A/N: This story is a gap-filler, containing a "side adventure" before the Fellowship reaches Hollin. The River Feinduin is my own creation; it runs from the Misty Mountains to the Bruinen, and lies between Rivendell and Hollin. The "T" rating is for perilous situations.
Chapter 1: To the Crossing
"Not much farther, my friends. We are nearly there."
Frodo smiled at Gandalf, thankful for the encouragement. He wiped sweat from his brow and took a long drink from his waterskin. It was Afteryule and very cold, but the day's march had made Frodo warm, and he began sweating every time he stopped moving. He wasn't the only member of the Fellowship who was suffering from too much body heat; the other hobbits were puffing and blowing, and Boromir and Gandalf seemed to be growing uncomfortable, though neither made any mention of it.
Nine long days had passed since the Fellowship left Rivendell. Gandalf set them a brisk pace, desiring to reach the pass over the mountains before winter storms blocked the way. Frodo, who had not yet fully recovered from the wound he had received on Weathertop, was tired and footsore. So were the rest of his kindred; Frodo could tell by the way they walked, with feet dragging and heads down. All of them had grown hardier since leaving the Shire, but they had become reacquainted with comfort in Rivendell, and comfort had made all of them a little soft.
Frodo hoped that Gandalf had the right frame of reference in mind when he said that they were 'almost' to the river. 'Almost' to one of the taller folk was 'twice almost' to the hobbits, since they had to take two steps for every one of their larger companions'. It was well past midday already, and Frodo could hear Merry and Pippin muttering about afternoon tea. He wished they wouldn't, for they would not be getting it, and talking about what they couldn't have only made the march seem longer. Even more troublesome was his wearied body. The forest floor was cluttered with leaves and fallen branches, and his legs ached from high-stepping over them. He feared that it was only a matter of time before he failed to clear one and….
"Ho, Master Baggins!" said Gimli, catching Frodo's arm as he stumbled over a tree root and nearly fell.
"Oh!" sighed Frodo. "Thank you."
"Not at all." The dwarf lowered his voice and rumbled, "You look as tired as I feel. If I were in any other company I might be tripping over roots myself, but the elf's presence has a marvelous way of keeping me on my feet."
Frodo glanced up to the head of the line where Legolas was walking. He thought that Legolas might be able to hear Gimli despite his efforts – elves had excellent hearing – but he refrained from saying so. If Legolas hadn't heard them yet, then Frodo wasn't going to give him more chances to do so by continuing in this vein of conversation. At first elf and dwarf had studiously avoided each other, but as the days passed they had begun to prick one another with jibes and insults. The last thing anyone wanted was for them to start up again.
"I wonder how deep the river will be," said Frodo, changing the subject. "I've only ever crossed two rivers in my life: the Brandywine and the Bruinen, and neither on foot."
"I know not," said Gimli. "It is possible that it will be too deep for you hobbits to walk across, but no doubt the taller folk could carry you with little difficulty."
"Well, we'll soon find out," Frodo said hurriedly. Gimli was not much taller than the hobbits himself, and it was a short jump from talk of the hobbits being carried to talk of a dwarf being carried, which would sorely wound Gimli's pride. "In fact…. Does anyone else hear that?"
"Hear what?" said Gimli.
"Water, I think."
The Fellowship stopped walking and listened. "I hear it too," Merry said.
"And I," said Pippin.
"I do not; but if there is anything to hear, no doubt your ears have caught it, Legolas," said Boromir.
Legolas nodded. "The hobbits are correct. The river is near."
There were murmurs of delight and smiles all around at this news. With their goal finally at hand, the company walked a little faster. Sam held his head higher, too, though Frodo knew that he must be dreading the upcoming crossing. Sam had no trouble with rivers so long as he wasn't in them.
The group had scarcely walked for five minutes more when the ground began to slope beneath their feet. What started as a gentle downgrade quickly became a steep decline, and the Fellowship moved from tree to tree with great care. Gandalf had taken the lead and was furthest down the forested hillside. Legolas, Aragorn, and Boromir followed Gimli's example and each chose a hobbit to walk beside.
"It's kind of you to stay with me, Strider," Merry said abruptly, "but I don't need your assistance. This hill's really not so bad."
Aragorn smiled. "Ah, but that is not why I have chosen to walk with you."
"I was hoping you might catch me should I stumble."
Merry laughed. "Me catch you?"
"I am quite serious! You hobbits have an advantage over we taller folk on this hillside; you are steadier on your feet, being closer to the ground."
"We've always got the advantage, then," said Pippin from behind. "We're always closer to the ground, whether we're going down a hill or not."
"Feinduin – the White River!" Gandalf called from below. "We have reached it."
The rest of the company clambered down the hill to join him. The wizard pointed, and Frodo looked out to see a wide, gray expanse of water before him.
"It's below us!" said Sam.
"We are standing atop a cliff," said Gandalf.
Sam paled and backed up several feet.
"We are quite safe where we are," Gandalf chuckled. "The edge is some distance away yet. Do you see the cliffs on the other side? A gorge begins here, carved out by the Feinduin over many centuries."
"I don't see it," said Merry.
"That's because Strider is standing in front of you, you ninny," said Pippin. "Come closer to the edge and you'll see."
"Pippin!" Frodo cried out in alarm when the young hobbit hurried forward.
"Don't be such a worrywart," Pippin snorted. "See, I'll stop at this tree."
Frodo and Merry glanced uneasily at each other. The tree in question was right at the edge of the outcropping on which they stood.
"Please don't be doing that," said Sam, who was still pale. "It makes me feel sick – no, don't lean over!"
"It's only about thirty feet down," said Pippin. "Maybe forty. I'm not too good with distances."
"Forty feet?" said Sam, going even whiter.
"Pray come back, Peregrin, and put our hearts at ease," said Gandalf. His tone was light, but his brow was etched with worry. Frodo wholeheartedly agreed with him. Pippin's intentions were always for the best, but he was impetuous and too often heedless of danger. There was never any telling when he would get into trouble next, and Frodo didn't want that next time to be now, at the edge of a cliff.
"Oh, all right," said Pippin, coming back to stand beside Boromir.
"How are we going to get down?" said Merry. "Not over the cliff, I hope!"
"There is a crevice in the rock just to our left," said Gandalf, pointing with one gnarled hand.
"Crevice?" Sam croaked.
Gandalf smiled. "The way is not as difficult as it sounds. You will see."
When he reached the path that led to the riverbed below, Frodo saw that Gandalf was right. The slope was hardly gentle, but the rocky ground was solid and almost step-like in places. The walls of the crevice were close enough together that the hobbits could keep a hand on each one as they climbed to steady themselves.
Sam's fears diminished when Gimli pronounced the passage to be both safe and easy, but he soon developed a new concern for Bill. The pony was reluctant to try the path, and much of his baggage had to be removed before he could even fit into the gap. The company climbed down one by one, each bearing a portion of the pony's packs, until only Sam, Bill, and Legolas remained. It took a good bit of coaxing from both Sam and Legolas to convince poor Bill to take the first step. The going was slow, but Bill took heart as he descended and the three of them reached the ground in safety.
Frodo looked around with great interest while Gimli and Boromir burdened the pony again. The Fellowship was standing on a rocky shore with the crevice behind them; water lapped at the stones just a few steps ahead. The surface was agitated, indicating a shallow spot in the river, and Frodo wondered if they were standing at the crossing itself. At the place where they stood the Feinduin looked to be half as wide again as the Brandywine, but it narrowed as it passed through the gorge. The high rock walls on either side magnified the sound of running water.
"Why is it called the White River?" asked Merry.
"It is so named because it is fed by mountain snows," Aragorn replied. "Now it is calm, but it can be deep and wild in the spring when the snow is melting."
"This isn't where we're going across, is it?" said Pippin with some uneasiness.
"It is," said Aragorn. "There are few crossings on the Feinduin; the next is many miles downstream, and it is not so easy a path to walk."
"Easy path my foot," Pippin murmured, sharing a dark look with Sam. "That water will be nearly to my waist, or I'm an orc."
Frodo shook his head. Pippin was not quite as afraid of deep water as Sam was, but like most hobbits, he was leery of it and could not swim.
"We will all cross safely," said Aragorn, "but the water will be very cold. We must make camp somewhere on the other side and dry ourselves."
"Yes, we must," said Gandalf. "I am familiar with this region, and if memory serves, there is a recess in one of the cliff walls not far away."
"A cave?" Gimli asked eagerly.
"Not a cave," said Gandalf. "The recess only extends a short way into the rock, but it is large enough to shelter us all for the night. I think it would be safe enough to build a small fire there. We could all do with some warming up after the past few days."
"A fire?" cried Merry.
"That would be most welcome," said Boromir. "I confess I feel that my very bones are chilled through."
"We could have some hot food," said Sam, and Frodo smiled to hear the excitement in his voice. Sam dearly loved to cook, especially knowing that his efforts brought so much pleasure to everyone else. "Maybe some rabbit with herbs. I found some parsley growing wild not far back." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a neatly bound bunch of frilly green leaves.
"Parsley? You are a marvel, Sam!" laughed Aragorn.
Frodo, who had still been looking about during the conversation, smiled as a splendid idea sprang into his head. "How about fish for dinner? There's a good-sized ledge just down the bank – I can see it from here. I'll wager there are trout hiding beneath it."
"Roasted trout!" Gimli smacked his lips. "That would be a princely meal! How will you catch them? We Dwarves use poles, line, and hooks, but we do not have those here."
"Hobbits use those, too," said Frodo. "I suppose we could try to make them, but it would be much easier to make spears. Does anyone have a small blade?"
As it turned out, Boromir and Aragorn each had daggers concealed in their boots. Frodo retrieved two straight, dry branches from the earth that were long enough to serve as hobbit-spears. The men cut a cleft in the wood at the bottom of each stick and wedged the slim handles of their knives in. Twine from Sam's pack was wrapped about the joined pieces, and thus were two fishing-spears made.
"How far is it to this shelter, Gandalf?" Frodo asked when they had finished.
"It should be very close," the wizard replied. "I suppose you would like to stay and fish while we continue?"
"Well, it is getting late, and I can't fish in the dark."
"I will stay and keep watch if you wish," Legolas volunteered. "Perhaps one of the rest of you can return to tell us the way."
"I will," Gimli said gruffly. "I want to set some rabbit-snares before evening sets in, so I will be on my feet anyway. If we really are heading for Caradhras, then my gloves ought to be repaired. They need mending and some new lining." He caught sight of the look on the hobbits' faces and feigned outrage. "What? Don't look at me like that! Dwarves know how to set a rabbit-snare as well as any Hobbit, Man, or Elf."
Frodo glanced at Legolas. This was exactly the sort of opening that the elf lived for. Any moment now he would be challenging Gimli to some sort of contest that might or might not involve rabbits, and insulting the dwarf's prickly sense of honor while he was at it. The corners of his mouth were already twitching.
"And we look forward to enjoying your catch," said Aragorn, casting a stern look in Legolas' direction. Legolas merely raised one eyebrow and smiled, catlike, in return.
"Well!" said Frodo. "Who is going to fish with me?"
"I'll stay, Mr. Frodo," said Sam.
Frodo smiled. I knew you would, he thought. You never leave me unwatched. "What about you, cousin?" he said, turning to Pippin.
"In this frozen stream? Certainly not," said Pippin. "I'd much rather see if there are any chestnuts left under that tree yonder."
"Chestnuts?" Merry cried. "What tree? Where?"
"You must have left your wits behind you in Rivendell if you can't recognize a chestnut leaf anymore," said Pippin. "Look – the edge of the river is choked with them. There is the tree, beyond the far bank."
"Why, so it is, bless me!" said Sam. He exchanged smiles with Frodo. Merry would not be staying either, not when there were such treats to be found.
"It's a little late in the year," said Merry, "but if we're lucky, maybe the squirrels haven't made off with them all yet."
"Roasted chestnuts…" sighed Pippin.
"…will go nicely with trout, so Sam and I had best begin," said Frodo. Now that he had come to it, he found that he could scarcely wait to get started. It felt like ages since he'd had the chance to just sit and fish, and he had certainly not thought to do it on this journey.
"And we'll gather those chestnuts," Pippin said to Merry.
"After we reach the shelter and dry ourselves," Gandalf corrected them. "And either Aragorn or Boromir will go with you."
"Then I suppose the two of us must quarrel over the remaining tasks – gathering wood or chaperoning two hobbits bent on harvesting food," said Boromir with a twinkle in his eye.
"You would rather go with the hobbits," Aragorn guessed.
"Of course. Wouldn't you?"
"Who would not rather go on a hobbit walking-party than do chores?" said Aragorn, who was also smiling. "How shall we settle this argument?"
"Do you know of Rock, Parchment, Dagger? It is a child's game in Gondor. There are two players –"
"Rock, Parchment, Dagger?" said Merry. "A game of Gondor? Heavens! We know it in the Shire – but I can't guess how it might have gone from one place to the other. There haven't been any Men inside our country for years."
"Maybe they know it in Bree," said Pippin. "That's about as close as hobbits ever get to Big Folk."
"These are strange revelations," said Gimli. "The Dwarves also know this game well. I played it under the Lonely Mountain when I was just a lad, whenever my cousins and I were arguing over the last of the tarts. I had always assumed it to be of Dwarf-make. I never knew that other races had heard tell of it."
"But clearly, they have," said Legolas. "And I can add another race to the list. The children of the Firstborn were playing this game long before any of your kind walked Middle-earth."
"And I say to all of you that it is a ridiculous game. I wish Radagast had never dreamt up the dratted thing," Gandalf said gruffly. Frodo did not miss the glint in his eye, but it seemed that Pippin had.
"It's a wizard's game? Did Radagast really…. Are you being serious, Gandalf?"
"We should find our shelter," chuckled Gandalf. "Then you can seek your chestnut tree."
And so the Fellowship divided in two. Frodo, Sam, and Legolas stood on the bank and watched with amusement as the others gingerly waded into the crossing.
"Aieee!" Pippin yelped. "That is… that is…."
"That is the coldest water I've ever felt!" Merry cried. "Oooh, it's like ice!" He and Pippin flapped their arms and danced about, splashing a good deal of water on the rest of the company in the process.
"Durin's beard! Stop that!" Gimli roared as the spray struck him in the face. "Wet me again, and I shall dunk you both!"
"The sooner you start walking, the sooner you will be out of the river," said Gandalf, already well into the crossing.
"Well, it's easy enough for you," said Pippin, wading out after the wizard. He gave a little shriek as he stepped into deeper water. "I'm hip deep already, and you won't even get your knees wet!" He looked up imploringly at Aragorn.
"I am not going to carry you," the Ranger laughed. "Think of it this way – you won't have to bathe later."
"And you do need a bath," said Merry, waving a hand in front of his nose. Pippin rewarded him with a splash of water in the face.
"I'm not thinking Radagast really invented Rock, Parchment, Dagger," said Sam as he watched the others wade off, Merry and Pippin squabbling playfully the whole way.
"No, I don't think he did – but Pippin doesn't seem to suspect, does he?" said Frodo, laughing softly. The prospect of a fire, hot food, and a good night's rest had made him as cheerful as the rest of the company. "It's almost unfair of Gandalf to tease him like that. Pippin believes everything he says."
"Were you being serious, Mr. Legolas?" said Sam. "Do elflings really play it, too?"
"I may be the only elf from the Greenwood who knows the game," Legolas said mischievously. "And that is only because I have seen Aragorn play it with others of the Dúnedain – but Aragorn does not know that."
"You're an awful bad teaser, Mr. Legolas," Sam laughed. "You and Gandalf both!"
Legolas grinned back, and Frodo's heart felt warmer than it had since he had left Rivendell. "Come on, Sam! Let's find some trout."
The ledge proved to be an ideal spot for fishing. It hung over a little pool on the edge of the river, which existed only because a large boulder upstream diverted much of the oncoming flow. The surface of the pool was calmer than that of the swiftly flowing river, and several dark shapes could be seen drifting languorously near its bottom.
"You've a right keen eye for fishing-holes, Mr. Frodo," Sam said admiringly.
"That's what comes from spending your summers at the Brandywine," Frodo replied.
The two hobbits stepped carefully out onto the ledge. They stood motionless, holding their spears at the ready while their eyes watched the lazy trout below. "Good thing our shadows are falling behind us," said Frodo. "The fish won't notice us at all."
"Oh, there's a big one on your left, sir," Sam said softly.
"I see it." Frodo slowly shifted his grip, careful not to make any sudden movements. Carefully he moved his arms until his spear was right above the fish. He paused, checked that his aim was true, and then –
"Good catch, Mr. Frodo!" cried Sam as Frodo pulled his spear from the water. One flopping, silvery fish was impaled on the dagger.
"A skilled fisher, indeed!" Legolas said approvingly. "My people have used spears to fish at need, but we prefer to use nets – or our own hands."
"Oh, yes! Tickling fish is great fun," said Frodo.
"Is that what your folk call it?" said Legolas, amused.
"If you mean, do we let our fingers dangle in the water until a fish comes by, then yes."
"Aye – that is what we Elves do."
"It's far too cold to use our hands at this time of year," said Frodo. "I suppose elves might not notice, but that's the sort of thing that hobbits only want to try in the summertime."
"And it takes too long," Sam added. "I don't want to be lying on my belly on this cold rock for as long as that would take, thank you."
"Look, here is the Naugrim!" said Legolas, pointing to the far bank. "He returns sooner than I had expected."
Frodo looked and saw Gimli wading back into the river. "He ought to have let Aragorn or Boromir come back," he said, frowning. "If the water's as cold as Merry and Pippin said, then he'll have a harder time of it than the men would. The water is as high on him as it will be on us."
"He's wearing that mail shirt, too," said Sam. "It must be heavy."
"And it may rust. He'll have to oil it again."
"You are right," said Legolas. "If the dwarf should slip and fall, it will be difficult for him to swim, burdened as he is. I will go to the crossing and meet him halfway."
Legolas was beginning to smile in a predatory way that Frodo knew all too well. He wasn't at all certain that Legolas meant to help Gimli; in fact, considering how Legolas generally behaved around Gimli, Frodo felt sure that any meeting in the center of the river would culminate in one very wet and irate dwarf. He felt a pang when he thought of their first restful evening since Rivendell being ruined by flaring tempers, and he cried out, "Oh, please don't do anything to him!"
Legolas turned, surprise replacing the guile on his face. For a moment he stared at Frodo, but then his features softened. "I see you have tired of our sparring," he said quietly. "Very well, then – I give you my word. I shall not antagonize him."
Frodo blushed. He hadn't meant to be so blunt, but he wasn't sorry. He was tired of the elf and dwarf bickering all the time. "Thank you," he said. Legolas nodded solemnly and strode away, and Frodo and Sam turned back to the pool.
By the time Legolas returned, Sam had landed his first fish and was poised atop the ledge, ready to strike at another. "Well," said Legolas, "Mithrandir was correct. The shelter he sought is very near to the crossing and will be no trouble for us to find." He looked down at the two trout flopping on the bank. "How many of those do you mean to take?"
"A few more, at least," said Frodo. "They may be big, but there are nine of us – and four of us are hobbits!"
"You don't mind waiting a bit, do you, Mr. Legolas?" Sam asked hopefully.
"No," said Legolas, "but I will not sit idly by and watch you hunt. I will scout this side of the river while you continue."
"Why? We've only just come from there. You'd think someone was already following us, the way you're always backtracking."
Legolas' expression grew solemn. "I have seen no signs of pursuit," he said, "but that does not mean that no one is there. I think we are safe enough at present – enough to be light of heart tonight – but we must be ever on our guard."
The words "safe enough at present" seemed to be reassurance enough for Sam. He nodded and turned back to the pool, eager to resume fishing. The words that rang in Frodo's mind, however, were "ever on our guard", and his good mood slipped a little. Always reality will catch up with me, he thought. The Enemy knows I was in Rivendell, and what I bore. The Ringwraiths will have reported my passage into that land; Gandalf said that the flood could not destroy them, only their horses. And what of Sauron's other spies? Elrond warned us that they are everywhere.
"Pray, catch some more fish," Legolas said suddenly. "I am looking forward to tasting them. And think of the fire that awaits us on the other side of the river. We shall be enjoying its warmth soon enough." He turned and began to vanish into the trees that lined the riverbank. "I will be close. Call me if you have need!"
Frodo wondered if Legolas had noticed his sudden change of mood and was trying to cheer him up. He stared at the spot where the elf had been, unable to completely banish his nagging worries. The Fellowship might be watchful, but watchfulness probably couldn't prevent the servants of Sauron from catching up with them. What would happen if this came to pass, he couldn't guess. They were only nine, and their enemies were many.
"How does he do that, I wonder?" said Sam at Frodo's back. "Disappear among the trees, I mean."
"He's a Wood-Elf," said Frodo, unable to give any further explanation. "You'll have to ask him – but I doubt he'll tell you any more than that."
"Oh – another big one!" Sam gasped, and a loud splash and a shout followed. "Ha!" he cried, holding his spear aloft triumphantly. "You'd best hurry unless you want to be beaten at your own game, Mr. Frodo. I've got two to your one!"
Frodo's eyes flashed at the challenge. He had been fishing since he had been able to grasp a pole, and if Sam thought that he could best him at it, he was sorely mistaken. "By the time Legolas gets back, I'll have four to your two. Let me show you how it's done!"
After that, Frodo and Sam both worked much faster. It didn't take Sam long to forget about the original purpose of the game, but Frodo didn't care. The challenge seemed to have evolved from seeing who could land more fish to seeing who could bring them up the fastest. Frodo completely forgot about Legolas, Ringwraiths, and being on guard as his shining eyes scoured the pool for trout. He lost track of time in laughter and movement, noticing only that he and Sam were both growing progressively damper from all their splashing about. It wasn't until Sam suddenly paused and looked around him that Frodo wondered how long they had been at it.
"Look," said Sam, pointing.
Frodo looked. The sky to the east had darkened with black, heavy clouds. "It's raining somewhere out there," said Sam. "And judging by the smell of things, I'd say we're in for some of that later tonight."
Frodo nodded. Now that he thought about it, it did smell like rain, but he had been paying too much attention to the fish to notice. "It's too far away to bother us yet," he said. "And we'll be under Gandalf's shelter, too. I don't think it will keep us from having that fire."
"Do you think Mr. Legolas has noticed?"
"If he hasn't, then he will when it starts to rain. Let's keep at it. We've not got nearly enough fish yet."
"That's because we're making such a mess of the water. We're scaring them off."
"Come on. Just a few more and we'll be eating like kings!"
"After we get them all cleaned, you mean," laughed Sam. "Hoy! I felt a raindrop, and a big one it was, too." He pulled his hood up, and Frodo did likewise.
What began as a drizzle soon became a light rain. It was enough to make it hard to see the fish, what with the steady plop of raindrops blurring the surface of the pool. Frodo was unfazed by a little bit of wet, especially when he was about to cross a river anyway. He was determined to have at least one fish for everybody and Sam didn't seem to be bothered by the rain, so they kept on.
When they had at last caught a ninth fish, Sam suggested that it was time to stop, and Frodo had to agree. The rainstorm was well on its way to becoming a downpour and the surface of the pool was hopelessly restless, making it nearly impossible to see any more. They neatly impaled the fish on their two spears, and their minds turned at last to Legolas, who had still not returned.
"Now what, Mr. Frodo?" said Sam. "Even he must know it's time to go. It won't be light for too much longer."
"No, it won't," Frodo agreed. "I wonder what's keeping him?"
"I don't like the looks of that crossing, and that's the truth," said Sam, eyeing the water with distaste. "I think the rain's playing tricks on my eyes; I could almost say that the river looks different."
Something in Sam's words triggered a cold feeling in Frodo's chest. He wasn't sure why, but Bilbo's face came floating up in his mind. It was a very vague memory, and the dear old hobbit was saying something in it, but Frodo could not recall the exact words. Something about rain… and rivers.
And then it came to him. Alarmed, Frodo's eyes sought the nearby boulder that had helped to shelter the pool from the current. There had been a distinctive patch of yellowish-green lichen clinging to it just above the surface of the water. He had noticed it not only because of its color, but because it had been oddly shaped.
The lichen was gone.
"The river is rising, Sam," Frodo said quietly. "Not much yet, I think, but it is rising." He wondered if the water might have been moving faster, too, but he couldn't be sure of it, and he kept the thought to himself.
Sam's face paled. "Oughtn't we to get to the other side, then? I mean, I don't want to walk through when it's… when it's…."
Frodo understood. Sam was like most hobbits: he had never swum in his life and was terrified by the very idea of it. Sam didn't feel safe crossing any creek, stream, or river where the water rose any higher than his waist, and it looked like the Feinduin had already passed that point. "You're right," said Frodo. "We ought to go on." He was glad that he hadn't voiced his thoughts on the river's speed. He didn't want to frighten Sam; already there was a good chance that he would be too nervous to cross without being carried by one of the taller folk.
"Should we wait for Mr. Legolas to come back?"
"I don't think so," said Frodo. "The river won't rise fast enough to be of any bother to him, but I'd rather get across before it becomes a bother to us. It's not far, and we can walk quickly."
"I wonder if something's happened to him," Sam said unhappily. "Legolas!" They waited for a few moments, and when the elf did not appear, Sam called again. "Legolas!"
There was no answer.
"I don't think anything has happened," said Frodo, trying to reassure both Sam and himself. "Maybe he found a creature worth hunting, or some such. We ought to leave a sign for him so he doesn't worry about us when he returns." He bent down, picked up a handful of smooth stones, and placed them in a neat line pointing toward the river. "There. He won't miss that."
There was no other reason to delay. Frodo and Sam hurried to the crossing, bearing their fish and spears before them. "We can use the spears like walking-sticks!" said Frodo, placing the butt of his weapon firmly in the riverbed. He took one step in and gasped. "Oh, we shouldn't have laughed at Merry and Pippin – they were right! This is the coldest water I've ever felt!" He looked back at Sam and laughed. "Oh, come on, Sam – just walk in. There's nothing else for it."
Sam looked miserable, but he didn't want to be far from Frodo, so he had no choice but to follow as his master waded in. Frodo heard him suck in a breath as he took his first steps into the crossing, but he said nothing until he was in deep enough for the water to reach his knees.
"Dancing dragons! Never had a bath like this before! Brrr!"
Frodo smiled. Dear Sam! You never really complain, not even now.
It wasn't long before Frodo realized that they would not be crossing the river as quickly as he'd hoped. The river bottom was treacherous and the water was moving swiftly. His spear saved him from falling more than once, and he wondered how the rest of the company had made it look so easy. Merry and Pippin hadn't stumbled that he could recall.
A loud splash sounded behind him. Frodo looked back. Sam had slipped on a rock underfoot and was leaning heavily on his spear. His wide, frightened eyes locked with Frodo's.
"Not far now!" Frodo said bracingly. "We're almost halfway!" And I hope this river doesn't get any deeper before then, he thought to himself. At this rate, the water will be up to our chests ere we get there!
Frodo had only taken a few more steps when he suddenly stopped again. A strange sound had reached his ears, a low rumbling that had started at the edge of hearing but was quickly growing louder. "What is that?" he said.
"I don't know, and I don't like it!" cried Sam. "We ought to get out of this river!"
They pressed forward as quickly as they could, which was not very fast. The current was strong, and Frodo felt that it was trying to pull his feet out from under him. The rumbling became a dull roar. It was swiftly growing in volume, very swiftly, and Frodo was now quite sure that it was coming from upstream. Something enormous was heading their way. He pushed on. They were now in the middle of the river, and it was just as well to go on as it was to go back. The splatter of rain and the now pounding noise of the oncoming something filled his ears.
"Mr. Frodo!" Sam shouted.
Frodo did not need Sam's warning to know that whatever it was, it had arrived. The ground shook beneath his feet as he turned his eyes upstream. What looked like a wall of water was rushing toward him, frothing white as it came. A dim memory came floating back to him of witnessing this sort of thing before at the Ford of Rivendell; then it had seemed as if a whole herd of horses had come plunging around the riverbend. But there was no control in the water now, only shapeless fury, and he was not watching safely from the side – he was directly in its path.
Frodo was rooted to the spot, unable to look away from the incredible power of the oncoming river. He could hear nothing save the roaring in his ears. Sam was tugging frantically at his sleeve, but he knew there was no point in even trying to get out of the way. They couldn't run, for they were up to their waists in the water, and the flood was moving with impossible speed. Already it was almost upon them. A wordless cry of desperation from Sam blended with the thunder in the air.
Frodo unexpectedly felt himself lifted out of the river, caught up in one strong arm. An instant later the arm's owner slammed into him from behind and white water was everywhere.