There was a thunderstorm a few nights back! What perfect weather for writing. Sadly I didn't get this chapter finished as soon as I was hoping – illness took me down for a few days – but I'm on the mend and can focus enough to write again.
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The five eagles swept through the sky regally, passing across the sun and making giant shadows across the ground. The hobbits watched in awe as the great birds alighted gently on the ground, with all the grace and elegance of an elven dancer. Only the softest of breezes was swept up by their wings.
The lead eagle bowed low to Gandalf, prompting his brethren to do the same. As he straightened back to his impressive height, Frodo could see he wore a grand, finely-crafted chain across his breast. This was Gwaihir, Windlord and King of All Birds. He had been king when he rescued thirteen dwarves, one wizard, and one hobbit from the clutches of goblins and wolves many, many years ago, and it had been he who had borne Gandalf from Orthanc and his imprisonment, and carried him again on his well-timed journey to rescue two stranded and exhausted hobbits from the middle of Mordor.
Gwaihir and Gandalf exchanged greeting. The King Eagle was gentle yet imposing in his speech and manner, and spoke with Gandalf like an old friend. Which, Frodo supposed, they were – they had certainly known each other long enough. The other four eagles spoke quietly with one another and scrutinised – but not unkindly – the companions watching them.
"I feel like I'm about to become lunch, " Merry muttered, glancing warily at the large birds.
"Come now, Meriadoc," Aragorn smiled, "I am sure these proud creatures can find better fare than hobbit, if they wished it."
Merry couldn't help but reply. "Or perhaps I am too fair for their tastes?"
Frodo sighed at his cousin's humour and returned his gaze to the eagles. Proud and intimidating creatures, they were, with glossy feathers of differing colours. Bilbo's descriptions of them couldn't come close to how they looked, and how it felt to be before them. After all, the last time Frodo had been so close to the eagles, he had not exactly been fully conscious. This time, he was able to truly see them closely.
"Each of these magnificent creatures can only bear a fully grown man, or a hobbit and a dwarf," Gandalf was explaining to the companions. "Therefore the hobbits and I will travel to Rivendell first, then three of the eagles will return for the other members of our party."
"The flight will only take a few hours," Gwaihir said. His voice was deep and resonant, and he spoke calmly. "We need not be concerned with obstacles and roads."
With a few looks of trepidation, the hobbits approached the eagles. Gandalf himself was to ride astride Gwaihir, so the hobbits (trying not to be insensitive, but unsure of these majestic birds) simply picked at random which eagle to ride. They were assisted atop them by Aragorn and Faramir – sometimes those of small stature needed help, no matter what the grandness of their mounts. Not that the eagles could be considered something so simple as 'mounts', Pippin pointed out in a whisper to Sam.
Once the riders were settled – or as settled as one could be atop a giant eagle – the birds took off from the ground with a mighty sweep of their wings, shooting high into the sky. The feeling of suddenly being lifted from the ground to high in the air, in a single movement, was both elating and terrifying to the hobbits. Frodo heard Merry swear just before all sound was drowned out by the rushing wind of the elevation, and couldn't help but smile as at the rush of emotion that came upon him from the ascent.
Frodo knew he would never forget the feeling of flying on an eagle. True, he had done it once before – but circumstances being what they were he hadn't exactly been awake. It had been Gwaihir who had carried him on that fateful day in his talon, gently bearing the injured Ringbearer from the edge of destruction; but this was different. This was actually flying on an eagle, just as Bilbo had done many years past.
He gently eased himself forward until he could see down to the ground below. Trees were mere green patches on the earth beneath; rivers and streams like silver threads that wound across the land. Wisps of low cloud passed by underneath. Frodo had never been afraid of heights – unlike Bilbo, who Frodo knew had not exactly been pleased to ride an eagle. For him, though, it was an exhilarating experience to look down and see Middle-Earth far below, passing by without incident. Although the thought of falling was an unnerving one… Frodo banished it from his mind.
His eagle – he realised, slightly ashamed, he didn't know the name of the proud creature that bared him – swept to the right to avoid a cloud bank, and came up near to the eagle who was carrying Sam. The two hobbits glanced across to one another, their faces breaking out in near-identical smiles. Evidently Sam was enjoying the feeling of flight as much as he was. There was a freedom to it, a tranquillity – up here, the sun was warm and the sky was clear, and nothing was dark. The threat of danger, so easily felt on the ground, seemed to have been left behind.
"Whom do I have the pleasure of assisting to Rivendell?" came a deep voice. It took Frodo a moment to realise that his eagle was speaking to him over the wind. Frodo leaned forward, deeper into the feathers, to hear and reply.
"Frodo Baggins at your service. Whom do I have the pleasure of being carried by?"
"Landroval is my name in your tongue."
Landroval. The name sparked something in Frodo's memory. "Gawihir the Windlord is your brother, is he not?"
"Aye," replied Landroval, gliding along the wind. "And you are the Ringbearer; and relation to the halfling Bilbo, whom I have met in passing before. I travelled to Mordor with Gwaihir to rescue you and your companion. How do you fare now? Are you recovered?"
Frodo hesitated fractionally before answering. "Not as much as I would like to be, mighty Landroval. Some wounds cannot be healed; some hurts are too deep to be erased by time."
"I understand." Landroval swept around another bank of cloud and back into formation. "And how is your companion?"
Frodo glanced back to Sam, who seemed to be conversing with his own eagle. "Sam is, I think, mostly recovered. At least in body, if not wholly yet in mind. Memories still trouble him, as they trouble us all."
"Again, I understand. We were not without our own troubles."
Landroval fell silent as he navigated through a particularly thick cloud bank. For a moment the sight of the ground far below was lost, and Frodo looked back to his companions. Merry was gripping fairly tightly to his eagle, Frodo saw, but his eyes were clear and he appeared relaxed. Merry, while none too fond of great heights, did not quail at them – merely preferred to avoid them. Pippin, however, was grinning broadly a little way back. Frodo was well aware his younger cousin had never been afraid or wary of heights, in any way, and now was no different.
Frodo's gaze lingered on Sam, whose eagle had dropped beneath Landroval's altitude. He and Sam had spoken much since returning from the Quest, often walking for hours at a time around the Shire to discuss, in retrospect, their experiences. As time passed and life became somewhat normal again, talking about difficult subjects became easier. Frodo wished to believe his own words, that Sam was healing, he could never be sure. As honest as they were with one another, about dark memories, guilt, and the suffering they had been through, Frodo couldn't help but feel that there were some things Sam had dismissed from his own mind, not considering them important enough to be of note.
"Are you enjoying the flight?" Landroval's question broke Frodo from his thoughtful reverie.
"Oh, yes. More than I can put into words, O Mighty Landroval. Never did I think I would see Middle-Earth from this vantage point."
If beaks could smile, Frodo could believe Landroval was grinning. "You are not afraid of heights then, as I seem to recall your relation was?"
The mental image of frightened Bilbo, clinging to an eagle with his eyes closed, rose unbidden in Frodo's mind. "No, they have never overly concerned me."
Their conversation turned to more everyday matters – Landroval, to his credit, was more than happy to share with Frodo a little of the eagles' history, before telling him of their recent achievements and role in the War of the Ring, including Landroval's own experiences at the Battle of the Morannon. He also spoke about what he could remember of his interactions with the dwarves and Bilbo many years beforehand, and the eagles' involvement at the Battle of Five Armies.
The sun was lower, but still bright in the sky, when Landroval started to descend. Frodo estimated it was still a few hours from sundown, as they sank down towards the ground again, close to the roots of the Misty Mountains. After so long in the air, it felt odd to be standing on solid ground again, standing still rather than gently moving along wind currents.
The eagles left the four hobbits and Gandalf without much ceremony, to return to Weathertop for the others. Frodo had just enough time to thank Landroval before he returned to the skies.
"I will see you in the near future, Frodo Baggins. Warm winds keep you and your kin until then!" And with a grand sweep of his wings he was airborne again, heading back westwards. In seconds he was a small speck in the sky along with his fellows.
The hobbits and Gandalf found themselves at the entrance to the valley where Rivendell was hidden. A narrow path wound down the side of the valley, to the elven haven below. In the afternoon sun, the Last Homely House seemed to shine softly, the white architecture glowing in the sunlight. Frodo's mind was calmed just to look on it – after all, he reflected somewhat bitterly, the last time he had come to Rivendell in the daylight he had been robbed of this majestic view; having fallen at the Ford of Bruinen due to the worsening effects of his Morgul-blade wound.
From here it was impossible to imagine Rivendell as anything but welcoming and healing; the sight of the delicate buildings and archways nestled within the valley's own woodlands was one of peace and quiet. It was soothing to the soul simply to look upon, knowing it was the destination at the end of the path.
The walk itself, from the top of the valley down the hidden path – that Gandalf knew well – took the travellers a little over half an hour. The air cooled slightly, but not uncomfortably, as they drew closer to the bottom of the valley and Rivendell itself, and Pippin took the opportunity to question Gandalf about the eagles and what he knew of them. Gandalf, aware that haste was no longer such a pressing concern, was content to indulge the Took's questions, and in turn provoked a fairly spirited discussion about the eagles from all his companions.
Crossing over the bridge to Rivendell's courtyard was akin to a breath of fresh air after travelling in tunnels, even though they had just been flying, with all the fresh air one could want. Yet still, Rivendell seemed like a relief to be at. None of the hobbits ever thought they would have the chance to return to this enchanted place, and to stand at its threshold was encouraging to them, even though the reason for their visit lingered at the back of their minds. Lord Elrond appeared almost immediately from a nearby archway and greeted them all with the gentle sincerity the hobbits remembered well.
"Welcome, my friends, to Rivendell again. I apologise, but I cannot offer you a chance of rest as of yet. There are more pressing matters to attend to first, but refreshments will be bought to you there."
With the aloof grace characteristic of the Master of Rivendell, Elrond led the small group through the carved paths and to the same council area the Ring had been bought to not a year earlier. The last time there had been many strangers of distant lands – but this time, most of those already gathered and deep in various conversations were more familiar.
Merry's face broke into a grin. King Eomer of Rohan was there, clad in his Rohirric finery. A tooled leather breastplate, shined but also worn with the marks of battles past, sat overtop a beautifully embroided tunic, and a dark green cloak was cast about his shoulders. He was without his crown, but it did not matter – there was no doubt he was a king.
Beside him – Merry's heart especially leapt in joy – was the Shieldmaiden of Rohan and Lady of Ithilien, Eowyn. She was dressed in a simple white dress, and overtop it a finely made light leather breastplate – simpler than her brother's, it still spoke of the courage and skill of the woman who wore it.
The two siblings of Rohan were deep in conversation with Gimli, son of Gloin, and another dwarf, unknown to any of the hobbits. Gimli was looking well, one had resting on his axe as usual, his beard slightly longer than it had been when last they all met. His companion was grim-eyed and serious, thought regal in his bearing – gems caught the light on his belt and cloak-pin, and the fabrics he wore were rich.
Across the way, and looking as radiant as ever in her white beaded gown, was Galadriel. She glanced up to the newcomers, meeting Frodo's eyes and smiling in greeting. He inclined his head in a half-bow in return to her, and she turned back to the conversation she was having with Celeborn, who was looking as ageless and regal as ever. The two dark-haired and lithe elves they were conversing with were Elrond's twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir. Frodo had not met either of them before properly, but he knew of them.
Glorfindel was also in attendance, his golden hair catching the light of the sun. He was speaking with an elf and a man, neither whom Frodo, at least, recognised. The elf was somewhat familiar; tall and lithe, wearing forest leathers and a circlet of silver. The man was fair to look at, dark haired, and seemed to emanate a gentle strength. The edge of his dark cloak was threaded with silver, in the shape of a swan.
Pippin noticed his cousin studying the man. "That's Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth, south of Gondor. He fought at the Pelennor Fields and is Faramir's uncle."
Frodo nodded, recalling the name. "And I suppose the elf with him and Glorfindel is King Thranduil of the Woodland Realm – Legolas' father."
"He does look a bit like Legolas, now that you mention it," Sam said thoughtfully from the other side of Pippin.
The four hobbits made their way into the council's circle. Gimli, who was nearest to them, cried out in joy when he first saw them. "Ha! Good afternoon, little Masters!" He swept his arm around Pippin, who was closest, patting him heavily on the back. "How has life been since last we met?"
"Can't complain, Master Dwarf," Sam replied, trying very hard not to smile. "How has the world turned for you?"
Merry, meanwhile, had bowed low before Eomer and Eowyn. "Up, Master Holwine. I made you a Knight of the Mark; but more than that you are my friend. So no more of this formality will you hold with either of us."
Now standing before them, Frodo suddenly realised neither him nor Sam had formally met the King of Rohan, or his sister the Lady Eowyn. Merry had spoken at length about the previous king Theoden, and of Eowyn and Eomer, for her knew much about them and had spent much time with them during the War of the Ring. But for Frodo and Sam they were near strangers: seen briefly on the Field of Cormallen, introduced in passing, but never before had they a real chance to speak with them.
Merry obviously had a similar thought, because he quickly said, "Sire, Lady, you have not met my cousin and my friend. May I introduce Frodo Baggins, my cousin, and Samwise Gamgee, a very dear friend of mine."
"An honour to meet you properly, Sire," Frodo replied, bowing. Eomer shook his head.
"The honour is mine, Frodo. I know of your past deeds; and I am humbled by them. But please, neither you nor Master Samwise should concern yourself with calling me by a title – they should not pass between friends."
"Nor for me," Eowyn smiled. Her only knowledge of hobbits had come from Merry and Pippin: two jokers, yet serious as kings at times. They had both spoken of their Ringbearer cousin, and the friend that accompanied him into the Dark Lands, and she had seen them briefly at the Field of Cormallen. Yet here before her, she could see that Frodo and Sam carried something different in themselves that she couldn't place. A fragile, gentle yet serious happiness; a quietness borne of dark experiences. These two had been to the edge of destruction and suffering and returned. Her own experience with the Witch-King of Angmar seemed to pale in comparison, though she guessed her own experience might enable her to understand more than some others.
Refreshments were ought as those awaiting the council continued to talk amongst one another. The unknown dwarf introduced himself as Thorin III Stonehelm, King Under the Mountain. King Dain II Ironfoot had died in the Battle of Dale. When he heard Frodo's surname he laughed a loud – Bilbo's escapade with Smaug was now legend among the dwarves, and he delighted to tell Frodo – and those listening – how Bilbo had been remembered.
After a further hour or so, with the light in the valley beginning to die, Aragorn, Legolas and Faramir joined those gathered. Eowyn embraced her husband tightly, and they sat together hand in hand as conversations were bought to a close and the gathered nobles and representatives sat in the familiar semi-circle. Elrond stepped up to his own high-backed chair and turned to face them.
The council could begin.
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Up next: Important exposition, via your friendly neighbourhood Council of Elrond (2.0).
Also last night I was checking out some images from The Hobbit, and saw Orcrist (Thorin's sword) for the first time. Oh my. Oh my my my. Never before have I seen a sword so stunning. I think I'll have to get a replica. And, me and few friends confirmed our tickets for the midnight session of The Hobbit on Dec 12th last night too. We scored the last good seats in the theatre – now we're discussing our dressing up options! I'm starting to get really excited about it now; it's so close! :D