Beyond the Sea

by Lothithil

West To East
Chapter 5
Back To Middle-earth

    Frodo had climbed to the crest of the mountain, lofty but benevolent, and he looked down toward the glowing land of Valinor.  For long minutes into hours he stood, gazing down.  His heart seemed to swell as he stood there and he felt something shifting inside himself.  The last tinges of remembered pain faded from him and the shredded sail of his soul filled with the Wind of the Valar, belling whole and unblemished.  The corners of his mind cleared of lingering darkness.  He breathed deeply of the clean mountain air, and the stars wheeled about him in the heavens, like one of old Gandalf's firework displays.

    He raised his face to the sky, and said in a loud clear voice. "Praise be to Iluvatar, and to the works of all his Valar!  I go now from this Blessed Realm, but always will I seek to return!  Farewell!"

    Finally Frodo turned and began to walk back down the path.  He had come here to say good-by to his home, before setting out to find Melyanna.  He would go again to the docks, and try to find a captain brave enough to attempt a crossing of the Sundering Sea to deliver him to Middle-earth.  He had tried before, and found none yet willing to believe the deed was possible.

    "The Sea is sundered," they all said.  "The straight path is closed.  The last ships have sailed."

    Frodo could not convince them, though they sympathized greatly at his plight, they refused to risk ship and crew.

    Frodo walked down the mountain path, resolute in his conviction.  He would go to Middle-earth; even in he had to swim the Sundering Sea!

    When he reached the shore of the Bay of Eldamar, he saw a small ship, not much more than a sloop, bobbing in the surf at the end of a ivory pier.  There was no one around.

    Frodo walked out onto the pier, and looked closely at the ship.  She was made of white wood, which gleamed with a pearl-essence.  Her sail was Elven-blue with a green leaf embroidered upon the snapping cloth.  A silver lantern hung on the mast, brilliant even in the sunlight.  It all seemed familiar, like a dream half-forgotten.  On the prow of the vessel was bound a wreath of small golden flowers.

    Frodo found himself stepping onto the craft, which bobbed gently under his slight weight.  Instantly, the sail filled with pastel wind, and tacked quickly away from the shore.  The waters gathered under the ship and lifted it above the white-capped waves, moving with a magnificent speed.  Frodo gripped the gunwales, not afraid but amazed, as the wide sea flashed beneath his keel.

    Drowsiness overcame him, and he lay down on the deck and slept, and the sky flashed above with the tract of the Sun and Moon like gold and silver ribbons rippling in the firmament.

    Frodo was seized by a dream.  He stood again upon a mountain peak in Valinor, and around him the Blossoms of Varda slowly moved, whispering to him in lovely voices words he could not understand.  But he seemed to know what they were saying, and he felt the light of the holy stars penetrate him, illuminating the darkest recesses of his soul.  The burning hole left by the Burden, now filled with the Light of the Two Trees, troubled him no more.  His wounds were fully healed; upon his shoulder there was only the faintest line of pale flesh.  Poison and despair were all removed from him.

    The light grew, and Frodo felt his sorrow at Bilbo's passing melt like ice.  His loneliness for Sam's companionship, a bittersweet ache, trickled away from him, and he laughed suddenly.  But deeper the light shown, back through lonely years to the one cold kernel of sadness lying like a stone in Frodo's heart.

    He stood suddenly beside the wide brown river Brandywine.  Tears were falling from his eyes as a wreath of flowers slipped from his numb fingers to be swallowed by the water.  Old grief at the loss of his parents rose up in him, was gilded by the Light, and slowly changed into sweet memories Frodo could never reach before, trapped under that stone of pain.  His mother's face, her scent, the comforting warmth of her arms; His father's merry laughter, his quiet pride in his son, his joy in teaching Frodo boating and riding, their long peaceful walks through Buckland and the Shire.

    Frodo felt love for his parents pouring out of him, and then back in, touched by Bilbo and many others he had known, loved, left behind or lost.  For a brief moment he felt as bright as one of the twinkling stars overhead.

    When Frodo woke the ship was nudging a sandy beach, listing drunkenly as the hull grated the shore.  He stepped out of the craft, and his feet sank into fine sand.  He found that he was upon a strange beach which gleaming beneath pulsing stars.  The sea moaned behind him.  A cold wind sighed over the tumbling waves, pulling at his hair and pushing around him, as if to encourage him to hurry onward. 

    He turned and bowed to the ship.  "Thank you," he said simply, feeling it was inadequate, but not knowing what else to do.  He shouldered his pack and climbed the scintillating dunes.  When he reached the top of the sandy hill, he turned to look back.  The sea spread out before him like a rippling carpet of granite-colored silk.  The sloop was gone, pulled back into the water by an arm of the tide.  The sun was rising over his right shoulder.

    Frodo set down his pack and opened it.  He had packed lightly, but had not forgotten his three treasures: his Dwarven-mail coat, a grey Elvish cloak, and a small glass philter.  He put on the mail-shirt under his embroidered tunic, and donned the cloak against the morning chill, fastening the jeweled brooch at his throat.  He slipped the sparkling glass into an inside pocket of his tunic.  He ate some food and took some water, then looked around.  He did not recognize the place at all, and there were no features visible to aid in discovering where in Middle-earth he might be.  Resigned and bemused, he shouldered his pack and chose a direction.

    He traveled Eastward once the Sun had risen enough to spare his eyes.  He crossed several small streams, and a larger one that nearly swept him back to the sea.  He followed this stream inland until he found a ford, and a beaten path that accessed it.  Here he sat down and sipped some more water.  There was no traffic, and no tracks of recent travelers.  After an hour's rest, he followed the eastward path.


    After many miles of walking he came to a large field, well-harrowed rows filled with summer corn.  As he walked past, he heard a child laughing.  The corn rustled nearby, and a small, furry object hurled out of the rows and smote Frodo square in the chest.  He was bowled over, and the tiny canine missile began to furiously lick his face and ears.

    Four young people rescued him.  A girl caught the puppy and her three brothers helped Frodo back to his feet.  The girl giggled as Frodo adjusted his clothes, and the boys dusted him off and picked up his pack.  Children they were, but even the youngest was taller than Frodo.  They took his hands and led him to the farmhouse beyond the cornfield, ignoring his protests.  A strong-looking woman stood at the doorway, an apron tied around her thick waist, holding an infant on her hip.  She greeted Frodo courteously, then turned and demanded an explanation from her grinning children.

    In ten minutes Frodo was seated before the hearth with a deep bowl of vegetable soup before him, while the woman, the wife of the man who farmed the fields near the house, chattered and bustled about, cooking and cleaning, all the while hauling the solemn infant upon her hip.  She told him her husband was out, taking produce to the seaside village to trade for fish.  She was friendly, and asked Frodo polite questions, refilling his bowl and setting a loaf near his hand fresh from the oven.  When Frodo finished all he was given she asked him to stay for the evening meal, when her husband would return and she could fix him ‘something proper to eat'.

    "My lady, you have been far too generous already.  I should be on my way..." as he spoke these words, the older children came flooding back into the room, sitting at Frodo's feet and begging for a story.  He looked into their large eyes, full of wonder and interest, and he could not refuse.  He took the babe from the farmwife's arms and sat down and began to tell stories.

    When Frodo reached the top of the hill, he turned back and waved to the children.  Then he continued, down and out of sight, heading toward a line of short trees that marked the cart-trail.  The morning was bright and fine.

    He resettled the now heavy pack against his back.  The farmwife had been very generous, providing him with food for many days, as well as such gear as she had to spare.  Her husband had directed him to travel along the cart-trail until he reached a wide river, then to follow that upstream.  This was to lead him to a sizable village, where he might find more provisions and some news.

    The farmer called this land South Hill Country, but Frodo suspected that he was near the stubby peninsula of Andrast.  Travel east and up around the White Mountains would lead him to Minas Tirith, where he greatly desired to go, but it was many, many leagues.  If he could reach Edoras, he might be able to borrow a pony to ease the journey.  Still, Meduseld was far away.  But the of the King of Gondor might give him the answers he sought.  He thought of his Lady, then squared his shoulders and walked on.

    Morning wore away, and the sun grew warm and merry.  Frodo paused to remove his cloak, and rub his shoulder where the strap of his pack caused discomfort.  The tree line provided the road as promised, and the way was worn smooth from cart traffic.  He walked along beside the road on the thick grass, which delighted his feet.  The road showed signs of recent use, though he saw no other travelers that day.

    He rested that night some distance from the road, wrapped in a blanket provided by his generous farm-mistress, and warmed by a draught from the flask of Celeborn.  He slept soundly, with sharp clear dreams of the Elf-lands filling his head.

    He woke in the morning to the sounds of hoof beats, falling slow and steadily, and the creak of cartwheels.  He peeped through the gorse bushes to see three large wains trundling up his road, laden with covered goods.  Each waggon was drawn by four horses, bigger that Frodo had ever seen before.  Their coats were shaggy, and they stood so high that Frodo could easily have walked between their legs without ducking his head.  He marveled at them, and as they passed, one team seemed to sense him nearby, for they neighed like trumpets and halted.

    The sleepy driver became alert instantly.  A crossbow, cocked and bolted, came up from where it had lay hid beneath the driver's coattail.  Frodo ducked as the shaft whistled through the copse where he had been standing.  He crawled hastily away and hid beneath the undergrowth.  He heard the protest of horses as they were drawn up to a halt.

    "What are ye shootin' at now, 'Arry?  Fancy squirrel for luncheon?" The two other drivers laughed, as Harry climbed down to look into the bushes.

    "Shut up yer jabberin' there, you two!  There's sommat lying up in this bush.  Maybe a highwayman.  I know'd I hit him, could not have missed at that distance."

    "Where is he, then?  There's your bolt, stuck through yon tree like a peg for a jacket.  Or maybe 'twas the tree that is the robber?"

    "Oi, could have been a dozen men beyond that bush, and ol' 'Arry couldn't have hit a one," exclaimed the other driver.  They both continued to laugh at their companion's expense, as he beat the bushes and swore colorfully.

    Frodo lay completely still, though the man shook the bushes right over where he lay hidden.  The man gave up his search to round on his companions, and they moved off together to tend their horses, haranguing each other in a friendly fashion.

    Frodo was struck by an idea as he watched the waggoneers.  The driver of the last cart, a merry fellow with thinning red hair and a ruddy face, had moved away from his waggon to jest with Harry about his twitchy trigger finger.  The horses were busy in their nose-bags, so Frodo took the opportunity to climb up the huge cartwheel and conceal himself under the tarp.  He settled down between a cask and a sack of potatoes, and waited. 

    Soon the waggon bounced as the driver climbed aboard, and Frodo heard him cluck at the horses, felt the whole waggon lurch as they began to move.  Frodo congratulated himself on finding a ride, and settled down to doze.

    His comfort was not long lasting, for it quickly grew hot and stuffy beneath the covering, and Frodo was forced to wriggle carefully toward the back of the waggon, where he lifted the corner of the tarp to smell the sweeter air.  No one followed on the road, so he stayed there, bounced roughly about, but soon lulled into a drowse by the warmth of the sun and the rhythm of the cartwheels.

    Cooler air wafting in his face woke Frodo, and he opened his eyes to darkling evening.  The carts still rolled along, but he could hear the men arguing about stopping to camp.  Harry, who was apparently the senior waggoneer, wanted to keep moving until they reached a preferred campsite that he knew.  Finch, the driver of the second waggon, wanted to stop now.  Frodo's driver, who's name was Jorj, was happily keeping the argument going, siding first with one man and then the other, as the two shouted at each other.  Frodo suppressed a chuckle at their companionly discourse.

    Harry finally lost the argument, or conceded, for the night was growing very dark indeed.  They steered their waggons off of the road a ways, into a thin band of trees.  They set about camp, tending the horses and building a fire.  The smell of the cooking made Frodo's stomach growl, but he remained still until he could plainly hear all the men some distance from his waggon.  Then he cautiously peeked out, and climbed down and hid himself in a thicket of juniper bushes.

    He had intended to travel on by night, but the sky was letting no light fall from star or moon, and Frodo felt very hungry, so he crept some distance away, until the voices were faint to his ears.  Then he ate some food from his pack, and drank from his water bottle.  He would need to refill it soon.

    Having slept the day away had not rested him much, for he was soon yawning.  But the clouds blew away with the breath of evening, and the stars shone brilliantly.  Frodo decided it was time to move on, and let his merry waggoneers rest, never knowing about their stowaway.  He had crawled out from under the bushes and stood up to shoulder his pack, when he saw a shadow moving steadily across a starlit gap in the trees.  He froze, and watched as other shadows crept along, at different speeds, all heading back toward the glow of the campfire.

    Alarmed, Frodo dropped his pack, stuck his fingers behind his teeth, and whistled long and loud.  Then he threw himself down behind a tree as several things happened at once.

    A crossbow bolt appeared quivering with a *thunk* in the tree Frodo was crouched behind; Several dark figures stood suddenly and rushed toward the camp; The horses cried out like trumpets, and the ground shook with the impact of their mighty hooves.  Shouted challenges rang out of the trees, and there came the sound of ringing steel.

    Greatly daring, Frodo lifted his head to peek around the bole of his tree.  He could see nothing, except the ruddy glow of the firelight, which blazed up mightily, and some shadows cast by the writhing flames.  He feared the waggons had been fired and not knowing what he could do to help, nevertheless he crept carefully back toward the camp.

    He got a glimpse of whirling swords, and he feared things were going ill for his chance companions.  Then he saw that they still stood, swords grasped in each hand, whirling and slashing at the dark-clothed shapes that harried them.  Frodo saw three die in as many breaths, and two others were cut down as they turned to flee.  One figure, crashing blindly through the bushes, charged right into Frodo before he could duck or dodge.  They impacted heavily, and Frodo went spinning into a tree, then fell stunned.  The man, if man it was, somersaulted into a thicket of bracken, where one of Harry's crossbow bolts found and stilled him forever.

    Frodo pulled himself up to his feet, and he swayed as if drunk against the tree.  His vision swam, and something was dripping wetly into his eyes.  He knew he must get under cover quickly, but his body disobeyed him, and he slid to the ground in a swoon.  He clung to awareness stubbornly, and heard the crashing approach of footsteps.

    "Yep, ye got him alright, 'Arry.  Right through the gizzard.  Filthy ‘obgoblin!"

    "Well, there was plenty that got away.  Let's get back to the camp.  Finch, go check the horses." A pair of footsteps crashed away.  Something solid connected with Frodo's leg, and he heard Jorg's voice exclaim.  "Who's this, then?"

    "Looks like a lad.  Probably a sneaking pinch thief, working with those bandits."

    "You forget that whistle.  Someone warned us of the attack.  I'd wager that this is our singing little bird."  Frodo felt himself picked up, and the movement made his head swim with giddiness.

    He drifted back into the world to find himself wrapped warmly by the built-up fire, and someone prodding the painful lump on his head.  He groaned and tried to turn his head away.

    "Stop that now!  You've a nasty gash there, and yer bleeding like a leaky wine barrel."  Harry's rough voice, somewhere beyond the red haze that filled his vision.  A hand pressed a cloth over the wound, and Frodo could not suppress a cry of pain.

    Footsteps returning.  "Has the bleeding stopped?" asked Jorg.

    "No, and he's writhing like an eel in a boat.  Did you find your weeds?"

    "Yes, but hold the bandage firm while I brew them.  Has he said anything?"

    "Just muttering nonsense.  Where's Finch?"

    "Here," a voice farther away, tense and wary.  "No sign of the filthy  villians."

    Frodo would really have liked to ask Harry to stop pressing quite so hard on his sore head, but his tongue would not cooperate.  He managed only a whimper.

    "Here, Harry.  Let me see...oh, still bleeding.  Get me another cloth, and hand me that water bottle."  Slosh of liquid, and something cold and wet blotted gently across his brow.  Then warm fragrant herbs were carefully applied to the cut.  Frodo sighed as the wholesome smell eased his pain and anxiety.  He lay quietly now as Jorj with gentle hands bound soft strips of cloth to hold the herbs in place.  He wanted to ask for a drink of water, but he couldn't frame the words.  A quiet voice was singing words that he could almost understand.

    "You should have become a leech, all those smelly weeds and rhyming gibberish."  Harry was as coarse as always, but there was grudging respect behind his words.  Many times Jorj's skills had save man and horse from lasting ill.  "At least he's settled down a bit."

    "What do you think he is?" asked Finch.  "He's like nothing I've ever seen.  I reckon he's a dwarf."

    "Naw, he hasn't a trace of a beard.  He is just a lad with big feet.  Probably a runaway, got tired of people makin' fun of him."

    "Well, I have never seen a dwarf without a beard, nor a child with big hairy feet.  And I have never seen either with ears like a sparrow's wings." Jorj voice seemed to be drifting away.

    Frodo felt the world slipping away again, but he didn't fight it this time.  He thought about the smell of the herbs, athalas, and about Aragorn, and settled into a quiet peaceful sleep.

East Of West
Chapter 6
Through Rohan Over Fen and Field

    When awareness was once again come to Frodo, he realized he was lying comfortably in a nest of raw wool in the back of a rolling waggon.  He lifted a hand to his head, and found a throbbing knot of pain there.  For a while he lay, rocking gently with the cart, until his pain began to grow and his mouth felt parched.  The sun was shining, but he felt cold.  He coughed and stirred weakly.

    The driver looked back and down, then reined in the horses, calling a loud "Hoy!" as he did so.  He spoke with Harry's voice, and leaned down so that his bushy beard nearly brushed Frodo's face.

    "What's that ye say, little bird?  Chirp up, so Harry can hear you."

    "Water...  please?"

    "Never touch the stuff, except to wash m' face.  Here comes Jorj with just the thing."

    Jorj came trotting up, and climbed into the waggon to kneel next to Frodo and help him hold the bottle.  Frodo drank long, but the water settled uncomfortably and he hiccoughed, then groaned and held his head.

    "Slowly there, now.  Don't drink too fast!  Harry, we must stop for a bit.  This waggon is knocking him about, and he ought to be lying still."

    "We can't stop here, Jorj.  There's no water and no fodder, and the village is still miles away.  If we can get on tonight, we can find him a place to rest up tomorrow."

    "He won't need one by then," Jorj retorted angrily, his hand held to Frodo's clammy brow.  "He's fevered, and he'll be dead before we see the lights of Hightown."

    "We can't stop here," repeated Harry stubbornly.

    "Then go on.  I'll stay with him, and come along behind when he's fit enough to travel."

    "And leave a waggon full of goods mouldering on the highway, for thieves to pick through after they've scattered yer bones!  Talk sense, man!"

    Jorj was persuaded, but only after Harry agreed to allow him enough time to change the dressing on Frodo's head, and rest the horses a bit.  Both Finch and Harry watched warily for highwaymen.

    Jorj built a small fire to stew the herbs.  Frodo asked for another drink.  He felt wobbly, but he didn't think he could eat anything yet.  He sighed again gratefully as Jorj pressed the fresh, fragrant leaves to his throbbing head.  He whispered his thanks, falling by reflex back into Elvish.  Jorj stared at him.

    "What is that you say?  I have never heard a tongue so sweet.  Is that the language of the Fae?"

    Frodo frowned slightly.  "I know not the word 'Fae'.  No, my people speak Westron, such as we are using now.  I also know the tongues of Elves."

    "Aye, 'tis Fae, just as I said before," exclaimed Finch, who had overheard.  "I told you that yon was no child.  Are you an Elf, little one?"

    "No, I am a hobbit, and my name is Frodo.  Perhaps you are more familiar with the term 'halfling'?"

    The men gazed at each other uneasily.  Jorj began to settle the bandages on Frodo's head.  "That is enough talk for now.  You ought to be resting quietly.  I am glad that your fever has gone away, but it will be back if you can't be allowed to rest quietly."

    This sparked another argument, but Frodo could tell that Jorj was as anxious to move on as his fellows were.  Frodo smiled weakly at him, and said "I think I feel much better now.  Will we be able to see the town, when we cross the next hill?"

    Jorg glanced at him; his eyes clearly displaying the fact that he saw through Frodo's little act, but he gave the hobbit a small smile.  "No, but beyond the next turn of the road, you can see the tips of the snowcapped mountains far to the North, where strange creatures live and trees are said to walk and talk."

    "Are we that close to Rohan?"  Frodo asked excitedly, unwisely raising his head too quickly.  Everything when black for a moment.  Jorj pressed him back down and frowned at him.

    "Easy!  Yes, beyond the village we are heading for, some ten or so leagues, the valley opens out onto the plains of Rohan where the Horse Lords run their herds.  We are bound eventually to Edoras, where we will trade some of our goods.  But if we get you as far as Hightown, I will find you a place to lie in healing, for such a journey is not for you."

    "But I was heading for Edoras.  Won't you allow me to accompany you?  I'm sure I'll be all right.  I was very comfortable in Master Harry's waggon.  I just needed a drink, and a small rest.  I have had both.  Can we not go on?"

    Lying back in the waggon, Frodo let his eyes close wearily.  The virtue of the herb drove away the dizziness and pain, and Frodo felt warm and comfortable, even with the occasional bouncing bump.  He fell asleep to the creaking wheels and the sound of Finch singing some reprehensible song.

    Waking again, but now wrapped in blanket and lying near a warm fire, Frodo sat up carefully and was pleased that he didn't fall over again.  He felt stronger, and ate all of the stewed meat and vegetables that Jorg gave him.  Jorg placed fresh bandages on Frodo's wound, and prompted him to lie down and sleep while he could, for tomorrow they would have a rougher road, climbing up the great hill toward the village.  Jorj still had his doubts, but Frodo's cut was healing well, and his eyes were clear.  The men watched in pairs, but not even a mouse came unmarked into their camp that night.

    Frodo felt quite himself the next day, and insisted on walking about a bit while the men broke camp and prepared to journey on.  The waggons were tightly covered, to avoid spilling with the jostling they were about to receive, and Jorj made a last plea to Harry to wait one more day.  Harry refused, pointing out Frodo's recovery and embellishing upon his desire to reach the village by nightfall.  They loaded up, Frodo riding with Jorj, "So I can keep an eye on him!" and they were away.

    Frodo watched the mountains grow black on the distant horizon, to be lost from sight with the rising and dipping of the road.  They were climbing steadily, on a path that wove and switched back along a great slope, rising higher and higher, until looking back Frodo could the road falling away like a stream of water trickling from a mountaintop.  They rested the horses briefly and frequently, and the air seemed to grow thinner and colder.  Frodo shivered, and Jorj quickly wrapped a blanket around him, urging him to sit closer and keep away the chill.  With the big Man's arm firmly around his shoulders, he dozed and dreamed that he was at sea, riding a bucking sailboat on violent water.

    Crackling fire.  Smell of smoke and spilled ale.  Soft voices talking near, becoming clearer.

    "'Halfling', he said.  You heard him say it."

    "Aye, and I'd hope not to let any of this crowd hear you say it, Finch!  There's no call to start rumors."

    "'Tis no rumor," hissed Finch, and Frodo thought his voice sounded angry and fearful.  "He said it, alike it was all we asked.    We aren't in Rohan yet, and I don't want to have no trouble."

    "And you won't, if you can keep your mouth shut.  He may be... something odd, but he saved our necks out there, and there will be no talk within my ears of..."

    The voices were lost suddenly in a swell of music, clumsily played, but loud and cheerful.  Frodo opened his eyes, and saw that they were in a great room, with a huge fire built right in the center of the hall.  They were seated along the wall, with Frodo wrapped in blankets lying near a smaller fire that warmed him and heated a great kettle of stew.  The smell made Frodo aware of his hunger, and he sat up, stretching and yawning.

    Silence at the table, Frodo saw his three traveling companions glance uneasily about.  He looked around, seeing nothing strange or frightening.  He folded the blanket in which he had been wrapped, lay it upon the bench, then climbed up to sit.  His chin barely cleared the scarred tabletop.  Jorg wordlessly passed him a mug of ale and a bowl of stew, for which he thanked him politely before he ate.  The trio watched him, drinking from their mugs and trying not to stare at the hobbit.

    The innkeeper came around with a pitcher to refill their mugs, his eyes lingering on the hobbit.  He topped off Frodo's mug, and Frodo thanked him.  The man blinked as if surprised.  He turned and ladled Frodo's bowl full of stew again, then brought over more bread and cheese.

    Frodo dispatched the food with the industry of a famished hobbit.  The beer was good, and found himself wishing for a pipefull of Old Toby.

    Harry cleared his throat uneasily, and said "Glad to see you feeling better, Master Frodo.  The boys and me are setting out tomorrow morning.  We hope that you'll understand... we can't take you with us."

    Frodo rose and bowed.  "I do understand, Waggonmaster.  I will be leaving tomorrow as well, but I plan to walk."  He rubbed his sore spots and grinned.  "Wheels and rutted roads leave a hobbit with a greater love for his feet."

    "You will stay here for a day or two, if you care at all about making it to Meduseld."  Jorj said.  "You are recovering more quickly than any I have seen take such a wound, but still I would have you rest."

    "Master Jorj, I have been in the hands of the finest healers in the land, and I can  honestly say you are skillful and wise.  I cannot thank you enough for my life.  But trust me, I do value it, and I will take such care as I am capable."  Frodo bowed again.

    "Well, at least take a good long sleep tonight."  Jorj rose and led Frodo up a flight of stairs into a large barracks.  He pointed out a bunk, beneath which Frodo saw his pack had been stowed.  He climbed into the bed and settled at once into sleep.

    Jorg sat near, watching him dreaming.  He hated to go on tomorrow without the hobbit, such was the affection that had grown in him.  He searched through his belt pouch, and placed a small bag of herbs and a few small coins into Frodo's pack.  He stood gazing at him for a moment more, then turned and left the room.

    When Frodo prepared the next day to set off, he found that his pack was much heavier than he remembered.  He opened it, and found Jorj's gift, and also a wineskin he recognized as being the one that Finch had carried.  A soft leather purse with several valuable coins jingling in it must have been left by Harry.  Frodo sighed, knowing the goodness in the hearts of those men, pleased that their paths had crossed, however briefly and strange the circumstances.

    He tried to pay the landlord, who refused his money, saying that the bill was already settled and that he had promised to see Frodo eat a good meal before letting him depart.  This entreaty Frodo obeyed, and afterward set out in late morning, pack hefted upon his back and the sun glowing warmly down; he headed into Her arms.

    The road twisted down from the mountain pass, and Frodo followed it doggedly, until it leveled and swung wide out through a broad valley.  Frodo could see the road for miles as it sped about, seeking the best path for waggon and cart.  But his trusty feet he directed straight toward the mountains rising in the blue distance, cutting through an occasional stream and thicket.  The road came sweeping back to cross his path now and again, but Frodo ignored it, relishing the gentle wildness of the highlands.

    He camped in the open, under a fine canopy of stars.  He took some food and made a tea with Jorj's herbs to drive away the ache from his half-healed wound.  The draught made him drowsy and he curled up beneath his blanket and went to sleep.  He woke once in the night to distant thunder, though the sky was still clear.  He slept again then, hearing the rumbling in his dreams, feeling it distantly through the soft ground.

    The next few days were kind to Frodo; he traveled slowly, savoring the journey.  His life in the Blessed Realm had been idyllic and peaceful, but Frodo saw why the Elves had been so reluctant to leave Middle-earth, and why they pined for the trees and mountains still.  He breathed the air as if taking a feast, and he often stopped to taste from streamlets and smell the lovely, nameless flowers.

    One day while he walked along, the road swung back to pace him, and after a time he heard the rumbling thunderous noise again.  His path, and the road, led up a slope between two low hills, then down, Frodo presumed, in to the plains of Rohan.  His calculations proved correct when topping the hill, he was greeted by the sight of the wide land opening up before him.  Far off to the left, a great river twinkled, though distance made it look a mere string of silver.  The Isen, Frodo guessed.  To his right, the mountains of Ered Nimras marched solemnly eastward.  Dead ahead, shrunken by distance, but still majestic and forbidding, the tail end of the Misty Mountains rose like thunderclouds beyond the sea of grass that was Rohan.  Frodo sat down and ate a bit, drinking the view with Finch's wine.  Then set off down the slope,  angling toward the grasses to the right in order to follow the mountains to Edoras.

    Now he began to see homes, cots of sod and stone, and then houses of wood.  Herds of sheep and horses dotted the flat land, and there and here lay furrowed rows planted with corn and wheat.  Frodo was greeted by herdsman and farmer as he walked along.  Toward evening he encountered a man walking with bent back beneath a load of firewood he must have walked far to gather.  Frodo helped him carry his burden, and the man rewarded him with a hot meal and a fire to sleep beside.  Frodo bid his new friend goodbye the next morning after a fair breakfast.  The man's name was Pelgin.

    The people of Rohan did not stare or murmur when they saw Frodo, for they were better acquainted with the folk of the Shire than the hill men south of Ered Namrais.  He was warmly greeted, generously treated, and at worst, unaccosted.

    One clear evening, when the Sun's light was flowing over the plains before She set, Frodo caught a glimpse of a shining golden glimmer in the middle distance ahead.  A warm evening haze prevented Frodo from seeing where the road ended, but he knew from the map engraved in his memory that he was very near Edoras.  He walked on, long after the Sun surrendered to moonlight, and finally growing weary he lay himself down at the foot of a small mound.

    Thunder and quaking earth woke him, and he froze in confused terror as huge dark shapes hurled past him, churning up great clouds of dust.  Caught amid a stampede of the mighty horses of Rohan, Frodo could only huddle down and pray that the Valar would guide them around him.

    By Their Grace, Frodo was spared trampling, and as the herd moved rapidly away, he shuddered in relief and stood to dust himself off.  He turned around and found a bright spear poised a hand's breadth from his nose.  He held still as stone.

    "Who are you, and what is your business in Rohan?"  The question was asked in common tongue, but hesitantly spoken, as though the man was unsure of the language, or used it rarely.

    "I am Frodo son of Drogo of the Shire, and I come with greetings to the House of Eorl from the family of Baggins,"  Frodo answered in the language of the Rohirrim.  Frodo dared not bow or salute, for the spear point seemed trained upon his left eye. He could not see the man's face by the weak moon, but starlight glittered off of his armor and the braided mane of his steed.

    The man dismounted, swinging the spear upward in a flourished salute.  "Hail, Friend of Rohan!  Forgive my harsh words.  You are Holbytlan, I now see.  Welcome!  Why are you wandering the meadows amid the running herds?  This is not a safe place for a footman."

    Frodo laughed, and bowed low to the Rider.  "Forgive me for trespassing, my good Rider.  I had not realized how close I was to Edoras, for I have walked far past sunset, and was lingering in the golden dreams of the fair plains."

    "I am riding now to Edoras, following the herd, which is leaving me far behind.  Will you come with me?  I will see you breaking fast in the Great Hall of Eorl before I seek my berth.  I am called Kunin, Rider of the Mark."

    "I will come with you, Kunin.  Great though the horses of Rohan are, I have no wish to see them all tonight, particularly from under hoof!" Frodo permitted Kunin to lift him into the saddle, and they rode swiftly to catch up the herd.

    Frodo marveled at the speed and beauty of the horses, and their great strength and will.  If only, he thought idly, he possessed the stature to ride such a beast, the whole of Middle-earth would be but a wind-filled journey.  He stroked the proud neck of the horse bearing them, and then watched the star-crowned hills sweep by.

    It seemed mere moments passed, and they were at the outskirts of the city of Edoras.  Kunin shouted and cut the horse back and forth, steering the herd toward a fenced enclosure.  Frodo clung to the horses mane, his heart thudding with excitement.  Kunin hailed the other riders, then spoke to Frodo.  "I will take you now to the Hall."

    "Wait, good Kunin!  You are tired after your night's work, and I am weary beyond speech.  Can we not first rest, and perhaps go to the Great Hall in readiness.  I fear that I am not properly attired for greeting a King."

    "Were you clothed in rags, and giftless, the King of Rohan would take you," spoke Kunin.  "But I confess, I would enjoy seeing my wife and children.  I have been long away, tending the herds in the North.  I will take you home to meet them, and there rest you before going to the King."

    In the home of Kunin Frodo found food and rest, and Kunin's wife Maya made much of him.  And while he slept she had his garments cleaned and aired, so that when they went up into the city to the great Hall of Meduseld, Frodo looked very much like a prince of Halflings, in Elven-silk and grey cloak.

    Climbing the steps to the Hall, Frodo said to his friend, "Already I have seen the riches of Rohan, before even I set foot inside the golden hall.  Your family is beautiful."

    Kunin thrust out his chest with pride, and he led Frodo forward to the great doors.  There men stood, and when Frodo came within a measure, they turned their sword hilts toward him in a salute of peace.  The door was opened, and they were led inside, for it seemed word had arrived before them.

    The Hall had changed little since Frodo had last seen it.  He paused before the tapestry of Eorl, and looked upon it with reverence.

    The King rose and came down the steps of his dais to greet Frodo warmly.  Tall and fair as all the line of Eorl, King Elfwine appeared to Frodo close in resemblance to his father Eomer.  His face was tanned and smiling, and there was a light in his face that spoke of his mother's blood, a daughter of the people of Amroth.  Frodo bowed low, hand upon his breast, and the King said. "Hail, greatheart of the Shire!  I welcome you to the Hall of Eorl.  I would have prepared a grand reception, had I known sooner that you were come hither."  King Elfwine placed his hands upon Frodo's head and uttered a blessing.

    "You honor this Hall, Master Baggins!  Songs are still sung of Frodo of the Nine Fingers, and Meriadoc the Magnificent is still remembered here.  You must be proud of your great ancestors, and proud also to be the bearer of his name."

    Frodo was glad that his right hand was casually concealed in a fold of his cloak.  "Proud indeed, yet more proud am I to be here before so great a King, among such fine and excellent people."  He felt somewhat uncomfortable at allowing Elfwine to be deceived, but the moment of revelation had not yet arrived.

    A woman clad in russet and ivory handed the King a golden cup.  She spoke, "Drink now the cup of welcome.  Hail, Master Holbytla!  Drink you from the cup of Elfwine, and be welcome in Rohan."

    "Gladly will I drink, Lady."  Frodo took the cup, and he saw that the Lady was fair, and was with child.

    "My queen, the Lady Rian." 

    She smiled upon Frodo with great warmth.  "Much do I begrudge Kunin's lady the gift of your welcome.  I jest!  You could find no finer hall, though it be filled with gold and silver.  Kunin is my kinsman, and I love him much," and she embraced the Rider.    "Your kinsman and his family have provided me with great comfort, and I am glad to come before this magnificent assembly."

    "Well spoken," said Elfwine.  "Come and sit with me, and let us talk.  The day is young, and no appointments shall interrupt us, for a while.  There is much I would discuss with you."

    Frodo sat next to the King, and the court withdrew to leave them.  Elfwine insisted that while they were in private speech Frodo should call him by no other title than his name.  Frodo was thinking what should be spoken of and what should remain unsaid.  He had not yet considered that his errand was quite bizarre, and might be strangely received.  But King Elfwine appeared as man learned and wise, and Frodo decided to speak plainly when the King asked him his errand and whither he journeyed.

    Elfwine listened quietly as Frodo unfolded his strange tale.  His eyes contained strong emotion and wonder, and as he heard Frodo's words, he seemed as a student sitting avidly listening to his tutor's lesson.

    "Great wonder of the worlds," Elfwine exclaimed after Frodo finished.  "I thought you named after the great hero of the Third Age, but now I see the marks upon you, and I doubt not your words.  Hail, Ring-bearer!" the king knelt before him.

    "Please!" called Frodo, "Do not bow, I pray. And if I am to call you Elfwine, then give me no grand title.   I am he, yet I do not feel the need for such salutes.  The freedom that you and your people enjoy is all the reward I desire.  To walk in your fair land is all that I ask, and I pursue only the goal of my heart; to find tidings of my Lady.  You must not make too much of me," Frodo laughed, gesturing to himself with a diffident wave.  "I am merely a hobbit, and hardly the image of valor."

    "You are modest and true, and I will answer what prayers of yours that I can.  You shall travel freely in Rohan, and with as much comfort as you will accept.  Can I provide an escort?"

    "I could not impose upon your generosity..."

    "Nonsense.  I send messages to Mundburg frequently.  As a matter of fact, in a few days time I send to the King of Gondor a herd of trained horses, to bear his guard.  You could travel with them, if you choose.  Rather than let you walk lonely, I would give you such company that you at least will not want for talk."

    "You are kind and practical, Elfwine.  But ask first the rider who would have to endure me as a burden.  He might not feel so generous, even upon the King's request."

    "That will not be a problem, I think," and the King's eyes gleamed with amusement.  "And now, I think we shall have a walk.  Have you seen the paddocks?  We have many fine horses in the city.  Come and see them."

    Frodo rose and walked with the King.  "I saw many of them last night, sire, and though I am most impressed, may I not see them from such a vantage again!"

    The King chuckled.  "I heard the report.  One can only laugh at his own folly.  But see there, I will guess that you have never seen such beasts as these!"

    Frodo gaped, for before them in a corral ran many fair horses, though they seemed not much larger than the ponies of the Shire that hobbits favored.  Sleek and frisky, they ran about, tossing manes proudly and nickering.  As the great steeds of Men they looked, but half the size.

    One horse came trotting up, and upon his back sat a hobbit.  He was dressed in the fashion of Rohan, but for his feet, which were of course shoeless.  Even as the men of Rohan, his hair was yellow like straw.  He saluted his liege, then dismounted.  He walked up to Frodo with wonder in his face.  When he spoke, the sound of his voice stirred memories in Frodo's heart.

    "Hail, King Elfwine!  Hail, kinsman!  What brings you to the Mark?"

    "This worthy Rider is Faradoc, Holdwine of the Mark.  He came to serve as Squire to Rohan, as has become tradition among the descendents of Meriadoc the Magnificent.  But not long was he here before he earned the rank of Rider, for he is valiant and true, and possesses much skill with horses.

    "Faradoc, this is Frodo," he said simply.

    Faradoc gazed at Frodo, his eyes taking in his scarred hand and elvish garb.  A gleam as hard as iron lit in his eyes, and he bowed slowly.  "I know the grandchildren of Samwise Gardener.  I was raised hearing the stories of adventure and valor of the Travelers.  But I was told that even great legends must pass away.  I am amazed beyond belief."

    "I understand perfectly, and would not burden you with the necessity of belief."  Frodo bowed in return.  "Powers, for which I can provide no explanation, are responsible for my presence here.  I bear no burden or geas, and seek no binding or recognition.  I came to this place only to greet the King, kinsman of one whom I respected, and to ask the favor of conveyance."

    The hobbit blinked a bit at Frodo's matter-of-fact speech, and he looked at him wordless for a moment.  Frodo noticed how much he resembled Meriadoc, even beneath all that flaxen hair.

    "Good Holdwine, I accept that Frodo is here and in need of my help.  Can we fit him with a mount suitable for his stature and needs?"

    Faradoc bowed to his King, and a smile of possessive pride lit his lips.  "Aye, My Lord.  Half a moment."  He entered the stable, then returned after a few moments leading four horses.

    Each was a perfect miniature of the mighty horses of Rohan.  One was a black as soot, with dainty gleaming white socks, tail and mane.  Another was chestnut red, with tail and mane of cream.  The third was paint, with patches of brown on white, and appeared to be a twin of Faradoc's own mount.  The last was ash grey, the longer hair darker and fine as silk, with flanks mottled with a pattern of spots.  It, or rather he, walked up to Frodo expectantly, nuzzling his idle hand as if seeking a treat.

    "Choose from these, the finest and best trained among all the herd."  Faradoc sounded very proud.  "I have myself gentled each to saddle and rein, and you will find them sweet-tempered and loyal."

    The grey horse put his nose in Frodo's ear, and Frodo laughed, stroking his head and neck.  "I think that the choice has been made."

    "That one I call Gandalf," Faradoc seemed somewhat embarrassed.  "Because, you know, he's grey..."

    "I will call him Ol'orin, for I think that Gandalf would not mind.  He is beautiful."

    "We will provide tack and harness..."

    "I need none."  Frodo spoke a word in Ol'orin's ear, and the horse stood still as Frodo leapt upon his back.  The little horse moved about at Frodo's spoken commands, without use of rein or spur.  "There are many benefits to spending time with Elves."  Frodo explained to his astonished audience.  He rode about the paddock fence, delighting in the power and energy of his new friend's canter.

    "I am pleased that you have found a mount that you like.  I make a gift of him to you, Frodo.  May he bear you well and to good fortune."

    Frodo dismounted, bowing low to the King, and staggered a bit as Ol'orin playfully butted him with his nose.  "Thank you, King Elfwine!  The wisdom and kindness of your sires speaks plainly in you."

    "Faradoc, settle our friends and come up to the hall for dinner.  I wish to sent our guest on his way with many favorable memories of the hall of Eorl and the folk of the Mark."  The King escorted Frodo back up to the Golden Hall.


    Before Frodo set out on his journey to Minas Tirith, Elfwine called him to him for a final private word.  He advised Frodo that his extraordinary tale might not carry easily to all who might hear.

    "I doubt not that Prince Eldarion will hear you as I have, for we have been of like minds, having spent much time together in youth.  But wayfarers you meet, while doubtless some will be wise as kings, others may see through closed eyes." The king seemed quite grim and earnest, and he persuaded Frodo to offer a traveling name to casual wayfarers.  Frodo went forth under the name of Elvellon, for few now spoke the elven-tongues, save kings and scholars.

    Frodo stayed in Edoras almost a week, though he did not rue the delay.  Elfwine had frowned mightily when Frodo politely refused his gift of a fine saddle and harness for Ol'orin.

    "It is unnecessary, my King.  I will ride Elf-fashion, with neither rein nor stirrup."

    "Bareback is fine for short distances, and although you are slight of weight, nevertheless it will be hard wear upon the steed.  Let us meet in compromise."

    The King ordered made a thin seat of soft leather, which fastened about Ol'orin's withers with soft silken cords and web-like ropes that buckled loosely between forelegs and under his belly.  Frodo could cast it lightly upon him like a fish-net, and rig it easily.  In true kingly fashion, he had the craftsmaster decorate the items with a stylized design of horses running through sea-foam.  His Lady Rian embroidered the headstall herself. 

    And Frodo was given a finely made haversack with padded shoulder straps and a cleverly wrought horn on a leather baldric from his friend Kunin's family.  He visited them one last time before he departed, and played a game with the children, running and rolling in the grass in laughter.  Loath he was to leave, for in this short time he had made dear friends.  He waved to them as he rode away at the head of a great herd of horses, led and flanked by a Eored.  He bade farewell also to Faradoc, who came see him off and pressed into his hands another gift, a wooden pipe and a pouch of leaf, the scent of which reminded Frodo of Lithe in the Southfarthing.

    "Old Toby!  My dear fellow, thank you!"

    "Ride safely, Ring-bearer, and ride back to our welcome."  The words were said with even dignity, but tears ran down the hobbit's face, and Frodo dismounted to embrace his kinsman.