West of the Moon
A Tolkien Fanfiction Archive
Of Dwarvish Ale and Battle Scars
My attempt at getting through an entire fic without grossing anyone out or making anyone cry.
A/N - one of the rhymes (the first) was generously donated by Tinewen.
Unfortunately, I must take credit for the rest of them. Please keep your
groaning to a minimum.
Dedicated to Rose of GypsieRose because Aragorn booted Faramir out of 'Bronwe' with special thanks to Shadow and Connie for assuring me that it doesn't suck.
WARNING: Completely pointless with no redeeming social value. You've been warned.
Faramir walked steadily up the incline, his boots clacking along the cobbled path in rhythm to the sounds of hammer on stone. Most of the repairs were being made in the lower circles and outer walls and gates, but even in the upper circles things had fallen into disrepair and were in dire need of the expertise of the dwarves that answered the call of the new King of the West. Faramir smiled to himself. It filled his heart to see the city on its way to being restored to the glory and beauty it once knew. Boromir would have been well pleased.
He shifted his gaze to the right, scanning the facades of the houses further up the hill looking for Gandalf's house - or what Aragorn fondly referred to as the House of Hobbits. He had only been here once before on an errand for the King and his visit had been necessarily brief. Today his business was more pleasant and he smiled again as his eyes fell upon the house the wizard and hobbits shared.
He strode up the front walk, noting the clean lines of the hedge and the neatly trimmed grass along the cobbled walkway. He knew that Samwise was a gardener in his Shire and wondered if the apparent care was a result of the hobbit keeping himself in practice.
A small bush, its roots wrapped in a coarse-woven fabric sat beside the wide front step. A scent like honey and vanilla emanated from it along with yet another he couldn't quite place. It was powerful, but not cloyingly so and he altered his course a little in order to stoop in front of it and run his fingertips gently along the tiny blue buds it was generously offering. The scent was near to intoxicating and he closed his eyes, his mind wandering on a pleasant course to distant dreams of sparkling grey eyes and the warmth of an elder brother's protective arm draped carelessly around the shoulders of a younger. He inhaled deeply, a gentle smile gracing his lips.
He lingered for a moment, allowing himself to savor the heady scent and indulge in the memories that played in his mind in the quiet of the morning. Birdsong drifted into his ears and soon overwhelmed the increasingly distant sounds of busy hammers on the --
Faramir was jerked from his reverie by the sounds of muffled cursing in...was that the dwarvish tongue?...and the thump of what sounded like wood against stone around the corner of the house. Concerned, he quickly rose and started in the direction from where it had come, hoping that one of the halflings had not managed to injure themselves in some way. They were all still recovering in one way or another and Frodo especially seemed to suffer lingering malaise in the few times Faramir had had the opportunity to spend any amount of time with him. He hastened his pace and quickly rounded the corner where he stopped short.
"Of all the..." came the gritted mutterings. "...can't believe...no sense at all..."
There, just outside of the side entrance to the house, stooped a small figure, red-faced with exertion and wrestling with...a cask? Faramir could not see it clearly from this angle but he certainly heard clearly what the dark-haired figure was muttering under his breath. Yes...definitely dwarvish. He had heard enough of it lately to recognize the hard consonants and halting cadence of the language. He had no idea how to interpret it, but the scowl on the hobbit's face and the determined set of his jaw told Faramir that whatever he was grating out through his clenched teeth, it would not be fit conversation had ladies been present. He stifled a chuckle and stepped forward.
"May I be of some help, friend?"
Frodo whirled, stepping in front of the wooden cask on the ground and looking decidedly surprised and...guilty? He stared blankly at Faramir for a breath before recognition dawned and his expression turned to one of abashed pleasure.
"Faramir! You're early," he panted.
Faramir choked back another chuckle before responding.
"Truth to tell, Frodo, I'm a bit late," he corrected. "I'm afraid I dawdled along the way and paused to admire the work being done about the city. I lingered by the front door, admiring the bush by the steps. I haven't seen its like. Has it a name?"
"I don't know yet," Frodo replied. "It has only just arrived this morning, sent by Legolas as a gift to Sam. He has not yet been by so I haven't been able to ask him about it."
"Ah," said Faramir. "And where did Legolas come by it?" he wondered. "It is not native to these parts or I'm quite certain I would have noticed one before now."
Frodo fidgeted and Faramir noted that he seemed to be attempting to block his view of the cask that still lay in the grass behind him. Did he really think it hadn't been noticed?
"Legolas and Gimli both have been expecting deliveries from their kin and fellows to arrive with the newest workers from Erebor," Frodo answered. "I can only assume that the bush is from Legolas' country."
Faramir nodded and shifted his eyes to what lay behind the hobbit's ineffective blockade of small legs and furry feet. Said feet shuffled nervously and Faramir directed his gaze once more to Frodo's face, smiling a bit mischievously.
"Were you all graced with gifts from those fair lands?"
Frodo's gaze turned suspicious and he narrowed his eyes. "Yes," was the terse answer.
Undaunted, Faramir pressed on. "And is that your gift?" he asked, trying to paste an innocent look on his face.
Frodo sighed, giving up the feeble attempt at secretion. He plopped down on the cask and looked pointedly at the Steward.
"No," he said defiantly. "Actually, it was meant for Pippin."
Frodo offered no more, only stared up at Faramir, daring him to press further. Never one to back away from a dare, Faramir smiled broadly.
"Is this a hobbit custom about which I still have much to learn?" he asked. "Do you often pilfer one another's gifts?"
Frodo's eyes narrowed further and he seemed on the edge of a hot retort before he finally decided to give up the entire pretense. His expression turned to one of embarrassed mirth and he began to laugh.
"No," he replied through his snorts. "Thievery is not something we often resort to, but when a cask of dwarvish ale is gifted to one such as Peregrin Took, precautionary measures are somewhat necessary."
"Dwarvish ale?" asked Faramir, intrigued.
"Yes, I'm afraid so," Frodo replied. "You've had it?"
Faramir shook his head. "No, I haven't. But I have heard of its virtues from my brother." He paused and grinned at Frodo. "He was quite...shall we say, enthusiastic about his experience and rather regretted the fact that the stuff is somewhat scarce here in Gondor."
Frodo grinned back. "I can imagine he would be. 'Twasn't as scarce in Bag End when I was a lad and I sorely missed it after Bilbo's departure when the dwarves visited less frequently."
"Bag End?" Faramir asked.
"That is the name of my cousin's home," Frodo informed him. "He brought me to live there with him when I was a 'tween."
Naturally, this only served to confuse Faramir more. "'Tween?"
Frodo chuckled. "Ah, my friend. It would appear you have much to learn about hobbits. We are called 'tweens from the age of twenty until we come of age, or what we call 'into our majority,' on our thirty-third birthday."
"Then I am relieved to know that I would be considered of age in your land, for I turn thirty-six on the morrow," Faramir said.
Frodo's eyes lit up and Faramir was certain he saw a roguish glint somewhere in their depths as the hobbit's gaze shifted first to the cask upon which he sat and then back to Faramir. Faramir wondered why he suddenly felt a nervous twitter in the pit of his stomach and feared he might just find out very shortly.
"Tomorrow, eh?" Frodo inquired, then stood and came a little closer to the Steward. Faramir had to fight the ridiculous impulse to back away from the halfling who was suddenly studying him with an intensity that made him curious and anxious all at once. "Is it not the custom of Men to receive gifts on their birthday?"
"It is," was the suspicious reply. "Is that not the custom of Hobbits?"
Frodo waved his hand impatiently and shook his head. "We can discuss all of that later," he said. "I've changed my mind about touring the city. I've a better idea. Wait here."
With that, he turned and stepped through the open door through which he had rolled the cask and disappeared. Faramir heard some shuffling and clanking coming from within followed by muffled voices he could not discern. Frodo re-emerged a moment later, a small leather pack in his hand and his cloak slung over his shoulder.
"I don't believe you'll be needing that cloak today, Frodo," Faramir advised. "It's quite warm already and only promises to become more so."
"Ah, but the cloak is not for me, my friend," Frodo replied with a clever smile. "It is for your passenger."
Faramir frowned, becoming more confused by the moment. "Passenger?"
Frodo laughed and turned, draping the cloak atop the cask and gesturing to it. "May I introduce you to your birthday present, my Lord?" He bowed with a flourish then looked expectantly to Faramir.
The Steward was becoming more flummoxed than he remembered having been before. "Birthday present?"
"Faramir, really," was Frodo's exasperated response. "If you continue to repeat everything I say, the day will be gone and you'll have missed your opportunity to see why Boromir was so enthusiastic over the brewing talents of dwarves."
"I am sorry, Frodo, but I--"
"Later, later," Frodo interrupted. "I cannot chance Pippin arriving back before he's due and if I do not escape right now, I'm afraid Sam or Gandalf will change their minds about entrusting me to your care. Now let's away and we can decide on a suitable hiding spot while we walk."
Frodo just shook his head and rolled his eyes. He pointed to the cask with a commanding gesture and Faramir found himself obediently stooping and hefting it onto his hip. He looked to Frodo who nodded appreciatively then spun and started toward the street. Faramir stood staring after him for a moment before Frodo turned and regarded him impatiently, still with that glint in his eye. Faramir's stomach did a slight roll and he had the sudden urge to drop the cask and flee. Instead, he let a smile creep onto his face, squared his shoulders and followed the Ring-Bearer.
"Where are we going?"
Faramir frowned and looked down to see Frodo regarding him expectantly. "I do not know, Frodo," came the slow reply. "I was following you."
Frodo cocked an eyebrow. "Whyever would you do that?" he asked in surprise. "I don't know this city. You're the one who lives here," he said rather pointedly and Faramir got the distinct impression that young Peregrin was frequently on the receiving end of this particular tone of voice.
Faramir stopped, kneading at his forehead. "Frodo--"
Frodo grabbed his elbow and tugged him forward. "Please stop dallying!" he chastised. "If we run into Pippin, the game will be up."
"Game?" Faramir looked at him in bewilderment. "Frodo, I really don't--"
"There you go echoing me again." Frodo pulled at his elbow and Faramir obediently began moving again. "We need someplace private. Someplace no one will think to look for us."
"Why would we--?"
"Because they follow me, you know," Frodo said patiently.
"Follow you?" The thought that his companion may have already been indulging in what lay cloaked and heavy under Faramir's arm suddenly occurred to him and he surreptitiously jostled the cask. No...still full.
"Oh, yes," Frodo went on. "They worry after me, you know. Rather kind of them but also a bit stifling at times. Gandalf has an uncanny ability to locate me, regardless of where I might stash myself." He was thoughtful for a moment. "Perhaps somewhere I haven't been yet. Somewhere indoors, for Gandalf knows all of the gardens and glens where I would go for solitude." He again looked expectantly at Faramir.
Faramir was surprised to realize that the three and a half foot hobbit who strode beside him was actually ordering the Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien around the city of Minas Tirith - and doing so quite effectively. Though after Henneth Annun, he supposed nothing about his companion should surprise him. The corner of his mouth drew into a decided smirk. Much to learn about hobbits, indeed. Well, why not?
"I think I know of such a place," he said. He grinned at Frodo. "Follow me."
"What is this place?"
Faramir dropped the cask to the stone floor, pulling the cloak from it and tossing it over to Frodo. He straightened and looked around at the room he had led them to.
"This, my friend, is where my brother and I studied our lessons as boys," he replied. "It hasn't been used since I was about fifteen and should suit our purposes nicely."
Frodo looked around, noting the polished stone of the floor and the intricate carvings inlaid to the ebony mouldings of the ceiling. The tables were a rich, glossy oak, reflecting the lush hues of the woven tapestries lining walls that stretched so far above his head he almost felt dizzy as he bent his neck to allow his gaze to follow them to where they joined with the vaulted ceiling. Bookshelves lined the length of an entire wall and were tall enough that he would swear they extended higher than any of the houses of Men he had seen thus far in his travels.
He looked back to Faramir in wonder. "How many children took lessons in here?" he asked.
Faramir plopped into a comfortable chair near the empty hearth and looked to his companion. "I just told you, Frodo," he answered. "Boromir and myself. The two of us, together."
Frodo looked at him in open disbelief. "Two?" he exclaimed. His gaze traveled the room again. "All of this for two children?" He shook his head in wonder. "That's...that's just..."
Faramir frowned and looked about, noting seemingly for the first time the richly appointed room. Its sheer size and décor suddenly seemed to him to be a bit much and he flushed with the abrupt knowledge of what the relative privilege of the son of the Steward must look like to one from the rustic background from which the hobbits hailed.
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Well," he began slowly, "I suppose it is a little much for two boys learning lessons."
Frodo turned back to him, his eyebrows creeping even further into his hairline. "Nonsense!" he said earnestly. He walked over to the bookshelf, reverently fingering the leather-bound volumes within his reach. "It is beautiful and I can only imagine the pleasure you and your brother must have taken in learning your lessons in such a room." His voice dropped low and melodic, hushed in the vastness of the huge room. "All of this at your fingertips and all to yourselves." He turned back to Faramir with a soft smile. "I am rather envious. Bilbo's library was quite extensive as was the one at Brandy Hall, but this..." He trailed off, eyes turning back to the expanse of books that towered above him.
Faramir felt rather ungrateful when faced with such open admiration for what he had taken for granted his entire life. Certainly his life had not been an easy one by anyone's estimation, but there had indeed been comforts and he couldn't help feeling unappreciative now for overlooking some of those comforts and taking them as his due. He smiled at the thought that he had learned yet another thing unexpected from this most extraordinary of beings.
He cleared his throat. "Brandy Hall, you say?" he asked. "I thought the name of your cousin's home was Bag End."
"Indeed," Frodo replied. "But I lived in Brandy Hall for some years after my parents died and Merry's mother and father took me in."
This was new information as well and the Steward wondered if the stream of it would ever stop flowing...then found himself hoping that it wouldn't.
"You were orphaned?" he asked. "I am very sorry, Frodo. How old were you?"
Frodo turned, peering at Faramir for a moment, dark gaze intense and piercing. Then, as if a slate had been wiped clean, his eyes lightened and a slow smile spread across his face. He walked over to the cask where Faramir had placed it on the floor and began working at the cork.
"I suppose a tap would be too much to hope for in a place like this," he said, the mischievous glint returning. "We'll just have to rely on our wits and your brute strength to fill our cups."
"Cups!" Faramir exclaimed. "Never mind a tap, where are we going to find cups?" He began to scan the room, looking for a likely place a cup or two might hide when Frodo stooped over and retrieved his leather pack from the floor. He smiled wide and dug into it, retrieving two sturdy clay mugs and holding them aloft.
"Really, Faramir," he crowed, "do you think I would come so unprepared as all that?"
Faramir laughed. "I should have known better than to question the resourcefulness of the Ring-bearer."
Frodo's smile turned grim, leaving Faramir wondering what he had said wrong. But before he had time to open his mouth to apologize, Frodo had turned to him, his smile as bright as ever and held out the cups.
"I'll hold, you pour," he said.
Faramir smiled back and picked up the cask that Frodo had uncorked and tipped it to fill the mugs.
"'S a lot darker than any ale I've seen before." The Steward peered into his mug, carefully noting the tawny froth that clung to the sides and floated atop the brown liquid within. Absently nodding his head in approval, he went on, "Very smooth, though." He took another pull and licked his lips appreciatively, grinning at his companion on the floor across from him. They had long since abandoned the more comfortable chairs in order to avoid the annoyance of having to stand every so often to refill their cups. They sat on the thick woven rug in front of the hearth, the cask between them.
Frodo grinned back, stifling laughter, albeit not very well. He lifted his cup to his mouth for a drink to hide his sudden burst of mirth and almost ended up with a noseful of its contents for his efforts.
Faramir frowned. "Wha's funny?"
Frodo put on his very best innocent face, widened his eyes and cocked an eyebrow. "Why nothing at all, my lord," he said steadily. "Went down the wrong way is all."
"Humph," was the carefully considered response.
"You're enjoying it then?" Frodo asked, regarding the man with an appraising eye.
Faramir bobbed his head, returning his gaze once again to the inspection of his cup. "I definitely understand its appeal." He looked up again, grinning and Frodo had to bite his lip to prevent the snicker that begged for release. Faramir narrowed his eyes. "You're laughing."
"I'm not," Frodo responded, trying to appear indignant at being so accused.
Faramir eyed him suspiciously for a moment before the grin made yet another encore. "Not fair, anyway," he snorted. "You've had this stuff before." He paused to peer intently at the hobbit, seeming to ponder something of great importance. "Frodo..."
Frodo waited for a moment, tilted his head in question. He leaned forward a little. "Yes?"
"Frodo..." Another pause.
Not sure whether to be amused or intrigued now, Frodo's brow creased and he leaned forward even further in expectation. "Yes?"
A longer pause before Faramir frowned and asked, "How many of these have I had, anyway?"
Frodo blinked, stared for a moment then fell over laughing.
Faramir scowled at the hobbit rolling on the floor in front of him, convulsing with snorts and giggles. "S'not funny," he complained.
Though Frodo begged to differ, he couldn't get his mouth to emit anything more than gales of laughter so he settled for nodding his head to communicate that yes, it certainly was funny. He held two fingers aloft for good measure.
"Two?" asked Faramir, attempting to process this seemingly ridiculous information. Certainly he had to have had more than two in order for his head to be spinning as it was. Deciding that trying to remember the exact number of times he had refilled his cup was too much work, he instead considered the cup closely then shrugged and took another draught. The hobbit had settled into spurts of chuckles and began to pull himself back up into a more dignified position. "S'not funny," Faramir repeated morosely.
"I'm sorry, Faramir," Frodo said between uneven snorts. "You're right, I have had this before and I shouldn't laugh." So naturally, another fit of snickers took him and he held his breath until it passed.
Faramir waited until the fit subsided. "Alright then," he agreed. "You are forgiven."
"I thank you, my lord," Frodo giggled, inclining his head respectfully.
Faramir's hand waved about his head dismissively. "Pah," he said. "Had I known hobbits were such wicked creatures back in Ithilien, I might have thrown you into the pool and had done."
"I beg your pardon," Frodo responded. "I have gifted you an early birthday present and you thank me by insulting myself and hobbits in general?"
"Ah, but 'twas not yours to gift, Master Ring-bearer," he returned, raising his brows and pointing imperiously to the ceiling. Frodo's face flushed and Faramir realized he had once again said something wrong. Suddenly serious and more sober than he had been moments ago, Faramir cleared his throat. "But I have just added to the insult by accusing you of thievery. My tongue seems to have ceased communicating with my brain. I do apologize, my friend."
Frodo was silent for a moment, staring into his cup before his smile returned and he graced the man with a gentle laugh. "There was no insult taken, friend and therefore no apology required."
Faramir peered intently at his companion before Frodo flushed again and dropped his eyes. There was more going on here than Faramir had at first thought.
"Frodo," he began, shifting a bit uncomfortably on the thick rug. Frodo met his eyes and Faramir was certain there was a touch of wariness behind the serenity there. "Tell me what happened after you left us in Ithilien."
Frodo's eyes narrowed and the wariness flashed, twisting briefly to hostility before disappearing altogether behind the mask of peace. He laughed again.
"You've heard the Lay, Faramir. More often than you cared to, I'd suspect. I'm quite certain I heard it more than I cared to and will be more than pleased if I never hear it again. There's very little more to tell."
Faramir leaned back against the chair and studied his friend. "I have also heard lays about my father and know many to be either untrue or highly exaggerated. I would know the true tale if you would tell it."
Frodo laughed and sat back. "I'm afraid that would take more time than we have this afternoon, my friend. For as good as this ale is, I'm afraid I will be in desperate need of a meal soon. I have gone longer than a hobbit should without sustenance." He made to drain his cup and rise, but Faramir caught his arm.
"'Twas a giant spider, was it not?"
Frodo glared at the Steward, his gaze hostile and angry. "Why don't you tell me of your encounter with the Witch King, since you're so eager for tales?" he snapped.
The look on Faramir's face told Frodo what he had just done before his own words had registered in his ears. Realizing what had just come spilling from his tongue before his brain could throttle it, Frodo stared gape-mouthed at the young man who now looked back to him with shock written clearly on his honest face and felt his cheeks heat. Frodo was no less shocked with himself, immediately berating himself for his inexcusable outburst. He closed his hanging jaw, shut his eyes tight for a moment, expelled a ragged breath.
"Well, now that was more than a little dramatic, eh?"
Faramir took a deep breath and bowed his head. "I am sorry, Frodo," he said quietly. "I hadn't realized..." He trailed off, at a loss for something more to say.
If it were possible for Frodo to kick his own arse, he would have done so then and there. With every intention of offering a sincere apology, he looked into the earnest face - the brow creased in worry, the mouth pinched and tight, the eyes dark and obviously repentant - and Frodo, unaccountably...snickered. Surprised by his own reaction, he slapped his hand quickly to his mouth to cover the inexcusably rude slip, but the deed had already been done. Now when the choked sound of his own suppressed laughter hit his ears, it only made matters worse.
Faramir looked, at first, surprised, then bewildered, moved on to amused then back to bewildered before alighting tentatively on miffed. Frodo watched the twist of the brows, the knotting of the forehead, the clenching and unclenching of the jaw as the face moved swiftly from one reaction to another and he laughed all the harder.
"Here now," Faramir objected. "You're laughing at me again."
Frodo stopped abruptly, bit his lip and looked innocently at the Steward.
"I'm not," he said, a protest he may well have made convincing had the chuckles not chosen that moment to bubble up from his chest and out through his traitorous mouth. He clapped his hand once again to his mouth and sank against the chair as the fit took him. He put forth a mighty effort into getting himself under control, but the wounded look the man directed his way defeated him utterly and he gave in and let the laughter take him.
"You are," Faramir insisted. "What's so funny is what I'd like to know." Despite himself, Faramir was beginning to catch the contagious laughter and put all of his effort into appearing as insulted as he was sure he ought to be.
"Oh, I am sorry, Faramir," Frodo replied through snorts and snuffles. "It's only that when you say it that way, 'a giant spider,' I feel as though I should be in my bed with the covers pulled up to my chin, trying not to appear frightened so my mother won't stop the story." He paused to catch his breath only to have it stolen again by yet more laughter. "Boo!" he cried and promptly fell to his back on the floor tears now flowing as freely as the mirth.
"Poor Sam," Frodo went on breathlessly. "If he could hear me now he'd beat me senseless. There he was risking life and limb for my safety and now all I can think of is swatting it with an enormous book."
Faramir had to admit that the picture this brought to mind was rather amusing. He felt his own humor rise to meet the ale he had consumed and soon joined his companion on the floor as they both succumbed to the twisted hilarity.
When they had both gathered some of their breath back, Faramir sat up and retrieved both of their cups. He scooted over to the cask, refilled them then handed Frodo's back to him. Frodo immediately drained his by half and took several deep, contented breaths.
"What did it look like?" Faramir wanted to know.
Frodo only shook his head. "I've no idea," he answered, "except, of course, what Sam has told me and that's understandably very little. It came at me from behind, you know." He drained his cup and handed it back to Faramir who dutifully refilled it and returned it.
"Did it hurt terribly?"
"Really, Faramir," Frodo said, not unkindly, "you'll simply have to satisfy your curiosity with Sam if he'll let you. I simply don't recall."
Faramir accepted this with obvious disappointment. He drank deeply from his own cup and sighed.
Frodo regarded him for a long moment before the mischievous glint that the Steward had become so acquainted with in the last hours resurfaced.
"Would you like to see it?" the hobbit asked with a lift of his brows.
Faramir frowned. "See what?"
"Why, the bite-mark of course."
Faramir's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. "May I?"
Frodo grinned then scooted closer. He unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt, drawing it and his jacket away from the back of his neck. Faramir leaned in, peering at the wound with dismayed fascination. An uneven mound of flesh it appeared; a darkened, livid pock mark at its center giving it a sinister, painful look. His stomach rolled just a little as he whistled lightly between his teeth.
"Is it awful?" Frodo wanted to know. "I can't get a good look at it back there."
"Awful enough," Faramir replied, adjusting his friend's collar back to where it belonged. "But lovely as battle scars go," he smiled.
"I wish I could get a good look at it," Frodo complained.
Faramir looked thoughtful for a moment before his face lit up. "I've one I could show you," he said, yanking off his boot and thrusting his foot between them.
"Oh, that's awful," Frodo cried. "How do you live with that?"
"It isn't all that bad," Faramir pointed out. "I don't even feel it anymore."
"I'm talking about your foot," Frodo clarified. "It's nearly naked and looks terribly soft. How ever do you manage to get around on those things?"
"I manage quite nicely thankyouverymuch," came the Steward's indignant response. "And I wasn't asking for commentary on my foot. I was showing you my spider bite."
Frodo's brows twisted into a skeptical frown. "I don't see anything there but your pitiful fuzz," he declared.
"Right here." Faramir pointed to a small mark toward his pinkie toe. "I got it when I was a boy, running about out..."
The last of his words were drowned out by the sound of hobbit laughter echoing throughout the huge room. Faramir sat back against the chair and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
"You're doing it again," he said, refilling his cup while pointedly ignoring the state of the hobbit's.
"Indeed I am," Frodo admitted between snorts and cackles. "You're a man who has seen many battles, Faramir and I find it enormously funny that that sorry excuse for a battle scar is the one you choose to show me."
"I didn't say it was a battle scar," the man defended. "I was only trying to show you what yours looked like."
"Mine looks like that?" Frodo said in disbelief.
"Well, bigger, of course," the man reassured him hastily, "but very nearly."
Frodo gave him a skeptical glare. "You're belittling my scar."
"I'm not. Now do you want to see it or not?"
"I've seen it," Frodo assured him. "And I was not impressed." He stopped to drain his cup. "You must have scars more interesting than that pitiful thing."
"Oh, indeed." Faramir partially unlaced his tunic and drew the fabric away from his left shoulder. "There," he said proudly.
"Ooh," Frodo said, getting to his hands and knees and crawling across the floor for a better look. "That is a nice one. How did you get that?"
"A poisoned dart from an orc during the siege," he answered haughtily.
Frodo nodded appreciatively. "Nice one, that."
Somewhat appeased, Faramir grinned then hiccupped.
"I've one almost in that very same place," Frodo informed him, doffing his jacket and weskit, unbuttoning his shirt further and pulling the brace from his left shoulder. He pulled the linen back and looked expectantly to the Steward.
Faramir leaned in close enough that his nose almost touched the silver knot of tissue.
"Is that the one from the Witch King?" Frodo nodded. "Hmm," he said doubtfully.
Frodo cast him a chagrined look. "What?"
"Well, it doesn't look like much," the man said.
Frodo frowned and studied his scar then Faramir's. "It's bigger than yours," he pointed out defensively. "Bigger even, since you're so much larger than I am. And besides that it was bloody painful."
Faramir rolled his eyes. "Well they're all bloody painful," he remarked impatiently. "That's rather the point, isn't it?"
Frodo narrowed his eyes and thrust his cup at the Steward. Faramir obediently refilled it as well as his own and settled back against the chair, smirking. Frodo might not be terribly pleased with him at the moment, but the wariness had fled with the first jibe Faramir had tossed his way and he congratulated himself on finally figuring out exactly how to deal with a reticent hobbit.
"Ooh, I've got a good one for you," he said, replacing the cask and lifting his tunic up to his chest. "This one's bigger than yours."
Frodo gazed at the long, pink scar that snaked around the Steward's ribs. Despite himself, he had to admit it was rather impressive looking.
"Alright," he admitted grudgingly. "That one's definitely bigger than anything I've got. How did you get that one?"
"A Southron's blade. I ran out of arrows," he said, by way of explanation.
Frodo nodded morosely. "You win. I haven't anything to compare to that."
"Wait," Faramir said, his fingers clumsily rolling up his sleeve to expose his forearm. "I've an even better one." He pulled the sleeve away to reveal a ragged scar, vaguely eye-shaped, faded and stretched with time so that Frodo had to peer closely to make it out beneath the hair on the man's arm.
"What is that?" Frodo asked.
Faramir smirked. "My brother bit me."
Frodo's mouth dropped open and he turned a shocked gaze to his friend.
"Bit me," Faramir finished, nodding.
"Boromir...bit you?" Frodo tried very hard to imagine the Steward's son he had traveled with as a young boy pinning his younger brother down and actually biting him and couldn't. "Why on earth would he do that?"
"Oh, I deserved it, believe me," admitted Faramir with a fond chuckle. "That and more."
"What did you do to him?"
Faramir laced his hands behind his head and leaned back, eyes directed to the ceiling, a teasing smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
"Do you know the sweetberry?" he asked. Without waiting for Frodo to answer, he continued, "It is a very small berry which grows on leafy, green bushes. It starts out green and as the summer grows long, the berries ripen. Some bushes have red and some blue. But these are not just any red and blue; these are the deepest shades of crimson and indigo my eye has ever beheld."
He shifted and regarded Frodo for a moment then, satisfied that he still held the hobbit's attention, he went on, "The ladies of the city use the juice from these berries in diluted form as paint for lips and eyes. A less diluted mixture is used in coloring the painted glass you see on many of the windows of the citadel and some of the grander houses. It is very sought-after as it is indelible and lasts for many years of age and weathering if mixed properly."
Frodo had a sudden insight as to where this might be going. "You didn't," he said incredulously.
Faramir's grin widened in answer. "I gathered a handful of each color, collected the juice - undiluted mind you - and tested out my artistic talents on my older brother as he slept." Faramir leaned in close and in a conspiratory murmur, said, "He was not impressed."
Frodo's mouth hung askew before curling into a wide smile and sending forth gales of howling laughter. He tried to picture the dignified warrior of Gondor he had known sporting ruby lips and painted eyes, fell short of the true picture he was certain, but it nonetheless gave him an image he would not soon forget.
"He was the prettiest squire in all of Gondor for a good three weeks before it began to wear off," Faramir added and Frodo collapsed to the floor, overcome with mirth.
"That's bloody brilliant!" he finally managed between cackles. "Oh my! And my aunt thought me the prankster. She'd have a good lot to say about you, exalted Prince of Ithilien, should you ever cross her path."
"Oh, I had my ears boxed quite thoroughly, believe me...besides the beating I took from Boromir and the souvenir on my arm."
"Perhaps," Frodo gasped, still trying to recover his breath, "but I guarantee you've not had an ear-boxing until you've been the recipient of Esmeralda Brandybuck's wrath. Not only would she box your ears, but she'd make you kneel down so she could reach you...and you'd do it, too. On that you can take my word."
Faramir snorted then hiccupped, sending Frodo into new fits of glee. The Steward held up his cup. "To the brotherhood of pranksters," he cried. "May they ever run faster than their elders."
"Hear, hear," Frodo agreed, touching his cup to Faramir's and draining his brew.
Aragorn strode the wide hallway amidst a sea of aides and advisors, listening with half an ear as they all tried to speak at once and offer their individual wisdom on the subject at hand. He had rather lost track of exactly what the subject at hand was, deciding that which ambassador had been offended by what was very low on his priority list at the moment. He stopped short, barely succeeding in stifling a laugh as the multitude that followed him did the same, some bumping into the ones in front of them, nearly sending several sprawling along the polished marble of the floor.
Picking up the thread of the last thing he remembered hearing, he turned to one of his advisors and asked, "A room, you say?"
"Yes, my lord," the advisor replied. "We'll need one large enough for his entire entourage and one with tables large enough for the many maps he's brought along." He stopped and cleared his throat. "He fancies himself a talented cartographer, your majesty. He's drawn all of the maps himself and will insist that we use each and every one."
"This is a very large building with many rooms," the King said. "I trust that one of you men of intelligence has managed to secure a suitable one?"
The advisor flushed. "Yes, my lord. Right around this corner. It only needs a few adjustments and your approval."
"Surely the selection of a room can be left up to my trusted advisors," Aragorn complained then reined in his irritation. He was their new king, after all and they were still attempting to ascertain exactly what types of duties he would be requiring of them. He should not lose his temper with them simply because they were expending all of their efforts in pleasing him. "Never mind," he said, placing a hand on the man's shoulder. What is his name, anyway? "Where is this room?"
He was led several paces down the corridor to a solid door with a polished brass knob. He turned to the crowd surrounding him.
"Why don't you all go see about luncheon," he said kindly, suddenly chafing at the bridle of sovereignty and wanting more than anything else to be free of the rabble that insisted on following him to every corner of the city to wipe his nose when he sneezed. "I will see that it is suitable and then see to my own meal."
"But my lord! What about--"
"I will see to it...er..." Damn! What is his name? "I will see to it," he finished, smiling with effort. "Thank you."
Effectively dismissed, the various aides and advisors wandered aimlessly back the way they had come, grumbling amongst themselves. Aragorn breathed a hefty sigh and leaned his back against the door, closing his eyes and enjoying the relative, albeit momentary, peace.
Screeching laughter assaulted his ears and he opened his eyes, listening closely. Laughter and...song? A deep, rumbling, familiar voice joined laughter so clear Aragorn would have known it in the deepest pits of Moria. A hobbit. And not just any hobbit...Frodo - laughing so hard Aragorn would not be surprised to walk in and see someone holding him down and tickling the life out of him. His mouth curled into a smile and he reached for the knob, turning it quietly and opening the door as silently as the well-oiled hinges would allow.
To say he was unprepared for the sight and sounds that greeted him would be the grossest of understatements.
"There was a young lass from the Shire,
Whom I yearned for with great desire.
Known to be willing,
For only a shilling,
Her charms I soon came to admire."
More laughter ensued and Faramir leaned over to slap Frodo on the back.
"That was a good one," he complimented. "Is that one yours?"
Frodo shook his head. "Pippin's," he said. Why was Aragorn not surprised?
"But I wanted to hear one of yours," came the complaint.
"Easily fixed," Frodo said, clearing his throat.
"There was a fair lassie from Bree
Who made with her favors quite free
When I said a fine living
Could be made selling not giving
She turned round and tried to charge me!"
Faramir dissolved into a puddle of snickers. "That was terrible!" he managed.
Frodo looked indignant. "Terrible is a rather harsh word, don't you think? Bad perhaps, even awful...but terrible?"
Faramir only laughed harder. Aragorn remained at the door, nearly choking on silent laughter. The Steward of his city sat sprawled on the floor, his tunic undone, one boot on and one boot off, red-faced and very obviously drunk. Frodo was no less disheveled, cheeks flushed with more color than Aragorn had seen them since before Weathertop, one brace hanging tangled about his hip, shirt unbuttoned and dark hair mussed and hanging in his eyes. Aragorn thought he'd never seen him look better.
"Let's have one of those horrible ones of yours, then," Frodo was saying. "You can't criticize mine until you've put one of your own forth. 'Tisn't fair."
"Alright." Faramir sat up straight.
"A mystery was molded in clay
What it was the Elves wouldn't say
But their whispers and leers
Soon made it quite clear
And the wizard just stormed away"
Frodo stared at him for a moment in silence. "That was the most awful thing I've ever heard," he told his friend bluntly.
"Oh, now it wasn't great, perhaps, but--"
"Oh, no," Frodo interrupted, "it was truly horrid. And I've had to listen to Merry's twisted rhymes for years. Believe me, if you're worse than Merry Brandybuck, you should really resolve to desist from rhyming entirely. Besides that, it makes no sense at all."
"I'm afraid I must agree with Master Baggins here, Faramir," Aragorn said, stepping lightly into the room and trying his best to appear stern. "That was truly the worst thing I've ever heard."
Faramir turned slowly to Aragorn, regarded his King with bleary eyes, scowled and said, "Pphhffft." He waved his hand aimlessly about his head in a vaguely dismissive gesture. "No taste."
Aragorn turned to the tousled hobbit who lay placidly on his back, a dreamy smile gracing his face. "Gandalf's been looking for you," he informed him.
"Pphhffft," Frodo echoed and dissolved into giggles. "That old wizard should dream up a better form of entertainment than hunting down escaped hobbits," he eventually responded. "Besides, Faramir's keeping an eye on me."
Aragorn lifted an eyebrow. "I see that." He crossed the room and stooped to pick up the cask, swishing it to test its contents. "This is less than half full," he informed them, only to be answered by more snickers. He lifted it to his nose and sniffed, stopped, creased his brow then sniffed again. "This is dwarvish ale!" he exclaimed. "Where did you get this?"
Faramir looked innocently at the King and pointed at Frodo.
"Traitor," Frodo grumbled. He sat up, adjusting his shirt and trying unsuccessfully to aim the buttons through the holes. "It's Faramir's birthday tomorrow," he explained. "I couldn't allow him to go without a gift, now could I? 'Twouldn't be polite." Secure in his defense, Frodo gave up his battle with his buttons, reached for his cup and held it out to the King expectantly.
Aragorn suppressed a smile and dipped the cask over the cup to fill it.
"'S very bossy," Faramir put in. "Been ordering me about all day."
"Pah!" was Frodo's considered response.
Aragorn did laugh this time and plopped himself on the floor between the two. He placed the cask beside him, fingering the wooden slats.
"Where did you get this, Frodo? Have you contacts in my city better than my own?"
"He nicked it from his cousin," Faramir piped in helpfully.
Frodo scowled. "What happened to the brotherhood of pranksters?" he wanted to know. "I'd hate to have you as a partner in crime. We'd end up in shackles before we'd so much as gotten out the door of a bakery with a stolen cake."
"Not fair," protested Faramir. "You're the one who thieved it."
"But you carried it."
"You made me." Faramir turned to Aragorn and cocked a thumb Frodo's way. "Bossy," he said with a nod.
"We'd die old and grey in the dungeons the way you crumble under pressure," Frodo was muttering.
Aragorn laughed more heartily than he had for a long while. He stretched out his legs and reached for Frodo's cup.
"Ah, ah, ah," the hobbit said, pulling the cup out of his reach. "Mine and I'm keeping it. Take his - he's drunker than I am."
"I beg your--"
"You're pissed and you know it," Frodo chided.
Faramir's brows knotted. "I'm...?"
"Pissed," the hobbit repeated. "Soused. Drunk. Smashed. Intox--"
"Alright, alright, I understand what you're getting at, but I'll have you know that I'm not the least--"
"If you can count to twenty, I'll give him mine."
Faramir considered that carefully for a moment then shrugged. "Alright, then." Aragorn reached for the offered cup, only to have it pulled back again. "Wait!" ordered the Steward. "There's a price."
"Price?" Aragorn regarded one, then the other. "What sort of price?"
"A rhyme," said Faramir.
"A rhyme? But I don't know any--"
"Then I suppose you'll just have to brink from the barrel." Faramir took a long pull from his cup and smacked his lips.
Aragorn looked from one to the other again and knew that of course arguing would be entirely useless. He sighed and cleared his throat.
"Young May was curvy and pert
Could slay men with the flip of her skirt
When I opened my coffer
For her bosom to offer
I wound up face down in the dirt"
Appreciative laughter met his effort and Faramir slapped him on the back, relinquishing his cup. Aragorn filled it and took a long, welcome draught of the brew.
"Is that one yours?" Frodo wanted to know.
"In fact, it is," Aragorn informed him. "Rangers sometimes have a great deal of time on their hands."
"Perhaps a little too much if that was any indication of what you got up to while idle," Frodo chuckled. "A far cry from the Lay of Luthien, that."
"You only said a rhyme," the King defended. "You said nothing about a good rhyme."
"He's right, you know," Faramir offered. The Steward's eyes were drooping and Aragorn wished for Merry so that they could lay bets on how long it would take for him to succumb to the siren song of ale-induced slumber.
Frodo snickered into his cup for a moment before looking innocently to his companions. But seeing their questioning stares only brought more laughter and he was soon helpless in its grip once again.
"He's been laughing at me all day," Faramir informed Aragorn. "He's not only bossy, but he's rude as well."
"I'm right here, you know," Frodo put in.
"See?" Faramir said, as if that had just proved his point.
Gandalf swept down the hallway, targeting the room where Aragorn's aide had directed him. It was well into the afternoon now and the King's absence was creating quite a stir with his advisors. He halted in front of the door and turned the knob.
"There was an old troll name of Harry
Who decided one day he should marry
When his love told him truthful
A knothole would be more useful
He decided no longer to tarry"
Howling laughter ensued, blended with hoots of derision.
"Oh, that's terrible!" Aragorn was saying. "I'll need to wash my ears out after that one. Is that one yours?"
Gandalf was greeted by the same sight that had met Aragorn's eyes hours before, only now the King himself was added to the mix; sprawled on the floor, boots cast aside, velvet tunic tossed carelessly on the chair behind him and cheeks decidedly reddened by what Gandalf was fairly certain was the missing cask of ale that Gimli had been most distressed to find had not reached its intended recipient. The wizard rolled his eyes and sighed.
"No," Frodo was responding. "I'm afraid Samwise must take credit for that one."
"I'll not believe such a thing came from the mouth of Master Samwise," objected Faramir.
"So you'd believe it of me and not Sam?" Frodo answered indignantly. "No respect." He shook his head and directed a pointed glare at Aragorn who was chuckling under his breath. "From either of you."
"What?" the King said innocently.
The three of them jolted upright, turning in alarm to behold the wizard glaring at them from the door, hands on his hips, eyes blazing into them mercilessly. They looked guiltily to each other, then back to Gandalf.
Frodo looked from the King to the Steward, both of whom were suddenly finding the weave of the carpet utterly fascinating. Useless, he thought. He donned a look of incredulity and gave it a go.
"I am sitting here with the Steward of Gondor and the King of the West and you're going to blame me?" the hobbit sputtered. "Really, Gandalf, I hardly think--"
"Yes, I can see that," Gandalf interrupted.
Frodo scowled up at him while the other two looked everywhere but at the wizard. Frodo turned to Faramir then to Aragorn, both of whom busied themselves with inspecting their toes.
"Cowards," he muttered. "Really, Gandalf, it's only a bit of fun. Would you deny me such after all that's happened?" He fixed the wizard with a pitiful, sad expression, putting all of his effort into not toppling over onto the King beside him.
The wizard was having none of it.
"And has all that's happened reduced you to thievery?" Gandalf asked pointedly.
Frodo looked guiltily to the cask on the floor. Then, deciding wheedling was not the right approach, he changed tactics, cast a confident glance back to Gandalf and asked, "Would you rather it had gone to its intended recipient?"
Well, now...Gandalf had to stop and think about that one.
"That is not the point, Frodo," he pressed nonetheless. "You are not so many days out of bed that you can jaunt about the city unattended." The hobbit opened his mouth to protest, but Gandalf beat him to it. "And they don't count," he said, indicating the men on the floor. "You've rendered them completely useless as guardians."
Faramir's head snapped up at that. "I beg your--" Gandalf glared at him and the words dried up in his throat. He looked accusingly to the hobbit. "Your fault," he muttered.
"Why is it my fault?" Frodo wanted to know.
"He was looking for you," Faramir reasoned.
"Well, you chose the room, didn't you then?" Frodo pointed out. "Besides, he wasn't looking for me," he continued, pointing an accusing finger at the King, "he was looking for him."
Three sets of eyes glared at Aragorn. He shifted his gaze to each of them in turn, lifted his chin and crossed his arms over his chest.
"My city," he said tersely.
"Mmm, yes, your city - which has effectively ground to a halt due to the influence of one small hobbit," the wizard muttered dubiously.
Frodo, who had spent an inordinate amount of the day convulsing with giggles on his back, resumed the position and promptly commenced to bellow with laughter. Unable to withstand such an onslaught, Aragorn and Faramir soon followed. Gandalf stared at the heap of heaving chests, reddened faces and tangled limbs in amazement, choking his own laughter in his throat. Someone had to stay sane, after all.
He waited for the laughter to dwindle to assorted snorts and chuckles before asking, "Frodo, have you eaten anything since breakfast?"
As if the mere mention of a meal had alerted it, the hobbit's stomach grumbled loudly, sending the three on the floor into new bouts of hilarity.
"I'll take that as a no," the wizard said, throwing up his hands and shaking his head. He turned and made for the door, making a mental list of what he would have the kitchens send to the room to absorb some of what was undoubtedly sloshing about three otherwise empty stomachs. He strolled swiftly from the room on a cloud of merry laughter, thinking how...er...interesting it could be when one kept the company of hobbits.
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