Chapter 9: The Start Of A Bad Joke
Four hobbits, two men, two elves, a dwarf, and a wizard go on a long walk to a mountain of doom.
Now, if that didn't sound like the start of a really bad joke, then I didn't know what did — and yet here we all were.
The ten of us were already several days into the journey, walking east towards the Misty Mountains according to Gandalf. I'd spent most of that time sticking close to either Boromir or the hobbits, enjoying the truly incredible scenery we passed. And all the while, trying to take my mind off the lingering feeling of our departure from Rivendell.
It had taken longer than I'd expected to leave. Supplies had to be acquired, travel plans made, and what little we were able to take with us had to be packed as light as possible. When we finally were ready to set off, I came down to the courtyard in my riding greens with my pack to find a farewell procession. Bilbo was there, along with almost every elf I recognised from the house. All of them there to see us off. The ageing hobbit had given me a fond smile after saying goodbye to his nephew, wishing me luck and leaving me with a light kiss on the knuckle for good measure.
Arwen had been present too, although she kept a solemn expression of propriety in place as she bade each of the Fellowship farewell and a safe journey. Her eyes had misted over slightly when they fell on Aragorn, and the two of them shared a long moment with more being said through their silence than they ever could have through words. Finally Aragorn dropped his gaze from hers and reluctantly turned away to see to the supplies.
Then she had finally come to me.
Instead of a morose farewell and a regal blessing like I'd been expecting, I'd found myself being wrapped in a warm hug that had smelled of lilacs.
"You never seem to find trouble in halves, do you?" I could hear her smile, though her tone was sad. It made my throat clench uncomfortably to hear it.
"I guess I don't." I said, hugging her back.
Arwen and I hadn't become the BFFs or anything, but she had been a constant positive presents in my time in Rivendell. She'd always been happy to sit with me while I studied, talk with me during the evening meals, sometimes even forewarn me if her father was in a particularly bad mood. She was kind and warm, and I already knew I going to miss her.
The goodbye from my mentor had been considerably less affectionate, but I'd been almost more pained to say goodbye to him than I had anyone else. He'd spoken in that serious but calm tone he'd always used during my practical training, but his eyes had softened behind the mask.
"I will not lecture you, Élanor. This choice was yours to make, not mine. All I ask is that you remember that you are in this company not because you are a warrior, nor because of your skill with a blade." He'd rested his hand on my shoulder, giving it a gentle but firm squeeze with a tiny, almost sad smile, "Be safe, padawan."
I'd felt my eyes mist over, just a bit.
And that had been that.
The farewell to the place I'd tentatively called a home for just over two years. It had stung more than I'd been expecting, seeing the 'Last Homely House East of the Sea' disappearing over the cliffs behind us. We'd been walking for just under a week when Gandalf decided that we should take some time to rest for a while, before finally turning south. He chose a rocky outcrop on the slopes of Misty Mountains to stop and make camp, and everyone was taking the time to rest their feet.
Well, almost everyone.
"Merry, your turn!" Boromir called at the hobbit, before going straight into another short series of attacks with his sword. Merry parried them all with his shorter blade, just as he'd been instructed minutes before — all while holding a half-eaten apple in his free hand and grinning cheerfully.
"Good, very good!" Boromir praised. Then it was Pippin's turn to defend, which he did with just as much enthusiasm as Merry.
"Move your feet!" Aragorn chipped in from where he watched the hobbits practicing, leisurely smoking his pipe.
I'd perched on a flat rock next to Frodo, and we were both watching in amusement as Pippin and Merry threw around compliments and batter in between Boromir's drills.
"Miss Eleanor, would you care for some breakfast?" Sam came up beside us, tentatively offering out a couple of plates filled with sausages, well cooked bacon and a small hunk of bread.
I'm not even a little bit ashamed to admit; I instantly started salivating.
"God, Sam Gamgee, you're an angel. Do you have any idea how long it's been since I've had real bacon?" I took the plate from him, taking a long moment to savour the smell of the cooked meat as he handed the second one to Frodo. The kitchen staff of Rivendell had been fantastic at their jobs, but the wonders of a proper English breakfast were something they had just never been able to grasp.
Sam on the other hand did, and damn could the little man cook food over a campfire like Jamie Oliver himself.
I dug hungrily into the sausages and rashers as Frodo filled Sam in on Merry and Pippin's progress. I felt a pair of eyes on the back of my neck, and only noticed Gandalf's pensive expression directed at me when I peered over my shoulder to see what the others were up to. He was perched a little way away with his pipe, looking thoughtful, and his eyes very occasionally flickering between me and the view of the mountain's foothills.
"Gandalf not joining us in the pork-festivities?" I asked quietly, noticing that he was the only one who hadn't been gifted with bacony goodness yet. Sam glanced over his shoulder and looked a little uncomfortable.
"I offered him some, but he said wanted some time to plan our next route 'free from culinary distractions.'"
I looked curiously back at Gandalf again. It was the first opportunity I'd had since we'd left Rivendell to try and talk with the old wizard while the others were out of earshot. He wasn't looking at me now, but I had the nagging instinct that he was waiting for me to come over…
"I'll go see if he wants a cup of tea instead." I mumbled off-handedly and got up. I moved away before either Frodo or Sam could tell me it was a bad idea, taking the last of my angelic breakfast with me. I was curious, not insane.
The only other two members of the Fellowship who hadn't joined in the combat drills or the ritualistic bacon scoffing were our resident dwarven axe-swinger and elvish snob. Gimli was standing off a little way away, smoking his pipe and muttering to himself in what I guessed was dwarvish; and Legolas was 'scouting'.
I say scouting.
To me it just looked like he was staring vacantly off into the distance, trying to appear alert and mysterious. I narrowed my eyes at the back of his perfect blond head as I passed. Unlike the rest of the Fellowship, Legolas hadn't bothered to say a single word to me since we'd left Rivendell. He'd barely even looked at me, as if I didn't exist. It was probably for the best though. Judging by the look he'd given me after that scene in the Council chamber we'd probably get on about as well as sea water and an oil spill.
I already had one goldilocks elf lord who hated my guts in Glorfindel. One was more than enough.
I walked past the both of them and tentatively up to where Gandalf was smoking and surveying the view. I opened my mouth, not exactly sure of what I was going to say. I needn't have bothered because Gandalf knocked my composure flat on it's arse with three simple words:
"Eleanor Lucy Dace."
The bottom fell out of my stomach. If I'd been a cartoon character, my eyes would have popped out of my head and gone rolling across the ground, "Y-you know my real name?"
"Of course." The wise old wizard spoke as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Lord Elrond decided that it would be best if at least one member of this Fellowship was privy to your…" He turned from his pipe and eyed me with a faintly intrigued twinkle in his eyes, "Unusual circumstances."
"Oh, right…" I swallowed, not really sure of how I was supposed to respond to that. After a moment of just hovering there like an indecisive raincloud, I determined to just throw myself in at the deep end. "About what happened in the Council chamber…"
"You saw a fragment of your past, did you not?" Gandalf got there first again. This time it didn't take me quite as much by surprise. If the man knew everything I'd told Lord Elrond, and he was a wise as Tolkien made him out to be, there was a good chance he knew more about my situation than I did. He noticed my unease and gestured for me to come and sit beside him.
"I… I don't know what I saw." I said carefully, perching on the sun-warmed stone a few feet from him, the remains of my breakfast all but forgotten, "But it was something. More than I got from two years of…"
I stopped, realising I was in danger of waffling again. I bit my lip as Gandalf just watched me patiently. I knew what I wanted to say. I just had no idea how to ask it without sounding insane…
"Gandalf, the memory…" I began slowly, considering my words carefully this time before I let them out go my mouth, "It started when you used the Black Speech, and it ended the second you stopped talking. I haven't been able to get anything else since. So, I…I mean… is there a way to—?"
His expression shifted from amused to sever in less time that I took to draw breath.
"No, Eleanor." He interrupted gently but very firmly, "That is something you cannot ask of me."
"The Black Speech is not a tongue to be thrown around casually. Were it not for Vilya's protection over the Imladris Valley I would not have dared voice it at the Council either."
"But it's the only thing that's knocked loose any of my memories in two years! Two years, Gandalf!" I said back, my voice raising a bit before I could suppress it. I was suddenly deeply and irrationally furious with him, "Getting them back is the only chance I have of figuring out how I got here in the first place!"
"And that alone is not a good enough reason to endanger us all by speaking the tongue of Mordor aloud here." He responded sternly, completely unaffected by my outburst. My shoulders fell and I looked away, my anger vanishing as quickly as it had come, along with my hopefulness. Gandalf's expression softened as he saw me deflate in defeat, "I'm truly sorry, my dear. Whatever other help I can offer in this quest of yours, I will gladly give it."
"Heh, I thought we were up to our knees in a quest already." I forced out a laugh, though it was hollow and left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. I looked down at my hands, a little dirty and the nails chipped. I glanced sideways at him, "But you still can't really expect me to just sit back and do nothing about this."
"Oh, I'm not." He replied, glancing back at the others who were still enjoying their breakfast and mock-brawling, "There is a reason I supported your enthusiasm to join our company. I certainly don't expect you to sit idly while we walk headlong into Mordor. You are Lord Elrond's apprentice after all; your skills will be needed."
"A fat lot of help my measly two years of skulking around Rivendell will be against odds like that." I scoffed sullenly.
"I would not refer to training under Lord Elrond as 'skulking' if I were you, my dear." Gandalf told me in an amused but still reprimanding tone, "He doesn't take apprentices often, and those he does generally have a great deal more experience and skill to offer than you."
My eyebrows tried to retreat up into my hairline. I mean, I'd known I'd been asking a lot when I'd petitioned Lord Elrond to teach me. But I hadn't realised him agreeing had been quite that big a deal.
"Seriously?" Then… why did he say yes to training me? I mean, I barely knew how to tie a bandage before two years ago."
"Perhaps he saw some raw potential in you?" The wizard shrugged, blowing out a smoke ring that turned itself into the wispy shape of a butterfly. "I supposed we shall find out. Though let us hope we don't find ourselves in need of healer quite this early into our journey."
He took another long drag on his pipe. "But I digress. You must have faith, my dear. You have recovered one of our memories already, and by sheer chance. The rest will return in time."
"You sound just like Bilbo." I smiled a little ruefully, my thoughts drifting back to the old hobbit.
"He spoke highly of you, you know."
I looked up curiously at Gandalf from the view of the mountains. "Bilbo? What did he say?"
The old wizard's blue eyes twinkled with silent laughter. "He said you tell very amusing stories, and make an excellent cup of tea."
I snorted through a laugh at the that. For the past two years Bilbo had been regaling me with stories of his own adventures (namely one involving thirteen dwarves, a dragon, and a very lonely mountain). So in return, I'd taken to telling Bilbo fairy tales from my world. I'd told him the story of Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast, Thumbelina, even Hansel & Gretel. I'd spruced up the language at bit, aiming to get them to fall somewhere between the original Brothers Grimm versions and the sugar-covered Disney renditions — and he'd enjoyed each of them thoroughly.
I'd been happy enough telling and hearing fantastic tales of adventures in the third person. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I'd end up smack bang in the middle of one all my own.
I put my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands. "God, what have I gotten myself into…?"
"I don't believe your role in this company will be quite as insignificant as you believe, my dear." Gandalf chuckled.
"How do you figure?" I asked.
He nodded, "They tell me that all things happen for a reason, and that you are here for a purpose. Although what purpose I cannot say, yet. But a purpose non the less. And I think your instincts tell you the same."
"Maybe," I mused, staring off at some darkening clouds forming over the hills in the distance, "But I already made the mistake of asking my 'instinct' for advice. Now I can't get her to shut up."
I'd meant it as a joke. A bad joke maybe. But the stoney look I got from Gandalf killed my laughter in its crib. It was the exact same look he'd given me in the council hall, right after I'd woken from my cryptic flashback.
I thought for a moment he was about to interrogate me further, or maybe critique my poor taste in humour, when Gimli's voice suddenly spoke up from behind us.
"If anyone was to ask for my opinion, which I know they're not; I'd say we were taking the long way round." He said, coming over to us but pointedly ignoring me and speaking only to the wizard at my side, "Gandalf, we could pass through the mines of Moria. My cousin Balin would give us a royal welcome!"
Gandalf gave the dwarf an even more unsettling look that he'd given me. Not because he looked disapproving, but because he looked suddenly, very deeply worried.
"No, Gimli. I would not take the road through Moria unless I had no other choice."
A clang of metal hitting metal caught all our attention. I looked round only to see Merry and Pippin had abandoned their weapon training in favour of simply dog-piling Boromir, both of them shouting, "For the Shire!" I burst out laughing along with Frodo and Sam, despite still feeling disheartened. It only got harder to stop when Aragorn went to break them up, only to wind up flipped onto his backside by the two hobbits pulling his boots out from under him.
None of us even noticed the darkened shadow on the horizon until Sam suddenly stopped chortling and frowned at something over Frodo's shoulder.
"What is that?"
"Nothing, it's just a wisp of cloud!" Gimli dismissed with a nonchalant wave of his pipe. All of us were looking now. Instinctively I swivelled to see Legolas watching it closely, his whole body gone ridged with concentration.
"It's moving fast… and against the wind." Boromir said quietly from behind us.
I stood up and squinted at the shadow on the horizon, trying to get my long distance vision to focus, "It looks like… birds?"
"Crebain from Dunland!" Legolas's voice suddenly barked without warning. I didn't have time to jump out of my skin before Aragon was shouting at us all to hide, fast. More spooked by the other's sudden panic than by the apparent flock of evil birds, I did as I was told.
Snatching up my medical satchel and pack I dived under a rock ledge out of sight. Boromir's shield appeared next to me a second later, followed quickly by its owner. I looked out past him to see the others disappearing into similar hiding places. I suddenly froze where I crouched. My eyes had landed on something they'd missed…
He must have been too busy putting out the campfire and hiding the remains of the cooking utensils to remember it. The sounds of beating of wings were getting louder. Aragorn and Legolas's reactions to the 'Crebain' were enough for anyone with half a brain to tell if they saw any sign of us here, it would be bad.
Without giving myself time to think sensibly, I belly crawled out from mine and Boromir's hiding place and shot as fast as I could across the clearing.
"Eleanor, get down!" Aragorn shouted from somewhere behind me.
I grabbed up Sam's pack and had just managed to fling it under an outcrop of rocks, when a hand stronger than some industrial clamps latched around my ankle and pulled hard. I fell flat onto my face and was tugged out of sight under a thorny clump of bushes.
"Be still!" An angry voice hissed right behind my left ear, and with a jolt of irrational anger I realised it was Legolas. Then the sounds of beating wings was everywhere, coming from every direction as the cloud fell on our hiding places like a swarm of bees. Even if I dared move to cover my ears, Legolas's grip on my upper arm had me pinned flat against the stone under the bushes.
Legolas is a lot stronger than he looks. I stayed still.
The sound of the squawking and flapping wings was almost deafening, but just as it was becoming almost unbearable to remain motionless, it started to fade. Only when the distant sounds of cawing had completely disappeared did Legolas's grip on my arm finally relent. I jerked away from him and crawled out from under the bush. My fingers went to rub the tender spot just below my shoulder where he'd grabbed me.
I could already feel a band of finger-shaped bruises forming under the sleeve of my tunic.
Back on Earth I'd bruised more easily than most. If someone poked me hard enough in the wrong place it would leave a mark. I was used to the familiar dull throb of the black-and-blue marks. It didn't hurt much, but I could tell it would if I hit or banged it on anything for the next few days. And knowing my luck, I'd do just that.
I made a half disgusted half irritated noise.
"Great. Nice to know that's another useless trait I've kept from Earth." I muttered. I looked over my shoulder to see Legolas already nimbly back on his feet. He glanced over at me with an annoyed expression, but it vanished the moment his gaze fell on where I was still inspecting my bruised upper arm. I quickly looked away and forced my hand to drop to my side. The last thing I wanted was for the uppity blond (and surprisingly strong) elf to think I was so pathetic as to get worked up over a bruise.
"Spies of Saruman. The passage south is being watched." Gandalf struggled out from his own hiding place as Aragorn and Boromir helped the hobbits. He turned from where the Crebain had vanished into the distance to the mountains and pointed to the peak of one covered in snow, "We must take the pass of Caradhas."
I was about to clamber to my feet again, when an upturned hand made it's way into my peripherals. For a moment I thought (or maybe hoped) it was Boromir being chivalrous again.
Alas — I found myself staring up at my personal Prince-Not-So-Charming. Legolas had a look on his annoyingly perfect face like he'd been made to swallow something unpleasant. And he was offering a hand out to help me up. I bit back a sour retort, but couldn't quite conceal my scowl. No one's perfect.
"Thanks." I mumbled begrudgingly, and allowed him to pull me to my feet. His unsettlingly blue-grey gaze skimmed over my face for a second, and his eyebrows pinched in a faintly confused frown. He looked as if I'd just spoken to him in a language he didn't understand.
"You are welcome." He replied stiffly after a moment. Then he turned and strode off without another word. But not before I saw him clenching and unclenching his fingers out of the corner of my eye — as if his hand had just been dipped in something fowl and he was resisting the urge to wipe it off.
The same hand he's just used to help me up.
'Well, that was charming.' Tink muttered sarcastically in my head.
'Swoon-worthy.' I agreed sulkily, and went to gather my things for our long trek up the mountain.
So four hobbits, two men, two elves, a dwarf and a wizard spend three hours climbing halfway up the side of a snow covered mountain with an unpronounceable name…
Another tasteless start to the equally tasteless joke that had somehow become my life. But at least the sun was shining.
It had taken almost all morning but we'd made it to the foothills of Caradhras. At that point in our merry uphill hike, I'd still been stewing over my odd encounter with Legolas and my not-so-helpful conversation with Gandalf. There was no changing his mind about the Black Speech trick, I knew that the second I'd asked. But there was also nothing I could currently do to speed up the process of 'knocking something loose' in my head.
That left me only two real options given my current situation: I could either mope and wallow in self pity. Or, I could be proactive and cheer myself up.
I chose the latter.
The quickest way to do that, I'd learned, was simple: chat with Merry and Pippin.
If telling funny stories or singing rowdy pub songs had been an Olympic sport back home on Earth, those two hobbits could have easily taken gold every time. By the time we reached the first snow on Caradhras I was so lost in their songs and stories of the Shire that I'd all but forgotten my conversation with Gandalf, and the dull throb of my bruised upper arm.
"You must have some tales of your own to tell about Rivendell, Eleanor." Merry said to me cheerfully as we plodded through the snow just a little behind Aragorn, Frodo and Sam. He'd mercifully agreed to drop the 'Miss' from my name.
"You mean apart from spending all my time surrounded by excessively hospitable elves with annoyingly perfect hair?" I smiled, and it turned into a small smirk when I saw Legolas's head twitch very slightly in our direction just a little way ahead.
"I'm sure it wasn't as bad as that." Pippin chipped in.
"It was beautiful, yes, but I like it out here. Theres sun, beautiful scenery, and no one calls me 'my lady'." I threw Boromir a playful grin over my shoulder where he was taking his turn leading Bill the pony, "Well, most people don't anyway."
I'd been trying to get him to stop calling me by my 'respectable title' for two days, to no avail. He just smiled amiably and made a show of pretending to not have noticed my comment. I chuckled and turned back to the trail Gandalf and Aragorn had cut through the ankle-deep snow for us to follow.
"You seem a little carefree for an elf." Pippin told me seriously — an unusual thing coming from the hobbit who had not two hours ago been trying to teach me a song called 'The Drunken Green Dragon.' "Shouldn't you be, I don't know, more serene? Maybe a little less cheerful?"
"Would you really prefer it if I was less cheerful? I could start reciting macabre poetry if it would make you feel more comfortable." I replied equally serious, putting on the air that my old Drama teacher had adopted when quoting Hamlet, "Here, how about this: 'With thy sharp teeth this knot intrinsicate, Of life at once untie, poor venomous fool! Be angry, and dispatch—.'(1)"
"No, no! That's alright!" Pippin interrupted me, looking slightly panicked.
"You sure?" I grinned.
A gruff grunt caught came from just ahead of us in the line and I looked up from the two hobbits walking beside me. Gimli had turned over his shoulder in his marching and was looking at me dubiously, though it was difficult to tell since his dark red beard and eyebrows together covered about 60% of his face.
"What?" I asked, eyeing him uncertainly. He seemed to consider his words for a moment before answering.
"You make no sense, lass. You look like an elf, eat like a hobbit, curse like a dwarf, and talk like a man." He said after a minute, shaking his head slightly.
"Should I take that as a compliment coming from someone who curses every other sentence?" I replied, raising one eyebrow. He huffed and turned back to keeping up with Aragorn.
"You understand the language of the dwarves?" Pippin hissed quietly at me in surprise. I quickly shook my head and waved a hand.
"Nope. I'm just old enough to know a cuss word when I hear one."
"How old are you exactly?" Boromir asked me without warning.
I opened my mouth to reply but then snapped it shut, my stomach doing a weird little spooked-chipmunk manoeuvre. I was twenty-four in human years now, but I was also supposed to be an elf. In their years that would have made me not much older than a toddler. How in hell was I supposed to explain that?
My metaphorical bacon was saved by the merriment of hobbits.
"My lord!" Merry exclaimed in a jovial tone of mock horror, "I thought a gentleman never asks a lady her age!"
Pippin chortled and Boromir turned a bit pink. "I meant no offence, my lady."
I heaved an internal sigh of relief and thanked my lucky stars for the awkward bullet I'd just dodged.
"It's no problem." I said, masking my relief with a polite smile, "And for God sake, stop calling me 'my lady.' It's just Eleanor; no 'lady' or 'miss' required. Makes me feel like an old school mistress."
"I shall try to remember that." Boromir replied with a small smile of his own. I let a still chuckling Merry and Pippin move on ahead, dropping back to pace beside him. We just walked in companionable silence for a while, trudging side by side through the ever deepening snow. Eventually the past few days worth of curiosity finally got the better of me and I turned to him.
"Boromir, you talked a lot about your city at the Council meeting. What's it like there?" I asked. He looked at me sideways, not displeased, but maybe a little surprised.
"Why the sudden curiosity?"
' "Because it was one of my favourite locations described in a series of fantasy books from a world in which you and every other member of this Fellowship are nothing more than fictional characters. Oh, and I like the sound of your voice, because I'm a sappy fangirl." '
I cooly resisted the urge to violently clobber Tink and her barbed tongue into silence, and instead said; "I've… read a lot about Minas Tirith, but never seen it. It sounds very beautiful."
"It is." He said and I saw a light kindle to life behind his eyes when he said it, "It is not called the White City for nothing. It towers over the fields of Pallenor in seven levels, each one carved from the side of the mountain itself. And the view from the Tower of Ecthelion is…" He trailed off with a faintly sad look making it's way into his expression.
"You sound like you miss it."
"That I do." His gaze fell on Aragorn who was still walking just out of earshot ahead of us, "It has been without a king for many decades, and my father Denethor II has ruled as Steward for many years… I had little idea I would find Isildur's heir when I answered Lord Elrond's summons."
I followed his gaze to stop on the back of Aragorn's head. He'd taken the lead from Gandalf for a while and was walking just out of earshot from us at the front of the line.
"He's not what you expected?" I asked quietly.
"I'm… not sure what I expected." Boromir replied softly, watching the ranger with a look that mixed curiosity and distrust.
I found it a little odd that Boromir hadn't known anything about Aragorn before coming to Rivendell. I remembered vaguely in the books that he'd come because both him and his brother had been given dreams about the return of a king to Gondor. But that hadn't been the case here. If he truly hadn't known, could I really blame Boromir for being surprised? The lost Heir of Isildur, hiding out in Rivendell among the elves all this time? And not a single human soul had known? Aragorn was many things: intimidating, quiet, weather-beaten, and downright terrifying with a blade in his hand. But he did not look like what you'd expect a king to look like. At least not to me.
To Boromir though? Maybe he did. It was hard to tell since they two had spoken about as much as Legolas and I had since that scene in the Council chamber. The unaddressed tension was starting to grate on my nerves.
I for one, did not handle tension or awkward silences well. So I decided to break this one wide open.
A wicked little smile spread over my mouth as an idea formed in my head. Boromir gave me a questioning look and I lifted a finger to my lips in the universal sign for quiet. Then I hunched down and began gathering snow into my hands. Merry and Pippin abruptly broke in their conversation upon noticing what I was doing. They immediately saw what I was planning, and Merry's face broke into a grin. Pippin clapped a hand over his mouth to hide the snicker.
"Are you sure you don't know any good pub songs, Eleanor?" Merry asked, trying to cover his snickering. "I'm sure we could all use a laugh."
"A mature and proper young lady like me? Perish the thought!" I started moving up the line towards Aragorn.
"Mature?" He scoffed quietly without turning around. I walked calmly past Legolas, Frodo and Sam with my armful of snow. They all gave me looks, but none of them tried to stop me.
"I'll have you know I'm exceptionally mature. And I'm shite at singing." I said primly, and dumped my double handful of snow down the back of Aragorn's cloak. He yelped in surprise and jerked away, trying to shake the snow out from were it had slide down the back of his shirt. Boromir and hobbits all cheered and guffawed their approval. Hell, even Legolas and Gandalf cracked minute smiles.
The laughter was interrupted by a short yelp and a thumping noise, and I spun to see that Frodo had slipped and tumbled backwards over the snow. Not missing a beat, Aragorn literally blurred past me, managing to stop the hobbit from rolling completely back down the hill. He pulled Frodo up out of the snow and to his feet. Frodo spluttered out a thanks, but froze as he abruptly felt frantically around his neck. My stomach twisted.
It took barely a second for me to spot it, without even really looking. It was lying in the snow, gleaming in the sunlight just a few feet away where Frodo had slipped. Boromir was closest. He immediately crouched down and picked it up by the chain. He'd not even finished rising to his feet when his expression changed, going from casually amused to something else I couldn't read. He just stared at it.
"Boromir?" I said carefully.
He didn't move.
And just like that, the fleeting moment of joy had completely gone. Every eye was fixed on Boromir from across the gap in the line. I saw Legolas's fingers twitch towards his bow, and my whole body tensed.
"It is strange that we should suffer so much fear and doubt, over such a small thing. Such a little thing." Boromir breathed quietly, more to himself than any of us. The change in his voice unsettled me. Consciously I knew it was the Ring's doing, but it still made my skin crawl.
Gone was the kind and courteous man who I'd been laughing with us minutes before. Now it felt as if there was a completely stranger standing there…
"Boromir!" Aragorn's sharp voice broke the silence, and suddenly Boromir was himself again, "Give the Ring to Frodo."
Boromir hesitated just a second too long before walking back towards the hobbit.
"As you wish, I care not." He said, extending the ring out to Frodo who quickly snatched it back. For a second I saw something unpleasant flicker in Boromir's eyes, but then he shook his head, smiled, and ruffled Frodo's hair before move back towards the rest of us.
It was bad enough that I'd noticed Aragorn very deliberately relinquish his grip on his sword as Boromir turned away. But what made me more uncomfortable was that my own hand — independent of my will — had moved from resting at my side, to hovering over the dagger pouch at my hip.
(1) William Shakespeare ("Antony & Cleopatra" - Act V Scene II)