2. Good Thoughts in the Firelight
I'm really enjoying this re-editing process, it's really interesting. I didn't know how far I'd come as a writer (just in my own opinion) until I did this – going back and really breaking things down, taking my time. It's really cool to do – if you've got an unfinished story, then I urge you to do the same.
There was little time to waste. Agreeing to meet the others at the Brandywine Bridge, Pippin and Merry left Bag End, riding with Gandalf and Legolas, to gather their own possessions for travel from Tookland and Buckland respectively. They rode off in a flash of dust down the hill, leaving numerous puzzled Hobbits peeking over hedges and through gates.
Frodo and Sam gathered their own belongings: elven cloaks were carefully extracted from the coatrack; Sam's sword was picked up from its hallway hook, where it habitually hung beside Sting. In the privacy of his bedroom, Frodo carefully extracted the Phial of Galadrial from it's keeping-place, placing the elven talisman safely into his pack.
Frodo also retrieved his Mithril shirt, slipping it on quickly beneath his clothing. Its familiar feel, which he had grown so accustomed to on the quest to Mordor, was strange for a moment. He briefly entertained the notion of how many times it had saved his life, and how many more times it might have to prove its worth; but banished the thought.
As he made to leave his bedroom, he caught sight of himself in the looking glass. Elven cloak, elven jewel around his neck, elven dagger at his side…but just a Hobbit. He smiled sadly at himself in the mirror. Not really a hero, no matter what others may say. Just a Hobbit who went to the darkest of lands and returned changed, weary, and wounded.
On his return to the front hallway, to where Faramir and Aragorn were amusing themselves with the scale of Hobbit-sized items, Frodo passed the study. Inside Sam was sitting with Rosie, talking quietly with her. Rosie had been one of the first Hobbits to learn of what the 'Travellers' had done, and perhaps the only one who had been told every detail and truly understood it. Her love for Sam had helped her overcome the typical disinterest and fear with which most Hobbits viewed the world outside the Shire, and she was now eager to journey for herself sometime, not far, and not in dangerous circumstances, to see some of the places – like Rivendell – that her husband spoke about with such passion.
Frodo tapped the hilt of Sting idly as he walked. He couldn't deny there was a nice weight to having a sword at his side again; although it did symbolise the threat of combat, which he wasn't keen on. Throughout the War of the Ring, Frodo had never taken the life of another – not even an orc. He had defended himself when the time arose, of course, but had never struck a killing blow. Still, the sword spoke of adventure, of distant lands, and Frodo was honoured to wear it. He had tried to gift it to Sam, especially as Sam had used it more, but his friend wouldn't hear of it.
Sam and Rosie emerged from the study. Sam introduced her to Aragorn (she looked taken aback to be introduced to a king in such casual circumstances) and Faramir, and she wished the four of them safe passage. As the men went to ready the horses, Rosie wished Frodo and Sam well personally. She knew, and was one of the few who did, the extent of Frodo's changed life after the Ring's influence and his injuries, and could guess at the seriousness of the situation.
"Don't worry," Frodo whispered to her as she embraced him, "I'll look after Sam."
"I know," she replied softly. They parted, and Frodo stepped outside, giving husband and wife a final moment alone.
Rosie waved to them as they rounded the bend and were lost from sight. Catching a glimpse of Sam's pained face, Frodo sighed inwardly. He knew Sam was considering the chance he might not return, or what he might have to face before returning home. His farewell to Rosie was sure to have been emotional – and worse still, there were very few hobbits in the Shire she could confide in, or even simply talk to about how she was feeling.
Poor Rosie, Frodo thought as the road beneath him passed in a blur as he sat astride Brego with Aragorn. I cannot even make the promise that Sam will return alive to you. But I will swear to do everything within my power to make it so.
They didn't have long to wait at the Brandywine Bridge before Gandalf and Legolas appeared bearing Merry and Pippin on their horses. Frodo saw that just as he and Sam had retrieved their swords and Elven cloaks; Merry and Pippin had done the same – and gone the step further of changing into their garments from Rohan and Gondor respectively.
Frodo felt a thrill of pride for his cousins; tinged only a little with sadness from the memory of the circumstances that required them to wear such garb. Hobbits in armour were a thing of myth in the Shire, and Merry and Pippin looked like knights from the old tales. Being astride elegant horses and accompanied by an elf and a wizard only served to enhance the regal feeling.
The eight travellers did not tarry. As soon as they were reunited, they were off again, spurring their horses eastward along the road from the Shire, riding swiftly.
"It will take three days to get to Weathertop on horseback." Gandalf called back to his fellow travellers, as Shadowfax set a blinding pace. It almost felt like flying – Frodo could have been easily convinced that Brego's hooves were not actually touching the ground as he rode with Aragorn.
"Why are we going there?" Frodo called back over the rushing air. Although he was interested in the history of it, time had taken Amon Sul's beauty and the Nazgul had removed any sense of peace from the place. Frodo had hoped never to see it again; after what had happened there.
"To meet the eagles. They will take us the rest of the way to Rivendell."
Meet the eagles. Frodo turned the phrase over in his mind. If they were to meet the eagles to cut the journey's length, then surely whatever was happening was of such importance they really did not have any time to waste. This more than anything sent a chill through Frodo's blood – even with the Ring there had been time to walk to Rivendell, a hard-going but normal journey on foot. A shortcut – and one of such magnitude, if the eagles were to be helping; Frodo knew from Bilbo's stories more than anything the pride of the eagles – then there was far more to this situation than met the eye.
The rest of the day passed in silence. The rushing of the wind, from the speed of their travel, did little to enable proper conversation, and Frodo could guess that his companions were deep in thought. Each was more than likely to be involved in what could be happening in Mordor; what could happen to Middle-Earth; and those they had left behind. Everyone had his own nightmarish memories of the War. With the threat of Mordor growing again, there was little that could prevent those memories from coming back.
What if? was Frodo's main thought. The Nazgul have returned, there must be a power controlling them. Could it be Sauron himself, somehow? For a moment he considered the two kingdoms closest to Mordor. Rohan and Gondor are not yet recovered form the war. Many men were lost in defence of the free world. What if there is no last alliance this time? Could the darkness of Mordor spread across the world, defeating a weakened enemy?
Could it become as if the Ring had never been destroyed?
When the companions finally stopped for the night, sheltering on the edge of a small forest, the mood of the group was somewhat subdued – even Pippin, who could talk for hours and still say nothing, wasn't talkative. It was Gandalf who first spoke, once their camp was set and the fire was lit.
"To speak of this in the open is dangerous, but we have no other choice. Has anything happened, to any of you or in the Shire, that has been out of the ordinary as of late? Any dark tidings may be connected to the east."
"There has been no word from those on watch in Tookland," Pippin said softly, "Not that I have heard."
"Nor has there been anything from those who keep an eye on the Buckland border," Merry added, "or any strange signs from the Old Forest."
Frodo hesitated before speaking, unsure if his answer to Gandalf's question was an over-reaction, or worth providing. Surely he had had enough experience with the darkness in the east to feel comfortable speaking his mind? Even if it was only coincidence? But Frodo didn't think so. "As all of you would understand, my nights are not entirely peaceful. I am often visited by dark visions and distorted memories. They all are constructed around the same core images: I am confronted by Sauron, and someone I know and care for is killed before me. I was woken by one such nightmare just before dawn – as of late they have been becoming more real, more vivid. This time, I could feel the blood on my hands; hear the call of the Wraiths, like I have never been able to before. I don't know if it is important."
Gandalf studied him for a moment. "I think it may be, Frodo, more than you know."
"Your shoulder hurt too; didn't it?" Sam interjected, watching his friend.
Frodo nodded. "Yes, after the dream. Though I do not think the visions caused the pain; as it seemed to come after, very separately. I thought it strange – it being mid-March, rather than the October anniversary. Yet the appearance of the Nazgul, I suppose, explains it."
Sam sighed. "What is going on?"
"It will all be explained at Rivendell, if our luck holds" said Aragorn, saving Gandalf from answering. "There is another council summoned, as this will threaten the free people once more. All important figures will be there: Eomer is riding from Rohan, and Thranduil from Mirkwood, to name but a few."
"Thranduil is my father," said Legolas, a shadow of a smile appearing on his face. "King of the Mirkwood Elves."
"Would that be the same Elven King who was responsible for the incarceration of a certain group of dwarves on their way to a certain Lonely Mountain?" asked Pippin, his eyes sparkling cheekily in the firelight.
Legolas raised an eyebrow, and laughed. "The very same. He is more friendly towards the dwarves, now. I wasn't very interested, I admit freely, when I heard my father had caught some trespassers and imprisoned them in the dungeons. I was moreso amused when I heard they had escaped – and how."
Faramir leaned forward. "I think this is a tale I have not heard."
For a moment, all darkness, all thoughts of destruction, were abolished from the circle of firelight as the four hobbits jointly told Faramir a brief but still amusing version of Bilbo's unexpected journey with the dwarven party. Gandalf, for his part, filled in what details he could remember, and Legolas provided a wider perspective once the tale reached his own kingdom.
"Mirkwood…."mused Merry. "And those spiders! The dwarves are all bound in web, and Bilbo the only one who can aid them. What did Bilbo sing to distract them, Frodo? You ought to know."
"Lazy Lob and crazy Cob
are weaving webs to wind me.
I am far more sweet than other meat,
but still they cannot find me!
Here I am, naughty little fly
you are fat and lazy.
You cannot trap me, though you try,
in you cobwebs crazy," sang Frodo, remembering Bilbo's tale. "That was it, I think. By his telling it drove them mad trying to find him."
The companions fell silent once more, no more thinking on Sauron and the impending darkness for the moment. Instead, their thoughts were of songs and tales, and old memories, memories before the Ring. The lightheartedness of Bilbo's tale had reminded them that while darkness was on the horizon, it was not here yet, and to act as if it was was to throw away what last precious moments they may have away from its shadow.
A low voice started to sing, rising and falling in gentle melodic intonations.
"Minas Tirith, the White City tall
Jewel of Gondor, never to fall
Towers high, and every spire,
Gleaming like a burnished fire
Trumpets call from the White Tower
The White Tree always in white flower
King on throne, flag held high
Black against the summer sky
Stars and Stones, the White Tree
Between the mountains and the sea
The Guarded City of Gondor,
Destined to stand for evermore."
Faramir stopped singing, his clear voice trailing off in the firelight. "And now, a king we have indeed!"
"I have not heard it before. And I lived in Minas Tirith, so to speak," said Pippin, watching Faramir closely.
Faramir shook his head, smiling at days passed. "It is an old rhyme; one learnt in my childhood. Most children of the city know it; but it is not one of our 'great' songs. It came back to me just now."
"I like it," Frodo said quietly with a smile. "It speaks of pride without arrogance; and is neither sad nor happy – but it rings with certainty."
This is what I always thought an adventure would be like, Frodo thought to himself, casting a glance around the fire. Good companions, good conversation, sleeping out under the stars with no expectations or duties but those we impose upon ourselves. Yet the great stories never truly explain the threat of darkness…it is mentioned, of course, but never in such a way that it feels like it could bring a chance of failure for the heroes. I wonder, will song ever capture the darkness of the War of the Ring? Or will it be understated, to encourage the 'happy' ending?
Frodo lay back as Legolas began to sing in elvish. Even without his knowledge of the language, the tune and tone would have been enough to enjoy it. The words were flowing like water, shining like jewels as they entwined with the notes of the melody. They encouraged visions, of Lothlorien, of Rivendell, of tranquillity and peace. Frodo slipped into dreams, still listening to Legolas.
"A Elbereth Glithonel
Silivren penna miriel
O menel aglar elenath!
O galadhremmin ennorath
Fanuilos, le linnathon
Nef aear, si nef aearon…"
The Spider song is from The Hobbit (Bilbo taunting the spiders in Mirkwood), and the Elven one is sung in Rivendell in Fellowship of the Ring. But Faramir's Gondorian song was written by me, just randomly. So if you don't like it, you won't be offending Tolkien or anything!
And the point about Frodo never taking a life is from something I read somewhere – even in Moria and Amon Hen, right through to Mordor, I'm pretty sure he never killed an orc or goblin. I could easily be wrong, but for the purposes of this story it works. Regardless of if I'm right or not, Frodo never has liked drawing steel on others, and had always been quite anti-killing – but he's not against being prepared.