight in beaming her rays down hard and bright as she rose steadily in her course across the sky. The birds in the trees and bushes must have also found this irritating, since they chattered and cried with especially loud chirps.

At least, that is how it seemed to Turry and Furry, stumbling in the morning light just after dawn. Merry had left them identically sleeping in their own drool at the table, and awakened them none too gently with his hearty laughter the next morning.

The servants of Brandybuck Hall had their horses and provisions ready and the party was waiting for the twins. Ellie and Maddie were already seated on Cider. Thunder and Lightning champed impatiently, waiting to get underway. Thain Peregrin was seated on his fine pony and Master Meriadoc was laughing loudly at the boys, as they clumsily took saddle.

"Why doesn't he feel like this?" asked Furry, miserably.

"My head, my head," was the only answer that Turry could give.

Madrigal whispered to Ellie, "This is going to be a fun ride!"

Ellie giggled.

And with that they were off. Merry and Pippin took the lead, followed by Maddie and Ellie riding Cider. They had the leads of the packhorse tied to their saddle and all their baggages were placed upon it. Turry and Furry rode Lightning and Thunder, and they felt like it with each step of their hooves on the hard-packed road.

Old Pippin at least seemed sleepy, but roused as they made their way up the road, passing the orderly homes and shops that clustered along the Brandywine in the Buckland. It was still early, and few folks were out, but those who were never failed to call out a cheerful, "Good Morning, Master Merry!" Peregrin and Meriadoc had often been seen riding together through the long years, and none seemed to have forgotten that day long ago when they rode together (with some other hobbits) to the rescue of the Shire long ago.

At last they reached the bounds of Buckland and the gate that was maintained across the road to Bree. They were greeted by the gatekeepers, two hobbits, one young and one old, whose jobs it was to maintain what passed for a guard into hobbit lands.

"Master Merry! Thain Pippin!" said old Tubby Burrows, with a high cracking voice. "What brings you out this morning?"

"We're off to Bree, and then to Rivendell, and then who knows!" cried Merry. "Keep the gate well until we return, my good hobbits!"

"That we will!" said young Digger Hardbottle, who took his work seriously. "Come back safe now!"

"One last thing!" said Pippin. "Mark well these young rascals, for we are conducting them into exile and they may not return until I have deemed that they are worthy to return!" This earned the old Thain a strange look from the tweens, but he enjoyed his little jest all the same.

And so the young hobbits passed with their elders out into the great lands that lay beyond the Shire, were there were few hobbits other than in Bree. Ellie suddenly felt butterflies in her stomach, both hoping and fearing that something adventurous might happen.

They stopped soon after leaving the inhabited lands, which were much more extensive than in the days of their youth, Merry and Pippin agreed. But there was still plenty of wilderness before they would reach Bree. The twins were glad of the stop, and sucked greedily at the water skins.

"If you'll wait a bit, we can start a fire and I'll make you some tea or coffee," Ellie volunteered helpfully.

"Ugh," said Turry.

"Ulp," said Furry. They both looked a little ill at the thought.

"No time for that!" cried Pippin. "Just time enough for a quick second breakfast and then off again!"

"Second breakfast!" moaned Turry and Furry together.

"We didn't get the first one!" added Furry.

"I'm not sure I want the second one," observed Turry.

"Well, you'd better eat something," said Maddie. "If you'd come to bed at a reasonable hour, and weren't trying to out-drink Grandfather, you could have been better rested and better fed."

"You sound like your mother," grumbled Furry.

"And what's wrong with that?" said Maddie, menacingly.

"Uh... Nothing," said Furry. "Nothing at all. You're right, of course, but you don't have to rub it in just now."

"Well, I guess you feel bad enough," Maddie relented. "Are you sure you won't have some salt-cured bacon and some nice eggs? I can cook 'em anyway you like 'em! Scrambled, once-over-lightly, sunny side up..."

Furry's mind turned on thoughts of fried eggs swimming in bacon grease, mumbled something and fled for the shrubbery. Turry was fast behind him. Maddie grinned wickedly. Merry and Pippin laughed as they had been laughing at the twins all morning. Ellie felt bad for the boys despite the humour the others found in their distress.

Even so, they felt somewhat better when they returned and had another pull at the water skins. They even felt good enough to nibble some biscuits as Ellie and Maddie cleaned up.

Soon they were all on their way again. By lunchtime, the boys were more themselves and though they did not offer to help the girls with the cleanup, they did dig into the cold chicken, cheese, and bread Maddie's mother had packed.

The morning had been bright and beautiful, and the afternoon was just as fine. A decent lunch, and more long draughts of water, had the boys feeling well enough to enjoy the travel songs the girls and the old hobbits sang, though they did not feel quite good enough to join in. Their eyes were drawn to the dark place on the land, where the sun seemed to withhold her rays. The Old Forest. Merry and Pippin were just telling the girls of jolly old Tom Bombadil and their rescue at his hands from Old Man Willow.

It seemed a fine story, and not at all frightening in the afternoon sun. As the day drew on, they saw on their right, in the distance, dim green hills beyond a darker green line.

"Are those the Barrow-Downs?" Elediriel asked, pointing at the hills.

Merry's face grew grim and he did not answer.

Pippin also seemed to lose his normal cheer, but he said, "They are. That is where is buried the valiant people who lived here an age ago. Afterwards, evil spirits in thrall to Darkness came and occupied the mounds of the dead." He shuddered despite the warmth of the day.

"What happened there?" asked Maddie, who knew somewhat of the story, but had never heard it told in whole. But the old gallants who rode ahead made no answer.

"I know what happened," said Ellie. "They were caught by the Barrow-Wights!"

"How?" demanded the twins together.

"Well..." Merry started.

"...let Ellie tell it," Pippin urged.

So she did. And she made a good story of it as their ponies walked along. Less and less willingly, the eyes of all the party were drawn south to the source of their unease. She told of how old Bombadil had sent them on their way with words of warning, and of how the sunshine and a fine picnic, and perhaps the evil spells of the wights, had put the hobbits to sleep. They slept until the sun went down, the fog rolled in, and confusion was upon them. They lost one another and one by one were taken alive into the burial mound of an evil wight, who sought perhaps to sacrifice them to the great malicious spirit of the dark void, where all evil things were consigned until the End. If it had not been for Frodo, summoning his courage and calling on Bombadil, the Ring and all else would have been lost, and they would have only been the first hobbits to lose their lives to a rising and invincible Darkness.

"Yes. It was Frodo who saved us," said Merry sadly.

"And old Bombadil," added Pippin.

"Yes. Good old jolly Tom!" Merry said more brightly. "I wonder how he and Goldberry are getting on? I haven't seen them since those days!"

"Do you suppose they are still there, Grandfather?" asked Maddie.

"I'm sure they are," Merry answered.

"We ought to go see!" exclaimed Furry. It was the most lively he had been all day.

"No thank you!" said Ellie. "Not if we have to go through the Old Forest or the Barrow-Downs to get there!"

"I'm not afraid," said Turry.

"You should be," said Pippin.
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Old 09-12-2023, 01:44 PM   #3
Mithadan
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Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
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Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.Mithadan is a guest at the Prancing Pony.
Chapter V

MEAT PIES AND WIZARD'S BREW

Despite more cheerful tales around a crackling fire, and a mighty good supper, Elediriel Cotton slept fitfully, when she could sleep at all. Merry and Pippin slept like the old campaigners they were, hale and healthy enough even at their age to enjoy a night out of doors. Maddie breathed softly in her blankets beside her. The twins snored noisily, used as they were to camping, and glad to turn in after a day's ride made hard by their excesses of the night before.

Ellie had never slept outside of a snug little hobbit hole ever before in her life. The wind, breathing chill across the Downs, seemed laden with the threat of fear. The occasional movement of some night-beast would send her shivering into her blankets, though the night was not chill and the fire still burned. By its flickering light, she could sometimes see pairs of eyes not far away, green or red or yellow, glowing as they stared directly at her! She felt as if she had not slept at all, but she must have been dozing some, for the moon had now ridden high in his course and was heading towards morning. The cool air became misty, and a low layer of fog formed like a cloud just above the ground over the Downs in the moonlight. She dozed again, despite her fears of the night and began to dream.

She seemed to be alone in the mists, walking, and then running she knew not where or why. She felt that there was something following her, something looking for her, and she was mortally afraid that this something would find her and eat her, and this thought horrified her. She wildly looked about her for a hiding place as she heard snarling and growling from behind. She opened her mouth to scream and tightly clutched something to her breast but was too frightened to make a sound. Suddenly, a bell rang musically and the bestial noises stopped.

Turry was banging on a small pan most unmusically. "Wake up or you'll get none of our delicious breakfast!"

Turry and Furry had let the girls sleep in, while the elder hobbits had a smoke. The Twins, as if to make up for the day before, had themselves rebuilt the fire and cooked up a nice breakfast of bacon, toasted biscuits and jelly, and hard-boiled eggs (of course, as you probably knew very well, Maddie had only been joking about cooking up fresh eggs, because you shouldn't pack a bunch of raw eggs on an excursion on horseback). A pot of coffee was smelling fine as well.

Ellie and Maddie got up from their blankets and made sure to get their share. In the bright sun, with the Twins laughing and joking like their old selves, as she and Maddie ate a breakfast they didn't have to cook, while old Merry and Pippin already began talking about getting to Bree that night, Ellie almost forgot the dream of the night before. It at least did not seem so terrifying, though at the time it seemed more than real.

Furry and Turry insisted on cleaning up breakfast themselves (each making sure that Maddie noticed) while the girls packed all the gear, Ellie learning from Maddie how such things were done. Soon, they were off again, with Merry and Pippin on their horses in the lead, Turry and Furry riding behind, and the girls on Cider, leading the packhorse.

"Does he have a name?" asked Ellie.

"Does who have a name?" asked Maddie.

"The packhorse, of course," Ellie said, laughing.

"Oh! His name is Bill," said Maddie. Ellie laughed again and said that was wonderful.

"That's a pretty plain name if you ask me," said Turry.

"No one asked you," growled Pippin.

And that was the worst moment of the whole day. They rode for quite a while without meeting another soul on the road to Bree. Not long after they had stopped for lunch and were on their way again, they began here and there to see a farmhouse or two where Men had begun to settle. This happened more and more frequently until they reached the outskirts of Bree.

Once a sleepy forgotten village at the crossroads of the ancient kingdom of Arnor, the town had once again risen to prominence and was a vibrant bustling community. Elediriel had never seen Men before, Merry and Pippin were the biggest folk she had ever seen (other than the occasional Dwarf). But the Big Folk were very big! Even their horses were big, much bigger than the steeds that Merry and Pippin rode, and these were the biggest in the Shire or Buckland (though I must say that there were no finer horses in Bree). And there were all sorts of people. Short (at least shorter) men and women with dark hair and stout bodies, tall lean quiet folk with gray eyes and pale complexions, loud boisterous men in armour with blond hair singing in a rich tongue as they rode the most magnificent horses, and here and there, Little Folk just like themselves, going about their business as if they saw such things every day (which they did). The Bree Folk had grown numerous, with many additions to their population in recent years.

Pippin remarked that things had changed quite a bit from when he had first laid eyes on the town. Merry agreed. They led their small party straight into the oldest part of the town, past the new buildings that towered frighteningly over the narrow streets, to where the older buildings still stood. Ellie would have recognized the tallest of these old buildings, even if the painted sign hanging out over the street did not announce that they had found The Prancing Pony, by Heather Butterbur.

They found the stables for their ponies and horses, where a young hobbit named Cob promised to treat them well, and then went back around to enter the Common Room and to inquire for their night's lodgings. Walking in, Merry and Pippin found that, here at least, Bree was just as they remembered it. There were Dwarves, whose habits changed slowly, if ever, who still stopped at the Prancing Pony as they had since the days when it was one of the few inns to be found between the Shire and the Misty Mountains. There were a few of the local Big Folk, of the shorter darker variety. A couple of tall grey-eyed men talked softly together at a table in the back of the room. And there were plenty of hobbits here.

Indeed, one of the local hobbits actually recognized Merry and Pippin and made the traveller’s identity known to the whole room in short order. While not as highly esteemed in Bree as in the Shire, they were well thought of, if not as Heroes, at least as the leaders of the prosperous hobbit communities on the road to the West. Nothing would do but for them to have a round of drinks and for old Heather, the proprietor of the Prancing Pony to come out and meet the Shire-folk.

"Lands of wonder! Why it's been a long time, far too long since you've been guests here at the Prancing Pony, no mistake! Just look at the two of you! You haven't aged a day since last I laid eyes on you and I was only a thin young lass working as a barmaid!"

Heather Butterbur was no longer young, and was certainly no longer thin. And though related only by marriage, she seemed well able to keep up the endless stream of talk that most Butterburs were famous for. Her hair was more gray than black these days, and her round face was creased with the lines of a countenance in constant movement. Her fat, sturdy hands were buried in a towel attached to her apron, as she had just come from the kitchen.

"I've just been putting some meat pies in the ovens and I'll have those out shortly, if you'll pardon the expression. You will have to try our Wizard's Brew, the very best beer in Bree, if I may say so, and if you'll walk this way..."

Turry began an exaggerated waddle behind her, which made the hobbitry, and not a few of the other folk laugh, stopping just in time as she turned in her tracks.

"...I want you to sit here at this table. It was here, Master Merry, Master Pippin, as you may recall, that your friend Mr. Underhill did his disappearing dance right on this very table! Of course you recall better than me since I wasn't yet born, myself. But anyway, here it is and no doubt you'll find it to your liking. I'll have your old rooms made up in the hobbit wing and get that beer out to you right away. Well, I've got more to do than I can handle so if you will excuse me I'll be off to handle it." And with that, she indeed was off, waddling away breathlessly, still chattering to each person she passed, taking fresh orders from her customers, and calling out orders to her staff until she had vanished again into the kitchens. Ellie wondered how she could keep track of anything.

But keep track of things she did, and soon they were enjoying what was not only the finest beer in Bree, but Ellie thought it was the very best she had ever tasted. The boys agreed, sampling at first with some trepidation, remembering the results of two nights before, but soon draining their mugs and feeling much the better for it. Merry and Pippin enjoyed theirs as well and they all four gave the tasty meat pies the kind of attention that only hungry hobbits can muster after a day or two of riding and camping.

There was a natural rhythm to events in the Prancing Pony most evenings, and the travellers fell right in. In the corner of the Common Room where the hobbitry gathered most nights, the conversations fell to almost nothing as they fell to their suppers. This didn't stop them all from listening to such talk as they could hear from the other folk in the hall. Their time to talk and sing came later in the evening after the other folk's conversations had fallen off in their turn. Elediriel's quick ears pricked up at some talk nearby.

"I tell 'ee," said a squinty-eyed dark-haired young man to some of his friends. "If I could only get that piece of land just outside Bree, right there on the road to Fornost, and build a tavern like this, I'd be a rich man."

"But you got to be rich before yer can buy it," said a big nosed fellow. "Now what one can't do, two or three might do together."

"But someone's got to be Boss, like old Heather here," said an older man with a bald head. "If you can't brew beer and bake a meat pie like what this here is..."

"...then you can't have no inn whether yer can buy the land or not!" finished the man with the large nose.

"What one can't do, one can pays ter have done!" retorted Squinty Eyes (as Ellie named him in her thinking).

"That's your solution to everything. More money what none of us has got," replied Big Nose. "So I reckon we keep growing taters an' carrots for them what has got money. An' as long as I'm paying for someone else ter brew beer, I might as well pay them what knows how ter brew it!" He took a giant swig of his mug of Wizard's Brew.

The others laughed, but Squinty Eyes glowered and said, "That's the way of it I reckon. Some has no money, an' some has more than what's good for 'em." He was looking jealously at the visiting hobbits in their fine clothing as he said this.

Ellie quickly looked away and seemed to be paying attention to her meat pie with renewed interest, but she kept her hearing focused on what the men were saying.

Old Baldy was talking. "...but I keep telling yer lads, come on back with me. The King needs men what can work hard an' do what's wanted. And he pays generously too, what's more. A man could work a few years a'buildin' the new castle up at Fornost, an' have money enough ter buy land for a farm, or a tavern, or a family."

"Ee's right!" agreed Big Nose. "Times is a changin' what with the return of the King ter these lands. By the time our grandbabies has grandbabies, there'll be people all over the place. It'd be good ter leave them a little something, you know, before it gets bought up. We Bree folk have been here since before there was Kings. They come, had their Wars, went away, and have come back again. I says, if we want Bree-folk ter stay Bree-folk like what we always has, we has got ter change with the times!"

The other men generally agreed that this made sense. Elediriel smiled to herself, thinking there was something amusing about the last thing Big Nose said. But she caught the gist of it and thought that Big Nose may not have expressed himself well, but he was probably on the right track.

But Squinty Eyes was not satisfied and began talking about how Old Baldy and Big Nose were "selling out" the Bree-folk by taking up outlandish trades and trying to cozy up to the King's men.

"And what's more, them Dunlenders," Squinty Eyes almost spat. "Them Dunlenders, is all over that Fornost and what's the King going to do with them when the building's done, I wonder. Sell 'em land what ought to belong to us Bree-folk, I figure, soze 'ee can get back all them high wages what he paid 'em."

"Here now!" cried Old Baldy, with an eye on the tall grey-eyed men in the back of the tavern. "Bree-folk never lived that aways anyway, and the King's done right well by us. To the King!"

Old Baldy raised a mug and the other Bree-folk did the same. Squinty Eyes left the Prancing Pony in disgust and did not seem to be much missed by the other local men. Ellie turned to watch some Dwarves at the other end of the hall. She could not hear their low conversation, but she looked at them all the same. Dwarves she had seen before, but she never could help but look when she saw them, so different seeming they were, smaller than Men, larger than Hobbits, but built differently somehow. They were a little taller and much sturdier and broader, but not really fat at all (at least most of them weren't, although one rather famous dwarf was as fat as any hobbit that you ever saw). Rather, they seemed harder, craggier, as if they were quarried rather than born. She wondered then that she had never seen a lady-dwarf.

Maddie was pulling at Ellie's sleeve and directing her attention to the quiet men watching the room from the back wall. There were two of them, perhaps related, for they looked much alike. They were taller than everyone else in the room, and also leaner, as if they were a people who led very active lives and never over-indulged themselves at the table, as you or I might. They walked out without a glance to the right or the left, striding away on their long legs. But they stopped and nodded to Merry and Pippin, said a few words to the elder hobbits that Ellie could not make out, and were quickly on their way. The local hobbits took note, but said nothing.

Merry and Pippin both let their gaze linger on the door after the tall men left.

"Grandfather..." Maddie said.

"....hmmmm. What? Oh, I was woolgathering, my dear. What is it?" Merry said.

"Those were Rangers, weren't they?"

"Yes. Yes they were. In fact, they shall escort us all the way to Rivendell," Merry answered.

"How marvelous!" Maddie exclaimed, clapping her hands with delight. Turry and Furry looked at one another, but said nothing. Most hobbits did not know that the Rangers of Arnor had maintained a guard around the boundaries of the Shire, for it was against the King's Law for Big Folk to enter the Shire. This was the first time that the young hobbits had seen the tall rangers and they seemed to carry with them an air of mystery and adventure.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. Merry and Pippin did much of the talking, and some of the singing. Many more hobbits crowded into the Common Room, having heard that both the Thain of the Shire and the Master of Buckland were traveling through Bree.

There were no uncanny disappearances on this occasion. After many songs, and many stories, much laughter (and much Wizard's Brew), the travelers bid the good folk of Bree, Big and Little alike, a good night.

Ellie slept well that night in a comfortable bed and knew nothing more until morning.




Chapter VI

THE ROAD TO RIVENDELL

The next morning began with a fine breakfast before dawn in the Prancing Pony. Turry and Furry marveled that they felt none the worse for all the beer of the night before. Ellie said that it might still have carried some lingering enchantment given by the wizard Gandalf. Merry and Pippin agreed that this was likely so and nothing would do, but for Ellie to tell the Took Twins, not to mention the rangers (who likely had heard the tale as told locally), the story as they rode along. She delighted to tell of how the blessing of Gandalf had enchanted the beer of the Prancing Pony in thanks to old Barliman Butterbur for his worthy service, though the honest innkeeper had made a mess of things in some ways. The beer had always been good there, but was especially so ever since. The morning sun broke over the horizon and their journey that day began in earnest.

That day and the next day were much the same as they rode their horses and ponies at a leisurely pace on the Road east, stopping often to rest themselves and their steeds. There was plenty to eat and to drink, lovely weather to enjoy, and a road that the tweenaged hobbits had never seen before, and that Merry and Pippin were glad to see again.

In more ways than one, the high-point of their journey to Rivendell, was a visit to the watch tower at Weathertop. The servants of the King had been busy in the years since Merry and Pippin had last been on the road. Atop the great hill, really a small steep mountain, where once had been a jagged crown of broken stone-works, was now erected a tall, slender tower that gleamed golden in the slanting rays of the sun as she started down toward day's ending.

Though it was a beautiful sight, the hobbits at first were not overly impressed, especially the Took Twins. But as the afternoon drew toward evening, and they themselves drew closer, the hill became a mountain to the hobbits' eyes, and the tower at its crown became more and more imposing.

Aradhel and Cairduin, the rangers, told them that the tower on Weathertop had taken ten years to build. Now, the construction crews were at Fornost, where the King was overseeing the rebuilding of his castle there. Elessar, King of Arnor and Gondor, intended to fortify the northern reaches of his united kingdom against such enemies as there still were in the world, or might be in the age to come. This tower had a marvelous view of all the countryside. It was said that from it's highest place the King had vision to see all that transpired in his northern realm.

Merry looked at Pippin knowingly, but neither of the elder hobbits said a word.

"Are we going up there?" Madrigal asked breathlessly of Aradhel, the ranger she rode nearest to. Turry and Furry looked on jealously, then noticed one another looking on, and guiltily turned their attention back to the tower.

"Yes, if you like, little Mistress. We are staying at the ranger post at the foot of Weathertop, on the north side. If you fancy the climb, we will ascend to the observation platform and you can see what the moon is kind enough to show."

"How wonderful!" Maddie exclaimed.

"It looks awfully tall," Ellie observed.

And it was awfully tall, indeed! The hobbits were glad enough for the end of the day's ride, and for a cheery fire and the company of the rangers. The rangers accorded Merry, and especially Pippin, the greatest respect and deference. As was their custom, they stood silently, regarding the setting of the sun as she returned to the sacred West.

The food was simple, but good, and plentiful enough even for the hungry hobbits. The wine was excellent and soon the hearts of the hobbits were as high as the tower and they treated the grey-eyed rangers with songs of the Shire. This was the merriest meeting that there had been for some time in that post! It would not be fair to say that the rangers were grim or dour exactly, but they seemed to be all of deep and serious minds. Nevertheless, they all laughed earnestly enough as Elediriel told the story of the Incident at the Green Dragon, and as the Took Twins sang the song they had made up for Madrigal.

The pretty young hobbit was in her glory! The rangers raised their glasses to the Terror of the Shire. Then, one of them, Cairduin, insisted on hearing the poem that started the Incident. Elediriel blushed, for she was much better at telling the stories of others, than at putting herself forward.

She became suddenly embarrassed, and lost her composure and timidly stammered and found herself forgetting the verses! Turry came to her rescue, and in his strong clear voice, recited from memory the entire poem. The rangers were silent, nodding their heads at parts, smiling grimly at the tale of the heroism of Samwise Gamgee. Ellie looked at Turry with bright eyes and a beaming smile. He smiled back, suddenly shy himself.

"That's as good as Frodo of the Nine Fingers!," said Cairduin. "Poetry is not the gift of the Elves alone! And as this poem reminds us, it was not for naught that good king Elessar had our fathers' labour to preserve and defend the lands of the halflings. Though we praise often enough the produce of their fields and the work of their kitchens, let it never be forgotten among us that valour also is grown in the Shire." And the rangers all said "Aye!" and raised their glasses again to the poetry of Elediriel and to the memory of Sam.

Merry and Pippin wiped their eyes, and drained their glasses. Then Merry called for a song from the rangers. "After all, we are your guests, and yet we have done all the labour this night!"

"Well then, Little Master!" cried Aradhel. "Let it not be said that the Rangers of Weathertop made their guests work over hard for their suppers! Bruin here can sing a rare song. Let's have one tonight for our honored guests and their young kin!"

A young ranger at one of the other tables stood to his feet and said, "I shall sing a song such as may not be heard in the Shire, a song of the days when King Elessar was only the Chieftain of the Dunedain, and not yet crowned our King."

Bruin sang this song, in his ringing young voice, to an old riding melody that made Elediriel think of horses galloping into war.

Rode the Rangers through the day
And through the night as well
Rode the Rangers, come what may,
Into the darks of hell.

The son of Arathorn was there
At need of kith and kin
And so they rode through places bare
Where fire and war had been.

They came in answer to a call
From the Lady of the Wood
And rode they hard and rode they tall
To do what deeds they could.

They found him in the fields of green
As Darkness gathered might
And rode with him where few had been
Among the Shades of Night.

The sons of elves and sons of men
And a son of dwarves they say
Left the world of sunlight then
And took a darker way.

The son of Arathorn gave cry
And called the Damned to him
He called the ones who could not die;
His need was fell and grim.

"The Oath you broke you must redeem!"
Commanded he that day,
And held aloft Anduril's gleam:
Their Oath he made them pay.

Rode the Rangers through the night
With Elves and Dwarf and Ghosts
To drive away the Dark Lord's might
And battle evil hosts.

The son of Arathorn did save
The City of the Guard
He came upon the river wave
With Rangers bold and hard.

Rode the Rangers home again
To Arnor as of old
Through blood and toil and mortal pain
For winged crown of gold.

The son of Arathorn is king,
Isildur's long lost heir,
Gone his Bane, the golden Ring,
But not the Ranger's care.

Ride the Rangers still today,
Lest Darkness should return,
We'll ever keep our Oath and Way!
May Anduril always burn!


The rangers and the hobbits all cheered and stood as one to hold their glasses high in salute to their King and Queen.

After dinner, Maddie insisted that they make the climb to the tower on the high hilltop. And so, Aradhel and Cairduin led them up a broad path paved with flagstones up to the summit of Weathertop. There, the Tower of the Western Guard rose high in a single straight thrust high into the starry night.

When Elediriel thought she could not lift her legs another step, Aradhel opened a door at the top of the winding tower stairs and the hobbits and Rangers stood at last on the observation platform high above all the lands about them.

Ellie looked out. The moon was ringed with a crown of colors and lit the landscape with his silvery glow. Cairduin looked at the moon and muttered that the weather was changing. The hobbits looked about them in wonder: even Merry and Pippin had not seen this sight. Far to the west were their own lands, lost in the far mists of great distance. The Old Forest could be seen somewhat nearer, a dark brooding patch that the moon seemed ashamed to give light. Closer still, were the Barrow-Downs, shrouded in a low fog with the occasional top of a rounded hill rising from the mysterious veil. Happier were the hobbits to see Bree Hill on the long line of the Road. Following the sight of the Road they looked upon it as it wound in great curves, over one gleaming river, and then another, lost to view in hidden valleys, found again rising across the rolling hills, until lost again altogether in the Misty Mountains, which stood hard and cold and snow-capped against the starry eastern sky.

"We shall ride almost to those mountains," said Cairduin. "In that region," he pointed with a long finger, "we shall guide you off the Road, and on the hidden path to Rivendell."

The wind had indeed changed, and blew chill from the north upon the heights of Weathertop and its tall tower. They finally left the breathtaking view, and though Elediriel was cold, she was not glad of the long climb back down. But it was much easier than the climb up had been, and soon enough, they all said their good nights and were sleeping deeply in warmth and comfort.

The next morning, they were off again with the sun as she rose. The sleepy hobbits had to take the rangers word for that. The weather had turned wet, as Cairduin foresaw, and though the rangers rode erect on their gray steeds, the hobbits and their own mounts did not enjoy this part of the trip at all.

There is not much to tell of the remainder of their journey to Rivendell. It was mostly following the green clad rangers on their gray steeds under the gray skies and a cold rain that belonged more to a rude autumn than to a kindly summer. The hobbits did not have the heart even to sing as they endured the dullest part of their journey.

There was one further event that was of interest to the weary hobbits. One afternoon, as the weather finally broke, and the sun gave light from the west, the rangers took them off the Road onto a worn trail, where they said that they would camp for the night. Merry spurred his mount even with the rangers, and had a quiet word. Aradhel smiled grimly and even Cairduin had a flicker of a smile cross his lips. Merry checked his steed and then whispered something to Pippin, which made the old Thain laugh but they said nothing more. The younger hobbits were just glad of the first sunlight they had seen in days and of a chance to stop and rest.

Elediriel asked if this were at last the path to Rivendell. Pippin only smiled and shook his gray head.

They rode along the path into a wood in the hills. Suddenly, they came around a bend of the path and were among three misshapen trolls crouching in threatening postures, ready to pounce upon them! I can tell you that it was the most frightening moment of the young hobbits' lives. Elediriel cut loose with a high piercing shriek, joined in a harmony of horror as Madrigal also screamed and Cider neighed and reared on high.

Turry and Furry cried aloud, but as one their hands moved almost faster than the eye and fitted arrows to their slender bows and the Took Twins launched their arrows together. The speeding missiles bounced back broken and a second flight shattered upon the stony trolls before the young hobbits realized that Merry and Pippin were laughing their heads off!

Madrigal was most definitely not amused. She heaped abuse upon her poor old grandfather until Merry was genuinely sorry for the joke. But Pippin and the Took Twins, and the Rangers themselves began to laugh at the sight of the angry hobbit maid, dressing down the dignified old hobbit as if he were a naughty little boy, and soon they were all laughing at what was, after all, an awfully funny situation.

After examining the old stone trolls, and recalling the story of how they had been turned to stone by the cleverness of the wizard Gandalf, the party remounted and rode a short distance to a small cavern that the rangers had made into a checkpoint and outpost. Two other rangers were on duty, and had come down the path to meet them, hearing the outcry, and then the laughter of the hobbits in the woods below.

They took to the Road again the next morning. The weather was a little better, and if there was not much light from the sun, at least the clouds withheld their rain. This was fine with the hobbits, for it was not too hot, and yet not miserably wet. But still, the day seemed to drag on forever. That afternoon, they left the Road, but if there were any paths here, they were invisible to the hobbits' eyes.

At last, late that evening, as the moon shed his light from high above them, they came unexpectedly to a hidden valley that seemed to open up suddenly where the traveler had only seen ever-larger hills ascending to the mountains beyond. It was Rivendell, where Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond, and Celeborn, Lord of the Elves west of the Misty Mountains, still dwelt in the Last Homely House. Many Elves still lingered before sailing the Straight Sea to Elvenhome in the eternal West.

I must say, excepting Elediriel, such lofty matters did not cross the minds of the hobbits, who were tired of the trail and looked forward to table, bottle, bath, and bed in that fabled mansion of the Elves, rather than musing over the strange paths and destinies of the Elder Race.

The scent of the warm piney woods was rich and deep and made the hobbits even sleepier. They were nodding on their ponies as they heard the singing of young elvish voices in the forest around them. None of the younger hobbits had ever heard elvish singing in the moonlight, and they looked in vain about them for the source of the enchanting voices. The voices called back and forth to one another from hidden places in the forest, and seemed to come from many different and changing directions.

"Hobbit children! How lovely!" said one, from behind.

"Most wondrous!" another agreed.

"How fearsome!" observed another, laughing.

"Mind that Turgon doesn't shoot the statuary!" called still another.

"Don't let Fingon put arrows through the paintings!" returned yet another.

"Quickly! Let Elediriel's tongue be found so we may hear a hobbit's poem!" cried the first voice, but from ahead this time.

"Hide the victuals! The hobbits are come!" shouted the second voice.

"Hide the wine! The Master of Buckland is upon us!" laughed another.

"Oy! Oy! Peace, good Elves!" cried Pippin. "We are weary from our journey, and you guess rightly that it is food and drink we ride for now! Lead us to Rivendell!"

"As you wish, Thain Peregrin," said a tall slender elf, stepping out into the path. "Indeed, the rangers have guided you well, for you are here!"

The silver-haired elf led the party across a narrow bridge, one by one, and around a turn in the path and they finally saw the Last Homely House.
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Old 09-23-2023, 09:26 AM   #4
Mithadan
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Chapter VII

HERALDS OF THE KING

The hobbits were all quite tired, and stumbled wearily to rooms that were prepared for them, gladly taking supper left there for them, enjoying the hot baths poured for them by beautiful, laughing elf maidens, and falling softly into the most comfortable beds any of them could remember. After the most delicious and restful sleep, Elediriel awoke quite early, and nudged Maddie to grudgingly awake as well to see through their window, the most beautiful sunrise over the Misty Mountains.

They watched it wordlessly, listening to the musical birds that sang in the shrubbery beside their window. Mingled with their morning song, the voices of elves, hardly less musical, could be heard as groups of them walked by on the path below.

At the same time, the girls both smelled bread freshly baking. And what a smell! One could almost be satisfied with the aroma alone. But not the hungry hobbit lasses! They jumped together out of the bed, washed their faces and hands, threw on their finest clothes (Maddie lent Ellie a pretty blue dress, and both girls were glad of the change from dirty riding clothes), combed and brushed their hair, and set out in search of breakfast.

They were met in the corridor by Furry and Turry, also looking their best and looking for something to eat.

The Took Twins stood there for a moment with mouths agape, staring at the hobbit lasses. Madrigal's mother had fashioned beautiful garments from the finest fabrics of the shire, linen and lace, and the loving embroidery of a few old gammers, who delighted in such needlework. Madrigal wore a green dress of the same shade as her big bright eyes, and her curling brown mane was barely tamed, looking lovely and a little wild as it cascaded around her shoulders. The Beauty of Buckland (or the Terror of the Shire as some might unkindly say) was radiantly beaming.

Even so, the Twins almost did not recognize Elediriel. Maddie had done something with her long blonde tresses that left it piled high in delicate twists upon her shapely head, revealing her slender neck and dainty ears. The sky blue dress she wore had been made for Maddie, but Mrs. Brandybuck and the gammers had worked through the night to take it in and pretty it up for Ellie.

Though it was long before he admitted it, there among the wonders of Rivendell, Turgon realized that he was in love with the shy and (previously) plain hobbit girl. Ridiculous thoughts for tweenagers, as I'm sure you'll agree! Hobbits in their twenties, though full grown, were still children at heart, and rather irresponsible. But hobbits will be hobbits and, though it was customary for hobbits to wait until they came of age before marriage, it was not unheard of for long engagements to be made (and shortened) if love came early.

But Ellie did not see the look in Turgon's eye, for she and Maddie were staring down the corridor at the great hall that opened out wide at the other end. There were elves gathered there. Elves were eating and elves were drinking and elves were talking merrily. They greeted the young hobbits with many voices and delighted laughter.

These were the elves of Rivendell, of the House of Elrond, where his sons Elladan and Elrohir dwelt between their errantries, and though Elrond himself had departed, the Last Homely House was still a place much as it ever was, where life seemed unhurried and could be timelessly enjoyed. There were also a few elves of the House of Celeborn, the new master of Rivendell, come after Elrond's departure to take up residence and Lordship of the Elves west of the Misty Mountains.

There were, of course, many more elves living throughout the valley in delightful buildings that blended into wood and rock. The elves who came with Celeborn from Lothlorien lived mainly in the trees on the other side of the valley. And there were Men, too, kin of the rangers who lived in houses built all round the river forest on the lush green slopes beneath the long valley's riven sides. There, they tended flocks and herds and traded with the Elves as they had for many, many lives of men.

I wish that there was time to tell you of all the marvelous folk and of all the enchanting sights the hobbits saw in Rivendell. Merry and Pippin, of course, had been there before, but their sense of wonder was not diminished by the years. As for Turry and Furry and Maddie and Ellie, they each remembered their very first days at Rivendell among the most wonderful days of their long and wonderful lives.

There were pools and fountains and quiet gardens exquisitely nurtured along the walks and paths in this hidden valley of the elves. Trees and flowers and plants of every sort were grown, and every kind of herb and fruit. Birds and wildlife seemed almost tame and lived around the Last Homely House and throughout the long deep valley as if in a forest vale never trodden by the two-footed.

The elves taking their breakfast in the hall served the Elf Lords and their kin who lived in the great mansion. These were happy folk, whose labour was done with pride and gladness, and who insisted that they wait upon the young hobbits, placing before them delightful fruity drinks, bread better than the finest cakes from the bakeries of the Tooks, butter sweet and creamy, and much else besides.

As the tweens were unashamedly filling up the corners after a protracted meal, Merry and Pippin joined them, stretching and yawning as they entered the hall, to a similar acclaim from the delighted elves. Merry called for coffee, and the elder hobbits set to a breakfast every bit as fine as their charges had enjoyed. They stayed and shared some of the coffee, though Ellie chose instead a cup of breakfast tea. Both coffee and tea were satisfying and somehow more invigorating than what they could get in the Shire.

But all good things must come to an end, even a breakfast among the laughter and the questions and the merry jests of the elves. The rangers Aradhel and Cairduin were standing in the door, patiently waiting for a few minutes in quiet amusement for the hobbits to take notice.

The hobbits were to come, as soon as could be after their breakfast. They were summoned to the Council chamber.

"Who? Who?" cried Turry and Furry together, "Who wants to see us?"

"The Queen of all Arnor and Gondor and her grandfather the Lord of Rivendell, of course," answered Cairduin.

"What! Is that all?" jested Madrigal. "What of the King? Is there no other royalty around who would treat with us as well?"

This brought a round of uproarious laughter to the elves, and even grim Cairduin had to grin.

"There will be royalty enough, I daresay, even for the noblest perianath of the halflings," said Aradhel, bowing low. "If her majesty and her friends would deign to let us lead her there..."

"You please me Ranger of Arnor," said Madrigal, not to be outdone, "I grant thee leave to do as thou dost plead."

More laughter from the elves all round.

"You do us great kindness, Little Mistress," replied Aradhel. "Let us depart."

The hobbits rose straightway from the table and followed the tall rangers to the Council Garden of Rivendell. Aradhel waited with the hobbits, as Cairduin went inside a wing of the Last Homely House to inform the servants of the Queen that the hobbits had come. Ellie looked about the area, paved with fine stones and bordered with a low sculptured wall that was nearly covered with green-leafed vines. The view of the rushing falls of the riven valley was unimpeded and the sky above was blue and brilliant.

Nothing had prepared the young hobbits for the natural unpretentious nobility they now found. Seated at the head of the dais, was a tall elf, the tallest they had yet seen in Rivendell. He had hair and eyes of silver and was crowned with leaves of silver. Ellie could not tell if they were wrought by nature or by elvish art. The clothes he wore were simply cut, but of a shimmering fabric bordered with silvery threads. His face was young and strong, and his eyes were old and wise. His was the last living memory of the Elder Days for this was Celeborn of Lothlorien, Lord of Rivendell.

Beside him, on his right hand, was seated the most beautiful creature the hobbits had ever seen. The hobbits looked upon the tall woman, beholding her dark bejeweled hair, like the pure night sky filled with the stars of old, the regal filet of silver on her fair brow, her dark deep knowing eyes filled with wisdom and kindness. They knew her for their Queen, the most beautiful woman in all of Middle-earth. From that day forward, the young hobbits loved and served with all their hearts, Arwen Halfelven, Undomiel, Lady of Rivendell, Queen of Arnor and Gondor, and wife of King Elessar Telcontar.

Lord Celeborn and Queen Arwen stood in greeting.

"Hail, and well met, noble halflings," said Celeborn. "I bid you welcome to this land. May you stay long and return often. Meriadoc Brandybuck, Master of Buckland, greetings! May you wind the Horn of Eorl ever at need and may you wind it again among the sons of Eorl ere long."

Merry stood taller and his hand went involuntarily to the ornate horn that hung ever at his side. His eyes grew bright with emotion but he said nothing.

Celeborn continued, "Peregrin Took, Thain of the Shire, greetings! Faramir, Steward of Gondor, would gladly see the eldest and most famous of the King's servants, ere the years of his life are ended."

Pippin made no secret of his feelings and wiped copious tears that flowed suddenly from his eyes.

"Madrigal Brandybuck, greetings. May your beauty never fade from the memory of your people."

Maddie blushed, and curtsied in the simple fashion of lady hobbits.

"Turgon and Fingon, sons of Faramir Took, greetings. May you follow illustriously in the footsteps of your grandsire."

The Twins bowed deeply, in hobbit fashion, proud of their grandfather and of this moment.

"Elediriel Cotton, greetings. May your words be remembered as long as songs are sung."

Ellie was quite overcome, and clumsily curtsied. She was immediately ashamed of her lack of refinement and blushed in her embarrassment. But when she looked up into the eyes of Queen Arwen, she did not see the haughty disdain she feared, but instead, kindness, compassion, and a love and acceptance for all her subjects no matter their birth or customs. Ellie found herself smiling with sudden joy and the queen smiled back with grace and beauty.

Madrigal, who had been so proud of the dresses her mother had made ready for Ellie and herself, suddenly felt very rustic, looking on the graceful lines and gossamer fabrics and elvish needlework that adorned the forms of the queen and her handmaidens. But she too, found only love in the eyes of Queen Arwen and was no longer conscious that her garments were not as finely made. Rather, she suddenly saw, as if through Arwen's eyes, the simple beauty of the country-folk in the land of her birth, and she was happy to find that her Queen found the hobbit clothing fitting and comely.

"Indeed," Queen Arwen said, in a voice rich with the music of water and of wind. "You are all most welcome, and I will count it a happy day to see you as often as you may come to visit, whether we meet here in Rivendell, at the new castle in Fornost, or in Minas Tirith. On behalf of the King, I greet you and welcome you."

The hobbits all bowed or curtsied again (Ellie did somewhat better this time). The queen then told them the reason for their summons.

"You have been brought here for a Purpose," she said. "The King and I desire that you four young halflings serve as our Heralds, to announce to the Kings of Middle-earth, that on Mid-Year's Day, there shall be an heir to the line of Isildur." And then she smiled, as proudly as any hobbit maid, "We soon shall have a son!"

The hobbits, young and old, cried aloud with applause and happy shouts.

"Had I known this news would bring such joy, we might have brought such news sooner," said a dry baritone voice from behind the hobbits.

"Strider!" cried Merry and Pippin with greater joy in their hearts than they would have thought possible even a moment before.

"The King!" cried Turry and Furry, and knelt with their short swords on the ground before him. Maddie and Ellie curtsied deeply and the rangers also knelt.

"Arise! Arise! It has been too long, my merry hobbits! Too long indeed!" said the tall king.

Ellie looked up to see old Merry and Pippin, rushing the King like the old friends they were, letting him fondly slap their backs and tousle their curly heads. He was a tall man, as tall as Celeborn, lean and weathered, dressed little differently than the rangers, except that he customarily wore a silver filet with a green jewel on his brow, and the silver-starred brooch of the rangers clasped a grey cloak like unto the ones worn by Merry and Pippin.

The greater difference was in the sense of power and majesty Ellie beheld when looking upon him. King Elessar was older than the oldest gaffers of the Shire, but hale and strong, with iron grey eyes and hair, flecked with streaks of silver. Unlike the other rangers, the King wore a beard that ennobled the hard lines of his face so that he looked as a king should look. In those days a king of men was a leader in war, a man among men and the countenance of such a king was likely graven with the hardships of bitter loss, and the joys of dearly purchased victory, and the wisdom earned by noble thoughts and deeds. King Elessar was such a man, perhaps the greatest king ever sired of men and if there was a greater, then I have not heard of him.

But to the old hobbits, he was Strider, their old friend and guide through bitterness and joy, and they loved him more as a brother than a king. Their affection was genuinely returned and soon even the younger hobbits felt at ease around His Majesty, Elessar Telcontar, King of Arnor and Gondor.

"Hold! Enough my old friends! You put me in danger of ignoring both my Queen and my revered host!"

"Nay," said Celeborn. "I would prefer to be a giver of gifts, rather than a taker of the joy of well met friends."

"As would I," Queen Arwen said, "I could not deny others the joy I feel myself, to see you returned unlooked for!"

"My Queen," said the King softly, striding with long steps that put the chamber to his back, kneeling at her feet, and taking her hand in his and kissing it gently, "I shall not leave your side again until the blessed day."

"Estel!" she cried in joy. "But what of the work at Fornost?"

"It is well in hand, and my usefulness there is done. It shall be ready when Eldarion is old enough for the journey. So I thought I should ride back to be with you, and of course, to send off our young heralds."

"Eldarion!" Pippin repeated. "Then you have already named him!"

"But, how do you know he's a... a he?" blurted Ellie.

The wise eyes of Queen Arwen turned kindly upon her, and Elediriel saw the ancient knowledge of elvenkind mingled with her ageless youth, and heard her say, "I simply know. He will be born on Mid-Year's Day."

"Which means you young hobbits must soon be on your way, if you are to return in time for his birth!" said the King. "I have ridden fast through the night and am famished. What do you hobbits say to breakfast?"

As you can imagine, they readily agreed to have a second breakfast with the King and Queen and I must say that not a single one of the hobbits felt guilty about it at all!




Chapter VIII

REMEMBRANCES

The young hobbits stayed only a few days (too few!) in Rivendell, and then they were on their way. Autumn drew on towards winter, as they passed south through old Eregion and then through the Gap of Rohan, south of the Misty Mountains. As they rode past the Tree Garth of Orthanc, the hobbits looked with disquiet on the sharp pinnacles of the dark tower, brooding over the trees below, and did not care to stop. Ellie felt only a little regret as they left the forbidding old tower behind, for there were many relics and records there that might have been fascinating to see and to study.

The rangers guided them surely and at a steady pace so that the leagues were left behind them. Just as the hobbits were beginning to think that the camping and riding would never stop, and that they would never reach any destination worth reaching, they stopped at the great fortress of Helm's Deep to see an old friend of their grandsires.

Not only were the golden-haired folk of Rohan to be found here, there were also dwarves, and one dwarf in particular, who seemed as glad to see the hobbits as the hobbits were to be reaching habitable regions.

"Welcome! Welcome!" the great dwarf cried, his deep booming voice echoing through the caverns behind him. "I thrice bid you welcome to Aglarond! Gimli, son of Gloin, at your service!" he said, sweeping off his mithril tasseled hood and bowing low. Gimli was master over the dwarves who had laboured for a generation of men (and hobbits) in the Glittering Caves.

"As we are at yours and your family's," said Turry, as the Took Twins bowed as deeply as the dwarf, and the hobbit lasses curtsied prettily. (Ellie had been practicing!) They had stopped at the fabled caverns at Helm's Deep on their way to bring the Official Proclamation to King Eomer of Rohan.

"Yes! And you remind me of Merry and Pippin. You do! How thoughtful of Aragorn to send hobbits with word of the new heir-to-be! I am so pleased you thought to visit me here," said Gimli. It is fair to say that he was as Merry and Pippin had described him, though perhaps his red beard was now long and streaked with silver that was not from any mine. "Let me show you around my own little hole," he joked. "Perhaps it is not as comfortable as your own, but I can show you things never seen in any hobbit's hole!"

And show them he did. Though Rivendell was enchanting at the beginning of Autumn, the Glittering Caves of Aglarond were magnificent (not to mention comfortably warm) at the beginning of Winter. Gimli took the young hobbits through one opening after another that led into sometimes small, and sometimes vast caverns of magnificent crystalline formations, lit with the lamps of the Dwarves so that light was cast shimmering upon pools of water that gleamed with a rainbow of light.

In the last of these, there were dwarves working in an unfinished area of no less beauty, but of obviously greater utility. In all of the caverns and chambers, the dwarves had erected structures and had carved areas for living or working, but this last was to be a grand hall for great gatherings. In the ceiling, a long narrow shaft had been cut through the stone to light a dark column at the far end of the hall.

"Come! Come! Now, I will show you the greatest wonder of all!" the dwarf urged. Truth to tell, Elediriel's feet were beginning to tire, so extensive was the tour. She looked up through the shaft at a small patch of cold winter blue. The sides of the shaft were lined with gleaming polished metal that caught the sunshine at the opening and reflected it back down all the way to the dais, no matter the time of day or season of the year.

"It's so bright!" she exclaimed, involuntarily.

"Yes, it is!" the old dwarf chuckled. "I lined the shaft's surfaces straight and true with silver, and overlaid it with the thinnest coating of polished mithril, lest it should tarnish. The shaft catches the light of the moon as well, and the changing starlight, too. The light is directed with the most clever of mechanisms through the shaft to light just that spot. I designed it myself! When this, the Hall of Remembrance, is finished, we will douse all lights except the Sun and Moon and Stars."

"But why?" asked Turry.

"Let me show you! The lights!" he cried to the busily working dwarves as he himself opened a dark case that the hobbits did not see before, hidden in the top of the column. Each of the working dwarves stopped what he was doing and blew out his lamp. The great chamber fell to darkness, except the small patch of reflected sunshine on the dais. It fell full upon the top of a short dark column, upon which Ellie now saw a small display case of crystal and gold, risen by secret mechanism to the top of the column.

"The Remembrance of Galadriel," the old dwarf breathed.

The Remembrance was a small work that required great attention to appreciate. It looked to be merely fine lines of gold enmeshed in delicate patterns in layered crystal and bound with ornate gold and mithril. Upon closer examination, the hobbits saw the patterns are made all of a single line, or not more than two or three lines, as slender as a fine hair. The color of the golden hair (for hair it was) caught the eye, for it was more than color, it was light itself, a golden light altogether beautiful to the eye. And whatever light it caught was made beautiful as well. The eye felt soothed and relaxed and the mind untroubled and the heart gladdened as if living in a day when the light itself had been young and glad. The Remembrance seemed subtly different with every hour, for the sun cast a different light from dawn to noon and from noon to dusk and different still with the change of the seasons. The moon gave more or less light night by night. The wheeling stars above shifted their soft colors and brilliance as they passed from season to season. Gazing into its ever-changing radiance always brought a calm and pure reflection upon how beautifully the world was made.

"Whether by light of Sun or Moon or Star, I cannot gaze upon it enough," said Gimli.

Now I must say, that many dwarves objected to the great expense and trouble that Gimli insisted upon. In Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, he fiercely fought many battles by eloquence in the deep councils of the Dwarves to convince King Thorin Stonehelm of the worthiness of his plan, and finally, with a single viewing of the hair in its crystal case, he prevailed. Many dwarves grumbled still, but obeyed the King Under the Mountain and Gimli, Lord of Aglarond. But as each objector viewed the Remembrance, their objections were forgotten, and their eager hands were set to work as well. They carved the walls with statuary in the living rock amidst the most lifelike carvings of trees, which the hobbits recognized as like unto The Tree in the Shire. As their eyes adjusted to the darkness, the memorial carvings of the hall could seen in the light reflected from the Remembrance, and so were endued with some of the enchantment of the living light. This was Gimli's commemoration of all the long history of what friendship there had been amid the periods of strife or alliance between the Dwarves and the Elves.

"Was she really so very beautiful, herself?" Madrigal asked the old dwarf. "Why is there no carving of the Lady?"

"None have the skill to carve such loveliness, and the attempt would mar the memory. The Lady of the Wood has beauty that surpasses this Remembrance more greatly than the Sun surpasses a candle. And yet, I cherish this Remembrance more dearly than all else, save for a hope that I do not speak."

The dwarf would say no more, and they lingered long at the Remembrance of Galadriel.

As they left the hall, and returned to the halls where the dwarves lived when they did not work, Gimli asked of the Tooks, "There is something you can say that would make my heart glad and this day complete. May I ask it?"

Of course, the Twins readily told the old dwarf to ask anything he might. The dwarf looked at them and said, "It has been long, and I might have sent off for it myself at any time, but somehow there was always something else to do. Tell me, my young hobbits, have you any pipeweed from the Shire?"

Gimli's joy was indeed complete that day, and he cast himself at the hobbit's service for as long as he should live and they had a fine smoke together both before and after an excellent supper which delighted the hobbits with the excellent malt beer of the Dwarves and fine meats roasted in firepits of stone.

Early the next morning, the hobbits, and the three rangers who guarded and guided them, set out for Edoras to bring their Proclamation to King Eomer. Gimli the Dwarf joined them.

"The work will proceed without me! Fond as I am of it, I have toiled in Aglarond for many years now. To be on the road again with hobbits makes me feel young!"

Not when he was young, nor now that he was older, would Gimli ride a horse (except under the most unusual circumstances), so instead, he rode upon the wagon with Elediriel. After the journey to Rivendell, the hobbit girls realized that, though Cider would gladly carry them both, it was more comfortable all the way around for her to ride with the wagon that carried their supplies and equipment. A very young man (in his tweens himself, though the Big Folk did not use the convenient term), Cairdur the son of Cairduin, who had but lately enlisted in his father's company of Rangers, drove the wagon pulled by Bill, the hobbit's packhorse.

This arrangement may have worked out for the best, since the voluble dwarf found an eager listener in Ellie Cotton. He was absurdly pleased that she wrote down so much of what he had to say in a thick leather book of bound pages that Queen Arwen had given her for just such purposes.

The winter sun was kindly, and the meadows and fields of Rohan smelled earthy and green despite the season. Certainly, Cider and Thunder and Lightning and the grey horses of the rangers seemed to have a taste for its grasses, grazing with relish whenever the party stopped for a rest or a meal. On the road to Edoras, the hobbits could see many flocks and herds, tended by folk who lived in quaint cottages roofed with thatch or sod. Madrigal found it all as Merry had described it, and fell in love with this green land of horse and meadow.

Only a couple of days later, as the sun was falling toward the end of day, the party arrived at Edoras and beheld golden Meduseld, Hall of the Kings of Rohan, shining upon a high hill. There were green mounds raised on either side of the golden hall, and a broad stair and a crystal stream at its entrance. Standing like statues on either side of the great door, were gold-helmed guards who moved suddenly to bar their way with spears crossing together in a loud clash.

A swordsman stepped between the guards as they brought their spears together, and the close precision of their combined movement left the hobbits startled and marveling that the swordsman remained unscathed. His clear blue eyes looked sternly at them from under his golden helm, and in a richly accented voice, he cried aloud commandingly in the Common Tongue, "Halt, friend or foe, and declare who ascends the steps of Meduseld!"

Aradhel stepped forward to meet the door warden and declared, "We are Rangers of Arnor, Aradhel, Cairduin, and Cairdur, escorting Gimli the Dwarf, son of Gloin, Lord of Aglarond, who is known to you, and the Heralds of the King and Queen of Gondor and Arnor, the Halflings Turgon and Fingon Took, grandsons of Peregrin, Right Thain of the Shire, who was known by your King, Elediriel Cotton, daughter of Odo, and Scribe to Queen Arwen Undomiel, and Madrigal Brandybuck, granddaughter of Meriadoc, Master of Buckland, who was also known to the King of the Rohirrim."

"Hail and well met, Heralds of Elessar and Arwen, your coming is known to us and you are welcome! Hail Gimli, friend Dwarf, Lord of the Caverns of Helm's Deep! Hail Rangers of Arno! Too seldom do we see our distant kindred of the West. It is a glad day that sees you on the steps of Meduseld. King Eomer awaits, and bids you enter!"

The swordsman turned smartly on his heel, and the guards returned to their frozen stance with a ringing snap and single smack of the butts of their spears on their stony stands. The great doors of the hall swung open and the party walked into the foyer. Gimli began to remove his axe from his back to lean it against the wall.

"Nay, Friend Dwarf! Eomer King, bids that you bear your axe with honor in his halls and that you all may bring your weapons as token of the trust and friendship he bears you all, and the peoples of your lands."

Gimli bowed low, and grimly smiling, replaced the battle-axe.

They walked then into the great hall, lit with the clear golden light of the setting winter sun, where a tall kingly man sat upon a throne. His beard and hair were white as snow, and a golden circlet crowned his noble brow. His blue eyes were keen and bright, and his back was straight and his shoulders broad. But Ellie saw that he was frail and that his hand trembled slightly as it held a smooth black cane. Nevertheless, he stood to his feet like a man but lately grown old, rather than a venerable king of many winters.

Eomer, greeted them with the clear ringing voice of a much younger man. "Hail, Heralds of Elessar! I bid you welcome to Rohan. What news?"

As earlier agreed, Madrigal stepped forward with a sealed scroll, broke the seal, unrolled the parchment, and proclaimed, "The King and Queen of Gondor and Arnor send greetings to Eomer, King of Rohan. We desire that Our esteemed friend and ally share in Our joy at the announcement that Eldarion, Heir of Elendil, shall be born upon next Mid-Year's Day. As this blessed event would surely not transpire, were it not for the valour of the King and the People of Rohan, We wish to renew again Our perpetual gratitude, undying alliance, and eternal love, both now and forever. So declares Elessar Telcontar and Arwen Undomiel, King and Queen of Gondor and Arnor. By the hands of the King and Queen."

She stepped forward and carefully placed the proclamation in the trembling hand of the aged king. He thanked her gravely and handed the document to a nearby servant who stepped forward to receive it. Then he turned to the hobbits and said, "You and your companions will share my table tonight, and you..." he said, turning again to Madrigal. "...you will tell me about your grandsire, Master Holdwine, and all his doings in your country!" His smile was no longer the expression of a venerable monarch but of a kindly old man who desired to hear news of an old friend.

Many were the tales that were told that night, and many were the songs that were sung. Maddie found Eomer was interested in everything, asking many questions and stopping her often with his gentle laugh, and ever urging her to say more. The knights of Rohan were quite amused at the braggadocious Took Twins, who claimed that hobbits were the finest archers of mortal kind, and that they were the finest archers in the Shire. Nothing would do, but that a tournament should be held the next day.

King Eomer stood at the head of the table, taking a sudden interest. "Let it be done! And the winner shall receive a Golden Arrow from my own hand."

The knights and ladies of the hall cheered and raised high their golden cups. One of the knights slapped a companion of his on the back, Guthwine of East Emmet, the victor of the last archery tournament. He stood, and looking meaningfully at Guthwine, raised his cup again and cried, "A drink! May the best man win!"

"...or hobbit!" cried Madrigal, looking at the Twins. The hall was merry indeed with the good-natured fun.

The tournament was a simple affair, not like the great festival and competitions the Riders of Rohan and the Shieldmaidens held annually. But all the folk of Edoras came, as much for the promise of fun and food and drink as for the sight of the halfling heralds of the King and Queen of Gondor.

There was a variety of games and entertainments and of delicious things to eat and drink. The hobbits enjoyed the latter as much as the former, finding the homely dishes and roasted meats as much to their liking and as homelike seeming as anything they had eaten since leaving Bree. At the games, Madrigal demonstrated herself to be a fair rider, goading Cider through the courses almost as well as the larger steeds of Rohan, despite the smaller size of the Buckland mare. The Riders and the people especially marked the pony's spirit and heart and did not fail to notice the beauty of his small mistress.

But it was Turry and Furry who most amazed the martial people. Whether on the backs of Thunder and Lightning, or standing stock still, whether shooting at still targets, or at moving ones, the Took Twins, with their slender bows, remained in the Archery Tournament until only the two of them, and Guthwine, and a Rider named Dirhelm remained.

When the target was set farther away, Dirhelm shot outside the bullseye. It was set farther back, and three arrows struck the center of the target. It was set still farther away, and as they shot, a gust of wind chanced across the field, and Turry's arrow strayed just outside the red. It was down to Furry for the Shire and Guthwine for the Mark.

"It's up to you now, Furry," Turry said, and slapped his brother on the back.

The crowd was silent and still. Guthwine looked down at his small competitor and said, "Fingon, archer of the Shire, you are a passing good shot.

"Guthwine, archer of the Mark, you are are a passing good judge of archers!" cried Furry.

Guthwine laughed out loud and all that heard laughed with him. "We shall see who is the finest, Little Bowman! You shoot well enough up close, but how will your little bow fare if we double the distance?"

"Let the target be moved and we shall see," Furry said.

The target was moved until it looked quite small in the eyes of the folk of Edoras. Ellie squinted in the sun to make it out the better. The bows of the archers of Rohan were much larger than the slender bows of the Tooks. Ellie consoled herself to think that Turry and Furry at least did not do badly. Not badly at all!

Guthwine and Fingon waited for the signal, and they both aimed their arrows high. The crowd held its breath together as the missiles flew steeply into the blue sky, and just as steeply fell together toward the distant target, striking with a doubled tap that carried to the crowd a breathless heartbeat later.

The runners retrieved the target and brought it forward for Eomer to see. Everyone pressed in that could and Ellie nervously waited to hear whose arrow was closest to dead center. The king of the Rohirrim held his hand aloft and trumpets cried aloud. In a voice that carried clear and strong, Eomer cried, "The Golden Arrow I give to Fingon, son of Faramir, of the Shire!"

Guthwine and Dirhelm grabbed Furry and hoisted the proud little hobbit high on their tall shoulders and brought him to their king. The target was left for all to see, and sure enough, the shorter Took-fashioned arrow was just the smallest mite closer to the center than Guthwine's. The hobbits, and Gimli, and even the rangers shouted and cheered. No one was prouder of his brother than Turry. Furry said, "If that gust had blown the other way, the Arrow would be yours!"

Gimli said, "Ah, but luck is a fine thing to have, as well as skill! Accept your brother's praise today, so that you may freely give him praise tomorrow!"

"And this is mine to give right now!" Maddie said and gave Furry a good sweet kiss right in front of King Eomer and everybody. I must tell you that this was even more wonderful to Furry's point of view than besting the finest archers in Rohan! Ellie, thinking of the Twins' rivalry for Madrigal, looked at Turry to see his expression and was surprised to find the young hobbit was not looking at Furry and Maddie, but at her with strangest smile on his handsome face.

The feast that night was wonderful, the company was excellent, and the golden mead of Rohan flowed like a deep spring. Guthwine, Dirhelm, and others of the Riders of Rohan insisted upon examining the bows of the Tooks and questioned them intently about their design and make.

"We used to use bows much like the ones you Riders use, and if the Tooks had kept to this style I would never have let you move that target!" said Furry. "But I can't claim Tooks invented this bow. We copied it from the elves." Some of the riders backed away, suspiciously. There was a muttered remark or two that the contest had not been fair.

"There's nothing magic about it!" cried Turry, ready to hotly defend his brother's victory. "We can't string the bows with elf-hair, and we didn't cast any spells, not that we could. But the pattern is good and if you made your bows like them, then Guthwine and Dirhelm here could outshoot anyone in Middle-earth! Maybe even us!"

At this, the Riders laughed and pressed forward again to handle the bows themselves, even calling Dorwain, an old bowmaker to see if he thought he could fashion a man-sized bow in the same manner. Maddie and Ellie left the conversation of the Riders and the Twins, turning to see Gimli speaking with King Eomer.

"I do remember," Eomer was saying in response to a question from the dwarf. "Legolas used a bow very much the same, it seems to my old eyes. I never thought, nor did any of us, that our own bows might be improved by copying its fashion. I confess, I thought the fanciful curves were merely the needless ornamentation of Elves, and that his skill was only Elvish magic. It seems there are still things to be learned under the Sun."

"You were ever one to mistrust the Elves, Eomer," said Gimli, shaking his head.

"Hah! Now I have lived to be lectured by a Dwarf on the merits of the Elves!" the king laughed. He then noticed Maddie and Ellie listening in. "Come, my little Mistresses! I would hear still more of the deeds of Master Holdwine and what you think of the faerie folk of Imladris. We have all the night before us!"
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Old 10-10-2023, 10:07 AM   #5
Mithadan
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Join Date: Jul 2000
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Chapter IX

FANGORN FOREST

The hobbits and the rangers and the dwarf left Edoras the next day. All enjoyed the days of travel that followed, riding at ease over the rolling meadows north to where the River Entwash left the ancient trees of Fangorn Forest. The horses loved the grassy fields and looked even more regretful than the hobbits to leave behind the beautiful country of the Rohirrim.

But leave it behind they did, riding north the shortest distance to the North Undeep, where Anduin could be forded to the north of the River Limlight. From there, they would travel past the site of Dol Goldur, on roads the Dark Lord had made in the days of his dominion. These would meet the new paths that led to the Eastern Bight of Greenwood the Great. To ride the east bank of the Anduin to the Old Forest Road and then through the widest part of Greenwood to the River Running would take more than four or five days longer.

Looking at the grey woods of Fangorn Forest made Elediriel shiver to think of the still gloomier prospect of looking upon the ruins of Dol Goldur. Turry and Furry, on the other hand, seemed delighted at the prospect of not only riding past the gloomy forest, but using some of the time they were saving to take a detour to the hill where so long ago Merry and Pippin had met Treebeard, the Old Ent of the Forest. Gimli disliked the idea even more than Ellie.

"I have never liked the look of these woods! What if we stray? We should be at the mercy of the wild trees of that wood. The sooner it is behind us, the happier I will be," said the old dwarf.

"It won't take long," said Turry. "We'll be back in no time. We won't stray!"

"That's right," said Furry. "We'll just stick to the west bank of the Entwash here. The hill can't be far. You've been there yourself!"

"So take my word for it, you impertinent hobbits! There are trees and more trees and still more trees! There is nothing to see."

"What if Treebeard is there?" asked Turry.

"What if Quickbeam is there?" asked Furry.

"And what if the wild huorns from the black heart of the forest are there?" cried the dwarf. "Nothing can persuade me to go in there again! I have returned twice to tell the tale. That is enough!"

And at that moment, as they debated whether to cross the Entwash at the ford or to follow it into the forest, silvery laughter carried from the trees and a grey clad Wood Elf stepped out and called out lightly to greet them.

"Legolas!" cried Gimli. He leaped down in great excitement from the wagon. Legolas ran forward to meet him.

"After all these years, I finally see you again, and my ears hear that you still fear these woods!" laughed the elf. "What of your word to return, Master Dwarf? I have new things to show you!"

"And what of yours, Master Elf?" replied Gimli, happy to see the elf despite his previous words. "I have not seen you again in the Halls of Aglarond! Our work is done, and you must see the labour of the Dwarves. When I see you under the ground, you shall see me among the trees."

"When I see you among the trees, you shall see me underground!" retorted Legolas.

"A plague on the stiff necks of Elves!" cried the dwarf.

"A calamity on the stiffer necks of Dwarves!" cried the elf as they laughed and embraced one another.

"What's he doing here?" Furry asked Turry, who had no clearer idea than his twin brother. Ellie said nothing, but looked on, struck dumb to see the dwarf and the elf together, come to life right out of the Redbook. Maddie looked on dreamily at the handsome wood elf and fortunately Furry did not notice! Soon, they were all introduced one to another.

Legolas looked then keenly upon the hobbits and said, "I can see your grandsires in you! I should have thought so even if I had not seen you in the bad company of a dwarf! In fact, I was on my way to remind Master Gimli of his promise. Sixty-four years ago, he promised to return to these woods with me, and here he is! What could be better? You are fated to keep your bargain today, it seems." He said this last, looking meaningfully at the old dwarf.

"Another year, perhaps. And before I venture into that fearsome forest, I would have first have you come to Aglarond, and see how the dwarves have tended the glades of stone and crystal in the vaults of the earth. But now, time is pressing and we have far to journey ere we reach your father's kingdom and the Lonely Mountain beyond," said Gimli.

"Then all the more the reason to come with me through the wood. I have learned much of Fangorn Forest and its ways. I can guide you safely through. You will save almost a day on your journey and redeem your word in the bargain. Then I shall be in your debt and perforce must endure your dank caves," said Legolas.

"I will endure your watching trees again only after you have gazed upon the glory of Aglarond, though you receive the better bargain," said the dwarf, a little sternly.

"In all of Middle-earth, we are met again here this day, as if by chance, and it is on your way! We are meant to journey together again! So come! Forget your darksome hole for a time, and look upon a forest that has lived unmolested for ages upon ages," said the elf, with the slightest edge to his voice.

"Perhaps the Glittering Caverns are beneath the lofty notice of an elf!" cried Gimli, with a keener edge to his voice, as he thought of his years of labour and of the magnificent Hall of Remembrance, which the elf had never seen.

"And perhaps the living beauty of the forest is too simple for the proud interest of a dwarf!" cried Legolas, growing hot in his turn, thinking on the decades of timeless wonder and new discovery he had enjoyed in this most ancient of forests.

Ellie wondered how it was possible that these two old friends could suddenly be fighting when just meeting again after so many years, when Maddie stepped forward suddenly and pulled on the sleeve of the angry dwarf. He turned sharply and the pretty hobbit said only, "You would do it for Lady Galadriel."

The change in the dwarf was immediate and profound. His proud eyes were cast down, and his reddened face turned pale. He took a deep breath, and thanked the hobbit lass. He turned back to Legolas, whose deep elvish eyes were also suddenly remorseful.

"Legolas, my old friend. I have wronged you and the Lady. All my work in Aglarond will mean nothing if you do not share the sight of it. I shall endure your trees again," said the dwarf.

"I ask your pardon, Master Dwarf," said the elf, with his humour returning. "I should have taken more seriously your labours. I do not insist that we see the woods first. Come, we shall journey round them, though you lose a day thereby."

"No, I must insist that you guide us through these old woods of yours. I think I shall enjoy having you in my debt, Master Elf! The sooner the better!"

"Then if your friends do not mind?" Legolas asked, with a winning look at the hobbits.

"Of course not!" said Maddie brightly, and Turry and Furry agreed. Ellie still did not think much of the woods, but could hardly say anything of the sort. But the quick eyes of the elf caught hers and she felt an immediate reassurance that all would be well. The rangers, of course, had no objections, and truth to tell, were keenly interested to see the hill where the old dwarf, the wood elf and Aragorn, their king, had first encountered the wizard Gandalf, returned as if from the dead.

"I believe it was the turning point of the War of the Ring," said Aradhel, when they had come to the hill in the woods.

"Perhaps you are right, but who among us can say what was the turning point, with so many events, both great and small, that had such unforeseeable outcomes. The past is not as clear as the present and is little more clear than the future," said Legolas, as they climbed the hill. Madrigal was following fast behind him; having left Cider tied with the other horses at the base of the hill.

"I thought elves could remember the past as clearly as the present," said Maddie.

"As clearly as a dream, perhaps, which can be both very clear and very obscure. I can cast my mind back to a day when Master Gimli here did not breathe hard climbing this hill. I see it clearly. But seeing is not the same as understanding, though no doubt Aradhel is right," Legolas replied.

"It seems to me that it is as the ranger says," said the old dwarf, trying hard not to sound as if he needed to catch his breath. "Here it was that Merry and Pippin, your grandfathers, met the old Ent. And here it was that we, with Aragorn, met Gandalf again, beyond all hope. I shall count that always as the day when the days of darkness were numbered."

"Here we are," said Legolas.

They stood upon the crown of a low hill that looked through an area of the forest that was not quite as close and grey. Sunlight filtered between the interwoven branches in radiant streams through the thick forest air, casting a golden glow in the glen surrounding the hill. The Took Twins looked closely at every tree (and so did Ellie and Maddie and Gimli!) to see if any of them might be looking back at them. But there was no movement and there was no sound. The air was thick and still. There were no birds singing or squirrels playing. Even the wind did not disturb the ancient contemplation of the living forest.

"Your debt grows greater with every long moment," muttered the dwarf to the elf.

"You will appreciate this wood ere we reach its end. Come! Let us be on our way!"

They descended from the small hill and followed the elf up a narrow trail barely wide enough for the small wagon. It made its way along the banks of a stream that became the Entwash further south. They went on for sometime, until the sun sank low beyond the peaks of the Misty Mountains, hidden by the boughs and limbs of the forest.

Before they made camp, Legolas bade them wait while he ran ahead to check the site he had in mind. After a short time, which seemed long to Gimli and Ellie, the elf returned and said that the perfect spot was just ahead. He guided them farther up the path, Maddie and the Twins right behind him, Gimli and Ellie in the wagon driven by Cairdur, and Aradhel and Cairduin riding their horses behind...

At last, they came to a clearing where the River Entwash had dwindled from a stream to a small brook, which came from what seemed a hall of trees overshadowing a spring and a rocky place beyond. The hobbits had listened intently to the stories the elf told of times past when both he and the world were somewhat younger. Gimli and Ellie had shared more than one weak smile at how carefree the others seemed in the old forbidding woods. The rangers remained watchful. Despite what they knew of Fangorn Forest, none but Legolas were prepared for what happened next.

"Hooom. Hoom. Hom hooom rooom tooom hooomty toom. '...hungry as hunters, the Hobbit children, the laughing folk, the little people...' Let me have a look at you."

The voice was as deep as a sound from a hollow log, and the words were slow and measured and thoughtful. One of the trees stepped forth from the rest and only then did they see that the tree was not a tree, but another kind of creature altogether.

I'm quite sure that you yourself have heard the tales of this remarkable and ancient forest, and of the treeherds, the Ents, who tended the trees and looked after them. No doubt, in your comfortable chair, with a beverage at your elbow and references at your fingertips, you guessed before any of the travelers the surprise that Legolas had set for them. Perhaps you would have smugly expected exactly what happened and would have taken a more casual notice of the Ent as he strode forward like a walking tree. This Ent was of course, Treebeard, or Fangorn, for whom the forest was named. Legolas had made his acquaintance seven decades before, and since then, by Treebeard's leave, had explored the great forest and came back at times to talk with the ancient Ent about the things he had seen. He had gone ahead to see if the old treeherd would welcome guests.

I wish there were time to tell you even a quarter of the stories that were shared that night. Treebeard told his share, but he seemed more interested in what the hobbits had to say, as well as the dwarf and the men. He listened to them talk far into the night about the news of the lands. At last the old ent had finished asking questions for the night, and then he moved for the first time, the hobbits realized, since they had made their camp outside his home.

"Hooom," he said finally. "In my long years, there have been few times that my eyes have seen a gathering such as this. Rooom tooom hooomty tooom. From the eldest race to the youngest we are all here together in this forest. Such a thing has not happened here in this wood ever before and perhaps shall not ever happen again. But it is late and we should rest now until the morning. Then I shall send you on your way through the forest."

***

The next morning, Ellie awoke to see the old ent standing over them. The rangers were rebuilding the fire. Gimli, for some reason, did not want to be involved with it, though he normally delighted in the labour. Legolas and the dwarf were standing away from the others and quietly discussing some subject. Treebeard's deep and ancient eyes thoughtfully pondered the sleeping hobbits and Ellie felt that the ent was considering her with something like a mingled attitude of humour and sadness.

"Hmm, hoo, rumty, tumm, humm..." the ent intoned. To Ellie, he said, "You are so young. Looking upon you hobbit children reminds me of my own youth long ago, and of my great age, and of how there shall be no Entings ever again." He sighed a great sigh and murmured deep words in his long sonorous language that she did not understand. But in his eyes she saw ages of longing and of resignation. "I had hoped," he said, after a time had passed, "that you had brought word of the Entwives. I begin to despair that any of us shall ever meet again. I do not anymore hope that I shall live to see such a day myself. I now fear that none of us ever shall."

"But it is a wide world," Ellie heard herself saying. "Since the War, men have been rebuilding, and moving about through all the old lands. Even the folk of the Shire have started a new land on the Westmarch. Perhaps soon, folk will move out into new lands, East and West. Maybe they will find the Entwives. Maybe they will even find your own wife, Fimbrethil."

The old ent looked with sudden joy at the young hobbit maiden. "Hooom! Perhaps you are right. Hooo. I have been hasty, perhaps. How did you come to know the lovely name of Fembrethil?"

Ellie told him them of how she had copied the stories of the hobbits and of how the sad song of the Ents and the Entwives was recorded in the tales of the War of the Ring. The other hobbits had awakened quietly, and rather uncustomarily, did not leap up ready for their breakfast, but lay still, looking and listening to Ellie and Treebeard. The old ent was really quite touched and pleased that the hobbits had recorded these things, and had not forgotten the Ents and the search for their Entwives.

"Perhaps now you should go look for them!" said Maddie, impulsively.

"Hooom. No. It is enough to learn that you have not forgotten and that the peoples are spreading. If the Entwives still live, they will be found one day, and so time will tell. It is enough. Hooom. If one day you carry word to them, that we are here, they will find us. If we leave to find them, we may miss them and they miss us. And we have our duties here. There are not enough of us to tend the forest and search the wide lands, too. We cannot afford to be hasty. Hooom. It is enough. Now, what say you to something to drink?"

Turry and Furry enthusiastically agreed to this, and no one in the camp could refuse the hospitality of the old ent. His hands were spread with twig-like fingers over the great earthen jars, and each of them had a taste of the luminescent ent draught. Turry and Furry drank deeply, and even asked for more!

They were off again soon enough, with Legolas taking them along a forest path, trodden previously only by the ents and himself. Though the others rode, the light-footed elf had no trouble leading them up the woodland trail at the fastest pace they could maintain. The trail was sometimes ragged, and the wagon hard to pull. After the first check, Aradhel and Cairduin hitched their horses to the wagon. This made Bill mighty glad, I can tell you, for now he only had to carry Cairdur on his broad back.

They made fair time, though Gimli had already calculated that Legolas was falling further into his debt, since it very much looked as if the extra day the elf had promised might be lost. The dwarf called back to Aradhel again.

"Ranger! How far have we come since lunch?"

"We have come one league and half a league, as the crow flies," answered the ranger surely.

"Then as the crow flies, we have at least sixty leagues before us to reach the ford of the Limlight. The day Legolas promised is a difference of eight or nine leagues, am I right?"

"That depends on the road," Aradhel observed.

"Nonsense," said the hale old dwarf. "Billing is by the mile. Differences in terrain even out in diversified business ventures. Now, where was I? Oh yes, call it nine leagues if you make good time..."

"That depends on the road," said Cairduin. "And what you meet upon it."

"I'm talking about mileage in this debt appraisal," said the dwarf cheerfully. "Additional costs will be figured on his account separately. Now, where was I? Oh yes, making good time! Which we are not. I believe Legolas has already lost us at least half a league today. At the present rate, Legolas shall owe me half a day, in addition to enduring the glories of Aglarond."

The wood elf laughed, "And how shall I pay you Master Dwarf? In minutes or in hours? Not even Elves can give you Time."

"We shall see about that, Master Elf," and this was as much as the dwarf would say; though he said it often enough on the journey as he continually recalculated what he called the debt of the elf when they bantered back and forth.

As amusing as this was to Elediriel, she did not lose sight of the forest around her. Slowly, her anxiousness about the ancient woods gave way to a growing appreciation for its strange beauties. Though it was winter, and the forest was thick and old and grey, many of the trees still had their brown leaves. Ellie, and the other hobbits, felt as if the forest was the most quiet wood they had ever known. Whenever they stopped, and the horses weren't walking and the wagon wasn't creaking, there was no sound to be heard. The rangers gave no sign that they were disturbed in any way.

Gimli's anxiety did not pass. The dwarf was nervously loud, and kept up a steady chatter with the hobbits, with the rangers, and with Legolas through the day and late into the night until he was too tired to stay awake. He did not want to lie awake feeling the gaze of the watching trees. As for Legolas, the elf enthusiastically pointed out various plants large and small, trees and bushes and growths of odd kinds that were uniquely beautiful, though they would have surely gone unnoticed if the party had not had such a guide. Even Gimli took an interest, and asked many questions of the elf.

The days passed easily, though the path was no less difficult. The trail went up a ridge that gently ascended until it was high enough for the evergreens to grow. Here, the forest was less close, and the trees were even more immense. Ellie's neck grew tired from looking up as they rolled along. Though the climb was not steep, their going was somewhat slower, which delighted Gimli no end.

As they made camp, Gimli asked again of Aradhel, "Ranger, how far have we come?"

"Thirty leagues, by the crow. Half of the distance," said the ranger.

"Half the distance in half a day's more time!" exclaimed the dwarf. "Why, this elf will soon owe me an entire day!"

"But if we had not come here, then you would have missed this!" Legolas pointed west.

From the top of the ridge, among the giant evergreens, above the ancient hardwood trees, they could now see across a great valley of uncharted streams and ancient forest, to the distant peaks of the Misty Mountains, where the setting sun shone a golden red against the blue winter ice. The high clouds were a fiery golden orange against the deepening clear blue of a sky on the edge of night. The winter forest below them seemed to change hue as if in a strange harmony with the changing light. A single brilliant star of piercing blue shone through the fading sunlight long before any other. The party was soon casting still shadows from its solitary radiance, for they all stood as if rooted like the trees behind them. They were the only breathing things that watched with the trees, as day gave way to glorious night across the silent expanse of Fangorn Forest.

"You see," said Legolas at last. "The forest watches all things. You are only one thing among them, Master Dwarf. Without the trees so close about you, what do you think of the forest now?"

The dwarf could find no words, but looked long over the forest under the gathering stars as something of the understanding of the elves kindled in his ready heart.




Chapter X

DOL GOLDUR

Soon after the rising of the sun, the hobbits, the dwarf, the elf, and the rangers were once again on their way through the forest. The dwarf no longer chattered nervously, but rode along in the wagon looking upon the woods with a new appreciation.

In fact, the trail was soon leading them down again into the forest and the going seemed much easier in the days of their travel through the trees of Fangorn Forest. Cairduin the Ranger remarked that they were fast making up the time lost in the first half of their woodland shortcut.

"And what of it?" asked the dwarf. "I view the matter differently now. The elf owes me nothing."

"A dwarf who has forsaken his accounts!" cried the elf. "The world is changing indeed!"

"Nay!" cried the happy dwarf. "The accounts must still be balanced! It is I who owe you Master Elf, and I only hope that the new sights of Aglarond will sufficiently repay you!"

"Is that how it is?" laughed the elf. "Then I shall collect payment in your glittering caverns as soon as can be arranged! I shall not have it said that any dwarf escaped a debt to Legolas son of Thranduil!"

"In fact," said the dwarf with a sidelong look at the wood elf. "So great is my indebtedness, Elf, that I must give you as many heartbeats in the Hall of Remembrance as days you have given me in these woods, ere you are paid in full!"

This cheerful banter was the stuff of the conversations between the elf and the dwarf, as they made ever better and better time on the downward slopes to the Limlight at the forest edge. As they arrived at the shallow fording, Aradhel said to Gimli, "Well, Master Dwarf! Master Elf has saved us the day he promised. What say you to that?"

"That is well. But now that I no longer dread the wood behind us, I have little love of the road ahead," replied the old dwarf.

"Mirkwood is Mirkwood no longer, but is now called Greenwood the Great, as it was of old," said Legolas.

"And the dark fortress of Dol Goldur lies in scattered ruins. There is naught to fear," said Aradhel.

"Did I speak of fear?" asked the dwarf. "My eyes have seen the Black Gates of the Morannon and the iron fortress of Baradur that were cast down in the fall of the Dark Lord. I do not fear these lesser ruins. Yet, nothing good has ever come from that place, only evil. Even fallen and abandoned, I shall have no love of the sight, save for leaving it behind."

Elediriel felt a sudden chill, but said nothing, thinking the others would only say she felt the cold breeze under the winter sky. Indeed, the kindly weather had begun to turn more seasonably cold, and they all, except perhaps Legolas, seemed to feel it as the sun turned a watery yellow above the gathering clouds. Beyond the sheltering trees, the winds blew freely and they felt its keen edge.

They pulled their warmer cloaks from the wagon and rode for the fords of the Anduin at the northern Undeep of the great water. The Undeeps, as they were called, were broad shallow expanses of the mighty river where a crossing could be made even by wagon in times of less rain or when water was bound in snow and ice. Many centuries ago, the Wainriders had come that way, and it was here that the hosts assembled at Dol Goldur intended to cross the Anduin, had the War of the Ring gone differently.

The rangers led them across the broad waters to an old road leading to the northeast, made long years ago by the servants of Sauron, or the Necromancer as he was known in the days of his secret rebuilding. Their camp that night was cold and the hobbits shivered around the fire with the old dwarf and wore almost every stitch of clothing they had.

The grey edge of the forest drew closer as the leagues dropped behind them. All too soon, they had left the open fields behind and made camp under the boughs and limbs of Greenwood the Great.

"Mirkwood, still, I say," said the dwarf. So close were they now to the evil ruins of Dol Goldur, that not even Legolas disagreed with him. The woods indeed had grown less wholesome as the path lead deeper into the forest, as if the forest here had still not recovered from the darkness that had long brooded nearby. The trees strove against one another grasping for precious light. Scrub and brush leaned in upon the hard-packed road, but nothing grew upon the road itself, as if some lingering poison applied in ages past still prevented even the life of weeds and briers. Cairduin dourly thought it the work of Sauron ere his demise.

Legolas sniffed at the dust of the road and declared Cairduin's guess correct. "The dust is unwholesome, perhaps it has even been brought from Mordor. Time is not so precious that I will ever take this path again."

"Then we will start all the earlier tomorrow, pick up the pace, and camp all the later," said Aradhel. "The next day, too, and the days after that, the better to leave this road and the ruins behind us, as Master Dwarf also wishes. It were perhaps better we had taken the longer way. Even so, we still have far to go before our steps turn back to Rivendell."

***

The next morning came early indeed. Before the grey dawn the hobbits were rousted from where they lay near the fire. Turry and Furry tried to follow the example of the rangers, and made no complaints. Ellie figured that no one cared to hear her grumble and gripe, and she was thankful of the hot breakfast that young Cairdur brought her. Maddie, however, was never one to be shy of giving others the full benefit of her thoughts and feelings.

"What a horrid, horrid place!" she muttered. "Why did we have to come this way? We should have gone first to the Beornings, then to the dwarves, then the elves and the Rohirrim last!"

"That would have been a hard road indeed, Mistress Madrigal," said Cairdur. "Weather such as this would be harder to bear in the wastes of Eregion. Better to travel through inhabited lands at the end of our journey, as spring awakens the land, rather than save the loneliest leg for the end. This way, we have wood for the fire and can look forward to the rest of the trip. Cheer up! The worst is soon behind us!"

"I will be cheerful when I can have a hot bath and wash my hair!" the pretty hobbit grumbled. Ellie agreed, but said nothing, warming her hands around her mug and eating her breakfast while it was hot.

True to Aradhel's word their pace was indeed faster that day. The sun had risen high in the sky, though they could not see it, when the woods suddenly thinned out and stopped altogether, revealing a great field surrounding a tall hill. That hill was crowned with a cruel ragged jumble of dark stones. It was all that remained of Dol Goldur, whose evil name still brought disquiet to even the boldest heart. The fortress had been a residence for the Necromancer as his power grew, before he revealed himself to be Sauron, the Dark Lord. But the stronghold held nothing now unless the broken stones themselves remembered the terror of the Ringwraith that once commanded in Sauron's name or held memories of the horror of the prisoners in the dungeons that lay below.

Not even dour Cairduin would look upon it long, and though the hobbits had been growing hungry before they left the wood, none of them wanted to stop or had any appetite for food within sight of the ghastly ruins. But even as they cast their gaze aside, Legolas saw something in the corner of his keen eye.

"There is someone there," the elf said. "An old man wearing a blue cloak. He walks with a staff."

The rangers looked hard, and Aradhel thought he could see him just leaving the ruins of the gate.

"You are right," confirmed Legolas. "He has seen us, and is coming this way."

"Then let us make camp and wait for him," said Aradhel. "Perhaps he will be hungry, and seeks to purchase luncheon with tales of what he has seen."

"What tales would a picker of dry bones have for us, I wonder," said Cairduin.

With surprising speed, the old man crossed the great field and by the time the fire was made and lunch had been prepared, he was upon them. His cloak could only be called blue by charity, for it was ragged and faded to a dirty grey. He wore no hat or hood upon his head, and his long tangled white hair and beard were blown by the wind all about his heedless head. His brows were dark and bristling, his nose was long and sharp. His lips were thin and chapped, hard to make out in the tangle of his mustache and beard. His cheeks were raw and red and his eyes deep, haggard, and confused.

"Hail, old father!" cried Aradhel. "Will you not come warm yourself by our fire and break bread with us? This is a cold and a lonely place, and we would be glad of the company!"

Gimli muttered in his beard. The other rangers and Legolas said nothing. The hobbits looked on with growing anxiety, and wondered if they had not encountered a madman. Elediriel felt chills again when the old man's wild gaze chanced across her. The old man's deep dark eyes seemed to her to have a hidden cunning under his confusion. She quickly lowered her own eyes.

"I say, old father," said Aradhel, stepping forward when the old man had drawn closer, "come share our meal and our fire."

"Eeee?" the old man said with a question in his voice, stepping back a pace from the tall ranger. There were more words, or gibberish, that Ellie could not make out.

"Food, water, fire," said Aradhel, speaking slowly and calmly. He then walked deliberately to the fire, squatting down and taking up the pot, and motioning as if to eat. He motioned for the wild man to draw nearer. The old man slowly did so, and trembling, settled down by the fire and let the ranger ladle him a bowl of steaming stew. He ate this and motioned for more before even the reassured hobbits were finished with their first bowls! Soon enough, they were all eating quietly, letting the rangers try different tongues to see if the old man would communicate. Legolas then tried an ancient elven tongue that Ellie had not heard in Rivendell, and the old man looked up at that. A halting conversation began between the elf and the wild old man.

"What is he saying?" asked Gimli. The dwarf was interested despite his apprehensions.

"It is hard for me to say. This is an old tongue, never spoken by my own people, and it is not well known to me. My father knows it better. I have asked him to come with us."

"What! We do not know who he is! Where he is from! What was he doing over there in... over there?" the old dwarf demanded, pointing vaguely at the evil ruins.

"I would like to know that, too," said Cairduin. "And how he came to speak such a tongue."

Legolas haltingly asked the old man. As the old man stammered out a reply, the elf's bright eyes grew wide with wonder.

"He says he was looking for a sign of his friends, his friends who came with him from across the Sea," said the astonished elf.

"What, he claims to be an elf?" cried the dwarf. "He looks like no elf my eyes have seen!"

"No! He claims to be a wizard," replied Legolas.

***

Ellie made a place for the old man on the wagon and chose to ride with Maddie on the back of Cider. She was warmer that way, and really did not relish the thought of riding so close to Pallando, the name he gave them to call him. Gimli soon overcame his own distrust, for the old fellow seemed bewildered and fearful, startling with every bump of the wagon or call of a bird.

They rode along this way for several days, until they came to the Eastern Bight of Greenwood, a great sweeping arc of the plains that seemed on the map to take a great bite out of the wood. The rangers guided them ever north and east, planning to reach the River Running where Greenwood drew near to its western banks.

In this time, Turry and Furry made good use of their Tookish bows. So, their suppers each night were all the better for fresh game, since the provisions of the wagon were beginning to run low, and the dried and salted meats and fruits and nuts and cram grew tiresome after a time.

"Imagine nothing but a light pack of travel food to last day after day," said Gimli, "running your feet off chasing hobbits held hostage by goblins! You would be glad enough of it, if you could stay awake to eat it when you stopped!"

Turry laughed, "And our grandmothers are glad that you did run on such fare!"

Furry laughed with him, "But we have heard you had somewhat more than that!"

"That we did," admitted Legolas. "Lembas, the waybread of Lothlorien. I doubt that Master Gimli could have run so far or so fast on salted meat and dried apples."

"Ah! You are no doubt right about that, Master Legolas!" agreed the dwarf. "But I have never tasted such fair fare in all my years since. Waybread you call it, but I would give all our provisions for a taste of it today!"

"Then you may have somewhat of it, and better still, when we reach my father's kingdom, for many of the elves of Lothlorien reside in Greenwood now, and they have brought their arts with them."

Pallando listened intently. He had begun to lose his fearfulness, and had also begun to learn somewhat of the Common Tongue they all spoke together.

"Elves...gone...Loth...Lothlorien?" he asked.

"Yes," answered Legolas, who had taken onto himself the task of teaching the old man. "When the Lady of the Wood passed over the Seas, many of them came to live with their kindred in Greenwood."

"Umm," said the old man, thoughtfully.

***

There were more days of travel after they reached the River Running. In that time, Pallando learned much, and was soon speaking as if he had spoken the common language all along. If he was not a wizard, then he certainly seemed to have a wizard's intelligence.

Elediriel was somewhat frustrated, for though she asked no questions, and indeed had spoken very little with the old man, he rarely spoke of himself, and all questions the others asked were somehow turned to other subjects. Only the ranger Cairduin seemed to share Ellie's reserve. The others soon accepted Pallando, whose quick wit and flattering tongue made them laugh and think him a fine fellow, even if a little cracked.

"He reminds me of Gandalf, somewhat," said Gimli. "How I miss him! Like and yet unlike. What has happened to cloud his wits, I cannot say, but he seems to be recovering. Even so, it is good to travel with a wizard again, such as he is."

The days of travel were left behind them and it was at last time to stop for a while in the halls of Thranduil, the father of Legolas. They were greeted on the trail by green-clad wood elves who were standing watch for them, and who somehow were alert to their coming. These silvan elves were happy to see Legolas and they led the party swiftly to the waiting king. The hobbits looked with great wonder at the sights that were so familiar to them from the stories of Bilbo and his great adventure. The forest river was just as they imagined it, as was the narrow bridge that led to the caverns that was the dwelling and strong place of Thranduil. Even though Ellie was expecting it, she let out a frightened squeal when the great gates magically slammed shut behind her.

Thranduil, King of the Elves of Greenwood, stood to greet them as they were ushered in before his rustic throne. He looked much the same as Legolas, save for his eyes, which seemed deeper and wiser perhaps, and his countenance, which was both graver and merrier somehow. Also, unlike Legolas, he wore a crown woven of the stuff of the forest in winter. A necklace of dazzling jewels graced his warrior's frame and his brow was adorned with a jewel of green.

After he graciously accepted the Proclamation heralding the Birth of Eldarion, Ellie saw that he was also more reserved in his judgment than Legolas, and did not let the self-professed wizard change the subject of his skilled questions.

"Tell me of yourself Pallando. I would know of what you have been doing in all these long years," said the elven king.

"The tale is one that would be as hard to hear as to tell, for it is as long as the age and as bitter as winter. How warm and cheerful your cavern is! I indeed am glad of your hospitality and to warm my old bones away from the cold without," said the old man.

"I have heard tales both long and hard and would gladly hear yours, Pallando the Blue. Was there not another wizard of Blue, as there were of Grey, and Brown, and White?" asked Thranduil.

"Yes! Yes there was, oh learned king. I remember now as your words recall them to my mind. I have been long seeking word of them. What news is there in the land of their doings?" asked Pallando.

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? Long ago the Five Wizards passed from Middle-earth, or so I thought until today. The Dark Lord is dead, or so diminished that he shall never take form again. The work of the wizards is done, as I understood it. Gandalf the White, once the Grey, has sailed the Sea to the West, which ever calls to my son and to my kindred. Radagast the Brown, after lingering some years, himself has taken ship to the West. Saruman the Traitor, has met the fate of the Dark Lord he served. I have heard little report of the Blue Wizards, who passed East and South and never returned. Words that did come to my ears were not good. What say you to that?" asked Thranduil, more sternly.

"That all is better than once I had hoped and in some ways as bad as I had feared," said the old man. "Your ears have heard aright it seems, at least in part. Saruman, you called him. He was the White and also fell into service to Sauron? That is bad. Would that Alatar had met his fate!"

"Speak more plainly, then, and tell me in whole what I have heard in part," Thranduil commanded.

Elediriel wondered that the elven king would dare to speak so to a wizard, but her quick hobbit eyes saw the elven guards that stood around the throne room in the shadows. She noticed then that their bows were strung. She looked at Legolas, and saw that he looked somewhat ashamed that he had not sought this information himself more persistently.

"Forgive me, King Thranduil," said the old man. "I am not what I once was. I too, seek the Straight Sea to the West, where I hope to find healing and forgiveness. Even now, with the kindness of your son and these others, I have found some healing and health, and my memories return. They are grim and dark, but I will tell you now as much as I can remember. May you find profit in it, O King, for my tale does not bode well for the peace of Middle-earth..."
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Old 10-26-2023, 01:36 PM   #6
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
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Chapter XI

BLUE AND BLACK

Pallando stood to his full height and drew a deep breath. Elediriel tensed, worrying for the first time that he might actually be a wizard, for he had done nothing wizardly up to this time, and this did not seem a like a very good time for him to begin! King Thranduil stood as still as a quiet pool and waited with seeming calm.

Perhaps it would be good for me to tell you here that the king of the wood elves was a very ancient and wise elf, though he looked rather more like an elder brother than the father of Legolas, who had seen the passing of many centuries himself. But, as I say, he was both ancient and wise, and knew much of what happened in the lands around him, as any wise king would. It is fair to say that he had said as much as he knew about the history of the Five Wizards in his questioning of this old man who stood before him. It is also fair to say that there were few folk in all of Middle-earth who knew much more than King Thranduil about such lofty matters. He hoped to learn more to better judge the situation rightly. He was a king who took no chances with the safety of his good people.

Gimli had said before that the old man reminded him of the beloved wizard Gandalf, and Ellie now thought that this may have seemed so to Legolas as well. Perhaps that is enough to explain why the elf had brought Pallando into his father's kingdom and had taken no trouble to learn more about him. Seeing by comparison how sternly and carefully Thranduil dealt with the self-proclaimed wizard, the little hobbit girl wondered nervously why they had not been more guarded themselves and, whether he was a wizard or not, if they had not been too free with their words and with their trust. How much had they said? Should they have said anything before him at all?

Pallando no longer spoke as he did when they first found him at the ruins of Dol Goldur. With each day of travel, his strength of mind and personality grew greater. Now, standing tall in the cavern hall of the wood elves, lit by the glow of bright elven torches, he looked wizardly indeed, if not outright kingly. In fact, he no longer at all seemed the crazed and starved old man they discovered picking through the evil ruins. His majesty and regal countenance now made even Thranduil seem rather ordinary and of lesser account. The dark bristling brows of the old man drew together, creasing his noble forehead, as he strove to remember the long events of an age of tumult.

"I am not as once I was, O King," he said, his aged voice filling the cavern and reaching every ear. "I set out with strength in my hand and a mission before me. An age has passed and I know little of what has passed with it. My story seems to me like an unending nightmare, yet end it did and here I am.

"As you know, an age ago I did pass into the East, with Alatar, my friend. Cloaked in blue, we set forth to check the might of wicked men and to foil the subtle schemes of Sauron. Alatar went to the South, where the stars are strange, and through the long years, we met infrequently and ever less often as the strength of the Dark Lord regathered and the range of our duties grew. At each meeting, my friend seemed ever more worried and burdened. At the last, it was a lifetime and more before I heard from him and I thought perhaps we would not meet until the forces of the gathering storm hurled us together again."

The old man looked about him in the cave and saw that every eye was upon him and every ear was attending.

"But meet again we did. And this was what Sauron had awaited. He was ever aware of us, thwarting his efforts when we could and diminishing the effectiveness of his plans when we could not thwart them entirely. He wanted revenge and he wanted to turn his attention to the lands of the West.

"You have heard of the Nine Nazgul, O King?"

Thranduil nodded, saying nothing.

"I know not what they did in these lands in the days after the Dark Lord returned to Mordor, but they came to do much in the days beforehand, in the lands to the South and to the East.

"Alatar sent for me and I came to meet him in the wilderness east of Mordor. The Nazgul came to meet me and I could not withstand them. I was besieged in a desert place and had a choice of death or captivity. Would that I had chosen death! But the Nazgul King, potent in the spells of darkness and armed with a ring of terror, humbled me that day, for I could not withstand the Nine Ringwraiths together. I will not say more, though their horror was not the greatest I came to know.

"My staff was taken, and I was bound and led, not west to Mordor as I expected, but south to Harad. I was weary and near powerless, and my captors were terrible and cruel. My timid hopes of escape died quickly. Without pause and without rest, they drove me before them terrified, wizard though I was, until we reached the Tower of Harad. All fled at our coming and none dared remain in sight as we passed.

"There, at the inland crossroads of an ancient empire of slavery, the savage king of that bestial land had made his fortress, inhabiting foundations and walls laid by greater men than he, though no less evil in their days of high pride and arrogance. Tall it stood, crowned in cruel strength, a castle of despair for the slaves who laboured in the lands about it, a prison of torment for those who dared raise their heads. I thought of how Alatar must have worked in vain to prevent the effective use of this stronghold. Even in my misery and horror, I wondered what had happened to my friend of old. Soon enough, I found out."

His voice had gradually filled with something of the terror that he must have known in that time so long ago. He paused to draw breath and seemed to be gathering resolve to continue. Elediriel could hardly imagine what could be worse than what he had already said, and found that she was drawing the short, fast, shallow breaths of fear. But she could not take her gaze from the wizardly old man. Gimli's eyes were cast down and Legolas was still. Ellie could not turn to see the other hobbits or the three rangers. Pallando's dark and haunted eyes peered at them all from beneath his dark and bristling brow.

"I was taken down to the dungeons of the fortress, built by the kings of men in their days of vanity and arrogance. The black stone of my cell seemed to lend further darkness to the still air itself in my unlit prison. How long I was kept there I cannot say, but the time seemed endless to me then. I found later that this was as nothing compared to the toment I was later to endure.

"They came to me late one night or early one day. I did not know which. I knew hunger and thirst and could not resist as strong men bound me in cold iron to the cold black stone. I had despaired of life, but hoped I might be freed in death. How little I knew of what they had planned for me.

"When at last they came, I had vowed to resist them unto death. I did not expect to look up, blinking in the glow of a staff, to see in the open door of my cell, my old friend Alatar, dressed in a cloak of black. At first my heart surged to think he had come to free me. But then I learned the bitter truth.

"'Pallando, my brother,' said he softly. I can still remember the words. 'I am sorry for all of this, and would see you freed,' said he.

"'What do you mean?' asked I, not daring, not wanting, to guess.

"'I mean that this was the only way that was at hand to save you, grim and hard though it may seem. Yet I hope, when you have heard me, you will understand that all of this has happened so that you might be saved and that we might be together again, as of old.'

"'I do not call any plan that employs the Nazgul as one that leads to salvation,' said I.

"'That was beyond my power. But by my counsel, you were not slain,' said he.

"'A counselor of some importance,' I said with building wrath, for I grew angry as I came indeed to understand. 'You have risen in the world, Alatar. Once you were a problem for the Dark Lord. Now you are his problem solver?'

"'Believe me, I feel your pain. And your anger. But for the sake of our friendship of old, hear me," said he, and his voice softened as he thought to win me.

"'Sauron the Great would have had you tortured and slain, had I not entreated him to give you this chance. I set the choice before you, Pallando: the chance to continue our work together, as best we can, thinking of the ages, rather than merely of the day at hand.'

'"You mean join him in his wickedness, adopt his ways and his goals, hoping in time to overcome him by treachery?' I asked. 'And what shall remain of Middle-earth in that day, if it ever comes? Whatsoever remained of goodness and beauty would have utterly fled. And what could not flee and did not die would be ground under in subjugation, poisoned and twisted. What will you save in that day? And for whom?' I asked, knowing his answer, seeing the bent of his mind as ever I had. How it both grieved and terrified me to see what he had become.

'"And what shall remain if we do not?' he whispered to me fearfully, as if the Dark Lord far away could hear us if we spoke too loudly. 'Our mission has failed. Strength does not exist in Middle-earth to resist him. We cannot inspire it. We cannot create it. We should bring such strength as we ourselves have against him when we can, whenever that may be. If it takes an age, then so be it. If we resist him we will be slain, or worse. Sauron will never again be defeated by arms. Surely you see that! But he is not beyond defeat. Not even when he wielded the Ring of Power, and not even if he should ever find it again. Still, the chance may come in the passing ages when a bold stroke may end his terror. Then, whatever he has done to the land can be undone. The slaves can be freed, and peace under a more benevolent rule will last until the ages are ended.'

"'That is not a hope,' said I. 'That is a lie that you tell yourself to assuage whatever decency you have left. Even if this plan of yours had hope, and the only chance I see for it is if I helped you, it would only mean a second Dark Lord after the first. Why not a third after the second? Would that be my black ambition during your rule? Or would you let me live to entertain it? I choose death now.'

"'I did not say that was your second choice,' said he. 'You do not see the wisdom of my hope?'

"'I see the wickedness of your desire,' said I. 'Kill me now and have done.'

"'I think not. Pallando, you are a fool. You have always followed me, yet you choose otherwise at this last. You should not have broken that habit.' he hissed. 'If I kill you now, perhaps your spirit will find its way home. Not yet, my friend, not yet.'

"He raised his staff. I saw then that it was black in his fist, and that there was a ring upon his finger. What dark powers he called upon I despair to think. He uttered an incantation in the hated speech of Mordor;

"'In this darkness let him stay
here forever and a day,
until the Sun has shown her last,
hold him here and hold him fast.

"'Blackest night shall cast its pall
over sky and over all;
the world itself shall one day fail,
yet keep him here in endless jail.'"


With these words, though spoken in the Common Tongue, the bright elven torches seemed to dim and a chill filled the air of the cavern. Elediriel shivered in horror and with a cold that came without a draft. Pallando continued his story.

"Then at last I began to understand, too late, that there was a fate worse than death. Those words in that foul tongue were graven into my being and I remembered them when I could think of nothing else. I felt myself stiffen and I cried out in the rigour of my sudden pain. And so I was transfixed, mid-cry, alive, and yet unmoving, aware, and yet speechless, able to feel an unendurable pain of cold, yet unable to grow numb.

"'I truly am sorry, Pallando,' said he. 'I shall be lonely without you. Yet not so lonely as you.' And then he turned, closed the door to my cell, and left me in utter blackness.

"I cannot describe the agony I felt in mind and body and spirit. My best friend betrayed me. I was frozen in darkness with no relief from excruciating cold beyond the coldest winter on the highest mountain. And there was no end. I do not know how long a time or how short a time I held on to my sanity. I tried to recall all that I ever knew, and to think over all that I had ever seen. How many times I did this, I cannot say, but the cold would not let me hold a thought for long, though I tried and tried again. At last, in the dark alone, tormented beyond despair, after years or decades, I went mad.

"And so I stayed it seems, until a cataclysm came and I was free. O King, I knew not how or why, until your son and these his friends came upon me, but the Dark Lord was defeated. Indeed, I wonder if Alatar would have done as he did, and chosen as he had, had he known that one day, Olorin, Gandalf you called him, would bring about the fall of Sauron.

"But with the passing of the Dark Lord, so too did pass the spells that were woven about his strongholds and they came crashing down. From the Barad-dur to the Tower of Harad, all were cast down to rubble and ruin. The staff of Alatar was broken and so too was the transfixion which held me frozen through an age.

"Alatar had been made the lieutenant of Sauron over the lands of the South and the East, and as such, escaped the rout of the Dark Lord's forces at the end of the War of the Ring. Had he been closeted in the tower when it failed, perhaps he would have met his fate then. He was in the courtyard, and lived to see his fortress become a ruin all about him as his blackened staff burst asunder in his hand. Even so, though his staff was broken, still his mind turned with thoughts of dark ambition. He thought to turn his position into that of ruler where before he had merely been overseer.

"There was only one difficulty. And that was me. He encamped himself near the ruins and already was begun ordering things as he would have it, sending messages to the important places and maintaining the fiction of empire, hoping to soon make it reality again, before the enslaved peoples knew better.

"But I was awakened. The merest shaft of light filtered down into the darkness of my cell at highest noon, so broken and destroyed was the fortress above me. I lay in the darkness, cold beyond cold, frozen and unmoving, but I remember the beauty of the light, frail and thin, indirect and fleeting. I do not know how many times the daily radiance of the Sun chanced into my cell. It seems to me that I saw it several times before I knew it for what it was.

"Gradually, I became aware again of myself. I was miserably cold and afraid. I cannot say that I thought or that I truly knew much of anything, except that I was miserable and alone. I must have cried out, for I remember wailing in my pain and despair.

"This must have been heard by some who worked nearby, for it was brought to Alatar's attention. They cleared away enough of the stone and the rubble to open the dungeon entrance. When he opened my cell, he stood there long, looking upon me. He grasped my hands, for the chains had rusted to pieces and had fallen away in the ages. I was held no more by shackles, but only by the memory of a broken spell.

"But that memory was still strong upon me, though I remembered nothing else. I knew he who cast it and I recognized him, though he was saying words and claiming to be my rescuer. I grasped Alatar by the throat with freezing hands and felt the warmth drain from him as I uttered the same words that had entombed me alive for an age of men. I was aware as he struggled to escape me of the precarious stones piled high above, now falling in the tumult of our struggle. Soon, the cold and the blackness reclaimed us both and we were buried alive, he for the first time, and I once again.

"I perceived him in the darkness, conquered by my hate and his own folly, frozen and fearful and full of despair. And I knew nothing more. Many more years passed in the cold painful blackness, until I did not know if what I had done was real or a dream. In my madness, I did not care.

"It was long before men came again, taking the stones of the old fortress, hauling them away for some new construction. After the war, eventually there was trade again, and with trade came wealth to those who ruled Umbar. And with wealth came the ambitions of nobility, or what tried to pass as such. The stones were needed for a new palace for the latest of their kings.

"When the stones were cleared away, we were discovered at last, locked in a death grip, colder than ice, stronger than steel. The ruler ordered us brought into the light, and so we were. By the time he arrived, our grip on one another had been broken apart and we were lying under blankets and watchful eyes. I awoke first, I think. I was still as mad as could be, but I did not see Alatar or my cell about me. I drew the warm blankets close, and became frightened of the men. I soon felt strong enough to move, and move I did! I sprang up and ran, clinging still to the blankets, and bolted into the night.

"It was long before I had any idea of what had happened. I only remember long travel on foot, drinking out of pools, eating such herbs and fruits, berries, or nuts as I could find. There were great stretches of wilderness where there was nothing, and I hungered. But how wonderful this was compared to my torment! I was free! How I came to love the warmth and the wind! I kept moving. I suppose I feared pursuit, but I cannot say. I walked, ever wandering west when I could, looking for I knew not what. That is how I was when I was found. And now, now I am here. That is all that I can tell you, O King. I know nothing else to say about Pallando the Blue and Alatar the Black."

Elediriel felt herself breathe again. The cavern no longer seemed dim and cold, but was once again filled with warmth and light. She looked at Madrigal and saw the pretty hobbit's green eyes open wide in pity and glistening with tears. Turgon and Fingon looked with new and earnest respect at the wizard. The three rangers seemed to share this feeling, as did all who stood there before the throne of Thranduil. The elf king sat now and pronounced his judgment. It was only then that Ellie realized that by bringing him to the secret halls, Legolas had placed the life of the wizard into the king's hands.

"I deem that you are indeed one of the wizards who passed beyond these lands an age ago to fight the Dark Lord in such ways as you could. There is much that I would ask you, but you say you know nothing more. Then let this be so. Legolas, who brought you hither, will conduct you thither, with his eyes open and his hand ready. He shall be responsible if you prove false or if you prove mad indeed, though you seem neither this day. He shall go about with you for one year, and if he is satisfied that you are all that you seem, he shall return and your return shall be welcome too. Elsewise, neither the one nor the other shall return alive to this land. Let it be so!"

"Let it be so," said Legolas grimly.

The wizard nodded his head and bowed before the king. He and the company were led back out into the open air and silently taken to the camp prepared for them. No one quite knew what to say, and even the merry wood elves seemed somber and quiet as they stood guard around the subdued camp until all had fallen asleep.




Chapter XII

MESSENGERS AND KINGS

The next morning came early and when Elediriel woke, she felt as if she had not rested at all. She could not remember the strange and disquieting dreams of the trailing night, but knew they had not been pleasant. Madrigal and the Took Twins also were not their cheerful selves on that chill gray morning. Legolas was speaking to the elder rangers with quiet urgency. The hobbits were all curious and the four of them drew closer to hear, while Cairdur and Gimli tended the fire. Several elves stood about the camp, waiting for Ellie knew not what. Pallando sat off to himself, looking at the sky through the limbs of the trees of Greenwood and listening intently to the birds in the boughs.

"...so my father commands, and I must obey him in this," Legolas was saying.

"And yet our own mission is clear, that the Proclamation be delivered by the Heralds of our King and Queen to King Thorin at Erebor," said Cairduin. "We are not bound by Thranduil's commands, as you are, and though we will not gainsay the good king in his own kingdom, we must obey our own."

"And I would not counsel you otherwise," said Legolas. "Yet these circumstances were not anticipated ere you set out."

"What are you talking about?" asked Maddie. "And shouldn't the Heralds have something to say about it?"

"Our pardon, Little Mistress," said Aradhel, bowing gravely. "We sought to learn more ere we advised you. We are charged with your safety and your mission. But we have other charges to keep as well. Though we deemed it light labour, and only a pleasant journey with pleasant company, yon wizard has presented us with a dilemma."

"It will be better, I think, to keep him occupied with these small doings," said Legolas. "If he is still recovering from unimaginable torture, then let him do so among us, with whom he is now familiar. Invite him along."

"Perhaps you are correct, Master Elf," said Cairduin. "But what will Master Wizard have to say, I wonder? And how shall we prevent him from doing as he pleases? Methinks now I do not like his tale. His part was not all sweetness and light, it seems to me."

"I think he's been hurt enough!" said Maddie to the grim ranger. She turned then on her bare heel to the tall green-clad elf. "He needs our help. I think your father is mean not to help him. And the way he treated you, Legolas!"

"He treated me justly," said Legolas, sadly. "I do not know what I was thinking to bring him to the secret places of my father's kingdom as I did. And that gives me cause for concern. Besides, it may be that I was fated to have looked upon Greenwood the last time no matter what decisions or errors I have made along the way. I have seen enough even of Fangorn Forest, the greatest woods of Middle-earth, and there is little that now holds me here."

"There is more to all of this than yon wizard alone," said Aradhel. "There is the other wizard to consider as well. How long has it been since Alatar the Black was also released from captivity? What may he be doing even now? I think that our duty to make certain that King Elessar knows of these matters outweighs our mission to herald the birth of the Heir."

"And I say otherwise," said the elf. "Thranduil, my father, has already sent word on its way to Rivendell, to Gondor, and to Dale and Erebor as you slept, and his messengers will arrive more swiftly than we, whatever our path. If we take Pallando the long way with us, then it will be that much longer that he is kept from harm or from doing harm as you dour men seem to suspect. I will go with Pallando whatever his choice. Let us see if he will come to Erebor with you, and then to Rivendell."

"If Rivendell will have him," muttered Cairduin.

"Well, I hope he does go with us!" said Maddie. "But we still must go to King Thorin, mustn't we?"

"Yes," said Aradhel. "So we must. And for my part, I will be vigilant, but I suspect the wizard of nothing. He was honest, it seems, to have told us of how he called upon a spell of the shadows in his sorcerous duel with Alatar. Surely, if he wished to conceal dark designs, he would have made no mention of such a thing. Is even the mind of a wizard as subtle as that? He did not sound proud of the deed. Though I will watch him with one eye, I shall think no ill of him until he gives cause. So, let us follow the advice of Legolas, by your leave, Heralds of my King and Queen. But it does ease my mind, Legolas, to hear that Thranduil's messengers are on their way. Now, let us ask the wizard his mind, since it is so improved."

Gimli was speaking to the wizard near the warming fire. Pallando was listening with interest as the dwarf told of the increasing fortunes of the Dwarves.

"...aye! Since the fall of the Dragon, the winds of fortune have blown to favour the Dwarves! Even the designs of the Dark Lord did not stem the advance of our industry and prosperity. Our artisans are the greatest in the world, in the entire world mind you! We trade with all the realms of the West and all lands clamor for our goods! If I may say so, my own house has seen great profit in these golden years and though I have spent great wealth in Aglarond, I have greater wealth still in Erebor. But what is the good of wealth, if not to create things of use and beauty in the present, to inspire the future, and to memorialize the past? It has not harmed my fortunes to so spend it!"

"But wealth must also be conserved against days of dearth and destruction," said the wizard. "You cannot eat memorials, nor can fountains defend you against other dragons or other enemies."

"That is true," said the old dwarf, stroking his red and silver beard. "And in right measure, it is prudent indeed. But to hoard the labour of a lifetime against fear is to live without the joy your labour should bring. Eh, Legolas?"

"You speak rightly, Gimli," said Legolas, as the elf drew near.

"This dwarf speaks almost with the tongue of an elf!" Pallando laughed. "Times have indeed changed since I last walked freely in the world. I would dearly love to see this Kingdom under the Mountain."

"How wonderful!" exclaimed Madrigal. "We were just about to ask if you would come with us!"

"Too late!" cried Gimli. "I already have and it is settled! Shall we be off?"

The tall rangers looked at one another but said no word. Soon, the party had their breakfast and made ready for their journey to the Lonely Mountain. The wood elves conducted them to a place in the forest where a couple of rather large rafts awaited them on a small river. They all got aboard, horses, ponies, wagon, hobbits, rangers, dwarf, wizard, and the elves, who polled the flat crafts down the forest river until it joined the Long Lake and they were on their way to Esgaroth.

There is not much to tell of this part of their journey. Elediriel thought on how much more comfortable this was than when Bilbo Baggins had ridden a barrel down the chill waters to Lake Town. The wizard happily chatted with any that would listen or talk with him. He even talked to the birds of the air in their own languages as they flew overhead, so glad he said he was to have any conversation at all, after his long imprisonment. Ellie thought this a little irritating at times, since some of the birds were crows, whose language, though she did not understand it, was obviously not always drawing-room fashion.

They floated past, but not over the ruins of a town, where the elves said that the gigantic bones of the dragon Smaug could be seen amongst the rotten pilings of the old town. A new town had been built on the Long Lake and they made for this. Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, could be seen in the distance and it grew taller and more majestic with each passing day and with every passing league. Before setting out again for Dale, they stayed briefly at the new Lake Town, which it was still called by some, though no one who lived there was old enough to actually remember the old Lake Town. The wood elves stayed with them this whole way, and on a word from Legolas, remained on the northern shores of the lake to await their return.

The weather was now cold and the sky was grey. It looked very much as if it might snow. They proceeded on horse and pony and wagon north to Dale, stopping for a day and a night, graciously received by the King Bain of Dale, who took a keen interest in the hobbits and in the wizard who traveled with them. He warned them not to expect as warm a reception from the Dwarves, who were aware of their coming. He gave them small gifts and promised the undying alliance of the men of Dale with the men of Gondor and Arnor.

The hobbits marveled at the largest city and kingdom of men that they had yet seen. Gimli chuckled that the beautiful buildings and pools and fountains of Dale were largely the plans and constructions of Dwarves, and that to really see something, they must be patient. The next day, thanking King Bain for his hospitality, the party went on its way to Erebor and the Kingdom under the Mountain.

They followed the fast, cold, mountain river from Dale up the narrowing valley to a great carved, cavernous opening at the base of the great mountain. Gimli thought it unusual that there was no traffic upon the road. The snow began to fall in flurries of big flakes. When they arrived at the great opening, they saw that a vast iron portcullis had been lowered across the paths on either side and into the water itself. Before the iron gate stood many dwarves clad in shining helms and gleaming mail, clutching large axes in the iron grips of mailed gauntlets. Their faces were hard and grim.

Among them was another dwarf, whose long beard was gold and silver as Gimli's was red and silver and was plaited and thrust into his belt in the fashion of dwarves girt for war. His helm was tall and golden, though sturdy and built upon a foundation of iron. His eyes were cold and blue and he called out in a loud voice that stopped the party in their tracks and startled a squeal out of poor little Ellie!

"Halt, ye who are come to the Kingdom of Erebor, and state your business!"

Despite the warning of the King of Dale, this was not at all what the party expected, I can tell you! King Thorin II, called Stonehelm for reasons that are legendary among the Dwarves, was, by all accounts, a fine and just king, if a little gruff, as dwarves are apt to be. But not even Gimli thought they would be received in this fashion!

The old dwarf stood forward and bowed low before the mighty dwarf and said, "I am Gimli, son of Gloin, whom Your Majesty knows well. With me is my friend Legolas, son of Thranduil, and Rangers of the West, Aradhel, Cairduin, and Cairdur. And these are hobbits of the Shire, Fingon and Turgon Took, of the line of Peregrin, relations of Bilbo Baggins, whose name is well known to the King under the Mountain. Also I present Madrigal Brandybuck and Elediriel Cotton also of the Shire. These hobbits are here as heralds of King Elessar and Queen Arwen, come to deliver you a proclamation of great joy."

"And this other, whom you carefully fail to name?" demanded the kingly dwarf.

"He is Pallando the Blue, a wizard who after great hardship in the east in long years past, has found his way again to these western lands, and seeks healing and a return to whence he came," answered Gimli. A sudden west wind, especially cold and especially fierce, laden with thick snow, blew hard against the dwarves and the company as Thorin Stonehelm, King under the Mountain, looked upon the old man. At last, he spoke.

"He shall find neither healing here nor ships of elves," said King Thorin. "Nor is my hospitality open to him or to those who travel with him. I liked not the news I received from Thranduil. Once before this kingdom was lost for lack of vigilance. You have grown too trusting, Gimli, son of Gloin. I would not be inhospitable in these easy times, but I will not risk all that has been gained, until this wizard has proven himself through years of deeds and service. Not all who have called themselves wizards have meant well, and a King cannot take chances. The rest of you are welcome here, and more than welcome. But not the wizard. Let him find healing among elves or men, for we are not masters of such arts here. Let him find his way home on the road west, for it does not lie within these gates. Let him forgive us our mistrust, and understand our misgivings, and perhaps in later years find us more hospitable. But let him go."

"I shall go with him," said Legolas.

"And I," said Gimli, hotly.

"Then go with my blessing. And how much more will I bless your return. Without the wizard called Pallando the Blue," said Thorin, King under the Mountain.

The wizard himself then stepped forward. He looked to be only a tired and kindly old man, dressed in a plain blue cloak given him by the wood elves and heavy boots and warm clothes from Dale. The cold wind of the mountain whipped the cloak about his bent frame and the long whitened hair about his noble head.

"Thorin Stonehelm. You are a wise king, and I do not fault you for your suspicions or for your regard for the safety of your realm. Little do you know of me, or of my long struggles against the Enemy of old. To you, I am a relic of a more dangerous age, a memory of dread. And so, like a memory, I shall fade away and trouble you no more. But will you not receive these who have come a long way with glad news?"

Madrigal looked thankfully at the wizard and then stepped forward and curtsied prettily before the dwarven king. His hard visage softened and he nodded his iron and gold-helmed head.

The pretty hobbit girl broke the seal and read aloud the proclamation in her high clear voice and the King under the Mountain took the scroll from her and gravely thanked her.

"Would that I had received you in other circumstances," he said. "There is a special place in the hearts of the dwarves of my kingdom for you hobbits and your land of the Shire. Well did Elessar choose his heralds. I will not have it said that you were sent away from these cold gates with empty hands, and bereft of all hospitality."

He snapped his sturdy fingers in the cold air and four stout dwarves came forward carrying four small but strong boxes, carved of black stone, bound with iron, and inlaid with gold. Each dwarf opened his box so that the hobbits and all there could see the contents within.

"Ooooh, how beautiful," said Elediriel involuntarily. Within the boxes were small mirrors of exceptional quality, with brushes and combs for the girls, and there were small daggers and shining arrowheads for the Twins.

The hobbits thanked the king of the dwarves with many thanks, bowing and promising their service and the service of their families. The gruff old king then smiled and made them promise to return when they could.

The party left, feeling not unkindly to the dwarven king, but still somewhat disappointed. None more so than Gimli, who had looked forward to many a night of feasting and to showing the hobbits the many wonders of the Kingdom under the Mountain. The winds had ceased and the snow fell so lightly as to be scarcely noticeable. The sun peeked down through the clouds, and if she could not warm the cold air of the valley of Dale, then she at least made the day brighter and not as bitter.

I must say that Maddie (and Ellie too, if truth be told) was not at all concerned about the winter weather. She was more than satisfied with the fine mirror she had received, and gazed at her pretty face long in its flawless and captivating reflection. The Tooks, too, were quite happy with the daggers, testing their hard keen edges and marveling at the workmanship. It did cheer the old dwarf somewhat to brag on the craftsmanship and to answer the many questions of the hobbits (who knew full well that Gimli would be all too happy to answer!).

"Those mirrors are made of the hardest stone, polished as smoothly as our craft allows, and painted with a thin coat of silver overlaid with mithril and finely polished again at every step. They are kingly gifts indeed! And those arrowheads are forged of hardest steel, holding inset blades of mithril point and edge. Do not lose them! Do not use them! Save them for greatest need and recover them always!"

Cairduin laughed (for once) and frankly observed that it was perhaps better that things worked out as they had, at the gates of Erebor.

"No doubt Master Dwarf would have kept us there until next winter, boasting of the craftsmanship of generations of his relations!" said the ranger.

"No doubt, Master Ranger!" Gimli laughed in agreement. "But you undervalue dwarven skill! It would take me almost as long to show you and to tell you all there is to see as it did to craft it! And here I thought to hold a grudge against my King! Perhaps he well knew that his kingdom should be seen by these hobbits at greater leisure than you hard rangers would spare!"

"No doubt!" laughed Aradhel.

"Well," said the wizard. "It is a long road from Dale to the land of the Beornings. There shall be time enough perhaps even for our dwarven friend to tell us what we may have seen. I feel badly that you young hobbits were denied sight of the wonders. It is my own fault I fear. I would gladly have waited for you in Dale."

"I think it may be for the best," said Turry. "Now, we have an excuse to come back! Eh, Furry?"

"You are right, brother!" Furry said. "And we shall come back! What about you Maddie? Maddie?"

But Madrigal was still observing herself in the enchanting dwarvish mirror held in one hand, with Cider's reins held lightly in the other.
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Old 12-01-2023, 12:19 PM   #7
Mithadan
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Chapter XIII

FLIGHT BY NIGHT

The days became weeks and the mild winter seemed ready to yield to a kindly spring. Gimli did indeed have opportunity to tell of the fabled Kingdom under the Mountain. The old dwarf spoke with emotion of the vast sculpted halls and chambers carved out of the living rock of the Lonely Mountain. The clever dwarves had opened all the halls and entrances of old, diligently scouring all the dragon stench from them long ago (though some old timers like Gimli, claimed they could still smell it faintly in a place or two). These halls had been extended and gilded and lit with great lamps, illuminated by means known to the Dwarves alone. And still more halls had been carved out of the mountain, delving far below the works of old, and ascending high above them until reaching the mountain's peak. The wizard nodded sagely and his praise of the skill and craftsmanship of the dwarves and the wisdom of their defensive works pleased Gimli mightily.

At times Pallando seemed wise and wizardly indeed, though he had never given any obvious manifestation of magic of any sort. At other times, he still seemed somewhat cracked (as Turry quietly agreed with Ellie), talking to the birds and other creatures, delighting absurdly in the few spring flowers in the flat plains, and otherwise acting in amusing and strange fashions.

"Caw CAW ka-caaw!" Pallando cried at a vulgar crow flying east. Gimli laughed.

"What did he say?" Furry asked, riding alongside the cart on his black pony. Thunder kept pace with Bill, who was pulling the cart. The proud black pony showed off with a fancy step as they went along. Bill nickered to show that he was not much impressed and continued pulling his weight.

"I think he called that crow a buzzard!" laughed the dwarf, happy to show off what little he knew of the language of crows.

"Something like that," the wizard laughed.

The smooth brow of Legolas creased and there was a briefly quizzical look in his eye at Pallando, but the elf said nothing and returned to his reminiscence. The elf would look often at the great forest on their left hand, but he seemed distracted at times, as if thinking of another place entirely.

"Let's find supper!" cried Turry, as Lightning picked up his step and carried the young hobbit ahead of the company. Furry and Thunder followed swiftly, and soon the Twins were lost to sight. Cairduin wordlessly followed behind so that at least one of the rangers would not lose sight of them.

This was, by now, a familiar routine. The Took Twins would set out to find game, one of the rangers would follow them, and the rest would catch up sometime later to make camp. They had reached regions where there were still no settlements of men and where, in the wild, anything might happen.

Around the campfire that night, after as fine a supper as one could make on the trail, the company talked far into the night. Ellie enjoyed listening to the others, and often used these pleasant times to keep up entries in the journal that Queen Arwen had given her. Most every night on the trail, they would laugh and join in songs or stories until someone, usually Gimli, would decide it was time for sleep.

Late that night, for some reason, Elediriel woke. Whether her dreams were troubled, she could not say, but she awoke uneasily.

Only Cairdur stirred in the third watch, for the rangers took watches every night. Ellie could not fall back asleep right away, so she got up and drew near the fire to speak with the young ranger.

Legolas was lying still, his eyes dreamily open and peering into the moonlit sky above. The other hobbits slept easily and peacefully. Gimli was snoring loudly (which the hobbits had grown accustomed to). The wizard dozed, turning restlessly from time to time. The other rangers slept lightly nearby. Ellie noticed that their weapons were unsheathed and lying close to hand. She thought she heard a wolf cry far in the distance, but she hoped it was only her imagination.

"Cairdur, are there many wolves around?" she asked softly and urgently.

"Not close to here, Ellie. And yet not terribly far! We are traversing the northern vale of the Anduin. There are still wolves in this region north of the lands of the Beornings," the young Ranger answered. "They are driven by hunger at times to seek unwary travelers, for men have grown more numerous and the taste of the wolf packs for sheep and other such livestock has increased, but so has the vigilance of the shepherds and farmers. When they can't have mutton, beef, pork, fowl, or even venison, the wolves will prey on what they can. And there are other things that have lived in regions that are not far away. Tomorrow, if the weather is clear, we may actually see where the goblins dwell in Mount Gundabad, far to the northwest. But I am frightening you!"

"N-no," said Ellie untruthfully. "It's just that, well, wolves ARE frightening! Turry and Furry's grandfather, Thain Peregrin, can make a howl just like a wolf, and I thought I heard one just then." The bookish little hobbit girl looked about the moonlit landscape with wide eyes.

"Oh ho! Is that it?" Cairdur laughed quietly. "Well, I shall be vigilant. Fear not! No wolf will take us unaware! Likely enough, if there were any around, they would be afraid of our fire and afraid to attack so many. They are cowardly creatures, and do not like to hunt prey that might fight back. Besides, they are rarely, if ever, reported east of the Anduin, and we shall not cross the river anytime soon. You may rest easy, Little Mistress."

The little hobbit lass smiled at the tall young ranger, and comforted, went back to her blankets, burrowed in, and fell asleep.

***

The next afternoon, after the Twins had ridden ahead with Aradhel following, Ellie, riding behind Madrigal on Cider, pointed out another crow.

"Oh, you're always seeing or hearing something," said Maddie.

"But I think this is the same crow," Ellie insisted. "I'm sure it has been following us."

"Then it's probably bored," said Maddie.

"But what would it want?" Ellie persisted.

Maddie was just about to say something a little sharp, for she was tiring of the long rides in the flat wilderness with nothing but trees on the one hand and barren plains on the other. Though the Misty Mountains drew closer every day, the pretty hobbit thought they could not arrive fast enough to suit her. She also wished, more than once, that Ellie would get back on the wagon to ride, but her timid friend was still not entirely comfortable around the wizard. And she had also noticed, if Ellie had not, that Turry was taking an unusual interest in the bookish hobbit girl. Much as she loved her less noticeable friend, Madrigal was just a little jealous of this! Realizing it, made the Beauty of Buckland a bit irritated with herself and with Elediriel. Knowing this was foolishness was still more irritating! But before her pretty mouth could form words she would have immediately regretted, Maddie heard the light elven voice of Legolas agreeing with the other hobbit girl.

"It is indeed the same crow, and he has been following. I have seen great flocks of birds, following great hosts to war, hoping to dine upon their leavings or their dead. This is one of their sort," said the elf, striding lightly beside the mounted hobbit girls.

"But we aren't riding to any battle," said Maddie.

"We aren't, are we?" asked Ellie.

"Of course not!" snapped Maddie.

"Yon crow does not know that," said Legolas. "But whatever his hopes, he is content to pick at the remains of our camp each morning, and then to find us for another meal the next day. This is the fifth day he has shadowed us this way."

"That doesn't make me feel any better about him," said Ellie. "I don't like him. I think he has more on his mind than a free meal!"

Madrigal rolled her eyes and Legolas did not say more.

***

At last, they rounded the northwest corner of Greenwood the Great and entered the broad valley of the northern course of the River Anduin. Now the landscape was more pleasing to them all. Ellie felt ill at ease, for the following crow had been joined by not a few more.

Still, everyone, even Maddie, was glad of the change of scenery and was looking forward to a speedy ride down the beautiful vale. Camp that evening was more cheerful and even Ellie forgot about the noisy crows that followed them with increasing anticipation.

It was in the second watch of the night that Aradhel urgently awakened the hobbits. The other rangers, Cairduin and his son Cairdur, were alert, with swords drawn. Legolas had strung the great bow given him long ago in Lothlorien. Gimli was bleary-eyed but had his axe gripped tightly in his fist. Turry and Furry were quick to string their bows as well.

"What's going on?" asked Elediriel with a frightened squeak.

"Wolves," answered Legolas. The tall elf had an arrow fitted to the string of his curved bow and looked with keen vision upon the moonlit plain. Ellie stared in the direction the elf looked and thought she saw dark shapes moving toward them.

"I see them," said Furry. "But they don't look like wolves. More like people riding ponies. There are a bunch of them."

"There are two score of them," said the elf, shading his eyes from the moon. "They are wargs of the mountains. They are ridden by orcs. They are followed by many more orcs on foot."

"Let's go!" cried Cairduin. "There's no time to lose!"

They threw their gear quickly onto the wagon without order or care. Poor Bill could not pull the wagon much quicker than he normally did. Clearly, the running wolves, even carrying goblins on their backs, would overtake them all too soon.

"Unhitch that horse and let us hitch our own for greater speed!" cried Cairduin. As fast as he could, Cairdur unhitched Bill and helped hitch the horses of the elder rangers to the wagon. Cairdur then rode Bill bareback, almost in elf fashion, though the young ranger did use the reins. They could leave the orcs that pursued them on foot well behind, but not the goblins on wolves.

"They are still closing the gap, and we lost ground when we stopped," cried Legolas, looking behind. He was running as swiftly as the horses pulling the wagon, but not even the fleet-footed elf could maintain such a pace all night.

"We cannot leave the wagon for we haven't mounts enough for all," Aradhel called back. Cairduin drove the ranger's horses hard and the wagon bumped and rattled alarmingly behind them. The wizard and the dwarf and the baggages were bumped and rattled with it.

Turry and Furry rode even with the wagon. Cider ran ahead with Maddie and Ellie. Turry shouted to Cairduin, "If we can stop the wolves, we can outdistance the goblins on foot!"

"Then let us wait until they draw nearer, so that the orcs afoot will be that much farther behind!" Cairduin shouted back. "Then we shall give them a fight and run again if we can!"

"There are too many of them!" cried Furry.

"There is no time for a better plan!" replied the grim ranger. "You young hobbits will have to ride on while we deal with them. Head south, following the river until you reach the Carrock. Don't stop there! Keep going until you can go no farther and then wait for us. If we do not find you the next day, seek what help you can find among the Beornings and go on to Rivendell without us."

"No!" cried both Turry and Furry together.

"Do not argue!" shouted the ranger, sternly. "Cairdur will ride with you!"

"They are almost upon us," cried Gimli.

Madrigal checked the pace of Cider and was about to join the Twin's protest but the dour ranger cried aloud, "Cairdur!" His son checked the pace of Bill and without a word, but following his father's pointing hand, sharply swatted the hindquarters of the proud pony with the flat of his sword, and then rode after as Cider sprang forward in startlement. Maddie and Ellie were carried swiftly away, with the young ranger following hard on Bill.

But the black ponies Thunder and Lightning were galloping the other way, as the Took Twins circled back. Legolas stopped, turned, and shot high. The great bow of Lorien sang as its missile soared high over the mounted hobbits and pierced the chest of the lead wolf. The orc on its back tumbled to the ground and the rest of the pack ran around them.

It had been many years since a Took had ridden to battle against goblins, in fact it had not happened since before the time of the grandparents of the grandparents of old Thain Peregrin, the grandfather of Furry and Turry. But even the legendary Bullroarer Took would have been mightily proud of his fearless posterity. Well, perhaps it is exaggeration to call Turry and Furry fearless, but what fear they felt they did not show, at least not in front of the wolves and goblins!

There had been no time for the Twins to prepare the Dwarven arrow points for use, but each hobbit had many arrows that they had not lost hunting. Riding to and fro on Thunder and Lightning, Turry and Furry loosed arrow after arrow into the pursuing wolf pack. Some shafts hit goblins and others hit wolves and others missed every target altogether. The Twins found steady shooting in battle a different matter from hunts or games. The fell riders on wolfback yammered and yelled in fury but still they came.

Up ahead, as Maddie was trying to rein in Cider, Cairdur rode past her on Bill, snatching the reigns from her little hands and shouting "HYAH!" Cider, who was already upset, didn't think much of Bill outrunning her and so the steeds ran ever faster and farther from the following wolves and goblins, striving each to outpace the other. Poor Ellie could only cling tightly to Maddie and try not to fall off!

The elder rangers stopped the wagon and quickly unhitched their steeds and remounted. Legolas had already shot the next nearest wolf out from under a goblin rider, sending the orc spilling to the hard ground. Two dozen more of the wolf riders bore down upon them.

The Twins soon loosed every shaft they had, and Legolas shot not a few, but still a dozen wolves each with a goblin on his back were now upon them, and such orcs as were uninjured were following quickly and the greater number on foot was not far enough behind them for anyone's comfort.

There was no time to think of that!

"Fall back behind the wagon!" Aradhel cried to Turry and Furry, who obeyed this time! "Follow the girls! There is nothing more you can do here!"

They looked at one another, but lacking swords themselves, and freshly out of arrows, there was nothing more they could do. Furry thought of Maddie and Ellie, with only the young ranger to protect them and his pleasant face was hard and grim as any ranger's. Turry had tears in his eyes for he thought he looked his last upon the others. The Twins both looked back many a time, but nonetheless goaded Thunder and Lightning to ride hard after Cider and Bill. Ever farther and farther behind them, their friends stood between the fleeing hobbits and the band of goblins.

***

Madrigal was dry eyed until she felt Ellie sobbing behind her on Cider's back. They had ridden far into the night and still maintained a good pace. Cairdur no longer had to hold Cider's reins to make sure the headstrong hobbit followed. Turry and Furry had long since caught up. Now, the moon had finished his course for the night, the sun had not yet cast her golden rays into the dawn, and the darkest hour of their journey was upon them.

Finally, after the girls had had a good cry, and the ponies were beginning to stumble, the sky began to brighten and one by one the stars faded away.

"Did anyone bring anything to eat?" asked Turry, as they stopped at a small brook.

"I think everything is back there with..." Furry began, but couldn't finish his thought.

"Our goods are all in the wagon," said Cairdur. The young ranger had led them grimly through the night, and only allowed a brief halt so that the hobbits and the horses could have some water.

Fortunately, Ellie had some dried fruit in a little bag she carried on her waist. She did not even remember grabbing it. As she shared it all out, she realized that not only was all of their other food and baggage on the wagon, but so was her journal, the one that Queen Arwen had given her for the journey. Thinking of that, only made her the more miserable. Mentioning it made Maddie realize they had also left all the dwarven gifts behind as well. Ellie thought to herself, that she didn't really want to write another word in the journal anyway.

The Twins had at least carried the daggers the dwarves had given them, but the arrowheads were left behind with all else.

"Not that you have time to make shafts for them anyway," said Cairdur. "We must get past the Carrock before nightfall. Then will be time enough for grief and regret."

They ate their scant breakfast silently after that. Ellie thought that she would gladly lose all the treasures of the Kingdom under the Mountain, if only they could see their friends again.

Suddenly, she felt herself in a strong grip and moving fast! She woke to find that Cairdur was hoisting her up behind Maddie, who was already in the saddle on Cider's back. She had fallen asleep in just the few moments she had taken to sit leaning against a tree by the brook as she ate a morsel of dried apples.

They rode through the day, stopping only for water and to briefly rest the horses. The young ranger did not think that the orcs and wolves would pursue them in the daylight and he wanted to take full advantage of that. Furthermore, he was anxious to put the Carrock behind them before nightfall.

Late in the afternoon, they came upon the Carrock, a great stone of immense size, almost a small mountain, thrust into the rushing course of the Anduin. Turry and Furry and Maddie, tired and hungry and grieved as they were, wanted to explore, remembering the history of Bilbo Baggins. But Ellie, perhaps, remembered better, and did NOT want to be there after dark!

"She is right," said Cairdur. "The Beornings are a good people, most of them, but this place is sacred to them, and to the great bears of this region. We will not stay. But neither will the wolves pursue us through this place. Let us be on our way."

And so they continued. Along the way, they came across one of the very men of whom the young ranger spoke. Then the hobbits came to understand exactly what Ellie had feared. He was a big man, the biggest the hobbits had ever seen, taller even than the rangers and his shoulders half again as broad. He was a hairy man and dressed in a rough woven garment. In his gnarly fist he carried a stout staff that looked like a flagpole to Elediriel's eyes. He looked at them with a glowering stare and bid them stop to speak.

"Hold! What have we here? A fine company that travels through our lands. Well be off! You will not like it here after sundown! You may find things more to your liking three leagues south of here." said the burly man.

Turry and Furry were of a mind to protest, but young Cairdur said, "We thank you for your advice, Beorning. Though we would camp where we will, know that this was already our plan, and you would do better to speak more kindly to the stranger in your land."

"It is my land, and I will speak as I please," said the man, his deep powerful voice booming in his chest. "Declare yourself! Who are you and why do you travel here now?"

Surprisingly, before Cairduin had drawn breath to speak, Madrigal spurred Cider forward, with poor Elediriel clutching Maddie tightly around the waist! The pretty hobbit lass, perched on her fine pony, paid no attention to Ellie, but looked up dauntlessly into the big man's eyes (for he was still taller than she was, though she sat atop her mount).

"We are hobbits of the Shire, sent to the Master of the Beornings as heralds of Elessar and Arwen, King and Queen of Gondor and Arnor. My name is Madrigal Brandybuck and this is Elediriel Cotton and here are Turgon and Fingon Took, and this is the Ranger Cairdur. Our traveling companions are lost behind us, the Rangers Aradhel and Cairduin, and Legolas, son of Thranduil the elven king, and Gimli the Renowned, son of Gloin, and the wizard Pallando the Blue! We were ambushed by wolves and goblins! We are weary and hungry and our friends may be dead. Now who are you? A friend of orcs and wargs?"

The big man laughed in her face, but looked upon the lass with a little more respect in his scoffing eye. When his laughter subsided (for his mirth broke forth anew when he looked upon the pretty hobbit's angry countenance) he answered her, "I am Feorn, and I am the Master of this land. You are in the wrong place at the wrong time! Otherwise, you might have found me with more time to waste than I already have. Hasten away, little boy and fearsome little bunnies! Go where I told you and all will be well! There are no goblins or wargs here! You will find food and safety if you ask for it. And if you stay long enough, I will see you again."

Then the big man walked right through them, instead of around them as anyone else might have. The hobbits' ponies docilely (but without fear) stepped aside for him, and Cider even nickered with pleasure as his rough hand casually patted her neck when he passed. He did not say another word, but left them behind him with long ground-eating strides.

"Let's go!" Ellie insisted. And they traveled at least the three leagues Feorn had told them, though it meant they made camp late. But the moon was full when it rose over Greenwood, so there was plenty of light for traveling and for moving about. They came upon a farmhouse, much too small to house them all, and so they asked leave of the old man and woman within if they could make camp. Soon the camp was cheered by a blazing fire and true to Feorn's word, they passed the night safely, and filled their empty bellies with the plain food of the rustic farm (which was most delicious to the hungry hobbits) and they were troubled by nothing more than dreams and sorrows.

Elediriel awoke from a dream of bears dancing in a lumbering circle under the moon by the great Carrock, with an immense bear looking down upon them from its heights. It leapt down among the other bears and led them away, up the river. But Ellie saw no bears about their camp with her waking eyes by the light of the moon.

She looked around and saw the young ranger's head in his hands as he stared into the fire. Fearing she might embarrass Cairdur, she said nothing. Tears started in her own eyes as she thought of how she missed her own late father, not to mention the fresh stabbing loss of Legolas, Gimli, and the rangers. The hobbit girl quietly turned over and wept softly until she fell asleep again.




Chapter XIV

SNARES AND ARROWS

The next day, none of the hobbits were in any mood to continue. They really had no hope that they would see the others again. But they had no desire to continue their journey, either. Besides, they couldn't, for Cairdur had left early, not waiting for breakfast or for the hobbits to wake. Their breakfast was eggs and porridge, provided by Greta and Mark, the old couple who lived in the farmhouse. The hobbits thanked the old couple kindly for the simple food. Ellie noticed that the old folks must have eaten their own breakfast earlier, or perhaps did not eat any breakfast at all.

Afterwards, when she mentioned it to Madrigal, Ellie was surprised at the pretty hobbit's angry response.

"We have no food of our own, no money..." Maddie complained. "We can't even afford to repay these folk for hospitality they can't afford to give! What good was this journey? What good was any of this?" She stomped off to be alone. Ellie felt that this was going to be a miserable day. If they stayed, they would eat the old farmer and his wife out of house and home. If they went on, they might miss any chance of seeing the others again. If there even was such a chance.

Rather than mope around the old farm, Turry and Furry set out to find materials to make some arrows. Turry told Ellie (for she was worried about them leaving) that the word of Feorn was good enough that they would be safe there.

Ellie did not even have her journal, though there was nothing she wanted to write in it anyway. Maddie was no company at all, and made it plain that she didn't want any herself. Ellie thought that perhaps this was the first hardship her friend had ever known and she felt sorry for her. Nevertheless, Ellie herself felt utterly miserable and alone and wished that she had never left her mother's snug little hobbit hole. Adventures were not really much fun, she reflected, even if one lived to tell about them.

This observation, to which her mind often returned, would only set her weeping again, as she thought of how their friends had stayed behind with no hope of escape for themselves, to secure that very hope for the hobbits and the young ranger. What had she done to deserve their sacrifice? Elediriel did not feel like lunch (imagine that for a hobbit!) though she knew her mother would disapprove. She was alone when the old woman came looking for them at noon, and she did not know where the others had gone. She promised to let Greta know if she were hungry. She noticed that the old woman did not seem very upset that no one wanted lunch. It only made Ellie all the more miserable to think of the poverty of the old couple, compared to the fine places she had been and the wonderful things she had seen.

That afternoon, she found Maddie filling pails of water at the well. The buckets were heavy for a little hobbit girl to lift herself from the depth of the well, and Maddie looked thankfully at her friend when Ellie helped her haul it up.

"How do they do this everyday?" Maddie asked. "I don't think I would like living like this."

"It's not so bad," said Ellie. "My Mum and I use smaller buckets than these Big Folk. And I don't think they've have had any livestock or horses or ponies or oxen around here in a long time."

"Ellie..." the pretty hobbit began. She drew a breath and pushed curling waves of brown hair from her face. "Ellie, I'm sorry I've been so cross lately. I've just been thinking of myself. Poor Cairdur. This must be hardest on him. Have you seen him?"

"No," said Ellie. "But he left Bill, so I don't think he meant to go far. Have you seen Turry or Furry?"

"Not all day. I'm sure they'll be back for supper, though." This thought made Maddie upset all over again and hot angry tears streamed down her face. "What are we going to do for these poor people, Ellie? The Brandybucks have plenty of money, but my family is far away. We don't have anything to give them, and they have precious little food left until the harvest. If we stay here waiting... Well, they may go hungry this summer because of us! And what are we waiting for anyway? That nasty Feorn fellow to come back and order us to leave?"

"I don't know, Maddie," said Ellie sadly. Her own eyes were finally dry and she felt so numb that she might never cry another tear for anything. But weep again she did, when she saw her beautiful friend crying her own eyes out. Eventually, their tears ran their course and they said words of comfort to one another that neither really themselves believed. Soon enough, they got back to work and the hobbit girls together made four trips to lug the heavy buckets of water one by one for Cider, Thunder, Lightning, and Bill. The watering trough by the well was old and broken and clearly would hold no water, so the ponies had to be watered from the buckets.

Maddie thought they should wash and refill the buckets and bring them to the farmhouse, and at least do that much for the old couple. Ellie agreed, and by the time they were done, the girls were tired indeed. Old Greta thanked them and then told them that there was really nothing more for them to do, unless they wanted to help chop vegetables for a stew. Of course they were glad to help. Ellie saw that it would be a stew of herbs and carrots and potatoes and beans. She wished there were some meat to put in it, but said nothing.

Maddie was not much help at this, since Greta only had two knives, none too sharp, and the pampered hobbit lass had never done much of this sort of thing. She was glad to help Ellie on the trail, but truthfully, Ellie did much of the work of cooking for the camp, helped often more by the rangers or the Twins than by Maddie. Ellie had learned at her mother's side, and actually started feeling a little better doing the familiar tasks of the kitchen as the old woman talked with the hobbit girls about the homely things of a farm, even a rundown old farm such as she and old Mark tended.

They had moved out there when there was nothing else nearby, indeed, there were now a few farms within a few leagues down the river, and many more the further south one traveled. But Mark and Greta wanted a life out away from the bustle of a growing community. ("And out from under the paw of the Beornings," Mark grumbled.) They had built this little farm some years ago but now only had a little vegetable patch each year and some haphazard fields of untended grain for the chickens. Greta was glad of a little company, though old Mark was not very social and only grunted when spoken to. He didn't seem unkindly, just not very talkative, Ellie decided. Indeed, Greta seemed to be able to speak enough for the two of them.

"Goblins and wolves! Well you are the lucky ones, you are, though you might not think so today," the old woman said. "Pass those here, deary. Thank you. But Master Feorn will check it out. Don't you worry about that. There haven't been any such creatures in these parts for a long time. Bears keep 'em away. We used to keep more livestock here, but it only went to the bears. The Beornings care more about them bears and other animals than people, they do. Finally we decided we wouldn't do no more farming or herding for bears. We would do just enough for ourselves and then the bears wouldn't come around. Now we don't have enough here seemingly to tempt them."

"More to it than that," said Mark, speaking for the first time that day, as far as Ellie could tell.

"Hush," said Greta. "There's no cause to talk of that!"

"The Beornings are skin-changers," he said, and spat in the fire. "You know what that means?"

"Yes," said Ellie. "They change into bears and back."

"That's right," said the old woman, disregarding her admonition to her husband not to tell them. "And they have the same appetites and tempers, seemingly. Now there's Beornings, like Feorn, who are good enough if you don't cross 'em. Then there's others that are as mean as can be. Like some bears. They say if a bear eats too much meat, it gets meaner and more savage. Otherwise, they can be as sweet as honey. Well, as sweet as a bear gets anyway."

"Feorn keeps 'em in line," said Mark. "Well, pretty much. So in the land of the Beornings, you won't find any bacon or chicken or beef, though you can get all the vegetables, honey, milk, cheeses, fruits and breads you could ask for. But don't ask for meat. They try not to let folks have anything to do with it down there. That's one reason why we moved out here. Greta comes from Laketown, and just couldn't stand doing without a little meat once in a while. My folks have lived in this valley for a long time, and we hunted and farmed and never answered to no skin-changers."

"That's as may be," she said. "I just know if we try to grow enough livestock to sell, it goes missing. Maybe there would be meat in the pot tonight for our guests if you had done some hunting this morning."

"That young man said he would bring something. Asked me where there might be game. I told him." And Mark said nothing more for quite a while.

"Might be for the best!" said Greta. "The Beornings don't hold much with hunting or keeping livestock to eat, even out here, though they don't bother with us if we only do a little. I guess they'll let your young man get away with it, as long as there's nothing in the pot when Feorn comes by. Maybe this will be a better meal than I thought. Can your friend hunt?"

Ellie let Maddie do the talking (not that she could have stopped her) and kept her attention on the vegetables she was chopping.

"I'm sure he can do anything like that," said Madrigal. "He's a Ranger of Eriador from the other side of the Misty Mountains."

"A ranger? Now what is that?" asked the old woman.

And so Maddie told her what she knew of the Rangers, the renewed remnant of the Kings of Men, and of their leader, King Elessar and his Queen, Arwen Undomiel, the Half-Elven. Ellie thought her friend made a good story of it, and obviously so did Greta and even Mark. The old couple had not had much news of the outside world, and Ellie was not sure if they even believed the fantastic descriptions Maddie gave of the Queen of Arnor and Gondor, and of the hidden valley of Rivendell.

"Well!" said the old woman finally. "You little people do get around don't you?"

"Not as a rule," said Maddie. "But this is a special occasion. We were sent by the King and Queen to announce to the other kings of the lands that their Heir will be born on Mid-Year's Day."

"And how do they know that? They must have midwives indeed among the elves!" Greta exclaimed.

"I've been trying to figure that out myself," Maddie laughed.

Ellie realized that it was the first laughter she had heard in nearly two days. She managed a little smile and finished chopping her vegetables. The hobbit girls went outside then, not really caring to stay inside the shabby little house while the day was so bright and golden outside.

It was a beautiful afternoon, which the girls could not help but notice, despite their melancholy. Ellie remarked that she wished she could do a little hunting, or at least walk through the fields for a bit. Maddie laughed a little and said, "Have you ever gone hunting?"

"No, and I don't really think I could," Ellie admitted.

"I could, I just don't want to," said Maddie. Ellie must have rolled her eyes because Maddie got a little indignant.

"You don't believe me!" she cried. "Well watch this!" Maddie took a sling from her pocket, found a small stone, pointed at an ant hill that was not terribly nearby, and, as quick as quick, flung the stone directly into the heart of the little hill.

"Goodness!" exclaimed Ellie. "Why haven't you been hunting with Turry and Furry?"

"As I said, I just don't want to. I don't think I could kill anything!" Maddie replied. "Unless I was just starving or something. And what do you do with it after you kill it? Eeeeew! Besides," she smiled, "why make the boys feel any more useless than they are?"

Ellie had to laugh. The girls had not been outside long, before Turry and Furry returned, each carrying a goodly number of long straight sticks. They had also found some feathers and told the girls that they would try to make some arrows that evening, though neither of them had done such a thing before.

Old Mark, who by that time was scratching up some newly sprouted weeds in his garden, overheard this, laid down his hoe, and came over. "I've made a few arrows in my day," he said. "Tisn't hard but you'll not get it right the first time. Let's get a pot of water on to boil and we'll get started." It was the most enthusiasm the girls had seen from the man all that day.

The girls wound up fetching the water, as the Twins built the fire back up. Mark sorted through the wood they had brought, throwing out more than half of it and leaving only a couple of dozen pieces that he thought would make decent shafts for their little bows. He showed them how to soften the wood over the steaming pot of water so that the shafts could be straightened. He left Turry to do this, while he taught Furry how to sharpen the points and harden them in the fire.

"It not as good as your dwarven arrow-points," he said, after Furry described what they had lost. "But this is the old way and will do until you can do better. Only good for small game, and you'll have to get close to it, for they'll not fly far nor fast. Now let's get these shafts fletched."

He put the Twins to work with their sharp dwarven knives, which he greatly admired. They slit the ends of the shafts and inserted the feathers, and bound them tightly with wet leather. "When that dries, it'll pull together and be secure enough. You can try 'em out tomorrow."

As the Took Twins thanked old Mark for his help, and were examining their handiwork and suggesting improvements to one another, Cairdur returned. Tied to a stick he carried on his shoulder were a number of rabbits.

"How wonderful!" Maddie cried. "However did you catch them?"

"I set snares for them in the morning near their burrows once I had found them," the young ranger said, smiling despite himself. "The rest was just waiting."

Dinner that evening was much better than they had hoped for, and was better than the old couple would have had on their own. Ellie no longer felt so badly about the hospitality of the old farmhouse and their ability to pull their weight until it was time to go.

"When are we going?" she blurted out at one point to Cairdur, before she realized that leaving the farmhouse would also mean leaving behind even the illusion of hope for him that his father and their friends still lived. The young man suddenly looked grim again, and resembled dour Cairduin so much that Ellie almost cried to look at him.

"If our hosts do not mind, perhaps you can stay for a few days more," Cairdur said. "Turry and Furry can hunt and learn to set the snares. For myself, I will take Bill and head north again in the morning, to see what I may. If I am not back in four days, then you must head on to Rivendell on your own."

Maddie and Ellie both began to protest. Turry and Furry said nothing, but looked at one another and quietly assessed whether or not they were up to the challenge of getting themselves and the girls back safely on their own. But Cairdur calmly said that he must know what became of the rangers and the others and if he had not returned by then, he would catch them up on the trail.

"Besides," he continued, overruling their protests, "south of here, parts are more inhabited and there is much traffic on the Old Forest Road these days. You may meet other messengers of the King, and sooner or later a ranger will be sent to find you and guide you back to the hidden valley. Now do not argue! Turry and Furry will take care of you."

At this, of course the Took Twins valiantly agreed that they would see the girls safely home and that Cairdur was quite right to find out what had happened to their friends. They stopped short of mentioning his father, and the conversation was over.

The rest of the evening was spent planning their journey alone to Rivendell, if it came to that. Cairdur assured them that he should be able to return in time, but that they must leave soon to have a chance of returning by Mid-Year's Day. They slept again in the open by the fire and the next morning, once again Cairdur was gone, but this time he had taken Bill with him.

Turry and Furry left right after breakfast and returned before supper with only two rabbits, but many more (and better) limbs for making arrow-shafts. Maddie and Ellie spent the day hauling water, grazing the ponies, talking with Greta about Laketown and Dale and all the places of her childhood, and looking North for Cairdur to return.

The next day was spent like the first and boredom mingled with anxiety as they waited for the young ranger to return with what would no doubt be a terrible report. The third day was spent in the same fashion, as was the fourth. The hobbits knew that the very next morning they must leave on their own.

That night, Ellie found it hard to sleep. The moon was no longer full, but was still bright. She no longer heard the cry of wolves, real or dreamt. But tired as she was, she still could find no rest that evening. Maddie was slumbering softly, as were Turry and Furry. The ponies were also still. So she got up from the fireside and walked a little way since that was better than lying restlessly listening to everyone else sleep. When she reached the well, she leaned upon its walls and looked down the shaft. Far below, she could see glimmering in the still water, a single star, reflected from directly above. She looked up as high as she could hold her chin to see the bright star far above and sighed for its solitary beauty, gleaming a pure and radiant blue, though the moon shamed other stars to dimness.

"It's a lovely night," said a voice behind her.

Startled, she whirled around with a gasp, but it was only Turry.

"I'm sorry," he laughed softly. "But I couldn't sleep either. I saw you get up and I followed. I'm sure it's safe enough, but you really shouldn't be alone out here."

"Oh, it's all right," she breathed with relief. "You just scared me a little. I guess I woke you."

"You don't mind a little company?" he asked.

"No. No, not at all," she answered. "The truth is, Maddie and I have talked about almost everything there is to talk about, and I think she's a little tired of me."

Turry chuckled, "Maybe you're a little tired of her."

"Maybe just a little," Ellie admitted. "But this has been hard on her. None of this was supposed to be this way."

"No. It wasn't, was it? But it could have been worse," he said.

"Oh, how could it be any worse than this?" Ellie exclaimed, looking back down into the well. The star twinkled in the dark water.

"Well, we might have been captured by the goblins, like poor old Bilbo and the dwarves in the story," he answered. "I'd rather be killed than enslaved."

"I guess you're right," she said. "But poor Cairdur. He's lost his father!"

"That's hard, isn't it Ellie?" Turry asked her softly.

Surprised that he understood her own loss, for she never spoke of it, she looked up at his handsome face, wreathed by moonlight, and answered him, "Yes. Yes it is hard. I guess I've mainly been crying for Cairdur. And for poor old Gimli and Legolas and the rangers, and even that useless old wizard." Her eyes were bright again with new tears and as one trailed down her cheek, Turry lifted a hand to wipe it gently away.

Ellie never really understood what happened next, but she found herself in the arms of the strong young hobbit, shuddering and sobbing anew as if she had not cried for the last two days already. For his part, Turry did not know what to do really, never having had a lass weeping in his arms before. He held her and stroked her hair and spoke soft words into her ear until her emotion subsided. Still in his arms, she looked up at his face. He was taller and stronger than when they had set out so long ago it seemed. His face, though no older, seemed wiser and more serious. His eyes were deep and dark with that same Took twinkle, but to Ellie at that moment it was as if she looked upon him for the first time.

What came next seemed as natural as a spring rain. Turgon Took bent his head slowly to meet Elediriel Cotton's upturned face and there was no thought in her head to resist him. And surely they would have shared love's first kiss right then and there except for what happened next.

Their quick hobbit ears heard a noise to the north of them on the trail. Ellie quickly stepped away from Furry, suddenly embarrassed at the thought of being seen in such a position. But they were seen, for a booming disrespectful voice was laughing and called out so that it reached their ears, "See yonder! That is why there are so many little bunnies in the land!"

Sure enough, it was Feorn, walking quickly toward them in the moonlight. And wonder of wonders, behind him strode the rangers, Cairduin and Aradhel, and Legolas the elf! Gimli the dwarf and the Pallando the wizard rode in their accustomed places on the wagon, pulled by Bill and driven by Cairdur.
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Old 12-15-2023, 06:56 PM   #8
Mithadan
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Chapter XV

RETURN TO RIVENDELL

Ellie's disappointment (at missing her kiss) and embarrassment (at being caught at it!) were lost in a squeal of unsurpassed joy. The two young hobbits ran up the trail to greet their friends. This noise woke Maddie and Furry as well, and as soon as they were awake enough to realize that Ellie was in no danger, and to see what was happening, they too ran to join the happy meeting.

And a happy meeting it was, overflowing with the joy that is only known by those who are reunited with loved ones feared lost and dead. I must say that there was even a tear (for perhaps the briefest moment) spied by Ellie in the eye of grim Cairduin. Cairdur grinned from ear to ear, for now his own joy was completed in his father's return and in the hobbits' delight.

But they were quite a sight! Both of the rangers were bruised and cut. Gimli's leg was bound with bandages and he had been bleeding. Only Legolas and the wizard seemed more or less unscathed.

Nothing would do but for the entire story to be told to the eager hobbits, who surely could not simply return to sleep, so great was their excitement. As usual, Gimli the Dwarf took the task of telling the tale upon himself, for he never shirked such burdens if he could help it.

"We thought we were done for!" the dwarf began. "There were wolves all about, leaping and howling. I have not wielded my axe in such a way since the great War! I hewed at all that came near on four legs or two and taught them the fear of a dwarf in battle!"

"The way he was swinging that thing, he taught this elf some fear as well!" Legolas laughed.

"Well perhaps I was none too careful, but one must watch one's own head in a melee," the dwarf laughed with him. "But I saw much and I must say that the Rangers deal death with a dour hand. Their long swords flashed together by the full moon light and many a goblin saw his death reflected in those blades that night. Legolas shot every shaft he had and there were none that left the bow of Lorien that did not find their deadly mark.

"But there were so many of them!" cried Ellie, despite herself.

"That is true," the dwarf continued, "the horses of the rangers were slain, and the band of orcs that followed on foot could no longer be outrun. The wolves were dead, as were the goblins that rode them, but then a veritable horde of orcs was upon us! Feorn here might have come to find only our carcasses, for the wolves and the goblins that rode them do their job well enough, though it cost many of them their miserable lives. Knife of elf, swords of men, and axe of dwarf were not enough to fend off such numbers, though if orcs lament their dead, they would have had much to grieve ere we were struck down at the bitter last. Then, our wizard, good old Pallando, recalled at last a spell that they could not resist. He uttered words in a language unknown to me, and everywhere he looked, at each orc that his eyes glanced upon, the spell fell upon them. Suddenly, in full howl and lust for blood, each and every one of the foul number fell to the ground. Pallando's vision swept across the field and each of them fell as wheat to a scythe! And that was that!"

"If I could have remembered the spell sooner, we might have all been saved much grief," said the old wizard modestly. "I planned for us to leave them there. As it is, we came out well enough."

"Well enough," said Aradhel. "Not often does such a small company escape such an onslaught."

"Aye," said Cairduin. "They were rather too well organized, it seemed to me. We searched their bodies, but could find no tokens that might have told where they were from, no clues as to why they were there."

"It still makes no sense to me," said Aradhel. "They came upon us far from their last haunts, unless there be new ones opened all too close. They breed like rats and have even less scruples. Still, it is odd that such a company should come upon us by chance."

"Odd and more than odd," agreed Feorn. "We have pushed them out of these regions, and it has been years since the goblins have shown themselves within a day's run north of the Carrock. We must return to our vigilance of old."

"When Feorn found us," said the dwarf, resuming his story, "I was just beginning to feel well enough to move on. Believe me, I wanted us to leave as soon as possible! Sitting there in the midst of all those orcs sleeping through the day was terrible!

"You searched them while they were asleep?" asked Maddie. "Weren't you afraid they would wake up?"

Feorn laughed, and the rangers did not answer.

Ellie shuddered, "You... you killed them in their sleep?"

"They are vermin," said Feorn. "Had they ever awakened from their little nap, they would have only murdered the next party to pass. I will not share in that guilt."

Ellie was disturbed by this, but had no answer, and so said nothing. She was a rather sensitive hobbit girl, you must remember, and unaccustomed to living tales of blood and violence, much preferring to read about such deeds when committed long ago. She found that she didn't at all enjoy hearing of them first hand. What she would have made of television news, I can't imagine! But Gimli, like most dwarves, had little pity for orcs or goblins, since many of his dear relatives had died at their hands, and he had slain not a few of the evil creatures himself in his day. The Rangers did not relish the idea of killing even wicked orcs in cold blood. Goblin slaying of any sort did not bother Gimli the Dwarf or Feorn the Beorning in the slightest. The old dwarf continued.

"We were sorting out our goods," Gimli said. "Deciding what to take and what to leave, when a great bear and many other bears came lumbering and sniffing at the carnage. I feared that our troubles were not behind us at all. The bears became enraged when they found the orcs alive and they slew them on the ground. I feared that we were next, but when the last goblin was dead so was the fury of the bears. At a call from the great bear, they simply turned away and went loping back to the woods. The great bear was Feorn. Before my eyes, he transformed from a gigantic bear into this shape you see here and it was one of the most amazing sights these old eyes have seen, and they have seen many wondrous things, I can tell you! After the rangers finished examining the slain, Feorn offered to help pull the wagon, seeing that my leg was scratched."

"It was that, or all of us take turns carrying you and such things as you couldn't leave. Seemed easier to me," said the big man.

"We couldn't have done it without you. As it is, we were able to retrieve everything," said Cairduin. "Though I'm afraid our wizard is a little footsore."

"We went along quite a way in this fashion," said Aradhel, "the three of us pulling the wagon with Master Dwarf aboard, and the wizard and the elf on one hand and the other."

"Then someone disobeyed his orders," growled Cairduin. Cairdur only smiled back, for he knew his father's dour jests and was glad to be hearing them again. The rest of the story was obvious, for they hitched Bill back to the wagon and were soon on their way, stopping only briefly and not at all the last day. They were tired and ready to rest and were all sound asleep as soon as the excitement wore off and they found places near the fire.

***

The next day was spent in rest for the weary travelers, and in preparations for the remainder of the journey. Madrigal insisted on giving the old couple a gift of six silver pennies. Old Greta clearly wanted to accept them, but Mark was being stubborn.

"Seems like charity. We weren't charging nothing. This ain't no Laketown bed and breakfast! We done it for hospitality, not for pay!" the old man said.

"See here, old father!" said Maddie. "This is not charity! Well, maybe it is a little. But it was more than hospitality the way you've helped us. Now that was charity! As far as you knew, we had no gifts to give you and you would never have heard from us again. I doubt very much that you will ever come over the Misty Mountains to visit me in Brandy Hall. You owe me a visit! You have given us the gift of your hospitality and so you must receive a gift from us! Until you do, you owe me! So relieve your debt by accepting this gift!"

The proud old man's eyes grew bright with emotion and he smiled a little despite himself, but could only answer with a nod. Perhaps he was unused to feelings of that sort, for he turned away without another word and shut himself in the little cabin.

"Meateater," Feorn growled to himself.

"She bargains as well as a dwarf!" Gimli laughed.

"But have dwarves ever bargained their money away?" Legolas asked. But Gimli only laughed the more. In the end, Maddie, as usual, had her way and gave the money to Greta, who quite gratefully accepted.

"Mark will feel better about having it when we really need it, as I'm sure we will!" the old woman said.

Dawn the morning after saw them early on their way. Feorn went with them some distance and then turned aside from the trail to go his way. The Master of the Beornings was not much interested in Maddie's Proclamation, but received it from her little hand before he left them. The rolling land of the Beornings, in the northern valley of the River Anduin, was surpassingly lovely in the spring. Situated between Greenwood the Great and the Misty Mountains, the lush valley was fairly populated with rustic houses and farmlands.

"It reminds me of home," Elediriel said wistfully. The hobbit lass was more than a little homesick by this time and was tired of the trail and was really missing her dear old mother. The other hobbits agreed that the land of the Beornings very much reminded them of home (but of course Turry and Furry would never admit any homesickness).

If there were time, we could follow our friends down the River Anduin to the Old Forest Road, and then across the Misty Mountains. This might take much telling, but there is really little to be told. Gimli's leg gradually healed, since Maddie and Ellie would not let the old dwarf do anything for himself (which he did not mind a bit). The Rangers remained on foot preferring to replace their horses with other horses trained especially by the rangers, rather than taking on the burden of new horses from among the farms of the Beornings.

Ellie continued to ride with Maddie on Cider. She told no one of what almost happened at the well, and somehow there was never an opportunity for she and Turry to talk alone again. That Tookish twinkle in his eye was still there, but she felt confused, for he never mentioned the incident at the well and did not seem as interested in her as he was in his new passion for arrow making, which he shared with his brother. The Twins were trying very hard to make suitable arrow shafts for the dwarven arrowheads they were given, and would not be satisfied until they had learned to make shafts worthy of the craftsmanship. For his part, Turry was a little embarrassed and even feared he had nearly gone too far, since Ellie never brought up the incident at the well again, and seemed less interested in him than in her journal, which she ardently wrote every day.

In fact, among the things she wrote about, was her growing curiosity about Pallando. There were things in his story that somehow did not make sense to her, but she could never put a finger on the source or the nature of her disquiet and she shared it with no one. And she was also becoming suspicious (of what she knew not), for again the old man had taken to talking to the wildlife, and again there was a crow following them.

But there truly were no goblins left in this part of the Misty Mountains, or at least if there were, they no longer dared waylay travelers on the old Road. As the rangers had said, there was now a fair bit of traffic on the road. There were dwarves going about their business, who never failed to tip their hoods to Gimli. There were merchants taking their wares from where they were plentiful to where they were scarce. And there were other rangers, who routinely patrolled the King's Highways.

West of the Misty Mountains, the Road returned to the green valleys and woods and hills that they all knew. It had been many years, since before the great war, that Legolas or Gimli had traveled there, when long ago they came to Rivendell, met as if by chance with many others to take counsel against the Shadow. Legolas looked forward to seeing again the remnants of the children of the Noldor and his far kindred, the immigrants from Lothlorien who came with Celeborn, once Lord of the Golden Wood and now the Lord of Rivendell. For his part, Gimli also looked forward to returning to Rivendell, if only because it would mean the end of their journey and the end of the annoying crows.

The dark carrion birds no longer amused the old dwarf. "Hark how they laugh at us, as if they know something we do not!" said Gimli, when his anger overboiled one day.

Pallando obligingly shooed them away and they did not follow again so closely, though Ellie thought she saw them high above more than once afterwards.

They camped alone less frequently and perhaps this contributed to the lack of opportunities for Turry and Ellie to speak privately with one another, though Ellie felt that the dashing Took lad could have made a greater effort. It is only fair to say that Turry thought Ellie was withdrawn and the young Took took this as a mute rejection of his unspoken feelings.

But the longings and misunderstandings of tweenaged hobbits were soon by them forgotten, if only for a time, as the company approached the hidden valley of the Elves. The ambush in the land of the Beornings, and their slow journey back to Rivendell, had delayed them so long that the much anticipated Mid-Year's Day was the very day they returned to the sight of the Last Homely House. This necessitated some rather long days of walking and riding after the Road left the Misty Mountains, for Cairduin and Aradhel insisted on this to arrive on time. Even so, it was late in the afternoon when they were led to the hidden paths and down into the valley.

As they crossed the narrow bridge over the rushing Bruinen, leaving finally their wagon behind, bells began to ring and voices began to sing, for Eldarion was born, the Heir of Elendil, son of King Elessar Telcontar and Queen Arwen Undomiel. This is something like the songs they sang, though not as lovely or as meaningful by far.

Ring, ring, O ring our every bell
throughout the vale of Rivendell!
Raise your voices high and sing
in gladness for the Queen and King!

Bless their son so elven fair,
the noble prince, Elendil's Heir!
May he remember Westernesse
and not forsake old Elvenesse.

His mind be wise, his hand be strong,
his heart be kind, his reign be long!
May the White Tree ever grow
so everyone who sees will know
the Valar blessed this Mid-Year's Day
so Men might never lose their way!

From Fornost to Ithilien,
let all the folk have joy for him,
the noblest son of Elf and Man
all praises for Eldarion!


All Rivendell was as full of joy as it had ever been at the moment of this blessed event. Nearly all the elves and elf maidens and men and women of the hidden valley, gathered together in a great throng and how they cheered when the King came out into the golden sun gleaming upon a great balcony of the Last Homely House! But the joyous sound was little compared to the thunderous outcry of voices fair when the beautiful Queen stepped out to join him, cradling the baby Heir in her slender arms.




Chapter XVI

A LITTLE SLEEP

The celebration lasted long, indeed, throughout the night, as might be imagined! The kin of Aragorn, King Elessar, had long looked forward to that day, and it may be said that the elves of Rivendell also had joy of the event. This was most true for the near kin of Arwen Undomiel.

Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond, brothers of Queen Arwen, were returned to Rivendell for the birth of their mortal nephew. They loved their sister, and though they had taken the immortal choice of Elvenesse given to the Half-Elven, Arwen Undomiel, in whom it was said the likeness of the most beautiful child of Elves could be seen, like Luthien Tinuviel before her, had chosen instead the mortal path of Men so that she might marry Aragorn. Her brothers were thus keen to share all that they could of these precious days, for they loved Arwen and Aragorn, and knew that their time together in Middle-earth would be all too fleeting, before the Gift of Eru was given unto the King and Queen. Death was a sacred gift to Men, so the Elves believed, for they themselves would last somehow until all that was made was remade. Soon or late, life became a great weariness for Elves on Middle-earth (as Legolas was feeling). One day, the sons of Elrond would grow weary of the domain of Men, and seek Elvenhome and the company of Elrond their father and Celebrian their mother.

That day, though inevitable and never long forgotten, seemed yet long in coming. The foreshadow it cast deepened the unstained memory they would carry in living thought on that day when they fled the rounded confines of the world in hallowed ship and sailed the Straight Way beyond the ken of mortal men. Celeborn, Lord of Rivendell, the grandsire of Arwen and her brothers, would also make that journey one day. He keenly shared this moment with his near kin as well, not only for his own love of Arwen, but so that Galadriel, his wife, once the Lady of the Golden Wood, and his daughter, the tragic Celebrian, could also share his own experience of the unutterable joy of seeing the living destiny of their great sacrifices born on that day.

So it was that the birth of Eldarion was more to them than a reminder of the regrets of the elves. Those who studied the Lore of the Wise, and some few others who walked the green fields of that time, knew that the Elves had lost in the great War of the Ring all hope of immortal peace and contentment for themselves in Middle-earth. Eldarion was a token of the hand of the Sacred upon all their lives. The child seemed to the Elves to be a living promise of the inevitable redemption of their tears in the grand Destiny which all who held to the True would share in that day when all tales have been told and all songs have been sung.

But, since this tale is not yet all told and since these songs are not yet all sung, let us return our attention to the story at hand!

Elediriel could not remember ever having been happier than that day and that night. The joy of the elves, greater and lesser, and the joy of the Dunedain, kindred of the King, was more than she had ever anticipated! Gimli retired early, being an old dwarf and weary despite his excitement. Of course he extracted a promise that he would be told of all he missed. But Ellie and the other tweenaged hobbits, who did not mind staying up late (and sleeping later!), laughed and tried to sing and dance with the elves as well as they could and as late as they could!

Actually, it was Maddie and the Took Twins who did the singing and dancing, as did old Master Meriadoc and Thain Peregrin (who had stayed in Rivendell and had in all but name left their duties to their sons). This was a great delight to the elves and others who watched, for in truth, Madrigal was a very good dancer and even the elves thought so. She danced with any and all, her grandfather Merry and old Pippin, too, as well as Turry and Furry of course, and many a young elf child and ancient elven Lord.

Ellie moved from place to place with the biggest grin spread across her little face, jotting down her impressions as quickly as she could in her fair and practiced script. To her, this was the finest time of their whole adventure and she never wanted to forget it! There was really little danger of this, as she discovered, for Elvish songs (when sung by Elves at any rate) have a tendency to remain in the memory long and to be understood even by folk who had never heard an Elvish word in their lives.

All of the courtyards and fields and woods about the Last Homely House were alive with music and laughter and Ellie wanted to see as much of it as possible. And perhaps that is why she was in the right place at the right time to see a very important event, and this was a good thing, as you will see.

The rangers Aradhel, Cairduin and young Cairdur were to report directly to the King as soon as he had leisure to see them. As wonderful and as important as was the birth of the Heir of Elendil, the discovery and recovery of Pallando the Blue was no small matter. There would be time enough the next day for the King and Queen to officially receive their Heralds. But the fact that Alatar the Black was at large was known to King Elessar, who had heard of this weeks before from the messengers of King Thranduil (as you no doubt remember). The King wanted to question Pallando himself, for this was troubling news. Before returning to his northern realm of Arnor, King Elessar had spent many years in the scouring of Ithilien, the disarming of his enemies, and an uneasy peace with the Easterlings and Southrons. A wizard fallen into darkness could undo much good and work great harm if not soon brought to heel! It was also hoped that the hands of the King could bring healing to the troubled mind of the wizard, relieving him somewhat of the tortured burden of an age of frozen transfixion. So it was that Elediriel was present to see the rangers and the old man summoned to the King's private chambers.

Now, perhaps some would argue that it was wrong for Ellie to follow, and perhaps she even felt so herself, for she was greatly curious to see what would happen but did not want to be seen seeing or heard hearing. The little hobbit had never quite gotten over her feelings about the wizard so she followed and took care that she was not noticed in the crowds about the great House when she crept inside. Nor was she noticed as she took more than hobbit's care to quietly pad along on her small bare feet after the tall rangers escorting the old man to the chambers of the King and Queen, set aside by Lord Celeborn for the Queen's comfort while he reveled with his folk. It is a mark of the extraordinary events of the day that as many fair folk as thronged in joyous celebration without the walls, there were few enough within, as befitted the peace any mother and newborn child would need.

And perhaps some would further argue that it was a mistake for the King to see the wizard in this fashion, even on such an unprecedented day as this, even in the hidden valley of Rivendell, even in the Last Homely House, where the King was raised in his youth and where Arwen Undomiel for twenty centuries and longer had dwelt in freedom from all harm and fear. Some keenly suspicious folk, from the comfort of their easy chairs in the days of the long after, might complain that there should have been precautions against what happened next. But alas! even great Kings and wise Queens and tested Rangers can make mistakes. Perhaps even the most suspicious of folk could forgive them a certain easy familiarity and lack of vigilance in such a place on such a day. Let such folk be certain that no one faulted the King more than the King himself for the disaster that befell them!

Elediriel listened unobserved from the hall to the voices that drifted out of the chambers, guiltily hoping that no one would walk by and see her hidden behind a great urn that held some of the living greenery so delightful to the elves within their homes. As she sank down with her back to the wall and strained her quick ears to hear what she could, she thought of how she would never have even thought to dare such a thing before the hobbits' adventure began!

"This is the wizard Pallando the Blue," said the voice of Aradhel. "He has come with us here having saved us from certain death or worse on the road. He seeks healing and bears a warning."

"Please forgive us that we have not seen you sooner," came the voice of King Elessar. Elediriel could hear the sound of rich fabrics rustling with the sound of a man standing to his feet. "You do us great honor to come here and we thank you for all your service in the age before the fall of Sauron. My rangers have reported that you saved my heralds and friends from some remnant of our enemies in the north. Whatever aid I can give you in Arnor or Gondor is yours."

"Yes," rose the clear voice of Queen Arwen. "We bid you welcome and hope that you will linger here and find healing and gratitude in Rivendell, though we knew little of you and your doings against the Shadow. Yet we thank you and offer you our love."

Now this seemed overly gracious to Elediriel, who you must remember had ridden many leagues in the company of the old man and had grown weary of his strange antics. She had also seen the wariness of King Thranduil and the refusal of King Thorin. But the rangers had shown him great respect, especially after his help against the orcs and wargs, and she thought again on how he had suffered for opposing the will of the Dark Lord through horror and darkness. Hearing the Queen, she wished she had not been so suspicious of the old fellow.

"I thank you," came the aged voice of Pallando. "Though I do not deserve such honors. I'm afraid that I intrude into a happy hour with unhappy tidings. Alatar the Black, traitor to us all, is at large. I worry that he may be near."

"We will come to that in due time," said the king in a kindly voice. "I do not know if there is enough virtue of healing in me to give you ease from the memory of your torment, for my ears have heard repeated the tale you told to Thranduil, and I cannot imagine your suffering. Would that Elrond were still here in Rivendell! But come, I will do what little I may."

The little hobbit's sensitive ears heard the sound of movement and of shod feet on the floors of the chambers. She heard the sweet sound of a happy newborn, undoubtedly in the arms of the queen. Then came again the voice of the king.

"I will place my hands upon your head, old father, and if you will close your eyes, we shall see..." but if the noble King had aught else to say, Elediriel never learned, for a confusion of noises came to her in the hall. This is what happened next in the royal chambers, and Ellie only learned the details much later, for in her rising fear she did not dare to peek around the entrance way to look.

The old man sat where the king had indicated and waited until the healing hands were upon his snow-maned head. Aragorn looked down, but the wizard did not close his eyes. Instead, Pallando looked up into the kindly eyes of the king with malice and hidden intent. Too late, Aragorn realized his mistake and his strong right hand moved like lightning to his belt, but the sword Anduril was not there, set aside in this time of peace and gladness. Too late, the queen looked up from her couch in dismay, sharing the sudden realization of her husband and king. Too late, the three rangers saw the reaction of their king, and reached for their own weapons hanging from their belts.

The wizard stood like a mountain thrust suddenly to the sky in the primordial torments of the world marred by the first tumults of the Valar. Aragorn was sent crashing head first with terrible force against the wall and slid to the floor unmoving. The infant began to cry wildly. Then came an incantation in a sepulchral voice that Elediriel only wished she could forget in later years.

"The waking world be filled with dread
and where you fall will be your bed.
Sleep like death, be still as stone
and dream the dreams of rotting bone.
The black breath blows on all in sight
and all will sleep through day till night.
A final day will one day come
and then unending night of doom!"


The terrified little hobbit girl heard Queen Arwen cry out and then heard the sounds of swords falling from relaxed hands and of bodies collapsing to the floor. Elediriel cowered behind the massive urn and its foliage, neither daring to move nor knowing what to do. Before many frightened heartbeats had passed (which the poor hobbit lass hoped the wizard could not hear for her heart was indeed pounding as if to burst), the wizard stepped from the entrance into the corridor bearing a silent bundle. She felt a cold stir of chilling air and heard a cold wind blowing about him as if from an unimaginable distance and her mind almost froze in horror of the unnamable and unknowable powers that wreathed the old man in answer to his dark summons. She shivered in her hiding place but uttered no sound and dared not even think a thought! The wizard passed her by and continued down the hall.

Someone must have heard some of the noise, for a few of the Queen's handmaidens came into the corridor from the other end. The wizard turned and just looked upon them with a black glare and they fell as if in a faint to the floor. He turned again and continued his slow walk out of the Last Homely House.

Her mind felt free again, and Ellie dashed from her place of hiding, leapt over the sleeping maidens and scurried into the chambers of the King and Queen. To her dismay, she saw Aragorn crumpled against the wall with blood flowing from his grey head. The rangers were lying on the floor their swords fallen from their hands and Arwen was fallen back upon her couch in a swoon. The baby, Eldarion, was nowhere to be seen. The evil wizard had taken him!

The eyes of the hobbit lass were round and wide and her head reeled as she tried to take it all in! What could she do? She ran to the side of the king and struggled with all her might to move the tall man away from the wall. He began to stir. The blood made the wound look worse than it was, which was bad enough.

"What happened?" he asked weakly, even as he tried to open his eyes against the searing pain of his head.

"The wizard has taken the baby!" Ellie cried out, and this set her to shaking and weeping. Even so, she wrapped a cloth from the nearby table around his head and tried to give him a drink from a small flask she also found there.

Aragorn vainly tried to stand but could not keep his feet. He fell and bowled over the little hobbit girl as she just prevented him from cracking his head again hard against the floor.

"Find help... follow... follow..." he urged with the last of his will, through teeth clenched in pain, and then said nothing more. Ellie gently laid his noble head down and drew a deep and ragged breath.

It has been said that there is something fiercely courageous in even the most timid hobbit and perhaps that was proven this day, for Elediriel Cotton was among the most easily startled and frightened creatures that ever walked on two feet! It would be false to say that she took no thought of herself, for she was indeed deathly afraid. But she stood in that moment, dried her tears, and quick as quick, grabbed the flask and some fruit and bread (showing the rare sensibility of a hobbit), threw them in the little bag that she carried with her everywhere, and ran as fast as ever she could run and as quietly and as carefully as ever she could go, in pursuit of the wicked old man and the precious stolen baby.

Ellie stopped short of the door to the great entrance hall and cautiously peeped in. The wizard was not there, but several rangers and several more elves were sprawled on the polished floor with weapons fallen by their sides. "They must have been coming to help!" she thought. Then she sped through the hall and looked out the great entrance into the first courtyard.

When she had walked in through the courtyard, following the rangers and the wizard, the area was filled with many folk laughing and singing and making merry in the evening under the moon. But now, there was only the sound of the slightest breeze in the musical chimes of the house and in the trees round about it. The air seemed chill for a Mid-Year's evening. The only movement was the crackling of fires and torches and the shadows they cast upon the sleeping folk fallen wherever they danced or played or walked or stood or sat. Elediriel saw fallen in one place Lord Celeborn and the brothers of Queen Arwen. With them slept Legolas, and then Ellie suddenly realized that she had never seen Legolas sleep in the fashion of Men, and that, indeed, all the elves were sleeping with closed eyes and no awareness at all. All lay in an eerie, silent, unnatural slumber as if struck dead.

Seeing nothing moving and no wizard about, Ellie ran across the courtyard to the great open gates and looked out. Here were still more of the great throng in the green pavillions beyond the outer walls of the Last Homely House. Just as in the halls and courtyards of the great dwelling of the Lord of Rivendell, here, too, were Elves and Dunedain alike toppled all about as if life had suddenly been snatched from them all.

Still, neither the wizard nor any conscious person was within her sight. She did not know which way to turn and looked frantically about for a clue to the direction he had taken. Then Ellie saw where the hobbits all lay near a fire not far from the gate. Not knowing at the moment what else to do, she ran over to them. Madrigal lay on her back, fallen over Furry, who lay awkwardly on his side. Master Merry still grasped a skin of fine wine that lay across his fat stomach. Turry was propped up against his grandfather, old Thain Pippin, and they sat slumped back to back with heads lolled forward. Elediriel looked at him sleeping there and wished he were awake to help! Turry would know what to do! As they slept in that position, Ellie could see how much he and his twin brother resembled the old Thain. They even dressed somewhat alike, except for Pippin's grey cloak. The grey cloak!

Ellie pushed and pulled at the old hobbit to remove the cloak for it was one of the cloaks given to the Fellowship of the Ring, woven with the arts of the High Elves by the maidens of Galadriel in the Golden Wood so long ago. These garments had virtue to disguise and hide the wearer as if a part of the hue of field or forest, rock or stone. It would not make you invisible, but it could help conceal you in such places. Turry fell with his face on his knees as she jerked and tugged to get the cloak. The slumbering Thain fell likewise.

"Sorry! But Master Brandybuck is too large for me to move! I'll try to bring it back!" she said. She wrapped the elven cloak about herself and stood but was still no nearer to the wizard. Ellie could not decide whether to take the path that led up the river, or back down to the bridge and out the way they came.

"Think Ellie! Think!" she said to herself. "Which way would a wicked wizard go? He hasn't had time to look around... But he knows there are elves watching in the woods the way we came! But there are bound to be even more people living up the valley! He's got to get out the same way we got in!"

And with that she was off again, running along noiselessly and listening and watching so that she would not come upon the wizard before she knew it, and ruin everything.

***

Gimli the Renowned was restless. At first, even as tired as the ageing dwarf was, he just knew he would have trouble falling asleep, what with all the joyous clamour of the valley and especially around the Last Homely House. There was music ringing and voices singing and much laughter and shouting and he may have been the only soul in Rivendell who sought rest so early. The great and happy day was being celebrated far into the evening. As fond as he was of Legolas, and as appreciative as he had become of Elven folk and their ways, this was all a little much for a weary old dwarf at the end of a long and exciting day, capping off a long and exciting journey. He grumbled that no baby, not even the son of Aragorn was worth this much fuss!

The thought made him chuckle to himself. How could he even think such a thing? He was happier for Aragorn and Arwen than he had been over the birth of all his nephews combined! But still he had to sleep! Actually, the grumpy old dwarf was dozing off almost as soon as his head hit the soft pillow in the wonderfully comfortable bed in the cozy room provided him in the Last Homely House. He slept as peacefully as only a dwarf could when resting from a good productive day. Had Gimli known the amusement his snoring gave to the few elves who walked past his door or the many who frolicked past his window, he might have forgotten some of his tolerance for their gaiety! Nevertheless, when the noise of all the revelry stopped, it disquieted the sleeping dwarf. First it seemed to his dozing mind that the noise nearby was stilled, and that was good of the merry folk. They did have some compassion for a poor old dwarf! He smiled in his red and silver beard. Then gradually, all noises of celebration stopped, even from farther away. Then, finally, all was silent.

Many minutes passed and then many more. Gimli's smile grew more peaceful as it seemed to him that it was as quiet now as his stone chambers in the Kingdom under the Mountain. Now that was the way to get some real rest, when things were utterly quiet! As silent as the tomb of Thorin Oakenshield... A chill air wafted through the open window.

Suddenly, the dwarf sat bolt upright in the soft bed and cried, "Elves do not keep such silence! Something is wrong!"

***

It was just as Ellie had both hoped and feared. Across the narrow bridge over the rushing Bruinen she lightly ran, and saw on the other side a man and woman sleeping there, entwined in one another's arms. From here they had enjoyed the company of one another, looking upon the Last Homely House from afar and the twinkling pavilions of the folk of Rivendell under the twinkling pavilions of the stars above. Above the river noise, perhaps they did not notice the sudden stilling of the joyous throngs. Too late did they see the wizard, whose dark glance sent them slumbering with the rest.

Ellie ran along the trail and up the wooded slopes, pausing at every turn, and rushing forward to the next. The trail became steep as it switched to and fro up the valley's riven wall. She hoped that the elves who ever guarded the approaches to the hidden valley had been alert for someone leaving!

Perhaps they had been alert, but they were clearly unsuspecting such treachery, for she found them fallen in the path, two were here, and further up, two were there. Three more she found beyond the summit, on the trail above the sudden valley where twice before she had entered the enchanted vale.

How far ahead was the wizard now? Ellie had no idea, but redoubled her caution as the woods grew less thickly and there was greater chance for even a quiet little hobbit girl to be noticed. Then she saw him!

He still held the silent bundle in his arms. Elediriel saw him looking to the sky, this way and that. She dropped to the ground just in time, and whether because of her frightened caution, or the virtue of the grey elven cloak, the wizard did not see her! Her heart was in her throat, but she watched as the old man turned off the trail and began striding in a northward direction.

What was she to do! She had to follow! But who would follow her?

This presented a great quandary for Elediriel Cotton and her head turned over one idea after another. She could not turn back. She could not leave word for there was no time to stop, get out pen and ink, and write a note. She knew she was no ranger and could easily lose him in the woods away from the trail! She was alone and there was no help at hand. She thought of the rangers, keen on the hunt, following after. Long ago, old Pippin had left some clues when in a tight spot, dropping a golden brooch from Lothlorien. What could she leave?

Not the food and not the flask. She saw that she might need these indeed now and blessed whatever made her think to grab them. The only other thing in her bag was her dwarven gifts and her journal.

It is hard to say which was more precious to her. For you, I daresay the choice would be easy, but not for little Ellie, who did not care much in general for such things as combs and brushes and mirrors, though she dearly loved the costly gifts of King Thorin. But the Journal had been given her by Queen Arwen, and could she ever replace the precious notes and poems and prose she had written therein?

Of course, her answer was obvious. She quickly pulled loose the binding cord so that the pages were loose and could be pulled out almost noiselessly from her bag. She placed the last page under a rock. Following the wizard, she placed another one just to the north and in sight of the trail. Now she had a plan, and would follow the wizard, leaving these pages behind as often as she dared and hoping this would be enough to help the rangers find them! First the blank ones, and then the most recent, and then the covers, and then the gifts of the dwarves if they hadn't found her by then. As she worked through these thoughts, Ellie was already moving through the woods as quietly as a cautious hobbit could as far behind the wizard as she dared to follow (which was closer than she liked!).

Through the night, until the moon had set, she kept the wizard within sight, and left her pages behind to mark the way behind her, especially if there were some change in his direction. But for the most part, he made his way ever to the north. Perhaps Ellie's timidity served her well, for though the suspicious old man would turn about at times to make sure he was not followed, the little hobbit girl always dropped to the ground, or whirled behind a tree, or dove under a bush, and was concealed by the grey cloak and the shadows under the moon. Sometimes she hid herself when the wizard was only stopping to look into the sky.

Her hopes began to rise as she followed along. This was easier than she thought! But she did not grow too confident, being a very sensible girl, not to mention horribly frightened for the little baby (and for herself). But as soon as she thought that perhaps her plan would work, and help would surely follow if only she continued in this way, a most horrible and unexpected thing happened. It was not the first horrible and unexpected event she witnessed, and it was not the last. But it was the most dismaying thing Elediriel ever knew in her long life and was swiftly followed by the most exciting.

The wizard stopped in a high and open place that overlooked the valley. Many hours had passed since they had left the Last Homely House and the vale of Rivendell. But here in this open place he waited, pacing to and fro. Ellie watched from her latest hiding place and wondered what he could be waiting for. She soon found out. When the moon at last had fully set, and before the light of dawn chased the night from the sky, a great dark shape swooped down from above and landed in the clearing. It was a gigantic vulture, the biggest the little hobbit had ever seen! The wizard held the still and silent baby in one arm and climbed upon the back of the loathsome bird and was carried away on its flapping wings.

The hobbit lass could do nothing but watch in growing despair. She ran out into the clearing and stared after the swiftly receding carrion fowl with the wicked wizard perched between its hideous outstretched wings. Her eyes were blurred with tears and she wailed in overwhelming grief, crying aloud in her anger and dismay.

Imagine if you can, her shock and surprise to find herself suddenly gripped tight in sharp talons and carried aloft with great speed to a dizzying height over the deep cloven valley!

Elediriel gasped in her startlement and then squealed in her fright! How her little legs kicked! The eagle said to her, "Be quiet and do not thrash about, little girl, lest you fall. Now tell me whom we chase!"
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Old 01-12-2024, 09:02 AM   #9
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
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Chapter XVII

LAND AND SKY

The old dwarf clad himself, grabbed his battle-axe, and left his room. There was no one in the corridor so Gimli stumped out to find someone. In the hall beyond, near the windows and the doors, he found elves and men and women lying prone or face first on the floor. He thought at first they all lay dead but he found they were only sleeping. It reminded him immediately of the goblins and wolves that Pallando had laid low with a muttered spell.

"Did he do this?" Gimli asked himself. "Why?"

But there was no answer in the hall. He carefully stepped over the sleeping folk and out into the courtyard. Here he saw the same shocking scene that Elediriel had seen when she fearfully followed in the wizard's treacherous steps. His eyes were opened wide, taking in the eerie view with a growing sense of dread and fear. Nearby lay Legolas and others of the most noble elves, Celeborn, Elladan and Elrohir. He tried to wake his friend, but found that the wood elf was sleeping as he never had before, and could not be aroused.

"Uncanny!" whispered the old dwarf. His fear began to give way to anger, and he strode away on his stout legs to find King Strider.

Eventually he did find the king, lying quietly where Ellie had left him. He saw the bloody bandage on his grey head and how he was carefully laid, as if to rest. Tears started in Gimli's old eyes.

"Aragorn!" he cried and hurried to the side of the fallen king over the prostrate bodies of his traveling companions, the rangers Aradhel, Cairduin, and Cairdur.

"Aragorn! Speak to me!" the dwarf pleaded, piteously taking the hand of his old friend in his sturdy grasp. The hand was warm and the dwarf laughed in his great relief and his freely flowing tears dropped on the noble kingly face. Aragorn's eyes fluttered open.

"Gimli," he said. "Help me to my feet."

Gimli was not so very old as dwarves reckoned such things and was still as strong as many a dwarf in his prime, and they can be quite strong indeed. He easily lifted the king to first a sitting position, and then helped him to stand to his uneasy feet so that Aragorn was able to lean back against the table.

"What has happened?" cried the dwarf. "Did the wizard do this?"

"Yes," said the king, weak though grim. "He has taken Eldarion. I think Elediriel follows. What have you seen?"

"All of Rivendell is sleeping!" exclaimed the dwarf. "I cannot believe that Pallando would do such a thing!"

"Perhaps his entire story was a lie. Or perhaps the wizard was not Pallando the Blue," said the old ranger, holding his head with both hands. "Perhaps he was, himself, Alatar the Black. I felt perhaps that this was so the instant I laid hands upon him, thinking to bring healing. Why did I not heed the advice of Thranduil or follow the example of Thorin? I am a fool!"

"Say not so!" replied the dwarf. "We were all fooled, especially after his aid against the orcs and wolves."

"Who he likely enough brought down upon you himself for the purpose of fooling us all," said Aragorn. "Is no one left awake?"

"No one," said Gimli. "I only woke myself a few minutes ago. I had wished for all the elvish racket to stop, but when it did, I woke from my bed."

"And I was knocked unconscious before he cast his spell," the king observed. "Perhaps there are others who are only sleeping a natural sleep. Let us go forth and see."

"Can you walk?" asked the dwarf.

"I must," said the king. And with that, Aragorn pushed himself forward and walked over to his Queen. She lay there upon her couch, where she had rested with the baby in her arms so securely such a little time ago. Her bosom rose and fell only slightly, or else Gimli might have thought her slain. Her arms were extended and her hand still clutched a small blanket such as might wrap a baby.

"Arwen, forgive me. I have failed us all. But if I cannot right this wrong, I will avenge it!" He turned then and the old dwarf saw the countenance of the king was grim and hard. Aragorn took Anduril in its scabbard down from its place of honour, bound the legendary sword to his belt, and strode out on his long legs so swiftly that Gimli had to hurry to keep up.

In the courtyard, the king did not stop in an attempt to wake anyone, but instead seemed more to be listening than looking. He well knew that any elf that slept so was under the wizard's spell. "Gimli, have you seen the hobbits anywhere?"

"I have not. They are worthy, but of what help can they be?" asked the dwarf.

"I will know if there is something to learn when I find the hobbits, for if Elediriel saw them, she surely stopped and may have left some sign," said Aragorn. "Let us look yonder."

The old dwarf saw beyond the open gate many more fallen folk. They picked their way through the slumbering throng and on the other side, near a low burning fire, as the Moon began to set, Gimli spied the hobbits as Ellie had left them. Aragorn leaned against the outer wall of the Last Homely House as Gimli gently moved old Pippin and young Turry from the awkward positions of their unnatural slumber.

"Well here they are, caught like everyone else," said the dwarf. "Just as I thought."

"But hark! Unlike everyone else, Master Merry snores," said the old ranger.

Sure enough, the fat old hobbit was gently snoring off some of the wine that had made its way from the bag in his little fist into his massive belly. Gimli saw that it was the third such wineskin he had worked upon, for two others lay slack nearby.

"Wake him," said the king.

The dwarf shook the old hobbit, gently at first, and then with more vigour when Merry tried to push him off.

"Wake up, Master Holdwine! Awake!" cried Gimli.

Merry looked up blearily at him, "Oh it's you Gimli, and Strider. I seem to have dozed off! Not as young as I used to be, I'm afraid, and..."

The hobbit sat up and looked around him and was speechless. Gimli told his old friend what had passed.

"Did you see Elediriel?" Aragorn asked urgently.

"No. No, I didn't! Curse this wine! Why did I drink so much!" wailed the old hobbit.

"No time for that," said Aragorn, tersely. "Listen to me. This is important. I see that you wear the cloak of Lorien. Did Pippin also? Did he?"

"I think... That is, I'm sure... yes! Yes, he was wearing it!" said Merry.

"Then that means Elediriel is wearing it now!" cried Gimli. "What a clever girl!"

"She will have to be," said Aragorn grimly. "Now we must see who else has been fortunate enough to seek an early rest as did you Gimli, or even as our Master Brandybuck, to drink more than was good for him and thus escape the wizard's spell."

"If this spell is like unto the one he cast on our journey, then they will sleep until night falls again! If any sleep naturally, they will wake in the morning and come to us," said the dwarf. "It would take us longer than that to find them anyway."

"Let us ring the Council bell then, and see if that will awaken some few and bring them to us," said the king wearily.

"I can call them from here!" cried Merry. The old hobbit shoved himself to his feet and took from his side the small green horn, inlaid with the horses of Rohan, given him long ago for his service to the king of that land. It had upon it a virtue to kindle courage in every heart within the long range of its clear clean notes. He put it to his lips and blew the alarm of Buckland.

FEAR! FIRE! FOES!

AWAKE!

FEAR! FIRE! FOES! AWAKE!

AWAKE! AWAKE!

AWAKE! AWAKE!

Loud and long he winded that horn as a red dawn began to light the sky. The three old friends learned in that hour what virtue had blessed that horn and how well it had been bestowed.

Merry was looking upon his old companion as he blew, for it had such a special meaning to them both. Then he paused in wonder for a single tear trickled down the sleeping face of Pippin. Merry blew again and again, now more loudly and wildly than ever he had in his long life. Gimli thought the old hobbit's lungs would burst with the mighty effort.

Pippin stirred, his eyes opened, and the wiry old fellow sprang to his feet, as indeed did everyone within earshot, and that was almost the entire population of Rivendell, who had gathered there for the great celebrations. The darksome spell of the wicked wizard was broken before its appointed time.

All of the multitude was abuzz, for they all remembered last seeing the dark glare of the wizard when the moon was high and wondered at the hours they had lost now that the sun rose into the red sky. Gimli laughed in his delight but the face of the king was still hard and grim. Even so, Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief. For Rivendell had awakened far sooner than the wizard had planned and the initial pursuit could begin immediately.

The injured old ranger slid down the wall, his last reserves of will exhausted, and was now the only soul in Rivendell who was not awake and alarmed.

***

As the brush of a crimson dawn began to paint the air, and the eagle carried Elediriel above the vale of Rivendell, she fancied she heard the clear and stirring notes of a horn before the sound was blown away in the rushing wind. With the sound of it, she forgot her fear of falling to the ground far below (at least for a moment), opened her tightly shut eyes, and lifted her head. Away to the north, she could just see a black dot against the brightening sky that was the gigantic vulture, bearing the evil wizard and the stolen child.

Rondramehir, whose name meant Lord Skywing, was King of the Eagles of the Misty Mountains, the greatest of all the birds of Middle-earth. Nothing passed through the skies and little on the ground that the eagles could not see, if they were aloft to see it. The great eagles of those days could stare unblinking into the brilliance of the sun, or spy a rabbit in a field by the shine of the moon. They had seen the carrion crows that followed the wizard and the company, flying to and fro, and they marked the great vulture that came in answer to their summons from some fastness far away.

Rondramehir had followed, observing from far above, and some of his wing-mates followed. When he saw the vulture lift from the clearing with the wizard and the baby, and saw Elediriel running after, and spied as well across the river the motionless throng laid low about the Last Homely House, he did not need to know what was wrong to know that something was wrong indeed. He stooped from the sky like a falling arrow and snatched up the hobbit lass and soon returned on high to lead his eagles in the pursuit.

As Ellie got over her fear, and told the eagle-lord of what had happened, she remembered to leave her trail. She crumpled another page and another and let them fall. After watching the first one fall, she did not watch the second or the third, and let them fall more sparingly after that. She hoped the wind would not take them too far.

They were aloft for some time, and by mid-morning Ellie had already thrown away nearly all of her journal. She reckoned they were now flying over the ancient kingdom of Rhudaur, which was still sparsely settled, though folk had begun to move back to the empty lands. It was here that the swift-winged eagles had now silently overtaken the hideous vulture and the wicked wizard it carried.

One after another they stooped down in succession to drive the foul creature from the sky. The old man cursed, but could only hang on as the great carrion fowl was forced to ground. Had the pursuit been upon the land, he might have threatened his tiny hostage. Had he time, he might have worked up some magic against the noble birds. As for the eagles, they in fact hoped he would actually drop the child! This might seem a terrible risk to those of us who cannot fly as did the eagles of the Misty Mountains, but they were nimble in the air, and supremely confident they would catch the precious baby, for they often played such games with one another and did many other dangerous things that would take your breath away to watch.

Ellie watched in dizzy terror, both hoping that the wizard would drop the child and hoping he would not! Rondramehir flew above and behind, watching the dangerous tactics of his wing-mates. The little hobbit lass was terribly frightened of the eagle's plan, but could not offer one of her own! Not that the eagles would have listened anyway, for they are haughty birds and would not have thought much of a thought they did not think first, especially in a theatre of aerial combat. And they would be right! As it was, the wily wizard had no intentions of releasing Eldarion, for he was wise enough to know better, and chose instead to land his ghastly winged mount in a place of his own choosing.

The vulture landed and the wizard quickly sprang from its feathered back. He laid the child down under a bush as the eagles wheeled in the sky preparing to assail him. The old man threw himself to the ground, but the vulture was not so lucky, for now the eagles stooped to slay and their sharp claws rent the croaking bird, helpless and clumsy on the ground.

As this was going on, Rondramehir set Elediriel down none too gently (he did not even land!) back behind the wizard and the battle. He soared again into the air to join the fight, as Ellie tumbled from what seemed to her a very great height (only a few feet actually). She picked herself up and ran quietly and as closely as she dared to get a better view of the terrible scene.

The wizard gathered stones and pebbles and small rocks in a heap before him, as he lay prostrate on the ground. A wizard, even a very wicked one, can do much, even in a desperate situation such as the one in which he now found himself. As the vulture was rent to shreds and the eagles screamed in fury, he muttered a low chant over the stones. Then, as the eagles rose into the sky again, this time stooping down from on high upon him as the target of their taloned wrath, he grasped as many of the small stones as he could in his fist and flung them hard into the air at the last instant.

He cried aloud and the tiny projectiles exploded with a myriad of sounds, like fireworks combined with breaking glass. Shards and flinders of rock and stone tore into the wings and bodies of the eagles and many were slain in the air and the rest when they were dashed helplessly by the speed of their own assault into the hard ground. A second formation bravely tried again and the result was the same. Only Rondramehir survived, and retreated with bloody wing into the southern sky.

The wizard cackled wickedly, for though he had lost his winged mount, he delighted in the slaying of the noble birds and perhaps thought that no pursuit could possibly catch up his lead. Had the rest of his scheme worked as planned, none could follow until dawn the next day and, even so, he left no tracks through the sky from the edge of Rivendell to the wilds of Rhudaur! But, as you will see, even the cunning plans of a wary wizard can be foiled. He turned back to the bush to grab the newborn infant, still sleeping in enchanted slumber. Then the wizard's mocking laughter was turned into a howl of rage.

There was nothing under the bush. The infant prince Eldarion was no longer there!




Chapter XVIII

PURSUIT

Gimli turned and saw that Aragorn had fallen again.

"Help," cried the old dwarf. "The King has taken hurt! We must bear him to his chambers! Help!"

At that moment, Lord Celeborn passed through the gate, hearing the loud cry of the dwarf above the confusion of the crowd. The regal elf stooped and with surprising strength easily lifted the tall king in his arms. The noise of the crowd was stilled, and the elves of Rivendell parted before him as he bore King Elessar back to the Last Homely House.

Elladan and Elrohir, dark-haired brothers of Queen Arwen, walked behind Lord Celeborn. How often had they ridden in battle together with the mortal King in far lands against the servants of the Shadow. Now they took up the somber pace through the quiet peoples of their own home, as Aragorn was carried before them. What a different scene it was from the day before, when all were joyous and sang aloud in their gladness. A murmur started and spread through the multitude as the news was passed that King Strider was injured, perhaps mortally, and the Heir was kidnapped.

As the elves and men of Rivendell learned the news, Aragorn was borne to his chambers, where Arwen lay weeping. She lifted up her head and cried aloud when she saw her noble grandsire bearing her husband's unmoving frame through the door. They laid him on her couch and Gimli the dwarf told them all that he knew of what had transpired.

"Alas!" cried Legolas. The elf of Greenwood had followed as well, along with the hobbits Meriadoc, Peregrin, Madrigal, Turgon and Fingon. "Alas!" he cried again. "My father was right, and I have played the fool! We should not have trusted the black-hearted wizard and his stories! Alas!"

"We all fell to his spell of fair-seeming," said Gimli, trying to comfort his friend. "His honeyed words and strange ways were but a guise for dark intent. Who shall blame us for failing to see his subtle snares?"

"I blame myself," said Cairdur grimly. "I knew that there was something strange about him. Picking the bones of Dol Guldur. Finding a spell to lay low our foes at the last possible moment. His chattering talk with the crows. Aye, and the doubts of wise King Thranduil! Such clues no ranger worth the name should have failed to see!"

"The wizard is of an order beyond the reckoning of mortal ken," said Celeborn. "It is easier after one is snared to see where one should not have stepped. He had power in him to lay low not only your foes, but also all of waking Rivendell where they stood. Do you not think he had power to lay low your suspicions as well?"

"He does not have power to elude us forever, now that we know his base heart!" said Elladan hotly.

"Let us muster a force that not even a wizard can defeat!" cried Elrohir.

"Go forth," said Lord Celeborn. "Order such forces as we can send to the chase."

The Half-elven brothers turned as one and swept out of the chambers, intent to lead an army against the captor of their young nephew and the author of their sister's grief.

"We must first find the wizard. If the hobbit girl has left a trail, we had best discover it swiftly," said Aradhel. "We rangers must amend our lack of vigilance if we can!"

"And the Wood and the Mountain, too!" cried Legolas. Gimli lifted his mournful head with smoldering eyes.

"Then go!" said Celeborn. "Let nothing slow the pursuit! Catch up the wizard's heels and we shall send a host to your aid!"

The three rangers saluted their fallen king and left, followed swiftly by Legolas and Gimli and the Took Twins and the elder hobbits. Madrigal was at the side of the Queen, anxious and sharing her cares. Celeborn bid Arwen farewell and left the King in the care of the Queen and her handmaidens.

"Go into my gardens," said Arwen to an elf maid. "Gather me some of each of the herbs planted there by my father. Go quickly! Heat water so that they may steep and the fragrance fill the air. Madrigal?"

"Yes, my Queen," said the hobbit lass, her eyes brimming full with tears held back.

"Fetch for me my harp yonder, that I may soothe the King with soft melodies and words of care," said the Queen. "And I will lift up my voice to the West, and call for blessings for our child and help for his deliverance."

Soon, a kettle of hot water with steeping herbs was brought into the chambers, while the queen herself bathed the head of the king. He began to stir as the keen clean scent replaced the melancholy air. Then Arwen stood and turned to the waiting hobbit lass.

Trembling, Madrigal placed the golden harp into the lovely hands of the noble queen, who smiled upon her even amidst her own great cares. Maddie's tears then flowed freely as the beautiful half-elven woman sang in a voice sad and yet hopeful in her distress.

Far away where all songs go,
Hear this my cry for mercy great.
Never there will I ever know
Again the sight of kin who wait.

Mortal life is keenest when
Dearest are gone or left near death.
Save them from harm in home and glen
And guard their every precious breath.

Far away where all songs go,
Heed this my plea of greatest need.
For him my fate I did forego
And for his son I did that deed.

Sacrifice should not be vain,
Nor should hope die from mortal kind.
Was child of hope born to be slain?
Let not such thoughts take root in mind!

Far away where all songs go,
Comfort us who raise Hope to you.
Spare him, my love, from mortal blow,
And save his son, lest I die, too.


The queen gave back the harp to Madrigal when she had finished this song, for the king looked up from where he lay and softly asked, "What news?"

***

"No!" said Cairduin sternly. "We have need of haste! This is no carefree walking party! Cairdur, stay and keep these from troubling us. Besides, there must needs be some force left here in Rivendell against further treachery. We go!"

The protesting hobbits were left with nothing to say. The young ranger Cairdur clearly did not want to stay himself, but said nothing. The elder rangers set off at a great pace, followed by Legolas and Gimli, and several other rangers and elves.

"It's not fair!" cried Furry. Turry bit his lip hard, fighting against anger.

"It is the events we find ourselves in that are not fair," said Cairdur. "But like you, I would prefer to ride or run after my father and our friends. But he is right. Some should stay. Soon the muster of Rivendell will leave the vale bereft of arms."

"And bereft of danger," said old Pippin, sighing. "That is why we are left behind."

"Not that you and I could do much anyway," observed Merry. "You know we wouldn't last long on the trail. I just hope it does not prove too hard for old Gimli!"

"It would not prove too hard for us!" said Furry, bitterly. He and his twin brother walked off, leaving the young ranger and the old hobbits.

"Let us see how the muster procedes," said Cairdur not knowing what else to say, and feeling much the same way himself.

Folk were running to and fro. Stores were gathered. Plans were laid. All was brought to Lord Celeborn, who approved of the orders or amended them as he thought best. Elladan and Elrohir rode both together and separately the length and breadth of Rivendell, calling forth all who could bear arms and ordering the muster of such strength of war as could be found on short notice.

The grim day wore on. The red dawn had given way to an overcast sky and the grey mood was matched by the sons of Elrond as they drew together and gave order to a folk who had long known only peace and safety.

The younger rangers and the children of the Dunedain were assigned the task of guarding the Last Homely House. All knew that this was only to make work, given to keep the earnest youths out of the way of more serious matters. Cairdur bore the task without complaint through the day, though his eyes betrayed what he thought of his part. His younger brother, Cairmir, finally drew out of the young ranger the thoughts of nearly all who were to be left behind.

"Keep silent and do as you have been told! Do not act like the children you are, lest I come to think I am left behind not to guard our fallen king, but to sit with babies who cannot be left to themselves!" The young ranger turned on his heel, leaving his younger brother and the other Dunedain and elven children angry at their uselessness, and ashamed that they were thought a burden rather than a help. The old hobbits Merry and Pippin saw much of this, but held their tongues.

The day drew on, and the muster continued. From the chambers of Aragorn and Arwen news was carried by the hobbit Madrigal that the king was healed and recovering, and this brought no little cheer to the mustering host and to the folk gathered anxiously about the Last Homely House. The hobbits gathered together in one of the gardens to talk with each other. Some of the young elves and Dunedain had followed, since the hobbits did not seem to treat them as did their elders.

They ate their lunch with little appetite, which goes to show you just how distraught the young hobbits were. Furry still railed at being left behind.

"We can ride and shoot as well as anyone! They just don't think much of hobbits, that's their problem!" cried the young Took.

"But we haven't their experience in war, or their skill in tracking," said Turry. "And they were afoot, not riding. We couldn't have kept up anyway."

"I don't know what good I am either," said Maddie. "All I could do was hand the Queen a harp."

"That's more than we've done," said Furry.

"Well," said Cairmir, "no one will even listen to us. Maybe they'll listen to you."

"What do you mean?" asked Maddie.

"Geniwel found something. Show her," said Cairmir, turning to an elf girl.

"This!" said Geniwel, producing a page of crumpled parchment. "I found it near my home, at the north end of the vale." Turry took it and looked at it closely.

"That's why no one listens!" said Furry impatiently. "What does this signify?"

Geniwel had more to say, "No one has paper like that except the Queen's house. I thought it had to be important."

"It is the right size to be from Ellie's journal," said Turry. "And the Queen gave her that book."

"She's leaving a trail!" cried Maddie.

"You don't know that," said a grim voice. It was Cairdur, walking into the garden, seeking them out. The young ranger's countenance was as dour as his father's and it angered his younger brother.

"You don't know anything either!" Cairmir shouted. "Why don't you take it to the Queen and find out? You'll be sorry if this was our chance to help and we didn't!"

"I will take it to her," said Cairdur, his face softening. "We should not overlook anything. You are right, brother. I will return." He took the crumpled parchment from Geniwel and walked swiftly away, leaving the young hobbits and the children of Rivendell to themselves. They said little, looking at the ground and not meeting one another's eyes.

The garden in which they sat was beside a wall of the great house. A window overlooked the garden where the path drew next to the house. From that window came the voices of Merry and Pippin. The two hobbits were talking loudly, as if unaware of the listening ears in the garden below.

"I wish that I were still young!" said the voice of old Pippin. "I'd like to see anyone keep me from following a friend of mine in danger!"

"You're right about that!" cried the voice of old Merry. "Not even Elrond himself could keep you out of the Fellowship!"

"That's true!" agreed Pippin loudly. "Why, when Frodo sought to leave the Shire with the Ring of Sauron and all the Nine Nazgul on his heels, we were there with him!"

"I don't know what's the matter with the youth of today," said Merry mournfully, but just as loudly all the same. "Youth is wasted on the young!"

This, of course, was just too much for the young hobbits, listening with burning ears in the garden below (as they were meant to). Madrigal jumped up and cried, "Geniwel! You must take us to where you found the page!"

"I'm going, too!" cried Cairmir. "The rest of you scatter, or they'll make you tell where we've gone!"

Soon, the Dunedain boy, the elf girl, and the young hobbits were mounted on the ponies Thunder, Lightning and Cider, carrying such things as they hurriedly thought to take with them, and riding hard for the north end of the valley of Rivendell before anyone could stop them.

***

"But the Queen and King are resting!" protested Mehirabeth, handmaiden of Arwen. "Can't your errand wait?"

Cairdur looked at the rumpled parchment in his hands and wondered himself if his errand was worth even his own time, much less worth bothering the distraught queen, newly delivered and bereft of her child and having just exerted herself in the healing of the king. The elf woman standing before him clearly thought that the young ranger could not possibly have anything to say that was important enough to disturb her lady.

He decided to wait, and asked to be given an audience with Queen Arwen as soon as she awoke. Mehirabeth told him his request would be made known. He sat down upon a bench in the hall, and waited. He was there for some little time and beginning to think himself on a fool's errand.

Just when he had convinced himself that he should tell Mehirabeth not to bother, he saw his father and Aradhel enter the hall, with Legolas and Gimli grimly following.

"What news father?" cried Cairdur.

"None good," answered Cairduin. "Why do you wait here? Are there not other duties?"

Embarrassed, he held out the rumpled parchment and was about to tell why he was there, but his father cried out, "How came you by that?"

"It was found by an elf child in the north end of the valley. The hobbits thought it might have come from Elediriel's journal, given her by Queen Arwen, and was dropped by her as a token. I was awaiting the Queen to see if this might not be so," answered the young ranger.

In response, the elder ranger held out a similar page and said, "I believe it is so! Let us to the Queen!"

This time, Mehirabeth did not protest, but bid them wait at the door. Soon, the handmaiden returned and let them enter, cautioning them to speak softly. They held out the pages and asked Arwen if she remembered them. As she looked upon the pages, Aragorn awoke again and asked them their news.

"Lord Celeborn has overseen the muster," answered Aradhel. "Elrohir and Elladan prepare the cavalry and all nears readiness. We tracked the hobbit Elediriel, whom we believe left these pages from her journal for us to follow."

"Then why are you here?" asked the king, in a tired voice.

"The trail vanished on the north ridge," answered Cairduin. "We saw there no further sign of wizard or of hobbit. The tracks of a great bird were there at the valley's edge and nothing more."

"But there was this other page, found still further north at the end of the valley," said Cairdur. "They must be heading north!"

"Then they fly north, rather than ride or walk," said Aradhel. "The hobbit girl did not climb down the sheer side of the dell, whatever the wizard did."

"It is a riddle," said Legolas. "All we have is a direction."

"These pages are from the blank journal I gave to Elediriel," said the Queen. They are alike and they are of Rivendell make. I have dropped no pages. She left them for you to find."

"Then by your leave, we will take the northern passage out of the valley and see what we may find," said Aradhel, and they left to renew their pursuit. With haste, they gathered a small group to ride and found a horse for Legolas. Gimli the Dwarf rode with the wood-elf. This time Cairdur would ride with them, for he knew where his younger brother's friend lived, and they hoped to find some other clue nearby. As they rode past the garden, the young ranger was annoyed to find that neither the young hobbits nor the children were waiting as he bade them.

Old Merry was leaning out the window, and the young ranger called out to him, asking if he knew where the young folk were.

"Not all of them," said Merry. "But you had best ride north and ride hard. They couldn't wait all day you know!"

"Hyah!" cried Cairdur, spurring his mount and riding hard indeed. The rest followed the young ranger, in pursuit of the hobbits, to find whatever trail Elediriel might have left, to rescue Eldarion, and to make the wizard pay if they could.
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Old 02-16-2024, 11:48 AM   #10
Mithadan
Spirit of Mist
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Tol Eressea
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Chapter XIX

HIDE AND SEEK

The afternoon was grey and the sky had become blustery. Madrigal rode ahead, with Geniwel seated behind her, and with Cider impatient to run still farther and faster. But Maddie checked the spirited mare's pace, to give the elf girl riding with her a chance to use her sharp clear sight to spy out any further pages dropped from Elediriel's notebook. Turry and Furry also rode less swiftly than Thunder and Lightning could, hoping to see any sign or trace of Ellie or the precious baby or the wicked wizard who had stolen him away.

Hours ago, they had ridden from the hidden northern way out of the valley of Rivendell. Sentries let them pass with little challenge, since Queen Arwen held the hobbits in such high esteem. Not only that, but Madrigal was at her most charming, Geniwel was a fair young elvish girl, and the lonely sentries, charged with keeping folk out of the valley, were not prone to be overly cautions to keep folk in. "Come back ere nightfall," they said. "Or ere the weather grows worse. There has been enough grief today! We will have a merry meeting when you return!"

Only once had they been rewarded in their northern search. Geniwel saw a page of the journal on the green meadow almost due north of Rivendell and the hobbits and youngsters now felt sure that Ellie was heading north indeed. Cairmir, youngest son of the ranger Cairduin, muttered to Furry, with whom he rode on the Took's black stallion, that there were no tracks and perhaps his brother Cairdur was right and the page meant nothing. Of course, Cairdur had actually said no such thing, but little brothers are prone sometimes to think like that. Still, there was little else to do except turn back and no one wanted to do this. So they pressed on until the glow of the sun above the grey cover of clouds began to pass into the west.

Madrigal brought Cider to a halt and waited for the others to catch up.

"If we turn back now, we will still not get back to Rivendell until long after dark," she said.

"I do not think I can find the secret paths at night," said Cairmir.

"Then we should keep going north until we find Ellie," said Turry. "I didn't set out just to return having seen and done nothing."

"That's what I say," Furry agreed.

"Look a great eagle!" cried Geniwel.

The elf girl pointed into the northern sky with a slender finger. Cairmir thought he could see something but none of the hobbits could tell what Geniwel saw. But soon they could all see a black speck flying below the grey clouds. Then they could see that it flew lower and lower. Finally, it became the shape of a great bird, flying erratically, and then even the hobbits could tell just before the eagle landed clumsily in the meadow before them, that the noble bird was injured.

It was Rondramehir, who had flown, bleeding and injured, with the last of his strength, until he saw the hobbits and the children of Rivendell in the meadowlands north of the hidden valley. They rushed forward on the hobbit ponies and dismounted, hurrying to the side of the great bird.

The elf child Geniwel was already weeping at the sight, for she was tender-hearted as well as brave, as were so many of those fair folk in that day when the world was greener and life more precious. She lifted his head and stroked the feathers of his neck. "Give him some water," she said.

Madrigal held her hands cupped and Furry poured water into them. Rondramehir dipped his great beak and drank. After a time, he had strength to speak.

"You seek your friend," said the noble lord of the eagles. "You may find her north of here. Ride hard, and when the Moon is high you will see a rocky hill not too far distant. From that hill I have flown and fallen and rested and flown and fallen here. I fear I have flown my last. Upon its summit, my wing mates and I did battle with the old man and the vulture he rode. I left Elediriel there and I do not know what became of her or of the child the old man stole. The carrion eater we slew. The wizard was too great a foe. He killed my brothers and my cousins who flew with me this evil day. And now, I shall perish, too."

Rondramehir's eyes closed, and the great bird said no more. Madrigal wept aloud, and the boys tried not to weep as well, for they were angry and wanted to ride. But Geniwel said, "I will stay and comfort him as I am able, and perhaps he will not die."

"But you can't stay here alone!" said Madrigal. "I won't let you!"

"Then stay here with her and with the eagle," said Furry. "We will ride hard and find this place, leaving the marks of our passage and leading help that way."

"That's good thinking," said Turry. "No doubt many others will come this way from Rivendell. You can speed them to us! I fear we may need their help before all is done. It has already been too long since Ellie was left alone with that wicked wizard!"

"Then let us go!" said Cairmir. "And may your ponies run as fast as an eagle flies!"

The Took Twins mounted Thunder and Lightning, with the Dunedain boy. They rode north as fast as the black ponies ever had run, to find the infant and their friend, and perhaps to face the evil wizard who had nearly slain Good King Strider, who had cast all of Rivendell into slumber, and who had killed so many of the mighty Eagles of the Misty Mountains.

Their fear for themselves was exceeded only by their dread for Elediriel and the newborn Heir, alone in the wilderness, facing an enemy as terrible as any that could be found in all the wide world.

***

Evening came to Rivendell, finding not a population still in haunted slumber, but instead a cavalry and a host that would be ready to ride and to march with the next sunrise. Celeborn, Lord of Rivendell, oversaw every detail, making certain the troops were well equipped and well provisioned and knew especially to shoot first and look later, should they see the wizard again! Their best plan in haste, should the wizard be found, was to trust that in a storm of quickly released darts and arrows, surely one would find its mark. But this was a plan of last recourse, for it might result as easily in the unintended death of the Heir, rather than the doom of their wizardly foe. It was hoped that the cavalry might make such a tactic unnecessary. But an evil wizard at large was a matter of the gravest concern to Lord Celeborn, who knew too much of such matters, and well understood what destruction such a living foe could eventually bring. He armed his troops hoping they would not be needed.

Elladan and Elrohir saw to the equipping of the cavalry. With the dawn they would ride to the north and if they found the wizard, the speed of their assault might prevent the utterance of another spell of sleep. The host would follow afoot, to bring such force of arms that even a wizard might be vanquished should the cavalry fail. All was made ready in Rivendell, and messengers were sent that day far and wide, by bird and by beast, upon the roads and in the skies, calling for the help of all good peoples and warning them of the danger the wizard represented.

In the Last Homely House, the handmaidens of Arwen Undomiel tended the king and queen, guarding their rest, and bringing them health and strength. Such was the virtue of their ministrations that Aragorn opened his eyes again in the evening, stood, and took nourishment. Later that evening, the hobbits Merry and Pippin, his companions of old in the days of the War of the Ring, came to see him.

The king looked much improved to their eyes, for when they last saw him in the red light of dawn, he was pale and weak, indeed was unconscious and they had feared for him. If they expected their old friend to still be wearing the kingly vestments of the previous day's celebrations, or the comfortable robes of a patient in a house of healing, they were surprised when they saw him.

"Strider!" exclaimed old Pippin Took. The mouth of Merry Brandybuck hung agape. King Elessar Telcontar was dressed not as a king of men, nor as one lately feared near death. He looked to the eyes of the old hobbits as an ordinary ranger of Eriador, indeed, much as he had so many years ago when he set forth as one of the Nine Walkers and was unknown to the world as the Heir of Elendil. Only the grey cloak of Lorien and a green jewel bound by a silver filet to his high forehead marked him as different from any other ranger of the field. He had shaved his kingly beard and only the steel grey of his hair beneath a clean bandage was now changed from the Aragorn they knew in the days of their youth. The old ranger's eyes were stern, though his countenance softened and a token of a smile briefly flickered on his lips.

"Hello, old friends," he said. "Do not look surprised! I sleep in the field tonight, with my cavalry. At dawn, I ride with them. My son has no need of a crowned king, waiting for word sent from his armies afar. Eldarion will be better served by the Chieftain of the Dunedain and the Flame of the West." With that, he unsheathed the great sword Anduril, which caught the light of the lamps of his chambers and reflected it with a fiery anger of its own. Long was it since the noble blade had been drawn in wrath, and it would not be sheathed again until the enemy was met.

***

Now, if you, like the wicked wizard, would like to know what had become of Prince Eldarion in all this time, we must take our tale back before noon of that day, to the hour when Rondramehir had dropped Elediriel to the ground some distance behind the wizard and the hideous vulture. The little hobbit girl was as scared as she had ever been in her life but when she saw the valiant eagles fighting and dying as they tried to battle the wizard, she knew that she would have only this one chance to act.

As carefully and as quietly as only a frightened hobbit could move, she crept up behind the cunning old man, and wizard though he was, all of his attention was on the fierce eagles stooping from the sky with their razor sharp talons and lightning speed. So he never saw that she had taken the little bundle of cloths wrapped around the slumbering baby until it was too late! No doubt you figured this out for yourselves already, and perhaps you think it was the obvious thing to do, but it was a dreadfully difficult decision for Elediriel all the same and the bravest thing she ever did in her very long life. I should like to see you do so well in such a horrible fix with no time to lose!

And she lost no time at all! As soon as she was out of sight of the terrible battle, though she could still hear the explosions of the wizard's magic, the screams of the dying eagles, and the gloating cackle of the wicked old man, she ran as fast as she could and did not stop for a very long time. Down the hill she ran and into the woods where they looked the thickest, holding the precious baby tightly and not daring to look over her shoulder to see if the terrible old man followed. Now you or I might have had a harder time of it, and I doubt such large folk as ourselves could have gone nearly as speedily or anything like as quietly as Elediriel Cotton, running for her life and for the baby's life through the wooded glen on the slopes of the Misty Mountains. A barefooted hobbit makes very little noise even when taking little care, but Ellie was afraid of every twig that might snap and every dry leaf that might rustle. Also, hobbits are much smaller and not so heavy, so they would have to try very hard indeed to make as much noise as you or I. Ellie was trying very hard not to make any noise, even though she was now quite far away from the dreadful wizard. But she knew she couldn't run forever and she had to find a place to hide!

Coming upon a stream, she thought of something Turry had once said, and remembered the sharp noses of wolves and worse things. She took time to walk some little way (with freezing feet!) up the pebbly streambed and tried not to leave any mark on the rocky place where she climbed back out. She went along and went along until she was dreadfully tired and knew it was time to hide. She sat upon a log to catch her breath (how long had she been running?) and saw that it was hollow. She set the baby down and looked inside, just to make sure there was nothing already hiding within. Despite herself, she squealed when a jackrabbit tore out of the log more frightened than herself. That would be good enough.

She found a tree branch with many twigs and dry leaves upon it, backed herself into the log, pulled the still slumbering baby in after her, and pulled the leafy branch in after them both. Soon, despite her fears, the hobbit lass was sleeping as soundly as the infant, though no spell had been cast upon her. If even a wizard had stomped past, searching hard with keen eyes and wrathful intensity, he would never have noticed, could not have seen, would not have heard, the soft breathing of the hobbit and the baby hidden at quite a little distance from the stony hill, through the woods, up the creek, in the mountain glen, concealed deep in a hollow log behind a branch covered with twigs and leaves.

***

Who can say if the wizard passed them by, or even if he drew near? Elediriel had hidden herself and the child quite well and did not move again until it was quite dark outside. She woke to the feel of the infant stirring and she feared that soon it might awaken and cry out. At first, she did not move, fearing to wake the child, but there was no room in the log to move about, and if the child did cry out, who knows what such cries might bring upon them in the wilderness?

Ellie slowly pushed first the limb, and then the bundle holding the infant, and then the limb again, and continued in this fashion until she had inched out of the log. The wind was blowing chill, but it had moved the clouds away. The moon had not yet begun his climb above the Misty Mountains, she thought. Emerging from the darkness of the log, her eyes could see well enough by the starlight. She laid the precious bundle down again on the leeward side of the log and thought the wizard's spell an unintended blessing. The little hobbit took stock of what she had. The journal had few pages left. How many were scattered to the winds? Did any fall where they might be found? Did Rondramehir defeat the wizard? Did the eagle go to get help? How far was she from anyone?

She had no answers to any of these questions, which was disturbing, but she did not want to think too much about that. What would she do if the baby woke? She was no wet nurse! Why did she bring nothing to feed a baby? A newborn could not eat Dwarven mirrors, combs and brushes! A newborn could not even chew an apple or a piece of bread! Why didn't she think to find some milk? Not that there had been time...

Just then, the infant did awake and was most definitely hungry and quite loudly enough, wanted someone to know it!

Elediriel almost began to cry. But she was a very sensible hobbit lass and knew that crying just then would not help anything at all. She hoped the wind would carry the baby's cries away from any that should not hear! If she could not feed him, at least she could put some water in the flask and make certain the child did not thirst. Surely water would not hurt!

Ellie pushed her blonde hair out of her eyes, grabbed the flask and pulled out its stopper. She almost poured it to the ground at that moment, but then stopped. No one would begrudge her a sip or two to calm her nerves! She put the flask to her lips and a good draught of the smooth sweet liquor immediately brought warmth to her limbs and gave her a great sense of well being and calm.

"Why this is miruvor!" she said aloud, feeling quite refreshed and fearless, despite her predicament. She looked at the baby, crying softly by the log...

She just couldn't!

Could she?

She did. She dribbled the tiniest bit from the flask onto her littlest finger, which she placed in the baby's mouth. He sucked at it and immediately stopped crying. Ellie brightened and gave him a few drops more, and then a few drops more. Eldarion quickly fell asleep in her arms. Overjoyed, she replaced the stopper, retied her bag and secured it to her waist, took up the baby again, put the mountains on her left side, and made the best time she could in what she hoped was a generally southern direction.

The time passed and the moon made his way above the peaks of the Misty Mountains. The hobbit lass stopped finally to rest somewhat and to clean the infant and give him some water from a stream. She had remembered something her old mother had told her once about chewing food for a baby, but she was sure that this was something done for older babies. Still, she tried this with a little of the elven bread from the Last Homely House. Even a day old, it seemed to melt in the mouth like the finest confections from the bakery at the Great Smials. Eldarion did not complain and took some from her finger. A few drops of miruvor and he slept again. Ellie had no idea how long she had been walking or of how far she had come.

"Not long enough or far enough, I'm sure, but we'll keep going, won't we little Prince?" Ellie softly told the baby in her arms. She was weary but allowed herself a swallow of the cordial and started walking again, for she feared that some danger was on her heels.

She was right. As she walked, she heard on the wind what she gradually became certain was not her imagination, but the very thing she feared most. As she walked alone on the slopes of the Misty Mountains by the light of the Moon she heard the distant howl of wolves!

They sounded far away to the north, but not nearly far enough to satisfy Elediriel. She picked up her pace and just hoped they were not tracking her. As the moon rode high upon his path, Elediriel walked wearily, beginning to stumble, but afraid to stop even to hide. Eldarion sometimes woke and made baby sounds, but did not often cry, and this Ellie counted as a blessing. She worried even about the few drops of miruvor she had given the babe, dreading having to tell Queen Arwen! Then she almost laughed and said softly to the baby, "I hope I do have to tell your mother what a terrible nurse I have been! And the sooner the better!"

She heard again the howling of wolves, this time nearer. Ellie was panicked now and weariness left her feet. She ran again, hoping against her fears that it was just a coincidence, that the wolves were not following her, that it was just the sort of chance sounds that anyone might hear in the wilderness. She ran on and on until weariness overtook her again, and Eldarion awoke.

Ellie sat upon the root of a great tree with her back against the trunk, unable to move another step. The baby was hungry, so she dribbled a few more drops of the cordial and he grew quiet again. She took another swallow herself, and felt that after a brief rest, she might continue again. To pass the time while she rested, and to encourage the baby to fall asleep again, she sang a simple lullaby to the little prince.

Sleep sweet, sweet prince.
Breathe your little sighs.
Sleep sweet, sweet prince.
Close your little eyes.

One day you'll be handsome
And strong and so tall.
One day you will marry
The fairest of all.

Sleep sweet, sweet prince.
Breathe your little sighs.
Sleep sweet, sweet prince.
Close your little eyes.

One day you will find her
Looking up at you.
One day you will kiss her
And know her love is true.

Sleep sweet, sweet prince.
Breathe your little sighs.
Sleep sweet, sweet prince.
Close your little eyes.

One day she will give you
A son to call your own.
One day she will hold him
And sing this little song.

Sleep sweet, sweet prince.
Breathe your little sighs.
Sleep sweet, sweet prince.
Close your little eyes.


No sooner had she finished singing the lullaby, not only was Eldarion asleep, but Ellie herself fell finally to her own weariness and dozed against the tree with the baby in her arms. Some time passed, but she did not awaken until, very close indeed now, she heard again the cry of the wolves. Waking with a guilty start she looked up. The moon had climbed to his highest point and shown brightly on the landscape. She dared not move a muscle or make a sound, for she saw now the dark shapes of the wolves drawing near, their eyes glowing in the dark!




Chapter XX

LOST AND FOUND

While Elediriel and Eldarion lay hidden fast asleep in a hollow log, to the south, Turgon Took rode Lightning somewhat ahead of his brother Fingon, who rode with young Cairmir on the back of Thunder. Due north they rode, slackening their pace little across the rolling meadows as the lands rose, drawing ever nearer the Misty Mountains. The sun had made her way so far west that now she shone beneath the clouds of grey that had kept her full brilliance from their pursuit. It was the first time they saw her direct light since she dawned that fateful day.

The hard-riding hobbits and the son of rangers saw far ahead of them, in the last red gleam of the setting sun, the bare hilltop the great eagle Rondramehir told them to find. They rode on, hoping to find Elediriel and not daring to guess at what they might actually discover. A chill wind began to blow and the clouds gradually thinned and left the sky. Turry was glad of the extra light, but did not trust the North wind.

They rode on.

***

At about that same time, Cairdur, the elder brother of Cairmir, riding hard on the trail of the hobbit ponies, came upon Madrigal Brandybuck and the elf girl Geniwel. They had cleaned the wounds of Rondramehir and stanched his bleeding. Geniwel was still singing soft songs of healing to the gravely wounded bird, while Maddie kept a sharp eye on the meadowland around them. She had long watched until the Took Twins and the ranger boy had ridden from sight to the north, and now she was facing south when the others came at last.

Cairdur halted his steed and dismounted. Sharp words were on his tongue, but he held them, seeing both the dauntless expression of the hobbit lass, and the mighty eagle whose great head was so tenderly stroked in the lap of the elf girl. His ranger's eyes saw well enough the track of two fast ponies to the north and he guessed at much of the story before Maddie said a word.

"Wait," said the young ranger. "The others are right behind me and your tale need only be told once." Indeed, his father Cairdur and comrade Aradhel were upon them, followed closely by a steed without a saddle that bore the wood-elf Legolas and Gimli the dwarf. Other rangers and elves followed as well and soon all were stopped, some not even dismounting. They listened intently as Madrigal told them the story of the battle of the Eagles and the Wizard.

Two of the elves stayed behind, to take the latest word, and Geniwel, and the Lord of the Eagles back to Rivendell with them. The rest rode north, as fast as their steeds could gallop. No one bothered to tell Madrigal not to follow (indeed, all but Legolas and Gimli pretended not to notice that she had), and proud Cider made no trouble about keeping pace with the fleet-hoofed horses of the Dunedain. The north wind blew chill, but the last rays of the sun illumined the underside of the grey clouds with touches of red and golden fire.

They rode on.

***

Elediriel's eyes were wide with terror as she watched the wolves draw nearer. She clutched Eldarion close and then despite herself, screamed a high shrill scream when the wolves saw her and trotted up to the tree where she had fallen asleep. There was no way that she could have climbed it, and saved the baby, too; not that she could even move, frozen in her fear.

The wolves laughed at the hobbit lass with a horrible growling sound, but did not leap to rend their prey, as Ellie thought they surely would. Instead, they surrounded her and howled to the moon, as if calling with a message for someone in their frightful voices. But it seemed that someone answered them sooner than even they expected.

As terrified as Ellie was, her fear grew even greater, when she saw an the head of an old man and the tip of his crude staff over the top of a hill, and then the entire old man himself as he climbed over the rise and walked quickly their way. The wolves seemed confused, and the largest of them trotted forth to meet the old man, but then stopped in his tracks with his ears laid back. He growled deep in his chest and his cruel, black, snarling lips were drawn back from his vicious fangs as he made ready to spring.

The old man raised his staff, pointing it at the leader of the pack, crying aloud in strange words unknown to Ellie's ears. The great wolf's tail was suddenly tucked between his hind legs and he ran yowling and crying down the slope as if he were but a cub suddenly frightened out of his wits!

As the noise of his departure faded into the distance, his pack mates began growling and howling in anger and confusion, pacing to and fro. Some of the larger ones made ready to spring by twos and by threes upon the old man, but he raised his staff again, pointing it swiftly at each one of them, uttering the strange words each time, and each of them, and soon all the rest of the pack of wolves as well, were yipping in fear and running with tucked tails as fast as their leader before them!

Now the wizard came near the little hobbit lass and the infant she held, and in her fear she shrank against the trunk of the tree behind her. She saw that he had changed the fine robes that were given him, and wore rags and tatters. His hair and beard were no longer combed and neatly arranged, but he looked as he had when he was found at the ruins of Dol Goldur, worn and tired and not a little crazed.

But there was something in his eyes that seemed different, kinder and simpler, not clever and calculating. With a trembling old hand, he touched Ellie's blonde head and then pulled away a corner of blanket to look upon Eldarion. A tear escaped his eye and traced a crooked line down his wrinkled cheek into his matted beard. He stepped back a pace and looked at them long, then looked a while with a grimace to the north, then looked long with a little confusion into the south, and longer still to the west. He walked suddenly with a purpose out from under the tree, leaned slowly down and grasped a fist-sized rock. He uttered soft strange words over it, then cast it underhand high aloft and cried aloud when it rose to the height of its flight.

It burst with a musical sound, like the ringing of a bell, and with a dazzling light in the darkness. The light hung there in the night air, like the wisps of a puff-flower, falling ever so slowly and fading ever so softly until it was gone. When Ellie looked back down from the wonderful sight, the old man was also gone.

***

In a surprisingly short time, Ellie heard the welcome sound of galloping horses and burst into tears when she saw Turry riding up the slope, with Furry and Cairmir not far behind. Of course they had ridden to the sight of the magical flare, certain that it just had to have something to do with all the terrible events of the last two days. Turry quickly dismounted and had only words of praise and wonder for the hobbit lass.

"You have found the Prince!" he exclaimed, but he was happier still to see Ellie. The feelings in his heart surprised him and he spoke with a thick voice, unable to say everything all at once. "This is more wonderful than I could have hoped! You must tell us all about it!"

"There is no time," said Furry, still mounted with Cairmir on Thunder. "The light that brought us here may bring something else! We should go!"

"He's right!" said Turry, and took the child while Elediriel climbed up upon the back of Lightning, who stood still for her to do so. Turry looked with wonder upon the infant for a moment, before passing him back to Ellie, and then mounting his steed behind her. She felt happy and safe finally, with the strong arms of the young Took around her, grasping the reins of his fine black pony. They turned Lightning's and Thunder's tails, heading back down the slopes and doubling back upon their tracks as quickly as they had come.

***

The moon was heading to the western horizon when the black ponies at last rejoined Cider and the horses of the Dunedain in the meadowlands of ancient Rhudaur, under the watchful gaze of the Misty Mountains. Happy was that meeting, indeed, but brief. The dour rangers did not trust that they would all be safe from the wicked wizard and insisted that they head East.

"East!" cried Furry. "But that's back toward the mountains! How safe is that?"

"There is a new outpost, built on older ruins when our people long ago lived in these lands and herded flocks in these green meadows. We hope to encourage such things again," answered Aradhel. "We will be safer behind those walls, and that is where the forces of Rivendell will first head as they follow us. I would prefer to wait there and rest our steeds, for we have all used them hard."

"There are other rangers there as well, and perhaps there will be greater safety with greater numbers," said Cairdur.

"There were great numbers in Rivendell," said Cairduin grimly.

"But we were not ready then," said Legolas.

"Aye!" said Gimli, patting the blade of his axe. "And I will feel still more ready with walls of stone between me and whatever a wizard may think to do!"

They headed east, back toward the Misty Mountains, to the outpost of the Rangers and wearily arrived with the rising of the Sun. The horses and ponies were quite glad of the halt, and an opportunity to rest, as were the hobbits and old Gimli, too (who was old enough not to care if folk saw him tired!). The elves among them, and the tall rangers, did not seem quite as weary, but took advantage of the safety of the small fort to stretch out and rest given the opportunity, as soldiers will who know that perhaps too soon they would be glad they had. So it turned out on this occasion.

The sun had only risen through half her morning flight when the rangers on guard sounded their alarm. Not even Cairdur suspected that the wizard would come in the daylight, but the wizard was wise enough to seize the best chance he could find or make. The guards on watch did not see the danger at first, but heard it.

It was good that they were alert, for otherwise they might have thought nothing of the first sounds from the mountain slopes rising to the east. It was the sound of rocks moving. First just small scatterings. Then small rocks hitting larger ones. Loose pebbles clattering. Then a crash followed by a scuffing sound, cracking branches, and curses spoken in a dull uncouth tongue in deep coarse voices. Another harsh voice rose above the others, like smashing stone, shushing the other voices around it. By this time Legolas and some other of the elves joined the guards upon the wall to see what made such noises. Turry and Furry woke in the alerted fort.

"What do you suppose it is?" asked Furry. "Trolls?"

"Not in the daylight," answered Turry.

"Worse, I fear!" said Gimli, blinking bleary eyes.

"Stone giants from the mountains!" Legolas called down. "An entire clan has been brought down upon us!"

***

They were mightily big, gigantic in fact, and looked as if they were made from the stuff of the mountains themselves. Turry and Furry, who had strung their slender bows and climbed up to the top of the wall for a good look, could hardly believe their own eyes when they got that look. Bigger even than Bilbo's trolls, bigger by far, a dozen of the giants were ambling clumsily around the fort. Their rough grey skin looked like pitted granite. Their hair was long and matted, hanging over their thick brows and into their craggy faces. They were clad only in ragged knots of skins and furs hanging from their thick waists. Their arms were long and thick, and their great huge hands hung down below their stumpy knees. Some of them even used their knuckles to help them walk, and none of them were agile. Even as stooped over and as slouching as they were, they looked almost tall enough to leap up and grab the tops of the walls, but fortunately, stone giants can't jump. They are as strong as they look however, and that is mighty strong indeed!

Each of them grabbed a good-sized tree in stony hands and pulled hard, uprooting them like powerful men pulling up little saplings. Then, the giants turned back to the gates of the small fortress, and taking up the trees like great clubs began swinging with all their might to break down the strong gates. It was also fortunate that giants are not only larger than trolls, they are also nowhere near as smart, and as you know, trolls themselves are not all that clever.

They got in each other's way, and their strokes were poorly aimed, and they knocked each other about quite a bit. They began roaring and fighting one another, growing more angry all the while, punching and scuffling and tumbling down the slope away from the fort and splintering the trees until they were quite useless. The gate of the fort itself was relatively unscathed.

Even so, those manning the fort had no intention of letting the giants get close enough again to have another try. When the angry giants had finally tired themselves quite sometime later, and remembered why they had come down from the mountain and what they were supposed to be doing there in the first place, the archers were ready for them.

As soon as the first ones had clambered back within bowshot, a hail of arrows was loosed and flew down to meet them. How the lumbering giants howled and screamed! Many of the folk in the fort had to hold their ears at the noise of it. Back in the keep, little Eldarion was awakened and cried aloud, as angry that his morning nap was disturbed as the giants were at the stinging arrows. Madrigal had brought some things with her, in the hopes that the baby would be found. Elediriel was very glad of this (she had not yet told Maddie about her use of the miruvor when she fled the wizard through the woods!) and the two hobbit lasses tried to comfort the angry infant prince as best they could.

There was no tender comfort for the enraged giants! The arrows did not cause the thick-skinned brutes any mortal hurt, but they stung something fiercely and made the giants pause. Then a couple of them stepped up again and each got half a dozen arrows for his trouble. They howled and roared again, pulling at the shafts and crying out as they brushed the painful darts away. Another one advanced into range, and was soon bristling with arrows before he turned back, raging with anger and bleeding from a dozen painful wounds.

And so it was a standoff. After that, even the giants learned not to get any closer than the archers could shoot. They milled around down the hill from the fortress, shouting angrily at the rangers and soldiers within, but unwilling to get close enough to do them harm. Things might have gone on like that until the giants lost interest and went away, but that was not to be.

Howling wolves were heard, though the sun was bright and the day was growing warm. At their head was a great large wolf and upon his back was an old man with a flowing beard. He glared darkly at the fort and then went right up to the giants. From afar, the archers on the wall saw him gesticulating wildly and could hear him screaming and cursing the sullen giants. He stooped to the ground and picked up a handful of rocks and pebbles and cast them toward the fort.

One of the giants did the same, hurling a much larger handful of rather larger pebbles and stones. They clattered against the walls of the fort. The cackling laugh of the old man carried clear to the fortress. He bade each of the giants pick up a handful of rubble and hold their fists out in front of them. He passed back and forth before their ragged ranks, and what he said could not be heard. But then he moved out of their way and cried aloud.

More or less together and more or less at the small fort, the giants hurled their handfuls of rocks and stones. As the small projectiles fell toward the ground again, the wizard cried aloud a single piercing word in a grim language and the rocks and stones, whereever they were, exploded into sharp shards and flinders. Many fell far short, and harmlessly hit the ground before the fort or its stone walls. Some fell to either side, again without effect. Some few even fell beyond the fort. But quite a few of the exploding shards of shattering stone filled the air inside the walls of the small fortress.

One elf archer, who had for centuries walked under sun and moon delighting in the beauties of a younger world, was mortally wounded, catching a shattering blast full in his chest. He fell where he stood and did not live long enough to say another word. Several rangers and other elves were sorely wounded and more than one died later that day of the injuries suffered in that hour. Upon the walls, the soldiers and archers suffered hurts, some more and some less, but none were unscathed by the cruel assault.

Even so, the wizard was unimpressed. Only a couple of handfuls of stones actually fell within the walls of the fort, doing any damage at all. Evidently he thought it a waste of good magic, considering how many fistfuls landed harmlessly outside the fortification. He cursed the giants again, who cringed despite their great size. The wolves howled with their horrible laughter (being none too fond of giants themselves).

The old man singled out the largest of the giants and made him pick up a single stone, the size of a man's head. He uttered words and waved his hands and cried for the giant to heave the stone at the fort. It sailed high into the air and came falling straight at the center of the fortress wall.

"Look away!" cried Gimli. "Cover yourselves!"

The stone fell from the sky as the wizard cried aloud the final word of his terrible spell. It struck with full explosive force against the sturdy gates of the fort and blew them asunder. The smoke cleared away and the blasted gates hung in twisted iron and shattered timbers, useless and ruined.

The giants roared and the wolves howled! No archers were seen over the tops of the walls, and the giants came forward, slowly at first, and then with greater speed when no stinging arrows stopped their progress. A giant pulled another tree up as he passed and ran to be among the first to the tiny fortress. The first two giants reached the ruined gates and pulled them down. Then they got in one another's way, each seeking to be the first inside.

Suddenly, with a mighty cry, Gimli the Renowned was between their legs and hewing at their feet. The two giants that were nearest the dwarf roared with rage. The third giant swung his tree at the dwarf and knocked one of the other giants down. Gimli cried aloud again in the dwarven tongue and his great axe severed the foot of the other giant. He crashed screaming to the ground, narrowly missing the dwarf, whose axe swung again and was the last thing the giant's eyes saw before it clove his great misshapen head right between them. The other giant had gotten clumsily to his feet and the third was about to smash the dwarf to jelly from behind when the mighty bow of Lorien sang a lethal note. An elven arrow suddenly grew out of his eye. He dropped the tree on his own head and fell to the stony ground and never moved again. The other giant grew an arrow from each eye and the Took Twins cried together, "For the Shire!"

Three giants lay dead at the gates of the fort and the rest milled around angrily, just out of bowshot at the foot of the hill. The dwarf laughed at the giants and they roared back and started throwing stones and rocks to little effect. The dwarf and elf and hobbits praised one another's prowess until Cairduin cried grimly for them all to look again.

The wizard was screaming for the giants to stop what they were doing and reluctantly, the remaining nine began to pay him attention again. The wicked old man had evidently decided upon a strategy of letting the giants hurl one stone at a time, and Cairduin feared that they could not last long before that sort of assault. The dour ranger was right.

Now, one stone after another was hurled into the sky and came crashing down explosively among them, and all they could do was try to find some cover that the razor sharp shards could not penetrate. One of the rangers caught a large shard in his chest and fell back dying. A large piece of the battlement where the fallen ranger had stood was broken and crumbled.

In the walls of the inner keep, Elediriel and Madrigal were wide-eyed with worry and fear. Even Cairmir the son of rangers looked scared. And now so did the rangers themselves. Another stone fell right in the midst of the yard of the small fortress. Some of the horses and more of the rangers were killed or mortally wounded with that blast. The hobbit lasses cried aloud in terror and Ellie clutched the little baby close to her trembling body.

Soon, there would be no one left to draw bowstring or wield sword or axe. Soon the giants would enter the fort and none would be left to oppose them. Soon the wizard himself would come and neither Maddie nor Ellie would be able to stop him from again taking the precious baby and continuing with whatever wicked scheme they had briefly stopped. Tears came to Ellie's eyes, as with another ear splitting explosion, the walls around them were shaken and the door was blasted open.

And then, at first Elediriel could not believe her ringing ears, but it was not her imagination. It was the ringing horn cry she heard at dawn the previous day above the vale of Rivendell. It was the horn cry of Buckland, and Madrigal knew it well, for she had heard her grandfather blow it before. The low thunder of thousands of hooves left no doubt.

"The cavalry!" cried Maddie, with suddenly rising hope. "The cavalry has come!"
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Old 05-26-2024, 06:17 PM   #11
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Chapter XXI

THE CAVALRY OF ERIADOR

The sharp ears of Madrigal Brandybuck were not deceived and she indeed heard from afar the horn of Eorl, blown long and strong by her grandsire Meriadoc the Magnificent, riding together with his old friend Thain Peregrin Took. The old hobbits could not be denied and they rode proudly on their fine ponies following the vanguard of the Cavalry of Eriador.

With the clean sound of that enchanted horn rising high above the other calls of other horns and above the growing thunder of hundreds of hooves, the rangers and elves who still lived in the battered outpost took heart and once again dared to look above its ruined walls. Madrigal ran out of the chambers of the keep to the wreck of the fortress gate where Turgon and Fingon Took stood with Legolas Greenleaf, son of Thranduil, and Gimli the Renowned, son of Gloin. She brushed her brown mane of curls out of her face and shaded her eyes to look upon the Rangers of Eriador and the Elves of Rivendell riding hard from the south.

Outpacing them all was a rider whose mighty steed gleamed almost as golden as the sun running in her own course high above. His horse was a steed sired by the descendants of the great Shadowfax and had been handpicked as a gift by King Eomer of the Rohirrim. The rider looked much as any of the other hard-riding Rangers, but he was Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Chieftain of the Dunedain, Lord of Arnor and Gondor, King Elessar Telcontar, who held forward and aloft in his strong hand, Anduril, Flame of the West, brilliant with a fierce and terrible wrath. A verdant jewel flashed upon his brow in the bright sun. "Estel!" whispered Madrigal, almost to herself. "What?" asked Furry. "Hope!" she translated. "That is what the Queen calls him!"

Their hope drew nearer but the wizard was not idle. He, too, heard the horn cry and the thunder of the great cavalry, whirled around with his fine robes billowing in the morning sun, and cursed them with a piercing voice. As the king rode nearer, the old man had the giant grasp a large stone as he chanted terrible words over it.

The giant waited for Aragorn to ride nearer and then he heaved the small boulder. The wizard's finger followed the flight of the stone until it was almost near the king. Madrigal watched in horror as the wizard waited for an awful moment to speak the word that would blast the rock into a lethal explosion of sharp fragments to kill King Elessar and end all hope.

The bow of Lorien sang again that day, and Legolas shot a last desperate arrow from afar, piercing the wizard's outstretched hand before the spell was complete! The wicked old man shrieked in pain and surprise. The rock fell harmlessly behind Aragorn, who rode straight up to the wizard and would have severed his head from his neck with the great sword Anduril, if the chief of the giants had not stepped between them.

With giants and wolves roaring and howling and rushing to the fight, there was King Strider, alone upon his golden horse, with his great sword flashing in the brilliant sun over the mountains. And there was also the chief of the giants, towering high above the Chieftain of the Rangers with immeasurable strength, and with speed and cunning greater than the usual giant possessed. Aragorn turned his noble steed about and galloped full at the giant, with Anduril held upraised above his kingly head.

The giant chieftain gathered a handful of rocks, mere pebbles to him, but fist sized to you and me, and hurled them at the king. Even with no magic spell upon them, anything hurled by a giant might do great harm. But Aragorn was watching for this, and feinted with his steed first to the left, and then to the right, and back again almost faster than the eye could follow. The giant's throw went awry and then Aragorn was upon him! Again, the agile steed feinted as the old ranger ducked right under the giant's sweeping fist. Anduril flashed in a great swinging arc, but it seemed nothing had happened.

Aragorn wheeled his steed about for a second pass and the giant turned to meet him. At least, he tried to. As the monstrous creature turned, his great legs gave way beneath him, suddenly gushing dark red torrents of blood from behind his knees. He began to fall and before he struck the ground, Anduril flashed again and his misshapen head was sent rolling down the mountainside.

Other giants rushed to the aid of their chieftain, and not even Aragorn, on the great steed of Rohan, could have defended himself against so many. But now the cavalry from Rivendell had reached the battle! From horseback, running in close and turning fast, mounted archers stung the remaining giants and wolves with innumerable arrows. The fell beasts and giants soon retreated back up into the mountains, harried by stinging arrows, until they reached the high passes where no horse could follow.

The king wasted no time, seeing the cavalry close at hand. Aragorn spurred his mighty steed up the slope to the outpost, sending wolves flying and dying with every sweep of Anduril, so fierce was the wrath that wielded it. He did not stop until he had passed through the ruined doors of the small fortress. There, he dismounted and ran straight back to the shelter. There, the hobbit-maiden Elediriel stepped forward with Eldarion in her arms and held the babe up to his noble father. Splattered with the blood of wolf and giant, covered with the dust of pursuit, the King took the Heir in his arms and kissed him. Ellie saw a single tear of joy trickle down his weathered cheek.

***

The king could not linger over the happy moment. Even as Argorn was reunited with Eldarion, his cavalry pursued the fleeing giants eastward into their haunts in the Misty Mountains, and the wolves northward into the forests on the mountain's slopes. He smiled upon Elediriel as the other hobbits drew near and said, "We shall never forget what you have done, and whatever you ask, I will grant. But now, keep him for me a moment more, until his mother comes for him." He handed the infant back to the little hobbit lass and looked kindly upon her.

"Now, I must away!" he cried, and sprang lightly upon the back of his great golden steed. With a leap, the mighty horse cleared the ruined fortress gates again as well as the giants who were slain upon that spot, and then the king was gone. Madrigal, Turgon and Fingon crowded around Ellie, who stood looking down at the happy infant in her arms as if she found herself in a dream.

"The king seems hardly injured at all," observed Furry.

"He'll feel it later in the day, I'm sure," said Turry.

"What are you going to ask for, Ellie?" asked Maddie, with Turry and Furry pressing in as well.

"I don't know," said Ellie. "I really have no idea! All I want is to see Queen Arwen and get a hot bath, a hot breakfast, and a good long sleep!" The hobbits laughed together amid the carnage

"Ho! Enough of that!" cried the voice of Gimli the dwarf. "Come here you hobbits! There is grim work to be done."

The hobbits felt suddenly that their laughter was out of place and they realized that there were wounded who needed help, dying who needed comfort, and the dead who required honor for their sacrifice. Madrigal's face burned a bright red and she was angry with herself. She ran to find bandages and water. Turry and Furry lost their happy demeanor and followed the dwarf to help with the grave tasks at hand.

Soon enough, there was other help, as members of the cavalry returned. They found that Gimli and the Took Twins had laid out the slain in the center of the courtyard of the fort, with their hands folded over their breasts, and their weapons laid nearby. Several elves of Rivendell, and not a few rangers also, lay cold and unsmiling in the afternoon sun and never knew in that life that their sacrifices had not been vain.

The rangers began the work of digging a grave so that two mounds could be raised the next day near the fortress in honor of the slain. They chose for this a spot high on the slopes overlooking the fort and the plain beyond, from whence came help in the time that their lives had purchased. The mounds were raised to the north and the south of the path the giants had chosen for their assault. Under the southern mound, nearest Rivendell, were buried the elves of that fair valley, and under the northern mound, the rangers whose vigilance never waned. The bodies of the slain giants and the wolves were taken high into the mountains, and were burned together that night beside that same path. It was said among the rangers that the great blackened bones remained there for many years as a warning of the wrath of the King of Arnor.

The elves of Rivendell took up the task of tending the wounded and setting the fortress and the camp of the host in order. By evening, not only was the cavalry encamped, but so also was a host of troops, mustered for they knew not what, since clearly the Heir had been recovered. With the Host of Rivendell, came Queen Arwen Undomiel upon a palfrey borne proudly on a noble silver steed. She dismounted in the courtyard of the fortress and looked upon the slain. Her breast rose with a shuddering breath and she deeply mourned their loss, having known some of their faces for an age and more under the sun and stars.

She then saw the hobbits and Gimli the dwarf looking on. Coming to them, she took from Elediriel Cotton her child, Eldarion Telcontar, Heir of Elendil, son of Aragorn. The beautiful queen gravely thanked the hobbit lass. She wept freely and silently at the return of her infant son amid the present reminders of the sacrifices of her loyal subjects. Her love for them, and for the living who remained, was suddenly sharp and keen. It seemed to Ellie that the Queen looked long upon the faces of the slain. Arwen held Eldarion in her arms and chanted quiet elvish words to him of love and of bravery and of sacrifice as she stood before each man and elf, so that the Heir would never take for granted the lives he was one day destined to rule. At last, she turned again to the young hobbits and the old dwarf.

"All of you have done so much, and have earned our gratitude for as long as we shall reign. But I should like very much," Arwen said, "if you would serve me further, Elediriel. You have only to name any gift I could give, and it would be yours. But I would come to know you better, for it has been years since one from the Shire has been my handmaiden. You would do us honor, and I would have Eldarion know you and learn from the Shire in his early years, if you would stay by me in my service."

"But, but," Ellie stammered. "Oh my Queen! I am not worthy! I have done a terrible thing!"

The Queen looked kindly upon the hobbit lass, with only a hint of amusement in her wise and ageless eyes. "And what terrible thing could you have done, Elediriel Cotton?"

"I-I-I... I gave the Prince miruvor to keep him quiet in the forest!" she blurted. "I'm so sorry! I know babies aren't supposed to have... but I didn't know what else... I didn't have anything else and... and..." And the hobbit girl burst into unhappy tears and seemed inconsolable. Maddie and Turry and Furry looked on in disbelief at Ellie, not knowing what the Queen might say.

The laughter of Arwen Undomiel was like flowing waters on a silver fountain. Soon the hobbits were smiling and grinning broadly and Ellie dried her tears and dared to smile herself. "My dear young Elediriel," said Arwen through her laughter, "my own mother, Celebrian, would give a drop or two of miruvor to my brothers Elladan and Elrohir when they were ill or ill tempered! Or so she told me, once upon a time. Perhaps that explains their fondness for the cordial to this day! I shall give Eldarion something better now. But let us not make a habit of such things!" Her smile was as bright as moonlight and her eyes gleamed like kindly stars.

Queen Arwen turned and left the hobbits, walking with light steps past the slain, stopping and gracefully doing a courtesy before them as if she were a common elven maiden honoring the highest nobility. Then, servants of her household helped her remount her silver steed and she went on to her tents, pitched in the plain at the base of the hill, guarded by many soldiers of Rivendell.

Gimli the Renowned, dwarf of many years and of long memory, wiped a tear from his own eyes and spoke first, "She reminds me of the Lady. So fair and noble, yet not haughty or prideful in the least. Alas, that there are not more of their like in this world!" And with that, the old dwarf breathed a deep sigh, then shook his head, clapped his hands and rubbed them vigorously together. "Come!" he cried, "You hobbits can find us something to eat! I am hungry as I have not been in many a year!"

In truth, the young hobbits had little more idea than the dwarf about where supper was to be found, but campfires were already burning down in the encampment, and surely, food was for the finding down there. They walked down the hill, and thinking of supper, they also suddenly found the excitement and the exertions of the day had left them quite weary and hungry themselves. Fortunately, they did not have to go very far before they were met by none other than old Merry and Pippin, come looking for them.

"The Queen herself has sent us to find you! She bids you come and rest yourselves and take supper!" shouted Pippin, as the young Tooks happily rushed their old grandsire.

"Grandfather!" cried Madrigal, wrapping her little arms about Merry's vast stomach and letting him hold her tightly. The old hobbit looked up and saw Ellie looking on, so he reached out and grabbed her as well. The hobbit girl never felt so happy and loved since her father, Odo, had died when she was just a wee thing.

While they did not actually eat with Queen Arwen, for she was tired herself and had to tend her son privately, she had ordered set for them a meal fit for the hungry hobbits (and for their friends and relations!) who had saved the Heir of Elendil. Pippin remarked, "I don't know how they manage such things, whether wandering in the forest, or campaigning in the field, the elves set a table better than the finest party in the Shire!"

"You said a mouthful," said Merry, with his mouth full. It was then that Legolas returned from the hunt and joined them at the welcoming fire.

"Ho! Legolas!" cried Gimli. "What news?"

"None better than you have seen yourselves," said the elf wearily. "The wizard escaped us. Never have I felt so weary in the pursuit since you and I, Master Dwarf, and the King himself, ran after these old rascals here."

"You might have run faster with the whips of orcs at your heels!" said Pippin cheerfully. "I don't believe I ever ran faster, even though my hands were tied!"

"It was not the orcs behind you, but the wizard before us," growled the dwarf. "Never was my heart so heavy and my will so burdened. Yet we ran all the same!"

"So it was this time!" cried Legolas. "I marked how the wizard ran, clutching his wounded hand, when he saw that he could not win."

"Aye! Now there was a long shot well aimed!" laughed Gimli. "Was ever a wizard so surprised?"

"That I cannot say. But it was as much good luck, if luck there be, as my aim, and as much the lingering enchantment of Lorien on this bow as any strength in my arm," said the elf. "Be that as it may, the old man took to his heels and called in the growling tongue of the Wargs. A wolf larger and fiercer than the rest came at his call and let the wizard climb upon his back as the goblins are accustomed to do. The old man was borne away upon the back of the great wolf faster than even an elf could run through the trackless woods. I know, for I gave chase, and so swiftly did the warg run that I would have been hard pressed to keep him in sight, even had not the will of the wizard been set to slow my feet and steal my wind."

And with that, the wood elf hung his head in shame. Madrigal came to him and gave him a hug about his shoulders and told him she was proud of him anyway. Legolas Greenleaf looked up then and laughed merrily once more.

"You give me cheer, hobbit lass," said the elf. "We have done much to foil the schemes of a wicked wizard at large, have we not?"

"Aye!" cried Gimli again. "Aye! Much has been done! Mistress Ellie here has saved the Heir! These Tooks here have rescued her from the wilderness! And we have rescued them all from wolves and giants!"

"And I helped!" said Cairmir. The younger son of Cairduin had not spoken much since the rescue, but had been happy to be there among so many great and renowned folk.

"That you did!" cried Furry. "There are many stories here, and I want to hear them all around this campfire tonight!"

"There walks another story," said Turry, pointing at a tall form striding past them in the darkness. Even as the young hobbit spoke, the kingly figure paused and turned toward them. The flickering light of the fire revealed the lean and weary features of Aragorn. He smiled and saluted them, then strode toward the tents of Queen Arwen.

"He looks so tired," said Ellie.

"We are none of us young as we once were," said Gimli. "And this was a day of great labour for even a young man. And he was sore injured, too. Tomorrow, no doubt, will bring counsel beyond the tales of friends around a campfire."

"You can be sure of that," said Legolas. "I doubt even now that the labours of the King are ended. But ours are, so let us be merry while we may. Now, young people, tell me all that has happened..."

Elediriel's story was wanted first, and she told it simply, and there was much wonder and concern about the actions of the wizard and questions that Ellie could not answer. Madrigal told of Rondramehir, the Lord of the Eagles, and Ellie was glad to hear he was in the care of the elves. Turry told of his happiness to find Ellie, and there was a special gleam in his eyes for her when she looked into them.

After that, she did not listen quite as intently to the stories that the others told. Her mind drifted ever and again to Turgon Took, who must have thought similar things for he often returned her shy gaze. Her eyes also were cast toward the tents of the Queen, where the Heir now rested in the safety of his mother's arms. But an eerie flickering light could be seen through the silken walls of the tents as the night deepened.




Chapter XXII

THE COUNCIL OF ELESSAR

Turgon Took, and his brother Fingon, awoke early (for hobbits) and went about the camp to see if they couldn't find an early breakfast. Turry and Furry had stayed awake as late as they could, talking with Legolas and Gimli. Elediriel and Madrigal bade the boys good night only a little earlier, and neither as yet had stirred from their tent, set for them not far from Queen Arwen's pavilion. The Took Twins slept under the stars near the campfire while Legolas and the rangers continued to talk. Young Cairmir had long since fallen asleep and his father Cairduin had covered him with a blanket and let him sleep there as the adults continued their tales and remembrances. Gimli, proud old dwarf that he was, refused to lie down, but nodded where he sat, determined to stay awake (or at least erect!) with the elf and the younger men until they themselves rested.

The rangers and the dwarf were asleep by the low fire and Legolas was nowhere about. Awaking hungry (as hobbits often do), the twins quietly set out for the kitchen area of the camp. There, elves and Big Folk were already working together to prepare meals for an army, as the dawn broke above the Misty Mountains and lit the lands of ancient Rhudaur.

Turry and Furry were soon rewarded with a bite of early breakfast, really just cold leftovers from the suppers of the night before. Still, even the elven bread of the night before, cold roast chicken, and strong hot tea were mighty tasty to the hobbit lads. As soon as they felt a little less hungry, they filled a rather large basket with more victuals and carried it carefully between them back to their part of the camp. Now the rangers and young Cairmir were gone, but Gimli still snored by the coals of the fire.

Ellie was standing in front of a tent, looking about sleepily. Madrigal sat nearby, looking at her reflection on a dwarven mirror hung on a pole as she brushed her mane of curly brown hair.

"Oh, look Maddie!" cried Ellie. "The boys have brought us some breakfast!"

"That's why I keep them around," said the saucy hobbit lass. "They suffice for hauling things and for serving their betters. Please set my breakfast down just there," she said, pointing nearby with her brush.

"And good morning to the two of you, too!" said Furry, laughing. "We have better things to do, you know. If you weren't so completely helpless, we could do them!"

"Helpless!" cried Madrigal. "Why, Fingon Took, if it wouldn't embarrass you for the rest of your life and make you the laughing stock of the Shire, I'd pin the tips of your ears together behind your head!"

"You and what army?"

"This one!" she said waving her brush about at the camp around them. "But don't worry, I shall only need them to witness your humiliation. Now, pour my tea!"

"Yes, O Great Mistress!" said Furry obsequiously, bowing low before the beauty. "Would you like it with cream and honey?"

While the other two tweenagers bantered, Turry and Ellie only quietly said "Good morning!" to each other, gazing into one another's eyes and not paying the slightest attention to Maddie and Furry. After a few moments like this, they both seemed to realize that the other two had gone quiet and were watching them in great amusement.

"Bwah ha!" laughed Furry, digging out the bread and chicken. "It's too early in the morning for that! You two love birds come here and help us finish off these birds!"

The tips of Ellie's ears turned hot and red, poking notoriously out of her straight blonde hair. She glanced shyly back at Turry, who bit his smiling lip. But his ears were red, too! She noticed (hopefully!) that the handsome young Took did not deny the accusation!

Madrigal just laughed and winked at Ellie, who said nothing. But all four of the young hobbits were soon quiet, making short work of their cold breakfast. They were just finishing up when old Meriadoc and Peregrin strolled over.

"Here now!" cried Merry. "Any of that left for an old campaigner?"

"I'm thinking they've forgotten all about their elders," said Pippin.

"Who could forget the racket you hobbits make!" said Gimli. The old dwarf was rubbing his eyes and stumbling blearily toward the hobbits. "But where there're hobbits, there's bound to be something to eat!"

***

The entire camp was awake before the dwarf and the hobbits finished eating. News stirred throughout the host that they might not return to Rivendell right away. More troops were set to work on the repair of the fortress. Soldiers who had ridden or fought or marched in haste the day before, now worked to repair armour and shields, sharpen blades and points, and check their horses and equipment. A herald made his way through the host, finding this one and that, and bidding them come to the Council of Elessar that night.

The hobbits found themselves among the mighty and the wise bidden to attend this meeting of the king. Clearly, King Elessar had news of great importance and no one knew what might happen next.

The day grew cloudy and dim and seemed to pass very slowly for the young hobbits. The rangers had not returned, nor had Legolas. Men and elves who were gravely wounded the day before, were tended, but some had died in the night and were buried with their comrades in mounds that were raised upon the slopes. Their burial was held that afternoon and this was the only time that day that the King and Queen were seen. To the eyes of his old friends, Aragorn seemed grey and tired. After the service, he returned to his tent. Some whispered that he was grown old and needed rest. Others said that he returned to wrestle in spirit with the wicked wizard, who had fled. Perhaps this was so, for as darkness fell again upon the camp, the eerie light that flickered from within his tent had resumed, just as it had been seen the entire night before.

***

The appointed hour finally came and those who had been invited awaited the King and Queen within the walls of the fortress. The walls were high and strong again, though work on the battlements would continue the next day. The wreckage of the gate had been cleared away, and sentries stood before the gaping opening and the temporary barricade behind it. No chances were being taken with the safety of the Queen and the Heir. A wolf howled very far away, but no other enemies came near.

Poles had been erected in a large circle in the center of the courtyard. Upon these were hung lanterns and within this circle sat a number of great and important people, and the hobbits as well, for testimony was required of the tweens, and the elder hobbits were summoned in their official capacities. Benches had been made and these were arrayed so that everyone around the circle could see who stood to talk. King Strider stood first and beside him was a tall stand wrought of iron, as if for a lamp. The top of it was round and covered with a black cloth embroidered in silvery needlework with the White Tree and Seven Stars of the house of Elendil.

"We are met tonight," said Aragorn, "to learn all that we know of the situation which now confronts us. My attention for many years had been upon the lingering threats of the South and the East. Eomer King of Rohan and I fought a long fight together with many brave men against the remnants of Sauron's assembled malice. A great victory was won before the Black Gate, but much evil remained. At long last, we deemed that we had vanquished the lingering threat of Mordor for our time, and I returned to Arnor.

"I have long been suspicious of the quiet years in the North, and it seemed that I had neglected the land of my birth long enough. In these last years, we have rebuilt much of what was of old and now begin the resettlement of the abandoned realms of the northern Dunedain.

"I thought us strong again, and prepared for any challenge. The time had come for a new Heir to be born to the line of Elendil, for we have now been at peace or truce with our enemies for many years and have at last begun the renewal of the united kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor.

"And yet, threads thought lost, woven long ago into the tapestry of ages of opposition to the Darkness, threaten to unravel all that has been done.

"Into the heart of Rivendell the evil dared to come, through my negligence and pride. I did not heed the warnings of Thranduil and Thorin, and so the darkness came and laid low that sanctuary. Now, others shall tell that tale in full." Aragorn motioned for the ranger Aradhel to pick up the story.

"We first came upon the wizard, who called himself Pallando the Blue, when we passed near the ruins of Dol Goldur. He was dressed in rags and seemed to be examining the fallen walls of the ancient fortress."

"It is a place," said Lord Celeborn, "that may yet have some attraction for evil things. It has been a lifetime of men since I led a host from Lothlorien to the rout of Dol Goldur. When we had killed every creature that served Sauron there, Galadriel laid low its battlements and cast down its walls with songs such as none have heard since the Elder Days. The People of the Golden Wood who did not come to tarry with me in Rivendell passed that way when they sought their cousins in Greenwood the Great, which was called Mirkwood in the days when Sauron dwelt there, whom we called the Necromancer in our ignorance."

"Aye," agreed Legolas. "And naught of evil has dared to raise its head there since that day, for my people and yours have made the woods wholesome and have kept watch upon the ruins of Dol Goldur. In part, this was why I urged we take that road."

"Perhaps it will be shown to be for the best that you did," said Celeborn. The tall silver-haired Lord of the Elves looked at each of the travelers, particularly the rangers, as he said this. Each of them looking into the eyes of the elf felt their piercing gaze, a regard that searched them through, measured them with an ancient wisdom, and found them blameless. At the last, his attention was fixed on the eyes of Aragorn himself and he said, "Had this wizard not been found, by chance as it seems, we cannot say what dangers we may have come to face."

"We have faced more than we might have, even so," said Aragorn, evenly meeting the eyes of the elven lord. "While none of these can be blamed if they fell to the power of the wizard's lies, I should have been more vigilant, as were Thorin of the Dwarves and Thranduil of the Elves. A King of Men might have followed their wise example."

"Say not so!" cried Legolas, son of Thranduil. His voice betrayed a certain bitterness. Suddenly, Elediriel realized that the events of the last days meant that Legolas was forever banished from his father's kingdom. "Say rather," continued the green-clad wood elf with an edge to his voice, "that they are kings accustomed to hiding in closed realms and it is less their regard for security than their distrust of outsiders that vaunts itself as wisdom. Let not the King of Men make his people prisoners of mistrust. Better the open trust that is your nature."

"Legolas speaks rightly," agreed Gimli. "You may look upon the realms of Mountain and Wood when you visit, thinking them wonderful indeed, and you would not be wrong. But it would not be right for Men to live as Elves or even as Dwarves."

"Nor should you take upon yourself a burden that I may claim as well," said Celeborn. "For I am liege of Rivendell, and its security is more my responsibility than yours."

"But I am father of my child and husband of my wife and any cotholder could show greater vigilance for his family than did Aragorn, son of Arathorn," said the king. "But that has little bearing on the matter before us."

"Yet we will ponder these words, and learn from their wisdom," said Queen Arwen. "My husband is hard on himself, yet a great king must be so. But neither wife nor queen blames him or any of these whose valour has returned my son to me and your heir to his destiny. I would hear less of who would blame themselves for the evil this wizard has chosen and more of what has happened."

And so Aradhel continued his part of the tale. The ranger told of how the wizard's mind and conversation seemed little by little to improve on the road to the caverns of Thranduil until even the great elven king was overshadowed by his presence.

The ranger summarized for the Council the story the wizard told there, of the treachery of Alatar the Black, of an age of icy darkness for Pallando the Blue, and of the duel that transfixed them both in a frozen tomb of tumbled stone until they were uncovered by workers salvaging the ancient stones.

Legolas spoke again and said, "Perhaps that there was much truth to this tale, for it seemed true even to my father, who listened with a wary ear. In this, the wizard showed his cunning, for an outright lie would not have fooled the vigilance of Thranduil. Alatar wrapped his lie in the truth, I think."

Around the circle, there was a murmur of agreement, for it explained much. Cairduin then picked up the tale and told of how, on the whole long road to the Lonely Mountain and back to Rivendell, the wizard seemed interested in every detail of what had happened since the War of the Ring. At this, Gimli cried out.

"Aye, and too much did I tell the old man of the defenses of Erebor! How proudly did I tell him of our vigilance, and describe to him the work of the dwarves! Alas for my folly! May that wizard get what he deserves!"

"We all talked over much," said Cairduin with a dour voice. "But the wizard talked as well, and many things seem plainer to me now."

"Aye," said Legolas. "He spoke many words to the birds, prattling as if he were not far from mad. What things they told him when he was alone, I cannot say, for they did not answer him when I was about. The things he said to them in my hearing made no sense, but clearly he was using them to summon fell creatures along the way."

"The orcs and wolves!" said Furry.

"And that giant vulture!" said Turry.

"And the giants, too!" said Maddie.

Aradhel said, "From the start he took on the role of Pallando the Blue, I think, perhaps seeing our party as we approached the ruins of Dol Goldur. It was no great matter for him to mascarade as his old friend, guessing rightly that we would receive such a one and take him withersoever he wished. He learned of us that Arnor was rebuilding and that an Heir would be born in Rivendell with great celebration on Mid-Year's Day. I think that along the way, the mind of Alatar the Black conceived a great mischief."

"Much more than mischief," said Aragorn. "My heart tells me that it is war he plans one day."

"One such as this black wizard might plan for an age," said Celeborn. "Men tend to think of the day at hand, and elves tend to think of the days that have been. But one of his order may do both, seeing the paths of the future as well with more clarity than men or elves. Perhaps the wizard took chance with both hands, while he was out searching for Pallando the Blue. Still, it has begun to seem to me that there is something brewing in the North."

"Aye," said Elrohir. "We have been abroad many years, my brother and I, visiting the elves of the Grey Havens, as well as the Kingdom of Thranduil, and searching out the few wandering bands of our kindred who still travel the wilds. We have heard somewhat of the rumours of the land, and these have been quiet until most recently."

"Too quiet, as it seemed to us," said Elladan. The sons of Elrond were ever distrustful of orcs, never forgetting the torment of Celebrien, their mother and Arwen's. "Whatever they have been doing, it is a great secret and is unlike their usual activity, such as it has always been."

"Except when a great one rises among them," said Aragorn. "Or when one such as Saruman of old would bring them into submission unto himself. I think that in the months since he has escaped imprisonment, Alatar has been very busy. Say you that Alatar may have been searching for Pallando? I think rather that the hunter was actually the hunted. I do not know with certainty. But since I have turned my gaze North, following these wizards, I have learned that indeed war is afoot. As I regarded the north, I looked afar to the ancient stronghold of the Longbeards, taken bitterly from them by the goblins an age and more ago. Mount Gundabad has been quiet indeed for a lifetime of men. But now it is teeming with orcs as a mound of ants.

"I cannot yet say how great the involvement of Alatar the Black may be. But he is not ready. I deem that their great numbers are insufficient to overrun all of the north. Yet, they could become a sword in our back, if one day war were raised again from the East. I think he saw what may have been his only opportunity to kidnap Eldarion, hoping perhaps to hold him hostage against our conduct and thus prevent our strength from being raised against his schemes. But like the Dark Lord he once served, he did not reckon on hobbits." The king turned with a kindly eye to Elediriel, and said, "It is time now that we hear from one to whom we shall forever owe the greatest gratitude, and learn of this other wizard, the one I deem the true Pallando the Blue.

With that, Ellie told them of the strange old man she met in the forest, fleeing the false blue wizard with the heir in her arms, and of how he rescued them from wolves. She could not repeat the unusual words he spoke, but she was able to explain how soothing and calming they were to her. Then she described how he threw a stone into the air before he left, making it flare with a lovely brilliance and a most musical sound.

"....it was like a dream that I once had. But even more beautiful." she finished.

"It was like fireworks and flowers," agreed Turry. "It led us right to her. If it hadn't been for that, we would have ridden right past her and never been the wiser."

"I do not like these wizards who throw exploding stones! They seem too much alike!" said Gimli.

"They are very much alike," said Ellie. "But as different as night and day. Or black and blue. That's what he was like! Like a clear blue sky. The other one was always like a black fog or a clouded sky at midnight. I never liked him!"

"Alike or not," said Legolas, "I will not judge the one by the other. There has been too much of that in this world. But what of these wizards? They both seem to have vanished without a trace."

"For most of this day and last night I have been examining that matter, and have learned much," said Aragorn. "They have both headed north. I have seen them. When each of them perceived me, he became shrouded to my view, and would not permit me to observe where they did go, even until this hour."

"The eyes of the King of Gondor and Arnor are keener than the eyes of Elves!" said Legolas. The wood elf looked with a knowing expression upon his old friend. "Your eyes have indeed grown sharp since the days we hunted orcs across Rohan."

"Aye!" said Gimli. "For I remember that your ears were sharper than your eyes, and could hear the rumours of horses through the ground, while Legolas was counting spearheads! Can the ears of a ranger hear the tread of two old men, many leagues away? Or the foul feet of the orcs beyond the mountains all the way to Gundabad? The dwarves have not forgotten the sacred vault where Durin breathed his first. Nor have we forgotten our debt to the goblins, though it began long ago. Yet it is far from here!"

"For a moment, I almost thought the memory of dwarves faded with time," said the king, with a smile flickering across his tired face. "Or have you forgotten....this." Aragorn drew the black cloth from the iron stand beside him, revealing a black globe, perhaps a foot across. It seemed to glow softly from some immeasurable distance within, as if it were an immensely deep well lit from the bottom with only a single candle, but one as bright as day. So it seemed to each around the circle, from whatever their vantage: a warm light very far away. It captured the eye and pulled it ever towards its depths. Alone around the circle, the old Thain of the Shire, Peregrin Took, turned his face away and would not look upon it.

"This is the Palantir of Orthanc," said Aragorn. "With it, I have seen much. None of it comforts me. For many years, I have used it to great advantage against our enemies to the East and South, who rest now in uneasy truce, but are ever ready for revenge and are ever apt to the plans of Darkness. But for all that I have learned in the last day, there is something that gives me great unease. I think we have laid bare the strategy of Alatar the Black. He prepares the orcs of the North for war, perhaps years from now. Perhaps sooner. He thought to stay our hand with a royal hostage, rather than wait for our frontiers to become repopulated, strong, and vigilant. But Gundabad holds something else."

He told the council around him that he had surveyed the Palantir until he found the wizard Alatar, in the company of mountain goblins, riding wolves in a speeding retreat ever farther north. The wizard Pallando followed slowly on foot. Once each had perceived the king's surveillance, they shrouded themselves from view.

"Wizards, even good ones, or even mad ones, I suppose," said Aragorn, "prefer that their affairs be conducted without meddling. So since I could not follow them with my sight, I thought to look ahead. Pallando followed Alatar. Alatar rode with orcs and wargs. Their trail led north. The last great stronghold of the orcs lies in that direction, at the end of the Misty Mountains. The black wizard will reach it before even our cavalry could intercept him."

And there, the king told them, he saw a mountain carved out within from peak to root with great caverns and small, connected with many tunnels and chambers, filled with the twinkling lights of torches to provide such light as orcs needed. There were many of these creatures, thousands upon thousands spawning in the mountain far from their enemies and yet not far enough. Too many to stay put, but too few to avail against the gathering strength of Arnor to the west, and of Dale and Erebor to the east. Though a problem to be dealt with, this was not what gave the great king the most concern.

"When your enemy is known, you may form your plans and you may understand what plans he may make against you. I surveyed the extent of the stronghold of the orcs and of the population within. These, I think, we may deal with in time, and make an end of them. But at the base of the mountain, there is a blackness that I cannot pierce. It is more than unlit by torch or lantern, it is as surely shrouded from my view as the two wizards who head that way.

"I do not know what secret lies hidden in the heart of Mount Gundabad. But we must find out. My heart tells me that there is a greater danger hidden there in the darkness than presented by any kidnapping or raising of armies.

"We must lay siege to Gundabad, discover what lies shrouded in darkness there, and destroy it if we can, lest Alatar the Black use it with all the renewed strength of orcs from the Misty Mountains and with whatever hosts he may bring under his hand from afar."
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Old 07-04-2024, 07:51 PM   #12
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Chapter XXIII

THE LONG MARCH

The very next day, messengers were sent to the King's allies in Rhovanion east of the Misty Mountains, and to all whom could carry weapons in the muster of Eriador, west of the Misty Mountains. Aragorn hoped to bring enough strength to a sudden siege of Mount Gundabad to force the goblins to a war they could not win. Even the hobbits of the Shire could be counted on to do their part. In fact, when King Strider began discussing with Thain Peregrin and Master Brandybuck the role of the hobbits, he was met with a resistance that little surprised him.

"Yes, we can indeed help to provision the army for the siege," said old Pippin. "But we can do more, besides!"

"That's right!" chimed in Merry. "My son will organize cartage from the Shire to Bree. But there are plenty of young ones who would gladly take their share of the danger as well. Now, if we must review the martial history of the Shire, let me start with the last invasion of goblins back in the days of..."

"No! That is quite all right!" laughed Aragorn. "You need NOT recount the daring exploits of halflings past and present! Tell me, what strength you can offer me in the field that helps me more than provisioning the men and elves of Eriador?"

"I admit, that is quite a lot to do in itself," said Pippin. "But I think that, in addition, my son, Faramir, can muster a fair regiment of sharp-eyed hobbits with Tookish bows, such as my grandsons wield."

"Aye! And strong fast ponies to carry them, such as my granddaughter rides," said Merry. "Buckland's breed has been improved somewhat from the stock of Rohan." The old hobbit had brought Stybba home with him from the great War, a gift of old King Theoden, and the noble pony had enjoyed a long and productive life as the most sought after stallion in the meadows of the Shire. Merry took a deep breath and began to lecture the king on the worth of Buckland ponies.

Aragorn laughed, and prevented the old hobbit from embarking under full sail upon a recounting of the careful breeding history of the Shire ponies by agreeing to let the worthies of the Shire be included in the great campaign.

"But, I think that they shall have the honor of protecting the Queen, rather than serving in the front lines of the siege," said the King.

At first, the old hobbits were of a mind to protest this, but when they realized that Queen Arwen herself insisted upon accompanying the host, they saw that her protection was a needful duty and one not to be despised. This was news that at first caused some consternation throughout the host. Yet, it also became a great source of pride when it became known that Arwen Undomiel would not return to Rivendell until Alatar the Black had been found and cast down.

"For I have seen that there is no safety for my son in Rivendell," she had said to the king, "at least no greater safety than may be found surrounded by the hosts of war, for the days of the secrecy of Elves are ended and the days of the might of Men have begun. I will trust to the strength of my husband who is with me in this new age, rather than to the wisdom of former days, for my father abides now in the distant West and my son's destiny is here."

"May I never fail you again," Aragorn said.

"My Hope has never failed," Arwen answered.

It was agreed that Lord Celeborn would lead the Lorien elves who had come with him to Rivendell, and that these would be the archers of the host. A cavalry of rangers and elves were to be led by Elladan and Elrohir, the sons of Elrond. From Fornost came another company of troops, less noble and skilled, but strong and fierce, was formed from recruited Breemen and folk of Dunland who had come in recent years to work on the towers and walls of new strongholds and to settle the northern lands. It was hoped that many more would come from the teeming population of Dunland with the promise of new homesteads. If they were settled in the region north of Rhudaur, then the Bree-folk would be relieved of a surfeit of immigrants. As is often the case in matters of war, long planned policies can sometimes be brought forward to serve many causes. Two birds would be killed with one stone, as the saying goes. The participation of the Dunlenders in the war against the orcs would make the northern reaches safe for their immigration. But there would likely be terrible battles fought first. Aragorn would be Captain over all and planned to fight wheresoever he was most needed, wielding Anduril, the Flame of the West, the sword of Elendil reforged.

The Council deemed that there was strength enough on the plain to begin the siege, and that the other forces could follow them to Gundabad as the muster continued. The way was long, and the summer and autumn would be all too short before winter in the North made the siege as hard for the besiegers as for the besieged. The King hoped that a decisive battle could be forced before the months of ice and snow decided matters for them.

The march to the north in the high summer was at first warm, then hot as the season burned more fiercely. Even so, it was not unpleasant, for in the northern reaches the mornings were cool and the Misty Mountains rising on their right hand were beautiful. Many streams flowed from the mountains, watering the verdant lands. Here and there, old ruins could be seen, for the land had been settled once upon a time. Great meadows promised abundant pasture for flocks and lush fields for grain. While the hobbits thought the slopes of the valleys steep, and the soil too stoney, the long forsaken lands seemed fair and lovely to the eyes of the rugged Dunlenders. The men laughed happily as they planned with one another how they might settle in just such a place, when the goblins had been destroyed. King Strider's kinsmen, the Dunedain, looked upon the lands and the occasional ugly ruins and thought of how an evil folk had once lived in the region. If some murmured that their king was mistaken to put the former vassals of Saruman into lands once ruled from Angmar, then others quickly urged their more dour cousins to have more faith in the son of Arathorn and in the Dunlenders he thought worthy of trust.

The cavalry did not ride hard, for it was a long journey and a host on foot from Rivendell traveled with them. Also, it would not do to arrive too soon before the siege was begun in earnest with the muster of Eriador and of their allies from Rhovanion on the other side of the Misty Mountains. So King Elessar husbanded their strength. Even so, each day's journey was long and wearying, for the king commanded that camp be broken early and made late. As the days passed, each day started sooner and ended later but the land grew less green and more rocky, slowing the progress of the cavalry and the following host even further. Scouts rode ahead to determine the best path and also rode to either side of the great company to prevent any ambush that might have been planned. Eventually, the Mountains of Mist dwindled and a great range of mountains rose across their way to the north. The tallest peak could now be seen, Gundabad, a great jagged mass of grey stone, laden with snows that never melted. It seemed to glower malignantly at them from afar. Soon, all who looked long upon it began to feel ill at ease, so none gazed upon it for long. Their way now bent to the east between the steep slopes of a great valley as they made for this dismal destination and the pass between the Misty Mountains and the goblin infested Grey Mountains.

It was in the days of their long march north that Elediriel entered into the service of Queen Arwen as her handmaiden. I'm afraid that this made Maddie somewhat jealous of Ellie, and though they remained good friends all their long lives, I'm sorry to say that it was some little time before they were as close again as they had been before Ellie's adventure. I'm sure that you might think this unfair of Madrigal, but you must remember that she was the Beauty of the Shire, one of the magnificent Brandybucks, and was rather used to being the hobbit lass that received the most attention.

If you were a very beautiful hobbit lass (and not a little spoiled!), suddenly the least among many folk, I dare say you might not have behaved any better, even if you were as good of heart as Madrigal Brandybuck! There she was, surrounded by many mighty men, a company of ageless elves, a dwarf of great renown, and even several hobbits of proven bravery. Now it should be said that not one of these folk thought the less of Maddie, and indeed loved having the saucy girl around, whose strong personality was usually the match of her beauty, but she herself felt that she was really not much help or worth at all. So, of course, poor plain little Ellie caught a little of Maddie's envy and anger one night near the end of the northward journey, after she came back to the hobbit's camp, late for supper.

Gimli was recounting the tragic tale of the Longbeards, the great tribe of dwarves that descended from Durin himself. They were the dwarves who first found the caverns of Gundabad, and enlarged them until they became a great settlement, making many things for the woodsman, farmers, and shepherds of the ancient northlands. Ellie arrived just as Gimli began speaking of their downfall.

"Those were days of peace for our great tribe. There, in Gundabad, Durin, the great father of my people awoke, and it burns my beard to think of what that mountain has become! Better that it should fall to rubble than endure the foul presence of the orcs! But this most sacred of places was lost to us long ago. Hordes of goblins and other creatures came in those years to our mountains. Survivors perhaps, of some great wars of the Elder Days, before the intrigues of the elves brought about the Bending of the world." The old dwarf cast a twinkling eye at the wood elf nearby.

"'Intrigues!' Say rather, the valour of the Noldor," said Legolas. "My people know little enough of the causes of the wars of those elves. But it may be that the reshaping of the world was fated for reasons that began before the world itself. It is at least something that the parts played in those days by those elves is still a matter of song."

"Aye. But however much the elves may sing of such things," the dwarf continued, "dead dwarves sing no songs. We never learned the secret of the Bane of Gundabad. The goblins left no survivors."

Gimli stroked his red and silver beard and sighed. "So I could not tell Aragorn who or what it might be that hides itself from his orb, in the deeps of Gundabad, where Durin woke. But we of the Lonely Mountain have long wondered, as we strengthened our defenses, how the Longbeards fell in their stronghold to the orcs. They might have endured a long siege and outlasted such foes, in a well-defended mountain, such as Gundabad is said to have been. We still do not know the answer to that riddle, though Aragorn may have found where that answer hides!"

"Why doesn't King Strider look back to that day in the Palantir?" asked Ellie. "According to the lore, a viewer could see through the veils of Time itself."

"Why don't you suggest it, since you're over there all the time?" Maddie curtly asked.

"I hardly ever see him," Ellie answered innocently.

"He has already tried," said Gimli, not really noticing the touchiness in Madrigal's remark. "He tells me that he has seen the downfall of the Longbeards, and whatever it was, it seems to have entered the mountain that day, with the goblins in its trail, but it is something that is always shrouded from the view of that elvish device. So, to be sure of what it is, we must see it for ourselves!"

"What do you think it is?" asked Turry.

"If it were a dragon, like Smaug (curse his name!)," said Gimli, "then all the land about would have been desolated as it burned all growing things, so that nothing could approach unseen. From time to time it would have issued forth, flying with fire and destruction, to feed upon livestock and men foolish enough to live nearby. If there were a dragon there, would we not all know of it?"

"You describe a dragon like Smaug," said Legolas. "In the songs, not all dragons were the same."

"Call them drakes or worms or serpents or dragons, they are all much the same, creatures of evil and treachery! They are vain creatures that lust for gold and destruction. And dragons have top-notch brains when it comes to three things: treasure, carnage, and riddles," replied the dwarf.

"As you say," said Legolas. "I am no expert in dragonry. I hope it is not something worse."

"You mean, a balrog?" asked Furry.

"Ai!" cried Legolas. "I can still see it before us, gigantic, hideous, terrible!"

"Aye!" said Gimli. "It is my worst fear. That the Bane of Gundabad was like unto Durin's Bane! And we have not the likes of Gandalf to aid us now, and even he had nearly perished! May such a thing not be so!"

"More wine!" cried Merry, swiftly heaving his bulk up upon his sturdy old feet. "A drink to Gandalf!"

Of course, this could not be refused and all there drained a glass to the dear old wizard who had laboured through an age against the Dark Lord Sauron in those darkest of days. The conversation naturally turned, as old Merry planned, to a discussion of the Grey Pilgrim, Mithrandir, later known as Gandalf the White. They talked of his great daring, his quick temper, and his kindly regard for the little folk of the Shire.

"And he loved the pipeweed, too!" said Gimli. "Which reminds me, if one of you young scamps could spare a little, I seem to have already smoked all that I brought!"

This set the old hobbits and the twins to arguing with each other for quite a while about who had last shared with the old dwarf, and nothing would do to settle it but for them to have a contest on the spot to blow smoke rings around the fire into the moonlit sky. Gimli did not care who won or lost, but was mightily glad to get a bit of anyone's pipeweed, having reacquired his taste for the habit with a relish.

"I should not be surprised to find that the smoke of that weed shortens your lives as much as your stature!" said Legolas. "What could be finer than the warm summer breezes and the green smell of the field and forest? Sensible creatures do not breathe smoke if they can help it. And you do it on purpose!" The wood elf walked off into the darkness, saying something about cleaner air. Ellie laughed and then got up to help Maddie clear away the remains of their supper.

"Oh. Nice to see that you are not too lofty these days to help a poor scullery maid with the chores," said Maddie.

"What?" said Ellie, not expecting the sharp tone in her friend's voice. The truth was that Ellie had not seen a lot of her friend for the last few days, and was looking forward to telling her all about the little doings of Queen Arwen and of little Prince Eldarion. But Maddie was feeling hurt, for she had been very much alone through the day.

"I guess you've come a long way from that little hole in the Shire," Maddie said, dropping plates and bowls into the hot water with a little too much force. The frustrated hobbit lass was suddenly drenched.

"Here! Let me help dry you off," said Ellie, running over with a towel.

"Just leave me alone!" Madrigal sobbed, and ran away to be by herself. Ellie finished up the dishes on her own (there really weren't that many), and wondered why Maddie was so upset. Turry and Furry each looked over in that direction briefly, but were really more concerned with their ongoing smoke ring contest with the older hobbits by the fire. But Turry looked again, and saw that Maddie had gone, and that Ellie was doing the washing up herself.

"I'm going to let you hobbits off the hook," said Turry, and began walking over toward Ellie.

"I'd say HE'S already pretty well hooked," said Furry.

"Ha!" said old Pippin. "If you had half the brains of your twin brother, you'd be after that other one!"

"I'm not saying a word," said old Merry.

"I will never understand hobbits," said old Gimli, his red and silver beard wagging as he shook his head.

"You're only a dwarf, you're not expected to," said Pippin, who blew another huge and gorgeous ring of smoke into the warm air. Furry just grinned, and whistling nonchalantly, ambled off in the direction of the horses.

Without preamble, Turry took up a towel and started drying as Ellie washed, and the old hobbits continued reminiscing with the dwarf by the fire. The young hobbit asked Ellie, "What's got Maddie so upset tonight?"

"Me, I guess," said Ellie. "I've been so busy with Queen Arwen and the little prince that I haven't made much time for her. I'll try to do better."

"Humph," said Turry. "She's just mad that you were called to be the Queen's handmaiden, and she wasn't. She'll get over it, and then she'll try to make it up to you. I've seen her this way before."

"I guess so. You've known her longer than I have. But it must be a little lonely for her without another girl from home to talk to," Ellie observed. She really was trying to put herself in Maddie's shoes, as the saying goes, even though most hobbits never actually wore shoes.

It was at this point that the last bowl was dried and so Turry and Ellie between them lifted the wash pot and took it away from the camp to dump it in a place set aside for such things (a large camp must have order, after all). On the way back, they could see the entire camp laid out under the moon, with campfires twinkling under the glimmering stars. Turry shifted his grip, and took the pot in his left hand, so that his right hand was free to grasp Ellie's.

Her soft little hand pressed his, and so they walked back together, not daring even to meet one another's eyes as yet. Or at least Ellie did not dare to look up at him, her heart was pounding as if she had run a race with wolves. She hardly dared to believe it was so, that the brave and handsome Turgon Took was holding the hand of the poor little hobbit girl he had hardly seemed to notice just a year before. She squeezed his hand just to be sure she was not dreaming and he squeezed back. Finally, before they reached the camp, he stopped and made her look up.

She could not help but remember the night he had held her under the stars in the land of the Beornings, when they had thought their friends slain by orcs, how he had dried her tears and was so kindly. His pert, handsome hobbit face was smiling softly, and his dark eyes regarded her with a fondness that made her feel weak inside. He took up her hand, still held in his, and kissed the top of it, never taking his eyes from hers.

"I think you're wonderful, Elediriel Cotton. And I, uh, I, well, I just wanted you to know that," he suddenly stammered. The look in her eyes was just too much for him, and he couldn't bring himself to say more or to do more just then. But it was enough for Ellie, who felt she might have burst on the spot had he said more. He grinned awkwardly and flushed red with an unaccustomed embarrassment. He murmured something about saying goodnight to Lightning and ran the rest of the way to camp, clutching the washpot in his sturdy hand and wondering if had just made himself a fool of a Took. Ellie gazed after him, and walked slowly and dreamily back to camp wondering what life might be like as Mrs. Elediriel Took!

Such are the passions of tweenaged hobbits in love. Hobbits tended to marry rather later in life than the Big Folk, and the crushes and tentative relationships of hobbits in their irresponsible twenties were rarely acted upon and were generally discouraged by their more responsible elders. What troubles and confusions have been the result of teens and tweens in love (even among the Big Folk)! Still, it was not unheard of for True Love to be found at such an awkward age and so it was, of course, the dream of many a tweenaged hobbit lass and not a few hobbit lads.

Turry caught himself with one hand on a post and whipped into the paddock where the hobbit ponies were kept. He saw his twin brother Furry there, with Maddie, talking quietly by her pony, Cider.

"Hullo! Hullo! What's going on in here?" laughed Turry. Furry stepped back guiltily from the pretty hobbit lass, though in truth, they had only been talking and nothing more.

"Nothing that concerns you!" said Maddie, sharply. "I thought you were out with Mistress Perfect."

"Huh?" said Turry. "Uh. I'm just here to check on Lightning. Here, Furry, hold this for me." He handed his brother the washpot and began making sure that Lightning had plenty of feed and water. While doing this, he thought on how silly he must have seemed to Ellie, running off like that. He quickly finished, dashed out of the paddock to find Ellie again, and was gone. Furry and Maddie stood around uncomfortably until Turry was out of sight.

"What's the matter, anyway?" asked Furry. "What did Ellie ever do?"

"Why is everyone always making such a big deal over her?" Maddie steamed. "And why can't I be there with the Queen, too?"

Furry thought on this for a second, and though he felt that Maddie was being a little childish, he wanted her to feel better, and saw no reason why Maddie couldn't be there with Ellie. Being a most Tookish Took, Furry offered a Tookish reply, "Why don't you just ask? I'm sure Ellie would like the company and I'm sure Queen Arwen wouldn't mind."

"Oooooh! You should never ask for such a thing! You should wait until it's offered!" cried Maddie. "Boys don't understand anything!" Just then, from the corner of her eye, the angry hobbit girl saw Ellie approaching the paddock. No doubt looking for Turry. Maddie looked back at Furry and saw the washpot in his hand and a mean little inspiration struck her. Suddenly, she reached out with both hands to grab Furry's head and she said sweetly, "...but you're so wonderful to say so ...Turry!"

And with that, she kissed Furry, who stood there with both hands held out awkwardly to either side, the washpot dangling from one of them. Poor little Elediriel saw the washpot and the kiss, and heard the name "Turry," and was simply shocked! She stood there for a long second, her dreams suddenly gone. She spun about on her bare heel and ran back to the camp, crying her blue eyes out the whole way.

Furry stood there with his eyes closed and a ridiculous smile on his face, completely unaware that Ellie had come and gone. Then he suddenly opened his eyes and cried, "Turry? Hey! You called me Turry!"

"Oh! Did I?" said Maddie, already feeling bad for what she had done.

"Yes! You did!" said Furry. "Did you mean to kiss me, or my brother?"

"Oh, it hardly matters, does it? Anyway, I didn't like it, so you needn't look for another," said the lass, beginning to feel embarrassed as well as ashamed, for she did, indeed, like the kiss very much.

"Well, that's fine then!" shouted Furry, growing quite hot and angry. "I can see why the Queen wouldn't want you around!" He then threw down the washpot and stomped out of the paddock and back to camp. Maddie flung her arms around Cider's neck and wept, wishing she were home in Brandy Hall with her mother and had never come on any adventure at all.

***

"Ellie! What's wrong?" asked Turry when Ellie came back into camp, weeping.

"Ask your brother!" cried Ellie, who hurriedly snatched her few things out of the tent she and Maddie shared and grabbed her blanket.

"What did he do?" (I must say that Turry was quite perplexed!)

"I don't want to talk about it!" wailed the little blonde hobbit lass. She picked up her things and ran, still weeping, off to the tents of the Queen.

"Girls!" exclaimed Turry. Just then, Furry stomped into the camp. "What did you do to Ellie?" he asked sternly.

"What? Nothing. I haven't seen her," said Furry, glumly.

"Well she just took her things and was crying her eyes out! She said to ask you why!" cried Turry, growing angry.

"How should I know?" asked Furry, turning his own anger and hurt feelings toward his twin brother. "She's your girlfriend, isn't she?"

"Well... uh... I don't know about that..." Turry stammered.

"I don't understand her or any other hobbit girl!" yelled Furry. "If you ever figure them out, I'll pay you good money to explain it to me! Good night!" And with that, Furry grabbed up his things and headed off alone to the other side of the great camp.

Turry shook his head, wondering what had gotten into his brother and Ellie. Some time later, when Turry was just getting ready to turn in, Maddie sadly passed by his tent. She had obviously been crying.

"Hey, Maddie! What's wrong with Furry and Ellie?" he asked her. For a moment, Maddie looked at him and seemed about to answer. But her big green eyes brimmed with fresh tears and she said, "Just leave me alone!" She ducked into her tent, saw Ellie's things gone, and began crying again. Turry walked over just in time to find the tent flaps snapped shut in his face.

"Everyone's gone crazy!" he muttered on the way back to his own tent. Being a fairly sensible hobbit, and realizing that he would get no answers that night, he soon closed his eyes and slept soundly until morning.

***

I'm afraid that Turry remained perplexed and got no answers that morning. It seemed that there were hot tempers all around the camp. Gimli and Legolas were not speaking to one another. Elves and rangers alike were barely civil to one another. Everyone seemed grumpy, on edge, and out of sorts. Turry decided to seek out Thain Peregrin. He found the old hobbit sitting on a large stone. On the other side of it was Master Meriadoc.

"Grandfather! I've been looking all over for you," said Turry.

"Well you might have started here and saved yourself some time," old Pippin said, unreasonably.

"Yes, sir," said Turry, trying to hold his temper. What had he done, after all? "But Grandfather, have you noticed how angry everyone is?"

"If you're talking about that old wineskin," Pippin cried, pointing at Merry, who was pointedly sitting with his back to his old friend, "then I have nothing to say!"

"Nothing to say!" cried Merry, with mock rapture. "Oh that I should be blessed to hear that old blatherskite with nothing to say!"

"You can tell that bloated bit of livestock to keep his sarcasm to himself!" said Pippin.

"You can tell that dried up old fossil you call 'Grandfather' that he wouldn't recognize sarcasm if it walked in on all fours and licked the butter off his bread!" said Merry.

Pippin retorted, "Turry, inform that fat old..."

"THAT'S ENOUGH FROM BOTH OF YOU!" yelled Turry. The two old hobbits just sat there stunned and staring at the young Took. "If you can't open your eyes and see that something is terribly wrong then I am just wasting my time! I'm going to see King Strider! Maybe he will listen!" Turry left the quarreling friends sitting and staring as he stomped off to find the king.

The camp was getting off to a very late start that morning. Various lieutenants were bringing their complaints to the king, who sat on a campstool in front of his tent with his grey head in his hands. Men and elves were shouting over one another to be heard. Many others were also gathering in a crowd around the shouting. Elladan and Elrohir were grimly glaring at one another over the king's bowed head.

"Here, you halfling! Wait your turn," ordered a stout gruff Dunlander, as Turry squeezed through the angry ring to get to the king with his concerns. Turry ducked the man's big outstretched hand as the weary ruler looked up. "King Strider!" the hobbit called.

"Not now!" said Aragorn through clenched teeth. "I have many concerns just now. Come back later."

"But something's wrong!" cried Turry.

"You heard the King!" said the angry man. "End of the line for you!" He grabbed the hobbit and flung him roughly to the ground. Gimli was approaching at that moment and Turry landed at the iron-shod feet of the great dwarf. His small body hit the ground very hard and the little hobbit lay very still in the dust.

"Now try that with someone closer to your own size!" roared Gimli, with his face as red as his beard, clutching his battle-axe in a white-knuckled grip. At this, a number of the elves cried aloud, as did many men, and the fell sound of weapons unsheathing rang in the royal pavilion.




Chapter XXIV

THE SIEGE OF GUNDABAD

Eldarion could not be pacified. The infant cried loudly and angrily with his tiny face knotted like a red fist. Elediriel put her hands to her ears as the queen picked up her little son and tried to soothe him, walking to and fro in her fine tent, rocking the baby in her arms and speaking softly. Exasperated at last, Arwen told Ellie to bring the flask. The hobbit lass quickly found the precious miruvor and brought it to the frustrated mother.

"We shall see if what worked for you in the woods will work as well for me in the mountains," said Arwen, who took the flask and dripped a few drops into the open mouth of her screaming son. The baby coughed and gasped and choked. The queen put the child across her shoulder and lightly rapped his back until he cleared the fluid and was breathing well again. Almost immediately, the infant again began to cry loudly. His mother tried the miruvor once more and had better luck. Soon the infant was calm. Worn out from his exertions, the baby prince fell almost immediately asleep.

"I am nearly at the end of my wits!" cried Arwen, in a fierce whisper, as she and Ellie left the tent, leaving the child to the elvish maiden, Mehirabeth. "Are hobbit children as much trouble?"

"I do not really know, Ma'am," replied Ellie. "I'm sure they are."

"Why are we not breaking camp?" asked the queen. Ellie looked about and realized that the morning was not starting as planned. Every other morning had seen the camp breakfast at dawn and then be on the march immediately. The camp instead seemed in chaos. Angry voices were shouting on all sides, which the hobbit and the queen had not heard in the elvish tent while Eldarion cried so loudly. Lord Celeborn approached as they neared the tent of the King.

"Arwen," he said. "Something is awry. There is a malevolent spirit brooding over this camp, inciting envy and wrath. I have felt it since we came within sight of yon mountain." The tall elf pointed at the malignant peak of Gundabad, which they had first seen the day before.

"I feel it, too, Grandfather," said the queen. Ellie was always just a little surprised anytime she was reminded of the relationships between the age-old elves, who all looked like folk in their youthful prime to her eyes, when they did not seem as children.

"Then perhaps a daughter of the lines of Luthien and of Galadriel might do somewhat to help, if she has not forgotten her heritage entirely," Celeborn said calmly enough, though it seemed to Ellie that there was reproach in his words.

The queen's eyes flashed, but then she took a deep breath and thanked the great elf for his advice and turned to her hobbit handmaiden. "Elediriel," she said, "please bring me my harp."

Ellie dashed off to retrieve it. She stopped at the door of the tent and Mehirabeth looked up. "What do you want now?" the elf maid said.

"The Queen's harp!" whispered Ellie.

"You know where it is," Mehirabeth said disdainfully. Ellie ignored her and unpacked it. Looking upon the enchanted instrument, the hobbit girl thought for a moment about how her friend, Madrigal, had before given the harp to the queen when the king lay stricken.

"I'll be right back!" Ellie whispered again, and, leaving the harp, scurried out of the tent before even Mehirabeth's swift tongue could reply. She ran all the way (it wasn't very far) to where she and Madrigal had shared their own tent. Maddie was taking it down. She turned to see Ellie running toward her and at first was glad to see her, but then was ashamed of what she had done and of how she had been behaving.

Ellie saw the changing emotions on the honest face of her friend and suddenly remembered seeing her kiss Turry (as she thought) the night before. Immediately, Ellie grew angry and forgetful of why she had sought Maddie and of the Queen awaiting her harp.

"Ellie," Maddie began, "I'm sorry I've been mean. And I need to explain what you saw last night..."

"You don't need to explain anything!" Ellie snapped. "Turry can choose who he pleases. I hope you're happy. You probably deserve each other!"

"But Ellie," Maddie persisted, "it's not what you think."

"Then it wasn't serious?" Ellie asked. "That's even worse!"

"No! You don't understand!" cried Maddie, beginning to get upset.

"I don't understand?" Ellie shouted. "Oh, I see! 'Ellie doesn't come from the right families, so she can't be expected to understand.' Is that it? One set of rules for Tooks and Brandybucks and another for the poor Cottons and all the rest! I understand all too well!"

"But if you would only listen," Maddie shouted in return.

"No! You listen to me!" cried Ellie, angrier than she had ever been in her life. "I've put up with your whining and sniveling whenever things didn't go well or when you weren't getting all the attention! Well I've had enough! I ran all the way down here because the Queen needs her harp..."

"The Queen!" exclaimed Maddie. "The Queen needs her harp! And she wants me to bring it to her? Why didn't you say so?"

"Because it isn't true! She wanted me to fetch it, but for some stupid reason I thought maybe you would want to bring it, but I'm just wasting my time and the Queen's!" Suddenly, Ellie realized that time indeed was passing and that the queen was indeed waiting. Maddie realized the same thing at the same time.

"Oh, Ellie! And I've been so mean!" cried Maddie. "What are we waiting for? Come on!" The two hobbit girls ran as fast as their little bare feet could take them, forgetting their quarrel for the time being. Ellie ran into Arwen's tent and grabbed the harp without even looking at Mehirabeth's disapproving face. She looked at her friend standing sorrowfully outside the tent and reluctantly handed her the queen's harp.

"Listen Ellie," said Maddie, "You have to know that, last night, I wasn't, that is to say, we weren't really-- Oh! What I mean is, that it wasn't..."

There was a sudden outcry from near the tent of the king that stopped Maddie from explaining what had happened at the paddock the night before. Voices were raised in anger and the clear sound of unsheathing weapons rang throughout the royal pavilion.

"Oh no!" cried Ellie, and the two hobbits hurried to the sounds of building wrath.

The girls could not see through a ring of tall men and elves before the tent of King Aragorn. But they could hear the enraged cry of Gimli, son of Gloin, and the voices of elves and men raised in fury. They ran around the growing ring of warriors and finally saw Arwen looking on as Celeborn tried to push his way into the center of the ring. The countenance of the mighty elven lord was filled with wrath and, though he did not unsheathe his sword and did not carry his great spear, men and elves alike gave way before him. Those who did not heed his ringing voice found themselves caught up as if children and cast down. Many of his household, who had come with him to Rivendell from Lorien, came to his side and to his back to protect him from the swords of the Dunlenders or from any who might do harm to their lord. They looked with cool menace upon all others.

So it was that the crowd was somewhat dispersed and in its center Elediriel saw Gimli swinging his axe and Storwolos, a swarthy hulking man, parrying the blow with a great two-handed sword. Aragorn's hand on the hilt of Anduril and he looked near to leaping into the fray, for no one was heeding his commands. Elves and men alike were fingering weapons and all faces were grim and hard. Then she saw Turry, somehow she was sure it was Turry, lying still in the dust behind the dwarf. Before anyone could stop her, and heedless of the drawn weapons and wildly shouting warriors all about, Ellie ran to the fallen hobbit lad, crying his name and falling across his still form.

Gimli saw this from the corner of his eye and his head turned as he thought to warn the hobbit lass to get away. The Dunlender raised his great sword high and would have dealt a fell blow to the distracted dwarf, except that one arrow after another and then another and yet another struck him full in the chest. The big man faltered and his sword fell behind him from his nerveless hands and he fell dying to the dust.

There was a great cry from the other Dunlenders and things might have gone even more badly but each person in the camp stopped where he was when the horn cry of Buckland smote every ear with its clean and bracing call.

FEAR! FIRE! FOES! AWAKE!

Once again, the enchanted Horn of Eorl broke through a spell of evil and all who heard it felt as if they had freshly awakened from terrible dreams and darkness.

For spell it was, and no dream. Storwolos, one of the chief Dunlenders in the camp, lay slain by the arrows of Legolas, who could not have stood by to see his old dwarven friend struck down. The noble head of the wood elf hung low in regret for his deed. Though the horn of Merry Brandybuck had brought a breath of clarity to the host, the malevolence of the wizard, far away in the malignant mountain of the orcs, was still at work upon the camp. The rage each felt for whatever reason began almost at once to return and all others felt themselves growing angry once again as the spell of wrath and confusion once more fell full upon the host.

Nearby, two old hobbits stood surveying a gathering storm that the horn had given pause but could not stop.

" It was worth a try, Merry," said Pippin. "Now help me get to my grandson!" The old fellow was becoming concerned, for Turry had still not stirred.

"Don't give up so quickly," cried Merry. "Look! There's my granddaughter!"

The fat old hobbit was pointing at the queen. She took up her harp from the hand of Madrigal Brandybuck and graced the hobbit lass with a brief knowing smile. Then her slender hand plucked the strings and the hobbits saw that no small enchantment had been laid upon the harp of the queen. The first notes carried, not loud and bracing above the storm, as the sound of the horn, but clearly and softly through the din of anger and contention.

The sound of the harp came to the camp as if a welling spring of crystal clean water was swiftly filling the valley. The voices of rage were as muffled as if underwater. All hearts were calmed and peace was restored to all minds. Then, the clear voice of Arwen Undomiel was raised in elvish song against the wizard's spell of wrath. Elediriel's weeping over Turgon's still form stopped as she listened to the elvish words of the queen's song. In after years, she tried and failed to set to verse the words of the queen as they seemed to her hobbit's ears. She would always apologize that she could only tell of her own feelings and could not come near the majesty and beauty of the song itself and could never convey the wonder of the voice of her queen.

Arwen, Queen Undomiel,
Twilight of the Elves,
Lady of last Elvinesse,
who brought us to ourselves,
sang upon a day of wrath,
when every heart was cruel,
and bitter tongues were sharp and fell
and hands were raised to duel.

Wicked force of dark intent
had gripped our stalwart host
and plunged our minds in wicked thoughts
of hate for those loved most.
Though we had come together to
bring down an evil foe
he cast a spell from far away
that nearly laid us low.

But Arwen, Queen that blessed day,
made that spell disperse.
She sang across our stormy host
to repulse his evil curse
and turn our thoughts away from hate,
denying worth of life,
grasping pride and reckless rage,
to settle things by strife.

Her voice, uplifted, sang as sweet
as nectar to the bees,
and fell as clear as sunshine falls
upon the shining seas.
Our minds felt cleansed and clear again,
forgotten was each fight,
for Arwen brought us to ourselves,
and to the course of right.


It was a song worthy of a song, to be sure, for the queen's voice was uplifted until the sun had risen high in the sky and the wizard at last ceased to cast the darksome spell of wrath. Arwen had won. Ever after, among all the folk in the vale that day, if they lived through the terrible battles that followed, it was difficult to grow angry for petty reasons or to engage in selfish pursuits. In later days, Queen Arwen's song would echo in their minds, recalling how precious is the gift of life and how futile is the wasting of it in vanity and vexation. Its lingering enchantment upon them was realized that very day.

Elediriel Cotton stood as Turgon Took was carried away, and began to hope that he would be all right. Old Gimli assured her that hobbit heads were very hard and that the young Took would have little more than a nasty headache. Ellie nodded, but walked away to the queen's tent, rather than with the other hobbits to watch over Turry.

Turry had been injured, but not gravely, and he might have been on his furry feet again before the sun had set. Ellie was overjoyed at first to hear of this, but remembering what had happened at the paddock the previous night, became very sad again and did not visit the recuperating young Took. Turry would have looked for Ellie before he had even had supper, had not Furry and the elder hobbits made certain that he rested. Finally, Maddie went to old Master Meriadoc for advice.

"Grandfather?" she tentatively began.

"Oh ho. Yes, little pretty!" said Merry, who had been waiting for the moment. "What can an old hobbit do for you today?"

"I've done a rotten thing, and I don't know what to do," she said.

"Of course you know what to do," said Merry. "You just need to screw yourself up to do it."

"But it seems so silly and stupid!" Maddie cried. "I feel like a fool!"

"You'll get over that soon enough, I'm sure," Merry chuckled. "In fact, the sooner you get it over with, the sooner you'll get over it. Hey! I just made that up! But you remember it all the same! We'll make a family proverb out of it, eh?"

"Yes, Grandfather," she said meekly, beginning already to smile a little.

"Now you run and find your friends and apologize," said Merry. "You had better start with Ellie." She stood there for a moment wondering how much old Merry knew. "Go on!" he urged. She did.

Maddie went to the Queen's tent to find Ellie. A tall slender elf stood guard outside and, without expression, called softly so that Mehirabeth, Queen Arwen's elvish handmaiden, came out.

"I'm here to see Elediriel," said Maddie.

"She is busy with her duties to the Queen," Mehirabeth answered. "Perhaps she will return to your camp tonight, when she is finished." The tall elf maiden turned away dismissively.

"Oh, but please!" cried Madrigal, pushing down her temper and humbling herself before the Queen's servant. "It is most important that I see her now! Turgon Took, who was injured today wants to see her, and there are private things that she must know. Oh, please!"

Mehirabeth's cool eyes looked upon the distressed hobbit lass and she turned again and went into the tent. Maddie stood dismayed and turned to leave, beginning to weep a little. But before she had gone a dozen steps, Ellie came out of the fine tent and saw her walking sadly away.

At first, Ellie was inclined to simply let her go her way, for she did not want to talk to Maddie about anything, least of all Turry, and that was surely what she had come for. But then, unbidden, the memory of Arwen's song of peace resounded in her mind, as if she were hearing it again for the first time. She choked back a sob and called to her friend. Madrigal spun about on her bare heel and ran to embrace Elediriel. The two girls cried in each other's arms heedless of the tall elven guard behind them. All was explained and all was forgiven. Before supper together, all four of the tweens had reconciled and if the Twins had a special gleam in their Tookish eyes, then it is also fair to say that both of the hobbit lasses looked upon the dashing young hobbit lads with a new anticipation themselves.

***

Storwolos was given a funeral that night such as was common to the Dunlenders. His mighty form was carried to a bier of gathered wood laid on a hilltop there in the western end of the steep sloped valley. His son, Ulfang, who laid the first torch upon the pyre, received the great notched sword of his slain father and the young man vowed vengeance, not against Gimli or Legolas, but against the wizard whose spell had brought about his death. He spoke with a rough eloquence that surprised the rangers and the elves and inspired a certain sympathy and respect for the half-wild men of Dunland.

"...for it was not dwarves or elves or men or halflings that Storwolos, my father, came to slay, but the orc-folk of Gundabad, so that our people could live in the new green lands where our feet have trodden. As my father's ashes ascend to the sky, so let his spirit ascend from this hill. When we meet him again in the hereafter, we will tell him that his grandchildren multiplied and grew fat in a land of plenty. We will tell him that his true enemies met their just fate at our hands, and at the hands of our allies. We will remember that Storwolos, ever first in battle and counsel, was first to give his life for this land and this site will ever be a sacred place for us."

The King and Queen and their chief rangers honored the Dunlenders by attending their funeral ritual, as did Gimli and all the Lords of Rivendell. The renowned dwarf wept bitterly for his part in the death of Storwolos, and this was marked by the mourners. As the ritual ended, Aragorn renewed his pledge of land and freedom to Ulfang and the chieftains of Dunland.

"Your name is one that was not loved by the Elves or the Dunedain, yet your words go far to amend that," said Aragorn.

"Then let my deeds answer for all," said young Ulfang.

The tall king poured red wine from a golden chalice upon the ashes and the cup was passed to Ulfang, who did the same. Aragorn offered to have a great monument raised upon the site, but the Dunlenders said that the land was enough, and that Storwolos would prefer that the hill remain as it was.

No one knew where Legolas was to be found. It was marked by some that he walked out of sight as Arwen sang and was headed south. This caused some quiet concern among his friends, for much had happened to the son of Thranduil, but no one quite knew what to do about it and Aragorn said nothing.

***

The host moved east and two days later came to occupy the field south of Mount Gundabad and the passes between the Misty Mountains and the Grey Mountains. Birds flew to and from the royal pavilion and the siege was prepared. The Queen and the Heir were protected by the newly arrived Tookish archers and Buckland militia from the Shire, encamped about the pavilion at a great distance from the front lines.

Old Merry and Pippin, the great heroes of the Battle of 1419 were greatly delighted and wore their finest gear of war to welcome their lads from the Shire. But the long journey in the wolderness was more fatuguing than the old hobbits ha reckoned and they were weary when the boys from home caught up with the growing host. Nearly two hundred hobbits had come, drafted from the strongest young sheriffs and the best hunters and archers in Tookland, as well as from the sturdy hobbits of Buckland. Most were in their tweens, but there were a goodly number of seasoned old gaffers in charge of them. At their head was Pippin's son, Faramir, the father of Turry and Furry. The Twins were overjoyed to see their old dad (in fact, they had been far more homesick than either would have admitted!), and Faramir was proud to lead the best of the Shire to the honorable duty of protecting the Queen and Heir.

When the muster of Eriador was complete, and the supply lines to Bree had been secured, the time had come to officially declare the siege. Back in those days of less sophistication and greater civility, peoples did not make war upon one another without declaration. Such things were done for the decent respect of civilized people, both in that day and in days to come. Never would Aragorn have considered unsheathing Anduril, Flame of the West, to draw the life's blood of his enemies and yet be ashamed to openly declare his reasons. Kings like Elessar Telcontar (or Good King Strider as he was called in the golden years of his reign by the common folk), cared greatly that people in after generations would look upon his acts and judge them to be right, fair, noble, kingly, and just. But such high conduct has become rare in after years, for few nations have clearly declared for the sake of their posterity just what they were about and chose instead to obscure their acts of war with the shifting words of diplomacy so that they could achieve hidden agendas, observe political niceties, hold unsavoury alliances, and secure martial profits.

Six heralds were selected to formally announce the siege. Elladan and Elrohir rode forth for Rivendell with the star of Earendil upon their shields. Aradhel and Cairduin rode for Arnor and their shields were emblazoned with the White Tree. Ulfang for Dunland rode without sigil or sign other than the feathers of great birds and the tails and claws of fell beasts adorning a tall ceremonial spear. One herald did not ride, and that was Gimli, son of Gloin, for the dwarves. His burnished dwarven shield was graven with an image of the Hammer of Durin. The heralds and their horses wore plate and mail and came nigh the gates of the malignant mountain stronghold of the goblins. Their flag of parley flew stiff in the wind and the sun gleamed upon the gold and silver of their shields. There was no sound from the mountain. Trumpets blew clearly from the host behind them and Elladan stood forth to herald the army.

"The King and Queen of the united kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, the Lords of Imladris, and the chieftains of Dunland are come to lay siege to this fortress. For long ages, the orcs and goblins of Gundabad have been a menace to the peace of the north ever since the massacre of the Longbeards founded this realm in blood. This stronghold now defends the wizard Alatar the Black, who conspired with the troops of Gundabad to waylay Heralds of the King on their peaceful mission, who betrayed the hospitality of Imladris, who attempted the murder of King Elessar, who kidnapped Eldarion, Heir to the Throne, and whose sorcery contrived the death of Storwolos of Dunland. Alatar is also determined by the justice of the King to be guilty of the imprisonment of the wizard Pallando the Blue, and of working great evil in Harad, Umbar, and other nations of Men in his foul service to the Dark Lord Sauron. Alatar the Black, and all who have aided him have declared themselves enemies of all the free peoples of the world and in retribution for these crimes of the past and to forestall future wrongs against our peoples, we declare this mountain under siege. No quarter will be asked or given. No lives will be spared."

There was silence from the mountain. A long minute passed before the encamped host heard a great drum roll out a slow doom, boom, doom. The heralds returned to the camp without incident and waited for nightfall.
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