From the Ashes a Fire Shall be Woken
By Dolores J. Nurss
Chapter 32, Part 279
Confrontation with the King
Frodo slammed open the great, iron-bound doors with surprising muscle for one so short. He stalked down the halls; then, when he heard courtiers cry out and hasten after him, he ran. The second set of doors he pushed at a flying leap, bewildering the guards, who immediately crossed their halberds before him with the speed of long-drilling, their reflexes trained to a full-sized man, before they realized that he’d ducked underneath and kept on running.
“Halt! Halt!” More and more voices cried out behind him, and soon to the left and right as well, as soldiers issued out of side-halls. He scrambled under furniture and out again in unexpected places. For long minutes everyone lost sight of him, before somebody discovered that he had somehow made his way to the tops of a series of bookcases, gaining quite a lead above their heads, hopping the gaps between.
Now sufficient rules lay broken at their feet to justify the archers to let fly. Arrows whistled through the air and no few met their mark, for poor shots never made it into the Citadel Guard. Soon Frodo bristled skeletal wings of dowel and fletch, arrows flapping uselessly from the back of his jacket, for of course he wore his father’s mithril coat beneath.
He took a wild leap to a chandelier, swung out over their heads, and tumbled to the carpet behind them, rolling back to his feet (breaking arrows) while they crashed into each other in their haste to turn around. In all of the distraction Frodo darted behind a statue, and they did not see which way he went after that, till someone finally spotted him and shouted, “To the stairs! Quickly!” and all the men in armor turned as one to run rattling and clanking down the staircase after the hobbit who rode much more swiftly down the bannister. They made such a commotion that none of them saw him hiding in a niche behind an urn, where no man could have fit, only a glint of eyes visible in the shadows. Then up he ran, huffing and puffing, but the guards made too much noise to hear him, as they pounded down the stairs.
“Fools!” he muttered. “How many of them have run three steps ahead of something fanged and hungry, dodging for their lives?” He made it back to the hall that he’d wanted in the first place, all alone. He paused to catch his breath and straighten out his clothing, trying to pull the last of the arrows out with as little ripping as possible. He tucked the pieces into an empty drawer in a console table, then threw open the final door.
The King whirled around in surprise, where he sat polishing his boots in his drawing-room. The boot fell to the floor as he leaped to his stocking’d feet and whipped out his blade before him, then stared dumbfounded at the red-faced hobbit in the doorway.
“How did you get...”
“How dare you call me back from Mordor!” Frodo shouted, jumping onto a chair and from there to the table and knocking off the tin of wax, to glare eye-to-eye with Tar Elessar. “How dare you make me leave, right at the height of planting season! Have I not...”
“Master Gardner, you have broken my law to...”
“Fine! Then exile me back where I belong! Clap me in chains, lash me if you must, but send me back!”
They glared at each other before the King broke out in chuckles that escalated to a hearty laugh as he sheathed his sword. “Your manners have lessened somewhat, my friend, from dwelling with the Nurnings,” he said, clapping him on the back.
“Oh, I quite agree–I am not the polite young hobbit that you once entertained here. I’m not fit company–so send me back to Mordor. They won’t mind me there.”
Elessar raised a brow. “You are not, perhaps...”
“No, I am not drunk! I am perfectly capable of making a fool of myself without any liquid assistance whatsoever, as I have proven time and again. Do you think that I could have evaded your fine soldiers while tripping over my own feet?”
The King’s smile returned. “Forgive my staring, Frodo, but when you first arrived I mistook you for your father, you have become so much like him–in appearances, at least.” He grabbed the hobbit under the arms and whisked him down to the floor, then tugged out from a corner the cushiony, sawed-down chair reserved for dwarf and hobbit visitors. “Sit down, Master Gardner. Have you eaten? No? Good. I shall tell everyone that forcing a hobbit to skip a meal is ample punishment for your infractions. I shall send you to bed without any supper as well, if it mollifies my officers. And yes, I know perfectly well that you have handled worse. Are those arrow-holes in your jacket?”
Frodo smiled despite himself. “Your guards have good aim, if little sense.”
“Oh, they have sense enough,” said Elessar, pouring himself a cup of tea and bringing the teapot to the hobbit. “Adaptability is what they lack. The usual run of malcontents, stalkers, and would-be assassins are so tediously predictable that my men have too little experience with people of imagination. I shall have to see to that in their training. You’ll find a cup on the shelf behind you. But don’t expect any cakes or biscuits to go with it. You are, after all, officially under a cloud of disapproval.” He sat down with a sigh and stretched out his bootless feet before him, white socks stained about the soles.
“Oh, now you remember your manners.”
“Your highness...Strider...why must you call me back?”
“Frodo, if you won’t have my tea, then you might as well make yourself useful and polish my boots.”
“Oh hang the boots! Don’t you have servants for that?”
“Alas, those Nurning manners...”
Frodo burst out with a Nurning expletive.
“I can see that you are upset, young sir.”
“Tell me WHY!” Frodo shouted.
“Why you are upset? Well, you should know better than I, yet I suppose because you fancy me lacking in any reason whatsoever to call you back.”
Frodo hissed something orkish that he had learned from Lanethil.
“If you are hoping that I know too little of the Black Tongue to realize what you’ve just now said, you have a flawed sense of my education.” The man reached over and poured into the cup. “Now, as I refuse to reward poor behavior (as a matter of policy, you understand) I must continue to provoke you until you school yourself no matter what I say–or fail to say, as the case may be. So please calm yourself enough to sip your tea–chamomile, as befits someone upset enough to risk his life to offend me,” (His smile did not look at all offended) “and at least pretend that a little maturity came along with that silver lock of yours. You have not been underage for some years, now, and can no longer hide behind that excuse.”
Frodo opened his mouth, closed it, then found that he didn’t have to come up with some retort after all, because pounding on the door interrupted them. The King drawled to him, “Answer that, will you?”
A red-faced captain with his guard behind him exclaimed, “Sir, are you all right? There was a...” and then he glanced down and realized who had opened the door.
Behind Frodo Tar Elessar smiled genially, cup raised, and said, “As you can see, good man, I have apprehended the rascal, myself. I have no further need of your services, thank you very much.”
“You have interrupted his punishment. Must I dismiss you twice?”
The man paled, shook his head, and closed the door.
“Drink your tea, Frodo. You will not get a word out of me until you pretend to some civility.”
Frodo sighed, sat down, and sipped at the tea. It actually tasted rather good.
When sufficient silence had passed, Strider rolled his cup between his hands and said, conversationally, “I recalled you, Frodo, because your life was in danger.”
Frodo choked on his tea. “Is that all? When in all these years have I been safe?”
Strider leaned forward, and became earnest. “I speak of a danger beyond any that you have ever known: one that you could not dodge nearly as easily as you evaded my men, or even as well as you have escaped dragons.” His voice dropped. “Shelob has left Cirith Ungol.”
That stopped Frodo short. But not for long. “Why should that concern me in particular? Miles and mountains and the Sea of Nurn lie between Seaside and her haunts.”
“Because my scouts have found her webs cast in a straight line headed towards Nurn. Shelob moves fast on eight legs, and mountains mean nothing to her. As for the sea, she can spin her own boats, as watertight and buoyant as anything a man could make. She has dwelled so long in her lair that most men have forgotten all that the Children of Ungoliant can do; yet as I have mentioned before, I have somewhat more education than you give me credit for.”
“But how can you be so sure that she seeks me out–all the way from Cirith Ungol?”
“I am not without resources beyond you, Frodo. I know that she seeks you, and no other.”
“How can she even know that I exist?”
“Oh, she knows. Scent travels miles on the wind, Frodo, for senses keener than those of man or hobbit, and Shelob has a better nose than a hunting hound. Sooner or later I suppose it had to happen, but she has detected a whiff of that which she can never forget, not in all her long years: the blood of the hero who wounded her more deeply than any ever had before or since. You carry that blood, Frodo Son of Samwise; she would not mistake the family resemblance. And if she forgets all else in a too-long life, she does not forget her grievances.”
Frodo straightened in his chair. “Well, then, I had better finish what my father started.”
“Don’t be still more of a fool! Only one blade survives from the days of Dungortheb still capable of piercing her hide, and it is far too short to pierce her heart. You have no hope against such an enemy.”
“Then Lanethil can make me a longer blade. We may have lost the swords, yet we have not lost all of the smiths of Gondolin.”
“And how would you wield it, if you cannot even lift it?”
“I would find a way.” Yet his voice sounded less certain of itself. “Isn’t that always what the Big Folk ask of hobbits? To find a way?”
Elessar put down his cup and shook his head. “Not this time. You would only succeed in drawing Shelob to your friends.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“How can you not? Frodo, lay your hand upon your lens, and ask it to magnify, from the darkest recesses of your own mind, every possibility of how matters might turn out–logically--if you attempt to take on Shelob on your own...go on...there...what do you see?”
The hobbit paled. “A variety of ways to die.”
He grew even paler. “Only when someone who loves me dies in my place.”
“Do any possible scenarios include Shelob’s death at your hand?”
The King nodded. “That is quite a nice piece of glasswork that you have decorated so strangely. One of the best things that my wife brought with her out of Rivendell, I should say.”
“Rivendell?” Frodo held it up. “Did this come all the way from there?”
“Of course it did. Did no one ever tell you that all adventures begin in Rivendell, one way or another?”
Frodo stared down at it, saying nothing.
Strider leaned back and sipped his tea. “I am glad that we have had this conversation, Frodo, even if I have to disappoint your desire to skewer Shelob. Your thoughts run closer to my own than you might realize. Do you remember a little matter of a sword that I commisioned from old Lanethil?”
“Yes, now that you mention it.”
“A king might bend the truth a bit for politics, preserving secrets of the realm. Yet you have already figured out enough that I must tell you–under strictest confidence–that I misled you. Sting is not, after all, the only blade fit to battle Shelob, though last it might be of the ancient hoards. And so we may lay that future victory at your feet, at least to share, for you alone succeeded in coaxing Lanethil back among us. Indeed,” he said, leaning forward with a glint in his eye, “A sword of power, forged by the Last Smith of Gondolin, would be a weapon worthy of a prince.”
“Eldarion, you mean?”
“Do not misjudge him by his tender looks. He has proven mighty in battle, worthy of a great sword.”
Frodo sighed, sipped his tea thoughtfully, and finally shrugged. “Well, that is something, anyway. I suppose that I am not really the hero type.”
The King looked on him gravely, yet with love. “Do not believe, Frodo, that heroes are found only on the battlefield, or do all great deeds with swords. For have you not saved a nation with your pruning-knife and hoe?”
Then Frodo felt abashed, and cast down his eyes. “I’m sorry that I came in so rudely, and broke your rules, and upset all your guards. If it’s best for my friends, then, I will leave them and Mordor behind.”
“And best for you, Frodo–and more to the point, best for Mattie. Or have you forgotten the promise of the Valier?”
Frodo looked up at that. “You don’t mean...”
Elessar grinned hugely. “You know that I am a foresighted man. Wouldn’t you rather have your only child born in the Shire?”
The guards heard the shouts clear down the hall, but misunderstanding, wondered what dreadful punishment the King in his wisdom had chosen to inflict.