Beta appreciation notes for original: Kat and Shot – thanks m’dears. Beta appreciation notes for rewrite: Kat and Derby – thanks my precious, ever patient team.

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended. I don't own
these characters. This story is not meant to violate the rights held
by New Line, Tolkien Enterprises, nor any other licensee, nor is any
disrespect intended.


Chapter II – The Bonds of Isolation

by Larrkin

Warriors are fascinating. They carry so much inside, unspoken, whereas my kinfolk and I are fairly open about our inner workings. Actually, most hobbits’ inner workings take place on the outside.

But I’ve heard others say Bilbo and I are more ‘peculiar’ than typical hobbits. “That young Frodo, there’s something about him. Takes after his uncle he does with his odd ways.” It makes me smile. And Sam told me soon after we’d left Rivendell, “You know what others back there were saying about you, Mister Frodo? They say there’s something ‘elvish’ about you. What do you think of that?”

Not much I vow. Folks see what they will and few choose to look beneath the surface. But what I was seeing now, over beyond the campfire, where Aragorn had just joined Boromir and Legolas, was certainly intriguing and a great deal was going on beneath the surface.

I’d been dozing for awhile, but I awakened suddenly, feeling like some sound had disturbed my sleep, and indeed it looked as though Boromir had been having a nightmare. Legolas was handling him with expert elvish strength. He shot a quick glance our way, but Sam’s cloak had partially fallen over my face and my eyes, barely open, were in shadow, so Legolas didn’t see me watching. He had his hands full anyway.

He gathered Boromir up as if the big man weighed no more than a hobbit and then he awakened him and talked to him and soothed him. I watched, captivated. Such . . . well, hobbit-like behavior for such big, powerful warriors. And yet, why not? Why wouldn’t warriors enjoy cuddling, too?

I couldn’t help the tiny smile that pulled at the corners of my mouth. I loved this treasured closeness to these many others outside my own kind, enjoying the good fortune of it, and trying not to think about the dreadful circumstances that had brought it about.

I studied Legolas and Boromir, still fascinated. Although the darkness of the area they were snuggled into made it hard to see much, they looked perfect and content lying there together. Moments before, Boromir had even released a short laugh. Now he was quiet, Legolas smiling down at him, luminous even in the dim light.

Legolas suddenly looked over at us. I quickly shut my eyes, waited, then slitted them open again. The expression on his face had grown solemn, his focus off to one side. I followed his gaze. Aragorn now moved towards them. I felt a strange and sudden anxiousness.

The tension filling that darkened area seemed a living, breathing thing when Aragorn joined Boromir and Legolas. They rose and faced him, and the three of them began talking, or rather Boromir and Legolas were talking. I could not hear what was said, as I hadn’t heard anything all along, but, while Legolas and Boromir were talking in what appeared to be a gentle manner, Aragorn looked weary and disinterested.

He stood and listened, shaking his head every so often, but plainly refusing active participation. When Legolas reached out to place a hand on the Ranger’s arm, Aragorn drew back and stepped away, then turned and bent down to gather up his bedroll, apparently dismissing them with his actions.

I wanted to squirm, it was so uncomfortable a sight. His things gathered, Aragorn turned from his two clearly astonished friends and moved closer to the fire, glancing my way. I narrowed my eyes even more, until I could just barely see. He spread his blanket out and sat down, pulling his cloak about him, wrapping his arms around his knees and drawing them to his chest, his back to Boromir and Legolas. They stood silently for a moment, studying him, then Legolas leaned his head close to Boromir’s and said a few words. He placed a hand on the warrior’s shoulder, cast one last glance at Aragorn’s back, then turned and headed off into the darkness.

Boromir sat down and stared at Aragorn for a long while. Several times he nearly got up, and I willed him to do so, to come close to the fire and speak with Aragorn again, for obviously something unpleasant was going on between the three of them and it needed fixing. But Boromir’s hesitation spoke to the severity of the matter, as if something sad and awful gave him pause. Soon his great shoulders sagged and he settled back, wrapped his cloak around himself and lay down again.

I felt quietly stunned, my stomach twisting, a tremor of genuine fear coursing through me. More and more of late I’d begun to worry about the Ring, whether or not it had the power to influence the actions of the others in our Fellowship. After that horrible transformation of Bilbo’s in Rivendell, triggered by merely the sight of the Ring, I kept it close to me and out of sight, hiding my burden, my own, from any it might influence. It was mine, and only I could deal with it, but was it capable of creating mischief in the hearts and minds of others? Such notions frightened me, and I’d thought to ask Gandalf about it. But I had put it off, not quite willing for some reason to share my fears about the Ring. Still, after seeing what I just had, those fears came back to haunt me.

I studied Aragorn. He sat quietly, wrapped in his cloak, just staring at the fire, his careworn face tired and troubled. I watched him for some time, wondering what in the world could be going on here. What could have happened in so short a period of time? And when could it have happened?

I thought back on what we hobbits, or more precisely, what Merry, Pippin and Sam had been discussing earlier, after Boromir and Legolas returned from the lake and Legolas had handed Sam his bar of soap. He’d thanked the elf, but merely tossed the soap over with his pack, as he’d been busily enthralled watching Aragorn mix some salve that I’d soon learned was, to my embarrassment, for my sore bottom.

It wasn’t until later that Sam, while packing some things up, studied the bar with a puzzled frown, and said, “Now would you look at that.”

What?” Pip asked through his mouthful of the stew.

My soap, it has these strange gouges and lines cut into it, like it was scraped over something sharp. How’d you suppose he did that?”

Who did what?” Merry inquired.

Strider. He’d asked to borrow my soap earlier down by the lake. I wonder what he had to wash out that could make marks like that.”

Instantly intrigued, Merry and Pippin looked at each other while chewing. “Strider wanted to borrow your soap?” Merry asked.

I offered to wash out whatever he wanted, but he said he’d handle it.”

Hm.” Pip looked over at me. “What do you think of that, Frodo?”

I had a theory so outlandish it made me squirm to entertain it and I had no intention of sharing it. Though usually watchful, my fellow hobbits were clearly too distracted by dinner to notice how often Boromir had been wiping his mouth on his sleeve since he’d returned, almost as if trying to get rid of some very nasty taste. Far be it for me to suggest what might have gone on down at the lake, so I shrugged and said, “What I make of it is that he didn’t choose to burden Sam with whatever he wanted washed out.”

They’d all seemed satisfied with that and went back to eating, but before long, Merry ventured in a hushed low tone, “Has anyone else noticed how often Boromir’s been wiping at his mouth?”

Hobbits have few covert skills. All three of them turned as one to gaze across the way to where the elf and the warrior sat near a grouping of rocks. I looked skyward, studying the approaching twilight, trying not to laugh. This went on for some time, this casually blatant glancing over at Boromir while everyone ate and smoked and talked quietly. To my embarrassment I found myself glancing over as well, strangely fascinated by the mystery. And a new bit of evidence confirming my notion surfaced. Sam’s stew was good, but Boromir seemed to have trouble enjoying it.

After a while, when Boromir rose and headed into the high bushes for some privacy, Merry, Pip and Sam put their heads together under the guise of packing their pipes and sharing a light. They talked in hushed voices. I didn’t feel like smoking, so I’d hugged my knees to my chest and smiled at them, my dear hobbits. Pippin, naturally, started things off.

You don’t suppose--”

Well, why else would he keep wiping at his mouth like that, like--”

--like he’s got a bad taste in there he’s trying to get rid of, and that soap of mine, it’s strong stuff. It would taste right foul.”

I can’t believe we’re thinking what were thinking.”

Why not, Pip? If Strider disciplines us by spanking us, maybe he does this thing to Boromir. Who knows what manner of nasty speech he might have been used to back home in Gondor with all his warrior chums?”

Oh, no!”

Keep your voice down.”

No, Merry. Boromir has always been fair-spoken. And beside, Aragorn wouldn’t do such a dreadful thing. Not to a big, strapping warrior from Gondor.”

How do we know he did it to just Boromir? Legolas was there, too.”

A hushed pause, then:

Oh, come now, Sam. Even Aragorn wouldn’t soap out the mouth of an elf!”

Why not?”

Legolas hasn’t been wiping off his mouth, though.”

He’s too dignified for that”

Sam suddenly glanced at me, noticing my silence. “What do you think, Mister Frodo?”

I sighed. When they were this excited there would be no stopping them and their speculations. It suddenly seemed better to venture my opinion rather than add more fuel to their fire by dismissing their suspicions outright as I had before. They might very well return my lack of interest by indulging their imaginations, maybe even considering other disciplinary tactics, and I was not willing to share what I knew of that.

The night before, when Legolas and Boromir had been bringing me back to camp, me with my legs wrapped around the elf’s waist as he insisted on carrying me, I’d mentioned Aragorn’s comments about a just-spanked manner of walking, and Legolas had let slip something he clearly hadn’t meant to. He’d told us that Aragorn had teasingly said the same thing of him. I’d chuckled and said Aragorn was incorrigible. We’d all laughed again, then we all paused, realizing, to our collective shock, what Legolas has just revealed!

Positively stunned, the elf had frozen in his tracks. His eyes had widened and his face had gone instantly red, and, wholly embarrassed for him, I’d felt my face flush as well. Boromir had also stopped walking and stood gaping between Legolas and I. But a moment later, and in open sympathy with Legolas, Boromir had confessed his own experiences over Aragorn’s knee!

In a way, I was still reeling from how utterly astonishing all this was, and I had no intention of revealing such information to my hobbit friends. I didn’t like keeping secrets from them, but, considering how mortified Legolas and Boromir had been, with just me knowing their secret, I could only imagine how they’d feel if Merry, Pippin and Sam knew.

I now said, “I think what you’re supposing is possible, but there’s no way of knowing for certain unless you asked Boromir or Legolas straight out, and I know none of you are so unfeeling as to embarrass them like that.” I shot Pip a look and he peeped up at me timidly. “Whatever happened, it is none of our concern. Is it?”

They all shook their heads, clearly with regret, for there are few things more dear to a hobbit's heart than a juicy piece of conjecture, and what could be juicier than the notion that Aragorn had washed Boromir’s mouth out with soap? And possibly the elf’s as well!

Sh! Get busy! He’s coming back.”

Of course, there was no need to get busy simply because Boromir was returning, but Pip’s hushed order sent both Merry and Sam scurrying to start cleaning up, the three of them seeming to be utterly guilty of something. I’d sighed again and joined in, knowing without a doubt that Legolas was now more than aware that we hobbits were, yet again, up to something.

The mystery deepened with Aragorn’s return and the disquieting scene I’d just witnessed, although it took on a darker meaning than simply soap in someone’s mouth. It could be that the trouble harkened back to that, but if so, Boromir and Legolas would be the injured and broody ones, not Aragorn.

Some shadow of loneliness now graced Aragorn’s face. He had a way of looking haunted at times, a look that pulled at my heart, for often I felt inside me a sadness that mirrored the very expression Aragorn now wore. I’d felt it to some small degree when the Ring came to me, but the feeling had grown bigger of late, especially since I’d undertaken the Quest.

It was a feeling of separateness from my beloved hobbits, these souls I’d known and loved all my life. This “thing” set me apart from them, and the sadness of that was so profound that I pushed all thoughts of it aside over and over, trying to convince myself that this could not be.

But as the Ringbearer, I knew that I was indeed now separate from all those I loved in a way that was inescapable and not of my doing. Accepting that was hard, and I was still working at it, and the more I worked at it the more hollow it left me. Bit by bit I could feel a change taking place inside me, in some place where I dared not look, and I’d grown content to ignore it as best I could.

Looking now at Aragorn, sitting so alone, watching the fire and thinking, I felt a strange kinship stirring. I focused on him, sorting through boxes of explanations in my mind, looking for a key.

Sam released a soft snore beside me and turned over, taking his cloak with him and I suddenly lost my concealing cover. I gasped softly, the night wind fluttering through my curls and I glanced at Aragorn and saw him watching me with a faint smile. He studied me for a moment, then crooked a finger at me, an unspoken request to come join him.

I slowly rose, so as not to disturb Sam, and picked my way past sleeping hobbits and around the fire. He lowered his legs as I neared and for a moment he seemed ready to draw me onto his lap, but he didn’t protest when I quickly sat beside him. He just smiled to himself.

You should not have been awake and watchful all this time, sir,” he said. “You need your sleep.”


Frodo sucked a quick little breath and shot me a look. “How did you know?”

Your eyes glitter in the firelight,” I said. “And when you blink, your lashes flutter.”

He turned back to the fire. “Oh.”

And the way you lay, so stiff and rigid, not softly as when sleeping.”


You have been awake since I got back.”

Yes. It looked liked Boromir had a bad dream.”

Aye, so I was told.”

I think his cries woke me.” Frodo went silent, as if wanting to say something he was too uncomfortable to voice. But I felt the quick glances he fired at me from the corner of his eye. I waited.

Any of the other hobbits would have asked me plainly what he wanted to know, but I could not predict Frodo’s behavior. He was akin to his fellow hobbits, and yet he was also now separate from them.

He had watched Legolas and Boromir and I, and while we had not been quarreling, anyone observing would have concluded what Frodo probably had, that a disagreement of some sort lay between us and it remained unresolved. That would weigh heavily on the Ringbearer’s heart.

He still took too much responsibility for everyone and everything, despite the lesson I had given him over my knee in Rivendell about allowing others to share the burden. It could be that he was due to be reminded of that lesson, but I sensed that this had less to do with Frodo’s stubborn reluctance to accept aide and more to do with the Ring. Sam saw to it his master accepted the help he needed, and Frodo had yet to seriously challenge Sam regarding that.

But there was a burden Frodo could not seek help with and it separated him from his fellow hobbits. Frodo and I were alike in that. We were duty-bound to shoulder unwelcome burdens, and we were set apart from those we loved because of it.

I glanced down at him, knowing I should send him back to get some sleep, yet selfishly enjoying his presence too much to do so. He seemed too restless for sleep, as was I.

Are you going to tell me what is troubling you, Frodo?”

He looked up and met my gaze. “I . . . don’t know exactly.”

Perhaps you were disturbed by what you saw going on between Legolas and Boromir and I.”


It will resolve itself. Do not let it concern you.”

He was quiet for a while, then he sniffed and said, “This must be how Sam feels when I tell him that.” He glanced up at me with a sad smile. “He doesn’t like being told that what’s troubling me doesn’t concern him, and that he should just let me be with it. He never believes me, and sometimes he gets so frustrated with me he seems ready to . . . he gets overly upset.”

I grinned. “I am certain of it.”

And now I know how he feels, like I’ve given him a pat on the head and said he has nothing worthwhile to offer.”

Frodo,” I gently scolded. “It is not that simple.”

I know he asks out of a desire to help me, but he cannot help me in some things,” he said in a sorrowful tone. He turned his large, compassionate eyes upon me, “I understand his upset, though, because it’s a hard thing to be told that you can be of no help.” Glancing down, he added in a hushed voice, “It is equally hard to feel you cannot ask for it.”

Before I could respond a sudden shifting behind us drew our attention. Boromir rose and cast us a quick glance and a nod, then he headed off towards where Legolas would be standing watch. Frodo quickly spun his gaze back to me.

Don’t you want to go after him?” he asked.

Nay,” I said with a false casual air. “He is likely going to join Legolas on the watch. It is Boromir’s choice whether or not he uses this time for sleep.”

But --” He gave me a bewildered frown and said more slowly, “Wouldn’t you like to go after him?”


He stared and said, “And it does not concern me.”

Allow that I know what needs doing, and when, and --”

And it does not concern me.”

Aye, sweetling. It does not.”

Frodo gazed at me for a long moment, then he glanced away and sighed. “Very well. And I do trust you to know what needs doing.”

Thank you.”

He grew quietly thoughtful, then he looked at me again, and said with gentle intensity, “I didn’t mean to sound disrespectful, and I don’t doubt your leadership, and I do understand.” He dropped his gaze again, murmuring, “I understand more than you know.”

I reached out and ran my palm over his soft curls, “I know you do, little Ringbearer.”

He turned a sad gaze up at me. “We are alike, you and I.”


Aragorn,” he murmured, his voice suddenly soft and his eyes wide and luminous and full of concern, “do you sometimes feel a sadness, a very deep and alone kind of sadness unlike any other?”

My throat tightened at his touching question. I could only manage a small, tight nod.

It is simply our lot, isn’t it? Because of who we are and who we must be, and because of what we’ve been chosen to do, well, except I chose this for myself.” He hugged his knees to his chest, adding, “But, I didn’t choose this lonely feeling, and I don’t want it. It isn’t like it haunts my every moment, because I do still enjoy my loved ones and all of you, but I feel it inside, like a low hum I cannot escape.”

I sighed. “You and I do indeed share a common bond, little one, and that kinship can be of comfort to us if nothing else. Those who love us, and those we love are also ever constant, and perhaps Frodo, you and I can find a way back to them.”

He blinked, “Do you think so?”

We must believe it,” I said. I longed for something more to say, some way to comfort him. But, at the moment, I had no source from which to draw comfort.

Frodo stared at the fire, looking weary, then he rubbed his fist into his eye like a sleepy child, and I smiled and pulled him closer, drawing my cloak around him. He leaned against me, wrapped within that warmth, his languid form melting more and more as he shifted about, his heavy, sweet head falling then jerking back up. Now more asleep than awake, he was clearly befuddled with how to handle his discomfort.

I was ready to gather him into my arms when Frodo draped one small leg over mine, then crawled up onto my lap and stretched out with a soft sigh. He promptly fell asleep.

I smiled and watched him for some time, enchanted as I ever was by this little one. But, as a certain overly-protective gardener would likely soon notice his master’s absence, I picked Frodo up and carried him back over to Sam, tucking him up against his loyal servant, who immediately wrapped his master against his solid body, drowning Frodo under his cloak.

Passing Gimli, I gave him a gentle kick. “I know you are awake, dwarf.”

A low rumble came forth, then he softly growled, “How is a body to get any rest when conferences go on deep into the night?”

We spoke so softly we could scarce hear each other,” I replied, gathering up my blanket. “You could not have heard us.”

Dwarves can hear noises before they even happen,” he blustered.

Um. A valuable asset.”

Gimli uttered a few more dwarvish grumblings and turned back over, leaving me to my thoughts. I stretched out and closed my eyes, immediately envisioning Boromir and Legolas, wondering what they were doing and saying. I did not wish to speculate far in that direction.

So I withdrew into the place of emptiness I had carved out for myself during my time on watch, and from that safe retreat I could let the poisonous thoughts rip through me and feel nothing, a place such as Legolas closed himself within when wanting to escape something painful.

I could never allow what happened tonight to happen again. My loss of control and my inability to stop myself still echoed through me, as did the fear that my potential to become what my ancestors had become lived within me. Their weakness did indeed run through my veins.

I had known that tonight, watching myself treat Legolas and Boromir in that shameful manner. I would have taken my sword to anyone who had touched them as I did, and yet they had accepted it without struggle, trusting me . . . trusting me.

Thankfully, there had been no time to go off alone and brood. Sam was waiting with the athelas and I had rushed to become busy, as though outrunning the demons licking at my heels.

But later, while on watch, I lowered my inner guard, allowing those demons to have at me, and I fell beneath the force of a guilt so profound that it made me long to do some damage to myself in order to suffer for what I had done. Physical hurt seemed preferable to that awful state of remorse and perhaps it would satisfy the guilt.

Yet, of course, these were mere notions, for I could do no such a thing. Besides, the pain of unresolved guilt was worse than any mere physical harm I could do to myself. So I was reaping exactly what I deserved during those hours on watch.

The disillusionment in my fledgling’s eyes had ripped into me again, as did my elfling’s noble words and his pitying glances. Pity. For me. As I performed such a harsh act upon him and after I had mistreated his little brother in front of him. I deserved no such pity.

I paced and paced, and confusion entered my thoughts and then a new force slammed into me, memories taking me unawares, hitting with such strength that I stopped in my tracks and closed my eyes. Scenes flashed through my mind . . . Legolas beside me, taller than me, watching me practice at the archery field, smiling down as I hit the target well, showing me different kinds of arrows, gifting me with a special elven bow, perfectly fitted for a still-growing youth . . . Legolas and I running to a skirmish, and I am older now, a young man – “Stay behind me, Estel!”. . . and then . . . then Legolas and I, adults now, traveling with the Grey Company . . . so many images of us, years of images flashing through my mind, and a constant thread woven into them all: Legolas turning me over his knee.

Thoughts flowed over me now, thoughts of how I always felt when Legolas spanked me, and of how I felt afterwards when he held me and comforted me. No other feeling came close to it. Every understanding I now had of what a spanking gave to a person came from what Elrond, Legolas and Halbarad had given me, what they had lovingly taught me.

And so, I stood there, my face wet with tears, aching for that release, and I still ached for it, Frodo’s soft words from earlier coming back to me: “It is equally hard to feel you cannot ask for it.”

But, I would never ask Legolas for help. Of course I longed for the atonement Legolas could give me, but I would refuse it should he approach me with it, and if he insisted, I would fight him. For my penance was in denying myself that release. It was a penance I would do anything to avoid suffering again in the future. The pain of this guilt insured that I would never lose control of myself in such a manner again. I had abused a trust. I would see that it never happened again.

Sadly, what had triggered my mistreatment of them remained. My fledgling’s loyalties had shifted, and I had suddenly found myself in that lonely exclusion Frodo was now discovering.

Our situations were similar, but different. Frodo was separating himself from his dear hobbits – as much as Sam would allow, that is – whereas Legolas and Boromir were separating themselves from me.

From a calmer place, I could see that I was making much of nothing. Their loyalties to me were not in question. But because of the manner in which it had taken place, with Boromir being so adamant and fair and Legolas being so noble, it was difficult not to feel like the vicious outsider.

I would dismiss what I had felt had in that moment, though. What did it matter? I had been wrong to feel that way. I enjoyed the companionship the two of them had formed, my beloved elf and fledgling, now brothers to each other. Aye, it pleased me. And I could join in with them to a point.

But like Frodo, I carried within me an ever-present sense of detachment. That melancholy added to all my other thoughts and brought me to the place I had found, that safe retreat. And there I would remain, distant and remote when troubled inside, as I had earlier when I found them in each other’s arms.


He was sleeping now. I’d have fretted earlier when I came awake to find him gone, but the sight that met my eyes when I first opened them was of Frodo tucked securely into Strider’s arms, all snuggled warm and safe on the Ranger’s lap, Strider glancing down at him, all gentle-like. Ah. Perfect. I’d gone right back to sleep.

But now I had woken up again, the fire had burned low, so it was later, and I guess it was Gimli tossing some more wood on the flames that woke me. I felt Frodo’s soft hair under my chin and I couldn’t help burying my face in his sweet curls and kissing his head. Gimli saw me and he raised a finger to his lips in a “shh” manner, then he went stumping off, I guess to take his turn at watch.

I like Gimli. He makes us hobbits laugh, and anytime Frodo laughs we all get twice the pleasure. My Frodo’s giggle is like music and it makes everyone else laugh more just to hear it. I can never hear it enough, so I love it when Gimli gets going on one of his dwarvish tales and Frodo starts giggling.

I felt too awake. I raised my head and looked over to where Legolas and Boromir had been earlier, but they were both gone. Hm.

Frodo was wrapped up in his cloak and both our blankets because he gets cold at night and I don’t so much, so I’d woken up enough to swaddle him up right proper after Strider left him beside me. He’d just sleep now, warm and cozy as he was, so I moved away real slowly so’s not to jar him any, and he didn’t even flinch, his thick lashes never leaving his smooth cheeks.

I just had to look at my soap again. I’d gone to sleep thinking about it, because it just didn’t seem possible to me that Aragorn would’ve done something like wash Boromir’s mouth out like that. One warrior doing something like that to another warrior? No, that didn’t seem right. So I thought I’d take another look, just to see if there were any clues there I might’ve missed. I crept over to my pack and dug the soap out, then I held it up, catching the firelight. Hm. So strange.

Thinking of doing a little wash, Samwise Gamgee?”

I started so at Mister Gandalf’s soft question from behind me that I jerked and the soap went flying up out of my hand, and when I spun around to try and catch it, bless me if Gandalf didn’t snatch it right out of the air! Trust a wizard. He stood there holding it and staring down with that look that makes me wonder if he’s angry or about to burst out laughing. His bushy eyebrows rose up like he was waiting for an answer to his silly question.

N-No, sir,” I answered soft-like so’s not to wake the others. “I . . . well, I was just--”

And I didn’t know what to tell him. I don’t think up falsehoods quickly. In fact I don’t think them up at all, even if it was to save my life. So I just stood there looking up at him, stumped.

Hmph,” he said, or something that sounded like that. He held up the bar of soap and said, “You brought more than just this one cake, I take it?”

Aye! Lots more.”

Then I’m going to keep this one, if it’s all the same to you.”

I tried not the cringe as he pocketed my soap. I opened my mouth to say that I really wanted that particular cake back and maybe he’d trade for a fresh one, but then I looked at his expression again, and then I said, “Aye, sir.”

He nodded and said, “Get some sleep. We have a long journey left to us.”

Yes, sir.”

He tilted his head to one side and then he got this kindly look in his eyes and he said, “You take wonderful care of Frodo, Sam. I’m proud of you.”

It would’ve been polite for me to thank him for saying something nice like that, especially when it warmed me up so inside, but all I could do was get red-faced and smile up at him. It seemed like enough, though. Gandalf grinned.

He moved away then and went off into the night, something he did from time to time, I guess to have a look around, or to find a clear space to stare up and read the stars, or to go talk to whoever was on watch, or to do whatever wizards find to do.

Well, that’s that then.”

I flinched again at a new voice talking to me. Merry braced himself up on his arm and lifted his head to give me look. “No more evidence to examine, eh, Sam?”

I sighed and wandered over and plunked down beside him. “Nope. You’re right. That’s that.”

Oh, well,” he said, sitting up. “It was a good mystery while it lasted.”

I suppose Frodo was right, too. It’s none of our business.”

Nope. None of our business.”

But, you know,” I said. “I was laying there tonight thinking we had to be wrong.”

Merry’s gaze shifted off like he was thinking things over. “It does seem unlikely.”

I just can’t picture it, even how he would do it.”

Me, neither. And you know what, Sam? That’s fine with me, because that’s not a picture I’m eager to see.”

Me, neither. I wouldn’t want to know particulars, if you know what I mean. I’m still curious, but now that Gandalf’s in it,” I winced. “It’s like what Frodo told me once, something an elf told him: ‘Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.’

Merry nodded. “That’s Gandalf all right.”

And like Frodo said, we’d never know for sure unless we asked, and none of us would do that.”

I would,” came a muffled voice.

Merry groaned. “Pippin! You shouldn’t be up. And no, you wouldn’t, because I’d see you didn’t.”

Then I wouldn’t tell you I was going to do it.” Pippin rolled over, all wrapped up in his blanket so’s only his little face showed, his eyes all lit up the way they get when he’s got mischief brewing.

Merry looked at him with that Brandybuck scowl. If I were Pip, it would’ve had me turning over to go back to sleep right quick. But Pippin, he likes riling Merry up.

I’d find out, then I’d tell Sam and Frodo and I wouldn’t tell you.”

Oh, he was having a fine time now.

And would you tell me, Master Took?”

The three of us jumped, and Pip let go a squeak. We all shot looks at Strider. His back was still to us and he laid there wrapped in his cloak, still not turning around even after saying what he just did out of the blue.

I was sorry I’d gotten up.

I shall count to three, then turn, and when I look across the fire there had best be three young hobbits quietly curled up in their blankets and ready to go back to sleep. One.”

Merry and I scrambled. Pip, already laying there safely wrapped up, the scoundrel, flopped back over on his side.


I scooted against Frodo and snuggled my body in, fitting myself to him, then dragged my cloak over us both.


To be continued . . .