While the Ring Went South

Author's note and disclaimer: Okay, this is my first attempt at an LOTR fanfic (I have written fanfics before) and my first time posting to . So be critical but not too cruel. Beyond that, I don't own any of these characters. I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun and will return them intact by the end of the story.

This story takes place during that two-week period between the time the Fellowship of the Ring left Rivendell and the time they came down off Caradhras. Tolkien doesn't say much about this time, so I thought I'd fill in my version of the details. We start on the night of December 30, 3018. (They left December 25, for those of you who like to follow timelines.) Enjoy!

December 30, 3018

Only five days out from Imladris, and already I tire of their quarreling.

Gandalf shook his head and sighed. He'd known this would happen. Even a fool could have foreseen this. Not only had his heart spoken in warning, but simple common sense had made it painfully clear that this could not be avoided. The first two weeks of their journey, quite possibly the least perilous, might well prove to be the most irritating.

There was one bright spot in this, however. Aragorn now owed him two bags of Southfarthing pipe-weed. Before leaving Rivendell, the Ranger had bet that two particular members of the company could keep their tongues and tempers in check for at least a week while Gandalf predicted a breakdown of relationships within the first four days. Elrond, when informed of the bet, had said nothing other than to reiterate his feelings that the objects of the bet were meant to be part of the Fellowship. Gandalf had enjoyed similar feelings at the time, but he now wondered if he hadn't been gravely mistaken.

"How can you seek to place the blame on me? With those supposedly keen elven eyes, I thought you would have seen me halt. I saw no reason to warn you, and it is your fault for running into me. I believe you owe me an apology."

"Keen my eyes may be, but you live so close to the ground that I mistook you for another rock in the path, Master Dwarf. And how can one apologize to something that can barely be seen, much less acknowledged?"

Gandalf wondered if Aragorn would be willing to place another wager as to when Legolas and Gimli would come to physical blows. The verbal barbs, blunt and subtle at first, had been gaining in strength and intensity, and the wizard was almost willing to bet both hat and staff that someone would have to pull the elf and dwarf apart by the end of this first week, if not sooner.

Gimli was now grumbling under his breath, a familiar sign that indicated Legolas was getting the better of the argument. "Better to pass unseen than to walk through hostile lands with ill-placed faith in weak and cowardly fighting skills," the dwarf growled.

"And for that, you should thank your short stature," Legolas replied easily. "My heart fails me when I think that a passing Orc might see through your arrogance and hew you lower than you already stand. May you be forever grateful that you are short and hard to see."

Gandalf noisily cleared his throat, a tactic that usually managed to silence both of them, though of late he'd been forced to add a backward glance complete with bristling eyebrows. To their credit, neither continued the debate this time. Gandalf heard Frodo sigh gratefully, and then came the hushed whispers of Merry and Pippin, who were apparently keeping a running tally of the verbal sparring matches. Legolas enjoyed a commanding lead and Merry was predicting a complete and total victimization of the dwarf by the end of the journey, but Pippin maintained that Gimli's insults were improving and that the dwarf might take them all by surprise with a sudden rally.

"What say you to a halt, Gandalf?" Aragorn asked from behind the wizard. "There is a glade on the other side of this rise that would serve us well."

Gandalf nodded thoughtfully. Halts had become the launching point for many insults, but having just been silenced, the wizard doubted if either elf or dwarf would dare pick up their arguments again so soon. There might never be a better time.

"I could use a rest, too," Sam piped up from his position just in front of Gimli. "And it wouldn't be a bad thing to let old Bill do a bit of grazing," he added, stroking the pony's neck. If Bill had any thoughts on the matter, he kept them to himself and plodded forward silently, though his ears did flip backwards occasionally as though wondering when the elf and dwarf would start up again.

"We will stop briefly," Gandalf decided. "There are still a few hours before dawn during which we must journey. This halt will be our last one before sunrise."

At that announcement, even Boromir seemed to sigh with relief. There would be fewer chances for Legolas and Gimli to start the virtually endless quarrels. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement between the two that they would refrain from arguing during daylight and minimize their arguing while walking.

Gandalf wondered what Boromir made of Legolas and Gimli. A warrior from Gondor, he'd had little chance to interact with elves and dwarves before journeying to Rivendell, and he was now getting a full course of the animosity that ran between the two Races. So far, the man had said nothing concerning the two who, more often than not, were either directly behind him, directly before him, or on either side of him. To completely ignore them, Boromir would have to be rendered both blind and deaf. Even in the darkness of night, it was impossible to miss the looks that Legolas and Gimli would occasionally lever upon one another, looks with enough force to give even a dragon pause for thought. But so far, Boromir had kept his peace and said nothing. Gandalf wondered how long his silence would last.

On the other side of the hill, the Company found Aragorn's glade and stopped for a brief rest. The hobbits quickly dropped their packs and themselves to the ground, grateful for a respite from the long marches. Under Sam's watchful eye, Bill the pony was allowed to wander in search of green shoots. Aragorn stood apart from the group, eyeing the surrounding territory with the wary scrutiny of a Ranger. Boromir also drifted away from the company, seemingly still uneasy around his comrades. As well he might be, Gandalf sighed. Two of those comrades seem more willing to fight each other than the Dark Lord.

As if on cue, a thud, an outcry, and the peculiar sound of an elf trying to hold back laughter broke the silence of the night. And I thought they were finished until tomorrow. With the air of one resigned to a difficult and unwanted task, Gandalf turned around and took in a scene that threatened to quirk even his reluctant lips.

Gimli stood drenched to the bone in the cold night air, his water skin on the ground before him and a very confused Took sprawled on the ground behind him. Merry, Frodo, and Sam were all on their feet with expressions that suggested they wished to see the last few seconds played again in the hopes that they could figure out what had just happened.

"My dear hobbit and dwarf," Legolas cried. The prince of Mirkwood knelt swiftly by Pippin's side and helped him back to his feet, considerately dusting him off as he did so. "I thought I spied a bush and movement beyond. Alas, it was Gimli's beard that I saw and his short stature behind it. Your pardon, please, Master Peregrin."

"No harm done," Pippin stammered with a nervous glance at the wet, shivering dwarf.

"You…you…" Not for the first time since the beginning of the journey, Gimli was at a complete loss for words. But this time, the dwarf remedied his speechlessness with action, and the son of Gloin leaped forward in a murderous rage with fists clenched tight.

Initially startled, Legolas's elven reflexes enabled him to dance away and out of reach. Gimli's lunge took the dwarf sailing past a surprised Aragorn and into the brush beyond the dell while the elf's dodge bore him straight into a Boromir's broad chest, nearly knocking both of them to the ground.

"Enough!" Gandalf said sternly while Aragorn moved to assist Gimli to his feet and Boromir and Legolas regained their balance. "We may not be far from Rivendell, but the spies of the Enemy are still about. Peace, both of you. This behavior is foolishness."

"My apologies," Legolas said smoothly with a graceful bow. "You speak wisely and I heed your words."

"Just watch your back, elf," Gimli grumbled as he started to wring out his soaking beard. "You may not be so lucky in our next encounter."

"There will be no next encounter," Aragorn declared, eyeing both of them. "Now is not the time for petty quarrels. Your two Races may be at odds, but that should hold no weight for either of you." Gimli glowered angrily and Legolas smiled innocently.

Should have asked Aragorn about that second wager, Gandalf reflected with a twinge of regret. I would have won.