15. Time (and Hobbits) Marches On
Sam paused in the doorway, his master’s cloak over his arm, his heart swelling at a sound he’d feared he’d not hear again. Resplendent in his own new suit of dove grey, the hobbit leaned against the doorjamb and echoed Frodo’s laugh, glad beyond measure to see his master on his feet and on his way to recovery.
Frodo turned to Sam then came forward and caught his friend’s hands in his. “Sam,” he said softly, “I want to thank you –“
He got no farther. Sam covered his hands with his own larger ones and squeezed them gently, as Frodo was not strong yet. “Sir –“ he started, then blushed at his interruption. “There ain’t no need to thank me, sir … and I’d rather you didn’t try.”
Frodo nodded, newly-earned wisdom in his eyes. “Then I’ll not. But I won’t forget it, Sam.”
Sam grinned at him, the joy in his heart mirrored in his beaming face. “We’d best meet Mr. Merry and Master Pippin, sir. It’s almost time.”
* * * * *
Frodo hesitated at the great doors to Elrond’s dining room, remembering and dreading how the Elves had bowed to him his previous entrance. But word of his discomfort at their honor had preceded him. This time when the Ring-bearer entered, there was no bowing. But as he passed, conversations fell silent and every head turned towards him. Though they did not bow, every Elf and guest was silent, heads nodding in greeting until the Ring-bearer was past. Frodo walked slowly, his cheeks burning but his back was very straight.
The Master of Rivendell rose as Frodo approached his High Table and motioned the hobbit to the place at his right side. Frodo bowed deeply as Sam was led to another table with Merry and Pippin. His eyes followed them longingly but he was doomed to be honored by his host. Elrond’s ageless eyes crinkled in amusement but nothing but immortal serenity showed on his high-browed face.
Frodo remembered little of that enthralling evening; he actually remembered more of his first, unauthorized foray into the Hall of Fire. There was music and singing and fine wine (Frodo darted a quick glance at his host and limited himself to two glasses only) and food that nourished the spirit as well as body. There were a great number of mushroom dishes. The hobbit tried to apply himself to the food, eating more than he actually wanted, so that Elrond would see how much how better he was.
Frodo’s memories of the Hall of Fire were more clear. Bilbo joined them and the hobbits sank into the deep cushions set out for them. Music, songs and tales – Frodo’s heart was complete. He relaxed into the comfortable padding … relaxed for the first time since taking the first step out of his house at Crickhollow. The stately festivities lasted long into the night. When they discussed it afterwards, the hobbits could name but few of the songs sung or tales told … they seemed to blend together into a soft-edged mosaic of wonder and quiet joy.
Pippin fell asleep sometime after the third hour and Aragorn came forward and bore him gently to bed; yawning, Merry followed. Bilbo too took his leave after some indeterminable time, rising stiffly and kissing Frodo’s brow before retiring. Sam snored gently where he had slid down half onto the floor but Frodo stayed awake as long as he could, eyes half-lidded as he swayed gently with the music until sleep at last claimed him.
* * * * *
The next day dawned cold and rainy, and the hobbits stayed inside and rested. Frodo curled in a chair near the fire and read. Sam and Pippin dueled over a chessboard, but neither could give the battle their full attention. Much to Frodo’s irritation, Merry kept hopping up and down every five minutes or so to look at the clouds and mumble under his breath. The other two watched him worriedly, shooting surreptitious glances between the two elder cousins.
The Master of Rivendell paid them a visit after luncheon and to the hobbit’s further irritation, insisted on examining Frodo. The cold weather had caused his wound to ache and he held the shoulder stiffly. Elrond stared into his eyes, checked his throat and reflexes, had him breathe deeply and listened to his chest, then carefully inspected the injury, placing his long slender hands on the wound and closing his eyes as he felt along the thin, still-livid tissue. Frodo tensed but to his surprise, did not suffer the crippling pain he expected at having the wound probed. Under the Elf-lord’s careful hands, the ache slowly subsided and Frodo sighed in relief. Elrond awarded him a half-bow before departing, smiling at him enigmatically.
Merry ate so little at supper that Frodo asked him if he were ill. And indeed, Merry did look ill – strained and jumpy, quite unlike his usual equitable self. When Pippin hesitantly tapped his shoulder to claim his attention from the darkening grey-laden clouds, Merry shot straight up with a yelp, startling his cousin, who stumbled back and landed hard on his posterior with a yowl. His cry surprised Frodo, causing him to surge up from his seat and send his tray flying, scattering its contents across the room.
That was enough. Seeing that they were trying his master’s patience, Sam chased them both out of the room and escorted them to the door.
“If you’re not going ‘ta tell him, I don’t want to see you two till it’s time,” he growled at them. “I can’t stop you from doin’ this, but I can stop you from upsettin’ him any more than necessary!” Sam did not close the door in their faces – he slammed it so hard it bounced on its hinges.
* * * * *
Merry and Pippin called for Frodo one hour after midday, as agreed. Frodo was waiting for them eagerly, his mind already on the maps and books and scrolls his hands could scarcely wait to hold. The weather was still rather overcast but the rain had ceased the previous evening. Merry had walked along the garden path earlier and found it muddy but negotiable.
“There certainly are a lot of people out today,” observed Frodo, puzzled eyes staring at the small groupings of Elves that lined their path. Also present were a few stragglers from the various diplomatic delegations of Men and Dwarves that had attended Elrond’s Council. It seemed to the hobbit that most of Rivendell had turned itself out and had inexplicably chosen to sit, stand, lean and simply loiter along his path. Frodo smiled shyly at Legolas the Wood-Elf, and the Man, Boromir, and the dwarf, Gimli, that had gathered among the crowd. Legolas smiled at him, his clear eyes sparkling in his fair face. The Lady Arwen reclined on one of the carven benches, her arm twined in Aragorn’s. On another sat Glorfindel, deep in converse with Bilbo.
“Don’t these people have anything else to do?” wondered Frodo.
“It must be the rain-washed air,” suggested Pippin, practically dancing around his cousin. Sam glowered at him.
“Everyone likes to get out after a good rain,” Merry agreed. Sam glowered at him, too.
“Good afternoon, little masters,” Elrond greeted them. Sam started to transfer his glower to the Elf-lord, then remembered himself and covered his mouth with both hands, shocked at his impertinence. Frodo looked at him blankly then turned back to Elrond.
“Good afternoon, my lord,” returned the hobbit.
“How do you feel today, Master Frodo?” though his question was gentle, the healer’s eyes were sharp as his gaze traveled over the hobbit, noting his heightened color and shining eyes.
“Very well, my lord, thank you. We are going to the Library.”
“So I have heard.” Elrond’s reply was noncommittal, but something in his voice made Frodo look at him closely. “Enjoy your walk, Master Frodo. I am pleased to see you strong enough to make it at last.”
Frodo bowed in response to the Elf-lord’s nod, obviously confused. Elrond’s departure seemed to be some kind of signal, for the gathered ranks of people began buzzing among themselves, whispering and exchanging many small pieces of paper. The hobbit’s gaze swept along the people, all of whom seemed to suddenly find the ground, the sky, the fountains most interesting, anything other than meeting the halfling’s gaze. Only one pair of eyes met his. Gandalf leaned on his staff, deep eyes gleaming. Seeing the hobbit’s expression, the wizard could hold a serious mien no longer and threw back his head and laughed, his enormous, great-brimmed hat almost falling off.
Still staring at the wizard, Frodo’s dark brows quirked. His gaze traveled over the assemblage and returned to his cousins. Merry had dropped back during his conversation with the Elf-lord and was trying to be invisible behind Sam and Pippin. Sam pointedly stepped out from in front of him. Casting Merry an apologetic look, Pippin also edged to the side.
Merry said nothing, that deer-in-the-crosshairs look again on his sweating features.
“Merry. May I speak to you a moment?”
Frodo started towards him but Merry rushed forward and grasped his cousin’s arm, the beads of perspiration on his forehead betraying the easy smile on his lips. “Of course, Cousin! Why don’t we talk on the way to the Library?” Tugging gently, he pulled Frodo into step beside him again.
Frodo twisted around and looked behind him when he realized that all the people he had passed were following. He stopped and they stopped, resuming their intense studies of every surrounding feature except his small party. Suddenly jerking out of Merry’s hold, he took five quick steps forward. The following crowd surged after him then ran into each other most ungracefully when he spun around to face them. Seeing the lordly Elves in such disarray was an astonishing sight and the hobbit gaped at them, dignity forgotten in his amazement.
“Merry, what is going on here?”
“Frodo, I can explain -”
A lifetime of respecting his elders warred with Merry’s well-developed sense of self-preservation. Vaguely he was aware that Pippin was looking at him with pity and Sam was regarding him with satisfaction. “Cousin, it’s not what it looks like…”
“What does it look like?”
Having no reply to that, Merry stared at his elder cousin miserably and sought desperately for a justification. “Frodo -”
“Answer me, young hobbit!”
Groaning, Merry bowed his curly head and confessed. The gathered crowd strained shamelessly to eavesdrop, but could only catch isolated words and phrases from the two.
“You did what?”
“…didn’t mean any harm…”
“…he wagered on me?!”
“Just a little…”
“And you agreed what?”
“…totally innocent tiny bet…”
Unable to stand still, Frodo had been slowly towing his cousin along the garden path, Merry hanging back with every step. Pippin and Sam trailed after them, eyes on the ground, avoiding looking at each other. Their audience followed. The entire parade eventually marched to a halt at the steps of the Library, the first half of the Ring-bearer’s walk completed quite without a single person noticing.
The final words that passed between the cousins were too soft-voiced for any others to hear. Several moments passed while the two curly heads, one dark and one bright, pressed close together. Then in a movement shockingly quick for one so gravely injured a bare fortnight earlier, the Ring-bearer whirled and was up the steps and into the Library, the great doors slamming shut behind him.
Merry pressed himself against the doors. “Frodo, please come out of the Library.”
“No,” a soft voice replied, breathing heavily.
“Frodo, please -”
“Frodo, you’ve got to come out -”
“Go away, Merry.”
Merry closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the closed doors, his head throbbing. A stifled cough from behind him reminded him of the rows of silently watching eyes. Slowly he turned and faced the gathered throng of Elves and Men and Dwarves, one wizard and three hobbits. He grinned at them sickly, perspiration dripping from his blond curls into his eyes. Then one of the doors opened slightly and a small hand reached out and caught his shoulder, dragging the surprised hobbit inside.
* TBC *
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.