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The Riddle of Strider  by Mirach

Still decided to finish this, but it may be slow – my daughter was born 2 months ago. Thanks for the beta belongs to Cairistiona.

This chapter is also a response to the B2MeM prompts:
- “It was the possibility of darkness that made the day seem so bright” – Stephen King
- Lost & Found
- “On silver necklaces they strung… (etc.)”

6. A light from the shadows shall spring

Bilbo dozed off. He dreamt of darkness in the tunnels deep under the roots of the mountains. He was lost there. Abandoned by all, in darkness so complete that it was almost a palpable thing. It was ancient, undisturbed by any memory of light. Stars never shone here, a ray of sun never touched the cold stone. Alone, lost in the darkness. 

He awoke with a shudder and blinked in the light of a little fire. That nightmare again. And it was still dark behind the circle lit by flames. Maybe that's why it came. Still night without even a hint of dawn.

"Oh..." he murmured, when he realized he wanted to keep the fire going. But no, he never actually made that promise aloud. He only thought it to himself as a resolution. His look wandered across the fire. He saw Elrond sitting there, and the Dúnadan was lying in his embrace, covered with a cloak. Sleeping or unconscious, Bilbo couldn't tell. He saw that Elrond has been feeding the fire with the wood Bilbo gathered, but not much remained. Bilbo got up right away to get more. 

The fire created an island of light and warmth in the night. He shuddered when he left it, slipping into the night like into the cold water of an underground lake. It took a moment before his eyes adjusted to it, and for that moment the darkness seemed as impenetrable as the that in his dream. The wind chilled him to the bone. He understood why Elrond chose to wait until dawn. The ride to Rivendell would take several hours without any protection from the wind and cold. Here, they at least had the shelter of the rocks and the warmth of fire. But dawn would bring some warmth at least, and more light for a safe journey. The sky was already clearing. Maybe the day would be sunny after the unexpected snowfall. 

Now Bilbo was better able to see in the dark, so long as he didn't look back where the fire was burning. He walked up the uneven path, to bring more wood from the trees broken by the avalanche. That was when he started to feel guilty. Dúnadan went out of his way to dispatch the Orcs that followed Bilbo's tracks. If he hadn’t done that, he would have arrived here sooner, before the snowfall and the avalanche. It was like that roast mutton again. Yes, he did help to get them out of the predicament, a little, at least. But he was the one who got them into that predicament in the first place. And it was also dawn that saved them. Where was the sun now? The night seemed too long... 

He had just picked up the last branch he could fit into his arms and was about to return when he caught a glimmer out of the corner of his eye. He turned, but saw nothing interesting. Just stones covered in a thin layer of snow. He took a few more steps, disregarding the glimmer as a trick of his eyes. But something made him stop and turn back. He just couldn't let go of what he thought he saw. It was shiny. It could be something precious. A ring, maybe... 

He returned and narrowed his eyes, trying to catch the glimmer again. There it was, a faint ray of light in the shadow of a big stone. He hesitated, thinking maybe he should deliver the wood first and then return. But he doubted he would be able to find the exact place again. He put the armful of wood down and went closer. He reached for the place where he glimpsed it, but from another angle the light was not visible and his fingers only felt the rough coldness of stone and wet coldness of snow. He combed through the snow with fingers already stiff from the cold - and there was something pointy. It was metal, but not a ring. It glimmered again as he dug it out from under the snow. It was a silver brooch in the shape of a star with many rays. Bilbo thought he had seen it before, but another realization came before he could track down the memory: it glimmered because it reflected the first rays of sun! The eastern sky was mostly obscured by mountains, but it had started to colour in pink and blue. There were no clouds anymore. Finally the dawn had come!

Bilbo quickly put the brooch into his pocket, grabbed the firewood and hurried down the path to Elrond. The Half-Elf was not watching the dawn. Dúnadan was. But then his eyes closed again, and Elrond looked up.

"I brought some more wood," Bilbo said. "Is he awake?"

"Just briefly," Elrond sighed. "I don't think he recognized me. Put all the wood on the fire at once. We will leave soon."

The sun rose together with the flames that were slowly making their way through the wet wood. The thin layer of first snow was melting under its rays. The surroundings seemed much changed in the daylight. The darkness had seemed oppressive, like the orcish tunnels, closing in on them. But now the light revealed the peaks above them and valleys below. Bilbo could even see the Bruinen like a narrow ribbon glistening in the distance. While the darkness was like a barrier, separating them from the world and isolating them in a little island lit by fire, the light connected them with Rivendell even across the distance. 

Elrond caught as much warmth into his cloak as he could and then carefully wrapped Dúnadan in it and seated him on the horse in front of himself. He extended his hand to Bilbo to help him climb behind. 

The Hobbit did not take the hand. He just shook his head. "I may be of the little folk, but I don't weigh that little, master Peredhil," he said. "Why, by the look of it I may weight about as much as your Dúnadan. Your horse will be faster carrying just the two of you. I would just be thankful if you make sure to send someone for me, once you arrive."

Elrond hesitated for a moment, but he had to admit that Bilbo was right. "I will send the fastest rider right away," he assured him, and then nudged the horse forward. Soon he was lost from Bilbo's sight at the bending if the path.

Bilbo remained alone. He was worried for the Dúnadan, and alone with his thoughts, the memory of Thorin's death was always at the back of his mind. To keep it away, he started gathering more wood to keep the fire going while he waited. Then he remembered the brooch he found and took it out of his pocket to look at it more closely. The song came to his mind again.

On silver necklaces they strung
The flowering stars, on crowns they hung
The dragon-fire, in twisted wire
They meshed the light of moon and sun.

This was the kind of star that the Dwarves preferred. Made of metal or precious stones, closer and more palpable than those in the sky. They adorned the ceilings of their magnificent dwellings with such stars and preferred them to the night outside. Bilbo liked both, but now he was glad for the sun.

He tried to remember if he saw Dúnadan wearing it. He wasn't sure because it has been covered with his cape, but he thought he had seen its bottom rays sticking out from it as it has been holding the Dúnadan's cloak. He did not think about it then, but it seemed a bit out of place in his generally rugged appearance. He put it back into his pocket, hoping to return it soon. 

Having nothing else to do, Bilbo followed the sun and counted how long it would take to get to Rivendell, and how long for a fresh rider to get back to him. It would still take hours. He yawned. A sleepless night was something he would rather leave to the younger ones. He was feeling terribly tired now and looking forward to the soft bed in Rivendell. He wiped his eyes. He did not want to fall asleep now - the rider might miss him if he did and the fire might go out, too. But there was still a lot of time to pass. He got up and walked back and forth... then a little further as he started thinking about something. An avalanche? With the first snow that was rather light and melted soon? It seemed strange. Once more he walked the path up to the ravine to look at it in daylight. 

He could see the broken trees and boulders that rolled down the hill, and the old gnarled tree that had resisted the force. He looked up, to the slope where the avalanche started - and he froze. Even in daylight, they would be easy to miss. They looked like a part of the mountain itself. But he knew what they looked like. He had seen them before. Stone giants. They were asleep now. Even though the sound if his feet could not possibly reach them, Bilbo returned back to the fire very carefully, making no sound at all. He extinguished the fire and walked down the path to meet the rider that would come for him, feeling suddenly uncomfortable so close to those unpredictable creatures. They have been lucky enough that the giants did not wake during the night, but he did not want to tempt his luck any longer.

He only stopped when he came to a crossing of paths, and waited there so the rider wouldn't miss him. Around noon, he heard the gentle and clear sound of bells, and soon he saw a rider on a magnificent white horse.

"Master Baggins," said the rider when he saw the Hobbit. "I come to take you to Rivendell."


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