51. A Meal Shared is Enjoyment Doubled
Pippin began it, unsurprisingly. The tweenager’s bright green-gold eyes began to light on one fascinating object then another, an oddly-colored stone; a brilliantly colored leaf, a flower, the graceful shape of a branch. These things and more he pointed out to the others with much exuberance, until his infectious enthusiasm caught in his companions. He gave a little crow of delight when he found a small stone with a hole drilled through it by the endless passage of wind or water, gleefully brushing off the clinging dirt and polishing it. Then he spent quite a while holding it up to one eye and peering through it, weaving a bit as he tried to keep to the path. “What are you doing, Pippin?” asked Aragorn after watching this peculiar behavior for several long minutes.
Pippin reddened. “The gaffers and gammers say that rocks with holes through them are fairy-stones. If you look through them, you can see through any illusions the fairies have cast.”
Aragorn did not laugh at Pippin’s earnest expression. “You should keep it, then,” he said gently. “Who knows when such a thing may be of use?” Pippin looked at him gratefully and beside him, Merry grinned up at the Ranger, pride and amusement dancing in his eyes. Pippin slipped the stone into his coat pocket, humming under his breath. He began singing softly, soon joined intermittently by his cousins and finally Sam. The Ranger did not join in their walking song, but he enjoyed both it and them, marveling at their willingness to, however temporarily, put aside their fears and burdens in their simple enjoyment of the ‘now.’
The afternoon passed pleasantly and uneventfully enough, the weather crisp and clear, each breath a delight to the lungs. The walking party’s peaceful trek was enlivened by only one incident. Pippin and Merry had disappeared and been gone just long enough for Aragorn to grow concerned. Motioning for Frodo and Sam to rest themselves in a sheltered hollow, he followed the cousins’ almost imperceptible trail. The barely-bent grass and a single disturbed leaf indicated a meandering path that led to a large oak tree that rose in ancient majesty from the forest floor. He topped a rise and pushed aside the thick branches that obscured his view. On the downward side of the rise, he saw two curly heads, uncharacteristically motionless. He followed their gaze. The two young hobbits stood silent and still in rapt contemplation – of a honey hive.
Pippin already had his sling out. Merry was pointing, his arm raised to indicate a slight depression in the hive where a well-placed stone would drop it. Anticipation was in every line of their taut bodies.
“No!” growled the Ranger, and before the two knew of his presence, a none too gentle hand clamped down on each small shoulder and was steering them firmly back to the others.
”We didn’t do anything!” complained Pippin shrilly.
“And you’re not going to, either,” returned the Ranger. “You got me chased by a wild pig – you are not going to get me chased by a swarm of angry bees.”
“But the honey -” began Merry.
“Is of more use to its makers than in your stomach, Meriadoc Brandybuck. I forbid you to endanger all of us.”
Both young hobbits, wearing identical mulish expressions, were propelled to stand before their cousin. Frodo looked up in surprise, his gaze traveling from their expressions to Aragorn’s dark face. Sternly the Ranger explained what the two young hobbits had been intending to their elder cousin.
To his relief, Frodo was incensed. He glared at them, high spots of color in his cheeks. “How could you two even consider such a thing? You know better than that! Those bees would be after us in a trice. Do you enjoy being stung? Well, do you?“ The two younger hobbits dug their toes into the grassy turf and tried to look contrite. Aragorn rather regretted that he had gotten them into trouble with their elder cousin, but really, the youngsters had to learn. “The only way is to smoke them out, ”Frodo continued decisively, rising to his feet.
“What?” said Aragorn, thinking he had misheard. Surely he must have misheard.
“Smoke ‘em out,” explained Samwise helpfully. “Build a fire under the hive an’ funnel the smoke…”
“I know what smoking out bees is, Sam. We, however, are not doing it.” The Ranger’s voice sounded a bit shrill to his own ears.
Now four sets of curious eyes looked at him. “Why ever not?” asked Frodo. “You said we were to supply our own food. And some honey combs…”
“No! No no no no!” The Ranger flung up his arms in disbelief then spun on his heel and stalked off, muttering under his breath.
“I must say,” commented Merry to Frodo as they sauntered after him, “he’s in rather a testy mood, isn’t he?”
Frodo shook his head. “I can’t imagine why.”
“He should have taken a nap, too,” Pippin suggested.
Merry shrugged, dismissing the changeable moods of Men. “We could probably have outrun those bees, anyway.”
* * * * *
To Aragorn’s relief, the hobbits were content to amble on until tea. Then they pulled off into a small glade and dug out the day’s foraging. The amount of smoked meat remaining and the few greens they had gleaned along the trail seemed very inadequate. With a sigh, Sam set about doing the best he could with the little they had.
Merry and Pippin began a small fire and Frodo fetched water from one of the ever-present streams of this verdant valley. After some consideration, Sam shredded the meat and put it in his stewpot along with some of the water, determined to extend their scant tea any way possible.
Aragorn leaned back on his elbows, long legs stretched before him at the ankle, smoke curling delicately from his pipe. Pippin plopped beside him with a deep sigh. “That little bit of stew isn’t going to go far, Strider,” he moaned. “And I’m so very, very hungry.”
“You’re always hungry,” retorted Merry, sounding less than pleased himself. He seated himself cross-legged on the other side of the fire.
Pippin looked affronted. “I’m a growing hobbit. I -”
“May we intrude?”
Aragorn shot to his feet, pipe falling from his mouth, face flushing before the amused gaze of the three tall Elves who had suddenly appeared before him. The hobbits were equally startled. Frodo tipped over the pot of water he had been washing the greens in and it soaked Aragorn’s pipe.
The two young hobbits scrambled to their feet and bowed along with Frodo. Sam hastily stuck his spoon in the stewpot and wiped his hands on his cloak, his bow trailing the others.
“We did not mean to startle you,” said the Elf who had spoken before, though amusement at their surprise was evident in his clear eyes.
“Though one would expect more vigilance from a Ranger,” said a second Elf, stepping out from where he had been partially hidden behind the first.
The Prince of Mirkwood found himself surrounded by four glad faces beaming up at him and he smiled back, blue eyes sparkling with mirth. His great bow lay across his back, and both he and his two companions had rabbits swinging from their belts.
“Well met,” replied the Elf warmly. “Elrond said you also were taking this road. Are you traveling to see the –“
“Yes, we are,” interrupted Aragorn, aware of pointed, attentive ears. “But I have not told the hobbits what awaits us at the end of our walking party, Legolas, and I would appreciate it if none of you told them, either.”
The other two Elves laughed outright. Legolas, more familiar with the halflings, smiled. “Were I you, Aragorn, I would watch for rocks in my bedroll or poisoned ivy in my clothes. The little ones are not pleased with you.”
“They have already frozen my heart with fear this journey,” returned Aragorn. “Most recently, a wild –“
“Old new, old news,” said Frodo hurriedly, waving his hand dismissively. “Won’t you introduce us to your friends, Legolas?”
The Elf reclined his head gracefully, sharp eyes not missing the hobbits’ relief at the change of subject. “This is Ralolith,” he said, indicating the Elf who had spoken first, “and this Lucilena.” The other Elf was a woman, they saw – it had not been immediately apparent under the tunics and leather hunting clothes all three wore. “We have journeyed to…” Legolas teased them gently, “… to see …” the hobbits leaned forward, “…what Aragorn is taking you to see.” Pippin leaned back with an expression of disgust on his sharp face.
“It is truly a marvel beyond words or song,” continued Legolas. “We have nothing like it in Mirkwood. We had begun our journey home when we saw the smoke from your cook-fire.”
“We have game to contribute to the cook-pot if you wish,” offered Lucilena. A slender hand gathered up the rabbits and offered them to Sam, who accepted them with a bow and a bright red blush. The female Elf’s starry eyes twinkled in amusement at the stocky hobbit’s discomfiture.
Sam drafted Pippin to help him skin the coneys and prepare them for the pot, though the tweenager would obviously have rather sat with his elders. His fears that they would be excluded from the conversation were needless – as one, the Elves arrayed themselves around those working instead of assuming more comfortable seats in a circle on the grass.
“Right quality folk, they are,” Sam whispered to Pippin. “Gracious–like.”
Pippin nodded around a mouthful of purloined smoked pork. “Aragorn did say this was a ‘well-traveled road.’ I’m glad they hunted before we met them. There’s enough here for a proper tea, at any rate.”
“We are honored to meet you at last, Ring-bearer,” Ralolith was saying to Frodo. “Lucilena and I were among the escort that rode out to guard Glorfindel when he bought you to the gates of Imladris, though you would not remember. We sent prayers to Elbereth for your recovery,” he continued.
For a brief moment, Aragorn saw shadows mar Frodo’s beautiful eyes. Then the hobbit cast them off and smiled into the Elf’s deep eyes. “Thank you,” the Ring-bearer replied politely. “Lord Elrond’s care of myself and my friends is a debt I can never repay.”
Ralolith shook his head, the dark braids over his sharp-tipped ears swinging gracefully. “It is we who owe you the debt that cannot be repaid.” He raised his head and smiled at Legolas over Frodo’s head. “Lucilena and I both petitioned our lord to allow us to join your Fellowship, Master Frodo. But for some unknown reason…” the Elf paused dramatically, “he felt this young Elf could offer you more.”
Legolas’ eyes sparkled at the other’s gentle teasing. “Perhaps he did not wish to saddle the Company with an Elf so old that his bones creaked,” he returned. Frodo looked between them, placed at ease by their familiar play. To his eyes, Ralolith and Lucilena appeared slightly older than Legolas, but not so much as to be remarked upon. Much like himself, he mused, appearing younger than he was and kept that way by his ownership of the Ring. Suddenly ill at ease at that thought, he turned his mind back to the conversation.
Within a very short time (but long enough for growling hobbit stomachs), Sam was ladling out a fine coney stew, thick with ingredients that Lucilena and Ralolith had provided from their packs. Aragorn took his bowl doubtfully and sniffed it, then looked accusingly at Sam. “Carrots,” he muttered. “Onions. Are these potatoes?”
“I can toss some grubs an’ bark in your bowl, Strider, if you want,” offered Sam cheekily. Aragorn declined.
The enlarged company ate in compatible silence for some time. At last they put away their bowls, and Merry and Pippin and Sam rose to collect and wash them. Frodo would have helped too, but Aragorn motioned for him to stay. While the younger hobbits worked, the Ranger and the Ring-bearer told the three of the men who had attacked them and of the bounty placed upon the hobbits. Ralolith’s deep brown eyes grew hooded and they glanced among themselves at the news. “We will carry word to Elrond, Aragorn. Are you certain you do not wish to return to the House in our company?”
Aragorn shook his head. “We are so close now to … to what I have promised them, that it would be a shame to turn back. They would be greatly disappointed. We would be grateful if you would spend the night with us, though. The young ones did not allow Frodo and I to take our watches last night, and I know they are weary.”
“That we will do gladly,” said Ralolith.
“And, by your leave, I will accompany you for the rest of your journey,” added Legolas. “If you will have me.”
“Only if you do not allow the hobbits to talk you into hunting for them,” conditioned Aragorn, but without much hope.
* * * * *
Though it was only early evening, the travelers decided to rest here and engage in tales and songs rather than seeking a campsite a few miles closer to the walking party’s destination. Lucilena continued to produce an amazing variety and amount of food from her pack and the hobbits turned nothing down, despite Aragorn’s half-hearted glowers. Defeated, the Ranger finally gave up.
The Elves took the watches that night, allowing the entire walking party to slumber truly and deeply. Frodo awoke several times during the night, always to see the star-silhouetted form of a slender Elf on guard. Reassured, he would turn over and pull the blanket up over himself and Pippin, and return to sleep. Lucilena roused them out of their warm bedrolls just after dawn. They washed and ate, and exchanged many fair words in reluctant farewell. Pippin stood on a small hill and waved vigorously until Ralolith and Lucilena were lost to sight. He sighed wistfully and slung his pack over his shoulder.
“I do not think Aragorn meant foraging to include using great calf-eyes on our guests to divest them of anything edible they carried,” reprimanded Merry.
Pippin shrugged, undaunted by his cousin’s scolding. Lucilena had gifted him with several boiled sweets before they parted, and the young hobbit looked like a chipmunk. “Aragorn told us to live by our wits,” he slurred around his candy-packed cheeks. “You should not blame me because nice people want to give food to a poor hungry hobbit, whose elder cousins do not take care of him properly.”
Aragorn was torn between aggravation and laughter. Hearing his muffled snort, Pippin looked over to him and deliberately made ‘great calf-eyes’ at him, to use Merry’s turn of phrase. Unable to maintain his severe countenance, Aragorn looked away. Legolas laughed outright, a silvery peal of pure joy. The Elf rested a slender hand upon Pippin’s curly head. “Come,” he urged them. And to Aragorn, “we have perhaps two hours to arrive in time, or must wait until dusk falls.”
Aragorn slung his pack over his shoulder, wincing slightly as it impacted against the tender bruise. “Perhaps nothing else will impede our progress. I have not seen … what we are going to see in a long time. Frodo, do you think you and the others can avoid any major crisis, at least until we are on our way back?”
The Ring-bearer made a show of considering this. “We will try, Aragorn,” he said gravely, sharing an amused glance with Sam. “But you know how things go.”
* TBC *
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.