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The Time of Probing
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
I

For Dreamflower and Baylor for their birthdays, with love.


~~~

The Time of Probing

I


Sam saw his Master fall from the back of Glorfindel's horse, and all seemed to go black before his eyes.

"Frodo!" cried Merry, and the gardener could hear a splashing and then a grunt of distress from the Brandybuck.

"No!" Strider's voice was unusually shrill with alarm. "We need to wait until the flood recedes, Merry, or we, too, will be washed away! Trust Asfaloth to keep him safe!"

"But Asfaloth is a horse!" Merry was objecting as Sam's vision began to return.

Strider had Merry tightly by the shoulder, leaning far over to look directly into the Hobbit's eyes. "Asfaloth is the steed of an Elf Lord. He will do all that he can for Frodo's safety. We can do nothing until the waters go down again, and you can believe that Elrond has already dispatched his people to Frodo's aid. You will do him no good if he awakens to the news you were washed away alongside the Black Riders!"

That seemed to convince Merry, and the tall Man let him go as he straightened, turning to peer across the turbulent waters. The water was already subsiding, and both Merry and Pippin crowded as close to the shallows as they dared, one on either side of the Ranger's long legs.

There was a touch on Sam's shoulder, and he half turned, looking up into the fair face of Glorfindel. "Master Samwise, will you help to soothe your noble pony? He is badly distressed by the fear we all have for Master Frodo."

Sam took a ragged breath, and as he worked to reassure Bill his own anxiety became manageable. By the time Strider indicated that it was safe to cross the ford Sam had the pony ready to go. Still, he hesitated until the Elf laid his hand on the gardener's shoulder and gave him a heartening smile. Again Sam breathed deeply and stepped into the water, glad to find it never reached his knees.

Strider was straightening with Frodo in his arms as Sam led Bill up the bank, Frodo's cousins crowded close to him. But it was Sam's gaze he sought. "He is alive, but is unconscious. We need to get him into Lord Elrond's care as soon as possible. I will go ahead with him, although we are certain to be met soon by stretcher bearers and one or more of those trained in healing. Then we will be able to go faster, for the stretcher bearers will be able to carry him smoothly even at a run."

Again Glorfindel laid his hand reassuringly on Sam's shoulder, and the Hobbit nodded his understanding. Strider turned and hurried down the way, Frodo held protectively to his chest. Sam was certain the Ranger was singing that healing song of his as he went. Asfaloth turned as if he would follow the Man until his master spoke to him, at which he moved to the Elf's side. In seconds Merry and Pippin were lifted onto the back of the white horse, and with Glorfindel leading the way they, too, were on the path to the Last Homely House.

They were joined by several other Elves, two of whom conversed with Glorfindel as they made their way down into the hidden valley. One of the Elves spoke with Sam in the Common tongue, explaining, "Our Lady Arwen is beside the Dúnadan and Master Bilbo's kinsman. They have him warmly wrapped in blankets, and are already well upon their way to the house. All is in readiness for their arrival, and your fellow will soon be safe under our Lord's care. Would you like for me to take your pony's bridle, Small Master?"

Sam shook his head, not having the breath to speak and still keep up the pace set by the Elves.

He was fair winded as they crossed the narrow, curbless bridge to approach the house itself. Gandalf stood there awaiting them, and Sam felt relieved at the sight of his grey robes and long beard. The Wizard first spoke with Pippin, reassuring him and at last sending him through the doors with Merry with an unknown Elf to guide them before turning to Sam.

"It is quite safe to allow the grooms to take your pony, Samwise Gamgee, unless you had thought to take him with you into the Last Homely House itself, although I sincerely doubt he will be comfortable there. No, my friend, you would do best to let him go to the stable with these, where I assure you he will be superbly taken care of. And I myself shall see you to Frodo's side."

Sam realized that a tall, fair Elf stood slightly behind him, seeking to lead Bill away but forestalled by the grip the Hobbit kept on the pony's lead rope. "We shall bring your things to the rooms given to your use," he said soothingly. "Go with Mithrandir, and allow us to see to the comfort of this great hearted creature. Be at peace, Small Master. You are all safe now, here in this house, and your Master can and will be saved here."

Reluctantly, yet with relief, Sam released Bill to the Elf's care, and allowed Gandalf to bring him into the house.

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