Disclaimer: The Lord of the Rings and all its characters and settings are the property of the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. These works were produced with admiration and respect, as fan fiction for entertainment purposes only, not for sale or profit.
(Author's Note: After the last several stories, I thought something lighter in vein and style might be in order. So much action and angst is exhausting…)Chapter 1: Battle Tactics and Deals Struck
Aragorn son of Arathorn, Chief of the Rangers and heir to the throne of Gondor, girded himself for battle. Focusing inward, he called upon his years of studying strategy, his training in the art of war, his knowledge of his opponent. He stiffened his spine, steeled his resolution, and picked up the covered tray from the anxious hobbit who held it up to him.
"He says he don't want it, sir. Not even the fruit. I tried an' tried, told him that Lord Elrond said he had to, but he won't." Sam surrendered the tray gladly, relieved that someone else would try to get his master to eat. Sam knew himself to be incapable of summoning the forcefulness necessary to make Frodo obey Lord Elrond's orders. Just the sight of Frodo lying so still in that great wide bed, his pale face drawn in pain, was enough to melt Sam's resolution into a quivering puddle. His master had never had a proper hobbit's appetite, but since his wounding, Frodo's wide streak of stubborn was more evident than ever.
Only a week had passed since the Master of Rivendell had drawn the shard of Morgul-blade from Frodo's shoulder, and instead of being permitted to recover quietly, Frodo had been subjected to yet more activity and demands. He was suffering; in pain, weak from loss of blood, frightened about the responsibility he had assumed, and simply exhausted. The last thing he wanted to do was eat, and eating was what he most needed to do.
"Have you tried his favorites? How about a mushroom omlette?" The Ranger briefly uncovered the tray to inspect its contents. A stack of sweetcakes, thick with butter and honey, steamed gently. Next to it, grilled sausages wafted their aroma up to him. A small bowl of late strawberries, raspberries and blackberries sprinkled with sugar sat next to the sausages. In another bowl, sautéed mushrooms were scrambled with eggs and cheese, onions and green peppers, with toast triangles for scooping. Water, tea and a large mug of milk rounded out the breakfast. Sam regarded the tray with dismay; it wasn't enough to keep a hobbit on his feet 'til elvenses.
With the stocky halfling trotting beside him, Aragorn carried the tray to Frodo's room. Sam held the door open for him, and hurried ahead to hold the interior door. Peering in, Aragorn almost changed his mind. Frodo was asleep, propped up on pillows with one under his arm to raise his shoulder even with his body, lessening the strain on the wound. In sleep, the beautiful morning glory eyes were closed and his face relaxed and peaceful. Still, the dark brows were quirked and a small pain-line lay between the brows.
Though the Ranger could move almost as silently as a hobbit, he deliberately rattled the tray when putting it down on the small table against the wall. Frodo dragged his eyes open and regarded them fuzzily.
"Good morning, Aragorn," Frodo greeted him, ignoring the tray. Sam was half-hiding behind the Ranger, hoping that Frodo wouldn't connect him with the Ranger's arrival and the return of the detested breakfast tray.
"Good morning, Frodo. I trust you are feeling better this morning?" Aragorn sat comfortably on the edge of the bed and Frodo smiled up at him, genuinely delighted at the early visit. The Ranger laid the back of his hand against the hobbit's forehead, checking for signs of fever. A lingering fever clung stubbornly in the small body, just enough to weary him and make his body ache. Frodo accepted the touch with resignation, knowing his protests would be ignored.
"I am, thank you," the hobbit replied politely. "I would like to get up today and take a walk in the gardens."
Ah, an advantage. Aragorn returned the smile. "You must ask Elrond first. Perhaps my lord will grant his permission. I would be surprised, though…" Aragorn trailed off and waited to see if Frodo would fall for the feint.
The hobbit did. "Why would he withhold consent?" asked Frodo, looking surprised.
"He has not been totally satisfied with your progress, Frodo." Now the attack. "You are not eating enough to regain your strength, and my lord fears you are not well enough to venture far."
Frodo's brows drew down and he folded his arms gingerly, favoring the left. Sam tried to shrink further into the woodwork.
"I am not hungry, Aragorn. Perhaps a walk will stimulate my appetite."
Counter-attack … but the Ranger had had time to marshal his forces. "It would be unwise for you to spend what little strength you have managed to gather in walking, Frodo. I regret I must agree with Elrond, you are obviously not strong enough to be out of bed yet."
Those beautiful morning glory eyes glared at him. Sam started edging back towards the door. Then Frodo sighed and capitulated.
"All right." The hobbit eyed the tray distastefully. Aragorn sat the tray on his lap as Frodo carefully pulled himself more upright. Sam hurried forward to tuck the linen napkin under his master's chin and was rewarded with a muttered, "Thank you, Sam."
But victory was premature. Frodo transferred his glare to the innocent sausages, and sawed one up with rather more force than necessary. Then he put down the hobbit-sized utensils that Lord Elrond had had especially carved for his guests and looked up at Aragorn.
"I am not hungry, Aragorn. Truly. If I eat just the berries and the sausage, may I take a walk?"
The Ranger resigned himself to opening negotiations. "No, Frodo. That is not enough. If you eat that, and the scrambled eggs, you may walk with Sam once around the nearest garden."
"I will be too full if I eat that much. I would have to walk around the garden at least twice, Aragorn. And will most probably have to sit in the sun for a while, too." Frodo looked up at him hopefully. The Ranger made a show of considering the counter-offer, frowning and holding the hobbit's eyes. A smile began tugging at Frodo's mouth, though he tried to hide it.
"A deal, struck!" agreed the Ranger. "But you must adhere to that settlement, my good hobbit. Any defaulting on the terms and the agreement is voided."
Frodo nodded eagerly and set to fulfilling his part of the treaty. He ate with obvious reluctance, but he did eat. Sam breathed a sigh of relief, feeling his stomach unknot. The Elf-lord had charged him with making sure his master ate, but hadn't offered any advice on how he was to achieve that goal. Enlisting Aragorn had been his last resort, and Sam truly hoped that his Mr. Frodo didn't figure out that he had asked for the Ranger's help.
Sam waited silently, worrying how he was going to get Mr. Frodo to eat tomorrow's breakfast, while his master and Aragorn chatted. When Frodo's efforts began to lag, Aragorn began spinning him some tale of the Elder Days, full of heroic deeds and great battles and doomed loves. Sam would have enjoyed the tale himself, had he been able to concentrate on it.
At last Frodo pushed away the breakfast, rubbing his stomach ruefully. Sam retrieved the tray and prepared to carry it back to the kitchens. He had almost escaped when his master's soft voice drifted after him. "Sam," Frodo said gently, "when you get back, I'd like to have a word with you."
"Yes, sir," Sam responded hopelessly. Heaving a martyred sigh, he let himself out the door. He missed the sympathetic look Aragorn directed at his back, and his master's slight smile as Frodo noticed it.
"Don't pity him, Aragorn," Frodo said, as the door closed on Sam's back. "He'll not catch it too badly. I don't mind him drafting you to persuade me – it is a pleasure to see you for any reason. But it is an inconvenience to you, so I want him to stew a little."
The Ranger laughed and shook his head. "A good leader knows his troops, my friend. And your Sam is an army all on his own."
* * * * *
With Aragorn looking after his master, Sam felt comfortable enough to snatch a quick breakfast for himself. The elven cooks were more than gracious, and when he refused their invitation to sit and eat, loaded his arms with meatrolls, biscuits and fruit. Staggering slightly under the bounty, Sam thanked them and started back to his master, munching on an apple as he walked.
Perhaps the sound of his crunching drowned out the stealthy footsteps of either side of him. Or he was just inattentive, relaxing for the first time that morning. He was not aware of them until two sets of hands plundered his coat pockets, swiping apples, meatrolls and biscuits with only the slightest of tugs on the cloth.
"Hoy! That's me breakfast!"
"Your arms are full of food, Sam," Merry replied, "you can surely spare a little bit for two hungry hobbits?" Beside him, his mouth full of Sam's meatroll, Pippin nodded vigorously.
"You lot have already been 'ta the kitchens! The cooks said you ate every sweetcake in sight. Now this was for me, an' a little for Mr. Frodo, if he'll take it –"
"And how is our dear cousin this morning?" Merry adroitly steered the indignant Sam away from the previous topic. "We saw you petitioning Strider for help."
"If you saw, Master Merry, why didn't you help me? Mr. Frodo's been in a fine state, not wantin' to eat. If you an' Mr. Pippin had joined him for breakfast, he'd eat more!"
"Oh no, Sam," Pippin responded, examining an apple he had purloined, "you're not getting us involved in that battle. Frodo can be as stubborn as they come. Don't know where he gets that – can't be from the Took side…"
"It certainly isn't from the Brandybuck side," Merry commented. "And since old Bilbo isn't here to defend the Bagginses, we shall blame it on him. Now, my good Sam," here he paused to shake the crumbs out of his palm and off his fine yellow waistcoat, "what say we go pay our respects to our invalid cousin?"
"Strider said he could take a turn 'round the garden today," Sam informed them.
"Good." Merry was suddenly serious. "He needs to be up and moving, just not too much at a time."
'He won't be going far," predicted Sam gloomily. "He's tired of stayin' in bed but he ain't as strong as he thinks he is. I bet he doesn't make it twice 'round the garden."
"Twice around the garden, hum?" Merry echoed. "Perhaps Frodo needs some incentive… Pip, do you think our cousin would be interested in what we found yesterday?"
Pippin's whole face lit up in a beaming grin. "Would he? Would he! We'll have to tie him down!"
"Now hold on a moment," Sam interjected worriedly. "You know he's not supposed 'ta get too excited, not 'til he's stronger. What did you find yesterday?"
Merry wasn't listening to him. "No," he mused, "we don't want to wear him out till he can take it." Merry's sharp blue eyes fastened on Sam. "Tell you what, Sam. Pip and I will take your bet. If Frodo is able to walk around the garden twice, then we'll show him what we found. If he can't … well, we'll wait a few days."
"I didn't mean I wanted 'ta make a bet, Mr. Merry," Sam said, alarmed. "I meant –"
"There has to be more to it than that, Merry," Pippin cut in. "We say Frodo can make it twice around the garden. Sam says he can't. If we're right and he's wrong, then Sam has to … has to ask the cooks for more meatrolls and sweetcakes for us. Every morning for a week! And if he's right and we're wrong … ummm…" Pippin trailed off and looked up at his older cousin.
"You have 'ta muck out Bill's stall every morning for a week, an' curry him!" finished Sam triumphantly.
"The Elves do that, Sam," Pippin protested. "Anyway, that's way harder than asking for second breakfast. Just tell the cooks the food is for the Ringbearer – they'll give you anything you want."
"If you want a bet, them's the terms," answered Sam firmly.
* TBC *