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The Riddle of Strider  by Mirach

I'm sorry for the long delay again. I do intend to finish the story, but real life and writer's block is happening a lot...

5. From the ashes a fire shall be woken

Thorin. Thorin was just this pale when he last saw him. His hair and beard damp and matted, black bruises and smears of blood dark against his pale skin. Thorin, dying in a tent after the Battle of the Five Armies. He looked just like that…

"…have matches, or tinderbox, at least?"

Bilbo snapped out of the memory, realizing Elrond was asking him something, and his voice was urgent. But he still couldn't tear his gaze away from the Dúnadan's face. It looked so much like Thorin's in those last moments…

"Bilbo! Do you have something we could make a fire with?" Elrond repeated his question loudly, and Bilbo finally looked at him and understood the question.

"I don't know…" he murmured, trying to remember if he took something like that when they hastily left the Last Homely House. He searched his pockets. There was a little piece of parchment and coal that he always carried in case a rhyme came to his mind, a coin from Lake-town, an interesting smooth stone and two handkerchiefs. No matches or tinderbox. He turned the pockets inside out, emptying them of all their contents, but that didn't cause any matches or tinder materialize in them. What does he have in his pocketses?, an unpleasant voice whispered in his mind. Nothing. Nothing useful at all, my Preciouss! "It seems that I don't," he said with a sinking feeling.

Elrond was not looking at Bilbo as the hobbit was doing the inspection of his pockets. His attention was turned to the Dúnadan, checking his pulse, his breathing, his wounds. From the urgency of his asking for fire, the Man was alive, but not for long without it. With the answer, Elrond still didn't turn, but Bilbo could see the clenching of his jaw even from behind. His throat constricted. Why did he just have to bring those two stupid handkerchiefs instead of something that would be actually useful - like matches!

"I will take care of the fire," he found himself suddenly saying, his voice firm even through the howling wind. There was no one else who could do it. Bilbo did not have much heat to spare and did not know much about healing either, and so his role was clear, however hard it seemed.

Elrond looked at him. "You will…" he nodded with such a firm trust that Bilbo felt he will do everything in his power to not fail it. Slowly, he stood up, gathering the ranger's limp body in his arms and drawing his own cloak over him. "We will find a better shelter where you can do it," he said.

They walked back down the path just for a few minutes. The horse followed Elrond on its own, and so Bilbo didn't wait until they found a shelter, but gathered as much wood as he could get close to the path. He did not know how he would light it, but at least he would have the wood ready. He had enough time to gather it, as Elrond walked slowly, taking care with every step on the uneven terrain not to harm the one he carried with any sudden jostling.

In the end, the shelter was just a rock face that protected their backs from the swirling wind. Elrond made the horse lie down and between his body and the horse's, he created a little sheltered place for the Dúnadan. There he tried to search for all wounds and feel if there are broken bones or inner injuries. But his fingers were cold and without much feeling, and the moon hidden behind the clouds left them in darkness. Without the light of fire, he wasn't able to do much.

Bilbo's feet belied his age as he nimbly ran around, still gathering suitable wood. It was all cold and damp from the snow, but the fine little twigs of dwarf pines that he found on the way should burn well, if he could start the fire with something. He tried to think about that as he gathered the wood. He was used to the comfort of starting his fires with matches, or at least flint and steel, but he remembered a few occasions in their journey there and back again, when the Dwarves would manage without them. And quite a few occasions when they didn't because the wood was too wet or wind too strong, leading to some of the most miserable, cold and wet nights. That thought was not encouraging, so he focused on the first one.

An idea came. "Doesn't the Dúnadan have a tinderbox?" he asked Elrond.

Shivering himself as his body heat was shared between two, Elrond looked up. "No, I checked that," he said tiredly. "Probably in his pack, buried somewhere under the ravine…"

"Oh. Alright then. I will think of something," Bilbo assured him. Flint and steel and tinder, he thought. Or rubbing two pieces of wood? No, let's stay with flint and steel, the wood is too wet… Steel they had – he saw Elrond carrying a dagger, and he had Sting. Even in haste, he remembered to take it, unlike matches. But they were not the right kind of steel, the one that makes sparks. One that was not used for making weapons, unless of low quality. But how about… the belt buckle! It wasn't a weapon and didn't need to be of best steel… But he needed a flint to try it. Flint is a kind of stone, right? And there were plenty of stones around…

Elrond was watching him now, and when he saw what Bilbo was searching for, he immediately got up. „Take my place. If you are looking for flint, my eyes are better in the dark. Alert me if his heart or breathing slows, or if there is any other change."

Bilbo took Elrond's place at the Dúnadan's side, keeping one hand on his pulse and a worried look on his face. The man's hands were as cold as ice. He wasn't sure if it was good or bad, but there was no change while Elrond was looking for the right kind of stone.

"Utúvienyes!" – a soft cry came from somewhere down the path. From what Bilbo understood Elvish, it seemed Elrond had found what he was looking for. Soon enough he heard his footsteps hurriedly approaching. Bilbo almost didn't have time to get up – his old knees protested the movement – before Elrond gave him the stone and took his place again, calling to the man softly in Elvish.

Bilbo hit the stone with the belt buckle, and after a few tries managed to produce a few sparks. Pleased with the result, put both down. Flint and steel he had, now to find some tinder. Looking around, he saw only twisted trees and stones. That will have to do. The stems of birches were visible in the dark with their white bark, and Bilbo soon found one. With Sting, he cut several stripes from the bark and shredded its dry inner layer to little pieces. That's how the Dwarves used to do it. He also remembered Fili saying something about fat wood. What kind of wood was that? Oh yes! The pines… There were many pines around, some of them broken by the wind. He searched the stumps for pieces of wood saturated with resin, and soon gathered enough for both tinder and kindling.

He returned to the shelter of the rock wall and started working, preparing everything for the fire before he would awaken the first spark: a little nest of finely cut tinder, small pieces of kindling that will catch fire easily and bigger pieces of wood to feed it once it starts burning…

He placed it all between the rock wall and himself, shielding his little workspace from the wind. He could still hear Elrond calling the name of Estel, but he pushed that out of his mind, focusing on the little flame he needed to wake in the cold darkness.

First sparks fell on the ground next to the tinder. Wrong angle. Again.

The next ones were cold before they hit the flammable material. Closer. Again.

Now the angle and distance was right, but the tinder did not catch. Again.

Then a sudden gust of wind extinguished them right as the tinder started to smoke. Again.



And again…

So many tries with no result.

Bilbo had started to get desperate. It was cold and dark, and the wind was chilling him to the bone. He could barely feel his hands anymore, and many of his sparks not went astray.

Again? It had no meaning… There was no hope for fire here…


Elrond's words registered in his mind.

Please Estel, follow my voice…



Again. Fire was the hope in the darkness. Again, again, again!

A spark caught into a flame. Bilbo almost didn't notice it at first, so used he was to the sight of sparks getting cold. Then he held his breath, shielding the little flame with his hands protectively. It was just a little wisp, so tender and weak. One wrong movement might extinguish it. But the flame found nourishment in the tinder and a few carefully placed splinters moved it to the kindling. It was bigger now, but still so vulnerable. A gust of wind almost blew out Bilbo's hopes. The flame disappeared, but after the wind passed, it sprang to life again from the red-hot embers. Soon it danced over the kindling merrily, and Bilbo dared to add a bigger piece of wood to it.

As the circle of light grew around the little fire, he noticed Elrond's eyes glinting in it as he watched with a careful hope.

The fire was now steady, and Bilbo wiped sweat from his brow. "Here's your fire," he said, because he didn't know what else to say.

Elrond nodded thankfully and moved the Dúnadan closer to the light and warmth of its flames. He put the cloak aside to warm by them and used the light to examine the man's wounds. Without needing to be told, Bilbo busied himself with making a tripod so that he could put a waterskin above the fire to heat some water – he knew it wouldn't catch fire since there was enough water in it.

"No inner injuries," Elrond said after a while with some relief.

"What's wrong then?" Bilbo asked, although he knew Elrond was talking more to himself than to an old Hobbit who didn't know much of healing.

"Broken shoulder-blade, bruised ribs, a hit to the head and almost frozen," Elrond counted with a sigh.

"Will he be alright… with the fire?" Bilbo dared to ask.

"We shall see when morning comes," Elrond just said, covering the man with the heated cloak heated.

Bilbo sat down from the other side of the fire, intent on keeping it burning through the whole night and until the morning.

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