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Hunted: 5. Crossing the Last Bridge
Frodo could not suppress a small groan at the sudden movement, and Pippin felt guilty as well as miserable. At least you haven't been stabbed by some Black Rider, Pip! Cousin Frodo's every bit as miserable as you are and he's stabbed, too! Pippin knew he should feel lucky that he had not been stabbed, but couldn't summon up that particular emotion. Just that he was glad he hadn't been hurt as bad as his poor cousin. Pippin's stomach growled about then, loud enough to catch Miss Laurë's attention. She patted him gently on the leg, but didn't look up.
Oh, excellent, now I can be embarrassed as well as guilty and miserable. If I had anything in my stomach, I could probably add sea-sick to the list. He glanced briefly down at the ground just beyond Dragonheart's shoulder, then desperately wished he had not. His stomach rose in nauseated rebellion. Don't spew, Pippin, don't spew, he chanted to himself. Quite aside from the fact he would move from embarrassment to mortification, he would end up getting Frodo all messed up, and then Sam would be mad at him. Well, more mad at him. Of course, Sam seemed to be mad at everyone these days except for Miss Laurë and Bill.
Then, thankfully, Strider called a halt, and Pippin took the opportunity to get his rebellious stomach under control. It was short lived, as they quickly had to move into a thicket and hide while Strider scouted out the bridge. Frodo stirred in his arms, and he gave his older cousin a hug. Miss Laurë patted his leg reassuringly again, though she kept her eyes trained on Strider as he moved ahead. Merry held onto Bill's lead line, while Sam peered out after Strider.
Pippin sat as quietly as he could, but became equal parts bored and chilled as they stood still in the thicket. He sighed, and asked Miss Laurë, 'Is this it? The Mithafithal?' She finally looked up at him, but with a look of such amused confusion that he knew he had just said something stupid. Again. As usual, his unpleasantly honest conscience said. He told it to shut up.
Frodo started laughing in front of him, and Pippin clutched him more tightly to be sure neither of them fell off the horse. Why did Big People have to ride such big horses? They didn't really need a horse quite so tall as this, with the ground so far away, did they? Frodo just kept laughing. Pippin was getting annoyed.
'What is so funny?'
'You, dear cousin! You are so funny.'
'What did I do that is so funny?' Pippin was getting more annoyed. It was one thing to tell a joke or sing an amusing song and have folks laughing. It was quite another to have someone practically falling down in amusement at something you meant to be serious about. Frodo was trying to get his chuckles under control. Miss Laurë had not laughed out loud, but he knew she wanted to.
'Oh, Pippin, please do not try to say this river's elven name,' said Frodo when he could catch his breath. 'I do believe I will laugh myself to death if you attempt it again.' Considering cousin Frodo's frail condition, Pippin was rather alarmed by his statement.
'All right, I won't. What should I call it, then?'
Miss Laurë spoke up, 'Call it Hoarwell. That will serve, and can be pronounced without trouble.' She lightly swatted Frodo's leg. 'Be more kind to your poor cousin, master scholar. Not everyone is as adept with elf as you are.'
Strider came back to the thicket and said the road looked clear, presenting the beryl he had found upon the bridge. They gathered themselves and quickly moved out. Pippin grabbed the pommel, holding Frodo in the saddle as they jounced along, hoping his grip would be enough to hold them both there should the bouncing increase. Quicker than he expected, they were across the bridge. He did not dare look down into the gorge below, but looking away left and right into the distance, he thought it a beautiful, if wild, place.
Much to Pippin's relief, he was swapped with Sam when they turned away from the Road and headed back up into the hills. Strider wanted Sam's stronger arms around Frodo as they headed into broken country, where the swaying and shifting in Dragonheart's gait would be more pronounced. Sam was more scared of riding the horse than Pippin was, but at least he did not get sick from the height.
Once they got off the road and into some cover, Strider asked what had been so amusing back at the bridge.
'Oh, just my old scholarly cousin making fun of me again,' Pippin cheerily volunteered. Once he was off that monstrously tall beast, the world became a much more enjoyable place. Strider laughed a little. Pippin did not mind so much since now he could make a funny story out of it, one where he could poke some fun at Frodo.
'Yes,' chimed in Frodo from up in the clouds, 'Pippin was trying to say the Hoarwell's name in elvish, and made up an entirely new word in the attempt.'
'Well, why doesn't it just have one name? A single name that everyone can say right the first time?' Pippin grumbled good-naturedly. 'We cannot all be stuffy, old, learned, old, scholarly, old, studious, old, …' Merry thumped him on the head, but not too hard as he was snickering right along with Pippin. 'Anyway, we cannot all be like you, old cousin Frodo, with our noses in a book and learning all the names of all the things that all the different people decide to name differently.' He grinned up at the object of his teasing, who was laughing right along with Merry. Sam did not look too amused. Pippin could not tell if it was because Sam hated hearing his master being teased or because Sam was just too scared of sitting on the horse to be amused by anything.
Miss Laurë laughed right along with them. 'Indeed, Pippin, it is a rare gift your dear cousin has to be learning all the names of things. But we should be glad if we are going to a place of elves that we have an elven scholar in our midst, to tell us all the different names of things in elf tongue.' She chuckled again.
'As you command, Lady Gold,' said Frodo. 'I will tell you all the names you wish to know.'
Pippin had to jump a bit to the side as Miss Laurë turned and walked backwards in front of Dragonheart. 'Lady Gold?' she asked.
'Yes, that is what your name means. Well, maybe not the Lady part,' here Frodo looked at her with some mischief, 'but "laurë" is elvish for gold. You were probably named that for your hair.'
Miss Laurë sighed. 'Or perhaps I will do better without a scholar telling me that pretty words just mean ordinary things. Lady Yellow-Hair.' She shook her head and turned back around.
Pippin managed to avoid having to get back on the horse all day. After they stopped for the night and made a camp, he sat down next to Merry to eat. Miss Laurë unbelted her sword, which she was now wearing on her hip instead of across her back, and set it down on his other side, then sat down herself to eat. Pippin thought she looked tired. All of them looked tired.
After he had cleaned his plate, which he always did quickly and thoroughly, and set it down, he looked over at his companions. They were still eating, so he started taking a look at the sword. The hilt was longer than his two hands laid end to end, and the whole thing was longer than he was tall. He looked up at Miss Laurë as she sat absentmindedly chewing her food, and thought he would risk touching the sword while she was not looking. He ran a finger on the hilt.
It seemed just a little warm, as though it had not been exposed to the cold air. The end was a smooth metal cap. The hilt was wrapped in black leather, and he thought he could feel lumps under it, as though it covered carvings. He shot a glance at Miss Laurë to see if she was paying attention. She was not. She was saying something to Frodo over her shoulder the other direction. He slipped his hand around the hilt and tried to pick it up.
He only meant to raise it up a bit, to see what it felt like to pick up a sword this big. He was astounded to find he could not budge it off the ground at all. It was much heavier than he expected. He grasped the hilt more tightly, and put more of his shoulder into it. When Miss Laurë's hand grabbed him around the wrist, he let out a yelp and let go of the sword.
Pippin babbled, 'I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt anything, I was just…'
'Curious?' Miss Laurë replied with a small grin, but Pippin could see that her eyes were not friendly, and he shrank back. She would not let go of his wrist. 'Don't you know, Master Peregrin Took, that it is considered very rude and impertinent to go about handling another warrior's sword?' Her smile faded a bit.
'No, no, I did not, no, but I do now and I won't do it again,' he said, trying to extricate his wrist from her increasingly tight grip, with no result. Finally he just sat still and stared at the ground. 'I'm sorry,' he whispered.
She chuckled, let go his wrist, and ruffled his hair. 'Lesson learned, then?'
'Oh, yes, lesson learned!' was the fervent reply. Pause. 'Would you show me the sword?' He looked at her with eager eyes.
'Pip!' groaned Merry, 'Don't you ever learn?' He cuffed his little cousin fairly hard on the side of the head.
'It is a great blade, Laurë, will you not show it and say its lineage?' Pippin jumped at the sound of Strider's voice across the fire. The Ranger was watching Laurë with an intensity that belied his casual tone. The woman glanced at him, then took the sword up across her lap.
'Here, Pippin, put your hand under the hilt like this and try lifting up now.' Her voice was quite kind, so he did as she said and found out again how difficult it was. He thought of his own Barrow blade and how inconsequential it appeared next to this one. He thought she must be much stronger than she looked, if she could use a sword as heavy as this.
She pulled the blade about a foot out of its scabbard. Frodo and Sam came and looked over her right shoulder at it, while Strider came around the fire and knelt in front of her to one side so the firelight could still reach the sword.
Pippin drew a quick breath at the sight. The metal was as shiny and reflective as a mirror. There were no etchings on it, just some ridges that ran away into the scabbard. It caught the glow of the fire and reflected it back onto Strider's face, who looked upon it in amazement. Pippin started to reach out his hand, then snatched it back without being told. He looked up at Miss Laurë.
She gave him an amused smile. 'So, Master Peregrin, perhaps you do learn your lessons!' She lifted the sword up by its hilt and midway on the scabbard and rotated it. The different angles on the blade threw tatters of light around the camp, like sunbeams caught in a lake's grasp. She said to Pippin without taking her eyes off the blade, 'No, do not touch it because it is very, very sharp and you could get a nasty wound before you even knew you had touched the edge.
'It glowed,' Pippin breathed, remembering the fight at Weathertop. 'When you were using it before, it glowed white.' He couldn't take his eyes off of it. 'Cousin Bilbo had a sword that glowed blue when orcs were about, or so he said.' Pippin looked up at her with wide eyes. 'Does this glow blue if there are orcs?'
Miss Laurë smiled and shook her head very slightly, 'No, it glows whenever any of the Enemy's servants are about, not just orcs, but it is always white.'
'What is its history?' pressed Strider, like Pippin unable to take his eyes off the blade. She slid it back into its scabbard with a click.
'None that may be told here.' Her voice was inflexible. Strider sighed, and went back to the other side of the fire.
'What do you mean its history?' inquired Merry, 'How does a piece of metal have a history?'
'Who made it, when it was made, who wielded it, if it has a name - that is a blade's history,' said Strider. 'All great blades have a history.'
'Like Sting,' broke in Frodo. 'Sting was forged in Gondolin in the First Age, it was lost for a long while, then my Uncle Bilbo found it and used it to,' suddenly Frodo's voice faltered, and he moved a bit away. 'To help him on his adventures,' he ended lamely.
'A blade of Gondolin?' said Miss Laurë, smiling again. 'That is indeed a blade with a history.' Pippin noticed Strider giving Miss Laurë another intent stare at those words, then look off, into the darkness beyond the camp, thoughtful.
Pippin unbuckled his sword and offered it, scabbard and all, to Miss Laurë. 'Would this blade have a history?' He very much wished it did. He found he was jealous of Bilbo having a sword with a history. Miss Laurë took the proffered blade, and examined it carefully.
'How did you get it?'
'We got trapped in a Barrow in the Barrow Downs, and a Barrow Wight tried to kill us, but Tom Bombadil saved us and we spread the Barrow Wight's treasure all over and Tom told us to take swords and that's how I got it! said Pippin in a rush, eyes shining.
'Ah, well, I do not know if your sword has a particular history, but we can certainly figure out what it was used for,' Miss Laurë examined the scabbard closely. 'Was there a match to this sword?' she asked, 'one that would look like a mirror-image of this one?'
Merry spoke up. 'Yes, mine is. The two were lying next to each other and we picked them up.' He unbuckled his sword and handed it over to Miss Laurë, who laid them on the ground in front of her. Then she took them and crossed them over each other low on the scabbards. She looked up with a smile.
'Look, these blades are a set. Look at the scabbards closely. Pippin's scabbard is tooled all the way from top to bottom, but Merry's scabbard is plain where the first lies on top of it. See too the loop that comes out the front of Merry's scabbard and how it lines up with the one that comes out of the back of the other? A single strap once passed through them, holding the two in place. And see how there are small loops at the very top edges? Those are meant for securing the tops of these to a harness. But there's also the side loops, so they can be worn at the hip, as you have them'
Pippin could see quite well what she meant - the two scabbards were meant to go together. 'What else can you tell about them, Miss Laurë?,' he breathed. He had a sword with a story, too!
'Well, they are swords to you, but long knives to men. Someone would have worn them crisscrossed on his back. Probably a spear man or a pikeman, who would want to have some substantial weapons for close fighting. Sit in front of me Pippin, and I will show how they would have gone.'
Pippin scrambled over to do as Miss Laurë asked. He knelt down, facing the fire, and she set the two swords against his back, crossing low at the base of his spine. The handles stuck up over each shoulder.
'See, their owner would have drawn the left-side blade with his right hand, and the right-side blade with his left.'
Strider spoke up from across the fire, 'I am willing to bet that the left side blade is a bit more ground down than the other, but that the right-side blade has some notches in it.'
Miss Laurë motioned Pippin to retake his place next to Merry, and then drew the blades out of their scabbards. The Ranger was right - the blades were marked as he had said they would be.
Pippin looked over to Strider in awe. 'How did you know that?'
Strider chuckled. 'Simple. The one who used them would have used the left-hand blade in his right-hand, which means he would have been striking with it, and it would need to be sharpened. Thus, it is ground down. The other blade would have been for his left hand, and would have been used like a shield, to ward off blows, and so would have been hit hard by full sized blades. That would have left the blade notched.'
Miss Laurë gave the blades back to Pippin and Merry. 'They have seen good use against dark enemies. Bear them with honor and let them continue their stories.'
Pippin could not suppress an enormous yawn. 'Well, I will have to work on its story tomorrow, I am afraid,' he said, stretching, as Merry nodded and offered a twin to Pippin's yawn.
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