Recipient's name: aliensouldream
Title: The Frozen Lake
Request: Any Fellowship members celebrating Yule or having a wintry adventure.
Author's notes: I love a good wintry adventure, and a bit of mystery! Hopefully you enjoy the fic :)
Summary: A hobbit, lost alone in the woods, comes upon a stranger.
A crack, echoing through the forest. A branch, perhaps, broken under the foot of a wild animal? Just the thought of it puts her on alert, scanning the trees around her for movement.
Nothing but falling snow.
The cold air burns in Elanor’s lungs. She has been outside, alone, for three days.
A snowstorm. That was all it took.
Annúminas is to the north; guiding herself by the position of the sun, she heads in that direction as directly as she can, hoping that soon she will stumble across a small settlement of some kind, or a road, or any other sign that she is not lost forever in the wilderness.
Hobbits are not particularly good at being lost in the wilderness, much as they may like their walking holidays.
Near sunset on the third day she comes to a small frozen lake, an almost perfect blue-white circle surrounded by trees, their branches heavy with thick coats of snow.
She has been melting snow for water, but perhaps the lake water will be fresher? Or will it have stagnated under the ice? She has no way to know, and not enough knowledge of surviving in the wilds to guess. Still, it is getting late, and the shelter of the trees will be helpful tonight.
When she lost the others in the storm, she was carrying one of the canvas sheets that made up their tent, as well as her thick bedroll. She has no poles, and the canvas is only part of a larger whole, but she has twine and, attached to tree branches, it can shield her from wind and falling snow.
Elanor is setting up her meagre shelter when she hears another crack, the sound uncomfortably loud and close. She looks up.
A great white wolf has paused with one paw on the ice of the frozen lake. As she watches, it retracts the paw and steps back on the bank, huffing to itself, its warmth breath making a great cloud of white smoke in the air.
Time seems to slow. She dare not move; she dare not breathe. She has no weapon, no way to defend herself. If the wolf should come for her, she has no defence.
Perhaps it smells her, because it looks up and they lock eyes, her green and its yellow. For a moment it seems to frown. She holds her breath.
Then one ear flicks; the wolf has caught a sound. Huffing to itself again, it turns and lopes off into the trees, towards the south, away from Elanor.
She lets out a loud breath and slumps backward, her hands trembling. “Wolves don’t hunt Hobbits and Men unless they’re very hungry,” she hears her father’s voice say in her mind.
Pippin had added, “Unless they’re wargs,” and her mother had scolded him for scaring her child.
When she opens her eyes again, a tall, dark-cloaked figure is standing in front of her.
Elanor shoots to her feet, even as the figure raises a hand in a peaceful gesture. “Who are you?” she demands.
“Peace, friend,” the man says. He towers over her; a Man, and a tall one, garbed in dark travelling gear. He pulls back his hood to reveal a weathered but handsome face, with deep, wise eyes. “You are Elanor Gamgee, are you not? The Hobbit who went missing travelling to Annúminas?”
“How do you know that?” she asks, still suspicious.
“I have come to look for you.” He glances over at her shelter. “You will not need that; Annúminas is not but two hours walk northward. You have come a long way.” He smiles slightly. “I should have expected that.”
An odd thing to say. Elanor makes no move toward the canvas. “Why?”
“I know your father,” the man says cryptically. “Now, let us retrieve your tent, and be off.”
The Man – Elanor has an idea that he is one of the Dúnedain, as he certainly looks the part – says no more as he takes down her scrap of canvas, as easily as if he had been born doing it. He rolls it and carries it on his own back, despite her protests. “This way we are carrying equal loads,” he explains, quite reasonably.
“You have not yet told me how you know my father,” Elanor says as they start away from the lake.
“No, I have not,” the stranger replies, his eyes scanning their path forward.
After a moment of looking at him with what she considers her most shrewd expression, Elanor says, “I believe you are one of the Dúnedain.”
The stranger smiles. “And what makes you believe that?”
“A tall man in dark garb, at home in the wilderness, who does not give his name but claims to know my father. I believe, sir, that you must have accompanied King Elessar at the field of Pelennor and the assault on the Morannon, and there met my father, on the field at Cormallen perhaps, or in the White City at the King’s wedding.”
“An impressive piece of detective work,” the stranger says. “You might even be right.”
Elanor sighs. “But you will refuse to tell me the truth.”
The stranger laughs. “The truth can wait until we are inside, by the warmth of the fire, dear friend,” he says.
The land begins to change as they walk north, shifting from flat forest to undulating hills and valleys. Soon the trees thin, and then they crest a large hill – and the city of Annúminas is laid out below them.
Much of it still lies in ruins, but even in ruins the glory of the once proud city is clearly evident. At the centre the new palace has been raised from the bones of the old, and the streets around it have been rebuilt; lights flicker in the windows of houses and stables and shops, and the sound of metal hammer striking metal anvil echoes clearly up to them on the hill. With it comes the smell of cooking meat, the sound of voices, and a faint melody being played on strings. It seems so close, Elanor feels she might reach out and touch it.
“You have not seen Annúminas before,” her companion says quietly.
“Never. I’ve never left the Shire before.” She turns to look at him. The expression on his face is odd; somewhere between sorrowful and fond, almost proud. “What is it?”
“I simply remember starting a journey with four other hobbits who had never left the Shire before,” he says, the hint of a smile curling his lips.
She tilts her head at him. “What?”
He shakes his head. “Come. We should get inside.”
The gates of the city stand open; foot traffic and a few horses come back and forth, the bright noise of people warming Elanor’s heart. For a little while, lost in the woods, she had thought she would never see another soul again.
The stranger leads her to the palace, through its modest gate and into the courtyard. “Here is where I leave you,” he says, nodding toward the opposite wall. “I can see your father there.”
Elanor turns; indeed, a party of hobbits are gathered near one of the doors leading into the palace. Already they have spotted her, and are hurrying in her direction.
“I will see you soon, no doubt, and tell the story beside the fire, as I promised,” the stranger says with a smile, and then he is gone into the crowd.
Her father joins her half a minute later, and gathers her into a big hug. “I was so worried,” he mutters. As he releases her and lets her mother hug her as well, he says happily, “I knew Strider would find you, though.”
Elanor whips her head round to look at him. “Strider? But didn’t you say- isn’t Strider- I mean, he’s the King-”
“And he’s been up to his usual tricks, I see,” Pippin says, shaking his head.
“Father-” Elanor says again, though not quite sure what she’s protesting.
“Not up to me to question the ways of kings,” her father says decidedly, though with the hint of a smile. “Come on, El. Let’s get you inside.”
Elanor follows him in through the doors, already deep in thought.
It might not be proper to demand answers of Kings, but there’s nothing to stop her concocting an insistent inquiry.