The sun warmed the mid-day sky as the small party of elves and rangers
left the Lone-Lands and Weathertop behind them. Halbarad and
Arendur had rejoined them earlier in the morning, reporting that the
other rangers they had sought out and spoken with had no more
information on the alleged Barrow-wight threat.
They were making towards Bree at a good clip when Aragorn held up his
hand, signaling a stop. The high fen and uncut grasses waving on
either side of the road tossed lightly in the gentle breeze, but there
was some stir in them that was not put there by the wind. Someone
or something was hiding nearby.
Aragorn’s battle instincts came immediately to the front of his
consciousness, wary of ambush. Halbarad had been talking to
Arendur and had not noted the possible threat, but halted when Aragorn
did, looking around.
The elves, a little ahead of their human companions, had also sensed
something amiss and quickly backtracked up the road without needing a
signal from Aragorn. Elladan and Elrohir drew their bows and
concealed themselves around the bend in the path while Legolas joined
The elf prince slid to his friend’s side. “There’s something out
there,” he whispered to Aragorn, but his expression was not one of
alarm, rather of puzzlement. “I do not sense evil... but I do not
know what it is.”
A small rustle on their left made them look up sharply once more.
Despite what he sensed or didn’t sense, Legolas’ fingers went to his
bowstring, just in case.
But Halbarad’s brows furrowed and he lowered the sword he had
drawn. “I think we are overly watchful, my friends, ‘tis a small
creature or I’m no scout. Most likely a badger or hedgehog of
“Badger or hedgehog indeed!” an indignant voice spoke up from somewhere
below the normal eyesight level of the men and elves present.
They all looked down in surprise as a small man stepped out of the
grass, brushing off his already tidy green waistcoat with a sense of
injured dignity. No, it wasn’t a small man, one look at the broad
bare feet and the round cheerful face told you that. This was a
hobbit. And one who was quite far from home, which was not usual
for their kind.
Legolas just stared, surprised and a little curious. He alone in
the party had never seen one of this race before. “What is it?”
he remarked in wonder without thinking much about how that
“IT is a hobbit, good sir,”
the small, curly-headed being huffed a
little more. “And I would have expected a bit more courtesy from
one of the Firstborn.” The hobbit’s bright eyes narrowed
inquisitively. “But then you’re not from around here, are
you? You’re wearing Rivendell clothes... more or less... but you
look Silvan to me. However, I feel as if I’ve seen you before...
bother, I can’t place it. Memory is one of the first things to
Aragorn almost laughed. He had forgotten that although Legolas
had spent a great deal of time in Rivendell since they had became
the wood-elf had never had occasion to come this far west or to cross
paths with any of the local hobbit population before. “And what,
pray tell, is a hobbit of the Shire doing so far from home, alone, and,
forgive me for saying it, hiding in the grass like an egg poacher?”
Aragorn asked with good humor, sheathing his sword while the other
rangers did the same.
“Egg poacher!” The hobbit bristled slightly. “Never done such a
thing in my life. I was just being cautious if you want to
know. Not all the big folk one meets out here are to be
trusted. When I heard the elf I figured it was safe to come
out. Bad men generally do not associate with the Firstborn.
I see that there’s no rule regarding rude
men however... who are you
anyway?” The question was directed at Aragorn.
“I’m a Dúnadan, my good hobbit, a ranger. You have naught
to fear from us I promise. I apologize if I have insulted you, it
was not my intent, but you gave us rather a start I fear,” Aragorn
slightly as he introduced himself, sweeping his arm out to the side in
a gesture for peace. He was a little surprised at this hobbit’s
knowledge about elves. Few these days outside the rangers had
much to do with elves or elvish lore.
Elladan and Elrohir, hearing the conversation gave up their hiding
place and re-joined their friends. Their gaze lighted on the
hobbit with amusement. “Mister Baggins, we didn’t expect to meet
you out here. Not on your way to Rivendell to commandeer father’s
library again are you?” they jested.
Aragorn raised his eyebrows as he turned to his brothers. “You
Elrohir nodded. “Of course we do, and so do you, Estel, although
you may not remember. First came through Rivendell years ago when
you were about ten I guess, dragging a whole lot of dwarves with
wagging beards and tired ponies... what a merry sight they were!
Surely you must remember something; Gandalf was with them and they
talked to father quite a long time.”
Vague remembrance filtered slowly through Aragorn’s mind. But it
was a long time ago for him and he had been only a child.
“Estel is it?” Bilbo eyed the ranger. His many visits to
Rivendell gave him cause to know that name even if he had not met the
man in many years.
“Bilbo here has been quite a frequent visitor to Rivendell these past
few years since you’ve been gone,” Elladan further explained.
“Always trying to pick father’s brain for stories of the elder days and
spending hours translating and poring over old texts that I will admit
not even I find an interest in.”
“I don’t know where the world is going these days, when young people no
longer take an interest in their own history...” Bilbo shook his head
sagely, but with an impish smile.
“Young people?” The twins laughed. “You should talk, Bilbo, we’re
both of us far older than you even if you are getting old now for a
“Oh, so getting old now am I?” Bilbo laughed despite himself.
“Well then, looking at young Estel here I do feel old... excuse me,
Dúnadan if you prefer that name,” the hobbit smiled at
Aragorn. “I don’t really remember you, I fear, as at the time we
seem to have met I had... many other things on my mind, but I know your
brothers and look forward to making your acquaintance.” Bilbo
shook Aragorn’s hand.
“Well now we all know who each other is, but that doesn’t tell us what
you are doing out here, Mr. Baggins,” Halbarad pointed out.
“Bilbo, please, no need to stand on formalities among friends.
Actually my trip is quite pointless now as I was on my way to Rivendell
to bring tidings of these odd doings around the Barrows. Creating
quite a stir in the Four Farthings it is and I said to myself that if
anyone knows about the ancient things in these parts, it’s the
Legolas smiled. “And how do you know that is our errand?”
Bilbo flushed slightly. “Well I couldn’t help overhearing you
talk as you came on...”
Aragorn laughed. “Not an egg poacher then, but a spy. But
well met it seems. What can you
tell us of this whole
“Not much, I fear,” the hobbit shook his head. “Just that there
a considerable to-do about it all. Folks as far away from the
Downs as Bree and the Shire are afraid to go out at night.”
“Did you not pass through them on your way out here?” Elladan
“Certainly not!” Bilbo shook his head. “Do I look like a
fool? I bypassed the Old Forest and the Downs entirely. But
folks are talking.”
“Well, it seems that the mystery still looms before us then, and we had
best be on our way again.” Aragorn glanced towards the west and their
goal, still many miles away. “Will you be accompanying us then,
Bilbo, or going on to Rivendell?”
“I have quite enough work on my book waiting for me at home, I need no
more at present, therefore, I shall accompany you,” the hobbit said
decidedly. “As far as Bree anyway. If there is anything
out there in those dreadful Barrows I certainly don’t want to meet
them. I’ll have quite enough of a mystery on my hands trying to
figure out where I know you from, Mr...” he nodded towards Legolas and
waited to be supplied with a name.
“Legolas, son of Thranduil of Mirkwood,” Legolas bowed slightly.
“Ah! Well now that explains it,” the hobbit seemed
relieved. “A wood-elf, I should have guessed. I probably
saw you at the battle of the Five Armies with your father. And if
not, you do look remarkably like your father, that hair isn’t too
typical for your people.” He left out the part about having been
an uninvited guest in Legolas’ home for quite a long time without the
Legolas laughed. “Well, Mr. Baggins, you certainly do seem to get
around. I cannot ever recall having seen you before, but your
name is familiar although I knew not the manner of being to which it
belonged. My father still wears the gift you gave him on high
occasions; I am honored to make your acquaintance.”
Halbarad and Arendur were quite a ways ahead by now and stopped to call
back to the rest of the slow moving party. “Are all of you going
to stand around and chat the whole day or are we moving
foreword?” the elder ranger teased.
“Coming, Halbarad, we’re coming,” Aragorn called back as they moved
Bilbo sat upon a downed tree trunk that had been pulled near the
brightly burning fire, listening to the men and elves discuss their
next move. They were just on the outskirts of Bree, having made
camp in the forests that bracketed the easternmost parts of the
“No, I want to go into Bree. I believe we can learn a lot from
the townsfolk and this is the perfect time.” Aragorn glanced
between Legolas and Halbarad.
The older ranger shook his head, a wry smile crossing his face.
“Don’t tell me you are going to drag these elves in there with
you. I know what you’re thinking, Strider, and it has promise but
you know the risk. No one will talk to you and they surely will
not speak to three elves.”
“I don’t need any of them to talk to
me, I just need them to be
talking,” the younger man argued his point.
“You aren’t thinking of...” Legolas eyed Aragorn suspiciously, his eyes
narrowing as the ranger turned a brilliant smile on him. “You
are.” With a sigh the elf turned and walked back to the fire, dropping
down next to the hobbit.
“What? He’s thinking of what?” Elladan moved closer into
the midst of the conversation.
“Don’t ask. I’m staying here, Strider.” Legolas called out
to the man as he tossed another fallen branch onto the flames.
“Oh no you are not.” Aragorn turned towards the prince. “I need
those ears of yours, my friend.” He laughed softly as the elf
glared at him.
“You have two other elves to torment with your insane plans. Pick
one of them. I hate those places.” Legolas begged to be released
but the ranger simply shook his head. Aragorn depended too much
on Legolas and knew that the environment they were heading into would
not toss off the elf. Although the prince would have liked to
deny it, after their time in Harad he had more experience blending with
humans than most elves. Estel trusted his brothers implicitly,
but he wanted Legolas at his back too.
Arendur’s laughter redirected Aragorn’s attention and he raised his
eyebrows in question. “You think I am insane as well?” he
questioned the younger man.
“I think,” Arendur replied as he retrieved his weapons from were they
rested against a nearby tree, “that I will accompany Halbarad to the
Downs and see if we can verify any of these strange reports we have
“It’ll be safer there,” Halbarad whispered loudly as he pulled his
companion with him, heading for the mist-shrouded hills on the far side
“Wait!” Bilbo jumped up from his perch near the fire. Thus far he
had quietly tried to keep up with the conversation, but a nagging fear
had gotten the best of him and he interrupted the plans. “You
don’t mean to leave me here alone, do you? I mean...well its
just...” the small being stuttered slightly, trying to make his request
known without appearing to be afraid, even though he truly was.
“I mean you’re not just all going to go off now, are you?” he
finished off his question quietly, his voice falling soft as he
Aragorn responded first, his compassion for the small being caught at
his heart. Of course the hobbit would be afraid. He had
been on his way to Rivendell for help. Crossing the camp in a few
paces, the ranger dropped down in front of Bilbo on one knee, putting
himself eye level with the hobbit, his eyes locked onto the dark ones
that watched him cautiously.
“I had no intentions at all of leaving you here alone. One of my
brothers will stay in camp with you. Your hearing is nearly as
good as any elf’s and the two of you will be able to keep the fire
going and the camp safe.” Aragorn smiled slightly, “How would
that be?” He lowered his voice to keep the conversation between
himself and the hobbit, “They are both excellent marksmen, you couldn’t
be in better hands.”
Straightening slightly the halfling nodded in agreement, “That would do
nicely, thank you.”
Standing to his feet Aragorn glanced over his shoulder at the rangers
on the far side of camp, “That’s settled. Shall we?”
Halbarad shook his head slightly matching the grin on Aragorn’s
face. “Oh, your coat if you would, my friend?” Estel reached out
towards the older man.
Halbarad knew what the ranger had in mind and he easily removed his
overcoat and tossed it towards Aragorn. The young ranger handed
over to Legolas who accepted it without question.
“We’ll see you at first light then,” Halbarad called back to
them. Silently the pair left the glen, their passing almost
imperceptible even to elven ears.
“That just leaves one thing,” Aragorn glanced at the twins, “Which of
you would like to stay with Mr. Baggins and which one would like to
accompany Legolas and me to Bree?”
The twins glanced silently at one another for a few moments as though
pondering if they wished to choose either.
“I’ll stay with Bilbo then.” Elrohir spoke quietly; his answer
was for his brother's ears alone for the moment.
“As you wish, El. Are you sure?”
The elf turned and threw a smile over his shoulder at his younger human
brother. “I think I am very sure. I have no idea what Estel has in mind
for the two of you, but I get the distinct feeling that I will be safer
here in the hobbit’s company.”
“Good choice,” Legolas muttered, standing to his feet and
stretching out his hand to Aragorn who was shrugging out of his worn
leather coat. “You have no idea how glad you will be.”
With a snort of laughter the ranger handed off his coat to the prince
who passed it to a confused Elladan. After digging in his pack
produced a long strip of colored cloth - a turban he had borrowed from
his father before they had left. He had anticipated just such an
encounter as tonight would bring.
Elrohir walked around the fire and watched in barely contained mirth as
Legolas shrugged into Halbarad’s coat. The human’s scent on the
clothing was not strong and did not bother him. He accepted the
cloth from Estel and began deftly winding the long piece of fabric
around his head, binding his tresses up in the length. Wordlessly
the prince turned towards Aragorn for his inspection. This was
nothing new to the two of them; they had gone through this ritual many
times in the past by now. The ranger glanced first at one side of
the elf’s head and then the other. Legolas had missed covering up
the tip of his left ear and the human gently moved a strip of the
fabric swath down so that the point was concealed. Satisfied, he
nodded at the prince, glancing over the elf’s shoulder at his older
brother who stood wordlessly watching, holding the ranger’s coat.
“Now for you.” Aragorn clasped his friend on the shoulder as he
moved past him.
The prince couldn’t help laughing as Elladan backed up slightly, wary
of the human’s approach.
“What is this, Estel? Where are we going that we can't be known
elves?” Elladan took a step farther back from his brother as the
man grabbed the coat and held it out for the elf to put on. “I am
not putting that thing on.”
“Yes you are. Because I need you and Legolas and unless you want
to attract a crowd of gawkers you can't go into the Inn of the Prancing
Pony looking as you do.” Aragorn stepped forward, smiling to
himself as he remembered Legolas’ very similar reaction many years
Elladan stepped back.
“The what?” The elf pressed the ranger away from him as Aragorn tried
to drape the coat over the elf’s shoulders. “Why would I want to
“It is a local spot and there will be local people gathered there
tonight who will be more than happy to talk all about the goings-on in
the Barrow-downs. By this time they have had sufficient amounts
of mead and ale to loosen their tongues. Now come on.”
Aragorn stepped forward again effectively trapping the twin between
himself and the firepit, holding out his long-coat for the elf to
wear. “Put this on.” His voice held no room for
debate. “I’ll not have anyone questioning you or Legolas and I
don’t need to attract any more attention than necessary, but I do need
those ears of yours and you are
“I think I hear Halbarad calling.” The elf frowned, looking for any way
out. “I should probably make sure he’s all right.”
Dropping the coat to his side Aragorn tipped his head and glanced at
the elf, they were running of out time. The men’s tongues soon
would be loosened by the mead they were drinking and the ranger wanted
to reach the pub before the drink went to their heads and made the
over-exaggerate or, worse, pass out.
“You aren’t afraid, are you?” Aragorn pulled out the childhood
taunt. It worked every time one of them proposed a dare that the
other did not want to follow through on.
Roughly grabbing the overcoat out of his brother’s hands, Elladan
quickly shrugged into the leather jacket, his nose wrinkling slightly,
“This smells like...”
“It smells like me! What is
it with you elves?” Aragorn
glared in mock indignation, silencing the giggles from the prince who
stood across the fire. They had had this conversation
before. Almost exactly.
“I told you that thing needed a good airing out,” Legolas
“My, this is better than when the Sackville-Bagginses and the
Brandybucks get together to discuss the proper methods for the growing
of pipe-weed.” Bilbo smiled, reminiscing to himself. “Say,”
He leaned over next to Elrohir and lowered his voice, “are they always
“Worse.” Elrohir glanced at the hobbit out of the corner of his
eyes. “This is pretty good for them, actually,” he whispered back.
“Fine!” Elladan buttoned up the leather coat concealing his elvish
attire. “Fine! Let's go then.” He frowned at his
brother, his irritation showing through slightly.
“Wait, you aren’t quite ready.” Aragorn stepped closer to his
brother reaching behind him and grabbing the folds of the hood that lay
against the elf’s back.
Legolas turned away, walking a few paces into the woods, unable to
stifle his laughter.
Gently Aragorn pulled the large hood up and over his brother’s head,
tucking the wayward strands of dark hair back in around the elf’s
Crossing his arms irritably, Elladan glared at the human as Aragorn
pressed the elf’s hair around his ears, fully concealing them and
stepped back to admire his handiwork.
Nodding slowly he smiled at the twin. “The glare is good too; it’ll
keep any of the curious away from our table.”
“I’m going to have to bathe when we are through,” Elladan growled.
“You look lovely,” Aragorn taunted, quickly touching the sides of
the elf’s face and planting a kiss on his forehead.
The teasing had reached Elladan’s limits of toleration and he shoved
his brother back. “I swear, Estel, I will make you pay for this,”
he growled, stepping towards his brother threateningly.
Aragorn moved back in close to the older elf. “Oh! Really? Seems
to me I remember a time you dressed me in that outfit of mothers when I
was younger against my
will. And then, convincing me the house
was empty, you dared me to run into the Hall of Fire where father was
in actuality having a council meeting that you knew full well all
about? Hmmm? Yes, let us talk about revenge shall
we?” The ranger glared back at Elladan, “Glorfindel excused
himself to escort me out when I tripped on the edge of the dress trying
to get out of there. It took me weeks to come out of my room
after that! At least I have dressed you like a man.”
“Not much of an improvement,” Elladan mumbled darkly, but the
smile that tugged at the corners of his lips offset the slur.
Legolas stumbled back into the circle of light, his giggles inhibiting
his breathing as he spoke. “Really, Elladan, this isn’t the bad
part. This, my friend,
is the easy part. I’ve been where
you are.” The elf smelled the collar of the coat he wore.
“Actually I prefer the way Estel’s jacket smells, I’m used to it.
Would you like to trade?”
“Stop it!” Aragorn was laughing now as Elrohir nearly fell off
the log he sat on; the conversation having taken such a light bent, the
elf was consumed with laughter. “No you can't trade coats!
Although I’m sorry, my friend, I hadn’t thought about the smell for
you. We need to get going. We have no time to waste; Bree
is one half of an hour away and already night is well upon us.
The gate guard may not allow us access as it is.” Aragorn started
to head towards the town fully expecting the elves to follow him.
Sounds behind him alerted the ranger and he turned to find that Elladan
had quickly shrugged out of the leather coat and was holding it out to
Legolas. Aragorn simply rolled his eyes as the two elves traded
With a laugh Elrohir rose from his seat and helped Elladan conceal his
ears and long braided hair once more beneath the hood of Halbarad’s
coat this time.
“This is much better,” Legolas smiled impishly at the ranger as
he quickly pulled the familiar overcoat around his shoulders.
“Elves,” Aragorn growled at Legolas as he turned and led his
companions away from the camp. He threw a brilliant smile at the
youngest twin as he walked passed the hobbit and elf.