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While the Ring Went South...: 12. January 6, 3019
When dawn came to the wilderness east of Rivendell, it went for the most part unseen. Heavy clouds had rolled back in and ominous thunder echoed off mountain peaks. There had been no rain yet, but the threat was heavy and most in the Fellowship feared a second drenching was not far away. Legolas was dubious, claiming the winds did not feel right for rain, and Aragorn shared this view, adding that the direction of the clouds would probably not force them to drop their loads of moisture. But the hobbits were not so optimistic. Sam, in particular, was no longer so trusting of assurances from Aragorn and Legolas, and he eyed the clouds distrustfully as though expecting to be assailed by rain at any moment. Gimli was also skeptical of claims that rain was probably not in the near future, but his reasons had more to do with animosity toward a certain elf rather than distrust in keen senses. Boromir was acting typical in his refusal to comment on the rain debate that had been popping in and out of their discussions as they traveled, so none knew how he actually felt on the subject. And Gandalf had given his opinion early on that the weather was unpredictable near the mountains and that rain or no rain, it did not affect their journey and was not worth worrying about. The hobbits disagreed with the latter part of this statement.
But so far, the predictions of Legolas and Aragorn had proven true, and though ominous, the clouds had held their peace. Gandalf found a nice campsite beneath a squat tree that would provide—as the wizard put it—adequate shelter for the Fellowship should the clouds prove traitorous. Sam had muttered something about the definition of a shelter and was seconded by Pippin, but nothing more had come of it and the group had settled down, eating breakfast and setting up blankets for rest.
"Have we volunteers for watches?" Gandalf asked after a bit, settling himself against the base of the tree and lighting his pipe. Their watch rotation had been severely disrupted by the rain, the flood, and the Wargs, so it seemed logical to simply begin anew rather than picking up where they had last left off.
"Legolas and I shall take the first two together," Aragorn immediately said.
Gandalf blinked and studied first the Ranger and then the elf. There was something in Aragorn’s eyes that would not be gainsaid and it did not take long for the wizard to guess Aragorn’s motives. Legolas, on the other hand, seemed surprised at his sudden assumption of two watches and had turned to Aragorn with a frown, apparently considering what might be the reasoning for this. Deciding to force the issue ere the elf could unravel the situation, Gandalf turned his attention to the prince.
"Does this suit you, Legolas? Are you well enough to sustain two consecutive watches?"
A quick flash of irritation moved through Legolas’s eyes but was quickly concealed, and the elf nodded slowly. "I am more than capable of taking two watches this day, though I fail to see the reasoning behind it. I admit that these lands are strange to me, but I sense the presence of neither enemies nor unfriendly eyes. Yet if Aragorn believes it necessary, I will take two watches with him."
"So be it," Gandalf said, hoping the Ranger would be able to set the elf straight on a few issues ere their combined watch had ended. The wizard was of half a mind to take Legolas and Gimli aside himself, but in his role as a leader, he was reluctant to directly involve himself in their conflict. Should the need come to obey his orders quickly and without hesitation, they could not be hampered by an elf and a dwarf who had come to have resentment toward the mediator of their dispute. Aragorn understood this well and had taken upon himself the duty of standing between the two ere sparks could fly, but the role was taking its toll on him. One way or another, this pointless feud had to end.
"I’ll take the third watch," Merry volunteered. "I don’t sleep very well in the middle of the day, anyway."
"I can take the last watch," Sam said. "It will give me a chance to start breakfast a bit early and maybe add some flavoring to it if I’m not rushed."
"Very well," Gandalf said, puffing away contentedly on his pipe. "Just remember that there is to be no fire. Even in the event of a downpour, we cannot afford to give ourselves away, especially after the Warg revealed our position last night."
Sam grumbled something under his breath but nodded. Legolas seemed to catch the muttered words and turned away, hiding a smile. Aragorn chuckled and stood, stretching his arms above his head. "Then may I suggest that the rest of you take what sleep you can find. We shall have to travel quickly tonight, for we must put distance between ourselves and whatever spies have been alerted by the Wargs."
"Do you think it will rain today?" Frodo asked, making a pillow out of his pack and pulling two blankets up to his chin.
"It is difficult to say this close to the mountains," Gandalf answered, resorting to his earlier opinion. "The weather can change seemingly at a moment’s notice, and it is beyond our skill to judge."
"But I would say that rain is unlikely," Aragorn added, studying the sky. "It is true that the weather here is subject to abrupt change, but if things stay as they are, rain should hit further north and avoid us."
"Nor is aught that goes on two legs," Sam muttered, nestling himself into a collection of blankets.
"What was that, Sam?" Pippin asked curiously.
"Tom Bombadil," the hobbit answered quietly with a yawn that threatened to swallow his face. "He said he was no weather-master, nor is aught that goes on two legs."
"True enough," Aragorn said with a laugh, taking the hobbit’s censure as no more than his just due for losing Bill the day before. "Still, in the absence of a master of weather, I fear we must trust to those who go about on two legs, folly though such trust may be. And I know you may trust me in this. Sleep will best prepare you for any weather that may come our way."
"Wise words, Aragorn," Gandalf said, firmly settling himself against the trunk of the tree under which they had taken shelter. "I second your counsel and wish you all a good night. Or a good morning, however you may choose to look at it. Until this evening."
With that, the wizard closed his eyes and wrapped his old, gray cloak tighter about himself. He heard restless moving from the hobbits and hushed voices that eventually quieted as they, too, drifted off to sleep. Gimli’s snores began rising about the same time as well as Boromir’s trademark muttering that marked his entry as well as his exit into sleep. And as these sounds rose and ebbed about him, Gandalf gave himself over to encroaching dreams with the hope that perhaps things would look better in the evening.
* * * *
"If you have something to say, Aragorn, perhaps you should say it so that we may move on to other things."
The Ranger looked up at Legolas, somewhat startled by the elf’s sudden appearance. The rest of the Fellowship had fallen asleep an hour ago and Legolas had left camp shortly afterward, saying he intended to see if the Warg’s howls from the previous night had drawn Enemy spies. Aragorn had said nothing in response to this and only watched in silence as Legolas propelled himself into the trees and left, vanishing like a shadow into the dark eaves of the forest. He had not heard the elf return and had he most certainly not expected him to return prepared to confront the topic of Gimli. Aragorn himself was still mustering his arguments on the matter and was not quite ready to discuss this.
"Did you find aught on your search?" the Ranger asked, hoping the change in topic would not be seen as a dismissal of the issue.
"The woods are quiet and evil does not stir so far as my senses can determine, but that is not what you wished to speak of when you asked me to take a watch with you," Legolas answered, narrowing his eyes. "I would hear your words and have done with it, for this waiting gnaws at both of us and we are ill watchmen to be so distracted."
Aragorn pressed his mouth into a thin line and he studied the elf. After a moment, he sighed and shook his head. "Come. There is no need to disturb the others. Let us discuss this elsewhere."
Silently, keeping all thoughts to himself, the elf followed Aragorn away from the camp until they had come to a place where they might speak without waking the rest of the Fellowship. Finding a log lying upon the ground, Aragorn eased himself down, rested his arms on his knees, and looked at the elf. Legolas met the look but said nothing, content for the moment to only watch and gauge the strength of the other much as one opponent would evaluate another.
"It is over, Legolas," Aragorn finally said. "You are even. You owe him nothing and he owes you nothing."
"You tell me nothing I do not already know."
"Do you? Then I suppose you did not mean to hit him in the side of the head with your bow? Legolas, you insult me. I may not be an elf, but my senses are keen in their own right and my intuition has rarely failed. Every slight to him will be met with a greater offense to you. Can you not see the cycle? Do you not see the danger you invite upon us all?"
"Would you have me stand idle, Aragorn? Would you stand idle?"
The Ranger sighed. At least this could be construed as progress of sorts. Legolas had not openly refuted the fact that his ongoing feud with the dwarf was dangerous. But the elf raised a very pertinent question. How did one end something that had already swept beyond any hope of control? "You need not acknowledge the presence of the dwarf," he finally said, at a loss for any other solution.
"I do not."
"That is not true, and if you think otherwise then your thoughts are clouded. Every time you take some action against him, you acknowledge that he exists and that his presence is wearisome for you."
"Nay, say rather I remind him that an elf is in this company and will not be silent in the face of dwarven arrogance," Legolas said coldly.
"Then what shall we say of elven arrogance?" Aragorn demanded. "Can you not let this end where it stands? Must you continue to endanger Frodo and that which he carries?"
Legolas’s eyes smoldered and his glance became as a searing brand. "I challenge you to name one instant in which I have put this company at risk."
"Last night," Aragorn shot back, rising to his feet and advancing on the elf. "You followed the Warg back to camp in an effort to kill it, yet when you arrived, what did you do? You shot it through a vein in its neck. I know where you stood and the heart was open as a viable target. The throat was a far smaller target, but that is the target you chose. Why? Had you missed even slightly, the Warg would not have died so quickly and Gimli might have been mauled or worse."
"The Warg wished to taste of dwarven blood," Legolas answered with something akin to a shrug. "I simply reversed the situation. The dwarf tasted of a wolf’s blood."
"Listen well, Aragorn. You and Gandalf may lead this company, and you may be Isildur’s heir, but I have seen more years than you will ever behold. I know my limits and I know my skills. Do not doubt them and do not interfere in things that do not require your involvement."
Aragorn felt a flash of rage surge through him and he stepped forward until he was but inches from the elf’s face. Dark gray eyes met eyes sired from a line of stubborn Sindarin princes, and the Ranger exhaled slowly, attempting to control his anger. "Arrogant fool," he hissed. "You play games with a dwarf on a quest that, for good or ill, will change Middle Earth forever. You have complained of your father’s stubbornness and greed, yet you fail to see it in yourself. Think, Legolas! Your only motivation in prolonging this feud is for the sake of your own wounded pride."
A strange look flitted across the elf’s face, but it came and went so quickly that Aragorn could not interpret it. Then it was as though a door shut, and Legolas become completely unreadable, putting into place the impenetrable emotional wall for which elves were famous. "Have you any more to say, Aragorn, or have you spoken to your satisfaction?"
Aragorn sighed in exasperation. "Whether or not I have spoken to my satisfaction depends upon you." He stopped, inviting comment upon that, but Legolas remained silent, his gray eyes a void of expression. "Make me a promise, Legolas," the Ranger finally said when the stillness began to stretch into minutes. "Do nothing that may threaten Gimli’s life."
"I have done naught that would threaten the dwarf’s life."
"Do nothing that, if done by a man, would threaten his life," Aragorn amended.
"And why should I be bound by mortal standards?"
"Because Gimli is mortal!"
The elf cocked a brow at that, but much to Aragorn’s surprise, he eventually nodded. "Very well, then. For your sake and the sake of a company, I shall limit my vengeance. I do this as favor to you, Aragorn, because of our friendship. But do not press me too far, for I have limits."
"As do I," the Ranger said evenly. "But I thank you for this at least, though I wish it were more. You cannot see how foolish this is, and that grieves me."
"Are we finished?"
"I fear that we are, for it seems you will not see reason," Aragorn sighed.
"Then I shall return to the company, for they have been without guard," Legolas said, turning and walking away from Aragorn. Left alone in the solitude of the trees, the Ranger rubbed his face and ran a tired hand through his tangled mass of hair. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. It seemed they would never get over the mountains without the Fellowship being divided by Wargs, a pony, or a feud between an elf and a dwarf.
* * * *
Pippin yawned, stretched, and rolled over, encountering a rock that bore into his side. With a sigh, the hobbit pushed himself up and glared at the offending stone, wishing for the soft mattresses of Rivendell. The day before, he had slept with a root in his back, and the day before that, he hadn’t slept at all because he was out looking for Aragorn, Boromir, and Legolas. Well, he actually had slept later that night, but he’d only managed to get a few hours worth of rest before Merry woke him up.
"My mother told me a story once about a hobbit whose face froze like that."
Pippin transferred his glare from the rock to Merry. "The Brandybucks are full of stories. You probably have one that says if you play around on boats long enough you can breathe underwater."
Merry made a show of thinking about that and eventually shook his head. "No. If we have a story like that, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it."
"Begging your pardon, Mr. Pippin, but my mother also told me that a face would freeze like that. I don’t think it’s just the Brandybucks who have these stories. Even the Gamgees talk about things like that."
Deciding that the world was against him today, Pippin muttered something uncomplimentary beneath his breath and flopped back down, careful to avoid the rock as he did so. It was late afternoon near the end of Sam’s watch, which mean that within the next few minutes, Gandalf or Aragorn would start insisting that everyone get up. Pippin wondered who was already awake beside s Merry and Sam, for many of the Fellowship seemed to make a habit of rising early. A quick glance around the camp revealed Aragorn and Legolas were missing. That was normal. Those two usually went scouting sometime during the last watch of the day. Frodo was still asleep, which was something of a marvel since Frodo usually woke when Sam did, and Sam had taken the last watch. Boromir was also asleep but he was stirring restlessly and would probably rouse himself in the near future. Gimli was snoring softly and didn’t look like he would be doing anything in the near future. And Gandalf…it was always difficult to tell with the wizard. Sometimes he was truly asleep but sometimes he was merely thinking and only appeared to be asleep.
"If you paint a picture, young hobbit, it will last longer."
That answered that question, Pippin thought, turning his eyes away from Gandalf. The wizard was awake, he was thinking, and he was in a sour mood this morning. He probably hasn’t had a good smoke for a while. The hobbit pushed himself off the ground and pulled his pack over from where it had been serving as a pillow. "Could you use some pipe-weed, Gandalf? I have a few extra leaves saved."
The wizard’s dark eyes flashed his direction, but then his expression softened. "Thank you, but no, Pippin," Gandalf said, giving the hobbit the barest of smiles. "I shall be fine without it."
Pippin shrugged and stood up, stretching out the kinks in his back. Sleeping on roots and stones for a week and a half had not been particularly pleasant and he was beginning to pay for it. His spine was out of alignment again and he hoped Aragorn would return soon so that the Ranger could fix it for him.
"So what’s for breakfast, Sam?"
"It’s not breakfast, it’s supper," Sam answered testily. "I don’t care that we all just woke up, the time of day is still supper."
Pippin exchanged an amused glance with Merry and then turned back to Sam, who was now searching through the supplies of food. "All right, what are we having for supper?"
"Something cold, by all accounts, but I don’t know as we have anything left that would taste good that way," the gardener answered, tossing one pack aside and moving on to another. "More likely than not, we’ll have to start in on that dried meat that Boromir’s been packing. We finished the perishable goods off four days ago."
"Do you mean that really spicy meat?" Merry asked, his face paling.
"The really spicy meat that he was carrying in the bottom of his pack?" Pippin added, wondering if there was a safe place to hide in the immediate vicinity.
Sam blinked, confused by their questions. "That’s it. Although, I don’t know as it’s all that spicy. The Gaffer has a recipe for potatoes and pork that’s so spicy it will curl the hair right off of your feet!"
"I don’t think you want to start in on that meat," Merry said. "It’s probably gone bad."
"It was salted and dried, Mr. Merry. I don’t see how it could have gone bad."
"Well, we are in the Wilds," Pippin reasoned, estimating the distance between himself and the nearest climbable tree. "Strange things happen out here and—"
"The two of you didn’t…you wouldn’t…you did!"
"Did what?" Merry asked, backpedaling rapidly.
"Sam?" A bleary-eyed Frodo stuck his head up and eyed the other three hobbits. "What’s going on?"
"Mr. Frodo, do you remember that meat I picked out from Rivendell’s larders and asked Boromir to carry? That spicy meat that didn’t have to be cooked and would do quite well for supper right about now?"
Frodo sighed and buried his head beneath his arms. "Don’t tell me. Let me guess. Merry and Pippin ate it."
"We were hungry," Pippin protested, now a safe distance away from Sam. "And we were being forced to guard the packs. It was tiring work and—"
"You ate the meat while guarding the packs?!" Sam fumed. "While the rest of us were out looking for Bill and hunting a Warg, you were eating our supper?!"
"What’s done is done, Sam," Frodo sighed, sitting up and yawning. "But I’ll remember this for future reference. Don’t think that the two of you will ever guard the packs alone again." The Ring-bearer got to his feet, stretched, and clapped his hands together. "So, what are we having for breakfast?"
Sam threw up his hands and stomped off, muttering something about fetching water. Confused, Frodo watched him go and then turned back to Merry and Pippin, his eyes questioning.
"Don’t ask," Merry said. "It’s better that way."
"Right," Frodo mumbled with a frown and a suspicious glance at both Merry and Pippin. A rather awkward silence fell, the stillness broken only by dwarven snores and Boromir’s quite murmurs. Merry looked at Pippin, Pippin shrugged and looked at Frodo, and Frodo rolled his eyes and started after Sam, picking up some of the water skins along the way.
"That could have been worse," Pippin said after another few minutes of silence.
"I suppose so," Merry allowed.
"No, really. Look, we’re both in one piece, they haven’t banned us from eating altogether, and it hasn’t rained yet. It could definitely be worse."
"Don’t say things like that," Merry scolded. "You’ll just jinx us. It’s a wonder the clouds don’t open up right now and soak us."
"The clouds shall do no such thing, Master Hobbit, for their moisture is bound for northern lands and Rivendell," an elven voice called. Moments later, Legolas stepped out of the forest, followed closely by Aragorn. The prince glanced up at the sky and shook his head. "Nay, we are too far south to be bothered by these. The winds blow them away even as we speak."
"How can you be so certain of that?" Merry asked.
"I have had many centuries to learn of clouds and their patterns around mountains," Legolas answered. "And beyond that, the trees speak of their departure and sorrow for the lost moisture."
"Trees can be wrong," Gandalf spoke up from the other side of camp, pushing himself up on one elbow and also watching the sky. "As I have said before, the weather here is subject to swift and sudden change."
"Where are Sam and Frodo?" Aragorn wondered, looking about the camp.
"They went looking for water," Merry answered. "They didn’t leave too long ago. They’re not in trouble, are they?"
"I hear their voices," Legolas said. "They are not far and have found the stream that runs to our west. All is well with them."
"Legolas, would you follow after them and make certain that everything stays well with them? We can ill afford to lose either Frodo or Sam through simple mishap or lack of watchfulness."
Pippin couldn’t help but notice the suspicious look Legolas gave Aragorn at this request, but after a moment, the elf nodded and turned away, disappearing into the woods so quickly that Pippin wondered if he had ever really been there. As soon as Legolas was gone, Aragorn moved swiftly to Gimli’s side and shook the dwarf, jumping back quickly when Gimli started to wake.
"Legolas knows what you do," Gandalf said, pushing himself to his feet with the aid of his staff.
"But Legolas is elsewhere, so it matters not what he knows," Aragorn responded, moving back in and giving Gimli another tentative shake. "Gimli? Gimli it is time to rise."
Pippin wondered if he had missed something in the past few minutes because he certainly didn’t know what Aragorn was doing but apparently Legolas did and the elf wasn’t even in the camp anymore. Sighing, he wandered over to the packs of food and peered into one. It looked sadly empty and the hobbit wondered if the Fellowship would be stopping to obtain more food soon.
"Sam will skin you alive if he sees you messing with that," Merry warned.
"Then you’d better stand watch and see that you warn me, or I shall come back to haunt you," Pippin retorted, wondering if someone had perhaps lost or forgotten an apple in the dark recesses of one of the food packs.
"Pippin! Leave off the food until Sam is able to supervise you," Aragorn ordered with a suspicious glance. "And Gimli, I would that you should come with me for a moment. There are words I wish to speak."
The dwarf blinked in surprise but he nodded. Standing, he slid his axe into his belt, straightened the mail he wore even in sleep, and quickly followed Aragorn away from the camp. Curious, Merry watched them go and even went so far as to creep the direction in which they’d vanished with the hopes of overhearing a whispered conversation. But he heard nothing even though he listened intently for some time, and he eventually gave up, walking back while his mind continued to study the problem. "What do you make of all that, Pippin?"
"Make of all what?"
"All these secret conversations. Aragorn taking Gimli aside like that. What do you suppose they’re talking about?"
Pippin shrugged, still roaming through packs of food. "Hopefully, they’re talking about finding a nice inn, a tall mug of ale, and a full plate of venison. Apart from that, I’d settle if they were talking about hunting. I’m ready to eat the clothes off my back."
"I wouldn’t do that just yet," Merry cautioned. "I was talking with Legolas and he says it’s likely that we’ll go up into the mountains. If he’s right, you’ll want to be wearing those clothes on your back rather than eating them."
"So I should starve to death rather than freeze to death?"
"Either way, I doubt anyone will care," Merry said with a shrug and a cheeky grin. "Which do you suppose is worse? Starving to death or freezing to death?"
"Only a Brandybuck would ask a question like that," Pippin said, opening yet another food pack. Success! There is an apple in here. Would Sam really miss it, I wonder? Perhaps he doesn’t even know it’s here. That must be it or else he would have fed it to Bill. I’ll just slip it into my pocket here and—
Pippin gulped, sent an incriminating glare at Merry who shrugged helplessly, and then turned around to find himself facing the newly returned Legolas and Frodo as well as an irate Sam who looked as though murder was not far from his thoughts.
"Hullo!" Pippin exclaimed, sending Sam the best innocent expression he could muster. "Nice weather we’re having."
* * * *
"Is it just me," Merry panted, "or are we traveling faster than usual tonight?"
Frodo glanced over his shoulder at the Brandybuck and flashed him a look of sympathy. "I think we’re traveling faster."
"How can they expect us to move this fast on such a meager breakfast?" Pippin asked, wiping a brow that was beaded with sweat despite the cold night air.
"It’s not breakfast, it’s supper," Sam corrected angrily. "And it wouldn’t have been so meager if you and Merry had left well enough alone last night."
Frodo sighed, turned his head, and rolled his eyes. Pippin and Sam had been arguing about this since the start of the march, which was over three hours ago. As soon as Aragorn and Gimli had returned to camp—with Gimli looking slightly miffed and Aragorn looking rather frustrated—breakfast had been eaten, baggage had been packed, and they had set out at a grueling pace. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the other members of the Fellowship seemed to be suffering, but to all appearances, the hobbits were the only ones beginning to stagger. Gandalf strode along without a hint of weariness. Aragorn might have been taking a stroll through a garden. Boromir was casually shining his shield as he walked. Gimli was taking practice swings with his axe in the back of the party. And Legolas was moving even faster than the rest of the Fellowship because he was now running periodic scouting expeditions ahead of them, looking for any sign that the Warg from the night before had attracted other unwanted guests.
Frodo frowned, sending a rather suspicious look at the back of Aragorn’s head. There was probably good cause for these new scouting expeditions, but Frodo couldn’t help but wonder if they might not also be a ploy to keep Legolas and Gimli separated. Neither elf nor dwarf had said a word at breakfast—Or was it supper?—but the looks they occasionally tossed one another were enough to tan an oliphaunt’s hide. At that point, Gandalf had pulled Aragorn aside for a quick conference and the result had been that Legolas was more often than not somewhere in front of the company rather than with the company itself. The general feel of the journey had improved because of this, but Frodo wondered how long it could be maintained. Legolas and Gimli surely knew what was being done and they wouldn’t stand to be manipulated like this for much longer. Beyond that, wasn’t it dangerous for one scout to venture into these forests? Legolas was a wood elf and he’d had plenty of centuries to hone his fighting and tracking skills, but it was still safer with the group than it was without the group. And both the flashflood and the Warg had proved that no one in the Fellowship was invulnerable.
With a sigh, Frodo hitched his pack higher onto his shoulders and decided it did him no good to worry about it. Aragorn and Gandalf knew what they were doing and he trusted their judgement. But at the same time, Frodo was becoming aware that he saw things more clearly now. The reasons for their path or the logic behind stopping at a certain location were lost on the other hobbits, but Frodo was beginning to sense things that Aragorn and Gandalf sensed. He was noticing things that they noticed and feeling things that they felt. The Warg had been only the start of this new development, and the hobbit shivered, all too aware of the heavy Ring as it slapped against his chest. Frodo wasn’t certain if this change was a good thing or not. He hadn’t discussed it with Gandalf and he felt a certain reticence to do so for some reason he could not fathom.
But why shouldn’t this change be a good thing? After all, if his judgement was drawing even with Aragorn’s and Gandalf’s, that was best for everyone. The more collective wisdom available to the Fellowship, the better. And hobbits had been overlooked for too long. They were strong and hardy in their own right. Maybe not in the same way that Boromir and Gimli were strong and hardy, but one didn’t have to be possessed of infinite endurance or rock-hard muscles to be considered a great warrior. Maybe the time had come to prove that hobbits were equals. Maybe he should challenge the wisdom of the elves and the power of the wizards. Maybe—
Frodo stopped cold and shook his head rapidly. Where in the Shire had those thoughts come from?! And as he paused to consider this, it felt as though a shadow suddenly fled his mind, leaving him light-headed and confused.
Frodo blinked and turned to face a concerned Sam. "Yes?"
"Are you feeling all right, sir? I can ask for a quick break if you’d like. We’ve more than earned one in my opinion and, begging your pardon, Mr. Frodo, you look like it would do you good. I don’t mean no offense but—"
"Yes, Sam, I think I would like a rest," Frodo said, wondering if it was just him or if the world was actually shifting beneath his feet. "At the very least, I should like to sit down for a moment."
"Mr. Gandalf!" Sam cried, guiding Frodo over to a convenient rock. "Mr. Gandalf, there are some of us as are tired and would like a quick stop."
Gandalf turned around, a scowl beginning to form on his weathered face, but he stopped when he noticed Frodo. "Of course, Samwise," the wizard quickly said. "We shall stop here for a bit and wait for the return of our elven scout. It will be good to know what obstacles in the terrain we might face."
Beside Frodo, Sam grunted and shook his head. "What is it?" Frodo asked.
"Obstacles." The gardener sighed and folded his arms. "So far, we have several different definitions of what constitutes a shelter and even more on how big rations have to be. I wonder what an elf will define as an obstacle."
Frodo laughed quietly, feeling some of his previous melancholy drain away. "There aren’t a lot of obstacles for an elf, that’s true. But I’m sure Legolas will consider hobbits when he evaluates the terrain. In fact, why don’t you ask him yourself? I think he’s coming."
Sam looked about but saw nothing. He turned back to Frodo, his expression a combination of confusion and concern, but before he could say aught, Legolas’s voice called out to the Fellowship.
"I see you are using time to your advantage."
"Not all of us are used to long journeys, son of Thranduil," Gandalf answered with a touch of reproach in his voice.
Legolas’s light laugh could be heard and then the elf appeared, dropping neatly out of a tree and landing almost on top of Gimli. The dwarf jumped, clearly surprised by the elf’s sudden entrance, and then a strange look crept over his face. It was almost a look of impatient restraint, and not for the last time, Frodo wondered what Aragorn had said to Gimli earlier that evening.
"Have you seen or heard aught of the Enemy’s servants?" Aragorn asked, watching both Gimli and Legolas closely, and in his glance was a warning that even the hobbits couldn’t miss.
"Nay, I have neither seen nor heard anything, but it seems to me that the forest is still and watchful. Some evil has been here and its influence is slow to depart."
"Could it be the Warg still?" Boromir asked. "I felt uneasy for a time even after its death."
"The Warg did not stray this far south," Legolas said. "And the feel is not that of a Warg. It is as I said. There is a watchfulness about. Nothing directly threatens us, but all things are wary."
"How is our path?" Gandalf asked.
Legolas’s brow furrowed as he called to mind the details of his scouting run. "I know not precisely what direction we shall take, but there is an area where the trees are dark and the wind speaks of shadows. If we turn our course south and west for a mile or so, we shall avoid this place."
"We shall also find ourselves in the middle of a marsh," Aragorn pointed out.
"I would rather brave the marsh than the darkness," the elf answered. "And from what I saw of it, passage did not look particularly unpleasant."
"Did you actually test the ground or did you remain in the trees?" Gandalf asked.
"I remained in the trees where it is easier to pass unseen," Legolas answered rather indignantly.
Frodo sighed as the three continued their debate. So much for considering the limitations of hobbits. He remembered all too well the trek through the Midgewater Marshes, complete with stinking swamp water, hungry midges, and Sam’s Neekerbreekers. A light-footed elf might find a marshy area to be at best an inconvenience, but a hobbit might sink waist deep with every step and carry the smell of the swamp for several days after the fact. I wonder how acute an elf’s sense of smell is, Frodo mused. Perhaps I can threaten Legolas with my potential stench if he convinces Aragorn and Gandalf to pass through the swamp. Turning to consider Legolas and how such an argument might be taken, Frodo suddenly found his eyes riveted to Gimli and he immediately groaned. Up until now, the night had been so peaceful!
"I don’t see that a little discomfort outweighs passing through a region to which evil is drawn," Legolas was saying, clearly uneasy about the darkness he had felt.
"Perhaps to you it would be but a little discomfort, yet our pony shall be weighed down, it adds several miles to our journey, and we shall be wearied because of it," Aragorn argued.
"Better wearied than destroyed."
"We may be destroyed if we are too weary to fight."
"Aragorn, I tell you that this area is—" But Legolas was unable to finish his sentence for at that moment he started toward Aragorn and Gandalf but found his feet were suddenly entangled by the haft of a dwarven axe. To his credit, Legolas managed a rather impressive spin even as he stumbled, and by so twisting he recaptured his balance. But his eyes spoke of a dangerous anger, and he turned his piercing elven glance on the dwarf who now stood behind him.
"My apologies, Master Elf," Gimli said, shrugging and achieving an expression of innocence worthy of even Pippin’s praise. "I did not look to see where my axe was. You must have tripped over it." He stepped forward and bent to pick up the fallen axe, but Legolas was swifter and quickly snatched it up.
"Those who know not how to use such weapons should not carry them," Legolas hissed.
"You tread dangerous ground, elf," Gimli growled, unconsciously shifting into a combat potion.
Gandalf’s sharp tone caught their attention and the dwarf backed off slightly while Legolas’s grip on the axe relaxed marginally. Aragorn then moved into view, and an unspoken command passed between the future king of Gondor and the youngest prince of Mirkwood. With narrowed eyes, Legolas thrust the axe blade first toward the dwarf and dropped it. "With an axe so badly balanced as this one, it is more toy than weapon."
Gimli seized the axe quickly, but Legolas had already stalked out of range and resumed his conversation with Gandalf, Aragorn, and Boromir as though nothing had happened. Frodo sighed and shook his head. He should have expected this. He’d known the temporary peace was too good to last. I suppose I should be grateful that there was a truce at all. His mind gradually drifted back to the conversations around him and he sighed again at what he heard. Merry and Pippin were debating about whether interference from Aragorn and Gandalf nullified a match between elf and dwarf, Gimli was muttering angrily to himself, and Aragorn and Gandalf seemed to be overruling Legolas as to the choice of paths while Boromir stayed on safely neutral territory. What a strange collection of travelers we are, he thought. Given our differences, it’s a wonder that we aren’t all at each other’s throats.
A suddenly cleared throat interrupted Frodo’s thoughts and he looked up as Gandalf turned to face them. "Are we all rested?" the wizard asked. Pippin sighed mournfully, Merry mumbled something incomprehensible, Sam shrugged, and Frodo nodded wearily. "Good," Gandalf said, taking their responses to be enthusiastic in the affirmative. "We shall continue due south but we must move quickly. Stay alert, everyone. Legolas has warned us that danger may lie on this route and we cannot afford to be taken unawares. Come!"
And with that, Gandalf once again led the way into the forest. The hobbits struggled to their feet, swung on their packs, and followed the rest of the Fellowship.
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