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Hunted: 6. Verses in the Trollshaws
Her right arm rested across his collarbone and left shoulder, and her hand lay atop the scar that covered the knife wound. He could not feel any sensation in his shoulder or his arm, but he thought there was a lessening of the intense cold that gripped him through the day. He kept his eyes closed and leaned against her, soaking in her warmth. Her cloak wrapped them both loosely. Every night she checked his wound, and then held him like this until he regained the warmth he had lost during the day's journey.
Sam sat to Laurë's left, with his back turned to her side and up against his master's back, supporting him. Laurë's left arm draped across Sam's shoulders in a mirror image of his master. Frodo could feel Sam's solid warmth against his spine. He thought how glad he was for Sam's company and support, and how wretched he felt for having gotten Sam, and Merry and Pippin, into this nightmarish journey.
His cousins were helping Strider prepare their meager dinner. Laurë had told Sam he was to help her get Frodo warm after the horrible climb up the hill. Sam had wrapped Frodo up in several blankets and had held him in his lap to keep his master off the cold ground while Laurë prepared a warming tea. She made Frodo drink all of it and then another cup, even though it tasted foul. Still, he had been warmer after drinking it, and the warmth had spread.
He knew he was getting weaker, that the cold of the day was harder to dispel near the evening fire. He could not see clearly at night any more, except for the flames of the fire. Everything else was dim and grey. He had finally stopped shivering, but could barely move. He felt Laurë take her left arm away from Sam and wrap it firmly around his own back. Slowly, his back warmed and his vision sharpened a bit. He sighed and wrapped his own arms more tightly around his chest.
Frodo could barely eat what Merry gave him for dinner. Sam had moved around and fed him since he was wrapped so tightly in a blanket. After Frodo had eaten, Sam had quickly wolfed down his own food. Laurë then sat Frodo back in Sam's lap while she ate. He could feel her watching him as she ate. When she was done, she came back and rested a warm hand on his forehead. He sighed when she took it away, and watched her go across the camp to check on Dragonheart and Bill.
Ever since the night on Weathertop, Laurë had kept the warhorse saddled at all times except when she brushed him down and checked all his hooves in the evening, and then would do the same for Bill. Tonight, she seemed to be thinking as she brushed down the horses. After she was done, she did not come back to him and Sam. She walked over to Strider.
'Ranger,' she said clearly and crisply, 'Frodo can't stay out in the wild like this.' All of the hobbits turned to watch the two Big People. Frodo could see the two of them at the edge of the fire, but they were a little dim, and their edges were indistinct.
Strider did not answer her. He just raised his eyebrows and waited for her to continue.
'The wear of the journey gets greater with each day and night we are out here. Even if the food were plentiful, it is not what someone who is wounded should have. By your reckoning we are at least three days out at our current pace, and we go slower with each day.'
Strider took his pipe out of his mouth. 'You say nothing I do not know. What would you have me do? If we stop to hunt for food, it is more days in the cold. The hobbits are going as fast as they can go in this terrain, and to press Frodo harder would be to risk worsening his illness. If you have a suggestion, we would all like to hear it.' He stopped and drew on his pipe.
'Get rid of the baggage you do not need.'
'We need everything on that pony.'
'We need the pony. You do not. You do not need us.'
He drew slowly on his pipe, and exhaled slowly. 'I do not understand you, lady. Speak more clearly.'
Laurë squatted down next to Strider. 'Tomorrow, when it is light, you will take Dragonheart, put Frodo in the saddle before you, and ride as fast as you can to Rivendell. You will not need anything except the clothes on your backs, some water bottles and a little traveling food that can be eaten in the saddle. It will be one day and one night, maybe less if you can get to the Road quickly. Just run flat out. The horse will bear you to safety.'
Frodo answered first. 'No!' He struggled to get out of the cocoon of blankets Sam had wrapped him in. 'No, you can't, I won't, no, I'm not leaving!' He had fought free of most of the wraps, and just kept one pulled loosely around him as he stood up near the fire. Sam had a hold of his shoulders and was trying to get him to sit back down and rest. Frodo shook Sam off. Laurë rose from where she had been next to Strider and came part way around the fire.
'Frodo,' Laurë began, 'you have to be gotten to safety as soon as possible. You are too weak to…' he cut her off.
'I am not going to run away and leave you all. You will be left out here in the wild without a horse, without a guide, with the Riders.' He looked frantically at Strider, 'No, we cannot abandon them!'
Merry, Pippin and Sam all quailed at the thought of being lost in the wild with no food and no Strider. They knew Laurë was brave, but she did not know the way to Rivendell.
Laurë shook her head at Frodo. 'You do not understand, Frodo, the Riders will not bother us. And I can certainly guide the rest of us from where we are now to within a short ways of the Road. Then we will just wait until help comes from Rivendell. With you and Strider gone, the food will last longer.'
'No, if we get away, they will come after you!'
'We do not have anything they want. They cannot find us if you are not with us.' She gave him a piercing glance.
Frodo became wary. She suspected. Laurë knew he had something that drew the Riders. Somewhere in his mind he knew that bluffing did not work with her, but he was not sure what else he could do to keep the Ring a secret. 'I do not know what you mean.'
Laurë rolled her eyes. 'They want your ring, Frodo. They are Ringwraiths, and they want your ring. The one on the chain in your right pocket,' she added helpfully. Frodo watched Strider set down his pipe and slowly stand up. He gulped and continued bluffing.
'The ring? Bilbo's old ring? Why would anyone want that?'
'Perhaps because it can turn someone invisible?' she said, dryly. 'Oh, stop pretending you do not know what I am talking about, you silly hobbit! I heard about your disappearing act in the common-room at The Prancing Pony. It was the biggest news in Bree the day you left, aside from the attack on the inn and losing every horse in town. I saw you disappear at Amon Sûl, and then we found you clutching the ring in your hand right after you reappeared. It is a magic ring and Ringwraiths gather them.'
Frodo found he was breathing heavily, but also that he was fairly warm and could see almost normally. If she just thought it was a simple magic ring, then it was all right. But he still could not allow Strider to carry him off and leave the rest in danger.
'Well, I do not know what you are talking about, but if that is what you think, I will not argue with you. I am not leaving…'
'You need to know what I am talking about, Frodo, because you don't understand what danger you are putting us all in.' Laurë had a patient, but worried look on her face as she spoke. 'See here, I do not want to be scaring you worse than you are already scared, but that cannot be just an ordinary ring, not if they are after it. You need to know this.'
'It's not! It's just a little magic ring that Bilbo got on a journey. It's nothing precious.'
Laurë's eyes narrowed at that. She smiled at Frodo in a way that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up and started walking towards he and Sam very slowly, like a cat stalking a mouse. 'Nothing precious? Just a little magic ring? You should have kept your peace, Halfling, so I would have thought you ignorant of what you have in your pocket, and I would have been kind in telling you what it was. But I see you have been deceiving me about what you know. You know what you carry. That is your purpose on the Road, to take it to Imladris.'
Frodo dropped the blanket from around his shoulder and backed away from her. Strider started to step forward, but Laurë motioned towards him to stop and the Ranger froze in his tracks.
Frodo stammered, 'I don't know what you're talking about. I'm just trying to get to Rivendell and escape these Riders.' He backed a bit further, trying to stay away from her.
Laurë shook her head at him. 'You don't know what I'm talking about, do you? Let me refresh your memory.' Frodo couldn't speak, he just shook his head. No, don't say anything, don't speak…
'"Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky," ' Frodo stopped moving. I am not hearing this, stop saying this, she cannot be saying this…
' "Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone," ' He remembered Gandalf's voice so long ago on a Spring morning in Bag End saying these same words. She couldn't know, she couldn't know…
' "Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die," ' The Nine, the Nine, this is what the Nine were, she had said she knew, she knew…
' "One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne," ' she knew, she knew…
' "In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie." ' she knew, she was coming closer…
' "One Ring to rule them all," ' she's coming here, she's almost here…
' "One Ring to find them ," ' go back, go back…
' "One Ring to bring them all," ' Gandalf, help! No, no, no…
' "and in the darkness bind them." ' And with the last word, Laurë touched Frodo on his chest just over his heart.
'NO!' Frodo screamed and lashed out, knocking her hand away from him.
He scrambled backwards as fast as he could, drawing his sword. Sam was drawing his as well and stepping in front of Frodo. He could hear the sound of Merry and Pippin drawing their swords, and saw Strider out the corner of his eye, broken sword in hand, moving towards them.
'STOP!' They did. Laurë stood there, hands on hips, glowering about her at her shaking and unnerved companions. She let out a great huff of breath and shook her head. 'Really! I knew you for fools, but I did not think you were stupid! Put down your swords.'
She turned away from Frodo and Sam and went to crouch down near the fire. She waited until they had all sheathed their swords and come back to the fire before she spoke again.
'Well? Do you know what I am talking about now?'
Frodo was not ready to give in. 'It might not be…'
'FRODO!' Laurë was looking at him with fury. 'Do. Not. Lie. Do not deceive. Do not tell falsehoods while you carry that thing. Every untruth you utter gives it another hold on your heart, another way to corrupt you. If you cannot say the truth, say nothing rather than deceive.
'I trust I have guessed correctly? It is the One Ring?' She fixed Frodo with a stare until he slowly nodded his head. The warmth of a few minutes before was turning to a chill, and he was feeling sick to his stomach. He shivered, and Sam was there wrapping a blanket around him.
Laurë turned and watched the fire for a while. Very softly, Frodo heard her speak. 'I swore to you when I joined this company that I would protect you, all of you, until you slept safe in Rivendell, and I stand by that oath. I will do you no harm, and I do not wish that thing you carry, Frodo. It is utter evil.' The way she said "evil" made Frodo tremble violently. Sam wrapped his arms about his master.
She continued, 'I have known that the Riders must be following you for a reason, but did not know for certain what it was until I saw the Ring in Frodo's hand at Amon Sûl. Then I knew you were the Ring-bearer, trying to get the One to safety. You did not want me to know about it, so I kept my peace and let you think me ignorant. What I did not know was whether you knew exactly what you carried. Had I been sure you knew, I would have spoken before now.
'Part of the news that I was to bear to the Wise in Imladris was that the One had awoken, and that the Nine were abroad. I see now that this will be news to no one. If I may hazard another guess, your cousin Bilbo had this thing before you, and is actually the Baggins that the Nine seek.'
Frodo nodded miserably.
Laurë watched him for another moment, then said, 'Where is he? Where is your cousin?'
Frodo looked at her warily. 'Why do you want to know?'
'Because if they cannot get you, they will seek for him. Is he still in the Shire? Can he be warned?'
'He is not there.'
'Where is he then?'
'I do not know. He left the Shire many years ago and disappeared.'
Laurë became quite still at that and regarded Frodo in a way he didn't like. 'Just disappeared?'
'Yes. He gave away everything he had, picked up his walking stick, and disappeared. Off for more adventures, I presume.'
'And he gave you the Ring then?'
'Yes, along with Bag End.'
'And you have never heard from him, never seen him, never had even a letter from him since then.'
Frodo was growing weary of the questions and the wound was beginning to hurt again. 'Just say plain what you want to know!'
'I have heard what I need to know. There is no way we can warn your cousin of his danger. I do not want to know any more than that.'
Frodo understood then that Laurë thought he had done harm to Bilbo to get the Ring. He thought he was going to be sick. It was all too much, too dark, too painful. The cold started to seep back in to his shoulder, and his sight dimmed. He dropped his head onto Sam's shoulder and started to cry. The other hobbits gathered around him, assuring him that Bilbo must be some place safe, that he had to stop weeping and worrying over Bilbo and concentrate on his own escape. He did not correct them, he simply curled up against Sam and wept.
After a while, he heard Laurë arguing with Strider. 'He won't last much longer.'
'Not if you put him through this kind of torment again, no, he will not.'
'Ranger, don't quibble with me. You have ridden Dragonheart several times. You know he is fast, enduring and is not afraid of the Riders. He lives up to his name. He will get you through to Imladris.'
'But you would not try to ride the Road on him against the Nine. That is what you said.'
'Not weeks away from Imladris and me ignorant of the Road's course, no, that would have been foolish. But we are within a day's hard ride, and you know the Road. Take him! You know we will be safe. Send help as soon as may be.'
'The Road can be held by fewer than nine in several places between here and the Fords. Myself with a broken sword and a wounded hobbit in the saddle - no, even if the horse is as fast and brave as you say, I still might not win through. And I am not as certain as you that the Nine would not start searching for you if we did win through. They know Frodo has companions. We stay together, and make as good speed as we can.'
Frodo stopped listening to their argument. Whatever was decided, it would not happen before the morning. He had stopped weeping, but was sitting limply against Sam. He had no fight left in him. He just wanted to go to sleep, and wake up in his own bed in Bag End, with Bilbo whistling in the kitchen and Sam clipping the grass outside, and have all of this be a horrible, horrible dream.
After a while, he felt himself being picked up and carried closer to the fire. He knew it was Laurë and wondered how she could bear to touch him if she thought he had harmed Bilbo to get the Ring. Within a few moments, he was wrapped in a blanket and then pulled up close against her, his back to her and his head on her arm. Sam quickly nestled in on the other side of him to keep Frodo warm between them, wrapped up in his own blanket. She pulled a blanket over herself and Frodo, then cast her cloak over the top of that. Frodo knew Merry and Pippin would be curled up close against Laurë's back, sneaking in under the edge of the cloak to share its warmth.
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