Written for CMEM-07, in honor of Aragorn's birthday. Set between Bree and Weathertop.
Toiling up a rock-strewn slope through the growing twilight, Frodo listened with sympathetic amusement as Pippin rattled off yet another question for Aragorn. Once Pippin decided he liked you, he would not rest until he had obtained all the pertinent details he considered it necessary to know about his new friend- and the list of such details was lengthy indeed. He had been talking nearly non-stop ever since they resumed their trek through the wilderness outside Bree after a brief halt hours earlier to rest and eat.
Aragorn had rather a dazed look about him, as though he was in the midst of a maelstrom- and in a way he was: a Tookish maelstrom. There was nothing quite like it, as Frodo knew from experience. He had to give the Ranger credit. He was managing to deflect the questions he didn’t wish to answer with a deftness that dampened Pippin’s curiosity rather than causing him to dig in his heels and not take ‘no’ for an answer. And to think, Frodo had once believed all Big People to be stupid and slow.
As question followed after question, however, Aragorn’s expression appeared increasingly grave, and Frodo hoped he wasn’t becoming annoyed by Pippin’s inquisitiveness. But then Aragorn glanced over and caught Frodo’s eyes on him, and there was, to the hobbit’s relief, a twinkle lurking in the grey depths.
“I haven’t asked you when your birthday is!” Pippin suddenly exclaimed. “I can’t believe I forgot something so important.”
“Yes, how could you have forgot, Pippin,” Merry said dryly, “amongst all the other questions with which you’ve pestered poor Strider. Although, I must say I’d like to know myself.”
“Aye, Mr. Strider, tell us.” Even Sam, who had been listening to the conversation with lingering suspicion of the mysterious Ranger in his expression, wanted to know this crucial fact. He tugged a little on Bill’s lead rope and quickened his steps.
“It is the first of March,” Aragorn replied readily, though clearly surprised by this avid interest in when he was born.
“Oh, that’s the birthday of my cousin Reginard,” said Pippin.
“And my cousin Melilot,” added Merry.
“And my cousin Hal from the Northfarthing,” Sam said.
Aragorn looked inquiringly at Frodo, who laughed. “Yes, I too have a cousin born on March 1st: Porto Baggins.”
“I can see that hobbits take their birthdays most seriously,” said Aragorn, a smile lighting his grave face so that the years seemed to drop away like a discarded shell.
“Oh yes,” Pippin said earnestly. “Don’t Big People take them seriously, too?”
“I hardly know,” replied Aragorn. “There is little occasion for such celebrations in the wild, Pippin, and that is where I have spent many long years.”
“What! But… do you not give presents to the other Rangers on your birthday? And they to you on theirs?” Pippin sounded incredulous.
“Give presents?” Aragorn repeated. “That is not how it works among us when we do celebrate our birthdays. It is, in fact, precisely the reverse.”
There was a flabbergasted silence from the hobbits as they took in the meaning of Strider’s words. Even Frodo was rather shocked by the revelation.
“Do you mean to say,” Pippin asked, his brow furrowed, “that- that you receive presents on your birthday?”
“Oh.” Pippin considered this for a moment. “Well, that seems very odd, Strider, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“Not at all, though I daresay that is but one of many differences between hobbits and, er, Big People, as you call us.”
“Yes, but birthdays are particularly important. You see, in the Shire…” and Pippin was off, and as Merry and Sam nodded or put in an occasional helpful comment, he explained about mathoms and twelve-mile cousins and how every day in the year was the birthday of someone you knew so that you were always receiving presents, even if they were only very small ones.
Frodo remained silent while the others talked, and felt his heart warm toward Aragorn as he listened with bent head and infinite patience to what became quite a lengthy (and occasionally muddled) explanation. When Pippin finally ran out of breath, the Ranger said, “Well, you’ve given me much food for thought, Pippin.”
“Speaking of food, don’t you think it’s time we stopped for dinner?” Pippin asked hopefully, diverted from the topic at hand by his favourite word- as Aragorn perhaps intended, Frodo decided, catching a tiny glimmer of amusement pass swiftly over that stern visage and disappear.
“I’ve already learned that there is one thing even more important to you hobbits than your birthdays, and that is your food,” Aragorn replied with a smile. “Very well, Pippin. It is nearly time for us to make camp for the night. There is a sheltered spot on the other side of this hill; we shall stop there.”
While the hobbits set up camp in the small hollow, Aragorn left to scout the area, as he did every time they halted to rest. He melted away at once into the trees, a deeper shadow in the darkness beneath them, and disappeared.
It was longer than usual when Aragorn finally reappeared as silently as he had gone, and Frodo was vastly relieved to see the tall, stalwart form of the Ranger silhouetted against the now star-filled sky. While Merry and Pippin had been able to converse in low voices as they worked, he and Sam had remained watchful and silent, for every noise in the woods around them, however slight, seemed ominous and magnified a thousand-fold to their ears.
“All is quiet,” Aragorn reported as he crouched down by the tiny campfire they had started. “I have neither seen nor heard nor felt any sign of the Enemy.”
“That is good news,” Frodo said, shivering a little nevertheless and pulling his cloak tighter; he felt the weight of the Ring heavy on his chest.
“We mustn’t relax our guard, however,” Aragorn warned, and the others nodded soberly. “But for the moment we are safe, and I’ve brought you back these to supplement your meal.” He untied a small leather pouch hanging from his belt and opened it. The earthy, faintly garlicky smell that wafted out caused all four hobbits to stare at him in amazement.
“Truffles!” Merry and Pippin gasped in unison as Aragorn emptied the pouch. There were eight of the knobbly fungi that looked exactly like small misshapen potatoes.
“White truffles,” Frodo corrected them, his mouth starting to water, “the very best kind of all.”
Sam was gobsmacked. “But how’d you find them truffles without no pig nor dog, Mr. Strider?” he demanded.
“Ah, now that would be telling, Sam. We Rangers have our methods.” Aragorn looked as mysterious as a certain wizard as he distributed the truffles into the eager hands of the hobbits. Sam grinned as he took his, and appeared more relaxed in their guide’s company than he had at any time since they left Bree.
The hobbits quickly pulled out their knives and began to shave off thin slices of the fragrant fungi and consume them with low, incoherent murmurs of delight.
“But what about you, Aragorn?” Frodo asked in dismay, ashamed that he hadn’t noticed at once that the Ranger had left none for himself.
Aragorn only smiled, looking well content simply to sit and watch them eat. “I am taking a leaf from the book of you hobbits," he said, "and finding my enjoyment in the giving of this small gift. I think, Frodo, that in the future my Rangers and I shall adopt your hobbit custom on our own birthdays.” He grew thoughtful. “And who knows?” he went on softly, and to Frodo’s wonder the travel-stained Ranger before him suddenly appeared taller and straighter, and a strange light sprang to life in his eyes, almost as if a fire burning within was suddenly revealed. “Perhaps one day all Men will do the same… following the example of their King.”