23. In Rivendell and in the Wild
And to destroy it… Unbidden, the Ring-bearer’s hand rose to cradle the small cold circlet of gold. Destroy it. Yes, of course it had to be destroyed. A great part of the Enemy’s power was bound into the Ring. It was evil. Of course. But… Suddenly Frodo became aware of how tightly his hand clutched the Ring, pressing it to his breast. With a surge of rage, he clasped it tighter, to tear the silver chain from his throat and cast the vile object from him. No! He had given his word. He had promised.
If he were forsworn, who else would step forward in his place? None of the others would undertake this thing. Oh yes, they would take it … but it would corrupt them and own them, and they would turn it over to the Enemy. It would be the end of all hope…
The world would be cast into death and darkness, if he failed. No other could do this and it was so far and he so small…
A strong hand clasped the hobbit’s right shoulder and squeezed tightly. Frodo raised his clouded gaze to stare into concerned grey eyes, framed by a much-loved round face and sandy hair. Frodo raised his hand and covered Sam’s with it. “I’m all right, Sam,” the Ring-bearer whispered. “I am all right.”
* * * * *
The Lord of Rivendell had requested that Gandalf join him for breakfast, to discuss pressing matters concerning the Fellowship. The Elf-lord’s fine nostrils arched in distaste as the wizard lifted the cover from one of the steaming dishes and forked several fat sausages onto his plate, sizzling and popping in their own juice. Fully aware of Elrond’s dislike of such fare, Gandalf snorted at the sliced fruit, bread and delicate cheeses that comprised elven breakfasts, pleased to have the opportunity to tweak his old friend’s sensibilities.
“I hope you are feeding Frodo more than fruit and cheese, Elrond,” Gandalf said, ostentatiously taking a huge bite of sausage. “He’ll never regain his strength on fare such as that.”
Elrond sliced his apple delicately and took a small bite. “The Ring-bearer grows in strength daily, Gandalf, despite what you insist he eat. He still needs to put back some weight and his appetite has not improved to my satisfaction. Nevertheless, I judge him ready to begin his training.”
The wizard paused, another bite of sausage halfway to his mouth. “With Merry and Pippin gone?”
“I am certain that Estel is lessoning them, as occasion provides. Frodo and Samwise might do better with a few days’ start on those younger, more energetic halflings. I will not have them run him ragged.”
The wizard nodded. “What more needs to be prepared?”
Elrond leaned back in his chair to consider, dark eyes thoughtful. “The young prince of Mirkwood has completed the bows and is now working on a good supply of arrows. It remains to be seen if the hobbits are able to draw them. He says he will also teach them knife-work. The dwarf has overseen the casting of light armor for them and is personally forging a variety of small weapons, in the hopes that some will suit.” The deep wells of knowledge and memory that were the Elf-lord’s eyes warmed for a moment. “My foundry-master is most pleased to work with a dwarf. I think he has already learned much he did not know of metal-work, though he would not say it.” Then the dark, ageless eyes turned serious again. “Gimli says he must have the little ones here to see which, if any, of the small weapons can be wielded by them.” The Elf-lord sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I am not hopeful.”
Gandalf grimaced; he harbored his own reservations about teaching the hobbits weapons-work.
“The Man, Boromir, is ready to teach them the basics of sword-play,” Elrond continued. “He wished to examine their swords but the little ones took them with them. Boromir has carved several wooden practice swords of various weights, and will begin teaching Frodo and Sam footwork and defense. He wishes to teach them attack, but I think that is folly.”
Gandalf looked at his old friend intently. “Folly? Why?”
“The halflings would have little chance against a larger, stronger opponent, Gandalf,” the Elf-lord said. “And almost any enemy they face will be larger and stronger. I do not want them to become over-confident. Given the choice, they should flee instead of fight.”
“Merry won’t like that,” commented the wizard. “There’s the making of a warrior in that one. Most unnatural in a hobbit.”
The Elf-lord did not smile at the wizard’s weak jest. “I hope that those young hobbits will never be forced to defend their cousin, but if it comes to that, they must understand that the Ring-bearer’s life is to come before theirs.”
Sadly, Gandalf nodded slowly.
* * * * *
Merry was certain he had not ached so the previous day. Aragorn had insisted that he drink some powder the Ranger had brought with him in a medicinal kit out of Rivendell, and the resultant tea had rendered the young hobbit groggy and unfocused. He had slept away the remainder of the day in little awareness. Well, Merry reflected to himself, at least he had more sympathy for all those vile tonics and teas Elrond kept forcing down Frodo.
Merry had been ordered to lie still and quiet this morning, and the young hobbit was already bored. Every bump and bruise the river had given him seemed magnified in the cold morning light, and his arm threatened to stab if he even breathed too deeply. He glared down at Pippin’s humiliating sculpture but could not fault its support. The bread sculpture’s minimal weight did not aggravate his broken arm yet held it firmly. Oddly, the scrape hurt worse than the broken bone, did he not move – it burned as if a brand had been held against his skin. Merry shifted his arm carefully, testing the degree of movement permitted him in the sling Aragorn had devised. At least all the bandages and the sling hid the shape of the stupid thing.
He had grown tired of examining the great forest stands that Aragorn had named the northern tree harbors. Trees were all very well in their place, but he was not allowed to wander among them and any climbing of them was certainly out of the question. The tree harbors were very different from the Old Forest near his home … the trees were younger and did not seem so hostile. With a pang that caught him off-guard and tore a choke from his throat, Merry suddenly missed Buckland with every fiber of his being.
Elladan gave him a sympathetic look as the Elf glided by carrying nose-bags for the horses. No doubt the Elf thought he’d moved incautiously. Merry felt no desire to enlighten Elladan that he was homesick. Furiously scrubbing at his eyes with his good hand, the hobbit forced his thoughts back to the present. Or, more accurately, the previous day.
After Merry and Aragorn had dried off and Merry’s hurts attended, the hobbit had insisted on thanking Inmara personally. He had stood (with Pippin’s help) and gone to stand before her, thanking her formally with all the bearing and courtesy taught him as the future Master of Buckland. The wise old mare had listened to him graciously, her delicate pointed ears forward, then lowered her head and gently, very gently, butted him in the chest.
Aragorn had decided against sending her home, though the hobbits would ride with he and Elladan and Elrohir. With one of their number hurt, the Ranger would not lose so valuable a resource to the scouting party. Merry suspected that Aragorn feared they might need the old mare for a travois, should one of them be injured beyond the ability to ride. Inmara knew the pulling of such a stretcher, as the stallions of Elrond’s sons and Aragorn’s gelding did not.
“Merry! Look, Merry! Aragorn taught me to make a snare! I caught a rabbit!” Pippin bounced into camp with the Ranger not far behind, hiding a smile on his stern features. The tweenager waved the limp, furry form under his cousin’s nose and Merry had to fight back a sneeze.
“He did very well,” the Ranger said, and Pippin’s sharp face lit with pride.
“Don’t worry about not helping with the hunting, Merry,” the youngster assured his older cousin, “I’ll take care of catching dinner from now on!” Pippin’s countenance dimmed slightly when Elladan handed him the skinning knife and silently pointed at the cook pot, already simmering over the fire.
The Ranger’s amused eyes regarded the young hobbit. “Another lesson in living in the Wild, Pippin. If you catch it … you cook it.”
Merry smiled and congratulated his cousin, his eyes on Aragorn as the Man drifted over to Elladan. The two were standing with heads close together, turned away from the hobbits. With the ease of long practice, Merry tuned out Pippin’s chattering explanation of the fashioning and laying of a snare as he struggled to overhear the soft conversation. Aragorn was measuring something with his hands and Elladan nodded, both of their faces dark. If he leaned back a little, the slight breeze might just carry their words to him…
“Elrohir has not returned yet?” Aragorn was asking.
“No, Estel. If he too found evidence of large numbers of marching Men, he may have tracked them farther.”
“I would wish that he spoke to me before setting out on more than a day’s ride. The sign that I saw was not of ordered companies, but rag-tag groups of ill-trained men. They marched not together but in stumbling groups, casting aside gear as it burdened them, soiling the earth on which they walked. Yet they moved at a swift pace, and there were very many of them.”
“Could you tell their destination? Isengard, or further East?”
“I could not tell without trailing them for many leagues. Recruiters from both towers have moved among the malcontents and criminals and layabouts of the towns and cities of Men, promising gold in return for service. There are many such who would sell their allegiance in return for the spoils of war; gold, plunder and women. Such as these may serve to weaken and weary us while trained and competent troops ready themselves.”
“A dark assessment, brother.”
“Dark times, brother.”
For Merry, the day passed slowly. His arm and the bruises on his ribs set up a steady throbbing ache that exhausted him and Aragorn made him drink another cup of the vile tea. Pippin set snares about the entire camp and walked into one himself, prompting a shrill, stifled shriek that woke Merry out of what little rest he had managed to win. Brusquely, Aragorn ordered the tweenager to disarm the snares.
Despite the slowness of his thoughts, Merry did not fail to notice that at least one of the Big Folk stayed in camp at all times. His face burned to think that he and Pippin were being guarded, that his injury had made them a burden to Aragorn and the twins. Instead of carrying their weight on this trip, he and Pippin had become a weight, holding the others back from the work they needed to do.
Elladan rode out sometime during that indeterminable day and came back after many hours, his fair features set and strained. Both the Elf and the Man took to standing at the place Elrohir had ridden from, shading their eyes with their hands and staring into the distance. But Elrohir did not return. Twilight darkened into evening, and the stars shone like scattered diamonds on the blanket of night. Elrohir did not return.
* 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.