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Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe  by shirebound

Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe

Chapter Six: When Life Gives You Lemons…

Hobbits do not like heights, and do not sleep upstairs, even when they have any stairs. ‘Lothlórien’, The Fellowship of the Ring

Aragorn took a deep breath of two equally enticing smells competing for his attention: freshly-cut timber, and fragrant stew.  He vaguely recalled waking in the darkness, and Gandalf talking to him about things that made no sense.  It was now full daylight, perhaps even afternoon; and hushed voices swirled around him.  He remembered falling ill on the trail, and Frodo riding off, clinging to Roheryn.

“Frodo,” he murmured, opening his eyes.  He looked down at the small form lying next to him, but was startled to see that the curls tickling his bare chest were light brown, not dark.

“Aragorn, if you don’t know the difference between a Took and a Baggins by now...” Frodo said, coming over to the bed, “you’ll need a lot more rest than Elrohir told us.”

“Of course I know the difference,” Aragorn said hastily.  His mouth and throat were parched, and his voice sounded hoarse.  Pippin appeared to be asleep, and he hoped the youngster wasn’t ill as well.  Looking around, Aragorn saw that one portion of the tent was rolled up, letting in sunlight and air.  Outside, Elladan was kneeling in the back of a wagon, handing down armloads of bedding to Merry.  Various items of clothing, including his own, were draped over bushes or spread out on the grass, drying in the sun.

Gimli was a few feet away from him, inspecting an unusual wooden structure.  Two mattresses were supported on horizontal frames, one suspended above the other.  The entire structure, which reached nearly to the top of the tent, was secured with strong pegs and intricate lashings of rope.  As he watched, Gimli peered closely at a carved ladder leading to the top frame.  The Dwarf frowned, then plucked a tiny implement from his belt and began smoothing something only he could see.

“Are those beds?” Aragorn asked.

“We think so,” Pippin said, his eyes still closed.

“I thought you were asleep, Master Took.”

“How could I guard you if I was asleep?”

“Guard me?”

“That’s right.”  Pippin grinned.  He opened his eyes and sat up.  “I was taking a break because you don’t require that much guarding.  Yet.”

“You keep an eye on him anyway, laddie,” Gimli called out without turning his head.  He continued his meticulous inspection.  “Some people don’t know when they’ve reached their limits.”

“Frodo, are you all right?” Aragorn asked, trying to get his bearings.  “I feared that riding Roheryn in such a storm would be difficult for you.”

“It was,” Frodo said, “but he got me here safely.  I would prefer not to ride another horse for some time, however.”

“Practice makes perfect.  It is a long way back to the Shire.”

“So you’ll allow us to ride home?” Frodo teased.  “I’m not sure my bottom would appreciate the favor, if all the horses in the south are as tall as yours.”

“Éomer has told me that ponies will be made available for you.”

Frodo smiled with relief.  “I accept, on behalf of my companions.”

“You’re awake, Strider?” Sam asked.  He was stirring a pot on the hearth with one hand, and holding a mug in the other.  “Are you feeling better?”  He took a sip, the sight of which made Frodo shudder.

“What is he drinking?” Aragorn asked curiously.

“Lemon-water,” Frodo said.  “It’s supposed to be for you.”

“It is very popular here in the South.”

“It’s become very popular in this tent, as well,” Frodo said grimly.  “Sam, leave some of that for Aragorn.”

“There’s plenty,” Sam said, setting the mug down on the table.  “You haven’t given it a chance, sir; the taste grows on you.”

“Most of the fruits Prince Imrahil’s folk are sending up the river are delightful, but those ‘lemons’...” Frodo just shook his head, then gave Aragorn his full attention.  “Are you feeling better?” he asked anxiously.  “I was so worried.”

“And I was worried about you,” Aragorn said softly.

“I'm fine,” Frodo said, “just a bit tired.  Do you still feel sick?”

“My stomach has settled, but I am quite dizzy.  What did my brothers say is wrong with me?” Aragorn started to sit up, but Pippin gasped in alarm and held him down with surprising strength.

“You’re not to try that yet,” Pippin said intently.  His voice was firm, but his green eyes mirrored the anxiety in Frodo’s.

The slight exertion had started Aragorn’s head pounding again, and although he desperately needed to use the privy, he decided to wait a few moments before making another attempt at rising.

“Sir Peregrin, I understand you undertook the safeguarding of Andúril,” he said softly, trying to distract the youngster.  “I am grateful to you.”

“No one will touch it,” Pippin insisted.  “Some of your other things are here, as well.  Legolas brought them along with spare clothing.”

“In that case, I must ask for a pair of trousers so I may attend to some personal needs,” Aragorn said, discovering that he wore only his linens.

“What sense does that make?” Pippin asked.  He regarded Aragorn seriously.  “You’ll just have to take them off again.”

“Pippin,” Frodo remonstrated, “mind your manners.”

“That’s right, Mr. Pippin,” Sam agreed.  “Besides, if a person is more comfortable in trousers, he should be able to wear them.”

Shaking his head at such foolishness, Pippin hopped off the bed and rummaged through the chest containing Aragorn's neatly-folded garments.

“Elladan?” Frodo called out.  “Aragorn needs you.”

“Really, Frodo, I do not require assistance,” Aragorn protested, wriggling on his back to struggle into his trousers.

“Not for dressing,” Frodo said calmly, as Elladan and Merry entered the tent.  “But we can hardly carry you to the privy ourselves, can we?”

“Carry me?” Aragorn glowered at Elladan.  “I do not need to be carried. What I need are answers to my questions, something to drink, and...” He started to sit up again, but fell back, his head spinning.  “What is wrong with me?” he demanded.

“You put yourself to sleep, is all,” Sam piped up.


“He is correct,” Elladan said.  “Pippin, you have my permission to sit upon him if he tries that again without assistance.”  He poured some of the lemon-water from the pitcher into a fresh mug, and supported Aragorn’s shoulders so he could drink.  Aragorn sighed with relief as his thirst was quenched.

“Thank you.  I had forgotten how wonderful that tastes.”

“See?” Sam said.  “Strider thinks it’s wonderful.”

“Strider is ill,” Frodo said firmly.

“That is what I wish to know about,” Aragorn said.  “Please tell me exactly--”

“Finished!” Gimli proclaimed triumphantly.  “You may add the bedding, Merry.  I hope the four of you find this arrangement comfortable.”

“We don’t mind sharing,” Frodo assured the Dwarf.  “Each mattress is certainly wide enough for two.”

“You sure built that fast,” Sam said admiringly.

“It’s very clever,” Merry agreed.  “I’ve never seen beds stacked on top of one another before.”

“It is the most practical use of this space,” Gimli said.

“I demand to know what is happening,” Aragorn tried again.  “Why am I not in my own tent?  What is the nature of my ailment?”

“You collapsed from exhaustion,” Elladan told him, “and must regain your strength.  You need to drink and eat, lightly at first, and perhaps enjoy a hot bath before you sleep again.”

“A bath?” Aragorn croaked.

“You still have mud in your hair from lying on the wet ground; hardly the deportment of a king.”

“But you have not explained why—”

Elladan smiled.  “Come, I will answer all of your questions outside.”  The Elf gently but firmly slid one arm behind Aragorn’s shoulders and the other beneath his knees.   He started to lift, but frowned in concern as Aragorn clutched at his tunic.

“I know you are dizzy, Estel,” Elladan murmured softly in Elvish, “and unused to feeling so weak.  Just relax.”  He lifted Aragorn smoothly, and carried him out of the tent.

“It’s not my place to say, but Strider should be resting more and talking less,” Sam said, shaking his head in disapproval.  He held out the spoon so Frodo could taste the stew.  “I’ve not heard so many questions from one person in all my life.”

“You’re right, Sam,” Pippin agreed.  He scrambled off Aragorn’s bed and gave the wooden structure an experimental shake.

“I assure you, young hobbit, it is quite sturdy,” Gimli said, beaming at the new piece of furniture.  “Try it.”

Pippin climbed slowly up the ladder, and hesitantly crawled onto the top mattress to test it out.  He couldn’t put his finger on what was bothering him, aside from the unnatural idea of hobbits sleeping so far off the ground.

“Hmmm.  Merry, come up and see what you think.”

I trust you, Gimli,” Merry said confidently.  Seconds later, he was up the ladder and settling next to Pippin.  “This is rather like the platform we slept on in Lórien, isn’t it, Pip?”

Lórien, Pippin suddenly thought. 

“Does that mean you two are taking the top bed?” Frodo asked.  He nodded his thanks as Sam handed him a cup of steaming tea.

“The platform we slept on in Lórien,” Pippin whispered to Merry.  “Frodo shouldn’t… I mean he might…”

Merry slowly nodded.  There was no way they were letting Frodo sleep up here.  Their cousin might dream he was back on that Elvish flet, with Gollum climbing up after him...

“We certainly are,” Pippin called down to Frodo.  He looked over the edge and grinned cheekily.  “Certain elder relations might have trouble climbing up and down that ladder.”

“I would ask Aragorn to order you to walk all the way home, Peregrin Took,” Frodo said, “if I didn’t agree with you.  No ladders for me for awhile.”  He rubbed his lower back ruefully, and looked around.  “Where did we put that cushion?”

“This was very nice of you, Gimli,” Sam said, admiring the stacked beds.

“It really was,” Frodo agreed.  “Thank you.  As spacious as this tent is, I couldn’t imagine how you were going to fit four more beds in here.”

“Hah!  And Legolas said it was a foolish idea,” Gimli said, rubbing his hands together in satisfaction.  “Now then, I believe I will use that wagon to haul Aragorn’s bathing tub down here.  And then there is wood to chop for the cook-fires.”  He left the tent, humming a song in his own tongue.

“Doesn’t he ever stop?” Frodo asked, marvelling.  He suddenly peered into his cup, and sniffed it suspiciously.

“What’s wrong, Mr. Frodo?” Sam asked.

“Nothing,” Frodo smiled.  “Sorry, Sam.  I know you wouldn’t put any lemon in here.”

“In tea!” Sam said with delight.  “Sir, what a wonderful idea!”

** TBC **

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