Amid the Powers and Chances of the World
8. He Will Not Pass The Borders
Long, dead days of waiting passed. Rivendell lay in uneasy quiet; making her way about the House Rowanna continually encountered Elrond's folk in huddles, little knots of Elves whispering together on the stairs or in the passageways. The mists which rose from the forests nightly were only half-dispelled by the uncertain rays of the autumn sun, and lingered uneasily, obscuring the further reaches of the valley and leaving chill dankness in clothes and hair.
Bilbo had made one attempt to set out from the valley in search of Frodo; fortunately, his preparations had been spotted by Erestor, and a discreet word with the Master of Rivendell had caused the Hobbit to be gently intercepted before he got far from the House. It had taken Elrond some hours to persuade Bilbo that all was being done for Frodo that could be done, and that in any case the threat which faced him was greater than anything Bilbo could combat. After that painful discussion, Bilbo largely retreated to his room, where he huddled unhappily, staring for hours into the fire. When he would let her, Rowanna stayed with him, fetching trays of tea or cake from the kitchens to tempt his appetite. Often, however, he insisted on being left alone, and then Rowanna would take refuge in the stables.
Here, where the care of the beasts imposed its own steadying rhythms, there was rather less whispered tension in the air, and she would emerge soothed from an afternoon spent with Dirgon and the stable-lads, mucking-out, feeding or exercising under Brethil's unflappable direction. She was even accorded the privilege of grooming Master Elrond's notoriously temperamental sorrel stallion, Caradhras. The head groom was pleased to find that the tempestuous beast took to Rowanna, since those he would suffer to groom him were few and far between; Elrond himself seemed too preoccupied in recent days to make time often for the Redhorn, and Brethil could not always be taking charge of him. So Rowanna brushed, soothed and pampered the great stallion, murmuring softly to him of the wonderful foals she could breed from him had he ever the covering of her best mares in the Mark; at which Caradhras would snort softly into her ear, secretly pleased by all the attention.
Early on a mist-shrouded morning, with a warm Elven cloak thrown over her shoulders against the chill, Rowanna was mucking out, chirruping and talking softly to her charges as she did so. Warm, living odours of horse and straw wafted comfortingly through the stables as the beasts shifted gently from foot to foot, rasping sounds rising from the hay-racks as one animal or another chewed contentedly.
Suddenly the lively colt in the stall nearest the doors whinnied, tossing his head and stamping, and sparking further neighing and head-tossing along the line. "Hush," Rowanna admonished, but the horses would not be quieted, sniffing the air and craning heads forward to look over their stall-doors. Curious, Rowanna wandered out into the yard, joining a knot of murmuring stable-hands. Her command of the Grey Tongue was good enough, now, to join in their conversation, but none seemed to know what was exciting the beasts - until a lithe figure clad in the green of Rivendell's border sentries skidded into the yard and had just time to gasp out, before racing for the House:
"Mithrandir! Mithrandir tôl!"
Exclamations and chatter exploded in the messenger's wake; bewildered, Rowanna had to catch a groom by the arm and demand explanation.
"Mithrandir? He is one of the Wise, a great ithron -" then seeing her puzzlement, "a.. wizard, do you say in your tongue? He is a good friend to Imladris, and close in Master Elrond's counsels..."
"I heard that Lord Elrond and the Lady Undómiel have been expecting word from him these many weeks," broke in another, "and looking for him every day. Elbereth grant his delay means no ill news!"
In the distance, now, there rose a hubbub of voices rapidly approaching. All crowded out of the yard and around the corner of the House, just in time.
Striding towards the House, brandishing a great gnarled staff of wood, came a well-muffled, somewhat stooping figure whose vigorous pace belied his greying hair and long, shaggy beard. Rowanna briefly glimpsed a frowning pair of impressively bushy eyebrows beneath the wide brim of a battered, pointed hat, before the apparition and his escort of agitated Elves swept up the steps of the House to be greeted by a rather flustered Erestor. Brooking none of the steward's attempts at greeting, the visitor strode straight past and made for the great door, booming as he went: "Never mind the light of Elbereth and the favour of the Valar, Elf, I have no need of you to bestow them - where is Elrond? Quickly! I must speak with him at once!"
"That," muttered the nearest stable-lad into Rowanna's ear as they all gazed open-mouthed after the old man's retreating back, "was Mithrandir!"
With the wizard's arrival, anxiety in Rivendell rose still further. Mithrandir had apparently gone immediately into long hours of council with Master Elrond upon his arrival. The Evenstar, too, had been requested to join them; Rowanna sat in Bilbo's room, with the little Hobbit murmuring agitatedly, "Gandalf! Yes, Gandalf - that's what Men and Hobbits call him, you know, Mithrandir's only the Elves' name for him; Gandalf, well, well! Now that he is come I am sure everything will be all right - Gandalf generally can make things right, in my experience. But what are they talking about all this time? And why can't I see him? Tell me again, my dear, how did he look when he arrived?..."
Eventually, Bilbo too received the summons to Elrond's chambers, and hurried off still muttering to himself. Rowanna took herself away to the stables, and not until supper that night did she see the Hobbit again. He was cagey on the subject of the day's discussions, saying only,
"Gandalf is worried about Frodo, I can tell that much; and yet he told me a few things which ease my mind a little. But he and Elrond were looking very grave; and Gandalf got through three pipes at least while we talked, and smoking good Old Toby without stopping to savour it is always a bad sign, if you ask me. But there's nothing to be done now but wait."
Another day dawned, and then another, each greyer and sullener than the last. By the afternoon of the wizard's third day in Rivendell the atmosphere of the House was wound up to such a pitch of tension that Rowanna felt she would scream if she did not escape; she fled to the stables, where Brethil, overburdened with restless, agitated animals, greeted her with relief. She took one of the worst offenders out for some exercise, a handsome bay gelding who had suddenly started trying to bite everyone in sight, and after giving him his head for a gallop along the river-meadows returned him to the grateful head groom with his manners somewhat improved.
Once there was no further need of her in the stable-yard, she wandered out towards the river again, feeling she could not bear to return to the febrile atmosphere of the House. She realised she had a terrible headache, as though bands of iron were tightening around her skull. I used to have those when I was a child, before a thunderstorm, she thought - and indeed, though the weather was all wrong for it, the air felt tight and louring as though a storm were brewing. Feeling a sudden overwhelming need to climb, to get out from the bottom of the valley, she struck out for one of the paths which wound its way up the steep northern slope, into the glorious flame-coloured riot of the oak and beech woods. Driven by a compulsion to keep moving, she pushed on, choosing a fork in the path to traverse the slope, which slowly curved around as the valley narrowed until she could look down on the western side of the House.
As she stepped on a twig with a loud crack, it occurred to her how utterly still everything was. Not a breath of air stirred a single leaf; not one bird called. She had become so used to the lilting murmur of Elven song in the trees when she walked in the woods that she had almost ceased to notice it; now its absence struck her as eerie. The air pressed in upon her until she felt she would suffocate; the valley itself seemed unable to breathe.
Out of the total silence, without warning, there rose suddenly from the distance a ghastly high-pitched shriek; an icy, dead sound. It seemed to go on forever, piercing Rowanna's skull as coldly as a blade so that she sank to her knees, blocking her ears and praying: Make it stop - make it stop!
Crouching under the unbearable force of that cry, she looked down helplessly on the House below her and noticed three figures, motionless as sentinels, gazing from one of the balconies out towards the valley's western end. Even at a distance they were unmistakable. Lord Elrond stood first at the balcony rail, flanked by the slender black-haired figure of his daughter, and on his other side the grey shape of the wizard Gandalf. As Rowanna watched, the Master of Rivendell lifted his right hand towards the end of the valley: Gandalf, too, raised his staff; and though with her fingers stuffed in her ears Rowanna could hear nothing, she thought Elrond's lips moved.
The dreadful pain in her skull ebbed. For an instant as she took her hands gratefully from her ears, sick and shaking, there was complete silence. Then, as distantly as the first mutterings of an avalanche in the mountains, from somewhere to the west came a faint rumbling sound. Louder and louder, a great crashing of rocks and thrashing of water; over all Rowanna thought she heard the screams of horses. At last the great tumult rolled away like the fading of thunder, and all was still again.
From the huge dark bank of cloud on the western horizon a shaft of sunlight broke through in an instant, bathing the valley in deep gold. A breeze sprang up, rustling the leaves and soothing Rowanna's flushed face. From a branch somewhere above her, a thrush broke into a sudden cascade of liquid song, trilling an impossibly elaborate salute to the sunset, and the mortal woman looked up and laughed in relief. Her headache was gone. When she looked down again to the House, the three guardians of Rivendell had vanished too.
By the time Rowanna had dropped back down into the valley, darkness was falling, and she hurried back to the House - where she found the atmosphere transformed. She caught sight of Master Elrond's housekeeper bustling purposefully down a corridor, trailed by ellith bearing armfuls of crisp white sheets; other household staff were hurrying to and fro, while Erestor as ever directed operations. Little groups of Elves hung about stairways and balconies talking feverishly, making no attempt to quieten as Rowanna passed them; either I am utterly beneath your notice, she reflected sarcastically, or you think I still do not understand a word you say...
".. barred the Ford - did you hear the water and the boulders crashing?.."
" - sent out to find them - one of them has It, you know - a halfling! Can you believe it?"
" - called for bandages, and I saw them heating water in the kitchens; so they're expecting wounded - "
"Well of course they are! Ringwraiths, remember? Who knows how many of the mortals Glorfindel can get back here alive?..."
Racing to her room, Rowanna managed to obtain enough hot water for a hasty wash; the maidservant who brought it smacked the ewer down on the table and was gone before Rowanna could pry any more information from her. Scrubbed and changed, she flew along the corridors, up and down stairs, till she reached Bilbo's room.
"What's happening?" the Hobbit demanded as soon as he answered her urgent knock. "I can hear all the commotion - but whenever I venture out I nearly get knocked over by one of Elrond's folk rushing about, and no-one has time to tell an old Hobbit anything. Do you know what's going on?"
"Not really, Bilbo - something about Glorfindel bringing mortals from the Ford..." She had no intention of mentioning Ringwraiths, whatever they were, or the rumours of wounded. "I thought I'd go down to the kitchens and see what food I can find; I've not eaten since breakfast. I'll see what news I can glean on the way. Are you hungry?"
"I couldn't eat a thing, my dear, but you go - quick as you can, and come back and tell me the minute there's any news! Mortals - oh, I hope it is Frodo, it must be Frodo!"
Settling down to hastily scavenged bread, cheese and meats back in Bilbo's room, Rowanna recounted between mouthfuls what she had heard and seen from the high valley path.
"I heard that cry," Bilbo admitted. "All Rivendell heard it, I should say; I was coming back from the library, and every Elf I could see was grimacing and stopping his ears. Bloodcurdling, that's the only word for it. And you say you saw Elrond and Gandalf on the balcony?" He frowned. "You know, I saw the two of them around sunset coming striding along from the western wing of the House. Very pleased with himself Gandalf looked too, now I come to think of it. I wonder what all that was about -"
He broke off, as first one pair of running feet passed the door, and then another. A distant hubbub seemed to rise through the floorboards.
"Something's happening," the Hobbit said anxiously. Jumping up, they stumbled out of the door and hurried towards the great entrance-hall. Rowanna did her best to wait for Bilbo; but infected by the urgency all around, she found herself racing for the head of the staircase to join the Elves hanging agog over the balustrade. As she came to a panting halt, the frantic whispering around her stopped suddenly dead. The great doors of the House were swinging slowly open.
As Master Elrond advanced through the flickering torchlight to meet them, a small crowd of Elves emerged into the hall, Glorfindel towering a golden head and shoulders over most of them. As they moved aside, three smaller figures, white-faced and muddy, came blinking forward into the light. One staggered a little, and Glorfindel swiftly reached down a hand to steady him. Children? Rowanna thought incredulously, and then: No - Hobbits!...
Someone else stepped forward, and a sudden murmur rose like a wave from one side of the hall to the other and as quickly fell again. This was neither Elf nor Hobbit, but a Man; grimy and weatherbeaten, matted black locks falling into his eyes and nearly obscuring his face. "Estel!" Rowanna heard someone mutter. In his arms, wrapped in a grey Elven cloak, he carried another Hobbit. As he moved towards Elrond, a fold of the cloak fell back, and Rowanna glimpsed deathly pale features which sent a sudden chill through her. The little figure in the Man's arms was a younger, thinner Bilbo.
Bilbo himself let out a cry from behind her, and started down the stairs; the Man looked up quickly. Weary, red-rimmed eyes raked the crowd of Elves about the stairhead. For a moment his eye caught Rowanna's, and an odd feeling almost of recognition stirred at the corner of her mind. Then he seemed to find what he sought. Half-turning, Rowanna realised with a start that Arwen had emerged silently from the shadows at the top of the staircase and stood staring down into the hall.
Looking from one to the other, Rowanna saw with a shock that grey eyes met grey; desperate, ragged relief in the Man's gaze, and in the Evenstar's -
Fragments of memory suddenly jostled for attention in Rowanna's mind. The murmurs of the Elves - a letter written in the garden - something about the Man's face - Estel - all resolved themselves into one thought: the Chieftain. She looked again at him, and at the mingled joy and pain filling Arwen's eyes, and thought she understood.
Yet more anxious days of waiting. Rowanna paced the House unhappily, feeling restless and useless, for Bilbo was spending almost every hour keeping watch at Frodo's bedside along with another of the hobbits, a shy red-faced lad called Sam. She had no wish to intrude; and in truth, the wounded hobbit's deathly pallor chilled her to the bone, stirring shadows somewhere in the depths of her memory.
"He was stabbed by some sort of terrible black blade, before they made it across the Ford," Bilbo told her in a half-whisper when she brought treats prepared by Rivendell's cooks to try to persuade him to eat. "Elrond is doing all he can, but I can tell he doesn't like the look of it at all; Gandalf thinks there may still be something in the wound, and -" He broke off, biting his lip furiously. Feeling more helpless than ever, Rowanna laid a hand briefly on his shoulder, and withdrew. As she closed the door, she heard Arwen's voice lifted softly in song from the bedside. Outside she passed the hunched grey figure of the wizard, gazing from a window-alcove over the valley, curls of smoke wreathing from his permanently-lit pipe.
In and around Frodo's sickroom, all was hushed; Elrond's folk tiptoed past and spoke in whispers. Elsewhere in Rivendell, nonetheless, the flow of gossip continued unabated; for the steady trickle of arriving strangers and unexpected guests grew as the days went by. First the Hobbits, then an Elf all the way from the Grey Havens in the West; and then, to Rowanna's astonishment one day as she led a horse out for exercise, in rode a long line of ponies bearing short, stout hooded figures. The rider at the head of the line pushed back his white hood to reveal a craggy, glowering face and a long, forked snow-white beard.
"Negyth," muttered one of the stable-hands darkly. When Rowanna gave him a puzzled glance, he frowned as he searched for the Westron word. "Dwarves."
On the morning after the Dwarves' arrival, a beautiful autumn morning of crisp sunshine, Gandalf came out of the House to take a rare stroll through the gardens, and Bilbo emerged smiling from the sickroom and pottered off in the direction of the library. The word flew through Rivendell like wildfire; Master Elrond's healing had succeeded. Frodo Baggins was awake.
Mithrandir tôl - Mithrandir is coming.
Dates: According to Appendix B of LOTR, Gandalf arrives in Rivendell on October 18th (the same day that Glorfindel finds Frodo); two days later, on October 20th, the Ford is barred. Tolkien says nothing about how Elrond knew when to bar the Ford; presumably he is either gifted with some sort of sight or foresight, or can sense the Ringwraiths' presence on the borders of his domains sufficiently keenly to know that they need to be barred from crossing. We know Gandalf helps Elrond bar the Ford, because he tells Frodo about the "few touches" he added (the white horses).
I am indebted to the authors of the various articles on horses in the HASA Resources section, as ever, particularly ErinRua's notes on horse colours, from which I learnt that if I wanted Elrond's stallion a rich red colour, then sorrel was the word I needed.
Ellith - plural of elleth (elf-maid, young elf-woman).
Negyth - plural of nogoth, Dwarf.
No indication is given either in the text of LoTR or in the Appendices as to exactly when Gimli, Glóin and their retinue (I assume they have a retinue, in a vain attempt to impress the Elves..) arrive in Rivendell. However, since at the Council of Elrond so much weight is given to the importance of the fateful, apparently chance arrival of all these people just in time for the Council, I've chosen to assume that they turned up just a couple of days before the Council was held (though not cutting it as fine as Boromir did.)
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.