24. The Battle of the First Snowfall
The Battle of the First Snowfall
Aragorn had left the valley once more, apparently having some last business to deal with concerning his own people, and Boromir noted that both Frodo and the Lady Arwen appeared quieter with the knowledge that the northern Ranger was no longer within the Last Homely House. The smiths, aided by Gimli son of Glóin, were seeing to the final polishing of the newly reforged sword; the two younger Hobbits were making excellent strides in their mastery of their own blades; and Mithrandir was keeping Frodo busy within the libraries of the place examining maps and questioning Master Elrond about every detail he remembered regarding the peredhel's own time spent within the walls of Mordor and his one visit to the Sammath Naur.
A snowfall had indeed begun during the night after the reforging of Andúril, but the wind had switched during the darkest hours to come from first the south and then the west. Before the dawn the snow had turned to a driving rain, leaving trees stripped bare of leaves gone brown and crumbling, and many of the walks muddy and trickling runoff. All seemed to be watching the windows, and particularly Frodo Baggins himself, as if now that the date for their leave-taking was set he both longed and dreaded for it to finally come. How much he paid attention to the maps and constant stream of talk and information that the Wizard maintained Boromir could not be certain; he knew only that when Master Bilbo would take his kinsman by the hand and lead him away, insisting that Gandalf was only going to heighten Frodo's own anxiety or overwhelm him with more information than he could deal with, that the younger Hobbit appeared relieved.
Late the fourth afternoon after the reforging, he came across Frodo in a gallery, not looking at the frescoes that decorated the walls or the ancient weaponry that leaned with mock carelessness in the corners, but standing, hands behind his back, staring at the grey landscape outside the large window in the north wall. "It will most likely snow again tonight," the Hobbit remarked as Boromir entered the hall, apparently having heard the footsteps of the Man that Boromir himself did not realize were audible. "Perhaps this time it will remain more than an hour or two."
"Perhaps, Little One," Boromir said.
Frodo turned, one expressive brow raised as he searched the Man's face. "I am the tallest of the five of us Hobbits," he noted.
"Yet still to my eyes the five of you appear particularly small and vulnerable," Boromir returned. "I worry about how you and your fellows shall fare once we are out walking through the wilds of this northern clime."
Frodo asked, "Is it indeed warmer in the southlands where you live?"
Boromir came to stand by him and looked outside the window at the rather barren-appearing garden to be seen. He shrugged as he considered the question. "It is rarely cold enough to snow there, although we seem to get one or two snowfalls per year. But our days do not grow dark as early as happens here. It has been rather a surprise to find the light failing less than four marks after noon."
Frodo shrugged slightly. "That is only because it is winter now. In the summer the daylight lasts until late in the evening, and it is often a struggle to convince our younger children that, yes, it is time for them to go to bed if they intend to have a full day of play tomorrow. Gandalf told me when I asked about it that it has to do with how far north one is—the further north or south of a certain point, he said, the greater the difference between the length of daylight hours in summer and winter."
"So we have been told also in Gondor," Boromir admitted. "But until now I did not understand how true that was."
After a period of quiet shared contemplation of the weather outside, Frodo said, "He told us also that it was colder here near the mountains in the winter than it is in the Shire, and warmer in the summer, for we are closer there to the Sundering Sea. I am not quite certain just how being close to the Sea does this, but I must admit that the cold seems to be more intense than I am accustomed to feeling at home. Or perhaps this is merely the effect of the wound I suffered."
"According to my Uncle Imrahil, it has to do with the wind being cooled or warmed by blowing over the water," Boromir said. "When I have been to visit him in Dol Amroth in midwinter it may be snowing a distance north of his castle, but I have never heard of snow anywhere in the city around it. The rain might feel quite cold, but it will be rain rather than snow. The city is built about a natural harbor, you see, and not far from the remains of what is said to have been an ancient Elf haven."
"Edhellond," Frodo said. "Gandalf has said there was an Elven haven far to the south in Gondor that was called Edhellond, but that it was abandoned long ago after a storm blew a ship betimes westward and its lord was lost."
Boromir was impressed that the Hobbit had heard this tale. "It is said that the Princes of Dol Amroth are descended from a marriage between an Elf-woman and one of those descended from the line of Kings of Númenor, although I am uncertain whether the first of his lineage within Middle Earth was one of the Faithful who was aboard the ships fleeing the Star Isle when it foundered or if he was one of those from earlier times who returned to Ennor to found trading centers or small kingdoms of their own."
"Perhaps both contributed to the family," suggested Frodo.
"You are most likely right," agreed the Man.
They were quiet for a time, staring together out at the weather. At last the Man said in low tones, "I am not looking forward to starting our quest so soon before Mettarë, even though it should mean that the Enemy's own forces will be forced to remain close to shelter themselves. That we should be abroad in the Wild with the weather chancy seems the very height of folly."
Frodo turned thoughtfully to meet Boromir's eyes. "It appears," he said, "that those who advise us intend indeed that apparent folly should be our cloak. For who would expect that the Wise should send us forth in such a foolish manner? Will the Enemy think to see us leave the shelter of Rivendell when there is the greatest chance of storms, do you think?"
The warrior had to admit that the Eye of Sauron was most likely to look elsewhere to its own advantage when prudent thought would seek to keep the one bearing the Enemy's weapon most safe. There seemed nothing more to say after that, and soon they parted, each going to his appointed room, and Boromir sought the warmth of his bed relatively early in the evening.
Ere dawn Boromir awoke, aware of an abatement of noise without that spoke of snow fallen in the night. He rose and parted the heavy draperies that protected the room from drafts, and saw that he was right. The ground was covered with a few inches of snow. For the moment the fall had stopped, although signs were that it would most likely resume within short order. All was still outside, with no indication any creature stirred abroad. He let the curtain fall and went to draw on warm clothing and his recently repaired boots. When he was suitably garbed he looked out again. There was a thin light filtering through the high clouds immediately overhead that announced the risen Sun, and it appeared that not all creatures remained within shelter after all, for a line of footprints followed a path through the gardens to an area where he knew a pool spread out from the bed of the Bruinen, around which flags and marshsweet and rushes grew in more clement weathers.
They appeared to be the bare footprints of a child, and he wondered at them—then realized that, no, no fair Elven child would be abroad unshod at this time. It must have been one of the Hobbits who left those prints. And as he watched, three small cloaked figures, their hoods drawn up to cover their heads, followed the prints into the open area below his window. He opened the pane as quietly as he could, and he could hear one saying, "He must have gone this way, then."
"Of course he'd be up and out at first light, this being the first true snowfall of the season," Pippin said. "Which means he'll be lying in wait for us. Best be on the watch!" He reached out a hand sheathed in a thick mitten, and scooped up a measure of snow and deftly shaped it into a ball. "I intend to be ready to retaliate at a moment's notice," he advised the others.
There were nods from Pippin's companions, and they set out to search the grounds for their absent fellow, each taking a different route, Pippin holding his intended missile at the ready.
The idea that the Hobbits were anticipating an attack from one of their own already abroad in the gardens tickled the Man's fancy, and in moments he was drawing his own heavy fur-lined cloak around his shoulders and heading off down toward the nearest door into the grounds, fumbling on his heavy gloves as he went.
The air out of doors was crisp and clean as only air that was cooled by snow could be, and he breathed it in deeply, delighting in the scent of it. He turned to consider the trails of the Hobbits, and noted that they were all headed in the same general direction, but spread out as they moved that they not be bunched too closely together as they might come abreast of their quarry. It appeared they intended to flank whichever one it was who'd gone out first, in fact. In moments he was shaping a ball of snow of his own, trying to decide which path he should follow.
In the end he chose to follow the way Pippin had gone. He could see the line taken by the first, and that Pippin had stayed to the left of it, utilizing the cover of various bushes and hedges. It appeared the youngest of the Hobbits intended if possible to get off the first throw, should he come upon the first unawares. Soon Boromir came abreast a bench on which three figures sculpted of snow had been left. Each of the others had paused to examine the figures, although none had come close enough to touch any of them, and again the trails diverged. The Man could not discern the meaning of the figures, and shrugging returned to his own hunt.
It was so quiet! Boromir could not hear any movement at all save for the squeaking of his own boots on the snow, which was a wonder to him as he searched. The trails of the three hunters were somewhat dampened by the sweeping of their cloaks across the surface of the snow, and none of them had sufficient weight to penetrate the snow completely to the bare ground or grass underneath. But the trail of the first Hobbit was now indiscernible, as if, having wandered a bit and made his snow sculptures he now purposely did all he could to hide the route he'd taken, intending indeed to lie unseen, ready to take those who would follow in search of him by surprise. The trails of the three searchers were more spread out and wandering in response, and Boromir was now uncertain as to which trail was that of young Peregrin Took.
The first yelp of indignation caused the Man to jump, as if he himself had been hit. He was certain that the voice was that of Master Samwise, and he heard the voices of the two younger Hobbits raised in challenge while silvery laughter gave some indication of where it was that Frodo Baggins had lain in wait. Soon there were muffled grunts of battle, and Boromir ran forward, breaking through a hedge into the midst of a four-cornered barrage. Laughing in spite of his panting breaths, he lobbed his ball of snow in the direction where he anticipated Frodo must be, only to take a blow from a missile thrown directly at his head that burst against his right ear. He gave a cry of indignation and was immediately shaping and throwing a return burst, but before it was well into the air he'd been hit by two more balls, one hitting him fair in the chest and the second in the back.
The warrior was soon on the defensive. True, he could shape and throw far larger balls than could his opponents; but all four were very swift and deadly accurate with their throws, which surprised him greatly. The one good thing was that Pippin was soon siding with him, while Merry and Sam had joined forces against them. Frodo, however, chose no side, and was proving a force to be reckoned with as he attacked first his younger cousin and the Man, and then his older kinsman and the gardener. Throughout it all Boromir saw little of Frodo himself, as the Hobbit appeared able to fade into the shadows of hedges and branches with a skill the Man found uncanny.
A cold flake against Boromir's cheek heralded the return of the snowfall, and soon the air was whirling with both the white of dancing flakes and the continued barrage of the four battling Hobbits and the Man.
Then the sound of the closing of the great front doors to the Last Homely House caught the attention of the five of them. Frodo was in the open at the moment, his hood fallen back, allowing his dark hair spattered with snow to be clearly seen as he listened. A nod to the others, and suddenly the five of them came together in unspoken alliance against whoever it was that had come out into the gardens. In contrast to the quiet movements of the Hobbits, Boromir could hear the heavy tramp of feet and the creak of harness. "The Dwarf!" Sam mouthed, and Frodo nodded, again drawing his hood over his head and melting into shadows, expertly shaping a missile as he slid out of sight. A quick look around, and Boromir could detect none of his fellows until an impatient shiver from Pippin gave him away, close by a stand of blueberries. Boromir smiled as he gathered enough snow to shape six balls, setting them in readiness as he prepared a seventh and awaited his first sight of the Dwarf.
But Gimli had not come alone, it appeared. Beside him as guide was the great Elven warrior Glorfindel, as quiet in his own movements as were the Hobbits. Pippin and Merry's snowballs burst against the Dwarf's chest and great russet beard, followed by Boromir's first volley; Glorfindel managed to avoid the missile thrown by Samwise, but failed to dodge that thrown by Frodo, which hit him in the left shoulder. Again there was silvery laughter from the Ringbearer, and Boromir felt pleased by the look of surprise on the Elf's fair face as he readied his own second ball, only to have it knocked from his hand by an accurate throw by Glorfindel.
"So, that's the way of it, is it?" demanded Gimli, smiling hugely, and he was leaning down to form his own snowballs.
Cries of defiance and gusts of laughter filled the gardens as the battle raged for at least another quarter of an hour until an eighth individual emerged from the trees, raised his staff, and shouted, "Enough! Master Elrond has need of his counselor, and asks that Glorfindel at least return to the house. If the rest of you would rather freeze your toes and ears off than to eat the breakfast that has been prepared for all of you, that is your own affair."
To which Frodo responded with a snowball aimed at Gandalf's hat, one that knocked that edifice a good three feet from the Wizard's head. And with Frodo's silvery laughter disappearing into the distance, he ran light-footed and apparently light-heartedly toward the great doors to the house, as eager for his first breakfast as ever a Hobbit was.