10. Words Unspoken
Legolas frowned at the ground as he made his way slowly from the Great Mallorn back toward the pavilion. He had just left Lord Celeborn, and came away more confused than he had begun. Now what? he mused. The way forward is less clear to me now than ever. Suddenly, his forward swinging foot thudded into something--something that grunted. The graceful Prince hardly stumbled, but when he raised his eyes, he saw a whirl of grey robes and flying beard.
"Mithrandir!" Legolas cried, horrified at the sight of the wizard sprawled on the path. "I am so sorry! I was not paying attention to where I was going…"
"Quite clearly," the wizard growled as he began to pick himself up. "But then, neither was I," he muttered. The embarrassed Elf tried to help raise the Istar, but Mithrandir shooed him off. "I can manage, thank you," he grumbled.
As the wizard straightened, Legolas felt the piercing gleam of his eyes focused upon him. The grizzled brows rose, and the Elf felt his face flush. "Well?" the wizard said. "Are you going to tell me, or aren't you?"
"Tell you... Of what do you speak?"
Mithrandir sniffed. "Why, what was diverting your attention so keenly that you knocked me off my feet, of course. Your distress is written clearly on your face."
The Elf's ire rose up unexpectedly. "Well it should be, for I am distressed, Mithrandir. My uneasiness began the day you approached me and suggested that it was no longer my task to accompany the Ring-bearer. And although I thought I had been given a clue to another way, my uneasiness has returned...and now I know not what road to take."
The wizard peered thoughtfully at the Elven Prince. "Where were you, just now?" he said sharply.
Legolas found himself feeling rather defensive. What business it is of his? He has declared me unfit for the perils of Mordor. Why should he care what I do or where I go? "I was with Lord Celeborn, if you must know..."
"To ask him a question." The Elf could see by the wizard's quizzical stare that his answer did not suffice. "To gather information... "
The Elf's blush deepened as he tried to think of an answer that would not reveal too much. After all, it was you who told us not to speak of what we saw... "About one of his neighbors."
Mithrandir placed one finger beside his curling lip. "An old neighbor, perhaps? A very old, very odd neighbor?"
The Elf's eyes widened slightly as he nodded. I don't know why I should be shocked... Father always said that Mithrandir could read his thoughts...
"And Celeborn quite sternly warned you to avoid this...neighbor, is that it?"
"Well, yes," Legolas said.
Mithrandir's hearty burst of laughter caught the Elf by surprise.
"Ah! It is one of the many advantages of being a vagabond... a guest wherever I wander. I am never at home, so I never have time, nor inclination, to grow suspicious of my neighbors." He snorted. "Neighborly suspicion often runs in both directions. If you have a chance--and I sincerely hope that you do--to ask Celeborn's nearest and oldest neighbor what he would advise about becoming ensnared in the Golden Wood, I think you would discover that he feels exactly the same. Once, both Lords of their forest realms wandered freely, and mixed with many peoples, of all races. Now, both grow wary...and with good reason. But their fears have made them forget that they were never enemies...and might once have been friends."
Mithrandir paused, and caught the Elf in his steady gaze. Legolas had the strong feeling that the wizard knew what even the Lady said she could not know: exactly what he had seen in the Mirror. At last the Istar nodded.
"Yes. What better time, than now, when all who still live free must stand to face the Darkness or fall before it? And who better than you, Legolas Greenleaf, Prince of the vastest Woodland of all?" He nodded again, and began to walk away.
"But wait... Mithrandir, wait!"
The wizard paused and looked at him expectantly.
Legolas hesitated. What should he say? Where should he begin? He had seen a glimpse, nothing more... a hint, and a vague one. Who better than me for what? What is it I am to do? "I... I, er..."
"Just go, Legolas," Mithrandir said softly. "Go where your heart says that fortune leads you. Your youth, and your vigor...perhaps even the music of your voice shall be enough to rouse things that have been slumbering for too long. For it was the song of an Elf that woke them the first time, long ago. It is time they woke once more, and remembered that they are very strong."
Mithrandir began to walk onward, leaving the Elf frowning again.
"One last thing," the wizard said, as he turned back for a moment. "There is a saying among Dwarves that you should learn..." His brow arched as Legolas bristled slightly. "I know, I know: what could an Elf possibly have to learn from one of Durin's folk? Well, Prince, they know more about stone than any other race. And what the Dwarves say is this: if you want to topple a wall of stone—or a fortress of stone—drop an acorn nearby…and wait." His eyes twinkled, and without another word, he turned and strode quickly away.
* * *
As Gimli approached the pavilion, he heard a pair of voices raised in what was clearly an argument. He paused, unwilling to walk in on them unannounced.
Poor lads, he thought. When they set out from their home far away, of all the risks they could encounter, he supposed they'd never considered that they might have to face this painful difficulty: separation. The cloth hanging across the doorway was jerked aside, and Pippin came rushing out, his face flushed and his brows knit together.
"Gimli," he said, "Have you any idea where I might find old Boromir?"
"As it happens, I do," the Dwarf grinned. "I saw him just now, and he said he had a mighty thirst. I believe you will find the Captain of Gondor at the Golden Leaf."
"Good," sighed the young hobbit. He raised his voice and glanced sideways toward the pavilion. "I think I'll go and join him. The Leaf might not be as homely as the Green Dragon, but a sip or two of brandy would go down very nicely right about now." He bowed to Gimli and set off in the direction of the Golden Leaf.
The Dwarf watched him hurry away for a moment before he entered the pavilion. Inside, Merry stood before his opened pack, his fists clenched in his thick brown curls and his eyes squeezed shut. At the sound of Gimli's footfall, he dropped his hands and flushed a fiery red. Merry leaned forward and rummaged in his pack, whispering softly to himself. Finally he groaned and straightened. He grabbed the sack by its straps and flung it against the fabric wall, where it tilted and dumped its contents on the ground before sliding downward and joining the small pile of hobbit clothing and other gear. The hobbit crossed his arms, and not bothering to whisper, he let out a rather crude curse.
Gimli grunted. "Anything I can do, lad?"
"I doubt it," Merry sighed. "He refuses to understand. I understand him...but he..." He sighed again as he stomped to his pallet and sat on the edge.
The Dwarf walked to his own small corner of the pavilion and sat. He had come with the intention of going through his things, to rid himself of any item, however small, that he could do without. He had just spent an hour with Aragorn, and though he had stopped short of swearing fealty to the man, he had promised to follow him wherever his path led, until the end came, one way or another. Aragorn's mood had struck him as dangerously restless. He feels the press of his destiny; he knows he can't escape it, and he wants to grasp it...but so much lies before him, so many foes... Gimli felt an urgent need to lighten his load: of excess things that might weigh down his pack, and of unnecessary thoughts weighing on his mind. Just give me room to swing and a row of Orc necks...
He glanced up at his tent-mate. The hobbits had been a puzzle to him from the start. He still felt in awe of Frodo, ever since he had heard the youthful, gentle appearing hobbit speak those startling words at the Council. I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way. How...! After the Wise and the Great had said they could not... That anyone could say aloud such a thing, and with such clear conviction, such apparent strength! And of all people—this slender hobbit, with his hollow, wan face, so recently arisen from near death. The Dwarf still marveled at it. Sam was the only one of the hobbits he could begin to understand, for Sam was loyalty personified, and who better to be loyal to, than to Frodo Baggins?
And then there were The Cousins, as Gimli called them. For a while he'd had trouble telling them apart, slowly realizing it was his own stubborn refusal to pay them any heed that was confusing him. After two months he knew that Merry and Pippin were as alike as two hunks of quartz, and as different as black onyx was to fiery carnelian. That Master Elrond had assigned them as two of the Nine Walkers was merely proof of the strength of will of the wizard. For Gandalf had apparently decided they should come, and no one, not even Lord Elrond, could counter the wishes of Tharkûn.
But what role the wizard had seen for them, Gimli still could not fathom. Mostly, he felt sorry for them. How terrified they must feel! He knew for a fact that the hobbits laid eyes on their very first Orc in Moria—and were promptly rewarded by seeing thousands more. The stakes jumped up quite steeply, as wargs and trolls were followed shortly by Durin's Bane. We were all terrified... perhaps even the wizard... can't imagine what those tender youngsters thought... Their only comfort had been one another, and now the cousins were losing even that.
And that was another mystery. Boromir had offered Merry the chance to join him and come to Minas Tirith; and it made sense. The City of Men would be at war soon enough, of course, but it was a safer option than the uncertain, ever moving one offered by Aragorn. Merry could look forward to being little other than baggage on that journey, and constantly in the way. Yet clearly, Merry was not going to Minas Tirith.
Gimli found himself staring at the brown-headed hobbit, who raised his head and stared right back. Interesting, the Dwarf thought. Meriadoc Brandybuck had the same, keen look in his eye as his other cousin: Frodo Baggins. The hobbit's still flushed, round-cheeked face was set with determination.
"I know where I am supposed to go, you know," Merry said softly. "It's as clear as can be. But Pippin... He says I'm acting as though I have something to prove. He thinks I'm choosing to go off on my own. It isn't a choice. Do you feel as though you have a choice, Gimli?"
He thought of Aragorn, and that reckless look in the man's eye he had seen in the still water. "No. No, I don't." No choice but to follow the man, and guard his back through all those battles to come. A sudden chill went through him, on behalf of the hobbit. "Have you spoken to Aragorn, Merry? Has he agreed to take you with him?"
Merry's bright eyes clouded with doubt. "I haven't dared to. I'm afraid of what he'll say."
"You must, lad."
"I'll talk to him."
Merry and Gimli looked up in surprise. Frodo stood at the entrance, with Sam on his heels, as always. Merry jumped up and walked forward, and with an ease that the Dwarf had to admit he admired, the hobbit embraced his kinsman, burying his face in Frodo's darker curls.
"Oh, Frodo...dear Frodo. Would you, really?"
Frodo smiled and patted his cousin's shoulder. "Of course. If you say you must go with Aragorn, then you must. And he must understand. I'll make certain he does." Frodo frowned, and pulled away to gaze intently into Merry's eyes.
"Do you want me to speak to Pip?"
Merry's brown eyes sparkled suddenly, though the tears did not fall. "No, no. I'll keep at it. I have to." He reached out and slung his hand around Frodo's neck. "Whatever shall we do without you, dear cousin? Sam, you will watch out for him, won't you?"
"I will, Master Brandybuck." Sam nodded solemnly.
Merry smiled. "I know you will, just as I know...as I have to believe that somehow, we'll all find our way back together again..."
Frodo's eyes widened, and the Dwarf saw their glisten. The Ring-bearer's voice was hoarse. "Merry, I..."
Merry placed the tips of his fingers on his cousin's lips. "Don't! Don't say it, Frodo. Don't say anything more." He smiled again, sadly this time. "Remember, what old Gandalf would say at a moment like this? He'd say 'Despair is only for those who know the end, beyond all doubt.' Well, we don't, do we?" His jaw jutted out. "Do we?"
Frodo looked directly into his kinsman's eyes. "No. We don't."
Merry nodded firmly. "Good. Now, let's go find Strider." He grinned. "I'm going to enjoy watching you tell our future King what he must do."
* * *
On their final evening in Lothlorien, the mood of the Fellowship was subdued. No one had seen Gandalf since morning. The others made themselves appear busy by packing their belongings, trying on their new grey cloaks, or stowing the gifts of traveler's waybread and other provisions that the Galadhrim had given them. Sam marveled at how light and compact a coil the new rope, given to him by Haldir himself, made within his pack. Only Aragorn did not participate in the flurry of last day activities. He stood at the doorway to their pavilion, gazing outward in brooding silence. Without a word or a glance behind him, the Ranger strode swiftly away.
Legolas took a step as though to follow.
"Let him be," Gimli said gruffly. "Let them have their words."
The Elf shot him an angry glance; then his green eyes fell, and he nodded.
Aragorn found what he sought, waiting for him in Galadriel's garden. The Ranger paused at the entrance, watching the wizard standing before the empty pedestal. Gandalf's back was turned, and he stared pensively downward as if the Lady's Mirror was still in its place. At once Aragorn recalled his own vision in those waters. Black sails... The Corsairs... It is ever my fate to rescue Gondor from Umbar, it seems.... But despite the foreknowledge granted to him through the Lady's Mirror, the man found his cold anger rising again. He stepped forward slowly.
"So. You have won again." Aragorn's voice had a bitter edge.
Gandalf looked up. "'Won?' I had not realized there was a contest."
"Upon the morrow I shall go west and south toward the Gap of Rohan with Legolas, Gimli and Merry, and bid Boromir, Pippin, Frodo, Sam and you farewell," Aragorn replied. "The Fellowship is divided, as you desired."
"As I desired?" Gandalf said. "Do you think I wanted this to happen? I feared it would be so, yes, but do you truly believe that I desired it so?"
"You gave us little choice. You gave me little choice. It was you that summoned my kin from the North, was it not?"
One of the wizard's wiry brows shot up. "I do not deny it. As soon as we arrived in Caras Galadhon, the message was sent, by means more swift and certain than riders." He paused. "You will need them, Aragorn."
"The truth of my need does not counter my desire to have been consulted before you meddled once again in my fortunes!" Aragorn said hotly. "I am no child..."
"Reticence is an old habit, and hard to break. I preferred to risk your anger than delay. You would have needed much convincing..."
"Yes, as I needed convincing to follow you into Moria, and later, when you insisted on taking all the risk upon yourself when Boromir required our aid—and each time you left me no choice!"
"Might it not be instead that the stirrings of fate have given us no choice? Might it not be that all that remains for each of us is to salvage what little hope we have left?"
"Hope!" Aragorn stepped forward until he stood opposite from Gandalf, next to the pedestal. "Very well, let us speak of hope. Tell me, Gandalf: how do you possibly hope to enter Mordor undetected?"
The wizard glanced up. "We have discussed this before, and you know that I have no certain reply. You agreed with me that one can hardly plan such a thing in advance, but only be vigilant for chances and openings unlooked-for."
Aragorn searched his friend's eyes. "Then will you deny to me, tonight, which may well be the last time we speak privately together in this life, that you have a plan—one that involves Frodo and Sam's safe entry, but not your own?"
The wizard paused. He gazed back at him steadily. "If I had such a plan," he said softly, "Would I be wise to reveal it, even to you?"
The Ranger's anger dissipated as his heart sank. He does not even bother to try to deny it! His face twisted with grief. "Why will you not listen to reason," he cried, "and allow me to accompany you?"
"Reason!" Gandalf said sharply, "You are the one who will not heed reason. You are allowing your heart to overrule your head, Aragorn!"
"And you seem determined to choose every path that leads to your own destruction!"
The wizard spun on one heel and took two swift steps away, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. He halted, and spoke in a low voice. "If Frodo fails, all will be destroyed! But if he succeeds…" He turned back toward Aragorn, and the man saw the fire burning within those ancient eyes. "Great deeds lie before you, Aragorn. Gondor will soon be besieged from all sides, and Rohan's strength will be drawn off by the treachery of Saruman. Go there, and farther south, where none save you can succeed. Only Frodo can be the Ring-bearer, but only you can be King."
"All I ask," Aragorn said hoarsely, "is that you not throw your life away needlessly."
Gandalf sighed and looked away. "I have done many needless things, many foolish ones, in my long years of wandering. In the time remaining to me, I hope to do neither. Nor will I turn away from the goal I have struggled to achieve for twenty centuries—not now, not after so long..."
Once again it appeared to Aragorn that Gandalf gazed downward as if to peer into the Mirror. What evil does he see there? Why will he not confide in me?
The wizard went on quietly. "I acknowledge that Frodo and Sam's chance of success is razor-thin. Some might say it is utterly foolhardy, or worse, to even consider such a venture…yes, even cruel to not only allow them to consider it, but to encourage them…to burden them with such an impossible task... And I bear the chief responsibility for setting them on their journey..."
"Frodo offered to be Ring-bearer, as I recall..."
Gandalf sniffed. "No such nightmare would ever have occurred to him, were it not for my meddling..."
Aragorn caught a glimpse of the troubled thoughts of he whom Erestor had called The Chess Master. "You do not bear their fates on your shoulders alone, Gandalf..."
The wizard sighed and shook his head. "It matters not, in the end. For as fate has it, the task has fallen to Frodo and Sam, and I have come to believe that these two are, in fact, remarkably capable, and perhaps uniquely qualified for what they must do. Yet, even as I place my hope—all our hopes--in their small hands, I will also do whatever is necessary to help improve their preposterously tiny odds of success. No risk is now too great. I must do whatever I can…anything I can to keep Sauron from discovering Frodo." He looked up, and went on urgently. "As you must from afar, Aragorn! Do everything within your power to keep the Enemy's attention diverted, for as long as possible. To distract him from his true peril for long enough to give Frodo the time he needs to fulfill his quest is the only real hope any of us has!"
Aragorn stared at the wizard's hands where they rested upon the carved stone of the pedestal. He had seen them cradling a pipe...clenched on the hilt of a sword...clasping his shoulder in friendship...moving swiftly across a page, holding a pen...or gripping his staff. Those gnarled yet powerful hands were unmistakable. He would recognize them anywhere. He had never known the sight or the touch of his own father's hands. Gandalf's hands—and much more of him--had long filled a part of that old, gaping need in him, a part that his Elvish ada, Elrond, could never fill. And it seemed likely that, after tomorrow, he would not see those hands again. Divert the Enemy's attention... He saw the bleak necessity of it—and his heart filled with anguish.
"You should prepare Frodo, Gandalf. He will take this hard…"
"He has burden enough, Aragorn. I know Frodo; whatever happens, he will take it upon himself, no matter how I try to assure him that my path is mine to choose."
The two men stood at the center of Galadriel's garden for a few moments in silence, staring blankly downward. They both looked up and spoke at the same moment.
The wizard stepped around the pedestal and firmly gripped Aragorn's shoulders. He gazed up at the taller man intently.
"You shall be King—indeed, you shall be a great one," he said, and a shiver went through Aragorn as he heard the ring of foresight in Gandalf's voice. "Though I may not stand near when you are crowned, know that I shall yet be watching."
Aragorn clasped his hand over the wizard's. "I know not how to thank you, for all that you have done…"
"No!" the wizard protested. He pushed away and turned his face to the side. "Do not thank me. I have made too many wrong choices…"
"We have all made mistakes, my friend. But for your long and single-minded vigilance, we would have no hope at all."
Gandalf closed his eyes, and the Ranger thought he saw him shudder slightly. He stared into the Ranger's eyes, holding his gaze intently for several seconds. He drew in a breath as if to speak; but he released it again and looked away. Aragorn wondered, what else does he hide, and to what purpose?
"Between old friends there is no need for thanks. My debt to you is as great as yours to me. Neither can be repaid." He smiled wanly. "Follow the path toward your destiny, Aragorn. That will be thanks enough. We should get back. The others will be wondering where we've been. I would ask that you…"
"I will say nothing of what we have spoken tonight, until, as you have said, the time for secrecy has passed."
* * *
The Fellowship had gathered upon the green lawn before the pavilion. Frodo and Sam sat on the grass near the other hobbits. Merry sat with his back to a tree, and Pippin leaned against his cousin's knees. Legolas stood watching the deepening twilight, and Gimli had pulled a chair nearby, his face drawn into a pensive frown. Boromir sat on another chair, his drawn sword on his knee. He hummed softly to himself as he honed and oiled the blade. They all looked up as Aragorn and Gandalf strode into the glade and joined them. No one asked where they had been, nor did any of the Nine Companions speak of the roads that would divide them, perhaps for the remainder of their lives.
As Gandalf brought a chair and pulled it into the circle, he spoke. "Perhaps Aragorn might honor us tonight with a song. What say you to The Lay of Lethian? That tale would be most seemly tonight, do you not think?"
"It is long, and sad, in parts."
"I think we have the heart to hear a sad tale, for it ends in joy and light. And as for long, we have all night, my friend."
And so on their final night together as one Fellowship, the Nine Companions listened as Aragorn, raised in Rivendell as Estel, foster-son of Elrond Half-Elven, son of Eärendil and great-grandson of Beren and Luthien the Fair, recited The Lay of Lethian in his deep voice. All listening felt their hearts race with fear, sigh with grief and rise up in joy as the words spun upward into the starry sky. The night was old when the Lay was complete, but none complained, and all went contentedly to their pallets and fell swiftly into sleep.
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.