Authors Quick Note – This story explores the idea about what might have happened if Strider had come to the Shire to forewarn Bilbo Baggins about the RingWraiths that would soon come hunting for the One Ring. Commences a few days before Bilbo’s Birthday party and before Gandalf returns to the Shire as well.

Strider had vows to protect Bilbo when the RingWraiths are sent by the Dark Lord, but he is unaware that the legacy of who is to carry the Ring to be destroyed falls upon a totally different Baggins hobbit.

Disclaimer – I do not own any of these characters but enjoy writing them and their adventures together.

Notes about this chapter: The personalities that I have written for Paladin and Eglantine Took and Saradoc and Esmeralda Brandybuck are totally my own interpretation. They may not represent the true version as Tolkien envisaged in his books. I just thought it would be fun for Frodo to think about sort of trouble he might find himself in when returning to explain why they were gone for so long. No doubt, when they do return, something very different will occur and it won’t be as light-hearted as described in this chapter. But that is a very long story away.

The talk between Sam and Aragorn about how Sam and Frodo’s friendship came about is totally made up. I have no idea when Bell Gamgee passed away, but explored the idea that it might have been that tragic event that brought the already two friends closer together.

Also, the cornfields are a little further away than may have been mentioned. I also changed where Merry and Pippin were told about going to Bree as there is too much going to be happening in the next chapter between the Cornfield and the Brandywine for them to stop and discuss their intended destination.

The events in the Cornfields was just a light-hearted version of what was seen in the movie in addition to my own imagination running away with me. I don’t think it came out quite as good as I wished it to, but that’s water under the bridge now.

A Friendship Explained

Eventually, it would be the searing pain in his head that would bring Frodo back to consciousness rather than the light drizzle still falling at various intervals.

As he opened his eyes very slowly, Frodo decided to gauge exactly where he was before trying the arduous task of moving from his uncomfortable position.

Frodo gingerly reached a hand up to inspect the spot on the side of his head where the pain was most intense. He brought it down again and was relieved to see only a slight smear of blood. Thankfully, the wound wasn’t deep, but it was certainly causing more pain for the moment that he would like to admit.

He didn’t know how much time had lapsed from when he had fallen until now, but deemed it couldn’t have been any great length of time. If that had been the case, he would have no doubt been found already by a concerned Aragorn and a distressed Sam.

Frodo tried to assess any further injuries he might have sustained during his rapid descent. His arms seemed to move without hindrance, but his right foot was definitely a different story. For some unknown reason, the pain became intensified as he tried to move the leg.

A sharp, shooting pain ran up the length of the limb, so much so that it almost took his breath away. He forced himself to regulate his breathing in order to deal with the pain until it began to ease. Unfortunately, there was very little relief forthcoming. Looking at his muddy and sodden position though, Frodo knew that he couldn’t very well stay for long where he was.

Clenching his teeth at the coursing pain in his leg and the throbbing in his head, he pulled himself into a half-seated position, once again giving himself a brief moment to battle the pain in his ankle. He didn’t dare look at it for fear of what he might find. He had had little dealings with broken limbs but his inability to move the leg even slightly caused him to think that break might be exactly what the injury was.

Pain was throbbing inside his skull, robbing him of any lengthy coherent or rational thought for an escape plan. He put his hand to his temple and tried to massage some of the pain away so that he could take better stock of his situation. By now, he was sincerely hoping that he was being missed and that his companions were trying to find him.

Frodo could now see that he had fallen into some sort of pit. The soil at the bottom had turned into mud after the overnight storm. Looking towards the sky, he could see the canopy of the trees and the sunlight that was starting to emerge through the clouds. The drizzle had stopped and the clouds overhead were beginning to break up and reveal blue sky.

He looked around at the walls of the pit and hoped that he would be able to pull himself out. He could see protruding roots of trees and jagged pieces of rock embedded in the subsoil that could act as footholds or be used for clinging to while climbing out. Deciding that he was not getting any drier where he sat, it was time to give his idea a try.

Once again he gritted his teeth, and using some of the larger protruding roots, he pulled himself into a standing position without placing any weight onto his injured ankle. He looked down at it and could already see a great deal of swelling and discolouring of the skin.

Frodo swallowed hard as he tried to think how he was going to manage with only one foot. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as he had first thought and would hold up, so long as he only placed a small amount of weight on it for a very brief moment. Just long enough to get his good foot into position for the next step.

Grabbing a tree root in both hands and willing himself that his idea would work, Frodo closed his eyes and placed his good foot on a rock and pushed himself higher. He sagged in relief when that the first step had been successful. He then went to place his bad foot on a rock not far away, just for long enough to make the next foothold with his good foot.

He was unprepared for the resulting pain and screamed in agony as his ankle collapsed beneath him and sent him tumbling back down to the bottom of the pit from where he had climbed. For a few minutes, he could do nothing but lay on the muddy ground in absolute pain, tears streaming down his face.

Resigning himself to the fact that he wasn’t going to escape his entrapment any time soon, and in an effort to try and battle the pain in his foot as it competed with his head, Frodo unclasped the cloak from around his shoulders. It was sodden and muddy just like the rest of him, but he used it as best he could to wrap it around himself. He was beginning to feel a little chilled.

Without even realising it, Frodo had laid the side of his head against the side wall of the pit and closed his eyes in exhaustion. A leaf was stuck to a cheek on his pale face, pinched in pain. ‘Please find me, Strider,’ he thought before falling into a fitful doze in his wet clothes at the bottom of the pit.

Just as Frodo was regaining consciousness at the bottom of the muddy pit, back at the cave, some distance away, the early morning light was beginning to awaken one of his companions.

Strider cursed to himself harshly when he realised that he had fallen into a deeper sleep than he would normally have done. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was becoming used to the company of Frodo and Sam or if it was their simple approach to things that made him feel more relaxed than usual.

He had not awoken to the crack of thunder that had disturbed Frodo, and both he and Sam had been blissfully unaware of the danger that had befallen Frodo in the dense forest near the caves.

The Ranger stood up inside the cave and looked over at the slumbering form of Sam as he lay still immersed in peaceful sleep. It had taken Sam a considerable amount of time to find a comfortable position in the cave, not being a hobbit that usually slept outside or indeed away from the confines of his own home in the Shire.

It was only as Strider found himself looking over at Sam that he realised with dread that there was no second hobbit sleeping beside him. Quickly, he looked about the cave to the spot where he had seen Frodo sleeping earlier in the night. No sign of him anywhere.

“Sam!” Strider said as he knelt beside the sandy-haired hobbit and roused him with a sense of urgency.

“Strider?” a sleepy Sam greeted him, using his hand to shield his eyes from the morning sunlight that was beginning to invade the entrance to the cave.

“Have you seen Frodo this morning?” Strider asked.

This question made Sam wipe away any lingering effects of tiredness and look about the cave as the Ranger had done, in search of his master. “He was here last night, you saw me lay him down over there,” he said, and indicated with a finger.

“Yes, I know, but I fear that he has gone off walking on his own. How long ago I cannot tell. I have enough faith in Frodo that he would not abandon us without reason. However, these forests are no place for a hobbit unfamiliar with their dangers,” Strider explained.

“Where could he have gone?” Sam asked as he scouted the cave and nearby area with his eyes. He was beginning to grow more concerned by the minute, wanting to immediately set out and search for his missing master.

The Ranger didn’t ignore Sam’s question altogether, but became more interested in studying the footprints on the muddy ground. Some of them were from where they had approached the cave the night before, and were now partially erased by the overnight storm.

It was difficult to decipher which of the tracks belonged to Frodo and then which of those he would find the most useful. It was only by careful examination and years of tracking experience that he came to a decision of which direction Frodo was more likely to have taken away from the cave.

“Frodo walked off in this direction,” Strider informed Sam, pointing to the tracks that had lead him to that choice and hoping to begin to show the hobbit some basic tracking skills. “By looking at the distance between each print, I am able to surmise that Frodo was walking, and not running when he left the safety of the cave. That leads to a further, more hopeful assumption that he left on his own accord and was not pursued by someone or something,” he further explained.

Sam nodded his head in acknowledgement, grateful for the Ranger being so patient and descriptive, but he swallowed the knot of fear in his throat when Strider said Frodo had not been chased away from the cave.

Strider walked at a much slower pace to enable Sam to keep up. He already had one missing hobbit; he certainly didn’t want two. They had managed to travel only a few hundred metres from the safety of the caves when they halted their progress. A cry of pain now echoed through the canopy of the trees.

Sam looked up at the Ranger with a stricken expression on his face, both of them already having come to the conclusion that Frodo had been the one to cry out. Automatically both the human and the hobbit quickened their footsteps towards where the cry had come from. What scared them the most was that there were no further cries. All was silent within the forest.

The pair now guessed that they were roughly in the vicinity where the cry could have come from, but looking around, they could not immediately locate Frodo or any sign that he had passed in this direction. The leaves on the forest floor had made it impossible to see any further tracks that might have been left as clues.

Sam was the first to see what looked to be a hole in the earth. They were still quite a few metres away from the rim, but he thought it odd that such an excavation should exist in the middle of a forest.

Strider realised a second too late that the hole was actually a trap meant for animals. Sam had begun taking a few cautious steps towards it, but was suddenly pulled back by the sleeve of his shirt.

“Wait Sam!” Strider warned. “The lip may not be entirely safe and could further collapse around you if you should put any added weight to the loosened soil.”

Being a lot taller than the hobbit, Strider’s eye line enabled him to see a few feet down the wall of the pit. He couldn’t see the bottom or the entire wall, but noted some of the severed roots of trees protruding from the earth.

Strider was about to say something further to Sam, when something in the hole caught his attention. From the angle of his vision, he couldn’t immediately see Frodo, but a fresh gusty breeze blew over the top of the man-made hole, allowing the edges of a billowing cloak to be seen.

“Oh, no,” Strider whispered in alarm, already fearing what the cloak meant. He had almost forgotten that Sam was standing beside him. “Frodo!” he said to himself and then looked down at the sandy-haired hobbit.

“You mean Frodo is down there?” Sam said, barely getting the sentence out when he ripped away from the Ranger’s grip. Thinking a little beforehand, Sam now lay down face first over the ground, still obeying the Ranger’s warning about the earth around the edge of the hole collapsing under too much weight.

Sam crawled on his belly towards the edge of the hole, far enough to gaze down at the bottom. He gasped out loud at seeing his master. “Frodo?” he called out, hoping that his calling out would awaken the dark-haired hobbit. There was no response.

Strider had looked a little more intently at the hole itself and deemed it to be reasonably shallow. Thankfully that was something in his and Frodo’s favour. He was worried, however, by the lack of response from Frodo, not hearing any sounds to Sam’s pleas.

“I am going down there; I need you to stay up here, Sam. If Frodo is hurt, you will be of much more use here,” Strider explained, though he knew that there was something wrong for Frodo not to answer.

Putting his feet carefully as he dared on the soil at the top of the hole, Strider prepared to go down to the injured hobbit. The overnight rain had weakened the rim considerably, but thankfully the soil was a dark clay consistency, enabling it to bear his weight.

With a slight grunt, he jumped down into the hole, making a splash in the ever increasing mud puddle at the bottom. He knelt down in front of Frodo and tried to assess his condition, ignoring the mud on his own boots and cloak.

“Frodo?” Strider whispered, not so loudly as to startle the hobbit if he was merely asleep from exhaustion. He reached up with his hand and removed the leaf from Frodo’s cheek, noting with a grimace how cold it felt. The hobbit’s face was much to pale.

As gently as he could, Strider went about feeling down Frodo’s limbs for any sign of broken bones. He began with Frodo’s arms, with the hobbit barely acknowledging the Ranger’s probing through his wet clothes.

Strider noted the small amount of blood running down the side of Frodo’s face and could see the small cut amongst the dark curls as the cause. He gently felt the area for swelling, bringing Frodo a little closer to consciousness with the sudden jab of pain that developed.

The Ranger then felt down Frodo’s legs. He was almost ready to sigh in relief that the head wound appeared to be the worst of Frodo’s injuries, when he saw the hobbit’s ankle. His face turned grim, enough even for Sam to note the change. His fingers reached out nervously to touch the already swollen and bruised ankle.

Strider’s fingertips had barely brushed the surface of the skin, when Frodo came back awake with a hiss of pain and his hands reaching to stop whatever was touching his ankle. His hands were gently restrained by the man.

”Frodo?” Strider said softly, noting the hobbit’s slightly disorientated stare back at him. He noted with dismay how cold and wet Frodo was. He was soaked to the skin and now that he had returned to semi-consciousness, he was beginning to shiver from the cold.

Strider wrapped his arms around the hobbit, firstly to try and stem the cold and shivering from Frodo, but also to lift the hobbit from his muddy prison. He had to get Frodo near a fire as soon as possible and warm him and then tend to his ankle and head injury.

Some form of recognition began to seep into Frodo’s mind as he looked up at the person lifting him. “S-Strider……..,” he managed to get out, barely audible. His head sagging against the man’s shoulder as the pain assaulted his ankle once more. He chewed his bottom lip to stop from crying out, but was unable to hide a whimper from the pain into the man’s tunic.

“Shhhh, don’t talk, just rest,” Strider said firmly, adjusting the position of the hobbit from his chest to almost over his shoulder. “I will take care of you, Frodo.”

The sudden shift in position made Frodo dizzy and the sensation hit him with staggering force. Frodo found himself unable to voice any protest against being carried in this awkward manner, as his senses turned grey at the edges and became clouded.

Strider had barely begun moving the hobbit to free his arm for climbing back out of the hole, when he felt Frodo go limp in his grasp. He decided not to ponder on whether this was to his advantage or not and quickly made it back out of the hole.

Sam gasped out loud as he saw the limp form of his master over Strider’s shoulder. “He’s so pale and cold,” he said, feeling Frodo’s cheek with the back of his hand.

“Go on ahead of me, Sam,” Strider instructed. “I will need hot water and bandages that are located in my pack. We will need to get a fire going as soon as possible to warm Frodo and some dry clothes as he is soaked through to the skin. Hurry, Sam!”

Whilst Sam was loathe to leave his master, he heeded Strider’s words and knew that by carrying out these tasks, he would be aiding Frodo more than by staying there. He made his way back along the path they had come, scarcely giving a thought that he had travelled the path only once before.

When Strider arrived back at the cave carrying the unconscious hobbit, Sam was completely immersed in his duty of breaking up small twigs and getting ready to light a fire. Once the fire began to burn nicely, he filled his larger pot with fresh water and placed it near the flames to begin boiling it.

Sam had spread out the blankets that Frodo had slept on, and that was where Strider now very gently lay Frodo. He placed a supportive hand to the back of Frodo’s head, not wanting any further jostling of his head injury. Frodo mumbled a little, beginning to regain consciousness once again.

Sam turned to tend the fire and water again, but Strider spoke first: “It might be easier if you were to help Frodo change into some drier clothes while I watch over the water. I will need to add a few herbs to it before I take a good look at his ankle. I am sure he will be somewhat more co-operative with your help.”

The stout, sandy-haired hobbit nodded his head in agreement. A soft moan came from the blankets, indicating that Frodo was becoming more alert. Sam knelt beside his master, placing a gentle restraining hand on his master’s shoulder as Frodo tried to pull himself into a sitting position.

Frodo found that he had very little strength to do this anyway, without assistance, and was unable to get any further than resting on his elbows. The pain in his ankle seemed to reignite with his movement and awareness. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block out the deep throb that encircled his foot.

“You just rest easy now, Mr Frodo,” Sam whispered. “Strider and I will help you. Don’t you go hurting yourself any further,” he added.

“How long was I gone, Sam?” Frodo asked, trying to bridge the time gap in his mind from when he remembered leaving the cave and falling until this moment.

“Only a little while, Mr Frodo,” Sam informed him. “Strider noticed you were gone and we only walked a little way before we heard you cry out in pain.”

Frodo nodded in response, not willing to use his voice whilst he was shivering to avoid worrying Sam further. He was about to pull one of the blankets around him to try and stem the cold in his limbs, but was prevented from doing so.

“Let’s get you into some warm clothes, Mr Frodo,” Sam said. “You will feel better for getting out of them wet clothes. Strider has got the fire going nice and hot there and you should be feeling warmer very soon.”

Sam took a spare set of clothes out of Frodo’s pack. Frodo had four sets altogether, three in the pack from which Sam selected the dry ones and the still wet and cold ones he wore. “You change into these, Mr Frodo, and I will get those up on a line and drying in no time.”

Frodo hated the idea of stripping the wet clothes from his body, the shivering taking much of his energy and with the constant pain in his ankle as a remainder. With a grimace and a moan of pain as he gingerly shifted his feet, he complied with Sam’s request.

By now, Strider had prepared a hot drink for Frodo, mixing in a few leaves of a plant to help with the pain. He moved towards the injured hobbit, and had to force back a laugh at the scene before him. Frodo had indeed tried his best to dress himself. He had managed to remove the wet clothes and had started putting on the dry ones.

Halfway through this, Frodo must have run out of momentum Strider surmised. The pants were on and the shirt was over his head and his arms were through the sleeves. The buttons, however, must have given him more of a challenge and were done up incorrectly.

Frodo was now seated on one of the blankets, with another wrapped around him as tight as he could manage to combat the shivering and cold. The hobbit leaned his head back against the rock wall with his eyes closed, trying to concentrate on the pain in his foot that was ever increasing.

Sam returned from tending to his master’s wet clothes. He saw Frodo’s shirt and the dishevelled look and, without commenting, redid the shirt buttons in the correct order and wrapped the blanket around his friend tighter still.

“Frodo, I need you to try and drink as much of this as you are able to,” Strider said. It took a few moments for the tired lad to drag his eyes open. He focused his blue eyes on the steaming cup, not really interested in what was in it. Strider was hoping that the hot liquid would help ward off the cold Frodo was suffering from.

When he seemed alert enough, Strider handed Frodo the steaming cup, encouraging him again to drink as much as possible. Whilst Sam kept a close eye on his master’s drinking, the Ranger turned his attention to Frodo’s injured ankle.

Strider brushed his fingertips light across the skin as he had done earlier. Once again, Frodo hissed in pain, coughing on a mouthful of tea. He looked down at the area and noted the bad discolouration and swelling.

Sam put a comforting hand on Frodo’s shoulder whilst Strider continued his examination. He apologized for causing the hobbit pain, but it was unavoidable. He needed to ascertain the seriousness of the injury as a precautionary measure before deeming the best solution in treating it.

“Will I be able to walk on it?” Frodo asked, the hot tea doing much to improve his alertness. Part of him still wondered if they were being pursued by the black, hooded creatures that had appeared to him at Bag End. If this was the case, they would not be able to delay their journey to Bree for very long.

Strider guessed that Frodo would be more concerned about carrying out the task he had appointed himself and about keeping Sam safe than about his own well-being.

“We need to get that swelling down before that assessment can be made,” Strider answered. “I am afraid the best method of doing that is to soak your foot in water. Cold water. Tepid or warm water would also work, but unfortunately at a much slower rate.”

Frodo gulped at little at this revelation. His body was already suffering from the effects of laying in sodden clothes for hours and the shivering had merely slowed in the presence of the fire, not dissipated entirely.

“Is there not any other way, Mr Strider?” Sam asked on his master’s behalf. He did not wish to see his master subjected to any further cold.

“I am afraid there is not, Sam,” Strider replied. “However, I will try and counteract the cold sensation in your foot as best as I can. I will heat a blanket by the fire and use it as a shield over your legs to prevent the cold invading further parts of your body.”

“What do we do after that?” Frodo asked, trying to be optimistic despite the situation he found himself in. He was cold and shivering and his leg was injured. They had only just left the Shire, headed in the direction of Bree to meet with Gandalf.

“You, Master Baggins, will rest for a few hours,” Strider said sternly, not allowing any room for compromise or negotiation. “If the swelling has decreased enough, then I believe I can wrap the ankle tightly enough to support it and prevent further injury.”

“Will there still be pain for Mr Frodo?” Sam asked, worried about his master walking around on his ankle. They had very little choice at the moment. In all likelihood, Frodo would refuse any notion of being carried by Strider for any length of time.

“I am afraid there is bound to be some discomfort, Samwise, that is unavoidable,”

Strider commented. “If the ankle is supported enough and perhaps with the aid of a good walking stick, the pain will be less noticeable and the ache will only increase if Frodo remains on his feet for too long a stretch.”

“That will slow us down considerably, Strider,” Frodo said in a deflated voice, knowing that he was the cause. “I do not want to be a burden,” he added, focusing his gaze towards the floor of the cave as he spoke the words.

Strider gently lifted Frodo’s chin with two fingers, making sure that there was sufficient emphasis placed on his reply. “You are not a burden, Frodo.” Sam nodded furiously to support the Ranger, saddened that his master felt this way.

“It was inevitable that there would be delays upon our journey, Frodo. Exactly when or where they would chose to happen is beyond you, Sam and myself. Whether it be now or somewhere further down the trail, there will no doubt be times when our journey takes us down unfamiliar paths. On some days the miles may pass by quicker than on others. That all remains yet to be seen,” Strider continued.

“You cannot help it if there be a hole under your feet, Mr Frodo,” Sam said, wagering into the conversation and trying to displace any of his master’s fears that his injury was anything else but pure bad luck. He wanted to add that he thought it irresponsible that men should choose the forest to set such traps when Shire folk lived so close by, but erred on the side of caution and refrained from uttering his thoughts to Frodo.

“Sam, please fetch me one of your larger pans, and pour some fresh, cold water into it. Frodo, I want you to eat as much breakfast as you are able while your foot soaks and the swelling begins to go down,” Strider said.

By the time Sam returned to Frodo with a mug of warm broth in his hand, his master could scarcely keep his eyes open. The hobbit’s foot was submerged in the cool water, but it was yet to be seen if the treatment was to be effective. Frodo was of the belief that it would prove of little use as the pain was still present.

The heated blanket over his legs had done much to disperse any cold from the water and, with the fire burning low, Frodo was beginning to feel drowsy. He had sipped at the broth Sam had offered, and was grateful for the added warmth it provided to his stomach and hands.

The mug was three quarters empty when Frodo’s eyes drifted closed. The pain had dulled to an ache, partially as a result from the herbs in the drink he had had earlier, and from the cold water numbing his ankle.

Strider once again examined Frodo’s ankle carefully, noting that the swelling was no worse. The discolouration around the skin gave him an idea of how much pain Frodo was experiencing. He hoped that at least his sleep would be restful.

Sam adjusted the blankets around Frodo’s shoulder and then sat back and watched him sleep. The sandy-haired hobbit then folded the fine grey cloak that Frodo had given to him on his birthday and used it as a pillow behind his friend’s head.

When presenting the cloak, Frodo had told him to think of it as a symbol of their

friendship. ‘Each time you put it around your shoulders; I hope you think as if it were my arms supporting you, sheltering and shielding you and keep you warm on whatever journeys life may have in store for you.’

“I promise to shelter, shield and keep you warm, Mr Frodo, no matter what our journey may have in store for you,” Sam whispered softly, brushing a few dark, unruly curls in affection.

For now, that was all Sam and the Ranger could do to help their friend. Sam supplied a mug of hot broth for both himself and Strider, knowing that they too had to eat on the journey.

“You might as well gain a few hours extra sleep with your master, Sam,” Strider suggested. Seeing the hobbit was about to protest, he quickly added, “All we can do is let him rest and wait. I will wake you if I need you. For the moment I need you well rested too. Frodo is most likely going to need both of us to help him if he is able to walk upon that ankle later today.”

Sam reluctantly lay his bedroll down directly beside his master. Before closing his eyes, he took Frodo’s slim hand in his own, knowing that he would feel the slightest movement from the dark-haired hobbit should he wake or cry out in pain.

Strider admired the strong bond that Sam showed. He knew that Frodo was in good hands so long as they remained together. The Ranger watched over the two hobbits as they slept side by side.

Smoke curled away from his long handled pipe as he sat near the entrance to the cave and reflected on various events that had happened over the past few days. Inwardly, he felt troubled about what else lay ahead on their journey. He vowed to himself that Frodo and Sam would remain safe.

The time was now approximately noon, and the sun was shining brightly and high in the blue sky outside the cave.

Sam had awoken about an hour earlier, a little concerned that Frodo was still asleep beside him. Strider reassured him that it was perfectly natural considering the harrowing few hours that Frodo had spent on his own in the muddy pit.

A fresh pot of water had been set near the fire to boil for tea when Frodo showed the first signs of waking. He noted that his foot was no longer soaking in cold water and felt dry and warmer than he had when falling asleep.

Strider knelt beside Frodo, allowing him to wake in his own time. He placed the back of his hand to Frodo’s brow and was relieved to find the skin warm to the touch. Thankfully the hobbit had regained much of the colour he had lost and his breathing didn’t sound impeded or scratchy.

Frodo pulled himself into a sitting position and took stock of the aches that still troubled him. His headache was completely gone and the wound on his scalp was now only tender to the touch.

“How do you feel, Frodo?” Strider asked, hoping for a candid answer.

“My head feels a lot clearer,” he voiced. He looked down at his ankle and noted that the entire ankle was now black with bruising. Very gingerly, he tried to move it to see how much mobility he would be allowed. The swelling had decreased considerably.

“It feels very stiff,” Frodo admitted. “The ache is still there but not the sharp pain that was there before,” he informed the Ranger.

“I will pad the ankle and then wrap both it and your foot tightly and then you may try and see if it will bear your weight sufficiently to walk. If you are in any doubt, please tell me now. If you are not comfortable with walking on it for the moment, we will camp here for another night and proceed in the morning,” Strider said, giving the list of alternatives.

“I am willing to at least give it a try once you have wrapped it, Strider,” Frodo said, trying to sound as confident as he could.

“All right, then, Sam, please get me some of the thicker bandages from my pack.

You will also find some thicker wads of fabric that I can use to pad the ankle with first,” Strider requested.

The Ranger accepted the bundle of padding and bandages from Sam. Both hobbits now watched intently as Strider worked quietly and carefully to wrap Frodo’s ankle. Somehow it seemed better just to watch and learn rather than ask questions. After a while, Frodo and Sam found that Strider usually explained his methods and procedures as he worked.

On a couple of occasions, Frodo had to bite down on his lip to keep from crying out when it felt like the bandaging was becoming too tight. Once completed, Strider encouraged him to flex the ankle as much as he was able to, giving Frodo a small amount of relief from the tension, but still allowing enough support and stability to the limb.

Frodo moved it, and was a little scared at how much pain was still present when he did so. He found that if he was careful and used some basic breathing techniques, he was able to cope with the pain a lot better.

“Now comes the real test, Frodo,” Strider remarked as he stood up, ready to assist the hobbit into a standing position. “Are you certain you are ready to do this?”

“Y-yes,” Frodo said although it came with a little hesitation in his voice. He was about to use both arms to brace himself against the rock wall of the cave, but instead found strength and support on both sides from Strider and Sam.

Frodo was now standing on his good leg, hoping on a couple of occasions to keep his balance.

“Do not put all of your weight on your injured ankle, Frodo,” Strider warned. “Place your foot down gently on the ground and use the ball of your foot and toes to do most of the work. Try not to put any added stress on the heel of your foot at all.”

Frodo nodded that he understood and took a deep breath in readiness. Doing as the Ranger advised, he very carefully and slowly allowed his injured foot to touch the floor of the cave, gripping a little tighter on Sam’s arm as he did so.

He held that breath in for a considerably long time until he let it out slowly again, allowing his body to feel. To his surprise and relief there was no sharp pain running up the length of his leg as the skin on the ball of his foot made contact with the rock.

Frodo waited a few more seconds before he voiced how the foot truly felt. “It still feels very tight, Strider, but standing upright has released a little of the pressure. The padding seems very soft, but at the same time holding firm, and is helping a lot.”

“I am pleased to hear you say that, Frodo,” the Ranger commented, reaching down to make a closer inspection of the bandaged ankle. “Are you sure that the discomfort is minimal?”

“Yes, I am surprised how much the padding seems to be absorbing what pain there is. It is still aching a little, but it is bearable for now,” Frodo replied honestly.

“There isn’t much sense in delaying any further,” Strider advised. “The packs are ready are they not, Sam?”

“Yes, sir, Mr Strider,” Sam answered. “I made sure they were ready while Mr Frodo was sleeping.”

“No doubt our progress will be hampered for what remains of the afternoon, but to make the trip a little easier on your ankle, Frodo,” Strider said as he reached for an object leaning against the cave wall, “I selected this for you.” He handed the hobbit a walking stick.

The walking staff reached about shoulder height on Frodo. The wood was smooth and Strider had been careful enough to select a species of tree where the wood would not splinter so easily in one’s hand.

Frodo tried it out, changing it from hand to hand, making sure that it felt comfortable in his grip. “It certainly looks sturdy enough. Thank you, Strider.”

“You are welcome, Frodo,” Strider replied. The Ranger now picked up Frodo’s backpack and helped him sit it on his back, ready to set out. He shouldered his own belongings and made sure that their meagre fire was extinguished.

Sam put his own heavy pack on his back, looking over to Frodo as his master adjusted the straps. “I could carry yours for you if you like, Mr Frodo,” he offered.

“No thank you, Sam,” Frodo replied. “I am quite alright and you have enough to carry without adding to it. We have only just begun this journey and I must bear some of the burden.”

Strider could see that Sam was concerned for his master and decided to cater to both hobbits. Frodo, on the one hand, had a strong independent streak in him that caused him not to allow others to help as much as they would like to. Sam, on the other hand, only wanted to help Frodo and keep him safe.

“Frodo, I want you and Sam to walk in front. I will make sure that our trail is not being followed,” Strider said. This arrangement did two things. It gave Frodo his little bit of independence to walk unassisted except for the staff. It also gave Strider a chance to watch from behind if Frodo tired too soon or seemed to be in pain. Though, Sam would be close enough to aid his master should his step falter.

And so it began that the three travellers started out on their second day away from the Shire. The sun was still shining in the sky and the air was clean and fragrant from the trees. The walk was very pleasant indeed and no shadows impeded their progress.

After an hour, Frodo had to resign to the fact that his foot was beginning to ache and he needed a brief break. They stopped for approximately thirty minutes and Strider checked the bandaging and made sure that it had not come loose. With a cool drink of refreshing water and an apple in hand, they set off once again, determined to use as much of the fading daylight as possible.

After another three hours of walking, the decision was made to make camp for the night. Frodo had been managing quite well with the walking staff up until now, but now he found he could no longer mask the soft groans as his ankle began to ache dreadfully.

Strider was quite pleased that they had travelled a little further than he had imagined they would. Partially due to the fact that Frodo had been too stubborn to admit hurting, he assumed, but said nothing.

While Sam prepared supper over a fire, Strider took a fresh pan of water and soaked Frodo’s ankle once again in cold water. The swelling was not as noticeable as before, but he could tell by the pinched expression on the hobbit’s face that the ankle was hurting.

Frodo had sat down, resting his back against the smooth trunk of a tree and closing his eyes briefly while his foot remained submerged in the water.

Tonight they would have to sleep out in the open forest, not being afforded the luxury of a sheltered cave in this part of the woods. The man and the two hobbits ate quietly, noting how still the forest was at night. The silence was only penetrated by the hoot of an owl.

After eating supper, they each took out their pipes and reclined back with their faces pointed towards the sky, enjoying the display of endless stars generously sprinkled across an ebony blanket.

“I wonder if Bilbo is looking up at these same stars as us tonight, Sam,” Frodo said in a soft voice.

“No doubt he is, Mr Frodo. They probably just don’t look as clear as they are here tonight,” Sam responded. He felt saddened by his friend’s loss and grief knowing that being out here in a strange forest, far from home, Frodo would feel even further away from Bilbo.

“You two get some sleep, I will keep watch tonight,” Strider said, settling himself down in a position to be able to guard the smaller folk.

“Won’t you need some sleep too, Mr Strider?” Sam asked in concern, knowing that the Ranger had already been awake a good deal more than he and Frodo.

“I do not need as much rest as you do, Sam,” Strider explained. “I have spent many years roaming forests such as this at night. My body has become accustomed to needing less sleep.”

Frodo had lain out his bedroll close to the fire, feeling a cool breeze begin to blow through the canopy of the trees. His eyes were weary and his body tired. He laid his head on his folded cloak and pulled a blanket around his slim shoulders.

“Good night, Strider,” Frodo said, feeling the warmth of the fire down his back which was making him even sleepier.

“Good night, Sam,” Frodo whispered, before drifting off into a dreamless sleep.

“Good night, Mr Frodo,” Sam returned, making sure that his master was asleep before tending to his own comfort. “Good night to you as well, Mr Strider.”

“Sleep well, Frodo and Sam,” Strider said, noting the calm features of the hobbits, and placing another small log on the fire to burn slowly throughout the night.


Upon waking early the next morning, all partook in eating a cold breakfast before getting ready to set out on yet another long day of walking. The fire had died down to ashes during the night and they deemed it more cautious not to reignite the flames.

“How is your ankle this morning, Frodo?” Sam asked as he packed away the last of the cleaned dishes, in anticipation of moving again soon.

“A little stiff again, Sam,” Frodo voiced. “The walking should soon help it, though,” he added. The bruising was now stark in contrast to the surrounding pale skin of Frodo’s foot. No doubt, in a couple of days time, with care taken, the bruising would begin to change to greenish, yellow tones, indicating that the ankle was healing.

Frodo took a firm grip on his walking staff and prepared to set out on their journey towards Bree. They had only travelled a short time when they were surprised how quickly and how much the terrain and landscape were changing.

Instead of the closed in dense forest, they now came to walk in open plains carpeted in long grass. The grass was so tall that the hobbits took joy in running their hands through it as they walked, spreading the plentiful seeds of the fragrant grasses upon the gentle breeze.

It was not just in a visual sense that they noticed the changes, but they noticed changes in everything around them. There was a different scent to the air they were breathing. There light changed a dozen shades of hues within only half an hour, sometimes darker, being other times paler.

Strider was mindful of Frodo’s ankle and made sure that they stopped and rested regularly. On the second day, at about lunch time, they were most grateful to come across a small stream, bordered by some large boulders. The water cascaded down the faces, keeping the stream running and crystal clear.

Frodo was pleasantly surprised at the temperature of the water. It was cool, not cold, and the sound of the small waterfalls made him feel relaxed. He gently removed the bandage from around his ankle whilst Sam was busy preparing a lunch of fruit and bread.

Sighing, he allowed his feet to be massaged by the rippling motion of the water. The coolness was doing much to relieve any lingering ache that was present after much walking. Frodo invited Sam and the Ranger to come and join him in the soothing water.

Strider obliged and agreed with the hobbit on how good the water felt on his bare feet. Sam however, flatly refused, telling his master that hobbits like him and water didn’t associate well with each other.

“My Gaffer always said that water and Gamgees don’t mix, except maybe in the garden, Mr Frodo,” Sam stated. “And I am not one for doubting what my old Gaffer says.”

Frodo was respectful of Sam’s wishes, even if he did think that Sam believed too much in the teachings of the Old Gaffer and not in following what his own heart told him.

Late in the afternoon, as they continued across the grassy expanse, when the sun was just beginning to set, something was about to happen that would always stick in Strider’s mind.

This afternoon’s event would go a long way to proving to the Ranger just how much that unselfishness and friendship was reciprocated from Frodo. Given a different set of circumstances and other surroundings, it could have gone completely unnoticed.

He had been acutely aware of the friendship that was shared between Frodo and Sam. He had been witness to the unselfish acts of Sam on numerous occasions as he fussed about his master, making sure everything was taken care of and just so.

Frodo had been walking in front of Sam and the Ranger, happy enough just to be drinking in the last few hours of fading sunlight. His spirits were good from the walking and he seemed to lose himself in his own thoughts. He was a few metres in front of Strider.

At first, Frodo didn’t seem to notice that Sam had fallen back a little and was now behind Strider as well. Sam had now stopped walking altogether, pausing as if negotiating whether to go forward or not. It didn’t seem like a hard decision to Strider, but the expression on the stout hobbit’s face spoke otherwise.

“Well, this is it,” Sam said, sounding as though he was talking to himself, rather than to his companions.

Frodo had heard the comment and now stopped walking, turning to face his friend. Strider was about to ask Sam if he had suddenly changed his mind about following his master, but Frodo spoke first.

“This is what, Sam?” Frodo asked gently, a curious look on his face.

“If I take one more step, it will be the furthest from home I have ever been, Mr Frodo,” Sam voiced.

Frodo wasn’t about to let his friend fall into sadness about having to leave the Shire. Of course he knew that Sam had never really wanted to travel further than his homeland.

Frodo put one arm around Sam’s shoulder, “I haven’t been this way much myself, but I promise you, wherever we go, it will be together and one step at a time.”

Sam looked up trustingly at Frodo and smiled, “You don’t need to be worrying about me Mr Frodo. Takes a lot to deter a Gamgee when he sets his mind to something.”

“I am glad to hear it, Sam,” Frodo responded, but still kept a reassuring arm around his friend’s shoulder for a few more moments.

Strider was aware that he had just been witness to something quite remarkable. These two hobbits were being lead out here into strange and unfamiliar surroundings. Yet, for all their fears and insecurities about the journey itself and where it would end, Frodo and Sam had no such doubts about each others loyalty and love.

Since they had walked quite a distance further this day, the Ranger declared that they would stop earlier that afternoon than they had previous day. This would allow Sam to cook a more substantial and filling meal and allow Frodo to rest his ankle a little more.

Sam had been most pleased about being able to use his cooking skills and the pans tied to his backpack. It also gave the sandy-haired hobbit a chance to entice his master’s taste buds with a few little spices that he had stolen away in his possessions.

Not much, a little salt, a little seasoning and some dried herbs from his own garden. Just enough to plump out the stew a little more and give it some texture and make the meal more palatable.

Aragorn took on the responsibility of gathering enough wood to stoke the fire during the night, whilst Sam knelt over a small skillet over the flames. Frodo was content enough to sit back in the sagging branches of a nearby tree and rest after such a long day of walking.

Frodo was enjoying the gentle breeze on his face and he had been deep in thoughts about some of the things that had happened over the last few days. Sam looked up at his master and couldn’t help but smile at the relaxed, older hobbit.

Just as he was in danger of falling asleep before supper, a chorus of voices reached Frodo’s ears. He stayed perfectly still for a few seconds, and then the chorus rang out clearer and closer. At first there were many voices, and then they combined from a choir into one single note that echoed beauty and light through the trees.

“Strider!” Frodo said with delight written all over his face as he sat up and listened.

The Ranger smiled, realising along with the hobbit, who it was making such a beautiful lamented song. “Go on, so long as you are careful,” Strider said to Frodo’s unspoken question. He could not in good conscience deny him such an opportunity that gave him a few fleeting moments of sheer joy and a chance to forget the reason for their journey.

“Hurry slowly, Frodo. Be mindful of your ankle as it has yet to heal properly,” Strider said, happy to see the dark-haired hobbit smiling and bursting with anticipation.

“Don’t worry, Sam, I will see that supper is cooked and ready for you when you return,” seeing the look on the younger hobbit’s face.

“Come on, Sam,” Frodo said, urging his friend to go with him quickly. “You are about to see a most wondrous sight. Not too many hobbits from the Shire ever get to see Wood-Elves, except, perhaps, for Uncle Bilbo.”

“Elves! You mean as in the Fair Folk,Mr Frodo?” Sam said, barely able to contain his excitement. He had told everyone in the Shire that he hoped to meet an Elf one day. Master Bilbo had told countless stories about their ways and culture.

Sam had never counted on actually seeing one for real. It had been just a secret, a burning desire he had held onto, like wanting to be a mighty wizard fighting dragons and other mythical creatures in tales and songs.

“Yes, dear Sam, you will finally get to see an Elf. We are most fortunate to come across Elves this close to the Shire,” Frodo answered.

Frodo and Sam made their way quietly and as quickly as Frodo’s ankle allowed them, through the grass and into area coveted with a small number of trees. A large fallen tree trunk became a suitable vantage point for observing these ethereal people without disturbing them.

The two hobbits lay down, partially peering out over the fallen log and watching the procession of elves and their horses some distance away. The voices still chorused together but the songs and melody sounded sadder, if not mournful.

“Where are they going, Mr Frodo?” Sam asked, noting how his friend’s jubilance had soon waned and had been replaced by a sense of sadness upon seeing the Elves.

“They are heading to the White Towers beyond the harbour, Sam. Leaving Middle-earth. Headed for the Grey Havens, never to return,” Frodo said, his voice quiet, barely above a whisper.

Sam and Frodo made their way back to the campsite, mindful that Strider would soon come looking for them if they delayed further. The meal was ready and piping hot and it was shared by the three.

Frodo would not speak to Strider of what he had seen when they had arrived back. He seemed lost in his own thoughts as he slowly ate, his eyes often glancing back to the tree line and pondering.

The Ranger was soon told, in a most animated way, of Sam’s first sighting of an Elf. Sam’s hazel eyes had shone with awe and utter amazement at these people who moved about so gracefully. The Elvish horses were a sight to behold all of their own, Sam informed Strider, unaware of the Ranger’s background or knowledge of such things.

Sam had whispered to Strider about Mr Frodo seeming quite sad upon seeing the Elves leaving Middle-earth. The Ranger couldn’t deny that such a sight would have made him feel just as grievous as Frodo, but chose not to relay that sentiment to Sam this night.

The remainder of the evening was quiet as Aragorn sat beside the meagre fire that Sam had used to cook supper. The meal itself was very satisfying and the Ranger couldn’t help but marvel that the stout hobbit was able to make such a delicious stew from very few ingredients.

For a while Frodo and Aragorn talked softly just to enjoy the night and gaze into the flickering flames. Frodo had offered to help Sam with clearing away the dishes and the pots, but Sam would have none of it and had shooed his master back to just sitting by the fire and relaxing instead.

By the time Sam had finished with the dishes and pots, Frodo was laying down. The conversation between himself and Strider had gone quiet. Aragorn smiled with slight amusement as he watched Frodo become drowsy. The hobbit had laid his curly dark head down on his folded cloak and was steadily on his way to sleep.

Sam sat down by the fire and watched his master for a few minutes, noting that Frodo was trying to fight off falling asleep. Frodo’s eyelids fluttered closed a few times before opening again only to have them drooping again a few seconds later.

Before long the battle was lost, and this time when Frodo’s eyes closed they remained so, his breathing evening out and his face relaxing into slumber. There were no lines of fatigue or weariness even though they had travelled a little over two days from Bag End.

Aragorn noted how content Frodo looked poised in sleep. His face looked almost untouched, framed by the dark locks that fell over his forehead. He knew that the young hobbit was still trying to deal with his feelings over Bilbo’s sudden departure and everything else that had happened so far.

To his credit, Frodo was good at masking how he was feeling to an extent. Strider found himself still trying to work him out at times, wondering what was going on behind those bright blue eyes. He forced himself to look for signs of over-tiredness, hunger or injury in his companions and see through the smiles offered in response to his questioning gazes.

Frodo didn’t fool Sam, though, and there had been two occasions where the stout hobbit had seen his master try and hide a silent tear from them as they continued out of the Shire. Sam had been there to offer a few words of sympathy and support, without embarrassing Frodo in front of the Ranger.

Sam waited until he knew Frodo was asleep properly and then got to his feet and took a blanket out of his master’s pack. He then went about tucking it in around his sleeping friend, making sure that Frodo wouldn’t catch a chill during the night.

Aragorn watched the fussing that Sam seemed to enjoy laying on his master. With Sam it was unending, too. Already on this trip the Ranger had noted that Sam was always looking out for Frodo and checking on him, seeing if he needed anything and asking how he was feeling.

There had been few occasions where he had seen such a display of loyalty and friendship between two individuals. Frodo never stirred during Sam’s administrations, but sighed contentedly as he burrowed into the warmth of the offered blanket.

Sam went back to the fire and saw the amused but curious look on the Ranger’s face about what he had just seen him do for Frodo.

“I don’t mean to pry, Master Gamgee, but I must admire your friendship to Frodo,” Strider commented.

Sam felt himself blush a little at the man’s praise. “I do it all the time for Mr Frodo,” he replied, offering a brief explanation.

“I know you do, and I am sure that Frodo appreciates it, even if he doesn’t always say so verbally. There is sometimes a smile that you share or a certain look in his eyes that indicates you and he connect on a different level than others do around you. But would it be rude of me to ask why you do it?” the Ranger asked, truly interested.

Seeing it as a genuine curiosity and not a poke in fun at what he did, Sam was more than happy to share the real reason why he felt bound to look out for Frodo so much.

“I don’t mind telling you, Mr Strider, knowing that Mr Frodo there is asleep and shouldn’t hear my words should they be whispered,” Sam began. “I’d be guessing it would be easier to tell you about when we first met and then explain from there.”

Aragorn nodded his head slightly, indicating that he would enjoy hearing how such a strong friendship had begun between the two hobbits.

“Well, it’s like this, Mr Frodo lived at Brandy Hall after his parents passed away.

He had Mr Merry for company there, I believe, but things didn’t always work out and he got sad and lonely a lot there. Master Bilbo used to visit him often enough when he could and it was on one of these visits that it was decided that Mr Frodo would come and live back at Bag End.

I was there the day Master Bilbo brought my master home in his wagon. Mr Frodo was happy enough to be there, but he was also a little bit afraid of his new surroundings, worried that he wouldn’t fit in and all that.”

“Did Frodo eventually feel like he was fitting in?” the Ranger asked.

“Some you might say, but he has always had to work hard to get the people in Hobbiton to accept him for who he is. A lot of folk scoffed at Master Bilbo for making him heir to Bag End. In addition to the Sackville-Bagginses I mean.”

“Anyway, even with everyone talking behind his back and telling gossipy stories

about his heritage before he came and the like, Mr Frodo has never had a mean bone in his body towards anyone of them.”

Aragorn definitely had to agree on this point. The boy’s manners were impeccable to say the least.

“Mr Frodo is like no other hobbit I have ever met, Strider. He is always worrying about others before himself. Doing things when he isn’t asked to, even if his social position dictates that he ought not.”

“Shall you give me an example?” Strider enquired.

“Oh yes, and I be thinking of the very best one when I explain this one, Mr Strider,” Sam said, still glancing towards his master’s slumbering form as he spoke. “I don’t know if you could tell, me being a plain hobbit and all that, but there was a time, not long after Mr Frodo came to Bag End, when I felt it hardly worth getting out of bed in the morning.”

“Indeed, Sam, your carefree nature over the past week or so has me having a hard time believing such to be true,” Strider responded with curiosity. “I have seen your devotion and love for Frodo and your exuberance when talking about growing things in the garden. What event could have shadowed your young life for you to have such dark thoughts?”

“I lost my mum,” Sam said simply, unable to hide a small tear of sadness, even after all these years. “It still hurts, deep in here, when I talk about her,” he added, placing his hand over his heart.

“I am truly sorry, Sam. I lost my father when I was very young, I do not remember him at all,” Strider said, hoping to show the young hobbit that others shared his pain. He placed a reassuring hand on Sam’s shoulder and drew him in a little closer.

“Oh, Mr Strider, I didn’t mean to make you sad too,” Sam said in apology, wiping the tears from his face. He did not make any attempt to pull away from the Ranger’s offer of kindness.

“That’s alright, Sam, it was a long time ago, as I said. Now, how did Frodo help you after your tragic loss?” Strider asked gently.

“Well, at first it was Master Bilbo, offering to help my Old Gaffer with the funeral arrangements and having someone come and help care for my brothers and sisters if that’s what was needed. He bought enough food for a month so as we wouldn’t have to worry about going to the market and such,” Sam explained.

“Sounds exactly what Bilbo would do,” Strider remarked, having already heard that Bilbo would give generously to those he deemed deserving.

“My Old Gaffer missed mum for a long time afterwards. Some days I even went to work in the gardens at Bag End on my own. It’s like he didn’t want to go on without her. My sisters were mainly responsible for bringing him out of his slump. They took over the cooking duties at home and saw to the household chores that needed doing just so as he didn’t have to worry about his clothes or feeding us.”

“Did you have anybody to share your feelings with about your mother’s passing, Sam?” Strider asked, knowing that hobbits would seek comfort in their families and friends at such a sad time.

“Well, seeing as how I was taking over from the Gaffer, I didn’t really think about it. The gardens kept me busy enough; there was still the watering and the weeding to do. Master Bilbo and Mr Frodo told me that they understood if we needed to take time off, but gardening is what I have always done.

Every day after my mum passed away, Mr Frodo would come out into the garden to see if I needed anything or wanted to talk. Every single day. It was getting so that I could tell when he was about to walk out of Bag End and come seek me out in the vegetable patch or the flower beds under Master Bilbo’s study window.”

“Mr Frodo even offered to help out with the watering and the weeding if I was needed back at home for the family. Imagine, Mr Frodo, offering to get down on his hands and knees and pick the little weeds out between me taters!” Sam said with both mirth and genuine appreciation in his voice.

“Frodo has very slender hands, so he might be very good at something like that,” Strider said in the sleeping hobbit’s defence, not truly being able to picture Frodo gardening either. “Though he would have been more worried about you than your garden I would assume, Sam.”

Sam blushed a little at this observation, “I know. That’s why I told him best to leave the gardening to me and not get his good clothes all soiled and stained.”

“After a few weeks had gone by, though, something changed in me. I don’t know if I was still grieving or not. Mr Frodo didn’t quite explain to me how long someone might take to get used to not seeing a loved one. But I started to feel like my Old Gaffer and didn’t want to go out of the house or even get out of bed in the morning to tend to the gardens anymore,” Sam said, continuing the tale.

“Mr Frodo, he never gave up on me though. When I didn’t turn up at Bag End one day, he came to my home to see if everything was alright. He came right into Bagshot Row with a basket full of food and kept company with me that whole day. He didn’t mind that he was not doing the things he wanted for a day. He told me that he wanted to make sure he was alright. He even shared how he had felt when his parents drowned when he was younger.”

“Frodo sounds like a good friend to have around in times such as those,” Strider said softly, amazed that the folk of Hobbiton failed to see what a true treasure the younger Baggins could have been if given the chance to shine.

“Aye, that he is, but after the second and the third day of him doing that, well I don’t know really how to tell it. I guess everything just got on top of me so as I wasn’t thinking straight. I did the most horrible thing to Mr Frodo on that fourth morning when he came with his basket, offering his words of comfort,” Sam said, hanging his head a little in shame as tears began to well in his eyes at the memory of his scathing words.

“I am sure Frodo has forgiven you long ago, no matter what you said,” Strider said in reassurance but still listening keenly.

“I am sure he has, Mr Strider, he has even told me so many times, but I don’t know if I am ready to forgive myself for what I said. He didn’t deserve none of it.”

The two ceased their conversation briefly when Frodo stirred in the blankets nearby and rolled over in his sleep, making a few incoherent mutterings as he did so. They waited until the dark-haired hobbit’s face was poised in peaceful sleep once more.

“When Mr Frodo came through the door that day, his face smiling as always and ready to help me through my troubles, I shouted at him to go away. And not in a nice way either. Even my sisters were shocked at the words I spoke to Mr Frodo that day. I told him that I didn’t need him coming over to my place everyday and treating me like a baby. That he didn’t really understand how I felt, and that he had not really known my mother long enough to know why I missed her so much.”

“And you know the worst of it, Mr Strider?” Sam said as he now reproached himself for his deeds so many years ago. “The part that hurts me the most isn’t the words that I said to Mr Frodo, though they cut deep enough to be sure. But it was the look on his face. Those beautiful blue eyes of his welled up with tears and his face paled and that smile was replaced with a frown.”

“He never said anything in return. Though, my Old Gaffer threatened to take a switch to my hide when Marigold told him later that day. Mr Frodo put the basket on the table, as polite as you please and walked back to Bag End, leaving me to my shame of what I had done.”

Strider could tell that Sam’s heart was breaking at how he had treated his best friend that day. Though, looking at the two of them together over the past few days, they must have sorted out their differences and became friends again.

“The next day,” Sam said after a brief pause, “Mr Frodo came back to my door again, basket of food again in his hand, just as he had every other day before that. He never mentioned the hurtful words I had said. He just kept giving me the support and encouragement I needed to go on after my mum.”

“A true friend,” Strider murmured quietly repeated.

“Mr Frodo was there for me, every day, whether I said I wanted it or not. And even when I told him to go away and that I didn’t want his help, he was still there for me. From that day on, I promised myself that I would be there for him, just like that. Even if he said to go away and never come back.”

“And I see you have still kept your promise, even tonight,” Strider commented. “A noble thing, friendship, Master Gamgee, and something that shouldn’t be thrown idly aside for the gain of greater riches.”

“I will remember that, Mr Strider, and I promise to still be there for my master, Mr Frodo, on this journey, whenever he should need me. For now, we had better get some sleep before the sun is shining upon us again,” Sam said finally, preparing his own bedroll beside his friend.

“Goodnight Samwise,” Strider whispered as he thought back over the story he had just been told.

The next morning, Strider had already been awake for half an hour when Sam stirred and prepared to make breakfast for the three of them.

Frodo was still curled in his blankets, having slept soundly for the majority of the night. Sam hoped his master was all the more rested today from it. They still had an incredibly long way to walk to Bree, but alas there was no shorter route available to them at present.

“I will heat the water for tea first before disturbing Mr Frodo,” Sam informed Strider, allowing his master a few extra minutes of rest.

Strider now noticed a strange looking lump under the corner of Frodo’s blankets, trying to decide for a moment if he should be concerned. The Ranger walked quietly over to the sleeping hobbit, aware that Sam was watching his every movement.

The Ranger began peeling back the corner of Frodo’s blanket, revealing two things. Firstly, a pair of warm hobbit feet, and secondly, two small hares curled up together, sharing the warmth being emitted from the owner of the blankets.

Carefully, Strider picked up the two little rabbits and settled them in a nestle of leaves beneath a nearby tree. One of the rabbits had lifted its head as if to wonder why the warm blanket had been moved and why its peaceful slumber was being interrupted.

“Mr Frodo must have been warm enough last night,” Sam said as he laughed at the curious critters. “He has always had a way with animals, for as long as I can remember. Even Mr Bilbo talked about how Mr Frodo often found injured creatures on their walks and then would tend them as best he could.”

“Animals can sense when they are threatened or if they are safe, Sam. Shy little creatures like that would only venture near if they sensed Frodo meant no harm to them,” Strider remarked, truly believing in what he said.

When the tea was ready and the breakfast almost done, Sam knelt beside his master, trying to wake him. Strider watched the sandy-haired hobbit’s gentle methods, as he firstly caressed along Frodo’s forearm, whispering his name softly. When that didn’t extract more than a soft sigh from Frodo, Sam opted to brushing some of the dark curls from his master’s brow.

“Sam,” Frodo said, slowing opening his eyes to greet his friend. “Thank you for waking me, Sam. What time is it?”

“Nearly time to begin walking again, Mr Frodo, but not before you have had something nice and hot in your belly and some tea to wash it down with,” Sam said, helping his master to his feet and seeing to his bedroll.

“Thank you, Sam,” Frodo said as he was handed his breakfast from Sam. “Always looking after me,” he added with a shy but appreciative smile.

Sam felt his face redden abruptly. Had Mr Frodo heard the conversation to the Ranger last night? Had he overheard what Sam had said about the reason for their friendship?

Strider couldn’t help but hide a sly smile of his own behind his mug of tea. He watched Frodo say nothing more than a few words to get Sam so flustered. Sam would never know if Frodo had been listening the night before, the comment being general enough to not draw such an inference.

“Today I would like to try less padding around my ankle, Strider,” Frodo said as he polished of the last few bites of his breakfast. “It feels a little stronger and it does not ache as badly.”

“If you are certain that it is not causing you discomfort, Frodo,” Strider answered.

“We have a long day ahead of us, but will stop and rest when you need to rest.”

“I am sure, Strider, and as you say, we have such a long way to go today,” Frodo confirmed.

Strider was unaware of just how eventful the day would become for all three travellers.

There wasn’t even a hint or suggestion of the chaos that would ensue later as they approached the edge of the grasslands and neared a large expanse of agricultural farms and crops. The three carefully navigated their way through rows and rows of large cabbages, the heads of which were nice and plump and ready for harvest any day now.

Then they came across the largest patch of carrots Sam had ever seen. Surely there would have been enough carrots there to feed all of Hobbiton for a year. The soil was rich and fertile in the Shire, and its bounty was plentiful this time of year.

The sun was very high over head now, and although the morning had been crisp and cool, the tree travellers were relieved when spotting some shade in the cornfields.

Frodo had not said a lot that morning, seemingly content just to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine and the scenery as they walked. The dark-haired hobbit was some distance ahead as they entered the tall cornfield.

The corn plants barely reached above their knees on the very edges of the field. Those closer in the centre that had been planted much earlier in the year were now tall and clumped densely together. Some of them even reached as high as Strider’s shoulder.

“We will stop here for a while and rest, Sam,” the Ranger said, noting that they had gone considerably far today without a break. “We can enjoy lunch in this shade and avoid the heat of the day. Call your master back and tell him of our plans.”

Sam was about to do exactly that when he became alarmed. He could no longer see any sign of his master. “I can’t see him, Mr Strider,” the hobbit declared, finding it rather difficult to manoeuvre through the tall plants or even find a suitable path to follow.

Strider noted just how dwarfed the hobbits appeared in relation to the corn plants and saw how easy it could be for them to become disorientated or lost amongst the dense vegetation.

“Mr Frodo! Mr Frodo!” Sam called out anxiously.

Strider was not far behind Sam and tried his best to assure the hobbit that Frodo had not wandered too far ahead of them and that he was perfectly safe.

Much to Sam’s relief, they turned down another corridor of plants, a little wider than before, allowing a little more scanning further on. Frodo had heard his name called feverously twice more as he hurried back to the sound of Sam’s voice.

“Sam was worried you might have gotten lost, Frodo,” Strider said, trying to make light of the matter.

“I thought I had lost you, is all,” Sam said sheepishly, feeling a little foolish.

“What are you talking about, Sam?” Frodo said with a laugh. He had been merely enjoying the sights and sounds too much to notice how far in front he was of his companions.

“It’s just something Gandalf said that’s all,” Sam said as mentioned the promise he had made to the wizard.

Strider had certainly not been aware of this pact made between the wizard and the hobbit before Gandalf had departed. The fact that Sam had chosen to keep it from Frodo made it even more intriguing.

“What did he say?” Frodo asked, his voice deepening with the question.

“Don’t you lose him Samwise Gamgee. And I don’t mean to,” Sam answered, reciting the promise he had made.

Strider’s attention had been drawn to a slight rustling of the corn plants near Frodo, and he stepped a little closer to Sam, unsure as to what the disturbance could be. He didn’t want to draw his sword too hastily and alarm the two hobbits unnecessarily. Perhaps it was another small animal and nothing more.

“Sam, we are still in the Shire. What could possibly happen?” Frodo said, thinking that Sam was worrying too much. Before he had much more of a chance to quell his friend’s fears, though, out of the corner of his eye, a small figure came racing out of the plants at Sam.

Although Sam had jumped out of the way with a startled cry, the figure had passed so close to him that he was forced to take even more evasive steps and had fell back against Strider who had been standing directly behind him.

Before Sam or Strider had a chance to ask what had happened, a second, smaller figure came hurtling out of the same place amongst the plants, this time straight at Frodo.

Frodo had been looking with surprise at Sam and Strider, and he had barely had a chance to turn his head at a noise beside him, before he was hit full force by the figure. He was knocked to the ground, his body jarring as it felt the impact, having no time to react.

“Oof!” came the exclamation, the only verbal response offered. Followed by a sneeze as the pollen from the flowers atop of the tall stalks echoed with a resounding THWACK to Frodo’s cheek.

Frodo lay amongst the bent plants, his breath driven from his lungs from the weight of the small figure. He tried to regain his composure a little before attempting to figure out what had struck him out of nowhere.

“Frodo!” came a small voice from the figure, laying beside the slightly stunned, older hobbit. “Merry, it’s Frodo.”

“Hello, Frodo,” came the response from the figure who had almost careened into Sam.

“Mr Merry, Mr Pippin!” Sam cried out in shock as he recognized the two responsible for knocking over Frodo. “Get off him!” the stout hobbit demanded, this time with a little more bite to his words than he was used to using.

“Are you alright, Mr Frodo?” Sam asked, helping Frodo to his feet and holding onto his shirt sleeve until he had regained his balance.

“What are you two doing here?” Frodo asked his two cousins, addressing them in a parent-like tone of voice. “This is Farmer Maggot’s land,” he told them, certain that the two mischief-makers knew exactly where they were. They had been there on many occasions, most of them uninvited.

“We know that, dear Frodo. But we were waiting for you,” Merry said with a grin, now glancing at the Ranger and greeting him with the same cheeky smile. Pippin followed suit, being the more impressionable of the two cousins.

Strider eyebrows rose together, knowing that Frodo would normally not approve of such behaviour. This morning there had been only two hobbits, now they had multiplied to four. What did this mean for him as their protector and provider and for the pending journey to Bree?

“What do you mean, waiting for me?” Frodo asked, suspicious from the outset. He walked closer to Meriadoc to emphasis his question. Daring them to lie to him.

“Well, Frodo, we went back to visit you at Bag End, but you were gone. Sam’s old Gaffer wouldn’t tell us where you had gone, except to say that you were leaving the Shire. So, naturally, we weren’t going to let you go off on your own. No offence intended there, Sam,” Pippin explained for both of them.

“None taken, Mr Pippin,” Sam replied, quite touched that the two younger hobbits would be looking out for Frodo upon finding Bag End empty. They hadn’t exactly left any note for anybody in case someone should be looking for them.

“How did you know that we would pass this way?” Frodo asked, genuinely interested. He didn’t think anybody knew which direction they had fled in that night after seeing those dreadful creatures. He was relieved that the danger had well passed by the time Merry and Pippin had called in to see him.

“That’s easy, Frodo,” Merry said, proud of his ability to deduce his cousin’s route of choice. “The Gaffer said you were headed out of the Shire. Now, I don’t rightly know why you are leaving, but there are few directions you could head in from Hobbiton. You forget that I was always the better one at finding my way home when you lived at Brandy Hall.”

Strider had to admire Merry’s keen sense of logic when it came to such things. The hobbit seemed to have good instincts when it came to his cousin to being able to track someone’s movements with very few clues.

“Well, next time I would appreciate a little more warning before you barrel into me like that unannounced. But I am glad to see you. Are you hungry, Pippin?” Frodo asked, knowing he really didn’t need to ask such a question.

“Am I ever, I had barely anything since elevensies!” Pippin declared, his face lighting up with a smile at the suggestion of food.

“Do we have enough to share, Sam?” Frodo asked as the four hobbits and the Ranger found a suitable area to sit down and spread out, ready to enjoy lunch. The plants were still blocking out the sun sufficiently, allowing them to rest without getting too hot.

“Well, I am sure we do, Mr Frodo,” Sam said, digging through the food supplies in the bags. There was probably enough for a few more days, but given how much Mr Pippin was likely to eat at any one sitting, he wasn’t totally confident.

“We can add to what you already have, Frodo,” Merry said happily, passing on the armful of carrots and the bag full of mushrooms that had been collected during their mornings activities.

Frodo looked over the supply of carrots, freshly pulled from the ground, it looked, and the plump, ever-enticing mushrooms. Somehow, he had already guessed where the extra supplies had originated from; he was just avoiding the subject as long as possible.

“You two have been into Farmer Maggot’s crop,” Sam accused the two with a finger pointed at them. “There will be punishment for sure if he finds out.”

“And who is going to tell him, Sam?” Merry pointed out, knowing that none of them wanted to openly admit to pilfering the farmer’s vegetables. “Anyway, he won’t miss a few carrots or a couple of mushrooms.”

“Gentleman, I do not wish to intrude on what clearly seems to be a family discussion,” Strider interrupted, “However, we need to discuss a very real problem that now faces us,” he added, hoping that Frodo would be astute enough to know what he meant.

“What are you talking about?” Merry asked, stuffing a mushroom into his mouth while waiting for the Ranger to explain further.

“He is talking about you, Merry, and you, Pippin,” Frodo now voiced, clearly understanding the predicament that had suddenly presented itself. “You shouldn’t be here. You need to go home back to your families.”

Merry stared at Frodo for a few seconds, completely forgetting about eating the second half of the mushroom in his hand. He looked a little hurt by Frodo’s words and was trying to think of the best way to respond.

“Frodo, our parents were due to leave Hobbiton this morning to head back home. I doubt we would catch them no matter how fast we hurried after them. And I am certain, you being as concerned for your cousins as you should be, you would not want us walking all the way back by ourselves,” Merry said.

Pippin was a little more dramatic than his older cousin. He wasn’t about to let Frodo send him home just like that. “But you can’t send us home, Frodo!” he declared, on the verge of tears, throwing his arms around Frodo’s neck and burying his face into his cousin’s shirt. “You just can’t,” he repeated fighting back of tears, clearly not understanding this point of view.

“I can’t take you with me, it will be too dangerous, Merry and Pippin,” Frodo said, clearly being torn in two with his love for his younger cousins and his desire to keep them safe, in addition to the task he had taken onto himself: taking the ring to Bree to meet Gandalf.

“Too dangerous. Where are you headed?” Merry asked, his tone turning serious at the thought that Frodo might be putting himself in danger for an undisclosed cause.

Frodo looked towards the Ranger, waiting for a signal that it was permissible to tell them without threatening the secrecy of their journey. Strider gave a small nod, easing Frodo’s fears, though the warning gaze told him to err on the side of caution instead of revealing more than he need to at this point in time.

“Sam and I must get to Bree,” Frodo said quietly. “We promised to meet Gandalf there with the help of Strider. That is all I can tell you for now.”

“Right then, there is nothing more to be said — we are going with you whether you like it or not,” Merry said cheerfully, but in a tone that suggested his mind was already firmly made up. Pippin would no doubt follow him, whatever the decision.

“But you can’t………,” Frodo began to protest, looking to Sam and Strider to add to his voice of concern at such a proposal.

Strider didn’t have any alternate suggestions as to what they may do. They couldn’t take the time to escort the hobbits to safer ground, less they risk the journey altogether. Even leaving them here in the cornfield might place them in peril, especially after the encounter they had had back in the Shire.

“If we don’t come with you, Frodo, and we are forced to make it all the way home on our own, you will may be held responsible for whatever happens to us along the way,” Pippin said, taking a bit out of one of the apples from Frodo’s backpack.

“And just what do you mean by that, Peregrin?” Frodo asked, not enjoying put in such a position of authority.

“Do you want to tell him, or shall I?” Pippin asked, directing his question at Merry.

“Tell me what, Meriadoc?” Frodo said, his temper rising a little as he felt like the explanations were going all around him.

“You didn’t get my master into any sort of trouble, did you?” Sam piped in, seeing the guilty looks on the faces of the two younger hobbits.

“No!” Pippin quickly said in their defence. “We haven’t done that, Sam.”

“Not yet, anyway,” Merry found himself saying out loud.

“Why do I get the feeling that I am not going to like the next thing to say, Merry?” Frodo sighed, frustration beginning to show in his voice.

“Our parents won’t be worried about us, Frodo, not for a while yet, anyway,” Merry tried explaining, inching a little closer away from his cousin towards the Ranger, just in case.

“We told them that we were with you,” Pippin said, taking another bite of the apple and smiling as he gave the second half of the story. The smile soon left his face though as he looked back at Frodo.

“YOU WHAT!!” Frodo shouted, pulling himself back, instantly regretting the volume of his voice. Forcing himself to take a deep breath and letting it out slowly again, Frodo now repeated the question in a calmer manner.

“You what?” Frodo said, his voice lowered in volume, but losing none of its intensity.

Merry became the one to answer. “Well, you know what our parents are like, Frodo. They wouldn’t have let us go off on our own with just anybody. But they certainly would not have had any objections if we were under your supervision.”

“Oh, a fine mess, to say the least, that you have placed me in for sure,” Frodo said ruefully. A sense of uneasy dread was already beginning to settle in the pit of his stomach.

“Don’t worry, Frodo, we will be there to help you explain why we were gone for so long,” Pippin said cheerfully, wrapping his arm around the older hobbit as he tried to think ahead to what seemed like an inevitable and unescapable doom.

“How long do you think our journey will take, Strider?” Frodo asked, the foreboding in his mind growing with every second. What was he going to say to get them out of this trouble?

Strider thought carefully for a moment, noting the slightly distressed look on Frodo’s face. “I cannot rightly say, but it may be weeks, even longer,” he replied, knowing that his answer did nothing to reassure Frodo.

“Weeks!” Pippin squeaked, not fully realising that they would be away from their families all that time. He had no intentions to leave Frodo until he knew he was safe, but he began to have the same concerns as his older cousin.

“How am I going to face your parents and attempt to explain what has happened to you during that time?” Frodo thought out loud. “Not to mention all of your other relatives that would no doubt wish to do me bodily harm for doing such a thing.”

“You know my parents almost as well as I do, Frodo,” Pippin said, not showing any signs of being concerned. My mother will merely sob for hours before wanting to feed you, telling you how thin you always are.”

“What about your father, Pippin?” Frodo accused, knowing that Paladin Took was a more formidable person to be face than most others. “How am I to stand before the Thain and tell him that I dragged his only son and heir throughout the roads of the Shire and abroad without so much as a word of goodbye or of where we are headed?”

“Then there will be Pippin’s three sisters cross at you too, Frodo,” Merry added with mirth, the laugh quickly fading at the glare he received for that helpful piece of information.

“Thain?” Strider asked, a little confused at the hierarchy that existed in the hobbit world. He had briefly heard the title somewhere during his troubles, but unfortunately little more. His query went unanswered.

“Never fear, dear Frodo. Being Thain, most likely all he will do is have you dragged before the entire hobbit community of Tuckborough and then demand that you be soundly thrashed within an inch of your life,” Pippin joked.

Sam had gasped out loud at the mere notion of such a barbaric punishment being dealt to his master. He would soon see himself bear such torture than Mr Frodo. A quiet whisper from Merry allowed him to relax, though, as Merry informed him that Pippin was being overdramatic.

“Then there will be your father Merry, Saradoc Brandybuck. Though, from my experience in living under his roof, he is probably more likely to understand why we left in such haste,” Frodo commented.

“You’re right, Frodo, my father will no doubt forgive you soon enough,” Merry agreed, but then he couldn’t help but feel his own fears rising at the thought of whom might not be so understanding from his family. “But dear cousin………..,” he began.

Frodo noted the pinched look on Merry’s face and the eyes that spoke a thousand words. He knew whom his cousin was thinking of. “Your mother, Esmeralda Brandybuck.”

Merry nodded in acknowledgement, pleased that he didn’t need to explain any further. “She is, after all, the younger sister of the Thain, a Took, and with a fiery temper to match his.”

“Merry, you do remember what happened the last time you and I came home late to Brandy Hall, don’t you?” Frodo asked, swallowing hard as the image came back to him.

“Only too well, Frodo. I wasn’t able to sit down for almost a week afterwards,” Merry recalled. “I thought it was most unfair, though, seeing as we were only two hours late. You tried to explain to her that we had only been down at the river fishing.”

“My ear was still painful for the next three days, Merry. I do not think I could endure another lecture like that again without suffering permanent hearing loss. I am sure your mother’s voice could be heard by Bilbo back at Bag End that day,” Frodo said.

“I must admit that the hierarchy in the hobbit world is most complex and difficult to follow,” Strider commented, trying to lighten everyone’s mood. For the time being, he realised they would have little choice but to take the younger hobbits along with Sam and Frodo.

“Sam, I beseech you to take up Strider’s sword, strike me down and slay me while I do not resist. It would be more merciful than what I would face otherwise upon my return to the Shire,” Frodo said, laying back against the corn stalks and covering his eyes with his arm as though he were one awaiting execution.

“I shall do not such thing, Mr Frodo,” Sam said immediately, horrified that his master would ask such a thing. He relaxed though as he saw a sly smile on Frodo’s face. “We don’t even have extra blankets and things for Mr Merry and Mr Pippin,” he added, thinking more logically about the extra provisions they would now need.

Food wasn’t a problem at the moment; they had more than enough, except maybe to fill Mr Pippin’s stomach. But they could always forage and make what they carried last with hunting and gathering along the way until they reached Bree.

Frodo looked at Merry and Pippin, “Don’t worry Sam, we have many spare blankets within reach. All we need do is to collect them.”

“Our secret hiding place,” Merry said energetically, happy that Frodo remembered.

“Do you think you can find it again easily enough?” Frodo asked, knowing it had been some time since he had needed to use it or any of the supplies within.

A guilty look from both Merry and Pippin told Frodo that the hiding place had been used on a much more regular basis than he was made aware of.

Frodo placed his hands on hips, ready to demand they come clean about how many times recently they had come here, uninvited. But the two younger hobbits quickly scurried away to gather what they needed before their cousin had a chance to ask them anything of their illegal activities.

Frodo had never really told Sam about his previous visits to Farmer Maggot’s fields. He had been hoping that maturity had simply allowed him to see the error of his ways and leave them behind.

While the two youngest hobbits gathered the extra things they needed to take with them, Frodo, Sam and Strider packed up from lunch and prepared to begin walking again as soon as Merry and Pippin returned.

One concern that did plague Frodo at the moment was whether Merry and Pippin were up to walking for hours on end with very little rest in between. He knew they were used to taking strolls around Hobbiton and Brandy Hall, not to mention Tuckborough, but this journey would be much more urgent and require them to be a little more grownup than they sometimes acted.

“Ready to go, lads?” Frodo asked when his cousins appeared beside him, bearing their own packs, which were no doubt laden with more food than useful items.

Before the two hobbits could respond, there was a loud rustling sound from further away in the cornfield, followed by ferocious barking of dogs.

“Oh, no,” Frodo whispered, the fear in him beginning to grow, and being reflected back at him through the eyes of Merry and Pippin.

“Farmer Maggot,” Pippin voiced, knowing that they had helped themselves to many more mushrooms and carrots than they should have.

“Those dogs are huge, Frodo, what do we do?” Merry asked, hearing the animals coming closer and closer. To the Ranger they may not have seemed larger than a human-sized dog, but on hobbits their large teeth could inflict real hurt.

“What are you all doing in my field?” Farmer Maggot yelled, coming towards them with a long-handed sickle in his hand. “Get out of my vegetables, you little thieves.”

Strider could see a great more over the field than the hobbits, but was only able to note the sickle and a hat, the rest of the threatening man hidden by his own tall corn stalks. He attempted to reassure the hobbits that they would be in no danger, having no idea until now that the fields were guarded by dogs.

The dogs barked again and giving into their fear, Frodo, Merry and Pippin fled into the tall plants, scattering in three different directions. The Ranger was unable to catch a glimpse of even one of them.

Sam was still beside him for a moment or so more, not as keenly aware of the danger the dogs presented. He had not been to the fields before or seen the animals.

“You wait until I catch up with you little devils!” Farmer Maggot shouted threateningly.

That was all it required for Sam to lose his nerve and attempt to run after Frodo and the other hobbits.

“No, Sam, don’t……………,” but Strider’s half completed sentence wasn’t heeded.

“Wait for me, Mr Frodo!” Sam declared and was off, in the direction of his master, he hoped, whichever that may be.

From this point, Strider’s main goal was to find each of the hobbits and gather them together in one place. If they truly were under threat of injury then it would be much more difficult to come to their aid if they were all separated.

To the Ranger’s relief, Farmer Maggot seemed to lose interest in chasing the hobbits almost as quickly as he had begun shouting threats at them. The dogs were still barking, but now they were heading further away from the cornfields.

The question now remained how to find the hobbits amongst the tall vegetation. Being able to see them through the thick and densely clumped plants was out of the question unless they were directly in his line of sight.

Up until lunch time and their passage through the cornfield, Strider had been confident that he was in control of any unexpected situation that may arise. Now, searching for four hobbits instead of two, he wasn’t so sure.

“Mr Frodo? Where are you, Mr Frodo?” came Sam’s voice.

There was no answer in return, but out of the four hobbits, Strider was certain that Sam would be able to find Frodo soon enough and not draw any unnecessary attention. He decided that it was better to try and find Merry and Pippin first.

Strider was given his first clue as to their direction as he heard each of their voices.

“Merry, where are you?” came Pippin to the Ranger’s right.

“Over here, Pip!” Merry answered back, to the left and behind Strider.

Strider decided to track down Merry, hoping to use his assistance when it came time to finding Pippin. That idea quickly left him, though, as he thought he spotted a crown of golden curls amongst the corn plants. “Pippin!” he muttered to himself and strode as quickly as possible to gather in the smaller hobbit.

Pippin had heard the approach of someone through the plants, but jumped in alarm when realising that the steps were much bigger than the ones that would have been made by a hobbit. It had to be a Big Person coming.

The hobbit was driven by fear and determination to escape, not knowing that Farmer Maggot had ceased his chase and departed the cornfield.

“Got you!” Strider declared as he managed to get a hold of Pippin’s jacket.

Pippin hadn’t recognized the Ranger’s deep voice and didn’t dare turn around in case he lost valuable time in running away from his captor. “MERRY!” Pippin shrieked at the top of his voice, still attempting to wrestle out of Strider’s grip.

“Help, Merry, he’s got hold of me and I can’t get free!” Pippin yelled again, putting as much emphasis into his words as possible.

“Don’t worry, Pip, I am coming!” Merry shouted back, running as fast as he could in the direction of his cousin’s voice.

Merry, in his haste to help Pippin, paid little attention to whom the hand still holding his cousin’s jacket belonged to. All he was concerned about was setting the younger hobbit free.

Coming from Strider’s right, Merry dealt a glancing blow with his foot to Pippin’s captor and tried to pull him free.

Strider was not prepared for the powerful kick from Merry and immediately lost his grip on the still struggling hobbit. “OW!” he gasped, reaching down to the affected area and rubbing at the short burst of pain present.

Merry and Pippin had heard the Ranger’s gasp, but were still too concerned with fleeing into the corn stalks to note who the Big Person was.

“Merry, Pippin!” Strider tried to yell and chase after the two hobbits again, but the two youngsters were hidden by the vegetation once again. The Ranger’s level of abject frustration was rising, as he was forced to stop after just a few metres and rub at his knee again.

Strider thought mercy was about to smile on him again, though, as he spotted a head of curly, honey-coloured curls. Thinking it was Pippin, the Ranger quickly grabbed out towards the hobbit, lifting the culprit up by the collar of his jacket to make him cease struggling.

“Oi!” came the surprised yelp, but it was not Pippin. Strider sighed audibly as his gaze fell on Sam, who was looking back at the Ranger with confusion and embarrassment on his face.

“We really must stop meeting in this fashion, Samwise,” Strider said, setting Sam down on the ground, confident that this level headed-hobbit wasn’t about to flee.

“Sam, where are you? I cannot see you,” came Frodo’s voice. He was more difficult to spot than the other hobbits due to his darker hair colour.

“Why are you limping, Mr Strider?” Sam asked, as he noted how gingerly the Ranger was walking. “I am right here, Mr Frodo. Just you wait there, I am coming to you,” Sam then shouted and started heading in the direction of his master’s voice, completely forgetting about the Ranger standing nearby.

“No, Sam, wait!” Strider tried to get out, taken off his guard at Sam’s sudden desire to run again and his tongue tied in knots. But his words fell on deaf ears once again, there only being corn stalks now where Sam had stood but a few moments ago.

Strider had the sudden urge to draw his long sword and cast a few slashing blows to the bottom of the corn stalks so that he could have a better view of the hobbits. Fortunately he forced himself to calm down a minute and direct his attention back to the problem at hand. He reached his hand up and drew it down his face in an exaggerated gesture of his frustration.

Things were not going as he would have hoped. He had been trying to find four hobbits within the space of half an hour. Subsequently he had heard two of them shouting at each other, and received a painful kick to his knee. And not before losing sight of three of them again. He had heard Frodo’s voice, but had yet to spot him at all during this fiasco.

After much treading through the thick greenery, Strider found the edge of the cornfields, thinking that sooner or later, one of the hobbits would find the same exit. He was alarmed to see that this side of the cornfield only led to a dangerous overhang.

To his immediate relief, Strider now spotted Frodo coming out of the cornfield, headed towards him. He frowned a little, though, as the hobbit was still running as though being pursued. Sam was close behind him. The two hobbits ran out of the corn and paused a few feet from the edge of the cliff.

Both of the hobbits were panting heavily after running. Frodo was limping even more than the Ranger, obviously he had caused more pain to his ankle by fleeing.

“Are you alright, Mr Frodo?” Sam asked, noting his master’s pained face and how he was bending down and massaging the affected ankle.

Strider was about to go to the dark-haired hobbit. He paused, though, when a second rustle from the cornfield signalled Merry and Pippin finding their friends. Unfortunately, they had yet to stop running and the Ranger could only watch with muted horror at the impact that was about to happen.

Frodo had just stood up to answer Sam’s concerns and had started to turn at the noise. Sam, however, had gotten a better glimpse of the trouble and put his hands up in a warning gesture, trying to ward off the two younger hobbits.

“No…….no……stop!” Sam cried out, but that was all he managed before Merry and Pippin barrelled into him, causing a chain-like effect. Sam could not stop himself from pushing heavily against Frodo, who then had enough momentum to tumble down the steep ravine.

Strider cursed out loud in Elvish, trying as best he could to follow the four hobbits as they rolled out of control down the embankment. How many hurt hobbits would be at the bottom and what injuries he would be faced with was yet to be determined.

“This day has not been good for hobbits,” Strider said to himself, running as fast as he could without stumbling himself.


Please let me know if you are enjoying this story so far. Lots of things happening in the next chapter. Frodo will try and hide something that happens from his companions, including Sam. Pippin will find himself in trouble again, but this time with more dire consequences for his cousin Frodo.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email