Disclaimer I don't own them, just wish that I did… sigh. They belong to the wonderful professor named J.R.R Tolkien…
A/N: finally finished! pats herself on the shoulder Sorry guys for keeping you waiting for so long! I've finally decided to finish this one because I know how bugging it can be to have a story unfinished. I made slight adjustments to the previous chapters – however, I didn't change all that much, just a word here or there so you won't need to go back and read it again, though by now I fear those of you who've read this when it was first posted have long forgotten what this story was about. Sorry everyone! As for the ones who reviewed the last chapter, thank you all very much! I finally took pity on you guys and hope you like the way I've finished this!
As you know I'm not Tolkien, so if things seem off to you, forgive me for taking the liberty with them… Enjoy!
x x x x x
Strider smiled – very relieved his guess of which road to take had been the right one. "You came none too soon, Gandalf." For that was who the old man was.
Gandalf came closer to the pair, stepping around the slowly crawling snails because he didn't want to kill them – let nature have her way with them now! He laughed softly, shaking his head at the stupidity of the former bandits. However, his laughter stilled and a frown appeared on his face as he recognized the Hobbit lying in the ranger's arms. His questioning gaze met that of the other.
"He saved me, Gandalf. These men came upon me unexpected… I was a fool and let my guard down, but Frodo here saved my life." Strider let his head drop to his chest. "I fear it may cost him his own if he doesn't get help soon."
"Lay him on the ground, Aragorn. I will cut your bonds." Gandalf reached for his own knife as Strider followed his order. The old wizard quickly cut the ranger free before focusing on Frodo.
Strider took Frodo's shoulders in his hands and gently, careful of his bruises, turned him on his relatively healthy side. Gandalf went behind the little one's back and cut his arms free. They fell limply at his sides. The human gently picked him up and held the small form against his chest, raising his upper body and making it easier for the unconscious Hobbit to breathe while Gandalf quickly cut Frodo's legs free, disturbed as he noticed the sound Bilbo's nephew made as he breathed.
"He is in dire condition. We must hurry to Bree; we can reach it in but a few hours." He held his arms out. "Give Frodo to me, Aragorn. I need you to lift the cart, hurry!"
Gandalf whistled and soon, a horse appeared from behind some bushes. The animal walked to the front of the cart and waited until Strider had fastened its harness to the cart again. The wizard hurried and took his seat in the back of the wagon, cradling the Hobbit close and murmuring soothing words in his ear. Strider sat in the front, taking the reins in his hands and urging the horse to go at a fast pace.
x x x x
It seemed to be a very long ride to Bree and both of the older beings had sent a silent prayer to the Valar to spare the life of this little but brave Hobbit. Strider told his older friend all about how Frodo had thrown the rock at one of the men and saved his life and that it was pure luck that led him into the wizard's path.
Gandalf chuckled, "The Bagginses have always been good in judging people's characters. Luckily they have some Took blood in them to make them so bold as to help strangers! And indeed you're quite lucky my boy, thank the Valar!"
Aragorn grimaced, "Young Frodo wasn't so lucky however and it's all my fault, Gandalf! If –"
Whatever the ranger had been trying to say was stalled as Gandalf raised his hand, much like his father would do when he would brook no argument. "Now Aragorn, I will only say this once and then we will speak of this no more: you are not to blame for any of this so don't take guilt upon your shoulders that has no place there. Instead take care of this Hobbit and get him safely home."
Strider nodded and they were silent after that. It was only half an hour later when they arrived in Bree. The gate was still open and slowly the horse trotted through the small streets.
"We'll take him to the Prancing Pony," Gandalf suggested, "Butterbur will be able to send a letter to Bilbo and fetch a healer."
Strider nodded – though he was a healer himself as well, he hardly had any experience with Hobbits and he had no provisions that would help the youngster. Once the healer had arrived he could ask for some and take care of Frodo himself. He parked the cart in front of the inn and walked inside. It was still early in the evening yet it was bustling with activity. Seeing the innkeeper behind the counter he walked up to him.
"Hello, master Butterbur. I have need of a room, a healer and someone who will take care of my horse…" he said, not in the mood to explain his business to the curious man and walking back outside to help Frodo out of the cart.
Butterbur, for his part, had encountered Strider before and was well aware of the ranger's manners and ways. He realized that this man in front of him was one who protected the innocent, yet there was this… thing about him that made the Breelings feel unsure about him. However, in all the years he had known him, the grim ranger had always paid his bills and been polite enough – more polite than some of his other customers most of the time – so he didn't hesitate to help him this time. "Freddy!" he yelled to one of the Breeling Hobbits, "Go fetch master Thirwain and have Sammy take care of Strider's horse! Hurry!"
As Freddy ran outside to do his master's bidding, Aragorn entered the inn with Frodo in his arms. Gandalf followed behind, a worried gleam in his eyes.
"Ai, master Gandalf! What brings you here, ill tidings? Are you with Strider?" Butterbur asked.
Gandalf however, only spared the man a fleeting glance, "None of that now, Butterbur, we need a room and that healer so quickly now!"
Grabbing one of the keys behind the counter, the other man quickly led them up the stairs and showed them to their room. One look at the Hobbit lying in the ranger's arms made him even more curious. What happened to him?
"Butterbur!" Gandalf spoke loudly seeing the gaze directed at Frodo, "Have your fastest messenger ready to depart in any moment. It's a very urgent matter. Tell him his mission is to go to the Shire – Bag End. He must be discreet and certainly not dawdle!"
Used to the wizard's snappy behaviour, the bartender nodded and went in search of a suited messenger. Don't meddle into ranger and wizard business… he reminded himself, it'll only lead to trouble and more questions.
x x x x x
Luckily the healer lived nearby and was there within a quart of an hour. Seeing the Hobbit, he immediately rushed up and examined him. "How long has he been unconscious? What happened to him?"
Strider frowned as he couldn't remember exactly how long, "He's been like this for about one whole day – he woke up only briefly and was quite confused. He's been attacked by Men and has some broken and cracked ribs… he also suffers a bad congestion that needs to be looked to."
Aragorn couldn't stay out of matters concerning the health of one whom he considered his charge and together with the healer he discussed how they would start healing the young Hobbit. Master Thirwain however had more experience with Hobbits and knew what dosages to use. It took them quite some time, but finally Frodo lay in bed, having suffered through their handling unaware and now was swaddled in bandages - his chest and neck covered with some sort of mint paste to ease his breathing. It seemed that with care and love, the Hobbit would once more roam the woods he so loved and play with his cousins again. Thank the Valar!
Seeing that he wasn't needed anymore – that Strider would and could take care of the young Halfling, the healer left after receiving some money for his services and for the healing herbs, telling them to call him should they need his help again.
Gandalf in the meanwhile had hastily scribbled a letter to Bilbo while the two healers were busy with Frodo. In it he assured Bilbo that Frodo was with them and alive, yet he urged the older Hobbit to come to Bree immediately. Once finished, he rushed down the stairs where a messenger was waiting. Handing the boy a silver coin, he said: "A gold one will be waiting for you if you hurry as fast as you can. Deliver this message to Bilbo Baggins, now go!"
Eager at the prospect of a gold coin, the boy nodded and rushed off to the stables. There he mounted a large brown horse and headed into the direction of the Shire. Gandalf watched him leave and released a deep sigh. Frodo would be all right, of that he was sure. He only hoped that Bilbo would arrive soon to comfort the boy, for though Aragorn would surely be of interest to him and he himself was known to the boy, there was nothing as comforting as the presence of one you loved with all your heart…
x x x x x
Inside, the wizard found Aragorn sitting next to the bed – studying the pale face before him.
"We're lucky… I had feared the worst but now I'm sure that if he opens his eyes he will be all right," the ranger muttered.
Gandalf walked over to him and clapped the Man on his shoulder, "I'm sure he will… he's made of stern stuff this one. The messenger is on his way and should return with Bilbo in two days I hope. When Frodo wakes he will no doubt want Bilbo around, though don't think yourself safe now!"
Seeing the man's gaze turn crestfallen, the wizard clarified, "The Bagginses have a curiosity that's insatiable! He will question you to death about life as a ranger and any other matter he can think of if he's awake long enough. Beware!"
Aragorn smiled slightly, "I'll be happy to answer any of his questions if he'll just be all right again. I owe him my life, Gandalf…"
Very softly, a raspy voice interrupted their conversation, "Y-you… d-don't."
Startled, the two elders looked towards the figure in the bed and, seeing glassy blue eyes staring back at them, they smiled.
"Frodo, my dear boy! What have you gotten yourself into this time?" Gandalf teasingly asked, kneeling next to the bed and squeezing the Hobbit's hand gently. In a more serious tone he continued, "You had us worried there for a while, dear Frodo…"
Puzzled, Frodo looked first at the ranger, then at the wizard. "G-gandalf? How… w-when did… you… get here?"
The old wizard just gently patted the hand beneath his, "Let's just say I was at the right place at the right time."
"How do you feel?" Strider asked.
The young Halfling thought for a moment, testing with small movement his overall condition. "Hurts!" he peeped in a pitiful tone, looking behind the two figures for another familiar face. "Bilbo?"
"He'll be here soon Frodo and before you ask; you're in Bree – in the Inn of the Prancing Pony. Just rest now and soon your uncle will be here. You'll be all right now, young one," Gandalf soothed, his hypnotic voice urging Frodo back to sleep.
Giving up the struggle with his fluttering eyelids, Frodo gave in to the heavy feeling, mumbling under his breath, "Not young!"
Aragorn laughed softly once he saw his charge was resting peacefully, "I've been trying to convince him of the same thing for years!"
"Well, you two are very young!" Gandalf objected, "If you have seen as many years as I have all humans, dwarves and Hobbits are children and you will never be able to convince me otherwise!"
The ranger just rolled his eyes – he'd had this conversation with his two brothers and father so many times and he'd always lost. Besides – never argue with a wizard! "Forgive me, oh wise and ancient wizard…"
He received a slight knock to the head from Gandalf's staff for his insolence, "Do you want to become a slug as well? No? Good! Then hush up and start respecting your elders!"
Strider grinned, knowing that the wizard loved this teasing. So together they sat in the room, keeping an eye on the young Shire Hobbit…
x x x x x
The following morning Frodo woke for several short periods and was more lucid, asking a few questions about what had happened and why the men had attacked Strider in the first place. Aragorn answered everything as truthfully as he could, leaving out some of the harsher details and luckily Gandalf steered the conversation to lighter topics.
The congestion was still troubling Frodo and when he coughed agony went through his small body, yet with the help of some herbs the pain was lessened greatly. Sleep often dragged him into blissful unawareness only minutes after he had woken – his body using this time to mend.
Butterbur came and checked on his guests regularly to see whether they needed anything, but aside from food and drinks they were fine. Aragorn paid the innkeeper some money for his quick aide and sent him away again. Frodo's condition didn't grow worse and hopefully he would be fully healed in three weeks…
At the end of the second day a worried person could be heard running up the stairs and running madly from one room to another. Finally having found the right room number, the person knocked lightly before rushing inside at finding the door unlocked. There, in a far too huge bed and way too pale, lay his nephew. "Frodo!" Bilbo cried out, hurriedly climbing up on the bed and paying the other occupants of the room no heed, "Frodo lad, wake up for your uncle Bilbo!" he pleaded, grabbing one of the clammy hands in his own two.
Slowly, blue eyes opened at hearing the familiar voice, focussing on the face in front of him and immediately a weak smile graced the pale features. "Bilbo!" he whispered, reaching his arms out in invitation to be hugged – which was exactly what his uncle did, careful as he noticed the bandages. He gasped as he noticed the horrible imprints the ropes had left in the soft flesh of his wrists.
"Oh, I was so worried that you weren't home when I got back! I asked everyone and I had a search party looking out for you and then yesterday the message came… I hurried here as fast as I could!"
"I'm sorry, Bilbo – I didn't… mean to worry you…" Frodo cried.
"He's right, Bilbo. If it hadn't been for your nephew, I would have been killed. He's a hero and I am so sorry he got hurt. Please forgive me, old friend!" Aragorn spoke to the older Hobbit, who only now seemed to realize there were others in the room.
Startled, Bilbo disentangled himself from his nephew only long enough to acknowledge his two friends. "Estel! What's this about Frodo saving your life?"
And Aragorn quickly relied what had happened – leaving out the details this time for Bilbo and he would talk later, of that he had no doubt. It had been too long since they had last seen each other, for Bilbo hadn't travelled to Rivendell for quite some time and the ranger had been out in the wilds for years. The figure in Bilbo's arms grew limp again as sleep once more claimed him and the elders talked to each other for a while, questioning and reassuring each other.
"Well, I'm glad Frodo could help you, the poor boy. Once he's well again and I take him back home I will arrange a huge party for him with all his favourite foods. He will be all right again, won't he?" the older Halfling was quite concerned by this, looking anxiously at Aragorn and Gandalf for reassurance.
"Yes, Gandalf and I are both of the same mind," Aragorn assured.
Bilbo nodded, "Good… very good. Will you two come as well then? I'm sure he'd like a chance to speak with you some more, he's never before seen a human and certainly not one of the rangers!"
Aragorn smiled, glad that Bilbo didn't blame him for anything that had happened and was actually inviting him to his home. "I'd like that very much…"
"As would I," Gandalf replied.
x x x x x
Time passed quickly after that – Frodo had a new friend to talk to and asked him about all things under the sun. Bilbo's presence soothed him greatly and he was thankful of the older Hobbit for holding his hand when memories of the thugs resurfaced. All in all he was dealing quite well with what had happened – true to the nature of Hobbits, for resilience in such matters was one of their greatest virtues.
When the youngster was asleep the three old friends caught up on what they had experienced in their time apart. In turns of two they would leave the inn's room and take a walk around Bree while the other stayed with the young Halfling and finally, the time came that Frodo was well enough to return home.
Aragorn paid Butterbur several gold coins – enough to cover for their entire stay and adding even a little more for the good service. Then he requested for the horse and cart to be prepared so they could leave. He and Gandalf sat in front and Bilbo sat with Frodo in the back during their journey and after two days, Frodo finally laid eyes on his home again. The green hill was a welcome sight he thought never to see again and he smiled. Home… he happily thought.
Thinking back on the last couple of weeks, the little Hobbit wondered what he would do if he ever stumbled into a sort like situation again. Would he walk away or would he help them, risking his own life in the process? That was something the young Halfling luckily didn't have to answer for quite a few years yet…