West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Interlude at Imladris
A picnic at Rivendell. Aragorn tries to bring the Fellowship together.
such was the virtue of the land of Rivendell that soon all fear and anxiety was lifted from their minds. The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have any power over the present. Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song.
The Ring Goes South - The Fellowship of the Ring - JRR Tolkien.
The valley was so different from my home. In Mirkwood we lived, always, under the threat of our enemies but here we were safe. It felt as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders and the sky seemed to float so much higher above my head.
It was slightly unnerving to walk outdoors without a bow or knife in my hand. In Mirkwood I was raised never to go outside without a weapon and, as a prince, I had moved always with body guards until I was deemed old enough to look after myself. The earliest present I remember receiving from my father was a small, white handled, dagger that I still carried in my boot top. I felt oddly light without the weight of quiver, bow and knives at my back, having to shift my centre of balance slightly as I walked, although it was freeing to be able to take a deep breath without the constraint of the quivers' harness across my chest. The air felt cold at my wrists without their leather bracers.
I could see that Aragorn was uncomfortable too. Like me, he was haunted by the presence of his weapon. Used to letting his left wrist drape over his sword hilt I caught him, several times, with a mild expression of surprise in his eyes as his hand continued, unchecked, to land on his thigh. Even though he had lived in the safety of Imladris for most of his childhood and many of his adult years, the tension of living outside had marked him and it would be several days before he grew used to his sword's absence. But, already, there was lightness to his step and openness in his face that I had not seen for a long time. I even heard him laugh, softly, at one of Master Merriadocs' jokes.
The hobbits seemed to have no problem with the absence of weapons. I knew that they owned small swords but as yet, I had not seen them. At dinner the previous evening Elrond mentioned that their blades were very ancient and beautiful but he did not say how they had come by them. I could not imagine that they would even know what to do with a sword. They looked perfectly at home among the trees and rivers of Imladris and I could picture them wielding nothing more dangerous than a fishing rod. I decided that I would dearly love to see this Shire that they talked of, if it could produce such a hardy and open hearted people for they seemed to have fully recovered from the terrible ordeal of journeying to this refuge. You would think they had not a care in the world and yet the Ring bearer and his servant, at least, had a great many.
In fact, it was only the Ring bearer, Mr Frodo Baggins that displayed any wariness, starting occasionally at sudden sounds. I supposed he had a right to do so. To be chased down by ring wraiths was the most frightening thing that I could imagine. The morgul wound he received at their hands was not something to be taken lightly and he was still weak, although Lord Elrond allowed him beyond the gardens for the first time that day. I watched the other hobbits keeping one eye on him as we climbed the path. He stumbled at one point and three sets of hands reached out to steady him. He didn't like that. I saw him glower at them and they released him, rather smartly. He may still be weak in body but he was not going to allow himself to be coddled. I suspected that he wanted to prove that he was equal to the responsibility he had taken on. I knew the man, Boromir, thought him a little too innocent and fragile for the task he had set himself. The height and disposition of hobbits tended to make people look on them as children, but that was a mistake. These were adults, save perhaps Master Peregrin, and they were quite able to think and act for themselves. Frodo Baggins had made a very adult decision to become the Ring bearer. This was not the young hobbit that Master Bilbo had told me of, dreaming of adventure around the safety of a cosy hearth. He had been tempered by his journey thus far and could guess at some of what was before him. I wonder, still, whether he would have volunteered if he had known the ultimate cost to himself.
Boromir was a mortal, of course, so he could not see what I could. There was strength in this hobbit that had nothing to do with brawn. He was still too thin for a hobbit (or so Master Bilbo had informed me when we had sat in the garden, the previous day) and I could see that his clothes hung a little too loosely, but I could also see a faint light shining in him. I mentioned it to Elrond once and his only response was to put his finger to his lips. I decided that I would mention it to Aragorn later. I don't think the other hobbits saw it but I do think that they sensed there was something special about their friend. Even without that knowledge I would have volunteered to go on the journey with him. There was a great deal to respect in that small frame.
From what Aragorn had told me, the Shire was very isolated and this world outside, wholly new to them. Elves were a thing of legend to their people and even dwarves were seen rarely in their land. I was a little surprised, then, when I discovered that Master Frodo could speak Sindarin.
When I realised that our path from the garden was getting quite steep I called ahead to Aragorn, asking if our companion would manage. I spoke in Sindarin. The impoliteness of speaking in a language that the hobbits did not understand seemed preferable to embarrassing Mr Baggins.
I was horrified when a little voice at my elbow said, "I will be alright" in Sindarin.
The accent was a bit rough, I grant you, but the syntax was perfect. I thought I had offended him but when I looked down he was smiling up at me from beneath slightly arched brows. I suspect he was rather pleased with himself for catching me out and his eyes were so merry that I could only laugh.
"My apologies, Master Frodo. I did not know that I travelled with a scholar of elven languages."
He laughed out loud then. I think it was the first time (one of the few) I saw him totally free of shadow. When we both stopped chuckling he switched back to Westron, in deference to his friends, who were watching the exchange in confusion. "I feel much better today, Master Legolas. I shall manage well enough. Thank you for your concern."
Master Baggins walked beside me in silence for a few minutes. "Was I grammatically correct? I haven't had much practice, although I have been listening a good deal since we arrived in Rivendell."
"Yes, indeed, Master Frodo. The sentence was constructed perfectly. Where did you learn to speak Sindarin and why? There is surely not much call for it in the Shire, from what I have heard."
"Bilbo taught me. He used to try and translate bits of songs and poetry that he remembered from his visit to Rivendell, years ago. I think he sometimes met elves in the woods at the edge of the Shire. Some of them pass through the Woody End on their way to the Grey Havens. The language sounds so much more musical when elves speak it, though."
I suspected, from the standard of his elvish, that he had made a few visits to the Woody End himself but I decided not to pursue the matter. "The speech rhythms are a little different to Westron, but they can be learned. Aragorn has mastered it so I am sure you can. I will help you, if you wish." I did not tell him that for most of his childhood; having been raised by elves in this valley, Sindarin had been Aragorn's first language. Frodo's smile broadened.
"Thank you, Legolas. I would like that very much."
We passed the next hour pleasantly, conversing in Sindarin about anything that came to mind. His vocabulary grew and the rhythms of his speech soon drifted into the patterns I was more familiar with.
It was at the end of that hour that we hit a particularly steep section of the trail, which proved rather difficult for the hobbits' shorter stride. Aragorn was in the lead and he reached back to offer a hand up to each of the Perrianath in turn. Frodo was the last of the hobbits and I was at the rear of the party. I saw him halt and knew he didn't think he was going to make it, even with Aragorn's help on that last stretch. I was about to step up and offer my aid when I saw him square his shoulders and start forward again.
There was tempered steel within that fragile looking form. Once or twice, when the other hobbits were not looking, I put my hand on his back to steady him and I was grateful when he did not pull away from me. He was not so proud that he was foolish. My father always said that it was a wise elf that knew his own weaknesses. When we reached the top Master Baggins nodded silent thanks to me.
The other hobbits were a mixed group but they all had one thing in common. They were totally devoted to this gentlehobbit. Peregrin told me that his cousin had intended to go to Bree on his own but that the three of them had conspired to go with him. He had been totally unaware of their scheming until his very last day in the Shire; a feat which I could only admire, having earlier tried to fool Mr Baggins myself. How Peregrin Took had managed to hold his tongue during that long period of scheming I would never know. The youngest hobbit seemed to chatter away from the moment he woke up to the moment he went to sleep. Even the other hobbits would tell him to be quiet and they were themselves, much more talkative than any company I have ever been with. Most of what I knew of the Shire I learned from Master Peregrin Took that morning.
I learned that Frodo, Merriadoc and Peregrin were related in some complicated way. Pippin spent the biggest part of half an hour trying to explain it, with occasional assistance from Merriadoc. Out of politeness, I finally said that I did understand but it was not true. Their convoluted family trees left me totally baffled. I suppose, when they lead such short lives, the trees had more generations to become entangled. Samwise Gamgee was the only one not related by blood but he had been around Mr Baggins for so long that he appeared to be accepted as part of the extended family.
I found Master Samwise as intriguing as the Ring bearer. He liked to play the part of servant and the other three let him, to a point. I suspect it was only his own feelings of inadequacy that kept him in that role, however, and that the other three would rather he called himself their equal. They never used him as a servant and would often tease him until he blushed if he sank too deeply into the role. Of all the other three, Samwise seemed to be the closest to Master Frodo; knowing, instinctively, when his help was needed. For his part, Master Baggins would accept his help when he would allow no other.
Master Gamgee would have carried the food for our entire party if Merriadoc and Aragorn had not stepped in. As it was, I am sure that he still carried the greater share of our stores for the day. At least he had been spared the chore of carrying water. In my own woods many of the streams had been poisoned by orc, spider and other foul creatures so I had grown used to carrying water with me at all times. I was surprised, that morning, when I found no water canteens amongst our gear and Aragorn had to remind me that, in Rivendell, Lord Elrond controlled the rivers and streams and they ran pure and clear. We needed only to carry cups. I did notice that Aragorn has also packed a large skin of wine. I hoped it was the Imladris white that we had been drinking at dinner the night before. If there was one thing that father had instilled in me it was an appreciation of fine wine and it appeared that Elrond kept a very good cellar.
As the day drew on to noon our groupings changed. Merriadoc was talking to Aragorn and Frodo was strolling along by himself. Samwise was walking with Peregrin, for the moment, having just relieved his Master of the role of listener. During a merciful lull in Master Tooks' chatter Samwise spoke up.
"I wonder what type of tree that is. I don't think I've ever seen the like before. Look at those strange shaped branches." Sam was pointing to a specimen to his left.
"It is not native, this far north, Master Samwise." I cut in. "The shelter afforded by this valley allows it to survive the winters here. You will see it growing more widely as we travel south on our journey." I regretted introducing the subject of our quest as soon as I spoke. Both hobbits became pensive and Frodo slowed until we had caught him up. I tried to distract them.
"Some of the trees around us will grow well, with a little care, in more exposed places." I went on to point out a few to the gardener and he began to brighten. Peregrin soon grew bored and ran ahead to join Merriadoc and Aragorn. I went on, naming the varieties that I thought they may not know, and Frodo helped Samwise with the pronunciation of their names where I could find no Westron equivalent. I discovered that Samwise Gamgee had a great deal of knowledge about living things. He seemed to grasp, instinctively, how to nurture and protect them, and I suspected this skill was not just applied to plants.
Frodo stumbled again and Sam threw out a hand to steady him. I signalled to Aragorn that I thought it time to halt, fearing that we were over taxing the recovering invalid. My friend grasped my meaning immediately and led us to a little coppice by a stream, only a few yards from the path. It was there, in the dappled shade, that we ate our lunch. The wine was every bit as good as I anticipated and all but Master Pippin drank their fill. Aragorn had thoughtfully provided some cider for our youngest member, but I suspect that Master Peregrin would have preferred the wine. Merriadoc was very protective of Peregrin and I noticed him slipping an extra sandwich his way when he thought no-one was looking.
For his part, Master Frodo ate little until he came under Aragorn's glare. I did not envy him being on the receiving end of one of Aragorn's, "no nonsense" stares. I had fallen fowl of one or two of them myself a few years ago, when I had been injured on one of our scouting expeditions. I well remembered their power. The Ring bearer did not hold out long either and took the sandwich offered; a wise hobbit, that one.
I swirled the last of the wine in my cup, inhaling its fragrance. Master Brandybuck glanced across at me.
"It's not as sweet as the one last night, is it? A little more crisp." I was surprised and yet I do not know why I should have been. Peregrin had advised me earlier that the Brandybucks were one of the wealthier families in the Shire. Merriadoc had probably sampled his fair share of fine wines.
"Indeed, it is not. But it is light and refreshing on a warm day like today. It is a shame we could not cool it more." He chuckled. "I doubt my father would agree with you."
"Do fathers ever agree with their sons?" I interjected and that elicited a peel of bright laughter from him.
"Not in my experience. Mine always says that people over cool white wine." I smiled, ruefully.
"Mine would say just about anything, as long as it was the opposite of whatever I said."
While Master Frodo slowly chewed his sandwich and Master Peregrin ate anything he could lay hands on, Merriadoc and I discussed the merits of the various wines with which we were acquainted and the peculiarities of fathers.
Resuming our journey we found the path continued to climb but not as steeply as before. Suddenly we stepped out of a deep cutting and rounded an outcrop to find ourselves on a wide, grassy shelf, the steep bare rock of the mountain forming a sheer wall behind us. I had not realised we had climbed that high and stood, in wonderment at the sight of the whole vale of Imladris laid out before us. I cannot remember how long we stood there, in awed silence. To my surprise, it was not Peregrin that broke the spell but Samwise.
"Well. There's an eye opener, as my Gaffer always says."
Master Frodo sighed, "It certainly is, Sam."
Pippin ran to the edge and Aragorn grabbed his collar as he made to lean over.
"Owww. I was only going to see how far down it was" he yelled, much aggrieved.
Merriadoc rushed forward and rescued him from Aragorn's grip, yanking him back with an annoyed look. "Honestly Pip. Your father will skin me alive if you fall off there."
"Who says I'm going to fall?" Merriadoc only glared.
I could see Aragorn trying not to laugh and I had to look away myself as Master Brandybuck tugged his cousins' jacket straight and gave him a playful cuff on the ear. I remembered getting similar cuffs from my older brothers when I was younger and my ears smarted in sympathy.
The sun was warm and the air fresh and scented with orgiliath blossom. We spread out our cloaks and sat down to enjoy the view and while away the afternoon. At first, all eyes were drawn to the scene below us. It was a beautiful sight. The whole valley was nature, carefully managed, but not controlled. I could pick out where old and damaged trees had been felled and new ones planted to replace them. Hidden from view, below us, was Elrond's house; surrounded by its beautiful gardens, but among the trees, all about the valley were smaller houses where others of his household lived. The buildings were a mixture of stone and wood. They had no need to build for defence, as the hidden valley was its own defence, so the buildings were delicately carved, with huge open windows and finely tiled roofs.
In Mirkwood we were forced to live in stone buildings, for protection. Alone, of all the elves of Middle Earth, my family lived within a cave. It was a finely carved cave, with high bright windows but it was, still, a cave. Gimli, Son of Gloin, had made much of that the previous afternoon when our paths had crossed in Elrond's garden. I hoped our relationship would improve by the time we set out with Master Frodo but, at that moment, I was sorely tempted to tie Gimli by his beard, to the topmost branch of the tallest tree I could find.
I was just trying to select the right tree when I felt Pippin flop down beside me. "What are you looking at?"
I glanced around, hoping that Merriadoc would come and rescue me but I was surprised to find that the other three hobbits were otherwise occupied. Samwise and Merriadoc were lying on their backs, munching on apples that they had produced from goodness knew where, reading shapes into the clouds, drifting by high above us.
"That one looks like an oliphaunt."
"Don't be silly, Sam. You don't even know what an oliphaunt looks like."
"Well, neither do you so how do you know it don't look like one?"
I smiled; unable to fault Samwise's logic and, in front of me, I could see Aragorn's shoulders shaking with stifled mirth. Frodo lay alone. His eyes were closed and his chest rose and fell slowly. I guessed he was asleep. Not a bad thing. It had been quite a hike up here for someone still recovering from a major illness. I must confess to having been a little worried at my friend's choice of route but most walks in this steep valley went upwards and I supposed this was no steeper than any other.
I felt a tug at my sleeve. "I said, what are you looking at?"
I reconciled myself to the talkative hobbits company. "I was just admiring the trees."
To my surprise, he replied, "They are lovely. Or rather, they're stately, aren't they?"
"They are, indeed. Elrond's people tend this valley well. Can you see, yonder, where an old oak tree has been felled and two young saplings planted in its stead?" I pointed across the valley. Peregrin leaned forward and squinted and I suddenly remembered that he did not have the gift of elven sight.
"Where?" he asked.
"I am sorry, Master Peregrin; perhaps it is too far off for mortal eyes. Over there, just below the water fall." He turned from me to the waterfall and back again, a look of open amazement on his face.
"You can see that far?"
"Oh, my." Almost without drawing breath he changed the subject. "You can call me Pippin, by the way. People only call me Peregrin when I'm in trouble."
"Then I shall call you Pippin, for you are not in trouble, at the moment." I looked at him sidelong, to see how he had received my teasing and was rewarded with a cheeky smile. Although he normally spoke in a voice that carried far, I noticed that he lowered it now, in deference to his sleeping cousin.
"You come from Mirkwood, don't you? That's over the mountains behind us isn't it?"
I smiled. Geography was obviously not his strongest subject. "Well, it is over the mountains, but it is over those mountains." I pointed to our left, where the valley narrowed to a cleft between two peaks.
There were a few moments of silence as he absorbed that piece of information and I watched Aragorn shift his position so that his seated body provided some shade to Frodo's face. The fact that Frodo did not blink at the change confirmed that he was, indeed, asleep, although I noticed a small frown smooth as the sun was blocked from his eyes. Samwise and Merriadoc were still talking softly but the conversation had moved on to the best way to cook a chicken. Samwise seemed to prefer roasting, whilst Merriadoc was extolling the virtues of his mothers' casseroles.
"Living in a forest, I suppose you know a lot about trees," came Pippins' voice again.
"I suppose I do," I replied, trying to be non-committal until I could establish which way the conversation was heading. He continued.
"Elves are very good at climbing trees, aren't they?"
I paused a moment while I carefully assessed my answer. "Some elves are, yes. Why do you ask?"
"I watched you jump up into that tree this morning."
I had done it without thinking. We had reached a fork in the path and Aragorn had been unsure whether to turn right or left. He knew that a large oak was the next landmark so I had climbed a nearby ash to see if I could spy it. Spotting the oaks' large canopy easily, I had shouted to Aragorn to take the turning to the left. Pippin was standing at the base of the trunk when I came down. I had got the impression, then, that he wanted to say something but had thought better of it.
"I was raised amongst trees. To me they are as easy a path as the one we used to get here today."
Pippin was picking at the grass at the edge of my cloak. "I've always been frightened of heights. Would you teach me how to climb a tree?" He looked up at me shyly.
"If you are frightened of heights, why do you wish to climb?"
"So I won't be frightened any more."
I had not considered that and yet I remembered my father making me learn how to ride at an early age because he had discovered that I was frightened of horses. I was so comfortable with horses now that I had almost forgotten that early terror.
"Very well, Pippin. When would you like to learn?"
His eyes lit up. "How about, now?"
Mortals are so hasty and Pippin seemed more so than most but I had seen enough of broad vistas myself and I missed the cool, dark woods.
"Very well." I tapped Aragorn on the shoulder. "Pippin and I are just going back down the path a little way. We will return within a couple of hours. Pippin has requested a climbing lesson."
For a moment I thought Aragorn was going to choke with laughter but he managed to control himself. "I don't think I need to tell you not to get lost, do I?" was all he said.
I gave him what I hoped was one of my most imperious glances and he rewarded me with another bout of coughing. I hope Peregrin did not notice that I was trying not to laugh, myself, by the time we left.
When he applied himself, Pippin was a very apt pupil. Remembering my first riding lesson I introduced him to the trees slowly. I started by showing him how to read the bark; which bark would stay put and which would come away beneath his foot and throw him off the branch. Then I taught him how to read the shape of the tree, finding the pattern in its form, so that he could plan his route. After that I selected a large, sturdy oak that assured me that it would not allow him to fall, and lead him a little way up.
By the end of half an hour he could climb several feet off the ground, unaided and without breaking out in a panicked sweat. We sat on a low branch, while he got used to this new perspective on the world. I pulled out my knife and showed him how to carve a whistle out of a small straight twig that he had found. I let him finish the last part of it, a little surprised at his deft, quick actions, and he was ecstatic when he blew its first note. I thought the sound a little flat but it was his first attempt.
I played a short, simple tune on it that my older brothers had taught me when I was a child and he tried very hard to repeat it. Let me just say that there was room for improvement. Pippin, on the other hand, was overjoyed with his new found skill. I felt so happy for him that I made him a present of the little knife my father had given me, all those years ago. You would think that I had given him the moon and all the stars. I decided it would be prudent to lead him back down before he got too excited and fell off the branch. I trusted the tree, but there was only so much help that it could give and I did not wish the young hobbits first climbing lesson to be his last.
If our companions were not already awake they certainly would have been by the time Pippin arrived. He had insisted on making a discordant noise with the whistle all the way back to our resting place and I was desperately resisting the temptation to clap my hands over my tortured ears. I began to regret teaching him how to make it.
Fortunately, Samwise and Merriadoc were already busy packing and Frodo was sitting, drinking some sort of tonic that Aragorn had provided. From the hobbits' grimace I suspected that it tasted unpleasant. I have long suspected that healers take a perverse delight in making their medicines taste as revolting as possible. Master Brandybuck must have seen his face too, for as he finished it Merriadoc tossed him a small apple. Frodo caught it, expertly and quickly took a bite. Aragorn replaced the small bottle of tonic in Sams' pack (I noticed there was enough left for several more doses and did not envy him) and we all prepared for the return journey. Aragorn took up his accustomed place at the head of the party and I brought up the rear again, in case anyone got into difficulties.
Pippin kept up a steady stream of noise all the way. When he wasn't trying to play the whistle, he was showing everyone his new knife or spinning tales of how high he had climbed while they slept. His tales were wildly exaggerated but I did not bother to correct him. He was having too much fun.
As we drew near the house, Frodo hung back until he was walking beside me. "Thank you." I was perplexed.
"What for, Master Baggins?"
"Just plain, Frodo will do. We're going on a long journey together, you and I. I think we'd better set off on first name terms."
"Very well, Frodo. But I am still puzzled. Why do you thank me?"
"I was so worried about Pippin. He doesn't show it, but he is upset about my leaving. I know he wants to go with us but I think he really is too young." He stopped, increasing the gap between us and the rest of the party.
"The journey to Rivendell was so frightening for him and I was selfish to bring him this far. I was scared to go alone so I gave in to his pleadings. This afternoon you have brought back the happy Pippin I knew in the Shire. Thank you." He looked almost as if he was going to cry.
"It was my pleasure, Frodo, but I think you under estimate him. Pippin has a bright spirit that will take a lot of quenching. In fact, I believe that is true of all of you. I have learned much of hobbits today and I am honoured to be included in your company."
Pippin chose just that moment to pop out of the undergrowth at Frodo's side and let out a shrill blast on the whistle, right in his cousins ear. This time I did cover my ears. Three hobbit voices yelled in unison, "Peregrin!" and the little imp ran, squealing, through the gate and into the gardens beyond, chased by three more hobbits threatening death by tickling if they caught him. Aragorn and I could only laugh. This was going to be a very interesting journey.
It felt so good to be home. I had travelled far and seen many fair places but Imladris called to me, wherever I was. My heart lived there, in the form of the only father I had ever known and my only love, Arwen.
I had seen Arwen, only briefly that morning. She had waved from a balcony as we set off on our picnic. Elrond, however, had come down to the garden to see us off. I had been a little surprised but then he had pulled me aside and handed me the small bottle of medicine for Frodo. It was the first day that he had been out of my foster fathers' sight since the Ring bearer had arrived, bedraggled and near death, two weeks before.
"If he grows weary give him some of this but if he shows any signs of fever bring him straight back. He is much stronger than he looks but there is always a chance of a relapse this early in the recovery process. Take no chances." His face was very serious, even for Elrond. I think he saw my worry and gave me one of his rare smiles.
"I do not anticipate any problems but I have invested a great deal of effort in his recovery. I do not want to have to go through that again."
I returned the smile, remembering how he had retired to his bed for most of the day after dealing with the shard of the morgul blade within Frodo. I don't think I had ever seen him so spent. There was a quick squeeze of my shoulder then he left.
Legolas was helping sort our small supplies for the day and, for a moment I could not think what it was that was different about him that morning. Then I realised that he was no longer carrying bow, knife and quiver on his back. Like me, he elected to leave them behind. The smooth marks left by the harness were still visible across the green suede of his jerkin and he kept pushing the cuffs of his shirt out of the way, unused to having them free of archers' leather bracers. I had to admit that I too felt a little unbalanced without the weight of a sword at my left hip. My friend seemed a little worried about something and he kept sorting through the gear again and again, much to the annoyance of Merriadoc and Sam, who were trying to arrange who was to carry what.
"Aragorn. There are no canteens for water."
I smiled. "Legolas. This is Imladris, not Mirkwood. Elrond controls the rivers and streams here. We need only take cups. Any water we find will be clean to drink." Even as I said it I wanted to take it back. His home had not always been called Mirkwood. It was only the presence of Sauron that had turned his beautiful realm of Greenwood into the dangerous forest of Mirkwood, where streams and rivers were polluted by orc and enchantment and the trees infested with giant spiders.
I reached out a hand to his sleeve in apology and he laid his own upon it, nodding acceptance. We had travelled so often together over the years that we did not always need to put our thoughts into words. It suddenly occurred to me that Legolas' upbringing of self reliance could be an asset on the journey to Mount Doom, where we may have no other resources than what we carried with us to rely upon.
I was distracted then, by an argument between Merry and Sam, over the division of gear. Three of the hobbits, Sam, Merry and Pippin, had volunteered to carry the food, and as they would be eating the majority of it I did not put up any argument. Master Gamgee, however, appeared to want to carry more than his fare share and Merry, was busy taking food from Sams pack and adding it to Pippins, much to the annoyance of his young cousin.
Frodo simply stood to one side, smiling at antics he had probably watched a hundred times before. It was good to see him smile again. Merriadoc made some silly comment about making Pippin carry the greater share because he would probably be eating most of it and we all laughed. I never failed to be astonished at how much food that hobbit, in particular, could eat. Finally, having arranged things to Merriadocs' satisfaction, we headed off into the woods beyond the garden.
In truth, there was little to tell where garden left off and woodland began but an arched gateway, set in a low wall marked the boundary at that side of the house. Legolas and I took up positions we had long become accustomed to. I took the lead, knowing our route, and Legolas brought up the rear, so that he could help anyone that got into difficulties.
It went without saying that he would keep a particular eye on Frodo. I knew enough about healing to take Elrond's warning seriously but I hoped that our estimation of the hobbits' recuperative powers was correct and we would have no real problems. I had deliberately chosen a route that climbed steadily, rather than steeply up the valley side. There was a spot I was shown when still a young man that I dearly wanted the hobbits to see.
On our journey to Rivendell I had come to know them quite well but Legolas had not met them, other than across a dinner table or at the council meeting. In truth, I had not originally intended to invite Merry and Pippin but the hobbits seemed inseparable so all four came. I felt it was important that we all get to know each other before we left on our quest and I had invited Boromir, Gandalf and Gimli too.
Gandalf had pleaded urgent business and in his case I did not doubt it. Both Gimli and Boromir had also declined. Boromir had excused himself, saying that he was awaiting an urgent messenger from Minas Tirith. I suspected his refusal had more to do with my presence but I was at a loss how to correct the situation. Perhaps Elrond or Gandalf would be able to suggest something.
Gimli had merely sniffed and walked away when I had confirmed that Legolas had agreed to attend. Something would have to be done about Gimli and Legolas soon for, much as I loved Legolas, I knew that he could be as stubborn as Gimli when it came to the remembrance of past slights between dwarf and elf. There was no doubt in my mind that if Gimli had accepted my invitation first Legolas would have declined. I decided that I would speak to Gandalf on the matter. Much as I loved my foster father I felt that, as an elf, he was too close to the problem. Perhaps Gandalf could at least organise a truce between elf and dwarf for the duration of the journey.
Behind me, I could hear the hobbits chattering away between themselves about anything and nothing. I had never known a people like them for talk. Elves could also talk for hours but they were usually recounting tales, not discussing the minute details of the comings and goings of neighbours. I had to smile as I imagined Legolas covering his ears behind me. When we travelled together we usually did so in companionable silence for he was not naturally talkative and I was too used to travelling alone. This constant stream of talk must have been torture to his sensitive elven hearing.
The path would be getting quite steep a little way ahead and I glanced back, to check on Frodo, just in time to see him stumble over an exposed tree root. All three of the other hobbits reached out to catch him. I winced as I watched his face. I had travelled long enough with them to know that it took a lot to make Frodo Baggins cross. Treating him as though he were made of glass was one of the rare things to do so. Three sets of hands withdrew smartly when confronted with his glower. After that I noticed that Pippin and Merry walked ahead and Sam a little to the rear (although he was still within arms reach).
Legolas watched the proceedings with interest. He had not seen Frodo battle the intense pain of his wound, in silence, between Weathertop and Imladris and had probably fallen in to the trap that many did; thinking that Frodo was weak because he was so small and slim. I guessed that Boromir, certainly, thought so. I had already been given the opportunity to learn that Frodo Baggins was a lot more robust than many people, including hobbits, gave him credit for.
After a while it began to worry me that I had not heard Legolas' voice, joining the conversation. His royal heritage played against him sometimes. If you dropped him in a room full of diplomats or a huge banquet he could converse on anything from the price of corn to the cut of a lady's dress but in less formal settings he was ill at ease. As a member of the royal family he had always been taught to remain aloof in order to retain respect. Fortunately for me he was not very good at it, a fact of which his father reminded him regularly, but it was an early training difficult to unlearn. If one added to that the fact that the elves of Mirkwood rarely mixed with humans, dwarves or other elves and had probably never even heard of hobbits it was a wonder that Legolas was a part of the fellowship at all.
I knew that part of his reason for putting his name forward was guilt for allowing Gollum to escape but I liked to think that another reason was his need to break away from the confines of life at his father's court. It had been that need, after all, which had brought us in to contact so many years ago. My whole idea behind arranging this picnic was to give everyone the opportunity to interact and get to know each other but, as yet, there was little interaction happening.
The late spring rains had damaged the path ahead and I berated myself for not checking our route before hand. I knew there was a difficult section higher up but I had not anticipated problems this low down. Still, I had seen them tackle worse than this in the Trollshaws so I decided to continue, knowing that Legolas would step in to help any stragglers. Suddenly, the prince's clear voice carried to me in the lilting tones of Sindarin.
Damn. I had forgotten to warn him about Frodo. I turned, in time to see Master Baggins look up to Legolas and reply, in Sindarin. If I hadn't been so worried I would have found the expression on my friends face amusing. He had thought to save Frodo's blushes by speaking in a language that he believed he would not understand. It was now time for Legolas to blush.
A small smile spread across Frodo's face, as he tilted his head to look up at the elf from beneath raised brows. Legolas realised that he was the butt of Frodo's gentle humour and laughed and, unable to contain his amusement Frodo joined his laughter to Legolas'; his head thrown back and his eyes twinkling. I wished I had known Frodo before those dark days, when he laughed like that more often.
Thankful that the tension had passed I turned back to our route. I was concentrating so hard on finding the easiest way around the damaged path that for several minutes I did not hear the conversation behind me. When I did I almost let out a cheer. At the rear of our party was the soft musical duet of a conversation in Sindarin. I chanced a look over my shoulder and found Frodo and Legolas talking together. Perhaps the day would be a success after all.
When we finally came to the steepest part of our route I had to help the hobbits up for the steps were far too deep for their short strides. I saw Frodo pause, his face fallen, as he realised that he may need to be carried. He had not yet the strength in his arms and legs to make the climb, even with a hand up from me. Then I watched him take a deep breath and square his shoulders, accepting that it had to be endured if he was to follow us. I was grateful when I saw Legolas suddenly move forward to climb beside him, diplomatically slipping a hand on Frodo's back to help at the most difficult parts; his action masked by Frodo's body and unnoticed by the other hobbits as they waited at the top.
Merry ran forward to catch me up.
"Good morning, Master Merriadoc."
He smiled at my formality and reposted with, "Good morning, my lord Aragorn."
I chuckled, knowing that he would soon slip back into calling me Strider. He always did, and to be truthful, I didn't mind. Strider had fewer responsibilities than Aragorn. For a while we walked in silence and I guessed he was building himself up to something. He finally decided on a formula that suited him.
"Gandalf says that you grew up here. You must have been very happy. It's very beautiful."
Very happy? Yes, sometimes I had been very happy here and at other times I had been very sad. "It is beautiful. But it is a beauty that has to be protected. It is not created solely by nature. This is one of the few places that can hold out, still, against the darkness," I replied. "I wanted Frodo to see it before we set out; to see what was at stake."
"Lord Elrond is your foster father, isn't he?" I began to get a glimmer of where this conversation was heading.
"We are distantly related. He took my mother and me in when my father died." I could feel him digesting that piece of information; however his next comment surprised me.
"That's a bit like Bilbo and Frodo, isn't it?"
I had never considered us having that in common. We had both suffered grief at an early age and we were both thrust into a destiny that may change us for ever.
"I suppose it is, Merry, although I was only two when my father died. I know only what others have told me about him. I understand Frodo was about twelve when his parents died. It must have been a greater wrench for him." Again there was a silence as he chose his words.
"Lord Elrond probably talks to you a lot, being your foster father."
Ah, now the conversation was veering back in the direction I had suspected it was going in the beginning. "He is always there, when I need him. Yes. Although he has a great many other responsibilities to claim his time." Here it comes.
"Has he told you who will be filling the last two places in the fellowship?"
"No, he has not, Merry. I don't think he has made his decision yet."
"You know, Frodo would never have made it this far without me and Pippin. I think it's unfair to separate us now." There now, he had said it and I could sense him relax, knowing that he had got it out in the open.
"You are right, Merry. He needed your strength. But the journey before him is long and much more difficult that the one you have taken thus far. He will need people able to defend him." It was a hard thing for me to say and I knew it hurt him.
"I know I'm no good with a sword but I would defend Frodo with my bare hands if I had to. He is dearer to me than.....than myself. And he will need more than swords to support him. He will need people who will love him, whatever happens."
He had a point. These hobbits were different to men. Their confusing family trees were a reflection of their personalities. They were intertwined with each other. To cut one hobbit off from the rest of his people would almost be to kill him. It was a wonder to me that Bilbo survived, but then Bilbo had always been an exceptional hobbit.
"I will mention it to Elrond. But I suspect he will have already considered it. He has not lived all these years without gaining a great deal of wisdom in these matters." Merry seemed happy that I would at least talk to Elrond.
"Thank you, Strider."
Pippin ran up to join us at that point so there was no further opportunity to pursue the conversation. Something of which, I am ashamed to say, I was grateful.
It appeared that Frodo's conversation with Legolas was the signal the other hobbits had been waiting for, because after that I noticed all of them talking with Legolas at some point. The Prince of Mirkwood even initiated a conversation with the normally reticent Sam. By mid day the divisions between elf and hobbit seemed to have broken down somewhat, culminating in a rather amusing discussion over lunch between Legolas and Merriadoc about the foibles of their respective fathers. It seemed they had much in common.
I had hoped to have lunch at our destination but Legolas had signalled that Frodo looked to be tiring, and mindful of Elrond's warning, I found a secluded glade in which to eat. Frodo did look a little weary and I considered giving him some of the tonic, but decided that if I could get him to eat a sandwich and drink some wine he would probably be alright. He looked as though he was going to refuse at first but then he sighed and took the sandwich I offered. I noticed Legolas watching us and wondered what he was thinking.
After lunch, it was only a short walk, to the lookout point that I had wanted to show them. When we arrived I was gratified to see that it affected them in the same way it had me, when Elrohir and Elladin had brought me here all those years ago. It was an image of my home that I carried with me always: The steep grey rock of the mountain sides, clothed in trees, dressed now in their autumn finery with the many waterfalls and cascades, wreathed in rainbows; that crashed down to the river far below. I had been only sixteen and we had brought a picnic then too, only we had eaten it here, with the view of the valley as a glorious backdrop.
I expected Pippin to be the first to comment but Sam surprised me.
"Well there's an eye opener, as my Gaffer always says."
That seemed to break the spell, for Pippin rushed towards the edge, to see how far down it was. I knew that, in common with many hobbits, he didn't take heights too well so I caught him before he reached it. I don't think he realised just how far below the valley floor was. Merriadoc rescued him from my grasp, and I tried not to smile as I watched Legolas, knowing from previous conversations, that he had his own family memories of older brothers and cuffed ears.
I pointed out some of the features to them then; naming the waterfalls and pointing out some of the smaller buildings and, after about half an hour of question and answer we all settled down in the warmth of the autumn sun.
I stole a glance at Frodo, by my side. He was sitting with his legs drawn up, hands clasped loosely around his ankles and chin resting on his knees and I watched as his eyelids slid shut and he started to tumble slowly towards me. I was just getting ready to catch him when he sensed the motion and his eyes flew open in alarm, planting a hand at his side to stop himself. He looked around quickly to see if anyone had noticed and when he got to me he realised he had been caught.
"Why don't you lie down for a little while, Frodo? We will not be leaving for a couple of hours. I will wake you in time." I saw that straightening of the shoulders that he did so often and knew I was in for an argument.
"I'm all right Stri..., I mean, Aragorn."
I sighed. "Frodo, you have been very ill for a long time. You nearly died, you know. Your body needs rest if you are going to be ready for the difficult journey ahead. No-one will think badly of you." I watched him consider my statement and hoped that my mention of being fit enough for the journey would swing his decision.
Capitulating gracefully, he lay down on his back and closed his eyes, finally giving in to my logic. Within minutes his breathing had evened out. I felt guilty for having made him walk so far, but I wanted him to see, wanted them all to see, what was at stake. I touched fingers to the pulse point at his wrist and found a slow steady rhythm, the skin warm and dry to the touch. Having no other means to shelter him from the suns glare I shifted position so that my shadow covered his face.
Merry and Sam held a murmured conversation about cloud shapes and I had great difficulty not laughing as they fell into a good natured argument about the shape of an oliphaunt. Behind me Pippin had decided to attach himself to Legolas. For a moment I thought of rescuing him, but then I decided to see if the elf could deal with it himself. I could sense Legolas squirming at first, but then he sounded amused and surprised by turns. It was my turn to be surprised, however, when Pippin talked him into showing him how to climb trees.
When they left Merry and Sams' voices gradually sank, the sentences growing farther apart, until the only sound was of three hobbits breathing and the drone of bees harvesting the last of the pollen from the orgiliath bushes behind us. I let them rest for a while, for Frodo's sake; only waking them when I became worried that we would not be back at the house before dark. It was autumn and the evenings were drawing in. I did not want Frodo exposed yet to the cold, damp autumn night air. Our Ring bearer looked much better after his nap but I made him take a dose of the medicine anyway. I knew its contents and it would certainly do him no harm.
As Sam and Merry were packing we were assailed by one of the most raucous sounds it has ever been my misfortune to hear. Its' source proved to be Pippin, who breezed in, with a wincing Legolas in tow. If I found the sound of the whistle too shrill I did not want to think what it was doing to elven ears and could not imagine what had possessed Legolas to give it to him. Apparently, Pippin at least had been having great fun and, to hear him tell it, he had climbed to the top of a large oak tree. I caught Legolas stifling a laugh at that one. I was very surprised when the young hobbit showed me the knife Legolas had given him. I knew it had been a present from the king and I wondered if Pippin knew its sentimental value to his new found friend. He must have made quite an impression on the prince.
The walk back down to the house was much noisier than the trek up, something that I would hardly have thought possible. Not needing to concentrate so hard on the route I was able to take a more active part in the various conversations and there were many. We were all talking as though we had been together for weeks instead of days. There was no division now between hobbits and big people. I found myself talking to Sam one minute and Merry the next and I noticed that Legolas too was much more animated, answering questions about his home from Merry, teaching Pippin a tune on the whistle or talking earnestly with Frodo.
It was just as we reached the gate, and Frodo was deep in serious conversation with Legolas, that Pippin burst out of the bushes and let out a shrill blast on his whistle, right in Frodo's ear. Legolas yelped and covered his own ears and three hobbit voices shouted, in unison, "Peregrin!"
Pippin took off, shrieking, across the lawn, with the three other hobbits close behind, shouting all manner of threats about what they would do when they caught him. From behind me I heard Legolas' silver laugh. As the sound of the hobbits faded amongst the shrubbery at the far end of the lawn I, too, found myself laughing, with relief. Not only had the day been a success, but I had actually enjoyed it.
Now if I could just find Gandalf and have a word about Legolas and Gimli, this Fellowship of the Ring may actually work.
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