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Thicker than Blood: 1. The Ford
The Fellowship of the Ring: Book 1, ‘The Flight to the Ford’
Strider was first to reach the far bank. He’d seen the elf horse standing at the top, stamping impatiently in the fading afternoon light, but there was no sign of the rider. The ringwraiths and their steeds had washed down the Greyflood, he could still make out the dark form of one of the beasts caught on a spit of stone, but nothing moved now, and all was silent save for the rushing of the river. Glorfindel came gracefully ashore, aiding the hobbits, who it seemed, could not wait for the flood to abate for an easier crossing. Sam struggled over the rocks as close behind the elf as he could manage. He had not seen Frodo fall, but one moment his master had been desperately clinging to the back of the elf’s steed and next, he had not. Sam was sick with the fear that Frodo had fallen into the river and been carried off into the angry current with the black riders, but as he looked up to the top of the bank, he saw Strider kneel at something on the ground. Frodo. It had to be.
He clambered up the bank, knocking stones and dirt down on Merry, who was no less eager than he was to see what had become of his cousin. He heard the elf-horse nicker softly, almost mournfully and looked to where Strider crouched. The first sight of his master’s body froze Sam’s blood. The dark cloak that laid over him seemed impossibly flat to the ground, as if Frodo were pressed down by the agonies of the past fortnight. A sick feeling of dread froze Sam’s heart and he stumbled, afraid to come closer. The feet that stuck out from beneath the cloak and the legs that could be seen above them were impossibly pale, stripped of even the faintest hint of the blush of blood. Sam had never before seen limbs that color on a living hobbit and his head reeled as the thought came to him that his master might have indeed perished. Strider pulled the cloak back from Frodo’s face and felt gingerly at his neck. Sam was almost afraid to breathe.
“He’s alive,” the ranger murmured. “Though I do not know if he has succumbed to their will.” He turned and looked at Glorfindel and Merry and Pippin who were still climbing up the bank. “I will carry him into the valley, but will you ride on and have Elrond prepare?” His stern grey eyes focused squarely on the elf. “A litter, perhaps, would be welcome, and swift bodies to carry it. It is not a long journey to Rivendell from the ford, but we are weary and have need of careful haste.” He frowned and a look of deep compassion crossed his grim features. “Please, say nothing to Bilbo,” he added softly. “I wish to give him this news myself.”
The elf-lord nodded and, forgoing the shortened stirrups, leapt onto his horse and sped off into the growing shadows at the foothills of the Misty Mountains without a word. Strider carefully rolled Frodo onto his back. His lips were grey and his skin cold to the touch, but he was breathing, though shallowly. Merry gave a soft, heartbroken cry and rushed to his cousin. Sam, trembling with fear but able to move at last, stooped to catch Frodo’s head as Strider laid it gently to earth. The two hobbits knelt by Frodo’s side opposite Strider as the ranger quickly examined him. Pippin hung back, his eyes opening as wide as saucers when he saw the deathly pallor on his elder cousin’s face. He gulped in his terror.
“He…he’s not dead…. Is he?” Pippin’s voice shook. He looked nearly as pale as Frodo.
“Not dead, no…” Strider answered. “But maybe worse than dead – I do not know yet. I will carry him to Rivendell and perhaps while I do I can sense something of his fate. I have done all I could for him – only Elrond can do more – and even that may not be enough if, as I fear, it is too late already.” Under Frodo’s body laid his cracked and splintered barrow blade. Strider picked up the pieces and weighed them in his palm. “At least he resisted ere he fell. “ He glanced from the fragments of blade to the pale, still face and his stony features softened a bit. “Gave them a fight, didn’t you my friend?” he whispered. “They didn’t expect that from the likes of you, I’ll warrant.” He dropped the pieces into his pouch and slipped his arms under the hobbit to lift him.
Sam supported his master’s head as Strider settled his body against him, and pulled the hood up over his curls to keep the older hobbit warm. It was all Sam could do and when it was done he felt inept and impotent – as he had for most of the past two weeks watching Frodo fall deeper and deeper under the influence of his wound. There was still nothing he could really do for him. Merry wrapped the cloak tight about Frodo’s feet and stepped back, his eyes glistening with held back tears. Frodo’s pale face shone dimly from where it lay nestled in the crook of Strider’s arm, a ghost among the dark folds of fabric. Sam, too, felt hot tears sting his eyes.
“I’m trustin’ you with him, Mr. Strider, Sir…” he began. “I know I’ve been very suspicious of you, bein’ as you are, one of the big folk and a shifty looking one at that. But you’ve stood by us through some near scrapes and I’ve come to think there’s a mite more to you than meets the eye.” He touched Frodo’s cold, smudged cheek. “And that's why I'll say you gotta save him, Mr. Strider. Please…” he sniffled sorrowfully. “You have to…” Then words failed him and the tears he had fought fell freely.
Strider held Frodo’s cold body close and gave Sam a solemn nod, accepting the charge that he had laid upon him. “I will do everything within my power, Sam.” He looked up at Pippin, who had not moved and whose eyes were still wide with fear, and to Merry, who, in an effort to keep his own tears at bay, was scrambling back up the bank with the pony. “We must reach the trail to Rivendell as quickly as we are able, but it is a treacherous walk even before we reach the ravine. Be alert and follow close behind. If you miss the trail you will never find the valley. Quickly now!”
Strider’s pace was astounding. Though he walked, the hobbits and Bill the pony had to jog to keep up to him. They soon understood the origin of the man’s name quite well for his long, smooth strides ate up the distance while jostling his small passenger very little. They followed no path, or so it seemed, but the ranger moved unerringly through the foothills. Hours later, at the head of an unmarked ravine, seemingly no different from many others they had passed, Strider turned. Sam could see no trail as he looked into the steep sided valley below, but tugged on Bill’s lead and followed anyway.
There was a path there and it was steep and zig-zagged sharply as it worked its way down the valley. The hobbits moved slowly through the deepening dusk for keeping to the slippery track was difficult and even the sure-footed pony was hard pressed to do it. Strider was far ahead of them and almost out of sight when they first heard whispers in the trees and saw faint elvish torches and twinkling lights coming up the path ahead of them. Strider’s distant form was silhouetted against the light. They pressed on even more quickly and reached the party just as Frodo, now laid gently upon a litter stretched with green fabric, was being lifted again. Gandalf was there and greeted them all solemnly though his eyes were filled sorrow. He walked beside them as four tall, willowy elves carried Frodo towards the hall. The elves bore him as gently as a sleeping babe though they moved even more swiftly than Strider had done. The warming breeze was all that moved him as it lifted the dark curls from his brow.
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