The next morning, the hobbits had a small breakfast, banishing their visions for the important business of what might possibly be their last meal. Of the three companions, each was positively grim. The hobbits had never faced such an unnerving trial, and Gwynna had never been tested in such a serious way. Finally, the wizard embraced both of them, and with determined resolution, spoke.
“Do not fear, little ones. If we do not meet again, I bid you only the best of fortune and life. May your quest be successful.”
“May your sword be long and your lance be keen,” Faramir replied, bowing respectively, his eyes strangely clouded. During their short time together, the hobbits had bonded with this mysterious woman, and felt astonishingly alone and vulnerable without her protection.
Stuttering, unsure of herself, Elanor also murmured, “Nai tiruvantel ar varyuvantel i Valar tielyanna nu vilya,” (May the Valar protect you on your path under the sky.)
Faramir was interested. “I didn’t know you spoke any Elvish!”
“I don’t,” she replied. “Not really. Only a few words. All I know is that it is a respectful farewell.
The wizard smiled, putting a hand of each of the hobbits’ shoulders. “Darkness be not upon you,” was the last phrase they heard before Gwynna began to chant rhythmically.
A great roaring came to their ears. Faint at first, but growing, louder, greater until it was almost unbearable. The two hobbits clamped their hands to their ears and waited, watching the silhouetted figure of their guide against the new dawn. The sight inspired them with hope, the strange power of their guide against the might of the sun. Before they could truly appreciate this sight, a hole appeared in the water next to the sand. A small, rather alarmed crab was revealed, and scuttled away swiftly. As they watched, the hole grew larger, enough for a dog, a small pony, and, finally, a pair of hobbits.
“Go,” Gwynna said with an obvious effort. “Do not look back.”
Elanor grabbed Faramir’s hand, and quickly dragged the loath to move hobbit to the mouth of the long path. It was filled with an eerie, green tinted light that seemed to come from every direction. With a mumbled word of thanks, they stepped forward.
There is not much that can be recounted from their journey. They could have walked for an hour, a day, a week, a year. The sea was timeless. In truth, the sun passed from day to night and back to day again before Elanor saw the comparatively blinding light of the dim, blackened world.
Elanor tugged Faramir’s wrist, but he wouldn’t move. She looked back at him, and saw that he was staring, openmouthed, directly up. A great shadow, so large that several dozen Bag Ends could fit easily inside comfortably, loomed hugely over their heads, and a haunting, wondrous song filled their ears. It passed over several minutes later, but it was longer before they could wordlessly continue.
Shortly after, they emerged on a deserted coastline, heavy rain and thunder surrounding them. With a strange sucking sound, the tunnel sealed up behind them. Suddenly, they heard a voice shout; “Oi! Galen! Foreigners on the beach!”
“Don’t know what yer talkin’ ’bout, Eldanach,” another replied. “Where’d they come from? Nuthin’ could get through this bleedin’ storm!”
Though Faramir and Elanor looked around frantically, they could see no one until Faramir came face to face, (or more like face-to-chest,) with a large spear head and the larger man behind it.
“Over here, Galen, you dolt. Right then, you two, who are ye, what are ye, and how’d you get here?”
Another, larger man appeared by his side, his spear pointed at Elanor. “What do you reckon these are , El? Little orcs, ‘r magick folk maybe?
“Excuse me!” shouted Faramir over the wind and rain. “We are not Orcs, and are certainly not magick, if you don’t mind my saying, and I can answer all your questions, but is this really the right time or place? My companion and I are very weary, and would appreciate a warm fire to dry ourselves by. And I am sure you gentlemen would rather not be out of doors in this wretched weather!”
“Come on, El,” the large one muttered. “Guard duty is so very dull. An’ I wouldn’t say no to that fire. Come now, who’s goin’ to show up?”
“They did,” the other replied, gesturing with his spear. He was clearly weakening.
“No’un ‘ll ever know! We were just bringing in captives and they wouldn’t go without a fire and we couldn’ carry ’em a’cause we’ve got these ‘ere bags of driftin’ wood to dry for the King’s fires.”
Several minutes later, in a small, stone guardhouse, the hobbits warmed their hands by a meager, rather dispirited fire.
“I’m soaked through,” they heard one of the men mutter. “Aye,” replied the other, “I been wet now for six days, what with me leaky roof.”
“Now then,” called the one named Eldanach, “Answer me questions.”
“Sirs, before we begin,” said Faramir replied cautiously, “May I say that it is quite doubtful that you will believe a bit of our story?”
“Aye, most like. But strange things are ‘appenin’ these days and I’m sure your tale is no stranger.”
With that, Faramir, supplemented with details from Elanor, launched into their introductions and strange tales. By the time they finished, the men were staring dumbfounded at the small guests.
“Not sure what to make of that, El,” stated Galen after a few silent minutes. “They ‘as a strange tale indeed.”
“You said you wanted to see the king?” asked Eldanach slowly, obviously still processing this new information. They nodded. “And that you was called ‘ere, for some council or another?” They nodded again. “Well, we best take you to ‘is ‘all then, right?”
“Oh, ‘e won’t be in there, El. The queen can barely get ‘im to sleep at night. No, ‘e’ll be at the gates, working with the men on the flood walls.”
“Right you are, Galen. I’d forgotten. Y’know, all I’ve ‘ad to eat in days is cabbage? Old cabbage, at that. Wrinkly and brown, dreadful business. It’s got to me ‘ead. But me and Eonya, we’re better off than some.”
Piping up at last, Elanor said, “Oh, I think we can help you with that. Feel free to share what we have in our packs.”
This simple act of kind generosity set the men on the packs like a pair of rabid dogs. Soon the guards were fair drooling over their find. Elanor had to whack one with the broad side of her sword to get him from eating all of it and not leaving any for the rightful owners, much to the soldiers chagrin. When they were obviously refreshed, they thanked the generous hobbits and neatly gathered the strewn about belongings and packed them into their original forms.
They were sad indeed to leave the cramped guardhouse when the small company reached the door. The wind blew so hard and so fast that even their cloaks could not protect them from its teeth. For two days the company marched in the intolerable conditions, huddled in as many layers of clothing as they could gather. After what seemed like an eternity, the white tower of Ecthellion burst into view, glimmering through the tempest like a spike of pearl and silver, the banner of the king ripped high into the torrential winds.
As Galen led the company towards the great gates, he drew a horn from his belt and blew a clear call into the sky, pulled away by the wind almost before it sounded. But, far off, an answering cry was heard, and one of the mighty gates was opened, and the white city revealed.
“Come now, men!” they heard a great voice cry. “Just open it a bit more! There! Welcome, Galan and Eldanach of the Guard of the Coast. What brings you to the city this day? Cenarea and Halmar do not assume your duties ’till the morrow!”
“We bring prisoners of interest to you, my lord. They call themselves ‘hobbits’ of the north.”
With a rather unkingly shout of joy, a great man in a long, deep purple robe (which was rather soiled with mud and other debris from the storm) came forth from the mass of gatekeepers.
“Elanor the Fair! And who is your companion? What a bright spot in a pool of despair! I haven’t seen you since you were a guest of the court with your parents! Men, hold the gate strong, I shall return. Now, all of you, out of the cold, come, let us go to my hall where I may give a proper welcome!”
“Well, he’s not what you’d expect,” muttered Faramir, slightly in awe.
“Oh, no, not at all. He’s quite… different. I don’t think he thinks of himself as the king. In his own mind, he’s just a ranger of the north, a guest in a lord’s halls. That’s what makes him so great and, well, kingly. I remember him well from my visit here in my childhood,” Elanor said, smiling.
The group, led by the king, tramped through the once magnificent streets, now flooded and covered with horrible muck and filth.
“I truly apologize for the state of my city,” King Elessar shouted over the tumult of rain and wind, as the hobbits dodged a flying tree branch that had almost dismembered them. “We’re having a bit of trouble in the realm, what with the plague, famine, and this unremitting storm!”
By the time they had reached the great stone halls, the cold seemed to have seeped into their very bones, and set up housekeeping.
“The Lord has returned!” came a shout from a corner near the door. The call reverberated around the corridor, was taken up by others, and was soon heard by all.
The hobbits were led to the Great Hall, (Galen and Eldanach were taken elsewhere, but not without welcome and gratitude of the King,) and were there treated like ambassadors from some far off land; which, in truth, they were. Although the hobbits refused all food and ate only from their own, near empty packs, not liking the look of the gray sustenance before them, (even the king wasn’t better off than his people,) they were much contented.
Soon, Lord Aragorn and the Queen Arwen were seated on their thrones, and the hobbits came before them and bowed deeply, resting on one knee.
“Rise, Elanor the Fair and Faramir Took,” said the Queen. Her voice was peaceful, but held so much hidden power that Faramir looked up in awe as they stood. “We have much missed your presence in this court, Elanor.”
Bowing again, she replied, “I am glad to return, my lady, even in such days. My companion and I have come all the way from the Shire with the guide sent to us, Gwynna of the South. She is a Wizard of great power.”
“Yes,” said Aragorn, “I have known of her since my days in Bree. Great indeed. But where, may I ask, is she now?”
Yet again, the hobbits glanced at each other, and began their tale anew.
“So you see,” Elanor finished, “we’ve had a bit of a bad time with this journey.”
“‘Bad time’ indeed. You must be exhausted beyond reckoning! Rooms have been prepared for you; you shall stay there until the council. But now, I regret that I must return to the Gates. Palyn!” Aragorn called.
“Yes, Lord?” replied a small, kind looking man from the door.
“Find the accommodations for these honored guests. Also, see to it that peoples coming for the council have rooms of their own, we can’t have them sleeping in the hall! They shall start arriving soon; the council is in only two months! That will be all. I bid you all farewell.” With that, he went from the hall with a kiss for his queen and a small bow to his guests.
“Would you like to retire to your rooms?” asked Palyn.
“With your leave, Lady,” curtsied Elanor.
Following Palyn through the immense labyrinth was no easy task, for though he was of great age, he moved swiftly, and with a skill only experience can bring. He spoke not a word, but he had a gentle air about him. With many twists, turns, and passages that seemed to corner back the way they had come, Palyn finally creaked open a tall oaken door that led to a set of rooms, more extravagant than they could have imagined, with arched, high ceilings and rich furniture.
Palyn finally broke the awed silence. “I will see to it that someone comes this evening for you to be fitted for clothing. We don’t often have the pleasure of guests your size. Unless you lack anything, I will leave you now.” After they assured him that they didn’t, he bowed out of the room, shutting the heavy door behind him.
As the sun set outside and the hobbits were finishing supper, (which was, unfortunately, a rather gray form of steamed cabbage stew. It didn’t even have the company of any other dish, for the hobbits’ packs were all but empty,) there was a rap on the door, which resounded through the walls. Elanor motioned for Faramir to remain seated and heaved open the might portal.
“Excuse me, mistress,” said a young girl of perhaps ten or eleven years of age. “I was sent to fit yeh for yer new clothes.”
“That’s very kind of you,” replied Elanor, ushering the girl in. “May I ask your name?”
“Oh,” she replied sheepishly, “Aina-anna. The seamstress calls me Anna.”
Elanor smiled thoughtfully. “I think that means ‘Holy Gift,’ does it not? Your parents must think highly of you indeed.”
“They do, mistress. I mean, they did, a’fore… The seamstress raised me after the plague that swept the city near-to clean.”
“I’m so sorry, Anna. But where are my manners? Would you like to join us? We were just filling up the corners.”
“No thank’ee, miss. The seamstress will ‘oller if I tarry.”
With surprising efficiently for such a young girl, Anna had had taken their measurements with a knotted cord and had bowed nearly out the door in nigh on five minutes.
“Anna,” Elanor called. “We wouldn’t mind if you came back in a day or so. I enjoyed your company.”
The grinning child replied, “I think I’d like that, if I could find the time, mistress.”
“Call me Elanor.”
“With your leave, mistress Elanor,” and she pulled the door closed behind her.
Anna did come back, sometimes for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour, nearly every day for two whole months, in which she and Elanor became fast but unusual friends. Elanor and Anna were nearly the same height, though Anna didn’t mind standing on the tips of her toes to reach something. The thing most discussed, however, were the new arrivals from distant lands around Middle Earth. The seamstress’ quarters were two doors on the left from the main hall, and any guests had to pass the half open door to reach any point in the enormous catacomb, except the Leather Smith, whose was the first door on the left.
One day in January, Anna rushed inside with great excitement. “There’s been Elves, mistress Elanor! Cross me heart, Elves! I thought I even saw a tree! Really, a tree, walkin’ all slow towards the hall, with ‘is head bowed a’cause if ‘e didn’t ‘e’d scrape the ceiling! And there’s dwarves and a lady in blue and a big, tall man in brown, and an old dark lady in red and…”
She would have continued on in this way for some time had not Elanor stopped her and said, “Whoa! Slow down a moment. What was that last one?”
“An old dark lady in red with a big staff and white ‘air,” she replied, stating every word clearly.
“Where is she, Anna, the lady in red?”
“The lady in blue took her to the healing chambers. The red lady looked very old, looked like she couldn’t walk by ‘erself. But I can tell yeh, yeh wont be able to see ‘er.”
“Whyever not?” asked Faramir from a nearby chair, a book in his lap.
“The chambers are overrun! They’re not letting anyone in, ‘cept the sick, o’ course.”
“That’s ridiculous!” exclaimed Elanor. “We have to see her! Take me to the chambers, if you have a moment.
This was not the easy task it had seemed to be. As Anna had stated, the whole space from the main hall to the healing chambers was a calamity of noise and guests. After almost being squashed by what had appeared to be an enormous blue donkey, Anna pointed to a large, arched doorway that seemed to be the source of the tumult.
“Oi!” Anna cried. “Lyran! ‘Ow goes the day?”
A very thin man looked up. His meager hair was in wild disarray.
“Not well, Anna. Seems that the king didn’t think ’bout where to put all these – No, sir, I don’t care if your donkey is nine feet tall, blue, and talks! We still don’t have room… – people.
Edging closer, Anna shouted above the noise, “Mistress Elanor ‘ere wants to see someone. Can she?”
“I’m afraid not, Anna,” the man replied. “There are over three dozen people in each chamber, and there’s only four healers, not countin’ the king. – No, we don’t got any spirits, so stop askin’. – I couldn’t find who yer looking for in an hour, an’ I don’t have near that much time. Now, I’m very busy, so if you could please… – No, miss, I already told you, if you want a new pair of boots, talk to the Leather Smith…”
Defeated, the two slowly nudged themselves back to the rooms. Upon arrival, they nearly stumbled into Palyn, who was just raising his hand to knock on the door.
Smiling, he bowed and said, “Mistress Elanor, I was just calling to inform you that the king has sent for you and your companion, Master Faramir. He wishes you to attend the council in the Great Hall at this very time!”
Author’s Note, once again; Well, we are officially at the halfway point in chapter numbers, though the second half of the story is signifigantly longer than the first half! All told, there are 14 chapters and an epilogue, which will be included with the fourteenth part. Hope you’re enjoying yourself as much as I did writing it!