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Friends in Small Places

Notwithstanding Magic


Magic

Speculative piece set somewhere after the fellowship attempts to cross Caradhras but before their entrance into the mines of Moria. Set betwixt book and movie verse, though it leans more blatantly towards the latter.

Summary: The search for possibilities on an impossible path.

Rating: Fan Rated Teen





It was the stillness that finally fluttered Sam’s nerves and set his heart to pounding. Creating a deep thudding that rose from his chest, ascended through his ears, and shattered the illusionary serene expanse of hillside meadow in a way the attacking orcs had not quite managed.

Why the aftermath of the fight should ignite such a trembling response in him, when the skirmish itself had not, made little sense in his reasoning. He tried his best to quell it, digging his toes into the earth and clamping his lips shut.

Ahead of them, Strider stood motionless in the quiet breeze, strong feet lingering in the ready stance of battle, hand stonily gripping his blood-worn sword. Sunlight danced in incongruous merriment over his disheveled hair, glinting off the one shiny spot remaining on his long blade and brightening to an obscene luster the skins of the dead orcs at his feet.

Holding his breath, Sam waited as though practicing to become part of a monolith, locking his joints into stone and mortar until finally Strider cracked the stillness. “Boromir?” he called, lowering his sword a sliver, though his stance remained the same.

Sam chanced a glance up at Gandalf, who nudged him to quietness and tapped him a little closer to Frodo and Sting.

“Here!” Boromir’s voice returned, leaping towards them from down the hill. “I see no more sign of them!”

“Are you harmed?” Strider called next.

“No!” came the answer, followed by the soft tread of footsteps as Boromir began making his way up to them.

“Legolas!” Strider then hollered, prompting a passive grunt from Gimli and a shift of his axe. Sam flicked a look at him, unable to decide if the dwarf was bothered or concerned. He didn’t linger his gaze to puzzle this contemplation however, and turned instead to where he’d last seen the elf. Legolas had been fighting on the ground with them at some point, but had eventually made his way back into the trees, using his arrows to eliminate their enemies as the circle of attack had widened.

Below the canopy of leaves at the edge of the meadow, Sam traced a stretch of dead orc soldiers to the base of one trunk. There, tangled with the roots, rested the crumpled corpses of two large wargs. Chunks of the tree’s bark had been shredded from its surface from base to bough. Even upon the exposed high branches there were visible deep gouges from the wargs’ claws and teeth—evidence of their diligent attempt to get at whatever lurked there.

No doubt, Sam thought, that is where their elf still crouched.

He hoped.

Sure enough, Legolas’s voice rang melodiously from the treetop, words emerging steadily, though sounding to Sam’s ears to be tainted by some chord of melancholy. “I am here,” Legolas shouted. “I see no more sign of them from any angle I perceive.”

“Are you harmed?” Strider pressed.

“I am well,” Legolas said strongly, though unlike Boromir, he did not start towards them after confirming it.

They stood in silence.

No movement from the tree seemed forthcoming.

“Legolas, come down,” commanded Gandalf. “If the battle is over and you perceive no more threat, let your trees stand sentry while you join us on the ground.”

There was a slight rustling—leaves shifting softly—yet the elf did not appear.

Gandalf’s bushy eyebrows lowered grumpily as he sighed and moved, scoring his staff into the ground as he stepped closer to the foliage. “Legolas Greenleaf, I am well aware of Yavanna’s appreciation for your affinity with her creations, but she will no doubt understand if you choose to leave this one in order to rejoin our fellowship.”

Strider stood at Gandalf’s shoulder and made an impatient sound. It drifted through the air like smoke off the heat of Gandalf’s tone.

Still, the tree stayed motionless.

“Thranduilion, come down!” Gandalf bellowed.

Thereafter, there ensued another rustling of leaves, following which Legolas finally dropped to the grass, achieving his landing with slightly less grace than normal. He straightened quickly, smoothing his disheveled stance.

Frowning darkly without even twitching his lips, Strider lifted an eyebrow. “You are well?” he said, the low pitch to his voice heavily shrewd and sharp with caution.

The elf ignored him, slanting his expression towards Gandalf instead. “Though you seem to think it so, invoking the name of my father cannot cause me to obey you more quickly, Mithrandir.”

“Your actions tell me otherwise,” grumped Gandalf.

Legolas dipped his head and readjusted his bow. “I will scout the path ahead.”

“Legolas,” Strider called after him, the warning in his voice sharp as a sword blade, the balancing tang of concern tempered only by the profound grip.

“Aragorn, we cannot linger where there resides so much death. I am well. I will find us a spot of safety.” Legolas turned and walked off steadily, knives sheathed, bow firmly in hand.

Strider slid his eyes to Gandalf and grunted.

“Perhaps you should have called him Thranduilion,” commented Gimli, gruff but wry. If Sam’s lungs hadn’t been locked in the same mortar as his joints he might even have laughed.

“Perhaps,” said Strider, finally sheathing his sword.

“Well,” said Pippin, in a lighthearted tone that heralded the first true break of tension in the meadow and tapped a tiny encroachment into the possibility of loosening Sam’s bones. “That was definitely something I would rather not repeat.”

“Indeed, Master Hobbit,” returned Strider. “In this particular case, I confess, I would have much preferred joining you for elevenses.”

Merry laughed, but Pippin snorted, gracing their ranger guide with an imperial expression. “We’re hours past elevenses now, Mr. Strider. In point of fact, we’ve passed luncheon also, and if our Legolas doesn’t find a suitable spot for us soon, we’re bound to miss afternoon tea.”

“Then let us follow him swiftly in the hopes that we don’t,” ordered Gandalf. “Quickly, hobbits, gather your things. Swiftly should we leave this place.”

Carefully, Sam brokered his head and neck from one shoulder to the other, feeling the tension loosen by threads. Finally, he dug his toes up from the earth and tried to shake himself. Gathering his pack, he patted instinctively at Frodo’s shoulder, then moved up in front of him, letting Merry and Pippin take the back near Boromir.

He tried not to look behind them at the battle they’d just come through, yet it was difficult not to.

Was this to be the way of their quest? Seized upon at every opportunity? He was feeling quite useless, if that were to be the path of it. How could he truly help with anything if this became the common course of their journey?

He would fight, even if he did so poorly. That he would do, but…

Suddenly, there was movement on his right—the sound of shuffling feet over grass and dirt. He began to turn just as Frodo caught his arm and came to walk at his shoulder.

“Are you all right, Mr. Frodo? Can I carry something for you?”

Frodo smiled gently. “I’m all right, Sam. I just…” He paused to glance behind them, eyes stuttering before he tore them forward again, long fingers resting briefly over the lump under his shirt that was the ring. Sam stared and swallowed. It was a wonder how so small a thing could carry such powerful evil—how such a small slip of metal could make wizards bend in worry and place a company of qualified warriors in situations where even elves could take injury.

Sighing into the yawn of the afternoon, Frodo caught Sam’s eye and continued, “It’s silly, I suppose. We’re surrounded by the fellowship, and you were merely feet in front of me, but I didn’t… I don’t want to walk alone.”

Sam breathed deeply, letting the remainder of his bones tumble out from the lock of battle mortar, lungs freeing to a full breath. He let his pace match Frodo’s and kept himself very deliberately from staring at the corpses behind them, shunting out the memory of their descending growls and bellows. “I understand, Mr. Frodo. I understand.”

“Thank you, Sam.”

~

They missed afternoon tea but found a properly secure spot for dinner. Sam was hoping if the surroundings proved safe enough they’d remain also for supper and to camp for the night. His joints felt creaky, and to look at Frodo was to feel the weariness of everyone.

After such a day, could they not all use the rest?

Leaning his pack to the broad side of a felled tree, Sam knelt achingly and fished for his pans while some of the others did what was necessary to get a fire going. At the edge of the glade, just beyond his hunker, Gandalf and Strider stood mumbling, tension and concern tiptoeing towards him with their voices. Calming his fingers, Sam froze on his knees, bending forward to catch the remaining snatches of their conversation.

“Let him finish his scout of the area,” Strider was saying. “He is restless. It will be challenging enough to convince him to submit to my care. Doubly so if his mind remains in its unsettled path.”

“Harboring an injury away from us will not help him lend his skill to the fellowship, even if he thinks it might. Nor does it set a good example for the hobbits,” replied Gandalf in a tone Sam recognized for having been on the receiving end of it—gruff admonishment and short-fused frustration.

“He fears detraction from focus on Frodo and the others and does not wish to become a detriment. Worry for him as you must, but do not fault him his purity of intention.”

“Ever defending him, even when you share my frustration.”

A cluster of leaves and twigs crumpled softly under Strider’s boot as he shifted. It felt to be an incredibly anxious sound to Sam, but the accompanying laugh that rang from the ranger’s throat was soft and surprisingly light. “After all this time, Gandalf, I know no other way.”

The wizard stayed silent, allowing space for the soft emotion.

Sam took a breath through his nose and felt his heartbeat slow down. His lungs expanded slowly, catching around a sudden lump in his throat.

That gentle second might have lingered were it not for Gandalf’s next statement, which returned tension to the conversation in force. The tone made Sam lean forward even more, until his hands were balanced on the rough tree trunk and his forehead brushed the bark.

“We both know the situation is not that simple, as much as I wish it were. There is more to your elf’s heightened vigilance than an unsettled mind from today’s skirmish. I heard your conversation with him after we descended Caradhras. Legolas believes he has seen sign that the creature entrusted to Mirkwood passed this way before us.”

There was a pause that seemed to draw the air taut over Sam’s head, thinning and stretching it until Sam wondered how he would get more into his lungs. “Yes,” confirmed Strider succinctly. “Some time ago, he believes, though he is unable to tell whether or not he still lurks.” The ranger cleared his throat. “Legolas is wary, Gandalf. Cautious. Knowing Gollum is free—out there somewhere—he fears the creature’s intentions. He was on the side of those in Mirkwood that encouraged mercy when they held him prisoner. He blames himself for not being able to defeat the orcs who aided the creature’s escape. He will not have the fellowship caught unaware as was Gollum’s guard—not with the protection of Frodo as our duty and so many of our fates at stake.”

Sam’s ears burned and a spark of fear ignited in his stomach. Peaking over the log, he watched Gandalf frown, then sigh. “Such thinking puts him in a fey mindset. He was not alone in the hopes that led to Gollum’s escape. I encouraged their people’s natural compassion when we left him there, and did not tell them what we suspected the creature once held.”

The wizard turned his head, eyes and voice drifting into the distance. “Though it led to tragedy, I hold that such merciful actions cannot be fully rued as mistakes. I feel the unfolding of those events, though unfortunate, may yet have an important role to play in our course.” He blinked, meeting Strider’s eyes. “Legolas was never to be held responsible.”

“Have you ever known him to give up ideas of responsibility so easily?” Strider challenged.

“He is sensitive and too unsullied in such matters for his own good.”

“Or wild, perhaps you mean—unwilling to so quickly bend to your wisdom.”

The bare edge of a smile warred with Gandalf’s stern expression. “I would settle now for having him allow whatever wound he hides to be tended to. Let us tame him enough for that purpose, and trust the rest to the journey.”

“Aye,” said Strider.

The two turned, voices drifting away as they circled around the camp, beyond the log Sam crouched behind. Quickly, he ducked his head to start rustling through his pack again.

His fingers were shaking. The flame in his stomach was burning uncomfortably. The conversation had sparked too many questions and awoken too many fears. Tucking the overheard words deep below his breastbone, he tried to swallow everything down and focus on the task at hand.

He didn’t know why, but on top of the small battle they’d experienced that day, the conversation he’d just heard made him feel small. Insignificant. A useless fly trying to rasp against powers and relationships and events he barely understood. Was not Sauron’s obsession with the ring enough? Did it have to extend to creatures in the dark and all the corruptible powers of Middle Earth?

How exactly did they end up here?

Wizards were supposed to be magical and wise. Elves pure and infallible. Men strong. Dwarves sturdy. And hobbits…

Hobbits…

Clutching the pot he’d been looking for, he turned on his knees, marking Frodo’s location near the young glow of the growing fire. As he watched, Frodo smiled tiredly at something Merry said, then lifted his hand absently to press his palm over the ring.

“Sam?”

Starting, Sam turned to find Strider hunkered behind him, hand reaching for his shoulder, fingers warm and solid when they connected.

“Yes?”

“If you’re contemplating where to find water, there’s a spring right through the gap in the clearing up towards the rock face. It’s been well scouted. We’re quite safe at the moment.”

“Thank you,” he stuttered. “Thank you, Mr. Strider. I mean, Aragorn.”

The ranger smiled, something like fondness in his eyes as the twilight filtered down to them through the trees. “Are you all right, Samwise?”

Swallowing hard, Sam bobbed his head and tried to smile. “I am.”

Strider tilted his head, eyes narrowing gently.

“Really, I am. All of this danger… it just takes some getting used to. That’s all.”

~

With his carrying pot in his hand and his waterskin slung over his shoulder, Sam made his way up through the gap in the trees. They grew taller and bigger the nearer he got to the rock face, like wild sentinels, stretching, beseeching the guardians of the skies on their behalf.

As he approached the spring, the low edge of the cliff behind it cut off the angle of the sun, plunging him into shadow as he bent towards the dancing water.

It was cold on his hands. After Caradhras, he hadn’t thought he’d ever be keen to embrace cold again, but the water’s freshness felt soothing and pure. He closed his eyes and imagined it carrying away the grime of the day, dragging it merrily from his fingertips.

To his gratification, even the sound of it was mollifying. Pleasantly prickling his ears, the water seemed to sing as it tugged the ugliness from his mind.

Sing.

Opening his eyes, he lifted his head, hearing a voice on the air. A real voice. A thin wisping arpeggio that rolled delicately across the near cliff face.

Slowly pulling his pot from the stream, Sam set it aside on a flat rock and stood. He turned in a circle, listening carefully.

After a few stealthy steps the soft singing carried him towards a thick cluster of wide trees where he found the source.

Legolas.

The elf was on the ground, his back and head tilted against a large tree trunk, his body tucked between two exposed roots in the earth. The palms of his hands were spread elegantly over the roots’ knotted surface, elbows hitched gently out from his torso, as though reclining regally on a thrown. A soft glow shimmered between his body and the tree and the tree itself seemed to dance in a slow sway to the quiet cadence of the elf’s music.

Sam felt his lungs catch, his heartbeat thudding warmly at the sight.

Such interesting creatures, elves. Though he’d grown homesick in Rivendell, Sam hadn’t lost his fascination for them. Perhaps for wood-elves especially, with all their apparent mystery. They were magical beings, he’d been told, with a deep and abiding love for all things growing and green. He’d always liked that last part.

Bilbo had said once, in one of his tales, that if a wood-elf’s magic were powerful enough, he could call even the foliage to obeisance. Sam had spent quite a bit of time with Legolas since the fellowship had formed, but this was the first time he’d seen anything to indicate that such a thing might be true.

Before Legolas, all his experience with wood-elves came from the slim encounter with the travelers he and Frodo had seen journeying to the havens. Beautiful they’d been, with wondrous voices, though the melancholy in their music had plucked a chord of dull throbbing low in his heart.

Legolas’s current song was reminiscent of that melody. Lovely as it was, it ached, offering solace and sorrow in equal measure. Low and soft, it rang deep into Sam’s bones, touching the place in his soul that had been feeling so desperate all day.

Enthralled, he took a step closer, and snapped a twig below his foot.

Abruptly, Legolas darted his head in Sam’s direction, surprise and pain flashing across his face before he pulled his hands up from the roots, causing the glow to vanish.

Sam jerked back. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Mr. Legolas! I didn’t mean to disturb you! Really!”

Legolas’s expression smoothed quickly. Straightening, he shook his head and smiled, eyes vivid in the growing dark. “Just Legolas, Sam,” he said a little breathily. “Come. Please. I did not mean to frighten you.”

Hesitantly, Sam stepped forward. “Nor I you.”

The smile grew.

Gaining confidence, Sam sat near one of the roots, watching both the elf and the tree behind him carefully, as though either one might spring to brightness without warning.

Legolas lowered one hand to clutch at his side as he drew a knee up, making room for Sam near his foot. The faintest trace of blood became visible on the elf’s fingers with the action, though Sam could see no trace of a tear or cut on his jerkin.

“You are injured, aren’t you?” he accused before he could stop himself. “Strider knows it too. Doesn’t seem to me he’ll be too happy about you being out here instead of back at camp where he could take a look at you.”

“No,” agreed Legolas, gentle humor ghosting through his eyes. “You may be right about that. But it is an injury of no significant consequence. Elves can heal fine enough, and quite quickly, if given the opportunity to do so. Aragorn knows well he should expend his energies elsewhere.”

Sam shook his head in disbelief. “Beggin’ your pardon, but it didn’t sound to me like he knew that very well at all.”

Legolas laughed lightly, then pressed the palm of his hand more tightly to his side, just above his hip, and grimaced.

Sam ground his feet into the dirt and wondered if he should go fetch Gandalf, or one of the others, to tell them of the elf’s injury. It’d seemed clear from the conversation he’d overheard earlier that they were well aware of it and had plans to take care of the elf sooner or later. Even so…

He hesitated, biting his lip as he watched. “Can I help you at all?”

“I’m all right,” Legolas denied, the line of his shoulders easing as he tilted his head back to the tree. “What brings you out here, Samwise? Are you well?”

“Me? Oh yes. Yes, of course. I was just getting some water and I heard you singing. It’s something, your singing. It was so beautiful, I thought I might listen for a moment is all.” He glanced up at the sturdy tree Legolas reclined against, remembering how gently it had swayed, though it now stretched upwards still as stone. “Was that elvish magic you were doing there?”

Legolas slanted his gaze, peering quizzically. “Magic?”

“When I came upon you, there was some sort of glowing between you and the tree. It was quite lovely. Like your singing.” Sam’s voice had tiptoed into softness. He wasn’t sure why, but it was as though he feared talking too loudly might cause the elf further harm—shatter the peace in the glade, or otherwise ignite some inadvertent evil. He found himself twisting his fingers together anxiously. “I really didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“You interrupted nothing. I’m blessed by the pleasure of your company. When you came upon me I was simply…” Legolas glanced up into the branches of the tree, smiling slightly. “I was simply resting for a moment.”

“If you don’t mind my saying, that’s an interesting way to rest.”

Legolas nodded, as though conceding the point, but a sparse second later the hand against his side dropped, moving instead to rest atop his knee as he leaned forward and peered at Sam more intently. “Sam, are you well, truly? Is something bothering you?”

Sam felt the muscles in his neck and shoulders throb, sore from the coiling and uncoiling they’d been doing all day. He shrugged, then strained his ears to see if he could hear the others back at camp. The only sounds that reached him were a few chirping crickets and the faint murmur of the nearby brook. Everything around them seemed silent and peaceful, though in his heart he knew it wasn’t.

“Master Hobbit,” Legolas pressed. “I do not know if I can be of assistance to you, but I can listen well enough if you are of a mind to share your thoughts.”

Scrubbing his dry palms down the soft fabric of his pants, Sam took in Legolas’s fair face and concerned expression. He opened his mouth, and after a bare qualm of indecision, let his voice ramble into the air. “I guess I’ve just been thinking. We faced so much just getting Mr. Frodo to Rivendell and now… I know the magic of that… that thing we’re going to destroy is evil, and that it’s magic it can corrupt, but after a day like today, I wouldn’t mind having a bit of good magic, like your folk have, Mr. Legolas.”

Legolas’s expression dipped and he looked as though he might say something, so Sam spoke faster. “Not for the power of it, you see, I just… I’d like to be useful on this quest, and I haven’t been feeling so lately. I imagine we may end up facing much worse than what we’ve seen so far. At least, that’s what my heart tells me. Frodo carries such a burden, and I… I have no power to help him.”

Slowly, Legolas began to shake his head, eyes dimming to a darker shade, though Sam didn’t know if that were because they were losing the last threads of the day’s light or if it were due to something preternatural in the elf’s own being.

He held his breath, letting it ruminate tightly and expansively in his lungs, fearful he may have said something wrong.

When Legolas finally spoke, however, his voice was tender. “We all have gifts given us, Sam. Perhaps you do not see in yourself what I do, but I believe you will find your gifts well suited to whatever may be required of you for the tasks ahead, though I suppose you will not know until they are upon you. Thus far, I have seen Frodo take great strength from you. This is a gift the rest of us in the fellowship do not seem to wield with the same power.”

“But…”

“Besides, in my case…” The elf spread his free palm across the root near his knee and closed his eyes. The branches above them swayed, ever so slightly. When his eyes opened again, the color seemed brighter than before. “In my case,” he repeated. “What you call magic, is not exactly thus. I have been graced with the gift to share thoughts with Yavanna’s creations. Such sharing often eases the troubles of my heart and grants me an extra measure of strength, but it is more an agreement between us. Cooperation, not magic.”

“An agreement?”

“That if I am able to offer what honor and respect to them I may, they will offer me that same comfort and loyalty in return.” The elf glanced at the tree, then squinted at Sam. “But I think you know more of this than you realize. The tree sings of your soul with fondness. Have you not a love for growing things? Do you not coax them to grow and give by giving and caring for them yourself? And have you not at times found peace beneath the boughs of the mighty oaks growing within the Shire?”

Sam looked startled at the tree, as though fearful he’d offend it if he gave the wrong answer. “Yes, yes of course, I have.”

“What you observed earlier is not so different.”

“Gardening isn’t magic, Mr. Legolas. It’s just gardening.”

“It is an agreement, based on understanding and need. Cooperation. Such things are more powerful than you may realize.”

“Cooperation?” Sam said doubtfully.

“Cooperation,” reiterated Legolas. “Much of what mortals call magic falls under this reality.”

Sam glanced down at the blood on the elf’s hand, then at the blood on his jerkin, now more visible than it was before. “And does your sort of cooperation help you heal?”

Legolas shrugged. “The strength the tree lends me allows my own body’s ability to heal to operate unfettered by the concerns in my heart that might otherwise impede it.”

“Which only goes to show that the elf forgets that there are better forms of cooperation when it comes to healing. And better agreements I would have him make,” Gandalf suddenly interrupted. “Such agreements that would lead to faster healing by use of a stronger magic, as you would call it, Sam, if he would accept them.”

Both Legolas and Sam glanced up to where Gandalf was standing as quietly as a statue amongst the close circle of trees surrounding them. Sam blinked, wondering how long he’d been there.

“Come, Legolas,” the wizard continued. “It is time to let Aragorn have his look at you.”

Legolas glanced respectfully upward but made no immediate motion to stand.

“Would you have me jealous of Lord Elrond’s ability to command you, Thranduilion?” Gandalf grumbled in a low voice, though it felt to Sam to be well tempered with a measure of affection.

Legolas’s hand went back to his side. He glanced about cautiously, as though casting out his senses. Watching him, Sam was fairly certain he was reading the worry and stubbornness in his eyes correctly. Or perhaps it was guilt? Maybe pride? Finally, however, the elf folded his feet under him, forced a light smile to his lips, and allowed Gandalf’s supporting grip as he stood. “Lord Elrond has said the same to me about you,” he said.

“Hmfh,” Gandalf snorted, holding tight to Legolas’s elbow, clearly not intending to let go. “Come, Samwise Gamgee, your presence at the fire has been missed. Let the three of us seek our companions together.”

Collecting his pot and waterskin on the way, Sam followed, thoughts tumbling into greater tangles during the short, silent walk.

He just didn’t see how the magic of gardening could help him on this quest, if that is indeed what Legolas had been implying. If gardening could truly be labeled as magic, it was a useless magic indeed.

At least as far as the ring was concerned.

~

“Stay still,” Strider whispered, pressing one hand to Legolas’s chest, keeping the elf flat to the ground as he once again ducked to inspect the wound.

Sam traded a look with Frodo then glanced surreptitiously over his bowl of stew, trying not to be overt about his curiosity towards the situation. Strider was clearly trying to keep his voice low, but the blood revealed under Legolas’s jerkin looked terrible within the sheen of the flickering firelight, and the fellowship was worried, and interested.

On his knees near the elf’s hip, Boromir folded the cloth back from the wound a little further. “It looks bad,” he said. His voice was soft, like Strider’s, but it carried to the hobbits with ease.

“It is. But not so much it cannot be healed enough for our journey.”

“Truly?” questioned Boromir.

“Truly,” Strider confirmed.

Legolas’s elbows moved and he shifted as though he intended to sit up. With hands to his shoulders, Strider and Boromir stopped him. “Aragorn,” Legolas warned. “Bandage the wound, but do not expend yourself.”

“Legolas, this wound was caused by an orc blade.”

“An arrow. It caught me while the wargs… distracted me. If it had not sailed at an angle that somehow got under my tunic it would not have cut me at all.”

“Regardless, the tip was poisoned. It isn’t serious, but if it is to improve instead of worsen for our journey, you will require my aid.”

“It isn’t necessary. Aragorn, it is more essential that you save your energy for other things. If my skill is to be limited, yours must not be.”

Merry lowered his dish to his lap. “What’s he talking about?” he asked.

Strider sighed.

“The hands of the king are the hands of a healer,” Gandalf intoned from where he sat leaning against a tree, a touch of a smile gracing his face.

Strider threw him a dark glance, which Gandalf ignored, settling the end of a pipe between his lips contentedly.

Boromir stared at Aragorn, looking slightly startled.

Legolas made as if to sit up once more, breaking the moment.

Shaking themselves, Strider and Boromir together again stopped him. “Stay still,” Strider commanded anew. “I would not see you in pain. Please.”

Perhaps temporarily giving up, Legolas dropped his head back to the earth. Eyeing the elf warily, then with a glance at Strider, Boromir eventually let go of him. Picking up his own bowl of stew, he eased himself to sit a watchful pace away.

“What does that mean?” asked Pippin. “About the hands of a healer?”

Frodo drew his knees up and leaned forward. Sam set his dish down between them and took a similar pose. He had long since stopped eating and he too waited for the answer.

Taking his own hands off the elf, Strider turned and began stirring the pot of water he’d put over the fire next to the stew. He took something from a nearby pouch and added it to the stir. Sam recognized the scent immediately and he took a deep breath. Kingsfoil.

The feeling it brought to his soul was peaceful. Hopeful. Not wholly unlike the feeling that had come from Legolas’s singing. It was like magic. Simple, clean, magic. The good kind Sam so wanted to believe in and hold onto. The useful and incorruptible kind of magic he wished he could carry within him.

And a real magic too. Not like gardening.

“It is my gift,” Strider eventually answered without looking at them. “Inherited through the line of Elendil and honed by Lord Elrond. If I honor it, it is a gift that can remain with me and be of use in dark days such as these. A part of that gift is the allowance, at times, for me to grant a portion of my strength to another.”

“It was no simple healing you used to aid me on Weathertop,” noted Frodo.

“Not by another healer’s reckoning, no,” came the answer, and when Strider turned around, he looked kingly indeed, even being on his knees as he was. This was Aragorn, thought Sam, though he could never seem to remember to call him that.

“Aragorn, this is unnecessary,” mumbled Legolas, trying to draw back.

“Why do you resist him so?” asked Frodo.

From the far side of the fire, Gimli snorted. “To prove that Mahal is not the only being who might be accused of infusing his creations with stubbornness,” he commented.

“Perhaps he fears burdening the gift,” Boromir mumbled a moment later. “I think I would understand such feelings.”

“Aye,” agreed Gimli.

Aragorn smiled but shook his head. Kneeling closer to Legolas, he caught his wrist and pressed his other hand gently down on the elf’s chest, making eye contact with him and holding it. “He resists,” said Aragorn in a soft voice, “because he forgets sometimes that what strength I gain in the ensuing days of expending my gift is often much more powerful than that strength I let go out of me. Though he forgets, he understands this type of agreement well. For such is the way of a gift that allows giving and yet remains with you.”

After what seemed an eternity, Aragorn released Legolas’s wrist, withdrew his hand from his chest, and began to turn back towards the fire. The elf stopped him, catching his sleeve. In a warm voice he spoke—some brief phrase in Elvish that Sam couldn’t understand—and then nodded, the tension leaving his body, as though giving concession, releasing all resistance to allow Aragorn to tend him.

Pressing his hand over Legolas’s heart, Strider smiled with some untouchable flash of fondness, and repeated back to Legolas, in Elvish, the phrase that had been said to him. Finally, he turned and pulled the pot from the fire, setting it carefully next to a ready pouch of waiting wraps and herbs.

Sam moved his hand to the back of Frodo’s shoulder quietly. “You understand something of Elvish, Mr. Frodo, don’t you? Did you catch that? What’d he say?” he asked in a low whisper.

Frodo leaned his head in close, though he seemed unable to turn his eyes away from the elf on the ground, or perhaps it was that he could not tear his gaze from the king attending him. “I’m not certain I understood the dialect,” Frodo whispered. “But it sounded as though he said… like friendship.”

Sam blinked, glanced at Frodo, then stared at Legolas and Strider. Legolas and Aragorn. Royal houses. Prince and king.

One might not know it to look at them. And yet… there it was.

Near the fire, Aragorn had folded a cloth over Legolas’s wound and was pressing down on it gently. In a low voice, he’d started to sing, not unlike the singing he’d done over the blade that had stabbed Frodo on Weathertop.

“It’s true, isn’t it, Sam.”

Sam turned his head and realized Frodo was looking at him. “What’s that?”

Frodo set his gaze on Legolas and Aragorn again. “The more strength you give in a friendship, the more strength is returned to you. Isn’t it so?”

It is an agreement based on understanding and need, Sam suddenly thought. Cooperation.

Friendship.

Sam stared anew at Legolas and felt a warm sensation spark in his chest—a warmth that felt soothing and hopeful, and different than anything he’d felt all day. Even including the calm feeling brought by the Kingsfoil, and the beauty of Legolas’s singing with the tree.

“Do you suppose, Mr. Frodo, that if such a thing is true, it might mean within our friendship we may have our own gift? Our own magic, in a way?”

It was a silly thought, perhaps. A fantastic element to the dark tales of good and evil told to growing hobbits. But it made him feel better to think that maybe there was a type of magic he could truly hold within himself. A type of magic that the ring could not corrupt, and maybe not defeat.

Frodo opened his mouth to answer, but before he could, another voice took over, a voice wise and soft, yet powerful in the way it seemed to carry to only the two of them. “It does indeed, Samwise. It does indeed. It means precisely that. And don’t you forget it. Do you understand?”

Sam looked over to the nearby tree Gandalf was leaning against and realized the wizard had been listening to their conversation all the while. And he did not look joking, or teasing, or even humoringly fond.

Sam swallowed. Compulsively, he tightened the grip he’d maintained on Frodo’s shoulder, feeling the warmth settle in his heart. “I understand. I won’t forget it.”

“See that you don’t.”

~

The End

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