Originally written in 2008. A tiny nod to another of my fics, Sowsed, appears here.
Frodo wrapped his cloak more tightly about him against the cool night air and leaned against the stone balustrade. He shivered a little as the heavy weight of the Ring pressed into his skin and the flesh and bone beneath, as if trying to imprint them with its shape.
In the valley below him, lights like fireflies winked on and off as torch-bearing Elves passed along the quiet tree-lined paths. Their voices were raised in a joyous song to Elbereth that drifted slowly up to the star-laced heavens. Frodo was reminded of nights in years long past when he and Bilbo, returning from a pleasant ramble under the stars, would pause on a hilltop to admire the distant twinkling lights of Hobbiton and Bywater. Lights that it seemed more and more likely now he would never see again, either here or in the Shire.
Just above the tops of the evergreens on the rim of the valley, Frodo could see the baleful red star burning more brightly than ever. In a few days’ time, he and the rest of the company selected by Elrond would be setting out from Rivendell and steering south in the direction of that star and then on eastward to Mordor.
Worries and fears that Frodo had put aside during the restful, healing weeks he had passed in the Last Homely House were now crowding thick and fast upon him as the hour of departure grew nearer. Not wishing to ruin one of the last carefree nights any of them would spend for months to come, Frodo had stolen quietly away when Sam went off to the stable to say good-night to Bill, as he did every evening to the amusement of Merry and Pippin, who couldn’t forbear from teasing him about needing to ‘tuck Bill in’.
His cousins’ high spirits usually lifted Frodo’s own, but tonight he couldn’t help but wonder again if he was leading them to their deaths, and if perhaps Gandalf had been wrong to take their part and argue against Elrond’s decision that they should remain behind. They’d follow after you anyway, you know that, he told himself, but such knowledge would be cold comfort indeed if anything were to happen to either of them. The weight of responsibility bore heavily down upon him, more heavily even than the weight of the Ring around his neck.
Frodo turned away from his contemplation of the valley to find Aragorn watching him from a short distance away. He was clad in Ranger green and rusty brown and wearing his dark cloak; he held himself with the stillness of one accustomed to waiting drear hours in patient silence, and Frodo wondered how long he had been standing there.
“You should be at your rest. Take advantage of the comfort of a real bed to sleep in while you may.”
“I can’t sleep,” Frodo confessed. “With our departure so near, my mind is restless and I keep hearing the voice of Sam’s gaffer: It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish, Mr. Frodo. He’s right.”
Aragorn laughed softly at Frodo’s mimicry of the opinionated old hobbit. “Sam’s father has a store of such sayings, has he not?” He stepped to Frodo’s side and rested his elbows on top of the balustrade.
“Yes, he does.” Frodo glanced up at his tall companion. The Ranger’s eyes were fixed on the valley below and the glimmering lights, and he held himself once more with that absolute stillness. “Are you not eager, too, to begin our journey?” he asked curiously. Recalling all that was said during the Council and such information as Aragorn and Gandalf had let slip since then during the hours they spent together studying maps and books, he’d have thought Aragorn more anxious than any of them to be on their way.
“You forget that I was raised here among the Elves, Frodo, and schooled in patience over long hard years in the wilderness,” Aragorn replied without removing his gaze from the valley. “Many nights have I spent thus, watching and waiting in the darkness-- often on the borders of your land, while you hobbits slept soundly in your beds, safe from harm.”
“You must have been lonely,” Frodo blurted out, moved to sadness by the picture his words painted. “How I wish I had known you then, Aragorn. I would gladly have kept you company, and lightened the weariness of your long watch with stories about my home and friends.”
For now I understand, you see, what it means to be in exile, and what solace a friend can be to one so burdened. But this he did not say aloud.
There was a flash of white as a swift smile crossed Aragorn’s face. “And gladly would I have welcomed your company and your stories, Frodo. You must not regret the past, however, for soon it will no longer be my fate to wait silently in darkness, but to walk openly under the sun and face my enemies, sword in hand.”
That keen and commanding light that Frodo had observed before in Aragorn’s grey eyes had kindled, and he seemed at once both the stern, almost grim Ranger who had guided them through the wilderness, and the noble figure Frodo had glimpsed standing beside the Lady Arwen in the Hall of Fire the night of his recovery.
Then the light dwindled, and Aragorn said, “But come, this night is not yet over, and it would gladden my heart if you were to keep me company here until you feel ready for sleep- or,” he added with another smile, “until Sam comes and finds you.”
“I’d like that,” said Frodo. He felt less restless now and less burdened; the Ring lay quiet at his breast. “I’d like that very much indeed.”
“Good.” Aragorn rested his hand briefly on Frodo’s shoulder. “Now, let us pretend we are sitting on a hillside overlooking the Shire, smoking our pipes in peace and trading stories. Tell me one about Sam and his gaffer,” he suggested, removing his pipe from his cloak pocket.
“Well,” Frodo began with a reminiscent smile as he took out his own pipe and a pouch of weed that he offered to the Ranger, “there was the time that Sam’s pigs got into the Gaffer’s homebrew and became drunk…”
Sam eventually did appear, and found Frodo and Aragorn wreathed in pipe smoke and quietly laughing. Frodo slept that night deeply and dreamlessly, mind and heart eased by the comfort of a friend.