32. New Directions
The wizard turned and strode back into the room. Bilbo looked up from where he had been rubbing Frodo’s hand, questions in his brown eyes. “The attempt has failed,” Gandalf informed them abruptly. The Ringwaith is unharmed. The northern path into Rivendell is destroyed … permanently, I think.”
“Does that it mean it won’t be coming, sir?” Sam asked.
Gandalf shook his head, his eyes still distant. “No, Sam. It will seek another route. It must – its master drives it on. Sauron knows where his Ring is, now.”
As if the Ring-bearer could hear him, Frodo moaned and half-opened his eyes, laboring to focus. Gandalf leaned over him and laid a hand on his forehead. “He is coming out of it, and I have none of the sedative to give him. More would be dangerous, in any case. Stubborn hobbit!” Gandalf sighed as Frodo struggled against the drug, his brow crinkling and brows quirking as he forced himself to awareness.
“Frodo-lad?” Bilbo asked anxiously, chafing the cold hand.
Frodo blinked. He looked at his uncle, then those beautiful, puzzled eyes traveled to Sam, who smiled at him reassuringly. Frodo closed his eyes, relaxing. “I feel awful,” he groaned. “What –“
Gandalf caught his shoulder as Frodo’s eyes widened. In an instant the wizard was sitting on the bed, holding the Ring-bearer as Frodo’s body went rigid, his great hand stroking the dark curls. Frodo clenched the wizard’s arm tightly with both hands, gasping as his eyes focused on something beyond their vision, a knowledge dawning in their morning glory depths for which they had no comfort.
“Frodo!” Gandalf shook him, hard. Frodo’s head snapped back on his neck and he glared at the wizard, his mouth opening. “If you are angry,” the wizard said, “you are not frightened.” Frodo looked at him blankly for a moment, then buried his head against him with a gasping laugh.
For a long time the wizard held him, rubbing his back in slow circles. At last Frodo raised his head and pulled back, still shaking slightly but under control. “You drugged me,” he accused them in a voice too weary to hold much blame.
“We had to, lad,” Bilbo interjected, his old face still strained. “You were beyond reason. We couldn’t reach you.”
“Aye, sir, we had to,” Sam put in.
Frodo reached up and laid a cool hand against Sam’s black eye, feeling his friend flinch at the gentle touch. “Did I do that?”
Sam nodded. “But it wasn’t your fault, sir. You didn’t mean ‘ta.”
“I’m sorry,” Frodo whispered to him. His eyes turned to all of them. “I’m sorry.” Suddenly he shuddered, dropping his face into his hands. Raising his left arm jarred the shoulder, and he grimaced.
“You are better now,” said the wizard briskly, “and that is what is important. Now,” and his rough voice gentled, “can you still feel it?”
Frodo was still for a moment. “Yes. It … it is not as close, but still there. It is still coming.”
“Yes, it must.” There was great sadness in the wizard’s voice. “It was a great King once, a man renown for his wisdom and valor. Now it is but a lesser shadow in the shade of the greater, tortured and tormented, no longer remembering what it once was. That is a mercy, perhaps…”
Sam looked at the old wizard intensely, an odd notion in his mind. He knew that Gandalf was thousands of years old, had walked the earth forever, it seemed. “Older than dirt, meanin’ no disrespect,” as his Gaffer would say. Had Gandalf known this King, this wise and valiant warrior, before he fell to temptation and became a monster? Was the sorrow in his deep eyes for a friendship lost?
The wizard felt those fervent grey eyes upon him and took a moment to smile at the gardener. “In any event,” Gandalf continued more briskly, “we cannot allow it anywhere near our Ring-bearer.”
Frodo smiled at him wanly, then his gaze fell on the packs and he struggled upright again. “We are leaving?”
“Gandalf said we might have to, lad. Don’t you worry – Elrond has stopped it,” reassured Bilbo.
“Say delayed it, rather,” corrected the wizard. “The northern path is no more. It will circle ‘round and seek another.”
Frodo nodded, too exhausted and aching to summon much terror at the moment. Seeing him sag back against the pillows, Gandalf rose from the bed and tapped Bilbo on the shoulder. The elderly hobbit slid out of his chair stiffly, wincing as old joints creaked. Bilbo leaned down and kissed his nephew gently on the forehead, and the two moved quietly towards the door. Sam pulled the drapes over the glassless windows, darkening the room while his master slept.
Gandalf hung back a moment as Bilbo departed, and laid a strong hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Sam, do not empty our packs. Take out the perishables but keep more travel food ready. I want to be ready to flee in a moment’s notice, if it comes to that.”
Sam nodded his understanding. “Aye, sir. We’ll be ready.”
* * * * *
Gimli stamped his heavy boot against the earth in demonstration. “See, Lord Elrond? I can shake the earth with just a stomp. No use in trying to rebuild the path until you shore up the cliffside.” The dwarf stamped again and all there felt the faint tremble under their feet.
“Thank you, Master Dwarf,” Elrond said hastily. “Your point is well-taken.” Next to him, Glorfindel exhaled loudly as the ground steadied and Elrond shot him a reprimanding glance. “Let us move back from the crevasse to safer ground.”
The Master of Rivendell turned his gaze up the sheer wall of stone, from which small slides of loose earth continued to fall. There had been two smaller landslides after the avalanche, each catching the Elves unaware and almost trapping two as they climbed over the cliff face. After that, Elrond had ordered everyone away from the area and sent for the dwarf, swallowing his pride to ask the earth-son’s advice.
To his credit, Gimli had not taken advantage of the Elf-lord’s need to gain gentle payback for the animosity between his folk and the Elves. Instead, the dwarf had carefully examined the avalanche area, rumbling to himself under his breath, prodding the rock with a thick finger as if he could feel the cracking and weakness in the stone.
Elrond sighed. “Shore up the cliffside… How would we do that, Master Dwarf?”
“You might have to clear out this whole slab of rock before you can reach solid stone. Once there, you will have to start building up the cliff from the bottom. Hard work, that. My people could do it, of course, but yours…”
“Perhaps when this is over, I might speak with your lord, Master Gimli. Perhaps we can reach an arrangement.”
Gimli looked up at him from beneath bristling brows, his smile almost hidden in his beard. “Aye, my lord. I think it would be well for your folk and mine to work again together, as they did in ancient days. I, for one, would be glad to see those days again.”
Elrond stared at the stocky dwarf in astonishment. “When this is over,” he mused. “I too would like to see friendship between our peoples, Master Gimli. But there is so much distrust to overcome, so much ill-feeling…”
“Aye,” the dwarf agreed in a softer tone. Both fell silent.
“In times of war,” the Elf-lord continued at length, “it is no bad thing to leave the path as it is. It is one less way into Imladris that must be watched and guarded. We will attempt no repair until times are peaceable again, and we need not fear the intentions of the travelers upon the road.”
Gimli nodded. “I think that is wise, my lord.”
Elrond turned to Glorfindel, who had just finished speaking with another Elf. “My lord, this scout reports that the Nazgûl has continued up the path and paused at the entrance to the trail. The scout then returned, as you ordered. He says that it did not seem to be in a hurry, and sat ahorse for a long time at the trail head, looking north.”
“North…” murmured the Elf-lord, the blood draining from his fine-boned face. “My sons…”
“Yes,” Glorfindel confirmed, his own face white. “Elrohir and Elladan and the halflings do not know the path is destroyed. They are coming that way.”
* * * * *
“I want to stop,” demanded Pippin. “Please, let me down for a minute.”
Elladan glanced down at the young hobbit in amused exasperation. “Pippin, we have stopped several times during the night. You do not need to get down again.”
Pippin twisted ‘round before the Elf so he could stare up into his face. “I don’t need to get down for that,” he explained. “Look at those flowers over there. Wouldn’t it be nice to take Frodo some?”
“I could do with a walk,” commented Merry from his seat before Elrohir. The twins exchanged a smile between them and slowing their stallions, swung off them, lifting their small passengers down easily. Inmara halted behind them with a twitch of her delicately pointed ears; she had plodded half-asleep behind them, making use of that marvelous equine ability to nap while walking. The two hobbits swayed a moment on stiff legs but soon found their balance. All four scouts had learned that frequent breaks to allow the hobbits to walk about kept their riding muscles from stiffening and spared them the unendurable agony they had suffered after their first day of hard riding. They had traveled steadily since sunset of the previous day, eating a dinner on horseback of what food the twins had packed on their mounts (dried meat and stale cheese, much to the hobbits’ disgust). Pippin had offered to set snares, if they could stop for just an hour, but the twins would not allow the halt. The two young hobbits had spent the night napping, sheltered by elvish arms that kept them safe and elvish cloaks that kept them warm. Breakfast (drier meat and staler cheese) had been consumed ahorseback also, and the hobbits wanted to stop for a while.
The twins stretched also, breaking out the horses’ water bags and filling them from their water skins, holding the bags up to them for a drink. This was the last open stretch before the narrow path that led into Imladris; once they reached the trail, it would be too narrow to dismount. The twins conversed softly while the two hobbits gathered generous armloads of fall flowers; wild geraniums, columbine, iris and daffodils, buttercups and bluebells, wrapping their stalks in the shredded remains of Merry’s cloak wetted from their water-skins. The colorful and unwieldy bundles were tied to Inmara’s packs, the old mare enduring this patiently.
“Merry, Pippin, we must go now,” called Elrohir. “It is still several hours’ ride to the House and you do not wish the flowers to wilt before you can present them to the Ring-bearer.” Elrohir seemed uneasy and beside him, Elladan raised his dark head into the breeze like a stag scenting the wind.
The twins traded a glance. “Meriadoc, Peregrin,” Elladan said softly, “come now. We must leave this place.”
“Why?” asked Pippin, obediently allowing himself to be reseated on the grey stallion, which was dancing nervously. Elrohir swung up behind Merry and leaned back to catch Inmara’s rein. Merry looked at him in surprise; the elderly mare had walked with her rein free since the previous morning.
“We need to get back,” explained Elladan, which was not an explanation at all. Pippin was about to pursue the subject when the stallion surged forward at a quick trot, not the easiest of paces to sit. Pippin decided he’d rather not risk biting his tongue when he tried to speak and so opted for silence. Elrohir followed with Inmara and Pippin saw Merry’s face tighten as the jarring trot pained his injured arm.
Pippin waited for Merry to ask the twins to shift to a slower pace that did not hurt his arm so. Merry was clenching his teeth, his face pale, and Pippin decided that if his cousin would not speak, then he certainly would. Pippin gathered air to protest the speed at which they were moving for his cousin’s sake when both stallions pulled up abruptly. Pippin pitched forward in the saddle with a little involuntary “whuff.” He turned forward in the saddle, startled at the sudden cessation of movement.
They stood not far from the trailhead of the northern path; Pippin remembered his sigh of relief as they had exited it. Sheer rock on one side and a sheer drop on the other - he had felt that he couldn’t draw in enough breath in that place. Now shadows cloaked the narrow passage. Something dark stood in the deep shade just before where the path widened, its huge bulk scarcely able to negotiate the narrow, twisting way. The shadows seemed to flow together and gel into a black shape that stood silent and still, waiting. Evil flowed from it like an icy miasma. Pippin stifled the cry that rose in his throat and leaned back against the rigid Elf. It was a Black Rider.
* 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.