11. A Few Words To The Wise
Part 6. Secret Residents of Rivendell. Chapter 11. A Few Words To The WIse.
We have always been here, though hardly anyone believes we exist. But really—think about it. Surely you saw the movies. Or at least that old pencil drawing of The Last Homely House from the books... A rambling, ornate old house, in the mountains, surrounded by trees, visited by so many… How could we not inhabit such a place? All those porticoes, curved balustrades, terraces, balconies, arched doorways… Not to mention stables, barns, garden sheds, gazebos, pergolas… Innumerable crevices, corners, and cornices… And walls. Ah, the magnificent plastered walls, stuffed so loosely with straw that they may as well be hollow… And ceilings! Firm, straight rafters—which we prefer to call highways—galore! And have we mentioned the cellars? Oh, let us not forget the wonderful cellars, with all their dark corners and cracks and hidden tunnel entrances that lead directly outdoors… A dream world, come to beautiful life! Of course the House of Master Elrond, Lord of Rivendell, is entirely infested with mice!
We can hear you saying, mice, in the storied House of Lord Elrond? In the home of Elves? Really? Well, yes. Really. For Elves live a very, very long time, and their homes—those who have homes—are necessarily very, very old. Some of them live in caves, for goodness sakes… Then there's an entire City of Elf-Houses in the trees… We are not the only Kelvar fond of trees and caves! As for what happens in Elvish—and other—homes on the far side of the Sea, we Mice of Rivendell can't report on such mysteries directly. But according to our tales, we live everywhere—even in the most magnificent citadels in the City of Valmar. Apodemus,* our Maia Protector, whose name means, appropriately, "World Traveler," has explored the entire surface of Arda, from the vantage point of his four very short legs. So if you doubt that mice live in Rivendell, just take a deep breath and let go of such foolish ideas.
Oh, we are well aware that some of you Two-Foots are rather squeamish about us. Some of you even scream and leap about at the sight of one of us, as if… as if what, really? What could one diminutive one of us possibly do to an enormous one of you? But be comforted. If one day you find yourself visiting the Last Homely House—wonderful place that it is—here is a piece of advice. Don't be alarmed if you catch a tiny, furtive movement out of the corner of one eye as you are listening to an overly long Elvish Lay being sung in the Hall of Fire. Pay no attention to that faint scratching sound you hear behind your head when you are falling into blissful slumber in one of the House's many lovely bedchambers. Don't worry! We're here, and we're watching over you. We've got an eye on everything. And please—we do not carry any diseases, fleas, ticks, viruses or parasites. Nor do we bite, unless terribly provoked. We are not, after all, Rats.
And now it is our turn for our contribution to the Chronicles begun by that most arrogant of Big Four Footed Creatures, Shadowfax. For he, of course, was nowhere near the place… He never did, in fact, grace the Valley of Rivendell with his magnificent presence, did he? But we were there. In the walls, hurrying along the rafters, listening behind the woodwork, and if we occasionally gnawed a few holes in the drapery, well, we like soft material for our nests, after all, just like you do. No one—well, almost no one—saw us. Not even the Elves, with their legendarily keen eyesight, knew we were there. No one guessed we could hear every word, much less suspect that we could understand every word, and all that wasn't said in words. And we saw, too… things that no one else saw. For we are the Mice of Rivendell, and we know everything.
Our tale began just after the middle of that dreariest of months, October. Our annual interior migration was complete. If that migration is unfamiliar to you, let us explain. In the autumn, we mice move back into our familiar haunts indoors, after having spent several lovely months outdoors. This happens everywhere in the world save for the tropics (where we live both indoors and out all through the year), and in nearly every building inhabited by Two-Footed Creatures like yourself. Perhaps a few extremely unusual dwellings, made of solid, seamless steel, or spun of a single piece of glass, might not have their mouse denizens. But most do. You just have to look to find evidence of us. But you don't have to look, if you don't want to. It's fine to just ignore us. Most of you do.
It happened that autumn in the year 3018 of the Third Age was a particularly wet and miserable one, windier than usual, and unseasonably cold. So all of us had gone indoors, and we were quite content there. We had to recall our winter routines, which involve more secrecy, a change in our diet, and having to get used to an entirely different set of scents. But we were adjusting, as we always do.
Perhaps a short explanation is in order now. You may have noticed that we exclusively use plural pronouns when referring to ourselves. And if you have failed to take note, please do so now. You see, mice are always part of a very large and very close family. We are very gregarious and sociable creatures, keeping no secrets among us. Anything that one mouse learns, very soon every mouse of that Household will know. You could say that we are all one Mouse… or a huge number of interchangeable mice. And so while each and every one of us wasn't truly present for all of the conversations we overheard, we all knew about it, right off. We are, truth be told, incorrigible gossips, and keenly interested in the Two-Foots whose Houses we inhabit.
We were well aware that Our House was quite filled with anxiety, and that the feeling had been growing worse and worse for a long time. That summer and autumn, however, things were dreadful. The Master of the House was particularly anxious that fall. An old friend of his—Master Mithrandir, of whom we will have much more to say later—seemed to have vanished from the face of the world. No one had heard from him for months, since late spring. Mithrandir and Master Elrond were in the habit of exchanging messages and letters, but nothing whatever had reached the Last Homely House from him, no news, no message, not a peep. That was disturbing enough for the Master, but all sorts of other horrible and dangerous things were happening: Orcs in the Mountains, wars away South and East, Dark Cold Things creeping about in the Night. He carried a mighty burden, you see, because of his royal heritage, and because of his powerful Elven Ring—we know all about that, of course. And what with the reappearance of the Enemy, well, it was no wonder that poor Lord Elrond was anxious.
And then, there was the whole messy family affair: the estrangement between the Master and his Foster Son; the rather hopeless love between the Immortal Princess and that same, decidedly Mortal individual, who was her Foster Brother, though we aren't sure how rules of kinship apply in circumstances like these; the alternately sullen and boisterous attitudes of the Twin Princes toward the Foster Son; the well-nigh impossible conditions that must be met by the Potential Groom set by the Father of the Potential Bride before a Wedding could take place… It was all quite complex, and made everyone involved feel moody and tense whenever they were together, and moody and sad when they were apart. The entire thing was supposed to be a deep, miserable, romantic secret… But you can't keep secrets from a whole houseful of creatures you don't even know are watching you and listening to your every word, can you?
So as we were saying: just after the middle of October, wetter and colder than usual, interior migration more or less complete, dark moodiness about the House. Midnight had come and gone, and if the sky hadn't been thick with clouds, the waning Moon would have been half full. But it was especially dark, and the wind was whistling and howling fiercely. The Night had that look and feel of Winter approaching. And then, the Stable Mice—our cousins—heard a very unusual noise for that hour of the night. Someone was thrashing about in the trees and the bushes, making a tremendous noise for so late. And what was doubly strange was the direction that the noise came from—the North Precipice! The House of Elrond, as you undoubtedly know, sits in a high valley in the Mountains of Mist, and the entrance to the Vale opens toward the West. That's where everyone—every Two-Foot, that is—comes from when they approach The Last Homely House. Elf, Mortal Man, Dwarf, Hobbit: doesn't matter, they all come from the West. Even those who climb over the Great Pass of the Mountains from the East enter the valley from the West.
Except this time. Someone—a Two-Foot, clearly enough by the unbelievably loud racket—was scrambling headlong down the North Precipice of Rivendell, and from the sounds of it, was in such great haste that he cared not one whit whether he was in one piece when he finally reached the valley floor. The North Wall of the valley is particularly steep and hazardous, and is terribly difficult to climb, even for a Four-Footed creature, much less for a clumsy Two-Foot. And as for clambering down! Well, it's simply foolish. The risk of falling is very great—and fall the Two-Foot did, indeed, with a loud crash followed by a not-so-quiet curse. The Stable Mice told us all about it, just a few minutes later, as they watched a ragged, filthy Two-Foot drag himself from the thickets and then bolt across the apple orchards like a rabbit chased by a fox, not pausing an instant on his way to the Back Door of the House. And that was another unusual event, for hardly any visitors use the Back Door. But this was no usual visitor.
As soon as he reached it, he wrenched it open—for, of course, for those in the know about these things, the Back Door of the House of Elrond is never latched, and often is untended and left without even a guard. And that is when we Mice of the House saw him: Master Mithrandir. He appeared in the unlit hallway that we've heard Master Erestor name The Mudroom, which is where the Back Doorway takes you. It was, we thought, the perfect place for him that night, for he was muddy. And grimy, covered with burrs, his clothing torn and his face scratched—all of which we could see quite well, as he had mumbled a spell and set the tip of his staff to glowing. We'd seen him do that before, along with a number of other spells he was in the habit of doing when he thought no one was looking, such as lighting his pipe without using a flint. But that night, he wasn't holding still to allow us to examine him more carefully; he was in a terrible hurry, and off he rushed.
And we followed. Really, the word passed, from one of us to another; but it amounted to the same thing. We thought that he'd march directly to Lord Elrond's private chambers—for the Master of the House had retired some hours earlier—but instead, he went to the Front Entrance. Mind you, most of the time one comes into the Front Entrance, which is a grand open foyer with a high ceiling and many windows, through the Front Door, after climbing up the Great Front Stairway. And visitors always pass by the Door Guardian, who watches from a cleverly concealed alcove near the top of the Great Stairway. But Mithrandir often did things backwards, and sometimes, up-side down. He unlatched the Front Entrance himself—on the inside—opened it, and peered at the rather startled Elf on duty in the Alcove. Without a second's pause, he spoke.
"Are they here yet?" he said in a roughened voice, as though he had been shouting loudly, or his throat was parched.
"'They'?" the Elf-Guard said, somewhat stupidly, we thought.
Mithrandir wasn't well known for his patience, and he about snapped the Elf's head off. "Aragorn and the Halflings! Your 'Estel'… the Shire-folk… Have they arrived?" He stamped one muddy boot and glared up into the Elf-Guard's stunned face.
"No, my Lord Mithran…"
"Confound it! Where can they be?" the old Wizard muttered as he spun on his heel and turned back to the House. But with one hand on the Front Door latch, he paused. "I know it is terribly late, but you'd better awaken your Lord…"
"Just do it," he snarled. "Blame me, if you must… might as well, I blame myself for this, and far more… deserve every bit of it…" he muttered as he came back indoors.
He mumbled to himself as he made his way through the Front Entrance toward one of the nearby sitting rooms that opened off a hallway, and we couldn't catch every word he said under his breath. But we got the impression that he was very upset—as worried as Master Elrond had been recently—and that he charged himself as responsible for something dreadful that had happened, was about to happen, or might soon happen; it was difficult for us to determine which, seeing as we mice do not have quite the same grasp of the nuances of Time as you Two-Foots. Then as though he suddenly had changed his mind, he spun about and flew into the Front Entrance again, just in time to catch the Elf-Guard he'd sent off on the rather disagreeable errand of awakening his Lord.
"On second thought…" he rasped, as he peered intently at the Elf. "Lindir, isn't it?"
The Elf, named Lindir, nodded in silence, and the Wizard continued. "…There is no need to awaken the Master of the House after all. I bear no news of such import that it cannot wait until morning." To us watching from the shadowy corner of the Front Entrance it appeared that Mithrandir's color was sickly pale, and he seemed to sway slightly; he certainly leaned heavily upon his wooden staff. "Please make certain that Lord Elrond is aware of my arrival when he arises tomorrow… or later today… What time is it, exactly? And, if I might ask, what day is it?"
Lindir stared at him with a positively doltish look. "My Lord, it is two hours past Midnight, and the date is October the 18th**…" At last, the Elf-Guard seemed to take note of the Wizard's unsteady condition. He stepped forward and grasped Mithrandir's arm.
"Sire, are you well?" the Elf asked. Finally, we thought.
"I will be," the Wizard muttered, "When news of Frodo Baggins' safe arrival in Rivendell is brought to my ears, and not a moment sooner…" He shook the Elf's grip from him. "I'm fine… Simply weary… very weary." He shuffled into the hallway and entered the nearest sitting room. "I'll rest here… No need to rouse anyone else tonight…"
In just two steps inside the door, he fairly collapsed into a chair—certainly not the most comfortable one in the room, but merely the closest—without even bothering to remove his mud-caked boots, his tattered cloak, or even his burr-encrusted hat. Quite obviously, the Old Two-Foot was exhausted. He didn't say another word, but let his head fall with a thud against the back of the chair—it made such a loud thwack that it surely must have raised a lump—and didn't move a muscle.
We watched him. And we watched as the rather dull Door Guardian, Lindir, finally demonstrated that he could muster a thought on his own. Soon a ripple of activity moved through the darkened, quiet Household. The Guard-Elf sent someone to the kitchens to fetch a platter of food and another to the wine cellar for some drink, and a third to see about sleeping quarters for the old fellow—and oh yes, he managed to remember to order that candles and a fire be lit in those chambers that the Wizard favored during his visits to the Last Homely House. Lindir himself returned with the Elf on duty as House Warden, and between the two of them they managed to get Mithrandir onto his stumbling feet, walked through the hallways with him to the West wing where his sleeping chamber was situated, helped him remove his hat, shoulder bag, cloak, mud-caked boots, leather belt, and sword and sat him down in a large, carved wooden chair by the cheerily blazing hearth.
"Here is a tray of fruits, cheeses and bread, my Lord," the Warden said, indicating the small table nearby.
"And a flagon of wine, sire," Lindir added, as he poured a goblet.
"Simple, clean water would be better, if it is not too much of a bother," the Wizard mumbled.
"No bother at all, my Lord," the Warden said, as he nodded his head at Lindir. The Guard stepped out and returned in a few minutes with a large pitcher of water and a fresh goblet. "Here you are, sire… Is there anything else?"
"Sleep is all I need… Nothing more… Many thanks for your kindness and hospitality, as always…"
The two Elves slipped out of the chamber, leaving us Mice to watch over the Wizard. He drank three full goblets of water, took but a sip of the wine, and ate a slice of apple and a single bite of bread. Then he stumbled into the sleeping alcove, sat on the edge of the firm but comfortable mattress and toppled over backward into the bed, without even bothering to remove his filthy grey robe or pull the covers over himself. In a moment he was fast asleep. And the mice who watched that night reported nothing of much note, save that the old fellow's sleep was fitful, and that he whispered often in his dreams, or nightmares, seeming to call out the name he had spoken before: Frodo.
In the morning, the Old Wizard rose with the Dawn, and before anything else, even before partaking in some of the leftover food—which we had sampled a trifle overnight, politely leaving no evidence that we had done so—he made his way through the hallways in search of a House Elf. When he found one, he requested that heated water and a large tub be brought to his chamber. We were highly in favor of this activity, for it was all too clear to us—for we mice have very sensitive noses—that Mithrandir had gone far too long without a bath. The House Warden on duty for that day also provided several soft and fluffy towels, a basket of soap, wooden combs and scrubbing cloths, and a loose velvet dressing gown of the most remarkable blue color. After twenty minutes, Mithrandir emerged from the now tepid, soapy and murky water, much improved in appearance and smell.
He stood, completely unclothed, at his opened window, wrestling with a number of stubborn tangles in his long grey locks and beard with the wooden comb, pausing periodically to rip out and toss irretrievably knotted bits of hair outside, when there came a sharp knock, followed immediately by the door being flung open with a bang. The Master of Rivendell himself appeared in the door frame!
"Mithrandir!" Lord Elrond cried joyously as he took two steps into the room. "Where in Endorë have you been…" Then his enormous grin vanished, and he abruptly stopped, for of course, he had caught his guest without a stitch of cloth near him. It was, we were quite sure, an entirely new experience for them, as was evidenced by the sudden flaming red color of their faces. We, of course, had seen both of them in just their skins many times before—as we had seen everyone who ever removes all of their clothing in the Last Homely House. (We put it that way because there are those who refuse to remove all of their clothing, no matter how filthy, ragged or stinking that Dwarvish clothing is. But we aren't the type to name names. If a certain malodorous exiled Dwarf King and his twelve smelly followers wish to preserve their unique and pungent fragrance, they are certainly welcome to do so.)
Mithrandir recovered his composure an instant before the Lord of the House found his. He cleared his throat and lunged for the magnificent blue velvet dressing gown that lay upon the back of a chair a few feet away. Lord Elrond politely averted his eyes and was about to turn around to give his guest a moment to cover himself when his gaze snapped to the Wizard's upper right back. And we noticed the puffy red swath for the first time as well—our attention having been distracted by all sorts of other details, you see.
"That wound," Elrond said sharply. "It looks terrible… Festering, most likely…" He stepped forward now, ignoring the awkwardness of the situation, and reached out toward his friend's bare shoulder. "Let me have a look…"
But Mithrandir had the gown in hand by then and already had his right arm in the sleeve. He jerked it up and over his shoulders, shoved his left arm into the other sleeve and yanked the belt tightly about his waist.
"Not now, Elrond!" he snapped. "What news? Have you any news, any word of Frodo, of Aragorn… Anything!"
The Master of the House's face colored again, not quite so brilliantly this time, as he stepped back a pace and dropped his hand. His broad shoulders sagged. "Very little… Only that the Wandering Companies reported that Bilbo's heir, Frodo Baggins and his companions were traveling toward this very House, and the Nine were in pursuit of them… and that you were not with them… I have sent over a dozen of my folk to search for them, including Glorfindel, and my sons… But Aragorn! I know nothing of him… Tell me, what have you heard?"
The Wizard took the few steps necessary in the small chamber to reach one of the chairs sitting near the hearth, and slumped into it with a great sigh. "The news that Aragorn had joined the Hobbits' traveling party I learned in Bree, from Butterbur, the innkeeper… when was it… nearly three weeks ago, September the 30th… But that the Nine were abroad I heard months ago… and alas, have since confirmed by personal experience…"
Elrond sat across from him and leaned forward onto the table. "Mithrandir, you must tell me where you have been, and why you sent no word…"
The Wizard eyed him gloomily. The look on his aged face shifted from one of urgent anxiety to one of veiled anger—and dread. "Simply put, my old friend, from Midsummer until nearly the Autumnal Equinox, I was imprisoned—in Isengard."
"What?" Elrond whispered, his eyes suddenly wide and his features gone quite pale.
Mithrandir nodded solemnly. "Yes, it is true: Curunir has fallen. He sent a message that I come to Angrenost, so that we could take counsel together, he said…" He sighed deeply, closed his eyes and rubbed his fingertips into his furrowed brow. "Once inside his stronghold, he announced that he now thought it wise to ally himself with Sauron…"
"… and he advised me to do the same…"
"…I can hardly believe it…"
"It gets worse," the Wizard said, without raising his head. "I reacted in much the same manner as you to such a vile, utterly mad pronouncement, of course, and he went on with another yet more despicable plan which required that I divulge to him the identity and location of Bilbo's Heir... There is a good deal more to say of grave import involving my friend the missing Perian, hence my intense concern for him... but suffice it to say that when I rejected his second offer as equally loathsome and preposterous, he bid his servants come and take me away, threatening to use whatever means necessary to pry the information he desired from me."
Elrond stared at his companion, completely stunned. He reached forward and poured himself a goblet of wine, and swallowed half the glass before speaking again.
"What did Curunir do to you, Mithrandir?"
The Wizard did not look up. "So much has happened since then, it might as well have been in another Age… Only one thing is notable to report from those long weeks: that I found the means to escape—barely in time, as it turned out. For having failed to convince me to divulge my secrets, he had apparently summoned the Nine to come and fetch me to Mordor…"
"By all the Powers! The treasonous wretch!"
"…by using the Palantir of Orthanc, which undoubtedly is linked to the Stone of Minas Ithil… and we have long suspected in whose hands that object now lies…"
At that, Lord Elrond slammed his fist on the tabletop, causing the crockery and glassware to jump and shudder. "Your news is terrible indeed!" he cried. "That he uses a treasured heirloom of Nûmenor against us is bad enough, but that he treat one he should rightly call brother so horribly is evil beyond comprehension… How did you manage to escape, my friend?"
A wan smile appeared on the Wizard's face as he finally looked up. "Into the sky, where even the Nine could not follow me… As their true errand was another thing entirely, they turned north… As soon as I could find a steed, I set out in pursuit… and I caught up with them, upon Amon Sûl, just over a fortnight ago… That was quite a fiery night…"
Elrond gazed at his friend with a fond, if quizzical smile. We were quite anxious to hear the story of how the Wizard managed to fly away from his imprisonment, but Master Elrond didn't see fit to inquire more deeply into that subject—and we mice were hardly in a position to question him ourselves. "Well! From the hints you've dropped, there is more--much more--to tell. I am in dread of knowing the reason why the Nine and Curunir are in search of a Halfling of the Shire... and what new grief that might portend. I will demand the tale in full very soon. But for now, there are more important tasks to attend to. I must assume that it was upon Amon Sûl that you acquired that ugly gash… It has the look of one of their tainted weapons…"
Mithrandir shifted slightly in his chair. "You are correct… Though I do not think their blades carried poison; rather that my unfortunately long, arduous and filthy journey from there through the Ettenmoors contaminated the wounds…"
"'Wounds'?" Master Elrond said, as he rose and stood by his companion. He placed his palm upon the Wizard's brow. "How many, might I ask?... And while you are composing a properly evasive reply to that query, tell me: how long you have been feverish?"
Mithrandir scowled and snorted loudly. "As to how many, five… possibly six, as I cannot examine my own back… and the fevers began at least a week ago… Really rather inconvenient timing, as I needed all my strength at that moment to avoid being eaten by a most unpleasant and persistent band of Trolls…" He shrugged Master Elrond's hand away from his forehead and glared up at him. "But enough of all that, Elrond… I will need a horse, for I had to send the supremely excellent one I rode from Rohan back once I entered the Troll-Fells…"
The Master gave his friend quite a look. "A horse? Are you quite mad?"
"Not at all," the Wizard said, as he pushed up from his chair and stepped toward the pegs upon the wall where he had hung his still completely begrimed clothing. "I'll begin searching on the Road, of course, though I suspect Aragorn will be doing his best to bring them here safely by more hidden paths…"
We may have been the only ones who noticed, but at that moment Master Mithrandir reached out as if to grasp his breeches, only to clutch the fabric tightly in his fist and squeeze his eyes shut for a few moments. We thought we saw him sway again, or at least use his clothing to support himself, and we found ourselves hoping that the pegs in the wall were sufficiently sturdy.
And then we knew: Master Elrond had seen it as well. "You will do no such thing," he said in a soft but very firm voice as he stood close by the Wizard, his hand cupped beneath his friend's elbow. "You can hardly stand… By your own count you have at least five infected wounds, and a fever… I think it likely you haven't slept more than the few hours you caught right here last night for more than a fortnight, maybe longer… By the looks of that tray of food, your usual Hobbit-like voracious appetite has forsaken you, and perhaps the most ominous sign, you haven't once inquired if my Household has any stores of Longbottom Leaf… And if despite all that you are fool enough to try such a thing, you'll have to journey on foot, for I shall forbid anyone in this Valley to provide you with a horse." He gripped Master Mithrandir's arm more tightly. "Do I make myself clear?"
Mithrandir turned his head, looked up into the Master of the House's eye, and glared. Though it was a rather flimsy glare, compared to ones we'd seen him use before. "But I must do something, Elrond..."
"Certainly," The Master said firmly. "You must, for once, admit that there is nothing you can do..."
The Wizard let up his grip on his breeches and sighed. A shudder passed through him. "I will admit… I cannot recall ever feeling so feeble…or quite so ill, in my flesh as well as my heart…"
"Then come," Elrond said as he guided him now toward the rumpled bed in the alcove. He shoved the heavy curtain that concealed the tiny space aside with the flick of his hand. "Lie here, and rest… I shall return in but a few moments… And Mithrandir, please: let me do what I do. I am a Healer; and I am your friend. Allow me the honor of tending you, without your usual protests and denials. I think, for once, that even you must admit that you need my help."
Mithrandir sat on the edge of the bed and nodded dully. "I suppose you're right. If I am to do anyone—especially Frodo, if and when he finds his way here—any good at all, I need your consummate skills, and your friendship, Elrond… And for my previous behavior as, shall we say, a less than model patient, I beg your forgiveness…"
"Forgiveness granted." Elrond said with his hand on the doorknob. "I shall return soon, with my supplies and an assistant… Now, now, no protestations," he said as the Wizard began to sputter weakly at the word, 'assistant.' "Lie down, you old fool, before you fall down."
Amazing as it was to us to witness it, the usually stubborn old Wizard did as he was told and lay back upon the bed. But by this time he was shivering with a chill, and he pulled the covers over himself and right up to his chin. It really wasn't more than fifteen minutes before Master Elrond reappeared, but it seemed longer for us watching the poor Old Man shaking in his bed, and, we suspect, it felt much longer for him.
We saw much that morning, most unpleasant to report: numerous inflamed sword cuts, half-closed, that had to be opened and drained of nasty, smelly stuff; some sort of surgery involving a search for broken bits of evil blades that Master Elrond suspected remained in the deepest and ugliest of those wounds; and noises of distress made by the Master, his assistant, and their uncomfortable patient. The whole thing took several hours, and at the end of it we mice were, quite honestly, exhausted. And if we were exhausted, we could only imagine that the three Two-Foots were wearier than we. And through the whole nasty ordeal, Master Mithrandir made good on the Lord Elrond's demand for the tale in full. He heard it all--more, we supposed, than he ever would have wanted to hear. An Evil Thing had been found, and everyone was looking for It, and soon enough--if events worked out for the better--the Thing would be right here, in the House of Elrond. Which was hard to see as something better, since Master Elrond quite clearly wanted nothing to do with The Thing. Bad news was simply piling up on top of bad news for the Master of Our House, and he appeared very tired and very subdued when the whole thing was done.
From the looks of things, Master Mithrandir wished for nothing more than to sleep, but Master Elrond would not allow it quite yet.
"I'm sorry, old friend, but you must drink this entire flagon before it cools…"
The Wizard merely groaned in response to that, but with the assistant's help he sat up in the bed and forced himself to drink the concoction. By his facial grimace we guessed that the liquid must have had a foul taste. But he managed to finish it before falling back onto the pillow with a huge sigh.
Elrond wiped the beads of sweat from his patient's pale brow with a dampened cloth, then he stood and beckoned to his assistant. They spoke quietly away from the little alcove, but not so quietly that we could not hear every word.
"The worst is yet to come, I am afraid," the Master whispered as his assistant nodded solemnly. "After all the manipulations we just performed, his fever will undoubtedly spike again soon. Stay with him, and make certain that he drinks at least three full goblets of water…"
"Yes, sire," the assistant muttered. The Elf peeked toward the now apparently sleeping patient. "My Lord, how is it that he suffers no sign of the Black Breath? He is, after all, a Mortal Man, is he not? And yet…"
Lord Elrond turned and glanced at the Wizard. "He is an Istar in Mortal form, yes… But the weapons—and the presence—of the Enemy's foulest servants seem not to have the same fell effect upon him as on others of Mortal Race. For which we—and he—can only be grateful… Otherwise I doubt very much he could have survived these two weeks after a confrontation with all the Nine at once, and with six—nay, he underestimated, after all—seven wounds made by accursed Morgul blades…"
"…not to mention the suppuration and what is obviously blood-fever…"
"…indeed… Watch over him, Faeldir… I will return in a few hours, but send word if he worsens in any way…"
"Of course, my Lord…"
And so passed that day, in what seemed an endless sequence of spiking fevers, drenching sweats and vigorous shaking. The Elves came and went, pressing the Wizard to drink cool water and noxious elixirs, coaxing him to sip broth. The Master returned thrice more, the last time as evening fell. We could not get a clear view from our position near the floor, but what he saw when he unbound his patient's deepest sword cut prompted him to mutter a low curse, something we hardly ever heard Master Elrond do.
"It is as I suspected… There is another splinter here, working inward," he said quietly.
Mithrandir's sigh was resigned. "I suppose you'll have to dig about in there again…"
Another hour of Master Elrond's gruesome work ensued, but finally, it seemed, he was satisfied. "There… I believe that truly is the last of it… "
The Wizard, lying prostrate upon the sweat-soaked sheets, only grunted in response. The Elves went to work cleansing their patient's skin, binding up his wound and removing what seemed a bushel basket full of bloody cloths. Glad we were to see them go—they smelled awful.
We watched through the night, noting that the frequency and severity of Master Mithrandir's fevers and chills gradually lessened. And when the next Day came, it was well that his illness had sufficiently subsided—and it had, barely—for he was needed, up and out of his sickbed.
"Lord Elrond asks that if you are at all able, sire, that you join him immediately upon the West Terrace..." Faeldir said as he shook the Wizard, late on the morning of October 20th.
He jerked awake and grabbed the Elf's wrist. "What is it, Faeldir? Are they finally here? Have you had word?"
"Nay, but Lord Elrond senses the Ulairi approaching the very borders of his realm… He asks that you come at once, my Lord…"
If you ask for our opinion, it was rather cunning of Master Elrond to call for Master Mithrandir that morning, for he really wasn't up to it. But the Master of the House must have known that the Wizard would doggedly make the attempt upon such a request, no matter what. And so he did. He sat up at once, and immediately moaned and clutched his head. We scurried backward to hide, for fear that he might violently empty the contents of his stomach in our direction. He did not, fortunately for all of us, and when we next dared to peek at the scene, he had pulled his grey robe—which thankfully had been washed—onto himself, having not bothered to don his undertunic, and was buckling his leather belt. His boots were next, and he snatched his staff from where it leaned against the wall just as he began to sway and stagger. Faeldir clutched him about the waist, and began turning him back toward the sleeping alcove, when Mithrandir growled at the poor Elf.
"I'm upright now, aren't I? Enough of this nonsense… Help me get to the West Terrace, at once!"
We mice are not in the habit of venturing outdoors again once our interior migration is completed, but now we were truly engaged in the story unfolding. Several of us followed along, scampering behind the ornate floor board trim, passing the word onward in front of us. By the time Mithrandir and Faeldir reached the terrace, several dozen of the Mice of Rivendell had gathered to witness whatever extraordinary event was about to occur. For you see, besides being terrible gossips, the Mouse's curiosity is greater than that of the legendary Feline. And whereas a cat's curiosity is far more likely to lead them into trouble, ours is simply a pleasurable pursuit to while away the long winter hours indoors.
The Master of the House and his barely upright but determined guest stood together at the balustrade, gazing Westward toward the hidden cleft that was the ordinary method of accessing the Valley. The roar of the tumbling waters of the Bruinen thundered in the distance, and a haze rose where that great river surged through the steep hills.
"I hated to do it, Mithrandir, but…"
"Don't be absurd, Elrond! Of course you were right to call for me… Ah, and yes, now that I am here, and my head a bit less fuzzy, I sense them as well… All Nine of them, and heading directly this way at a great pace…"
"…as if they pursue someone…"
"…someone riding as fast as steed as theirs—faster, I'd say…"
"I know of few steeds who could outrun such beasts, and not shy away in terror," Elrond muttered. "Asfaloth is one…"
"Glorfindel's mount…" The Two-Foots, one tall, handsome, with hair of raven-black and a cloak of deep blue, the other shorter in stature but broader in the shoulder, with grey hair and a heavy grey cloak, leaned forward onto the railing. "Ah! I wish we knew more than these half-guesses and speculations," the Wizard whispered.
"I know one thing with certainty," Elrond said with an icy firmness in his voice. "The Nine shall not enter this Valley…"
Mithrandir grunted his approval. "No… Nor will they soon forget the impact of the Powers of Air and Fire blended as one…"
"Indeed… Not to mention the unleashed waters of the Bruinen, that guard my borders…" Elrond turned to his friend and smiled grimly. "We have not previously had the opportunity to combine our strengths in such a manner, my friend. I find myself looking forward to it…"
Mithrandir's face was stern. "I look forward only to the safe arrival of a by now desperately frightened Hobbit who I certainly hope still has the Fate of this Age in his pocket… and to the arrival of all of his companions, of course…"
"Shall we teach the Ulairi a lesson, my friend?"
The Wizard sniffed. "I am ready when you are, Elrond…"
And with that, we watched from the edge of the terrace near the House as Master Mithrandir closed his eyes and clutched his staff in both hands, his head bowed and his brow knotted as if in great concentration. Master Elrond seemed to stand even taller, yet in a relaxed stance: head slightly back, eyes closed, face in repose, hands loose at his sides, his breath slow and steady. What these two Powerful and Wise Two-Foots were doing, exactly, we mice never did learn… other than to be aware of a sudden fierce wind that roared through the fir trees toward the Fords, and the hot blast that was carried with it. Some of us swore later that we saw Flames rushing on that Wind, and others claimed that the midday Sunlight dimmed for an instant, and the Evening Star twinkled above. We can only report what most of us saw, and heard, and as for what came later that day, well, most everyone has already heard that tale.
But we are not quite finished with our part of the Chronicles, for late that night, after the famed party of Hobbits, the Foster Son, and the glittering Glorfindel were absorbed into the House of Elrond, their needs and hurts attended to, we watched as the old Wizard finally agreed to follow Master Elrond's quite strongly worded recommendation that he get himself back into bed, for at least a few hours.
We were the only ones who saw Master Mithrandir finally let down his pretense, once he closed the door to his chambers and thought he was alone. His face was drawn into a grimace, and he moved slowly toward the sleeping alcove. He sat on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands and his elbows leaning on his knees, and released a long, sighing groan. And we knew, from all that we had heard and seen and guessed, just how long he had been holding in that groan—of remorse, of pain, of fear, of horror, of deep disappointment at his betrayal by one who should have been a friend, and of bone-deep weariness. And now, of course, though he had the only thing he said he truly needed—news of the arrival of Frodo Baggins in Rivendell—his small friend was far more desperately ill than he had been, and the Hobbit's life hung in the balance.
"Sleep," we heard him mutter to the floor. "Sleep is the one thing I most need, and yet how can I sleep, knowing that Frodo lies at the edge of death, because I was such a fool and allowed Saruman to trick me… I am so sorry, my friend, that I failed in my promise, and was not there to help you…"
We mice are tiny, inconsequential creatures, it is true. We can do nothing of import; we take no part in the great events of any Age or Era. We can watch, and listen, and tell our little tales to one another, and not much more. But once in a while, even a creature as tiny as a mouse can do something… to at least try to help. And so, three of us—we never do anything entirely alone, and even if you only think you see one of us, you'd best look more carefully, for there are always more of us quite nearby—did something that we mice hardly ever do: we stepped out of hiding and scurried across the floor to the Wizard's huge boots. We sat back on our haunches and looked up into his eyes—for in his current position with his head pressed forward into his hands, he was looking right down at his own enormous feet. He couldn't help but notice us—and indeed, his brows shot up, and his eyes widened as he focused on us.
As he sat up and stared right at us, one of us—the Bravest Mouse of the House of Elrond, who doesn't have a name, since none of us have names—spoke. We had a feeling, you see, that he would understand.
"You must snap out of this mood you're in, Mithrandir," the Mouse said.
"I beg your pardon…!" the Wizard replied, with some of the characteristic testiness we had witnessed in him during previous visits to Lord Elrond's House.
"No need to beg," the Brave Mouse said. "Pardon granted. But we've been listening and watching, and we've got some things to say… We've got some… well, some advice for you, you see…"
That got his attention. Now he leaned forward again, and the fierce look on his face was rather frightening. Two of us made a dash for the little crevice in the wall on the opposite side of the room, but the Bravest Mouse stood his ground and stared back at the Wizard.
"Advice, you say?" Mithrandir snarled. "And who are you, that you would give advice to me… to a Wizard… to an Istar… to… to…" All the while, the Bravest Mouse just sat there and met his horribly direct and intense gaze, and waited while the Wizard seemed to lose track of his indignation. He sputtered and stammered, and his words got farther and farther apart. Finally he sighed and tossed his hand in a vague gesture of defeat. "Go on… I can use all the advice I can get right now…I might as well take some from a mouse…"
"Well then," the Brave Mouse said, and as he started in again, the rest of us found our courage and crept back out of our hiding places, only this time a much larger number of us joined him on the floor in front of those massive boots. We made quite a crowd, jostling for the best position to see and hear, cheek by jowl, sitting up on our haunches side by side, front paws tucked in against our white bellies, tails curled delicately to one side or straight back or lying atop the tail of the next mouse, ears and noses and whiskers and shining black eyes all forward and at attention. Soon, most of the floor of the chamber was covered with several hundred mice, all out in the open… It was quite a sight, and we suspect the Wizard thought so too, for he was gaping at us with his mouth quite open. It was rather rude, to be honest. But he made up for it later.
"This is the thing, Mithrandir," the Brave Mouse said. "You've got to shake this habit of yours of blaming yourself for things you either didn't do at all, couldn't help, or were simply out of your control. It really isn't a wise idea, you know. It doesn't help you, or anyone else… And then another thing. You've got to start taking better care of yourself. Why you insist on going about pretending that you're well when you're as sick as a dried up toad is a mystery, and that's another habit that just makes things worse for you and everyone else, in the long run…"
We all nodded in unison at that, for it was clear to us that he had been pushing himself beyond the limits of any Mouse—or Man, or Wizard. At the sight of us all nodding together, we thought we must have been getting through to him, for he suddenly clapped one hand over his mouth, made a little snorting noise, and raised both his bushy eyebrows quite high. And then it occurred to us that he might be starting to laugh at us, and was trying very hard to hide it. And that made us rather uncomfortable, and we all started squeaking and stirring about and shifting from place to place on the floor, and if he'd been laughing before, he quickly stopped. The Bravest Mouse had more to say, however.
"And the last thing we'd like to say to you is this: you've got to start trusting that things are going to work out all right. Think about it, Master Mithrandir. There you were, locked up eleventy hundred miles from where you wanted to be, and this Frodo Baggins of yours got where he was supposed to be anyway. And yes, we know he's been hurt and is horribly sick and all that, and might not live through it, and that's terrible, and we're all very sad about it… but the reality is that he succeeded, didn't he? He got that Thing here, and It's safe, for now, and even if your Frodo dies, well, there are others, aren't there? Just like us, there are always more you can turn to if one of us disappears… You've got to learn to trust that things will be looked after… that even if you vanish or fall or die, that others will pick up the pieces and go on, because… well, that's what we do, whether we are Mice, or Men, or… Wizards."
Now the Wizard leaned forward again, and on his face was a curious and gentle smile. He drew in a breath to speak, but the Bravest Mouse wasn't quite finished yet.
"And this is really the last thing," the Bravest Mouse said, as he stretched his neck up and pointed his sharp nose up at the Wizard. "You should get some sleep, or you'll be worthless in the morning. And your small friend, Master Baggins, will most certainly be needing your help. We've had a peep at him, of course, and he even looks worse than you do. So go to bed, Mithrandir. We'll watch over things for you tonight. We always do, after all…"
We all gazed up at him as he spoke. And we must say, he made up for his previous boorish behavior quite quickly.
"My humble thanks to you… to all of you," he said with a series of polite nods in all our directions. "I deeply appreciate your sound advice… and am simply astonished at the depth of your knowledge and the breadth of your wisdom. Let it never be said that those who are small, or that others overlook, cannot yet do great things and make great contributions. And now I will gladly take your advice, and sleep, more soundly than I ever expected I would… and with a more hopeful heart than I dared believe could again be possible… Many thanks, my friends, and good night."
We waited until he had done what he said he would—for we knew how tricky this Wizard could be. He undressed, pulled a soft nightshirt over his head, settled himself beneath the covers, and was soon fast asleep. And then, and only then, did the hundreds of Mice who had gathered at his feet disperse, leaving only those few on guard who would have remained there through the night anyway, for these chambers were where they lived.
And that is the end of the Mice of Rivendell's part of the Chronicles of the Kelvar, and is the final chapter of this little book, for though other Four-Footed creatures participated in the great events that followed, including the Famous Bill The Pony, and that Horse of the Giant Ego, Shadowfax, as well as a number of Eagles, the Two-Foots who continued onward did a reasonably thorough job of recording what transpired. But in the future, remember that there are always others watching, and sometimes doing their part, however small, to change things for the better—and you would be wise not to forget them. For we are always with you, whether you notice us or not.
Author's notes on this chapter:
*Apodemus, the genus name for Old World mice, means "to go abroad" – and as usual, I shamelessly pilfer ideas from wherever I find them.
** I chose for simplicity's sake to keep my month and date calendars according to the Shire-Reckoning throughout this piece, particularly so that I could easily refer to the interesting web site, http://shire-reckoning.com/archive.html, for information about the Moon phases on various nights.
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.