A Meeting in the Woods
Primula Brandybuck was lost.
Several hours ago, she had had managed to convince herself that it was Bree that was lost, but as the shadows grew long and the sun sank into the west, that illusion disappeared. Primula's more practical side informed her that the town was too large, too indifferent, and too lazy to have picked itself up and wandered away. Which meant that Bree was where it had always been and that she, Primula, proud daughter of Gorbadoc Brandybuck, was the one who was lost.
"But Bree is on the side of the hill," she muttered angrily, glaring at the trees that towered over her. "How can I be lost when all I need to do is find the hill?"
Several weeks ago, her brother Saradas had announced his plans to visit some of their distant relatives outside the Shire, and he had invited Primula to come with him. She had eagerly accepted as an itch for adventure had been growing in her mind of late. It was her hope that a journey to far away lands would satisfy this growing need. But Bree had fallen short of her expectations. The Big People had awed her at first, but after a few days in their company, the thrill of seeing them on the streets faded away. Her desire for an adventure became even more pronounced, and with her stay in Bree drawing to a close, a desperate Primula had left the city early in the afternoon and begun exploring the surrounding woods. It was not a proper activity for a hobbit lass of twenty-two, but Primula was not an ordinary hobbit lass. She was a Brandybuck. She had roamed the fields of Buckland for as long as she could remember, and she had even ventured into the Old Forest once or twice. She was accustomed to going off on her own when it suited her fancy, so proper or not, she had set out to find excitement. The little woodlands around Bree were nothing compared to the Old Forest, but they were far more promising than the city in terms of providing her with an adventure.
Primula could now count her wish fulfilled, but this was not the kind of adventure she had wanted. This was an uncomfortable and frightening adventure. She was alone in a strange place, and she could not find her way back, something that had never happened to her before. She usually had an excellent sense of direction, and as an added precaution, she had marked her path carefully so that she would be able to retrace her steps. But she could find none of the markers she had left, and it was becoming very dark.
"Saradas will find me," she told herself. "He means to leave Bree tomorrow and he certainly can't do that if I'm not around. Papa will have it out with him if he goes back to Buckland without me."
She thought of what her father might say if her brother returned to Brandy Hall minus his youngest sister, and for a moment, the woods were not quite as dark. A smile even managed to flash across her face, but the mirth did not last long. Evening's chill crept into the air, and though it was June, Primula found herself wishing she'd worn something a bit warmer. The growing shadows made everything seem so—
A twig snapped behind her.
Primula spun around. Her eyes strained against the fading light, looking for the source of the sound. But she saw nothing. A breeze rustled the leaves above her, and the branches overhead creaked and groaned. Her desire for adventure now thoroughly quenched, Primula backed into a sturdy willow tree and tried to think. This was not the time to panic. She had to be calm or she would work herself into a fit. Perhaps she should begin walking again. That would give her something to do. And maybe this time she would chance upon the right direction and see Bree's lights on the hill. Maybe she would even come across Saradas and others out looking for her. Maybe—
"Are you in need of assistance?"
Primula was quite certain that she had never before jumped so high. A strangled scream escaped her throat, and she whipped about so quickly that she nearly fell over. Caught in the throes of shock, she staggered wildly to one side only to be stopped by a large hand upon her arm.
"Steady, my lady; you moved too quickly. And my apologies if I startled you. It was not my intention."
The hand dropped away, and Primula took a hasty step back before she looked up.
Her mouth dropped open. Standing but a few feet away was one of the Big People, but he was unlike any of the Big People she'd seen in Bree. Taller than the tallest man she had ever met, he stood quietly before her, making no movements but somehow giving the impression that he was everywhere at once. Or that he could be everywhere at once if that was his wish.
He wore a gray, shimmering cloak that confused the eyes. Primula had never seen material so fine, but it was put to shame by the man himself. Hair as black as raven feathers framed a face that was youthful but not young. His strong features had a nobility about them that called to mind images of kings and lords from childhood tales. The set of his shoulders conveyed a sense of confidence and power, and overwhelmed, Primula took another step back, prepared to flee should he make any sudden movement.
Then she looked in his eyes.
The eyes were old. Older than the oldest heirlooms crowding the unused tunnels of Brandy Hall. Older than the oldest antiques hidden in the twisting confusion of the Michel Delving Museum. Ancient eyes. Ancient beyond any hobbit's ability to understand or—
A hand grasped her arm and Primula started, only then realizing that the man—if indeed he could be called a man—had been speaking to her. "I-I'm sorry," she stammered, feeling as though she had fallen into a strange dream. "I don't think I was listening."
"Your silence concerned me," he said, releasing her and stepping back again. "Are you well?"
At this point, Primula managed to pull her eyes off the man's face and look at the rest of him. Her stomach tightened when she saw a bow and a quiver strapped to his back. It tightened even more when she noticed the sword hidden beneath the folds of his cloak. Suddenly aware of her own vulnerability, Primula hastened to answer. "Yes, yes," she said, looking around for anything that might be used as a weapon. "I am quite well!"
"Oh yes. In fact, I'm…I'm waiting for someone. Many someones. Large someones. My brothers. All of them. They should be along any moment. I believe I hear them now."
The stranger cocked his head to one side and studied her, amusement flashing across his face. "Are you certain, my lady? For I do not hear them, and my ears are fairly keen. Perhaps I should repeat my earlier question: Are you in need of assistance?"
Primula once again found herself caught in his eyes, but this time, the man was no longer simply watching her. Now he was planning and evaluating, and the intensity of his gaze made her mind spin. "You're not from Bree," she whispered, unaware that she was speaking aloud until after the words left her mouth.
The stranger's amusement seemed to grow, and hints of a smile tugged at his lips. "You do not err. My home lies many leagues east of Bree." His eyes narrowed and glittered in a way that reminded Primula of starlight. "It has been years since I last traveled these lands, but unless I am far astray in my judgement, you are not from Bree, either."
"Well, no, sir, I don't suppose that I am," Primula answered, still trapped by his gaze. "But I've family here. I'm staying with them. And my brothers, too."
"Then perhaps you should think of returning to them. Daylight wanes quickly, and the watchmen will be closing the gates soon."
Much to her surprise, Primula found herself nodding in agreement. "Yes, that's a good idea. My brothers do seem to be a bit late. I'm sure they'll be along, but it will be faster if I go and meet them."
"Then if I may be so bold, could I offer myself as your escort until you find them? Night can bring strange sights to the unwary, and in these days, things are not always what they appear to be."
The practical part of Primula's mind, the part that had ultimately convinced her that she was lost, cried out in protest. She knew nothing of this man—if man he was—and she had no reason to trust him. But another part of Primula, a part that seemed older and wiser than her practical side, wanted to believe in this stranger. To let him help. And after a brief but fierce debate, Primula's practical side lost. Besides, she reasoned, if he is a threat, it's unlikely that I can get away now. He's too close and too big. Better to wait a bit and see what happens.
"I accept your offer," Primula said aloud. "And you have my thanks for it."
"It is my pleasure," the stranger said, sweeping his cloak back and gracing her with a stately bow. "Might I know the name of the lady who grants me this honor?"
"Primula," Primula answered, flattered by the courtly gesture in spite of herself. "Primula Brandybuck, sir. And may I ask your name?"
"Elladan, son of Elrond." He paused after answering, his eyes searching her face. But then he smiled, and with that smile it seemed as though countless years of care and caution were suddenly lifted from his shoulders. "Come, then, fair Primula," he said with a hint of laughter in his voice. "The gates of Bree lie this way."
Turning, he released her from his gaze, and Primula experienced a moment of severe disorientation before she was able to right herself. By the time she recovered, Elladan had already begun walking, sparing her a curious glance over his shoulder when she did not follow. Flustered, Primula hurried to catch up, fearing the lonely cold more than his uncertain company.
"If it is not impertinent to ask, perhaps you could tell me what your business is in Bree," Elladan said when Primula had reached his side. "And why did this business take you so far away from the town?"
"It's as I told you before," Primula said, struggling to both breathe and talk at the same time. Elladan's strides were much longer than hers, and his pace was brisk. "I came to visit family."
"And this family lives in the woodlands?"
"No, they live in Bree. Well, some live in Coomb, and I think there are a few who live in Archet, too. But most are in Bree."
Elladan gave her a puzzled look. "Then what took you out of the city? And what forced you to linger until sunset?"
"I suppose that I wanted a bit of adventure," she said, feeling rather foolish about the entire thing. "I'm from the Shire, you see, and we don't have much in the way of adventure there."
"A hobbit seeking adventure," Elladan mused with a shake of his head. "It is a strange thing, and even stranger is the fact that I am here for much the same reason."
"You're seeking adventure?"
Elladan laughed. "Nay, though sometimes I wonder if it does not seek me. But today I am here on behalf of another hobbit from the Shire, perhaps not unlike yourself. He also went forth seeking adventure, but he is returning from it now. He has made his camp only a few days east of here, and I have gone forward at the behest of my father to ensure that the road before him remains open."
"He's from the Shire?" Primula exclaimed, forgetting her reservations at the thought that another hobbit had been successful in finding adventure. "Do you know his name? Are there others with him?"
"His name is Bilbo Baggins, and he now travels with a wandering wizard, whom you might know as Gandalf."
"Gandalf, yes, of course!" Primula said, nodding quickly. "There are stories of his fireworks, and he's good friends with many Tooks. That's wonderful that…" She trailed off, thinking back over what Elladan had said. "Bilbo Baggins?" she asked. "Do you know where he lived?"
"I believe he told me that he came from Hobbiton."
Primula frowned. "I'm sorry to tell you this, but you must be mistaken. Bilbo Baggins is dead. It was declared officially just before I left. Nasty business. No one's seen or heard from Mr. Baggins since last summer. They said they found his house empty and his breakfast half-finished. Then others said they saw him east of Bywater but nothing ever came of it. It caused quite a stir for many days, I can assure you!"
"I imagine it did," Elladan said with a smile. "But I can assure you that the returning hobbit is indeed Bilbo Baggins, who left his home in haste last summer and traveled over the mountains with a group of dwarves. And quite an adventure they had of it. They flew with eagles, matched wits against spiders, evaded a dragon, and fought an army of goblins. If you stay in Bree, I have no doubt but what you will see him before the week is up. And he will be more than happy to regale you with stories of his travels."
Had Primula been paying attention, she would have heard a slight note of exasperation in Elladan's last sentence, but her mind was caught on words like "dragon," "goblins," and "eagles." She was so shocked, in fact, that she stopped walking altogether. "I fear someone has been playing a cruel trick on you," she said when Elladan also stopped. "Bagginses are quiet, respectable hobbits. They don't have adventures. I know because my brother has a friend named Drogo Baggins. They're the same age and they visit back and forth, but Drogo would sooner live in a tree than do anything that might lead to an adventure. He won't even cross the Brandywine in a boat!"
"Perhaps you do not know Drogo well enough," Elladan said as he started walking again.
"Oh, I know him as well as I'd like to know him, thank you," Primula retorted, hurrying to keep up. "He doesn't think much of me, and I don't think much of him. It's for the best, really. Drogo is far too dull for my tastes."
"Then perhaps Drogo does not yet know himself."
Primula's brow wrinkled. "I don't see as that makes much sense. If anyone was to know Drogo, it would be Drogo. Wouldn't it?"
"Perhaps. But then again, perhaps not."
"That's not really an answer."
Elladan gave her a brief smile. "Some questions have many answers. And some questions are best answered by those who ask them." He slowed his steps, his eyes narrowing in the dim light, and then he stopped. "Bree's southern gate lies no more than a stone's throw from here. Do you see the hill?"
Primula looked up, and looming dark against the evening sky, she saw the hill's silhouette between the trees. "Yes!" she exclaimed. "Yes, thank you! Thank you for guiding me!"
"As I said before, it was my honor," Elladan answered. "And now I fear that our ways must part."
Primula bit her lip, strangely reluctant to leave Elladan's company. "You don't have to go," she said. "If you come with me, I'm sure I can find you some tea or some supper. It's the least I can do. There's an inn called the Prancing Pony that—"
"Thank you, but no," Elladan interrupted, shaking his head. "My path does not lead into the city."
"Oh." Primula looked at the shadow of the tall hill and then looked back at Elladan. "Well, I hope I see you again. You've been very kind, and I'd like to repay that somehow. Perhaps you'll visit Buckland?"
Elladan tipped his head to one side, his eyes suddenly renewing their intensity, and then they flashed with…knowledge? Realization? Primula did not know how to describe it, but it seemed as though Elladan had just recognized something that he had been staring at for many hours. Unnerved by the abrupt change, Primula started edging away.
"We shall not meet again in this world, Primula Brandybuck."
Primula froze. Earlier, Elladan's voice had been pleasant and soothing, blending seamlessly with the night and the woods and the wind. But now it was different. It had changed into something stern and commanding. Something as ancient as his eyes…
"We will not meet again," he repeated, "but in time I will meet your son. Teach him well and quickly, for you shall not have long together. Around his neck will hang the fate of many, and by his actions will the counsels of the Wise be judged. But whether his choices will lead to good or ill, I cannot see."
Primula stared at him, unable to move, and he stared back at her, the weight of his gaze searing its way through her mind and branding his words upon her heart. Then he blinked, and the weight disappeared. Dazed at being so abruptly released, Primula staggered, reaching out blindly. She caught herself on the trunk of a tree, but she lost her balance again when a hand came down upon her shoulder.
"Go now," Elladan said quietly, and his voice was as it had been before—pleasant and soothing. "The gates are before you, and your brother is calling."
Still very shaken, Primula tried to move away, but the face before her seemed to swim and suddenly it was Saradas instead of Elladan. Her confusion growing by leaps and bounds, Primula opened her mouth to speak, but words failed her.
"Primula!" Saradas cried, seizing her by and pulling her into a suffocating hug. "Primula, where have you been? You ought not to have been out this late!"
"Saradas?" Primula finally gasped, thoroughly bewildered. "How… When…?"
"It's all right, Primula," Saradas soothed, brushing her hair back. "I've had them keep the gates open. We'll go right in and get you something warm to eat. The woods must have given you a fright."
He began to move, pulling her with him, but Primula stopped, searching the trees. "Where is he? Where did he go?"
Saradas frowned. "Where did who go?"
"Elladan! He was here just a moment ago. Did you see where he went?"
The frown deepened, and Saradas put his hand on Primula's brow. "You don't feel feverish."
Primula slapped his hand away. "I feel fine, and there was someone else here. I didn't imagine him!"
"There's no one here now," Saradas said, his eyes concerned. "There's no track and no trail. And I didn't see anyone about when I found you."
"But there was someone here!"
Saradas blinked, emotions warring upon his face, and eventually shook his head. "Let's go inside. We can talk there."
"You don't believe me," Primula accused.
"Maybe things will make more sense once we're settled around a warm fire," Saradas said, neatly avoiding the question. "That sounds nice, doesn't it?"
"I know he was here," Primula insisted, more to herself than to her brother. "He led me to the gates, and he said things to me. Things I didn't understand. He said Bilbo Baggins was coming back and that Drogo didn't know himself. And I wouldn't see him again. Him as in Elladan, not Bilbo or Drogo. But someone else would, but we wouldn't be together very long and—"
"Primula!" Saradas said sharply. "Primula…I think we ought to go inside. Night can be a tricky thing, especially in the woods."
"He said that, too," Primula murmured. "He said night brings strange sights to the unwary." Ignoring her brother, she stared into the darkness, straining for a glimpse of the stranger that had accompanied her. But there was nothing. It was as Saradas said: no track and no trail. She could see the prints of her own feet, but they were the only prints visible to hobbit eyes.
Primula shivered, suddenly feeling very cold.
"Primula, please come inside," Saradas said. "You're worrying me."
Now uncertain of her own senses, Primula nodded slowly and allowed herself to be led to the gates. But as she went, she kept her eyes on the shadows that lingered beyond the lamplight of Bree, hoping for a sign that she was not fevered or crazed. But though she taxed her eyes until they felt like they would burst, she neither saw nor heard anything. "Maybe it was a dream," she murmured.
"That's probably all it was," Saradas answered, giving her shoulder a quick squeeze. They entered Bree and the gates closed behind them, locking out the night. "Just a dream. Nothing to worry about. We'll put you to bed and you'll be well soon."
"A dream," Primula murmured again, but her heart wondered.
"You frightened her."
"Most assuredly. You frightened me. What was that talk of a son and 'the fate of many'?"
"It was something she needed to hear." Elladan pressed his lips together and looked at his brother, his face troubled. "If it is any consolation, I was also taken aback."
"It is not," Elrohir returned, equally troubled. "Fell dreams have kept you awake ever since the night Mithrandir and Bilbo entered Imladris, and for the better part of this journey, you have been restless. Rarely have you been so uneasy for so long. I do not understand these signs, and I do not like them. Can you tell me nothing of what you sense?"
"I cannot tell you what I do not understand myself," Elladan sighed. "Something dark is waking, but I do not know what. Father and Glorfindel feel likewise, and we suspect it might be connected to Mithrandir and the hobbit. We were most uneasy in their presence. But I know nothing beyond this." Elladan fell silent and his jaw tightened. "My feelings are not unlike what we felt in the lands around Dol Guldur," he said after a moment. "Perhaps something of the Necromancer remains from Bilbo's journey in Mirkwood."
"Perhaps," Elrohir said, but he did not sound convinced. "I will confess that I am also uneasy. There are stirrings in this land that I have never felt before. The shadows are deeper and the stars are faint. But I have not your talents for interpreting these things."
"My talents seem to be of little use," Elladan said. "Something is amiss, but that is all I know with certainty."
"But you must know something. What of the words you just spoke to the hobbit? Surely you understood that much!"
Elladan shook his head. "The foresight came suddenly, and though I know I spoke the truth, I do not know how that truth will come about. Primula is important. Her child will be important. And another hobbit she mentioned—Drogo—he is also important. As is Bilbo. As is the Shire. Hobbits will come to Imladris again, and it will be the first rumblings of events that shall bring about both an end and a beginning. I can tell you little more for all else remains veiled, but our time here is drawing short, brother. The world is changing, and soon it will have no place for us."
"Your words bring me no comfort."
"I did not offer them as comfort."
"And it seems you have spent too much time in Curunír's company."
Elladan winced, remembering Saruman's dour face at the White Council. Lindir had made some comment about the wizard becoming as cheerless as the tower he lived in, and the twins had been forced to agree with him. "These are troubling times for all of us," Elladan said defensively.
"True enough," Elrohir sighed. He was silent for a time, his eyes fixed upon Bree, and then he seemed to shake himself. "Well, if you can say no more, let us depart. Your hobbit is secure, and I wish to retrace our steps. I sensed something dark along the southern side of the Road."
"Lead on, then," Elladan said, pulling his thoughts together. "I will watch the shadows behind us."
The sons of Elrond set out, utterly silent in the twilight. Behind them the lights of Bree twinkled merrily in the darkness, heedless of their unseen guardians. In the east, a shadow seemed to loom, dimming the stars, but in the west, Eärendil gleamed brightly above the horizon. Hope still rises, Elladan told himself firmly, thinking of his words to Primula Brandybuck. The future is unknown, but we are not yet without promise. I must remember that.
Reassured by these thoughts, he continued forward, keeping pace with his brother. And safe in Bree among friends and family, Primula Brandybuck found her mind wondering if a Baggins could have an adventure…
Author's Notes: Primula Brandybuck was, of course, the mother of Frodo Baggins. She was born in the year 1320 while her husband, Drogo Baggins, was born in the year1308. It's not certain when they married, but Frodo wasn't born until the year 1368, so they were probably a bit slow in tying the knot. Which makes sense, given the conflicting reputations of the Baggins families and the Brandybuck families. In any case, this story was an attempt to sow the first seeds of that romance, even though it would not come to fruition for many years. That and to show that Gandalf wasn't the only one to notice something odd happening in Eriador.