8. The Return
Pippin sighed and wondered why he was being called. Surely it was too early to begin the day. And even if it wasn’t, his head felt as though he’d spent far too long a night at the Green Dragon. He would need to sleep this one off, and he would not be able to do so if he rose. Ignoring the voice that called to him, he grunted and tried to roll over.
"Master Took, we are departing and you will be more comfortable if you are able to sit a mount rather than ride while strapped to a saddle horn from Gondor."
That last sentence was a bit too complex for Pippin’s muddled brain to comprehend, but he understood the general meaning. Someone was leaving and he was expected to come along. He also received the impression that the time of departure was a thing of some urgency. He didn’t know why he was supposed to come along, but if this speaker insisted, then the speaker would have to wait a minute or two more. Pippin had no intention of exacerbating his headache by popping awake and marching out the door.
"Here, let me. I have had to do this before. Pippin? Come, Pippin, you must rise. We have spent far too much time here."
Aragorn? This was an interesting development. What was Aragorn doing here? Shouldn’t he be ruling Gondor or fighting Orcs or riding horses? No, that was Eomer. Eomer was the one riding horses. But Aragorn rides horses, too, he reminded himself. The hobbit sighed. He didn’t feel that the situation was making much sense and it was beginning to frustrate him. And was that a note of tension he heard in Aragorn’s voice?
"Pippin, you shall receive no dinner if we do not leave now."
Pippin had always suspected Aragorn of having a hidden penchant for cruelty. His suspicions were now validated, and he groaned, struggling to open his eyes despite the pounding of his head. Light flashed before him as figures hovering above shifted positions, and the hobbit winced as the light made his headache worse. But he had begun this process and he would see it through.
"Come, knight of Gondor. I bid thee rise, for your king is waiting."
Trust Aragorn to bring politics into this, Pippin thought disparagingly, feeling that the former Ranger had always been a little too formal. Why couldn’t everyone be like the hobbits? Life was meant for merriment and food, not dour conversations and meager rations. But these thoughts were not helping him, and so Pippin pushed them to the side, finally managing to open his eyes and blinking in surprise at what he saw.
"Where am I?"
"You are on the Road and were headed for Rivendell." Aragorn’s concerned face hovered above his, and the king’s gentle hand brushed across his head, looking for injuries. "Do you remember what happened?"
"Merry!" Pippin shot to his feet far too quickly for his own good, and were it not for steadying hands behind him, he would have fallen. But his weaving form was braced and the world slowly righted itself before his bleary eyes. With a gentle shake of his head, he tried to stand on his own and eventually managed it, turning around to thank whoever had steadied him. He was met by an elf with light eyes and dark hair, and a flash of familiarity hit him, though he could not say where he had seen this elf before. "Thank you," he murmured, still studying the elf until he realized that his staring might be interpreted as rudeness.
"You are most welcome, Master Took," the elf answered with a quiet laugh. "But take care the next time you change positions so quickly!"
"Lindir? Can he be moved?"
The voice had come from behind the dark-haired elf, and he hesitated, looking at Aragorn questioningly. Aragorn’s face became as a stone and he nodded ever so slightly. Taking this as an answer in the affirmative, Lindir looked back over his shoulder at another elf that reminded Pippin very much of Legolas with the exception that this elf was taller and seemed…weary. And angry, too, the hobbit realized. But…it’s a sad sort of anger. He’s worried about something.
"He can be moved if you so desire it, King Thranduil," Lindir answered, keeping a comforting hand on Pippin’s back. "But as to where he shall be moving, I know not. What say you, Lord Elrohir? Where go our companies and what of the travelers?"
"You may want to involve these travelers in your discussion," a gruff voice broke in. Gimli wandered near Pippin and gave him a quick smile as a way of congratulating him on his return to consciousness before turning his attention back to the two elves. "I have no desire to return to Rivendell unless I may do it in the company of he who rode with me. That being the case, I intend to stay here and begin searching regardless of what the vaunted elves decide."
Pippin sensed Aragorn stiffening at this comment and the hobbit wondered what had happened to make Gimli sound so upset with the elves. If he didn’t know better, Pippin would have said that the dwarf sounded exactly like he did during the first stages of the Fellowship before he and Legolas became friends. The other elf—Lindir, Pippin reminded himself, now recalling that he’d seen him several times in the Hall of Fire before leaving with the Fellowship—seemed not to care what the dwarf thought. But the elf who’d been named as King Thranduil was now glaring darkly at Gimli with enough loathing to turn Pippin’s stomach.
"I had hoped that the negyth had finished causing grief to me and my kindred. Were you not satisfied with the death of my wife, or must you now take my youngest son as well?"
Gimli’s grip on his axe tightened and Pippin fully expected him to lunge at Thranduil but a third elf—Elrohir, the hobbit recognized—stepped between the two before aught could happen. "I have chosen some of my own elves to linger here and do what can be done in the way of tracking these Orcs. As for the rest of us, I suggest we return to Rivendell and learn how our brethren fare in their own battle with the Orcs. I know some of us long to stay here," he added with a pointed look at Aragorn and Gimli, "but I see no profit in such a move. I counsel rest while it can be obtained, and the hunt may be resumed on the morrow."
"I journeyed the length of Rohan on foot in pursuit of two comrades lost to Orcs," Gimli said quietly, his voice cold and stubborn. "If need be, I shall do so again in Eriador though none run with me."
"But in Rohan you lacked forces to back you, Master Dwarf, and there lay a clear trail before your eyes," Elrohir argued. "Here that is not the case. The Orcs have scattered north, south, east, and west. We do not know not which group was the main party, nor do we know their ultimate destination. Let others search these things out, for until we learn this information, we cannot act. Once details are found, we may pursue our enemy, and then will your axe be most welcome."
"He is right, Gimli," Aragorn sighed reluctantly. It seemed to Pippin that the king found the words distasteful but true. "We can do no good by searching now. The elves are as capable as the Rangers in this, and their senses shall not fail us. Let us save our strength for the real pursuit. Beyond that, we must see the remaining hobbits safely to Rivendell."
Pippin watched Gimli carefully for his response, but the dwarf only closed his eyes and grunted slightly. The hobbit had no idea what the translation for that might be, but Aragorn appeared satisfied. Sensing that this particular conversation was at an end, Pippin decided that it was time for answers of his own and he wasted no time in letting fly a stream of questions. "What happened, Aragorn? Where’s Merry? When did you get here? Did you find Sam and Rosie on the Road? Was Elanor all right? What about Legolas? What happened to him? Did the—"
"Peace," Aragorn interrupted with a brief but sad smile. "I see that some things will never change, my dear friend. You are as inquisitive as I remember. Patience and we shall answer all things on the ride, but we must now prepare to leave. If you will permit it, you shall ride behind Elrohir and Gimli shall ride behind me. We must journey with haste, for when we left Rivendell, we left it besieged."
"Rivendell is under attack?" Pippin gasped, his mind remembering the fair trees and archways of Imladris. "But who would attack it? We defeated Mordor!"
"We defeated Mordor, yes, but evil still lives," Gimli answered quietly. "You should know that well, Pippin, for only an hour ago it struck you down."
"Yes, and now I want to know what happened to everyone else!" Pippin exclaimed, growing frustrated as his confusion mounted. "If it isn’t Mordor, then who is it? Who attacked us and who attacked Rivendell? And where are the others? What happened?"
"Did I not promise answers during the ride?" Aragorn said, smiling in thanks at Elrohir as the half-elf brought Roheryn over to the king. "Calm yourself, Pippin, for your words make little sense and were I to give you answers, you would not be able to comprehend them. I give you my word that we will speak of this and much more on our way back to Rivendell."
Pippin knew a dodge when he saw one, but he also knew there was probably a reason for it. He’d witnessed the confusion that followed the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, and he knew from experience that analyzing what had happened after a battle took time. Consequently, the hobbit firmly quelled his impatience and said no more, following Aragorn silently as the king trailed after Elrohir. Gimli fell into step beside him, and from the dwarf came a feeling of rage and anxiety so palpable that Pippin began to edge away. There could be only one explanation for that, and some of Pippin’s questions began to be answered, though the answers only gave rise to further questions. Something had happened to Legolas. But what?!
"Come, Sir Hobbit," Elrohir called, and Pippin shook himself out of his thoughts. "By your leave, you shall ride behind me. We shall keep King Elessar close to us so that you may exchange words and learn of what has happened."
"I have dispatched Mirkwood scouts to keep your own elves company," King Thranduil said, having followed the group. "I do not slight the abilities of Imladris, but understand that one of the missing is my son."
Pippin darted a quick look at the king of Mirkwood, his mind quickly processing what had been said. One of the missing…that means they’re missing, not dead. So there’s still hope for Legolas. But he isn’t the only one, either. And Merry isn’t around! The other one must be Merry!
"You are, of course, welcome to direct your forces however you wish," Elrohir told Thranduil, and Pippin caught a strange degree of tension in the half-elf’s voice. "And I doubt not that additional eyes will prove useful. But we must now away, and we can discuss further operations from Rivendell once we are assured of our kinsmen’s safety." Elrohir then turned his head and whistled in a way that Pippin had heard Legolas do with Arod just after the War of the Ring. Before long, a sleek white horse came into view, tossing its head and walking straight to Elrohir. "Here is our mount, Peregrin Took," the son of Elrond said, turning to the hobbit with a smile. After stroking the horse’s arching neck, he turned, bent down, and cupped his hands. "If you will allow it, I shall boost you onto Gaearsul’s back."
"I don’t know how else I’d get up there," Pippin said, wishing for his nice, small hobbit pony. But mustering his courage, he put one foot in Elrohir’s hands and found himself practically flying upward. He landed with a hard jolt on a firm back and Gaearsul snorted in what might have been amusement. Then Elrohir was seated before him, having mounted so gracefully and so suddenly that Pippin almost assumed that he’d simply appeared out of thin air.
"I trust we are ready, Master Took?" Elrohir said with a backward glance at the hobbit. Off to his side, Aragorn and Gimli were already mounted on Roheryn and looked to be anxious about moving out. For a brief second, Pippin could picture Legolas instead of Aragorn seated before Gimli on that horse, and instead of Roheryn he saw Arod. Then the vision was gone and Pippin was left with reality.
"I am ready," he said quietly, looking up at Elrohir. "A hobbit is always ready."
"We will find them," Elrohir promised, reading the distress in Pippin’s eyes. "And when we do, let their captors beware." And having said this, Elrohir turned around and called to Gaearsul. The horse whinnied and sprang forward, leading the host of elves and men away from the clearing where Orc corpses still littered the ground and where two of their friends had been lost.
* * * *
Rose Cotton Gamgee gently stroked the golden hair of her daughter and hummed a low, soothing song. It was a song that her own mother had once sung to her when dark storms had pressed near and she had cried in terror. By now, Elanor had calmed down and was slowly drifting into a peaceful sleep. She had little need of the song, but Rosie did not hum it solely for her daughter. Much of it was for herself.
She had never seen beasts so hideous as those Orcs, as Sam called them. The cruelty and malice in their eyes drove pins into her heart. And the way they had looked at Elanor! Not a shred of compassion or guilt had flickered in their countenances. They were monsters. Beasts. Rosie shivered, her sharp mind providing her with every minute detail from her first encounter with Orcs. She had listened eagerly to Sam on those rare occasions when he would share some tidbit from his adventure and she was always ready to listen to Pippin and Merry regale one another with daring tales of heroism, but she now realized that the tales had been censored and she’d been spared the worst parts. And she doubted not but what the Orcs she’d just run from were but a small part of what her husband had endured in following Frodo to Mordor. Rosie had no basis for conceptualizing Mordor, but the legends and rumors she’d heard as a child gave her enough knowledge to know that her Sam was made of very stern stuff.
Glancing at her husband who rode abreast of her, she wondered just how much he had seen and how much he had suffered. Before marrying him, she had never left the Shire nor had she ever had the inclination to do so, but only a few months after Frodo’s departure, she and Sam had journeyed to Bree. After this first trip, they had made an almost a yearly anniversary of it, for despite all his words to the contrary, Sam had a touch of the travel bug and needed to get out of the Shire occasionally. He wasn’t nearly as bad as Pippin or Merry, who rode away from the Shire at least once a month, but that was to be expected from a Took and a Brandybuck. A Gamgee was another matter. Still, Rosie actually enjoyed the excursions, though she could never quite bring herself to trust the towering men that loomed over them every time they visited. Even Mr. Barliman Butterbur—whom Sam seemed to consider something of a strange friend—was frightening to Rosie.
The sound of voices caught her attention and she looked to see that Sam had begun speaking with one of the guards from Gondor. These soldiers…they were unlike any men she’d seen in Bree save it be the Rangers, and she’d only seen two of them from a distance on one of their trips to Bree. These men were solemn, proud of bearing with grim faces, and to even an unschooled eye, it was evident that their weapons were ready for use and that when called into such use, they could be handled with deadly expertise. Rosie found herself shying away from them, but it was more from awe than from fear and distrust. These were men not to be trifled with, and yet they still evinced signs of compassion. After the main host had ridden away down the Road, those remaining had given her and Sam nearly half an hour in which to rest and collect their scattered bearings. One had even offered to take Elanor for her and soothe the child while she soothed herself. She had refused, of course, but it did say something about the character of these guards.
And as for the elves…how did one describe an elf? They seemed completely beyond her ability to comprehend. Young and old, joyous and sad. They were walking contradictions, and Rosie shook her head, attempting to understand these strange beings that rode with them. Her husband seemed comfortable enough around them. Perhaps she should ask him to explain. Or perhaps the elf she met before the Orcs attacked…Legolas…perhaps she could speak with him. He seemed to be more approachable than the elves that surrounded them. That is, perhaps she could speak with him if he came out of this alive. She’d been astonished to watch him fire his bow and she’d been entranced by the deadly dance of the dwarf’s axe, but she was not a fool and she knew that they were hopelessly outnumbered. She had protested when Merry and Pippin turned around to ride back, but she knew from the determined look in their eyes that nothing would stand between them and their friends. And that also said something about the characters of Legolas and Gimli. Merry and Pippin were willing to die for them.
"Yes, dear?" Rosie whispered, hunching over to listen to Elanor.
"What is it, Rosie?" Sam called.
"We’ll eat soon," Rosie promised Elanor before looking up at Sam. "She’s hungry," she answered with a hopeless shrug. "I don’t suppose that you have anything to eat, do you?"
Sam grimaced and shook his head sadly. "With all our hurry to leave, I think the food ended up on Merry’s pony."
"Master Samwise? If the child is hungry, she may have some of this."
Rosie looked over just in time to see an elf toss her husband something wrapped in a green leaf. Sam smiled in thanks and hurriedly unwrapped it, revealing a small golden cake. "What is it?" Rosie asked, caught between curiosity and suspicion.
"Lembas," Sam answered with a smile, breaking off a corner and handing it to his wife for inspection. "This kept me alive for much of my trip with Frodo. Marvelous stuff, but after months of it, I found myself wishing for a change in diet."
Rosie tasted the piece she’d been given and her suspicious expression quickly changed. "This is wonderful, Sam! How could you possibly grow tired of it?"
Sam shrugged and glanced over at a few elves who’d begun to laugh. "When it’s the only thing you eat and you eat it twice a day for months on end, anything can become tiresome."
"Food?" Elanor asked hopefully, her tiny hands reaching out for the cake Sam still held. Her father broke off a larger piece and gave it to the child, smiling when it was quickly devoured.
"You like that?"
Elanor gave him an enthusiastic nod and reached for more, causing Rosie to laugh. "Gently now, or you’ll spoil your appetite."
"Is it possible to spoil a hobbit’s appetite?" one of the elves asked.
Sam laughed quietly and turned his attention to the Galadhrim. "It takes some doing, but yes, it is possible to spoil a hobbit’s appetite."
The elves looked as though they were ready and eager to pursue this conversation, but as one they suddenly stopped and a few looked behind them on the Road. Gondor’s men paused for a moment, surprised by this abrupt halt, and then Sam inhaled sharply. "What is it?" Rosie asked.
"Horses," Sam answered, even as the sound of rapid hooves began to reach Rosie’s ears.
"Do you know who it is?" she asked, wrapping a protective arm around Elanor.
Sam shook his head and glanced toward the elves. "I don’t, but I reckon that they do. Elves have a way of knowing things, and they don’t seem too upset. Maybe it’s Strider and the others."
As if on cue, a group of horses thundered around a bend in the Road far behind them. Searching the ranks, Rosie quickly found Pippin clinging to the back of a dark-haired elf and Gimli the dwarf riding behind the man that Sam had referred to as Strider. The elf named Legolas seemed to be missing, but there were a number of elves riding toward them and it was possible that she just did not recognize him. But there was no explanation for not seeing Merry, and at the moment, the Brandybuck was nowhere in sight.
They waited in tense silence as the riders approached, everyone having recognized that the returning company was smaller in size than the one that had set out and that not all could be accounted for. The faces of those leading the group were grim, and riding behind the tall elf, Pippin looked as though he might have been crying. Beside her, Rosie heard Sam’s breath catch in his throat and she could not bring herself to look at him, fearful of the despair and heartache she might see.
Her husband spurred his pony forward, his movements slow and reluctant. The approaching company stopped and for a long moment, nothing was said. It was Sam who broke the silence, and Rosie almost didn’t recognize his voice. He sounded weary, sick, and hopeless. It was as though he had given up. "What happened, Strider?" he asked thickly. "Where are the others?"
"I am sorry, Sam," the man called Strider answered, his voice quiet and sad. "By the time we reached the Orcs, they had already taken Merry and Legolas. We attacked, but they scattered too quickly. We left some of the elves to scout the area. They will find the main company of Orcs and we will mount a counterstrike."
"Taken?" Sam questioned, his brow furrowing. "They’re not dead?"
"Prisoners," Gimli spat, and Rosie shivered at the sound of despair and fear that pervaded his gruff baritone. "The Orcs were sent not to kill but to capture."
"We will find them, Master Samwise," the elf seated before Pippin promised, his eyes were cool and confident as they looked first at Sam and then at Rosie. "Elladan and I failed to find our mother in time to save her spirit, but we will not make the same mistake twice. By the Ring of my father, I swear that we shall find Merry and Legolas."
"It wasn’t enough, was it?" Sam whispered, rubbing his eyes. "Destroying Sauron wasn’t enough. Evil still lives."
"Evil has existed since the first notes of Ilúvatar’s song, and it will continue to exist until the song is finished," the elf answered. "Its survival is no fault of yours. Do not lessen your deeds, Master Samwise, for the Valar themselves praise your accomplishments."
"Besides, have you ever heard Elrohir promise something he can’t give?" Pippin added, leaning around the elf to flash Sam his most reassuring grin, though to Rosie’s sharp eyes, the smiled looked forced. "Legolas can take care of himself and Merry…" The hobbit’s voice suddenly cracked and he shook his head sharply, quickly regaining his composure. "If I know Merry," he continued, struggling valiantly to maintain control, "those Orcs are in more trouble than they bargained for. They’ll probably give him back to us just to get him off their hands."
Sam smiled and nodded, his own expression coming off just as forced as Pippin’s, but at least they were making an attempt to remain calm. "You’re right, Pippin," Sam said. "Merry’s probably eaten them out of hole and lair already. And Legolas will have talked their ears off about trees and stars, right Gimli?"
The dwarf grunted and looked away, his dark eyes searching the eaves of the forest. Before him, Aragorn sighed, and nudged Roheryn forward. "Come. The hour grows late and we can do no more here. Let us return to Rivendell and assure ourselves of its safety. From there, more plans can be made and we can better see to the rescue of our friends."
"For my part, I would wish to learn more of this trees and stars talk," the elf called Elrohir added, attempting to lighten the situation. "Am I to understand that hobbits and dwarves have no appreciation for the things that grace Arda?"
"How could they?" another elf said sharply. Rosie cringed at his voice and shivered. This elf was very tall, his shoulders were broad, and the golden hair of his head seemed to shine with an inner light. But for all his fairness, his eyes were cold and unforgiving. "They are mortals, Elrohir. What do they know of the greater things in Arda?"
More than one elf began murmuring at this, but Elrohir held up his hand for silence and Rosie shivered again, but this time out of respect rather than fear. "You have Imladris’s welcome and hospitality, King Thranduil. Do not abuse such a gift. I will hear no more prejudices from you. I respect you as an elven lord of great renown as well as my elder and my father’s ally, but do not test the strength of such bonds."
A very tense silence descended and Rosie found herself twisting her pony’s reins in her hands. Not understanding what was happening but sensing that something was wrong, Elanor looked up from her wafer of lembas and studied the gathering of elves and men with the wide, innocent eyes of a hobbit child. Searching one face after another, her somber, serious countenance suddenly brightened and a wide grin swept her face.
The tense silence abruptly dissolved into confusion, and Gimli blinked, realizing that he was being addressed. Aragorn glanced from hobbit to dwarf, the corners of his mouth twitching as he attempted to imagine what brought this about, and then the elves began to laugh. There were even a few grins among the sober guards of Gondor.
"That’s right, young one," Gimli said quietly as Aragorn brought Roheryn alongside Rosie’s pony. "A very full and a very fine bush. Have you begun to grow yours yet?" There was still a touch of worry in the dwarf’s voice, but he did manage to smile at Elanor
"Up," Elanor commanded, lifting her arms out to the dwarf and wriggling against her mother’s protective grip. Gimli looked hesitantly at Aragorn and Rosie, but Rosie was having problems holding the young hobbit and had to give in, as Elanor was clearly intent on reaching Gimli.
"This is a side of you that I have not seen," Aragorn commented with a small smile as he reached down and lifted Elanor up, placing her in Gimli’s lap.
"The young must be taught to honor courage and strength early," the dwarf replied testily, wrapping one arm around the child as she happily entwined her hands in his beard and leaned against his chest. "What better example of courage and strength could you ask for? Time around me shall do her good."
"I doubt not that Legolas had much to say about this," Aragorn said, his smile faltering.
"He will answer for his words," Gimli promised. "Should we not be on our way so that we may see about getting that elf out of the Orcs’ hands and into mine?"
"You speak wisely, Gimli," Elrohir said, moving his horse toward the front of the company. "Let us depart. Rivendell awaits and plans must be made. Forward!"
With his cry, the host set out, keeping the pace slow enough to accommodate the hobbit ponies but still fast enough to strain those ponies to their utmost. The mood of the company had lightened considerably thanks in part to Elanor, but a shadow of fear and dread still hung over them. Evil had touched what was meant to be a time of celebration, and the stain of this incursion would not soon vanish.
* * * *
Standing beneath an old tree near the Ford, Arwen could not help remembering other times when she had stood thus. For years, the daughter of Elrond had looked for the coming of Aragorn beneath this tree in Imladris or beside another like it in Lothlórien. A mortal might say she had spent a cumulative of many years engaged in simply standing beneath a tree, and though her elvish sense of time did not truly measure the passing years, she would be inclined to agree with a mortal assessment of her wait. It had been many long years and many severe hardships before she and Aragorn could claim what was now theirs. And just as they were given the chance to enjoy a reprieve from the onslaught of evil, evil had come again.
Behind her came a gentle snort and then Hasufel nudged her shoulder. Catching his strong, gray face in her hands, she stroked his muzzle and leaned her cheek against his. "Only a little longer, dear one," she whispered. "They shall come soon and then you may return to your manger. You have my word."
The horse nickered softly and moved away, lowering his head and sniffing at the tender shoots that were beginning to sprout from the rich, dark earth. Arwen sighed and trailed her hand along his back, wishing that she might be as carefree. There were times when she cursed the burden of her heritage and the responsibilities of Aragorn’s lineage. It seemed to her that the simple folk received more joy and satisfaction in a day than she would receive in a lifetime. While they went on about their lives, she and Aragorn played politics with Khand, Harad, and Rhûn in order to protect these simple people. She spent sleepless nights pouring over treaties and agreements while Aragorn rode far with companies of armed men in an attempt for foster alliances and cow enemies. And ignorant of all this, the simple people laughed, cried, and celebrated.
I was raised and taught to lead, Arwen reminded herself. The responsibility is mine for the knowledge is mine. And in fulfilling my obligations, I allow the simple people to remain simple. So her father had told her and so Aragorn had explained it, but despite their words, she sometimes wished she did not have the knowledge necessary to deal with foreign kingdoms and internal strife. Then she could be as the simple people. But such a gift was denied her, and for better or worse, she was Arwen Undómiel, the Evening Star of her people and the queen of Gondor. She had waited years before she was allowed to wed Aragorn, and she could certainly wait a few hours for his return to Rivendell.
Arwen leaned against the tree, pressing up against its bark and vaguely sensing that life within with elven senses diminished by mortality. Elladan had tried to dissuade her from standing here, saying they had no way of knowing when Elrohir and Aragorn would return. But after returning to the main porch with Elladan and Celeborn and spending an hour or so with them as they plotted counter-strategy, Arwen had found that her mind was wandering as her thoughts continued to stray to her husband. After a moment of internal debate, she had excused herself and come here, ignoring Elladan’s objections. Elladan always was too protective of me, she thought with a sad smile. She knew well the reason for her brother’s obstinacy. There was the possibility that something had gone wrong on the Road, and if she waited here for the return of Aragorn and for some reason he did not come, she would be the first to learn of it. Elladan would seek to shield her from that, absorbing the news first himself and then attempting to relay it to his sister in a way that would make it less painful.
But Arwen did not wish for the easy path, as Elrohir had learned and accepted over time but Elladan had not. And so she stood here waiting, knowing that she might be the first in Imladris to hear of a dreadful defeat but also knowing that she might be the first to hear of great victory. Either way, she intended to wait by this tree until news came from the west, and if that wait took all night, so be it!
Fortunately for both Arwen and Hasufel, such a wait was not required. At that moment, the thudding sound made by galloping hooves reached their ears. Arwen stepped away from her tree and moved closer to the Bruinen River, struggling to hear to the sound of approaching riders over the sound of rushing waters. There were many running horses, she could tell that now, but of what kind they were she did not know. Still, the chances were heavily against this being a company of strangers and Arwen felt a small surge of impatience as she watched the Road beyond the river, mentally willing that first horse to come into view.
Sensing that this long wait next to the river might be coming to an end, Hasufel moved toward Arwen and perked his ears up, watching with her as the sound of hooves drew closer. After a moment or two, he lifted his head high and whinnied, calling to his comrades and bidding them to make haste, for he was tired and wished to return to his stable. Answering neighs came back to him and as the sun began to sink into the western horizon, a white elven stallion suddenly broke from the trees and galloped toward the Ford, closely followed by elven riders, guards of Gondor, and two hobbit ponies.
Arwen’s eyes immediately went to Aragorn’s face, and she breathed a sigh of relief at the simple knowledge that he was alive and seemed unhurt. But her relief vanished quickly as the company drew closer, for she could see the lines of tension around his mouth and eyes. Pressing her lips together tightly and steeling herself to hear the worst, Arwen turned and swiftly mounted Hasufel, prodding the horse forward to meet the returning warriors.
The riders were now crossing the Ford. The cold river water was high with the beginning of snowmelt from the mountains to the north and the hobbit ponies were occasionally swimming, but the rest of the company had the hobbits surrounded and there was no fear of their being swept down stream. Now that the returning group was so close, Arwen stopped Hasufel atop the eastern bank and made a quick count. It did not take her long to realize that this company was smaller than the one that had set out. Her heart began to sink and then she focused her attention on exactly who was returning.
Her first shock was seeing a riderless horse following the leaders closely. "Arod," she murmured, and then she began searching the returning riders in earnest. She soon found Pippin behind Elrohir and Gimli behind Aragorn. The dwarf had a sleeping hobbit child before him, which confused Arwen. Shaking her head, she pushed the matter aside for the moment and looked to the riders of the hobbit ponies, picking out Sam and a hobbit that she assumed to be Sam’s wife. Rosie, she told herself, remembering letters she and Aragorn had received from Frodo and Gandalf ere they left for the Havens. Arwen then searched the rest of the company, finding King Thranduil and other familiar faces, but there were two very important people she could not find. Legolas and Merry were missing.
"Aragorn?" she called softly as Roheryn stepped out of the river and shook himself slightly. Aragorn looked up at her call and his face softened for a moment.
"Have you been waiting long, melethin?"
"No longer than you have been waiting for me," Arwen replied. It was the answer she had always given when Aragorn returned from the Wilds, just as his was the question he had always asked when he found Arwen waiting for him. For one brief moment, the years died away and they returned to a time when they were young and nothing was impossible. Innocent years that whispered of the simple life Arwen had only recently longed for. Then the moment vanished, the years of hardship and pain fell back upon them, and the realities of the present demanded their attention.
"Hare fare our people, sister?" Elrohir asked, moving Gaearsul up the bank and stopping him next to Hasufel.
"The Orcs were driven back, but their retreat was so sudden as to be suspicious," Arwen answered. "We believe that our early guesses were right—the attack was only a delay. Lord Celeborn has dispatched scouts of Lórien to patrol the forests and determine where the foul creatures’ lair might be, but I judge we shall not hear from them for some time. Beyond that, Lothlórien’s archers now stand ready behind the scouts of Imladris should Orcs attack again, and defenses are more in order so that we may respond quickly."
Elrohir nodded, absorbing the information easily, and then turned back to survey the company he had led. "I suppose you wonder what has befallen us."
"Your numbers are fewer than when you left," Arwen said, backing Hasufel up slightly as Aragorn sent Roheryn up the embankment.
"Fewer, yes, but our own company suffered no casualties," Elrohir answered. "We have sent out scouts and trackers, and they now trail the Orcs we found upon the Road."
"And what of those you rode to meet?" Arwen asked, looking to Aragorn. "How do they fare?"
Aragorn sighed and glanced over his shoulder at Gimli. The dwarf seemed isolated and withdrawn, his eyes locked on the innocent face of Elanor as he gently rocked her sleeping form. With a shake of his head, the king of Gondor grimaced and looked back at Arwen. "We did not arrive in time. Legolas and Merry were taken prisoner."
Arwen’s voice caught in her throat. She stared at Aragorn in horror before a muffled sob behind her caught their mutual attention. Elrohir twisted around and laid a consoling hand on Pippin’s back as the hobbit struggled to control his emotions. "We went through this before," Pippin whispered, blinking his eyes rapidly. "We thought we’d never have to do it again, and this time, I’m not with Merry. He hates Orcs. Merry hates Orcs with a passion for what they did to us and all they put us through. And they were under orders not to harm us! What if that’s not true now? What if—"
"Peace," Aragorn soothed. "We do not know the answers to your questions, nor could we do anything to change the situation even if we did."
Pippin sighed and nodded, still struggling to regain a tenuous control over his volatile emotions. Arwen’s heart went out to him, but she could offer no words of comfort. She remembered when her own mother was captured by the Orcs and she remembered the rage she had felt and how she longed to ride with Elrohir and Elladan as they pursued the goblins into the mountains. Trying to take her mind off the hideous memories, she looked about for a change of subject and found it in the hobbits who were now encouraging their ponies up the embankment toward the rest of the gathering company.
"Welcome back to Rivendell, Samwise Gamgee," she said, forcing her voice to remain steady and calm.
Sam looked up, surprised at being addressed, and his eye widened. "Thank you, Queen Arwen," he stammered, at a loss for what to say to the beautiful half-elf.
Arwen smiled. "To the companion of the Ring-bearer, I am but Arwen. Would you introduce me to this hobbit who rides beside you, Master Samwise?"
Sam blushed and turned to Rosie, who was staring wide-eyed at Arwen. "Rosie, this is Arwen, daughter of Elrond. She’s Aragorn’s wife and queen of Gondor. Arwen, this is Rose Cotton Gamgee, my wife. And over there in Gimli’s arms is Elanor, my daughter."
"A lovely wife and a beautiful daughter," Arwen said, nodding her head at Rosie by way of a greeting. "You have been greatly blessed, Samwise."
"I also have a son," Sam said proudly, drawing himself up slightly. "His name’s Frodo, but we left him home with the Gaffer for this trip." His smile faltered and he blinked, glancing at Gimli and Pippin. "It’s a good thing we did, too. I don’t know as I could take putting him in harm’s way. Rosie and Elanor is enough already."
"Come," Elrohir said, breaking the silence that descended at Sam’s words. "The sun is setting and night is an ill time to speak of such things. We shall rest for now and resume our counsels in the morning. Places have been prepared for all and it is my wish that you take what sleep you can." He said this with a hard look at both Aragorn and Gimli. Aragorn shrugged and gave him a half-hearted smile, but Gimli was still staring at Elanor and refused to meet the half-elf’s eyes. Elrohir sighed and turned Gaearsul, moving the horse forward toward Rivendell. Arwen followed and Aragorn quickly assumed a position beside her.
"Are you truly well?" Arwen asked, scrutinizing her husband.
"In body, yes," Aragorn answered with a heavy sigh. "But I fear my mind is filled with misgivings. This was no ordinary attack. Our own movements were known to the enemy, and he means to do something with the prisoners that have been taken. What the result will be I cannot guess, but we must act quickly or I fear it will be too late."
"I share your fears," Arwen whispered, smoothing a portion of Hasufel’s mane. "But without the reports of the scouts, we are powerless to move. We must know more of our enemy."
"Which is why I shall leave tomorrow morning," Aragorn said. "I know that this celebration was supposed to allow us at least a few moments of peace, but I will not sit idle while others search for dear friends. My apologies, Arwen, but I can do no less."
"And I would expect no less." Arwen smiled and reached over to squeeze her husband’s solid arm. "With your keen eyes and skills, our friends shall be returned to us soon. Have faith. You have not come so far only to falter now."
"Your words bring me hope, Arwen, as do they always."
"It is you who is hope, Estel," Arwen answered. "But let us no longer speak of this. As Elrohir said, it is ill talk for night when things are already shadowed. I would let our silence be our comfort, and I would enjoy your company while it remains beside me."
Aragorn smiled and nodded, his hand reaching out to Arwen. She immediately slid her hand into his and together in a silence that spoke louder than words, they returned to Rivendell. The night was still dark and the world was still shadowed, but it seemed that a ray of hope gleamed brightly that evening, for hope will live so long as there are those who believe in it.
Negyth—Dwarves (Plural form of nogoth, which means "a dwarf" but carries with it the connotation of being stunted.)
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.