Strider was limping. He was trying very hard to disguise it, but Frodo, walking directly behind him, had ample opportunity to observe his gait and there was no doubt about it. Pity swelled in his heart, an emotion he never expected to feel for a man so clearly capable and stalwart. Perhaps, Frodo decided, here was an opportunity to repay a little of the kindness Strider had extended to him and the other hobbits. He would try, anyway.
After they set up camp for the night, Frodo kept a careful eye on Strider. He had a feeling that the Ranger would be reluctant to reveal any weakness in front of the hobbits, lest they become even more apprehensive than they already were, and find an excuse to tend his injury in private. It wasn't until the hobbits were settled in their bedrolls and Merry, Pippin and Sam were asleep that Strider disappeared in the direction of a small stream that had provided them with water for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
Aha, thought Frodo, who had been observing Strider through half-lowered eyelids. He eased out of his blankets and crept after him with all the hobbit-stealth he possessed. Sure enough, he found Strider seated on a rock with his left boot off and his legging pulled up to his calf. He was soaking his foot in the stream and wearing a ferocious scowl.
'Strider?' Frodo quietly announced his presence.
Strider jerked his head up; the scowl vanished, replaced by concern, and he said, 'Frodo, is everything all right?'
'Yes, it's fine. But I noticed you were limping earlier and I'm concerned.'
'You have a keen eye,' Strider said, sounding rueful. 'I won't underestimate your powers of observation again.'
Frodo laughed softly, but then said, 'What is wrong?'
'I have rubbed a patch of skin raw on my heel. A shameful confession for a Ranger. I'm only glad my company aren't here to roast me for my carelessness in not fixing my footwrap sooner. But we were in haste and I didn't want to stop before nightfall, and now I have paid the penalty.'
'Perhaps I can help,' Frodo said.
'You? But surely hobbits never get blisters on their feet.' Strider looked surprised.
'No, but we can get blisters on our hands, especially hands unused to holding swords.' Frodo pulled a small stoppered jar and a square of thin soft leather from his pocket. 'Sam made sure to pack these just in case. I don't know what is in the salve, for it is a secret Gamgee family recipe and zealously guarded, but I can vouch for its efficacy, and this moleskin works wonderfully to protect and pad the skin.' He added diffidently, 'I can apply some if you like.'
'Thank you, Frodo. I would be most grateful.' Strider raised his dripping foot from the stream and dried it with a cloth, then propped it on a rock.
Frodo was aware, of course, that the feet of Big People were nothing like hobbit-feet, and not only because they were twice the size. But he couldn't quite get over a sense of shock whenever he saw them, nearly hairless and woefully thin-soled. How awful it must be to have no fur covering one's feet, he thought, not for the first time, and to have to wear those cumbersome and uncomfortable-looking boots and shoes and sandals. No wonder they got blisters.
He crouched and removed the stopper from the jar of salve. Dipping his fore and middle fingers in, he scooped up a small amount and spread it carefully over the raw spot, which looked painful indeed. Strider did not so much as flinch, though it must have hurt, but then Frodo expected nothing less from the stoic Ranger. He wiped off his fingers and stowed away the salve. Spreading the moleskin on the ground, he used his sharp knife to cut an oval patch, slightly larger than the blister. He applied the patch over the salve-covered wound, pressing it gently into place.
'All done,' he said, sitting back on his heels.
Strider rewrapped his foot, taking extra care that the cloth was smooth and tight, then slid on his boot. He stood and walked a few paces.
'How does it feel?' Frodo asked, a trifle anxiously.
'Perfect.' Strider smiled, his habitual graveness lifting. 'You have done the trick, Frodo.'
Frodo beamed. 'I'm so pleased, Strider. I hate to think of you in pain on our account.'
'I, on the other hand, cannot regret it, for it has shown me what a good friend I have in you, Frodo son of Drogo. Now come, it is time you took some rest. We have another long day of walking ahead of us tomorrow. We should reach Weathertop and perhaps discover some word of Gandalf.'
Frodo returned to the camp and his bedroll beside Sam, now gently snoring. As he settled in to sleep, he thought that perhaps he, too, did not regret Strider's blister, for if the Ranger now considered him a friend then he was blessed indeed.