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Chapter 13: The Ring Goes South
"My, that was a great deal of talk, and just about everyone had an eye-opener." Bilbo said once the Council had been dismissed, and they were finally allowed to leave and have their lunch. The hobbits had decided to make a picnic of it so they could have a meeting of their own while they ate. Of course, they weren't completely alone, as Gandalf and the girls were with them. "Even old Gandalf. I think Legolas's bit of news about Gollum caught him on the hop, though he passed it off."
"You were wrong." Said Gandalf. "You were in attentive. I had already heard of it from Gwaihir. If you want to know, the only real eye-openers, as you put it, were you and Frodo; and I, with the exception of these two young ladies, was the only one not surprised." Kitty and Devin both raised an eyebrow. What, no mention of Devin's rant about the possible unleashing of an apocalypse on their own world? Was that not interesting enough for them?
"Well, anyway," said Bilbo. "Did you see Elrond's face when those two popped out?" Bilbo asked with a twinkle in his eye, chuckling at the memory of the elf-lord's priceless expression upon seeing Merry and Pippin had invaded the secret council without his knowing.
"Yeah." Kitty agreed with an impish grin. "I should have taken a picture."
"And then I'm sure he would have had your phone destroyed along with all potential blackmail in it." Devin said, smiling wryly.
" 'Phone'?" Bilbo asked curiously. "What is that? One of the strange devices you brought with you from your world?"
"Yep. I'll show it you later, if you want." Kitty said. "It's supposed to be used as a communication device that lets people miles apart have a real-time conversation instead of waiting on letters, but it's pretty much just a flying brick now without the satellites in our world to carry the call signal."
"Wait. It flies, too?" Pippin asked excitedly.
"It does if I throw it at people." Kitty answered with a smirk.
"She breaks more phones that way." Devin said, shaking her head. "But enough about Kitty's idiosyncrasies. Did you say before that you wanted to talk about what will happen next, concerning the Ring?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Yes. Oh, but I suppose we won't really be able to do very much until the reports come in." Bilbo said. "Have they started yet, Gandalf?"
"Yes." Said the wizard. "Some of the scouts have been sent out already. More will go tomorrow. Elrond is sending Elves, and they will get in touch with the Rangers, and maybe Thranduil's folk in Mirkwood. And Aragorn has gone with Elrond's sons. We shall have to scour the lands all round for many long leagues before any move is made. So cheer up, Frodo! You will probably make quite a long stay here."
"Ah!" said Sam gloomily. "We'll wait just long enough for winter to come."
"That can't be helped." Said Bilbo. "It's your fault partly, Frodo my lad: insisting on waiting for my birthday. A funny way of remembering it, I can't help thinking. Not the day I should have chosen for letting the S.-Bs. into Bag End."
"You wouldn't have chosen any day." Devin said.
"Yes, quite." He admitted with a chuckle. "But there it is: you can't wait now till spring; and you can't go till the reports come back.
When winter first begins to biteand stones crack in the frosty night,when pools are black and trees are bare,'tis evil in the Wild to fare.
But that I am afraid will be just your luck."
"I am afraid it will." Said Gandalf. "We can't start until we have found out about the Riders."
"I thought they were all destroyed in the flood." Said Merry.
"You cannot destroy Ringwraiths like that." Said Gandalf. "The power of their master is in them, and they stand or fall by him. We hope that they were all unhorsed and unmasked, and so made for a while less dangerous; but we must find out for certain. In the meantime you should try and forget your troubles, Frodo. Which reminds me, I want to see Elrond. I must be off."
"What part of that reminded him of Elrond?" Kitty wondered out loud as they watched the wizard walk away.
"Who knows, I've long since given up trying to figure out what goes on in that old wizard's noggin." Bilbo said good-naturedly.
"How long do you think I shall have here?" Frodo asked Bilbo when Gandalf had gone.
"Oh, I don't know. I can't count days in Rivendell." Said Bilbo. "But quite long, I should think. We can have many a good talk. What about helping me with my book, and making a start on the next? Have you thought of an ending?"
"Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant." Said Frodo. Kitty raised an eyebrow at that. Not one for optimism, was he, their Frodo?
"Oh, that won't do!" Bilbo said. "Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?"
"It will do well, if it comes to that." Frodo said.
"Ah!" said Sam. "And where will they live? That's what I often wonder."
"Why, wherever they want, of course." Devin said, smiling.
For awhile the hobbits and girls continued to talk and think of the past journey and of the perils that lay ahead; but such was the virtue of Rivendell, that soon all fear and anxiety was lifted from their minds. The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have any power over the present. Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song. Devin had begun practicing her cheerleading to stay limber, and she soon became a novelty among the elves for her agility and athletic ability, just as Kitty had become one for her music.So the days slipped away, as each morning dawned bright and fair, and each evening followed cool and clear. But autumn was waning fast; slowly the golden light faded to pale silver, and the lingering leaves fell from the naked trees. A wind began to blow chill from the Misty Mountains to the east. The Hunter's Moon waxed round in the night sky, and put to flight all the lesser star. But low in the South one star shone red. Every night, as the Moon waned again, it shone brighter and brighter. Frodo could see it from his window, deep in the heavens, burning like a watchful eye that glared above the tree on the brink of the valley.
They had been nearly two months in the House of Elrond, and November had gone by with the last shreds of autumn, and December was passing, when the scouts began to return. Some had gone north beyond the springs of the Hoarwell into the Ettenmoors; and others had gone west, and with the help of Aragorn and the Rangers had searched the lands far down the Greyflood, as far as Tharbad, where the old North Road crossed the river by a ruined town. Many had gone east and south; and some of these had crossed the Mountains and entered Mirkwood, while others had climbed the pass at the source of the Gladden River, and had come down into the Wilderland and over the Gladden Fields and so at length had reached the old home of Radagast at Rhosgobel. Radagast was not there; and they had returned over the high pass that was called the Dimrill Stair. The sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir, were the last to return; they had made a great journey, passing down the Silverlode in a strange country, but of their errand they would not speak to any save Elrond.In no region had messengers discovered any signs or tidings of the Riders or other servants of the Enemy. Even from the Eagles of the Misty Mountains they had learned no fresh news. Nothing had been seen or heard of Gollum; but the wild wolves were still gathering, and were hunting again far up the Great River. Three of the black horses had been found at once drowned in the flooded Ford. On the rocks of the rapids below it searchers discovered the bodies of five more, and also a long black cloak, slashed and tattered. Of the Black Riders no other trace was to be seen, and nowhere was their presence to be felt. It seemed that they had vanished from the North.
"Eight out of the Nine are accounted for at least." Said Gandalf. "It is rash to be too sure, yet I think that we may hope now that the Ringwraiths were scattered, and have been obliged to return as best they could to their Master in Mordor, empty and shapeless."If that is so, it will be some time before they can begin the hunt again. Of course, the Enemy has other servants, but they will have to journey all the way to the borders of Rivendell before they can pick up our trail. And if we are careful, that will be hard to find. But we must delay no longer."
It was decided the company must depart in seven days. Aragorn and Gandalf walked together or sat speaking of their road and the perils they would meet; and they pondered the storied and figured maps and books of lore that were in the house of Elrond. Sometimes Frodo and the girls were with them, but they were content to lean on their guidance, and he spent as much time as he could with Bilbo, while the girls focused more on getting prepared for the long journey ahead, as they had yet to pack; or decide what to do with the artifacts they possessed which did not belong in this world, and seemed greatly concerned that their more advanced technology should not fall into the hands of the Enemy. In the end, with much sorrow, the girls allowed for their phones, ipods, and many other small items to be destroyed rather than try to recharge them, saying they could always be replaced once they returned to their world, however dear their loss may feel at the moment.In those last days the hobbits and girls sat together in the evening in the Hall of Fire, and there they heard the told in full the lay of Beren and Lúthien and the winning of the Great Jewel; but in the day, while Merry, Pippin, Devin, and Kitty were out and about, Frodo and Sam were to be found with Bilbo in his own small room. Then Bilbo would read passages from his book (which still seemed very incomplete), or scraps of his verses, or would take notes of Frodo's adventures.On the morning of the last day Frodo was alone with Bilbo, and the old hobbit pulled out from under his bed a wooden box. He lifted the lid and fumbled inside.
"Here is your sword." He said. "But it was broken, you know. I took it to keep it safe, but I've forgotten to ask if the smiths could mend it. No time now. So I thought, perhaps, you would care to have this, don't you know?"
He took from the box a small sword in an old shabby leathern scabbard. Then he drew it, and its polished and well-tended blade glittered suddenly, cold and bright.
"This is Sting." He said, and thrust it with little effort deep into a wooden beam. "Take it, if you like. I shan't want it again, I expect."
Frodo accepted it gratefully.
"Also there is this!" said Bilbo, bringing out a parcel which seemed to be rather heavy for its size. He unwound several folds of old cloth, and held up a small shirt of mail. It was close-woven of many rings, as supple almost as linen, cold as ice, and harder than steel. It shone like moonlit silver, and was studded with white gems. With it was a belt of pearl and crystal.
"It's a pretty thing, isn't it?" said Bilbo, moving it in the light. "And useful. It is my dwarf-mail that Thorin gave me. I got it back from Michel Delving before I started, and packed it with my luggage. I brought all the mementoes of my Journey away with me, except the Ring. But I did not expect to use this, and I don't need it now, except to look at sometimes. You hardly feel any weight when you put it on."
"It should look—well, I don't think I should look right in it." Said Frodo.
"Just what I said myself." Said Bilbo. "But never mind about looks. You can wear it under your outer clothes. Come on! You must share this secret with me. Don't tell anybody else! But I should feel happier if I knew you were wearing it. I have a fancy it would turn even the knives of the Black Riders." He ended in a low voice.
"Very well, I will take it, said Frodo. Bilbo put it on him, and fastened Sting upon the glittering belt; and then Frodo put over the top his old weather-stained breeches, tunic, and jacket.
"Just a plain hobbit you look." Said Bilbo. "But there is more about you now than appears on the surface. Good luck to you!" He turned away and looked out of the window, trying to hum a tune.
"I cannot thank you as I should, Bilbo, for this, and for all your past kindnesses." Said Frodo.
"Don't try!" said the old hobbit, turning round and slapping him on the back. "Ow!" he cried. "You are too hard now to slap! But there you are: Hobbits must stick together, and especially Bagginses. All I ask in return is: take as much care of yourself as you can, and bring back all the news you can come by. I'll do my best to finish my book before you return. I should like to write the second book, if I am spared." He broke off and turned to the window again, singing softly.
I sit beside the fire and thinkof all that I have seen,of meadow-flowers and butterfliesin summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamerin autumns that there were,with morning mist and silver sunand wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and thinkof how the world will bewhen winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many thingsthat I have never seen:in every wood in every springthere is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and thinkof people long ago,and people who will see a worldthat I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and thinkof times there were before,I listen for returning feetand voices at the door.
Meanwhile the girls were called upon by Elrond and Arwen, and given a few gifts of their own to aide them on their journey. The elves who had made a habit of watching Devin's cheerleading workouts had tailored a couple of special outfits in dark berry hues for her that were designed to allow for optimum movement for the wearer, and almost reminded her of an elvish winter cheerleading uniform with leggings, boots, and a matching coat to wear rather than a cloak. It was functional and simple, but elegant. True to the elven style. Kitty was given a couple of outfits similar to Arwen's riding habit in shades of blue, to match her eyes.The girls were then lead to the armory and allowed to choose a weapon or two of their choice since they had none of their own to begin with. Kitty immediately chose a sword. It had a long handle, so that it could easily be gripped with two hands for more power in the swing. Devin had a hard time choosing at first, but Kitty helped her narrow it down by suggesting she try a set of two double-ended daggers, pointing out that they were a lot like the pompoms she was used to performing with, only sharper. Devin also ended up taking a set of small throwing knives. She was really quite good at darts, after all.
"I had words with Aragorn about reforging the sword." Elrond said to Devin in a low voice while they watched Arwen help Kitty adjust her form to properly wield the elven sword she have chosen. "He would not be persuaded."
"He'll change his mind, in time. He'll have to. Even if he won't do it for himself or because we say it's necessary, he'll still do it in the end. He'll do it for her." Devin said, glancing pointedly at Arwen. Elrond followed her gaze.
"You are certain of this?" he asked.
"Yes. I believe what's meant to be will always find a way. And those two are meant for each other." She said, smiling up at him reassuringly.
"I hope for her sake, for all our sakes, that you are right." Elrond said as he watched his smiling daughter laugh at Kitty's antics.
It was a cold and grey day near the end of December. The East Wind was streaming through the bare branches of the trees, and seething in the dark pines on the hills. Ragged clouds were hurrying overhead, dark and low. As the cheerless shadows of the early evening began to fall the Company made ready to set out. They were to start at dusk, for Elrond counseled them to journey under cover of night as often as they could, until they were far from Rivendell.
"You should fear the many eyes of the servants of Sauron." He said. "I do not doubt that the news of the discomfiture of the Riders has already reached him, and he will be filled with wrath. Soon now his spies on foot and wing will be abroad in the northern lands. Even of the sky above you must beware as you go on your way."
The Company took little gear of war, for their hope was secrecy not in battle. Aragorn was once again clad in his weathered ranger gear. Boromir had a long sword, and he bore also a shield and his war horn.
"Loud and clear it sounds in the valleys of the hill," he said, "and then let all the foes of Gondor flee!" Putting it to his lips he blew a blast, and the echoes leapt from rock to rock, all that heard that voice in Rivendell sprang to their feet.
"Slow should you be to wind that horn again, Boromir," said Elrond, "until you stand once more on the borders of your land, and dire need is on you."
"Maybe." Said Boromir. "But I always let my horn cry at setting forth, and though thereafter we may walk in the shadows, I will not go forth as a thief in the night." Kitty rather subtly rolled her eyes at this. He was such a jock.
Gimli the dwarf alone wore openly a short shirt of steel rings and a helm upon his head, for dwarves make light of burdens; and in his belt was a broad-bladed axe. More of varying lengths were strapped upon his back. Legolas had a bow and a quiver, and two long white knives holstered on his back. The younger hobbits wore the swords they had taken from the barrow; but Frodo only took Sting; and his mail coat, as Bilbo wished, remained hidden. The girls wore their gifts from the Elves of Rivendell, and chose to leave all their other-worldly belongings (aside from the lighter, which could prove quite handy) in the safe-keeping of the Elves for the duration of their journey. Gandalf bore his staff, but girt at his side was the elven-sword Glamdring, the mate of Orcrist that now lay upon the breast of Thorin under the Lonely Mountain.All were well furnished by Elrond with thick warm clothes, and they had jackets and cloaks lined with fur. Spare food and clothes and blankets and other needs were laden on a pony, none other than the poor beast that they had brought from Bree.The stay in Rivendell had worked a great wonder of change on him: he was glossy and seemed to have the vigor of youth. It was Sam who had insisted on choosing him, declaring that Bill (as he called him, though Kitty had wanted to name him Tequila) would pine, if he did not come.
"That animal can nearly talk," he said, "and would talk, if he stayed here much longer. He gave me a look as plain as Mr. Pippin could speak it: if you don't let me go with you, Sam, I'll follow on my own." So Bill was going as the beast of burden, yet he and the girls were the only members of the company that did not seem depressed.
Their farewells had been said in the great hall by the fire, and they were only waiting now for Gandalf, who had not yet come out of the house. A gleam of firelight came from the open doors, and soft lights were glowing in many windows. Bilbo huddled in a cloak stood silent on the doorstep beside Frodo. Aragorn sat with his head bowed to his knees; only Elrond and Devin knew fully what this hour meant to him. The others could be seen as grey shapes in the darkness. Sam was standing by the pony and the girls, sucking his teeth, and staring moodily into the gloom where the river roared stonily below; in contrast to Kitty, who seemed most excited and could not wait to get started, his desire for adventure was at its lowest ebb.
"Bill, my lad," he said, "you oughtn't to have took up with us. You could have stayed here and et the best hay till the new grass comes." Bill swished his tail and said nothing.
Sam eased the pack on his shoulders, and went over anxiously in his mind all the things that he had stowed in it, wondering if he had forgotten anything: his chief treasure, his cooking gear; and the little box of salt that he always carried and refilled when he could; a good supply of pipe-weed (but not near enough, I'll warrant); flint and tinder; woolen hose; linen; various small belongings of his master's that Frodo had forgotten and Sam had stowed to bring them out in triumph when they were called for. He went through them all.
"Rope!" he muttered. "No rope! And only last night you said to yourself: 'Sam, what about a bit of rope? You'll want it if you haven't got it.' Well, I'll want it. I can't get it now."
"Does he realize he's talking out loud to himself?" Kitty whispered to Devin.
"Oh, leave him alone. He's just nervous, and he has good reason to be." Devin said. "We would be, too, if we had any sense."
At that moment Elrond came out with Gandalf, and he called the Company to him. "This is my last word." He said in a low voice. "The Ring-bearer is setting out on the Quest to Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid; neither to cast the Ring away, nor to deliver it to any servant of the Enemy nor indeed to let any handle it, save members of the Company and the Council, and only then in gravest need. The other go with him as free companions, to help him on his way. You may tarry, or come back, or turn aside into other paths, as chance allows. The further you go, the less easy it will be to withdraw; yet no oath or bond is laid on you to go further than you will. For you do not yet know the strength of your hearts, and you cannot foresee what each may meet upon the road."
"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens." Said Gimli.
"Maybe," said Elrond, "but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall."
"Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart." Said Gimli.
"Or break it." Said Elrond. "Look not too far ahead! But go now with good hearts! Farewell, and may the blessing of Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you. May the stars shine upon your faces!"
"Good… good luck!" cried Bilbo, stuttering with the cold. "I don't suppose you will be able to keep a diary, Frodo my lad, but I shall expect a full account when you get back. And don't be too long! Farewell!"
Many others from Elrond's household stood in the shadows and watched them go, bidding them farewell with soft voices. There was no laughter, and no song or music. At last they turned away and faded silently into the dusk.They crossed the bridge and wound slowly up the long steep paths that led out of the cloven vale of Rivendell; and they came at length to the high moor where the wind hissed through the heather. Then with one glance at the Last Homely House twinkling below them they strode away far into the night.