A/N: Friends, Romans, country-men, lend me your ears, for I have a tale to tell. A tale in which I have tried my very hardest not to massacre canon. Which I have almost-but-not-entirely failed at. Well, I have failed less than I did with my other Lord of the Rings story, which I am totally not advertising here. And apologies for the overuse of line breaks. They are somewhat addicting.
Please read—well, if you're here than you were planning on it, weren't you? Never mind. Do continue.
"Frodo went in once, long ago…"
-Meriadoc Brandybuck about the Old Forest, "A Conspiracy Unmasked", Fellowship of the Ring
Frodo stomped around angrily for a while and then gave up and sat down in front of a tree.
Bilbo would be oh so very angry with him when he found his way back to Brandy Hall. It had been one year since Frodo had been adopted by him, and as a present for both of their birthdays he had taken them out to Buckland, where Frodo could meet up again with some of his old friends whom he hadn't seen since moving in with Bilbo. Frodo had even had a chance to meet his newest cousin—little Peregrin. This meeting had only lasted a few minutes, for Peregrin had soon started to try eating Frodo's hair, and he had been taken away by a laughing Eglantine.
Yes, Frodo reflected morosely, Bilbo would be furious with him when he got back. If he got back. This thought did not lighten Frodo's spirit at all.
The Old Forest was dangerous at night. Frodo thought about climbing up into a tree for a while, but then remembered that the trees were the most dangerous part of the Old Forest, and that would certainly not help.
He decided to stay put and wait. Hopefully someone would come looking for him.
An hour later, Frodo had began to nod off, woken up intermittently with fear when he heard a tree shifting.
Then he heard a branch crack.
Frodo was up instantly. Trees, no matter how life-like they could be, could not crack branches. Even if they decided to walk, which he was certain they could do, their roots were in the ground and so branch-cracking would be impossible.
The young hobbit looked around, picking up a stick and backing against a tree. "Show yourself!" he called.
There was a low growling, and Frodo spun to see a large…well, thing. Frodo didn't know what it was—it looked vaguely canine. But whatever it was, it certainly seemed like hobbit was a viable dining option for it, and Frodo threw up his arms, shrieking.
The ranger turned to look at Legolas. The Mirkwood elf had volunteered to come on this hunting trip. Thranduil and his son had come to Imladris for a visit, and when Aragorn had received a call to go out searching for a Warg that had come dangerously close to the Shire, Legolas had offered to help. Truth be told, Aragorn found him annoyingly soft—the elf was good at slipping unseen through the forest, but would grumble if he was forced to sleep on hard ground without a bedroll, or if a bramble found itself entangled in his hair.
But Elves were good companions, no matter Aragorn's personal opinion on them, and they had a very keen sense of sight and hearing. "What is it, Legolas?"
"Someone cried out." The Elf tilted his head to the side. "And there is snarling. It would seem one of the citizens of this land has happened upon that which we are hunting."
Aragorn felt his heart grown still. "Where is it? We must help them!"
"That we must!" Legolas ran forwards, motioning for the ranger to follow him.
They came across a glade, where trees were intermittently placed. Moss carpeted their trunks, and vines trailed down to lightly caress the ground. One of the trees had chips falling out of it where some large mouth had bitten down on it.
"No!" Aragorn cried, seeing a small form whimpering on the ground, the Warg they were hunting bending over it. He drew a sword and jumped for it.
The Warg snarled, and no matter Aragorn's prowess with a sword, he would have found his entire arm buried in the creature's throat if Legolas's arrow had not reached the beast first.
It wasn't dead, by any means. But the arrow caused it enough grief to leave its victim alone and bound off, in search of meat elsewhere, in a part of the Forest where pesky creatures did not come to try and take food from it. Legolas shot a parting arrow at it, but the Warg dodged it and sprinted away.
"Ohhh," Aragorn breathed, picking up the small hobbit. "Legolas, it's one of the hobbit's children."
"How bad is it?" Legolas was searching for the arrow that had missed its mark. He left searching and hurried over.
The hobbit child was badly hurt, though Aragorn guessed the injuries better than they appeared to be. The skin on its arm was the most damaged, and Aragorn guessed he had thrown up his arms to shield his face. Aside from that, the worst injury was a long cut on the head, but it was not deep.
"Better than I had feared," Aragorn said eventually. "It may be asleep."
Frodo whimpered, coming back to life. He was being held by someone—one of the Big Folk, he realized. This made him start for a second. The man bending over him was a Man, he could tell, as he lacked both the pointed ears of an Elf and the long beard and stinted height of a Dwarf. Frodo could not much tell the difference between the heights of a Man or a Dwarf, but he had seen some Dwarves before, as they liked to visit Bag End on occasion, and this being was certainly larger than one of them.
"No," he murmured, overhearing the last words. "Not asleep."
Another bright voice came. "That is wonderful, little one. Where do you live? We shall take you back, Estel and I shall. I am Legolas."
"An Elf!" Frodo gasped, looking up at him. He stumbled to his feet, and Estel put out a hand warily, ready to catch him should he fall.
Frodo took a steadying breath. His arm and head were throbbing, and he felt very much like being sick. However, it would be most unseemly for a hobbit of twenty-two to do such a thing, and he guessed that these Big Folk already thought him younger than he was.
"What is your name?" Estel asked gently, rising when he saw that Frodo did not appear to be fainting.
"Frodo Baggins, at your service," Frodo said promptly, dipping his head a little. Doing so was not a good idea, and the throbbing returned at full force, his vision blurring. He rubbed his eyes to clear it.
"Your age?" the Elf wondered.
"Twenty-two," Frodo declared proudly, hoping that they would take the hint and not patronize him.
The Man clicked his tongue. "Only a child in their ages, Legolas. Here, Frodo, let me clean your wounds."
"Battle scars, not wounds," Legolas said. "You put up a fair fight."
"I hit it with a stick a couple times," Frodo said. He put a hand to his head, swaying. "It did not do that much, I think."
"It did enough to save your life," the Elf said. "Your parents should be proud."
Frodo was not liking the patronizing he was getting, and sat down to allow Estel to clean his wounds with a flask of water and a cloth. He frowned up at Legolas, who offered an encouraging smile.
"Thank you—I can walk, but will you direct me back towards the Shire? I am afraid I am somewhat lost."
The hobbit squeaked in surprise as Estel picked him up. "Not a chance. We shall take you back. Or I shall. Legolas, find that Warg! You have an arrow that needs to bury itself in its foul hide."
Legolas nodded and ran off. "Farewell, Frodo, Estel!" he called brightly before fleeing in chase.
Frodo did not protest as much at the indignity of being carried as he felt he ought to. His arm was very much hurting him, and he closed his eyes and set his head on Estel's shoulder, trying very hard not to cry. Although he tried desperately not to, a few small sniffles escaped him.
Aragorn heard the small sobs and wondered whether or not to say anything. He decided against it—Frodo had looked very annoyed when Legolas had spoken down to him, even though the Elf had not tried to and it was only a very minor grievance.
Eventually he felt soft breathing against his shoulder and smiled. Evidently his burden was asleep for now.
As they approached the Shire, Aragorn nudged Frodo slightly, waking him up. It was only a light jostle, but Frodo shrieked in pain and the Ranger winced.
"I found herbs that may ease your pain, Frodo. You should go to the nearest healer in the Shire when you arrive. Speaking of which," he continued as he set Frodo down and began to chew up the herbs and rub the paste on Frodo's arm before bandaging it again, "where do you live?"
"I live in Hobbiton," Frodo muttered through gritted teeth. The tears were coming more freely now, though he tried to speak in spite of them. "But Bilbo and I are visiting Buckland. Brandybuck Hall is where we are staying. Ah! That stings!"
"My deepest apologies." Aragorn picked up Frodo again.
He found a hobbit whom he assumed to be Bilbo fretting and worrying, pacing back and forth. There were a group of other hobbits about, peering around worriedly and occasionally talking amongst themselves.
"Who saw Frodo last?"
"Merry did—didn't you, Merry? Where was he?"
"The Old Forest?"
"Merry! You shouldn't have been down by the Old Forest!"
"Never mind that! Did he enter?"
"I think so. Where's Frodo! I want Frodo!" The little hobbit looked near tears.
Aragorn approached the older hobbit. "Are you Bilbo?"
"Yes!" the hobbit cried, and Aragorn let the sleeping Frodo down. "Thank you, thank you!"
The other hobbits backed away, looking afraid of the large Ranger. The small one—Merry—ran forth and hugged Aragorn's leg in thanks.
Aragorn left quietly as the hobbits flocked around little Frodo and went to the edge of the Forest, where he found Legolas.
"Did your arrow find its mark?"
"Yes, and I sent several more, as that one was feeling lonely buried in the ugly pelt all by itself," Legolas answered. He peered down at the hobbits from afar and laughed. "Look at them! They are so—" he shook his head, unable to find a word. "Bright, I suppose, and cheerful. I feel little Frodo will be well taken care of."
"He shall indeed," Aragorn said. "I recognized the name of Bilbo. Mithrandir told me about him."
"Oh!" Legolas cried. "I know him too, then. Mithrandir told one of the little elflings a fairy tale about him, and I was nearby. So that is Frodo's guardian? I am glad."
They stood in silence, watching the group of hobbits disband. Frodo was taken off to a healer.
"Do you know," Legolas said eventually, "I believe I like hobbits."
Aragorn laughed. "So do I, mellon. So do I."