3. Hidden Paths
It was almost time to depart. Aragorn sat down heavily upon the doorstep and looked around him at the assembled company, his keen eyes only just making out their shapes in the darkness.
Frodo and Bilbo stood beside one another in silent companionship, making the most of what might be their last moments together. The two youngest Hobbits huddled together for warmth and mutual companionship, while Sam stood glumly beside the patiently waiting pony. Boromir fingered the great horn he wore at his side, while Gimli clutched his axe with fierce determination. Legolas stood a little apart, his head tilted upwards for a glimpse of any stars brave enough to pierce the thick cloud.
This little company had already come so far, Aragorn mused. What diverse paths they had trodden to reach Rivendell! The Hobbits were already far from the gentle green paths of the Shire. Yet they now stood on the threshold of a journey even longer and more perilous than the wilderlands that stretched between the Shire and Imladris. Their hearts were staunch, but were their small bodies strong enough to face what lay ahead?
The Elf, Legolas, had journeyed from the depths of Mirkwood, while the Dwarf, Gimli had his father had travelled from Erebor. Boromir's journey had been even longer and harder. From the way he paced, he was the most impatient to set out. The Man of Gondor was a mighty warrior, but strength of arms would avail little in destroying the Enemy's weapon.
A strong arm and a sword would not suffice against Sauron's dark magic.
Only Gandalf was not yet with them. What paths unknown to Men, or even Elves, had the wizard travelled? Aragorn wondered. Aragorn had known him for a mortal lifespan and yet felt he could not know and perceive all about his friend had he a hundred lifespans to do so.
Then what of his own journey? The way ahead was still unclear to him. Aragorn knew only that his path would lead either to the crown of his forefathers and Arwen's hand in marriage, or to his death and the end of a once great line. He had travelled so many different roads over many years and seen more wonders than most men could dream of. This journey might well be his last. Would he ever behold Arwen again? Suddenly overwhelmed, he bowed his head to his knees. The dream he had yearned for since he came to manhood was about to be realised or forever shattered.
Elrond's voice roused him from his reverie and he rose to his feet and went to stand beside Gandalf who had come outside with the Master of Rivendell. Frodo followed him.
If my heart quails tonight, how much harder it must be for Frodo, the Ranger mused. Frodo had the hardest path ahead, but Aragorn would give his all to see that he reached his destination. His heart resolved, he took his place beside Gandalf and strode forth into the night.
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