The Magnificent Speaks

by Avondster


CHAPTER 13

Three audible sighs broke the silence in Bag End’s living room. Athelas Brandybuck could feel her father’s eyes looking at her, and stared at the floor. Until now, she had never given a second thought to her rather unusual name. She knew what kind of plant it was and that her father had encountered it on his Journey, but she had never realised just how special and important it was to him, and that she was named after it for a reason.
She looked up at her Da and smiled; she felt suddenly proud that she had earned this name.
Merry returned his daughter’s smile. There used to be a time, not very long ago, when he would do aything just to see her smile. But ever since she became a tweenager, it had become a rare treasure to him. This was an unexpected gift, and he treasured it.
“Athelas touches the heart, indeed,” said Pippin, to whom the silent exchange between father and daughter had not gone unnoticed. He, too, smiled silently.
“Oh, where was I?” Merry shook his head and cleared his throat loudly. “I should not be getting lost in thought every so often when I’m telling a story, especially when we are at one of the most important parts of it. Now then, with Frodo being a little better, we decided to leave that dreadful Weathertop as quickly as possible…

We were all very grateful for the presence of our pony, whom proved to be a true and reliable companion, now more than ever. I do not believe that the addition of a seriously ill Hobbit to his other burdens was very convenient for him – even with us transferring most of the luggage onto our own backs - but he was as obedient as ever and very gentle with Frodo.
We tried to go as fast as we could, burdened though we were with large packs and minding Frodo’s condition, and never forgetting the ever-lurking danger. We did not see any sign of the Riders, but we did hear blood-chilling voices calling to one another. None of us had any desire to investigate its source, and we hurried on.

The many days to follow progressed slowly and without change of the scenery or our mood. We were downhearted, scared and sad. Frodo’s condition grew steadily worse, though he never mentioned it to us; especially at night he would have difficulties breathing or keeping his food in. The fear we had for him was like a shadow on our hearts, weighed down with fear for the Riders.

Every now and then Strider would go a little ahead to explore the area. Sometimes he would take Sam with him, but much more often would he take me. I was rather surprised about that, remembering the conversation he had overheard earlier, and one day, when we were exploring yet another dark gloomy bit of woodland, I could no longer restrain myself.
“Why do you always take me with you?” I blurted out. “I thought you disliked me.”
Strider lazily turned his eyes to me. “Why would you think that, my good Hobbit?”
I felt my cheeks turn red under his shrewd gaze. “Well, I… you heard what I said to Frodo just outside of Bree, and…”
“Ah,” said Strider and smiled joylessly. “You will be surprised to learn, then, that overhearing that conversation was part of my reason for trusting you.”
I was now completely baffled, and appearantly I looked it, because the Man’s smile widened.
“You are a bright fellow, Merry,” he said to me. “Brighter even, in a way, than your other companions. I have noticed that from the moment we left Bree. You did not trust me as easily as the others did, and you were more on your guard for the perils that can be encountered along the Road, treachery being not the least. Awareness and caution are, sadly, a necessity in these times and on such a journey, and you seem to have a good deal more of them than I think even Frodo has. Also: you have been touched by the Black Breath, and therefore feel the presence of the Ringwraiths more keenly than any of the others. Though…” and here he sighed sadly, “I fear we may now have another in our company who possesses this questionable gift.”
I sighed as well. “I fear for him, Strider. I fear for what will happen to Frodo if we don’t make it to Rivendell in time. But I do know that if you cannot get him there, no one can.” I looked up in his wise grey eyes. “I trust you, Strider.”
The Ranger knelt before me and put a hand on my shoulder. “Knowing you as I do, I shall honor your trust as the treasure it is, my friend.”
I touched his shoulder also, and we nodded a silent understanding to one another. Then we set out back to the camp together.

After a few days more, we left the lonely, gloomy lands behind us, only to come upon dark, threatening lands. Not really an improvement.
What was also not improving was Frodo’s condition. The unceasing rain and cold had a horrible effect on him. His already pearly-white face had now turned a ghostly shade of grey, his eyes were bloodshot and unfocused, and every wheezing, squeaking breath he took was torture to him.
The day the rain finally stopped should have been a hopeful one, but it was not, far from it. We came to some frightening-looking mountain-ridges, and Strider found out that we had gone astray. It was a difficult decision that lay before us: going back would cost us too much time, precious time, time we did not have, or rather: that Frodo did not have. The other option was to climb over, and we could not even imagine what that would do for Frodo. Yet, in the end, it was inevitable. So we began our climb.
When we reached the top darkness fell, as did Frodo. The nights were always the hardest on him, and he had had a very trying day indeed. He had been forced to go on foot; Pippin and I taking it in turns to keep him from falling. He could not use his left hand, so climbling was almost impossible for him. When I had grabbed his arm once to steady him, I was able to feel his bones through the thin skin, and tears came to my eyes. He felt so frail that I feared he might snap in two if I squeezed too hard.
Many times we had also feared for our pony, but he reached the top looking a lot better than any of us. Poor Sam, terrified for the animal’s safety, had practically carried him up.
Frodo had slipped into a half-conscious state, looking worse than he had in days, and the three of us kneeled beside him helplessly. I turned to Strider. “We cannot go any further. I am afraid this has been too much for Frodo.” I knew this high, cold ridge was not a very convenient place for us to spend the night, but it was absolutely out of the question that Frodo would be able to take another step today.
Just as I spoke Frodo made a horrible retching noise, and we quickly rolled him to his side so that he could breathe a little more freely. Strider nodded to me.

The next morning there was sunshine and clean air again, and both did Frodo some good. The colour did not return to his face, but his eyes were a little clearer and his breathing regular. We were also soon able to put him back on the pony, so that our going was easier. If our situation had not been so precarious, we might even have been cheerful for this day.
Pippin discovered a path – his keen sight combined with his curious nature had already proven very convernient at times – which allowed us some change from scrambling over obstacles all the time. It was a little later that we found something most unusual: a cave with a door in it.
Strider wanted to go and investigate, despite our objections. We did not like the look of the cave, but I trusted Strider, and so I went in with him.
There was not really much to be seen, save for some stuff that looked as though it belonged in the litter-bin. But there was a nagging feeling inside me that told me I should remember something about this place. I did not, and we went back out to the others.
Especially Pippin seemed rather anxious about the discovery. “Surely this is a troll-hole, if ever there was one!” he said, looking around with wide eyes as if he expected to find us surrounded by them. Strider told him not to be afraid, and I almost laughed when Pip seemed to swell with indignation.
“Come on, Merry,” he said heatedly, grabbing my arm and pulling me along. “Why don’t we go and explore the path ahead?”
I let myself be dragged off, looking back and rolling my eyes at our companions as I went. Sam chuckled behind his hand, and to my joy even Frodo smiled.

This small forest we were in now was as quiet and dark as the rest of these miserable lands, and sunshine seemed to be an almost unnatural thing. Pippin and I were wondering about the new things we encountered, mostly ugly plants. No animal could be seen or heard.
Suddenly Pippin’s eyes widened and he dropped on his knees behind a huge tree-trunk, pulling me down with him. “Merry! Look! What is that?”
I narrowed my eyes to see the object he was pointing at in the distance. Through the trees I could see an odd shape, standing in what seemed to be a small clearing. It was no tree, and if it was a rock then it was one like I had never seen before. Then, shading my eyes against the sun, I discovered two similar shapes. Were this people or animals?
“What are they, Merry?” asked Pippin with a trembling voice.
Just then a ray of sunlight fell through a gap in the roof of leaves, and illuminated the head of the largest figure, revealing to us a face that left us in no doubt.
“Trolls!” I hissed. “Go back, Pip, quickly! We have to warn Strider!”
Pippin had already started running, and I followed as quickly and quietly as I could, wondering what Strider would think of our discovery, and what he would do.

Our trusted companion, of course, remained outwardly calm and followed us quietly. I have to say my admiration for the Man grew even more as he walked up to the Trolls, alone and armed with nothing but a stick and a broken sword. “Get up, old stone!” he said in a voice I had never heard him use before, and hit one of the Trolls with his stick. We gasped.
The stick snapped in two like a toothpick on the Troll’s stony back, and all three of them remained motionless. Then we understood as Frodo burst out laughing – his laughter sounded sweeter to us than the fairest music – and we came forward to examine the stone Trolls.
For a long while we sat in the shadow of the stone figures, main characters in Bilbo’s first adventure. It had been a particular favorite of his, and I remembered fondly how often he could be seen sitting in a circle of children, all gathered around him listening breathlessly.
Frodo seemed to be thinking along the same lines; he looked much better and every now and then he would look at the statues without seeing them, a faint smile on his lips.
Seeing how well Frodo was, we his companions were also smiling and talking and laughing and singing for the first time in many, many days. Which was good; for we still had a long and dark Road ahead of us.”

CHAPTER 14

“Ooh, this is where Glorfindel comes in, right?”
All eyes turned to the Gamgee girl who had spoken; she was sitting on the tea-table, her eyes shining with delight. This daughter of Samwise had inherited her fathers soft spot for Elves, as could be noticed in the way she behaved around the old family-friend, Legolas.
Some of her siblings giggled at the eager look in her eyes, and Merry leaned over to pinch her cheek teasingly. She blushed.
“Now don’t go runnin’ ahead of the story-teller, young miss Daisy,” said her father in a mock-reproving voice, “you wouldn’t be able to hold up long, neither, against those long shanks o’ his,” he added with a wink at Merry and Pippin.
Pippin laughed appreciatively, and Merry smiled. “I daresay. Though I am sure Daisy would be able to tell this part of the story very interestingly indeed.” He winked and everyone laughed, including Daisy, who had gone red. “No, no, you tell it, Uncle Merry.”
Merry got up and bowed. “Thank you, Mylady.”
He sat back down and everyone leaned close for the next part of the story.

“The day had been long and merry, but when the shadows grew longer and the sun sank, darkness descended upon our hearts once again as we looked at Frodo. His eyes were misty, the alarming grey colour came back to his face, and at times he had trouble staying on the pony and was swaying dangerously. The night promised to be cold and threatening.
Then, as we were looking for a place to spend the night, we heard hoofbeats not far behind us, loud and echoing in the still air. We ran to take cover, and waited. It could very well be a Black Rider, but somehow I was not so sure. I did not feel the cold despair I had felt before when they were near, not the icy shadow creeping into my heart and freezing my blood.
I looked over my shoulder at Frodo, sitting behind me holding Sam’s arm. I felt that if this was indeed a Black Rider approaching, I would be able to see it in Frodo’s eyes. But although he looked as scared as the others, there was no sign of his illness getting suddenly worse.
Strider was right next to me, watching the Road and listening intently. I looked at his face as its expression suddenly changed from worried to relieved and even joyful. And then I heard it too: the sound of softly tinkling bells, carried to us by the breeze. It was a hopeful sound, and definitely not a Black Rider, but it was pursuing us and we were suspicious about it, even though Pippin pointed out that servants of Evil could not possibly be able to make such a sound.

Then a rider came into view, on a magnificent horse that was so white it seemed to be gleaming in the darkness. The rider himself was of an unworldly beauty, with golden hair and eyes shining like stars. I had never seen a creature like that before.
“Who is he?” I whispered, enchanted.
“He’s an Elf,” Sam replied softly, looking deeply touched.
Strider had jumped down onto the Road and ran towards the rider, who greeted him warmly, but with a touch of alarm in his voice. The Elf and Strider spoke with each other in urgent tones, though I could not make out the words.
“What are they saying?” said Pippin, looking from one to the other and listening, just like we were, to the melodic Elven speech that flowed as sweetly and musically as a little river in our beloved Shire. Frodo could probably understand most of it, but did not seem too eager to tell us what the Man and the Elf were speaking of in such haste and alarm.
Strider called us over and introduced us to Glorfindel, the elf-lord from the house of Elrond. I was still in awe at the sight of the Elf. My companions had all seen Elves before, but for me, Glorfindel was the very first Elf I ever met. And I must say he was a fine introduction, too, despite the circumstances. He is about one of the fairest and noblest Elves I have ever had the pleasure to see.
Glorfindel spoke a few words to Frodo, but as Frodo listened, the shadow grew heavier on him, and though he was trying to conceal it he sometimes grimaced with pain. He was getting worse. I could see Glorfindel’s point in wanting to take him to Rivendell as quickly as possible, but I also agreed with Sam, who heatedly emphasized that we needed the rest, if only for Frodo’s sake. I can only imagine what courage it must have taken dear Samwise to speak to one of his idolised Elves in such a manner.

Yet he did not get his way; instead, Glorfindel put Frodo on the back of his white horse, and led it forwards over the path, so swiftly that we would surely have fallen behind if we had not transferred our packs onto our good old pony’s back again. Elves do not need rest and neither, or so it seemed at least, did Strider. But we Hobbits were on the brink of collapsing. The daily fear had absorbed our energy at least as much as lack of sleep and food had. Finally, when Pippin stumbled for the umpteenth time and dragged me along by my arm, Glorfindel saw that we could go no further and allowed us a short rest and some sleep. Not enough of course, but we would be able to manage for a while again.
The next day was even worse. We were so completely spent by the late afternoon, we sometimes even forgot worrying over Frodo. We should not have, because my cousin was looking worse than ever. The very few times I was able to lift up my head and look at him sitting high upon the Elven steed, I almost felt guilty about being so weary.

We had now reached a descending part of the Road close to the Ford, and were surrounded by tall trees. The environment seemed full of strange sounds and echoes. Or was that only in our scared minds? I saw that Glorfindel became more anxious, and Strider as well.
Then, suddenly, a great wave of icy cold swept over my heart, and at the exact same moment Frodo made a sick noise that sounded horribly like a feeble echo of the Black Rider’s cries.
“They’re close…” The words escaped my lips before I realised it. Strider looked at me keenly, then at Frodo.
Glorfindel jumped forward. “Fly! The enemy is upon us!”
The great steed ran forwards, carrying a swaying Frodo. Strider pushed me in the back unceremoniously, nearly causing me to stumble. Yet I did not need it to tell me what I should do: run, as fast as I could. Sam was already ahead of me, but poor Pippin, despite his fear, was still dreadfully tired and therefore unfocused, and tripped. I caught him just before he hit the ground, hauling him up by his arm. “Come on, Pippin, get up lad, come on!” There were tears of fear and weariness in his eyes, but he nodded and took my hand.
I did not look back as I ran: but from the cries of the Elf and the many thudding hoofs I could tell that there were more then one chasing after us.
Pippin was slowing down again, his tears now flowing freely. He looked close to fainting, and I did not feel any better myself. Still I pulled his arm. “Come on, Pip!”
“I can’t, Merry, I can’t go on anymore, they’ll catch me!” My heart broke to hear my young cousin’s sweet voice so full of fear and despair. I wanted to embrace him and comfort him, but merely squeezed his hand while we ran on. Then, suddenly, a thought occurred to me.
“It’s not you they’re after…”
Pippin looked at me with wide eyes, appearently I had spoken out loud. Neither of us realised that we had stopped running.
The thundering of hoofs brought me back to reality just in time to see a great black horse coming straight for us.
We were rooted to the spot, both gazing at death coming towards us, unable to do anything. Just then a mighty arm lifted me off the ground and literally threw me into the bushes beside the Road. I looked up, spitting out bits of grass, to see Strider lying beside me, panting and sweating, and still holding Pippin. He put him back down on his feet, picked me up by the scruff of my neck and nudged us. “Hurry! They may not be after you, but we need to stay with Frodo. Even if he does escape the Riders he will not be able to make it to Rivendell by himself. He needs you, come on!” And with that, we ran on, chasing the black horses as fast as we could on our short, weary legs.

“Aragorn!” we suddenly heard a fair voice call. Glorfindel was standing amidst the trees, beckoning to us. We ran towards him and he pulled us all into a hollow at the side of the Road. There, to our great relief, we also found Sam. His lip was bleeding, but he seemed to be alright otherwise, and was making a great fuss collecting bits of dry wood. Glorfindel and Strider disappeared, and came back moments later carrying a few long sticks. The Elf kindled a fire – surprisingly quickly – and they lighted the ends of the sticks. Then they gave us each a torch, Glorfindel also took one and Strider carried one in each hand.
“There are too many of them, and your friend is fading,” explained Glorfindel hastily. “We need to help him. Lord Elrond has power over this river, and therefore the Riders fear it. Yet they also fear fire, as do their steeds. We can use that to our advantage. If we can force them into the floods of Bruinan, we might be able to rescue the Bearer.”
“Do not fear the River,” added Strider, “and be not afraid of anything it might do. The River of Imladris will do you no harm. You must trust us now.”
Glorfindel seemed to listen intently, and I could faintly hear a roaring sound coming closer.
“That is our signal,” said the Elf. “Let us go!”
We nodded, and without further ado ran out of our shelter and into the open. What I then saw, astounded me.

The River, that had seemed so calm and peaceful when I had seen it from afar, had turned into a thundering mass of waves, plunging on like a stampede of wild horses. Now that I looked closer, they even looked like horses, immense beasts with flowing manes.
“Come now!” yelled Strider over the noise, and I saw a group of black figures standing by its shores. They seemed to be doubtful. Every now and then I could catch a glimpse of dark hair over the waves at the other side. They had not yet caught him…
Strider uttered a battle cry and jumped forward, brandishing his torches towards the black figures. The same ancient fire I had seen at Weathertop was burning in his eyes.
Sam had also gathered his courage and dashed after him, followed closely by Pippin and me. I saw Glorfindel pass us, and was scared by what I saw. He was still beautiful, but his fair Elven features were illuminated with mad fury. I realised how deadly this Elf could be if he was angered, but knowing that he was on our side now heartened rather than frightened me.

This was too much for our enemies. Once again I must say I still think it was rather the fire in their eyes than the flaming torches that did it, but the Riders were brought off balance, and hesitated just a moment too long. A few of them had already vanished into the mad waves when we reached them, horses and all. Several others were hurled into the water by their steeds, who galloped off in mad fear.
As soon as the last black figure had disappeared into its depts, the Bruinan calmed down, and soon after we were able to cross the Ford, Strider carrying Sam, Glorfindel carrying Pippin and I, being not as concerned about the water as my companions, on my own feet.
At the other side we found the white horse Asfaloth, guarding the motionless body of Frodo, lying on the ground with his broken sword beside him.

He did not seem to be breathing.”