22. Astonishments and Embarrassments
Samwise kept an eye on his master from the depths of one of the great chairs, content to take his ease and watch Frodo climb up and down the rolling ladders to admire the rows and rows of reading material. Though Sam had been taught his letters by old Mr. Bilbo when he was a lad, Sam had always placed the joy of encouraging life under his calloused hands above intellectual delights. The sturdy hobbit smiled now to see Frodo so absorbed that an occasional absent–minded gasp when he stretched his left arm was the only sign of the injury that had nearly taken his master’s life upon their arrival in Rivendell but three weeks before.
Both hobbits turned towards one of the alcove doors at a loud rattle, followed by a thump. The Master of Rivendell swept through, followed by a tall Elf unknown to them. The unknown Elf turned and bent to lift the edge of a great wooden table, folded in half and rolling on small metal casters. The other end was being pushed by the Wood-elf, Legolas. Legolas raised his blond head and smiled at them around the table, then put his slender back under it and lifted it. Muscles straining, the two Elves dragged and pushed the table on its cranky casters over the threshold and guided it to the center of the room. Elrond dismissed the Elf with a nod of thanks, and the Elf bowed and took his leave. Reaching up to unlatch a catch holding the two halves together, Elrond spread the table flat and Legolas swung one of the pivoting legs underneath it and locked it down. The Elf-lord leaned over the great tableau, spreading his hands to place one on each side of the center partition, his ageless gaze both proud and sorrowful as he looked down upon the world.
The table between the Elf-lord’s hands was a topographical map of Middle-earth, unlike any Frodo had ever heard of or seen. Rather than just ink on paper, this map boasted tiny carved mountain ranges of tiger-eye and rivers of lapis lazuli and great lakes of crystal quartz, all cut to scale and embedded into the mahogany platform. Cities and towns were marked by small gemstones; opals, pearls and moonstones for Elven habitations; topaz, garnets and aquamarines for cities of Men and Dwarves. Forests were marked out in pale green enamel, studded with tiny peridot stones that much resembled a forest canopy. Fascinated, Frodo climbed down the ladder and crowded close as Legolas and Sam moved to examine the opposite end.
The map-table was a wonder. Folded out, the great flat table was large enough to seat a dozen Big Folk about it, and was detailed enough that every significant mountain range or lake or geographic feature was represented in scale to itself and to Middle-earth. Next to each feature was written its name in fine elvish script, then repeated in Westron. The writing was inlaid in the truesilver of Dwarven-kind, precious mithril. All present were struck dumb with amazement.
Fashioned for those of Elven height, the hobbits could not see much of the map beyond its edges. Sam watched as his master’s slender hand located the Shire, then retraced their route to Rivendell. Sam edged closer when Frodo’s hand began to shake over the small conical hill of carven marble marked “Weathertop,” but Frodo rallied and the hand glided quickly on.
“It is a marvel,” Frodo breathed, stroking the beautifully-carven edge, his face alight. “Never have I seen the like.”
Elrond nodded. “It is one of my most treasured possessions. Many years of map-making expeditions of Men and Elves have gone into its making. See, we stand here,” and his long finger indicated the single perfect diamond that represented the Last Homely House. “Areas close to Imladris, from the west of the world to the east, are well-represented.”
The Elf-lord’s eyes darkened as his gaze moved further east. The easternmost lands were shaped of unpolished obsidian, laced with spiky outcroppings of hematite. Mount Doom stood alone far within the borders of the Black Lands, represented by a single glowing crystal of red tourmaline. The late afternoon sun streaming through the windows seemed to catch and glint on the ruby-toned gemstone, commanding their attention and sobering their souls. His ageless gaze upon the crystal, Elrond said softly “But of Mordor, it shows little.”
“Perhaps we will be able to add to it, should our Quest lead us there,” put in a rough voice from the door, and those already present turned to behold Gandalf, staff in hand, with Boromir and Gimli at his side. The wizard glanced around the landform map. “Since those of us who are not gone with Aragorn are accounted for,” he continued, “shall we begin?”
* * * * *
Merry was dimly annoyed that pain should be allowed to follow him past death. Pain shouldn’t be permitted after one died, he thought resentfully. It wasn’t fair. Then the pain abruptly intensified and he cried out.
“Shhh, Merry, it is all right,” a soft voice said above him. The hobbit thought that was patently ridiculous; being dead certainly wasn’t all right. Odd how the soft voice sounded like Elrohir. And what business did a voice have, however soft, talking to him after he had died?
Merry cranked his eyes open painfully. Above him drifted a dark blob, which to his blinking eyes slowly resolved itself into the dark-haired head and shoulders of an Elf. Merry clung stubbornly to the idea that he had died, but when Elrohir tried to lift him, the hobbit was forced to acknowledge that he lived by the pain that slashed through his side and right arm.Another cry was torn from him and gentle hands stroked his face before returning to carefully pressing along his body and limbs. He coughed then gagged as his stomach sought to expel the half of the river he had swallowed. The gentle hands turned him swiftly onto his side, but the movement was too much, and as water gushed from his mouth, he fainted.
“Hobbits are remarkably tough,” someone was saying. Merry wanted to disagree but it seemed too much effort. “The freezing water actually kept the bleeding to a minimum and I have no doubt it dulled the pain of his arm. The ribs are badly bruised but are not broken. That long scrape on his broken arm will be very sore as the skin grows back over it. He must have dragged it over one of the boulders. Pippin, would you please move back a little?”
Again Merry fought and won the battle to force his eyes open. Pippin’s sharp nose hovered perhaps an inch from his own as his younger cousin tried to peer into Merry’s blurring eyes. “He’s awake!” Pippin announced, withdrawing his curly head from Aragorn’s way. “Oi! Are you all right, Cousin?”
Struggling to focus, Merry drew breath for a reply then abruptly gagged again. Pippin hastily scooted further back. Strong hands were lifting him and turning him towards the ground, but other than a few wrenching chokes, nothing more came out of his abused stomach. The hands lowered him again then moved to wipe his face with a soft cloth.
Shifting his gaze to the left, Merry saw that Elrohir crouched by his side while Elladan slowly walked the horses, their sides and muzzles flecked with foam. Elrohir’s great stallion was wet up to his withers, the water darkening his silver-grey hide to burnished pewter. That left Aragorn holding him. Merry rolled his eyes upwards and confirmed that hypothesis, and saw the Ranger smile as their gazes met.
“It seems you will live, Merry.” One of the large hands left his shoulder and traveled before his eyes. “How many fingers do you see?”
“Four,” Merry managed. “Now two. Three – I am all right, Strider.”
“Thank Elbereth for that,” the Ranger returned. “How did you fall into the river?”
“I was trying to catch some trout for breakfast,” the hobbit replied somewhat crossly, absently trying to stretch out his right arm. Aragorn caught it before Merry could move.
“Your arm is broken, Merry. Don’t move it. It is a clean break of one of the small bones above the wrist. I will splint it and it will heal nicely. You are missing a good patch of skin on that arm and have bruised ribs, but you were very lucky.”
Elladan joined them; finished with cooling the horses, he had staked their tie-ropes to the ground as there were no bushes on which to fasten their reins. “I will go back and fetch the rest of our supplies,” he offered, his dark eyes on the Man and hobbit. “Both of you need to dry off and be warm. Brother, will you build a fire?”
With a nod, Elrohir rose and began to drag over some of the large pieces of driftwood that littered the shore of this new campsite. To Merry’s gratitude, Aragorn remained seated, holding the hobbit cradled against him. Someone (the twins, Merry assumed) had wrapped blankets around them both, but he was slowly becoming aware of the discomfort of soaked clothes and his hurts were beginning to clamor for more of his attention.
“We need a splint for the arm,” murmured Aragorn. “One with a cross-piece to keep the bandages off that scrape.” The Man’s hands roamed gently over the injury and Merry gritted his teeth, determined to make no sound. “Pippin, will you look along the bank and bring me two straight pieces of wood, one shorter than the other, that can be bound together?”
Reluctant to leave his cousin, Pippin quickly scoured the shore looking for appropriate driftwood. He found none. The only pieces of wood available were either too large or too heavy, smaller pieces being swept along in the swift flow of the river. Returning without finding suitable sticks of wood, Pippin crouched anxiously by Merry’s side and tugged on Aragorn’s surcoat.
“I can’t find anything, Strider. We’ll have to use something else. Maybe your long knife and a couple of small stones to hold off the cloth?”
Aragorn examined the two small round river-stones Pippin had brought. “No, too heavy, Pippin. Merry cannot have such weight dragging on that arm. I do not want to leave the arm unbound, the bone is too likely to shift…”
“Half a moment,” Pippin called. “I’ll be right back!” Returning to the pile of supplies dumped there upon the rest of the scouting party’s arrival, Pippin upended his pack and unceremoniously dumped its entire contents onto the ground. Aragorn could only see his posterior waving in the air as Pippin knelt and dug into the pile. Then he saw the little one sit back on his haunches and raise something in triumph.
“No,” said Merry. “Absolutely not. I would rather lose the arm –“
“Don’t be foolish, Merry,” Aragorn said sternly, fighting to control his expression. “That will work excellently, Pippin. It is quite hard and yet light. Meriadoc, hold still. Hold still!” Ignoring the hobbit’s furious protests, the Ranger bound Pippin’s disreputable bread sculpture to Merry’s small forearm, laying the length of it against the arm and carefully wrapping the bandages so that the raised section held itself clear of the raw, abraded scrape.
Pippin observed this process with great interest, ignoring the continuous stream of groans and mutterings from his older cousin. “Wait till I tell everyone how useful my sculpture was, Merry! Won’t they all be surprised? And you wanted me to throw it away!” Completely mortified, Merry ducked his head and wished he had drowned.
* 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.