Title: Coming to an Understanding
Request: I'd like a story in which Frodo and Aragorn interact either along the quest or
in Minas Tirith, perhaps in which Frodo complains that Aragorn is babying him
Summary: The hobbits did not exactly make a sterling first impression on Strider...
Frodo was getting rather tired of it. The way he looked down on them-- well, he supposed it couldn't be helped as their guide was so very tall, but he seemed to be doing it on purpose, the sarcasm and thinly veiled contempt for their inexperience in the Wild--well, not everyone could spend their whole lives tramping through the Wilderness, surely! the way it seemed he had chosen the most uncomfortable paths for them to wander through... if it were not for that letter of Gandalf's, he'd wish they'd left him behind in Bree!
He'd vanished out of sight again on those long legs of his. In a moment, he'd turn back and say crossly "keep up!" As if anyone could keep up with someone with legs twice as long as one's own. But they needed him. Without Gandalf, they needed him.
Sure enough, there he was. "Keep up! We've a long way to go yet before we stop!"
On they slogged, through the midges and marshes. Sam was slightly ahead, leading Bill carefully. Merry and Pippin were lagging behind-- these marshes were dreadful! The midges seemed to take a special delight in tormenting them. It was chilly as well-- one would think the cooler weather would drive the swarms of creatures away, but no such luck! He could see the sense in avoiding the Road. Those Black Riders would still be looking for them. But did the Man's shortcut have to take them this way? "My cuts, short or long, do not go wrong!" How pompous and condescending! And Frodo would certainly not think that slogging through such terrain was going exactly right!
He sloshed forward, trying to reach a patch of firm ground he had seen Strider taking earlier. As he struggled, he heard a shout and a splash behind him, and a curse from Merry. He turned around quickly-- it took a good deal for Merry to use that sort of language! Merry was pulling Pippin up. Pippin had stumbled and gone right down, and now he was soaked with the marshwater from head to toe. Oh dear, this was the last thing they needed. They would have to stop for a while now-- Pip couldn't be allowed to keep going, soaked through! He'd catch his death of cold!
"Strider!" he called urgently.
Aragorn turned with a frustrated sigh. Now what? he wondered. Not for the first time since meeting these four hobbits, he wondered just what Gandallf had been thinking, to leave the responsibility of the One in the hands of a hobbit like Frodo.
He'd been disappointed at their first meeting. From all that Bilbo and Gandalf had told him, he had been somehow expecting a paragon of a hobbit. Instead, he'd found a hobbit who, in spite of all danger and need for secrecy, had made a spectacle of himself in a public place! And his story that the Ring had slipped on his finger by accident? How likely was that?
This Frodo was a good deal younger than Aragorn had expected, and his companions younger still. The servant, Samwise, seemed to have a bit of sense, but he wondered about the other two. The Brandybuck had gone off for a casual walk-- at night, in a strange town, and then of all follies, had followed a Ringwraith! And the younger-- well, Aragorn was not the best judge of hobbit ages, but he'd be surprised if the Took was old enough to be out of his parents' sight-- much less drinking in an inn and causing careless talk! Why in creation had Frodo brought them along, as if this were simply a lark?
He'd been watching the Shire for a good many years, but he'd rarely encountered Shire hobbits during the course of his duties. After all, Gandalf preferred the Rangers' watch over the Shire to be discreet. And the hobbits of Bree mostly avoided him with only a few friendly exceptions. He had no idea that hobbits of the Shire were so-- so feckless! He supposed he had been spoiled by his acquaintance with Bilbo, who was uncommonly sensible. But Bilbo was a hundred-and-twenty-eight, after all, and had some experience of the world outside the Shire. He liked Frodo and the others-- they were quite likeable, and he'd grown fond of them very quickly, but he was not sure he trusted their sense!
He turned and retraced his steps, to see Frodo, Sam and Merry hovering over a thoroughly wet Pippin.
"We will have to stop, Strider," Frodo said. His tone was imperious. "We have to get Pippin warm and dry, or he'll catch his death of cold!"
Aragorn rolled his eyes. He had learned long ago from Elrond that one did not catch cold from being wet-- colds were contagions, and were passed from person to person, and being wet had nothing to do with it. But he had learned long ago that he might as well talk to the wind as expect anyone outside Imladris to believe that! And if the lad had breathed in any of the nasty water, he might very well get ill anyway. Who knew what might be in that marsh water?
He heaved an impatient sigh, and nodded curtly. "I will keep watch. But please, gentlemen, make it quick."
"Gentlehobbits!" Frodo muttered crossly. "I wish Gandalf was with us."
He turned to where Merry was rubbing Pippin down with one of the blankets. One of the few good things about their delay in Bree had been the opportunity to pick up a change of clothing second-hand, to make up for what they'd lost at the Barrow. Sam soon had Pippin's spare clothing out of Bill's pack.
"Oi!" said Pippin crossly. "I don't want to put my clean clothes on without washing!"
"Too bad, Pip," said Merry briskly. "You don't have a choice."
Frodo shook his head regretfully. Poor Pip, this was the first time he had actually objected to anything they'd had to do. He'd been trying not to complain-- well, any more than they were all complaining. "I'm sorry, Pippin! No copper tubs out here in the Wild. I am afraid it will be a long time before any of us get a bath."
PIppin wilted under Frodo's sympathy. "I'm sorry, Frodo. I do know," he said sadly. "I didn't mean to stumble."
"That's all right, Pip! It won't be the last time any of us stumble."
Pippin nodded, and submitted meekly to his cousins' ministrations.
In only a few moments Pippin was clad in the dry garments. His wet ones were bundled up and placed on Bill's back ("We'll dry them out tonight when we have a fire," Frodo had said.) and they were once more moving on their way.
Aragorn was relieved that for a while, at least, their way would be somewhat dryer for a few miles-- though it seemed the "neekerbreekers" as the hobbits had taken to calling the midges, were following them. He waved a hand in front of his face to drive some of them away, and tried to slow his pace. It was hard to remember that he could walk more swiftly than these little people. He made an effort to abate his pace.
He knew he was being impatient. He was used to travelling alone, or at most with other Rangers, who understood the dangers of the wild. One thing, at least, he could give these hobbits-- at least they moved quietly, so long as they were not talking.
Just then, he heard Pippin sneeze.
He placed a palm over his face. This was all they needed, for one of them to take sick and slow them down. The young hobbit must have breathed in some of that water after all.
But in spite of the sneezes and coughs that occasionally broke the silence behind him, and the murmurs of encouragement that the other hobbits had for the youngest member of their party, they did not suggest stopping again, or slow their pace. Now that they had, at least for a while, put the marshes behind them, they were making better time.
Still, it was not as swiftly as he could have travelled on his own.
Unaccountably and perversely, Frodo felt annoyed that Strider had seemed to slow down for them. While it was what he wished, it seemed to show that the Ranger knew the hobbits could not keep up with him. Well, of course they couldn't-- but it felt to Frodo as though he was being humoured.
In fact, it felt very much as though Strider was treating them like children.
Pippin gave a mighty sniff, and then coughed.
Frodo turned to him. "Do you need to stop and rest?"
Pippin shook his head. "I'm fine!" Then he coughed again. Merry silently passed his younger cousin his waterskin, and Pippin gratefully drank.
"I think it's just that nasty water-- it's left a dreadful taste in my mouth, and a tickle in the back of my throat. Thanks, Merry!"
Frodo shook his head, and wondered once more why he had allowed his cousins to come along. He should never have allowed them to persuade him-- as welcome as their company was, he was the eldest and should have known better.
Aragorn walked steadily on, making an effort to keep his pace slower than he had been. He stopped often to check on his charges-- they moved very quietly, and were not talking, so except for Pippin's occasional sneeze or cough, he did not hear them following. At one point, he turned, and realised that Sam and Merry were not with the others. Frodo was leading Bill, and he and Pippin seemed unconcerned. He was about to ask angrily where the other two were, when flushed and grinning they came silently trotting from out of some trees to the side, each of them carrying his jacket, bundled up around something.
"What have you been doing?" he asked crossly. Was he going to have to walk behind them?
Merry raised his jacket high. "Mushrooms! Golden chantarelles!" His voice was triumphant, as was the expression on Samwise's face.
He cast his eyes to the heavens. "You must stay together!"
Frodo crossed his arms. "They stayed within sight! You had indicated that our food could run short. I gave them permission to gather those!"
Aragorn raised an eyebrow. He'd heard no words. Frodo just looked at Sam and Merry, and they fell in behind him; Frodo started walking once more, and Aragorn turned and, annoyed, began to walk a bit faster once more.
Frodo could tell that Strider was angry. But when the hobbits had smelled, and then spotted the beautiful mushrooms to one side, he'd given Merry and Sam the nod. It had been the work of only a few moments for them to harvest their bounty and rejoin Frodo and Pippin. They'd never been out of sight for an instant after all! And why should Strider object to them supplementing the food they'd brought? It wasn't like they were not going to share with him!
But now he was walking faster, as if to punish them for dallying, or something, as though they were unruly children in need of a lesson. How could he get this Man to take them seriously? Perhaps things got off wrong in Bree. He flushed. He had been far too incautious at the Prancing Pony, he knew.
The shadows were lengthening, and their brief respite from the Midgewater Marshes was nearly at an end. Perhaps they should stop and make camp. There was a copse of trees in a small dell near-by. They could make camp while it was still relatively dry underfoot, and tackle the marshes again on the morrow.
Perhaps he could find a few herbs to add to his meagre store, to ward off Pippin's congestion. At any rate, he could not see dragging them through more marshes as it got darker. And there were not anymore good campsites to be found for many hours of travel.
"We'll stop here, gentlemen," he said, indicating the dell. "The ground dips down there-- as long as we keep it small, we should be able to light a fire safely. You do know how to make a fire that doesn't smoke?"
Sam, Merry, and Pippin looked at him with relief, but to his surprise, Frodo looked somewhat angry, as he stood with his arms folded, glaring. "I think, Strider, that we can manage that!"
Aragorn found himself resisting the urge to take a step back from the intensity of that glare. "Is there a problem?" he asked.
Frodo found himself resisting the urge to roll his eyes, and by dint of effort, to keep a reasonable tone of voice. "The problem is, Strider, that we are not wayward children! All of us, save Pippin, are fully adults, and he is not a child himself by any means! It is true that we are not familiar with the way to Rivendell, nor would we know how to fight such creatures as pursue us. But we are not incompetent. All of us have tramped about the Shire at times, have made camp, have foraged. While we don't know much about fighting, we do know a lot about hiding. After all, we got ourselves out of the Shire without being caught, though those Black Riders pursued us for many miles. We are grateful that Gandalf arranged for you to guide us, but if you insist on acting as though we have not the sense of a goose, we might as well part ways, and we will somehow manage to locate Rivendell on our own."
Aragorn flushed. He realised he had been allowing his impression of the hobbits to show. "I am sorry, Frodo. I am afraid I am not used to travelling with others, and also, I fear that I was somewhat put off by our first encounter. You must admit that you were not hiding at the Prancing Pony."
It was Frodo's turn to flush. "Well, I know that we did not make a good first impression, Strider. But you must believe that the incident with the Ring was completely accidental."
Aragorn nodded. "I pledged my aid to you, Frodo. I did not do so grudgingly, but I am afraid my actions today have belied that. You are not children, and I will not treat you as such any longer. Gandalf has often told me not to underestimate hobbits, and I fear that I was guilty of doing so." He held out his hand.
Frodo did not hesitate, He reached out and took the proffered hand firmly, giving it a shake. "That's all right, then," he said.
"I will go out and do a bit of scouting, then, and also see if I too can forage a few things."
Frodo nodded. "Sam, would you go and see about some firewood? Merry and I will tend to Bill and set up the camp. I think--" he turned to look at Pippin, who had been starting to ask what he could do, "that Pippin needs to bundle up and keep warm..."
Aragorn watched for an instant, satisfied very quickly, that yes, they did indeed know how to set up a camp, then he left it to them and silently vanished into the woods, seeking for any sign of trouble...