Frodo sat in the garden below his room and stared at the little golden circle resting in the palm of his hand. 'Why did I do it?' he asked himself. Whatever had possessed him to volunteer to take the Ring to the fire?

The answer was obvious. He'd done it because he'd had to. Everybody had been shouting and it was clear that none of the great folk could trust themselves or each other with the Ring. It had to be somebody small and unimportant. Somebody it couldn't tempt, somebody like him. So now he was committed, and Sam and Merry and Pippin with him. Well they'd have Gandalf to look after them – and Strider too.

Now that had been a shock, no mistaking! Frodo's lips quirked wryly as he remembered Legolas' words; 'He is Aragorn son of Arathorn, you owe him your allegiance.' Which had made no sense at all until Boromir had added; 'This is Isildur's Heir.' Frodo had stared, but nobody else has seemed surprised. It was like they'd all known, all but him and Boromir.

Strider wasn't just one of the King's People, he was the King himself. Frodo had understood Boromir's bitterness perfectly. If there was still a King why wasn't he doing something? Why didn't he make things right? But of course Aragorn was doing something. He'd seen four feckless Hobbits and the Ring safe to Rivendell and now he was going to take them – and it – into Mordor itself. 'If by my life or death I can protect you, I will.' Strider had said and he'd knelt down in front of Frodo and pledged his sword to a Hobbit of the Shire.

Having never had anybody – much less a King – swear fealty to him Frodo hadn't had the faintest idea what to do or say. Luckily Aragorn hadn't seemed to expect any response. He'd just smiled and gotten up, to Frodo's intense relief, moving to stand by his side as the others came forward to swear in turn. So now he had Legolas' Elven boy, Gimli's Dwarf axe and Boromir's sword to protect him – or rather the Ring. Together with Gandalf's magic that should be enough to get them through – he hoped!

"Frodo?"

He looked up to see Strider – Aragorn – the King looking down at him, brow crinkled in a small frown of concern. Frodo slid off the bench and held out the Ring. "By rights this is yours, not mine."

Aragorn shook his head. "By rights it should not even exits." He knelt down to put himself on eye level and continued gently; "Frodo, If I could I would take this burden from you, but I dare not. Isildur was a great Man and yet the Ring overcame him. I would prove no stronger."

"I understand." Frodo slipped the ring back on its chain and hung it around his neck. "It's got to be me." He looked at the Man – the King - a little shyly. "I don't know what to call you."

"Aragorn will do very well. It is my name."

….

Bilbo did not the take the news at all well. "It should be me, not Frodo," he argued stumping restlessly around his nephew's room. "Why did you make me leave it to him?" he demanded of Gandalf. "I could have brought the thing here to Rivendell years ago and saved the boy all this trouble and danger."

"The Ring had already done you great harm," Gandalf replied patiently. "For your sake it was best it passed on."

"What? So it can hurt Frodo too? No! I won't have it." Bilbo thumped his stick for emphasis and glared defiantly at the Wizard. "The harm's already done. What worse do I have to fear?"

"Bilbo," Gandalf laid a kindly hand on the shoulder of the outraged old Hobbit. "No one here doubts your courage or your willingness but this task is beyond your strength. You must leave it to Frodo."

Bilbo glared up into the Wizard's eyes for a moment longer, then slumped and sighed. "You're right of course. I'm just a feeble old Hobbit. I'd be lucky to make it to the Misty Mountains, let alone Mordor.

"I'll be fine, Bilbo," Frodo put in reassuringly. "I have Gandalf and Aragorn and Sam to look after me, don't I?" He shot a quick glance and smile at the Man and Hobbit sitting silently by.

Bilbo plopped himself down in one of the small chairs that had been brought down from the old Nursery for the Hobbits' use. "But who's going to look after Merry and Pippin?"

"Boromir?" Aragorn suggested.

Frodo frowned. "Is he going to be a problem? I mean the two of you didn't exactly hit it off did you?"

"I will talk to him," Aragorn promised.

…..

"The Council of Gondor rejected the claims of the Isildur's Heirs," Aragorn told Boromir some hours later. "I will not contest that judgment. I have no mind for strife with any but our common Enemy." It had taken him most of the afternoon but he had finally tracked the Man down in the upper gallery of Elrond's library studying the murals of the history of Men and Elves.

"My father is the steward of Anarion," Boromir answered defensively. "It is to them he and I owe our allegiance."

"My House represents that line too through Firiel daughter of Ondoher," Aragorn pointed out then caught himself up. "But I have no wish to rehash old arguments. My concern is the Kingdom of the North, or what is left of it, as Gondor is yours. The Enemy in the East is our common foe we have no quarrel with one another."

"I understand," Boromir said slowly.

Relieved Aragorn changed the subject. "The Hobbits are brave but inexperienced. They will need watching, guarding, especially the two youngest ones.

"On such a mission – quest – thing," Boromir agreed, lips curving in amusement.

Aragorn nodded, also smiling, "Exactly." The smile faded. "They have no idea what they are facing."

"I gathered as much," Boromir agreed seriously. "I will be glad to do what I can for them. Merry and Pippin is it?"

"So they are called. Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took to give them their proper names. They have not been trained to arms unfortunately, such is not Hobbit custom."

"Then they had better learn," said Boromir. "I have some experience as a teacher."

"Thank you. I am glad we understand each other." Aragorn gave the other Man a little bow and walked away.

Boromir watching him go, troubled by confused emotions. It would seem the long lost King had no interest at all in Gondor. That should have pleased Boromir. He couldn't understand why it made him feel lost as child abandoned by its parents to live or die in the Wild.

…..

Dwarves have tenacious memories. They never forget either a wrong or a benefit, and they always pay their debts. The old Burglar could say what he liked but Gimli knew very well that his father and uncles and other kinsmen would have died long before reaching the Lonely Mountain if not for the resourceful Mr. Baggins. The Dwarves of Erebor owed their restored kingdom to Bilbo and now his nephew and heir had taken on an even greater quest on behalf of all the Free Peoples. Gimli son of Gloin intended to go with him, to guard and to serve him every step of the way, even into the fires of Mordor itself in repayment of the debt owed to the uncle, and for the nephew's sake as well.

Gimli liked what he'd seen of the youngster. Frodo had obviously inherited Bilbo's courage as well as his Ring. And thanks to his father's stories Gimli knew better than to be taken in by the younger Hobbits' seeming softness. They were Bilbo Baggins' kin, with his blood in their veins, and his strength and cunning would be there when they needed it. In the meantime their older and more experienced companions would look out for them.

It was a pity they couldn't leave sooner. The Dwarf looked disapprovingly at the airy, open halls and terraced gardens around him. Insubstantial, flimsy sort of place this Rivendell. No proper walls, trees growing right inside the rooms, not at all to Dwarvish taste. Still he could stand it for a month or two if he had to.

And he did. The Dunadan was quite right to want their route thoroughly scouted before they set out. It seemed the Rangers were as hard pressed as everybody else, what with evils left by Agmar creeping out of their hiding places and haunting the Wild. Gloin had been quick to remind Aragorn that the Dwarf halls of the Blue Mountains and Erebor itself were open to his people should they have need of refuge. Long ago the Dunedain had sheltered Durin's folk, driven forth from Moria by Durin's Bane, and the Dwarves did not forget it.

The bell rang for the noon meal and Gimli turned his wandering steps towards the main hall, stumping stolidly up the winding paths and several flights of stone steps.

The Wood-Elf, Legolas, appeared walking along and intersecting path, also on his way to the Hall. Gimli was none too enthusiastic about this companion. Still that bow of his was likely to be of some use. He gave the Elf a stiff little nod of Elf nodded back and they continued on in silent company.

It wouldn't be so bad, Gimli assured himself. He'd be civil as long as the Elf was, and with so many companions they need not have much to do with each other.

…..

If the Dwarf could be civil so could he, Legolas said to himself. Just be distantly polite and keep conversation to a minimum. That axe of his would prove useful at any rate. Legolas was familiar enough with the roads eastward to have some idea of the perils they would face.

Once again Aragorn had turned away from his desitiny, quixotically offering his sword to the Ringbearer. Yet Legolas had seen Gandalf and Elrond exchange a near wink as if very well pleased by their protégé's decision. The minds of Wizards are subtle and tortuous and Elrond's great age and mortal blood made him almost as inscrutable.

Concern for Aragorn as well as admiration for the Halfling's courage had moved Legolas to join the company. If Isildur's Heir was to travel throug the kingdom that denied him and into the territory of his bitterest foe he would need a friend at his back. As for the Ringbearer, Legolas' father Thranduil had been most impressed by Bilbo Baggins. If young Frodo was anything at all like his uncle that seemingly gentle exterior concealed unsuspected resources of courage and cunning. Frodo would need those qualities badly and all the help his companions could give him.

.