Into the East
A Lord of the Rings fanfic by Sisiutil
This story was inspired by a desire--shared by, I have no doubt, many Tolkien/Jackson fans--to see more of the characters and settings depicted in the Lord of the Rings books and movies that have captured the imaginations of so many people. I have striven to craft an adventure that fits into the continuity of these works, and that allows its readers to revisit many of the people and places of which we are all so fond.
Specifically, this story takes place shortly after the end of both the book and movie trilogies. Frodo, Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and nearly all the Elves have departed for The Undying Lands. So they, unfortunately, will not be featured in this story--except, perhaps, in flashback. But many other beloved characters from the trilogy will appear, or at least be referred to.
I was torn as well between following the continuity of the movies versus that of the books, as they diverge in several places. Since my story occurs after the events of the books and movies, rather than being concurrent with them, I have tried to minimize references to such discrepancies so they will not prove distracting. Nevertheless, at times this was unavoidable. I decided to attempt to stick to the continuity of the movies for various reasons, but I have delved into the lore contained in the books where required details were understandably lacking in the films. I realize this may immediately alienate fervent fans of the books, but at least I am warning you up front.
In addition, I should point out that I am merely a fan and nowhere near being a Tolkien scholar, so there are bound to be places where this narrative strays from the canon. I may have done this a few times because I felt the story was better served by it; mostly and inevitably, however, these inconsistencies are unintentional. I hope they are minor and do not distract from the story. As Tolkien himself wrote: "The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them." This story is not nearly as long has his, but nevertheless, such is the aim, surely, of all story-tellers. If I can achieve some of Tolkien's goals for some of you who so generously devote your time to reading this story, I would find myself both humbled and honoured.
Prologue: The Dark Rider
From the northeast he came, riding a horse as dark as the night that surrounded him and his steed. His cloak and hood were similarly dark, as was his mood. He did not pause or rest more than was absolutely necessary, though the trip was long and the first part of his route wound through the high passes of the Misty Mountains. The horse sensed his rider's determination and offered no resistance on the long ride, even though his master urged him to the limits of his endurance.
Down from the mountains he rode, beneath dappled sunlight through the forests of Rhudaur. The scenic greenery gave him little comfort, and he took no note of it. His horse galloped along the Great East Road through night and day. When heavy rain stung his face and soaked his long, black hooded cloak, he did not feel the chill. Greater concerns than mere physical discomfort weighed upon his mind. A leather scabbard containing a heavy broadsword slapped against his thigh as the horse galloped, its familiar weight a comfort, even a solace. It had tasted blood many times before, and would soon again. Or so he fervently hoped.
After one more brief rest, rider and horse continued their journey. He was not completely devoid of mercy; sensing the beast's weariness, and knowing he was close to his destination, he allowed his steed's pace to slow to a trot. By nightfall, he knew, he would reach his goal. He would be in the heart of Eriador, in the green and pleasant land commonly known amongst its inhabitants as The Shire. And there he would find those he sought.
There he would find the Hobbits.
Chapter 1: The Green Dragon
"You can't be serious!" Peregrin Took, better known to his friends as Pippin, exclaimed.
"I am," Meriadoc Brandybuck, more commonly known as Merry, said calmly.
The Hobbit picked up his mug and raised it to his lips, taking several healthy gulps of the cool, tasty ale. His casual calmness seemed to underscore his point, but Pippin stared at him, wide-eyed and unconvinced. Samwise Gamgee sat silently at their table, holding his own mug by the handle, but did not drink from it. In fact, Sam made every effort, quite suddenly, to be as still as possible.
The three Hobbits--all old friends--were sitting in their favourite public house, The Green Dragon. Around them swirled the usual hubbub of Hobbit merriment and activity after a long day's work minding the crops and livestock. It was early autumn, and the harvest was at hand. There was much to do before the long nights and indolent days of winter set in. The hard work, though, meant that the many Hobbits gathered in the pub possessed thirst and hunger in even greater measure than usual, and that was saying something indeed. Laughter and voices filled the air of the pub, as did the pleasantly pungent scent of tobacco smoke from several pipes, and the warm smell of rich, bubbly ale. In one corner, a fiddler played, and several nearby Hobbits sang a merry song to accompany the musician's jaunty tune.
"This is madness!" Pippin said once Merry's mug returned with a soft thump to the wooden tabletop. He shook his head to emphasize his words, his brown curly locks shaking vigorously on his head.
"Sam doesn't think so," Merry said in response.
Pippin turned to Sam, his usually soft and gentle features folding into a suspicious frown.
"Please leave me out of this," Sam begged, his hands raised.
"Oh, no," Pippin chastised him. He raised one hand and pointed an accusing finger at Sam. "This has your handwriting all over it, Samwise Gamgee. I know it sure as I know a garden you've tended."
"Leave off, Pippin," Merry said. "Give me a little credit for having a mind of my own."
"I will not," Pippin said, a little churlishly, and Merry stared at him, his face expressing both his surprise and his annoyance. "You're easily led." It was now Pippin's turn to lift his mug of ale to his lips and take several swigs.
Merry's mouth dropped open in astonishment. "I'M easily led?" he exclaimed. He turned to Sam, who still appeared reluctant to get involved in the conversation. "Did you hear that? Did you hear HIM?" He pointed accusingly at Pippin while looking at Sam. Merry then shook his head of curly, dark blond hair and gave a cry of disgust and protest. "Might I remind you that it was your idea to follow Frodo to Rivendale, and then to join the Fellowship?"
"I recall...that those were mutual, and spon-ta-ne-ous, decisions...on both our parts," Pippin proclaimed, setting his mug down and carefully elucidating each word in the custom of someone who has imbibed possibly a little too much ale. "And the dangers we faced then...were as nothing compared to what you are proposing now. It is a most...perilous undertaking," he concluded, then punctuated his remark with a belch.
"Perilous?" Merry said. "Courtship and marriage? Perilous? Tell me, Sam," Merry said, turning to the only married Hobbit at the table, "what took more courage: strolling into Mount Doom, or asking Rosie for that first dance?"
Sam's discomfort at being drawn back into the conversation gradually vanished as his brow furrowed in consideration of the question. "Well, come to think of it," he said earnestly after a moment's thought, "both were rather daunting, but in very different..."
"And what's the point of even discussing the possibility?" Pippin asked rhetorically as though Sam hadn't uttered a word. "It's not like you're going to find anyone to put up with you anytime soon," he said pointedly, and rather uncharitably, to Merry.
Rather than responding with an angry rejoinder as Pippin expected, however, Merry seemed to bite back a response. His eyes dropped as if the bottom of his mug of ale held something worthy of serious study. For his part, Sam looked away, suddenly taking an interest in the fiddler and singers in the far corner of the pub.
"What?" Pippin asked, smiling uncertainly as he looked at each of his friends in turn. "Oh, come on, there's no possible..."
"Her name's Estella," Merry muttered, glancing up from his mug to return Pippin's suddenly shocked look. "She's a Bolger, and a distant cousin of Rosie's. She's...quite nice, actually."
"Huh," Pippin said, quite taken aback. His prodigious consumption of ale that evening did not help his thought processes. He considered this new, unexpected information, then glanced at Sam. "Rosie's cousin, eh? I knew this was your doing!"
"What! Now, Pippin," Sam began to say soothingly.
"No, don't you 'Now, Pippin' me!" the Hobbit declared. He raised his mug to his lips and determinedly drained it, then set it down on the table top loudly. "I see now. Here I thought this was a sort of...theor...theorek...abstract discussion, such as between... gentlemen philosophers," he said as he rose unsteadily to his feet. "But now I see," he went on, pointing an accusatory, if wavering, finger at his two friends in turn. "It's true what they say: 'Misery loves company'. And you two poor married...soon to be married, in your case, I'm sure, Merry...heh...marry, Merry..."
"Pippin," Merry said, waving for Pippin to resume his seat.
"No sir!" Pippin said, his voice raised and his eyes slightly glazed. Other Hobbits at nearby tables began to look his way, many with amusement. If Pippin was tying one on again, entertainment was guaranteed. "You'll not hoodwink this Hobbit! A determined bashel...bachel...single Hobbit I am, and a single Hobbit I will remain to the DAY. I. DIE," he said, emphasizing each of the last three words with a loud poke of his forefinger into the tabletop. He began to back away, very unsteadily, from the table. "There's a world of...of...adventure out there!" he said, pointing to the pub's door behind him.
The door, at that very moment, opened. Sam and Merry, and several other Hobbits, stared past Pippin at it.
"...and this is one Hobbit... whose adventures... are not yet done!" Pippin declared as his pointing hand dropped to his side, slapping his thigh loudly.
The pub suddenly grew quiet as a tall figure in a long, dark cloak and hood entered the pub, stooping at first, then raising to his full height so his head just brushed against the inside of the thatched roof. The fiddler and singers stopped their music-making quite suddenly and stared at the interloper.
"Yes! That's right!" Pippin said, assuming the bar had quieted to listen to him. "I...am an adventurer!" he announced, a very un-Hobbit-like declaration, which only seemed to make Pippin more pleased with it. "And I am off to fearlessly seek adventure! And the rest of you can get stuffed. Or married. Same difference..." he concluded, waving his hand at Sam and Merry dismissively.
With that, Pippin turned and took one determined if unsteady step towards the door. He found his way blocked by a set of very large and muscular legs clad in dark breeches. His head tilted back suddenly as he stared up at the tall man who had just entered The Green Dragon. At least he seemed to be a man, but the heavy dark hood of his long cloak concealed his features, as did the lack of light near the roof of the establishment. All at once, Pippin was reminded of the Nazgûl. His eyes went wide, a surprised shriek escaped his lips, and the would-be adventurer fell backwards, landing unceremoniously on his rump with a soft thud.
The dark-shrouded figure seemed to study him for a moment. Then an arm emerged from beneath the cloak, clad in a heavy, dark leather glove. The stranger's hand reached up and pulled back the hood of his cloak.
In the gloom near the pub's roof, the assembled crowd, now silent to a Hobbit, could just discern the man's features, for they could see he was, indeed, a man. He had long black hair which was tied back at the nape of his neck. His brows, which were furrowed into a heavy frown, were heavy and dark, each one arched like a bent tree branch. From beneath them blazed two fierce eyes of cobalt blue, set between a long, straight nose. A closely-trimmed beard, as dark as the hair on his head, covered the lower half of the man's face. His lips were thick but pale, pressed together in grim determination. His expression seemed weary, yet also energized, as if by some sort of obsession...or madness.
Nearly all the Hobbits in the pub instinctively shrank back from the tall stranger. The "Big Folk", as the Hobbits called them, rarely bothered entering the Shire, and that was the way the Hobbits preferred things. When he encountered a man, a Hobbit's first instinct was to hide--in fact, as a race, they had grown quite adept at that ability. It was not simply out of fear, but principally from a wish to simply be left alone and unharmed by bigger, clumsier creatures. The Hobbits in the pub could not hide in plain sight of this formidable-looking man, but neither could they fight their impulse to avoid his steely gaze, which did not waver from Pippin's small, supine form.
Only two Hobbits in the pub did not shrink from the stranger's view. Merry and Sam pushed back their chairs and rose, wary but determined to discover this man's purpose in the Shire and especially in their beloved pub. The two Hobbits strode forward until they stood on either side of Pippin, who pushed himself back up to his feet and stood, suddenly sober, with his companions. The three Hobbits had faced Orcs, Ring-Wraiths, trolls, Mûmakil, giant spiders, the Black Gate of Mordor, the fires of Mount Doom, and the evil lord Sauron himself; no mere man was going to intimidate them. Even if he was twice their height.
"What business do you have in the Shire?" Merry asked the man, drawing and meeting the man's gaze unflinchingly.
For a long, tense moment, the man did not answer; his eyes narrowed and he returned Merry's determined stare. Then he nodded once, a barely perceptible motion, as if satisfied in his silent assessment.
"I seek four halflings," the man said, his voice low and rumbling, its timbre raw with weariness, but also with determination. Or was it menace? The Hobbits weren't sure. "I seek the Ring-Bearer, and his companions."
Merry, Pippin, and Sam exchange silent but meaningful glances. Then they looked back up at the stranger. There was nothing for it but to tell the truth.
"Mister Frodo...the Ring-Bearer...is gone," Sam said, the crack in his voice barely audible. Merry and Pippin glanced at him supportively, then back at the man who had unwittingly reopened a very fresh wound. The man blinked, then his frown deepened as he glared at Sam, clearly expecting further explanation. The stocky Hobbit pressed his lips together for a moment, then went on. "He left with Gandalf, the White Wizard, and the Elves for the Undying Lands, not more than a year ago."
The man blinked again, then his eyes glanced at the other Hobbits in the public house suspiciously.
"We were his companions on his quest," Pippin said quietly.
"We are the Hobbits you seek," Merry continued. "What is your business with us?" His hand moved to his hip, where he used to wear his Elven dagger, a gift from the Lady Galadriel. But he silently cursed when he remembered that the weapon was not there; it had dissolved after being thrust into the Witch King's thigh that fateful day upon the Fields of Pelennor. Elrond of Rivendell had bestowed upon him a replacement, but it was hanging above the mantle in his hobbit-hole, as was Pippin's in his home, both weapons relegated to conversation pieces and mementos of adventurous days they had all assumed were now well in the past.
The stranger, however, was not unarmed. Glancing beneath the man's dark cloak from his low vantage point, Merry could see that one of the stranger's gloved hands clasped the hilt of a broadsword. A dagger, the same size as those the Hobbits once wielded as swords, hung from his thick leather belt. Merry, Pippin, and Sam ignored the sudden churning in their bellies and stood their ground, unarmed though they were.
The dark-haired man, his eyes narrowed, studied each of the three hobbits in turn. A tense, oppressive silence hung in the room. The tall man's next action, however, shocked everyone there. To the Hobbits' collective astonishment, the man dropped suddenly to one knee and bowed his head reverently, his gaze dropping to the floor. His broad shoulders suddenly sagged, as if under some great weight.
"Companions of the Ring-Bearer," he said, his voice subdued with fatigue but also with respect, "I have come to seek your aid."