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In Empty Lands: 15. The Prince of Mirkwood
For Aranellaureate, for her birthday. Sorry it is late.
The Prince of Mirkwood
It was late afternoon when Boromir left the Last Homely House to walk out across the grounds toward the distant stable and the birch wood beyond it, wanting some time to himself without the need to speak with others. He was not certain whether Frodo Baggins had returned as yet to his chamber or even to the company of his kinsmen and servant. Well, let the Hobbit care for himself! Boromir was now feeling restless and eager to see the journey begun, now that it was certain that it would be taken. The idea that they must wait for some weeks before leaving distressed him--he had been gone from home for far too long as it was, and his father needed to be advised of the reason the Nazgûl had crossed the river and had gone north and west into Eriador.
How would his father react to the news that Isildur's Bane was the Enemy's long-lost Ring of Power--the Ring of Power thought lost all these millennia? And now It was found, and within the grasp of any who could prove strong enough to take It, the one weapon perhaps strong enough to use to successfully face the Enemy himself?
His father, Denethor son of Ecthelion, was certainly strong enough, he was certain, to use this weapon against the Nameless One and his forces! To see the Dark Lord destroyed using his own artifice--what a delightful, right ploy! And he who could do such a thing--he would be the hero of the age, remembered in song and story long after he was quit of this world!
His reverie on this image, in which he, unnoticed, took the place of his father before the adoring populace of Minas Tirith, augmented by allies from Rohan, as proud princes from Rhûn and Harad abased themselves before him, suing for peace, was interrupted when he heard from above the command, "Daro!" uttered in a low voice. He halted immediately, looking up automatically.
Lounging overhead along a limb of the nearest tree sat the golden-haired Legolas of Mirkwood, one knee drawn up, the other leg elegantly dangling from the limb, the soft suede boot he wore neatly laced upon his foot. The Elf looked down, his expression mildly concerned, but basically inscrutable. He commented, "You are not watching where you go."
Boromir looked down to see a low fence, over which he would have stumbled had he gone any further. Beyond the fence were a number of ponies, most of them sturdy, healthy beasts. One, however, stood apart from the rest, paused in its cropping of the still-springing grass to sniff the air. This was somewhat taller than the others, skewbald in brown and white, but much thinner than the others, almost skin and bone, in fact. It turned to examine Boromir, came a step closer and sniffed again, then shied away.
"That one looks as if it almost foundered," Boromir said.
"It was here when the Dwarves arrived," the Elf offered. "I know not whose it is, but I cannot imagine it belongs to the people of Imladris. Never would they use a beast so, allowing it almost to starve as was done with this one." They watched it for a time before Legolas continued, "But it appears a wise creature. It grazes, but slowly, steadily. And although it is wary, it does not shy from those who work in the stable, but greets them as if grateful for their attention."
"You have watched it long?" Boromir asked.
There was a graceful lift to one shoulder--Boromir was already noting that almost all done by Elves was done with remarkable smoothness and ease, as if a mere shrug were in some way a move in a particularly pleasing dance. "Long enough. I find the inaction after the decisions made this morning to be troublesome. My fellow returns alongside Dáin's people that none go without the means to protect themselves in such times. It is well enough for him, I suppose, although I rejoice I do not travel with them as well."
"You do not appreciate the Dwarves?"
Again a shrug as the Elf looked off, across the valley at the glory of a distant waterfall plunging down the cliff into the Bruinen. "It is not so much that I do not appreciate the Dwarves as it that this particular group does not appreciate the Elves of my land, and particularly not my father. Many years back now, before the downfall of Dol Guldur, we had a time in which we were constantly being troubled by a group of Dwarves seeking to profane our most solemn of woodland feasts. Again and again they would approach our torches and set off our guarding spells, and we would find the torches doused, the music stopped in mid-note, the dancing halted, and all we had gathered for the feast abruptly moved to a different feasting spot. Long and long we had labored to perfect such spells that we not be taken unawares by yrch or spider or werewolf and other fell creatures; to find ourselves suddenly moved hither and yon because of a bumbling troupe of buffoons such as this was more than my father could bear. The spiders were suddenly stung into action throughout the forest close to us, and we feared we must leave off our feast to send out our warriors to deal with them.
"So as we kindled the torches yet again, hoping this time to get through the dance honoring Oromë, my father set a second spell within the first, that the one to first step into our sacred circle should be moved with us. So it was that when next they came we captured their leader, Thorin Oakenshield, though we knew not who he was.
"We later captured the rest of the thirteen Dwarves who had managed to wander off the path, but we got no sense from them. They would not tell us their purpose in traveling through our lands--instead they spoke ever of having come near starvation and death by thirst. My father knew that there must be some fell purpose for such as these to travel as they did through Mirkwood, so he ordered them held within our Citadel, which was carved from the living rock of a great hill at the heart of the forest. When at last they escaped, we knew not how, we were in great wonderment. No evil did any of us sense within out stronghold, although many spoke of awareness they were being followed and watched, and much in the way of food and drink went missing that none could account for.
The Elf sighed, shifting to sit more straightly upon the limb, both legs now dangling. "One of those was Glóin, now Glóin of Erebor, who heads this mission from the Lonely Mountain. Never has he forgiven us that we held him imprisoned within our halls; and I sense his son is even more angry to find himself in company with the son of Thranduil, seeing it as an insult to his father. But all any needed was to speak plainly of their mission and we would have aided them! The Naugrim are, you will find, a stubborn lot, their heads and hearts as hard as the stone they thrive on."
Boromir nodded. As the Elf returned his attention to the ponies the Man did the same. At last he noted, "They at least appear to be good to their mounts. All of them save the skewbald one appear to be well kept and properly fed."
Legolas again shrugged a single shoulder. "I will grant them that," he admitted as if grudging the acknowledgment. "But then even the meanest of souls will often show kindness to beasts. And it is to their own benefit to treat the animals they ride well, after all."
Boromir went forward to lean one hip upon a fence rail. Together they watched the movement of the ponies. Those from Erebor were apparently as clannish as their masters, and tended to avoid the sparer skewbald animal, who in return gave them a sniffing look and returned to his slow, steady grazing. Suddenly it raised its head, smelling the air, but whether in pleasure or fear the Man could not tell.
"Bill!" called a voice of one approaching from the House. Man and Elf both turned, noting the arrival of the stout Hobbit, Samwise Gamgee.
"Bill!" the Hobbit called again. "Oh, look at you, Bill my lad--already puttin' some flesh back on your bones! They're treatin' you fine, aren't they, dear lad? Oh, I can tell as they are! Well, here's some treats from the house, Bill. They're all right proud of you, they are, carryin' the Master as well as you did. Here, lad...."
As he approached the fence the pony did the same, obviously as eager as was the Hobbit. Sam was rummaging within his tunic for a long carrot that he then held out to the pony, who accepted it gladly.
The Hobbit kept up a running commentary as he greeted the animal and fed it the carrot, then brought out an apple to follow the root, and then a second carrot. "They say as you can have more today, Bill. I hope as you find it all good here. And they've been brushin' you up fine, I can tell. Oh, but I've been so glad as we bought you away from that old Bill Ferny, I have. But to go from the bad treatment as you had with that one to havin' to scrabble through the hills the way we did--no proper food nor water for days like that--well, you're a right noble one, to accept all that and still think well of me, is all I'll say. Ah, you're a fine beast, you are, Bill! Here--a lump of sugar--brought it from the dinin' hall, I did. And you are fillin' out again! By the time we're ready to leave I'll wager as you'll be fine and sleek as any Elvish horse, you wait and see! And you'll be as ready to go on as the rest of us, won't you? Yes, I knew it!"
Finally the Halfling turned and looked westward. "I must go back again, Bill. It'll be time for tea soon, and I promised to take it with old Mr. Bilbo. I just wish as Mr. Frodo would...." He stopped, realizing he had an audience. He flushed heavily, but drew himself up straighter. "Oh, Mr. Boromir, sir," he said, tugging at his forelock. "I beg pardon, but didn't see you there. Come out to see our Bill, and make certain as he's proper taken care of."
"Then he's yours?" the Man asked.
"Well, I suppose as he's actually Mr. Merry's, properly speakin', at least. The ones as he'd had ready for us to ride was all stole, there in Bree, and we had t'make do with what we could find. Mr. Butterbur, him found Bill for us, the only pony in Bree proper what wasn't in the stable at the Prancin' Pony, or so it'd seem. That nasty Bill Ferny had him, and used him hard. To go through what we've been through, comin' here and especial after my Master was hurt and still look better than what he did when we got him, that speaks volumes of how Ferny treated him.
"And now both him and my Master are both so much better! And I'm so proud of both of them!"
"I see," Boromir said. "Well, give my respects to Master Bilbo, will you, please?"
"And mine as well!" said Legolas from his perch in the tree.
Sam looked up, obviously surprised, embarrassment and delight appearing to be warring in him. "Give him your respects, my lord? And whose is they, if'n you don't mind me askin'?"
"Tell him Legolas of Mirkwood sends his greetings, and that I would be glad to share honey buns with him in the morning."
"Oh, so you remember that? He told me as there was one Elf as liked honey buns as he used to take from once in a while."
Legolas laughed, a remarkably delightful sound. "Yes, I do believe he was stealing my honey buns. Well, you'd best be off with you, if you are not to be late. We will keep an eye on your pony for you. It is obvious he is well loved."
Sam gave the pony a last pat alongside his neck. "Oh, that I do. Always have loved ponies, I have. They taught me to ride out at Cottons' farm, and I love the beasts true. We could never afford one, though, my dad and us. Maybe that'll change one day, though." He caressed the animal's ear and gave it a last bite of sweet roll pulled from inside his tunic, and turned back toward the House again, after giving a respectful nod to Elf and Man. Whistling sweetly, he hurried off toward his next meal, leaving the two of them watching after him. Bill the pony whuffled his disappointment at the parting, watching after also until the Hobbit was out of sight, then turning to again pull at the grass.
There was a sudden movement behind a bush, and a small, slender figure in a green cloak stepped out of hiding, approaching Bill, who nuzzled at his shoulder with familiarity before turning back to his grass. "I suppose that I, too, ought to go back in," said Frodo Baggins softly. "I've had time to think and to spare, I suppose, and I shall only worry them the more should I continue to linger. Well, I must say I, too, am glad to see you are recovering from the privations of the march, Bill. Take care, and eat well and wisely."
With that benediction offered, the Hobbit moved silently toward the fence, ducking gracefully through the rails, bowing to Man and Elf, and following after his companion. In moments he had disappeared from sight.
Boromir didn't catch the exclamation the Elf uttered under his breath, as it was in a dialect he did not recognize. "He was here--the Ringbearer?" he continued in Westron. "But how was it I never noticed? He wasn't wearing the Ring, was he?"
Boromir, too, felt somewhat shaken to realize they'd been so close to the Hobbit and had not noticed his presence. "I cannot imagine he would think to wear It here," he said.
"His uncle did, and in my father's halls," Legolas pointed out. "For the weeks of the Dwarves' captivity he did so."
"But that was long ago," Boromir responded.
Legolas nodded. "I am only glad," he said at last, "that we were not speaking of the Hobbits, although I am not certain whether he would take offense at possible slurs cast on his kinsman's friends."
"He did not appear offended."
Again that elegant shrug. "No, that he did not." They watched toward the House in the growing dusk. At last he said, "A strange one, this Frodo Baggins. Not as talkative as his fellows, but at least half again as canny, I'd deem. He will keep his own counsel, if I read him rightly, and is not certain he wishes to wait until others consider it safe for him to leave this place. He would fain be off and doing now, before he has a chance to lose his nerve." Then, after one last silence he added, "It will be an honor to travel alongside him. Master Bilbo sought to serve and protect my father as he could, and it appears that this one is even stronger in honor than his kinsman."
The Elf dropped lightly to the ground. "I think it is time for us to return to the House as well, Boromir of Gondor, if you wish to accompany me. And I will face the Dwarves with the pride of my people, and with the respect we owe to Dáin Ironfoot. Come, if you will."
So saying, he led the way back to the House of Elrond, and Boromir watched light blossom in the windows in the face of the darkening day.
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