NOTE:   I truly hate to see this story end, but I'm not a writer of really long fics (yet!).  I hope you enjoy this final chapter as the Fellowship approaches the border of Lórien.  (Special thanks to Ranger ---- one of your reviews reminded me of a loose end I needed to tie up!)

I plan to write a sequel which follows the Fellowship during their ten days of travel down the Anduin.  A lot of angst, bonding, and healing can take place in ten days.  Gollum, Orcs, winged wraiths, Boromir, hobbits in boats, so much left unexplored…… I just have to rest up from this fic and finish a short vignette I've been thinking about.

Thank you for taking this journey with me!  I was so energized and encouraged by all you folks, and amazed at the response.  What a wonderful experience!

DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.



Chapter 9

"Frodo, wake up.  Wake up, now."  Frodo opened his eyes to find Legolas sitting next to him, the Elf's hand on his shoulder.  He looked around and noticed that it was barely dawn, the light just beginning to brighten the clearing.  He sighed.  "An early start, then?"

"Yes, Aragorn wants us to reach Lórien today."  Legolas looked at him closely.  "How do you feel, little one?"

"Much better.  Is something wrong, Legolas?"  Frodo thought he looked quite serious.

"We had a bit of excitement last night.  Aragorn will tell you about it while we eat."  He then turned to Pippin's blanket-covered form, called his name and shook him a little.

Frodo lay still and took some deep breaths, remembering his dizziness the previous morning when he had sat up too quickly.  He felt his chest --- not nearly as sore.  "It's all right, Legolas.  We'll get him up."

The Elf smiled at him and rose.  "Merry says he took a sip of that herb drink Aragorn made for you.  Don't be too rough with him."

Frodo turned over and shook Pippin gently, then a little more.  "C'mon Pip, wake up.  Wake up."  Finally Pippin groaned and opened his eyes, then quickly shut them again.

"Just take deep breaths, and the dizziness will go away.  Pip, how could you drink something voluntarily that tasted that awful?"  Frodo sat up slowly, then got to his feet.  He felt just a little stiff and sore like Aragorn had said.

After the third person had asked him if he was all right, Frodo grew anxious to know what had happened.   Sam was hovering even closer than usual.  During a quick breakfast, Aragorn filled Frodo and Pippin in on Gollum's nocturnal visit and the need for haste.  Frodo nodded, looking grim and bringing his hand up to his throat reflexively, fingering the Ring.  Aragorn noted that Pippin looked a bit pale, and wasn't eating much.  He thought it could be fright from their close call, but more likely the young hobbit had had more than a sip from Frodo's mug the night before and was still a bit woozy.  Pippin should recover quickly, he thought, and maybe a lesson would be learned.  He checked Frodo's bruise before they packed up, which looked and felt much better.  Frodo seemed to have no ill effects from the night before, of which he remembered nothing.

They set out, Frodo and Merry walking on either side of Pippin.  They exchanged looks, somewhat worried about their cousin, who seemed to be having a bit of trouble walking in a straight line.  The Company hadn't gone far when Pippin suddenly sank to his knees.

"Strider!  There's something wrong with Pippin!"

Aragorn strode over and knelt down to where Pippin was trying to rise with little success.

"Pippin, look at me.  Follow my finger."  Aragorn waved his forefinger before the hobbit's eyes, and noted that he had a bit of difficulty focusing on it.  "How do you feel?"

"Really dizzy and, and……sleepy."  Pippin looked a bit scared.  "Am I getting sick?" 

"Not having any trouble breathing?  Nothing hurts?  That's good."  Aragorn felt Pippin's forehead and pulse, then rose, lifting the young hobbit into his arms.  "I don't think you're getting sick.  I think you're sensitive to the herbs in the drink I gave Frodo last night.  Are you sure you had just a little bit?"  Pippin nodded.  "Good, I'm glad."  Very glad, Aragorn thought to himself.  "Let's see how you feel in a little while."

The Company resumed their march.  After a few minutes Pippin looked up at Aragorn.  "I'm sorry, Strider," he said quietly.

"At least I know now never to give you those herbs.  Your system doesn't shake off their effects very quickly."  Aragorn smiled at him.  "Don't worry about it, you didn't know what you were drinking."

A pause.  "Yes I did."

The Ranger gave the hobbit his full attention.  "What do you mean?"

Pippin sighed.  "When Frodo drank that stuff the other night when he was so sad, he wasn't as sad when he woke up.  So I thought if I drank some……"

"… wouldn't be so sad.  Pippin, are you feeling sad about Gandalf too?  You haven't said anything."

"I know.  Everyone's been so busy, and then we got attacked and Frodo got hurt, and I didn't want to bother anyone."  Pippin lay his head against the Ranger's chest and closed his eyes.  "I didn't know it would make everything start spin……..spinning………"  Even though he knew the Ranger had a good hold on him, he felt like everything was tilting sideways.

Aragorn sighed, feeling a bit guilty for not paying enough attention to their youngest member.   "Does it help to know that Frodo is still sad, and so is Legolas, and so am I?"  Pippin nodded.  "It doesn't go away this quickly for any of us, Pippin, it takes time."

"You never complain, and I'm very proud of you.  Gandalf was proud of you too.  I know he sounded cross sometimes, but I think that was because he knew, more than anyone, how important our quest is.  He wanted all of us to take it seriously."  The Ranger chuckled a little.  "But I like it when you're not so serious.  It's good for Frodo to have you here."

"Do you mean that?" Pippin whispered.

"Don't make me say it twice, you scamp."  Pippin smiled.  "And don't keep everything inside, all right?  If you're sad or scared come talk to one of us anytime you want to, all right?  Promise?"  Another nod.

Aragorn saw that Pippin still had his eyes closed, and he cradled him more securely in his arms.  "It's all right if you need to sleep a little more.  Shhh now, just relax."  It was only seconds, it seemed, before his small charge went limp in his arms.  Aragorn shifted a bit so he could once again check the pulse in Pippin's throat, which seemed strong enough, just a bit slow.  Merry was watching him.

"Will he be all right, Strider?"  Aragorn looked down into Merry's worried eyes.

"He should be fine, Merry.  I can't ever let him near that drink again, though.  Thank goodness he didn't have much of it.  He was lucky this time.  Not even hobbits………not even *this* hobbit, can consume everything in sight with no consequences!"

"Aragorn," said Frodo, "Thank you for what you said to Pip.  That was really wonderful."

"Hmmmph.  Anything for a little peace and quiet."

Frodo grinned up at him, not fooled.  Aragorn kept a straight face for as long as he could, which wasn't very long.


When Pippin awoke he was being carried by Legolas.  The sun was nearly overhead and they were traveling through a valley that would bloom lush and green come Spring. 

"Are you feeling better, little one?"

"A lot better.  Did……did I sleep all day?"

"Quite a few hours.  You must have known we were about to stop for a rest and some food."

"Oh, I'm starving, Legolas."  He squirmed, trying to look around.  "I think I can walk now."

Legolas stopped and lowered Pippin to the ground, where he wavered a bit.

"Merry," the Elf called him over.  "Could you take Pippin's hand?"  Legolas walked ahead to join Aragorn and Gimli, leaving the hobbits alone.

"Merry, did Gollum come back?  Or Orcs or anything?"

Merry smiled.  "No, Pip.  You didn't miss a thing.  And this valley is so wide open nothing can sneak up on us."

Merry took one hand and Sam came up and took the other.  After a few minutes Pippin felt wonderful, just like himself again.  Merry and Sam could hardly keep hold of him.

"If you have that much energy, Peregrin Took, you can carry your own pack after lunch."  Boromir strode by and tousled Pippin's hair.

The four hobbits talked together quietly for a time.  When Aragorn turned around to see how they were doing, Pippin asked, "Frodo, are you feeling better too?"  He looked innocently at his cousin.

"Yes, Pip, I am," Frodo smiled.

"Interesting," said Pippin.  "Glad to hear it."  He pulled his hands free of Merry and Sam's, and launched himself at Frodo's legs, bringing him crashing to the ground.  Frodo groaned and grabbed his chest.  Aragorn raced over and knelt down, horrified at what he had witnessed.

"Frodo, are you all right?  That was……"  The Ranger was confused when Frodo sat up, seemingly unhurt.

"I'm fine, Aragorn.  You might want to run, though."

"What?"  Aragorn followed Frodo's gaze behind him to where Sam, Merry, and Pippin were approaching from different directions with determined looks on their faces.  He looked back at Frodo, who had stood up and was viewing him calmly.  He was surrounded.

Legolas, Gimli, and Boromir stood at a distance and watched as Aragorn fought to stand up, nearly covered in hobbits.

"Hardly a fair fight.  Do you think you should rescue him, Boromir?" asked Gimli doubtfully.

"I don't know, Gimli," said Boromir with a grin.  "Those four haven't had lunch yet.  I'm not sure I'd want to take on that many hungry hobbits.  Maybe one Man will satisfy them, I wouldn't want to offer them a second one."

"True, true.  Legolas, how about you?"

"I think if we walked fast we could be safely within the borders of Lothlórien before they knew we were gone."

They sat down.

"Aragorn needs some incentive.  We could tell him a herd of Balrogs have come over the hill," said Gimli.

Boromir shook his head.  "He's laughing too hard, he'll never hear us."  He could hardly keep from laughing himself.  He tried to get serious.  "Do you suppose we should try to extricate Frodo at least from that tangle?  He is likely to get re-injured."  He started to rise, but Legolas smiled and put out his arm to stop him.

"Let them be, Boromir."

Legolas was thoroughly enjoying how the hobbits seemed to be able to put the horrors of the past days temporarily behind them for a few moments of playful abandon.  He suspected it would do Aragorn a world of good as well.  He closed his eyes, his keen ears picking out the sound of Frodo's laughter from the rest.  When would he hear such sweet music again?

"Let them be."

** END **