Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, they belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Surrounded by the Darkness
Summary: Aragorn asks the Ring-bearer to accompany him to the section that Gimli was currently supervising for repair in one of the lower levels as a ploy to get him out into fresh air and to discuss Frodo's recent solitude. A cave-in ensues trapping the Ring-bearer, his phobia taking over as an injured Aragorn is counting on him to help.
The grey eyes spied the Lothlorien cloaked halfling from the top of his horse, peering carefully over the bannister that revealed an amazing scene of vast land as far as the blue eyes could see. The King was quiet as he did not want to disturb Frodo's serene view from the top of Minas Tirith overlooking Pelennor Fields. Of course the remnants that had indicated a war had ever taken place had been removed as well as the decaying bodies of Men, Orc, and Beasts weeks before. Only burned grass where funeral pyres had been set dotted the land sporatically from the front gate of the stone city to the ruined outpost of Osgiliath. The Corsairs that had brought the hidden King accompanied by the Prince of Mirkwood and one faithful Dwarf tugged against their tethers as the sun's rays energized glistening waters.
Aragorn noticed the slumped shoulders of the former Ring-bearer, being told from every member of the Fellowship that their comrade meticulously avoided gatherings, eluding even his gardener, Samwise. Observing the hobbit's increasing solitude, the King had decided to invite Frodo on a trip through the city, his intent on invading the halfling's feelings.
"Excuse me, but have you seen Frodo of the nine fingers?" the King asked surprising the unsuspecting hobbit.
Frodo turned around quickly to see who was inquiring, staring straight into the black wet nose of Brego, the horse that had rescued Aragorn from the river bank where the future King of Gondor ended up after being carried off a cliff by a wild Warg. The hobbit found himself backed into the rough stone bannister, his head hitting the overhang. "Ow!" Frodo exclaimed, automatically using his left hand to rub the back of his head, only to find that the healing finger was still sore, instinctively placing the bandaged hand under his right elbow.
"Are you all right, Frodo? I did not mean to cause you harm," Aragorn apologized, after jumping from the saddle, coming to his friends aide.
"Too late for that now," the former Ring-bearer said biting his tongue when the statement came out a little harsher than he meant. Either Aragorn disregarded the tone or did not entirely hear it for the Man's large hand carefully checked the dark curly head for bleeding then trailed down to the white cloth that began at the halfling's wrist, ending in an overlapping pattern covering the amputated finger.
Finding that there was no obvious bleeding, Aragorn sighed, ensconcing the bandaged hand between his Man sized ones, "I am truly sorry to have startled you, Tithen Min. Please accept my apology."
Frodo did not want the King bowing before him. That was the most uncomfortable feeling, knowing that he had failed the Fellowship, succumbing to the Ring's calling. He looked up from the entwining of hands, to find passerbys slowing their stride, staring back at the odd sight. Swallowing hard against the lump that had formed in his throat he squeaked, "T...Thank you. Please," he continued at a whisper looking into steel grey, "Do not kneel before me, My Lord."
Looking into the wide blue eyes, the King mulled over in his mind that he did not want to frighten the hobbit into further solitude, just the opposite, he wanted him to open up to him. So, Aragorn got off his knees, letting his friend's hand drop. Nodding, he cleared his throat before speaking, "I wanted to know if you would like to accompany me down to the lower levels. Gimli said that progress was being made, but wanted my approval before continuing. I thought it a nice ride for Brego and a different view for you beside the four walls of your bed chambers."
"You have been talking to Sam, haven't you?" the hobbit accused.
Appalled at the little one's hindsight, he blew out a breath knowing there was no need to tap dance around his intuition. "He is concerned, just as we all are. I thought it more comfortable out in the open as friends instead of in a court as your King. Besides, I hear that there is a tavern opening up in the lower levels that have received some of the dwarvish ale Gimli talks so highly of. Even though we have some in the kitchens here, do you really think with your cousins on the loose you would ever see any, in that case me?"
"You are bribing me, My Lord, but," he continued with mirth in his voice, mischief in his eyes, "who am I to turn down an invitation to travel with the King personally when he promises such a treasure at the end; to see you on your arse if you think you can out drink a Baggins!" Frodo smiled so wide, he thought his unused facial muscles would ache after displaying such sadness for such a long time.
The King returned the smile, holding out his hand, calling for Brego to come into range of the riders. Gently grasping the hobbit at the waist, he hoisted Frodo up onto the fine crafted leather saddle. When he made sure that the hobbit was secured, Aragorn swung long legs up and over mounting Brego, settling himself into the seat. With a soft clicking sound and delicate prodding of well muscled flanks, the pair were carried off at a smooth trott through the recovering city's bustling streets.
"You are nothing but a nuisance, you little brat!" the middle aged man said pushing a teenaged boy out onto the streets, landing with a thump, the dust scattering with the wind. "If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times, I ain't puttin' up with your nonsense. Fanciful stories doesn't get the coins we need to buy the food or keep the shelter over our head! If'n you return here without something jingling in those pockets, then don't come back!" he finished yelling out, veins popping out on the reddened neck and face, fist shaking.
The sandy blond headed boy ducked, putting his arm up in defense to ward off a blow he knew was to come, but the man turned on his heel, slamming the home's door behind him. Sure that his guardian was not to return, he slowly got to his feet wiping his tear streaked face of dirt, exposing faded bruises he had acquired a couple days before when he came home empty handed. Looking quickly around for any spectators, more tears overflowed his pale rims as he set his foot to the dirt kicking at fallen rubble that once belonged to someone's home. Probably his home he reckoned.
He never had to worry where his next meal was coming from, or for that matter ever being abused. Jared was happy, before the war. Everything was simple then. His momma made their home grand when there was nothing much to look at from the outside, but from the inside it shone all the love that his brothers shared. Now, he was all alone. He was the youngest and the only boy left. His brothers had gone off with the former Steward's son to recapture Osgiliath. A suicide mission and everyone knew it. Only the Captain made it back alive, barely. When the Orcs broke into the city, his momma threw him into the home's secret shelter, closing the lid. He heard the furniture scraping against the wooden floor as she hurriedly pulled them over the hiding place. Hearing his mother yelling out as she ran from the kitchen followed closely by heavier footsteps, he placed his hands over his ears and his mouth to muffle his own cries. Then all was silent. No screams, no more footsteps, no nothing.
It was two days later that he had dared to venture from his hiding place, half starved and thirsty. He had heard a man's voice followed by furniture being overturned, pans banging onto the floor, something heavy being dragged along the floor. Blond curls peeked out from beneathe his formidable shelter to see who was in his home.
"Hoi! What are you doin' there!" the middle aged man hollered out as he spied the boy. When he received no reply, the burley man made two large strides before big hands yanked the weak boy from the floor. "I asked ya a question, boy!"
"Where's my...momma?" he shakily voiced, looking frantically around the disheveled room with pale green eyes that once was an inviting kitchen with smells of pie baking, and oven fresh bread. When he did not see anyone else in the house but the man holding him by his torn shirt, Jared had no where else to look but up.
Stammering for the proper words, Nyland had seen the woman the boy inquired about. Not realizing that there was anyone else living, he had wrapped the bloodied body in burlap, dragging it to the street. There had been an announcement earlier that morning that the dead would be collected by the healers to be burned. "I am sorry, boy, but ya ma did not survive. I didn't think noone else was livin' here, as the King proclaimed that all sound structures will be reassigned. I lost my home and this one is still standin'. Is there anyone else here?" the middle aged man asked, hoping that his claim was still valid. No minor would be allowed to live alone, or own anything.
Jared shook his head, the news of his momma finally hitting him. He knew deep down that she was dead, but it was not until someone told him that he let loose tears he had bottled up.
Nyland also knew of another law that the King handed down. If any minor was found to be without parents, but a guardian assigned, said guardian would be given extra coin to take proper care of the child. "There, there," Nyland bluffed sympathy for the teenager, squeezing the slight shoulders to him, "everythin' will be fine. You just let old Nyland here take care of ya. We can live together since you have no family to speak of. Now, what say ya to that?"
Numb from head to toe, Jared figured he agreed to the idea because the next thing he remembered was waking up a week later in his own room. His stomach was growling, but he seemed a bit better. The dwelling that he used to call home had been transformed from the upturned disheveled establishment to formidable living space. That was soon changed when he found out the only reason was that one of the healers had been coming to look in on the boy, to pass on word to the King that the man would make a very good guardian for him. When all the paperwork had been signed, life changed drastically from tolerable to worse. Jared had been treated badly, made to go out into the city, picketing pockets of people who was just as bad off as he was. He was ashamed of what had become of the sweet caring boy with his head in the clouds before the war changed his life.
Embarressment pounded into his head, his heart thumping hard against his chest. Then he felt it in his ears, beating to a rhythm of ka clop, ka clop, ka clop. The beat never changed, but seemed to be getting louder. Turning his blond head, Jared saw the horse coming up behind him, stepping out of its way. The riders steadily rode by without so much as a glance below them, but the boy happened to recognize them. He just could not believe the King and the Ring-bearer were both traveling the poorest and the most damaged part of Minas Tirith. Of course he heard that the Dwarf was in charge of rebuilding the lower levels and one of the work sites just happened to be in the direction the horse was heading toward. Jared crossed the pebble strewn street, setting out to take a shortcut to intercept the riders. If the rumors he heard were true, he might be able to lay his head on a pillow that night with the coins he could extract from the nephew of the great Bilbo Baggins. The hobbit that slayed the dragon, Smaug and left with a fortune in gold.
Reigns brought up short halted Brego in front of collapsed pillars of stone torn down by the enemy's catapaults. Frodo's eyes grew wide at the enormity of the battle that had been fought here while he and Sam were trying to infiltrate the land of the Orcs. The stories Pippin told him of how the great city was being bombarded hit too close to home. He let out a breath he did not realize he had been holding, as an overwhelming feeling of helplessness shuddered through his very being.
"Frodo?" Aragorn asked, placing comforting hands upon the little one's shoulders.
"I am all right," the hobbit sighed. "I just...I mean..." he tried to continue but was cut off by the gentleness of the former Ranger's voice.
"I understand, Tithen Min. We all do," he said as he dismounted the horse, but not before giving a last reassuring squeeze. "Ready?"
The halfling nodded looking into his friend's eyes. Holding out his arms, he allowed the King of Gondor to lift him off the saddle, setting him carefully onto the dirt ground. He noticed immediately that off to the right of the fallen wall was Gimli's work in progress; neatly stacked stones of all shapes held together with a hardening mixture of pebbles and mud.
"Amazing what Gimli can do is it not?" Aragorn asked his companion, securing Brego's reigns to a damaged sapling. "He had this rebuilt in a week," he bragged about the Dwarf's ability working with rock and stone admiring the fine intricate carvings in the new pillars. Placing his hands on the closest one, it felt cold to his touch and wet. Bringing his hand away, a few small mud covered pebbles had clung to his palm. Upon closer inspection, the silt had not thoroughly dried. "Be careful, Frodo, it seems that our Master Dwarf's masterpiece is still a bit wet," the former Ranger warned walking further under the formed archway, acknowledging that the ceiling had been reinforced with wooden beams.
"They remind me of the stone carvings of Moria," the halfling whispered to himself, shuddering at the thought of not wanting to enter a dark cave for a long time. Frodo hesitated for just a moment before following Aragorn when he heard the horse's shoes clank nervously onto the broken stone pavement. Turning toward the restless beast, he saw a small blond headed boy trying to mount the steed. "Oi!" Frodo yelled out, startling the boy who in turn spurred Brego hard.
The horses strength ripped the broken sapling, its exposed roots just at the surface, but what lay hiddened tightened until Brego broke them free causing a domino effect. The semi dry pillars began to sway unsteadily, the vibrations from the frantic horse whipping the sapling around, breaking off bits of mortar in strategic locations started the avalanche of rocks.
When the first rock fell, Frodo dove under the archway, but landed hard onto his stomach with the broach pressing firmly into his neck as the cloak lay beneathe the fallen stone. Pebbles were showering down quickly as he grasped at the fastening, unaware that Aragorn was heading back for the trapped hobbit. Man sized fingers worked frantically at releasing the clasp, Frodo gasping for air when it finally snapped opened. Hands grabbed his torso, tossing him out of harm's way as if he was a rag doll. Hitting the wall hard, Frodo cringed at the stabbing pain in his side and upper arm as the darkness of the corridor enveloped him, the last clear image was that of the King running toward him before being knocked to the ground face down.