1. Leaving Bree
Disclaimer: Well, alas, I own nothing. Neither book, nor movie nor Aragorn, the twins, Glorfindel, Elrond, Arwen, the Hobbits or Mithrandir. I do not own the quotes from the Books or the Movies in this story.
A/N: This is AU! Well, I could not decide between book or movie verse, so I decided for the middle. This story contains quotes from the Book and the Movie. What you recognize is definitely not mine. LoL. What else, ah yes. I could not decide whether to write the story with Arwen or Glorfindel. I opted for Arwen. I know that there are not many readers out there who like to read Arwen stories, therefore I (kind of) reduced her part to a minimum.~*~
"You may escape from Bree, and be allowed to go forward while the Sun is up; but you won't go far. They will come on you in the wild, in some dark place where there is no help. Do you wish them to find you? They are terrible!"
(Aragorn, Lord of the Rings)
°*°*°*°*°* Chapter 1: Leaving Bree
The day had started out fine; a pink sunrise followed by a clear blue sky stretching as far as the eye could see. But alas, such pure things did not last long in a world besieged by an ever growing shadow, and soon the blue gave way to grey and white. A soft drizzle had started to fall, and the road lay muddy and slippery before them. And behind them too, for the five wanderers had already travelled this road for some days, although still many lay ahead of them.
They, -that were four Hobbits and a Man-, had set out from Bree almost a week ago, but they would have to travel for many more days, until they would finally reach their destination: The elvish valley of Rivendell, or Imladris, as it was called by those who spoke the tongue of the elves.
The four small Hobbits had not taken lightly to trust their new leader, a dark clad and stern looking man, who seemed to neither sleep nor eat. But Frodo, the one young Hobbit with the brown curls and the water blue eyes had come to somewhat trust the man, and so the others had stopped complaining. Well, not all, that was…
"I am hungry."
A snort came from the Hobbit called Merry, short for Meriadoc Brandybuck, and then he answered, "You are always hungry, Pippin." It was not meant as a rebuke, and the other Hobbit, his cousin actually, only shrugged his shoulders, "Well, I am a Hobbit!"
Merry only shook his head, and slowly trudged on through the drizzle. They had had that and similar arguments during all they journey, and to be frank, Merry could not hear his younger cousin's complaining any longer. That was not because he disliked Pippin, no, it was only because he himself felt rather hungry.
He could hear Pippin mutter under his breath about asking Strider, the tall legged man –Longshanks they had secretly named him- to stop and have something to eat, but after a few minutes and some deep sighs, Pippin seemed to come to the conclusion, that he could as well ask a stone. Strider would not allow them to stop to eat. Merry had to smile, as he thought back on the conversation they had had the morning before.
The sun stood already high in the sky, but grey clouds veiled the light, and the mist that had risen during the cold night had yet to settle. It was a bleak day, and none of the Hobbits had liked getting up when Strider had woken them. To Merry, it was a wonder how he was able to sleep at all in such foul surroundings.
They had broken their fast very early -and very quickly- and to Merry, it had not been a breakfast, but a breakfaster-than-necessary. Although, he doubted that such a word existed. When they had walked for some hours, their feet trotting over cold stone and moss covered rocks, Pippin had suddenly simply stopped.
But he had not only stopped walking, but put down his pack to eat something as well! Oh, Merry had known that it had not been such a good idea, but his cousin seemed somehow oblivious to the dark glares that the human sent them when they dared to linger. As it seemed, Strider did not like being in the open and having no protection from prying eyes; and after what had happened in The Prancing Pony, Merry could understand that.
Lifting his pack from his shoulder and therewith forcing the other Hobbits to stop as well, Pippin began to open the flap of his pack. Sam and Frodo stopped in their tracks, and stood beside the loyal pony, their faces slightly amused at Pippin's antics, but tired and strained as well.
Suddenly, Strider's voice lifted, and he said, "Gentlemen, we do not stop till nightfall." His voice was not stern, but it brokered no argument. But Pippin was not yet finished. He was hungry, and when a Hobbit is hungry, he has to eat, no matter the time or the circumstances.
"What about breakfast?" His voice was high and friendly, as if Pippin had no care in the world.
Had Merry not known better, he would have said that the stormy grey eyes of Strider twinkled in amusement, but as quick as the mirth had appeared it had vanished. But his voice was light and tinged with a bit of humour as he aswered, "You've already had it."
Ha, but it seemed the human did not know the stubborness of Hobbits when it came to food, and Pippin answered calmly, so as if he would talk to a dim witted blockheaded Bracegirdle from Hardbottle, "We've had one, yes. What about second breakfast?"
Now Strider looked positively amused. He simply turned and left Pippin standing on the hard rocks, and a few seconds later his tall frame had vanished behind some bushes. Sam and Frodo shook their heads, equally amused at Pippin's childish behaviour; although, Merry was certain that he saw Sam lick his lips. Sam was a Hobbit, after all.
Leaning over to his surprised cousin, Merry told him, "I don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip."
Well, this stunned Pippin even more. Eyes wide and face unbelieving, he questioned horrified, "What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he? "
But Merry gave Pippin one of his looks, that told his cousin that he had once again said something very foolish, "I wouldn't count on it." And with that, they left the cold rocks and lichens covered stones, to follow a stranger into the wilderness...without having second breakfast, or elevenses for that matter.
~end flashback~Aragorn tightened his cloak around his shoulders and shifted his pack on his back. He was used to long hours of walking in every weather, but he was concerned for the well being of his little companions. During his time as a ranger and protecting The Shire, he had learned a lot about Hobbits, but these four furry feet-haired Hobbits were the first he actually came close to.
Of course, he had seen Hobbits, listened to them talking and singing and merry making. He knew about their fondness for food, their joyous personalities, their jokes and jibes, and their large family trees. And, he had even picked up a very hobbitish habit: pipe weed and smoking. Gandalf had been the first to teach him the ways of the pipe, and with the years, he had grown quite fond of Old Tobey and the Longbottom leaf.
But he also knew that Hobbits were a secretive folk and seldom strayed out of their borders. They knew not of the dangers and perils that lurked in every corner of the world, or sneaked into their homes at night, when the shadows are the darkest and all the lights have gone out. Aragorn glanced back over his shoulder and beheld the four drenched little beings.
Indeed, he thought, Hobbits are a strange folk. There is much to learn about them, but the longer I know them, he thought, the more riddles they bring. He saw how Sam gave the pony an affectionate pat, he saw Frodo glance at the sky and frown, and he saw how Merry slapped his cousin Pippin on the head. No doubt, the young Hobbit had again said something very foolish. Aragorn sighed again. It would be a long treck, and it would be dangerous before they were even near Imladris.
Even now, he could almost feel the breath of the Black Riders on his neck, and the fact that Gandalf had not been with the four Halflings when they marched to Bree, had worried him. The wizard would have done everything in his power to protect Frodo and the Ring, and Aragorn could not even begin to think about the reasons for Gandalf's absence. There were simply too many.
Letting his eyes glide back to the road before him, he scanned the way and was relieved when nothing out of the ordinary met his eye. He had decided to not follow the direct path, but walk through the wilderness along the way instead. It was more exhausting and it would slow them down somewhat, but to Aragorn, two or three day delay was far better than being killed by the Black Riders.
And that the riders were still near and searching for them, was no matter of doubt. They wanted the ring, they felt it, they smelled it and they could talk to it, and sooner or later, they would come for it. It would do not good to lead the Hobbits directly to their doom on the open road. No, the treck through the wilderness held better chances of survival.
Slowly, the sun rose over the sky, and soon it neared the horizon, and the light grew even dimmer. In this time of year, the days were short and the nights long and cold; they would not walk on through the night, although Aragorn wished he could. He wanted nothing more than to reach the safety of Imladris, for one reason or the other. But travelling at night, in this weather and with the Black Riders around, it was not wise to do so.
So, he let his eyes travel over the scenery before them, and just as the sun sank behind the horizon and the world was dipped into shadows, his searching eyes found some high rocks that were overgrown with lichens and circlet by old thornbushes; there was an overhang and it looked as if it could keep them dry throughout the night. A perfect spot to rest.
"Gentlemen, we will rest here for the night."
Aragorn nearly smirked at the audible sigh that Pippin gave, "Finally! I thought we would never stop. The hair on my feet has already locks from the rain, and my stomach is as empty as an empty stomach can be."
While Sam readied his pony for the night and Frodo settled down under a rocky overhang where the earth was still dry, Merry and Pippin flopped down on the ground and began to sort through their packs for their evening meal.
Suddenly, Pippin spoke up, "Roasted tomatoes, and some bacon, and roasted bread and warm apples that have lain in the smouldering ashes, and eggs and..."
"But Pippin," Sam sad, "we cannot kindle a fire, as all the wood is wet. We will have to do with cold bread and cheese and normal apples."
This was something Pippin did not want to hear, and he eyed Sam flabbergastedly. "But, but Mr Strider, hello up there!" Here he bend his head backwards so that he could look Strider into the face, who stood near the edge of their small camp.
"Mr Strider there, you can kindle a fire, can't you? I mean, you have to, I have heard the Tall Folk freezes always and needs fires."
Lifting an eyebrow, Aragorn watched the hopeful face of the youngest Hobbit for a moment, and then gazed into the other faces. All four Halflings looked eagerly towards him, and he knew that they all wanted to have a fire. Whether to cook, to keep them warm or to chase away their fears, he did not know.
The idea of a fire did not appeal to him, as it could draw the enemy towards them, but a fire would at least keep the wolves and other predators of the night away. And truth be told, he could do with a nice warming fire as well.
And, he thought, if the Hobbits get nothing warm to eat tonight, they will be insufferable tomorow. So, he turned fully towards the four hopeful beings, crouched down and pulled some dry branches out of his pack. He had collected them before the rain had started, and although the fire would have to be small, with some luck it would last through the night.
Pippin's eyes widened and he nudged his cousin Merry with his elbow, whispering, "See? I told you he can always make a fire."
Aragorn kindled a small fire and soon the air was filled with the smell of roasted potatoes and hot bread. Sam was a good cook and all the Hobbits let him do the cooking, but they just could not stop talking. Not for a minute, it seemed. And while Aragorn stood at the edge of the camp and gazed out into the gloaming, his ears were filled with comments such as "Look at those tomatoes! Yummy!" or "Sam, turn that piece of bread please, it is not yet brown enough on that side".
It was somewhat comforting to hear their careless talk, but Aragorn could not join in. He felt the darkness that awaited them, and he could almost hear the snorting of the huge black horses.
Gandalf, he thought, were are you, my friend? And what keeps you from being here, now at all times? But he got no answer, and so the stood motionless at the outer rim of the fireglow, a shadow among the others shadows, and guarded the four small beings that had already found a way into his heart.
The constant murmur of the Hobbits became lower somewhat as they began to eat, and the silence was comfortable for Aragorn. So many years he had been in the wild, he had travelled so long and hard and mostly alone, that the noise of only some voices hurt his ears. And, he thought, I need my ears for the sounds of the night, not for Hobbit talk.
Suddenly, he heard soft footsteps behind him, and he turned his head to see who approached him. Usually the Hobbits stayed on their own and talked to him only when necessary, but from time to time Sam would stare at him when he thought he would not see it. Perhaps he was the first human he had seen or been talking to, Aragorn did not know.
But it was not Sam who approached him, but Frodo. And in his hands he carried a small bowl, filled with some roasted tomatoes, bread and cheese. He looked at him with eyes as big as the full moon, and then lifted the bowl towards him, "I thought you might be hungry, Mr Strider. I saved you some of Sam's delicious tomatoes."
Aragorn took the bowl and bowed his head slightly, "Hannon le, Master Frodo." The food looked indeed delicious, and Aragorn took a bite from the warm bread. He did not know what Sam had done to it, but it was the best a few-days-old-roasted-bread he had ever eaten. Chewing slowly, he gazed at Frodo for a moment, and then back out into the night.
It was completely dark now, and not event the stars were visible. Frodo was still standing beside him, "Mr. Strider, why do you speak elvish? I mean, Bilbo always said that only a few non Elves speak the High tongue."
Chewing the bread and then swallowing it, he said softly, "My father taught me, Master Hobbit, a long time ago."
Stillness settled once more, and just when Aragorn thought that Frodo had nothing more to say, he spoke up again, so quiet that the others could not hear him, "How far is it to Rivendell from here?"
Aragorn tilted his head to the side and swallowed the roasted tomato he had just eaten. "If we hurry and not tarry, then it is two weeks still to go."
"Two weeks," Frodo said thoughtfully, but nodded his head all the same. "Aye, that is what I thought. Bilbo told me that it was a long road. But, Mr. Strider, I cannot see how our food can last that long. We have been careful in the last few days, but, it will not last for two more weeks."
Clearing the last tomato from his bowl, Aragorn placed a hand on Frodo's shoulder. It was the first contact they had, but Frodo did not shy away, and that was a comforting thought for Aragorn. It seemed, at least Frodo had some trust in him.
"There is food in the wild," he said, "berry, root, and herb; and I have some skill as a hunter at need. You need not be afraid of starving before winter comes. But gathering and catching food is long and weary work, and we need haste. So, tighten your belt, and think with hope of the tables of Elrond's house!"
For another moment they stood in silence, and then Frodo's voice could be heard, "Do you think we will make it to Imladris? These Riders are still out there, and they are searching for us. How can we expect to go unnoticed for the time it will take us to reach Elrond's house?"
To Frodo's surprise, Strider sighed deeply and his voice was low as he answered, "We will not go unnoticed, and sooner or later they will find us. But do not fret yet, for not all hope is lost. I now ways and roads that they do not, and I will see to it that you will reach the House of Elrond safe and sound." After a moment he added, "I promised Gandalf to protect you, and that is what I will do."
"But you are only one, and they are nine, no offence meant, Mr. Strider. How do you plan on doing this?"
"If by my life or death I can protect you, I will do that. And now, go to sleep, Master Hobbit. The road is still long and Imladris far. But you will see, once we enter the Last Homely House, your worries will diminish, your fears vanish and your aches be soothed."
Frodo gazed up at Strider's face, and in that moment he could clearly see a small smile flitter over the weathered face. He took the bowl back from the man, then nodded once more, and returned to his companions. Soon, the four Hobbits wrapped themselves into their blankets, and let sleep find them.
Frodo could not sleep at first, and so he lay there awake and watched Strider's back for some time. A strange man indeed, he thought before he too drifted off to sleep, strange, but not as stern and foul as he pretends to be.