One Geek To Rule Them All

Chapter 2

I own nothing but my OC's.

Previously:

"So you agree with me that we're in some alternate world? I know we're both Doctor Who fans, but I expected a little more resistance on your part to such an illogical idea." Kitty stated honestly.

"It's crazy, but not completely illogical…" Devin replied as bit absently as she stared out the window at the night sky. She frowned slightly at what she saw, or rather, what she didn't see. "Look." She said, stepping back so Kitty could come have a look for herself. "Notice anything odd about the sky?"

"You can totally see a million stars out there?" Kitty asked, furrowing her brow slightly. Was this really the time to be stargazing?

"Yeah, that, and the constellations are completely screwed up." Devin said, shaking her head and pinching the bridge of her nose. She could feel a stress headache coming on. "None of them are where they're supposed to be. We're looking at a totally different sky! Building a town and filling it full of people in elaborate costumes is one thing, but they can't rearrange the stars. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore."

Chapter 2: The Prancing Pony

"So what now? How does something like this even happen?" Kitty asked. The whole thing was really confusing, but also kind of amazing.

"I don't know. My head hurts." Devin said, kneading her forehead as she plopped down onto a chair.

"Yes, thinking will do that." Kitty said sagely, nodding her head.

"Oh, shut up. It's just stress." Devin retorted a bit tartly. "Anyway, if we're going to assume this is all real, then the rest of it must be real too. Maybe Gandalf or Elrond will be able to figure out how to send us back. They're old, wise, and magical. They're bound to know something that can help us."

"Does this mean we're going to Rivendell?" Kitty asked, breaking out into a grin. Devin sighed.

"Yeah, we're going to Rivendell." She said, smiling wryly. "But don't get too excited. We have no practical knowledge of how this world works aside from what we can remember from the books, our wilderness survival skills are pretty limited, and our money's no good here. We'll have to see if we can convince Aragorn to let us tag along with him and the hobbits, but if they're real, then so is the danger they're in…" She stopped when she saw the extra wide Cheshire cat grin on her friend's face. "And that part about 'danger' just made you want to do it even more, didn't it?" She asked, face-palming.

"Oh, yeah. We're goin' on an adventure!" Kitty cheered, pumping her fist in the air. "Whoo! Come on, Devin, you're a cheerleader. Where's your pep?"

"Yeah, okay. I guess it is pretty awesome." Devin agreed as she allowed her lips to form a smile. There was no point in worrying about it now, not when they were already in the thick of it. They might as well enjoy the ride. Besides, how often had she pretended to be on some epic quest like this as a child? This was a chance to live the dream. However… "But, Kitty… how much medicine do you have with you?" She asked carefully. Kitty stopped jumping around and blinked.

"I dunno, lots?" She said, shrugging. "I put the whole bottle in the backpack before we left, so… about a month's worth, I guess." She didn't trust the hotel staff. One of them might try to take her happy pills and become a drug dealer. What? It could happen.

"Alright, good. That'll get us to Rivendell." Devin said, nodding. And then her stomach growled really loudly, reminding them that neither of them had eaten in hours. Kitty laughed while Devin blushed. It wasn't that funny.

"Haha, alright, alright. Let's go get something to eat and help Aragorn stalk the hobbits. It'll be like dinner and show." Kitty suggested, grinning impishly.

—\—|—/—

After setting the contents of their bag out to dry, the girls went downstairs to join Aragorn in the common room. The big common room seemed ot be even more bustling and crowded than before. They got a couple of strange stares from some of the other patrons, probably because of their modern clothing, but thankfully no one tried to start anything with them. There were lots of Bree-hobbits huddled together, talking cheerfully amongst themselves, while the Men and Dwarves they passed all seemed to be talking of distant events that hinted at the trouble the two girls already knew was stirring in the South. Many of them seemed to be part of a recent influx of refugees. It was a good thing Aragorn had gone down ahead of them, or they'd have had a hard time finding a decent place to sit. They found him sitting in a dark corner near the fireplace, helped themselves to a chair, and ordered some food and drink. Devin traded her earrings to pay for it.

"They come in yet?" Kitty asked Aragorn as she cut herself a slice of cheese to munch on while Devin tapped the hard biscuit against the plate, trying to break it.

"Just there." Aragorn replied quietly, pointing to a table of three hobbits with his pipe as the fourth walked over with a whole pint of ale and rejoined his friends. Kitty and Devin smiled as they strained their ears to listen in on their conversation in the noisy and crowded room.

"What's that?" The youngest looking one with curly light brown hair, whom Devin guessed was most likely Pippin, asked his blonde friend as he carefully set the large tankard down on the table. He looked like a child trying to drink out of his father's glass, because it was so large he had to use both hands to hold it.

"This, my friend, is a pint." The blonde hobbit replied, grinning, as he tilted the tankard to take a sip.

"It comes in pints?" Pippin asked, amazed. It was like someone had just told the young hobbit that Christmas had come early.

"Mm." The blonde, who was probably Merry, replied while he continued to drink.

"I'm getting one." Pippin stated decisively, nodding his head firmly, as he stood up and rushed off to get a pint of his own.

Devin shared a knowing smile with Kitty. Yep, those two were definitely Pippin and Merry.

"You've had a whole half already!" A dark-blonde hobbit called after him, trying to be sensible. Okay, that had to be Sam, which meant the quiet hobbit with dark-brown hair had to be Frodo.

Devin was enjoying watching the four friends interact with each other, but then she remembered something rather odd… Didn't Merry go out for a walk instead of joining the others for a drink? She was certain that was how it had happened in the book. Yeah, and then Pippin, Sam, and Frodo were supposed to talk to the Bree-hobbits for a bit before Pippin started acting out after getting too much attention; and Frodo had to sing a song or something to distract them before he spilled the beans, only to have it backfire on him when he accidentally slipped and caught the ring on his finger, drawing even more attention to himself by disappearing in front of everyone… But that didn't seem to be what was happening here. It was a very small difference, but like the butterfly effect theory says, even the smallest change could have a huge impact. Devin furrowed her brow slightly, wondering what brought this particular change about and what it could mean for the story. Could their arrival in this world somehow be the cause?

Out the corner of his eye, Aragorn noticed the slightly troubled expression on Devin's face as she watched the hobbits, while Kitty continued to stuff hers, but said nothing, choosing instead to stay on guard while he watched the ring-bearer rather than strike up a conversation.

"Those three have done nothing but stare at you since we arrived." Sam whispered to Frodo, pointing at the three humans, who were seated at a table that was partially in the shadow by the fireplace.

"Excuse me." Frodo said, stopping Butterbur. "That man in the corner. Who is he?" Butterbur glanced over at the table of three. Kitty and Devin gave him a friendly little wave, but he quickly turned away, looking back at Frodo.

"Wow. Rude, much?" Kitty commented, feeling a bit put out. Was he that unfriendly to all of his customers? He could kiss his tip goodbye if he kept that up.

"He's one of them Rangers. They're dangerous folk, wandering the Wilds." Butterbur told Frodo, keeping his voice down so the three humans wouldn't hear him. "What his right name is, I've never heard, but around here, he's known as Strider. I've never seen those two girls who're with him before, and I didn't catch their names, but you can tell there's something queer about them just from the looks of their clothing. I'd be careful of them if I was you, little master." He cautioned the hobbit before getting back to business.

"Strider." Frodo mused aloud, glancing across the room at the mysterious man in the shadows and the two strange girls who were with him.

"He totally just said something bad about us, didn't he?" Kitty asked as she ripped one of the hard biscuits in half, miffed that even in this world people were still talking trash about her.

"Or about 'Strider' here, at the very least." Devin said, glancing briefly at the ranger before propping her head up on one of her hands. Between the ale and the warmth of the fire, she was starting to feel pretty cozy despite the strange circumstances.

"Baggins?" All three of them whipped their heads around, immediately snapping to attention, when they heard Pippin's voice say the taboo name, as did Frodo and Sam. "Sure, I know a Baggins. He's over there. Frodo Baggins." Pippin continued carelessly, seemingly oblivious to the amount of danger he was putting them all in by pointing out Frodo to a group of rather suspicious looking men that were gathered around him by the bar. Kitty started to move to intercept Pippin, but Devin placed a hand on her arm and shook head, giving her a look that said not to interfere. This wasn't their world. It would be totally irresponsible to do something that might screw up everyone else's happy ending. Besides, from the look of things, Frodo was already on it. The troubled hobbit had already hopped up and started heading for his loudmouth cousin. "He's my second cousin, once removed on his mother's side; and my third cousin, twice removed on his mother's side." Pippin added before stopping to take a sip of ale from his pint.

"Pippin!" Frodo shouted, reaching for his cousin as he rushed over to him and turned the younger hobbit to face him.

"Steady on, Frodo." Pippin said when the action caused him to spill some of his ale as he turned. Frodo slipped on the spilled liquid as Pippin pulled his arm away and tripped over one the larger men's feet. Aragorn, Devin, and Kitty held their breath as they watched the hobbit fall backwards onto the floor while a gold ring, the Ring, flew up into the air above him. Time seemed to slow down as their eyes widened, and Frodo reached up his hand, trying to catch the ring. He touched it with the tip of one of his fingers, and then suddenly, the hobbit was gone, as if he had just vanished into thin air. While the people around the seemingly empty spot on the floor let out a few startled cries, caught totally off-guard by the spectacle they had just witnessed, Aragorn sprang into action, scanning the room for any signs that might indicate where the invisible hobbit might have got to, and Devin and Kitty quickly followed after him. They caught sight of Frodo hiding beneath one of the tables by the stairs as soon as he pulled off the ring. Aragorn stepped forward and grabbed the hobbit.

"!" Frodo yelped in surprise when he was hoisted back onto his feet and dragged into the staircase by the Ranger for a little private conversation.

"You draw far too much attention to yourself, 'Mr. Underhill'." Aragorn scolded Frodo in a low voice before herding him up the stairs with Kitty and Devin on his heels. Aragorn pushed Frodo into their room before brushing past the hobbit so he could extinguish the candles while Devin shut the door and Kitty blocked Frodo's way out. This was a conversation that needed to happen.

"I can avoid being seen if I wish… but to disappear entirely, that is a rare gift." Aragorn said, removing his hood, as he turned back to face Frodo.

"Who are you?" Frodo asked.

"Are you frightened?" Aragorn asked.

"Yes." Frodo replied honestly.

"Not nearly frightened enough." Aragorn retorted ominously. "I know what hunts you."

"Yeah, and it ain't pretty." Kitty added.

"Um, Kitty, let's let Strider handle this, okay?" Devin said, stepping away from the door just in time to avoid being hit in the face with it when it abruptly burst open. Aragorn instinctively drew his sword the minute the door started to move, prepared to defend Frodo and the ring if it should prove to be the enemy, but there was no need. It was just Sam, Merry, and Pippin, come to save their friend.

Devin furrowed her brow. Wait, wasn't his sword supposed to still be broken at this point in the story? It looked like the story must have somehow gotten off track even before their untimely arrival…

"Let him go! Or I'll have you, Longshanks!" Sam shouted, brandishing his fists threateningly at the tall man while Merry and Pippin backed him up, armed with a candlestick and chair. Kitty smiled bemusedly at the three of them, amused by their choice of weapons.

"You have a stout heart, little Hobbit." Aragorn complimented Sam as he re-sheathed his sword. "But that will not save you. You can no longer wait for the wizard, Frodo. They're coming."

The hobbits looked reluctant to trust him, and to someone who didn't know any better, Aragorn would've indeed looked mighty suspicious. Devin knew she probably wouldn't appear much better in the hobbits' eyes, but she decided to give it a shot.

"Tomorrow you will have to escape, if you can. You will have to leave the open road after tonight; for the riders in black will watch it night and day. You may escape from Bree and be allowed to go forward while the sun is up, but you won't get far. They'll come upon you in the Wild, in some dark place where there is no help. Do you want them to find you? Because they will do unspeakable things to you if they do. Strider knows how to survive in the Wild and can take you by paths that are seldom traveled. Your only chance is to make for Rivendell, and we can take you there." Aragorn glanced at her for the 'we' part. He did not see why they should come as well. "Will you have him?" She asked. There was another heavy silence while the hobbits considered her words. Frodo made no answer. His mind was confused with doubt and fear. Sam frowned, looked at his master, and at last he broke out:

"With your leave, Mr. Frodo, I'd say no! This Strider here, he warns and he says take care; and I say yes to that, and let's begin with him and his companions. He comes out of the Wild, and I've never heard no good of such folk. These three know something, that's plain, and more than I like; but it's no reason why we should let him go leading us out into some dark place far from help, as she puts it." Kitty raised an eyebrow. What, no special mention about her? That was no fun. Pippin fidgeted and looked uncomfortable, not sure if he should set the chair down yet or not. Strider did not reply to Sam, but turned his keen eyes on Frodo. Frodo caught his glance and looked away.

"No," Frodo said slowly. "I don't agree. I think you are not really as you choose to look." He told Strider. "Still Sam seems right in this. I don't see why you should warn us to take care, and yet ask us to take you on trust. Why the disguise? Who are you? What do you really know about my business, and how do you know it?"

"The lesson on caution has been well learned." Strider said with a grim smile. "But caution is one thing and wavering is another. You will never get to Rivendell now on your own, and to trust me is your only chance. You must make up your mind. I will answer some of your questions if that will help you to do so. But why should you believe my story if you do not trust me already? Still, here it is—"

But at that moment, before the ranger could say another word, there came a knock at the door. Mr. Butterbur had arrived with candles, and behind him was a hobbit with cans of hot water. Strider and the girls withdrew into a dark corner.

"I've come to bid you good night." Said the landlord, putting the candles on the table. "Nob! Take the water to the rooms." He came in and shut the door. "It's like this," Butterbur began, hesitating and looking troubled, "if I've done any harm , I'm sorry indeed. But one thing drives out another, as you'll admit; and I'm a busy man. But first one thing and then another this week have jogged my memory, as the saying goes; and not too late I hope. You see, I was asked to look out for hobbits of the Shire, and for one by the name of Baggins in particular."

"And what has that got to do with me?" Frodo asked warily.

"Ah! You know best." Butterbur said knowingly. "I won't give you away, but I was told that this Baggins would be going by the name of Underhill, and I was given a description that fits you well enough, if I may say so."

"Well, let's have it then!" Frodo said, unwisely interrupting.

"A stout little fellow with red cheeks," Butterbur began quoting solemnly, earning a chuckle from Pippin. Sam looked indignant on Frodo's behalf. "That won't help you much; it goes for most hobbits, Barley, he says to me," the landlord continued, "but this one is taller than some and fairer than most—perky little chap with bright eye. Begging your pardon, but he said it, not me."

"He said it? And who was he?" Frodo asked eagerly.

"Ah! That was Gandalf, if you know who I mean. A wizard they say he is, but he's a good friend of mine, whether or no. But now I don't know what he'll have to say to me, if I see him again—turn all my ale sour or me into a block of wood, I shouldn't wonder. He's a bit hasty. Still, what's done can't be undone."

"Well, what have you done?" Frodo asked, getting impatient with the slow unraveling of Butterbur's thoughts. Kitty seconded that emotion.

"Where was I?" asked the landlord, pausing and snapping his fingers. "Ah, yes! Old Gandalf. Three months back he walked right into my room without a knock. Barley, he says, I'm off in the morning. Will you do something for me? You've only to name it, I said. I'm in a hurry, said he, and I've no time myself, but I want a message taken to the Shire. Have you anyone you can send, and trust to go? I can find someone, I said, tomorrow, maybe, or the day after. Make it tomorrow, he says, and then he gave me a letter. It's addressed plain enough." Said Butterbur, producing a letter from his pocket, and reading out the address slowly and proudly (for he valued his reputation as a lettered man):

Mr. FRODO BAGGINS, BAG END, HOBBITON in the SHIRE.

"A letter for me from Gandalf!" exclaimed Frodo excitedly.

"Ah!" said Butterbur. "Then your right name is Baggins?"

"It is, and you had better give me that letter at once and explain why you never sent it." Frodo told him. "That's what you came to tell me, I suppose, though you've taken a long time to come to the point." Poor Butterbur looked troubled.

"You're right, master," he said, "and I beg your pardon. And I'm mortal afraid of what Gandalf will say, if harm comes of it. But I didn't keep it back a-purpose. I put it by safe. Then I couldn't find nobody willing to go to the Shire next day, nor the day after, and none of my own folk were to spare; and then one thing after another drove it out of my mind. I'm a busy man. I'll do what I can to set matters right, and if there's any help I can give, you've only to name it. Leaving the letter aside, I promised Gandalf no less. Barley, he says to me, this friend of mine from the Shire, he may be coming out this way before long, him and another. He'll be calling himself Underhill. Mind that! But you need ask no questions. And if I'm not with him, he may be in trouble, and he may need help. Do whatever you can for him, and I'll be grateful, he says. And here you are, and trouble is not far off, seemingly."

"What do you mean?" asked Frodo.

"These black men," Butterbur said, lowering his voice. "They're looking for Baggins, and if they mean well, then I'm a hobbit. It was Monday, and all the dogs were yammering and the geese screaming. Uncanny, I called it. Nob, he came and told me that two black men were at the door asking for a hobbit called Baggins. Nob's hair was all stood on end. I bid the black fellows be off and slammed the door on them, but they've been asking the same question all the way to Archet, I hear. And that Ranger, Strider, he's been asking questions, too. Tried to get in here to see you before you'd had a bite or sup, he did."

"He did!" Strider said suddenly, stepping forward into the light. "And much trouble would have been saved, if you had let him in, Barliman." The landlord jumped in surprise.

"You!" he cried. "You're always popping up. What do you want now?" He asked as the two girls came forward as well, following Aragorn's lead.

"They are here with my leave." Frodo said. "They came to offer me their help."

"Well, you know your own business, maybe." Butterbur said, eyeing the three of them suspiciously. "But if I was in your plight, I wouldn't take up with a Ranger."

"Then who would you take up with?" Kitty asked saucily, putting her hands on her hips. "A fat innkeeper who can't even remember to do something as simple as mail a little letter?"

"They can't stay at The Pony forever, and they can't go home." Devin added a bit more calmly. "They have a long journey before them. Will you go with them and keep the black men off their tails?"

"Me? Leave Bree! I wouldn't do that for any money." Butterbur said, looking really scared. "But why can't you stay here quiet for a bit, Mr. Underhill? What are all these queer goings on? What are these black men after, and where do they come from, I'd like to know?"

No you wouldn't. Devin and Kitty thought.

"I'm sorry I can't explain it all." Answered Frodo. "I am tired and very worried, and it's a long tale. But if you mean to help me, I ought to warn you that you will be in danger as long as I am in your house. These Black Riders: I am not sure, but I think, I fear they come from—"

"They come from Mordor." Aragorn said in a low voice. "From Mordor, Barliman, if that means anything to you."

"Save us!" cried Butterbur, turning pale. Evidently the name was known to him. "That is the worst news that has come to Bree in my time."

"It is." Frodo agreed. "Are you still willing to help me?"

"I am." Said Butterbur. "More than ever. Though I don't know what the likes of me can do against, against—" He faltered.

"Against the Shadow in the East." Aragorn finished for him quietly. "Not much, Barliman, but every little bit helps. You can let Mr. Underhill stay here tonight, as Mr. Underhill, and you can forget the name of Baggins, till he is far away."

"I'll do that." Said Butterbur. "But they'll find out he's here without help from me, I'm afraid. It's a pity Mr. Baggins drew attention to himself this evening, to say no more. The story of that Mr. Bilbo's going off has been heard before in Bree. Even our Nob has been doing some guessing in his slow pate; and there are others in Bree quicker on the uptake than he is."

"Well, we can only hope the riders won't come back yet." Said Frodo.

"I hope not, indeed." Butter said. "But spooks or no spooks, they won't get in The Pony so easy. Don't you worry till the morning. Nob'll say no word. No black man shall pass my doors. While I can stand on my legs. Me and my folk'll keep watch tonight; but you had best get some sleep, if you can."

"In any case we must be called at dawn." Frodo said. Kitty grimaced slightly at the thought of having to get up so early. "We must get off as early as possible. Breakfast at six-thirty, please."

"Right! I'll see to the orders." Butterbur said. "Good night, Mr. Baggins—Underhill, I should say! Good night. I must go and bar the doors quick. Good night to you all!" At last Mr. Butterbur went out, with another doubtful look at Strider and the girls and a shake of his head. They waited and listened while his footsteps retreated down the hall.

"Well?" asked Aragorn. "When are you going to open that letter?" Frodo looked carefully at the seal before opening it. It certainly seemed to be Gandalf's. Inside, written in the wizard's strong but graceful script was the following message:

THE PRANCING PONY, BREE, Midyear's Day, Shire Year, 1418.

Dear Frodo,Bad news has reached me here. I must go off at once. You had better leave Bag End soon, and get out of the Shire before the end of July at latest. I will return as soon as I can; and I will follow you, if I find that you are gone. Leave a message for me here if you pass through Bree. You can trust the landlord (Butterbur). You may meet a friend of mine on the Road: a Man, lean, dark, tall, by some called Strider. He knows our business and will help you. Make for Rivendell. There I hope we may meet again. If I do not come, Elrond will advise you.Yours in haste,GANDALF.

Next to the wizard's name was signed the rune for 'G'.

P.S. Do NOT use it again, not for any reason whatever! Do not travel by night!P.P.S. Make sure that it is the real Strider. There are many strange men on the roads. His true name is Aragorn.

All that is gold does not glitter,Not all those who wander are lost;The old that is strong does not wither,Deep roots are not reached by the frost.From the ashes a fire shall be woken,A light from the shadows shall spring;Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,The crownless again shall be king.

P.P.P.S. I hope Butterbur sends this promptly. A worthy man, but his memory is like a lumber-room: thing wanted always buried. If he forgets, I shall roast him.Fare Well!

Frodo read the letter himself then passed it onto his friends.

"Really, old Butterbur has made a mess of things!" He said. "He deserves roasting. If I had got this at once, we might all be safe in Rivendell by now. But what can have happened to Gandalf? He writes as if he was going into great danger."

"He has been doing that for many years." Aragorn said while Devin exchanged a knowing look with Kitty. Frodo turned and looked at the tall man thoughtfully, wondering about Gandalf's second postscript.

"Why didn't you tell me that you were Gandalf's friend at once?" He asked. "It would have saved time."

"Would it?" Aragorn asked. "Would any of you have believed me till now? I knew nothing of this letter. For all I knew, I had to persuade you to trust me without proofs, if I was to help you. In any case, I did not intend to tell you all about myself at once. I had to study you first, and make sure of you. The Enemy has set traps for me before. As soon as I made up my mind, I was ready to tell you whatever you asked. But I must admit," he said with an odd laugh, "that I hoped you would take to me for my own sake. A hunted man sometimes wearies of distrust and longs for friendship. But there, I believe my looks are against me."

"Meh. I've seen worse." Kitty said, shrugging. One of her exes had been into Grunge.

"They are—at first sight at any rate." Laughed Pippin, relieved after reading Gandalf's letter. "But handsome is as handsome does, as we say in the Shire; and I daresay we shall all look much the same after lying for days in hedges and ditches." Kitty made a face, not at all looking forward to such an experience.

"It would take more than a few days, or weeks, or years, of wandering in the Wild to make you look like me." Aragorn replied. "And you would die first, unless you are made of sterner stuff than you appear to be." He didn't want them taking the journey to lightly and getting themselves into more trouble. Pippin subsided, but Sam remained undaunted, and he still eyed the ranger dubiously.

"How do we know you are the Strider that Gandalf speaks about?" Sam demanded. "You never mentioned Gandalf, till this letter came out; and he didn't make no mention of them." He nodded in Devin and Kitty's direction. "You might be play-acting spy, for all I can see, trying to get us to go with you. You might have done in the real Strider and took his clothes. What have you to say to that?"

"That you are a stout fellow," answered Aragorn, "but I am afraid my only answer to you, Sam Gamgee, is this. If I had killed the real Strider, I could kill you. And I should have killed you already without so much talk. If I was after the Ring, I could gave it—now!" He stood up and seemed suddenly to grow taller. In his eyes gleamed a light, keen and commanding. Throwing back his cloak, he laid his hand on the hilt of his sword. The hobbits didn't dare move. Sam sat wide-mouthed, staring at him dumbly. "But I am the real Strider, fortunately." Aragorn continued, looking down at them with his face softened by a sudden smile. "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn; and if by life or death I can save you, I will."

"And we're travelers from a distant land looking for a way home. I am Devin Gladwin, and my friend here is Kitty Larson." Devin added, riding on the curtails of his speech. "Gandalf didn't mention us because he doesn't know about us, but we know about him, and the special item you carry. Since we also have need to seek counsel with the wizard and Lord Elrond, we would appreciate being allowed to tag along. In return, we will help Aragorn protect you to the best of our abilities."

"But preferably not to the death. Ow." Kitty said, wincing slightly when Devin stepped on her foot for making such an unnecessary comment.

"Anyway, don't worry about Gandalf. He can take care of himself." Devin said. "I'm sure you'll be able to see him again once we reach Rivendell."

There was a long silence while the hobbits considered all that they had just heard. At last Frodo spoke with hesitation.

"I believed that you were friends before the letter came," he said, "or at least I wished to. You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in a way that servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would—well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand."

"I see." Aragorn laughed. These hobbits were pretty bold.

"So we look foul and feel fair. Is that it?" Devin asked with a wry smile, slightly chagrined.

"Oi, we'd better not be included in that." Kitty quipped, frowning slightly. They didn't look that bad, did they?

"Well, with Sam's permission, we will call that settled." Aragorn said decisively. "I shall be your guide, and these girls shall help in whatever way they can. We shall have a rough road tomorrow."

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