NINE RINGS IN MORDOR
(with apologies to Roger Zelazny)
The hot ashes dropping from my pipe jerked me back to wakefulness and I swore quietly to avoid waking the hobbits sharing the room with me. One of them, I think it was the one named Merry, stirred briefly but settled back down again. Good. They had questions that I hadn’t thought of answers for yet.
Puffing my pipe back into life I silently crossed the room and snuck a peek out the window at the Prancing Pony across the street. It peeked back at me, looking like every other tavern in every other town in which men had settled across Middle Earth. I watched carefully for a bit. No one saw me of course. I could have walked down the street in broad daylight and not attract much attention to myself if I wanted, so keeping out of sight at night in the pouring rain which was now sweeping through Bree was a piece of cake.
It suddenly struck me that every time something of import was about to happen it was at night and raining. I wondered if there was some correlation but there was enough else on my mind this evening to keep me from trying to figure it out.
I turned from the window and examined the hobbit they called Frodo. He stirred fitfully in his sleep and his hand gripped something tightly through the fabric of his shirt.
Oh yes. I had more than enough on my mind.
It was all Gandalf’s fault, really. I was in the forests north of Rivendell preparing to stew some rabbits that had been careless enough to wander into my snares. It was beginning to rain and I was struggling to get a fire started when I heard a stealthy step behind me.
Casually, I picked up another stick and took a step forward as if to toss it into my small fire then suddenly spun with my sword out and ready.
“Very good, Aragorn!” said the bearded figure leaning on his staff at the edge of the small clearing. “But shouldn’t you have the courtesy of finding out who your visitor is before attempting to run them through?”
“Gandalf!” I cried, sheathing my sword and stepping forward to clasp his offered hand. “It is good to see you! How did you know where to find me?”
“Elrond said you had gone hunting for a few days. I knew this glade was one of your favorite haunts so it was an obvious place to look.”
“Elrond.” I said with some bitterness as I turned back to my fire. “He probably hopes a visit from an old friend will delay my return for a while longer.” I tossed a handful of damp twigs onto the fire and watched them smolder ineffectually. “He doesn’t have to worry; I’ll keep my distance from there for a while.”
“Arwen again?” he asked, walking around and squatting opposite the fire from me. “All fathers feel the same way about their daughters, whether they are fifteen or fifteen hundred years old. No man is ever good enough for their daughter.”
I swore briefly in Elvish then added a few words of Dwarvish for effect. “That’s the problem.” I said. “Noman will ever be good enough for his daughter. Least of all me.”
Gandalf smiled, taking out his pipe. “You do not give yourself enough credit, my friend.” he said. He packed some pipeweed into his pipe then added quietly, “You could be king, you know.”
I stared at him as he said that. I call Gandalf my friend and Illuvitor knows there are few enough that I have called by that term; too many of whom I have helped bury. But he also knows of my heritage and of why I do not speak of it so it bothered me to have him bring it up.
“I am no king.” I said, turning my attention back to the fire.
Gandalf smiled again and, taking a draw from his pipe, blew the smoke upon the fire. Instantly it blazed up, nearly burning my eyebrows as I lept back. Neat trick, that. I had forgotten how much he liked playing with fire.
“You didn’t come out here to talk about my romance problems.” I said, pulling out my own pipe and accepting the pouch of pipe-weed he offered. “What brings Gandalf the Grey to the edge of the Misty Mountains on an evening such as this?”
“I have found the Ring.” he said, simply.
I didn’t have a reply for that so I finished packing my pipe and lit it from the fire. Old Toby, I noticed. Apparently he had been visiting the Shire again. I took a deep pull from my pipe and held the smoke for a moment, looking at him, before releasing it in a long stream. Though part of me wanted to deny it another knew what he was trying to say. Plus it was at night and raining so something of import must be about to happen.
“What ring?” I asked, more casually than I felt.
“The Ring.” he said, much more seriously. “The One Ring. Isuldur’s Bane.”
I swore again, this time throwing in some more Dwarvish and adding an Orcish phrase or two for good measure. Great blasphemers, those Orcs.
“Where?” I asked, and he told me of his discoveries in the Shire. How a simple hobbit named Bilbo had found the Ring years ago and how it was now in the possession of his nephew, Frodo.
I sighed. “So you want me to avoid the Shire too? Don’t worry. Maybe I’ll just head over to Mirkwood for a while. Say a decade or two.”
“Oh no!” he said, startled. “I need your help. Frodo and his companion, Samwise Gamgee, will be arriving at the Prancing Pony Inn in Bree in a few days. I need you to meet them there and escort them to Rivendell. I have business at Isengard and may not be able to make it back before they get there.”
I stared at him for several seconds, certain that I had not heard him correctly. “Let me get this straight. You want me, the descendant of Isuldur, to escort someone carrying the One Ring to Rivendell, the ruler of which is already angry with me for what he considers to be an inappropriate relationship with his daughter? What next — should I take a brief stroll through Mordor while I’m at it?”
“It may come to that.” he said in a low, grave voice. “The reason the Ring needs an escort is that the ruler of Mordor is also aware of its whereabouts. Even now the Nine are abroad and searching for it.”
I started to swear again and suddenly realized that I was out of curses. Apparently it was time to start studying Orcish again. I had a feeling I was going to need an expanded vocabulary soon.