4. The Party's Over
“No one is having any more wine.” Aragorn pushed all the bottles and cups to one side of the table. “Remind me to ask Faramir how old these bottles are, this is potent stuff. If you’re thirsty, hold your cup underneath that waterfall out there. No wait, that’s too dangerous. If you’re thirsty, *I’ll* hold your cup underneath that waterfall out there.”
Pippin wasn’t listening. “Thorongil? Are you sure about that, Strider? Thorongil doesn’t rhyme with anything.”
“Thank heaven,” Aragorn sighed. “Why did I even tell you that one? I haven’t used that name in many, many years, why don’t you just forget you heard it.”
Aragorn looked around the cave. “This is actually a good place to stay tonight. I can protect you here.”
“Protect us?” Merry was suddenly indignant. “Just how many Lords of the Nazgûl have *you* slain, Strider?”
“Or trolls,” said Pippin.
“Or giant spiders,” added Sam. “Oh!” Suddenly realizing who he was talking to, Sam clapped his hand over his mouth. ‘I’m sorry, Strider, I shouldn’t have said that!”
“It’s all right, Sam,” said Aragorn.
“My goodness, I always seem to blurt out the wrong things in this cave.”
Pippin perked up. “What did you blurt out last time you were here, Sam?”
“N… Nothing. Nothing important, Mr. Pippin. Uh, I think I’ll go see how Mr. Frodo is doing.”
“See if you can wake him, Sam,” said Aragorn. “He should eat something.”
“Merry, we forgot about the food in Frodo’s pack!” Pippin started to get up, a bit unsteadily, but Aragorn pushed him back onto the bench.
“Don’t you think Frodo might want some of that, Pippin?”
“Oh.” Suddenly Pippin yawned hugely and leaned against Aragorn.
“Time for bed, little one,” said Aragorn, helping Pippin to his feet and guiding him over to one of the beds. “You, too, need your rest after such a long walk. You’re not many days out of a sickbed yourself, remember.” He helped Pippin lay down.
“Elessar,” Pippin murmured sleepily. “That rhymes with……” he yawned again.
“Evenstar,” Aragorn suggested softly.
Pippin nestled into the furs, closing his eyes. “I like that.”
Aragorn smiled and looked up. “How are you doing, Frodo?”
“Fine.” Frodo blinked and looked around. “I can never seem to stay awake here.”
“Come, you should have something to eat, if Merry has left you anything.”
Frodo retrieved his pack and brought it to the table, where he gazed wide-eyed at all the empty bottles. “What’s been going on?”
“I’m sorry, Frodo,” Aragorn said. “I should have been paying more attention. To Pippin, especially.”
“Aragorn, you’re not responsible for Pippin.” Frodo looked at Merry sternly. “We are. Merry, how could----” Merry just smiled at him, a little bleary-eyed. Frodo sighed. “Sam, help me get Merry into one of those beds.”
Frodo and Sam returned to the table and sat down, Frodo just shaking his head. He pulled some bread, cheese, and fruit out of his pack and began eating.
“Odd thing, isn’t it, Mr. Frodo?”
“What’s that, Sam?”
“Everything’s like it was before, only different-like. We’re here again, with a captain of the Rangers……”
“The king, Sam,” Frodo said.
“I mean it’s just right odd.” Sam suddenly stared at Frodo. “Maybe we never left this cave, sir, maybe we’re still here, if you get my meaning.” He stood up, a bit frightened. “Let me see if you still have the Ring, Mr. Frodo, we can’t let anyone get at it!”
Frodo and Aragorn exchanged amused glances, and they rose as one and escorted Sam to one of the beds.
“Lie down and rest for awhile, dear Sam,” said Frodo gently. “The Ring is destroyed, I promise. It’s all over and done with, Sam. It’s all over.”
In answer, Frodo wagged the fingers of his right hand in front of Sam’s sleepy eyes. “How many fingers?”
“Four.” Sam smiled and closed his eyes, yawning. “Four, that’s good. Never thought I’d think that was a good thing, sir. Never thought……”
Frodo rested his hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Sleep, Sam, you deserve it.” He got up and looked at Aragorn, the smile fading on his lips. “Are you all right?”
“Frodo, did I make you…… did I ask you to call me “Your Majesty” earlier?”
Frodo frowned. “Of course not. You would never say that, Aragorn.”
Aragorn sighed with relief. “Good. Why, that little scamp. Tell me, can Pippin swim?”