A Normal Life

There was harmony around the campfire.

Gandalf believed this was because the forces of good and evil were weary of their ageless conflict and had retreated from battlefield of the world for a brief interlude, no doubt to plot and plan their next offensive against each other. A sigh of relief escaped the land at this stalemate, manifesting in a gentle breeze that swept through the air when the field of battle was empty. The land settled comfortably to enjoy this brief equilibrium however long it lasted. Across Middle earth, the urge to destroy and fight had withered away for a night, though no one truly noticed it in the twilight hours of the dark.

Smoking his pipe, Gandalf noted the Fellowship was enjoying the lethargic pace that followed their evening meal. The cool rather than icy temperatures of the night were welcomed and if there was a cold bite to the air, the fire certainly chased the unpleasant feeling away. They sat around campfire, drinking in the comfortable atmosphere that had settled around them as they took a rare moment of rest, when the dangers of the quest and the conflicts within the group seemed terribly far away. During this brief sojourn, it was easy to forget that they were Nine Walkers embarking on a great quest to save Middle earth, but rather a group of companions, journeying the same path.

It was just as well, Gandalf decided as he let out a puff of smoke from his pipe. Even an Istar's patience could be taxed by the behavior he had been forced to tolerate these past few days. Despite himself, he knew he was reaching the end of his rope when he began to wonder if it was such a terrible thing to use the powers of the Sacred Fire to turn each member of the company into some form of life that was incapable of speaking. A frog perhaps? No good, he shook his head silently because frogs could croak. Insects would only swarm and cause the same irritation despite lacking the power of speech. He had descended the order of beasts that might be suitable when he realized that he was devoting all together too much thought to this entire idea.

It was not that the company was truly aggravating, it was simply that they had such difficulty tolerating each other. With each rising conflict, this hostility grew so fierce that there was no need to fear being killed by orcs or wraiths, when the deed could be easily accomplished by anyone of them in a fit of temper. The tension was so thick that Gandalf was being driven to smoke so much leaf that he had almost exhausted his personal supply. Since the quest could not be delayed in order for him to make a quick trip to South Farthing to replenish his supply, the wizard was rather irate by the whole situation.

Fortunately, at this moment, all seemed quiet and peaceful and for their own sakes as well his sanity, harmonious as well.

Frodo was no longer spending every waking moment bemoaning his fate at being the possessor of the One Ring, despite voluntarily agreeing to take the thing to Mordor while Sam was not constantly telling him (and everyone else for that matter) how courageous his master was undertaking this great quest. Legolas and Gimli had paused in their quarrelling like wayward children, a rather extraordinary feat considering one was more than a century old while the other was three thousand years old. Even Merry and Pippin had ceased to remind them it was time to break their journey for either breakfast, lunch, morning tea, dinner or for that matter, mushrooms. Boromir had also stopped glaring at Aragorn as if at every turn, the Ranger was preparing to claim something else that did not belong to him, be it the throne of Gondor or the last morsel of food left in Sam's cooking pot. This was of course when Boromir was not staring at Frodo with longing for the One Ring.

Or at least Gandalf hoped it was his longing for the One Ring.

"I wonder what Rosie is doing?" Samwise Gamgee spoke out loud to no one in particular.

He referred to Rosie Cotton of course, the young daughter of Farmer Cotton who always had a kind word to him and smiled whenever he passed by.

"Probably still waiting for you to say two words to her," Frodo retorted, drawing a dark look from Sam.

"I speak to her all the time!" The hobbit exclaimed but by the shade of red his ears was turning at Frodo's remark, it was clear that his intentions towards her ran deeper than mere conversation.

"Is she your lady then?" Legolas inquired.

"No!" Sam sputtered aghast. "She's just Rosie, a girl I know." His voice escaped him in a nervous stammer.

"Can you believe he is known for his silver tongue among the girls in the Shire?" Pippin teased as Sam turned an even crimson with embarrassment. It did not help that Pippin's remark had produced a ripple of laughter throughout the company at Sam's expense.

"Don't feel bad Sam," Frodo rose to the occasion as always when it came to Sam's self esteem. "Pippin isn't any better at talking to girls then you are, about how you feel about them. I saw him sneaking looks at Diamond of Long Cleeves at Bilbo's party."

"Diamond?" Merry stared at his best friend in amusement. "You didn't tell me!"

"Its none of your business that's why," Pippin bristled and gave Frodo a dark look, especially when Sam was now grinning ear to ear at not being alone in his uncertainty around the ladies.

"How do any of you Shire folk expect to bear children if you cannot even speak to the fairer sex?" Boromir laughed heartily. "Women like men taking charge. You have to let them know how you feel and sweep them off their feet."

"And you know all this from your wealth of experience as an unmarried man?" Aragorn could not resist adding with a certain hint of smugness, since he was the only one in the company who actually had a woman in his life.

"One does not need to be married to know how to treat women," Boromir retorted sourly. "Besides Ranger, what would you know of women other than the wenches whose favors you no doubt traded coin for whilst wandering in the wilds of the north?"

"More than you that is for certain," Legolas muttered softly, perfectly aware of Aragorn's relationship with the Evenstar and was almost tempted to reveal to Boromir that the Ranger as he called Aragorn, had claimed the heart of the loveliest elven female of her day. However, Boromir was already envious enough of Aragorn by the fact that he was Isildur's heir and the rightful king of Gondor. If he were to know that Aragorn was to wed the most beautiful woman in Middle earth, it would crush his spirit or at the very least, throw him into a deeper fit of depression.

"I am rather surprised that you're not married Mr. Elf," Samwise remarked suddenly and shifted the focus of the conversation away from Aragorn who did not appear happy to discuss his experiences with the opposite sex in any shape or form. "You're very much older than all of us."

"My people are immortal," Legolas answered the hobbit's question, realizing that it was a genuine inquiry and that it was a good opportunity to detract Boromir's attention from his earlier statement regarding the Evenstar. "We do not see any reason to make haste when choosing a mate."

"Choosing a mate?" Gimli stared at him. "You speak as if you are choosing a cow for breeding!"

"Nicely put Master Gimli," Gandalf chuckled, shaking his head at the whole conversation.

"With the dwarfs," Gimli spoke up taking the opportunity to explain the mysteries of dwarf women and the institution of marriage as a whole, "it is the lady that does the choosing. If you are good enough for her, she will often find some way to let you know it."

"I am sure Rosie will let you know Sam," Frodo said good naturedly, "I've seen how she looks at you."

"I don't know," Sam dropped his gaze into the fire, a little uncomfortable speaking about so personal a matter. "I have thought about settling down and getting a wife when this is all over, if we live through this that is."

"I'm sure you will," Aragorn added warmly. "If stout heartedness alone is all that is needed to carry us through this quest, I am certain that you will produce enough for all of us to go to Mordor and back again. I do not doubt that you will one day settle with your Rosie and lead a good, long life."

"I'd settle for normal," Sam replied, smiling at Aragorn for his understanding words.

"Normal?" Gandalf snorted. "What exactly is that fabled state of being?"

"You don't think its possible to lead a normal life Gandalf?" Frodo asked warily because since was the one thing that enabled him to endure this terrible ordeal to destroy the One Ring, the hope of returning to the Shire when it was all said and done.

"Normal is a matter of perspective," Gandalf remarked, blowing the shape of a blooming flower in smoke out of his mouth before continuing. "There is extraordinary in everything, even in what one perceives as normalcy. I am certain a man who goes about his every day business will encounter trials that will vex him as greatly as any danger we face during our quest."

"I hope not," Merry replied. "All I want to do when this is all done is to get back to the Shire and have things the way they were before we started out on this whole adventure. I mean I'm happy to do what needs to be done but I do miss the quiet."

"Me too," Pippin agreed. "We never faced barrow wrights or avalanches or any of the terrible things we've seen until leaving the Shire. I'll be glad when we're home again and seen the last of them."

"I wish I had your choices," Aragorn replied softly and surprised himself by meaning it.

He knew that he was poised at the edge of destiny with the quest to rid the world of the One Ring. Events that had always been more myth and prophecy to him were now starting to take shape in reality and Aragorn knew where it would ultimately lead. He knew without clairvoyance or any keen elven insight that his days of freedom were numbered, that the quest of the One Ring would close out his carefree existence as the Ranger Strider. Whatever was borne out of the destruction of Isildur's bane, Aragorn knew that when it was over, he would be King and that was not a thought that he relished.

"Choices arise whether you wish them or not," Boromir stared him straight in the eye and for the first time both men shared an empathy with each other at being so helplessly trapped by the whims of Fate. "There never seemed to be any for me until recent days and they can be as perplexing as they can be frightening. My brother and I might find ourselves facing entirely different paths from what we always envisioned."

Boromir tried not to look at either Frodo or Aragorn as he made mention of that.

"I do not care," Gimli replied oblivious to the interplay between Aragorn and Boromir. "All I wish when we are done here is to see the mountains of Erebor again. My kind are happiest with the earth above our heads, not the stars. I have no thirst for roaming wildly and I have seen far too much than I would like already. I think before this quest is done, I will have had my fill of adventure and the world beyond my home."

"I expect that I shall sail across the sea once we have accomplished our endeavors at Mordor," Legolas replied, joining the suddenly introspective turn the conversation had taken. "If Sauron is defeated, there is no more reason for the Eldar to remain in Middle earth."

"Well," Frodo Baggins replied, wondering briefly at the knowing look in Gandalf's eyes as he spoke, "it will be good when this is all over and everything is back to normal again."

"Yes," Gandalf snorted, as if privy to some enormous secret that none of them were aware, "normal life indeed."