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In Empty Lands: 13. Breakfast Council
For Vilwarin and Cheryl Anne for their birthdays.
Early the following morning Boromir was awakened by a knock at the door to his chamber. "Come!" he called.
The Elf Lindir opened the door to bring in a fresh ewer of water for the stand. "If it please you, my lord," he said as he exchanged it for the one that now stood by the basin. "Lord Elrond asks that you join him and certain others to break your fast. There is a need to discuss who else shall join the party that accompanies the Ringbearer. I will return shortly to lead you there."
It was a summons the son of the Steward had been anticipating. He sighed as he threw back his covers in the echo of the closing of the door and rose to set about readying himself for the day.
Within a fairly short time he was being shown into a private dining chamber where several tables had been set in a rough circle. The Lord of Imladris himself was present, with Mithrandir by his side, both seated at what was apparently the one table within the room that was usually here.
"Welcome, Lord Boromir," he was greeted by the master of the house.
"My Lord Elrond," he returned with a bow he knew his father would have approved of, then accepted the seat shown him by Master Lindir.
The door opened, and someone was ushering in three of the Dwarves, white-haired Glóin, his russet-haired son, and a third from their party. These paused politely within the door and greeted their host, who welcomed them as courteously as he had Boromir, then took seats side by side as three Elves entered together, followed by two more, one the golden-haired Legolas of Mirkwood. A dark-haired Elf accompanied a Man into the room, tall and venerable. And at last the door opened to admit Bilbo Baggins and his kinsman Frodo, the latter somewhat warily from what Boromir could see. At this Elrond rose swiftly, as did the others about the tables, including Boromir. The Gondorian, however, felt a twinge of annoyance that the Elven lord would show this mark of respect to a mere Perian when he had merely inclined his head to the Steward's son. He immediately suppressed his annoyance, however, knowing that what this Halfling carried was far more important than mere Stewards or their heirs!
Elrond examined the two Halflings. "And Master Samwise agreed to be parted from you?" he asked as Frodo was aided into a chair.
The Perian paled, although his cheeks became notably pinker. His voice, however, was calm enough as he answered, "I set him to keeping a strict eye on Pippin, who has become particularly rebellious at the possibility he might be denied the chance to go further. He has been insisting that he did not come all this way to be sent back home as if he were but a child, and he would be here now facing you with his complaints if he were left to his own devices, I fear."
Mithrandir shivered. "Ah, then you are to be commended, Frodo. I warn you, Elrond--Hobbits are themselves tenacious, as you know. Peregrin Took, however, has raised that talent to new heights!"
"You should try standing against a Took, a Brandybuck, and a Gamgee together some time!" Frodo muttered, and the Wizard gave a soft laugh.
"I had wondered when Butterbur told me that you had three companions."
The Hobbit grimaced. "I assure you, Gandalf, it was not my idea."
"Paladin and Saradoc must be out of their minds with worry, having their heirs disappeared in this manner."
"Uncle Pal will skin me alive when we return, and will never believe that I didn't tell them about it, even. And to think that Merry and Pippin had Sam spying on me for them!"
The Wizard laughed aloud. "You are loved by your own, Frodo Baggins!"
Frodo shrugged, then turned to thank the Elf who set a goblet before him.
Elrond turned to the Dwarves. "You and our smiths were working on the Sword yesterday?"
Glóin nodded his white head. "Yes--we were deciding what method to use to separate the mithril from the steel. We should have that done within three days. I must leave once that is finished, or I will be in danger of not returning over the mountains before they become impassable with the winter weather."
The Master of Rivendell indicated his understanding before taking a deep breath and looking about at those who were gathered. He indicated that the meal should be served, dismissing the servers with a nod when all had filled plates before them. Boromir felt uncomfortable as he looked down at the food that lay before him, feeling for the first time in some months that he ought to rise for the Standing Silence, considering the solemnity of those gathered to share the meal.
Once all were eating, Elrond set down his fork, again surveying the party. "It is time for those of us who remain from the Council to begin deciding on who shall make up the remainder of the party. It is fitting that those who shall go should number nine--the Nine Walkers to counter the Nine Riders who serve Sauron; nine of hope to counter the nine whose chief weapon has ever been despair! It would be wise for it to consist of individuals from all the races who make up the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. Two of those races are now represented--Frodo Baggins and his gardener Samwise Gamgee, as the Ringbearer and his companion, shall represent the Hobbits of the Shire. Aragorn son of Arathorn, the Heir of Isildur through Valandil, Arvedui, and Fíriel daughter of Ondoher, shall represent Men alongside Boromir son of Denethor, the High Warden of the Citadel of Minas Tirith in Gondor, and Heir to the Steward of that land. Gandalf will also accompany Frodo as representative of the Wizards and the White Council. We have not as yet chosen individuals to represent either the Elves or the Dwarves, and we have four places yet to fill." He turned to Bilbo, who had begun to push himself to his feet. "And, no, Bilbo, my beloved friend and counselor--it is not for you to go upon this quest. You are no longer young in the reckoning of your people. Nor would your going serve to keep your kinsman safe--indeed, I suspect it should only serve to increase his concern for your own safety. I believe it is time to allow those who are younger to come to the fore, for it is their future that we all wish to safeguard."
The venerable Man cocked his head at the Master of the House. "Yet you would allow Aragorn to go, although he is not the youngest among us."
"He is Chieftain of your people. His time is now come--to fulfill his destiny and restore the fortunes of both realms, or to fall in the final battles. Would you deny him?"
The Man gave a twisted smile. "And would he listen to any of us at this point? I strongly doubt it. As you say--his time is now come at last, now that Isildur's Bane is indeed awakened and abroad within Middle Earth."
The dark-haired Elf who'd accompanied him into the room gave the Man a respectful nod. "Indeed, it is as you have said, Lord Baerdion. He is the one born of the full lineage of both of the sons of Elendil Elvellon. This is indeed his quest as much as it is that of the Ringbearer." He inclined his head with respectful grace toward the younger of the two Hobbits, whose cheeks flamed, although the rest of his face grew paler.
Another Elf, one Boromir remembered as having been introduced at the Council as having come from the Elven haven of Mithlond, looked between the Elf who'd spoken and Elrond, then gave Mithrandir a sideways glance, saying, "I would not say that Aragorn is a greybeard among Men, no matter when he was born. Indeed, his lineage as the Dúnadan is apparent in the appearance of full manhood that he shows forth. He is but of middle years in the time that might be expected of him, or so I would deem."
Frodo spoke up, appearing to surprise even himself. "Nor am I precisely young. I am fifty, after all, and also am in what we Hobbits consider our middle years."
Boromir was surprised. He would never have suspected this was anything but a youngling of his kind. "And your three companions are as old as you?" he asked.
Bilbo laughed. "Ah, indeed not! Sam and Merry aren't forty yet--they were each deemed of age only a few years past. As for Pippin--well, he's still not of age at all, not for slightly more than five years. He will not be twenty-eight until December, you see."
Elrond explained to the Gondorian, "You must remember, Lord Boromir, that the great Rings extend the lives and vigor of their bearers. It is true that Gerontius Took lived to be older than is Bilbo now, but he was yet more obviously elderly than is this, his grandson, and at a younger age. How it will be with Bilbo once the Ring is gone we cannot yet predict."
Boromir noted that Frodo's cheeks paled at that statement, although he fixed his eyes on the contents of his plate.
The russet-haired son of Glóin searched his father's face, then looked up to meet Elrond's gaze. "You feel that those who accompany the Ringbearer should be younger, eh? And if I were to offer myself?"
Elrond examined the Dwarf. "You are a tried warrior of your people?"
Glóin indicated his agreement. "While we were fighting the Battle of Five Armies, my son here was leading the defense of our folk in the Blue Mountains against an assault by orcs and Men from Angmar who had thought to steal from our stores of weapons. And here I had thought that by insisting he remain at home I was insuring his safety! I doubt there is a Dwarf who is better with an axe than my Gimli in all of the Blue Mountains, the Iron Hills, or Erebor."
Gimli set a hand to the throwing axe he wore at his belt. "I have fought my share of orcs and evil Men, Lord Elrond." He glanced sideways at the Elf Legolas. "And particularly since I followed my father to the Lonely Mountain. The orcs of Dol Guldur have tried their own assaults on Erebor. We Dwarves fight to protect our own."
There was an unspoken challenge there to the golden haired Elf, whose own expression grew fixed. "I have fought in defense of our lands and peoples since the days of darkness ere the Last Alliance, son of Glóin." He rose. "I am the best archer in all of our lands," he said to Elrond, his chin raised in defiance. "And I will match my knifework against a Dwarf's axe any day."
"You offer yourself to the quest?"
The Elf with him gave an intake of breath. "Your father----"
Legolas quelled him with a look. "Is not this quest as necessary to protect our lands as any other? Nor, I think, need I go further than I will." He turned back to Elrond. "Is that not true, Master Elrond?"
"Indeed, that is so. It is perhaps a longer road than your companion here will take in returning to your father's halls, but it will protect the Ringbearer in the dangerous lands along the western slopes of the Misty Mountains."
"Then I would offer myself also," said the other Elf from Mirkwood.
"And then who will bear word back to my father as to why I am delayed, much less warning as to the apparent plans of the Enemy to assault the Men of Esgaroth and Dale and the Dwarves of Erebor and the Iron Hills as well as our forest?" Legolas said, shaking his head. "Nay, I would have you return with the knowledge of what has been revealed here. What other messenger can I send? Imladris and Mithlond will be busy preparing for their own defense!" He leaned closer to his companion. "Remember--the Nazgûl have come here, here to the west of the Misty Mountains. Sauron intends to destroy or enslave us all! No, you must return to my father."
At last the other Elf bowed his head in acceptance, although he did not appear particularly sanguine about the prospect of returning home without his companion.
Gimli, meanwhile, was eyeing his sire. "And don't go thinking to send one of our escort with me. You are my father, and you must return to Dáin to advise him as to just what it is that Sauron wishes to recover from the Esteemed Burglar, and why it is important he not do so. The orcs will be watching the passes going east--I won't have you going home without proper protection!"
"I will advise you I am not without skill in using my own axe----"
"And you just admitted that I am better than you, and I shall not be with you during your return."
The two Dwarves sought to stare one another down, the expressions on their faces equally stern and stubborn. At last, however, Glóin muttered, "Trust you, my son, to use against me the very arguments I gave you when I refused to allow you to accompany us on our hopeless quest to regain our treasures from Smaug."
"You didn't think I would have forgotten them, did you?"
Slowly a small, proud smile showed on what could be discerned of the older Dwarf's face. "No, my son, I did not. Make us proud."
At last Gimli's own lips curved upwards. "You will never have reason to be ashamed of me." Each reached out his right arm to clasp the shoulder of his fellow, and they remained thus for some more moments before returning their attention to their host.
At last Boromir cleared his throat. "So," he said, "now we are seven, and represent Hobbits, Men, Elves, and Dwarves--and Wizards. What others might you think to send?"
Elrond gave a slight shake to his head. "I know not, not as yet. I suppose it will depend in part on what others might offer themselves."
Gandalf gave an elaborate shrug. "You already have been approached by two more volunteers."
Elven lord met Wizard's gaze. "I am not inclined to accept their offers. The two remaining Hobbits are yet young in the reckoning of their people, and do not know what sacrifices they might be called upon to make should they go upon this quest. The younger one particularly--Peregrin Took--he strikes me as being prone to being impetuous. That is not a quality that is likely to help keep them unnoticed as the Nine Walkers seek to tread their road secretly through the wilderness, past the Enemy's people and allies. Also, I have forebodings regarding the safety of the folk who live within the Hobbits' Shire. The Black Riders have found it already, and are followed by other dangers. I would not see it remain without warning. Young Peregrin's father is master of the Shire's Moot and its Hobbitry at Arms, is he not?"
"Yes, he is," Frodo answered. "But if you think my kinsman Paladin will call for a Shire Moot or for the bowmen of the Green Hills and White Downs to take up their weapons on the authority of the word of his son, I believe you are mistaken. He is likely to discount the testimony even of Merry, in fact. Uncle Paladin has never truly believed the stories Bilbo has told of matters outside the Shire. In spite of his few trips to Bree, he appears to believe that nothing that occurs outside the borders of the Shire has any relevance to our lives. I doubt he ever believed Smaug was real, or the three trolls who captured Bilbo and the Dwarves. Pippin's eyes must have been as large as dinner plates when we came upon them in the wild! And how we are to convince him I had excellent reason to leave the Shire when and how I did I have no idea. At least Uncle Sara is more likely to listen, although I suspect he, too, will find the tale exceeds belief."
"Paladin Took has tolerated me, but has never truly been open to my advice," Mithrandir said, his eyes thoughtful as he looked on the Ringbearer. He returned his attention to Elrond. "He finds me a strange fellow, and has consistently refused to discuss any concerns I might have for those outside the Shire. I must say that he is far more tolerant than was Ferumbras, who preceded him as Thain, but that is not saying much. Young Pippin has more of Gerontius to him than does his father, I fear. Indeed, Pippin, Merry, and Frodo are all more like Gerontius than is Paladin Took. I fear it will take some doing to convince him that anything from outside the Shire could pose a danger, although once he is convinced he will then seek to move mountains to safeguard his own."
The Wizard looked briefly to Bilbo, who was indicating his own agreement. At last he shook his own head. "Face it, my friend," he said, "those of the folk of the Shire who are most like Gerontius Took are here, present in your domain. As for those who remain within the Shire, they must, as always, be faced with danger in order to be convinced it exists. And it is in my heart that in this matter it would do well to trust more to friendship rather than to might or wisdom. Even should you think to send Glorfindel in the fullness of his power and glory, that may well prove only to draw the Eye toward us the quicker. No, I tell you, Elrond, that rather than seeking to offer the Ringbearer more protection we may well do better to offer him more reason to wish to prevail over the evil will of the Ring. For It will grow in awareness, power, and malevolence once we leave the borders of your lands, and the weight of Its evil will be merely the worse the closer to the Mountain It comes."
Elrond, however, did not appear to be convinced.
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