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The Elf Path  by Nilmandra

The Elf Path

'But you won't have any luck in the Old Forest,' objected Fredegar. 'No one ever has luck in there. You'll get lost. People don't go in there.'

'Oh yes they do!' said Merry. 'The Brandybucks go in - occasionally when the fit takes them. We have a private entrance. Frodo went in once, long ago. I have been in several times: usually in daylight, of course, when the trees are sleepy and fairly quiet.'

A Conspiracy Unmasked, The Fellowship of the Ring

3003 Third Age

1403 Shire Reckoning

A faint gleam shone in the woods, moving eastward. Frodo watched it for a moment as if in a dream, then awareness entered his mind and he started. This was what he had been waiting for! He watched the dimly glowing light for a few more moments, as if to confirm to himself that it was real. Then he leapt to his feet, slung his pack over his shoulder and grabbed his walking stick.

He nearly tripped over the root of the tree he had been dozing against, but a moment later he was back on the path and moonlight again guided his feet. He hurried forward, looking for the glow he had seen in the distance, but it had disappeared. He looked up, willing a cloud to at least partially obscure the moon again, but the clouds were few this night and seemingly none wished to aid him on his quest.

He smiled to himself at the thought. He did wish for an adventure of his own. He was now sure of it.

He hurried on, craning his neck to see as deeply into the wood as he could. The woods grew thicker and the path narrower, but also darker. Suddenly, the gleam appeared again before him, more distant and yet larger. He increased his pace.

The Green-Hill Country gave way to bogs and briar patches, and Frodo felt a growing uneasiness as he stumbled along in the dark. His memory of the landmarks in this part of the Shire was lessened in the dark, but he knew he did not wish to cross Farmer Maggot’s land. Still, he thought he was south of that.

He had nearly decided to give up and go back when he heard voices raised in a song both sad and beautiful. He was too far away to make out the words, but it gladdened his heart and encouraged him.

He stepped into a bog, his toes squishing into the mire, and he grimaced at the sucking noise his foot made as he pulled it loose. He did so love walking at night, and so had Bilbo, but he did not recall tramping through such rough land when they had gone together. Bilbo always seemed to know just the right paths to take.

He wiped his foot off on the long grass and used his stick to feel for a firmer path. Everywhere he pressed the wooden staff it sank into mire. He took a step back, the way he had come, and felt the cool mud encase his foot. “How did I get this far?” he wondered softly. He sighed and looked up at the stars, which seemed to twinkle merrily at him. “Oh, Elbereth, so bright are your stars this night!”

He paused for only a moment though, for the far off gleam was fading with the voices he had heard. Turning his attention back to the bog he had mired himself in, he lifted his foot out of the muck and set his muddy foot on to a tuft of grass. To his surprise, his foot settled down into the grass, which wasn’t as thick as he had expected, and he found the ground beneath firm. Grass tickled at his ankles, but as he placed his weight on to his foot and lifted his other foot so they were both on dry ground, the grass seemed to part, revealing a narrow path. He laughed and sang:

The path is hidden in mud and mire
Crossing back and forth the Shire
But for hobbit feet
The road will meet

He cut his nonsense song short as he heard fair voices rise once more in the distance. Then he turned his attention back to the new found path and it hurried him along, skirting bog and taking him swiftly in the direction of the elves.

It was the darkest time of the night when Frodo heard the sound of the water. He was unsure where he was, for the path at times headed east and at other times south. The Marish had to lie before him and the Brandywine beyond it, but where he was in relation to Farmer Maggot’s farm and Brandy Hall, he didn’t know.

He was closer to the voices, though. The glow had turned to a faint shimmer that surrounded the elves. They were not singing now, but speaking in soft voices. They seemed to have stopped and he drew near, but before he reached them they began moving again.

He realized a short time later what had slowed them down. The path had wound slowly through a marshy land and come right up to the edge of the Brandywine! The sound of the water had grown, drowning out the singing of the elves, and then suddenly Frodo realized that he was in the river. He stared at the flowing waters for a moment, wondering what fortune had allowed him to step on what must be a rock rather than tumble in.

Turning, he looked behind him. He was several feet from what was likely the river’s edge, though in the marsh it was difficult to tell. He looked forward again. He laughed suddenly, as the thought came that to all appearances he was walking on the water. Fear and wonder tugged at him, but wonder finally won out. The elves had crossed. The worst that could happen was that he would fall in.

But his parents had died in the Brandywine.

They did not know how to swim, he reminded himself. His Brandybuck relations had ensured that he did.

But the water was turbulent here, with strange eddies and currents.

He looked back again. He could not tell where he had stepped into the river. He could leap for the bank, but he could no longer see the path. Looking up at the twinkling stars one more time, he thought of the elves and the stars and Elbereth. Then he closed his eyes and took another step forward.

He did not fall in. His foot touched another smooth stone. He took another step, and another, and realized he was not walking straight across but seemed guided by the shimmering of the stars upon the water. Then suddenly the path was beneath his feet again and he was on dry land!

The path narrowed but continued in what seemed to be a north easterly direction. He did not see the Hedge, which told him he must have come further south than he imagined, as that ran all the way to the Withywindle River. The trees of the Old Forest seemed quiet and peaceful to his right, and the waters of the river flowed merrily on his left. He wondered how he had not learned of this path in all of his days tramping about the Shire.

He stopped and listened for the elves, but he could now no longer see or hear them. He wondered if they had turned aside to follow a path he could not see or had climbed up into the trees to rest. Rest. That was what he needed as well.

He found a comfortable looking cleft between the roots of a tree so tall and dark he was unsure of its kind. There was moss, soft and springy, and he sighed at the pleasant feeling beneath his feet as he set his walking stick up against the tree and his pack upon the ground. Then he lowered himself and leaned back against the smooth bark in contentment. He had seen elves for the first time since Bilbo had left the Shire. He would hopefully see them again yet this night, perhaps even speak to them, but even if not, he felt better for just being out and about the land as he and Bilbo had done in older days. He opened up his pack and removed two small cakes, then opened his waterskin and drank deeply.

He would rest and eat, then continue on this path and see where it led. Soon he must come to the Hedge, and then perhaps he would surprise Merry with a visit. He ate one of the cakes, then felt drowsiness creep over him. The tree, which had seemed friendly enough, suddenly began to whisper its discontent.

Before Frodo could consider what this might mean, he felt a stab of pain at the back of his head and then all went dark.


The elf leapt up from the ground and crossed swiftly to the tree under which the hobbit now lay. Several nearby trees had also awakened, and they were rousing others. He motioned for the other elves to spread out and sing to them, to lull them back to sleep. He laid both hands upon the trunk of the great tree, soothing it.

“That was unkind and unnecessary, my friend,” he whispered. “He is only one hobbit and no threat to you. Go back to sleep, winter is near! Delve your roots deep and dream pleasant dreams.”

He continued to murmur and sing softly, until the tree’s malice subsided and it again became sleepy. Only when he was content that this sentinel of the forest was again no threat did he turn to the hobbit.

An egg sized bump on the back of the head was the wage he had earned for sitting where he was not welcome. The elf took the branch the tree had thrown down upon the interloper and tossed it aside, and turned the hobbit over. He did not seem to have any other injuries. On the ground beside him was his waterskin, and in one hand he still held a cake. The elf wrapped the cake and put it back in the hobbit’s pack, then attached the waterskin back to the strap.

His companions had drawn near, and they took up the pack and walking stick, while he lifted the hobbit in his arms.

“How did he find our path?” asked one.

The elf looked down at the hobbit with a thoughtful gaze. “He spoke the name of Elbereth. Perhaps he is an elf-friend. He is not to be feared, I think.”

“What shall you do with him? We cannot bring him with us,” stated another.

“No, I think not,” the elf agreed. “But neither can we leave him here. The trees will awaken once we are past. The delay will not be long, but we must cross the river and take him out to the road, on the other side of the Hedge. He will awaken there or be found by his own kind.”

He heard murmurings from his companions and then one spoke. “We do not cross the Withywindle here. It is under the control of the trees, and though they now sleep, it may not. I do not think we would find an easy crossing.”

The elf looked north. “We could head east to the Downs to our crossing and return down the north side of the river, but that is a much longer delay.” He scanned the path and the trees near them. “I do not see a log we might use for a bridge, and we dare not disturb the wood. I think we must go east.”

The elves resumed their course. They had not gone far, however, when they heard the sound of hooves. They quickly abandoned their path and melted into the darkness.

Soon, two riders appeared across the river. Men, tall and dark. They were speaking in low tones, but the elves could hear them nonetheless.

“Why has Mithrandir doubled the watch on the Shire?” asked the one.

“He did not say, and I had not the time to question him,” came the reply.

The elf stepped forward on to the path. “Mae govannen!” he called softly, for these he knew.

The men turned their mounts and crossed the river, their horses easily swimming the river and then climbing the bank. They dismounted and greeted the elves, who had come out from the darkness again.

“What burden is this you carry?” asked the first.

“I had not heard that the elves were keeping hobbits as pets” teased the other as he stepped close enough to see what the elf carried.

“Alas, not a pet, simply a small creature in need of rescuing from the Sentinel. An odd creature, for he has followed our path for some time, even crossing the Baranduin. Never before have we seen such a thing!” replied the elf. “It seemed good to us therefore to assist him, but we do not cross the Withywindle at the west end, and so must head east before we bring him safely back to his land.”

“We will take him for you,” offered the ranger gravely. “The Shire is our watch. We will place him safely outside the Hedge. Is he sleeping?”

“He is sleeping with a headache,” replied the elf. “The Sentinel struck him with a branch, but there were no other injuries that I can tell. If that is all he suffers for daring the Old Forest at night, he will be fortunate indeed!”

The men mounted again, and he gave up his burden while his companions gave the hobbit’s goods to the other ranger. “Take him to better fortune. May Elbereth’s stars light your path!” called the elves.

* * *

“Who do you suppose he is?”

“I do not know, though he bears a resemblance to a hobbit I know,” replied the other. “That one would follow elves as well.” He laughed suddenly at old memories.

They rode swiftly down the Withywindle, passing carefully from her north bank on a zig-zagging path that brought them up out of the hobbit’s Hedge and on to their road. There they left the hobbit, finding as comfortable a bed for him as they could in the piles of leaves.

“He will awake confused, unsure how he escaped from the Old Forest, but that knot on his head will be explanation enough, I think.”

The other snorted. “Hopefully enough explanation to keep him from wandering where he does not belong.”

They turned south and headed for their posting at Sarn Ford.

* * *

“Frodo, wake up!”

Frodo opened his eyes and groaned, disoriented and with a throbbing head. His cousin Merry stood before him.

“What are you doing here by the Hedge? Where have you been?”

Frodo sat up gingerly, rubbing the lump on the back of his head. He looked at the hedge behind him and the river that ran out beyond it. Two rivers. He closed his eyes.

“Were you in the Old Forest, Frodo?” asked Merry with a hint of excitement in his voice.

“I think so, Merry. I remember sitting down beneath a tree and there are no trees right here, just this old Hedge. But I do not know how I got here.” He paused and shook his head slightly. “And something has whacked me on the head.”

“Only a fool goes into the Old Forest at night,” exclaimed Merry. “One of the trees likely hit you over the head. If that is the worst that happened, be glad you somehow made it out before they did worse.” He held out his hand and pulled Frodo to his feet. “Well, now that you’re here, let us go get some food. You must be hungry.”

“What is the time?” asked Frodo as he picked up his pack.

“Time for third breakfast for me and first breakfast for you, silly hobbit. Come, I want to hear all about it!” cried Merry as he dragged him off down the road.

Frodo looked back over his shoulder once. Fortunately, Merry was easy to distract. He did not think he could tell him all about his adventure, even if he wanted to. He decided he would keep this experience to himself. He wanted to find that path again, and something in his heart told him he would need to make that quest alone.

The End.



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