A Bit of Rope: 60. A Storm on the Barrow-Downs

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60. A Storm on the Barrow-Downs

A Storm on the Barrow-Downs


            Frodo hid his smile as yet another loud grumble emerged from his friend Uffo Maggot's empty stomach. Both hobbits were unusual in their capacity to skip even one of the six meals a day the majority of their countrymen considered vital. On they rode through second-breakfast, content to munch an apple apiece while they stayed in the saddle. They knew their hunger would be well satisfied when they finally reached their destination, both having fond memories of the delectable bounty that awaited them upon Tom and Goldberry's generous table. More importantly, in Frodo's opinion, the less often they tarried for meals, the less time they would find themselves riding under the hovering shadows of the Old Forest.

            For their way took them ever beneath the forbidding wall of trees that bordered the Great Road. For the first half of the day the Forest loomed over them from their right. The clouds hung low and grey throughout the morning, and the East Wind's chill fingers worked its way through several layers of their clothing. Rain threatened but did not fall, though puddles still gathered on the Road's surface from September's dreary weather.

           As the hidden Sun crossed from morning to noon, the Old Forest finally began to thin. The wind shifted to the West, and high above, the clouds began to dissipate. A few bands of pale blue peeked through, and here and there a slanting beam of golden light shone cheerfully. Maggot and Frodo halted to rest their ponies and stretch their legs. The hobbits glanced about, looking for their strange traveling companion. By now they were used to the Elf's behavior. He'd disappeared several times already, only to pop up later, usually from an unexpected direction, his dark eyes twinkling mysteriously.

            But at the moment, Iaurel was nowhere to be seen. They decided to pause and wait for him—giving Frodo an opportunity to partake in one of Mrs. Maggot's delicious cold meat pies. They sat in a little hollow below the bank of the Road, a sheltered spot where they had stopped on both of their previous journeys together to Bombadil's House. Frodo pulled out his water bottle as Maggot unwrapped a pair of his wife's pies. The Farmer glanced at the awkward but efficient way his traveling companion removed the bottle's stopper using one hand. His eye then fell briefly onto the bottle itself before his steady gaze focused onto Frodo.

            "Been meanin' to ask you," Maggot grunted. "That's a mighty fine looking water bottle, Baggins. I've never seen the likes of it. Where'd you come by it?"

            Frodo looked up in surprise. His friend hardly ever asked questions related to his travels, the Quest, or anything that had happened while he and the others had been gone from the Shire. Yet, he suspected that he knew most of it; for whenever some detail slipped out, Maggot already seemed aware of it. Merry had visited on and off with Farmer Maggot during that long winter after their return, and Pippin had accompanied him to the Marish more than once. He guessed that they had filled Maggot in on the tale. Perhaps Merry and Pippin had even asked the old Farmer to befriend him. Frodo would once have resented such a gesture, however well meaning. But not any longer. He was glad for the company of a thoughtful and honest friend, one who didn't treat him as though he were made of glass. Maggot never acted squeamish about Frodo's stump, for one thing, simply acknowledging his deficit without any of the uneasiness that Freddy and Folco projected. He also was grateful that Maggot could mention Bilbo, for instance—or even Sam—in conversation without discomfort. And although Frodo had only rarely spoken to his friend of the past, he felt certain that, should the need arise, he could do so without hesitation. 

            Frodo met the Farmer's inquisitive brown eyes for a moment before his gaze fell to the bottle, now balanced in his lap. The flask was one of the few objects Frodo truly cherished—that he carried openly. The small container was made of silvery metal, snugly covered with finely grained grey leather. Curving lines had been tooled upon the leather, twining about in a subtle design of knots. The bottle's strap, of braided, sturdier leather, had once been dyed a deep blue; it was quite faded now.

            Frodo's fingers grazed the smooth surface of the leather cover. "It was made in Rivendell, by the Elves," he said softly. "This flask was meant to carry a special drink, a cordial they make there—that is why it is rather small..." He looked up at Maggot. "It belonged to Gandalf. He gave it to me—to us—before we parted from him, for the last time... He knew he wouldn't need such things any longer, you see..."

            Maggot's piercing eyes held Frodo's for a long, silent moment.

            "'Tis good, to carry a thing in memory of a lost friend…"

            Frodo nodded, his throat momentarily too tight to allow him to speak. His eyes drifted to his severed left wrist. I don't need to look far to find a reminder of the other friend I have lost, and what he did to save me from myself... Two and a half years had passed since Bilbo, Gandalf and Sam had died. Frodo's black melancholy no longer clung to him; he was no longer tempted to end his own life. But despite a certain lightening of his moods, grief was never far away. I miss them so...

            The hobbits finished their luncheon and saddled up again, hoping to find the Elf along the route. They soon caught up with Iaurel, who merely bowed and fell in beside them, offering no explanation for his absence. A few hours after noon they reached the Eastern extent of the Forest. They left the Road and turned South, following a faint track in the fading turf. But the Trees did not leave them, marching on and on into the distance as they now rode between the edge of the Woods and the hills of the Barrow-Downs. Even if Frodo had not had dreadful personal experience with the place to warn them from wandering too close, these two hobbits had enough common sense between them to choose the Old Forest over Barrow-wights. They took great care to remain closer to the Trees than to the Downs.

            "I rather like that he's with us," Frodo said quietly as he looked toward Iaurel. The Elf was striding upon their left, easily keeping pace with their plodding ponies, gazing toward the rising slopes. His brow was furrowed, and his eyes were half closed, as though he squinted in an attempt to see beneath the grass and into the depths of those hollow hills. "I feel a bit safer, somehow, with an Elf near at hand..."

            "Aye, and especially one that appears as tough and strong as your friend there," Maggot muttered in reply.

            As Frodo nodded, he felt an odd chill pass through him. Must be the Barrow-Downs, so near... Maggot was right, of course. Iaurel did look uncommonly strong and sturdy. Elves were, in Frodo's experience, usually lean and slender; Legolas was his ideal for the Elvish physical form. But when he thought on it, he had seen Elves of different sizes and shapes, in Rivendell and Lothlorien. Iaurel is just one end of a spectrum... Just as there are sturdier, stockier hobbits, of stronger Stoor blood, and thinner, taller ones, more Fallohide-ish...

            As if he knew he was watched, Iaurel suddenly turned toward the hobbit and stared. Frodo's heart jumped, for the Elf's chiseled face appeared momentarily haunted, as if with great fear—or was it longing? Is he afraid of the Barrow-wights, or drawn by them? the hobbit wondered. Then the strange look was gone. Iaurel's features became calm and impassive once more, and the Elf nodded to the hobbit without taking his eyes off his. Frodo nodded cautiously in return; and Iaurel resumed his steady patrol of the boundary of the Downs.

            As he rode onward, Frodo's musings turned again to the puzzle that the strange Elf represented. Where had he come from, and why? Who was this 'friend' who had asked Iaurel to call upon him? Would that friend truly be waiting at Bombadil's house? He had already ventured a number of guesses as to the identity of the mysterious 'friend.' Gildor Inglorion, he said to himself. The wise leader of the Wandering Companies seemed a likely friend to have sent another Elf to his door. Yet why might Gildor do such a thing? Why not send a clearer message? or come himself, for Gildor and his people moved at will within the boundaries of the Shire.

      Frodo frowned. He wondered whether Aragorn was somehow behind it. He was all too aware, having just read the letter that had arrived from Gondor on his birthday, that his friend was still worried about him. Yet the King could not take such a long journey without the news spreading swiftly, so he didn't think his old traveling companion, Strider, would be waiting at Bombadil's House. But perhaps his Steward in the North shall be there… Halbarad, Frodo recalled, had gone out of his way in Minas Tirith to be kind to him. He might be there as the King's messenger. And the Dunedain kept to their word not to cross the boundaries of the Shire without specific permission from the Thain, and so a meeting just outside the borders made some sense. But why would Halbarad—or Aragorn—send an Elf to bear the cryptic message?

       Radagast? The wizard he had first met on the day he awakened in Ithilien seemed a logical alternative—although he could hardly count himself as a friend of the Brown Wizard. He had done his best, in fact, to avoid the company of the last of the Istari. Radagast was a constant reminder of another wizard-friend he had just lost; and Frodo sensed, and disliked, that the Brown Wizard knew his deepest secrets, things he hadn't discussed openly with anyone. Indeed, he felt uneasy at the thought of Radagast, his keen warm eyes penetrating deeply into his own, waiting in Bombadil's parlor. I don't want to talk to him, or to anyone who wants to dredge things up…

            The riddle of the "Old Elf" had altered the character of what might otherwise have been a pleasant distraction from his usual dull days. On his other two visits with Maggot to Tom's House, he had taken delight in the seemingly pointless chatter, the music, the plain and wholesome food, and the picturesque little homestead that always seemed bathed in warm sunlight. He hadn't felt troubled in the least. But this journey was proving to be quite troubling indeed. He felt torn between curious anticipation and anxious dread.

            As if to reflect the hobbit's moods, the weather proved irritatingly changeable, from broken bands of sunlight and blue, to thick clouds of grey, to fleeting mists and fast-moving showers. The rains never lasted long enough to give the travelers more than a few damp splotches on their cloaks, but the wind increased steadily, shifting direction often.

            They had planned to arrive at Bombadil's House no later than mid-afternoon. But somehow the day stretched on, and the House they sought was nowhere in sight. Maggot had come this way many times over the years of his friendship with Tom, and he thought he knew all the landmarks along the path.

            "I must be off in my reckoning," he growled. "Seems we ought to be getting close, and yet I haven't seen anything that looks like one of Tom's honey-blossom pastures, nor the white stones he's placed at a few spots along the route..."

            "We cannot be all that far off," Frodo said. "His House has to be here somewhere. We know it sits between Hill and Forest. If we just carry on southwards, we're bound to find it..."

            As the afternoon waned and evening approached, the sky turned dark and threatening. Storm clouds towered above their heads, promising yet more rain to come. Wind whistled from the North-East, carrying with it a deep chill. Bands of damp mist reached out from the Downs, and the roots of the Trees of the Old Forest seemed wrapped in a shadowy fog. The hobbits glanced worriedly at one another as they heard—or thought they heard—muttering voices from beneath the eaves of the woods.

            "The Trees sound all riled up tonight," Maggot whispered. "Best if we not come too close to them..."

            Frodo nodded as he gazed into the gathering darkness of the Forest. "You're right, the tension is thick... But I don't sense that they are upset with us, do you?"

            Maggot peered up at a hoary, twisted oak that stood out from the edge of the woods, like a sentinel at the boundary of an encampment. His skittish pony veered away in a half-circle, keeping its distance from the ominous Tree.

            "Maybe not," his companion said. "Doesn't matter, the way I see it. If they're angry, even if it's not aimed at us, we'd be better off avoiding it..."

            "Agreed," Frodo said. He looked over his shoulder and in both directions, searching for the Elf. "I wish Iaurel were here now..."

            "Aye... He picked an inconvenient time to go wanderin' off again..."

            But they felt too anxious to wait for long, what with the muttering voices of the trees and the lateness of the day. They aimed their ponies a bit Eastward as they hurried to the South, taking a line in the center of a narrow valley between the edge of the woods and the nearest of the Downs.

            All too quickly, the shadows of evening fell. The wind shifted again, now flowing down from directly to their left, from the very heart of the Barrow-Downs. Lightning flickered, and rolling thunder came from the East. The first few drops of rain splattered on their cloaks, and darkness encroached.

            "How much farther, do you think?" Frodo said, raising his voice over the wind.

            "I can't say… I'm all out of my calculating... Gettin' mighty dark, though..."

            They rode more slowly, fearful of losing one another, or the way. Maggot had a good sense of direction, even in the dark, but even he had to correct their course several times when the land suddenly pitched up a slope and they knew they were heading too far to the east.

            "Not that way, Maggot," he scolded himself. "Angry trees are better than wights, especially at night... Sorry, Baggins, seems I'm no good as a guide tonight..."

            "Think nothing of it," Frodo said as he rode beside him. He tried to inject a casual tone into his voice. "As long as we keep a line between hill and tree, we surely ought to come to the right place..."

            But soon it had grown so dark that they felt their courage dwindling rapidly. While the chance of getting truly lost between the Downs and the Forest during daylight was insignificant, the oncoming storm only made the night grow blacker--and more frightening. From all sides of them, it seemed, came mysterious and terrifying sounds: the wind's howls, the muttering Trees, and rumbling thunder.

            "What I wouldn't give for a nice bright lantern," Maggot muttered.

            Frodo pulled up on his pony's reins and laughed. "A lantern! Why, how on earth did I forget! Oh, my goodness, what a fool I am... I should call myself every one of Sam's harsh names... Ninnyhammer and Nobhead are too good for me..."

            Maggot halted his mount and eyed him. "What on earth are you goin' on about, Baggins? Got a lantern hidden in that pack of yours, is that what you're saying?"

            Frodo was already undoing the top of his bag, which he had pulled before him on his saddle. "I've got something much better than a lantern..."

            He dug deeply. At the bottom of his pack, his fingers grazed something hard and smooth, affixed to a chain. The Queen's jewel... I had forgotten all about that, too...

            For indeed, nearly every item he had brought back with him from his journey had remained here, in the bottom of his worn traveling pack. Only the miruvor flask, his mithril-coat—Bilbo's coat, he called it—and his Elven cloak from Lothlorien were exceptions to his rule. He was wearing the grey cloak; and he had returned the mithril-coat to its prior location, in the Mathom House at Michel Delving. Frodo told himself he couldn't bear to see the magnificent thing and be so sharply reminded of his beloved Bilbo. He had left instructions with the Mathom-Keeper and with Mayor Bolger that the mithril coat should be sent as a gift from the whole of the Shire to the King, at the first news of the birth of a Prince. Sting had, of course, been lost in Mordor, buried under layers and layers of molten stone where Sam had dropped it. Everything else he had hidden away, out of sight and incapable of rousing unwanted memories.

           Now he searched more urgently. Right beside the Lady Arwen's gem he felt an oblong leather packet with a thin strap—Boromir's healer's kit. Next his fingertips brushed against a long narrow object—the folding knife, with its handle carved of a mumak tusk, that he had used to dig the poisoned splinter out of Gandalf's arm. Finally he found what he sought. He brought out a soft leather pouch, cinched with a cord of gold, and opened it. Silvery light burst forth from the pouch, illuminating Frodo's smiling face and Maggot's astonished one.

            In Minas Tirith, Frodo had hired a craftsman to sew the supple, silk-lined leather pouch to store and protect the Lady Galadriel's gift, inspired in part by the recollection of Gandalf's pipeweed pouch. He'd pulled the cords tightly, closing off the light of the Star-Glass and had placed it in the very bottom of his bag—for safe-keeping, he told himself. He had not touched it—or any of the hidden mementos of his journey—until tonight.

            The Star-Glass glittered brilliantly, its radiance growing stronger with each passing second. Frodo and Maggot could now see the way clearly before them. But to their alarm, the light revealed a tilting black stone looming out of the fog on their left.

            "We've come too far East," Frodo cried. "I saw Standing Stones like that the last time I was in these parts... We mustn't go near it!"

            Maggot needed no convincing. "Sounds right to me... P'rhaps you should lead the way, Frodo..."

            But immediately Frodo realized the flaw in that idea. He could not hold his pony's reins and the Star-Glass at the same time. He looked longingly at the shimmering phial, then thrust it toward his companion.

            "Here," he said firmly. "You've got two hands; you carry it, and lead the way..."

            Maggot hesitated, his eyes fixed on the mysterious crystal. "Where'd this thing come from, did you say?"

            "I didn't," Frodo smirked. "But it is another Elvish marvel. This came from Lothlorien, the Land of the Golden Wood. It was a gift to me from the Lady of that beautiful land that is no more..." He sighed. "So much was lost... I don't think anyone in the Shire really appreciates how truly awful the war was.... How many fine folk are gone forever... No one remembers anymore, if they ever even knew..."

            Maggot's brow shot up. "You remember; you know. That's something, Baggins..."

            "But no one in the Shire wants to hear what I have to say..."

            The Farmer sniffed. "Maybe. True enough for some. But 'tis also true that you haven't exactly been forthcoming with your tales..."

            Frodo's mouth fell open as he blinked at his companion. But Maggot brushed the conversation aside as he reached out for the Star-Glass.

            "Here," he said. "Best give that Elvish lantern over. I'll be careful with it, I promise... Night's gettin' on and 'tis time we were well out of here... That Standing Stone gives me the shudders..."

            Without a word, Frodo handed him the Star-Glass and fell in behind his pony. Maggot led them away from the Stone as quickly he could, and using the Light he kept their path much closer to the Trees again. Their shadows swept off into the darkness behind them and on either side of them, disappearing into the rising mist. Without further talk they kept moving, plodding steadily in as direct a line as Maggot could manage.

            By the hollow feeling in their bellies they knew it was growing late. Frodo frowned worriedly as he gazed about, searching for anything that might be a sign of Bombadil's orderly fields, gardens and beehives. Failing to see any of that, he looked for a tall loping figure walking nearby. But Iaurel seemed to have abandoned them for good. He sighed, and just as he released the mournful sound the winds swept through, carrying heavy rain. In seconds the two hobbits were soaked to their skins.

            Now, even the Star-Glass could not help them, for the light sparkled and danced off the sheets of water. The glow of the phial served to obscure the way forward, as though a wall of shimmering light now blocked their path. Their equally discouraged ponies plodded to a halt as they all shivered miserably in the downpour.

            "What should we do now, d'ye think, Baggins?" Maggot shouted, his teeth chattering. He held the phial up in the rain, and icy cold water sluiced down his arm and into his sleeve.

            Frodo stared bleakly forward, wondering what was worse: to carry on in pitch darkness and risk losing the way altogether, or halting here, with no shelter at all? Then he caught a faint glow, ahead of them and to their right.

            "What's that?" he cried, pointing. "Put the phial away, Maggot; the light's too bright… Look over there!"

            Maggot closed his hand about the glass and thrust it into a fold of his cloak. Black night fell over them. A fork of violet lightning flickered far to their left, followed by a low rumble. Their eyes adjusted; and then they saw it. Light, ahead! A yellow square had appeared, with a beam flowing forward toward them over the rolling ground.

            Lovely music reached them, with words they couldn't yet clearly hear or understand, but they both knew that voice. The hobbits grinned at one another.

            "Goldberry!" they both cried, as they spurred their ponies forward.

* * *

            An hour and a half later, the hobbits sat before the fire in Tom Bombadil's snug cottage, warming their woolly toes. Goldberry had welcomed them to the House with her warmest smile, and after they saw to their ponies and shed their drenched clothing, they'd wrapped themselves in soft warm robes sized for hobbit-folk and dug in to the simple but delicious fare she laid before them. She had watched over them, singing softly, while they devoured slices of brown bread with honey, bowls of piping hot soup, and hunks of smooth cheese. Neither Frodo nor Maggot said much to their hostess, other than mumbled thanks, for nearly thirty minutes. Then Frodo had raised his head.

            "Lady, where is the Master?"

            For Bombadil had not appeared when the hobbits arrived, and no 'friend' was waiting for Frodo after all. Goldberry seemed to be alone in the little cottage. She had smiled mysteriously in response to his question.

            "The Master had an errand tonight, Little Friend."

            Maggot grunted. "What a night to run an errand! Must have been an important one to venture out in this weather…"

            She had laughed with pure delight. "But weather bothers not Tom, Farmer Maggot! He cares not for wind or rain. And the errand was indeed important, the more so for having been put off for too long… An opportunity came to complete an overdue task, and he took it." She lay a hand on each of their shoulders. "The Master expected you, my young friends. He asked me to tell you that he plans to see you in the morning… and to remind you: fear not the noises of the Night! Nothing evil can come into this House. And now, I shall take my leave of you…"

            She had insisted that her guests remain at the table until they were full, made certain they knew where to find the bathing chambers and guest rooms, pointed out the dry wood stacked in a box near the door, and retired.

            After several more helpings of honeyed bread and soup, the hobbits were finally satisfied. Maggot helped Frodo with the one task with which he would allow assistance: the lighting of his pipe. They sat smoking in silence, watching the flames, adding a split log when the need arose. Finally the Farmer yawned widely and rose.

            "A long ride, a drenching rain, and a cold night," he said. "I'm as keen as you to discover what old Bombadil's up to, but my curiosity can wait until morning. G'night to you, Frodo…"

            "Goodnight, Maggot…"

            "Don't stay up too late now," the Farmer said as he disappeared down the hall that led to the guest rooms.

            "I won't," Frodo said softly to his companion's vanishing figure.

            But Frodo didn't feel sleepy. He had to admit that despite a feeling of uneasiness, even dread, he was sorely disappointed to find that no mysterious friend waited for him. He realized that he had not looked forward to anything so deeply in a long time. Silly of me, to be so taken with the idea that someone was waiting… He grumbled with a sigh of irritation. Like as not, the Elf just made the whole story up, to have an excuse for entering my house uninvited… though why he would want to do so is beyond me…

            His pipe was empty again. Step by awkward step, he fidgeted with his pouch, filled the bowl as he clutched the stem between his stump and his body, tamped the weed firmly, and placed the stem in his mouth. Then he lit it in his one-handed fashion, by placing a long stick into the fire, waiting for it to ignite, and bringing the burning tip to his pipe. He sat back and gazed into the flickering yellow flames, wondering what the morning would bring. Maybe the 'friend' has been no one but Bombadil, all along…and nothing wrong with that… Tom's been a good friend, after all, always cheering me up…

            His thoughts turned to Maggot's blunt, offhand comment on the road. You haven't exactly been forthcoming with your tales... It was the truth, of course, as far as it went. Frodo had spoken to no one, really, about his experiences, not since Merry and Pippin had left, not since he'd been forced to tell those portions of the story that concerned the Gamgees, or the Cottons. For no one else has asked…. But that wasn't exactly true, was it? Freddy had, during those first months, cautiously and timidly, to be sure, but he had asked. Frodo had always found a way to change the subject, rebuffing him with solemn sadness, and his friend had simply given up. And Esme Brandybuck had tentatively approached him, that first Yule. She was searching for answers… and reaching out, for old friendship… He had given her only brief, unencouraging replies. It was no surprise that she had not asked again.

            And then there was Rose. Rosie Cotton, Sam's sweetheart, had seen Frodo on several occasions when he had traveled to Hobbiton. Each time, he recalled uncomfortably, the young hobbit-lass had gazed at him beseechingly, searching his eyes, on the verge of speech… But she had said nothing. And you didn't offer… It was as clear as could be, looking back, that Rosie was desperate for more of Sam's tale, for the details he'd withheld from her and her family that first autumn, not wanting to upset her more, or increase her grief, he told himself.

           Yet he knew, better than anyone, that not knowing was worse, that having details withheld from you only made you invent worse things in your mind. He had done that, with Bilbo. At first he only knew that Bilbo had died in the destruction of Rivendell, and that the great House had been set ablaze. He had assumed that poor Bilbo must have burned to death, and he'd been sick with misery imagining his beloved cousin's horrible suffering. Many weeks had passed in Minas Tirith before he learned the truth, from Strider, that Bilbo had not been burned at all, but killed by a falling beam, his body retrieved from the fire by Radagast and buried upon a hillside of the fair valley, quite near, according to the Brown Wizard, to the grave of Lord Elrond himself.

          And as for Gandalf, initially Frodo avoided asking for more details than Pippin had given him on that very first day. He let his wretched imagination run wild with those few words, 'a sort of trophy,' picturing one gruesome image after another. Most were fashioned after tales he had heard of the torment and death of Celebrimbor in the Second Age, shot full of poisoned arrows while his people looked on in horror. He finally approached Pippin and asked him to tell the story—the whole story. Pippin had gravely and gently done so, leaving nothing out, not even the details he had never told the King. Frodo found, to his shock, that he felt better, even knowing the awful truth of it, even discovering that reality was in some ways worse than anything he could imagine. And his respect—admiration, in truth—for his young cousin rose considerably in the process.

            Maybe I should find some way to speak to Rosie… He wondered if it was already too late, if Rose Cotton would by now have moved on from her grief, if he might just be making things worse again for her. No way to know, except to inquire… and that will be mightily difficult…but I should do it, shouldn't I, for Sam's sake, and for hers… And Esme... His old friends the Brandybucks deserved more than he had given them. He wondered if somehow, this Yule, he could find a way to broach the topic of their son with them, to try to explain the importance of what he had done in the south, to help them understand. He hadn't been in the habit of sharing Merry's wonderfully entertaining letters with them, for instance. I could start with those.... And he had been just as stubborn in avoiding Pally Took as the Thain had been in avoiding him. That is a problem that won't be solved by stubbornness… He frowned at the daunting thought of reaching out in friendship to the head of the Took clan, then scolded himself. You've done more difficult things, Frodo Baggins, much more difficult things… You ought not to be afraid of old Pally,  you've faced down far more frightening creatures than a disappointed father…

            Frodo stared at the flickering fire in the hearth, thinking how odd it felt to have some tasks—important tasks, not just sweeping his own hallway or weeding the garden—to look forward to accomplishing. His weary sigh was a bit chagrined. I've been looking inward for too long… Bilbo would have laughed at him, he thought, or scolded him. For even when he was just a lad, Frodo had been prone to such moods and ruminations. He'd first fallen into that dark place, of course, in the aftermath of his parents' drowning. Bilbo had been firm on the subject. That won't do, Frodo-lad… No use wrapping gloom all about yourself… Why, you need a purpose, my boy, a sense of direction… And I know just the thing… He could remember it as if it were yesterday,  Bilbo cheerfully setting him to one job or another: copying out poetry, first in Westron, then as he became more skilled with his letters, in Elvish, or helping teach the younger children of the families of the Hill to read and write. That's what Bilbo would say that I need: a purpose—something bigger than just myself and my small needs…

            Frodo's eyes finally began to droop. His empty pipe lay upon the nearby table, and his hand flopped off the arm of the chair. As the firelight danced on his face, he fell asleep at last. And just as he had the first time he slept in Bombadil's House, he dreamed.

            And an unpleasant, troubling dream it was. He was floating—flying, in fact—above a range of rounded hills in the middle of a dark storm. The Barrow-Downs… The mounds spread out in every direction below him, and though it was night, he could see quite clearly, noticing the ominous, fearsome Standing Stones that rose up from the flat bare tops of many of the hills. Lightning flashed, and the Stones sparkled, their wet surfaces gleaming. Thunder rumbled, and rain fell steadily, though the hobbit felt neither wet nor cold. He was moving above the Downs, and he saw to his dismay that he was headed for the middle of the hills. There, he saw, the Stones increased in number and size. He gazed down with dread, for below, flitting between the Stones, he saw dark shadowy shapes moving furtively on the ground. Wights! He shivered, and though he was vaguely aware that the whole thing was just a dream, still, his heart hammered with fright.

            He didn't want to look; he wished he could shut his eyes against the sight of them scurrying about. But it was a dream, and he couldn't shut his eyes to the images. He was forced to watch as the Wights roved below him, reminding him all too keenly of Ringwraiths… But the Nine are no more… They were all destroyed when their Dark Master fell… Why had not the Wights of the Barrow Downs also been destroyed, he wondered? Why was this plague of evil left lingering in the north country? That doesn't seem fair

            Then he noticed light below him, at the edge of his vision. He gazed in that direction, and in response to his wonder at its source, the dream moved him toward it. Soon he hovered above the very heart of the Downs. Below him stood the tallest and grimmest appearing of any Standing Stones he had yet seen—massive, towering, more than a dozen of them, leaning inward in a great circle set at the top of the broadest and highest hill of all. He would have been filled with horror and dread at the sight; but that dark circle was bursting with light.

            Two lights, in fact. One was golden in color, and it moved about, weaving back and forth, leaping and tumbling, dancing in and out between the great Stones. The other was silvery, and it remained quite still, in the very center of the circle. Beams of gold and silver flowed outward, and as Frodo looked about he realized that the shadowy shapes of the Wights were running away from the lights. Slowly the lights spread and grew, and as he watched in amazement he saw the shadows break apart, like morning mist dispersed by the rising Sun. Soon, every shadow had dissipated. Next, the Stones themselves began to waver. As if they had been made of nothing more than insubstantial darkness, the great black monoliths appeared to melt and disappear. At last, the dreaded hills of the Barrow-Downs were laid out below him, empty of fear and dark power, nothing but hills, nothing but empty graves of the ancient past. The silvery and golden lights moved side by side, slowly roaming over every square foot of the Downs, seeming, to Frodo's dream-eyes, to ensure that all the shadows and black stones were gone. Finally, the lights vanished over a far hill, and the Downs fell into darkness—the clean and pure darkness of Night. The lightning passed, and the rain ceased. The waning gibbous Moon had already traversed halfway across the sky, and His white gleam flickered from beneath the final retreating shreds of cloud. As the dream ended, the Stars came out and glinted peacefully above.           

         Frodo felt a crick in his neck as he groaned and woke. What a strange dream that was… He was still sitting in the chair before the hearth, and he'd slumped to one side. The fire was just a mound of glowing red embers now. He stretched, and shivered a little. Rising, he placed a few sticks in the hearth and leaned forward to blow the flames back to life. The fire caught quickly, and he looked for the lap blanket that Goldberry had left for him, folded in a basket beside the hearthstone. As he turned to retrieve the blanket his eyes fell on a figure upon the floor behind him, all the way over on the opposite side of the parlor, near the door.

            It was Iaurel, and he was fast asleep. Frodo stared, wondering how long he'd been there sleeping, and wondering why he slept upon the floor. He studied the tall Elf, curled up like a child, his black-haired head resting on one arm, his face relaxed in slumber yet frowning slightly, his shapely yet powerful appearing hands tucked against his breast. The hobbit noticed that the Elf's clothing was dripping wet, as was his hair. His lips and the tips of his fingers were slightly blue.

            No wonder he's frowning in his sleep… He must be uncomfortably cold… Frodo crept toward him and draped the blanket over his shoulders, arranging it carefully to cover him without awakening him. Iaurel stirred slightly, then sighed in his sleep. The Elf slept on without moving again. Frodo watched him for a few moments in silence. Then he heard a slight hiss and smelled the pungent odor of pipeweed smoke. Tom must be up, he said to himself. He turned back toward the now blazing hearth.

            He froze, his breath caught in a gasp and his heart in his throat. Someone sat in the chair where Farmer Maggot had sat, earlier that evening, cradling a long-stemmed, curiously carved pipe in one hand. Frodo gaped at the figure, his mouth open and his eyes wide.

            "You! But...but how… How can you be…"

            "It is good to see you too, Frodo," Gandalf said mischievously, as he released a cloud of smoke.




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.

Story Information

Author: Aiwendiel

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Ring War

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/06/12

Original Post: 02/25/09

Go to A Bit of Rope overview


WARNING! Comments may contain spoilers for a chapter or story. Read with caution.

A Bit of Rope

ziggy - 09 Nov 11 - 1:35 PM

Ch. 60: A Storm on the Barrow-Downs

Well, since I guessed Iaurel's identity, it was easy to work out who the 'friend' is and oh, how you have not disappointed! I think these two chapters are the closest to Tolkien, both in content an dstyle, that could be possible. Farmer Maggot is a joy. His gruff kindness and seemingly unaccountable wisdom is marvellous, almost magical, and his friendship with Tom very plausible. But I think you have triumphed in every way with Iaurel and the 'friend'. Iaurel is beautifully naive and protective. I love you so much for writing him!Heart

A Bit of Rope

ziggy - 09 Nov 11 - 1:43 PM

Ch. 60: A Storm on the Barrow-Downs

I love this chapter- had tears in my eyes at this wonderful resolution- or beginnig of. Frodo still has a few things to do, like tell Rosie and Pallo etc what happened, and restore their pride and soothe their love. I think you have written Gandalf superbly here - the crotchetyness, the riddles and abruptness, but tempered too by that affection for MiddLe Earth, Halbarad, Iaurel (have I told you yet how much I love you for Iaurel?) The  cloak, staff etc too is interesting and there are resonances in it that I cant quite reach and that gives all of this a lovely haunting feel, just beyond reach. Quite, quite lovely.

A Bit of Rope

Larner - 31 May 12 - 7:24 AM

Ch. 60: A Storm on the Barrow-Downs

I was wondering of Olorin would take on his terrestrial shape once again, now that he and Iaurel were finished sending the evil of the Barrow-downs packing!  It's about bloody time!  No need to hold on to THAT grief now!

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