Aragorn sighed deeply, drinking in the smell and feel of life around him, and leaned back against the smooth trunk of a tall tree. At his side, Arwen smiled and tipped her head back onto his shoulder, wrapping her flawless hand around his tanned, weathered arm. They had come here in a search for solitude and quiet thought, intending to discuss the distant shadow in the mountains as well as the morning’s disturbing argument, both having heard enough through rumors to piece together what had taken place between Legolas and Thranduil. But now, caught between sunshine and birdsong and seated beneath the restful canopy of green trees, they both relaxed into the eternal embrace of the elven stronghold, content to simply exist and watch as the world revolved around them.
"Not all beauty was lost in the passing of Vilya, melethin," Aragorn whispered, rubbing his cheek against Arwen’s soft hair. "There is still song here, though it may be more distant. But it is not gone from Middle Earth."
"I know, love," Arwen murmured, closing her eyes and allowing Aragorn to pull her closer. "This land has seen great darkness and great evil, and ever has it endured. It shall take more than the passing of the elves for its song to fade, or such is my hope. Yet you cannot deny, Estel, that there is a sadness here. A note of discordant harmony that does not ring true. And while it may be that for elves there is always a touch of sadness, it is greater now. Stronger and more pervasive."
"Alas that all things must fade," Aragorn murmured. "I fear that in defeating a great evil, we have lost much. It is a grievous price that we have paid, and it seems to me that your people are still paying much of the cost."
"Our time is over," Arwen sighed. "We battled the Enemy for many years and with our victory comes the price for our vigilance. We exhausted our strength so that man might have a world free from the treacheries of Sauron. It was something we did gladly and of our own volition, but now that the end has come, we taste the bitter dregs that are our reward."
Aragorn could think of nothing to say in response to that, and instead pulled Arwen even tighter against his solid form, trying to impart comfort through touch rather than through words. In response, Arwen relaxed slightly and some of the sorrow seemed to drain away. The day became brighter, the birds became more cheerful, and the breeze in the treetops whispered quiet words that soothed the soul and lulled the mind. For one fleeting yet eternal moment, it seemed that all was right with the world.
The moment did not last long. The peaceful solace was abruptly shattered by a horn sounding from the north. Frozen for only a moment, both Aragorn and Arwen shot to their feet and began running, listening with fearful dread as even more horns began to sound. Breaking away from their sheltering grove of trees, they made for the main porch where all others would be gathering to receive news and instruction. Elves were now running all around them and Aragorn saw some of his own guards following the rest toward the house.
"Elrohir! What madness is this?" Aragorn demanded, slowing his pace as his foster brother came up behind him.
"In truth, I know not. The only news I have been able to gather is that the scouts along the northern boundaries have been attacked by a large company of Orcs, but how many beset us or what their intentions may be, none here can say." Elrohir’s head suddenly whipped around and he slowed his pace. "Aerhen! Man siniath od e forn?"
An elf appeared at his side, sketched a running bow, and answered quickly. "Yrch, brannon! Law istin gwenyd tîn, dan doegm danar ar e coth dadar norn."
"My liege! What orders?"
Aragorn turned as Imhran, his second-in-command, reached his side and the king noted that most of Gondor’s men were gathering around him. He signaled them onward with a nod and a quick hand gesture, promising information once they stopped. Reaching Rivendell’s main porch, which had served as a meeting place for the White Council and eventually the council that had formed the Fellowship, Aragorn stopped and beckoned his men closer.
"Rivendell is under attack from Orcs along its northern border. None know the number of the attackers, but the elves are in retreat. We shall join our forces with theirs. Ready your weapons and await my commands." Turning away from his men, Aragorn’s eyes met Arwen’s as a silent query passed between them and she nodded quickly.
"I shall find the rest and direct them here," she said in answer to his unspoken question. "Go now, my brother bids you join him."
Aragorn smiled a quick thanks and turned, moving quickly to Elrohir, who was continuing to receive the reports of scouts sent into Rivendell with news. "They say fifty, possibly more," Elrohir murmured as Aragorn joined him. "Certainly not enough to take Rivendell, but it is sufficient to harry the scouts and force us into battle. What think you?"
"Something in this is not right," Aragorn said, going over the situation with the practiced scrutiny of one who has fought the enemy for years. "Orcs prefer to attack in vast numbers. They would not challenge Rivendell without a host many times greater than ours. They are cowards at heart and need the strength in numbers to counter their fear of death."
"Your thoughts are mine," Elrohir said, his voice quiet and contemplative. He was a point of calm amidst the continuing horns and cries of the elves and men around them. "Still, I see no alternative but to engage them. We will let them play their game and then we shall trap them with it."
"What goes forth here?"
Elrohir and Aragorn turned to find Celeborn and Thranduil striding toward them. Celeborn nodded a quick greeting at Aragorn, but Thranduil ignored the king of Gondor completely, something that Aragorn had grown use to over the years. Even when he had entered Mirkwood with the captive Gollum, he had been paid no more attention than what common courtesy required, and neither he nor Thranduil had been sad to part company. It appeared that in this regard, things had not changed, and Aragorn began to understand a little better what had driven Legolas to lash out at his father.
"Orcs attack our northern borders," Elrohir answered with a short bow to Celeborn and a respectful nod at Thranduil. "If you would be willing to aid our cause, it would be appreciated."
"The forces of Mirkwood are at your disposal," Thranduil promised.
"The Galadhrim have always stood with Imladris," Celeborn added proudly.
"I thank you," Elrohir said. "If you would, I ask that you leave half of your elves here under an able commander, for this attack is strange and I like not what it may portend. We shall ride into battle as the head of a spear. Rivendell’s own soldiers shall form its tip with Lothlórien and Gondor on the right and Mirkwood on the left. Summon your armies and let us ride to meet the foe."
A voice rising above the din arrested Elrohir even as he turned to order his own companies, and Aragorn quickly swung around to find Elladan riding hard through the gathering elves in a frantic effort to reach the collection of leaders who stood in the middle. From the expression on the half-elf’s face, he did not bear good news. The sight of gathering elves armed with arrow, sword, and spear seemed to increase his alarm and he swung off his horse so suddenly that Aragorn had to step forward and brace the normally graceful Elladan.
"Estel, quickly!" Elladan said, fixing his piercing gaze on his foster brother and gripping his shoulders as he steadied himself. "How long ago did you send out the honor guard to greet the hobbits?"
A warning bell deep within Aragorn’s consciousness went off and an ominous shadow began to grip at his heart, but he pushed such things aside, intent on discovering what had so upset Elladan ere he turned his mind to other matters. "We sent no honor guard," he answered, watching the half-elf closely. "Legolas asked that he and Gimli be given leave to escort them. They left some time ago."
Aragorn could remember only a few instances in which Elladan had been at a loss for words. He could now add yet another mark to that tally. Elladan stared at him with open horror as though Aragorn was slowly mutating into a small oliphaunt.
"Elladan!" Elrohir broke through his brother’s trance as he stepped to their side, and the name seemed to galvanize the older twin into action.
"We must act swiftly!" Elladan commanded, turning his eyes to Elrohir, Celeborn, and Thranduil. "A company of Orcs has passed south of Rivendell and is seeking to make prisoners of the hobbits. Hurry and order your forces, for we must ride immediately!" So saying, Elladan turned and made as though to mount.
"Whence came this information?" Elrohir demanded, seizing his brother’s arm and holding him back.
"I found a lone Orc far south of our realm," Elladan said, a note of frustration entering his voice as he was made to stop and explain himself. "I forced words from him and he confessed that he was part of a larger party sent to capture the hobbits. But there is no time for further explanations. We must ride and speak as we travel. We can afford no delay!"
"Delay…" Aragorn repeated, his eyes moving to the north. "The attack upon Rivendell is only a delay. A distraction. That is why they attack in such small numbers. The bulk of their force is upon the Road."
"What is this about an attack upon Rivendell?" Elladan demanded, jerking out of his brother’s grasp.
"Our scouts to the north have been driven back," Elrohir explained, thinking quickly. His eyes narrowed as he turned with Aragorn to look to the north. "We must meet them with sufficient force to drive them back, but the hobbits…we cannot leave them to be taken. And if they ride swiftly, Legolas and Gimli will join them only to share in their fate."
"The force that defends Rivendell can stagger its companies to both protect the heart of Imladris as well as meet the Orcs that threaten the border," Celeborn said. "Such a strategy has been used before with success in Lothlórien."
"So be it," Elrohir said. "Celeborn, you will command the forces here. Elladan, Thranduil, and Aragorn shall ride for the hobbits."
"Nay, brother. I shall stay here and you shall ride," Elladan countermanded. "The defense is ordered in this valley, but upon the Road, the strategy will change swiftly and you have a better gift for that than do I."
"Whatever we do, we must do it now," Aragorn warned. "I shall prepare Gondor and the Galadhrim since it seems that Celeborn will not be with us. We shall rendezvous at the Ford. Choose who will lead Rivendell and then join us quickly." Saying this, he left the group and turned to his men, quickly finding Imhran in the gathering masses. Dividing his forces into two groups, he left Imhran in charge of the Rivendell contingent with orders to heed Celeborn’s word while sending the rest of them to the stables in search of horses. Seeing that all was in order, he quickly hurried after them, dark thoughts racing through his mind. It seemed that evil was never vanquished, and that there was no such thing as a complete victory. Despite the destruction of the One Ring, fell things still haunted the world.
Aragorn slammed to a halt and turned, blinking as his sharp eyes found Arwen and a saddled Roheryn. "How did you—"
"I met our men on the way to the stables," she explained, leading the horse forward and handing the reins to the king. "It seemed to me that you were in need of haste. Go now. Find our friends and bring them home."
"You are a wonder, Undómiel," Aragorn whispered, his eyes sparkling with gratitude.
"As are you. Speed, now, my husband," she murmured, drawing him to her for a quick kiss ere she moved away. "And let safety guide you."
"Until my return, melethin," Aragorn said, swinging into the saddle and feeling Roheryn’s restless excitement as the stallion perceived that they were once again on the hunt. Casting one last look at the radiant daughter of Elrond, Aragorn marveled that he had somehow won her heart, and then he turned away as he had done so many times in the past. Spurring Roheryn forward, he could not help but be reminded of the long years as a Ranger when duties forced him away from Rivendell. Arwen had always been the last to see him off and he had always looked last upon her figure before returning to the Wilds that had become a second home. With a shake of his head, Aragorn forced his memories into retreat, turning his mind to the present and running possible riding formations through his head in preparation for what lay before him.
Roheryn needed little guidance as they thundered away from the Last Homely House, for the horse had ridden this trail countless times before and knew the terrain nearly as well as did Aragorn. It was not long before their hard gallop brought them to the Ford and he reined the horse tightly, watching as the men of Gondor began riding toward him from the stables. Not more than a minute or so later, Elrohir, Thranduil, and a large host of elves joined them. And as was his wont in times of crisis, Elrohir lost no time in taking control of the situation.
"By your leave, Estel, I have directed the Galadhrim to ride with Gondor, for neither of your companies is large enough to stand on its own," Elrohir hurriedly informed him. "You shall be upon the right, the elves of Imladris shall take the center, and Thranduil shall lead his elves upon the left. We ride abreast of one another as much as possible, and where circumstances dictate this cannot be, Mirkwood shall drop back so that we might better protect their archers. More plans we cannot make for Elladan knew not the number or the strength of those we ride to fight."
"As you advise, brother," Aragorn said, backing Roheryn up and turning the horse so that he might muster his riders.
"Is all in readiness?" Elrohir called after the forces were quickly arranged.
All was in readiness, and Aragorn felt a quick surge of pride for the discipline of Gondor’s guards that had enabled them to quickly fall into formation with the Galadhrim. Elrohir’s calculating eyes swept the assembled warriors and then he nodded. Crying aloud, the son of Elrond turned his horse into the Ford and raced away at a hard gallop. With yells to their horses, the elves and men followed him, passing quickly through the rushing waters and vanishing swiftly into the forests beyond the borders of Rivendell.
* * * *
Peregrin Took snapped a pair of hobbles to his pony’s legs and gave the beast a friendly slap, sending him to graze in the large clearing that lay adjacent to the Road. A yawn opened the hobbit’s mouth wide and he stretched luxuriously, enjoying the feel of soft grass beneath his feet again. Ponies were fine for traveling, but walking on one’s own two legs was a welcome change after a long ride. Maybe the dwarves were right to prefer travel by foot, though even they would also use a pony for long journeys. Well, one thing is certain, Pippin thought. I shall never be as one of the Rohirrim. They practically live in the saddle!
"Coming, Pippin?" Merry called.
"Half a moment," Pippin called back, seeing that Rosie was already beginning to pass out apples. Quite possibly the most attractive quality of halts during the journey was the prospect of food. And not the meager rations that Strider had limited them to on their journey to Rivendell over five years ago. These were hobbit rations, which meant they might very well serve as a full-course meal for a member of a difference Race. "Are you really so hungry that you could not wait any longer for me?" Pippin demanded when he reached the others.
"Oh, you’ve nothing to complain about, Pippin!" Sam laughed, tossing his friend an apple and handing over a water skin and a plate of salted meat. "We did save some for you, after all."
"Not nearly enough," Pippin said, staring sorrowfully at his dish. "I shall waste away to nothing if this keeps up. I wonder if there isn’t some foul plot among you to see me collapse by the Road."
"What in the Shire could we hope to gain by such a plan?" Rosie asked, keeping a close watch on Elanor as the child skipped and danced among the early-blooming wildflowers.
"I do not know, but I won’t trust any of you," Pippin stated. "I don’t doubt but what our genial Samwise has some conniving idea about snatching the remainder of the rations from those of us who don’t take care and keep our wits about us. Well, I’m on to you, Sam," Pippin continued, taking a huge bite out of his apple. "You won’t catch this hobbit sleeping, and if there’s more food to be had, I’ll have it!"
Sam shook his head and went searching through another saddlebag. "If you’re interested, some of Rosie’s traveling cakes are leftover from yesterday’s dinner," he offered.
"I’m interested," Merry piped up.
"You’re both in the conspiracy!" Pippin accused.
"You’re clearly losing what little sense you ever had," Merry returned, taking the saddlebag from Sam and pulling out a rather crumpled-looking traveling cake. He made a cursory inspection of the bag’s interior and then set it aside. "There are two more in there," he informed them. "So I guess that some of us will have to do without."
"I’ll do without," Rosie volunteered, rising and turning to go after Elanor who was beginning to wander a little too far away for her mother’s comfort. "And so long as you don’t mention those cakes to Elanor, I’m sure that she can do without as well."
Merry frowned and chewed on his own cake thoughtfully. "Well, that doesn’t sound very fair. Isn’t there some rule or other about women and children being fed first?"
"And into which category do you fall?" Pippin asked.
Merry shrugged and gave his friend a cheeky grin. "Pick one."
"I think you were right about that conspiracy, Pippin," Sam said, giving Merry a rather dirty look. "But I’m not in it." He seemed about to go on, but he stopped and looked toward the Road, his face taking on a look of intense concentration.
Sam rose to his feet slowly, took one step toward the Road, and then swung around and called to his wife who had finally managed to corral Elanor. "Rosie, head for the trees!" Startled at first but hearing the urgency in her husband’s voice, Rosie obediently scooped a protesting Elanor into her arms and hurried toward the shelter of the forest.
It was then that Pippin heard the noise that had already alerted Sam. Faint but unmistakable, there came the sound of a horse galloping down the Road toward the hobbits. And though there was nothing to indicate that this rider might mean them harm, Merry’s earlier warnings about a darkness in the woods had set them all on edge. Loosening his blade in its scabbard, Pippin moved closer to Merry and Sam, taking comfort in the relative safety of numbers.
"Who do you suppose it is?" he asked, listening closely as the horse drew near.
"It could be anyone," Merry answered, pulling his sword from its scabbard. "It could be someone from Rivendell sent as an escort or maybe just a traveler making use of the Road. But with this darkness in the forest…I still don’t know how to describe it. But something is near. Something evil and we mustn’t be caught unprepared. It might not be this rider, but then again, it might be. I just can’t tell."
"The horse sounds too heavy to be an elven horse," Sam said, putting his sharp ears to good use. "Its stride is long enough, but the weight is off. It’s hitting the ground too hard."
"Well, we shall know soon if this rider has aught to do with us," Pippin warned, laying a hand to his sword hilt but not drawing it yet. Merry might be feeling anxious but Pippin saw no reason to be the one looking for trouble, and a naked blade was usually interpreted as an invitation.
The hobbits now waited in silence, watching and listening carefully. Merry shifted his weight to the balls of his feet and moved one foot back, looking as though he intended to lunge the moment the rider came into view. Sam appeared to be keeping a level head, though if he kept throwing such obvious glances over his shoulder, he would give his family’s position away. Pippin shook his head. To his mind, they were all overreacting, but past experiences in the Wild had taught them to expect the unexpected. More often than not, the expected was the exception rather than the rule. Still, they were very close to Rivendell and the only creatures they were likely to meet at this point in the journey were—
"Legolas!" Merry cried as a fiery horse from Rohan cantered into view. "Gimli!"
Elves, Pippin finished his thought, securing his sword in his scabbard and hurrying forward to greet their friends. And one dwarf.
Legolas had spied the hobbits even as the hobbits found him, and the elf now sent Arod into the clearing, slowing him to a walk and smiling at the excitement their coming created. "Gently now, or there shall be none of us left to return to Rivendell," Legolas cautioned with a laugh as he dismounted and was nearly mobbed.
"And what of the stout-hearted dwarf who kept our Fellowship grounded despite the whimsies and fancies of this elf?" Gimli demanded, dropping off the horse with an audible thud.
"Gimli, we would never have made it without you," Pippin exclaimed, wrapping the dwarf up in a warm hug which Gimli returned awkwardly.
"Well now, that’s better," he said, pulling away slightly and evaluating the hobbit with critical eyes. "I see you do not want for food in that Shire of yours," he added with a smile.
"Of course we do not!" Sam exclaimed. "And why shouldn’t we feast, seeing as we practically starved ourselves for six months while wandering around with beings who didn’t seem to think that eating was important. It’s beyond me how any of you can grow so tall when you never take the time to properly feed yourselves."
A questioning call from the forest caught their attention and Sam quickly blushed and turned to the trees. "It’s alright, Rosie. Bring Elanor and hurry. There’s friends here that I want you to meet."
"Now that’s what you need, Legolas," Gimli said, nodding toward Sam’s wife who now walked forward with a young girl in tow.
"A hobbit?" the elf mused with a perfect deadpan expression. "What in Arda’s name would I do with one?"
"No, you beardless wonder! You need a wife!"
"Ah, a wife." Legolas smiled and shook his head. "Gimli, I have all the ages of Middle Earth to concern myself with that. You, however, do not, and I fear that I must aid you in the search for a companion ere I look to my own needs."
Sam cleared his throat and shot a reproving glare at both elf and dwarf, silently pleading with them to at least tone down their banter for the moment so as not to frighten Rosie and Elanor. He stepped forward to his wife and child who had just now joined them and turned to present them to his friends, looking for all the world like a king announcing the entrance of his queen and his heir. "Legolas, Gimli, I’d like you to meet my wife, Rose Cotton Gamgee, and my oldest child, Elanor. Rosie and Elanor, this is Gimli, son of Glóin, from the Lonely Mountain and Legolas, son of King Thranduil, from the forest of Mirkwood." Sam stopped and frowned. "Except that it’s now Greenwood, isn’t it?"
"Call it what you will, Sam," Legolas said with an easy laugh. "In some places, the name Mirkwood is probably still more fitting than the name Greenwood the Great." The elf then turned to Rosie and Elanor and bowed deeply and elegantly, calling into play his long and many years as a prince in Thranduil’s court. "It is my honor to meet the family of one so renowned and honored as the valiant Samwise, son of Hamfast."
Rosie shuffled her feet and looked rather embarrassed to be having a prince bow before her. By contrast, Elanor laughed and clapped her hands while Gimli snorted and would have pushed the elf over had Sam not sent yet another pleading look in his direction. Not to be outdone, the dwarf bowed in turn. "Gimli, son of Glóin, at the service of you and your family."
Pippin noted that Rosie was favoring both Legolas and Gimli with a look that seemed to straddle the border between curiosity and distrust, which was quite understandable. Being a very sheltered hobbit, this was the first time she’d ever met an elf, and she’d never had much contact with dwarves. Elanor, on the other hand, seemed to have none of her mother’s compunctions about these strangers and wandered forward with her eyes fixed on Gimli’s beard. Gimli stood completely still with an expression of patient amusement, and Elanor slowly reached out and tugged gently on the beard. Her brow furrowing, the four-year-old looked back at her father with question-filled eyes. "Bush?"
Legolas nearly fell over laughing. Pippin tried to smother his own mirth but eventually decided there was no point in doing so because Merry was already helplessly clutching his sides and seemed only moments away from breaking something with the force of his laughter. A smile tweaked the corners of Rosie’s mouth and Sam looked as though he had swallowed something extremely sour for as much effort as he put into keeping his face from breaking into a grin.
For his part, Gimli sent a dark glare at Legolas—who was now leaning against a confused Arod for support—and then turned back to Elanor. "Not quite," he said, kneeling so that the young hobbit could better see him. "This is a symbol of great power and strength. Those who are able to grow such wondrous things are sometimes mistaken for messengers of the Valar."
"Gimli!" Legolas reprimanded in between gasps for air. "Would you teach this child blaspheme?"
"Nay, dear friend, I would teach her the truth," Gimli answered flippantly, picking Elanor up and standing. The young hobbit wrapped her hands in his thick beard and giggled, tugging slightly on it. "You see your father?" the dwarf asked, nodding toward Sam who stood shaking his head in amusement. "He is a great hobbit, young one, but he must become greater still if he wishes to grow one of these. And as for the elf over there, well, I do not think he will ever be able to manage something of this magnitude."
"And may I be struck dead if ever I do," Legolas laughed.
"Can I grow one?" Elanor asked, her innocent eyes searching the dwarf’s dark ones.
"Only if you commit yourself now to follow a course of courage, strength, and honor," Gimli answered, his voice so solemn and his face so serious that it brought further peals of laughter from the onlookers. "If you do so, you, too, will be able to grow a beard as fine as mine."
"I have reconsidered, Gimli," Legolas said, trying desperately to control his convulsive laughter. "I feel you should now forsake women entirely, for if you were to be given offspring, you might very well bring about the downfall of Middle Earth."
"Well, let’s be off," Sam interrupted before Gimli could respond to that. "I’m guessing that you’re here to guide us to Rivendell, right?"
"Yes, you have guessed rightly, Master Samwise," Legolas answered, shaking his head as he watched Gimli continue to speak quietly with Elanor. "I now wonder if bringing the dwarf was a good idea, but as such, we are your escort."
"We wouldn’t want anyone else for an escort," Pippin told the elf sincerely. It had been almost five years since he’d last seen either Legolas or Gimli, and he’d forgotten how much he’d enjoyed their company.
"You accompanied my husband on his journey?" Rosie asked curiously, getting over her initial suspicion as she watched Elanor giggle at something Gimli was whispering.
"For the first stage of his travels, yes," Legolas answered. "We were parted, though, and I fear that his was the harder road. You are married to a hobbit of great renown, Rose Gamgee, for through his actions a great evil was finally banished from Middle Earth."
"I don’t know about that," Sam said with a look of extreme embarrassment. "And shouldn’t we be starting toward Rivendell if we want to arrive with time to get settled?"
"Yes, let’s get going," Merry added. "I can’t wait to see Strider and Arwen again. It’s a shame that Eowyn and Faramir couldn’t join us, but I suppose you can’t bring everyone out of Gondor. And with Isengard and Orthanc and the problems with Orcs they’ve been having, I guess you really can’t spare Eomer, either."
"They all wanted to come," Gimli said, finally tearing his attention away from Elanor who still had her small hands entwined in his beard. "And they send their greetings to you. But even I was hard-pressed to leave the Glittering Caves with all that goes forth there, and Legolas was almost prevented from coming as well. None of his kinsmen journeyed with him."
"There is much to be done in Ithilien ere we can truly call it home," Legolas said with a small shrug. "But I decided that I could be spared from the work for a few weeks."
"I can’t imagine a celebration without either one of you," Pippin said. "But Merry’s right. We should get going."
"Sam, I wonder if this little hobbit might like to ride with me for a bit," Gimli said, watching as Elanor began separating his beard as though preparing to plait it. "It might do her some good to be close to a dwarf, though I worry about the elven influence that comes with it."
"It’s fine with me so long as Rosie agrees," Sam answered, moving to retrieve their ponies.
"She can be a handful," Rosie cautioned, appearing to be somewhat leery of allowing Elanor to be cared for by these strange beings. "I wouldn’t want you to feel obligated."
"She will be safe upon Arod," Legolas assured her with a knowing look and an understanding smile. "And though his appearance may frighten you, rest assured that Gimli is quite harmless." The elf smiled when the dwarf grumbled slightly at this, but his smile suddenly faltered and he seemed to tense. Pippin felt a chill run up his spine, for he recognized that position. Legolas sensed something. Something unfriendly.
"Legolas?" Merry asked, also recognizing the look.
"We must go," the elf murmured, still watching the forest carefully. With a shake of his head, he called to Arod who had wandered away in search of grass. The horse came immediately, hearing urgency in the elf’s tone. "Gimli, hand me Elanor and then I will hand her up to you," Legolas instructed. "The rest of you, mount quickly. Let us not tarry here."
Having learned from experience that questions would only delay them, Pippin reigned in his curiosity and hurried to do as the elf bid. Merry and Sam joined him quickly and Rosie had no choice but to hurry after them, though she wondered about the cause of the sudden fuss. Before long, they were all back in the saddle and moving down the Road at a swift trot. Legolas kept Arod behind them, scanning the forest to either side with the wary scrutiny of an elf who has reason to distrust his surroundings. Pippin could hear Gimli hushing Elanor and speaking gentle words, and had he not been so fearful, he might have smiled at the dwarf’s interest in the child and offered some jest. But now was hardly the time for it, so he kept such thoughts to himself and vowed to catch Gimli with them at a later time. He could even ask Legolas for tips on how to structure his insults.
Unfortunately for Pippin, his train of thought was rudely interrupted when his pony abruptly reared beneath him, sending him tumbling to the ground. Sam’s pony also threw him from its back. Scrambling to his feet, it didn’t take him long to discover the reason for his pony’s fright. Ahead of them, streaming from the woods like a dark flood of evil, came line after line of Orcs.
"Back! Turn and flee!"
Pippin wasn’t sure who gave the order. He suspected Legolas or perhaps Merry, but with the jeers and yells of the Orcs now ringing in his ears, he couldn’t be certain. Seizing his pony’s halter, Pippin swung back on, trying vainly to keep himself from trembling. Memories of his time as a captive of the Orcs swarmed through his mind, and it was all he could do to stay focused on the present. He was relieved to see that Merry and Rosie had both retained control of their ponies and were turning them even as Sam remounted.
"Pippin! Take Elanor!"
The hobbit glanced up just in time to see Arod bearing down on him, and then Elanor was dropped into his lap. Bewildered, Pippin wrapped his arms around the squirming four-year old and then looked back at Legolas and Gimli, his eyes filled with questions.
"Ride!" Legolas yelled as Gimli dropped off the horse and swung his axe about, preparing to meet the onslaught. The elf pulled an arrow from his quiver and urged Arod forward even as he began to shoot.
Pippin didn’t have to be told twice. Much as he longed to aid his friends, he knew they would only hold the Orcs at bay long enough to give the hobbits a chance to escape. After that, Legolas and Gimli would seek their own safety, and they were both quite adept at taking care of themselves. Spurring his pony forward, he quickly caught up with Merry, Sam, and Rosie. "They’re going to hold them for us!" he shouted to Merry who looked as though he wished to ride back. "Hurry, we have to use their distraction now!"
But even as he said these words, Sam suddenly cried out and reigned his pony in hard. Pippin, Rosie, and Merry were hard-pressed to avoid him and their ponies skidded and reared as they attempted to evade a collision. When the dust settled, the icy hand of fear settled permanently over Pippin’s heart. A party of Orcs was marching in from the west, cutting off the road to safety and making straight for the hobbits.
They were surrounded.
Aerhen! Man siniath od e forn?—Aerhen! What news from the north?
Yrch, brannon! Law istin gwenyd tîn, dan doegm danar ar e coth dadar norn—Orcs, lord. I do not know their numbers, but our soldiers are retreating and the enemy presses us hard.
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.