22. Hope's Return
At first Frodo Miner had felt he would never again have the courage to leave Michel Delving. After his terror at Bag End and fleeing for his life with his strange, ill-tempered rescuer, his greatest desire was no more than safety and regular meals, however skimpy. But after a while his youthful exuberance reasserted itself, and it was wearisome to keep inside day after day, with nothing to do but stay out of the way, in rooms crowded with frightened elders and querulous children. Rumors of attack swept through the warren at frequent intervals, only to be proved false when morning came.
"Well, let 'em come, then!" groused one exasperated gaffer. "We got the Guardians, don't we, and Hodfast in his silver shirt? Fight the blackguards off and be done with it!"
Frodo opened his mouth to give a scathing answer, then changed his mind. The old grandfather came from the village of Delving itself; he had been underground since the first warning to take shelter. He had never seen a town put to the torch, never heard the barbarians' dreadful war cry.
And Frodo could sympathize in one thing: he too was bored with inactivity, weary to death of waiting to find out, if they all were going to die. His escape seemed less terrifying, more exciting, in retrospect. Hiding behind the waterfall with Logi, blundering through the night in desperate haste and desperate secrecy to summon aid for Tuckborough - Logi was less alarming in memory than he had been in person. He hadn't harmed Frodo, after all, and without question he had saved him from the barbarians.
Frodo had heard the gossip about the Orc, since he arrived at Delving. Arato had questioned him at length, and once he'd been bidden right into the Commander's bedroom, to repeat his tale. Neither of them had told him anything, listening impassively to what he had to say, but the soldier who escorted him had all but smacked his lips, recounting Logi's crimes. Until then Frodo had not known so much as his rescuer's name; afterward he knew more than he wanted to, and far more than he was willing to believe.
"He looked like you," he'd told the Commander, and Canohando had nodded.
"He is an Orc, like me. He did you no hurt?"
"No. He shared his food with me – it wasn't much, but still-"
"Good." Canohando had sunk back against his pillows, and Queen Mab had hurried to his side with something in a glass.
"Go out now, dear, there's a good lad," she'd said over her shoulder, and that was the last Frodo had seen of the Commander.
That had been soon after harvest-time, or would have if there had been any harvest. There wasn't, with all the land at war. Now winter was nearly over, rations were short, and Frodo felt like a wild bird in a cage. He had not been out of doors since autumn; none of them had. The only place of safety was underground.
One day he was wandering aimlessly in the less-crowded older section of the Delving. He heard muffled giggles and when he went to investigate, he found a half-hidden side tunnel, and four or five small lads inside, huddled together at the far end. The ceiling was so low it brushed their curly heads, and Frodo had to bend over to get in at all. He thought he'd caught a glimpse of light, and he wondered what the children were up to; it sounded like mischief, and he felt it his duty, as almost-grown-up, to keep the younger ones in check.
"Look, it's a little door." One of the lads pressed up against the wall to let him see: a door, indeed, no higher at its top than Frodo's belt. It was not latched, and when he gave it a push it swung outward soundlessly on oiled hinges. It opened into a sort of vestibule that clearly led outside, for the room was full of light, but the door was set at an angle to the outer wall, making it invisible from without.
Frodo motioned the children to silence and crawled through on hands and knees. Once he was past the doorway, he could stand upright and peer around the corner. He was looking through the bare branches of a clump of bushes, and beyond them were some of the trees that had been planted last summer to cover the hill.
"All right, everyone back inside." He crawled back through the miniature door. "Not a good place to play - no, I mean it!" he insisted, as the lads began to voice resistance. "This is part of our defenses; I'm surprised it isn't guarded. Find somewhere else to play - go on now, scat!"
They retreated, muttering complaint, and Frodo watched them out of sight. Then he opened the door again and lay on his stomach in the narrow tunnel, feasting his eyes on daylight and breathing in the clean, cold air. He was sorely tempted to go out. He had heard nothing of any barbarians in the neighborhood; for all he knew, they had gone back to whatever terrible land they came from. (In actual fact, the sentries had seen several war-parties pass along the road in recent weeks, but the Mayor had kept it quiet, not to spread panic through the smial.)
At night it should be all right, Frodo argued with his conscience. Not far, a little stroll among the trees - perhaps I'll see the moon.
And oddly, it was that decided him, the hope of catching a glimpse of the moon after all the months of hiding. In the dead of night he felt his way along the darkened passages back to the little door, and shut it carefully before he stepped outside. He pulled his cloak around him and drew up his hood.
There was no moon. The narrow tree-trunks crowded all around, naked branches fingering a sky that blazed with stars, and he stood open-mouthed with his head flung back, imbibing glory as if it had been wine. After a bit he climbed to the top of the hill - the secret door had been down near the bottom. It was so quiet he could hear twigs rubbing together when a breath of wind stirred the branches. Then an owl hooted right above his head, and made him jump. It was exhilarating, it was unmitigated joy, to be outside alone in the starry darkness, and it was a long time before he began to feel chilly and decided to go back in.
And he could not find the door.
He searched all round the bottom of the hill, without success. He moved a few yards up and went around again, but still he could not find it. Back and forth across the hill he went, in growing frustration, crawling behind every bush that looked at all like the one that had concealed the entrance, but there was only the unblemished hillside and no sign of a door.
At last he began to be afraid. Somewhere, somewhere on this hill must be an entrance; whether the same door he had come out by or some other, he no longer cared. He would be reprimanded for slipping out, punished maybe, locked in a little room and fed on bread and water - he didn't care; he only wanted in, to the warmth and safety that had seemed so tiresome, a few short hours before. He was shivering, from nerves as much as cold. Tired, he sat down and tucked the cloak around his feet; half-frozen, he got up and went back to circling round and round the hill.
The sun came up, and with it hope returned. In daylight surely he would find some way inside; if nothing else, the main gate, however camouflaged, must be apparent to a Hobbit's eyes. He went to where he could see the road and set his course from there; he thought he could remember roughly where the gate had been. But as he eyed the mound appraisingly, to his horror he heard hoofbeats in the distance, and dove panic-stricken under a prickly evergreen.
It was barbarians. Who else would ride so open on the road, bold and unafraid - there was no one who would dare, except barbarians! Frodo cowered against the ground as they went by. It was a long time after they passed before he mustered courage to come out of hiding, and by that time he had come to a decision.
He could not find his way back inside the Delving. He could perhaps run up and down the hill shouting; and somebody might hear him; they must be keeping watch, somewhere. But what if he was doing that when another group of enemies rode by? He would be caught, and there would be no rescue this time.
Far in the distance the hills broke the horizon, and the narrow spire he knew must be the Tower, although he'd never been there. That at least was not hidden, and if he could walk so far he would find shelter. The Guardians still manned it; it was the only fortress left. The Commander was inside the Delving with Queen Mab, but Captain Arato held the Tower, with all the Guardians who yet remained alive.
It would be a long walk, but not impossible. Frodo Baggins walked from here to Mordor, he muttered to himself bracingly.He was hungry, but he was always hungry these days. He wouldn't starve and he wouldn't freeze, not if he kept on moving. All he had to do was stay out of sight, in case more enemies came along the road. He took a moment to belt his cloak secure around his waist; then he set out.
Near forty of the Guardians were at Tower Hills, the last survivors of the battle for the Shire. Canohando would not have them closer to Michel Delving, lest their presence give away the Hobbits' hiding place. Many of the wives and children had found their way there, as well, so the place was packed to bursting. There too, as at the Delving, food was in short supply.
The lookout at the top of the Tower squinted, shading his eyes. Something was moving out there to the west, coming down the hill...
The sun was in his eyes, striking him dazzled; the sky was a war of violent reds and purples. The hill had been denuded of trees at Arato's order, to give them a clear view, but whatever was coming blended all too well with the brown soil and dead grasses of last autumn.
"Get the Captain!" he said sharply over his shoulder. A Hobbit lad standing by the doorway turned and ran down the stairs, and the sentry raised a ram's horn to his lips and sounded the alarm.
But when all was said and done, the gates double-manned and archers ringing the parapet and crouched behind every arrow slit, one lone figure in a brown robe, his face and hands the same color as his garment, walked placidly up to the gate and knocked.
"I am seeking the Orc," he said, when they demanded his business. And Frodo Miner, peering down from the top of the archway, right in the thick of things as he had been from the day he arrived at the Tower, blurted out before anyone else could answer,
The stranger looked up, searching until he found Frodo's face. The Hobbit was lying athwart the stone parapet above the gate, his feet dangling three feet above the floor inside.
"Get down, you imp!" hissed the man nearest him, reaching to pull him out of sight. But the visitor lifted a hand, and the soldier hesitated.
"Is there more than one? How many Orcs do you have in the Shire these days?"
Arato came out on the archway and lifted Frodo down. "I am Captain here, and I will ask the questions. It is a time of war, and we are careful of strangers. You seek the Orc, you say, but who are you?"
The brown man smiled, his teeth very white in his dark face. "How shall I answer that? I am a wanderer and an emissary, a lover of birds and Hobbits and all who desire peace."
"And your name?"
"I am called Hope."
Arato gazed down at him suspiciously, but gradually his face cleared.
"Hope is welcome here," he said at length. "Welcome, and all but despaired of - let him in!" he shouted to the gatekeepers. He clattered down the stone stairway with Frodo leaping behind him, two steps at a time.
Arato would have shut the Hobbit out of their conference, but the visitor caught him up in a great hug as soon as he came within reach, and Frodo was carried along into the Captain's very chamber. While Arato called for wine and lit the candles - for the sun had set, and the room was growing dim - Hope set the lad on his knee.
"It is long since I have seen one of your race, and you are a glad sight, my Hobbit. What is your name?"
But when Frodo told him, the brown man threw back his head and laughed for joy, and the sound of his laughter washed against the walls and seemed to drive the shadows back, into the farthest corners.
"No, is it indeed? Another Frodo! That is a good omen. But tell me, Frodo-lad, which Orc should I be seeking? There was one called Guardian of the Shire."
"That's the Commander. He's at Michel Delving."
"But are there more besides?"
"One more. His name is Logi, but I don't know where he is." Frodo looked down at his bare feet and wiggled his toes.
"Logi is renegade." Arato handed a goblet of wine to the visitor. "I do not think Hope would come looking for him."
The brown man regarded him thoughtfully. "To your good health, my friends, and better days to come." He drank his wine in two long gulps. "I have been a long journey; I was thirsty," he said apologetically. "So Canohando is at Michel Delving? Tomorrow I must go to him, but for now, Captain, do you tell me what has been going on."
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.