2. The Counsel of Elrond
The Counsel of Elrond
Imladris. IIIrd Age, 3018, August 20.
Elrond Peredhel pressed the tips of his fingers together as he listened to the wizard's voice.
"The party that continues south must be small and secretive..."
"Yet some must be skilled at arms," the only Man present said, "for this journey shall be perilous."
Elrond watched Mithrandir nod approvingly toward Aragorn, and he knew that his foster-son would be the chief of those described. The thoughts of the Master of Imladris immediately went to an appraisal of who of his household might be sent on this grave mission in the company of the wizard, two Halflings of the Shire, the Heir of Isildur and two Rangers, Halbarad and Beleg. Glorfindel, perhaps, and two others?
"When do you think we should leave again, Gandalf?" the Hobbit said, his voice quavering.
"As soon as appropriate arrangements can be made, Frodo," Mithrandir said as he laid a calming hand on the Perian's thin shoulder. "In short, the sooner, the better."
That this Hobbit, bearing Sauron's Ring, his esquire and their guardians had slipped from the Shire and arrived in his valley entirely unscathed and in secret was nothing short of miraculous. They and their wizard guide had joined the Dúnedain at the crossing of the Greenway, apparently undetected. Word had come of the dreadful, violent searching of the quiet Shirelands and the villages of Bree, Archet and Coomb by fell Riders in black in the weeks following the clandestine departure of the pair of Hobbits. But no sign of the Nine had subsequently been seen or heard east of the bridge of Mitheithel. The last of the searchers had returned, and none reported any sense of the Nazgûl as far as three days fast ride in every direction from the Vale of Imladris.
"I shall give thought to who might accompany you," Elrond said. "And I wholeheartedly agree," directing his words to the wizard, though his eyes lit upon the Hobbit's frightened face. "You must leave soon, before the advantage of secrecy is lost. And I agree with you also, Estel: the road before you is indeed perilous. And though skill at arms may well be needed, it shall be endurance and steadfast hearts that will see this task through to its end."
The Peredhel frowned slightly, for at his words, meant to be reassuring, Frodo Baggin's already pale face blanched whiter still, and his servant's eyes grew even wider than they already were. One unfortunate result of their uneventful and swift journey from Hobbiton to the Last Homely House had been that Frodo Baggins and his young gardener seemed to have little idea of just how difficult a task they faced. Have they the strength for this? Elrond wondered. Has Mithrandir's fondness for this Hobbit blinded him to his true abilities?
Aragorn was speaking now, and Elrond strove to pay attention.
"And you still feel the safest route is through the Gap of Rohan?" he said to the wizard.
"Just so. Winter shall soon enough hinder the passages of the Mountains, either north or south. And a sojourn within the impregnable fortress of Isengard will be a welcome one, both for the security and strategic location of the place and to avail us of the wise counsel of Saruman. Before I left him and came north, he vowed to surreptitiously gather any and all news of the Enemy's movements. Such information will be vital to our continued progress."
As the two most seasoned travelers currently afoot in Middle Earth continued to discuss the details of the possible routes south and the dangers their party might encounter, Elrond felt a vague shadow fall upon his heart. He looked about at the faces at the table again.
Of course I feel dread. This task is well nigh impossible, and yet is the only possible way to a future without the threat of shadow. So I have always known it would be, since I failed to convince Aragorn's ancestor of his folly… And yet…
"We shall be the Nine Walkers, then, set against the Nine dread Riders," Mithrandir was saying with a crooked smile. "Three for Men, three of the Eldar, two for The Shire… and me."
to be continued....
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