34. A Party and A Purpose
Every scrap of dinner had been eaten by the time the Master of Rivendell came to make formal thanks to the heroes of the day. The four younger hobbits rose from their places and bowed deeply; Bilbo, by virtue of age, sat back and enjoyed the show. Lord Elrond startled them all by bowing just as deeply in return, the heavy sleeves of his copper-colored mantle sweeping the floor. With a graceful wave of his hand, he gestured them to be seated. Then for a long time he regarded them with eyes that had seen the passing of hundreds of thousands of days, and would see the ending of this Age and the birth of all Ages to follow.
“There are no words,” he said at last, “to thank you for the lives of my sons.”
Merry slid to his feet and bowed again. “My lord,” he replied softly, “you do us too much honor. Pippin and I –“ and here he turned to find his younger cousin hanging over his shoulder, “we knew Elrohir and Elladan could not defeat a Black Rider. It was Pip’s idea to attack the horse and drive it over the cliff. Much the same as you did when you summoned the waters at the Ford of Bruinen, sir.”
The Elf-lord nodded slowly, his deep eyes never leaving their faces. Then his gaze shifted and met that of the elderly hobbit. “Our way of fighting,” murmured Bilbo softly, knowing the Elf could hear. Lord Elrond inclined his head in acknowledgement.
“Nevertheless,” Lord Elrond said to the young hobbits, “it was a most intelligent and courageous action.” Pippin blushed bright red, enhancing the red flush painting the tip of his nose and points of his ears from several glasses of powerful wine. Merry stood a little straighter and resisted the urge to stick his hands in his pockets. Frodo looked near to bursting with pride for his kin and Sam was unabashedly grinning from ear to ear. Elrond stood before them, tall and still, his considering gaze looking past them at something they could not see. At last he spoke again. “It is small recompense for the lives of my children, but tomorrow night I am holding a feast in your honor. All of my people will have the opportunity to thank you for what you did.” He smiled at them, then, his stern face softening. “As for my thanks, I have some small gifts for you before you depart. And you are released from all … obligations … placed upon you for in reparation for The Wager.”
“Thank you, my lord,” both chorused, relief evident on their faces. Tomorrow had been their morning to muck out the stables and sore and stiff, they had not been looking forward to it. Merry had already been worrying if he could work one-handed.
From his great height and immortal being, the Elf-lord studied at the two bright lives burning beneath him. The halflings grinned up at him, entirely undaunted. The faintest of footfalls came to Master of Imladris’ ears. “And,” said Elrond with a smile, “I believe my daughter also would like to thank you for saving her brothers.”
At that moment there was a soft tap at the door and it opened to admit Arwen Evenstar. The lamps from outside the room framed her slender figure in light, and for a moment, it seemed the light came from within her form and was reflected out from her. The seated hobbits, Bilbo included, rose to bow as the Evenstar smiled at them in greeting. She wore a dress of white silk shot with clear beads, like raindrops sparkling, and her dark hair flowed free and unbound over her shoulders.
“Meriadoc and Peregrin,” she began, then broke off and suddenly knelt before them and to their utmost astonishment, caught them in a hug. She released them and drew back but did not rise, looking deeply into their eyes with her hands on their shoulders. Both hobbits were suddenly very aware that they had not been to the bathhouse yet, and that their clothes were dirty and torn. And knew that Arwen Undómiel cared for none of this. Gently she cupped her long hands around each small face and placed a kiss on their foreheads. “Thank you,” she whispered, and then left them.
Elrond’s dark eyes crinkled in amusement to see the expression of the halflings’ faces; shock and awe and pride and embarrassment and … exultation. He coughed gently to recapture their attention. “Now,” he continued, “I wish to look at your injuries, so heroically won and borne. Young Peregrin, may I see that cut, please?”
Pippin didn’t move. His gaze remained fastened to the door, where Arwen had exited.
“Peregrin? I wish to examine that cut under your eye.” The tweenager neither moved nor spoke. “Pippin?”
“It’s no use, my lord,” said Merry resignedly. “You could hit him with a brick and he wouldn’t notice.” The older cousin looped his arm through the younger’s and tugged him over to the Elf-lord. Pippin’s gaze remained unfocused, a silly smile on his sharp face that never faltered as his hurt was cleaned and bandaged.
* * * * *
Gandalf stopped by after Elrond left, as did Aragorn and the twins and numerous other people. Many brought bottles or cordials with them, and the ongoing party gradually grew louder and more boisterous. Gimli produced a square flask containing a sour vintage, brown as the earth, strong smelling, that burned like fire down an unsuspecting throat. Gandalf and Bilbo greeted this addition to their liquid supplies with delight. Frodo choked and gasped upon tasting it and refused to allow either of his younger cousins so try it, though Merry noted that Frodo evidently decided it grew better with repeat use.
Elves might not be a folk for outward revelry, Sam decided, but they knew how to throw a party. They were not as loud as hobbits would be, and he missed hearing a band, but to hear those melodious voices raised in song was a rare treat indeed. As the night wore on, Sam wished he knew more than just a few words of the elven language, for the Lord Elrond’s sons raised their clear voices in what he guessed what a song of very questionable taste, to guess by old Mr. Bilbo’s red face and the bright blush his own master was wearing. Sam resolved to start expanding his vocabulary on the morrow.
Nevertheless, Sam was relieved when their hosts noted their guests’ weariness and began drifting away to continue their parties elsewhere, with many bows and generous words of praise of his master’s cousins. Sam was proud of Mr. Merry and Master Pippin too, and made a point of reminding himself of that on the morrow, when he rather thought the two young hobbits (and his master and Mr. Bilbo) would be paying for all those glasses of wine and shots from Gimli’s flask.
* * * * *
The following morning was one of the quietest that Imladris had seen in many long days. Instead of being thrown open to the morning sun, drawn drapes adorned many of the glassless windows and the kitchens had so few orders for breakfast that the head cook released half of his staff. Almost the only requests for food came in from the little people, much less than they usually ate and including several glasses of raw eggs stirred into orange juice. The head cook shuddered but sent over the trays.
In the Ring-bearer’s room, an odd discussion was underway. Bilbo had declined to join his kin this morning, remarking cryptically before he left the previous night (more accurately, in the early morn) that he doubted that his nephew and cousins would be in the mood for company.
“Master,” Sam wheedled, “Mr. Gimli said you’ll feel better if you drink this.”
One bloodshot blue eye peered from beneath the sheltering covers. Sam held out one of the small glasses of orange juice and raw egg, and regarded Frodo worriedly as his master’s face took on a green cast. “Oh, Sam,” Frodo moaned, “take it away. Please.” The eye disappeared under the blankets again.
Sam tried a firmer tone. “Sir, you know you got to eat.” No response. “Lord Elrond told me ‘ta make sure you eat, Mr. Frodo.” Nothing except a barely audible groan.
Sam straightened and looked over to Merry for help. His master’s cousin lay sprawled in one of the chairs, head over the one armrest and knees over the other, a damp washcloth over his eyes. Master Pippin sat on the floor, leaning back against Merry’s chair, watching Sam’s efforts with interest. The tweenager seemed the least affected of all of them, Sam mused, and wished he could transfer just a little of his own headache to the youngster.
Rubbing his forehead, Sam sat the glass down and drifted over to the other two, dropping into one of the empty chairs. Merry lifted the washcloth and favored him with a red-eyed, squinting stare. “No luck?”
“No,” growled Samwise. “I can’t tell Lord Elrond I didn’t get him ‘ta eat. I can’t.”
“Well, what did you do the last time Frodo got drunk?” asked Merry reasonably, despite the expression of pain on his own face.
The bloodshot blue eye appeared again. “I resent that, Meriadoc.” The eye narrowed. “I hardly make a habit of it. And I note that you drank rather a lot last night, too.”
“He was sick in the garden before we took our baths,” interjected Pippin helpfully. Merry took off the washcloth and glared at him. Pippin looked apologetic and scooted out of reach of Merry’s newly rebandaged arm. Sam stared determinedly at the carved beams of the ceiling, relieved beyond measure to hear a knock at the door that interrupted the impending squabble.
“Gandalf!” said Sam loudly, to alert Frodo and his cousins. The wizard winced and pushed a small sack into Sam’s hands. “Good morning, Samwise. I see that one of us had the sense not to over-imbibe last night.” Sam grinned at him. “Though it was rather a good party, wasn’t it?” Gandalf grinned back.
Escorting the wizard into the room, Sam was pleased to see that his master and Mr. Merry were now sitting up and Master Pippin had taken a chair. Sam led Gandalf to another and offered refreshment. Gandalf shook his grey head and winced again at the movement.
“No thank you, Sam. I have come to offer you a remedy for last night’s – celebration. Pour two teaspoons of that sack into glasses of water, Sam, and pass them around. I’ll take one, too. Elrond wants you able to function by luncheon.”
Frodo paused in accepting the glass from Sam, sniffing at its fizzing contents suspiciously. “He does? Why?”
The humorous, if pained, glint in Gandalf’s eyes faded. “My friends, our Quest is to begin soon. The scouts that Elrond sent out to learn the state of affairs beyond his boarders have returned. Your party,” and those sharp eyes turned to Merry and Pippin, “was the last. We may not have many days to prepare and there is still much to do.”
Frodo accepted the plate Sam had filled and handed him, his attention on Gandalf. “What must we do?”
Gandalf paused for another sip of his fizzing water before he spoke. “Elrond and I wish to see that you all are as prepared as possible for any dangers or demands we encounter upon the way. Towards that end, those of you who cannot set a snare” (Pippin stuck out his chest), “or paddle a canoe” (Sam blanched), “or handle weapons” (Frodo paled), “will learn to do so.” Merry stared at the wizard thoughtfully.
The wizard returned the young hobbit’s stare, then turned to Frodo. “Though you have been given companions, Ring-bearer,” Frodo looked up, his expression strained, “it is always possible that you may become separated from them. It would be well if you have the wherewithal to defend and support yourselves, should that happen.”
Frodo nodded. “I agree, Gandalf. We will be ready.”
Gandalf rose to leave, then turned back to the suddenly sobered hobbits. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he counseled them, his lined face surprisingly gentle, “though we go forward into darkness and darkness will follow after, we carry the hope of Middle-earth and all Free Peoples with us.” Then he swept from the room, his staff clicking on the polished wooden floor.
Frodo sought Merry’s eyes, to find his cousin looking back at him sorrowfully. “That gives me little comfort,” the Ring-bearer whispered.
* 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.