2. Dark Elf
The Woody End, East Farthing,
September 10th, 3018 of the Third Age,
Gildor the elf lord lifted his hand and the others stopped. The night sounds of the forest faded, crickets quieted, and the wind merely whispered through the autumn leaves. Celendur stood quietly within the line of elves, wondering why Gildor looked concerned. The elf lord turned, carefully studying the woods.
"What stopped you?" asked Celendur.
Gildor shook his head. "Something hateful is nearby."
"Here?" said Celendur. "But we are still in the Shire?"
"Nevertheless a powerful enemy is close, one from long ago."
Celendur shrugged. "I don't sense any evil?"
"Really, young elf?" Gildor looked at him, his smooth face calm. Celendur suddenly felt foolish. He was hundreds of years old, but Gildor was thousands and from the elf lord's eyes the millennia welled like deep pools. Celendur dropped his head, his long blonde hair sliding across his face.
"Long have I walked this world, young moriquendi," Gildor spoke slowly, with a guarded kindness. "You would do well to learn from my years."
After a time the sound of crickets returned and an owl hooted softly in the distance.
"Has it passed?" muttered the young elf.
Gildor straightened his shoulders. "Passing, like an autumn mist. Let not this thing dampen our spirits." The elf lord clapped his hands. "Onward."
Celendur let the train of elves pass him so that he came last to the road at the end of the long line. Singing now, the Noldori walked under the bright stars shining through the gaps in the canopy of leaves. Their song filled the woods with a sweet sound.
Snow-white! Snow-white! O lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western Seas!
O light to us that wander here,
Amid the world of woven trees…
Celendur did not sing, but brooded, feeling a deep longing in his heart. He was lost in thought and was surprised when he noticed that Gildor had fallen back to join him. The young elf startled when the lord touched his arm.
"Why have you joined us tonight, if only to sulk in a private mood?" began Gildor.
Celendur thought for a moment, walking quietly beside the elf lord. "My heart is troubled," he said finally. "Troubled because I wish to leave this place and sail into the West."
Gildor nodded. "We all feel that pull, young elf. The Golden Shore is what we all long for; it is our true home. But a few of us feel there is still labors of worth here."
"That is what my father says,' answered Celendur. "He asked me to find you, and see if there wasn't any place left in my heart to help the peoples of Middle Earth."
"What does your heart tell you?"
"I think these mortals have made their own problems, bringing down evil because of their own actions."
Gildor nodded. "There is truth in what you say, yet there are some who suffer and are innocent."
"Still, they reap what they sow."
"Perhaps, but there is still good here young elf, and I feel it is worth helping."
"This place feels lost."
Suddenly a smile spread upon Gildor's face. "But there are indeed some worthy of our help," he whispered. "Look."
The elf lord pointed to the shadows beyond the trail and Celendur saw three tiny hobbits huddled under the trees. Laughing Gildor stopped and said, "Hail Frodo! You are abroad late. Or are you perhaps lost?"
As the other elves gathered Celendur stepped aside, the three dusty hobbits suddenly capturing the troupe's attention. Celendur stood in the back annoyed.
"This is indeed wonderful!" said an elf named Halandir. "Three hobbits in a wood at night! We have not seen such a thing since Bilbo went away. What is the meaning of it?"
"The meaning of it, fair people," said the hobbit named Frodo, "is simply that we seem…"
Celendur did not stay to listen but walked a few steps up the trail, staring through the leaves at the red star Borgil, glowing like a jewel of fire. Why should I worry myself with the troubles of these petty people? he thought. Such a dull life, why should I make time for them?
The young elf looked back, finding his brethren still excited by the hobbits. Celendur sat down beside the trail, frustrated by having to wait on the whims of little folk.
* * *
The hobbit Bobert Nortook slumped in the seat of his pony drawn wagon. He'd attached a lantern to a post beside his seat, sending a little golden halo bobbing along the dark road. Bobert was tired. He'd ridden for two days down from Long Cleave in the North Farthing. The Innkeeper Nortleman Took had hired Bobert to trade a load of furs and skins. But instead of trading them in Waymeet or Hobbiton, the Innkeeper had got it into his head that he could make more money selling the stuff way out in Buckland. So Bobert had taken the job and now he was exhausted.
Through sleepy eyes the hobbit looked up at a bright red star, wondering if it had a name. He hadn't ever learned such things and since he'd never learned "his letters" Bobert didn't know much about the wide world. So he looked back down at the cobbled road, seeing the Brandywine Bridge rising above the river mists.
His plan was to spend the night in the village of Stock, at the Golden Perch Tavern, before crossing the bridge in the morning. So when he finally pulled up to the front door of the inn he set the parking brake, slowly climbing down from the seat stretching his stiff legs.
"There, there Buttercup," he said, patting the pony's neck. "I'll get ya settled down for the night. Surely they have a nice stable round about this place."
Bobert was passing the bed of his cart when he got a sudden shock as the pile of furs moved! The hobbit backed away, thinking that not all the skins were dead. Maybe there was a live one still in the bunch, packed in amongst them as a deathtrap by the Skinner himself. But Bobert ratcheted up his courage and stepping back to the wagon flung aside the skins.
Laying there on a bed of soft fur was his oldest son, snoring softly.
"Robart Sandheaver Nortook!' shouted Bobert.
Robi shook his head. "Hi Dad," said the hobbit boy, rubbing his eyes.
"What in the samhill are you doing there, son? You've been hiding in the back all this time?"
Robart smiled. "Yes, I have."
"Won't your mother be missing you?"
"Oh no," Robart said. "She told me to come along. To keep you company."
"But I told you that you couldn't come along," said Bobert, folding his arms across his chest.
Robi looked down at the ground. "She don't know that part, Dad."
"Well, your gunna catch it quick when we get home."
"Yessir," muttered the little hobbit boy.
Bobert tried to look stern. "I didn't get to sleep all the way from Hobbiton on a nice bed of furs, like you did. So I'm dead tired. For your punishment you get to settle Buttercup in the stable."
"Yes, Dad," said the boy.
Bobert frowned as his son passed him but then, turning away, smiled to himself. He was suddenly glad to have the boy along, the company would be good. Bobert climbed the little steps up to the round red door of the Golden Perch. "Make sure Buttercup is comfortable," he shouted over his shoulder.
* * *
Celendur sat under the stars with a few elves within Wood Hall. Long slender limbed trees reached over head forming a open ceiling, allowing the silver starlight to shimmer all around them. Glancing away Celendur saw Gildor and Frodo sitting alone talking quietly. He felt a little jealous that the elf lord would spend the night talking with the little visitor.
"I wonder what Gildor could find so interesting about hobbits?" he said.
Halandir looked over at Frodo. "They are nice folk. Simple, yes. But very sincere."
"Dull, I would say," replied Celendur.
"Perhaps Gildor's interest has to do with the evil he sensed earlier this night," said Aioril, another of the elves.
"It may," replied Halandir. "I felt the presence as well."
"What presence?" asked Celendur, feeling slighted again by the High Elves.
"The Black Easterling is abroad." Halandir shivered.
"How can that be?" asked Aioril. "I was there when he was destroyed by the White Counsel. "
Halandir laughed. "The Nazgûl cannot be so easily finished."
"Have the Nine crossed the river then?" asked Aioril.
Halandir nodded. "It would seem."
"Who is this Black Easterling?" asked Celendur.
Halandir looked at the young elf. "Khamûl, the Shadow of the East, and once the commander of Dol Guldur; the lieutenant of the Dark Lord."
Several gasps whispered among the elves.
"A deadly enemy," continued Halandir. "Though he has diminished since the fall of Angmar. But he has returned to the North and is calling all evil things back into his service."
"You think he was stalking the hobbits?" said Celendur. "How could they rate his attention? What could they mean to him?"
Halandir shook his head. "I do not know."
"This world seems turned on its head," muttered Celendur. "Great lord's caught up in the affairs of little folk."
"But that is the power of Middle Earth," answered Halandir. "Even the smallest person can shake the foundation of the great. Even a hobbit can bring powerful goodness."
"I wonder?" said Celendur. And for the first time he looked at the hobbit sitting with Gildor in a new way.
"One of the great beauties here is that one cannot see all ends, "continued Halandir. "These mysteries are one of the reasons many of us tarry. It is one of the greatest gifts Iluvatár gave to this place; the unpredictability is enchanting."
Celendur nodded. He hadn't thought of Middle Earth in that way before. "It makes one think, does it not?" he said.
"It is a lot to contemplate," said Halandir, smiling.
Celendur stood. "I think I shall take leave now and meditate upon these things."
"That is wise," added Halandir. "You have many things to consider, young elf."
After bowing to the group, Celendur took up his staff and sword, walking out beyond the Woody End.
* * *
A shaft of golden light fell upon Robi's face. He blinked his eyes open and couldn't remember where he was. The room was strange, though he could hear his father snoring beside him. Then he sat straight up in bed.
His father had told him to have the pony harnessed before breakfast. If he was careful he might still get it done before his father woke. Robi crept from the bed and grabbing his cloak from the hook by the door, slipped out. He passed through the Common Room, which was empty. When he got outside the morning chill shook him and he tugged his cloak tighter about his shoulders. Dew covered the grey grass and though the sun was bright, it lent little warmth to the morning. Robi went through the open barn door (barn doors are hardly ever closed in the Shire) into the stable and expected to see Buttercup the pony standing in her stall. But she wasn't there.
He dashed over, finding the rope he'd thought he'd used to tie her coiled neatly and hung upon the wall. "I forgot to tie her up," he muttered to himself, slapping his forehead.
Just then his father walked in. "Got the pony ready to go?" he said happily.
Robi turned around with the rope in his hand. "Dad, Buttercup's gone."
"What do you mean, gone?" His dad looked confused.
"She's run off."
Bobert stepped over, looking at the stall. "Did someone cut the rope or something?"
Robi's stomach started to ache. "Dad, I'll tell the truth… I think I forgot to tie her."
Bobert rubbed his hands through his thick curly hair. "Oh, one trouble after another."
"Sorry won't get our pony back, son." His dad walked over laying his hand on Robi's shoulder. "But I do appreciate you tellin' the truth – that will save us some time from investigatin'. But I tell ya, if you hadn't a tagged along I would have tied the pony myself last night, and we wouldn't be in the fix now."
"I'm sorry, Dad."
"We'll find her son. We don't have a choice. She's our only way home and the only way to deliver the furs. Oh dear, oh dear."
They walked outside and found a small hobbit boy drawing water from the well. "Hey there," shouted Bobert. "You haven't seen a pony runnin' around here this morning have ya?"
The lad pointed to the East. "I saw one running up the road, not an hour ago."
"An hour?" moaned Bobert.
The boy shrugged. "It was going over the bridge, headed toward Bree."
"Bree!" shouted Bobert.
"Sorry Dad," repeated Robi.
"Well, there's nothing for it. We best get started. The Innkeeper can watch our wagon while we go a fetchin'."
* * *
Celendur stood on a high ridge looking down into a valley that was full of mist and pools of slimy water. Stone columns shot up from places like fingers pointing at the clouds. Burial mounds and cairns filled a valley that was utterly silent, except for the cold wind whistling through the rocks. It was a lonely place, but that suited Celendur. He wanted to be alone, free to ponder riddles.
His staff hung through the loops of the baldric across his back, helping to hold his long cloak from blowing in the cold wind. At his side, his sword, Fordring swung in its sheath and across his shoulder slung a long bag that held his lore-book and other personal items. Wandering east from the Woody End he'd skirted the Old Forest and found his way to this land called the Barrow-Downs. It was a lonely place, but that was what he wanted. He'd wandered all night and all the next day and somewhere above the foggy clouds the sun was setting and night was coming fast.
The spirits that haunted this place didn't bother Celendur. He was an elf and the ghosts of men had no effect over him. He left the heights of the ridge, following a trail down into the vale.
On the stony floor of the valley he sat upon a rock that bordered a large pool. Built onto the water was the remains of a large castle, but now only the walls and a few columns stood broken and crumbling. As night fell a deep rumbling moved beneath the stones of the valley. Long dead spirits grew restless, searching for paths to escape into the open air.
None of the groaning bothered Celendur and he sat quietly, until he heard a distant shout. He didn't move and had almost forgotten the cry, when it came again. This time he reached for his sword and stood .
* * *
The morning had been bright, but as Bobert and Robi journeyed East, a fog settled over the land. They walked over the Brandywine Bridge and following the road headed toward the village of Bree. They asked those they passed about Buttercup and a few had seen her so they kept walking until sometime in the afternoon the fog grew so thick they couldn't see the road ahead.
"This is no good, son," said Bobert. "I can't make out our way."
"Where do you think we are?" asked Robi.
"Somewhere between the river and Bree. I can't tell more."
The sound of a pony whinnying carried to them from the south. They heard it twice before Robi said, "That's got to be Buttercup, Dad. I think it was over here." Robi trotted off into the fog. "Come on. Over here."
"Hold on, Robi," shouted his dad. "Don't go getting lost in this mist."
"Come on Dad, I think I can see her." The boy's voice sounded faraway and muffled.
Bobert could still hear his son, but couldn't see him. "Slow down boy. That's an order."
"Over here Dad."
"Where, Robi? I can't see you any longer. Stop, we need to stay together."
But every time Robi called out, he sounded further away. Bobert wandered in the fog for hours, calling out for his son. Some times Robi would answer and other times he wouldn't. Eventually Bobert came to a large pool surrounded by broken walls. Night was falling, but out on a platform Bobert could just make out a small figure standing in the darkness.
"Robi is that you?" he shouted.
The little figure didn't answer, so Bobert crept closer. "Robi… Robart. Robart Sandheaver Nortook is that you?"
Still the little figure didn't answer.
The hobbit crept near and Bobert was relieved to see that it was Robi, though he didn't answer, standing as stiff as a statue.
"Come on boy," whispered Bobert. "We need to be gettin' outta here."
But when Bobert put his hand on Robi's shoulder the lad still didn't move. Bobert was about to haul the young lad up into his arms when a voice rumbled out of the darkness.
"You'd come between the Bone Man and his prey?"
Bobert screamed with fright, but stood protectively beside his boy. Out of the mist a huge shadow appeared. It was tall, taller than any of the Big Folk he'd ever seen. Steel armor covered a body that was all bones. A great steel helmet covered a head that was a grinning skull.
"Bow down, slaves," groaned the shadow. "The Bone Man will rend your flesh." The creature lifted a long sword above its head. "Prepare for the grave and the dark dungeon. Black Khamûl calls us back to action."
Bobert was terribly afraid but he stayed beside his son, holding the boy close. He shouted again, "Don't you come a step closer!" But laughing, Bone Man stalked forward.
Suddenly and beyond hope, a brilliant beam of light shot straight down from the night sky smiting the Bone Man. The huge creature was instantly stunned, swaying helplessly.
"You will not touch them," commanded a strange new voice.
Bobert turned around seeing a wonderful sight. Shining against the darkness a tall elven warrior stood behind them. In one hand he held a long staff, in the other a glowing sword. In the blink of an eye the elf leapt high over Bobert and Robi, landing on the platform between them and the Bone Man.
The giant creature recovered then, lunging at the elf. Its ghostly sword swung down, but the elf blocked it with his staff, thrusting his own sword into its boney chest. The creature staggered, howling in pain as blinding light blazed from the sword even as the steel buried deep. Then suddenly the elf swung his staff around crushing the Bone Man on the helmet. With a shriek the creature crumpled to the stones, nothing but an empty pile of rusty, smoking armor.
* * *
Celendur stood with the hobbits on the road, the sunrise pink and purple in the clear East. He held his lore-book, flipping the pages until he found the proper one. "Let me call your lost pony to us."
"You can do that?" asked the little hobbit boy.
Celendur smiled slightly. "Indeed young sir. Let us hope the steed has ears to hear."
"Just let the Master do his work, Robi," said the Hobbit, patting his son on the head. "I'm sure he can do greater magic than just calling our pony."
Celendur thought about that for a moment. "I do not know what you mean by magic, but it is a simple thing to call the pony in a language it understands."
"Yessir," muttered the Hobbit.
Clearing his throat Celendur lifted his staff. "Rana roch sinomë omintvelo, ni emen vanwa."
Within moments they heard a whinny and from over a rising slope Buttercup trotted into view. Celendur closed his lore-book, placing it back into his long pouch.
"Well thank you Master," said the Hobbit. "I don't know what we woulda done without you showing up, just in the nick of time. We shouldn't a got lost in the fog."
Celendur smiled. "It is you that should be thanked, good Hobbit. You have helped me settle an important issue. I have hard choices ahead, but now my way seems clear to me."
The father looked embarrassed, his puffy cheeks blushing red. "I don't know about such matters, but we thank you mightily. We best be headin' off. Got some furs to deliver still."
"May your road be smooth," said Celendur.
The elf watched them lead the pony back toward the bridge, feeling a peace that he hadn't felt in nearly an age.
"I do thank you, lost hobbits," he whispered to himself. "I know with a certainty that I should help this world. I will do that and use what ability I have to help the innocents against the coming darkness."
Though they never saw it, Celendur bowed low to the hobbits as they wandered away to the West.