Tree and Stone
Chapter 21, Of Rice and Wild Rabbits
Before the Companions set out that evening, Gandalf called a council.
He explained that the path through the mountains was most likely
already being watched and therefore even more dangerous. He and Aragorn
had discussed their other option, to cross Enedwaith to the Gap of
Rohan, but they had decided that it was unwise to take the Ring so
close to Isenguard.
This news had not set well with Boromir, but he accepted their decision
after saying his piece. Legolas listened to the Wizard speak and
wondered what it was he was not saying.
The night march was more difficult than usual; the land was more broken
and there was no path. Sam walked behind Frodo, one hand on his
master's shoulder, the other holding Bill's lead rope. Gimli kept Merry
and Pippin in front of him. Legolas followed at the rear of their
When dawn came, they found they had made little headway; the mountains
seemed no closer. They settled for the day beneath a row of scraggly
trees on the edge of a wide bowl. Down at the bottom of this bowl ran a
trickle of a stream, surrounded by wild rice, the blades now brown and
dry in the season. Aragorn set Merry and Gimli to watch and drew
"We might find a bit of game here, hiding in the grasses, to suppliment
our rations. I shall work my way through the stream-course and try to
flush out a rabbit or two. Will you keep your bow handy and bring down
what escapes me? Just be sure that it is not I you bring down!"
Legolas laughed. "We have hunted together before, Estel. If I did not shoot you then, it in unlikely that I shall do so now."
Legolas knelt in the grasses and waited, his eyes keen for movement in
the grey and brown rushes. He could hear Aragorn, for though the Man
was moving stealthfully, he was making deliberate noises to startle
into movement whatever animals might be hiding in the tall weeds. The
bow in the Elf's hands was strung with an arrow notched and ready. He
held them loosely.
Very near to Legolas's location the grasses suddenly rustled, and the
Elf drew the bow and turned, ready to release the shaft at what sounded
like a very large animal. He gasped and shot the arrow into the soil
before his feet, barely moving his hands in time.
Samwise Gamgee stood with his eyes round as saucers, staring at the
quivering arrow in the ground at his feet. In one hand he held a
rabbit, from the other dangled a snare of woven reeds. His face was
white as milk.
"Master Samwise! Forgive me! Hobbits tread lightly indeed, for I nearly
thought you were a rabbit yourself!" Legolas pulled the arrow up and
knocked the dirt from the tip. "You should have warned me or Aragorn
that you had gone hunting today!"
"I'm sorry, Mr Legolas," Sam said, blinking and waving the hand that
held the rabbit. "I thought Mr Frodo could do with some fresh meat
a'fore we climb that big old mountain."
"That is our purpose, as well. Aragorn is working downstream to bring
me game. If that is not the only rabbit that lived in this dell, we all
should eat well today. Please wait here behind me, Samwise. Aragorn
does not know you are here, and his arrow may fly truer than mine!"
"Yessir," Samwise squatted down behind the Elf, busying himself with
repairing his snare. He was wishing he had thought to ask Mr Elrond for
some rope before they left Rivendell, when he heard a great rustling in
the bushes nearby. 'That must be Mr Strider,' he thought. Legolas had
turned toward the sound, bow bent and eyes slitted.
Out of the grasses charged not a Ranger, but a boar! It was bigger than
any Sam had ever seen, it's tusks seemed a foot long and terrifying. He
fell back in surprise, too shocked even to cry out.
Legolas released his arrow and fitted and fired two more in the time it
took Sam's heart to begin to beat again. The boar squealed and fell
twitching in the grass.
Strider appeared, leaping over the stream and tossing two more coneys
onto the ground beside Sam. He was grinning with satisfaction.
"Our companions will eat well today, my friends, and for many nights hence. Good shooting, Legolas!"
The Elf nodded, smiling. "Sometimes a marksman's skill is not measured
by what he shoots at and hits," Legolas looked significantly over at
Samwise, "but what he does not hit!"
Samwise blushed. He gathered up the coneys and mumbled, "I'll just get these cleaned up..."
Aragorn and Legolas laughed, carrying between them their boar. Tonight would be an unexpected feast!
Chapter 22, Caradhras the Cruel
It took three night marches to reach the foothills of Caradhras, and
with every step winter seemed to take a firmer grip on the land.
Aragorn and Gandalf continued their murmured conversation, even until
the very knees of the red mountain itself. Gimli wondered if they were
discussing the route, or perhaps whatever dangers might be encountered;
he could not quite hear what they said to one another.
As they settled down for a rest before the march that would bring them
to the Redhorn Gate itself, Gimli let his thoughts take him deep under
the stone of that pass, down below the frozen peak and the
cloud-wreathed shoulders. The Dwarf was pleased that they had chosen to
take this way, instead of the Gap of Rohan. Moria lay beneath this very
mountain, the ancient home of his people, the folk of Durin. It was
tantalizing, to be so close to the answers he longed to learn; they
were buried like treasure beneath his very feet. Yet he knew it would
not be an easy crossing, for though the sun was rising the sky looked
black indeed, and the wind was growling. Also, his mind was weighed
with the knowledge that the Fellowship would continue on past the
Dimrill Dale, and would not wait for him to visit the halls of
Khazad-dum; he would have to make his decision then: to leave the
Company or go on. His heart was still divided when, at midafternoon
after a last warm meal, they prepared to begin their climb.
All the night his thoughts had been busy. He rued that Lord Elrond did
not require them to take vows upon setting out. His duty to his people
was clear: to learn of Balin's fate. But his heart, his loyalty and
passion was with Frodo and the Company of the Ring. If words had then
been required, oaths of fealty and honour binding him to the Quest, he
could mutter and chaffe as he walked past the East Gate of Moria, but
his duty and honour would then be bound. Instead, he would have to
choose, and live for all of his days with the result of that choice.
'Well', he thought as he combed his fingers through his beard, 'I have
to climb the mountain first, before I can enter it!' But hearty as
Gimli was, as steadfast and solid as any of the Dwarven race, the
wintery threat in the sky was daunting; he grumbled as he shrugged his
fur-lined cloak tighter around his ears. This leg of the journey would
not be a comfortable one.
It was fortunate that Gandalf and Aragorn were familiar with the path,
for the darkness closed heavily over them as they climbed the rough
track. Just after midnight the snow finally began to fall, gentle
flakes as big and fluffy as cottonseeds. Frodo paused and blinked as
they swirled into his eyes, and Legolas held out a hand, catching a
flake on his palm and sniffing it as if it were a flower.
Very soon the snow was coming down as thick as the night, blanketing
the shoulders of the companions and piling onto their road, the wind
scooping it into drifts across the path. Gandalf and Aragorn could
barely be seen ahead; they paused briefly at the summit of a steep
slope to allow the rest of the Company to catch them up. Gimli heard
their exchange more easily, for now they had to speak loudly over the
"This is what I feared," Gandalf said. "What say you now, Aragorn?"
"That I feared it too, but less than other things. It is rare that snow
should fall so heavily so far south, even in this season, except high
up in the mountains." Aragorn shook his head, then brushed the snow
from Frodo's shoulders as the hobbit stood listening to their talk. He
was shivering slightly. The snow was just deep enough to cover his bare
feet. Aragorn noticed then that the halflings were wearing woolen hose
over their legs, though their feet were still bare, but for the thick,
wooly hair that grew naturally upon them. "You must be very cold,
Frodo; you and the others."
"Who is not cold, in this frigid air?" Frodo smiled up at him. "It's
all right. The snow is not as bad as the wind. It seemes to know how to
blow right down my collar and chill my heart!" He flipped up the hood
of his cloak, pulling the furry lining close around his face.
Boromir shifted his pack, sending a small shower of snow cascading down
his strong arms. "I wonder if this is a contrivance of the the Enemy,"
he said. "They say in my land that he can govern the storms in the
Mountains of Shadow that stand upon the borders of Mordor. He has
strange powers and many allies." The Man stamped his feet to warm
himself, careful not to tread on hobbit toes.
Gimli set down his pack and the bundle of firewood he bore. All the
Fellowship had brought as much wood as they could carry, for Boromir's
advice had been sound. Irritatibly, Gimli brushed off the ice that was
forming on his beard. "His arm has grown long," the Dwarf growled, "if
he can draw snow down from the North to trouble us here three hundred
"His arm has grown long," said Gandalf. Frodo clutched his cloak tighter about him, his face turned from the biting wind.
While they were halted, the wind died down and the storm seemed to back
away. But not more than a few miles had gone behind them again when the
snow and icy gales returned. The strongest of them soon found the going
difficult. Gimli plodded along, muttering curses against the weather as
he pushed onward through what felt like a wall of ice. He couldn't
image how the hobbits were enduring this; they were bent almost double,
toiling against the steepness of the climb and the furious wind.
The Company halted suddenly, as if they had come to an agreement
without any words being spoken. Legolas crouched on the ledge near the
void, clinging to an icy stone as the wind pulled his fair hair into a
halo around his head and plucked at his clothes; he was listening to
the eerie noises that were echoing around them, murmuring over the
wind. It sounded like wild laughter and shrill cries. A shower of
stones rained down from the mountain-side, striking the path beside
them. Pippin leaped back against the cliff-slope, his face white. A
boulder the size of his head had missed him by merely a few feet.
Boromir stepped beside him and covered him with his shield. "We cannot
go further tonight," he said, having to shout to be heard over the
gale. He gathered Merry close to his other side. "Let those call it the
wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are
aimed at us!"
Aragorn led Bill under the shallow shelter of the cliff that leaned out
slightly above their heads. He positioned the hobbits between the wall
and the pony so that they were protected somewhat. They all gathered as
close together as they could, the snow piling up all the while. The
cliff-shelter gave almost no protection against the wind, and the air
seemed much colder now that they had ceased to move.
Frodo was the first to collapse. He slid down the wall onto a drift of
snow, and Sam could not rouse him. Boromir was nearest; he picked the
hobbit up and shook him gently, chaffing his hands and brow. Frodo's
eyes fluttered open, but he did not see.
"This will be the death of the halflings, Gandalf. We must do something to save ourselves!"
"Give them this." Gandalf brought out from his pack a small leathern
flask. "Just a mouthful each-- for all of us. It is very precious. It
is miruvor, the cordial of Imladris. Elrond gave it to me at our
Frodo seemed to wake as the liquor trickled down his throat, and he
found within himself new strength and heart. Boromir set him down when
the colour returned to his face.
Gimli accepted his share of the elvish draught with a touch of
reluctance, but that melted away as the fragrant vapours rose and
thawed his nose. It lay in the mouth like a drink of fresh water, but
flowed down to the belly with a fiery pulse, reaching out to the tips
of the fingers and toes in a few beats of the heart. Gimli passed the
flask to Legolas, who had been watching the Dwarf with a knowing smile.
"Honey from the valley of the rock," the Elf murmured, drinking from
the flask with reverence. "I would wager you have not tasted such as
this before, my good Dwarf, for I have myself only heard legend of such
draught. The Lord of the Edain is renowned for his wisdom and skill at
healing, but for his art of brewing, he is infamous in Mirkwood!"
And to that Gimli could fashion no argument. It was better than any
Dwarven ungueunt he had ever partook. Yet the warmth the liquor
instilled did not last long, and soon they discussed the necessity of
fire; secrecy was one of their few weapons, yet as Boromir had said, it
would not do any good for them to be so secret that they all froze to
Though they had wood and kindling, starting a fire proved a challenge
to even the most skillful. The wind whipped the sparks from Gimli's
flint, and Legolas's deft use of the fire-bow failed to bring the fuel
to burning. Gandalf was prevailed upon to use his craft; rare indeed it
was for him to use his powers so obviously, and he was very reluctant.
He conceeded the necessity, however, and spoke in a commanding voice
words that burned in Legolas's ears, and with his staff he caused flame
to come forth, engulfing the wood in green and blue fire. The wood
All night the Company huddled around the fire, warming their hands and
enjoying the light that played across their faces. The storm continued
to fall around them, outside the circle of their fire. They ignored the
creeping slush beneath their feet and the howls that rang from the
mountain high above.
At last, the storm relented; the snow grew less and the wind died to a
whisper. The hobbits were all sunk down on the ground, wrapped in
cloaks and blankets, exhausted by their ordeal. Gimli's feet felt heavy
as if they were made of lead, but he uttered no complaint. They now
discussed retreat; there was no thought of going on. But that retreat
would now be very difficult. The snow was piled across their road
higher even than Gimli's head.
It was by brute strength and brawn that the road was forged for their
escape. Boromir and Aragorn went ahead, thrusting a path through the
snow with no more tools than their hands and their will. Gimli watched
them labouring, feeling both useless and angry that there was nothing
he could do to help. He would be drowned in snow if he took a few steps
from their cliff-face.
Legolas wished there was something more he could offer, as well. He had
been less hampered by the cold than his companions, but the deadly wind
had nearly brushed him from the mountain-side more than once. He had
not the strength of the Men, that he could push aside mounds of snow
and ice. Yet there was one thing he could bring to the dispairing
hearts of the Fellowship; he maintained a cheerful disposition, aware
that hope was fragile among his companions. As the Men began to force
the way through the snow, which was deep enough that it rose
breast-high even to the tall Aragorn, Legolas watched them for a while,
"The strongest must seek a way, say you? But I say: let a ploughman
plough, but choose an otter for swimming, and for running light over
grass of leaf, or over snow-- an Elf!" Legolas sprang forth, running
across the drifted snow. He did not sink in the drifts but raced over
them, as if he weighed no more than a shaft of light. "Farewell! I go
to find the Sun!" He waved to Boromir and Aragorn as he passed them,
sliding down the scintillating dunes of ice crystals as if sporting.
They could hear his laughter lifting like the misty haze of morning.
"Well," grumbled Gimli, watching the Elf until he disappeared around the rocky turn, "that's the last we'll be seeing of him!"