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Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe  by shirebound

Keep Him Secret, Keep Him Safe

Chapter Ten: A Merry Evening

Wide wonder came into Éomer’s eyes.  “Strider is too poor a name, son of Arathorn,” he said.  “Wingfoot I name you.  This deed of the three friends should be sung in many a hall.  Forty leagues and five you have measured ere the fourth day is ended!  Hardy is the race of Elendil!”  ‘The Riders of Rohan’, The Two Towers

Although still dizzy, Aragorn shook off his brothers’ supporting arms as they neared the tent.  He walked inside under his own power, and was rewarded by Frodo’s brilliant smile.

“Oh, you look so much better,” Frodo cried out, causing everyone to look up in surprise.  He and Pippin ran up and took Aragorn’s hands, guiding him to his bed.  Aragorn sat down heavily, hoping his shaking legs hadn’t betrayed the effort it had cost him to walk so few steps unaided.  The hobbits appeared not to notice, but he saw Legolas and Gimli frowning at him before turning back to their conversation.

“You’ll need this,” Pippin said, holding up the comb the hobbits had been sharing.  “Do you want any help?”

“I will attend him,” Elladan smiled at Pippin.  He noticed that the youngster had put away his sword and livery, and was dressed, as were the others, in simple garb.  He took the comb and sat beside Aragorn, giving his young brother time to recover his strength.  After combing through Aragorn’s damp hair until it was smooth, he then deftly braided a thick strand on either side of his face and looped them together in the back.  Frodo watched with interest.  He had never seen Aragorn’s hair arranged in this style – or in any style, now that he thought about it – although most of the Elves seemed to favor it.

“Find places, everyone,” Sam said, bustling about.

There were only six chairs in the tent – four hobbit-sized and two quite a bit larger – but Elladan, Elrohir, and Legolas declared that the ground was quite welcoming, and found places on the scattered rugs.  With Éomer and Gandalf seated, Gimli perched on the bottom level of the stacked beds, and Aragorn propped up in his own bed, everyone was quite comfortable.

“Sit down, Frodo,” Merry said, knocking the plug out of the keg with a flourish.  “You and Sam did most of the cooking, so Pippin and I will serve.”

“Someone should test that ale,” Pippin said.  “There are two kings and a prince here, and you never know.”

“Here we go again,” Merry sighed.

Two princes,” Frodo reminded Pippin, settling into the chair with the cushion on it.  “I’ve heard what the soldiers call you.”

“Fear not, Pippin,” Éomer chuckled.  “That is well-brewed Rohirric ale, and should neither poison nor disappoint.  I hope you find it to your liking.”

“It is excellent,” Gimli said appreciatively, with a gleam in his eyes.

“Here you go, Prince Peregrin.” With a grin, Merry handed his cousin a brimming mugful of ale.  “I’m amazed this keg was still sealed; you’ve shown considerable restraint and patience.”  He started to pass around filled mugs to the guests, then looked over at Aragorn and frowned.  “Strider, should you have any of this?”

“He should not,” Elladan spoke up emphatically, hard-put not to smile at Aragorn’s mournful expression.  “Water and broth only, until tomorrow, and plenty of both.  And small portions of food at first.”

“Here you go, Strider,” Sam said brightly, bringing a mug, a pitcher of clear water, and a bowl of lemon slices to the table next to Aragorn’s bed.  “Be sure to let me know if you need more.”

Legolas opened a bottle of wine, which he shared with Elladan and Elrohir.

“Who’s watching the camp?” Frodo asked, looking around.

“Imrahil can handle things for one evening,” Éomer said, and Gandalf nodded in agreement.

“Everything is running so smoothly, no one will even remember me when I return to camp,” Aragorn sighed, winking at Frodo.

“Nonsense, laddie,” Gimli declared quite seriously.  “A king is remembered all of his life, and for all the generations thereafter.”  He raised his mug.  “To the King under the Mountain, and all worthy rulers!”

“To the King!” the group chorused.  And with that, the feast began.

For quite awhile there was no talking, save for appreciative murmurs.  The fresh loaves were broken into chunks and served with Sam’s delicious stew, which was thick with chicken and vegetables, and plentiful enough for everyone to have several helpings.  There were also large platters of succulent fish, caught fresh that morning and baked in the hearth, as well as wedges of cheese and side dishes of fresh greens.

To Frodo’s delight, Aragorn ate everything that was brought to him.  His portions were small, as Elladan had advised, but the hobbits refilled his plate so frequently, his stomach soon felt full and satisfied.  How long had it been since he had a decent meal, eaten without haste or weariness?  By the way Frodo and Sam were eating, he surmised that they felt the same, although added to their privations had been the lack of any food at all, save the Elvish waybread.  That they had survived even to reach the Mountain was almost beyond belief.  His thoughts flew back to the dark precipice on which he had found Frodo and Sam as they were about to release their hold on life.  It had taken everything he had – in song, energy, and sheer power of will – to catch their attention and coax them back.  He barely remembered the first few days afterwards, during which he had labored in an exhausted haze, drained of strength, barely comprehending what he was doing, or how.  He hadn’t realized how much he had risked until yesterday, when his mind and body had finally given in to all that he had demanded of them... and he had teetered on a precipice of his own making that might have turned equally perilous, were it not for the care and concern of those in this tent.

He smiled at the sound of Frodo laughing at something Gandalf was saying.  Sensing his regard, Frodo looked over at him, his eyes still lit with mirth.  It was good to see.  Tomorrow they would talk, and he would try to persuade Frodo that he was not responsible for the decisions of any save himself.

When even the hobbits pushed back their plates, and Sam’s cooking had been praised so many times the tips of his ears were bright red with embarrassment, Pippin brought out the ‘afters’ -- bowls of cut-up fruit, set out for anyone to munch on as they liked.

During a rare lull in the conversation, Sam felt bold enough to ask Merry and Pippin to explain again, if they could, how they had grown so tall.

“And from the beginning, this time,” Frodo begged.  “How will I ever explain it all to Bilbo, otherwise?”

“If this story is to be from the beginning,” Gimli spoke up, “then we must pay homage to a chase like no other in history.”  With great animation, and with a few interjections from Legolas and Aragorn, the Dwarf told of a deed that still filled him with great pride – the pursuit of Merry and Pippin over nearly 150 miles of grassland with few clues, save for an Elvish brooch and the tracking skills of his companions.  At the mention of his brooch, Pippin was pulled to his feet to continue the tale, which he did, starting with his and Merry’s escape from the orcs and what occurred in Fangorn Forest.  Sam asked for details about the Ent draught, curious as to how it tasted and smelled, and his expression grew more perplexed as he listened.

“Thinking of trying to brew some yourself, Sam?” Merry asked.

“It just seems awful odd to me, Mr. Merry,” Sam said.  “People feed plants certain things to make ’em more healthy and grow taller, and it seems like those Ents feed people the same type of thing.  It don’t seem natural for plants to be treating people like... well, like...”

“Like plants,” Frodo nodded.  “I agree, Sam, it seems quite a strange notion indeed.”

“I don’t mind,” Pippin declared.  He shook his unruly curls, without a doubt thicker and healthier than they had been just a few months before.  “Merry, our mums will be brandishing the scissors the moment we step through the door.”

The story went on, with Frodo and Sam trying to follow the sequence of events that brought Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimli into contact with Éomer and his men, then Gandalf.  As everyone tried to add their part of the tale, it all got rather muddled, what with Helm’s Deep, Entmoot, Orthanc, and all that came after.  Frodo listened carefully, nonetheless, although Sam became rather lost after awhile.  One thing Frodo realized was that both Gimli and Pippin had begun their tales after the death of Boromir.  Someday he would ask for that story in full, but not tonight.  Not yet.

Frodo turned to Gandalf and touched the wizard’s gleaming white robe.

“Wherever did you get this?” he asked.

“I was garbed by Galadriel, as were all of you,” Gandalf replied.  His robe, gleaming in the lamp-light, matched the white and silver of his hair.  “However, whereas the cloaks were woven such as to shield the wearer from the eyes of the Enemy, my garment was meant to attract his Eye.”

“Away from us,” Frodo whispered.  Sam took his hand, and pressed it.

“That was clever,” Pippin said approvingly.  “I hope we see her again.”  

Merry passed around another round of ale, and called for a song.  To everyone’s surprise, it was Gimli who volunteered, offering a short (to him) song in his own tongue.  He was followed by Éomer standing tall, and singing a tale in Rohirric – a rich language that rolled and swayed like the grasslands his people loved.  The hobbits didn’t understand the words, but watched Éomer’s face, marvelling at the depths of emotion that played across it.  His people’s story was told in song, and the hobbits found themselves imagining the many campfires of warriors, over hundreds of years, at which histories were sung and lists of kings and their deeds memorized.

Sam, Merry, and Pippin went next, each trying to outdo the other in the ridiculousness of their lyrics.  As Pippin bowed, Frodo found himself stifling a yawn.

Gandalf, who had been watching the hobbits closely for signs of weariness, caught Elladan’s eye, who in turn clasped Elrohir on the shoulder and murmured something in Elvish.

“Esteemed hosts,” Elladan said, “this has been delightful.  However, my brother and I must depart.  We have plants to find for the healers ’ere daybreak, and must begin our search.”

“Indeed,” Elrohir agreed.  “Such an evening I have not enjoyed in many a year.”  He nodded at the hobbits.  “Your bath awaits, my friends, and we hope you will find it to your liking.  We will empty the water in the morning.”

“What about this?” Frodo asked worriedly.  He held up his right hand with its missing finger.  “Is there any danger in soaking it?”

Elladan got to his feet, and bowed slightly.  “I tended your hand myself, Frodo.  I assure you, it is healing well, and will take no hurt from a warm bath.”

“You three go on,” Sam said to the other hobbits, starting to stack the dishes.  “I’ll head to the stream and start the washing up.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Gimli growled.  He motioned to Legolas and himself.  “We’ve been lounging around while others did all the work.  Go to your bath, my hobbits, and everything will be put away by the time you return.”

“Thank you!” Pippin cried out.  He dashed over to one of the chests, grabbed a towel, and was out of the tent before Gimli could change his mind. 

Merry stood up and pulled Sam after him.

“Come on, Sam, you heard him.”


“No ‘buts’,” Merry insisted.  He gathered up several more towels and pushed Sam outside.

Before following the others, Frodo stood for a few minutes by Aragorn’s bed, looking into his face.  Gandalf came to his side.

“He fell fast asleep during Éomer’s song,” Gandalf said.

“I know,” Frodo replied.  “I’ve been watching him.”  He looked up at the wizard.  “He really is looking better.  Will he be all right?”

“Yes, he will.  Do not fear for him, Frodo.”

“But I do,” Frodo admitted.  “Gandalf, how did he heal Sam and me?  What did he do?”

“Why don’t you ask him?”

“I will,” Frodo decided.  “Would you stay for awhile?  I don't want him to be alone.”

“Of course,” Gandalf nodded, getting out his pipe.  “You go on, now.”

“Thank you,” Frodo smiled gratefully.  “I'd better go now.  If Pippin splashes all the water out of that tub before I get there, he’ll be the one doing dishes… every single day until we get home.”

** TBC **

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