Disclaimer: Middle Earth and all of its characters belong to Tolkien.
A/N: Just a little something I've been working on. Hope you enjoy!
Summary: Legolas is of the opinion that a certain ranger is taking far too long to start a simple campfire.
"That is never going to work."
The light, vaguely amused voice came from the treetops, immediately above where Aragorn, son of Arathorn, was kneeling over a small patch of forest floor that had been cleared of fallen leaves and other debris. Ignoring the comment, the ranger continued in his work, pausing only to wipe a tired arm across his sweat-dampened forehead.
Within seconds, a pair of booted feet had thumped softly to the ground as their owner dropped from the lofty heights of the thick forest canopy to land not six feet from where the ranger was crouched. The owner of the said booted feet waited until three hobbits, an Istar and a dwarf had passed by on their way to the nearby stream, before speaking once more.
"Did you hear me?"
There was another pause as the ranger adjusted his position, stretching his cramping leg muscles one by one. Then, the low rasp of two sticks being rubbed together resumed.
Finally, the crouching ranger spared the blonde-haired son of Thranduil a terse glance. "Aye," he replied, his voice uneven and a touch louder than usual as he redoubled his efforts to start a fire for the morning's breakfast. "I heard you."
"Then why did you not reply?"
Aragorn muttered a curse as his aching fingers slipped yet again on the rough wood he held in his hands. "I would have thought it obvious," he retorted. "I am ignoring you."
"Mr. Bilbo always told us it's not considered polite to ignore somebody," a high, cheerful voice piped as a sandy-headed hobbit made his way past the two warriors.
"And he always said that ignoring the Sackville-Bagginses was the exception that made it a rule," another voice chirruped before its owner, too, trotted off to the other side of camp.
Staring after the annoyingly cheerful hobbit cousins, Aragorn uttered a curse as a droplet of sweat fell from his brow onto the pieces of wood before him, eliminating the meagre hint of heat he had managed to create. "Perhaps," he bit out curtly, directing his frustration at the nearby target of the elf prince, "if I was allowed to have some peace, I would be able to accomplish this task more quickly." Aware of the sharp eyes of the elf watching him, Aragorn cursed yet again as the bits of wood slipped once more, destroying his hard-fought momentum.
"Nay," came the elf's response finally. "I do not think that peace shall be enough the way that you are going."
Aragorn raised his head to meet the steady gaze of the elf prince. "You think you would fare better at this than I, mellon nin?"
"It would be hard not to, Estel."
Aragorn nodded mockingly. "Aye," he said, lacing his words with as much sarcasm as he could muster. "I imagine that you could set the kindling ablaze with a single look from those elf eyes of yours."
"Do not be a fool," retorted the prince. "I intend to use skill, something which you clearly lack in this area."
"It has nothing to do with skill-"
"Obviously," Legolas interjected.
'-for the wood is still damp from this morning's frost," Aragorn finished angrily. "Coupled with the fact that I have lost my flint, this is a far more difficult task than it may seem! Hear me, Legolas, you will fare no better than I." He winced as soon as the words had left his mouth and, sure enough, the always-competitive elf took an eager step towards him.
"Do you care to make a wager on that?"
"One night's watch says that Legolas is faster than you, ranger." The deep voice of the man, Boromir, sounded from the thick morning mist that still hovered at the edges of the camp. Looking up, Aragorn caught sight of the Gondorian as he came to a halt a few feet away, a dim shape against the trunk of an age-old tree.
"My thanks for your confidence, Boromir," Legolas said appreciatively. "It is well deserved, I assure you."
Aragorn snorted dismissively. "If we are to wait for Legolas to start a fire, the night's watch you have just wagered, Master Boromir, will be over by the time he manages to spark a single ember."
"And how many fires have you lit so far this morning?" Legolas asked acerbically. When Aragorn chose not to reply, he nodded. "I thought as much. Now, I shall gather some kindling and we shall be started."
"Here you are!"
Ranger, Elf and Gondorian watched, startled, as a large armful of sticks, branches and twigs was deposited at Legolas' feet by another passing hobbit. "Enjoy!" a high voice called as its dark-haired owner hurried away.
The ensuing silence was broken when Boromir cleared his throat loudly. "That was kind of Frodo," he commented.
Seeing the Man's usually stern mouth curving in a smile, Aragorn frowned. "Indeed," he muttered, watching with disgruntlement as Legolas dropped happily to the ground behind his freshly found kindling. The elf's slim fingers played over the pile of twigs, shifting a couple here and there, making sure that air was able to flow easily underneath. Finally he looked up, fixing a keen gaze upon Aragorn.
"Are you ready, mellon nin?" he enquired, always the courteous prince.
Wondering how he had managed to become embroiled in such a foolish competition, Aragorn cast his eyes skyward. "As much as I shall ever be."
"Excellent. Boromir, would you be kind enough to act as judge?"
Aragorn frowned. "Nay, that will never do!" he argued, deciding rapidly that if he had to compete in the foolish task, it should at least be made fair. "He has a wager on this!"
"You do not trust me?" asked the son of Denethor, his eyes sharp and fixed on Aragorn.
Aragorn returned the hard gaze evenly. "There are few in Middle Earth whom I trust. Do not think yourself an exception."
"Enough of this!" Legolas exclaimed. "We shall summon the rock-dweller."
Boromir barked out a surprised laugh. "You truly wish for Gimli to be the judge? My apologies, Legolas, but as one whose who has a night's watch on the outcome on this competition, I would rather we select a judge who will not announce you the loser on principle."
The elf paused, his face thoughtful as he considered the possible ramifications of his suggestion.
"You speak wisely, son of Denethor," he said thoughtfully. "Very well. Aragorn, fetch the wizard."
About to respond, Aragorn was abruptly distracted by the sudden approach of an impatient dwarf.
"By my axe," Gimli blustered, glaring irritably at Aragorn. "What is taking you so long to start a simple fire?"
In an instant, an idea had struck Aragorn and he turned to face the dwarf, fighting back a smirk. "My apologies for the delay, Master Gimli. In my defence, I have been distracted the past while. You see, Prince Legolas has just declared that he would be able to light a fire far faster than I, and-"
But the dwarf's had already taken the bait. His dark eyes glinted under his mane of red hair as he stared at the meagre beginnings of Aragorn's fire, then at where Legolas was sitting before his own cunningly crafted pile of wood. The dwarf's eyes narrowed. "Did he now?" he muttered, taking a step forward.
From the other side of camp, Frodo, Merry and Pippin watched as Gimli muscled Aragorn aside, declaring that it was time the elves were forced to recognise the dwarves as the most skilled fire-makers in all of Middle Earth.
"Who do you think will win?" Merry asked curiously, his dark brows furrowed.
"I am not certain that it really matters," Frodo replied, a smile lighting his face as he watched the four warriors argue between themselves.
Any response Merry might have made, however, was cut off by an exclamation from Sam.
"Ah! Got it," the blonde-haired gardener announced cheerfully, sitting back in satisfaction as a trickle of fire crept upwards, consuming the small twigs before it started to chew at the larger logs. Soon, a sizable campfire was crackling merrily, sending sparks dancing into the morning air.
"How long did it take old Sam to start a fire?" asked Pippin inquisitively, taking a big sniff as the scent of sausages began to waft through the air as Sam laid them over the bustling flames.
"Barely any time at all," Frodo replied. He dropped his voice conspiratorially. "But then again, he did use Aragorn's flint."