26. Frustrations and Fears
Meriadoc opened his eyes and regarded his cousin’s sharp, dissatisfied face, green-gold eyes hovering over him. “Why don’t you take an inventory of the supplies Aragorn and Elladan left us?”
“Restock the firewood.”
“Wash your face in the stream.”
“Did -” Pippin eyed him narrowly. “Very funny, Merry.”
“Why don’t you set some more snares? We could use the meat.”
The tweenager considered this. “All right.” Pippin rose and gathered up the thin, tensile wires and stout twine.
“Remember where you put them this time!” Merry called after his retreating back. That accomplished, Meriadoc yawned, closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
* * * * *
Happy to be given gainful employment, Pippin checked that his snares were securely tucked into his pockets and began to look for likely sites. Aragorn had taught him that the trick to setting a successful snare was placing it where the coney was likely to step. A sheltered place, camouflaged by leaves… He decided to set them farther from camp this time, where they would be less of danger to the scouting party (and himself). Wouldn’t Aragorn and the twins be surprised when he and Merry presented them with a nice, savory rabbit stew?
Aragorn and Elladan and Elrohir… The Elves still seemed a thing out of legend to the young hobbit, despite the month he had spent among them. The sons and daughter of Lord Elrond not the least. A slow, silly smile blossomed on his sharp face as his thoughts turned to Arwen Evenstar. What beauty he’d never seen or imagined in living thing.
Wistfully, Pippin allowed himself to imagine himself in Aragorn’s place. He’d certainly win a kingdom for her, if she wanted one. Drawing his small sword, he poked a gorse bush that looked to doubt his ability to do so. Errand forgotten, the young hobbit meandered along the forest paths, constructing grandiose scenarios in his mind in which he proved himself the hero to an awed and appreciative Arwen. Well aware that he was constructing fantasies that had no grounding in reality, Pippin indulged himself in melancholy dreams of adoration. He’d lay piles of Orc heads at her slender feet. He’d heap treasure upon her, though no glitter of gems could equal the sparkle of her sapphire eyes. The finest alabaster could never rival her perfect skin. The moonlit gleam of mithril was not more beautiful than the stars in her eyes. Perhaps she’d be so pleased that she would cup his face in her long hands and bestow a kiss upon his brow…
As much as he was enjoying his fantasy, Pippin did not neglect the blazing of trees along his path. Merry and his father would tan his hide if he ever forgot such a simple deterrent to getting lost. Cutting another small mark in the wood and stripping back the bark to reveal the white core, Pippin wondered if that could be what had happened to Elrohir. Could the Elf simply have become lost, and was even now making his way back to them? Somehow, Pippin did not think so.
His mood somber now, Pippin stopped and carefully cut another blaze into the tree he had just passed. One lost one was enough.
But it was impossible for the young hobbit to remain solemn for long. Singing to himself under his breath, Pippin chose another leafy bower for a snare and carefully raked aside the soft earth. “If I were a coney,” he thought, “this is right where I’d like to take a rest.”
Switching to a soft hum to avoid alerting any wildlife in the area, Pippin squatted down and began to fashion the snare. Almost an hour and several snares later, Pippin straightened up and stretched out his short arms, shaking his hands to relieve his fingers of the tension of pulling the wires taut. He froze into sudden, desperate stillness at the sound of voices.
Rough voices, coming closer. Men, he thought. Quick as thought, the tweenager slipped into the underbrush, his small form barely stirring the branches. Pippin curled into a small a ball as he could and pulled his cloak around him, drawing up his hood. The crimson wool blended well with the autumn colors about him. Controlling his breaths, Pippin tried to pretend he wasn’t there.
“…this way,” he heard. “See how low the blazes are on them trees? Must be ‘obbits.”
“Then they’ve probably not got anything worth takin’,” another coarse voice replied.
“They’ve fresh food at least, ta judge by the wood smoke we saw earlier. I’m right sick o’ dried rations and moldy bread. You’d think this wizard Saruman could afford ta feed his troops better.”
Pippin pressed himself further into the thick foliage as three pairs of dirty boots came into view. From his vantage point, they looked enormous. The boots stopped bare feet from him. “Pass on,” he begged them silently. “Pass on and leave us in peace.”
“C’mon, then,” said the first harsh voice. “Let’s find the halflings an’ take what they’ve got afore the others beat us to them.”
Pippin watched as the Men tramped on, following the trail of blazes he had cut so meticulously into the wood.
* * * * *
Leagues north and east from where Aragorn and his twin stared in horror at the hoof prints of a Nazgûl mount imprinted into the sandy shore of the riverbank, Elrohir caught another branch of the great oak in which he crouched and pulled himself up higher into the tree. The great hosts of Men spread beneath him were as yet unaware of his presence and the Elf absolutely wished to keep it that way. Stifling a sigh, Elrohir tried to ease his cramping legs by stretching each one out without disturbing the thick canopy of leaves.
‘There must be thousands,’ the Elf thought to himself, his dark eyes roving over the assembled companies. He had picked up their trail leagues away, their third day out on this ill-fated scouting trip, the day after they had almost lost Meriadoc to the frigid waters. He wished he knew how the little one was doing.
Elrohir dwelt regretfully for a moment on the pain his absence must be causing his twin and foster brother. There had been no time to warn them, no time to backtrack and advise them of the advancing horde of mercenaries. He had first seen them in the distance, a dark blot on the horizon, and had spurred his stallion to pull ahead of them and gather the information for which they had been sent, then circle to the side and report back to Aragorn. But their numbers had defeated him. Instead of observing and then extricating himself, he had been trapped by another company of Men marching parallel to the first. He had been pushed before them, farther and farther from their camp, unable to gather the intelligence that his lord father needed.
It was then that he had spied the great oak. There had been no time to think of a better plan. Elrohir had swung off his horse and slapped the animal on the rump to send it off, knowing it would not allow itself to be caught and would return at his whistle. With the quickness of his Golden Wood kin, he had caught a branch and lifted himself into the tree where he was hidden quickly by the leaves. From this high vantage point, he could estimate the number of troops, catalog their equipment and arms, survey their training and preparedness and perhaps discover their allegiance and destination.
Then the fates had turned against him. Treed like a cat with barking dogs below it, the Elf had watched in horror and disgust as the Men chose the great oak as the center of their campsite. The hosts had set up their cook fires and spread out their bedrolls and were taking their ease, unaware of the Elf that fumed and cursed them silently from above their heads.
Now thousands of dirty, ill-kept Men sprawled below him. They looked to be taking advantage of the great tree’s shade to rest and repair their gear and ready themselves for the onward march. Elrohir had estimated their numbers and disdainfully had readied his report, should these louts ever depart and allow him to deliver it. As they had done increasingly as the night passed and the day wore on, the Elf’s thoughts returned to Elladan and Estel and the little ones, and he prayed that they were well.
* * * * *
Aragorn rose and shook the clinging sand from his fingers, glad that his touch had erased the foul track. In a sudden movement, he kicked at the remaining Nazgûl hoof prints, wiping them from the face of the clean earth.
“You must return to the hobbits,” he said to Elladan, who watched white-faced from the back of his tall stallion. “They must not be left alone now, especially with Merry hurt. I will follow the Black Rider’s trail and see if I may discern its intent.”
“What of Elrohir?” Acceptance of the Ranger’s orders could not allay the fear in the Elf’s voice.
“We do not know that Elrohir has fallen afoul of some evil action,” Aragorn replied slowly, reluctantly. “Let us hope that he is merely delayed and will return to us. But this takes precedence. I fear that the Black Rider is tracking hobbits … whether it seeks the Ring-bearer - or any hobbit - we cannot know. But I fear for Merry and Pippin.”
“Shall I bring them? Or should I take them back to Imladris?” asked Elrohir, his dark eyes worried.
“No …. no. Merry should not ride yet. It would not be dangerous for him, but would cause him unnecessary pain. It is better that you stay with them until I return to you. And if Elrohir returns, he will know where the campsite is.”
“But Father must know of this, Estel. A Nazgûl, here… What if it does seek the Ring-bearer? Frodo is unguarded.”
“I do not know what to do, my brother.” Aragorn’s deep eyes reflected the pain in his heart. “I dare not send the hobbits back, Merry hurt or no. You cannot be spared to escort them. What if it came upon them, all alone and no help in sight? I dare not take that risk.”
“And what if it seeks the Ring-bearer? What then?”
The Ranger was silent. At last he said, “We must trust to luck. Go back to them, my brother, and guard them. I will return as soon as I may.”
Elladan nodded slowly. “Let us hope you have made the right choice, my brother.”
* * * * *
In the Last Homely House, the Ring-bearer dozed before a fire that burned brightly in the hearth of his rooms. Frodo had had an active day and had gratefully accepted Sam’s proposal of a bath. Unaccustomed to exercising his stiff left shoulder and arm, they ached abominably and the hot water had eased much of his pain. Sam watched as Frodo indignantly refused Bilbo’s suggestion of a nap. Frodo had called upon Sam to affirm that he had heard Bilbo’s promise not to force naps upon his master, and settled rather huffily into the chair.
The old hobbit had merely raised his eyebrows at his nephew and smiled as Frodo dropped off to sleep in spite of himself. Then the elderly hobbit had pulled up another chair to the fire and taken his own rest. Sam pottered about contentedly (but quietly) as they slept, clearing up the bath and putting things to right.
Thinking about the day’s lessons in archery and knife-fighting, Sam found that he was of two minds about Lord Elrond’s decision not to force the learning of killing upon the hobbits. He agreed with old Mr. Bilbo – hobbits were not made for fighting – but he feared for his master. Mr. Merry and Master Pippin would want to continue the sword-lessons; he was sure of that. And Sam thought they should. But for Mr. Frodo and himself … well, Sam didn’t think that fighting was going to be their path. The stocky hobbit’s gaze strayed to where Frodo rested, arms crossed over his chest and legs crossed at the ankles, breathing peacefully before the fire. Sam didn’t know what their path would be, but somehow, he didn’t think that arrows and knives would help them.
Frodo muttered in his sleep, catching Sam’s attention. Hobbit-quiet, Sam crept over to his master and laid a blanket over the twitching form. But Frodo was not cold. He pulled fretfully at the blanket, then pushed it off. Perspiration gleamed along his face and the dark brows quirked.
Sam watched, puzzled, as Frodo groaned, his eyes darting wildly under the closed lids. Concern rising in his heart, Sam picked the blanket up off the floor and tried to cover him again. Frodo’s eyes snapped open and Sam’s heart twisted at the unfocused terror there. Another nightmare, then, just when he’d thought they were all over…
“Mr. Frodo? You all right, sir?”
Frodo grabbed Sam’s arms with a convulsive cry, waking Bilbo. “Black Riders, Sam! There’s a Black Rider here!”
* 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.