All Creatures Great and Small

Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship struggled down Caradhras for the last day and had finally reached the valley, where the snow had been melting and the color of green was showing through. Gandalf was leading the tired Compay with Gimli, following using his ax as a walking stick. Then Legolas, light footed and graceful, never leaving any prints. Merry and Pippin making a game of jumping into the tracks Gandalf left behind. Sam wasn't far behind leading Bill the pack pony. From time to time, Sam sneaked a sugar cube to the pony to keep him moving through the cold snow. He knew Bill was tired and when they stopped, Sam was going to properly brush the pony down and give him a proper drink. Following closely was also Boromir then Frodo. Frodo had been apprehensive of Boromir since the incident with the Ring. Frodo had lost the Ring from around his neck after he had lost his footing in the snow and tumbled a few feet down the slope. Boromir had picked up the Ring, and in Frodo's eyes he seemed entranced by it. Frodo had remembered that he had heard a voice coming from the Ring trying to seduce him into putting it on. He was sure that the Ring was somehow communicating with Boromir. Then from behind him, Frodo heard Aragorn's commanding voice break into Boromirs reverie. "Give the Ring back to Frodo." Boromir did give the Ring back to Frodo, but hesitantly. As a result, Frodo felt uneasy in Boromir's presence and tried to keep closer to either Aragorn or Gandalf. Aragorn was bringing up the rear and looking towards Gandalf, contemplating what their next course of action would be when he noticed Frodo. Frodo appeared to be favoring his left side, lower back region, appearing to massage the area. How long has he been doing that? Aragorn asked berating himself for not paying attention. He would surely ask him about it later, if it warranted it.

Gandalf finally called a halt for the night. The sun was slowly sinking behind the mountainside, its yellow orange rays filtering through the trees unto the forest floor. The small clearing he picked for their campsite was open yet concealing from unwanted eyes. The tall tree's foliage formed a canopy from a birds eye view. There were bushes circling the dell. On closer inspection, if anyone or thing should happen to run through them, the branches were thick enough that a loud "snap" would alarm the Fellowship of an intruder.

"I'm glad we finally stopped," Pippin declared, "My feet could not take another step. I believe after being frozen then thawed, they feel like they are going to fall off!" The tweenager had dropped his pack when his sensitive ears picked up the sound of trickling water. He followed the sound to a nearby rock. He could see the sparkling clear water following a worn path through the center of the rock. He circled around to the back of the rock where the water had been collecting into a shallow pool. It was obviously a natural runoff from the melting snow. "Oh!" he delighted as he sank to his knees. He dipped his hands into the cool water to take a mouthful when he felt a hand pull him back. He was about to give his cousin a tongue lashing for interrupting him when his eyes were caught in Gandalf's gaze.

"Peregrin Took! Be careful!" Gandalf snapped, but protectively. " I feel that Bill needs a drink first," he insinuated that Bill was expendable.

Merry had immediately come over to Pip's side when he heard Gandalf. "Pip, you always want to be first. But let Bill take a sip to make sure it is safe." Merry spoke comfortingly, ruffling his cousin's curly head.

Sam had led Bill to the water and let the pony drink. A few moments passed before Gandalf declared it safe, seeing as how the pony did not tumble over. The rest of the Company made way for the desperately needed water.

"Sorry, Sam," Merry apologized as Sam led Bill away.

"I know Mr. Merry," Sam responded tying Bill's reins to a nearby tree and proceeded to unload the packs. Frodo stood by Sam and patted his shoulder and smiled. "Sam," he began, " I know how fond you are of Bill. I do not think Gandalf would put him in harms way." Then he, too, helped unload the pony.

"Thank ye, Mr. Frodo," he replied. As he watched Frodo unload a pack, he noticed that Frodo was tending his back and had to ask. "Ye all right, Mr. Frodo. You need Mr.Strider?"

"No, Sam. It will be all right. Just tired achy muscles. Not used to having an avalanche of snow on top of me. Just need a good nights rest." He just hoped Sam would leave it at that. He was sure it was just achy muscles.

Sam thought it over and decided it was best not to probe any further. He would talk to Mr. Strider about it later.

Sam did not know it at the time, but Aragorn had been watching as well. Legolas stood with Aragorn to observe their surroundings noting that his friend seemed concerned about something. He could probably guess it was most likely the Ringbearer or the fact that they had been forced back down the mountain by the evil of Saruman..

"What is troubling you, my friend?" Legolas asked.

"Nothing. It will be fine. I need to discuss our next plan of action with Gandalf." Aragorn spoke. Not the truth, and he knew Legolas knew that he wasn't. Their friendship had been forged through the years, and words sometimes did not need to come between them. Legolas tilted his head gracefully in acknowledgement and slowly withdrew from Aragorn, leaving him to his thoughts.

Aragorn was very concerned for Frodo. He was watching the hobbit more closely now and had counted each time he had brought his hand to his back. That was ten in the last quarter hour. He approached the crouching hobbit with caution. He did not like hovering over Frodo, but something was wrong and he wanted to find out what was amiss.

Frodo was on his hands and knees spreading out his bedroll when he had spotted the familiar leather boots stop in front of his hands. Frodo did not look up. He kept spreading out his bedroll.

"Frodo?"

Frodo looked up to the owner of the boots with a questioning look, brows furrowing

"Are you all right? You keep tending your back," Aragorn let his observations be known. Frodo was sitting on his knees now and Aragorn had come down eye level. "I do not want you to feel as though I am prying, but you were in front of me on our way down the mountain and I could not help but notice."

"I am all right, Aragorn. I am weary just as everyone else," Frodo felt belittled and literally weary of the constant questions. His voice broke, " I can walk and will walk to Mount Doom with this cursed thing, no matter how heavy it seems to be," he stated a little harsh. Then he figured that Sam had something to do with Aragorn's question. "Did Sam put you up to this?" he demanded, cheeks flushed with those huge blue eyes glaring up at Aragorn .

Aragorn was taken back with this sudden infuriated hobbit. He had to think of his reply quickly and not be insulting at the same time. All eyes were upon the pair. "I know, we are all tired, and we all need to keep up our strength. I was just merely concerned for your health and of the rest of the Fellowship during the Quest." Aragorn softly spoke, hoping to deflect some of Frodo's anger.

Frodo was too tired to argue. He had worked himself into a state and hated to blow up at the Ranger. He knew Aragorn meant no harm. Neither did Sam. It must be the Ring, he concluded. Frodo cast his eyes down to the ground, not fixing on any particular point. "I am sorry, Aragorn," he mumbled the apology.

"Frodo," Aragorn dropped to his knees and began to reach out when Frodo pulled away. He then got up and walked beyond the perimeter of camp. Aragorn pushed himself up to standing, ready to sprint after him, when a small hand caught his coat tails. He looked down into the blue eyes of the owner of the hand stalling him.

"Let me go, Aragorn. I will talk with him. Just let him have a moment?" Merry begged. He knew his cousin well, and his brooding methods. When Frodo had lived at Brandy Hall, Merry knew every one of Frodo's moods. This one was a classic. He knew that Frodo would apologize, realizing he was wrong. Then he would retreat to either his room or his favorite reading place to think things through. After he cooled down, he would come back to the individual to make amends and all would be forgiven.

Aragorn nodded and added, "Be careful, Meriadoc. Make it quick. I will follow you in a few minutes."

Merry nodded and ran as swiftly as his feet would carry him, following the path Frodo had taken.

Sam had busied himself, not trying to eavesdrop. He heard Frodo's raised voice then seen him disappear beyond the bushes. He was about to forget what he was tending to and run after Frodo, when he seen Merry go in the same direction. Aragorn strolled over to Sam, "Do not worry, Sam, Merry will bring him back."

Sam found Pippin standing at his side placing a hand on his shoulder, also looking down the path his cousins had taken.

Aragorn glanced at Legolas and nodded. As if reading Aragorn's thoughts, Legolas stayed at his post, keeping an elf's eye and ear on the exiting hobbits.

Merry finally found Frodo sitting on a moss covered log, legs drawn up to his chest, resting his chin on knees. Merry plopped himself down on the log, causing some dust to go airborne. He looked deeply into his cousins troubling eyes. Merry could tell from Frodo's red swollen eyes he had been crying.

"You know," he began to speak, "We all worry. This Quest has got us all on edge, cousin."

"Sometimes I wonder why I did it. Why I said I would take it. Why you, Pippin, and Sam volunteered to come with me, " Frodo mumbled looking into his cousins eyes. Tears threatening again. He promised himself he would not cry in front of Merry.

"I just cannot believe you just said that!" Merry exclaimed, jumping to his feet obtaining Frodo's undivided attention. "Your heart is so big, so trusting of everyone, that you would save the world. You love the Shire, the streams, the woods.every living thing!" Merry declared waving his arms gesturing to the surrounding forest, tears threatening to spill.

Frodo's eyes darted around looking at what Merry was gesturing to. Then his eyes fell back on Merry. He knew Merry was speaking the truth. Sometimes he felt Merry knew him too well. "It is the Ring, Merry," Frodo tried to explain. "The power is growing, and.I seem to be tiring more easily as we get closer to our destination." Frodo again cast his eyes down in shame, not wanting to frighten Merry.

Merry then knelt back down beside Frodo wrapping his arm around Frodo's shoulders, comforting him.

"I know, Frodo. That is why the rest of us have been more protective of you. We know you carry a great responsibility. We just wanted you to know that you will not be alone. No matter what happens. We are here to help you," Merry explained.

Frodo looked back over to Merry and laid his head on Merry's shoulder, squeezing Merry's hand that hung over his shoulder. " I guess we should go back now. I figure Aragorn is itching to come after us."

"Well, he did say he was not going to be far behind," Merry joked. He got up and offered his hand to help Frodo up. Frodo took one look at his cousin, smiling, batted his proffered hand out the way replying, "I am not that weary yet, that I cannot stand on my own."

"I am going to fetch them back. They have been gone too long," Aragorn told Legolas . Legolas caught Aragorn's arm, staying him. Legolas had been intuned to the hobbits footsteps. Even though the hobbits were as stealth as elves, Legolas could still catch the sound of soft padded footfalls made while trampling through the underbrush.

"No need, they are on their way back," Legolas smiled, his head tilted gracefully towards the path that the hobbits had previously taken. Aragorn nodded, then as he was turning back to tell Sam the news, he noticed Legolas' facial expression had changed to a frown, eyebrows furrowing.

"What is it?" Aragorn questioned, had on hilt, with a little height to his voice.

"It sounds of a wounded animal," Legolas replied.

"Wounded animal?" Aragorn's concern grew for the hobbits coming back. What if they ran into it? If he knew Frodo, and he believed he did, Frodo would try and help it, at any cost.

Gandalf had detected the change of tone in Aragorn's voice and caught the word animal in Legolas response. Worry lines creased his brows as his thought also was on the intention of the Ring-bearer. tbc