Gandalf leaned back in his chair, making himself comfortable as he studied Elrond's face. "You have not decided who to send with us, Elrond. The time grows short."
"The last patrols have not returned, Mithrandir. I wish to speak with my sons once more, when they return." Elrond replied.
"You mean to send them with us then?" Gandalf asked.
Elrond did not immediately reply. He rose from his chair and walked to the window of his study. "You are determined to go with Frodo?"
"My friend, you know this is the task appointed to me, what all my years here have led me to," Gandalf replied.
Elrond closed his eyes, nodded and turned to face him, where he sat in front of the fire. "Your time has come indeed, mellon. And Aragorn's too. Your paths come together now." He paused and stared at his friend intently. "Aragorn will go with you and Frodo. It is what you both want and what you both have been striving towards for these many long years."
Gandalf nodded and then smiled at Elrond. "I could not be happier to have him at my side. Many roads have we travelled together but this will be our greatest journey."
"And the most perilous." Elrond frowned. "This road is not clear to me, Mithrandir. I cannot see it as clearly as I wish." He shook his head and returned to his chair by the fire near Gandalf.
"It will be clear enough to me once I get on the road." Gandalf said gruffly. "Now Elrond we must speak of who else will join us on this journey. There must be time to prepare them."
Elrond sighed. "I have given this much thought but this choice is not clear to me. I would have your counsel. These will be your companions and Frodo's guardians. I must choose them well."
"It cannot be a large company, Elrond--our strength is not in might but in stealth and secrecy." Gandalf replied.
Elrond nodded. "This I know, mellon. It makes me troubled in my choice."
"Explain." Gandalf said.
"I intend to send nine in your company. Nine walkers against Nine Riders. You, Frodo and Aragorn, so far." He paused and made a wry face. "And Sam, as he will accompany Frodo whether I wish it or not."
Gandalf laughed. "It is true Sam is no warrior but I can think of no one who will care for Frodo better or cheer his spirits more. I, for one, will be glad to have Sam with us."
Elrond smiled. "Your fondness for the hobbits is well known and I see it is well deserved." He reached for the wine glass on the table next to him and took a sip before speaking again. "The Elves and Dwarves must be represented in the company as well, as this affects all the Free Peoples of our world."
Gandalf nodded, picked up his own glass and looked at Elrond curiously. "And who will these representatives be?"
"I had thought to send Gimli for the Dwarves. Sauron has already brought threat to Erebor, so this affects his people directly. His father is well liked by Bilbo and Bilbo is much esteemed by the Dwarves of Erebor. It makes sense to send Gimli with Frodo."
Gandalf sipped his wine thoughtfully. "Gimli is a solid choice. He is strong and hardy, a dwarf in his prime. And I have a feeling he wishes for an adventure of his own." Gandalf paused and quirked his eyebrow at Elrond. "I do not believe he has ever come to terms with not being allowed to accompany his father in the quest to retake Erebor."
"I think you are correct in that assessment, Mithrandir." Elrond laughed. "He came to me and volunteered for this mission, you know."
Gandalf raised both eyebrows in surprise. "Did he now?"
"He did. He told me that he and Gloin had discussed the matter and felt the Dwarves needed a representative." Elrond coughed slightly and lifted an eyebrow back at Gandalf, who laughed at the sight. "He may have referenced his unfortunately youthful age at the time of the quest for Erebor when we spoke." Elrond smiled.
"I'm sure he did! Well good for Gimli! He will be a strong and stalwart member of our company. His years in Erebor have brought him much into contact with the men of Dale and Laketown."
"And the Elves of Mirkwood." Elrond added.
"True. Although I can't say he has a high opinion of any of them!" Gandalf laughed. "But I will gladly have him with me--I've handled thirteen dwarves, I most certainly can handle one!"
Elrond laughed in turn and shook his head. "Long did my household take to recover from that visit."
The two friends gazed into the fire, caught up in their memories.
Elrond broke the brief silence. "I mean to send Boromir with you, Mithrandir."
"I expected as much." Gandalf sighed. "He is proven warrior and a brave one. He is much his father's son." he added, with a knowing look at Elrond.
"I see it. But even with your history and Aragorn's own with Denethor, I believe Boromir is meant to be part of your company. The dreams that have come to him and to his brother are too related to our cause to ignore. His path home would follow your travels for a long way and you could use another seasoned warrior." Elrond said.
"I've no objection." Gandalf replied. "It will let him get to know Aragorn, if nothing else."
"True, although I predict some friction there. Denethor is a proud man and his son no less so." Elrond stated.
"But he understands the worth of a warrior and a stalwart companion. Aragorn is all that and so very much more. Should he come to Minas Tirith with Boromir as a friend and trusted companion, Denethor may look upon him differently." Gandalf answered.
"Perhaps," said Elrond. "But Denethor will not have forgotten Thorongil and there was little love there." He stared into the fire again. "But no matter--Boromir will go with the company and likely prove Aragorn's first test."
"That he may." Gandalf turned to Elrond and narrowed his eyes. "Come now, Elrond. What of the Elves? Who will you have go for the Elves?"
Elrond sighed again as he returned Gandalf's look. "I have pondered long on this. Even with the dwindling of our people I have many to choose from."
"And?" Gandalf encouraged, leaning towards Elrond.
"Glorfindel is an obvious choice." Elrond stated, with a sidelong glance at Gandalf.
"Glorfindel has fought his battle." Gandalf countered.
"He has been sent back to these shores for some purpose, Mithrandir. Much like yourself."
"He has fought his battle, Elrond." Gandalf repeated. "He has served his purpose. He has trained Aragorn."
"Perhaps." Elrond said."He is perhaps not one that is up to traveling by stealth," he added, the corners of his lips quirking up in amusement as he met Gandalf's eyes.
Gandalf laughed. "No, our golden warrior is certainly not one to hide in the shadows!" His face grew serious again. "What of your sons, Elrond?"
"I have thought to send them. Or at least one of them." He paused and his face grew pensive. "It is near impossible to separate them though. They love Aragorn like a brother--nay, he is a brother to them. They would guide him, protect him, support him."
"Which you know is not what he needs now, Elrond. The time has come for him to stand on his own. If he is to claim the throne and rule Gondor he must do it on his own strength." Gandalf stated.
"This I know, Mithrandir. I know I cannot send Elladan and Elrohir with him, much though they want to go." Elrond pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "It is proving a challenge to get my sons to understand why they may not go. That is why I must speak to them once more before I announce the members of the company." He squeezed his eyes shut. "I must be firm in my decision before they return." he continued, leaning his head on the back of his chair.
"I do not envy you that conversation, Elrond. Your sons have quite strong views on matters relating to Aragorn." Gandalf paused, then leaned toward Elrond again. "But they are needed here, Elrond. The Dunedain will be without their chieftain when Aragorn goes South with Frodo. They will need your sons."
"Halbarad is a worthy man. He will hold the North for Aragorn."
"I do not doubt his worth, if he is Aragorn's choice. But should Aragorn need the Dunedain to come South, they would do well to have your sons with them." Gandalf said. "And we do not know the threat that may come to these lands while we travel." He paused. "Aragorn will be more at ease if he knows they stay close to Arwen."
Elrond nodded. "You are correct again, Mithrandir." They sat in silence for a few minutes.
"Have you thought to send Legolas, Elrond?" Gandalf asked quietly.
Elrond looked sharply at the wizard. "If I courted Thranduil's enmity I might choose to send his son. He already holds the loss of his father and his wife to my account. I dare not add his son to that reckoning."
Gandalf snorted. "Oropher sealed his own fate, Elrond, and even Thranduil knows that."
"But his wife. . . " Elrond began.
"Was lost, along with your own. You are even on that account." Gandalf snapped.
"I do not think he sees it quite as you do," Elrond replied.
"There is much that Legolas can bring to this mission." Gandalf answered. "You did ask for my counsel." he added, as Elrond frowned.
"What would he bring that Glorfindel or Gildor or even my sons would not? Other than the wrath of Thranduil, that is?" Elrond asked curtly.
"He has lived under the Shadow of Mirkwood his entire life, Elrond. But it has touched him not. He finds limitless joy in this world--the whisper of trees, the rising sun, the stars and moon above him. He may have lived many long years but his heart and spirit have stayed young." Gandalf paused. "We shall go into the very source of the Shadow and I would have him by my side: unbent, unbowed, able to see the beauty of this world and the need to save it, not allowing the Shadow to touch him, and giving us the strength to shun it also." Gandalf finished forcefully.
"Your words are true, Mithrandir. He has not let the darkness in the forest overwhelm his spirit. But you may face foes on the road--even the Nine themselves again!" Elrond countered.
"He is a warrior proven time and time again, Elrond. He has fought the long fight in Mirkwood, against foes no less than the ones your sons seek out! And I will find no better archer in any Elven realm." Gandalf answered, leaning back in his chair and frowning at Elrond in turn. "It seems you are not convinced?"
Elrond shook his head. "All you say is true, Mithrandir. I too have known Legolas these many years and I do not doubt his heart or his bravery. I can not name the source of my misgiving."
"I admit he has not travelled as widely as Aragorn or myself, Elrond. But that does not lessen his worth. He knows of Men and Dwarves, far more than other Elven folk do in these times. He is close to Aragorn, through their years of friendship, and he will watch his back as your sons would--but as his equal, Elrond."
"I am not sure his knowledge of Dwarves could be called an asset." Elrond stated.
"Yes, his father has been at odds with the Dwarves of Erebor in the past and Gimli's family has little liking for Thranduil and his kind. But as the Shadow lengthens and threatens both the Dwarves and the Elves these differences can be put aside, as they were when the Orc hordes came to Erebor years ago."
"There you bring up another stumbling block," Elrond broke in. "Gimli and Legolas have strife in their history--much more recent and personal than any other Elf I may send, save Thranduil himself! Should their personal differences dog your steps on this journey, it could prove ill." Elrond sipped his wine, eyebrows furrowed thoughtfully again.
"I think there is much in Legolas and Gimli that is similar, although both would be appalled to hear me say it! You yourself have said your foresight is clouded for this mission of ours. I know this worries you, my friend. But I do not think Legolas and Gimli traveling together will be our downfall." Gandalf stated.
"It may not. Mayhap they will surprise me and themselves. But the Elves of Mirkwood, brave though they may be and undaunted by the darkness, are still dangerous in themselves--more unpredictable and volatile than others of our kind." Elrond warned.
Those words earned him a glare from the wizard. " 'More dangerous and less wise' you mean, Elrond? Yes, I have heard that said and not only by you! I am surprised at you, my friend. It is unlike you to bandy about words of censure such as that. I think you do not mean what you say--you know better than that."
"Aye," Elrond said, exhaling as he sunk lower into his chair. "That was discourteous of me."
Gandalf met Elrond's eyes "I would gladly have a dangerous Elf at my side and one who knows to trust in the wisdom of his companions. I have known Legolas since he was an elflng! He knows me well, Elrond. He knows me well enough to know when to question me, when to listen to me and when to attempt to offer advice. I can't say that about many people, barring Aragorn, yourself included, my Lord!" Gandalf growled, as Elrond shook his head.
"He will give Aragorn a trusted companion on this journey, Elrond." Gandalf continued in a softer voice. "One who has known him since childhood and who treats him as a trusted equal! This is Aragorn's time. He must not concern himself with whether he is offending or deferring to some great Elf Lord on this journey. But he will benefit from having a friend he can confide in and whose opinion he values."
A gentle smile grew on Elrond's face at Gandalf's words. "As you will, mellon-nin. As you will. I cannot argue, as all you have said is valid and true. Legolas has a noble heart and a brave one. He knows what this hour means to Aragorn. I will not begrudge you his company if you deem it so necessary." He paused and looked at Gandalf and quirked his eyebrow. "I will have you know he brought up many of the same points when he came to me to volunteer for this mission."
Gandalf sat forward quickly. "He volunteered already, did he? Good lad!"
Elrond laughed. "Aye, he did. He and Gimli came at almost the same time. I'm not quite as confident as you are about them keeping company. There were glares from both as they encountered each other outside my study."
Gandalf laughed. "If glares are all I have to worry about I consider myself lucky!" Gandalf paused and then looked at Elrond with a twinkle in his eyes. "I suppose you will write to Thranduil?"
Elrond pinched the bridge of his nose again and frowned. "I suppose I shall have to, although I am going to demand Legolas send his own account to his father, stressing that HE volunteered for this mission!"
Gandalf laughed again. "You can have him do whatever you like, as long as I am not the one who has to convey this news to Thranduil!"
"Nay, it falls to me. And joins the tally Thranduil holds against me," Elrond replied, wearily.
"I am sure the evil in Mirkwood, not to mention the threats to Dale and Erebor, will keep Thranduil from marching his army on Imladris to fetch back his son." Gandalf chuckled.
Elrond glared at Gandalf. "Let us hope it does not come to that!" he snapped.
"You know I jest, my friend! Speak to Legolas. He will write to Thranduil himself and that itself should ease his father's heart." Gandalf answered.
"Ease might not be the word I would choose, Mithrandir." Elrond countered.
They sat in silence for awhile as the fire burned low. "So that brings our number to seven companions, Elrond." Gandalf ventured to speak. "Have you thought on the last two?"
Elrond made a sound resembling a snort. "Have you not exhausted me with this subject enough tonight, wizard? We have wrangled for near an hour on one selection!"
"So you do have an idea?" Gandalf asked again.
Elrond did snort this time. "I suppose suggesting my sons or Glorfindel would not suit?"
Gandalf laughed. "We have covered those options quite thoroughly already, my friend. But I fear if you add another Elf to the company Gimli will not take it too kindly, being outnumbered by Elves!"
"I had thought of that," Elrond agreed. "Seven is a small enough company for stealth but I feel that nine will prove more fortunate."
"Well, we already have two men and two hobbits. You certainly aren't going to find another wizard so perhaps you shall have to find another Dwarf to match a second Elf after all." Gandalf laughed.
"No, we certainly aren't going to find another wizard." Elrond agreed. "I can't see Radagast taking this on."
"No," Gandalf replied thoughtfully. "No, he has left that path long ago. Not like Saruman, mind you," he added quickly, "But he has no heart for this."
"Have you spoken to him since Gwaihir rescued you from Orthanc?" Elrond asked.
"Not directly. Gwaihir returned to Radagast to inform him of Saruman's treachery. Radagast sent word to me through the Eagles that he would keep his watch on Mirkwood and keep Thranduil apprised. And you as well." Gandalf added. "It is best this way. Gwaihir knows how to find me and I him, so there is that as well."
They both gazed thoughtfully at the fire and finished their wine before Elrond spoke again. "Let me think more on the last two members of the company, Mithrandir. Perhaps it is not wrong to send one of Cirdan's folk or Galadriel's with you, Elves though they may be."
"You might be better off sending Merry and Pippin with us, Elrond." Gandalf said with a mischievous sidelong glance at Elrond.
"What?" spluttered Elrond. "Those two young hobbits? Have you completely lost your senses, Mithrandir?" he admonished.
Gandalf grinned. "There's a lot to be said for hobbits. They never cease to amaze me."
Elrond glowered at Gandalf. "I must watch how much wine I serve you in future, Mithrandir, as you have ceased making any sense."
Gandalf laughed again, as Elrond shook his head.
"We have seven companions selected. I will choose the last two after my sons return and I hear their news" Elrond said.
"A fine plan. As long as those sons of yours don't wheedle you into letting them go!" Gandalf answered.
"I can handle my own sons, Mithrandir," Elrond replied sharply.
Gandalf inclined his head graciously at Elrond. "I have taken enough of your time and your wine this night, my friend. I will take my leave of you."
"Good night, my old friend," Elrond said, rising from his chair to accompany Gandalf to the door. He closed it behind the departing wizard and settled back in his chair in front of the fire.
"Merry and Pippin, indeed!" Elrond muttered, pouring himself another glass of wine. "Most certainly not!"
Gandalf smiled as he made his way to his room. Good luck to Elrond in telling Merry and Pippin they weren't going to be allowed to go with Frodo. He had a feeling the venerable Elf Lord of Imladris would soon be getting a lesson in Hobbit tenacity. "Fierce as a dragon in a pinch!" he laughed to himself as he entered his rooms.