Through Shadows to the Edge of Night
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 7, Part 37
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
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
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 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 that she served
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.