My stories sometimes track Tolkien's version of Middle-earth, sometimes Jackson's.
Thanks to the following reviewers of Episode 22 of Elfling Interludes: ziggy3, Elfinabottle, and CAH.
This chapter may incorporate incidents and/or quotations from the book and/or movie versions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The chapter may also draw upon posthumous publications edited by Christopher Tolkien, such as The Silmarillion.
Episode 23: Fireworks in His Future
Anomen wriggled deep into the pile of furs in the back of the wagon and sighed contentedly. The young elf had been surprised when Mithrandir said he might accompany him part of the way to the Shire. Even more, he had been amazed when Elrond gave his leave. The older elf had had his reasons, though.
"Glorfindel will not be back from patrolling the Trollshaws for another se'en night," Elrond had said to Mithrandir, frowning a little. "And Erestor has not yet returned from reconnoitering the Ettenmoors, and I think he will stay long there, for he has sworn to draw a better map of those lands than the one he now possesses," he continued. "Meanwhile, Anomen, Elladan, and Elrohir get into more sticky corners than a bear cub in a kitchen. Yes, by all means, take Anomen with you. He may accompany you until you draw abreast of Weathertop. Lindir has been keeping watch from its ruins, and you must signal to him when you draw near. He and his patrol will descend and escort Anomen back to Imladris."
So that is how Anomen came to be dozing in a corner of a wagon bed that was otherwise packed with fireworks.
"I mean to put on a grand show for some acquaintances of mine in the Shire," Mithrandir had told Anomen as the young elf helped the wizard load the wagon.
"Mayn't I accompany you all the way to the Shire?" Anomen begged. "I did not see any fireworks the last time you set them off here in Imladris."
"Oh, yes, you did," Mithrandir replied sternly. "You saw the shells that you and your brothers set off when you meddled with my luggage. No one has ever had a better view of my fireworks than you three rascals."
Unconsciously, Anomen's hand went to his head, to the spot where his hair had been singed the day his curiosity had gotten the better of his caution. Mithrandir caught the gesture and chuckled, his ire replaced by his usual truculent good humor. "Well, well, my lad—don't fret," he exclaimed. There will be plenty of fireworks in your future!"
The wagon was now packed, and Mithrandir, refusing Anomen's eager offer to drive the rig, took the reins.
"You have never driven a wagon, Anomen. I will let you try, but only once we reach the Great East Road, which is straight and flat."
Satisfied with that promise, Anomen perched happily beside the wizard. As the wagon drove toward the gate, he waved at Elladan and Elrohir, who were only a little disappointed that they were not going on an excursion with Mithrandir. A delegation was expected from Lothlórien, and Elrond was allowing the twins to accompany the hunters who were being sent out after fresh venison for their guests.
The wagon passed by the kitchen, and the Head Cook came bustling out. He thrust a parcel into Anomen's hands. "These biscuits," he grumbled, "are so scorched that I fear to discard them here in Imladris—they will taint the very soil. You take them away from here and dispose of them in some fashion."
Anomen accepted the package solemnly and only grinned after they were out of sight of the Cook, when Mithrandir winked at him. "The Cook," the wizard observed, "has scorched a prodigious number of biscuits since your arrival at Rivendell." Mithrandir winked again.
Anomen giggled and opened the parcel. He and the wizard nibbled on the treats and caught up on each other's adventures. Mithrandir had traveled as far south as Osgiliath—"bad signs thereabouts," he said darkly—as far east as Mithlond, and as far west as Esgaroth. (He must have passed through Greenwood to reach Esgaroth—perhaps even visited Thranduil's Great Hall—but to Anomen's relief the Istar said nothing of those places.)
For Anomen's part, he recounted in great detail his exploits at archery and on horseback, and he regaled the wizard with accounts of how he and his foster-brothers had gotten into and then escaped from various tight spots—although not always without consequences. "Glorfindel said he would skin us," was a phrase often uttered in the tale, but "Erestor set us to copying lines" trod on the heels of Glorfindel's favorite threat.
"If young folk could imbibe knowledge through their fingers," the Istar mused, "you and your brothers would be prodigiously learnéd, so many lines have you copied. However, I have observed that the mind must be engaged for a youngling to retain knowledge, so I reckon you and your brothers are none the wiser for having written one-hundred times 'Isildur begat Valandil, who begat Eldacar, who begat Arantar, who begat Tarcil, who begat Tarondor, who begat….'"
"Saes!" cried Anomen. Please! "No more begats!" the elfling implored. "I shan't remember any better hearing the genealogies recited than I did copying them. Besides," Anomen added, "I don't see why I need to know them in the first place. Those are mannish genealogies—and they lead to a list of ragged chieftains who range about in the Northern Waste, for the kingdom of Arnor is no more."
"Mannish or no, those genealogies matter," the wizard replied tartly. "No, don't interrupt! Listen closely. No kingdom can be said to have perished as long as one of royal blood is left to lead it. So you had better be ready to recognize Isildur's heir when he crosses your path. And you had better be ready to defend him, too! The day will come when you shall be called upon to say, 'This is no mere Ranger. This—this is the heir to the throne of Gondor! You owe him your allegiance'. And if you cannot do that, then all your skill at archery and horseback riding will be for naught!"
Anomen looked at Mithrandir in confusion. "Were we not talking of the Kingdom of Arnor? How would Isildur's heir be the heir to the throne of Gondor?"
"I myself shall set you to copying lines," grumbled the wizard. "Know you not that any heir of Arnor must also be heir to Gondor? Isildur was the son of Elendil, and Elendil ruled both those kingdoms. It is true that for a long time the descendants of Anárion, Elendil's younger son, reigned in Gondor. But now no one of that bloodline lives, nor has since Eärnur was lost. Rashly he journeyed to Minas Morgul, lured there by the Enemy. Too fierce, too proud, in his folly he left no heir."
"I understand," Anomen said. "With the line of Anárion at an end but the line of Isildur unbroken, Isildur's heir would be entitled to Anárion's throne by virtue of his descent from Elendil, the first ruler of that kingdom."
The Istar nodded approvingly.
"But Mithrandir," Anomen continued, "if that is so, why does not Isildur's heir now sit upon the throne of Gondor? Delegations from Gondor have visited Imladris, and they always speak as representatives of a steward and no king."
"I have spoken of what should be," Mithrandir answered, his shoulders slumping a little. "And that is why," he said rousing himself and speaking briskly once more, "that you must be ready to declare that such and such a man is no mere Ranger but the heir to the throne of Gondor who may claim the allegiance of even the steward himself. I am depending upon you, my lad!"
Anomen did not see when or how he should be called upon to utter those words, but he nodded his obedience. Mithrandir was, after all, an Istar. As Erestor had once told Anomen, the wizard was a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. "It is a Flame Imperishable," Erestor had said, "from whence comes wisdom. In some it is only a spark, but in the Istari it burns brightly within, and so they know that which may be hidden from others." So Anomen resolved to keep watch for Isildur's heir, although he did not know how he would recognize him. He had not met many Rangers, but the ones he had were not very prepossessing, wrapped as they were in worn, travel-stained cloaks, their tunics frayed, their boots muddy.
"All that is gold does not glitter, nor all those who wander are lost," Mithrandir said suddenly, as if he were reading Anomen's thoughts. "Some day a travel-worn Man of the North will put aside the Ranger and become the King he was born to be."
Then Mithrandir put an end to all questions by announcing that it was time for tea. This repast was a quaint Hobbit custom that the Istar had embraced as his own. "Hard work, wizarding," he would say as he spread jam over toast before the wondering eyes of Anomen and his brothers. "Indeed, I find that sometimes both a second breakfast and a tea are necessary to keep up my strength." As the wizard continued lean in spite of these supernumerary meals, the elflings decided that wizarding must indeed require a great deal of provender.
Mithrandir set the brake on the wagon and produced a camp kettle. Anomen went to fetch water, and when he returned, he found that the wizard had kindled a small fire. When the water boiled, Mithrandir drew forth tea leaves from a small pouch that he produced from somewhere within his capacious robes. As the leaves steeped in the hot water that he poured into two mugs, he cut generous slices of bread and cheese for himself and his young friend. Soon they were enjoying their a simple but satisfying repast.
As they ate, Anomen cautiously returned to the subject of fireworks. Since his close encounter with Mithrandir's shells, he knew that they were filled with colored powders, for he and his brothers had torn the wrapper of one.
"Mithrandir," he asked, "how can your fireworks be so powerful when they look like nothing more than grains of fine sand?"
The wizard picked up a twig. "A firework is like this twig, only more so."
"Is that a riddle?" Anomen asked.
"It could be," smiled the wizard. "Yes. How is a twig like a firework? Can you solve that riddle?"
Mithrandir handed the twig to Anomen. "How is a twig like a firework?" he repeated, smiling encouragingly at the elfling.
Anomen held the twig on his open palm. "It is very light," he said, "and the grains in your shells are very light."
"True," said the wizard. "Each grain is very light. Separately," he added.
Separately. One twig was negligible, but a pile of twigs could furnish—
"Heat and light," exclaimed Anomen. "Your fireworks give off heat and light, and so do twigs. Only your shells give off a great deal more heat and light than a pile of twigs. Also, your shells are very noisy!"
"Very good, Anomen," said Mithrandir as he arose, and in company with his young friend, began to pack up their gear. "Heat and light," he resumed, settling himself on the wagon seat, "are indeed hidden within both a twig and a grain from a shell. Now, it happens that when twigs are set afire, the heat and light are released slowly, but when a shell is set off, the heat and light are released all at once, with a great boom rather than with the pleasant crackle of a campfire."
"So a firework explosion is a great fire that lasts but an instant."
"Yes, and that is why my shells are so dangerous. All their force is exerted in a flash. Consider the difference between a gentle push and a sudden shove. The same weight is behind each, but one slowly impels you in the desired direction, whilst the other is likely to knock you off your feet—as you know all too well!"
Anomen winced and glanced over his shoulder at the laden wagon bed. "I would not wish to be in this cart if those shells caught fire!" he exclaimed.
"Indeed! And that is why I guard the secret of their manufacture, for in the wrong hands these shells would cease to entertain and would instead serve as a means of slaughtering multitudes. It is for this reason that I have shared my knowledge only with the head of my Order. In all of Middle-earth, Saruman alone knows what minerals are required, and in what proportion."
Anomen grimaced. Fortunately for him, Mithrandir was looking ahead at the path, which had narrowed, and did not catch sight of his face. On more than one occasion the wizard had been irked at Anomen's distrust of the lord of Isengard. But today Mithrandir drove on oblivious to his young friend's suspicions.
After several days, elfing and wizard arrived at the Great East Road, and one morning after they reached this straight, wide track, Mithrandir kept his promise to allow Anomen to manage the reins. The young elf had watched the wizard carefully and was, moreover, naturally adept with horses. He urged on the gelding gently. Mithrandir told him he might tap the horse from time to time with a whip when the plodding creature forgot what he was about"—as a reminder, not a punishment," the wizard observed—but Anomen soon found that simply cracking the whip from time to time was just as efficacious.
Anomen drove the cart for the better part of the day, until tea time, when Mithrandir caught him nodding over his mug. "I had better drive for a bit, my lad," he said kindly. "It wouldn't do to doze over the reins. Hamish (it was a Breeland horse, with a Breeland name) seems docile enough, but I have observed that the horses of Men, however plodding, are inclined to bolt if they perceive their masters to be inattentive. Given the right circumstances, our Hamish may prove to be fleet footed as one of the mearas of old."
Tired from a day spent reading the moods of the mulish horse, Anomen gladly climbed over the seat into the wagon bed and made a nest out of the furs that were their nightly bedding. Squirming like a puppy, Anomen wriggled deep into the pile of furs and sighed contentedly. He pulled a flap of fur over his head to keep off the night damp and was soon asleep. So well hidden was he that no one would have guessed that an elfing lay asleep in the wagon bed.
The moon was full that night, and Mithrandir decided to drive on for several hours after sunset. Mile after mile the horse shambled, and mile after mile Anomen dozed, his dreams illuminated by flashes of colored lights that took on shapes like those of Mithrandir's fireworks, but not so loud or fearsome.
It was after midnight when the wizard decided that he, too, needed his rest. "Whoa!" he called pulling on the reins. The call of the wizard and sudden cessation of the wagon roused Anomen, but he was too comfortable to move. He listened as Mithrandir set the brake and clambered from the wagon. Then he heard another sound: the sudden approach of many feet. "Now, father," shouted a rough voice, "step back from that wagon—no, do not touch the brake!"
"Grandfather, rather," Mithrander called back, "and I do not go to touch the brake. I merely reach for my staff, to support my agéd feet."
Anomen heard wood scrape on wood and knew that Mithrandir had reached across the wagon's seat and grasped his staff. He also knew, however, that if the men were gathered closely about the wagon, Mithrandir was not likely to use it against them. The elfling had seen the staff enveloped in flame. Mithrandir would not wield such a dangerous tool so near to a cart filled with fireworks. Was it inevitable, then, that the highwaymen should seize the wagon and its contents? In his mind, Anomen heard Mithrandir's words: 'in the wrong hands these shells would cease to entertain and would instead serve as a means of slaughtering multitudes'. Great evil might ensue if these men took possession of the shells and discovered their hidden power, yet how could Mithrandir prevent the event?
The wizard was in animated conversation with the brigands, and Anomen guessed that they would not be watching the wagon closely. Slowly he crept out from the pile of furs and slipped from the wagon bed into the seat. Staying low, he took hold of the whip in one hand and the brake in another. "Colored sand," Mithrandir was saying. "That wagon is filled with packets of colored sand. You are wasting your time."
"Must be valuable to someone," one the robbers shrewdly observed. "Else you wouldn't be hauling it."
"Right," exclaimed another. "Enough talk! Let's knock this old fool on the head and take this wagon."
In an instant, Anomen had released the brake and cracked the whip as hard as he could, its end whizzing by Hamish's ear. The elfling was thrown back against the seat as the horse reared, but he kept his grip on the whip. "Grab that horse" someone shouted. A man rushed in from the side, but he fell back shrieking in pain as Anomen once more plied the whip, for this time the elfling had intended to produce an effect that went well beyond sound alone.
At the second crack of the whip, Hamish bolted. Now Anomen did drop the whip as he scrabbled vainly for a handhold. Ending up between the seat and the buckboard, he frantically searched for the reins. Once he laid his hands on them, he scrambled back onto the seat. "Whoa!" he shouted, pulling on the reins. "Whoa!"
At first the panicked horse did not heed the elfling, who had neither the wizard's strength nor his deep voice. At length, however, Anomen succeeded in reining the horse in. Setting the brake, the elfling dismounted the wagon and went to rub down the sweating horse. As he worked, he considered what to do. He was certain that, once the wagon was out of the way, Mithrandir would have dealt with the robbers. Should he turn the wagon around and head back toward the wizard? No, he decided. Mithrandir would have sought to disperse the brigands rather than slay them. What if some of them had fled in the direction taken by the wagon? Anomen did not want to encounter them, for he did not think he would be able to play the same trick twice. Better to go on toward Weathertop and the protection of Lindir and his patrol. Mithrandir would follow after, he was sure.
Hamish was calm now. Anomen climbed back into the wagon, released the brake, and flicked the reins. Steadily the horse plodded on toward Weathertop and, Anomen hoped, safety. Mile after mile the wagon rolled. The sun had arisen, reached its zenith, and begun to descend before Anomen spied the ruin-crowned hill that stood several miles distant from the Great East Road. By the time the wagon drew abreast of the hill, it was dark. Anomen stopped the cart in the middle of the road and sat for awhile considering. Mithrandir was to have signaled Lindir. How would he have done that? With a shaft of light from his staff, no doubt. Without that staff, how was Anomen to summon help?
The young elf decided to get the wagon under cover. A small copse stood back from the road. Anomen climbed down from the wagon and led Hamish toward its shelter. He tied the horse securely to a tree and then stood considering for a while longer. At last he made up his mind. He went to the back of wagon and untied one edge of the oiled tarp that protected its cargo. Reaching underneath, he pulled out a shell that was loosely bound to a pole. Carrying these objects back to the road, he thrust the pole into the dirt and drew the shell's fuse to its full length. Then he went in search of an old stick dry enough to be easily set afire. He found one about three feet in length. Taking out flint and steel, he kindled a little fire and thrust the end of the stick into it. Carrying the stick with its now-glowing tip to the shell, he touched it to the fuse. As soon as he was certain that the fuse was alit, he threw aside the stick and ran as fast as he could back to the copse. No sooner had he reached its edge than he heard a loud boom. Turning, above he espied a thin trail of smoke, and as he watched, a second explosion took place. Awed, the young elf saw a huge flower blooming in the sky. Slowly it dissolved into petals that floated toward the ground, bringing with them the sweet smell of spring blossoms.
As the last petal reached the ground and vanished, Anomen saw a light appear on Weathertop. Someone had kindled a watchfire. Anomen grinned in relief. His message had been received and acknowledged. Humming happily, he returned to Hamish. Frightened by the explosions, the horse was trembling, and Anomen soothed him before untying him and leading him back to the road to await Lindir and his patrol.
The older elves found him sooner than he expected. No matter that the flower was beautiful, Lindir and his patrol had correctly concluded that something was wrong, for Mithrandir was not in the habit of setting off fireworks in the wild. They had rapidly descended Weathertop to regain their horses, and then, even though the ground was rough between Weathertop and the Road, had urged their horses into a gallop.
"Anomen!" Linder cried in concern when he saw the elfling alone with the wagon. "Surely that was one of Mithrandir's shells that exploded, but where is he?"
Quickly Anomen explained what had happened. Linder and two other Elves at once rode west, taking with them a horse belonging to one of their companions. The remaining members of the patrol set up camp. Anomen had not slept since the encounter with the brigands and was glad to be handed a fur and told to rest. Within minutes he was asleep so deeply that it would have taken the explosion of another shell to wake him.
Late the next morning, when he did awaken, he found Mithrandir sitting beside him. "Well, my lad," said the wizard, taking pipe from mouth and blowing a smoke-horse that began to gallop round Anomen's head. "Well, my lad," he repeated. "It was a good business, Elrond's sending you with me. Brave lad! Clever lad! You have managed things very well. Very well indeed!"
Mithrandir was not usually so effusive, and Anomen blushed a little. But he soon recovered. "Tell me what happened, Mithrandir," he asked eagerly, throwing aside the fur and sitting up.
"What you knew would happen," the wizard replied, smiling knowingly. "Once you escaped with the wagon, I scorched a few bottoms, and the robbers took to their heels, scampering back into that bit of woods beside the road where they had been hiding. Then I set off after you. I reckoned you would make for Weathertop and send help, so I strolled along in a very equable frame of mind. Sure enough, along came Lindir with a spare horse, and here I am."
Anomen laughed at the image of the robbers scampering away with smoking bottoms. Just then Lindir came up. He spared a smile for Anomen, then turned serious as he addressed the wizard. "We are ready to break camp, Mithrandir. Are you certain you do not want an escort? I can easily spare two or three scouts, a number sufficient to deter brigands. That sort prey on those they think defenseless and would slink away at the sight of armed elves."
"Thank you for the offer, Lindir, but an escort will not be necessary."
"But Mithrandir," began Anomen, suddenly concerned about the wizard's safety if he should again be taken unawares.
"An escort will not be necessary," continued Mithrandir, "because I am accompanied by an elf courageous and resourceful beyond his years. If you have elves to spare, you may instead send them with a missive to Imladris informing Elrond that he must do without Anomen for several more weeks, for I cannot do without him."
Now Anomen blushed in earnest, the color extending to the tips of his ears. Lindir laughed aloud. "Very well, Mithrandir," he chuckled."I shall send that message to Elrond. But mind that in the future you do not halt where the forest comes down to the road and provides shelter to marauders."
"I had thought of that," Mithrandir said dryly. "Momentary inattentiveness on my part. Won't happen again. You won't let it happen again," he added turning to Anomen. "I am told you sheltered the wagon in a tiny coppice set back from the road—not the sort of place where a band of robbers would choose to lie in ambush."
Anomen blushed again. He didn't remember telling Lindir about the copse, but he reckoned that, come daylight, the elves had descried the tracks of the wagon.
"You had better stop blushing," Mithrandir smiled, "lest your face become a beacon for orcs."
Anomen giggled, the image of brigands with burning bottoms replaced by a picture of orcs drawn to a red-faced elfling like moths to a flame.
"Well," said Mithrandir, suddenly brisk, "if Lindir and his scouts are breaking camp, we may as well do likewise. I have some friends amongst the Halflings who hope to witness a fireworks display a few days hence, and I shouldn't like to disappoint them."
"And then I said to Gandalf," the old hobbit declared, telling his story for the umpteenth time, "'Not the man that used to make such particularly excellent fireworks! I remember those! Old Took used to have them on Midsummer's Eve. Splendid! They used to go up like great lilies and snapdragons and laburnums of fire and hang in the twilight all evening!'"
"I was present on one of those eves," Legolas said.
"Were you?" exclaimed Bilbo. "I don't remember seeing you!"
"True, for I made it my business that you shouldn't. Gandalf introduced me to the Old Took, but he warned me to keep out of sight of folk from Hobbiton. 'Leery of strangers, they are', he said. Although," the elf added, "he did say that there was one hobbit who might be bold enough to befriend an elf—maybe even bold enough to go on an adventure."
Bilbo snorted. "Only one?" he exclaimed. "Well, Gandalf knows better now. Frodo has had his own little adventure, bringing that Ring to Rivendell with those nasty Riders on his tail. And Merry and Pippin and Sam weren't no slouches neither, I hear tell. Glad they've had their chance at a bit of fun, same as I did. And you, Legolas. It's lucky you were able to get a glimpse of Gandalf's fireworks. 'Twould be a shame if you'd led a life so sheltered as to never have seen such a sight."
Legolas smiled at the old hobbit, who seemed to have forgotten that Legolas had fought in the Battle of Five Armies—and had many other adventures to boot. The elf's smile was a little wistful, however. Tomorrow the Council of Elrond would be convened, and Legolas suspected that for Bilbo's nephew Frodo, the "little adventure" was to become but the first step on a lengthy journey. As for himself, he remembered Gandalf's words to him on that day long ago when they had driven away from Rivendell in a wagon laden with the wizard's shells. "There will be plenty of fireworks in your future!" Gandalf had predicted. 'Yes,' the elf thought to himself, only half listening to Bilbo's description of Iarwain Ben-adar, Oldest and Fatherless. 'Yes, there will be fireworks in my future'.