Author's Note: This story is set in December 3018, two months after the Council of Elrond, while the hobbits and Gandalf are staying at Rivendell. Although the world outside is in its Winter Season, the valley of Imladris remains in perpetual Autumn. The Fellowship has yet to be formed; its future members are either scouring the countryside for any signs of the Black Riders, or waiting for news at home. On this mid- winter evening, Merry and Pippin anxiously await the return of a very special friend…

Disclaimer: Middle- Earth belongs to Tolkien; I'm just borrowing it for a while.

      Sunset in the West cast a scarlet glow over the valley of Rivendell, and far in the distance, the first stars twinkled above the horizon. Reflecting the sky of red and gold, a vibrant waterfall plunged down the cliff's face into the river below. The path that led to the stone bridge was still lined with a scattering of autumn leaves, but the air was tinged the scent of the snow-covered mountains to the East.

       Farther along the path and across the bridge was a wide, circular terrace that skirted the edge of the main library. Through the open door of the library, the sound of light conversation drifted out into the cool evening. It was autumn, but the fingers of winter were creeping over the rim of the world.

       As their companions were occupied indoors, Merry and Pippin stole the opportunity for a quiet stroll along the veranda. At first they walked aimlessly, chatting about kaleidoscope of topics, but suddenly Merry stopped in mid sentence, holding up a hand for silence.

"Pippin, do you hear that?" he asked his cousin, inclining an ear towards the new sound. Pippin pondered for a moment, forehead creased in concentration. The two hobbits ran over to the edge of the balcony and leaned against the rail, scanning the quiet valley for the source of the disturbance.

"I hear it!" Pippin exclaimed in an excited whisper. He narrowed his eyes, shading them with his hand against the setting sun. As they stood with their backs to the library, they failed to notice the sound of approaching footsteps behind them.

Hands shoved into his wide pockets, Frodo strolled across the balcony, observing the antics his cousins with curiosity.

After clambering onto the outside of the railing, Pippin was attempting to find a perch in the branches of a large beech whose crown just passed the top of the veranda. Merry gave him a leg up into the tree, and then both froze as they tried to relocate the sound.

"Hullo, Merry!" Frodo hailed them as he drew near. "Merry?" When neither replied, the young hobbit raised an eyebrow. "Pippin?"

"Ssh!" the cousins answered simultaneously.

Sam stepped out of the library onto the veranda, coming over the join the group. "What are they up to now?" 

Frodo shrugged; he was asking himself the same question. The four hobbits fell silent again, but Frodo and Sam exchanged more than a few concerned glances at their companions. Merry and Pippin made no move to acknowledge them, until suddenly Pippin bounced in his perch, shaking the branches wildly.

"It IS him! He's back, Merry!"

He started to climb down, shouting to his cousin to help him at the bottom. Merry ran the length of the terrace until he reached the small path that led down to the bridge.

"Who is it?" Sam looked to Frodo, concluding that he wouldn't get any sense out of the cousins. Frodo was staring into the distance, but suddenly a soft smile spread on his lips.

"Sam, I think it's…"

Eyes shining with delight, he pulled Sam toward the path where Merry had gone. The young hobbit was running across the grass to help his cousin down from the tree, and Pippin was soon settled safely on the ground. The two were pointing and waving toward something in the distance, and Sam gazed in the direction they were indicating. Suddenly a voice broke out of the trees, uplifted in clear song.

A Elbereth Githoniel,

Silren penna miriel

O menel aglar elenath!

Na- chaered palan- diriel

A galadhremmin emnorath,

Fanuilos, le linnathon

Nef aear, si nef aearon!

 The last strains of the elvish song fell on their ears as they waited for the newcomer to approach. Finally, the outline of a tall figure appeared from the surrounding foliage on the other side of the bridge. As the man drew near, the last rays of sunlight on his features brought immediate recognition.

 With a uniform shout of delight, the four hobbits broke into a run, their small feet kicking up clouds of dust along the way. The outcry had aroused the occupants of the library, who came hurrying outdoors to discover the source of the commotion. Gandalf, followed by several elves, reached the terrace first, and leaned over the balcony for any sign of the hobbits.

"Frodo?!"

"It's Strider!"

The distant call from the path below brought a smile to his lips. As he rounded the bend to the path, he was greeted by the sight of a rather bewildered ranger, in the process of being accosted by four over-enthusiastic hobbits. Pippin was jumping to get on Strider's back, overtop of his traveling gear, and the extra weight caused the ranger to stumble slightly. As the man steadied himself, a small hand slipped into his rough, travel-worn one, and a bright face smiled up at him.

"Well met, Master Merry."

Reaching out, he ruffled Merry's yellow curls, smiling warmly at the others.

"Hello Sam, Frodo."

Sam came over to take Strider's other hand, and Frodo took his arm. As they led him up the path, Merry smiled inwardly, suddenly realizing how much they had missed the Ranger. Pippin was just dangling from Strider's back, his fingers inadvertently tangled in the Ranger's long hair. Suddenly Strider howled and threw his head back, as a sharp pain shot up his skull. Turning quickly, he succeeded in catching the hobbit before he fell. He tossed Pippin into the air a few times, laughing at the hobbit's loud protests. Merry laughed with the rest of them, racing Sam to the top of the hill. He crouched on the path, panting, waiting for the rest to catch up. Looking back, Merry noticed that Frodo had suddenly become serious, and was looking up at Strider questioningly. The man looked uncomfortable, but he shrugged at smiled as if to project some confidence that he did not feel. Merry saw Frodo nod, looking slightly dejected, but as he looked at Strider again there was gratefulness shining in his eyes. Merry smiled, recognizing the message immediately. *He's saying thank you for saving us.* Standing up again, he mouthed the words, although he knew no one would hear him. *Thank you, Aragorn.* 

Sam had finally gained the top of the hill, and he insisted that Merry had cheated, starting ahead of him. Merry shrugged, it was probably true, and anyway he had no objections to a second race, especially since he was the fastest among the four hobbits. As they started again, he slowed down slightly, wishing to save his breath. But as Sam sped past him into the garden, Merry panicked and tried to increase his speed.

Concentrating on the race, Merry failed to notice the tall figure at the top of the path until he ran smack into him, mumbling a torrent of apologies. Then Aragorn appeared around the bend with his escort, and another smile lit his face as he greeted his old friend.

"Well met, Gandalf-"

His greeting was cut short as he tripped over Pippin, who was clinging to his arm like a limpet. Gandalf came forward then, and his eyes sparkled with unspoken amusement.

"Well met, Aragorn," he said, inclining his head toward the hobbits. "Kindly inform us the next time you decide to be valiant and volunteer yourself for a dangerous mission? You left like a thief in the night, and some of our little friends were quite upset. But Elrond has told them now, and I trust your part of the journey was successful?"

Aragorn gave him a rather wry look. "If successful means we didn't find them, yes it was very successful."

"You mean the Riders are gone for good?" Sam queried from under Strider's elbow.

"We hope so, Samwise." Not wanting the hobbit to worry, Aragorn tried to make light of the situation. "Hopefully we won't have to worry about them for a long time."

Sam nodded, his eyes growing serious. They were nearing the door of the library, when a small voice hailed them from a little alcove in the surrounding garden.

"Ah, so the long- lost Dunadan has returned."

Smiling, Aragorn stopped to acknowledge it.

"Hello Bilbo."

"What took you so long?" The older hobbit looked offended, peering over the rim of a large book with narrowed eyes.

"We had urgent business to attend to in the South. My party traveled all the way down the Greyflood into Tharbad."

 Bilbo snorted. "That is no excuse for your reckless wandering off without any notification!"

"I'm sorry. Master Elrond thought it would be best if we left as swiftly as possible. And I thought you said I wouldn't be missed," the Dunadan reminded him with a twinkle in his eyes.

"I said no such thing," Bilbo retorted, laying the book aside and moving to join them. He surveyed the Ranger with a critical eye. "You look terrible," he said finally, causing Aragorn to chuckle. "Come in the library and sit down, Dunadan. It's a lovely evening for smoke rings and a story."

The embodiment of a great spreading beech tree, Elrond's main library was littered with the histories of Middle-Earth. Above a center circle where the younger hobbits sat on a moss rug, the beams of cedar wood extended like the threads of a delicate web. Eight tall shelves lined the octagonal walls, along which were arranged (in no apparent order) various volumes, manuscripts and scrolls that the elven lord had collected throughout his ageless life. Gentle torchlight filtered down from above, mingling with the starlight that shone through the open ceiling.

Aragorn and Gandalf soon found comfortable seats from one of the smaller libraries, and placed them near the fireplace. Weaving his way through a collection of disorganized maps and papers, Bilbo retrieved his stool from the corner and took out his long pipe. Lighting it, he searched the large pile for his pen and unfinished scroll.

"Whose turn is it to tell the story?" Pippin questioned. He cracked an almond from the small bowl of nuts by his elbow, talking between bites.

Aragorn glanced up from lighting his own pipe. "What, you've been reading one of the histories?"

"Actually, we've been taking turns telling stories every night," Merry explained. "Last time, I did 'The Thief of Brandybuck Hall.' Before that it was Gandalf's turn, and he did 'Bandit on the Barrowdowns,' and it was Bilbo's before that, and his was 'Professional Burgling in Life-and- Death Situations,' Pippin told, 'Pickpocket: The Only Honest Way to Steal,' and Gloin did 'The Masked Raiders of the Lonely Mountain,' and even Master Elrond had one to tell."

"Let me guess," Aragorn interrupted, "Was it called 'Things Lost and Found Are Never Stolen?"

"No," Merry glanced at him quizzically, "It was about his trip to Lothlorien."

Nodding with understanding, Aragorn held the slim pipe between his fingers and blew gently. A relatively small ring formed at the tip of the pipe, and floated off into the room. Aragorn scowled with dissatisfaction, turning to throw a glare at Gandalf, who was trying unsuccessfully to choke back a laugh. The wizard blew on his own pipe, the gray smoke converging to form a rather large ring, with another smaller ring in the center. Smiling, he watched them float upwards through the ceiling. Not content to be outdone, Aragorn blew again, this time creating a smoke ring even larger than Gandalf's. But before he could return the triumphant smile, Sam's voice piped up from behind him.

"Strider? What's this?" The hobbit was holding a thin wooden disk, covered with swirling elvish designs. There was also a bag of four stones, two black, and two white with markings. He placed them in Aragorn's lap.

"Oh. THAT," Gandalf looked over with a dry expression. "It's just a game the twins made up a long time ago. A very silly game, I might add." Leaning back into his armchair, the wizard dismissed the matter with a shrug. Pippin, Merry, and Frodo came over to see the board, gathering around Strider's chair.

"How do you play it?" Pippin asked. He shook the stones out of the bag, trying to arrange them on the board.

"Elladan and Elrohir used to play this game," Strider answered. "I watched them sometimes. It's called Pel Palan. I wonder if…" He looked up, scanning the bookshelves. "Frodo, can you reach that box over there?"

Nodding, Frodo retrieved the small box from the shelf. He opened it up, revealing the collection of paper scraps inside.

"What's that for?' Merry asked, taking the board off Strider's lap and setting it up on the rug. Pippin found a stool, but the other hobbits seated themselves around the board, looking up expectantly for Strider to join them. Ignoring the glare from Gandalf, Aragorn laid aside his pipe and came over to squat on the carpet. He took the box from Frodo.

"This box contains about 1,000 random facts that my step-brothers collected over the years. I'll show you how it works, but we're going to need teams because a lot of the stones are missing."

Pippin clapped his hands with excitement. "Oh! Let's have a competition! Merry and me can be together, and Frodo and Sam-"

"I'll just watch, I think," Frodo interrupted with a smile. He thought that four against one would be a little unfair, and that if he ended up on the winning side, Merry and Pippin were very sore losers. He also knew that they were even sorer winners. Instead of subjecting himself to either outcome, Frodo chose a large book from the shelf and sat down to read, in a position where he could still watch the competition.

"A wise choice," Gandalf's voice rang with approval.

"What's wrong Gandalf?" Sam wondered, walking over to where the wizard sat with his tall hat pulled down over his eyes. "You don't know how to play?"

Gandalf made a choking noise, and puffed harder on his pipe. Arranging the rocks in the start position, Aragorn laughed.

"Oh, he plays alright. He plays very well."

He picked up the two white stones, cupped them in his hands, and rolled.

"Alright, now you see," Pointing out the markings on the dice, Strider pushed the box over to Merry. "I answer first. Ask me the question on the front of the paper."

Merry picked up the first piece of paper. "Where are the Blue Mountains?"

"Ah!" Pippin clapped a hand over his mouth. "That's so easy!"

"In Eriador," Aragorn answered, moving his piece six spaces. He picked up the dice again. "Now since I rolled an even number, all even numbers from now on count for me, and all odd numbers count for you." Rolling the dice again, Strider counted the markings. "Your turn."

"How come we don't get to roll?" Merry demanded suddenly.

Sighing patiently, Strider picked up the box. "It doesn't matter who rolls because the numbers always come out randomly." He selected the next card. "What geographical features lie to the East of Erebor?"

"Ummmm..."

"Uhhhh-"

"That would be the Iron Hills," a deep voice rumbled behind them.

"Oh!" Pippin whirled in surprise, smiling with relief. "Thank you, Master Dwarf."

Unseen, one of the Lonely Mountain Dwarves had entered the library. Aragorn was mildly surprised; dwarves were not known for their abilities in stealth. Without asking for an invitation, the Dwarf sat down on the carpet, and asked if he could join the game. When Pippin agreed heartily, Aragorn smiled; dwarves were not known for their abilities in gaming either.

"What is your name again?" Pippin was saying.

"Gimli."

"Master Gimli the Dwarf?"

"No, just Gimli. Short and Simple."

"That is a short name and a very nice one too!" Merry said. "You can be on our team, Gimli."

The pieces were designed to move in a circle around the board, until they reached the finish spot in the center. Aragorn's piece already had six spaces, while the other was up to three. Strider rolled again, and the numbers came out even. This time, Gimli picked the card.

"What two rivers flow into the Sea of Rhun?"

"Celduin and Carnen," Aragorn answered quickly.

"Wrong."

"What?!"

Merry and Pippin noticed at the dismay on the Ranger's face as Gimli calmly explained, "There are no rivers flowing INTO the Sea; Celduin and Carnen both flow FROM the Sea."

"Hah!" As Pippin burst into a loud giggle, he leaned back so far that the stool he was sitting on toppled over, upsetting the board as it crashed to the floor. Pippin would have fallen too, but a pair of strong hands caught him and set him on his feet. From his place in the armchair, Gandalf chuckled softly, watching as they players scrambled to pick up the scattered cards and stones.

Glancing up at his helper, Pippin nodded gratefully.

"Thanks!"

"You are welcome."

The man had a deep Gondorian accent, but he was silent as he moved to help the others pick up the pieces. Merry righted the board again, and Gimli gathered up the spilt cards. As Aragorn was searching for the second black stone when the Gondorian man found it first.

"Here," the man handed it to him.

"Thank you," Aragorn replied curtly. It wasn't that he disliked Boromir, but ever since the outburst at the Council two months ago, the two had been on rather cool terms. Boromir seemed to avoid his company whenever possible, and Aragorn had endeavored to make it as easy as possible for him to do so. Nevertheless, he longed for at least a decent acquaintance with the man, for if Elrond's hints were correct (and they usually were) Boromir would be needed greatly in the impending quest. Aragorn wracked his brain for a way to approach the man.

*Hello, we need to be friends because I'm the man who's supposed to be King of Gondor. Incidentally, I'm going to have to take over your father's Stewardship too. Would you mind helping us destroy the Ring so that I can actually have a kingdom to rule?*

Several of the papers had been blown out of the library onto the veranda. Aragorn moved away from Boromir, still crawling, to retrieve them. Although the stars were bright above, the terrace was somewhat dark, and Aragorn relied mostly on touch to guide him to the papers. He gathered them up in his hands; eyes still bent on the ground went suddenly, his fingers brushed a soft surface that was not stone, or wood. He pushed gently, feeling the surface soften under his touch. Curiously, he squeezed it harder. It felt like the toe of someone's boot-

"Lost something?"

Aragorn nearly jumped out of his skin, falling back, he scrambled to his feet. The figure walked towards him, into the light. Then the tense expression on Aragorn's face faded in a smile, as he recognized the newcomer.

"Hello, Legolas."

"Hello." The Elf's face betrayed little emotion. "I heard Elrond sent you, Elladan, and Elrohir into Tharbad."

"Well yes," Shrugging apologetically, Aragorn tried to explain. "We split up after two days, my brothers had their own journey to pursue."

"I wasn't invited."

"Master Elrond thought you would be needed in the Mirkwood scouting party-"

"With Lindir? How thoughtful of him." Legolas interrupted coolly.

Aragorn feigned innocence. "What?"

"You heard what I said."

"That wasn't my idea. It was Elladan. He said you two were friends."

"And I'm sure you found the idea very amusing."

"There's nothing wrong with Lindir," Aragorn protested, "He just lacks a little experience." Motioning for the Elf to follow, Aragorn made to return to the library.

"A little experience?" Smirking, Legolas followed him. "You mean to say he is completely purged of anything that even slightly resembles experience by any stretch of imagination. He's such a sissy!" Legolas snorted, "He should have been born a girl!"

"Well you returned safe and in good health, so I guess it wasn't a problem," Aragorn grinned at his friend. Legolas glared back at him.

"Have you ever seen a Rivendell Elf lost in Mirkwood?"

"No."

"Then count yourself fortunate. And if it weren't for Caranthir, Rivendell would have been short one Elf today." Legolas always pronounced 'Caranthir' with an extra emphasis on the 'ran' which made it sound like 'CaRANthir', and which gave the name an irritating sound. Aragorn realized he was probably doing it on purpose.

"And why is that?"

"Because everyone but Caranthir wanted to leave him behind. And by the way, Caranthir, not I, was in charge of this mission. As it was, we wasted more time searching for Lindir than the Ringwraiths."

Aragorn smiled, noting how Legolas switched the emphasis thing to Lindir's name. "How did you fare otherwise?"

Legolas sighed, as if he was weary of the subject. "We didn't see any sign of the Riders, which is good I suppose. And we tried to find the wizard Radagast, but he wasn't at home. I think he's gone to live in a tree somewhere."

Legolas laughed suddenly, as if the idea was absurd. Staring at him, Aragorn could not help pointing out, "You used to live in a tree, you know."

Merry, Pippin, and Gimli were starting to wonder what was taking so long, when Aragorn returned to the library with the Elf called Legolas behind him. Frodo looked up from his book, surprised to see that Legolas was joining them. After the Council, most of the elves from the other realms had gone home. Frodo had not had much chance to be acquainted with any of them, but he was pleased that Legolas had returned. The hobbit did not know him well, but the Elf seemed to be good friends with Strider, and although he rarely conversed with the hobbits, he seemed friendly toward them also. Legolas nodded to them courteously, but did not speak, instead flopping down into an armchair beside Gandalf. Aragorn squatted on the rug again, and the hobbits crowded around him. They had been concocting a plan in his absence.

"We think that Gimli should roll, because that would be fairer," Pippin began.

"It's fair already!" Strider protested.

"Actually," Gandalf called from the fireplace, "I have a few discrepancies about that game myself. How do we really know that you're being fair?"

"Was that a rhetorical question?" Aragorn countered sharply. "Because if you have a problem, you're going to have to take it up with my brothers when they get back. I can teach you how to play, but I'm not going to be responsible for every COMPLAINT you throw at me."

"We're not complaining?" Merry answered quickly, "We just think someone else should be allowed to roll."

"It's against the rules!"

"RULES?" Gandalf's voice rose to a crescendo, "WHAT RULES?! The game has none!"

Gimli, still in control of his temper, turned a calm stare on Aragorn. "What are the rules, Aragorn?"

"Look," Aragorn handed the box to Merry, "I'm going to demonstrate to you how FAIR this game is, when you know how to play it. If you have any questions, just raise your hand. Now watch me closely. I roll the die." He cast the two white stones up in the air. Immediately, Pippin raised a hand.

"First of all, how do we know those die weren't tampered with? What if the markings were set to come out even 90% of the time? What if you're using elvish magic on them?"

Aragorn blew out a breath of frustration. "Look, let me finish my demonstration before you start accusing me. The die HAVEN'T been tampered with, and there is no magic involved. So the number comes up…even. Ask me your question."

Sighing in defeat, Merry picked up a card. "Blue Mountains, White Mountains…"

"Gray Mountains." Chuckling, Strider moved his piece four spaces forward.

Merry frowned, staring at the board. Suddenly he raised his hand.

"What if you had gotten it wrong?"

"I didn't."

"But if you had?" Gimli prodded him.

"Then I wouldn't have moved."

"But shouldn't you get a deduction if you miss? You should get one for missing the Sea of Rhun question."

"No I should not. But if you want to do deductions, we can." Strider moved his piece back two spaces. "But if I have to do deductions, so do you. Gimli answered your first question, and he wasn't officially on your team them, so you should only get half credit for it."

"What?" Pippin protested. "You can't do that! How can you get half credit for three moves?"

"Take your piece back one and a half spaces."

Covering the piece with his hand, Pippin refused to budge. "No! It's not fair. You keep changing the rules!"

"You wanted deductions."

"But you're not playing right!"

Shaking his head, Gandalf took another puff of his pipe. "I told you it wasn't a good idea. That game is mindless and ridiculous. Just like the elflings who made it," he added in an undertone. Aragorn's quick ear caught the remark.

"Only losers put holes in the game, Gandalf." he retorted, turning to confront the wizard.

"And only winners defend it," the wizard replied, leaning forward, and putting aside his pipe. His eyes lit up, as if relishing the impending argument. Ignoring the protests of Merry and Pippin, Strider abandoned the game and walked over to Gandalf.

"I understand now, you're just angry because I beat you in the smoke ring contest."

Gandalf raised a busy eyebrow. "Now that, I do not recall."

With a wink at Strider, Gandalf picked up his pipe again and blew the largest smoke ring of the night.

"Now, Aragorn, beat THAT."

The Ranger smiled with anticipation. "It will be my pleasure."

Frodo was trying to concentrate on his book, but the noise was becoming very distracting. Abandoning Nimrodel to her fate, he looked up for something else to occupy him. Spotting the Elf alone in the corner, reading, he decided to try conversing with him. Frodo walked up behind his chair and cleared his throat. The Elf's eyes flicked up, and he smiled shortly.

"Hello."

"Mae govannen," Frodo answered. The Elf returned the smile. "Is your name Legolas?"

"Yes." He seemed uncomfortable, or loathed to be disturbed.

*I know he's not shy,* Frodo thought inwardly, *He said enough for three people at the Council.* Maybe the Elf just wanted some peace and quiet, Frodo concluded. Or perhaps something was bothering him. Or someone…Frodo looked over the room, stopping when his eyes fell on the dwarf. He seemed to be ignoring them both.

Legolas' face was slightly flushed, and Frodo wondered if he was sick.

"Are you feeling well? Your face is very red."

Legolas looked up, startled. "Is it? The smoke makes it hard to breathe in here, that's all," he threw a glance at Gandalf and Aragorn, who were puffing away on their pipes and ignoring everyone else. Frodo nodded understandingly.

"What are you reading?"

Frodo turned to see Sam standing behind him, but he was staring at the Elf.

"I'm reading one of the tales of Beren and Luthien," the Elf answered Sam. "Did you ever read it?"

Sam shook his head slowly. Even though he had spent nearly two months in Rivendell, he was still enthralled when he saw any of the elves, and even more ecstatic if they actually spoke to him. Often his curiosity got the better of him, and he would blurt out things he had never even meant to say. Then a few seconds later, his mouth would tell his mind what was going on. In that way, the mouth sometimes went on and on without Sam knowing anything about it. Then his mind would have to deal with the embarrassment that came later. So he was not very surprised when Legolas turned a questioning glance on him, asking him to repeat his question.

"Who were Beren and Luthien? Did you know them?" Sam blurted out before he could catch himself. Grimacing inwardly, he waited for the Elf to laugh at him.

Legolas smiled, but didn't laugh. "No, I didn't know them. They lived a long time ago. But in this story, Luthien helps Beren escape the house of Tevildo, one of the ancient cats. Beren was a prisoner there, and the only one who got out alive, except for Gimli, the gnome."

"What's a gnome?" asked Frodo curiously.

"A gnome is…" Legolas lay the book aside, and his eyes grew mischievous. "A gnome is a small, stunted creature with wrinkly skin and squinty eyes. They live in caves underground and rarely come out into the sun. Most gnomes live in groups, and spend their time digging for rocks in the earth. They are very gruff, very rude, and very ugly. So they grow big bushes of hair because they are ashamed to have anyone see their faces. Now this Gimli was an especially old gnome because he had lived with Tevildo for so long, so he was the smallest, and wrinkliest of all the gnomes that every walked the earth. By the time Beren and Luthien rescued him, none of his friends were able to recognize him anymore."

      Sam's eyes had grown wide with sympathy as the Elf was speaking, and finally he burst out, "Oh poor Gimli! What ever became of him?"

Legolas shrugged.  "No one knows. The story doesn't say," he leaned forward, his elvish eyes sparkled even more, "But I have heard, that gnomes can live a very, very long time."

Sam gasped and turned to stare at Gimli, who was still playing with Merry and Pippin. Frodo's face turned red as he realized what the Elf was implying, and he stared at the Elf in disbelief.

In the absence of Strider, Pippin and Merry were busy reorganizing the game. Merry was adding more spaces to the board, and Gimli was searching for better playing pieces. Deciding to rewrite some of the questions, Pippin went into the other library for some books on the Shire he had found. As he came back in he passed Legolas' chair, where Sam and Frodo were conversing with the Elf in hushed tones. As he passed, they paused and then lowered their voices. Still, Pippin managed to catch the words 'Bevildo,' 'Erin,' and 'Gnome.' Bemused, he stacked the pile of books on the carpet, and pulled his stool over to Gimli. The Dwarf had discovered some Mountain Gems in the pocket of his tunic, and he placed them on the board.

"Gimli?"

"Yes, Master Pippin?"

"What's a gnome?"

Gimli glanced at him quizzically. "A gnome is an Elf. Why?"

"Just wondering," Pippin shrugged, and picked up the dice.

To Be Concluded…..

Tomorrow Night, Because I need my Copy of the Hobbit, but I just discovered (at 1:22 in the morning) that I lent it to a friend. Silly of me. So look for the rest before Valentines Day. Tatafornow.