Gandalf the White
The Fellowship is reuniting, but may face a new threat that is hunting them all.
This chapter was mostly derived as I was sitting in
Author's note: This chapter was mostly derived as I was sitting in
a hotel room, chewing ice, and hoping for inspiration to strike. However, I
think I left my muse behind when I traveled. I hope you enjoy and please review
when you are finished!
A brisk wind blew across the lands, bringing with it the clean and fresh scent of rain. In the east, the morning sun struggled to rise and break free of the dark clouds that where slowly massing on the horizon, like a dark army prepared to attack. Even as the sun continued to climb into the sky, the clouds spread out and seemed to grow even darker. The breeze, which had been cool and pleasant to begin, became bitter and sharp, carrying the ominous whisper of distant thunder.
Muttering under his breath, and pulling his cloak closer about him, Gandalf studied the skies before him, trying to figure out when the storm would reach them. Beneath him, his mount shifted and began tossing his head, picking up on his rider's anxiety. Gandalf patted the creature's neck and soon the horse calmed. Not for the first time, the wizard wished that he had Shadowfax with him, but it was not so and wishing for it would do no good. Shadowfax had been set free to roam as he pleased near the great elven city of Rivendell, and Gandalf had not had the time to summon him when he had been forced to leave the city and travel to Minas Tirith in all haste.
Now, Gandalf was glad of his decision not to wait, for he had barely reached the company in time. This dark line of thought caused the wizard to sigh and shake his head. Truly, the upcoming storm was not the darkest problem this company would face. Although, judging from the sound of the swiftly approaching thunder, it possibly would be the next.
Gandalf turned to assess those riding behind him. The company had been traveling for several hours and yet there had been little conversation. An unspoken agreement had passed between them all that the time and place for questions and answers would come later. Now, everyone seemed content to keep to their own private musings.
Aragorn, upon Roheryn, rode directly behind Gandalf, and following him was Legolas and Gimli on Shandarell. The four hobbits, upon their ponies came next, and the guards brought up the rear, leading the extra horses that carried the dead. Every face was tired and haggard, but there had been little complaint from anyone, even the hobbits.
Gandalf studied Aragorn and Legolas a bit closer than he had the others. Both sat tall and proud upon their mounts, and a casual glance would have shown nothing wrong. Gandalf, however, gave them more than a casual glance, and his penetrating gaze missed nothing. Aragorn was far too pale, and an unnatural strain marred Legolas's usually smooth features. 'Another problem that will need to be dealt with soon' Gandalf thought to himself. A loud role of thunder interrupted his thoughts, and he turned to glare at the menacing clouds.
'First things first. I shall take care of one problem at a time and hope that they do not all come crashing down upon me at once!'
Gandalf grunted, then turned once more to face those behind him. "Legolas," he called out against the wind. The elf glanced up, and then spurred Shandarell forward, coming alongside the wizard. "I am in need of your assistance."
Legolas's eyebrows rose slightly, his only sign of surprise. "Anything," he said immediately.
Gimli grunted and shook his head. "I strongly suggest that any task you may have should be given to one of the others. Legolas is not well, and though he may be good at disguising it, he cannot fool me!"
Legolas glanced down at the dwarf and frowned. He seemed about to reply when Gandalf interrupted him. "I am perfectly aware of Legolas's condition, master dwarf. I merely wished to ask him about the weather."
"The weather," Gimli repeated, nonplussed. "You called us up here to chat about the weather?"
Gandalf ignored him, directing his questions to Legolas. "When do you think the storm will reach us, and how long will it last?"
Legolas studied the dark clouds for several minutes. He seemed to be listening, as if a small voice that only he could hear rode upon the wind and whispered secrets into his ear. His long golden hair whipped about his face in the strong wind, yet he ignored it, completely intent upon his task. Finally, he turned to Gandalf. "The storm will strike before a hour and a quarter has passed. It will be quite fierce, but I do not believe it will continue long. It will release its force all at once, but will quickly wear itself out."
"Before nightfall?" Gandalf asked, trying to make his voice casual.
Legolas sent him a sharp look, but he only nodded. "Yes, before nightfall."
Gandalf nodded. He had guessed much along the same lines, but now he was sure.
A call from behind him caused him to turn. The others had all crowded close behind in their effort to hear what was being said, and it was Pippin who had called out to the wizard. "Gandalf, it has occurred to me that I cannot remember the last time I have eaten. I think that my stomach is starting to gnaw on my backbone. I don't suppose we could stop for a spell, so we can grab a bite to eat?"
This simple statement had a huge effect on the other hobbits. They immediately all sat up taller and began adding their arguments in favor of a stop. The rest of the group held expressions of doubtful hopefulness.
Gandalf chuckled to himself. He had been expecting this for quite some time, and considered it surprising that they had gotten as far as they had. He raised his hand, immediately silencing the flow of pleas coming from the hobbits. "There is a copse of trees a short way ahead. We will stop there and eat and rest. The storm will be upon us soon, and so we will wait out the worst of it there, and then continue when it passes on."
All faces showed happy relief at the wizard's words. The hobbits immediately began discussing various stews and soups that could be made with their meager supplies, but Gandalf soon dashed their hopes by telling them he would not allow a fire to be built. Even this news could not keep the hobbits down for long, and they began to plan on the best way to prepare a grand meal out of dried meat and bread.
Gandalf glanced at Aragorn and Legolas. Both seemed relieved that they would be stopping, and Gandalf was glad he had made the choice. Though the delay could prove costly, he knew that the only way the two would regain their strength would be rest and food. He also knew that their strength could very well be needed before this trip was over.
The copse of trees that Gandalf had spoken of was more like a small forest made up of giant oak and elm all set close together with their branches interlaced as they reached toward the sky. The large group of trees looked oddly out of place on the bare and rolling hills. The only other trees to be seen were lone sentinels, standing tall and proud on their lonely watch. As the company approached the stand of trees, the hobbits fell silent, casting wary glances toward the towering branches. The little light that was able to penetrate the dark clouds seemed to be swallowed underneath the dark boughs, giving the trees a dark and sinister appearance. Everyone was reminded of what had come from the last group of trees like this. Only Gandalf and Legolas seemed unaffected by the dark appearance of the trees.
Riding slightly behind Gandalf, Aragorn peered into the deep gloom beneath the swiftly nearing trees, searching for any sign of movement. He knew his actions were unneeded, for Legolas had been studying them since they first came into view, and the elf would have warned the others long ago if he had seen anything. Yet still, Aragorn could not shake the feeling that orcs, or something worse, was about to leap from the trees and attack the small company.
Frodo rode his pony up beside Aragorn and then spoke quietly to him. "I do not like the looks of those trees. Anything could be lurking in their shadows, and it is as dark as night under there."
Looking down at the top of Frodo's head, Aragorn shook off his own feelings of misgiving and attempted to cheer up his companion, who had far too many worries as it was. "Do not fear what lies ahead. Legolas would have warned us long ago if there was any danger." Even as he said the words, Aragorn felt a pang of guilt for his own doubt in the proven abilities of his elven companion.
"I know," Frodo said quietly. "And yet, I cannot help but remember last night and..." he trailed off mid-sentence, still eyeing the trees that now lay only a few strides ahead.
"Do not think on those things," Aragorn admonished gently. "We were caught unaware once, but it will not happen again. Think only on the shelter these trees will offer from the approaching storm."
"I am not sure that I would not rather rest in the rain," Frodo muttered softly beneath his breath.
Aragorn caught the mumbled words, but did not reply as the company moved into the shadows of the small forest. It was as if a blanket had been thrown around them, suffocating all light and sound. The almost continuous noise of thunder now seemed muted by the interlocked branches high above their heads, and the dim light grew even darker, giving the appearance of dusk instead of merely mid-morning. A closeness and menace seemed to surround them, causing everyone to tense.
The horses, affected by the dread they sensed from their riders or perhaps from the surrounding trees, began to shift restlessly. Two of the guards mounts began sidestepping, snorting in displeasure while their riders fought to keep them under control as well as keep hold of the nervous pack horses. The hobbit's ponies seemed to spook at every noise or role of thunder, and Gandalf's mount stomped his foot and let out a shrill neigh that seemed to be swallowed by the oppressive trees about them. Roheryn was too well trained to do anything more than toss his head slightly and let out a soft snort. Shandarell alone seemed to be unaffected by the other's nervousness. His ears flicked back and forth, and he looked to be studying the trees with complete nonchalance.
'He seems as at home as Legolas in these woods,' Aragorn thought wryly. 'They truly do make the perfect pair.'
Aragorn was beginning to wonder if Frodo might have been right, and the company should have braved the rains rather than come into this oppressive wood. On the other side of Gandalf, Legolas reached out with his good arm and gently touched the trunk of one of the big trees. He murmured something softly in his own language, and then suddenly he began to sing. His voice was low and soft, and yet seemed to penetrate even the darkest shadows of the wood. He sang in the language of the Sindarian elves, and all who heard felt a strange stirring within their breasts. The horses calmed, pointing their ears in the direction that the elf rode, and even the trees seemed to be listening.
Aragorn found himself relaxing and suddenly the trees did not seem quite so threatening and oppressive. The elf's words seemed to bring their own light with them, wrapping around the surrounding giants, and bringing out the fresh scent of the trees themselves. Aragorn took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the smell of life and freshness.
Legolas sang on for several more minutes, and when his song came to an end the following silence seemed loud and empty. Frodo sighed contentedly, all of his former tenseness gone. "I think I know why Bilbo chose to go to Rivendell when he left the Shire," Frodo whispered, almost afraid that speaking would break the spell formed by Legolas's song. "I could listen to the elves sing all day."
Aragorn could only nod, looking at the surrounding trees with a new awe and respect.
"I could only catch a few of the words," Frodo admitted. "But I believe it was a song about trees."
"Yes," Aragorn answered. "It was the story of the elves first awakening the Ents. It was filled with great joy and great sadness, as all the elven songs seem to be. I have not heard it sung before, and though there is probably many elven songs I have not heard, I believe that Legolas created this one himself."
"You mean Legolas made up that song?" Frodo asked, amazed. He glanced over to where the elf rode, a new respect on his face. "It was so beautiful! I bet it took him forever to come up with it all."
"I doubt it," Aragorn answered. "The elves do not have to think about their songs the way that we do. The words merely come to them when they need them."
The company had reached what Aragorn suspected to be near the center of the group of trees. Gandalf called a halt, and everyone began to gratefully dismount. As Aragorn's feet hit the ground, a sharp pain flared in his side and a wave of dizziness hit him as he was forced to carry his own weight.
Waiting for the pain to pass, he took the opportunity to look at their camping spot. Two giant oaks spread a wide canopy above the ground, a natural shelter for when the rain hit. The ground beneath the trees was soft with a layer of leaves and grass, and the wind could not reach them here. Aragorn thought it a very nice place to stop, and wondered at his earlier misgivings. He felt a great desire to go and sink down beneath one of the trees and rest, but there were still things that needed to be done. With a sigh, he glanced toward the horses that carried the bodies of his fallen guard. He knew that they might not get a better chance to bury the men. He would not allow himself to relax until they had been laid to rest. He owed them at least that much.
Aragorn had only taken a single step when someone caught his arm and stopped him. He turned and was surprised to see that it was Gimli who had grabbed him. The dwarf looked up at him solemnly, but with a trace of determination.
"I know what you are thinking," Gimli said quietly, glancing toward the dead guards. "And now I will tell you what I think. The only reason Gandalf allowed this stop was so that you and Legolas could rest. And that is what I urge you to do now. Others can take care of what must be done."
Aragorn shook his head. "They were my guards," he said simply.
"Yes, and if they were still here they would want to see you resting." Gandalf and Legolas had joined Gimli, and now the wizard studied Aragorn closely. "You and Legolas should remain here with the hobbits. Gimli and I will take care of burying the dead. I spotted a very nice clearing on our trip in, and I believe it will not take us long to finish the task. They will be laid to rest properly, have no fear."
Aragorn was still not happy with the situation, but he knew that it would be futile to argue with the wizard. He may be king of all Gondor, but Gandalf was a wizard and followed his own set of rules. He nodded wearily and then set to the task of helping the hobbits remove the packs containing their food supplies. Legolas took care of the horses, making sure they were secured and comfortable. Gandalf, Gimli, and the three guards set off back in the direction they had just ridden, leading the pack horses.
Aragorn stood and watched them, wondering how they would complete their task, for they had brought no shovels. Sighing, and deciding to leave that detail to Gandalf, he turned and looked for a comfortable position where he could sit and rest.
The hobbits were busy pulling provisions from the packs and arguing on the best way to prepare the meal. Legolas moved over to the base of one of the giant oaks. He glanced up at the branches a bit wistfully, before sinking down to lean against the trunk of the tree. Aragorn joined him, and the two sat in silence, watching the hobbits and waiting for the return of the others.
A quarter of an hour passed, and the storm finally released its fury. The rain came down in torrents and the thunder continued to growl overhead. The branches and leaves of the two oaks diverted much of the rain, keeping the little company sheltered beneath fairly dry.
Another hour passed, with the storm giving no sign of lessening. Aragorn was beginning to worry. Gandalf and the others had been gone far too long. He sat up and began scanning the surrounding trees for any sign of movement, some of his earlier misgivings returning to plague him. He had just decided to rise and go in search of them, when beside him, Legolas straightened and glanced into the deep gloom. "They are coming," he said softly. Aragorn returned to searching the surrounding trees, and true enough, a couple minutes later the others materialized out of the trees and hurried toward their shelter.
Aragorn rose to meet them, but Legolas remained sitting, content to watch. Gandalf, Gimli, and the three guards were all soaked, and Gandalf seemed to be near the point of exhaustion, leaning heavily on his staff. Gimli kept sending the wizard a worried glance, but Gandalf waved him off and walked over to the hobbits. Lowering himself to a sitting position, he gave the hobbits a rare smile. "So, what have you prepared for our meal?" he asked with a cheerfulness that seemed at odds with the deep weariness on his face.
The next hour was spent huddled in the little shelter, eating the meal the hobbits had prepared, and listening to the howling intensity of the storm. Merry was the first to break the silence. Looking toward the wizard, he asked what time it was.
Gandalf shrugged "I would say it is nearing noon, if I have kept my wits about me." He glanced toward Legolas for confirmation, but the elf was leaning back against the tree, his eyes looking toward something unseen. Whether he was asleep or merely deep in thought, Gandalf was unsure, but at least he was resting. Gandalf glanced toward Aragorn and wished the man would take Legolas's example.
"It may be relatively dry under here, but I am still freezing, and I hope this storm ends soon." Merry's voice was wistful as he glanced out at the sheet of falling rain.
"It may be cold," Pippin joined in, "but it is nothing compared to the cold I felt last night when that 'thing' appeared."
"Let us not talk about that now," Sam broke in, shivering despite his heavy cloak.
"It was like a giant ball of ice came out of nowhere and hit me right in the stomach." Pippin ignored the pleading look that Sam shot him. "I couldn't even breathe, let alone move. It was like nothing I've ever experienced before. Did you feel the same way, Aragorn?" the hobbit asked curiously.
Aragorn nodded thoughtfully. "Aye, I did. And it is as you said, I have never experienced anything like it, nor do I wish to again."
"I do not understand," Frodo said slowly. "Every elf that I have ever encountered has been beautiful and pure, and yet this elf was not. How can this be?"
"Because what you saw was not an elf." All eyes turned to Legolas, who had risen and made his way over closer to the group.
"Not an elf?" Frodo asked him softly, and Legolas merely nodded.
"But we all saw him," Merry broke in. "He looked a lot like you, Legolas, if you don't mind me saying so. How can you say that he was not an elf."
"It is hard for me to explain, Merry," Legolas said slowly, glancing toward the wizard. "Elves simply 'know' other elves, as I did not 'know' this creature. It was almost as if he was wearing the disguise of an elf, but I felt no kinship with the creature."
"An elf disguise?" Pippin exclaimed. "That's impossible."
"Impossible?" Gandalf joined the conversation for the first time. "Yesterday, you would have said that it is impossible for a single creature to freeze you where you stand by a simple look, and less than two years ago, you would have said it was impossible for a ring to rule the fate of all living creatures. I do not think that impossible is the word you wish to use."
A silence fell as all considered the wizard's words. Finally, Aragorn broke the silence. "Gandalf, do you know who, or what, this creature is that attacked us?"
Gandalf met Aragorn's eyes and the two merely stared at each other for several long seconds. "Yes, I know," he answered simply. "And Legolas is right, it was no elf!"
Another silence reigned, and everyone leaned toward the wizard expectantly. Once again, it was Aragorn who broke the silence. "Will you not tell us then? Any creature who can unite the orcs and bring them into Gondor once more is of great concern to me."
"I will tell you," Gandalf answered. "But now is not the proper time or place. You must wait a bit longer."
"Wait!" Aragorn exclaimed, rising to his feet. "You keep telling me to wait, but what I wish to know is when will it be the proper time and place? If Gondor is in danger, a single lost moment could be deadly!"
"The story I have is long and dark. Too dark to be told out here in the wild, for I fear that if would cause the hearts of some of this party to despair." The wizard gave a barely perceptible nod of his head toward the hobbits. "Also, this story involves the members of our fellowship, and thus should remain with these members." Again, Gandalf motioned toward the spot where the three guards sat huddled. "When we reach Minas Tirith, we will hold council, and you shall know all that I do. Until that time, I pray that you sit down and be at peace, Heir of Isuldir, and trust me the way you once did."
Aragorn sighed and sank back to the ground. It was clear that he was still frustrated, and a tense silence followed.
"Perhaps now is the time for you to tell us your tale," Gandalf said, looking at Legolas.
Legolas nodded. "Yes, for it deals with what we have just spoken of, and has just recently become more clear to me."
All eyes once more turned to Legolas as he began to tell his tale. He studied the faces of his listeners as he talked. The three guards looked confused, the hobbits looked frightened, Gimli looked thoughtful, Aragorn looked dark and dangerous, and Gandalf showed no expression at all.
By the time Legolas ended his tale, the rain was beginning to lessen to a drizzle and the thunder was becoming more distant. Aragorn rose once more and began pacing, muttering under his breath. The hobbits all sat clustered close to each other, eyeing the dark shadows of the forest around them, as if expecting orcs and other dark creatures to come jumping out at them at any moment.
"You said the story has become more clear to you," Gimli wondered, "how so?
"One of the things that confused and troubled me most was that the slain elves had drawn no weapons. I believe I understand that now. If that creature can freeze its prey, it is no wonder they could not fight back."
"How do we know that the creature we saw last night was the same one who wrote that message and killed those elves?" Gimli asked, curious.
"I am certain," Legolas said, "for I had a dream right before I left for Minas Tirith."
As Legolas told the others of his dream, Gandalf's face showed his first reaction. He seemed excited, and when Legolas had finished, the wizard immediately turned to him.
"If you have another dream, tell me about it immediately," he said. "Even if you think it is not important."
Legolas promised that he would, and Gandalf seemed lost deep in thought.
"A message written in blood..." Frodo cut off as a shudder ran through his body.
"And with our names on it!" Sam exclaimed. "That's the part I don't like!"
"I was hoping it was just an accident that we ran into that thing!" Merry added. "To think that it's actually out there somewhere, hunting us..."
"I don't think we should be talking about it." Pippin's voice was a little higher than normal. "Besides, I don't think that thing will dare come close again. Not with Gandalf here."
"That's right, we're perfectly safe now that you're here, right Gandalf?" All four hobbits looked to Gandalf for his answer.
"Of course," Gandalf said quietly, and the hobbits all relaxed. Legolas and Gimli, however, had not missed the slight hesitation in the wizard's words, and they now exchanged glances. They did not have long to ponder this, however, for Gandalf rose. "It seems the storm has worn itself out, just as you said it would, Legolas. We will be departing soon."
The guards rose and headed for the horses, and the hobbits began to repack the supplies. Legolas and Gimli followed the guards, talking quietly between themselves. Gandalf caught Aragorn's eye and motioned the man over to him.
"What are your plans?" Aragorn asked softly.
The wizard glanced around him and sighed. We will stop once more at dusk, to light our torches, and then we will travel on through the night. It is my hope to reach Minas Tirith as early as possible the day after tomorrow."
"I will be glad when we arrive," Aragorn said tiredly, then turned to go and help the others prepare for the journey.
Gandalf remained standing, peering into the surrounding trees. "If we arrive," he said softly, "I too shall be very happy. Very happy indeed!"