"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.
Chapter 14: Hollin
At the Ford of Bruinen they left the Road and turning southwards went on by narrow paths among the folded landed. Their purpose was to hold this course west of the Mountains for many miles and days. The country was much rougher and more barren than in the green vale of the Great River in Wilderland on the other side of the range, and their going would be slow; but they hoped in this way to escape the notice of unfriendly eyes. The spies of Sauron had hitherto seldom been seen in this empty country, and the paths were little known except to the people of Rivendell.Gandalf walked in front, and with him went Aragorn, who knew this land even in the dark. The others were in file behind, and Legolas whose eyes were keen was the rearguard. The first part of their journey was hard and dreary, and Frodo remembered little of it, save the wind. For many sunless days an icy blast came from the Mountains in the east, and no garment seemed able to keep out its searching fingers. Though the company was well clad, they seldom felt warm, either moving or at rest. The girls could often huddled close to each other for warmth, for they were used to far milder winters in the South of their home country. The Company slept uneasily during the middle of the day, in some hollow of the land, or hidden under the tangled thorn bushes that grew in thickets in many places. In late afternoon they were roused by the watch, and took their chief meal: cold and cheerless as a rule, for they could seldom risk the lighting of a fire. In the evening they went on again, always as nearly southward as they could find a way.At first it seemed to the hobbits that although they walked and stumbled until they were weary, they were creeping forward like snails, and getting nowhere. Each day the land looked much the same as it had the day before. Yet steadily the mountains were drawing nearer. South of Rivendell they rose ever higher, and bent westwards; and about the feet of the main ridge there was tumbled an even wider land of bleak hills, and deep valleys filled with turbulent waters. Paths were few and winding, and led them often only to the edge of some sheer fall, or down into treacherous swamps.
They had been a fortnight on the way when the weather changed. The winds suddenly fell and then veered round to the south. The swift-flowing clouds lifted and melted away, and the sun came out, pale and bright. There came a cold clear dawn at the end of a long stumbling night-march. The travellers reached a low ridge crowned with ancient holly-trees whose grey-green trunks seemed to have been built out of the very stone of the hills. Their dark leaves shone and their berries glowed red in the light of the rising sun.Away in the south, Frodo could see the dim shapes of lofty mountains that seemed now to stand across the path that the Company was taking. At the left of this high range rose three peaks; the tallest and nearest stood up like a tooth tipped with snow; its great, bare, northern precipice was still largely in the shadow, but where the sunlight slanted upon it, it glowed red. Devin smiled at the sight, for she recognized it as matching the description of Hollin; and knowing that they had at last reached an oasis of sorts made the view all the more beautiful to behold.Gandalf stood at Frodo's side and looked out under his hand.
"We have done well." The wizard said. "We have reached the borders of the country that Men call Hollin; many Elves lived here in happier days, when Eregion was its name. Five-and-forty leagues as the crow flies we have come, though many long miles further our feet have walked. The land and the weather will be milder now, but perhaps all the more dangerous."
"Dangerous or not, a real sunrise is mighty welcome." Said Frodo, throwing back his hood and letting the morning light fall on his face.
"Amen to that!" Kitty exclaimed as she and Devin followed suit. The pale sunlight seemed to breathe new life into Devin's dark auburn hair, as it now glowed with touches of highlights resembling smoldering embers.
"But the mountains are ahead of us." Said Pippin. "We must have turned eastwards in the night."
"No." said Gandalf. "But you see further ahead in the clear light. Beyond those peaks the range bends round south-west. There are many maps in Elrond's house, but I suppose you never thought to look at them?"
"Yes I did, sometimes," said Pippin, "but I don't remember them. Frodo has a better head for that sort of thing."
"I need no map." Said Gimli, who had come up with Legolas, and was gazing out before him with a strange light in his deep eyes. "There is the land where our fathers worked of old, and we have wrought the image of those mountains into many works of metal and stone, and into many songs and tales. They stand tall in our dreams: Baraz, Zirak, and Shathûr."Only once before have I seen them from afar in waking life, but now I know their names, for under them lies Khazad-dûm, the Dwarrowdelf, that is now called the Black Pit, Moria in the Elvish tongue. Yonder stands Barazinbar, the Redhorn, cruel Caradhras; and beyond him are the Silvertine and Cloudyhead: Celebdil the White, and Fanuidhol the Grey, that we call Zirak-zigil and Bundushathûr."There the Misty Mountains divide, and between their arms lies the deep-shadowed valley which we cannot forget: Azanulbizar, the Dimrill Dale, which the Elves call Nanduhirion."
"It is for Dimrill Dale that we are making." Said Gandalf. "If we climb the pass that is called the Redhorn Gate, under the far side of Caradhras, we shall come down by the Dimrill Stair in the deep vale of the Dwarves. There lies the Mirrormere, and there the River Silverlode rises in its icy springs."
"Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram," said Gimli, "and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon."
"May you have joy at the sight, my good dwarf!" said Gandalf. "But whatever you may do, we at least cannot stay in that valley. We must go down the Silverlode into the secret woods, and so to the Great River, and then—" He paused.
"Yes, and where then?" asked Merry.
"To the end of the journey in the end." Said Gandalf. "We cannot look too far ahead. Let us be glad that the first stage is safely over. I think we will rest here, not only today, but tonight as well. There is a wholesome air about Hollin. Much evil must befall a country before it wholly forgets the Elves, if once they dwelt there."
"That is true." Said Legolas. "But the elves of this land were of a race strange to us of the silvan folk, and the trees and the grass do not now remember them. Only I hear the stones lament them: deep they delved us, fair they wrought us, high they built us; but they are gone. They are gone. They sought the Havens long ago."
"Whoa. You can talk to nature?" Kitty asked.
"Well, he is an elf, Kitty." Devin reminded her friend. "They can all do that, remember? It's kind of their thing."
"No, not really. I kind of forgot that bit." Kitty answered honestly. Gandalf shook his head. No wonder she and Pippin got a long so well.
That morning they lit a fire in a deep hollow shrouded by great bushes of holly, and their supper-breakfast was merrier than it had been since they set out. They did not hurry to bed afterwards, for they had expected to have all the night to sleep in, and they did not mean to go on again until the evening of the next day. For the first time in a good while, they all finally had time to relax and have a proper conversation with each other.
"You seem to know much of our world, but we know next to nothing of yours." Boromir said to the girls as they all sat around the cheerful little fire. "This has been weighing on my mind for some time. Why not tell us tales of your land for a change?" The two girls exchanged a glance, wondering if they should.
"I, too, am curious about the land you come from." Legolas said, looking at Devin, whom he had sat beside, with intent grey eyes. Devin could feel herself starting to blush again, but she was saved by Kitty, who distracted her by abruptly clasping her hands in her own.
"Please, can we tell them?" Kitty asked, fluttering her eyelashes in an overly exaggerated manner to accompany her puppy-dog pout. "I'm tired of holding back! I think it's giving me a rash—or is it part of my withdrawal symptoms from lack of music after you convinced me to leave my trumpet behind? Either way, I think you owe me something for being good and behaving myself for so long."
"You call harassing everyone taller than you for a 'piggyback ride' behaving?" Gandalf asked dubiously, raising a bushy eyebrow at her as he smoked his pipe. "I do not think that word means what you think it does."
"No, for Kitty that was pretty mild." Devin said, smiling wryly. "Trust me, you do not want to see what she's like when she's misbehaving." Merry and Pippin raised their eyebrows. Now that, they had to see.
"Yeah, so can I tell them?" Kitty asked, getting back to the point.
"Well, I suppose it'd be all right, so long as it's just a little." Devin said tentatively. The air was indeed wholesome here, and it felt safe around the fire. A few miscellaneous details shouldn't hurt, right?
"Yes!" Kitty cheered, pumping her fist triumphantly in the air. "Where to begin...? Well, first things, first: men and women are equal where we're from."
"What?" Boromir asked, furrowing his brow as he stared skeptically at her, just as predicted. Kitty smirked.
"You heard me." She said. "Women have all the same rights and privileges as men. We have equal social and legal standing, so hah!"
"How did that happen?" Boromir asked, turning to Devin.
"Well, it wasn't easy. For the longest time, women were pretty much treated like second-class citizens since they had no legal voice and couldn't even own property with approval from a male relative in most countries, but after centuries of trying to talk some sense in their husbands, brothers, and fathers, the men finally started to listen; and the majority voted to give women the right to vote in the future as well." Devin explained, oversimplifying everything in an effort to make a long story short.
"Vote?" He asked, furrowing his brow.
"It's a formal expression of preference for a candidate for office, or for a proposed resolution of an issue." Devin stated. "We have a special system of government that allows the people to choose what laws they want passed or changed for themselves. Our country was founded on the fundamental belief that all humans—all people—were created possessing the same inherent dignity and rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
"All people were created equally, hmm? Except for the king, I bet." Said Gimli with touch of cynicism.
"We don't have a king." Devin answered calmly.
"No king? You have a queen, then?" he asked.
"Nope. No queen either." Kitty said with a smirk.
Nonsense. A country with no ruler? There would be anarchy!" Gimli said, frowning.
"Well, we call it 'democracy'." Kitty said smartly, grinning like Cheshire cat.
"It's a system of government that was created for the people by the people. Our leader is an elected official called a 'President' chosen through voting who, for better or worse, is chosen by the people as a whole. There's a system of checks and balances to prevent any one person from seizing too much power." Devin explained.
"That would never work. Everyone would be so busy trying to become the leader, that there would be no one left to vote." Boromir said with a hollow laugh of disbelief, finding the whole scenario absurd.
"Not really." Kitty said. "It's a big job running a country, and it's pretty lonely at the top, despite all the perks and prestige that come with the position. People are always complaining, and you're always getting blamed for the mistakes of your predecessor… unless you're Obama. He screwed everything up all on his own, and he's such a whiner! He's the perfect example of why people hate politicians. That guy really annoys me—his plans for messing with the insurance and healthcare systems seriously scared the crap out of me! Don't fix something that isn't broken, you ass-hat-of-a-twat-waffle!" seethed Kitty at their absent president. The dangerous look in her eyes indicated she would like nothing better than to wring this 'Obama's' neck. She didn't trust the idea of giving the government that much control over the people's private lives, and had been terrified that the new plan wouldn't cover the specific cocktail of meds required to keep her sane. Fortunately it hadn't come to that, but very idea of it happening had triggered a panic attack that resulted in her having to start taking an anti-anxiety medication in addition to everything else they already had her on. As a result, Obama had earned himself a top spot on Kitty's blacklist. Forever.
"Um, you'll have to excuse Kitty… She's very sensitive about certain political topics." Devin told them upon seeing the nervous looks on the hobbits' faces as they eyed their strange companion a little warily.
"Well, yeah!" Kitty huffed indignantly. It could have affect her medication, and how often she could afford to see the doctor! "Anyone in my position would be pissed!"
"It sounds as though your system of government still has a few kinks to work out." Aragorn said.
"Yes. It's not perfect, but it works well enough to suit our needs. Most of the time, anyway." Devin admitted ruefully with shrug. It was better than being crushed under the thumb of a wicked dictator. "A President's term in office only lasts four years, so if they prove inept or make us regret their election, we at least don't have to put up with them for long. It's not like we're stuck with them for life. We're able to enjoy a large amount of freedom in our country that not everyone else is fortunate enough to have in other parts of our world."
"You keep talking about Men, calling them 'humans', but you haven't mentioned anything about elves, dwarves, or hobbits yet." Merry said. "What about them?"
"Oh." Kitty said, blinking. "Well, this is kind of awkward… but we haven't mentioned them because they don't exist in our world." She answered rather bluntly with a straight face.
"I'm afraid elves and dwarves only exist in myths and legends in our world, and the only place I've ever heard mention of hobbits is in the book about this world." Devin explained with a small, apologetic smile.
"Oh." Pippin said, looking disappointed.
"Do you have lots of books about other worlds where you're from?" Merry asked, recovering the quickest of all their companions.
"Yes, in fact, we have lots." Said Devin, thinking it might very well be true. After all, they had once thought this world was only fiction; so who knew how many other fantastical stories out there might actually belong in the nonfiction section? "Oh, Kitty, why don't you tell them about the Doctor, or Harry Potter?" She suggested, knowing her friend would be only too happy to oblige.
"OMG, yes. I must tell you all about Harry and the Rowling-verse!" Kitty said with grave enthusiasm. "It's awesomeness will implode your minds, my dear hobbits."
"That sounds like it might hurt." Pippin commented, looking concerned.
"Don't worry. She's exaggerating." Devin reassured him.
"I'm being perfectly serious!" Kitty insisted. "This is my serious face! Listen to my tale of wonder and judge its majesty for yourself!" She commanded them, launching into the story of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Kitty had a certain flair when it came to storytelling, and she soon had the whole company listening intently as she regaled the hobbits with the tale of young Harry's first adventure at Hogwarts.Only Aragorn was silent and restless. After a while he left the Company and wandered on to the ridge; there he stood in the shadow of a tree, looking out southwards and westwards, with his head posed as if he was listening. Then he returned to the brink of the dell and looked down at the others laughing and talking. They seemed to find Kitty's story immensely entertaining, though Gandalf had a quite a few things to say about the differences between Rowling's wizards and the ones he knew of this world.
"What's the matter, Strider?" Merry called up, while Kitty and the old wizard argued about one of these finer issues. "What are you looking for? Do you miss the East Wind?"
"No indeed." He answered. "But I miss something. I have been in the country of Hollin in many seasons. No folk dwell here now, but many other creatures live here at all times, especially birds. Yet now all things but you are silent. I can feel it. There is no sound for miles about us, and your voices seem to make the ground echo. I do not understand it."
Gandalf looked up with sudden interest. "But what do you guess is the reason?" he asked. "Is there more in it than surprise at seeing four hobbits, not to mention the rest of us, where people are so seldom seen or heard?"
"I hope that is it." Answered Aragorn. "But I have a sense of watchfulness, and of fear, that I have never had here before."
"Then we must be more careful." Said Gandalf. "If you bring a Ranger with you, it is well to pay attention to him, especially if that Ranger is Aragorn. We must stop talking aloud, rest quietly, and set the watch."
It was Devin's turn that day to take the first watch, but Aragorn and Legolas joined her. The others fell asleep, and Devin began to feel the strange silence that he had spoken of earlier grow. The breathing of the sleepers could be plainly heard. The swish of the pony's tail and the occasional movements of his feet became loud noises. Devin could hear her own joints creaking, if she stirred.
"Something is troubling you." The ranger keenly observed, startling her. Though he was careful to keep his voice low and quiet, it seemed a roar against the silence around them.
"Yes. As you said, this silence is uncanny, but more than that… I fear that I shall soon have to make a very difficult decision." She admitted, furrowing her brow as she squeezed her hands. Their descent into Moria was fast approaching, and the danger and loss that she knew lay waiting for them weighed heavily on her mind and heart. Although she had resolved to try to interfere as little humanly possible while trying to help keep the story on track, even going so far as to allow Frodo to sustain a nearly fatal wound simply because it had been written so, she was beginning to doubt herself. Despite knowing that it was meant to happen, Devin still had trouble forgiving herself for it and deeply regretted letting it come to pass. Frodo, the other hobbits, and the rest of the fellowship were more than just characters in a story, they were living and breathing beings of flesh and blood; and they were all becoming increasingly dear to her. They were now friends that she wanted to protect and care for just as much as Kitty.
"Can you speak of it?" Aragorn asked while Legolas listened. Whatever the matter was, it seemed to her pain her greatly. Devin shook her head.
"I'm sorry, but I can't." She answered with regret as she looked down. "Not yet." With that the subject was closed, for they understood that she meant well and was bearing a great burden to the best of her abilities, and knew better than to press her. The dead silence surrounded them again, and over all hung a clear blue sky, as the Sun rode up from the East. Legolas appeared to have sensed something beyond the range of human perception, for he suddenly stood and cocked his head slightly as he looked to the South. Aragorn and Devin quickly turned their heads and followed his gaze, straining to see what had caught the elf's attention. Away on the horizon, a dark patch appeared, and grew, and drove north like flying smoke in the wind. Devin gasped as she recognized the scene and quickly rushed over to the fire to smother it with dirt while the others continued to gaze intently at the sky. Aragorn was about to ask what is was, when Legolas suddenly reached out and grabbed the two humans, pulling them down with him into the shade of a holly-bush.
"Lie flat and still!" He instructed them urgently in a low voice as the shadow drew near enough for human eyes to see what was approaching more clearly. Flocks of birds, flying at great speed, were wheeling and circling, and traversing the land as if they searching for something; and they were steadily drawing nearer. A whole regiment of birds broke away suddenly from the main host, and came, flying low, straight towards the ridge. As the large black birds passed overhead, in so dense a throng that their shadow followed them darkly over the ground below, one harsh croak was heard. Not until they dwindled into the distance, north and west, and the sky was again clear would the three of them rise. Then they quickly sprang up and Aragorn went and awakened Gandalf while Legolas and Devin kept guard.
"You knew." Legolas said as they watched the skies. He was sure that was why she had rushed to put out the fire without waiting.
"I expected." Devin answered. "I'm not omnipotent. I only know what I've read, and not even that is always entirely accurate." This was originally supposed to have happened while Sam and Aragorn kept watch.
"Regiments of black crows are flying all over the land between the Mountains and Greyflood," Aragorn said once the wizard was roused, "and they have passed over Hollin. They are not natives here; they are crebain out of Fangorn and Dunland. I do not know what they are about: possibly there is some trouble away south from which they are fleeing; but I think they are spying out the land. I have also glimpsed many hawks flying high up in the sky. I think we ought to move again this evening. Hollin is no longer wholesome for us: it is being watched."
"And in that case so is the Redhorn Gate," said Gandalf; "and how can we get over that without being seen, I cannot imagine. But we will think of that when we must. As for moving as soon as it is dark, I am afraid that you are right."
"Luckily our fire made little smoke, and had burned low before the crebain came." Said Aragorn. It was also fortunate that the sleeping happened to be lying in such a way that they had all been hidden from view as well. "Devin has put it out, and it must not be lit again."
"Well, if that isn't a plague and nuisance!" said Pippin. "All because of a pack of crows! I had looked forward to a real good meal tonight: something hot."
"This seriously sucks!" Kitty agreed moodily. The news: no fire, and a move again by night, had been broken to them as soon as they woke in the late afternoon. "I was really looking forward to that, too! I wanted to make pizza."
"Pizza…" Merry, Pippin, and Sam sighed wistfully with dreamy expressions on their faces, dangerously close to drooling over the tasty memory of the one the girls had made for them before.
"Well, you can go on looking forward." Said Gandalf. "There may be many unexpected feasts ahead for you. For myself, I should like a pipe to smoke in comfort, and warmer feet." Devin silently seconded the warm feet part. Her own felt like a pair of popsicles. "However, we are certain of one thing at any rate: it will get warmer as we get south."
"Too warm, I shouldn't wonder." Muttered Sam to Frodo. "But I'm beginning to think it's time we got sight of that Fiery Mountain, and saw the end of the Road, so to speak. I thought at first that this here Redhorn, or whatever its name is, might be it, till Gimli spoke his piece. A fair jaw-cracker dwarf-language must be!" Maps conveyed little to Sam's mind, and all distances in these strange lands seemed so vast that he was quite out of his reckoning.All that day the Company remained in hiding. The dark birds passed over now and again; but as the westering Sun grew red they disappeared southwards. At dusk the Company set out, and turning now half east they steered their course towards Caradhras, which far away still glowed faintly red in the last light of the vanished Sun. one by one white stars sprang forth as the sky faded.Guided by Aragorn they struck a good path. It looked to Frodo like the remains of an ancient road, that had once been broad and well planned, from Hollin to the mountain-pass. The Moon, now at the full, rose over the mountains, and cast a pale light in which the shadows of stones were black. Many of them looked to have been worked by hands, though now they lay tumbled and ruinous in a bleak, barren land.It was the cold chill hour before the first stir of dawn, and the moon was low. Frodo looked up at the sky. Suddenly he saw or felt a shadow pass over the high stars, as if for a moment, they faded and then flashed out again. He shivered.
"Did you see anything pass over?" he whispered to Gandalf, who was just ahead.
"No, but I felt it, whatever it was." He answered. "It may be nothing, only a wisp of thin cloud."
"It was moving fast then," muttered Aragorn, "and not with the wind."