19. Conversations in the Gathering Dark
The pipe at last drawing to his satisfaction, Gandalf turned that deep gaze to the Ring-bearer. Actually, little of the hobbit’s small face could be seen between the bandages and the bruising. Frodo looked him silently, feeling no need to elaborate the truth of his words between them. The day was failing into dusk, the golden sunlight of late afternoon surrendering to the blue-edged tones of evening. Already it was colder and Sam moved unobtrusively to light the fire in the great hearth.
“I believe it is, also,” murmured the wizard, dropping his gaze to the cold circlet of gold strung on a silver chain around the hobbit’s throat. Frodo followed his gaze and he flushed, one hand rising automatically to cover the Ring. The flush deepened as he realized what he was doing and forced the hand down with a visible effort of will.
There were many questions Gandalf would have liked to ask the Ring-bearer, that his research and reason and own curiosity prompted. ‘What does it feel like?’ was one. ‘Do you actually hear it speaking?’ was another. Many questions … none of which he would ever voice, as his asking would increase the suffering of his small friend, regarding him so quietly from the great, wide bed.
Likewise, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ was a useless question. There was nothing he or Elrond or anyone could do, except what they could to ease the Ring-bearer’s mind and heart and soul.
“Is there anything you can do to stop the nightmares?” Frodo asked in a hopeless voice. Gandalf started, startled to hear his thoughts echoed in the hobbit’s soft tones.
The wizard shook his grey-maned head. “Elrond has no potion or elixir to help, nor have I any magic or spell. You have always had … unusual … dreams, Frodo, and have more than once turned them to your advantage.” A ghost of a smile played around the bearded lips. “Remember when you dreamed the winners of the Spring Fair, and, as I recall, made a tidy sum on the races?”
Frodo almost laughed and in that brief instant, the light that was within him shone forth so brightly as to amaze the watching wizard. The hobbit’s face was too sore to emit a laugh, so he settled for a gasping chuckle that did not hurt so greatly. “I remember.”
Pleased at eliciting a laugh, however small, the wizard continued, “Is it possible that you could use these … dreams … in the same way? If they are destined to come true, perhaps you could be forewarned and so be prepared for their reality.” The hobbit was regarding him intently, that brilliant so-blue gaze centered on his. “What do you remember of these dreams?” Gandalf pressed gently.
Frodo shook his head, uncomfortable again. “Just fragments. More … more feelings of hopelessness and terror than anything else. There’s so much darkness. Darkness and … rock, I think – great carved pillars, rows and rows of them. Walking in the dark. Darkness and climbing, climbing up long stairs. There’s something dreadful at the top of the stairs…”
Frodo’s face had paled as he spoke and Gandalf leaned forward again and recaptured the hobbit’s hand in his free one. Frodo jumped, his attention abruptly turned outward again.
“Frodo,” the wizard said softly, “keeping these things to yourself will not help. You are not sparing your friends grief by hiding your fears from them. Rather, you increase their pain because they see you suffering, and you will not allow their help.” Frodo had dropped his eyes, staring at the wizard’s hand as it rubbed gently over his. He raised them again when Gandalf waved the pipe bowl under his nose, wafting sweet smoke into his face. Gandalf reversed the pipe and poked the hobbit in the chest with the stem. “’Troubles shared are troubles halved,’ as I believe it is said in the Shire. Will you not let those who love you help?”
“What can they do, Gandalf?” Frodo responded. “What can anyone do?”
These were the words the old wizard had been waiting for. “They can be by your side when you need them. They can support your steps when you falter. No one else may carry your burden, Ring-bearer, but they may help carry you.”
Frodo nodded slowly.
“There is no shame in letting Merry and Pippin see you as other than the eldest, wiser cousin, Frodo. They have looked up to you all of their lives and they will continue to do so, now more than ever. Do you fear you will lose their love because of this Quest.”
“And what of their lives, Gandalf? What if Merry and Pippin and Sam die because of me?”
‘Now we come to it,’ thought the wizard. Gentle words of reassurance rose to his lips but never found their way out. Samwise, forgotten by them both, stood by his master’s side. “Beggin’ your pardon for interrupting, sir,” the stocky hobbit said softly, “but as you included me, I feel I have the right ‘ta put in my say.” Sam blushed when both of them turned to him, but he continued on doggedly.
“Me and Mr. Merry an’ Master Pippin are going with you o’ our own free will. We know what’s at stake. We might not be any good at all ‘ta you in fighting off orcs or finding our way across the Wild, but we can cook a meal an’ tend a pony an’ be there when you need reminding o’ the Shire. The Big Folk can’t do that for you. We’re going ‘cause you might need reminding what’s at stake for all o’ us.”
In the silence that followed, the wizard at last shifted in his chair and laid a hand on Samwise’s shoulder. “Well said, Sam,” he said softly. Slowly he rose, stiff from long sitting, shaking crumbs of sweetcake off his robe. Frodo’s eyes turned from him to Sam and back again, conflict still evident in his strained features.
Frodo’s hand reached out and caught the wizard’s robes as Gandalf turned to go. “Thank you,” the hobbit said softly. “Both of you.”
Sam beamed at him. Gandalf smiled and leaned down, lightly stroking the hobbit’s dark curls among the bandages. “You’re welcome, Frodo. Don’t close yourself up against us again, my friend. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if your nightmares don’t start easing up now, at last.” He sighed as he straightened, looking out of the great balcony door into the deepening twilight. Summoning the smallest spark of Power, he again touched the hobbit’s forehead. “Sleep, Frodo … without dreams…”
* * * * *
Close by in their shared room, Merry and Pippin sprawled on their own beds, asleep. After the last bath of the day, they could not even summon the energy to go to the dining hall when the chimes rang. Aragorn stood in the doorway and regarded them gravely, a covered tray in his hands. When the young hobbits had not come to dinner, the Ranger was fairly certain he could guess what had happened. Noiselessly, he put the heavy tray down on one of the small tables and pulled up the covers over the two, letting them sleep the exhausted sleep of the virtuous.
They woke at cock’s first crow after a long and restful night. The first thing they were aware of was hunger. The second was the simple, aching pain of overstrained muscles. Pippin rolled out of bed with a pitiful groan, sliding to the floor and using the bed to lever himself to his knees then his feet. He dragged himself over to the covered tray, where his little crow of delight alerted his older cousin to the bounty.
They changed their clothes while they ate, their hunger compensating for food long gone cold. In between comments on yesterday’s hardships and their upcoming Adventure, Merry decided to take the youngster to task for creating such as uproar and earning them the Master of Rivendell’s displeasure.
“Why did you do that, Pip?”
“The baker said we could make anything we wanted with the leftover dough, Merry. It was just a joke. Nobody else was supposed to see it.”
Well, Merry reminded himself that he had pulled some fairly ridiculous stunts as a tweenager too … there was that incident with the punch-bowl at a cousin’s coming-of-age party … and stealing the lasses clothes at the Bywater pond – he’d been whipped for that one … and … nothing Pippin needed to know about. At least the high-born lady had been forgiving, and after her initial shock, amused. Which did not explain why the youngster was stuffing the disreputable-appearing bread sculpture in his pack. “And why have you still got it? It is going stale.”
“It’s mine,” Pippin replied with the all the unreasonableness of an affronted tweenager. Merry reflected that Tooks had their own share of stubbornness. Knowing better than to make an issue of it and cement Pippin’s attachment to the stupid thing, Merry gave up. No doubt the youngster would discard it in a day or two.
This morning they were assigned to the stables, and appeared there with the sun (and with considerably less enthusiasm than they had reported to the kitchens). It had been mutually agreed that the miscreants would make their reparations in the kitchens and the stables on alternating days; no one wanting them to work in the stables then work in the kitchens. Greeted by the stable master, they were directed to pitchforks and scrub brushes and buckets, and set to cleaning Bill’s stall.
Bill seemed to produce an amazing amount of manure for such a small pony. They forked out the soiled bedding, scrubbed down the floor, then forked in the fresh. The mangers were emptied, scrubbed and refilled with hay, winter grass, a handful of oats and a small amount of sweet mash which the pony ate greedily. Bill himself was curried and his mane and tail brushed till they shone. The pony was thoroughly petted and fed far more treats than were good for him. In the next stall, Asfaloth hung his great head over the partition and so in return received such a goodly number of apples and carrots that Glorfindel, arriving some time later, politely asked the two to stop feeding his stallion. Asfaloth snorted at his master and pointedly turned his back on the Elf.
The chimes for luncheon caught them off-guard and sent them scrambling. Not daring to enter the dining hall as they were, they ducked around to the kitchens and begged the head cook for food, unknowing how the kitchen staff smiled to see the stern and demanding head cook unbend under the influence of wistful eyes that barely came up to his waist.
Then they had another bath. It was a good thing that both he and Pip could swim, Merry thought, as in the elven-sized baths, the water came up over their heads unless they stood on the submerged benches. They could have sent for a tub and hot water and bathed in their rooms, of course, but the bathhouses of Rivendell were a delight. The bathhouse was divided into several close rooms, each with a great square tub sunk into the center of room. Each tub had steps leading down into it and benches built along it, arranged for languid soaking and conversation. Warm water was piped in through some contrivance of pipes and furnaces that the hobbits did not understand, all built underneath the raised and heated floor. A great boiler, dwarven-made, heated water and carried it to the baths, where steaming hot water emerged with just a turn of the handle. It was a wonder to the hobbits, a cross between a tub and a lake, and even the notoriously bath-shy Peregrin rejoiced in the warm water and paddled about like a small dog, shaking water from his curly head and increasing the comparison. Merry leaned back against the warm side and sighed, feeling knots that he’d feared were permanent loosen out of his shoulders.
So Aragorn found them, after checking their room; Frodo’s room, the kitchens, the Library, the kitchens, the stables, all the gardens, the kitchens, and finally the baths when directed there by an Elf who had passed them downwind. The Ranger leaned his tall frame against the door and watched as one small form half-floated in the steaming water, entirely at peace, and the other splashed and paddled about in a whirl of endless activity. He waited until the waves had subsided from Pippin’s latest dive then cleared his throat loudly.
“Your pardon,” Aragorn said contritely, as both dripping heads jerked upright. “Are you all right, Pippin? I did not mean to surprise you.”
Pippin nodded, choking on the mouthful of water he had inadvertently taken in and struggled to the side of the bath where Merry snagged him and steadied him against the wall. They had to tilt their heads far back to meet his eyes. Hiding a smile, Aragorn crouched down so that he could address them more easily.
“I am sorry to disturb you. Could you come to my rooms when you are finished? We must leave early tomorrow and I would be certain you two are prepared.”
“We haven’t visited Frodo yet,“ Merry replied. “Do you mind if we come after seeing him?”
“Not at all,” the Ranger assured them. Pippin was still making faces over the water he had swallowed. Seeing the Ranger’s eyes on him, Pippin grimaced a final time and nodded. “Good. Give my regards to your cousin. I hope to see him before we go.”
“We will,” echoed after him as he left the warm, water-laden air.
* TBC *
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.