6. Chapter Five: The Road to the Shire
The Road to the Shire
Their new companion, Arwen and Eowyn learnt when they resumed their journey, did not seem eager to speak about her origins.
She was a curious sort, clearly not from this part of Middle Earth, for her appearance spoke of the lands to the far south where few had traveled. Following the destruction of Numenor, those scattered remnants of that men had sought new homes in Middle Earth and through that quest had established the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor, Rohan and Ithilien but to name a few. However, there were tales of those who had gone beyond the borders of Mordor, had sailed the inland sea to the distant lands of Far Harad. They had slipped beyond the reach of the known world and what befell them there was difficult to say. If this stranger had come from those faraway lands than she had been travelling for a great many years.
Arwen sensed no danger from her however and it was this feeling that stayed her suspicion about Melia. What quest had brought Melia to this part of the world was something the Ranger felt no inclination to tell other than the fact that at some point during her travels, she had joined the Rangers and became duty bound to patrol and protect the lands of Angamar. What she was doing here on the other side of the Misty Mountains instead of carrying out that task, Melia did not say other than she had been returning to Angamar when she stumbled upon the party of Orcs who held Arwen and Eowyn captive.
Arwen knew that Estel had acquired many new Rangers to protect the lands surrounding the Shire from Orcs or any other threat that might befall that gentle race. Before the War of the Ring, hardly anyone had known about the existence of the halflings. They were almost as steeped in legend as the One Ring. Since the defeat of Sauron had come at the hands of a hobbit, most people knew in some part about them now and Elessar feared that Orcs, seeking retribution for the destruction of their master, might be inclined to attack the peaceful communities in the Shire.
Becoming King did not absolve Aragorn of the oath he had made to Frodo Baggins that day in Rivendell when the Fellowship was formed. He would protect Frodo and all the hobbits until the breath left his body and Arwen would always adore him for that.
They had been travelling most of the night to find lesser known paths that would take them through the mountains. Melia seemed to know the land well and Arwen was confident that they would be able to make up for the time they had lost during their capture. It was only a few short hours before dawn and they were far enough away from the Orcs to be certain they were safe for time being. The party was weary from their flight and the horses, too, needed watering and rest. Melia led them to the small stream she knew in the wood beyond the mountain range, confident that they could rest there without being set upon by anymore of the Enemy’s agents.
"We should resume our journey at day break," Eowyn suggested as they set up their small but discreet camp.
"Are you determined to travel through Rivendell?" Melia asked because she knew that time was a great concern to the Queen and her companion.
"I had hoped to see Imladris," Arwen answered honestly. "My brothers were unable to journey to the White City with my father as they were needed to continue the efforts for their departure to the Undying Lands. I wanted to see them before they left."
"That is understandable," Melia replied. "But if you wish to reach your destination within the time allotted to you, it would save a number of days if we did not pause at Rivendell and continue onwards. We could make Bree in four days from here."
Arwen’s heart sank because she did so want to see her brothers again. If she missed the opportunity to see them during the quest, Arwen did not think there would be another. Her father had come specifically to the celebration at Gondor to say his farewells for he knew that once he set sail for the Undying Lands, their paths would never meet again. She would go the way of mortals, passing into the great mystery to which not even the Elves could venture. Arwen had accepted that such was the choice she had made to be with her beloved Estel but she could not help feeling this terrible sadness at the knowledge that in doing so, she would lose so many that meant so much to her.
However, she could not lose the child inside of her either and if that meant being denied the chance of visiting Rivendell one last time, Arwen could accept it. Furthermore, she added secretly to herself as she made the decision that she had yet to tell either Eowyn and Melia, that if they survived the quest, there was no reason why they could not break their journey home at Rivendell to see her brothers. The delay was something she could endure for the safety of her baby.
"We will make for Bree," Arwen finally answered Melia who was waiting for her response.
"Are you certain?" Eowyn looked up from the fire where she had been preparing their meal. "I know you wished to see Ellandan and Elrohir before they departed Rivendell."
Arwen drew a deep breath, forcing herself to remain true to her decision because she knew it would take little to convince her to do as her heart wanted. "Melia is correct, we would save several days if we were to continue past Rivendell. We have little time to spare as it is."
"Agreed," Eowyn smiled, seeing the pain in her eyes but gladdened that they were making the sensible decision.
"I will take first watch," Melia offered as Eowyn distributed the meal she had made from what few stores were left on the horses that had not been plundered by the Orcs.
"Wake me when you’re ready for some rest," Eowyn answered as they sat down to share the meager repast.
"Tell me," Melia looked up at Arwen after a few minutes of silent dining, "what brings the Queen of the Re-Unified Lands to the edge of Middle Earth?"
Eowyn glanced immediately at Arwen, wondering whether or not the queen would answer the Ranger’s question. Although Eowyn trusted Melia to a point, she was uncertain whether or not the Ranger should be told the purpose of their quest. She knew that Arwen considered Melia no danger but Eowyn was not about to place too much faith on the accuracy of elvish senses. Melia had also been strangely quiet about her reasons for being near the Misty Mountains instead of Angamar where a Ranger of her calling should have been. However, the choice was not hers to make. It was Arwen’s.
"Why were you at the Misty Mountains?" Arwen asked as if she had read Eowyn’s mind regarding Melia’s presence among them.
Melia let out a heavy sigh and understood by the queen’s question that she would have to yield a little if she wish to earn their trust.
"I was searching for my mother," Melia answered after a long pause and judging by the reluctance in which she volunteered the information, Arwen and Eowyn guessed that the matter was intensely difficult for her to confide in others. "My father visited these lands in his youth where he met my mother who apparently lived along the banks of the Anduin River. They were together for a time but after I was born, my mother grew weary of being wife to a husband and a mother to a child and left us. Eventually, he returned to his people and I was raised in the south. He told me little about her and when he passed on I felt that I had to find her. I travel between Angamar and the Anduin every few months, hoping to find her while serving as a Ranger."
"Would it be simpler to continue the search instead of moving back and forth from Angamar?" Eowyn asked.
Melia allowed herself a little smile because Eowyn of all people would understand her reasons. "There are not many Ranger captains that will accept a woman to be counted in his ranks. The captain of the Rangers in Angamar is a good and fair man. He knows my ability and judges me by that and is not influenced by my sex to decide whether or not I am good enough to be a Ranger."
"Such men are rare," Eowyn agreed readily, understanding now the smile on Melia’s lips when she had asked her question. "But they exist."
"The Anduin is a great river," Arwen pointed out. "Your search may take years."
"I know," Melia nodded, not blinded by that reality for one instant. "I joined the Rangers for they are the eyes and ears of Middle Earth. They can help me in my search."
"What do you know of your mother?" Arwen asked because she had lived for nearly three thousand years and there was not an inch of the Anduin that she had not at one point or another traveled even if her memories were somewhat out of date.
"Very little," Melia confessed although Arwen sensed that she was at the limits of how much she was willing to impart to them about her purpose. Arwen could understand her reluctance. It was a deeply personal issue for her and Melia appeared to have spent many years searching for her mother, a search that was no doubt fraught with disappointment and frustration. Such emotional hardship must have made it difficult for her to make friendships or confide in others.
"I know that she is of a people who used to dwell along the river and that there were not many of them," Melia continued to speak. "Her name was Ninuie."
"I do believe that is an Elvish name," Arwen replied, "the Grey Elves to be certain. Have you sought her among the elves that dwell along the river? They may know of her in Lothlorien or perhaps even the elves of Mirkwood."
"Perhaps you are right," Melia absorbed her suggestion. "For now however, I would like to know why it is you are journeying so far north."
Now that Melia had told them the truth about her origins and Arwen could sense the sincerity of her words, even if they were shrouded in ambiguity, she could not deny the Ranger the same courtesy. It seemed only fair since now that Melia had become their guide in the northlands, she was at the same risk as they to the perils the Enemy would send against them.
"I am on a quest," Arwen said finally and saw the surprise in the Ranger’s eyes at the statement.
"A quest?" Melia remarked with some astonishment. "Since when is it the duty of the queen to embark upon quests? Is that not the duty of the king or some other warrior in his service?"
"This is a quest that I alone can fulfil," Arwen explained somberly. "Eowyn accompanies me because she is too good a friend to let her queen face danger alone but this is an endeavor that requires my presence and no other."
"I am a Ranger in the service of the King," Melia declared, her own intuition telling her that this quest that the queen was embarking upon was no small thing, not if Orcs were now moved to take hostages. "You have my solemn oath that what you say to me remains with me until death, I will not reveal a word of what is said unless you permit it."
"Thank you," Arwen smiled faintly, believing the sincerity of her words. "I am with child. The announcement was made but a few days ago so the rest of the kingdom may not be aware of it. The Lady of Lothlorien has told me that an evil presence seeks to harm my child. The Enemy desires to infuse my unborn babe with the spirit of Melkor."
"Morgoth?" Melia exclaimed in an expression of horror and shock.
"You now of Morgoth?" Eowyn stared at her.
"My people know the legends of the Valar and their battles with the dark lord Melkor who was also called Morgoth, the Dark Enemy of the Elves. We know that Sauron was once his servant and that Manwe and the others of the Valar vanquished him to the void. This is indeed foul work."
"We have until the next full moon by which to reach the Enemy or else Arwen’s babe will suffer the consequences," Eowyn explained now that Arwen had fallen into silence.
"I see the reason for your haste," Melia replied. Thoughts of her own quest could wait for now because if it were true, if Melkor’s evil were attempting to return to the world of the Middle Earth then they would all suffer in due course, herself as well. "The Enemy is at the Blue Mountains?"
"I am uncertain," Arwen replied, "I only know that the means by which to kill him is there."
"It explains why the Orcs had left you unharmed and unspoiled in their power," the Ranger nodded in understanding.
"Yes," Eowyn sighed in agreement. "They were to bring Arwen to him. If it were not for the fact that they did not know which of us was the Queen, they would have killed me."
"Then it was fortunate, I happened along," Melia replied. "Though how fortunate, I did know until this moment."
"There will be more of them," Eowyn met Arwen’s gaze. "You know that."
"I do," Arwen whispered softly. "But it is only because the Enemy seeks to know what our purpose is."
Ever since they had escaped the Orcs, Arwen had been thinking about their situation and the conclusion she had reached told her that the Enemy was uncertain of what she was intending with this journey. There was every likelihood that in thinking himself to be all-powerful, he might not even consider the possibility that she would dare seek him out. If that was so, then his Orc minions might have been attempting to capture her in order to decipher what purpose was behind her sudden departure from Minas Tirith. Arwen hoped that his confusion gave him much consternation for she had no doubt that if he suspected for one second that she was embarking upon a quest to find the one thing that could slay him, they would have more than Orcs chasing after them.
"The less he knows, the better," Eowyn retorted.
"Unfortunately, he has many eyes," Arwen sighed. "I have no doubt that the Orcs are not his only minions searching Middle Earth for us. Those Orcs will not relent in recapturing us."
"In that case, we should not remain in one place long." Melia added. "We should make for Bree at first light. The journey is four days away on horseback but if we stay off the roads and travel by night, we may keep out of the reckoning of his spies."
"That is as good a plan as any," Eowyn nodded her approval. "What say you Arwen?"
"I am disposed towards it," she smiled at Melia. "And I thank you for joining us in this quest. It cannot have been an easy choice for you to aid us. The risks are great."
"The risks are even greater if your Enemy is allowed to do what he desires," Melia returned Arwen’s smile with one of similar warmth. "It was difficult enough vanquishing Sauron’s evil from Middle Earth, I think preventing a similar darkness from falling across the world is the shared responsibility of all who live in it."
Arwen had not thought of it quite that way but she was glad to hear Melia’s words nonetheless and felt herself considerably fortunate to have the companionship of such brave women. It gave her hope enough that there would be an end to this nightmare that would see her back with her beloved Estel.
The Fellowship arrived at the foot of the Misty Mountains more than a day after they had departed the wood of Lothlorien. Aragorn’s mood had worsened upon learning from Celeborn that Arwen and Eowyn had barely escaped with their lives at Cadras Nar. Faramir had even more reason for worry upon being told that the sting of the spiders that had infested the small seaside village and had killed all its inhabitants had injured Eowyn. However, he drew some comfort in knowing that, as always, she was more than capable of acquitting herself in trying circumstances. Haldir worsened the entire affair by telling Aragorn that he should have kept better a eye on his wife and that the welfare of the Evenstar should come even before his kingdom. It had taken the intervention of both Gandalf and Celeborn to keep the King from physically expressing his displeasure upon Haldir’s face.
Fortunately, Celeborn was able to supply them with stores that would be needed for their journey as well as provide some useful intelligence as to which direction Arwen and Eowyn would be travelling in order to cross the Misty Mountains. Celeborn had mentioned the pass that Arwen had considered using to cross the mountains since the Mines of Moria and the Bridge of Khazadum was no longer. Aragorn guessed that Arwen would make her next port of call Rivendell for it was familiar ground and she would choose to traverse the pass despite Celeborn’s warning. He knew that she would not want to miss the chance to visit Imladris once again, not when she had been so disappointed about the absence of her brothers’ at the celebration in the White City. It would also be her last opportunity to see it before the elves left for the Undying Lands.
"This is most disconcerting," Legolas complained as they rode along the foothills of the mountain, towards the pass they needed to cross. "We were certain all of the great spiders had been driven out of Mirkwood when Sauron was destroyed.
Legolas had led his father’s men through the forest of Mirkwood to hunt for the evil creatures after the war with Sauron was done. He himself had killed a number of the spiders and had believed them all dead. It disturbed him greatly that he had not done as a thorough job as he thought and now an entire village had succumbed to their menace. He felt responsible for those deaths even though he knew that he had done all he had been able to eradicate them forever. He remained silent for most of their journey, though Gimli had come to know him well enough to see that he was troubled by what had transpired.
"It’s not your fault you know," Gimli remarked as he sat upon the pony that he had acquired from the Shire. The horses bred for the halflings were the only beasts he truly trusted for dwarves were not accustomed to riding at all. He had only acquired the habit after travelling with Legolas and the Fellowship.
"You know me too well," Legolas returned quietly and yet Gimli’s insight did not change how he felt.
"I do," he nodded, "and I know that you elves have a tendency towards self recrimination."
"I was in charge of the party led to drive the wretched creatures from Mirkwood," he declared hotly. "I should have known that they were too easy to kill. Such creatures make it a habit of learning to disguise themselves, I should have anticipated that they were merely driven to find a new home, not that they were vanquished for good."
"In hindsight, it is easy to say such things," Gimli countered. "You did not kill those people and you did all that could have been done to destroy those monsters. Now, I would think that your efforts would be best spent ridding that town of the blasted things instead of moaning about how it could have been stopped."
"As usual, you are too blunt for your own good," Legolas frowned but he could not find fault with anything that Gimli had said. If anything there was even some truth to it. He was lingering on their deaths but he could not shed his culpability even if Gimli was right. He would avenge them. Once this quest to save Arwen was done, he would return home to Mirkwood and assemble a group of his father’s finest men. They would go to Cadras Nar and end the threat there before the creatures found another town in which to nest and feed.
"But I am right," Gimli pointed out.
"You are," Legolas grumbled. "How is that possible? You dwarves aren’t known for your subtlety."
Gimli laughed and Legolas would have joined him when a sudden gust of wind swept out of nowhere, dislodging rocks and dust from their place on the ground to be borne into the air. A great chill fell upon them and though it was bright and sunny not long ago, the sun had suddenly disappeared behind thick, heavy clouds. The change in weather was so sudden that Legolas had barely noticed the shift in the wind, a thing most elves were capable of doing since it was almost second nature.
"There is something a foot here," Gandalf captured everyone’s attention with that one sentence.
"What do you mean?" Aragorn demanded. While he did find it strange that the weather had come upon them so swiftly, it was entirely possible that it was a natural occurrence.
"It feels as if someone has produced this storm for our benefit," the wizard replied, remembering too well how Saruman had almost killed them all when they had attempted to cross the Caradhras during the quest of the Ring. This sudden storm had that stink about it. While he could not sense the manipulations of another of the Istari at work as he had then, he knew the storm was false. There was something foul at work and caution was needed.
"Then we best reach the pass as soon as we can," Aragorn ordered. "Once we are on the other side, the mountains shall shield us from its might."
Gandalf was not so certain. The gale force winds were now bringing down the snow from the top of the mountain and it fell around them as if it was winter. The sudden snap of cold made everyone pull their cloaks and their coats to their bodies and even the horses were uneasy. Shadowfax, Gandalf’s trusted steed, snorted his displeasure and the wizard placed a hand across the stallion’s neck, trying to soothe its anxiety.
"Gandalf can you sense it?" Legolas asked him as they neared the pass.
"Yes," the wizard nodded.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Sam stated. "This doesn’t feel right."
"Are you developing Elven senses too?" Frodo stared at his old friend with a smile but it was a nervous one. There was darkness coming, they could all feel it.
"Let’s hurry," Faramir insisted, digging his heels into the side of his horse. "Maybe we can outrun it."
His horse bolted forward, making quick time towards the opening in the mountain. Merry and Pippin followed suit, never one to be left behind on anything.
"Faramir wait!" Aragorn shouted but the howl of the wind swept his voice out of Faramir’s hearing.
The king swore loudly when he saw his friends disappearing into the sudden blizzard. However, he could do nothing but follow suit, hoping to save Faramir from himself before he put too much distance between them. When there was magic afoot, it was best to be cautious even if the danger did not appear overt. The others followed his stead, keeping him in their sights as they followed him into the breach. Aragorn knew that it was Faramir’s love for his wife that made him irrational. The king could well understand this fear for he felt the same way about Arwen but he had spent too many years as a Ranger rushing in where angels feared to thread. He knew the sense of caution and he had patience. If nothing else, his years in the wilderness had taught him that much.
The walls of the canyon soon enveloped them and the storm seemed to grow a thousand fold in its ferocity, until it became hard to see through the veil of snow. Once again, they were reminded of the crossing at Caradhras when Saruman’s malice had driven them off the mountain into the Mines of Moria. Aragorn could see Faramir ahead and felt gratified that his old friend had come to his senses to slow down. Pippin and Merry had already brought their mounts to a halt, awaiting the arrival of the King.
"Fools!" Aragorn snapped as he reached them. "We have no idea what lies ahead!"
"We were riding after him to stop him!" Merry retorted, somewhat offended that Aragorn would think them foolish enough to act so rashly. The days when he had encountered them at the Prancing Pony were long gone. It was almost a lifetime ago and they had seen the world and knew the dangers that lurked beyond the Shire, enough to know when to be sensible about their action.
Aragorn felt ashamed of his anger and quickly apologised, "I am sorry. You were not deserving of my anger."
"He can’t hear us!" Pippin broke into the conversation. "We tried to call him before he got too far ahead of us but he couldn’t hear us over the wind. We wanted to tell him."
"Tell him what?" Aragorn stared at them in confusion as the others caught up with the trio.
"That!" Pippin pointed at the ground.
Through the snow, Aragorn saw what it was that had brought the two hobbits to such a complete standstill. The bones of a warrior, long dead stared at him with the empty eye sockets of his skull. The king allowed his gaze to move across the terrain before them. He made the same discovery as Eowyn and Arwen had done only days before that the irregular formations of rock that surrounded them traveled along their path. Nothing about what he was seeing appeared to be products of natural erosion and he had seen enough mountains in his time to know the difference.
Suddenly before he could think to say another word, he heard a sound through the wail of the wind that made him jump. It was like a clap of thunder that echoed down the canyon despite the storm brewing about them. Aragorn’s heart began to pound as Gandalf brought Shadowfax beside him. "We need to get out of here!"
"I won’t leave Faramir!" Aragorn said defiantly. "Take the others from here and I will go find him."
"No!" Gandalf grabbed his arm before he could gallop away. "You are the king! I will go!"
"I am the king and it is my choice!"
The choice was never made because he heard Legolas shout loudly and with such panic that even the wind could not still the prince’s voice.
Aragorn and Gandalf looked up and saw a huge boulder tumbling towards them. Aragorn dug his heels into his horse and sent it running but Gandalf had not the speed for such a hasty departure. Instead, the wizard raised his staff and suddenly the large piece of rock shattered in mid air, sending fragments in all directions. No sooner than its debris had reached the earth, another crashing sound was heard. This time the deadly projectile from above had landed near Sam’s pony Bill, forcing the animal to bolt ahead. Frodo’s mount had reared up on its hind legs as more rocks started to fall.
"Ride!" Aragorn shouted, thinking of nothing else to do to escape the deadly barrage falling from above.
He needed not give the order twice for the others were already surging ahead. Aragorn looked upwards to see more boulders plunging through the air and pulled the reins of his horse as one of the large fragments covered him with the shadow of its perilous arrival. He dug his heels deeper into the animal’s flank, producing an angry snort as the steed bolted forward with enough speed to ensure that when the rock came crashing down, it would not be with the King under it. Aragorn’s relief at escaping certain death was short lived however, when he saw Gimli’s horse, rear onto its hind legs in fright when a boulder shattered in front of it. The dwarf tried valiantly to remain in the saddle and absurdly Aragorn thought that this experience was not going to improve his opinion on riding very much, when the king saw Gimli fall.
Legolas who had been riding alongside the dwarf, immediately ground his own horse to an abrupt halt, caring little about the consequences to himself as he rode towards Gimli who was scrambling to his feet after his unceremonious dismount. The elf leaned over upon reaching his companion, extending an arm out just as a boulder slammed into the path before him and began rolling forward, propelled by its momentum towards the duo. Aragorn felt his heart leap with fear as he watched in horror, the disaster about to unfold. Legolas however, proved far too swift to be brought to an untimely end and he grabbed Gimli’s arm and swept him onto the back of his horse and rode out of danger’s way.
Aragorn continued his own efforts to escape the deadly onslaught of rocks that were raining down on them. He could see Merry and Pippin struggling to escape the barrage while Legolas and Gimli seemed to be making good pace; the archer weaving expertly through the crashing rocks around them. The king attempted to raise his eyes to the source of this deadly storm and could see little through the blizzard of rock and snow. Fortunately, the boulders and rocks being dropped upon them were large for if they were not, there would have been no way any of them would escape this canyon alive. Despite the struggle to avoid the crashing rocks around them, Aragorn noticed something curious about the pattern of the bombardment. Where they had ridden, no other rocks followed. They only appeared to fall where the Fellowship was attempting to cross.
"GANDALF!" Aragorn shouted for the wizard, suspecting that perhaps the Istari might be able to discern what was happening and stop this before any of them were killed.
Aragorn saw Shadowfax first. The great steed seemed to know that its rider was being hailed and paused in its steps. Aragorn caught up to Gandalf, knowing they could not linger long. Frodo had wisely remained closed to Gandalf, following the wizards lead to see him and Sam safely through.
"The rocks follow us Gandalf!" Aragorn declared as another great boulder crashed along side of him and he had to struggle to stay his horse from bolting in panic.
"I know," Gandalf nodded, his gaze travelling upwards to the top of the canyon. "I do believe that there is a giant at work here."
"A giant?" Frodo exclaimed. "Like the one in Moria?"
"A little worse I fear," Gandalf retorted. Boulders were crashing all around them with greater frequency. Their ability to prevail against the creature’s onslaught had fired its determination to kill them once and for all and it was becoming more and more difficult to avoid being crushed underneath.
"We must keep moving!" Aragorn insisted, seeing Legolas and Gimli disappear through the snowfall and knew that to remain in place was to invite disaster.
"I’ll tend to this," Gandalf shouted. "You take the others and go!"
Aragorn stared at him. "The last time you asked that of me, you died!"
"That was a balrog!" Gandalf returned over the wail of the wind and the crashing rocks. "This is a stone giant, I can deal with it."
"You said you could deal with that balrog too and that did not bode well in your favor!" Aragorn retorted, not willing to leave the wizard to die a second time.
"GO!" Gandalf boomed, showing the king that his patience was finite and that he would brook no more argument.
The bombardment around them was becoming worse and only the storm prevented the giant from throwing his rocks accurately. But it was only a matter of time before one of those deadly boulders would meet their mark. Aragorn saw the resolve in Gandalf’s eyes and knew that he had to obey. Even kings knew obedience when faced with the wrath of wizards and Aragorn knew that Gandalf did not give him orders lightly. With reluctance, the former ranger nodded in compliance and quickly averted his gaze to Frodo and Sam. "Stay close to me you two, this will not be easy."
"Gandalf…" Frodo opened his mouth to speak when he saw a large rock looming over them.
"HURRY!" Gandalf ordered and Frodo instinctively broke his pony into a gallop. Following Aragorn and Sam, Frodo cast a look over his shoulder and saw the wizard escaping the reach of the boulder that crushed the space where they had been. Realising that he had to trust Gandalf to his own devices, Frodo’s eyes returned to Aragorn and Sam before he too rode through the canyon without looking back.
Gandalf felt fragments of rock biting into his skin as the rock shattered into a multitude of smaller and large pieces that scattered across the snow covered ground. He squinted as he looked above and saw that there was indeed a giant perched at the top. The creature resembled a cave troll and although it was larger its desire for destruction was just as a vile. It saw Aragorn and the others riding away and was now giving chase by flinging as many rocks at the parting trio as possible. Fortunately, this allowed Gandalf the time to deal with the giant without interruption though he could not afford to waste any time in doing so in case one of those rocks met their mark.
Taking a deep breath, Gandalf remained steady on Shadowfax as he raised his arms, clasping his staff on each end as he gazed at the turbulent heavens above. Whether or not the giant saw him, Gandalf could not say but as it was often with such creatures, its attention was quick to wander and at this time it was more concerned with killing the riders he could see clearly in a group, instead of one alone. Holding his staff up high, Gandalf did not need to speak the words for only two penny conjurers required words to make a spell work. For Gandalf the words were spoken in his mind and from his mind they became something real. The giant was somehow able to precipitate the storm that had blinded so many and led them to their deaths.
It was not the only one who knew how to summon storms.
A crack of lighting splintered the sky with its thunderous roar. Like spidery webs of blue and white, it struck the top of the mountain, creating a tremendous sound that made all the other noises before it pale in comparison. It screamed above the howl of the wind and Gandalf did not need to instruct Shadowfax to move. The horse, sensing the danger, broke into a gallop as the ledge upon which the giant had made its murderous assault crumbled underfoot. Gandalf looked up and saw a mountain of earth and rock making rapid haste to the ground. He thought he might have seen the giant itself but the wizard could not be certain, for he was too busy trying to riding beyond the path of the oncoming barrage.
However, as he rode away from the looming destruction, he heard a scream through the snow that was neither wind or the sound of breaking rock but rather like a voice that was filled with fury and despair. It grew from a great distance and neared until Gandalf could almost feel its heated breath against his back before coming to an abrupt end when the broken edge of the mountains finally landed in the confine of the passage way. The ground shuddered beneath Shadowfax’s hooves and even Gandalf could feel its tremors in his bones. Yet with that cataclysmic end, the storm suddenly abated. The wind died where it blew, its gale quickly slipping into a whisper.
When the wind died the clouds rolled away and behind the thick gray canopy were blue sky. Gandalf felt the sunshine upon his face and knew that the danger had passed. He brought Shadowfax to a halt and gazed behind him at what he had wrought. The passageway was completely blocked by the great weight of rock and soil. The usefulness of the pass was no more for the destruction had sealed it. As the dust cleared, Gandalf wondered if the evil creature that had brought about so much death was now itself a victim of its own malice. He watched the rubble, waiting to ensure that this was so, that beneath the dirt, nothing stirred to cause further mischief.
"Gandalf!" he heard Aragorn call before him.
Facing forward again, he saw the Fellowship returning to him, no doubt having paused in their escape when the weather had changed for the better. He could see the relief in the eyes of all but especially in Frodo’s and Aragorn’s for they were always mindful of his misfortune at Khazadum.
"Is it dead?" Frodo asked, looking over the wizard’s shoulder.
"It will cause no more mischief that is for sure," Gandalf replied, not eager to admit that he might have killed the thing though it certainly deserved death.
"Perhaps next time you shall bear little more caution Lord of Ithilien," Gandalf stared at Faramir who looked rather admonished for his rash advance into the passage.
"I have been properly chastised by my king already," Faramir confessed somewhat embarrassed that his impulsiveness had almost cost him and his friends their lives. He did not think it was possible to hear the King shout so loudly through a blizzard but somehow Aragorn had managed it. What was worse, and it was to Faramir’s shame that he could not refute any of his king’s angry words, fired mostly by his concern for Faramir’s life and that of the Fellowship. "I promise, you will not see me behave so rashly again."
"Not unless he wants to explain to his wife why he is the lord of Ithilien in the guard tower when we return to Minas Tirith," Aragorn retorted, giving him a wry look of mock anger.
"If you were not my king…" Faramir started to say.
"I’d still throttle you about the ears for what you did," Aragorn cut him off.
"Ah," Pippin said with a smile as the two argued. The hobbit beamed as he exchanged amused glances with the rest of the Fellowship who were all reminded of how it had been during the quest to rid the world of the One Ring, when Boromir and the Ranger Strider could never seemed to agree on anything.
"It is like old times isn’t it?"
They arrived at Bree only a few short hours before dawn after travelling for nearly three days.
True to her word, Melia had taken them through unfamiliar paths, no doubt known only to Rangers and people with intimate knowledge of this part of Middle Earth. Nevertheless, despite the twists and turns in their journey through what to Arwen and Eowyn seemed like uncharted territory, they did arrive at Bree a full day earlier than expected which was pleasing to all concerned since time was such an enormous factor for the fulfillment of the quest.
For Arwen, Bree was something of an experience. In her long life, she had journeyed extensively through Middle Earth and she had seen much of the lands to the south, Gondor, Rohan, Isengard and since the fall of Sauron, even Mordor. She had chance to travel to the Grey Havens but this was the first time, she had ventured so close to the realm of the halflings. Although Bree was not considered a part of the Shire, it was the last settlement where men could be found before entering the land of the hobbits.
Enclosed completely by high walls, the only way to enter the town was by way of the main gates which were guarded at all times by a lone sentry whose business it was to ask questions of visitors. The practice had arisen shortly after the trouble with Sauron had begun and it was still in full force even though Mordor and the Ring Lord’s reign was no more. A rather dour and grimy looking man had made peered through the small peephole when Arwen and her companions arrived at the large wooden gates. Under their cloaks and concealed by the shadows of a moonless night, she supposed they must have appeared rather intimidating to him at first. However, upon learning that he had three ladies awaiting entry, his attitude changed considerably and he allowed them in with what could be considered a civil tone.
Inside the gates, Bree appeared much larger than the fortifications would have visitors believe. Although it was difficult to tell because they arrived in town shortly before dawn and most of its inhabitants were still in bed, there were more than enough homes and businesses to show that this was a thriving community. It was also to her amusement that in search of lodgings for the night, they came across the inn called the Prancing Pony that had figured so prominently in her king’s recollections of his first meeting with the halflings before the War of the Ring.
Arwen saw no reason why the inn could not provide them with a comfortable bed for a few hours. As it was, the inn did not appear to have any difficulty furnishing the needs of men, elves and hobbits alike and Arwen was not about to deny herself the pleasure of a comfortable bed and a warm fire after so many days sleeping out in the open. Despite Melia’s protestations that perhaps the Prancing Pony was not the best place for two noblewomen to select as their choice of accommodation, Arwen knew that it would serve them well.
As much as she loathed to confess it to the others, she tired more easily then she was accustomed to. Arwen knew that the cause of this was most likely because she was with child but it was for her child’s sake that she pressed on despite the limitations of her strength. If Eowyn could force herself to ride, having sustained injuries after their encounter with the great spiders at Cadras Nar, how could Arwen ask any less of herself? Yet there was a point, when exhaustion would not be denied and Arwen’s decision to lodge at the Prancing Pony had as much to do with her curiosity about the place as it did the fact that she was too tired to seek anything else.
Fortunately, nothing of note took place during their stay in Bree. They remained there long enough to capture a good day’s sleep and by the evening of the next night, they had been completely rested and were able to dine on a hearty meal before they set out again. Although the temptation to linger for another day or so was strong in all of them, Arwen dared not risk the time they had gained because of Melia’s guidance to Bree. It would be two days before they could think about experiencing such comforts again, if all went well and they arrived in the Shire without encountering any trouble. So far, there were no new signs of the Enemy or his Orcs but Arwen was not foolish enough to believe they were gone. She could feel their presence on the edge of her consciousness and knew it would be only a matter of time before she and her companions encountered them again.
For the moment however, it was hard to think of Orcs or any other threat when they took the main road into the Shire.
For years, she had heard Estel, Mithandir and the halflings themselves, speak of their beloved Shire but until now she had not realized why it was so dear to them. While not at all majestic like the White City or Imladris, there was beauty in the simplicity of the small houses and the seemingly endless fields of green meadows. The halflings liked their homes underground and until one actually entered the community, one could never really guess how unique these burrows truly were. They looked like grassy mounds with doors and windows positioned in the front and a stone chimney protruding from the top. Arwen was somewhat sorry that Frodo was in Minas Tirith with Estel for she would have dearly loved to have seen what it looked like inside one of these charming little homes.
The Shire was not used to visitors, Arwen decided as she, Eowyn and Melia rode through the meandering track that led to the heart of Hobbiton. The inhabitants of the Shire were a curious sort who by their furtive glances were curious about them but much too well mannered to stare with any kind of deep scrutiny. Instead their examination was like their very natures, unobtrusive and discreet. They were a curious sort when the object of their fascination wandered into their immediate vicinity but as a race, they were not prone to travel beyond Bree. It was very much a close knit society, where everyone knew everyone else’s business and upon seeing the sense of community that existed in Hobbiton, she marveled at the courage it must have taken for Frodo to embark upon the quest of the Ring.
How hard must it have been for all of them, not just Frodo, to leave the Shire, when it was their entire world? Not merely to leave but to set out upon a quest that had since changed the face of Middle Earth. Arwen found herself infused with a new respect for the hobbits, even more so than had existed before. She only hoped that she could find as much courage in the undertaking of her own quest for if it was only a fraction of what Frodo and the other halflings possessed, then she was blessed with ample.
"So this is the Shire?" Eowyn remarked as they rode through Hobbiton.
"It is a pretty place," Melia replied as she saw a group of children following the leisurely pace of their horses by concealing themselves in every bush that came along. She offered them a friendly smile when they dared peer out of the shrubbery, a gesture that only caused their withdrawal into concealment again, followed by a stream of excited giggles. "I see now why the king is so determined to protect it. I would hate to think of Orcs or any of Sauron’s evil minions set loose upon this place."
It was true, Melia thought as her gazed swept across the luscious green fields with the air filled with the harvest’s ripe seed. It was reminiscent of the village she had grown up in so long ago, far away from the known lands of Middle Earth. She glanced once more at the children who were now visible as they followed the visitors with youthful curiosity unabated and offered them another smile before facing the road ahead again.
"We will be to the Havens in a few days," Eowyn stated as they approached Hobbiton where it was agreed they would break their journey to rest. From their discussions with Frodo and the rest of the halflings, Eowyn was under the impression that they could find lodgings at the center of town for the night. "We will need to stop and freshen our supplies. Once we depart from there, there is no telling when we will be able to do so again. Beyond the Havens, there is little in the way of villages or towns. It will be a long journey to the Blue Mountains."
"We will ask Lord Cirdan for a guide," Arwen answered, not wishing to think about that part of their journey but since they were drawing close to their destination, she supposed that it was time they discussed the matter somewhat. "They can lead us to the mountains, to the remains of the forest of Brethil."
"You realise once he learns what you intend to do, he may not be inclined to let you go," Eowyn pointed out.
Arwen was aware of that fact more than she would like to admit but Cirdan had no choice in the matter. Either he let her and her companions go on their way or all their futures would be jeopardized. There could be no debate upon this point. "He will let me go," she sighed. "He must."
"What exactly is at Brethil that we must journey there with such haste?" Melia asked, for this part of the quest had not been explained to her.
Eowyn herself could not answer, other than to know that they were in search of a sword, the sword of Turin to be exact for it was the weapon forged that could kill the Enemy. "We seek the Sword of Turin, beyond that I do not know." She glanced at Arwen for that was where the answers lay.
"The Sword of Turin is meant to be made of a substance even harder than mithrail," Arwen replied, recounting what she knew of the legends. "In the past, expeditions have been sent to recover the weapon but all have failed. Those who have attempted have never returned to speak the reason for the failure of those before them."
"What substance could there be that is harder than mithrail?" Melia looked at them both in confusion. In the elemental world of Middle Earth, there was nothing harder, save for perhaps dragon’s scales but since one needed to extract the latter from the actual creature, the supply was scarce to say the least.
"I do not know," Arwen answered. "I only know that Turin’s sword is said to have been fashioned from a fallen star."
"A fanciful description," Eowyn frowned. "Hardly descriptive."
"I suppose we shall know the truth when we arrive there," Arwen shrugged, aware of nothing else she could say at this point to make it any clearer. "It is for us to accomplish what no one else has."
"Let us hope we fare better than they," Melia frowned, not liking the lack of information.
"Think of it this way," Eowyn smiled not one to dwell on the negative. "We can only die once."
Melia gave her a look. "I admire your ability to see the good in any situation."
"It is one of her many talents," Arwen retorted with just as much sarcasm.
Ever since they had encountered the stone giant in the Misty Mountains, a feeling of dread had been building up inside of Aragorn that he revealed to no one though he believed some of them might suspect what he was terrified of being the truth. He knew the possibility had occurred to the others but they did not dare speak it out for fear of how he would react if he knew. Celeborn had warned that many that had attempted to cross the mountains by using that same canyon had vanished never to be seen again. Although Aragorn had not time to make a proper search when they had traveled through the deadly breach, he knew what he had seen and what he had seen was the remnants of many corpses that had been skeletalized by time.
There was no telling how long the creature had been waylaying travelers with its deadly barrage for the snowfall had made it difficult to see just how many bodies there were on the ground. The urgency of the situation had prevented Aragorn from examining them closely, though he wanted to badly. As the Fellowship departed the perilous path and made for Rivendell, Aragorn became consumed by the possibility that perhaps Arwen and Eowyn might have taken the same route upon leaving Lothlorien. Indeed, Celeborn had said that he had given her the same warning.
Upon leaving the mountain range and making their way towards the legendary elven city, a grave mood had befallen the Fellowship for they all felt Aragorn’s anxiety as well as his need to reach Rivendell. The king hope’s for his wife’s safety rested solely on the hope that she had reached the elven city ahead of them. Only when he saw her at Rivendell, could he believe that she had escaped the fate they had so narrowly survived themselves.
While Aragorn’s fear was kept close to his heart, with none of it shown beyond his fierce determination to keep moving, Faramir’s anxiety was more visible in the shortness of his temper. Although the Fellowship all loved Arwen and Eowyn, their affection could not compare to the love felt by the husbands of the two formidable women. The others in the party were careful in their words, speaking as if no harm had befallen either the Queen or the Lady of Ithilien, offering Aragorn and Faramir hope for as long as it was possible.
It felt like almost an eternity had passed before they reached Rivendell and as they passed through the city towards Elrond’s home, the signs of the great exodus could be seen everywhere. It was like watching the diminishing light of a great jewel where once gone, would leave the world a less wondrous place in its passing. They could feel the end of an age soaking into their skins when they moved through the streets of Rivendell and saw the ongoing preparations of the elves to depart for the western shores. In his heart, Aragorn knew that when Gandalf went so would Frodo. Though it had not been spoken out loud by either, he could feel it instinctively. Someday, Legolas would go too and what remained of the Fellowship would pass into memory and be forgotten as if it had never been.
He hoped the memory of those who lived beyond his years would endure for he would not.
There were no happy greetings when Aragorn entered Elrond’s house and was met by Elladan and Elrohir. The twin brothers, who had fought along side of Aragorn during the War of the Ring, did not seem as enthused by their departure to the Undying lands as they should, when they came to meet him and the Fellowship. Identical to one another, they bore Elrond’s dark, intense looks instead of Arwen’s luminescence, which Aragorn was told was from her mother Celebrian. While Elrond had always been reserved about Aragorn’s affections for his daughter, her brothers were nothing but supportive and this was mostly because they had fought alongside him and knew that he was a man of good and noble bearing, worthy of their sister’s affections.
"Estel!" Elladan, the more adventurous of the two exclaimed as they met the Fellowship in the great hall of Elrond’s court. "What brings you here? We would have thought that you would still be playing host to your guests at the White City."
Aragorn’s heart sank upon hearing Elladan’s happy words for it appeared he did not know that there was little cause to celebrate. Arwen would have confided in them about her quest and the dark implications it had upon their child if she failed. That they did not know brought to surface Aragorn’s worse fears.
"What is it?" Elrohir asked, his eyes seeing the worry in the faces before him as the king felt the air drain from his lungs.
"She has not been here?" Aragorn asked, his voice nothing more than a strangled gasp.
"Who?" Elrohir stared at him in confusion, understanding now that something terrible had happened.
"Arwen," Legolas answered sparing either Faramir or Aragorn from speaking. "She has not come here?"
"No," Elladan shook his head. "We have seen nothing of her. Are you telling me that our sister was meant to come here?"
"Yes," Legolas nodded. "She has been given a quest to fulfil," he explained. "Some days ago we narrowly escaped death at the hands of a stone giant. The vile creature was hurling rocks upon anyone who dared use the pass through the Misty Mountains. We saw bodies of those who had tried before us. We think that Arwen and the Lady Eowyn who is travelling with her, might have taken this path."
The two elves became ashen with horror and Legolas did not know what to say to console them.
"Aragorn, Faramir," Gandalf said quickly, refusing to belief that it could end this way for either woman. "There may be any number of reasons why they did not pass through Imladris. Perhaps they discovered the danger and chose another route that might have made coming here too troublesome."
"That’s right," Sam added. "The Queen, she knows how to look after herself. She kept Mr. Frodo safe from those Rings Wraiths. She probably saw through that stone giant fellow and kept going!"
"And what if they didn’t?" Faramir asked, clearly in anguish at the thought that his beloved Eowyn might have come to harm. "They might have died there while we were running to save our skins!"
"She’s not dead," Aragorn swallowed away his pain and his despair. He crushed it mercilessly under the compelling desire not to fail her by giving in to his fears. Gandalf was right; they knew nothing for certain and until he had irrefutable evidence of it, he was not going to believe that Arwen or Eowyn for that matter had fallen. "My wife is not dead."
"You don’t know that," Faramir stared at him, wanting to believe his king, needing to believe him.
"I know that Arwen and Eowyn are capable of taking care of themselves, that if we could escape that monster then perhaps they did as well. They might have been wise enough to go another way upon sensing the danger," Aragorn said firmly and saw the others starting to fill with hope at the strength of his belief.
"I hope you are right," Faramir answered meeting his eyes, lost between accepting the worst and clinging to the hope, no matter how futile.
"I am right," Aragorn declared. "I am right because I do not feel that she is dead. In my heart, I know she lives and I have to believe that she is or I am no good to her."
And perhaps no good without her, he thought silently.
She was alive, Aragorn told himself as the words left him boldly. She had to be.
He would not believe anything else.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.