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The sound of violent waters dies slowly, even as the daylight fades. Twilight is falling, the fire is dying, and yet the coming darkness seems less dark somehow. The terror is gone, as if the raging waters have swept away Fear itself. Hearing only an echo of the piercing shrieks of the Shadow horses, from the relief I now feel—it felt like every hair on my body stood stiff, along with every muscle in my body, and now I am nearly limp—from the relief, I gather that the Fell Riders have been washed away. And Master?
Despite my weariness, I move from the scant protection of the trees, pulling to the end of my rope, to crane in the direction of the Ford. The white one, when last I saw him, was neighing his defiance, even as the Master raised his sword in the face of the foremost Rider.
The white one still stands, that much I can see, but he stands alone at the top of the bank. His saddle is empty.
My breaths echo in my ears. Were I man or hobbit, I would weep.
I hear the Man arguing with the hobbits. They would cross at once; he tells them the water must recede still further. No, Samwise, he says, and he is holding my Sam back from the water's edge, lest you too be swept away... and what good would you do your master then?
My Sam's shoulders slump, but he stands, and the other two with him, at the edge of the swift water.
The Shining One returns to me, with a quick stroke for my out-thrust muzzle, and a soft word of praise for my standing. He pours water upon the fire with a hissing of steam and smoke and ash, and I jump at the sound, but I do not fight to break free of my rope. I am wiser, or perhaps his nearness is enough to bring calm to my tattered nerves. He stirs the mess, rakes through it with his stick, stamps out a last spark, and comes to me.
'Come, lad,' he says, pulling on my rope, and the knot unravels as if it hears him. 'Come now.' His voice is low and grave, and I rub my face on his sleeve as if one so insignificant as a pack pony could offer comfort.
He smiles faintly, and we walk together to the river's edge.
'Pippin's smallest and lightest,' the Man says, in the tones of one continuing an earlier conversation, and he taps youngest hobbit's shoulder, and then when youngest turns, takes him under the arms and lifts him into the air, laying him upon the pile on my back. 'Hold tight,' he says, and youngest nods.
Then the Man crouches before my Sam, and my Sam climbs upon his back much as a half-grown child might, and not-merry is doing the same with the Elf-lord; the tall ones rise to their feet once more, and with one accord we brave the water, lower than it was, but still swift enough that we must pick our way with care, placing each foot firmly before lifting another. The water is high enough to soak the lower bundles on my back, but it hardly seems to matter. And then the water seems lower, ever more shallow, and at last it foams around our knees as we splash our way to the bank.
The tall ones let the hobbits slip down, and youngest hobbit slides from his high seat, landing with a yelp upon his sore and weary feet, but then he is immediately climbing the steep, muddy bank, slipping and falling in his haste, and the other hobbits right with him. The Elf-lord is swift and sure in making his way. His feet do not slip, nor does he stumble, and he passes the hobbits on their way.
The Big Man takes my rope, but lets me pick my own way. The path is treacherous with mud, for the water rose high indeed from the look of it, and perhaps the Master fell and was swept away. Because I am careful of the path, we reach the top at the heels of the hobbits.
I cannot believe it of the white one, that he would let the Master fall, but there he stands, guarding the crumpled figure at his feet. His eye meets mine, and his head droops a little before he gives his mane a little shake and lifts his face again. He is ashamed, that much is clear to me, and yet determined that nothing shall drive him from the Master's side.
The Man speaks a sharp word of warning, Don't move him! but the hobbits have already thrown themselves down beside Master, not-merry turning him over and pulling him into his lap, my Samwise taking his hands, and youngest, mud-smeared hobbit smoothing the hair back from Master's pale face, entreating him to speak.
But Master makes no move, nor sound, and the Elf-lord's face is very grave indeed.
The Man drops my rope and kneels down beside the little group. 'Let me see him,' he says, his voice gentle.
'Frodo,' sobs youngest hobbit. 'Frodo, please...!'
'Let me see him,' the Man repeats, and he reaches a hand to the Master's throat, laying his fingers with great delicacy upon the skin, holding his breath as the smell of dread intensifies on him.
'Let me,' he says again, but does not finish. His hands undo the Master's shirt buttons, slowly, carefully.
'Is he...?' not-merry says, and catches his breath in a sob, his eyes on the Man's face.
The Man lays his head down, nay, his ear down rather; lays his ear to the Master's breast, and I think we all hold our breath as he listens.
'So cold,' my Sam whispers at last, and shudders. Though his legs are soaked from the river waters and night's chill is wrapping around us, I do not think he speaks of himself.
The Man raises his head, his face terrible to behold. 'Glorfindel,' he says.
The Elf-lord bows down to lay his hand flat against the bared breast. Grief slowly suffuses his countenance, dim as it is in the failing light, and he shakes his head.
No-o-o-o-o, from youngest, a keening wail, and he falls upon the Master in a desperate embrace.
And, Frodo, murmurs not-merry, in a voice so broken that it is as if the very spirit in him has been crushed in this moment.
'C-cold,' whispers my Sam. 'So cold.'
A/N: Some text taken from “Flight to the Ford” and “Many Meetings” from Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, and woven into the narrative.
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