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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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8
The Mountain

Chapter 8 – The Mountain

They had been walking for close to an hour and there was still no sign of the sunrise. Passing through the thickets and trees would have been difficult during daylight, it was almost impossible in the dark. Still, the Fellowship struggled on as quietly as possible. Only an occasional whisper, usually a curse, broke the silence.

As Aragorn had requested, Rebecca stayed near the rear of the group, walking with Boromir. Several times already Boromir had had to grab her arm to steady her or to keep her from falling as she stumbled. Finally, Boromir halted and took her hand, “Lady Rebecca, you are going to re-injure your wrist. I want you to wrap your arm through mine and we will try walking together... maybe we can keep each other upright.” Boromir spoke quietly.

“All right, Boromir... I’m willing to try. I really don’t want to hurt this any further.”

Rebecca was concentrating so hard on not falling that she didn’t see the first faint tinge of pink that was edging the tips of the Misty Mountains to the east. It was fifteen minutes later that she realized she was beginning to see the outlines of her feet and the things around her. Surprised, she looked up and smiled at the approach of dawn. She had never been so glad to see the sun come up in her life. Rebecca quickly looked back down when she stumbled causing Boromir to tighten his grip. “Sorry, Boromir... I was looking for the sun.” Rebecca was apologetic.

“Still, you must be careful... though, I, too am glad too see it.”

“You just want to rid yourself of your burden!” Rebecca teased quietly.

Looking down at Rebecca, Boromir replied, “Hmmm... that could be it... yes, I am sure that you are correct, Lady Rebecca.” Boromir’s voice was so dry and serious that Rebecca almost believed him, until she looked up and saw the amused twinkle in his eye.

“And you say I have a strange sense of humor!” Rebecca laughed, trying to keep her voice down. Turning serious she said quietly, “Boromir, may I ask you a question?”

“Certainly.”

“Thomas and I have been talking and we know we are going to your city, Minas Tirith. But neither of us knows how far away that is or how long it takes to get there. And maybe if we ever have time you could draw us a map.”

“The map part is easy and if we stop during the daylight I will draw one for you and Thomas. Distance to Minas Tirith from here... hmmm, well, Aragorn could tell you more accurately, but I would say it is about seven hundred fifty miles.”

“We have to walk that far!” Rebecca interrupted.

“Lady Rebecca, you have walked close to eighty miles since you have been here. We do not have to walk the whole way tomorrow.” Boromir’s voice held a trace of amusement. “And, depending on the route Aragorn and Gandalf choose, it should take us about four weeks.”

“Four more weeks of walking? Of being out in the wilderness? Of being surrounded by ten men all the time?” she whispered and then blinked, glancing up at Boromir to see if he was offended by her last comment.

“I am truly sorry, Lady Rebecca. I know this is hard for you. But you will not be surrounded by ten men all the time...”

“I’m sorry I said that,” Rebecca looked away, embarrassed.

“I am not offended,” Boromir said gently. “But we are not all going to Minas Tirith. Aragorn and I are going there. Gandalf is taking the hobbits to Mordor and I am not sure what Legolas and Gimli are planning. We all just agreed to go to the other side of this mountain.” Boromir pointed to the looming snow-capped peak in front of them. “From there we will split up.”

“What will happen to Thomas and I? Who will we go with?” Rebecca’s voice trembled as she asked. Even though the thought of four more weeks of being surrounded by these ‘men’ dismayed her, she didn’t want to lose them either. She had thought they would all be together in Minas Tirith where she could see them. These men were quickly becoming her family here, brothers, cousins, uncles... or whatever.

Boromir laid his hand gently on her shoulder, “I imagine that you will come to Minas Tirith with me and Aragorn. Aragorn has taken you both on as his responsibility and is quite fond of the two of you... as am I,” Boromir smiled kindly.

“Thank you, Boromir,” she smiled. “Also, you did promise to show me around your fair city so I guess I’ll have to go with you and Aragorn. Though I will miss the hobbits and... everyone else.” Rebecca sighed deeply.

“We all will, Lady Rebecca, but Valar willing, we shall see them again. And, yes, I did promise to show you my city and to that I hold true.” Boromir’s eyes sparkled and took on that distant look. “Now, Lady Rebecca, we must stop talking and focus on our walking.”

--

The crebain flew over again about mid-morning. Loud cawing alerted the Fellowship to their presence so they were safely hidden by the time the birds flew over. The crows swooped and circled over a large area, but the birds did not stay long and the Company moved on.

As the day passed, the trail continued to climb ever upward. Walking became easier at times as they stumbled across what appeared to be an ancient road. It was broken and rough, but it still provided a measure of relief from the forest, though Aragorn would not allow them to stay on it for long periods of time.

Walking in the front of the Fellowship, out of earshot of the others, Aragorn and Gandalf continued their discussion of which path to take - Moria or Caradhras.

“Aragorn, I still think Moria is the safer way for us. I fear for the hobbits on the mountain. The potential for snow is too great.”

Shaking his head vehemently, “No, Gandalf, we cannot take that road. It is a dark place. I will not pass through the mines again unless we have no other choice.” Aragorn spoke quietly, but sharply and there was a dark and shadowed look upon his face. “We have to risk the mountain, Gandalf.”

“It is a big risk, Aragorn,” Gandalf said softly, glancing at Aragorn out of the corner of his eye. “Are you sure it is wise?”

Aragorn snorted in disbelief. “All of this is a big risk! Do you think Moria is less of a risk? No one knows what evil dwells there, Gandalf. No, we only have three choices; the Gap of Rohan, which is too close to Isengard; Caradhras; or Moria.” Aragorn paused momentarily. “I would rather deal with snow than with orcs or whatever evil creatures dwell in the mines, Gandalf.”

“All right, Aragorn,” Gandalf agreed reluctantly. “Let us brave Caradhras and the Redhorn Gate and hope that snow I see will stay there and not drift down to the pass.” Gandalf looked from the mountain back to Aragorn who smiled back grimly.

“Valar willing it will.”

--

Aragorn allowed a break at noon and Thomas and Rebecca sank to the ground gratefully. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, Thomas noticed Rebecca looking at her broken wrist pensively.

“What’s the matter, Rebecca? Did you hurt it again?”

“Oh, no. It’s fine,” she smiled at Thomas. “I was just looking at this dirty sock around it and the arrow shafts – arrow shafts! – bracing it and this other stuff here.” Rebecca pointed at the various wraps as she shook her head. “I haven’t taken a bath in almost ten days, haven’t washed my hair, don’t have clean clothes, no toothpaste or toothbrush... I could go on. And I was talking with Boromir this morning and it could be another month before we get to Minas Tirith.”

“A month?”

“Yes, a month, Thomas. So, I’m staring at my wrist thinking, how is this all possible? Part of me wants to cry – for my home and my-my family. But also for just simple things like clean clothes and soap and showers and my own private bedroom,” she sighed. “But then I realize that crying won’t do me any good and won’t help or change any of this...” Rebecca gestured around her. “Better to just accept it somehow and I’m not sure how to do that... but I know I have to. At least you’re in the same boat with me.” Rebecca laughed though deep sadness lurked in her eyes.

“A hot bath does sound nice... and clothes,” Thomas sighed longingly. “And some ‘real’ food,” he held up the dried meat he was eating and wrinkled his nose at it before turning serious again. “Rebecca, what are we going to do when we get to Minas Tirith? Do we get jobs? What can we do here in Middle-earth?”

Rebecca shrugged and looked thoughtful, “I don’t know, Thomas. I never thought about it before. We’ll have to do something for money to live on. If-if we don’t go home.” She stared down at her feet for a moment, blinking back tears before looking up at him. “I wonder if I can get a job being a waitress here?” she frowned.

“Well, they have horses here, so maybe I could get a job doing that.” Thomas shook his head. “I guess we just wait and see what happens.”

“I know, Legolas is a prince and his dad is a king, we could stay with him!” Rebecca said jokingly though she blushed and looked away.

Thomas frowned at that, not sure that he liked Rebecca’s reaction whenever Legolas’s name was mentioned. “Well... I think I’d rather make my own way than have Legolas or anyone take care of us.” Thomas responded a little more roughly than he intended.

“Us? What do you mean us?” Rebecca asked sharply.

Thomas looked at her blankly. “I – I meant just that... us... you and me. I assumed we would stay together. We’re friends, we’re both from earth and... don’t you want to stay together?” he finally asked in confusion.

Rebecca shrugged, “I suppose so. Then you’ll meet some beautiful girl and get married and I’ll meet some handsome guy and get married.” Someone who’s tall with long blonde hair and pointed ears, she thought dreamily. “But it’s not like we can just live together the two of us.” Both Thomas and Rebecca blushed. “We’ll have to figure something else out.” She shrugged again.

Nodding, Thomas pulled Rebecca to her feet as Aragorn was ready to move on.

--

Silence descended on the Fellowship once again as they continued their trek upwards. The underbrush thinned the higher they climbed which made it easier for walking, but gave them fewer places to hide during the unwelcome visits from the crebain. The weather had warmed considerably and heavy cloaks and coats were being untied or unbuttoned and thrown open.

Aragorn glanced up at the sun, judging there were at least two hours of good daylight left. He thought that if they could keep this pace, they would be at the edge of the tree line tomorrow evening. Checking on the ones behind him, his eyes were immediately drawn to Frodo. Sorrow filled Aragorn as he took in the hobbits pale face and tired eyes. He could tell the hobbit had not slept again last night and he wondered how he had the strength to go on. Aragorn decided they would stop earlier than planned so that Frodo could rest and Thomas could practice his sword skills. Turning, Aragorn walked on, his keen eyes and senses attuned to his surroundings.

Rebecca was relieved, though somewhat surprised when Aragorn called a halt with the sun still shining as she was sure the plan had been to walk well into the night. Gratefully, however, she sat down and quickly untied and pulled off a boot, and started rubbing her foot.

“Are your feet bothering you, Lady Rebecca?”

Startled, she jumped and almost fell off of the log she was perched on. Strong hands caught her and held her steady and she looked up into the amused eyes of Legolas.

“Wh-what?”

“I asked if your feet were bothering you.” Legolas’s voice was full of concern.

“Oh... well, yes, a little,” Rebecca replied, distracted by his presence. “It’s been another long day of walking...” frowning, she looked down at her feet and shrugged. “Of course they hurt.”

“Those are not your socks,” Legolas observed quietly.

“No-o... these are Aragorn’s. Mine are on here.” Rebecca held up her broken wrist for his inspection. “Aragorn gave me a pair of his the day it rained. And then he put mine on here for extra protection.” Rebecca looked at Legolas questioningly, “Legolas, what’s wrong? My feet are just a little sore. I’m sure I’ll feel fine in the morning.” She watched him a little uncertainly not sure why he was acting this way.

“Lady Rebecca, I need to see your feet.” Legolas looked up at her intently from where he was crouching in front of her.

“Wh-what? Why? There’s nothing wrong with them...” Rebecca blushed and turned away, embarrassed, from his gaze.

Legolas reached out and gently took her chin and turned her head back to face him. “Why are you embarrassed, Lady Rebecca? Do you still not trust me? Or think I will hurt you in some way?”

Rebecca sighed and shook her head slightly, “I-I trust you, Legolas, and I know you won’t hurt me... It’s just looking at my feet seems so personal and...” her voice trailed off.

“Ah, I see.” Legolas’s eyes twinkled in amusement. “Well, perhaps we should let Aragorn check your feet, then.” He looked around and pointed out Aragorn engaged in practicing with Boromir and Thomas and then glanced up at the sun. “I am sorry, but Aragorn is busy, the sun will soon be down and there will be no fire tonight. Your feet must be checked now. Your choice is me or Gandalf, as the hobbits and Gimli have little or no knowledge of healing.”

Rebecca’s eyes widened at the thought of Gandalf touching her. She couldn’t imagine letting the wizard near her feet and she knew it would have to be Legolas and she groaned inwardly. This was not the way Rebecca wanted him touching her. “All right, Legolas,” she said quietly. Without looking at him, she reached down and slowly slid off her sock. She felt soft, smooth hands gently pick up her foot. Rebecca looked down, surprised that this two thousand year old warrior elf could have such gentle hands. She watched as he softly and carefully inspected her foot stopping in places and rubbing gently. Finally Legolas placed her foot lightly on the ground and took a small pouch from his tunic before looking up at Rebecca.

“There are a few spots, Lady Rebecca, which if left untended, would become blisters. That is what I feared for you,” Legolas frowned slightly. “Your other foot is probably the same...” he paused briefly. “Now that we know for certain, you can wait and have Aragorn put on some of his medicine, which can be done even in the dark, or I have an elvish salve I could put on and then I would wrap your feet.” Legolas looked up at her questioningly.

“Does elvish medicine work on humans?” Rebecca asked confused.

“Yes. Otherwise I would not use it on you,” Legolas’s lips twitched in amusement.

“Then why should I wait? Oh...” Rebecca looked away for a moment before meeting Legolas’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Legolas,” she whispered. “I want you to go ahead.”

“Very well.” Legolas rapidly untied her other boot and pulled it and her sock off. Again he gently inspected her foot while Rebecca watched, fascinated. Evidently feeling her gaze on him he looked up and winked at her which caused her to blush and him to laugh.

Finally, Legolas took the salve and warmed it between his hands briefly before applying it to Rebecca’s feet. He rubbed it in carefully all around her left foot as far up as her ankle. He massaged it in deeply and lingered over the places of potential blisters.

For Rebecca it was sweet torture and she didn’t know how to react. She knew Legolas was just being kind and helping her but it stirred far different emotions in her. She already liked him and she knew this would make it worse. Sighing, she looked over at the hobbits, trying to distract herself.

“Am I hurting you?”

“No...no, Legolas you’re not hurting me,” pausing, Rebecca considered whether to go on. “In fact, it feels very good.” Her cheeks turned faintly pink.

“Good. The salve must sink in deeply to be effective.” Legolas commented as he stopped massaging her foot and quickly wrapped it expertly. He slid her sock back on and then her boot, lacing and tying it neatly.

“I can’t wait for my wrist to heal so I can do that myself.”

Legolas grinned at her as he grabbed her right foot and quickly repeated the whole process. He was just finishing when Aragorn approached.

“What happened? Are you injured, Rebecca?” Aragorn asked in concern.

Smiling up at him reassuringly, Rebecca shook her head, “No, I’m fine now, Legolas fixed it.”

“What was the matter?” Aragorn asked sharply, fixing his eyes on Legolas.

Legolas quickly explained while Rebecca stood and rocked slightly back and forth wiggling her toes to see how her wrapped feet felt in her boots. Smiling she looked down at her boots realizing her feet felt better than they had in several days. She looked back up to find two pairs of eyes studying her intently.

“How do your feet feel, Rebecca?”

“Really good, Aragorn. The best since I’ve been here.” Rebecca smiled at Legolas, “Thanks so much.”

Bowing, “You are most welcome, Lady Rebecca.” Legolas gave her a small smile before turning and walking off.

Rebecca’s eyes followed him for a moment before she remembered that Aragorn was still standing in front of her. Hoping he hadn’t noticed, Rebecca quickly turned her eyes to Aragorn only to find him frowning at her thoughtfully.

“Rebecca, I want you to stand first watch tonight.”

Nodding, Rebecca tried to look serious though inside she was both excited and nervous. “Aragorn, how long is a watch? Who do I wake up next?”

“It is a couple of hours, I will be on second watch and I will wake myself up.”

“You can do that?” Rebecca eyed him skeptically.

“Yes. I can wake within a couple of minutes of when I tell myself to be up,” Aragorn shrugged. “Years of practice and living among elves mostly.”

Rebecca just shook her head, not really surprised anymore at the things he or Legolas or any of the others could do.

--

Keeping watch, while scary at times with the rustling noises of small animals, was boring, but thankfully uneventful for Rebecca. The hardest part was fighting off sleep as the hour grew late. When Aragorn relieved her she stumbled off to bed and was asleep instantly. Moments later she was pulled to her feet, food was shoved at her and Boromir was helping her along as she rubbed sleep from her eyes.

“Didn’t we just do this, Boromir?” Rebecca asked sleepily.

“Yes, indeed we did,” he whispered.

“Thought so,” she mumbled, yawning.

Boromir just laughed quietly.

--

The day proceeded much as the day before. In the darkness before dawn the Fellowship moved quietly, lost in their thoughts until an occasional quiet curse broke the silence. The underbrush was now almost entirely gone and as the sun rose the group watched the sky warily for sight of the crebain. But they did not appear.

Wearily, they marched on through the day pausing only briefly at noon. After lunch the wind picked up blowing cold air straight down off the mountain. Cloaks and coats that had been open the day before in the warm sun were now tightly wrapped around small hobbit bodies and larger human ones. Though Legolas, nimbly walking alongside Aragorn, remained unaffected by the cold as he did all other weather.

Just as the sun was dipping into the West they reached the edge of the tree line and Aragorn called a stop for the night. Panting, Pippin threw himself to the ground and looked up at Aragorn pleadingly, “Aragorn, couldn’t we please have a fire tonight? Just a small one? So Sam could cook some dinner? I need something hot after today.”

Looking down at him fondly, “No, we cannot Pippin. We might attract ‘visitors’ to our camp. You know that as well as I do, young hobbit,” Aragorn spoke quietly, but firmly.

“I know, Aragorn, but I’m so hungry for real food.” Pippin sighed dramatically as he rubbed his stomach.

“Come on, Pip, leave him alone.” Merry reached down and yanked Pippin to his feet before handing him some dried meat and cram.

--

It was an hour into his watch when Thomas heard a slight stirring in the camp. Trying to see in that direction was pointless, but he was not surprised when he heard Aragorn’s voice next to him.

“Peace, Thomas.”

“Morning, Aragorn. You must not need much sleep.”

Aragorn responded dryly, “Oh, I have learned to do without when needed. My sleep was disturbed.”

There was a rustling sound as Aragorn filled his pipe and lit it carefully. Soon the pleasant scent of pipeweed filled the early morning air. The two sat quietly for a long time enjoying the peacefulness. It was Aragorn who finally broke the stillness.

“Your sword work is improving rapidly, Thomas. I wish we had an extra sword for you. I am tempted to take one of the hobbit’s for you... but the short length would not be much better than your dagger.”

“Thanks, it means a lot coming from you.”

“You are welcome. But you still have a long way to go to catch up to me!” Aragorn chuckled.

“Yes, sir, I imagine so. I think you have had a few more years of practice than me.” Thomas grinned in the dark. His voice turned serious. “Aragorn, Rebecca told me that she and I would probably be going to Minas Tirith with you and Boromir. Is that right?”

“Yes, that is the plan. Why?”

“We wondered what we would do there. How would we live? Can we get jobs? I can work with horses and Rebecca worked in a restaurant serving food... we could do that... though she made some silly comment about since Legolas is a prince maybe we could stay with him and he could take care of us...”

Because it was dark, Thomas did not see the deep frown that covered Aragorn’s face at that comment.

“But I want to make my own way, Aragorn. She may have been joking anyway.”

“Hmmm, well, mortals do not usually venture into Legolas’s home of Mirkwood. As for you and what you will do, all I can say is that Boromir and I will find some way for you to earn your bread. Be it as a soldier, working with horses or something. Boromir is an important man in Minas Tirith.”

“Legolas said he was a lord,” Thomas remembered suddenly. “He will help us find jobs, then.”

“Yes, I am sure he will be able to help,” Aragorn said. “Boromir’s father is the Steward of Gondor and Boromir is his heir.”

Thomas could hear amusement in Aragorn’s voice, but didn’t know why it was there. “What’s a steward?”

Shifting slightly on the ground, Aragorn took his time answering Thomas. “The steward rules the whole country of Gondor in the name of the king,” he began slowly. “Minas Tirith is the largest city in Gondor and the steward resides there. The king... has been gone for almost a thousand years...”

“A thousand years?”

“Yes Thomas, a thousand years and the stewards were left in charge. The title passes from father to son, so someday Boromir will be the ruling Steward of Gondor.”

“Wow,” Thomas whispered softly, “He’s like a prince too, isn’t he Aragorn?”

“Yes Thomas, very much so.”

“But he’s so nice and treats me like... I don’t know... like a younger brother or something. I never knew anyone so important back home. Now I know two princes, a wizard, a hobbit who holds the fate of this world in his hands.” Thomas stopped and looked over to where he knew Aragorn was sitting and asked sharply, “And you, Aragorn? Who are you, then? Everyone else seems to be someone important so you must be, too.”

Surprised at his perception, Aragorn chuckled lightly before answering. “I am the Captain of the Rangers of the North and the Chieftain of the Dúnedain.” Aragorn knew that Thomas would not know that both titles meant the same thing and hoped that it would impress him enough to let the matter drop. It seemed to.

“Hmmm, Captain and a Chieftain, well maybe I could work for you then.” Thomas commented, not believing Aragorn. It didn’t make sense that he was only a captain and still in charge of this group.

“Yes, yes, I hope you will someday. Now, Thomas we must wake them up and be on our way. We have a long way to go.”

Thomas snorted, “You say that like it’s different than yesterday. Or, the day before that. Or the one...”

Aragorn cuffed him lightly on the head as he laughed, “I get your point, Thomas. Come.”

--

As they left that morning each person, at Boromir’s insistence, carried as much wood on their back as possible. Even Bill the pony had some added to his already considerable load. It had taken a brief argument with Boromir before he agreed to let Rebecca carry any wood. Then Rebecca watched him carefully as he bundled it up and tied it to her shoulders making sure he gave her a full load.

“You know I worry about you, Lady Rebecca,” Boromir said quietly. “I do not want you to fall and hurt yourself again.”

“I know, Boromir, I know. But...” Rebecca hesitated, fiddling with a button on her coat absently. “This isn’t that heavy and I want to do my fair share too,” she finally whispered.

“Lady Rebecca, first of all, if you were well, I would expect you to help and do your fair share out here in the wilderness,” Boromir gestured around them. “Though noble young ladies such as yourself...” Rebecca opened her mouth to protest, but Boromir laid his fingers warningly on her lips. “... do not normally tote loads of wood. And, yes, you are a noble young lady, whether you see yourself that way or not.” Boromir smiled at her look of confusion. “I can tell that you come from a noble family in your own world. You cannot hide that, Lady Rebecca.”

“We don’t have noble families in my country. Just rich people and poor people... we were sort of in the middle. I’m definitely not noble, Boromir!”

“You are noble on the inside, where it counts the most,” Boromir said graciously before moving away to talk with Aragorn and Gandalf, leaving Rebecca standing there shaking her head.

They started off as the sun peeked over the edge of the mountains to the east, quickly climbing up the rocky face of the mountain. They felt strangely naked to be out from under the protection of the trees. Following a faint trail left by the many people that had used the Redhorn Gate over the years, they made steady progress up the steep incline. Around noon light snow was added to the wind which had been swirling around them all morning.

Aragorn looked up as the snow started falling and cursed softly under his breath. Despite what he had told Gandalf he was concerned about the dangers of snow on the mountain, especially for the hobbits. The stories about this mountain went back for centuries and he did not take them lightly. Speed was what he hoped would take them over the pass before the worst of the storm hit. Looking up however, Aragorn could see that the clouds were already covering the pass and it would be almost impossible to make it over in time. Still they had to try since he believed that anything was better than attempting Moria, Aragorn shuddered and it was not from the cold. Behind him he could hear the voices of the hobbits and Thomas and Rebecca as they laughed and lightly talked about how much fun could be had in the snow. That will change before this day is over, he thought grimly.

Thomas looked over at Rebecca and smiled, “Snow! Maybe we can go ice-fishing!” he laughed.

“Skiing seems more likely up here.” Rebecca shivered and pulled her hood up and buttoned it.

“What’s ice-fishing?"

“What’s skiing?”

Rebecca and Thomas looked up to see that Merry and Pippin had dropped back and had asked the questions though Sam and Frodo were also looking back curiously.

“Oh, well in Minnesota, where we come from, we get lots of snow in the winter and we have lots of lakes there, too. The lakes freeze so you chop a hole in the ice, put in a fishing pole and fish,” Thomas explained with a shrug and a smile.

“Sounds... cold,” Merry shivered.

“Sure, but you go with friends and you dress warm, its lots of fun. And the fish are really good to eat.” Thomas was licking his lips as he looked down at the hobbits.

“And skiing is...?” Pippin looked at Rebecca.

“I’ve only done downhill skiing once. Basically, you go up a mountain, you put these thin boards on your feet and you slide down as fast as possible. It’s hard to steer though. Takes lots of practice, but it is fun.” Rebecca looked down at the hobbits to find them staring at her as if she’d grown a second head.

“You have to climb a mountain just to slide down on boards?” Sam asked in disbelief.

“How could that be fun?” Merry looked up at Rebecca and Thomas.

“Sounds like work.” Pippin shook his head.

Thomas chuckled, “We don’t climb the mountain ourselves...oh careful, Pip!” Thomas grabbed Pippin and pulled him back up from where he had fallen. “Are you all right?” At his nod, Thomas continued, “Anyway, we have machines that carry us up mountains so we can ski. Remember like we told you about our buses and cars when we first got here? It’s sort of like that.” He paused and looked up the mountain at the rapidly increasing snowfall, “I wish we had one now!” Grinning down at the hobbits, he noticed their feet which caused him to frown slightly. “Are you warm enough without shoes? In this snow?”

Frodo laughed, “Our feet will be fine, Thomas. Hobbit feet have never had shoes or other protection. The rest of our bodies will just have to get along... just like yours,” he said pointedly.

“I’m afraid it’s going to get worse,” Rebecca commented nodding at the dark clouds that had descended on the peak of the mountain.

Indeed, almost as soon as Rebecca had spoken, the snow increased dramatically. Soon the snow was flying around them so thickly that they could barely see each other. The snow on the ground steadily grew until it covered their ankles. At the front of the line Aragorn called a halt, though Rebecca didn’t realize it until she plowed into the back of Thomas, almost knocking him down and banging her eye on a piece of the wood he carried.

Rubbing her eye gently, Rebecca moved away, huddling with the hobbits near the pony as the wind continued to swirl around them. She noticed that the longer they stopped, the more the wind and snow seemed to drop off, though she thought it was just her imagination. Rebecca was pulled from her thoughts when she felt something being placed around her shoulders. Knowing it would do no good to argue, and not sure she wanted to anyway since she was so cold, Rebecca stood still as Legolas placed his cloak over her. He smoothed it carefully over the wood she carried before gracefully stepping around in front of her, pulling the hood up and tying it under her chin before fastening the ties down the front.

Frustrated at not being able to even tie a cloak because of her broken wrist, Rebecca stared down at the snow as he worked on the ties.

“Are you all right, mellon nín?”

“Oh...oh, yes, Legolas, I’m fine.” Rebecca smiled up at him, “Just tired of not being able to do simple little things like tying by myself.” She shivered, “Thanks for the cloak... but maybe Frodo should have it instead? He’s the most important one here.”

Legolas looked down at her with a look of surprise, “You are most welcome for the cloak, Lady Rebecca. And as for Frodo... you are correct that he is of course, important to the fate of Middle-earth, but he would not be able to walk in my cloak and you can.” He stared at her intently for a moment, “If we stop and you choose to share my cloak with Frodo, I will understand.” Legolas gave her a brief smile as he finished tying the cloak together.

Rebecca watched, stunned, as Legolas walked away on top of the snow to speak with Aragorn. She looked down at the hobbits to find them gazing after Legolas with wide eyes. Rebecca nudged Merry, who was standing closest to her, “I wish I were an elf!” she said, smiling when he looked up at her.

Merry and the other hobbits nodded in agreement.

They finally continued up the mountain and almost immediately the wind and the snow increased. Each step became a struggle as the wind blew steadily into their faces like a giant hand holding them back. Aragorn placed the hobbits between the taller humans trying to shield them from the worst of the wind, but eventually the storm was too much for all of them. Stopping near a rock wall that towered above them, Aragorn knew they could no go farther.

“Gandalf, we have to stop here.” Aragorn shouted as he leaned in close to Gandalf to make himself heard over the storm.

Gandalf nodded in agreement, “Indeed we cannot go on or we will not survive.” Glancing up at the rock above them he continued, “This is the best place to stay for a long way in either direction.”

“I know. We must get them settled and as warm as possible.”

Aragorn, Boromir, and Gandalf quickly got the hobbits settled at the base of the rock wall with Thomas and Rebecca at each end and the pony in front as a wind break. Unnoticed by all, except Legolas, Rebecca had managed to slip off the cloak and wrap it around Frodo. Frodo was so cold that he had not even realized or seen where it had come from.

Rebecca sat with her knees drawn up close to her body with her head resting on top of her uninjured right arm that was lying across her knees. Her injured wrist was pressed tightly to her stomach. Shivering, she moved even closer to Merry trying to steal some of his body warmth. She felt someone sit down on her other side and was grateful for it cut off the wind and provided additional warmth. Glancing up she smiled at Boromir as he wrapped the edge of his cloak around her.

“Thanks.”

Boromir nodded before looking past Rebecca to the hobbits. He leaned in close to her ear. “I worry about the hobbits. I fear they will not survive in this cold.”

Turning to see for herself, Rebecca noticed the blue lips and violent shivering of all four hobbits. Looking back at Boromir she met his eyes, “You’re right, Boromir. They won’t last long in this weather.” She watched as he stood abruptly, leaving her side exposed to the wind once again, and made his way over to Aragorn and Gandalf.

“Aragorn! We must have a fire. The hobbits will die in this cold if we do not get them warm.” Boromir stood leaning in close to both Aragorn and Gandalf. “I know Gandalf that you did not want to use fire, but we must.”

“We appear to have little choice now. See if you can start one.”

Starting a fire proved difficult. Boromir, Gimli and Legolas all tried, but with the wind, snow and wet wood all of their effort were fruitless. Finally in desperation, Gandalf had to resort to magic to light the fire, though it concerned him to do so for anyone watching would plainly see that he was on the mountain. The fire sputtered and hissed and kept just enough of the cold off so they could survive the night.

Aragorn stood brooding through the night wrapped tightly in his cloak as he watched the snow and wind swirl around him and his companions who huddled close to the fire. His thoughts were mainly focused on the mistake he had made of leading them up the mountain against the wisdom of Gandalf. Although, he would do it again, he sighed inwardly. The darkness of Moria was not a place for any to go willingly... and to take these hobbits and Rebecca and Thomas there seemed utter foolishness. And yet they had no other choice. Aragorn’s gaze moved to the group around the fire and he looked at the hobbits and the two young people who had been suddenly thrust into his care and his eyes lingered on Frodo and Rebecca the longest. He shook his head and closed his eyes briefly, the burden of responsibility he carried on his shoulders overwhelming him for a moment. Some king I’ll make, he thought disparagingly, I can’t even take care of a small group of people.

Aragorn started when he felt a hand touch him briefly on his back, “What troubles you, mellon nín?”

Aragorn turned and looked into Legolas’s perceptive blue eyes and his first thought was to brush off his concerns, but he knew that would never work as Legolas knew him too well. “Many things, Legolas, many things.” Legolas stood waiting for him to continue and so sighing he went on. “I was a fool to lead us this way. Gandalf did not want to come here, but I insisted and now look at us. We could all die here.”

“And?”

“Is that not enough?”

“You said many things were troubling you. That was only one.” Legolas’s voice held a trace of amusement.

“I fear our only other option will be Moria...” Legolas hissed at that. “My thought exactly, which is why I wanted to try this way. But I worry about taking Rebecca and the hobbits that way.”

“No way is safe, Aragorn. You know that. In your heart you know that.”

“I do. But I would protect them from that at least.”

“Sometimes our path is laid before us and we have to follow where it takes us. Do not doubt yourself or your abilities or your decisions.” Legolas smiled at his friend.

“You know me too well, Legolas,” Aragorn shook his head with a faint smile.

Legolas gave him a small bow and walked away leaving Aragorn alone again with his thoughts.

---

The last of the wood was thrown on the fire just before dawn. As the sun rose behind the grey clouds, Aragorn and Gandalf stood looking at the snow covered peak above them discussing their next move.

“It makes little sense to continue up the mountain now, Aragorn. Whether Saruman or the mountain itself is against us matters little, it will snow again if we try and move forward.”

“I know you are right Gandalf, but going back will not prove easy.” Aragorn looked down the trail to where the swirling wind had created drifts of snow that made it four to five feet deep in places.

“We cannot stay here, we will find a way. Boromir!”

“Yes?”

“We have to get off this mountain. Any suggestions?”
Gandalf looked at Boromir sharply.

Narrowing his eyes, Boromir scanned the trail they had ascended the day before. “It is only a couple of hundred yards down to that rock. I think Aragorn and I... oh, and Thomas could get down that far and see what is on the other side at least.” He glanced back at Gandalf and Aragorn for their approval.

Aragorn smiled and muttered, “Better than any idea I had. Thomas, come along. We need your help.”

The three of them started off, working their way slowly through the heavy snow. Boromir went first, followed by Aragorn with Thomas bringing up the rear. While Boromir and Aragorn pushed the snow to the side, Thomas tried to widen the path, stomping it down and packing it as best he could. He whistled tunelessly under his breath as he worked, enjoying himself despite the bitter cold and his extreme tiredness. Snow always brought him fond memories of his father, who had taken him sledding and ice skating as a very young boy.

It was hard work wading and fighting through the snowdrifts and only their desperate need to escape the mountain drove them on. It took them close to an hour to reach the large rock that Boromir had pointed out from above. Around the corner though they stopped and looked up in shock to find a huge drift reaching many feet higher than their heads.

“Valar! What do we do now?” Boromir exclaimed glancing at Aragorn and Thomas.

Aragorn just shook his head and then tilted it slowly, trying to see the drift from a different angle. He looked to see if there were another way around the drift but it ended at the edge of the mountain. “Well, I guess we try and climb over it.”

“We can tunnel through it. I’ve made lots of tunnels at home before,” Thomas suggested, looking at Aragorn hopefully.

“But we do not know how big this drift is or how far you would have to tunnel. Would it be safe?”

“I suggest we let Thomas try. We have to get off this mountain and our way goes through there.”

Knowing they really had no other choice, Aragorn reluctantly agreed and Thomas squeezed by him and Boromir and started carefully on the tunnel. Working quickly, but cautiously the tunnel was soon well underway. It was only about four feet high and three feet wide and Thomas packed it tightly as he burrowed into the drift. Most of the snow he handed out to Boromir and Aragorn who were watching him, amazed.

“He has done this many times before,” Aragorn whispered.

“He and Rebecca must live in a cold place,” Boromir shivered.

“Only about five months of the year do we have snow, Boromir. And, yes, I have done this many times, Aragorn.” Thomas looked back at them with a small smile. “The tunnel helps carry your voices,” he laughed when he saw their expressions before turning back to his work.

After digging in about four feet, Thomas stopped suddenly and grabbed his dagger and carefully pushed it into the snow in front of him twisting it slowly before pulling it back out. He grinned widely as he turned back to the men. “We’re there already, I can see the sky.” He finished the tunnel and crawled out the other side, joined swiftly by Boromir and Aragorn. The deep snow drifts ended abruptly a few yards from the end of the tunnel so after resting a moment they packed down a path and turned back.

Returning to the Fellowship they widened the path further. By the time they reached the others all three with panting heavily after their hard work and steep climb. The hobbits and Rebecca and Gimli were still huddled together near what remained of the fire while Legolas and Gandalf were talking quietly nearby. Every head snapped up at the approach of the three men and those seated scrambled to their feet.

Pippin and Merry immediately started questioning the men.

“Are we trapped here, Strider?”

“Is there snow all the way down?”

“Peace...my friends...” Aragorn took a deep breath, “let me catch...my breath.”

“Peace indeed, young hobbits! Aragorn and Boromir will speak when they can.” Gandalf looked down at the hobbits with a frown and a stern gaze.

Unimpressed by his look, Pippin and Merry just stared back and turned to Thomas for information.

“Can you tell us anything, Thomas?” Pippin looked up at his friend pleadingly.

Thomas glanced at Aragorn and then Gandalf before shaking his head at the hobbits. “I... think I’ll let Aragorn tell you... he’s in charge, remember?” he smiled briefly before looking away.

Gazing from Thomas to the hobbits and back again, Aragorn shook his head slightly before turning to Gandalf. “We made a path down about three hundred yards and then we came to a huge snowdrift. Fortunately we had an expert ‘snowman’ with us...” Aragorn clasped Thomas on the shoulder, “and he dug a tunnel through it. It is not too long and from there the snow becomes shallow very quickly.”

“How should we proceed, Aragorn?” Gandalf asked.

“Hmmm... Boromir, Thomas and I will carry Merry, Pippin and Sam down and leave Thomas and Legolas there to protect them. Then Boromir and I will come back for Frodo, Lady Rebecca and...”

“No one is carrying me, Aragorn!” Rebecca was adamant.

Aragorn looked at her in surprise, but Thomas knew this was a battle he was not going to win. He agreed with Rebecca, it was only snow for heaven’s sake and there was a path to walk through. She was not a child who needed to have her hand held for every little thing they did. He watched in amusement as Aragorn tried to convince Rebecca that she needed to be carried.

“The snow is too deep for you to walk...”

“There’s a path to walk through, I’ll be fine. I will not be carried. It’s just snow, Aragorn, I’ve lived around it my whole life.” Rebecca’s voice shook slightly in frustration.

Aragorn peered down at Rebecca, but the hood of her coat was covering her face making it impossible to catch her eye. “All right, Lady Rebecca, then walk you shall,” his voice was brisk and matter-of-fact. “We can do this in one trip. Legolas, would you carry Frodo?” Legolas nodded. “Good. Then Gandalf can lead the pony with Gimli riding. Thomas, you lead, and then Lady Rebecca, Boromir, Gandalf, Legolas, and I will bring up the rear.”

It was slow going as the men were burdened with the weight of the hobbits and had snow pulling at their feet with every step they took. Only Legolas was unaffected. Rebecca had no trouble walking and keeping up with the group though it was eerie at times when the snow was over her head. Finally they reached the tunnel and the hobbits were set down and they scurried through the tunnel on their own. It was a tight squeeze for the pony, but he did just fit.

As they stood on the other side looking back up the mountain, the snowdrift collapsed with a loud whoosh, sending a cloud of snow flying into their eyes.

“Come, we must not linger, we must be off the mountain before nightfall.” Gandalf urged the company to move on.

Rebecca unbuttoned her hood briefly to brush the snow from her face.

“Lady Rebecca! What happened to your eye? It’s all black and blue!” Merry exclaimed, stopping suddenly and staring up at her. His loud voice caused everyone to pause and look back at Rebecca.

“What? Oh, this?” Rebecca reached up and gingerly touched her swollen eye. “Thomas hit me.” She looked over at Thomas with a mischievous smile.

By this time Aragorn was at her side carefully examining her eye and the others were looking on curiously. At her comment they all looked at Thomas with varying degrees of surprise and anger on their faces except for Aragorn who looked at Rebecca in shock.

“Rebecca!” Aragorn said sharply, his stern grey eyes locked onto hers causing her to shift uneasily as she looked up at him.

“Y-yes, Aragorn?”

“We all know that Thomas did not strike you,” his voice matched the look in his eyes. “What truly happened?”

Staring at the ground, she swallowed nervously before replying, “I-I ran into Thomas yesterday... and I hit my eye on the wood he was carrying.” Rebecca’s voice trailed off to a whisper. “I’m sorry, Aragorn, I was just joking.”

“It is not me you should apologize to, Lady Rebecca,” Aragorn said sternly.

“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, Thomas.” Rebecca’s voice trembled slightly as she glanced up at Thomas with watery eyes.

“It’s all right, Rebecca, I know you were joking.” Thomas gave Aragorn a puzzled frown and glanced at the others who were standing quietly in small groups ignoring – or pretending to ignore - the conversation.

“Gandalf!” Gandalf gazed at Aragorn questioningly. “Lead the others on, I need to check Lady Rebecca’s eye further.”

“Very well.” The company proceeded slowly down the mountain and only Pippin looked back curiously.

“Thomas, you go along, too.”

“But...”

“Thomas,” Aragorn growled.

“Yes, sir.” Thomas took one last glance at Rebecca’s trembling form and started after the others.

As Thomas walked out of earshot, Aragorn looked down at the girl standing before him.

“Rebecca, I need to see your eye,” he said quietly.

Rebecca just shook her head, refusing to look at him.

Sighing, Aragorn reached out and gently lifted her chin until her tear-filled eyes met his. The sternness in his eyes slowly faded as he saw her confusion and uncertainty. “You have no idea why I am angry, do you?” he asked softly.

Rebecca shook her head vehemently, “No... I was just joking. I didn’t mean to...” she stopped as the tears finally spilled and ran down her face.

“Rebecca you know I enjoy your jests and your light heart. But some things are not proper to make light of. Hitting a woman is one of those things. It could damage Thomas’s reputation. Did you see the reaction of the others?” She nodded. “All of them would fight for you to restore your honor. I do not know how it is in your world, but here it is a very serious thing to strike a woman. Do you see now why I was so angry?” Aragorn’s voice was gentle.

Rebecca wiped the tears away with her gloved hand as she nodded again. “Yes sir. I-I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry,” she added miserably.

“I know you are and it is behind us, I am not angry with you anymore. I still need to check your eye and we need to catch up with the others.” Aragorn lifted her head again and looked closely at her injured eye. “It is just swollen and the soreness should be gone by tomorrow.” He gazed searchingly at Rebecca who looked away, not able to meet his eyes for long. Finally he just pulled her into his arms for a quick embrace, grabbed her hand and led her down the mountain after the others.

0-0-0-0-0

To be continued…

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