The Lord of the Rings - The Last Chapter (Part IX) - THE TWO CAPTAINS
Then when the friends' hope seemed to at last glimmer and fade, that they had failed so far afield from their goal; a hope anew arose; and pierced the very malice and fear spread by the Enemy.
A smooth silver arrow whistled and bit through the night air towards its victim. And embedded itself deep in its terrible brow.
The great wolf lolled its head upwards from Sam's neck. Swayed and fell dead, and lay sprawled in a mixture of its own and Sam's blood.
It had fallen on Samwise the hobbit, and now again crushed
him; the force was great and heavy. With each breath Sam
took his chest tightened so that his breath slowly grew cold and lessened.
Pippin staggered over to Sam and the crushing wolf's corpse, and began to strain to remove the beast from his friend, soon Merry joined, and the dazed Frodo too.
At last in a last fury of distress and anger to remove the creature, the weight floated away and the body rolled aside.
Sam gasped and spluttered as new blood and air pumped all around his small body.
`A minute or more so and you would have been unconscious Sam' said Frodo; glad to see he was still breathing.
Sam's neck smarted, and imprinted in the nape of it either side were five puncture marks, from these issued blood; staining his clothes and cloak with deep crimson.
And whether it had been fate or fortune: but a wandering troop had come to their aid. It had been one of the two captains who had pierced the wolf's brow; thus saving Sam's life.
A gathering of around twenty accompanied the two captains.
Their steeds were light of body yet swift and agile: and bore neither saddle nor reins, for their masters needed none; and the beasts would stir and heed every command they uttered to them.
The riders themselves were clad in an old Elven fashion of silver and green, and the captains each bore shining silver circlets on their brows. Strong, powerful and beautiful beings they were to behold. No brazen or silver corslet, helm or habergeon mail did they bare, and their only weapons bows and small daggers.
They trotted into the clearing, and dismounted were Legolas stood. Legolas bowed low to the captains, and they returned the gesture.
Then at length among themselves Legolas and the Elven son's of Elrond Half-Elven conversed in their own learnt, ancient tongue:
`Inyar heruvi, Valar tiro undume! Laita te!' cried Legolas.
(`My Lords, the Valar look down on us! Bless them!')
The captains smiled and replied:
`Mae govannem Legolas Laicalassë Thranduilion. Anantalme ósanwë-t vanwalelya sí. Lelyal haiya? Ar llelya Imladris?' replied the Elf standing nearest to them.
(`Welcome Legolas Greenleaf son of Thranduil. We did not know you travelled here now. Where are you heading? And are you going to Rivendell?')
`Tul sí Legolas ac tulldadil,' continued Elladan.
(`Come with us Legolas and bring your friends too.')
Frodo followed and understood the speech; and so explained it to the other hobbits; who were not so well conversed in the languages and ways much still of Middle-earth.
`We are going with the Elves, I believe,' whispered Frodo, `To a camp maybe?'
And indeed his old cousin Bilbo Baggins had taught Frodo the Elvish way very well, for indeed the company were to follow on to the marchwarden back to their camp.
Sam wound was coarsely bandaged with an old white handkerchief.
Each of the company of five sat either in front or behind the Elven rider on their horse. Legolas sprang up onto the hindquarters of Elladan's horse. Pippin rode in front of the second captain, and Elladan's twin brother; Elrohir. A solider named Carnil accompanied Sam. And the brothers Turco and Túrin from the house of Círdan from the North, rode with Merry and Frodo.
Shafts of an new morn spindled through the webs of leaves and fell in patches on the earth. And the ground in places changed its colour to gold where the sun lay there.
A path was clear now through the trees, almost straight. A path that had been trodden many times by the feet of the Elven Princes of Rivendell.
Far ahead no openings to the countryside could be sighted: the trees further on drooped, so their eaves and branches covered any opening to the plains, the mountains and the sky. While here where they now walked, the oaks had been tended and trimmed by such skill, while the grasses, shrubs and flowers were left to their own devices to grow freely on the verge. Though if they began to stray and crept onto the path, then gentle hands would come lift and re-plant the flowers elsewhere; always must this secret way remain clear to those that used it.
Many a day if you wandered down this passage then you might spot the maids of Rivendell tending the borders of Agrimony, Lady's Mantle and Meadowsweet with care, but today no fair Elf had ventured out.
Beyond the drooping trees were the Hithaeglir; to the Elves - the Misty Mountains.
The Mountains ran nearly one thousand miles: ranging from the lands of Arnor and Eriador in Northern Middle-earth, to Rhovanion in the South. Once, the Dwarves from the Mines of Khazad-dûm, and the Elves of Hollin dwelt in the Mountains; but now both races had demised over the ages, and only the Great Eagles and a few tolerant orcs made the steep crags and clefts of the Misty Mountains their homes.
The throng of Elves and Hobbits journeyed on along the lane; and after having marched another furlong, the captains turned sharply left into a tall thicket of undergrowth. The hobbits did not know now how far they had travelled, but soon a welcome sound reached their ears; the sound of trickling water. It ran down on their left, though they could not see the stream. They followed the course of the stream, until the woodland grew denser and another noise reached them; the sound of sweet singing fell upon them, and at once they became aware of how tired they were. The singing now was also accompanied by music and it soothed and lulled the small beings.
Sam's head lolled on the verge of slumber, and he dangerously slipped from Carnil's lap, although Carnil drew Sam up and repositioned him on his knees.
At this time Frodo smelt something so beautiful that it was sickly to smell; as he was so far from tasting it. The thought of food and drink was also on Pippin's mind, and he was the only hobbit that withstood the sleeping draft of music the elves provided.
Before them at present grew two great grey, and broad-leafed adjacent sycamore trees. The only two sycamore trees that grew in the forest among all the oaks.
This in fact was the gateway to the elven marchwarden's camp. These two trees had first been planted along with an oak in the ages of Stars when the elves first came to Middle-earth. And during the ages of the Stars and the first age of the Sun the three saplings grew and reproduced, forming a vast forest stretching from the old land of Beleriand to the Misty Mountains. After the great wars of Wrath against the evil Lord Melkor, Beleriand was left in ruin; the Iron and Blue Mountains were split apart leaving a gap for the great waters to be let in, and eventually Beleriand and much of the Great forest sank beneath the Western Sea. A small margin of the forest was left, though for reasons uncertain in history many of the trees died out: these were mainly the sycamores. Today much of the old Great forest is scattered, and only two sycamore trees now grow in the original area where the first sycamores were planted. The area where these two trees now grow is named Trollshaws.
The concourse passed beneath the two aging sycamores, their long slender limbs waving and bowing welcome to the Princes of Rivendell.
Limbs of oaks were drawn back revealing a great encampment.
Encompassing them were many strange tents, and most folk were still asleep; for it was only early morning.
Elladan and Elrohir and the company rode up to four elven-men awaiting their arrival. They dismounted, and greeted one another in their own fashion.
`Tull yallumë inyar heruvi!'
(`You have come at last my Lords!')
`Mára Heren, ëailque vanima?' asked Elrohir.
(`Good Heren, is all well?')
`Mára ten sin lúmë,' said Heren.
(`Well for now.')
Elrohir turned his head towards the hobbits.
`Heren,' he said, `we have guests, they are very weary, they need to be bedded, and fed and watered if they wish it. Prepare tents and beds for them.'
Elladan and Elrohir turned and headed for a large pavilion situated in the centre of the encampment, then they turned and at length Elrohir spoke:
`Tulsí Legolas. Quetiël.'
(`Come now Legolas. We have much to say.')
Legolas followed the two princes into their tent; Heren had already departed with his three associates to tend to the sleeping arrangements. And now the four hobbits were left without any guide or instructor.
`Come now my friends, are you hungry?' said Carnil at last, smiling warmly.
`Famished!' cried Pippin, and with the mention of food, weariness suddenly lifted from them and a great hunger began.
They went with Túrin, Turco and Carnil to the second foremost tent. Outside, they could see the tents' fabric was green and grey as the trees were, providing the ideal camouflage for the covert site. The tents were almost indistinguishable amongst the oaks, except for the symbol of the silver star of Eärendil and a white owl, emblemising the princes grandmother; Elwing, in her white bird form. These images essentially were embroidered into all the tents to signify where their openings were. They entered.
The marquee inside was golden lit with candles: and spray-laid on long tables were a great assortment of cuisine; apples soaked in wine, roast carrots, pork, stewed rabbit, sweat bread, boiled potatoes, sweet corn with butter, cakes, biscuits, different types of waybread, and a strange sweet; though a bit sickly; dish called Yávë-mi-ornë, which tasted a bit like strawberries, plums and too much sugar.
All took their fill and sat down on one of the many benches provided. Their three elven-friends sat nearby but did not speak to the hobbits during the meal; they only spoke in hushed tones to each other, using some words even Frodo could not distinguish. Eyes were starring, fingers were pointing and tongues were wagging at the presence of the hobbits, many elves had never accounted one before, they were filled with curiosity and a bizarre sense of bewilderment towards them.
And for the first time that day; even though every elf in the room was studying them; the hobbits were able to speak to one another.
The dream that Frodo had had in the Silver Beech Inn had put him in a queer mood, it played over in his head; still fresh as if he had just woken from it. Sam looked up from his plate, and noticed his master's sullen face:
`What's wrong master?' Sam asked through a mouth of roast potatoes.
`... Oh...Sam,' Frodo sighed, `it's... it's just that dream, the one I had while in Archet, and I said I'd tell you about it in the morning.., but I just forgot I suppose.'
`Well tell me now!' urged Sam.
`Well...' And Frodo told Sam about the dream: the strange eye and his feelings.
`Dreams do sometimes feel real, Mr. Frodo, I you get me!' suggested Sam after Frodo had finished, `I wouldn't worry yourself about it!'
Frodo writhed in his seat. No, Sam didn't understand, and his words did not comfort or ease the hobbit.
After they had supped Carnil escorted the hobbits to their tents: small and triangular ones, two persons to each.
An elf soon came to tend to their mars; Sam neck wound was properly dressed, and the few bumps and bruises healed.
And after the warm elf servant; Mára, had departed Legolas came unto them.
At length he said:
`My friends, I am sorry that greetings were short and transient, but for now I bid you a safe and good night.'
`What about tomorrow? And where, sir, begging your pardon, did you go tonight and what did the elves have to say?' stuttered Sam, going red at posing such a presumptuous question.
`Tomorrow my young Gamgee many tales will be told and you all shall present your story to the Lords. Much may they ask you, and I tell you now as to be courteous and willing to them and their queries. It has been many a year since royalty last met you, so lets hope your good conduct has not been misguided,' said the elf.
Pippin sat in his small tent, Merry by his side and laughed:
`Us?' cried Pip, `Why Legolas do you think our behaviour is improper for Elven-Princes and that we will be rash? You are forgetting that we have already had our chance with royalty many times; we are still highly regarded in the courts of Rohan and Gondor. Do not worry yourself over such matters; we shall all be our charming hobbit-selves and do not demur to questions!'
Legolas far away in his deep thought, smiled:
`No, Pip, I believe that your word is true. But I am anxious that if we are then held in high regard after the council tomorrow, then the princes may ease our troubles and provide beasts for the journey, and may even guide us to Rivendell. Yet, tomorrow we shall see. A good night to you all, and be ready for an early start tomorrow!'
Legolas left them to their own doings, and returned to his accommodation.
Hours passed, and each hour became darker, quieter and more foreboding. Yet sleep, the most profound and toxic natural means of rest, drove them eventually into the deep depths of slumber; it drove away depression and fear and brought only peace to their faces.
The stream softly trickled into their dreams and the night.
* * *
Merry woke early from his warm bed of blankets. The night had been well spent in sleep, and now the hobbit rose and stepped out into the chill morning. The Sun had not yet been astride the sky long enough yet, for its warmth to stir the day-people of the Earth.
Meriadoc, it seemed, was the only being awake at the present, and as breakfast would not have been prepared yet, he set out on other tasks which to accomplish before the rising of the others.
And the night had been strangely humid. Merry ran his hand across his sweaty cheek, and pondered where he could find a suitable place to bathe. Off to his right came the sound of water; a stream.
He made his way through the dry sweet smelling cedars and ferns encircling the borders of the camp.
Heading east he found a small running gully of water splattering on to some rocks, and then down again it went, from the rocks keeping its path and winding deeper and deeper into the woods. It had a bitter, sweet taste and was cold as ice, yet it ran sparkling and clear. This spot though was too small and shallow for any attempt at bathing.
And he became sure that if he followed the gully, it should open out into a river or lake, or at least at some point it should become deeper and wide enough to suffice to his needs.
Around a mile more he travelled until he stopped. He had lost the course of the stream, and sat on a large boulder, overhung by a young trailing oak, thinking about his predicament. Then he heard it, gushing water, off to his left.
He ran through the thick undergrowth and trees towards the sound.
Presently the trees separated and a small freshet of water trickled under Merry's toes. A marvellous clearing opened out in front of him, where it is said that he saw golden oak trees and silver grass growing there. And a blue stream beyond the beauty of the sea flowing. It is also said that here is where Meriadoc found his doom.
The freshet broadened out into a flowing tributary. Here at last he bathed.
The cool rivulet spilled over his naked body, and east towards the mountains. Though this was a strange course for a river; a river would usually flow from or away from a mountain but this rivulet coursed towards the Caradhras, and then as if discovering its fault, backed on itself towards the woods again, but then turned south and joined the large and fast flowing, Bruinen.
Merry cupped some water in his palms and poured it over his head and arms, and then with his hands rubbed he down his body to clean it. This is a dream he thought, as he gazed at the gold and silver and blue hues around him.
Situated about 5 ells away was a heap of rounded rocks which the rivulet merely managed to ascend over, into a deeper pool on the other side, which at that instant Merry could not see.
Something silver-white protruding from behind the rocks caught the Sun, and Merry was blinded by it. It shone brighter than the Sun, and the hobbit was engulfed by its strange aurora. For a moment he forgot all he had ever thought, dreamed or saw. He forgot the golden trees and silver grass. He forgot Gandalf and Legolas. And for once, the memory of hobbits and all their kind slipped from him. He and this light only remained.
The Sun's rays passed from it, and the light diminished and waned.
A hand it was.
Hastily Meriadoc dried himself with a cloth he had brought with him, and dressed.
For a while he dared not stray over there, as with fear for what he might discover. Yet the beautiful light and the hand he could now see behind the rocks compelled him to investigate more.
Stepping through the many lilies and duckweed that drifted in the rivulet he worked his way over to the rocks.
A slender white arm rested on the rocks, her hand hanging in the air. Merry's eyes followed the arm, and his eyes met a maiden.
She was unlikely to be asleep, yet a presence was in her. Half of her body lay submerged in the deep pool, only her head and one arm was visible above water. The rivulet trickled onto her forehead but she did not stir or writhe at its presence. She lay so still.
Merry's legs had never ran as fast before. He hurtled through the trees, tripping and stumbling over many things as he went.
`Quickly! Quickly! Legolas, help! Come quick! Pip, get up Pip! Oh, quick Sam and you Frodo!' he cried pushing his way through the cedars and ferns, to the camp.
Legolas met Merry's cry and swiftly came to his aid, bow and quiver at hand.
`What is it?'
`A...' Merry panted, `a... girl!'
`A girl?' asked Elrohir, arriving at the scene.
`Yes! A young maiden! I went to bathe and I found her in the stream back there!' He said waving an arm to the East.
They followed Merry back through the trees to the spot. Elladan, Elrohir and a small company of elves shadowed Legolas and the hobbits.
`A vision that no earthly wonder can uphold!' whispered Legolas at the eaves of the golden-silver vale. `I could compare it even to the beautiful caves of Aglarond, beneath Helm's Deep! Never have I seen such living finery residing in this part of Arda.'
The tittle-tattle of talk pieced the serenity, and one voice clearly rang above the rest:
`It reminds me of the golden wood of Laurelindórinan!' It said.
All fell silent.
`Over here!' Merry said pointing to the azure pool.
The child lay there still, untouched, yet no earthly hurt could be seen on her.
Legolas knelt by her side. His hand touched her forehead.
`She is cold, but not dead!'
Clutching her to his breast he lifted her out of the pool. She was limp in his arms. Sam looked at Legolas; a blurred glint in the elf's eyes proclaimed there was little hope.
`We must get her to Rivendell!
`She cannot be heeled here!' said Legolas.
The halflings hurried back to the camp, and prepared for their departures.
`Here!' cried Elrohir. `Have this horse; he's the only one we can spare! May the Gods deliver you safely! Namárië'
It had been three days since the early morn of their departure, and their luck had not taken a good turn........