5. Beneath the Trees
In the morning the Company decided, for Boromir's sake, to wait for help from within the Golden Wood before moving onward. Haldir sent an urgent message to the City, while Aragorn brewed a tea of athelas and other healing herbs for the wounded man to sip, and devised a poultice to bind over the arrow's entry site. The Ranger frowned worriedly, for the flesh about the wound had swollen greatly during the night, and Boromir's fever did not abate.
"How fares he?" Gandalf asked quietly when Aragorn stepped away from the injured man's side.
"The Orc-poison penetrated deeply, although the wound itself was not a mortal one. He remains gravely ill, yet that he is alive at all is an encouraging sign. At least he is lucid. He remembers the journey here quite clearly, until the final hour or so." He chuckled. "He says he'd rather sleep on a pile of rocks than spend another night on a platform in the trees." The Ranger paused. "Well? Is there finally time enough?"
The wizard looked at him quizzically. "Time? For what?"
Aragorn snorted. "For you to allow me to tend you."
"I suppose you won't be put off any longer," Gandalf grumbled.
"I will not. In this arena, I claim authority." He slung his healer's kit over his shoulder. "Come with me."
They walked—or, in Gandalf's case, limped—to the Nimrodel, where Aragorn tried to help him undress. The wizard waved him off, struggling to remove his stiffened robe and boots by himself. Gingerly, he lowered himself to a sitting position. He leaned his back against the bole of a mellyrn growing at the edge of the stream. Aragorn stared grimly at the angry burns and lash cuts and went to work sluicing water over the wounds. In several areas the blistered flesh had been chafed raw by the friction of the wizard's robe, and bits of blackened fabric and dust from the road were imbedded deeply.
"These will take some time to heal," he said.
"How long is 'some time'?"
"Several weeks, I'd guess—longer, if not properly cared for." The Ranger reached into his bag and brought forth a coarsely woven cloth. He dipped it into the clear water and wrung it out. "I'm going to have to rub rather hard to get those wounds clean." He paused. "It will hurt."
"And what gives you the idea that it does not hurt now?" Gandalf snapped.
"I am certain it does. It will hurt more…a good deal more. And I'm afraid you'll have to allow me to do this again tomorrow, and each day for some days to come."
The wizard made a sound between a growl and a sigh. "Go on, get it over with."
Aragorn nodded and scrubbed as quickly as he could. He did not pause when his patient stiffened and abruptly turned his face away to hide his grimace, for he had been trained by Master Elrond, and knew that what might seem to be kindness would merely prolong the agonizing process. The healer pretended not to notice the harsh gasps of his friend and mentor and continued to work. When he was satisfied, he smeared every open surface with a healing salve and wrapped the burns in cloth. He then saw several dark stains on the wizard's under-tunic.
"Take off that tunic," he commanded. "Let me see what the hammer and the anvil have done to you."
"In my case, I played the role of hammer," Gandalf said dryly, wincing as he complied with the healer's command.
Aragorn shook his head in exasperation, for apparently Gandalf had intended to hide every injury from him. The wizard's right shoulder and entire side were abraded and heavily bruised. "It appears that the hammer struck the anvil more than once," he muttered.
"And the anvil was a bit rough…but be assured: this hammer is grateful to have been banged about, given that the alternative was to have been dropped, never to be retrieved again."
The Ranger rubbed a soothing ointment onto the scrapes and bruises and bound soft cloth around the wizard's ribs. Then Gandalf sat still while Aragorn bathed the gash on his brow and the abrasion and whip wheal on his cheek.
"There—that's the last of it," Aragorn said, as he removed a final splinter of blackened rock.
The wizard released a long breath. "We are very fortunate to have you among us, my friend. You have a remarkably gentle touch, and are as skillful as Elrond himself."
He slowly rose to his feet and began to dress himself, taking care not to do further damage to the brittle, torn fabric. Aragorn watched, giving silent thanks that his premonition at the West Door of Moria had proved inaccurate. How startlingly close they had come to losing their leader! What in Arda would they have done without his guidance? Relief washed through him, and with it, sudden amusement at the odd sight of his old friend.
"I must tell you," the Ranger said, "I've never seen you look more… interesting." He chuckled at the irritated glare Gandalf shot him. "Well, look at you! No staff, no hat, no sword, your beard half charred and the clothes nearly burned off you… Let us hope that Lothlorien has a suitable tailor for wizards, or I will be too embarrassed to travel on from here with you!"
Gandalf glowered. "Are you finished? Or have you more insults to throw at me?"
Aragorn saw a half-smile hiding beneath the wizard's scowl. "None that you don't deserve…" He ducked as Gandalf tried to cuff him.
* * *
As soon as they returned to the encampment, Frodo approached. At once, the wizard noted the solemn, rather frightened look on the hobbit's face. They strode away together into the trees. Sam trailed along behind.
They looked down upon the small, inert figure, curled on his side. In daylight, Frodo got his first good look at the evil creature Bilbo had described to him long ago. He hardly looked frightening at all. Gollum was pitifully thin. Where the skin of his shoulders peeked through his tattered clothing, the hobbit could see horrible scars. An Elvish arrow pierced his throat. His gaunt face was contorted with pain. His bulbous eyes had rolled back, and his long-fingered hands were clutched into fists. Frodo felt his heart swell with pity for the wretched thing.
Gandalf stared intently at the body lying before them. Seconds passed, then a minute. Frodo glanced at Sam, who shrugged. The wizard gazed downward, lost in thought. Finally, Gandalf shook his head.
"Ah! Well, the deed is done. The Elf that loosed this arrow is blameless," he sighed. He placed his hand on Frodo's shoulder. "I suppose it was a fool's hope, but I had to believe that with time, and care, Sméagol might have found healing. Now, we shall never know."
They began to walk back toward the encampment.
"Gandalf, you said that you thought he had some role left to play..."
"Hmm. So I did."
"What do you think it was? And what will happen now?"
The wizard did not reply for a moment. "I can answer neither question, Frodo. He was bound up with the Ring, I am certain of that. But beyond that, I have only half-guesses and vague hunches. Had Sméagol lived, something would have turned out differently—but whether for good or ill, I cannot say." His voice dropped to a whisper. "I cannot say."
When the two hobbits were alone, Sam turned back to look into the forest where Gollum's body lay. He scratched his head.
"I mean no disrespect, Mr. Frodo, but I can't quite understand it. I would think that with that creature gone, there's simply one less enemy to watch out for. Yet Gandalf almost seemed, well, sorry that the old rascal is finally dead."
Frodo nodded. "I don't pretend to understand it any more than you, Sam. But it is wise to pay attention when a wizard seems worried, even if you can't grasp exactly why."
"I suppose you're right, sir."
* * *
The next afternoon a wheeled litter arrived to carry Boromir, and two Elven healers accompanied it. They examined the injured man and conferred with Aragorn. They agreed that although the poison had not yet run its course, Boromir had improved.
"We know the effect of this foul substance on our own people, Aragorn," said one. "But we must rely on your judgment when it comes to a Mortal. Yet, he seems sturdy, and from your description of the last two days, he has made reasonable progress, so far...because of your skills."
"It was as much his own strength--and Mithrandir's--as any effort of mine. A lesser man than Boromir of Gondor would not have survived a single day after a wound like that," Aragorn said, making certain that Boromir heard his words. "He will live through this, but his healing will take longer than for one of your folk. Several weeks of rest, perhaps a month—I cannot say, for the very air we breathe beneath the canopy of Lothlorien has restorative powers to those of Mortal race."
The healer smiled and bowed his head. "And to those of the Elder race, as well."
The Company took three days to travel to Caras Galadhon. Haldir and his brother Rûmil guided them along the route. The Elf Captain had expressed private concern about allowing Gimli to enter the secret realm, but agreed, with reluctance, when Gandalf attested to his honor. The tall Elf found himself walking beside the dwarf on the first day of their journey.
"Master Dwarf," Haldir said, "You are the first of your race to enter this land since before the end of the last Age."
Gimli opened his mouth to give this arrogant border guard a stinging reply. But he caught Gandalf sending him a warning glare. The dwarf suddenly felt as though the roots of his beard were about to burst into flames. He cleared his throat and bowed low.
"Captain Haldir," he said, "The circumstances of my arrival in your fair realm pushed courtesy to the side. Allow me to rectify that omission." He bowed. "Gimli, of the Kingdom of Erebor, at your service. It is my honor to be a visitor here."
Haldir smiled faintly, and bowed with stiff formality. "Haldir, of the Kingdom of Doriath in Beleriand, and more recently of Lorien, at yours."
They walked along in silence for a few moments before Gimli spoke again. "Doriath?" he said softly. "Did you say Doriath, Captain?"
"I did. I served the Lord Celeborn in Doriath, when he in his turn was in service to King Elu Thingol. When Doriath fell, I followed my lord with the remnant of our people. When he and his Lady settled here in the Golden Wood, so did I."
"But Doriath fell in the First Age," Gimli muttered.
Haldir nodded. "I have walked these lands for more than three Ages."
The dwarf plodded along beside him in silence for several minutes. Then Gimli cleared his throat gruffly.
"Captain Haldir…" His face was as red as his beard. "Captain, I …"
The Elf waited, his brows raised in curiosity.
"This is more than two Ages late, and is flimsy payment for what was done to your King… Pah! I have no fancy words to say it, else than to just say it," Gimli growled. He craned his neck and squinted upward, looking the tall Elf Captain directly in the eye. "Allow me to give you my deepest apology, Captain, for the treacherous deeds of my ancestors." He looked down. "It was a shameful act, and one of the darkest hours of my people." He sniffed and went on in a low mutter. "There. I've said it, for whatever little it is worth, at this late hour, when all our dooms approach…"
Haldir said nothing for the space of a full minute. Gimli waited anxiously, furtively glancing upward to gauge the impact of his impetuous words upon the solemn Elf. He thinks I am a fool…and well he is to think it. Who are you, Gloin's son, to attempt to mend a rift five thousand years old?
At last the Elf Captain spoke. "I am…at a loss," he said quietly. "Never in my long life would I have expected… I am deeply moved by your words, Master Gimli. Yet, I know not that I can accept an apology, from you. For the King of Doriath was hardly blameless in the matter of which you speak. His pride had led him into sorrow before… " Haldir's voice drifted off for a moment. The he, too, gazed directly into his companion's eyes. "In these times of strife and darkness, my heart rises in hope this day, for today I have discovered a friend." He extended his hand. "Welcome to the Golden Wood, Gimli of Erebor," he smiled.
Gimli grasped his hand and bowed again, so deeply that his beard swept the ground. When the Dwarf straightened, he noticed Legolas, who had been walking directly behind them, staring in disbelief. But Gandalf caught Gimli's eye, and his lip curled in a half smile.
Near to noon on their first day they came to a wide river.
"This is the River Silverlode, or the Celebrant in our tongue," Haldir said. "It is too deep and swift to ford. My people make no bridges over its stream, and we cross in our own fashion, using light ropes affixed to the trees. But the Lord Celeborn is aware of your circumstances, and has commanded that boats be brought to ferry you across. On the far shore, you will have crossed inside the boundary of the ancient realm, and the heart of Lorien today, that which we call the Naith. Very few are allowed passage here. You are in high esteem with the Lord and Lady, to be given permission to travel within."
A dozen Elves stepped out of the trees on the opposite shore. They carried small, lightweight boats and brought them down to the waters' edge. An Elf climbed into one of the trees and skillfully tossed a rope across the river. One of Haldir's company caught it and tied the end to a slender trunk on their side. Soon, all the Fellowship, even Boromir, had been ferried over the stream in the boats, which their hosts quickly pulled across using the tightly stretched rope. The last boat brought the litter, and they laid Boromir upon it again and moved onward.
The Company walked forward slowly, ever more deeply into the heart of Lothlorien. The endless fluttering of bronze-hued, dried leaves was a constant soft and soothing music. The Fellowship felt their cares falling from them, as though they walked in a world apart from the perilous lands of Middle-earth. The Elves supplied the travelers with ample food and drink, and each evening they built a fire with no fear of attracting enemy eyes. The Company and their escort enjoyed two nights of Sam's excellent stews.
The healers and Aragorn checked frequently on Boromir's progress. The man still suffered from fevers, but the herbs were lessening their ferocity, and he was able to take small amounts of watered-down stew and bread. Aragorn's brow relaxed as his worries over the Steward's son began to ease.
Merry walked along beneath the silver-trunked trees, looking up into their faded gold crowns. Here and there, the hobbit caught glimpses of tiny yellow birds flitting from branch to branch. The flock seemed to be following them. One landed for a moment on the ground at his feet. It was, to Merry's eyes, the size and shape of a sparrow, but it had bright golden breast and head. Its tail and wings were striped black. In a flash it flew off and vanished.
"What sort of bird was that?" he asked Rûmil, who was walking near him. "I've never seen one like it."
"I am not surprised, Master Hobbit, for they are birds of the fir forests of the far north, and visit us only in winter, when their own lands are covered in deep drifts of snow. I know not what northern men name them, but in my language we call them tuilinalmir, bird of the sparkling yellow flame, for so they appear to us as flickers of golden firelight amidst this drab season of the year."
Merry looked about at the beauty of the forest, and wondered that the Elf had called it drab—for to him, Lothlorien even in winter seemed filled with more color and fragrance than an orchard in full springtime bloom in the Shire. It was as if he strolled through a waking dream: of ancient days, and lands that elsewhere had faded and been forgotten, but here, in Lothlorien, remained vibrant. And even more, he felt the peace and security of this land. After so long in the wilderness, where danger lurked in every shadow, and particularly with the dark and harrowing passage of Moria lingering in his recent memory, he felt safe here. He rested his hand on Pippin's shoulder as he walked beside him in the dappled sunlight.
"Ah, Pip," he sighed. "This is a lovely place. As lovely as Rivendell, don't you think? I could stay here for a year."
Pippin didn't answer. Merry glanced at his cousin, and was surprised to see that the young hobbit's face was creased with a frown.
"What's up?" he asked. "Why the long face?"
His eyes dropped. "It's nothing."
Merry looked at him with concern. "Something's bothering you, Pippin. It's written all over you."
The young hobbit bit his lower lip. "You'd know, Merry, if you'd just think about it a bit..."
"Really, I have no idea what could be troubling you on this lovely day. You're going to have to tell me. "
Pippin's gaze strayed to the litter rolling slowly forward on the smooth path, and to the man lying there. Boromir's handsome face remained pale and drawn, and although the Elves guiding the litter did their best, they could not prevent some jostling. The man winced for a moment as the cart shook slightly.
"Boromir..." Pippin whispered, "And Gandalf...." He glanced furtively over his shoulder to where the wizard walked at the rear of their party, deep in conversation with Aragorn. "Everything, all of it... It was my fault."
"Your fault?" Merry said quietly. "What on earth gave you that idea?"
"Don't tell me you've forgotten," Pippin said dully. "You know: that ridiculous stone, and the well..."
"Pip, you can't be thinking..."
"That's when all our trouble started," he whispered. "There hadn't been any noises or signs of enemies at all before...before I was so incredibly stupid!"
Merry reached out again and put his hand on Pippin's shoulder, but his cousin shrugged him away.
"Gandalf knew," he said. "I could see it. He was really angry, but scared, too, when that tapping noise began. He should have thrown me in, or cracked my skull on the stone like he threatened..."
"I don't believe for a minute that Gandalf thinks it was your fault," Merry said. He felt miserable even as he tried to reassure Pippin, for he really didn't know if he was telling the truth.
"Doesn't matter, really, what he thinks," Pippin muttered. "At least no one's died...not yet, anyway. At least Aragorn is a healer, and Boromir is strong, and Gandalf..." Pippin shivered. "I don't know what I would have done, Merry, if Boromir had died, or if Gandalf..." The words caught in his throat. "If he hadn't caught hold of that rope, or if Sam had forgotten to bring it..."
"Oh, Pip..." Merry sighed.
"I'll do my best to make it up to them, but I know I can't, not really," he went on glumly. "All I can do is to stay out of everyone's way and not do anything stupid again. Try not to be a fool of a Took anymore." He sighed. "I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this to yourself. I won't spoil everyone else's relief at getting the Company through Moria in one piece by reminding them of how I nearly ruined that chance. I'll just pretend that everything is fine."
Merry didn't know what else to say, and so he said nothing. He had wondered about that tapping noise, and what it meant. He had seen the same flicker of fear in the wizard's eyes that night, and had been more frightened by it than by almost anything he'd seen up to that point. And there hadn't been any sign that the inhabitants of Moria knew they were there, until that night. And Merry knew that if he was wondering about it, then the rest of the Fellowship probably was, too.
But soon everyone, even Pippin, was caught up in the excitement of approaching Caras Galadhon, the City of the Trees, on their third day of travel in Lorien, and the dark memories of Moria temporarily vanished. A party of green-garbed Elves with long grey cloaks met them and escorted them with great courtesy as they walked along the high walls of the City on a broad road smoothly paved with crushed stones.
They came around the City and saw the high, proud gates standing open in welcome. Two of the tallest Elves that any of them had ever seen stood on either side of it. They wore silver mail, and long swords hung from their belts, and their cloaks were of purest white. As they came nearer they saw that each Gate Warden had a silver chain about his neck, and on those chains hung gems of clear green.
Horns sounded, and the Gate Wardens raised their arms in a formal salute. As the Company passed through and into the City, the Elves called out words of welcome to them in the Silvan tongue. The hobbits, and Gimli, had never seen or heard anything so regal. Even Boromir, raised as the Heir of the Steward of the White City of Gondor, felt his heart race with excitement as they entered the heart of Elvendom in Middle-earth.
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.