24. Mysteries and Accidents
Frodo winced in sympathy. He had tried the bow first, gritting his teeth against the immediate agony in his shoulder. Lord Elrond had appeared from nowhere and ordered him to put it down, saying his healing wound could not yet stand such strain. Legolas had agreed with the Elf-lord, and the bow had been passed to an apprehensive Sam.
Rolling his shoulder, Frodo had stepped back to stand by the two Elves. The Elf-lord had required him to remove his cloak and jacket, then unbuttoned his waistcoat and eased back the shirt to examine the wound. Blood pulsed beneath the ugly livid scar but it had not torn open. Frodo sighed in relief as Elrond’s cool hands stroked over the wound, reducing the ache with only his touch. “You were fortunate, Master Frodo,” Elrond said, his dark eyes relieved. “For this day and two more, you will not attempt the bow.”
The small party of Elves and hobbits stood in one of the many forest clearings of Imladris, surrounded by trees brilliant in their autumn glory. Rays of sun sparkled through the thick foliage and highlighted leaves of crimson and gold, turning the small clearing into a montage of color. A small stream meandered past, collecting more sparkles from the sun and reflecting them back into the leafy boughs. A rough hay-stuffed sack had been placed in the near distance, this their intended target. Though there were fine archers among hobbits, hobbits hunted nothing for sport that lived. Only once in their long history had had they taken up bows for war. Long, long ago the Shirefolk had sent a company of bowhobbits to Fornost to join the battle against the Witch-lord of Angmar … but no annuals of Men recorded it and few now remembered it.
These thoughts were passing through the Ring-bearer’s mind as he watched Sam struggle to hold his stance, to keep his back straight and his arms stiff as the Wood-elf demanded. Legolas had refused to let them shoot; first, he said, they must learn the discipline required to simply hold the weapon. Frodo stooped and picked up another of the four bows the Wood-elf had carved, admiring the white wood of their make and the delicate yet strong frame. The nocked ends were tipped with silver and a faint pattern of leaves and winding branches were carved up their length.
Frodo had never handled a bow, nor had Merry or Pippin. Gentlehobbits generally did not, as those of gentle birth did not do the manual labor of hunting. Such work was for the lower classes. Sam was starting to tremble now, his bow arm jumping despite his resolution to hold it still. Seeing this, the Wood-elf relented.
“Very good, Master Samwise,” Legolas said. “You may relax your pull. Slowly now – no!” With a groan of relief, Sam had dropped his stance and released the bowstring. With the recoil of a striking snake, the taut string snapped against the unprotected forearm with all the violence of a whiplash.
Sam howled and dropped the bow, dancing around in a circle with his other hand clamped around the welt. “Shumpt! Argghhrah! Ow!” the sturdy hobbit yowled, struggling to stifle the invectives that rose to his lips as he hopped up and down, tears starting from his eyes at the agonizing pain.
“Sam! Sam, are you all right?” Frodo caught the injured arm and afraid of blundering into his master, Sam fought to control himself. Lord Elrond took advantage of Sam’s relative stillness to peel back the hobbit’s sleeve and examine the brilliantly-red and rapidly rising welt, bruising forming in just the seconds that had passed.
“Legolas, would you please dip Samwise’s cloak in the stream and wrap it around his arm?” the Elf-lord asked, his gentle but commanding voice easily overriding Sam’s gasps and Frodo’s comforting murmurs. The Elf complied quickly and Sam groaned in relief as the cloak, icy from the snow-borne waters, was wrapped around the injury.
“Sorry, master. Sorry Legolas, Lord Elrond. Me arm’s much better now,” Sam growled when he had regained the use of his voice.
“It is my fault, Master Samwise,” the Wood-Elf said worriedly, his clear eyes crinkled and worried as he examined the welt. “I should have told you beforehand what would happen should you simply drop your stance. Are you certain you are not injured?”
Sam was not at all certain, but the pain was dropping to manageable levels and was being replaced by embarrassment. “Not your fault, sir,” he gasped. “I should have known. Me older brother uses a bow, but I never have. Just didn’t think, I guess.”
Frodo hung by his side anxiously, still grasping the injured arm, and the cloak was dripping icy water on them both. “That is enough bow-practice for today,” the Elf-lord informed them sternly. “Please go and dry yourselves before you catch cold. Master Samwise, I will be by shortly to administer a poultice. Keep that cloak around your arm until I arrive.”
Red-faced, Sam allowed Frodo to pull him away. Despite his dismay at the morning’s unfortunate turn of events, the Elf-lord’s dark eyes warmed with amusement to see the slight figure of the Ring-bearer sheparding his sturdy friend, alternating between concerned scoldings and worried entreaties, as the two disappeared into the House.
* * * * *
“Are we going to go look for him?” Merry asked, his blue eyes seeking Aragorn’s as the Man leaned over him to check his broken arm. The Ranger did not reply immediately, taking his time in examining the break. At last he carefully laid Pippin’s hated sculpture along the limb and rewrapped the bandages, letting the petrified dough take the stress of holding the arm straight.
“Hobbits heal very quickly, it seems,” Aragorn replied. “Your arm is coming along nicely, Merry. The scrape has scabbed over. Does it ache much?”
“Not nearly as much as yesterday. Aragorn, what about Elrohir?”
Seeing that the hobbit would not be put off, Aragorn sighed and sank down on his knees. Pippin crouched by his side, monitoring the Man’s inspection and adding his own somewhat unhelpful comments. Now the youngster looked anxiously between his elders and turned worried eyes to Elladan, who was silently brushing the horses, the only sign of his fear for his missing twin the unnatural woodenness of movement that had replaced his usual fluid grace.
“We are not,” Aragorn replied at length. “Elladan and I will go. You and Pippin will stay here and wait for us.”
“Aragorn, no,” both protested, but the Man overrode them. “Merry, that arm may not hurt much now, but a few hours of riding will make it ache unbearably. No, no jostling for another few days.”
“No, Merry. You would only slow us.” The Ranger hid his regret at the flinch of pain in the young halfling’s eyes. “We might have to ride fast and hard. You two are not yet hardened to the saddle. I am sorry, but you must stay here.”
Pippin would have argued further, but Merry laid his good hand on his cousin’s arm and hushed him. “Strider’s right, Pip. We … we will stay here.”
With a nod, Aragorn rose and went to Elladan, helping the Elf pack the horses. His own gelding snorted and sought to catch his master’s sleeve, the tension in the camp evident even to the animals. Inmara was staked next to the gelding, ears pricked forward as she listened to the exchange. Aragorn paused before swinging himself up into the saddle, his eyes on the two young halflings.
“Pippin,” he said seriously, “take care of Merry. Don’t let him use that arm. If we do not return tonight, do not be concerned. If we do not return by tomorrow’s eve, you two are to return to Rivendell. Inmara knows the way. Do you understand?”
The two glanced at each other and this time, Pippin replied for them both. “Yes, Strider, we understand. What are we to tell Lord Elrond if we return without you?”
The Ranger was silent for a moment. “Tell him we are tracking Elrohir, and we three will return as soon as we may. Tell him we have found sign of many Men moving East, companies of ill-trained, ill-equipped service-for-hire mercenaries. No sign of Orcs, contrary to previous reports. He will need to know this.”
Pippin and Merry climbed forlornly to their feet and stood by Inmara as they watched the Man and the Elf ride off. Inmara stood silently at the end of her tie-line, great soft brown eyes alert as she watched them leave. Merry sighed deeply and wrapped his good arm around Pippin. Both felt a warm nose gently tickling their curls as the wise old mare gave them comfort in her own manner.
* * * * *
Two hours later, Aragorn crouched on the grassy slope and ran his hands over the faint marks of a shod horse, a day old. The Ranger had picked up Elrohir’s trail not far from the riverbank, and followed it along the swift water since. Elladan, still mounted, watched as his foster brother bent his nose to within inches of the hoof-marks, then rocked back on his heels to shade his eyes with a hand and stare off into the distance.
“The tracks start to lengthen here,” Aragorn mused, his voice almost inaudible but well within the range of elven-hearing. “See how the distance between the forward and rear hooves increases? The rear hooves are deeper … more weight is placed on his haunches as the stallion gathers himself to run. Elrohir kicked his horse into a gallop.” The Ranger rose, his mien puzzled and blue-grey eyes searching. “What did he see that prompted such urgency? He would never mistreat his stallion without great need. What was he doing?”
Elladan had no answers for him. For a moment the two stared at each other, then Aragorn swung himself upon his gelding’s back and the two broke into a trot, the Ranger leaning over his horse’s withers, eyes on the ground, following the marks of desperate haste.
* * * * *
“Better now, lad?” Bilbo’s brown eyes were concerned and Sam felt warmed and yet embarrassed by the old hobbit’s concern. He nodded wordlessly; he wasn’t used to having both his master and Mr. Bilbo fuss over him, and it didn’t feel right. The Master of Rivendell hid a smile at the young gardener’s discomfort, ageless eyes carefully dispassionate as he bound the herbal bandage to the angry-looking welt. Though not serious, the injury would be painful for several days. The icy water had cooled the fierce burning and Sam released a final breath, letting the pain wash from him as the virtue of the herbs took effect.
“Aye, sir, much better. Thank you, Lord Elrond.” Sam lifted his arm and examined the bandaged-wrapped limb, his face tightening as the skin pulled when he rotated the forearm. “I feel right stupid, lettin’ the bowstring catch me like that.”
The Elf-lord nodded and gathered up his medicinal supplies. “We should have taken into account your unfamiliarity with such weapons, young hobbit. Now that we are forewarned, I am sure that Legolas will explain the techniques more fully as he teaches you knife-work.”
“Knife-work?” echoed three hobbit voices.
The Elf-lord raised dark eyes to regard them. “Legolas and Glorfindel will instruct you. Will two hours after midday at the practice-ground be convenient?”
Frodo and Sam nodded, momentarily wordless. The Elf-lord returned their nods and rose, honoring them with a short bow before departing. The three sat in silence for some minutes, Sam absently fingering the poultice, the sweet smell of orris root clinging to his fingers.
“A fine mess we got ourselves inta, Mr. Frodo,” he muttered, leaning back. “A fine mess.”
* * * * *
Aragorn swung down off his gelding at a small eddy along the riverbank, Elladan pulling up silently beside him. The ground was churned here, horse-hoofs mingling with the lighter track of booted feet. But it was not the telltale signs of a rider that had first captured the Ranger’s attention. Something dark bobbed in the current there, half-submerged, caught by the pressure of the water and forced close to shore. Dark fabric ballooned on the shimmering surface of the water, its color darkened almost to black by the icy flow. Exchanging a glance of dread with his foster brother, Aragorn waded into the numbing waters and buried his hands in the thick cloak that drifted entangled in the river.
* 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.