7. Chapter Six: The Edge of the World
It could be argued that there was little reason to press on when it was possible that Arwen and Eowyn had never survived their encounter with the stone giant. However, none of the Fellowship were prepared to accept this as a given in any shape or form. As long as their husbands believed they were still alive, the Fellowship would continue their journey to find the two women. Elladan and Elrohir would have abandoned their duties at Imraldis to accompany the Fellowship in their search if Aragorn asked it of them. Arwen was their sister after all and the Evenstar as she was known to the elves was their fairest daughter. They felt the same concern as he did. However, Aragorn stayed their hand. He had no wish to usurp the wishes of Elrond who desired that they remain to oversee the elves’ departure from Middle Earth nor did he wish the Lord of Rivendell be placed in a position where all three of his children were endangered, not just the one.
They remained in Rivendell long enough to rest and to be provided with fresh supplies before they resumed their journey towards Lindon and the Grey Havens. It was a journey Aragorn and the hobbits knew well and while they had been coming to Rivendell instead of departing from it, the reason for their travel seemed no less urgent then it had been when they were attempting to deliver the One Ring to Rivendell. Still, despite the dark quest ahead of them, there was time enough for Aragorn and the hobbits to feel some measure of nostalgia in travelling the road taken once more and together. Aragorn could not help wonder at all the changes that had taken place in his life since he had last been in this part of the world.
"The world changes my love," Arwen had said. "You have simply changed with it."
He remembered her words to him the night before he left and was filled with a profound sense of longing for her. Aragorn hoped she was all right and wished he was with her, being strong for her while she shouldered the terrible knowledge about their child’s future. It made him angry inside when he thought at how happy she had been to bear his child only to have that joy tainted by such a vicious act of evil. This should have been her moment to savor and enjoy, not ruined by such black possibility. Whoever the Enemy was, Aragorn would grind his bones to dust for the joy he had stolen from Arwen with his dark plans.
Making the crossing from Rivendell to Bree was a good deal faster because they made the trip on horseback and were soon at Weathertop. Aragorn had chosen the place to make camp because he knew the terrain and the height of the hill was also a good lookout point to watch for approaching enemies. When he had led the hobbits here all those years ago, they had been fleeing from the Nazghul, Sauron’s dark Ring Wraiths. While the servants of the new Enemy were not as fearsome as the Nazghul, Aragorn was not prepared to take chances, not when he needed to reach Arwen as quickly as possible.
The Fellowship began to establish camp as the sun started to set in the horizon with Sam taking the liberty of cooking as always. For Sam, whose occupation in life was seeing to Mr. Frodo’s comfort often found it easy to extend that area of responsibility to the Fellowship when the need arose. Since their departure from Minas Tirith, Sam had been ensuring that everyone was rested and fed when they were out in the open. Aragorn was convinced that it was the hobbit’s way of keeping some order to his existence when so much around him was in chaos. Nevertheless, Sam was a good cook and Aragorn could live with it if the hobbit gave their position away to the enemy by the aroma of his culinary expertise.
"Legolas," Aragorn called out to the archer who was sitting upon one of the ruined rocks that were once a part of the fortifications built on top of the hill, watching the surrounding area with vigilance. "Gimli and I are going to scout the area, keep your eye sharp."
Legolas nodded as Aragorn and the dwarf left the campsite. The elf returned his gaze to the lands surrounding Weathertop and immediately reminded himself that its true name was actually Amun Sul. The remnants of the tower that had been built there still remained on the hill even after two thousand years. Some of it had blended into the landscape so that it was difficult to tell where the hill ended and the tower began. He sensed no immediate danger in the vicinity but saw no reason to be complacent either. There was much darkness afoot in this quest and they all needed to be on their guard to survive it.
The elf swept his gaze across his camp and saw that his companions were engaged in their own undertakings as they settled down to rest from the day’s journey. Faramir was seeing to the horses and would join them shortly, while Merry and Pippin were around the fire with Sam, no doubt attracted by the mouth-watering aroma of Sam’s efforts as cook. Gandalf was seated on a rock, his wizened eyes staring into the horizon as he enjoyed smoking his pipe. Frodo however, appeared anxious as his eyes crisscrossed the area. Legolas knotted his brow in confusion, wondering what it was that vexed the hobbit so. Frodo’s mental state and health had not recovered, as it should since the War of the Ring. Although Sam had not spoken of it much, Legolas suspected that being a Ring Bearer had left lasting effects upon the gentle halfling.
Legolas was not the only one to notice Frodo’s state of mind. Gandalf had been mindful of Frodo’s condition ever since the hobbit had arrived at Minas Tirith for the celebration. Gandalf wished Aragorn had chose another place to camp the night because this place had too much weight upon Frodo’s memories. It was here that the Nazghul blade had penetrated the hobbit’s skin for the first time and left him with a wound that not even time could heal. The hobbit that had set out from the Shire with the One Ring was not the same as the one before him and more than anyone else, save perhaps Sam, Gandalf mourned the loss of the former. Gandalf had hoped returning to the Shire might rekindle Frodo’s spirit somewhat but upon seeing him at the White City, it was clear that did not happen. While he seemed a little like his old self during this quest, it was not enough. He was not getting better and if he remained in Middle Earth any longer, Gandalf was certain he would deteriorate to a point of no return.
"Frodo," Gandalf called out to the hobbit that was unsuccessfully trying to sit quietly and ignore the memories the place invoked him. "Come join me."
Frodo was glad for something to do and he joined Gandalf at the edge of the hill. As he settled next to the older man, Frodo gazed into the distance and tried to see the Shire from here. He could not. Yet even if he could, it would offer him little comfort. There were too many ghosts here for him to every be relaxed on Weathertop. Frodo took a deep breath of the smoke Gandalf was exhaling and immediately recognized it as South Farthing, the finest weed to be grown in the Shire. Gandalf had an unusual fondness for the stuff and kept a good supply on himself at all times.
"You and Bilbo are incorrigible with your weed," Frodo remarked with a bemused smile as he stared at the wizard.
"We recognize the finer things in life," Gandalf replied, completely unrepentant on this one issue. "You might take a lesson in that. You need to relax."
"I can’t," Frodo answered much quicker than he should have. "Not in this place. It has too many unpleasant memories." His eyes darted about the area anxiously. There was nothing to fear and he knew it but his mind seemed trapped on that terrible night when he had stared a Nazghul in the face, such as it was and felt the bite of its blade in his skin. His whole life had changed in that one moment and it was still changing, even now.
"Should I ask Strider to move our camp?" Gandalf asked gently, perfectly willing to do it if it would ease Frodo’s fears.
"No," Frodo shook his head immediately. "He has enough things to worry about and this is just a place, I am being foolish."
"There’s nothing foolish about what you went through Frodo, " Gandalf pointed out. "The One Ring would have broken lesser men but you prevailed. You are stronger than you believe yourself to be. Even I did not know how strong until you carried the Ring."
Frodo cracked a little smile at the compliment but it did not possess any warmth, "and yet all I feel is this coldness that will not go away. I try to go on and being on this quest with Strider has helped a little but I still feel empty and there are also the bouts of sickness that seem to appear from time to time."
"Maybe its time you left Middle earth, Frodo," Gandalf said softly after a long pause. Frodo was a Ring Bearer and what he had been through had certainly earned him the right to take his place among the Endless of the western shore. In the Undying Lands, there was the skill to heal his wound and forever remove the blight it had caused upon his psyche. In that other world, he could be assured of never being harmed again and live a life longer than he could possibly dream.
"Leave?" Frodo stared at him in shock.
"Yes," Gandalf nodded. "Come with me to the Western Lands. I will be going sooner than you think and so will Bilbo and Galadriel and eventually all the elves in this realm."
"But what about Sam and Merry and…" he started to say when he realised that they did not really need him. Sam had Rosie and his own life. Merry was looking to marry Estella Bolger while Pippin was forming similar attachments with Diamond of Long Cleeve. Only he remained in flux and it occurred to him now that even if he left, their lives would go on as they should and they would find happiness without him.
"I believed you know the answer to that question already," Gandalf smiled knowingly. "Shelob’s poison and the Nazghul blade has done great harm to you Frodo. It keeps you from achieving the peace you desire. I am sorry for that Frodo, it was never my intention to sour the world for you when I set you on the road to Bree with the One Ring. However, if you are not happy in this world then perhaps it is time to find solace in another. Come with me Frodo and though I cannot promise you true happiness for not even a wizard is fool enough to make such a claim, you may find a new way for yourself."
Frodo did not answer right away because what might have once seemed to be a preposterous suggestion now appeared to be the only way left to him.
If only he dared to take it.
The Elves called it Mithlond but whatever the name, it could not be mistaken for any other place in Middle Earth. Poised on the shore facing the Gulf of Lune, it was from here that the elves would journey to the Western lands. Even though it existed like any other place in Middle Earth, Eowyn could not help thinking that there was a certain unreality to it. Grey Haven was like Rivendell, steeped in legend yet existing in tune with the ordinary world even though nothing about either would ever let a visitor think otherwise.
They had left Hobbiton after spending most of the day asleep and had continued their journey under the cover of dark. They had traveled for two days after departing the Shire before they reached the coast. As they saw the gray ocean sending frothy waves hurling against the cliffs, it felt as if they had reached the edge of the world for beyond the Gulf of Lune was the western sea and what existed there was unknown to the peoples of Middle Earth. She knew that the elves sailed its expanse to reach the Undying Lands but apparently it no longer existed within the realm of the world as they knew it and only the elves were able to make the crossing between the two.
The city of Mithlond was built around the bay that emptied into the Gulf of Lune and from which the Lune River flowed. Along the shore, Eowyn could see the great ships that were under construction in readiness to carry the elves away in their exodus from Middle Earth. Until she saw for herself, Eowyn did not realize how much for granted she had taken their departure. Since the War of the Ring, it was easy to forget that the world was changing when everything seemed to be settling into its place. The elves had always been a distant entity, something that men had learned to live with but had never truly understood. They seemed too far removed from the lives of men with their immortal existence and their differing values. Yet now that Eowyn found herself friend to one of their greatest daughters, she had come to know something about them and seeing the ships in readiness to leave, taking these legendary fair folk away forever, left Eowyn with a terrible sense of loss.
She could not even begin to imagine how Arwen must have felt.
The activity taking place as Arwen, Eowyn and Melia rode through the streets of Mithlond towards the house of Cirdan the Shipwright was almost frantic. Elven tradesmen, be they carpenters, shipbuilders or workers of metal, hurried about their business, attempting to ready the ships before the arrival of their passengers. Although Arwen knew it would be a matter of months before Elrond sailed away to the Undying Lands, those months were merely a splinter of time to these folk when there was so much work to be done. She wondered if the call of the sea hastened their imperative for she could hear its call in her bones. It was a siren song that was capable of making her abandon her quest if she gave it leave. The longing to cross the sea was in her blood still; accepting a mortal life did not change that.
The cold air from the sea blew in across the town, making the trio pull their cloaks closer to their skin. Their arrival in town did little to inspire the interest of the elven smiths who were moving to the pace of their own agenda. Some raised their brow at the presence of the women and paused to look at the Evenstar as someone familiar, though they were uncertain of who she was exactly. Arwen saw no reason to call attention to herself, preferring to see Cirdan the Shipwright with a minimum of fuss before setting out on the final leg of their journey. Once they reached the Havens, everything beyond was uncharted territory for her two companions.
Melia had been true to her word, guiding Arwen and Eowyn to this point utilizing the speediest routes available to them; however, she knew nothing of the lands beyond Angamar. Eowyn knew even less having spent most of her life in the vicinity of Rohan and Gondor. Arwen hoped that Cirdan might be able to direct them toward the fastest route to the Blue Mountains. As if was, the time was fast approaching the next full moon and Arwen did not wish to squander what little there was left of it by trying to find their way north without guidance.
It did not take them long to be directed to Cirdan once they made themselves known at his household. The elves of Mithlond were more than happy to bestow every courtesy to Lord Elrond’s daughter. Cirdan, was as anticipated, at the shore, supervising the work being carried out on the ships that would make the journey to the Undying Lands. He was issuing orders to his ship builders, sending them scurrying about the beach like ants, each with their own purpose to fulfil. Arwen had left Eowyn and Melia in Cirdan’s house in the care of the shipwright’s wife who was even now, offering a warm repast to her guests in the wake of their journey.
"I see you are busy Lord Cirdan," Arwen called to the distinguished elf after he had sent yet another underling running to carry out some unknown duty.
Cirdan looked up at the sound of her voice. His face having become more lined from living so close to the sea, he still wore his thick red hair in a neat braid and he looked more like a man of Gondor than he did an elf. It was the lifestyle of endless devotion to his craft that made him appear more weathered then most elves. He was one of the wises of the elves and a good friend to her father. Arwen had not had much opportunity to see him since before the War of the Ring until her wedding and her thoughts were not entirely focussed on her guest on that particular occasion.
"Evenstar?" Cirdan exclaimed with a mixture of shock and genuine delight. "What in the name of Manwe are you doing here child?" He asked as they met in a warm embrace.
"I have business in the Blue Mountains," she explained, not particularly eager to tell him about the terrible quest she had embarked upon to save her child.
"Business?" Cirdan stared at her with no small measure of disbelief. "Do you expect me to believe that you have traveled halfway across Middle Earth on business? Is the King with you?" His brows knotted as he awaited his answer.
"No," she shook her head. "I travel with Lady Eowyn of Ithilien and a Ranger of Angmar named Melia. Estel is in the White City."
"What business could you possibly have in the Blue Mountains?" Cirdan asked, finding this whole matter strange to say the least. It was not safe for three women to be travelling alone in the greater wilderness of Middle Earth, even if one of those was the Shield Maiden of Rohan and the other was a Ranger. Not when the third member of their party was the Queen of the Reunified Kingdoms.
"I beseech you not to ask me that," Arwen pleaded with him. "There is great darkness at work here Lord Cirdan, darkness that watches me closely and I dare not speak my intent lest he is watching. Only know that I must go there and I require your assistance in finding the speediest path to my destination."
"Does the King know of this darkness?" Cirdan asked, not ready to let the matter rest, not when her eyes were filled with such intense fear.
"Yes," she lied because in truth, she had no idea whether or not Galadriel would tell Estel what she had done. "I go with his blessing."
"The Blue Mountains is a dangerous place," Cirdan confessed after a lengthy pause trying to decide how he should respond.
"I must go nonetheless," she said firmly.
"No you must not," Cirdan retorted because he did not believe the Evenstar understood what kind of danger lay awaiting her in the Blue Mountains. "There is something that you do not know about the Mountains, something that has only arisen in recent months."
Arwen felt her insides grow cold for inwardly, she suspected that it was only a matter of time before the evil heads of the Enemy's agents again rose to plague her on this quest. "What is it Cirdan? What is it that you are afraid to tell me?"
"The elves of Lindon have been attempting to deal with the problem themselves," he said quietly, unable to meet her gaze. With all the trouble that Sauron had caused and with so much blood spilled by men in waging the war against Mordor, we did not even know what evils had been arising closer to home. Not until some of the elven villages in the far north had been razed to the ground, by what menace we do not know. We have sent expeditions to deal with the danger but so far our parties have not returned and since we would no longer intend to remain on these shores…."
"You sought to leave the problem as it stood?" Arwen stared at him in nothing less than horror.
"No," Cirdan retorted shocked that she could think such a thing. "We were going to wait until your father and the others have left for the Undying lands so that we could place our full attention to the problem. Whatever has caused the destruction has not ventured beyond the realm of the villages and is content to remain in place for the time."
"That does not mean anything," Arwen returned. "Whatever lies in wait there could merely be preparing itself for another assault, one that is even more terrible then the initial strole."
"I know that," Cirdan replied, unable to meet her gaze for he was no happier at his choices then she. However he did honestly intend to deal with the situation once he had completed the task of building ships for the elves that intended to depart these shores in a matter of weeks. "I will turn my attention to it in due course but for the moment, I do not have the time for anything else other than to convince you not to go."
"You cannot steer me from this course," she replied, looking as if he were an alien creature she had never before met.
Whatever his reasons, she could not abide his choice to let the trouble in the north gain malignancy with each passing day by ignoring its existence. Estel would never tolerate such a situation and it was at this moment more than any other since the War of the Ring that Arwen understood why men found it difficult to trust elves. Before the War of the Ring, it was Gondor who kept Sauron’s dark forces from spilling forth into the rest of Middle Earth while the elves merely held back, manipulating things from behind the scenes, doing little to stem the tide of evil until the war truly began. What Cirdan was doing was no different, holding back until the last moment, allowing the situation to fester until its disease became unstoppable.
"Arwen, nothing could be that important for you to make this journey," Cirdan pleaded, having no wish to see her enter the fray.
"You are wrong Cirdan," she met his eyes full of emotion because he was the one who did not understand. "There is no question of whether or not I should go to the north. That was decided long before I arrived here. I mean to go there with or without your aid, if it is without then so be it but I will not be deterred from my course."
"You know that I will do all that I can for you," Cirdan responded, seeing something in her eyes that told him she had good reason for her choices and he had no right to keep her from going. "Even if you are determined to do this thing."
"I am glad," she rested her hand on his shoulder. "I need your help and I do not have much time."
Cirdan saw the look on her face and could well believe the urgency he saw there. He did not know why she was making this journey but she was the Evenstar, daughter of Lord Elrond and had undoubtedly inherited her father’s strong spirit. If she chose to go north in order to face whatever dangers lay in wait there, then there was nothing he could do but help her as best he could.
"All right," he finally conceded the point, understanding that there was no convincing her to alter her course. "What do you require of me?"
It was early evening when the Fellowship arrived in Hobbiton.
Although Gandalf had been visiting Frodo and Bilbo in the Shire for many years, it was the first time that Aragorn had been any closer than the Brandywine Bridge. The Fellowship had often heard the hobbits speak of their home and were glad to see that none of the stories told were an exaggeration. The sun had started to sink behind the horizon when the visitors took the familiar road to Bag End but they were able to see the rolling fields of green and the simple but quaint hobbit homes that lay nestled under lush grassy mounds. The Shire was very much like the hobbits that dwelt there, modest, unassuming and discreet.
Frodo was eager to offer the Fellowship the hospitality of Bag End because until now he had always been the visitor when amongst them. Though Bag End was in no way comparable to the splendor of Lothlorien or Minas Tirith, the hobbit was proud of his home and he wanted to share it with the friends he was certain he would never see again if he accepted Gandalf’s offer to cross the Western Sea. Frodo had not told Sam of his conversation with the wizard on the subject mostly because he was uncertain how Sam would take the news. The hobbit was a devoted friend and though he ceased to be a servant to Frodo a long time ago, he would not understand in the same manner that he had not when Frodo attempted to leave him behind during the quest. If he decided to go then his parting with Sam would be the hardest of them all.
Frodo brushed these thoughts aside for the moment because he had not come to any real decision about leaving the Shire (so he told himself anyway) and concentrated on the pleasure of this small break in their journey that would see him home for a night. Sam was also just as eager to get back to Bag End although he was slightly disappointed that Rosie would not be there. Aragorn had promised to provide her with escorts to the Shire when she decided to leave Minas Tirith and Frodo knew for a fact that Rosie was intending to take in some of the sights of the White City during her stay there.
In the meantime, Sam, Merry and Pippin respectively had taken it upon themselves to explain all aspects, history, present status and current occupation of every feature they happened upon in the Shire. Frodo looked over his shoulder and saw Gandalf shaking his head. The wizard had spent enough time around hobbits to know that it was very ill advised to let them start talking about the Shire in any shape or form. More often than not, it was almost impossible to silence them on the subject once that dam had been released, as the rest of the Fellowship was no doubt starting to learn.
Legolas was listening politely because it was never in the elf’s disposition to be rude if he could help it. Gimli actually appeared interested while Aragorn’s expression seemed to have glazed over and Faramir feigned interest by occasionally making a non-committal grunt that he hoped proved to the others his attention was focussed on their explanations. Frodo considered rescuing the two men, after all, they had enough to worry about with the fates of their wives unknown, to have to suffer the torment of being deluged with every aspect of the Shire’s existence. However, his attention was soon called away by the appearance of Farmer Maggot who was on his way home.
The fact that the man was on foot meant that he had mostly had a little too much to drink at the tavern and was sensible enough not to attempt to ride home. At the sight of him, Frodo noted Merry and Pippin cringing in their saddles somewhat. After all this time, with everything they had done of late to prove they were now respectable members of the community, the duo still felt a little self conscious around the farmer whose crop was once their favorite spoil. Farmer Maggot remembered their mischief enough though Frodo thought that the glare he aimed in their direction was mostly to amuse himself than any real feeling of malice. For Frodo and Sam, he was all smiles, even if he was a little uncertain about the companions that traveled with the master of Bag End. However, he did recognise Gandalf the Grey and was accustomed to the eccentricities of the Bagginses, who since Bilbo had always made strange acquaintances.
"Hello Farmer Maggot," Frodo greeted politely, wondering if the man actually had a first name since he always voiced the preference for ‘Farmer Maggot’.
"Hello Frodo," Maggot beamed. "Hello Sam, I see you’ve brought some worldly folk with you to the Shire. Hello Gandalf."
"Hello Farmer Maggot." Gandalf said graciously. "How goes the crop this year?"
"Oh very well," Maggot replied enthusiastically, pleased by the inquiry. "The crops much better now that I don’t have ragamuffins scrounging the best of it." He glanced at Merry and Pippin as he made that statement.
"Maggot," Frodo glanced at the others with him. "I’d like to meet …"
"Strider," Aragorn spoke before Frodo had the chance to introduce him as the king. He would rather be known for himself while he was here and not as King Elessar Telcontari and all the other titles he had acquired in his kingship.
"Please to meet you Strider," Maggot grinned. "Would you be an elf?" He stared at Legolas.
"Yes," Legolas nodded, supposing that the ears were difficult to hide.
"I saw an Elf once," Maggot replied. "It was back when I was younger and I went to Bree."
Before Maggot recounted the whole story as hobbits tended to do if given the opportunity, Frodo went on to introduce Faramir and Gimli. Maggot seemed genuinely pleased to meet the new arrivals and asked them questions about the lands from which they originated. Since the War of the Ring and the mischief of Saruman in the Shire, the hobbits were not as inclined to ignore the goings on in the outside world as much as they used to. While they would always be an insular people, the general feeling that it was wise to keep an eye on events beyond the Shire if only for the reasons of safety, was now a popular one.
"Well this must be the season for it," Maggot said after awhile.
"What do you mean?" Frodo asked.
"Well that’s two elves is as many days," Maggot replied innocently.
"Another elf has been through here?" Sam inquired because elves did not normally come through the Shire unless there was a very good reason for it. Even when they traveled to the Grey Havens, they did so without ever entering Hobbiton itself.
"Yes, one of three fine ladies," Maggot replied.
"Ladies?" Aragorn asked, his interest suddenly sparked with hope. "When?"
"About two days ago," the hobbit responded sensing some urgency in the question. "One was an elf I’m told, very pretty. Old Proudfoot said they stayed at his inn, and she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, long dark hair and eyes like pools of sapphire."
"Arwen!" Aragorn exclaimed knowing that description of his wife all too well. "Arwen was here!"
"We don’t know that," Faramir retorted, not daring to hope such a thing without further evidence. "He said there were three of them. Arwen and Eowyn left Minas Tirith alone. What about the other two?" He looked at Maggot for explanation hoping that Aragorn was right that somehow in the course of their travels, Arwen and Eowyn had acquired another companion to accompany them on their quest.
"I don’t know very much," Maggot replied, able to relate only what he had been told by Old Proudfoot. "The other two were dressed like men, wearing breeches, one carrying a sword and the other, some strange sort of weapon, what did Proudfoot say she called it?" He thought hard for a moment before his eyes lit up with the answer. " That’s right, a crossbow."
"A crossbow?" Legolas frowned, not recognising the description. "What manner of weapon is that?"
"An Easterling weapon," Aragorn volunteered. During the War of the Ring, some of the Easterlings of Harad who fought for Sauron had employed such weapons.
"A strange turn of events," Gandalf remarked contemplatively. "It appears that Arwen is capable of finding allies as well as you Strider."
"Well at least its good news!" Pippin exclaimed. "She’s alive!"
Aragorn did not speak for a moment because he was too overcome with relief that Arwen still lived. He had refused to believe that she could be dead from fear of sheer despair if it were true. The king exhaled deeply, dispelling with it the remaining constriction that had gripped his heart since he arrived at Imraldis to learn that Arwen had not arrived. He had fought desperately the urge to submit to reason, to confess to the reality that she might have fallen to the peril within the Misty Mountains and knew he would die if it were the truth. However, now he had proof that the only thing that meant anything to him still walked among the living and in knowing that, felt himself suffused with the strength to continue.
It was a feeling well shared by Faramir whose silence also expressed his intense gratitude for the continued survival of his wife and both men touched each other’s eyes briefly, feeling a kinship that was deeper than blood at that moment.
"Come on then," Frodo spoke up, noticing the awkwardness of the moment that Farmer Maggot could not understand but all the others felt, wishing to propel them past it because they should be rejoicing the news. "If we’re going after them, we’d best get on home."
"Here, here," Merry agreed, glad to know that Eowyn was alive and well. Even though he did not love her as her husband, they had fought together and he considered her a friend. Now that they were assured of her safety, he wanted nothing more than to celebrate that fact with the others who cared about her.
"Lead on then," Aragorn smiled and it was the first one he had produced in the last few days that actually warmed his face. "Let’s see Bag End."
While it was common for the northlands to be much colder than the rest of Middle Earth, Arwen who had traveled this far north in the past, found it unusually chilled. As they journeyed towards the Blue Mountains, the iciness in the air continued to grow until frost began to appear on the leaves of trees they passed. The sharp cold invaded the warmth of their cloaks and pierced their skins as the ground become harder and the woods continued to descend into a premature winter. Arwen began to notice something else as she drew closer and closer to the mountains and that was a decided lack of any sort of life. She heard no singing voice of birds, felt none of the quickening pulses of the smaller creatures that dwelt upon this land. It felt curiously abandoned.
Uneasiness began to seep into Arwen the further along their path they continued. It was not long however, before the surrounding woods with their silence and absence of all things living save themselves, affected her other two companions as well. Their rest periods became shorter since none of them were overly anxious to close their eyes and when sleep did come, it was under one of their number’s watchful gaze. Throughout all this ominous foreboding, Arwen watched the path of the moon in the sky and noted with growing alarm that the time between its reaching fullness was dwindling rapidly. The journey here had taken almost three weeks and Arwen knew that they would reach the Enemy with barely enough time to spare to formulate the strategy to kill him.
They saw no evidence of the threat that had driven the elves living in this part of Middle Earth southwards but there was no doubt that it existed. The woods they crossed reeked of death and desolation. Something unnatural had seized the land and was unrelenting in its bony grip. Arwen could feel its tendril clawing up her back, cold to the touch and the babe inside her stirred as well, perhaps feeling the threat to its existence its mother was trying so desperately to prevent. Eowyn and Melia spoke nothing of their own fears but Arwen sensed they were anxious for their guard was almost always watching for danger now. Whatever threat had worried Cirdan so much was fast approaching.
They could all feel it.
They had expected to find remnants of the towns abandoned or destroyed by the unseen menace, anticipating charred destruction to meet them when they finally happened upon them. However, nothing of the kind greeted them. Instead of finding a community leveled by fire, the scene that met them was entirely the opposite. The town whose name Arwen did not know and would never learn was covered in sheets of ice. To look at it, one would have been forgiven in assuming that someone had embarked upon the laborious task of sculpturing a representation of the town in ice. Every structure was covered in sheets of ice, even the poor unfortunates who had been caught in the disaster.
"What in the name of Valar happened here?" Eowyn asked rhetorically as she swept her gaze across the town.
They had climbed off their horses, leading the animals through the town so that they could investigate what had taken place here in hopes of avoiding the same fate if they encountered the cause of the tragedy. Anything that had not been encased in ice was brittle to the touch. Melia’s efforts to kick away a doll that had been lying on the ground had resulted in the complete disintegration of the object. It crumbled around her boot as if a blast of cold had turned it into glass. The ranger’s shock was obvious and after that no one was terribly eager to touch anything that was not covered in ice.
"A freak blizzard perhaps?" Melia asked. The lands where she had come from were warm where this kind of cold was almost never heard of.
"I could believe a snow storm could cause some ice, but nothing natural could have done this," Arwen responded as she paused at a seemingly unaffected bush and touched one of the leaves on its branches. The leaf crumbled in her hands as easily as the toy had disintegrated beneath Melia’s foot. The fragment of green in her hand felt like sand or ash, she could not tell which for sure, only that it frightened her. It was no small thing to destroy life in this fashion and the unnaturalness of it could not be ignored.
"We should keep going," Eowyn stated. "I have no wish to encounter what did this whilst we are here. We have more important matters to attend."
"Normally I would be the first to agree with you Eowyn," Melia replied softly, her grip on her horse’s tether was tight. Her nails were digging into her palm but she hardly noticed it. This place frightened her more than orcs or any other evil she had encountered in the lands of Rhun since leaving her home in Far Harad. She wanted to run away from this place, to ride back to the safety of the woods she knew in Angmar but it was impossible. She had made a pledge to the queen and she would see her oath through but also because during the course of their travels, it had ceased to become an obligation, as it was now an act of friendship. Here were two women with whom she shared a great deal, who waited for no man to decide their destiny and who knew what it was to remain true to themselves instead of complying with what was expected of them.
"I too wish to ride away from here and not look back," Melia gazed at her two companions. "But what did this awaits us ahead on our journey. The only thing we will accomplish if we ride hastily forward is run headlong into what destroyed this place."
"You are right of course," Eowyn frowned, despising the sense of Melia’s words because she felt similar anxiety being in this icy graveyard. "However, I do not think that there is anything to find. What leveled this place has moved on, assuming that some manner of evil did this."
"This is no aberration of weather," Arwen declared. "Something or someone wrought this destruction. I am certain that the way is being cleared for the Enemy."
"Cleared?" Melia stared at her.
"Yes," Arwen nodded taking another long look at the town because it was only the prelude to what was coming. "This is the work of the Enemy I am certain of it. He seeks to ensure that no one knows of his existence and this means destroying those who might be able to carry word of him to the rest of Middle Earth."
"To ensure that when he does emerge, he will do so to the complete surprise of those who might if, forewarned, be able to stop him," Eowyn concluded.
"Your child might be the first step," Melia pointed out. "If what you tell me is true about the Enemy attempting to infuse your child with Melkor’s spirit, then it is possible he intends to take Middle Earth, to prepare it for Melkor when your babe grows to manhood."
Arwen closed her eyes at the horrific plan and knew that both Melia and Eowyn were right about their suppositions. The Enemy would create a kingdom worthy of Melkor and when her son grew up to be King, he would inherit that dark empire. It would also mean that the Enemy would have to eliminate all those she cared about who were still left within his reach in order to achieve his plan.
"I believe you are right," Arwen nodded when she finally looked at them again. "In that case, we cannot delay in reaching the Forest of Brethil. Despite what has happened here, our best hope of averting this terrible outcome is to find the Sword of Turin."
The others seemed to agree with her and as they mounted their horses, preparing to leave the town behind, Arwen prayed it was altogether as easy she claimed.
With the frozen town behind them, the trio pressed on with the temperature dropping even more sharply the closer they came to the Blue Mountains. The air was not merely icy but each breath spoken produced small clouds of vapor and very soon they were shifting through their packs to put on the heavier clothing that Cirdan had insisted they take with them when he realised they could not be deterred from their course. Throughout their journey, they saw further evidence of the calamity that had befallen the nameless town earlier. Other smaller settlements had been overtaken in similar fashion and the woods they traveled through to reach the mountains bore the same malaise. It was almost impossible to make a fire when they camped for the night owing to the wood being too damp or too frozen for the attempt.
The Blue Mountains was named such because it appeared, from a distance, a range of mountains bathed in a hue that was not unlike the shimmer of the ocean. Against the backdrop of perpetually grey skies, it was a reminder that beauty still existed in the world, even in this remote place. For some days now, it had loomed on the horizon, appearing so out of reach as they rode towards it and the Forest of Brethil. Slowly but surely, it began to grow in their consciousness as the distance between them and the mountains began to diminish. The mood among the triumvirate was becoming tense as the Forest entered the realm of reach and the feeling of peril saturated their skins as surely as the cold.
At night fall, Eowyn stared at the moon above her head and saw that it was still a crescent shape in the skies but its appearance alone was sign enough that their time was drawing short. The Shield Maiden of Rohan estimated they had only days left to them to reach the Enemy but fortunately, they should make the Forest of Brethil by mid afternoon. So far what had destroyed the town and turned the lands beyond it into a frozen wasteland had yet to show itself though Eowyn did not know whether or not this was a good thing. She kept watch as Arwen and Melia slept, thinking that the Ranger was fortunate indeed to have given her heart to no one. At least she would not know this ache that Arwen felt constantly and Eowyn had almost succeeded in ignoring except for moments like this.
She missed Faramir more than she could stand.
Although she had spoken nothing of her need for him because a warrior had to remain focussed when embarking upon the quest they had, she did miss him terribly. Her thoughts kept drifting to his wry smile and the manner in which he would shrug away all their troubles even when they seemed intolerable because in his reckoning, surviving the War of the Ring had been blessing enough.
Everything after that, he often said with that damned smile of his that could melt her so easily, was easy.
Until now, Eowyn had not realised how terrible it would be to die without seeing her husband again and yet as they were at the eve of reaching their destination, Eowyn knew that it was very likely that she, or Melia might not survive the quest. She drew in her breath to dispel such thoughts away because she would only come undone if she continued this way. She had to believe she would survive or else there was no reason to go on. A warrior who believed she would die would often enough find a way for such a thing to happen.
She was still thinking of Faramir when suddenly she heard something moving. At first, she considered it might be one of the sleepers tossing and turning. Melia, she and Arwen had come to learn during their travels, did not sleep well. The Ranger was often plagued with nightmares that often forced her awake, wide eyed and short of breath. She did not explain what she had seen in her slumber that frightened her so and they did not ask. As they drew closer to the mountains, Arwen too seemed to have endured a few demons plaguing the night but Eowyn had a good inkling what was the source of them, so as with Melia, she did not inquire.
The sound was fast yet hard to discern. Long and continuous, it did not cease, merely grew in intensity as if it were approaching. Eowyn stood up, slowly unsheathing her weapon as she searched the dark woods around them. Firewood had been scarce so they had not left the campfire burning, a thing Eowyn regretted for they were in need of light. The sound was odd, it seemed strangely familiar but she could not place it exactly and it was growing closer.
"Arwen, Melia!" Eowyn hissed waking them up with that one sharp call.
Melia awoke first, her Ranger instincts bringing her swiftly out of her slumber. She reached immediately for the crossbow that lay within easy reach of her sleeping place and was on her feet, ready to face whatever danger Eowyn had discovered to raise the alarm. Not far from her was Arwen who had also wrapped her hand around the hilt of her sword, her eyes watchful of the danger now that she was aware of it. In the meantime, the sound that had inspired Eowyn into waking them was all around them and it was closing in on them. Arwen understood now what had made her sleep so restless. Even in the dreamscape, she had been able to sense the impending danger.
"What is that?" Melia asked. She readied her crossbow to fire, but was disconcerted by the lack of a target.
"I don’t know," Eowyn frowned, aware of the sound but unable to identify it exactly.
Arwen listened closely. She could feel the peril closing in on them. Its breath was close. She could not say for certain what it was only that it bore sinister intent towards them. "They are near."
"They?" Melia stared at her.
"They’re all around us," Eowyn stated because she could hear them coming. "Arwen, light the fire." She ordered the queen because near the flame, Arwen might be more protected than she and Melia would as they attempted to spearhead the fight and slightly protect Arwen from the danger, whatever it was.
Arwen nodded, hurrying quickly to the center of their campsite. She began igniting the cold embers of the fire. There was still enough wood left to burn because they had been sparring of the meager supply they had found. She worked quickly and felt the first hint of warmth from the newborn fire when suddenly; something tore out of the darkness with a loud screech. The radiating glow of amber spread throughout the campsite as the danger presented itself fully.
Its size was almost as large as the spiders that had overtaken the village of Cadhras Nar. It moved with just as much agility. All three women knew exactly what they were dealing with the moment they laid eyes upon the first creature that emerged. Its body was covered in scales that glimmered under the radiance of the fire. It did not move so much as its slithered and attached to its long body was a decidedly serpentine head. Slit irises glared at them from red eyes and as it opened its mouth, they saw that it bore a mouthful of fangs. The first of it to appear to the party of three, it stood nearest to Eowyn and bore its fangs as it prepared to strike.
"It’s a worm!" Melia shouted as she took aim and fired.
The bolt from her cross bow struck the creature in the neck and it turned away from Eowyn and hissed furiously at Melia in its pain. The angry screech that tore through the air snapped Eowyn out of her shock and the Lady of Ithilien acted swiftly. She ran forward as it was distracted by its pain and swung her sword wide and hard. The blade sliced through the air before striking flesh. It took every ounce of her strength to penetrate the skin but worms were the young of dragons. Fully grown, there was no way she would have been able to penetrate its thick hide. However, in this state it was vulnerable but no less danger. Eowyn saw its blood spraying in all directions as she cleaved its head from its body. Its scream of agony cut short.
However, it was not alone.
Hearing the death cry of one of their own brought the others forward. Melia turned around to see another worm emerging behind her. She wasted no time in firing a bolt. This one striking the creature in the face and forcing it to recoil in pain as steel tore through its muscle. In the rear of her vision she saw Arwen being approached by one of the worms. The queen was no novice in protecting herself and she immediately stabbed the creature with her sword. Her blade penetrated its flesh easily enough. The creature howled in pain as Arwen swung at it again. However, the worm did not flee even though its blood was spilling forth from it. It seemed to hold its ground before pulling back and widening its jaw, in readiness to lunge.
"Get out of its way!" Melia shouted, a flash of insight prompting her to speak.
Arwen reacted instinctively to her warning and attempted to leapt out of the way when suddenly the worm ejected something from his mouth she thought at first to be venom or some other poison but was to soon learn otherwise. Her skin prickled with cold as the blast of frost escaped its mouth and killed the fire immediately. Steam hissed from the doused fire as icy cold waves of air extinguished it with little or no effort at all.
Eowyn rushed forward to aid Arwen, slashing her sword about wildly to clear a path towards the queen. However, the unexpected trait exhibited by the worm a moment ago was in no way unique to it only. With a sinking feeling, Eowyn realised that somehow cold drakes had emerged from the deep places of the world to plague Middle Earth once more. When these worms grew to maturity, they would become dragons whose ability would be to either freeze or burn down everything in sight. Eowyn threw herself out of the path of one such creature’s deadly breath when it breathed its iciness in her direction. She barely escaped the hiss of cold before she pierced the creature through the neck with her sword. Its blood poured into the earth before it crumpled to the floor very much dead.
Arwen saw Eowyn’s efforts to reach her and decided that the Lady of Ithilien had difficulty enough saving her own skin. The queen of Gondor recovered her balance after avoiding the initial icy breath of the worm. It turned its gaze in her direction once more determined to have her. On its slithering belly, it sidled toward her quickly, its body moving in thick loops. She saw it flicking its massive tail in her direction, trying to knock it down before she jumped out of its reach. It took the opportunity to lunge at her, jaws snapping. Arwen staggered back to avoid it and dropped on to her behind when a rock obstructed her retreat.
She let out a sharp scream as the creature’s jaws came at her. She could see its teeth and feel its cold breath against her skin as it loomed in for the kill. Arwen forced her sword between them, keeping it poised between its jaw and her throat. Yet she knew she was terribly vulnerable because all it had to do was exhale and she would turn to ice as those poor unfortunates in that frozen village. The worm regarded her for a second, its eyes glaring at her malevolently when suddenly; something drew its attention from her. It retracted its head from before her and screeched angrily. Arwen took advantage of its distraction and scrambled out of its reach. She looked behind only when she was clear of it’s breath and saw the reason for its preoccupation.
Somehow, Eowyn had landed on the beast’s back, her legs coiled around its body as she raised her sword above her head and plunged the blade into the creatures skull. Its death cry was brief and its blood flowed freely when Eowyn pulled out her sword. All life drained from its body as it collapsed to the ground, with Eowyn astride it as if it were a horse. Eowyn climbed off the dead creature’s back, completing the journey to Arwen in order to protect her. However, Arwen’s attention was no longer upon Eowyn, her legs were carrying her towards Melia.
Melia’s skill with the crossbow almost rivaled Legolas Greenleaf with the long bow, Arwen thought as Melia fired bolt after bolt from her Easterling weapon at the worms coming at them. She had managed to keep two of them at bay with her arrows but she was fast running out of them. Arwen could see the worry in her face as she continued to strike fatal wounds in the worms coming at her. Very soon, she would have exhausted her supply and be forced to rely upon her sword. One of the worms covered in a litany of bolts was still determined to have the Ranger even though its other companion had given up its advance and was writhing in pain from the multiple piercing of its skin.
The worms blew its deadly breath at Melia who barely escaped it when she leapt out of its way. A rock that had been behind her when she jumped took the full force of the cold blast and its sudden state of freezing shattered it completely, sending jagged shards in all directions. Melia landed on her side, her crossbow slipping out of her hands as she fell. Losing her weapon, she scrambled for the sword that she rarely used but carried nonetheless. Arwen thought quickly, aware that she had only a second to act before the worm killed Melia. Throwing her sword like a spear, Arwen watched the blade fly through the air to penetrate what passed for the worm’s neck. The sword kept going until it was buried to the hilt.
The worm attempted to screech but it did not manage as what passed for its vocal chords were severed. By this time, Melia had recovered enough to thrust her sword into the belly of the beast, pulling back her sword and spilling its innards into the permafrost that covered ground. The creature closed its eyes finally and collapsed to the ground. It moved no more as its blood flowed from the wounds on its body, creating a pool around it where it had fallen.
For a few seconds, no one spoke as they stood amongst the carcasses of the creatures that had almost killed them. All three were still stunned by the fact that they had survived the onslaught. Eowyn had dispatched the wounded beast that had attempted retreat when Arwen was saving Melia’s life. However, she was not terribly proud of that fact since Melia had done the same for her as well as Eowyn. They were simply grateful to be alive. For the moment at least, Arwen sensed the danger had retreated even though it was not entirely gone. She could feel it close and as she glanced in the direction of the darkened mountain range they would soon be required to enter, she knew where it was coming from.
"Are they all dead over there?" Eowyn asked Melia as the duty of ensuring the worms were dead not merely wounded was concluded.
"Yes," Melia nodded slowly, retrieving her bolts from the dead carcasses at the same time. It was grisly work and she had no wish to be any closer to the fledgling dragons but there was no other way for her to replace her bolts with newer ones if she lost them, especially not here, at the edge of the world. "They will trouble us no more."
"I have heard of these worms," Eowyn replied, her gaze sweeping across their latest battlefield. "I never thought I would ever see them again. I always thought Smaug was the last of them."
"These are not dragons," Melia pointed out. "They are far too young. We should not have been able to penetrate their hides with our swords, if what I am told about dragon scales be the truth. They are harder than mithrail. If I recall correctly, the only way to kill a dragon is to pierce its belly, the one vulnerable place upon their bodies. We did more than that here."
"The Enemy is responsible for this," Arwen said softly. "He is drawing out these creatures from the deepest depths of the ancient world."
"Well we know at least what became of those towns," Eowyn sighed as she went to a shrub that had been treated to the worm’s deadly breath and crushed a branch in her hand. It broke as if it were a dry leaf, turning to powder in her hands. The Shield Maiden of Rohan dusted her palms of the fragments, clear disgust in her face as she did so. "These things have invaded them and turned them into ice, not to mention those that Cirdan sent to deal with the problem. If we search hard enough, we would probably find their bodies as well."
"I suppose," Arwen retorted unhappily. "I know at least why they have kept people away from here."
"Why?" Melia asked, wiping blood from one of the bolts and looking none too happy about it.
"Because they are the guardians of Turin’s sword," Arwen met both their gazes as she stated. "They are keeping those who might be able to use it against the Enemy away from the weapon. They have killed everyone to ensure that it remains beyond the reach of others."
"Beyond our reach," Eowyn declared. "So there’s more of these awaiting us in Brethril?"
It was a question but Eowyn did not really expect an answer nor did Arwen choose to provide any.
"Not just these," Melia said after moment. "These are young worms and there are many of them. The Enemy could not have simply conjured them out of nothingness; these beasts must have been born in some fashion. What I want to know is, if these are the infants, where is the mother that sired them?"
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.