31. Endings and Beginnings
“Hold!” ordered Elladan, his dark eyes fastened worriedly on Merry’s pale face. “Brother, he cannot ride without that arm being supported. Bide awhile and let Pippin and I search for a splint.” Elrohir dismounted and set Merry back down, noting with concern how tightly the hobbit pressed his broken arm against his side.
Pippin searched the riverbank, seeking his discarded bread sculpture as he was certain that nothing better could be found for this use. When he found it at last in the fading light, water from the bank had invaded it and the dough form was limp and unusable. It dissolved into soggy pieces in the tweenager’s hands. Pippin regretfully buried it, patting the sandy soil in farewell. Merry consoled the tweenager gently then as soon as his back was turned, stomped it deep into the sand.
Abandoning hope of finding a straight, suitable stick, at last Elladan padded Merry’s arm carefully then bound one of his long knives along the limb. Cradling the weary hobbits against them, the Elves pulled their cloaks forward to wrap around their small passengers and turning their mounts towards home, kneed the tired horses to a canter.
* * * * *
“Silence!” the Elf-lord hissed, and the host of elven horse behind Elrond obeyed as best they could. For all their attempts at quiet, heavy stones and boulders could not be moved and piled without noise. Dusk had deepened into dark while they worked, but the host labored without torches as Elrond refused to allow any light that might betray their presence. Now the moon rode high overhead, its light sufficient for the laying of the trap that would defend Rivendell … and the evil object that sheltered there.
Aragorn’s thoughts turned to one young hobbit and the evil thing he bore in defiance of the Great Enemy. His oath to the Ring-bearer was foremost in his mind as they waited; he could do nothing more to protect Frodo now. The Ranger dropped and crawled aside the prone Elf-lord and levered his head over the cliff-side. Elrond was stretched out on the bare earth, his dark gaze scanning the landscape. The Elf-lord met Aragorn’s glance and shook his head in negation; the Ringwraith was not yet in sight. The two pulled back and joined Glorfindel and those not involved in the stone-work where they stood with the horses, back from the steep incline.
“Elrond,” Aragorn asked, “Can it not feel our presence as we feel its? It does not see as Men or Elves do, but if we feel it as a coldness and a creeping fear, what does it know of us?”
Elrond reached up to stroke his horse’s muzzle, patting the anxious nose thrust into his hands.
“I do not doubt it knows we are here,” the Elf-lord returned softly, “ but I pray it does not know exactly where. The senses that it has cannot see through rock and stone, and the twisting paths of my home confuse it. You said that it took several wrong turns before finding the correct way,” he paused and Aragorn nodded confirmation, “ so it must seek the valley like any other traveler, all its powers of evil aside.”
Elrond closed his eyes and tilted his dark head to the side, his mind seeking for the invader’s path. But even he could not pinpoint it among the deceptive, twisting ways. His host were placing the last touches on the avalanche of boulders they had positioned at the narrowest part of the constricted path, chinking the pile of stones which threatened to rain down whether they willed it or no. Among them moved a squat, solid figure so unlike his own people. Gimli the dwarf had joined them as they mounted up, sitting ahorse most ungracefully, and was now adding his considerable expertise in directing the Elves in the building of the trap.
Elrond smiled to see his people look askance at the dwarf but they acknowledged his superior knowledge of fortification building and obeyed his instructions. To the side of them now rose a great pile of small boulders and loose stones, grouped around a massive granite boulder and held loosely in place by pivot-stones, which could be knocked aside in an instant. The entire assemblage was held by a single wooden peg, driven into the earth before the granite boulder and tied to a rope. The dwarf crouched to the side of the unsteady pile, peering down upon the twisting path, his muscled hand tight on the rope.
* * * * *
Though Bilbo and Samwise both tried to soothe the semi-conscious hobbit, Frodo would not be comforted. The Ring-bearer’s pain and unreasoning terror grew with every step nearer the Nazgûl came. The closed wound where the Morgul-blade had stabbed him had turned cold again, and Frodo’s left arm and side were as bitter as ice, stiff and unyielding to the touch. Sam warmed bricks on the hearth and wrapped them in thick towels, tucking them against his master’s side. Even this did not diffuse the creeping cold, and Frodo cried out again and again in anguish.
Bilbo drew back from his nephew’s bedside, wiping perspiration from the pale, agonized face. “Easy there, lad,” the old hobbit whispered, knowing that Frodo could no longer hear him. “Rest easy, my boy. Sam and I are here, and we won’t leave you.”
Samwise stood by his master’s bed, chafing Frodo’s cold left hand with both of his warm, calloused ones. The sedative Elrond had given him, dangerously strong as it was, could not shield Frodo from the awareness of the terror that approached, seeking him and that which he had been entrusted. Whimpering, Frodo twisted in the sweat-soaked sheets, eyes wide and unseeing, seeking escape … seeking refuge.
The loud knock on the door started Bilbo and Sam both into crying out, Sam biting his tongue in an effort to stifle the second yelp that rose in his throat. The two hobbits stared at each other in terror before Bilbo coughed and forced a laugh. “It’s just the door, Sam. Answer it, would you, lad?”
Sam staggered to his feet, trying to hide the trembling of his limbs. “Guess that wicked thing wouldn’t knock, would it, sir?” His smile was ghastly. “All right, I’m coming!” he called as the knock was repeated, loud and impatient.
Gandalf stood in the doorway, his arms laden with bundles and his staff tucked precariously into an elbow. The wizard swept past Sam and Bilbo, dropping his bundles on the small side table against the wall, and leaned over the Ring-bearer. “How is he?” he said softly, his deep gaze sorrowful and strained.
Bilbo eased himself stiffly out of the chair and stroked his nephew’s dark hair, the soft curls stringy from sweat. “He’s suffering, Gandalf. He’s aware of it, even so deeply drugged. He can feel it coming closer. Can’t you do anything?”
The wizard reached out and gently touched Frodo’s face, receiving a pained gasp in response. “I am, Bilbo. I am doing something. I am preparing to carry the Ring-bearer to safety, should Elrond’s efforts fail.” Bilbo and Sam paled; the thought that Elrond might fail and the Ringwraith win through to Rivendell had not truly occurred to them.
“You think -” Bilbo began, but Gandalf cut him off.
“I fear, Bilbo. I did not go with Elrond because someone must be here with Frodo, ere he fails to stop the creature. I have been to the kitchens and gathered up bread and cheese and travel food. I want you and Sam to pack some of Frodo’s clothing and warm cloaks and blankets – whatever he and you two will need, should it come to an evacuation.”
“Evacuation,” Sam murmured, for a moment not understanding. “You mean, if we have ‘ta run for it?”
“Exactly, Sam,” Gandalf replied. “The Ring – and its Bearer – must not fall into the hands of the Enemy.” The wizard gazed keenly at Bilbo. “Either of its Bearers.” Then those deep eyes snapped to Samwise. “Sam, get those things together. All we will need for several days in the Wild. Bilbo, I suggest you fetch your mail coat and Sting.”
Swallowing, Sam obeyed, his heart racing. Gandalf took Bilbo’s chair as the old hobbit left to gather his own things and his sword, the wizard’s gnarled hands reaching out to stroke Frodo’s ashen face.
* * * * *
Elrond did not need to warn his host to silence when the black form appeared on the narrow path below them. Coldness flowed from it like an icy wind, a darkness and a dankness that chilled the soul and froze the heart. Elrond, with Aragorn beside him, again lay prone on their bellies, their heads raised over the cliffside. The Black Rider slumped in the saddle, a misshaped thing, malformed, only its mailed gauntlets and boots could be seen apart from the ragged robes. For a moment it hesitated at the crest of the path, its featureless head raised and seeking. It seemed to sniff the cooling air, snuffling like some malevolent hound after a scent. For long moments the creature sat still and silent, uncertain, then it kicked its mount into a walk, coming down into the ambush.
Elrond waited until it was almost directly below them, to where a few more steps would carry it under the path of the great boulder. Then silently, he slashed his arm down and Gimli jerked the rope tied to the peg that supported the entire avalanche. The peg shot free. Released from restraint, the smaller stones rolled first, gathering dust and dirt and others as they moved. The greater stones moved next, overtaking the smaller and smashing them into pieces, sharp shards of stone flying like missiles. The black horse reared, screaming. With an agility that none would have credited it, the beast twisted on its haunches and leaped backwards. One of the great stones smashed into its flank and it staggered, its rider thrown to the side in the saddle. The Ringwraith shrieked, the anger and hatred in its unnatural cry striking terror into the hearts of all that suffered it. Some of the Elves clapped their hands over their sensitive ears, their fair faces tightening in pain.
The avalanche gathered momentum, stones striking each other and knocking each other to the side. The black horse recovered, white foam and red blood painting its body. A groan swept through the host as the Nazgûl regained its seat on the sweating beast. Showing a skill that would have been admired had this been other than what it was, the beast’s rider backed the black horse out of range of the falling stones. Still as death, it sat in the saddle as the cascade of stones lessened then stopped, the cowled darkness of its face raised towards the Elves.
The greatest of the stones, the granite boulder, gouged out great hunks of the cliffside as it fell and when it reached the path, it bounced on the narrow way before rolling off and smashing its way down the sheer incline. As Elrond watched, horrified, the whole section of the narrow path gave way, following after the boulder in a shower of loosened earth and stone.
Elrond watched with a sinking heart as the last, smaller stones rolled harmlessly past the still figure and into the newly created crevasse. The black horse lowered its ugly head and snorted, the sound somehow contemptuous and derisive. Its rider was silent but none there doubted the threat in its rigid posture. For a long time the Lord of Imladris and the depthless black cowl faced each other, then the Nazgûl drove its mailed boots into the beast’s sides. Even as it screamed in pain, the black horse obeyed, carrying its rider back along the way it had come. The Nazgûl paused at the top of the crest, turning in the saddle to raise its cowled head to stare once more in the direction of the Elf-lord. Though Elrond could not see any sign of features in the unrelieved blackness of the cowl, he could almost feel the twisted smile on the evil thing’s face, and the promise of retribution in its unseen eyes.
* 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.