I own nothing but my OC.
Chapter 6: The Bridge and the Trolls
At the end of the fifth day the ground began once more to rise slowly out of the wide shallow valley into which they had descended. Aragorn now turned their course again north-eastwards, and on the sixth day they reached the top of a long slow-climbing slope, and saw far ahead a huddle of wooded hills. Away below them they could see the Road sweeping round the feet of the hills; and to their right a grey river gleamed pale in the thin sunshine. In the distance they glimpsed yet another river in a stony valley half-veiled in mist.
"I am afraid we must go back to the Road here for awhile." Said Aragorn. "We have now come to the River Hoarwell, that the Elves call Mitheithel. It flows down out of the Ettenmoors, the troll-fells north of Rvendell, and joins the Loudwater away in the South. Some call it the Grey-flood after that. It is a great water before it finds the sea. There is no way over it below its sources in the Ettenmoors, except by the Last Bridge on which the Road crosses."
"What is that other river we can see far away there?" Merry asked.
"That is Loudwater, the Bruinen of Rivendell." Aragorn replied. "The Road runs along the edge of the hills for many miles from the Bridge to the Ford of Bruinen. But I have not yet thought how we shall cross the water. One river at a time! We shall be fortunate indeed if we do not find the Last Bridge held against us."
Next day, early in the morning, they came down again to the borders of the Road. Sam and Aragorn went forward, but they found no sign of any travellers or riders. Here under the shadow of the hills there had been some rain. Aragorn judged that it had fallen two days before, and had washed away all footprints. No horseman had passed since then, as far as he could see. They hurried along with all the speed they could make, and after a mile or two they saw the Last Bridge ahead, at the bottom of a short steep slope. They dreaded to see black figures waiting there, but saw none. Aragorn made them all take cover in a thicket at the side of the Road, while he went forward to explore. Before long he came hurrying back.
"I can see no sign of the enemy," he said, "and I wonder very much what that means. But I have found something very strange." He held out his hand, and showed a single pale-green jewel. "I found it in the mud in the middle of the bridge. It is a beryl, an elf-stone." Devin and Kitty glanced at each other, eyes widening slightly. "Whether it was set there, or let fall by chance, I cannot say; but it brings hope to me. I will take it as a sign that we may pass the Bridge; beyond that I dare not keep to the Road, without some clearer token."
At once they went out again, in pairs, to make sure they could pass as quickly and quietly as possible. Naturally Sam went first, leading Frodo on the pony, followed by Merry and Pippin.
"Hey, Devin." Kitty whispered as they waited their turn for Aragorn to wave them across. "That light-green crystal you always wear around your neck… didn't you say before that it was some kind of beryl, too?"
"Yeah." Devin replied, nodding, as they quickly and carefully scampered across the open road and made for the bridge. "At least that's what my mom said when she gave it to me. She found it near the site of one of her last digs."
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Kitty asked.
"That it's actually an elf-stone that somehow fell through a crack between our two universes, and it's probably the reason why we ended up here after falling into a river that runs through one of the few primordial forests still left in one of the oldest parts of the world?" Devin asked.
"See, this is why we're friends." Kitty said, grinning.
They crossed the Bridge in safety, hearing no sound but the water swirling against its three great arches. A mile further on they came to a narrow ravine that led away northwards through the steep lands on the left of the Road. Here Aragorn turned aside, and soon they were lost in a somber country of dark trees winding among the feet of sullen hills. The hobbits were glad to leave the cheerless lands and the perilous Road behind them; but this new country seemed threatening and unfriendly. As they went forward the hills about them steadily rose. Here and there upon heights and ridges they caught glimpses of ancient walls of stone, and the ruins of towers: they had an ominous look. Because he was not walking Frodo had time to gaze ahead and to think. He recalled Bilbo's account of his journey and the threatening towers on the hills north of the Road, in the country near the Troll's wood where his first serious adventure had happened. Frodo guessed that they were now in the same region, and wondered if by chance they would pass near the spot.
"Who lives in this land?" he asked. "And who built these towers? Is this troll-country?"
"No!" Aragorn said. "Trolls do not build. No one lives in this land. Men once dwelt here, ages ago; but none remain now. They became an evil people, as legends tell, for they fell under the shadow of Angmar. But all were destroyed in the war that brought the North Kingdom to its end. But that is now so long ago that the hills have forgotten them, though a shadow still lies on the land."
'And the Witch-king of Angmar still survives as the leader of the Nazgûl.' Devin thought.
"Where did you learn such tales, if all the land is empty and forgetful?" Pippin asked. "The birds and beasts do not tell tales of that sort."
"The heirs of Elendil do not forget all things past," said Aragorn; "and many more things than I can tell are remembered in Rivendell."
"Have you often been to Rivendell?" Frodo asked.
"I have." Aragorn said. "I dwelt there once, and I still return when I may. There my heart is; but it is not my fate to sit in peace, even in the fair house of Elrond."
The hills now began to shut them in. The Road behind held on its way to the River Bruinen, but both were now hidden from view. The travelers came into a long valley; narrow, deeply cloven, dark and silent. Trees with old and twisted roots hung over cliffs, and piled up behind into mounting slopes of pine-wood.The hobbits grew very weary. They advanced slowly, for they had to pick their way through a pathless country, encumbered by fallen trees and tumbled rocks. As long as they could they avoided climbing for Frodo's sake, because it was in fact difficult to find any way up out of the narrow dales.
They had been two days in this country when the weather turned wet. The wind began to blow steadily out of the West and pour the water of the distant seas on the dark heads of the hills in fine drenching rain. By nightfall they were all soaked, and their camp was cheerless, for they could not get any fire to burn. The next day the hills rose still higher and steeper before them, and they were forced to turn away northwards out of their course. Aragorn seemed to be getting anxious: they were nearly ten days out from Weathertop, and their stock of provisions was beginning to run low. It went on raining.That night they camped on a stony shelf with a rock wall behind them, in which there was a shallow cave, a mere scoop in the cliff. Frodo was restless. The cold and wet made his wound more painful than ever, and the ache and sense of deadly chill took away all sleep. He lay tossing and turning and listening fearfully to the stealthy night-noises: wind in chinks of rock, water dripping, a crack, the sudden rattling fall of a loosened stone. He felt that black shapes were advancing to smother him; but when he sat up he saw nothing but the back of Aragorn sitting hunched up, smoking his pipe, and watching. He lay down again and passed into an uneasy dream.
In the morning they woke to find that the rain had stopped. The clouds were still thick, but they were breaking, and pale strips of blue appeared between them. The wind was shifting again. They did not start early. Immediately after their cold and comfortless breakfast Aragorn went off alone, telling the others to remain under the shelter of the cliff, until he came back. He was going to climb up, if he could, and get a look at the lie of the land.When he returned he was not reassuring.
"We have come up too far to the north," he said, "and we must find some way to turn back southwards again. If we keep on as we are we shall get up into the Ettendales far north of Rivendell. That is troll-country, and little known to me. We could perhaps find our way through and come round to Rivendell from the north; but it would take too long, for I do not know the way, and our food would not last. So somehow or other we must find the Ford of Bruinen."
The rest of that day they spent scrambling over rocky ground. They found a passage between two hills that led them into a valley running south-east, the direction that they wished to take; but towards the end of the day they found their road again barred by a ridge of high land; its dark edge against the sky was broken into many bare points like teeth of a blunted saw. They had a choice between going back or climbing over it.They decided to attempt the climb, but it proved very difficult. Before long Frodo was obliged to dismount and struggle along on foot. Even so they often despaired of getting their pony up, or indeed of finding a path for themselves, burdened as they were. The light was nearly gone, and they were all exhausted, when at last they reached the top. They had climbed on to a narrow saddle between two higher points, and the land fell steeply away again, only a short distance ahead. Frodo threw himself down, and lay on the ground shivering. His left arm was lifeless, and his side and shoulder felt as if icy claws were laid upon them. The trees and rocks about him seemed shadowy and dim.
"We can't go any further." Merry said to Aragorn. "I'm afraid this has been too much for Frodo. I'm dreadfully anxious about him. What are we to do? Do you think they will be able to cure him in Rivendell, if we ever get there?"
"We shall see." Answered Aragorn. "There is nothing more that I can do in the wilderness; and it is chiefly because of his wound that I am so anxious to press on. But I agree that we can go no further tonight."
"What's the matter with him?" Sam asked in a low voice, looking appealingly at Aragorn. "His wound was small, and it's already closed. There's nothing to be seen but a cold white mark on his shoulder."
"Frodo has been touched by the weapons of the Enemy," Aragorn said, "and there is some poison or evil at work that is beyond my skill to drive out. But do not give up hope, Sam!"
Night was cold up on that high ridge. They lit a small fire down under the gnarled roots of an old pine, that hung over a shallow pit: it looked as if stone had once been quarried there. They sat huddled together. The wind blew chill through the pass, and they heard the tree-tops lower down moaning and sighing.
"It sounds like a sleeping dinosaur's down there." Devin commented, smiling wryly.
"Hey, yeah; it kind of does." Kitty remarked, also smiling.
"What's a dinosaur?" Pippin asked.
While the girls did their best to explain the concept of giant reptiles roaming the earth without scaring the hobbits too much, poor Frodo drifted off and lay in half a dream, imagining that endless dark dinosaurs with wings were sweeping by above him, and that on the winged-lizards rode pursuers that sought him in all the hollows of the hills.
The morning dawned bright and fair; the air was clean, and the light pale and clear in a rain-washed sky. Their hearts were encouraged, but they longed for the sun to warm their cold stiff limbs, especially the girls, who were used to a much warmer climate. As soon as it was light, Aragorn took Merry with him and went to survey the country from the height to the east of the pass. The sun had arisen and was shining brightly when he returned with more comforting news. They were now going more or less in the right direction. If they went on, down the further side of the ridge, they would have the Mountains on their left. Some way ahead Aragorn had caught a glimpse of the Loudwater again, and he knew that, though it was hidden from view, the Road to the Ford was not far from the River and lay on the side nearest to them.
"We must make for the Road again." He said. "We cannot hope to find a path through these hills. Whatever danger may beset it, the Road is our only way to the Ford."
As soon as they had eaten they set out again. They climbed slowly down the southern side of the ridge; but the way was much easier than expected, for the slope was far less steep on this side, and before long Frodo was able to ride again. Bill Ferny's poor old pony was developing an unexpected talent for picking out a path, and for sparing its rider as many jolts as possible. The spirits of the party rose again. Even Frodo felt better in the morning light, but every now and again a mist seemed to obscure his sight, and he passed his hands over his eyes. Pippin was a little ahead of the others. Suddenly he turned and called to them.
"There's a path down here!" he cried.
When they came up to him, they saw that he had made no mistake: there were clearly the beginnings of a path, that climbed with many windings out if the woods below and faded away on the hill-top behind. In places it was now faint and overgrown, or choked with fallen stones and trees; but at one time it seemed to have been much used. It was a path made by strong arms and heavy feet. Here and there old trees had been cut or broken down, and large rocks cloven or heaved aside to make way.They followed the track for some while, for it offered a much easier way down, but they went cautiously, and their anxiety increased as they came into the dark woods, and the path grew plainer and broader. Suddenly coming out of a belt of fir-trees it ran steeply down a slope, and turned sharply to the left round the corner of a rocky shoulder of the hill. When they came over the corner they looked round and saw that the path ran over a level strip under the face of a low cliff overhung with trees. In the stony wall there was a door hanging crookedly ajar upon one great hinge.Outside the door they all halted. There was a cave or rock chamber, but in the gloom inside nothing could be seen. Aragorn, Kitty, Devin, Sam, and Merry pushing with all their strength managed to open the door a little wider, and the Aragorn and Devin went in. Devin held up her phone, using the screen for light. It wasn't good for much else now. They did not go far, for on the floor lay many old bones, and nothing else was to be seen near the entrance except some great empty jars and broken pots.
"Surely this is a troll-hole, if ever there was one!" Pippin said.
"Come out, you two, and let's get away." Merry added. "Now we know who made the path—and we'd better get off it quick."
"There is no need, I think." Aragorn said as they came back out. "It is certainly a troll-hole, but it seems to have been long forsaken. I don't think we need be afraid. But let us go down warily, and we shall see."
The path went on again from the door, and turning to the right again across the level space plunged down a thick wooded slope. Pippin, not liking to show the others that he was still afraid, went on ahead with Merry. The girls were next followed by Sam and Aragorn, one on each side of Frodo's pony, for the path was now broad enough for four or five hobbits to walk abreast. But they had not gone very far before Pippin came running back, followed by Merry. They both looked terrified.
"There are trolls!" Pippin panted. "Down in the clearing in the woods not far below. We caught sight of them through the tree trunks. They were very large!"
"Is there any other kind?" Kitty asked calmly, raising an eyebrow.
"We will come and look at them." Aragorn said, picking up a stick. Devin and Frodo said nothing, but Sam looked scared.
The sun was now high, and it shone down through the half-stripped branches of the trees, and lit the clearing with bright patches of light. They halted suddenly on the edge and peered through the tree trunks, holding their breath. There stood the trolls: three large trolls. One was stooping, and the other two stood staring at him. Aragorn walked forward unconcernedly.
"Get up, old stone!" he said and broke his stick upon the stooping troll.
Nothing happened. Devin let out a laugh while there was a gasp of astonishment from the hobbits and Kitty.
"Whoa… I think Strider just made a joke!" Kitty said, breaking out into a grin when she realized what was going on; and then even Frodo laughed.
"Well!" he said. "We are forgetting our family history! These must be the very three that were caught by Gandalf, quarreling over how to cook thirteen dwarves and one hobbit."
"I had no idea we were anywhere near the place!" Pippin remarked. He knew the story well. Bilbo and Frodo had told it often; but as a matter of fact he had never more than half believed it. Even now he looked at the stone trolls with suspicion, wondering if some magic might not suddenly bring them back to life again.
"You are forgetting not only your family history, but all you ever knew about trolls." Aragorn said. "It is broad daylight with a bright sun, and yet you come back trying to scare me with a tale of live trolls waiting for us in this glade!"
"In any case you might have noticed that one of them is rocking an old bird's nest behind his ear." Devin added smiling. "Unless he's a fan of the boho-chic look that would be a most unusual ornament for a live troll!"
They all laughed. They were getting used to the girls' strange way of speaking. Frodo felt his spirits reviving: the reminder of Bilbo's first successful adventure was heartening. The sun, too, was warm and comforting, and the mist before his eyes seemed to be lifting a little. They rested for some time in the glade, and took their mid-day meal right under the shadow of the troll's large legs.
"Won't someone give us a bit of a song, while the sun is high?" Merry asked when they had finished. "We haven't had a song or a tale for days."
"Not since Weathertop." Frodo said. The others looked at him. "Don't worry about me!" he added. "I feel much better, but I don't think I could sing. Perhaps Kitty or Devin could dig something out of their memories. We haven't heard any songs or tales from either of you this whole trip, aside from the occasional explanation of the strange devices you've brought with you."
"Yes. Why not sing us a song about your homeland?" Aragorn suggested. Kitty and Devin looked at each other. They had actually been avoiding telling them too much about their world for a reason, but they could tell by the look in Aragorn's eyes that he had figured as much and wasn't about to let them get out of it until they threw him a bone or two.
"Alright." Devin said at last. "But I don't sound any good on my own. Is it okay if Kitty accompanies me her trumpet?" Kitty's eyes lit up at the prospect of finally being able to play something again. She had been suffering some serious withdrawal.
"Very well." Aragorn consented. "But try not to play too loudly."
"Yes!" Kitty cheered, pumping her fist in the air. "So what should we do?" She asked Devin.
"Well, they want to hear about our homeland, so… how about 'America the Beautiful'?" Devin suggested tentatively. That should be nice and comforting with the images of a wholesome countryside without giving too much (other than the geography and name) away.
"Yeah, I think I can swing that." Kitty said, grinning, as she finished setting up her instrument. "Count me in."
Devin held up four fingers and, nodding her head in time, she brought one down after the other. The moment the last finger was down, Kitty blew into her trumpet and let out a soft sweet note, beginning with a short intro before raising the volume and strength of her playing. It was a beautiful song with a warm and reverent tone. Kitty nodded for Devin to join in with her singing. Like silver bells Devin's clear soprano voice gently rang across the glade:
O beautiful for spacious skies,For amber waves of grain,For purple mountain majestiesAbove the fruited plain!America! America!God shed his grace on theeAnd crown thy good with brotherhoodFrom sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feetWhose stern impassioned stressA thoroughfare of freedom beatAcross the wilderness!America! America!God mend thine every flaw,Confirm thy soul in self-control,Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes provedIn liberating strife.Who more than self their country lovedAnd mercy more than life!America! America!May God thy gold refineTill all success be noblenessAnd every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dreamThat sees beyond the yearsThine alabaster cities gleamUndimmed by human tears!America! America!God shed his grace on theeAnd crown thy good with brotherhoodFrom sea to shining sea!
Kitty gasped for air after blowing the last note. She felt a little out of breath after missing practice for so many days in a row. The hobbits stared at them in awe for a moment before applauding their performance.
"That was beautiful." Sam said, amazed. "I've never heard nothing like it before."
"Thanks, I know." Kitty said with a shrug, grinning.
"Wow. Could you at least pretend to be a little humble for once?" Devin asked, smiling wryly.
"No way. That would probably kill me." Kitty said, making a face. They all laughed at that.
"So your country is called America." Aragorn said. "It sounds like a beautiful place."
"It is." Devin said, smiling softly as she remembered home.
"I find it strange that I have never heard of it." He added, more to the point. The girls exchanged a look. Uh-oh. This is what they had been afraid of.
"Well, you certainly won't find it on any maps of Middle Earth…" Devin mumbled, trying to come up with a reasonable explanation.
"Because it's location is secret!" Kitty said abruptly, earning herself a strange look from both Aragorn and Devin.
"Really?" Pippin asked. "Why?"
"Uh, because it's so awesome." Kitty said. Devin had to resist the strong urge to face-palm. "Yeah, see, we don't want all these invaders coming in and taking our stuff."
"I suppose that makes sense…" Merry said, furrowing his brow slightly.
"Yes. It makes perfect sense." Kitty insisted firmly.
"And the real reason is?" Aragorn asked Devin, leaning closer and keeping his voice low so the hobbits wouldn't hear.
"It's nothing sinister," Devin tried to reassure him, "but please believe me when I say: you'd never believe us if we actually told the truth."