8. January 4, 3019 (Day)
Never before had dawn been such a glorious sight. Frodo felt the evil menace that watched their camp draw back as if wary of the light. And that was another thing about this particular dawn, especially when contrasted with recent preceding dawns. Light! There was light! The clouds were beginning to break up, and hints of blue sky appeared slowly and cautiously. The sun was not yet high enough to peak over the tall mountains to the east, but its rays could be seen reflecting off the snow and just the confirmation of its continued existence was a joy to Frodo. The rain did continue, but it seemed to be letting up for the moment. Perhaps they were about to have a change of luck.
"Frodo, would you see to the fire?"
Gandalf’s stern voice from behind shook the hobbit from his reverie. Gandalf, Merry, and Pippin had arrived in camp just minutes ago, bringing with them two soaked blankets, a few rather bruised apples, an extra shirt of Sam’s, and Boromir. The shuddering man, only partially aware of his surroundings, had now joined Aragorn next to the fire and Gandalf was wrapping some torn strips of cloth tightly around the man’s chest.
"How is he?" Frodo asked, throwing a few more logs into the roaring flame.
"If we can successfully warm him up, I suspect he will be fine," Gandalf said. "His ribs are cracked, but if bound, they should not provide him with undue trouble. Samwise, is that soup ready yet?"
"It’s a bit hot," Sam answered, checking a bowl he’d just moved away from the fire so that it could cool. "Maybe another minute."
"Legolas," Aragorn groaned, moving restlessly beneath a mound of heated blankets. He had almost stopped shivering but he was still not fully conscious. "Legolas," the Ranger murmured again.
"He’s still not here," Frodo soothed gently, trying to ignore the rising feeling of anxiety. There had been no sign of either Gimli or Legolas after the dwarf had left camp, and Gimli at least should have returned by now, with or without the elf.
"Left him," Aragorn whispered, his movements increasing. "Have to find him. Cold. So cold."
"We’re looking for him, Strider," Merry broke in, keeling next to the Ranger and trying to keep him still. But as weak and tired as Aragorn was, he was still deceptively strong, and Merry soon called Pippin over to assist him. "Just rest," Merry tried again. "Legolas will be here soon."
"And Gimli, too, we hope," Pippin added under his breath, practically sitting on Aragorn’s chest to keep him from struggling. It disturbed him that the strong, crafty Ranger now lay weak and helpless next to a fire. Ever since Weathertop, he’d looked up to Aragorn as a source of protection and guidance. But now, he was the one doing the protecting—or at least part of it—and the Ranger was the weaker individual. It was a role reversal that Pippin did not like, and he hoped he did not have to endure his new responsibilities for much longer. Aragorn was a much better leader and protector.
"How long ago did Gimli leave?" Merry asked Frodo quietly, taking care that Aragorn did not overhear the whispered words.
"I think a couple of hours," Frodo answered, turning his eyes to the surrounding forest. The continuing absence of both the elf and the dwarf troubled him greatly. Legolas’s keen senses were a luxury they could ill afford to do without, and Gimli’s staunch loyalty and unswerving devotion to the mission were of great comfort to the Ring-bearer. Where were they? "I don’t understand it," Frodo murmured, voicing his thoughts aloud. "If Gimli couldn’t find Legolas, he would have come back before now. And if he did find him, he would have returned immediately."
"What if he found him and Legolas couldn’t be moved?" Sam suggested hesitantly, ignoring his own concerns. "Or what if Legolas was farther away than Strider remembered? There are lots of reasons that they aren’t back yet, Mr. Frodo, and not all of them are bad reasons or have bad endings."
"I hope you’re right, Sam," Frodo murmured.
"Boromir!" Gandalf suddenly ordered sharply, startling all of them. "Boromir, you must stay awake!"
"T-tired," the man hissed through chattering teeth as he tried to push Gandalf away with feeble efforts. "Need rest. Just a b-bit."
"Sam, we need that soup. Boromir must be warmed quickly," the wizard called.
"I think it’ll do now, Mr. Gandalf," Sam said, checking the soup once more. To his mind, it was still on the hot side, but if Boromir needed it now, a slightly burned throat was a small price to pay for living. Picking up the bowl and grabbing a nearby spoon, Sam made his way over to where Gandalf was tying off Boromir’s makeshift bandages. "Time for breakfast, sir," Sam announced with as much mock cheerfulness as he could muster.
"Open your mouth," Gandalf said gently but firmly, moving behind Boromir and supporting his lolling head. "Carefully now or you’ll spill. Come, Boromir, you can stay awake." The wizard frowned as Boromir continued to drift away. "Boromir, what would your father say if he saw you like this? Is this how the son of Denethor meets an enemy?"
It was a cruel tactic and Gandalf knew it, but he could think of nothing else to rouse the man. With a murmur that sounded suspiciously like a curse, Boromir managed to open his eyes and blink blearily at them all. "Mithrandir?"
The wizard sighed in relief. "Yes, Boromir, I am here. But if you wish to remain here with me, you must eat. Look to Sam. He has your soup ready for you."
"That’s right, Mr. Boromir," Sam said, nodding and moving the spoon forward. "It’s nice and hot, and it’ll do wonders for warming you up."
"I c-can do this myself," Boromir said with a hint of stung pride. He reached for the spoon but his hand was shaking so hard that Sam drew back and Boromir made a sound that might have been a strangled sob.
"Boromir, you are freezing," Gandalf said, his voice quiet and understanding. "And if we do not warm you quickly, you will be dying. Let Sam feed you. Put away your pride. Lie here and recover. That is the best thing you can do for yourself."
Torn by indecision born of the conflicting forces of pride and common sense, Boromir, Denethor’s son, heir to the steward of Gondor, captain of the forces in Osgiliath, and renowned warrior, finally relented. With a nod, he gave in and allowed Gandalf to support his shaking frame. And when Sam came forward again with the spoon, Boromir closed his eyes and accepted the proffered nourishment. If it was too hot, he did not say. He endured the spoon-feeding in an uneasy silence as one might endure a long night of guard duty when the enemy was known to be near.
"Gandalf, I think Strider’s going to sleep again."
Looking toward Merry who hovered over the Ranger along with Frodo and Pippin, Gandalf swore silently. "Chafe his arms and legs. Open the blankets on his chest and turn him onto his side so that he faces the fire directly. If this does not work and you still cannot rouse him, tell me."
With quick nods of acknowledgement, the three hobbits went to work, pushing Aragorn over, rubbing his arms and legs vigorously, and speaking urgent words to him in the hopes that he would respond. Gandalf heard a muffled groan from their direction and assumed that Aragorn was beginning to wake. That was good. The Ranger could probably be allowed to sleep now without risking his life, but Gandalf didn’t want to chance it. In a few hours, when Aragorn had completely stopped shivering, they would allow him to doze off, but for the moment, it was best to heed the voice of prudence.
"That’s all of it," Sam said, feeding Boromir the last spoonful of soup. "Do you want more now or do you want to see how this settles?"
"More, Samwise," Gandalf answered before Boromir could even think of refusing the offer. "Take the water from the kettle on the fire and when it has cooled sufficiently, we will begin this again." The wizard, shifted Boromir even closer to the fire, wincing at the heat it emanated, and laid him down on a pile of blankets. "Pippin? Would you watch him? Talk to him so that he will not fall asleep."
"Right," Pippin said. He left Aragorn’s side and made his way toward Boromir, ignoring the man’s baleful glare. "So, how about this weather?"
Gandalf shook his head as he stepped away, picking up his staff and moving toward the forest. A dozen yards or so away from the fire, he stopped and sighed, searching the eaves of the wood with narrowed eyes. Someone stirred behind him, and he looked back to see Frodo joining him.
"Where do you suppose they are?"
"I fear I cannot hazard a guess," Gandalf answered, his voice quiet and thoughtful. "By your account, Gimli left about two hours ago, correct?"
Frodo nodded. "He left when Strider told us about Legolas."
"And when found, Aragorn could barely move himself. He would not have left Legolas unless there was no other choice, but alone and unburdened, he might have been able to go a great distance even though weariness had forced him to leave the elf. Legolas could be anywhere, and in the process of finding him, Gimli might become lost himself. Barring that, I can think of no reason save the devices of the Enemy that might have delayed the dwarf."
Frodo shivered, aware again of malicious eyes observing his movements, but the evil seemed distant enough that it should not prove to be a threat. More immediate was his anxiety for two missing comrades. Though sunlight was beginning to creep down the mountainsides and the rain was beginning to relent, darkness and cold still gripped the land. If Gimli and Legolas did not arrive soon, they might not arrive at all.
* * * *
Gimli eased Legolas down from his shoulders and laid him against the trunk of a broad tree. The elf was moaning slightly and had even begun to shiver, which Gimli took as good signs since he had been doing neither earlier. But at the moment, the dwarf needed more. He hated to admit it and he didn’t understand how it could have happened, but somehow in the darkness and the rain, he had missed the trail of footprints that would lead him back to camp.
He was lost.
"All right, elf," Gimli murmured, shaking the dampness from his beard and kneeling next to Legolas. His back ached from carrying the prince, but he forced himself to ignore it. There would be time for retribution later. "Wake up. This is for your life, not mine, so leave your elvish dream world. Legolas! Legolas, wake up!"
Legolas groaned and shifted his head.
"Legolas!" The dwarf took hold of the elf’s shoulder and began to shake him. "I know you can do this, elf. You’re not that far-gone yet. Show me how an elf defies death! Durin’s beard, you stupid immortal, wake up!"
But this time, Legolas remained completely still. Even his shivers of cold began to die away. Realizing how little time remained to save the prince, Gimli slapped the elf across the face and started chafing his arms. The strange concern that had affected him during the night manifested itself again. There were so few of the Eldar lingering in Middle Earth. To lose another elf would be such a grave tragedy. And to lose him to something like the weather… Gimli shook his head fiercely. What was he doing? What had come over him? Concern for an elf was unheard of. Besides, anxiety was doing nothing for getting them back to the rest of the Fellowship. Sternly disciplining his thoughts, the dwarf turned his attention back to Legolas, trying once more to rouse him.
"Elf, I refuse to be lost in this weather. Wake up! Legolas!" But there still seemed to be no response. Gimli was close to despairing and almost decided to simply trudge onward in the hopes that he would blunder back into camp when, much to the dwarf’s reluctant but eternal relief, Legolas sighed and turned his head slightly. "That’s right, keep coming," Gimli encouraged, feeling the euphoric return of hope. "All the way now. Open your eyes." He slapped the elf again, hoping to elicit some kind of stronger response. "Legolas!"
The shivers were returning as Legolas started to drift back into the world of the living. After another minute, the elf groaned and his eyes fluttered a bit. Gimli slapped him yet again and went back to chafing his arms, trying desperately to increase the circulation. And after a minute or two more, his efforts were rewarded. The vacant look of elven sleep disappeared. With a shudder, gray eyes slowly focused on the dwarf. They were clouded and hazy in stark contrast to their usual brightness, but they were focused and there was awareness lurking within their depths.
The elf frowned slightly, the expression in his face and eyes revealing obvious confusion. Gimli decided that he would have given gold to know what went through Legolas’s mind as the prince found himself shivering violently, weak to the point of collapse, and being revived by the single most unlikely member of the Fellowship. The elf closed his eyes briefly and then opened them again, perhaps believing Gimli to be a dream. When he found that the dwarf was still there, his frown deepened and the wheels in his cold-fogged mind began to turn, seeking some kind of rational explanation.
"Gimli?" he finally ventured, his voice tentative and suspicious.
Gimli was sorely tempted to explain that he was saving Legolas’s life, but there was no time. He could see the prince weakening visibly by the second. "Listen closely, elf," the dwarf said, continuing to rub Legolas’s arms. "You’ll never hear this from me again, so don’t let it go to your head, but your senses are better than mine. I need you to listen closely and tell me if our companions are near."
The elf blinked, obviously confused by the request. "What?"
"Focus! Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, and the hobbits," Gimli said, watching Legolas closely and forcing down feelings of rising frustration. "Where are they? Are they close by?"
The elf’s brow furrowed with bewilderment, but he seemed to concentrate slightly and turned his head to the side as though listening. "I…they are near…" Legolas trailed off and shivered, his concentration broken by the cold that stole the very breath from his weary body. His expressive eyes began to cloud over and the absent look of sleep returned. Realizing what was happening, Gimli cursed and shook the elf hard.
"No, Legolas, concentrate. Stay with me. You said they were near, but I need to know how near and where. Can you tell me? Can you answer that?"
"Tired," the elf whispered, his head lolling forward onto his chest.
"I know you’re tired and I promise you that I’ll let you go back to sleep in a minute, but first you must answer my question: Where is the rest of the Fellowship? Legolas?" Gimli cursed yet again as the elf’s breathing began to slow. "Legolas, you can’t do that yet. You have to answer my question." But this time, Legolas seemed to be drifting even further from the reaches of the living world. His skin took on a sickly gray color while overtones of blue colored his lips. Much to Gimli’s alarm, Legolas’s eyes then slid shut, something that even the most ignorant and prejudiced dwarf would recognize as a serious warning sign, and Gimli was far from ignorant. Renewing his efforts with increased fervor, he shook the elf so hard it was a wonder he did not break any bones. "Legolas! Listen, Master Elf, I will not leave you alone until you answer me! At least show me in what direction our comrades lie."
Barely conscious, Legolas willed his reluctant eyes back open, compelled by both the urgent tone in the dwarf’s voice and his own irritation. He blinked, attempting to clear his vision, and shook his head slightly. The world seemed to be encased in an impossible fog, though how this came to be was something the elf could not clearly remember or understand. All he knew was that he was bitterly cold and the only thing he wanted to do was to sleep. Hoping this would convince the dwarf to leave him alone, Legolas turned his eyes directly west, shivered, and nodded. "That way," he whispered.
"Thank you," Gimli said, seizing the elf around the waist and hauling him back over his shoulders. "Go back to sleep. I have no doubt that Gandalf will wake you later."
Legolas said nothing in response and did not even attempt a feeble protest about being carried, instead slumping limply over the dwarf’s shoulder as though he were still unconscious. Feeling that time was almost up, Gimli hurried forward, crashing through underbrush and slipping in mud. Wet leaves slapped against his face and branches dragged at his corselet of mail. Legolas lay heavy and unmoving across his shoulders, but the dwarf could dimly feel the rise and fall of the elf’s chest. His breathing was shallow, but at least it was still there. That was something. Despite the fact that the elf himself seemed to have given up, his elven stamina was still hanging grimly to life. But Gimli could sense that this grip would soon give, and then there would be no hope for Legolas.
As he continued to run, Gimli wondered what Legolas had meant in saying that the rest of the Fellowship was near. Near was a very relative term, particularly for an elf, and could mean anything from a few feet to several leagues. Gimli was beginning to suspect that Legolas had been speaking in terms of the latter. He decided there should be some sort of law or provision prohibiting members of the Eldar race from using vague terms like near, loud, or ominous. Beings with gifted senses should be confined to concrete statements of measurable facts. That would also cut back on elven poetic tendencies, which wearied dwarven ears and took time away from more practical matters. With a shake of his head and a shift of his cramping shoulders, Gimli resigned himself to the fact that he was still lost in the forest. Shortly afterward, he crashed through a copse of trees and found himself face to belt with Gandalf.
Frozen in surprise, dwarf and wizard stared at one another for a few seconds before recovering, and then both started to speak at once.
"Where have you—"
"I’ve been looking everywhere for—"
They stopped, stared again, and Gandalf eventually took control of the conversation. "Foolish dwarf, where have you been?!"
"Is it my fault that this elf could not make it back to camp on his own and we became lost as a result?" Gimli demanded. "I have been searching this cold, wet, dripping forest for you, in the dark and the rain no less, and now that I’ve found you, all you can do is—"
"Peace," Gandalf interrupted, realizing the diatribe could last for some time. "How is Legolas?"
Gimli grunted and pulled the elf off his shoulders so that Gandalf could examine him. "Cold and tired. He would not stay awake."
Holding his hand over the elf’s mouth, Gandalf frowned. "There is no warmth in his breath. The core of his body is almost devoid of heat." The wizard felt for a pulse and found it to be shallow, rapid, and uneven. "There is little time left," he murmured, his alarm and concern rising exponentially. "Come, Gimli. We must hurry! Speed is of the essence." And saying this, Gandalf scooped the elf into his arms with a surprising display of strength and hastened away. Tired, wet, hungry, and feeling slightly miffed, Gimli was left to follow as best he could.
* * * *
"Any sign of Gandalf?" Frodo asked, directing his question to Merry.
The other hobbit took his eyes from the surrounding forest for a moment and sighed, shaking his head. "Nothing that I can see," he answered, turning back to stare at the trees into which Gandalf had disappeared almost half an hour ago. "Sorry," he said quietly. "I can’t see anything. I can’t hear anything, either. It’s like he’s disappeared."
"He really hasn’t been gone that long," Pippin pointed out, using his words to calm his own fears. "And he knows the area well enough that he wouldn’t get lost. Right, Strider?" Pippin glanced over at the dozing Ranger. "Strider?"
"Let him sleep," Frodo admonished. "Gandalf said that he was probably out of danger. So long as he can still wake for dinner, he’ll be fine. And I don’t know any of us who wouldn’t be willing to wake up for Sam’s stew."
"Why is it that you Halflings will p-permit Aragorn to rest b-but you insist on annoying me?" Boromir wondered from beneath a large mound of blankets, his teeth chattering audibly. "Should I n-not merit the same l-level of courtesy and respect as a Ranger of the wild?"
"But he finished his soup, Master Boromir," Sam answered, stirring up yet another bowl of broth. "You’re not quite done. When you are finished, then we’ll let you sleep."
"And how shall we d-determine when I have f-finished?" Boromir challenged.
"Gandalf is in charge of that," Pippin said. "You’ll have to take it up with him."
Boromir murmured something in his native tongue that did not sound like a compliment by any stretch of the imagination and pulled some blankets over his head. Pippin, who had been tasked with seeing that Boromir remained awake, lifted the edge of one blanket and peered inside.
"You better not fall asleep on me," he warned. "We Tooks can be violent if we have to wake someone."
"Warriors of Gondor c-can be v-violent if woken suddenly from a well-deserved rest, Master T-took, so have a care," Boromir grumbled.
"Boromir, you’re still shivering," Frodo reasoned, tossing another log onto the fire. "You can’t go to sleep now because you might never wake up. We have to make certain you’re warm enough so that your body won’t shut down the moment you close your eyes."
"Soup’s ready," Sam announced. "It’s time for more, Mr. Boromir, if you feel up to it."
"Hold!" a voice shouted from the forest. All four hobbits jumped and Boromir shifted slightly beneath his mound. Even Aragorn stirred a bit, murmuring something about scouting parties and shadows before turning over and going back to sleep. "Hold, Samwise," the voice repeated, and presently Gandalf could be seen racing out from beneath the trees. Gimli jogged behind him and a very still, very pale elf lay motionless in the wizard’s arms.
"You found them!" Pippin cheered.
Ignoring the Took, Gandalf brushed past him and headed straight for the campfire. "Samwise, we must get that soup into Legolas. Frodo, Merry, gather up the hottest blankets you can find." Gandalf knelt next to the fire and laid Legolas on a pile of drying cloaks. "Here, Pippin, strip him of his tunic. Take those blankets and wrap him up tightly. Sit him as close to the fire as possible and start more blankets warming. We’ll rotate them so that as some blankets cool, hot ones will replace them. Hurry!"
The commotion and Gandalf’s urgent, commanding tone managed to burrow through the layers of Aragorn’s dreams and he stirred again, this time even venturing to open his eyes. Furrowing his brow, the Ranger tried to track the camp’s activities despite the clouds that hazed his weary mind and eventually registered the fact that something serious was going on. "Gandalf?" he murmured, too sleepy to put much more into the question other than the wizard’s name.
"Rest, Aragorn," Gandalf commanded, keeping his attention focused on Legolas. He lifted the elf as Pippin wrapped a third layer of hot blankets around the unresponsive prince, and then the wizard propped him into a sitting position and rested him against his side. "Come, Sam," Gandalf ordered, rubbing the elf’s neck and jaw. Under the massage, Legolas’s mouth opened slightly. Sam looked questioningly at Gandalf who nodded. "Feed him the soup, Samwise. He will probably swallow reflexively but if he does not, there are ways of aiding the process."
San hesitated, still uncertain about feeding anyone who was not conscious since the Gaffer had once choked on an artichoke that way, but when the wizard’s bristling eyebrows began to arch, he quickly obeyed and slipped a spoonful of hot soup into the elf’s mouth. When nothing happened, Gandalf began rubbing the elf’s neck just below the jaw and eventually Legolas swallowed.
"I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that, and that’s a fact," Sam said quietly with a touch of awe. "You can do that when he’s not even awake for it?"
"It is a simple enough technique," Gandalf answered. "Another spoonful if you would, Sam. Let us see if he can swallow on his own yet."
The hobbit nodded and quickly gave the elf more soup, watching closely for any discernable change in his condition. When there was not, Gandalf sighed and repeated his earlier actions, eventually forcing the reflexive swallow. There was still no warmth in Legolas’s breath, and coupled with the fact that his eyes were closed, Gandalf knew they were running out of time to warm him.
"How is he?" a voice at Gandalf’s elbow asked.
Gandalf flinched in surprise and turned a startled gaze upon Gimli. The dwarf seemed at least genuinely interested in the elf’s welfare if not truly concerned for it, and that puzzled the wizard. "He is not well, Gimli. If we do not warm and wake him by tonight, I fear things will go ill." Gandalf hesitated, debating about whether or not to proceed, and eventually decided to do so. "You probably saved his life, Gimli. He would not have endured the cold and damp for long if he had been left alone, and it is doubtful he would have survived even until sunrise."
"So long as we must be burdened with his presence, I thought it best to have him living rather than dead," Gimli answered, affecting an uncaring attitude that Gandalf quickly saw through. "He is easier to carry that way."
"Very practical of you," Gandalf said, motioning for Sam to continue with the feeding. "If you wish it, Legolas does not need to know of your involvement in his rescue."
"No, let him learn of it," Gimli said, still trying to sound casual and nonchalant. "He will ask who took part in the saving of his life, in any case, and we have no need for lies in this Fellowship. Such things would drive us apart." And ignoring the not-so-subtle stares that turned his direction at such an announcement, Gimli moved away from the fire, seeking a place of rest that was not a burning oven.
"He swallowed, Mr. Gandalf," Sam suddenly spoke up excitedly. "I saw it. He swallowed on his own."
Gandalf smiled, feeling a bit of hope reenter his heart. "Then continue, Sam. Make certain he swallows every time you feed him, and do not stop until I instruct you to do so. Warm food and drink are his best chance at recovering lost heat."
It was Aragorn again, this time managing to raise himself up on one elbow. He was still shivering slightly, but the color in his face was returning and his eyes were clear and piercing as was the Ranger’s wont. Gandalf sighed in relief. At least there was one patient who was on the mend.
"Rest," the wizard commanded, holding Aragorn’s dark eyes with his own. "You can be of better use to us if you recover."
"You found Legolas," Aragorn observed, pushing himself into a sitting position. "How is he?"
Gandalf grimaced. What exactly did he say to that? He could not lie for the Ranger would see through him faster than the hobbits could devour a meal. But he could not tell the entire truth, for then Aragorn would wish to help and while his help would be useful, it was not truly needed. At least, not yet.
But before Gandalf could say anything, Sam broke in, effectively releasing the proverbial cat from the proverbial bag. "He was too cold to swallow, Strider," the hobbit said, his eyes dark with concern. "But then we started feeding him some soup and now he can swallow on his own. But he won’t open his eyes and he won’t wake up." Sam looked back at the elf who still lay propped against Gandalf. "And I don’t rightly know much about elves, but he seems far to pale to me."
"The soup, Samwise," Gandalf prompted, nodding at the bowl of cooling broth in the hobbit’s hands. Chagrined, Sam quickly went back to his task of feeding Legolas, watching carefully each time to see that the elf swallowed what he was given. Trusting Sam to ensure that Legolas did not choke, Gandalf turned his attention to Aragorn and fixed him with a baleful stare. "I am not a tottering old man who wanders about Middle Earth, taking with me only a staff upon which to lean," the wizard said, his voice chilling slightly for effect. "The elf and Boromir will be cared for, and you will go back to sleep. We will wake you for dinner."
A hint of rebellion stole into Aragorn’s gaze, and he seemed about to protest but something else caught his attention. He stiffened, blinked, and then turned his eyes away from the camp, searching the surrounding forests. At the same time, Gandalf also felt the presence of an evil malice and he, too, turned his eyes outward. Frodo, who was warming blankets by the fire for Legolas, almost dropped the thick cloth in surprise. One hand stole to his breast and he seemed to clutch at something within his shirt.
"Not now, Frodo," the wizard murmured, noting that no one else seemed to be stirred by this foreign presence. He wondered that Frodo should react so to the presence of the Warg, but a quick glance at the young hobbit swiftly revealed the answer. And we have not even passed the mountains, Gandalf sighed. Still, the ability to sense the Enemy may aid him in his quest to destroy the Ring. That is, it may if the Ring does not control him first.
"The rain slows, and life returns to its normal routine," Aragorn spoke, pitching his voice deliberately light and making his words vague enough so that the hobbits, Gimli, and Boromir would not become suspicious.
"If you think to call this normal, then you are as mad as the elf," Gimli declared, deciding that finding a seat free of mud or water was a futile effort. He plopped down on a wet log next to his pack and began looking for his pipe. "I take it that we are not moving tonight."
"We will not move at sunset," Gandalf clarified. "But I think we may be able to move about midnight."
"But Legolas isn’t even awake yet," Pippin said in surprise. "How do you know that—"
"Elves recover quickly," Gandalf said, "and as soon as we are able to move, we must do so. It is dangerous to stay in one place for a great length of time. We have already lingered here far too long." Gandalf fell silent after that and the manner of his bearing forbade further questioning.
So Sam continued to trickle soup down Legolas’s throat, Pippin continued to keep Boromir awake through ceaseless pestering, Boromir continued to threaten the young hobbit’s existence though he was secretly amused by the Took’s antics, Merry become efficient at warming blankets and wrapping them around Legolas, the elf slowly gained back his color though his eyes remained closed, and Gimli smoked his pipe in thoughtful silence with occasional stray glances at the elf as though something puzzled him. Gandalf, Aragorn, and Frodo, on the other hand, were not nearly as light of heart as some of their companions. The Warg had returned, and he drew ever closer, almost braving the light of day as he watched the Fellowship.
He senses were are not all hale, Gandalf realized grimly, his eyes straying to the semi-alert form of Aragorn, the shivering form of Boromir, and the limp form of Legolas. But surely he does not think to attack us. The wizard’s brow furrowed with thought, trying to account for the fact that a creature of darkness was drawing near while the sun yet shone. Perhaps Aragorn was right. Perhaps he grows hungry and thinks to steal from our supplies. Or perhaps to hunt our pony. Gandalf then looked over at Bill who was standing near the fire with his head down and his tail swishing lazily from side to side.
From across the fire, Aragorn caught Gandalf’s eyes and nodded toward the horse. He then jerked his head away from the fire, signaling the presence of the Warg. Gandalf tensed, recalling the Ranger’s plan to lure the Warg into the open by using Bill as bait. Not yet, the wizard mouthed, but he had to admit that the idea was becoming more appealing. The Warg had to be eliminated, and what better way to destroy the creature than by using one of his weaknesses against him? But the plan would have to wait, for such action would call for the involvement of Aragorn, Boromir, Legolas, and Gimli, three of which were somewhat incapacitated.
Deciphering the logic behind Gandalf’s admonition to wait, Aragorn nodded thoughtfully and then turned to watch the world beyond the camp. So much for resting, the wizard sighed. But with the presence of the wolf casting a shadow across the Ranger’s heart, it was doubtful that Aragorn would have been able to sleep even had he desired to do so.
Gandalf sighed again and looked at the thin clouds that covered the sky and the slight that rain that still fell. It would have been a fine day but for the presence of the wolf. And travel during the night would not have been relatively pleasant compared to previous nights, but instead, they would have to wait for some of the Fellowship to recover. I hate waiting, the wizard decided. I have done far too much of it. But he would have to wait yet a little more, and so he settled himself down to endure the remainder of the day. At least the Fellowship was together again. And perhaps, just perhaps, there had been a change of heart in Gimli the dwarf. Travel might even become bearable.
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