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Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings and all its characters and settings are the property of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. These works were produced with admiration and respect, as fan fiction for entertainment purposes only, not for sale or profit. This story and all my others may be found on my website, http://budgielover.com. My thanks to my dear Marigold for the beta.
A Lesson on Hobbits (Boromir)
Boromir scowled darkly, not from any personal animosity but from simple bewilderment. Try as he might to understand them, these halflings confused and befuddled him, and he could not understand either their small selves or their actions. None of the children’s tales about them mentioned what an irrational, confusing, contradictory folk they were.
"Guard your side!" he called to the smallest of their number. Pippin nodded, his intent eyes never leaving his opponent. He shifted lithely, hairy feet seeking purchase on the loose soil and sand of their improvised practice-field. Then Pippin’s eyes widened and he froze, his mouth dropping open, an expression of shock on his face. Merry stared at him then whirled around, his small sword coming up into a defensive position. With astonishing quickness, the tweenager (what an odd word, thought Boromir) dashed toward his opponent and dealt him a solid whack across the buttocks.
"You little beast!" Merry roared. "I’ll get you for that!"
Dropping his sword, Merry darted after his cousin. Pippin jumped in place, then dropped his sword. Then he was off, circling the small dell Boromir had chosen as their battleground with Merry hot on his heels. With a squeal, Pippin ducked behind their instructor then made a face at his cousin from the safety of Boromir’s shelter. Young boys in Minas Tirith would never be so undisciplined, Boromir thought resignedly as he latched onto collars and separated the combatants. Lads, Boromir reminded himself. He had already learned that the young hobbits thought themselves insulted if he referred to them as boys. Pippin chortled in triumph while Merry twisted, growling threats under his breath.
Peregrin, or Pippin as he liked to be called, Boromir understood perhaps the best. Pippin was simply young, with a lightness of heart that made Boromir’s own heart lift in spite of his worries and cares. He applauded the youngling’s joy in life, and delighted with him in his occasional deliberate provoking of his elder cousins.
Merry, or Meriadoc, Boromir could well come to admire. The soldier acknowledged that the young hobbit’s mind was quicker than his, those bright blue eyes brimming with an intelligence that Boromir found rather intimidating. The young hobbit’s heart could be as carefree as his little cousin’s one moment, then his eyes would darken and Boromir would wonder what thoughts were passing through that quicksilver mind.
Samwise he was a bit uncomfortable with. It seemed the hobbit was often watching him, measuring and judging him with those sharp grey eyes. He wished he had not been so unguarded with his words at the Council of Elrond. Since then, the little gardener had watched him distrustfully. But he sensed both strength and honor in Sam, and his devotion to his master awed and humbled Boromir. He knew it was a rare thing for a master to claim both faithful service and friendship from a servant, and he was grateful that Frodo had both in Samwise.
The Ring-bearer was perhaps the most confusing of all. Wise blue eyes, at times shadowed and haunted, stared out of a youngling’s face. Aragorn had told Boromir that Frodo was actually older than he appeared, which the soldier could not understand at all. Frodo looked to be about his cousins’ age, perhaps even younger than Merry. It made no sense. Still recovering from his wound, Frodo was more apt to watch his cousins’ antics than participate, but Boromir sensed a lurking mischief under that innocent face.
What he did not sense in the Ring-bearer was great strength, the pure physical power that Boromir thought the Ring-bearer must possess. How else could such a dreadful mission be accomplished? But the soldier kept his reservations to himself, and now and then he would catch such a look of such determination in the halfling’s eyes as to steal his breath. The decision had been made, be it for good or ill, and Boromir would support the chosen Ring-bearer to his last breath.
"Boromir, put me down!" ordered Merry. "That was a despicable trick, Pippin, and I’m going to thrash you for it!"
"You’re only angry because you did not think of it first," Pippin replied, dangling comfortably in Boromir’s grip.
Boromir gave them both a good shake and set them down. He had to – the halflings were heavier than they looked and the trembling in the muscles of his arms informed him that he would have to put them down or drop them. Merry immediately made a lunge for his cousin, to find that Boromir had not released his collar. "Stop that!" the soldier commanded, giving the young hobbit a second shake.
Finding himself still imprisoned, Merry had to content himself with glowering at his cousin. Pippin smiled back sweetly. "In battle," Boromir said, "a soldier takes every advantage he can to triumph and stay alive." Pippin beamed. "Every honorable advantage," Boromir amended. "Pippin, that was not very honorable."
"It worked, didn’t it?" Pippin replied, unabashed. "Besides, Merry ate my sausage this morning."
"Pip stole one of my blankets last night!"
And they were off again. With a defeated sigh, Boromir released them and turned to climb upwards to the small outcropping of stone on which Frodo had sat to watch the whole debacle. The Ring-bearer perched comfortably on the rocky shelf, swinging his legs over the drop. Behind him, Sam was frying up some potatoes and sausages, keeping one eye on the proceedings in the dell. Boromir sniffed appreciatively. He and his students had not eaten yet, allowing Sam to feed the others while the Company sought resting places among the piled rocks and sparse bush of this little place, not far out of the deserted land of Hollin.
Frodo edged to the side on the rock and patted the place beside him. Boromir looked back at his students (Merry was chasing Pippin around the dell and threatening him with a lingering and painful death) and sighed again as he sank down at the eldest cousin’s side. Frodo looked at him sympathetically. "You mustn’t feel bad, Boromir. I’ve been trying for years to make them behave." Frodo echoed the Man’s sigh, his chin cradled in his hands as he watched his cousins. "Without much notable success.
"But then, they are young," Frodo continued indulgently, a smile curving his lips. "Merry is barely an adult, and Pip is only twenty-eight. They both have a lot of growing-up to do."
Boromir shook his head. Another confusing attribute of these little ones. At twenty-eight, he had been the veteran of many battles, scarred and grim, with childhood but a distant memory. At Merry’s age, thirty-six, he had been a leader of men for over a decade. Yet Pippin was considered barely past childhood, and Merry seemed able to slide between responsible adulthood and youthful abandon without a thought. It was altogether disconcerting.
A shadow passed over them, then Aragorn sank into a crouch on an adjacent rock, his pipe curling sweet-smelling smoke into the clear air. "It is useless to try to understand them, Boromir," the Ranger advised casually, obviously baiting Frodo. "Hobbits are a nonsensical people. I speak with authority – I and my folk have guarded the Shire for many years."
Frodo looked back at him, eyes sparkling. "In that case, one would think you would know us better, Strider. Yet my lads and I had to introduce you to basic hobbit necessities like second breakfasts and elevenses and afternoon naps."
"I would dispute the term ‘necessities’," the Ranger replied, settling himself comfortably. "And furthermore…"
This was another thing that Boromir did not quite understand. He glanced between the two as the man teased and the hobbit gave him back as good as he got. The easy camaraderie between the halflings and the Ranger, the affection between them, was not a thing that would have existed in Gondor. Many times he had captained troops assigned to protect important persons, but never did he remember being friends with those he protected. Right now, there was no more important person on Middle-earth than this slight, dark-haired halfling and the evil thing he carried next to his heart.
Boromir wrenched his attention back to the conversation, to find both hobbit and man had fallen silent and were looking at him. "I am sorry," he said courteously, "my thoughts were wandering. What did you say, Frodo?"
"I was saying that my folk place … well, shall we say … a different emphasis on what is important than do Big People."
"Meals, warm holes, meals, good harvests, and meals," contributed Aragorn lackadaisically, producing a series of small smoke rings.
Frodo ignored him. "Security, safety … plentitude and peace," the hobbit said so softly that Boromir had to lean toward him to hear. "The brewing of ale and the smoking of pipeweed… Bilbo used to say that." Frodo smiled wistfully. "And meals. But mostly, hobbits share a love of all things that grow.
"Hobbits aren’t…" Frodo began slowly, then glanced at Boromir with an odd expression. "We don’t seek out battle or conflict. We aren’t warriors. Never in our history have we gone to war, except for once. And that so long ago that it is forgotten by all but those who love old books, like me. We are not a violent people."
A shriek below them disabused this statement. Frodo grimaced. "Present company and circumstances excepted." They glanced down. Pippin had tried to escape by climbing up on the rocks and the delay had allowed Merry to catch up with him. Merry had a death-grip on one ankle and was intent on hauling his younger cousin down to where he could throttle him. Pippin had locked both hands about a protruding tree-root and was hanging on for dear life.
"Does your definition of ‘present company’ include Meriadoc?" Boromir managed to ask neutrally.
Frodo shut his eyes as Pippin suddenly released the root and launched himself backwards, landing on his cousin with a whump they heard from where they sat. Pippin’s crow of delight was muffled by Merry’s groan. Then the hobbit muttered something Boromir’s human ears could not distinguish.
Frodo evidently could. "Meriadoc! You watch your language, young hobbit!" The Ring-bearer sat back and regarded his scarlet-faced cousin with satisfaction. "Merry’s always been a tad … argumentative," he continued as the subject of their discussion fought to get his breath back, hands clenching in the sand as he made little wheezing noises. "He is not a hobbit you want to offend."
Down in the dell, Pippin scrambled out of his cousin’s reach then leaned over him anxiously. "Are you all right, Merry?" drifted up to the watchers.
Merry cracked open one eye and glared at him, then sat up, rubbing his stomach. Then he launched himself from a sitting position, arms outstretched. Pippin yowled and leaped backwards, but he had come too close. They both went down in a tangle of curls and elbows and hairy feet.
Boromir bit back a smile. Aragorn’s solemn eyes met him over Frodo’s head, and the soldier’s urge to laugh at the thought of one of these tiny people being a threat faded further. He had never spoken with Frodo or any of the hobbits about the Ring-bearer’s pursuit by the Black Riders, his wounding on Weathertop, or the dreadful, desperate race to win through to Rivendell. But he had seen the toll that journey had taken upon him during his recovery in Rivendell, and in Frodo’s movements when the Ring-bearer was weary. He honestly did not know if he could have endured such pain and terror with as much courage as this small person who sat so quietly by his side. At that moment, Boromir became aware that something was growing in him that had not been there before – respect.
Aragorn puffed on his pipe and stretched his long legs out before him. Here was another initial impression that wanted correction. The Ranger’s clothing might be scuffed and patched, but his weapons gleamed with care. Here was another, Boromir thought, that he was learning was worthy of his respect. Apparently unaware of Boromir’s scrutiny, Aragorn took the pipe out of his mouth and gestured idly towards the battle-in-progress with the stem. "Are those two going to be finished any time soon?"
"Are they making too much noise?" Frodo asked worriedly.
"No, but they should eat and get some rest. I do not fear the noise – Boromir chose well. The clash of swords will not escape this rock formation. Nor shouts," he continued, as the tweenager’s piercing yelp made them wince. Merry had Pippin down and was either trying to strangle him or was tickling him furiously.
Boromir looked at them anxiously but Frodo seemed unconcerned. "I will teach you a thing about hobbits, Boromir," Frodo said, climbing to his feet. "Here is a certain way to obtain their obedience." He cupped his hands around his mouth and leaned forward. "Merry! Pip!" he called. They looked up, Pippin shaking sand out of his hair.
"No luncheon for you until you finish your sword lessons!"
"Frodo," Pippin wailed, "we’re hungry!" Merry rolled off Pippin and struggled to his feet, trying to straighten his waistcoat and breeches. Pippin caught the arm extended down to him and pulled himself up, brushing sand from both their persons. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, they looked up at their cousin beseechingly. Boromir was glad that Frodo was the one issuing this mandate; he wasn’t certain that he was strong enough to withstand those pleading, sorrowful eyes.
"You are not to give them anything, Sam," Frodo said loudly, turning around to address his friend. "Not until Boromir says the lesson is over." Sam smiled, humor glinting in his eyes. He deliberately stirred the contents of his fry pan, and the delicious, mouth-watering aroma rose up and drifted on the breeze.
"Your plate’s almost ready, Mr. Frodo," replied Sam in an equally loud voice. "That little bit o’ wild onion spices the taters up a treat. Nice and crispy… Shall I start on the young masters’?"
"We were just … exercising," Merry said hurriedly. "Weren’t we, Pip?"
"Yes, yes," Pippin agreed, nodding so vigorously that his hair fell into his eyes. "We’re ready to finish our lesson now, Boromir." Both young hobbits darted back and recovered their swords, facing each other in the guard position. "Boromir! Are you coming or are we done?"
With a laugh, Boromir stood. "Thank you for the lesson on hobbits, Master Baggins," he said respectfully to the Ring-bearer. Frodo nodded.
"Go on, then," Frodo encouraged. "Aragorn and I will watch."
Wondering if he now understood halflings a little better, Boromir climbed back down the ledge and drew his sword. Exchanging careful parries with the two young hobbits, Boromir noted only peripherally the sight of the Elf leaping lightly from rock to rock, then balancing gracefully atop one to stare into the distance. He returned his attention quickly to the fray when Pippin dealt him a solid blow and danced quickly back out of reach.
"That’s good, Pippin!" Merry commented encouragingly, earlier hostilities apparently forgotten. Pippin nodded and looked pleased with himself as Merry stepped forward for his turn. He then hastily defended himself against Boromir’s rush, eyes wide. Boromir disengaged and allowed the hobbit to recover his breath. He had a lot to learn about these small, contradictory folk, Boromir thought, but then … he could not find better teachers.
This plot bunny was birthed by, “… he is small, Gandalf, smaller even than the other hobbits, and his body is not made to store heat the way a dwarf’s is.” Aragorn to Gandalf, “Splashing and Sputtering,” by Baylor (referenced with the author’s permission)
A Lesson on Hobbits II (Gimli)
The dwarf sat tailor-fashion in the snow, the muscles in his thick legs bunching as he cradled his chain-mail shirt, running the links through surprisingly nimble hands. Ice melted and popped as callused thumbs and fingers rubbed the links, flexing them and flicking off the resulting water that could cause rust and damage. Even with the cavern-bred night sight of his people, it was becoming difficult to see. Gimli looked up from his work to glance around the campsite. Darkcame early at this higher altitude, and the Fellowship had elected on an early halt. Gandalf had, rather, Gimli thought, with a hooded glance towards the reason for the wizard’s decision.
The halflings were exhausted. What was hard going for the larger members of the Company was near-impossible for the hobbits. Even walking in the path already broken by Gandalf, they had to lift their feet so much higher to clear the snow and take two steps to every one of the larger members’ of the Company. Pippin especially was struggling – as the smallest, Gimli saw that the youngling often had to take three steps to every one of the ‘Big Folks’ as Gimli had learned the hobbits called the other members of the Company. As the little folk grew increasingly weary, they could not step so high and instead forced their way through the snow, exhausting themselves further. When Gandalf finally stopped for the night, the hobbits dropped where they stood.
The tree line had petered out little more than halfway up Caradhras and an intense, bone-chilling cold set in. No longer was the snow a delight to the halflings and an amusement for the rest of the Companions; now all suffered. Though, Gimli thought as he rubbed the fine-wrought links of his mail shirt, dwarves suffered the least while the halflings suffered the most.
The three cousins huddled together for warmth, half-frozen hands fumbling in the saddle-bags to search for supper while the little gardener moved about briskly, keeping warm by caring for the pony. Gimli noted that the two younger ones kept the Ring-bearer between them, leaning on him and being leaned on, their knees drawn up to their chests, all of them shivering violently. They were the very picture of misery.
"Master Pippin," Sam called, "Would you give me a hand here?"
Pippin struggled to his feet, obviously stiff, and Frodo and Merry started to follow him. His eyes already on Sam, Gimli saw the quick shake of the gardener’s head, as did Merry. The young hobbit hesitated, his eyes meeting Sam’s over his cousin’s head. "Frodo," Merry remarked casually, "let Pippin help Sam. Maybe he’ll tire himself out and we can get some sleep tonight."
"I’m tired enough already, thank you," Pippin returned, "but it would take you two gaffers forever to serve, so I’ll do it. I’ll do it, Frodo," he repeated when the Ring-bearer looked up at him with a frown.
"All right, Pippin. Thank you," Frodo said, sinking back against Merry. He closed his eyes, missing the worried look passed between his kin. Merry wrapped his arms around his cousin and buried his face in Frodo’s shoulder.
The wizard would not permit them a fire, a decision Gimli regretted for the sake of the smaller folk. So he was quite surprised when Pippin handed him a mug of almost-warm tea. "Where did this come from, laddie?" he asked.
The little halfling’s face broke into a smile at the astonishment in his tone. "I asked Sam that – how he got the water hot without a fire. It’s not hot really – just warm. So the tea’s not very good, I’m afraid, especially without a slice of lemon -"
"Hot water?" Gimli prompted, musing on the young one’s ability to leap from subject to subject like a butterfly in a flower-field, apparently without drawing breath.
" – or sugar. I asked but Sam wants to save it for Bill. So I said -"
"Hot water, Peregrin?"
"Oh," Pippin paused, remembering the dwarf’s original question. "Sam tied the water-skins on the inside of the packs, right up against Bill. And put all the blankets on the outside against the cold. Isn’t he a marvel?" Pippin finished admiringly. It took Gimli a moment to work out that the youngling meant the hobbit, not the pony.
"Mr. Bilbo taught me that trick when I was just a lad," Sam said, passing Pippin to carry mugs to the others. "I remember he told me that your da, Mr. Glóin, had taught it ‘ta him."
Gimli nodded. "I too was raised on tales of my father’s great adventure, and of my kin’s brave hobbit companion." His hands cupped the mug of warm tea as he gazed around the darkening campsite. How strange to think that nearly eighty years ago his father and kin had sat around a fireless camp and supped a cold meal with this very same wizard and a hobbit.
Legolas had the watch; the Elf balanced easily on a snow-covered boulder, a slender shadow outlined by stars. The bitter wind seemed to have no effect upon him - he stood as motionless as a sliver of ice, only his luminescent eyes moving as he watched the frozen countryside. Gandalf and Aragorn were deep in converse, voices low and heads together. Then Aragorn turned and called Boromir to them. Aragorn knelt down and picked up a handful of snow, the three of them watching intently as it sifted through his fingers and drifted back to the frozen earth. Gimli nodded to himself – the consistency of the frozen pack would tell much of how they should proceed on the morrow.
"Stories? Stories, Gimli?" repeated Pippin hopefully, extending a hand to tug at the dwarf’s tunic. "Oh, you’re warm!" exclaimed the young hobbit in that distractingly hopscotch manner of thought he had. "Gimli, would you mind if I sat against you while we eat? It is only that I am so cold."
Though somewhat surprised, the dwarf nodded affably. "Of course, young hobbit. My folk live in cold climes, and I suppose our bodies are adapted for it. I am rarely cold, no matter how deep the snow or frigid the weather."
Pippin nestled himself against the dwarf’s side with a sigh of contentment, huddling into his cloak. He giggled when Gimli turned his head to look down upon him and the dwarf’s beard tickled the top of his head. Pippin reached up a hand tentatively and with a glance at Gimli for permission, tugged gently at the coarse hair. "It feels like wire," the tweenager commented, "sharp and prickly. Does it hurt when it grows out of your face?"
The dwarf was hard-put not to laugh, but the open curiosity on the shy young face stilled his desire to tease the halfling. "No," he said kindly. "No more than growing hair out of your feet does, I imagine. That seems most strange to me."
Pippin responded to this by falling backward on his elbows and sticking a hairy foot into the air for the dwarf’s inspection. "I don’t see the use of growing hair on your face," the young one commented, "while it is only sensible to grow it on your feet." Pippin sat up and regarded the dwarf’s heavy hob-nailed boots. "If you had hair on your feet, you wouldn’t have to wear those heavy boots. And smelly, itching stockings that always get holes in them. And you could walk ever so much quieter. And -"
"It does seem that hairy feet do have many advantages over hairy faces," the dwarf conceded in an effort to head off what looked to be an extensive list. "However, as Dwarves were made so, I suppose I shall have to endure it."
Recognizing that he was being appeased, Pippin smiled and leaned against the dwarf. "You’re better than a fire," he opinioned sleepily. Feeling an unfamiliar surge of protectiveness, Gimli tugged out the hem of the great fur-lined cloak Lord Elrond had gifted him in Imladris and tucked it under the young hobbit’s feet, pulling in the sides so that that it encircled the hobbit like a great tent. He pulled the edges closed so that only Pippin’s head stuck out. Eyes closing, the young one sighed in bliss and laid his head against Gimli’s side.
"Pippin! Stop bothering Gimli." Merry stood before them, chaffing blue-tinged hands together.
"Not at all, Meriadoc," Gimli replied graciously. "I do not mind. I have heat enough to spare."
Merry eyed him doubtfully. "Well, if you’re sure he’s not being a nuisance." The wind picked up suddenly and Merry shivered. Gimli pulled his voluminous cloak higher over Pippin’s ears, and did not miss the wistful look Merry gave his contented cousin.
"Would you like to sit at my other side, Meriadoc?" Gimli offered.
Merry wavered, obviously torn between his adult dignity and the cold. Another freezing blast of wind decided him. With a quick nod, Merry dropped across from Pippin and huddled against the dwarf, drawing his knees up against his chest. Gimli tugged up the other side of the cloak and tucked it over Merry, covering his bare feet.
"Merry!" Frodo exclaimed, looking scandalized as only an elder relation could.
"You may freeze if you like, Cousin," Merry returned, "but Brandybucks have more sense." He shuddered a final time, then stopped and drew in a deep breath, steeling himself. "But it is time to eat. Let Pippin stay, Frodo, and I’ll help."
"No," Frodo returned gently. "You two stay where you are, as long as Master Gimli doesn’t mind." Frodo looked at the dwarf anxiously and received an affable nod in reply. "Sam and I will serve dinner. You lads rest." Merry looked after his cousin gratefully as Frodo turned away, arms tucked across his chest, and went to help in the distribution of a cold supper.
Some time later, the Ring-bearer paused in collecting the emptied mugs and noted with amusement the two small forms propped comfortably against the dwarf. In sleep, they had both slid down until their heads rested on Gimli’s thighs and their bodies curled around him. Gimli had carefully adjusted his cloak over them as they sagged. Frodo thought Gimli looked rather like a broody hen sitting on a nest, her chicklings beneath her. Not that he would ever dare suggest such an image to the dwarf.
"Gimli, you need to sleep. You must not allow them to keep you from your rest," Frodo whispered in the softest of voices.
The dwarf shook his head, then stilled when Merry muttered some sleep-complaint at the movement. He wondered what he would do if the Ring-bearer and his servant asked to join the others – he had a sudden vision of himself buried in hobbits. "I can go without a few hours sleep, Master Frodo," he whispered. "These young ones are very tired and it is very cold."
Frodo shook his head. "Thank you, Gimli, but -"
The dwarf listed sideways slightly as a small hand tugged at him. "Make Frodo go away, Gimli," a sleepy, petulant voice demanded. "He’s making too much noise." Pippin pointedly turned his back on the speakers, cuddling against the warm furnace at his side.
Unable to laugh without disturbing their slumber, Gimli could only hide a smile beneath his beard. Frodo did laugh quietly. "Well, it seems I have been sent off. If you grow tired of them, Gimli, please call me. I will collect them."
Gimli did not think that would be soon. His embarrassment fading, he felt far more warmth emanating from the small bodies than could be accounted for by the simple sharing of body-heat. He shifted slightly to ease a crease under Merry’s cheek. "Are all hobbits so trusting of outsiders?"
"Oh, but you are one of us now," Frodo returned, resting his hand on the dwarf’s shoulder. "Thank you," he added quietly. Then he tucked himself down by Sam’s side and appropriated his cousins’ blankets, dragging them up over them both.
"Congratulations, Gimli," drifted Aragorn’s voice from the darkness, "on your adoption into hobbit-hood. Best keep a close eye on your pipe-weed pouch. And blankets. And I warn you – all pleas for extra rations will be refused."
"Hobbits," muttered Gimli, a smile in his deep, rough voice as the Ranger emerged out of the darkness. "Like cats, they are. I’ve never known such a folk for seeking warmth and ease."
"If they were cats, those would certainly be purring," Aragorn agreed with a jerk of his chin towards the cloak-covered protrusions at the dwarf’s sides. "They choose the most comfortable place to sleep, and all the better if you have warmed it for them first. They expect you to entertain them and produce an endless series of amusements. If you have food, they materialize out ofnowhere and stare up at you with sad, soulfuleyes." The Ranger laughed quietly. "And you count yourself fortunate to be treated so."
Aragorn sank to his knees and laid a hand against Pippin’s cheek, testing that his face was not too cold. Pippin scrunched up his nose and rubbed his face against the fur-lined cloak, relaxing back into sleep with a sigh. "They are a comfort-loving people, taking pride in their predictable, orderly lives. Except for these four and Bilbo, whom I have known of old. These folk are the most contradictory, aggravating, endearing -"
"Talking about hobbits, are we?" asked Gandalf, coming up with Boromir at his side.
"It seems most odd to me to be so readily … accepting … of other folk," Gimli rumbled, not looking at the Elf. "I do not know if it is a strength or a weakness to be so trusting." He looked down at the two small forms nestled against him.
"Yet perhaps in their care of each other may other folk learn a lesson," Gandalf murmured.
"Such nonjudgmental hearts may do much to heal the wounds of this world," Legolas contributed, his elven hearing easily carrying the soft-voiced conversation to him. The Elf turned around on his boulder and leaped gracefully to the edge of their small gathering. "My watch is ended, Master Gimli. I believe you are next?"
Aragorn leaned forward and balanced himself with a hand on Gimli’s shoulder. "You have not had time to finish cleaning your mail, Gimli. And now it appears you are otherwise … occupied." The Ranger smiled, a quick flash of teeth in the darkness as he rose to his feet. "Is it not a rule that a person may not get up when holding a cat? Please, allow me to take the guard for you."
The dwarf nodded, reflecting on this odd company of which he was now a part. He had joined the Fellowship to represent his people, that the effort to save Middle-earth not lack the strength and steadfastness of the Dwarves. Never thought he’d journey alongside an Elf. Never thought his feelings would change from emissary of his kind to brother-in-arms … and friend … of these strange folk. Great warriors and great hearts all, regardless of their size. As Aragorn clambered up on the boulder, the dwarf’s arms tightened around his two small charges, sheltering them from the cold.
A Lesson on Hobbits III (Legolas)
If they were not the oddest creatures the young elf had ever seen, they were perhaps the most incomprehensible. Samwise, Legolas recited to himself with a glance at the little gardener kneeling by his side, sorting through his pouches of herbs and spices. And Frodo and Meriadoc and Peregrin. Or Sam, Merry and Pippin as the younger ones seemed to prefer being called. No elf would embrace a diminutive of his given name but then, Legolas mused, these people hardly needed to uphold their honor.
The sound of raised hobbit voices made Legolas look up from adding slivers of rabbit-meat to the pots. "Stars!" one of them was saying, "Are you mad? I won’t do it!" The eldest, Frodo, was standing nose-to-nose with the youngest, both of them scowling fiercely. That is, Legolas amended, Pippin was scowling fiercely. Frodo merely looked exasperated. Elven hearing would allow him to easily eavesdrop on their conversation but he did not, respectful of the halflings’ privacy.
Pippin evidently did not care who overheard. Continuing to glare at his cousin, he crossed his arms and shivered, wincing as the bitter wind slipped through his thick, fur-lined cloak Lord Elrond had gifted each of them in Imladris. Legolas was glad that Mithrandir had given them leave for a fire; a hot meal and warm hearth seemed to do much to raise hobbit spirits. He added the last of the shredded meat and stirred one of the pots under Samwise’s watchful eye.
"No!" Pippin said loudly. "And you can’t make me!" The young hobbit spun on his heel and stalked off. Frodo took a half step after him then halted, irritation on his face. He stood hands on hips and stared after Pippin, obviously at a loss.
Legolas looked at Sam inquiringly. Sam shook his head, his attention on measuring herbs into the simmering pots set before him on the fire. The halfling examined a dried bay leaf thoughtfully and added it one of the pots. "Best not to get involved in gentlehobbit business, sir," Sam advised with the wisdom of long experience.
Legolas had heard his father’s tales of the unruly band of Dwarves that had so aggravated his royal sire, and the single halfling who had accompanied them during their brief incursion into Mirkwood. But Thranduil’s stories had given little acknowledgement to Master Bilbo, other than to call the halfling "an affable little fellow," which at first meeting, Legolas quite agreed with. He had found Master Bilbo to be a dignified, learned, well-read and well-traveled hobbit, and was just beginning to understand how very atypical that was for halfling folk.
Hobbits, Legolas reminded himself. They called themselves hobbits. Elves had perfect memory but it was difficult to change an appellation long-used. The Firstborn had not been much concerned with this remote and paradoxical little mortal folk, and the young elf could understand how the mistake of disregarding them had occurred. Who could have foreseen that the fate of all the world would rest on the slim shoulders of a hobbit that barely came up to his waist?
Legolas had first seen the Ring-bearer the morning of Elrond’s Council. That was the Ring-bearer? To judge from Aragorn’s tales, the elf had expected to see a small but doughty warrior, grim-faced, battle-hardened and bristling with weapons. Perhaps a creature like a very small dwarf, but with hair upon its feet instead of its face. Instead, Master Frodo Baggins seemed all dark curls and enormous morning-glory eyes set in a too-pale face, with the build of a dancer and the hands of a scholar. That he was obviously still weak from his Morgul wound was obvious; he sat stiffly among the Council in a chair too large for him, legs dangling uncomfortably. When Lord Elrond called him to rise and display the Ring, his movements were slow and painful. Legolas saw Mithrandir watching him worriedly and the relief in the old wizard’s eyes when the hobbit regained his chair, almost collapsing into it with a sigh of weariness.
Legolas glanced at the Ring-bearer, wondering what the altercation had been about. Rarely did he see discord among the little people—they seemed a remarkably compatible group, affectionate with and fiercely protective of each other. And especially of the youngest. Pippin had reached the edge of camp when a blur of motion erupted from the trees and bore him backward to the earth. In a flash, Merry had wrestled Pippin over and was pressing his face into the dirt, trying for a headlock. Pippin kicked and yowled shrilly and Legolas grimaced in genuine, if momentary, pain. "No," Pippin howled, "I won’t! Let me up!"
"Waste of time trying to be reasonable," Merry growled. "Pippin’s hardly ever taken a bath willingly in his life."
"I like baths!" Pippin shouted. "Just not in a freezing stream! It’s mid-winter, for stars’ sake. And I’m not that dirty!"
"You are certainly getting there," Frodo observed, joining them as the tweenager thrashed about on the ground and bucked, attempting to throw Merry off.
"Hold still, you," Merry muttered, pushing Pippin back down. "And don’t you dare try to bite me!"
"Pippin-lad," Frodo cajoled, crouching down before the struggling hobbits with his hands on his knees, "I took a bath and Merry took a bath and Sam took a bath. It was cold but we’re all still alive. And you know how Sam hates rivers."
"I hate rivers too," Pippin wailed piteously. "I almost drowned, you know, in Rivendell! I could have drowned!"
"Perhaps the poor lad could take a spit bath," Frodo said slowly, looking over Pippin’s head at Merry. "Sam could heat up some water in a pot—"
"No," Merry said, ignoring Pippin’s frantic nodding. "You always let him off, Frodo. A bath won’t kill him. He’s filthy."
"Sam! Sam, help me!"
Sam dropped his stirring spoon into one of the pots and stood up. "If you’d listened to your cousins, Master Pippin," he said in severe tones, "you’d have been washed an’ dried by now, and ready for your luncheon."
"Help! Help, my cousins are trying to drown me!" Pippin cried to the Fellowship at large. Legolas looked around to see how the rest of the Companions were receiving these dramatics. Aragorn and Gandalf were apparently deep in discussion, their eyes on the distant mountains and their backs to the melee, but Legolas’ keen eyes noted their shoulders were quivering suspiciously. Boromir had dropped the sword he was sharpening when Merry had tackled Pippin, rising to his feet. The man appeared confused and distraught, uncertain if actualinjuries were being inflicted, and kept looking at Aragorn. Gimli, on guard, ignored the whole commotion as not part of his duties.
Legolas felt he could hardly disregard two kicking, wrestling hobbits. His work finished, he glided over to them to offer what assistance he could. Three sets of eyes turned to him—one pair anxious, one pair determined and one beseeching. "If Peregrin is afraid of the water," the elf said gently, "perhaps he would feel better if I were to accompany him. I will not let you drown, Pippin."
Pippin looked up at the elf, no doubt wondering if he could inveigle Legolas into gaining him a reprieve. Legolas smiled at him encouragingly. "No," Pippin said slowly, "but thank you, Legolas. My cousins are determined to drown me or make me catch my death of cold, so I might as well let them." He heaved a weary sigh, evidently resigned to his untimely demise. "Get off me, Merry."
Merry released him and used a hand on Pippin’s shoulder to push himself to his feet. Pippin stood and made a great show of dusting off his already-disreputable clothing, glaring at his cousins. Then before the others could blink, he was off and accelerating.
"Pippin!" shouted Frodo and Merry together. With astonishing speed, the young one darted to the edge of camp and took refuge behind an enormous old oak. Safely out of his tormentors’ reach, he could not resist one last taunt. He leaned around the tree’s great trunk and stuck out his tongue at them.
Frodo’s normally pale face flushed crimson. "That tears it," the Ring-bearer barked. "Get him, Merry!" Legolas was left standing as the two hobbits hurtled after the tweenager. Pippin stiffened in surprise, obviously not expecting pursuit, then squeaked and ran. His cousins hot on his heels, he braked suddenly and they flew past him. Pippin shot back to the tree and hid on the other side of it. His little maneuver did not fool his kin. Legolas watched the three hobbits chase each other in circles around the tree and rubbed his forehead.
Aragorn left off his discussion with the wizard and drifted over to him. "Are they all like that?" Legolas asked as the Ranger approached.
Aragorn glanced at the noisy running battle. "Like what?"
"Like that." Legolas’ gesture seemed to encompass all that he did not understand about his new travelling companions. "They are the most contradictory folk" ("Pippin, you stop this instant, young hobbit!") "I have ever" ("Wait till I get my hands on you, Peregrin Took!") "encountered," Legolas finished rather breathlessly. ("You old gaffers might as well give up!") "They are—"
Frodo plowed to a stop and leapt backwards against the tree. Pippin roared past him and Frodo flung himself forward, clinching the youngster about the waist. "Pippin, that is enough! You—Oof!"
Merry crashed into them and all three went down in a tangled heap of sharp elbows and furry feet. Legolas had been forced to raise his voice to be heard over the tumult and his last words dropped into a sudden silence, "—so confounding I think I shall be driven mad."
"I often feel that way myself," Gandalf chuckled as he strode past them to speak with Gimli.
The hobbits were too involved in their contest of wills to notice they were the subjects of discussion. Pippin was fighting grimly, intent on escape from a fate he seemed to consider worse than death. Merry was threatening exactly that while Frodo was ordering both of them to behave themselves.
Now that they had him down, Pippin’s cousins were divesting him of his clothing. He struggled and shouted but it was two against one, both of them larger than he was. Legolas observed that the youngling’s cousins did not seem to be inclined to be gentle about it. Frodo and Merry relieved Pippin of his cloak, jacket and shirt, but the lad refused to relinquish his breeches, holding onto them with both hands. Merry hauled on the tweenager’s scarf and Pippin was forced to pull the yarn away from his throat or strangle. Frodo tugged off the breeches, ignoring his cousin’s furious yelps.
"For being as quiet-footed as Elves," Legolas said, "they produce an astonishing variety of noises at astounding volume." Merry and Frodo dragged their cousin to his feet and each had hold of an arm, towing the struggling hobbit towards the stream. "They chatter, sing, ask questions, offer comments, challenge you to riddle-games, spin tales, beg for stories and generally talk almost all the time they are awake," the elf continued. "Are all young ones like that?"
"No! No! No!" Pippin was howling desperately. "Nonononono!" The tweenager threw himself forward, hoping to catch his captors off-guard. Frodo and Merry released him and Pippin fell flat with a bone-rattling thump.
"Slippery little thing, isn’t he?" Merry asked Frodo grimly as they each bent to secure a leg.
Aragorn considered Legolas’ question. "From my experience, I would say most of them … yes. Except when they are eating, of course." Only someone as familiar with the Ranger as Legolas would have caught the laughter in Aragorn’s voice. "Samwise is a little more shy and Frodo is a little more reserved, but in general … I would say that is an accurate assessment of hobbit-kind."
"They squabble with each other," the elf said, a note of horrified fascination in his voice.
"I am unable to dispute that," Aragorn replied equitably, watching as Frodo and Merry began dragging the struggling young hobbit towards the water. Pippin scrabbled at the ground but could not impede them.
"And they do not seem to be much concerned with their personal dignity," Legolas continued, amazed. There was a final desperate scramble on the bank then a pale pink form was tossed unceremoniously into the water. A piercing shriek drilled through their eardrums. Elf and man shuddered. From behind them came the sounds of splashing, accompanied by quavering yips. Aragorn inserted a small finger into his ear and wiggled it about. Legolas looked over his shoulder anxiously.
Pippin had been pitched into a sheltered cove where the stream formed a pool only a few inches deep with a soft, sandy bottom. Despite their handling of the young one, Legolas noted that the two elder hobbits had chosen a still, safe place, free of eddying currents. Had the season been summer and not the depths of winter, a dip there would have been most pleasant.
Pippin sat up and glared at his cousins. Shivering violently, he locked his arms around his upraised knees and hugged himself, every visible inch of him breaking out in goosebumps.
"It is a good thing that this land is deserted," Aragorn commented. "That screech would have terrified a pack of wolves, had any been about." The Ranger smiled faintly, then returned his attention to the elf. "As to their ‘personal dignity’…" Aragorn was silent for a moment, thinking. "I would say rather that hobbits care more about living in the present than in glorying in the past or contemplating the future. For them, that moment, that ‘now’ consists of family, friends, food and the fortunes of life. Whatever those fortunes may be at the moment," he continued reflectively, his gaze on the hobbits.
"Well, don’t just sit there," Merry was growling in exasperation. "Wash!"
"The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be done," Merry retorted pitilessly. "If you don’t hurry, we shan’t save any food for you." Pippin reluctantly dipped a hand into the cold water and splashed it on himself.
"And how do such small folk eat so much?" Legolas asked. "They eat twice as much as we do, and we are near to twice their size. I do not understand all these meals. There are at least six from what they explained in Imladris, with innumerable ‘something strengthenings’ between. Now that we have begun our journey, they seem to invest much of their energy in anticipating, discussing and planning each meal. They compare recipes, negotiate ingredients, and argue methods of preparation. When it comes to actually eating, they relish the food as an elf would adulate a grand aria, sung by the finest choir in Elvendom. Then immediately they began to look forward to the next meal." Legolas paused to seek for words, gesturing vaguely with a slender hand. "I grant you, Master Samwise’s cooking is a gift beyond measure, but food seems to occupy these little ones’ attention far more than seems justifiable. How can one activity hold so much interest?"
Merry was evidently not satisfied with Pippin’s efforts, for he rolled up the cuffs of his breeches and borrowing an unused pot from Sam, waded out to his little cousin. Dipping the pot into the stream, he poured its entire contents over the tweenager’s head. Pippin whimpered miserably.
"And behind the ears!" Frodo called from shore.
"Yes, Cousin. Perhaps you would like to slog out here and help?"
"You’re doing fine, Merry. Carry on."
"I’m fre–fre-freezing to death!"
"And they want to know everything about everything," Legolas continued. "Not that they are impolite about it," he hastened to add when Aragorn raised an eyebrow at him. "But they are so exceedingly curious. Frodo wishes to learn about elvish history and the finer points of our language. Sam wants to hear songs and poems. Those two" (with a wave at Merry and Pippin) "ask for a constant stream of tales."
"You are a fount of information, Legolas," the Ranger said gravely.
Merry had evidently decided that Pippin was clean enough, for he urged the violently shaking tweenager to his feet and the two stumbled to where the others waited. Frodo and Sam both had blankets ready and the shivering young hobbit was wrapped in so many layers that he resembled a ball with a head at one end and feet at the other. Frodo urged he and Merry down by the fire and Sam pushed mugs of hot tea into their hands.
"I do not begrudge them the tales," Legolas said slowly, continuing his previous thought. "But it seems it must be now for the little ones, always. Why must it be now? There is time."
"For an immortal elf," Aragorn replied, all traces of humor deserting his voice. "For the rest of us, we are all too aware that each ticking of a clock brings us closer to death. And Frodo—" The Ranger fell silent and his stern features tightened.
"What?" Legolas questioned. "Frodo what?"
"I think our Ring-bearer fears he may have the least time of all," Aragorn said, dropping his voice to the softest of whispers. Legolas heard, of course. The elf looked at the small group thoughtfully, noting the gentle smile on Frodo’s face as he toweled Pippin’s hair dry, combing his fingers through the snarls. Now that the ordeal was over, the youngster’s sullen demeanor had disappeared and he was laughing at his cousin as Merry carefully dried between his toes and brushed out his foothair.
"You believe our Ring-bearer will not survive this quest?" Legolas asked, his voice no louder than the Ranger’s.
"I believe Frodo believes it," Aragorn replied softly. "And I believe he wishes with all of his heart that his two cousins had not come, however grateful he is for their presence. And he wishes Sam back home in the Shire, safe and happy, wedded to a lass there."
Legolas was silent, thinking as he watched the hobbits. Sam was testing the stew critically. Apparently satisfied, he began ladling it into a bowl, which Frodo carried to Boromir. Then Frodo returned to collect a bowl for Gandalf, then Gimli. Merry cast off his own blanket and rose to help but Frodo pushed him back down, scolding him cheerfully to wrap himself up again.
"Is there anything we can do?" Legolas asked at length.
Aragorn shrugged. "Indulge him, whenever possible. Give him those elvish tales. Feed that curiosity. It will keep his mind from what he carries. Perhaps it will help keep him sane."
Legolas hissed softly and Aragorn nodded. Frodo was approaching them, a bowl of stew steaming between his hands. The hobbit could not carry two of the Big People’s bowls at once. He offered it to Legolas with a bow. "What are you two talking about?" the Ring-bearer asked. "You look so serious."
The elf smiled as he accepted the bowl. "We were discussing the peculiarities of Hobbits," he said easily.
Frodo’s beautiful eyes sparkled. "Well, I might say the same of Elves. I shall never get used to you sleeping with your eyes open." He paused, sensing that something deeper lay beneath their light words. "Pippin is now fit company, if you would care to join the rest of us."
"You are sure?" Aragorn asked.
Frodo nodded. "Merry forced him to wash behind his ears." He looked at them searchingly, the laughter draining from his eyes. "Is there something I should know about?"
"No, Frodo," Aragorn answered, knowing that Legolas would not tell the hobbit an untruth. "I was just suggesting that Legolas tell you several elvish tales that are similar to those of hobbits."
Frodo’s eyes lit up again. "Oh, would you?" he asked Legolas, delighted. "I must write this down to give to Bilbo. Many of our oldest stories, for instance, echo those we heard in Rivendell…" Capturing the elf by the hand, Frodo led him back towards the others, forcing Legolas to juggle his stew alarmingly.
Legolas sank down next to Merry, and Frodo and Pippin crowded about him eagerly. Sam continued dishing up bowls of stew but his shining eyes were on the elf. Smiling at them, Legolas began to speak. Aragorn stood for a long time and watched, looking at their faces, and thinking of ancient prophecies and the queer creatures that were hobbits.
A/N: This fic takes place very early in the Quest, and is the first of the "Lessons" chronologically. Aragorn still has a lot to learn about hobbits, including something very important he will need to teach the other Big People of the Fellowship.
Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings and all its characters and settings are the property of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, New Line Cinemas, and their licensees. These works were produced with admiration and respect, as fan fiction for entertainment purposes only, not for sale or profit. This story and all my others may be found on my website, http://www.geocities.com/budgieloverfanfiction/index.html. My thanks to my dear Marigold for the beta.
A Lesson on Hobbits IV - Aragorn
The Ranger knew he was being watched. He had spent too many years in the Wild to be unaware when piercing eyes followed his every movement. He knew the feeling as a tingle at the base of his spine, a prickling of the hair at the nape of his neck. It was a sad testament to these troubled times that rarely had the spying eyes been friendly. For a moment, his thoughts returned to his home and his kin, now several days’ march behind them, and he regretted that the Fellowship was too far from Imladris to count on the protection of the Elves.
Without seeming to raise his head from his work, his gaze swept the marsh in which the Fellowship camped this day. The rising sun was casting confusing and deceptive shadows on the moss and vines that hung from low-growing, spreading trees, many of them half-rotted. The ground was thick with grasses and water-tolerant plants that could live in such mire, and the air was filled with the fetid smell of decomposing plant-life. Despite the time of year, this area had an odd, clinging humidity that made perspiration glisten on the skin and clothes stick uncomfortably. The thick vegetation was perfect cover—he could see none of the Fellowship even though wisps of conversation drifted to him; the light music of the elf’s laugh, the deep rumble of the dwarf’s reply. Splashing from the other side of him indicated that the halflings were bathing, not all of them voluntarily. At least the muffled accusations of mutual attempted drownings had tapered off. Boromir was with them, so Aragorn did not worry for the Ring-bearer’s safety.
He dropped the last morsel into the little gardener’s largest cookpot and reached for a rag to scrub his hands. Digging their meal out of their shells had been tedious but small as their entree was, there would be plenty, even for prodigious hobbit-appetites. Though not as acutely miserable as the Midgewater Marshes, this soggy piece of land swarmed with nutritious fare and the harvesting had been both plentiful and easy. He had borrowed two of Sam’s pots, which now sat simmering and bubbling on the fire. Aragorn smiled faintly as he remembered the stocky hobbit’s apprehension at lending him the pots, as if the man had asked if he might borrow the Ring for an evening. Casting aside the rag, he rose to his feet and stared into the tangled stand of trees at the edge of camp.
"Well?" he asked the watching eyes.
"When will you admit defeat?" Gandalf asked, emerging from the trees to settle himself on a log near to the fire. The wizard held out his hands to the flames, savoring their warmth against the bitter wind. Propping his staff between his knees, Gandalf removed his pipe from its storage place amongst the convoluted branches of the tip. A small flame lit the bowl, appearing as if by magicand Gandalf inhaled deeply, savoring the sweet pipe-weed.
"Never," Aragorn replied grimly. "I will teach those hobbits to live off the land or die in the attempt."
"They are perfectly willing to live off the land," the wizard disputed with a puff of smoke. "They have shown you a new trick or two, as I recall. They are just not willing to eat insects and grubs and the truly disgusting things you seem to consider nourishment."
"Insects have more protein than beef," Aragorn began hotly, "and such creatures as … grasshoppers, for instance—"
Gandalf waved a negligent hand. "Peace, Aragorn. You do not need to convince me. I respect your beliefs. And I agree that our friends should learn to take advantage of every food source available to them. There may indeed come a time when our Fellowship might have nothing else, despite the skill of our hunters." The wizard smiled at his old friend, enjoying the gentle teasing. "Such fare would help to keep those bottomless bellies filled, if nothing else."
Aragorn’s stern face lit with enthusiasm and he gave the nearest cookpot a stir. Gandalf sniffed appreciatively as the aromas of garlic and salted butter drifted past his nose. "But if Frodo sees a single segmented leg or one antenna in what you are cooking," the wizard continued, "you are on your own. I would keep your sword close as we sup this morning."
"I can match that hobbit for stubbornness," Aragorn began but fell silent when Gandalf abruptly choked on his pipe, a laugh emerging from his mouth as smoke drifted from his nostrils.
"You cannot," Gandalf stated simply. "Frodo is a Baggins."
Aragorn eyed him. "I know that. Frodo is Bilbo’s nephew and cousin. What is your point?"
The old wizard leaned back comfortably. "My point, Aragorn, is that though you have guarded the borders of the Shire for many years, you have not interacted closely with many hobbits—other than our dear Bilbo, of course. Watching them from a distance is not the same as living among them and being friends with them."
Seeing that the cookpots were coming along well, Aragorn set aside the spoon and sank down next to the wizard, stretching out his long legs before him. "I know Hobbits are different from Men—or Elves or Dwarves—but you are saying they are different from each other?"
Gandalf nodded, pleased with his pupil’s aptness. "Oh, indeed. Each of the gentlehobbit families has … certain highly identifiable traits, shall we say. For example, Peregrin’s family is known for its adventurousness. Which, I might add, is not considered a desirable trait among hobbits. I was great friends with Pippin’s great-great-grandfather, the Old Took. Great friends. We had many good times together..." The wizard fell silent and Aragorn was startled to see his old friend’s eyes fill suddenly with tears. Sitting next to him, Aragorn wondered what it would be like to watch those most dear age and wither and finally succumb to death, and if the joys each new generation brought ever filled that black void … or if it merely grew and grew. His adoptive folk did not suffer such pain—Elves rarely mingled with the mortal races and so death was a mystery to them. A mystery he would one day experience. Yet Aragorn thought he would prefer that to the grief of seeing those dearly loved pass from life, while he stayed forever the same.
"Gandalf?" Aragorn said softly, laying a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
"Yes, well." The wizard swallowed, then cleared his throat. He reached up to pat Aragorn’s hand and the Ranger pressed his shoulder gently before releasing him. "As I was saying…" Gandalf continued, "Meriadoc is a sterling example of the Brandybuck line, for instance."
"I am glad that Merry is a sterling example of something," Aragorn growled. "I swear that that hobbit managed to cause more trouble in Imladris since … since…"
"Since you were a child there?" Gandalf asked with a twinkle. The Ranger flushed, knowing that Elrond had filled the wizard in on many of Aragorn’s own adolescent adventures.
"How is Merry such a paragon?" Aragorn asked, hoping to turn his friend back to his explanation of hobbits.
"That quicksilver mind," Gandalf explained. "Brandybucks are known for being both very bright and somewhat mercenary. No, I do not mean rapacious," Gandalf added when Aragorn would have protested, "though I would not suggest standing between Merry and an apple pie." The wizard snorted, his eyes twinkling. Then he sobered. "I mean when Merry sees something he wants, he goes for it, through whatever obstacles are in his path. Not always considering the consequences, I fear … but then, he is young."
"Merry is thirty-six years old," Aragorn commented wryly.
"Which is barely past coming-of-age for a hobbit," Gandalf replied with a faint smile. Aragorn was relieved to see the glimmering dampness in his friend’s eyes had faded.
"Well, Samwise is only two years older, and he is great deal more mature," Aragorn grumbled, not willing to give up his grievance quite yet. He had lost count of the number of times he had been summoned to Elrond’s study to find his foster father slumped over his desk, rubbing that high brow and muttering "hobbits" to himself.
Gandalf pointed wordlessly at the pots and Aragorn reached over to give them a quick stir. Wouldn’t do to let their dinner burn, after promising Samwise he would care for the cookware as if it were made from the finest mithril. "Sam Gamgee is a different story," the wizard continued. "He comes from good working stock and is proud of it. His family has taken care of the Bagginses all Sam’s life, and his father’s before him." Gandalf paused and puffed, his eyes contemplative. "I have a great deal of respect for the Gaffer. He is a hobbit that may be depended upon. As is his son."
"I am glad that someone takes care of Frodo," Aragorn muttered. "Someone certainly needs to."
Gandalf laughed outright, then. "Frodo," he said, affection coloring his voice, "is a Baggins, but also half a Brandybuck with a very strong Tookish strain. You have no doubt noted the physical resemblance between he and Pippin. Pippin is a full-blooded Took. May the Valar have mercy on us," the wizard added under his breath.
Gandalf leaned back and shifted his weight comfortably upon the log. "I named Frodo the finest hobbit in the Shire, and his actions since have only confirmed my opinion," he continued, his mien serious now. "I have known him since he was a lad, barely a tweenager first come to Bilbo. He needed a place of his own, and unbounded love, and Bilbo gave him that. Bilbo has told me that Frodo has repaid him tenfold. He has never regretted taking the boy in.
"Frodo is … special. He has always been special, and not just because of his looks. I agree he can be exasperating, stubborn, absent-minded, melodramatic, and disrespectful. He can also be courageous, steadfast, compassionate, indulgent, and generous to a fault. He would face down a dragon for those cousins of his, or Sam, or any of us. There is a light that shines in Frodo … a purity of spirit, a…" The wizard withdrew the pipe from his mouth and waved it about vaguely. "An elvish air, as I have said before. I do not have words to quite describe it. He has an adamant soul." Gandalf returned the pipe to his mouth, his brow furrowed. "He did not bow before the Witch-king of Angmar and I have never seen him bow to any evil thing or deed."
Gandalf was quiet, puffs of smoke drifting free of his pipe to dissipate in the breeze. "Our entire Quest depends on the strength of the Ring-bearer. As dearly as I love Frodo and fear what this mission may cost him, I cannot think of another pair of hands, however large or small, in which I would rather place the fate of Middle-earth."
"I have not known him as long, or as well," Aragorn replied slowly, "but with each day that passes, I begin to understand." He stared into the fire for some moments, automatically checking that it did not smoke and betray their location. Then he sighed and straightened. "All right," Aragorn said with a wave of his hand. "I acknowledge that they are each of them different, and each their own hobbits. But must they indulge in such mischief? Not an hour ago I caught Frodo trying to switch the labels on Sam’s spice pouches. Sam very respectfully told him to keep his hands to himself, unless he wanted black pepper on everything he ate. They are not children!"
"They are not children," Gandalf agreed. "But they are more innocent than Men, more light-hearted and more interested in the ‘now’ than what might be tomorrow. Men mistake this for childishness. Hobbits know something many Big Folk have forgotten."
"And that is?" the Ranger asked.
"How to delight in life," Gandalf answered simply.
"Oi!" something small and quick bounded into camp and bounced to a stop before the two. "That smells wonderful!" Pippin exclaimed. "What is it? Are we ready to eat yet?" He was wrapped up in one of the Fellowship’s blankets, rubbing himself dry as he spoke, his clothes rolled into an untidy bundle and tucked under an arm. With a quick shake of his head he managed to splatter water on both wizard and Ranger then grinned at them, defying them to reprimand him.
"Where are Frodo and Merry and Sam?" Aragorn replied, answering none of the young one’s questions.
"They are coming," Pippin replied dismissively. "They are very slow. I hope I am not so slow when I am old."
"You don’t have to worry about that," Merry growled, emerging from the direction of the pond, "because I am going to strangle you in your sleep if you ever drop a frog down my breeches again."
"Just ignore him," Pippin advised. "The water was cold and the bottom of the pond was squishy and Merry isn’t very good at living in the Wild, anyway." He leaned forward to gather up the hem of his drooping blanket and whispered in Aragorn’s ear, "Wait till he finds out I filled his water bottle with tadpoles." The he was diving into his pack, clothes flying everywhere.
"At least we are clean," Merry sighed, "despite it being a thoroughly horrible experience." He shivered, then looked at the simmering pots with interest. "When do we eat?"
"Not—not until you are dry and dressed," called Frodo from behind him, stuttering a little with cold. He was similarly cocooned in blankets, as was Sam. The ends of their blankets trailed on the ground, leaving a track of water that made Aragorn lift his eyebrows in inquiry. "And you can just hang these blankets out to dry," Frodo continued to Pippin when he noticed the direction of Aragorn’s gaze, "since you used them to swing into the center of the pond."
Pippin paused in donning his shirt, one arm in the air. "Boromir tied the knot. It’s not my fault the blankets came off the branch."
Boromir brought up the rear and exchanged a nod with Aragorn, his watch over. "You tied the blankets on a tree limb so Pippin could swing over the water?" Aragorn asked. The Ranger noted that the soldier’s surcoat was dark with water and his boots squeaked.
Boromir grimaced. "Not ever again. They splashed me at every opportunity. All of them. The water will have to settle before anyone else can bathe. Is dinner ready?"
"Ah, Boromir," Merry said fondly, "We will teach you to think like a hobbit yet."
* * *
"Excellent, Aragorn," Legolas commented easily, lowering his spoon to nod approvingly. "I have never tasted better, not even in my royal father’s feast-hall. We should have you spell good Master Samwise more often, if you cook like this." Sitting across the fire from the elf, Gimli, already on his second bowl, grunted accord but did not pause to compliment the chef.
The four hobbits were the only members of the Company who had not dived into the evening’s fare with delight. Obviously hungry, they sat with their bowls held in their laps and spoons lax in their fingers, staring at the small, pale bits of meat floating in the rich broth with suspicion. Frodo raised his spoon cautiously and sipped at the broth, avoiding the small lumps of rubbery meat. Aragorn had watched him poke his dinner, turn it over, try to pry the tiny morsels apart, and unobtrusively sniff them. Gentlehobbit manners were all that prevented the hobbit from licking it before actually putting it in his mouth.
"This is good," Frodo commented with obvious mistrust as he swallowed the liquid cautiously.
"Aye, it is." Sam eyed the lumps in his bowl with a professional eye. With three sets of hobbit eyes upon him, he maneuvered one into his spoon and gingerly slid it into his mouth. The other hobbits watched him attentively. Sam blinked, then an expression of bliss spread across his broad face.
Merry and Pippin dove in but still Frodo held out. "It’s not grubs, is it?" he asked, poking one of the lumps. Pippin paused with his mouth full, turning green. Merry made a choking sound beside him and clamped his hand across his mouth.
"No," Aragorn hastened to say, "I promise you it is not insects."
"No," Aragorn replied, ignoring the whispered conversation ("Aren’t worms insects?" "No, Pip, worms are worms." "What are caterpillars, then?" "Not worms!") taking place to the side of him.
"Well, what is it?"
Aragorn hesitated. Frodo’s eyes narrowed and he put down his bowl. Sam eyed his sorrowfully but followed his master’s lead, setting his dinner on the ground. The other two hesitated, looking from Frodo to Aragorn. Boromir smiled and bit down on a morsel, stretching it out to let it snap against his teeth.
"Escargots," Aragorn said at last.
There was a silence among the four smallest members of the Company. "Oh," Pippin said blankly. "That’s all right, then. May I have some more?"
Aragorn graciously poured more of the cookpot’s contents into the tweenager’s bowl, where it disappeared in short order. "What’s escotgots, Merry?" Pippin leaned over and hissed when he had breathing space.
"Goat?" Merry whispered back. He wracked his memory, not willing to be caught uninformed before his little cousin. "Hill goats, which live on the sides of cliffs. That is why they’re called escarp goats. The meat’s a bit tough because they’re wild. Delicious, isn’t it?"
"Mummm!" Pippin agreed, chewing industriously.
Frodo ate with more decorum, still staring suspiciously at the Ranger. But even he had to admit their supper was excellent. "I didn’t see you or Legolas go hunting," Frodo remarked, eyeing one of the small lumps on his spoon.
"Yes, all right," Frodo pursued, reluctantly conceding the point. "But we weren’t gone long enough for you to go hunting, skin the game and cook it. And I haven’t seen any offal—have you cleaned it all up already?"
"All taken care of, Frodo," Aragorn said easily (and in perfect truth). "However, as you astutely pointed out, I have done all the work so far so it will be up to you and the others to wash up."
"All right, that’s fair," agreed Frodo. "But—"
"Mushrooms," Boromir interrupted loudly, seemingly in an aside to Gimli, "sliced thin and fried in butter, then added to the broth." The soldier pretended to be unaware of the four sets of hobbit-ears that had riveted on him upon hearing the word "mushrooms." Frodo frowned at the interruption, then turned back to Aragorn. "I want to know—"
"Served with garlic-toasted bread, it is considered a rare delicacy in Minas Tirith," Boromir continued in that overly loud voice. "I like roasted potatoes with mine, dripping butter, and perhaps grilled tomatoes dipped in breadcrumbs and sprinkled with rosemary." Frodo’s gaze was dragged unwillingly back to the speaker, and he unconsciously licked his lips. The other hobbits were staring at the soldier fixedly. Gimli smiled into his beard, then returned his attention to his bowl. "Then for dessert, we have baked apples seeped in honey and cinnamon."
"Baked apples…" breathed Pippin, a blissful expression on his face.
"With currants?" asked Merry.
"If you wish," Boromir answered magnanimously. "You may have anything you like." Boromir had the hobbits’ full, enraptured attention, now. "Many people like them topped with sweet cream and sprinkled with nuts. Or perhaps instead a bowl of iced raspberry sherbets with sweet biscuits." He glanced up and Aragorn caught his eye, nodding his thanks for the rescue. The soldier returned the nod, then turned to address Sam’s eager questions on Gondorian cooking, the hobbits crowding around Boromir to listen intently.
"When are you going to tell them?" Gandalf asked as the hobbits set to washing up.
Aragorn checked that they would not be overheard; Merry and Pippin were up to their elbows in a bucket of soapy water while Sam and Frodo were drying the bowls and packing them in the pony’s panniers. "Sometime after we leave this marsh, and there are no more snails to be had. And after this meal has been well digested and will make no undesirable re-appearances." The Ranger allowed himself a little smile of self-congratulation. "After our friends find out they ate and enjoyed snails, can insects be far behind?"
"Actually, yes," Gandalf commented. "Frodo will not let this go, Aragorn. Hobbits may be alike in being easily distracted by food, but a Baggins will pursue an answer until he obtains it. No amount of misdirection will change that."
Aragorn’s eyes gleamed and a rare smile lit his stern face. "I look forward to the challenge."
A Lesson on Hobbits (Gandalf)
And “an obscure branch of knowledge.” Gandalf chuckled as he remembered that casual remark. For all that he was the (self-proclaimed) authority on hobbits in Middle-earth, they sometimes surprised even him. Even when you knew them from childhood, as he had known Frodo. Watching the hobbits settle in for this night’s camp, he reflected that he should write a book. Bilbo would certainly collaborate with him.
Gandalf braced his staff against the log on which he rested and surveyed their campsite with satisfaction. The Company sprawled about him in various positions of overstuffed content, their stomachs full of roast grouse and venison steak. The hunting had been excellent; both Aragorn and Legolas had brought down their prey. Sam had eagerly taken the game presented him, combined it with the hobbits’ foraging, and turned out a feast rivalling that of Elrond’s tables. The incessantly blowing wind had tormented them with the aromas of meat flavoured with onion and garlic, rosemary and thyme, and it was not only the hobbits who had impatiently awaited Sam’s announcement of supper. That had been another stroke of his brilliance–gang-pressing the little gardener into accompanying his master. Though like as not, Gandalf mused, Sam would have followed Frodo on his own.
The subject of his current ruminations was seated at his feet, using his knees as a backrest while he picked bits of moss and forest debris out of his foot hair. His usual tidy appearance restored, Frodo yawned expansively, arms outstretched. The fire gave a blush to his cheeks and the weary set of his shoulders was hidden by the darkness, and for a moment, the wizard was strongly reminded of the big-eyed tweenager Bilbo had taken in so long ago.
Catching Gandalf’s eye upon him, Frodo smiled sleepily. “My apologies, Gandalf. That fourth helping of venison was perhaps one too many. I shall be ready to turn in, in a little while.” He settled himself more comfortably against Gandalf’s knees and looked around the campsite hopefully. “Would anyone like to give us a story?” he asked, prompting his cousins to drag their eyes open.
The other two would have followed Frodo too, Gandalf thought with a sigh. In fact, they did. Wizard or no, Elf-friend or no, Gandalf did not relish of thought of explaining to the families of Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took that he was leading their irreplaceable sons on a clandestine mission that could only be considered a fool’s hope. Especially to Esmeralda Brandybuck, Merry’s mother. If he did survive this Quest, Gandalf resolved to steer clear of the Shire for a few generations.
At Frodo’s query, Merry took his pipe out of his mouth and poked Pippin with the stem. Over the resultant “Ouch!” he said, “Excellent idea, Frodo! I could do with a story.”
“Or a song?” Pippin asked, struggling up into a sitting position against Merry. “I don’t think I could stay awake for a story.”
“Legolas?” Aragorn asked.
The elf shook his head. “I sang last night. As we approach the mountains, it seems fitting to me that Master Gimli favour us with the music of his people.”
A snort from beyond their campfire conveyed Gimli’s opinion of Legolas’ elegant phrasing. “I have the guard. And the stars would begin to pale before I could finish the shortest of Dwarvish sagas. If you hobbits cannot stay awake to appreciate my work, I will not make the effort.”
“Boromir?” Pippin asked. “You did promise us a story back in Rivendell, when we were all ill with colds.”
“I am too filled with Master Samwise’s excellent cooking,” Boromir hedged, wondering when the hobbit was going to forget that ill-considered remark. Not for the first time, he reflected that Pippin reminded him of one of those little terriers the women of his father’s Court kept; once they sunk their teeth into something (like his leg), their little jaws had to be pried apart.
“And I have the guard after Gimli,” Aragorn drawled. “Thus it falls to you, Gandalf. Having heard you sing before, I strongly recommend a story.”
“Good!” Pippin said brightly. “Wake up, Sam. Gandalf is going to tell us a story.”
“I wasn’t asleep, Mr. Pippin.”
“You were snoring.”
“I was not! I was just … breathing, heavy-like. A story about Elves, Mr. Gandalf?”
“Hobbits!” Merry and Pippin cried together.
“It was my suggestion,” Frodo told them. “And I would like to hear some history.”
“Pooh on history,” Pippin retorted. “And pooh upon anything educational, instructive, or enlightening. I want to hear Gandalf tell us a story about himself.”
“No worries then on the educational, instructive or enlightening part,” Merry whispered to Sam.
“What did you say, Meriadoc Brandybuck?”
“If we are going to hear a story,” Frodo said, standing up so quickly that the log rocked, forcing Gandalf to dive for his staff or have it dashed to the earth, “then we must have a bit of afters to go with it.”
“Must we?” Boromir asked, looking puzzled.
“Of course,” Frodo declared. “One cannot be done without the other.” Three strides brought him to his pack, where he knelt and dug out a small pouch, carefully distributing one toffee each.
“Old hobbit tradition,” Gandalf agreed with a final hard look at Merry. “If they are not talking or singing, they must be eating.”
“Or smoking,” Pippin said cheerfully, popping the sweet into his mouth. “Or drinking. You wouldn’t happen to have a mug of ale in that pack, would you, Frodo?”
“That would be a treat,” Sam remarked regretfully, stowing his sweet in a pocket. “A bit of cheer on what’s faring up to be a cold night.”
The wind rose and fell, whistling in the distance. The hobbits shivered and Frodo resumed his seat at Gandalf’s knees, helping himself to a corner of the wizard’s cloak. This time when the wind ceased, the howling did not.
“Wolves,” Aragorn said softly, one hand on the pommel of his sword.
“Far away, far away,” Gandalf reassured them. “We will enter their domain once we start climbing the mountain.” The Company glanced uneasily at each other, and checked the closeness of their weapons.
“A story,” Gandalf mused, speaking a little louder to cover the distant music. “A story … yes … a historical story…” Frodo beamed at him and Gandalf smiled back, thinking for a moment how much he loved this hobbit. “Well, my lads, would you like to hear of when I and your Cousin Bilbo and Gimli’s father and the other Dwarves of Thorin’s Company were surrounded by wolves on their Great Adventure?”
“Bilbo’s told us that one,” Pippin said dismissively. “Dozens of times. Sam, if you don’t want that toffee, I’ll have it.”
“I’m saving it for later, Mr. Pippin.”
“I have not heard the tale,” Boromir put in. “I would greatly like to hear it, if Gandalf is willing.”
“Bilbo tells it better,” Pippin informed him. “He does all the different voices and pulls these wonderful faces, and he can howl just like a wolf–”
“I will be telling it now, young Master Took.” Gandalf glared at the young hobbit, who looked not in the least contrite. “Forgive me if I think I know a little more about wolves than Bilbo, who (if you recall), had hardly ventured far from his own front door before.”
“He also said he was quite happy and content until you dragged him off into the Wild,” Frodo commented.
“I did not drag him, Frodo Baggins. I merely … gave your uncle the opportunity he had always longed for. Whether he knew it or not.”
“Tell us about fighting the wolves,” Merry interjected, eyes shining in the firelight. “About how everyone was tired and cold and hungry, and then you heard the howling in the distance–”
At that moment, far ahead of them in the mountains, another wolf cried. The howl rose on the wind and wavered, then fell away into the sudden silence. Another answered it, ending with a series of sharp barks, calling the pack to hunt. Abruptly Sam stood up and scurried to Frodo’s side. Frodo smiled at him and patted his arm reassuringly.
“Ah yes,” Gandalf said heartily, turning around to catch the gleam of Gimli’s eyes in the darkness. The dwarf shifted his great battle-axe to his shoulder, where it would be quicker to wield at need. “I sincerely doubt we will encounter those wolves again–their great-great-grand cubs, perhaps. Well, they were snarling and snapping around us, and I stood my ground and summoned fire–”
“Bilbo said you climbed a tree,” Frodo pointed out. “Everyone climbed a tree. It was your suggestion, Bilbo said.”
“Actually, Bilbo said Gandalf screamed it,” Pippin announced to the others helpfully.
“According to my father,” Gimli put in from beyond the fire, “thirteen dwarves in chain mail and a wizard struggling to climb up various trees is not something for delicate sensibilities. My father said he learned several new words from Gandalf that day.”
“What words?” Merry asked, all ears.
“Never you mind,” Gandalf told him repressively.
“The wolves would have gotten Mr. Bilbo if Mr. Thorin hadn’t told Dori to pick him up,” Sam contributed. He leaned back against Gandalf’s log and fished out his sweet, unwrapping it. “Mr. Dori climbed out of that tree and came down for Mr. Bilbo, and up they went with a wolf snapping at Mr. Dori’s cloak!” Sam paused, momentarily overcome by that mental image. “And I’m eating it right now, Mr. Pippin, so you can just stop looking at me like that.”
“Like what? I was just looking. I have to look at something. I–”
“And you didn’t mention you had any toffees, Frodo. I could have done with one now and then on the trail.”
“Which is exactly why I didn’t mention them. I was keeping them for occasions when we need them.”
“Like Gandalf’s stories?”
“That is enough,” Gandalf said firmly over the soft snickers coming from Aragorn and Boromir. “I believe I was trying to tell you about the wolves attacking without these interruptions–”
“What interruptions?” Merry demanded. “We were just–” There was a silence. “Oh. Sorry.”
“I always thought it wasn’t a very good plan to set the pine-cones afire and throw them at the wolves,” Pippin said thoughtfully. “I mean, what with all the pine-needles and dead trees and branches about, of course the forest would catch fire. Be a miracle if it didn’t.”
“It is very easy to say that now,” Gandalf told him, “but my options were limited at the time and it is very difficult to think with thirteen dwarves and one hobbit yowling at you.”
“Yes, but … well, anyone would have known–”
“Have another sweet, Pip,” Frodo said a bit desperately.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Pippin said amicably, leaving Merry to drop opposite Frodo and reach over Gandalf’s legs, helping himself to the pouch Frodo held out to him.
“The pine-cones were magic,” Merry went on. “They burned blue and red and green and went off in coloured sparks and smoke! Like fireworks! What a sight that must have been!”
“T’was a bit cruel to throw them at the wolves, though,” Sam said. “Poor things.”
“Poor things?” Gandalf echoed in disbelief. “They were going to eat us!”
“Well, that’s what wolves do, isn’t it?” Sam returned. “You and Mr. Thorin and all the rest of them foul-mouthed dwarves had invaded their territory. It was their territory.”
“You wouldn’t like to show us how you did it, would you, Gandalf?” Merry asked, evidently still enthralled by the idea of pyrotechnics. “Look, there are lots of pinecones about.”
“No, Merry,” Frodo told him before Gandalf could reply. “He’d probably burn down the whole forest this time.”
“I had everything under control,” Gandalf protested.
“But they would burn so nicely,” Merry pressed, gathering up several. He stepped between Frodo and Pippin and deposited them in Gandalf’s lap, then stood in front of Gandalf looking at the wizard hopefully.
“Wouldn’t mind seeing that for myself,” carried Gimli’s voice.
“I am not setting any pinecones afire–”
“Sit down, Merry,” Frodo ordered, “and stop bothering Gandalf. He is probably too tired.” Looking disappointed, Merry discarded the pinecones and settled against the other side of Gandalf with Pippin. Frodo nodded in approval.
“Thank you, Fro–,” Gandalf began.
“After all, all this walking is hard on someone Gandalf’s age,” Frodo concluded.
Frodo looked up inquiringly.
“Cheeky hobbit! Disrespectful of your elders!” Something like a chortle cut off his tirade. Gandalf peered across the fire suspiciously but could not tell which of shadowed forms had emitted it.
“But of course you’re our elder,” Pippin said, puzzled. “You’re everyone’s elder.”
“Thank you very much for that reminder,” Gandalf grit out.
“What I should like to know,” Merry interrupted, “is what you thought you were going to do when you reached the top of the tree. I mean, you’d set the tree on fire, and the fire was climbing up the tree. What were you planning on doing? Growing wings and flying?”
“I should have liked to see the Lord of the Eagles,” Frodo said wistfully. “And to be carried by him and his folk! I know poor Bilbo was in terrible straights, what with hanging on to Dori’s legs, but can you imagine such a thing? Being carried by the Lord of the Eagles!”
“You were taken by the King of Eagles to his eyrie?” Boromir murmured in astonishment. “What an honour you were given for your deeds!”
“He was having a lay down,” Pippin informed Boromir.
Gandalf closed his eyes and his hands clenched white on his staff. Seeing this, Aragorn leaned forward and said hurriedly. “We have a long march tomorrow, my friends. It is time to turn in.”
“That was a very good story,” Frodo said. “Thank you, Gandalf.” The wizard growled something into his beard. Turning to Legolas, Frodo continued. “I have the watch after you, I believe?”
“I will wake you at dawn,” the elf confirmed.
Frodo nodded. “Bed, lads!” he said to others. “Goodnight, everyone.” With many yawns, the hobbits rolled themselves into their blankets and were asleep within minutes.
“It is time for my watch.” Aragorn stood and stretched, lithe as a cat. “Thank you, Master Gimli.” Gimli replied with a grunt, swinging the great axe easily off his shoulder as they passed.
Some time later, Gandalf made his way to where Aragorn stood at ease, leaning against a tree. They listened intently for a moment, but the wind no longer carried the hunting howls of the pack to them. After waiting a few moments for Gandalf to speak, Aragorn said, “Will the wolves be a danger?”
“Possibly. There are other creatures and things in those mountains I fear more.”
“I had never heard you tell that tale. It varies slightly from the one our friend Bilbo tells.” The darkness hid Aragorn’s features, but the wizard could hear the smile in his voice.
Gandalf harrumphed. “Bilbo was not responsible for the safety of fourteen other lives. And an ungrateful lot they were, too. Much like these.” A wave of the hand encompassed the four blanket-bound forms, lined up like peas in a pod.
Aragorn lowered his voice. “They love you, you know.”
Gandalf was silent for long moments. “And I, them. Bilbo will never forgive me if I do not bring them back. And if I do not bring Frodo back…”
“I know.” Aragorn’s murmur was no more than a whisper on the wind.
Gandalf cleared his throat, and Aragorn let him be until he was ready to speak again. “It appears even one as old as I can learn something new–or perhaps I should say realise something new about hobbits.” Aragorn raised an eyebrow, waiting.
Gandalf smiled into the darkness. “Hobbits are argumentative, opinionated, cheeky, disrespectful … and the truest, most loyal friends one could ever hope for.” Aragorn nodded. “And,” Gandalf continued softly, his voice oddly gravelly as his gaze swept over the smaller forms of the sleeping hobbits, “once they take possession of your heart, they never give it back.”
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