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Eggs By the Fire, A Ranger and the Hobbit Tale  by Cairistiona

Chapter 3: Yet More Unexpected Guests

Ferdinand leapt to his feet, but Aragorn simply rolled onto his back and put his arm behind his head and crossed his ankles. "No, not many Elves. And the ones I did spy were cowering up in the trees, afraid to come down for fear of getting their boots muddy."

A laugh, then another from the opposite side of the fire, and in a wink, there stood two tall, dark-haired Elves, smiling down at them. "I see you're lazing about as usual, brother," Elrohir said. Elladan merely shook his head, but his eyes were dancing. "Who's your little friend?"

Ferdinand blinked a few times, then bowed. "Ferdinand Took, at your service."

"I am Elrohir, and this is my brother, Elladan. And we are at yours." The brothers bowed, in the manner of hobbits.

Aragorn thought Ferdinand's eyes might pop from their sockets, they were stretched so wide with wonder. "Have you never met any of the fair folk, Master Took?"

He shook his head. Then nodded. Then shook his head again. Aragorn raised his eyebrows, and Ferdinand finally pulled himself together. "I've met them, yes. That is to say, I've met Gildor, a time or two, and spoken with him. But..." He actually seemed at a loss for words.

"But you've never seen any as ugly as these two?" Aragorn supplied.

"No!" Then he blushed. "Oh dear, that came out wrong. I mean to say, no, I've never met any like them, but not that they're ugly! Good heavens. No, no. Quite the opposite, if you two don't mind my saying. You're both quite... well, you're very handsome, both of you, and so much alike! I feel I'm seeing double. Twins, I take it?" And then Ferdinand was back to himself. "Yes, you must be, else I've knocked my head and am seeing double. It must be wonderful, having a twin. I often wish I did, for then I'd finally have someone around who I felt knew me and understood me, as I'm sure you two must. Two halves of a whole, you might say. Strider," he said as he turned away from the twins to peer at him, "he called you brother! I distinctly recall you telling me once that you were Númenorean--do you remember that conversation? It's been many years, of course, but you saved me having to eat my own hat, if you recall.  So I still have my hat and you are definitely not an Elf, and yet here stand two Elves, one of whom called you a brother. How do you explain that?"

"Yes, Estel, how do you explain that?" Elladan asked, his eyes glinting. He lowered himself to the ground and held his hands out to the fire. Elrohir followed suit.

"Oh, look at that, they even move in identical ways. Isn't that something!" Ferdinand said.

"He did call me brother," Aragorn allowed. "But it is in affection only, not blood."

"Oh, so you're good friends, then. I can certainly understand that. I do have one or two friends I would say are very near to brothers, though of course we don't call each other that. But we grew up together, played in the same lanes and climbed the same trees, were in and out of each others' hobbit holes so much that it almost seemed as though our parents quite forgot whose child was whose. Well, then! Two more guests at the table! Or at the fire, as it were. Do you like eggs, young men?"

"Eggs! We would love some, yes," Elladan was quick to reply.

Aragorn rolled his eyes. Far be it that Elladan ever turned away the offer of an egg. He regularly wiped out Ivorwen's supply when he happened upon their village. He sat up, wincing a little as he tweaked his injured thumb pushing himself up.

"Are you injured?" Elrohir asked.

He shook his head. "Not really, no. I sprained my thumb in a fall this afternoon."

Elrohir scooted over and took his hand. "It's definitely swollen," he murmured, then he placed Aragorn's hand between his own. His eyes lost their focus, as though he were looking at some far distant vista, and Aragorn felt warmth suffuse the joint. Elrohir blinked, then released Aragorn's hand. He patted him on the shoulder, then frowned. "And your shoulder as well?"

Aragorn simply gave him a rueful look.

Elrohir scowled. "Honestly, Estel. Can you not keep yourself in one piece?" Nonetheless, he put his hand on Aragorn's shoulder and started lightly kneading the joint. It hurt, at first, but then the muscles and tendons seemed to warm and loosen. He raised his arm and put it through all the motions and then nodded.

"Thank you, brother."

Elrohir scooted back beside Elladan. "Give him one of your shirts."

"Why mine?"

"Because you've broader shoulders."

Elladan pulled a face, but he dug a spare shirt out of his pack and tossed it to Aragorn. "I may have wider shoulders than Elrohir, but not by much and definitely not as wide as yours. Do not rip the seams."

"I'll treat it as if it were my own."

"Valar, it'll be ruined by dawn," Elladan muttered.

As he pulled it over his head, he noticed Ferdinand gaping at them, still holding two dripping halves of eggshell. "I say..." He gulped. "I say, what did you just do? Why, his thumb was swollen nearly half again its size and now... how did... you... Good heavens. Was that... was that magic?"

"I am no sorcerer, Master Took. Healing power is in my bloodline, and I merely used it to heal Strider's thumb and shoulder."

Aragorn waggled it back and forth, as proof.

Ferdinand again seemed utterly at a loss. He blinked a few times, then nodded, and suddenly became very interested in cooking the eggs. Aragorn laughed softly. "Fear not, Ferdinand. It is no more magical, in its way, than bandages and medicine. It's just... a different way of dealing with injuries and illness."

Ferdinand gave all three of them a long look, then nodded. "I suppose I should not be surprised. There are, after all, wizards wandering about, and then of course there's old Tom Bombadil and all of his mysterious ways. Say, do any of the three of you know just who he is? Is he a wizard? An Elf? He seems so ageless, yet when you look in his eyes, he's as old as time or older, if that makes any sense at all."

"Tom is who he is," Elladan murmured.

"Well, there's an answer for you," Ferdinand snorted. "You're no better than Gildor."

"Have you asked him about Tom Bombadil?" Aragorn asked.

"Several times. He gives me the same drivel for an answer. 'Tom has always been and always will be.'" He hauled out a plate. "Now what sort of an answer is that?"

"It's an answer to a question that has no answer," Elrohir said. "No one but Tom knows who Tom is, and there's no getting an explanation from him on the subject. I've tried."

Aragorn kept his own counsel on Tom Bombadil. He too had his questions about the man, but knowing that he was on the side of good was enough for him. He had a hard enough time dealing with the obviously evil things of the world to worry about solving the mysteries of an undisputed ally. He changed the subject. "Elrohir, why are you and Elladan here?"

"Looking for you. Looking for your kinsmen. Rivendell is more or less secure, despite deepening troubles to the east, so Father gave us leave to find you, as he was anxious for word of you."

"Tell him all is as well as it can be here, but you're sure nothing more is amiss?"

His eyebrow quirked. "Asks the man who was chased out of the hills by orcs."

"It wasn't orcs that chased me. I killed them. It was wights and an overwrought imagination that set me running."

"Ah. Thank you for clarifying."

"So return the favor. Surely Father didn't send you just to enquire after my health. What are you and Elladan really doing here?"

"Truly, that is the reason. Although..."

His eyes darkened as he stared into the gathering shadows but he said no more, nor did he need to. Aragorn knew his thoughts. The never-ending drive to avenge their mother, Celebrían, who had suffered terribly at the hands of the foul creatures. He sighed. "You do not have to--"

"We do." Elrohir's voice was harsh, but he took a deep breath. "We do. Until..."

Until evil was vanquished. Until Celebrían's wounds were repaid upon the likes of those that committed the atrocities. Aragorn nodded, understanding, even if the look in Elrohir's eyes chilled and saddened him. He held a deep fear that the bitterness would consume his brothers until they no longer knew themselves.

Elrohir suddenly smiled, which was almost as unnerving as the grim fire that burned in his eyes a moment before. "Tonight, though, we will feast on this good hobbit's meal, and be reminded that life is not all dark."

Aragorn glanced at Elladan, who merely gave him the smallest shrug, as if to say that he understood the capricious winds of emotion that battered his brother little more than Aragorn did. "Where are you headed, once you've dried out and got some sleep?" Elladan asked.

"Home. To my people's village beyond Fornost," he added, lest they think he was heading back to Rivendell.

"Would you like company? I fancy some of Ivorwen's eggs."

Aragorn smiled. "I would like that, and I'm certain Ivorwen will be glad to see you both." That he hoped her gentle wisdom would calm Elrohir's demons, he left unsaid. She had a way of knowing just the right words to say when memories tormented either brother.

"It's settled, then." He looked to Elrohir for agreement, and Elrohir nodded, but not without giving Aragorn a rueful smile. "It will be good to talk to her."

Aragorn merely nodded, then they fell quiet, each keeping his own thoughts. Aragorn listened to the fire pop and smelled the homey aroma of eggs and sausage, but despite his hunger, his eyelids drooped. He opened them wide, then blinked a few times, but when his head suddenly nodded, he gave up any pretense of staying awake. He stretched out on the ground and pillowed his head on his bent arm.

"Estel, are you sure you're well?" Elladan asked.

His reply was interrupted by a yawn so huge it made his eyes water and his shoulders shake. "Just tired," he murmured. "Long day." He shut his eyes, prepared to leave them shut for the next week. He heard a soft footstop, then felt a blanket drop across him.

A hand rested on his forehead, and Elladan spoke. "You're not hiding any wound or illness?"

"No. Not this time."

"He said he fought a band of orcs, then ran all the way from the Barrow Downs to the river, then swam across," Ferdinand interjected. "I would expect any one of those things would tire a man."

Aragorn pulled the blanket under his chin. "He's right. I'm just tired."

"Not too tired to eat before you sleep, I hope." Ferdinand set a plateful of eggs and sausage on the ground beside him. "I wish I had some tomatoes, but I haven't been into Bree for some time, and I ate the last of the ones I picked up in the East Farthing the day before yesterday."

Aragorn thought he was too weary to eat, but his stomach had other ideas. He cast off the blanket as he propped himself up on an elbow. "This looks so good I can't possibly sleep, and I'm sure I won't miss the tomatoes."

Ferdinand beamed, and then hurried to fetch the same for Elladan and Elrohir. Elrohir accepted his bowl with an amused smile. "Do you always carry along extra dishes for guests, Master Hobbit?"

"Please, call me Ferdinand, and yes, as a matter of fact, I carry three plates and a bowl, always. Usually I'm alone, so I have one for eating, one put by if the first is dirty, and a third for a candle. The bowl you're eating out of is for collecting berries."

"Which makes perfect sense," Elladan said. He shoved a spoonful of eggs in his mouth and smirked at his brother. "Silly of you, Elrohir, for having to ask."

Aragorn hid a smile. Ferdinand really was a wonder. He ate slowly, relishing every bite while keeping an eye on Elrohir, who seemed to slowly unwind with each mouthful. He saw that Ferdinand also watched Elrohir carefully. Nothing much slipped by the wily little hobbit. It was certain that he'd overheard their quiet conversation earlier, and even if he didn't understand the details, Ferdinand was sure to have seen the concern in Aragorn's eyes.  Poor Ferdinand. Someday he was owed a very long explanation of all the secrets Aragorn could not share at present. He smiled again, picturing some future day when he was king and Ferdinand was... well, what would he be? Such a skilled hobbit could be a valuable asset to a king. As clever as he was at cooking, he could very well see himself appointing Ferdinand as the head chef in his northern castle. Or if he ever had need of spies--and what king didn't--Ferdinand seemed eminently suited for such a life.

Then he sighed and stared down at his plate. There was no point in weaving such fantasies. If he ever became king and rebuilt the north, Ferdinand would likely be in his dotage. It often took him by cruel surprise, the realization that all of his friends outside of the Dúnedain would age so much faster than he. The Elves wouldn't, of course, but who knew how many of them would remain? He didn't yet know what choice Elladan and Elrohir would make. They might well sail and thus be lost to him. Barliman Butterbur, Bowen Rushlight, Denlad... all the Men and Hobbits would be long gone. He could not be sure that even Halbarad would be left to him. He swallowed hard. The eggs stuck in his throat, refusing to go past the lump that had lodged there.

"Strider," Ferdinand asked. "Is there something wrong with the eggs?"

Aragorn blinked and shoved more into his mouth. There was nothing to be gained in wallowing in self pity. Who knew what the future held? He might become king next year, and have long years of peace ahead, in which to enjoy the company of friends no matter how long or short their lives. And in the meantime, there was today, when peace and good fellowship sat round him by this fire. The fey mood that had been hovering him these past weeks lifted ever so slightly. "The eggs are..." He paused, then gave him a broad smile.

"Ferdinand, they're fit for a king."

- Fini -

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