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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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5
Swordplay

The break for lunch was short and the food was cold. The trail they had traveled since breakfast had steadily grown steeper as they continued their climb through the heavily forested foothills of the Misty Mountains. A rapidly approaching storm caused Aragorn to push the group hard as he wanted to reach a decent shelter for the night.

Thomas and Rebecca sat apart from the others eating quietly, Rebecca especially was too exhausted to talk even though both had many questions after talking with Gandalf. The pace and the steep terrain took all of their energy. Even eating was a chore. Rebecca was having the hardest time as her wrist continued to throb. As careful as she was, it got bumped while she was walking. Even without the injury, however, she wasn't used to walking miles and miles a day. Thomas's injuries were healing well and he wasn't in pain except for an occasional twinge from his stitches. He was in good physical shape... well, at least by earth standards. But working on a horse ranch, where most of the work was done from the back of a horse did not prepare him for the continual walking and the demanding pace that Aragorn set. In time both would adjust, but for now, with the physical and emotional pain they were in, it was hell.

Aragorn came to check on them before they set out again. "How do you fare?" he asked, looking at them kindly, noticing Thomas's dropped head and Rebecca's closed eyes.

Rebecca jumped and her eyes shot open. She gave him an embarrassed smile as Thomas answered him.

"I'm... pretty tired sir, but I'll be all right," Thomas said firmly looking him straight in the eye.

Aragorn smiled slightly and gave him a brief nod before turning to Rebecca. "And you, Lady Rebecca?"

Rebecca sighed. "Well, if I would just stop hitting my hand on every tree in this forest," her voice trailed off. "You know what would really help me, Aragorn?" she asked in her most serious voice.

"What?"

"A nice warm bath and a big soft bed in my own private room with nice lacy curtains on the windows and some pretty flowers. Oh, and a nice hot meal. Is there somewhere around here we can go for something like that? That would help me the most." Rebecca watched as Aragorn's eyebrows just rose higher and higher as he listened to her description in disbelief. Finally she couldn't take it anymore and she started to giggle. "I'm just kidding, Aragorn. I know that stuff isn't possible, but a girl can dream, can't she?" She grinned at him. "You should have seen your face." She started laughing again and was quickly joined by Thomas.

Aragorn just shook his head and started to chuckle, "Ah, Lady Rebecca, I am glad you have a sense of humor, you will need it in the weeks ahead. Now, though, back to my question which you did not answer." Aragorn had an amused smile on his lips, but his eyes told Rebecca that he clearly expected an answer.

Rebecca looked embarrassed. "I didn't think you'd noticed that," she mumbled. "I meant that about my wrist, but I know there isn't anything that can be done to stop…," she stopped at the frown on Aragorn's face. "I know, I know the pain medicine, but... it doesn't help me when I hit it while we are walking, Aragorn," she whispered looking away and blinking back the tears that suddenly filled her eyes. "It helps at night though, so that's good." She looked back at him and smiled wanly. "All the walking is hard because I'm not used to it, but it'll get easier... I'm sure it will. I won't let you down or hold you up. At least I'll try my hardest not to."

"That is all I or anyone can ask of you, Lady Rebecca," Aragorn said softly. "I do not know what else to do about your wrist to make it easier for you. Maybe tomorrow we can try taking it out of the sling and that might help your balance so you will not slip or fall so often. I will decide when I check on it tonight and see how it looks." He gently patted her shoulder before helping her to her feet. "We need to move on; we have a long way to go." He glanced up at the gathering clouds, "We will have rain before dark."

It did indeed start to rain a few hours before nightfall. What started as a light, drizzling rain soon settled into a steady stream that threatened to last through the night. Along with the rain came a drop in temperature that signaled the possibility of snow before morning.

As the sunlight started to fade, Aragorn did not know if the hobbits or Thomas and Rebecca would be able to continue for another hour to reach the next shelter and he wondered if he should try and find another place to rest. Though he could not think of anything closer that would shield them all from the rain. He stopped at the top of a steep incline, wringing the water from his dark hair as he waited for them to catch up. To his surprise, Thomas, though obviously struggling himself, was helping Pippin up the hill. Frodo, Merry, and Sam, who was leading the pony, were making their way steadily up the slope, but seemed to be doing well. Aragorn decided that they would all be fine for another hour.

Aragorn moved his gaze further down the hill to Rebecca and he winced as his glance fell on her just as she slipped a little in the mud. Trying to keep from falling, she instinctively reached out to grab the nearest tree, which caused her broken wrist to hit a different tree. Rebecca grimaced in pain and muttered something under her breath. Boromir was quickly at her side trying to help. Aragorn watched as she smiled at him, shrugged and then continued up the hill.

"She does not give up, does she?" Legolas said, admiringly, stepping up next to Aragorn.

"No, and she does not complain." Aragorn shook his head slightly and gave his friend a small smile.

"Still, she does slow us down." Gandalf joined in from where he stood leaning on his staff.

"I do not think so, Gandalf. She keeps up with the hobbits," Legolas protested. "What would you have us do? Leave her?"

"I was merely making an observation young prince. I would never leave her out here alone, yet I do worry that the extra time it takes us now will be costly later."

"Maybe the Valar sent them so that we would slow down so that we do not get there too soon," Legolas countered.

"Peace, Legolas. Any and all things are possible and we might never know why they are here. We have no control over such things, nor control over many things that will happen in the future." Gandalf smiled at Legolas. "However, we do have control over when we leave here and I suggest we do so now."

The hobbits and Thomas had just reached the crest of the hill when Aragorn, Gandalf and Legolas turned to walk on.
"Wait!" Pippin called frantically, "Don't we get a breather? You had a rest here."

"Please, we need one," said Merry, standing with his hands on hips looking at Aragorn with a pleading look in his eyes.

"Please, Strider, Mr. Frodo needs a break," Sam begged.

Thomas didn't say anything; he just stood there looking at Aragorn as he tried to catch his breath. Aragorn glanced down the hill; Rebecca was almost to the top, being helped by Boromir who was closely followed by Gimli. He hesitated for just a moment.

"You cannot sit down, you will get too wet. But we will wait for a few minutes. We still have a good hour walk ahead of us."

The hobbits groaned and even Frodo, who seldom complained, looked dismayed and shook his head.

"An hour?" cried Pippin. "Can't we just stay here?"

"No, we cannot, Pippin,” Aragorn said sternly. “There is a place ahead that has some decent shelter and that is where we are headed. I especially want to get Lady Rebecca and Thomas out of the rain... and it may snow." Aragorn added the last as he glanced up at the clouds.

Boromir, Gimli and Rebecca finally joined the rest of the Fellowship. Rebecca stood taking big deep breaths as she stared at the ground, embarrassed. She knew she had held them up and it frustrated her. If Boromir hadn't helped her she never would have made it up the hill. I'll never make it, she thought to herself with despair. But then she realized she couldn’t say that, even to herself. She wouldn’t give up even if it killed her. She laughed inwardly at herself, as she realized it just might. Rebecca sighed softly and looked up to see Boromir talking quietly with Aragorn. She jumped, startled to discover Legolas standing right next to her.

Legolas took her hand and said softly, "Forgive me, Lady Rebecca, for I can see I have startled you. It was not my intention."

"I know it wasn't Legolas. Maybe I'll get used to it someday, though I doubt it," she replied.

"I wanted to let you know that we have only an hour until we make camp." He gave her a brilliant smile. "I know you will be able to walk that far."

"W-well, I have to, don't I?" Rebecca tripped over her words, caught up in Legolas's smile.

"Also, I want to give you my cloak. It will help"

"No, no, no... I can't take your cloak. You'll freeze," exclaimed Rebecca.

"Elves do not feel the cold, Lady Rebecca." Legolas explained patiently. "I truly do not need this." He started to put the cloak on Rebecca's shoulders.

Rebecca shrugged it off and stepped away from him. "Then why do you have it if you don't need it?" she asked skeptically. "I'm not that cold." She looked at him with narrowed eyes, noticing that a glimmer of hurt had appeared in his eyes.

By this time the rest of the Fellowship was watching the two of them with amusement. Only Gandalf looked slightly annoyed at the delay, but even he said nothing and just watched the two of them with interest.

"Lady Rebecca," Legolas actually sighed, "I wear this cloak to help me blend in with my surroundings – not for warmth. And I do not need the cloak to blend in with the trees right now, my shirt and tunic are fine. So, truly I do not need this. Also, I do not lie. Ever." His voice held a hint of something that Rebecca could not identify and he held out the cloak again, though he did not try to place it on her.

Rebecca realized that she had probably hurt him with her refusal to accept the cloak. With an apologetic smile, she tried to explain, "I'm sorry, Legolas, I wasn't trying to be stubborn or say you were lying. I really was worried that you would be cold and that you were just being nice to me. It would be nice to have another coat... or cloak to wear. I am cold." She stretched out her hand to take the cloak but Legolas moved around and put it on her. He put the hood up over her own hood and tied the strings that held it together.

"Thank you, Legolas," she said not looking up at him.
"You are welcome, Lady Rebecca" he paused... "And I can just be nice to you if I want to," he whispered. He smiled at her as he walked off, while she just stared after him in confusion wondering what he meant.

The Fellowship finally moved on, eager to get to the shelter that Aragorn promised was nearby. The rain continued to slow them down and it was almost full dark before they reached the protected area where they planned to set up camp. The 'shelter' turned out to be the side of a hill with a large protruding rock overhead.
"This is a shelter, Strider?" Sam asked incredulously as he stood gaping at the rock overhang that was to be their protection from the weather.

Pippin complained loudly, "We'll still get wet from the rain blowing in."

"It is the best shelter for miles." Aragorn said shortly. "Gimli, would you start a fire? Lady Rebecca, Thomas, I want you two back under the overhang and as close to the fire as possible. I will be back to check on you in a minute. Boromir, Legolas, Gandalf, I need to speak with you."

Following slowly behind Rebecca to the rear of the shelter, Thomas stared curiously at Aragorn and the others wondering what they were discussing... if something bad had happened. He assisted Rebecca gently to the ground where she sat with her knees drawn up close to her body, her head resting on top of them with her eyes closed. She shivered as Thomas joined her, huddling close together for warmth. He looked at Rebecca with sympathy and reached over to hold her hand.

Rebecca squeezed his hand without looking up and Thomas continued to hold it as he watched Gimli light the fire. The wood was damp, which did not make is easy, but Gimli eventually had a small blaze burning. The warmth on his face felt good, but it would be a long time before he was warm and his clothes dried out.

Glancing around, he noticed that Legolas and Boromir were gone and he figured they must be out scouting or something. Aragorn and Gandalf were having some kind of deep discussion. Listening carefully he could only hear a few words over the rain and crackling fire, 'Moria' and 'Caradhras' but what those meant he had no idea. He turned back to watch the fire and his eyes slowly slid shut.

"Supper's ready!" Sam's voice jerked Thomas awake.

"Here, Thomas, Lady Rebecca." Merry handed them each a steaming plate of stew, this will help warm you up," he said cheerfully.

"Thank you, Merry." Rebecca's voice was quiet and her hand trembled slightly as she reached for the plate.
Merry gave her a swift piercing glance and hurried over to talk with Aragorn. They spoke quietly for a moment before Aragorn came back to check on Rebecca. Squeezing between the fire and the rock wall, Aragorn knelt down next to Rebecca and laid his hand on her forehead. She looked up at him with a wan smile. In spite of her shivering body and exhaustion, Aragorn was relieved to discover that she did not feel feverish, as he had feared.

"Well, Lady Rebecca. You do not have a fever. I was worried that you might after all of this cold and rain."

"I'm just very cold, Aragorn...and tired. I'll be all right in the morning." Rebecca whispered as she gave him another weak smile, trying desperately to appear strong.

Aragorn was not fooled, he knew she was in a lot of pain, but he also knew that she would have to go on in the morning. What she needed most was to get as dry as possible and rest. Smiling gently, he picked up the spoon on her plate and handed it to her. "You need to eat all of this Lady Rebecca. You have to keep up your strength."

"But I'm not hungry. I don't feel… " she stopped at the frown on Aragorn's face and the look in his eye. She sighed, "All right, all right, Aragorn, I'll eat my dinner. You remind me of my mother sometimes,” she muttered.

Thomas let out a short laugh at this and then another at the expression on Aragorn's face.

"I remind you of your mother?" he asked, raising an eyebrow in disbelief.

The hobbits, Gandalf and Gimli, who had stopped talking at Thomas’s laughter looked startled at Aragorn’s question, but then started chuckling quietly.

Her face flushed crimson with embarrassment, Rebecca mumbled, "Well... uh... I meant... in helping me... like a mom does." She kept her eyes fixed on the ground the whole time she was speaking, though she shifted uncomfortably from side to side. "Moms take... care of you when you're sick... and... uh... well... I didn't mean... not in looks or anything."

The hobbits and Gimli burst into loud laughter at that point, further increasing her embarrassment. Thomas was fighting hard not to laugh since he was sitting right next to her and could see how she was feeling. Aragorn sat with an amused smile and twinkling eyes as Rebecca rambled on. He exchanged glances with Thomas who returned his grin with one of his own. Finally, Aragorn laid his hand gently on her arm to stop the flow of words.

"Lady Rebecca, I know what you meant, truly I do," he said softly, amusement evident in his voice. "I take no offense. It just surprised me. I have never been compared to a mother before"

"Oh, you have tried to mother me before, mellon nín,” Legolas declared, ducking his head to walk in under the overhang and shaking the rain from his hair and clothes. "Many are the times I have been injured and you felt the need to 'mother' me back to health." Legolas smiled at Aragorn before joining in the laughter coming from the others.

"I have never 'mothered' you," Aragorn protested darkly. "You are simply a horrible patient and do not follow a healer's advice." He frowned at Legolas, though there was still a twinkle in his eyes.

Legolas just shook his head and laughed merrily before sitting down next to Gandalf at the fire. He and Gandalf started conversing quietly while he ate and the hobbits continued their never-ending discussion of the best pipeweed.

Aragorn turned back to Rebecca. She had mostly recovered from her embarrassment and was now able to look at him, albeit a little uncertainly. Seeing his kind eyes, she gave him a tentative smile.

"You still haven't eaten, Rebecca."

"Oh!" She picked up her spoon and started eating her now cold stew, which wasn't as good, but she forced herself to eat it anyway. She suddenly realized that he had called her ‘Rebecca’ and not Lady Rebecca and she wondered why. Since she had been here they had all called her Lady Rebecca. It had been so strange, but she knew it was one of those polite things they did here – like in those medieval stories she had read. But she wondered at the sudden change, if he had heard Thomas calling her that. She thought maybe it was because he suddenly saw her as a kid because she had said that about being like her mother. Rebecca sighed inwardly, embarrassed again. As she finished her food, she started listening in as Aragorn and Thomas talked.

"... could help do some things." Thomas said earnestly. "Not scouting, I know, but I can stand watch at night and I'm ready to learn how to use a sword now."

Aragorn nodded thoughtfully, "We can use you on watch. Not tonight, though." At Thomas's crestfallen look, he hastened to add, "Watches were set earlier this evening – Sam, Merry, and Boromir." Thomas nodded. "As for sword training," he paused, "it is a bit more difficult because we have little time in the mornings and evenings. Still, we will just have to take the time that is necessary. You need to be trained." Aragorn's eyes became troubled and distant, "There will be much danger ahead, I sense it."

Thomas shuddered at the tone and certainty in Aragorn's voice. Once again he worried about his abilities even if he was somewhat trained in the use of a sword or other weapons. Learning how to use a sword was not the same as actually using one to kill something... an orc he thought Gandalf had called it. But he knew he would just have to do the best he could. Mentally shrugging it off, he turned his attention back to Aragorn, who was searching through his pack.

Pulling out his spare leggings and shirt, Aragorn handed them to Thomas. "Here, put these on, the legs and sleeves will be a little long, but at least you will be dry. Then you need to get some rest, it will be another long day tomorrow."

"Yes, sir, and thanks for the clothes." Thomas looked closely at the material wondering what it was made of and how strange it was to tie everything together instead of using buttons and zippers.

"Now, Rebecca, I want to check your wrist before you sleep." Aragorn noticed her eyes widen slightly as he again used just her name. He had noticed that Thomas called her that and he thought it might help her relax since she had been so embarrassed earlier. Helping her remove both Legolas's cloak and her own he was pleased to see that her shirt, while damp, was not too wet. Her leggings, however, were wet and they had nothing to fit her. Rebecca was about 5'6" and the men and Legolas were all too tall and the hobbits were too short. All he could give her were some dry socks for her sore feet.

Aragorn checked her wounds and decided to leave the bandages off as each cut had closed well enough and he was running low on bandaging material. He was also growing concerned about his stock of medicinal herbs, but it could not be helped. He could only hope that he would be able to replenish his supplies before they had any more major injuries.

Examining Rebecca's wrist carefully, Aragorn could see the marks where she had banged it several times. Her fingers were also red from the cold since she could not wear her glove or put her hand in the pocket of her coat with the wrist wrapped and in a sling. "Well, Rebecca, even though I know it hurts, it does appear to be undamaged from today." Rebecca smiled slightly and nodded, not looking at him. "Would you like something for the pain? It will also help you to sleep." She nodded again. Aragorn looked at her with a puzzled frown wondering why she was not speaking to him.

As Aragorn turned to the fire to make his herbal tea he missed the soft sigh and look of relief that crossed her face. Returning from his patrol of the surrounding area, Boromir joined him at the fire. He had seen no sign of wolves or any creatures that were a threat to their safety.

Frodo was quiet again this evening, Aragorn noted. He had noticed him becoming more withdrawn the farther they had gotten from Rivendell and he knew the Ring was such a heavy burden for him. He glanced at Gandalf who had also been watching Frodo and they exchanged a knowing look and a sorrowful expression crossed Gandalf's face. But it quickly passed as the wizard said briskly, "Come hobbits, it is time you were abed! It is growing late and the morning will be here before you know it. Sam, I believe you have first watch!"

Gimli and Boromir joined the hobbits in getting out their bedrolls while Sam wrapped his cloak tightly about himself and stepped to the edge of the overhang to keep watch. Pippin brought his bedroll and set it down next to Thomas, flinging it open carelessly.

"May I sleep here by you, Thomas?"

"Oh, sure, Pippin."

"Good, it will be warmer to have someone big to snuggle up against."

"Pippin." Merry hissed from behind him where he was laying out his bedroll. "That's not polite. Maybe Thomas doesn't want to have you snuggling up against him."

"Oh." Pippin looked so crestfallen that Thomas had to laugh and was soon joined by Merry and Frodo who had squeezed his bedroll in between Pippin's and Merry's.

"It's all right, Merry, I'm used to it anyway. I have a y-younger brother who used to do that, though Pippin is quite a bit shorter."

"Well, I'm not surprised, Pip is short – even for a hobbit," Merry teased his young cousin. Pippin just glared at him.

"And you are quite tall, Thomas," Frodo said looking him up and down.

"I'm not that tall."

"You're taller than Boromir."

"Really? I hadn't noticed that." Thomas said, turning to look at Boromir. "He seems so much bigger than me."

"Well, he's filled out because he's all grown up and you haven't yet so that makes him bigger, but you will too one day," Frodo observed.

Pippin finally joined the conversation. "You're not as tall as Strider or Legolas though."

Frodo snorted. "Legolas is an elf and only another elf is that tall and Aragorn has elvish blood way, way, way back so maybe that's why he's so tall."

"I'll bet you're taller than Gandalf if he's not wearing his silly hat. He's actually pretty short without it!" Frodo frowned at Pippin's comment and Thomas was opening his mouth to respond when Gandalf cleared his throat loudly and frowned at Pippin who just grinned at him. It made Thomas nervous though so he decided to lie down and go to sleep.

"Ah, don't let Gandalf scare you Thomas," Merry whispered with a grin. "He often seems gruff, but he has a kind heart."

"He just... he seems mean. He reminds me of a teacher I had once." Thomas shuddered. "If you got on his bad side you got paddled with a board."

"A teacher hit you?" Frodo asked, rolling over and staring at Thomas.

"Only once."

"Thomas, Gandalf is not like that. He will never hurt or hit you. He will scold and he does get gruff like Merry said, but you can trust him with your life. I've known him for most of my life, since I moved in with my cousin Bilbo and I trust him. Don't be frightened of him, Thomas. He is a great and wise wizard."

"A wizard?"

"Yes, didn't you know that?"

Thomas shook his head. "No, Frodo, I didn't know that. There are still lots of things I don't know." He smiled. "Anyway, I thought he was an old man. So, does he do magic and things like that?"

"He does great fireworks!" Pippin exclaimed.

Gandalf looked over from where he had been talking with Gimli and smiled.

"Keep your voice down, Pip!" Merry whispered. "Actually, Thomas, we haven't seen him do any magic though he can I guess. Mostly he's really wise and even the elves look up to him and listen to his advice.”

"And that's saying something," Frodo added softly. "Now we need to get to sleep lads, Thomas. Good-night."

Though they lay down it was quite some time before they slept as the sound of quiet talking and laughter came from the pile of hobbits and Thomas as they spoke of their homes and teased one another.

~~~~~~~~~

As Aragorn finished brewing Rebecca's tea he listened to Thomas and the hobbits. He learned more about Thomas in a few minutes than he had learned in the last three days; he shook his head wondering at this change.

"Aragorn?"

"Hmm?" He looked up at Boromir's whisper to see him leaning over the fire and holding out his bedroll. Aragorn gave him a puzzled look. "What do you want me to do with that?"

Boromir continued in his softest whisper, "Give it to Lady Rebecca, but do not tell her it is from me. You saw how she reacted to Legolas today." He gave Legolas a sideways glance and a small smile that Legolas returned.

Aragorn grinned at his friends before taking the bedroll. He thought Rebecca was asleep when he turned back with the tea, but her eyes popped open as soon as he gently touched her arm. He was shocked at the slight hint of fear he saw in her eyes.

"Rebecca, what is the matter?" Aragorn whispered not wanting to disturb the hobbits and Thomas who had finally stopped talking. There was such a long pause that Aragorn did not think that she was going to answer him.

"A-are you angry with me?" Rebecca's voice was so low and hesitant that Aragorn could hardly hear it.

"Angry? Why would I be angry with you?" He asked, acting surprised at her question, but knowing that it must have something to do with what had happened earlier.

"B-because I-I embarrassed you and people laughed at you. I didn't mean to do that. I'm sorry." Rebecca cleared her throat and took a deep shuddering breath.

"Truly, I am not angry with you, Rebecca." Aragorn said firmly, deciding that she might respond better to that than if he spoke gently. She seemed so young all of a sudden and it reminded him that she was only sixteen and in a very strange place with complete strangers. He knew how strong she was, he could see it in her – her determination, and how she never gave up. But still, she was very young. He suddenly realized that she was not really afraid of him as much as she was afraid of losing his friendship and care and he knew how much she was coming to depend on him in this strange place she had been thrust into.

Rebecca looked searchingly at Aragorn's face and broke into a shy smile before softly sighing. "I was so worried that you were angry."

"I could tell," he said dryly. Aragorn paused in thought, "Rebecca, you will know if I am ever upset or angry with you. I will talk to you about whatever happened to cause the problem. And you can also come and talk to me if you have a question." He smiled and reached out and took her hand gently. "Do not be afraid of me either" Rebecca ducked her head at this. "Even if I am angry or upset, I will never hurt you."

"I know you wouldn't hurt me!" Rebecca looked up at him, shocked that he would even suggest such a thing.

"Hmmm... good. Now, that we have that decided, you need to drink this tea and go to sleep, it is getting quite late, even the hobbits are asleep."

"Yes, sir!" Rebecca gave Aragorn a genuine smile as she took the cup. She started drinking it and then paused, "Aragorn?"

"Yes?" Aragorn frowned, wondering if Rebecca was trying to get out of drinking the medicine.

"Why have you been calling me just Rebecca tonight?"

"I heard Thomas calling you that and I thought that is probably what you are called at home. I hoped it might make you feel more comfortable for I knew you were upset. Do you prefer Lady Rebecca?"

"Oh no, I like being called Rebecca! That is what I'm called at home. The 'lady' part makes me feel old."
Aragorn smiled. "But I assume that here it is a polite thing to call someone so I don't mind. Although" she said thoughtfully, "shouldn't I be calling you and the others something other than just your names? Oh! Should I say Prince Legolas? And he called Boromir a Lord once... "

"Peace!" Aragorn laughed quietly. "No, just call me and the others by name. We will probably all continue to call you Lady Rebecca however. We tend to be a little more formal to ladies here. I might just call you Rebecca from time to time so that you do not feel old,” he said with a small grin. "Now, drink that and Go. To. Sleep." He gave Rebecca a mock glare.

Quickly swallowing the rest of the tea, Rebecca lay down. She wore her coat and wrapped Legolas's cloak over all hoping that even though they were wet they would provide her with some warmth. As she drifted off to sleep to the sound of the steadily falling rain, she felt someone gently laying a blanket over her.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Thomas awoke well before sunrise. He shivered in the cold morning air, thankful that he at least had been wearing his winter coat when he came to Middle-earth. He smiled as he felt Pippin move next to him – at least he didn't move around as much as his brother used to. Thomas wondered if he’d ever see Johnny again and he hoped his mom and brother were all right. Thomas frowned as he thought about his family and home. Shivering again he decided to rise and move around to get warm. Moving slowly and carefully he eased his body away from Pippin and stood, tucking the blanket back around the small body. Thomas smiled as Pippin shifted closer to Merry causing all of the hobbits to move.

A small fire had been kept burning through the night so Thomas crouched down there to warm up. Evidently the rain had stopped some time ago as neither the trees nor overhang were dripping. As Thomas became more fully awake he suddenly realized that Legolas and Boromir were standing out near the edge of the woods that surrounded the overhang. Thomas shook his head, muttering under his breath, “I'd make a fine guard; I didn't even see or hear them.”

Boromir and Legolas turned and looked at Thomas as he stood and moved towards them carefully avoiding the sleeping figures around the fire.

"Good morning, Thomas." Legolas greeted him quietly. "Did you sleep well?"

"Morning, I slept okay. Hello, Boromir."

"Thomas." Boromir gave him a slight nod. "You are up early."

Thomas shrugged, "I got cold and I figured it would be better to move around and warm up. Boromir, would this be a good time to start teaching me how to use a sword? Aragorn said it would have to be mornings and evenings and I really want to learn," he said eagerly.

Boromir nodded, "Well, it would certainly warm you up. Yes, we need to take advantage of this time. We do not have any extra swords with us, so for today I can at least show you how to hold one and how to move with it and some defensive moves. Later we will have to borrow Aragorn's so we can do some sparring. I would borrow it now, but he would probably kill me before I could get to it." He said this last without any trace of a smile and Thomas looked at him in disbelief. Boromir just stared back at him without blinking and when Thomas looked at Legolas he also had an unreadable expression on his face as he nodded in agreement.

"Thomas, you never touch another warrior's weapons without their permission. I would not let you touch mine except in very special circumstances, for example when I am teaching you how to shoot. In Aragorn's case, his sword is a very special one that is thousands of years old." Thomas's eyes widened at that. "What Boromir meant is that if you approached Aragorn when he was sleeping and tried to take his sword he would think you were an enemy and would react without knowing who you were. He is a warrior and as such is a light sleeper as are Boromir and I – when I sleep at all." Legolas finally smiled much to Thomas's relief. "So if you ever need to wake us, just say our names, it is best not to touch us."

"All right... uh... thanks for telling me that," Thomas shook his head. "I'm pretty sure I'll remember that."

"All right, now that we have that established, let's do some work." Boromir pulled his sword from its sheath and it made a distinctive 'schlock' sound. Just as the tip of the sword cleared the sheath, Aragorn sat up with his hand on his sword.

"What is the matter, Legolas?" he called looking around in concern.

Boromir and Legolas exchanged amused glances while Thomas just appeared stunned that someone could wake up just at the slight sound of a sword being drawn.

"Legolas?" Aragorn asked again, rising and walking over to join the three of them. "Boromir, why is your sword drawn?"

"I was just going to give Thomas some lessons on how to use it."

"Oh, good. I am up now so I will stay and watch and give him some advice." Aragorn nodded at Thomas as he strolled by, yawning and stretching, to sit on a nearby log.

Boromir carefully handed Thomas his sword by the hilt.

"That's heavy!" Thomas gasped, quickly bringing up his left hand to grasp the sword so he wouldn't drop it. Boromir smiled as Legolas and Aragorn chuckled at the expression on Thomas's face

"It is indeed, Thomas. It has to be to kill the orcs and other enemies that we face," Boromir said seriously. "You will get used to the weight over time. Now, I want you to hold it in your right hand and we will start with some basic skills."

Thomas held the sword with one hand finding it not so hard now that he knew what to expect. He looked at the sword carefully, noticing the intricate details on the hilt, the fine though worn leather on the grip and the gleaming, wavy sharp-looking metal of the blade itself. Nodding that he was ready, Thomas looked at Boromir expectantly.

For the next half hour, as the rest of the camp woke up, Boromir started teaching Thomas the basics of swordsmanship – how to hold the sword, how to move his feet, and how to block effectively. Finally, with a glance at Boromir, Aragorn got to his feet and pulled out his sword.

"Now, Thomas you need to have someone to actually attack or defend against."

Looking up at Aragorn, Thomas almost dropped his sword again as he thought about having to actually try and kill something with it and that someone would try and do the same to him... and to Rebecca and the hobbits and everyone here. He reminded himself that it was NOT a game or just for fun. That he was learning this for a very important reason, to protect himself and others. He swallowed hard as he looked at the stern expressions on the faces of the warriors that were around him.

"Okay, w-who attacks first?" his voice was a little shaky, but no one paid any attention because they also could see the determination in his eyes and in his stance.

"I will start and attack slowly, Thomas. Just remember all that Boromir taught you."

Nervously shifting his feet from side to side, Thomas stood with his sword poised waiting for Aragorn to attack. Aragorn, however, just stood staring at him. Finally, Thomas lowered his sword, puzzled.

"What's wrong?"

The second the sword was lowered Aragorn had the tip of his sword pressed to Thomas's throat. Thomas instantly froze and stared at Aragorn with terror-filled eyes. Across the camp Rebecca had the same look on her face, not sure what was happening as she had not heard all of the conversation between the men. All of the others trusted Aragorn and knew that whatever was going on, it was being done for a good purpose.

Struggling to stay calm, Thomas kept his eyes locked on Aragorn, telling himself over and over, He won't hurt me. He won't hurt me. He won't hurt me.

After what seemed like an hour to Thomas, but was only a minute or so, Aragorn lowered his sword and stepped back. Thomas staggered back a few steps and stood shaking with fear and glaring at Aragorn. "What did you do that for?" he yelled angrily. "You could have killed me! I thought we were just practicing and then you really attack me. You said you would attack slowly!" His words tumbled out in a rush. He was so scared that he forgot who he was speaking to. Normally he would never have spoken to Aragorn or any adult the way he was speaking.

"Thomas!" Aragorn's stern, cold voice interrupted his flow of words. "That was practice and if I wanted to kill you, you would be dead now."

Thomas shuddered at the deadly tone in Aragorn's voice and quickly glanced at Boromir and Legolas, but found no help there as they just looked back at him with grim expressions. Ducking his head and wiping the sweat from his forehead with his arm, Thomas stared at the ground scared and confused. He wondered how that could be practice. Thomas knew Aragorn wouldn't do that without a good reason and he must be missing something. He heard soft footsteps approaching and knew it was Aragorn and though it was hard, he lifted his head and looked him in the eye.

"Aragorn," he paused and swallowed the lump in his throat. "What did I do wrong here? I'm missing some part in this 'practice' that you, Boromir and Legolas obviously wanted me to learn, but I don't see it."

Surprised, but pleased that Thomas had looked him in the eye and that he had, in fact, realized there was a point to the lesson, Aragorn clapped him on the shoulder and nodded. He motioned for Boromir and Legolas to come and join in their discussion.

"Very good, Thomas. Yes, there is a very important point I was trying to make."

"Probably one that you now will never forget," Boromir said quietly, taking his sword back and sheathing it.

"Now that you have calmed down," Legolas smiled gently, "think about what happened."

Thomas frowned as he ran through the episode several times in his head... wait a minute. "I... I think... I shouldn't have lowered my sword while we were practicing. Damn. Is that what I did wrong?" he asked looking from face to face to see if he was even close to having the right answer.

Legolas smiled and Boromir clapped him on the back.

"That is what I wanted you to learn Thomas," Aragorn confirmed. "Never lower your weapon until your enemy is dead. In sparring today, I was your enemy."

Thomas nodded thoughtfully and sighed, "I have a lot to learn."

"Yes, you do," Aragorn smiled. "But you did learn, Thomas, and you figured it out and saw the mistake you made yourself which is very important. Now, that is enough for this morning. We need to get moving."

Legolas left to scout the trail ahead while Boromir went to eat and help pack up. Aragorn and Thomas were left standing alone for a moment.

Thomas fumbled over what he wanted to say, "Aragorn ... I'm s-sorry I yelled at you."

"I knew you were scared Thomas and that is why you were yelling. I understand. I have done the same thing once or twice to my brothers," he smiled in remembrance before turning to look directly at Thomas. "Nevertheless, it is always good to make sure that you do not leave still angry with someone, especially a brother or a friend," he smiled at Thomas.

Thomas nodded and smiled back.

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