Title: Once Upon A December

Author: Jaimi

Rating: PG-13

Genre: Drama/Humor

Characters: Frodo, Estel (Aragorn), Legolas, Elrond, Gandalf, Bilbo, Glorfindel, Elrohir, Elladan

Other Characters: Arwen, Haldir & company, King Thranduil & sons, Esmerelda Brandybuck, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins

Summary: AU. Frodo is twelve, which I am estimating to be about the equivalent of 4-5 for humans. Young, I know, but it's my fic, and my outrageous imagination (a toddler making it that far on his own, pfff, yeah right) but that's that. Anyway, so twelve year old Frodo Baggins runs away from Buckland after his parents die, retreating beyond the borders of the Shire. A traveler finds him less then a day away from Rivendell, their destination. In panic, Frodo runs from him, into the icy Bruinen River. Rescuing him from certain death, the stranger takes him the rest of the way with him. Fun, friendship, laughter and heartache ensue as Rivendell is once again graced with the presence of a child. Inspired by the story Innocent by Elendriel.

*NOTE*: I'm not good at timetables. I don't know how long it takes to get from one place to another, so I'm guessing it takes about a week and a half to get to Rivendell…at least in my little universe. Actually, in this little universe of mine, the map of middle earth is shrunken so it doesn't take so damn long to get to places. So there. By the way, pure Baggins luck that Frodo doesn't get into trouble during that time/journey…well, almost.

~P.S.~ I realized too late after the story was finished, that there is no direct path (that I am aware of) that goes from Rivendell, to the other side of the mountains near Mirkwood. They would have to take the route through the mountain, like Bilbo and the dwarves did. Oh well, let's all just pretend.

Disclaimer: Do not own any characters from either the movies or the books. This story is both movie and bookverse, though it's obviously before them. The song is "Once Upon A December" by Deana Carter.

Prologue – Far Away

December 2, 2980 TA

3:00 am

Buckland

The Shire

Frodo ran as quickly and quietly as his little legs could carry him. Into his room he dashed, grabbing the pack he used for his walks when his Uncle Bilbo visited. In this he stuffed the half a bread loaf, mushrooms and apple slices his tiny arms had been loaded down with. As well, he stuffed his teddy bear and the Elvish book his Uncle Bilbo had given him last time he had visited. Frodo, being the bright lad that he was, could read Westron easily, and was now learning Elvish from his doting Uncle. They had read one whole chapter together before Bilbo had gone off again, promising to help him with more upon his return to the Shire.

Tying off his pack, he hefted it onto his tiny shoulders, grabbing the blanket his mother had made him when he had been born. He was about to leave the room when the Baggins in him kicked in. He scampered back to his bed and put his pillow under the heavier cover on his bed, making it seem he was soundly sleeping underneath. Satisfied, he once again made his way out of his room. Soon after, he exited the house that had been his home, even after his parents' death, due to the large communal type living of Brandy Hall.

Once safely outside, he crept quietly along in the early morning darkness. Ten minutes later he came upon Farmer Puffin's pastures. Grabbing the rope halter often left by the gate, Frodo slipped through the fence and made his way to his favorite pony's side. The color of sunshine, and loving to prance about daintily, Frodo had named her Sundance. The two had bonded, and Dancer willingly allowed the young Hobbit to ride her about. Farmer Puffin, being a friendly old Hobbit and quite liking the young, orphaned Baggins, never said a word. He only smiled upon hearing the little one's laughter as Dancer toted him about.

Now, though not understanding Frodo's desire to ride so early in the morning, when the skies were still dark and stars still bright, Dancer still willingly dropped her head into the halter. Even more surprised was she when the child opened the gate, and led her out of her pasture. She merely nickered softly though, and followed the little one trustfully.

He led her to a tree stump, and then, using it as leverage, climbed aboard her broad, sturdy back. Despite his young age, the boy was a natural rider.

Clucking softly, he urged her into a smooth trot along the grass edge of the road. Once the sun rose, he would take to the inner edge of the woods until he was out of the Shire. Lucky for him, Buckland was close to the border of the Shire lands. They went along quietly for some time, easily moving into the woods as the sun began to light the sky. Once or twice someone passed near on the road, but they never spotted the shadow moving quietly alongside in the woods.

By noon, Frodo decided to stop in a clearing in the woods to allow his friend to eat and drink, as well as eat and drink himself. He had grabbed a canteen from the kitchen before he'd left, and he sat sipping at it and thoughtfully nibbling on a block of cheese he had added to his pack as an afterthought. His thoughts drifted to the reason for his early morning venture. He was running away. …No that wasn't right…he was going on an adventure, just like his Uncle Bilbo. Isn't that what Lobelia had suggested…

FLASHBACK…

"Really Esmerelda, I don't know how you put up with the little heathen. I've been visiting but a day and I can see what a deceitful little imp he is. You've been letting him hang around that cracked cousin of yours, I can see. Did you see him before? Little buggard, "pretending" to read an Elvish book. Hmph. Not lead to good that will, whether he can read it or not…and I vote not… He's just trying to be trouble, wantin' to be different. If I were you, I'd send 'im off with that crazy Bilbo Baggins. Let 'em go on some wild adventure together. Keep 'im out of your hair, so you can concentrate on the respectable youngins. Now take my Lotho, now. He's a good chap."

Frodo, listening from a nearby bush, wondered how the elderly Hobbit lady could say so much in one breath. He wondered, if he poked her, would she pop? No matter. He wanted to know what his Aunty had to say to Lobelia's opinion. He knew it was hard on his Aunt, having him around. Kind as she was, there were just so many kids to look after at Brandy Hall, and Aunt Emmy having just born her first child, Meriadoc…well, she'd just been so tired lately. He'd gotten even less attention than usual. All his aunts and uncles were to share responsibility of raising him, but well, the slight boy always seemed to get overlooked.

"Now Lobelia, I admit, it's not easy looking after all these youngins', least of all Frodo, for he is an odd child, and his stomach tends to be fussy-"

"More lies if you be askin me. He's just picky and ungrateful-"

"I'm sure he's not so. And anyway, it *would* be easier for Bilbo to take him, but not on some adventure. I'm hoping Bilbo will settle down one day, and maybe adopt Frodo, take him back to Bag End. The boy loves him dearly, and all his tales of the wide world. But no, not on an adventure. Frodo is too little. I fear he'd be hurt, or worse, killed. Despite his oddness, I am fond of him. He is a very sweet child, Lobelia. Besides, he lost his parents only but a couple months ago. He still needs time to adjust, that's all."

Lobelia snorted. "He's had time, Lass. He's not worth the trouble. Maybe if you're lucky, he won't return from one of his little walks alone. Really, such a little one, wandering off on his own. If you won't get rid of him, you should lock him up."

"Now Lobelia-"

Frodo heard no more. Lock up? Kept inside? Not allowed to wonder the woods, the streams, talk to the animals and dream of far off places from the treetops? His Aunty wouldn't do that, would she? Well, she had been quite angry about him wondering in late the other night. And his other Aunts had mentioned they too believed he was much too young to be wondering around on his own, when he should be staying in the yards. He was just a tot after all, they'd said. But he loved to explore. It was in his blood. He was a Baggins. Maybe Lobelia was right. Aunt Emmy was much to busy. Maybe he would be better off to leave. Uncle Bilbo was off on an adventure again…maybe Frodo could find him…yes, that would be wonderful.

Frodo had then proceeded to plan his adventure. Food. He would need food. Also something for water, a blanket…perhaps a pony…yes a pony. He would take Sundance. It wouldn't be stealing…it would only be borrowing…he'd bring her back when his adventure was over. Farmer Puffin never used her anyway. And maybe some rope. Uncle Bilbo mentioned how the rope had been handy going through Mirkwood…and so his planning continued the rest of that day. The next morning, he left.

END FLASHBACK

By evening they were nearing the edge of the Shire, but Frodo decided to stay within the Shire for that night. Settling down just within the shadow of the forest near him, Frodo curled up in his blanket. Wearing several layers and his warm cloak, he was still chilly but the warm wool of the blanket fended off the worst of the cool winter night air. Sundance lay down next to him, letting the tot curl up to her belly, finding warmth in her furry sides. Both fell into a restful sleep, weary from the days travel, but content with each others company.

Chapter 1 – Silver Storm

December 12, 2980 TA

7:00 pm

Approaching Ford of Bruinen

Only by sheer luck and Baggins wit, had Frodo made it this far. He'd stopped in Bree, and gotten more food with the money he'd saved up and stashed in his pockets. The Breefolk had looked at him strange, asking him if he was lost. He'd cleverly said he and his Uncle (for that was no lie, no doubt his uncle would stop in Rivendell on his travels) were headed for Rivendell…but were just hoping to confirm the direction was right. Could they point the way?

'Ay,' an old man had answered. 'You just be keeping on the road east, and it'll take you there it will. Though that's only what I's heard. Never been there myself. Strange, those Elven folk are.'

So, to the road east he'd kept, crossing the last bridge. He'd known he was in the right direction when noon yesterday he'd nearly scared himself silly, seeing three gigantic trolls in a wood clearing. He'd laughed in delight upon realizing who they were. The trolls that his old Uncle Bilbo had bested…with the help of Gandalf of course. All stone they were, and the tot had danced around them, singing and laughing. Sundance, sensing no danger from the three statues, had nickered and pranced behind her small rider.

The mare had long realized that they were not returning to the Shire, not anytime soon anyway. She knew not what the little one was thinking, but she only knew she would remain with him. No matter any danger that came near, she would not abandon her young charge, as she'd come to see him. He was barely beyond being a toddler, and the mothering instinct all creatures had, had kicked in. She would follow him over a cliff if need be, though she'd prefer to keep that from happening. However, that did not appear to be the approaching danger.

A week and half out in the cold winter air had brought about a case of the sniffles and a ripening cough. As well, his food stock was getting low, though he'd quickly learned before getting to Bree that he couldn't eat everything at once, not if he didn't want to starve.

Despite his rationing though, nothing lasted forever, and the most he could find in the woods were acorns and winter berries.

Another worry was weather. If the temperature dropped anymore, there would be a flurried dance of snow that night. He hoped Rivendell wasn't far off.

His hopes were slightly dashed as they approached a body of water. A ford of sorts. It was too cold and dark to cross at night. Sighing, the weary tot slid down off his pony friend, and led her to a rock nearby. A slight cover was created between it and a few trees, so the duo settled in there for the night. Coughing lightly, he dug into the last reserves of his food. He was feeling down now, not nearly as excited and optimistic as the morning he'd left. He'd not had a warm meal since the night before then, for Frodo knew not how to start a fire, and had brought no pans to cook with…which also didn't matter. He didn't know how to cook either. He wondered if his Uncle had been this miserable on his first adventure…though the dwarves had apparently been more prepared then he, and his Uncle much older, bigger and wiser.

Sighing, Frodo snuggled once again into Dancer's belly, ever thankful for bringing her along. He surely would have frozen to death the first night he'd left the Shire without the gentle pony's warm body to lie against.

He just about drifted off to sleep when he heard tinkling…or was it tinking? Clipping? Clopping? He lifted his head, turning to look, though it wasn't necessary to know Dancer was still beside him, though the noise had caught her interest as well, and she also noticed the light snow beginning to fall. Soon it was swirling about in an ancient dance and the noise of hooves approaching the Ford grew louder. Though it was darkening, it was still light enough for Frodo and Dancer to make out two horses, one mounted, the other a pack horse, both prancing through the snowfall. Their breath woofed in the cold night air. The one rider was cloaked, holding a torch, attempting to see through the thickening snowfall. Frodo watched, mesmerized, as the graceful beasts danced about in the fresh snowfall, delighted by its wonder and beauty. He suddenly realized the snow was beginning to cover him and Dancer. They would need to find better shelter.

Without thinking he jumped up, tying his pack to Dancer with the rope he'd brought, and gathering the blanket around his tiny shoulders, he headed a little deeper into the woods, the nighttime traveler forgotten.

However, the lone rider had heard the shuffle of feet and clip clop of Dancer rising to her feet. He gazed through the dense snowfall, aiming his torch in the direction of the sound. Keen of sight, he caught the retreating shadow of the pony, and a very small creature by her side. He paused a moment. He knew of no creature that small that was not a child. Even a full grown hobbit was at least twice that size if not more.

The rider decided to investigate.

"Hullo there!" He called.

Frodo's head snapped around, realizing the traveler had somehow spotted them through the white veil of snow. Knowing not whether they were friend or foe, the little one scurried forward without watching where he was going. Stumbling over a root, he cried out as his knees banged against it, his hands scraping against sharp rocks. Numb from cold, and becoming terribly frightened as he heard sounds of pursuit, he let go of Sundance's rope and urged her to run. The pony wuffed, stubbornly following her young friend as he stumbled through the woods. She wasn't running anywhere without him.

Upon hearing the being cry out, the rider was quick to realize it was indeed a child…but what on earth was a child doing out alone, at night, in the dead of winter, so far from civilization? He knew not of any children currently at Rivendell. Were his companions lost? …dead?

No matter, the lone rider started after the child, knowing it was dangerous to be out alone anywhere, let alone in the woods, at night.

Frodo raced blindly through the trees, crying out in surprise when he stumbled out of the woods and into the icy river. He must have turned back east in his flight, was his last thought before he went under. The Ford was not deep, but Frodo was quite small.

Dancer whinnied frantically as she watched, too late, her rider tumble into the river. She herself was up to her belly in the icy flow. She looked about but saw nothing. Then suddenly she saw Frodo burst to the surface farther down the river, gasping for breath. She let out a shrill whinny, tearing down the shallow edge of the river, hoping to head him off and allow him to grab the rope, still dangling from her halter.

Suddenly a white blur splashed past her, and she startled. She'd forgotten their pursuer. Another slightly darker blur followed, slowing near her. It was the pack horse, his lead rope dangling. He ran along side her. Suddenly the white horse returned, its rider grabbing the rope her young friend had held minutes before. She tried to yank away from her captor, intent on saving her young companion.

"Whoa!" A low, soothing voice called, and then continued gently in Elvish. "Easy friend, the child is safe now."

Understanding Elvish, though she wasn't sure how, Dancer turned her attention forward to see that indeed the rider had her friend, dripping wet and shivering, in his arms. The still cloaked figure turned, gripping Dancer's rope. He had the tot wrapped tightly in the folds of his cloak. The snow was lightening up, and Dancer strained to see the pale face of her companion, his eyes squinted shut, his teeth chattering. She nickered softly, hoping he would open his eyes, and reassure her. He did not.

The rider turned to her, though she could still not see his face under the heavy hood. Again in Elvish, he spoke. "He is not well, fair horse friend. He needs attention quickly. Trust I will help him, and follow us as quick as you can."

With that, the two larger horses started across the wide Ford, and upon reaching the other side, burst into a gallop, the frightened pony in tow. Dancer, thinking only of her sick friend, put in mighty effort, and kept pace for most of the way. Nearing Rivendell, she grew weary, slowing her pace, but not stopping. The dark rider slowed a bit, tying her rope securely around her neck so she wouldn't trip.

"We will go ahead, friend. Follow our path. We are almost there. I will have someone waiting to care for you. Worry not for your little friend. Lord Elrond will see to him. No better healer is there in all the wide world."

With that, the dark rider burst forth again, disappearing around a corner. Dancer did not stop, but she did not try to keep pace with the much larger horses. She knew it was folly to even hope. Instead she remained intent on getting there as fast as SHE could, and praying she had allowed her friend into safety and help, and not more harm.

Chapter 2 – Dancing Bears

December 14, 2980 TA

12:00 pm

Rivendell

Frodo slowly became aware of soft music floating about, and voices, gentle, musical voices. The kind of voices he'd always imagined elves would have. Elves of Rivendell…Rivendell. He'd left Buckland, the Shire… He'd been getting close to Rivendell. Passed the trolls…but there was a river…snow and prancing horses…a dark rider chasing him. Then icy water. He heard Dancer squealing…had they hurt his pony friend? Then he knew nothing. Where was he? Where was Dancer?

He decided there was only one way to find out. Slowly, he opened his eyes. Sunshine met his wide blue gaze. Birds perched on a finely carved window. He could see trees in the distance…and mountains. He turned his gaze from the window and looked up. An arched ceiling, but farther below that…dancing bears? A carousel, twirling above his head…just like the one at home in his room, only this one was much nicer. He felt a little bad thinking that. His Papa had made it for him, around the same time his Mama had made his blanket.

Suddenly he realized the voices had stopped, though the distant singing continued. He slowly turned his head to the right. There sitting near him, on a chair near the large bed he suddenly realized he lie in, was…an elf. Behind him another elf stood, gazing at him in interest. Frodo blinked. Just then he couldn't remember why he'd wanted to come to Rivendell. Men and other Hobbits were afraid of the elves. Thought them odd folk. What if they…well that was silly. Bilbo spoke nothing but praise of them…and Frodo loved all tales of Elves, and learning Elvish, and-

"Hello, Little One. Glad you finally decided to wake." It was the elf in the chair who spoke. His voice was soothing, gentle, but noble as well. He had long raven black hair and clear silver colored eyes that seemed to see into the little Hobbit's very soul. He wore a copper crown piece around his head, and long flowing robes of navy silk, lined with silver. He was very handsome…beautiful and majestic. He looked like he was waiting for Frodo to say something, but the tot was struck speechless, and quite intimidated.

"Do you have a name little one? Or should we just call you Little One?" The elf continued, seeing Frodo wasn't about to speak up. There was a mirthful light in his eyes at the child's obvious awe, but he tilted his head in concern. The boy had a touch of fear in his gaze as well. "I will not hurt you, child. I assure you, you are quite safe here in my home. But then perhaps I should introduce myself. I am Lord Elrond, Master of Imladris. Welcome." A pause, Frodo eyed the other elf. Lord Elrond then gestured to his companion. "This is Lord Glorfindel. He is a friend, and also will not harm you."

Glorfindel smiled gently, nodding to the tot. He too had long hair, only golden of color, with bright blue eyes, just as clear and endless as his the first elf's. He was also quite handsome, though in the more expected way of the fairfolk. Lord Elrond was something else…there just *was* something else about the darker elf.

Now Frodo was a polite boy, as most Hobbits go, in fact, Frodo was one of the even more well-mannered children, as his age could be. However, he was still quite frightened and now even more intimidated. Lord Elrond. Master of Rivendell. Uncredited King of the Noldor Elves.

Lord Elrond smiled kindly. "Will you not at least tell me your name? Or perhaps what you were doing all alone so far from any settlement? Where are your parents child? My people scouted about. Glorfindel himself went, but could find no one within two days ride of Rivendell."

Two days? Frodo guessed he must have been quite sick from his spill in the river…but how did he get out of the river? He couldn't recall. And where was Dancer? He knew his questions would likely be answered, if he would only speak up, but oh, he was terribly frightened and confused. He was such a simple folk, and here he was before a mighty king of a mighty people.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door.

"Enter," Lord Elrond called, gaze still locked on Frodo. When the door opened he and Glorfindel turned to see who was entering and Frodo followed their gaze. A man entered. A real man. Tall he was, with dark hair to his shoulders, blue-grey eyes, light bearding and rugged, handsome features. Frodo imagined he was quite intimidating when he wanted to be.

"I see our little friend has woken," the man spoke, voice low and smooth.

Both man and elves looked at Frodo with kind, gentle expressions.

Lord Elrond spoke again. "Indeed. However, I've not been able to get a word from him. Tell me, Estel, as you know more of these creatures than I. How old do you think he is? Can he speak yet?"

The man looked from Frodo to Elrond, then back again, a frown on his face. "He hasn't spoken? Well my Lord, I'm guessing he's about eleven or twelve…human equivalent of around four or five. He's still somewhat a toddler, though he should be able to speak quite well."

Glorfindel shook his head. "How on all of Middle Earth did a toddler make it all the way to Rivendell…almost…on his own? He must have had companions at some point…"

The man shrugged. "Well, Hobbits are quite resilient creatures…tough as wood knots when they need to be, no matter what age. And clever too," he added, moving closer to the bed. At first, Frodo shrunk back, but finding he could go nowhere, wrapped the blanket tighter around himself, gripping his Teddy. Wait…his teddy? It was in his pack…which was tied to Dancer. He hoped that meant she was safe.

The man saw his look and smiled. "Yes, your pony friend is safe and sound in Lord Elrond's stables, little one. She was quite worried about you. When you're all better, would you like me to take you to see her? I'm sure that would make her very happy."

Frodo gazed at the man. He seemed friendly enough. They all did, though this man was a little frightening as well, he had a rough, wild look about him. The two elves were more intimidating then anything with their obvious nobility…though the man had a certain air himself of noble kind. Finally, he nodded slowly.

The man smiled, his face softening. "My name is Estel by the way. And what shall we call you?"

There was a long silence, as Frodo switched gazes in between his three visitors. Nothing would come of him not speaking, so he might as well buck up and perhaps get some questions answered.

"Frodo." He said quietly, timidly, his large cornflower blue eyes gazing at them with nervous wonder. "Frodo Baggins."

At the mention of his last name, all threes' eyebrows shot up.

"Baggins!" Lord Elrond proclaimed with some wonder and a bit of humor.

Frodo started a bit at the sudden outburst, and the Lord quickly apologized. "I'm sorry Frodo, I did not mean to startle you, it's just the only other hobbit I've ever met is a Baggins…Bilbo Baggins. Quite the adventurer he is…you wouldn't happen to know him, would you Frodo?" At Frodo's pause, he added, "he's a friend of mine child."

"I know." Frodo finally answered. "Uncle Bilbo's told me all about Rivendell, and you, and the dwarves and Mirkwood and-and such…"

"So, Bilbo is your Uncle?" Estel asked, sitting next to Frodo on the wide bed.

"You know him too?" Asked Frodo, beginning to lose nervousness, even at having the man so close.

Estel smiled. "Ay, I've been here several times during his visits. I was ten when he first came to Rivendell. This is where I grew up. I return here…home…as often as I can…"

Frodo nodded, reassured by the man's kind smile. "Well, Bilbo is actually my cousin, but since he's so much older, and I have so many cousins, it's just easier to say he's my uncle. He's very dear to me. He's says I'm his most favorite nephew. He brings me lots of things from his travels…he's even teaching me Elvish."

"Is he now?" Elrond said with a smile. "That explains the Elvish book we found in your bag. I recall giving that to your uncle a summer ago. He said he wanted to give it to someone very special."

Frodo smiled, flushing at the words. Bilbo's praise meant the world to him. Bilbo was the most important person in the tot's life. "Yes, well, we'd only gotten one chapter read before he left again. I think he was going somewhere with Gandalf…or to meet Gandalf somewhere… I'm not sure. Did he come through here? I know he says he usually does."

"Yes, he does usually, though he hasn't been yet…is that what you were doing out? Trying to find him? Where are your parents? Did they come with you?" Lord Elrond questioned him gently, so as not to sound chiding. He didn't want to frighten the little one anymore.

Suddenly Frodo was sad, and his three companions' hearts ached at the child's next words. "They're dead. Mama and Papa drowned in the Brandywine River just after my birthday, in September."

"I'm sorry Frodo," Estel spoke up, taking one of Frodo's tiny hands. "I lost my parents when I was very young as well…but then Lord Elrond raised me. He is my foster father. Don't you have some sort of guardians now? I know Hobbits are very kind people, they wouldn't leave such a young Hobbit alone…"

Frodo shook his head, a little ashamed now at his attempted adventure. "Well, all my aunties and uncles take turns looking after me, though it's mostly Aunt Emmy. There are many children at Brandy Hall…and not a lot of time for those without…" He trailed off and then looked up at Estel, remembering his first words. "I'm sorry, Estel."

The man frowned, confused. "For what, little one?"

"About your parents," Frodo stated simply, scurrying out from under the blankets. Ever a thoughtful, innocent and compassionate youngster, he wrapped his tiny arms around the slightly startled man's neck, as Estel had been leaning forward, and lightly kissed the man's cheek. "My mama said hugs and kisses make the heart feel happy…I don't want you to be sad."

He then plopped down on the bed before the man, cross legged, and ever so tiny amidst the fluffy covers and quilts. Estel straightened, taken aback at the little one's behavior. Yes, he'd been guarding the Shire for a few years now, but he'd never really spent time with a Hobbit, certainly no child. He was deeply moved by the child's selflessness. Estel had lost his father, then later his mother, years and years ago. Sure he missed them, but he'd moved on. He had his Ada; Elrond, his brothers; Elladan and Elrohir, Glorfindel…well, the elves of Rivendell in general, his own people; the Dunadain, his friend and mentor; Gandalf, his best friend; Legolas of Mirkwood and Arwen; his beloved. This little one had lost his parents a mere two months or so before, and yet his concern was for a man whom he'd just met. Estel remembered his friend Gandalf's words to him, when he had asked him to guard the Shire. 'Hobbits really are amazing creatures, my friend. Simply…a wonder to behold.'

Elrond and Glorfindel watched the exchange with interest and compassion. Elves were recalled as often being cold, but they merely hid their emotions well. This scene touched their hearts, as they saw the spark of a bond form between man and hobbit. Elves were a kind people, and loved children. It had been many years since they'd had a child in Rivendell…not since Estel was a boy, actually. Indeed it would be a pleasant change to have the Hobbit child among them, until his relations could be found. But they could worry about that later. For now, there was a still recovering child to attend too.

"Thank you, Frodo," Estel finally replied in his quiet, low voice. Frodo just smiled, turning at the sound of Elrond pushing his chair back.

"Well, Frodo Baggins. You've been quite sick for two days, so I think it best that we got some nourishment in you, and then you get some more rest. There will be plenty time for chatting later. Estel gave the cooks a list of favorite Hobbit foods. I'll have some brought to you shortly. Now, Glorfindel and I have some business to discuss. I'm sure Estel won't mind keeping you company and perhaps getting the tale of your recent adventure out of you, hmmm?"

Frodo blushed, nodding. He watched wide eyed as the two graceful beings left his room in a quiet swish of robes. Frodo turned his eyes back to the man, whose own eyes seemed far off. Not wanting to disturb the man's thoughts, Frodo quietly climbed back under the downy covers. He realized he still wasn't 100%, as he felt a chill run over him. He sighed, burrowing into the fluffy pillow that was the size of him, if not bigger.

His sigh brought Estel out of his pondering. "Are you all right, little one?"

Frodo nodded, shivering again, causing the man to frown. "You're cold. I'll fetch you another blanket. I'm sure someone will be bringing your meal and some hot tea very soon."

Frodo watched at the tall man went to a cupboard, and shook out a large, well used, but still warm looking quilt.

"Here you are." He said, in the distinct lilt that the tot could not place. The man carefully lay it over the tiny being, tucking it in around him.

"Thank you," Frodo whispered, though he still shivered. He started slightly when the man reached towards him.

Estel paused at the child's fright. "It's okay, Frodo, I just want to check your temperature. You had a bit of a fever before. It broke this morning, but neither Lord Elrond nor I want a relapse. You're entirely too young and small to be so sick and dehydrated."

Frodo nodded, allowing the man to feel his forehead. He sighed at the gentle touch. It had been so long since he felt such a caring caress. Even before he'd left the Shire, his poor Aunt Emmy had been so worn out with her pregnancy, then the birth. Not since Bilbo's visit had he had a caring hand on him so.

The man nodded, satisfied. He gently pushed the boy's dark curls off his forehead, before pulling his hand away. There was knock a moment later and two elf maids entered, one carrying a tray of food, the other bearing a kettle of tea and a pitcher of water.

They smiled at Estel, quite familiar with their Lord's youngest son, before setting the trays down. Casting warm glances at the adorable Hobbit child, they left as quickly as they had come.

"So Master Baggins," Estel started, gathering a steaming bowl from the tray at his side. "Tell me how you came about, so far from home. Did you and your pony friend come all that way by yourselves?"

Sitting up once again, Frodo nodded shyly, eyeing the bowl of soup set before him on a firm pillow the man had placed over his lap. He then piled other pillows behind the tot so he could lean back comfortably. He handed the boy a spoon. It was the smallest they had, a spoon used to stir tea, but it was still quite large for the tiny lad. He used it carefully, trying desperately not to spill on the elves beautiful linen. Estel watched him quietly, patiently waiting for the lad to finish before questioning him once again. They knew he was related to Bilbo Baggins, but obviously the lad did not live with him. They needed to find out who his actual guardians were, the people that lived with him at the very least, if indeed several people shared guardianship.

Estel was surprised when the tot pushed the bowl away after a mere quarter of the soup was gone. Gandalf always spoke of Hobbits' awe inspiring appetites.

"Are you not hungry, little one?"

Frodo shook his head, biting his lip. "I'm sorry," he whispered, staring at his tiny hands.

Estel cocked his head, taking the bowl before it could spill. "It's alright Frodo. If you're not hungry, you're not hungry…I'm just surprised. Gandalf told me you Hobbits rival dwarves with your hearty appetites…said something about 5 or 6 meals a day."

Frodo smiled. "Well yes, but I…well, I've just never eaten as much as normal Hobbit children do. And my tummy can get grumpy if I eat certain foods. Mummy always said I had a fussy tummy."

"Is mushroom soup one of those certain foods?" Estel asked, slightly concerned that he might have made the little one sicker.

Frodo shook his head. "No, I'm just not hungry. I don't feel very well…I do normally eat more than that at least."

"Well, you are still recovering…what about some tea? Chamomile, with some honey stirred in?"

Frodo brightened. "That would be wonderful, thank you."

Estel smiled at the polite tot, as he poured the tea and stirred a spoonful of honey in. He handed it to Frodo, and almost let go, but quickly rewrapped his hands around it. The cup was entirely too large for the little one to get a hold of and hot from the tea as well.

"Here, I'll help you. Sip slowly now."

Frodo obeyed, enjoying the warmth flowing down his sore throat. He remembered coughing quite a bit before that night he'd fallen into the river. He pulled away, signaling to the man he was done for now. Estel placed the cup back on the tray, then turned back to Frodo who was snuggling back against the pillows. The man helped him rearrange them so he was leaning farther back, but still not flat on his back.

"Now, back to our earlier discussion. What were you doing so far from home?"

Frodo looked away for a moment, then turned back and timidly began telling his new friend about overhearing Lobeila and his Aunt. Of deciding it best that he left and went on an adventure…maybe find his Uncle Bilbo and Gandalf. He went on about his day of planning, of his "escape", of the many tiresome days, and bitter cold nights. His first food shortage, his stop at Bree, the old man who told him to head on the road east, of feeling sick and maybe a little frightened. Then that night, hearing the horses, seeing them prancing in the snow.

"And they chased me…right into the river. I don't remember what happened after that…"

Estel smiled, taking the tiny hand in his own, large calloused one.

"What happened after that, my young friend, is my horse and I dashed after you in the river, and caught you up out of the current."

Frodo's eyes widened. "That was you? Why did you chase me?"

"Because I was worried. You shouldn't even leave your yard without an adult, let alone the Shire. You're too young little one. I must say, I'm surprised you made it this far."

Frodo shrugged, too young to be insulted. "I'm a Baggins," he said, having heard his uncle use that often as an explanation for everything and anything others found odd about him. "Besides, I wander outside the yard by myself all the time. My aunties and uncles have my cousins to entertain. And I like exploring and going off alone to read."

"Can all Hobbits your age read?"

Frodo shrugged again. "Some…but they don't really like to, and they can't near read as well." It wasn't said in boast, it was the simple truth. "Uncle Bilbo taught me young."

Estel nodded. He had a feeling this orphan was different in more ways than one from the other children his age. He certainly looked different. The man recalled all the children he'd seen in Bree and the ones from afar in the Shire. Tiny, yes, and though Frodo still had some baby fat, he was entirely too thin for a hobbit child his age…any age really. His features were also much more delicate than other hobbits…almost Elven…and his eyes. Extraordinary. Hobbits generally had medium to small eyes, but Frodo's were large, with thick, dark lashes. And though hobbits eyes ranged in all colors, never before, on anyone, hobbit, man or elf, had Estel seen such a lovely shade of blue. Like Morning Glory's, bright and luminous. Yes, Frodo would grow up to be a striking young gentlehobbit, of that the man was sure. As for now, he was a simply beautiful, innocently adorable child.

Estel smiled. "Well, my clever and brave young Baggins, it's time for you to get some rest. We've had enough talk for now."

Frodo nodded, scurrying down as the man settled a pillow flat under his dark, curly topped head. "Are you leaving?" He asked timidly, as the man re-tucked the corners of his blankets. The man brushed the lad's bangs back with one hand. "I'll stay with you until you sleep. Then I must go inform Lord Elrond of your adventure here, and your home, so we can send someone to inform your family that you are safe."

"Is he going to make me leave?" Frodo asked, tears gathering in his wide blue eyes.

Estel frowned. "Is who going to make you leave?" he asked, not understanding the child's sudden sorrow.

"Lord Elrond."

"No, child, but it's not really up to him, if your family bids you return immediately. You're certainly welcome to stay in Rivendell until arrangements are made with your family on your return home."

"But I don't want to go. I don't like living in Brandy Hall. It's too busy...and entirely too lonely."

Estel wondered at the contradictory statement.

However, he just smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry yourself little one. You're still not well enough to travel, and it will take some time for a message to be sent to the Shire, and a reply returned."

Frodo nodded, sniffling slightly and closing his sleepy eyes. He was surprised at his lack of homesickness. He did miss the Shire, though not the endless bustle of his cousins at Brandy Hall, but he was fascinated with what little of Rivendell he'd seen…his room and the view beyond his window. He wanted to explore more, meet more elves, hear their songs and tales…and talk with Estel. He really was starting to like the gentle man.

Chapter 3 – Figures Dancing

December 21, 2980 TA

8:00 pm

Rivendell

Frodo giggled, as he snuck up quietly behind Lord Elrond and Estel. A week he'd been in Rivendell, and already the youngster had stolen the hearts of every resident of Imladris…and its visitors. Lord Elrond himself could not help but have become increasingly fond of the Hobbit child, and Estel simply adored him.

Now, as father and son sat enjoying the sunshine in one of Elrond's many beautiful gardens, they shared an amused look. Hobbits were quiet on their feet yes, but Frodo's endless fit of giggles as he snuck up on them gave the tot away. However, Elrond, well learned in the play of young children, elf, man and apparently even hobbit, pretended not to notice, as did Estel. With age, he had come to learn, he had never fooled his father when he had snuck up on him so as a child.

And it was with much amusement that Glorfindel, also quite taken with the innocent hobbit child, found a squealing tot, a laughing young man, and a chuckling elf-lord. Frodo had leapt with a shout at their turned backs, and both had feigned surprise, but caught him easily between them. They now deemed him fit for punishment and so set to torment him with Elrond clasping him tightly in his lap, and Estel tickling him mercilessly.

"Stop! St- Sto-" His pleas were cut off by series of more giggles and squeals.

He was saved from further torture by Glorfindel clearing his throat, a mischievous smile on the elf-lord's fair face. "I hate to interrupt this most serious matter, but I have news from the scouts we sent out for Master Baggins."

After learning of Frodo's adventure, Lord Elrond had sent a message to the Shire, informing the inhabitants of Frodo's safety. Knowing Hobbit's (not of Baggins blood at any rate) would not fair well to leave the Shire, he had assured the little folk that Bilbo would be found, or he would return to Rivendell before venturing back home, and that Frodo would be sent home with his Uncle. Then, a few scouts had been set out to possibly find Master Baggins and inform him of his nephew's recent adventure and bid him return to Imladris when he would. However, no rush. The Elves were quite enjoying Frodo's company.

So much that Elrond fought to keep his disappointment hidden as he asked his old friend. "What say they?"

Glorfindel smiled down at Frodo, who had escaped his captors grasp and had run up to his other friend, throwing his tiny arms around the tall elf's legs. He knelt down to the boy, as he continued his delivery of news, stroking the lad's soft, dark curls all the while.

"Both Bilbo and Gandalf are visiting with Beorn. The scout assured both of Frodo's safety and welcome in Imladris."

Elrond nodded, grim faced he continued. "How soon will they come for him?"

At this, Glorfindel dropped his eyes to gaze affectionately at the little hobbit, who in turn was listening, but feigning keen interest in the golden hem of the elf-lord's robe.

"Well, they will finish their visit as intended with Beorn…they plan to be in Rivendell for the Eve of the new year."

Elrond frowned, not really from disappointment, not at all, but he was a little surprised Bilbo wasn't rushing to have his nephew brought back to the Shire. But then, Bilbo was a different sort, perhaps he knew something Elrond didn't and perhaps-

Seeing Lord Elrond's look, Glorfindel smiled, gathering Frodo into his arms as he stood, speaking. "It seems the scout that found him is among the particularly fond of our little friend. He assured Bilbo that Frodo was most welcome here, well loved and uh, certainly no one was in a rush to see him go."

Elrond's look now held amusement once again, and approval. No, they were certainly in no rush to see him off. All three chuckled, as the little one squirmed down from Glorfindel's hold, a happy smile on his face. "So, I don't have to go?"

"Well, it looks like you'll be here for the new year anyway, my friend," Estel answered, ruffling the lad's unruly curls.

"Yipee!" He shouted, causing Estel to laugh once more.

They all then watched in no less wonder than the first time they saw it, four days prior. Frodo ran over to the animals grazing in Lord Elrond's gardens. Certainly not fearful of Elves, but never before Frodo, had the wild creatures engaged in games with a person, adult or child. However, the deer gently butted the tiny form, rabbits and squirrels danced around his out of proportion feet, kicking up the fluffy snow. A robin perched on his shoulder, and a blue bird flew about his head, chirping merrily. Frodo laughed as he told his furry and feathered friends he'd be staying a time longer. To their wonder, the two elves and the man swore the animals understood him. Elrond kept his gaze on the child for longer than the others who headed inside, Glorfindel to wash up as he had been out riding when the scout had returned, and Estel to find Frodo a snack.

Forcing any lingering questions to the back of his mind, the elf-lord sat back, content to watch the child till Estel returned, no doubt with refreshments for all of them.

Four nights later, Frodo sat in the Hall Of Fire, perched comfortably on Lord Elrond's lap. He usually came every night, though fell asleep more oft then not an hour within his arrival. The music had the same affect on him that it had on any non-elf creature. Drowsy he became, soothed by musical voices telling lyrical tales.

Frodo's eyes were drooping, but he sat up straight when a song he had yet to hear began, and he watched in wonder as many elves present began a beautiful, endlessly graceful dance.

"What is it?" he asked in wonder, turning his large blue eyes up to his host, and now very dear friend.

"It's an ancient dance of my people. Of ends and of beginnings. Seven days to the new year it starts. It tells of the end of this year's wonders and pains and the beginning of the new year's hopes and frets. Life as it is, a continuous circle of growth and change. Each night the dance will put to rest the old and welcome the new, changing continuously."

Frodo nodded, turning to gaze in awe. Never a dance of this had he seen, none so ageless and perfect.

"Wonderful." He breathed.

Elrond was pleased by the lad's obvious appreciation, though he expected nothing less. Frodo had yearned to learn Elvish, before he'd ever met one, and he'd taken in the customs, morals and beauty of the elves with relish since he'd arrived.

"Yes, it is indeed."

When the dance ended, Frodo began to fall drowsy again, but another elf approached to speak with Lord Elrond.

"My lord, word has been sent that your children are journeying back from Lorien to be with you for the new year…Lady Arwen as well. Lady Galadriel has sent her trusted guard Haldir and some of the guards under him along with them for safety. Though I'm sure your sons would have sufficed, the gesture is no doubt appreciated."

"It is. I could not be too careful with my daughter's safety. Does Estel know his brothers are returning? And his lady?" Elrond asked, with a cocked eyebrow. He was well aware that his foster son and his only daughter (who had met when the man was of twenty one years, upon a summer visit from his beloved daughter), were quite taken with each other.

The other elf smiled. "Yes my lord, he stopped me in the hall to ask of any news from Lorien. I could not deny him."

Elrond chuckled. "No, indeed. And I'm sure he mentioned wanting to be the one to meet them at some point and escort them the rest of the way."

"Correct, my lord."

Elrond shook his head, a fond smile hinting at the corners of his mouth. He knew his foster son all too well.

"Thank you."

The elf nodded and went off to join his fellow elves for drinks and song.

"Can I go with him?"

Lord Elrond almost started. He'd thought the little one had fallen asleep. He looked down into the large blue eyes, gazing at him earnestly.

"Go where with whom, child?"

"Go with Estel, to meet your other children! Please, Lord Elrond, can I please? I've never been so far east, never been on the other side of the mountains. Please, can I? I'll be very good. I can ride Dancer, and I can help Estel keep watch. Hobbits have very good eyes."

Elrond smiled fondly down at his lap's occupant. "No doubt little one…but I don't know that-"

"I have no objections."

Both looked up as Estel came to crouch beside them.

"Sorry to interrupt, Ada, but I don't see the problem. Though I'd prefer you ride on an Elvish horse with me. It would be much quicker."

"Do you think it safe, Estel?" Elrond asked. He had not been out of Rivendell for some years, and though his foster son had been all over the lands and knew likely better than him, he could not help the parental worry that overcame him. It was bad enough to worry over Estel and his other children, who were adults now, and he knew they could look after themselves, even his head strong daughter. However, this little one…

"There have been no orc sightings for quite some time father, and I would let no harm befall young Frodo."

Elrond's gaze softened. "This I know, son. I worry for you both anyway…What of Bilbo's thoughts though? Would he mind?"

"He trusts both you and I, Ada."

"Yes, and I should not like to break that trust."

Estel smiled. "You will not. By life or death I would protect this little one. The journey is not far. Word is that Haldir and the twins plan to follow the Anduin up to the Old Ford, where we shall meet and return to Rivendell."

"Indeed…" With a deep sigh, Elrond nodded. "Very well."

Frodo shouted in delight, throwing his arms around the elf-lord, who startled, then smiled, hugging him back. "But take great care, both of you. And Estel, please take Bellanas. He is the swiftest horse in all my stables, aside from Asfaloth."

Both man and hobbit nodded, and again Frodo hugged the elf-lord. "Thank you."

Elrond smiled, heart warming at Frodo's obvious delight, and the deep affection shining in his big blue eyes as he pulled back to gaze up at his friend.

"You're welcome, my child."

Chapter 4 - A Song Someone Sings

December 27, 2980 TA

7:00 pm

Approaching the Bridge at Old Ford

"Are you alright?" Frodo asked his friend, concerned at the man's labored breathing. They were near two days ride from Rivendell, at the leisurely pace they're taken. He'd noticed his friend's gradual change in breathing several hours before, as they'd left the mountains behind. He didn't know if the others were yet at the meeting point, but he hoped so. He was beginning to think his friend had taken very ill.

"I…I don't think so Frodo." Estel did not want to frighten his very young friend, but he would not lie to him. "I believe I've caught Serran Fever…though when, I am not sure." He gasped as a wave of dizziness swept over him, and the man pulled his horse to a stop. Frodo, settled carefully in front of him, turned around, lifting tiny hands to Estel's flushed face.

"You're very warm…is it terribly serious? Can you do something?" He asked, having learned his friend was quite gifted in healing himself, learning from the best, Lord Elrond.

"There is nothing little one. It must pass on its own. I only pray…" He did not finish that thought, the very terrifying thought of contagion…of inflicting any sort of pain on his beloved friend.

The child's wide, innocent eyes, filled with tears. He stood carefully and wrapped his tiny arms around the man's neck, much like that first day, when he'd stood on his bed in Rivendell, wishing the man no sadness for the loss of his parents. "Can I help?" He whispered, burying his little face into the man's neck.

Estel sighed, hugging the child close. "Just hold on to me little one. The thought of harm coming to you is more painful than any illness I could bear. But worry not, we should meet the party from Lorien soon enough, and we can return to Rivendell. If I am not well enough to remain awake, I want you to know you can trust these people. With them are Lord Elrond's other sons, my brothers, Elladan and Elrohir and his daughter, Lady Arwen. They will look after you for me, little one. I promise."

Frodo nodded, sniffing. Kissing Estel's cheek, he returned to his position, as the man urged his steed into a gentle lope. If Estel had been any less terribly ill, he may have sensed the danger before it was upon him, though surprised he may have been. Orcs had not been in these parts for many years. Even any orcs that were left of the Misty Mountains no more ventured out into the open. But there they were, by chance or ill fate. Estel felt fear grip his heart as they appeared from over a hill. Fear not for himself, but for Frodo. They were not a large horde, but Estel was no fool. They were too many for him in his ill state. And when they killed him, they would certainly kill Frodo. He could not bear that. As they began to surround him, Estel quickly dismounted, swaying on unsteady feet. He reached up and gripped the terrified tot's tiny arm. "Listen to me Frodo. You must hold onto Bellanas saddle with all your might, he will keep you safe. These orc cannot keep up with an Elven horse."

"Then stay with me," the tiny voice pleaded.

"Nay, little one. I would be too heavy, and may fall in my state, bringing you with me. This way I can distract them further while you escape."

"But-"

"No, Frodo, you must go." Then Estel spoke to Bellanas in Elvish. "Go, my friend. Head for Mirkwood, it is closest. Find the wood elves there. They will protect Frodo. Do not stop until his safety is assured. Run. Now!"

"Estel!" Frodo cried, but held tightly as Bellanas burst forth, just before the orc completed a circle around the trio. Bellanas broke through, angering the orcs. Ten broke off the circle and began to pursue the horse, having seen the creature aboard him. The others surrounded the man, slowly advancing. Dizzy, disoriented, and swaying on his feet, Aragorn none the less, drew his sword. He would not go down without a fight.

Frodo let tears flow as he held tightly to Bellanas' saddle horn. Terror gripped him, not only for himself as he heard the terrible creatures in pursuit but for his beloved friend. He had grown terribly fond of the man, and the thought of him dying, of never seeing him again was heart wrenching. He'd already lost his parents, he could not lose Estel too. "Please," he prayed as Bellanas crossed the Old Ford. "Please, don't take him away. Somehow, you must help him. Please!"

Someone must have been listening to the tiny child's innocent plea. Out for a flight on the crisp clear night, several eagles were soaring high above the land, sometimes floating down nearer the earth to catch the evening goings on below, by the bright moonlight.

Now eagles are no fans of men, but they certainly hate nothing more then wargs and orcs. Seeing a man struggling valiantly below to ward of the surrounding twenty odd orc, they decided they wanted to ruin any fun of the evil creatures. Swooping down with a cry, three eagles attacked the orc, scraping, pecking and beating their wings. The gush made Estel lose his balance, but one eagle grabbed his arms in the iron grip of claws and flew him up out of harms way.

Surprised was the eagle when the man spoke in Elvish. "Thank you, great one." Then silence as the feverish man lost consciousness.

Frodo yelped as a few hours later, deep into night, nearing the forest of Mirkwood, a dagger flew past his ear, sticking into an ancient tree. The orc had not given up, driven mad with the need to kill something. Their gain wavered, sometimes falling far back, other times surging forward, but never getting within dangerous distance of the mighty Elven steed.

With barely a moment's hesitation, Bellanas dashed into the dark woods. Not dark as had been when Bilbo and the dwarves had been in there, for the evil had been driven out, but still dark with many old trees. Frodo's eyes quickly adjusted and he crouched down, though the low branches would not have come close to the tiny form. Bellanas had veered right slightly, upon reaching the other side of the bridge at the old ford. He was not at the main pass through Mirkwood, but much closer to the wood elves realm, on a slightly unruly path. Frodo was even more frightened to hear the orcs continuing their chase. They weren't going to give up. As Bellanas gave another burst of speed the tot realized that the mighty horse wasn't about to give up either.

The fire gleamed and lilting voices sang of ancient tales and woodland creatures of old. The wood elves were in merry moods. Their king was sitting on his gnarled throne amidst the dark but pleasant wood clearing, nodding at his sons and his people who had joined him for their outdoor feast and song. All was peaceful until suddenly birds cried out in panic, and thundering of hooves and heavy feet could be heard in the distance. They stopped their song in alarm, King Thranduil listening tensely. He felt the change in his woods. Evil had entered. Not as large and boding as what had dwelt for centuries, many years ago, but evil none the less. The fire was put out, and bows were drawn as the sound drew closer.

All were puzzled and alarmed upon seeing a fair horse, galloping frantically along a path several meters away. Behind him, ten orcs were pursuing, weapons at ready. Before the graceful beast passed by completely, an elf whistled. Turning his head at the familiar sound of an elf's whistle, Bellanas burst through the trees at the side of the path, into the clearing. He dashed behind the elves, who's bows were at ready for the orcs who followed. He slid to a stop at the far back, sides heaving, but relieved at having found sanctuary. He watched in satisfaction as the elves took down the ten pursuing orc, who were caught off guard at the gathering of wood elves.

When it was over, the king ordered the bodies removed from the clearing, and burned somewhere downwind.

"Now," he said, as he and his sons approached the sweating beast from in front. "I wonder friend, why a group of orc were chasing a horse through my woods. You are a beautiful animal, but those creatures have no use for beauty, and would not find you worth the effort, not even to kill."

Bellanas snorted, slightly insulted, but shaking his great head, he turned to reach around toward his saddle. All brows furrowed at the horses odd behavior until they heard a yelp and the horse turned back, a tiny creature hanging from his mouth by the hood of its cloak.

"What on earth…"

The little one was struggling, kicking around frantically, quite frightened. His wide eyes were squeezed shut, believing the orc had finally caught him and were now going to eat him.

King Thranduil frowned. He was an elf of light and goodness, but he was not quite as kind and compassionate as Lord Elrond. Certainly not as accommodating to other creatures that were not useful allies, such as the men of Laketown were.

"Who are you and what are you and your horse friend doing in my woods?"

"Father-" One of his sons began to speak, but was silenced by a wave of the king's hand.

"Speak!" He demanded of the little creature. He then noticed the feet, large in comparison to the creature's general size...and hairy. "A Hobbit, if I'm not mistaken. Have you come to thieve from us as well?"

Again the same son spoke up. "Father, I believe he's just a child, and you're frightening him."

Indeed, Frodo was terrified at the demanding voice. But his eyes remained shut tightly and he whimpered, reaching up, trying to grab Bellanas bridle and pull himself to the horse's head.

"Besides," the son muttered. "I thought that incident with Master Baggins had been settled and understood."

His father glared at him, but said nothing as his youngest approached the tiny figure, still hanging from the horse's mouth. The horse eyed him warily, and Frodo, sensing someone's approach, kicked out, narrowly missing the elf's stomach with his large feet.

"Easy, little one. No one's going to hurt you." He looked at the horse, and spoke in Elvish once again. "Please set him down, friend. I can't help him if I can't get near him."

The horse, sniffing lightly and deciding the fair elf was trustworthy, slowly lowered his head, setting Frodo gently on the ground. Startled and frightened, Frodo burst to the left, running into the legs of one of the king's other sons who shouted in annoyance. Even more frightened, the child stumbled backwards until he fell into the arms of the elf that had come forward. He struggled at first, but the arms were gentle and turned him to face them. Clamping his eyes shut, the terrified tot instinctively went to the first sign of safety and threw himself into the elf's arms, surprising him. Still, the elf did not push him away, instead stood and held the now sobbing child.

He looked at his father, who gazed at him. The gaze was stern, but he was not so cold as to not find the sobbing of a child, any child, sorrowful. His gaze softened slightly, but remained gruff as was his nature. "Well then, let's get him back to our home. Calm him down and check him for injury. Then you can find out who he is and what he's doing here. Sorontur, get the horse…" he called to another son. "Legolas," he said, turning back to his youngest. He sighed. "Until we find out where he belongs, he's your responsibility. Don't allow him free run of the place. Keep him out of the way and from eating all our supplies."

Legolas fought the urge to roll his eyes, as he rubbed the tots back. It wouldn't be very elf-like, or prince-like to do so. As the child's sobs subsided, replaced with pathetic hiccups, Legolas sighed, following his snickering brothers. What had he gotten himself into?

Frodo, who had cried himself into an exhausted sleep, woke to the sound of singing. Beautiful singing. That of elves. In this case, an elf. As he slowly blinked his wide blue eyes open, memories of the orcs, of Estel sending him off, of the woods, and that terrifying voice came flooding back. Instantly his earlier fright returned…but wait. He also remembered a gentler voice, and comforting arms…holding him, rubbing his back. Carefully and ever so quietly he sat up and looked around. He was in a room, lit with candles. There were no windows, but it was a comfortable room none the less. There was no one else there, but the singing did not seem far off.

The voice was even more musical in song and sounded familiar…perhaps that gentle voice from before. Easing down off the comfortable pallet he'd been resting on, Frodo tiptoed noiselessly to the doorway. Peeking out he saw no one in the hall, but a light shone from a doorway not far from him. The voice was coming from there. Moving carefully, Frodo approached the door and peeked his tiny head around the frame. There, sitting by a fire, feeding a fluffy grey squirrel, was an elf. Different from the ones in Rivendell, but no less lovely. Actually, he was one of the most beautiful elves he'd seen, save Elrond and Glorfindel. He had long white gold hair, and from the flicker of firelight, Frodo could see an endless blue-green gaze.

The squirrel noticed him first and chirped a greeting. The song ceased and the elf looked up. Frodo shrank back a bit, but the elf smiled. "Hello, little one. Come, sit with us."

The elf had bright, kind eyes, his smile easy and friendly, like that of Lord Glorfindel and Lord Elrond. Frodo was reassured by this and approached him. He settled near, reaching out a hand to the squirrel who sniffed it, then climbed on, scurrying up the tots arm to nuzzle into his neck, tickling him with his whiskers.

Legolas watched with surprise. Few outside Elves elicited such trust from woodland creatures. He never remembered the older Hobbit, Bilbo, to have had animals come to him so freely.

"He likes you," was all the young elf said though, smiling at the child's laughter.

"I like him too," Frodo answered in his tiny, delicate voice. This caused a wider smile from Legolas. Progress this was, from the sobbing, inconsolable child he had the night before. He'd been much relieved when the child had fallen into an exhausted sleep. He hoped, now calm, he could get some information out of the tiny creature.

"I'm glad… Tell me, what's your name child?"

At this Frodo hesitated. He knew where he was. They'd headed into Mirkwood, he and Bellanas, so from that, and the elves green and brown clothing, he deducted that he was in the realm of the wood elves. Bilbo had stolen from them. It had been worked out, yes, but still he was frightened. He would not soon forget that scary voice from before.

Legolas saw him hesitate and wondered at it. Well, he'd just have to try another route.

"Are you hungry?"

As if in response, Frodo's stomach growled, causing the elf to laugh gaily. "I have my answer. Come little one, we'll see what the cook has in store, hmmm?" He took the boy's hand as he stood, but soon realized the child barely came up to his knee. Without a word, he stooped down and lifted the boy into his arms. Frodo did not fret this time. He had been right. He recognized the gentle hold. This was the same elf that had held him before as he'd cried.

Very soon they were in a large, but warm and cozy kitchen. An elf, older though not looking by much in body, but in eye, was there stirring something in a pot.

"Hello Halmon."

Halmon smiled at the younger elf, a spark of affection in his eye. Of all the king's sons, Legolas was his favorite. He was much less spoilt and entirely more compassionate and gentle than the others. "Hello young Prince, and how are you this fine morning?" he asked, eyeing the bundle in the younger elf's arms.

"I am well thank you. Halmon, this little one is quite hungry, or so his stomach has said. Is there something we could spare?" It was said teasingly. Despite his father's nittering about supplies, the elves were more than plentifully stocked.

"I think I can rustle something up…does he have a name?"

Legolas smiled, winking as he said. "We're working on that."

Chuckling, the cook nodded. "Have a seat my young friend, it shouldn't take long."

"Thank you, Halmon." Taking a stool at the center table, he settled the boy on the table top so they were almost eye to eye. "Now my young friend, are you feeling better than you were last night?"

At the reminder of the night before, Frodo recalled Estel, and he began to tremble, wondering if his friend had survived. Legolas noted the change, and held the child's chin in his long slender hand. "Don't cry little one. You're safe here."

The boy nodded, but tears began to slide down his cheek. Oh Estel. Sighing, Legolas gathered the child back in his arms and began singing a soft, soothing Elvish lullaby. The boy did not sob as he had the night before, but the tears continued for a bit, slowing as the song lulled and soothed him and he held fast to the hope that perhaps his brave and strong friend had escaped.

Finally, Legolas' voice trailed off as Halmon set a bowl of steaming porridge, with buttered biscuits and jam and a large mug of milk. Without a word, Legolas set the boy to facing the hearty meal and spoke softly, "there you are now. Eat up little one, you're entirely too thin, even if you were an elf and especially for a hobbit."

Frodo smiled, and carefully ate all that was set before him, sipping the porridge carefully from the bowl, with Legolas' help, as they had no utensils small enough for him. When he finished, he politely thanked the cook, who smiled kindly at him, taking the dishes away.

"Will I ever get your name from you little one?" Legolas asked, with endless patience.

Frodo smiled shyly. Ducking his head, he whispered. "Will you sing to me again later?"

Legolas smiled, pleased at further progress. "I can do that. Now what about a name, friend?"

"Promise you won't throw me in the dungeons?"

Legolas quirked his head, as did Halmon. Why would he ask such and how did he know of the dungeons? Instead of asking, as he just wanted to know the child's name already, Legolas promised. He nearly laughed at the child's next words.

"Frodo Baggins."

The cook did laugh, remembering the strange disappearance of people's lunches many years ago.

With a friendly smile, as he now realized the child's fear, he asked lightly. "Any relation to Master Bilbo Baggins?"

Blushing, the boy nodded. "He's my uncle."

This time, both cook and prince let loose light laughter, assuring the boy, he was in no danger of being thrown in the dungeon. Frodo sighed in relief. Now if only he could find Estel.

Aragorn woke to the gentle sway of a wagon. Groaning softly, he opened his eyes, greeted by a vision of pure beauty. Arwen.

"Ar-Arwen?" he asked, wondering if he was hallucinating. But that luminous smile and cool gentle touch confirmed it. His beloved was there, seated beside him in a comfortable Elvish travel wagon. "Wh-wha-?" He cut off mid speech as his mind suddenly screamed. FRODO!

"Frodo!" he gasped out loud.

Arwen frowned.

"What?" she asked, confused.

"Frodo!" he cried again, but alas, the fever still had its hold on him and he fell back into darkness.

Before Frodo could question Legolas about finding his friend, several elves entered the kitchen, including a stern faced one with a crown of gold and silver interlaced like vines on his brow. Frodo shrank back into Legolas arms, not knowing why, but being frightened by the looming elf. The elf gazed at him, before turning his attention to the elf holding him. Frodo still didn't know his new friend's name. "Legolas," the elf spoke. Well, now Frodo knew his name. "Your brothers were caring for that horse that carried the Hobbit. They believe he's one of Lord Elrond horses, but you may know better, since you've been there most recently and are well acquainted with his sons. You should take a closer look at his gear soon. I do not want to keep the horse from Elrond, should he desire him back…though what a Hobbit would be doing on him is beyond me."

Legolas gazed at his father. "Well father, why don't you ask him? It would save me the trouble of looking at the horse, and explain what and why. Frodo?"

His father kept his eyes on his son for a moment but then drifted down to the creature secure in his youngest sons arms. "Well?" he spoke gruffly.

Frodo started, recognizing the voice, but Legolas adjusted him tightly in his arms, and feeling safe with his new friend, the child spoke quietly, eyes on the ground.

"Yes, he's Lord Elrond's. His name is Bellanas. My friend and I were supposed to meet some elves from Lorien and escort them back to Rivendell, but my friend took sick and then the orc came." Tears blurred Frodo's vision at the thought but he continued on bravely. "My friend got off Bellanas and told him to run…I think…I'm still not good at Elvish, though I did hear him say something about Mirkwood, and Bellanas ran…into the woods and to you. You killed the orc that followed us, but I know not what happened to my-my friend."

There was silence, and then one of Legolas more snobbish brothers spoke up. "How do we know he's telling the truth?"

Legolas almost scowled. "Because he's a Hobbit, and the one we've met before came clean as well. I imagine it's in his blood. Frodo here is Master Baggins' nephew."

As Legolas spoke, Frodo remembered something and reached to the thin, barely noticeable chain around his neck with bore the sapphire pendant that Lord Elrond had given too him before he'd left.

/Estel bares one as well, since he was a child. Reveal it and all will know then, you are a friend of the elves, and a resident of Rivendell./

Frodo pulled it out, off his neck and held it up, stopping all speech as they had begun to argue.

"I recognize that," King Thranduil spoke quietly and with acceptance. "You are who you say you are…and a friend of Lord Elrond's at that…" He nodded then spoke to his other sons. "Prepare the horses. We leave at once. We shall journey for Rivendell to return young Master Baggins to his friends."

"What about Estel?"

"Who?" The king asked, but Legolas stiffened, just now recalling the child's earlier words.

/My friend took sick…/

Elves didn't get sick, but men did…Estel…it couldn't be…he only knew of one person called Estel…

Well, there was only one way to find out for sure. "Frodo…this Estel…he is friend of Elves as well I assume? A man, with dark hair and blue-grey eyes?"

Frodo's eyes widened, and he nodded eagerly. "Yes, he's my friend, and he's Lord Elrond's foster son. Estel was trying to protect me…" Frodo sniffled. "Do you think he's alright?"

Legolas was worried, but tried to hide it for the child's sake. "Don't fret little one. Estel is a friend of mine as well, and he is quite tough for a human." The boy nodded, slightly reassured. He already trusted Legolas completely.

Thranduil now understoof who the child and his son spoke, for Lord Elrond was known for taking in "strays", as other elves referred to them. The last human child, who's as yet unknown parents had both passed on, had befriended his son when the young prince had visited Lord Elrond's sons one summer. Ever since then, Legolas had visited Rivendell to see Estel, even if the twins were not there, as they were often off hunting orc or visiting their sister in Lorien.

"Well then, let us hurry and hopefully we can return both of Elrond's…strays…"

Chapter 5 – Painted Wings

December 28, 2980 TA

7:30 pm

Foot Of Misty Mountains

Arwen frowned, still wondering over her beloved's fevered words, as she wiped his sweaty brow.

/Frodo…/

He'd woken up other times, mumbling nonsense, but always the same. /Frodo… No… Safe… Sorry… Protect…/

The beautiful Elf maiden was beginning to worry. Not over her loves state, for he would be fine within a day or so, but of his words. No mere coincidence surely that he wake to speak of the same nonsense… Frodo…that sounded like a name, but it was not Elvish…nothing she recognized. She sighed. Had they left the body of a dear friend amongst those filthy orc carcasses?

The band of elves had been not only surprised, but also worried and relieved to see the eagle dip down before them, an unconscious man in his grip. Her brothers had spoken to him, and learned of the orc attacking the lone man, who appeared quite ill. The Elf Lords had thanked the eagle, humbly offering an owe of debt. The eagle declined and with one last cock of his head at the man, now being gently placed in the travel wagon, lifted into the night air and disappeared. He mentioned no other companions with the unfortunate man.

"Sister, what troubles you so? Estel is strong, and the fever is severe but short, more bother than anything."

"This I know, Elladan, but I fear there is something to the feverish words he speaks."

"Of this Frodo? The eagle spoke of no other…perhaps this friend was with him on another journey, another danger, and his mind is brought back to it, in grief."

"Perhaps…" Arwen said softly, stroking the man's sweat soaked hair.

All day and well into the night the wood elves rode. King Thranduil, leaving his Eldest in charge in his absence, rode hard with Legolas, his middle sons and two guards. Frodo rode with Legolas, safely nestled in the wood elf's lap, arms wrapped securely around the Prince, as he had soon learned his friend was.

They stopped briefly, at the Old Ford, allowing the horses water. Then they were off again, not staying to rest, so little Frodo was forced to fall into an exhausted sleep. Legolas was the first to notice the tracks. They'd noticed wagon wheel marks on the west side of the bridge, but paid no heed. No doubt the tracks of the elves from Lorien, or some such thing. Then they noticed a stop…and the mark of large claws in the earth. An eagle or other large bird had set down here, before the wagon it looked like, from the deeper imprint of the wagon wheels.

Continuing on, they quickly came upon the scene of dead orc, evidence of attack of eagles was seen by the marks on the bodies. No human remains were found, and this was of great relief to the young Prince. His friend could still be alive. They did not wake Frodo during this, as no child should see such massacre, nor possibly find his slain friend. So they continued on, through the night they rode and Legolas thought of what they'd found so far. Though it was hard to believe, he began to wonder if perhaps his friend had been rescued by the eagles, and delivered to the traveling elves. If his friend was indeed so very ill or injured, he may not have had the ability to tell his new companions of his lost friend.

As the day began to break it seemed he would have his answer. Smoke rose in the distant, no doubt the fire of the Lorien elves camp. Legolas prayed he would find his human friend there, unharmed and happily greeting the precious bundle still asleep in Legolas lap.



They slowed their approach as the camp drew within sight, and several elves stood up from the fire, keen eyes watching the approaching party.

"Hello there, friends," Legolas' father called out. "I am Thranduil, King of the Wood Elves of Mirkwood."

The party came to a halt before the camp of elves. Legolas pulled up beside his father smiling at his friends, who bowed to his father, introducing themselves.

"Greetings King Thranduil. I am Elladan and this is my brother, Elrohir. We are the sons of Lord Elrond, Master of Rivendell. To what do we owe this honor, and that you are so far from your home?"

Thranduil nodded respectfully at the young Lords. "We've come to return something we believe belongs to your father…" he trailed off, motioning a guard to lead Bellanas forward. The horse nickered, and Elladan looked relieved.

"Thank you, friend. Our little brother, who was to meet us, was brought to us horseless and quite ill. We feared for the safety and whereabouts of his steed. Bellanas, it is good to see you well."

"Has he mentioned missing anything else?" Legolas asked, a smile tugging at his lips, glad to hear his friend was safely with his foster brothers.

At this, Lady Arwen stepped forward. "Possibly, Prince Legolas. He has been delirious with fever, but he keeps mentioning something called a Frodo. Do you know of what his fevered words speak?"

Legolas laughed lightly, as he pulled the flap of his cloak aside. "Not a what, fair Lady Arwen, but a who." He reached down, and unwrapped the sleeping tot's arms from about his torso, turning the Hobbit child around, for all too see. "Lady Arwen, my Lords, I assume from your words, you have yet to meet young Master Frodo here. Frodo Baggins that is."

All three eyebrows rose. Arwen had yet to meet Bilbo, but was well learned of his adventures. Elladan and Elrohir had met him on several occasions and also knew his stories.

"And he is…"

"Bilbo's nephew, and quite worried about his dear friend Estel."

Frodo, now awake, and having heard the introductions, looked at the children of Elrond with trust and pleading. "Is he alright? Is he here? Can I see him?"

"Frodo?" A weak voice came from behind the Lorien party. All turned to see a pale, sweating man, staggering towards them."

"Estel, you should not be up. You're still very ill-"

Estel shrugged off the arm of his brother and ignored his beloved's words.

"Frodo. Frodo, are you alright little one?"

Delight filled the lad's face and he struggled to be put down. Quickly, Legolas dismounted, and set the child down. As soon as his feet hit the ground, the child ran straight into the now kneeling man's arms. Estel nearly cried with relief, hugging the youngster close.

"Oh Frodo, I'm so sorry my friend."

The other's listened, the coldest of hearts melting at the child's gentle reassurance. "It's not your fault, Estel. Besides, I'm alright. You did the right thing, and I'm safe because of it. Please don't be sad. I don't ever want you to be sad."

Estel chuckled softly, "Oh little one. You should have wings painted on your back, for you are a sweet angel." He sighed, whispering, "My sweet little angel."

Chapter 6 – Dim As An Ember

December 29, 2980 TA

12:00 pm

Nearing Rivendell

Estel was much better, as he'd now had the healing care of his beloved and his little Frodo. Frodo now lay curled against his side, sleeping soundly as the camp pulled to a stop. Estel sat up with Arwen's help. His fever had broken and he was quickly regaining strength, but he was still a little weak.

Elladan appeared at the back of the wagon. "Come brother, dear sister. We stop for lunch, before we make the rest of our journey to Imladris."

"Did we stop for breakfast?" Estel asked, accepting the hand down, before turning to pick up the still sleeping child.

"Aye. You were asleep, and we felt you needed more rest. Besides, Arwen could give you food while we traveled on."

Estel frowned. "But what about Frodo?"

Elladan laughed, shaking his head. "Worry not so, little brother. We fed your friend. He was awake all morning. He rode with Prince Legolas, and a time with Elrohir, so as not to wake you. He really is quite the bundle of energy. Reminds me of someone else I know, when in his youth."

Estel mock frowned. "You make me sound old, and I am more than 2500 years your junior."

Arwen shook her head at their playful banter, but then frowned. Frodo, nestled on Aragorn's side as the man walked with her and Elladan to the fire Haldir had started, was frowning in his sleep. He seemed to be in pain.

"Estel, I think you should wake the little one. He seems to be in a bad dream."

Estel frowned as they all settled by the fire, and he set Frodo between his crossed legs.

"Frodo?"

Indeed the boy was grimacing, and he startled awake at the man's voice. He yawned and grimaced again, clutching his belly.

Estel's frown deepened, and Legolas, who had come up behind them, frowned as well.

"Is he ill, friend?" the young Prince asked. He, his father, two brothers and the guards had decided to journey the rest of the way to Rivendell with the group. Elladan and Elrohir had invited them on behalf of their father, in friendship and gratitude for returning Bellanas and Frodo, and they'd agreed. The king had not been to Imladris in some time, and felt a visit was due.

"His stomach appears to pain him…Frodo? What's wrong?"

The boy cast sad eyes up to his friend, whispering, "I have a grumpy tummy."

The elves shared strange looks, but Estel instantly understood.

"Did you eat something you shouldn't have?"

Elrohir frowned. "We have no sweets with us brother-"

Estel shook his head. "No, no. Frodo's stomach can be quite fussy. He can't eat certain foods, they make him ill." He turned back to Frodo. "What did you eat little one?"

Frodo sighed, one hand still on his tummy, the other playing with Estel's cloak.

"Pecans."

Estel frowned. "Why? You know they make you sick."

"I didn't want them to be angry." The tot answered quietly, clearly meaning the other elves.

Estel sighed. "Frodo, they would have understood. You could have had them ask me if you were really worried. Besides, they would not make you eat anything you didn't want too."

Now Frodo felt worse, and tears slipped down his soft cheeks. "I'm sorry," he whispered, sniffling.

Estel sighed with a gentle smile and shake of his head. "Do not be little one, and don't cry, you'll make your tummy hurt more."

Frodo nodded, sniffing again as Estel wiped his tears. Legolas, Arwen and the twins gazed compassionately at Frodo.

"Poor dear," Arwen whispered, running a cool hand over the child's brow. "Would not some ginger tea help?"

Estel smiled at his love. "It would. How would you like that, little one?"

Frodo nodded, rubbing his sore tummy ruefully. Legolas took the initiative and began to boil the water and root through Estel's bag for the ginger. The young elf was nearly a brother himself to Estel and the twins, so nothing was said of it. His own brothers though shared a knowing look. He had always been different, their brother. Wandering from the woods more than the others, visiting Imladris frequently, becoming quite close to the elves of that realm, and now here, obviously becoming quite attached to this hobbit child. They looked to their father, wondering at his thoughts, but as per usual, his face was devoid of emotion as he settled back, talking lowly with the two guards.

Haldir was amused by the obvious hold the child had over the younger elves, and the young man, Estel. He himself thought the child quite…cute, but had not bothered to get too close. He'd probably never see the little one again, once he returned to Lorien after the new year. His guards also seemed amused by the child, looking at him with hint of affection, but he doubted they would engage much with him either. Children were the hardest thing in all the world to let go of.

One hour outside Rivendell, Estel had now taken to Bellanas sturdy back again, though his foster brothers did not stray far, much to his annoyance. Frodo was in between traveling with Lady Arwen in the wagon, and riding with Estel, Legolas and the twins. Haldir and Thranduil shared a look, both obviously wondering whether the switches were for the benefit of the riders, to be able to move about a little more without the tot on their laps, or to tap down any jealousy that may arise, vying for affections of the little one. Frodo noticed not, and was just happy for the endless attention and love he received from his old and new friends.

As they walked along leisurely, Frodo, who was currently perched happily in front of Elrohir, chatting away to the elf about his silly cousin Depa, suddenly yelped and shook his hand. The others turned their heads in surprise and Legolas sat up straighter in his saddle, alarmed as he saw something small and black fly from the tiny child's delicate wrist.

Elrohir, whose eyes were on the boys face, narrowed in concern, did not notice.

"Elrohir, check his wrist. I saw something fly off it."

The young lord obeyed, lifting the tiny wrist into his view, pushing Frodo's other hand away as the whimpering child sought to hold it to his chest. His brow furrowed and he pulled to a stop. They'd been traveling under trees for a time, and he was thankful for a ray of sunlight that filtered through, allowing him to clearly see the small red mark on the boy's wrist.

"Estel," he called, though his foster brother was already on his way over. "What do you think caused this?"

"It was small and black," Legolas piped in, approaching, his father right behind. "A spider, do you think?"

Estel moved his horse up next to his brother, taking Frodo's delicate hand into his own, examining the wound. The boy looked up at him trustingly.

Meanwhile, Elladan had dismounted and was looking along the side of their path and up into the trees. His brow furrowed in concern upon seeing a spider scramble into the bush, then he very nearly paled upon seeing the web high above him. The Texilios spider. Quite poisonous, and deadly if it was not treated promptly within two hours.

"Estel!" he shouted, pointing to the trees.

His brothers both looked up, as well as the other elves, and Estel swore.

"Get him into the back of the wagon. Keep his arm below the rest of his body to delay the rush of poison to his heart. I need a clean knife and bandages. Some Athelas if we have it, but let's keep moving. We need to get him to Rivendell quickly."

"Why not ride quickly. Surely on one of our horses, we'd get him there sooner?" One of Legolas' brothers spoke up.

"Nay, I do not want to jostle him about, or get his blood pumping quickly. It would only serve to speed up the poison. We move quickly, but carefully. Let us go."

The next hour was painful, not only for Frodo, but for the elves and man, who had grown increasingly fond of the child. The elves each took turns to relieve his pain, but none had the experienced skill of their father. Estel grew worried as the light in the boys eyes dimmed, like that of a slowly dying ember. It frightened him, more than he cared to admit. However, he had some heart to realize it was still there, no matter how dim. It still burned with his small but mighty strength.

"Don't give up, little one," he whispered, as he sponged the child's sweaty brow. "Don't give up…"

Chapter 7 – Safe And Warm

December 31, 2980 TA

5:30 pm

Rivendell

Warmth…safety. Frodo felt these things as he slowly drifted to awareness. He didn't know where he was, but he knew he was safe and warm…in strong arms. A heart beat steadily against his tiny ear. A broad chest rose and fell, soft breath whooshed against the top of his head. His whole body rose and fell with said chest.

That's where he was. Lying on someone's chest, wrapped safely in their arms. But where beyond that, he didn't know.

He stirred, opening his eyes with several blinks. A hand rested near his head on the chest, which was covered in green velvet. The chest was too large to be a Hobbits'. Frodo winced as he suddenly remembered the spider bite, the painful hour it took to reach Rivendell. Estel's face, grim and serious, fear shining in the depths of his clear blue-grey eyes.

/Don't give up…/

Then nothing. Did they reach Rivendell? Well they must have. He was still alive, wasn't he?

He lifted his head off the warm chest, looking up and around. It was Estel he had been so comfortably sleeping on, the man himself was still sound asleep. They were in his room, Frodo's room in Rivendell. There his teddy sat on the chair often occupied by either Lord Elrond or Estel, and sometimes Glorfindel. There was no one there now. He wondered where everyone was. He sighed. He was terribly thirsty, and a mite bit hungry too. He looked up at his friend's peaceful face. He didn't want to wake him though. Just as the tot was about to carefully rise from his comfortable position, the door opened. Glorfindel walked in, smiling upon seeing Frodo awake.

Noticing Estel still slept, Glorfindel walked over soundlessly. "Welcome back, my friend," he spoke quietly.

Frodo smiled, very happy to see his friend as well. He lifted his arms up, in a signal to be picked up. Carefully, Glorfindel went to do so, but the sudden loss of weight and warmth on his chest had Estel up and alert, hand reaching to his side where he usually kept his dagger.

Glorfindel laughed. "Relax, my friend. It's just me, and young Master Frodo just wanted to say hello."

Estel immediately relaxed, smiling. With a yawn, he threw his legs over the side of the bed. Glorfindel held Frodo comfortably in his arms, kissing the top of his head, then reaching for the water pitcher.

"I imagine you're quite thirsty little one."

Frodo nodded.

"How are you feeling? You gave us quite a scare there."

His throat was quite dry and he felt a little dizzy, but otherwise, not bad, and he told the elf lord as much. Estel, now on his feet, tugged the blankets down, and once Frodo had drank his fill, he found himself once again back in bed, without his large comfortable pillow from moments before.

"What's the date? Did I miss the turn of the new year?"

Estel smiled, tucking him in after Glorfindel set him down. "Nay, little one. There are still several hours until then."

"Can I go to the Hall of Fire later? I should very much like to see the last dance."

Before either could answer, the door opened again, Elrond entering with his two sons.

"Well, well. Looks like someone is feeling better," Lord Elrond spoke, approaching his young guest. He sat down beside him, feeling his forehead and so forth with gentle care.

"So much, that he wants to know if he can go to the Hall of Fire tonight to see the last dance." Estel spoke, looking into his father's eyes meaningfully.

Elrond smiled, looking back at him, then down at Frodo's tiny, pleading face.

"You may, but you must rest. If you look at all unwell, it's back to bed. There will be other new years."

"Yes, sir." Frodo said, beaming happily.

"Good. Now then, there are several people waiting to see you, two having just arrived. Shall I let them all in?"

Frodo brightened. He didn't care who they were. He loved company. "Yes, please."

"Very well, but you mustn't get excited. You're still recovering."

Frodo nodded, eyes turning to the door, as Elrond motioned his sons to open it.

Frodo gasped in delight. Lady Arwen entered, leading Haldir, King Thranduil and his sons, and behind them…"UNCLE BILBO, GANDALF!"

Gandalf laughed, as before anyone could stop him, Frodo was out of bed and throwing himself into Gandalf arms, as he was closest. "It's wonderful to see you!"

"Ha ha, it's good to see you as well, my lad. Your Uncle Bilbo and I were worried about you, hearing you made that trip all the way here on your own, but it looks like you faired all right."

With that he set the tot down, and allowed his old friend to scoop up his nephew.

"Oh my dear boy, what am I going to do with you. Running away, falling in rivers, getting chased by orcs and bitten by spiders. I shall have to write a book for you alone."

Frodo giggled, hugging his uncle with all his might. Then pulling back to look in his eyes, he asked seriously. "You aren't angry?"

Bilbo sighed, accepting Gandalf's hand up to be seated on the bed, now holding Frodo in his lap, the others gathered around.

"Well, angry wouldn't be the right word, Frodo-lad. I can't rightly get mad for something I did myself, though I was quite a bit older… What you did was very foolish. I understand you want adventure, but you're much too young to be off on your own, and you no doubt scared your aunties and uncles witless. You must promise me never to run away again. Next adventure you go on, you wait till you're older, and I shall go with you, alright?"

Frodo nodded, cuddling against his uncle's chest. He looked up at his Uncle, then Gandalf who stood above him, across the sea of faces coming to see him well, to the end, where Elrond stood with Estel. "Does this mean I have to go home?"

Some elves chuckled along with Gandalf, and Bilbo smiled. "You will, and I will take you…but I don't see the rush. Apparently you are quite as welcome, if not more, as I, in Imladris."

"You're both welcome to stay as long as you like, you know that Bilbo…and you, Gandalf." Lord Elrond spoke, with a twitch of a smile.

"Oh, thank you, my friend." Bilbo said smiling back, then looking down at his nephew. "Looks like you made quite a few friends on this adventure, Master Baggins," he said, looking back up at the friendly faces. Even Legolas' father was present, but wait… Frodo sat up straighter, looking around, his eyes widened. "Where's Legolas?"

They all looked around, surprised the Prince was missing. Next to Estel, he was of the closest to the lad. Surely he would be here.

"I'm right here, Frodo." They all looked over to the window, as the Prince lightly jumped through, then turned back, leaning over to pick something up, and whistling into the air. "There are some others here who would like to see you." He turned around, a fluffy rabbits in his arms. A squirrel jumped down onto the window sill and shot across the room, into the lad's bed, waiting in the middle for Frodo to approach. He wasn't to sure about these other creatures so he wasn't getting to close. A few birds fluttered to sit in the window and chirp merrily at their friend. Frodo laughed, scrambling over to the squirrel as Legolas set the rabbit down and it hopped drunkenly on the fluffy, blanket covered bed, finally reaching Frodo's side and scrambling into his lap.

All watched in amusement as Frodo talked animatedly with the beasts, until Lord Elrond spoke up. "Come now little one, you need more rest if you wish to join us at the Hall of Fire tonight. Now, go say hello to your deer friend, then back into bed."

Frodo looked up at his words, then over to the window, where indeed a deer was poking his head in through the window. Laughing, Legolas took the smaller animals from Frodo, setting them back outside the window and lifted the tot up to hug and kiss the deer, whispering something in the gentle animal's ear. Then Legolas took him back to bed, covering him back up in warm blankets. He stepped back, allowing Lady Arwen to gently kiss Frodo's forehead. "I look forward to your presence tonight, little one. This shall be a new year to remember."

As the guest began filing out, King Thranduil and his sons nodded at Frodo, small, but sincere smiles on their faces. Haldir had a broader smile, which Frodo returned. Glorfindel also bent to kiss Frodo's brow, saying nothing. But his care had always said enough. Now left were Lord Elrond, Estel, Legolas, Bilbo, Gandalf and the twins. The twins quickly knelt by the boy's side, each kissing his brow, and took their leave, winking at the boy before they turned out the door.

"Well now," said Bilbo, sliding down off the bed. "I think I shall take a walk before tonight's hearty meal. Frodo, you be a good lad and get some rest, like Lord Elrond has asked."

"Yes, Uncle Bilbo."

Bilbo nodded, taking Frodo's tiny hand, gently squeezing it, and brushed his bangs back off the tot's forehead. "That's my boy."

With that he left, followed by Gandalf, who gently stroked the boys cheek, then winked as he left, causing the candle by Frodo's bedside to spark to life. The youngster laughed, clapping his hands together. Lord Elrond shook his head, smiling. He reached for the tray he'd had with him, as Legolas and Estel sat on either side of the boy. "Now, I want you to drink all of this chamomile tea. It will help you sleep."

As Frodo opened his mouth to protest, not wanting to sleep through the festivities, Elrond anticipated and continued quickly.

"Do not worry, we will wake you for the Hall of Fire."

Once the tea was gone, and Frodo was by now, quite drowsy again, Lord Elrond smoothed back his unruly hair and turned to his foster son, and the young Prince.

"Estel, you need more rest, and a bath. Frodo is fine now, and Legolas can sit with him, as I'm sure he won't mind."

"Yes, I know. Legolas, you don't mind-"

"It's fine, my friend. I would like to sit with him anyway. Go, clean yourself up. Lady Arwen will not want to spend the evening with a man smelling like a chamber pot."

Estel huffed. "That's a bit harsh, don't you think?"

"Not really," Lord Elrond spoke, causing a snicker from Legolas.

"Fine then. I know when I'm not wanted," he replied with mock indignation. He then looked at the sleeping tot and his voice turned serious. "That was so close, Ada…so very close."

Elrond sighed. "Yes, and I doubt this is the last trouble he'll get into, if his uncle is anything to go by. But have heart, Estel. The boy is strong…brave and strong. With true friends by his side, I feel he will overcome whatever obstacles he faces in the future."

That evening, Frodo sat comfortably nestled by his uncle on an overstuffed cushion. All around them, voices sang and elves danced. As the last dance began, Frodo watched in awe, as the most beautiful of all the seven dances began, and even more delighted, was he as Estel and Lady Arwen danced together. In perfect time they were. Estel was as graceful as an elf.

The song ended as the year turned, and a new one began. Joyous voices hoorayed and sang out, and Frodo laughed gaily, still wide awake. Bilbo laughed with him, hugging his nephew close, kissing the top of his head. "A wonderful new year to you, my dear boy. A very wonderful new year."

Half an hour later, Bilbo was still sitting with Frodo, though he was now writing something on a parchment. He seemed stuck on whatever he was writing. Frodo's head was drooping against his uncle's shoulder, when Estel approached. "Hello my friends, how are you this fine new year?"

Bilbo laughed, reawakening Frodo, as his belly jostled. "Very well, though better if I could just get this last line written on my new song."

"Care for some help?" Estel asked, turning in his crouch so as to see Bilbo's parchment.

"Much appreciated my friend."

They discussed it for a short while, till Estel came up with something that Bilbo quite liked.

"Thank you, Dunadain. As always, you save me from momentous frustration."

"Think nothing of it. Now, it looks like someone here is going to roll of that cushion. Would you care for me to take him back to his room?"

Bilbo looked down at the drowsy youth, fighting to keep his eyes open. "Oh that would be most kind of you…he doesn't give you any trouble, does he?"

"No, this place puts him right to sleep."

Bilbo laughed again. "Perhaps we need one in the Shire."

Estel laughed, gathering the boy into his arms. "You'd be missing the key ingredient my friend…the elves."

Bilbo chuckled, waving the man off as he sat to reading his new song over in his head.

Estel entered Frodo's darkened room, leaving the door ajar so as to offer light. He had just set Frodo down, thinking the tot fast asleep, when the boy reached up, grabbing the man's hand. "Estel?"

The man brushed his hand over the boy's soft hair. "Yes, Frodo?"

"Will you and Legolas help me write a song?"

Estel cocked his head. "About what?"

"My adventure."

Estel smiled. "I'm sure I speak for Legolas as well when I say I'd love to. But not tonight, or I guess this early morning. It's time for you to sleep and dream sweetly, little one."

Frodo smiled sleepily, eyes drifting closed.

Estel stayed for a moment, taking in the boy's peaceful face, so innocent, so beautiful. In the short time they had known each other, the child had come to mean the world to him.

"Elbereth protect him. A gift he is. A very special, precious gift, to all of middle earth, especially those who have and shall be so lucky as to know him…and love him." With that, and a final kiss to the boy's smooth forehead, the man left the room, heading back to the hall and his beloved, awaiting him.

The next day Estel and Legolas sat with Frodo in the garden, and got some verses, or garbled phrases from the boy for his song. Things that meant something to him. The boy was too young to really put it into song, but his ideas were bright. He gazed up at the trees, the tall, fresh smelling pines…and just said things. Things that came to mind as he remembered his adventure…all that had happened to him in the long month of December.

"Horses prancing…a silver storm….Dancing bears…elves dancing…so beautiful, as one…just figures gliding gracefully…they're so graceful…someone singing…so much singing, it's wonderful…Estel's voice…so far away…everything dimming, and then being so safe and warm…I never want to forget…" he trailed off, looking at his tiny hands, as soft flakes of snow landed and melted on them.

Legolas and Estel looked at him, wonder and love in their eyes. The moment was broken as a deer came along and lapped at the wet drops left on the boy's hands, causing Frodo to laugh and forget the song writing. With a giggle he ran after the deer, who, unafraid, pranced around, leading the boy on a merry chase.

Legolas and Estel though, did not forget. Sharing a look, they silently vowed to put the song together and complete it. One day Frodo would want it…to remember…and Legolas and Estel also wanted to have it, to remember and sing. The boy would return to the Shire eventually, Legolas back to Mirkwood, and Estel back to his ranger duties. Estel and his men guarded the shire, he would see Frodo, but this December that they had shared, was something to put to legend, even if only amongst themselves.

Chapter 8 – Heart Yearns To Remember

March 24, 2981 TA

9:00 am

Rivendell

Bilbo and Frodo stayed for months, as Bilbo sent a message, promising to return with the tot in the spring. During their stay, Bilbo thought long and hard about his nephew. He wasn't ready to quit his adventures yet, and Frodo was much too young to join him, however after talking to Gandalf, Bilbo and he came to an agreement. When the boy was old enough, he would come to Bag End to live with Bilbo, most likely when he entered his tweens.

With this decided, Bilbo sat down with the toddler, and explained to him so Frodo would understand.

"You won't live in Brandy Hall forever little one, but I want you to be with children your age for a time still, and I would still like to travel. You're too young to come with me yet, but have heart. Tis not forever…but you must promise not to try and run away again. You could be hurt. Estel may not be there to save you all the time. Do you understand my boy?"

"Yes Uncle Bilbo."

And so they enjoyed the rest of their time there, thinking no more of the future, but only the present.

*Original Ending*

However, someone was seeing dark things in the future, and instinct told him to do something that broke his heart.

Gandalf looked up sharply at Elrond's words. "Make him forget? What on earth for?"

Elrond sighed, clearly not liking it much himself. "It's just something I feel needs to be. I can't explain it my friend. I see something dark, and it tells me to send Frodo back to the Shire, only remembering that he ran away, was sick, and his Uncle Bilbo and Gandalf brought him back. He needs to remain in the Shire for his young life…he is safe there…innocent, naïve…safe… I feel it is of the utmost importance."

Gandalf nodded. "What of Bilbo?"

"I see no harm in him remembering. He will need to trust me about this."

Gandalf sighed. "He does trust you, and for Frodo's safety he would walk off a cliff."

There was a pause. Then Gandalf spoke again.

"Your children will be heartbroken, especially Estel…as well as our visiting young Prince."

Indeed Legolas had stayed for the duration of Frodo's visit, though his father, brothers and the two guards had left not long after new year with Lady Arwen, Haldir and the guards of Lorien. Elrohir and Elladan had also stayed.

Elrond sighed. "I know…they're not the only ones."

They were indeed disheartened to hear the news. To Estel that meant even the hope of seeing Frodo on his passes along the Shire border were folly. Frodo could not be allowed to remember his adventure…Rivendell…and therefore, Estel.

As the day of Frodo's departure drew near, Estel and Legolas spent as much time with him as they could. Many afternoons were spent in the garden, with Lord Elrond, Elrohir, Elladan and even Glorfindel. While Frodo slept one night, all of Rivendell's residents were informed of what must be done. Riders were sent to Mirkwood and Lorien. None must visit Frodo, for his memories would be deeply buried.

The evening before their departure, Lord Elrond sat beside Frodo on his bed, Glorfindel by his side, the twins behind him, and Estel and Legolas stood at the foot of his bed. Bilbo sat on Frodo's other side, Gandalf behind the elder Hobbit, hand on his shoulder for support.

Frodo was beginning to slip off to sleep, as they had given him a mild sedative in his tea.

He knew not what was about to happen. As his eyes began to droop, Elrond put a hand over his forehead, nodding to Estel and Legolas before chanting quietly under his breath.

Gently, Estel and Legolas began to sing the song they had finished for their little friend.

Dancing bears

Painted wings

Things I almost remember

And a song someone sings

Once upon a December

Someone holds me safe and warm

Horses prance through a silver storm

Figures dancing gracefully

Across my memory

Far away, long ago

Glowing dim as an ember

Things my heart

Used to know

Once upon a December

Someone holds me safe and warm

Horses prance through a silver storm

Figures dancing gracefully

Across my memory

Far away, long ago

Glowing dim an as ember

Things my heart

Used to know

Things it yearns to remember

And a song

Someone sings

Once upon a December

As they finished, Frodo was fast asleep. Gently searching his mind, Elrond nodded sadly. The memories were buried, and as agreed with the other occupants of the room, only the singing of that song would re-awaken them. Only the occupants knew it, so only they could decide when.

Lord Elrond had made it quite clear, it would not be without his permission.

The next morning dawned gloomy, as were the hearts of the residents of Rivendell, as Dancer, Bilbo's pony and Gandalf's horse were brought around. Gandalf took a still soundly sleeping Frodo from Lord Elrond, while speaking quietly to the small gathering of Elrond, Glorfindel, Elladan, Elrohir, Legolas, Estel and Bilbo.

"It seems the boy has taken after his uncle more than we realized. He's quite the little burglar."

Elrond frowned. "He has taken nothing that has not been given."

"Oh yes he has, my friend. This boy has stolen the hearts of all who stand here…and then some…a part of you goes with him, whether he remembers you or not."

Elrond smiled, understanding. "We never had a chance."

"Indeed."

They had all said their goodbyes to the boy while he slept, kissed his smooth forehead, and stroking his soft hair one last time.

As Frodo left, held close by Gandalf, Bilbo following on his pony and leading Dancer, Elrond retreated to his chambers, and continued to watch from his balcony, high up. He felt a strange lump in the back of his throat but he swallowed it down, and turned away as they disappeared around a corner.

Below, still at the steps, Glorfindel, Elladan and Elrohir blinked misty eyes. As their small friend disappeared from view, they slowly turned away, each heading to their own private abodes, mourning the strange loss in peace.

At the gate, having escorted their friends that far, Legolas and Estel did not try to hide from each other the tear or two they allowed to slip down their cheeks. Both understood the others pain. As their friend finally disappeared from view, Estel sighed and whispered out.

"…once upon a December…"

The End

The Alternate Ending will not be posted until I get the possible sequel finished. Merely because it's not near done, and if people actually happen to like this story, I don't wanna be hassled. Sorry, but it's happened to me before.