The world and characters used in these pieces belong to JRR Tolkien. I'm only exploring and hope he would not be too upset.
1. Chapter 1 by elwen of the hidden valley
2. Chapter 2 by elwen of the hidden valley
3. Chapter 3 by elwen of the hidden valley
4. Chapter 4 by elwen of the hidden valley
5. Chapter 5 by elwen of the hidden valley
6. Chapter 6 by elwen of the hidden valley
7. Chapter 7 by elwen of the hidden valley
8. Chapter 8 by elwen of the hidden valley
9. Chapter 9 by elwen of the hidden valley
10. Chapter 10 by elwen of the hidden valley
11. Chapter 11 by elwen of the hidden valley
12. Chapter 12 by elwen of the hidden valley
13. Chapter 13 by elwen of the hidden valley
14. Chapter 14 by elwen of the hidden valley
15. Chapter 15 by elwen of the hidden valley
16. Chapter 16 by elwen of the hidden valley
17. Chapter 17 by elwen of the hidden valley
18. Chapter 18 by elwen of the hidden valley
19. Chapter 19 by elwen of the hidden valley
20. Chapter 20 by elwen of the hidden valley
21. Chapter 21 by elwen of the hidden valley
22. Chapter 22 by elwen of the hidden valley
23. Chapter 23 by elwen of the hidden valley
24. Chapter 24 Hobbit Footsteps by elwen of the hidden valley
25. Chapter 25 by elwen of the hidden valley
26. Chapter 26 by elwen of the hidden valley
27. Chapter 27 by elwen of the hidden valley
28. Chapter 28 by elwen of the hidden valley
29. Golden Farewell by elwen of the hidden valley
Frodo finally looked into their small camp fire. Since Mordor he had hidden his dislike of it from others. Even in the safety of Rivendell he avoided the Hall Of Fire.
Flames writhed, wrapping about the wood they had collected, flickering gold, orange and red. Devouring even as the eye had tried to devour his mind; it trapped him in memory with the stench of sulphur and skin blistering heat.
Sam’s strong hand reached across his vision, rolling sausages in his new frying pan. And suddenly the fire was just a fire; a place of good food, warmth and companionship.
I AM STILL HERE
“Still here, Mr Frodo? Thought you were abed.”
“Yes Sam. I am still here,” he replied wistfully, laying down his pen.
Most of him was here at least. But it felt as though he had left a trail of bits across all Middle earth and the largest part on Mount Doom. What was left felt poorly strung together.
“I’m getting warm milk for Rosie. She can’t sleep with the baby so close. Would you like some?”
“Yes please.” He tried a smile. Milk would not help but it would please Sam.
He took up the quill.
“Hamfast Gamgee, yer off yer noddle!” Bell declaimed roundly.
“ Tis only a hobby. There’s a contest down The Green Dragon,” her husband replied.
“Hobbies is for folks with nothin’ better to do.”
“Mr Bilbo has his writin’.”
“That’s my point!” Bell retorted.
“We could always eat the pumpkin after,” Hamfast suggested weakly.
“Have you ever tasted one of them giant pumpkins? They don’t taste of nothin’. I aint cookin’ with one. Tis a waste of my good piecrust.” Bell stomped back in the smail.
Hamfast sighed and went back to planting the peas.
A last gull wheeled about the ships mast before winging back to land and he whispered, “Namaarie.”
Strange that long ago the first elvish word Bilbo had taught him meant, goodbye.
He was sick of goodbyes. He had goodbye’d and namaarie’d kings and commoners, elves, dwarves, family and friends. Then he had farewell’d Bag End and all the Shire’s familiar woods and rivers.
Kissing Sam’s forehead had been the hardest, yet sweetest.
The Ringbearer inhaled deeply of moist salt air and turned about. No more namaarie. Now was the time for hello.
He smiled, bowing to the setting sun. “Vedui.”
RUN and RUN and RUN
Not for the first time Bilbo questioned his decision to join this quest.
I nice walking party he could enjoy but ever since he had run out of the door to join these dwarves he had not paused to even blow his nose. They seemed to flee wildly from one disaster to the next.
Now they were dashing, willy-nilly about a wet moorland; one obviously dotty wizard leading whilst another, even dottier, unsuccessfully tried to draw off their relentless pursuers.
“Gentlehobbits do not run,” an aunt had once told him. Unless they want to get killed, he thought.
Gems and Jewels
Gems and jewels aint naught but trouble.
Mr Bilbo now, ran into all manner of mishap over a fancy stone and dwarf gold.
It was him told me tales ‘bout elves, high and mighty as they was, killin’ each other over them Silmaril baubles.
And my Master Frodo? Well, I can’t say as he wanted stuff like that at the start. But even he was wantin’ at the last. It nearly killed him and he aint the same since.
Just give me good earth so I can grow enough to feed me and mine and you can keep yer baubles.
We been ‘round longer un them. They’s not five minutes out o’ the mud and still wet behind the ears. What they need to be so big for anyway? Orcs is short an’ always has been.
An’ what’s Saruman want these scrawny pets for? Never trust a wizard I says. They’s not big enough for more ‘an a mouthful and there’ll be even less of ‘em if they run all the way to Isengard.
Not them though, with their bloomin’ long legs. But I reckon we can still take these stinkin’ Uruk-hai.
So that Ugluk fella ‘ad better watch out.
They had not spoken at the end. What more love could they have wrested from words?
Sam’s hand drifted down, unheeded to the harbour wall. His had not been a wave. The arm had risen at mind’s command but his heart was not willing to condone such a frivolous gesture.
Broad stone, salt crystal dusted, pitted his palm and he remembered how perfectly Frodo’s three-fingered grasp had fitted his, remembered and held it close because memory was all that remained. Would that memory could erase the flat azure gaze and pale face.
Above the gulls gave voice to his loss.
Touching shore Elrond staggers. Piercing light scatters the bleakness of his soul and colours cavort and spin as his inward gaze seeks the fount of this fearful, wondrous gift.
Then the soothing caress of her soul, flooding the aching hollows of his heart draws him to her embrace, to bury a face hot with tears in the perfumed fall of her silver hair. Mind and body find their haven as Celebrian coaxes with warm, remembered touch of heart and soul. Gathering him in as she always has, she knows all, accepts all, loves all.
And he is whole once more.
“Your furniture’s back in the rooms it came from, cousin,” Merry announced, whipping off Frodo’s blindfold.
“T'aint what it was,” Sam apologised. “What didn’t go to Crick-hollow with you was only fit for burning after Sharkey had finished with it.”
“You’ve done a wonderful job. All of you.” Frodo’s vision misted as he circled slowly, absorbing every familiar inch of home, and he had to hold back a sob as he noticed Pippin standing in the hallway, having just finished painting dear Bag End’s round green door.
Would that he could be set to rights so easily.
On The Brink
They say Mr Bilbo is queer and maybe his life could rightly be called that. But he’s done a lot of good, though he don’t boast on it, and folks is too soon to shout, “queer” and too closed mouthed on, “good”, if you ask me.
Me and Ham raised our youngsters strong but this will fall hard on them all. Still, I’m not too worried about goin’. My pain will soon be done and I know Mr Bilbo will see them through theirs. He’s always been there for us, and there’s nowt queer and much that’s good about that.
Breaking the Habit
He had grown used to balancing its dark weight around his neck. Used to its’ warmth against his chest. Used to clutching it safe as he ran. Used to hearing it’s seductive lies in his mind.
It was gone, yet a maimed hand still strayed to his breast; groping wildly for the weight, the warmth, the whispers.
But now three fingered hand captured bright crystal threaded on a delicate chain; gift from the new queen. Perhaps some habits should not be broken. For this cool gem sang brightly of love, hope, healing and clear starlight over a far green country.
The Nature Of Evil.
People say evil is something done TO you. I suppose that’s right. But the worst kind of evil does something WITH you.
You can’t leave that kind of evil behind because it changes you, making you feel and do things that scar your soul forever. That makes it easier to forgive others, but not so easy to forgive yourself. Because at some point you became a willing tool of evil.
Everyone is so kind but they do not know. I am no longer innocent and must leave if I am ever going to reconcile this new Frodo to the old.
Ted Sandyman snorted. “That’s far-fetched.”
“What do you mean?” asked Gaffer Gamgee.
“I mean,” crowed Ted, “It’s been fetched as far from the edge of Bilbo Baggins’ imagination as you can get.”
“Well, I’ve always found Mr Bilbo to be an honest gentlehobbit. If he says there’s spiders out there as big as you an’ me, then I believe him,” the Gaffer replied stoutly.
“Must be summat about livin’ on that hill. You’re all touched in the head.” Sandyman stomped off to join his friends at another table, leaving Sam and his dad to seethe indignantly.
Air ripping at hair and clothing, flooding his open mouth. Land and sky a spinning kaleidoscope of light, searing sight to cleansing tears. Hoof beat on packed earth vibrating powerfully through aching thighs.
Eomer’s arms hug Frodo close against firm muscled body, moulded as one with the horse. A heart thunders beneath him, another behind, evidence of life full and overflowing. A vigour that must find expression in this headlong rush into being.
There should be terror, but instead Frodo is purged of fear, immersed in the here, the now, this day, life.
He cries his joy into the wind.
“Come on, Pet. Just two mouthfuls. For Mama.”
The wee lad just curled up on his side, pale lips clenched.
Primula sighed. “It will make you feel better and stop you being sick,” she coaxed, brushing back her son’s curls.
“Tastes nasty,” Frodo mumbled into his pillow.
Primula inhaled the steam. “Not too bad. I’ve added honey and it can’t be as nasty as being sick,” she pointed out.
Frodo sniffled, fixing her with brimming blue eyes. Uncurling slowly he warily accepted the cup.
He was never going to eat apples again. Leastwise, not twenty at a time.
My Weapon's Name
Frodo squinted at the finely engraved blade in his hands, trying to read the inscription by flickering firelight.
“It is an ancient knife,” murmured Legolas as he settled at the Ringbearer’s side.
“Bilbo found it in a troll hole. Can you read it? This light is too dim for my eyes.”
Legolas leaned in, finger tracing the flowing ribbon of Sindarin letters. “Maegnas aen estar nin dagnir in yngylim. Roughly translated, ‘Sting is my name. I am the spider’s bane.’” He smiled. “I hope it serves you well.”
Frodo grimaced. “I’d rather not need its service at all.”
“What’s a fell creature and where’s it fell from?” That’s what I used to ask 'afore we started on this job.
Well, I know now and I’d rather not. Seems they’ve all fell out with us.
Troll nearly felled Mr Frodo in Moria and that there Balrog felled poor Mr Gandalf on the bridge. Stinker Gollum fell on us off a cliff and now there’s these Nazgul. They fell on us out the sky.
The sooner we can say that ring fell down the Cracks Of Doom the better. And if Stinker’s felled with it I won’t be sorry.
Legolas pushed past him with a sigh. “Can you not run?” he murmured at the shorter dwarf.
Gimli bristled, picking up his pace. “My folk marched fast enough outside Erebor.”
“Yet still needed elven help,” the Mirkwood elf called back.
Gimli scowled, burrowing his way through the drifts. Sensing lightly shod feet hurrying atop the snow at his shoulder he couldn’t help himself. His axe haft flew sideways and he was rewarded with the sight of Legolas, princely son of Thranduil, taking an undignified swan dive face down in a snowdrift.
“Can you not run?” he asked mildly.
Growing up with books, it wasn’t until she was old enough to visit the homes of playfriends’ that Elanor realised not all smails had them.
She turned a slow circle in her Da’s study, inhaling that special smell of paper, ink and pipeweed. Then she wrestled the stepstool into place, stretching up for her favourite tome, its red leather cover glowing in the sunlight.
Da promised that one day she would be able to read it for herself. But for now she lifted it down reverently and clambered into his lap.
“When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced . . . “
It was not unpleasant, this floating detachment. Frodo watched camp breaking; so orderly, the way an army should behave he supposed. They told him such was beneath the saviour of Middle earth and had politely guided him aside as they worked.
It was like a mummers show. Frodo saw the world move on while he watched from the wings.
A strong arm stole about his shoulders. “Mr Frodo? Come sit with me and your cousins.” The touch grounded him clicking him back into place, like a piece in a puzzle.
Here, with friends, he could find harbour for a while.
“Come out and let’s look at you.” Bilbo’s amused voice drifted through the curtains.
A final tug to the brocade waistcoat and Frodo slid out to face his tormentors. He tensed as Buttercup Brownbottle waddled towards him, mouth bristling with pins. Having an aunt fiddling about with the coverings of his anatomy was one thing, but Frodo would never get used to the attentions of a professional seamstress.
Her podgy but deft fingers plucked at the waistcoat, tucking a pin here, unpicking a seam there. Frodo set himself to endure her attentions.
Why did clothes maketh the gentlehobbit anyway?
Sam tensed as chubby fingers eased hair-fine roots from the pot, wincing as a plantlet plopped on to the lawn, several inches from carefully grubbed hole in the border.
Restraining the urge to rescue, he waited as rosebud lips formed a startled O and his firstborn gathered the marigold in gentle palms, bestowing a sloppy kiss on the leaves before setting it safely in moist loam. Her grubby fingertips tucked soil snugly about the stem.
Smiling, Sam leaned back proudly to watch. Little Elanor may have a hint of elven in her looks but she was Gamgee through and through.
The Flag of Surrender
Frodo folded his arms, glowering from beneath his fringe. “Absolutely not.”
One eyebrow climbed Elrond’s forehead as he set a tray upon the bed. “We have tried gentler methods and they have proved ineffective.”
Blue eyes surveyed the large bulb and tubing, the bowl of liquid, and undignified childhood memories surfaced. Frodo crossed his ankles.
Elrond’s voice was calm. “Are you not looking forward to the feast tomorrow?”
“Even a hobbit body will hold only a certain amount of food before exploding.”
Frodo blew out a resigned sigh and Elrond nodded.
“Aragorn, his legs please.”
One final cruel twist and nightmare cast him upon the beach of morning, shaking and slick with icy perspiration.
Honeysuckled air teased open curtains, conjoining wantonly with warm bread and bacon to cleanse the attar of his dreams, and his racing heart slowed to match the lazy courtship of dust motes dancing in the fingers of sunlight caressing his shoulder.
From the kitchen merry laughter, underscored by a soft chuckle, bound up the coarser shrieks of memory. He would bask a while then he must leave before the pain of their love, his loss, toppled crumbled ruins of his soul.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
He floated, a wisp of down on air as soft as green in springtime. Sunbeams caressed pale cheeks and Ithilien enfolded him in the sweet perfume of leaf and blossom.
Gone, the cloying grey misty tendrils robbing warmth, the acrid dust clogging his breath. Darkness that had leached all to grey was swept away and strength devouring flame, extinguished.
Destroyed. He was free of it. But was he whole? Healed?
Upon-a-time his soul had brimmed, instead there was only a bereft and aching cavity. The Ring was gone. Who, now, was Frodo Baggins, once a son, a cousin, friend, Ringbearer?
Sam always felt guilty watching Mr. Frodo like this. But Gandalf had said to keep an eye on him and Sam Gamgee was not one to abandon a promise.
He glanced up from a particularly delicious pie on Mistress Greenfield’s pastry stall, to find that his master’s dark curls had disappeared into the Loende market crowd. Casting about frantically, Sam spun in alarm when someone tapped his shoulder.
Frodo hopped back, giggling. “If Gandalf only knew what a terrible spy you made. I think it would be easier if we shopped together. Don’t you?” He smiled companionably, linking Sam’s arm.
(Loende . . . mid year’s day.)
So cold.Bill shuffled, unable to settle into sleep in this bleak landscape.
Most of the two-legs lay huddled together in their thick coverings and Bill remembered that feeling of warmth from his mother, long ago. To be a part of a herd was a comfortable thing.
He shivered as a chill breeze slapped his flank. Then there was a familiar touch and he looked down at Master. He stood with the golden one and between them they threw a cover over Bill’s back. He snorted his thanks, feeling the soothing touch of the eldar bidding him comfortable sleep now.
LETS PLAY A GAME
Gandalf looked at Frodo worriedly. He had no doubts about Bilbo leaving, but Frodo? The lad had lost his parents to a river’s whim. Now he was to lose his uncle. Was he strong enough?
Merriment across the party field drew Gandalf’s keen eye.
Frodo was now at the centre of a crowd of hobbits, where he sat atop Sam’s shoulders, exchanging cushion blows with Pippin, perched upon Merry. Supporters shouted with equal voracity for both sets of protagonists and laughed just as loudly when all overbalanced, landing in a giggling heap.
Gandalf smiled. No need to worry there, then.
The Image of Perfection
Merry smirked. “Aren’t you both the image of perfection.”
Frodo chuckled but Sam shuffled newly brushed feet and ran fingers around the inside of his tight linen collar.
“Yes Merry. The very height of fashion.” Pippin folded his arms and looked the two up and down.
Sam gave a mournful glance backward.
“Oh no you don’t.” Frodo grinned as he grabbed his arm. “They all want to meet Samwise-The-Brave.”
Sam growled. “Tell ‘em he’s just been strangled to death by his collar.”
But Frodo only laughed brightly, tugging his friend into the feasting hall. “Together then, Samwise The-Not-So-Brave.”
Frodo looked up at his host. “May I ask a question?”
“How else would one acquire knowledge?”
“I was in darkness. Then I heard you calling me but I can’t remember the words.”
Elrond’s warm voice enfolded him in peace. “Lasto beth nim. Tolo dan na ngalad. Listen to me. Return to the light.”
“Your language sounds so beautiful. Bilbo taught me a little once, but do you think someone would be willing to tutor me here?” Frodo swallowed. “I think I need distracting from the journey ahead.”
“It would be my honour to instruct you.”
The Lion And The Mouse
“Strange name for a pub,” Sam murmured.
“It’s all strange here,” replied Frodo.
“And big.” Merry stretched to reach the door handle.
“Well, Berigond said it serves the best beer in Minas Tirith. So let’s try it.” Pip helped Merry push open the battered door.
The dim interior overwhelmed, with its odour of stale beer, fresh sawdust, pipeweed and many bodies; the sounds of laughter, music and conversation. The familiarity of it all choked them for a moment.
Then Merry grinned, grabbing Frodo’s arm. “Come on lads. Mine’s a pint.”
“Then you’re paying,” laughed Frodo.
He studied the hobbits in Celebrian’s garden below where, once content a step behind, Sam now led the way. Beneath their merry conversation Frodo’s detachment was clear to Elrond. His wife had been thus upon return from captivity.
A stray breeze danced with early autumn leaf fall and he disentangled one, pale against his dark hair. Still leaf shaped, the substance had been eaten away, leaving this delicate skeleton. Elrond held it up in salute to the glow of a westering sun.
“They ready the ship. We will heal him together, Celebrian.”
Though Sam chattered on Frodo looked up.
My father would say that mortals are not worthy of elven tears; that they are here and gone like chaff upon the wind.
But I find much to admire in them. For within their transient span they manifest compassion that many of my kind do not accumulate through millennia of existence.
Like my father, Boromir’s decisions (though not always wise) were born of the need to protect his people. Yet at the end Boromir spent his valiant heart to save innocents not even of his race.
Mighty Thranduil would not understand this sacrifice. So I shed my tears for both.
“Pippin, why does my pile of cobnuts look smaller than yours?” asked Merry.
Pippin weilded his most innocent, auntie melting expression. “It’s just the way they’re arranged.”
Merry frowned. “Then count yours.”
“Alright. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Same as yours. I’ll show you.”
Pippin reached across to point. “One, two, four, five, seven, eight. There.”
Sam opened his mouth but only managed, “Ooof!” when Frodo dug him sharply in the ribs.
That’s when Legolas cried, “Crebain from Dunland!”
Scattering their bounty, they all dived for cover under an overhanging rock as Merry growled, “Nuts!”
Esmeralda Brandybuck pursed her lips, eying the line of fidgeting tweens.
“I don’t mind anyone taking food, although it would be polite to ask. But to eat the entire mushroom flan? That I cannot condone.”
The lads shuffled hairy feet, seeming to find the floor very interesting of a sudden, so Esmeralda continued. “I’m hoping you all had a piece because I’m certain one tummy could not contain it all.”
Frodo could only swallow in silent agreement as his stomach begin to churn. Then, in an embarrassing rush, it betrayed him completely.
“Frodo Baggins! I should have known.”
Dreams and Fantasies
What do men know of entrapment? They leap upon their horses and take sword to their foes.
We women have no swords to wield against cunning and lies. I know Grima well enough. He dreams of a crown one day, with me as his doting queen. Even my brother is too concerned with battle to see my plight and I will not speak. Eomer believes he is all that stands between our people and the enemy.
But the enemy is within our walls already. So I feed pap to my ensorcelled uncle and hide a keen blade in my boot.
Faramir nodded welcome as Eomer sat. For minutes they stared in silence at the physic garden, then both spoke together.
“I’m sorry for”, “My condolences,”
There was an embarrassed silence.
“Your uncle died an honourable death.”
“Surely your father loved his people very much.”
“In his way,” replied the new Steward. “How fares your sister?”
“Aragorn has tended her hurts. Whether she will awaken to hope or despair I cannot say.”
Faramir sighed. “How many more must die for love and honour before the end?”
“As many as are needful,” King Eomer promised firmly.
Bilbo says that we learn until the day we die but I’ve learned more already than I would wish.
I’ve learned that to ignore evil is to encourage it to thrive. I’ve learned that battles are fought with the heart as much as the sword; that deeds rather than appearance show the true nature of a soul.
I’ve learned that friendship is one of life’s greatest gifts. I’ve learned that we are often stronger than we know but sometimes not as strong as we would wish.
I’ve learned that death is sometimes easier than living and that adventures never end.
My brother died but nine days since and these kings and wizards bandy words with the Mouth of our enemy. Do they think to come to some agreement? Can they negotiate peace with one who seeks only to destroy? Will they decide whether we fight or lay down our arms and make slaughter all the swifter for our foe?
I know the ending I would choose. I would die with sword in hand and join my brother in honour.
But wait, that foul creature races for the gates. They open.
Look for my coming brother.
“Death! Death and honour!”
I found ‘em when I was clearin’ out his desk. Rosie said she didn’t feel right doin’ it so I went through these last things today.
Some of the letters were from Mr Bilbo and they did ramble a bit I must say. There was even a couple from the King himself but they were just about the borders.
The ones that made me cry were from Lord Elrond. I knew he’d been sufferin’ but I didn’t know the half of it, not even after he told me.
“I hope you’re feeling better where you are now, Mr Frodo.”
On My Own
Many times in my life have I been alone but rarely on my own.
When my parents drowned I was lonelier than I thought I could endure but in Brandy Hall no one is ever on their own. When Bilbo left The Shire I thought I would be on my own but then I had Sam.
Elrond said he would not send me alone. But the burden I carried ensured I was on my own, even within the fellowship.
Today I must leave them but I am not on my own. Its unpalatable promise of companionship assails me even now.
Connecting The Dots
Saradoc only raised an amused brow at his wife as he ushered in four random hobbits from the hallway. Rory Brandybuck had a penchant for flouting rules when it suited. He needed witnesses. That some of them had not actually witnessed Bilbo sign was irrelevant to the Master.
Once all seven signatures had been inscribed, in varying degrees of legibility and in red ink, Rory added wax and stamped it firmly with the family seal.
“Frodo, you are now officially Bilbo’s heir.”
Frodo giggled delightedly as he was swept into his weeping uncle’s enthusiastic embrace.
“Frodo my lad!”
Orcs had been torn from the flesh of the eldar millennia ago, so Elrond had always felt pity toward their kind; killing only at need. Then Celebrian had been captured and for a time hatred had seared all else from his mind and spirit.
His sons still pursued orc despite Elrond trying to instil in them compassion for a creature that could only live up to its inbred twisted nature. It saddened him that they killed as indiscriminately as those they hunted.
For Elrond the healer knew that long hatred withered the soul but love could salve the deepest hurts.
Once Elrohir brought warm water Aragorn began the task of cleansing Frodo and enumerating injuries. Beneath gentle fingers the shoulder wound appeared with the delicate white dots of Elrond’s stitches. Lifting the hair at Frodo’s nape a large round bruise was revealed and on his ribs a long whip wheel. Frodo’s hands, feet and knees were cut to ribbons, his neck galled by the chain and blisters were evidence of Orodruin’s wrath. At present Aragorn could only guess at the cause of the maimed hand.
But the warrior king knew that internal scars would be the most difficult to cleanse.
Lobelia surveyed the polished wood panelling, tiled floors and fine chandeliers.
It was a shame about the carpets and furniture but Otho had managed to purchase some of the better pieces to supplement their own, even managing to secret a few items. Silver teaspoons chinked conspiratorially in Lobelia’s pocket.
Smiling like a cat with the cream she rolled up her measuring tape. It was long past time that she was mistress of Bag End. Lobelia’s face dropped at a familiar voice.
“Bless me! What’s going on?”
Her husband’s expletive was soft but vehement in her ear. “Damn you, Bilbo!”
There were some folk who said that Rosie Gamgee (Cotton as was) flaunted the many bright and finely embroidered ribbons in her hair. She tossed her head many times to set them fluttering as she danced with her new husband.
It was clear they had not been purchased in the Shire. Indeed it was known that Sam Gamgee had received a package from over the border just days before the wedding.
But Frodo Baggins wiped away a tear as he remembered fondly the words sobbed quietly on a distant mountain.
“Rosie Cotton dancing. She had ribbons in her hair.”
Merry had always been a morning person. Leaning against the old oak he grinned, remembering a much younger self leaping onto Frodo’s bed and eliciting only a groan in response. His cousin had always been more of a second breakfast person.
When Frodo moved to Bag End little Merry missed him terribly but invitations to visit began to arrive regularly. Many times he had fallen asleep under this tree and been carried inside. But Frodo was gone and Merriadoc would soon have a bairn of his own to jump on the bed.
Still he murmured to the sunset, “Goodnight cousin.”
Frodo stretched out on his back, well hidden in the long grass. He supposed the folk of Minas Tirith had found little time for niceties like gardening in past months.
Above, soft white clouds sailed against a bright blue sky. They were not the heavy yellow tinged grey of snow clouds over Caradhras or the thick black roil that had spewed relentlessly from Orodruin to swallow the stars.
Somehow these clouds reminded him of the Shire and he imagined them dropping soft rain on green fields. There was an innocence to them that Frodo doubted his heart would ever recapture.
“All these kings confuse me,” whispered Sam as they reached the table. “Is Strider the same as that king of Rohan?”
“ Aragorn is High King. Rohan pays him tribute,” Frodo replied, clambering into his chair.
“So is the Steward above Eomer?”
“No. He’s sort of a deputy mayor.”
“What about the dwarf kings?”
Frodo considered. “They pay tribute, I think.”
Sam digested this. “And the elves?”
“They’ve always ruled themselves.” Frodo chuckled. “I can’t see anyone demanding tribute from Lady Galadriel.”
“So how come we don’t have to bow to none of ‘em?”
Frodo chewed on his apple as he studied the slender elven prince. Legolas sat cross legged upon a rock at the other side of the fire, neatly replacing the fletchings on an arrow.
The hobbit found himself mesmerised by long fingers moving so deftly about their task. Legolas always seemed so self contained and confident. Frodo could not imagine him ever having doubts about anything and he began to wonder how old the elven prince was.
How many years of living did it take to become so sure of oneself and of life? Much longer than he had, Frodo concluded.
For what he was sure was the tenth time that morning Merry checked the mountain peaks. They showed no sign of snow, as they had shown none on the previous nine occasions.
The passes were clear and he knew that the last of those sent out seeking the fate of the Black Riders had returned that morning. The fair faces of Elrond’s sons were grim as they hurried to their father, with not a word for anyone on the way.
Merry decided it was time to dig out his pack once more. The deadline for their departure had clearly arrived.
There was a shining time when Imladris had been open to all who sought her. But those days were past and she was now a hidden fortress. Enemies knew of Rivendell but they could not discover her doorways.
For this haven of healing and peace was protected by more than sharp blades and elven bows. Vilya, mightiest of the three elven rings resided here and its power was used to weave a glamour of air along her borders. None discovered Imladris unless Elrond permitted them to do so.
But should the One be claimed, Imladris too would tumble into darkness.
Any One Of Us
Aragorn laid the last notched orc scimitar at Boromir’s feet and set hands to the prow, pushing the little boat out into the wide river. Gimli and Legolas lent their aid then they watched as the swift current caught it, swinging it towards the falls.
It could have been any of them. The Ring knew them all by now; their weaknesses and hopes. How to exploit their best traits, turning them to its own dark ends. Perhaps it was only because Boromir’s love was strongest that he had been first to succumb. But he had found light at the end.
Crossing The Line
Elrond waited patiently on the bank whilst Mithrandir planted his staff in the swift flowing water.
“Glorfindel.” Elrond frowned. “No, Asfaloth, bearing another,”
“Frodo.” Gandalf’s smile was brief. “And badly hurt.”
Elrond tilted his head, as though listening. “He still carries the One.”
“For how much longer?”
“They follow! Your aid wizard!” Elrond demanded as he raised his hand. Light glinted blue as a sudden violent wind whipped midnight hair. Water piled in an angry wall behind Gandalf’s staff for a moment before releasing at Elrond’s shouted command to roar tumbling and foaming down the valley.
First In Mind
Ten years ago had anyone considered who to elect mayor of the Shire Samwise Gamgee would not have been the first to come to mind, or second, or indeed third.
Sam accepted the scissors from Sissy Whitefoot. Wouldn’t Mister Frodo be surprised to see him now? Or perhaps he wouldn’t. Frodo seemed to know a lot more than he was saying before he left.
Still not one to waste words, he smiled at the assembly and said simply, “I declare this new Mathom House open!”
A cheer went up as he neatly snipped the green ribbon strung across the entrance.
I Am Flying!
Bilbo squeezed his eyes closed. The rescue may be welcome but not the method, and feathers made him sneeze. He screamed, clutching a handful of those giant feathers as the eagle banked at a dizzying angle. “I am flying! But I wish I wasn’t!”
They levelled out for a while and Bilbo opened an eye then, brazening out the vertigo he tried the other and stared in wonder. On the horizon was a broad smudge of forest. Below him was a swath of grassland threaded with rivers and streams, golden beneath the setting sun.
This wasn’t so bad after all.
Frodo stared into the friendly flicker of the hearth, sucking slowly on his pipe.
Sometimes he missed seeing his uncle in the opposite chair; the smell of his own Longbottom Leaf mingled with Bilbo’s’ Old Toby.
Frodo missed elvish syntax at the tea table; companionable silences after supper. He missed slipping into the moonlight together to meet elves at the Woody End.
He was happy that Bilbo was out upon the road that he had spoken of so longingly for years. His huge soul had always overflowed the Shire’s small boundaries.
But Frodo’s own soul felt diminished by his departure.
“Share,” demanded Merry.
“Why?” replied Pippin, polishing the apple on his sleeve.
“Because we’re cousins and cousins share.” Merry inched closer.
“You ate yours earlier. This one’s mine.” Pip clutched the apple, backing away with a grin.
Merry only followed. “Share or you’ll be sorry.”
“Will he now?”
Merry smiled ingenuously. “Hello Frodo. It's just a little disagreement.”
“Sam! I need a hand.”
Merry ran but only moments later he decided he didn’t like being suspended upside down in a tree. Especially when Pippin sat before him, smirking as he ate that damned apple.
King Elessar had to lean back to assess the throne of Gondor. “With all those steps I shall be fearful of nosebleeds. There is no room for councillors to stand at my side and at this distance we will all have to shout to each other.”
Faramir grinned. “Tradition dictated another step with each new king. That’s thirty-four. And I understand that council was not always welcomed.”
“Indeed.” Elessar paused to consider then determinedly strode away, calling over his shoulder, “Tear it down. I want one step so I can see and be seen, and room for my councillors.”
Frodo stood inside the doorway and stared. That his uncle was a gentlehobbit fond of dressing smartly was well known throughout the Shire but he had always assumed that the tales of whole rooms filled with clothes were just that.
He blinked at the banks of hanging rails across the far wall, the chests of drawers, the overflowing shelves and trunks.
“They’re not all mine, you know,” came Bilbo’s voice at his ear. “I told them to send me your father’s things. Your mother’s are in those trunks too. I thought you may like to see them again someday.”
Anyone observing his master would think he was admiring the exquisitely cut glass in his hand. Lifted to the light, rainbows flashed off finely polished edges to dance upon the snowy table cloth.
Their page approached, taking the action as a signal to top up the water. Holding very still, Frodo seemed mesmerised by the flow of clear liquid from ewer to glass and Sam could almost sense the disappointment when, glass filled, the young lad blithely turned away.
Frodo sipped and serenity washed over his face.
Sam felt a tear fall as he too remembered the ashes and fire.
Sam Gamgee was falling for Rose Cotton. But he decided he wasn’t good enough for her. She was so pretty and he thought himself such a plain hobbit.
Then, at Mr Bilbo’s party, Frodo had practically thrown him into her arms. That’s when he’d discovered that Rosie Cotton was not averse to plain Sam Gamgee; that she may even be falling for him.
Now he had to leave with Mr Frodo for who knows how long and she actually said she’d wait. Rose Cotton waiting for him!
Sam hefted his pack and, smiling, patted the yellow ribbon in his pocket.
Palladin hung their cloaks on nearby hooks. “Eglantine’s in the parlour with the bairn,” he announced proudly. “Sararadoc and Esmeralda arrived yesterday. “
Bilbo lead the way and many exhuberant greetings followed but, once seated all eyes gravitated to little Peregrin, gurgling happily on the rug. Merry ellicited wild giggles from his new cousin by the simple expedient of waving a stuffed toy and Frodo’s heart clenched, recalling how they had once played thus. It seemed Merry had discovered a new playmate.
Then Merry glanced across conspiratorially and Frodo smiled, grasping that the mischievious duo had just become a trio.
Filling In The Gaps
Four diminutive cloaked figures sat around a fire near the pavilion of the king.
Guards had been posted at a discrete distance to ensure none disturbed Frodo of the Nine Fingers and his companions. But they could not help overhearing the conversation.
Food and ale had been provided and at first the little folk had taken turns relating their journeys, laughing sometimes, filling in the gaps for each other. But now all four sat smoking, staring silently into the flames and lost in their own thoughts.
It seemed Halfling hero’s felt the sorrow that follows battle as keenly as men.
“Here we are, Mr Frodo. If you want any more, just ask.” Sam set the tray beside Frodo’s desk.
It was the clatter of the teacup that drew Frodo’s attention. “What? Oh. Thank you. Perhaps later.” With hardly a glance at the tray Frodo dipped his quill and continued to write.
Sam sighed. “Haven’t you finished yet? You’ve been in here for weeks now.”
“I’m afraid I’m only half way through.”
“You need a walk in the garden, if you don’t mind me sayin’ so. You’re lookin’ a bit pale.”
Frodo only nodded and rubbed his shoulder.
I know you, but where?
Seeing Elrond at the feast Frodo was accosted by the feeling that they had met before. Yet he had been unconscious whilst Elrond healed him. Frodo felt it again when Elrond spoke to him in the Hall of Fire and all through the meeting the following day.
Now Elrond sat opposite as Frodo refastened his shirt.
“Forgive me, Lord Elrond but I seem to know you as someone of more than short acquaintance.”
Elrond smiled. “Healing can be accomplished by more than herb and stitch. Our fee’s conversed for a while.”
Elves were quite enigmatic at times.
“One mouthful is enough to feed a grown man for a whole day,” Legolas had said.
Pippin swallowed down the bile in his throat. He had already eaten four whole packets by then and had been regretting it for the past two hours. It seemed lembas swelled once swallowed and even a hobbit stomach could hold only so much.
It was almost a relief when he finally leaned over the side of the boat and was very sick, only half aware that Merry was doing the same behind him.
He did consider it unfair of Strider to laugh, though.
Pippin studied his trembling hands. They were clean now but tomorrow they would be gored with blood.
He could hear big folk at other campfires, talking, sharpening swords and checking gear. Some were even eating but he wasn’t hungry. He supposed they had been trained for war but he was more used to tormenting his older sisters.
Before this journey he’d never killed anything. Killing orcs was easier somehow but there would be men from the south tomorrow. Would killing them make him a murderer? And could he ever go back to being a plain hobbit when this was over?
Cowardice (movie version)
Merry watched as Pip sat staring blindly at his hands. He noticed they were shaking, like his own, although Merry had stuffed his into his pockets.
The big folk around them all seemed so calm; no doubt seasoned by many violent encounters. After the battle of the Pelennor Merry had hoped never to raise sword again. At least he had entered that with no concept of what to expect. This time memory painted a too vivid imagining of tomorrow.
He hoped that he would not prove a coward in the coming fight but tonight all he wanted was his Da.
Boromir dragged in another breath; determinedly ignoring the searing pain it cost him. He had seen enough soldiers wounded thus to know the outcome. No healer could repair so much damage.
But the hobbits must be protected. They were innocents and he must find atonement for his actions with Frodo. How could he have allowed himself to slip so far from the tenets he lived by?
Too late he had discovered the tactics of the One. Aragorn had warned but he was too blinded by pride and now he must fight on. Another arrow struck as he saw Merry fall.
“Estel!” But he was gone and none could salve the anguish of her heart.
Only a flicker of starlight in dark forest marked her passage, where echoes raised their canticle to shining Elbereth. Silver trees rained golden leaves, mourning in naked silence she who once danced, carefree, in their groves.
Time had come to Lorien and Arwen lay down upon the winter sward enjoining the land to enfold her empty shell until none could find her bones. And so Arwen Undomiel became truly the last evenstar of her people in Middle earth.
And in the West a tear fell.
Sam paused to examine the trowel in his hand, thumbing soil off the metal as he leaned back on his haunches to survey the new seedlings. They’d have a good crop of lettuce this year if the weather held.
He clapped dried earth from his hands; good honest muck, as the Gaffer said. Then, remembering how difficult it had been to remove the sticky gore of black orc blood, he shuddered.
He’d been obliged to handle all kinds of metal tools in recent years but he preferred this one. Swords were only good for destroying but this tool could heal.
Gimli set down his pipe with a sigh and dug in his pocket for a comb, sighing again when he realised that he must have dropped it somewhere in the mines. Beards were a source of pride among dwarves and he vainly tried patting it into some semblance of order.
He glanced up, sensing clear blue eyes upon him, to discover the elf smiling across the embers of their evening fire. Tying off the last wayward strands of his own shimmering golden hair Legolas leaned across to offer his exquisitely carved comb to Gimli.
Such a simple act of friendship.
Theoden’s funeral cortege travelled slowly so Frodo had time to admire the play of sunlight upon the dancing waters of the fountain, as they passed the courtyard of the white tree.
Maimed hand strayed to his breast where Frodo could feel the outline of Queen Arwen’s white jewel beneath his shirt. It seemed to him that the clear stone captured something of the fountain’s essence, just as the water of Lady Galadriel’s glass had captured starlight.
Even now Arwen’s melody seemed to blend in his mind with the fountain’s song of promises fulfilled, love shared and peace at journeys end.
From afar the mounds raised over the dead could be seen clearly on the Pelennor. Standing atop the city walls Merry could tell which held men and which the ashes of orcs for grass struggled to grow on the remains of orcs.
From afar it all looked so tidy but walk there and scratch the surface and he knew he would find evidence of the violence done not so long ago. An arrow, a harness buckle, broken swords, a slashed black cloak.
Merry looked forward to the time when he could view from afar his memories of that dreadful encounter.
“Phew! It’s a bit hot in here, Mr Frodo.” Sam unfastened his shirt button and fished for a hanky to mop his brow.
Frodo looked up from his writing and blinked. “Is it? I hadn’t noticed. Maybe I’ve been sitting still too long.” He rubbed his left arm absently.
That’s when Sam noticed the pale complexion. He reached for Frodo’s hand, eyes widening as he felt the icy chill there.
Frodo only smiled apologetically, shaking his head. “It’s nearly October and the wound has never really healed, Sam. Lord Elrond did his best but the cold is still inside.”
Merry tried not to scowl as he chewed. Pippin was not so politic. “I’m fed up of dried meat. It’s tasteless.”
Aragorn sighed. “Coney’s do not emerge until dusk and we travel at night and sleep by day. Traps are not practical.”
Pip gathered a handful of pebbles. “We can hunt as we go.”
Boromir frowned. “You have no bows.”
With a grin and a flick of the wrist Pip let fly a stone, hastening after it into the long grass. Merry followed suit. They emerged a little later with a triumphant grin and five dead conies.
Justice (movie version)
There’s no justice in it and that’s a fact. Mr Frodo’s gone and saved the world and there’s not a soul in the Shire, but for Masters Merry and Pippin, that pays him any mind.
The highest king in the land, king over all the other kings, bowed to my master. But here they just think he’s a mite touched. Some have even started calling him Mad Baggins, just like they did with Mr Bilbo.
But then, I don’t think Mr Frodo wants it any other way. “Leave them their innocence”, he just says with that soft smile of his.
Sam threw down his pack and dropped heavily to the floor. “Phew. I feel like I’ve been running a race.”
“My legs ache,” Pippin complained, rubbing his calves.
“It’s alright for big folk. We have to take two strides to your one,” Merry pointed out sourly as he began to unload Bill.
“You had better get started on lunch, Master Gamgee,” called Strider with a wicked chuckle as he started scavenging for firewood. “You have a whole new race to run this afternoon.”
Frodo groaned as he threw himself onto his back. “I look forward to that.”
Big folk called them oaths. To Sam that word was linked with great deeds in the ancient tales told by Mr Bilbo, around the fire at Bag End on dark winter evenings. They usually preceded wars and other such unpleasant business. Oaths were too high a thing for the likes of simple hobbits.
It wasn’t until he sat in Bag End by the fire once more that he realised an oath was just a promise. And the promise of Samwise Gamgee to protect his master had been just as powerful as any oath sworn by elven lord or mighty king.
Point of View
“We’re kept safe by the king’s guards about our borders,” Pippin explained again to the sceptics at the Ivy Bush. “All he asks in return is that we send folk to his service if he calls.”
“ There’s nothin beyond our borders to worry us. We’ve always been safe enough,” Ted Sandyman pronounced firmly. “Seems to me this high and mighty king gets more out of the arrangement than we do.”
“We’ve been safe because he’s kept us so!” Merry thumped the table.
Frodo only smiled into his beer. As ever, it depended upon your point of view.
Theoden King called it rebellion. Or at least Grima named it such on his behalf. Eomer knew well enough that if he returned to the Golden Hall he would be arrested, so he and those loyal to him kept well away from Meduseld.
A large party of orcs had been spotted by his outriders just after noon so they were turning north and a little west to intercept them before they reached Isengard. This was no rebellion but a war and it was a war Eomer intended to win for his people whether Grima, son of Galmod approved or no.
And They All Lived Happily Ever After.
Dear Bilbo. Frodo smiled at the scrap of paper in his hands containing his uncle’s suggestion for the ending of their book.
“And he lived happily to the end of his days.”
If only that could be. He rubbed his shoulder, aware that there were deeper wounds.
In the autumn sun beyond his study window Rosie hummed a lullaby and Frodo sighed for what would never be his. This empty husk had nothing left to offer wife and bairn.
There would be no happy ending for Frodo in the Shire but perhaps he would find contentment in the West.
ASTRIDE THE AGES
How could a people step confidently into the future without understanding their past?
About Elrond books and documents formed tottering heaps, titles lost beneath centuries of mildew, droppings and dust. Here was housed the collective knowledge and history of the people of Numenor, perhaps some even saved from the flood. He caressed a tattered and faded document. Could Elros’ hand grace some of these pages?
Elrond drew a deep breath, resisting the urge to sneeze, and pushed up his sleeves. “Take everything out then clean and catalogue it,” the lore-master instructed his helpers. “Gondor will have its honourable past restored.”
Axe Totin’ Mama
Gloin ducked, narrowly missing being felled by a frying pan. To come through the Battle of the Five Armies only to be nearly killed by his own wife. He’d never live it down.
“What did you think you were doing? Traipsing off all over the countryside, disturbing a dragon and causing the biggest battle since Moria, and all without telling me?” Denit yelled, lobbing another pan, and Gloin dived under the table.
“I didn’t want to worry you,” he whimpered.
“Worry? I’ll give you, ‘worry’. My bedroom door is locked tonight. Maybe forever!”
Gloin ran when she hefted his axe.
“He sent me away, Majesty.”
Elessar waived the young scribe upright, hoping he never grew used to such obeisance. “Did he give you a reason Master scrivener?”
“The Ringbearer seemed somewhat vexed sire. I was rather too busy ducking to determine the precise nature of his displeasure.”
“He threw an ink pot,” the youth complained.
He turned to display a large stain upon the back of his tunic.
Elessar smiled. Frodo Baggins was determined to remaster use of a pen with his damaged hand. His grip seemed better today. That pot must have been heavy.
It looked right; a deep, loamy brown that was sparklingly clear when held to the light. Pip sniffed, then inhaled deeply. Hops. The fumes alone set his head swimming and he found himself grinning. Real beer. Not that pale, flat stuff served down south but good honest bitter with a creamy smooth head to coat your upper lip.
Diving right in, he took a big gulp and his eyes lit as the round combination of tartness and malt filled his long parched mouth.
Of course, nothing could match the ale in The Green Dragon but Barleyman’s would do. Oh yes.
The dark haired one was feisty. Lightening flickered in his eyes, and even now he strained against Talvin’s grip, diminutive size fortunately making the match unequal, or Faramir had no doubt he would have broken free.
He watched as the two captives were bound and blindfolded. Initially, their size had made him think they were orcs, but closer examination showed they were too fair. Children perhaps? Any childlike impressions had been ripped away by the challenge in those bright blue eyes and dark scowl, however. The Ranger of Ithilien was almost looking forward to locking verbal swords with this one.
Not orcs, yet I have never seen their like. Back to back, they stand little higher than my waist, but are not children. Alike, yet not, one blusters like village lad to a bully.
The other stands silent and although his features mirror his companion’s fear, bright light glimmers behind those blue eyes. Flickering like summer lightening on the horizon, it rivals the sunlight glinting off fine, pale blade in his hand.
Yet it is to the other hand that my eye is drawn . . . the one clutching at his breast. My heart whispers, “There lies the threat.”
CONVERSATIONS IN THE DARK
“Flee. Your friends will be safe. It’s you the riders seek. Put on the Ring.”
“No . . . Gandalf said . . .”
“Is Gandalf here? And where is the Ranger? Put me on . . . disappear . . . as Bilbo did.”
“But you changed him.”
“Only after a time. Hobbits were not made for such testing. He’s here . . . the dark king. Put me on! Now!”
Cold band about his finger . . . seething shadows . . . tall figure . . . pale as ice with eyes of cat . . .
They're not black, not really. Them robes they wear are faded and dirty. Maybe they was black once, but not now. But, mayhap it's not the clothes as makes 'em black? It's what's inside 'em.
And what's inside my master now, that's black. They put it there and no matter how much we wash out the wound it don't seem to go. I'm not thinkin' of the gore, neither. Its somethin' else. He ain't no Black Rider yet, but I can see the shadow growin’ in 'im.
We've got to get to the elves soon. Hold on, Sir. Hold on.
PICTURES ARE NOT ENOUGH
She picked up the book. Its red leather cover was soft, edges darkened from much handling, for it first belonged to Mr Bilbo and had travelled there and back again.
Rose tested the weight, surprised it was not heavier considering the import of the tales bound within. Random selection of a page revealed Mr Frodo's painstaking rendering of a willow tree but pictures could not tell all. For the love of her children but mostly for their father she needed to know all, not just the safe bits read out to her . . . needed to understand.
“Sam, teach me letters.”
When Sam discovered a little rill before supper the hobbits raced to paddle in its freezing water. Sighing in pleasure, Pippin used a corner of blanket to dry between the last two toes on his left foot, thankful to finally be rid of the foetid stink of the Midgewater Marshes. He could almost cope with midges but having foul smelling gloop oozing between his toes was far beyond disgusting.
For a while he had coveted Strider’s long boots. Now he wrinkled his nose at that still gloop encrusted footwear, feeling no envy at all. Just how did one clean boots?
“Will there be cake?” Pippin winced as his tummy grumbled. It seemed an age since eating luncheon and long past any civilised teatime.
“I hope so,” Merry replied. “Although I'm not even sure Lothlorien elves eat,” he whispered in aside to the frowning Sam.
Frodo was more optimistic as he steered them all to the board. “I'm certain there'll be lots of good things to eat.”
Once there, all faces brightened for the tables groaned with sparkling drinks, sandwiches, fruit, pastries, and all manner of confectionery including . . .
“Cake!” crowed an ecstatic Pippin and Merry.
Rosie's lit the Yule candle and we shared it's flame with Number Three. Now it sits in the window, lettin' everyone know that we're all one an' even on the darkest day light will come. There's a party down the hill an' we'll be goin' later but now we're just sittin' round the fire with cups of mulled wine.
I look at Mr Frodo across the hearth, his pale face lit by the fire. I reckon he's like that Yule candle. What worries me is that once the wax has melted there's nothin' left but the memory of somethin' beautiful.
Are We Having Fun Yet?
Leaning back on his heels Elrond brushed a strand of hair from his cheek. Celebrian tucked soil about the last bush then glanced aside and giggled.
She produced a handkerchief. “You have a smudge. Spit.” With a grimace, Elrond obliged and she attacked his cheek.
“Ouch! You’re enjoying this.”
“You take yourself too seriously, Melleth nin,” Celebrian replied with a chuckle. “Life can be fun, too.”
Deciding he really ought to test that Elrond kissed her thoroughly before sitting back with a triumphant grin. “Was that fun enough for you?”
Celebrian smiled archly. “Definately. Can we have more?”
G.amgee C.riminal I.nvestigation S.ervice
Hamfast poked at the spider husk. “Wonder how it died.”
Rose considered. “Accident? Fell off a wall?”
Merry grinned. “Suicide? Jumped off a wall.”
“Nah,” Primrose announced. “It dehyrolated.”
Daisy sniffed. “Dehydrated! And it rained this morning.”
“Then it drownded,” Ruby asserted.
“Shot with an arrow?” Daisy suggested. They all laughed. Arrows left holes.
“Bled to death,” Pippin offered gleefully before adding uncertainly, “Do spiders have any blood?”
Goldilocks jumped up, proud in her one-up-manship on her siblings. “It was WAR! I saw Ma whack it with her hair brush.”
“Isn’t that murder?” asked Pippin.
“What are you doing?” Denethor roared.
Faramir ducked behind his older brother and Boromir's voice cracked as he offered, “Building a snowman?”
“What have I told you about shouting?”
“That Mama is sick and we must be quiet,” Faramir whispered.
At that moment their mother must have spoken for Denethor turned back from the window, only calling over his shoulder, “Oh, just get out of my sight.”
The boys wasted no time in complying, although Faramir was crying by now. Later, when wishing them goodnight, mother hugged them very close. It was their last memory of her.
Picking Up The Threads
He picked up the cloak, fingering its silky texture and watching threads shimmer faintly in the autumn sunlight. He rarely wore it here, attempting to look like other ordinary hobbit, but even two years later folk considered him “a mite touched”. If they only knew how touched.
Sam stuck his head around the door. “You ready, Mr Frodo?”
Frodo patted the star-glass in his pocket and swung the elven cloak about his shoulders. He would wear it openly on this last journey, no longer denying his darkest history as he set sail in hope of future light.
It took the combined skills of Frodo, Merry and even Bilbo, to teach Pippin how to fold a paper boat. Pippin did not find the task difficult but rather he kept getting distracted, at one point placing the almost complete craft upon his head and running about the garden with a hazel switch, playing warrior king.
Bilbo walked away, chuckling, returning half an hour later with a picnic hamper and pointing them in the direction of the river. Their repast spread upon a blanket the lads now crouched on the stepping stones, watching three little paper boats sail away downstream.
The Dark Side Of Ithil
Others said it was impossible to heal with any darkness in the soul, yet he disproved them daily for it festered within him, even all these years after Celebrian’s departure.
He applied a clean dressing to a leg stump. Orcs took as much pleasure in maiming elves as in killing, knowing such injuries would remain forever. Some wounds even he could not heal and they brought blackness boiling to the surface of Elrond’s soul, like scum in a pan, that he must lid tightly.
Retribution was easy but compassion took strength, a lesson many only learned through walking Mandos’ halls.
“A little further, my love.” Elrond coaxed, smiling.
Celebrian’s eyes flashed as she twisted her elbow from his grasp. “Do not, ‘My love’ me.”
“Walking will help,” he placated.
Celebrian waved at her enormous waistline. “You try walking with this!”
Elrond made to take her elbow again and flinched as his wife’s voice became grinding ice spawned by Helcaraxe. “Touch my elbow once more and I will ensure that you never father another child in what will become a very short life.”
Elrond made a swift retreat, considering the feasibility of wearing his armour in a birthing room.
The folk of Hobbiton had dressed Farmer Cotton's barn in every scrap greenery they could find. Pantries had been emptied to fill the lines of trestle tables, dressed with bright cloths and best china, and Gaffer Gamgee took charge of the dispensing from several kegs of ale.
There was still much work to be done cleaning up the Shire but on this Yuletide everyone had downed tools to celebrate the return to life. All were invited, regardless of previous allegiances, for now was the time of healing.
A cheer went up as Mayor Baggins touched Yule Flame to the bonfire.
Shielding his eyes from the sparkling shimmer of sun on the waves, Elrond drew peace from Celebrian's arm entwined with his. Combined gazes dropped to where Bilbo reclined at the foot of the cliff, the remains of a very generous repast scattered about him on a blanket.
Frodo paddled along the shifting waters edge, hands tucked in his pockets. For a moment the Ringbearer stilled, looking out to sea. Then, as one awakening from sleep, Frodo Baggins flung his arms wide, throwing back his head so that a fresh breeze carried his merry laugh to the watchers.
Free at last.
Cutting through the kitchen garden, seeking solitude in Rivendell’s woodland, Frodo was halted by the yeasty aroma of fresh baked bread. Memory he believed plundered burst, full blown and bright, in his mind.
Frodo, new come to Bag End, had called at No.3 Bagshot Row to collect bread from Mistress Gamgee. He recalled waiting in a steamy kitchen for the last loaf from the oven, inhaling yeast and watching flour float in a sunbeam.
Bell motherly presence died before he left the Shire but Frodo tucked her memory safely away, as shield against the ring ravaged emptiness of his soul.
Atop Bag End Frodo surveyed the West Farthing. Never had there been such a harvest.
The Shire shone like some magical dragon hoard. Yellow gold wheat fields whispered beside flowing silvered barley, hedgerows glowed copper and dripped blood garnet berries, as though land could not contain all the life pulsing within.
Following last year's ruin these excesses seemed miraculous. Jam pans bubbled sweetly in kitchens and early apples were pressing. The harvesters were called and soon barns would groan with their bounty. Then would come parties.
Frodo hoarded this memory, knowing next harvest would be his last in the Shire.
Henneth Annun, the Window On The West. He loved this place from the moment he and his men set up base here. Faramir grew so used to the rumble of the falls as they tumbled over the cliff above and fell in a glittering curtain across the entrance that when he returned to Minas Tirith, he had difficulty sleeping without it’s sound.
Damrod had quietly questioned his wisdom in sheltering this strange pair within its thick walls but something about these travellers encouraged him to trust and aid.
“The supper is laid, My Lord.”
He turned from the moonlit curtain.
“Now, Mr Frodo. You just climb in here.”
Frodo complied willingly, sinking into the blessed relief of soft feather mattress and pillows. Sam tucked a wrapped hot water bottle close at his left side and then drew up the eiderdown and covers. Within moments his master was cocooned in warmth.
“Here’s your warm milk, Mr Frodo. I added some honey.” Rosie smiled gently, placing the cup in his hand.
Frodo sighed. The Houses of Healing had been nice. Elrond’s house had been better. But there was nothing like the comfort of your own bed, as only another hobbit would understand.
ILLUSIONS OF LIGHT
So very fragile.
As a child, Faramir had been taken to visit relatives on the coast and, on the beaches there, had discovered many delicate shells. Their insides were palest pink silk and when held up, the sun glowed within, imparting a beautiful illusion of life.
His gaze dropped to the diminutive figure, strewn exhausted and boneless in his arms. Those shells could withstand the pounding of storm driven waves when they held life but would shatter beneath a careless step when washed up, empty upon the sand.
Would Frodo Baggins be such, when Isildur's Bane had devoured his soul?
The Cloven Vale
Held aloft by ancient caryatids that crumble against walls knit when spring was young, roofs slope and cluster down steep valley side. Water thunders beneath bridges spanning dizzying chasms, or trickles, indolent along paths wound through mossy woodland, and layered moonbows arc down the glistening steps of a waterfall that plunges into echoing cleft far below.
Air is mist-soft and threaded with sweet nightingale, bearing the delicate scent of night blossom from secret glades, while deep pools reflect Earendil’s shimmering passage.
The valley exhales peace. Darkness presses at the gate but healer’s heart withstands, while hope is still nurtured here.
Within Imladris shortening days bring quiet as birds depart and mammals scuttle to the safety of dark burrows. Mountains, once shelter from winter's excess, now funnel autumn breezes, swirling dry leaves into clattering vortexes. First snow ices surrounding peaks while residents shelter from rain storms that erase trails and drown river meadows.
Foraged wood feeds fresh kindled hearths, offering sweet incense to threatening skies. Instruments are tuned, embroideries stretched, quills sharpened, arrows fletched and knives honed as residents prepare for winter's dreadful siege.
Outside, autumn dives headlong into killing storm but inside ageless life endures, calmly listening for dooms' footstep.
My Garren was away to the Pelennor with the soldiers, thinking to keep us safe. He said the gates would hold and when they fell it was too late to run for the next circle. We were trapped in the shop.
That’s when the southerner broke in waving a sword, blood soaked and screaming some foul language. Just remembering those eyes makes me shudder. I’m only a seamstress but I sneaked up behind and stabbed him in the neck with the shears. War is not my trade but this is our home and my family and nobody threatens my babies!
Sam watched, fascinated as Ma used one of Da’s old hammers to break a piece from the sugar cone. Dropping it into her mortar she attacked with the pestle, first pounding, and then grinding it to fine powder.
It was a birthday present from the Mr Bilbo and Master Frodo and when the Gamgees had finished admiring this luxury Ma declared she would bake their benefactors a cake fit for a king, leastwise a Thain, to thank them.
Sam gauged the size of the cone, mouth watering as he considered the number of cakes Ma could make with the rest.
Arwen remembered, as an elleth, sitting with Adar and Naneth in their valley's midnight garden. Together, they gazed up at the stars and Naneth would sometimes teeze her into counting them. Adar used to chuckle as he explained that even elven sight could not tally their vast number.
Arwen used to like the glow of a full moon, because then some fainter stars disappeared and that made counting so much easier. But a new moon was best, for then the stars could be seen more clearly and Naneth and Adar would stay to help, when her still limited numeracy failed.
Arwen lifted grey eyes to the huge moon pendant upon the horizon, hand straying to the gravid swell of her belly as she felt again the ripple of contracting muscles. The pains were faster and stronger now and it seemed this daughter was impatient to greet the world.
As the pain faded she smiled. Eldarion had been named by mortal tradition but Aragorn was content to let Arwen choose their daughter's first name, in the elven way. One more glance at the red-gold moon, then Arwen returned to their chamber, where Aragorn waited to welcome little Colithel to the family.
Col = red/gold Ithel = moon
Through tear-misted eyes Arwen could barely make out the fine sickle-sliver of the dying moon. Hard won memory painted undying green, scattered with the delicate gold and silver stars of elanor and niphrodel but now brown and matted leaves were damp but soft beneath her back as she lay down.
Time had come at last to Lorien and here Arwen's time would end. On this hill had she made her vow and here she would see it fulfilled. A cold wind swayed creaking branches above her, obscuring the tiny mithril moon. When it reappeared she saw it not at all.
The sweet scent of crushed grass envelopes him as he prances, giggling and sparkling eyed, among the swirl and caper of dancers. Short cropped blades of green poke teasingly between his toes, tickling his instep and cushioning his heels. Two gross of feet have stepped and danced, paused and strolled upon this grassy carpet yet it holds life so abundantly that it recoils at once . . . ready to embrace another foot as willing lads and lasses line up toe to toe for the next birthday reel.
Frodo Baggins, coming of age today, wishes this night would never end.
The ground is so compacted beneath his feet, it is difficult to know where earth ends and ancient crazed pavement begins, on the stone ringed hilltop. The bones of this land are clad in the thinnest of flesh, beaten down over aeons . . . wind-tossed whips of grass the only things capable of wresting life from its grip. It gives no succour to those compelled to cross its world-weary surface.
Steady rain falls but the ground drinks greedily, hoarding moisture below where it can make no softening for tired, cold feet.
Frodo wishes this fear-filled, echoing night would end.
The rustle of leaves underfoot makes silent passage impossible for even a hobbit in this cloven vale. But there is no need now of stealth, for no black cloaked enemy stalks this elven sanctuary. Here there is only healing and comfort, love and life.
Each footstep releases a damp, rich smell that speaks of things waning but still strong, of life past but never forgotten. Soil is ages deep, underlayed with strong grey mountain granite, supporting firmly . . . neither pushing him on nor holding him back.
The choice will be his they say. Frodo Baggins wishes he could stay . . . but . . .
Each step in this cold dank place is a trial. Rock, flat and unyielding, will not cradle soles aching from long forced march. Water seeps across smooth marble, turning dust to slick and treacherous slime to catch the unwary. He stumbles up dwarven designed stairs designed, too steep for shorter hobbit step. No softness here. All is hard edged, cold and unforgiving . . . all that does not crumble to dust beneath tentative footstep. Even the light from Gandalf’s staff cannot completely banish the shadows. And Frodo Baggins tries to recall sunshine, the soft silver wash of moonlight on wind flowed grass.
Many thousand years of leaves carpet the floor, their soft mulch embracing and cradling his instep. Starry blossoms cluster about his toes, so densely that he cannot avoid crushing them. Yet he feels no remorse for their petals fall willing sacrifice to his aching step, releasing a warm and delicate perfume to ease the steel cords binding his heart.
Loam is dark, rich with the memory of leaf and wood. It feeds tall and ancient trees, a silver grey shadow of time past and unpassing. But Frodo’s brimming eyes see only grey homespun robes and gentle hand, flame and darkness.
Childhood trauma has leant impetus to the need to master boats and this flimsy looking craft holds no terror for him.
He balances easily on grey planking, planed smooth as silk beneath the balls of his feet. And below, he can feel the rush and pulse of Anduin as it seeks escape to the sea. Would that he could do the same. There is no escape for him.
This elven gift offers a safe and stable platform and Frodo wishes that he could take some of the craft’s calm certainty with him. Too soon he must step into another certainty.
Each step releases a foetid stench that robs his breath and sludge creeps up between his toes. No movement is safe and ground firm one moment, claws at his ankles the next, threatening to suck him down to lie with those already bound in its cloying grip.
Hands join feet as he inches across trembling slime. Will he ever again be free of its presence? Lands deception and treachery only echo soul’s battle and Frodo Baggins begins to lose himself. A friend’s hand may help him through the mire without, but none can catch him up from the mire within.
Razor edges slice at the now tender soles of heavy, aching feet. The rocks are too newly birthed from molten earth to be smoothed by wind or water. Instead, they lay a treacherous carpet, ever willing to twist an ankle or stub a dragging and unwary toe.
This ground is parched; leaching what body moisture he has left with every plodding step. Powder fine ash puffs up around his toes, rising in still air to sear his already dry throat. Too weary to cough, he can only wheeze his protest at this latest discomfort. Will this be his last path?
Air is warm but soil still clings to the cool dampness of long winter. Refreshing now, it soothes flesh too long acquainted with fire and dust. So long captive on the enemy’s borders this land has hoarded her treasure and now she exhales life from every leaf and streamlet.
Grass welcomes his step, its spring green ripeness mingled with sharp rosemary and the soft clean sweetness of mint. Is it the lands returning life or his own release from long burden that brings lightness to his step, enticing him to gambol like a spring lamb set free in lowland meadow?
Feet shuffle deep into the soft dampness of the border, headless of prospective chiding from Sam. Long summer has warmed the rich loam, sending tendrils of comfort through him. But it is not enough to dispel flesh’s chill, or fill echoing heart.
He knows now. Were he to plant himself so deeply that he took root like some venerable oak, this land could not nourish him as once it had.
Something splashes upon his foot and he glances down, surprised to see a tear trembling on dark hair. Stepping back onto the lawn he bends to brush away his footprints.
Planed wood is pale and silk soft beneath his soles; the air filled with salt and sprinkled with sunlight. There is impermanence here . . . the surface that he stands upon rocking gently as it rides the shifting waves.
His life too is shifting and he reaches out to grasp a familiar hand to steady himself against the strangeness of it. The fingers that clasp his firmly are swollen with age but the blue gaze that greets his is clear, filled with expectation and wonder.
He spreads his feet, turns forward and lifts his chin to watch Anor dip beyond the prow.
Salt-rimed crystals scratch his toes. Once these were stones, gnawed by waves and carried on Ulmo’s broad chest to Valinor’s shore. He scoops a handful; noting its silvered colour is formed of many hues.
One tiny grain is the deep brown of Shire loam. As he tries to separate it a mischievous breeze sends all dancing from his grasp. Sparkling grains whisper, “Do not stay alone. Join us. Be.”
Wavelets wash his feet, tugging gently as they trickle back, inviting him to play. He follows a little way as cool water and warm sun to balance his soul at last.
The Doors Of Moria
Frodo supposed he should have been glad not to be in the watcher’s belly. But his own belly’s protest at having swallowed some of that brackish lake water did not make him feel particularly glad at present
A gentle hand upon his shoulder drew his gaze aside. “Are you alright, Frodo?” Legolas was crouching at his shoulder, clear blue eyes filled with concern.
The movement was enough to upset the delicate balance of Frodo’s stomach. He tried to lurch away but too late. Legolas wore shoes he reflected ruefully. And they used to look so pristine.
Was that Gimli, chuckling?
The embroidery frame stood empty for years in the room her parents shared.
Returning from Lothlorien, Arwen carried it to her own. On black silk, she traced tree, crown and stars; a device not seen in Middle earth for generations. The tree she worked in silk, white as snow upon Mount Mindolluin, the crown in mithril and gold. For stars she netted gems splintering light to dance with hope. Each stitch matched lone lover’s step in the wild world.
She thought all wrought in secret. Elrond did not challenge for if not for throne it would serve to cover bier.
It was not the ruin but the silence that made Legolas uneasy upon arrival in Ithilien. He supposed there were birds and insects, or how would flowers multiply and berries ripen? Perhaps they learned to draw no unwanted attention.
Now he listened as blackbird sang out the borders of its territory and sparrows squabbled in the hawthorn. Grasshopper chirped near his right foot and in unseen pool a trout splashed.
An inquisitive bee landed for a moment upon Frodo’s cheek and dark lashes quivered.
“I see it. Go and tell our new King that the Ringbearer awakens.”
“Does it still hurt, Frodo?” Pip swaddled him in blankets.
Hurt. A small word . . . more fitted to the sting of a scraped knee . . . not large enough to encompass the agony that seared Frodo. It could not describe the constriction that stole his breath or the icy shaft that speared his heart, making him fearful each beat would be the last. Words alone could never describe it. It was smell, taste, touch, sound and sight. It was his world.
“Not too badly, Pip.”
Tears anointed Frodo’s hair as he was enfolded in Pippin’s warm arms.
In formative years she had been the perfect, dutiful daughter and loving granddaughter. Lauded as the equal of Luthien the Fair, she learned to dance and sing, to embroider and paint. When her mother departed for the West she ensured that guests were comfortable and her father need have no care for the daily running of his household.
In this, however, she would not be perfect. In this she would follow her own path, whether others approved or no. She took his callused hand and met his gaze steadily. “I will cleave to you, Dunadan, and turn from the Twilight.”
High in his dark tower Sauron’s blazing eyes belied his beatific smile. These men, elves, dwarves and wizards were too easy to manipulate. Thirsty for power, he had only to offer the merest drop of knowledge . . .
Saruman would create his ring and it would destroy him. His was but a puny footnote to those the Noldor essayed under Sauron’s tutelage and soon even the three they had hidden would fall to their Dark Lord’s will.
“I am Saruman the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”
Baradur shook as Sauron’s laughter splintered the acrid air.
Anniversaries Of The Heart
The twentysecond of September was a day like any other to most, but for a few in the Shire this was a special date. Sam sat quietly with his pipe in a corner of Bag End's garden.
Through the open window drifted children's laughter and Rosie called Elanor to the kitchen to help with tea. Down the hill a cow lowed for milking and hens clucked contentedly beneath the hedgerow. All was as it should be.
Sam saluted the setting sun. “Happy birthday, Mr Frodo. You gave up everything so we could have it all. We'll not forget the price.”
Shieldmaiden of the Rohirrim
"Goldilocks bring back that lid now!” Rose called sternly.
Goldilocks pointed to two of her older brothers who appeared to be fencing with fish slice and a spatula. “But Ma. We need it.”
“Whatever for?” Rose ran harassed fingers through her hair, which had escaped its ribbons again.
“We’re doing the Battle of the Pelennor.”
Rose spotted Merry and Pippin and sighed. “I can understand the fish slice but why the lid off my best jam pan?”
Goldilocks drew herself up to her full 5 year old height and announced proudly. “I’m a Shieldmaiden of the Rohirrim.”
CROWDED WITH EMPTINESS
Fastred’s chins quivered and Elanor cried openly as she clutched the worn Red Book to her bosom. All last evening Sam’s children had begged him to stay, to move in with them. But, as though Rosie’s love had been the dam, her death allowed the sea to breach his soul, salt breeze beckoning.
He watched the grey gulls circling high about crumbling elven towers, knowing at last why Frodo had taken this road, crowded with emptiness, to The Havens.
It was time for this last Ringbearer to take the ship that runs West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
Stitch By Stitch
Even beneath the cliff, persistent rain soaked them through. So Frodo tried to think of somewhere warm and dry.
Attempting to recall Bag End, Bell Gamgee’s kitchen stole softly into his mind instead; the warmth of the range, the mouth-watering smell of baking, children shrieking delightedly in the garden and the vision of work worn hands setting neat stitches in Ham’s frayed shirt collar.
Bell was gone but her memory reminded him why he was here: so many kitchens with their own Bells, holding the world together with their love one tiny stitch at a time.
“Come along hobbitses.”
Frodo avoided Bag End’s cellars, even after the removal of Sharkey’s detritus. One look before the cleansing stirred up images to haunt him for many nights.
As Deputy Mayor Frodo was busy so the cleaning fell to Sam. He never spoke of what they found amongst the machines but Frodo knew some had been taken away and buried.
Knowing nothing of the cellars’ history, or their counterparts in Mordor, Rose used them for storage. Let her rejoice in the sun a little longer, they decided.
Now the book was finished it was time for Frodo to seek his own sun.
She took time to wrap it carefully for Sneak said there were two for her feast.
Long ages she had sampled of Middle earth’s feas. Dwarves tasted of stone and metal, Men of pride and striving. Elves were a heady but dyspeptic mix of light and power. Orcs were bitter and dry.
Here was a new taste; sweetness dressed with a metallic hint of a power like The Dark One. But that only added a frisson to the meal to come. She sensed the other approaching now, sweet loam and anger; very tasty.
It yelled, thrusting forth its glittering sting.
“It’s true. Mr Elrond had trees growin’ in his house.”
Gaffer scowled. “T’aint natural. Trees is for outside.”
“Bagend has tree roots in the hall,” Sam defended.
“And a good umbrella stand they make. Roots is natural when you live ‘neath ground,” Gaffer asserted.
“Then trees in your house must be natural when you live above ground.” Sam squared his shoulders. “Said he asked them not to damage his house. Elves can do that.”
Gaffer swallowed his beer. “Talking to trees aint natural . . . and that’s a fact.” And there was the finality of one certain of the world’s proper order.
Shores of Healing
Frodo could not get enough of the sea. Growing up in the Shire his dreams could never encompass it’s wide vista; its many moods.
When he longed for home he imagined white gulls carrying his thoughts to green fields and warm hearth. When anger filled his soul he screamed his pain to the storm, where crashing waves scoured him clean. When happy he danced along the water’s edge watching droplets catch the sunlight. Finally, when peace filled his soul, he lay upon warm sand and closed his eyes, letting the rhythmic sound of waves lull him to his final sleep.
The eyes of a lady
The artist set aside his lens and wiped clean his brush. When the queen asked him to paint a miniature of The Elessar he had requested a viewing of the coronation robes, for surely Her Majesty wanted an image of her lord in his regal finery? But the lady had produced a muddy and rather odorous leather coat, asking that he imagine her husband as he would look after weeks sleeping in the wilds.
He was quite proud of the likeness but he supposed he would never understand the mind of a lady, particularly an elven lady, in these matters.
The Shores of Sirion
Brothers wrapped trembling arms about each other, dark hair flagged by the wind. Twin sets of tearful grey eyes, old in young faces, widened in terror as grim faced enemy formed an arc about them. Swords dripped gore upon the pristine sand.
Earendil’s sons retreated to clean foam, but bloodied hands dragged them forth, cruelly thrusting them back into greed and oath and war. A blood haired warrior, features black with anger, stooped low to shout, “Where is Elwing?”
Elrond straightened, pointed as a white bird called once before winging swiftly toward distant horizon. “They are gone,” he stated calmly.
Loss drew fear with the tingling brush of her fingertips. But love stirred in the pliant warmth of her lips, roused in the way her slender curves conformed so perfectly against the planes of his and only deepened under the benison of time.
Tenderness begat the pleasure of resting, a cool shadow in the warm sunlight of her mind, and succour as that same soft glow bathed the bleak corners of his own.
Now, as duty bound Elrond into watching as her ship slipped away, loss dripped chill into his heart with the fear that he may never feel again.
Under A Cloud
Legolas reined in, drawing down his hood against the squall. He risked a glance at the sky, sighing as he saw clouds piled up in grey layers above the mountain peaks. They suited his mood well.
At least Elrond did not have Thranduil’s quixotic temper, he mused. Legolas had been left in no doubt that Gollum’s escape was his mistake and his father had all but thrown him onto the road to Imladris. He worried how Mithrandir and Aragorn would react to the news.
Legolas motioned his escort forward. It was time to face whatever further censure was his due.
I hardly know him. What was I was expectin’? I’m bent and gnarled as that old oak atop Bag End and he’s older than me. Suppose I wanted him to be like I remembered. Silly when I think on it.
The hand on his stick is clawed with arthritis and there’s still that missin’ finger. His hair’s grey and longer. Suppose that comes of livin’ with elves. Seems they like long hair. His blue eyes have faded but leastways they’re peaceful. It's good to see his face is all laughter lines.
Ah, now there’s my Mr Frodo.
Pippin drew his new, fur lined cloak more closely against the chill wind flowing down off the mountain. Great Smials had many fine things, but there was never occasion in the Shire for fur lined jackets or cloaks.
He wondered what animal the fur had originally graced and felt a little guilty. But then, he could not imagine Elrond’s folk killing any animal just for the pelt. And if it died for food it made sense to use the skin.
He huddled deeper, offering thanks to whatever creature it had been and wishing it happy hunting, wherever it was now.
Frodo was ushered into the empty Hall of Fire, by light of a single candle. “There is no fire,” he noted.
Elrond smiled. “Always have I set flame to the first fire of the year as reminder that Imladris is a place of hospitality. I understand there is a Shire custom to carry fire from door to door at year's turning.” He handed over the candle.
Misty eyed, Frodo set wick to kindling, bowing to the first tiny flames as he recited the Yule blessing. “May you have hearth to comfort, oven to cook and candle to guide you home.”
Abandoning the illusive quest for sleep, Frodo wrapped himself against the chill and slipped from Bag End, to settle with tea and pipe upon the new bench by the gate.
In a hawthorn down the lane, blackbird broke the silence and others swelled his chorus, as Anar crept stealthily from behind the hills, to paint the grey sky, palest gold. In the valley woodsmoke mingled with morning mist as fires were stoked for first breakfast and cows lowed mournfully for milking. Within Bag End a babe fretted.
Frodo committed all to memory on this, his last dawn in the Shire.
Estel eyes the kit with trepidation. Soap and fat little brush are innocuous but the knife looks lethal and why a pot of cream?
Elrond instructs his heart-son. “Wet the brush and apply lather with a circular motion.” Estel feels confident in this at least.
“Now scrape the knife against the direction of hair growth, pulling the skin taut.” Estel fights laughter as Elrond demonstrates the facial contortions required.
“Ouch!” He presses a finger to the nick and Elrond holds up the pot.
“Where did you learn about shaving, Adar?”
“Isildur.” The name reverberates ominously between them.
The Shire did not produce paper, making it an expensive commodity.
Of course, Bilbo Baggins could afford it but packages from Rivendell were always welcome. Sometimes they came with the carter, via Bree, but on other mornings he would find a carefully wrapped package on the doorstep; perhaps left by some passing traveller to the Havens. It seemed Loremaster Elrond remembered a stray comment, in which Burglar Bilbo declared his love of writing.
Now, as Bilbo sat in his study, he heard Frodo in the kitchen, carefully slicing the smooth, creamy sheets into a size more suited to hobbit fingers.
THE SOLDIER'S DREAM
Faramir presumes that all soldier's dreams are troubled islands. Within Ithilien's close-quartered hideaway sleep is oft salted with cries and his men huddle about fires in the wee hours; weary eyes red-rimmed within pale faces.
He remembers his enemies varied faces, their pain, surprise and fear, resignation, even sometimes their relief. If any killing could be considered easier it would be orcs for they have little humanity left, but these men of the South ride the high-cresting wave of his dreams with their fading eyes.
He wonders, when the time comes, what his enemy will find in Faramir's departing gaze.
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