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While the Ring Went South...: 4. January 1, 3019
With a miserable shiver, Merry Brandybuck tried to readjust his layers of cloaks and blankets, but no matter what he did, it seemed that the bitter wind found new ways of boring through his coverings. His watch was nearing its end and Legolas would be taking over soon, but at this point, Merry wondered if he would be able to fall asleep. Considering the way he felt now, he would probably be awake for Legolas’s watch, Boromir’s watch, Sam’s watch, and Gandalf’s watch.
Trying to shake off some of the cold, Merry abruptly stood and started to pace, hoping that movement would thaw his frozen blood. With effort, he managed to make his numb, protesting legs obey his commands and carry him about the camp, weaving an irregular circle around his comrades. The increased exercise worked for a bit, but eventually, the cold slowed his walking and he felt winter’s icy fingers once again.
So distracted was he by his plight that he didn’t notice movement behind until something dropped onto his shoulders. Startled into jumping, the hobbit whirled, laid his hand to his sword, and then stopped. "Legolas?"
"If you did not want the extra cloak, you could have said as much," the elf told him with a slight smile. "But I thought you would be glad of the gift."
"Oh, I am!" Merry exclaimed, glancing at his shoulders and discovering that the elf’s cloak now encircled them. The thin material seemed a surer block against the wind than all of the hobbit's other coverings, and he felt his body heat warming the interior of the light covering. "It’s very warm," he said with some astonishment.
"Of course it is warm." Legolas sounded indignant.
"No, I mean…thank you. Thank you very much. I…won’t you be cold?"
"This weather does not bother me," Legolas answered casually. "It must be very cold to affect an elf."
"Well, it is cold enough to affect a hobbit," Merry said bitterly. "Much too cold for me, anyway. Will it get warmer soon, do you think?"
The prince glanced up at the sky where the dark storm clouds that had once threatened from afar now loomed above the sleeping travelers. "There will be heavy rain tonight," Legolas finally said. "I fear it will slow our travels. Beyond that, I cannot tell. The weather is uncertain around the mountains, and the great peaks have much control. Their favor will be a telling point, and some of them have no love for elves or dwarves. Dark is their history and evil their roots. Whatever the weather be now, it will grow worse ere we make the mountain passes."
"I think I was looking for something more optimistic," Merry confessed. "What about beyond the mountains? Surely the weather will be fair further south."
"Perhaps, but the land will grow in peril and fair weather will avail us not. For as we move south, every step we take draws us closer to Mordor. In southern lands, we may wish for this cloud cover to hide us from unfriendly eyes."
"Sam was right," Merry muttered under his breath. "There needs to be more optimism on this journey."
With his sharp ears, Legolas picked up this grumbled comment and laughed. "Alas, I fear you hobbits have fallen in with grim and dour beings. Gandalf knows too much and has fought too long, Aragorn is too touched by the Elder race and too experienced in battling the enemy, Boromir has seen too much and has loved too little, I have lived too long and have defended my home too often, and Gimli…Gimli is a dwarf," the elf finished as though that explained everything.
"Oh." Merry wasn’t quite sure what to say in response to this, but he did know one thing. He couldn’t continue to stand in the cold. "So have you come to relieve me from my watch? It is still early for you to be awake."
"I…felt something," Legolas said hesitantly. "And I could not sleep. It was…" He trailed off, unsure as to whether or not he should continue. Ultimately deciding against it, the elf shook his head and turned back to Merry. "It does not matter. Do you wish to rest now? I will finish your watch and then take my own."
"That does sound good," Merry said. "Do you want your cloak back?"
"Tonight," Legolas said. "Until then, may it keep you warm."
"Thank you," Merry beamed. The gesture touched him and the elven cloak was surprisingly comfortable. "Well, I guess I will see you tonight. And if you need anything…Strider?"
Merry stared across the camp as the lanky Ranger rose and stretched. Sensing eyes upon him, Aragorn turned and frowned when he noted both Legolas and Merry up. "It is not yet time for your watch, my friend," Aragorn said to the elf.
"And you do not have a watch today at all," Legolas answered quietly. Something caught his attention and he turned his eyes away from Aragorn. "It would seem that Mithrandir’s sleep is troubled as well." The elf nodded his head toward the wizard, and Aragorn and Merry watched while Gandalf twitched awake. Opening his flashing eyes, the wizard’s brow furrowed when he caught sight of Legolas, Aragorn, and Merry.
"There is a reason we stop for sleep," Gandalf said, rising and joining the group. "Why do you not use this time for resting. Even you, Legolas, should not yet be awake."
"I have offered to relieve Merry early," the elf explained. "He was just now retiring for the day."
Merry blinked, realizing the elf was hinting that now was a good time to leave. "Yes, that’s right," he quickly said, taking his cue. He didn’t know what had disturbed Strider or Gandalf, and he realized that he really didn’t want to know. For now he was quite content to be a simple passenger on the trip, trusting in their wisdom for his survival. "I’ll be going now. To sleep, that is. And thank you again, Legolas."
The elf nodded and watched with Aragorn and Gandalf as the hobbit found a resting place near the other hobbits, rolled himself up in Legolas’s cloak, and relaxed as he slipped into a world of dreams. After waiting a few more minutes, Gandalf turned back to the other two.
"Now, perhaps you can tell me what is happening," the wizard said, his eyes warning that evasive answers would not be welcome.
"Dae prestintin a erion," Legolas said in Sindarin, wary of speaking in the common tongue for fear that Merry might still be awake. "Law iston, dan gostan…" The elf trailed off uncertainly and glanced at the Ranger by his side.
"Ha i draug," Aragorn said heavily, also using the elven language. "Anglenna ad."
Gandalf sighed and nodded. He glanced around the camp and then inclined his head toward the path the Fellowship had followed the previous night. "Tol."
Picking up sword and bow as a precaution, Aragorn and Legolas silently followed the wizard until they were a safe distance away from the others. Glancing back, Aragorn noticed that Boromir was stirring slightly and felt a pang of guilt that the man was not included in their conference. He was a warrior and well aware of the dangers that plagued them. Yet if this could be taken care of quickly and quietly, it was best that few knew of it. And while Boromir and Gimli now knew of the Warg, they still did not know how closely he trailed them. And he was quite close. Dangerously close.
"He must be eliminated," Gandalf said without further preamble, obviously sharing Aragorn’s thoughts on the matter. "Or if he is not eliminated, we must prevent him from contacting a pack. His motives may have nothing to do with us, but we cannot afford to take that chance."
"He is alone and wary, though," Aragorn pointed out quietly. "He will not be easy to take. Legolas tried late last night, and he slipped away from him. How shall the rest of us hunt a wolf that can hear even the approach of an elf?"
"Perhaps I was too eager and not careful enough," Legolas offered. "Another attempt could be made, or we could bait a trap for him."
"A Warg would not fall for a simple trap, nor can we take the time to fashion one and lie in wait," Gandalf stated. "We must lure him into the open and then we must hunt him."
"What do you suggest?" Aragorn asked.
"A simple plan," the wizard answered. "It is dangerous but no more so than journeying further with a Warg on our trail. However, it will involve splitting the Fellowship. One group will travel ahead while another group travels behind. The wolf will either be split between the two groups or will try to cut one group off. Aragorn, you will lead Boromir, Pippin, Merry, and Gimli in the first group. Legolas, Frodo, Sam, the pony, and I will follow you but we will stay at least one hundred meters behind you. Hopefully, our hunting friend will reveal himself in this, and when he does, we must be ready."
"How will we coordinate between the two groups?" Legolas wondered. "For when one party gives chase, the other must be informed if we are able to drive him."
"And what of mishap? What if someone in the latter group was to meet with some accident along the way? How would you tell those of us in the first group without further endangering the Ring-bearer?" Aragorn added.
"As I said before, the plan is dangerous. But I see no other way to draw this creature into the open. Currently, he may hunt us at his leisure for we stay together and have no feasible means of hiding our trail from him. He has the advantage, and unless we change our habits, he will continue to have the advantage." Gandalf sighed and shook his head. "If either of you have a better idea, now is the time to present it. In the absence of an alternative, though, I move that we create a system of signals whereby we can communicate between groups."
"Whistles?" Aragorn questioned.
"Perhaps. Smoke and flares, also, would work. But however it is done, it must be in such a way that we do not attract the attention of other spies. If we can avoid the Enemy up until reaching the mountains passes, our chances are greatly improved."
"Whistles then," Aragorn said with a glance at Legolas. The elf nodded in agreement.
"We have used such signals before with success," the prince said. "Shall we change our system?"
"No," Aragorn said after a moment of thought. "It is doubtful that the enemy will have taken the time to understand hunting whistles used occasionally by some of the Mirkwood elves."
"Then may I suggest you rest, Aragorn?" Legolas said. "The Warg may be near, but he is mad if he thinks to attack on my watch. At least for now, you can sleep without fear."
"And that is a luxury we will not have for much longer," Gandalf predicted ominously. "Well then, Aragorn and I must seek such rest as we may find on this dark day. But keep your bow at the ready, Legolas. He may grow bold while we slumber, and if you are offered a shot, be ready to take it."
"Trust in the bolts of the elves," Legolas promised with a tight smile, pulling an arrow from his quiver and sighting along its smooth, straight shaft. "Long have my people hunted the fell demons and beasts of the Misty Mountains. If this Warg dares to show himself, it will be his last appearance."
* * * *
The afternoon was cold and cheerless, and despite his fur-lined cloak, Boromir found himself shivering in the chilly air. As silent as a stone sentinel, he stood on the edge of camp, watching the surrounding forest with the habitual wariness of a soldier. Before lying down to sleep, Legolas had warned him that the trailing Warg had crept close to camp this day, but the elf felt that the wolf had departed not long before Boromir rose. For his part, Boromir accepted this information with a nod and secret doubts. He was coming to trust the elf’s superior senses, but the voice of his inborn suspicion concerning other races was difficult to ignore. Whatever Aragorn’s feelings on the subject might be, Boromir was far more inclined to trust in the wisdom and judgement of man than in the intuition and insight of the elves.
Speaking of Aragorn…
The son of Gondor’s ruling steward glanced over at the Ranger. To his surprise, he found Aragorn looking back at him. Boromir blinked but gave no other sign that he was startled. Aragorn smiled slightly as though he knew his gaze was disturbing and rose.
"It is a cold day," he said quietly.
"It is," Boromir responded in kind. He was not about to ask what purpose Aragorn had in rising. If the Ranger wish to share that information, so be it. But Denethor’s son was not going to beg for it.
"Your watch has passed quietly," Aragorn continued, joining the other man on the edge of the camp.
"You speak as though you have been awake for much of it." Boromir told himself that this was not asking for information but merely demonstrating his ability for insight. True, it opened the door for Aragorn to explain why he was awake, but at least Boromir had not come right out and demanded the reasons for the Ranger’s actions. In any case, he did not think himself capable of demanding anything from this man, and to ask was to show weakness. But why cannot I demand things of him? Boromir suddenly wondered. Am I not heir to the rule of Gondor and the staff of the steward? Am I not second in the council of Minas Tirith, submissive only to my father? Who is Aragorn that I should fear him so?
"In truth, I have been awake since the beginning of Legolas’s watch," Aragorn answered, heedless of Boromir’s thoughts. "He told you of the Warg, but he did not tell you that the Warg’s presence woke him from his sleep before his scheduled watch. It also woke Gandalf and myself. I have been reluctant to sleep since."
Boromir frowned. "I was not aware of this creature."
"You have not hunted Wargs before. They have a…a feel about them. They are as shadows creeping upon your mind, and in daylight it is easier to sense their approach. But only those who have fought them are truly aware of them." Aragorn folded his arms across his chest and studied the dark woods touched by frost. "I am surprised Gimli did not wake, though perhaps he has not had cause to fight the wolves as his fathers did."
"It is a mystery to me that something in the north can be as much of a threat as the minions that issue forth from the Black Gate where Minas Tirith stands guard."
"As I said before at the Council, Boromir, Minas Tirith does not guard all roads, and the Enemy has many allies. Think of the fortress of Dol Goldur. For years, Sauron ruled southern Mirkwood from its fastness and Gondor was powerless to stop it. Nor could Gondor anticipate the treachery of Saruman and it cannot now guard against his minions that may breed at Isengard. The world is wider than you think, Boromir. Gondor is great, but Mordor is greater still."
Boromir was silent at this, considering Aragorn’s words. And it bothered him that he could not refute their logic. His pride in his country demanded that he rise to defend it, but how could he argue against such facts? Once more, he considered this man who stood next to him and possessed the alleged sword of Isildur. Not even in Rivendell had Boromir given much credence to the myth of Aragorn’s genealogy, but now…
"Tonight we are trying to draw the wolf out," Aragorn said, abruptly changing the topic much to Boromir’s relief. "We will split the Fellowship into two groups. You and I will lead Gimli, Merry, and Pippin ahead while the rest lag behind. Hopefully we will force the wolf to reveal himself in his attempts to track all of us. Legolas and I have a system of whistles that we have used before in similar maneuvers. That should serve us well now."
"Is it prudent to separate?" Boromir questioned before he could stop himself. "We would leave the latter group with no protection."
Aragorn’s eyebrows shot up. "No protection? They will have Gandalf and Legolas. What better protection could you desire in these dark forests? Even an army of the Last Alliance would do no better than the combined forces of a wood elf and a wizard."
"I hope your trust is not misplaced," Boromir said quietly. "But remember that they are not men. They are not our kind." And with that, Boromir strode away, vanishing into the trees before Aragorn could fashion a response.
* * * *
Frodo woke to a small commotion that was steadily growing in volume and chaos. The scuffle of feet and the ring of an axe quickly drew his attention, and he sat up with a start, reaching instinctively for Sting. When he saw what was happening, he sighed and rubbed his eyes, wondering at the counsel of Elrond in putting an elf and a dwarf in the same company. Elrond himself was part elf. He should have known better.
Legolas and Gimli glared at one another from opposite ends of the camp with Gandalf and Aragorn restraining the elf while Boromir, Merry, and Pippin held Gimli back. The dwarf’s axe had been wrested from him and lay near Frodo, but that did not prevent Gimli from continually lunging at the elf who, for his part, was trying equally hard to get at the dwarf. "What is happening?" Frodo whispered.
"Quite a story to be sure, Mr. Frodo," a voice from behind answered.
Frodo turned around and studied Sam’s thoughtful face. "Do you know how this started?"
The other hobbit shuffled his feet and nodded. "More or less. I was making breakfast ready and Strider had just come back from scouting. Legolas was awake and he was doing something with his arrows when Gimli made some comment or other about Thraunduil and elven women. I don’t know exactly what it was that he said, but Legolas went all silent and then he rose and said something about Gloin screaming in Mirkwood’s dungeons. I guess he was referring to old Mr. Bilbo’s story, but I don’t rightly know. Well, then Gimli lunged and Legolas lunged right back. Strider tried to break them apart and then Gandalf and Boromir were there and before I knew it, Merry and Pippin were pulling Gimli back with Boromir and Legolas was over there with Strider and Gandalf."
"Oh." Frodo wasn’t quite sure what else to say.
"It’s such a shame it woke you," Sam continued. "You were sleeping peacefully at last, Mr. Frodo, but then this happened and there wasn’t anything I could do about it and…"
"Forget it, Sam," Frodo sighed. "It’s time I was up anyway."
By now, Aragorn’s constant talking to Legolas had calmed the elf to the point where he could be released, and Gimli was no longer jerking against Boromir’s firm grasp so he had also been let go. But neither one moved a step and continued to glare at each other across the camp.
Aragorn’s deep voice cut a path through the tension, but no one relaxed. The wizard he had addressed continued to watch Legolas closely until the elf finally turned and met his gaze. Something passed between the two, but whatever it was did not agree with the elven prince. With a final glare at Gimli, he turned and stalked back to his bow and quiver, anger resonating from him as heat from a fire. Gandalf next turned to Gimli and held his eyes for the span of a few seconds. The dwarf shuddered, grumbled something in his own tongue, and turned away, retrieving his axe and moving to the edge of the forest.
"Perhaps it is best if we take breakfast on the trail this evening," Aragorn suggested quietly.
Gandalf nodded and turned his dark eyes toward Sam. "Can this be arranged, Master Samwise?"
Quailing beneath the wizard’s gaze, Sam nodded hurriedly. A brief smile from Gandalf relaxed the poor gardener and Sam was able to formulate words to accompany his nod. "I can put a walking breakfast together and it won’t take more than a minute."
"Thank you," Gandalf said, softening his eyes and attempting to further calm the hobbit. When Sam smiled back in return, the wizard nodded and then turned his eyes to the rest of the group. "While breakfast is being prepared for us, I will tell you what the plan is for tonight. We are departing from our normal procedure, for I fear we may be followed. If this is so, hopefully we can draw our pursuers into the open with this strategy. Aragorn and Boromir will take Gimli, Pippin, and Merry on ahead. The second group, comprising Frodo, Sam, Legolas, and myself, will depart shortly afterward. Because we will be in small groups, it is essential that everyone has their weapons at the ready." Gandalf glanced around the group to see if he still had everyone’s attention. Pippin appeared to be daydreaming and the wizard fixed a dark glare on him until the hobbit came back to the present and wilted beneath Gandalf’s baleful look. With a grunt of satisfaction, Gandalf nodded. "Let us be off, then. Aragorn, Boromir, you and your group are first. We will follow after."
Aragorn shouldered his small pack, for Rangers traveled lightly and he had brought few provisions, and started off into the forest, glancing back to see that Boromir, Pippin, Merry, and Gimli were following. Boromir would not make eye contact with him, but he did follow, taking up rearguard as Merry and Pippin took position between the two men. Gimli walked alongside Aragorn and ere long, they had vanished into the trees.
With a sigh of frustration, Gandalf shook his head and turned to the remainder of the Fellowship. The wizard had not missed the new tension between Aragorn and Boromir that materialized sometime during the night, but he hoped they could forget whatever quarrel lay between them. He was more hopeful of their getting along than he was of a certain elf and dwarf. This was further confirmed when he caught a glimpse of something in Legolas’s hand. The elf concealed it quickly when he sensed the wizard’s eyes on him, but Gandalf saw enough to recognize what it was the elf hid. Gimli would be missing his pipe tonight.
"How long shall we wait?" Frodo asked. He had also seen the stolen pipe but was unsure if broaching the subject was a safe move.
"We do not want them to draw too far ahead, but neither do we want to be just behind them," Gandalf answered. "We shall a quarter of an hour and then follow. That should give Aragorn enough time to find the proper trails and draw the attention of any pursuit that may be watching us."
"What do think is watching us?" Sam asked with a shiver, glancing at the surrounding forest.
"I have my suspicions, but night is not a good time to hear talk of fell things," Gandalf said evasively.
"I do not think we are watched now," Legolas said slowly. He stood apart from the others and scanned the forest quietly, using both eyes and ears to map out the surroundings. "All seems quiet and peaceful for the moment. It has been so since I woke."
Gandalf nodded to acknowledge the hidden message. The Warg had not been here in the morning. Where it went to was anyone’s guess, but it had not been around camp and it was not here now.
They waited a bit longer, the silence broken only by the swishing of Bill’s tail and an ominous rumble of thunder overhead. Upon hearing the thunder, Sam had grumbled something under his breath and started digging through his heavy pack. Gandalf had been unable to catch all Sam’s words, but he had heard a mild curse about the rain. Raising his eyes to the cloud-covered sky, he silently acknowledged the truth of Sam’s prediction. It would rain tonight.
After a few more minutes of waiting, during which anther rumble of thunder was heard, Gandalf stood. "Let us go," he said quietly. "The others have been given enough time. Stay close and stay alert. We may see things tonight."
And with these foreboding words echoing in their minds, Frodo and Sam rose and followed Gandalf, leaving Legolas to walk in back, a guard in the dark against any that might walk behind them. A flash of light lit the sky as they left the camp, and crack of thunder shook the ground. Murmuring a curse of his own, Gandalf pulled his cloak tighter around himself and picked up the pace.
* * * *
They had been traveling for the space of about four hours in silence, having seen nothing and felt nothing, when they heard a faint whistling like unto a bird. It was difficult to hear above the howling of the wind, which had risen in force as the clouds gathered, but it was discernable. Gandalf glanced back at Legolas who had stopped at the whistle and cocked his head. The wind whipped his hair about his face, but he ignored it as the whistle came again. "They have found something," the elf eventually said, looking at Gandalf. "They are stopping to investigate."
"Was that Aragorn then?" Sam asked, huddling against Bill’s side as the wind wailed about them.
"It was," Gandalf said shortly. He watched the forest closely and then turned back to Legolas. "How far away would you say they are?"
"Perhaps half a mile," the elf estimated. "He says the shadow lies between us."
"That would explain it," Gandalf said to himself. "Tell him we feel it also but not to pursue. Let us lull it into a false sense of security. Perhaps it will grow bolder."
Legolas nodded and lifted his head to answer, but at that moment, a terrible crash of thunder bore down on them and at that signal, the clouds dropped their load of rain. Bill reared in fright and Sam seized the lead rein, struggling to bring the pony under control. Frodo raced to help him, but it wasn’t until Legolas stepped in and sang soft words to the horse, barely audible beneath the torrent of rain, that the pony calmed. Dripping wet, Sam and Frodo collapsed and huddled together.
"This rain would be better if I could watch it through a window," Sam muttered miserably. Frodo nodded wordlessly beside him and shivered as cold water began soaking through all his outer coverings.
"We will never catch him in this," Legolas called to Gandalf, pushing wet hair out of his eyes and keeping a firm hold on Bill’s halter.
"We must regroup," Gandalf said, tipping his head and watching as water poured off the brim of his hat. "Frodo! Sam! Come. We must rejoin the others."
Slipping and sliding in the mud, Frodo and Sam hurried after Gandalf, trying to stay close enough to see him through the curtain of falling water. Legolas followed after them, leading Bill behind him and stopping often to persuade the pony onward.
To Frodo and Sam, it seemed as though they walked forever through the blinding wall of rain. Gandalf’s gray cloak vanished and appeared before them sporadically as the wizard wound his way through dripping underbrush. They could no longer see Legolas or Bill behind them and Gandalf seemed to be drawing further ahead. Leaning against one another for support, they struggled to move faster. They were conscious of Gandalf turning and waiting for them once, but they were not allowed to rest. The wizard was in haste, for this rain would wash away all evidence of the other group’s trail and if they had turned aside, they would be nearly impossible to find.
A shrill whistle suddenly shot up from their left, freezing the small group in its tracks. "Aragorn!" Gandalf called hopefully, trying to make himself heard above the wind and the rain. There was no answer but in pausing to wait for one, they stood long enough that Legolas was able to catch up, leading a miserable pony behind him.
"They are this way," Legolas shouted, moving off to the left. "Aragorn has found shelter."
"Shelter?" Sam wondered. "In these woods? With rain like this, it better be a house at least."
"I shall be thankful that we are all together again," Frodo mumbled, wrapping his cloak tighter around himself.
"Hurry," Gandalf told the hobbits, moving behind them. "Follow Legolas."
Quickly obeying his instructions, the hobbits raced after the elf, who proved even harder to follow than Gandalf. Were it not for Bill sinking deep into the mud at times and leaving hoof prints, they might have become lost, for Legolas left very little imprint and blended well with his surroundings, making him almost impossible to see. Still, they managed somehow, and with Gandalf’s constant encouragement behind them and Legolas stopping now and then to encourage Bill before them, they eventually crashed into a small clearing.
"Aragorn!" Legolas cried, spotting a figure on the other side.
"This way," the Ranger called back, disappearing into the woods. Legolas hurried after him and the hobbits slid after the elf with Gandalf picking up the rear and watching the dark forest behind them. After another few minutes of harsh travel through the storm, Legolas disappeared into a copse of trees. Hoping this was the shelter Aragorn had found, Sam and Frodo rushed after him. They found themselves with the remainder of the Fellowship in the middle of many trees that grew so close together their branches were laced one with another. It was far from Sam’s idea of a shelter, but when compared with the outside world, it was cheerful and cozy. The thick branches and leaves overhead diverted part of the rain and here the company huddled together, listening as thunder continued to roar around them. Gandalf pushed his way through the trees and joined them after another minute.
"We will have to try again tomorrow night," Aragorn sighed as Gandalf approached. "It does not seem likely that this storm will pass before morning."
"It is very likely that we will camp here," Gandalf agreed. "The storm may pass by morning, but I fear another will follow. Can you think of other places of refuge we might pass that lie close to this?"
Aragorn glanced around as though trying to get his exact bearings. "There is a small stream not far from here," he finally said. "Along one bank, is has carved a small cave out of the rocks, but it is not large enough to hold all of us."
"If it holds only the baggage, that would be something," Gandalf said. "We will need dry clothes if we are to survive. And we could rotate turns within the cave. How long will it take to reach?"
"Five, maybe six hours," Aragorn guessed.
"Then let us head for that tomorrow night," Gandalf decided. "For now, let us prepare to wait out the storm here and also so spend the day. It is the weather and not Sauron who has beaten us today."
* * * *
Water was running in rivulets through Gimli’s beard and down his back. He had managed to find a rock up out of the mud on which to set his pack and was sheltering some of his pipe-weed from the rain in the hopes that it would dry. Pippin had managed to get his pipe started and Gimli was now looking for his own, feeling that the pipe-weed had dried sufficiently for him to light it. Unfortunately, his pipe didn’t seem to be anywhere in sight.
Starting to worry that perhaps he had left it somewhere, Gimli went through his pack again but still with no success. His pipe was simply not there. Perhaps he had left it. The dwarf went through his evening packing activities, trying to recall if he’d done anything specific to the pipe. And actually, he had. He’d been smoking it when he’d implied that Legolas was an illegitimate son. And after Legolas had said that prison bit about his father Gloin, he’d lunged, he’d had his pipe in hand, he though he remembered it being knocked from him, and after that…hadn’t Legolas stooped to pick something up just as Gimli’s group had left camp?
With a gleam of suspicion in his dwarven eyes, Gimli straightened and turned to find Legolas. He spotted the elf near the pony, stroking its neck and speaking soft words. The animal was still agitated and the continuing thunder that rolled above them was not helping matters. Through narrowed eyes, the dwarf watched the two, searching for any sign that the elf had taken his pipe. And he soon found what he was looking for.
The end of his pipe could be seen peaking out of the top of Legolas’s pack, which was slung over the pony’s neck. With an angry glower, Gimli stalked over, startling both Legolas and Bill, and seized the pipe. Turning on the elf, he caught a flash of merriment in the prince’s bright gray eyes before it was quickly replaced by alarm as Gimli lunged.
Aragorn, Gandalf, Boromir, Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Merry, and Bill the pony all watched and time seemed to slow. Gimli leaped for the elf, Legolas started to slide out of the way as he had before, and then the unthinkable happened. Legolas’s left foot slipped in a puddle. Down he went, arms pinwheeling madly as he struggle to regain his balance. He landed hard, but Gimli landed harder and the elf grunted in pain as the dwarf’s heavy frame drove all air from his lungs. Time then abruptly resumed its normal pace and the rest of the Fellowship, recovering from the shock of seeing an elf off balance, threw themselves at the struggling forms.
By the time they were finished, Bill was snorting on the other side of their shelter, Merry’s cloak had ripped, Pippin though a tooth was loose, Sam was spitting mud, Frodo was marveling that the Ring was still on its chain, Gandalf’s staff was missing, Boromir was trying to clear his horn of muddy water, Aragorn was dizzy, Gimli couldn’t stand, Legolas’s bow needed a new bow string, and the elf himself was incensed, furious, embarrassed, and affronted as only a young elven prince can be.
"That was different," Merry commented, staring up at the trees from his position in the mud.
"I could do with fewer differences," Pippin muttered, playing with his tooth.
"But we were taught to celebrate our differences."
Legolas struggled to his feet, dripping with mud and water. Flashing eyes the color of dark storm clouds sought out the dwarf and for a small moment, Gimli was afraid. "You…" the elf started, his voice low and dangerous, brimming with hatred and promises of vengeance.
"Not now!" Aragorn interrupted firmly, recovering enough to also get to his feet though he swayed slightly. "We will deal with this later. Both of you!" he added with a warning glance for the dwarf.
"Would it be possible to enjoy just one peaceful day?" Frodo asked quietly, rubbing the back of his head where he thought he felt a bump forming. "It’s already raining. Must we really make the situation worse?"
"The hobbit speaks wisely," Boromir said. "I for one would like to enjoy a moment of peace without worrying about the spies of the enemy hearing or seeing incidents such as these."
"Let us set the watches," Gandalf said wearily, finally finding his staff partially buried in the thick mud. "Aragorn, would you join me for the first and second watch? I have much I would discuss with you."
"Of course," the Ranger answered, wishing the world would stop spinning around him.
"Frodo, you will follow us. Pippin and Gimli, you have the last two. I suggest you all try to rest, even though the elements are not favorable at this time."
"Well, seeing as I’m already as muddy as I’ve ever been, I think I’ll just sleep here," Sam sighed, propping his head up on a rock and ignoring the squelching sound made by his body as he shifted to find a comfortable position.
"How can you do that, Sam?" Pippin asked with some amazement.
Frodo’s gardener thought about that for a moment before shrugging. "I don’t rightly know. All I really know is that I’m exhausted and nothing is going to stand between me and a good sleep. Not even you, Mr. Pippin."
"Hold onto that thought," Frodo recommended, settling down next to him. "There will probably be places worse than this on the journey ahead."
"Thank you for that optimistic thought," Merry said with a sleepy yawn. "I’m sure we shall all rest better now."
"You are welcome," Frodo murmured, closing his eyes and, despite the cold and wet, managing to fall into a dreamless slumber almost immediately.
Dae prestintin a erion. Law iston, dan gostan…— Something
disturbed me and I rose. I do not know, but I fear…
Ha i draug. Anglenna ad—It is the wolf. He approaches again.
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