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Chapter 5: A Knife in the Dark
Down in the lowest and most sheltered corner of the dell they lit a fire, and prepared a meal. The shades of evening began to fall, and it grew cold. They were suddenly aware of great hunger, for had not eaten anything since breakfast save for the Snickers bar, which they had divided up amongst themselves; but they dared not make more than a frugal supper. The lands ahead were empty of all save birds and beasts, unfriendly places deserted by all the races of the world. Rangers passed at times beyond the hills, but they were few and did not stray other wanderers were rare, and of an evil sort: trolls might stray down times out of the northern valleys of the Misty Mountains. Only on the Road would travelers be found, most often dwarves, hurrying along on business of their own, and with no help and few words to spare for strangers.
"I don't see how our food can be made to last." Said Frodo. "We have been careful enough in the last few days, and this supper is no feast; but we have used more than we ought, if we have two weeks still to go, and perhaps more."
"There is food in the world," Aragorn said; "berry, root, and herb; and I have some skill as a hunter at need. You need not be afraid of starving before winter comes. But gathering and catching food is long and weary work, and we need haste. So tighten your belts, and think with hope of the tables of Elrond's house!"
"There'd better be a big feast waiting for us." Kitty mumbled dejectedly, rubbing her empty stomach. "At least now we know a sure way of losing weight, I guess." Not that they really needed to lose any in the first place.
The cold increased as darkness came on. Peering out from the edge of the dell they could see nothing but a grey land now vanishing quickly into shadow. The sky above had cleared again and was slowly filled with twinkling stars. The girls and the hobbits were huddled together around the fire, wrapped in every garment and blanket they possessed; but Aragorn was content with a single cloak, and sat a little apart, drawing thoughtfully at his pipe. As night fell and the light of the fire began to shine out brightly he began to tell them tales to keep their minds from the cold and fear. He knew many histories and legends of long ago, of Elves and Men and the good and evil deeds of the Elder Days. It was a nice refresher course for the girls. The hobbits wondered how old he was, and where he had learned all this lore.
"Tell us of Gil-galad." Merry said suddenly, when Aragorn paused at the end of a story of the Elf-Kingdoms. "Do you know anymore of that old lay you spoke of?"
"I do indeed." Aragorn answered. "So also does Frodo, for it concerns us closely." Merry and Pippin looked at Frodo, who was staring into the fire.
"I only know the little that Gandalf has told me." Frodo began slowly. "Gil-galad was the last of the great Elf-Kings of Middle Earth. Gil-galad is starlight in their tongue. With Elendil, the Elf-friend, he went to the land of—"
"No!" Aragorn said, interrupting. "I do not think that tale should be told now with the servants of the Enemy at hand. If we win through to the house of Elrond, you may hear it there, told in full."
"Then tell us some other tale of the old days," begged Sam; "a tale about the Elves before the fading time. I would dearly like to hear more about Elves; the dark seems to press round so close."
"I will tell you the tale of Tinúviel," Aragon said, "in brief—for it is a long tale of which the end is not known; and there are none now, except Elrond, that remember it aright as it was told of old. It is a fair tale, though it is sad, as are all tales of Middle-earth, and yet it may lift up your hearts." He was silent for some time, and then he began not to speak but to chant softly:
The leaves were long, the grass was green,The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,And in the glade a light was seenOf stars in shadow shimmering.Tinúviel was dancing thereTo music of a pipe unseen,And light of stars was in her hair,And in her raiment glimmering.
Kitty and Devin began to relax, lulled by the soothing rhythm of his deep voice. It was like they were children again, safe and warm and listening to Devin's father telling them a story.
There Beren came from mountains cold,And lost he wandered under leaves,And where the Elven-river rolledHe walked alone and sorrowing.He peered between the hemlock-leavesAnd saw in wonder flowers of goldUpon her mantle and her sleeves,And her hair like shadow following.
Enchantment healed his weary feetThat over hills were doomed to roam;And forth he hastened, strong and fleet,And grasped at moonbeams glistening.Through woven woods in ElvenhomeShe lightly fled on dancing feet,And left him lonely still to roamIn the silent forest listening.
He heard there oft the flying soundOf feet as light as linden-leaves,Or music welling underground,In hidden hollows quavering.Now withered lay the hemlock-sheaves,And one by one with sighing soundWhispering fell the beachen leavesIn the wintry woodland wavering.
He sought her ever, wandering farWhere leaves of years were thickly strewn,By light of moon and ray of starIn frosty heavens shivering.Her mantle glinted in the moon,As on a hill-top high and farShe danced, and at her feet was strewnA mist of silver quivering.
Kitty felt her eyes grow heavy, but Devin nudged her to keep her awake. It was dangerous (not to mention rude) to sleep when they knew what was coming.
When winter passed, she came again,And her song released the sudden spring,Like rising lark, and falling rain,And melting water bubbling.He saw the elven-flowers springAbout her feet, and healed againHe longed by her to dance and singUpon the grass untroubling.
Again she fled, but swift he came.Tinúviel! Tinúviel!He called her by her elvish name;And there she halted listening.One moment stood she, and a spellHis voice laid on her: Beren came,And doom fell on TinúvielThat in his arms lay glistening.
As Beren looked into her eyesWithin the shadows of her hair,The trembling starlight of the skiesHe saw there mirrored shimmering.Tinúviel the elven-fair,Immortal maiden elven-wise,About him cast her shadowy hairAnd arms like silver glimmering.
Long was the way that fate them bore,O'er stony mountains cold and grey,Through halls of ireon and darkling door,And woods of nightshade morrowless.The Sundering Seas between them lay,And yet at last they met once more,And long ago they passed awayIn the forest singing sorrowless.
Aragorn sighed and paused before he spoke again and began to explain the verses he had just recited for them. "That is a song," he said, "in the mode that is called ann-thennath among the Elves, but is hard to render in our Common Speech, and this is but a rough echo of it. It tells of the meeting of Beren son of Barahir and Lúthien Tinúviel. Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was the daughter of Thingol, a King of Elves upon Middle Earth when the world was young; and she was the fairest maiden that has ever been among all the children of this world. As the stars above the mists or the Northern lands was her lovliness, and in her face was a shining light. In those days the Great Enemy, of whom Sauron of Mordor was but a servant, dwelt in Angband in the North, and the Elves of the West coming back to Middle Earth made war upon him to regain the Silmarils which he had stolen; and the fathers of Men aided the Elves. But the enemy was victorious and Barahir was slain, and Beren escaping through great peril came over the Mountains of Terror into the hidden Kingdom of Thingol in the forest of Neldoreth. There he beheld Lúthien singing and dancing in a glade beside the enchanted river Esgalduin; and he named her Tinúviel, that is Nightingale in the language of old. Many sorrows befell them afterwards, and they were parted long. Tinúviel rescued Beren from the dungeons of Sauron, and together, and together they passed through great dangers and cast down even the Great Enemy from his throne, and took one of the three Silmarils, brightest of all jewel, to be the bride-piece of Lúthien to Thingol her father. Yet at the last Beren was slain by the Wolf that came from the gates of Angband, and he died in the arms of Tinúviel. But she chose mortality, and to die from the world, so that she might follow him; and it is sung that they met again beyond the Sundering Seas, and after a brief time walking alive once more in the green woods, together they passed, long ago, beyond the confines of this world. So it is that Lúthien Tinúviel alone of the Elf-kindred has died indeed and left the world, and they have lost her whom they most loved. But from her the lineage of the Elf-lords of old descended among Men. There live still those of whom Lúthien was the foremother, and it is said that her line shall never fail. Elrond of Rivendell is of that Kin. For of Beren and Lúthien was born Dior Thingol's heir; and of him Elwing the White whom Eärendil wedded, he that sailed his ship out of the world into the seas of heaven with the Silmaril upon his brow. And of Eärendil came the Kings of Númenor, that is Westernesse."
As Aragorn was speaking, they watched his strange eager face, dimly lit in the red glow of the fire. Above him was a black starry sky. Devin smiled slightly to herself as she stared up at it, knowing Aragorn was most likely thinking of Arwen, whom they said was the reappearance in likeness of Tinúviel because of her beauty. The waxing moon was climbing slowly above the hill that overshadowed them, and the stars above the hill-top faded. With the story ended, the hobbits and the girls moved and stretched.
"Cool story, bro." Kitty said, yawning. She was feeling sleepy and tired after another long day of walking and hiking.
"Look!" Merry said. "The moon is rising: it must be getting late." The others looked up as well. Even as they did so, they saw on the top of the hill something small and dark against the glimmer of the moonrise. It was perhaps only a large stone or jutting rock shown up by the pale light.
Sam and Merry got up and walked away from the fire. Kitty decided to follow them, hoping a brief stroll might help keep her awake and more alert.
"Don't go too far!" Devin cautioned them, furrowing her brow with concern. Frodo and Pippin glanced at her but remained seated in Silence. Aragorn was watching the moonlight on the hill intently. All seemed quiet and still, but Frodo felt a cold dread creeping over his heart, now that Strider was no longer speaking. He huddled closer to the fire. At that moment Sam, Merry, and Kitty came running back from the edge of the dell, looking spooked.
"I don't know what it is," Sam said, "but I suddenly felt afraid. I daren't go outside this dell for any money; I felt something was creeping up the slope."
"Did you see anything?" Frodo asked, springing to his feet.
"No, sir. I saw nothing, but I didn't stop to look." Sam replied.
"I saw something," Merry said; "or I thought I did—away westwards where the moonlight was falling on the flats beyond the shadow of the hill-tops, I thought there were two or three black shapes. They seemed to be moving this way."
"I saw them, too." Kitty added. "It felt like being in the presence of dementors or something. I need chocolate." She shuddered, wishing they still had some left.
"It's the Riders." Devin said, setting her jaw in a line of grim determination, preparing herself for what was to come.
"Keep close to the fire, with your faces outward!" Aragorn urgently instructed them. "Get some of the longer sticks ready in your hands!" He told the unarmed girls as the hobbits drew the long daggers they had received from Tom Bombadil.
For a breathless time they sat there, silent and alert, with their backs turned to the fire, each gazing into the shadows that encircled them. Nothing happened. There was no sound or movement in the night. Frodo stirred, feeling that he must break the silence: he longed to shout out loud.
"Hush!" whispered Aragorn.
"What's that?" gasped Pippin at the same moment.
Over the lip of the little dell, on the side away from the hill, they felt, rather than saw, a shadow rise, one shadow or more than one. It was difficult to tell. They strained their eyes, and the shadows seemed to grow. Soon there could be no doubt: three or four tall black figures were standing there on the slope, looking down on them. So black were they that they seemed like black holes in the deep shade behind them. Devin thought she heard a faint hiss as of venomous breath and felt a thin piercing chill. Then the shapes slowly advanced.
Kitty freaked out and threw the stick in her hands at them before turning to rummage around in their backpack, searching frantically for the taser. Devin kept her stick in hand, while scooting back to join her in searching for a better weapon. Terror overcame Pippin and Merry, and they threw themselves flat on the ground. Sam shrank to Frodo's side. Frodo was hardly less terrified than his companions; he was quaking as if he was bitter cold, but his terror was swallowed up in a sudden temptation to put on the Ring. The desire to do this laid hold of him, and he could think of nothing else. He did not forget the Barrow, nor the message of Gandalf; but something seemed to be compelling him to disregard all warnings, and he longed to yield. Not with the hope of escape, or of doing anything, either good or bad: he simply felt he must take the ring and put it on his finger. He could not speak. He felt Sam looking at him, as if he knew that his master was in some great trouble, but he could not turn towards him. He shut his eyes and struggled for awhile; resistance became unbearable, and at last he slowly drew out the Ring and slipped it on the forefinger of his left hand.
"!" Sam gasped and jumped back, startled when Frodo suddenly vanished right next to him. Aragorn cursed under his breath and he rushed to light the torches he had been wrapping, while Devin gave up on the taser, grabbed the can of hairspray, and shoved her hand in her pocket to retrieve her father's old lighter.
"O Elebereth! Gilthoniel!" They heard Frodo's voice cry out just before the foremost Rider let out a shrill cry that rang throughout the night, and stabbed at something before its feet; just as Devin leaped out holding the lighter out in front of her, flipping it open and igniting it as she thrust the hairspray forward and sprayed, torching the Rider with her impromptu flame-thrower. The Rider shrieked as its black robes caught fire and reeled back, flailing its arms as it dropped its sword. Aragorn immediately jumped out to join her with a flaming brand of wood in each hand to help ward off the others. Kitty ran forward and managed to shoot one with the taser, which surprisingly, actually appeared to have some affect on it, as it let out a shriek before retreating with the others. Kitty and Devin breathed heavily, panting, as they watched the retreating Riders with Aragorn, making sure they made a full retreat, before turning back to the others.
Frodo must have managed to slip the ring back off of his finger before he passed out, because he was fully visible again, and Sam, Merry, and Pippin were gathered round him, trying to wake him, deeply concerned.
"Move back. Give him space." Devin told them as she, Kitty, and Aragorn hurried over to check on him. "Strider, we need you! Frodo is still in danger!" Devin called out to him before he could leave to search the surrounding area and make sure the Riders were really gone and not waiting to ambush them again. Aragorn came rushing over and kneeled beside Frodo to examine his wound, becoming full of concern when he saw the extent of damage.
"Help him, strider!" Sam cried.
"He's been stabbed by a Morgul blade." Aragorn said picking up Rider's discarded sword, looking deeply troubled, as the blade disintegrated before their eyes. He threw the accursed hilt down to the ground, frustrated that he had not been able to prevent this. "Move him closer to the fire. Keep the fire going well, and keep Frodo warm!" He instructed them. "I think I understand things better now." He said in a low voice. "Why they are not all here, I don't know; but I don't think they expected to be resisted. They have drawn back for the time being, but not far, I fear. They will come again another night, if we cannot escape. They are only waiting, because they think that their purpose is almost accomplished, and that the Ring cannot fly much further. I fear, Sam, that they believe your master has a deadly wound that will subdue him to their will."
Sam choked with tears.
"Don't despair!" Aragorn said. "You must trust me now. Your Frodo is made of sterner stuff than I had guessed, though Gandalf hinted that it might prove so. He is not slain, and I think he will resist the evil power of the wound longer than his enemies will expect. I will do all I can to help and heal him. Few now have the skill in healing to match such evil weapons, but I will do what I can."
"Will this help?" Devin asked, pulling out a plastic sandwich baggy stuffed full of athelas.
"Yes." Aragorn said eagerly, staring at her in wonder. "How did you come by this?"
"Sam was pointing out some plants he knew to me further back on the Road, and he said this was kingsfoil. I remembered hearing before that that was another name for the athelas plant, so I picked it thinking it might come in handy." Devin explained quickly.
"It would seem your foresight is better than mine." Aragorn told her, accepting the bag gratefully. "You have just saved Frodo's life. Quickly, boil some water!"
"On it, boss!" Kitty said as she scrambled to get a pot and fill it with water while Merry and Pippin built up the fire some more.
"But that's a weed!" Sam cried. How could a weed save him?
Aragorn set aside the herbs for a moment and laid what was left of the Morgul blade on top of his knees. He sang over it a slow song in a strange tongue. Then setting it aside, he turned to Frodo and in a soft tone spoke words the others could not catch. From the plastic bag, he drew out the long leaves of the athelas, and crushed one in his fingers. It gave out a sweet and pungent fragrance. "This is not just a weed, Sam, for it is a healing plant that the Men of the West brought to Middle Earth; and it is not known in the North, except to some of those who wander in the Wild." He glanced sideways at Devin. "It has great virtues, but over such a wound as this its healing powers will be small."
"But it will be enough." Devin said with certainty. "Just do what you can for him until we can get him to Elrond."
Aragorn threw the leaves into the pot of boiling water and bathed Frodo's shoulder. The fragrance of the steam was refreshing, and those that were unhurt felt their minds calmed and cleared. Now that they had a chance to collect themselves and get their wits about them again, they began to discuss what they should do next considering the severity of Frodo's wound, and how they would now manage to continue their journey.
"I think now," Aragorn said once he had finished tending to Frodo's wound. "That the enemy has been watching this place for some days. If Gandalf ever came here, then he must have been forced to ride away, and he will not return. In any case, we are in great peril here after dark, and we can hardly meet greater danger wherever we go."
As soon as the daylight was full, they had some hurried food and packed. It was impossible for Frodo to walk, so they divided the greater part of the baggage amongst the six of them, and put Frodo on the pony. In the last few days the poor beast had improved wonderfully; it already seemed fatter and stronger, and had begun to show an affection for its new masters, especially Sam and Kitty. Bill Ferny's treatment must have been very hard for the journey in the wild to seem so much better than its former life. They started off in a southerly direction. This would mean crossing the Road, but it was the quickest way to more wooded country. And they needed fuel; for Aragorn said that Frodo must be kept warm, especially at night, while the fire would be some protection for them all. It was also his plan to shorten their journey by cutting across another great loop of the Road: east beyond Weathertop it changed its course and took a wide bend northwards.
They made their way slowly and cautiously round the southwestern slopes of the hill, and came in a little while to the edge of the Road. There was no sign of the Riders. But even as they were hurrying across they heard far away two cries: a cold voice calling and a cold voice answering. Trembling they sprang forward, and made for the thickets that lay ahead. The land before them sloped away southwards, but it was wild and pathless; bushes and stunted trees grew in dense patches with wide barren spaces in between. The grass was scanty, coarse, and grey; and the leaves in the thicket were faded and falling. It was a cheerless land, and their journey was slow and gloomy. They spoke little as they trudged along.
Frodo's heart was grieved as watched them walking beside him with their heads down, and their backs bowed under their burdens. Even Aragorn seemed tired and heavy-hearted. Before the first day's march was over, Frodo's pain began to grow again, but he did not speak of it for a long time.
Four days passed, without the ground or the scene changing much, except that behind them Weathertop slowly sank, and before them the distant mountains loomed a little nearer. Yet since that far cry they had seen and heard no sign that the enemy had marked their flight or followed them. They dreaded the dark hours, and kept watch in pairs by night, expecting at any time to see black shapes stalking in the grey night, dimly lit by the cloud-veiled moon; but they saw nothing and heard no sound but the sigh of withered leaves and grass. Not once did they feel the sense of present evil that had assailed them before the attack in the dell. It seemed too much to hope that the Riders had already lost their trail again. Perhaps they were waiting to make some ambush in a narrow place?