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Walking Near the Edge  by Budgielover

Chapter Eight

“Hobbits?” repeated Boromir doubtfully.

“I saw him fall,” Aragorn murmured, not seeming to hear the man at his side. “I saw him standing at the edge of the cliff. Then Frodo just stepped over it. And he was gone. I saw him fall into the abyss.”

“Small people?” Boromir ventured. “Hair on their feet? Always talking and eating and running about? Usually all at the same time?”

“He could not have walked so far! Not at night, not with a storm approaching. Not weakened as he is by his wound. I took his stitches out but this morning.”

“Curly hair on both feet and‒aahhh!”

Aragorn turned to find Boromir on his knees, one hand supporting himself on the muddy earth. Belatedly he remembered that the soldier was a stranger to Imladris, not familiar or comfortable on its narrow, winding paths. He extended a hand and Boromir looked at it intently before carefully wiping his hand on his cloak and allowing himself to be pulled to his feet.

“You do not know them as I do,” Aragorn continued as if there had been no mishap.

“Frodo and Merry and Pippin and Samwise,” Boromir specified. “Hobbits.”

“Frodo has a stare which will drill through a brick wall. Samwise will respectfully but adamantly disregard anything I tell him and look to Frodo. Merry – do not attempt to match wits with that one, Boromir! And Pippin! If there has ever been a more irritating, impolite‒”

“Ah,” Boromir interrupted tactfully. “As you said, I do not know them as you do. They seem a charming, harmless folk‒”


“Lord Aragorn, perhaps you should rest‒”

Aragorn recalled himself with an effort, spurred into coherence by the concerned expression on Boromir’s face. “I will not be manipulated and humiliated by those four. I will get to the bottom of this!”

Moving more slowly with respect to the darkness and the man at his side, Aragorn hurried down the pathway, his mind in turmoil.

* * *

Merry stared at the bar locking shut the balcony doors, transfixed. Behind him, Pippin bumped against his back, now shivering violently. “Will you open the doors, please? I’m freezing!”

“They are locked.”


“What did you say, Mr. Merry?”

“They are locked.” Frodo’s voice was quiet but carried clearly through the doors. “And they will stay locked until you explain to me exactly what you three are doing out there.”

Merry stared through the slats at him, his mouth open, his mind blank. Frodo leaned slightly against the closed doors, but his stance was unyielding. In the darkness, his form was outlined by the fire behind him and the soft white nightshirt he wore seemed to glow. He looked almost ethereal, like the unearthly spirit Pippin had pretended to be.

Sam looked down at the coil of line as if he had no idea how it had arrived in his hands. “Ah, sir… We, that is, Mr. Merry and Master Pip and me … we…” he trailed off, looking at Merry.

Ah-choo!” Pippin’s loud sneeze made all of them jump.

Frodo’s baleful glare transferred to him, then Merry was relieved to see that adamantine stare soften. “What’s that lad doing out in the rain? Mad, all of you!” But he lifted the bar and the three slipped gratefully inside, trailing puddles of water and in Pippin’s case, little gobbets of dripping flour.

“What is that disgusting stuff in your hair?” Frodo demanded, handing Pippin a towel as the tweenager sidled past him. Merry propped the mirror back in its corner and swiped it down, grateful that the dimness of the room hid the water trickling down its surface.

“It’s … ummmm … it’s…  Ahhh-choo!”

“Pippin, you get under a blanket near the fire. Now, young hobbit!” Frodo barked, not waiting for his answer. Pippin dived onto a divan, making it rock, and pulled up one of the thick, fluffy blankets strewn about the room. Frodo watched him critically then his expression changed. “Pippin, what are you wearing? Is that‒is that my new suit?”

Pippin pulled the blanket to his neck, but with unexpected vigour, Frodo tottered across the room and pulled it off. “That is! That is my lovely new suit! What have you done to it?”

“Um,” said Pippin meekly. “Frodo, I’m cold.”

Glaring, Frodo handed back the blanket and Pippin wrapped himself up in it, crowding as close to the fire as he dared. “All right, we will get to that. I want that explanation now, Meriadoc.”

With a few moments to think, Merry regained the use of his tongue. “Cousin, Sam and I will right back. We have to‒”

“You do not have to do anything, Master Brandybuck. You–and Samwise–will stand right where you are and explain this to me.”

Sam winced, running the end of the line through his hands nervously. “I could put the kettle on, master. A hot cuppa would do us all good.”

“Don’t you move, Sam.”

Sam sought desperately about and fastened on the one thing that would move Frodo in this mood. “But Master Pippin, sir … he’s near froze. The poor lad could catch a cold.” Pippin glared at him, obviously resenting being used as a distraction, but Sam reminded himself it was every hobbit for himself when his master had that look in his eyes. It helped immensely when the lad let loose a huge sneeze that nearly blew him off the divan.

“All right, hot tea.”

Sam headed for the kettle and started the tea, managing to stash the coil of line out of sight. Merry stared after him, his mind working furiously.

“You. Sit.”

Merry did, managing to catch up another blanket and surreptitiously trying to dry himself. Frodo sank down beside him, seeming a little winded. How long would it take Aragorn to arrive? Merry had no doubt the Ranger would come straight here, at speed. His whole plan had depended on Aragorn finding them dry and apparently not having stepped foot out of Frodo’s room since their departure from the Hall of Fire.

“Now,” Frodo continued, pinning him with that sapphire stare, “talk.”

“I am sorry we woke you,” began Merry, but was interrupted by Frodo’s snort.

“You didn’t. I borrowed a page from Sam’s book.”

Sam started in laying out the cups and saucers, resulting in a clatter of china. “My book…my book?”

Frodo smiled in a self-satisfied way. “I wasn’t asleep when you were talking. I did what Sam did while I was speaking with Gildor and the Elves on our way here – pretended to be asleep so I could listen to your plans.”

“I never did!” Sam protested. “I mean, I did, but I didn’t mean anything…well…sneaky by it!”

“I, however, did. And was succeeding quite brilliantly, I might add, until you two carted me off to bed.” Sam and Merry exchanged rueful looks. “Thank you for leaving the bedroom door open,” Frodo continued with a certain malicious glee. “I could still hear you perfectly.”

“That was rather underhanded‒” Merry tried.

“Don’t you talk to me about being underhanded. I know you had plans for Aragorn. What did you three just do?”

“He deserved it,” Merry began hotly, but was silenced by voices outside in the corridor. He stopped, going pale. Sam dropped a teaspoon and in the sudden silence, its delicate ring sounded like the clang of doom. After a moment, the voices moved on.

“And now he’s coming here,” Frodo said, astutely interpreting the panic on three guilty faces. He sat back and looked at Merry, the firelight flickering on his face. “Well, we will sort this out later. Hobbits stick together, and it was my idea that he pay for his actions in the first place. I can hardly fault you for defending my honour. Now,” he paused and drew a great breath, “here is what we are going to do.”

* * *

“And then the apparition just disappeared?” Boromir strode at Aragorn’s side, struggling to keep his voice neutral. He chose his footfalls carefully, aware than he was slowing them but it was better than taking another fall in the mud. Especially here, where the entire valley seemed to be more vertical than horizontal.

Aragorn glanced sideways at him, hearing the dubious undertone in the carefully polite question. He stifled his irritation‒taking out his anger and uncertainty on the man would not help and would endanger their fragile cooperation. The problem was, he reflected, that none of the other members (with the exception of Gandalf) of their newly formed Fellowship had experience with hobbits. None of the others knew what aggravating, unfair little trouble-causers they could be.

“How many glasses of wine did you have tonight?” Boromir asked with ill-concealed humour.

A low chuckle almost made him forget his resolve and take issue with Boromir, before he realized it came from another direction. Both men stopped, staring into the gloom as a pale figure drifted towards them from the path ahead. Aragorn stifled a gasp but it was not a re-emergence of the spectral figure he had seen fall into the abyss; this figure wore a pointed, wide-brimmed hat, robes of somewhat stained grey wool, and was leaning on a staff. It was also laughing at them.

Boromir bowed. “Good eve, Gandalf.”

The wizard nodded an affable greeting, smoke curling around his head from a carved wooden pipe. “A good evening to the pair of you, Boromir, Aragorn. May I ask where you are going in such haste?”

Boromir eyed his companion askance. Having heard from his own lips his encounter with the pale spirit, Aragorn suddenly found he had no wish to relate it to the wizard. Gandalf’s eyes were gleaming, shot with light from the emerging stars, and (as usual) he seemed entirely too knowledgeable.

“We are not in haste‒” Aragorn began.

Gandalf shook his head, a smile curling his lips around the pipe. “When I see a Ranger of the North, recently acquainted with hobbits, heading at a near-run towards one elder hobbit’s rooms who believes he has cause to think himself ill-used, then I thought it best to ask that Ranger’s intentions.”

“Ill-used?” asked Boromir apprehensively, looking from the quietly furious Ranger to the amused wizard.

“I believe Frodo thinks himself ill-used,” replied Gandalf, falling into step behind them but at a much slower pace. Aragorn ground his teeth together. “What with the restrictions and demands placed upon him during his recovery. And he is supported by three other hobbit-folk who would do anything for him.” The wizard blew a smoke ring into the moist air. He paused to admire it and courtesy required that the other two stop also. After it had drifted away Gandalf resumed walking, swinging his staff.

“What you have yet to fully appreciate, Aragorn, is that when you rile Frodo, you have just had war declared upon you by every hobbit in Imladris. You are fortunate there are only five of them, or you would not have a chance.”

“I did nothing that was not for his own good!”

“Ah, but does Frodo understand that? In the course of your care of him, have you or Elrond ever explained to him why such measures as vile-tasting cordials and painful exercises are necessary? Or why his favourite foods are denied him, when he most needs the comfort of familiarity?”

This time it was Aragorn who stopped, causing Boromir to slide a step in the mud. “I … I never…” He took a deep breath and rallied. “As I recall, it was your idea to seal the pipeweed jar shut!”

“We needn’t mention that,” said the wizard hurriedly. “I was only trying to help you and Elrond find a solution to exercising his injured arm.”

“And I,” Aragorn said more calmly, “was only trying to help him heal. Perhaps I have been slightly … overbearing.”

Gandalf chuckled again, and involuntarily, both men felt smiles tugging at their mouths. “It is easy to do with hobbits, my friends. They seem childlike to us, especially before we know them well. And some of them, I fear, are predatory enough to turn that to their advantage.”

“Surely not,” Boromir protested.

The wizard and the Ranger exchanged looks. “Innocently done, in the younger one’s case. In Master Meriadoc’s case, I suspect it is not so innocent.”

“That one is too clever by half,” Aragorn agreed ruefully.

“And in possession of a vindictive streak, I fear,” said Gandalf. “Tell me why you are such a state, my friend, and then we shall get to the bottom of this mischief.”

* * *

A drift of cold, wet-smelling air accompanied Samwise into the room as he darted into the room and pushed the great wooden door shut. “He’s coming, sir! And Gandalf and that Lord Boromir are with him!”

“Gandalf!” cried Merry, dragging on a set of Frodo’s spare clothes. His own sodden garments had been balled up and shoved into the large pitcher on the washbasin, where the runnels of water would not betray them.

“How long, Sam?”

“They just turned down the hallway, sir. They’ll be here in‒”

A knock sounded on the wooden door and the hobbits’ keen ears caught the sound of a polite cough. “Samwise, it is Aragorn. May I enter?”

“Quiet!” Frodo hissed. “Maybe they will go away.”

The silence stretched on and an itch began to build in Merry’s throat. Sam’s eyes were watering as if he were holding in a mammoth sneeze. All of the hobbits jumped when the knock was replaced by a sharp rap as if from a wooden staff, and a sharper, “Frodo! I know you are not asleep! Let us in this moment!”

“Frodo,” squeaked Pippin, “I‒”

“Hush, lad. Don’t lose your head now. You just stay still by that fire.”

“But Frodo, I‒”

Frodo flung open the door, grimacing slightly with the effort. Merry and Sam crowded closer together, trying not to look apprehensive.

“Good evening. It is rather late for a visit,” Frodo said coolly, “and I was asleep.” Being an extremely truthful hobbit, he felt compelled to add, “Earlier.”

Gandalf leaned forward and poked Frodo in the centre of his chest with his staff. Boromir noticed, however, that the poke was neither very hard nor anywhere near the hobbit’s injured shoulder. “A likely story! What have you miscreants been up to, eh? What have you done to Aragorn?”

Frodo raised an eyebrow. “I haven’t done anything to Aragorn. I haven’t left my rooms. If you are going to shout and hurl imprecations at me, perhaps you should come in.” Stepping aside, he made room for the three Big People to enter.

“You haven’t left your rooms?” Aragorn asked, striding past Frodo to turn up the lamps. He stared at the other hobbits for a moment then ignored them, concentrating on Frodo.

“No, I haven’t,” Frodo repeated with emphasis.

“And them?” A wave took in the other hobbits.

“We were just having a spot of tea,” said Frodo, dancing around the truth. “I’m sure Sam can scare up three more cups. Would you care to join‒”

“I’ll get them,” Merry volunteered. He tried to slide around the newcomers when Aragorn’s long arm shot out and caught him by the shoulder. “Ouch!”

“Your clothes are dry,” Aragorn murmured, releasing Merry’s shoulder to run his hand over the borrowed shirt Merry wore. Turning suddenly, he strode towards Pippin. Pippin froze like a rabbit in the grass. “Yours too.” Pippin said nothing but stared up at him with huge eyes.

“Sam, please fetch three cups. And we’ll need more tea. Off you go, lad.” Aragorn whirled around but Sam had taken to his heels and was out of the door before the Ranger could cross the room again. Frodo smiled. “It will take Sam a few minutes to bring refreshments. Would you care to take a seat?”

“What have you been up to?” Gandalf demanded, refusing Frodo’s gracious gesture. Boromir did take a chair, looking embarrassed and out of place. Aragorn remained by the fire, looking from Frodo to Merry to Pippin, seeming at a loss. Gandalf remained standing, resting his hands on his staff, watching them all.

“I?” Frodo drew himself up. “I have done nothing. I,” and the pronoun was very pointed, “do not pound on peoples’ doors at night and shout accusations at them. May I ask what this is about? I have been ill, you know, and need my rest.”

That seemed to penetrate Aragorn’s haze. “You should not be out of bed,” he said, his old manner of sternness returning. “Much less walking about. You should‒”

Frodo’s eyes narrowed and Merry involuntarily backed up a step. Surprisingly, it was Boromir who averted the impending explosion. The solider stood so suddenly that the chair on which he had sat overturned, its wooden legs clattering on the floor.

“It seems I have intruded on a medical consultation,” he said hastily, righting the chair. His sword stuck in one of the rungs and he struggled for a moment before extracting it. “I understand that such things are private. Master Frodo, my apologies for inconveniencing you. I bid you all good evening.” Before anyone could respond, he was gone.

“A good soldier knows when to strategically retreat,” Gandalf said levelly. “I will commend Boromir on his perceptiveness and good sense when next I see him. Whenever that is. You hobbits have probably driven the poor man into hiding.”

“I have done nothing,” Frodo said with a sniff.

The wizard leaned over and stared into Frodo’s face, brows bristling. “You have, in just this one day, complained about your care and treatment, refused the nourishing foods prescribed you, insulted your physician and all of his line, and crowned this despicable behaviour by throwing objects at him.”

“It was just one leather ball,” said Frodo, taken aback. “And I didn’t hit him.”

Gandalf straightened. “Aragorn saved your life, Frodo. All of your lives, most likely,” he added with a sharp glance at the watching hobbits. “He saved your lives in that cursed circle on Weathertop,” here he noticed that Frodo’s face paled and Merry stepped closer to Pippin. His tone softened. “He – and all of you – kept Frodo alive long enough to reach Elrond.” Gandalf’s voice dropped lower. “You repay Aragorn in poor coin, my lads.”

Silence lay thick in the room. Then Aragorn cleared his throat. “No one is at his best when ill,” he said, moving forward to lay his hand on Frodo’s good shoulder. “I think Frodo can be excused a little foul humour‒”

“And you, Aragorn.” Aragorn looked at Gandalf, startled, as the wizard continued. “You have been presumptuous and overbearing, and have treated Frodo as more a child than a grown hobbit. You have placed what you thought he needed over what he told you he needed. You have not listened to him.”

“Aragorn is not familiar with hobbits, and he was doing as he was bidden,” Frodo said softly. “It is not his fault.”

“Yes,” said Gandalf simply.

The two parties started at the floor, their faces flushed. Then Frodo turned around and reached up to take Aragorn’s hand. “Aragorn, I’m sorry,” Frodo began, only to be interrupted by Aragorn’s, “Frodo, I apologize‒”

“Sorry, you go first‒”

“No, you go first‒”

Both of them stopped speaking, colour high in their faces and wry smiles breaking over their countenances.

“I think now the physician will listen more closely to the patient, and the patient will listen to his physician,” Gandalf said with a twinkle in his eyes. “Shall we have peace?”

 * * *

Sam stuck his head in the door and peered around. “I brought the cups and tea, Mr. Frodo, just in case. Are they gone?”

“They’re gone.” Frodo heaved a great sigh and sagged onto a divan.

Sam edged into the room and dropped a tray onto a stool. “The game would be up if he’d a-touched my clothes,” he said, patting his jacket. “I dried off as best I could, but things are still a mite damp.”

Frodo nodded. “Well, that’s that. Now I want to hear every detail of what you three were up to.” With the Big People gone, he ran his hands over his face, allowing his exhaustion to show. “You can get up now, Pippin.”

“No, I can’t. Frodo, I tried you tell you‒”

“What? Tried to tell me what?”

“I can’t move!” The words came out in a wail. Frodo struggled to his feet but Merry and Sam reached Pippin first. Sam dragged off the blanket and reached down.

“It’s the clothes! Mr. Frodo, they’re froze solid!”

“Not frozen,” Merry gasped, tugging on Pippin’s collar. “The flour! And water … and heat.” They looked at the fire, then swivelled back to Pippin. “Remember the flour paste animals we used to make as children?” Merry gave up on the collar and tugged at the waistcoat. “A game at parties … strips of cloth wrapped around some sort of form? After it dried, the adults would cut a hole in the back and fill the form with sweets, and we’d be blindfolded and swing a stick at it, trying to break it so the sweets would fall out.”

“I remember.” Sam pulled grimly and managed to bend back the hem of Pippin’s sleeve. With a grunt, he bent it all the way back and like a piece of china, it snapped. Sam held up a solid piece of unyielding cloth, and all the hobbits stared at it.

“My suit,” Frodo wailed, sounding much like Pippin. “My beautiful, beautiful green suit!”

“It’s going to be a flour paste Pippin if we don’t get him out of this,” Merry growled, ignoring the small yelps as he pushed and tugged at the unyielding cloth.

“Should we dunk him in the baths?” asked Sam. “That would soften the paste. Or I could ask for a half-bath ‒ the Elves could bring one up in less than an hour.”

“Frodo,” Pippin said miserably, squirming. “I need to get out of this now. I mean now.”

“Can’t you wait, lad?” Frodo asked desperately.

“No! I’m sorry. Now, please!”

“Oh dear.” Frodo fingered the fine cloth sadly. Under its thick coating of clotted flour, it still shimmered like sun-lit leaves. “Well, there’s nothing for it. Sam, would you get the scissors?”

“Oh, Mr. Frodo, no. You can’t do that to the fine gift the Elves gave you!”

“Better than what Pippin’s going to do to it if you don’t get him free,” Merry commented, stroking Pippin’s hair comfortingly.

“Will you please get me out of this? Please!”

* * *

The following day dawned clear and cold, the previous evening’s rain seeming to sharpen every leaf and blade of grass. Frodo laid down the last piece of toast regretfully; after the heavy breakfast he had been served, he could not force it down. And was wise enough not to try. A long talk with Aragorn this morning had cleared up misconceptions on both sides and if breakfast and second breakfast would not be all the recovering hobbit wished, it would now be what his healing body could make the best use of.

A sparkle outside his balcony doors caught his eye, and he frowned at it, curious. Sam had been sent off to diplomatically deal with the remains of his cherished suit but Frodo felt stronger and more steady on his feet. He certainly could manage the short walk out to the balcony by himself.

Frodo sat aside the tray and slid carefully to his feet. Even walking out into the thin sunshine was a joy and he leaned on the stone balustrade for a moment, enjoying the calls of the birds flitting through the greenery. At last giving in to his curiosity, he sought the source of the sparkle.

Something glittered near the edge of the balcony. Stooping, he reached out and tried to grasp it, but it slipped through his fingers and rolled away. It took both hands to capture the thing, but with a little gasp, he did. In his hands was the forgotten pipe-weed jar. Still sealed tight, and unopenable. The Longbottom Leaf inside looked more desirable than ever.

He wandered back inside and settled himself onto a divan. What was that strange striation running completely around the centre of the jar? He probed it with his fingers, feeling the indentation. What had Merry said? A fulcrum. They had used a fulcrum to control Pippin’s ride on the mirror. A thin, tough wire, sawing again and again back and forth on glass…

Very carefully, Frodo tucked the jar into his side and clamped down on the lid with his good arm. Tink! He tried again. Tink! Plink! And the entire top half of the jar twisted off as cleanly as if it had been cut.

Frodo reached in and extracted a leaf, inhaling the fragrance of the very finest pipe-weed. He should share it with his friends. He really should. Then again, what they had put him through yesterday…  Well, he would share. With a certain Ranger of the North who had saved his life and in whose hands his life now lay. Smiling, the Ring-bearer divided the remaining pipe-weed into two equal piles, humming a little to himself as he did so.

The End

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