The Adventures
of
Frodo Gardner

Volume II
Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 7, Part 37
In Memory of a Friend
(December 10, 1451)

Up rode a tall and striking man with raven curls and sharp green eyes, in the green and brown livery of the Rangers of Ithilien. The brigands hesitated as he called out again, "Lay down your arms! Bergil son of Beregond commands you in Tar Elessar's name!" More soldiers rode up behind Bergil, and they all wore the black and silver uniform of Gondor. "Put down the bow, you in the russet cloak. My bowmen are swifter and more sure."
 
"How do you know?" the man protested, but he dropped his weapon.
 
"It is not so difficult," said Bergil, as he dismounted to pick the weapons up while his men covered him. "You are plainly from Rohan, yet a thousand clues about how you ride, how you dress, even how you secure your gear, betray that you have never served even a year in your nation's army." He pulled a drawn sword from the snow, shook his head over its ill-used blade, wiped it dry and found its sheath nearby. "I do not doubt your raw talent--you would not have gotten far in your trade without it. But anyone who knows the handling of arms can see that your band has had naught but the most haphazard training."
 
As Bergil bent to put arrows back in a flung quiver, a bandit jumped him from horseback; Bergil flipped him so fast they blurred--and soon held the man's own knife to the scruffy throat. "You are fortunate that I resisted you," Bergil said with a deadly softness that nevertheless carried across the snow. "Had I fallen to the ground but a second, my men would have filled you with arrows like a Mordor-shrub with thorns." He made a gesture with his head and two of the soldiers dismounted to bind his prisoner. "Put him back on his horse," the ranger said. "Bind all their hands, and put all their horses onto one lead rope."
 
The leader cried, "But I've done nothing worse than slay one animal! We are not robbers by trade, but only desperate men, denied what we would gladly gain by coin."
 
Bergil stood over Billie-Lass, studying the wound in the neck, and the arrow in the hindquarter. The blood still steamed a bit, but her eyes had glazed for good. His voice grew colder still when he said, "Those who would kill an animal for no good reason practice to kill men. But where is the pony's rider?"
 
"Here," said Frodo, shaking, as he stepped from behind the pukel-man. He held Sting bare a long moment, glaring at the blonde man, before he sheathed it.
 
Bergil shook his head and smiled. "I might have guessed. You are not the first traveler saved by the Woses, in person or in stone. All of these statues have a virtue in them for protecting the innocent from harm. But come, Frodo Gardner. The King has long watched...Master Frodo?"
 
Frodo ignored the use of his name and went over to Billie-Lass. A wind carried the last wisp of steam away and dusted the body with crystalline flakes. He dropped to his knees there in the snow, and felt its cold and wet seep through his trouser-knees, but the tears on his cheeks burned hot. His hand reached towards the neck but then hesitated. It would feel dead, he thought. Petting the fur with the warmth bled from it, the responsive muscles that would have turned the head to him gone all limp instead, that would feel all wrong. So he drew back his hand and trembled violently in the chill.
 
Bergil hunkered down beside him. "I can see that this beast meant much to you," he said.
 
"She and I were foals together. She...that came out wrong." He tried to laugh at himself but it choked. "I remember witnessing her birth. I was quite young, myself, don't you know, and terrified by the whole process--but all my terror turned to wonder when suddenly there she was, all wet and weak and gangly, but very much alive, trying to stand on legs that looked too long and skinny for her. She gave me a nuzzle before she found her mother's teat, and Papa said, 'That settles it, Frodo lad--the pony's meant for you." Frodo turned a damp face to Bergil. "She was born knowing me, Bergil, or so at least it seemed."
 
Bergil nodded. He took a lace from his pouch and bound a lock from Billie-Lass's mane, then cut it free and handed it to the hobbit. "Braid it into something you can keep about you to remember her by. I can see she served you well."
 
Frodo accepted the lock and said, "She died a hero. I think she saved my life." He pictured himself writing that into his letter and cringed at the thought of having to tell Papa. The dark side of adventure hit home, then--people really did die in the old tales. The deaths didn't just happen to spice things up with a bit of danger. Somebody ceased to breathe for good, and somebody else mourned.
 
"Funny thing was," he said, "I didn't actually ride her all that much, at least not before this trip. My sibs and I liked to go on long hikes, you see, and she'd come along with all the picnic-gear on her back." He laughed briefly through his tears. "It takes a whole lot of picnic to feed growing hobbits--poor Billie-Lass! But she'd trot along beside us right cheerfully, like she was just one of the children, and she'd hang out with us when we found our spot to play, grazing peacefully nearby. She was just always there." And a new flood of tears overtook him, so that he had to kind of crumple up around his grief.
 
"Your pony deserves a cairn beside the pukel-man," Bergil said suddenly, standing. "I can find space enough over here, I think."
 
The men groaned at the order to gather stones, and one complained, "But night is falling already!"
 
"Then search quickly while you still have light. I will not see any faithful creature left for carrion, least of all this one. I watched the little steed from a distance, racing through the woods and down the treacherous road. If I could ignore such service I'd be as bad as this one," Bergil said with a gesture to the blonde man. Then his eyes widened as he glanced at Frodo's back--and lifted from it the broken arrow, still clinging to the fabric it had pierced.
 
"Only a slayer of beasts, indeed!" he raged at the blonde man. "Had this halfling not worn mail, I would have hauled you in for murder! As it stands you shall face trial at least for the attempt, and you shall pay dearly for the pony's life as well."
 
"Not all beasts run on four legs," the man muttered, glowering at Frodo, but the soldier guarding him cuffed him, so he said no more.
 
Working together, the men got the cairn built just in time. They all stood in silence around the mound as the last light faded. Bergil asked Frodo if he had any words to say, but the hobbit shook his head. "I think I've said it all." After a respectful interval the ranger lifted the little gardener up onto the saddle in front of him, with all of Frodo's gear distributed among the men (except for the long-lost bedroll) and they rode off for Minas Tirith, moving cautiously down the night-black road. Snow did not feel so numb as Frodo in that hour.

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