West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Riders to the Sea
Frodo wanders far from home and meets a hurt Ranger. (Written for a waymeet challenge).
Some nights Frodo hiked far from home, padding over grass that sparkled silver under the moonlight, and when he got far enough away from Hobbiton, he sometimes imagined he caught the gentle salt fragrance of the sea. He had never seen the sea, but he dreamed about it often, and in the dreams waves battered a majestic tower. The foam sometimes took the form of magnificent white and silver steeds, like the mearas of the distant land of Rohan. It was no wonder that these lords of horses appeared in his dreams - Gandalf spoke of them with fondness. Frodo ached to see Gandalf again. It had been far too long since Gandalf's last visit to the Shire. Frodo wondered if hobbits had passed beyond the wizard's interest, and this thought grieved him.
On such wandering nights, Frodo sometimes glimpsed what looked like clusters of stars glimmering in the distant woods, and if he held his breath, he caught the strains of ethereal music on the wind. The singing tugged at his heart and made him think of Bilbo with his bright eyes and jolly laugh, and tears would well up in his eyes. Elvish music does that, Bilbo always said, It can make you weep or laugh with no warning at all. Frodo lad, there is much enchantment in the world - mearas, Elves, and Rings that make you invisible - but never forget the magic in your own backyard. The moon, the sun, cricket song, clouds that turn from maidens to horses. Now, that's magic worth fighting for.
One autumn night, when the air was crisp and the moon a heavy silver orb, Frodo chased the stars across the hills and fields, and he followed the scent of sea and the dream of crashing horse-waves. He wandered far from home, so far that he would either have to camp or spend all the night walking home. Stepping out of the woods and into a clearing, he gasped with delight. A pond shimmered black-silver under the pale illumination of the full moon. Mist sparkled over the glassy water. Frogs croaked and insects buzzed in peaceful rhythm.
Bilbo had been right. There was indeed much enchantment in the world, and it needed no magic or spells. Frodo settled on a log, cupping his cheeks with his hands, and stared in wonder at the gentle silvery ripples.
Then Frodo heard the groan. He startled, turning toward the sound, heart pounding.
Or perhaps a traveling hobbit like himself (or Bilbo) was lying injured or ill, far from aid. Frodo held his breath and strained his ears. For a time he heard only the thudding of his own heart and the croaking and buzzing and occasional splash of a jumping fish.
He had almost begun to believe that he had imagined the groan when it happened again. It was definitely not an animal.
Frodo crept toward the sound, his heart hammering.
It was no hobbit sprawled on the grass, clutching his leg, but a great, tall man. Blood had seeped onto the grass, glittering like dark gems.
Frodo stared, dumbfounded.
Besides Gandalf, he had never encountered one of the Big People before. All he knew of them was that they were well...big and rather stupid. And perhaps even wicked. But whether stupid or wicked or both, they tramped and bumbled over the land on their small, leather-covered feet, which somehow made more noise than a herd of Oliphaunts.
Frodo marveled at just how enormous this man was, powerful. Then the man groaned again, and Frodo shook himself out of his daze. The man was wounded, and he needed aid.
Frodo swallowed, gathering the courage to speak. But how could he be sure that the man was not a villain, like the men who sometimes bullied hobbits and stole crops in the Southfarthing? Even badly wounded, a man could still overpower a hobbit (like Frodo). He dug in the dirt for stones, a hobbit's best weapon.
When he had gathered three stones, he cleared his throat. "Sir." He knelt beside the man, holding fast to the stones in his fist.
Without warning, a strong hand clamped around Frodo's wrist, forcing the stones from his hand. Frodo was too shocked to cry out, and he froze like cornered prey. Bilbo had often warned that there was cruel enchantment in the world as well, such as wretched creatures in deep mountain pools, goblins, giant spiders, and the greed of Men.
The man raised himself a little, leaning on one elbow, wincing with the effort. Frodo could see that his hair was unkempt and unwashed, but his face was handsome and noble. He spoke to Frodo and at first Frodo could not understand what he said, but then he realized that the man was speaking in Elvish and he caught the words "night" and "hurt." Frodo's fear eased, for he did not believe that anyone who spoke the fair tongue would do him harm.
"I do not understand in full what you've said to me," Frodo said. Now that his fear had passed, his heart pattered with a strange thrill. He had landed right in the middle of an adventure.
He glanced at the blood on the man's leg and sobered immediately. He should be ashamed to forget the man's misfortune. "I can see that you are hurt and I've nothing with me to ease you. Do you have something?" Frodo glanced in the direction of the enormous backpack that lay against a nearby tree.
"Wait." The man's voice was hoarse. "You are not an Elf..." He laughed, although he immediately winced again. "The pain has addled my brain. Under the light of the moon you appear as one of the fair folk. But now I can see that you are a hobbit, one of the halflings..." He looked at Frodo in puzzlement. "You are far from any village. It is not like your folk to wander so far." He glanced at his wound in despair. "All my healing skills and I have not the strength to crawl back to my pack." The man fell back, overcome by pain again. "I've items in my pack," he gasped, "cloths and a pouch of athelas, kingsfoil, herbs to ease the pain."
"I will help the best I can," Frodo said.
"I am called Strider," the man said, and he eased his grip on Frodo's wrist and clasped his hand in firm greeting.
"Frodo Baggins at your service. What must I do first?"
"Do hobbits know how to light fires in the wilderness?"
Frodo met Strider's skeptical gaze and smiled. "This hobbit does." He unbuttoned his wool cloak and folded it until it was the size of a pillow. "At least your head should lie on something soft. And do you have water? You must be parched."
"You'll take a chill," Strider said, but he moved his head enough to allow Frodo to push the folded cloak under his head.
"I'm getting a fire started, remember?" Frodo answered.
Gathering firewood at night was not too difficult with a full moon lighting the way, and before long, just as Bilbo had taught him, he had a fire going. Flames popped and snapped, sending an eerie flickering orange light over the silver-black water. He found a small kettle among Strider's belongings, dunked it in the pond water and then brought it back to boil over the fire. It wasn't very clean, but it was the best he had. He then found the leather water pouch attached to the pack. The man was surprisingly fair-spoken, and far more intelligent than he had expected out of one of the Big People. He no longer feared him, and in fact found his deep voice to be calming. He was also quite proud of himself that he had gotten the fire started. He fervently hoped that he would be able to ease the man's pain.
"What happened to you?" Frodo asked, settling beside Strider. He put his arm under Strider's neck and forced his head up just a little, so that he could sip water. Strider did not just sip - he gulped as if he had been parched for far too long.
"Thank you," he whispered, wiping his mouth. "I took an arrow to the leg. I thought I could make it to the nearest Ranger camp, but I could not. Wandering so far from home can be risky. You should have a care, Frodo, when you travel this far from home. There are dangers, even in the Shire." Then with the flick of a wrist, Strider suddenly unsheathed a small knife from the belt around his tunic, and Frodo gasped, jumping back and dropping the leather water pouch. When he saw that Strider was merely cutting the fabric of his leggings around the wound, he laughed.
"Point well made," Frodo laughed again, his heart still pounding.
Strider grinned as he cut into his trousers with a great ripping sound. His grin turned into a grimace. Blood had pasted the fabric to his skin in some areas, and he had to tug to loosen it.
"The athelas is in a small pouch inside one of the side pockets of my pack. You can't miss the scent. It looks like dried leaves."
Frodo nodded. He dug inside Strider's pack again until he found the cloths and the pouch with the athelas in it. Just smelling it cleared his head and allowed him to breathe easier. He dropped a pinch of the leaves into the boiling water, then dipped a cloth in the water and wrung it out. The hot soaked cloth felt good on his chilled fingers.
Frodo put the cloth with utmost gentleness on Strider's wound. Strider hissed in pain, clutching the grass but trying not to squirm. "Oh, oh, dear," Frodo pulled the cloth away. "I am sorry!" Watching this great, enormous man writhe in pain was almost more than he could bear.
"Go on," Strider said. "You must keep cleaning it. Already it eases."
So Frodo dipped the cloth in the athelas water again and then wiped the wound clean. When it was clean and Strider was breathing with ease again, Frodo wrapped a cloth gently around his leg, tying it tightly enough to anchor it in place but not so tight that it cut off his blood flow.
"There! How does that feel?" Frodo sat back on his heels.
Strider struggled into a seated position, sheathing his knife again. "Much better. After I rest for the night, I will clean the wound one more time with the athelas, and I think I shall be able to make my way to shelter."
With no warning, Strider grabbed Frodo in a sudden embrace. Frodo's gasp was muffled as he drowned in the large man's powerful hold. His face was pressed hard against Strider's tunic and the hilt of a knife or sword dug into his stomach, and for a moment he could not breathe. He wondered if all men carried weapons. Hobbits never did. Frodo marveled that this strong and stern man who roamed the wild had faced far more hardship and danger than Frodo probably ever would. Strider released him as abruptly as he had grabbed him. "Thank you, my friend."
"It was...well, I did not mind," Frodo said, catching his breath.
"Then you will join my camp tonight?" Strider asked, handing Frodo back his cloak. "Surely you do not plan on walking home so late."
Frodo leaned against his new friend, careful not to bump his wound. "I will stay. But only if you tell me everything you know of the world outside the Shire."
Strider looked down at him, his eyebrows raised. "Everything?"
Frodo smiled. "Absolutely everything. Leave nothing out. Begin with Rohan...and the mearas."
As Strider spoke in a low, rich voice, Frodo watched the moon rise and grow more luminous. He began to feel drowsy, and as he slipped into a light doze, he thought again about his dream riders, magnificent silver-white steeds that pounded the shores with their hooves. He thought about enchantment of all kinds, of Elvish music and magical Rings and best of all, adventures unsought but nevertheless found.
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