7. Looking Ahead
The hobbits strolled along a route that they had discovered in their week in Caras Galadhon. They followed a path marked with small white stones that led in a great circle around the center of the City. Several elaborate gardens were along this route, and Frodo was pleased to watch as Sam explored them in wonder. Day by day the gardener of the Shire worked up his courage to speak to his counterparts among the Elves, and soon he had made a half a dozen acquaintances who greeted him with smiles each time he appeared. The Elves patiently listened to his questions, which Frodo interpreted into his rough Silvan, and solemnly responded, waiting while Frodo did his best to explain the answers to Sam.
"I'm afraid I'm botching the translations something awful, Sam," Frodo said as they climbed the stairway from a sunken garden filled with blossoms of every color and description. "Bilbo would be downright embarrassed."
"From what I've heard, you are doing a very capable job, particularly as the topics have been the uses of potash and bone meal, and when to divide a root ball," said a cheerful voice behind them.
"Gandalf!" Frodo said as he spun around. "I've been looking for you!"
"Have you? I have also been looking for you," the wizard smiled.
Frodo had to stop himself from staring at his old friend. The wizard's temporary garb while a new robe was being prepared for him was hard to get used to. He had discarded the tattered remains of his clothing on the evening of their arrival, and with the Elves' assistance, he now was clothed in the same fashion as one of the healers. He wore a long, straight tunic that fell from his shoulders to below his knees, cinched with a silver belt, and slim trousers beneath it. The fabric of his new garments was supple and fine, in contrast to the familiar thickly woven robe. His charred boots had been declared unsalvageable, and so on his feet he wore soft shoes. To Frodo's eye the tunic and trousers revealed much more of the wizard's lean figure than seemed, well, proper. It was altogether strange to see him, for as the other members of the Fellowship had remarked, he appeared oddly youthful, especially since nearly a foot of his singed beard had been trimmed away, and his long hair now ended just a few inches below his shoulders. At least, Frodo thought, the color was right, for every garment was soft grey.
Gandalf smiled mischievously, and Frodo suspected that he was well aware of the effect his new costume had on his companions, and was enjoying it immensely.
"Come, walk with me, friends," he said. "There is something I wish to show you."
Frodo noticed that the bruises on his face had faded, and the gash on his brow was now a narrow line. The hobbit hoped his other injuries were healing as well.
"Where are we going, Gandalf?" Frodo asked. He did not recognize the path they were taking, except to note that they were walking in the general direction of the huge mallorn tree where they had first met the Lord and Lady.
"I am continuing your tour of gardens," he said. "There is one you have yet to visit." He turned toward Sam as they walked. "Master Gamgee, I do wish to express my gratitude once again, for remembering that rope."
Sam flushed red. "Begging your pardon, sir, but it isn't me you should be thanking. In fact, it was old Mr. Bilbo who first set the idea in my head. 'Sam', he said to me one night, 'have you thought of bringing some rope? You never know when it might be useful on a long journey like yours.' I'd thought of it myself, but I hadn't considered it to be possible since we were so far from home and all. So it was his idea, you see, and Mr. Bilbo sent me to the right man--I mean, Elf--in Rivendell who could help me get a proper length of it. And then you should be thanking Mr. Frodo, for he was the one who remembered it, at the bridge. I was that scared, I'm not ashamed to admit, that I plumb forgot all about it. Mr. Frodo told me to get it out. Right frantic he was about it, and just in time, too."
Gandalf nodded, as if this news was no news to him at all. "Well, I am most grateful anyway, for your part in it. And Frodo," he said as he turned toward the Ring-bearer, "my deepest thanks to you, for remembering Sam's rope, and for running toward danger to bring it to where it would be needed. Your quick thinking was most fortuitous."
Frodo hesitated. He had not told Sam, or anyone, about his brief flash of foresight, or vision, or whatever it had been. For as long as he could remember, Frodo had strange dreams that seemed to carry a message, or a warning. Sometimes his dreams were simple and their meaning clear; more often he could not puzzle out the vague images or feelings he had upon awakening from them. But at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, for the first time he experienced something that was very like one of his portentous dreams, yet had occurred while he was wide awake. The vision had been vividly real. He could still recall it as if it had truly happened, as if Gandalf actually had lost his grip on the stone and plunged into that awful chasm. Even now, as the terrible sight of the wizard vanishing into the darkness loomed in his mind's eye, his heart thudded within him and his throat felt tight.
It seemed to him that everything that subsequently happened had been turned about-face by his brief revelation. He, Frodo Baggins, had apparently done something to avert a fate that otherwise would surely have been inevitable. He didn't wish for such heavy responsibility. He didn't want to be able to see the future—and have to choose whether to intervene. Of course, he'd had no such choice to make in Moria. He had acted in the only manner possible.
He looked up to find that Gandalf was gazing down at him with curiosity, but also rather uncharacteristic patience. Did the wizard know what he was thinking, as he so often seemed to? Was he waiting for Frodo to confide in him? It might be a relief to discuss it with someone, especially someone wise, like Gandalf. But it might also be odd, for Gandalf's fate had been altered in the most profound way imaginable by his foresight. Might the wizard construe the hobbit's uneasiness as a sort of doubt—doubt that things were meant to turn out the way they had?
Frodo pushed his anxious thoughts away and smiled. "There's no need to thank me, Gandalf, or anyone. You're the one who stood and faced…" he shuddered, "…that thing. You are the one who deserves my thanks, and everyone's. Besides, it all happened so fast, it wasn't a choice. It was simply instinct. "
The wizard's voice dropped low, so that Frodo barely heard his response. "Yes, simply instinct... No time to think...only to act..."
He said no more for the moment, but led them along winding paths between the great trees, away from the main thoroughfare that circled around the City, and instead moving deeper toward its heart. Frodo pondered the wizard's words. Did Gandalf himself have doubts about the outcome in Moria? But how could that be? Had things been different, the wizard would be dead! Frodo felt that there was something here he did not understand—something important. But he could make no sense of it. He frowned as he followed half a pace behind.
Gandalf turned now from the narrow path and walked between two trees whose silvery branches reached overhead and interlaced to form a graceful archway. A stone-paved stairway led down into a small glade, enclosed on three sides by a living wall of flowering shrubs and vines. The air seemed to glow with a subtle light, and the fragrance of the blossoms was delicate and fresh. The hobbits inhaled deeply and sighed with pleasure at the scent. Here, Frodo felt, it would always be spring, no matter what month was passing in the outer world. In the center of the glade stood what appeared to the hobbits to be the stump of an ancient tree. But when they came closer, they saw that it was carved of grey stone in the shape of a tree trunk. At the top, stone branches curved slightly outward to form a pedestal.
At the far side of the enclosed garden--for surely this lovely space was a private garden—was a wall of grey rock, veined with green and glints of gold. From it came a spring of sparkling water that gathered into a small pool. A tiny waterfall bubbled over a lip of stone, and the stream disappeared beneath the green turf and flowed away. Upon a shelf next to the pool sat a shallow circular basin, made of shimmering silver metal. It was so smooth and gleamed so richly, that Frodo wondered if the basin was made of mithril. Beside it sat a tall ewer of the same material, seeming to wait for the owner of the garden to come, dip it into the crystalline waters and fill the basin.
A curved bench sat along one side of the garden, facing the carved pedestal. Gandalf stepped toward it and sat, beckoning for the hobbits to join him.
"What is this place, Gandalf?" Frodo asked.
He gazed about with a look of fondness on his face. "This is the Lady Galadriel's private garden. Here I have been meeting with her, and at times with the Lord Celeborn, to seek their counsel, for both are very wise. She gave me permission to speak with you here, away from other listening ears and interruptions. Frodo, you said that you were looking for me, and I admitted that I had been doing the same. I suspect we have the same reason for seeking one another's company."
The hobbit looked down at his feet where they dangled above the ground. He spoke quietly, as if to himself. "Yes, I suppose you're right. I've been thinking that Lorien is such a beautiful place... I don't want to leave... I feel safe here, in a way I haven't felt safe in, well, since before I knew anything about anything, and that was just the safety of ignorance, for of course I was in danger even then and didn't know it. I dread the thought of going on. But," and he looked up at Gandalf, "I know it won't be safe for long, for me or for anyone, if I stay. And so... Well, I think it's time to start making plans to...to go on."
Gandalf nodded. "And you, Sam? What do you think?"
Sam blushed. "Not that my opinion matters, sir, but I agree with Mr. Frodo," he mumbled.
"Sam, your opinion matters a great deal to me, and I suspect even more so to your Master. And I agree with both of you. This is the very topic I have discussed at length with the Lady, for she has clear sight, and she knows many things." The wizard gazed intently at the Ring-bearer. "And do you, Frodo, keep to your resolve to carry out the task you took upon yourself at Elrond's Council in October last?"
Frodo met his fierce eyes. He felt nowhere near anything like resolve in his fluttering heart, but he spoke as firmly as his dry throat would allow. "Yes, I do."
Gandalf smiled. "Good, good." He sighed. "Do not mistake me. I had to ask, if for no other reason than to offer the chance for doubt to make itself known now. For soon enough, there will be no turning back, no time for doubt."
"But Gandalf," Frodo said, "I may be resolved to go on, but I don't have any idea, really, what that means. I tried to study the maps in Rivendell, but I only have the vaguest sense of what lands lie south of here, and as for getting to...to where I must go, I don't know the way, or how it might be done. And besides," he whispered, "I'm so afraid."
"There are also excellent maps in the libraries of Caras Galadhon, and you would do well to study them," Gandalf said. "And as for fear, you would be foolish not to be afraid. Anyone who considers a journey to the Black Land--even Aragorn, who has traveled to its very gates, should be afraid. But perhaps, Frodo, your fear might be less, if you knew that I were going with you."
Frodo swung toward him eagerly and reached out to clutch the back of the bench. "You are? Really? Do you really mean that, Gandalf?" he cried.
The wizard gazed at him solemnly. "Yes. I will come with you to Mordor. I know the way. I have explored there more than once, albeit in far less perilous times, before Sauron re-occupied his fortress. I have walked in the shadow of the Black Gate, and have stood upon the bridge that leads to the Tower of Minas Morgul. Once I climbed over the pass above that fell Tower, and came into the Black Land itself. I have seen the smoldering Mountain, and have even stood within sight of Barad-dûr. I will guide you, and protect you along the way as well as I can. I will do everything in my power to see to it that you are given the opportunity to fulfill your task. For it is your task, Frodo, and as Elrond said, if you do not find a way, no one will."
Frodo felt himself trembling. They had not spoken of the final phase of the quest in any detail, for there had always been so many more immediate perils to survive. He had not pressed to know more, and a part of him had been relieved that his guide and the leader of their Company had not forced him to look too far ahead, to the darkest part of the road. But another part of his mind had worried incessantly about how he, Frodo Baggins of The Shire, was expected to enter and cross Mordor! He had wondered whether Gandalf, or Aragorn, really had any idea how it could be done. He had fretted, as well, whether either of them should come with him, for surely the Enemy would be searching intently for two of his greatest foes. Wouldn't the presence of he who Frodo now knew to call an Istar, sent from the West to counter the Enemy, simply attract the Dark Lord's attention like a moth to flame? Wouldn't the Heir of Isildur do the same? And would not either one of them be in greater peril than even he would be, as long as secrecy held, and the quest still had a chance?
But those doubts evaporated, to be replaced by greater fears. If Gandalf were truly going with him, then the whole unlikely journey just might happen. The terrifying future he had taken upon himself back in Rivendell seemed real for the first time. He might actually enter Mordor, after all. In that moment he knew that he had never really believed it was possible—but suddenly, it was. And somewhere he would have to find the courage to face it.
"I'm still afraid," he whispered.
Gandalf placed his hand upon the hobbit's shoulder. "Of course you are," he said gently. "So am I, my dear boy. But I have hope—a fragile hope, but hope nonetheless—that, with my help and a little luck, you and Sam will safely get through..."
"Sam? Not Sam, no!" Frodo cried. "No one else should have to come! I couldn't bear it if Sam or any of the others came with me..."
"I beg your pardon, Master!" Sam interrupted angrily. "I promised to stay with you, wherever you go, and I knew well enough where that might be when I made that promise. I keep my word, and I'm going with you, and don't you try to talk me out of it! The idea that you might go on without your Sam—why, you might as well tear my heart out right now, and be done with it. Talk some sense into him, Mr. Gandalf!"
The wizard laughed. "You've said it far more eloquently than I could, Sam. He is right, Frodo. Sam was meant to be at your side. My heart tells me that only by the two of you together can this task be fulfilled."
Frodo sighed. "I just don't know... Oh, Sam, a part of me can't imagine not having you with me... But it will be so dangerous, far more than what we've been through up to now. Are you sure you're willing?"
"I'm going, Mr. Frodo, and that's that," Sam said firmly.
Gandalf nodded. "You may as well give in, Frodo. In all my years of wandering, I do not believe I have ever met anyone with quite as much determination as Samwise Gamgee of Hobbiton."
Frodo sighed with a mixture of fear and relief. "Very well, I give in. Sam, your Gaffer will never forgive me, but it seems you are coming with me on the worst imaginable journey ever."
"Darn right I am," Sam muttered. The wizard chuckled.
"But what about the others?" Frodo said. "Surely the rest of the Fellowship needn't go with me—with us--into danger, should they?"
Gandalf frowned thoughtfully. "No, I think not. I have been worried from the beginning that somewhere along the road the Fellowship might need to be divided. But do not be mistaken, Frodo. They, too, will be going into danger, for no paths are safe now, not even if they were to choose to turn back from here and return home. Of course, none of them are likely to do that, and several of our companions, especially Aragorn, will argue strongly against a parting of our ways," he sighed. "Yet it is especially Aragorn who must, I believe, follow a different path. He has his own tasks to fulfill, and the road he must take will be nearly as perilous." The wizard turned to the hobbits. "I advise you to say nothing to the others, not yet. Allow me to open the topic, when the right moment comes."
Frodo nodded. "When should we leave?" Now that the reality of it had sunk in, he wondered if he could bear the thought of waiting any longer.
"Our path and Boromir's lie together for a great part of the distance," Gandalf said. "He is not yet strong enough for a long journey. The healers informed me that it will not be safe for him to travel for at least another few weeks. I think, therefore, that we should wait for Boromir, for the sake of fellowship, and to do our part to ensure that the Heir to the Steward of Gondor is safely on his way home."
"A few more weeks..." Frodo sighed.
Gandalf smiled crookedly. "You sound disappointed! Are you that eager to depart, after all?" he laughed. "Yet I understand what you are feeling, for once a difficult decision is made, it seems easier to jump in at once, and avoid continued anticipation of what lies ahead. But keep in mind it may take that long to convince the others to accept this plan. Pippin once threatened to dog our footsteps unless we tied him in a sack, and I fear he will prove less stubborn than some of our other companions. And there are many preparations to be made. The time will pass all too swiftly."
He rose from the bench. "And now, my friends, I would ask that you find your way back on your own. Within the hour I shall meet here with the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien. I will tell them of your decision, Frodo, and of mine, and beg their aide in preparing for the road ahead."
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.