Beyond the Sea

by Lothithil

East Of West
Chapter 7
The Dark Forest and The White City

    Frodo stood upon the white marble steps which led up in a lazy spiral to the Citadel of the King of Gondor.  But he did not climb.  He sat upon a bench and put his chin in his hands and pondered the strangeness of the journey he had just endured, from Edoras to Minas Tirith.  Invisible hands were indeed shaping his path, and still he still was no closer to finding Melyanna.

    He had set out with the Riders of the Mark, who were delivering a phalanx of horses to the King of Gondor, for the use of his guard.  One hundred fair horses, led upon tethers by an Eored, accompanied Frodo, or rather he accompanied them.  They had also two waggons bearing gear and tackle, and tents and supplies.  They followed the East Road.

    Frodo rode in contentment, happily engaging one rider or another in conversation, in common tongue or Rohirrim, as the rider preferred.  Frodo enjoyed their rough humor, very much like that of his own kind.  However, their speech was courteous, at least to Frodo.  Sometimes they rode singing their strong songs, which spoke mostly of seas of grass and great battles past.  Frodo itched for parchment and quill, to write down the songs he learned.

    The men were cheerful and easygoing, yet Frodo soon noticed also that their watchfulness increased as they left the golden-green plains behind, and entered lands of hills of stone and scattered trees.  When these trees and stones closed about them, or when in the night all the world sang of sleep, the men were most alert and vigilant.

    "What is it that you watch for?"  asked Frodo one evening, to a rider named Himlad.  They were relaxing and stretching their legs after a long day of riding through rough hills.  "We have encountered no bandits, such as King Elfwine spoke of, and no fell beasts or men."

    Himlad grinned around the stem of grass he chewed, and said, "With so many men few would dare to accost us, yet vigilance must be maintained, against the foolish or desperate."

    Foolish indeed would be any who assailed these men, said Frodo to himself.  He watched with amusement and interest when two men stripped to their waists and wrestled, to the cheering and wagering of the other riders.  Sometimes this was done to settle the odd disagreement that cropped up between a man and his brother.  But most often it was just for exercise and entertainment.

    The ride took them slowly through the land of Eastfold, while the White Mountains marched endlessly upon their right.  Frodo recalled their names as he rode by, and one day he paused in wonder as he realized that they were riding through the eaves of the Firien Woods, beneath the shadow of one of the beacons of Gondor, which stood waiting, until need woke it to flame.  Ancient stone piled upon the height of the hill, strong-looking and well-maintained.  The Lord of the Mark kept well the oath of his fathers.

    That night they camped beneath the eaves of the Whispering Woods.  The horses were herded for fodder, and the men not on guard collected about the evening fire to sing tales.

    Frodo was preparing to join them, but he wanted to finish grooming Ol'orin first.  The petite stallion held very still as Frodo brushed his coat and mane until they shone.  Before he could finish smoothing his flowing tail, the little horse started at a noise behind them, like a dry branch snapping.

    Men with masks came leaping out of the trees, surrounding the camp.  Frodo called out, and was caught in the strong arms of one man, who lifted him off of the ground.  He laughed, and said in a harsh voice, "Where are you off to, my lad...?"  He dropped Frodo and sank to the ground, clutching his abdomen.

    Frodo scrambled to his feet, to be caught again by another man, who cruelly twisted his arm behind his back.  Ol'orin dispatched him with a solid head-butt.  Frodo climbed upon his back quickly, and he dashed out of the trees.

    Frodo lifted Kunin's gift to his lips, and let cry the Horn Call of Buckland.  The Riders returned from the pasture to aid their brothers.  Now outnumbered, the bandits fled, melting back into the trees.

    Himlad called to Frodo after the last of the fighting ceased.  "Well given is the gift of Kunin!  You have saved the day, Master Holbytla.  We should give you a shift upon the watch, for your eyes are very keen to have seen shadows in the dark"

    "Nay, my good rider.  I was caught like a hare in a trap, and but for Ol'orin and the valiant Riders of the Mark,  I would be still!  Are there many hurt?"

    A few Riders were lightly wounded, but none so badly that they would turn back or stop.  The Riders brought the horses into the camp, and rode about in an endless moving circle in shifts, until the sun rose.  Then they moved on, following a clear road through the trees, and soon the Riders were back to normal, jesting and singing, and watching carefully.

    Frodo shook off his own alarm and his spirits rose again.  They began to pass among rounded hills, and the rode wove about.  Many Riders went ahead and to each side and they rode on without further interference.

    Frodo saw ahead a tall standing stone on the side of the road.  It called to his memory a song he had once sang with his fellow Travelers, long ago as they walked through the Shire.

    A sudden tree or standing stone
    That none have seen but we alone

    He paused, and looked at the stone for a long moment.  The other riders moved on, but Himlad halted next to Frodo.

    "What is the matter, Master Elvellon?"

    "Nothing.  I only want to explore.  Will we be halting for midday meal soon?"

    Himlad squinted up at the sun.  "Aye, high time, I'd say, by the rumbling in my belly.  Go ahead, Master.  We will be camped just up the road by the stream.  But keep handy that horn, if you should find trouble."

    After Himlad rode on, Frodo turned back to the stone.  He didn't quite understand the feeling that compelled him, but he was learning to trust his instincts on this strange journey.  He dismounted, and walked around the stone.  It had no engravings, nor carven marks of any kind.  Frodo looked past, and the ground seemed impassably rough, right up to a thick screen of woven tree branches that formed a wall of greenery along the road.  He turned to walk on, but his feet kicked loose a pebble, and it rolled smoothly to the tree-wall and disappeared beneath.

    Frodo walked to the place where the stone vanished.  The ground was not as rough as it had appeared, and when he peered through the trees, he saw that beyond a thin veil of leaves a path wound up onto the hill.  Calling to Ol'orin, they pushed through the leaves, then Frodo remounted and rode up the hill, where more standing stones marked the faint path.

    Beyond the leafy wall the ground sloped gently up, studded with trees and thick growth.  A slight path led upward, winding, accented by occasional monolithic stones.  The ride was easy, and Ol'orin took the path smoothly as if he had trod it many times.  All around them the world seemed suspended, as if between breaths.  Not fear of danger, but reverence was the feeling; it was as if all the trees and grasses, and all the creatures of the woods remained respectfully quiet.

    The further they went, horse and hobbit, the clearer the path appeared.  Soon they were led to a wide clearing, just below the crest of the hill where the beacon stood.  Frodo dismounted and took a seat on a low stone while Ol'orin cropped the grass hungrily;  the little stallion had an even more voracious appetite than the most famished hobbit.  Frodo ate some rations from his own pack, resting in the cool clearing, while the sun hung at zenith, shortening all the shadows.

    After a short rest, Frodo rose and headed back down the trail, calling to Ol'orin to come.  The little horse did not move.  He nickered at Frodo, pawing the ground with his dainty hooves.  Frodo walked back to him, calling him to come, but the horse walked away, the first time he had ever disobeyed Frodo's wishes.  He refused a third call, but neighed, and lowered his head and tugged at the grasses and vines that covered over the stone where Frodo had taken his luncheon.  He raised his head and neighed again.

    Curious, Frodo went to the stone, and pushed back the tough growth.  The stone was of black rock, and once Frodo had cleared away the moss and dead grass, he could see three Elvish runes carved upon the surface.  "lambe ando lambe."

    Stunned, Frodo sank down to the ground.  "The tomb of Elendil the Elf-friend?  Upon the Amon Anwar."  He sat there in reverence, recalling all that he had learned of that most famous Man who had befriended Gil-Galad and joined forces with that mighty King to defeat Sauron a long age ago.  Here his heir Isildur placed a simple monument to mark his father's place of rest, and then keep it secret from any who would defile it.

    A distant horn-call, and Frodo came back to himself.  They were looking for him!  Hours he had lingered.  He bowed respectfully to the tomb, and led the now willing Ol'orin away, mounting once beyond the glade, and riding quickly down the hill.

    He had just come out of the leafy barrier when down the road, his friend Himlad appeared, riding hard.  "There you are, Master Frodo!  Our noon meal is long past, and the company moves on.  I came back to seek you.  Were you waylaid?"

    "Nay, good Himlad, I got lost!  Thank goodness for your horn-cry!  I heard it and found my way back to the path.  Forgive me for holding you up."

    "Not at all, but next time perhaps you should take a Rider or two along.  I worry that those desperate fools might come back."

    The Eored moved on, and Frodo spent long hours riding in deep thought.   Gondor waited at the end of this ride, and Minas Tirith with all its renewed splendor.  King Elfwine had spoken of Prince Eldarion, but not of King Elessar.   Would Frodo find his old friend there?  What other wonders were there for him to find?  What new friends would he meet?  Would the sons of Peregrin still be performing errandry, as he started the tradition, even as Merry's descendants served the King of the Mark?  He rode on with a lighter heart, accompanied by these thoughts.

    The road led on, past mountain and valley.  At the Druadan Forest they turned Northward to skirt the trees, that land being promised to the Dark men by the King Elessar for their assistance to Theoden in coming to a timely arrival to the aid of Minas Tirith.  No man could set foot in those woods and lands, except those who maintained the watchtowers.  They camped that night on the Northern edge of the forest.  While preparing for sleep, Frodo heard the rhythmic drumming of the Dark Men.  He listened to the stirring beat, and it lulled him to dreams.

    Frodo sprang to his feet before he realized that he had been sleeping.  He heard the thunderous pounding of hooves, not drums!  And the screams of terrified horses!  They were galloping in every direction, pursued by shadowy figures wielding torches.  The Riders of the Mark were surrounded by many dark figures who harried them with spears and brands, and drove the maddened herd through the encircled defenders. 

    Before Frodo could cry out or lift his horn to his lips, rough hands seized him, and a foul-smelling sack or blanket was thrown over his head.  He was lifted by strong arms over a hard shoulder, carried for a time, then thrown down upon the ground.  He tore the cloth from over his head, gasping for air.

    He found himself surrounded by many men, but they were not proper men.  By the light of a few torches he could see that their skin was sickly hued grey and green, and their misshapen heads and bent limbs reminded Frodo of the orcs of Moria.

    Hobgoblins, the evil and treacherous work of the dark sorcerer, the late and unlamented  Saruman.  Unfortunately his deeds did not perish with him.  With no crazed wizard or dark lord to direct them, these misbegotten creatures scattered after the Last Battle, seeking dark lairs or empty lands.  But greed and hate drew them out, and they harried the good folk, stealing and slaying when desperation or hunger drove them to it.  They were hunted by the Kings' Men, Gondor and Rohan.

    Frodo stood upright, effecting haughty dignity (which he did not feel) and brushed dirt from his garments.  He stood in the center of a ring of squat, ugly half-men, and they made a wall around him of flesh and steel.  Frodo stared at them, refusing to beg or cower.  Oddly, he found that they would not meet his stare, and they flinched if he moved toward them, though the others would wave their spears or swords to keep him from escaping.  They feared him, he saw, but some greater fear kept them steady.

    Frodo remained still, not wishing to test the mettle of his Dwarven mail against so many blades.  The wondrous coat did not protect such vital things as heads and legs!

    One man-orc, larger than the others and fierce in mien, shuffled up to Frodo and brandished his scimitar, shaking it in Frodo's face and shouting in his abominable tongue.  With the swiftness of a striking snake, he dealt Frodo a back-handed blow with his horny fist.

    But Frodo was ready for this maneuver.  He easily ducked the swing, dodging past the prodding spears of the others, who began to hoot and gurgle with excitement, expecting sport.

    Frodo kept away from the circling brawler, neither backing down nor engaging him.  He would not give satisfaction to these foul creatures.  They closed around him, and Frodo was tripped with a spear haft by one of the onlookers.  The orc sprang upon him as he fell, snarling and bringing his foul sharp teeth close to Frodo's face.

    "ENOUGH!"  A shout scattered the leering group, and Frodo's assailant dropped him and cowered down, though he snarled still with fury and fear.  Frodo picked himself up and looked, for to his utter amazement a hobbit stood there before the groveling hobgoblins.

    Battle-scarred and travel-stained, the strange hobbit regarded the orklings with disgust.  He kicked them and slashed at them with a short whip of stiffened leather.  "I told you... NO SPORT!  Get up, you maggots!  Pick up those spears and get back in place!"  The hobbit looked at Frodo, and Frodo saw that one of his eyes was covered by a greasy patch of leather.  A fierce-looking scar ran up from his jaw and under the patch to disappear into his hairline.

    He looked Frodo up and down, then spat upon the ground.  He dug into a pocket and came out with a square of clean white cloth, which he tossed at Frodo.  He pointed at Frodo's left hand, where a long cut was oozing blood.  "Cover that!  The smell drives 'em mad."

    Frodo wound the handkerchief over the scratch, and the hobbit walked around him, surveying him with a proprietary air.  The goblin-men gathered around, holding their spears and watching the hobbit warily.  Frodo perceived their fear and hatred of this individual, and he wondered how a creature that stood a mere three feet tall could cow so many ruthless and violent cutthroats.  But fear him they did, and as he walked around Frodo, if he came close to any of the goblins, they backed away from him with much deference.

    "So, what have we here, lads?" the hobbit drawled, and his voice dripped with cruelty and bitterness.  "A little halfling prince," he continued, "wandering far from home.  We've been following you since before you left Hightown.  Almost lost you to that band of amateurs.  What will your family pay, princeling, to hear that you are alive?"  Frodo returned his gaze levelly, but offered no response.  "Too proud to speak, or too scared?  I know your name, Shire-rat!  What will your family pay for your ransom?"

    Frodo's persistent silence infuriated the hobbit-highwayman.  He strode up to Frodo and slashed with his crop across Frodo's breast.  Frodo endured the blow, unable to dodge for the spears of the orklings pressed to his back.  The stiffened leather cracked against his hidden mail, harmlessly.  He did not flinch and he did not speak.  The goblins squeaked and gurgled with amusement.

    Apparently this highway-captain was unused to such displays of defiance.  He stared at Frodo in wonder, then a gleam came into his eye.  "Proud and brave, just like his sire.  Maybe I should let the boys have their sport, to teach you when to be brave and when to be wise.  DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM??"  the hobbit shouted, turning to stamp a few paces away, then back in close to Frodo, his face twisted with fury.  "I'll have you know, Namebearer," he spat the epitaph out, "know I've killed plenty in my time, and not a few hobbits either.  If the money wasn't good, I'd feed you to these stinking animals right now!  Do you know who I am?" he repeated petulantly.

    Frodo answered, speaking in a quiet, firm voice, "I do not know your name, but I think I can guess who your father might have been.  I have often wondered whatever became of old Ted Sandyman after we pulled that filthy mill down.  No one ever heard from him again.  A pity he didn't stay in the Shire." The regret in Frodo's voice was genuine. "He would have been shown mercy."

    "'Mercy!  What's that?"  Much jeering and grunting laughter from the orklings.  "And what do you know of my father?  Do not speak to me of pity; you have no idea what he endured, what our family has suffered, exiled and homeless.  Well, I'm going to get back everything that Father lost, and I'm taking the first payment out of your hide!  The high and mighty Gardners will pay a tall ransom, even if I don't send back all the pieces of their precious Namebearer."

    "Sandyman, if that is your name, I think you have made an error identifying me.  I am not this 'Namebearer' you speak of, nor am I related to the Gardners of the Shire and Westmarch."

    "Don't lie to me, princeling.  I heard you addressed as 'Frodo' by those tow-headed flock-herders.  Only the Gardners name their brats after their precious 'hero of the Third Age'," Sandyman sneered out this title as if it were an insult, "so you can't be anyone BUT a Gardner.  Most are too cowardly to step foot outside that stinking park of the Shire, so I have had to wait.  The hill-lands south of Rohan, forsaken by all men but the poorest or most desperate, make an excellent location to recruit bandits, even if most of them are drooling idiots," and he kicked one goblin who moved too slow to avoid his blow.  He rounded on Frodo quickly, his eye narrow and red with anger.  "And you will address me as Mister Sandyman, prisoner, if you don't want me to get ugly."

    Frodo ignored the comment, unable to imagine how this person could get any more unpleasant.

    Sandyman continued his rant, growing more and more voracious and incensed.  "I figured the Great King of Gondor would eventually send for you, since you and your family have become the bootlickers of Men.  I'll see my family reinstated in their proper holes, and you and yours can go live with your holy Men."

    "Your senses have left you, Sandyman.  You have but to lay aside these evil ways, quit this foul company, and go home.  You will not be turned away, if you take your family back to live in peace.  But be that as it may, I am NOT Frodo Gardner."  Frodo crossed his arms over his chest, right over left, so that his hand was plainly visible.  "Return with me to the Shire, and I will see that you will be welcomed, if you do as I ask and set aside this ridiculous vendetta."

    Sandyman looked at Frodo's hand, then up at his face.  He seemed stunned.  The orklings began to mutter behind him, so he turned on them and swore and slashed until they cowered again.  When he turned back to Frodo, he had an unpleasant light in his eye.

    "So... not the Gardner's boy, but the Baggins himself?  After all this time.  Tales say you are dead, gone off to die with your precious Elves.  What did you come back for?  This makes my revenge all the sweeter.  I will avenge my Father and family AND give my lads sport!  I'll get no ransom, true, but that's alright...there'll be a Namebearer along someday.  I'll show him your head on a pike before I cut his throat!"  The grim hobbit drew out a long wicked knife and drove it at Frodo's heart.

    The blade turned and broke against the Dwarven mail, and Frodo shoved Sandyman and dodged away.  The orklings became terrified and more excited.  They threw down their weapons and scattered, but lurked in the trees and bushes, watching and giggling madly.

    Sandyman threw away the useless knife-hilt, and swung his crop at Frodo, who ducked and danced away, trying to stay out of reach.  Sandyman was too far-gone with rage; he came on, swinging and swearing, until he was panting with exhaustion.  But the red fire in his eye still raged, and he cried out,"Get him, lads!  Bring him down and let me kill him proper!"

    But the lads did not come.  The trees and bushes were empty of leering, slavering goblins, but upon the ground dark still shapes could be barely seen, lying beyond the torchlight.

    Sandyman charged Frodo again, his madness giving him desperate speed and strength.  He bore Frodo back against the bole of a tree, the crop under his chin cutting off his air.  "I'll have you, Baggins!" He grunted through clenched teeth, his eye round with horrible delight as Frodo gasped and struggled against him.  Spots were dancing before Frodo's eyes, and drumming pounded his head, an erratic heartbeat in his ears.

    The pressure eased suddenly, and Frodo was kneeling and gasping, drinking great draughts of air desperately.  He had shoved Sandyman away, and the foul hobbit lay where he had fallen.  Six darts puckered the fabric on the back of his tunic.  His face was still frozen in murderous ecstasy.  Frodo shuddered to look upon him.  He backed away, hand still massaging his throat, until he leaned against the tree.  He was alone in a circle of dead in the midst of the Druadan Forest, and the drums were loud in the darkness. 

    A figure detached itself from the greater darkness and ambled over to Frodo with a hand-and-haunches gait like a tree-monk.  It squatted down and waved its large flat hands at Frodo, as if to get his attention.  Frodo saw that it was a man, but with skin so dark it was nearly black, with strange symbols painted upon his naked flesh.  He wore only a clout of scraped leather, and carried a long tube of hollow wood.

    The man grunted and coughed, and Frodo realized this must be speech, a language he was wholly unfamiliar with.  The little man waved his hands again, and crab-walked away, stopping after a few paces and waving again.  Frodo followed him cautiously.  He stepped over the corpse of Ted Sandyman's son, and followed his little guide into the black night under the trees.

    Frodo followed as well as he could in the blinding darkness, and his little guide waited if he fell behind.  The trees were close together, their branches interwoven tightly so that little light from star or moon penetrated the inky darkness.

    Soon they halted, and Frodo's guide, crouching in the dark reminded Frodo suddenly of Gollum when he led Samwise and himself through the fearful darkness of Mordor.  But he turned, and the similarity disappeared.  The man touched Frodo's sleeve and pointed at the ground.

    They sat and rested.  After a few minutes the small black-skinned man rose and disappeared into the trees.  Frodo stood but did not follow, unsure of the direction.  Then he was surrounded by small dark figures that materialized out of the trees with dizzying suddenness.

    Frodo remained still, unsure of threat or danger.  It was too dark to see well, even for Frodo's night-eyes.  He reached slowly into his breast pocket and came out with Galadriel's gift.  It shown gently like a star in the warmth of a summer night.  The one who had guided him reappeared at his elbow and clucked at him, then made a show of bowing low, first to Frodo, then to another Dark Man.  This man was garbed in ornaments of bone and wood.  He was very old, wrinkled and grey-haired, but his body was well fleshed and wiry.  He sat down upon his haunches and spoke to Frodo.

    "We are Drua.(Dark Men)  We slay gorgun.  Slay all come here with killing tools.  I Guri-Guri.  What you?"

    "I am Frodo Baggins.  Thank you for sparing me, and for saving me from the goblins."

    "Guri-Guri hates gorgun, slays always.  You not horse-man or stonehouse-dweller.  What you?" he asked again.

    "I am a Hobbit.  My home is far away to the North and West.  Men call my kind ‘halflings', but we care little for that name."

    Guri-Guri coughed out a laugh.  "Drua called ‘wild men' by Men, care not for that name, too.  Both our kinds named poorly by Men."

    "Yes, good Guri-Guri, but some Men are wiser, and they name us well.  I remember the name of Ghan-buri-Ghan, and my kind and the Men of Minas Tirith and Rohan remember his name also.  We respect the land of the Drua."

    "Yes.  Only gorgun and evil men come into Drua land.  They do not leave here alive.  Something else has come here also, and Drua know not how to slay this thing.  Is greater than gorgun, greater than great beasts of the south.  Eats all living things, and Drua walk in fear in the woods now."

    Frodo felt a cold fear climb from his guts.  "What does it look like?"

    "Like great darkness.  Never see.  But leave big webs all around, strangle trees and foul waters.  Drua know secrets, never stick in webs.  But food animals flee or die, and forest grows smaller."

    "What can I do, Guri-Guri?  I cannot slay this creature."

    "Guri-Guri did not ask this.  Ask only Fro-da," his tongue tripped over the unfamiliar word, "Ask Fro-da to seek answer in big stonehouse.  Ask wise Men.  Find way to slay or scare away black badness. Come back and tell Drua secret.  Drua will clean forest of shadows."

    "I will do what I can, I promise.  Guri-Guri is wise and honorable.  For the gift of my life, I will do this."

    "Guri-Guri is child next to Fro-da in wisdom.  Drua would save hob-bit anyway.  Like Fro-da.  Do not like gorgun.  Do this favor for Ghan-buri-Ghan.  Do for Drua children."

    "I will.  I must return to the Horse-men, or I fear they will seek me, and they will be in danger from the webs of horror.  Can you lead me back to them?"

    "It will be done."  The Drua chieftain touched his head to the ground and turned away, melting back into the trees with his people.  Frodo's guide led him back through the trees.

    All around drums echoed, as if the very trees were hollow and sounding the throbbing beat.  Shortly they arrived near the place of Frodo's abduction.  He could hear the Riders of the Mark, arguing about mounting a search now and others against until the drums ceased and sun showed her face.

    Frodo's dark guide paused beyond the light cast from the campfire, long shadows thrown by the trunks of trees lying like bars of midnight.  He urged Frodo forward with a grunt and a wave.  Frodo faced him and, not knowing how to thank him properly, bowed low three times.  When he looked up from his bow, the little man was gone.

    The drums rolled out one long rumbling peal, and then fell silent.

    Frodo stepped out of the trees into the firelight, and met Himlad leading a handful of Riders toward the trees.  The group halted in astonishment, and Himlad spoke, "Elvellon!  Where have you been?  We found your things scattered and you missing.  We feared that the bandits had taken you."

    "They did indeed.  I was rescued by the Druadan.  I would, were I you, move back away from the trees or lay down those weapons.  The Dark Men do not suffer any to enter their lands armed.  I believe that the only reason I am alive and here now is because I bear no weapon."

    Himlad led the group back to the light.  There was much consternation and gladness among the other riders at seeing Frodo.  They set him down with a deep cup of wine, and prized the tale from Frodo's reluctant lips.  They listened to what Frodo would tell, and learned of the deaths of the highway-captain and his hobgoblin bandits.  Frodo told an edited version of his rescue by the Druadan.  Also, he left quiet Sandyman's name and his origin.  Those sad facts he lodged in his heart, and he used them to remember always the need for pity and forgiveness.

    Frodo was still sitting on that white stone bench when blasts from many silver trumpets rang out nearby.  The doors were thrown open and a processional came out, headed by a young man who bore a strong resemblance to a certain ranger Frodo had once known.

    Hastily, Frodo moved to clear a path for the Prince, for he could be no one else but the son of Aragorn and Arwen, such was his presence and demeanor.  As Eldarion walked past the hobbit, he turned his blue-grey eyes down and saw Frodo.  He studied him in surprise, and seemed about to stop and speak, but the crowd of people behind him split and passed around, and they swept them apart.

    Frodo watched the mass of people move away, and he looked up at the open doors of the Citadel.  He slowly mounted the steps.  A guard dressed in the sable and silver livery of the Citadel stood by the doors.  He watched Frodo approach, saluting as he drew near.

    "Hail, visitor.  Welcome to the Citadel of Minas Anor.  There is no court today, as the Prince is abroad in the city.  What may be your business here?"

    "Thank you, soldier of Gondor, for your welcome.  I wish to walk Rath Dinen, and see the City of the Kings, if I may."

    "That is permitted, but you must use the entrance on the fifth circle.  I will call a guard to escort you..."

    "That will be unnecessary, my good Man.  I know the way."

    The soldier watched him as he made his way down the steps.  Halflings he had seen, but something about this one seemed different.  He shrugged and turned back to his duty, hoping time would pass quickly.  Guard duty was so tedious.

    Frodo retraced his climb down to the fifth circle, back to where under the great mass of Mindolluin the silent city of the great Kings of Gondor lay.  Frodo walked down the smooth flags of the street.  His bare feet made no sound on the cool stones.  There was a chill in the air, though the sun shone down brightly, it did not seem to warm the white marble and granite.  Flowers and vines were carved upon stone lintel and threshold, but no growth or greenery could be seen, only a frozen memory of spring.  Frodo shivered and drew  his cloak about him.  Great houses  loomed upon left and right, high vaulted rooms where nothing living dwelt.  The silence grew as an odd pressure, and Frodo found himself humming and singing softly to keep away the chill of dead quiet.

    The street led up a hill, then turned suddenly and opened upon a fair courtyard.  Here grew real trees and flowers, a simple garden oasis in the stone city of the dead. There were trellises of flowers and small trees growing in a circle of sunlight, and carven statues amid foaming fountains.  Behind that were two small slabs of green and gold-veined marble 

    Frodo moved toward them, ran his hand gently across the graven runes and carved leaves upon the surface of Merry's tomb.  Pippin lay beside him, even as they had been always together in life.  Frodo sighed.  He knew he ought to feel anguish and grief, but they were still young and alive in his heart, as he had last seen them.  He sat down between the stones and spoke to his friends, telling them of Aman and all his adventures.  He smiled, recalling his young cousins so clearly that all the time and history between them seemed to fade, and he could just almost see them... an unfading image in his memory.  They had passed beyond the confines of this world, as all mortals must, as Frodo would someday.  "I'll be along soon, my friends.  I am not done yet, but when I am, we shall have our merry meeting."  He laughed then, even as a tear fell from his eye, and he sang songs of Valinor to the living heart of the city of the dead.   

    The sun was dimming toward evening when Frodo stood and stretched his cramped legs, preparing to leave, when he more closely noted the carven figures.  They stood in half-circle fountains that flowed down gently behind  like a cloaks of water. Around the fountains grew many athelas plants.  He came closer and was astonished to find likeness of himself in one statue's face.  It held in its stone left hand a teardrop-shaped crystal that gave off a faint luminescence.  The figure's right hand, third finger missing, cradled a stone book.  At it's feet lay a bouquet of flowers, just beginning to wilt.  Frodo noticed the square of stone the stature stood upon was engraved with Elvish characters.  He stooped to read them, but it was now too dark to make out.  Frodo took out of his pocket the Phial of Galadriel.  It shone brightly in Frodo's warm hand.  When he brought it close to the base of the block, he saw that the Elvish letters were glowing, as if  they were made of ithildin, woken by the light of the star of Earendil.  He read the letters out loud, and there came the sound of stone grinding, for the front of the block was swiveling open on some hidden hinge, and inside was a cloth-swaddled bundle.  He gingerly lifted it out, and found a length of Elvish silk wound around a short sword.  It was Sting, to Frodo's surprise and delight.  He lifted the blade and admired its fine workmanship and elegant beauty.  "Sam, you left it here for me, didn't you?"  He buckled on the sword, feeling it's once familiar weight strange upon him.  He wondered briefly if he should not take the thing, if he should leave it in its shrine, but something, maybe the same thing that had led him here, told him to accept it.  He did, and then he held up the star-glass to examine the other stone figure. 

    It was, of course, a likeness of his faithful comrade Samwise.  The tears that came slowly before flowed freely now, and Frodo gathered the wilting flowers from the base of his monument and lay them at the toes of his friend.  "Well, Sam!  This is a beautiful place.  I wonder how much of it was your doing?  Look after Merry and Pippin until I get there, will you?  I miss you all."

    Using Sting, he culled a sprig of athelas and wrapped it with the silk cloth, stowing it in his pack.  He replaced the phial in his breast-pocket and bowed to the monuments of his friends, then turned to leave.

    And found that he was not alone.  A tall figure stood in the street where the courtyard opened, and for one moment Frodo thought that it was Strider that stood there.  But no, the figure walked forward a step into the faint light of the crystal, and Frodo saw that it was the Prince.  He bowed low, a hand upon his breast.  "My Lord Eldarion."

    "I am surprised that you are still here.  It has been hours since I saw you on the steps.  I hope I am not interrupting you."

    "No, my lord, I was just preparing to leave."

    Eldarion looked about the courtyard.  "I come here when I have time and want peace.  My father raised me on stories of the Travelers.  Someday I hope to journey to the Shire and see that pleasant land."

    "It has been so long since I have stood in that land, I'd feel like a stranger there.  May I be traveling that way soon!  But for now, I must go out into this great city and try to find lodgings.  I lingered here longer than I expected.  If you will excuse me, my lord..."

    "Permit me to guide you to the gate.  It grows dark here quickly, and the stones are treacherous to unfamiliar feet."

    Frodo graciously accepted, but wondered how long this Man had been watching him unseen, and whether he should dissemble about his identity.  Possession of Sting alone would loudly declare him to any familiar with the Red Book.  Frodo felt suddenly weary, and the whole difficulty seemed less important than finding a place to curl up and sleep.  If it were not for Eldarion's presence, Frodo would have slept in the garden.

    He followed the Man doggedly, until the gate of the sixth circle was in sight.  The Prince stopped   and Frodo bowed to him.  "Thank you, my Lord Prince.  I must go now and seek a berth.  A long journey has left me weary, and I must find lodgings in an unfamiliar city.  Farewell."  He then turned to walk on to the fifth gate, which lay to the north and led down into the city.

    Eldarion stayed him with a light touch on his shoulder.  "My good Perian, seek not lodgings within the city.  A fairer chamber awaits you above.  Will you not come?  All periannath who visit Minas Arnor are housed in the Citadel.  It is an honor, and the ruling of the King."

    "Very well, my lord."  The King!  Where was Aragorn?  Frodo wished very much to ask, but fatigue stayed his tongue.

    "Perhaps you are also desiring to find a board."  Eldarion guided Frodo into the Citadel, leading him up a long stair that tunneled through the great bastion of stone.  "You lingered long in the Court of the Halflings.  And if I know aught of Hobbits," he grinned down at Frodo in good humor, "you are probably hungry."

    Frodo laughed, "My lord, you know my people well.  Yet a poor example of a Hobbit I must be, for my desire for sleep exceeds even legendary appetite."

    "You shall be refreshed, however you desire it.  Come with me, it is not far now."

    So Frodo followed past many guards, silver trees embroidered upon their breasts and winged helmets shining in torch and lamplight.  The stair seemed endless to his tired feet, and he sighed when they finally ran out.  Eldarion smiled down at him and opened one of the doors which occupied the landing.

    Behind the door was a fair room, with a blazing hearth and a feather bed.  Eldarion gave the bellrope a pull, and said, "Water and food will be brought shortly, if you can find the will to wait for it.  I will return tomorrow, after you have rested.  Sleep well...Perian."

    "My Prince."  Frodo was uncomfortably aware that his failure to introduce himself had left the Prince at a disadvantage.  His thoughts were dimmed with fugue and fatigue.  "Thank you."  He said, feeling wrung.  He stifled a yawn and dipped his head in a bow.

    The Prince merely smiled, and closed the door.

    Frodo stumbled to the bed and fell at once into a dreamless sleep.

    It was not morning, nor even midday which greeted Frodo at waking, but golden afternoon.  Frodo sat up, the silk coverlet slipped off of him, and he found that he was down-dressed.  His cloak, pack and clothes lay upon a chair, Sting hanging on the back.  He was dressed in a linen tunic that reached his knees.  He slid out of bed and poured water from pitcher into basin, and washed his hands and face.  When he dressed, he found that his clothes had been aired and mended.  He opened the shuttered windows, saw the city tumble down below him, layer upon layer of gleaming white stone.  There were vivid green gardens and riots of colorful flowerbeds. 

    The high tower of the Citadel rose above the city like the towering prow of a great ship.  Frodo looked down like a figurehead, and the distant mountains were like a rippling sea parting before a mighty ship which sailed the land unmoving.  Clouds drifted in the middle distance, foaming waves of salt.  Frodo shook his head and blinked, dizzy with height.

    A sound came behind him; the door was opened slowly, and a hobbit-lass came in softly, carrying a laden tray.

    "O!  You're awake!  Thank goodness!"  She chattered, setting the tray down upon a table.  "The Prince wanted me to try to wake you again, if you were still asleep.  He was so worried, he almost sent for a healer!"  She wiped her hands with a clean cloth, then began to set the table with food and cups and plates. "Well, sit down!  If you don't eat every bite, the Prince will know you are not well."

    Frodo stood unmoving by the window, staring in wonder.  The lass was a perfect picture of Rosie Cotton, right down to her merry tongue.  Briefly he was set to by memories of the Green Dragon Inn, where Rosie had worked long years before.   Merry and Pippin, and he, singing and drinking...he blinked and gathered himself back into the present.

    Thank....thank you, my lady," he stammered.  "It was not my intention to cause any concern.  Please tell the Prince that I am perfectly well, and thank him for his kindness."

    "You can tell him yourself, 'cause he wants to see you once you have supped.  Now not another word.  Eat!  You are nearly transparent with hunger."  She left in a swirl of skirts.

    Frodo applied himself to the food, good simple fare, just as hobbits enjoy.  He was finishing when the door opened with a thump, and two hobbits burst in, both dressed in tower livery.

    "Hail, kinsman!" one came forward and seized his hand.  "Niphredil said you were roused and we wanted to greet you before the Prince took you away for endless talk.  I am Theoden Brandybuck."

    Frodo warmly returned his greeting.  "I believe I have met your brother, Faradoc."

    Theoden grinned.  "Yes!  'Doc loves Rohan.  I doubt that he will ever go home.  Not enough horses there."

    "And I am Fallomir Took."  The smaller of the two stepped up and shook Frodo's hand.  His hair was coppery red, but otherwise he looked very Took-ish, very like Peregrin as a youth.  "Welcome to Minas Anor."  The two hobbits looked Frodo up and down, then asked, as if with one voice, "What is your name, friend?"

    "A tale far longer in telling than we have time now.  Lead me to the Prince, and with his leave, I will tell all."


    The Prince received him in the audience chamber.  He welcomed the hobbits warmly, and with a frowning eye and a half-smile, looked upon 'Oden and Fallomir and asked if they were off-duty.  They assured him that they were, and he allowed them to stay, playfully mussing their hair.

    "They are too young, really, to be in the guard, but Madame Elanor insisted that their cousin be escorted, and have some of her own kind for company.  My guess is that Niphredil feels more like a mother to these children than a handmaiden to the Queen.  I entered them into service to spare her."

    Frodo made polite comment, and they chatted for a few minutes.  But Frodo saw that while Eldarion kept his inquiries light, his bright eyes were full of seriousness.  Finally, a silence occurred.

    "I will tell you now who I am, my Prince and my kinsmen.  But I warn you, it will not be easy to hear.  I assure you, as fantastic as it all may sound, I speak truth."  And he told them, Man and Hobbits, who he was, where he had been, and why he was in Middle-earth now.

    In the astonished silence that followed, Frodo had time to look closely at each of his listeners.  Eldarion's face was as handsome as his father's, but less roughly hewn in feature.  An intangible light that spoke of his Elven heritage was clearly visible to Frodo.  His hands, long-fingered and strong-looking, moved as if with their own will to the hilt of his sword which he wore always (doubtless another legacy from Strider).  It was not a threatening gesture, but seemed like a reassurance in moments of confusion.

    Theoden listened quietly with an intensity that seemed to burn.  Like the most adventure-starved hobbit-lad listening at the knee of his Gaffer, he clung to every word.  His hands, brown with sun and callused with training, clenched into white-knuckled fists when Frodo spoke of the sea.

    Fallomir was overwhelmed, and sat open-mouthed after Frodo's tales of Valimar, struck dumb with wonder.  He wavered between doubt and excitement, fidgeting until Eldarion gave him a quelling look, then sat on his hands.

    Frodo wound up his tale with his full adventure in the Druadan Forest, after which he said pointedly to the Prince,  "Where the rest of the family dwell I know not, and it is not assured that there are no more Sandymans out there, packing grudges for my namesake.  However, I would be indebted to you, my lord, if you could pursue the matter, and if possible, repatriate the exiles."

    This demonstration of forgiveness and mercy was the last nudge that Fallomir needed.  He leapt to his feet, then knelt before Frodo.  "Ring-bearer!  all record of your deeds and nobility are understated!  May I grow to attain a fraction of your wisdom."

    Frodo rose and bowed humbly.

    Eldarion organized a force to accomplish Frodo's wishes, and Fallomir and Theoden both requested to be included.  They set out on the errand and eventually located, with the assistance of Faradoc and the other Riders of Rohan, a small family of hobbits in the riverlands below the White Mountains, south of Edoras.  Mostly womenfolk and babes, they had to be liberated from servitude from a gang of hobgoblins bandits.  The matron welcomed the idea of returning to the Shire, for she had gone into exile only because she would not be parted from her husband, though he be lost in madness.  She rounded up her children and never looked back.  Fallomir, 'Doc, and 'Oden led them all safely back to Eriador and,though Faradoc returned to Rohan with the Men of the Mark and Gondor, he did take a short trip into the Shire to visit his mother.  The rescuers were celebrated as heroes, and they stayed to help build a residence for the Sandymans, who changed their names to Walker, and joined the Fairbairns in Westmarch.  'Oden and Fallomir returned then to Gondor.

    But there in the audience chamber of the Kings of Gondor, Eldarion regarded Frodo with respect and new wonder.

    "Why are you here, Ring-bearer?  Did you come to visit the King and Queen, or to see the monument of your kinsmen Meriadoc and Peregrin?"

    "All of these, my lord, and also to ask leave to travel through Gondor."

    'You were granted that right long ago, and I give it again willingly, to you and to all your heirs.  I am glad that you have come.  This is remarkable news!  I am distressed that Aragorn and Mother are not here to greet you; they are in the North Kingdom.  Will you travel to see them?"

    "Yes, I will.  If for no other reason than to lay eyes once again upon the lovely Undomiel, who's beauty and grace speak even in her son."  And it was Eldarion's turn to rise and bow humbly.

    "Well said!"  laughed 'Oden, shaking off his wonderment and jumping to his feet.  "We must set to the task at hand, but may we all meet in Eriador someday."

West Of East
 Chapter 8
Hands of Courage

 Frodo stood by the parapet on the platform on the highest point in Minas Anor, the Tower of the Ecthelion. He gazed eastward, where dawn was unfolding above the mountains of Ephel Duath, now called Ephel Run, the Mountains of Sunrise. He stood still and looked long toward that land, once the setting for his darkest torment, now a garden of labor, struggling to shake off the illness that had long left it devastated. Though all the tales and reports of healing and repair, still Frodo harbored no desire to see that land again. He was savoring the sunrise, in its slow and magnificent splendor. He felt his heart lifted, and he sang an Elvish song from the sheer joy he felt.   He lingered on the height for a while, then descended into the City.
Long hours for many days he had spent in the Great Library of Gondor, pouring over lore and seeking answers to Guri-Guri's difficulties. Eldarion could not suggest anything helpful, but he spent much time with the hobbit there, looking for information. They found nothing.
Frodo could not bear being cooped up in the dark library today. The sun was too fair and warm, and the air was clean and fresh. He skipped down the steps and ran through the Gate with a jaunty wave at the guard.
Ol'orin was housed in the stables upon the sixth circle. He had been visiting the little stallion every day, bringing him treats and taking rides through the City. The people of the Tower were friendly and honest, being mostly the families of Guardsmen, merchants and craftsmen. Today he found his friend Himlad grooming horses in the stable. He greeted his friend and they walked about the city together.
But soon Himlad took his leave of Frodo, for he had duties to train the ‘city-folk' in correct horse-etiquette. Frodo walked about the city, exploring the sudden gardens and tasteful architecture. The hands of Dwarves and Elves had been busy here, but none of those folk did Frodo ever see. Only Men, of every shade of skin and height, speaking dialects Frodo had never heard. He found a courtyard marketplace with a fine fountain playing in the center, and there he sat, listening with interest to the people.
He noticed soon that while most people were courteous to him, they eyed him oddly, and some whispered behind their hands. But Frodo just sat and smiled, and his natural charm and gregarious nature attracted people to him, and he spoke to a few, asking of their homelands, their families. Children gathered around, and he told a few short tales to amuse them as their mothers marketed.
When the afternoon faded, and the market stalls were being broken down or wheeled away, Frodo's audience waned, until only one listener remained. A slim figure in a dark hooded cloak sat at Frodo's feet, and the hobbit wondered that he had not noticed him earlier.
"Thank you for listening." Frodo said politely, as he rose to return to the Citadel. He had walked some blocks when he realized that the tall figure was walking beside him. Frodo was startled, for he had not heard any footsteps following. Yet he felt no danger from this individual. There seemed to be a patient amusement in his air.
"Should I know you, stranger? I cannot guess who you might be, since you are hooded and cloaked, but I wager that you are a skilled hunter, for you tread is soft as a hobbit's."
"Will you not even take a shot in the dark, my friend?" The figure removed the hood and threw back his cloak, and Frodo was delighted to see Legolas, his dear Elven comrade. He leaped into the Elf's arms and embraced him joyfully, and they both laughed.
"How come you back to Middle-earth, Frodo? What riddle is this? I heard a song this morning carried to my home beyond the waters of Anduin, so faint that I thought it was a dream. But I was drawn to the city, and here I find the Ring-bearer, sitting on a fountain telling stories to children in the sun. I am amazed!"
"I am amazed at the beauty and vigor of the City. Your people, and Gimili's mountain folk, have wrought wonders here. But I wonder that there are none to be found in the city. You are the only Elf I have encountered since my return."
Legolas sighed softly, but his fair face still smiled, if somewhat sadly. "Yes, rare sightings these days of Elf or Dwarf in the High City, or any city of Man. I come to speak with the King, and I visit with the Stewards in Ithilien, but always I come disguised. Men do not trust what they do not understand. It is sad, but I realize the necessity. Elves will wane as Men grow strong, and the Dwarves delve ever deeper into their beloved stone. One day, in the short forgetful lives on Men, we will be forgotten."
"Not so long as the lore-masters make their tales, and the minstrels of Rohan and Gondor have voices. And the works of your hands and hearts endure for those that follow to enjoy."
Legolas smiled down at his friend. "Immortality has many rewards, as well as many prices." Though he still spoke merrily, Frodo could tell some shadow lay upon his thought.
"How fares our companion Gimli? Has he not come hither with you?"
"Nay, I traveled with the swift feet of Elves to come here to seek the singer of my morning dreams. He will be vexed when he learns that I have come and seen you without him. Often his thoughts are with you, believing you safe and at peace beyond the West. Will you come to my home? I would feast once more with you, and the lovely groves of Ithilien are full and fresh with summer."
"I would love to come, my good Legolas. Perhaps in your sweet county I will find the answers I seek." Frodo then told Legolas his full tale. The Elf was most impressed with Frodo's adventures.
"Let us go to the Citadel and speak with Eldarion. I will explain my need to steal you away from Gondor, and we will be off, if you will."
"Yes. I cannot linger for too long, lest my fellow suitors find luck that has eluded me. But I fear it little; I know where the Lady's heart is in keeping." Frodo patted his breast. Legolas laughed.

"Leaving us so soon? Well, I knew that you must." Eldarion sighed. "Go with blessings upon you, and give my love to Father and Mother when you see them. But before you go, I have had an idea which might help you."
Eldarion led the Companions down into the hidden heart of the Citadel, down a long dark spiraling stair. At last they came out into a vast room. Eldarion lit many lamps, and the gloom lifted to reveal many wondrous treasures. Arms and armor of gold and silver, encrusted with gems and engraving, cups and harps, tapestries and paintings, lined the walls and covered tables and filled cabinets. There was jewelry of every description, and fine clothing hung upon wooden statues. It was a great museum of the treasures of Gondor.
Frodo walked slowly through, marveling at the fine objects. Legolas exclaimed in delight and wandered off to inspect some intricately wrought objects across the room. Eldarion had stopped before a niche, and bowed solemnly. Frodo looked, and saw upon a pillow of sable a circlet of silver, with a glowing gem like a star set in its center.
"The circlet of Isildur, the Elendilmir. Father found it in Orthanc, and brought it here to be honored." Eldarion led him on then, back into a small room behind a tapestry depicting the Battle at the Black Gates. Inside the room was a pedestal of marble. Resting on top was a spherical object beneath a silk cloth.
Eldarion removed the cloth, and there was the palantir of Denethor, dark and quiescent. He lifted the thing down and handed it to Frodo carefully.
"There is no danger now. Father has the only other Stone that now exists. It is not easy to use, but I think that it is not outside your strength."
Frodo turned it in his hands, not really sure how to use the stone. He looked into it, caressed it with a curious hand, and just when he was about to hand it back to Eldarion, he saw a spark of light deep in its inky center.
It grew until Frodo could make out the shapes; two hands, wrinkled with age and withering in flame. He gasped and closed his eyes. He thought of his Lady, holding the image of her loveliness in his mind, and looked again. The flames disappeared, and as Frodo turned it in his hands, he saw unbroken expanses of heaving grey sea. Suddenly the glass was filled with greenery, tall trees, rank upon rank, with a great mountain beyond. The glass when dark again, and a brief image of a road winding on toward a valley covered in mist, flashing past as if Frodo were flying above it with eagles' wings. There was then an orderly green countryside, patched with orchards and trellised vineyards. Frodo recognized the Shire immediately. He forced his delight down, thinking harder of Melyanna's face. The vision of the Shire faded, and Frodo again saw the unrelenting sea. The crystal became cool and dark again, and lay inert in Frodo's hands.
Frodo raised his eyes from the glass, and to Legolas and Eldarion it seemed that his eyes contained the images of burning hands, until he blinked and drew a hand across his brow. He drew a deep, shuttering breath.
"What did you see, Master Baggins?" Eldarion asked eagerly. "Did the hands of the Steward give up a vision for you?"
"My answer lies in the sea, or on it, as it appears. But through greenwood and valley am I bound first, seemingly." Frodo opened his eyes and smiled at his friends. "Give me another moment. I think I was looking for the wrong answers." Frodo thought about the mysterious 'tasks' that his Lady had asked him to do for her. Perhaps this was all part of his trial.
"Be careful, Frodo," said Legolas. "This gazing-afar is tiring work. Already you seem wearied." To the seeing eyes of the Elf, Frodo's shining spirit seemed dimmed after having looked into the artifact.
Frodo regarded the stone again, this time with his goal firmly in mind. No burning hands did he see, but instantly the crystal obeyed his will. He saw the city of Minas Anor flowing in terraced gardens before him, the Mountain of Sunrise ahead. He turned the stone so that he looked West, and beheld the forest of the Drua. A shadow like rot lay over the heart of the woods, and Frodo imagined the beating of drums. He turned the stone half-back, and looked North, past the rushing falls of Rauros and the Gate of Kings, past also the lonely wood of Lorien, its once radiant golden woods now green and brown with summer, but dim and sad. Frodo looked past hastily, not wishing to see the faded glory that lingered there. He sought deep into the valley of Anduin, as if climbing a silver rope between the towering peaks of the Misty Mountains and the green carpet of the Greatwood. Frodo bent his eyes this way and that, but discovered nothing to aid him.
He withdrew his gaze, and as his will foundered briefly, he saw the image of a nest with a single egg, rocking as if trying to hatch, but it was no bird's nest. Deep under ground, lit by some fiery red glow, a serpentine tail coiled beyond his vision, partially hidden in shadow. The image was gone before Frodo could seize it, and he came back to Minas Tirith suddenly, and found himself supported between Legolas and Eldarion, both looking very apprehensive. The palantir lay cold and dark in his hands. Eldarion took the orb from him and replaced it upon its dais. They eased the hobbit onto a chair, an ancient throne carved of pale wood, thrown over with a cloth covered with dust.
Frodo felt as though he had climbed ten mountains; he was exhausted. So much that he did not protest when Legolas lifted him in his arms and carried him to his room. Sleep was not for him though. The visions swam in his head and images of flames covered everything he had seen; sea, mountain and forest. He struggled to wake, swimming against the tide of darkness in his mind.
He woke with sunlight on his face, refracted through a crystal vase full of colorful flowers. Niphredil sat near, sewing in her lap. She was singing in a clear, light voice a song he knew. The words brought him back from the flames and darkness.
She sent for the Prince when she saw that Frodo was awake. Shortly, Frodo's friends were gathered about him, their faces written with curiosity.
 Frodo could tell them little, for he did not yet understand all that he had seen, and his friends could offer little council. He regretted being unable to find an answer for Guri-Guri. The plight of his people touched his heart. He had hoped that he could find a way to dispatch the great spider, for Frodo felt sure that it was none other than Shelob the Loathsome, or one of her get, driven from the dark woods or from under the mountains. Nothing the hobbit could imagine would daunt her, but maybe fire, and that would destroy the forest. Some other answer must be sought.

The sun's light glimmered over the Mountains and fell upon Frodo's face as he lay sleepless the next morning. He rose to close the shutters, desiring sleep more than light, when he say a shimmer of a cobweb, moist with dew, gleaming in the sunlight like a jeweled net. Suddenly he knew the answer, and he whooped, throwing on his clothes and tearing out of his room, laughing with delight. He ran straight to Eldarion's chamber.
The Prince was awake and taking breakfast when the excited hobbit dashed into his room, followed close by protesting guards. Eldarion waved them away and seated Frodo, listening to his idea as he shared his breakfast. Soon they were both grinning and planning.
They filled in Legolas when he was found, and he departed immediately to fetch Gimli. Eldarion and Frodo gathered what they would need, and the Prince selected twenty men from his guard for the ‘special assignment'. Frodo fetched Ol'orin, and raced out of the city, singing at the top of his voice in a strange tongue that no one could understand. He visited every ring of Minas Anor, then rode in a great circle in the Pelannor Field, still singing like a nightingale. With six Riders of the Mark, he headed to the eaves of Druadan Forest.
Instructing the men to remain mounted and uncouch their spears, Frodo dismounted and walked up until he was standing right between two trees on the very edge of the forest. Already the drums were awake, throbbing distantly. He unsheathed Sting and stuck it into the ground.
"Guri-Guri! I have returned as I promised." Frodo waited for only a moment when he heard the voice of his strange dark-skinned friend, though he could not yet see him.
"Fro-da comes back! Come into trees. Bring weapon." Frodo picked up Sting, and turned to motion to the Riders to stay were they were, he walked into the trees.
Shortly he found Guri-Guri, waiting for him with several other Dark Men. The old chieftain was pleased to see him, and he touched his forehead to the ground many times, greeting Frodo.
"Fro-da always welcome in Drua land. Even with bright iron. What wisdom have you brought to help Drua? You tell Guri-Guri now; bad shadow cover more trees, threaten Drua home."
"Guri-Guri, I regret that I have found no lore to help the Drua to destroy this evil thing. However, my own wisdom, if I may offer it, may provide a solution, if you will hear it."
 "Guri-Guri will listen to Fro-da's wisdom."
"The Druadan are mighty. But this evil is old, as ancient as the oldest tale. It cannot be completely destroyed, nor can any one people become powerful enough to defeat it. Dark Men will be destroyed if they try."
"Then Drua will be destroyed. Will not leave land. Will not give up. Will fight. Will die."
 "Listen, Guri-Guri. I do not bring you tales of despair. There is a way, but Drua cannot fight alone. Allow Men and Elves and Dwarves to help. And a Hobbit, of course."
Guri-Guri sat down on his haunches; his arms on his knees with his big hands hanging open and empty. "Man comes here to fight, will stay. Drua lose land. Dwarf and Elf not want Drua land. Why help?"
"They will come and fight beside you, because we are all Free People, and we must fight evil together, lest it overwhelm us one at a time. If Drua are destroyed, then the badness will grow, threaten all of the people. Will you allow them to help you? They will fight for Drua children as if they were their own. And the King has promised this land to the Druadan. He will not take it away from them. But he cannot let this monster grow so close to his own people and children."
 "Man will bring fire here! Burn trees!"
"No! We will bring no fire! I swear it! We have other tools, like my shining glass that will not burn the trees. Please, Guri-Guri, let us help. This can only be done if we are all working together."
"First tell Guri-Guri what is bad shadow. Fro-da knows. What is mon-star?"
"A giant spider possessed of wicked arts that produce blinding darkness and despair. I have encountered it before once, long ago. I know some of its weaknesses. But it is old and cunning, and hideously strong. We will bring light to fight its darkness, and bright steel to cut its webs."
Guri-Guri looked at Frodo with a puzzled expression on his wizened face. "Drua not kill spider with sword. Step on with foot!" He raised is bare foot and stamped, and his people coughed in amusement.
Frodo smiled, too. "Guri-Guri, this spider is probably larger than six Big Men, with legs as long as a willow-limb."
Guri-Guri smiled, revealing a row of very white teeth. "Need big foot, then!" The Chieftain of the Druadan stood up and spoke in a quick guttural tongue to his people, then turned back to Frodo. "Dark Men and Light Men work together. End bad shadow. For Drua children I do this. But Drua kill big spider! Bring Men and Elf and Dwarf tonight. Drua hunt best in darkness. When need light, Fro-da will kindle!"
And so it was, after middle-night Frodo was led into the heart of the Druadan Forest again, this time with his friends behind him. Eldarion came with his handpicked guard and Legolas with seven of his fair folk, armed with mithril-edged arrows and spears, the precious metal gleaned from various artifacts found in Gondor's treasure room-museum. Gimli strode next to his companion, carrying a pair of odd contraptions Frodo could not begin to understand. Frodo had his star-glass ready, and Sting was in his hand. Guri-Guri's folk were all about them, guiding them through the lightless woods expertly, silent and rarely seen.
Frodo knew they were drawing near when the temperature seemed to drop suddenly, and an acrid stench, sickeningly familiar to the nervous Hobbit, abused their senses. In Frodo's hand, Sting began glow with a silver light along the length of the blade.
Frodo nodded to Eldarion and Legolas, and they took their positions. The confidence with which the plans had been laid and discussed, so abundant in the sunlight and clean air, now seemed thin to Frodo, as he clutched his tiny sword and struggled with his nausea. He thought of his Lady, and forced his panic down, finding that elusive kernel of stubborn hobbit-courage, fanning its flame with his will. His sword stopped shaking and he drew a deep breath. He prayed that Guri-Guri's ‘big feet' would do the job.
"A Elbereth, Gilthoniel!" He called out, a signal to be all ready. It was echoed softly, and then the drumming began.
They were in a great circle, spread out Man, Dark Man, and Elf, around the knot of sad, web-enshrouded trees. The Dark Men were drumming, hands on trees, or on the ground, some on their own bodies. They chanted in their strange language, and Frodo felt an answering tremor in the ground.
The web was stirring. The Drua began to make a barking sound, and Gimli, on Frodo's right, unshielded his Dwarf-lamp, which glowed like molten ore on a smithy's anvil. Its light was red like fire.
Legolas, far on the opposite side from Frodo, unveiled another lamp of Gimli's design, which shone with a golden radiance. Frodo saw the eyes of the Elves hidden in the trees glow like the sheen of wild creatures startled at their hunt.
Eldarion drew back his hood, and the Elendilmir blazed upon his brow with a luminance like the brightest star. The shadows began to shred and break.
Frodo lifted his arm, and the Phial of Galadriel blazed in his small hand, a lightning bolt that did not fade. The woods were filled with unrelenting light, and the writhing knot of shadow in the center shuddered and rose like a nightmare.
Frodo saw at once that it was not Shelob, but what relief he might have felt evaporated as the horror charged at Gimli, choosing one of the lesser of the lights to flee toward. Bright spears repelled the beast, but seemed to do little harm to its knotted hide. It seemed more cautious of its legs and eyes, and moved quickly away from the ring of bitter metal stings. It heaved its repulsive body, bloated and baggy, and a cloud of vile fumes issued from it, a poisonous fog.
Frodo covered his face, thrusting the light forward and blinking against he tears streaming from his eyes. The fog quickly abated, unable to endure the pure light which poured in from every direction. The spider-kin turned about, trying to protect its many eyes. It gathered itself again, and spat a stream of sticky webs at its attackers, to bind and blind them.
But Guri-Guri had provided the secret of the Drua, a powder of herb and mineral which kept the webs from sticking to them. The nets were quickly cut away and thrown down. The spider-kin hissed and venom frothed at its beak.
Now the tremor in the ground was more noticeable, and the Druadan continued their throaty song. A noise occurred, not unlike the sound of a wave cresting upon the open sea, and Frodo saw the ground ripple like an empty sleeve that has a hand and arm thrust into it. It spread past, uprooting a tree, and burst the ground inside the ring.
Tall as the trees, made of stone and mud, grass and root, a tall figure, stocky in body with great long arms stood there, and if Frodo had not been dazzled by the lights around him, he would have thought himself asleep and dreaming!
The figure raised its arms; muscles of granite and sinew of oak, and it struck the shrinking spider-kin with a blow that shook the forest and threw the men and Frodo to the ground. The beast rode the blow and tried to break into the trees to be driven back by Eldarion and his men. The Spider-kin spat its webs, but they fell off of the earth-giant like leaves that drop in a strong November wind. It charged the Elves again, and fell back with feathered shafts sunk in its clustered eyes. The massive earth-man raised its gnarled foot and crushed the spider-kin's head beneath its heel. Legs beat furiously in its death throes, and fell fluids gushed from the mortal wound.
The Men and Elves raised a cheer as the earth-giant continued to grind the foul beast into the soil. Soon there was nothing recognizable left of it.
Frodo let out his breath, and lowered Sting. He turned to regard the trees and saw, to his horror, another cluster of eyes glaring with rabid hatred at him. Creeping up behind, Shelob had come to avenge the death of her mate. Scrawny male that he was, she cared little for him; when her eggs hatched, he would have long become her food. But here was a missed meal and here also a remembered pain and torment. Her great eye was still blind, but she saw with the others the bright light and bitter sting of her dreams of pain. She descended upon Frodo with a long hiss, dragging her precious egg sac behind.
Frodo was paralyzed with fear as he watched her grow bigger in his sight, tearing away branch and sapling to reach her prey. He barely had the wits to raise the star-glass and lift his sword as the great monster reached for him with claws snapping.
He was thrown to the ground again, as the earth-giant erupted from the ground at his feet. The arms closed around the squelching, putrid body, and the legs writhed and scored great rents in the fleshy soil of the Dark Man's guardian. Shelob screamed in frustration and anger, a thin horrible sound like a bubbling shriek. The earth-man did not let go.
Frodo took up Sting and ran forward, and in the light of Galadriel's glass he swung his sword at the writhing egg sac and it tore open all along its length, spilling hundreds of tiny white spiders onto the ground. He ran as fast as he could, shouting for everyone to stand back.
The baby spiders, each with the attitude and appetite of its grotesque parents, turned upon the body of their mother and began their first meal.
Frodo had the light-bearers circle the macabre feast, and it took a while for the little monsters to finish their dinner. The dawn was coming then, and the bloated, hissing little menaces were pushing at the line, trying to flee into the woods. There were many, hundreds. They could not be allowed to escape into the trees.
And Frodo was ready. He called again, singing his strange song, letting his voice carry like laughter into the broadening morning. And descending in great flocks came the birds, hundreds, of every species and color. They fell upon the tiny spiders, and another feast began, but this one lasted for only a little while. Frodo and his companions rested while the Dark Men scoured the forest for any spider-kin that might have escaped the hungry birds. Another egg sac was discovered and destroyed, and the Dark Men were joyful, and the drums beat through the day. Guri-Guri visited Frodo as they prepared to ride back to Minas Anor. The old Drua was covered with dried mud and bits of bark. His white teeth gleamed as he laughed and stamped the ground with his large, flat feet.
"Fro-da is friend to Drua; come to forest anytime."
"Thank you, Guri-Guri. What a surprise you and your people are! You have great power!" "Drua have not forgotten old ways. Never forget. We defend forest, crush black badness!"
"Indeed you do. All Men will respect Drua for this great service. Now all are free of this terror."
"Some spiders get away. Drua will hunt, will watch. Destroy before get too big for feet." This set the old one laughing again, and Frodo laughed, too, and he waved as he mounted Ol'orin and they all rode away back to the White City.