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Out of All Knowledge  by Budgielover

Chapter Eleven

Elrond wished that he had chosen more gentle words, for his suggestion that the young halflings retire and rest after tea was politely but firmly declined.  Without ever saying so (but stated eloquently in the stiffness of Samwise’s shoulders and the set expression on Merry’s face) was the resolution that they would not leave Frodo again.  Not until their kin and friend’s fate was decided.  Gandalf and Aragorn extolled the virtues of the dinner table in the Hall without effect, and even Elrond’s invitation to the Hall of Fire would not sway them.

Bilbo, too, tried to persuade them.  “Lads, you must spend an evening in the Hall of Fire.  You can’t visit Imladris and not see the Hall of Fire!  You’ll hear tales and songs to tell your grandchildren about.”  He coughed depreciatingly and rocked slightly on his heels.  “Why, I myself have been known to sing a song or two there, on occasion.”

Merry shook his head, speaking for them all.  “Thank you, Bilbo.  But we’d rather not.  Not tonight.  Maybe another night.”  If Frodo lives, was the unspoken addendum.  Pippin made no response at all, other than to look anxiously between his elders, color from his bout of weeping still high in his face.

Elladan relieved his father after some little time, greeting the hobbits with fair words.  Elrond drew him off into a corner, Gandalf joining them.  Merry strained his ears but the chair he had taken was too far away, and they spoke softly and in Elvish, of which he knew only a few words from Bilbo and Frodo's stories and songs.  He caught Frodo’s name, and his and the others’ a few times, but the quick flow of Elvish defeated him.  He ground his teeth, frustrated.  Bilbo was staring at him disapprovingly.  Merry made an effort to look contrite, while desperately searching for a means to know what was being said.

Sam!  Sam knew some Elvish – Bilbo had taught him when he was just a lad, and Frodo had taught him more.  Merry stood up and stretched hugely, then sauntered casually over to where Sam had pulled up a seat by Frodo’s bedside and unobtrusively tugged on his arm.  Sam looked up, surprised, but the question died on his lips upon seeing Merry’s cocked eyebrows.  His eyes followed the jerk of Merry’s head to where the Big People stood.  Merry leaned over Sam, ostensibly to check on Frodo but really to whisper in Sam’s ear, “Elvish, Sam.  Can you understand what they’re saying?”

Sam looked offended.  “I’m not about ‘ta listen in on their private conversation, Mr. Merry!” he hissed behind a hand raised in pretense of a yawn.  “Shame on you!”  Nevertheless, after a moment Sam leaned back in his chair and risked a peek at the conference in the corner.  “Don’t reckon I know enough words anyway,” he added regretfully.  Merry squeezed his arm in reply and eyed the balcony doors, wondering if their words would drift to him if he went out for a sniff of air.  He might understand just a bit if he could hear better.  Then he saw Aragorn.  The Ranger was regarding his efforts with amusement, and raised an eyebrow as the hobbit’s gaze met his.  Merry flushed and left off trying to eavesdrop.  He gathered up the shreds of his dignity and drifted back to his chair, wearing his best ‘I don’t know what you find so amusing’ look.

Elrond returned with his son after some moments.  “Elladan will take up the watch, little masters.  If you will not go to your rest and dinner, at least send for trays and sleep here.  Tomorrow will be a trying day, and if you are to help, you must be ready.”  The hobbits nodded solemnly.  With a smile for them, Elladan seated himself in the chair next to Frodo’s head.  Elrond bent over the quiet form and laid his hand against Frodo’s brow.  So he stood for a long time, looking into Frodo’s face.  “The fever is reduced, my son.  Check him often to be sure that it does not rise again.  Keep him warm and continue to administer water, as much as he will take.  Send for me if there is need.”

“I will, Father.”  Merry thought that he could begin to tell a difference between the twins.  They looked alike, most certainly, but Elladan’s voice was a little softer than Elrohir’s, his mien more serious.  With a few more soft-voiced instructions to both he and Aragorn, the Master of Rivendell stopped before the door and turned to bid them farewell.

“Rest well, little masters.  Until…  Elladan!  Leave it!”

The young Elf started at his father’s tone, his hand halting its reach for the cloth that lay on the floor by the side of the bed.  Gandalf, too, swung around in surprise.  Elladan looked up in astonishment, silver eyes widening.  “I used that to shield myself from the touch of the Ring,” explained Elrond in a softer voice, unspoken apology in his voice at his peremptory tone.  “Let me take it, my son.”

Elladan nodded, sliding back into the chair.  Elrond retrieved the discarded fabric with two fingers and held it away his body as he turned to leave.  “I will order this burned.  Until tomorrow, my friends.”  Then he was gone, and suddenly the room seemed much more empty without the Elf-lord’s imposing presence. 

Frodo was growing restless, tossing his head and muttering incoherently now and then.  Bilbo tugged his chair closer and leaned over him to sing some soft, nonsense song, as one would sing to quiet a fretful child.  But even his beloved voice did not comfort and Bilbo abandoned the attempt, sitting with his unlit pipe in his hands and his eyes on his nephew’s face.  Merry vacated his chair and came to stand by Sam, closer to his elder cousins.  False strength, thought Merry, hating the glint of silver around Frodo’s throat.  However much he might understand the need, he had still not settled with himself the idea of that wicked thing ensnaring his cousin.  Frodo moaned, pushing off his blankets, only to shiver and clutch them close again.  He’s suffering, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it, wept Merry in his heart.  He reached over his cousin and pulled the covers up over Frodo’s bare shoulders.  He’s lost so much weight, Merry thought, mourning the prominence of the collar-bones that seemed ready to poke through Frodo’s skin.  He rubbed Frodo’s right shoulder gently and his cousin’s face turned towards him, sweat beading his brow as he struggled in his dream-sleep to speak.  His eyelids fluttered and Merry’s hopes rose, but Frodo did not open his eyes again.  Merry could make no sense of his cousin’s mumbles.  Frodo’s right hand clenched and quivered but the left remained still and cold.  Merry caught up the twitching hand and chafed the trembling fingers gently.  If he lived, would he be crippled?  Would this wound always hurt him?  Merry could not bear the thought of his laughing, gentle cousin maimed and in pain. 

Gandalf had to call his name twice before Merry heard him.  The old wizard was looking at him sorrowfully and the hobbit realized that he had leaned forward against the bed, both hands holding tight to Frodo’s hand.  As if he could hold his cousin to life by the mere force of his will.  “Meriadoc,” Gandalf repeated for the third time, “will you four not change your minds and come to dinner?  I hear that the cooks have prepared something special for you.”  Merry shook his head, as did the others.  Bilbo never glanced up from Frodo’s face.  Gandalf’s bristling brows drew down and he said gently, “Frodo is safe with Elladan.  Do not fear for him in the next hours.  Hobbits must eat, my friends.”

“Thank you, Gandalf, but no.  We’re not leaving.”  Merry cast an apologetic look at Elladan to let him know that they trusted him, but their minds were made up.  “Lord Elrond said that maybe the sound of our voices will help Frodo.  Let him know that his kindred are near, at least.  You and Aragorn go.”    

* * * * *

Quiet and contemplative, Aragorn at last went alone to sup.  Gandalf excused himself on the need to consult some ancient books of lore in Elrond’s Library.  Elrond would bathe and rest, the Ranger knew, and prepare himself for the effort to come.  Aragorn had hoped that Arwen would join him but she sent her regrets, unable to spare the time from her work in housing the increasing number of guests arriving for Elrond’s Council.  The Dwarves were proving troublesome, dissatisfied with their accommodations, prickly and quick to take offense at imagined slights.  Resigned to dining alone, he was gladdened to see Glorfindel from across the great hall.  The lordly Elf had returned just that eve from a quick scouting trip to learn what had become of the Nazgûl that had so nearly ridden he and the hobbit down.  To the ruin of all, thought Aragorn.  All could have been lost before the Ring ever reached here.  Accepting Aragorn’s invitation to join him, Glorfindel slid gracefully into the adjoining chair with a weary sigh.

“How fares Frodo?”

Aragorn rubbed at his eyes tiredly.  “I would not have believed that one so small could fight so hard.  You should have seen him during the fortnight on the Road, my friend, after he was wounded.  He bore his suffering in silence.  In such bravery that it astonished my heart.”  The Ranger rubbed his eyes again, but this time it was to clear the invasive tears from his vision.  “I do not think I could have borne it as he did,” he said simply.

Glorfindel put a hand on the Man’s shoulder and squeezed gently.  “I think that Master Baggins owes his life not only to his own great spirit, but to the love and care of his friends.  Never have I seen a greater love than among those four.”

Aragorn nodded.  “Truly said.  May we all be as fortunate in our friends as Frodo Baggins.”  The Elf nodded in agreement, his eyes on Aragorn’s face.  The Ranger held out stubbornly for some moments, then sighed and answered his friend’s unspoken question.  “It was that friendship that set Sam and Merry and Pippin on me, fierce as wolves defending a cub, when they thought I might do Frodo harm.”

Glorfindel nodded again, his starry eyes sparkling in the candlelight.  “I see.  So many bruises from ones so small?”

Aragorn flushed under the gentle teasing.  “Well … I wound myself in my blanket and it tripped me.  I fell and hit my head on the floor.”

The Elf had the grace not to laugh outright.  “Brought low by three halflings and a blanket.  How very ignoble.”

“How goes the hunt?” asked Aragorn, keeping his voice soft.

Glorfindel paused to let one of the serving staff pour him a goblet of wine before answering.  When he had nodded his thanks and the Elf had glided away, the Elf-lord responded quietly, “We have found only eight of the mounts’ bodies.  I do not call those abominable creatures horses.”  The Elf’s fine nostrils flared in revulsion.  “The bodies were torn and broken by the boulders and tumbling waters.  Black cloaks we found also, ripped and slashed.  But there is no sign of the ninth Rider.”

“Have you found any hoof-prints away from the riverside?”

Glorfindel shook his blond head.  “Asfaloth and I searched far on both sides of the river.  We even backtracked along our route, the ground we covered in our desperate race to the Ford.  We found nothing.  I returned to report to our lord.  Others will continue the search.” 

The servers returned with their meals and both fell silent, unwilling to speak of fell things before innocent listeners.  The Elves placed the covered platters before the pair and bowed, withdrawing on silent feet.  With an apathetic sigh, Aragorn removed the cover.  He looked blankly at his dinner.  Artfully arranged on his plate was a small roast fowl, stuffed with sliced mushrooms and wild rice.  Next to it was a mound of fried potatoes and a bowl of braised mushrooms in a rich sauce.  The braised mushrooms were accompanied by a serving of sautéed mushrooms and onions and another of flattish, round mushrooms stuffed with chopped mushrooms, sausages, onions and greens.  And for afters, sweet meringues, piped and baked into the shape of small mushrooms, their caps dusted brown with cinnamon.

Glorfindel stared at his plate, slender shoulders shaking in mirth.  “Well, so do the halflings have an impact on us all.”

* * * * *

Pippin paused in fluffing a pillow for the small divan that he had chosen as a bed, checking the whereabouts of the others, in his anxiety needing to know where they were at all times.  As on the first night of their arrival in Rivendell, the hobbits had each drawn one of the small sofas near to Frodo, grouping them around the high bed loosely.  Pippin had been drafted to make up the beds.  Bilbo had stayed with them as afternoon deepened into night, talking and smoking, then departed for his own room, his wrinkled face worn with fatigue.  Sam was conversing softly with one of the Elves who had come to collect the supper trays and emptied dishes.  His task done, Pippin joined his cousin, sinking down cross-legged on the floor before the fire.  Merry’s pipe was in his hands and his brow was furrowed as he stared into the flames.  The pipe smoldered but Merry paid it no heed.  Pippin wondered what he was thinking.

He leaned against his cousin, his anchor in this uncharted sea of Big Folk and unfamiliar things.  “I’m tired, Merry.”

Merry put out his arm and Pippin nestled closer, allowing the tension to run out of him in the comfort of that familiar embrace.  He still felt exhausted, despite the relatively peaceful sleep of the previous two nights, and the nap he had taken earlier in the day.  Without meaning for it to, Pippin’s head began to sag against Merry’s chest.

“Lie down, Pippin-lad,” Merry told him, “and put your head in my lap.”  With a yawn, Pippin did, his face turned towards the fire.  Together they watched the flickering flames dance in the grate.  Merry tamped his pipe and laid it aside, restless hands reflecting the state of his restless mind as he stroked his younger cousin’s hair.  Pippin’s eyes closed slowly, struggled open, closed again and stayed that way as his breathing evened out and deepened.

“Poor lad,” breathed Sam softly as he joined them before the fire.  He carried a blanket, which he spread gently over the sleeping tweenager.  Sam lowered himself to Merry’s side stiffly, wincing as joints and muscles protested, unused to long hours of just sitting and watching.  “This is so hard on him.”

Merry nodded.  “Yes.  On all of us.  How are you holding up, Sam?”

“Oh, I’m all right, Mr. Merry.  Missing my Gaffer, though.  I wish Mr. Frodo was well enough for us ‘ta go home.”

Pippin murmured in his sleep, sharp face creasing, and Merry resumed stroking his hair.  “Me too, Sam.”

Sam shifted uncomfortably on the hard floor, then drew up his knees and looped his arms around them.  “Funny thing, that.  I thought meeting Elves an’ seeing Rivendell would be the most wonderful thing in the world.  All them years of dreaming about it…  Now here I am, and all I want to do is go home.”

Merry stretched his back, aware of his own aches engendered by hours of anxious waiting.  “Me too, Sam,” he repeated sadly.  He sighed, then looked at the beds Pippin had prepared for them.  “We’d best get some sleep.  Frodo’s going to need us tomorrow.”

“Aye,” agreed Sam, gritting his teeth against needle-stabs of pain as he dragged himself to his feet.

“Up you get, Pippin,” Merry ordered gently, tickling the end of his cousin’s pointed nose.  Pippin swatted at the offending hand but Merry persisted until Pippin groaned and dragged himself to his feet to stumble into his nightshirt and wash.  The adult hobbits followed suit.

Drained as he was, it was still long before Merry fell asleep.  The divan upon which he lay was well-padded and comfortable, but narrow.  Sam snored softly on the settee on the other side of Frodo’s bed, stretched out on his back, one arm bent back to cradle his head.  That sound that was becoming both familiar and comforting, Merry mused.  Sam had been insulted when Merry had teasingly informed him that he snored; the stocky hobbit had denied it adamantly.  Pippin slept prone on the divan pulled almost against his own, cheek crushed into his pillow, one arm dangling, a hairy foot pressed against Merry’s leg.  He wouldn’t be in that position long, Merry knew.  Even in sleep, his little cousin couldn’t stay still.  His tossing and turning had driven Sam near to distraction their single night in Bree.  Merry was grateful that he and the others had not really understood what the Black Riders were, that night of the attack on The Prancing Pony.  It was, he thought wearily, the last good night’s sleep he could remember.

If he knew then what he knew now, he would never have taken that foolish walk along the streets of Bree, away from the lights and folk of the inn.  Merry shivered as he remembered the dark forms that had risen from the shadows of that winding street of Men, the black cloaks advancing.  Then what Strider had called the Black Breath had overwhelmed him and he had fallen unconscious to the cobbles.  They had to know he didn’t carry the Ring.  What were they planning to do with him, had they succeeded in taking him?    

Merry’s heart began to race, and with a deliberate effort, he calmed himself.  Knowing he should sleep, he still fought against his tiredness to watch as Elladan rose several times to check on Frodo, to raise him slightly and carefully pour water down his throat, adjust his coverings, or merely lay a cool hand against a fevered brow.  They are kind, these Elves, Merry thought.  They care.  They won’t let anything bad happen to Frodo, if they can help it.  Just before the drowning tide of exhaustion pulled him under, the little voicein his mind echoed … if they can help it.

* TBC * 

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