DISCLAIMER: The Professor's wonderful characters don't belong to me; I just get to think about them day and night.
The Lord of Gifts
Long he sought to persuade the Elves to his service, for he knew that the Firstborn had the greater power; and he went far and wide among them, and his hue was still that of one both fair and wise. Only to Lindon he did not come, for Gil-galad and Elrond doubted him and his fair-seeming, and though they knew not who in truth he was they would not admit him to that land. But elsewhere the Elves received him gladly, and few among them hearkened to the messengers from Lindon bidding them beware; for Sauron took to himself the name of Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, and they had at first much profit from his friendship. 'Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age', The Silmarillion
Anything disturbed in a familiar place caught a Ranger's attention, and when Aragorn glanced into Master Elrond's library he stopped in mid-stride. The day was not chilled, yet there was a fire in the hearth. A small, high-backed couch had been dragged to within a few feet of it, but no one appeared to be sitting there. He walked swiftly into the room to check that the proper screens were in place; an errant spark in this room, with its hundreds of books and scrolls, could be disastrous. It was only when he came around to the front of the couch that he realized there was indeed someone using it. Frodo lay sound asleep, a blanket tangled about his feet. His finger still held his place in a book that lay on his chest. A nearby table held a tea tray, as well as four other books, each bound in similar fashion.
Frodo had been very quiet since the Council, and Aragorn knelt soundlessly and touched a finger to the hobbit's brow.
The fever is nearly gone at last, he thought with relief, but he is yet pale and weary. I still marvel that he lives. This warmth must feel good after so many weeks of chill.
Frodo stirred and opened his eyes. "Hullo, Aragorn," he yawned.
"Forgive me for disturbing you."
Frodo sat up and looked around. "Did I miss supper?"
"No," Aragorn chuckled. "Sam would never allow that; nor would I, nor my lord Elrond." He motioned to the book Frodo held. "If I may ask, what holds your interest so strongly?"
"I?" Aragorn asked in surprise. Frodo handed him the book, and he leafed through it.
"A dark tale," Aragorn murmured. "Elrond spent many years collecting these stories of Annatar."
"I had never heard of him, or so I thought," Frodo said. "He had more than one name... like you," he tried to joke.
"And you, Mr. Underhill," Aragorn teased, then grew more serious. "When we met in Bree, I thought that a part of this account was known to you."
"Because of what you said to me," Aragorn explained. "You believed that the servants of the Enemy would 'seem fair and feel foul.'"
"Like their lord," Frodo said quietly.
"Yes. You assumed that those with dark hearts would manifest in fair guise, such as the tale of Annatar relates." Aragorn looked at Frodo thoughtfully. "So you trusted me without knowing about that."
"I didn't need a tale to know that you wished us no harm," Frodo said firmly.
"You believed I was a friend even before Gandalf's letter was read," Aragorn said quietly. "That meant a great deal to me, Frodo. I am rarely trusted even among those who have known me for years, like Butterbur. It was... unexpected. Friendship is a rare gift."
"I agree," Frodo said softly. "Thank you for being willing to lead a group of foolish hobbits into the Wild."
Aragorn smiled. "I am glad that you did not know in advance what it would take to reach Rivendell, and how hard I would need to push you and the others. I walk quickly and long, and feared it would exhaust you to take the paths we needed to tread."
"I suspect the journey was just as difficult for you," Frodo said, his eyes sparkling. "Rangers are used to silence; hobbits enjoy singing, and asking many questions."
"I was somehow able to endure it," Aragorn chuckled. "But why do you say that these books are about me?"
"Sauron forged the Ring, and you are its heir, even though you do not claim it," Frodo said quietly.
"It was not Isildur's to claim, either," Aragorn reminded him.
"Nor was it Bilbo's."
"We seem to be getting off the subject again."
"Oh, yes!" Frodo said. "We were talking about you. Well then, after the Council, when I found out who you really were, I wanted to learn more." He pointed to the stack of books. "That one's about Master Elrond's brother, who was the first king of the West. That one's about Elendil and a city that used to be north of the Shire. That one's about Isildur and his brother. That one's about your people."
"I studied from these very tomes," Aragorn said, his eyes soft with memory.
Frodo nodded. "Now I understand some things Gandalf told me, and why Bilbo calls you 'Dúnadan'. Do you want the rest of us to call you that?"
"What do you wish to call me?"
"I like 'Aragorn'," Frodo said instantly. "My cousins and Sam seem to prefer 'Strider', though. Is that--"
"It is fine," Aragorn smiled. He looked at the books. "So you have been tracking my history, as a Ranger follows a trail."
"Something like that," Frodo laughed. "I haven't found a book about you specifically, though." He looked around the massive room. "Is there one?"
Is there? Aragorn wondered for the first time. "I do not know," he said honestly.
"Perhaps Bilbo is writing one to go with his poem." Frodo drew the blanket up over his legs, and Aragorn hastened to build up the fire. "Thank you."
"I will leave you to your research," Aragorn said. He started to leave, then turned back for a moment, his features carefully neutral.
"Should you happen to come across a tale about a child who climbed to the top of the bell tower wearing Master Elrond's best feastday circlet, pretended to be Eärendil until hours past bedtime, was afraid to climb down again, and had to be rescued by Erestor, I can assure you that it is a complete fabrication."
Frodo grinned, and Aragorn winked and walked away. He paused in the doorway for a moment, contemplating the small form in front of the fire.
I revealed my name to a stranger, and swore upon my life to protect him... on impulse, I thought. But he trusted me from the beginning. I will not fail him, nor give him reason to doubt his trust in me. Aragorn smiled to himself. It was Sam who mistrusted me, out of love for his master. Such loyalty is a gift such as Annatar never knew, and never will.
He watched quietly as Frodo poured a fresh cup of tea.
Perhaps, someday, the Dúnedain will earn his people's respect. I would like for the Shire-folk to know that those who guard them have done so with skill and diligence. But also... that Elendil's descendants were worthy of the task. Worthy of trust, and friendship...two of the rarest and most valuable gifts of all.