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The Riddle of Strider  by Mirach

With thanks to Cairistiona for being my beta reader, and to VisAnastasis for a helpful discussion about the plot. 

7. Renewed shall be blade that was broken

The bells on the horse's harness rang softly. Clink-clank, clink-clank. The hooves on the stones were steady, never slipping. Clank-clink, clank-clink, the silver horseshoes sang. Bilbo dozed off.

Though sword shall be rusted,
And throne and crown perish
With strength that men trusted
And wealth that they cherish...

He blinked. They were already in the lower glades of the wood in the valley, approaching the Last Homely House. It was quiet, though. The Elves were not singing in the trees this time. He could still hear the echo of the song they sung all those years back, when he was coming back to the valley with Gandalf after his adventure. They had been singing so cheerfully, yet it seemed to him like they were singing about Thorin's death and weren’t affected by it at all - as long as the grass in the valley is green and the river flows, mortal kings don't matter. Silly folk... At least they were silent now. It was too cold for singing and dancing outside anyways.

The hooves clapped on the bridge and the lights of the Last Homely House shone merrily towards them, their rays reaching for them like outstretched hands of warmth and hospitality. The great white horse neighed and the bells tinkled.

"Quiet, Asfaloth," the Elf chuckled. "Let's not wake the little master."

"I am awake, Master Elf," Bilbo said, yawning. "I see we are almost there anyways. You would have to wake me soon."

"Now that would be rude," the Elf chuckled, his voice sounding with a rich and hearty  tone. "I would just carry you to your room. You can bet I would be able to do that without even stirring you."

"Well, since I am awake, it would be enough if you helped me down from the horse," Bilbo said as they stopped before the entrance.

The Elf dismounted, and then lifted Bilbo from the saddle as if he were as light as a feather. He wanted to accompany the Hobbit to his room, but Bilbo thanked him, saying he could find it himself. So the Elf went to care for the horse and Bilbo made his way through the house. He yawned again, and his stomach rumbled. He felt so tired he even considered going to bed hungry for a moment. His joints felt stiff and creaking like his old rocking chair back in Bag End.

But in the end, he made his way neither to his room, nor to the kitchen. He stopped for a moment and observed. There was the usual merry and welcoming mood in the house: in the faces of the Elves he passed by, in the smells and light, in the very air of the place. But somewhere deeper, underneath the cheerfulness, there was tension and worry.

"Where can I find Master Peredhil?" he asked a passing Elf.

"I'm sorry, Lord Elrond is busy," was the polite answer. "Maybe I can assist you instead?"

"Thank you, I will manage," Bilbo said and continued on his way through the house.

Suddenly he sniffed. "What was it that Gandalf used to say sometimes? When in doubt, follow your nose..." he murmured to himself, and turned after the faint smell of healing herbs. After a moment, he knew where he was going.

He stopped before the door of the room where he found Elrond before - the rooms that used to belong to the boy Estel and were now mostly unoccupied. Not now. He could see light through the crack under the door.

He knocked.

A tired voice invited him in. When he opened the door, he saw Elrond mixing some herbs near the fireplace.

Dúnadan was there as well. His hand was in a sling and he was propped up with pillows in a half-sitting position on the bed. He was not awake, though. His weather-worn face was tense with pain, but his eyes were closed and breath slow. Bilbo watched him, mesmerised. Something in the scent in the room brought him back to the memory of Thorin, as he was lying in the tent after the battle, dying. His face had been tense with pain, too.

"Put it on the... oh... Master Baggins, you are already here? Why aren't you resting?" Elrond asked as he looked up from his work in the middle of the sentence.

Poppy milk, Bilbo thought, watching Elrond's hands preparing the right dose. That must be the scent that was in Thorin's tent as well. And some other herbs. A painkiller.

"How is Dúnadan?" he asked. "I was just worried..."

"I understand. But don't worry, he is no longer in mortal danger. And that's because of you. He just needs rest, and you should get some too," Elrond said firmly and politely, although Bilbo noticed a hint of worry in his eyes.

"Master Elrond, don't worry about me. I am old and I need my rest regardless of what you tell me and what not. I would just like to know, and I think you would feel better if you shared your worries, too. What's wrong?"

Elrond was quiet for a moment. "His shoulder," he sighed then. "A stone must have hit it. He was lucky it wasn't the spine, but his shoulder-blade is broken badly. If he is to use that arm again, I need to cut it open and set the bones. It's his sword-arm..."

Bilbo grimaced in sympathy. "Poor boy... I wonder what he was looking for in that pass. Have you eaten already?"

Elrond blinked at the unexpectedness of the question. "I'm sorry? What does that have to do with Estel?"

"Well, old Gaffer used to say that there never comes any good from doing something important hungry. Or... well... drunk, but I think you could apply that to tired in this case. I see you gave him something against the pain, so let the lad have some rest, and do so as well in that time. I'm going to the kitchen to grab some quick snack before getting to bed, so why don't you join me?"

Elrond paused, looking at Aragorn. He told it to Bilbo himself - the man was not in mortal danger anymore. He also needed that rest. He was too weak; it wouldn't do him much good to set the bones right away. So why was it so hard to do the sensible thing that Bilbo suggested, instead of sitting here and worrying?

"Yes, I know how you feel," Bilbo said. "I have been also worried sick when my boy, Frodo, has fallen ill. I didn't want to leave his bedside. And you know what? He sent me away himself. He said he can't rest properly when I'm hovering above him, worried and tired like that."

"What did you do then?" Elrond asked.

"Well, I called the Gaffer's son to keep the boy company. They were about the same age. And I went to get some rest. And it turned out just fine. You see, it was not long after the boy's parents died and I adopted him. He didn't have any friends in Hobbiton yet. But then he got the first one."

Elrond smiled a little. "Your advice sounds wise, Master Baggins. I think I will follow it. Could you stay here while I call someone to take my place?"

He left, but Bilbo didn't even have time to sit down before he returned with a dark-haired maiden of stunning beauty - as if she has been nearby, waiting for his call.

Elrond then led Bilbo to the kitchen. Several dishes were ready, and the cooks assured him that he could take anything he liked, so Bilbo took the lead and filled plates for both himself and Elrond, filling them with the Hobbit definition of quick snack. Elrond just watched with amusement as Bilbo heaped the plates with a selection of meats, potatoes, vegetables and sauce, fresh bread and cheeses. As they sat down with the meal, he realized he was indeed hungry - it was already getting dark and his last meal has been the dinner yesterday. Bilbo's as well: the elderly Hobbit went to refill his plate soon. Elrond was content with just one. After they have eaten, he accompanied Bilbo to his room, and then went to seek his own rest, despite finding it hard.

Bilbo was exhausted and sated - a combination that made him fall asleep right away despite the worries, but made him pay for it with uneasy dreams. They were mostly about Thorin, and Fili and Kili, and Elves that were singing "though sword shall be rusted, and throne and crown perish".

He didn't feel fully rested when he woke, but with surprise he found out that it was already afternoon of the next day. Elrond must have woken long ago.

He felt hungry and thirsty again, so he stopped in the kitchen to grab a bite or two, and then headed to Dúnadan's room, hoping to check if there was something new. The door was not closed fully, so he knocked and shyly peeked in. For a moment he was reminded again of the tent where Thorin died, even more strongly: there were bloody bandages on the table, and some metal instruments and a basin with water - but the water was red. It was as he suspected: while he had slept, Elrond did what was needed to set the broken bones.

Dúnadan's shoulder was bandaged heavily and supported with pillows, but he was awake now. It was actually he who noticed Bilbo first, since Elrond's full attention was on the man. Awake was not the best expression, though. He seemed dazed by a strong painkiller, and in a lot of pain despite it.

"There... There's a Hobbit..." he murmured wonderingly, in a weak voice.

Elrond turned. "Master Baggins! Have you rested well?"

"Baggins?" Dúnadan repeated. "Baggins... Oh, right. Bilbo Baggins, it was... at your sev... service..."

"And your family's..." Bilbo added automatically.

"Yes, that..." Dúnadan nodded, but the movement must have stirred his shoulder just a little. He clenched his teeth, moaning with pain that didn't seem to abate.

Elrond put a hand on his forehead, whispering something soothingly in Elvish. It took a moment, but slowly Dúnadan's breath evened, and he opened his eyes again, dull with pain.

 "Easy, Estel..." Elrond slipped into Common tongue. "Easy... Tension brings pain, and pain brings tension... you need to relax..."

"I... I think I should leave..." Bilbo stuttered, feeling bad for making the man tense.

He turned away, but the Dúnadan stopped him. "No, wait..." he whispered. His eyes were clearer again, as Elrond's voice has helped him to focus. "Sorry this didn't work... I wanted to surprise you... when we met again... you wanted to show me the way here, right?"

Bilbo had to come closer, as his hearing wasn't best anymore and Dúnadan's voice was weak and his words still a bit slurred and slow from the high dose of painkiller. "Yes, I didn't know you used to live here," he smiled a bit embarassedly, and looked at Elrond, as if asking if he should leave.

Elrond shook his head a little, bidding him to stay - it seemed to him that the talk was distracting Aragorn from the pain.

"But you're not surprised..." Dúnadan murmured, looking a little disappointed in his dazed state.

"No, of course I'm not," Bilbo replied more freely, shaking his head as he inadvertently imagined Frodo in Dúnadan's place. "What did you think, lad? You were supposed to come here by a certain date, but instead you had to go check some dangerous pass. Your father has been worried sick, you know."

"Master Bilbo led me to that pass," Elrond said quietly, a bit taken aback as Bilbo's words hit too close to home.

It took a moment to Aragorn to put that together. He seemed to sober up a little, with sheer strength of will. "You saved my life, then," he said, looking at Bilbo. "I am in your debt. Thank you, Master Baggins..."

"There is no debt. You saved mine before," Bilbo replied. "But what was so important in that pass? You were awaited here, but you had to check it first. Did you find what you was looking for?"

Dúnadan avoided his look. "No... I was so stupid..." he muttered self-deprecatingly. "It was a trap and I fell for it!" With the agitation, a new wave of pain washed over him, but he overcame it on his own. "A trap of the Enemy..." he murmured again, speaking more to Elrond than to Bilbo now. "A rumor. I knew it might be a trap, but I had to check - even if it might not be true, I wanted to see who was lurking there. I though I was being careful, I was quiet and keeping in shadows, looking for anyone hidden... it never occured to me to look for stone giants."

"Stone giants?" Elrond asked with surprise.

"I saw them!" Bilbo quipped in. "They were asleep. I almost didn't notice either, they look like a part of the mountain, don't they?"

"Until they start throwing things," Dúnadan added wryly, clenching his teeth.

"Relax, Estel..." Elrond reminded. "You couldn't have known. I would have never thought of that either. But what was the rumor that made you go there?"

"Angrist..." Dúnadan said quietly.

"The knife that Beren broke while cutting the Silmaril from Morgorth's crown?" Bilbo asked, astonished. "The one that could cut steel like soft wood? That Angrist?"

Dúnadan looked a bit taken aback, as he didn't expect Bilbo to know it. "You are a true scholar, Master Baggins," he murmured. "Yes, that Angrist."

"In a mountain pass? How would it get there?" Bilbo asked wonderingly.

"Same way that you found Orcrist and Glamdring," Dúnadan replied while trying to relax according to Elrond's advice. "There was supposed to be an abandoned troll lair. The rumor didn't name the knife, I wouldn't trust it if it did. It just mentioned a shard that could cut into iron. I hoped I could retrieve the shards, and that it could be mended..." He was speaking to Elrond again, sounding a little feverish now. "It would be such a precious heirloom of ou... your house... I should have been more careful. I'm sorry..."

Elrond smiled sadly. "I see why you had to check the rumor, even if just to see who set the trap. But there are some blades that are not meant to be mended. Angrist may be lost and broken forever. And some blades are meant to be renewed, when the time comes. Speaking about that, it will take a few weeks for your shoulder-blade, but it will mend fully."

Dúnadan smiled a little despite the pain.


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