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The Honorary Hobbit
“Where are we going, Strider?” Pippin asked for the third time.
Aragorn smiled down at the curious green eyed hobbit. “There is a place of old oak trees that lie in a valley surrounded by rock cliffs. In the cliffs, there are hundreds of caverns and caves that have been created over thousands of years, by the wind and water. It is beautiful and unique, perfect for exploring. But, be mindful, it can be dangerous as well. The caverns run many feet within the mountains and one can easily be lost if not careful. It is called the Rimrock Forest. I’m sure you will find it very interesting, Pippin.”
Frodo frowned, “Pippin, I know how much you like to explore but promise me this time, you will stay with us so you don’t get lost,” Frodo asked.
“My dear cousin, I would not get lost if there weren’t so many things distracting me,” Pippin smiled. Frodo glared at him. “Oh very well, I will *try* to stay close to you and Strider,” he said resignedly.
“You say that now, Pip, but the minute we get there and you see all the wonders to investigate, you’ll be gone in a thrice,” Merry laughed.
“Mer, give me some credit, I can restrain myself.” Everyone broke into loud laughter, except for Pippin, who just stared at them, his face beet red.
They had set out three days prior and taken a leisurely pace, camping and eating their fill of Sam’s good cooking. At night, under a star filled sky, Aragorn would tell tales that always left them wanting for more. The hobbits told their own tales mostly of Shire life or they sang songs and when they finally took their rest, their hearts were light and their dreams trouble free.
As they crested the hill Aragorn stopped and extended his arm in front of the hobbits, “Welcome, my friends, to the Rimrock Forest,” he said with a smile. Four mouths dropped open as the hobbits beheld the view. A valley filled with old growth oaks was flanked by a ridge of red rock riddled with holes.
“It looks like cheese, Mr. Frodo,” Sam exclaimed.
Frodo smiled, “It really does, doesn’t it? It’s beautiful, Strider. Thank you so much for bringing us here.”
Aragorn grinned, “I am glad you like it, Frodo, it was always one of my favorite areas within the boundaries of Rivendell. Those ‘holes’ Sam, that you can see the sky through, are called windows. There are also many rock “bridges”—narrow arches that connect one area to another—to be found. Would you like to explore before eating?” Aragorn asked, expecting all of them to choose lunch over exploring.
“I want to see the caves,” Pippin exclaimed practically vibrating in place. All present stared at the hobbit in shock.
“I am shocked, Pippin!” Frodo said eyes wide. “I have never known you to choose *anything* over food!”
Pippin squirmed. “I am just curious is all but if you, my dear cousin, need to eat, I would not say no,” he piped.
“No, I am not hungry yet, I say we go investigate these mysterious caves,” Frodo said with a smile, watching his young cousin bounce excitedly in front of him.
Except for Aragorn, who surreptitiously shouldered his expanded medical bag, they left their packs and food in the shade of a huge oak tree. Elrond had loaded the bag with tonics for Frodo and Aragorn had contributed some of his own items. He had carefully thought of any and all scenarios where his skills would be needed, from broken bones to chest colds and filled the satchel until it would hold no more. He pulled his cloak on to hide the bag and they all began to climb up the rock fall to the caves.
When they got to the top of the outcrop, Pippin was gone in a blur, with Merry close behind him. “Pippin!” Frodo shouted as he tried to catch his breath. His right hand began to reach up to his left shoulder but feeling Aragorn’s eyes on him, he stopped himself, fisting his right hand. “Sticklebacks!” he ground out.
“Mr. Frodo, yer awful pale, are you all right?”
Frodo forced a smile to his lips, “I am fine, Sam, just irritated at my impetuous cousins,” he muttered.
Aragorn frowned; perhaps exploring first had been a mistake. A meal and a bit of rest would have been far more beneficial for Frodo.
“I suppose we had better go after them,” Frodo groaned and began slowly climbing up the boulder strewn hillside towards where he had seen his cousins disappear. Sam followed him closely and Aragorn brought up the rear.
“Merry!” Pippin screamed.
Frodo’s heart lurched and he broke into a run towards the cave with Aragorn quickly passing him. Pippin appeared in front of them as they entered the cave. Merry appeared shortly from a narrow corridor connecting to another cave.
“Frodo, Sam, you *have* to see this,” Pippin gushed.
“Are you all right, Frodo?” Merry exclaimed as he grabbed his cousin’s arm.
Frodo wobbled and allowed Merry to lead him to a boulder to sit down. All of the hobbits surrounded him as he sat and Aragorn had to push his way through the throng to get to the Ringbearer. Frodo’s complexion was gray and his left arm was pulled close to his body, cradled by his right arm. His eyes had tears in them as he shouted, “I told you to stay with us Peregrin Took! I heard you scream and..well, you frightened me terribly!”
Pippin knelt by his cousin, “Frodo, I’m sorry, I was just so excited and I wanted Merry to see it. I didn’t mean to scare you,” he rubbed Frodo’s back as his frightened, earnest face took in the pale face of his eldest cousin.
“It’s alright Pip, just don’t wander off again, alright?” Frodo whispered. He wiped his eyes with his right arm. “What were you so excited about, anyway?” he asked as he tried to divert attention away from himself.
“Oh! There’s a stream and a small hot pool in that cave over there,” the tweenager pointed excitedly.
Frodo chuckled, “Well then show it to me,” he said weakly.
“Not just yet, Frodo.” Aragorn placed his hand on Frodo’s left shoulder. He could feel Frodo shaking and the hobbit flinched at his touch. Frodo rolled his eyes.
Frodo looked up at him, his eyes pleading, “Please Aragorn, don’t make a fuss. I promise to take a nap after we eat, but I don’t want this outing to be marred by me being ill.”
“Marred! Mr. Frodo, this ‘outing’ is a grand thing, it truly is, but if you’re not well none of us wants to be here. We jes want you to be better, relaxed and enjoy yerself, but if yer hurtin’…I for one, would rather we go back than you be in pain, sir,” Sam sputtered.
Merry and Pippin nodded in agreement. “Really Frodo, let Strider look you over then we’ll all take a walk around the caverns if you’re up to it. Don’t be stubborn, you silly Baggins,” Merry said with a grin.
Pippin looked anxious, “Please Frodo?” he whispered.
Frodo sighed, “Oh, very well, but make it quick, I want to see this hot pool,” he groused.
Aragorn smiled at Merry and gave him a nod. Sam slowly removed Frodo’s jacket and seeing Frodo’s grimace and how the Ringbearer’s jaw clinched, Aragorn could see how much pain Frodo was trying to conceal. The shirt was removed and Strider got a good look at the shoulder. The Morgul wound was clearly inflamed and he pulled his medicine pouch out from beneath his cloak.
Frodo frowned, “Is it my imagination or is your medicine bag much larger than before?”
Aragorn smiled, “It is larger, but there are more of us to tend as well,” he said cryptically.
Frodo sighed, “I imagine I will be your sole patient, as usual,” he groaned.
Aragorn smirked and pulled a small pot of cream from the bag. “This cream should help alleviate the pain and make the wound somewhat warmer. Once we arrive back at camp there are ‘other’ medicines that, if needed, we can employ,” he murmured. Frodo frowned, imagining all of the other items lurking in Aragorn’s medicine bag. Aragorn reached his fingers into the jar, scooping up a large dollop of cream. He curled his fist to warm it before slowly beginning to rub it into Frodo’s wound.
Frodo tensed when he felt Aragorn’s touch on the shoulder, expecting it to be painful, but he found that Strider was very gentle and the message soon began to dull the ache of the wound.
“Ahhh….that feels nice,” Frodo sighed. Sam and Merry smiled at Strider and the Ranger grinned down at his patient.
“How is the pain, Frodo?” he asked.
“It’s all but gone, Aragorn, thank you,” Frodo smiled. Sam buttoned his Master’s shirt and helped him back into his coat.
“Are we ready to proceed?” Strider asked. Frodo gave him a thankful look not only for relieving the pain but for continuing on with their expedition.
Frodo followed Pip and Merry into the cave and gasped as he beheld a shallow blue green pool bubbling in a declivity at the center of the room, looking as if it was lit from beneath the surface. He walked over and leaned down to touch the water. It was very warm and his face lit up in a smile. Pippin grabbed his hand and pulled him into another cave, “Look, Frodo!”
This cave glowed throughout with a pale blue luminescence. “How is this possible?” Frodo gasped.
“The plants that live on the rocks produce light, no one knows how it is done though,” Aragorn said as he gazed at the walls of the cave in wonder.
“Which cave will we be camping in, Strider?” Merry asked.
“I believe the one with the hot pool would be an excellent choice. Perhaps we could all take a soak later,” Strider said with a smile. Everyone’s eyes lit up and Merry and Pippin started debating as to who would get to go first.
Frodo smiled wanly, “Now look what you have started, Aragorn.”
The Ranger chuckled as he held up his hand causing Merry and Pip to quiet mid-sentence. “First, we should eat then return with our packs and supplies,” he said. Before he had even finished speaking, Merry and Pippin were running towards the cliff edge and making their way down to the copse of oak trees.
Aragorn and Frodo took a more leisurely descent while Sam hurried to catch up with the two miscreants, fearing they would eat all of the food before he could get there. As Aragorn walked slow enough to match Frodo’s pace, Frodo turned and looked up at him.
“I owe you an apology,” he said.
Aragorn looked confused, “Apology, for what, Frodo?”
“I treated you abominably before you allowed me to get up and around. I am very sorry, Strider. You are a good friend and I know you only have my best interests at heart.”
Aragorn smiled, “No apologies are necessary, my friend. You were right, if I had been in the same situation I would have found it to be intolerable.”
When they arrived back at camp Sam called to them. “I’ll have luncheon ready shortly, Strider, then we can be off,” He said as he stirred a bubbling pot. True to his word, the stew was soon done and Sam was ladling it into bowls. Bread, butter and jam were placed in the center of a large cloth Sam had set on the grass, along with apples, pears, tomatoes and carrots. Everyone sat down around the cloth and soon the conversation stopped as they dug into their meal.
“I have something for after’s,” Merry said proudly. Pippins eyes lit up as they waited, curious to see what he had brought. Merry came back to the group with a large box, four curly heads leaned over as he took the lid off. “Elrond’s cook made us some ginger hobbits for our hike,” he said with a smile.
“Oi! You’ve had those this whole time? Why didn’t you tell me?” Pippin cried.
Merry raised an eyebrow and gave him a disbelieving smile, “Because Pip, I knew you would find them and then we wouldn’t have them now, would we?”
“How did you mask that delicious smell, Mer?” Frodo asked.
“I wrapped the box in my dirty shirt,” Merry said with a grin.
Frodo and Sam hesitated mid-bite but then remembering that the cookies had been inside a box, resumed eating with gusto and complimenting him on his clever deception. Aragorn enjoyed the cookies almost as much as the hobbits and realized he was having a much more pleasant time than he had initially expected. There was tea to have with the cookies and then Merry and Pippin rose, collected the dirty dishes to wash while the others smoked and quietly conversed.
Aragorn retrieved their bedrolls and lay them down in the shade, one atop the other, until a nice soft bed formed. “Frodo, your bed awaits,” he said.
Frodo’s mouth dropped open, “I really am feeling much better, Aragorn, I don’t feel tired at all.”
“I will not argue with you on this. You are still recovering Frodo, humor me. You may either take a nap or have one of Elrond’s tonics, I will let you decide,” Aragorn whispered.
Frodo looked around and though everyone was occupied with some task, they had discretely moved away from the two expecting a battle but they shot looks towards them while trying to look busy.
“Oh very well,” Frodo muttered. “You do realize this is a total waste of time, Aragorn, I am truly not tired,” Frodo grumped as he allowed Aragorn to help him lie down.
“I know Frodo but I am grateful that you aren’t fighting me on this and that you will agree to rest if not sleep,” Aragorn smirked. Frodo lay there listening to the quiet chatter of his friends then drifted off into a deep sleep.
He awoke abruptly to Pippin’s screech. “Protect me Frodo!” Pippin howled, climbing over his cousin and hiding on the opposite side.
“I’ll get you, you little thief! Give me that cookie,” Merry shouted, vaulting over Frodo and running after Pippin.
“I’m right sorry they woke you, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said, shooting a glare at the disappearing backs of the Master’s unruly cousins.
“It is alright, Sam,” Frodo yawned. “I’ve slept too much anyway. I imagine we should be collecting our things and preparing to hike to the cave to make camp. Where’s Aragorn?”
“He’s over on that little hill looking at the horizon. There’s a storm comin’…oh, here he comes,” Sam said as he helped his Master up.
“Frodo, you look well rested,” the Ranger said with a smile.
“I concede that you were right in making me lie down, but you let me sleep too long, Aragorn.”
“It seems you needed it, Frodo.”
A scream caused them to look around as a small blur in the form of Pippin Took materialized at the trunk of the old oak and hastily began climbing until he reached a large dead branch over their heads.
“Peregrin Took, you come down this instant,” Frodo yelled.
Merry appeared at Frodo’s side, “Yes, *Peregrin* tell Frodo what you’ve been up to lad,” Merry said between gritted teeth.
Pippin jumped up, now standing on the branch, “Frodo, Merry was hiding more cookies,” he whined.
“They were for after dinner, Pippin, and now you’ve got into them and there won’t be enough,” Merry shouted.
Pippin stomped his foot and they all heard a loud crack from the dead branch.
“Pippin, get down here right now,” Frodo said, suddenly afraid for his cousin’s safety. Pippin walked to the trunk, preparing to get down, when there was another loud crack. “Hurry Pippin,” Frodo cried.
Pippin shimmied down the trunk and Frodo and Aragorn sighed in relief. “Now, no more fighting, give the cookie back to Merry.”
“I ate it.”
“Why you … “
“ENOUGH!” Frodo shouted. “If you would be good enough to collect your things perhaps we can still make it to the caves before it starts to rain,” he said, jaw clenching.
It had grown very dark and the wind had picked up, the tree branches waved about in the air giving the previously sunny area a decidedly sinister appearance.
Everyone jumped as a loud clap of thunder exploded close by, followed by a brilliant stab of lightening. They saw that the lightening had struck a tree not far away when clouds opened and released a torrent of pounding rain.
“We need to get out from under this tree and find a gully to wait out the lightening,” Aragorn shouted over the wind.
A particularly brisk gust of wind hit them, driving the rain into their faces painfully and almost knocking the hobbits from their feet. Aragorn took Frodo’s arm to steady him as a loud CRACK came from directly above them. Frodo looked up and saw the huge, dead branch that Pippin had been standing on only moments before, falling towards him then he was being thrown aside, landing awkwardly on his left side. The pain was exquisite and his world darkened as he lost consciousness.
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