Tell me, is there any hope? For Frodo, I mean; or at least mostly for Frodo.
There never was much hope. Just a fool’s hope, as I have been told.
"Have you gone mad?"
Elrond blinked and looked up, his eyes quickly settling upon the concerned face of Glorfindel, who stood in the doorway of the study. "I beg your pardon?"
"Have you taken a complete leave of your senses?"
While it was not entirely unusual for Glorfindel to question the sanity of Rivendell’s lord, he tended to be more diplomatic about it. At the very least, he employed a certain degree of discretion and subtlety, and it was typically done in jest. But at the moment there was no trace of humor in Glorfindel’s fair face. Instead, his expression spoke of fear and distress, something that immediately unnerved Elrond. Very few things had the power to rattle Glorfindel. He had passed through torturous pain and consuming darkness to emerge victorious in the end, and even Mandos had not been able to contain so valiant a spirit. He was one of the most powerful elves in not only Imladris but all of Arda, and he rarely showed fear.
Still reeling slightly at the thought that something had managed to upset his old friend, Elrond decided to sidetrack the conversation slightly until more could be learned. "You have returned from the wilds, I see."
Glorfindel’s eyes burned, and Elrond silently thanked the Valar that there was a large oak table between himself and the golden-haired warrior. "Indeed, I have," Glorfindel answered coolly. "And I have tidings for you regarding the southern passages and our vulnerability to Isengard. Unfortunately, I have now learned that Saruman’s knowledge of our location and the source of our power might not be our greatest concern."
"Indeed! I have learned that you sent the Ring-bearer forth last week with only eight companions as defense. And of those eight, only five have seen any service in battle! Moreover, some of them are probably more interested in warring with one another than in warring with the Enemy!"
Now understanding exactly what had disturbed Glorfindel, Elrond leaned back in his chair and pursed his lips. How did he explain this when he did not fully understand it himself? Had Glorfindel been present for the many conversations and debates about this topic, then it would be easier. Elrond could refer to all the discarded ideas and suggestions, eventually proving that this had been the only option with even a chance of succeeding. But shortly after the Council, Glorfindel had been sent south on a mission to discover what Saruman intended insofar as Rivendell was concerned, for the wizard knew exactly where Imladris lay as well as the fact that Elrond bore one of the Three. Thus, when Glorfindel left for the Gap of Rohan, sending Frodo and Sam to Mordor had been the only firm decision on the subject. Their companions and their number had not yet been chosen. Now Glorfindel was back and had discovered that the Fellowship was already gone, apparently comprised of numbers and beings with which he did not agree.
"I trust that you have some kind of an explanation, Lord Elrond," Glorfindel said when the silence began to stretch into minutes. "For as it stands, I see naught but a fool’s venture into certain destruction."
Elrond folded his arms and frowned. "Who told you of what was decided?"
"Erestor," Glorfindel answered. "And when I pressed him for reasons, he directed me to you. So I ask again, have you taken a complete leave of your senses?"
With a sigh, Elrond pushed his chair back and stood, moving toward the door. "Walk with me," he commanded, stepping out into the corridor and heading for a balcony. "It was not entirely my decision," he said as Glorfindel fell into step beside him. "Mithrandir and Aragorn also contributed much."
"I should have known better than to trust a matter of this importance to the three of you," Glorfindel muttered.
Elrond smiled slightly. If Glorfindel could jest, it meant he was calming down and would also be able to listen with something of an open mind. Or rather, as open a mind as one could have given the circumstances. "What would your counsel have been?" Elrond asked. "Whom would you have sent with Frodo and his servant?"
"I would have sent more than seven companions," Glorfindel said sharply. "A Fellowship of nine against the nine Ringwraiths is a pleasing idea to the intellect, but prudence would suggest that our nine be at least the equal of the Enemy’s nine. They are not."
"You doubt their abilities?"
"I believe that is the general idea."
Elrond grimaced. Jests were one thing, but sarcasm was another matter entirely. "Think of who is in the Fellowship," Elrond reasoned as they stepped out onto the balcony. "Gandalf is able to withstand the Nine for a time, as is Aragorn. Boromir and Legolas also have experience in holding the Nazgûl at bay while Gimli is a seasoned warrior and well able to defend both himself and those around him."
"That is well and good, but Nazgûl will not be all that they face. There are orcs, wargs, trolls, and even groups of men who would seek to waylay them. Nine companions, no matter how hardy or skilled, cannot hope to contend with an army of trolls!"
"They were not sent forth to contend with an army of trolls," Elrond said patiently. "They were sent forth in secrecy to slip past the forces of Mordor and Isengard. Their numbers had to be small, for any more would draw attention."
Glorfindel sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, a sign of frustration that Elrond had seen from the elf perhaps once or twice in the thousands of years that he had known him. "I understand the need for small numbers," the warrior said at length. "I do not like it, but I realize your thoughts behind it. Indeed, I would have probably advised the same. It seems that we must look for hope in stealth rather than in battle. However," he continued, raising his head to look at Elrond through narrowed eyes, "I would have taken greater care in choosing the beings that comprise these small numbers."
"Think you that I took no thought for it?" Elrond demanded, his voice becoming sharp.
"Prove to me that you did," Glorfindel challenged. "Show me that a passing whim did not direct your choices."
Taking a deep breath, Elrond calmed his mind and reminded himself that Glorfindel had just returned from two grueling months of hard travel in which he had pushed both himself and Asfaloth to their limits in order to gain information to protect Rivendell. This demand for explanations was simply another way in which Glorfindel sought to protect his adopted realm. "Which of the Fellowship members do you doubt?" Elrond asked at length.
"Nearly all," came the immediate answer. "But most especially the hobbits."
"The hobbits cannot be helped. None have the right to take the Ring from—"
"I do not contest Frodo, nor do I contest his servant, Samwise. Frodo is strong, and he is accustomed already to resisting the Ring. Samwise shall be a source of strength for him as well as a friend. Those two do not concern me overmuch. However, the younger hobbits are a liability."
"Ah." Elrond grimaced slightly and shook his head. "In this, I am not to blame. That was Mithrandir’s doing."
"Yet you allowed it."
"Very few have the courage to gainsay Mithrandir when he sets his mind upon something."
"And as I recall, you are one of those few," Glorfindel answered.
Elrond sighed. "I did speak out. I was against their going, and I said as much to Mithrandir. Several times. Even when it became clear that he would not be moved, still I tried to insist that young Peregrin at least be spared the ordeal. But it was not to be. The wizard sees something that I cannot. His foresight has spoken, and for better or for worse, those hobbits have a part to play. A role of some kind." Elrond let his eyes wander out over Imladris as though searching for answers. But the valley was quiet, so he turned back to Glorfindel. "Moreover, as Mithrandir pointed out, these hobbits are small. The Enemy does not know them. He cannot sense them as he can sense elves. He does not view them as a threat, and for that very reason, they become a weapon we can use."
"You believe them to be the last thing that Sauron will expect," Glorfindel concluded, his expression one of skepticism. "It has been my unfortunate experience to learn that the Enemy tends to expect many things and thus prepares for many eventualities."
"Perhaps, yet in this, I believe we may have found something that will confuse even the Dark Lord."
Glorfindel sighed and shook his head darkly. "A fool’s hope."
"So Erestor said at the Council," Elrond replied. "And so he said when the Fellowship departed. But it is the only hope that remains to us."
"I suppose the reasoning behind the hobbits might also be why Legolas was chosen rather than an elven lord of greater power and experience."
"Partially. It is true that Legolas is young and not yet reckoned as a warrior to be singled out and feared. Because of this, he will pass unseen where many other elves would draw immediate attention. His strength may be untested, but his heart is firm. And he has the advantage of having received his training as a warrior in Mirkwood. The elves of Thranduil's realm have long specialized in the art of stealth and secrecy. It is why their realm yet exists. Legolas's talents in silent scouting shall be a valuable asset."
"Still, had you wished for a young elf with skills in woodcraft, there were choices other than Thranduil’s son. Mirkwood’s king will not be pleased by this."
"Mirkwood’s king is pleased by very little these days."
Glorfindel rolled his eyes. "And because you have yet to thoroughly offend Thranduil this year, you have decided to send his son into what might be considered certain death. I beg the Valar that this is not the case."
"Of course not," Elrond said sharply. "The decision was not lightly made, and I am well aware that Thranduil will censure me for this. But it could not be helped. Legolas has a hope that many other elves lack. He is young enough that he still sees a possibility for victory. Yet at the same time, he has lived in the darkness of Mirkwood and fought the shadow of Dol Guldur. He knows what it is like to walk in the presence of the Enemy. Very few elves can offer this combination of traits, and the fact that he is one of the best archers of Mirkwood further adds to his value."
"You make your point well, as is your wont," Glorfindel conceded. "But if Legolas could not be replaced by another elf, then why choose Glóin’s son to accompany him? The history of their fathers will severely hamper unity if it does not destroy it altogether."
"They are not their fathers. They are their father’s sons," Elrond argued.
"Which means that their fathers have had a chance to teach them. I know very well what both Thranduil and Legolas think of dwarves, and if Glóin’s outburst at the council was any indication, I can make a fairly good guess as to what he thinks of elves. Gimli will be no different."
"The dwarves must be represented in this venture and Gimli was one of the only dwarves present with the ability to go. His companions were either too old or had too little experience upon the road. Gimli, on the other hand, has traveled much. He is accustomed to journeying in small groups that must rely upon their own defenses for safety. This knowledge alone would be reason enough to send him. But he is also a formidable warrior. He has studied battle extensively and he has fought orcs upon the road. By all accounts, he is a dwarf to be reckoned with."
"Alone with no other considerations, the choice of Gimli seems to be a good one," Glorfindel said. "Alone with no other considerations, the choice of Legolas also seems to be a good one. But the combination of these two speaks of nothing but trouble. They might very well tear the Fellowship apart with their animosity."
"Or it may be that the threats they face shall force them to work together and overcome their differences," Elrond pointed out. "In any case, Glorfindel, there were no other options. Legolas was the best choice from those available to represent the elves and Gimli was the best choice from those available to represent the dwarves."
"Perhaps," Glorfindel allowed reluctantly, though his voice said he still believed otherwise. "But while there might have been no alternatives insofar as elves and dwarves were concerned, there was certainly an alternative for the race of men. Why are both Boromir and Aragorn part of the Fellowship? Why not just one of them?"
"Both are valiant warriors and both—"
"I know well that Aragorn is one of the best swordsmen that his race has to offer, and he can even best many of the elves here in Imladris. And I have heard that Boromir is a skilled captain in Gondor and has rallied the hopes of his people when it seemed all was dark. But did you not mark their words to one another at the Council? Unless feelings changed dramatically during the months I was away, there is tension between the two."
"There is indeed," Elrond conceded. "But that tension must be overcome. If Aragorn intends to reclaim the throne of Gondor, it would be well to gain the support of one of its leaders. And it will do Boromir good to have another man in the Fellowship. He seemed ill at ease with elves, dwarves, and hobbits."
"There is already a problematic pair in the Fellowship," Glorfindel argued. "Was it really necessary to add another?"
"Aragorn specifically requested that Boromir be part of the Fellowship, and Aragorn himself would not be denied," Elrond said. "Beyond this, both are heading south. It seemed wisdom to include two good swords with the Fellowship in addition to a dwarven axe, an elven bow, and a wizard’s staff."
Glorfindel was silent for a time, and then he shook his head. "It is well that Aragorn is familair with Gondor's politics."
"I have faith in him," Elrond said. "And I have faith that Mithrandir will aid them in overcoming any difficulties that arise."
"Which brings us to my final question. Why Mithrandir? When speaking of the hobbits and Legolas, you stressed that secrecy was paramount in choosing them. But Mithrandir is known to the Enemy. He is marked and has been marked for many years. He may well be the Fellowship’s greatest liability if the Quest does indeed depend upon stealth. If he was allowed to go, why not send an elven lord of greater strength who would not stir so many of the foul memories that Gimli undoubtedly harbors? And why not replace the hobbits with others of more formidable power?"
"As to your first question, Mithrandir insisted upon his own inclusion. He has taken this mission upon himself, and I will not deny him in this. By my foresight, I perceive that he is meant to go." Elrond paused, his face turning grim. "And by my foresight, I also perceive that he will not be in the vicinity of the Ring long enough to draw the Enemy to it."
Glorfindel blinked, clearly startled by the ominous last statement. "What do you mean by this?" he asked, his voice low and anxious.
"I do not know," Elrond confessed heavily. "And that alone gives me cause for great fear. I can only tell you that this Quest might prove to be the last of Mithrandir’s labors." He fell silent for a moment, his head bowed and his eyes narrowed, before shaking himself and looking toward Glorfindel. "Secrecy will be maintained. Whatever happens, the Fellowship will not be compromised by Mithrandir’s strength."
"Your words give little comfort." Glorfindel shook his head darkly and turned his eyes out over Rivendell. "Through our speech, I have learned that the One Ring has been sent to Mordor in the hands of a hobbit. He is accompanied by three other hobbits who are barely able to draw their blades without cutting themselves in the process and have had no appreciable experience beyond the borders of their own land. As other companions, there is an elf and a dwarf whose fathers are at odds and whose realms persist in regularly snubbing one another. There is a man whose father rules Gondor as Steward and another man who has a legitimate claim to the throne. As a final companion, there is a wizard who is apparently meant to go but by your own admission may not be with the Fellowship for long." Glorfindel turned dark, gray eyes upon Elrond. "Do I have this aright?"
Glorfindel nodded. "As I said before, it is an act of folly."
"If I recall the events of the Council correctly, you wanted to throw the Ring into the Sea," Elrond reminded his friend. "That would have been an act of folly. We are not strong enough to withstand Sauron much longer. We must destroy the base of his power."
"I will admit that throwing the Ring into the Sea would only delay the inevitable. But the Fellowship…these individuals will never function as a unit. If anything, they will impede one another’s progress."
"They may surprise you," Elrond answered.
"They had better, or you will not live long enough to regret your decisions."
"In that, you are greatly wrong, my friend," Elrond murmured, his eyes darkening. He glanced down at his hands and gently rubbed a Ring set with a blue stone. "Nay," he whispered. "The Dark lord would make certain I lived to endure great punishment." He looked up at Glorfindel with a humorless smile. "I fear your fate might be the same, warrior of Gondolin. Sauron would certainly enjoy the suffering of one who foiled a part of Morgoth’s plans and then returned from the dead to attempt the same with his servant."
"I will not allow myself to be taken alive," Glorfindel said solemnly. "And were you as wise as you purport to be, you would also seek death in battle."
"Should Sauron regain the Ring, the choice might not be mine to make. Saruman knows that I hold Vilya. Surely he has revealed this knowledge to Sauron. Or if he has not, it is only a matter of time before Sauron’s prying mind pulls it from the recesses of Saruman’s memories. If Barad-dûr recovers the Ring, Sauron’s thoughts will fly here first. I will be unable to act."
"Grievous is Saruman’s treachery," Glorfindel sighed, shaking his head grimly. "The Enemy’s suspicions regarding Galadriel must now be stronger than ever, for Saruman long believed her to be in possession of one of the Three.."
"Saruman could never confirm that, but he did indeed suspect," Elrond mused. "Alas that I was unable to keep his knowledge to mere suspicion."
"Saruman was in Imladris too often," Glorfindel answered. "He could not help but feel the power you hold. There was naught to be done about that."
"I suppose not." Elrond grimaced and then shook his head. "But now we come to the errand of your mission, unless there is aught else about the Fellowship that concerns you."
"There is much about the Fellowship that concerns me, but it is too late to alter those events that have been set in motion and so I shall now hold my tongue. But as for my errand to the south…" Glorfindel trailed off, and his brow furrowed. "Saruman is concentrating his forces upon Rohan, from what little I was able to see. And now knowing of his ambitions regarding the One Ring, I do not think it likely that the whereabouts of Imladris have been revealed to the Dark Lord. Saruman seeks Vilya for himself. Thus, he will not turn upon us until he has control of Rohan. Once the Riddermark is his, he will have a buffer nation that might be used to delay Sauron. He can then lay siege to Imladris at his leisure."
"Then we should not look for an immediate assault?" Elrond asked.
"He will send orcs to harry us and ensure that we do not lend aid to others. He will keep us occupied here, forcing us to leave Mirkwood and Lothlórien to the mercies of Dol Guldur. But it is my opinion that Saruman will not attack us outright until Rohan falls. He desires that which you bear too much to let it slip away by chance or mishap."
"I feared as much," Elrond sighed. "Have you options we might take to change this? I would not leave our allies to bear their burdens alone."
"I have thought long on this, but I can offer no suggestions," Glorfindel said quietly. "We must look to our own borders, and we would be spread too thin should we attempt to assault Isengard. The High Pass is now too dangerous for small parties, and we can spare no large groups from our own defense. We are effectively cut off from Thranduil already, and Caradhras will soon be blocked with snow, meaning that the only root to Lothlórien is the Gap of Rohan. Any aid we send would be stopped by Saruman ere it could cross the Gap. Nor can we assist Rohan in harrying Isengard, for they will not accept aid from us. The superstitions regarding elves are strong in that land. And even were we to attempt assisting in secret, Saruman would stop our forces ere we could cross the mountains."
Elrond nodded, digesting this information and fighting down the feelings of frustration and helplessness. "We will hold council tonight," he said at length, "and there you shall share the particulars of that which you discovered. We will also take stock of our supplies and take measures to prepare against a seige, as it seems we will be alone should all hopes fail. Valar willing, we will be able to hold out long against the coming night. I pray that the other elven realms realize the situation and take similar precautions."
"But we will not be able to endure indefinitely," Glorfindel murmured. "None can. We shall be overthrown, all of us. Mirkwood will be overrun, Lothlórien will burn, Mithlond will be destroyed, and Imladris will be left in ruins. And ere this happens, the rest of Middle-earth will have fallen into darkness. There will be none left that can resist."
"And so we return to the matter of the Fellowship, or the fool’s hope, as you have named it," Elrond said. "We must rely upon a hobbit and his companions to do what no one else can do. Their fate, whatever comes to pass, shall be our fate."
"There can be no denying it, then. You have gone mad," Glorfindel decided with a sigh.
"Perhaps," Elrond answered with a slight shrug. "But for myself, I will wait until the end to pass judgement on this foolish hope. The strength of the hobbits is great. I believe that in the end, they will surpass us all."
A grumbled comment from Glorfindel revealed his thoughts on this matter, but Elrond chose to ignore him. His gaze turning to the east, he cleared his mind and reached out with his thoughts. Somewhere in the wilderness, a band of nine marched forward, bearing the fate of all. A fool’s hope? Probably. But a hope, nonetheless. And until the end, Elrond would cling to this hope, for in truth, it was all he had left.