"Wake up, Sam," Merry said. "Strider says it's time to go, before the Black Riders return!"
Frodo sat in the corner, staring out the window with melancholy in his soul. He traced a finger through the fog on the glass, drawing the design of an acorn. He missed the Shire already.
"Where's Pippin?" he asked absently.
Merry looked around, then groaned loudly. "Pip!" he cried. "Where's that irresponsible rascal gone now?"
"Out drinking, I'd bet," Sam said. "Forgetting all the trouble Mr. Frodo's had!"
Frodo laughed. "No, look," he said, pointing to a lump in the corner. "He's still asleep!"
"And that, my young hobbits, is how I slew a dragon with a single blow," Gandalf concluded gravely.
Frodo and Pippin exchanged a doubtful look.
"But—you said that the dragon was up on the hilltop, at first," Pippin pointed out. "You slew it on a riverbank?"
"And it broke your sword!" Frodo said. "What did you use to kill it?"
Gandalf huffed and snorted. "No, I did not say that, Peregrin Took," he grumbled. "And I still had my staff on me, Frodo!"
"Then why didn't you use that in the first place?" Pippin demanded.
Gandalf glared, then turned away.
"I must admit I've never met a halfling before!" the elf exclaimed, kneeling down to inspect the one that stood before him.
Merry puffed out his chest and put on his most serious expression. "That's a hobbit, to you, milord," he said sternly.
"Forgive me!" the elf cried. "I am Legolas, son of Thranduil of the Woodland Realm."
"Like in Bilbo's stories!" Merry exclaimed. He scratched his head. "He didn't mention you in his book."
Legolas stepped back, affronted. "But certainly I was an important character!"
"I'm afraid not, milord." Merry shrugged.
Behind him, Gandalf chuckled. "That's hobbits for you."
"This is an important task," Gandalf said. He tapped his staff nervously, surveying the men before him and wishing the others were not so busy.
Sam frowned. "What is it, Gandalf?" he asked anxiously. "I hope we can do it..."
Conversely, Boromir was eager, his eyes shining. "Have we run into enemies already? Are we scouting ahead?" He ruffled Sam's hair affectionately. "You can trust us, Mithrandir."
"Mmm." Gandalf was not convinced. "Your mission is this..."
Boromir grinned and nudged Sam. Sam smiled at him awkwardly.
"Find me some pipeweed in someone's pack," Gandalf grumbled. "I'm out, and Pippin's hoarding."
Abruptly, Aragorn waved his hand and walked to the front of the group, interrupting Frodo mid-conversation. Crestfallen, the hobbit stared after him.
"Was it something I said?" Frodo asked the air.
Legolas smiled. "Do not take it personally," he advised. "Aragorn is...sensitive to questions about his destiny."
Frodo sighed. "I only wished for his company. He seems to know more about where our road leads us than anyone but Gandalf."
"Aye, he is wise," Legolas agreed. He watched Aragorn trudge mournfully along in solitude. "But do not be offended. He gets caught up in his own fate."
Legolas dozed in a curled up ball. His eyes were still open as he slept, flicking back and forth, back and forth.
Boromir stepped softly. Behind him, Pippin stifled a giggle.
"Hush!" Boromir whispered. "Elves sleep light."
"His eyes are still open," Pippin hissed.
"All the reason to be more careful." Boromir beckoned Pippin forward, then dropped the frog into the halfling's hand. "You've got this, Pip!"
Pippin bit his lip, then snuck closer. He slipped the squirming animal into Legolas's hood, then turned and ran away hooting with laughter. Boromir followed.
Behind them, Legolas woke with a horrified scream.
"I miss home," Pippin whispered, shivering in the darkness of Moria.
Sam sighed. "Me too," he admitted.
Aragorn sat down beside them. "It can be hard to find the light when surrounded in such darkness."
"Do you miss your home?" Sam asked
Aragorn sighed. "I don't think I have a home, truly. But...I do miss certain people."
"Like Lady Arwen?" Merry asked, his eyes suddenly bright.
Aragorn stared, then chuckled. "Yes, like Lady Arwen."
"Are you betrothed to her?" Sam inquired.
"When did you meet her?" Merry pestered. "Is she—?"
"Enough questions!" Aragorn exclaimed. "That's my business, not yours."
"This path only leads further into the mines," Aragorn said, peering into the tunnel.
"Tis the way forward, I'm sure of it!" Gimli disagreed. "You did not want to take this road, why would you know which path to take?"
"Oh, quiet," Gandalf grumbled. He waved his staff in front of the tunnel. "This way gives me a bad feeling. I am inclined to agree with Aragorn."
"My kin created these tunnels!" Gimli protested. "Should I not have the final say?"
"Only if we are to get lost," Aragorn countered.
"No further than we have already, listening to your counsel!"
"Frodo! Watch out!" bellowed Boromir.
Frodo scrambled out of the way, narrowly missing the orc's blade. He rolled right into Gimli's feet, knocking him right over.
All the air was knocked out of Gimli as Frodo fell onto his stomach. He shoved Frodo off him and threw his axe into the orc's skull.
"Boromir! Was that really necessary!" he shouted.
"Sorry!" Frodo apologized weakly.
"No, laddie, you're not the problem," Gimli assured.
Boromir only laughed. Then his eyes widened and he shouted, "Gimli! Watch—"
Gimli turned around and stared as Frodo stabbed an orc.
"You're welcome," he said, then fainted.
"We must rest!" Boromir snapped. "Look at the little ones, they can scarcely take another step!"
"If we stop, we will be slaughtered by orcs," Aragorn said flatly. "And with Gandalf no longer with us—"
"You are no king," Boromir growled. "Gandalf never said you would take his place if he were to—"
"Stop!" Merry cried, anguished. "Gandalf would not wish us to argue like this." He shivered. "Boromir is right—we are exhausted, but Aragorn is also right. We must keep moving."
Aragorn and Boromir exchanged a glance, humbled.
Boromir bowed his head. "Then perhaps you should lead, Master Meriadoc."
"Perhaps you should ask the Lady Galadriel," Legolas said, choosing his words with utmost care. "She seems to hold you in high esteem."
"You are her kin, Master Elf," Gimli pointed out. "I dare not overstep myself."
"Nay, call me Legolas," he said, courteously touching Gimli's shoulder.
Gimli nodded. "Then you ought to call me Gimli." He touched Legolas's arm.
"Well, Gimli—" Legolas smiled. "I insist you have the honor of inquiring after supplies for our journey."
"I could not," Gimli insisted. "It would be most improper—"
Sam trudged behind them, shaking his head. "How about I ask the Lady?"
"Out, out!" Gimli hissed, pushing Merry and Pippin through the door. "That elf is coming back!"
The hobbits stumbled down the stairs, arms stuffed full of waybread. Gimli stared over his shoulder anxiously, listening for shouting elves.
At last they made it back to where they were camped in Lothlórien. Gimli fell to the ground, laughing.
"We made it!" Pippin shouted.
"Give me that!" Merry said, snatching bread out of his friend's arms.
"Hey!" Pippin protested. "That's mine."
Gimli smiled as he watched the hobbits stuff their faces with lembas. The rest of their journey was bound to be eventful.